MonthSeptember 2011

Tech Tip: Smartphone Flash Light

I have one of the few jobs that requires polos, slacks, dress shoes and for me to crawl around on the floor under desks.

I work in IT and when I’m under those desks I am usually tracing wires through the baffling knot they’ve become. Often times, I am trying to figure out if and where a network or phone cable is plugged into the wall. The real challenge is trying to read port numbers off those ports as they are usually behind desks, heavy filing cabinets and other immovable objects.

I have a quick and easy way to get that information without a fork lift. All it requires is a modern smart phone with a flash and a camera.

On my iPhone, I have an app called Flash-Light. For Android, I recommend, MotoTorch LED. All it does is turn the camera’s flash on and keeps it on. Turning my smart phone into a flash light guarantees I will always have it with me.

But what if you can see the port but not read it?

That’s where Camera+ comes in. The camera app has an option to keep the flash on before you snap a photo. ((Sorry, I don’t have a good Android equivalent.))

Simply turn the flash on, snake the phone close enough to the port you need a snap a series of blind photos. At least one of them will have a clear enough picture of what you need to complete your work.

Empty Shells

I feel like the move to google+ is like when you get tired of your broken, fucked up installation of Windows, and instead of fixing it, you’d rather burn the mother fucker to the ground and install Linux. In the end, it’s no better, just different, new, and clean.
Steve Mothershead

Reading this comment from a friend tonight not only made me laugh, but it made me think about social networks and put my thoughts I’ve had into words.

I replied,

All social networks are empty shells. They are what we make of them and who we follow to build them.

For starters, I missed the boat on Facebook. I had graduated college when Facebook launched. However, I was still working for the University so I had that all-important .edu address. So I signed up for Facebook because I’m a serial signer-upper.

I joined. I used it. I still use it… somewhat. Most of Facebook is not very interesting because just like every other social network, we, the people, are the product. The same goes for Twitter, Friendster, Myspace and Google+.

Without us, all of these places are the blank pages in a notebook. They are blank text files. We are the product being sold to advertisers. In all cases, we are not the audience, we are the product and are treated as such.

This made me think about how I interact with the three social networks I use. ((To various degrees.))

Google+

I am a member of Google+ mostly out of curiosity. I like the clean design and the lack of clutter and eye-bleeding customization options.

However, no one is really there. I follow a mix of friends, co-workers and smart people I really admire. There still isn’t much going on. Google+ just opened up to the public negating the need for an invitation starting yesterday so we’ll see if there’s a gold rush on the platform or not.

Facebook

Facebook I feel like I missed the boat on. I was there in the early days and it felt small((It was also TheFacebook.com back then.)) and I used it to keep up with friends. My brother, who was starting college as Facebook launched and was totally addicted and practically how he scheduled his life.

Facebook to me still feels like an overt way to sell ads to us and push products and sell our data to advertisers who can push more product upon us. That is also why their constant rearranging of layouts and privacy settings. Anything to make a buck and to make it more enticing for us to give them the what little information they don’t already have.

Facebook is a giant data mine. They need your data, all your data. Just now, in the last F8 Facebook revealed it wanted to “tell the story of your life.” They want all your data. They want to make money on your data. And they aren’t going to be sly or embarrassed about it.

I treat Facebook like a flea market. I follow mostly people I know in real life, ignoring some and reading others. I follow my family. I follow some brands who offer me value or because I signed up for a drawing and never bothered to delete them. ((Isn’t this every marketer’s dream?))

Day in and day out, I don’t get a lot of value out of Facebook. There’s very few links I get everyday, save for a small group of people who are only on Facebook, that are of interest to me.

Twitter

Twitter is my bread and butter. I am very careful and skeptical of who I follow. I tweak and tend to my list of people I follow almost daily. I am always looking for a better mix of people who share things most interesting to me but without a lot of noise.

I follow a couple of lists on Twitter of people I don’t want to have to see all the time but I check in with a couple of times a day just to catch up on what interesting things have been said.

I even created a DC Metro News list because while I no longer commute by subway daily, I want to keep track of those contacts for when I need them.

Twitter is where I follow the thinkers and writers I find interesting and like-minded. I follow them on Twitter because for most of them, that’s where they are outside their blogs and newspaper columns.

