Dec

12th

TABULOUS Firefox Add-on Expands Firefox’s Tab Capability

Blogging | Software | Website Development


Anyone who is involved with technology for their subsistence has to spend a lot of time on the Internet to keep up with the pace of change in that area. Added to this there are always additional areas of knowledge required by the individual assignment regarding idiosyncrasies of the industry, business and software requirements. We at Paladin Consultants, LLC either need a ready store of information on hand, or the ability to acquire specific esoteric information quickly to enhance our value to the project at hand.

My every working day, for instance, begins with scanning 50-100 blog sites for new developments. Of course, it would be impossible to read that many articles and still get productive work accomplished, so I have developed a set techniques to store, mark and schedule the absorption of this material.

Delicious, of course is a key component to my strategy. Most of the interesting and productive information I file with keywords on Delicious, where I can refer back to them as needed. But some content requires more careful and contemporaneous attention, and other content sometimes attracts my immediate interest. It is unwieldy to open these items in a new tab because the opening of too many tabs bogs Firefox, my favorite browser, down. Several years ago some folks created a Firefox add-on to address exactly this issue. The ‘Taboo’ add-on would save the site url and the image of its web page into a data file, which could be stored and recalled at a more convenient time. I made heavy use for that add-on in the few years it was available.

As Firefox put out newer and newer versions, the authors of the product found that they could not, or were disinterested in upgrading the product to keep up with the changes demanded by Mozilla.

But we at Paladin found the technology so useful that we forked the old ‘Taboo’ add-on for Firefox product, gave it a serious upgrade, and changed the structure that it would be easier to keep up with the frequent Firefox revisions to their browser product. We named the add-on ‘TABULOUS‘.

TABULOUS is simple and easy to use. The user interacts with the add-on through two buttons that he places on the browser tool bar on installation. The first button allows the user to save the current tab (or all tabs) into the active TABULOUS data file. This will free up the current tab for use by the user as he continues his browsing. As the current tab is saved, the toolbar button changes to remind you that it has been saved. The second button displays the thumbnail images of the saved sites in the TABULOUS data file and allow the user to choose the sites for viewing. In the ‘Viewing’ mode, there are several choices of display: by calendar, details, and in a Grid format. There is also a Tools menu in display mode which expands the power of the add-on to another dimension.

The Tools menu allows you to name save your TABULOUS file (Export). Here’s the powerful feature. Now you can export collections of sites in separate files, and import them as needed. This is an excellent way to do research on any subject: get a clean new TABULOUS file, and to through a bunch of Google pages on the subject that you are researching. Mark the interesting ones in your new TABULOUS file, and quickly move onto the next site. When you think you have a large enough population of sites marked (I try for 4-5 dozen to start), go back and cull the TABULOUS inventory, cutting and pasting salient information from the sites you have saved. This is a very powerful feature.

All in all, we have found this technique and tool to be VERY helpful and productive to our business, and to the effort of acquisition and sharing of knowledge. And, being strong believers in the principle of communal knowledge, offer this very helpful add-on to the internet community.

Jun

18th

Technology in Blogging: Collection of Ideas and Coordination of Content

Blogging | Software | Web Marketing


The process of blogging involves basically the cogent and organized statement and expression of better ideas communicated in a way that others can understand. Today, the market is saturated with innovative and clever software which will greatly assist the writers and planners of this world in producing thoughtful content efficiently. In our business, we always start with an organized examination and reformulation of the business process and rules of our clients.

In order to be successful, several inhibitions to this process needs to be examined understood and remedied. The first is the very idea of how to collect ideas and sub ideas. In my experience, ideas come from many locations and at many times. One of the issues and perhaps the most important of all is designing a process that one can capture those ideas. Because one never knows when one is going to have an idea or receive the revelation it’s important to have a method to capture these ideas as they occur. I use an iPhone or iPad as the technology that hooks all those together.

