Monthly Archives: March 2009

Rediscovering microblogging

I, just now, am rediscovering the use of microblogging. I have looked at Twitter an microblogging in the past and found it unnecessary. I had an identi.ca account for some months now, but I did not use it very often. But I had the feeling that it could be useful.

I think it is. I have looked at Twitter and how it was used. Twitter is the Myspace of microblogging. In Germany also politicians and VIPS use Twitter now and its really crap what most of them do. This is because this way microblogging is just a way to follow VIPs. Another usage seems to be to communicate with your friends. This can be partly useful, but more for things that should be public like organizing a barbecue. Still then the big question is if you want the whole world to follow your stupid little barbecue?

There is yet another way to use microblogging. That is as a replacement of IRC chat. In the past people met in IRC to organize events, then a chat log was saved and published. But this is not asynchronous. People did use IRC asynchronous by using a mix of screen+irssi to be always on as a user on a server and read messages when they wanted. Identi.ca allows be to create and join groups or follow a user. Groups do not exist on Twitter. Groups are depersonalising microblogging. This means you rather follow a topic in a group sense rather than a single person or just a tag.

So if we talk about a group we just have a fresh one called !SFD. This allows people to join a community without having to register on another web page. They can follow messages passively or simply add their 5 cents by posting with !SFD, too.

The nice thing about microblogging is, that its not only asynchronous and open but also web accessible. This means that it has a low entry barrier. Everybody can read the messages, even if she does not understand what is going on. IRC will never gain a lot more attention.

Identi.ca has a gateway to Jabber Instant Messaging. This allows me to get a message immediately after it was sent – and also for me to send messages via jabber to the open microblogging sphere. This means that microblogging has a instant messaging functionality

Microblogging is also similar to Blogging which the name already says. Its messages  are a lot shorter. Usually < 140 characters. This is not much and I also think it might be nice to be able to extend this limit. Not for microblogging itself but maybe to link to microblogging with a short summary of a full blog post. You can talk about everything in 140 characters.

I think microblogging is an interesting technology, especially with the AGPL/GPL3 licensed Laconica that drives identi.ca.

I am still testing the limits and to find out what you can or can not do with it.

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Pointer to DFD report

Ah and btw. as I organized the DFD in Kiel 2009 – here is the report.

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Removed shutdown in Ubuntu Jauntys system menu

I have talked about this in my first impressions and now have found more about it:

See “Why missing shutdown and user logout menus in system menu with 9.04 Alpha 5?“:

“Yes, this is a stupid UI decision made by people in Ubuntu who haven’t thought about accessibility. Luckily, getting the menu options back is simply a matter of finding the user switch applet, and removing it from the panel. Things are now set up so that if the user switch applet is not on any of the panels, the menu items will return.”

Oh my… I do use the fast user switch applet but not for shutting down. I like things to be on different places. This is because switching a user and shutting down the computer are totally unrelated things. Some UI designers may think its the same because you leave the current desktop. The fast user switch applet used to have only few entries with available users. Now they managed to have it overloaded. I do have welcomed in the past to not overload the panel – but of you start overloading the applets (mine has 12 options now) its the same thing. Overloading functionality is never good.

So fast user switch should be essentially what it is called. Right now it is also “user status”, “shutdown/reboot”, “lock screen”, “log out”. The thing is that you actually loose functionality every time you add some functionality because people have a harder time to find what they are looking for. And please dont force people to remove the fast user switch just because they want to shutdown via system menu.

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First impressions of Ubuntu 9.04 beta

I have just updated to newest Ubuntu. Here are some points of interest:

  • Thes removed the shutdown option from system menu. You now HAVE to use the stupid applet. IS this a GNOME or an Ubuntu decision. Personally i dont like this applet for shutting down. I always used the system menu. The applet looks so similar to the pidgin icon. Argh how stupid can programmers be? That would be a reason to dump GNOME. You should not remove essential stuff
  • Flash does not work in Firefox and Epiphany
  • I cant installe epiphany-webkit
  • the volume ruler now is horicontal. Is this better? and he did crash
  • The messaging (if you change volume, network is connected, etc.) now has a black background
  • totem does not play videos and crashes
  • monitor settings look much better. need to test it with my beamer.
  • btw. the gnome 2.26 news again sound silly at least in german like:
  • “GNOME’s web browser, Epiphany, gains an exciting new feature of an improved location bar, similar to the Awesome Bar popularized by Firefox 3.0.” – well Epiphany had this address bar BEFORE Firefox – it might have added searching the titles also – but what kind of GNOME marketing is that?

