Archive for March 2006

Dealing With Referral Spam

Published on March 31, 2006

Over the past week or two, I’ve noticed increasing amounts of bogus referral links in my website statistics. This so called “referral spam” has nearly gotten out of control, so I’m employing yet another WordPress plugin (Referrer Bouncer) to combat this plague. The spammed referral links are interesting: poker sites, ring tone sites, and even “adult” sites. We’ll see how well this works out.

Posting may be slow over the upcoming days. I’m very busy with something that I’ll talk more about soon.

How Digg Punishes Its Users

Published on March 29, 2006

I surf Digg.com nearly every day. And the more I use the site, the more problems I see with it. Granted, the experience has improved over time, but we’re still a long way from perfection. One side effect of the democratic approach to news posting is the introduction of stories not worthy to be labeled news. Sensationalist stories show up there all the time, undoubtedly posted by people who know absolutely nothing about the topic. Recent headlines to this effect include “Autistic or just a geek? Take the test!” and “40+ suggestions for better desktop” (yes, that headline is grammatically incorrect). Do you see where we’re headed?

An internet “test” isn’t news, nor is it a scientific way of determining whether or not you have Asperger’s Syndrome. Likewise, a collection of suggestions for improving desktop software is purely opinion, not news. “So vote against the story,” you say. “It is, after all, a democratic process.”

Well, not exactly.

To “digg” a story, a user need only click once (after logging in) on the associated “digg it” button. But to vote against a story, a user has to click three times: once to open the “problem?” drop-down menu, once to select the problem, and then once on the JavaScript alert that pops up, indicating that the story has been “reported.” Reported? To whom? I thought this was a democratic process!

So, voting against a story requires three times the effort. No wonder so much crap makes the front page. If Digg would make it easier to vote against a story, using only a 1-click process, I predict things would get much better.

Thinking About Upgrades

Published on March 26, 2006

I’m beginning to spend more time thinking about how to upgrade my personal computer. As I have mentioned before, deciding what pieces of hardware to buy is frustratingly difficult, especially in today’s market. This time around, I’m trying to pay more attention to user reviews at sites like NewEgg, and less attention to the dedicated hardware “review” sites, which tend to consist of more previews than anything else.

I’m currently leaning towards getting the AMD Athlon 64 X2 4400+ CPU. I’m still trying to track down a good motherboard, and then I’ll have to pick some memory and, quite possible, a new power supply. Throw in a couple of new SATA hard drives (the Maxtor drives I have are real crap), and a new graphics card, and you’ve got a brand new system.

I’m probably going to end up spending a large chunk of change on this upgrade, but I think it will be worth it. Selling my current components on eBay should offset the cost somewhat. I’ve always done a good job of taking care of my stuff, and I tend to keep the boxes that components come in, so that should help increase the price I get by auctioning them off. Plus, I’m getting a performance bonus at the end of this month at work, and that can only help.

Were I to have my way, and were I to know exactly what I want, I’d order the components today. But seeing as this upgrade is going to be rather expensive, I’m resigned to waiting a bit. I’ll clearly have to put Amazon purchases and the like on hold for several months after I make this move. The old bank account can only handle so much spending.

Into Oblivion

Published on March 23, 2006

This looks so freaking awesome. And it seems to be getting really good reviews so far. I thoroughly enjoyed Morrowind (although the game had some annoying bugs), but I unfortunately never finished it. I lost my save games when I bought some new hard drives, and I didn’t feel like replaying 60 hours worth again (save early and often).

As I recently mentioned, I’ve been hungering for a new game to play. I don’t even recall what I bought last, and I’ve been replaying through Half-Life 2 recently; for what must be the seventh or eighth time (and it’s still a blast). Something like Oblivion will keep me hooked for hours (nearly 200 hours according to some reports), which has me very excited. Hopefully my machine can handle it. This game is apparently quite the resource hog.

An Amazon Junkie

Published on March 22, 2006

It’s official: I’m an Amazon junkie. Perhaps their Prime service has spoiled me. Or perhaps it’s their incredible product selection. Regardless, last night I did something I’ve never done before online: I made an impulse purchase.

