Thursday, December 09, 2010

LastPass vs. Xmarks: Password Synchronization

Since Xmarks announced that they were being bought by LastPass, I decided to give LastPass another try.  In the past week I have done so.  Here are my thoughts.

LastPass Vault
Last time I tried the LastPass Firefox extension, I was put off by the requirement to log in every time I started the browser.  Subsequently, I've taken a different posture with regard to the security of my sensitive data on computers, and in particular on laptops.  I have now taken the tack that sensitive data needs to remain secure, even if a data thief has access to the hard drive.  As such, I started using KeePass to store my non-web passwords (whereas before I kept them in a plain text file), I created a TrueCrypt vault in my Dropbox folder in which I keep tax records and other sensitive documents, and I have started encrypting the passwords stored in the browser.

Initially, this meant that I had to swallow the enter-a-password-whenever-you-start-the-browser pill.  I didn't like this, but I adjusted my behavior to minimize instead of close the browser, and I used suspend or hibernate whenever possible instead of shutting down.

Well, with LastPass, you don't need to keep your browser running in order to stay logged in.  They have a desktop app which stores your logged-in state at the OS level, and communicates with all of your browsers.  That means you sign in once in Firefox, and you're automatically signed in in Chrome.  If (for some unknown reason) you are compelled to use MSIE for something and you're logged in there too.  (LastPass also supports Safari and Opera, but I don't currently use those.)

This scores major points with me in the trade-off between security and convenience!

LastPass Menu
Since I'm comparing LastPass to Xmarks, I should mention the basics.  Both services are ways of synchronizing your passwords between all of your web browsers on each of your computers.  Both services encrypt your data on your computer before transmitting it to their servers.  Xmarks uses your browser's built-in bookmarks database (which can be encrypted with a password or not), while LastPass uses its own encrypted vault to store the passwords.

The premise behind LastPass is that the password that encrypts your data could be "The Last Password You'll Have to Remember!"  If you only need to remember one password, then it can be a strong password, with different character types and such.

They certainly do go a long way towards making it possible to not type in (or even know) your passwords for any website.  LastPass can (optionally) create strong passwords for you that it will auto-fill and auto-login when you visit the appropriate site.  They have excellent browser support across all the major platforms, including smartphones, which brings us to their business model: LastPass is a freemium service.  They give you basic functionality for free, and when you're ready to be a power user, you can pay for the next level of service.  In the case of LastPass, this next level comes in the form of their smartphone apps, which, as I am not a premium member, and do not have a smartphone, are beyond the scope of this review.  I did, as promised, pay for Xmarks Premium, however.

Bookmarklets
So what happens when you can't install the LastPass extension?  As it happens, I'm not allowed to install the LastPass extension on my work computer.  That's OK though, because LastPass has some very excellent bookmarklets that allow you to fill in login information, form data, or simply log you in (as in automatically fill login information and submit).
A bookmarklet is a piece of Javascript that is stored in a bookmark.  You drag a link to your bookmarks bar or right-click to add it.  LastPass creates bookmarklets especially for your account (probably because it's more secure that way), so you'll need to log in to get them.  Instructions are here.

Anyway, at work, I stuck the "LastPass Login!" bookmarklet in my bookmarks toolbar, logged in to LastPass, and viola!  Instant access to my passwords.  (Okay, I had to add lastpass.com to my third party cookies whitelist, but that isn't necessary unless you block third party cookies.)  You can't add login information or form data to the LastPass vault with the bookmarklets, but you can do that with the website.

LastPass behaves much like your browser's normal password saving feature.  When it detects something it can do, a bar will pop down from the top of the browser until you take an action or dismiss it.  LastPass puts its logo inside form and password fields that it wants to interact with.  You can also access the LastPass menu from a button installed in your toolbar.



