Allison was interviewed on typicalmacuser.com, using mobile phone websites for screenreaders like the mobile version of Amazon’s site, a listing of mobile friendly sites at timestocomemobile.com, Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon at oracleofbacon.org. hdabob.com. Martin’s review of Little Snitch version 2.0 beta 8 from Objective Development at obdev.at, Rogue Amoeba’s Radioshift from rogueamoeba.com. Bart’s review of the iPod Touch at bartbusschots.ie, iFlash from Loopware from loopware.com.
Listen to the Podcast Once (43 min 55 sec)
Today is Sunday, October 14th, 2007 and this is show #116.
Typical Mac User
I’m recording this week’s show really early this week, because in a few short hours I’ll be on
Victor Cajiao’s most excellent podcast called Typical Mac User. I’m giddy with excitement, and by the time you hear this, that show will already be out. I sure hope some of you got to participate (or should I say that in future tense, even though you’re listening to this from the past….I’m so confused!) anwyway, Victor is such a cool guy – he does Mac and PC podcasts simply for the love of the technology AND the love of talking to interesting people like…well…moi! I know I’m going to have a blast! Go check it out at typicalmacuser.com
Accessible site idea
Susan Gerhart, creator of @podder, the podcatcher for the visually impaired at apodder.org wrote in to thank me for talking about the Target lawsuit and accessibility barriers last week. she explained that she is using a screenr eader on more and more websites, and is more aware of the difference between accessibility and usability. she says that ALT tags do help, but many sites are so encrusted with links and product categories and stuff to wade through it’s still really hard. The article I talked about last week from the Wall Street Journal cited Amazon as being one of the best for accessibility. She pointed out that while that’s technically true, it’s nearly unusable because of all the slop on the site being hard to wade through.
I got to thinking and I had an epiphany. Don’t worry, it didn’t hurt. What occurred to me is that people are going out of their way to make websites that work well on mobile devices, notably the iPhone. what if she were to point her screen reader at those instead of the full up versions? I went out and hunted down the mobile version of Amazon’s site and sent it to her and asked her to test it with her screen reader. The amazon mobile link is in the shownotes (way too long to read!) Here’s what she wrote back after testing on her screen reader:
Oh, that amazon page is so sweet and simple! Just like the early days of the web when nobody knew how to build complicated web pages. I could easily view my account, get the list of books I wanted, and only had one ad link.
I’m thrilled that this might be a cure for some of the problems the visually impaired have with accessibility because the industry is currently paying a LOT more attention to mobile phone users than they are to the visually impaired. I suspect it’s a numbers thing, which kinda makes sense. But if the mobile phone mania benefits the visually impaired, I guess I shouldn’t complain!
I’d be curious to have a few more people test this concept out. I looked around for a comprehensive list of mobile-friendly sites and I found timestocomemobile.com which looks pretty good. In general though, it would probably be easier to start with a site you want to go to and then do a search on the term “mobile friendly” along with the site you want. If you’re working with a screenreader out there, let me know if this helps!
Oracle of Bacon
Susan gave me a treat back in one of her emails. She introduced me to something really intriguing. Do you remember the Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon? Back in 1994 a newsgroup post stated that kevin Bacon is the Center of the universe, which started a trivia game in which you were supposed to find a link between any actor and Kevin Bacon going through no more than six people. It’s surprisingly easy to get to Kevin Bacon in a very few number of steps. ANYWAY, Susan told me that the University of Virginia Computer Science department wrote a computer program called the “Oracle of Bacon” which uses the Internet Movie Database (IMDB) to figure out the “Bacon number” of any actor’s name you enter. Here’s an example:
I asked the Oracle of Bacon to check Leonard Nimoy, and it came back instantly with a Bacon number of 2. Leonard Nimoy was in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (1991) with Christian Slater. Christian Slater was in Murder in the First (1995) with Kevin Bacon. cool, isn’t it? My problem is it’s really hard to find someone with a Bacon number ABOVE 2. I told my friend Galen about the Oracle of Bacon and about 2 hours later I got an email that said, “Even the dog BENJI is a Bacon number of 2!” Go off and waste some of YOUR time playing with the Oracle of Bacon, it’s at oracleofbacon.org.
