Oct 28

It happens to us all at some time. We’ve read an interesting web page, bookmarked it and tagged it but when we go back to look for that page in our bookmarks sometime later, we just can’t find that exact page again no matter how hard we try. I hate losing things in the real world and get just as mad when I do the same in the digital world. Still, at least in the digital world we have tools at our disposal to make tracking down web pages easier.

Some people would say that bookmarking on a site like Delicious is an old fashioned way of doing things anyway. Better to just do a search on Google or Twitter. They may be right. I just feel that it’s still helpful to bookmark a useful web page and add it to your info archive of great pages so you can call upon it again to refresh your memory of what was said, for example, to use it as a tutorial for a task or to help write a blog post. The other really important aspect is that many web pages aren’t static and can be altered or deleted at a later date. Adding important web pages to a disk archive can get around this.

I thought I’d go through some of the tips and tricks I’ve learned about bookmarking and managing bookmarks which might help. I’ve bookmarked close to 12000 web pages in the 2 years I’ve been using Delicious, the online bookmarking tool, so I have to have an effective way of searching through them otherwise it’s all pointless. You wouldn’t throw paper willy nilly into a filing cabinet and expect to find a page again quickly. You have to file it in such a way that you know how to retrieve it again. So let’s look at how to try and avoid losing bookmarks.

Vital web pages which you just don’t want to lose… ever!

Web pages can get deleted, updated or otherwise removed from the internet. For example, the recent demise of Yahoo’s Geocities will lead to the deletion of 7.5 million web pages. Bookmarks can also be lost if your bookmarking service suffers a data loss as happened to ma.gnolia back in January this year. For vital pages which you must have a copy of, there are a few things you can do to keep a permanent copy:

evernote

1) Clip the web page directly from your browser into an organizer like say Evernote or bookmark the page with a research tool like Diigo which bookmarks the entire web page, unlike Delicious. More about that later. It will now be fully searchable within these apps.

2) Save the web page as a pdf and download it to your hard drive, then make sure to back it up. There are a few ways to do this. First, you could copy the URL of the web page to loopApps (choose add URL and paste the URL). Then click the disk image icon to the left of the pdf name and download it to your PC. The second way would be to install a print-to-pdf utility like doPDF which I’ve talked about before. From within your browser, choose Print from the File menu, then, rather than print to a printer, print to a pdf file. You may want to use a bookmarklet like Printliminator or PrintWhatYouLike to extract just the elements of the web page you want before printing to a pdf. If your web page is in fact split over a number of pages where you have to click ‘Next’ to read the full story, you could use a bookmarklet like PageZipper which automatically merges all the ‘Next’ pages into one page before creating the pdf. Once you have downloaded the pdf of the web page, it’s searchable from within a pdf reader like Foxit Reader, it’s searchable using a desktop search utility like Copernic Desktop Search, or again just add the pdf of the web page to Evernote where it will also be searchable there.

3) Saving a web page as a pdf doesn’t always preserve all the formatting, however saving as an mht file will. Then archive it on your hard disk. Rich Menga of PCMech has explained how to archive web pages using MHT files very clearly together with a video.

4) Use a service like backupURL to save a copy of the website online.

backupurl

They give you a link to the backed-up website, which you could save in your Delicious bookmarks. I noticed that even if you elect to save a particular web page, it saves the whole website as the links away from that page are still active. Not sure about their claim that the link will last forever though. If it’s really important, I’d still back it up as well using methods just mentioned above.

Your vital web page is no longer online

If you’ve bookmarked a page and it’s no longer online and you hadn’t followed the procedures above to save it or backupURL hasn’t worked for some reason, you may possibly be able to retrieve the page at the Wayback Machine. Using this, you can often find pages that have been removed or deleted from the live web years ago. If you find it, save it using the steps I outlined above.

Save web pages to read later

If you’re in a hurry, have found a great site but haven’t got time to read it straight away and you don’t want to lose it, you could save it to read later using the Firefox extension Read it Later or the Read Later bookmarklet. Once you have time to read the web page, you can then follow the other tips I’ve listed to bookmark it, tag it, clip to Evernote or Diigo or save it as a pdf or mht file.

