Monthly Archives: September 2009


Foursquare is an online tool that tracks your movements through a city. By connecting you with friends and rewarding you for visiting new places, foursquare attempts to add some fun to being in the city. The first thing a user must do is create a profile on the website. This consists of a name, email address, and, most importantly, your cell phone number. By using this profile, you can make use of foursquare in two ways.

First, foursquare helps you connect with friends who may be near you in the city. By texting your whereabouts to the website, you are “checking-in.” By also keeping track of where your friends are “checking-in,” foursquare can alert you when you are close to each other. This is useful if you’re not on a schedule and would like to spontaneously meet up with friends.

Secondly, foursquare provides a competitive atmosphere in which to explore the city. Each time you go to a location of interest within the city, you notify foursquare and write a quick phrase detailing your visit. Every time you do this, your profile is awarded points. The website will soon be keeping track of point-leaders, crowning those who are the most active. Additionally, every listed location within the city is placed into a category such as “Restaurant” or “Park.” By accruing many visits to locations within a certain category you can earn a “badge” for it. These games essentially exist to incentivize exploring a city.

Currently, the site is operating in 21 major US cities as well as Vancouver and Amsterdam. The website relies on users to add locations to their index for each city. Overall, the site’s main draw is not the practical information it has regarding a city but rather the excitement it adds to being active. The most redeeming feature I found on the website was the ability to look up a location within a city and find comments and advice from people who had very recently been there. Despite seeming to be catered to young adults, it could also be a rewarding way to keep track of the things you do each day, kind of like an online diary.

Zoho Show

Zoho Show is a free, online tool that you can use to build and, uniquely, share a presentation. You start by registering and logging into their website, any google account works. The user interface of Zoho is nearly identical to Powerpoint, with the bulletin of slides on the left and the large editing space in the center. As such, you construct your presentation on Zoho much like you would on Powerpoint: in “slideshow” format. There are options to include media files as well as a wide array of aesthetic touches. You can change the background, add clip art, etc.

The main feature of interest for Zoho, however, is the option to share your presentation with multiple users online. This can be done in two ways. First, by using the “remote” tool, you send an email to others that includes a link to your presentation. Note: that means you’ll need everyone’s email address. When you start the presentation, they have the ability to log on view your slideshow in real time. You control the presentation, as you navigate through each slide. On your screen, you’ll see a box that lists the “participants” who are watching your slideshow. The website advertises that “any number” of participants can join in. If you want, there is an option that enables you to see your notes for each slide on your screen but hide them from your guests. Another neat aspect of this sharing is that everyone can chat in a box on the side during your presentation. If you want to start a private chat with a viewer, you can just click on their username. Once finished, you can disable the “remote” feature, thereby disconnecting everyone from your presentation.

The second way to share your presentation is by using the “share” tool. This allows you to invite other users to log into your presentation and view it at their own pace. Additionally, you can let them edit your presentation by granting them “write” privileges on the invitation.

Zoho shows can be saved as html files as well, which is useful if you’re presenting in a location without internet access. Also, there is a tool within the interface. to embed your show onto a website or blog. All presentations can also be exported as PDFs, which is useful for printing.

Omni Outline

Omni Outline is advertised as a program that enables you to organize ideas and information, and that’s essentially what it does. The interface for the program is literally an outline, much like it would appear in bullet format in a word processing document. Each heading in the outline can be clicked on and expanded to add body materials to your project or presentation. By building a hierarchy of headings and content, Omni Outline can organize your presentation based on the level of the material (i.e. chapters, then pages, then paragraphs). This is useful if you’re dealing with broad topics for which you want to divide and conquer.

While all of the bullet headings are text, you can include media files underneath the headings in the content spaces. The tutorials showed that just about every media file is compatible with the program, such as video, audio, images, website links etc. The process for embedding a file is as simple as dragging and dropping it into the content space. However, be careful if you’re embedding too many heavy files; space is limited. It may be better to link your material.

The entire process of building your Omni Outline occurs offline, however there is an option to export your final product to the Internet. By saving it as an html file, you can publish it on a website. You can save the project in a variety of other forms as well, such as a template or keynote file.

Note that there are two versions of the program, Standard and Pro. The latter costs almost twice as much but has a few important upgrades. In the Pro version, you can record your words using a microphone and implant the track as an audio note. Also, you can save a presentation as a generic template within the program to use as a starting point for future projects. Additionally, the Pro version allows you to write or add plug-ins from other users. Their website has a page of “Extras,” useful plug-ins built by other users.

Overall, this program is a basic aggregator of stuff you want to throw into a presentation; all the content comes from you and gets organized in a non-glitzy manner.

SOUNDWALK audio tours

Soundwalk is a new media company based in New York that produces audio walking tours of various locations throughout the world. The tours, of such places as Ground Zero in Manhattan and the Lourve in Paris, are narrated by notable individuals and include a variety of audio sources. To experience a “soundwalk,” a customer purchases the MP3 of the tour on the company website. Each tour costs $12. Also available on the website is a map of the stops of the tour, including the starting point. These maps can be downloaded as pdfs and printed, and they also recommend what part of the day is best for each tour. After loading the audio file onto an MP3 player (like an ipod), he or she can travel to the starting location and begin the guided tour. The narrator instructs the listener where to go next, just like a tour guide. From what I previewed, most tours last about 45 minutes to an hour and include a considerable amount of walking.