The latest Cingular Wireless ad was on television (I was watching Boston Legal with my mom), and I wondered who sang the song that they were playing. I knew it sounded a lot like Genesis, but I wasn’t sure. A quick Google search for the lyrics and a subsequent trip to Wikipedia answered my question and pointed me to the first Peter Gabriel album (the song is Solsbury Hill). So I went to Amazon, took one look, and bought the album (along with a few other items I’ve had my eye on). Is that crazy or what?

Comments Disabled

Project Status

Published on March 18, 2006

I have several projects cooking at the moment, and the following is a brief rundown on where I’m at with each:

Googlebar Lite 4.0
The new search history system is working like a charm and is now feature complete. I am currently wrestling with whether or not I should include a fix for the highlighting system (disabling highlighting within input fields). Unfortunately, implementing this fix has been a challenge and I have yet to find an appealing solution. Some general code cleanup still needs to take place (a number of old search history code will be removed), and the “Paste and Search” feature needs to get turned back on. If I decide not to work on the highlighting fix, this might be available in a couple of weeks. Otherwise, it’ll be somewhat longer.

Toolbar Tutorial Updates
I have two more chapters to complete in the Firefox 1.5 toolbar tutorial. It was my hope to get that done this weekend, but it’s looking more and more like that might not happen. Once the tutorial is done, I’ll begin considering how to phase out the older 1.0.x version.

Born Geek Redesign
My lack of artistic ability has been a real road block on this, but I’ve finally come up with a design that’s fresh, clean, and simple. I’m bound to tweak it further, but I think I’m ready to port the design over to my localhost website replica. Once I see the design imposed on every page, I can get a better feel for how things need to be tweaked (and whether the design as a whole works or not). I’m estimating another three or four weeks on this one.

Miscellaneous Stuff
Currently on the back burner are two more Firefox tutorials: advanced toolbars and a guide on profiles. Both are merely sparks of imagination at this point, but perhaps I can get something started in the next month or so. One day I’d also like to get around to updating my wallpaper application (Paper Plus). There are several needed features that I’ve been too lazy to implement.

Half-Life: Lore and More

Published on March 15, 2006

I recently purchased a copy of Half-Life 2: Raising the Bar from my favorite online retail outlet, Amazon. The book takes a behind-the-scenes look at the artistic development of the game, including a number of things that were cut from the final product. At 288 pages, it provides a great glimpse of the game-making process, especially as far as art direction is concerned. I’ve only read a tiny fraction of the book, but so far it’s been enjoyable … a highly recommended read.

In the online world, Garry’s Mod for Half-Life 2 has resulted in some great online comics. My favorite is without a doubt Concerned, a strip that follows the “Half-Life and Death of Gordon Frohman.” The writing is excellent, the visuals are top-notch, and the entire strip is hilarious. You have to start from the beginning to fully appreciate the strip. Anyone who has played the game will certainly get a kick out of it. New comics are posted every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. As such, I’ve added it to my weekly online funnies list (which includes the likes of Ctrl+Alt+Del, Penny Arcade!, and The Joy of Tech). Some other good Half-Life related strips can be found at PHW Online. It’s great to see such clever use of gaming technology.

Zeldman Transforms

Published on March 9, 2006

My daily web surfing routine offered up quite a surprise today: Jeffrey Zeldman has switched to using WordPress. Yes … you read that right.

Over 11 years of hand-coding are done. Finished. Kaput. Jeffrey is the guy who turned me on to web standards (something I now swear by), thanks to that tome of enlightenment that he so lovingly authored: Designing With Web Standards. I read his advice; hung on his every word. And now I practice what the book preaches.

Dare I now convert Born Geek? For you see, I too still code by hand. It delights me, just as it delighted Mr. Zeldman. Being able to wield the elements of HTML, and then commanding them to do your bidding through CSS, is empowering to say the least. But that empowerment doesn’t come cheap.

What great food for thought.

Those Redesign Blues

Published on March 8, 2006

It’s high time that Born Geek had a facelift, so I’m in the process of brainstorming, sketching, and Photoshopping site layout ideas. Unfortunately, my lack of artistic ability hinders what little creativity I have. Fortunately, there are several incredible sources of inspiration on the web:

My current dilemma: fixed or fluid width? The current incarnation of the site is fluid (in the sense that increasing text size increases the site’s width). Accessibility is improved with such designs … but the actual designing step is that much harder. Getting things to look nice at all scale factors is quite a trick.

