Sunday, March 29, 2009

Recommended reading with Twitter

"Twitter is a waste of time", some of my friends are saying. "Why do I need to know what others are doing?"

I guess most of the reluctant guys take Twitter's incentive, "What are you doing?", too literally. Surely, this is not interesting in most of the cases. I couldn't care less when others wake up, if their coffee tastes good or if it's raining in London. Except if I'm going to London, of course. But in that case there are 100 websites to check the weather.

Twitter is a flexible platform. There are probably a ton of articles out there explaining the benefits of Twitter and the way one may use it. I guess one of Twitter's strong points resides in its mass usage. You can see what's hot. For instance, just search for "Earth hour" updates to get an idea.

A few days ago I was reading an article, probably this one, and I realized that amongst the things I read on the web, some of them I would like to keep track of, as in the case of the books. And I also want to share them.

I could use Delicious for this, as I do with all my bookmarks, but I wanted something like a stream of articles that are sent to more than my network of people on Delicious.

Twitter to the rescue.

However, I needed something more than just: "Hey, I found this nice piece of work - link", more specifically I wanted to be able to differentiate between other updates and the ones referring to articles.

Therefore I prefixed the update with the string #RR, as an acronym for Recommended Reading. The hash sign "#" is there to indicate some sort of a label for that update.

Ok, now I have the procedure in place, but how do I make these updates stand out from the crowd?

Chris Heilmann had a neat idea on how to dig through his series of updates on Twitter after certain ones. Here he describes how he used Yahoo Pipes to drill after tweets ending in a "§", the character he appends to each update he considers useful. Then he processed the last 5 tweets with Javascript to display them in a panel on his blog.

I shamelessly cloned Chris' pipe and changed it a bit to match my needs. I wanted a feed with the recommended reading updates, which is easy to get by changing a parameter in the pipe URL that tells the pipe what to render as result.

Here is the RSS feed with the recommended reading from Teamness. Please feel free to subscribe to it.

I also kept the Twitter id in the pipe configurable, so if you mark some of your updates in the same way, prefixed with #RR, you may use the same pipe by changing only the id below:

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Trace the sheep

Here is an idea on how to make the customers feel better about the products they're buying.

Last weekend I purchased a garment from New Zealand merino wool clothing company Icebreaker.

On the tag of the shirt there is a nine-digit code called baacode which may be used to trace the garment back to the sheep stations where the merino fibre was grown. One can watch through photos and videos the living conditions of the animals and follow the process of manufacturing the garments.

Here are the ones for my baacode 013E3230F:

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

3 websites to keep track of books

I just finished The cult of the amateur, a book which I mentioned here, referring to time as a precious resource.

And what I realized is that I forgot most of the books I've read. Not that I'm reading that much, but for instance I cannot remember what books I finished 6 years ago. Therefore, I needed a method to keep track and to do this, I looked at 3 websites designed for this purpose.


As they state: "LibraryThing gets all the right data from and over 690 libraries around the world, including the Library of Congress."

LibraryThing provides tags, a lot of attributes for each book and Zeitgeist - statistics about your activity. The interface is a bit clumsy, but the application is fast and has a lot of features.

They offer another neat thing called Local, which acts like a gateway to local bookstores, libraries and book festivals. This allows me to find a place nearby where I can get a certain book.


GoodReads is also fast, they offer a few basic features of book management, insisting more on social interaction with other fellow readers. The website works around bookshelves, which you may manage in various ways.


Shelfari is the handsome of the group, with a neat look of the site, but at the same time it seems to be the slowest. It has predefined lists for what I plan to read, I'm reading, I've read, Favorites, Own and Wish list.

All the above services offer social interaction. You can see reviews by other people, connect with them and share the books, but I'm not really interested in such features. At least not for now.

In any case, since all these services support importing and exporting the list of books, it's quite easy to switch between them. Actually, for this review I added the books to LibraryThing, then I exported the list and imported it in the other two services.

This worked with a few interventions. After importing from LibraryThing to GoodReads, I found "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone" in the list. It's true I don't remember all the books that I've read, but I know I didn't read this one. The import from LibraryThing to Shelfari worked like a charm, even though it missed most of my ratings and the tags for the books it didn't find by the ISBN.

In the end, it was a bit difficult to choose between LibraryThing and Shelfari. The latter feels good when using the website and as I said, looks pretty neat, but since I'm mainly using the service for storing information, I opted for the flexibility LibraryThing offers.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

5 more tips and tricks with Teamness

Here are five more tips and tricks with Teamness for your delight. Please also checkout the previous five.

1. Project customizations

When the current opened project is one that you own, a link called "Settings" appear in the main menu that points you to a page where you may choose a logo for your project or set which tabs you would like to be displayed from Tasks, Milestones, Messages, Whiteboards, Files.

2. RSS feeds

In each of the following pages: Dashboard, Tasks, Milestones, Messages, Whiteboards and Files there is a RSS icon in the lower right side of the sidebar. You may use the link for that icon to feed it to any RSS aggregator of your preference. You may also subscribe to data from all the projects you're working on or your own created projects.

3. Email notifications

In the Subscriptions page you may check or uncheck the "Receive email notifications" check-box to switch between receiving or stopping email notifications for tasks, milestones, invitations or any other case.

4. Flag whiteboard version

You may flag as many versions of a whiteboard as you want. This is an easy way to remember that some are special. After you flag a version, a small sign will appear in the list of the versions for that specific one.

5. Export your data

In the Account page you are given the option to pack all the data from your projects as an XML file.

For performance reasons, the export can be performed only once a day. An email with download information will be sent to you as soon as the export is ready.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

News Mixer and Mona Lisa

The red-headed javascript guru Chris Heilmann, whom I had the pleasure to meet at the Stockholm's GeekMeet in December, published a post describing how he built News Mixer using the newly released Guardian’s open platform content API.

