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Surfing the Google Wave

Original image courtesy of Squidoo.com... with apologies We’ve spent a week getting to know Google Wave using Chrome along with 100,000 of our closest friends. We wanted to give you a status report. Hype aside, Google Wave is an incredible tool when used for the right purpose. If you’ve been asleep or hiding under a rock for the past two weeks and missed the party, here’s a quick summary of Google’s latest invention. It’s a bird, it’s a plane… actually it’s a collaboration and communications platform that brings the full richness of Web 2.0 to your desktop. Some have suggested that it’s what email would look like if it were invented today. Our discussion focuses on the web-based Wave client, but Google Wave also is an open source development toolkit, and we’ll get to that one day soon.

Much has been written about Google Wave’s capabilities, and we won’t repeat that here. Instead, we want to address Google Wave’s potential and what we see as some of the present shortcomings of the product. We fully appreciate that this is a preview, and many of our concerns may yet be addressed before Google Wave becomes available to the general public. We can’t help chuckling at the realization that, in less than 30 years, we’ve now come full circle in data processing. What began as mainframe computing evolved into personal computing. And now Google Wave brings us much closer to being back where we started except for a state-of-the-art user interface and a new name: Cloud Computing. If IBM had addressed the user interface issues with mainframe computing, they probably never would have lost their market in the first place.

The screenshot above really can’t do justice to the richness of the client interface because you truly need a monitor as wide as your desk to get the most out of Google Wave. No, you won’t be using this on your cellphone or PDA… at least not well. For openers, Google Wave provides real-time collaboration so you actually see folks typing into various message threads (called waves) in the Land of Google. When you create a new wave, you "invite" other people in your Contacts to the wave. This puts the wave at the top of their Inbox in bold-faced type, akin to what Gmail would do with an incoming email.

There’s another frame to the right of your Inbox which actually displays the complete wave that you have selected so you’re never really jumping back and forth between selecting waves and reading them. What takes a bit of getting used to is the fact that both your Inbox and the wave you are currently reading may be changing every second with input from literally dozens of your associates or strangers if the wave you’re reading happened to be designated as public.

There’s one other dramatic difference in waves and threads of email messages. Other folks can change your stuff. As a collaboration tool with close associates, this might be desirable. With public waves, it would be a nightmare in the real world. And we don’t consider the 100,000 Google Wave previewers the real world. They are for the most part well-behaved probably out of fear that they’d be booted out if they behaved badly. That isn’t the real world as we all know. And the current Google Wave design would let a single creep destroy virtually every public wave in minutes using bots and malicious changes to documents. As presently designed, there would be little recourse other than replaying what your wave used to look like. You really can’t put Humpty back together again as some have already discovered.

Richard Nixon learned the hard way that tape recorders can be a blessing and a curse. Much has been made of the capability Google Wave offers to replay a wave so that you can playback the development of a thread of messages and see who added or deleted what and when. Google has touted the fact that everything is preserved. Well, not quite. First, there’s no capability at least presently to scroll back to a certain place in the timeline and recreate a new wave up to there. The most you can retrieve is a single posting. Second, anybody with access to the wave can use this timeline feature so wave restoration wouldn’t necessarily be desirable unless it were restricted to the original author of the wave. And, third, at least at Google someone knows how to cheat the system and delete stuff from the timeline. We only discovered this in reviewing the first public porn wave which started out prim and proper enough but quickly gathered steam when someone posted a collection of NSFW (or anywhere else) photos from their favorite collection. Within a few minutes, the postings quietly disappeared. Being the careful reviewer that we are, we immediately reached for the Playback button to check the history of the wave. Sure enough, the raunchy photos were still there. But, by the next morning, they had completely vanished from the chronology. So much for the official stance that nothing ever disappears. The real disappointment with the replay function is the lack of any capability to restore an entire wave. Because only individual messages (known as blips) can be recovered, this would prove to be next to worthless in a complex wave with hundreds of postings.

That brings us to the issue of whether public waves really make sense given the world in which we live. The good news is it works much better than IRC because of the richness of the content with attachments and hyperlinks. But, at least for public waves, the ability to edit someone else’s stuff would have to go. We try not to focus on legal nightmares in reviewing new software, but one can’t help wondering what would happen if one were to post something complimentary about a neighbor in a public wave and then another neighbor altered your posting by falsely accusing the individual of sleeping around with half of the neighborhood. Obviously, there’s still a good bit of work to do on the security front and in deciding whether allowing others to amend someone else’s postings is a good idea. Whether Google gets the security piece right will ultimately determine the success of Google Wave.

For public waves, it’s a no-brainer. You just can’t! And, to be honest, in reviewing hundreds of public waves in the preview, we can’t recall a single instance where this functionality would have been necessary. In a true (private) collaborative project, it would be wonderful but color-coding of text or some other method of identifying who wrote what would be absolutely essential from both a practical and legal standpoint. Both Microsoft Word and WordPerfect have had this capability forever. The simple way in Google Wave would be to add user’s pictures with a colored border and matching colored text whenever they make changes to someone else’s posting. With this addition, Google Wave could become a wonderful collaborative tool in both legal and technical environments.

And, speaking of word processing, Google Wave falls a bit short on the word processing scale. Despite the richness of Google’s knol platform, some of that functionality still is not available in Google Wave. The text editing and formatting is much akin to what’s available in a typical email client. You can change fonts, adjust color, indent, add hyperlinks and images, but that’s about as far as it goes. There are no headers, footers, footnotes, etc. So you can’t easily transform a wave into a formatted document for printing at this juncture. But that may come as development continues.

There are a few other things still on our Wish List. First, we’d love for Google Wave to evolve into a tool that can replace today’s forums which are not much more functional than BBS software was two decades ago. Once there is administrator control of rollback and protection of waves by granular access rights to functions, bots, and gadgets as well as the ability to block users and ranges of IP addresses, this should happen. Second, we obviously want the ability to include either read-only or read-write access to waves in a blog or web site. We already have the web site functionality working (see below for a sample), but you currently need a Google Wave account to access it. Third, we really want to assimilate all of the tools we use into the Google Wave Desktop so that everything is accessible in one place. That’s what Cloud Computing is all about, and Google Wave comes closer than anything else in meeting that need. You already can access Gmail on your Google Wave desktop and any web site that can be framed can be included in a wave as an iFrame. That doesn’t leave much once the security feature set is in place to protect all the components.

Finally, we’ll close with a brief mention of the coolest feature of Google Wave. That is its expandability which is enabled by incorporating bots and gadgets into any wave. As you might imagine, these extensions can do almost anything… good or bad. Here’s a short list of what has been developed and what’s already on the radar in just a few short weeks:

Eliza – ogenex@appspot.com – An implementation of the Eliza chatbot borrowed from the NLTK.
Elize – elizarobot@appspot.com – Is one of the first robots that was created by non Googler and is very useful if you are feeling alone in your Google Wave client.
Rude chatbot – notatory@appspot.com – An obnoxious chatbot borrowed from the Natural Language Processing Toolkit.
TooAngel Wave – In Progress – tooangel-wave@appspot.com – A self learning robot, that will respond to a reply in a more humanoid way

BotURL – boturl@appspot.com – A URL Linker that replaces full URLs with hyperlinks.
Calcbot – calcbot@appspot.com – This bot will do in place calculations for simple mathematical expressions and allow you to use user defined variables.
Cartoony – cartoonybot@appspot.com – Replaces the text of every submitted blip with a cartoon balloon that contains the text instead. Colors the balloons based on username.
Dice Bot – dice-bot@appspot.com – Dice-rolling bot. Dice Bot will replace XdY (X is the number of dice; Y is the number of sides) with the results of those rolls.
Flippy – flippy-wave@appspot.com – Turns text upside-down.
Fnordlinky – fnordlinks@appspot.com – Replaces "PMID <number>" with article information from PubMed.
Hearty Emobot – hearty-emobot@appspot.com – Replaces ASCII art with wingding characters.
i-cron – i-cron@appspot.com – Evaluates Python expressions. Looks at blips in event, searches for CALC() macros and executes Python code using exec().
Insulty – megabytemb123@appspot.com – Information Needed
IPA Bot – ipa-bot@appspot.com – Changes normal letters into special characters used for phonetics.
– piratify@appspot.com – Turns whatever you type into "Pirate Speak" .. Arrrr.
Plotzie – plotzie@appspot.com – Plots sparklines from your data.
Shortee – Wish – Change “c u l8r” to “see you later” etc.
Swedish Chef – borkforceone@appspot.com – Changes english into Swedish-Chef Speak. Bork! Bork!
Syntaxy – kasyntaxy@appspot.com – Syntaxy does blip-by-blip syntax highlighting for a variety of languages including Python, Java, C, C++, html, css and javascript.
Watexy – watexy@appspot.com – Use LaTeX mathematical language in your Waves!
Wikify – wikifier@appspot.com – Replaces specific marked up text with a link to Wikipedia or a description relevant to the marked text.

