Watch Full-length Episodes of NBC and Fox Shows at Hulu

Heard of Hulu yet? Well, you may have heard that NBC has pulled their content from iTunes and YouTube. So their plan was to create their own YouTube with their content and ads and social features. NBC’s original plan was to get other networks to join up and put their content on this site. The only one that did was Fox. Hulu is the result of their efforts.

It recently launched in beta, and I signed up to receive beta access to the site. Yesterday, I received a login to the beta website. The press has given NBC a lot of crap about this idea, and I have to say they deserved it. However, my first impression of the site is that it is pretty freakin’ awesome. The implementation is great! I’m watching the most recent episode on Family Guy right now. The video quality is great. They do force you to watch ads though, although they are fairly short, but the site is otherwise free to use.

I tested it out at work, and I felt the need to say make sure you have a fast connection. I have a faster connection at home than at work, and at work it was very jumpy because it wasn’t downloading it fast enough.

I haven’t really tested out many of the social features, but I will continue to play around with the site. It looks like you can pop out the video and play it in its own window. There is also a sharing feature and a feature to make the video play fullscreen. It also looks like the videos are embeddable. I played around with adding it to this post, and it worked but it was breaking the layout of the page so I left it out. It looks like a good feature though.

Hulu has current hit shows like The Office, Prison Break, The Simpsons, Heroes, and many more. You’ll also find a large number of classic television series, including Arrested Development, Miami Vice, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and The A-Team. In addition, they are including movies in the beta with an initial selection of feature films that includes Conan the Barbarian, Sideways and The Blues Brothers. What they aren’t telling you is that content is only available for five weeks. I understand that applies to new shows, but I’m not sure how that applies to older shows and movies. My question is with this time limit how are they going to handle the content expiration dates while the writer’s strike is on and there are no new episodes. Seems like they should get rid of the expiration date and use it to their advantage by telling people they can go online and watch back episodes while the strike is going on.

So far I think Hulu is great. Although I’m not sure how much time I will spend watching episodes I have already seen on TV, again on the web. It may be more useful if my friends are using it. Once it gets out of beta, NBC and Fox need to promote the hell out of it to make this work. Hulu is a huge gamble for NBC. Time will tell whether or not it pays off for them, or whether they should have stuck with iTunes and YouTube.

Tumblr, Twitter and the Social Web

Tumblr is a new web service similar to Twitter. When you set up an account, you create a tumblog. Anything you post to it, then gets posted to your tumblog. It’s similar to other blogging services in that, your account can be hosted on their site, or you can purchase a domain name and point that at your tumblog.

What makes it different from Twitter is that you can post more than just text. You can post a photo, a quote, a link, chat excerpts, audio or video. It is different from a blog, in that there is no way to comment on posts. There are also no other bloglike features like categories or blogrolls.

So if you already have a blog, Twitter account or a Flickr account, why do you need another service to post your stuff to? Well, you don’t really. But what interested me in Tumblr is aggregation. You can import posts from other services into your Tumblr account. Services that can be imported include Del.icio.us, Digg, Twitter, WordPress, VOX, Blogger, LiveJournal, YouTube or any RSS feed. So rather than post the same info to different services, you can post to each service, import to Tumblr and display everything in one place. What this means is that you can track me on all these other services, or you can track me in one place on Tumblr.

I created an account to try it out. You can see my tumblog here. I am still trying it out, but my first impression is that the import feature doesn’t work like I hoped. It does import posts to Twitter. I added this blog’s RSS feed so it should import a link to each post. I also added my Flickr feed to it. It doesn’t import any old info, only new posts, but it takes a really long time. It took over 6 hours to import the Twitter posts.

So my advice is just to keep using your other services, unless you want to aggregate all your stuff like I am doing. You might want to try making this your primary blog if you aren’t using any other services, but be aware that it lacks important blogging features. I do hope they will continue to work on Tumblr and improve it. I think it has a lot of potential to be a really good service.

Successful Hosting Not Successful at Keeping Their Websites Online

My web sites were down twice this week, and I had to contact tech support to get them back online. This is not a usual occurrence, but it was very annoying. This week I got an e-mail from my hosting company, Successful Hosting, entitled “Notification of Scheduled Maintenance.” Here is what the e-mail said:

Dear Valued Customer,

This is to inform you of a change window scheduled on Sunday October 28th, 2007, starting at approximately 3 A.M Eastern Time, and ending Sunday October 28th, 2007 at approximately 10 P.M Eastern Time. During this change window we will be moving all clients from Baltimore to our new Andover MA, Data Center. Please be aware that this is a client impacting event and there will be downtime during this move. We will make every attempt to get servers back online quicker than the window and will keep you fully informed during this move process.

Thank you for your patience and understanding during this move. We are confident that this move will result in an increase to your overall client experience. Along with being hosted in world class data center in our Andover facility the new platform will offer greater stability, flexibility and extensibility to your hosted applications.

So yesterday, which was Saturday, I woke up to find all my sites were down. My guess was that they started the server move a day early, but I had no way of knowing because I never received any notification of this. I went to the company forums to find out, but I had to have an account to view the forum and to post. I registered for an account, and then received notification that a moderator would have to approve my registration. So I waited for for my registration to be approved.

Once my registration was approved five hours later, I was able to login to the forums where I found the posts stating that they decided to move the scheduled maintenance up one day to Saturday instead of Sunday. This notification was not posted until 1:30 PM on Friday, October 26th and no e-mails were sent out, so if you do not check the forums you would have no way of knowing this is the case.

So to recap, they notified us that our sites that were hosted with them would be down for 20 hours on Sunday, then they decided to change it to Saturday one day before without notifying anyone. So their plan for the move is to unplug all the servers, move them to a new data center, plug them back up and turn them on, while all the sites and e-mail on those boxes is down. WTF? Isn’t there a better way to do this? I don’t know much about hosting, but it seems that would be the case to me.

Well, once their clients started to complain in the forums, they decided to moderate that thread so that no one could post in it unless it was an update on the status of the move by one of the mods or it was a client saying something positive. Again, not a good decision in my opinion. I understand the need to keep the forum productive so that updates can be posted, but it is not a good move to piss your clients off and then censor the negative reactions.

So I resigned myself to the fact that my sites were down, and there was nothing I could do about it until 10PM. Throughout the night, the mod kept posting updates saying that everything was still on track to be back online by 10PM. I questioned that after this status update that was posted at 6:55 P.M EST.

1)the truck is currently located: 1-2 hours away

2)approximate time it will take to arrive and unload: 1 hours

3)approximate time it will take to re-assemble/re-rack the servers?
2 hours

As far as I can tell, we’re still on schedule to meed the 10:00 P.M deadline.

So if you add this up, they are saying it will take 5 hours to complete the process. With 3 hours left, how could they be on track for 10PM? Well, as it happened they weren’t. I checked up until 12AM, and things were not back online yet, so I went to bed. When I got up, things were back online, but not until 2:30 AM apparently, going by the posts in the forum.

So things being as they are, there is not much to be done at this point. I am extremely displeased with the way this went. I don’t think it could have gone worse. But they have said this is a one time move that will greatly improve performance, so what can you do? Well, we will see if things improve. If my sites continue to go down like they have this week, I will be looking to move.

Reflection Maker

From the makers of Stripe Generator and Tabs Generator, comes a similar, easy to use, web based automator called Reflection Maker. I want to like this tool, but unfortunately it lacks a few things that prevent me from using it in a production environment.

I found that the way it calculates the size of the reflection confusing. It does so using percentages, rather than length. It took me a few tries to figure that out, then I had to calculate the percentage I wanted to use. I would like more precise control over the size of the reflection than that. You also have no control over the transparency of the reflection, which is a problem for me. The last problem is that the image is too pixelated once it is generated. They should at least let you control the optimization as well.

Based on those criteria, it doesn’t stack up to their other tool Stripe Generator. It is too bare bones in its current state. Stripe Generator, by contrast, gives you a lot more options. If they improve the tool by adding these features, I would highly recommend it and probably use it myself. Right now, I am still stuck doing it by hand.

Update: Here is a good tutorial for creating the reflection effect in Photoshop.

Thoughts on Pixelmator 1.0

If you are a Mac user that is into design or editing images on your Mac, you may have heard of Pixelmator. Pixelmator is a layers-based image editor that uses Apple’s Core Image. It is even compatible with Photoshop in that it can open and save PSD files.

Here are my main likes and dislikes about the product so far.

Positives:

  • Frequent updates
  • Blog
  • Mailing list
  • Mac OS X look and feel
  • Low price
  • Free 30 day demo
  • Manual PDF
  • Open Source

Negatives:

  • No history panel
  • Demo leaves watermark
  • Export options weak
  • No view/zoom indicators
  • No info panel for tools
  • No rulers

Likes

One of the things I like about it is their marketing. They have a blog and an e-mail list for communicating with customers. They have already updated the product since I downloaded it, and through the blog, they are promising updates and additional features.

I also like that it integrates so well with the Mac OS X, including the beautiful look and feel. It also open source, being based on the Image Magick image libraries.

Dislikes

I have a lot of dislikes as well, and I am hoping they add these features soon. The main thing I find lacking is the several features that Photoshop has, that I use often, that Pixelmator lacks. There is no history panel, no info panel, no rulers and the export dialog is really weak. There is also no zoom indicator that shows you how far in or out you are when you are viewing a document. It is due to these problems that I am not able to currently use this as a Photoshop replacement.

I need a good image editor on my Mac without paying bucketloads of money. Since the 30 day demo will eventually expire and the demo leaves watermarks, I went ahead and bought the full version of Pixelmator, in spite of it’s short comings compared to Photoshop.

I believe that the creators have good things in store for it and will continue to improve. They are also taking suggestions, so if it lacks a feature, tell them what you want to see. Since I am paying, I am going to do that and hopefully they will add the features I want.

Stripe Generator

This tool is right up your web 2.0 alley. It’s called Stripe Generator, and everything about says Web 2.0, from it’s design and functionality to it’s purpose.

It’s basically a web application to generate striped patterns to use in your web design. In case you didn’t know, striped backgrounds are the latest thing in web 2.0 design. It’s also basically a widget, which is another component of the web 2.0 world.

What’s cool about it is that it takes something that is not that hard to do and makes it that much easier. It also makes it really easy for the novice to do. The implementation is very smart in that it only does one thing but does it well. The interface is a particularly important part in this aspect. Notice the use of Ajax here!

The marketing is really well done also in that it is obvious who their core audience is and they have aimed it squarely at them. They have also made it easy to link back to them by including a banner. They even provide a mailing list I guess to stay up to date on their current projects. What they need to do is to figure out how to make this a widget that other people can add directly on their site.

Well, the inventors have really done a great job here. Hopefully, they will expand this concept into other areas. Well done!

Use ColorZilla Firefox Add-on

If you use Firefox and you are a designer, you should be using ColorZilla, which is an add-on for Firefox. ColorZilla adds an eyedropper icon into the status bar at the bottom of your browser. When you click on it, the arrow turns into a crosshairs while you move it around on the screen. The cool part is that it displays the hexadecimal values in the status bar for whatever color the item is you are hovering on. In addition, it displays the RGB values, plus the CSS selector for the item.

It’s very useful because it will tell you color values right from from your browser, and it even works on images and backgrounds. There are many times when I want to color match something, or I am too lazy to fire up Photoshop and use the eyedropper tool. It really is a huge time saver. So, download ColorZilla today and get using it, if you aren’t already.

Testing Flash Player Compatibility Across Browsers

Today, we were informed by a client that one of the sites we had been working on was not working properly. When the client went to the site, they could see the site, but it was behind a transparent white screen. We had no information on what platform or browser the client was using, but I assumed it was a compatibility issue with the Flash player.

On this particular site, it was using SlideShowPro, UFO and sIFR, all on the home page. Chris noticed that one of the slideshows was only compatible with Flash version 8. He thought if we downgraded it to 7, that would solve the issue. I agreed, but I wanted to test it first to see if we could reproduce the problem. I thought that this would help us deal with Flash player compatibility issues in the future.

I decided to look for a way to test different versions of the Flash plugin. I found the archived Flash player download page on Adobe’s web site. I recommend bookmarking this page. You will need to download these plugins if you want to test different Flash player versions in your browsers. I had a problem though. I could only get the players to install in Firefox. I couldn’t install any of those plugins in Internet Explorer.

So I installed Flash player version 7 in Firefox. When I viewed the site, it was obvious that was causing the problem. Don’t ask me how the client had Flash player version 7 still on their browser. That seems to be about par for the course around here. Anyway, downgrading the slideshow to version 7 fixed the problem, and the site is now compatible with Flash 7. Voila!

In researching this problem though, I came across another neat little tool, called Plugin Switcher, that I recommend you try out. Right now, it is only compatible with Windows. But, it allowed me to install as many versions of the Flash plugin as I wanted and switch between them on the fly.

Plugin Switcher claims to let you switch between Active X plugins also but I could not activate that feature. As a result, it only worked in Firefox for me, however it did that perfectly. There is a free version and a paid version. I only tried the free version. I contacted the developer to find out how much the full version is since most of the site is in German. If I ever try out the full version, I will post again, and let you know what I think.

Lorem Ipsum Text Generator

I ran across an excellent Firefox plug-in today if you design or build a lot of web sites. It could actually be used for print as well.

Doing web site builds, I always need Lorem Ipsum, or dummy text, to fill out the content areas of the sites I am building. A while back, I found a web site that I normally use for generating Lorem Ipsum text, http://www.lipsum.com/.

It works very well. But, whenever I use it, I have to search for the web site in Google. Then, I run the program that generates the text. Then, I copy and paste the text in my web page. It works very well. But, I remembered hearing about a plug-in for Firefox that generated Lorem Ipsum text.

Today, I decided rather than go through all those steps again, I would try to find the plug-in and see how well it works. Well, I found it and after trying it out, I think it works great!

The plug-in, LoremIpsum Content Generator, can be found at https://addons.mozilla.org/firefox/198/. Once you download and install the plug-in to Firefox, it is very easy to use. Just go to the tools menu, and click on the generate Lorem Ipsum text option. There it brings up a window which gives you several options. You can generate text by character, words or paragraphs. After that, all you have to do is click the button to copy the text to the clipboard and paste it into your work.

I recommend this plug-in to anyone who uses Lorem Ipsum text on a daily basis. I think you will it is a small step but is worth it to increase your productivity!

Review of Apogee Search

This is a paid review of Apogee Search. Since I am not a client of theirs and have not had the opportunity to use their services, I am only reviewing their web site here. The web site can be found at http://www.apogee-search.com/.

Upon visiting their web site, the first thing I noticed is that it is extremely cluttered. Due to this clutteredness, it is hard to determine the overall message they are trying to deliver. I’m sure that it will reveal itself upon closer examination. However, I feel that they need to simplify the home page so that whatever message they are trying to deliver jumps out you without having to read through several paragraphs of copy to determine it.

It appears that Apogee Search is a search engine optimization firm offering “search engine marketing.” The company page for Apogee states that they are one of the largest online marketing services firms in the country today and have been in business since 2001. The services they offer include paid search advertising, natural search engine optimization, pay per call management, affiliate marketing, search engine marketing training and search engine marketing analysis. According to the services page, they are offering a free analysis of your website’s performance in the search engines.

They also seem to be legit as they have several badges on their web site. They have a badge listing them as a Google Adwords Qualified Company. They have a badge showing them to be a SEMPO Circle Member. They also have a membership badge for SEOPros.org. I have heard of SEMPO, though I have not heard of SEOPros.org. I have never been a member of SEMPO, so I can’t really comment on them. I do have some idea of what is involved in the Google Adwords Qualified program. I would say completing that program would definitely make them qualified to handle your Google Adwords campaign.

The sales copy on their site emphasizes that they are about making their clients money. They claim to do this by tracking actual actions from the site that increase the bottom line, not just rankings or clicks. If I was looking for a search engine marketing company, I think I would be looking for someone who at least said they were doing that. It also seems that the goal of the site is to get you to contact a sales representative. That is pretty common for most business web sites, and it seems they are doing a good jab by having that call to action on every page. If I was giving out advice to them, that is probably what I would tell them to do.

Apogee also has an online marketing blog, found at http://www.apogee-search.com/Blog/index.php. One thing I noticed about the blog is that it lacks the same navigational toolbar found at the top of the company site. That may be fine for someone entering the site via the blog, which is probably the purpose of the blog. But since they are linking to it from their site, they should really insure the navigation is consistent across all pages. As far as the content of the blog goes, it seems they are only linking to or quoting other SEO and Google related news items rather than providing any commentary or opinion.

Finally, on their site, they have a downloads and resources page. This page mainly links to their white papers in addition to SEO tools on other sites.

Overall, I think their site does a good job of selling their services, notwithstanding the cluttered home page. One other thing I think they could do to increase the effectiveness of their site is to show some examples of success stories they have had for their actual clients.