As a web-based receiver and recorder of that information, Evernote, a free internet based site which will allow you to save and record your ideas in an organized fashion, is my choice. These methods give only a rough outline and a way to collect and produce an organized listing of these idea fragments. These later must be combined in collated and edited into an intelligible skein of thought process. Because it’s not uncommon to have thoughts on different subjects they’re not in a logical flow but seemingly random it’s also convenient to have different subjects in one’s electronic notebook I find Evernote is very good for this as well.

One can with a little practice and experience have a notebook that is arranged by different subjects and when one has some thoughts one can go to the subject page that’s appropriate for those thoughts to help organize the content. Evernote also has a web clipping application which will enable you to save web articles to Evernote.

Lastly, I use a product called SnagIt to capture and edit screen images to be inserted into my articles. Very convenient.

After a short period of time the notebook, if you attempt to keep it somewhat organized, will be filled with a logical progression of ideas thoughts and subjects which although composed of different times are organized well enough to conceive a pretty frequent blog articles which may or may not be part of a single uber-subject.

I’ve also discovered that if you carry your iPhone with you at all times it’s not difficult to come up with an organized thought pattern, punctuate those thoughts occasionally with photos that you can take on your iPhone and then transfer to a document and process before it’s published

As I have frequently noticed in my business, it is the process and the assimilation and institutionalization if you will of that process that is the key factor to success in promulgating any idea or idea system.

Ideas, like flowers need to ripen and mature.

Another reason why this is a good set of habits to develop is that in my experience one rarely knows at the outset of an idea the limits to which that idea will grow, it’s fecundity, usefulness or how it will nurture itself and grow. To reach its full flower and idea needs to be considered from many different angles and examined and considered. And aged like a good cheese in order to assess where the idea will go and how it will grow.

In my view, this is the most difficult part of writing a blog: the organized collection and assembly of a coherent collection of thought and ideas. But using my technique of an electronic web-based notebook, and the dictation and photo power of the iPhone, I believe dramatically improves and makes easier this process. I use DropBox (the free version) which allows me to transfer applicable photos from my phone to my desktop computer, or for a single picture I can just email it to myself.

I conceived the idea of the series of articles about 10 days ago, and now have easily enough material for about 12 blog articles on this general subject (improvements in technology and its contribution to the process of blogging and the processing and promulgation of ideas).

I estimate (I did not keep a log) that since this idea occurred to me, I have spent about a total of an hour formulating the outline and dictating idea fragments and partial text for about a dozen blog articles. Transferring all the content to a Word document took about 5 minutes, and rewriting and editing the content for this article took about 10 minutes. Because the recording and outline of the articles occurred in ‘private time’ snippets while walking to the train, or driving I do not count that time. So it works out that it will take about 3 hours to create 12 thoughtful blog articles with the help of my new process, and a little technology.

Mar

18th

Mashups: A Web2.0 Technique to Harness Outside Content to Work for You!

Blogging | Software | Web Marketing | Website Development


Summary: This article is one more in a series explaining and advocating for web2.0 technology, and how that technology is helpful in interacting meaningfully with customers and clients over the web. This article is the latest in a series of essays about the various facets of web2.0 technology, including Programming Web Content with Web2.0 and XML: A Key Powerful Software Technology to Grow Your Business and Engage Your Customers. As professional designers and providers of web services we know that our clients have a much higher and better quality of response from sites which strive to offer a better caliber of interaction with their customers. Web2.0 is an essential technology and component of that effort.

There are several distinct types of mashups – consumer and enterprise. Enterprise mashups usually occur over secure networks, and are processed on a server, while consumer mashups are more forgiving, and accomplished on the users’ desktops. Web-based mashups usually use the clients web-browser to do the combining and reformatting of data. The various data streams must be sent to the client device as individual data streams so that they can be processed. Server-based mashups will do the analysis and reformatting of the data on the server side and send the data to the client as a single data stream.

