Thursday, December 13, 2007–a new web development community

Why seeed rather than seed–I'm not sure but it sure is memorable (because of the peculiarity). is a new web development community started by the Litmus guys. I've enjoyed talking with fellow web devs and the people behind a lot of web app startups. Issues range from usability to marketing–definitely worth while if your developing a web app.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

The Homeschooling Together blog

The end is in sight. The bulk of the functionality is coded. It's time to start marketing Homeschooling Together. We've had a holding page up for a while but nobody knows about it (well, not exactly: one person put in his email address). I've finished developing the blog and I've written a short post to introduce the website (with some screenshots.)

Now we'll start telling people about it.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Apple details all 300+ Leopard features

300+ new features in Apple's new operating system? Unconvinced? Apple has set up a web page that details each feature. While most of the features have already been discovered and previewed on other websites, this is a good way for those of us who haven't been paying a lot of attention to catch up. I found out quite a few useful features that I hadn't heard about before like Automator's UI recording and playback and Spotlight's web history search.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Blogger, why the popups?

I have used Blogger to manage most of my blogs over the years and have been mostly satisfied with the site. For the most part, the site is very easy to use.

Blogger likes to use pop up windows. For example, when you click the image icon (to upload an image) a pop up window guides you through the process. I generally dislike pop up windows but tolerate them. That all changed today... I decided to put a list of links up on this blog. It was easy enough to figure out–I just go to the template tab and add a new "links" element... Arggh, a pop up window...thats okay, I'll just fill this form out and add the links. 5 minutes later–I'm done! Okay, press "save changes".

Your request could not be processed. Please try again.

No! Seven valuable minutes wasted. [closes window]...Try again, with fewer links. Same error. Try again. And again. Boom! Works. Finally, the popup window says it works. [go back to template section]...


There are three link elements. The first list was gone but the second, third, and fourth lists all went through (even though the pop up window said "try again"). Why all the confusion? Because of the pop up window. Popups provide desynchronization, interface disconnect (what if I close the "templates" window?), and usually a slower interface. Blogger, could you quit using them so extensively?

Apologies for the rant.

UPDATE: Solution

Since Blogger has already committed to javascript, why not go all the way and let me edit my link list inline in the template window? Why not let me add elements right there on the page instead of opening up an unreliable popup window? Blogger devs, if you want a mock up of what I'm talking about, I'd be obliged. There may be something I am overlooking here but it just doesn't make sense to use popups in the way Blogger is using them and it seems old fashioned and sluggish in this ajaxy age that we live in.

I'm going to contact Blogger and let them know about my problems with popups (I know they care what their users think). If enough people contact them, maybe they'll do something about it.

Starting up a start up

My family has been working on a Homeschooling related startup for a few months now. We are getting semi-close to launch time so we are about to begin telling people about the website publicly. I've been working on the blog and teaser page for the last two days (I'll post the links here very soon).

I recently re-read 37 Signal's Getting Real book (a great read) which inspired me to do a "hollywood" launch (with a teaser site, then a preview site before launch so that when launch comes, you have a database of email addresses to which you can announce the site's launch). So I've been scouring the web for experiences and techniques from people who have actually used this tactic (most "web 2.0" websites). I could barely find anything. Maybe I just need to learn what key words to use, but any how, I'll do my best to blog the my experiences (from developing the pre-launch site to what the reaction is like).

Monday, September 24, 2007 – "a new way to express yourself"

This via TechCrunch., a tool that allows users to make "sketchcasts", just went live. A sketch cast is like a digital whiteboard presentation with optional audio commentary. Aside from the obvious limitations of using a mouse for sketching, the tool worked very well. Its actually a lot of fun. I'm pretty sure I'll find some practical use for it in the future.

I've embedded the sketchcast of the founder explaining what is and how it can help.

UPDATE: [Removed embedded sketchcast. It was causing flash to run slowly.]

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Yeah, I'm still here

I've been so busy with school and my latest web application that I've found it hard to justify blogging time. I hope to post more once I'm able to speak more freely about my latest web application.

What I've been working on is for a very specific market. As the teaser below makes pretty clear, the market is parents who homeschool. My family happens to know quite a bit about that market because we happen to be a homeschooling family. We've had a lot of ups and downs. A lot of success and some failure. But we've recognized a need and we are working on meeting the need in a way that will help homeschooling families in general as well as provide a nice family business for us. The cost to us is mainly time as we are designing and developing the app completely in house... Literally. The main cost to us will be hosting and that is relatively cheap.

