There are many applications that allow you to snap snippets of text from web sites and mark, tag, and otherwise share them. It's not a new concept, and truth be told, I wasn't expecting to be too terribly impressed with Deepmemo.com. Their site seemed visually messy, and the mixture of Cyrillic and Roman character sets in the tag cloud area had me concerned, because it didn't seem to change when I selected my language.
The application and delivery of this service, though? Nicely done, guys. You changed my pig-headed mind.
So why does Deepmemo (DM) stand out from the pack? There are a few reasons. The DM toolbar can be used with Firefox, but...hold on to your hats... there is an IE7 version. I know more than a few developers who have no bones saying they'd love to port their add-ons to IE, but it ain't easy. This could be a huge advantage for the DM crew.
It also allows for logins with OpenID, Facebook, or any registered user name associated with a Google service. The caveat is that dm is a third-party application, and it asks for access to your Google (or Facebook) account. If that makes you uncomfortable, it is also possible to just register with dm directly.
I've never been particularly put out by needing to click the "Next" button on a blog. Sure, there are always exceptions, like when I find sites that archive oddly or only have a few posts per page. And don't get me started on the "Next" buttons and surprise ads (do I want two free iPod Nanos? Only if I can beat the advertiser about the head and neck with them).
LifeHacker introduced me to the AutoPager add-on for Firefox. The idea behind AutoPager is a good one. It takes a web page with continuous content (such as a blog) and allows you to scroll through it all as if it were one page . So that you're not waiting for years for your page to appear, AutoPager allows you to choose the number of pages displayed at a time. It also has a few pre-configured web pages in its clutches, like Digg and Twitter.
The good news is that AutoPager can be set to scroll through just about any site with a next button. The bad news is, it's not really apparent how to do this. I was pointed to the Site Wizard, which worked just as well as many wizards I've encountered -- not at all. I couldn't select the "Next" link, and it kept aborting (and it's too early in the morning where I am to be doing that).
I know little about XPath (the underlying AutoPager mechanism) or how it works, but I did still get AutoPager to give me several pages of Download Squad at once. Truth be told, I'm still not sure what it was I did. I clicked the AutoPager icon on my toolbar, and got a sidebar that popped up in the browser and seemed to autodetect both the "Next" link and the content I wanted to see. I clicked the green checkmark on the sidebar (did I need to? no clue), and we were finally in business.
AutoPager is great for getting your eyes on a lot of information quickly. Once it's configured to the sites you want to see in this manner, it's really handy. But for the first few sites you configure, make sure to take frequent breaks for deep, cleansing breaths.
I have been a Linux user for quite some time -- about eight years. My husband and I have known each other since we were twelve, when our school's only computer was an Apple IIe attached to a dot matrix printer. We grew up together, bought our first computer together, and built our first home-grown computers together.
He has never used Linux. Sure, he's played Frozen Bubble a few times. He's shut down my computer during thunderstorms. That's it.
His desktop Windows machine is older, and truth be told, he uses it for games and web surfing. He just bought an MSI Wind for work and school, and plans on keeping most of the "work stuff" on there.
He is a Windows user, but Windows irritates him on regular basis. He has said (for years) he'd be happy to use Linux for internet and document creation, but he can't part with a couple of games.
Now, the time has come. He is ready. He has asked that his computer be set up as a dual boot machine. How did he reach this conclusion, and what needs to be done to get his computer ready for the Linux invasion? And if you find yourself in this same position, what do you need to do?
No, let me try that again. Firefox is one of those applications that's so hard to write about, because there may be little tricks and shortcuts I've been using for some time, and someone will discover one and say, "Hey, that rocks! Why didn't anyone tell me?" Then light dawns over my marblehead that it is a useful trick, and I should have pointed it out.
So Sean Privitera kindly reminded me that searching Google on Firefox is easier than it appears. Ever been reading something on the web and you have no freakin' idea what the word or phrase means? Select the word in question (if you really want to try it out, select this word: geoduck. It's not a Pokemon), right click, and wonder of wonders, there is an option there to search Google for the selected word.