Early mashups were created manually by programmers. As with many programming break-throughs, they were first done by enthusiastic programmers just to see if it could be done. As mashups became more popular, there arose a market for tools to simplify and speed up the creation of mashups. Software companies responded by creating tools that allow designers to construct mashups in a visual environment. All the potential components of a mashup are presented in this visual environment and can be connected to create the desired mashup. While mashup editors have made the process of creating mashups much simpler, they have not done a lot to create new ways of accessing the data to be combined. Mashup Enablers address this problem by adding new types of data that can be added to a mashup. A mashup enabler is defined as “the service and tool providers that make mashups possible”.

This type of technology was impossible until recently because of the speed of the average consumer internet communication. The number of http requests needed to ‘feed’ one page of data necessitates a high speed connection to the internet. And the very nature of the requests makes pre-made dataset presentations unfeasible. Associated technologies such as XML, SOAP, JSON and evolutions in Javascript capabilities have also facilitated adoption of slick representations of this and other Web2.0 applications.

Here’s a mashup created using Yahoo pipes. Yahoo pipes is a graphic interface which allows querying, filtering, sorting manipulating and formatting output from sources across the internet. This particular one taps several RSS feeds using technology from Yahoo and Delicious. The combines them into a single feed which is sorted by dates so that the most recent articles appear at the head of the list. If left to its own devices, the pipe would return hundreds of thousands of articles! But for our purposes, we limited it to the 15 most current articles.
(add references to other Paladin articles above)

However, with the advent of readily available high speed processing on the desktop and high speed communications, this mashup technology is beginning now to come into its own. Web pages that before were static and ‘dusty’ and were outmoded before they were published are now beginning to give way to dynamic conversations between the provider and user. Mashups are one way of delivering custom tailored content to a hungry consumer with an ever shortening attention span and an ever expanding demand for information.

For the business owner, it is also a boon. Here is an excellent way to provide up to the minute content which can be tailored to the needs and desires of an interested customer – kind of like an MIRV missile (multiple independently-targeted re-entry vehicle). This is very powerful magic from a marketing and business development point of view. And even more exciting is that after the relatively small initial setup cost, the business owner can have his website updated and fresh, targeted to any individual customer or prospect by piggybacking on the technology of someone else!

Here’s a mashup using Flickr.com and Flickriver.com. Flickr is the repository of data containing the photographs, and Flickriver provides the technology that produces a randomly ordered list of up to 500 separate images from a pool of Flickr files. The list is different every day, so this blog article will show a different crop of images every day -automatically!

No, this is not plagiarism. It is perfectly legal and respectable. The providing companies expose their API (application programming interface) to the public exactly for that reason: they are anxious for other sites to share their technology because it establishes themselves as an industry standard, and makes it more likely that they will get a larger share of the business generated by the downstream customers .

If you feel that your company might benefit from such an enhancement to your web site and marketing program, please feel free to contact us. Additionally, we welcome comments on our articles in the space provided below.

Dec

2nd

Top Tips for Achieving Economy of Effort in Successful Blogging

Blogging | Software


All of the top0bloggers have their own system for making their quality articles and getting their popularity.  Each of them uses a different combination of techniques.  Some effectively use other peoples effort and leverage it elegantly.  I’m not talking about plagiarizing the work of others, but rather the effective tapping into the community for their resources.  That’s an effective technique once a blog achieves a critical mass, but not readily workable for the smaller or newer blogs.

I have developed a system for fitting our blog writing into our daily routine, and it involves the use of technology by gaining efficiency from productive software and streamlining the thought processes.  This helps get around the press of servicing clients in our software development and web business at Paladin Consultants, LLC .

Inertia and the lack of a clear idea of what to write about has been the number one blogging stumbling block for me, along with a cumbersome production process of the blog article itself.  I have solved this in several ways.

