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Technology Blog, by: David Monaghan.

Mozilla Keywords Out, YubNub Commands In.

Posted by David on April 18, 2006

On my search for the seemingly endless amounts of web applications I've found another service which changes the way I browse the internet, it is YubNub.org. At first YubNub looks like a somewhat humorous and friendly interface to Google and other utilities, but it becomes quickly obvious that YubNub really is exactly what it claims to be, "A social command line for the web." YubNub combines web searching with the Unix command line and gives users an open interface to add commands using a simple syntax with some advanced features.

One of the first interesting features I noticed was the ability to create commands which accept parameters. I'm also a big fan of the names used for two of the most useful commands on YubNub; ls (lists commands) and man (shows information about a command). Both of these commands take options just as you may expect, typing 'ls google' will list commands with Google in the name, description, or command source (URL). Using 'man g' returns the description for the 'g' command (Google search). Creating a command is very simple, the syntax is similar to Firefox's keyword syntax but also sports more fancy syntax to make commands much more powerful. If you're looking at creating a command check out 'if', 'ifThen', and 'foreach'. I should also mention that while 'ls' is great for finding a command, 'ge' is much better for discovering great commands.

Please go give YubNub a try, even if I have confused you with some of the more advanced features. I can't imagine there is a faster way to search and browse the web than this, and it's really not very hard to type 'g search term' rather than google.com. Even if you normally use a link/bookmark to pull up your search engine and just type the search term, remember that you're loading two pages when you could be loading one, besides that if your hands are on the keyboard why take them off? Currently when I want to search Google this is what I do;

Type: ctrl+k

Type: g search term

Hit enter key

That's all, the results are up for whichever search term I typed in. On another subject; If I see a result I want to pull up I hit the forward-slash key (/) and type the link text in until it's highlighted. Then I can enter and I'm there, hands never leaving the keyboard, much faster than using the mouse and loading a search page. On yet another subject; If I can think of a search term which I know will pull up the result I want as #1, I can use the goto command which performs an "I'm Feeling Lucky" search in Google (which simply loads the first result without showing the rest, can be tricky but it saves even more time).

Okay, let's egress from this digression… 😉

After a short while I realized that I needed an easy and quick way to access the YubNub site, but I already have a dashboard I like to use as my home page and don't care for opening more than one page when I start up (that's one more than I'm used to, and I may switch back soon.) The first solution I thought of was a keyword, simply enough one could be created and used but to type in a keyword to use a service that offers more keywords (commands) seems redundant, even if it's one character. So the best solution I've come up with so far is to replace the default path Firefox uses when entering a url that isn't a Mozilla keyword and isn't a real url (this is easy enough for any computer user to accomplish, put about:config in the address bar of firefox and hit go, then find keyword.url and double click to replace url with "http://yubnub.org/parser/parse?command=", quotes added for display purposes). With this quick edit of the Firefox config I can now access YubNub's power right from the url bar like it's built in. There's a better way than simply changing the default keyword url and I've finally seen the light. This has been available the entire time, I just never saw the benefit of using it until now. The best solution I can find now; Using a YubNub quicksearch (in Firefox), which is a small change for me, I'm used to using ctrl+l to access the url bar and I've gotten accustomed to this since using YubNub as the default keyword url but I've been dying for history and completion (at the very least for commands I've typed in). Now a simple ctrl+k brings me to a the one and only quicksearch I have installed, YubNub, and what I type gets saved in history for use later on. There's another problem I encountered when using YubNub as the default keyword url; The command \\ doesn't work, Firefox get's confused and in return I get an error message. Not being able to use even as little as one command is reason enough to switch, and I'm glad I finally did, I'll be happy to finally have history of my the commands I type in. Now if only I could get auto-completion for commands and options, this I would imagine is best suited for a Firefox extension.

If you're interested in using or already have been using YubNub and haven't already seen the Installing YubNub page I recommend you check it out. There's a long list of Firefox quicksearch plugins and more.
There's a wealth of commands, and anyone can add more. Had to get this out, I know most users won't understand let alone use this sort of service, although I could be wrong, even though it's not any more difficult to use than Google, the default behavior is to search Google. I really think this is a keyword killer for me, I've looked through the keyword list I have now and can't find anything I have that isn't already available, aliases can also be used if you've gotten used to a certain keyword as well although I'm not sure how that works with existing command names from another site which ties into YubNub nicely using the '!' command. I'm sure a few geeks out there are glad to see this, hope you're one of them.

