Category Archives: TechnoMum

Beating Facebook’s Bots – How To See The Content You Want

If you’re not a marketer, you might not know this, but Facebook is hiding things from you.

I won’t bore you with the details (search online for  “page likes” and “Facebook algorithm” to hear the small business howls of protest), but Facebook has changed the way they serve information to your newsfeed.

What does this mean for you?Even if you have ‘liked’ a page (say a local business or a charity you support), you won’t see all their posts in your newsfeed. You’ll have to remember to click on their link to see their page and all their posts.

Which kind of defeats the purpose of the Facebook newsfeed, don’tcha think?

How To See What YOU Want To See

There is a really easy way to customize your news feed so that you see ONLY what you want to see, and you see EVERY post.

But it does require a couple of clicks.

(Another advantage is that you can corral all those quirky blogs you like to read but keep forgetting to check. Using the method below, you can have them all served up to you on one page, every time they update. No more ‘losing’ favorite voices online!)

Introducing FEEDLY

I use Feedly to slurp content from all my favorite sites and let me read them all in one ‘news feed’ at Feedly.com.

Here’s what it looks like:

Feedly home

Say What?

The Short Story: You’ll have to train yourself to check another site as well as FB every day,  to get the content you want. But it’s worth it.

The Slightly Longer Story: Behind every blog is a stream of code called an RSS feed. (It stands for Really Simple Syndication, and its a way your browser can slurp all the content you want into one place. But no, you don’t need to know any code.)

You tell Feedly what sites you like to have updates from, it slurps the content in, turns it into a pretty News Feed, and you turn up and read it.

(Yes, there’s an app for your phone.)

Yes, you’ll have to check Feedly as well as FB, but the upside is that you won’t have to scroll through all the pictures of puppies and the political outrage of your casual acquaintances, unless those are the kinds of sites you like to read.

How Do I Use This Magical Service?

1. Go to Feedly.com and sign up.

You can use your Google account (if you have one) or your Facebook account, if you really want to hitch your wagon to the FB star.

2. Enter the address of the webpage of a blog/organization you care about.

Feedly will find the RSS feed on the page, if it has one. (Most sites use blog software for their news and updates, so it probably will).

For example, to see all the updates on this page, you can just type in ‘www.julieduffy.com‘ and it’ll subscribe you to this blog. To see every post from my StoryADay May challenge, type in ‘www.storyaday.org‘ and it’ll pull up that blog.

3. Subscribe

Feedly Add Content

See that little green button that says “+Feedly”? Click it.

4. (Optional) Put Things In ‘Collections’

A collection is like a folder, in old money. (Or a ‘directory’, if you’re really old). This is optional but something you’ll appreciate once you have more than a few subscriptions.

When you click “+Feedly” it will pop up a little window like this, which lets you add the site to an existing collection or create a new one.

Feedly collections

I have some collections called things like ‘art’, ‘blogs about life’ and, not surprisingly, ‘writing’.

5. That’s All, Folks

Ok, it’s not all. There are lots of things you can do, like change the way you view the page, download an app, integrate Feedly with IFTTT and Evernote and suchlike, but for now? That’s all you need to do.

How To Find The Addresses of Pages You Like on Facebook

Go to your Facebook Pages feed in the sidebar (and yes, you could just train yourself to do this everyday instead of using Feedly, if you’re happy to keep suckling at the warm Facebook teat and are reluctant to emancipate yourself from their whims).

Click on the name of an organization you like. Click their ‘about’ page and look for their website address.

A Disclaimer

Many organizations have fallen into the trap of using only Facebook for their updates. Now is probably a good time to send them a note saying “hey, I’ve subscribed to your blog in my RSS Feed reader. Please remember to update the blog as often as you update Facebook, so I don’t miss your news”. You’ll be doing them a favor, helping them assert their independence!

