Scratching An Itch In The (Adobe) Air

Recently I needed to solve a challenge that came up at work. Actually, it was a series of challenges. First, we needed a better way to display our/my videos. Then we needed a better way to submit and review those videos. We also needed a better way to report on how people consume them. It turned out to be quite a big challenge.

In the past, I didn’t think we needed a solution. YouTube provided the answer for everything. YouTube was the primary host for our videos. It just made sense to display our videos on YouTube as well. We also provided links and embeds of those videos on our blog, as well as on some other web properties.

But every now and then, YouTube changed the formatting for its pages. We have minimal control over the look of those pages. And organizing videos is always a challenge. Our customers have a hard time finding the right video because we don’t have a great way to categorize them on the page.

Reporting on video views is a strong point of YouTube, but we can’t easily see what parts of the videos engage viewers the most. I think I know what people enjoy, but I could be wrong. And the YouTube analytics don’t provide me with good enough tools to figure that out.

So we spent a good long time trying to find a better solution. And it’s ended up being one of my big projects at work for the last few months. The result is still in process, but I am pretty happy with where things are going.

For our customers and partners, it starts and ends with a single web property: FaxDocs.tv. FaxDocs is a list of videos that we can easily put into the right categories. And it is completely under our own control. But behind FaxDocs is a site called Wistia which actually hosts our videos.

Wistia isn’t going to be the solution for everyone as it does require payment. But as soon as you outgrow what YouTube provides for free, Wistia is a great next step. With Wistia, we control the video experience. We have access to great reports that show which parts of the videos are the most engaging. And there is another amazing benefit to using Wistia we did not expect at the beginning. Unlike YouTube, Wistia is not blocked by most corporate and international firewalls.

We already see an increase in views around the world. Administrators in companies that block YouTube are watching our videos. Potential customers in China are watching our videos even though YouTube is not accessible. Looking back, this is enough of a benefit to justify the subscription costs to Wistia.

FaxDocs itself is hosted with the massively popular web hosting company called Squarespace. Squarespace provides a great foundation with enough flexibilty for what I wanted to do.

The downside to using a custom platform as it is now is that my system is a bit brittle. I need to post things in a way that is just right. And I need to refer to a set of instructions with every post. I hate that. It was the same with YouTube and the result has been a bit of inconsistency as to how we post videos. So now I am working on the next stage of FaxDocs. I am creating a management app to make it easier to post, get statistics, and more.

I spent a bit of time thinking about the right way to deliver this management app. I cannot build the app just for me. There are others in the organization that need to work with it. I use a Mac, but everyone else is on a Windows PC. I would rather the app not run on an external webhost. Due to the resources available to me, that means it has to be a desktop app. And a desktop app that doesn’t require installing additional wierd services.

So how can I solve all of those needs? It turned out to be a really simple solution. Adobe Air. I have worked with Adobe Air for the last week now and I am really surprised at what it can do. That’s not to say that Air makes absolute sense all the time. I had a few challenges in building my app for Air that I had to overcome. And I am not developing for Adobe Air in the traditional way, so many of the online articles on the topic are not exactly written for me.

What is the traditional way to write an Adobe Air app? As far as I know, it is to use something like Flash Builder. While I do own Adobe Creative Suite 5.5, the version I have is Production Premium. This does not include Flash Builder. But it turns out that you do not need that to build an Adobe Air application.

My Adobe Air development environment involves two main tools. The first, and very important, tool is the free Adobe Air SDK. This includes the compiler and the debug utilities which I use a lot. The second main tool is a text editor. You can use any text editor you like, but at the moment I am totally loving SublimeText 2. If you are new to Sublime, also check out Jeffrey Way’s Tips & Tricks at Nettuts.

I am going to walk through the process for building an Adobe Air app here on Technovangelist. I haven’t written the articles yet, but I would expect the series to take quite a few posts. I hope you’ll stick with me as I write all the posts. If you have any comments, please share them with me below.

How I fixed my Wireless At Home

For months I have had a bizarre problem with wireless access. Every time I described it to networking folks, it baffled them. This was the situation.

My main pc is a 17″ MacBook Pro running Lion. When I take it anywhere, wireless works perfectly. There are no issues at all. When I plug it in to a wired connection, it works perfectly. Nothing special….yet. At home I have a few Windows-based machines that are on my home network, but they are all wired connections. All of them also work without any problems. I have 2 iPads (1 and 2) and an iPhone that connect wirelessly, again, no issues.

When I run my MacBook Pro at home on a wired connection, there is no problem. But wireless had a problem. Everything works everywhere, except the MBP has a problem with wireless. Well, actually, thats not true.

The MBP connects without a problem to WiFi. It just cannot get out of my network. So the only problem is when on WiFi, my MBP (and only my MBP) can see my internal network but cannot get out onto the internet. Bizarre, right? It gets a little harder to troubleshoot, though. If I run a command like host www.google.com from the terminal…ready for it…. it works. But Safari, Firefox, Chrome, Entourage, Tweetdeck, etc cannot see anything outside of my network.

Bizarre, right?

So here is what I did to fix it. I went into the DHCP config on the access point and disabled all the DNS settings. Then on my Mac, I created a Home location and hard coded the DNS settings. Thats it. Everything on my network and beyond now works for my MBP. I absolutely do not understand why this is, but now it all works. And now that I have documented it here, I can completely forget about it and live happy!