Progress? We are getting fairly close to being able to show what we've been working on. I expect to launch something publically before the year is out (no promises).

Below is a little teaser. It is a snapshot of one of the later mockups I've been working on.

Monday, August 13, 2007

iPhone Cream, success?

I never formally announced it on this site but if you go to iPhone Cream you will notice that I have announced that I am not going to continue to develop the site and have put the source code up for grabs. The reason? Time mainly. I have been working on a cool new project and I just don't have a lot of time. If I did, I think I could have made iPhone Cream one of the best iPhone app sites out there (I had some pretty cool ideas for future development). But I noticed that the iPhone app site market is saturated. If I was going to compete at all I would need to spend a lot of time. And what with the school year starting in a few weeks, there is just no way I could compete. But I invested a lot of time in the code so I decided to open the code to others so those who think the general concept is cool can continue the concept in their own venture.

So was it a success? Judging by the number of users, no. I didn't really actively market it and it shows. The user count is less than 100. But was the idea a good one? I think so. After opening the code up I've had 3 requests so far. At least one from a man who is the leading innovator in his field. So I'm looking forward to see what these people do with the source.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Yet another project

Wow. There's just not enough time before the school year starts. My goal was to finish LearnIt, iPhone Cream, and the site for my dad's company... I finished the first version of iPhone Cream but there are plenty of things I still need to do with it like finish the iPhone version (no small task). I've been working on LearnIt; recently I got pretty excited about it because I finally narrowed down exactly what the first version will be. I have made progress of the design of my dad's website but I haven't even touched the coding.

Now... Yet another project. My mom had a great idea for a web app and I've got to get the first version done before summers out. Yikes. I can't tell you much about it but the target users probably aren't those reading this blog... Sorry guys. But that doesn't mean it's not going to be cool. I'll post more about it as I get further along. In the mean time I'll tease you with a screenshot of one of the first mockups of the interface.

If I'm going to get this stuff done I'm going to have to be extremely focused.

iPhone Cream merging with PhoneLauncher

PhoneLauncher recently announced that they were closing down. Shortly afterwards, they announced they were "not dead yet!" Why all this confusion? It is altogether related to iPhone Cream and by means of inference, me. The two sites are merging. Pretty soon will be forwarding to the iPhone Cream server but in exchange, the site will be called PhoneLauncher (I explain why below).

1. The guys behind PhoneLauncher are great; they will be able to add a lot of content to the new site and help with moderation as well. They will also help with marketing the site. All of these are things that I have been and will not be able to do. Why? I just don't have the time. I need to use my time to develop the site, create awesome iPhone apps (a iPhone version of the site is coming soon), and work on my other projects (about that in my next post).

2. iPhone Cream isn't going to work out. No not the site, the name. Check this out. Thats scary. I don't want to get chased by Apple's legal team. So the new name is PhoneLauncher.

See the post on PhoneLauncher about the merge.

Friday, July 13, 2007

LearnIt rejuvenated!

Finally, I have a clear vision of what is going into LearnIt 1.0. This focus has rejuvenated LearnIt. Sadly, LearnIt may not end up being the name of the project. I really like the name LearnIt but the 1.0 product will not be as focused on learning than I originally thought. When 1.0 comes out it will be a great tool in general (not just for learning). I will of course use it for learning and researching on the internet but it can be used in lots of different ways. That is why I would like to name it something more general and something more related to its main focus... Sorry, can't tell you yet. I'll talk about it more once I get closer to 1.0 (hopefully sometime before school starts).

One note: this thing is going to be awesome for the iPhone. I will be making an iPhone specific version as soon as I can finish the Safari/Firefox/IE version.

Bust a name: great tool

Bust a Name is a great new tool for finding domain names. Now-a-days (especially with web companies) finding a domain name may affect what you are going to call your company. Bust a Name works better than anything I have tried to date. It not only lets you instantly check if a domain name is available but it allows you to give it a list of words and it combines them and mixes and matches them. It also has lots of options like pluralize, suffix, and the choice wether to display .com, .net, or .org domain names only. Way to go guys.

Web Design From Scratch

Quick post to acknowledge a site I have been getting a lot of great web design insight from: Web Design From Scratch authored almost completely by Ben Hunt. He has spent a lot of time to create a really awesome free resource for web designers of all levels of skill. Some of the articles in there are a must read for aspiring web designers and a good reminder to seasoned web designers as well.

