Tuesday, September 28, 2010

2 Butt-Saving SaaS Keystrokes You Need to Know to Avoid Losing Your Online Work

If you use a computer in your work you have probably noticed that more and more of your time at the computer is spent with a SaaS, as in Software as a Service. And I bet there have been times when that SaaS has bitten you in the @ss...in other words, it has lost the work you were doing. This blog post offers a simple technique that enables you to recover when that happens, whether at work or at home.

The classic example of a business SaaS is Salesforce.com, widely used for the important task of tracking the people with whom you do business. You don't install the Salesforce software on your computer you connect with it through a web browser. The same is true of Google Docs. This is software that lets you do word processing and create spreadsheets and presentations, but it "lives" on Google computers, not your computer.

In fact, blogs like this one are also SaaS. The software that lets me edit and present this blog post is on a Google computer and I operate that computer via a web browser. Even Facebook and Twitter can be considered examples of SaaS, particularly when it comes to trashing your work. What do I mean by that? Here's a scenario to which many can relate:

You spend time crafting a paragraph of words that are being typed into a text box in a web browser. You then click Save or Send or Submit or Update, whatever the button is called for that particular page. And nothing happens, or something happens but it's not good, the page reloads and your carefully crafted paragraph of words has disappeared. Sometimes there is an error displayed, like "Server Error" or "Authentication Failed" or the polite but infuriating: "Sorry, we cannot complete your request at this time." The point is, polite as the site might be, it has lost your work.

So how do you recover from this? I make it a habit to use two keystrokes right before I click Save. These keystrokes are: Ctrl-A and Ctrl-C in Windows; Apple-A and Apple-C on a Mac. These two keystrokes select All the contents of the text entry box and Copy them to the Clipboard, that slice of computer memory you use to copy things from one place to another. Then, if the SaaS that I am using somehow loses the contents that I just asked it to Save, I still have them, preserved in the Clipboard.

I have a second, more advanced strategy for serious work with a SaaS. If I am editing a particularly long piece of text, maybe a major blog post, I use Ctrl-A followed by Ctrl-C, as above, then I switch to an open document file that is local--for example Notepad or TextMate or even OpenOffice Writer--and press Ctrl-V. That pastes the contents of the Clipboard into a document that is independent of the web browser. If the SaaS crashes I still have my work. I could take that a step further and press Ctrl-S for Save after pasting into the document. That enables the work to survive a computer crash, should the SaaS behave really badly.

The whole process can be carried out very quickly, particularly if you are comfortable with the Tab commands for switching applications. So on a Windows machine where you have Firefox and OpenOffice Writer running it would go like this:

Ctrl-A, Ctrl-C while editing the SaaS text box in Firefox
Alt-Tab to switch to OpenOffice
Ctrl-V and Ctrl-S to paste the text and save it.
Alt-Tab to return to the SaaS in Firefox
Execute Save/Submit command in the SaaS

If you are using a Mac the sequence is the same but the keys are even easier:

Apple-A, Apple-C while editing the SaaS text box in Firefox
Apple-Tab to switch to OpenOffice
Apple-V and Apple-S to paste the text and save it.
Apple-Tab to return to the SaaS in Firefox
Execute Save/Submit command in the SaaS

Having lost more typing than I care to remember due to browser-based applications failing to save as instructed, these preventative keystrokes are second nature to me. When the work is a series of paragraphs I may save to the clipboard as I go. BTW, as an added bonus, saving to a local document file is a handy way to keep a record of your work (for example, I write a lot of comments on blog posts and some blogs just seem to lose them or fail to approve them, casting my well-chosen words into the ether, but I have a record of them in my local files).

The risks to your SaaS are not all equal. Some applications that involve extensive text entry perform periodic auto-saving (in the case of Google Docs I find the auto-save is actually too frequent). And a lot of work in programs like Salesforce consists of small pieces of data entered in a series of fields or indicated by radio buttons or checkboxes. These tend to be saved more reliably. It is in places like a "Comments" or "Notes" section that you can spend a lot of time getting your words right only to find you have to write them all over again (unless you used the preventative keystrokes described above).

Thursday, June 17, 2010

AT&T Apple iPhone 4 Launch More Proof Big Companies Mess Up Big

Tried to pre-order an Apple iPhone 4 lately? I just went to the AT&T web site which proudly proclaims "iPhone 4 This changes everything. Again." Apparently it does not change the tradition of Apple messing up product launches and AT&T failing to deliver on its promises. There's a big button that says "Pre-order Now" but when you click it, you find you can't (the message is "Pre-orders for iPhone temporarily suspended").

