Yearly Archives: 2008

New York Times killing Times File – How to move your library

Terrible news for those who love news today. I was reading a story about e-books in the New York Times this morning and I decided it was worth saving as a future reference. I clicked the little “save” button, as I’ve been doing for the past three years or so, to place a link to the article in my Times File. This service, which started with the 2005 TimesSelect program, keeps a library of story links for me on the Times’ web site. But when I clicked today, I received the following horrifying message:

“We have removed the ability to save articles using the Times File tool. On Jan. 21, 2009, we are removing Times File from the site entirely.”

This, by itself, is horrible news. Why wouldn’t the Times want me visiting their site frequently to use my library? It’s not like the feature costs much to run or needs expensive software. And what about my existing library? Surely the New York Times wouldn’t just destroy my carefully selected library of great Times articles without giving me some way to export my links, right? Well, they’ve got one choice and one option only, to export to some service called Furl. Never heard of it. How about some more choices, New York Times! Like some we have heard of! Say, Delicious?

timesfile-selectionjpg

UPDATE: The Times has posted a Faq explaining why they are eliminating Times File. Here’s the excuse: “The Web is constantly changing; since we introduced Times File, several other social-bookmarking Web sites have become increasingly popular. Accordingly, we are refocusing resources to other areas of NYTimes.com.”

UPDATE2: There is a slightly laborious way to get your Times File bookmarks list off of their site and into the bookmarking site of your choosing. BUT BE CAREFUL – ONCE YOU EXPORT TO FURL, THE NEW YORK TIMES ERASES YOUR TIMES FILE LIST! IF YOU’RE READY TO PROCEED, Click on the Times’ link to export your bookmarks to Furl. This involves setting up a Furl account which is pretty quick and painless (they only want a valid email address and an acknowledgment that you’re over age 13). Then Furl sends you an email with a password to your new account. Go to your Furl bookmarks, sign in and scroll all the way to the bottom of the page where there is an option to “Export My Archive.” On the export page, choose the “Browser bookmark” format and save the resulting html file to your computer. That file can then be imported into most other bookmarking sites. On Del.cio.us, for example, use a “manual” bookmark import and choose the file that Furl created.

Last minute gift ideas for iPod owners and the gadget deprived

Not much time left before the year-end holidays are upon us. Still stumped for the perfect little gift for your gadget-loving friends and relations? Here are a few suggestions based on things we actually bought and used this year around Casa GravitationalPull.net. Links below are mostly to manufacturers’ pages, but I’m sure you can find all of these items on Amazon and many at the local Best Buy, too.

I was going to start by raving about how great the iPod Touch is now that we have the app store and all the many new & great programs expanding its greatitude in all directions. But you knew that already. I do have a few less obvious suggestions that go great with iPods, though.

Audio technica ath-anc7 active noise cancelling headphonesI swear by active noise-canceling headphones but they typically cost a couple of hundred bucks a pair. This year I found some cheapie headphones for under $100 on Amazon made by Audio-Technica, the ATH-ANC7, that do just as great a job at blocking unwanted noise as far more expensive models. They are also quite comfortable to wear, if you don’t mind looking like a total audio geek.

I don’t think the sound quality is quite as fabulous as fancier models but it’s still quite good. They also came with a nice semi-hard carrying case that protects them from getting squished in your bag. Absolutely invaluable if you do much travel on airplanes.

apple airport expressI got an Apple Airport Express this year to play music on our living room stereo from files sitting on an upstairs iMac. The Airport Express connects wirelessly or via ethernet cable to your home network and streams songs from any computer running iTunes to anything with RCA jacks or a headphone port. It also can extend your existing wifi network or create its own, aiding efforts to sit on the couch and surf the web. With an iPod Touch or iPhone, you can download the free Apple Remote app to gain full iPod-like control of what’s playing, too. We also set up the Airport Express with this handy Airbase stand from Griffin so it doesn’t have to hang off the wall awkwardly sticking out of an electrical socket.