Saturday night Kyle and I were waiting in line at a fast food restaurant, and he was getting bored, so he started playing with the emergency brake just to irritate me. Yes, it’s delightful having a teenage boy in the house. anyway, he asks me, “how does the emergency brake work?” From what I understand, the “normal” brakes are hydraulic, meaning they work on a fluid basis. Hydraulic fluid is incompressible, so if you have a pipe filled with the fluid and you push on one end of it, then the other end must move by the same amount. So I explained that patiently and then said that I figured that the emergency brake must be for when there’s a leak in the hydraulic fluid line rendering the normal brakes useless. And he says, “yeah, but how?” I said, “um, I think it’s a cable.” and that’s the answer he wanted – mom’s an idiot.
I sent an email to Honda Bob, my most outstanding mechanic and here’s what he said:
“On most new Honda’s and Acura’s, the emergency brake is a drum brake inside the rear brake rotor. It is indeed operated by a cable attached to the brake lever, completely independent of the brake fluid. In other words, if you completely run out of brake fluid (a hose breaks, or a line ruptures), the emergency brakes will stop the car. It has a one way lever ratchet so that it can be depressed permanently. Only by some other action (pushing on it or pulling up on it) can it be released.
In the case of a brake failure, you push of pull on the emergency brake lever SLOWLY to stop the car. Engaging the emergency brake fully at high speed could cause a loss of control by locking up the rear brakes. The ABS does not function with the emergency brake. So, tell Kyle to keep his hands OFF the brake lever while driving! Better yet, strap him into the back seat!
If you’d like to get answers to your auto questions, head on over to hdabob.com and enter a question of your own. If you’d like a most outstanding mechanic to drive to your house in the LA or Orange County area to work on Acura or Honda car, send him an email at email@example.com or give him a call at (562)531-2321. HDA Bob’s Mobile Service is not affiliated with Honda, Acura or Honda Worldwide.
Martin Hauser Little Snitch 2
Martin Hauser is a listener in Germany who I’ve mentioned several times because he’s been a godsend to me in my video encoding adventures. Martin is a “bit of a paranoid” and has always loved the application Little Snitch from Objective Development at obdev.at. Little Snitch tells you when a program tries to send info to the Internet so you can see what’s going on in the background! He enjoys the power it gives him over what applications are allowed to send his data out.
He was very excited when the new version 2.0 beta 8 came out because it includes a network monitor which you can keep as a floating bezel window somewhere or have blend in whenever there is network activity. He was so excited about this product that he did an audio review for us. I hope you enjoy his review:
=================INSERT MARTIN’S REVIEW OF LITTLE SNITCH==================
Thanks Martin – I don’t happen to be of the paranoid persuasion, but luckily for Objective Development, I think I’m in the minority on that one! I really appreciate you taking the time to record this review – I know how hard it is!
Rogue Amoeba’s Radioshift
Sometimes you just gotta check out some software because it’s from a company that has made other cool stuff. Audio Hijack Pro is an awesome application for recording audio on your Mac – you can’t believe how many applications there are for it. I reviewed it in detail back on show #104, and loved it – use it all the time. AHP is from Rogue Amoeba, so when Tim Verpoorten of the Mac ReviewCast asked me if I’d like to review some new software from them, I said yes right away. This review took a significant turn partway through, but it has a good plot, I assure you.