If you choose to save some information, you are presented with more options:
Saving a site's login information with LastPass
More things that LastPass can do:
Stored Mint.com password
  •  Store and fill shipping and contact information, credit card data, or any other specific form on the web.  After installing the plugin, LastPass had collected much of this information from saved form fields (not credit card numbers though, obviously).
  • Store passwords and other form data for sites that normally prevent your browser from storing the information.  One such site that blocks normal password saving is Mint.com.
  • Import passwords from browsers and just about anywhere they're stored (including KeePass).  It will export to Firefox if you decide to stop using it.
  • Store, retrieve, and print secure notes - something that might come in handy should the need arise.
  • Share selected passwords with another user - this is useful if I want to be able to log in to Google and Facebook on my wife's computer and we each have separate accounts (or if we share access to a credit card account and the credentials change).  If I update the password in my LastPass account, the correct password shows up in hers as well.
LastPass confused by a Facebook form
LastPass isn't perfect, but it's pretty good, and I've decided to use it going forward.  One drawback of Xmarks' password syncing was that if you had more than one saved password with the same user ID (or no user ID) for a site, Xmarks would refuse to sync your passwords until you had either deleted one of the passwords or created separate profiles for each of the passwords.  One reason you might have two passwords with no username is on sites such as live.com, which save your username, but don't create an auto-filled form field for it and ask you to just re-enter your password.  LastPass handles this situation by giving you the option to select which credentials you want to use from a drop-down menu, or using keyboard shortcuts.

Monday, September 27, 2010

No More Xmarks: Now What?

Update: Xmarks is not dead after all.  Crisis averted.  Yay!  I'm keeping the post as-is below both for historical reasons and because it's still good information.
Xmarks just announced that they are closing up shop because they can't find a sustainable way to make money.  Earlier, I did a post on this blog comparing Xmarks and Firefox Sync.  It appears that now the option has been taken away from us.

What I ended up doing between the two services was using Firefox Sync for keeping everything in sync between my Firefox installations (bookmarks, passwords, etc.), but using Xmarks to keep bookmarks non-Firefox browsers synced, and also to share a few bookmarks folders.

As noted on the Xmarks shutdown page, there isn't a good replacement for inter-browser sync out there.  The closest I can think of is Delicious, but that site is built around sharing, not synchronization.

On the other hand, Delicious does an excellent job sharing bookmarks.  Since I was only really sharing one folder on the web with Xmarks, I installed the Delicious add-on for Firefox and imported that folder's bookmarks.  I made them public and gave them a unique tag, so that they could be shared as a collection

I've used Delicious for a while, mostly to collect links that I consider share-worthy.  I did this using the bookmarklet.  For a while, I was importing them into Facebook.  This appears not to be working anymore.

The Delicious add-on didn't work in Firefox 4 beta (which is what I'm running on my laptop).  I installed it, and (after banishing the toolbar and other annoying features) attempted to "import" the folder in question according to this guide.  It simply didn't work.  Literally nothing happened.  The "Import to Delicious" button was in black text on a mostly black toolbar at the top of the window, so they clearly haven't started integrating with Firefox 4.

I still have Firefox 3.6 installed, so I loaded it up, selected the folder, and clicked the button.  Nothing appeared to happen, but this time the bookmarks were uploaded.  Annoyingly, the "imported" column still shows nothing for those bookmarks, but at least it worked.  Well, sort of.  It didn't upload any of the tags I have assigned to the bookmarks locally to the cloud.  It just tagged them "imported".  Maybe this is expected behavior.  If so, there should be an option to upload the tags as well. 

Clearly, I'm not going to be using the Delicious extension for a while, but I don't know that I'll ever use it to keep all of my bookmarks in sync.  Delicious wants you to adopt their system of organization and interaction, and I'm not ready to do that.

At this point without Xmarks, I'm without a good solution to the following problems:
  • Cross-browser syncing - Google will sync Chrome; Firefox Sync will sync Firefox; Windows Live Mesh will sync MSIE; but only Xmarks syncs between all three.Bookmarks profiles - Some bookmarks only need to be on certain computers.  Profiles allow you to selectively unsync the ones you don't need on computer A and B, while still keeping them on computers C and D.
  • Bookmarks history - Xmarks allowed you to restore bookmarks from any point in your account history.  This came in very handy when I deleted more than I thought I had while cleaning up and only found out about it months later.
  • Bookmarks sharing - Yeah, Delicious will let me share collections of bookmarks, but, at least currently, it's a pain to do so.  I've disabled the Delicious add-on.  I intend to keep the list up-to-date, but I will have to do so on the Delicious website, not from my bookmarks collection in the browser, and the two versions of the list will become out of sync.  The Delicious bookmarks also aren't sorted, and there's no way to store an introduction to them: the tag is just a tag, and contains no meta-data.
  • Bookmarks favicons - It seems nit-picky, but it's a huge inconvenience if you re-install operating systems a lot.  Hopefully, the Firefox Sync developers will solve this one.  It's most annoying for toolbar bookmarks, because for me those are icon-only.  With Xmarks, all favicons are synced along with the bookmarks.  When you first sync with Firefox Sync, the toolbar icons all look the same.  In order to get the favicons to load, you have to visit each link.
  • Bookmarks browsing from non-synced machines - I don't sync my bookmarks at work.  I can't access my bookmarks from other people's browser installations with Firefox Sync.  Xmarks gives me access to all of my bookmarks on the web, and I can even make changes and re-organize using the web interface.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

My letter to Groupon after creating an account

Dear Groupon,

I like what you do.  Thanks for being there and doing it.

