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I, for one, welcome our new toddler overlords

iPhone App Store Thoughts

Twitter is great for those fleeting thoughts one has that maybe aren't work blogging about, but are worth saving all the same. I had a bunch of these thoughts last Thursday when the iPhone App Store went live and I was testing out all sorts of applications. Here are the relevant ones:

07:24 App Store is live on my phone!
07:36 First tweet from Mobile Twitteriffic.
07:47 Replacing all my webclips with proper iPhone apps.
10:19 Exposure's "Near Me" feature is broken. What are "metres"? :-p
10:23 Is anyone else able to use the Facebook app? I'm getting a "Cannot connect at this time." error.
10:39 Protip: Do not enter your News Gator credential into NNW Touch if you haven't logged into the account in a year or so.
10:47 Now we know why Apple stopped including remotes with Macs: They'd rather you buy an iPhone and use Remote.app instead. Talk about upselling.
13:58 Shazam accurately found two songs playing at the restaurant during lunch today. Midomi did not.
14:18 It's annoying that I have to keep retyping my iTunes password almost every time I want to download something from the App Store.
18:35 Facebook app gets a big "meh" from me. Much less functionality than the webapp.
18:42 Putting on an extra polo shirt while Loopt installs.
19:22 It appears I haven't opened NNW since Feb 07. I can't give up GReader, so it looks like I'll need to come up with an On The Go feed list.

And here are some quick reviews that I posted on Ars:

AIM - This is slightly less useful until push functionality is available.

Facebook - Looks promising (at least better than using the web interface), but I can't get past the login screen ("Unable to connect at this time.") NOTE: I have been able to login and the app has less features than the mobile site. So far this is the only app I'm considering going back to the webclip.

Twitterrific - Pretty nice. Definitely beats the Twitter's mobile site. Photo integration and location updating are cool too.

Exposure - Nice, but limited on 2G. Not sure how often I'll look at Flickr on the go, but photos near me might be cool if I'm traveling.

CheckPlease - Works fine for me, but the icon is a bit dark for some reason.

NetNewsWire - I made the mistake of adding my NewsGator account after not visiting it for over a year. I'm a Google Reader guy so I'm curious to see how I'll put NNW to use.

NYTimes - Beats hitting up any mobile site, although the ads make the reading area a bit too small.

Bloomberg - Another NYT-style app. Being able track my stocks in nice, but I don't think it would replace the Stocks.app until they added a graph to it. Also, entering the number of shares using scrollers is pretty dumb.

Box Office - Looks good and the near me functionality works great.

Urban Spoon - Shaking for a random restaurant is cool, except that the first time I shook it came up with a restaurant that I hate.

Currency - Simple widget-like app. Nothing too fancy, but it's useful at time when I want to depress myself about how poorly the US Dollar is doing.

Dial Zero - This uses gethuman.com to show you how to get a human on the phone instead of dealing with automated systems. I rarely need to call tech support lines, but when I do, I'll hit up Dial Zero instead of the company's web site.

Cube Runner - One of the few free games out there. Very well tuned accelerometer handling, but not very fun. A nice tech demo, if anything.

midomi/Shazam - Both are "ID this song" apps that I haven't tried out yet. Cool and useful if it works well. NOTE: Since posting this, I've found that Shazam works infinitely better than midori, even though midori looks to have a few more features.

Remote.app - Looks just like iTunes on the iPhone except your music plays on the computer/Apple TV instead of the phone. This is really killer for Apple TV as it obviates the need to use the pretty-terrible Apple Remote. I'm hoping it lets me type into Apple TV searches as well, but even just scrolling through media will be much better on the phone than with the remote.

Fun Fact: To say that Thursday was just a tweetful day would be an understatement: I made 17 posts to Twitter out of 740 total. To put that in perspective: I've been on Twitter since early Feb 2007. That means 2.29% of my tweets came in just .2% of the time I've been on Twitter. Yowza.

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Back

So it's about time I get back to posting here. I've been away from here for far too long, just shy of three months, longer than any other break I've taken.

My case of "noblog" wasn't isolated, however. Prolific blogger and VC Fred Wilson, had nothing blog worthy to say one day in mid-June, after finding something to write about every day for the past five years. Instead, he made a handful of posts on Twitter and Tumblr that day. As he put so bluntly, "I think its time to acknowledge that long form blogging every day may be coming to an end."