Rogue Amoeba’s latest offering is called Radioshift. Radioshift is billed as being like a personal video recorder (PVR) for radio. Specifically, Radioshift enables internet and AM/FM radio to be recorded automatically and listened to at any time. they point out that there are 50,000 internet radio stations around the world. they also point out that with Radioshift, you’ll be able to listen to RealAudio, Windows Media, QuickTime and MP3 streams – all in one player. That alone is amazing, isn’t it? they claim that the Radioshift player removes from us the hassle of worrying about what format the audio is in – their Radio Guide gives access to the 50,000 streams, and with a single click it allows you to subscribe to the content you want, recording in the background, ready for when you want it. RadioShift is $32US, but they have a trial version that should help you make a decision yourself whether to buy. I had a feeling Radioshift will perform as promised, because of their proven track record in recording audio. but decided not go on blind faith and give it a spin.
When Radioshift first launches, a window pops up recommending watching a short introductory movie. At least they didn’t ask me to read a manual, I think I spare a moment or two for a video that would help me understand how this thing is supposed to work. I watched the video and got the basic idea.
Unfortunately as I worked through the software I ran into many difficulties. Because Rogue Amoeba has such a great reputation, I decided to send them my review as it was written late last week (which was not a BIT flattering) and ask them to give me feedback before I went live. Almost immediately I got a response from Paul, where he worked through each of my issues and gave me explanations and suggestions. Probably the most important thing he told me was that version 1.0 (which I was reviewing) had some issues, and perhaps I should work with version 1.0.2
First let me give you a bit of the flavor of the problems i found on my original review. The biggest problem was that I kept getting errors when i tried many different things. For example,
I started with their map view where you can click on a city (if there’s a flag there) and see the radio stations that are streaming from there. I clicked on detroit and then on one of the stations, and I got an NSInvalidArgumentException fault error. I tried to play David Lawrence’s radio show, and got the error “this is not a movie file”. I tried to record Leo’s Tech Guy show, and while the controls to do the recording looked goo, I got another kind of error and it didn’t record. I tried to play a certain Jazz station, and I was told I’d have to download RealPlayer to get it to play. I tried the Radio guide, and I was rewarded with a fourth kind of error. You can imagine how annoyed I was by this time!
I sent all these off to Paul and here’s what I learned. The most important thing to realize is that streaming radio has a LOT of issues with it. The formats are not the same, the radio stations are flaky and may or may not have their streams on, all KINDS of things are hinky about streaming radio. the good thing is that someone interested in RadioShift is probably really into streaming radio already know how hinky it is. At least I hope so! Paul explained “when these players foul up (as seen by you in multiple cases), we often get errors that aren’t terribly helpful. But for the vast majority of streams, they work quite well.” He didn’t have a great answer for why I wasn’t able to record David Lawrence – but explained that they get their Radio guide from a service called radiotime.com, and perhaps the error given had something to do with their end.
One thing that bothered me was the time I tried to play the Jazz station and was told that I needed RealPlayer. I explained to paul that it would have made me a happier customer if the language on the site had been less misleading. Saying that RealAudio would play in “one player” lead me to believe I wouldn’t have to download any other player. He explained that you DO need all of the players installed, you just don’t have to launch them to play your files in RadioShift. We discussed different ways they could phrase this section to keep a positive spin and yet not lead people astray in their assumptions.
I really liked the dialog with Paul because he was open minded, made me feel like it delighted him to get the opportunity to dissect the problems I was having, and wrote back a half dozen times with more ideas! this is the HUGE difference between massive commercial programs run by corporations, and working with shareware developers. This guy was so accessible, so open, so interested in making his product the best it can be. Tell me, have you ever had that experience with a big company? I love shareware developers! quick commercial segment – make SURE you pay your shareware fees, these guys earn them every day and deserve our respect in paying them.
Back to the things he told me was where to find your recordings. Radioshift puts your recordings in your Music folder in a subfolder called Radioshift. he also explained that you don’t really know that, you will be able to see your recordings right in Radioshift. Sure enough, I checked this week and I had a recording of Leo LaPorte’s radio show The Tech Guy showing up in my Radioshift window. it played beautifully in Radioshift.