I signed up in order to take advantage of a recent deal.  In my e-mail inbox, there was a welcome message with the following: "Every morning, you'll find one exclusive deal waiting in your inbox. We can't wait to help you discover huge discounts on all the cool things to do in your city."

Wait, what!?!  No.  No no no no no no.  Nowhere in the account-creation process did I knowingly authorize you to send these deals to my e-mail address, much less every single day.  That's a horrible default behavior, and if I let companies do that my inbox would become an impenetrable pile of junk.

Now, I realize that many people who sign up aren't familiar with RSS readers, or Twitter, or other, more organized methods of receiving periodical offers. E-mail is fine for those people.  It is NOT fine for me.  My inbox is precious.  No offense.

Now relax.  I do know that I can unsubscribe from your e-mails, and I have done so using the link provided in the fine print of the aforementioned e-mail.  What upsets me is that I needed to do this.  I thought surely there would be a setting in the "My Account" preferences to easily manage this.  Nope.  Surely it's in the FAQ?  Alas, no.  Sticky forum post?  Apparently not.

In fact, unsubscribing using the legally-mandated link in the e-mail was the very last thing I tried, because I shouldn't have to do it from there.

Maybe I made a mistake, and I simply missed the checkbox in the sign-up process.  If that's the case, then the checkbox needs to be bigger, and other options, such as RSS, Facebook, and Twitter need to be offered.  More to the point, you need to start thinking of your business as more than a mailing list. 

Violating my trust by signing me up for a mailing list is not the best way to begin a customer relationship.  Please, rethink your account sign-up process and default behavior.  The "How Groupon Works" page made me think I would get to choose how I would be notified of new deals.

Meanwhile, keep offering those great local deals.  I look forward to an increasingly net-savvy Groupon.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Phishing? Probably not, but still...

If you got this e-mail, what would you do?

I hadn't made any changes to my account.  The e-mail headers looked legitimate.
Notice: Changes have been made to your Qwest® customer profile.

Our records show you recently made these change(s) to your customer profile, either by contacting a Qwest representative, or through your MyAccount page at qwest.com.
Email Address Changes
*The e-mail address you provided for us to reach you.
For Qwest account ending in:####
At Qwest, we value the security of our customers’ information and are sending this notice as a confirmation. As long as this change was made intentionally, no action is necessary. However, if you feel this change has been made in error, please contact Qwest immediately at 1 866-450-6152(Residential) or 1 800-603-600(Small Business).
Thank you for helping us maintain the security of your account.
The first thing to do, of course, is to make sure that the account number matches up.  My Qwest account has been inactive for almost a year, so I didn't have that readily available.  I entered the phone number provided in quotes into Google.  Others had gotten this same e-mail, and they hadn't made changes to their account either.

I certainly wasn't going to call the number and give whoever it was I was actually calling any information so they could "pull up my account".

I pulled up the Qwest website, called the customer service number listed there, and told them about the e-mail, and how suspicious it looked.  The guy was unable to pull up my account because it wasn't active.  He said he would pass my concerns on to his supervisors.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Nickels, Dimes, and Two Dollar Bills

Today I spoke with an AT&T customer service representative about my bill.

On June 30th I had 24KB of data usage in a single instance.  The purpose of this usage was to test my data connection at the request of an AT&T customer service representative who was restoring data service to my phone.  Data had stopped working after I had requested that data be disabled on my parents' numbers.  I had not asked for them to do the same for my number.  I don't use "data" per se, but I do upload Multimedia Messages, which are charged to my Messaging plan along with SMS Text messages, but MMS rely on the phone's data capability.  My parents and wife don't use Multimedia Messaging, and had become annoyed at the few cents charged every time they hit the wrong button.  Getting rid of those charges was the motivation for blocking data on Elizabeth's and my parents accounts, especially since Shoshana had taken to mashing buttons on Elizabeth's phone.

