The Digi-Cult

A New Religion for a Digital Age

Posts Tagged ‘Tech’

THEMES (omg!) for Gmail

Posted by Rod Leland on November 19, 2008

Google has just started rolling out a new feature in Gmail Labs that adds Theme support to gmail.  Many add-ons and plugins have added this feature previously and now google themselves have stepped up. For so, so, so many people who use gmail in the browser as an online web-app this is great news.  Hopefully Google will add a feature that allows user-submitted themes as well.  The rollout has already started but google tends to roll things out slowly to balance server load and detect bugs early on.  Check for the Themes tab under settings and if you dont have the setting yet, It should drop soon.   Some Samples Via Google:


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President of the Intertubes.

Posted by Rod Leland on November 7, 2008

“Undoubtedly Obama’s rise to the presidency will be studied for years to come as the textbook example of a new kind of electioneering driven by people and technology” -Ralph Benko, principal of the political consulting firm Capital City Partners, in Washington, D.C.

Barack Obama is now officially the president-elect of the United States, and it’s certainly no accident. Obama drew the largest voter turnout in a century.  He managed to awaken voter demographics that were dormant for many, many terms. Yes, he’s a great speaker, yes his platform is solid, and yes he’s riding the wake of a 20% approval rating for the current republican president. But what really won him the election?  The Internet and social media tools.

It’s no coincidence that Obama’s team at campaign headquarters is packed full of ambitious 20-somethings.  These same 20-somethings understood that this election is completely different because for the first time the Internet was massively, fundamentally, important.

So, Obama has a great website. It’s easy to read and navigate with a standards-compliant, clean, functional design.  However, every candidate has a website nowadays.  Where the real differences start to come is in Obama’s use of the free online social media tools like YouTube and Twitter, Barack’s use of different communication methods for different demographics, and probably most importantly, the creation of his OWN SOCIAL NETWORK.

Let’s start with the free online social media tools.  Barack leveraged all the major pre-existing Internet staples and built huge followings within each. The important metrics (at election time):

125 THOUSAND Twitter Followers (the most of all twitter users, ever)
100 MILLION Youtube Views,
865 THOUSAND Myspace Friends,
and 2.6 MILLION Facebook supporters.

It should also be noted that Obama’s Youtube channel has close to 2000 videos and in the final days of the election new videos were being released at a rate of roughly one an hour.

I think those numbers speak for themselves.

These are tools a vast majority of us already use and love.  When we can show support for, and interact with our presidential candidate, it helps immensely to build personal brand.  It’s certainly very cool to “be friends” with Obama on MySpace or receive a Tweet from Obama thanking YOU for helping to elect him.  This is why building personal brand becomes so important to help with Obama’s message.  He wants to drive home the point that every single voter matters, and the use of social media re-enforces this.  These relatively simple, passive tools that can (and most likely are) run by members of Obama’s team help personally connect voters to their candidate.

Barack and his team also used individual communication methods to contact different demographics.  For the younger voters, text messages were the weapon of choice.  Appropriately, for the older demo, clearly-worded, short, concise emails were sent out.  The personalization of campaigning helped Obama reach each generation in the best way.  In past elections, a TV spot goes out to everyone watching TV, and it’s much tougher to customize your message for a specific set of people.

picture-8On to Obama’s own Social Network. launched in the middle of February and by the end of his campaign had 1.5 Million accounts.  The social network launched pretty much without bugs and feature-complete showing again, that Obama’s team was CRUSHING the web aspect of his campaign and know the do’s and don’ts.  Through this social network, Obama’s followers arranged their own rallies, meetups, and contributed a vast amount of money that helped fuel Obama’s campaign.

In another show of web prowess, just a single day after being named president-elect, Obama launched the Obama-Biden Transition Project (as the organization is legally known) under the domain  Obama and his team know that keeping their followers in the loop via the web is not optional anymore, and this new project is a perfect example of the fact that Obama is committed to pursuing this view not just in his campaign, but in his presidency as well.

(Props to Techpresident for the killer metrics.)


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Digital Railroad Derailed.

Posted by Rod Leland on October 30, 2008

Digital Railroad has officially shut its doors.  The service that operated for four years at the domain went offline a couple days ago.  DRR operated a service for photographers to backup, archive, and sell stock photos online.  The site had 1900 users (and even a few BIG wire services) that stored and archived thousands upon thousands of photos on the site to introduce geographic redundancy into their workflow, and to make money.

Two days ago, the admins of the site sent out an email to their users informing them that they were shutting down and had 24 hours to offload any photos they wished to keep.  This act by the higher-ups at DRR is completely out of line in my mind.  Shutting the doors is one thing, but leaving thousands of people high-and-dry with little to no notice is completely inexcusable. They likely didn’t think things through too much either, as this notice from the admins had users franticly migrating their photos for syndication elsewhere all at the same time, which inevitably crashed the servers.

