Couch surfing 2.0

This past weekend saw my girlfriend and I buying a couch for my bedroom – I’ve wanted a comfortable reading and napping platform in there for ages, but always thought an armchair would be enough – and looking silly in the IKEA parking lot trying to get the flat-packed-for-our-convenience boxes into the back of her car. Assembly only took an hour, and it has to be said that Lady Gaga’s album “The Fame” is ideal for such brainless activity, if nothing else. Certainly it can be good for nothing else.

Apart from looking very out of place, this couch (I hereby name it Karl Lagerfeld) has changed the two-point dynamic of my bedroom space. Before, I was either in bed or sitting at the computer. This meant that I’d be online most of the day, either working or wasting time on the internet. Often, there was nothing to separate the two.

But now, a third place for my ass exists, and that has changed everything. No longer confined to this desk, strapped down by continuous IM messages and the climbing number of Unread Items in my feedreader, I’m finding it possible to finally sprawl out and read a good book or watch a DVD. Nobody enjoys a film from a computer chair.

It was all good going already, and then last night I rediscovered Boxee.

An earlier alpha version, tried out during the pre-Karl days, didn’t really appeal to me. For those who don’t know, Boxee is “media center” software that gives you a big, simplified interface for accessing your media from across the room with a remote control. Very much like Apple’s built-in Front Row, or the one that comes with some versions of Windows. So when I was seated right in front of the computer, there was no need for it. From the couch though, it’s incredible.

With just the simple old 6-button Apple Remote that comes with almost every Mac, Boxee not only gives me access to locally stored video files (if you rip your own DVDs [or even download films] or TV shows, it downloads cover art and synopses from the internet to accompany them, very slick), it also plays content from providers like Joost and Hulu (US-only), as well as video podcasts like BoingBoing.TV and Rocketboom.

Another alternative is Plex (Mac OSX only), which I’m about to try out today. Both programs sprang from the open-source Xbox Media Center (XBMC) project.

It’s got me thinking that one day, I won’t even want a traditional desktop in my home. A large, wall-mounted high-definition TV with a wireless keyboard/mouse on the couch can simplify things to just a single location: workspace, reading area, and bed. Kinda like this guy.

Categories
General

My attractive industrial design

At the 3rd-party Apple store this afternoon, my girlfriend pointed out this iPod speaker dock, saying it was rather good looking. I was horrified, and then found it really funny. I suppose her bad taste explains why we’ve been together so long.

— Posted from my iPhone

Categories
Reviews

What’s the best place to host a blog?

In the past few days, I’ve had a couple of conversations with people about what the “best” hosted blogging platform is (pure coincidence, my life isn’t that geeky). I’ve been using Google Blogger for this here outlet since 2002, with a short WordPress dalliance in-between that cost me a few weeks’ worth of posts when my hosting company suffered a database outage.

Blogger isn’t really so bad, but it IS bland and boring. In exchange for solid, Google-level stability, you have to put up with a small selection of dated templates and no easy way to customize your blog without some knowledge of HTML and CSS. But at least you can. Everything about the page can be changed, provided you know how. I’m quite familiar with the ways of the internet, but I can’t make this page look good to save my life. Adding widgets is quite easy, though, which gives it an advantage over the next service.

WordPress.com – a hosted blogging service, not to be confused with the WordPress.org blogging software for installing on your own server, offered by the same company – is very modern in comparison with Blogger, but doesn’t allow you to insert your own widgets and bits of code. That means no cute little Flickr slideshows, ads, or shoutboxes. Some plug-ins are offered by WordPress.com itself, but those are limited. Templates/themes are also limited to the ones included, with some minor tweaks to header images, colors, etc. but these tend to be very nice and good enough for most people.

Typepad costs money, unlike the first two choices, and I’ve always held it in high regard for the fact that they’ve managed to stay afloat in a sea of free competitors, and their marketing has been quite good. The site’s landing page boasts a large number of high-profile bloggers and professional journalists who swear by Typepad, and promises hundreds of expertly designed templates to turn even complete luddites into proud owners of beautiful sites in mere minutes. –– When I finally tried to sign up for the free trial this week, the reality was a complete disappointment. These templates are anything but modern and attractive. It’s hard to justify paying a minimum of US$5 a month when just a few more dollars can get you…

Squarespace. The things that are being done by this company put their competitors to shame. Sure, their prices are a little high, but I’ve yet to see the design and technology at work here being offered anywhere else. Many software packages say you can put a website together with virtually no HTML knowledge, but they’re still pretty hard to use. Squarespace lets you drag and drop content, switch layouts/themes with a few clicks, and do complicated CSS adjustments like changing the width of columns, the amount of leading (space) between lines of text, font sizes, etc., with sliders and other intuitive controls. All in real-time, so you can see the changes you’re making. If you want to get technical, it apparently lets you do that too.

Of course, there are a bunch of others like Livejournal and Vox (both free and owned by Six Apart, the company that offers Typepad), but I can’t recommend them for any serious use. They’re kind of hybrid blogging + social networking platforms, limited in scope and geared towards more ‘fun’ and socially oriented applications. You can’t use your own designs, and I don’t think you can export your data if you’d like to move to another service. Blogger, WordPress, and Squarespace make it easy to leave, always a good sign.

My conclusion is, if you can afford US$8-14 a month, Squarespace is your best bet. Their gallery of customers includes Mark Ecko’s personal blog and corporate site, Digg founder Kevin Rose’s blog, and a few other great-looking examples. If you’d rather go free, choose Google Blogger if you have some coding knowledge or would like to put ads and fun gadgets on your page. WordPress.com is a stylish, easy alternative for people who just want to start writing.