When I got the bill, I called to see what the $2.00 charge was for.  I had previously been on a $0.01/KB pay-per-use plan, but since that plan was no longer available when they added it back, I was now being charged $2.00/MB.

I had begrudgingly come to accept the few cents that I was charged almost every month when I accidentally hit a button or menu item that launched a web service.  These buttons and menu items are, naturally, featured prominently everywhere on the phone.  It's difficult to avoid them. 

But this $2.00 for-the-first-byte thing crossed the line.  This, I would not tolerate.

I called.  I was told that my options were to block data on my phone or just pay the charges:  the plan I was on before was no longer available.  I told them that was ridiculous.  I had not asked them to change the plan.  They had changed the plan by mistake.  I would not pay for their mistake.  I would most certainly not pay month after month.

They told me it was impossible to enter the old code into their system.  I laughed and told them that they were wrong.  Perhaps they did not have the right permissions to do it, but it could be done.

I asked for a supervisor.  They gave me a higher-ranking customer service agent who told me that they would refund the $2.00 as a one-time courtesy, but in the future I would either need a data plan or pay the charges.

I asked for a real supervisor.  They told me they would probably say the same thing, but ok.  I waited on hold for a while.  The supervisor came on and told me that she could have a case written, and they would get back to me.  She warned that if I did that, she couldn't have the $2.00 charge removed as a courtesy.  I told her that it didn't scare me.  She also warned me that I couln't appeal whatever they decided.  I laughed and said I didn't believe her, but just to put it through.

They said I would hear from them by the afternoon of July 30th.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

A Change in my Twitter/Facebook/Posterous Usage

Originally, I started using Twitter so I could get the status updates of the few friends of mine with accounts.  Not long after, I set it up so that my Facebook status imported from Twitter, and I have used that mechanism, with a few rare exceptions, to update my status.
I set up an account with TwitPic and used it to occasionally post links to photos uploaded from my phone.  Back then, I didn't have a messaging plan (because I think that text messages are grossly overpriced--they are!), so I would pay 30 cents for each uploaded photo.  I considered it worth the money with Multimedia Messaging, and as long as I sent fewer than 17 a month, it cost less than the lowest plan. 

Eventually, I started uploading more and subscribing to others' tweets via SMS, and I sprung for the five dollar per month plan for 200 messages (text and multimedia combined).  I have other things sending me text and multimedia messages, like Google Voice voicemail "transcriptions", certain Facebook events, and certain e-mail filters from Gmail.

Anyway, most people who actually look at (and certainly most people who comment on) my uploaded phone pictures have always been doing so through Facebook.  When I switched from TwitPic to Posterous for phone uploads, I was able to have the actual pictures (and videos) themselves imported directly into Facebook, whereas with TwitPic, people had to click on the link the external site to view the pictures. 

It occurs to me that this feature obviates the need for me to send my Posterous posts to Twitter.  The exception would be someone with a smartphone who sees the pictures in (or from) their Twitter client, and wouldn't necessarily catch them on Facebook. 

It also would have the effect of de-cluttering my Twitter feed for SMS-only followers.  Someone (like me) with a non-smart phone isn't able (or rather willing) to open links in Twitter posts, because I don't have a data plan.  Posts with hyperlinks are mostly useless, unless I manually transcribe the links into my computer's browser.  If I'm going to be at a computer to enjoy the posts, I might as well just subscribe via RSS, and get them through Google Reader.

Currently, I don't subscribe via mobile to my Twitter followers who tweet a lot, because I'm still limited to 200 messages a month.  I also don't want my phone going off five times an hour.  It occurs to me that if I eliminate the Posterous auto-posts from my Twitter feed, and only--or mainly at least--send text through Twitter, others in similar situations as me will be more likely to follow me.

The down side is that I've been looking forward to Twitter's upcoming "Annotations" feature.  Basically, Twitter is going to let you attach metadata to your tweets if you have a rich client.  They already allow location information to be added, but soon it will be opened up to anything you can think of, which will almost certainly include embedding thumbnail pictures and blog post snippets into tweets.  My guess is that Posterous will write support for this sort of thing into their auto-post feature.

If I quit sending pictures through Twitter, I suppose I can always start sending them again when the Annotations feature arrives and matures.

