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Digital will and testament

June 3rd, 2013 by bigjim

It can be challenging to write a Will. Sure, it is important to ensure your affairs are in order for when you make that journey home to God, but there is something difficult about staring your own mortality in the face and then writing it down!

Regardless, we are increasingly living in a time when the old instruments of signalling our wishes from beyond the grave are insufficient. So many of our assets now only exist in a digital world: photos, videos, important financial information – all are pieces of ourselves and our loved ones which we may wish to bequeath to the next generation…but how do you do that?

Many companies are thinking about this as some of their original users shuffle off this mortal coil. Facebook allows tribute pages, Evernote is working on a programme to allow content to be accessed for a century, and Google has created the Inactive Account Manager. This service (http://google.com/settings/account > ‘Control what happens to your account when you stop using Google’) allows any Google user to set up a collection of trusted users who will be the recipients of the content you have in your Google/Gmail/YouTube/Picasa accounts.

You then set a timeframe (3, 6, 9, 12 months) after which, if Google has not seen nor heard from you via you logging in, it will send a notification email or text to you to check you are still with us. If you’re not, then it will wait another month, and then send links to your selected few where they can download your content.

It may not be a fun thing to do, but it’s an important thing to think about. So maybe you should take the time to set someone up to receive a digital bequest from you – hopefully many, many years from now.

Posted in General musings, Technology overview | 1 Comment »

Bits and pieces

May 6th, 2013 by bigjim

When the internet was created, ease-of-use wasn’t really front-of-mind. Well, in some ways it was, especially when you consider the base from which we were starting from. Prior to the Internet, the only way you could connect a computer to another computer was to talk in the language of those computers, and connecting to machines on the other side of the world was extremely difficult – if possible at all! So, by comparison, connecting computers via the Internet seems far easier.

As new protocols like the World Wide Web (i.e. the ‘web’, or what you see when you use your Internet Explorer, Chrome or Firefox browser) emerged, there wasn’t really any success (nor much effort) in re-casting some of the machine-friendly components of the technology to be more human-friendly. People just got used to typing ‘www’ and ‘.com’, for example, or had to learn the order of “http://”.

For technology folk, it was somewhat amusing and puzzling when various internet nomenclature started to become commonplace in non-technical circles. But even with people adopting the technical language, you still had the problem of the length of internet addresses – also known as URLs. As the internet has expanded, this problem is only more pronounced.

So, URL shortening services have started to gain popularity. One such example is Bitly – at http://bit.ly – which allows you to set up a free account and then enter long URLs and have them shortened. So, for example, http://www.catholic.geek.nz/Blog/about/ becomes http://bit.ly/ZFj8kg.

It is a good way to save links you have found around the internet, and also a good way to share links without entering a paragraph of text. Plus, you can see when people have clicked on your link. Try it out the next time you see a long link or a website you want to save for later.

Posted in Technology overview | 1 Comment »

Newspaper you

April 1st, 2013 by bigjim

Reports of the death of the newspaper have been grossly exaggerated. Every time another article comes out talking of falling newspaper subscriptions, analysts rush to the fore to proclaim that the days of newsprint, editors-in-chief, and press passes have come to an end, and that the newspaper is no more!

They may be getting close on one hand, with the ever-looming end of newspapers as printed physical media. With iPads, Kindles, Nooks, Kobos, and a seemingly never-ending roster of Android tablets, the end of the paper component of the newspaper may finally be in sight.

However, as a format for delivering news, the newssheet seems to still have its place – in fact, it is becoming more common in the digital world. Not just on dedicated news sites like the NY Times or London Times – but on other sites that like to show an ‘infinite scroll’ of news in the old column format.

And now you can make your own internet newspaper, for consumption by the whole internet, by using a site like Paper.li. On this site, you create a free account by connecting it to your Facebook or Twitter account, and then you choose a name for your paper, as well as the frequency with which it should be updated. You then add topics and connections from around the internet and your social networks to create the sources for the ‘news’.

Paper.li then creates your very own, customised newspaper – complete with columns, sections, and the ability to subscribe. You can then share your creation, which updates live as stories change, with friends via a link that you can email or tweet. So, if you have ever been reading a newspaper and thinking to yourself that you could do a better job, now you can give it a try!

Posted in Cool tools, Link commentary | 1 Comment »

Kicking into life

March 4th, 2013 by bigjim

One of the great things about the internet is its ability to connect millions of people from different countries, cultures, and backgrounds to each other. When this connective power is used for good, then amazing things can happen.

If these disconnected people are aligned to a common project, which they are willing to donate a small amount of money towards it, the term ‘crowdfunding’ is used. And, obviously, when you are talking about a pool of millions of internet users, the potential for serious investment is huge – provided you can harness that collective capital.

