Posts Tagged "software"

King Features Comics Feeds

Published on October 6, 2018

Since I no longer subscribe to my local newspaper, I now primarily read daily comic strips through RSS feeds. comicsrss.com carries the vast majority of the strips I read, but several key strips are not included. It turns out that these missing strips are all owned by King Features which, frustratingly, doesn’t provide RSS feeds to their strips.

I have now fixed that.

My new project, comics-rss, is now available for users interested in creating RSS feeds to the comic strips provided by King Features. The project is admittedly brittle at the moment, but it has worked well for me so far. A number of improvements are planned:

  1. The script currently caches the comic strips locally, linking to the cached copy. I’d like to provide an option to use direct links instead, skipping the cache altogether.
  2. Cached strips are not currently cleaned up, so the folder into which they are stored will grow each day. I’ll be adding an “expired” configuration option to clean things up.
  3. Error checking in the configuration file isn’t very robust, and needs to be improved.

I would be interested in any feedback you might have on this project. If you find bugs or have suggestions for improvement, be sure to file them on the project issues board.

High Contrast Mouse Pointer

Published on February 19, 2018

As I age, my vision is getting worse (and it’s already pretty bad). At work, I use a three monitor setup: my laptop is the middle screen, and two external monitors sit to either side. Given the large screen real estate, and given my increasingly bad eyesight, I’ve been having a tough time finding my mouse pointer. Windows has an option to show the location of the mouse pointer when you press the Ctrl key, but that has limited usefulness (though I do use it from time to time).

I recently stumbled upon a neat feature in Windows 10 that has helped me tremendously. There are several mouse-specific features in the Ease of Access section of the Windows settings. The pointer size can be adjusted (which is helpful to a degree), but the most helpful feature is the Pointer Color setting. There’s an option to adjust the pointer color based on whatever color is beneath it. It took a little getting used to, but I can now find the mouse pointer a lot easier than I could before.

Monkey Album 2.0

Published on November 18, 2016

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been diligently working on rewriting the software that powers my photography site. Today, the new version has officially launched! This rewrite is mostly a bunch of back-end changes to make my life a lot easier, but it also includes some front-end changes as well. Here’s what’s new from a technical perspective:

  • The site is now served over SSL thanks to DreamHost and the Let’s Encrypt program. Security boost for the win!
  • Collections have been replaced with Tags. I’m in the process of tagging things more carefully than they were previously.
  • The site now uses HTML 5.
  • The site is now powered by Python instead of PHP. I’m using the Django framework, which I’ve really come to enjoy. As a result, the number of lines of code have been drastically reduced (the project is nearly 50% smaller!).

As is typical when I launch stuff like this, there are still a few known issues:

  • The site doesn’t yet render like I want it to on mobile devices
  • Swipe support for navigation isn’t yet in place
  • The RSS feed doesn’t work (I simply forgot to implement it) This has been fixed!

I’m sure there are probably bugs lurking here and there. Let me know if you encounter any.

Fixing the Thinkpad Hot-key On-Screen Display

Published on April 6, 2015

Lenovo Thinkpads have an on-screen display for various hot-keys. For example, when you change the monitor brightness, or the volume level, an on-screen overlay will display showing the current brightness level or volume level, respectively. Twice, I have received laptops from Lenovo that have this software installed, but the on-screen display never appears. Frustrated by this bug, I used the Dependency Walker to troubleshoot this problem a while back, and subsequently found the solution.

Simply install the Visual Studio 2010 C++ redistributable, available from Microsoft (make sure to install the x86 version, even on a 64-bit system; the on-screen display application is a 32-bit process). Once this package is installed, and the laptop rebooted, the problem should go away.

Setting the Time Zone in GitLab

Published on February 27, 2015

GitLab defaults its time zone to UTC, which may not be what you want. Thankfully, you can update the value directly from your gitlab.rb file. Here’s the relevant line:

gitlab_rails['time_zone'] = 'America/New_York'

Once you’ve added the field, simply reconfigure and restart:

sudo gitlab-ctl reconfigure
sudo gitlab-ctl restart

A list of all the available timezones is available on Wikipedia.