I am sure there is more to say. Why dont I file bug reports. Because I have lots of outstanding bugs that are undecided ot disputed so I know it does not make sense to submit new bugs. Its more likely that somebody reads this review and acts uppon that as that anybody really cares about new Ubuntu bugs from my experience. Thats sad but its true. That does not mean people do not work on bugs in Ubuntu – but they tend to either fix clear bugs or dismiss anything they dont get. Like the Evolution guys who still have crappy spam marking options. I did file a bug in GNOME bugzilla years ago but they still think spam handing is not important. That was the single reason for me to switch to Thunderbird.

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Make movies free (Theora video)

As I wanted to (for the first time) convert an MP4 video to a patent free version with OGG Theora I found that the solutions is simple. There is a command line tool “ffmpeg2theora” for Unix systems. This is part of “OggConvert” and sure is available for many Unix based operating systems.

I started “GNU Screen” from command line which enables me to close the terminal at every point without ending the conversion process.  This is often smarter than using some GUI tools which might break more easily. With this process you can even reset your session without stopping the conversion. I then just typed “ffmpeg2theora filename.mp4” and it will produce a file named “filename.ogv”.

What I just describes is no magic at all, but plain and simple.

Again Why Theora?

Because Theora is patent free. So nobody who is watching the file will ever need a license to play it. You should consider using Theora. Firefox 3.5 will support playing it without any plugins! Its the new free video standard of the internet.

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Another Online Desktop Idea

GNOME has its vision of what a online desktop should be. I have another. The idea is to find a replacement for:

  • VPN network access
  • XDMCP graphical logins
  • SSH logins
  • etc.

My idea – and I am sure I am not the only one having it is to have rather a local login to a desktop – but then be able to fetch some common settings from a central server – and maybe also some data.

I will explain a possible session:

First you have a plain desktop like a GNOME desktop. You might want to use the settings of your central account. Then you can do this by clicking on a link. You can type in your password and you will get all the settings you use. By that I mean things like IMAP account, bookmarks, Jabber account,… maybe also desktop settings loudness settings, messaging preferences – and maybe not some location specific settings like your proxy. Maybe you can register your location or rather choose it to by a dynamic location (because you use a public WLAN with some more secure settings and with different IP addresses).

On a second session  login  the settings will be downloaded and the environment of the desktop will change. Potentially this settings could be accessed from a central GCONFD which runs as root as a daemon instead of per session. Maybe this would also allow to tunnel some traffic through the server that has this GCONFD running.

So what this does NOT is:

  • It does not provide any secure connection like SSH or a real login to a server.
  • It does not provide a login to GDM through XDMCP
  • It does not provide any access to a VPN

It rather provides:

  • Information that a user has saved
  • Themes, Looks and other environment definitions
  • Maybe also acces to data if this is wanted. So if the user saves the data on a central server this desktop could offer some ways to access (via VPN, SSH, XDMCP,…). The ways that are offered could depend on the configuration of the GCONFD and on how the user defines access to his desktop.
  • It could also offer different VIEWS – so coming back to former ideas I offered here in my blog – So I as a user could define a simplified, lightweight profile for my notebook when I am on the move or for mobile devices. These views could also maybe be shared anonymized or personalized via Email, Jabber, etc. – so that they could be downloaded, installed, executed and used.
  • A way to print something from anywhere in the world to a printer of your choice.