Hangman – wavehangman@appspot.com – Play Hangman.
Roshambo – roshambowave@appspot.com – Play Roshambo (Rock / Paper / Scissors).
Speedy – Wish – Track the words per minute of all participants, competitive typing!

Groupy – groupy-robot@appspot.com – Robot to manage groups.

drop.io – mikeswaverobot@appspot.com – Creates a drop and puts the info into the wave whenever the robot is added as a participant.
OpenAustralia – In Progress – A robot to allow interaction with the OpenAustralia web site.
PlonieBot – In Progress – ploniebot@appspot.com – Brings wave document editing capabilities to the Plone CMS
Poppy – In Progress – poppywave@appspot.com – Helps bridge Google Wave conversations to email users outside the Wave.
Rssybot – rssybot@appspot.com – Turn google wave into an RSS reader!
Starify – starifybot@appspot.com – Lets you star waves, in sort of bookmarking style.
Tweety the Twitbot – tweety-wave@appspot.com – You can access your Twitter account.
Twiliobot – twiliobot@appspot.com – Transforms phone numbers into click-to-call links. If user clicks a link, a call is placed to his phone and to the number in the link. The call can be transcribed and inserted into the wave as text with a link to the audio.
Wave-Email – In Progress – wave-email@appspot.com – Provide an extension to Google Wave which will allow the integration of both sending and receiving emails.
Wave Live Messenger – wavelivemessenger@appspot.com – Allows you to chat to your windows live messenger contacts from inside a wave.

PhilBot – Wish – A suggested solution to the problem of waves with languages you can’t read.
Rosy Etta – rosy@wavesandbox.com – Translator (40 Languages).

Polly the Pollster – polly-wave@appspot.com – Poll Bot.

Search / Aggregation
Dr Maps – dr-maps@appspot.com – Updates a wave by inserting a map associated to an address.
Dr Weather – shiny-sky@appspot.com – Gives the weather for a City
Embedded Search Results – wave-sandbox@appspot.com – Web and Image searches inline.
FML Blipper – fmlblipper@appspot.com – displays random FML story from www.fmylife.com
Grauniady – grauniady@appspot.com – Searches the latest items from The Guardian for a given phrase.
Stocky – stocky-wave@appspot.com – Detects stock symbols from a wave and updates it with the live stock price.
Wavethingy – wavethingy@appspot.com – Searches Amazon for DVDs and books, and gives the author a cut of any purchases made off the links.
Yelpy – yelpful@appspot.com – Searches Yelp with a user defined location and category.

AmazonBot – amazon-withwaves-com@appspot.com – Enables social product research and shopping on Amazon.com. Wave participants can share products & reviews with contacts in real-time thanks to automatic queries by the AmazonBot against conversation keywords. The AmazonBot gadget can detect products and return inline product links or a custom full product browser.
– blog-wave@appspot.com – Information Needed
Bit.ly Bot – bitly-bot@appspot.com – Shortens the url using bitly.
Botty – Wish – Will automatically add a set of useful bots to a wave according to a collection of bots (so they don’t have to individually be added when you use them all the time.
CountColon – countcolon@appspot.com – Adds text statistics to your blips (words, lines, etc.)
Companion Sphere – companionsphere@appspot.com – Collection of geek utils, first working verb is "lookup" for wikipedia/wiktionary one-line descriptions.
Databot – Wish – Will start as soon as the GData interface is published.
Emoticony – emoticonbot@appspot.com – Replaces text representations of emoticons with the relevant image.
JBREAKOUT – jbreakout@appspot.com – Debug utility that reports event triggers.
Maison – maison@appspot.com – Makes blips public at http://maison.appspot.com.
Multi – multi-wave@appspot.com – A quote collector. Reply a blip you want to quote with ‘quote this’ and randomly display a quote with ‘quote <wave @account.com>’. The bot is still being under development but you can try playing with it.
Natural Language Processing – knowledge-books@appspot.com – Adds blips with NLP analysis.
Nokar – lab2market@appspot.com – Has many features such as translations, image insertion, insert last tweets etc.
Posterous – posterous-robot@appspot.com – A robot for posterous.com user to post blog in Google Wave. Here is how to write a blog using Google Wave Robot for Posterous.
Publisher – wave-publisher@appspot.com – Information Needed
Skimmy – wave-skimmy@appspot.com – Converts text emoticons, from : ) to img. Has a bookmarklet which creates a popup menu to insert emoticons for which the code is unknown.
Smiley – smiley-bot@appspot.com – Changes the smiley symbols to smiley images.
Smiley – In Progress – smiley-robot@appspot.com – Changes the smiley symbols to smiley images.
Style Chart – stylechart@appspot.com – Inserts a chart into a wave.

Wave Management
Bouncy – bouncy-wave@appspot.com – Allows you to remove robots from a wave. Doesn’t seem to work on real people though, and laughs if you try to ask it to kick itself out. To get it to kick a bot out, type "bounce:name@domain.com"
Linear – Wish – Enforce all replies to be to the main wave. If a user replies to a reply, remove it and place it as a reply to the main wavelet.
Read Onlie – readonliebot@appspot.com – Records the original wave content. Whenever it’s edited, the content is replaced with the original. Simple as that.
Seekdroid – seekdroid@appspot.com – You can list Robots, add them and find them out, easy to use. In continuous development. Website with all the information seekdroid.appspot.com.
Sweepy – sweepy-wave@appspot.com – Remove empty, whitespace-only blips.
Taggy – taggy-wave@appspot.com – Recognize #hashtags and add them as tags to the wave.
Tocgen – tocgen@appspot.com – Table of Contents auto-generated and updated based on the h1,h2,h3,h4 in a wave.
Twitusernames – twitusernames@appspot.com – Replaces all Twitter @username with links to the Twitter accounts.