Using tags effectively to classify and group your bookmarks

Giving your web page a really specific tag can go a long way to tracking down that page again. If I can’t find a web page straight away, at least if I can narrow it down to a specific tag category, I can look through those and hopefully find it. When I first started using Delicious, I assigned pages into really broad categories, eg software, internet, computer, windows, backup, making it really hard to track down specific pages with any of these tags. More recently, I’ve been using hyphenated tag phrases to give pages more specific categories. Using the backup tag as the first example down my Delicious tag list, here’s a screenshot of those tags:

backup tags

Notice that it’s helpful to put the common word first (backup) then the modifier (eg browser) rather than the other way round. This keeps them all adjacent in the alphabetical tag listing in Delicious. I notice that further down the list I have a category driver-backup which I should change to backup-drivers. Obviously, if you have been using both alternatives interchangeably (eg gmail-backup and backup-gmail), this will surely decrease your chance of quickly finding that elusive missing web page. It’s quite straightforward to sort this out by renaming a tag in Delicious. Go to Tag Options at the top right corner and clicking Rename under Edit Tags, fill in the old tag name and the new tag name and then click Save. Everything with the old tag will be given the new tag.

Another possibility for more effective tagging is to use Facette, a Firefox plugin, to force you to be more specific about how you want to categorize each bookmark. Facette is an enhanced version of the Delicious tagging tool and creates a number of additional tags in your Delicious library.

Searching your bookmarks

You can obviously search your bookmarks in Delicious for lost web pages, but remember that this actually only searches the bookmark title, tags and any notes you inserted in the notes field when you saved the bookmark. However, it may be that the vital things you remember about the page aren’t in the title tags and notes but contained within the content of the web page itself. I heard it put very well on an Evernote podcast as tip of the tongue syndrome – where any one of the little hooks or memories you have in your brain about the web page will hopefully be just enough to track down that lost web page. So to find lost bookmarks, it would be much more useful if you could search the content of the bookmarked web page as well. There are a few services which offer this: first Deligoo, but unfortunately, this Firefox extension is not compatible with the latest versions of Firefox; second Delizzy – but I can’t recommend this as it seems a little buggy – it can take ages to log into your Delicious account and read all your bookmarks. As an alternative, you could export your bookmarks from Delicious to Evernote but unless you’ve actually clipped the pages into Evernote, it will just search the headings of the bookmarks and not the content – at least that’s what I’ve found. If I’m wrong, please let me know and I’ll update this.

Another possibility is bookmarking the web page with Diigo which makes the entire page searchable. David Pierce has written a great post on Diigo at MakeUseOf. As with Evernote you can import all your Delicious bookmarks into Diigo.

diigo

Another choice is to build a custom search engine to search the full content of your bookmarks. There’s a great post by Sarah Perez at Read Write Web on building a custom search engine to search your Delicious bookmarks. This involves exporting all your Delicious bookmarks as an html file and importing them to a Posterous blog, then linking a Google Custom Search Engine to this to search the content of your bookmarks. Sarah’s post explains the method very clearly. I’ve tried it and it works well. The only real problem is that it’s a little cumbersome constantly updating the list of bookmarks on your Posterous blog.

google custom search

So to summarize, the best ways to search the full content of your bookmarks for a lost web page is either with a custom search engine or with Diigo. So far I’m pretty impressed with Diigo.

Hope you’ve found these tips useful in managing your bookmarks and tracking down lost ones. Of course if you have other ways of avoiding lost bookmarks and keeping track of your info archive, please drop a comment. I’d love to hear how you deal with this.


