Archive for the ‘Technology’ Category

Twitter for Mac, a 2-App Approach

I’ve been a fan of the Twitter app for Mac since I started using Twitter several years ago, so I was sad to see it discontinued. What I liked about it was that it was very streamlined, yet gave me the information I wanted. I’ve gotten used to seeing my notifications for all my Twitter accounts, and knowing what had been liked or retweeted. I was also used to managing these accounts in a single small window, which worked well on my laptop with minimal screen real estate. I also liked that the app was free. So as you might guess, I haven’t found a good alternative yet.

Tweetdeck is the most logical replacement, since it is also free. But my first reaction to it was negative — the number of columns quickly got overwhelming, and I didn’t see a good way to manage my multiple accounts (which seems odd, since that’s supposed to be its strong suit). I’m logged in with my main account, and all my other accounts get associated with that, so I can tweet easily from any account. But if I want to see all of their home streams, for instance, then I have to create several columns, and those aren’t easy to tell apart unless I look at the top of the column — on the icon bar to the left, I just see a number of identical icons for the type of stream I’m viewing.

So, I tried Twitterific, which was reviewed highly in the TidBits newsletter. I like the look of Twitterific, and it does many of the things the Twitter app did. I can switch between accounts more easily than I can in Tweetdeck, for instance. And for each account, I can quickly view the Home feed, Mentions, Messages, Likes, Lists, and Searches. This is all great, but I have a few quibbles — the Likes stream shows me the tweets I’ve liked, for instance, but there isn’t a quick way to see which of my tweets have been liked or retweeted (unless my account was quoted or replied to in the tweet, when it would show up in Mentions). Twitterific also doesn’t allow me to see what I’ve recently tweeted.

So I decided to go back to Tweetdeck to deal with these issues. In Tweetdeck, I set up a column for each of my accounts that has Notifications (likes by others, retweets, and new followers). I also set up a column for each of my accounts that has the User stream. This way, I can view all of this information in one place by opening Tweetdeck, but by removing all the other columns, it isn’t so overwhelming.

I’ll use Twitterific for reading my Twitter Feeds, checking my mentions, managing my lists, checking messages, and seeing what I’ve liked. But I’ll switch to Tweetdeck to see what Notifications I’ve received and what I’ve tweeted (and whether those tweets have been liked, etc.). This 2-app solution ought to do almost everything I’m used to doing.

So far, I haven’t checked out the third recommended app in the Tidbits article, Tweetbot. Maybe it would do everything, but from what I could gather from the article, it would probably leave some things out as well. So for now, I’ll try these two and then decide if I want to check out Tweetbot, too.

Of course, Twitterific costs $7.99 (discounted right now form $19.99) and Tweetbot costs $4.99 (down from $10 it seems), so replacing the Twitter app isn’t free unless you can get everything you need from Tweetdeck. If I had a huge monitor or fewer accounts to follow, then Twitterific might be enough for me, but as it is, it will take more than one app to replace my old Twitter app on a Mac.

In Praise of Old Tech

One bad habit I have (or maybe a good habit) is that I don’t get rid of all of old computers. That’s a problem when there are old machines that don’t work kicking around (maybe waiting to salvage a drive or something), but I have a few that will still boot up and can be useful now and then. Tonight was one of those times.

We’ve been working on college applications, and realized we needed to make a correction on one. The college sent a form that they require you to fax back for security reasons because it has sensitive information. I get that, but who has a fax machine anymore?? Sure, I could perhaps have used an online fax service, but that would be a pain and no more secure than emailing the form. I could take it to a print shop and pay someone to fax it for me, or I could have even gone to the office and used the fax machine there (but this is purely for personal use, so that seemed wrong).

Fortunately, my eye landed on an old laptop I had gotten out when trying to hook up a scanner (I eventually got the scanner to work on my new computer, thankfully, but hadn’t stowed the old G4 Powerbook. Glancing at the ports reminded me that one was a phone port, so I  thought I might see if I could get it to fax for me.

I cranked it up, logged into my network, set the date on the clock to 2018 (why not?), and then transferred my pdf file from my MacBook Pro to the desktop of my Powerbook. Then I had to figure out how to fax again — it’s probably been close to a decade since I’ve done it. Help told me to install the Internal Modem in Printers and Faxes, then I printed the document, chose Internal Modem as my printer, entered the number (after connecting the computer to the phone wall jack, of course), hit print and listened to the good old-fashioned sounds of the modem dialing and connecting to the fax machine on the other end. After what seemed like forever, the fax was done and the print job went away.