See a nifty bit of formatting on a website, and you're wondering how it was done? Select that formatting, images and all, and right click. Then click "View Selected Source" and a window will pop up in Firefox showing you (brace yourselves!) the HTML formatting of the parts in question.
I've learned to love my right mouse button. Seriously, developers hide all the interesting stuff there. Of course, the right mouse button in Firefox will allow you to open a link in a new tab or window. But it can also calm some fears about what you might be opening (and how it behaves). Right clicking while hovering over a link can tell you if it opens in a new tab, what the URL is, and allow you to send or copy link location.
It is the little tricks like these that make a browser really useful, and more than just a vehicle for surfing the web. But like geoducks, sometimes you need to do a little digging to find them.
Here's a question for all our elderly readers: Do any of you remember the primitive era affectionately called 1995, and hearing your college professors speak hopefully (or possibly lament) that soon all the information and media ever created would be up on this web thing and easily accessible and available free of charge? Do you remember how many people went out and bought those state of the art 486s and bleeding edge Pentium I computers, and signed on with AOL or Compuserve or Mindspring to fire up Netscape, stumble on to Yahoo! only to discover the truth.
Even back then, there was a lot of stuff online that was technically information or visual/audible media. It was free, much of it, anyway, as well. I spent way too many hours watching an oddity called a webcam update at shockingly fast one minute intervals, as it delivered grainy black and white stlll images of some forgotten webmaster's painted turtle in California to my desktop in Northern Virginia.
As far as exotic, fine art work or rare, priceless tomes of great knowledge went -- it wasn't all accessible online, or necessarly free if it happened to be available. But for a good portion of the '90s, people who hadn't been online much, or were in denial, insisted it was out there.
There dawns the new century, and the myth of "it's all there, free" started to fade away with the old beige Pentium I and II computers. Things went the other way, though. Every day there was more information on the internet from all sorts of sources, and some of it (shock, awe) was free, or at least accessible to some degree. Is it irony or karma? Who knows? Many people are floored, now, to discover how much useful, cool, credible information is available online free of charge.
So just in time to go back to school (or to impress your friends with your innate intelligence), I've found a few sites and tricks for getting really great information online without additional tuition fees.
Lower your geek radar detector. You got me. I am a tech blogger. I also have a degree in library science. Guilty as charged, just put me on a cell block with wireless and a supply of graphic novels.
I am a librarian who is really okay with wikis. Would I accept every entry in one as gospel? No, but questioning is good in print, too. I believe wikis are, by and large, a decent starting point for further research, like any encyclopedia. If you're writing your doctoral thesis using only wikis, we seriously need to talk. Now.
Wikis, online open encyclopedias, I can deal with. The Kids Open Dictionary Builder makes me fear the future, and not because of all the talking monkeys and flying robots, either. Yes, I said The Kids Open Dictionary Builder, and I typed it just as the name appears on the Creative Commons blog. The blogger there typed it as it appears on the project's home page. Grammatical structure is not the writing skill that comes to me most naturally, but, guys, when you're educators pushing an open dictionary, it is comforting to see the name punctuated correctly.
The plain truth is I don't like working with media files. Watching them, or listening to them, sure, I'm just as into that as the next girl. When it comes to actually converting them from something captured off an external device or my screen, though, my stomach turns. It's not an aversion that's peculiar to Linux. I hate using the Windows for those same tasks. Since I don't have access to a Mac, I can't vouch for the ease of media conversion on them, but I can safely say that as ubiquitous as Quicktime is, I have very little luck working with (or viewing) Quicktime files on any machine with any operating system in my possession.
Linux presents special challenges with media file conversions. The good news is that though some of the tools might be a little tricky to decipher, they do a great job with conversions and tend to encompass a wide range of file types. Some tools can be used with GUI front-ends, and some I've found are just a lot faster and easier to bang out a command in a terminal window. Many of these tools are either installed by default in a number of Linux distributions, or can be added with a few clicks through the distro's repositories.
