hacks

techmeme

One of the bits of advice that Scott Hanselman gave in our interview with him on Ignite Your Coding  was that a good way to stay on top of all the things happening in the tech world is “follow the aggregators” – the people who take the time to comb through all the tech news and collect it into a single place. I hope that you consider this blog one of your aggregators.

Even aggregators rely on other aggregators, and this one has relied on Techmeme for the longest time (since writing for Canadian Developer Connection since 2009 and Global Nerdy since 2006). Techmeme is Gabe Rivera’s ever-updating “Page One” powered by news crawlers and a human editorial board featuring breaking tech news stories and commentaries on those stories, from big tech news sites to tech blogs (ranging from big, corporate-funded ones to one-person developer blogs). I hit Techmeme several times a day and have found it incredibly useful in all sorts of ways, and it’s nice to see Gabe and Techmeme get their due in the New York Times article Techmeme Offers Tech News at Internet Speed.

Not Just the Story, But the Stories Around the Story

One of the great things about Techmeme is where it leads you. Not only do the big tech stories of the moment appear on Techmeme, but so do stories that link to that story. As a result, you get not just what’s going on, but also links to articles that follow up on, expand, provide context for and even counterpoint to that story.

Here’s a screen shot of a story featured on Techmeme last week, Mary Jo Foley’s article on WebMatrix:

anatomy of a techmeme story

Mary Jo’s article, Microsoft takes aim at Web developers with new WebMatrix tool suite, appears at the top. Below it, in the section titled “Discussion”, are all the blogs that link to Mary Jo’s article. Each of these discussion articles provides some additional context, often with a different angle, from the developer-specific angles covered by Scott “ScottGu” Guthrie and me (in the 3rd article in the discussion list) to the overview angle provided by Ars Technica to the managerial angles provided by Softpedia News and Betanews. You’ll often see disagreeing points of view as well. This “story plus discussion” approach is often very useful for getting a better picture and broader perspective of what’s going on.

Okay, What About the “Your Ticket to Nerd Rock Stardom” Part?

Star Wars Rock

According to the New York Times article, Techmeme has a reach of about 260,000 readers and get 3 million pageviews a month. Its Alexa traffic rank worldwide is 7,845 (out of all the web pages in the world, it is the 7,845th most popular) and its traffic rank in the U.S. is 2,954 (the 2,954th most popular site for U.S. readers). How can you harness that power for yourself?

The trick is a simple one: it’s to get Techmeme to mention your blog articles in the “Discussion” section for its stories, or better still, make one of your articles a featured article. Once that happens a couple of times, you’ll notice that your readership will grow from the “Techmeme bump” and if you play your cards right, all sorts of opportunities will follow. It’s worked for me at Global Nerdy, which often gets listed in “Discussion” lists for Techmeme articles and has had a few articles as feature articles, and it’s grown from zero readers in 2006 to getting 1.6 million pageviews (1.3 million unique) in 2009.

How do you get noticed by Techmeme? I gave away this secret back in 2006, in an article titled Jason Calacanis Swiped Our 5-Step Plan for Becoming an A-Lister! It goes as follows:

  1. Go to Techmeme.
  2. Blog something intelligent about the top story of the day.
  3. Link to and mention all the people who have said something intelligent.
  4. Repeat for 30 days.
  5. Go to a couple of conferences a month.

(And to get noticed by Techmeme, you can ignore step 5. But attending conference helps in all sorts of ways too. Did I mention that TechDays is coming?)

That’s all there is to it: find featured articles in Techmeme, write something intelligent about it in your blog (don’t forget to link to the article!) and keep doing it. Like a lot of other things in tech, as long as you’ve got the threshold amount of smarts, it’s all about perseverance.

If you take on this challenge, let me know how it goes!

This article also appears in Canadian Developer Connection.

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Much Clearer Than “PC LOAD LETTER”

by Joey deVilla on March 24, 2010

Printer displaying the message "I CRAVE BLOOD" Photo courtesy of M Thru F.

I assume that someone did this using this trick.

This article also appears in The Adventures of Accordion Guy in the 21st Century.

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Is Your Code a Candidate for “There, I Fixed It”?

by Joey deVilla on October 27, 2009

There, I Fixed It is a hilarious photoblog that catalogs kludges, jury rigs and hastily-improvised duct-tape repairs and modifications to everyday objects. The photos below are a sample of some of the quick fixes shown on the site, each one somewhere on the spectrum spanning “clever and thrifty” to “cheap, shoddy and frightening”:

There I Fixed It

(Regarding the photo in the right column, second one from the bottom – the piece of paper attached to the pencil sticking out of the computer says “Pull to turn on”. It’s a jury-rigged replacement for the power switch.)

