Plowing Through Chicago TV Station Web Sites

By Mike Maddaloni on Monday, February 19, 2007 at 07:30 AM with 0 comments

This past week I was in Boston, and with the snow storm coming across the Midwest to New England, I wanted to get an idea if I was flying home as planned. On Tuesday morning at 6:30 am Eastern (5:30 am in Chicago) I grabbed some coffee and started up my friend's browser on what ended up being an unscientific quest by a person still waking up to find out the forecast for the Windy City.

My first stop was the Web site for WMAQ, or NBC5 as they prefer to be called. My lovely wife and I just about always watch this station for news. I had been to their Web site before, and though I am not a fan of its layout and design, it's where I started. On the home page there were large red bars across the middle with links to school closings and weather alerts – easy to see with just a few sips of coffee. But as I clicked onto what I saw as the Weather Plus page, the entire Web page started scrolling, and I wasn't touching the mouse! It was an ad for GM for the Auto Show that was expanding before my eyes. As I hadn’t found the forecast, I decided to move on.

After a few more sips of coffee, I ended up on WLS's Web site, or ABC7 as they prefer. There I found weather headlines, just not as bright, and a link to watch a video forecast... from Monday night. At that time, there must have been a video clip available from the morning show, right? Sip more coffee, time to move on.

My next stop was WGN's Web site, who does go by the acronym for the World's Greatest Newspaper. However, they have 3 stations, so at wgn.com I was presented with a plain page with their 3 logos – Channel 9, AM 720 and the Superstation. Choosing the first one, the first thing I saw was a link to a video clip of Tom Skilling... from Monday night. What gives? They have a morning show too. Got another cup of coffee, and moved on.

What ended up being my last stop was the Web site for WBBM, or CBS2 as they prefer. Right front and left of center was a link to a video clip... of a weather forecast from about 15 minutes ago. Yea! As I was watching the video, I took a closer look around the site and saw a clean design, mostly text, with an RSS feeds link at the top of the page.

This was not scientific, and I did not go to WFLD (or Fox Chicago) or CLTV, Chicago's answer to CNN Headline News, as the sites came to mind as my mind was slowly awakening. I finally got my weather forecast, as disappointing as it was, and a new source for news in Chicagoland.

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So much for all the other designs

By Mike Maddaloni on Wednesday, February 14, 2007 at 03:24 AM with 1 comments

Why is the "power" button on the LodgeNet TV remote control on the bottom of the remote? Sure, it’s green, but it’s relatively small as compared to the large, round "menu" and "order" buttons at the top of the remote.

Why is the design of the remote control that you find in just about every hotel different that the paradigm of just about every remote control found in your home? So much for that “home away from home” feeling.

TechnologyDiversions • (1) CommentsPermalink

Wal-Mart Loves Microsoft

By Mike Maddaloni on Tuesday, February 06, 2007 at 08:50 PM with 2 comments

There are purely cross-browser Web sites, ones which can be viewed and function the same no matter the browser brand or version they are viewed in. Then there are Web sites that have small quirks or functionality that only work in some Web sites.

Then there are some that only work in one browser. When someone who builds Web sites thinks about this, they typically chalk it up to bias or sloppy work on the part on a single developer/designer. But Wal-Mart, the world's largest retailer? TechCrunch has the screenshot of what Wal-Mart's new video downloads site looks like in the Firefox browser.

After walmart.com was down most of Black Friday (the day after Thanksgiving) last year, why does this not surprise me?

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Hear My Blog Posts

By Mike Maddaloni on Thursday, February 01, 2007 at 06:51 AM with 2 comments

Podcasting has been of mind lately, as I pondered an accompanying podcast to The Hot Iron blog. A monthly or semi-monthly podcast featuring highlights of recent posts and perhaps some unique content was my running thought.

Then along comes a new, free service to automatically convert the words of blog posts to an audio file. Odiogo takes my RSS feed and creates an MP3 file with a digitized voice reading the text of each blog post. About a week after signing up for the service, I am in the program, and MP3s of the last ten posts are now available – you can follow this link to Odiogo or subscribe to their feed.

How does it sound? You can tell it is a digitized voice, but it is very clear and it speaks "difficult" words well, like Maddaloni. I put my last name, which people have been mispronouncing all my life, into my last post to see how it sounds, and it was better than I have heard from many people. The service is free to bloggers, and there is an ad program available to blogs with high traffic, sounding similar to Feedburner’s ad program.

Give it a listen and I am eager to hear your feedback.

