Fun with Verizon, audio books as a podcast through podiobooks.com, MilkyWay to quickly view image files from lny.mine.nu, MacLampX from arcticmac.home.comcast.net/apps/maclampsx.html to add holiday lights to your Mac desktop, Shiira Browser creates a new interface from hmdt-web.net/shiira/en, Google products review 3 looking at earth.google.com and froogle.google.com.
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I’m so excited, I’m taking two whole weeks off for the holidays, so I’m not working until January 3rd! Woohoo! You know what THAT means, right? that means I had time to wash Lindsay’s car today, tire black the tires, and even do some more claying and waxing on Kyle’s car. What a great time. the scary thing is that Kyle turns 16 tomorrow, which means on Tuesday I’m taking him to take his driver’s test, so if all things go as he’s planned, you might want to get your children off the street if you live in Los Angeles! In all seriousness, he’s really a pretty good driver, I don’t suck in my breath and slam my foot on the floor more than once or twice a day now. The good news, while frustrating for him, is that the laws here say that you can’t drive anyone under 25 for the first year unless there’s a 25 year old or older in the car. that makes me sleep better at night, because I know that the minute he’s even NEAR his friends while he’s driving with me, there starts to be a lot of this “wheeeee…” kind of talk, and a bit of “woohoo” going on that makes me nervous. Imagine if he got to actually have them in the car without my supervision? I’d have a stroke for sure.
So I had to call Verizon this week, about my daughter’s cell phone bill. yeah, you might just want to fast forward bast this part. Unbelievable. At one point I actually told the guy on the phone (Hamid, who was VERY nice) that it would make a good Saturday Night Live skit. Let me back up a bit. So the bill comes, and it says that my daughter used 660 minutes worth of her 600 minute plan. Of course I jet on over to the Verizon website to understand, and I’m delighted to find that they now have a button where you can download your bill to Excel. this is awesome!
I downloaded it, but it was a CSV file, which means comma separated file, which reads into Excel as a bunch of junk in the first column only. In Excel you can change that into nice tidy little columns by going to Tools, Text to Columns. In there you can tell it to separate the columns by tabs, commas, or whatever you like. Once I separated it by commas, I could start to work with the file. I did a pivot table – if you haven’t done pivot tables before, you should SO check them out – in nerdville where I live, they rock. Pivot tables are very weird when you first mess with them, but once you get the hang of them, you can change gigantic piles of data into actual information. Do you get the distinction I’m making here? Ever had a pile of data and you can’t figure out what it means? just picture your cell phone bill and you get what I mean.
For my particular pivot table, I chose to have it tell me how many minutes Lindsay used by the Usage Type. Usage type is where the real comedy comes into play. There are literally SIXTEEN different usage types, ranging from CallVM to PlanAllow,CallVM, to blank. Yes, blank. So after careful analysis of my meticulously created spreadsheet and pivot table, which I’ve now carefully color coded to try and figure out what’s included in her minutes and what should be extra. Of course I had no clue after all of this what the heck her bill meant. That meant I needed to call them. Oh the horrors. I knew at this point that I had to find a time I could dedicate a really long time to this effort, so I waited till the very last day I was working this year and planned no actual activity.
so I call Verizon and I get Hamid on the phone, and we share a good chuckle about how complicated Verizon bills are, and he chats about how many calls he gets a day with people trying to figure out their bills. In the back of my mind I’m thinking, “gee, would I CREATE a business model like this?” So he and I start working through the bill, and I ask him to explain as much of the general stuff as he can, and then we hone in on hone in on what kind of minutes we have to pay for and what doesn’t count against us. After we peel through all that, we add up the minutes, and we get a grand total of 607 minutes…if you’ve been keeping score, they said she used 660 minutes, which was an extra $27 beyond her bill, so this is a big deal if my data is right!
So…15 minutes of discussion…20 minutes…45 minutes…when it gets close to an hour and ol’ Hamid is starting to go back to the beginning on the data, I’ve just kinda stopped joking around with him. At this point, he suggests that he call me back on Monday (it’s around 5pm on Friday night) and I get my first hint that he just wants to go home. I point out to him that this phone call has now cost SIGNFICANTLY more than $27 but he perseveres and wants to offer Monday to do the math on my account. Finally, at 56 minutes in (I love the Avia phone switch, it tells me how many minutes I’ve been on hold so I can continually quote it) I tell Hamid that I would like to talk to a supervisor, but I’d like to keep him on the phone so that she knows from me how hard Hamid has worked on this problem for me. I really wasn’t mad at him at all, but I was starting to get just a TEENY bit irritated with the process. I figured at this point, if I made BOTH people stay on the phone with me, I was wasting more of their times than I was of mine!
