Ramblings, meanderings, rants and discoveries.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Utilities, Tools and Widgets

Let me start this out by saying I am an advocate for doing things the easy way. As I have said in the past I am lazy. Now that doe not mean I avoid doing work, it does mean I will spend hours even days setting something up so that I can perform a repetitious action in minimal time.

Actions like updating links, calculating and checking statistics, and most of all updating. So the idea of widgets, (called by some toolkits or utilities) has always appealed to me. Yes, those little apps or programs that make life easier. Here is a list of some I have tripped across, used and my opinions of them - so far.

Headline Animators - Like the one to the left for the OTHER blog. I like these little widgets. It is a slick fast way to promote a feed. They can be customized to fit in any website's theme.

RSS feeds - Kind of nice, but once you subscribe you get everything. If I post 20 things in one day about how the aliens are beaming messages to my crowns, and you are subscribed to me, you get them. But then, perhaps you read Andromedian and are interested in those intergalactic missives?

RSS Readers - Something about these remind me of the old echomail (now called usenet mainly) readers. I miss Blue Wave and kill files. I have just started playing with these. A kill file would be nice so I can filter out those blogs about the messages and pay attention to the ones about how to hack the starship that is approaching.

Trillian (and Miranda) - I love these types of apps. I hated having clients on different IM's and needing to load or unload one or another because the engines all fought with each other for supremacy. The only draw back to these is that they rarely get warning of changes in the messenger services. The last Yahoo change caused me to lose messages from people, the app would crash and I had a few system slowdowns. But you know these are worth sending the coders a donation or buying the commercial version. They are extremely useful.

Mihov image resizer - A perfect utility. It does just what the title says and little more. It resizes graphics. That means I do not have to load up Photoshop, load the graphic then play with it. I just load the resizer, enter the file name, it gives me the attributes and I tell it what I want and it resizes. It will also run some conversions like gif to jpg etc.

ID Serve - A quick DNS lookup tool from Gibson Research. I enter the URL or the IP and it goes out pings the machine and tells me what it can about the server. It defaults to port 80, but you can configure or request any port.

I continue to seek out new Widgets and will post here when I find them. I have yet to find a site builder that passes W3 compliance. (Yes that is my current quest) I like building websites, but it would be so much nicer if I could find a site builder that I like. One that gives me flexibility and lets me control what elements I wish and is W3 compliant.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Contributing to the digital divide

Lately it seems to me that more and more companies are contributing to the digital divide with their practices. I may run a state of the art machine, but my connectivity is limited by what I can afford and is available in my area. In other words dial-up of the 56K variety. I have spoken to many online who are hampered by this same stumbling block due to their location. We have started compiling a list of sites that are starting to really annoy us. Here are some recent examples:

Gamespot - owned by Cnet
First every single page is graphics heavy, it takes anywhere from 30 seconds to 5 minutes for a basic forum page to load. Yes you read that correctly a page that should be nothing more than text. Why is this? I am not 100% sure but I THINK it has to do with those annoying adverts.

Zone Labs -

Yep, the makers of Zone Alarm. What is their problem? Ok, so when i try a file transfer with Opera it may or may not complete. BUT according to their site, one should download with I.E. Why? because it seems that other browsers including Firefox may corrupt the download. BAD show Zone Labs. If you want me to replace my MS preferred firewall with yours, then let me do so with my non MS browser. I will have more to say about Zone Labs in my next Blog - unfortunately. They used to be one of my favorite companies.

Yahoo.com -
Sigh, their new look and upgrade now take forever to load. Trillian had to be patched because of all the new "features" causing system crashes. I am starting to really hate all IMs.

Microsoft - well no surprise there. I have a slow connection and must use the classic mail on MSN. OK I have no problem with that, except that takes forever too. More of the issue is the upgrade etc process. It has nit yet become online only. But it was a pain trying to upgrade online with this old slow machine not running I.E. Add to that they expect everyone to have a credit card. Think about that. What would you do if you had no credit card? Ahh there is paypal right? Yep, except MS doesn't take them. What about an e-check? Nope, they don't take that either. Ok a money wire? Nope. Credit card or nothing. When Word coverts a doc to HTML it does not conform to W3 compliance. A lot of online text editors start getting weird if you try to paste from it or enter the HTML it generates. It is NOT that hard guys. Quit trying to be the owner of the internet and let everyone read stuff.

High schools - I hate to say this, but U.S. and Canadian High schools are adding to the issue. Many now require their students deliver their papers via a website and in .doc or is some cases .pdf format. What does that mean to a student with no machine at home? Hours at the library typing, writing and sending a paper. Same as any other student you say? Not really. One with a computer at home can do so at any time and with no time restrictions except those imposed by their parents. . One with access to the library only must write and send a paper within the hours the Library is open. Oh and most libraries limit time that one may have a computer. For those that do buy a machine they have to then put out the money for the applications that produce the required formats or do as my daughter did for a week or so, spend twice as much time on the paper for pure formatting reasons. I thought the purpose of paper writing was the content not the software format and the students' knowledge of commercial packages?

Neopets - Yes, the kid's site. One must now run the latest flash versions, have a fast connection and who knows what else in order to perform many actions. It is a shame that kids whose parents cannot afford the latest in technology cannot play all the games. What a great message to send to our kids. You need all the expensive stuff in order to compete.

This is a tip of the iceberg. Almost nothing here is crucial to existence, yet. The phone company seems to be moving more and more in the online direction. Which I should point out annoys me no end, how can I get online to check my status when my lines are down? Computer companies in general assume you have online access As I discovered in the almost 2 months I did not after the 98 machine's ports died. Lucky for me CDW, Circuit City and Best buy are all up the road and the library down the road. Companies need to rethink their strategies. If they want to take part in the global economy, they have to take into consideration that a person in a city in South Africa (yes that is where one of the brain-stormers of this was) may not have Vista, a high speed connection, a color printer or a credit card. They should consider not everyone in the world speaks English. (As my French and Danish gaming friends have pointed out.) Remember not everyone can see the pretty pictures that are slowing the load down as my blind friend says (he hates being called visually impaired btw) Not everyone can hear the music that takes forever to buffer as my father points out. I am tired of waiting for Pdfs to load for one small piece of information about my daughter's school arrival times. And last, but not least stop making all the tutorials as videos. Just make it so people who need information can get to it. It's not that difficult.