Gadget Utilities
Ajax Animator – In Progress – http://antimatter15.com/ajaxanimator/wave/manifest.xml – A fully integrated multi-user web based vector graphic animation authoring environment.
AmazonBot Gadgett – http://amazon-withwaves-com.appspot.com/gadgets/AmazonProductList.xml – The AmazonBot gadget can detect products and return inline product links or a custom full product browser.
Bidder – http://wave-api.appspot.com/public/gadgets/bidder.xml – Simple Auction.
Checky – http://wave-gadgets.appspot.com/checky.xml – Basecamp-like checklists with drag-and-drop.
Click me – http://wave-api.appspot.com/public/gadgets/hellowave.xml – Shows a button with a counter. Each time the button gets clicked, the counter is incremented by one. Shows off how the state interaction works.
HTML – http://wave-ide.appspot.com/html.xml – Embed any HTML into a wave.
iFrame – http://wave-ide.appspot.com/iframe.xml – Embed any web page into a wave.
iWave – http://gadget.wave.to/iWave/iWave.xml – Allows you to create a profile on wave to make wave just a little more personal. Uses facebook connect to retrieve your details if you sign in.
Licensing – In Progress – http://wave-license.appspot.com/license_gadget.xml – Creative Commons RDF Embedding – Planning Stage.
Maps – http://hosting.gmodules.com/ig/gadgets/file/101415471413908368316/mappy.xml -Embed Google Map.
Napkin – http://my-wave-gadgets.appspot.com/wave/NapkinGadget.xml – Example of Flash/Flex Wave Gadget, similar to Whiteboard gadget above – source on Google Code.
QuakeBot – In Progress – Server information on the Quake 3 protocol.
Raffly – http://raffly.googlecode.com/svn/trunk/sandbox/raffly-xml1/raffly.xml – Insert this gadget to select a random participant from your wave to be the winner. The winner of what? Well that’s up to you 🙂
Ratings – http://google-wave-resources.googlecode.com/svn/trunk/samples/extensions/gadgets/ratings/ratings.xml – Lets participants rate and review a topic (movie, restaurant, etc) in a wave and shows a tally of the result.
Slashdot Gadget – http://www.m1cr0sux0r.com/slashdot.xml – Loads latest Headlines from Slashdot.
Troco – An experimental peer-to-peer currency – http://troco.ourproject.org/gadget/org.ourproject.troco.client.TrocoWaveGadget.gadget.xml – Aims to provide a decentralized complementary community currency system, that is, a peer-to-peer currency system. Also you can see it as an IOU or promissory note based system. More info click here.
Vector Editor – http://jsvectoreditor.googlecode.com/svn/trunk/wave/vectoreditor.xml – A cross platform collaborative real time vector graphics editor.
Whiteboard – http://vps.michaelrose.id.au/canvas.xml – Draw on a virtual whiteboard.
Who is Coming? – http://wave-api.appspot.com/public/gadgets/areyouin/gadget.xml -Show a list of all people that have said whether they will come or not.

Gadget Games
Backgammon – Wish – Remove all of one’s own checkers from the board before one’s opponent can do the same. [Wikipedia]
Battleship – Wish – Displays different board based on user.
Boxes – In Progress – Connect lines to make boxes and win.
Connect 4/Four-in-a-row – In Progress – sdunster@wavesandbox.com – http://www.sdunster.com/wave/four.xml – 2 users + observers, turn locking, just waiting to write win-detection code.
Floodit – http://gadget.wave.to/floodit/game.xml – 2 player race to fill a board with colors.
Magnetic Poetry – http://hosting.gmodules.com/ig/gadgets/file/107558585548952247431/fridge-11.xml – Re-arrange random words to form poetry.
Match them colors! – In Progress – Match 3 / gem matching game.
Othello – Wish – Play Reversi.
Sudoku – http://blah.appspot.com/wave/sudoku/sudoku.xml – Play Sudoku.
The Button – http://hyperthese.net/wave-gadgets/the-button.xml – A useless (I mean USELESS) game.

CVS integration – Wish – CVS history can be converted into a wave with playback.
GIT integration – Wish – GIT history can be imported and played back (dffs).
SVN integration – Wish – SVN History can be converted into a wave with playback.

Google Wave Scrollbars – http://www.uniformedopinion.com/google-wave-native-scrollbars-extension/google-wave.crx – Changes the wave scrollbars to the default system scrollbars.

Enhanced Google Maps. In case you haven’t noticed, we’ve added yet another Google Map to Nerd Vittles. Now, in addition to showing our location with Google Latitude, we also are displaying your location based upon your IP address. We’ll show you how to add something similar to any LAMP-based Linux system in coming weeks. It’s a powerful technology that has enormous potential. If you’re unfamiliar with Google Maps, click on the Hybrid and Satellite buttons and then check out the scaling and navigation options. Double-click to zoom. Incredible!

whos.amung.us If you’re wondering what your fellow man is reading on Nerd Vittles these days, wonder no more. Visit our new whos.amung.us statistical web site and check out what’s happening. It’s a terrific resource both for us and for you.

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Special Thanks to Vitelity. Vitelity is now Voyant Communications and has halted new registrations for the time being. Our special thanks to Vitelity for their unwavering financial support over many years and to the many Nerd Vittles readers who continue to enjoy the benefits of their service offerings. We will keep everyone posted on further developments.

Some Recent Nerd Vittles Articles of Interest…

For those of you that already have Google Wave accounts, here’s a sample of how a wave will look in a WordPress posting. You can even add content to the wave! This works in Safari and Chrome most of the time, Firefox some of the time (if you turn on Accept 3d Party Cookies), and IE almost never. For those of you that are not part of the Google Wave preview, you’ll just have to wait patiently until Google turns on at least read-only access to this functionality:

Some Summertime Distractions for Asterisk Lovers

In addition to Spoleto and the Bridge Run, Charleston has many great traditions, one of which is a prompt transition from a rainy, cold winter into sweltering summer. We got a very long spring break this year, but now we’re paying for it. After spending a couple weeks on Balsam Mountain, it was nothing short of culture shock driving back into Charleston last night. But we’re glad to be home. And this week, we celebrate summer with a list of some of our favorite vacation discoveries that didn’t involve snakes and bears. Some are related to Asterisk®, and some aren’t. So here goes.

Streaming Video with Roku. If you haven’t figured out why Time Warner and Comcast have been pushing for Internet bandwidth caps, here’s a hint. Streaming video not only is killing their pipes, but more importantly (to them) it’s killing their pay-per-view and HBO/Showtime monopolies. If you enjoy (or can even remember) great television and movies without thousands of commercials, then we’ve got two discoveries that will make your summer! The first one is Roku, a little $100 device about the size and weight of a couple packs of cigarettes. You plug it into your TV and the Internet, pop the popcorn, and you’re ready for some fun. With an $8.95 Netflix subscription (which buys you one-at-a-time DVD rentals by mail), you also get unlimited movies streamed to your Roku device. It’s not their entire catalog, but it’s a substantial subset including most of the Starz catalog. The Roku player supports composite, S-video, component, and HDMI video connections as well as stereo and optical audio. A new addition allows the rental or purchase of first-run movies from Amazon (at Blockbuster prices). More offerings are promised for later this summer. Can Hulu be far behind? If you’ve been holding off purchasing a Blu-Ray player, then here’s another option. LG’s new $200 BD370 Blu-Ray Disc Player incorporates this same technology in addition to YouTube access. We haven’t used the BD370 yet, but we sure do want one.

Cellphones for Preteens. We laughed at our friends from Naples, Florida last summer when they were lamenting the fact that every child in their daughter’s second grade class had a cellphone except for theirs. They swore that they wouldn’t give in. That lasted until Christmas when the shiny new LG Xenon appeared. Chuckling all the way to spring, we recently met the same fate with the Samsung A767 Propel after our 9-year-old raised over $300 selling all of her old toys at the neighborhood yard sale. Bottom line: All the kids are going to have them by the time they turn 10. And with the family plans available from a number of providers, the costs are no longer prohibitive for most of us. You might as well get them trained to use cellphones responsibly while they’re young. Trust me. It’s a lot more difficult once they hit high school or college and know everything. There is a difference between adult and kid usage of cellphones. They rarely make a call. But you’ll want an unlimited texting plan. And none of the kids want an iPhone. They much prefer one the newer phones that includes a full keyboard for texting. Apple, are you listening?

If you go down this road with the rest of us that swore we wouldn’t do it, demand two things: (1) that your kids not use cellphones while driving and (2) that they not hold cellphones up to their ears while making calls. The jury is still out on whether cellphone usage leads to brain tumors. But it seems pretty obvious when you review the research provided by organizations not funded by the cellphone industry. Remember the tobacco companies swore that cigarettes were safe for decades, and they paid good money for authoritative-sounding research to back them up. Read this. And watch this. Then decide whether you want to gamble with the lives of your children. Better safe than sorry.

Deals, Deals, and More Deals. If you always shop for technology purchases at the same few stores, then send us a check for all the money we’re about to save you. There’s a green eBates coupon in the right pane just below that will usually save you 1-5% on all your technology and clothing purchases and just about anything else. It costs nothing to use it, and you’ll get $5 just for signing up. So do we. 🙂 To go with those savings, there are some bargain web sites that you won’t want to miss. Our old favorite is TechBargains, but there’s also a new kid on the block, DealNews. Check ’em out. You’ll find something you just can’t live without… at bargain basement prices.

