Take Control of GarageBand eBook

tco_gb_glennMy friend, colleague, and officemate Jeff Tolbert just had his first book published. Take Control of GarageBand is a $5, 68-page eBook from the folks at TidBITS who also published my Take Control of Sharing Files in Panther 100-plus-page whopper ($10).Jeff and I share an office with four other creative types, including a photographer, two other writers, and a book publicist. Jeff Tolbert is an illustrator, graphic designer, Web designer, and musician, and Jeff Carlson and I feel like we helped turn his interest in GarageBand into a writing project. It's a great first book. I read drafts and final versions, and it's not just a good effort by a first-time book author--with the tremendous support of the Take Control infrastructure--but it's a worthy read for anyone trying to get started with GarageBand who needs the help of a guiding hand. I know that I do.

Free the Andy Richter One!

Dear Andy,I never watched the Conan O'Brien Show, and I had doubts about your sitcom Andy Richter Controls the Universe. But you won me over with the first episode. I worried it would be Herman's Head, but you came up with a truly surreal show sealed with your nice-guy with the churning fantasies persona. I tried to re-enact the Superman-crushes-coal bit from one episode for friends a few times. You didn't Control the Universe enough to prevent the cancellation of your own show, which disappointed me and my wife tremendously. Uh, the cancellation, not the show. But there's hope: Quintuplets, a romping new show on that bastion of entertainment Fox. After watching the first episode of Quints, in which you perform your usual magic, I realize that you're being held hostage in a program that doesn't deserve you. The first episode features about eight of the plots from my work-in-progress-in-my-brain, There Are Only Eighty Sitcom Plots, notably #8, "Kids Have Party When Parents Are Away," and #31, "Authority Figure Eats Drug Brownie." #31 is often only pulled out to jump a shark. I will soon be launching a national telethon to extract you from Quints. It's called Free the Andy Richter One! Hold on. We'll have you home soon. Yours, Fanboy

Vonage Adds Mac Soft Phone

I've been a Vonage customer for several months as part of a multi-tiered effort to reduce my cell phone bill and expand my calling options, and I just saw that they've released the latest add-on: a $12/month (with fees) software voice over IP package for Mac. They've had a PC offering for a while; the Mac offering uses the superb Xten software. For $12/month on top of any existing Vonage account, you get unlimited inbound calls--yes, people can call your Mac using a public telephone number--and 500 minutes of local and long distance outgoing calls.The idea is that this gives you a truly mobile phone number--and one that requires only your normal computer and a broadband connection to use while you're on the road. You could even forward your wired Vonage connection to your soft phone's number.

Shredding Benjamin

Oh, Ben, we're so sorry. We didn't mean it. Please, come back! I was cleaning out the shred bag--doesn't everyone have a shred bag in the days of identity theft from recycling bins?--that had some stuff that was a year or two old in it. I'm dumping items into the shredder and I see what looks like a bill. A $100 bill. As I feed it in, I think, oh, I hate those fake bills that they insert into credit-card flyers to make us think they're giving us money. A few seconds later as my wife strolled in, I realized it was currency. Honey, I shredded a benjamin. We don't have a cross-cut shredder, as that's overkill if you're not wanted by a foreign power or have millions in your bank accounts, and we were able to find most of the pieces, so we think a bank can exchange it for us in accord with the rules for damaged currency that the Department of the Treasury promulgates. Curiously, my wife and I don't casually put $100 bills in shred or burn bags. We don't recall receiving high-denomination bills recently. We have no idea where this came from. Just glad I spotted it. The ultimate way to dispose of shredded paper is vermicomposting, of course. We recycle non-identity-based paperwork, but we feed our shredded remains to our worms to create soil. We give them paper to help their digestive tracts, and our non-meat food scraps to turn into perfect soil.

