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Archive for September, 2010

Riddle Me This

I started playing an web-based puzzle game called Cipher: Crack the Code. It’s a browser-based game where you solve puzzles to progress to the next level, and the puzzles get harder with each level.

Out of the 45 levels in Cipher, I’m happy to say that I’ve made it to 27 (so far!). The game designer has an official forum, and another player-started hint forum is a good resource as well.

After player Cipher for a primer, I’ll be heading over to Notpron, supposedly the hardest riddle game on the internet, with an amazing 140 levels.

Wish me luck!

If you want to ask or share, hints only — no cheats!

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Ten ways to advertise your website or blog that don’t cost money

Webmasters and bloggers are always looking for ways to advertise their sites and increase traffic. There are a lot of ways to do this that don’t cost a penny.
Here’s some of my suggestions in no particular order…

Produce good-quality content and have it indexed by the search engines

People want content, and content sells itself. If you’re searching for something, then come up with what you’re looking for, why not mention it with a link? Or, if you solve a problem with a piece of software, or find a bug, write about it. Certainly other people have run into the same thing, and they’re likely looking for the same thing you were. Help them find you.

This is actually a lot easier than most people realize — it only takes a few steps to set up, and the rest of the crawling is done by the search engines automatically. Don’t bother with sites that want you to pay to submit — you can do it yourself in a few minutes, and it doesn’t cost anything. Depending on your CMS software, you can likely find a plugin to help with generating and submitting your sitemap. Read more about it here.

Participate in forums and have your URL in your signature

An easy method if you’re already involved in one or more forums regularly. Simply edit your forum signature to include your site’s title and a URL. You can also do this with your email signature to hit the people you email as well.

Leave comments on other blogs and link back to your site

This is great when you can find a blog that’s related to yours, or has a post about a topic that’s related to something you’ve already written about. Simply post your thoughts on the issue, with a segue “I mentioned this at…” with a link. I have gotten a lot of traffic this way, though it relies heaving on the other blog having traffic, and catching people with your brief statement enough to make them want to click through. It can be done, and it works very well.

Link to other blogs from your own posts to generate “pingbacks.”

I’ve seen this done well, and I’ve seen it become spammy at the same time. When you link to another blog from one of your posts, (depending on the platform) the software will generate what’s called a “pingback“. This means it posts a link to your site at the site you linked to. It can be good to generate links to your site.

Post links to your new articles on social networking sites like Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, etc.

Again, can be very effective, can also be very spammy if not done correctly. You’ve written a great interesting article that you want people to read. Post a link on your favorite social-networking site — Facebook, MySpace, and Twitter to name a few — and people are sure to click on it, right? Just make sure they’ll find the story as interesting as you did, and avoid over-posting, or you’ll lose followers faster than you can create new posts.

Submit your RSS feed to aggregation sites like Facebook, Digg, etc.

Facebook has a feature in Facebook Notes that allows you to submit an RSS feed that will publish your posts as Notes. The new Digg also has a feature that will allow you to submit an RSS feed to be automatically published on the site. Many other sites also support this, and it’s a great way to have your new articles automatically pushed out there. There is a downside to this: People will read the article on the published site and may not click through to your site. Try including links to other posts inside your own to get those click throughs.

Personally email out links to articles that others would find interesting.

Email marketing is great, and has a very high click-to-impression ratio. This means that, for every person that looks at your link, a lot of them will click on it to read it. Now, be careful with this one, and try not to get spammy. Opt-in mailing lists are great if you can get people to sign up, and you will have a very low likelihood of upsetting someone that doesn’t want to get your emails (or worse — having them report you as a spammer), but if you know you have an audience, shoot them an email, but make sure it’s personal.

Consider Creative Commons

Creative Commons is a set of copyright rules that, among other rights, can allow others to publish your content providing they provide credit in a manner of your choosing. This can include a link back to your site. Interested readers finding these articles can see your authorship on them and click through to your site to see whatever else they might be interested in.