Beverly was the supervisor, and she was such a gem. Started out with a bug up her butt, which I couldn’t really blame her for, but I kept my objective in view. the main thing at this point is to do the math. I tried to explain to her that my friend Hamid had worked with me, and he had come up with the same math i had, which said that they were charging me for 53 minutes more than we’d spent, or $23.85 too much money. Ok, you’re probably getting bored with the details at this point, I sure was! i told her that I had been with Verizon since my very first cell phone, and that I KNEW that she had the authority to credit my bill by $27, but she insisted that she had procedures and processes. She said that it was CRITICAL that if there were actually an error in their billing program, she needed to verify it, and that the ONLY way she could do it was to add all the numbers up by hand. I explained that on their website they could do the whole Excel/pivot table thing, and she explained quite condescendingly that she was in their BILLING PROGRAM, not their website.
I think the final breakthrough came when I was able to prove to her that they charged Lindsay for “IN calling” which is their famous Verizon to Verizon calling, which is supposed to be free of course. at that point I really had her on the ropes, which is totally wrong! In the big picture, if you were running a company where you’re paying two people to sit on the phone while making the customer more and more irate, wouldn’t you just do the math and figure that $27 isn’t worth it? Well, of course I won in the end, but it took 74 minutes to get there which is just darn silly! You’re all probably sitting there thinking, “who is the real lunatic here” – the Verizon people, or Allison for spending 75 minutes on the phone for only $27??? Oh well, I wasn’t that busy today, and once I had the challenge on…I couldn’t resist!
Listener Maurice wrote in with a really interesting service that I can’t believe I never heard of before. Check it out:
I would like to point out a new site I found recently, Podiobooks (podiobooks.com). On this site you can subscribe to free audio-books (you are encouraged to donate to the author however). These books are sent to you as a podcast, one chapter at the time. The nice thing is you get your own podcast-feed, and you can specify how often you want a new chapter released (once a day, couple of days, week). I can highly recommend ‘7th Son’, this is a thrilling story, and it is read very skilfully by the author J.C. Hutchins. I very much like the idea behind this site, very well thought out, and very well executed! Regards, Maurice
well what could be wrong with this idea? I love to read, I love to listen, I love books, and I’m a control freak so if this site lets me adjust the rate at which they send me chapters, it’s all good! I headed on over to podiobooks.com and found a beautifully laid out site, just like Maurice said. There’s a search field in the upper right, but also a way to browse the titles by category, like drama, children, essays, fantasy, dark fantasy, science fiction, a lot of great categories. they tell you the recent updates to the books – I see that the second book of 7th Son is out because chapter 1 has been added, so that’s good to know if I get hooked on book 1!
Donations to the authors is a great way to work this – but only if we remember to donate, right? they say on the site that they used to give 50% to the author, but they changed it to 75% now. that’s an extraordinary level, so these guys are doing great by their content providers. I noticed that they said people wanted to know how to just reward the developers, so they have a button for that too!
I figured that Maurice has never set me wrong before, so I’ll take his advice and start with 7th Son. He did warn me in a later email that 7th Son has a lot of strong language, so might not be for everyone. I was intrigued by the tag line for the book:
“Three weeks ago, the U.S. president was murdered by a four-year-old boy. Today, seven men stare at each other in a locked conference room. Kidnapped and brought to this underground facility, the strangers are sitting in silence, thunderstruck. Despite minor physical differences, they all…”
How could you NOT subscribe to that? I found a button on the side panel that said “want this book in order on a schedule you define?” and an invitation to register now! which of course I did. Once I finished registering, there was a nice short page describing the basics of how this works. they suggest you sign up for a subscription feed, and also explained that new and coming soon books will be advertised on the homepage. that’s a great way to get people to keep coming back. They also have a podcast all about the upcoming books, so you can subscribe that that too. these guys are really covering all the angles! they then go on to explain that the 75% of your donations that go to the authors is 75% BEFORE paypal fees, not after!
After registering, I went back to the 7th Son page and found that now there’s a subscribe button. On the next page it gives five different ways to subscribe – a straight RSS feed, iPodderX, PodcastReady, itunes, and Juice. that’s terrific I think, something for everyone! One of the coolest ideas of this site is that you can set how often you get a chapter. You know that unnatural stress you get when magazines stack up, or you’re wasting bits on unlistened to podcasts, or your Tivo is waiting for you with shows you love? why do we do that, anyway? why do we let our chosen forms of entertainment hold that stress over us? I don’t know why, but the folks at podiobooks have really fixed it so we don’t stress ourselves out!
the default frequency is every week, so I chose that. I might just be able to keep up at that rate! the other choices are every day, every other day, every 3 days, every other week, and every month. if you can’t find a choice in there for you, well, you’re just too darn picky!
