Tag Archives: Software

Thank a Plugin Developer Day

Matt Mullenweg, creator of WordPress and skipper of Automattic, has declared today, January 28, “Thank a Plugin Developer” Day. In thanks, I will list all of the plugins I use in my firsttube.com WordPress install.

  • Akismet is a comment filter that uses a “karma” type algorithm to analyze comments and separate ham from spam. According to my internal stats, Akismet reports 37,512 spams caught, 284 legitimate comments, and an overall accuracy rate of 99.934%. Not too shabby. As a result, this site no longer has a captcha.
  • Blip.It iPhone Handler is a neat little tool that creates a method to display embedded flash as Quicktime on-the-fly, ideal for iPhone compatibility.
  • Cache Images, another Mullenweg gem, let me fetch remote images and store them locally. I prefer to host all images locally if possible, so this is fantastic.
  • “ftBlogrollerWP (ft)” is my own modified plugin that creates a page with all of my links, as seen here.
  • Google XML Sitemaps is a tool for creating a sitemap that Google and other search engines can use to spider your site. This would take forever by hand and would be very hard to keep up manually, but this plugin makes it effortless.
  • Limit Login Attempts. No sense in letting someone hammer your WordPress admin login eternally. Basic security that ought to be part of WordPress core.
  • Similar Posts is a snazzy little plugin that tries to find similar posts to any given post. I use this on each post’s page. In pre-Wordpress firsttube, I did this by searching for other articles with the same tags. In WordPress-era ft, I do this via a plugin. Similar Posts requires the Post-Plugin Library.
  • Tangofy is a simple plugin to modify icons in the stock WordPress admin pages.
  • TTFTitles is a sweet little plugin that creates images from text. I do this on entry titles and sidebar titles. It allows you to add a dimension of professional typography and to use fonts that aren’t in the eight “web safe.”
  • WordPress Database Backup: you’ll never guess what this one does!
  • WordPress Hashcash does the spam filtering in conjunction with Akismet. Whatever Akismet misses, Hashcash catches. Essentially, it catches *everything* Akismet misses and only really reports problems when users have javascript turned off.
  • WordPress Popular Posts provide me view counts, plain and simple. I used to keep track pre-Wordpress, but sadly, I lost my hit count (many of which were in the thens of thousands of views) and only started again this month. Nonetheless, it’s in the sidebar.
  • wp-cache is a caching program, but I’m not currently using the cache.
  • WP-Lytebox automatically adds a lytebox effect to inline images, which is spectacular.
  • WP-Optimize is a database optimizer that does optimization not only of MySQL overhead, but also removes autosaves and other space wasters from your database.
  • WP-Syntax makes my code pretty, and that’s all.
  • WP iPaper is a plugin for embedding scribd stuff.
  • Lastly, WPtouch iPhone Theme is a stylesheet that makes this site look native on the iPhone. It’s truly a beautiful skin.

That is all. Thank you to all the above developers. As a reward, please accept this pingback!

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Who Knew that iTunes was so cool?

Perhaps it was just me, but I had no idea how cool iTunes was until last night.  I’ve used iTunes exclusively for my master music collection for about 5 years now, and, in that time, I’ve been very focused with my music collection.  I can’t say the same for my video collection.   Only recently, as I began working with my AppleTV, did I actually allow video into my iTunes library.  

However, I’ve got a brilliant combination working now.  iSquint, the gorgeous free video editor, converts my files into high quality mp4/m4v files and adds them to iTunes.  iTunes then pushes them to my AppleTV.   It’s incredible to tell iSquint to covert several dozen videos and then the next morning they are waiting on my AppleTV. 

In the meantime, I just discovered something on iTunes that I hadn’t realized existed.  I went into the overcrowded “Movies” section of my iTunes library and found that you can convert “Movies” to “TV Shows.” Here’s the best part, by filling in the metadata – by adding the TV show title, the season, the episode, iTunes will properly group and organize them.  Whereas before, I had a huge section of movies, randomly plunked down in the same view, now I have a view of many logically grouped subsets, much the way iTunes handles artists and albums in grid view.  

 Furthermore, AppleTV obeys the organization as well! Instead of a silly, long list of movies, I go to TV Shows and then drill down by show, where they are sorted by season and episode.  

Using iTunes just got much better.  I had been thinking, lately, about how well music organization works in iTunes and how poorly video organization does.  I still think that’s the case – Videos are a mess.  But TV Shows and Music Videos work well.

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Firefox: Like An Old Shoe

Opera Browser

Opera Browser

I’ve had a long and painful war with which browser to use on my Windows machine at work. Firefox has let me down many times before, and the Mozilla Firefox developers have disappointed me. So I switched to Opera, and it’s made me very happy. I have really learned to love Speed Dial, and user javascript is nice. I enjoy the built-in BitTorrent client, the fact that it runs all day without consuming a terabyte of virtual memory, and the fact that it’s about as standards compliant as it gets. But, I’ve had my share of problems with it — small problems that, for the most part, are tiny nitpicks that on most days wouldn’t bug me too much. But today, they got me.