  1. I found I had a lot of ideas, but didn’t have a way of recalling them when I needed them.  So I started using Evernote, which recently added a Blackberry extension.  Since I am never far away from my ‘berry, I can text, dictate, or send a picture to Evernote, and harvest those thoughts at the proper time.  I also am a heavy user of OneNote, so, on an as needed basis, I copy thoughts from Evernote to OneNote for a more permanent and well-organized record.  There is a good blog for OneNote, which talks about the many uses it has. 
  2. I try to have a small camera near me all of the time.  At very least, I have my Blackberry camera. So, armed as such, it is easier to get illustrations of some of my topics and ideas.
  3. Recently I have found that once I have decided on a thought or idea, it is productive to actively think about that idea while falling asleep.  During the night, somehow, the idea seems to be processed and examined from all sides, and, oddly enough, seems to be well developed my morning.

The next bottleneck is usually the development of the idea.  This is partially resolved by the sleep technique discussed above.  The problem with the sleep technique is that if you don’t capture it quickly, its persistence appears to be limited.  Use it or lose it.  So among the first tasks of the morning needs to be the capture of the previous night’s thought process.

I’ve had success with mind mapping techniques, especially for short blog articles.  For a longer treatise, a hierarchical outline, such as one might produce in Word would be more appropriate. Usually, I draw the mind map on a yellow college ruled pad, but I’ve gussied up the one for this article to make it visually appealing. See if it makes sense to you.

Mindmap.jpg

Once I have the ‘plan’, then it’s time to bring in the power tools to take care of the details.  I use BlogJet, a very convenient and inexpensive online blogging software, which lets me compose, spell check, insert artwork, links, tags, and virtually everything I need to do to produce the blog itself.  I felt that this piece of software reduced the amount to time I spend visually composing each article by at least 1/2 hour.  They also have a very nice feature which fits into Firefox, which allows me to copy and paste pieces of web pages into the text of my blog very easily.

Firefox is an extremely important piece of software for me.  It seems that no matter how hard Microsoft and Google try, they can’t quite come up to the standards of the Firefox Mozilla browser:  Mozilla always seems to be one step ahead of them.  There are two Firefox  plugins that are particularly effective for me: Taboo, and SEOQuake.

Taboo is a software tool which allows you to take many tabs open in Firefox, and store them in one tab as thumbnails.  So, instead of having 20 tabs opened, you might only have two: the one you’re immediately working on, and the other containing the Taboo ‘reservoir’ collection.  Taboo allows you to temporarily store dozens of pages in this thumbnail format, each image growing as you mouse over it.  It saves looking through the tab array, and saves scarce memory.  A very useful tool!  I have a Bookmark category called ‘Blogging Tools’, which I open in tabs  (about 10 sites), then annex them to the Taboo page.  Makes for very efficient research and fact checking.

Firefox app Taboo

SEO Quake, is another Firefox app that analyzes the keyword/ key phrase content of your article.  At the end of writing the article in BlogJet, you can save it to a temporary HTML file, and use SEO Quake to appraise it for links, key phrase effectiveness before you publish.  And it always helps to have a list of your Wordtracker phrases to rework your article against.

In the Pantheon of Tools I rank Delicious near the top.  It’s a very powerful tool which lets you save sites, software techniques and articles, like your Browser Bookmark feature.  Except that your Delicious sites are available to you whether you happen to be at your computer or not.  Available on client machines, Available on your Blackberry or iPhone. Available on your laptop.  Available in subgroups as RSS feeds of your tags, of as subscriptions to the tags of the rest of the universe.  An extremely powerful element in anyones toolkit, and a great contribution to social knowledge.

In addition to photographs, I try to include portions of scanned documents like software code where appropriate, to illustrate my point, as well as screen clips, video clips, and charts.  I find that Google charts allows one to create some very nice looking graphics with ones own data.  Those graphics, though not ornate in any sense,  are far more professional looking than those produced by Excel.

Finally, if you are not a strong typist, or are composing at the keyboard, while doing your research at the same time, Nuance’s Dragon Naturally Speaking is a good candidate for you.  I confess to using it sometimes to squeeze out a quick article when I am short on time.

Please leave a comment – comments help us do a better job!