I should mention that using YubNub as the default Firefox keyword.url does not override your keyword settings, keywords will still work, in fact they will override the default keyword.url if they exist (which might become a problem if you have a keyword which overrides a YubNub command).

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Posted in Techniques, Tools | Leave a Comment »

Ning.com, a Free Social Web Application Host.

Posted by David on April 15, 2006

You may have read about Ning recently on WebMonkey, if not I recommend you read it; What Is A Ning?

For those who haven't read the article, looked at Ning.com, or haven't heard about it elsewhere, Ning.com is a web service which allows anyone to create, copy, and host web applications on the Ning framework. The Ning framework consists of a web server, MySQL, PHP, many PEAR modules, the Ning Content Store, the Ning PHP API and the Ning PHP Components API. Included in the Ning API's are some nice time savers like bloging, comments, tags, and more interestingly hooks into external APIs like Flickr's, Google Map's, etc. The title of this article suggests that Ning is free and it is but, the free service offers 1GB of public content and 100MB of private content for free, the source code of a freely hosted Ning application is public and released under an open source license allowing other users of Ning to use it indefinitely. Google AdSense advertisements are places on all free applications as well though currently they are allowing users to customize their ads and aren't running any at all by default. Alternatively subscriptions can be purchased to enable various features like custom or no ads, private source code, and more storage. If you ask me this is a really nice service model and is more than accommodating to free users and paid members alike, I'm working on a couple of free apps right now, one I copied and one I started from 'scratch' (if you feel comfortable calling it that).

So what can you do with Ning? First let me address those who aren't PHP literate; You don't have to code to use Ning. To say Ning is a free social web application host could mean a few things, what I intend to describe is a free social web application which allows users to host their own web applications (social or not). What makes Ning a social web application is the way they allow sharing of source code between users of the service, any Ning member can literally copy a web application to their account essentially allowing them to host (and modify) it. Now I'll address you developers out there; The control is yours, make that new MySpace, Blogger, Digg, del.icio.us, Flickr, and add those features they ignored in your emails (I don't personally hold any grudge against the named companies more than any other, they just appear as I thought of them, I have emailed these companies and many more like them with feature requests/bug fixes; I mean less to single them out than I do to use them as examples). The Ning.com site has a built in file browser and text editor which works just fine but I prefer to use my local GVim which Ning let's me do via SFTP (so any other IDE capable of using SFTP can be used as well).

I just started using Ning last weekend and haven't spent much time evaluating it so I apologize for the lack of information about the service and the company behind it. If you are wondering if this article is part of the 'Long List of Web Applications' series, yes and no. I plan on editing this and a couple other articles for use in that subject but first I have to create catagories (which is waiting on a solid function list) and retrieve more information. Be sure to check out Ning.com (http://ning.com) in the mean time.

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The Long List of Web Applications

Posted by David on April 11, 2006

Welcome to the beginning of many articles focusing on web applications where I, David Monaghan, will be contributing reviews of these applications to this blog by following the guidelines discussed later. First I will explain my plan on how to present this information as well as my reason for doing so.

This article is still under construction and will be the focus of my work on this blog until it is refined to my satisfaction, at which point I will move on to reviewing the applications. Each application review will be presented on an individual article and will be categorized on this blog in the categories which match the functions it provides. In the next few paragraphs I will explain my reasons for starting this project. Obviously if you're interested only in the information you're more than welcome to skip ahead to the next section, 'Global Web Application Information'.

I've been a professional user and a hobbyist developer until recently, I started with web development and every time I try to escape I am led back here. Now that I'm finally taking the time to really develop a web application there are a ton of other people doing exactly the same thing. It's not that five years ago there weren't many new web-apps being developed and released but nothing compares to what's going on these days. Often one of the first things to be identified when starting a business is a function; This is best determined by viewing the current market and identifying demands which aren't being met. This series of articles is the beginning to my solution to the question, "Which demands are being made on web applications which aren't being met?" I am going to identify these demands being made by myself and those around me by looking at current software (web or otherwise) and common functions which we collectively use. Rather than identifying a particular application as a solution I prefer to see functions being provided by them and the abilities of the applications regarding these functions. By first identifying these functions and how they can be implimented I should find a very fine set which is easier to translate to real world usage rather than remaining focused on an application as it's used or viewed alone or as a piece of software in one genre of other solutions. As the information is added I believe patterns will emerge of covered and uncovered functions which can be used to asses the current market of web software and which pieces are missing.

