How to Set up a Personal Webpage

Written by Derek Wilson on January 15th, 2012

So you’ve finally decided to take the plunge and finally invest in a personal webpage so you can make your mark on the internet. Now, it may seem pretty daunting at first but we’ll break it down into some small steps so you’ll be set-up in no time.

Part 1: The Domain

What is a domain name?

If you’re looking to create a professional looking website and want the credibility you deserve then you need to grab a real domain name. A domain name is a human-friendly way to represent the location of your website. For example right now you’re visiting ‘derekwilson.ca’ which is the domain name I purchased for my website. There are many different extensions available (.com, .ca, .org, .net) for you to choose from. The dot-com extension is the most popular but that also means that it can be hard to find the name you want (since only one person can have a particular domain name at a time).

Where can I get a domain?

You can purchase a domain name from many places and they mostly all do the same thing. A few that I’d reccomend are:

NameCheap.com

Name.com

Namespro.ca

GoDaddy is another popular domain registrar, but not one I’d recommend.

What should I do with my domain?

Once you’ve purchased an available domain you’ll need to configure it to work with your server. The set-up is a bit different depending on which company you buy the domain from but in most cases you’ll just need to enter some information that your web server host sends you (the name servers). Here’s a tutorial from NameCheap on how to set up the nameservers from your host

Alternatively, if you’re interested in buying the domain but not quite ready to make a full fledged site you can use the domain to forward to another site (like LinkedIn or Flavors.me) for the time being.

Part 2: The Server & Site

 What is a webhost and what do they do?

A webhost will allow you to rent space on their server (a fancy computer that serves web pages to people). This is where the files that make up your website live. There are many different options for webhosts ranging from simple, inexpensive plan for small personal sites to powerful and full featured plans for people who run popular sites.

How much does it cost?

It’s possible to find hosting that won’t cost you very much and in some cases you can even get some hosting for free. For example University of Saskatchewan students and faculty have access to some simple webhosting for making a basic homepage which can be configured through PAWS. But in general if you want full control over your site you’re going to have to pay at least a little money.

If you’re just starting out and you’re willing to learning how the backend of a web server works you probably won’t need anything that costs more than a couple of dollars a month.

Some companies like

Varial Hosting (A local Saskatoon business)

Nearly Free Speech (hosting as low as $0.25 per month)

Dreamhost

1&1

Are some examples of popular web hosts on the web.

What should I put on my website?

You can put anything you want on your website. I recommend creating a simple webpage all about you (like brahm.ca) , or an online resume or perhaps a blog where you can write about your interests.

How do I make a website?

In it’s simplest form a webpage is a simply a file written in HTML (Hypertext Markup Language). HTML is very easy to learn and there are plenty of resources on the web to get you started.  You could use a template and edit it for your need but be careful some templates can look tacky and unprofessional. More complex dynamic sites like a blog can be created installing and using content management system (CMS) like WordPress.

I’m need something a bit easier

If you’re not particularly internet or computer savvy fear not because there are still some options available for you. Some companies like Squarespace, WordPress and Typepad exist for users who want to get started with a website but want to focus on the content and not worry about the delivery. These hosts are usually a bit more expensive but offer completely managed environments for creating and looking after your website. Many services like these allow you to use your own domain name so your website can retain some added credibility.

 

 

Those the basics involved in getting your page on the internet. Expect this article to improve over time as more details are added.

If you’ve got any questions or would like more detail on a particular aspect just leave a comment and I’ll do my best to answer it.

 

Find missing tracks in iTunes

Written by Derek Wilson on November 25th, 2011

Sometimes something that should be so simple ends up being rather tricky. Such was the case recently when I decided to clean up my iTunes library and delete any missing tracks from my library (you know, those bothersome ones with the exclamation mark on the left that practically laugh in your face. “Ha”, they say “You may have deleted me but you’ll never find my brothers”. I just want to punch them all in the face. But, I digress.).

Unfortunately it’s not the most straight forwards problem to solve, there is no built in “Display missing tracks” menu item. So we need to get crafty. Here’s the solution I used.

  1. Create a new playlist (Ctrl+N) called “Not-Missing”.
  2. Drag your entire library into the playlist. (Ctrl+A to select all then click and drag). [Note: Do not right-click > ‘Add to playlist’, that will not work]
  3. Create a new Smart playlist (Ctrl+Alt+N) called “Missing”.
  4. Match the following Rules:
    • [Playlist] [is not] [Not-Missing]
    • [Media Kind] [is] [Music]
    • No Limit to results
    • Live Updating is selected

Now check out that playlist called “Missing”. It should have all the missing tracks. You’ll have to delete the tracks from your library by holding Shift then pressing delete (just pressing delete will only delete it from the playlist).