That saved me a fair amount of time and possibly money, and while I was at it, I looked at a few photos on my old desktop for nostalgia’s sake. Sure, I could recycle the Powerbook, but now and then it still comes in handy!

Simple Work-Around for old iPhone and 2-Step Authentication

I’ll admit it, I’m a bit of a luddite when it comes to cell phones. I’d rather not be that connected all the time, so it took me awhile to even get a smart phone. I inherited my old iPhone 4 from my wife when she upgraded (to a 4S — we’re still behind the times, but we can get a much cheaper pay-as-you go plan with PagePlus Cellular if we’re not 4G).

The problem comes when I have to change my AppleID password, which happens now and then with a software update. The first time I tried to use my old iPhone 4 with iCloud, I realized its iOS won’t work with Apple’s 2-step authentication. I would try to enter a password, but couldn’t enter the code Apple sent me. Eventually, I figured out a work-around.

What I do is turn off 2-step Authentication temporarily on my account. Then I can enter the password into the iPhone and connect to iCloud. Then I can turn 2-step back on and enable it on my other devices. The iPhone stays logged in.

Did I mention that I pay $10 every 120 days for my phone service? I’m on wifi most of the time, so I don’t need a lot of data. There are things I can’t do on this not-so-smart-anymore phone, but it more than meets my needs. A few hassles like this one are worth it for the savings.

RIP Vintage Macbook

This is a follow-up to a series of posts about my 2011 MacBook Pro 15″ that went through the video card replacement program back in June 2015. At the time, I was very happy with Apple for (finally) stepping up to the plate and fixing the issue for free. They replaced my logic board when my computer died due to a known issue.

So yesterday, when the same computer (that my wife is now using when she wants to be away from her desktop) started to have the same issues, I didn’t want to believe it had the same problem. The issue — the computer goes through the full startup routine, then ends with a blank (gray or white) screen. So I went through a few rounds of trouble-shooting, repaired the hard drive, and tried to start in every mode I could think of: Safe Mode (no good),  Repair Mode (same), starting from external drives (same issue after startup). I even tried resetting NVRAM and the SMC. Nothing worked, though in Target Disk mode, I was able to get some recent files off the drive and run Disk First Aid. I had also been able to do this in Single user Mode. And I could start in Verbose mode, but it still wouldn’t ever get to my desktop.

So after exhausting all other possibilities that I could find (so far), I determined it was not the hard drive and was probably the video card on the logic board — especially since sometimes it would start up, get to the blank screen, and then cycle through a few restarts before ending with the blank screen. This was all the behavior associated with the video card issue, which I confirmed when those old posts and comments appeared in my searches about the issue we’re having.

That led to this morning’s chat with Apple Support. The agent read my description and looked up the repair/replacement options. Regina told me that my computer was not eligible for any replacement programs, and that it is now considered a vintage model, since it’s been over 5 years since any parts were made for it.

Frankly, I wasn’t too surprised. The computer is over 6 years old, and though I’d like it to last longer (I have older Apple laptops that still start up on the rare occasion I decide to use one for a task). But since it had been repaired for free once already, it was a long shot to expect Apple to do that again. There are a couple more options I might try before giving up on this laptop. Fortunately, it’s not my main computer anymore, so I have the luxury of doing that.

So what’s the upshot of this experience? Well, if you’re running an old 2011 MacBook Pro that was repaired under the video card program, you might be running on borrowed time. And if you get a free repair, I guess it means you might have gotten a repaired part that has the same issue as your previous part. In my case, I got another 2.5 years out of the computer, which was long enough for me to grow out of it and replace it as my main computer. But nothing lasts for ever. Now my “vintage” computer is a vintage piece of metal that won’t do much. I’ll keep it around long enough to make sure I have everything I need off the hard drive, then either trade it in for parts or salvage a few parts off it and then recycle it (after wiping the hard drive, which I may remove before recycling).

Rediscovering Lists on Twitter

Recently, I’ve gotten back into Twitter lists: making them and finding them.

Lists is one of those features on Twitter that often goes overlooked. They hide on a user’s profile. At least when using the app, you have to click on the gear icon on their profile page to View Lists.

I was reminded of them when searching for authors to follow. I knew the authors, but couldn’t always guess their handle. One of my searches on names and book titles sent me to the Mississippi Library Commission’s list of Mississippi Authors: Missssippi Writes @MSlibrarycomm. This list has 114 members (MS writers on Twitter) and only 5 subscribers, including me with 2 of my accounts. I’d like to see this triple n the next week!