I've been keeping my eye on web applications for a while now, it's always been obvious to me that the easiest way to develop a cross platform and rich application is via web technologies. Linux, Apache, MySQL, HTML, XML, CSS, JavaScript, PHP, Perl, and Ruby. All free. These technologies make up the vast majority of web applications on the internet today, I started learning HTML and was referred to the rest when teaching myself to build and publish web applications and it's become apparent that not only is the web the easiest way but it is the best way. Many developers are seeing the same things I am, there is a flood of services and companies using various business models to offer free and rich applications to the masses, and the users are starting to trickle in already despite the fact that hardly any of these services is out of testing stages of development. Many of the business models revolve around a system parallel with Flickr; A full and free service which attracts users and offers more professional services available for a fee. This seems to be working well for these start ups in many different ways, Flickr as most know was purchased by Yahoo! but what is really amazing is those services which seem to have little concern over making money, however this is a false perception, these types of start ups are (if popular) often seeded by investors or bought by giants, e.g. Digg and del.icio.us, this offers a sort of high-risk incentive to start-ups who have little capital but lot's of knowledge and enough time to design, create, and publish (host) something which is highly useful.

With all of these changes I've found it hard to catch up with the mass, there are plenty of great ways to find services like this but it takes a lot of time to also research the applications once they have been identified and located. Then comes in 'The Long List of Web Applications', this series of articles is my solution to this dilemma, for myself and those who may be on the same adventure or who may just be looking for a good solution to problem X. A good list of the services needs to be created and organized and should include thorough reviews which examine a standard set of elements among certain groups of applications. I thought of trying to organize such a list into categories on one page but soon realized that many of the services wouldn't be able to be categorized into only one section and I didn't want to list any one service more than once (I hate needless repetition). The solution to this will be to document how this information will be collected and categorized, categories will be created on this blog to contain individual posts which will represent one service. These posts will be placed in the categories matching the functions of the application (thank God WordPress.com allows multiple categories) so that browsing them may be as simple as possible.

Global Web Application Information

As you should now understand this document doesn't contain a list of the web applications which have been or are being reviewed, the application reviews will each be contained on individual pages. What this document does list is the standard set of elements which should be included in the review of every application without getting into details relating to specific functions, that will be covered later.

  • Application Name
  • URI
  • Company Name
  • Company Birth Date
  • Privacy Policy (Light Version)
  • Terms of Service (Light version)
  • Licenses Used (for Service and Pontent Provided by Users)
  • Version History (with Changelogs)
  • Business/Service Model
  • Costs
  • Server Technology
  • Application Framework
  • Application Language(s)
  • Internal Data Formats (Security)
  • Import/Export Data Formats
  • Average Bandwidth
    • CPU
    • Memory
    • Hard Drive
    • Network
  • User Interfaces (Screenshots)

For applications which are hosted on the web there are some different aspects which should be noted;

  • Hosting Solution(s)
  • Geographic Location of Server(s)
  • Average Downtime
  • Advertising

While this list contains everything which should be documented for every web application, it doesn't contain everything which should be documented for individual web applications. Before we discuss more information about specific applications we need to identify types of applications and organize them accordingly, this can prove to be difficult. Luckily we can use a system which is fairly open in organizing content in that WordPress allows blog posts to be contained in one or more categories defined by the blog's administrator. Because when looking for a web application a user most often has a function or a set of functions in mind I've decided to organize these tools by their function. Once these functions have been identified and organized a category will be created to represent each function. The first post under each category will provide the information which guides the reviews of software with the function corresponding to the category, after of course a definition of the function.

Application Functions

On to defining the functions, which again define the categories. This list is a work in progress which I personally started months ago and have slowly worked on, it was designed to account for all pieces of software a computer could have installed on it's hard drive but it is now being extended to identify the demands of today's computer user(s).

You may wonder at first why some of these functions listed don't seem like they should be provided by web applications, you also may notice that this list doesn't seem to reflect the actual software types available today. Surely there are at least a few of these functions which can't actually be performed on a remote machine (oh imagine the horror if this wasn't the case), however web applications might provide a function which is somehow related to this function and might provide it for the server it runs on but has a web interface. Also you should know; This list is my dream of the future of software, in this dream there are well thought out services which perform a very limited set of functions with one focus in mind; "To be infinite in nature." Translation: Easy access, no limits, standards compliance, and integration with other software whenever possible. Many applications today have elements which are locked down to a small scope of information associated to the function provided, my biggest complaint recently has been over contact organizer software. I feel that I should be able to keep information for my contacts for at least the following; Birthday, baptism, wedding, child birth, and death. Not one piece of software I have used will keep track of all of this (in a user friendly way), and I have many more things that I would like to keep like; Graduation, election, promotion, retirement, etc. Let's not forget that some people don't have just one wedding, one child birth, one anything, if I want to keep two death dates why shouldn't I be able to? Someone out there has died twice I know it, and if I knew someone who did I would want to keep track of it in my handy software (when was it Jimmy died the first time anyway?)