This works because you can’t drag missing tracks to a regular playlist, then we use a smart-playlist that filters the not-missing tracks from your library.

As always, give me a shout in the comments if you’ve got questions.

Advanced Gmail Filters

Written by Derek Wilson on October 15th, 2011

If you’re looking to stay on top of your email the easiest method is to automate your inbox. One of the most powerful (but unfortunately underused) features of Gmail are the mail filters. Using filters you can match criteria like “to” or “from” and then execute an action like “Mark as read”, “Skip the inbox” or “Apply a label”. Here are some of my favorites that I used to keep my inbox in check.

Note to Self

Sometimes you need a quick way to write down a reminder and have it accessible privately on the web. Often I’ll just create a draft of an email (and never send it) or other times send an email to myself. A neat feature of Gmail is that you can append a + then some text to your email address and Gmail will ignore the text after the +. For example if you own bob@gmail.com you could send a message to bob+note@gmail.com and it would still arrive to your inbox. So if you use the same +note appendage for all your “notes to self” then we can set up a rule to filter them.

to:(email+note@gmail.com)
Do this: Apply label “Notes”, Apply star.

(where “email” is your address)

What it filters: Any email sent to your “secret” +note address.

What it does: We’ll apply a label “notes” so we can find them easier in the future and I like to star it as well so it’s at the top of my inbox so I can “unstar” it when I’ve dealt with the reminder.

I didn’t sign up for this

Similar to the +text trick above you can insert a period “.” into your email address and it will be ignored. That means bob@gmail.com will receive email from b.ob@gmail.com or b.o.b@gmail.com (or any combination of periods and letters). This is especially handy for signing up for sites that you don’t entirely trust. If you’re not interested in hearing from a company after signing up (or you’re worried they’re selling your address) then use a variant of your address with a period in it and set up a rule to filter it out of your inbox.

to:(e.mail@gmail.com)
Do this: Skip Inbox, Mark as Read, Never mark it as important

What it filters: Only email sent to the variant of your address with periods in it.

What it does: By skipping the inbox (archiving) and marking it as read we won’t receive any notice that an email has arrived. But if we really need to find the messages we can use the search function to find them. If you were sure you were never going to read these message you could set it up to delete instead of archive.

Social Media Spam

I like to keep notifications from social media websites as a fallback in case the site is down or as an archive of past events. This, however, would flood my inbox with email I would likely never read. So I apply this filter:

from:(*@facebookappmail.com OR *@facebookmail.com OR *@postmaster.twitter.com OR *@linkedin.com)
Do this: Skip Inbox, Mark as read, Apply label “Social”

What it filters:
First thing you may notice is that I haven’t specified which address the mail is from. I used a wildcard (denoted by a *) which will catch any and all email from those domains. I also used the OR operator which does exactly as you’d suspect and will trigger the filter if the incoming mail matching any of the listed domains.

What it does:
Incoming mail that matches the rule will be automatically archived (so it won’t clutter up my inbox), it will be marked as read (so my phone doesn’t get notified either) and then applies the label “Social” which makes it easy to find these messages later.

That’s it for now. I hope with some of these tips and tricks (the +text, the period trick, boolean operators and wildcards) you can write some especially handy filters to make managing your inbox just a bit easier.

Feel free to share some of your favorite Gmail filters in the comments, I’m always looking for some way to save time dealing with email.

Top 5 tips for new Kindle users

Written by Derek Wilson on July 17th, 2011

So you’ve got a fancy new Kindle eReader? You might be aware you can read books on it (I sure hope) but Kindles are capable of a bit more than simply reading books purchased from Amazon. Here’s a list of the top 5 things you should try after getting your new kindle.

Get Free Books:

Amazon has a ton of books available through it’s Kindle store but did you know that there are thousands of books that you can legally read for free? Project Gutenburgis a online website that offers nearly 40,000 books for free. They digitize books that are out of copyright (like Sherlock Holmes, Frankenstein, or Moby Dick). It’s typically a lot of classics and not so much newer books, but it is free. You can also find more free books at ManyBooks, Open Library, or even the Kindle Store itself!

Get Organized with Calibre:

Once you’ve started your eBook collection you’ll probably find that it can be pretty tough to keep track of all your new books (especially if you’ve been downloading loads of free classics). Thankfully there exists some great software to make this job easier. Calibre is an example of some mighty fine ebook management software that you find recommended all over the web. Calibre is like iTunes for books, it can download book metadata, convert between formats, sync with devices, view ebooks and download news. It’s a must-have peice of software for managing your digital book collection.

Get Instapaper delivered to your Kindle:

Instapaper is an awesome online service for saving articles online to read later. It makes reading long articles on the web much more pleasant and allows me to defer reading some excellent writing for boring bus rides or quiet evenings. Since I read a lot online my Instapaper queue tends to really get backlogged. Thankfully the developer of Instapaper has set up an automatic delivery system for Kindle users. Using your free Kindle email address Instapaper can send a compilation of upto 20 unread articles automatically or manually on a set interval. Head to the Manage your Kindle page at Instapaper for instructions on how to set it up.

Kindle Optimized Websites:

You are probably aware that the Kindle has a rudimentary web browswer (If not check it out by going to Menu > Experimental > Launch Browser). Even though the browser is based on the Webkit engine (the same engine that powers Google Chrome and Safari) the browsing experience can be a bit cumbersome. Luckily there’s a tool called Kinstant (http://www.kinstant.com) that hat can optimize websites for the Kindle by simplifying the formatting. You can even bookmark your commonly visited sites to save you some typing.

Custom Firmware:

The Kindle has a pretty good list of supported ebook formats, but if you’re looking for support for a few more (epub, doc, djvu & better pdf support) some rather crafty Chinese programmers have created a custom firmware for Kindle called Duokan. It’s a bit of an involved installation process but it may be worth it you’ve got an extensive ebook collection in another format or can’t stand to see your personal electronics go un-tweaked (I’m guilty of this.) Check out this installation guide to get you started with the proper files and step-by-step instructions. [Note: Only available for Kindle3]

That’s it for now. What are some awesome tips you’ve got for Kindle users? Share it in the comments.

Album of the Month: Sigh No More – Mumford & Sons

Written by Derek Wilson on May 17th, 2011

If you’re looking for the hottest new music, you’ve come to the wrong place. This month I’d like to highlight a wonderful album that’s been staple of my folk music collection for some time. In 2009 the English folk band Mumford and Sons release their first full length album– Sigh No More. These fellas have been around since 2007 but they didn’t get the love they deserved until just last year. This four piece band of West Londoners have a common purpose “to make music that matters, without taking themselves too seriously.” a motto I couldn’t enjoy more and which really shines through in their music. Have a listen below and you’ll understand why these boys have started to make some noise in the folk music community.

Organizing Compilations on iPhone/iPod Touch

Written by Derek Wilson on May 17th, 2011

Edit 15/01/2012 : Users of iOS5+ will notice that artist sorting has been changed. Your iOS device will now list the artist listed in the “Album Artist” field rather than the “Artist” field when sorting your music by Artist. This mean you can simply change the “Album Artist” field to be something like “Various Artists” or  “The Cast of Grease”  and then all the separate compilation artists won’t clog up your list.

 

If you’re anything like me your iTunes library is pretty immaculate. With tools like iArt or TuneUp it’s pretty easy to keep your library lookin’ good. This is all fine and dandy until you want to take your music on the go. On non-touchscreen iPods, there’s a menu option (Settings>Music>Compilations) to turn compilations on or off. When this is on, tracks in your library that have been tagged as ‘part of a compilation’ won’t show up in the artists menu. This is a great option if you have a few compilation or soundtrack albums as it keeps your artists list from being cluttered with one-off artists. This option, however, is NOT on the iPod touch/iPhone (seriously wtf?). Fear not, as in this guide I will show you have to bring about some organization to your music listings.

  1. First make sure all the albums/artists that you don’t want mixed into your regular artists are marked as “Part of a compilation” in your iTunes library. (Select songs>Get Info>Options>Part of a Compilation>Yes)
  2. Create a smart playlist (File>New Smart Playlist) and Match the Following rule[Compliation] [is true]Don’t limit the number of items.
  3. Select the New playlist and select all songs (Ctrl+A)
  4. Right click> Get Info > Sorting > Sort ArtistPut a “0” (zero) in the “Sort Artist” field and hit okay. iTunes will edit the metadata and this may take a few seconds.
  5. Sync your iPhone/iPod touch with the new tracks.

Super. Now when you browse your music on the iPod by artist all of the artists we tagged as part of a compilation will be at the very bottom and not scattered all over.
The biggest problem is that you cannot have two of the same Artist entries in your iPod. So if you have a track by Frank Sinatra that is part of a compilation and a legitimate albums you will only be able to find Frank at the bottom with other one-song wonders (Poor Frank). You can remedy this by removing the “0” in the sort artist field for artists which have non-compilation albums.

