Archive for March, 2008

PutPlace.com shortlisted for Eircom Innovation Award

March 31, 2008

Where is your Digital Life? That’s the question PutPlace asks, and answers thus – “Whether it’s Flickr, YouTube or Blip.tv, PutPlace is software that will find, organize and publish your digital life to the Web so that you can share it with friends.”

It’s a simple idea perhaps but deceptively powerful and useful. My Digital life is increasingly scattered to the four winds of the apocalypse (to mangle a metaphor) and I’ve reached a stage where I need to find a single hub. FriendFeed.com and other social aggregators are making waves as consumption hubs but where are the publishing hubs? PutPlace is one. And that’s why I started beta testing it a few months ago.

And it does exactly as it says on the tin. Perhaps not the most exciting software in the world but then again the most useful stuff often isn’t. It just works and it just makes life easier. And the team behind PutPlace are are a really nice bunch to boot, as exemplified by the trip Darren made from Dublin to Limerick especially to sort out a weird problem my client software was having in contacting the server. Problem solved, Darren returned to Dublin without making a song and dance about it but how many startup teams do you know who’ll make 200 mile return trips to help a beta tester squish an edge-case bug?

That’s why I’m delighted to hear from founder Joe Drumgoole that Putplace have been shortlisted for the Eircom Innovation Awards, one of only ten companies. Best of luck to them, it’s richly deserved.

[Aside: winding down my Asus EeePC trial here and wishing all week that Putplace was available for this storage starved flash drive. In fact believe I think the emerging Solid-State-Drive Netbook category is a real sweetspot for Putplace to target so I’m pleased to note that a Linux version is on the way. Yet another example of Putplace’s outstanding responsiveness to their beta testers]

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Meet the teenage millionaires at Limerick OpenCoffee Club this Thursday

March 30, 2008

It’s been such a busy week that I didn’t even get a chance to comment on or congratulate Patrick and John Collison, the teenage brothers who sold their startup company Auctomatic to a Canadian firm last week. It was particularly exciting news for those of us who frequent OpenCoffee in the Collison’s home town of Limerick where they gave a talk on startup life and their Silicon Valley adventure last summer, which was broadcast live to the web  from the Absolute Hotel by Conn O’Muineachain.

Of course Patrick and John have been experiencing the full on media whirlwind all week culminating in a Late Late Show appearance on Friday night which Bernie Goldbach recorded for posterity. [Indeed it was Bernie’s photos from their appearance at OpenCoffee which accompanied stories on the RTE and BBC websites]. So I’m delighted to note that, despite the demands on their time, Patrick will be dropping into Limerick OpenCoffee club again this coming Thursday 3rd April. And I’d like to echo his open invitation to "come join us!".

Remember, OpenCoffee is a free networking event open to all who are interested in entrepreneurship and business. We’ll be at the Absolute Hotel from 11am onwards so please comment here or email me if you’ve never been before and have any questions. Here’s a bird’s eye view map of the venue.

Skype branded PC (Skypebook) on the way? [Asus EeePC week]

March 27, 2008

I’ve been part of a virtual team for the last 8 years, but consisting of only two people we’ve never had reason to push the boundaries of communications technology in keeping the business running smoothly. A joint Gmail account and Google Talk chats have sufficed in terms of administrative coordination.

Recently however I joined a new virtual team of seven individuals from all across the country and have finally had reason to delve into the capabilities of a hugely popular service I’d only ever dabbled in previously – Skype.

What I’ve quickly learned is that this is a much more useful communications suite than I’d imagined. The ability to switch between voice-calls to video-calls to conference chats is damn useful. Not earth shattering but very very useful. For instance, our team leader setup a Skype chat and added each team member so that we can have a continuous group discussion regardless of who else is online at the time. As soon as people go back online they’re presented with the full transcript of the conversation.