There were rumblings around the middle of the month when DRR announced major shuffling of management at the company, as well as some layoffs.  It’s clear now, however, that the wheels have completely fallen off.  The phones won’t get picked up at their office. The site leaves only a paltry text-based announcement/apology.

Thankfully, I was personally unaffected by DRR’s failure.  I use a competing service, Photoshelter.  I believe in the people there, the service, the technology behind their servers, and more importantly, Photoshelter is integrated directly into my sorting/ingesting/viewing app, Photo Mechanic. Photoshelter, in yet another great business move, has built a migration tool for DRR users to help them retain their meticulously created keywords and bring the files straight across to the Photoshelter servers.  The guys over at Photoshelter have also offered to honor 3 months worth of DRR subscription, effectively giving most DRR users three free months at Photoshelter.

The final numbers aren’t in yet, but it appears photographers have had mixed results recovering their data.  Remember, because of the space constraints most photographers only keep their best-of, portfolio, crowning, one-of-a-kind shots online.  Hopefully most of the DRR users had the sense to keep their best photos stored elsewhere as well.  The loss of a carefully organized and key-word organized database is quite a loss nonetheless.

R.I.P. Digital Railroad, we barely got to know each other.

-Rod Leland

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Complete Data Redundancy for 10 Bucks.

Posted by Rod Leland on October 23, 2008

I get the exact same phone call about every 2 months from a frantic friend or acquaintance.  Someone has lost his or her data and important documents to a hard drive failure.  I tell every one of my friends, and anyone that will listen actually, the same thing: A hard drive failure is not a matter of IF, but WHEN.

I’ll opt not to bore you with the metrics behind drive failure.  In super simple terms, given no extenuating circumstances (dropped HD, physical shock, electrical shock, extramagnetic field damage etc) and under normal circumstances it’s reasonable to expect between .5 and 1 out of every 100 HD’s to fail in a year.  Remember, that’s not counting everyone who drops a hard drive, runs over a computer etc.

It’s simple to think that all you need is multiple copies of your data to remain redundant.  But having a copy of every file can be expensive.  I try to ask people to imagine the most, and least likely unfortunate event, and backup according to that.

Firstly, what is most important to ensure you don’t lose? Your resume? Music? A book you’re writing? Bookmarks? All your documents? Family photos? I have different levels of redundancy I assign to my files. Some of my movies aren’t redundant at all. My music is backed up twice but my favorite stuff is thrice redundant.  My super important files get backed up many times over, and in many different places.

My 4 drive Array and 2 Externals.

My 4 drive Array and 2 Externals.

Every photo I have, and all of my other cant-lose data is backed up twice or more redundantly across a 4-drive RAID array that automatically protects against drive failure by rebuilding itself if it happens. My applications, along with all documents and OS is backed up on my time machine drive that’s updated every two minutes.  The super important stuff (portfolio, resume, bookmarks, etc.) is carried on me at all times on a flash drive, burnt to a CD stored 250 KM away from my house, and then again online on independent servers on the east and west coast of the US, and again in Europe.  This may seem over the top but I am just being realistic. My most important files are backed up to resist the least likely situation.  If a drive fails (which is quite realistic) I’ll never lose anything.  If my house burns down (very unlikely) I’ll lose a lot of stuff, but I’m still able to recover. If North America blows up, I’ve likely got bigger problems then my data remaining intact, but it’s nice to know my photos are safe.

You don’t have to pay for online, continental, geographic redundancy.  Nor do you have to go out and buy a RAID array for your files, just be prepared.  Basic redundancy (both drive and geographic) is damn near free if you think a bit about it.

Here’s the plan.

First, If you can afford it, buy an external hard drive that’s as big or bigger than your computer HD and put EVERYTHING on it, including a copy of your OS and applications. Now if either drive fails in-home, no harm, no foul, and you still have everything.
The count: Basic Files: 2 Semi-Important: 2, Super-Important: 2

Keep your iPod updated with as much as it will hold. It’s a great music backup. If you can, enable disc use and dump your super-most important stuff on there as well.
The count: Basic Files: 2 Semi-Important: 2, Super-Important: 3 + Music X 3

Pick out the files that would really suck to lose, but aren’t essential to carrying on. (old documents, photos from the bar, etc.)  Burn those to a DVD or two, and stash it at your parents house next time you’re there. With two DVD’s you can get around 15GB of storage which should be enough. Better yet, burn two copies of the same disc. Repeat a couple times a year with new data.
The count: Basic Files: 2 Semi-Important: 3, Super-Important: 4 + Geographic Redundancy

Now take the MOST important files (resume, contacts, family photos, grad photos etc, and throw them on a flash drive that you always carry with you.  1 and 2 GB drives can be found for a few dollars nowadays. Keep it updated.

