Homeware

Yesterday I caught myself questioning something that I have never ever thought about – homeware. By homeware I mean clothes that are worn at home.

When clothes get old and don’t look very presentable anymore, it’s not OK to wear them outside. But for some reason, it’s perfectly fine to wear them at home. Jeans with broken zippers, sweaters with holes, old t-shirts, desaturated by sun and multiple washes, and things like that…

And I know that I am not alone doing it. Plenty of people in Russia do the same. That might be caused by those hard times of the Soviet Union, when there weren’t that many clothes to buy or money to buy them with (is it even true? I don’t know). I have no idea if people from other countries and other cultures do the same. I never asked. And I never paid attention.

But yesterday… yesterday I realized that recently I spent much less time at home than outside. Should I now wear my best clothes at home and all the old stuff outside? In fact, why should I wear the old clothes anyway? Well, I want to. I just love my old clothes. It’s difficult for me to part with jeans, socks, and t-shirts. I get emotionally attached. But then, why don’t I wear them outside? Hmm… I do sometimes. On one hand, I don’t care about public opinion on this matter. On the other, I don’t want to embarrass the people I meet with – not all of them can take it.

All sorts of questions are rushing through my head now. But the biggest one of them is the one above – do people of other countries and cultures still wear clothes at home that they can’t wear outside?

SMS alerts for new email via Twitter

As I have mentioned previously, Twitter has many uses. Today, I used it to implement a quick and simple solution for SMS alerts. A certain someone (a client of ours) wanted to receive an SMS message on his phone every time an email arrives to his mailbox. Sounds simple, right? Well, here in Cyprus we lack free and simple solutions for mass SMS messages. So, it wasn’t so simple until Twitter came along. Here is how I did.

I’ve registered two new accounts on Twitter (they are free, aren’t they?). One account is used for the client himself, and has his mobile configured, complete with “Don’t send SMS during these hours…” feature. The second account is used by the mail server to send notifications. Now, this second account is set to be protected in Twitter, so that only manually accepted people can follow and receive updates and notifications.

Then I wrote a really really simple Perl script (I called it twit_mail.pl). Most of the work is done by a Net::Twitter perl module, so I didn’t have to do much.

The script is designed to be used with mail aliases. For example, if I was to use for user@mysystem mailbox, I’d create the following aliases in /etc/aliases:

user:  user,twitter
twitter: "|/path/to/twit_mail.pl username password verbose"

The first line here tells the system to copy an incoming message to another account – twitter. This is needed so that the original email is received untouched by the user, and my twit_mail.pl script had something to play with.

The second line creates a pipe alias. Each message that comes to twitter@mysystem is piped to the twit_mail.pl script. The script requires two parameters – username and password for Twitter account to use – and allows for verbosity parameter. If verbose is set, then the script will send an informative status update to Twitter, something like “Message from a@b.com to user@mysystem about ‘some subject'”. If verbosity is off, a generic “You’ve got mail” will be sent.

You can easily find the appropriate lines in the script and change them for fixed values, if you only want to send notifications for one account. I chose to go with parameters, so that I could use the same copy of the script for several accounts.

Once you have the script set, aliases configured, and Twitter accounts created and linked, all you are left with is a test message. And that’s about it.

Change brings change

I came across an excellent blog post that says “When you change, all your relationships change”. It outlines something that I’ve been thinking about a lot for the last couple of years or so. The article itself is very centered around the business activities, but it applies all the same to other changes in one’s life – marriage, children, shift in hobbies and interests.

It’s a good read, and I do agree with most of the statements. However there is one statement that I should point out as non-obvious and another one as understated.

“Validate that you are moving in the right direction.” This is a non-obvious one. For me at least. I can barely understand where I want to move, and I can barely make an attempt of understanding where I am heading. But my thinking is very biased, uninformed, and really not all that reliable to call it a “validation”. It’s more of a feeling actually, than a thinking process. I don’t know if it is so only for me or for other people too.