I’ll be checking out the books on Podiobooks, if I can fit them in between my technology podcasts, you might want to check them out too!
Here’s a problem that needs to be solved. In Windows it’s really easy to pull up a quick view of a jpeg file, but on OSX you have to actually launch something like the application Preview just to see if the thumbnail you’re looking at is the right one. Listener Ryan sent in a really cool freeware application that is just perfect. It’s called MilkyWay from Launay Software at lny.mine.nu. Ryan says it’s “A very, very handy little application that runs in the background and when you select on an image or pdf (or any other file that Preview.app can open) in Finder, it pops up with a small preview of the file in a overlay which disappears when you deselect the file. Very customizable display and hard to get rid of once you start using it.
I launched MilkyWay, and it popped up a little picture of something for about a nanosecond. Hmmm…hard to tell if it’s working, but I thought, how would this work if it was exactly the way i wanted it to be? I’d like it best if all I have to do is click on a jpeg and I’d see a bigger thumbnail. I went to a folder full of pictures, clicked once, and shazam – it came up with a really cool thumbnail – it’s sort of at an angle, like it’s a real picture sitting on a table, complete with a reflection on the table, a la iChat AV.
There are 6 little controls superimposed on the picture, which is about 3×2 inches. Going from left to right, the first one is an X that closes the thumbnail, the second is a magnifying glass which when clicked brings the picture up full screen. that’s awesome! a simple click makes it go back to normal size. The next two tools rotate the picture 90 degrees left and right. I can’t believe how useful this tool is – how often have you been trying to show someone a picture that you’ve just pulled from your camera, and you have to get them to turn their heads sideways to look at it? this is so cool!
The next tool was mysterious to me for a while – it looks like a piece of paper with a corner folded over. I clicked on it and out of the corner of my eye, I could have sworn I saw something change over in the finder. I tried it again, and nothing happened. Then I noticed that the modify date of the jpeg I was clicking was actually changing. then I got an idea, I wondered if it might be making a preview icon for me on the desktop. I clicked on a file that didn’t have a preview icon, and then clicked the little paper symbol, and sure enough, it created the icon! that is yet another great thing about MilkyWay!
I know I’m going kinda crazy about this app, but it keeps going. If you right click on the picture when it comes up, you get a whole ‘nother set of choices, like set it as the desktop picture. The last tool that shows is another paper looking thing, but it has a line of dots down the side. this one brings up the preferences for MilkyWay. Yes, this little app has six tabs of preferences! I don’ think I’ll take you through all of them, but it lets you mess around with the 3D view, changing the sharpness of the mirror effects, and change the color of the walls and the floor. this is important stuff you know?
the panel tab lets you change what tools show on screen, in case you don’t need all of them I suppose, and they had one more that I didn’t have, you can have a tool to send the file to the trash, which might come in really handy too. The developer definitely had some fun with this tool, there’s even a control to allow you to change the COLOR of the tools as you hover over them, I found the deep blue the most pleasing. I hadn’t realized it, but MilkyWay puts an icon in the menu bar so you can activate and deactivate it at will. That’s kinda nice too, I can imagine a circumstance where you don’t want pictures popping up all over the place. the developer had fun here too, you even get to choose amongst four different icons to for the menu bar. In all tabs, there’s a slider to change the size of the picture that pops up – that’s really great!
I went over the the website for MilkyWay, and noticed that they have more applications, I plan on spending some time there and seeing what else they’ve done! I have actually run out of superlatives to describe MilkyWay, thank you so much Ryan for turning us onto it!
It’s time for a little holiday cheer, so I decided to break down and install MacLampsX, sent in by listener Ryan. This application doesn’t really solve a problem, unless your problem is you’re a scrooge, or if your problem is that you’re too focused on your work and need really intense distractions to pull you away from paying attention. As I believe I MIGHT have mentioned before, I do not have that particular problem, but just in case, let’s try out this distracting program. Ages ago in Mac OS9 there was a program called Holiday Lights, which would put a string of lights around the border of your screen. Enter Artic Mac (I put a link in the shownotes, the url is a bit long to read) arcticmac.home.comcast.net/apps/maclampsx.html
These nice folks have written MacLampsX to take it’s place in OSX land. I downloaded and installed MacLampsX which runs like a normal application, allowing the bulbs to be on the desktop, floating, act like a normal window, or on the desktop but above the icons. I figured for maximum distraction, we should go with floating window. the application lets you have the bulbs flashing, have bulb chase, and to change the speed of the flashing from very slow to insanely manic! This brings back memories of my childhood in Indiana when I’d gaze out the window at the Robinson’s house and watch their lights chasing each other around. ah….wait, where was I? Oh yeah, sorry, got distracted.