For privacy concerns the user should be given some options to anonymize his shared views – or be warned if the connection is not encrypted or secure enough. These views could maybe also include many different desktops in one – so like you import a HOME view and a OFFICE view – and can switch between them like today with the screens in the GNOME panel. So that would be useful not only while traveling but also handling different usages. Users need different environments. One main problem people have is that their computer tend to mix all kinds of usages – so maybe somebody is working, has some private usages and also is active in an organization. Today people sort data and information by creating folders. But the number of folders is steadily growing – and often you  only need one or two folders if you want to work on one subject. The other 500 folders are useless in this moment.

All those problems are neither targeted by todays desktop nor by GNOMEs online desktop vision which really just tries to integrate big websites into your desktop. I wish some of those visions could become true. Right now all desktops are much too conservative. I think maybe Plan 9 has done the groundwork for such an idea (representing all data in folders and files)

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Stop button abolishment – a very bad idea

As far as I know it started with Apples iPod. To make things more “simple” it was decided that this box did not need a stop button. The open source world was excited about this decision and made similar things in many audio/video applications. Actually I think thats one of the worst decisions they could ever have thought of.

Example1: Rhythmbox

If you download PodCasts and start one – you can only pause the play – if you then you switch to radio you cant start the radio right of – because when you press play/pause again the podcast you have paused will continue to play. The only way I could play the radio was to close rhythmbox and start it again. WTF?

Example2: Miro

Miro has a similar problem. Like you are in the media library and start playing one of the videos – then you like to stop the one you watch and want to look at the others. The way you can do it is by selecting another navigation item (both Miro and Rhyhtmbox use the iTunes style left hand navigation bar) and then switch back to media library again. There is no stop.

Summary

Thinking that everything Apple does is a smart idea is stupid. I might accept Apples decision for their iPod, because it has very little space. But also it is not able to do multiple tasks. Why shouldn’t I be able to tell “STOP – I dont want to play this media any more now”. it also tells the application that if I would come back to the file I rather would start from the beginning. Actually I think more often people would start from the beginning of a video or a music piece than ton start somewhere in the middle. And if they would like to I think some kind of time based bookmark would be a better solution. On Miro I then found out that when I drag the progress meter to the very left it works a bit like a stop button – or better as a jump pack and play. But still I am not able to say go to second 0 and then do nothing. Am i stupid? Am I the only person n the world who likes to stop the playing of videos or music? I very seldomly pause a media file. This only happens when somebody is at the door and I either do not want to share my content to the ears fo the visitor or if I do not want to miss any second. Usuallly I rather let it play through. Somebody has guessed that nobody needs stop because play and pause are the same. I followed that discussion on Jokosher and gnome-usability list a while ago. I could not get my arguments through. But today I see that the use of play/pause/stop is even different on every application because now you have to guess more what the combined buttons mean. On Miro I also find it confusing that even switching to a differen navigation area stops playing. Why shouldn’t I listen to a files while searching or another and then come back to the media display. So they remove the stop button bu then make “navigating=stop”?
Rhythmbox doesnt do that. But then RB has the problem that if you see a play/pause in radio area this does not mean that pressing play will start the radio – it might rather start the podcast that you had paused. So from my perspective this all is awful usability now. Parts of it depend on the silly iTunes clone infrastructure. I never considered iTunes to be good in usability – in fact it is more kind of a list browser in the sense of a file manager with search capabilites and other enhancements (like downloading album covers, …) – but then why a second file manager and not improving the old ones?

I dont feel comofrtable with the newest multimedia applications in open source – I dont know how to use them – and I am 37 now. How do you smart programmers think your grammies will work through this? It took me years to tell my parents how play, pause and stop look like. And now we start throwing away the only distinguished symbols that we have and only have one button? How can we explain the functionality of that button? You see its even the case that different applications interpret the functionality differently – which means in fact that users have to learn EACH application. That was one thing Apple used to do better in the time before iTunes – try to make all interfaces behave and look more alike. iTunes was very “unapple” but strangely many think this is a cool application. But personally it reminds me more on old “Norton Commander” style of interface – so that was the pre-Windows area 1986.

Weird.

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