Sam Davyson

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Feedback For stu.dicio.us Creators

25/07/06 - 13.55

Wow! I just found this really neat tool for students to keep track of notes that they make. It is called stu.dicio.us and it most certainly looks like they are in the opening stages of release. Right now you have to make your notes public if you use the service and there is no “About Us” or “Contact Us” link anywhere on the site. Which is why I am having to resort to a blog post to pass this message to them.

stu.dicio.us

The interface is beautifully simple. I mean it is just like you want it to be. Zero tolerance for any clutter of any description. The todos are particularly well done, you can add them for a specific class of yours and then they appear in the list sorted by date. Clicking them crosses them out – i.e. done, and alt-clicking deletes them. Todos created in days gone by don’t show up which is a shame, but perhaps it makes sense. I think the ones that you don’t do should roll over to the next day, since we are talking about students doing this with the stuff they have to do is often possible. The other side of the screen is all about notes which you have to enter in a box that I would claim is a tad small but apart from that it is really great. You can just write a few littel tidbits about the lesson that you have had, or that you are due to have. I would prefer the notes to work more like a diary personally with some arrangement for recording the date on them too and having an overflow system for when the frontpage explodes with notes (i.e. after about a month of usage).

All in all though it is nice and I think that I will use it. Please though add a feedback link!

July 25th, 2006 - 1.55 PM | 1 Comment »

Welcome Another Blog: Random Essays

23/07/06 - 02.56

Random Essays

Want to read on? Check out the Random Essays Blog.

July 23rd, 2006 - 2.56 AM | No Comments »

Why Live.com Search Looks Wrong

18/07/06 - 10.43

We are all used to Googling. Very used to it. It is good for the consumer though that companies are still innovating in the search space to keep Google on its toes. Live.com’s search is a great example of this. Whilst I wouldn’t use it right now it is certainly showing that Microsoft are thinking about how to change search for the better. One thing though that I think is dealying people’s transition is that the search results they get from Live just don’t quite look right. Lets see what I mean.

Here is a Google search for a search term chosen at random:

Google Searcg

And here is what Live.com shows for the same term:

Live.com Search

They look pretty different I am sure you will agree. In both cases I have cut off a huge amount of whitespace from the right of the image. Both engines take a set width approach leaving room for advertisements and keeping their design suitable for all screen shapes and sizes. No advertisements were shown on either search results page though, so the loss of this space is no great loss for the analysis.

The thing that hits me straight away is the underlining. Live.com is styled not to underline the links. This is not really a problem for identifying the links, they are still pretty clear since they are marked in blue. But I think it may add some extra whitespace between the title of the webpage in the results and the description associated with the page. The next difference you notice really has to be the header. Microsoft have got themselves a very sexy header that I have to admit looks pretty nice. The colours work well for me and I only wish the colour didn’t fade so quickly to the white background seen in the results area. The clarity of the tabbing system they have used at the top there could also be improved. At the moment it is not only not clear what they are, but also that you are on one of them (Web).

I am not sure what the deal with the blue border is. They have a footer at the bottom of the page that is visible since the search uses the infinite scroll bar so you feel like you are looking at a results viewer rather than just viewing the results. In case you are not familiar with this tool the box on the page where the results appear feels like a inline frame which you can scroll independently of the rest of the page. Except really it is not a frame it is some AJAX masterpiece I suppose which loads more results as you scroll down it so you never have to hit a “next page” button again. The begging question of course is why can’t they work instead on the search quality so you would never need to click next page anyway. But that is somewhat a different issue… The footer I feel wastes vertical space, and gives precisely nothing to the search experience. I would also prefer half of the next result to be shown at the bottom of the window to remind me that I can scroll for more. Right now I think you could be forgiven for thinking that the search had only returned 6 results.