Nov

23rd

It’s a Great Time to Be Alive

Blogging


I cannot think of a better time to have lived.  Certainly not before the printing press; certainly not before the airplane, not during the World Wars.  No– now is the time.  Access to goods, food, learning, entertainment (although the 18th-19th century might have an edge there), travel, technology has never before been able to attain the lofty heights that we now enjoy.  That is not to say that there are storm clouds on the horizon with respect to our standard of living, and the freedoms we enjoy.  But in terms of access to information and knowledge there has never been any time like the present.

Now that access to information is truly a two-edged sword.  A fair part of that information is false.  And partaking of that information (which is from many sources) is largely free.  New scientific information is readily available, as are many reservoirs of fecund ideas.  But some information available is false, and some late and outdated.  So the seeker must be able to discern the quality and reliability of the information he finds.

An excellent example of that caveat arose just recently when after many years of a steady drum beat from ‘very reliable’ sources on the perils of global warming, a hacking at the University of East Anglia last weekend exposed the scam wherein scientists were caught faking statistics and press releases to favor their chicken-little position.  In addition, there was evidence of a plot to discredit their opposition, destroying their credibility and ruining their careers.

According to the Pew Internet & American Life Project, recent estimates suggest that there are some 12 million blogs written by American adults.  And according to that same organization, some 57 million Americans are blog readers.

Think of all that free information!

But before that information is used, it needs to be evaluated.  Always in critical situations, it is wise to check your sources with other sources.  For instance, if one listened only to the global warming drum beat, one could easily be convinced that the earth as we know it was coming to an end.

On virtually every subject, it is now easy to become quite well informed through a variety of media outlets: videos from youtube, tutorials from places like Adobe and many others, podcasts, web sites, blogs-a-plenty – and in a very short period of time.  Now it’s important to keep differing opinions in perspective, but luckily there are millions of competing blogs and sources of information to allow you that freedom.

Google, the advertising company that provides such excellent search capabilities, provides a rich texture of blogs, tutorials and analytic programs to help guide us in providing satisfactory web experiences.  And Adobe has many tutorials to help us learn and become masters of its graphics processing programs, Photoshop and Illustrator.  These folks provide this information because they are the web developers have a common interest: using their programs to help design professional and powerful web sites.

The same goes for blogging.  I am writing this article on a program called Blogjet, which I use to create, edit and post articles on several blogs.  I have not been a prolific blogger in the past, because I have been too busy with various software and web development projects.  So I needed to get ‘up to speed’ quickly.  I learned about Blogjet from some other blog article I read which evaluated Blogjet and 14 other competing products in Smashing Magazine.

Unfortunately, blogging has not been an activity which has produced a lot of remuneration for me– at least directly.  Existing clients want their projects progressing, leaving little time for writing great tomes.   More recently, I have been using Twitter to disseminate compact little crumbs of wisdom.

But now I have been thinking that perhaps I could devote an hour a week to promulgating some more complex ideas of my own to the bank of community knowledge, and with the aid of decent software like Blogjet and OneNote to assist me, I have started anew my quest.

Fortune found me a terrific blog to assist me in honing my blogging talents.  Seth Waite’s Blogussion blog is an excellent place to begin.  With his own suggestions, and a weekly roundup of tips of the week from other successful bloggers.  And, to be honest, I was piqued last week when I tried to join a group of another well-known blogger just a few hours after their introductory period ended.  The new price was 3 time the intro price, and they would not let me join at the intro price.  So I am determined to accomplish the same goals now for free.

George Washington and the rest of our founding fathers came to this country with very little.  Their fathers had been steeped in the European guild system of mastering only one art: a carpenter in one instance, a miller in another, silversmith in yet another.  They arrived here and did not have a diverse enough economy to allow for this elegant division of labor.  They were forced by circumstance to become expert in many crafts.  Washington was a surveyor, farmer, general, and statesman.  And the other founding fathers had similar eclectic talents.

If they were resourceful enough to form this country into the greatest in history, certainly we with the resources at our disposal can continue in that tradition.  If fact they would expect nothing less.