Right now, each picture I post to Posterous gets posted to Facebook three times: once via Twitter in my status message, once as a picture with a title in the "Posterous Photos" album, and once as a story to my wall, which includes the text of the body of the post.  Eliminating the Twitter post reduces the number of posts to two.  I could actually eliminate the photo method as well, but I like having the pictures inside of Facebook where they can be tagged and browsed and so forth. 

I think what I'll do is keep the Twitter integration intact, but normally just post to the other services.  If I want a post to go to Twitter, I can send it to post@posterous.com or twitter@posterous.com in addition to my new default facebook+picasa+youtube@posterous.com (which I will need to update if/when I add more services).  That way, I still have the option of posting to Twitter in extraordinary circumstances, but it won't happen very frequently.

If you want to subscribe to my phone posts, please do so using the feed at my Posterous site.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Birth Story: Retrospective

Today is the first anniversary of Shoshana's birth.  Originally, I had intended to post a detailed birth story on my blog.  I even had a couple of drafts.  Eventually, I abandoned them, because I was busy (imagine that!), and also the original post was overly-detailed, long, and mostly boring to read.

So, on her first birthday, I think it's appropriate to simply relate the story without too much minute-by-minute contraction statistics and the like.

One year and one day ago, I was lying in bed, peacefully asleep, when I felt Elizabeth bolt from the bed.  I heard her scramble for the bedroom door and charge to the bathroom.  My working model of physics did not allow for a pregnant woman to move that fast.  In the midst of my formulation of a new theory of mechanics, new information was presented to my brain, in the form of not-quite-water-sounding splatting noises, as if someone had scattered viscous liquid on the bathroom floor.  I glanced at the clock.  It was just shy of 5:00 AM. 

I got out of bed, and started mopping up.  Elizabeth had leaped from the bed and into the bathroom at a rather alarming rate for something as bulky as her pregnant body had become.  The resulting mess was less than I had anticipated.

The immediate crisis having been handled, I called Amanda, our midwife on my cell phone.  She assessed the situation, and instructed us to call her back when contractions started, and get some sleep in the meantime if we could.  Next we called Bethany, our doula, and Elizabeth's sister Katherine.  I changed the sheets, and Elizabeth went back to bed.  I took care of the chickens and ducks, got a load of laundry started, and cleared the baby's room, where the birthing tub would be set up, and finally got to bed.  Twenty minutes later, contractions started.

The contractions came on and off all morning.  Sometimes they were clustered together, and then they would peter out.  Amanda and her assistant Allison stopped by to monitor the baby's heart rate.  At Amanda's advice, we took a brisk walk around the block in an attempt to get things going.  Later, I installed the car seat in the car.  Elizabeth's due date wasn't for another two weeks, but thankfully two weeks prior, she had had some contractions, after which we had purchased all of the remaining "must have" items on our registry.

At noon, we called some more relatives to let them know what was going on.  Amanda and Allison stopped by again in the afternoon.  They take some vitals and some blood from Elizabeth, to monitor her for infection.  

Eventually that evening (about 11:00), the six of us (Elizabeth and I, Amanda, Allison, Bethany, and Sarah, Bethany's assistant) were sitting in the living room discussing the situation.  The baby was not coming.  It was decided that the two of us would get as much rest as possible, because we had a big day ahead of us tomorrow.

Elizabeth and I went to bed sometime around midnight.  When I woke up at 11:00 the next morning, Elizabeth had been up for several hours, and everyone was over again, sitting in the living room.  I made myself some breakfast and joined them.  They were discussing their options going forward.

For whatever reason, the baby did not seem to be coming.  Since Elizabeth's water was broken, the longer we waited, the more the danger of infection increased.  Since Elizabeth was not being "checked" at all, this danger was significantly less than it would have been in a hospital situation, where standard procedure is to check every hour (giving germs a free ride!).

It was decided that Elizabeth would take some sort of herbal "tincture" to help move things along, which was a kind of inducement, though obviously not as powerful as what would be given at a hospital.  I called Elizabeth's mom, and she went to the store and dropped off the ingredients that were necessary.  It was also decided that everyone would leave Elizabeth and I alone, so that we could have a peaceful, low-stress, comfortable time in which to allow labor to start.

And boy did it start!