Sloppy work like this isn’t limited to the physical world. I’ve seen (and okay, sometimes I’ve written) code that could’ve been a candidate for There, I Fixed It, and chances are you have too:

  • Some of my hacks were a little more elegant and useful in the long-term, as long as you weren’t going to be too fussy about aesthetics. They were the software equivalent of the CD-ROM drive installed below the car radio and attached to it with a cable with 1/8” stereo jacks. They weren’t pretty, but they were solid, reasonably maintainable and viable in the long term.
  • Others were terrible kludges that were originally intended to be temporary solutions that forgotten and lived much longer than they should have. They were like fixes shown in the two photos on the bottom (the hasty bridge repair and the car exhaust held together with zip-ties).
  • I’ve also copped out by glossing over bad user interface design with some explanatory text or dialog box instead of actually correcting the design. This is not unlike labelling a doorknob “hard to open” or a hastily-improvised switch “pull to turn on”.

Be sure to check out There, I Fixed It. They’ve had some pretty hilarious pictures lately, and perhaps it’ll inspire (or shame) you to eschew the quick fix or kludge in favour of putting some time and thought into writing better code and building better user interfaces.

This article also appears in Canadian Developer Connection.

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Maybe It’s Time to Update Your Twitter Password

by Joey deVilla on January 5, 2009

First, there were the Twitter phishing attacks that looked like direct messages from your friends offering you a chance to win an iPhone. Now some big-shot Twitter accounts appear to have been accessed by pranksters: FOX News’, CNN’s Rick Sanchez’ and Britney Spears’ accounts have all had tweets posted to them by unauthorized parties.

These tweets have since been deleted, but their images have been saved in a number of places, including a Flickr photoset by Mat Honan and on TechCrunch.

Here’s an image of the unauthorized post on Britney’s Twitter account. The pusillanimous bowlderizers over at TechCrunch blurred out the word “vagina” in their screenshot of the posting, but we don’t do that sort of thing here at Global Nerdy:

Screenshot of hacked Britney Spears tweet: "HI Yall! Brit here, just wanted to update you on the size of my vagina. Its about 4 feet wide with razor sharp teeth."
Click the screenshot to see the full version on its Flickr page.

Michael Arrington, you big girl’s blouse, they use the word “vagina” on prime time TV – for starters, on Family Guy. Also, thanks to Britney’s now legendary bad judgement and celebrity blogs, we’ve all seen said vagina anyway [link not safe for work!].

Here’s the unauthorized post on Rick Sanchez’ Twitter account:

Screenshot of hacked Rick Sanchez Twitter account: "i am high on crack right now might not be coming into work today"
Click the screenshot to see the full version on its Flickr page.

And my favourite, the unauthorized post on FOX News’ Twitter account that tells the shocking truth of about falafel-and-loofah fetishist and screaming head Bill O’Reilly:

Screenshot of FOX News Twitter account: "Breaking: Bill O Riley is gay"
Click the screenshot to see the full version on its Flickr page.

Anyhow, you might not be a celebrity, but it still might be a good idea to update your Twitter password if it’s something easily cracked, like a word that can be found in the dictionary.

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Using the Hell Out of Your Digital Camera

by Joey deVilla on November 24, 2008

this_camera_belongs_to
I got this Nikon Coolpix P6000 assigned to me.
I’ll do a writeup on it in a future article.

Cockeyed.com has a great article featuring “10 camera tips not really related to photography” which covers some interesting uses for a digital camera that may not have occurred to you.

The photo above shows tip #1: take a photo of your contact info so that your camera can be returned to you if it’s lost. Many cameras have a feature that lets you lock a photo so it’s can’t be deleted; make your “This camera belongs to” photo the first shot on your card and lock it.

(Yeah, that’s my real mobile phone number and work email address. In the world of anti-spam, email rules and caller ID, I’m not too worried about handing out that info.)

You should check out the article for the full details, but for those of you who want a quick summary of the other interesting uses for a digital camera, they are:

  • A portable map device if you don’t have a GPS, iPhone or similar gadget
  • Remembering where you parked (especially if you’re not going to return to your car for some time, such as with airport long-term parking)
  • Remembering how something was assembled before you dismantle it for repair
  • Taking note of the licence plate of the guy who parked uncomfortably close to your car
  • A quick photocopier to take a copy of a couple of pages from a book or magazine with info that you might need while out
  • To cover your ass
  • To remember what’s on the menu at Chinese take-out
  • A quick way of jotting down the ingredients in a recipe so you know what to buy at the grocery
  • A better way of doing the “dent check” when you first take possession of a rental car
  • A mirror

If you can think up any other interesting uses for a digital camera – perhaps some that make use of the video recording feature – post them in the comments!

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