In the preferences you can also choose other kinds of bulbs to add, and this was kind of confusing for me at first (you’d probably have figured it out faster than I did. you have a list of different bulbs, holly, and snowflakes, and around the list there’s a border with the lights and stuff. I finally figured out that to activate a particular type of bulb, etc., you just drag it to the area in the border where you’d like it to appear. let’s say for example that you want the upper left corner to be a snowflake, then drag a snowflake up there in the preference pane. Conveniently they allow you to change all four corners to different things, and to change the right and left borders to be different from each other. this would drive my husband nuts – if he sees a house where the lights don’t follow a pattern, it drives him nuts! one time his friend Bill came over to our house and rearranged the lights on OUR house so they weren’t in their original pattern – I thought Steve was going to have a stroke! I can’t wait to see how he likes what I’ve done to my desktop, no two sides are the same!
Well, if you’re looking for distractions this holiday season, check out MacLampsX and get distracted!
A while ago I had to delete a bunch of applications because my disk was getting full, and I remember counting my browsers and finding that I had about 13 of them loaded! I don’t think a person needs more than a half dozen, so I deleted one called Shiira, which I had downloaded originally because it had this really cool fish icon – looked like a marlin whipping in the air above the ocean. I got an email (from Ryan) suggesting that I give Shiira another try. On the website, at hmdt-web.net/shiira/en you’ll find both the stable version (gee, should I pick that?) which is 1.2.2, or of course the more preferable Shiira 2 which is in Beta 2. They say it’s an unstable preview release, so I went for it!
the first thing I noticed is that the icon has changed, but it’s still pretty cool. Now it’s this sort of purple beluga looking fish, whipping around an artsy fartsy looking wave. He looks like he’s having more fun than the marlin! Note that Shiira is a Mac-only browser. Listener Ryan writes this about the new Shiira:
“Shiira is an amazing new browser. The current stable version works great and has some cool features, but the real kicker is what the beta does (or is planned to do). It’s got an interesting new way of displaying tabs, called PageDock, at the bottom of the window is a bar that shows a live screenshot of the webpage loaded in that tab, if you don’t like this way than there is a preference to switch back to the regular tab bar. Also if you use other browsers (for now only Firefox and Safari are supported) than you don’t have to worry about importing bookmarks, it integrates with them perfectly and allows you to access the same set of bookmarks in both apps (like syncing, but without the syncing, if that makes sense). It also integrates with Address Book (not sure exactly the advantage of this yet, but I’m still playing with it) and soon will implement something to do with Bonjour and a built in RSS reader. Just a note, it is still very beta (it doesn’t seem to affect anything, it just crashes when you do certain things, such as try to go to the general section in the preferences, it stalls and quits), so I don’t think it’s ready for prime time just yet, but it’s getting there.
I checked out this Page Dock thing, it’s pretty cool. when you go to a website it has a thumbnail view of the page you are on, and all the other open pages. this is instead of tabs of course. the problem it solves is having to actually think before clicking on a tab to see if it’s the one you meant to go to, the downside is that it takes up a LOT of space. on a laptop, you’re pretty restricted on vertical space, so these big old pagedock things are a bit obtrusive. what i have a plethora of is sideways space.
I found two excellent buttons at the bottom – one makes the page dock collapse away (yay!) and the other does sort of an Expose kind of thing where it shows all of your open tabs on screen in a grid so you can click on the one you want quite easily since they’re big enough for you to be able to tell which one is which even easier.
I had some trouble finding the bookmark same as Safari thing. I did find a button that would show me the bookmarks from safari, but they weren’t actually IN the bookmark list, or in a bookmark bar. I’ll give you a hint, they call it the shelf, and the icon to see the bookmarks looks kind of like a bed side table with one shelf, a drawer underneath, and a clock sitting on the shelf. I’m not sure why they went to so much work to make such an elaborate icon, but there it is. I finally figured out how to work this, when I selected everything in the Safari bookmarks bar that it showed, and dragged them all en masse into the bookmark bar area on Shiira. What it didn’t pull was any folders that were in the bookmarks bar, which is kinda lame. For example, in Safari I have a folder in the bookmarks bar that has all of the Google tools I like all in one place, instead of cluttering up a bunch of space individually. I’ll have to fool around with that some more!