Participate in Link Exchanges and Blogrolls

If you know someone who has a website or a blog, ask nicely if they’ll post a link to your site on theirs in exchange for the same on yours. A well-placed link on another site can generate traffic from an interested visitor, and the other site will no doubt appreciate the same from you.

 

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How to hide and or block all that Facebook junk

Update: Due to layout updates in Facebook, this method no longer works exactly as shown. It is still possible to hide and block content. Since I’m not going to update this post every time Facebook changes their layout, please use the below only as a reference.

If you’re a Facebook user, you’ve probably seen the plethora of “Status Updates” that come from Facebook Applications.

At it’s best, it’s spammy and can make finding your friend’s actual posts harder. At the worst, it can be offensive, misleading, or suggest you click something that could actually be malicious.

So, here’s a short walk-through of how to hide and/or block those applications from appearing in your feed.

The first thing to do is to find an offending post. The post must say “via” at the bottom, next to the time/date it posted.

That means it was posted via an application, and not as a status update.

A word of caution: It may be possible to block “Text Message”, “Facebook for Blackberry”, “Facebook for Android”, etc. These are actually applications that are used by mobile users to post their own updates. If you block these, you might not get all your friend’s updates, if any at all. You can block them if you choose, but I recommend against it.

That said, there’s two ways to go about it, “hiding” the app, or “blocking” the app. In most cases, hiding is sufficient. Unless you want to make sure that said app never has access to your information, and you never use it. In that case, a block is in order. (It is possible to unblock applications, though I don’t explain that in this post — I may add it at some point in the future.)

Hiding the application

Hover your mouse over the status update and find the “X” that will appear

Click on the “X” and the status update will change to the hide dialog. From here, you can hide the offending application.

Done.

Blocking the application

Hover over the image and locate the link to the application

Click it. That will take you to the application page, where you can block the application.

Click block. You will be prompted to confirm.

Done.

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Paperless Geocaching

This isn’t meant to be a complete explanation of all the available options, but simply a quick primer for someone who is interested in planning a purchase to try for the goal of paperless geocaching. Paperless meaning, in the most general sense, you don’t need a paper printout for coordinates.

There are a few different ways to go about this:

You can have a GPS or GPS-enabled device that you load waypoint files on.

Most hand-held and vehicle GPS units will allow you to load waypoint files on them, thus giving you some kind of list of loaded waypoints and allowing you to approach and make the find without having to enter the actual coordinates into the GPS. Geocaching.com has two features that help with this: “Download waypoint file” and “Send to GPS”. The download waypoint file will generate either a .LOC or .GPX file for loading onto your device (See the documentation that came with your device for the actual process). The Send to GPS function appears to only work with Garmin devices (for now, at least).

The drawback to this method is you have to go on the geocaching.com website before your actual trip and choose which caches you will attempt and load them. The premium membership has a nice feature which helps with this: “Pocket queries.” Pocket queries can generate a waypoint file with up to 300 caches based on criteria you specify.

Garmin has a product line dedicated to the paperless geocacher. See information at Geocaching with Garmin.

This is a good viable option for those cachers who seek infrequently or who simply have a GPS unit and want to reduce their paper usage in an inexpensive way.

You can have a data-enabled device (such as a laptop or netbook with an aircard).

A netbook with an aircard can be an invaluable tool for use in the car (not on the trail) for looking up caches, viewing logs and maps, and logging your visits. This would allow you to log your visits without having to go back home, and give you a little more flexibility in case you find that you’re in a new area and want to pick up a quick cache or two. You can simply log on the website, look up a cache, punch the coordinates into your GPS, and away you go. Returning to the car, you can log your visit easily.

You can have a device which combines the two functions above, both retrieving the data from the website and helping you navigate to it.

This is the goal a lot of cachers (including myself) aim for: A single device that can do it all. A smartphone with GPS and data service is the usual tool for this job.