I think that the choice of font is strange. I can’t actually work out what it is but I think it really degrades the whole appearance of the page and adds significantly to the gormless look it takes on. Another factor in this is the way the bold search term highlighting is used. Yes Google does the same thing but I think that the font chosen has a much bigger difference between its bold and non-bold text than the one Google uses. This means that glancing down the page all you really see is the bold search term repeated again and again. You inputted the term after all, so just seeing it coming straight back at you is not the most useful of services. The colour of the font is also pretty unbelievable. It really could do with a solid black text colour to assert itself, but the pale shade of gray compounds this gormless feel.

And somewhere they are wasting a lot of space. I can’t quite work out where it is all going but if you compare the two listings you will see that they have both served six results. But Live.com’s have noticeably worse descriptions, and a smaller font size, which really doesn’t add up. I suspect that much is lost in the header, and footer and also perhaps a slightly bigger gap in between search results. I think someone just needs to take the stylesheet for the page and make a few sensible adjustments. If you want people to treat the search engine seriously then please make it look serious. Grey text on a white background is just far to wishy washy.

July 18th, 2006 - 10.43 AM | No Comments »

Live Mail’s Latest Features Are Hilarious

18/07/06 - 03.43

I happened to be on the output point of Windows Live blogs at msreadr.com today, and I caught wind of an update to the Live Mail feature set that was live/going live at the time. Code named M7 I think. One of the features really caught my eye, it said that they were adding checkboxes. Now this isn’t an odd feature for a mail application what I thought was odd was that I hadn’t noticed they were missing when I first reviewed the product. But when I thought more about the interface that they have adopted it made more sense of course they hadn’t had checkboxes in their setup the messages are treated like much more square rectangles than anywhere else I have seen, and you are encouraged to drag them around rather than (I suppose) using checkboxes to select messages for movement. So I was sort of interested in how their checkbox implementation was going to work.

Luckily I have a Live Mail account that has a pretty constant stream of 6 or 7 spam messages every day flowing into it. So I have a place to play with the product, and mail to play with. I have to say it is a long time since I have seen anything as awkward as the way these checkboxes work. The first thing is that they are not always visible. They have them appearing in the place of the envelope which indicates whether a message has been opened or not when you hover over a message. So you hover over a message, the envelope vanishes and is replaced with a white square. Only on the message you are hovered over note, not the whole column. If you click at this point the box gets itself a green tick and when you move the mouse off the message it doesn’t regain it’s envelope icon. Instead the tick remains and it takes on a blue shaded background.

Picture 9.png Picture 10b.png
Here is the list of emails Hover over the first email. Colour/Icon change.
Picture 11b.png Picture 12b.png
Click the checkbox. Get a green tick. Miss the checkbox. Lose your first tick.

Ok that doesn’t sound perfect, but it sounds reasonable in the circumstances. What is so hilarious? Well lets take a look at what happens if you miss the checkbox. It looks like you’re in luck, the message is still selected and gets it’s green tick like any other would. But the surprise is that any messages you have previously ticked on your way down the list marking the spam are automatically unticked. I have done some tests, and I havent been able to tick more than six messages in a row without missing one and losing the lot. This also means that when you have selected a message for reading just by clicking on it, the checkbox automatically gets ticked. Well this is no real problem, who cares if the box is ticked or not. Ok. Try this for a scenario. You check your inbox see you have an email from a friend and also four messages that are clearly spam. You click to read the message from your friend. Then you tick the boxes on each of the four spam emails and drag them to the trash can. Now you better hope that you notice that it says five items as you drag them over as your message from the friend will of course also be selected still. Oh heavens…

As an aside: the images above are real screenshots of the best view of the inbox you can get in Live Mail. Anyone else think it is just too limited? The information provided is cluttered with that terrible text overlap when someone’s name is too long. Compared to the snippets you can get in Gmail with the interface looking nice, it seems pathetic.

July 18th, 2006 - 3.43 AM | No Comments »

Hotmail Is Not Closing Campaign

16/07/06 - 13.56

Hotmail Is Not ClosingJust in case you thought that it was. It is not. I have this on pretty good authority. And if it does close in the near future I am happy for you to quote these words back to me in a complaint email. Erm one second who is this news too? Who thinks that Hotmail is closing? An unfortunately large number of hotmail users I am afraid. They express this thought of theirs by forwarding emails that will “save their accounts” if they are sent to enough people. These forwards are very much a reality and although I am not part of the Hotmail network I often receive them from friends who seem unelightened on the issue.