Sites I Love: Lendle

When I was young I would tear through books. Then when I got to high school and college I had to do a lot of reading for school which mostly killed my delight in reading. Reading went from a pleasure activity to a rush to keep up.

The Kindle has completely changed the way I read. It reinvigorated my desire to read for fun. It opened my eyes to all the amazing books out there. I don’t even mean Amazon’s Kindle device. I do all my reading on an iPad at home or the iPhone when I used to take the subway to work. Despite owning a Kindle, I haven’t actually seen it since the day we got it, my wife entered her credentials and said, “This is my kindle now! See? It says Annie’s Kindle.”

My renewed love of reading did not come with a budget to match so I turned to Lendle to borrow Kindle books so I don’t have to pay for everything I read. Amazon announcing they would allow lending of Kindle books for two weeks was a partial answer. Just because Amazon was allowing lending of books doesn’t mean I could find people to borrow books from. Lendle has filled that gap in a really simple and elegant way.

What is Lendle?

Lendle is a free book lending service. It is the online equivalent of handing a physical book to a friend.

How do I sign up?

You can join Lendle by signing up via email or using a Facebook or Twitter account.

How much does it cost?

Lendle is free to use. You can sign up and start borrowing books for free. When you lend books, Lendle will actually pay you per book lent a small sum to urge you to continue to lend. There are other book lending sites that require you pay them for the privilege. Lendle is not other book lending sites. Lendle is completely free.

How does it work?

To understand Lendle, you first need to understand Amazon’s Kindle; both the device and applications.

Lendle only works with Amazon’s Kindle eBooks. No Nook, no Sony eReaders, and no plain PDFs are supported.

For the book to be lent through Lendle it has to be a currently available title on the Amazon Kindle Store and the publisher has to have enabled the lending rights to the book.

Most books Amazon sells through the Kindle store are lend able. The only exceptions being books which the publisher or the author have specifically asked not be lend able because they’re still living in the dark ages of technology where the internet is scary.

Amazon will allow you to lend each eBook one time for two weeks. ((This is an Amazon limitation, not Lendle’s.)) While this is nowhere near as good as handing them the physical copy but it attempts to replicate the experience.

Lendle’s role in all this is a middleman putting those who have books to lend together with those who want to borrow books.

How does the Lending work?

When you sign up, you are given a several Borrows. This is the number of times you can request a book from other users. You search Lendle by author, title or keyword for books you want to borrow and click the Borrow button.

When you select a book to Borrow, Lendle looks at the list of people who have made the book available to lend and will email the borrow request to a number of people. The Lender will click a link in the email taking them to an Amazon page to lend out the book.

They complete the lend and the book is sent to the Borrower’s account on Amazon. The borrower is then notified by email the book has arrived and can download it to their Kindle, or a Kindle application running on any device. ((Windows, Mac, iPhone, iPad, Blackberry, Android device, or Amazon’s own Cloud Reader.))

Then in two weeks, when the loan has ended you will receive an email stating the loan is over and the book has been returned to your library and the Borrower will receive notice the book is no longer available to read. The entire process is completely painless.

How do I add my eBooks to Lendle?

Adding books to Lendle is as simple as searching the title, author or keyword of the book and clicking I Own it. The book is then added to your library. As a perk, you get additional Borrow requests for making more books available. In addition to encouraging growth by handing out more Borrow requests Lendle also pays you for each successful lend.

Wait, I can make money just by lending?

Yes. Lendle Pays You To Lend Books!

The money you earn is based on the value of the book lent. In addition to earning money when you lend, the site is completely free to use. Whereas some other sites will try to make you pay to get books lent to you, Lendle lets you join and borrow books for free.

What are you waiting for?

No really, why aren’t you at Lendle signing up?
Go to Lendle.me and you would be so kind, use my referral code NDI3KLZP. I get more Borrow requests, no cold hard cash or anything but it also adds you as my friend. And I like to think of us as friends.

Theory of Knowledge

When I was in high school I had the good fortune to take part in the International Baccalaureate program. Part of the program was a class called Theory of Knowledge. The entire purpose of this class was to teach us how to think. Is this even something considered in schools anymore?

