Tuesday, November 07, 2006

How to: Find how to

The interweb is chock full of information about anything and everything you can imagine. All of this can be overwhelming to the average user. In an effort to cut through the overload, a number of sites have emerged that attempt to catalog answers to simple everyday questions. These sites generally fall into 2 overlapping categories:

  1. Question and answer - Lets you submit questions that are usually answered by other users or content experts. The answers are usually rated by the community. The questions can vary from why does a microwave oven heat food unevenly to what is the medical term for bad-breath. [Yahoo Answers | Live QnA]
  2. How to - A smaller subset of the question and answer category that provides clear, step-by-step instructions on how to achieve a specific and narrow goal. For example, how to tie a tie.
Lets discuss the latter category in detail.


A database of over 20,000 articles, professionally written providing clear and concise instructions on how to do just about anything. Articles are organized into categories such as Business & Finance, Health, Computers, and Pet Care making it easy to find the answer you are looking for. You can rate, comment, print and email articles. eHow goes the extra mile by listing all the items you will need to get the task done upfront in addition to tips such as those for avoiding common mistakes.



eHow's sister site, where you can share your expertise or specialized knowledge with the rest of the world. weHow provides a platform for you create your profile to answer questions and get your ideas out there. Articles are organized in categories similar to eHow. You can rate, comment, print and email articles. The article is laid out similar to eHow with a stuff you will need section and a tips and warning section. You can browse profiles to see general information about the user, the articles they have written as well as the comments they have made.



Another eHow sister site with emphasis on collaboration. wikiHow contains over 13,500 articles as of this writing. wikiHow aims to create new content and improve existing content through your contribution by allowing you to edit and update articles submitted by others in the community. Just like Wikipedia, they expect the quality of these articles to rise as multiple users refine the content. wikiHow publishes a set of guidelines for participating in the community. The articles contain the usual set of steps, tips, and warnings. In regular wiki style, you also get to see the changes made to an article as well as the list of articles that link to it.

wikiHow is different from weHow in that weHow allows you to completely control the content of your article whereas on wikiHow the content belongs to the community and you are one of many editors on a given article.

wikiHow is different from its sisters because it is the only one in the network that
  1. Is being slowly translated to other languages.
  2. Provides an RSS feed of How to of the day.
wikiHow | wikiHow International | wikiHow RSS

The above network of how to sites are good for the written medium. Some how tos lend themselves better to the visual medium.


ViewDo is an aggregation of instructional videos submitted by its users. You can showcase your talent with the videos you submit. The videos are organized into categories such as Arts & Crafts, Electronics, and Fitness. ViewDo encourages you download videos to your portable media player, such as your iPod, so that you can watch the video while you are doing what you are doing. They even make this ridiculously easy by offering 1 click download to your portable device or iTunes. Each video is preceded by an advertisement that helps monetize the site. Additionally, you get the usual fixings of a web 2.0 service such as code for embedding, email sharing, comments, rating, and playlists. ViewDo provides RSS feeds for its newest videos.

ViewDo | ViewDo RSS


VideoJug is "Life explained. On film." through submission of user generated videos. The videos are categorized into very general topics such as Food, Drinks, and Health with subcategories to help you navigate to the video you are looking for. For example, the Food category is further sorted by cuisine, dish type, and ingredient making it easy for me to find Indian cuisine how to videos, soup type videos, and how to videos containing fruits. VideoJug is unique in that the videos are accompanied by text instructions. Although step-by-step written instructions are not required, they are definitely a plus in videos that provide them. Videos can be rated, tagged, shared by email, embedded, commented on, as well as downloaded to your iPod, PSP, or another portable media player. There are no RSS feeds for new videos so you will have to check back on the site for the newest or the most popular videos.


If you find any other instructional sites, text, video, or otherwise, share it in the comments.

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Thursday, November 02, 2006

Hilarious (fake?) MasterCard commercial

Even though this is not in the vein of regular programming here at Tecnirvana, this video is way too funny to pass up.

Does anyone think this is real? I for one think it is fake, but I am torn because of the high production value. What do you think?

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Testing Windows Live Writer Beta

I ranted about about the lack of support for posting to Blogger beta with 3rd party tools yesterday, but I might not have been up to my game. Joe Cheng, a Microsoft developer for Windows Live Writer, commented that Windows Live Writer Beta had in fact added full support for Blogger beta in their newest build (145).

Skeptically, I downloaded and installed Windows Live Writer Beta build 145 and am composing this test post from within it. Did I mention that I have my fingers crossed.