A number of sites have emerged in recent years to fill that role of facilitation of funds collection and distribution. One example that has received mainstream coverage is Kickstarter. In essence, anyone can start a Kickstarter fund for a project they are trying to complete – be that a book, movie, piece of music, piece of art etc. – and then they seek funding from the community. If someone believes in the project, they can pledge money towards the project goal and, if the goal is reached, they give the money to the project owner.

How successful can this model be? The Pebble watch project sought US$100,000 to build an e-paper (like the technology used in the Kindle) wristwatch that connects to your smartphone. What they received was over US$10,000,000! The watch is shipping this year. This was a project that struggled to get investment from Silicon Valley investment firms, yet raised 100,000 times the amount of money they needed from total strangers.

There are already a number of successfully funded Catholic projects on Kickstarter, and more seeking support. Why not check them out, or start your own, and see if other people are willing to chip in on your project to help spread the Good News!

Posted in Link commentary | 3 Comments »

Oculus Rift

February 4th, 2013 by bigjim

As another year begins, there are few things in technology that we can be certain about. Rumours circulate continually, and predictions from the past usually bear little resemblance to what we actually end up seeing in any particular year. However, the one thing that can be guaranteed is that we will see plenty of new technologies, gadgets and products produced this year – some of which will be gone before Christmas; others which may redefine existing categories and change technology forever.

At the beginning of each year, tens of thousands of geeks, gadgeteers and journalists descend on Las Vegas, Nevada, to attend an annual event that showcases the latest and greatest in consumer electronics. The appropriately named International Consumer Electronics Show (CES) this year had over 3,000 exhibitors showing their wares to all and sundry.

While picking which technologies at CES will be the real world-changers is a fool’s errand in general, there are occasionally technologies that do ‘leap off the page’ as being special. This year, one in particular did exactly that.

The Oculus Rift (www.oculusvr.com) is a 3D, virtual-reality headset unlike anything we have seen outside of the movies. The project is working to bring fully immersive display technology to consumers, and a number of journalists got the chance to play with the demonstration unit at CES, and were collectively blown away with the responsiveness and immersion factor.

If the Rift continues on its current trajectory, it could be only a matter of months before you could buy one and take a virtual tour of places you could only dream of visiting. Perhaps it would be a good idea to start to build Catholic content for this new platform. Imagine how great it would be to visit St Peter’s Basilica or the Holy Land without ever leaving your couch!

300 words

Posted in Technology overview | No Comments »

A Christmas Storify

December 2nd, 2012 by bigjim

As Christmas approaches yet again, we will no doubt be hearing the Christmas story again ¬– not just at the pulpit in Mass on Christmas morning, mind you, as the priest reads the Gospel. Everywhere we look, there will be reminders of the reason for the season.

Now, we could turn this into a piece on how the actual reminders are diminishing, and how the reason for the season is not understood (or truly celebrated) by a growing number of people. But that’s not very geeky! So, instead, let’s focus on the ‘story’ aspect.

If Christ was born today, how would the scene in the manger play out? Would the Magi locate the manger via Google Maps on their smartphones using GPS? Would they ‘check-in’ on Foursquare or Facebook as they arrived with their gifts, which they bought on Amazon.com? Would the angels announce the arrival of the Messiah via tweets which the shepherds would pick up, all while Instagramming photos of the heavenly host for their Tumblr blogs?

Probably not. But, jokes aside, the increasing saturation of our digital lives with social media is changing a number of aspects of how we tell and share our stories. And at least one site – storify.com – is trying to ride that trend.

Storify allows you to catalogue, edit and arrange posts from various social networks centred on an event (often identified via a #hashtag). The resulting ‘story’ is a multimedia experience that captures what people were saying at the time, the photos they were sharing, and the sentiment or mood. Some recent examples include the visit of the Prince of Wales to New Zealand, and the solar eclipse.

So, why not make a “storify” about your Christmas experience this year, focusing on the Christ? Share it and see what happens when you do!

Posted in Cool tools, General musings | No Comments »

Tumble on

November 4th, 2012 by bigjim

Remember when you were a child and your parents taught you it was nice to share? Well, if the internet was a child, it obviously listened very, very well to its parents! Everything about the social media revolution is focused on sharing: your likes, your dislikes, what you’re doing, what you’d like to do, how your day was – whether on Twitter, Facebook or a myriad of other networks, we are increasingly being encouraged to share as much as we can, wherever we can.

One common theme of most of these networks today, however, is to keep things short and to the point. Twitter even enforces this with their 140 character limit. However, sometimes you might want to share something a bit more in-depth than a tweet or a status update, but you don’t want to establish a fully-fledged blog. This is where sites like Tumblr come into their own.

Tumblr is a “microblogging platform and social network” in one. It launched in 2007 and had 75,000 users within two weeks. It now has over 77 million blogs or “tumblogs” which are used to share everything from short quotes, to images, to videos, to long text posts – but the focus is on less words and more visuals.