First of all, sometime in the last few months, Gmail version 2 starting working in Opera. It’s frustrating enough that Google rarely support Opera, but in this case, by shooting Gmail the ?nobrowsercheck query string, things were functioning. In the last few weeks, though, that ceased working after about 5 minutes. Things would get stuck on “Still loading…” and I’d have to revert to the “old version.” Easy enough, albeit frustrating losing my “Quick Links.”

I’ve also noticed that the Flashblock component I have installed works so aggressively that about 50% of the time, I can’t actually properly authorize Flash I want to play. I will sit there clicking on the “Play” button over and over to no avail. This one has annoyed me time and again.

Somehow, over the last 30 days, something happened that made Opera crash on a semi-daily basis. At least twice a week, I get the Vista grey-out “This application is no longer responsive. Would you like to Close the App and check online for a solution, or just close the app?” Yeah, thanks. Except, it’s just Opera that’s been doing this.

I'm Back on Firefox

Firefox: Like an old shoe

As a web developer, this was maybe the killer item for me: for the last month, the “View Source” menu on any web page doesn’t work, or if it does, it’s once in 50 tries. I’ve adjusted the “view source” menu to point to the built in viewer, Programmer’s Notepad, and Windows Notepad. None work. Most of the time, I simply have to open Firefox.

Therefore, I find myself, today, back on Firefox. Like an old shoe, it just fits. Once I slapped on the CamiFox theme, I felt right at home. I imported my Opera bookmarks, updated my extensions, and it was very nice. Now I have a very capable Javascript console, Firebug, Stylish, and a host of other useful tools at my fingers. I’m very happy here 5 hours into the day and feeling comfortable with the choice. Yes, I’m still pissed that I can’t style my RSS, but then, I haven’t gotten around to tinkering with that via WordPress anyway. I’ll let you know how life in Firefox 3 turns out.

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Pidgin Pulls a Firefox

After reading endless reports about the controversy over the non-resizable chat window in Pidgin, I decided to upgrade to see what all the hub-bub was about. Suffice it to say that the new builds of Pidgin are pretty much unusable for me. The typing portion is now only two rows high and cannot be resized unless you fill it with more text. The gist of the argument is that the code already exists, but the developers chose to remove it and then stuck by their decision, despite a lot of user feedback protesting.

Click the image for a larger version

The problem is, like some others, my text box is locked even smaller, at just TWO lines, like below. The two lines are so small on the application canvas that it’s awkward – it feels wrong.

Click the image for a larger version

Nothing frustrates me more than when open source developer’s forget that their users are important, and the few that take the time to communicate shouldn’t be brushed off and treated like they are unimportant. The Mozilla Firefox developers did this to me before and as a result, I stopped using their software. The Pidgin devs are much worse in this case. They can’t even justify their decision without looking foolish. Score -1 to the Pidgin devs. I’ve reverted to the Pidgin 2.3-series for the time being, but I’m actively searching for a replacement.

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A Little About Code Names

Throughout the internet, you’ll find a slew of geeks who refer to their projects by “code name.” Realistically, this isn’t GI Joe, so there’s no real reason to need a code name for your projects, right? I’m here to argue that.

Since I’m involved in several web endeavors, there is always a lot of development code on my computers. When I start something like a firsttube.com redesign or something much larger, like an OSNews redesign, it doesn’t make sense to have a hundred folders called “osnewsv4” or somesuch littered about. I used to date the folders, but osnewsv4-tuesday doesn’t help. And something like osnewsv4-20071017 doesn’t help much either.

Now it gets even more complex: what if I build something and then decide to approach it differently? How will I know which folder is the one that contains relevant code? Enter codenames!

When I knew I was going to build a brand spankin’ new version of OSNews, I knew it would eventually be called version 4, so it made no sense to start calling the first code off my fingers “v4.” As it turns out, there were actually almost 10 versions of “OSNews version 4″ before we accepted a codebase. The first ones were much different in both look and feel and code. So, for my own organizational purposes, I use code names. All that matters is which code base eventually gets promoted to the “version 4” title.

So, here a list of the codenames I’ve used on my projects in the past, going back as far as I can remember:

I used to maintain an open source weblog called Flip, which later become Small Axe. Although Flip 2.0 may have had a codename, I can’t remember or find any reference to it. Flip 2.1 was called Lobster. Flip 2.2 was called Shark, although I never released that code, largely because before I finished it, I released Flip 3.0, Turtle. Flip 3.1 was to be called Jackrabbit, but again, I never released it. Flip 4.0 earned the codename Blueberry, but it was merged into the first release of Small Axe. We’ll get back to Small Axe in a minute. The nicknames of Flip were entirely random, they meant nothing, except that I wanted the 2.x and 3.x family to be animals, and for 4.x, a complete rewrite, I decided to use fruits. That never materialized.

