Goodbye 2010 – Happy New Year!

And so another year draws to a close. Is it just me or do the years just seem to be getting faster and faster or is it just a by product of getting older? It’s been a busy year, a year filled with hard work, change and new beginnings. What does 2011 hold, not sure but one thing I do know, is it’s what you make of it – so make it a good one!

As usual, Boston.com‘s Big Picture are busy putting together a great post filled with photos from around the globe as people welcome 2011 – keep an eye on the post as it will be constantly updated as and when new photos are made available.

To you, your family and friends – Happy New Year – make 2011 the one!

Fireworks explode above Singapore's financial district at the stroke of midnight to mark the New Year celebrations Saturday, Jan. 1, 2011. (AP Photo/Wong Maye-E)

My new car

For the past 17 years I’ve owned and driven a compact car, a Toyota Conquest/Tazz – it’s small, reliable, affordable and got me from A to B.

My family, and my god-parents have always been Toyota fans – they’re great vehicles, they almost never give you problems and they just keep on going – Toyota’s motto – everything keeps going right, Toyota – is really true.

Yes, they’re slightly more expensive than vehicles in the same price range/class as other makes but there’s a reason there’s that saying – you get what you pay for.

My current Tazz I’ve had for a little over 8 years now (it’s 11 years old) and we’ve been together on almost 180,000 km (it’s currently got 220,000 km) now – and you know what? She’s still going strong, and if continued to be looked after, at least another 10 years to go. That’s just how reliable Toyota is – you’d be hard pressed to find that kind of reliability for the same price or less.

So why a new car? Well, there’s two sides to that decision. Firstly, I think I’ve worked long and hard enough to own a bigger saloon car, with air conditioning, power steering, electric windows and mirrors (oh and a decent sound system doesn’t hurt either). The second reason, well, that’s the more practical one. The kids are quickly getting bigger and older, and well going anywhere with the whole family, and a car full of bags, like we’ll have in Jan when we go on holiday, just isn’t easy or practical in a compact. Neither is driving long distance in the South African summer heat with a full car without air conditioning.

Then it should be no surprise to you that I bought another Toyota. I pretty much had my mind set on getting another Toyota even before I knew I wanted/needed another car it was just a case of what would be affordable.

Initially l was very much inclined to going the Toyota Avensis (although I did feel a little bit like a grandpa in it) but it was very affordable for a 2.0 litre vehicle with all the bells and whistles – what put me off though was that Toyota South Africa was no longer importing/producing/selling them any longer – the reason? Apparently the class and price-range of vehicle cannot compete with the likes of Mercedes and BMW. So that meant the Avensis was out of the question for me – why buy a vehicle that is no longer available in SA? Yes you’d get parts from Toyota for servicing but the resale value would be next to nothing.

I wanted something in the 1.6 litre range or better – and when I looked at, and test-drove the 1.6 Professional Corolla instantly fell in love with it. A saloon vehicle, with the bells and whistles I was looking for (power steering, electric windows, doors and mirrors, air-conditioning and a great sound system). The drive is great, it’s extremely roomy (front and back), has loads of boot space, it’s economical, and affordable. Wait, there’s one word for that – Toyota.

And there she is in all her glory – had a couple of days to driver her and no complaints – really looking forward now, to our trip in January to Knysna.

RockMelt – your new social browser

So for about a month now I’ve been testing the new social browser called RockMelt. It’s still in beta and there are a few kinks to iron out and some features that should be included but so far it’s a great browser.

ABOUT ROCKMELT

Well, the browser is great to start off with because it’s a custom build of Google’s Chromium (development build of Chrome) browser and integrated into Facebook (you need a Facebook account to log into and use RockMelt). Like I said, it’s a social browser – integrating your browsing and social media interaction all in one place.

So what do you get in the browser that makes it social? Two applications are currently integrated into RockMelt, Facebook and Twitter. Otherwise, it just wouldn’t be a social browser, now would it.

EDGES

As I mentioned earlier you need a Facebook account so you get all your notifications and news feed from Facebook on the right hand side of the browser – the sides are referred to as Edges in RockMelt.

The top icon is for your invites you get to dish out to friends whom you also want to introduce to RockMelt.

The next icon is Google’s URL shortener extension which I added – yes a lot of Google Chrome extensions work just the same in RockMelt as they do in the latest Chrome browser.

Next is the GMail Labs Notifier extension which gives me a counter of unread emails and the next one is a RSS Feed of my Gmail Inbox which shows a preview of new emails as well as an unread count.

The next two icons relate to Facebook. The first is my notifications icon (when people comment on something I commented on, or my status update, or liking a status update or comment I made). The second is my Facebook news stream, which you see on the Facebook home page when you view your Most Recent news stream items.