giftjpgWhile we’re on the subject of iPods, did you know that instead of giving friends an iTunes gift card, you can get a lot more involved and actually gift any specific piece of content? There’s a little gift box icon next to the grey “buy” button. Click it and you are whisked off to the gift giving screen. All you need is your recipient’s email address. There’s even a way to print out a gift sheet with a code number that you can hand someone instead of just letting them know via email about the gift. Among stuff I watched and listened to this year from the iTunes Store, I’m very high on AMC’s “Mad Men” television series, the movies “WALL-E” and “Iron Man” and a bunch of music I’m too embarrassed to disclose.

Power, power and more power. All geeks need more — to keep their iPods and other gadgets charged, that is. I found two useful recharging gadgets that might make good small gifts for iPod owners.

belkin portable mini surge with usbBelkin’s Portable Mini Surge with USB is great for people who travel with multiple gadgets. It turns one outlet into three and adds surge protection and a couple of USB charging ports to boot. That means you can leave your iPod charging plug at home. It’s smartly designed so its electrical prongs can rotate to different angles and fit in the tightest spaces.

The Griffin Powerdock2 has a simple mission, letting you charge two iPods/iPhones at once. It’s very pretty sitting here on my desk in a silver tone that matches my Macbook Pro. There’s also a four iPod/iPhone model. It includes the usual bevy of plastic iPod adapters so the chargers can hold all the various sized versions. Warning: It does not support the most recent versions of the iPod Touch and iPhone which altered the way power flows into their 30-pin connectors.Griffin powerdock two

Beyond the iPod ecosystem, I came across a few other giftable treats this year. My wife needed to do some quick videos for work so we got one of Flip’s original “Ultra” series camcorders. It’s cheap and easy and has it’s own USB plug and software built in. Record videos with the simple controls, plug into a Windows or mac computer and start editing away. The Ultra has since been replaced by some spiffier models, the Mino and MinoHD. Flip has a good web page comparing all the various models. The original is even cheaper now and still pretty nifty. Our kids love it, too.

The wordpress hoodie in actionWordPress is, of course, the platform du jour for blogging but it’s free software. Can’t make much of a gift out of that. But the good folks at Automattic, publishers of WordPress, are selling a line of authorized tee shirts, coffee mugs and hoodies. I have the dark blue hoodie and it’s fun to walk around town and get quizzed about what sport “WordPress” plays. Order big, as these guys tend to shrink.

If you want to buy a gadgeteer a completely captivating yet non-techy gift, we did greatly enjoy Julia Sweeney’s one-woman show (available on CD and DVD) called “Letting Go of God.” Julia may or may not find spiritual bliss on her journey but you’ll be laughing for the entire thought-provoking trip. (Get a little preview in this video from the TED Talks site)

Finally, as I mentioned the other day, I’m hooked on Fran’s Salted Caramels. I got mine at The Cheese Shop in Wellesley Center but check Fran’s web site to buy them online or find a retail location near you. Yum! UPDATE: Careful, some readers are finding them highly addictive.

And that’s the 2008 list of gift ideas. If you’ve got other suggestions, please drop a note in the comments. Thanks and happy holidays.

WordPress 2.7 is the best WordPress yet

Wordpress 2.7's new dashboard When WordPress 2.5 came out a few months ago, there was a lot to like but there was also a lot to not-so-like. The layout of key parts of the program, including the dashboard and the editing page for new posts, didn’t seem very well thought out. The overall design was visually noisy and distracting, as well.

This week we got the next big thing from WordPress and the programmers clearly felt our pain. WordPress 2.7 fixes almost everything that went wrong in 2.5 and adds a bunch of new goodies to boot. Sure, there’s a few glitches but it’s definitely the best WordPress yet.