So I admit it was with a whole lot of fear and loathing that I decided to include screencasts in a recent post on KDE. My video grab software was working wonderfully, but it saved my files as .ogv. That wouldn't be a problem if I weren't hosting it elsewhere, and if the conversion software on that site didn't require it be in a format other than .ogv. And Ogg files, being funny beasts, aren't always the easiest things to convert.
And certainly, they aren't the only things you'd want to convert in Linux. So let's shake down how it's done.
I've been hanging around Download Squad HQ enough to know that our readers love hearing about Twitter ad nauseam, and that none of those readers fear being RickRolled or ever click on links originating from profiles they wouldn't trust. But just in case you should happen upon this post from an outside source, and you aren't a regular DLS reader (gasp), there's something you need to know.
The BBC reported today that the first Twitter-specific attack has been discovered by the fine folks at Kaspersky. The fake profile uses the name "Pretty Rabbit" in Portuguese -- and it's frustrating me to all ends that I can't seem to find a reference or semi-accurate translation of what that user name might actually be -- and claims that clicking the tweeted link will take the viewer to YouTube for some adult video action.
But because there is so much wrong in this world, errant clickers don't get to see the adult video -- at least, not without paying the price. Instead, a fake version of Flash is downloaded, which has the hidden skill of harvesting all sorts of data and transforming your beloved Twittering machine into a zombie node, allowing bad men, women and rabbits to wreak criminal havoc all over the web.
Similar worms have been discovered on MySpace and Facebook, so please, choose your friends wisely.
The offending malicious applications only affect Windows-based systems. No word on whether the faux-Flash works with Linux or Mac, so while those users (who are over 18, of course) are safe from the malware, they will probably not get to see the exciting video Pretty Rabbit in Portuguese was referring to.
UPDATE: On behalf of everyone at DLS, I'd like to give a big thanks to Ed Mercer for the heads up that though the Portuguese username literally translates "Pretty Rabbit," the word "coelhinha" is often associated with Playboy Playmates/Bunnies. "Pretty Playmate" may be a more accurate translation in this case.
There's something a little unnatural about the way we feel about Linux file managers. Thunar, Nautilus, and yeah, even the old Konqueror, we appreciate them for all they do. And the worst part for us here who were slightly perturbed by the unfinished feeling of the January release was that we had to put off for a bit more really getting down and dirty with Dolphin. Yes, it was available and ran with KDE 3.5.x releases. And every time we fired it up, it was a grim, searing reminder that using KDE 4.0 on a daily basis was not quite in our reach.
Dolphin has had a few features from the beginning we found hard to live without. Split-view browsing is probably the most notable, but easily changeable icon, file and folder layouts were also a big draw. There is more to love, though. Multiple files can be selected without holding down keys and clicking, folders and files can be tagged and commented on, much like you would do with photos in Digikam (or Flickr). Folders can also be given star ratings, which seems like an odd thing to want to do system-wide on a desktop (though we suppose sadistic sys-admins would have a good time rating user's /home folders based on support requests). Docked panels (such as "Places" and "Information") can be broken away or removed, as desired.
Dolphin behaves like you'd expect it would right out of the box, for the most part. Like the rest of KDE4 in this release, though, it has improvements and offers quite a lot in the configuration department. The default breadcrumb style location bar also has the option to be made editable. Filters and various settings for default viewing can be changed.
Though Dolphin has a few notable changes that make it more fun (yes, we said "fun" in relation to a file manager. You knew we had problems.) and arguably more useful, the changes aren't overly dramatic. Maybe it's because Dolphin has been released and in use longer than most KDE4 constructs, and so it feels more familiar and has had more opportunity for bug squashing. Either way, we're happy to be able to use it in its intended environment again.
The Menu - Shape shifting
KDE had this fairly uninspired little bit called the K Menu in older releases. GNOME uses something pretty similar with the Applications menu. And Windows has the infamous "Start" menu that seems to still be called the "Start" menu even though it doesn't say "Start" anymore.
Old habits die hard.
And maybe that's the main beef with the new KDE4 Applications menu. Between 4.0 and the present release, the KDE4 team has done some impressive work to make the Applications menu feel natural. The movement between tabs in the menu feels almost liquid. It's smooth and there is no lag between tabs. Clicking through the menus also feels more responsive (even when we find ourselves clicking backwards through the menus). We understand, as well, that in some ways it is a design plus that the menu team planned for the last spot in the menu hierarchy to be saved when flipping between tabs. It doesn't mean it's particularly easy to get used to.
That being said, we are finding it easier, now, to get used to than we had previously thought. That's not to say it isn't on occasion jarring or even a bit disorienting to find ourselves in a menu we didn't recall being in. It isn't to say we haven't lost a bit of time figuring out the menu hierarchy when we're located in the middle of a non-descript feeling menu trail. But we do see why the developers may have chosen this presentation, and it's not purely "because they could."
Though it does take, it seems, a bit more time to locate some of our more obscure or less used applications in this layout, it is easier on the eyes. We don't mean this in a purely aesthetic sense, either. The Applications menu is not at all long and gangly, like the K Menu or "Start" menus are. It isn't sectioned in as harsh a manner as the GNOME menus historically are. The Application menu is (almost) bite-sized sections of menu headers, subheaders and applications. It doesn't always work as planned, but the reasoning seems logical.
It's certainly not our favorite KDE4 feature, but it doesn't cause the slow downs and frustrations that it used to, especially between a tweaked Favorites tab and speed improvements in menu flow. We imagine we'll come around.
The Panel - The great pretender
Something about the new panel makes us giggle. It's a really evil giggle. First things first, though, and if Plasma is given the award for "Most Improvement" KDE 4.1's panel gets an award for being a real strong runner up.
Plasma being a bit flaky made a degree of sense, though. The panel, for many reasons, didn't make any degree of sense at all. Having seen what we now can say is at least a much-closer-to-finished product, it makes more sense. Maybe not huge heaping amounts, but at least some. Plasma is very closely linked to the panel. It's not as if the existence of one depends on the other, but it's pretty safe to say that for the panel to have just about any useful sorts of function (for most people), Plasma needs to be onboard in its new, supercharged form.
Previously, it was quite a chore to resize the panel in any significant way or (a bit more disturbing to us) move the icons that we could place there. For us, a pig pile of five icons clustered in an area we weren't accustomed to looking in was bad enough, but we were more aggravated by the idea that we had no way to move them at this point -- by design. Fair or not, it annoyed us.
Now, we can happily report (giggling all the while) that icons can be moved on the panel, and the panel can be resized and positioned with almost military precision. We can even say that it's easy for someone who has never resized or positioned a panel or repositioned an icon, as long as they've used a word processing program with line justification and rulers with tab stops. All right, we'll stop giggling now.
In a weird, sick sort of way, this is an ingenious manner to do panel adjustments. We mean that. A panel can appear exactly as the user wants, and it can be scaled and inched around and divided and redivided to fit any screen, or use, or sense of style. That, we admit, is pretty damn neat.
It also feels like it is probably in most cases either amazing overkill, or at least some hardcore wheel reinvention. Moving icons is a lot less error-prone (we always managed to pick up the wrong ones on previous KDE versions) and speedy this way. But the left/center/right justified icons and tab stop-esque features, while looking really impressive and admittedly allowing a whole lot of control we probably will never require, feels a bit too much like it falls into the "because we can" school of design.
On the upside, we're hoping it introduces a whole new generation of resume writers to tab stops.
The KDE 4.1 Final Release - Hope for a better tomorrow
No, there aren't any KDE4 developers running for public office. If there were, anyway, we couldn't safely promise there would be any less politics or departmental drama going on than in any of our current governments, though we'd probably have been spared that whole "series of tubes" statement.
With the KDE 4.1 release on July 29th, however, it seems the KDE team has taken a strong, confident step forward. The desktop is stable, fast, and extends its functions further than previous KDE versions. Even with the occasional quirkiness of rotating widgets and exact coordinate panel placement, it looks as though KDE4 has hit its stride and is ready for a good long run.