My idea of this perfect set of functions which software should provide makes up the contents of this list, however far from reality it may be. I'm not trying to imply that one piece of software should provide each of these functions, in some cases I feel software suites, bundles, or "multi-function" applications are actually the best solution. Note: I tried to rate the list of functions by importance but don't quote me please…

  • BIOS
  • Filesystem
  • BootLoader
  • OS
  • Command Prompt
  • Programming Language
  • API
  • SDK
  • IDE
  • Host (Service, Server, etc.)
  • Network
  • Browser
    • Local
    • Network
  • Firewall
  • Anti-virus
  • Spy-ware/Ad-ware/Mal-ware Detection & Removal
  • Backup
  • Performance/Analyze
  • User
  • Calculator
  • Media
    • Text Viewer
    • Image Viewer
    • Audio Player
    • Video Player
    • Text Editor
    • Image Editor
    • Audio Editor
    • Video Editor
    • Text Creator
    • Image Creator
    • Audio Creator
    • Video Creator
    • Drafting
    • Model
    • Animate
    • Index
  • Messaging/Communication
    • Text
      • Snail Mail
      • EMail & Mailing List
      • RSS
    • Auido
    • Video
    • Newsgroup
    • Forum
  • Encyclopedia
  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
  • Translator
  • Spreadsheet
  • Presentation
  • Asset
  • Process
  • Project
  • Contact
  • Calendar
  • Search
  • Syndicate
  • Aggregate
  • Dashboard
  • List
  • Map
  • Route
  • Track
  • Shop
  • Auction
  • Stream
  • Publish
  • Bookmark (Placemark)
  • Journal
  • Forum
  • Catalog
  • Comment
  • Rank
  • Proxy
  • Cache
  • Voice to Digital Text
  • Digital Text to Voice
  • Analog Text to Digital Text

Have I Heard of, Have I Seen, Have I Tried…?

I'd be glad to get input regarding not only the function list but also the list I'm not making of web applications, I have already seen a good amount of them but know there are probably twice as many or more that I haven't. I'm currently using Del.icio.us and Ma.gnolia to keep track of these applications, here are the links;

Those I've used: Ma.gnolia, Delicious.

Those I've seen: Ma.gnolia, Delicious.

Those I've heard of: Ma.gnolia, Delicious.

If you're looking for one big list you can have it, the previous three we're generated by pulling up my bookmarks using the webapps tag and a tag set I devised to organize them (iveused, iveseen, iveheardof). I have also tagged some of them with keywords describing the service but need to do more of that.

See all of the webapps I have bookmarked; Ma.gnolia, Delicious.

Please give me your feedback, I'm working on this a lot in the background and have been anxious to know what everyone thinks of this project. I've actually been thinking about changing the scope of these articles from web applications to just applications or to technology in general. Please let me know what you think about a scope change, the list of web applications, the idea in general, or just the direction of this blog. You can reach me, as usual, at monaghan.david@gmail.com.

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Netvibes.com updates make for home page bliss.

Posted by David on April 9, 2006

Since the last time I’ve looked around at the various dashboard applications I have accounts with, Netvibes.com has apparently added some new features that have bumped it up to the top of my list, moving Google’s Personalized Home down to number two for the time being.

The two features which were added; Tabs and Authentication. Now I have an entire tab dedicated to various feeds served up by RememberTheMilk.com, most of which are password protected.

Besides any new features Netvibes has always had a superior interface, an integrated feed reader, podcast player, and shading of widget windows.

I’m not sure if this is new but Netvibes grabs the favicon for each of the feeds, very nice. Another new feature that appears to have come with tags is icons for tags. Thanks to this nice interface I can finally load up with more feeds without worry of scrolling through pages and pages of feeds. Netvibes truly solves many of my problems, and obviously I encourage you to give it a go, the service is free and you can start your new page at http://netvibes.com.

