Apps Google

Google’s Grand Central Offline

I don’t use the service – last I checked they did not have any Canadian area codes available. As techcrunch reports, google’s phone service has been down for the morning. It’s worth noting that this is the first time a major google service has gone down for any length of time.

I hope this does not represent a new trend for google. If you want to be a phone service you can’t go down, but more importantly to developers like me, if you want to be an app engine you certainly can’t go down.

Apps Review Websites

CushyCMS or FTP Client?


CushyCMS is a new hosted Content Management System from Stateless Systems – the people who brought you, and other similar services. It’s a dead simple CMS that requires no software install and no real programming knowledge. Found out about it via this Techcrunch post.

I don’t like to make judgements about things I haven’t actually tried, but this app is so simple that I think the video is all the explanation I need – I mean that as a compliment.

I’m a huge fan of simple solutions that solve specific problems really well and I think CushyCMS is a big step in the right direction. A lot of CMSes are extremely complicated to install, setup and do a poor job of actually managing content easily.  Cushy is simple to set up and simpler to use.

It does a few things that I can’t really call good or bad,  just “interesting.”
Hosting the CMS on a third party site definately makes it simpler to set up, but it has some obvious privacy concerns, you’re giving cushy access to your own site, not just setting up an account on an isolated service.
Using the CSS class property to define content areas is also interesting. I really want to say that this is a good solution to the complexity of implementing a templating language. I just can’t stomach the ideal of defining a CSS class that isn’t actually used to display a visual style, it’s just wrong; but I’ll admit, it is a pretty ingenious solution.

Even though I really really want to write a positive review about this app – I honestly think it’s a big step forward for simplicity – in it’s current itteration it has one serious flaw that makes it almost completely unusable. It is not at all possible to add any dynamic content! It’s only possible to edit existing HTML pages, with CushyCMS defined elements. The Administrator has to add individual pages with statically defined content areas. CushyCMS can’t even re-generate this content to create repeating elements within this HTML page. This means that Cushy can’t even be used to manage the even simplist newsletter, blog, photo gallery or photo gallery. Essentially, it’s only really good for managing what I would normally consider “static content areas,” things like about us, privacy policies, contact us pages, intro blurbs. For the most part this type of content doesn’t need to be updated often and therefore, doesn’t really need a management system.

Because of this, CushyCMS is almost nothing more than a glorified FTP client.

Apps Review Websites

OpenDNS For A Week

In case you haven’t heard, OpenDNS (wikipedia) is a free DNS service designed to improve your surfing experience, or as their PR blur puts it:

…is a safer, faster, smarter and more reliable way to navigate the Internet.

I decided to try it out for a week, replacing my ISP’s default DNS servers. All-in-all I got just about what I expected.

The set up process was probably the most painful part of the experience, but that is more my router’s fault than anything else. For whatever reason my router – the usualy reliable linksys WTR54G – decided to crap out after I changed the DNS setting. I had to do hard reboot before I was good to go.

I was a little skeptical about their claim to be faster. I mean, DNS is one of the most lightweight services one the internet, it’s not terribly slow to begin with. Plus my ISP’s DNS servers are only a few hops away, how could a centralized/internet wide service be faster. I don’t know how they do it, but I was pleasantly surprised! Noticed faster DNS resolution immediately!

The safer claim refers to the massive blacklists OpenDNS taps into. They give you the ability to block phishing sites and various levels of adult content (from ‘tasteless’ to full on porn sites). I decided to turn on the lowest level of adult blocking (only porn sites) and leave the phishing blocking on. I don’t often find myself on sites these filters would block, I was basically testing for false positives. If the service is able to precisely block the content I ask it to, then it’s a good blocking service. I only came across one false positive over the past week, a web comic featuring 2 tits. Since OpenDNS allows you to easily whitelist any domain this was only a minor inconvience. There’s no mechanism to report a false positive directly, so I’m assuming their system learns based on the whitelist data.