SMS Messaging with Asterisk. We’ve always lamented the fact that Asterisk had no built in SMS messaging capability. This is primarily because the cellphone providers keep a fairly tight lock on the SMS business since it’s their Cash Cow. There is a simple solution actually.

Virtually all of the cellphone providers have an Email-to-SMS gateway that can be used for sending SMS messages to their customers. For example, to send a message to a cellphone subscriber on the AT&T network, you just send an email message to 6781234567@txt.att.net. Click here for a complete list of the email gateway addresses.

That got us to thinking how simple it really would be to create a bash script that delivered the same message to every provider used by your friends. Who cares if all but one of the messages goes in the bit bucket. Your SMS message still will get delivered. For example, in the United States, if you’ve covered AT&T, Verizon, Alltel, Sprint, T-Mobile, US Cellular, Cricket, and Nextel, that pretty much gets 99% of the cellphones. If there’s a service that we’ve left out that you really need, just add another line to the bash script with the domain of that carrier.

So, log into your server as root and create a bash script named sms.sh that looks like the following: nano -w sms.sh


# Script for sending SMS messages
# For additional cell carriers, see:
# http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_carriers_providing_Email_or_Web_to_SMS

msg="Just testing the new SMS batch script."
subj="SMS Message"

echo "$msg" | mail -s "$subj" $num2call@message.alltel.com
echo "$msg" | mail -s "$subj" $num2call@txt.att.net
echo "$msg" | mail -s "$subj" $num2call@sms.mycricket.com
echo "$msg" | mail -s "$subj" $num2call@messaging.nextel.com
echo "$msg" | mail -s "$subj" $num2call@messaging.sprintpcs.com
echo "$msg" | mail -s "$subj" $num2call@tmomail.net
echo "$msg" | mail -s "$subj" $num2call@email.uscc.net
echo "$msg" | mail -s "$subj" $num2call@vtext.com

Fill in the msg, subj, and num2call fields. Press Ctl-X, Y, then Enter to save your file. Then make it executable: chmod +x sms.sh. Now give it a try: ./sms.sh

You can alter the sender address for your emails from the default of root by inserting an entry like the following in /etc/mail/genericstable: root    joeschmo@gmail.com. Then restart SendMail: service sendmail restart.

Micro$oft Bing. I have to admit that I’ve always had a soft spot for Microsoft. They came from humble beginnings and outsmarted almost everybody during the 80’s and 90’s… until Google entered the picture and did much the same thing to them. You’ve also got to hand it to Microsoft. They may not get it right the first, or second, or third time. But they don’t give up. And their reincarnated search engine, Bing, is worth a look. It includes an Explorer Pane that categorizes search results in a left panel that is customized to your search query. There’s also a Quick Preview providing website popups. The theory is to give you a sneak peak at a particular site to see if it’s what you’re looking for. As with many Microsoft creations, it’s just too slow at the moment to be of much value. Good idea. Not so good implementation.

A good bit already has been written about Bing’s picture and video search capabilities. Suffice it to say, once they tamed the content, it’s worth a look. Actually, it was worth a look even before they tamed the content. 🙂 But give Microsoft credit, they quickly recognized that there needs to be a way to make the web accessible to younger children and students without exposing them to an endless stream of pornography. What happened to the good old days of reading National Geographic to find all that stuff?

Microsoft’s Farecast technology also is interesting. It brings new, smart tools to the process of purchasing airline and hotel accommodations. Much of this toolkit was acquired by Microsoft, but it’s pretty slick. The downside of Bing, when compared to Google, is that there seems to be a tilt toward Microsoft content in results. And there still is a lot of drill-down (aka Windows) to find exactly what you’re looking for. Both are deeply rooted in the Microsoft psyche so I doubt it’ll ever go away. But have a look anyway. It’s an interesting, new product to at least have in your search toolkit.

Let There Be Music. All-you-can-eat streaming music plans have been around for a while. But there’s never been anything quite like the new Napster service from Best Buy. $5 a month for access to 7 million songs on either your PC or a Sonos sound system is just too good to pass up. We’ve previously written about this so we won’t repeat it all here. Have a look at the article if you’re a music addict. And, if streaming DRM’d music isn’t your thing, check out this PC Mag article on Virgin Media’s new offering. It will let you download an unlimited number of MP3’s from Universal’s entire music catalog for about $20 a month. Unbelievable!

People Tracking. If you glance over to the right margin, you’ll get a good sample of Google’s Latitude offering that pinpoints your location on a Google map using GPS data from your cellphone. AT&T offers something similar for "only" $10-$15 a month. This data can be either the location of the nearest cellphone tower or, if your phone is GPS-enabled, it can be the actual GPS coordinates of your phone. There are obviously privacy issues that need to be weighed, and Google has carefully addressed most of those issues. You can restrict access to select friends, or just family, or no one at all. In coming months, we’re going to build something similar with Google Maps to display a map with the default location of incoming calls on certain color SIP phones. Stay tuned. In the meantime, feel free to monitor our summer vacation as we move from Charleston, to the beach, and back to the mountains. Not too exciting, but it may give you some ideas for future uses of this technology. For those of you with young daughters, think of it as LoJack for Parents!

Footnote: Uh, oh. Google.everything just died. 8:30 a.m., June 16. Bad way to start your day. Good time to check out Bing. 🙂

Hurricane Tracking. If hurricanes are a part of your everyday life and you haven’t visited Stormpulse.com yet, you’re missing the ultimate storm tracking site on the net. Not only do they provide up-to-the-minute predictions from all of the world’s best sources, but you also get map overlays showing virtually anything you’d ever want to know that’s weather-related. Unbelievably good! And, for a ringside seat, visit our own Pawleys Island WebCam. We’ll wave to you later this week.

Promising New Asterisk Appliance. Every now and then we read an article about a new Asterisk appliance that really shows some promise. So it is with Michael Graves’ recent writeup of Jazinga, a $1095 Asterisk appliance that does just about anything and everything a small business would ever need in a phone system using a simple but intuitive web interface. Have a look. We think you’ll agree. Very slick, indeed. Only wish it were $595 instead of $1095.

Some Great Blogs. And, speaking of blogs, there are some other telephony blogs in addition to Graves on SOHO VoIP that are worth a look from time to time. Here’s another Baker’s Dozen of our favorites in no particular order:

FreeNum Dialing System. Another new project worth a careful look is FreeNum. Taking a page from Nextel, FreeNum lets you make SIP calls from ordinary telephones after registering your organization. The format of a FreeNum dial string looks like 1234*567 where your extension is 1234 and your ITAD (Internet Telephony Administrative Domain) number is 567. FreeNUM relies upon DNS and, as such, is perfectly suited for transparent use over the Internet. In coming weeks, we’ll have more to say about FreeNUM including a methodology for letting all PBX in a Flash systems register with a shared ITAD for transparent communications worldwide. Here’s the article.

Twitter. The entire planet is aflutter with Twitter. We finally bit the bullet, and we’d be the first to admit that Twitter fills an important gap in today’s Internet-centric 21st century world. Not only does it provide instantaneous searches of very current content, it’s also quite useful as a micro-blogging tool if you like to keep current on technology happenings without always waiting for full-blown articles to appear. Many of the topics in this article were first introduced to Twitter users over the last few weeks. So there’s much more to Twitter than periodic reports of individuals’ bathroom and sleeping habits. You can get a sampling by reviewing our Twitter entries in the right pane of this blog. And there are literally hundreds of Twitter clients to meet your every need. Here’s a link to a great Twitter FAQ. Then give Twitter a try if you haven’t already. NerdUno is looking forward to hearing from you.