Ben Hunt's CMS from scratch looks pretty interesting too.

Simple, focused, and professional

I have made quite a few website designs (for my personal consumption mainly) but never have I had to make a design that looks distinctly professional. So what do I do when I run into a client (my dad) who needs a website that will be seen by people he will be giving his business card to? How can I go from making cool, slick, fun websites to making a website that should just diffuse professionalism. One thing I'm not going to do is make it stuffy. I also want it to look pretty and be really easy to use. So here we go.

My first try shows just how hard this is going to be...

...There was just something that wasn't right. It looks nice but I don't think the visual message it conveys would be "professional". It also doesn't convey the "Creating places where people want to be" message very well.

The latest version certainly isn't perfect but I think it is a great improvement...

I am actually quite happy with this version. I started from the ground up and I think it turned out pretty good. I am sure there will be another version but I think I'll be using this as the base for the final site. I think it also accomplishes a goal that I have for the home page of almost every brochure site I make: make the home page a portal to the other parts of the site. Focus on the three or less main things that the site is about giving people a taste of each section. This allows users to easily find exactly where they want to go.

What do you think?

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Digg and iPhone filtering interfaces

One of the first iPhone applications was a Digg interface developed by David Cann. I really enjoyed using the app. Yesterday Digg released an official iPhone version of Digg. The two versions of Digg on the iPhone give opportunity to discuss an iPhone specific design decision.

When you open up David Cann's version of Digg (we'll call it "Canned Digg") you are presented a list of the Digg topics. Press a topic to see all the latest and greatest stories under that topic. The official Digg (we'll call it DIGG) uses a different approach. When you open up DIGG you are presented a list of the stories from all topics. But on the top there is a header that allows you to either log in (to Digg stories) or choose a specific topic.

What approach is best for the iPhone? This is something I've had to think about making my iPhone apps. Is it better to show users the topics and then drill down until you get to the content (much like the typical iPod interface) or is it better to show the general content and let the user narrow down from there. At this point I am in favor of the latter approach. Especially over a slow EDGE connection, users are going to want value on the first page of the site. With only one filter though, I think both versions work pretty well. But the DIGG approach begins to make a lot more sense when you have more than one kind of filter. Say Digg decided to allow users to filter based on their top level sections (News, Videos, and Podcasts), their topics, their sub-topics, and their "Popular Stories" and "Upcoming" sections. That would be a lot of screens to go through before getting to valuable content. Using the Canned Digg approach to such a problem would not only be slower but it would be frustrating for the user because the user is forced to filter to a certain level that he may not want to filter to. For example, say a user wanted to look at the latest podcasts; using a Canned Digg approach he would have to go to podcasts->topic:all->popular stories. The user may not even know what the difference between "popular stories" and "upcoming stories" is but he would have to make a choice any way. This could be frustrating. This approach makes users think. We, as developers, do not want to make users think. They are not "thinkers", they are "users. All they should need to do is "use".

The downside to using the DIGG approach is that if one was to be looking for something very specific, it would take longer than the Canned Digg approach because he would have to first open the "filters", press the first filter, select the item, press the next filter, press the item, etc.

I would love to hear other peoples thoughts on these two approaches to iPhone filtering interfaces

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

See what EDGE is like at a Apple or ATT store

Worried about EDGE on the iPhone? Try it out at your local Apple or ATT store. Yes, the iPhones that you will use there will be on WIFI but here are some instructions on how to change that...

It is very simple. Press the home button to get to the home screen -> press the "settings" icon -> press the "Wi-Fi" setting -> drag the Wi-Fi slider from right to left to turn Wi-Fi off. Now that the iPhone is not using Wi-Fi you can go to Safari and see how fast your local EDGE is. I suggest you turn Wi-Fi back on before leaving the store because I don't know how thrilled the employees would be to see the demo iPhones using the slower EDGE internet access rather than Wi-Fi.

I have not actually tried this at an Apple or ATT store but this is something that I would have liked to know before getting an iPhone.

The iPhone

My mom got one. Finally, I get to use the iPhone for myself. I will try not to repeat a lot of the things the majority of reviewers have already said.