There are several different geocaching apps for smartphones, and some do it better than others. Here’s a quick run-down of some of my favorites:

Trimble Outdoors and Geocache Navigator by Trimble Outdoors – $9.99 (If I recall correctly)

These two programs are available on a large number of phones and carriers. I prefer Geocache Navigator, but Trimble Outdoors has a slightly different feature set which may make it appealing to different users.Geocache Navigator allows you to load up a list of nearby caches, display them on a map, seek them, and log your visit directly from your phone. It does require you to “tie” it to your geocaching.com account, which can be done easily from the geocaching.com website. One feature that Geocache Navigator does not have is the ability to set a waypoint (such as your car), which leaves the walk back completely up to you. Trimble Outdoors does have this, but doesn’t retrieve caches automatically; it requires you to load GPX files yourself prior to seeking a cache.

Geocaching by Groundspeak – $30

Groundspeak’s own geocaching app for Android and iPhone devices. These apps load caches near you (or by GC code) and help you navigate to it. Logging your visit, looking at previous logs, hints, even pictures are part of this app. Though a little pricey, these apps definitely do it all, and they’re published and supported by Groundspeak, the folks behind geocaching.com.

Free phone apps

I know there are a number of free apps, unfortunately they vary between carriers and phone brands, and I don’t have enough experience with them or a list of links to provide. Please feel free to leave your apps and feedback in the comments below.

Have your own way of going paperless? Have you had experience with any of the above apps you’d like to share? Have an app not listed above that you prefer? Please share your thoughts in the comments below!

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Geocaching with the Samsung Moment

I was out geocaching yesterday with Adam, and we were using my Samsung Moment with the Geocaching app to do our seeking. Out of the three caches that we attempted, the only one we came up with the find for, was because some fellow geocachers made the find before us. We were probably 25 feet away.

I was noticing that I was having trouble getting anything better than a 98ft accuracy on the device’s GPS. So I decided to do some testing today. I used the GPS status app and put the phone in the window. I had 11 satellites lock very quickly, and noticed that I still couldn’t get anything better than a 98 foot accuracy.

That’s very disappointing, as most respectable GPS units (hand-held and vehicle) can get down to 10 meter (30 feet) accuracy without a problem, and higher-accuracy WAAS-enabled GPS units (most hand-held, some vehicle) can get much better than that — down to 1 meter (3 feet) in best cases.

Yes, it’s disappointing. I was hoping for at least 10 meter accuracy from the Moment’s GPS receiver as it’s an actual GPS chip and not carrier-based aGPS. However, this may mean I’ll have to use my eyes and brain a little more than my GPS. Either that, or save up for something a little nicer, like a Garmin eTrex Vista HCx.

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Installing iTunes on Ubuntu Linux

If you have an iPod, and have installed Ubuntu Linux, you may have gotten used to manging your audio library with iTunes. When you go to reach for iTunes on Ubuntu, you may have a moment of panic when you realize there’s no Linux client. Don’t worry, there’s alternatives.

Linux-native applications

First, try a Linux-native application, such as Rhythmbox, banshee, or Amarok for music and tripod for photos. These apps all have some support for iPod devices, and can help you manage your already-existing music library. If you’re using iTunes for music downloads, you may find the music store section of Rhythmbox helpful.

iTunes in Wine via PlayOnLinux

Second, you can try installing iTunes 7 using PlayOnLinux. PlayOnLinux is an application that helps you install programs using wine and gives each program it’s own configuration environment. Programs are installed using configurations that usually give the best results, so there’s little if any manual configuration required after the fact.

Remember, wine is an interpretive layer between the Windows-native application and the Linux environment, and therefore there’s a good chance that iTunes will run slowly and some features may simply not work.

You can find PlayOnLinux in Software Center, Synaptic, or install it using the command line:

sudo apt-get install playonlinux

iTunes in Wine via manual install

Lastly, if none of the above options pan out for you, or you want to try the latest version, you can try installing iTunes manually using wine.