I wrote back each time and wanted to send a link to a Hotmail help article that would state clearly that Hotmail is:

a) Not closing any time soon.

b) Hotmail would never contact its users by forwards.

Unfortunately I could find neither in their index. And so I wrote to their support team asking for them to either link me to the article or perhaps them to add such an article. And I entered into a long and continuing discussion via email about this issue. I initally wrote on March 4th 2006. Fourth months have passed since then. I have sent them twelve emails, and got responses to most of them. Most of them are canned responses that repeat the previous one with absolutely no regard for any points raised in the email. I decided to write them an article myself which I published online and I continue to host. I also have a full archive of emails between myself on them online for everyone to see. I would urge you to write to Hotmail if you have ever received a forwarded email like the one I describe and you would like them to stop. If you do you may want to quote my case directly and point out your annoyance at their lack of action. The ID is SRX1010202287ID. The email address that I am using is support_x_EN_SY@css.one.microsoft.com which you can email or you could take out a fresh support ticket. Thank you for your support, lets stop this irritation.

July 16th, 2006 - 1.56 PM | No Comments »

saynotofreelinks

16/07/06 - 00.16

A Poor CommentIn the blogosphere comments sections tend to have a few fields for you to fill in. Your name, your email, your website/blog and then your actual comment text. Now the most important part of the comment should of course be this last field perhaps coupled with the first field. If Bill Gates is criticising Vista it has greater significance to me doing it for instance. However I tended to notice that more emphasis was give to the website field. I thought that in some cases people were only posting to slip in their link to their website or blog without it looking like a cheesy chance to plug oneself. Putting a link into the main comment text is often seen as a shameless self-plug, but adding your blog URL into the comments form is not.

The idea that people would post comments to just get the link love that they need to pump them up Google or to increase their traffic by a little bit is not really impossible to fathom. But I would rather as a regular reader of comments sections on blogs only see comments that are written by people who really have something relevant to say. So to do this I take away the prize. On this blog URLs entered are not linked rather they are displayed as text. If you like what the person says enough to want to read more then you can navigate to their website yourself.

And when posting on other people’s websites I use the website “http://saynotofreelinks/” which normally would give a 404 when clicked or a search for “saynotofreelinks”. I was partly inspired to this when I heard Steve Gillmor voice that links were dead. Since then several people have started to agree that the value of the hyperlink is declining and linking is not the best way. Allow people to find stuff themselves so they find everything you’ve done rather than the snippet that was originally discussed. Even though the value is falling I still think people are willing to make comments just to get them for free, and I don’t think it adds to the web.

July 16th, 2006 - 12.16 AM | 3 Comments »

End of The Web Riddle

15/07/06 - 16.49

I ended The Web Riddle a couple of days ago with the release of Set 5. It has been a fun project throughout thank you to everyone that has played, and helped out, I hope you’ve enjoyed it. Keep you eye on the legends board to see who manages to get through. I have included a massive last level for number 20, that I cowrote with Cory Puuri. Splasho also has a level in the last set taking number 17, and I fill in the other two levels.

July 15th, 2006 - 4.49 PM | No Comments »

Mac OS X Switching (2) Finder & Dock

15/07/06 - 01.35

Desktop
The Finder

The core of the Mac OS X system is the finder. It it is largely like explorer is in Windows operating systems. You can not close the finder when you are running the operating system, and it is the “application” that is running when you start up the computer. As you can see on the screenshot to the right it says “Finder” right at the top of the screen just to the left of the apple logo. This bar ends with the clock and spotlight icon and is also home to the things like volume control, and wireless configuration (rather like that area in windows at the bottom right of your screen). This is bar is called the menu bar.