It should be noted that Netvibes has a feed reader which handles RSS, Atom, and XML feeds. If you are not familiar with these technologies you should take the time to learn as much as you can about them, you have probably used services which offer them without knowing and they can save you time if you visit more than one frequently for information available in these feeds. If you still don’t understand what they are, here’s another stab. Feeds (RSS, Atom, XML, etc. are formats for feeds, also called syndicates) are files published by various sources of information, most commonly news, which are intended to be collected by feed readers (also called aggregators). There are more feed readers than you can shake a stick at, web based alone, and I can’t say that I’ve tried all or even most of them.

I decided while contemplating the design of a feed reading system that feeds are not the only piece of information which should be available in applications providing access to feeds, or at least different views need to be supported once all the pieces of information I frequent on the internet are available via feeds. Since currently feed technology is still being explored for it’s potential, and standards have not yet fully developed for all of the information involved in these potentials, the only way to get a working system to inform the user of these pieces of information is through the use of modules which each handle their own type of content; Weather, mail, bookmarks, events, news, etc.

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What I am Listening to Right Now, Part II.

Posted by David on April 7, 2006

You might have read in the first article, "What I am Listening to Right Now" that I tried and didn't have much luck with Pandora, well more accurately I had pretty good luck that didn't last long and never returned. The reason I became so fond of Pandora's service was that it enabled me to find music that I liked, but hadn't heard before. I found a lot of new bands and albums I didn't know about, besides I also found out the name of countless artists and songs which I heard and liked but didn't know who it was (how many people does that happen to, everyone who listens to the traditional radio?)

As you know my luck ran short, but my need for music doesn't wait long before it forces me to find some easy way to find and listen to music I like. Luckily Pandora was only providing me with an extra service, I already use iTunes frequently for listening to music, besides music I also have many subscriptions to talk radio shows (for lack of a better description) in podcast format. When I'm looking for new music, I check out the iTunes Music Store which lists albums other users have purchased or looked at relating to the artist you are currently viewing, that with the ability to preview almost every piece of content I really slim down my choices of music I need to purchase by selecting only songs or albums I know I will be frequently listening to.

I don't buy much, music is still too expensive, and I don't agree with the iTunes DRM setup so I'm holding what little money I would spend on media until things settle down in audio and video publishing town. What I have bought so far is very good, I've got it on all the devices I currently use as well so I'm at least mostly satisfied.

I can satisfy my music cravings for the time being, I focus right now on organizing my current collection and finding ways to share what I have with my friends, legally. iTunes does a great Job of organizing my digital audio and I have built up my entire collection into it and added album art, year, song numbers, and more into the tags of my mp3s. I have rated everything most important to me at this time and created virtual playlists which collect everything I have rated to make playlists of my favorite songs (2+, 3+, 4+, and 5 stars). The only thing I wish I could do is go through the genres and correctly edit each song but I'm not going to take the time until a system which allows multiple genres (on one song not a genre per song like current techniques) is available through iTunes (or any music player/organizer which has all the features iTunes currently has and is freely available).

My CDs are in a file cabinet, not organized really, but they are in a small holder and there are less than 25 (I think). I do have them all entered into Listal.com, a nice place to catalog movies, albums, and books (I actually prefer another service for books that I will mention another time). This is one way I share what I like with friends legally, but I don't have everything I listen to on there and there's a lack of information regarding which songs I like best. You can rate albums, but not songs, besides how good is a rating I set a year ago and never got around to changing?

I have grown very interested in the idea of having people know what I am actually listening to any any particular moment, not only now but in the past, "How many times did David listen to that Matisyahu album I let him borrow I wonder?" my friend Mark might ask himself. Now he can find out on last.fm. The web application actually keeps track of everything I listen to on iTunes (or at least every piece of audio I play on iTunes that the service recognizes, and that I play a certain amount of time, I noticed if I skip to another song sometimes it won't show up, a good thing I think). It's interesting for me especially to look through the bar graphs of songs I've listened to during various periods of time, and it gives me direction when looking for more to purchase. I should make it clear that iTunes doesn't upload what you play to last.fm or to any other place automatically, in order for last.fm to work an iTunes plugin must be installed which will collect information from tags on what you listen to in iTunes and upload it to last.fm when an internet connection is available; Again, no internet, no compatable music player (iTunes, Windows Media Player, etc.), or no plugin (iScrobbler or jScrob2) and last.fm won't work for you (at least not for knowing what you listened to on your computer without the last.fm streaming player). The list of media players looks pretty good, I'm surprised to learn they support both WMP and iTunes. Here's the

Last.fm's streaming player let's you listen to music in a radio like system but with a few differences. First of all you can tag, rate, skip (skipping is most likely limited), and ban music as you listen and as you do what you play is listed on your profile. One of the nicest features of having access to your music preferences in a database is finding music you haven't heard and might like based on it's similarities to your collection and listening patterns. I'm not sure how deep last.fm goes into finding new music for you but there's a few ways they give you and I've been pleasantly surprised so far.

A combination of various tools like this will really help the media industries in my opinion. It would be hard to convince me that a change hasn't already been seen because of these various services; iTunes, last.fm, listal.com, and Pandora.com. Let's not forget MySpace.com, they aren't the teenage chat room you might have previously thought they were, they started in music and remain to be going in a great direction where this is concerned. Music by the people, not the giants, I think everyone can agree that the music pushed to the top should be pushed by the all of the people who have to (or want to) listen to it.

So, what are you listening to? How? I want to know, I'm interested, and I think other people are too.

Do you know of another service that helps to find, organize, or share music? Please drop a line or leave a comment, I'm happy to check out anything that will help. Also, let me know if you've tried any of the services I have mentioned, I'm interested to learn of your experiences.

Hopefully a Part III will come soon with news of Pandora.com or something new and just as useful, until then I hope this helps.

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Ruby, Rails and Remarkable Rambling!

Posted by David on April 7, 2006

I've been taking the time to learn Ruby the last couple of weeks, I heard about it for the first time (that I remember) about six months ago, then after hearing more and more about how Ruby on Rails makes developing web applications quick and easy I decided to give it a good investigative look and moved immediately from learning about Ruby and Rails to bumping Ruby up to my new favorite programming language knocking Perl out of the way. I'm not knocking Perl or trying to say that Ruby or any other language is or may be better, in fact if you know Perl and not Ruby I would recommend you use Perl if you've got a job to do and not a lot of free time. On the other hand, I must recommend checking out Ruby and Rails especially if you are a Perl fan.

I'm not going to ramble here, I'm going to give you three links and let you go about your way.

Ruby, Rails, and remarkable rambling.

The Ruby and Rails links are simple, they direct you to the corresponding official sites, what is most special here is the rambling (rambling is probably a bad word to use when describe the content, but it starts with an R arghhh!) Anyway, the link will direct you to Why's (Poignant) Guide to Ruby, it's an amazing combination of comedic fiction and a technical book. The topic? Ruby what else, I don't think Rails is covered in the book although I haven't finished yet. So far I've laughed more than I do when watching South Park or Saturday Night Live and I'm learning more than I usually do from technical documents, the combo really makes for a good introduction to Ruby and languages in general both for beginners and professionals. Sprinkled between code examples and extremely well written descriptions of Ruby's various features are funny comic strips which completely interact with the user and the book making for an extremely pleasurable and enlightening experience, two feeling rarely found together especially in technical documents (and fiction if you are like me, and I mean enlightened and not pleasured but I obviously don't read much fiction so I don't mean to insult any authors, I probably haven't read your book(s) yet). This online book is freely available and is under construction at the time this article was written.

By the way my Mom has been loving it so far too, she likes off the wall humor. I can't wait to see if it gets her interested enough to read the entire document, she's already picked it back up (metaphorically speaking) a couple times. If she does finish it or at least read another chapter I know she'll pick up at least some of the programming concepts mentioned, and trust me the author's interest in humor, fiction and cartoons doesn't seem to have an impact at all in their technical knowledge; In fact the combination makes for a much better information vehicle, the examples are directly related to the crazy story and are explained using an imaginary world which revolves around the user learning Ruby (some of the characters have even read the book and know some or most of Ruby's functionality). Hope you check it out, if not you're really missing out on some great material.

Thanks Why!

If you are a developer you should also check out RadRails, an IDE built on top of the Eclipse framework, wow.

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Yet Another Windows Installation, From ME to XP Home OEM.

Posted by David on April 3, 2006

The other day I was preparing a Windows Millennium PC for an installation of Windows XP and telling my Mom, “I wish I could count the number of times I’ve installed Windows XP”. Today at 9:08 am I restarted the ME machine (my Mom’s Micron desktop computer) and shut down my XP machine which has the copy of Windows XP I am moving to my Mom’s computer.