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30 Days with my Treo 680

By Mike Maddaloni on Sunday, January 28, 2007 at 08:48 AM with 0 comments

Last month, after much thought and dragging friends through my thinking, I bought a Palm Treo 680 smartphone. It coincided with my switch to T-Mobile. It has been a good month using the phone, and here is my feedback and rants about the device.

My decision to buy the 680 is built on my 10+ years of using a Palm handheld device, including the Treo 600 I had for the last 2 years. Though not multi-threaded and simple in the minds of many, I like the Palm operating system, or whatever it is called these days. Oh, and I should say that I did purchase the phone, and it was not given to me and I am not writing this in return for the freebie.

Here’s what I like best about the 680:

  • I lock my device, and when you power it on, you see the date and time, which is why I turn it on half the time.
  • The nub antenna, an ugly mainstay of other Treo models, is gone.
  • The SD card slot is on the side with a protective cover, meaning it won’t pop out when I lightly tap the phone.
  • When I switch it to silent mode, the phone vibrates to confirm.
  • I was able to buy an unlocked phone (directly through Palm) which means I can use it anywhere in the world no matter the provider.
  • As it runs the Palm OS, I was able to charge the battery, HotSync it and all my information was there with no problems, though I did backup the Palm database folder on my PC just in case of problems.
  • I can hear much better on it than on my old 600.
  • It supports video, unlike the 600, and its quality is ok for quick video clips.
  • The cradle charges a spare battery.

And here’s what I am not a big fan of on the 680:

  • Low battery life, which is drained quite a bit by Web surfing and Bluetooth. Get a spare battery and charge it in the cradle.
  • The email program does not allow you to change the font sizes and is small for my aging eyes.
  • The red or hang-up button is used quite a bit, especially when unlocking the phone, however it is a tiny button for something that is used a lot.
  • The green or dial button is NOT used much, especially as you can start a call without it, and just sits there.
  • There is no reset button, a long mainstay of the Palm, and you have to yank out the battery to reset the device.
  • The earphone jack is still on the bottom, which means you can’t charge the phone in the cradle and use an earpiece.

These are a things with which I am indifferent:

  • Bluetooth – I've received mixed reviews over the Bluetooth earpiece from people I talk with, but I bet the first time I print from the device I will be happy.
  • The model number – 680. Why? Palm went from the 600 to the 650 to the 700, then back to the 680. It does look a lot like the 750 which is available outside the US – is it the same?

Overall I like my phone, a vast upgrade from my old one, and I recommend it to anyone who does not need CrackBerry push mail and a nice looking, serious smartphone.

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Community building is up to ALL of us

By Mike Maddaloni on Friday, January 26, 2007 at 08:43 AM with 3 comments

Fresh off the TechCocktail networking event last night in Chicago, I have been pondering the state of the "tech community" here in Chicagoland. But as I was thinking in all kinds of direction on the topic, I slapped myself and came back to the reality that the online world, stripped of its technology, is very much like the offline world.

Do you know your neighbors? Think about it – people that may live in the next apartment, condo or house from you, do you know them, and if so to what degree? What about the person in the next office or cubicle? Or the person you greet every day when you get your coffee, dry cleaning or lunch?

If you don't know them, why is it? Did you try to initiate a relationship and they did not reciprocate? Or vice versa?

It is easy to dismiss the tech community as anti-social or people who would rather interact with avatars than people. Where there are some people like that, those people exist in society in general. There are social tech people, and they are organizing events, networking and starting sites like WindyBits to help foster the community.

I believe there is hope. Now I need to get back to sending emails and notes to people I met last night.

TechnologyDiversions • (3) CommentsPermalink

QuickBooks Can’t See the Vista

By Mike Maddaloni on Thursday, January 25, 2007 at 10:32 AM with 0 comments

This just in from Intuit... if you are using a version of QuickBooks prior to 2006, you will have problems if you upgrade to Windows Vista. To quote the email from the Senior VP of QuickBooks:

Since QuickBooks 2006 and earlier versions were developed
and released before the introduction of Windows Vista,
these versions may be adversely affected when used on
a computer running Windows Vista.

(it was centered and bolded in the email)

Most users aren't compelled to upgrade QuickBooks or Quicken every year, mainly due to the fact that if you want to use the same functionality, what has really changed? I heard one time in the early 2000's that Quicken hadn't changed since the mid 1990's.

Not that I needed another reason not to upgrade to Vista.

