So Long Bloglines…

Unlike most of the of the other cool kids, I’ve had a hard time kicking my bloglines habit for newer tools. A case of “if it ain’t broke…”

Well, sad to say, it is broke. It’s probably a familiar refrain to others who’ve made the leap, but after the umpteenth time of Bloglines acting funny, I sent yet another email to their support folks. Only to get a self-referential email from them telling me to refer to the below ‘discussion thread’ for their response, only to see my original email with another message to ‘refer to the discussion thread’ and so on…

So Google Reader, here I come baby! The basics seem pretty straightforward but there are some things I still just don’t grok. Hopefully I will get a chance at Northern Voices to query better minds than mine about this – I lament cogdog’s absence, but my friend Jason Toal (that’s dj draggin to the rest of you punks) seems to have a hnadle on it too. – SWL

Hamachi and Unyte – Two Indispensible Virtual Office Tools and

I work at home. I almost never get to see my colleagues face to face. And when I do, I have my laptop with me, a different computer than the one I use at home. These two FREE technologies have become indispensible in helping me work with others at a distance as well as stay connected while I’m on the road.

The first, Unyte by Webdialogs, is a screen sharing app that integrates with Skype. It allows me to display any number of apps running on my machine to any of my skype contacts. The beauty is that they don’t require anything to view the shared screen, only a web browser. And it’s free.

I work with developers in Australia, designers in Vancouver, researchers in Colorado – all of whom are on my skype contact list. Now, when the need arises (“look, it really is a bug,” “no, I meant put the logo THERE”) I can share what I am looking at with them in 2 clicks. It works beautifully. There is a pay-for version which allows you to share with more than one person at a time, but if you are looking for a fast and easy way to share a screen with anyone out there, Unyte has a lot going for it. I had tried Glance in the past, and while I quite liked it, the lack of a free version turned me off.

On to the second piece (really the reason I am writing this up, so I can send this to some colleagues), Hamachi. Hamachi bills itself as “zero-configuration virtual private networking” and true to its word, the setup and configuration of the software on my desktop and laptop took about 2 minutes, after which I was able to grab any file off my desktop when I was travelling. You are not limited to just your own computers in this virtual network and can create ad hoc private networks with anyone you trust and want to share with. There are clients for Windows, Linux and Mac OS X (though the later has suffered in the past from requiring some command line tinkering, something I believe has largely been overcome).

If you’re an ubergeek you’ll probably look down your nose at this – why wouldn’t anyone simply use OpenVPN, and how about UltraVNC or TightVNC for that matter, which can largely accomplish both of these ends in one app. Well, great, if they work for you. I’ve tried all of these with varying degrees of success. What excites me about both of these apps is their absolute ease of use and their singlemindedness; they do one thing and one thing well. So if you need to be able to access yor home computer from work, or your work computer from home, or if you need to be able to quickly share something on your desktop with a remote user, I highly recommend both as additions to your virtual office tool box. – SWL

Familiar Taste – Greasemonkey script to help you remember what you’ve tagged

So after about the 100th time of trying to tag a site in that I’d already tagged before (early onset alzheimer’s?!? More likely the effects of my misspent youth), I thought to myself “Someone has got to have already built something that queries in the background and lets you know if you’ve already tagged a page.” And sure enough, someone had, using Greasemonkey.

This script (great name!) displays a small piece of text on the screen with the tags you used (and optionally, how many other folks have tagged it to) on any page you visit that is already in your links and then gently fades away (the fade time can be configured). I use the extension for Firefox already, and this would seem like a natural addition they could build into it, but until then, this script does exactly what I want. – SWL

YourSpins.Com – Online Music Remixxing Tool

So this is pretty nifty, both because of the tool and because of the apparent business model. allows you to remix tracks from 40 or so artists with a simple to use Flash-based interface. Once remixed, the new track can be saved back into the community space (which is very much ‘social software’) potentially serving as remix fodder for other users, posted on your blog or saved as a ringtone (which is where the business model seems to come in). The artists retain the copyright to the original songs AND the remix. It doesn’t seem to be a service that you could just upload any track to and start remixing – the remix tool appears to have access to the original unmixed tracks and so it works only with the artists who are in partnership with the site, but it is an interesting app and an interesting attempt to marketize the remix/ringtone culture. – SWL

Dynamically Wikipedia-fying Text: Drawdoc and Wikiproxy Greasemonkey script and

Both of these accomplish pretty similar things – take an existing web page, and turn proper nouns/key terms into links to wikipedia automatically.

Drawdoc is currently a web-based app (but not hard to see how it could be a service instead) that employs Yahoo’s term extraction service to identify the salient terms in a document, and then offers possible image matches from Yahoo images, and annotates those terms with links to either Wikipedia, Google or Yahoo to the selected terms.

The Wikiproxy Greasemonkey script works slightly differently, as a Greasemonkey script that appears to just look for ‘Proper Nouns’ on a page and then annotate them as the page is rendered with links to wikipedia. So works on the client side, but the effect is similar, a text automatically annotated with key words to wikipedia.

In both cases what seems lacking is a connection to wikipedia that actually confirms there is something to link to before creating the link. Not surprising. That’s not how they are intended to work, they are lightweight mashups. But the IDEA here is important – start thinking about collections you have on your campus that are pedagogically significant to your students – how tough would it be to code a greasemonkey script that then rendered key terms in your online course as a link to that collection.. of anatomical images? of learning objects? …you get the idea. Why do this? Well, in the case of an approach like drawdoc, it could become an automated annotator for your CMS-based courses, saving time and effort. With a greasemonkey-type approach, it could potentially become a tool that augmented the students experience of materials you didn’t create and don’t control with links to content in collections you trust.

Mashups are here. They’re even commonplace, almost. But just wait until they start invading the academy. You can already get a list of the available ‘web 2.0 APIs’ (that is almost inevitably incomplete) – do you know what’s available inside your own institution? …you’re either on the bus, or it’s running over you… exciting times indeed. – SWL

Postgenomic – Life Science Community Aggregator and Review Engine

Scott Wilson’s recent presentation on “SOA and web 2.0 things” is well worth it even for you grizzled remix veterans of the blogosphere, if only for the most succinct and helpful explanation of the e-Framework I’ve yet to read (“A collaborative effort by JISC, DEST, SURF, NZ MoE and others to make sense of web services in education“).

But what really blew my mind was the link to the above service, Postgenomic. If I understand it correctly, in essence it is a service which provides a registry for, and then search across, academic blogs dedicated to life sciences topics. It does so in order to give users a view on what topics are being talked about in those communities, what sites are being linked to, and what academic articles are being reviewed. And the only effort required to participate, as far as I can tell, is the use of a small ‘review’ microformat (that’s right, isn’t it?) that helps the service identify which posts are ‘reviews’ of specific academic papers.

What this means is that researchers, academics and students in a variety of life science areas can follow which stories their community is finding important, what tags members of their community are using most, (this is a lot closer to what I was writing about last week, though not search based), and get feeds of papers reviewed in their community.

This isn’t the mythical eduglu, and maybe this is something that a system like aggrssive could facilitate for other communities or maybe I’m confused and this is duplicating something already there in more general systems like technorati (though I think not). But hot damn was this exciting for me to see. – SWL

LibraryLookup Greasemonkey Script for Victoria Public Library

O.k., o.k. already! I am showing my age/lameness. In my exuberance over learning that my local library’s catalogue was now searchable via Jon Udell’s famous LibraryLookup bookmarklet (and trust me, I can get pretty exuberant), I forgot how terribly passe and 2003 that was. Apparently time has moved on since then; last year Udell released a small Greasemonkey script that searches your libraries catalogue in the background and adds a link if the book is available right on the Amazon page.

If you happen to live in Victoria, you can grab my ever so-slightly modified version of that script at the URL above and install it in your Greasemonkey-enabled Firefox browser. And turns out this post isn’t so out of date after all – if you are really keen, Udell released the extra souped-up version of the script (which requires you to get your own Amazon-API) on January 26th. Soo coool! All praise Udell. – SWL

Finally, “LibraryLookup” bookmarklet for my local library

Hard to believe, but it’s almost 3 years since one of the first really cool Web2.doh! mashups, Jon Udell’s ‘LibraryLookup’ boomarklet, first hit the streets. You remember this one (maybe you use it everyday?), it allowed you to query your local library’s catalogue with one click from any book-related page that had an ISBN number in the URL (like an Amazon listing, for instance).

I remember being very excited when I first found this, only to become frustrated that my local library, the GVPL, was using a library catalogue at the time that couldn’t be queried via ISBN, so the bookmarklet wouldn’t work.

So I forgot about it, until the serendipity of the blogosphere brought me back to Udell’s site today, and I thought maybe I would try it out again. And it worked!

This is very cool – I actually keep my ‘things I’d like to read‘ list basically in Amazon’s wishlist and this provides a nice tie-in for me to easily folow up now into my library catalogue to see if the book’s there. Not groundshaking, maybe, but I know this will actually increase the number of these books I end up reading and not just wishing for. – SWL

Google Scholar & OpenURL Firefox Extension

As soon as Google Scholar hit the streets there was quite a stir in the library community and various ponderings about how to tie it into existing library systems, so it was inevitable that someone would develop this, but this quickly!!! A Firefox extension which, when you perform a Google Scholar query, also sends queries to your institution’s OpenURL resolver, and in cases where your University owns a licensed copy of the cited article creates a link directly to it. Too cool! – SWL