Too often I just jump into the code and play around until I have something I like. This time around, however, I plan on doing things a little more formally; namely, creating a design in Photoshop before I even write the first bits of code. Not only will that help me visualize the layout better in a shorter amount of time, but it also gives me a chance to play with Photoshop CS2. My target window for the redesign is sometime within the next 60 days.

Adobe Photoshop CS2

Published on March 6, 2006

Because the next release of Googlebar Lite will be fairly substantial, I’ve been working on refreshing its icons. The button sheet I use is a 24-bit PNG image, making heavy use of transparency. And unfortunately, my copy of Adobe Photoshop 5.5 has weak support of the PNG format (i.e. transparency doesn’t work at all).

I gave the Windows version of GimpShop a try over the weekend, and I hated every minute of it. Can you believe that you actually have to run a batch file to enable the Photoshop keyboard shortcuts? Shouldn’t that be the default? I mean, the entire goal is to mimic Photoshop in every way possible! The sucky GTK interface doesn’t help either. Needless to say, I quickly ditched this wretch of a program.

I then found out that Adobe has a 30-day trial of Photoshop CS2, their latest installment in the Photoshop line. So I naturally gave it a shot. I couldn’t be happier.

The retail price of $650 is clearly ridiculous. But I am virtually sold on the product. I still have a substantial amount of time in the trial period to play around with it, and I intend to do so; several things warrant my exploration. For example, the text tool is way different than in 5.5, and I still don’t quite understand how to use it. There are also a number of fun tools that weren’t even in 5.5: stuff like the healing tool, ability to control multiple layers at once, and more. It’s all quite exciting, and I look forward to some experimentation.

PNG support in CS2 is phenomenal. As a result, the upcoming Googlebar Lite icons should be fairly pleasant (there is way less aliasing this time around – oh, and most of the icons will be brand new). I also really like the updated user interface. It’s much easier on the eyes, and things seem to be a little easier to locate.

All in all, I think this is a program destined for my hard drive. I’m simply too impressed with the demos I see on the Adobe website, and the trial speaks for itself. If you hear a scream in the next 28 days or so, that will be my wallet crying for mercy. You should ignore it; I know I will.

Toolbars and More

Published on March 4, 2006

Chapter 3 of my toolbar tutorial for Firefox 1.5 has been posted. A brand new chapter not available in the previous tutorial should hopefully appear before the weekend is out (so stay tuned).

I’ve been working a little bit on Googlebar Lite 4.0 this weekend, and I’m quite pleased so far with how things are turning out. Autocompletion is working wonderfully (even inline completion), and the search history can now be completely disabled for those who don’t want that feature. Brand new icons are planned for the new release, giving the toolbar a much needed facelift. I’m quite close to switching to the 4.0 alpha as my permanent install (I’m still using 3.3 at the moment), and that’s a very good development sign. Hopefully it won’t be too much longer before I can do a public beta test…

A Sign of the Times?

Published on March 2, 2006

The LA Times is reporting that Google is slowly switching to AMD-based processor solutions for their 200,000+ (!) servers. This is a most interesting report, especially since Intel has owned the vast majority of processor market share for so long. Could AMD be the David to Intel’s Goliath?

On a completely unrelated note, I’ve about decided to put off upgrading my personal computer. Not only does convoluted hardware make it hard to find what to buy, but things change so quickly (especially as far as prices are concerned). Instead of upgrading little bits now, I’m planning on building a completely new rig from scratch later this year (with any luck). Although I don’t have any details in place, I do have these general milestones I want to hit:

  • AMD dual-core processor (most likely)
  • No less than 2 GB of memory
  • PCI-Express based graphics card (an NVIDIA based solution, no doubt)
  • Seagate SATA hard drives (SCSI seems a little too expensive)
  • Perhaps a beefier power supply (~500 W)

Waiting a while will allow me to (a) save some money up and (b) allow prices on today’s hot hardware to fall. I generally like buying stuff one generation back from the bleeding edge. You seem to get the most bang for your buck that way.

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