We looked into philosophy and art history and theories in science and mathematics. The brunt of the class was a series of essays and associated presentations. The essays most self-directed but something which explored a deeper connection and meaning to work. I remember writing at length about the similarities between Nine Inch Nails and Edgar Allan Poe’s work. I recall writing about Dave Barry and Weird Al Yankovic’s style of humor and entertainment.

When we weren’t writing, we were talking. Not just talking but discussing and arguing. We were putting forth ideas and theories and shooting them down or supporting them.

There were not a lot of rights answers in Theory of Knowledge, TOK for short. The class was about thinking and drawing our own conclusions and examining how we arrived at them.

This all came flooding back into my head tonight as I read James Shelley’s post Like, the Post-Literate Society.

1984 is a great book because it is just as timely as it is timeless. It is a tale on control and media and influencing entire populations through fear and censorship. ((Sound familiar?))

Don’t you see that the whole aim of Newspeak is to narrow the range of thought? In the end we shall make thoughtcrime literally impossible, because there will be no words in which to express it. Every concept that can ever be needed, will be expressed by exactly one word, with its meaning rigidly defined and all its subsidiary meanings rubbed out and forgotten…

Sounds a bit like social media doesn’t it? Like. #Tweet. Reblog.

In my thinking about TOK I remembered reading Ishmael by Daniel Quinn. I cannot tell you what this book is about. Only that is keeps within the theme of thinking and learning.

20110908-105154.jpg

The author says this about his work,

Franz Kafka once wrote to a friend that the only books worth reading are those that “wake us up with a blow on the head” and send us reeling out into the street, not knowing who or what we are. According to thousands of readers I’ve heard from, this is exactly what Ishmael does for them. What makes Ishmael important is not what it’s “about” but rather what it DOES to you–and this is what you need to share with your friends. (Source)

As much as I love Twitter, Tumblr and Facebook they tend to be echo chambers. The same links, stories, ideas tend to circle round and round ad infinitum. I find myself craving new information. I want to think about new things and I want to explore again.

I have spent many hours on introspection because I feel it is important to look inward to best understand myself.

With that, I am going to buy Ishmael, and the two followup books having lent, lost or sold my copies years ago. I am going to re-examine how I think. I need something to wake me up with a blow to the head. I am ready to be a pupil again.

“Teacher seeks pupil, must have an earnest desire to save the world. Apply in person.”

Read Ishmael.

Then perhaps you can answer,

“With man gone, will there be hope for gorilla?”

Windows Apps I Love: Greenshot

I have become a fan of Prefs.org which got me thinking about apps I love and how I choose to use them. Being a geek, when I get a new application one of the first things I do is go into the settings or preferences and see what I can tweak. I talked about Greenshot before in an earlier Things I Love post.

I work in IT Support and user’s kept requesting Snag-It, a commercial screen capture application. I wanted to find a free alternative since most people don’t need the advanced features Snag-It provides. Greenshot fit the bill perfectly. ((I think Lifehacker ran a small article about it and I liked it more than the alternatives I found.))

Greenshot is a free, powerful screen capture application for Windows. It allows capture of a region, full screen or single window.

I speak English but the application is available in a hand full of languages. I register the hotkeys to make screen grabs easier. It is also vital to launch Greenshot at startup so it’s available when I need it.

I prefer to Show flashlight so I know a screenshot has been taken. I usually keep my computer muted or if I am listening to music, I don’t want the camera sound to play.

I hide the mouse pointer so it doesn’t mess up my screenshots. I don’t need the delay when I grab the screen so I don’t use the interactive window capture mode.

After the capture, I like to keep all my screenshots in a single folder sorted by date and copy it to the clipboard so I can drop it into an email or a document. Since I do a lot of documentation write ups and walk-throughs this saves me a step.

Since I never know when I might want the screenshot again, I like keeping them organized by date and time so I can go back and look for them.

I store each image in a Screenshot folder and as I mentioned they’re named based on date with a trailing number since the hours, minutes and seconds made the file names too long.

I have a personal preference for png. The application also supports gif, jpg and bmp. I ignore the jpeg quality setting because I have no need for it.

I never print our my screenshots so I’ve left all the printer default checked. Something about 72dpi images printed out makes me cringe.