Chris M. Lindsey

Father, Husband, Public Servant, Web Developer

Category: Review

T-Mobile Test Drive Begins

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Our family’s Verizon contract is about to be up, so we’ve taken advantage of the T-Mobile Test Drive (with the iPhone 5S) to try out their service. It’s a pretty interesting concept, and I’ll post a review when our week is up.

Great Looking City Government Website

While doing some research at work yesterday, I stumbled across the website for the City of Lexington, Kentucky.  And what a surprise!  I look at websites for a lot of city and county governments (research for work and also job hunting), and Lexington’s is the best looking website I have seen.

Usually websites for local governments look drab, are rarely updated (making the information outdated), look bad in non-Internet Explorer web browsers (try Firefox, Safari, Opera, or Google Chrome), and overall have pretty poor usability.

The site for the City of Lexington isn’t perfect: on many pages the content is pushed down the page in Firefox, but I bet that is a problem with old formatting in the information being displayed, not necessarily the CSS.  But the site looks great.  It has rotating images on the homepage that are interesting to look at, updated news items, real-time traffic updates, access to GIS,  trendy buttons, a unique favicon (although the favicon doesn’t match the site design, it is so much better than a default server favicon), a sitemap, and a contact page.  All with easy navigation.

The City of Lexington, Kentucky, has the caliber of site that all local government websites should strive to meet.  But people in government oftentimes don’t seem to understand how having a usable website allows for easy communication with their citizens.

WordPress 2.7 is Sexy

The first beta of WordPress 2.7 was just released, and I have to say, the new dashboard is sexy.  Check out the cool features and some pictures here.

Knowshon on Saturday

Possibly to atone for their collosal failure, ESPN will have a feature on Georgia running back Knowshon Moreno on College GameDay this Saturday.  This news comes straight from Georgia Coach Mark Richt’s new blog.

Richt says that the segment should appear between 10am and 11am Eastern.  Hopefully someone will put this up on YouTube, since I won’t be able to watch it (MPA activity Saturday morning).

Speaking of Coach Richt’s new blog, it looks horrible.  But it does have an RSS feed (RSS explained here) if you wish to subscribe in Google Reader or by email.  It’s real easy to subscribe by email, so anyone can stay up-to-date on Coach Richt.

I think I’m going to volunteer to put Coach Richt’s site up on a WordPress install and maintain it.  Blogging works so much better with WordPress.

Catch the Shortwave

My favorite new web browsing utility is called Shortwave and was created by Shaun Inman.

The idea and implementation is really simple.  You use Smart Keywords to search in Firefox and other browsers that you use, but how do you keep all the searches you do in sync?  What if you want to use keyword searches for the first time?

Go to the Shortwave page and drag the bookmarklet up to your browser’s bookmark toolbar.  If you don’t know what a bookmarklet is, try Wikipedia or this introduction by Matt Cutts.

Then when you want to search on, say, Wikipedia, just click the Shortwave bookmarklet and type w EarthThis Wikipedia article will pop up.  Want to search the Internet Movie Database?  Click the bookmarklet and type imdb Top Gun.

Shaun added a lot of default searches (Google, Google Maps, Google Images, Amazon, Flickr, YouTube, whois).  Even better, you can upload your own search file to a server of your own and customize your search terms.  I added a Lifehacker search and some others to my Waves file.

The best part about Shortwave is you can use the same bookmarklet on any browser on any computer you use.  You can have the same search terms on your work and home computers, and on your iPhone or iPod Touch (as a webclip).

I emailed Shaun last week with an idea for Shortwave – I hesitated to use his contact form on his site because I hate bugging people through email, but he had closed the comments for posts related to Shortwave.  I had an idea to implement site searches with Shortwave, where you could perform a search within the site you are currently browsing on Google.  Shaun got back to me, and quickly posted this update to Shortwave implementing the functionality.  Now you can search gs Shortwave and find posts on ChrisMLindsey.com with the term Shortwave.

Hopefully you will find Shortwave useful.  If you implement any custom searches in your own Wave file, share them in the comments!

KU Emergency Notifications System

While not a good announcement, I am pleased to find out KU has a very good emergency notification system.  The issue was the murder of a KU student and a report of the vehicle of a person of interest.

I received the following text message on my cell at 4:34 AM:

Alert: KU Police (Lawrence campus) – Student found dead off campus.  Use caution w/ person of interest, Adolfo Garcia.  Go to www.ku.edu.

I also received the following email at 4:55 AM:

INFORMATION FROM Lawrence Police Department
Media Release-Death Investigation, July 4, 2008

Police ask anyone with information about Adolfo Garcia-Nunez, also known as Fito Garche, to call Lawrence Police at 785-843-7509 or Crimestoppers Hotline at 785-843-TIPS. He is a person of interest in the death of KU student Jana Lynne Mackey. He was last seen driving a white Ford F-150 pick-up truck.