But doing all this on the Asus EeePC got me thinking about what an ideal device it is for the job and how it’s not actually a whole lot more expensive than some Skype phones. In fact I think a Skype branded (and configured) EeePC (or other Netbook) would make an ideal low end teleconferencing device. There was a lot of talk about Creative’s InPerson after the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) recently but that costs a whopping USD$700 and requires a $10 per month subscription fee to the web service!! Now why in the hell would anyone pay that if they could get a whole lot more capable Skype Netbook, let’s call it the Skypebook, for half the price and no ongoing fee?

Yesterday I had a meeting with Daithi O’Murchu, headmaster of the most technologically advanced primary school in the country, to continue our discussion about the EeePC, video conferencing and a few other ideas. I didn’t have much convincing to do, he’d already gone ahead and ordered a pilot batch of 15 Asus machines. He sees video chat as an exciting way for pupils to interact with their counterparts in other schools and countries. And he has big plans for an international broadcast from the music hall in May. I’m really looking forward to helping out with that and seeing just how far we can push these wonderful little computers in a learning environment.

[Aside: Yes, Asus EeePC week has turned into Asus EeePC fortnight and were it not for the fact I have to return my trial unit its rightful owner shortly that could well have extended to a year and beyond.]

Postcode systems are like buses…

March 24, 2008

…. you wait ages for one and then two come along together. I wrote previously about GPS Ireland’s system and now Gerard O’Neill points us to TICode which, though it isn’t calling itself a Post Code system seems, unless I’m greatly mistaken, to do exactly the same as GPS Ireland’s system.

"So what is a TICode? Simply put, a TICode is a 7 character code which identifies any location in the island of Ireland to an accuracy of 7 meters squared. You can either search for your TICode using an address, or you can use an interactive map to find the TICode for any point on the island of Ireland. When you’ve found your TICode, you’ll also be able to email the map to your friends, upload it to your Garmin SatNav or put it as a link on your website or email signature so people can find you."

Am I missing something here? Did TICode license GPS Ireland’s system and if so why has it been launched first? Or is it just an incredible coincidence that they both came along together? Won’t two competing systems create enormous confusion and seriously dent the hopes of either one becoming a de facto standard?

The switchover [Asus EeePC week]

March 21, 2008

4 days on and the switchover trial is going fine. Most of the time I
just forget that I’m working on this Asus EeePC instead of my Dell
Inspiron office laptop. There were a few snags of course, mainly to do
with Firefox add-ons, but nothing that ground the experiment to a halt.

Updating the Signature extension was the number one nuisance. We depend on this for inserting
canned text on customer replies through Gmail but luckily had backups
in a ‘Canned’ label so it wasn’t a lot of work to add them back
in. My second can’t-live-without add-on is del.icio.us so once that was
re-installed it was off-to-the-races.

Both the Dell and this
Asus machine have 512Mb RAM and I haven’t found any difference between
the number of Firefox tabs I can comfortably keep open. What I have
found though is that pop-ups, like the Ctrl-D del.icio.us dialog are
sometimes rather sluggish to respond on the EeePC. But starting Firefox
in particular and switching between tabs is actually faster on this
machine.

This has been a typical work week for me and I’ve
only once needed to run an application outside of the browser – Skype.
Which actually comes pre-installed on the EeePC. Nevertheless I
upgraded to the latest version which supports video calling so that I
could test out the capability of the built-in webcam which certainly
doesn’t disappoint. My brother expanded the video window to full screen
at his end of a test call and confirmed that quality was good with
excellent synchronization between video and audio.

This was the first time he’d been at the receiving end of a video call
where the webcam was built into the bezel of the transmitting device,
as it is on the Asus, directly above the screen. What he learned is
something that teleconference/telepresence vendors have long known –
video calling reaches a new level of effectiveness when it seems that
the caller is looking you directly in the eye. If you’ve only ever
participated in a video call where the other party was watching the
computer screen while the webcam was off to the side, as it typically
is, then you won’t really appreciate the significance of this until you
see it. When you consider the expense of traditional teleconferencing
equipment I think the EeePC and other Netbooks could well forge a niche as
low-end alternatives.