Safari and multitasking
First item of business: check out Safari. I was first shown the iPhone in the car on the way home from the airport (it was a surprise). The iPhone was on the EDGE network so I wasn't expecting much in regards to speed but it was much faster than I expected. I first loaded my very own iPhone Cream website. It took around 30 seconds to load but you can start using the page before it fully loads so it seems quicker., around the same time (and that's a pretty big site). Smaller sites like this blog took around ten seconds to fully load. It is not awesomely fast but it certainly is useable. Another thing that greatly alleviates the pain of EDGE is that you can do other things like listen to a song, load a site in another tab, or take a note while your waiting for your page to load. This brings me to another point: multitasking. It is great. I can not only have multiple websites running at the same time but I can check my email, listen to a song, watch a YouTube video all without losing the information in the other applications. For example, I could start a podcast, look at a website related to that podcast, see that there is something cool half way through the podcast, go back to the podcast and scrub to the half way point, then go to the notes application and start writing down some interesting info from the podcast; If I miss something I can go back to the podcast (that has been playing this whole time) and scrub backwards, go back to the notes application and write down the missing information. Awesome. There is only one downside to all of this: if you do too many things at once something may crash. But even this is graceful. If an application crashes you are simply transported to the home screen and all your other applications are not affected. Great.

Web Apps
Javascript is slow so a lot of those cool Scriptaculous animations you were planning aren't going to be smooth. This is a little disappointing but I am sure future iPhone's (or possibly software updates) will help solve this problem. Other than that (and a few other minor quibbles such as no support for position:static) I am extremely happy with Safari for the iPhone. Despite the limitations, I can see tons of awesome web app possibilities. Having a useable internet with you wherever you go is going to make possible some ideas that were nothing but dreams a few months ago. Myself? I'm going to definitely make a few apps. In fact, I'm working on one right now. I'm working on a iPhone version of iPhone Cream (see right for a screen of the "My Apps" section).

The first thing I did on the iPhone was to check out the web apps that iPhone Cream and other application lists have posted. The best web apps I have run across (as far as iPhone usability is concerned) are Ta-da List, the official Digg iPhone interface, and Hahlo (an interface for twitter).

Controlling my computer with the iPhone
It was hard to believe when I first tried it, but it really isn't very hard. I downloaded iPhone Remote (developed by the same guy who made Quicksilver) onto my computer, then pointed my iPhone to my ip address, to port 5010 and there I could access my entire hard drive plus some of the computers functions! I could view what my iSight was viewing, browse my files, open word, excel, PDF, html, quicktime, and photo files, and even control my desktop screen all on my iPhone (see picture below). Amazing! Now the trick is to get this to work via EDGE. I am still working on that. If I figure out how to do it I'll be sure to post a "for Dummies" version here.

Think of how useful this could eventually be. If I can get it to work with EDGE I can use it to keep all my documents, photos, and videos that are on my hard drive on hand wherever I am. I could also use it to keep an eye of my workspace while I'm gone (with the eyesight feature). If this is what developers can do with the iPhone within a few days of release, just imagine the kind of things we will be able to do a few months from now. It's exciting.

It took some getting used to but this thing grows on you (if not you, certainly me). After a few days of practice I have been able to type at speeds unimaginable (at least to me) on a mobile device. That may be a little bit of an exaggeration but the point is I am really happy with it. It is fun and fast. Now that I have migrated to typing with two thumbs, I can type whole paragraphs in very short amounts of time.

I'm happy. The iPhone met my expectations. The user interface is extremely user friendly. This is something that my grandma, or my 4 year old brother could use. In fact, I did let my little brother use it. Without any prompting from me he was asking me to pose for a picture he was taking, scrolling through photos, saying "oh. Weather!" and checking the weather. It just works. No explanation is needed. I hope to get a video of him using it and post it here. I hate to think of what it would be like to let him use a Windows Mobile device. Somebody should create a video showing either a extremely old or an extremely young person using first a Windows mobile (and trying to get around, see his/her favorite website, take pictures, etc.) and then show the same person using an iPhone. A lot of thought has gone into making it so that the user doesn't have to think. A lot of work has gone into making it "just work". I give it a big thumbs up.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Done - iPhone Cream

I've finally finished the first version of iPhone Cream, a site "where the best iPhone applications rise to the top". It works very much like Digg but the scope is very different: this is exclusively for iPhone web applications and ideas. I want it to become not only a great resource for iPhone owners (iPhone version coming soon) but also a great resource for developers to find great ideas for web apps. There are tons of iPhone app directories out there but the problem with most of them is that a lot of the stuff they post to the front page is pretty poor and this will only increase as thousands more web developers start developing "iPhone Apps". I don't think what goes on the front page should be something an editor decides. I think that it should be based on the actual popularity of the app (or idea).