Firefox Extension Utilities

Published on April 28, 2014

I have created a GitHub repo storing several Firefox extension utility scripts that I wrote. Here’s the rundown on what this repository contains:

compareLocales.pl
Compares all of the locales it finds against a “master” locale (`en-US` by default) and reports the number of exact duplicate entries for each. This is useful for figuring out which locales have not been updated.
entityToProperty.pl
Converts a given list of locale entities into corresponding properties. Handy for migrating existing entity localizations into a `.properties` file.
removeLocaleEntries.pl
This script removes a given list of entries from all of the locale folders it finds in the current working directory and below. Useful for cleaning up strings that are no longer needed.

Hopefully others will find these scripts to be useful. I hope to add additional scripts to this repository over time.

Fixing Location Services in Android

Published on November 5, 2012

I have a Samsung Galaxy Tab 7.0 Plus running the Ice Cream Sandwich version (4.0.4) of Android. For some unexplained reason, the location services feature stopped working a few months ago, but only for what seemed like a few applications. Google Plus no longer knew my location, Radar Now no longer knew it, and the stock web browser was also clueless. Google Maps, on the other hand, knew right where I was. Since I use the tablet in the house, GPS isn’t much help. I frustratingly was unable to fix things, until today, when I stumbled on a solution. Here’s how I did it:

  1. I opened up Settings » Location services and unchecked the Location and Google search option
  2. I rebooted my device
  3. Back in Settings » Location services, I rechecked the Location and Google search option
  4. I then toggled the Use wireless networks option, and answered a prompt that appeared about using my network location in third-party apps (or something similar; I don’t have the exact message in front of me).
  5. Success!

Using GPS to lock in on my position worked outside, but that alone didn’t seem to set things right. Disabling the above option, rebooting, and then re-enabling it seemed to do the trick. Hopefully this will help anyone else who might have a similar problem.

Installing iTunes Without the Bloat

Published on October 25, 2012

I went looking for how to install iTunes recently without the bloat (because I remember seeing an article about doing just that a while back), and though I found the article, it had apparently moved from its original location. As such, I’m going to note down the steps here in case said article ever disappears. The following is intended for use on a Windows 7 64-bit system, but I think these steps should work in general. It’s also intended for using an iPod classic, which is the only Apple device I care to use (though these instructions also work with the nano, mini, and shuffle variants).

  1. Download the iTunes installer
  2. Unpack the installer using something like IZArc
  3. Run the installers, using the given commands, in the following order:
    • AppleApplicationSupport.msi /passive
    • Quicktime.msi /passive (if this installer is present)
    • iTunes64.msi /passive

Access Denied in PuTTY 0.61

Published on August 23, 2011

Update: This problem has been fixed in PuTTY 0.62.

Back at the beginning of last month, PuTTY 0.61 was released after four years (!) of development. Since upgrading to this new release, I’ve noticed the occasional “Access Denied” message when connecting to certain Linux systems at work. The odd thing about this message is that it appears between the user ID prompt and the password prompt; in essence, before I even get the chance to log in! Example output looks something like this:

login as: root
Access denied
root@myserver's password:

Making things stranger, I can enter the correct password and log in to the system with no problems. As I found out from a commenter on another blog, it turns out this message is due to a new feature in PuTTY 0.61. To prevent this message from appearing, do the following:

  1. Drill down into the Connection » SSH » Auth » GSSAPI section of your session’s configuration
  2. Uncheck the Attempt GSSAPI authentication (SSH-2 only) option

The phantom access denied message should then go away.

Improvements in PhotoMerge

Published on October 12, 2010

I recently updated to Photoshop CS5 on my home computer, and I wanted to briefly share how particularly impressed I am with the new capabilities of their PhotoMerge process. The old PhotoMerge was a hassle to work with, and tended to screw up panoramas in weird ways. Getting the perspective right was usually a guess and check affair. Happily, the new system blows the old one out of the water.

Here’s are two examples to compare the systems:

The results with the new system are much better, and more in line with tools like Microsoft Research’s Image Composite Editor. I will be going through my panorama collection over the coming days and updating them as necessary, cleaning them up where needed. I’m looking forward to producing better panoramas in the future with this help of this great tool.

Early Thoughts on Windows 7

Published on June 21, 2010

On Friday afternoon, I finally upgraded my home system to Windows 7. Windows XP was feeling dated, and my old system had slowed to a crawl for unexplained reasons. I also figured it was time to upgrade to a 64-bit OS, so that’s the version of 7 that I installed. Here are a few brief thoughts I’ve had on this new operating system:

New Task Bar
Interestingly enough, the steepest learning curve I’ve had with Windows 7 has been with the new task bar. I’m quite used to XP’s task bar, complete with the quick launch toolbar. The new task bar in Windows 7 rolls these two toolbars into one; essentially combining currently running applications with ‘pinned’ applications. Also, by default, only program icons are displayed; none of the window titles are shown as a part of each process’ button. This new scheme is a little confusing at first, but I’m becoming accustomed to it.
Updated Start Menu
Microsoft finally got smart with the new start menu. No longer does it stretch to the top of the screen when you have a million applications installed. Instead, the “All Programs” menu simply transforms into a scrollable pane, showing the items available. This is a terrific UI change that should have been done at least 10 years ago.
Improved Speed
In the midst of going to Windows 7, I also made several hardware improvements. I upped my memory from 2 GB to 4 GB (I may go to 8 GB if 4 doesn’t suffice), I am using a new brand of hard drive (Western Digital, instead of Seagate), and I added a new CPU heat sink. Since I updated a few hardware components, I’m not sure what really made the difference, but most of my applications now start noticeably faster than before. For example, iTunes starts nearly instantly, which blows the previous 15 to 20 second startup time out of the water. Games also start way faster, which is a plus. I love getting performance boosts like this; hopefully they will hold up over time.
Miscellaneous
There are other minor things that I find interesting about the Windows 7 experience:

  • Installation was amazingly fast, and I was only asked one or two questions.
  • Drivers thankfully haven’t been an issue (so far).
  • The built-in zip file support has apparently been vastly improved; it’s orders of magnitude faster than XP. I’m not sure I’m going to install WinZip seeing as the built-in support is so good.
  • The new virtualized volume control is epic; why wasn’t it like this all along?

So far, I’m pleasantly surprised with Windows 7. Some of the new UI takes getting used to, but this looks like a positive step forward; both for Microsoft and for my home setup.

MSE Saves the Day

Published on January 26, 2010

Last night, while surfing around for some medical information, one of the sites I stumbled upon through Google’s search results tried to install a Trojan on my computer! This was surprising, seeing as I was using Firefox 3.6 with AdBlock turned on. Thankfully, Microsoft Security Essentials saved the day, alerting me to the fact that a nefarious application was trying to install itself. The tool caught the incursion, alerted me, and successfully removed it from my system. I then did a full scan and it found no other problems.

I’ve read that drive-by attacks like this are becoming more common, but until now I hadn’t ever been affected. Several of my plug-ins were outdated, so I updated them, though I’m not certain any of them were involved in this attack (Java never loaded, and there was no embedded media on the site).

That being said, make sure to surf with protection; there’s some nasty stuff out there.

Quitting Symantec

Published on December 2, 2009

For a long, long time now, I’ve run the Symantec anti-virus program (corporate edition) on my home desktop computer. I got the original binary from college and I’ve kept it ever since, undoubtedly breaking the license agreement in the process. Over the Thanksgiving holiday, however, I ditched the bloated, slow Symantec mess for the newer, freely available Microsoft Security Essentials (MSE). Having read good things about the product, I figured I’d give it a try.

So far, so good. Boot times are noticeably faster, which is a big plus in my book. With Symantec, my boot times had become horrible; it would literally take 2 or 3 minutes for the machine to become usable. Now, it’s ready in about a minute or a minute and a half (still too long, in my opinion; maybe Windows 7 will fix that). MSE is also quite easy to use. The interface is intuitive, and updating happens auto-magically, with no need to schedule updates. Performing a quick scan took a little while, but seemed to run faster than Symantec did. To top it all off, the MSE memory footprint is much smaller, though it’s still one of the larger memory using apps on my system.

What do you guys use for anti-virus solutions? I’m pleased that Microsoft is offering a quality solution to this problem. And the price couldn’t be better.

Microsoft’s Big Day

Published on October 22, 2009

Today is the big day for Windows 7: release day! I’m thinking about picking up a copy of the new OS at some point in the near future for my gaming machine at home, though I’ll probably wait until the price drops. Is anyone here going to upgrade?