Wordle.net. We’ve mentioned Wordle before, but no article on Internet fun would be complete without at least a passing reference. The way Wordle works is that you pass it some text. It then rearranges the words in a hierarchical order that exposes the word usage count of the various words in the text it examined. You can see an example below which took the subject matter from the PBX in a Flash Help Forum and passed it through Wordle. You’ll note that "Resolved" is just about the same size as "problem" and "question." That actually speaks volumes about the quality of our forum. Give it a try. We think you’ll agree. We’ve done some other samples to give you some ideas: the Gettysburg Address, the Declaration of Independence, and MLK’s I Have A Dream speech. Try a few of your own. It’s a summertime blast. Enjoy!

Need help with Asterisk? Visit the PBX in a Flash Forum.
Or Try the New, Free PBX in a Flash Conference Bridge.

whos.amung.us If you’re wondering what your fellow man is reading on Nerd Vittles these days, wonder no more. Visit our new whos.amung.us statistical web site and check out what’s happening. It’s a terrific resource both for us and for you.


Special Thanks to Our Generous Sponsors

FULL DISCLOSURE: ClearlyIP, Skyetel, Vitelity, DigitalOcean, Vultr, VoIP.ms, 3CX, Sangoma, TelecomsXchange and VitalPBX have provided financial support to Nerd Vittles and our open source projects through advertising, referral revenue, and/or merchandise. As an Amazon Associate and Best Buy Affiliate, we also earn from qualifying purchases. We’ve chosen these providers not the other way around. Our decisions are based upon their corporate reputation and the quality of their offerings and pricing. Our recommendations regarding technology are reached without regard to financial compensation except in situations in which comparable products at comparable pricing are available from multiple sources. In this limited case, we support our sponsors because our sponsors support us.

BOGO Bonaza: Enjoy state-of-the-art VoIP service with a $10 credit and half-price SIP service on up to $500 of Skyetel trunking with free number porting when you fund your Skyetel account. No limits on number of simultaneous calls. Quadruple data center redundancy. $25 monthly minimum spend required. Tutorial and sign up details are here.

The lynchpin of Incredible PBX 2020 and beyond is ClearlyIP components which bring management of FreePBX modules and SIP phone integration to a level never before available with any other Asterisk distribution. And now you can configure and reconfigure your new Incredible PBX phones from the convenience of the Incredible PBX GUI.

VitalPBX is perhaps the fastest-growing PBX offering based upon Asterisk with an installed presence in more than 100 countries worldwide. VitalPBX has generously provided a customized White Label version of Incredible PBX tailored for use with all Incredible PBX and VitalPBX custom applications. Follow this link for a free test drive!

Special Thanks to Vitelity. Vitelity is now Voyant Communications and has halted new registrations for the time being. Our special thanks to Vitelity for their unwavering financial support over many years and to the many Nerd Vittles readers who continue to enjoy the benefits of their service offerings. We will keep everyone posted on further developments.

Some Recent Nerd Vittles Articles of Interest…

Lessons Learned: Switching Internet Hosting Providers

Painful as it was, we have completed the move of Nerd Vittles to BlueHost with new links for RSS and Atom feeds. Everything is once again perfect in paradise. Right! For those that are contemplating a blogging career, here’s some advice. Don’t! But if you must, quit your day job! Since we don’t have a 9-to-5 job (other than Honey Do’s, of course), this wasn’t a problem for the Nerd Vittles’ staff of one. There were some lessons learned though. And we thought it might be good to share a few of them just in case anyone else ever gets the itch to contribute something to the public good.

Lesson #1: Think First, Then Build. When you create your blog or any other web site for that matter, build it on the assumption that it’ll be moving somewhere else soon. Stated another way, be sure you have complete access to and control over all of the components that make up your blog. If it’s in a proprietary format (ours wasn’t, thankfully), you’re stuck with no control over escalating costs and really very few options. And don’t do anything stupid like hard-coding web links and images in your articles that may not work when you change the domain of your blog. We’ve still got a few weeks of cleanup to go so hang in there with us as we put Humpty back together again.

Whenever anyone tells me what a great deal Google Mail is for email with 2 gigs of storage for free, I always have a little private chuckle wondering what will happen the day that Google decides a better business strategy might be to start charging for stuff. Just think of the revenue stream that $10 a month per account would bring in. Now think of $20, $30, you name it. There’s a reason that open source is a good thing besides being free. It gives you technology independence. Look at all the poor folks running Windows XP that are totally dependent upon Microsoft. And now Microsoft wants to get in the antivirus and anti-AdWare business. Gee, that’s a shocker! The people in those businesses might want to talk to the WordPerfect folks to find out how much fun lies ahead competing head on with the company that totally controls the operating system under which your application must run. But, remember, Bill has spoken. Windows updates will always be free. Heh heh!

Lesson #2: If It Sounds Too Good To Be True. Yep, always remember the old saying that if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Particularly with Internet Hosting Providers, the competition is unbelievable. Makes you wish you could see a little of that in the petroleum industry, doesn’t it? We’re pretty good at scouring the Internet for good pricing, but there’s a big catch to great pricing. Most of them don’t really mean it. Unlimited bandwidth: don’t ever believe it. As soon as you start using it like it was, you’ll get the boot. Too-Good-To-Be-True bandwidth: ditto. When you find providers that are offering more bandwidth than you could ever possibly use, don’t get the warm and fuzzies. If you start actually using all the bandwidth you’re paying for, expect "issues." Simply put, some hosting providers are a bit like the banker in Mark Twain’s old adage: "A banker is a fellow who lends you his umbrella when the sun is shining, but wants it back the minute it begins to rain."

Having been on both sides of the ISP and IHP support fence, I’m sympathetic to the nightmares of being a provider in today’s technology world. There are lots of abusers out there just looking for a free ride and an opportunity to trash any system they can get their hands on. But we at least like to think we’re different. We run a blog that actually helps people with technology, and it doesn’t cost users anything … other than an occasional whine for a donation. Anyway, you get the idea. This is business from the host provider’s perspective, plain and simple.

The bottom line goes something like this. An Internet hosting provider buys a $2000 server and expects to house 200-400 people’s accounts on that box. When you start using that server’s resources like you own the place, your days are numbered. This isn’t necessarily a bandwidth issue, but the two are certainly related. If your site is consuming 100+ gigs of bandwidth a month, you’re not going to make a lot of friends with your 399 co-tenants unless they each happen to have a two-page web site with family pictures. And, when they bitch to the hosting provider, guess who becomes the expendable commodity in this financial equation.

Lesson #3: Don’t Mix Business and Personal Sites. Tempting as it may be to keep all your eggs in one basket, DON’T! We learned this one the hard way. When the friction begins over the business site, your personal stuff is also at risk. That means your email and, more importantly, the email of the Little Mrs. and the kids is in jeopardy. It’s one thing for your non-revenue-generating business site to go down for a day or two. Your family doesn’t really mind that. It’s quite another if access to all their personal stuff gets cut off. So, to put it in crystal-clear perspective for you, mundy.org/blog is no more… except for a few redirectors. It’s nerdvittles.com now. We’re still on speaking terms with our old provider, and the new provider is delighted to have us as a customer including generous ad support for our site. That’s a WIN, WIN in our book!

Lesson #4: Expect the Worst. Ah, yes, life’s other little lesson: "When It Rains, It Pours." Just be prepared to suck it up and weather the storm once it begins. Here’s life’s guarantee. It won’t just be moving your blog that’s a problem. It’ll be a few other personal things rolled in for good measure. You can dream these up yourself, but expect some of them to happen. And, of course, you can always count on a new version of Asterisk@Home hitting the street during the move. And it has. We’ll get on it shortly with our good sense of humor restored … assuming the pioneers don’t discover too many new problems here and here.

Want More Projects? For a complete catalog of all our previous Asterisk® projects, click here. For the most recent articles, click here and just scroll down the page. Get your Headline News the easy way: Planet Asterisk, Planet Gadget, Planet Mac, and Planet Daily. Quick read, no fluff.

Got a PDA or Web-Enabled Smartphone? Check out our new PDAweather.org site and get the latest weather updates and forecasts from the National Weather Service perfectly formatted for quick download and display on your favorite web-enabled PDA, cellphone, or Internet Tablet. And, of course, it’s FREE!