But a "Digg for iPhone apps" isn't my ultimate  goal. I like the way Digg works and that is why I used pligg as my CMS but I have much bigger plans for iPhone Cream. To give you an idea of where I'm going I'll give you a few of my observations and thoughts:  I think the majority of people that will eventually use iPhone Cream will be actual iPhone users browsing with an actual iPhone; I think small fry developers will want a easy way to host their cool iPhone applications without having to buy full fledged hosting service and domain name; I think that iPhone users will want to use an alternative to the default "bookmarks" to launch their favorite web apps... And more that "I can't talk about" :)

Watch this space for updates.

Friday, June 15, 2007

iPhone Apps: my reaction

I haven't posted for quite a while. I've been busy. Very busy. LearnIt development is paused.

While many developers have been complaining about the lack of an initial iPhone SDK, I have been working. I think that there are going to be a lot of great iPhone specific web apps developed and there has to be a good place to suggest them, find them, post them, and access them. That is what I have been working on. As Steve Jobs says, "It'll be great, we think your gonna love it."

I am trying to get something out there as fast as possible in order to catch the initial wave of excitement. So I've been hard at it. I hope to have something up within a week (but that is not a promise.) I think developing cool iPhone apps will be fun and I can't wait to see what other people come up with.

Back to work...

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

June is upon us

This has been and will continue to be a big month for the tech industry. Specifically, Apple Inc.

June 11th is the day that Steve Jobs will deliver his keynote in which he is expected to unveil the secret features in Leapord that we haven't seen yet as well as make some other cool announcements (they just recently announced new MacBooks and MacBook Pros so I bet it will be an new iMac).

But where the buzz is really at is with the iPhone, set to launch June 29. With people like Mike Arrington raving about the device (and he's not the only one), I think its going to be a winner when it hits the market. I'm probably not going to get the first version due to financial constraints but I'll certainly be eager to get my hands on one ASAP to test the first true non-baby internet experience on a mobile phone. I want to make LearnIt as iPhone friendly as possible because using LearnIt on an iPhone would be awesome and very practical.

Oh, by the way, June 29 is my birthday. But the iPhone is way out of range. Too bad.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

The Humane Interface

I stumbled onto a video demonstrating what a "Humane" user interface would be like. It is pretty inspiring. The interface, of course, is a Zooming User Interface. See it.

Zooming User Interfaces

In doing research for my Zoomable Tree interface, I ran into a video of a talk that Aza Raskin, founder of Humanized, gave at google on his vision of where the user interface is going (I can't believe I watched the whole thing: all 1.5 hours). I actually saw this after I finished developing the Zoomable Tree experiment. It inspired me to look at/come up with some alternative user interfaces that I could use for LearnIt that would be very simple. So I'll be posting about my findings as I continue researching and experimenting.

You can mess around with a experimental flash Zooming User Interface (ZUI) on the Raskin Center Website. Its pretty interesting to mess around with but I think there are things that can be done to make it quicker to navigate.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Zoomable Tree (a quicker way to navigate a tree) updated

I have aquired some input on the Zoomable Tree idea I posted about a little while ago primarily by going onto techie forums and presenting the sample. Based on the input I have made a few changes and some overall speed enhancements as well.

Changes include:

  • Mousing over zoomed-out items enlarges them

  • Parents, grandParents, greatGrandParents, and greatGreatGrandParents of selected Item are slightly enlarged and more visible

  • Some text size changes

  • Speed enhancements due to more effecient code/less animation

  • Numerous bug fixes

  • You can use the new (still IE incompatible) version here (the same place the old version used to be).

    Feel free to express your opinion, suggestion, etc. in the comments or by emailing me.

    If anybody knows of a good place I can host future versions for free, I would like to hear it because Google Pages is a little bit limiting.

    Comment if you would like to see an easy-to-implement ZoomableTree javascript class. I am willing to work on one only if there is enough demand.

    Wednesday, May 09, 2007

    Giving away 7 Freebase invitations

    Freebase users were just granted some more invitations to give away to "data fanatics". So if your a data fanatic (or any body with a decent reason for trying out Freebase), comment on the blog with your email and I may just give you one.