Start with the new dashboard screen (pictured above). As has been much praised, the redesigned dashboard has toned down useless visual noise and amped up things you need to see, with smarter color and layout decisions. I appreciate the new greyish tone that recedes out of mind so you can find what you’re looking for quickly. And the functions along the left side roll-up or down as needed. For example, in the picture above, I clicked on “Tools” and WordPress rolled out choices like “Import,” “Export” and “Upgrade.” Click on “Tools” again to roll them up. There’s even a handy quick post section for writing a quickie without leaving the dashboard.

The main page for writing and editing posts has likewise gotten less busy and more useful. Thankfully, lists of tags and categories have moved back to the right side, next to where you compose your posts. I was always forgetting to use them after they got buried below the post writing area in 2.5. One glitch here, at least using Firefox and a Mac, is that I have to keep my browser window open pretty wide. Otherwise, the box where you actually do your writing doesn’t narrow itself correctly and cuts off the display, as in “hey, where’s my cursor?”

Wordpress 2.7's new edit post page

Another even more serious problem remains from the past few upgrades. It used to be when you uploaded a photo that one of the fields you could fill in immediately was the alternate text. That’s where you are supposed to put a textual description of the photo that can be read by browsers for the blind and that appears even if the photo itself doesn’t load. But WordPress changed the upload box so you can only fill in alt text if you write a caption.

I don’t want a caption to appear under my photos. The only way to get just alt text and no caption is to upload the photo, place it in the post, click on it in the post editor and then click on advanced settings to reach the old alt text box. Since every photo needs alt text but not every photo needs a caption, this is backwards. Please fix, WordPress!

Back to the positives, another huge improvement is the new page listing all your existing posts. There’s a menu that appears under each listing now if you mouse over the post’s name. You can choose to quickly jump to edit, preview, delete (with confirmation) or quick edit. The new “quick edit” choice allow you to change or add to the most important fields and metadata without having to open the whole post back on the editing page. It’s great for adding tags or categories you forgot the first time around. One tip – you can use the search box to find all posts about a certain subject and then easily make sure you tagged and bagged them consistently. Quick editing is also available on the list of your existing pages.

Another handy new feature is the display options menu, available on many pages under a light grey button near the top, right side called “Screen Options.” Under this menu you can chose to display or eliminate different headings in lists or boxes on pages. I never use custom tags on my posts, so I can switch off the box for custom tags and not have to see it on my new posts pages. I’m the only author on this blog, so in the list of all existing posts, I can get rid of the useless column displaying authorship.

You can also drag and drop all the boxes on each page to re-arrange the layout. Want the tags list back underneath the editing box instead of on the side? I’ll call you crazy but just drag and drop it where you want it.

WordPress can also run some of its functions from your own computer instead of making your web server do extra work. This feature relies on Google’s Gears program, which you have to install first. Then click the “turbo” button in the upper, right corner of your dashboard to get WordPress geared up.

And that’s all I can rave about for now. I’ll update this review as I discover other cool stuff or find useful write-ups elsewhere.

Wow, those Fran’s Salted Caramels are good

A little off-topic, but while doing some holiday gift shopping, I discovered this little box of delicious-looking Fran’s smoked salt caramels. I decided that before I got them for anybody as a gift, I’d better check and make sure they were tasty. Answer? YES. I’m calling this photograph “guilty as charged” for obvious reasons.caramels-1

p.s. I got mine at The Cheese Shop in Wellesley Center but check Fran’s web site to buy them online or find a retail location near you.

Bluehost Internet hosting service eases upgrades with SimpleScripts

I have generally good things to say about my web hosting service, Bluehost. They are very reliable, with uptime for my site of over 99.5% (at least since I started monitoring it in September using the free SiteUpTime service). Bluehost also offer lots of add-ons and free services, like high-end spam filtering and automatic installation of dozens of popular web software packages like Drupal and WordPress. And the price is reasonable at less than $7/month.