Some Sites I Follow

The Happiness Project

XKCD

PostSecret

ZenHabits

Ali’s African Adventures

 

 

Unleash Your Inner Librarian – LibraryThing? Meet Red Laser’s iPhone Barcode Scanner

I bet you have books all over the place: by your bed, in the kids’ rooms, in boxes, in the basement…So how are you ever supposed to remember which of the Captain Underpants books your kid already has, or which Patricia Cornwell you’re missing?

[Skip to the bit where I tell you how to use your iPhone as a barcode scanner for your books]

LibraryThing.com screenshot

LibraryThing.com is a wonderful solution. You can list all of your books here, with a mimumum of effort (enter the title or barcode number, even the author’s name, and up will pop a listing that you can click on. It lets you add as much or as little detail as you need: from tags and categories to the date you bought it to where you store it, to the dates you started and finished reading it!). You can add books as you go along and always have a record of every title in your house.

The problem with LibraryThing is that, unless your parents set up an account for you at birth and assiduously updated it, you’ve got a back-collection of books that needs to be added to your virtual library.

I have, periodically, lugged a pile of books to my computer and typed in their information but that takes a lot of time and gets a little dull. (Data entry is fine when someone’s paying me, but when it’s eating into my actual reading time, I get a little cranky).

LibraryThing sells a cuecat bacode reader for $15 but I’ve never managed to get around to getting one 1, and anyway, it needs to be hooked up to your computer, so no cat-like roaming around the house nosing into corners with this feline.

Wouldn’t it be great to be able to just stroll around your house, pulling books out of nooks and crannies and scanning them right there and then?

Well today I discovered that I can use my iPhone as a scanner to upload my titles to LibraryThing.

How? How? Tell Me How!

  1. Download the iPhone app Red Laser for $1.99 free [update: Now available for Android phones too. Thanks to Dennis for letting me know]. It uses the iPhone camera to take a picture of the barcode and stores the ISBN (International Standard Book Number) that is built into the barcode. [click here for detailed instructions]
  2. Email the list of stored ISBNs to yourself then copy and paste them into the “paste text” box on the import page at Library Thing. [click here for a tutorial]
  3. Sit back and watch as LT.com adds the books to your library (it puts them in a queue so there is some waiting, but hey. It also combs out duplicates as it goes through, and adds all the bibliographical data, so let’s not get too picky!)

Pros: Oh the time it saves! And it feeds my little techno-geek heart with glee to ‘bleep’ the barcodes and see them show up in my Library.

Cons: the barcode scanner can be a leeettle temperamental. I’m working on figuring out the best combination of lighting/distance/karma.

  1. actually, I did have a cuecat reader when they first came out. I think I got it free from Wired magazine, or something, but it wasn’t very good and I think Library Thing was just a glint in the postman’s eye at the time. I still picture, with regret, the box of Things To Give Away To Charity, with the cuecat nestled in the top. It went in and out a few times until I decided in a fit of ruthlessness, that I was never going to use it. D’oh!

Using The Red Laser Barcode Scanner to Add Batches of Books To LibraryThing.com

1. Buy the app, if you haven’t already. (It’s by Occipital, and it costs $1.99 is free in the app store.)

2. Run the app. Select the little lightning bolt in the bottom of the screen, to start the scanner.

3. Before you point the phone at anything, flip the little switch at the bottom of the screen that defaults to “multiple off” (this will make the process faster. If you do not do this, the phone will stop and try to look up every item as you scan it. What you really want to do is simply collect a list of barcode numbers. ‘Multiple on’ mode does that.)Red Laser Barcode Scanner app for iPhone

4. Now grab your book and flip it to find the barcode. Turn it so that there is no glare or shadow on the barcode and hold the phone a few inches away from it. Position the arrows so that they bracket the main part of the barcode. They should turn green. Now hold still and the phone should chirp or beep or buzz, to let you know it has scanned it. A series of numbers will appear under the picture, which should correspond with the numbers under the barcode. 1

5. Scan your next book. You’ll hear the beep/buzz (depending on whether or not your speaker is on) and the numbers under the picture will change.

