Hacking Your Life

http://www.flickr.com/photos/4terra/344119502/Hacking has a negative connotation these days to most people. It once was just a complimentary term in the tech world for fixing a tough technical problem of programming code, but then hackers started trying for "unauthorized access to a computer system (e.g. website) or network by manipulating code" and it became more widely used as a bad thing.

Then there are life hacks. You might look at life hacks as a kind of personal productivity. (That is unless you spend so much time online looking at this stuff that you get nothing else done - insert deep bow to my wife here.) They are those little technology tools, gadgets, websites, widgets and such that make you life a bit easier, more efficient, or more enjoyable.

If you look at the most popular blogs at Technorati, you'll find a plethora of sites that would have once been in the "self-help" aisle at the bookstore. Now they are life hacks.

Of course, someone grabbed the URL, so lifehacker.com might claim some credit as the home of all this. They say "Computers make us more productive. Yeah, right. Lifehacker recommends the software downloads and web sites that actually save time. Don't live to geek; geek to live."

You can find there phone interview tips as well as info on Forbes' new site called OrgChartWiki, where you can create organizational charts for your company, school, team, department, club etc.

I guess I have included some life hacks on this blog in my recommended sites and online apps and something like OrgChartWiki fits quite well here, though my hacks generally has a teacher's life in mind.

If the gadgets are more your interest, Engadget or Gizmodo may be better for you. if you need info about a lightning detector or about your Macbook Pro's battery problems. These sites also have information for EdTech types such as about schools banning iPods to try to curb digital cheating.

A very popular blog (with a number of companion sites) is 43 Folders by Merlin Mann which has gadgets, software, news and life hacks too.

One of his posts sent me to read Getting Things Done:The Art of Stress-Free Productivity, a book by David Allen that has ways to increase your personal productivity.


If you want your life hacks on paper, you might also try the book that came from the web site Lifehacker: 88 Tech Tricks to Turbocharge Your Day.

It's full of hacks, tweaks, mods, mash ups and other tech slang repurposed for your life as shortcuts in easy how-to's. There are 88 of them categorized by cost, platform, and level of geekiness and though they are tech in nature, remember - they are designed to help use all this technology that is supposed to simplify your life. (Samples: scripting repetitive e-mail responses, securely tracking all your passwords, capturing web clippings with Google Notebook, getting back deleted files.)

And what kind of World 2.0 would it be if the book that came from a web site didn't have itself a web site about the book! It's at lifehackerbook.com and has updates, links, references, and additional tips and tools for the hacks described in the book.

OK, my last life hack for today - make a cup of green tea, go to zentences and take a few minutes out to sip and consider a few of the tech-generated koans there... now close that browser, close you eyes, and follow your breath. Simplify your life.

Online Swap Meets

For the weekend...

Here are some online services to get you some music, movies and games cheaply and legally.

Peerflix.com is an online DVD site for trading or buying used DVDs. They have more than 40 thousand titles. The fee is 99 cents plus postage, so that's under $2.

LaLa is a swap music CDs service that claims 1.8 million titles for under 2 bucks and was a PC Magazine Editors Choice.

Gameswap - 2300 games at 1.99 a swap, but free until August 31. Not that many users or swaps at this point - maybe they love their games too much.

And if you're more the live music type, Tourfilter.com checks for bands and performers in a few dozen cities & let's you see (or get emails) when their next gig is announced in your area.

Creating Web Pages Without Knowing How to Create Web Pages

Protopage is usually promoted and thought of as a homepage service. That puts it in with providers like Netvibes, Webwag, Pageflakes, Yourminis, Google personalized pages, and Windows Live.

Part of my interest in Protopage was that it was one of the first sites that I saw that was using an Ajax desktop that lets you move items around on the page with a simple drag and drop. Others have that now too - Netvibes, Google, Microsoft Live and Zoozio. Goowy is similar but using Flash. Microsoft Live is the only one that is extensible allowing a number of widgets and tools to be added.

But that's not my point in posting all this.

These online applications are great ways to get students online fast. They require no web design knowledge, no HTML, FTP, software, no fees, your own customizable URL, free hosting and support. What a deal! For schools that can't or choose not to offer students server space, these are alternatives.