Lawrence Police are attempting to locate 46-year-old Adolfo Garcia-Nunez, of Lawrence, in connection with an investigation into the death of 25-year-old Jana Lynne Mackey, of Lawrence. Lawrence Police initiated an investigation to locate Ms. Mackey after a friend reported her missing at 4:30 p.m. on July 3, 2008. At 6:30 p.m, Lawrence Police located Ms. Mackey’s vehicle in the Lawrence Memorial Hospital parking lot at 4th and Michigan Street. Following further investigation, Ms. Mackey was found deceased inside the suspect’s residence at 409 Michigan at 11:23 p.m. The death at this time appears to be suspicious.

Police are asking anyone with information regarding Adolfo Garcia-Nunez to call the Lawrence Police Department at 785-843-7509 or the Crimestoppers Hotline at 785-843-TIPS. Mr. Garcia-Nunez was last seen driving a white Ford F-150 pick-up truck. This investigation is ongoing and no further details are available at this time.

KU Public Safety suggests extreme caution if you have contact with Garcia-Nunez.

Additional information will be posted at www.lawrencepolice.org when available.

I really appreciate this information, and I hope that these emergency alert systems prove useful.  Something like this is especially important in a tornado-frequented zone like Kansas.  Hopefully this system will prove fast when the next tornado warning is issued (and so my mom doesn’t have to worry quite so much).

Smaller organizations (KU uses a big, outsourced system) could create a Twitter account and have people subscribe. Twitter updates can be sent to cell phones, as well as instant message accounts and other communication tools.  In fact, here are some good examples (and a Google search is helpful too).

In regards to the use of Twitter as an emergency tool, I really appreciate that social networking tools can be found to have uses other than with high-school kids.

Review: Zemanta WordPress Plugin

Over the weekend I installed the Zemanta plugin for WordPress.  I read about the Zemanta “content suggestion engine” on Weblog Tools Collection and TechCrunch.

I really like Zemanta.  Oringinally it was made as a browser plugin, and I believe it was released recently to work with some common blogging engines, like WordPress, Movable Type, and Blogger.

What I liked the most was the tag suggestion feature.  I like the tag feature in WordPress, but I don’t like trying to determine good tags for a post.  And so I didn’t tag posts.

So when I read about Zemanta, I decided to try it out.  I didn’t realize it at first, but the WordPress plugin adds a panel on the right of your ‘Write Post’ page.  I used Zemanta’s tag suggestions for some posts this weekend, and when I found out how useful it was, I went back and tagged many of my recent posts.

After adding these tags, I found determined the quid-pro-quo with the Zemanta service.  With every post that you utilize Zemanta, Zemanta adds a “reblog” button at the bottom of your post that links back to their website.

Now, I don’t mind Zemanta getting a little credit for their product.  But not on my personal website, without my approval.  Zemanta does not ask permission to add these buttons and links.  You can turn off the generation of the buttons and links, but by default they are added to all posts.  And if you turn this off, you then have to go back to all the posts you used Zemanta and manually delete their code.

No, thanks.  I don’t want the look of my blog to include your buttons.  And I don’t want my PageRank to slide downhill because of all the sketchy links that I didn’t approve or add myself.

Zemanta provides a great, even amazing service that is really useful.  But I don’t like the way they added images and links to my blog (without my knowledge).  Had I known about this before using Zemanta, maybe my view would be less jaded.  But for now, I’m uninstalling Zemanta.  And I’m going back through and manually removing all the code they added to my posts.

Review: WordPress Complete

Christian over at Unofficial Dreamhost Blog sent me a review copy of WordPress Complete to write a review. He published my review today. The following is my review in its entirety.

I recently received a review copy of WordPress Complete by Hasin Hayder and published by Packt Publishing. The back cover of the book explains that the book is a beginner’s guide, while also saying “any IT-confident user will be able to use the book to produce an impressive blog.”

WordPress Complete is divided into ten chapters. The first entails the basics of blogging and the book progresses all the way to usage of WordPress MU (multiuser).

Chapter 1 provides a beginner’s guide to blogging. It explains blogging and the different types of blogs (audio, video, etc), and also provides a list of common terminology. I found the list of common terms a little lacking; it did not include “theme” or “plug-in”, while it provided an incomplete explanation of permalinks. The first chapter also provides a good overview of the major blogging engines (providers and software), but in a copyediting gaffe, the screenshots of each engine are on the page immediately following the description of the engine. The end of this chapter describes using the WordPress forums, finding themes, finding plug-ins, and getting news about WordPress.

Chapter 2 provides the basics of installing WordPress and the first actions when setting up a new blog. Chapter 3 deals with themes, and details the popular places to find themes, how to install them, and how to make basic changes to the design.

Chapter 4 explains posting, and all the options related to posting new items in WordPress. Chapter 4 also explains comments and the administrative settings regarding comments. While the book touches on the topic of comment spam in this chapter, it provides no useful resources in stopping spam. Especially surprising is that the book does not discuss Akismet, the spam fighting tool created by the makers of WordPress. The book also explains gravatars, but makes no effort to explain implementing gravatars into a WordPress installation.

Chapter 5 describes using using WordPress as a content management system, or CMS, to run a website (as opposed to a blog). This mainly entails editing a theme to make WordPress look less like a blog and more like a website for a business. This section is really important and provides some insight into a rarely used ability of WordPress.

Chapter 6 describes feeds (syndication) and podcasting. This chapter goes way too in-depth when explaining feeds, because WordPress provides feeds automatically. A WordPress beginner does not need to know the complete history of the RSS 2.0 format or the HTML behind a feed. The podcasting section, though, provides a useful in-depth look at audio blogging that would be especially helpful for those wishing to utilize WordPress to podcast.

Chapter 7 goes through the motions of making a theme for WordPress. While providing a good look at how themes work, this Chapter is not needed for the beginning blogger. There are thousands of WordPress themes out there for beginners to use, while those who wish to create their own most likely already know where to find this information and would not be buying this book.

Chapter 8 discusses using WordPress MU (multiuser) to multi-blog, and Chapter 9 tells of how to create plug-ins and widgets.

Chapter 10 might provide the best information for the beginning WordPress user. This chapter describes how to backup a WordPress blog (something few users do and many regret not doing) and how to upgrade to a newer version of WordPress.

Overall I found the book very informative and useful for the beginning WordPress user. I did, however, take issue to the large number of spelling, grammar, and English language usage mistakes. The preface of the book contained the most glaring error, misspelling “blog” as “blod”, which is extremely ironic when one remembers the subject of the book. If you can overlook the many errors in the book (I cringed many times while reading elementary mistakes), WordPress Complete is a nearly complete beginner’s guide to WordPress.

*Update* – A user on the Unofficial Dreamhost Blog asked for my rating of the book and my background. The following was part of my response:

I hesitate to put a rating on this book because its usefulness decreases for people who have experience with WordPress. If you are a beginner who lacks technical skills, I would recommend this book. If you have any experience with WordPress or have technical experience, I would not recommend this book. All of the information in the book is easy to find in the WordPress < a href="http://codex.wordpress.org">Codex and other places.

I am an experienced WordPress user; I’ve been using WordPress for my own blog for over 18 months. I also develop non-blog websites using WordPress.

ThinkFree Office Portable

A while back I submitted my name to recieve a USB drive from ThinkFree and IT|Redux as a promotion to get bloggers to review ThinkFree Office. I recently received the U3 drive loaded with ThinkFree Portable. Overall I liked that ThinkFree looks and acts just like Micro$oft Office, but it lacks one major feature that is a deal-breaker for me: ability to open and save to the OpenDocument formats.

ThinkFree Office looks and acts just like Micro$oft Office, except it looks like it is being run on Windows 95 (see the screenshots at the bottom). I think this is done for a reason (because it runs on Java), but the look does detract from application.

Using ThinkFree I was able to open and edit Word documents, Excel spreadsheets, and PowerPoint presentations without any problem.

Something ThinkFree needs is support for the OpenDocument formats (.odt, .ods, and .odp). Many companies and individuals are trying to get away from vendor lock-in, so they will always have the ability to open their documents, no matter if Micro$oft still supports its old formats.

Myself, I have been using OpenOffice.org this entire school year and I’ve been saving all of my papers in the .odt format. ThinkFree cannot open these files, which has been a major pain for me testing this out. Google Docs and Spreadsheets supports the OpenDocument formats (see here), which makes Google Docs a ThinkFree killer.

Also, ThinkFree Online does not support the OpenDocument formats.

Overall, I really liked ThinkFree Office. I especially like the ease-of-use, since all of the menus and dialog windows were just like the ones in Micro$oft Office. But ThinkFree Office (both the Portable and Online versions) does not support open formats, and that is a deal breaker for me, as I would always like to have the ability to open my documents, no matter how old the documents’ format.

Here’s some shots of the ThinkFree Office 3 Portable (click to expand the thumbnails):

ThinkFree Write
ThinkFree Write

ThinkFree Calc
ThinkFree Calc

ThinkFree Show
ThinkFree Show

ThinkFree’s Options Dialog
ThinkFree’s Options Dialog

Disclaimer: ThinkFree and IT|Redux sent me a U3 USB drive with ThinkFree Portable and a license to write this review.

*Update – 9pm, May 21* A member of the ThinkFree team has sent me this statement regarding ODF support: “As for ODF support – ThinkFree Online will support ODF within the next few months or so. This will make its way into the rest of the product lines in the second half of the year.”

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