For many, the verdict was out regarding Plasmoids, the KDE4 widgets that come bundled and run with the desktop, like an especially bossy version of the old Superkaramba. We were rather partial to the widgets, and knew that the lack of variety would not be an issue as more people started to create their own. Even at this stage, there are a number of new widgets out there, ranging from useful to entertaining. But many were worried about the initial release's occasional problems with Plasmoids -- reports of crashing and freezing and issues with widget behavior.
The Plasma engine seemed to be one of the last things the KDE4 team had to finish up. It's not terribly surprising, as it was a major change from any previous versions, it's an extremely ambitious project, and face it, there was a lot that could go wrong. It seems that the worst thing that happened for the KDE4 team was simply that time ran out. Plasma was released in January with the final 4.0 release, and it still was (and felt) very alpha. People that liked the widgets were at best a little uneasy, people that didn't like the idea of Plasmoids used the intermittent flakiness as an argument why Plasma wouldn't work.
With the roll out this week of KDE 4.1, it is obvious that Plasma is getting the "Most Improved" award this semester. It is exceedingly stable, and fast, and behaves consistently across various widgets.
Perhaps it's purely psychological, but we feel like the widgets have "calmed down" a lot. Though we are given the opportunity to add widgets with just about every right mouse click, the options available for placement, sizing and locking feel easier to maneuver and a lot more responsive. We've always really liked the idea of the widgets, but they felt commandeering. We especially liked the Folder View widget. Ours shows the desktop icons by default (but you can set it to show any folder you want, and even display specially filtered content). Sure, it's very possible to add each shortcut to your desktop as a widget if you prefer, but this seems a lot neater and easier to control.
Adding widgets is painless, as is removing them. The "Add Widgets" dialog is a warehouse of pre-installed widgets. KDE4 gives the ability to rate them as favorites and sort by various criteria and categories. Installing widgets can be as easy as a click, however, it didn't seem to work for us. We aren't sure if this had something to do with our generic OpenSUSE install, the install of the KDE 4.1 release candidate initially used, or if some bit of communication was missing between KDE4 and KDE-Look. In some ways though, it was a more interesting trip to visit KDE-Look's Plasmoid pages directly to see all the widgets, instead of just the highest rated or newest, and it wasn't really much more work to install them.
When KDE 4.0 was released that fateful day in January, it unleashed an unholy boatload of controversy. Was it a final release? Was it really a final release? And just because the developers say it is a final release, but that it isn't, it's just numbered as such, and we shouldn't worry if things don't seem finished -- does that mean we shouldn't be concerned if things don't work? We stand by the... Read more »
Have you ever looked in a real DIYers toolbox? Or maybe even the toolbox of someone who's pretty handy, but who has a messy streak? So all the hammers might be together, or all the screwdrivers will be together, maybe even with some sort of arrangement as to Phillips or Torx heads... but there is almost inevitably, in some corner compartment of the toolbox, or some drawer (and maybe several of... Read more »
Hey, we know some people really did care very much about the Mozilla world record for Firefox 3 downloads on Download Day. And hey, yeah, we'll concede mad props to the Mozilla team for getting out there and getting those downloads. But OpenSUSE just upped the "let's get lots of new users" ante. Record books are all well and good, but what about stakes that are a little higher, a bit more exotic?... Read more »
Seriously guys, we love you. Okay, fine, maybe not in the way your mom loves you, or your dog loves you, or your significant other loves you. But we definitely love you in that totally uncomfortable, care-free, "Hey, let us buy you a Red Bull and Pop Rocks next time we're at the convenience store" sort of way. We don't just love you for your looks, or your superior intelligence, or because you can... Read more »
Maybe you've taken some time and fooled around a bit with Quanta Plus and Bluefish and decided that they weren't for you. Maybe you just looked at the features, and the GUIs and thought, "I'd rather pluck my nose hairs out than use those." That's okay. We're not about to pass judgment on your taste in HTML editors, or your strange penchant for self-inflicted pain. And while we may never use the... Read more »