6. Repeat this as often as you like (I would recommend doing a trial batch with four or five numbers the first time).

7. When you’re ready to stop, click “Done” on the bottom left of the screen. This takes you to a list of ‘scanned items’.

8. Click on the ‘arrow in a box’ logo that means ‘send me somewhere else’ on your iPhone. Then, email the list to yourself.  (this step is necessary becaus I could not find a way to simply copy and paste from this screen).

9. Open your email program, find the new email, and copy all the text from the body. Don’t worry, Library Thing is smart enough to realise that the list numbers before each barcode number can be ignored.

LibraryThing.com's Import Books Page10. Open LibraryThing.com’s upload page 2. Paste your list into the “paste text” box, press ‘grab’. Go and do something more interesting while LibraryThing.com looks up all thei nformation and adds your books to your library. It puts them in a queue, so it’s not instantaneous, but they will be added. (It also allows you to add a batch of tags at this stage, so its not a bad idea to scan all your mysteries together and all your kids’ books in a batch).

  1. Tips for getting the scan to ‘take’: I lay books down on a table and held the phone in two hands above them. This eliminated the crazy shake I seemed to develop every time I used the app. Also, if you are having trouble getting it to see the barcode, try angling the phone towards and/or away from the book slightly.
  2. This tutorial assumes you already have a LibraryThing account and have logged in

Red Laser Barcode Scanner for iPhone

You know when you’re walking around with a friend and you see a cool new toy? What do you do?

You point at it.

“What is that?” you say, quickly followed by, “And where can I get one?”

If your friend is the guru of all shopping gurus, she can probably tell you where to get it, who has the best price and exactly when it will go out of style.

If you friend is like me, she’ll go, “Umm, I do not know. Let’s look it up online.”

Until now the non-shopping-gurus among us have been limited to typing text into text boxes to do our online searching. But no longer.

If you have an iPhone and the Red Laser app, you can point your phone at the product’s barcode, scan it

Red Laser Barcode Scanner app for iPhone

and let the web tell you where you can get it and who has the best price.

Red Laser iPhone App Comparison Shopping So I Don't Have To!

(You may still need a fashion-forward friend to tell you if it’s trendy or lame, however.)

Is That All There Is?

Isn’t that enough?

But no, there are more applications than just comparison shopping.

My favorite way to use this is to scan barcodes from the back of all the books in my house and list them all at LibraryThing.com (no more wondering if I have this title or that, when I’m at the bookstore!)

The designers of Red Laser have provided developers with the tools to use their technology in any way that their dirty little minds can come up with, so I’m off to find out what else I could be doing with my new barcode obsession.

Ciao!

Why I Use Twitter

Why Twitter?

For me: mobility and cost and immediacy.

Most people seem to use computers to tweet but it was conceived as a way to share text messages with a bunch of friends easily.

My family are all in a different country and a different time zone. Posting little 140 character questions and updates that can be read by the whole family means that we can keep up-to-date even 3,000 miles away and 5 hours out of sync. And I don’t need to log on to my computer to do it.

My sister-in-law lived in yet another country for the first 8 years I was part of her family, and we spoke briefly at Christmas and maybe birthdays and it was always a little awkward because we knew so little about each other.

Since we’ve started tweeting, I know how she spends her day every day and now we chat about the things that matter to us. I’ve discovered she has a great sense of humour and, last month, when she had a car crash, I knew about it and was able to check that she was OK (and maybe offer a little support) while she was still waiting for the towtruck to arrive. My mother and sister-and-brother-in-law (not related except through my marriage) trade one-liners and discuss trends. My own sister, who went to the same University as my sister-in-law, has talked to her more through Twitter than they ever did at university (where they were aware of each other but never talked).

And sometimes it’s just fun. I was able to follow 2010 as it broke around the world.

And yes, if you’re a Facebook person, you can do something similar with status updates. But Facebook is designed to allow you to talk only to people you know or knew.