At about 1:00, we called Amanda, asking if we should take the second dose of the tincture, given the strength of the contractions.  Midwives have this thing where they keep you on the phone and listen to your body, not so much your words, while they get you to talk and stay on the phone.  It's quite a clever trick, actually.  In any case, labor had started for real, and so she was on her way, and when we hung up the phone, we called Bethany over as well.

The next seven hours were full of pain and holding and pushing, and then a short break before it all happened again.  They made me leave Elizabeth's side once so I could eat.  I shoved half of a bowl of cereal down my throat and returned to her side.  As the contractions got more intense, we moved from the bed to the birthing tub.  Elizabeth was in a lot of pain for a long time.  Periodically, she would get out to go to the bathroom.

Amanda pulled me aside.  Elizabeth was ready, physically.  She had been for a while.  But she had no urge to push.  We needed to get her out of the tub.  Elizabeth didn't want to leave the tub.  Leaving the tub made it hurt more.  Pain bad.  Tub good.  At this point, she just wanted the pain to go away.  She said she wanted an epidural, which you can only get in the hospital.  She agreed to leave the tub and be checked, and then go to the hospital.  Amanda checked her.  She wouldn't make it to the hospital, so it was at home or in the car.

She was almost fully dilated; all but one part.  Amanda said she could help her and it would go faster, but it would hurt.  Elizabeth wanted the baby out NOW.  So she helped her.  And it hurt. 


Amanda and Allison erected a birthing stool, which is like a chair without a seat.  They stuck a bowl under it, and told me what I had to do to catch the baby.    Elizabeth was going to get the head out, and then slow down, and then push the rest out.  I was ready.  The head was coming out, but Elizabeth wasn't going to wait for the next push.  She wanted it out NOW, so she kept pushing, and Allison caught Shoshana. 


After that, there was a lot less screaming.  We moved Elizabeth back to the bed, and she held Shoshana.  Amanda noticed that there was a lot of blood, and indeed there was a tear.  According to Elizabeth, the pain of getting stitches is nothing compared to giving birth (I believe her). 


My daughter was beautiful!  My wife was amazing!  I was a daddy!

One year.  Just a year?  Wow.

Happy birthday, Shoshana.


Thursday, June 10, 2010

Firefox Sync vs. Xmarks

The "Mozilla Weave" extension was recently brought out of beta testing and renamed Firefox Sync.  I decided to try it out, and compare it to the add-in that I currently use for browser sync, Xmarks

First, the similarities:  Both Xmarks and Firefox Sync work basically the same.  You install a browser extension, and your bookmarks, passwords, and open tabs are kept in sync across all your browser instances (each browser on each computer that you use).  This is accomplished by keeping a master copy on a server.  Both Xmarks and Firefox Sync will host your data, or, for advanced users, will allow you to set up and use your own server.

There are a number of differences between the services, however:
First off, Firefox Sync doesn't work with Chrome, MSIE, Safari, or Opera, at least not yet.  Xmarks works in pretty much any browser.   I don't anticipate that this will be the case for too much longer, but it is worth mentioning at this stage.

The major difference between the two services is encryption.  Both services encrypt the data that you send to their servers so that no one can snoop in on the traffic as it's sent over the Internet.  The difference is that Xmarks can read your data on their server, and Firefox Sync cannot.

Firefox Sync encrypts your data on the client side (before it leaves the browser), and therefore its servers have no access to the data that it stores.  The obvious advantage to this approach for the user is that you don't need to worry that they will sell your data, or analyze it, or do anything with it other than store it for you and allow you to retrieve it.  If the servers get hacked, there won't be anything usable on them.  If Mozilla turns evil and wants to snoop on you, they can't: they don't have the decryption key.  You do, and it was never sent to them.

This is not to say that Xmarks' approach is a bad one.  Yes, Xmarks can read your data.  Therefore they can enable you to easily share portions of it.  They can also provide you with easy access to your bookmarks on their website, for those instances when you don't control the browser you're using. They also keep a history of changes, so you can restore from back before you shortsightedly deleted that folder a few months (or even years) ago.

Xmarks also lets you create profiles and manage them from their website, which can contain a subset of your bookmarks, so it's possible to sync certain bookmarks with one group of browsers, but not with others.  This is useful if you have a folder or two that you only need on certain computers, or if you want to have a stripped-down set of bookmarks on your media PC or netbook.