OpenDNS is supposedly smarter because it has the ability to fix misspelled domain names. At the end of the day this is a pretty useless feature. The problem is, OpenDNS only kicks in when a) the domain name is common enough that it can figure out the actual address youre trying to get to and b) the domain name you tried to access does not exist. Since almost all misspellings of common domains are taken by squatters you’ll barely ever stumble across a misspelling that isn’t attached to a server. I suppose this feature is designed for people who mangle the top level domain name, blah.cmo will never resolve and it does a good job of redirecting these to the proper TLD. But I always use firefox’s keyboard shortcuts to add the .com or .net. So again, I wasn’t really affected by this feature.

Geeking out.
The OpenDNS control panel has two features that are clearly designed to appeal to the nerds. One more useful than the other.
The control panel gives you the ability to create a “shortcut,” allowing you to assign a short name to any resolvable address. For example, you could link “wiki” to “” or link something like “wsearch” to wikipedia’s search page.
The second less useful nerd feature are the stats. OpenDNS provides a wide range of charts and graphs about your DNS resolution history. These might actually be somewhat interesting if they weren’t in GMT.
Again, I didn’t find myself using either of these features very much.

What’s the catch?
“How do they make money?” you might ask. Well it’s pretty simple, whenever you stumble across a non-resolving domain, OpenDNS will present you with a (revenue generating) search application and related text ads. This is fairly non-obtrusive. The only thing I find kind of weird is that this is identical to verisign’s site-finder. When that launched in 2003 it caused such a shitstorm that they were only allowed to keep it online for 19 days! (read the wikipedia article linked above) I guess the main difference with OpenDNS is that it’s completely opt-in.

At the end of the day, it’s a pretty neat service. I’ll probably keep it configured, since it doesn’t really negatively affect my internet experience, and I do get a bit of a speed boost.
I can see the service being quite a bit more useful to someone who manages are small network, especially if they need to filter the internet.
For Personal use, it’s usefulness is a little more dubious.

After one week of use, I give OpenDNS a rating of : *shrug*

Apps Review

I thought I would force myself to use a photoshop alternative this week, I’ve tried The GIMP and GIMPShop in the past, and found them to both be impossible to use. I decided to give a try, and I’ve really been digging it. I don’t do a lot of hardcore design work and has all the basic functions I use: resizing, cropping, measuring, stuff like that. Not only that loads in about 20 seconds and only uses 15 – 20MB of RAM. Photoshop takes at least a minute to load and tends to use anywhere between 80 and 300MB of RAM. Oh and if you need to open psds someone has developed a plugin.

Apps From The Archives

Parachute Beta is live!

I’ve FINALLY been able to sit down and complete dropbox (now PARACHUTE) code to a level I’m willing to release on a private beta basis. If all goes well, I’ll a release a public beta within a week. Sign Up Here.

Parachute? Am I jumping? What am I dropping? Links, sounds delicious doesn’t it? And it is, but with a twist, you don’t put in your own links. Parachute is designed so that you receive links from other people, right in your dropzone. Still don’t get it? Here’s how it works…

Let’s say Jill and Joel are best buds, Jill want to share a cool site about plants with Joel, but Joel has a job, and is working on something important so he can’t be bothered to read about plants, no matter how cool they are. He could accept the link from Jill and shove it in his favourites, or go to some other social bookmarking site, but he doesn’t want to divert his attention. Jill could always email it, but she doesn’t want to open her mail client and go through that hassle, so what do they do? Before Parachute they probably would forget about the stupid plants and carry on, foliagely unfulfilled. But now with Parachute, Jill can drop Joel the link, and then when he has more time on his hands, he can go through his new drops and have a leafy old time reading about plants.

What does all this mean? A better world, and probably more work done in offices, except for the people who just spend their time refreshing their box, hoping for some new drops. Eventually we would like to see our parachute all over the web, instead of “emailing this link to a friend” why not drop it to their account with a click and a lot less typing? Plus with the Parachute your friends know that you’re not accidentally signing them up for spam.

thanks to notian for that copy, he’s a much better writer than i’ll ever be