And it is a pretty significant difference from Windows. Notice that in this menu bar you can see File, Edit, View, Go… etc. These are all pop out menus just like you would expect to find at the top of a window in a windows application. Expect obviously for these words to change as the active application changes. For iChat you need a Contacts menu, for Word you need a Format menu, for Firefox Bookmarks etc. I am not really sure what the advantage of having the menu bar always in the same place and unattached from the window to which it corresponds is. But one thing that does spring to mind is that it rather saves on vertical space on this screen. You never need to be able to see more than one menu bar at once, so why display more than one? Having them attached to the windows showing and hiding everytime you switched applications would be messy. If you think about it the windows would appear to bounce as you switched, so having it along the top of the screen is a good solution.

Finder MenuOne thing that is not immediately clear is that the word “Finder” itself is a menu too. This is standard. For every application the name of the application gives a drop down menu and in this menu a pretty standard group of items. The about dialog which is typically found in Help on a windows program is found here. As are the preferences which can always be accessed through that clover leaf (also known as CMD, command, Apple Key) + comma as is shown in the image. You also get the option to hide the program and in every case except the Finder you get the option to quit the program too. These are crucially different things with quitting being the more severe choice. There is no equivalent to hiding in windows, it closes the instance of the program running but not the program itself. This means that you can reopen the program very quickly (it is already in fact open) but in say Firefox you will be back to your homepage not on those pages you were viewing when you hide the program. Obviously having a lot of programs in this state of being hidden will start to lag on system resources after a while. And with programs hidden isn’t it rather tricky to keep track of them all?

The Dock

Enter the dock. That is this thing that lines the bottom of your screen:

Dock

This is like your taskbar in Windows. But interestingly it is also like your Programs menu that stems from the start button. Here you can see all the programs that you have chosen to place on the dock. And you can see which ones are active. They are denoted with the black arrow. You will always see that the Finder is active as I stated above, it cannot be closed. You will also see that there is a vertical line and to the right of it you will find minimised programs. The images that are used are live previews of the actual program. If you have a video, it will continue to play in the dock. Clicking on anything minimises reopens it onto the main screen and removes it from the dock. This is unlike windows where maximised windows are still seen in the taskbar. The result is that you can easily see what is minimised but there is no real list of everything that is open you just have to count up the black arrows.

You can play with the dock in the settings. It can be down the side of the screen, or on the bottom as is the default. If you are short of space you can have it autohide too. As you move your mouse along the dock the items can be set to enlarge as you hover over them which is a nice way to see what you are focused on especially if you dock is so full that the items in it are quite small. The enlargement will show you something quite important in OS X. The icons are very high resolution, they look much more glossy than the ones in Windows which is something that we will see throughout the operating system. As you hover the name of the application is also shown.

The trash can on the far right of the dock is like the recycle bin in Windows. But really it plays a much bigger role in OS X. So big in fact, that it is the entire subject of part 3 of this Switchers Guide.

Previously in Mac OS X Switching… Part 1 Basic Differences. View the whole series.

July 15th, 2006 - 1.35 AM | No Comments »

TechCrunch Has Changed

14/07/06 - 22.28

Update: I am not the only one either! Steve Gillmor can’t understand why Marshall is allowed to keep posting in “such a visible position” on TechCrunch. Read in Full.

TechCrunchHere is a brief summary of the past few months for TechCrunch:

  • 12 May – New blog design launches. Much criticised.
  • 8 June – Marshall Kirkpatrick starts writing on TechCrunch.
  • 12 June – Blog turns one year old.

Dividing the last three months up using the 12ths of the month we get the following statistics:

  1. 12 April – 11 May: 87 Posts.
  2. 12 May – 11 June: 82 Posts.
  3. 12 June – 11 July: 127 Posts.

So we have more or less constant values for the numbers of posts in the first two months, about 3 posts a day. Then in the final month there is a tremedous growth and the number of posts is up by about 50%. I think that is a fairly significant change.