Who Is This Guy? Ward Mundy, the author of this Asterisk@Home series of articles, is a retired attorney who spent more than 30 years providing legal and technology assistance to the federal courts in the United States. Today he serves as a principal in Ward Mundy & Associates, a technology consulting firm in Atlanta, Georgia.

WHERE-TO Bonanza: 50 Great Summertime Web Sites for You & Your Mac mini

Today we’re providing 50 of our favorite Mac mini resources on the web that will tell you anything and everything you ever wanted to know about Mac technology. There are sites for news, reviews, tutorials, tips and tricks, troubleshooting, blogs, forums, hacks, rumors, and loads of additional applications. So, while we’re taking it easy this summer, visit a few of the sites you haven’t already tried and learn something new. We’ll even wave to you from the beach. Any Mac running at least Mac OS X v10.3 aka Panther is a suitable candidate for taking advantage of most of these web sites. In case we missed a few, feel free to add your own favorites as comments. And, for the math geniuses, you’re right. The number of sites doesn’t quite add up to 50, but a few sites weren’t that great so we’ll leave it to you to figure out which ones shouldn’t be here. And be sure to check out our HOW-TO Bonanza: 50 Great Summertime Applications for You & Your Mac Mini.
Mac mini

Favorite Hacks

  • hack a day   HOW-TO Hacks to the Max
  • lifehack.org   Daily Productivity Pointers and Life Hacks
  • Favorite Tech Sites

  • O’Reilly Make:   Technology on Your Time
  • O’Reilly MacDevCenter   Mac Projects to the Max
  • Command-Tab   Technology and Mac Geekery
  • MacGuru HQ   Mac and Linux Tips, Tricks, and Secrets
  • Favorite Mac mini Sites

  • 123macmini.com   The granddaddy of the Mac mini sites
  • Modmini.com   Making the most of your Mac mini
  • BYODKM.net   Mac mini Enthusiast Network
  • HTmini   Mac mini Hardware News
  • Favorite Mac News Sites

  • MacSurfer’s Headlines News   If You Only Have Time To Check Out One Site, This Is It!
  • Mac News Network   Another Terrific Site for Mac News
  • Mac Mini News   All the Latest Mac Mini News
  • MacCentral   Great news and reviews from MacWorld
  • MacMiner   get deep. find news.
  • MacDailyNews   Apple and Mac news
  • Infinite Loop   Ars Technica’s Mac journal
  • trendalicious!   Another view of the del.icio.us bookmarking service
  • Other Mac News and Reviews

  • Applelinks   The Ultimate Mac Website
  • MacInTouch   Mac News and Information
  • MacMerc.com   Mac Articles and News
  • MacMegasite   Mac News from a Software Developer’s Perspective
  • Macsimum News   Mac Online Newspaper
  • MacSlash   Daily Dose of Mac News and Commentary
  • The Tao of Mac   Two parts genius, one part … well, you decide
  • Favorite Mac Applications

  • Mac OS X Apps   Mac Applications for Everyman … and Woman
  • Mac OS X Power Tools   Every Link from First and Second Editions
  • Favorite Mac Mags

  • MacAddict   A Better Machine, A Better Magazine
  • MacWorld   The Mac Product Experts
  • Popular Science   Great How-To article on the Mac mini
  • Favorite Mac Rumor and Gossip Sites

  • Apple Insider   News and Rumors
  • Mac Rumors   News and Rumors You Care About
  • Think Secret   Mac Insider News
  • Favorite Mac Weblogs

  • Technorati   Blog search engine
  • The Apple Blog   Everything Apple
  • The Unofficial Apple Weblog   A Little Bit of Everything Including A Chat Room
  • Daring Fireball   Mac Nerdery, etc.
  • Obvious Diversion   Mac Stuff That Makes You Think
  • Nerd Vittles   Just In Case You Share This List With A Friend
  • Favorite Mac mini Forums

  • Apple Discussion   Lots of stuff with lots of rules (registration required)
  • Macminiforums   #1 Resource for the Mac mini (registration required)
  • MacOSXhints Forum   Everything you ever wanted to know about Mac OS X
  • Favorite Mac Troubleshooting Sites

  • MacFixIt   Troubleshooting Solutions for the Mac
  • Accelerate Your Mac   Lots of great real-world tips
  • Tiger Hints   Solutions to just about any problem with Tiger
  • Favorite Mac Tutorials

  • MacZealots.com   Mac Tutorials and Reviews
  • Favorite Gadget Sites

  • Engadget   
  • Gizmodo   
  • Ubergizmo   
  • GadgetryBlog   
  • Akihabara News   
  • Popgadget   For Ladies Only
  • For The Other Side

  • For Windows XP Users   Still Using Win XP But Wanna Try the Mac OS X Experience for Free
  • When 50 Just Isn’t Enough

  • MacPiCkS   Every Mac resource on the web … except ours, but who cares
  • ISP-In-A-Box: The $500 Mac mini (Upgrading to Tiger = No-Brainer)

    It’s been a week since Tiger was released, and we finally got our copy even though it was several days late. Apple more than compensated for the delay by offering up a free copy of iWork or iLife. Class act, that Apple. Our project for today is to upgrade your Mac mini to Tiger. Then we’ll send you over to Tiger Vittles to upgrade the Top 10 ISP-In-A-Box projects that we built earlier this year so that they all work again. Sounds like a whole weekend project, doesn’t it? Think again. Believe it or not, it took a little more than an hour to upgrade Panther to Tiger and about one more hour to get all ten of the following applications working. If you’re from the Windows World or have any familiarity with any server platform other than Macs, you know just how incredible that is. If not, just count your blessings, twice. Tiger is a must-have upgrade. And, if you happen to have two to five Macs in your household, it’s just about the best deal on the planet. Imagine Exxon selling you gasoline for 50¢ a gallon just because you own five automobiles.

    Mac mini

  • Apache Web Server
  • Email Servers: SMTP, POP3, and IMAP
  • MySQL Database Server
  • PHP and PhpMyAdmin
  • WebMin
  • The Webalizer
  • Web Calendars
  • Email Reminders
  • Crontab and CronniX
  • WordPress 1.5 Blog
  • Prerequisites. For purposes of this article, we’re assuming your Mac mini came with Panther preinstalled or that you’re upgrading another Mac that already has Panther installed. You also should have installed whichever applications above that you want to use while still running Panther. Stated another way, this tutorial won’t necessarily help you if you install Tiger and then attempt to install some of the applications above. We haven’t tested new installs on Tiger yet. So, if there are some applications you want that you haven’t installed, click on the appropriate links above, and do the installs before upgrading to Tiger. You also should make certain that any of the applications you need already work under Panther. Don’t upgrade to Tiger until they do. Finally, you’ll need $9.95 if you want to enable any or all of the email servers using PostFix Enabler for Tiger. Hint: You only really need the SMTP mail server if you’re planning to use the Email Reminders or the WordPress blog.

    Upgrading from Panther to Tiger. The first thing you need to do before you begin the upgrade is to read HOW-TO: Prep Your Mac for a Tiger Upgrade on our Tiger Vittles site. Then you need to review the software compatibility lists on our Tiger Vittles site: Tiger-Ready Applications: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly. If there is some application you absolutely have to have and it’s on our Bad or Ugly lists, then you probably will want to hold off on upgrading for a while. If you need VPN software to connect to your office, that’s probably a deal-breaker. Virtually all of the VPN clients are broken with Tiger at the moment.

    In a nutshell, the upgrade process we used went like this. We obviously can’t guarantee that it will work for you because we don’t know what is on your system or what condition your system is in. So proceed at your own risk and call Apple if you run into problems. They get money for this. We don’t.

