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Archive for the ‘Tech’ Category

Blogging from Command Line

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For anyone interested in trying out blogging from the command line, I recommend blogpost.py, a python script by Stuart Rackham, which lets you create, update, list and delete posts for your WordPress blog from command line.

It’s super easy to install and configure. The instructions are here, although you’ll need to install Mercurial, a code repository manager, first to grab the code. The full manual for blogpost is here, and it took all of five minutes to grab, install, configure and start using.

Once you’ve got it working, you can write a function in your .bash_profile to make it easier to pass parameters to blogpost like this:

function blog(){
~/blogpost/blogpost.py post “$1” -d html -t “$2” -c “$3”;
}

(Sample usage: blog samplepost.html “Title of blogpost” sample_category)

Or you can use this shell script by Raam Dev

And if you’re using Blogger instead, try GoogleCL, a bunch of command line tools for Google APIs, including Blogger. Very nice!

Written by tokyotribe

June 5, 2011 at 4:32 am

Posted in Tech

A few things I learnt about the GUI and the command line.

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This post was inspired by the following Unix koan:

Master Foo Discourses on the Graphical User Interface

With the GUI, we’re trying to use a graphical metaphor to describe to the computer what we want it to do. This graphical metaphor – a series of actons depicted on the screen – is translated into commands that the computer can understand, after which the commands are executed and the computer is deemed to have done what we’ve asked.

With the command line, we tell the computer directly, in commands that it understands (or closer to what it’s able to execute), and it executes them directly. There is still a layer of abstraction and translation between the text-based interface and what the computer executes, but it’s certainly closer than the GUI.

Aside from the speed of execution (which isn’t really noticeable these days), there’s a conceptual delay as well. In the command line, we learn to speak the computer’s language and tell it what to do. In the GUI, we’re trying to show the computer what we want it to do via graphical metaphor, and we ourselves must learn these graphical metaphors. The metaphors are supposed to mimic the actions we take in real life, but we describe them not by performing these actions as we normally do (e.g. throwing a document into a trash bin), but through the use of a mouse and moving graphical elements around a screen (e.g. moving a mouse on the table, which moves a small arrow on the screen onto an image of a piece of paper representing a document titled “my_document.doc”, clicking the mouse button, holding it down and moving the mouse again, which drags the image of the piece of paper towards the corner of the screen, and releasing the mouse button when the image of the piece of paper lies on top of the image of a trash bin, representing the act of deleting the document.*)

What a roundabout way of deleting a file, as compared to typing ‘rm my_document.doc’ in the command line.

That said, it’s understandable that the graphical metaphor may be easier to learn (through demonstration and remembering a series of actions) than text-based commands. So we trade off brevity (both in mental concept and physical execution) for ease of learning.

* The above description still doesn’t actually delete the file. You’ll still need to right-click on the mouse with the mouse pointer on the trash icon and select “Empty trash” from the pop-up menu in order to properly delete the file. That’s when you fall off the edge of the graphical metaphor and still have to issue some kind of text-based instruction (albeit selected from a menu) to the computer. Something isn’t right here.

Written by tokyotribe

May 30, 2011 at 3:40 pm

Posted in Tech

Facebook beats Twitter during the Singapore General Election

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It did for me, at least.

I used to use a Twitter list compiling feeds from Singapore- and Singapore-politics-related blogs and tweeters, but during the 2011 General Election, I found myself relying on Facebook much more than on Twitter, referring to Facebook pages by the Straits Times, The Online Citizen and a handful of other page owners for live updates of the elections. Being able to view updates on different pages provided a more organised experience than seeing everything in one feed, because I wouldn’t end up missing an update if my main feed (with everyone’s updates) filled up with new information. And when I wanted to see what my friends thought about what was happening, I’d look at my main feed.

What was most useful about Facebook was the notifications I got when my friends commented on my updates (which might have been my own comments or stuff I’d shared from other friends or pages), which let me zoom into and carry on the conversations easily, even many simultaneously. This is an experience I wasn’t able to duplicate on Twitter easily.

When it came to expressing my own views about the election, I realised that I wasn’t interested in just broadcasting my views to the ether and getting my views heard (or hoping that someone “following” me would pick it up), but I was also in who would be hearing my views, and that it wasn’t some bot who would start following me because my update mentioned “election”.

That made the fact that only friends receive my updates of Facebook more relevant. The corollary here is to choose one’s friends wisely.

Twitter probably still has its uses. It will likely remain my RSS reader for technology, political and other news when 2-way conversations are not important, but I certainly see myself broadcasting a lot less on it, and also using it less as a means of 2-way communication.

Has Twitter become just a feedreader for blogs and tweets from interesting commentators for me?

Written by tokyotribe

May 29, 2011 at 3:47 pm

Posted in Tech

Thoughts on the Kindle

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Kindle

My first impression was, “This doesn’t feel like the future. This feels like the past.”

The E-ink is incredibly clear and renders pages that are great for reading – when it eventually renders, but the screen itself feels like an old piece of Casio Digital Diary LCD technology. And having the screen switch to black (or reverse colours, i.e white text on a black page) momentarily every time you refresh (or turn) the page is just as tiring to read over a long period of time as the bright LED smartphone and tablet screens.

Screen refresh time is an issue not just for page turning (which leaves you staring at a black page for a fraction of a second, before your eyes have to adjust back to white again), but also for text entry, which is slow, with letters forming as pixelated outlines before they are filled in with ink. This makes text entry quite a strain on the eyes too. But not so big an issue since you don’t use the Kindle to enter text much.

My biggest gripe is with the clunky interface, with the home, menu, cursor, Aa and Sym keys. It’s just terrible, not because many users expect a far more intuitive and touch-based interface these days, but because the menu and page scrolling (when viewing a magnified PDF) systems are worse than the interfaces found on early feature phones.

Quite a disappointment, and I walked away without buying one. Guess I’ll be waiting for a Kindle Touch or a smaller, paperback-sized iPad.

Written by tokyotribe

April 23, 2011 at 12:56 am

Posted in Tech

How I use Twitter today (redux)

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I’m now using Twitter as my RSS reader.

I do this because I don’t want to have to check my RSS reader separately when I already get a lot of the same content on Twitter. That and the temporal nature of a Twitter feed suits how I want to consume RSS feeds. I don’t want to open my RSS reader, find 1000+ unread articles every time, and feel compelled to try to read some of these past and buried articles. If I miss out on some articles, that’s fine. I just want to see and read what these RSS sources are writing today, and that’s how Twitter behaves, so it works for me.

I do this by creating a Twitter list called “rss” and using it to follow Twitter accounts of blogs that I would normally want to read in my RSS reader. For blogs that don’t have Twitter accounts, or where their Twitter account doesn’t only contain articles but also conversations that I’m not too interested in, I create a Google RSS bundle of the RSS feeds that I want to read on Twitter, generate an RSS feed out of that bundle, create a new twitter account for these RSS feeds, and link the bundle’s RSS feed to the twitter account using Twitterfeed. Then I follow this Twitter account in my RSS list.

That last set of steps is unnecessarily complicated, but it works.

After doing that, I found that I only had 24 Twitter accounts in my rss list (one of which is a Twitter account for the RSS bundle of 15 RSS feeds). Which means only 24 Twitter accounts are giving me value, and the rest are just noise?

Written by tokyotribe

March 20, 2011 at 4:50 am

Posted in Tech

How I Use Twitter Today

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My love-hate relationship with Twitter continues as I try to find a meaningful use of it that delivers value to me and to people who might be following me.

My Twitterfeed used to be a collective stream of consciousness from the people I followed, and my posts were similarly a stream of thoughts-as-they-occurred-to-me. Expected Value? Low – because all that noise made it difficult to find posts of value.

Today, I use Twitter as a recommendation engine. The value I get from it is in the form of links, places, pieces of news, ideas, opinions and thoughts recommended by people whose feeds I find interesting. Likewise, I use Twitter to recommend links, places, news, ideas, opinions and thoughts that I think might be interesting to people who might be following me.

That’s meant cleaning up the list of people I follow (i.e. unfollowing people who post “Waiting in line for …”) and being more disciplined about what I share on Twitter.

Obviously different people use Twitter in different ways, and people who want to use it to keep up with what their friends are doing would have a different usage pattern. I’ve found myself settling into the above use to try to get more of the kind of value that I want out of Twitter.

Written by tokyotribe

February 15, 2010 at 12:18 pm

Posted in Tech

Twitter tirade

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I thought I should provide an expansion on my earlier post about how Twitter was killing my mind.

The nature of Twitter, Facebook and other feed-based platforms makes them good for real-time updates, impulse-based activities (like shopping) impulse-driven broadcasts (like reactionary opinions) and calls to action.

However, the mechanics of these platforms make sustained conversation difficult because the feed quickly pushes content out of view (and consideration) over time.

The recipient is inundated with small pieces of information from disparate sources, and in scanning a feed, little time and attention is spent investigating the content deeply before moving on to the next item.

This rapid switch from one piece of content to the next (from a different source and pertaining to a different subject) breaks one’s train of thought and line of investigation developed in each piece.

That’s when we drop the mental investigation and just move on to the next piece of information. It’s this loss of the practice of mental investigation that I lament.

So what if we call a spade a spade and drop the romanticised social media notion that Twitter helps to encourage conversation? Is there sufficient value in treating Twitter as an information feed?

Without a doubt, it can be a good source of new information, but does it generate sufficient impact or action, and is the impact sustained enough, to be considered useful?

Written by tokyotribe

January 9, 2010 at 5:20 am

Posted in Tech