@MSlibrarycomm also has lists for: Mississippi Indie Books, News, Schools, Libraries, as well as Library Associations, Author Geeks, etc.

Following a list is a great way to organize your Twitter feed because you only see tweets from those accounts when you view the list, so you’ll focus on the list subject rather than seeing those posts mixed in your usual feed. It is also a good way to see tweets by people you don’t follow and to discover new people to follow.

You can create your own lists, too. I have lists of literary magazines, writers, literary magazine resources, and bookstores. These help me find the people on Twitter that I want to follow. You can even add someone to a list without following them, if you only want to see their tweets when you view your list.

Lists help me tame the wild Twitterverse (a little) and get more out of its content. So I’m glad I was reminded of this somewhat hidden feature.

The Life of a Blog Post

Today, I want to take a little trip down my own geek highway. Every now and then (maybe more often than I’m willing to admit), I check the stats on my blog. It’s one of the features I like about WordPress, by the way. I can see who’s reading what and sometimes that affects what categories I write about. But the thing I’ve noticed about my blog, and the thing I want to write about here, is what I’ve learned by digging down a bit deeper into my stats.

From the basic daily graph, I can tell that my most popular content has consistently remained the same, and I’ve even written about it in posts like” How to Drive Traffic to Your Blog: Be Useful.” Diving deeper into WordPress’s stats by clicking on the title of the post, I can also see how individual posts have performed over time.

By organizing the daily graph by weeks, months, or years, I can get a longer-term view of what posts have performed best. My most popular post ever by far is “How I fixed my DSL modem connection, no thanks to ATT support.” I wrote it in May 2013 and it garnered a modest 33 visits that month. Not bad for a tiny little blog lost somewhere in the outer reaches of the blogosphere. But by the end of the year, after steady growth in December it achieved 1,802 views and I was amazed. Clearly something had happened to get this post noticed: maybe a repost or link somewhere had led to higher search engine rankings or the fact that I gave detailed replies to people’s comments may have helped. Even more astounding, over 4 years later, the same post still garners around 4,000 views a month and averages 137 views per day.

This defies the conventional logic of how blogging works. According to Ted Murphy in an undated Convince and Convert article “New Study Reveals the Lifetime Value of a Blog Post,” the conventional wisdom had been that the life of a blog post peaked after only a few days. He cites studies that show the life of a post may be highest in the first days, but that there is significant traffic for the next 700 days, and the height of the peak and the thickness of the tail varies, depending on the content. Still, they predict that 99% of a post’s traffic will be spent within two years.

“How I fixed my DSL modem” clearly challenges this. The post’s best month so far was in October 2016, over 3 years after the post was written, and if annual trends continue, I am set to break this record sometime in 2017, since my monthly and daily averages continue to rise. I certainly never expected a post that I wrote, essentially as a rant against ATT and as a reminder to myself of the things I’d done to get my DSL modem to work, would ever gain this level of popularity. I didn’t plan it, but it has made me curious.

Okay, you might say, that’s one post. An outlier. And certainly, it is, as none of my other posts, even ones on related topics, have performed that well. But overall, I do see a similar trend. My second-most popular post, about how I fixed my Macbook’s trackpad, has seen similar growth. I wrote it in June 2015. It received 15 hits that month, 19 the next, and then it started a gradual growth. As of now, the best month has been May 2017, practically two years after the post was written, and it is still garnering over 800 hits a month. It’s hard to tell whether that will last, whether there will be another spike, or whether the hits will start to taper off.

Other posts on non-technology topics have done the same. In 2013, I wrote a series of posts on Life with Canine Autoimmune Hemolytic Anemia. The initial post peaked two years later in July of 2015, though it continues to get 20-30 hits a month. A related post on feeding your dog buttermilk, written in 2014, reached its current peak in March of 2017 with 523 views. Apparently, a lot of people are interested in buttermilk and whether it’s okay to give to dogs. Who knew…

Many of my posts on creative writing programs or poetry have had similar, steady growth, often going along with a modest amount of initial interest for awhile and then taking off a year or more into their life-cycles. The more people read and perhaps mention these sleepy little posts, the more attention they begin to garner, until it snowballs into respectable numbers. (I won’t claim any post as viral, but some do all right.)