While you can protect your tweets, you can also allow anyone who wants to follow you. I’ve had conversations with business people and celebrities I would never have dreamed of emailing. I landed an interview with a corporate bigwig and Tweeter, simply by asking in 140 characters, and promising to be similarly brief in the interview. I bet you if I had emailed him, my email would have been lost, or ignored, or put aside until such time as he could compose a nice email reply. But tweets are immediate, brief and easily acted upon on a whim.

(I know, it seems crazy that email is now too formal, or too much work, but so we go)

What If I Don’t Want The World To Know When I’m Going To The Store, But I Do Want My Family To Know?

Why not keep separate accounts?

I have a personal account that only my family and friends can follow, where I tweet every day updates and comments. I also have a business profile that is open. Anyone can follow my tweets and I follow lots of celebrity business people as well as people in my own field and people I come across who are just plain entertaining or informative. I have a third profile that I use to follow celebrities and other people I don’t know. It’s my voyeuristic little guilty pleasure and I don’t check it all the time, nor do I want to, so I keep a separate account just for them.

Having all these different profiles allows me to be free with personal information in my protected account (“The house is empty: come on in, burglars!”), and professional when I want to be seen that way (in my business account) and goofy, with guilty pleasures (like the fact that I follow a bunch of sci-fi actors and occasionally send them gushy fan-girl comments that I’d rather keep my family and friends from mocking me about.)

As Simple or Complex As You Need It To Be

One of the great things about Twitter is its simplicity: 140 characters, delivered by phone or to a simply-designed webpage. But that’s also a downside: it’s not very powerful. You can’t filter the people you follow, or sort tweets, or hide tweets…but luckily there are lots of enterprising software boffins out there who can’t resist tweaking and making something more complex, to suit their own needs. As a result, there are tons of programs you can download (mostly free) that allow you to sort through your Tweets, or look up all mentions of a specific keyword, whatever you want to do. Tweetdeck is the acknowledged power-user program, I also like Tweetie for my iPhone and have used Twitterfox/Echofon as an add-on for my Firefox browser (although I had some problems with it forgetting my accounts). I’ve also used, and quite liked Seesmic on my computer, which is a lot like Tweetdeck, because it lets you see multiple accounts all at once.

There’s a lot more that you can do with Twitter (automated tweets, hashtags, link shorteners) but we’ll save that for another day and another post.

Why Not Buzz?

Well, I talked about Buzz on the day it came out and before it became clear how silly Google had been, compromising people’s privacy the way they did. I didn’t see the need for another social network (for me) but it may be that we all migrate to Buzz eventually. For now, I’ll keep Twittering.

Google Buzz, Huh?

Buzz sprang into the world recently, a new service from Google that kind of replicates the status update part of Facebook and kind of replicates Twitter. Everyone is, a-buzz about Buzz (good naming, Google) because it’s from Google, even if they’re not sure what it does, yet.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t find Google does a very good job of explaining their new things and why I want them.

So What Is Buzz?

Harry McCracken over at PC World has a good analysis of what Buzz might be all about and what it might do.

Mashable has a good article about what Buzz actually is, and what all the bits of it do (their rating: “lots of potential, but not a ton of substance [yet]”).

Here is Google’s announcement

and here’s the video, which I didn’t find awfully helpful…

The ever-helpful Lifehacker has this hack for turning off the status updates Buzz pops into your mail interface without turning off Buzz altogether

The Buzz on “Buzz”

This punter(if you can get past all the advertising and find the article) thinks that Buzz is a ‘Real Twitter Killer’. Unlike me he thinks that Twitter has a lot of problems that need fixed (you can’t edit posts, you can’t post pictures, the 140 character limit). But…Those are some of the reasons I like Twitter so much!

This Self-Professed Google Fanboy compares Google’s auto-selecting-email-contacts-for-Buzz to being forced to socialise with his neighbours…in his apartment. Which kind of works…

@dblume says this will just lead to more fragmentation — something with which I cannot disagree. I can’t follow everyone everywhere. I’m going to choose my friends based on where they hang out. Which is sad. I’ve enjoyed the wider social contact with old friends and new that came from everyone being in one place.

And this guy sums up the whole thing nicely:

"Google Buzz: another way to get embarrassed"

WordPress Plug-ins I Shouldn’t Have Tried To Live Without

Genius At Work

Genius At Work by Ben McLeod

I use WordPress to host and run my websites.

(It started as blog-hosting software but works as a Content Management System too. The Wall Street Journal’s site is built on its software, for example).

Lots of people more technically-skilled than I have written lots of little programs, called plug-ins, that help me make my website do cool things without having to write the code myself1. Some of these things I could do myself, but plug-ins make it easier, quicker and automated. 2

Plug-ins let me do everything from put headlines in my sidebars, to helping me track how many people visit which article, to creating sign-up forms, and create those cute little ‘link to me’ buttons at the top of this article. Here are the ones that allow me to build websites that make my clients go “ooooh!”

Must-Haves

Google XML SiteMaps

This makes it easier for Google to index your pages (i.e include you in their search results)

Google Analytics For WordPress

This inserts the “Google Analytics” code wherever it needs to be in your site (usually in the header or footer of the code, which you don’t necessarily want to go digging around in unless you know what you’re doing. Trust me. A misplaced semi colon can bring grown men to tears!)

Google Analytics is an amazing (free) tool that tracks how people get to your website, where they go, how long they stay, where in the world they are, what keywords they searched for to get to you (and therefore what you should be including on more of your pages)…and so much more. It presents the information in all kinds of cool ways: graphs, overlays, tables. Go. Sign up.

Being able to tell clients exactly what’s going on with traffic is really valuable. You can both see what impact the site is having on business, you can see which marketing strategies are working and which are a big waste of money, you can improve the site. Good for you, good for your client.

Social, Sharing and Visibility Plug-ins

Simple Modal Contact Form (SMCP)

I, and my clients, use mailing list services like MailChimp and Constant Contact. While both of these offer form-building options at their sites, sometimes you just want a little more control, but again, with out having to play HTML or CSS.Very easy to use and effective, and no-one has to know you didn’t hand-code the whole thing.

The only problem I have with this plug-in is that its acronym reminds me of that song “SIMP, Squirrels In My Pants” from te cartoon Phineas and Ferb…)

WP-Polls

Thinking about offering a new product or service? Ask your customers/readers what they think. Super-easy single-question polls to pop in your sidebar. Minimalist style. Lovely.

Sexy Bookmarks

I tried gathering button graphics for all the social networking tools (Twitter, RSS, LinkedIn, Facebook) and building a sidebar “Link to me!” plea.

Then I discovered Sexy Bookmarks. You can see what this plug-in looks like at the bottom of this post (unless you’re reading the RSS feed. It didn’t show the graphics, just a huge text list, so I turned it off for you guys. Come visit the original post…)

Social Follow

Sign up at the Social Follow website, enter in your user name at all the social networking sites you use (LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter etc) and they will generate a little button like the one in my sidebar, making it easy for people to follow you wherever you are (if you like that sort of thing). This plug-in builds a widget that you can drop into any widget area in your theme (again, no messing around with your theme’s code files).

WP125

You know how a lot of sites have those little square adverts off to the side? Well, some are powered by ad companies (or Google ads) but sometimes it makes sense to control your own ads.

This plug in lets you sell and manage advertising on your site. You control how big the ads are, where they go, how many show up, what images show up, and it also contains a management function, that allows you to set rates, and expiration dates. It’ll even email your advertisers when their contract is about to expire.

Nice, for getting things how want them to look

Query Post

This allows you to build sidebar widgets that contain just the posts you want them to contain. It has a zillion different ways to filter your posts and pages to allow you to control what appears. It is obviously very powerful and I’ve only figured out how to do rudimentary stuff so far, but it is simple enough for newbs and powerful enough for folks who know what they’re doing.

Category Page and Page2Cat

This is a lovely little plug in that lets you create a page that is automatically updated with all your posts from categoryX (which you define by typing a short code, i.e. a phrase in a square bracket). Simple and elegant. You may have to add some code to your site depending on your theme, but it’s only once and it is well-documented.

Make Things Easy For Your Readers

WPTouch iPhone Theme

Your three-column design might look great on a computer monitor, but it probably irritates people reading on a tiny mobile screen. Thisplug-in automatically converts your blog, when readers access it via a mobile device. It makes your site look like an iPhone app (which is cute if, like me, you love your iPhone).  It also has a ‘turn this off’ button at the bottom for people who want to see the original layout, or who hate all things iPhoney. Very, very nice plug-in

Make Posting Easier For You

Flickr Manager

Every time I go to Flickr, I curse the fact that I have to click so often to get to the size and code I want for my picture. Flickr Manager Plug-in works just like the little “insert picture’ button on you WP Dashboard, except that instead of prompting you to upload a picture, it goes straight to your Flickr Photostream. It allows you to choose sizes, alignment etc and add a caption (dependent on your theme). HUGE timesaver.

(update: this doesn’t seem to be finding all my pictures since I upgraded to WordPress 2.9.1)

FDFootnote

This allows me to create footnotes 3 really simply, by using shortcodes (basically,putting something in a square bracket — in this case a number, a period and your note)

So, off you go and explore the wonderful world of plug-ins.

Update (2/22/10): Lucky 13 is:

WP-Table Reloaded

I’ve long been frustrated by having to hand-code tables in the wordpress window. No longer! This plug-in installs its control panel in the Tools section, from whence you can set up tables, add data and then embed the same table (or different ones) anywhere in your website simply by entering a short code. Love it!

  1. This only works on a self-hosted WordPress installation, not a blog hosted by WordPress.com
  2. I love automated
  3. Like this

How To Hide Farmville or Mafia Wars or Others on Facebook News Feed

I appreciate that lots of my friends have fun with Farmville on Facebook.

I, however, am not interested and would love to not have to wade through that stuff. Since I try to spend as little time as possible on Facebook, it has taken me a ridiculously long time to figure out how to hide these things.

Here, for those of you who can’t be bothered investing the time, either, to find out how to hide Farmville or hide Mafia Wars, or hide “What Sex Position Are You” (?!), is a cheat sheet:

1, Find the offending Farmville update from one of your friends in your feed (I have removed the name of this one because it didn’t seem fair to single out one person from the many MANY people on my friends feed who bombard me with this stuff):

Die, Farmville, Die!

Die, Farmville, Die!

2, Hover your mouse over the update. A little “Hide” box will appear.

Hide, Farmville, Hide!

Hide, Farmville, Hide!

3, You will see this confirmation message. If you’re really ticked off, you can hide the friend altogether, but if your friendship can survive their addiction to Golden Eggs and Fluffy Chicks, then you can simply hide the application:

Hide Friend or Farmville? Hmmm...

Hide Friend or Farmville? Hmmm...

4, If you suddenly contract brain fever and are seized with an urge to rejoin the world Farmville or Mafia Wars or some other application’s spectators, you can click on the “Edit Options” button and adjust your settings.

Don't Look Back!

Don't Look Back!

There. I hope that helped.

Also, you might want to consider updating to Facebook Lite, which hides all this stuff.

And here’s a fun post, mainly aimed at business folks, on How To Lose Friends and Tick People Off on Facebook (thanks to Debbie for that link)

Calibre eBook Management Software

Oo, I’ve been using Mobipocket to convert my ebooks, but I’ve just discovered Calibre and I think I love it.

It is a little program that helps you manage your ebook library, much the way programs like MusicMatch Jukebox (used to) and iTunes (allegedly) help you organize your music.

It converts files to the right format for your reader (with you in control at all times), it has a nice Graphical User Interface (GUI), and it is stripped down, non-bloaty (I’m looking at you, iTunes) and seems to work really well.

Adding Books From My Library | Plugging In Your Reader | Other Thoughts

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