This week Rogue Amoeba came out with version 1.0.2 which Paul told me fixed up some of the issues people were having, so I went ahead and loaded it right up. The first thing I was delighted by was the fact that my recording of Leo’s show was still in there, so the upgrade worked well. The second thing I noticed was a popup with a cool feature. It offered to enable auto-wake and power-on. this feature allows your computer to actually be turned ON by Radioshift. how cool is that? I’m a little afraid to try it, but what the heck, it’s all for science, right? I’ll have to find something to record in the middle of the night at some point, probably wake up and scare me half to death!
Once you have a recording in Radioshift, you have four choices of what to do with it – you can play it, send it to iTunes, throw it away, or get this – you can edit the audio. The icon is a mutation of the Audacity icon, and just as I suspected, clicking it launches Audacity and imports the file for editing. I really like that feature, you can picture clipping out a bit to send to someone, or slicing out commercials – makes me wonder if you could look at the waveform in Audacity and just tell what’s not Leo talking? that would be cool.
I decided to try a few of the things that had failed before first. I clicked on the World button and looked around for some stations. Some failed (like they did before) but many came through just fine. the sound quality is a limiter of course – listening to music from Port Au Prince was fun but the audio was a little bit rough. I still ran into a lot of hinkiness, not sure if it’s a product of streaming radio or not. I wasn’t able to play the LA Philharmonic, KCLA, or even KABC which are really really big channels in Los Angeles. They all got a Mac OS Error -2048. However, I was able to listen to a radio station from Ponta Delgada – which is an islond in the middle of the Pacific Ocean! ok, maybe not the middle, but it’s in the Azores, which is way the heck out there. their audio was good, and the music was even kinda interesting! that got me going, looking for more obscure places to listen to! i found a radio station in Reykjavik, the capital of Iceland! and of course they were playing American music. sheesh!
I finally had to stop myself – this thing is ADDICTIVE! Radioshift is $32US and it’s a Universal binary which means we can play our recordings not only on the newer Intel boxes, but also on our PowerPC machines. If you’re addicted to internet radio, or even if you just have one show you can’t live without, you might really like Radioshift from rogueamoeba.com.
Wall Street Journal
I’m really excited to get the Wall Street Journal as an advertiser, it’s so easy to do an ad for something you really like! Let’s take a couple of articles I found this week in the Journal. The MarketPlace section rocks – that’s where the good tech stuff is. The left column is almost always interesting. This week Sarmad Ali wrote an article about how to use IM at work even if your company blocks that protocol through their firewall. He reviews two services, Meebo and KoolIM, and tests them both on Windows and Mac. These are web-based IM clients that both allow you to launch AIM, ICQ, MSN messenger and more, all at the same time.
And how about this article – Christopher Roads wrote a fascinating article about how ICANN (the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers) has finally decided to allow non-Roman language domains. this is a problem I never thought of before – but his title “What’s the Hindi Word for Dot-Com?” points out that if your language doesn’t have Roman characters, you’re really at a disadvantage on the web. There’s a fair amount of controversy over the fact that ICANN is actually a US organization, and concern that a US-centric view isn’t serving the world properly, so this move by ICANN is a necessary step. Articles like this are why I love the Wall Street Journal and have actually cancelled all my other newspaper subscriptions.
If you’d like to get access to the best newspaper, either in handy and portable paper form, or that new fangled web-based version, click on the ad for the Wall Street Journal on podfeet.com and subscribe!