The one drag was that Bluehost used a service called Fantastico Deluxe to install or upgrade web software packages like WordPress. And for reasons I could never quite fathom, Fantastico was very slow to make upgrades available. That’s particularly annoying when said upgrades are to fix serious security holes. So I was heartened a few months back when Bluehost added a speedier install and upgrade service called SimpleScripts. But the fly in the ointment was having to manually reinstall my entire WordPress package before I could switch to using SimpleScript for upgrades.

Then today, when I was yet again bemoaning the fact that Fantastico was lagging SimpleScript for the latest WordPress upgrade, the highly-praised version 2.7, I noticed that Bluehost had added an automated switchover routine. So, after backing everything on my web site up three different ways, I had SimpleScript run its automatic changeover from Fantastico and then upgrade WordPress to 2.7 (from whence this post is being written). It went utterly without a hitch. I’ll post a review and some blog links for the much-improved WordPress shortly.

Prior coverage:

Fantastico or who won’t let me upgrade WordPress (May 8, 2008)

Speaking of simple, upgraded to WordPress 2.5 (May 6, 2008)

Using Applescript to send articles to my Kindle

I’m constantly finding new ways to use my Kindle e-book reader. Lately, I’ve found a way to save eye strain and trees when reading long magazine articles posted online. Instead of reading them on my laptop, and making my eyes watery and tired, or printing them out on a zillion pieces of paper, wasting all that tree pulp, I send them to my Kindle and get the best of all possible worlds.

Initially, I’d copy the text of each article, open a blank file in TextEdit, paste in the article, attach that file to an email, and send the email to my unique Kindle address. Amazon converts the file to a Kindle-readable format and sends it to my Kindle. Score.

But Apple includes a free scripting program with OS X called, logically enough, AppleScript. After a lot — way too much in fact — of grunt work figuring out the correct scripting vocabulary and so on, I wrote a script that works. Basically, it’s an adaptation of this sample from MacOSXHints for saving web text with Apple’s own create email message script.

Now all I do is highlight the text of an article and click on the script. It does all the rest of the work, creating a file and emailing it to my Kindle. Here’s the script:

tell application “Safari”

set selecTxt to (do JavaScript “(getSelection())” in document 1)

set theurl to (get URL of document 1)

set pgTitl to (do JavaScript “document.title” in document 1)

end tell

set dat to (current date) as text

set clipFil to (path to desktop folder as text) & “ToKindle.txt”

try

close access file clipFil

end try

set filRef to open for access file clipFil with write permission

write (dat & return & (theurl) & return & (pgTitl) & return & “——————-“ & return & selecTxt & return & “~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~” & ¬

return & return) to filRef starting at eof

close access filRef

tell application “Mail”

set newMessage to make new outgoing message with properties {subject:”Convert”, content:”Please convert and send” & return & return}

tell newMessage

set visible to true

set sender to “you@youremail.com”

make new to recipient at end of to recipients with properties {address:”yourkindle@kindle.com”}

make new attachment with properties {file name:alias “LunarMod:Users:gravitate:Desktop:ToKindle.txt”} at after the last paragraph

end tell

end tell

One bit you will need to customize is the location of the file ToKindle.txt. As you can see, that’s listed in my script as “LunarMod:Users:gravitate:Desktop:ToKindle.txt”. You’ll need to change “LunarMod” to the name of your hard drive and “gravitate” to your logon name. And, of course, fill in the proper the email address you’re sending from and your Kindle’s special email address (which you can find on Amazon’s web site under the account settings of your Kindle if you don’t know it).

There are a couple of annoying limitations. I haven’t figured out a way to give the created file a unique name each time I run the script. So after the script runs, you have to delete the ToKindle.txt file from your desktop. If you don’t Applescript will append the article you want to read onto the article you read last time you ran the script.

Also, there’s little info about running Applescript with Firefox 3.0 so the script only runs with Safari. As always, I’m happy to hear suggested improvements or criticism in the comments.

Which is smarter? An old-old phone or a new-new phone?