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LaLa Hunkpapa

By Mike Maddaloni on Tuesday, January 23, 2007 at 10:05 PM with 2 comments

If you are a fan of Web 2.0 and the 80’s band Throwing Muses, then the subject of this post rings familiar, and here’s how they are connected.

LaLa.com is a CD swapping service. It is a true Web 2.0 application in its functionality, and in this case it works well as getting pop-up details on CDs and artists is a great help. I literally ran into this service at the main post office Chicago over the holidays of all places – there was a giant sign in the lobby. Here’s how it works in brief: you create a free account, list CDs you are willing to swap, then you search for CDs you want, and initiate a swap. Shortly thereafter you get a set of special mail envelopes (thus the USPS connection?) and CD cases that fit nicely in them. If someone initiates a swap for a CD you have made available, you register the code on the special envelope and you are given the address of whom to send the CD to. There is a charge of $1.75 for each CD you receive.

Out of curiosity I signed up, and have sent and received a few CDs without problems – only mail delays over the holidays slowed some deliveries to almost a month. The CDs are coming directly from members, and sometimes there are notes on the back of the envelope. On the back of a Throwing Muses CD I just got, there was a note from the sender hoping that I was as much of a Muses fan as they were. No fear, as my college radio days in the late 80’s, complete with skinny leather ties and gelled spiky hair, says it all.

Though I don’t know how many CDs I will post, I am wondering how long it will be around. Once I receive a CD, it goes onto my list of CDs available. So am I supposed to send it back out? That should be a huge red flag to the lawyers at the RIAA. The $1.75 comprises 75 cents for postage and $1 for the service, with a portion – 20% - going to a foundation to support performing artists. Not sure how that will be executed on, but maybe it will keep the lawyers away for a bit. Now I will go see if I can complete my Husker Dü collection.

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TechCocktail this Thursday in Chicago

By Mike Maddaloni on Sunday, January 21, 2007 at 09:07 AM with 0 comments

This Thursday, January 25, 2007 is the next TechCocktail. As you can guess by the name, it is an tech networking event where drinks are served. This is the third of what has become a quarterly event, and will be held at Amira at the NBC Tower in Chicago.

I went to the first one, missed the second, and I am looking forward to this one. Its success can be contributed to many reasons. It was heavily promoted on blogs, and as a result brought in a wide variety of people in technology including programmers, entrepreneurs, bloggers, venture capitalists and lawyers. As a quarterly event, it is not overdone, and still has momentum. And free admission and drinks aren’t a bad thing either.

TechCocktail's success is in its simplicity, and that’s why I think it will be around for a while. Many user groups or other organizations fail because of the complexities of their services and offerings. As well, when there is a turnover in the organizers, it is hard to regain much of the momentum the group had. I have seen this personally with tech user groups as well as established organizations like the Jaycees, and it falls in line with the team development model of forming, storming, norming and performing.

Are you going to TechCocktail? Hope to see you there!

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Access has its privileges

By Mike Maddaloni on Wednesday, January 17, 2007 at 10:39 PM with 0 comments

Years ago I worked for a large international company who was a partner with Microsoft. The partnership was so strong we had a full-time Microsoft consultant on our development team. This was a huge benefit for us, as we had access to a top individual, plus their access to double-secret knowledgebases and internal communications. At one point, we were working with newly-launched technology and when we had a question on it, we literally had the Microsoft management for the technology on the phone.

I just got back from attending an afternoon roadshow put on by Salesforce.com. I am working with it for one of my clients, and I attended to learn more of the meat from the hype. Needless to say, my head is swirling with ideas and things I need to investigate further.

A new offering Salesforce has is its "AppExchange Incubator," which is office space made available to start-up companies who are developing applications to run on the Salesforce platform. The concept is that you are in a Salesforce office, along with Salesforce staff and other start-up companies. Not only do you get the benefit of having incubator space and its trappings, but by direct contact and osmosis you will be more successful. A single cubicle is reportedly $20,000 a year.

Some may say this is a steep price – how many people will fit in single cube anyway? But if you look at it from a learning-curve perspective, and depending on what your business model is, it can more than pay for itself. Developers of Salesforce add-ons sell them through AppExchange, an iTunes for software if you will, which is built right into the Salesforce platform.

When I heard about this, the first thought in my mind was why Microsoft never offered anything like this. Then again, having companies pay you rent is right in line with Salesforce’s subscription-based business model, not one-off licenses like Microsoft. The folks in Redmond could learn from the folks in San Francisco, maybe more than from the folks in Mountain View?

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