As regards others software applications here’s an audit of what I (sometimes) use on my Windows laptop –

Google
Earth:
I haven’t actually used Google Earth in quite a while as I find Google Maps plenty useful. Nevertheless I decided to download and
install the Linux version on the EeePC and
had no problem getting it running, on an external monitor at least.
While it also runs on the internal LCD a hack is required to make it
run smoothly. Actually it’s not the time ‘hacks’ have been required to configure apps on this Linux based machine and that’s something I’ll return to at the end of the trial.

Google Talk: Is alternatively available through the Gmail interface in Firefox so there’s no need for a Linux version.


Camtasia:
It’s been a while since I did a screencast but I’ll be
ramping up production again soon so a solution in this category is
something I’d definitely need. A Google search throws up no shortage of
Linux options but I haven’t yet installed any and don’t know if they’re in
the same league as TechSmith’s product.


Picasa:
I used to use Google’s Picasa quite a bit for managing my
digital photo collection but that was before I got a camera with wifi
capability (my Sony Ericsson P1i smartphone). Now, using Shozu over wifi I usually upload photos directly to Flickr, a sytem which has two big
advantages over the previous way of doing things – backups are automatic (I trust Yahoo!) and sharing is
immediate. I just wish Shozu supported Pix.ie which is the photo
sharing service I use for tech events I attend.

As regards photo editing Flickr’s Picnic does all I need. An
alternative for people who want to manage their photos on the minimal
internal storage or external SDs (The EeePC has a built-in SD/MMC
reader) is of course Pixenate.


Second Life:
This is the only other client software I could think of
that I use semi-regularly on my Dell laptop. I haven’t actually used it
since Haydn launched his virtual art gallery but I do intend to
get back into it. There is a Linux client for SL and even a web-based client
so software isn’t a problem. What I’d imagine would be a problem is
hardware. While the EeePC does have a fairly capable onboard Intel 3D
graphics chip I’m not sure it would be up to speed for Second Life.


Office apps:
The Asus comes with a copy of OpenOffice which
works perfectly well as a Microsoft Office replacement but I have
no need for it – I just use Google Documents.

Text editors: Up
until a few months ago I used to use either Notepad or TextPad for
note-taking but now I use Google Documents or Selfnotes.net, the former
for composing blog posts and longer passages of text, the latter for
scribbling notes.

At the end of the day there hasn’t been a deal-breaker yet, nothing that’s forced me to power-up the Inspiron 510m. And it confirms for me what I’ve long suspected – even if I can’t quite live in the cloud I can live without Microsoft Windows.

A Postcode solution or Postcode madness?

March 19, 2008

tAfter returning from CreativeCamp Kilkenny I wrote about one of the more interesting presentations I attended on the day, where Gary Delaney of GPS Ireland announced that his company had developed a Post Code System for Ireland which will be available on Garmin SatNav Systems from the end of March. The follow on discussion/debate has been very interesting and is well worth promoting to a summary post.

For starters Conor O’Nolan thinks Gary’s system is "Postcode madness. Essentially anyone who wants a code has to go online and find out their own code using a map to pinpoint their house or workplace. They then need to transmit that code to a delivery company who are using GPS devices provided by GPSIreland."

John Dundon thinks it’s an interesting system but struggles to understand that in order to find a postcode you have to pinpoint a location on a map first – "if you do that you may as well just navigate to the address. I see the biggest challenge is not one of defining a postcode system but of implementation and acceptance by the public, not just users of Garmin sat nav."

Gary Delaney responded to both points – "Discussions about the merits/dismerits of any system are welcome – but if the discussion continues for a number of years it is useful if someone goes and just does it to assist in the efficiency of vehicle managmenet. I am that person in this case."

But John Dundon still wanted to know, how the system would deal with an address with many access points – "does it have many postcodes, or if there are many delivery points in the building, e.g. businesses, do they share the same postcode." While ‘Langer Dan’ commented "If the algorithm for conversion from grid location to ‘Irish Post Code(tm)’ is held only by GPS Ireland and some manufacturers, then it’s useless…. the algorithm should be available and open to public review."