Oct 23

There are times when you might want to set up reminders on your phone from your PC rather than from the phone itself. You might not have your phone handy, flat battery,  left it at home or work, etc. A number of web applications allow you to send free SMS reminders to your cell phone; some require registration and some don’t:

Remindr – No sign up required. A really simple interface which also offers reminders through twitter, jabber and email; currently, SMS reminders are disabled. If these come back, I’ll update this post. However, before SMS reminders were disabled, I wasn’t able to receive any in the UK; but perhaps it worked fine in other countries.

remindr

Task.fm – You have to register for this one. Also offers reminders through twitter and email. Task.fm uses natural language and can understand many different time and date formats.

taskfm2

and here’s the reminder settings dialogue box:

taskfm

SpringPad – Have to sign up for this. You can add your local time zone in the Settings panel but I could not add my mobile phone profile as a new channel. I didn’t find the process intuitive enough, or perhaps SpringPad can’t deal with overseas telephone codes:

springpad

Remember the Milk – Register and set up your local time zone under Settings (General tab). Set up your cell phone under Settings (Reminders tab):

rememberthemilk

My UK provider O2 was listed but, as with SpringPad, I failed to get a reminder sent to the phone even though I seemed to follow the correct procedure.

Google Calendar – You’ll have to register if you don’t already have a Google account. You can tell Google Calendar how far in advance of your event that you want the SMS reminder. Look for the “Reminder” option on the right side of the Create Event form under the “Options” section. It’s just a simple select box. To set up where you want to receive reminders, you need to go to Settings and then click the Mobile Setup tab. Enter your phone details and you will be sent a verification code to your phone. Enter the code you are sent in the last box on that page and you are good to go.

Which free SMS reminder services work in the UK?

Of the five choices I could find to send free SMS reminders to my mobile phone, I found that only two would work to a mobile service in the UK – Task.fm and Google Calendar. Google Calendar allows reminders in advance of your event and also requires verification of your phone details. A nice idea as it prevents any possible abuse whereby someone might easily send unwanted ‘reminders’ to someone else’s phone. The other 4 services that I listed don’t require any verification that you are in fact the owner of the phone receiving the reminders. However, having said that, I really liked Task.fm. Again, this service allows reminders to be sent in advance of the event. I found it really quick to set up a reminder – even quicker than on the phone. The free account comes with unlimited email reminders and up to 15 SMS reminders per month, while the pro account at $3.99/month allows unlimited email and SMS reminders.

Have I missed any free reminder services here? Which service do you find works best in your country?


Oct 20

The iPhone is the phone everyone wants these days. 3G and Wi-Fi connectivity, loads of apps to choose from and install, and lots of street-cred. But for some, perhaps this or any smartphone with a monthly data plan is just too much for our budget, or for our needs. A cheaper prepaid or ‘pay as you go’ phone might be sufficient for you as it is for me.

A month ago, I decided it was time to move on from my ancient Samsung clam phone and try and move with the times. I did have a shopping list of things I was looking for in a new phone. First, with advancing age and deteriorating eyesight, a good-sized screen was a must. Second, I never was a great fan of texting on a standard phone keypad so I really wanted the option of a QUERTY keyboard. Finally, I wouldn’t consider myself a power user, at least not yet, so a ‘pay as you go’ or prepaid phone rather than a contract would be ideal.

LG Cookie3

It didn’t take long to decide on the LG KP500 Cookie, a full touchscreen phone for those on a budget. I can read the 1.75 x 2.75-inch screen (240 x 400 pixels) without putting on reading glasses, the touchscreen has the option to bring up a QUERTY keyboard and it’s available on a Pay and Go contract in the UK. I went for the O2 Pay and Go plan. I’ve also bought an 8GB SanDisk microSD card to store pictures, videos, and MP3s and have added a black silicone cover and protective screen.

After a month or so with it, I have to say I’m really pleased with the phone. There are lots of features I like – quick access to speed dial numbers by swiping your finger across the display to turn the page; yellow note reminders which you can leave on the nice bright screen, along with a good sized clock and calendar. It has a 3.2 megapixel camera and can record video in QVGA at 12fps. It has a media player that plays most popular digital music formats – WMA, MP3 and AAC audio and 3GP and MP4 formats for video. It also has a stereo FM radio. The built-in accelerometer brings the QUERTY keyboard into view in landscape mode. You can also play slideshows from your photo gallery on the screen. When viewing your photos individually, you can swipe your finger across the image to bring up the next or previous image. The phone comes with a range of Office document viewers – you can open and read XLS, DOC and PDF files in this mobile. The menus are quite intuitive and I pretty much know my way around already. Utilities also include a calculator, unit converter and, of course, reminders and alarms.