Planning for a little office reshuffling and reorganzing, the mind of the gadget geek turns to gadgets, unsurprisingly. Ever since I got hooked on AMC’s Mad Men show, I’ve been remembering the visceral pleasure I used to get when I had an old-fashioned, multi-line phone on my desk in a long-ago newsroom. You remember them, right? Black and hefty with a row of clear buttons along the bottom that lit up when a call came in. Press down with a satisfying click to pick up the line or use the red “hold” button to move on to another call.

Turns out, you can still find these old phones, and ones with even more lines and buttons, for sale around the web for not so much money. But there’s a catch. These pre-digital telecom dinosaurs can’t just be plugged into a wall socket. Not even close. They run off of something known as a 1A2 key system that requires a special 25-pin cable running into a proprietary box in your closet that provides all the phone lines plus power. You can buy these boxes on the web, too, but setting one up and getting it to actually works seems like a task for the severely over-rested. I’d love to find someone rewiring these old phones in a way that lets them be connected to a modern phone jack without giving up the multi-line, light-up-button goodness, but I haven’t yet.

As I was pondering this predicament, I thought that perhaps I should try to leapfrog the whole 20th-century phone system and find a voice-over-Internet-protocol, or VOIP, interface for the old 1A2 key phones. Nope, no luck there.

But while I was out googling he universe, I did run across this amazingly spiffy looking, multi-line, light-up-button 21st century VOIP phone by Linksys called the SPA962. It has six buttons that turn different colors, supporting up to six phones lines. And it has a beautiful color screen that show all kinds of things like your contacts. The whole thing works over the Internet, no Ma Bell required. Just connect an ethernet cable and put in your VOIP provider’s info and you should be good to go.

Based on my experience setting up a little Sipura box a few years ago that lets me use a VOIP service connected to our regular phones through an RJ11 jack, I more than a little afraid that setting up the SPA962 might be beyond my abilities. You need to have some sort of VOIP server software like the open-source Asterisk running or another box acting as a sort of digital PBX to get the multi-lines to work and that’s just scary. But I’ll keep reading about it and researching it and who know, maybe by the time I’m ready for the office reboot, I’ll be prepped for installing this gee-whiz Linksys phone.

An update on online backup: Mozy’s still good

I just posted a lengthy comment at MacIntouch about using Mozy for online backup, so I thought it might be worth re-posting here:

I have been using Mozy since April 2007 on both my iMac and Powerbook Pro. It is fast and reliable, working in the middle of the night to upload new or changed files. It’s customizable, too. You can set backups to run only between certain hours, when the computer is less busy and/or on a set schedule. You can also limit how much of your Internet connection Mozy will use for uploads.

Another key feature is called block level backup. This means Mozy only uploads the parts of a file that have actually changed since the last backup, not the whole file, saving bandwidth. Finally, Mozy encrypts your data when it goes over the web and stores it in an encrypted format. You can even choose to use your own encryption key, in which case no one, not even at Mozy, can unlock your files without your key.

I have tested and had no problems with the restore function. You can restore files from any computer with Mozy installed or any web browser. You can choose to download files to their original location or to a new spot. You can also ask for set of DVDs to be shipped to you via FedEx for a steep fee (50 cents a gigabyte plus $30 processing fee plus Fedex actual shipping charge).

The economic model may or may not work for you. Mozy charges $4.95 a month per computer for unlimited backup space (I paid ahead for 2 years at a discounted rate of $4.33/month). I have a huge amount of data I want backed up, so this is a pretty economical option for me. I tried using Amazon’s S3 service with Jungledisk but found it to be slow and more expensive for the amount of data I backed up. Mozy is owned by EMC, the storage giant with over $13 billion of revenue last year, so you can feel pretty good that they won’t be going out of business in the middle of night.

Some reviewers have really missed the boat on Mozy. PC Magazine was way off, I thought, in their April 2008 write-up, completely misstating the restore feature’s various capabilities.

Prior coverage:

PCMag review misses Mozy’s greatness (4/17/2008)

Shifting to Interarchy for online backup at S3 (1/24/2007)

Phew, that’s a mighty backup (12/30/2006)

Everybody’s thinking about S3 for backup (10/4/2006)

Acrylic Software’s Wallet, great password manager for iPhone

(Updated 12/3) To keep track of all the various web site passwords, log-ins accounts, serial numbers and other top secret secrets in my life, I’ve been using the OS X version of Acrylic Software’s Wallet program (Acrylic was formerly known as Waterfall Software). It’s one of the best looking and best performing password managers I’ve seen. And today, the long-awaited version of Wallet for iPhones and iPods Touch arrived in the App store, accompanied by a 3.0 upgrade to the main OS X version. It was well worth the wait.

Like all password managers, Wallet is essentially just a locked or encrypted database. Assign one very long and hard to crack password to the database and all your secrets are secure. Unlock the database with the single password and you can see all your secrets. Wallet automatically locks up if your computer goes to sleep, too. Both the iPhone and OS X versions allow you create as many sub groupings as you want to better organize your secret information. I split my secrets up between serial numbers, web stuff, login accounts, credit cards and “other” but you can set up any organizational scheme you require. Then within each group, you can further customize data fields however you’d like. There’s a great search function that looks across all your groups, too. And you can get your data out by exporting in a variety of formats if you ever want to switch to a competing product.

The best new feature is synchronization. If you have a MobileMe account, you can have various versions of Wallet on Macs, iPhones and iPods all keeping each other up to date through your MobileMe account. When I loaded Wallet onto my iPod, it took several attempts to get the program to see my already-hefty, saved database on MobileMe and download it. But once it did, I had all my passwords available on my iPod. If you don’t have a MobileMe account, Wallet can sync between your Mac and iPhone/iPod over local wifi. You can set Wallet to sync every time you quit, every time it locks the database or just when you tell it to manually.

There are a few glitches. As I mentioned, I had to re-enter my MobileMe information four or five times before it took. And each time, when I went to re-enter my account name and password on my iPod, I got a confusing dialogue box asking if I wanted to wipe out the data on the local device or clear data stored at MobileMe. The wording should be clearer, because if I wiped out the MobileMe version and synced to my Mac, I might lose everything. I also have used a dashboard widget on my Mac to access my Wallet data quickly, but the widget doesn’t seem to be able to read the upgraded version 3.0 database format. I emailed Acrylic but haven’t heard back from them about a possible fix.

UPDATE: Acrylic’s Dustin McDonald responds to my question, confirming that the old Wallet widget is incompatible with the version 3.0 updated database format, adding “most likely be updating this soon.”

Here’s a screenshot of the new main app (with some fake data showing). Clicking on one of the plus buttons creates either a new subgroup or a new item within a group. The little cloud and arrow button manually syncs your database.

Finally, this is not a free app. The new iPhone version costs $3.99 and the OS X version is $20 or $5 for those of us already using version 2. But to keep your secrets safe and your mind free of too much gunk, Wallet is well worth the price.

Facebook isn’t a web site (or a spaceship), it’s a time machine

I’ve been thinking a lot about Facebook lately. A couple of months ago, maybe around the time Barrack Obama got the Democratic presidential nomination in Denver, a funny thing started happening with my 50 or so “friends” on Facebook. Since I joined earlier in ’08, there’s been an awful lot of dead air — most people never posted any photos or links, never commented, never even updated their status.

But with Obama-mania in the air, suddenly everybody was posting stuff. Here’s a link to an article about the election, followed by a few wry comments on the news, then a shared web site with reassuring poll results. And this burst of life around the election then began morphing into all kinds of Facebook activity. Instead of dead air, my Facebook home page suddenly was filled news from my cousin living in Namibia, jokes from former co-workers I met at jobs as long ago as 1993, photos of the neighbors canoeing near our house and on and on. And even now, with the election well in our rearview mirror, the activity continues.

Something big has happened with Facebook — not just big but, culturally speaking, huge, massive, gigantic. And it’s not anything you’ve read in the newspaper about the business prospects of Web 2.0 or the celebrity/genius founder Mark Zuckerburg as the next Bill Gates. In fact, it’s something much bigger and more profound.

Facebook is turning out to be more than just another web site where people go to post personal stuff. It’s a place where families gather to stay in touch across thousands of miles. It’s a venue for keeping in contact with your far-flung network of friends, real friends, the people you met in school or at an old job who now live someplace else or work someplace else. It’s reconnecting people on a day-to-day level in a way that hasn’t been possible since we invented planes, trains and automobiles.

There’s a classic scene in the already iconic TV series Mad Men that takes place near the end of the final episode of the first season. The lead character, Don Draper (played by John Hamm), offers his 1960 advertising pitch for the Kodak slide projector. Seeking to play on the emotions of potential buyers, Draper rejects positioning the projector as a mere piece of technology. Instead, he emphasizes its ability to stir nostalgic feelings by taking people on a trip through their memories, memories preserved in old slides.

Nostalgia. It’s delicate but potent. Greek, nostalgia literally means, ‘the pain from an old wound.’ It’s a twinge in your heart, far more powerful than memory alone. This device isn’t a spaceship, it’s a time machine. It goes backwards and forwards. And it takes us to a place where we ache to go again. It’s not called ‘The Wheel.’ It’s called ‘The Carousel.’ It lets us travel the way a child travels. Around and around and back home again. A place where we know we are loved.

So, to continue my Facebook analogy, here’s a different word derived from Greek for you: diaspora. In Greek, – literally a scattering or sowing of seeds. The Greek sense may have come from the Hebrew, in Deuteronomy, Chapter 28, verse 25,  – also a scattering. Typically, we think of large ethnic and religious groups being scattered, often by conquest. But I’m positing today a different kind of diaspora, an unavoidable scattering of all the people you have ever connected with in your life. My best friend Matthew Davis from first grade who moved away, my good pal Mitch Davis from 10th grade who moved away, my posse from high school now living up and down the east coast, college friends, cousins, nephews, aunts and uncles, work friends from my first through thirty-first jobs, old neighbors, old teachers, parents of friends, friends of parents. You get the picture.

Now Facebook isn’t going to keep you in touch with ever person you ever thought was cool or who you stayed up with having a late night debate about politics. Nor would you want it to. But as I have mentioned before, our modern, highly-mobile society has lost “ambient intimacy” — the day to day and minute to minute knowledge of small developments in the lives of those who are important to us. Used properly, Facebook can re-create that kind of intimacy. And that’s not the end of it. The real power is that by keeping up with the minor stuff online, you want to see and talk to those people more and when you do, the interaction is richer and more rewarding. Try it and see.

Of course, some may argue that my vision of Facebook doesn’t match how everybody is using Facebook. And that’s certainly true. Some people have “friended” hundreds, many of whom they barely know, and use the site to broadcast their lifestream as a form of mini-celebrity. Young people, who live more of their daily lives online, may actually NOT want their parents or cousins or uncool classmates to tune in to their Facebook streams.

But none of that takes away from what Facebook can be for a vast number of people who have forged emotional bonds but are now separated by time and distance. Like Don Draper says: Facebook, it’s not a web site, it’s a time machine. It’s the family room of the 21st century.

p.s. This post started out as a comment about Facebook and the election on publisher and Internet smartie Rex Hammock’s Rexblog and is indebted to Leisa Reichelt, on whose blog I first discovered the term “ambient intimacy.”

p.p.s. (added 12/3) I elaborated on this theme in a comment posted on John Battelle’s blog about the difference between Twitter and Facebook.

Prior coverage:

Twitter continues integration of everything theme (5/8/2008)