    Monday, May 07, 2007

    Zoomable Tree (a quicker way to navigate a tree)

    I've got a reason for not posting for the last few days. I've been busy. Last friday I was trying to figure out a better way to navigate a tree. I had an idea. I did some mockups. Now I've got a working javascript example (thanks to Prototype, Scriptaculous, and my new favorite text editor: TextMate). I'm pretty happy with how it turned out.

    I am also very open to ideas of how to improve the concept, code, or anything else.

    Need more input. Before I spend another boatload of time perfecting this and making it compatible with IE, I would like to know if it is a good idea. So I've created a useable example for y'all to try out.

    Click here to see it in action
    Note that this does not work in Internet Explorer yet.

    Sunday, April 29, 2007

    Textmate, Coda, or BBEdit

    Dilemma. I don't have a lot of money to spend and I need to make a choice. I have been using BBEdit as my text editor. The version I'm using doesn't have ruby syntax coloring. Owch.

    So there are a few choices: $30 for upgrade, $40 for BBEdit or $90 for Coda. I'm trying each one out.

    Coda was real appealing at first because it was all integrated and had lots of cool features like code-completing and visual CSS editor. But as the tabs kept building up (and I couldn't move them around), I decided to try out TextMate again (not that I am completely closed to Coda). TextMate is growing on me. I'll definitely be testing it out more.

    Comments invited.

    UPDATE: I ended up buying Textmate. I love it. Project-wide search is a killer feature. Panic has fixed quite a few of Coda's issues but I think it is still best suited as an editor for websites, not web applications.

    Monday, April 23, 2007

    Coda: nice!

    I just downloaded the trail version for Coda, the latest and greatest web app from Panic. My first impression: it is awesome. Especially doing Ruby on Rails development I am using tons of different windows and tons of different apps. Coda puts it all together into one clean interface that works uber-well.

    This one is definitely worth buying ($69 if you have Transmit already).

    Sunday, April 22, 2007

    I'm jumping on the ruby train, running on rails

    When I started developing LearnIt I had really great skills in HTML (at least, that is what I thought). Yay! Now I can make web sites. Then I found that to make something like LearnIt I would need to learn how to use some kind of database. So I read and read and messed and messed, and before long I could use MySQL and PHP to some extent.

    Before long, I realized that LearnIt would need one-to-many relationships. Instead of figuring out how to do that with MySQL, I decided I needed to put XML files in my MySQL rows to achieve the relationship. After much toil, I did it. Through that experience I learned quite a bit about XML and XSL (neat). But before long somebody pointed out my ignorance and told me that I didn't need to use XML. I could do it all in MySQL! Oh boy. After I changed the whole LearnIt system to use MySQL only, I thought I was done. Then I discovered this cool technique called AJAX. A few weeks later, LearnIt was AJAX enabled, Scriptaculous effects and all. It had been about a year since I started and I had learned a lot. It was at this point when me and my dad discovered that our business model wasn't very good.

    Back to the drawing board. If you are wondering, yes I had previously read Jesse James Garret's The Elements of User Experience and nodded my head in agreement with the chart. So much for that.

    So now, with a more solid business plan and a clearer development path, I can have a fresh start. While developing the first versions of LearnIt and following the AJAX craze I ran into plenty of articles raving about Ruby on Rails. For the longest time I couldn't wrap my head around what it was and I didn't try to. But it came time to decide what tools I was going to use to develop this new, fresh version of LearnIt. So I seriously checked it out. I messed. And now I am using it to develop LearnIt. So far, it's been great.

    Friday, April 20, 2007

    Freebase and DBPedia should work together

    Michael Bergman blogged a while back about what DBPedia is all about. I think it is a great idea. Why not get all the structured information that is already on wikipedia and make it useable?

    I've talked a lot about Freebase on this blog. Freebase and DBPedia are working toward similar goals. Why not work together? Why enter information twice when the information on both systems is under the creative commons license? I think it would be great if all the great structured information on DBPedia could be integrated into Freebase. I don't know all that this would involve and who would be involved in doing it but in my limited experience it doesn't seem like it would be a huge task.

    Here are some links to blogs that talk about Freebase in relation to DBPedia or vice versa:
    Freebase and DBPedia
    Article by Michael Bergman

    Thursday, April 19, 2007

    Logos – simple vs complex

    I've been mocking up some logos for a neighborhood and I've hit this issue. What is better: simple or complex? I don't think there is a universal answer. In this case I gravitate toward liking the complex logos but there may be bias there (it took me quite a bit more time to make them). The common advise is to keep logos simple and I think I agree with that. But... because a logo is simple doesn't mean it is good. There are other factors too. How memorable is the logo? What does the logo say about the business? Etc.

    What do you think about this issue?

    Here are a few of the first draft logos (in order of simplicity):

    As an aside, all my design work is done using Photoshop Elements. It's less than $100 and I'm able to do quite a bit with it.

    Tuesday, April 17, 2007

    What can I say... Tragic

    I've been following the news about the Virginia Tech shootings. I don't know if I can casually post other things today. This is a tragedy.

    Monday, April 16, 2007

    Fotowoosh is pretty cool

    Fotowoosh will turn 2D images into 3D images. This kind of technology has been around for a while but this is still pretty cool. From TechCrunch: "In a week or so, the company say, users will be able to upload a picture and have a 3D animated image returned to them in a Flash widget that can be embedded on any website." That sounds pretty cool.

    See it in action!

    Sunday, April 15, 2007

    Okay Metaweb, I'm convinced

    After much examination and use, I'm convinced that Metaweb's got it right with Freebase. I think that Freebase has the potential to solve a lot of problems for developers and users.

    Brilliant idea
    A few weeks before Freebase was announced, I had a brilliant idea. "Wikipedia is great and all, but if I could create a system where the computer can actually understand facts and make them useful, that would be extremely powerful." So for weeks I brainstormed how to create such a system. I learned a lot. I realized that this would take a lot of time but I was ready to undergo the challenge.

    In comes Freebase
    In comes Freebase. I was skeptical at first but, after getting and invite and trying it out, I realized "why create your own system when you've got a well thought out, open, free, developer-friendly system available." The more I used Freebase, the more I liked it and the more I realized how well thought out it was.

    Developers that care
    The people making Freebase really care about developers. They've created a lot of good resources and tools to learn the MQL query language and, in my experience, they are extremely responsive and helpful when it comes to blog comments and their mailing list. They also seem to be really nice people.

    I don't wonder why Metaweb cares so much about developers. After all, it will be real-world web apps that will showcase the real power of Freebase. It will be exciting to see what kind of new Freebase-enabled functionality developers will put in their web apps.

    Awesome licensing
    Why not use Freebase? Its free. Freebase is under the creative commons license so anybody can use the information for free as long as they link back to Freebase. It is an awesome resource just waiting to be plugged into.

    So... all aboard
    So I'm jumping on. I think there are a lot of cool ways I can use Freebase in LearnIt. There may also be some ways LearnIt can contribute to Freebase. The more successful Freebase is, the more valuable a resource it will be so it is my interest to help Freebase in any way I can.

    Friday, April 13, 2007

    Freebase: O'Reilly's right. Its addictive!

    Tim O'Reilly said it and I'm going to repeat it now that I've gotten the chance to see what he's talking about: Freebase is addictive. I spent quite a bit of time messing around with it yesterday. When you start using it, you begin to feel the power of it.

    Why does it feel so powerful? Because as you are typing in information, you realize that the information is linking to objects, and the information becomes very useful. It is not like posting Wikipedia articles, where the information is only seen by humans. In Freebase, the computer can use the information in powerful ways. So when you say that the "American Civil War" is a historical event (a type that I made), the computer knows that the American Civil War has a starting date and an ending date (and any other information associated with a "historical event"). Then this same information can be used in a web app. For example, a web app could be made that shows a timeline and a map. For any given location or area of the map, the user could see all the historical events that happened there in a given time range. The user could scroll back and forth through the timeline to see all the different historical events in the given location or area on the map. This kind of thing would be easy to do with Freebase. I don't know if this sounds exciting to anybody other than developers but to a developer like me who can use Freebase's free API in his web app, this is quite exciting. All of a sudden, a lot of new opportunities for powerful functionality are enabled.

    If anybody wants an invite, see this post.

    Thursday, April 12, 2007

    OS 10.5 delayed because of iPhone

    Mac OS X Leapord is delayed until October because Apple needed to dedicate some crucial resources to the iPhone. This is a little dissapointing but there aren't any features in Leapord I absolutely need right now, so I can wait.