The article, while nicely written, makes me feel sad and somewhat depressed. That’s probably because the “new people” point is understated. The thing is, change brings change. Old relationships fade away, but new ones appear. Sometimes these are new relationships with old connections. Sometimes – with new people. And its amazing when you see it work.

I’ve recently started talking to someone I’ve been friends with back at 1999 or so. We went our separate ways, and now, suddenly, our paths crossed again. I’ve met some new people. I’ve discovered new sides to people I’ve known for ages. Just seeing all that alone is worth all the troubles that changes bring…

Back from the TwitterLand

You’ve obviously noticed the silence on this blog, as well as most of my other blogs, over the last few days. It was all caused by Twitter. I am totally addicted, and I can’t help it. I am briefly back, since the service is down (probably due to all the hype around it).

If you are trying to get an idea of how badly I’m tied to it, here is a metric for you. Over the last four days or so I had at most two updates over all of my blogs. My Twitter stream, on the other hand, saw me posting more than 150 times! If that doesn’t describe my addiction, I don’t know what does.

Some of you are probably still asking the question “What is Twitter?”. I won’t go into it, as there are so many excellent places on the web that describe it back and forth, in any language you might prefer, and technical level that you can understand.

Here are my brief thoughts about Twitter:

  • Twitter is very hard to get from the first look. You’ll have to use it for a day or so to get it. I don’t know why that is, but many people have confirmed that it is indeed so. I was no exception here.
  • Once you give Twitter that introduction time, it’s very addictive. Even if nobody from your friends is using it. It’s very hard to get off. And I am not even often addicted to web services. Twitter is harder than Flickr and Google Reader combined.
  • Twitter has many uses (and users). It’s micro-blogging (blog posts with maximum length of 140 characters). It’s a chat system. It’s a social network. It’s a TODO list. It’s an application for note taking. It’s time tracking application. It’s train of though logging application. It’s monitoring and notification application. It’s a quick answer for a simple question search application. Those are just a few. There are many ways to utilize short, instant messaging that works across web, IM, RSS, and SMS.
  • Twitter is very social. It helps to bring people closer together. Even more than IM and blogging do.
  • Twitter brings people to the same level. Take blogging for example. Sometimes it’s impossible to say how much time the person spent on thinking, writing, editing and formatting the post. How much time was spent on the research. Thus, some people who write in trivial language might appear smarter – long hours of work might look like something coming out of the top of person’s head. It’s intimidating sometimes. With Twitter – all you have is 140 characters and no formatting and no pictures. Nobody spends more than 15 seconds writing it. Or thinking about it. That gives a better perspective of the person’s brain activities.

For me personally, the short message limit is a bonus. My thoughts are short and often. But I don’t feel comfortable writing blog posts which are very short. I feel like I have to explain myself better and all that. With Twitter – I have an excuse not to. There is a message length limit and everyone knows about it. I can just spit out my thoughts and feelings. 140 characters is more than enough for that.

The only disappointing thing about Twitter so far is it’s speed and stability. I don’t know if that is caused by the implementation, or by all the hype it gets in the blogosphere lately, or by a combination of these two, or by something else. The IM service is constantly down, slow, or broken. The web site is inaccessible at times. RSS feeds miss items. But even with all that, it’s still a great place to hang out.

Join and take a look around.

Do not copy Flickr images. There is a better way.

Recenlty I’ve noticed that many of my friends copy and re-post pictures from each other on Flickr. Usually, this happens after some drunk party with naked women event that a few of them attend together – everybody wants to have quick access to those images, made by one of them.

Guys, you really don’t have to download and re-upload those images to your account. There is a better way. You can just mark images of other Flickr users as “favourites”. In the menu above the picture, there is the “Add to Faves” button with a little grey star. If you click on it, the star will turn purple and the image will be added to your favourites. If you click on the purple star once again, it will go back to grey and the image will be removed from the favourites. That works exactly like the Google star, which you see in GMail, Google Reader, and other Google applications.