Below that is the Twitter app which you can enable in RockMelt by supplying your Twitter username and allowing RockMelt to access your Twitter account. This means you get to view your Twitter stream, reply, re-tweet and update your own Twitter status.

The next is simply another Chrome extension to capture portions of browser screens for sharing with others.

The last icon on the right edge is where you can change which RockMelt apps are active or not as well as where you can include an RSS stream of the recently visited websites.

Yup, RockMelt identifies RSS streams of websites as you visit them so that you can include them on the right edge and get updates as and when they’re made available. I still prefer all my RSS feeds in Google Reader though.

The great thing about this is that you can be browsing a website, reading some RSS feed article and you can still keep an eye on your social stream. Once there are new unread items in either Facebook or Twitter you can see the count as an icon overlay. Simply click on the icon and you get a window appearing with the unread (and read) items.

The other great thing is that a number of third party sites are integrated by RockMelt so that for example if someone tweeted a photo and posted it through YFrog it automatically appears in the stream for the user that posted it, you don’t even have to browse to the image hosting site to view the photo.

The same applies to YouTube videos tweeted or included in a Facebook status update. The player is embedded into the stream so that you can play it from there.

The left edge is where you get to see, in real-time, all your Facebook friends whether they’re online, idled, or offline on Facebook. By clicking on the avatar of your friend you can open up a chat window to chat to them (through Facebook) and/or send them a Facebook inbox message.

Avatars with a green icon next to it means the user is currently active on Facebook and their Facebook chat is set to online so that you can chat with them or send them a Facebook message.

Those with orange icons have been idle for a certain period of time on Facebook so they may not be available to  chat but you can still send them a message.

Those that have grey icons are no longer online on Facebook or like me, are not logged into Facebook chat right now. I prefer to keep my real-time conversations in Skype, my preferred instant messaging platform.

The thing that I found irritating/intrusive to my browsing was the constant shuffling if avatars as people came online and/or went offline on Facebook so I use RockMelt with this edge hidden (ctrl+shift+left arrow to toggle the left side, use the right arrow to toggle the right edge or ctrl+shift+space to toggle both edges).

Depending on how active/inactive you are on Facebook and/or use the Facebook Chat facility you may or may not use this feature in RockMelt.

If, however, you want to see a specific friend’s wall only you can click their avatar on the left edge and click the recent activity tab. Click on your own icon on the top left to update your Twitter/Facebook status.

But that’s one of the great things about RockMelt is you’re not forced to use features you don’t want or don’t need. It’s customizable!

SHARING

Another feature that makes this a great social networking tool is the in-line sharing of stuff that you’re currently reading. So someone emailed you a link to a funny YouTube video, simply open it up in a new tab in RockMelt and check out the video. You think it’s worth sharing to others on your Twitter and/or Facebook stream? Great, hit that Share button at the top, to the right of the address bar.

You’ll then be presented with a Twitter/Facebook share window (you get to toggle between the two if you have both apps active in your RockMelt browser).

Just like the share option in Facebook you get to pick a thumbnail (if you wish) to include in your post and add your own comment – simple as that, without leaving the page you’ve just been reading/watching.

And for Twitter, RockMelt have acquired the me.lt domain to automatically shorten URLs for you and automatically pick up the title of the page you were viewing and include it in the Twitter status update. Of course, you can edit this as you wish, add hash tags, etc, before actually posting it as your Twitter status update.

And in case you missed it, there’s a search field at the top as well, so you can search even without leaving the current page you’re viewing since the results are shown in a window. Of course you can open any result (or the entire list of results)  in another tab.

Could it be any simpler?

But don’t just take my word for it – try it out for yourself. You can also watch the promo video below which screencasts some of the features I’ve spoken about above, and more.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bAPKPhoTqFY&feature=player_embedded

Kent Jenkins aka Snubby J – PVC Instrument player

Catching up on some reading and spotted this post on the Lifehacker feed. It’s about making your own PVC instrument relatively cheaply. If you want to know more about making your own one you can follow this guide on Instructables.

What inspired this post (after more than two months of silence on my blog) was this guy in the first video called Kent Jenkins (aka Snubby J) performing on his home-built PVC instrument. Trust me, it’s well worth the 6 minutes – watch it and tell me you’re not impressed.

If you want, you can become a fan of Kent on Facebook here or subscribe to his YouTube stream here.

Kent auditioned for America’s Got Talent 2010 earlier this year but didn’t make it past the Las Vegas round. He also auditioned for the Blue Man Group but was unsuccessful but that didn’t sway him at all as you can hear in this video journal entry on his YouTube stream. He finished high school and he’s off to university to study further, and he’s built his PVC Instrument 2.0 which he’s taking with him.

Good luck Kent – you’re a talented young guy and I really see you making a name for yourself.