Other bloggers were also not putting as much down as they'd like. Russell Beattie, who took a year off from blogging before returning in April 2007, also found it difficult to keep up with a rigorous blogging regimen: "So I'm going to start blogging regularly again… A couple months ago, I was getting sick of blogging and decided to ratchet down the number of posts I wrote in some sort of attempt to change things up and maybe improve the quality of the blog. It didn't work."

So after an 8-post April and a 2-post May, Russell was back up to around 20 posts in June, about what he was doing prior to the two "slow" months.

Fellow Arsian Josh Bancroft not-so-recently wrote about how he wants "write more. Do more. Hack more. Learn more." In that post he writes on a topic that I've touched on a bunch of times over the years - making the transition from consumer to producer. I think Josh is way more on the producer side than I am, and his desire to move even further in that direction makes me think I could push myself a bit more in that direction as well.

That is not to say that I haven't been producing content just because I haven't been blogging. I've been twittering a whole lot more (although the number of tweets I put out fluctuates tremendously from day to day), and perhaps the number one enemy to my desire to blog is Google's "share with note" feature that they introduced in early June. Instead of linking to an interesting item here, I can just share the item and a few words to my Google Reader friends. It is much easier than preparing a post on a blog, for better or worse.

And of course there's the iPhone SDK. I've been working on a few ideas (for myself and others), one of which was finished just this morning and submitted to the App Store (more to come on that once the NDA expires).

Perhaps my hiatus was part of a more general trend towards something else (Twitter, FriendFeed, Google Reader Shared Items, etc). Even if that is the case, a personal blog feels, well, personal, and even if it doesn't provide value (or as much value as the aforementioned services) to the reader, it does provide quite a bit of value for the author, and I'll keep doing this until it ceases to do so (with month-long gaps at times, naturally).

Lessons in Niche Blogging Part 2: Give'em What They Want

The Blog That Jane Likes isn't niche blogging in the sense that the target audience is small (AntsMarching.org, perhaps the biggest of the aforementioned communities has 118k members, a little less than twice the subscribership of TechCrunch ;)), but because the amount of topics covered are relatively small. I maintain only three "real" categories: Shows, Downloads (Audio and Video), and Lyrics. The site is extremely content-rich. Each post has something readers want. There are no musings or links to funny sites or anything to distract readers from the content they came to get. It's been said many times, and that's because it's important: Focus is key.

Contrast that to what I've done here on occasion. I feel that only ill effects have come from posting about DMB on here. The people who view this as a tech blog are uninterested in the DMB content and the people who come here for the DMB content are uninterested in the tech talk. I lose out on both sets of readers because neither are interested enough in the other content to stick around. No one has time to read a blog where only 75% of the content is what they want when there are hundreds of other blogs that'll give them 100%.

While there is no way I would have made all the posts I've made on BTJL on here, I probably would have made a lot more posts about the new tour than the handful I've made. By starting this new blog I've been able to satisfy my DMB blogging fix while still being able to keep some kind of focus on this blog.

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Lessons in Niche Blogging Part 1: Talk Is Cheap

Background
Just about 50 days ago, on May 30, on a whim I started a blog dedicated to the Dave Matthews Band titled The Blog That Jane Likes. This series of entries deals with some of the things I've learned after running the blog for a mere 50 days.

While there are strong communities centered around several message boards, there really are no real DMB blogs out there. In addition, most one-shot audio recordings (as opposed to full-length lossless recordings) are shared via yousendit and other ad-supported downloading sites. Since these sites are bandwidth or download-limited, most popular files need to be re-posted ad infinitum. It's a huge pain and a rather unreliable form of file propagation. With over 1TB/month of bandwidth and 25GB of storage to spare, I set out with the goal of making BTJL the place to download songs from the current tour.

The site has been a huge success, exceeding all my expectations. In the month of June, I've had 397 thousand requests to the site; July has had 150 thousand so far. I served 316 GB of data in June and 149 GB in July. All of this has been at zero incremental cost aside from the $7 domain registration.