You can access your favourite images from the main menu. It’s under “You -> Your favourites”. The best part of it, is that you can see other people’s favourite images too. When looking at somebody else’s stream, there is a menu at the top, just under user’s name – Sets, Tags, Archives, Favourites, Profile.

You see, now all your favourite images are just one click away. Enjoy Flickr!

Upgraded to the latest WordPress version

I’ve been ignoring WordPress udpates for far too long now. My blog was still running WordPress-2.0.5, when WordPress-2.1.2 is available for a few days now. Today, when I realized that Alex King’s Twitter Tools plugin works only with modern version of WordPress, I said “enough is enough” and upgraded. I was surprised as to how well the upgrade went through. Nothing broke except for the display of links, which I used a custom SQL for, and which I was warned all about in the release notes. It took me about 40 seconds to fix it, and I even got read of the custom SQL thing, so it shouldn’t break in the future.

If you notice any misbehaviour around the site, please let me know.

P.S.: Now, as a bonus feature, whenever I post a new entry to this blog, you can be notified via my twitter stream.

Are you on Twitter?

Twitter has been the noise of the blogosphere for the last few weeks. Even though the project is much much older than that.

Executive summary: Twitter is a great mix of blogging, instant messaging, SMS communications, RSS feeds, social networking, and fun. It’s sounds complicated and foggy, but in fact is very straight-forward and simple. And addictive. And useful.

Do any of you guys use it already? I’ve only tried it out today. It’s instant love. Despite the fact that their servers are a bit slow today, and my IM integration hasn’t happened yet. SMS works just fine though.

Anyway, I’ll probably post a wider review in a couple of days. Until then, try it out yourself, and let me know what do you think. You can find me at http://twitter.com/mamchenkov .

Nested albums in Flickr, and more

Everybody and their brother were requesting nested albums from Flickr development team for as long as I’ve been using the service. Indeed, when switching from conventional photo gallery applications, it looked a bit surprising that one couldn’t create albums within albums (say album “Russia” within album “Travels”).

With time, I forgot about this feature and got used to one level sets (Flickr lingo for albums). There are so many other ways to search, organize and navigate photos – tags, intuitive search, RSS feeds, contacts, groups, etc – that nested albums weren’t anywhere critical.

Those people who just can’t live without nested albums, can relax now. The feature was added with the most recent update of Flickr and is available with Pro accounts now (Pro account will cost about $25 USD per year, but it’s worth every cent).

I went back and scrolled through the list of my sets, trying to locate those that would fit collections (new term for nested sets) easily. It turned out that I could only create three collectionsCyprus Rally, Limassol Grand Carnival and KSP (most of you won’t be interested in this one). There is also some potential for a split in my Trip to Russia set, but I can’t be bothered with that now.

Flickr collections can be nested themselves. The maximum depth is limited to 5 levels for now. That is you can include a set in the collection, in the collection, in the collection… isn’t that already more than enough? Probably. But that’s not the best part yet. The best part is that sets and collections can belong to as many other collections as you want. That’s similar how photos are organized into sets. Excellent!

This post in Flickr blog has all the details. Also, about that other feature – of a customized layout of the front page with your photos. Now you can choose to use larger image sizes and use latest collections instead of sets, or disable them altogether.

WordPress and PHP. Sessions and cookies.

This is more of a reminder to myself, than anything else.

  • WordPress does not use sessions as of now. They do everything via cookies.
  • Before using $_SESSION variable in PHP, one should have session_start() done. Read more about PHP sessions. In WordPress, the best place to have this is at the top of the header.php.
  • Another page load is needed after setcookie() call to be able to use the $_COOKIE variable. Read more about PHP cookies.

That’s all for now. Hopefully, I’ll spend less time bumping my head over this next time.