Killing 3,000 Weblogs? Child's Play. I Killed 7,000 Subscribers

I've probably been noticeably less than hostile about the demise of Weblogs.com, the former free Manila-based Weblog service. I've posted here some tips on retrieving content on your own, and the notion that you get what you pay for when it's free and hosted versus free and source code. (Perhaps that's free as in free code, not free as in free storage.) Weblogs.com was a training wheels situation for me, and when I was ready to solo, I didn't fall off the bike too often.But I sympathize with the intersection of time, energy, finances, and expectations. From 1994 to 1996, I ran the Internet Marketing Discussion List, which was a seminal force for discussing ecommerce and marketing. At its height, it had 7,000 subscribers. In mid-1996, I was in the middle of contemplating how to best capitalize on the list, which took a fair amount of time. I'd already gained some sponsors and asked for voluntary subscriber fees, both of which helped subsidize my substantial commitment during a time that I was the head of a fast-growing but tiny-scale Web site development company. But I was hoping to push forward, producing a book with a publisher, creating new discussion forums on the Web, and so forth. I was also discussing a merger with a design firm. But when I proposed on the list that I might produce a CD-ROM with archived posts among other things, people flamed me for selling their words. I know now that you need to require people to agree to a non-exclusive license for their posts before they subscribe, but those were the early days. That, coupled with a long-planned three-week vacation that summer led me to shut the list down, pretty abruptly. It had become somewhat stale, and my plans were to revitalize it. But with the list increasingly crowded with newbies, with successful marketers no longer contributing (because they had their secrets now, and didn't need to give back), and with the negative reaction to making it a sustainable line of business, I said, it's time to stop. I got some anger and praise in equal measures, sure. Some fraction of those 7,000 people emailed me with all kinds of complaints, suggestions, thanks, and so forth. Mostly, people were sorry to see it go but hadn't felt it was that useful near the end of its life. I promised to promote any new list that might form, but to avoid privacy problems, I wouldn't pass on the subscriber list. As you can imagine, nothing really materialized. Some lists focused on online advertising did pick up traction, as that industry was starting to come into its own. But mostly, it just fizzled out. The merger didn't happen. I sold the firm a few months later and joined Amazon.com (briefly), and then emerged in the "mature" phase of my career as a journalist, conference builder, and Webpreneur. I don't feel that I let anyone down. It was my time, freely given, although supported by a small number of gratefully accepted contributions. And it was time to move on to other things and let the community figure out its own future.

How to Restore Your Weblogs.com Site via Google

Go to Google and enter your Weblogs.com domain and a keyword in this form:site:tom.weblogs.com -flibbertygibbit You need to pick a word that is not on any page, obviously, or you'll only get a subset of results. If you have a header or footer, use that word. I just tried this on tom.weblogs.com and got these results. You can now either tediously used the Cached link for every page and copy it, or use one of these Web reaping or crawling tools to download everything linked off the Google pages to one link depth. You might limit the downloads to pages in the pattern of dates, like (in grep syntax): \/\d{4,4}\/\d{2,2}\/\d{2,2} This retrieves just the date archives. For instance, even my abandoned glennf.weblogs.com site, which can happily take a Deep Six, is archived in Google. Extra, extra! Super-Google-genius Tara Calishain (I hope that makes her blush) posts much more expert advice about retrieving old pages from Weblogs.com sites through Google and another search engine, among other great ideas.

If You Don't Pay for It, Don't Expect Persistence

This is why I migrated my blogs elsewhere quite some time ago. It's expensive and tedious to host other people's stuff. It has to be a business. For a while, weblogs.com was part of a interrelated effort, and it made sense. I'm grateful that my content was so nicely hosted for free there for several months at one point. But I needed to control my own destiny and pay someone else (until I took it entirely in house) so there was a financial and contractual relationship.I've had problems with "free" in the past. Free means, "As long as it works out for us, we'll continue to do this thing, but we can't necessarily guarantee that it will persist longer than our need for it does." That is, it's all about them, not about you. Have gratitude for what is provided free and generously. But have care that you know precisely what you're paying for, too.

Gambling Machines Subject to Enormous Scrutiny; Voting Machines Not

This New York Times editorial is quite remarkable: it notes the extreme care that Nevada takes to ensure that all gambling machines conform to tight standards that are rigorously and randomly checked. It's actually a perfect model for voting machine development, deployment, and testing. The gambling industry rakes in billions on these machines, so consumers must be protected from fraud--and the industry from folks who try to game the gaming machines. But voting a money-losing enterprise. Low bids, no oversight, and lots of handringing are all we've seen in the revelations of how poorly made and tested most machines are.

CSS Bug in IE: Can't Solve

My new design for glennf.com uses CSS. However, I'm stymied by the Internet Explorer CSS bug that doesn't support CSS positioning correctly. Anyone have ideas? Thanks!(I turned on comments to try out whether I'd get useful help: the first was just a stupid insult. Sigh. Oh, well. Please email me instead.) Update: Setting the CSS class selector "rightcolumn" to position: absolute instead of position:relative solved the problem. Thanks to Jonathan Clapper for his advice!