TheRealURL Chrome Extension

Lately I’ve been using Chrome quite a bit, and liking it a lot, which is why I was particularly excited to get a note from Don Magee at Tactical Coder saying he’s now using TheRealURL to power his Chrome URL Expander extension.

Don has some kind words for TheRealURL, too:

This is done by using the API found at: I know this is the second time I have switched backends. This new backend is even faster and supports every single url shortening service I have tried.

Thanks :)

I installed it on my Chrome and it works great. Note that the UI is a bit different from the Firefox extension – rather than displaying the long URL in the status bar, it inserts it in the HTML instead of the short one. So now we got Firefox, Thunderbird and Chrome covered (all, by the way, thanks to the kindness of developers I’ve never met, volunteering their code). If someone wants to do an IE/Safari/Opera extensions, let me know – I’d be happy to help any way I can.

Open Sourcing Crowds Machine

I’ve been way too busy recently to give Crowds Machine much attention, and since it’s such a resource hog I’m frankly not that motivated to improve it – better performance will just mean more users which will lead to higher hosting costs.

So I figure the best thing to do is open source the code, so that people would be able to install their own instance (and hopefully give it some much needed TLC):

The code is layers upon layers of Rails, much of it written when Rails (and myself) were young & naive. I updated it from time to time, but it’s not my submission to Beautiful Code. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported – if that’s a problem, let me know and I’ll see what I can do.

How To Disable Google Buzz (er, #GoogleBuzz )

[UPDATE: I didn’t like the original text, so I cut out most of it. If you’re getting this via a feed reader and this post appears twice, sorry.]

Here’s a short guide to the confused user: How To Disable Google Buzz. It’s not in sarcastic font but if you’re reading this you probably don’t need it. (BTW, I think a good indicator for when a community gets too big is that sarcasm needs to be explained: it means members don’t trust each other’s intelligence enough to assume outlandish claims are meant sarcastically).

My point obviously isn’t that Google Buzz should or shouldn’t be disabled, my point is that most of these things take only as much of your life as you allow them, so all the hyperbole around Google Buzz (or iPad, or whatever) is pointless.

It’s my first time trying out AdSense too – please feel free to click on the ads, I’m sure these are all fantastic products and services.

While we’re at it, I’d like to suggest a one reason why Google botched Buzz’s launch like that: when you launch something on top of Gmail, you just don’t get the chance to grow organically, learning from mistakes and user feedback as you go. There are a lot of benefits to size, but also some drawbacks.

Finally, I really enjoy my new habit of adding pictures to posts. I hope readers like it too. Here’s a photo of a shiny object:

Time Lapse Photography With MacBook’s iSight

After the weekend blizzard barely touched New York, I was particularly glad to wake up to a snowy morning. My trusty old Canon A85 recently passed away, so left with only the Macbook’s built in iSight camera to document this I figured it might be fun to try and take some time lapse shots. Here’s one of the results:

timmargh‘s blog post showed me how to get going. First I had to install iSightCapture to control iSight via the command line, then write a script that will take photos in fixed intervals. Initially I used Tim’s AppleScript, but then converted to a quick Ruby script instead:

path = "~/lapse"     # directory where images will be stored. must exist and be writable.

duration = 4 * 60 * 60  # Time to run, in seconds (4 hours here)
interval = 5 * 60       # time between each photo, in seconds (5 minutes here)

end_at = + duration

i = 0
while <= end_at do
 i += 1
 system "/Applications/isightcapture #{path}/%05d.jpg" % i
 sleep interval

This will take a photo every 5 minutes for four hours. A few notes:

1. The directory in path (“~/lapse” here) should exist before you run the script. If you have more than one machine it may be a good idea to make it a shared folder, so you can check on the progress from your other machine.

2. Photo Booth, or any other app that uses the camera, should be off or iSightCapture won’t work.

3. WordPress code view adds some ‘ ‘s in “copy to clipboard” which will break the script – use the “source view” icon to get the clean version.

4. If you’re taking photos over a long time period, remember to turn the screen off (ie, minimal brightness) – this will help the battery last the whole time, especially if you’re on an older MacBook.

5. If you want to get some sound indication that photos are being taken you might add the following line at the start of the while loop:

`say "cheese"`

Once you have some photos, GIFfun will let you combine them into an animated GIF. If there are more than a few dozen file size can quickly get out of hand, so you might convert them to video instead –  ffmpeg can take care of that. Installing it is pretty simple if you have MacPorts:

sudo port install ffmpeg

You can then cd to the image directory and create the video:

ffmpeg -i %05d.jpg lapse.mp4

Finally, here’s a photo of the whole setup, taken with the other MacBook’s iSight :)

The Not-Really-That-Much-Hype Cycle

So TheRealURL extension got “public” status at the addons.mozilla, and I guess it was on the “new add ons” or similar page for some time, which resulted in some nice graphs:

This is after about a week of pretty much flat lines, when it was still in the sandbox. The red line active daily users. Nothing crazy, but nice steady growth, all in all. I really like the way the blue line – daily downloads – matches nicely to the Hype Cycle line:

Well, there wasn’t that much “Peak of Inflated Expectations” so the “Trough of Disillusionment” wasn’t that deep either ;). 1,522 downloads in total so far, in about 2 weeks.

TheRealURL Firefox/Thunderbird Add On

TheRealURL Firefox add on (which also works in Thunderbird, Flock, and Seamonkey) lets users get URL information on links – once the extension is installed, right clicking a link will show a new option in the context menu, “Get TheRealURL”:

Clicking it retrieves the URL’s information from TheRealURL’s JSON service and displays the unshortened URL, the page title and the content type on the status bar:

You can change the information displayed via the add on preferences settings:

I find it useful for checking URLs in possibly-spam messages, which recently started using URL shorteners to mask their addresses, and generally checking short links in blogs/twitter/etc. I was happy to discover Softpedia now lists it, with a %100 clean guarantee.

TheRealURL extension’s code was contributed by Rod Whiteley, creator of Mail Tweak, following a message I posted at MozillaZine forums. It was pretty amazing to post an idea on the evening and have a working first version by morning. Rod did an incredible job, with a lot of attention to detail, which I’m very grateful for. Thanks Rod!

Crowds Machine, Day 1

I’ve been working on Crowds Machine for a while, starting this an idea long ago and running it for my personal use for about three years now, but only recently I took some time to make it publicly usable – the first users I don’t personally know showed up only in the last 24 hours, following its mention in Links.

Here’s what this first public day looks like in traffic:

Keeping in mind it’s Christmas, and the site was down for a while till I fixed up the server, I’m pretty happy with that. But the real surprise is here:

There were less than 10 crowds in the system, so this means 1 in every 4 new visitors created a crowd. That’s pretty incredible. Maybe the holiday timing helped here. Maybe allowing users to log in with their Google accounts. Having to process 12,274 feeds a day might prove a bit of a challenge though…

I always assumed there’s a high entry barrier for CM users since they have to load in quite a few feeds to make it useful. Visitors so far seem to have no issues with that, most just importing their feeds list via OPML. Obviously these are not the typical Web users, but that’s ok. Crowds Machine isn’t meant to be mainstream – that’s the whole point of it.