It's not MySpace or a blog, but students can be fully operational sites within certain parameters. Adding widgets can make them look more multimedia or they can become a mess of widgets. That extreme offers good lessons on usability.

This is more of the movement of applications online.

I assigned my design students to create a Google Pages site and review the user interface. Most of the students who have web experience found the app limiting and a bit frustrating (trouble changing the CSS and "breaking" the template etc.). Still, if you are a web newbie in need of a small, basic but attractive site (with free hosting and support from Google), this is a good choice.

Here are 3 of my students' Google Pages as samples - one on web design, another on the photography term bokeh and a simple site on technical writing. The assignment was just to use the app and review it, so these are not full blown sites (especially on the content side) and probably represent just an hour or two of design work. For that small investment, they are not bad at all.

Protopage is actually more limited in design (most of us couldn't handle the Ajax even if they gave us access to the code!) but offers more add-ons, so the results can look media rich.

Protopage offers more than 270 widgets (preview the widgets before adding them, an internal RSS feed reader for viewing news articles as well as cartoon feeds, video podcasts, and audio

If privacy is a concern, version 3 has the ability to create tabs and categories, make the tabs public or private, and password protect group of tabs.

Your text content goes in "sticky notes" that you can click and edit. of text inside the widget. There's even a search box with 750 preloaded search engines. Protopage supports most popular browsers - IE 7/6, Firefox 2/1.5, Opera 9, Safari 2, and even viewing in Nintendo Wii.

There were actually 30 new features in Version 3. I like that the sites are protected by a password, so you can set up instant collaboration by setting a password to let others see or edit your page. For info on new features, check their blog blog.protopage.com.

Here's a sample Protopage site I put up as a demo protopage.com/teachnology

Get started with Google Pages at googlepages.com and with Protopage at protopage.com

5/3/07 - A reader emailed me to say (use the comment feature!) that you should also check out http://jimdo.com as a tool for easy web page creation.

Save Internet Radio


The future of Internet radio is in jeopardy. The Copyright Royalty Board in Washington, DC (which oversees sound recording royalties paid by Internet radio services) has announced that royalty rates for webcasters will be tripled starting May 15 (and retroactive to 1/1/06 just to really destroy it). If that isn't changed, it will kill off Internet radio.

Internet radio (AKA e-Radio or webcasting) is audio broadcasting transmitted via the Internet. That means it is not transmitted broadly through wireless means (so it's not "broadcasting")

It's also not just a streaming of audio (where listeners have no control over content) and it's not podcasting or downloading audio files.

Without Congressional action, the majority of webcasters will be forced to call it quits.

I first heard about this in an email from Tim Westergren from Pandora. Pandora is the first Net radio service that I used. It allows you to set up your own personal "stations" by selecting songs and artits you like as a starting place. Then, the service picks music that you should enjoy. You tell it what you like or dislike and it gets smarter about picking music for your station.

I'm writing today to ask for your help. The survival of Pandora and all of Internet radio is in jeopardy because of a recent decision by the Copyright Royalty Board in Washington, DC to almost triple the licensing fees for Internet radio sites like Pandora. The new royalty rates are irrationally high, more than four times what satellite radio pays and broadcast radio doesn't pay these at all. Left unchanged, these new royalties will kill every Internet radio site, including Pandora.

In response to these new and unfair fees, we have formed the SaveNetRadio Coalition, a group that includes listeners, artists, labels and webcasters. I hope that you will consider joining us.

Please sign our petition urging your Congressional representative to act to save Internet radio: http://capwiz.com/saveinternetradio/issues/alert/?alertid=9631541

Please feel free to forward this link/email to your friends - the more petitioners we can get, the better.

Understand that we are fully supportive of paying royalties to the artists whose music we play, and have done so since our inception. As a former touring musician myself, I'm no stranger to the challenges facing working musicians. The issue we have with the recent ruling is that it puts the cost of streaming far out of the range of ANY webcaster's business potential.

I hope you'll take just a few minutes to sign our petition - it WILL make a difference. As a young industry, we do not have the lobbying power of the RIAA. You, our listeners, are by far our biggest and most influential allies.

As always, and now more than ever, thank you for your support.
Tim Westergren
(Pandora founder)

At the request of the Recording Industry Association of America, the CRB ignored the fact that Internet radio royalties were already double what satellite radio pays, and multiplied the royalties even further. And webcasters were not making much as it was since advertising revenue is just beginning to develop.