I saw in the news recently that Windows 7 has eclipsed Harry Potter for the number of pre-orders on Amazon UK. That’s saying something, seeing as Harry Potter is wildly popular over in Great Britain. I’m looking forward to giving this new OS a shot. It’s definitely time for something new (XP is feeling increasingly old and clunky).

Two Lotus Notes 8 Tips

Published on September 15, 2009

At work, we are being forced to Lotus Notes 8 by the end of the year. I recently rebuilt my laptop, and performed this upgrade at the same time. Since doing this, I’ve learned a few things that I thought I would share, seeing as Lotus Notes documentation on the web is very poor.

Tip 1: What to Copy During Upgrade

Apparently, copying your data file from one Notes installation to another isn’t a good idea (more specifically, when changing Notes versions). However, there are a few things worth migrating so you don’t lose all of your previous data. Here’s a short list of things I found worth copying:

  • bookmark.nsf
  • desktop6.ndk
  • {USERNAME}.ID (where USERNAME is your user ID)
  • names.nsf
  • user.dic
  • archive/*.nsf
  • mail1/*.nsf

There are other files worth copying, so I hear, but these were the only ones I cared about.

Tip 2: Removing the MS Office Toolbar

One of the more annoying features of Lotus Notes 8 is a new “Office Add-in” that will appear in all of your Microsoft Office applications. It’s a small toolbar containing three icons and, if you turn it off, it will reappear. You cannot uninstall this feature, but happily, you can disable it. Here’s how:

  1. Open a command prompt.
  2. Change to the \notes\framework\brokerbridge directory.
  3. Issue the following command: regsvr32 /u officeaddin.dll

This will deregister the plugin DLL, preventing the toolbar from showing up in your Office applications.

Replacing GFS

Published on August 14, 2009

The Register recently had an an interesting article on GFS2: the replacement for the Google File System. It offers insight on the problems Google is facing with the aging GFS. In today’s world of video streaming, GMail account checking, and more, the GFS model doesn’t hold up as it once did. According to the article, the new Caffeine search engine that Google is rolling out supposedly uses this new back end, resulting in faster search results. It should be interesting to see what other benefits come our way as Google tinkers with their engine.

Future Upgrades

Published on July 29, 2009

I’ve recently been thinking about upgrading the operating system on my desktop computer at home. More specifically, I’ve been tossing around the idea of upgrading to the 64-bit variant of Windows 7. Windows XP has been a decent operating system, but it’s definitely feeling its age. Seeing as Windows 7 is being targeted for release on October 22, which is now less than 3 months away, I figured now is a good time to think about how I would upgrade.

Moving to a 64-bit OS would allow me to expand the amount of installed memory in my system. At a minimum, I would go to 4 GB installed, especially since Microsoft recommends at least 2 GB for the 64-bit flavor. To be safe, I think I might also buy some new hard drives and install the OS on those (keeping my current setup intact).

At $199 (for the full Home Premium version; $119 for an upgrade, which I have yet to read about), it seems quite an investment. Has anyone else thought about upgrading to Windows 7? Or is anyone currently running a 64-bit OS? If so, what are your thoughts?

The JavaScript Arms Race

Published on July 10, 2009

It seems like every web browser these days is spending an enormous amount of time and development effort on JavaScript performance. Whether it’s the new TraceMonkey engine in Firefox 3.5, the V8 engine in Google Chrome, or the upcoming SquirrelFish engine in WebKit browsers, everyone claims (to some degree) superiority in this arms race. All of this raises two questions in my mind.

1. How important is JavaScript performance?
Are JavaScript applications really that slow? I’ll admit that the new Firefox 3.5 browser feels snappier on sites like GMail and Netflix, but said sites never felt that slow before. Why are developers spending so much time optimizing something that not everyone uses? Admittedly, JavaScript usage is going up (especially with the Web 2.0 craze), but how much latency does JavaScript computing really account for in today’s world? I’m much more concerned about data transfer; that’s the bottleneck I see. Broadband speeds here in the United States are ridiculously slow, compared to other parts of the world. Shouldn’t we all focus on ways to improve that? Yes, I know software developers have little control over that kind of infrastructure, but perhaps there are better protocols out there to get data to the end user in a more efficient manner.