Bart on the iPod Touch
Bart Buscchotts from bartbusschots.ie is the first on his block in Ireland to get the new iPod Touch. I haven’t talked to anyone in real life who has one yet, so let’s hear what Bart has to say about it:
thanks Bart. I like his reviews because he’s not just a fanboy. I agree with him, so many people think the Touch is an iPhone without a phone, but it’s not – it’s a really cool iPod! I could debate with him though how well the touch keyboard works, I’m pretty good with one finger, but in portrait mode I’m a disaster with two thumbs. I really really wanted to like it, but I’m afraid that for purely accuracy of typing, I’m better on a Blackberry. I think the tradeoff in usability is worth it though to have it disappear when I want the screen space for a video or a web page.
iFlash from Loopware
Remember that my 17 year old son Kyle thinks I’m the biggest dork who every walked the the planet? I’m sure that comes as a shock to all of you parents out there, right? Well since I’m a dork, everything I do must also be dorkish. since my podcast is near and dear to my heart, that must make it the dorkiest thing there is. That’s why I about had a heart attack this week when he IM’d me to tell me to come up and see a cool new application he found.
Being a good student of the NosillaCast, he started with a problem statement. He held up his English paper and said, “I have to memorize ALL THESE WORDS for my English class with their definitions. I thought about making flash cards like I always do, and then I figured there MUST be a program that will make flash cards for me!” I should point out that as any good teenager, he’s VERY lazy. It’s a good driver though to find innovative solutions…or so he leads me to believe.
You really have to keep in mind how skeptical my son is – he hates everything. He flips on this program he found called iFlash from loopware.com and he’s already entered about 30 words he has to know into it, and he excitedly starts showing me how cool it is. I figured I better check this out just to see if it’s as good as he says. He’s SUCH a fan boy…not.
Ok, so I downloaded iFlash to give it a try. When it comes up your first option is to create a new Deck. Obvious enough. then you’re taken to a screen with a big New icon with a plus sign on it – even I could figure out that meant to add a new card. you can delete cards from this window too, but I just got attached to the ones I made so I don’t want to get rid of them yet.
When you create a new card, you simply enter the front side wording and then tab and type in the back side. But what if you’re taking an art class and you have to identify a picture not a word? No problem, iFlash has an image button which lets you drag an image onto the fornt or the back side. I went to Creative Commons and searched on Monet and found a nice image, didn’t even have to download it because iFlash let me drag directly from a browser window. Really really nice interface!
Ok, so I built a few cards, got a neato image in one of them, now what do I do? Easy enough, there’s a Study button. you can just hit study again when the next window comes up, or you can tailor your study session. Let’s say you’ve been working on all the adverbs, but those darn gerunds are really throwing you for a loop. You can select just those cards that are giving you trouble and only study those. you can limit the number of cards so you can swallow the information in bite-sized chunks. Or, just jump right in!
As you flip through the slides, you can click a button that says “known” so you can make sure next time you only work on the ones you didn’t know. the graphics are really slick – the words slide quickly in all different directions to keep it interesting. I particularly liked how the Monet picture came up in its own window so you’d be able to spend time looking at it.
the developer, David McGavern (or Davey as he appears to like to be called) definitely gets what our biggest problem is – one of the options during your study session is to hit a display button that makes the entire screen go black so you can ONLY see your study session. Gone are your chat windows, FaceBook, email…you can force yourself to pay attention! He even realized that as you’re doing your studying you’ll realize that you botched up one of the cards – misspelling a word, or maybe saying that Pope John Paul the IVth was actually on Star Trek Next Generation. He gave us a little pencil icon so we can edit the card as we’re flipping through in our studies.
As much as I hate to admit it, Kyle has found a really sweet application that solves one problem, and solves it really well. That is the highest praise we can give a shareware developer in my world! For $15 US, if you can make studying more fun, isn’t that worth the price? check it out at loopware.com. I paid that shareware fee even before I started playing with the software – just on Kyle’s recommendation alone!
That’s going to wrap up this funfilled espisode of the NosillaCast – be sure to keep the emails coming at firstname.lastname@example.org or put a comment on the blog – we’re getting lots of great feedback there now too! Be sure to listen to the Typical Mac User show too! Thanks for listening, and stay subscribed.