I played around in the preferences to see what other kind of tools I could add to the toolbar, and I found one that makes your browser full screen! I’ve never seen that done before, and I think it could be an excellent help during demos. You have a little bit of control of the browser, down at the bottom if you hover your mouse a little translucent menu bar thingy will come up, sort of like the one that comes up when you’re playing a movie in iTunes, and it has a forward/back button, refresh and stop, along with two buttons to increase or decrease the font size. the last button is the one that gets you back to the normal view, and you can’t see the url bar to do anything else interesting. Shiira looks like it’s taking an inventive approach to Web browsing and doing things no one else is doing and for that reason I’ll be sure to keep playing with it!
Google products – part 3 – Google downloads for Mac
It’s time to get back to our Google Tools reviews, here’s part 3. Let’s hope we find more useful tools than we did last week, we didn’t find much useful there, did we? Next on the list is Google Earth. I’m not going to spend TOO much time on this one, because I think most people know what it is. I need to talk a bit about it because it’s also way cool. Google Earth is a downloadable application for Windows, Mac AND Linux which allows you to travel virtually around the globe looking at satellite imagery that’s pretty amazing. In terms of solving a real problem I don’t think it makes the top 10 list, but it sure makes the top 10 coolness applications. They’ve done a lot to enhance it lately so if you havent’ downloaded it in the last six months, you should go back to earth.google.com and get the latest update.
Originally you could type in an address and literally fly around the globe and down into town to see – of course your own house, which is what ever single person on earth does first. now you can see boundaries of countries, states and provinces when you zoom in, and counties when you get even closer. You can search for businesses, see photos of interesting places, bring up Discovery Channel movies about national parks, and even get driving directions in places far far away. You can turn on roads, show lodging an dining, and even see 3D buildings that are kind of goofy but fun. I was looking for information on my husband’s incoming flight a few weeks ago, and one of the sites actually had a plugin for google earth which would show where the plane was graphically on Google Earth! this is one of those tools you ahve to play with to appreciate, go spend some quality time there next time you’re bored!
The next Google tool on the list is Froogle, which is an oldie but a goodie. Froogle’s job is to help you shop…frugally! that is, to find cheap stuff. froogle.google.com (spell froogle) is nice and simple like any self respecting google site, except on the second half they show a list of 25 things that have been recently found on Froogle. this is fun to peruse, not for any actual value but to see what people are looking for. When I looked, it had buffalo meet, bagel biter, and canned air listed! I ran a couple of quick tests, doing a search for example on t-shirts, and it came up with a bunch of hits, showing photos on the left of the items it found, links to the items, the name of the seller (eBay took the top 3) and the price.
along the right side it put the ever important Sponsored links. On the top though they did something I really liked. there’s 3 ways you can refine your search. The first column was to set the price range, they gave choices of under $20, $20-60, $60-150, over $150, and finally you can set your own price range. I really really like that idea, not just having a set price range but the flexibility to pick your own. The middle column is o refine it to a couple of stores, not sure how they picked whihc ones, but they must know me because one of the store choices was ThinkGeek! Finally you can refine the search by choosing either seller rating or related searches.
One more neato thing they do on Froogle is they have your location shown in sort of a middle green bar. They have incorporated Google Local into Froogle so that right below the green bar it says “see 49 local results for t-shirts near my city. I clicked on that link, and the Froogle site suddenly replaced the sponsored links with a Google Map of my area, and the links and photos all became local businesses with flags showing on the map for their locations. How handy is that? You can clear that location if you like, and it lets you enter a new zip or city/state.
You can also change the view of the found items, the default is the list view I already described, the alternate view is grid view, which sows the photos in a grid (duh) with the link and the price right below it. I really think I’ll start to use Froogle now that I’ve gotten to spend some time in here, it’s really got all the features I could think I’d want in a shopping site, both for online shopping and local shopping, what’s not to like? I should note that of course Froogle is listed as beta like everything else at google. Why do you think they do that?
I think that’s probably enough for one week, don’t you think? Please keep all the feedback coming, I LOVE to hear from you! email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or if you feel like making a voice recording, send it to email@example.com, and don’t forget the forums over at podfeet.com/forums. Thanks for listening, and stay subscribed!