This is regualr price.  On sale, these are usually found for 2 or 3 dollars.

This is regular price. On sale, these are usually found for 2 or 3 dollars.

The count: Basic Files: 2 Semi-Important: 3, Super-Important: 5

Next, email yourself the same files (obviously, size dependent) and leave them in your inbox.
The count: Basic Files: 2 Semi-Important: 3, Super-Important: 6 + Super Geographic Redundancy

There you have it. You’re protected. For 10 bucks you have peace of mind that to a reasonable level, everything is protected and in case of something REALLY crazy happening, and for 10 bucks plus a bit of effort, there are five copies of your data in different places, across unique media, so you will NEVER lose your most important data.


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New Apple MacBooks and MBP’s: Win, Draw, or Fail.

Posted by Rod Leland on October 15, 2008

Forecast: Good chance of win in the morning, with some regions seeing mild and isolated fail in the late afternoon.

So Apple dropped a few new portables today, and as is always the case, its BIG FUCKING NEWS.  And you can bet, without a doubt, the Apple marketing team is kicking back, having a glass of Champaign because it’s all anyone’s talking about.  New iPods make the local evening news for god’s sake.  Granted, as of Monday night, just about everyone who cared knew what was coming the next morning as today’s announcements were some of the worst ever for leaks.

It should be noted that Apple has a habit of pioneering change in computer design.  A lot of that has to do with ports, cables, and physical interfaces.  Apple also has a habit of “not-giving-a-fuck” about what everyone else is doing.  Ive and his crew wouldn’t (and don’t) hesitate at all to create a whole new standard if they need to. Apple has invented/pioneered new ports and cables many, many, many, many, many times before.  Today, they did it again.

No Blu-Ray. Jobs said Blu-Ray was “A bag of hurt” when asked about the lack of Blu-Ray support on the new portables.  The way I see it, not a huge deal, but it still sucks. I can get my HD content elsewhere, or from iTunes, and presumably those rocking new MBP’s have big ass TV’s and the PS3 or Blu-Ray player to go with them.
Verdict: Moderate Fail. Blu-ray won. It’s the official next-gen optical format. At least offer it as an option.

New Trackpad. The new trackpads that Apple is shipping are glass, support multi touch gestures, and have no dedicated button. I’m among the minority of people who use the dedicated button on my MBP’s trackpad so I have to reserve my personal bias from this evaluation.
Verdict: Win. The gestures are super useful.

DisplayPort. The announcement of the last-gen MacBooks revelaed that apple had created an all-new connector because the old connectors were too big.  Apple kind-of sort-of did that again today.  They took the regular DisplayPort interface and shrunk it.  Not a bad thing.  Just unexpected.  No one had ever heard of (or saw a need for?) “Mini-DisplayPort” until Apple came along. Now an interface half the size of a USB port can pump 4 000 000 pixels out to a monitor. Cool.

Verdict: Draw. New port means more bullshit adapters. But the New port is awesome.

No Firewire on MacBooks: Ok fine, Firewire 400 is slower than USB 2.0 but how the hell do use Target Disk Mode without Firewire? What about capturing DV from a video camera?
Verdict: Fucking Fail!  It’s not like there wasn’t room!

SSD’s.  Straight forward here.  SSD storage is finally at the point where Cost < Benefits.  Offering SSD’s with decent capacity is a no brainer here, and there are likely an army of people very, very excited about this.
Verdict: Epic Win.  Your files, now with more affordable and less crash.

Mandatory Glossy Screens. Uh-Oh. Apple is no longer offering matte screens on the laptops aimed straight for the pro graphics, photo, and design crew.  BAD IDEA.  I love my matte screens.  Color reproduction is more faithful, and when I work in the field, and end up stuck in my car filing photos remotely, it’s hard enough to keep glare down off my matte setup. I would rather the extra millimeter or two and no glass than the glare-monster make an appearance to slim down the computer a bit.
Verdict: Epic Fail. Matte screens are very important to a big part of the demographic.

Graphics CARDS (omfg plural?)  Apple now ships its MBP with TWO graphics cards. There are a ton of reasons this is awesome but it all ends in more performance, and that’s never a bad thing. Only problem is, you have to log out to switch modes between bad-ass monster power task-crushing laptop and battery-life-sipping endurance machine.  The other laptops (there are a few) that offer dual graphics cards just have a switch on the side.
Win. The performance gains are enough to offset the shitty switching.

Tally:  Win. The refresh was much needed and put Apple portables back in front on the bleeding edge where we all expect them to be.  Plus, everyone (like me) acts all outraged and heartbroken when Apple changes things viewed as important, but we all accept/love the changes eventually. Apple should keep gaining market share in the portable field.


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