I played a bit with the mixer and I stumbled upon this article which came up in the list of search results for "photography". It talks about photo snappers at Mona Lisa's painting in the Louvre museum in Paris.

Some deeply asleep memories suddenly woke up inside my mind while reading the article.

Image by Bret Arnett

In 1999 I was one of those snappers. I was in Paris with a few friends, participating in a 2 weeks event organized by Best Supélec.

We went to visit Louvre one day and, since our agenda was pretty busy for that day, we rushed to a couple of famous objectives in the museum and Mona Lisa was on top of the list. Following the guiding signs To Mona Lisa, posted strategically all around the place, led us to a crowd of about 3 dozens people snapping photos in front of a glass box protecting the painting.

Another article which came up in the list of search results from News Mixer reads:
People no longer study it. It is no longer a painting, but has become a symbol of a painting," says Darian Leader, author of Stealing the Mona Lisa: What Art Stops Us From Seeing. Looking at the visitors from the front of the crowd, about half have their faces pressed into a camera. Those at the back arch onto tiptoes, hold their arms far above their head and take a picture, paparazzi-style.
[begin quick thought] Doesn't it look a bit like the web today, with all its social interaction sites? [end quick thought]

I remember at that time I wanted to see if my father was making any sense when he told me that the eyes of Mona Lisa follow you no matter what angle you look at the painting. But I couldn't focus to see that, being pushed around by other tourists taking photos.

"Let's just do what everyone does, take a photo and get out of here while alive", I told my friend accompanying me. And so we did. My camera was a simple film one, which, as opposed to the digital devices used today, kept the image to itself as a surprise for when you have developed the film.

Now, I wish I had that photo to include it here. It's probably lost somewhere in a drawer in my parents' house, waiting to be scanned. But a few weeks later, when I got it, I saw 2 doofuses grinning in front of a completely black background, which was the glass in front of the painting, bouncing flash lights from all the cameras around.

In any case, the night cleaner confirms what my father told me:
After 30 years in France, he saw the painting for the first time three days ago when he started this new job with the Louvre. "It's hard to hard to understand what the fuss is about," he says. "But the way that the eyes follow you around the room as you work is disconcerting."

Sunday, March 8, 2009

The value of LinkedIn recommendations

Yesterday I found this blog post in which Jeff Atwood was questioning the value LinkedIn brings to its subscribers.
I've been a member of LinkedIn for almost two years now. I dutifully entered my credentials and kept them up to date. The only other interaction I've had with the service since then has been a continual stream of link requests. I'm selective about who I approve, limiting it to people I've only met in real life. And the net benefit of this selectivity? As far as I can tell, zilch. Nada. Nothing. I did get a cold call from a headhunter once based on my Linked In profile, but I don't consider that a benefit.

Has this service ever been useful to anyone? I'm telling you, Linked In is the digital equivalent of a chain letter. If you really want to contact a friend of a friend (of a friend), just pick up the phone or send an email. If the only way you can reach someone is through this nutty online social pyramid scheme, you don't deserve to be taken seriously. And I can guarantee that you won't be.

I'm not going to opt out of LinkedIn, as Jeff did. I still see a couple of benefits from it, like groups and QA, but I wonder about the value of recommendations.

What's the real value of a recommendation on LinkedIn?

Image by 1Sock

If you were to work with or hire someone, how much emphasis would you set on the recommendations that person has? Keep in mind that they are fully customizable, as the help states:
Yes, Recommendations can be revised, replaced or withdrawn by using the 'Make & Manage Recommendations' page.

Do you know anyone with a negative description in her or his profile? If the answer is no and I tend to believe nobody has one, then is everybody a truly skilled professional that provided only good value for every piece of work that she or he did? Or is this true only for people with any recommendations at all?

I have 61 connections, which might be considered a small number in today's networking situation. Out of these, I only gave one recommendation so far, for an ex-colleague that asked for it. He needed it for a new job he was trying to obtain. In any case, I would do it for every contact that asks me for one.

On the other hand, I got 3 recommendations to date. I felt good when I received these testimonials in my inbox, but my question is how valuable they are for an eventual business contact. I suppose that if I ask all my contact to give me recommendations, I'll get at least 20. So what?

Most of the recommendations I've seen on LinkedIn profiles sound like this:
[Name] is a very creative person, inspirational in the [field] industry, very focused on detail, great at deliverance and effective when is about results. Highly recommended.

I think a recommendation is actually valuable for the one writing it. If I was to pick someone to work with from LinkedIn, I would take these testimonials into account the other way around, by looking at the recommendations that person wrote for her or his contacts. Witty written ones, which break the above mentioned pattern, would be a plus in the evaluation.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Yet another Geek Meet

Thursday evening I attended my second Geek Meet in Stockholm, organized in bwin's offices near the Cityterminalen. The previous one took place on December 4th and I mentioned it in this post.

This geek meet featured 2 presentations by Mark Wubben and chili con carne. The chili was good, but I think the presentations were in need for a little bit of a twist. The topics discussed by Mark were typography and sIFR in the first part, and ubiquitous computing, including examples of how RFID may be used in daily life, in the second part.

We worked with sIFR 2 in Teamness and because of this it was easy to understand and follow Mark's code examples dealing with sIFR 3. But I would've liked to see more working examples and differences between good and bad ways of applying it on a web page.

Mark was amused about how other new typography tools aim at becoming sIFR replacements, which is a funny thing to aim for, since sIFR itself is a hacking alternative.

Second presentation managed to keep the beer-sipping geeks more attentive, due to inclusion of videos and real life examples from Mark's work in the area.