Archive for August, 2006

X1 desktop search saves my butt…

August 31, 2006

…yet again…

OK, I suppose I’m into blogging about old tools at the moment, but what the heck.

The free X1 Enterprise Client (formerly X1 Desktop Search), the same engine that powers Yahoo Desktop Search, is a variant of something I used when it first came out, but then abandoned, for reasons I cannot remember. I think the problem was that it only indexed 90% of my emails, which I found too frustrating.

Well, I wasted a lot time trawling around for a very important old email. (I keep a lot of emails archived, as I’ve blogged before). Even with all the other great tools out there now, I don’t feel like giving up any more information to Google, Microsoft and Yahoo (not sure why: they now know more about me than I do myself). So instead, I (re)visited X1, installed it, and, even though at the time of writing it’s only indexed 37% of my Outlook archive, I impatiently typed in the stuff I was looking for. Two words did the trick (the recipient’s first name and ONE WORD of content). Presto-mundo. 19 instant hits, of which only 1 had an attachment… the very one I needed… buried deep in some impenetrable .pst Outlook archive I had stashed away… when was it?… oh yeah, August 2003 – 3 years ago. The actual date was not even close to what I had been guessing about and looking through hopelessly.

Great. I used to tell my colleagues “run, don’t walk, to X1”. Now I’ll say the same again. Other tools may be better/faster/cheaper, but (frankly) how is that possible? It’s free, and “fast-as-you-type”, and I’m a fanatical touch-typist! Get it. Immediately, if not sooner.

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Pandora vs Last.FM (and MySpace)

August 30, 2006

Excerpts from a nice comparative intro by Steve Krause

“Both services allow you to specify a favorite artist, based on which you immediately receive an Internet audio stream of similar music.

Pandora’s recommendations are based on the inherent qualities of the music. Give Pandora an artist or song, and it will find similar music in terms of melody, harmony, lyrics, orchestration, vocal character and so on. Pandora likes to call these musical attributes “genes” and its database of songs, classified against hundreds of such attributes, the “Music Genome Project.”

… is a social recommender. It knows little about songs’ inherent qualities. It just assumes that if you and a group of other people enjoy many of the same artists, you will probably enjoy other artists popular with that group.”

[Steve goes on to talk about the pros and cons of both in a nicely-considered fashion]…

Personally, I love the Last.FM idea, but in practice, which may also be an artifact of the firewall setup I have at work, Pandora was up and running and playing good songs about 10x more quickly (= instantly). With Pandora, I just went to the URL, typed in the artist, and was listening immediately. With Last.FM, I needed a 3-click download (didn’t I do this before? can’t remember), a 7-step configure (didn’t I do this before? can’t remember), a firewall clearance dialog, a proxy configuration (didn’t I do this before? can’t remember)… and… well, you get the idea. I’ve listened to 8 tracks on Pandora *WHILE* I’m fiddling with my Last.FM setup. OK, I’m impatient… Also I have a SliMP3/Squeezebox at home (see my older blog comments about it in 2004 and 2003), so have a slight bias towards the Pandora/Squeezebox alliance. Sure, there are some ads in the free version of Pandora, but I’ll see how it goes. Right now, I’m enjoying it immensely. (Thanks to Anthony Seminara for bringing Pandora (back) to my attention).

On the social side, I should note that I’ve also found some great music by accident just by following some friend-of-friends links on MySpace! Although the look and feel of MySpace is something that seriously annoyed me (must be showing my age), when I was advised to consider it in light of music sharing and promotion, that totally altered my opinion of it!

Hmmm… looking up my old SliMP3 commentary I noted this remark I made two years ago:

I’m relishing the total elimination of the CD from my life. In essence, when I want convenience, access, large storage, quality, portability, then high-bitrate MP3 fits the purpose very well: that’s my infinite jukebox. When I want ownership, warmth, liner notes I can read and enjoy without a magnifying glass, 30 minutes of audio pleasure and relaxation, then give me a vinyl Long-Playing record every time.

Well, the truth is that CDs creep in periodically… but I still hate ’em…


“Unfortunately, our music licenses force us to limit the number of songs you may skip each hour. If you want to hear something else, try creating another station starting with a different artist or song.”

Bah. Well, there’s always for ‘genre stations’…

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End of laptops on planes?

August 10, 2006

If you’re going to a conference and/or holiday and planning to bring your laptop, you’ll need to think twice about where to put it. You won’t be able to take it on as hand luggage for a while (see any UK news site as of this morning, e.g. BBC News – “Heathrow shut to incoming flights”)

Of course what you do depends on your own situation, but I personally would leave my laptop at home rather than entrust it to ‘checked-in luggage’ where you must assume either (a) moderately rough handling or (b) getting lost. I say ‘must’ because that’s the only safe assumption if you’ve got valuable stuff on it… you can wrap it very well, of course, (see my earlier Busted Tablet story for a sad image if you need any more warning) but now is a great time to think about storing all that crucial stuff elsewhere (or just emailing it to yourself on a Gmail account for instance), for easy access from your desination and/or on a USB keychain flash memory stick. Heck, I now keep all my key slide and demo info linked in my blog gutter on the right under Pages… Quick Demos just so that they’re always accessible from wherever I am.

Part of this stems from my presentation mantra: “No apologies” (during a presentation, that is). No apologies for text that is too hard to read, running over time, or for losing your presentation or even your gadgets. The audience does not care: you must not allow any of those to happen!

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Second Life Long Learning

August 7, 2006

Austin Tate, Director of the Artificial Intelligence Applications Institute at the University of Edinburgh, doesn’t email me very often, but when he does, I can guarantee that it’s worth paying attention to. Here’s something he sent me the other day, amalgamated (with his permission) from a few emails that he’s been sending out on this topic to his own department and colleagues. It’s a got a handful of very useful URLs, so simplest for me to quote and re-post as quoted below.

(note: the image on the right is reposted from one of the newsletters linked to in Austin’s email, the NMC Campus Observer, “New Audio Art Installation in Spohrer Center”.)

Here’s what Austin wrote:

…have you been watching what is happening with Second Life? NASA, BBC, Google and 50 Universities are using it I understand – along with quite a large socializing community worldwide.

Take a look at an example Educational group on 2L…

These are some of the Educational groups involved in that one…

If you already have second Life installed use the SLurl…

If not, you might want to try it on a machine that can cope with
reasonably powerful graphics.. it runs on Windows and Mac and a Linux
version is in alpha..

You can sign up for free to explore and try things out… though a
few in-sim currency units will prove useful… a referral URL from my
avatar in Second Life is

I can see many parallels here with when I first saw the web… its got LOTs of potential.. and is simply an example of many near-term and future massively on-line multi-person environments in which communities and relationships are being built.

I would also add that I think that collaboration methods such as limited “seat” streamed lectures, classrooms, questions and feedback will all be possible in these sorts of environments – and they have much in common with some of the systems you have showed us experimentally at the OU.

As a (former) early adopter of Asheron’s Call and other massively multiplayer gaming environments, and researcher/collaborator with Yanna Vogiazou on the augmented-reality urban multiplayer game CitiTag, not to mention the numerous in-house environments of ours that Austin mentions above, I thought I’d better check this out. [Yes, I know I am VERY late to the table with this one… it’s already very old news to many… ]

I never like MOOs and MUDs as learning environments in the ‘olden’ days, and don’t care for VR-based virtual classrooms (I’ll have to explain why in a subsequent posting). But I’m signing up for this, and will give it a whirl. Stay tuned…

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