    The real subject here is the iPhone. Apple is obviously allocating a lot of resources to developing the iPhone. I think its great. Wether the iPhone does well or not, the standard for browsers on mobile devices will be raised dramatically. Safari on the iPhone is awesome. I, for one, will be making sure that LearnIt works well with the iPhone. With Safari on a mobile device (javascript and all), all of a sudden a whole bunch of great web apps will be mobilized. This could get interesting.

    I am wondering if Apple will give developers a iPhone-Safari emulator to test their websites. For some reason I don't see Apple doing that but it sure would be nice (I don't know if I will be able to afford an iPhone right off the bat).

    Blogging... post frequency

    Most any blogging tip site will tell you to post frequently. That is one of the best ways to get people to come back to your blog. This is the experience of other bloggers and it is also my own experience. Way back when I started a blog about a certain upcoming gaming device. I was only 14 so, as you can imagine, the quality wasn't stellar. But I posted... And posted... and posted. I posted all the noteworthy (and maybe some un-noteworthy) news I could find. I didn't do much in the way of driving traffic to my site, just a few affiliates. But the traffic shot up. I watched with glee as the unique hits went into the hundereds, then into the thousands. Admittedly, the average age of the users visiting was probably around my own but I gained a lot of loyal users.

    But here I am now. I'm not running that blog any more. I am loaded with school. I am trying to develop a pretty ambitious web app. I don't have very much time to do blogging research and posting. Its a dilemma but I'm going to try to do a little better. My goal will be one post a day. Once I master that, I'll go for two. This blog needs a little more activity (see screenshot below).

    Thursday, April 05, 2007

    I've got 3 Freebase invites to give away

    I have 3 Freebase invites that I don't know what to do with. If you are interested in Freebase and don't have an invite, comment on this post with the reason you would like an invite as well as an idea for a feature you would want in a web application focused on student (target audience: highschool) research. Unless a lot of people post comments, your chances of getting an invite are pretty high. They would be even higher if the feature you talk about (see above) is related to Freebase.

    EDIT: If you don't have any ideas for web app features, thats okay. Any Freebase related idea will do.

    UPDATE: Freebase keeps giving me more invites so I have twelve more to give away.

    Friday, March 30, 2007


    It's been a while since I've posted here. It is hard for me at this point to justify spending 10 minutes to blog when I only have an hour or so for LearnIt development in my schedule. I realize that more people see the blog when I post more frequently but the number of visitors to the site is pretty small at this point whether I post or not. Despite all this, I will try to be more consistent in posting so that anybody that is interested can stay updated. I hope to also talk more about Freebase (see earlier posts).

    Right now I'm working mainly on the LearnIt design and page structure. I think I'm making good progress. I think LearnIt is going to turn out even more useful than I thought. My hope is to have some kind of public version to launch this summer but, who knows, I could finish much sooner or much later. Once I have a working alpha I will probably let those who are interested test it out. I'll try to keep you posted on my progress.

    Thursday, March 22, 2007

    Finally awesome search in Safari: Inquisitor 3

    I stumbled upon a link to an awesome Safari plugin called Inquisitor. It is a fast, small, super-helpful, and free search tool that sits right where the old google search form was. Its got auto-completion, results on the spot, and you can even customize it so that searching your favorite search engines are just a keystroke away. The fact that the developer is giving this away is pretty cool.

    Wednesday, March 21, 2007

    Using Freebase in LearnIt

    Right now I'm using my LearnIt development timeslot to brainstorm ways of using the Freebase API in LearnIt. There are a lot of possibilities and I am open to suggestions but I think I've found some good ways already.

    Tuesday, March 20, 2007

    Resist the urge to make that mockup button perfect

    I just spent a valuable 45 + minutes on something I have done countless times and hope to never do again. I, once again, could not resist the urge. I just couldn't let that button look so ugly... It had to be perfect. But now there is a problem. I can't use it anymore. I have decided to implement the feature in a way that doesn't require that button. 45 minutes... Gone.

    Lesson learned: shinyness can wait til the final version.

    Sunday, March 18, 2007

    Using Freebase #2: auto-completion

    Freebase has a feature that makes adding meaningful information very easy. This feature is auto-completion. The first screenshot below shows me editing my country of nationality. As I type Freebase suggests topics and tells me their type. The second screenshot shows that, if I mouseover a type, Freebase will give me the description of that type (from either a Freebase description or part of the wikipedia article on that topic). Everything loads pretty fast so it is surprisingly helpful.