EDIT: November 14, 2011 – I made a change this morning because I got tired of hard coding a DNS server for each client. I have an old ASUS EEEBox running Linux in a closet. So far it was just a DNS server. Now its also DHCP and everything is perfect. Gradually I’ll move more services onto that little Atom-powered box.

How to make it look like you tweet often….while actually sleeping

I go through phases. The last two weeks are not a good example, but for a while I was tweeting like a madman. Every hour I would say something….most of it was even interesting. I got comments from others wondering how I was doing it. Was I really awake and thinking interesting things throughout the day AND at 2AM and 5AM and 11PM?

Well, some of those days I was, but most of them was ….MAGIC! OK, maybe not Magic. My secret was an incredibly cool tool called BufferApp. It acts like a buffer for the cool things you say. Say a bunch of things in the morning, and it automatically spreads them out across the day. Like MAGIC!

I have one big peeve with them though. There is no app. There is no Mac app, no PC app, no iPhone app, nothing. Just a web app. Sometimes I want to share something but don’t want to have to go through the hassle of launching Safari or Firefox or Chrome to get it said. I just want to say it. Sometimes I do that from a little command-line app I use, sometimes I do it from Wren.

When I use the command line tool, I actually launch that via Alfred. I just press CTRL-Space, type TW, space, then what I want to tweet. So easy and so useful. I have a similar command for my company’s internal social messaging tool. I really wanted a way to submit tweets to Buffer from the command line, but for some reason, the guys at BufferApp don’t want to release an API.

The workaround though is to send an email to add@to.bufferapp.com. Whatever is in the subject line is going to be the tweet. If you add a link to the body, it will also be included. Thats fine from the iPhone or iPad since most apps let you send as an email. But from the mac desktop its still pretty cheesy. So I started looking around for a solution using Alfred.

Screen Shot 2011 10 22 at 2 29 14 PM

The perfect solution lies in the fact that Alfred supports AppleScript AND this article from MacTech gives the exact syntax for sending an email with AppleScript. The result is that I can just press CTRL-Space, type BUFF space, then what I want to tweet. At whatever time BufferApp has decided, that tweet will automatically be posted.

If you are using Alfred and BufferApp and want to do the same thing, I exported my extension which you can use. If you try it, let me know if it worked for you.

Alfred Extension to Post to BufferApp.com

Books vs eBooks and Me

This evening I was walking back from dinner and on the way to the hotel I came upon the Barnes & Noble in Bellevue. This was a store I had spent a lot of time at when I lived in Bellevue so I was eager to stop in, especially since bookstores in the US are so different from those in Europe. As I wandered through the aisles, I was amazed at how differently I felt compared to my last time there. I just didn’t care about these things. The idea of buying a physical book is just so foreign to me that I didn’t even want to pick one up.

Today I live for my Kindle. I buy all my books on the Kindle. OK, maybe there are a few that are…um…acquired via other means….and there are a few paper copies that come from Amazon.co.uk, but for the most part, the Kindle is where I read everything. Its just so much easier and more comfortable to read on the Kindle that I don’t see how a store like B&N will stay in business for much longer. Obviously I am not the only one who feels that way because the store was pretty empty. Back when I was still living in the US, this store was packed, even on Monday nights.

I then looked at the magazine rack and again I felt there was nothing that this medium offered me. I read my magazines on the Zinio app on iPad. I couldn’t even imagine buying a physical paper magazine. Everything has changed.

How I Made A Personal Log Of Something

Maybe this will be useful for someone else. It will certainly be useful for me next time around.

Ever since I installed the SSD in my MacBook Pro, I had these weird beach balls (that spinning cursor that tells you the machine is hung on something) every now and then. I had read the blog posts on OWCs website about strange issues with SSDs on the 2011 MBPs, but I didn’t feel that that applied to me. There had to be another fixable reason. But it happened so rarely, it was hard to figure out if there was a pattern. Some days it would happen 2 or 3 times, other days it would be every 5-10 minutes. I wanted a way to record when it happened, so I created a little Beach Ball Log.

There are two tools that helped make this possible: GeekTool for displaying text files on the desktop, and Alfred for giving me a quick way to run a command. Quicksilver, LaunchPad, or any of the other tools for that should work just as well.

So first I created a script extension in Alfred that responded to keyboard shortcut bblog. The script was as follows:

echo “$(date +’%m/%d/%y::%T’) – {query}” >> ~/Documents/bblog.txt

This creates a line in the file every time I run it that looks like:

09/15/11::10:48:02 – was having lots. did disk repair, permissions, plus new efi update

Then I created a GeekTool geeklet that pointed to the bblog.txt file and place it on my desktop. The result was that from anywhere in the system, I could type “CTRL-SPACE bb text to insert” and I would get a line with the current time stamp, followed by text to insert added to my desktop. Here is a sample of whats on my desktop now just before I remove it since the problem is now gone.

Screen Shot 2011 09 19 at 10 57 51 AM

So what was the solution? Simple, I installed the EFI firmware update from Apple last week. All of a sudden the beach balls disappeared. Its like a whole new mac. ahhhh….