The Xmarks approach isn't all good, though.  They have "discovery" features that I prefer to turn off, since their business model relies on "recommending" links, their extension will alter search results pages by default in order to show you their recommendations.  Still, you can turn them off, which prevents it from being a real negative in my book.

So, what am I going to use going forward?  Both, at least for now.  As you can see from the screenshots above, I have disabled password and tab syncing with Xmarks, and only use that for bookmarks.  This enables me to easily share certain content, use profiles, and manage my bookmarks from the web interface.  There's no reason for me to have my passwords on anyone else's server in an accessible form, or my currently open tabs, for that matter, so I'm using Firefox Sync for that.  Firefox Sync is also set up to sync my History, Preferences, and Settings, which is something that Xmarks can't do.

I'm syncing my bookmarks to Xmarks on my Linux box only (which is always on, and usually has Firefox open), that way it will keep up-to-date with changes that happen over Firefox Sync which is enabled and syncing everything on all of my Firefox browsers.  I'm currently not doing much with Xmarks profiles, but if I want to use them in the future, I can have Xmarks handle bookmarks sync on the browsers with non-default profiles.  I use Firefox by default, but I also occasionally use other browsers, so I have Xmarks set up on non-Mozilla browsers as well.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Such is His love to me

Today's sermon brought to my mind an old hymn.

The sermon was on Colossians 1:12-22; 2:9-15.  It was about how complete our salvation is:  how perfect the redeemer and act of redemption.

Christ so triumphed when he died on the cross and rose from the grave, that we can rest in the truth:

That even though we had by our own decisions and actions joined ourselves to the kingdom of darkness as Satan's rightful property, in the transaction and conquest of the cross, we have been made holy, and transferred into the kingdom of light, where we are sons and heirs of God with Christ.

Even though we were once guilty, and judgements against us that kept us from the presence of God, instead of being cashed in at the price of our soul in hell forever, those judgements were taken and nailed to the cross, and are no longer valid.  Their legal status is null and void, and we are deemed to be as holy as Jesus Christ.

Even though we were hostile to God, and had broken our relationship with him, Christ has made peace, and restored that relationship, so that there is no longer any offense that God can hold against us, and we can freely enjoy his unobstructed love and friendship.

Though we were once dominated by a powerful enemy, Christ has rendered our enemies powerless against us.  He has disarmed, completely defeated, and triumphed over them.  His victory is so complete that there is no way that we can fall back into their hands.  We are 100% secure from spiritual loss.

Because we know these things, we don't need to believe the lies that say otherwise.  We are free to live the life of Christ!

The part of it that was most precious to me this morning is that I am completely reconciled to God in my relationship with him: that I am dear to him, and nothing can stand in the way of how precious I am to him as his child.  He longs for me to enjoy him.

Here is the hymn that I was singing in my mind when I reflected on this:

A mind at "perfect peace" with God:
Oh, what a word is this!
A sinner reconciled through blood:
This, this indeed is peace!

By nature and by practice far,
How very far from God!
Yet now by grace brought nigh to Him,
Through faith in Jesus' blood.

So nigh, so very nigh to God,
I cannot nearer be;
For in the person of His Son,
I am as near as He.

So dear, so very dear to God,
More dear I cannot be;
The love wherewith He loves the Son,
Such is His love to me.

Why should I ever careful be,
Since such a God is mine?
He watches o'er me night and day,
And tells me, "Thou art mine".

~ C. Paget, 19th century

I love to tell the story, for those who know it best
Seem hungering and thirsting to hear it like the rest.
And when, in scenes of glory, I sing the new, new song,
’Twill be the old, old story that I have loved so long.

~ A. Ka­ther­ine Hank­ey, 1866. 

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Posterous Posting from my Phone

I just finished describing a script I created in order to have a thumbnail image in my Blogger sidebar widget whenever I send a post to Posterous from my phone.  If you are inclined (and have any idea what I'm talking about) please head over there and check it out.

Okay, ├╝ber-nerd content is over!  Sorry to scare you like that.  From here on out, normal levels of nerdiness only.

I like to post pictures from my phone to the Internet.  To accomplish this, I have been using TwitPic, which takes the MMS message, posts the picture on the web, and then takes the subject and posts that on Twitter along with a link to the picture page.