Monday, May 3, 2010

Facebook Tool Might Help With Privacy Settings and Awareness

Using Facebook means sharing personal information with at least some people, but Facebook sometimes makes changes to the way sharing works. Knowing exactly what you share and with whom can be hard to figure out. And at least some of your information is visible to everyone, even people who don't use Facebook, thanks to something called the Graph API. Confused? Fortunately, someone created a web tool that shows you what the Graph API reveals. Here's a sample of my Facebook information, as revealed by this tool:

How revealing is this? In one sense it is no revelation at all. It's no secret that I like Stagecoach Coffee. I've blogged about their great French Toast more than once. But in this screen shot I cropped the full report which shows I like a lot more than just these three things. Frankly, I was not aware that people who are not "on" Facebook could see this information and I am probably not the only person sharing this false assumption.

There are some potentially serious implications. What if you "like" something that is not liked by your boss or perhaps a prospective employer? Maybe you like the idea of legalizing marijuana. Some people could read that the wrong way. "Like" is the new Facebook term for "Fan" and maybe, perhaps a few years ago, you "fanned" some crazy stuff. Do you even remember all the things you fanned? (I had totally forgotten some of my likes).

So, my hat is off to Ka-Ping Yee, the Google.org software engineer and UC Berkeley graduate who created this little application that could have some big implications. (In that sense, he's a good example of a "white hat hacker," a gifted technologist who has shown us some of the pitfalls of a particular technology.) For example, thanks to Graph API you can check out people on Facebook without being logged into Facebook. You can just plug in their Facebook ID and look around. You can even enter random names and ID numbers. Some information is protected by privacy settings, some is not. And the reports that Ka-Ping Yee's web page displays contain live links (e.g. the report above shows a live link to the Stagecoach Coffee page) so you can just click your way from one piece of data to the next.

All of which is a little worrying when you factor in something I have blogged elsewhere, namely Facebook's founder Marc Zuckergerg's alleged indifference towards privacy. The various privacy missteps that Facebook has taken since its inception, and the difficulty many users have trying to keep up with changes to the way Facebook handles privacy settings, tend to add credence to the claim that Mr. Zuckerberg does not care about privacy. Consider what happens when you want to change your privacy settings.

Facebook makes you go through a two-step process if you want the most private of settings. When you want something to be visible to Everyone or Friends of Friends all you need is to select from a pull down list. But making something visible only to yourself is not visible as an option. You have to go through an extra step and choose Customize to see that choice.

That suggests the interface designers are not keen for you to get restrictive with your privacy. Of course, it could be a simple design flaw, but Facebook users are likely to be sensitive to such things these days, particularly when they learn that none of the settings can hide your "likes" from the Graph API and the outside world.

(If I have this wrong, please leave me a comment and let me know. I changed the privacy setting for "Things I Like" to "Only me" but they are still visible to the Graph API, as seen here: http://zesty.ca/facebook/#/stcobb/likes.)

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Mac Mini RAM Upgrade Tips

I just upgraded the RAM on my Mac Mini and it has made a big difference to performance so I figured I would share some tips on this type of upgrade. (So many people share helpful information on the Web I've been feeling guilty that I have not done more sharing myself, so hopefully this will help make amends.)

Ironically enough, my first tip is to watch someone else's video of how to do a Mac Mini RAM and hard drive upgrade (it may make sense to do both upgrades at once--you have to take the thing apart in both cases, pun intended--but you don't have to do both, the video is helpful either way). This is the best video I saw during a fairly extensive review of what is out there. You can find it here on Vimeo.

I suggest you watch the video and, if you still feel like going forward with an upgrade, consider the tips I have written up here before you start (unfortunately, hardware can be more difficult to work with than it appears in such videos).

My second tip comes after you separate the outer case from the innards: Get a magnetic to use with your screwdriver. I use a magnetic hook. You attach the magnet to the metal shaft of the screwdriver so it will pull the screw out of the hole when I lift the screwdriver (helps to keep screws getting lost inside the case or on the floor). (These magnetic hooks are Neodymium and coated with soft plastic so they don't scratch. They have a holding power of about 9 pounds and I use them for hanging up key rings. You can order them here.)

Third tip is to mark the corner that requires a screw that is longer than the other three. I marked this on the optical drive cover with a thin Sharpie.

My fourth tip concerns removal of the 2-wire power connector as shown in the video. Do this very carefully, prying the black connector out of the socket. do NOT pull on the wires as they may be brittle (I ended up breaking one and fixing it was a pain). I think the key to getting this one right is using good lighting and possibly a magnifying glass.