  • Back up your Mac and then disconnect all firewire devices
  • Insert your Panther Disk 1 and reboot your Mac while holding down the C key
  • From the Installer menu, choose the Disk Utility application
  • Select your local hard disk and click Repair Disk under the First Aid tab
  • Make certain that all disk problems are resolved before proceeding further
  • Close down the Installer and reboot your Mac from the local hard disk
  • Run the Disk Utility program from your Applications folder
  • Select your local hard disk and click Repair Permissions under the First Aid tab
  • Choose System Preferences->Sharing and deselect any Services that are checked
  • Uninstall Any Anti-Virus Software; Directions for Uninstalling .Mac Virex are here
  • Insert your Tiger DVD and restart your Mac while holding down the C key
  • Click the Upgrade button, accept the defaults, and count to 60 about forty-five times
  • Reboot when prompted, log in, and then leave your machine alone for 30 minutes while Spotlight indexes your disk
  • Go have a snack while your Mac is indexing. Then meet us over at Tiger Vittles today to upgrade the first ten ISP-In-A-Box server applications to work with Tiger. And, while you’re there, check out how your other favorite applications are doing with Tiger.

    Nerd Reminder: Don’t forget to call your mama this weekend. Flowers would be a nice touch.

    ISP-In-A-Box: The $500 Mac mini (HOW-TO Become A WordPress BlogMaster, Part II)

    Using MySQL and PHP, we created a new WordPress blog on your Mac in our last installment. Today, we want to lock it down so that evil people don’t fill up your MySQL database tables with comments about Viagra and gambling casinos. We also want to show you a few tricks for customizing WordPress to better meet your needs and those of your readers. Comment spam has become the new cottage industry in the blog world, and it’s something you need to deal with up front, or you’ll be sorry within a few days of launching your new blog. There are some exhaustive articles on the tools that are available to assist you. But, let me save you a lot of time and disappointment. There’s one tool that really works, and it’s easy to install. My advice is simple: try my solution and look elsewhere only if you continue to see problems. Once you begin adding multiple filters, you have to worry about conflicts so, if one tool works, stick with one tool. WordPress HashCash works, period. It dynamically generates an MD5 hash each time a comment form is submitted. This effectively kills spambots dead in their tracks. If you want to read more about how it works, here’s the link that tells all. The hardest part is getting HashCash downloaded, but here’s how.

    Downloading WordPress HashCash. Here’s the current link for WordPress HashCash. What used to be two files is now combined into the .php file. Read on before downloading. Because of the nature of this file, it doesn’t download in the usual way. Here are the steps to get the actual file. First, click on the link above. Then, read the information about the various versions and match the one you need to your version of WordPress. Once you select the correct link, scroll down to the bottom of the displayed web page. Next, Ctrl-Click (or right-click) on the link labeled "Plain Text." Choose Save Linked File As and provide the file names shown above to save each file to your Desktop. Using Finder, click on your local hard disk and move to the following folder: /Library/WebServer/Documents/blog/wp-content/plugins. Now click-and-drag each of the two downloaded files on your Desktop to the plugins folder. Finally, open the Admin section of WordPress: Click on the Plugins tab and Activate WordPress HashCash by clicking on the appropriate link. Now you can sleep well knowing your WordPress blog is in good hands.

    WordPress Beautification. WordPress 1.5 has only been in production a couple of weeks so the number of available skins (known as Themes in WordPress 1.5 lingo) to change the appearance of WordPress are not as numerous as with previous versions. But there are a number to choose from and most of them are available from Alex King’s web site. Installing them couldn’t be much easier. Go to the web site and view each of the various Themes by clicking on its name. Then click on the Download links for the Themes you like. Theme folders will be downloaded to your Desktop. Now repeat the steps shown above to navigate to /Library/WebServer/Documents/blog/wp-content/themes. Then click and drag the Themes folders on your Desktop to the themes folder for your blog. Choose the Theme you want to activate by opening the Admin section of WordPress (just as we did above). Click on the Presentation tab, and then click Select for the Theme you wish to make your default. Click View Site and your new Theme will appear for your very own blog. How simple is that?

    Reader’s Choice. You may decide, as we have, that you’d like your visitors to be able to pick the Theme they prefer to read your blog. After all, the whole purpose of page layout is to enhance the viewing experience for readers, not for you. So why not make it easy for folks to choose a viewing style that is most comfortable for them. The default viewing theme gets saved as a cookie so the next time the person visits your site, they’ll see your blog in the Theme chosen on their last visit. With WordPress 1.5, implementing Theme Switching for your blog is a no-brainer. Go to boren.nu and download the Theme Switcher. This will download a file to your Desktop that will decompress into theme-switcher.php. Using the procedure we’ve used in the previous examples, click-and-drag this file into /Library/WebServer/Documents/blog/wp-content/plugins. Now open the Admin section of WordPress: Click on the Plugins tab and Activate Theme Switcher by clicking on the corresponding activate link. With most of the new themes, your visitors will now get a listing from which to choose a preferred Theme to view your blog.

    WordPress Configuration. There are a number of things you can control with your blog. If you haven’t figured it out already, you get to these settings using the Admin control panel of WordPress. To get you started, we’ve listed below some of the settings we use for Nerd Vittles. You may want to do other things with your blog which is perfectly fine. You always can change these settings as you get more comfortable with WordPress. But, the settings below will protect your blog from outsider control at least until you get your feet wet. As with any configuration changes, you’re better off making one or two adjustments at a time and viewing the results. Then, if something unexpected happens, it’s much easier to figure out what went wrong and fix it. Enjoy!

  • Options – GeneralUncheck both options under Membership and set your Time Zone
  • Options – ReadingChoose the number of blog entries which should appear when someone accesses your blog
  • Options – DiscussionCheck the third option only in Usual Settings; check both options in Email Me; check the first two options in Before A Comment Appears
  • Links – Manage LinksDecide which Links you want to retain and/or add to your Blogroll
  • ISP-In-A-Box: The $500 Mac mini (HOW-TO Become A WordPress BlogMaster, Part I)

    So you want to be a BlogMaster, but you want to host your blog on your very own Mac rather than paying a managed hosting service such as Blogger or TypePad. And you’ve elected to ignore our previous advice to use a hosting provider that offers MySQL database management, PHP, and blogging software as part of their feature set for free. Well, good for you! And you’re in luck because today, rejuvenated from our Spring Break cruise aboard the good ship Disney Wonder, we’re going to install the brand-new WordPress 1.5 on your Mac. This is the latest and greatest version of the blogging system that we use for Nerd Vittles which just happens to be what you’re reading now. In naming WordPress as the Web Application of the Year, ArsTechnica put it this way:

    Let’s face it. Blogs are in fashion, and why not? Vanity knows no bounds, and there are some people who actually do something productive with theirs. From the influence of blogs on the coverage of the US presidential elections to every random teenager who has problems with their partner/parent/teacher/cat, blogs are out there allowing your most intimate feelings to be shared with random people at wifi hotspots. WordPress is the most prominent rising star of weblog software, completely free and with a large and active community. Styles, plugins and hacks are readily available, with problems such as comment spamming being addressed far more rapidly than competing applications.

    We couldn’t have said it better. So let’s get started.

    Prerequisites. Before you can bring up WordPress and begin your blogging career, you first need to figure out what you want to write about. Hopefully, it will be something in which others have an interest. And with Dan Rather now retired, conservative bloggers will actually have to come up with something new to whine about. But, who cares, right? You can always change your mind tomorrow, and the next day, and the next if you install and manage your own blogging system. On the hardware and software side, you’ll need a Mac running Mac OS X v10.3, aka Panther. And you also will need to install and activate five of the applications we covered in previous sessions before you begin this installation. You’ll need the Apache Web Server, the Postfix SMTP mail server only, the MySQL database server, and PHP and PhpMyAdmin. Once you complete these tutorials, read on. Don’t attempt to install WordPress prematurely, or you’ll make a big mess, and we don’t provide mess cleanup tutorials! For a complete list of our HOW-TO articles and Mac mini resources on the Net, click here.