In the past year, Net radio went from 45 million listeners per month to 72 million listeners each month. Internet radio is already popular and it is already benefiting thousands of artists who are finding new fans online every day.

The SaveNetRadio Coalition has been formed to represent every webcaster, every Net Radio listener, and every artist who enjoys and benefits from this medium. This past week at the Radio and Internet Newsletter Las Vegas Summit, the coalition officially launched a national campaign to reverse the Copyright Royalty Board increase.

The campaign needs your help. Please take a moment to sign the petition and send a letterto your member of Congress to let your representative know how important Internet radio is to you.

I did it online and it automatically addressed my mail to my Senators and Congressman.

To: Senator Frank R. Lautenberg (D-NJ);Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ); Representative Bill Pascrell Jr. (D-NJ 8th)
Subject: Another listener & voter who doesn't want to let Internet Radio Be Crushed

As a fan of Internet radio, I was alarmed to learn that the Copyright Royalty Board has decided to raise music royalty rates by 300 to 1200 percent. For most webcasters the new royalties exceed their revenue and they simply will go bankrupt and stop webcasting.

The silencing of Internet radio would be a blow to listeners like me who enjoy the wide variety of choices only available via Internet radio. This will kill the great diversity of music that I hear over the Internet and all the independent artists who have a difficult time breaking through on other forms of radio.

I respectfully request that Congress look into this matter and take action to prevent it. Please understand that time is of the essence since the new royalty rates are retroactive to January 1, 2006 so they will cause immediate bankruptcies if they become effective for even one day. Please don't let the music die.

In a few minutes, I received a receipt email from Congressman Pascrell which at least encourages me that his office is using the technology.

Thank you for contacting me through the House of Representatives Constituent Electronic Mail System (CEMS). I am pleased to be a part of this effort to offer citizens an efficient way to communicate with their representatives in Congress.
I will reply to all residents of the 8th Congressional district of New Jersey via email as quickly as possible. Thank you.
Bill Pascrell, Jr., Member of Congress

Today We Are All Hokies

The blog has not been on my mind these past few days. My son is a senior at Virginia Tech. He's okay. We have spent most of the past two days staying in touch with him and answering phone calls and emails from friends and family.I watched the coverage knowing he was safe, and saw his freshman dormitory as the site of the first shooting, and his main classroom building as the site of the others. I've walked that campus, gone to football games, chanted Hokie chants, been in those buildings, and still I can't grasp what it must be to be that community.

He called his mom as soon as he knew about the first shootings. He had a class in Norris Hall at 10:30 and planned to be there at 9:30 to work on his senior project. Professor Kevin Granata was their project adviser in the Engineering Science and Mechanics department. Their research is in muscle and reflex response and robotics. Dr. Granata is one of the top biomechanics researchers in the country and is known for his work on movement dynamics in cerebral palsy.

If he had gone in as planned, he would have been exactly at the wrong place at the wrong time. Dr. Granata was one of the thirty in Norris Hall that was killed.

I've been on the Tech campus a number of times, gone to a Hokie football game and have a sense of this spirit you hear students and staff talk about on the news. But I don't think we can understand it in the way that they do.

The students and staff I saw on the news all served Tech well. The professors who were killed all died trying to protect their students in some way. They serve our profession well.

I listened to poet Nikki Giovanni at the Convocation read "We Are Virginia Tech" and thought that some listeners must have thought it odd for a poet to talk about "We are Hokies." I would have thought the same before my son started Tech. I associated Hokies with sports, especially football, and the overwhelming volume of fans at the stadium. But it is more than that. When the students chanted "Let's Go Hokies" or just the word Hokie, that too must have seemed odd, perhaps irreverent, to some given the circumstances. It absolutely was not that.

I work on a college campus and know that it could happen at any school. I have no wise healing words, no poem of my own, no pointing finger of blame or visionary hindsight.

"We are better than we think,

not quite what we want to be.

We are alive

to the imagination

and the possibility

we will continue

to invent the future

through our blood and tears,

through all this sadness.

We are the Hokies.

We will prevail,

we will prevail.

We are Virginia Tech."