Gary again responded, stating that any place can be given a grid reference and have a PostCode, not just a building or structure. "Where different persons/organisations are in the same buidling they can have the same main postcode if they wish but there is provision for an additional element which gives floor number." And, as for the algorithm "that has my copyright at present but that does not have to be the case for the future. Lets see if we can get it off the ground first and you can be sure that I will want as many people as possible to have access to the conversion – lets just see…"

All in all I think it’s a very exciting development and will regularly return to it on this blog as we follow progress.

Hitting the sweet spot [Asus EeePC week]

March 18, 2008

Reading through feedback on the Asus EeePC forums it’s clear that most people bought the device because it hits a sweet spot in the intersection between price, portability and power. Individuals debate which of those three parameters makes it what it is but the consensus is towards a convergence of all three. As I’ve got this unit on a loan I’m not exactly price sensitive but portability is a key benefit, especially when it doesn’t compromise on power.

That’s because I’m a Digital Bedouin – wherever I lay my laptop that’s my office [with apologies to Marvin Gaye]. I travel daily between two home-based offices and regularly meet clients, colleagues and co-workers in cafes and hotels. For that reason every ounce of weight and every inch of footprint less is important. Comparing the EeePC to my Dell Inspiron 510m in the photos below it’s clear that the former will go many places the latter won’t, like the glove compartment in my car (and even the side-pocket on the door), desk drawers, large coat pockets (yes, I do have a coat with pockets big enough), handbags (my sister confirms) and the smaller pocket in a rucksack (hand luggage).

Small footprint of Asus EeePC

My Inspiron 510m is a mid-size laptop but still has a footprint 2.5 times bigger than the EeePC.

Wireless mouse & keyboard with Asus EeePC

Does the small keyboard of the EeePC ‘cramp my style’? Not much according to TypingTest.com. My results on the large SilverCrest wireless keyboard were –

Net Speed:      59 WPM
(words/minute)
Accuracy:     93%
Gross Speed:     63 WPM
(words/minute)

On the inbuilt keyboard I achieved –

Net Speed:      51 WPM
(words/minute)
Accuracy:     92%
Gross Speed:     55 WPM
(words/minute)

These were two genuine tests where I concentrated more on accuracy than speed. Being a touch typist helps but the built-in keyboard requires much more discipline than I’m used to. Stiffening the wrists to avoid finger drift is quite important!

Hand sized EeePC

EeePC setup

The extra degree of portability the EeePC has over the Inspiron makes a huge difference in terms of usage scenarios. My laptop has very rarely been used on the lap, it’s more a portable desktop replacement. But already with the Asus I’ve found myself watching YouTube videos on the couch, reading Google News at the breakfast table, playing Tetris in bed and listening to podcasts at the kitchen counter. The unit is so small, light and bump resistant it really is a go anywhere device. As one happy-camper on the EeePC User Forum says"I find that the more portable the computer is the more I take it with me and the more use it gets."

Of course it should be remembered that the EeePC and future Netbooks aren’t seen by Intel as laptop replacements, at least not for customers in developed countries. Rather they are intended as a second or third computer. Intel’s Navin Shenoy explains –

Can I live in the Cloud? [Asus EeePC Week]

March 17, 2008

Cloud computing is a new label for the subset of grid computing that includes utility computing and other approaches to the use of shared computing resources. Cloud computing is an alternative to having local servers or personal devices handling users’ applications. In general, the label suggests that function comes from “the cloud” — usually assumed to be the Internet — rather than from a specific identifiable device [source: Wikipedia]

It’s been 16 months since I declared “Google is my Microsoft“, after realizing that more of my computing needs were served by Google’s portfolio of online applications – Gmail, Reader, Docs, etc, – than by Microsoft’s alternatives. In fact, I noted, in terms of software I actively used, except for Windows XP and Hotmail my computer was practically a Microsoft free zone. Today then marks another milestone along that path as I cast aside the remaining vestiges of Bill Gates’ influence on my daily routine. For a week at least.