2. Won’t improved JavaScript performance lead to poorer JavaScript programming?
As computers have gotten faster over the past two decades, and as memory sizes have increased, applications have become more bloated and (arguably) slower than before. I’m convinced that if programmers had retained the “every byte matters” mentality from the 1970s, 80s, and early 90s, applications would be leaner and meaner than they are today (especially in the realm of operating systems). Can’t the same thing be said for JavaScript programming? As JavaScript engines get faster, serious performance considerations during an application’s design phase might become less and less frequent. I’m of the opinion that high performance hardware can lead to sloppy programming. “Well, the application is good enough” is what the pointy-haired bosses of the world would say. Shouldn’t the application be the best it can be? Can’t one argue that “good enough” isn’t necessarily good enough?

I’ll be interested to see where this arms race takes us. What do you think?

Backup Strategies

Published on June 23, 2009

Recently, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about backup strategies for my data. I’m bad about not backing things up on a regular basis, and I’m hoping to change that. There are a number of routes one can take, and I’ve been looking at several.

The easiest solution is to backup data onto removable media (CD, DVD, or an external hard drive). This method is cheapest, but it also has some serious drawbacks. CDs and DVDs have relatively small data footprints, which means you have to use many discs to backup sizable data stores. Writable discs also don’t last forever. The most serious flaw with this strategy, however, is that the backups are not off site. If someone breaks in and steals my computer, they are almost certain to also take the external hard drive sitting next to it. The same can be said for a fire; if the machine burns, so does the hard drive.

A number of online services are available for doing data backup. Carbonite and Mozy are two of the bigger ones I’ve heard about. These services give you off site backups, but they too have drawbacks. Often, these services have software that runs all the time on your machine, incrementally backing up as you go (which may be something you don’t want). In some cases, you also have limited control over exactly what gets backed up. The services cost money, and you’re giving your data to a third party. And, with lousy broadband in the US, initial upload times for large data can be painfully slow.

What does everyone here do to backup their data? Can anyone recommend a service or strategy that works well for them?

Windows 7 is Shaping Up

Published on January 15, 2009

I never thought I’d get around to saying this (especially so early in its lifetime), but Windows 7 is really starting to appeal to me. Over the past few days, both Gizmodo and Lifehacker have been showcasing some of the cool new features. Several have caught my eye:

The New Taskbar
The new taskbar inside of Windows 7 looks great. Gone is the separation between the quick-launch menu and the standard list of task buttons. Instead, the two have been merged into one entity; very clever! However, I wonder what it’s like with a large number of icons. I’m a huge quick-launch user and couldn’t live without it. For instance, here on my laptop, I’ve got 28 icons at my disposal, with another 7 squirreled away in a sub-menu. The screenshots at the Gizmodo story only show the large icons in use. At those sizes, my taskbar would clearly take up a lot of screen real estate. Hopefully, the icon sizes are either settable via a preference or scale down on the fly.
20 New Themes
Windows 7 ships with a total of 20 themes, all of which look fantastic. This will be a welcome change from the 3 ugly themes in XP.
Problem Steps Recorder
Being able to create a web-based slideshow of a problem recreation scenario is awesome. My only fear is that, if it’s like any other web-based stuff Microsoft has done, the resulting HTML is bloated, ugly, inaccessible, and devoid of validation.
Improved File in Use Messages
Knowing exactly why a file is in use is totally rad. Why hasn’t anyone thought of this before?

Improved performance looks like it will be making its way to Windows 7, another great reason to look forward to the new OS. The sound virtualization introduced in Vista is a great feature, and one I wish existed in XP.

With all of these great new features, there are still a few things I’m apprehensive about. The graphical intensity of it all still seems ridiculous, especially the ‘Aero Peek’ feature, which feels like a cheap gimmick. I’m not a fan of the ribbon interfaces, simply because it’s an entirely new paradigm (I can work with menus just fine, thanks). And what of the new user security model introduced in Vista? Are the problems solved?

If Microsoft continues to head in their current direction, I’ll seriously consider upgrading once the OS is released. That’s a far cry from my opinions in the early Vista days.

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