Friday, September 13, 2002

Tech Stuff

Part of the attraction of blogging, for me, is the fact that doesn't cost anything. Well, I spend plenty on books and periodicals that I wouldn't necessarily need if I didn't blog, but I have a little rule of blogging; that it should not involve money. Since I won't ask for money, I feel that it is fair that I shouldn't have to spend any. Neither the hosting nor the tools need to cost a penny (so long as you already have a computer and a broadband connection, that is). Being the geek that I am I have tried out quite a few tools, and dealt with the many situations that blogging puts one into. Lately I have settled into a suite of freeware tools that make my blogging life much easier than it was in the beginning. So what do I use?

Blogging creates three challenges that must be overcome before one can effectively blog. They are: 1) the need to read a ton of stuff online, every day, 2) the composition and uploading of posts, and 3) email.

1) Every day since I found the blog space (ok Bill, the blogosphere) I read so much that I still can't believe it. After reading the morning papers I start with the blogs on my recommended reading list at left, but from a bookmark file that is much longer. (I read plenty of stuff that I wouldn't recommend) Most blogs will lead one to click on articles, other blogs, and other items if interest. That's a lot of reading. Then there is the need to establish new bookmarks as a result of interesting items found, so a great bookmark manager is required, along with an industrial strength browser. Even with a broadband connection, there are downloading delays, and I hate to wait. My browser of choice therefore is Mozilla. For the more traditional, Netscape v 7 is the same thing, with some AOL functionality added. The bookmark handling tools included within this browser are remarkably complete and easy to use, but the tabbed browsing inteface is great too. The ability to click one bookmark and simultaneously load six or seven pages makes navigating through multiple websites, blogs, etc. much easier and faster, and one can drag a link to another tab so that it will load in the background while one reads on in the blog that sent you to the link in the first place. The browser can kill most popups for you while leaving most sites fully functional. Add in the security problems related to Microsoft's browser and you don't have a choice. Download Mozilla today.

Research, and understanding what you run into during a day in the blogosphere, is important, too. I recommend that you download Atomica immediately, and you will never again have to wonder over the usage or nuances of a word, or struggle to look up any people, places, or things. With Atomica, just alt/rightclick on any word, anywhere, and you get a pop up window with the appropriate answer, whether from a dictionary, encyclopedia, or thesaurus. I haven't stumped it yet. It doesn't destabilize my system in the least, either.

For finding instances of a word or words I use a little utility called Hilitext. It works fast, is very flexible, and beats the pants off of any other wordfinder I have ever used. The downside to it is that Windows crashed twice while I had it loaded, so now I don't leave it running. After using this nifty little utility, I always unload it, just to be safe.

2) To blog, you need software and a host. These are both available for free from Blogger. There are others, but I haven't tried them. Using Blogger, two problems arise: the need to use HTML, and the flaky interface, which has a nasty propensity to eat your posts. Both of these problems can be ameliorated by using Note Tab Lite. It plugs in all of the HTML you will need to blog, and performs the absolutely necessary task of saving your posts before you post them. While all of the tools I mention here are optional, the one thing that is absolutely mandatory is that you MUST save your posts before you post them to Blogger. A word, to the wise, should be sufficient.

3) Email. One thing about the blogosphere is that you will wind up leaving your email address around here and there, as well as on your blog, with the result that the spammers WILL find you. They find me at least 100 times a day. I deal with this in two ways. First, get a "public" email account at Yahoo. This keeps your business and family email accounts from getting polluted by this onslaught. Then download a copy of Mail Washer. With this tool, after the first week of teaching the program your preferences, you can delete the dross without wasting too mush time and you won't clutter up your hard drive, and you can preview questionable items in a mileu that will not allow any malicious code to execute. Then you can download your email to your hard drive in comparative safety. It may be that Yahoo requires some payment for the functionality that Mail Washer requires. Email is used for more than blogging, however, so that would not violate my rule about free tools. However, if you need to stick to the rule, other free emails, like Hotmail, can be used by Mail Washer, according to their site.

This has run a little long, but I thought that it needed to be said. Most people are a little overwhelmed by techie stuff, and could use a little advice. If that's you, or you have any questions, email me.