I obtained this copy of Windows XP Home OEM from Fry’s electronics when I was building my desktop. Before beginning the process of moving XP from one computer to the next I started checking around for information about transferring an OEM licence from one computer to another and found what seemed to be information which indicated that an OEM licence is fixed to the hard drive (or other hardware or combinations) which may either make the process more difficult or entirely stop it. Luckily I realized they were probably referring to OEM licences that come with a computer purchased from a computer hardware manufacturer with a computer, but I couldn’t find any definitive answers. My Mom called up Microsoft and they informed us that an OEM licence purchased in a store with hardware is able to be installed on machines other than the one it was first installed on. Their information proved to be correct, after I completed the XP installation I proceeded to activation, where I was notified the activation could not complete because it had been activated on another computer, this was actually the last install step on the machine and I didn’t see an option to call Microsoft or anything, so I exited the installation interface and tried to activate in the actual Windows shell. This “real” activation window gave me the option to contact Microsoft via phone which I did. I was greeted by a voice recognition service which asked for a long string of numbers on my screen called an installation id, after finally getting the numbers through apparently the automated service decided I needed to speak to a “real” person. After very little wait (maybe five minutes max) I was greeted by a somewhat friendly sounding associate who asked three questions; “Is this the first activation for this product?”, I replied, “No”, he then asked, “How many computers will this product be installed on?”, I replied, “One”, his final question was, “Was this product obtained with the purchase of a computer, or in a retail store?”, to which I replied, “From a store”. This was all, he asked me to type in a number similar to the installation ID and I was on my way, thank you Microsoft for not ripping me off, oh yeah and for having far better support than the company I won’t mention by name (to give you a hint they sell computers and their name rhymes with the opposite of heaven…)

Thanks to a second hard drive on the old ME machine I was able to make a back up of the files the family has saved before formatting and reinstalling windows (unfortunately upgrading from ME to XP requires an upgrade version of Windows, which I generally avoid). I checked the entire computer for DOC, XLS, and MP3 files and copied everything important to the backup drive, and also made copies of the Application Files under the Windows directory (I love Windows XP’s location of this folder much better; in Documents and Settings). I noticed there was one program which didn’t place it’s settings files in the appropriate folder and made sure to back it up too, for those possibly going through similar experiences that program was Trillian, a chat application. This machine hasn’t been upgraded to Firefox, the family got used to and stuck on Mozilla’s Suite of a browser, mail, chat, and WYSIWYG editor, I wasn’t sure if the settings and files from the Mozilla Suite would transfer over nicely so I did a few Google searches and some tests before beginning. Apparently those Mozilla developers are pretty sharp, everything including mail, contacts, bookmarks, and passwords are easily transferred. In some cases this process requires a few file-name changes and an understanding of Mozilla’s document and settings structure is always a plus, although the information is available for those who aren’t.

I’ve been looking recently at automating the Windows XP Home installation process as much as possible, currently I do it the old fashioned way. Not only is it annoying to monitor the install for settings like networking, time/date, and languages but also to install the numerous updates Windows XP has gone through since this CD was made (pre SP2). It would also be nice to include Firefox and some other application with the install but I need to do some more looking into this before I feel comfortable with it as I actually just learned such procedures are (relatively) easy using software designed to do soAfter some investigating and (very little) hands on experimentation I’ve come to the conclusion that the process of slipstreaming (could be wrong on that name) would actually take me longer than the amount of time I predict myself installing Windows XP, besides Vista will come out before I have to hopefully and I vaguely remember reading that it will feature an automated install for at least some versions. Obviously I’m interested in saving myself time, so I won’t be automating the install process of XP. I hope most people agree that Windows XP can actually run for quite a bit longer than 98 without reinstalling as long as certain precautions are taken.

The install and application procedure ended at 10:54 am. The entire process of updating Windows and installing Firefox, Thunderbird, and FinePix then configuring them (restoring old mail, bookmarks, etc.) was completed today at 3:15 pm. The entire process went pretty smoothly exept for my recent finding that GMail has limited attachments to 10mb per email… The reason for trying was to move an email account over to my laptop to test the process of moving emails from Mozilla to Thunderbird. TIP: Use a USB drive to transfer settings. And yes the emails transfer over just fine (not perfect but good enough). Unfortunately I lost most of my time when prompts were waiting for input and the installation was unattended, at least I was getting other things done I suppose. Obviously updating Windows and installing and configuring the applications took the most time, Windows updates particularly suck up time and can’t be done in parallel with applications. The biggest problem is that once Windows is installed the first thing that should be done is Windows updates, you can either do it by hand or set up auto updates. Because I was in somewhat of a hurry to be done I decided to do it by hand, I had a few programs to install and configure and didn’t want to do so without at least SP2 in place. So, I grunted through the updates until SP2 then set up auto-update and continued with the applications, this is where the most time was taken, Windows needs a helping hand through everything and oh yeah, reboot… It’s a sad story but now it’s done and thank God, ME was starting to kill me.