    Downloading WordPress. If you didn’t already know, WordPress is free for the taking, but you still have to download it from here. Just click on the Download .tar.gz link. This should download the software to your Desktop and automatically decompress it into a folder named wordpress. If you just end up with a .tar.gz file, simply double-click on it to decompress it into a folder. Now click once on the folder name and change the name of the folder to blog and press the return key. Next double-click on the folder to open it. Then double-click on wp-config-sample.php to open it with TextEdit. Look for the DB_USER line and change the word username to root. Now move down to the DB_PASSWORD line and delete the word password but leave the single quotes that were surrounding it. When you’re finished, it should show two single quotes with no spaces between them. Now press Command-S to save your changes. Close TextEdit, and then single-click on the filename wp-config-sample.php. Change the filename to wp-config.php and press the return key. Close the folder. Using Finder, click on the local hard disk, and move to the /Library/WebServer/Documents folder. Now click-and-drag the blog folder on your Desktop into the Documents folder. This will make your blog accessible at any of the following addresses: http://localhost/blog/ or or http://your.internal.ip.address/blog/ or http://your.Internet.ip.address/blog/ assuming you have activated the security settings set forth in our Network Security article. In addition, you can access your blog at http://yourdomain.com/blog/ if you have completed the domain registration steps outlined in our Domain Names article.

    Installing WordPress. Like many open source applications, WordPress is a PHP-driven application that stores its data in a MySQL database with numerous MySQL tables. So, in order to use WordPress, we first need to create a MySQL database named wordpress to house the data. We’ll do this using PhpMyAdmin. Open a web browser on your server and go to http://localhost/php/. At the top of the right frame is a field for Create new database for MySQL. Type wordpress in the space provided, change the collation sequence to ascii.bin, and click the Create button to create the new MySQL database. Close that browser window and open a new one. Now go to The Welcome to WordPress screen will appear. Click on the First Step link. Fill in a title for your new blog and your email address, and then click Continue to Second Step. Surprise! The installation is complete. Just be sure you write down your username (admin) and the randomly generated password. We’ll change it in a minute.

    Configuring WordPress. Now click on the login link which will take you to the login screen: Type your username and password that you just wrote down. The Admin Dashboard will display with all sorts of information about WordPress. But let’s do first things first. Click on the Users tab at the top of the screen. Type in your name and any other desired extras you want to publish with your blog. Move to the two fields provided to change your password, and type your new permanent password twice. Then click the Update Profile button. Log out and back in just to be sure everything is working as it should. In a new browser window, go to and Voila. Welcome to Bloggerville! From your blog’s main page, you can return to the Admin program by clicking on the Admin link. You shouldn’t have to log in again assuming cookies are enabled and functioning properly on your system.

    From the Administration program, you add new articles to your blog by clicking on the Write tab. And you can View, Edit, or Delete articles by clicking on the appropriate link beside the article of interest using the Manage tab. That should be enough to get you started in your blogging career. In our next session, we’ll talk about Plugins and Templates and Themes as well as how to protect your blog from the bad guys. We’ll also go into further detail about many of the WordPress 1.5 features that have made it such a popular blogging system. Your homework is to pay a visit to Alex King’s incredible WordPress resource site. While you’re there, look through the Themes section and find a look you like for your new blog. Our personal favorite is Meadow (see inset above). We’ll walk you through installing it (or your personal favorite) in our next session. For now, get those creative juices flowing and blog your socks off!

    RSS Made Really, Really Simple

    If the simplicity and headline style of MacSurfer’s Headlines News and Technology News Network leave you wishing there were similar sites to handle your other favorite topics, then you’re ready for Really Simple Syndication, RSS. a lightweight XML metadata format designed to handle headlines and web content. Instead of a single talented company digesting web pages from thousands of providers as MacSurfer does, RSS uses a different paradigm. RSS decentralizes headline-building by encouraging all web providers to create regular "feeds" of their sites containing headlines and content. The content may be the same as the actual web pages, or it may be a subset with links to the complete web pages. Instead of your having to visit hundreds of web sites every day, you use an RSS Reader to do the leg work for you. All you have to do is tell it where to look periodically for items of interest to you.

    Some RSS Readers are free, and some you have to pay for. For the Windows platform, we recommend NewzCrawler. There’s also NewsGator Outlook Edition which, as its name implies, creates RSS feeds in a folder within Microsoft Outlook. For your iPod (Yep, it’s true!), there’s Pod2Go. For your Treo 650 smartphone, there’s mNews. And, for your Mac or Mac mini, no one does RSS better than Ranchero’s NetNewsWire. Free and enhanced versions of Ranchero’s reader are available. The enhanced version is well worth its modest cost. Here’s how it works. Just define the web sites with RSS feeds that you’d like to track and tell NetNewsWire how often to retrieve the feeds. That’s it for the basics. What you’ll see is a 3-pane window (see inset) similar to many email clients. Your RSS sites are listed on the left, the headlines for each site appear at the top right, and the contents (known as an item in RSS parlance) for each story is shown in the bottom right pane. As with good email clients, NetNewsWire remembers which items you’ve read. And the dock icon shows how many unread stories exist in your feeds. You also can import and export your subscriptions for use in other readers, and there’s a Weblog editor which makes quick work of posting RSS content to your favorite blog. NetNewsWire also includes a Sites Drawer. It provides one-click access to hundreds of great RSS feeds. Here’s our own list of favorites in OPML format which can be imported directly into NetNewsWire to get you started. You also can find thousands more on the Complete RSS web site. There’s news, technology, sports, Fark, business and finance, Amazon, programming, humor, tech bargains, opinion, politics, entertainment, sex … well, actually, we just threw that in to see if you still were awake. Finally there are numerous scraped feeds or bootleg feeds. These are third-party crafted RSS feeds of web sites that do not yet (and may never) produce RSS feeds of their own such as WhiteHouse.gov and television program guides. There’s even a site that will create made-to-order RSS feeds for a modest fee. We’ll leave the legal issues these feeds may raise for another day.

    Take a look at what the RSS feed for Nerd Vittles looks like. It’s not much different than the actual web page you’re reading here. Actually, with Complete RSS, it is the web page you’re reading here. NetNewsWire goes one step beyond the Complete RSS approach and actually builds the contents pane from the XML code without reliance on any of the page’s actual HTML code. This obviously facilitates off-line browsing. While RSS content originally was limited to text, all that has changed. You’ll see the same rich content (with images) that you’re used to with a web browser. Just like MacSurfer, the advantage in switching to RSS is that you can comb through hundreds of headlines in just a few minutes rather than waiting for hundreds of web pages (and pop up ads) to load. If you don’t yet own a Mac, there are dozens of other RSS readers available for almost every operating system.

    The latest news in the browser and RSS universe is Firefox 1.0, the web browser that’s taking the world by storm. It supports RSS as an integral part of the browser. And chances are there’s a version for your computer right here. To use RSS within Firefox, just download and install the Sage RSS plug-in. All you need to perfect the reading of most blogs is a simple style file. Just Ctrl-click to download and save ours to your documents directory and configure Sage to use it (Tools, Sage, Options, Settings, Use Custom Style Sheet). Now you’re ready to start saving RSS links to read with Sage and Firefox. We recommend you create a bookmarks folder (Bookmarks, Manage Bookmarks, New Folder) just for RSS links since Firefox can periodically update your feeds. Here’s our RSS feed to get you started. Once you bookmark our link, choose Tools, Sage, and click on Nerd Vittles in your Sage-panel bookmarks folder. Voil√ɬ†!

    Finally, there’s one unsung advantage of RSS feeds over traditional web pages that is huge in our book. With web pages, you never really know when the contents of a page have been updated. And with hit-and-miss web caching, you may not know even when you return to a site. RSS solves this problem transparently. When a page is updated, the link to the page in your RSS feeds list automatically changes back to unread. For those of us that write HOW-TO articles and don’t always get it quite right in version 1.0, RSS provides a great way to alert readers that something important has changed in the story. Give RSS a try, and you’ll see why millions are discovering that it’s a better way to enjoy the web.

    [WM: And here’s one of those updates I was talking about. Another great RSS reader for the Mac platform was released just yesterday. The betas of NewsFire got rave reviews. And, if money matters, it’s half the cost of NetNewsWire.]