Start by making sure you have wine and ubuntu-restricted-extras installed. You can install these using Synaptic or the following command at the command line:

sudo apt-get install wine ubuntu-restricted-extras

With those installed, it’s time to get iTunes installed. WineHQ gives very mixed ratings for iTunes under wine, so your mileage may vary. In addition, you may find the WineHQ Forum on iTunes and wine helpful.

You can find older versions of iTunes at OldApps.com iTunes page.

Virtualization

Lastly, if you find you simply can’t live without iTunes in a Windows environment, you may try running a Windows virtual machine in a hypervisor like VMware (my personal favorite) or VirtualBox. I prefer VMware because it seems to have better hardware pass-through support than even the closed-source versions of VirtualBox

Have you been able to get iTunes running on Ubuntu? Have any experience or tips to share? Please do so in the comments below.

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Move Ubuntu window buttons from left to right (and make it permanent)

I thought I had posted this before, but my mistake.

Starting with Ubuntu 10.04, two new themes were introduced: Ambiance and Radiance. These two themes both feature the window buttons (minimize, maximize, close) on the left side instead of the right. Ambiance is the default theme on a new install, but if you do a dist-upgrade to 10.04, you will still get the buttons on the right.

If you were not used to it (as I wasn’t), these can be a pain. You can always switch themes, but if you really like the color scheme, you might just want to fix the button position.

Fortunately, there’s a simple command that, when run from the command line, can reset the buttons to the more-typical right-side position.

Simply run Applications > Accessories > Terminal and paste in this command:

gconftool-2 --set /apps/metacity/general/button_layout --type string menu:minimize,maximize,close

That will stay in effect as long as you don’t change themes. If you do change themes, you can run it again, no big deal.

UPDATE: At some point the themes were changed and the following no longer works because the gconf-settings.sh file doesn’t exist. I may look into this at some point in the future, but I would appreciate feedback from readers on how to change the setting on a permanent basis.

If you’re looking to make the change permanent, edit the file /usr/share/themes/Ambiance/metacity-1/gconf-settings.sh (note: you need to be root) and change the line

gconftool -s --type string /apps/metacity/general/button_layout "maximize,minimize,close:"

to

gconftool -s --type string /apps/metacity/general/button_layout "menu:minimize,maximize,close"

Of course, substitute Radiance for Ambiance as necessary.

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Fun with barcodes and an Android phone

The Android Market has some incredibly fun (and semi-useful) apps for reading and handling barcodes and information. Here’s a quick run-down of a few and some potential uses. You should be able to easily find and download these apps from the Market.

Barcode Reader (website) – Zxing’s barcode reader app will read and display the content of many barcode formats.

  • UPC-A and UPC-E
  • EAN-8 and EAN-13
  • Code 39
  • Code 93
  • Code 128
  • QR Code
  • ITF
  • Codabar
  • RSS-14 (all variants)
  • Data Matrix (‘alpha’ quality)
  • PDF 417 (‘alpha’ quality)

In addition, content (such as URLs, contact information, wifi data) can be acted upon. Zxing’s barcode reader also functions as a library/API for other programs, and some other Android apps may require it. Zxing also has a barcode generator which can be found here.

ScanLife (website) – Not my favorite, but fun as well. Similiar to the above, but the content is displayed from a website and can’t be acted upon. Not as useful as Zxing’s barcode reader.

Barcode2file (website) – This app has found a special use for me. Uses the Zxing library for reading, and allows you to scan codes in bulk and either send them via email or save them to a text file. Incredibly useful for me at my job, and I use it frequently.

PC_BCR (website) – This app, combined with your wifi-enabled phone, actually allows you to use your phone as a wireless barcode scanner for your PC. Requires you to run a small app on your PC (supports Windows and Linux) and then run the PC_BCR app on your phone. Supports “serial” and “keyboard wedge” interfaces on the PC.

Have a fun and/or useful barcode app to share? Have anything additional to share about the apps above? Please do so in the comments!

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