A few days ago I wrote about the device which turned me into a drooling big kid during my attendance at CreativeCamp Kilkenny – the Asus EeePC. On Thursday John Kennedy, a stalwart of our Limerick OpenCoffee meetings, phoned me up to say he’d be passing by my house in a hour and would drop off his own EeePC for me to play with for a few days. Woohoooo!! After 2 hours of giddy testing, attaching peripherals and customizing settings I have to say I was totally blown away by this diminutive but fully fledged PC. Tech-head that I am I regularly get excited by gadgets but I can honestly say that no device has ever impressed me in the way that this piece of Asus wizardry has.

But the thing about this EeePC is that it’s essentially a thin client computer, or at least a very lean client. In fact system software claims about 2/3 of it’s 4GB of storage so there’s very little room for downloaded apps. Therefore the big question is, am I really ‘computing in the cloud’ to the degree that I imagine I am, such that I can switch to the EeePC at the drop of a hat for a full work week? To answer that question this week will be ‘Asus EeePC week’ on my blog. Without any preparatory archiving or copying I closed my Dell Inspiron 510m last night and won’t open it again until next Monday. Instead I’m going to work off this Asus netbook and see if I can transition smoothly without reverting to my workhorse laptop.

To be continued….

Bytes ‘n Pieces

March 15, 2008

Joe Drumgoole and Eoghan McCabe came up with another interesting idea at OpenCoffee Dublin"a Paddy’s Valley trip to London primarily to attend a London Open Coffee event but also to meet business partners, VCs  etc.". Mike Butcher of TechCrunch UK & Ireland jumped right in to offer promotion and connections.

Jason Roe gave a great presentation on CoWorking at CreativeCamp Kilkenny last weekend where I learned a lot about the different setups, working with landlords and how spaces in the this country tend to operate differently to elsewhere. It’s interesting to hear Matt Johnston recount that he originally investigated the setting up of a co-working facility in Belfast as far back as 2006 –

"We were looking at a 3 storey building within half a mile of Queen’s University as a potential location for this nascent business. We worked out cash flows based on a café, with pay-for workspace ranging from shared desks to enclosed, secured offices. We even drew maps and applied for funding but, being asset-free, I was kinda buggered when it came to financing it."

But Matt goes on to point out that he met a few more people interested in coworking at a recent OpenCoffee Belfast – "David is working on a CoWorking business plan, Andy spends his days camping out in a coffee shop. Belfast needs co-working facilities." I tell ya, this OpenCoffee thing is a sure fire was to meet industrious people.

 

— And you don’t even have to wait around for the next OpenCoffee, TechLudd, Tweetup or Barcamp to socialize with interesting folks, just propose something anytime you feel like it… like Elly just did for a random drinks meetup in Dublin on 22nd March [hat tip to Alexia].

— Born out of his experiences in setting up a ‘hyper energy effienct’ data center in Cork tech blogger Tom Raftery has started a new green blog called Lower (Carbon) Footprint. A nice addition to the growing list of Irish green blogs.

— Speaking of tech bloggers I wish Robin Blandford would just stop blogging and give one of us other tech-heads a chance to win at the Irish Blogging Awards next year. He’s on such a roll at the moment that he’s heading for two in a row!

Finding Farmers Markets and Artisan Food Retailers

March 12, 2008

Paul O’Mahony has long been doing tremendous work in bringing Irish artists and crafts people to the web. And now he’s putting Farmers Markets and Artisan Food Retailers on the map… literally –

"I’ve decided to start a map of places where you can find healthy fresh farm produce. The map will include farmers markets, artisan food retailers and individual farmers who sell directly to the consumer. The idea is that anybody can see at a glance, who is providing fresh food in their immediate vicinity and when they are open for business."

Paul has also produced a screencast showing users how to add locations to the map so please help him build it out if you can.