Now there are a fair few reasons why this could have happened. Maybe web 2.0 has got even hotter in the last month and there is a need for more postsI for one have noticed that I have difficulty keeping up with all the posts, and I have found that the posts have become more petty some of them seriously lack news and that “Web 2.0″ focus that the earlier TechCrunch was so good for. More services seem to be getting reviewed and perhaps sometimes services that I don’t think would have got a review before on TechCrunch.

Some posts are complete nonsense. Why these are significant enough to merit a post on a tracking web 2.0 blog I don’t know:

  • Digg v3 out of 3 week long beta
  • GDrive plays whack-a-mole with bloggers
  • NBC will buy Tribe.net

The idea for this post came from me thinking that the number of comments on TechCrunch posts was beginning to decrease as more people like myself found the huge number of posts difficult to deal with, and some of the content tedious. When I got the data together I found that there wasn’t much in it. The figures were:

  1. 12 April – 11 May: 3886 comments, 45 per post.
  2. 12 May – 11 June: 3858 comments, 47 per post.
  3. 12 June – 11 July: 4777 comments, 38 per post.

The first two months bear out very similar levels of participation in terms of comments per post. I would say that the number of comments is some indication on the quality of the writing and the relevance of the post, but obviously it is also an indication of how big the stories were. If the stories had all been pretty small then you can imagine that you’d get fewer comments. The overall number of comments is also up, which will no doubt be seen as a success from the inclusion of Marshall Kirkpatrick in the regular lineup. The first two periods refer to times when almost every post was by Mike Arrington. But it is clearly at least a bit of a drop. Perhaps it is just that the finite readership’s time being spread more finely over the increased number of posts or maybe the posts really are less stimulating.

What do you think? Has TechCrunch changed?

Disclaimer: Data collection was carried out by me using techniques such that the values may be slightly wrong. It is very unlikely that the error in collection could compensate for the larger differences seen though.

July 14th, 2006 - 10.28 PM | 1 Comment »

YubNub, My Favourite Commands

13/07/06 - 16.25

YubNub MainI love YubNub. I use it as my default “search” plugin in every browser that I have. I use it instead of having keywords setup for bookmarks. Not only does it mean that when I switch browsers or computers the experience is the same but also many shortcuts are already created and you can use them with ease to increase efficiency of searching and surfing.

What is YubNub? Know the answer? Skip on.

YubNub is the social command line of the web. It is a database of commands created by users by which you can go to websites, search websites and a whole load of other things. By learning a few commands you can soon do things quicker on the web.

Commands I use

I used to have a large collection of bookmarks in my browser with keyword shortcuts for alot of them. I now have transfered them all to YubNub (and some of them were already there). Now if I change computers I can keep using the same shortcuts without setting them up again. Many of them also work as searches you just need to append your search terms at the end of the command.

Blogs

  • tcc – TechCrunch
  • cutts – Matt Cutts Blog
  • gobl – Google Blogoscoped
  • sco – Robert Scoble’s Blog
  • rb – Rocket Boom
  • mble – Mashable
  • twit – This Week In Tech
  • zf – Ze Frank’s “The Show”
Searches

  • wp – Wikipedia
  • g – Google
  • ifl – I’m Feeling Lucky
  • gim – Google Images
  • gm – Google Maps
  • yt – YouTube
  • y – Yahoo!
  • flk – Flickr
  • riya – Riya
  • digg – Digg
  • /dot – Slashdot
  • amuk – Amazon UK
Other sites

  • sfx – Spread Firefox
  • tsr – The Student Room
  • upl – All You Can Upload
  • php – PHP.net

And the staple commands that you need for YubNub: create – makes new commands, ls – to search the current commands, and man – information about a command. Above is not by any means an exhaustive list. It is just the commands that suit me, there are plenty to chose from already and with the create command if they don’t have what you need you just make it. Interestingly I have just found QuickSilver, which is sort of like a command line for everything on the computer. I am not sure exactly how it works yet. But it looks good.

July 13th, 2006 - 4.25 PM | 2 Comments »