Let me know if you’ve got questions in the comments. The last couple steps are shown in the image below.

This is far from a perfect solution but it’s the best option I could find. I’ve contacted Apple countless times about this (seriously, how hard could it be to implement?) but they’ve never taken any action. Let them know you want a better option in iOS by submitting some feedback to Apple

Making the Switch to Gmail from PAWS

Written by Derek Wilson on March 30th, 2010

Recently in my communications class I was required to present a five-minute persuasive speech on a topic of my choosing. Naturally being somewhat of a nerd I picked something tech related but also something I thought the other students would care about and also take action upon. I presented my speech on why you should be managing your email with Google’s Gmail service. My speech aimed to convince students why they should stop using the PAWS email system at the U of S and start using Gmail. In an effort to make switching as easy as possible for students I created a step by step handout of how they could switch to Gmail. Below are the 3 steps that I laid out for them which perhaps you’ll also find handy. In future weeks I’m planning on writing a few more guides on some of the features of Gmail since it’s something I use daily and quite frankly love like a family member.

Here are the 3 basic steps required for switching to Gmail from PAWS.

Step 1: Signing Up

Visit www.gmail.com and click on “Create an Account”. Fill in the form as required making sure to pick a professional sounding login name. Addresses in the format first.last or initial.last can be good choices if available.

Step 2: Forward Existing Mail to Gmail

UofS Students:

  • Go to www.mits.usask.ca and login with your NSID and password.
  • Click on “Forwarding” under the heading “Email” on the left hand menu.
  • Enter your new Gmail address in the “Forward to” space and click “Set Forwarding”.
  • Now future email sent to your PAWS account will be automatically forwarded to Gmail.

Hotmail Users:

  • In Hotmail go to Options > More Options (In inbox, link is on upper right hand side)
  • Under the heading Manage your account click “Forward mail to another e-mail accounts”
  • Select “Forward your mail to another e-mail address” and type in your gmail address
  • Click Save, and you’re done!

Step 3: Import Old Emails into Gmail

  1. Download and install Mozilla Thunderbird:
    www.mozillamessaging.com/thunderbird/
  2. In Thunderbird navigate to File > New > Mail Account
  3. Enter your email and password from your new Gmail account and click “Continue
  4. Repeat steps 2 & 3 this time using your old email address and password (for U of S students this means your PAWS account)
  5. Thunderbird will start to load your messages. This could take a while if you have a lot of email.
  6. Select your old email inbox in the left menu column (for U of S students this means your PAWS account)
  7. Click on a message then press “Ctrl + A”  to select all messages.
  8. Click and drag these messages to your Gmail inbox in the left.
  9. Wait patiently while Thunderbird moves your mail.
  10. Voila! Enjoy all the new capabilities of Gmail without losing any old emails!

That’s it, I did it in under 3 minutes and I’m sure you can too. If you have any questions or would like to request a step-by-step guide for something else related to Gmail  feel free to leave a comment.

Album of the Month – Nice, Nice, Very Nice – Dan Mangan

Written by Derek Wilson on February 28th, 2010

This week I’d like to highlight an album that I’ve been listening to a lot lately. It’s the album “Nice, Nice, Very Nice” by Canadian artist Dan Mangan. I don’t think it’s really necessary to write a big comprehensive review of the album, I think enough people do that already. I will say this though; it’s good and  you should listen to it. That should be enough for most people but if you’re still doubting me here’s a review from The Coast

Vancouver native Dan Mangan’s vocals on this LP will charm the pants off any summer road-tripper, via beautifully sung folk pop melodies, sometimes about coffee, sometimes about love. Mangan’s smart, soul-bearing album kicks off with “Road Regrets,” a song he wrote in 2007 while driving from El Paso to Austin, drinking gas-station coffee and regretting it all the way. Second track “Robots” is a sincerely sung silly tune that proves “robots need love too.” Mangan wrote the Nice, Nice, Very Nice tunes between 2005 and 2008, and it shows; this is a thoughtful release that will grow on you, listen after listen, all summer long.

There, see I’m not the only one who likes it. Should that not be enough to convince you I recommend you give the album a listen yourself and you can be the judge.