LG Cookie1

I’ve loaded up a number of tech podcasts onto the microSD card and I can listen to them through the speaker or the headphones. I’ve already blogged about trying to get at least half an hour of brisk walking each day and I can listen to podcasts through the headphones while I walk and am alerted of any text or calls that come through. Connectivity includes Bluetooth and USB to upload and download files to my PC.

On the downside, I would have preferred a standard 3.5 mm headphone jack rather than the proprietary LG jack and the camera isn’t brilliant at 3.2 megapixels and has no flash.

One other thing to watch when using the QUERTY pad in reply to a message is that if you stray slightly away from the letters X and Z you may hit ‘Send’ by mistake and you’ll instantly send an unfinished message – as I’ve done a couple of times. The LG PC Suite for uploading and downloading files between phone and PC is a little cluncky and it takes a little longer to upload podcasts for listening than I expected. And of course there is no 3G or wireless, just the EDGE, GPRS and GSM networks, so web browsing is not a realistic option. Basically, if you need internet on the move, this phone isn’t for you.

Still all in all, a great little phone for keeping in touch – a nice bright touchscreen that’s easy to read, yet the phone is just the right size and at a good price. It’s about 20% smaller than the iPhone 3G and weighs just 89g. And on a Pay and Go plan. Well worth considering if a smartphone with web browsing isn’t what you need.


Oct 8

I misplaced the manual for my Canon Powershot A570 digital camera recently. It’s around the house somewhere and it’ll turn up eventually but I needed to refer to it today about the macro function and different shooting settings. When I thought about it, I remembered bookmarking a site called Diplodocs which is an online repository of almost 2 million downloadable manuals and headed there. You can search for instruction manuals by manufacturer, by device model number or name or browse them alphabetically.

I just entered the make and model and sure enough there were the pdfs of all the manuals for the PowerShot A570.

diplodocs2

I downloaded the ones I needed. Incidentally, I found that you have to rename your manual once you download it as subsequent downloads from that webpage will all have the same name and would overwrite it but given that the download name was just a long number, that wasn’t a bad idea anyway.

So now I have the manuals I need in digital format. And there actually better than the paper version as they’re searchable, and they won’t get lost! So when my old manual turns up as it will, I’ll just recycle it. I need to cut down on clutter anyway… but that’s another post for another day.


Oct 3

yes2

As a native English speaker I’m really very fortunate. In the western world, English is the dominant language used for publishing even though globally only about 720 million out of about 6.8 billion people speak English, about 11% of the world population according to WolframAlpha. Every blog I’ve subscribed to publishes in English even though in many cases the bloggers are not native speakers but do a great job nonetheless.

But what about those many millions globally for whom English is not their native language, indeed many of whom can’t speak English at all. Are we reaching them with our blogs or could we do more? Yes I know there are online translation sites such as Jollo which can be used to translate text but should we all be providing an automated translation service on our blogs to help? After all, the net is global and so is our readership.

There are WordPress plugins like the Global Translator WordPress Plugin, widgets like the new Google Translation Widget, Microsoft Translator and others but are they really effective? Surely automated translation will never be as good as a human translation so are they worth it? I’ve always shied away from using one because I just can’t judge how good they are – I only speak English and minor conversational French.

Amit Agarwal of Digital Inspiration goes into some of the difficulties behind language translation plugins in terms of storing translation results in the blog database and more recently looks at Google Translate.

So I’d really like to know from my readers just what you think of automated translation plugins on blogs. Have you used them to translate blogs into your native language? Do you find any useful and if so which? Is the tech field with its specialized vocabulary just too much for these plugins? Do you prefer to do your own translation into your language? Please add your thoughts below and from the responses I’ll judge whether it’s worth adding this service on this site.


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