Next up is the pulling the drive unit out of the innards, so to speak. You need to do this with care because there is a ribbon cable that wires the drive unit to the innards and it must not be strained or disconnected.

Complicating matters is an edge connector that must be pulled out, which means you do need some force to get the two parts apart. Then you will need to support the drive unit while you perform your RAM upgrade. The video glosses over this but the solution is very simple, just place the outer case under the drive unit.

Here you can see the drive unit on the case with the innards exposed ready to proceed. But first, I suggest you carefully place the whole thing on a tray of some kind and take it some place you can blow off the dust with an air can (or suck off the dust if you have a computer vacuum).

What looks like mold growing on the unit in the picture is dust. The fan unit is likely to be full of dust as well. Blow this out carefully, in a well-ventilated area. No point opening the case without performing this bit of preventive maintenance (Mac Minis are known for being super quiet but mine had started to make some noise--this cleanup returned it to quiet mode).

The video has good instructions on changing the RAM. My machine had two 512 megabyte memory cards and I simply replaced the top one with a 2 gigabyte card. This gives me 2.5 gigabytes total and seems to make the Mac Mini work a lot better (programs load faster than I'm not getting so many delays when running multiple programs at once).

Final tips concern re-assembly. Be careful that you thread the BlueTooth antenna cable the right way or it could get pinched. Also make sure that the wires crossing the ribbon cable do so neatly, within the fold of the cable. Finally, as recommended in the video, test things before you put the outer case back on. This has been a habit of mine from my earliest days making PCs out of cloned motherboards. The cover doesn't go on until everything checks out, otherwise you jinx things!

Well, that about does it. One final tip is to make sure you have access to the video while doing this. I downloaded it to my Windows laptop so I could watch it while the Mac was in pieces. Good luck with your upgrade!

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Technology for Haiti's Recovery: OLPC reaches out to G1G1 supporters

If you've been reading this blog for years (and some people have, seriously) then you may recall how excited I was when the One Laptop Per Child program starting shipping its cool XO machines to developing countries. Back at the end of 2007 my wife and I participated in the Give One, Get One program which resulted in tens of thousands of XO laptops being donated to places like Rwanda, Ethiopia, Mongolia, and Cambodia.

Referred to as G1G1, program participants paid for the purchase of two XO machines, one of which was donated, the other sent to us for exploration, edification, etc.

Well, after the earthquake in Haiti, OLPC put out a call to all G1G1 supporters to ask for any unused XO machines to be donated to Haiti. Below is the email sent by Nicholas Negroponte, the OLPC movement's founder and driving force. Obviously Mr. Negroponte knows geeks pretty well. We were excited to get our laptop. We checked out the software and began to experiment with it, but then real life got in the way and "Do stuff with the XO" moved down the things-to-do list. I suspect many G1G1 supporters can relate to that. So, we are sending our XO to Haiti, per the instructions in the email, happy to think that in some small way this will help with the rebuilding of the country and the shaping of its future.

I am blogging this and including the email because I know something about geeks as well. Some of use go through email addresses like...hmmm...words fail me here...but my point is, you might not be getting email from the address you supplied when you participated in G1G1 program. And you might have missed this:

Dear G1G1er,

At the end of 2007 you participated in the Give One Get One program of One Laptop per Child (OLPC). Thanks to you and others like you, 75,000 laptops went to Rwanda, Ethiopia, Mongolia, Cambodia, Oceania, the West Bank, and Haiti.

An additional 75,000 laptops came into the USA as part of the "get" side of the equation. In some cases those laptops have since been put into closets for one reason or another.

We are gathering additional used XO laptops to send to Haiti. If you or the child to whom you gave the laptop is no longer using it, we appeal again to your generosity and ask you to send it to the address below (even if it is broken).

615 Westport Parkway #500
Grapevine, TX 76051

75% of the schools in Port-au-Prince have been destroyed in the recent earthquake, but by good fortune, none of our Haitian team was hurt. They have spare parts and OLPC technical staff and teachers, and stand prepared to deploy these XOs.

Because of the XO's unique features (sunlight readability, solar powered, water resistant, drop proof), it is also an ideal tool for relief work. If your XO is in use, please ignore this email. We only want your broken or unused XOs.


Nicholas Negroponte

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Neat Facebook Fan Hack

Not really a hack, more a clever strategy, the point of which is to hide certain information on Facebook until a person "fans" your page.

From the John Haydon blog. Will be trying this out soon on Facebook pages I run for Dare Not Walk Alone and Fighting Hemochromatosis.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Happy New Year!

Wishing everyone a great 2010. May none of your technology fail after the warranty period ends.