My Top 5 iPod Apps (+ Top 5 Jailbreak Apps)

Written by Derek Wilson on February 21st, 2010

I purchased an iPod touch back in October and I haven’t looked back since. With some help from web services like Google the iPod has helped me to organize my life and it’s been great for staying on track during school (well, ignoring time spent playing games during boring lectures). There’s no denying that the iTunes App Store is nothing short of amazing, never have mobile applications been so easy to purchase and use. It’s biggest downfall, however, is that 99% of what’s in the store is poor quality or just plain useless. This makes it even more exciting when you find a app that adds some amazing functionality to your iDevice. When I first got my iPod I spent a lot of time scouring Top 10 lists and the iTunes top seller lists to find good quality apps, a lot of the time these pointed to really obvious apps (like Facebook, Skype, Remote or Shazam), niche apps or games. Now that I’ve owned my iPod long enough I have compiled my list of my favourite apps which I used almost daily. I’ve left out the obvious ones, because chances are you probably already have them, as well as games (I think I’ll do a top 5 favourite games as well at a later date).

Let’s saddle up and get going. Here’s my top 5 favourite iPod apps:

5. GeeTasks – As a student it can be pretty hard to stay on top of all my assignments and due dates. Luckily I found Geetasks which integrates with my Google Tasks to keep me synced and stay on top of my work. GeeTasks is pretty simple in it’s execution (other to-do apps seem to be a victim of feature bloat) but it does it’s job well allowing me access to my tasks both offline and on.

4. Dropbox – This is a must have if you’re a user of the desktop version of Dropbox. If you don’t know what Dropbox is, it’s a really great application that keeps files synced between computers over the internet plus so much more (Check out more info at the Dropbox website). The iPod app is just an extension of the desktop functionality allowing you to view your files on your iPod

3. Reeder – I’ve tried a few RSS reading applications in the past few years and Reeder continues to be my favorite. It’s got a great UI, it’s easy to set up and use and overall it’s just a winner. It even caches stories and images from your feeds for reading on the go.

2. Instapaper – I do a lot of reading on the web (thanks Reddit) and sometimes I stumble upon an interesting article that’s just a little too long to read in one sitting in front of my computer. Enter Instapaper. Instapaper is a service that allows you to save articles from the web to read later. It strips out all the unnecessary formatting and just leaves you with the story itself. Linking the Instapaper app with your account means you can read your Instapaper queue while on the go (it even syncs to your device for offline reading). You can even go one step further and have it send articles to your Kindle to round out your reading experience.

1. Air Video – This is probably my favourite non-jailbroken iPod app although it may not have the same impact for everyone. It allows you to stream video from you computer to your iPod over your home network. Oh, but all your videos are avi’s you say? No problem Air Video will transcode on the fly or if you wish it can convert it and add it to iTunes for later. The app has two parts, the iPod app for accessing your files and a media server backend that lives on your computer and does all the heavy lifting. If you’re anything like me you have a large media collection of movies and TV shows and this app allows you to access it when and where you want. I’ve spent time organizing my media for use with XBMC so this program fit in so nicely. It allows me to continue watching my media all over my house or in bed without needing to fill up my iPod with large video files. Also you can setup to server to serve you videos over the internet so you can access them where ever there’s a wifi hotspot.

[Bonus: Ambiance, GoodReader, WolframAlpha]

5. Maps Enhancer – The problem with having an iPod touch rather than an iPhone is that it requires a wifi connection for a lot of it’s usefulness. Maps enhancer helps a bit in this regard, it will allow you to use the maps app in an offline mode. It works by first viewing the map you want while you’re connected to the internet then it stores those images in a cache for offline viewing.

4. Scrobbl – This one is exclusively useful for last.fm users. It allows you to scrobble your music on the fly so you can keep your last.fm profile up to date. I think last.fm is a great service for data nerds like myself and this just makes harvesting listening data that much easier.

3. Winterboard – This one allows you to add a custom theme to your iPod. Sure, it’s an app that probably everyone already has but that won’t stop me from loving it. I especially love having a the transparent lock slider since most people won’t know how to unlock your iPod if someone decides to borrow it.

2. Five Icon Dock – This one does as the name implies, it increases the number of apps you can have in the dock from four to five. When I first got my iPod I had a tough time deciding which four apps were worthy of the dock this app helps to make your decision a little easier.

1. LockInfo – This might be the single best piece of software on my iPod. It adds some extra info to your lockscreen which means that you can get all the information you need (email alerts, calendar events, weather, time, ect) without even unlocking your iPod. Not only that but it looks really nice and feels like something Apple should have shipped with the official firmware.

[Bonus: SBSettings, NES 3, Inspell, Categories]

Obese Geese Playlist (part one)

Written by Derek Wilson on February 18th, 2010

A made a playlist for a friend recently it was titled Obese Geese because it a) ryhmed and b) brought a funny mental picture. Anyways I love discovering new music and I’d like to share that you..

With no further adieu here’s a little new music to enjoy during the Reading Week break.

That’s just the first half of the playlist. Stay tuned for the other half coming up later.