This pattern is borne out by a study written in ConfluentForms, Content Strategy, Life Cycles, & types of Evergreen Content by David Kutcher in 2013.  Kutcher describes how the lifespan of longer content (longer than a Facebook post, Tweet, or Tumblr) can tend to grow over time and build an audience. He describes strategies to foster this, such as revisiting old content and updating older posts — I wonder if responding to comments may have a similar effect. I haven’t tried to get my posts to be “evergreen,” but I have tried to notice what makes them perform well.

What I’ve learned is that life of a blog post may much longer than you think. I’ve watched as posts I’ve written, that I thought would never take off, eventually became my most popular posts, outperforming my highest expectations and lasting much longer than I would have ever dreamed when I wrote them. You can’t always predict what those posts will be, but if you treat your topics with care, write cogently and communicate well, then there’s always a chance that your writing will reach its audience. And if that does happen to that rant or that nerdy little foray into a subject you thought no one else in the world could care about, you’ll be glad your post is well written if you’ve taken the care to do that initially, once thousands of people have visited your site.

Fun with ATT Support

Since I know a few people follow my ongoing saga with ATT on this blog, I thought I’d chronicle the latest. Yesterday our U-verse phone service went out, though we still had internet service (the other day my wife was having poor internet service, so we rebooted the U-verse router and after awhile got both internet and phone back up and running, but maybe it’s connected). At first, we had a dial tone, but when I tried to dial a number, I only got static, no ring. So I went into the Status page for the U-verse modem and restarted the phone service. It said it restarted successfully, but it also said that it was “registering.” And it said that for over 24 hours (even after I’d contacted support). But at this point when I tried to dial out, I got a busy signal.

Since we still had internet, I went to att.com and tried to get support. Their support portal took me to the Troubleshoot and Resolve tool, which made me go through all the steps, like making sure my phone was plugged in. I answered appropriately and eventually got to a point where it seemed to be testing my phone connection, then it told me I needed a new modem and asked if I wanted them to ship me one for free (with U-verse, you rent your modem/gateway for about $7 a month—a good thing, since we went through several “crappy modems” (that’s what the tech guy called them) before getting one that worked for a couple of years. Now it apparently bit the dust.

I said “yes,” answered a couple more questions, and when it came time to get the shipment details, the support program crashed and I lost any info I had on it. So, I thought I’d ordered a new gateway/modem and had no idea how long it would take to arrive. I didn’t want to restart the modem because I didn’t want to risk losing DSL, so we were without a phone line for over 24 hours.

That brings us to this afternoon. As I was beginning this post, the modem arrived. Actually, before that, I was able to log in to ATT and this time saw there was a message telling me the modem had shipped and I could install my new equipment. That was great, but there was still no tracking number, so I had no idea when it would arrive until FedEx came knocking at my door.

In the box was a new gateway, about twice the size of our old one (a bit of an issue for the space we have it in, but I’ll deal), and a very basic setup guide. Basically, it said to remove our old cables and put them in the same ports on the new gateway. I did that, and it didn’t take too long — would have taken less time, but I decided to replace one cable that looked suspicious, which meant rerouting at the back of my cabinet.

I powered up the new gateway and waited while it got booted up and made its connection, which can take up to 15 minutes initially. Eventually the phone light turned green, so I tried to make a call, and it worked. Then, once broadband was up, I logged into the new wifi and tried to restore my login information, following the instructions.

Unfortunately, ATT didn’t have a backup of our old login credentials, but I decided to try chatting with an agent to see if they could restore them from my records. I gave her our old router’s network name and the old password, and she sent it to the new one. That worked. Now all of our devices can still login to the wifi network without changing every login and password.

So was the new user experience better or worse than before? On the one hand, it was a little frustrating to never have contact with a human being until I chatted with the customer service about restoring our wifi info. On the other hand, I avoided long wait times on hold with ATT, and I got my problem resolved in a little over 24 hours. Besides waiting for shipment, installing the new equipment only took about an hour, maybe a little more, but since part of that time was messing with the wiring, it really wasn’t too bad.

Now all that I have left to do is take the old router to the UPS store and let them ship it back to ATT at no charge. If that goes okay, I’ll be happy enough. And if ATT would rather ship out a new modem/gateway overtime something is broken, rather than sending out a technician, which may be cheaper for them, then I can live with that. The only problem would be if the new equipment didn’t really fix the problem. Then it would feel like a waste of time. And if I had lost internet connectivity instead of our phone service, then I would have still been calling a support number, if I could find it! So my feelings are mixed, but ultimately, if it works, I won’t complain. So far, so good. The new gateway even has more capabilities, like U-verse TV, which we don’t want and isn’t available in our area, but if that changes and we change our minds, it might be nice to have that functionality.