EDIT: Looking back at this install a few months after having completed it I must say that the computer is much more stable than it was before. The family was also happy to have user accounts and all that entails. I had to install Google Talk, Trillian, iTunes, and a few administration utilities I like, nothing really time consuming or notable. My desktop computer now has a nice clean install of Gentoo Linux with some toys for me, I don’t use it a whole lot for the moment but it’s there and not taking much space or power; I turn it on when I need it and cron shuts it off at 4:00am if it’s still on then. The computer is accessed over the network only, I use SSH, Hamachi and Samba for everything I need off of it, oh and SCP but that’s SSH anyway… Happy times, hope you’re enjoying your computers this much too!

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Windows XP Home, Viewing Logs Remotely with MS Log Parser 2.2.

Posted by David on January 4, 2006

I've been seeing a lot of cool tools coming out of the doors over at Microsoft lately, I think they are finally realizing that just because most users don't like the text console, developers and administrators not only love it but need it. I've been hunting the last couple of days for a tool which would let me browse the log files on remote computers which I administrate and/or use because for some reason the built in Windows XP event viewer will not browse to remote computers (or if it does it is slow and won't look at the data, only at the top level categories). The Windows help for the event viewer has information about a tool I keep runing into called eventquery.vbs but I can't find it on my system nor can I find a download or source… I finally ran into this Microsoft tool called Log Parser which will take not only the Windows XP evt files, but many other types of logs as well, and will parse them into various forms using SQL syntax to join and tables of information into something more easily parsed like HTML, or XML. Need I say any more?

Here's a link to the download page on Microsoft's website; Log Parser 2.2 on Microsoft.com

If you're looking for an eventviewer download, I'm sorry to say I can't find one. I've been looking around and I keep seeing these articles about how great it is, but they seem to miss the fact the XP Home doesn't come with it. If I can ever find a place to get it I will report it but I'm not holding my breath, my next try will be Microsoft tech support.

Is Log Parser a good replacement? I would think not, it's still a command line tool but I don't think it works the same. I would have to take a better look at both of them to give a good description of them and to fully compare them but I think Log Parser is better for generating pretty reports than for basic system administration. I'm using Log Parser to generate reports that I can view from another workstation, it's obviously not the same but it accomplishes what I set out to do. The biggest problem here is getting an updated report when you need it, I don't really want to take the time to ssh the machine but I also don't want to generate a new report every minute. I have the tool running on a schedule of about every half hour or so but often I want to look at something that just happened, not to mention the fact that the Windows Scheduler or whatever it's called) seems to work about 95% of the time. Until I find a better solution this will have to work.

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Free Web Based List Organizer Software: RememberTheMilk.com.

Posted by David on January 3, 2006

Remember The Milk is a free web service I stumbled upon a couple of weeks or so ago while looking for free web services to both replace applications on my computer and to provide functionality currently unavailable from free desktop based software. I ended up finding Remember The Milk among many other free services listed on Nedwolf's site where you can find a comprehensive list of free web based software organized into categories of functionality. I was initially impressed by what I saw on RememberTheMilk.com, but now I have to tell you to give it a try, especially if you're looking for something to send you real reminders about events on your list.

The list items on Remember The Milk can have a due time, and in your settings you can configure times which you are notified before and during the event. The great thing about this isn't just the events, but you can now be reminded not just in your email but in your instant message program (I believe it is only for Google Talk at the moment, luckily that's all I use anyhow). Some may wonder why this is such a great thing, especially just for a list, but trust me there is more to come in the future of applications like this. When coupled with a good address book (or contact organizer as I like to call it) and a good calendar an application like this can automatically remind you of all types of events, and do it no matter where you are (that is when all IM protocols are supported, especially those accessible through cellular devices).

Now what I need is a good free web based calendar and contact organizer which support ical and vcard! Let me know if you have the solution please!

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Froogle Rocks with eBay and Amazon.

Posted by David on January 1, 2006

Have you ever tried Google's product search database Froogle? I know I have, I checked it out the second I caught wind of news they started one, and I must admit I wasn't entirely pleased at what I first saw. I have been going back, because I know there's power behind Google's search technology, and if the can correctly tap into the right sources there will be gold. Anyway, I have noticed recently that eBay and Amazon results are popping up in many of the searches I do on Froogle, and I must say that when I am looking for general prices on products, Froogle now does a very good job indeed. Take the time to check it out if you haven't, and if you have please trust me to check it out again.

Once more, that is all…

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