In many ways, Tumblr foreshadowed a number of other internet trends. For example, people would often set up Tumblr accounts to post interesting and eclectic items that they found while browsing. The idea of thoughts and items ‘tumbling’ from your head straight onto the internet is common on other social networking platforms now, as is collecting items and images and resharing them – especially on sites like Pinterest.

But the real value in Tumblr comes from people being able to quickly establish very easily updatable sites on any manner of topics. Set one up today!

Posted in Cool tools, Link commentary, Technology overview | No Comments »

Flipping through

October 7th, 2012 by bigjim

Different people think differently about the value and uses of social media technologies: some see them as the new vehicle for communication online in the 21st century; others see them as tools to foment revolution and the overthrowing of dictators; still others see them as a barely interesting, relatively geeky oddity that does not really deserve too much thought at all.

Wherever you sit on this spectrum, the one thing that seems to be in general agreement now is that these social technologies aren’t leaving us anytime soon, so we may as well get used to it and adapt our lives and technology accordingly.

With this revelation, a number of companies have sprung up on the back of the increasing ubiquity of the major social networks, taking advantage of their size to increase their own adoption and success. In doing so, some of these properties have found news uses for social media technologies along the way. One such company/app is Flipboard.

Flipboard is a self-described “social magazine,” but is probably more accurately described as a social media-fuelled content aggregation and display application. In essence, the free app installs on iPads and other tablets and then asks for your Twitter, Facebook and other social network credentials. It then proceeds to look through all the links that are being shared by the people you follow on those networks, and then takes the popular stories/links and re-purposes them into a glossy magazine format on your tablet.

The result is that your social networks act as curators, and you are left with a consolidated, beautiful user experience by which you can browse through content from a myriad of sources. If you have an iPad or similar device, you should definitely download Flipboard today, and start making your social connections work for your reading pleasure!

Posted in Cool tools | No Comments »

With some klout

September 9th, 2012 by bigjim

Social media has been at the forefront of the so-called ‘democratisation’ of the internet. This can be seen in dramatic events such as the fall of foreign regimes like those affected by the “Arab Spring”, or in seemingly simple events like the rise of YouTube stars. Social media is also changing our idea of who are the influencers in this new information economy, and what it is that makes them influential.

In times gone by, the influencers in society were relatively easy to identify; you often had to exactly that when quizzed in Social Studies class! They were the world leaders and celebrities, the famous and the elite. However, as we spend more time online, what makes a strong reputation is starting to change. Far fewer people hide behind anonymous persona now (plenty still do, though). Instead, we have a world where people and companies compare the number of Twitter followers and Facebook fans they have, wielding these numbers as signs of great influence online.

But even those metrics have lost their shine, and are now being replaced with sites like Klout and PeerIndex. These sites analyse your presence online and provide you with a series of scores based on a number of factors beyond just the sheer numbers of followers. They look at how much your posts are read online, who shares your posts with their friends, the levels of ‘engagement’ your content garners, and a host of secret attributes which help them differentiate from each other.

Take some time to check out your clout and see if people are listening to what you’re saying online. If they are, it’s a good time to think about what you’re doing with your brand and reputation, and whether Christ’s message is featuring at all in what you say online.

Posted in Cool tools, Link commentary | No Comments »

Stumbling on serendipity

August 12th, 2012 by bigjim

One of the interesting aspects of the Internet has been the way that it has allowed pretty much every imaginable form of self-expression to find a niche online. Both long and short-form content seem to happily co-exist alongside video, audio, pictures, animations…the list goes on!

Part of the wonder of the internet is the serendipity of discovering something entirely new and interesting. But, in a world where increasing numbers of people just open their browser straight up at Google and start typing, how are you supposed to stumble upon new and interesting sites?

Well, one option is stumbleupon.com. This site allows users to go and create a profile and indicate what their interests are. They are then presented with the “Stumble bar” – a bar that appears at the top of your browser window with a button marked “Stumble”. Clicking on the button starts you “Stumbling” through the internet – a random website along the lines of one of your interest is displayed for you to discover.

As you stumble, you can rate the quality of the content found in terms of its fit for what you are looking for – something required for your first 20 stumbles. Stumbleupon then ‘learns’ what you like and tries to offer you more personalised content. It really is an interesting way to find new sites.

You can also enter any interest you like in the search bar and stumble across sites classified by that interest grouping. For example, three ‘Catholic’ stumbles we came across were an apologetics page from Colombia University, pray-as-you-go.org from the Jesuit Media Initiatives organisation, and the profile page of Pope Benedict XVI on the Vatican’s website.

Of course you can also share your discoveries on other social networks, so why not get out there and get stumbling and sharing good Catholic sites!

Posted in Cool tools, Link commentary | No Comments »

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