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Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Publishing to Blogger beta with 3rd party tools

I have been on a hunt to uncover an alternate publishing tool that would work reliably with Blogger beta. In my adventure I have discovered that most tools do not work reliably or at all with Blogger beta and thats a shame. I tested Windows Live Writer Beta, performancing for Firefox (1.3), Qumana, Google Docs & Spreadsheets, WriteToMyBlog and a host of other services with limited success.


I recently tested publishing using Qumana blog editor and although the post succeeded, it had no title (and, therefore, no permalink). This is the same problem as the one I had with Google Docs & Spreadsheets. At that time my instinct led me to believe that this was a problem with GD&S, but since Qumana blog editor displayed the same behavior, I am more inclined to believe that it is a bug in Blogger beta. Just a word of caution to anyone already using or planning to use any other editors besides the built-in one. Have you had any success with the post titles (and permalinks) when publishing from another tool?

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Testing Qumana

A test post from the Qumana blog editor.

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Tuesday, October 31, 2006

mTextBox - eBooks for your mobile phone

Imagine if you could bring all your reading with you without carrying all the weight. That is the problem the good folks at Mapada Inc. are trying to solve with their mTextBox product. All you need is an internet-enabled mobile phone. Once you download and install the Java-based mTextBox on your phone, reading is a piece of cake. You can choose to read text already uploaded by others (usually, public domain books) or you can fill out your own text to read. Every piece of text (be it a book or a grocery list uploaded by you) is assigned an mCode. You must enter the mCode for the text you want to read in the mTextBox application on your phone.

I am very impressed with the implementation of the mobile application. I was curious as to how the entire text of The War of the Worlds would be transferred to my phone. I was anticipating a long download time of a single chapter if not the entire book when I first entered the mCode to read The War of the Worlds. To my surprise, the book loaded nearly instantly. As I scrolled down madly to see how such a large body of text loaded so quickly I realized what was going on. The application was loading small chunks of text as I scrolled. This is brilliant because each web request to fetch the next chunk of text is unnoticeable. I wish mobile browsers could do the same too.

The second great feature of this application is that when you stop reading or switch to reading something else a virtual bookmark is automatically created so that the next time you go to read it will pick up from exactly where you left off.

I would not recommend abandoning the trusty paper back because there are no batteries that could discharge nor do you have to worry about coverage (like on a plane). But for casual reading or taking some notes or your grocery list on the go with you mTextBox can't be beat.

mtextboxmtextbox Hosted on Zooomr

Mobile Download | PC Download | FAQ

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Replace your Firefox bookmarks with del.icio.us Bookmarks extension

If you use Firefox and have longed to integrate your del.icio.us bookmarks with the browser, then you must get the del.icio.us Bookmarks extension. This is the official extension from Yahoo! for Firefox. I have used this extension before, but decided to drop it in favor of del.icio.us Complete because of performance. Before del.icio.us Complete I was using Foxylicious to sync my bookmarks with Firefox. Although these extensions satisfied the basic requirement of providing access to your social bookmarks, they were slow and buggy and never felt completely integrated with the Firefox browser. del.icio.us Bookmarks solves this problem beautifully with a killer feature set to boot.


Not only do you get complete integration of your bookmarks from your Bookmarks menu (all pages are automatically bookmarked at del.icio.us), you also get the ability to search through your bookmarks using tags or keywords in the title of the pages. The search feature opens in the sidebar with a two-pane view. The top pane listing any tags that matched your search and the bottom pane matching any pages. This is not even the killer feature of this extension.


The greatest feature of the extension is favorite tags. You can create a list of favorite tags and then access these from the bookmarks toolbar with a single click. By default firefox:bookmarks and firefox:toolbar are in your favorites list. You can choose to display bookmarks tagged with one of your favorite tags in the bookmarks toolbar. The ability to control your favorite tags and to display all bookmarks with one of your favorite tags allows your bookmarks toolbar to have multiple personalities (without being a disorder). For example, I have my dailies like Gmail, Bloglines, and Digg, tagged with firefox:toolbar. I have my blogging related bookmarks such as Blogger, Feedburner, Google Analytics, and Performancing metrics tagged with firefox:blogging. Now, I can readily switch between my dailies and blogging sites with a single click.



The one minor gripe I have is the order in which tags are organized in the bookmarks toolbar. They are sorted chronologically from right to left meaning that your oldest bookmarks are on the right and the most recent ones are on the left. I would prefer the ability to drag and drop the bookmarks on the toolbar to create my own arrangement. That aside, this is a fantastic extension to your Firefox browsing experience and I recommend you waste no time in downloading it.

Happy bookmarking!

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