Currently, Soundwalk has about 25 of these tours produced and available for purchase on their website. Most of the tours are in New York City, France, and China. The subjects of the tours range from museums to neighborhoods such as Chinatown or Little Italy. Each of the tours is made unique by having a different narrator. For example, the tour of Ground Zero is narrated by New York author Paul Auster. For a person going for a walk in the city, this can be a serious alternative to other means of touring.

Of course, however, to take part in these walks, you need to be able to get yourself to Hong Kong or Brooklyn or the Lourve; certainly not the easiest task in the world. Also remember, they’re not free.

[[Semantic Web in::the University]]

Testing out Semantic MediaWiki, I'm reminded of the Borges story of the king who orders a cartographer to make the most precise map of his kingdom possible. The cartographer makes a map that is the same size and scale as the kingdom, carpeting the country with an exact copy. With Semantic MediaWiki, it's easy to get carried away with making a sprawling replica of the real world.

How to use Semantic MediaWiki

Part of the reason for this is that using Semantic MediaWiki is fairly easy. If you have experience with HTML or the MediaWiki syntax, it's even easier, but even beginners could begin building articles with SMW after a few minutes of explanation. The format of [[property name::property value]] is easy to get used to, and only a few more variations in syntax would be necessary for a first-time user.

For instance, here is the code for a small page about Chicago.

Chicago is an [[Country::America|American]] city in the [[Region::Midwest]]. Its residents include [[resident::Simon Swartzman]], [[resident::Daniel Swartzman]], [[resident::Arlene Swartzman]], [[resident::Sasha Swartzman]], and [[resident::Sam Swartzman]]. It is in [[state::Illinois]].

And the text it produces:

Chicago is an American city in the Midwest. Its residents include Simon Swartzman, Daniel Swartzman, Arlene Swartzman, Sasha Swartzman, and Sam Swartzman. It is in Illinois.

What's so special about Semantic MediaWiki is not so much that I can create pages like this, with links that are more descriptive than links in Wikipedia. The most robust feature of Semantic MediaWiki is what I can do with these linked properties. For instance, I can create a dynamically queried table based upon these properties. The benefit of these tables being created on the fly is that information doesn't have to be repeated across a wiki in multiple places. Continue reading

DEVONthink: This is your brain on RAM

icondevonthinkprgDEVONthink is a robust aggregator that will take everything you've every file you've ever owned and put it one, easy to organize system. (Well, maybe not every file. I've tried a bunch of different files, and the so far only some less common filetypes like Final Cut Pro projects or Garage Band files won't work.)

You might be thinking, "Well, that sounds a lot like what I use Windows or Mac OSX for. How is this any different?" The difference is centralization. Your operating system has its own file system (Finder in Mac, Explorer in Windows) that can help you sort through files, find a file, and open that file in some assigned program like Microsoft Word or Adobe Reader.

With DEVONthink, you essentially have certain parts of your file system in its own seperate operating system. Within one window, you can search through files, read and edit documents, watch videos, visit URL bookmarks, read email, read full webpages downloaded to your computer, manage a to-do list and more. (You either have to import all of these files and bookmarks to DEVONthink--which means making a separate copy of the file--from Finder or Explorer, or you can use DEVONthink to make an index of files located elsewhere on your computer, like a high-tech card catalogue.) It doesn't do much that other programs don't already do, but it does help centralize and aggregate your information.

One thing that it does do which most other programs can't is the "See also" feature. In DEVONthink, you can navigate between files by clicking on folder icons, or you can let this feature figure out which other files or groups of files are contextually related to the file you're looking at right now. It does this by reading the keywords in a file and searching other files for those keywords. Considering how much work that sounds like, it is remarkably fast, probably faster than I could find the file (or remember which file to look for) on my own. It might even tell me about a connection that I may not have realized on my own.

The learning curve on DEVONthink seems fairly steep, but there are online videos to help you get accustomed to the system, and, depending on how you plan to use it, DEVONthink could be worth the time. Mindmapping and aggregation software like DEVONthink replace your brain's memory, and help to organize things in disparate (though never all that disparate) places on your hard drive. I could see DEVONthink being really useful for a dedicated user with a lot to remember, jumping from file to file quickly, such as an academic analyzing lots of data or documents for their research. Software can bring ideas closer together, but it can never fully connect them. DEVONthink can't create those creative links between ideas, but it can help you find those links more easily.

Powering Up PowerPoint with YouTube

I came across this slick PowerPoint add-on (Windows only) called YouTube Video Wizard (YTV). It allows users to play YouTube clips in a slide by basically copying and pasting a YouTube link. After installing the add-on, a new icon appears on the tool bar called "YouTube Video". When pressed, a four-step wizard initiates guiding the user on how to embed the YouTube clip. The steps are as follows:

  1. Paste a YouTube URL into the provided field.
  2. Select play options and how it should be formatted on the slide, e.g., show all, no borders, exact fit or do not scale the movie.
  3. Set the video size using the percentage field (50% is the default) and the position of the clip on the slide.
  4. Confirmation that the clip was found and embedded.

The one gotcha is that the clips are streaming from the YouTube server, so it is imperative to have an internet connection.

The add-on can be downloaded here: