Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Escaped from the Bermuda Triangle

Just got back yesterday from Bermuda.

My wife and I have been using the Internet to plan and book our trips since 1999. Even booking things online in the days before secure connections (SSL).

For this trip, we researched destinations on LonelyPlanet.com and Yahoo Travel. Once we narrowed it down we went to the official Bermuda website, read some of the material online and filled out a form to have a cool customized booklet mailed to us with the information we chose (so no useless info on sports or shopping).

We researched and narrowed down our hotel options online with help from TripAdvisor. We needed a hotel with kitchen and separate bedroom as we were travelling with my "energetic & enthusiastic" 2 year old daughter. We found Surf Side on Bermuda's South Shore and checked out their website. Tried reserving online but that this functionality didn't work, so we booked via email and phone calls.

We checked our air fares and booked online via Expedia. Read about the ever-changing carry on rules and carseat restrictions online. Later, we got our e-tickets from Expedia and checked in online with Air Canada (though this didn't really save us much time as the line for those who had checked in online wasn't open so we had to line up with everyone else).

I also read a few forums on Bermuda, including a good one on Frommers (or was it Fodor's?) that gave us a good idea of what to expect. The reports on the extreme costs of food thankfully alerted us so we brought a lot of our meals (Kraft Dinner and Lipton Noodles). This was great as it is hard to find a lunch for under $50 there. (Bermuda is not cheap!)

I thought about checking my work emails while I was away as the hotel provided free Internet service in the lobby. ButI quickly dispensed with that idea.

And of course as soon as we got home our trip photos were posted on Yahoo Photos and emailed to friends.

Other trips we have researched online and booked hotels directly. We have found some really great locations that fit our needs perfectly in such locations as Quebec City, Ucluelet B.C., Krakow, Bratislava, Hong Kong, NYC, Amsterdam, Jasper, etc. Our travels wouldn't be half as good without the Internet.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Gone Phising with Firefox

With the release of Internet Explorer 7, I have been hearing that the "browser wars" are back. (Hopefully, the return of the browser wars will turn out better product than the return of Star Wars did.)

I haven't upgraded to Internet Explorer 7 yet, so I'm not sure if it is much improved. IE 6 is perfunctory but the only enhancements in ages came from add-on Yahoo Toolbar and Google Toolbar, which offered easy search, customizable shortcuts to features and services, and the much-needed pop-up blocker.

I've been using Firefox for awhile now and recently upgraded to Version 2. Didn't notice much improvement. Here's an intro to the various changes.

I love the idea of live bookmarks, but not using them much yet. I prefer getting my feeds via My Yahoo.

Firefox Version 2 added integrated search that allows one to search directly to Wikipedia, IMDB, Amazon.com (wish they had .ca) plus the more popular search engines.

Firefox 2.0 greatest claim to fame may be its phishing protection (for those who don't know a phishing scam is where someone creates a fake, copycat website of say a bank or e-Bay and then tries to lure people to enter their financial info, credit cards, passwords, SINs). Here is an interesting article about Firefox's superior phishing protection by InternetNews.com called Our Phishing Filter is Better Than Yours!.

I have never tried Opera and intend to one day. I have used Safari but that experience was marred by the general goofiness of using a Mac.

I should give IE7 a try before passing final judgment, but so far I'm even more loyal to Firefox.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Feedburner is hot!

Two days ago, I finally figured out how to add some much-desired (but I'm certain will be little-used) functionality to this blog. (Note, I can't do much with my blog on Yahoo 360 as Yahoo doesn't allow customization or tinkering with the template).

These exciting additions to turbo-charge my feed were #1)adding email subscription and broadcasts #2) adding links to individual posting for del.icio.us & Digg.

I did this via the site Feedburner. This free service (I do so love how much great Internet stuff comes free!) was really quick and easy to set up and offers a lot of other functionality. And did I mention it was free! Most of the functionality seems exotic and esoteric to me, but maybe one day I'll see through the glass darkly.

Feedburner adds most of these feature with the push of a button and copying and pasting a line or two of code into your template. It was that easy!

#1) Email subscriptions
Feedburner provides an opt-in email sign up and place to store and manage your list. You can schedule when you want the broadcast to go and specify a couple branding details. But otherwise the email broadcasts that day's blog entries automatically without the need or the opportunity for manual edits.

#2) Del.icio.us and Digg it links
This give people the opportunity to add an individual blog posting to their del.icio.us bookmarks (ie. individual and collective bookmarks sorted by user-entered keyword tags) or give it a Digg (ie. a plug/vote on Digg's site). I really spent some time trying to figure out how to do this - researched on the web and found nothing. Not sure if this a reflection of how little is written about this topic, or how poor search engines still are, or how poor my research skills are.

Bonus functionality
There was some additional functionality that I hadn't initially been looking for but was happy to see how easy Feedburner made it.

They offer stats on how many people have subscribed to my feed. Alas, there's is only one person other than me who has subscribed and they live in Germany (which narrows it down to my former German exchange partner)- thank you.

The other feature they have is making it very easy to assert one's level of Creative Commons. Creative Commons is an iniative to encourage respect for copyright and to facilitate sharing and re-use of content where permitted. I ended up not allowing much use of my content (not very Web 2.0 of me but I have issues since childhood with not getting credit for my accomplishments so I'm not yet ready to let go of this).

You can try out all these new features below and to the right of this blog entry. I won't know if you have though as I'm avoiding looking at my subscriptions, diggs, bookmarks and stats so as to not get too depressed yet.

It's going to be a long winter - fortunately Feedburner can heat it up (sorry to end on such a corny, bad pun).

Lost in Syndication

Here's a useful article from ClickZ on how businesses can make use of syndicated content and some background on the status of RSS.
10 Ways for E-Marketers to Use RSS

With the release of Internet Explorer and Firefox 2.0, there's even more support for syndication (see my earlier blog posting).

Adoption of syndicated content (via RSS and Atom) is slower than expected, according to various sources. This is confirmed by the fact that when I sent my blog out to a bunch of people many had no idea what feed readers or aggregators were. (Not to throw stones, as I'm still living in a glass house.)

My parents, while not very "wired" had somehow managed to have never even heard the term blog.

So even though geeks and marketers are excited by all this, it has a long way to go apparently.

Recommendation for feed readers
I did get my Dad set up on My Yahoo, which I think is an excellent service combining syndicated content and Yahoo features (except that modules for my Yahoo photos, calendar, and Briefcase hasn't worked in ages).

I've also used Google which seems to make the process of adding new syndicated content very easy. However, I like the (theoretical) integration with my other Yahoo services so I haven't used Google's much.

There are a bunch of other feed readers/aggregators out there. Check out this list from the popular to the arcane. If you have a favourite, please let me know.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Yahoots and hollers

Over the last couple weeks I have been trying to completely figure out Yahoo's recent offerings with Yahoo 360, Yahoo Photos and the beta version of Yahoo Mail. One is a complete success, one is an abject failure, and the other is a distinct possibility.

Let's start from worst to best.

Yahoo Mail new beta version
I've been using Yahoo Mail since 1998 and never switched to another webmail provider as I was so happy with Yahoo (even Gmail was no temptation) Recently, I was lured to switch to their new version which is still in beta. The goal with the new software is admirable - to allow desktop application like functionality. You can click and drag things and use keyboard shortcuts. However, the integration with the calendar is gone. Also, I had to remove all my second email address and nicknames for contacts as it listed them all as unique contacts resulting in really long contact lists. Also, I had to get their intro page with celebrity gossip news front and center before I could get into my email (I did find out very fast about Britney & K-Fed but that's not a good thing). But the worst, was just how slow it was - slow to long into, slow to load an email, slow to move from one thing to another. I was glad they allowed me the option to switch back, which I gleefully did about an hour ago.

Yahoo 360
This is Yahoo's attempt to compete with MySpace. It's social networking and self-obessed publishing gone mad with its network of friends and groups (Yahoo Groups which has been useful for years now is better integrated), lists of useless things, music, photos, calendars, blogs and feeds. I started a blog for my daughter through this. Yahoo 360's blogging tool is very easy to use but doesn't allow the same degree of customization, tinkering, or management as Blogger. While I like the idea of integrating with various Yahoo service (many of which we were already using) I find the social networking aspects less useful and cool than a package that combines all my stuff in one place. Specifically, I want My Briefcase (online file storage) contacts and non-Yahoo blogs to be added. My Yahoo a customizable webpage that allows easy addition of syndicated content and offers the potential to integrate my calendar, email and Briefcase but doesnt' seem to ever work and it doesn't get into blogs or photos. But I do love that the Yahoo avatar I created a year ago now can be seen by everyone!

Here's my Yahoo 360 page

Yahoo Photos
Okay, I'm not into tagging my photos so flikr is out (even though it was once Canadian and now owned by Yahoo). I just want to be able to easily upload my photos and share them with friends and family. Before the recent changes to Yahoo Photos uploading was rather painful as was organizing and naming the photos. Now they have software to download to your computer that not only makes uploading quite fast but also really simple. Just select the photos on your computer you want to upload and drag them to tool. Editing and organizing photos can be done like desktop software (via their editing area called the "tray" without having to wait for calls back and forth to the server or waiting for big pictures to load on their own page. They did make changing the setting from private (the default) to public rather difficult. But they also made sharing photos with friends who are also using Yahoo Photos pictures very easy. And they are allowing a lot of storage completely free so I'm really happy.

Take a look at my Yahoo Photos full of tons of photos of my kid of course.

Yahoo has dived into Web 2.0 big-time with all its pros and cons. Overall, I'm still going to be sticking it out with Yahoo.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Days of our digital lives

Statistics Canada published a study today about Canadians digital lives, called Our lives in digital times.

They didn't talk about all the MySpace going-ons, but in general we have become a very "talkative society".

All the new communications technology in the last 20 years hasn't reduced paper (it has doubled), reduced postal mail (it has been rising), or reduced telephone use (more calls then ever).

No, we just are talking a whole hell of a lot more in both the old ways and the new ways - and in the old ways with new twists.

Doubt that this is just happening in Canada (renowned for its cold & distant landscapes that forced a love of telecommunications upon us). After all who in the world can keep news like Britney and K-Fed’s breakup to themselves?


This post has been archived.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Bookmarks come alive!

Just when I was tempted to feel cocky about my knowledge of Internet matters (and I’m more than tempted) a non-webby colleague yesterday introduced me to Live Bookmarking.

I had never heard of Live Bookmarking, despite the fact that I have been using Firefox pretty much since its beginning. Firefox offered it back in 2004 and even Internet Explorer with version 7 has it now.

For those who may not know what Live Bookmarking is (and I hope there are many others so I won’t feel so bad) it allows sites using feeds to have many syndicated articles appear dynamically as a unique bookmarks within a bookmarks menu.

If you’re already using RSS or Atom, one line of code will turn this feature on. For users, sites that offer it will have an orange RSS icon in the address bar - just click on the icon and follow the steps.

Here’s more in-depth info and how-tos on Live Bookmarking

In researching Live Bookmarking, I discovered more fun with bookmarking that I was missing out on (okay when the browsers threw their Bookmarking party, why wasn’t I invited?) – that is Microsummaries!

Microsummaries allow for the title of a bookmark to be dynamic and have salient points included rather than a static page name. Setting it up seems to involve special generators that seem too complicated for my needs. However, from a user perspective a mircosummary can let you see at a glance the up-to-date status of a webpage. The best examples I saw were for pages that are updated very frequently and have all crucial points in a few words (eg. stock lookup pages, auction item status, delivery status for orders, etc.).

Microsummaries are only available in Firefox 2.0, so I had to update my browser to get it (haven’t had a chance to test drive the other enhancements in 2.0 – more on that in the days to come).

To choose the microsummary version, just bookmark a site as usual, but under the Name field you'll have a drop-down menu, just choose from a "Live titles" items.

Mozilla Wiki has a great in-depth guide to Microsummaries and Mathaba News offers and article on the topic and they are using it so you can try it out by bookmarking their site.

Until yesterday I thought a Favicon was a great thing to add zest to bookmarks (I still haven’t been able to get one for my company’s site yet either). At least I’m finally at the Bookmark Party now - with our without an invitation.

Monday, November 06, 2006


I am seriously backlogged reading the hundred or so emails I receive a day (who has time to count them). I finally got to one of my favourite e-newsletters by Sean McGrath.

He writes an interesting article about what a fully online wedding might be like:ITworld.com - A Webby Wedding

This article resonated with me as a couple weeks ago my wife and I celebrated our 7th wedding anniversary. At the time we got married (Oct. 23 1999) I was just finishing up the Internet Management program ant Humber College. To hone my skills and as a online testament to our e-ternal love I built us a Wedsite.

On our anniversary we reviewed the wedsite which has been left lingering unloved in cyberspace for years. (We switched ISPs a couple years ago but our old one never removed my web files so the wedsite lives on - thankfully it hasn't outlived our marriage). Anyway, we still enjoyed the wedsite as it is such a reflection of us, which was what it was meant to be. It is silly and fun and I think unique. Yes the design makes me groan and there are some really dated elements, but overall there were some cool things, particularly for the time.

I had links to a couple webrings which were an early attempt to build communities and encourage traffic - kind of like a blogroll now. I had links to our online registry at the Bay (after all marriage is a gift grab!) where people could buy online and have it shipped to us automatically. I had multimedia in the form of RealAudio clips of our songs and an animated gif (okay sorry about that - animated gifs were okay in 1999 seriously!). We had games, trivia and surveys for our suggested new surname and TV couple we should emulate and voters could, and did write in their own content - so this was interactivity and user-generated content.

Okay I'm grasping - but for a wedsite at the time it was pretty rocking.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Battle over 'net neutrality' arrives in Canada

An alarming possibility that Internet access providers, due to recent changes to laws in the U.S. and possibly eventually in Canada, would be allowed to control download time and potentially access to websites. So people who pay - and their own sites of course - get better or the only service.

Read the full story at the CBC

Could this mean the end of blogs like mine? What would all my many, many, many readers do without access to Webslinger???

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Internet surpasses 100 million sites

Internet surpasses 100 million sites

I'm a bit dubious about the claim of 100 million sites. I'll bet it's much larger and we just don't have the ability to count them all.

Also, what is a "Site". I'm not sure a blog is a website. Some blogs do blur the lines of a website, but others are really just web logs and not a site per se.

Either way, I'm sure there are more sites out that haven't even been counted.

I have a couple relic websites (my "wedsite" for my wife and my wedding and an early portfolio site). There must be tons of sites like this - and more every day - that don't get counted.

Nonetheless, the Internet is growing faster than I imagined it would. Some security in knowing I'll have a meausure of job security.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006


We are having municipal elections soon in Ontario. Would love to vote online as some communities in Ontario allow, but Toronto doesn't allow it.

Voting online might actually help get voter turnout a little better than pathetic. Also, with a two-year-old in tow, it's no picnic going to a crowded voting center. Though I have to admit that I'm dubious that a national election online vote site could ever support the traffic that would be asked of it.

Even though we can't vote online, I can honestly say in the last few elections I have been way more informed about my voting choices thanks to the Internet. Some candidates have great sites with lots of info and others don't. While I won't not vote for someone just because they have a bad website, it certainly shapes my opinion.

Also, yesterday I emailed a candidates and got an answer in a day. This is way better than attending candidates debates (which are few and far between) and trying to squeeze in one's question.

Here's an article on the whether or not Internet voting is inevitable

Internet spending in Canada reaches $7.9B

A study shows that more Canadians are shopping online - 41% of Canadians - and spending more.

Here's the study by StatsCan that also shows the top types of items purchased online, which provinces are the biggest e-shoppers, and other details.

I think concerns about security are pretty low now. I don't hear anyone avoiding online shopping due to security concerns. Now if online stores could just improve their interfaces to make it easier and more enticing to shop...