I've made more from AdSense in the first few days from BTJL than I have in the year and half I've run this blog. Granted, I've peppered that site a bit more with ads than this one, which only had one ad until the latest redesign where it now has zero. While there's no way I could live off of the AdSense revenues, they will most likely cover my hosting costs for the year, which is good enough for me. I'm doing the site more for the fun of it than for any monetary reward.

Without incurring any costs, I had little to lose on a failed BTJL. Though I was in a bit of a unique situation with pre-existing hosting, there are plenty of free options (Wordpress.com and Blogger, for instance) for anyone who wants to start a blog. I don't know what those sites' policies on placing AdSense is, but I'm sure you can get away with Amazon referrals and the like.

Even if you do have to spend a bit, how's this for an idea: do it for fun and compare the cost to the price of a movie ticket, sporting event, video game, etc. Which one do you think will come out ahead? Talk is cheap, do it.

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How to be More Photogenic

Martin Photo Booth 8
Originally uploaded by Martin Gordon.

The picture above is a great of example of how unphotogenic I am. As "one of those people", I found the WikiHow article on being more photogenic really useful.

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Design Cleanup

I've gone ahead and cleaned up the site, switching to a customized K2 theme that I've been working on myself with much thanks to Paul's excellent K2 customization guides. From my limited experience working with other themes and now with K2, I find K2 much easier to work with. There's only one CSS file to edit and I feel a lot more comfortable making changes to it.

I've also gotten rid of the Stand Up lyrics, which had no place on the site, let alone on the main page. The album's been out for over a year now and official lyrics are available on the band's site.

It's always going to be a work in progress, but I think I've now built a good base to start from. I've always been hesitant to keep things simple, always wanting to put more on the front page, but now I want to really scrutinize every little thing I put on the main page and whether it belongs there or not.

It may soon be time to switch The Blog That Jane Likes over to something other than the default Kubrick theme, but its been working fine without any real customization, so I'll focus on this blog more.

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Cog Audio Player (for SHN, FLAC and others)

The DMB summer tour starts tomorrow and so does 60GB of FLAC and SHN concert downloads over the summer. On Windows, there are WinAmp plugins for playing SHN and FLAC files, but on the Mac we've been stuck with the now-defunct MacAmp Lite. I've always had problems getting it to play one format or the other and now with an Intel Mac, it being a PowerPC-only binary makes it undesirable to use.

On a quest to solve this little problem, I stumbled across Cog, an open source player for Mac OS X which will play strange formats like Ogg Vorbis and Monkey Audio as well as the usual MP3/AAC/WAV/AIFF and of course, SHN and FLAC.

Best of all, Cog is available as a Universal Binary, meaning that it will run natively on Intel Macs. While playing FLAC and SHN, I've found that Cog uses up less than 10% CPU.

Cog is in constant development, as apparent from their news and recent updates sections, so expect lots of great improvement as time goes on.

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DMB Lyrics DB Now Up

The new lyrics database written with Ruby on Rails is finally up. I had everything ready to go Friday night, but there were a couple of server configuration things that I had to figure out before the site actually worked. Because of the way it's set up now, you have to add a trailing '/' to the URL or else you'll get an error. I've updated all the links on this page, but you may need to update your bookmarks.

Google Analytics

Google has released a pretty robust website stats package called Google Analytics. Straight from the horse's mouth:

Google Analytics tells you everything you want to know about how your visitors found you and how they interact with your site.

I've been a bit unhappy with the stats package DreamHost comes with, though granted I don't have much use for it anyway. Installing Analytics was as simple as copying three lines of code into my template, so it's too easy to not try it.

I can't really say much about how it works or the data it reports since no data appears despite them saying it'll be available "within 12 hours." Apparently demand was greater than they expected. I guess that's bound to happen when you release free, easy and useful software and your name is Google. A message on their help page dated (timed?) 5:22 PST states:

Currently, report updating for Google Analytics is experiencing delays. As a result, you may not be seeing any data in your reports even after implementing the Analytics tracking code.

We are currently in the process of updating all reports. You should be able to see these updates in several hours. While this is going on, you may notice different reports updating at different rates. Once this process has completed, all data should be restored to your profiles. Please be assured that this update process has no effect on data collection.

We apologize for any inconvenience. This reporting delay is associated with unexpected demand for Google Analytics. Under normal circumstances, the data in your reports will be at most six hours old.

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