It's a well-oiled machine, and it works, but it is not ideal.  For one thing, TwitPic has yet to implement OAuth with Twitter, which means that they require you give them your Twitter password in order to use the service.  This fact alone had me looking for alternatives, and I had been considering switching to img.ly

Recently, a friend of mine I follow on Twitter started posting videos using TwitVid, and I thought that was pretty cool, so I decided to check it out.  They use OAuth (at least, it's available--they also let you just give them your password), so that was nice.  But I decided to take a look around at other similar services to see what they had to offer.  In my experiment with TwitVid, the video I uploaded never made it to Twitter because it was still processing the video several hours later.  I canceled the account.

In looking around, I found that Posterous came highly recommended for phone content, and so I did some looking.  Normally, I wouldn't have thought of Posterous as the right tool for the job, most of what I see on Posterous is barrages of information that people share, mostly re-posts of others' material with commentary (similar to Google Reader, but much more like Tumblr).  However, I had seen a good example of original content on Posterous, and I liked the format.

So, after looking into Posterous' features, I created an account and started using it.  Here's what I like about Posterous.
  • It supports OAuth, so I don't ever have give them your passwords for other services.
  • I can post by e-mail, or, more specific to my case, MMS from my phone.
  • Like TwitPic, it will post pictures to Twitter.  Like TwitVid, it will post video to Twitter.  Unlike both those services, it will post pretty much anything to pretty much anywhere and everywhere I choose.
  • Whereas before, people on Facebook had to click on the TwitPic link on my imported status update to see the picture, now, the actual picture/video is posted to Facebook (and YouTube, in the case of video).
  • It supports pretty much anything you throw at it: text, images, video, audio.  It will store, organize, publish, and push my content out to other services in the way that I specify.
  • It supports a bunch of other services that I'm not using yet, but would be simple to set up if I started using them.
  • If I want, I can restrict a post to show up on only the services I specify for that particular message--on the spot, over MMS.
I like it, and I would recommend it.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Google Buzz Reprieve

Yesterday I posted some of my thoughts on Google Buzz on my other blog.  Basically, I decided to disable it, because the way it was set up, it formed a connection between my full name and my online content.

I did some thinking after that post, and I believe there's a way to get what I want out of Google Buzz without discarding my mantle of online anonymity:  remove all the links from my Google Profile, and only post to Google Buzz privately.

That way, there will be a public profile with my name on it, but it won't be publicly associated with anything that I produce online.

It makes the Google Profile much less useful, but it allows me to use the service in the way that I feel comfortable with.

On a related note, here are two posts from LifeHacker that I found very helpful:
I don't want Google Buzz in my Gmail inbox.  In fact, I would prefer it to be in a separate page, like Google Reader, so the first article was especially helpful.  I don't think I would continue to use it if it kept filling my inbox with other people's imported posts.

Anyway, I'm going to try enabling it again, after I have purged all of my content sources from my Google Profile.  All of my sharing will be private, and my name will show up publicly on other peoples' public posts that I comment on (which is just fine).  If it annoys me (or distracts me too much), I'll turn it off again, but that will be on preference, not on principle.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Facebook Pet Peeves

Six things on Facebook doth Tim hate.  Yea, seven are an abomination unto him:
  1. Profile pictures that don't actually contain the person.  (No, your child is still not you.)
  2. Friend requests from people who, though we are in the same social circle, I have never interacted with.
  3. Invitations to waste time and/or clutter my profile with some application.  This includes "interacting" with me from applications I have not installed.  
  4. Also, lost cows.
  5. Event invitations that unnecessarily last for weeks.  This screws up my Google Calendar, which imports my Facebook events.
  6. Profiles that are not for people.  (Non-personal entities should have a page or a group, not a profile.)
  7. Couples that share a single account.  This one bugs me on a much deeper level than the others.
 Now go, and sin no more.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Firefox Extensions Collection

A while ago, I wrote a post in which I create a list of software to install on a new Windows box.  I did this mostly for my own reference, but it might be useful to others.

The first item on my list is Firefox, but (until now) I didn't include any extensions.  Firefox is all about customizations, and extensions are the most powerful way to customize it.  But who wants to go through the trouble of sorting through the thousands of extensions to find the useful ones?  Well, it's more a matter of keeping your ear to the ground and trying out the ones that sound good and/or come recommended.

After years of research, I've created a collection of extensions!  I didn't write any of them, I just bunched them together because they were all useful to me.

I plan on updating the collection as time goes on, so here's the link:
You can choose to install them individually, or as a group.  I hope you find them as useful as I have.