A large part of why verison of Flip went entirely unreleased is because the app became big and tough to handle. As a result, I stripped out the core of it and released “Flip Lite,” which was called “Red Squirrel.” There was a running joke in college about a “blue raccoon,” so “red squirrel” was a silent tribute. When Flip Lite 2 came about, it was called “Rivet Boy.” Here’s why I called it “rivet boy”.

Small Axe Weblog took over where Flip left off – I really need to get around to updating it, since I’ve probably worked up to v 0.7 by now! – but the roadmap, along with the codenames, are listed here. They are codenamed after the japanese Iron Chefs and their popular guests.

firsttube.com itself had codenames, some of the time. firsttube.com 3 was “Milky”. 3.1 was Crossbow because it was built to be cross-platform. 3.2 was Scoop Face, because it was inspired by Scoop. 3.3 was “Semi-Scoop”, much for the same reasons. 3.3.1 was “Flip”, because it was the first version to use code from the Flip project. 4.0 was lazily called “Lobster” because it was running Flip 2.1. 5.0 was “Linkfarm”, because it was – for the few weeks it lived – a link farm. 6.0 may or may not have actually had a codename when I built it, but it was listed in one directory as, “Wikitube”, because it ran phpwiki software. I merged it and my weblog for version 7.0, which, along with 8.0, didn’t earn codenames. The recently released firsttube.com 9.0 was called “Chalkboard,” because at one point, I thought the header looked like a chalkboard. Obviously, it doesn’t anymore.

On to OSNews: Again, these codenames are mine and mine only, they are neither “official,” nor even known the rest of the staff, as it was only as I was developing code that I used the codenames. The now defunct OSNews Meta Blog is actually Small Axe, so it was in a folder called “Small Axe.” We renamed it “meta blog” literally days before making it live.

The OSNews Staff Blog used to be called ftblogroller, and I actually still have the very first working version on my company’s intranet test server. The funny thing is, I chronicled it long ago on firsttube.com. That was the engine of the OSNews Staff Blog. It also powers the OSGalaxy site, although there I refer to it as “Galaxy,” I never actually got around to packaging it.

Jobs.OSNews, an experiment that everyone liked but nobody used, was called Meadow, only because it was green.

OSNews v4 had a few codenames on my computer. “NEW” was one of them, as was “TCO,” which was an acronym for “three column OSNews.” The one that eventually earned the title version 4 was Blueprint, because I threw everything away and literally started from scratch. Even the queries that fetch data were rewritten to be most efficient.

Two projects in the words: “Timber” is the codename of a module that does OSNews native polling. Why Timber? A poll takes a tally, tally like tally ho, like timber ho!. I didn’t say they made sense or were funny, I just said I used them.

Another project that has had several lives already is the iPhone optimized OSNews site. I have gone through several versions of this code as well. Recently, I tossed aside “iui-osnews” and “knox” to really work on project “McBragg.” Commander McBragg was the general in the Underdog cartoons. I seemed to remember him going on several safaris, so I stole his name for my code. McBragg’s javascript framework and CSS is not finished yet, but the underlying PHP appears to be sound, so I expect to finish that within the next few weeks.

As you can see, having codenames can help a develper understand what code he’s looking at. It would not help me at all to see a folder called “firsttube.com-20060722” because I wouldn’t know what version of firsttube.com or whether the code was even used on the live site. But certainly, if I saw a subfolder in my osnews directory called “mcbragg,” I’d know it has relevent code. I think there’s something to be said for categorizing your code that way, plus, it’s kinda cool to have codenames. Yeah, I said it.

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An Idea for an Application

I have an idea for an application I think could be really cool. Ideally, it would be Mac-based, since I exclusively use Macs at home, but it could exist just the same on Windows or Linux or any other platform. The problem is, I’m not a programmer – at least I can’t build native apps, only web ones.

So my question is, ? Should I post it here? Submit it to OSNews? I’ve contacted the developers of MarsEdit, because that’s the closest thing that exists to my idea, but he opted out without hearing the idea, so I’m kind of at a loss. What should one do if they have an idea for a potentially useful application?

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Release Tuesday

This week has already seen a slew of releases: first came an updated Airport Express (I want one). Then today, Apple unleased Safari 3.1, which vastly extends support for bleeding edge web standards like CSS3, HTML5, and expands support of ECMAscript.

Finally, not to have all headlines stolen this St. Patrick’s Day, Microsoft loosed Vista SP1 to Windows Update.

I have installed Safari 3.1/Win and this evening I will upgrade at home on the Mac. I am currently downloading Vista SP1 for my work PC. Reviews to follow, for certain.

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IBM Releases Lotus Symphony Beta

Imagine everyone’s surprise this morning when IBM not only announces that they are working on an office suite package, Lotus Symphony, but that it’s geared towards consumers, not businesses, and it’s based on OpenOffice.org, and… oh yeah… the beta is available immediately!

BetaNews caught my attention this morning, and it looked nice, so I downloaded it and took it for a spin.

Lo and behold, this suite is the best OpenOffice.org offshoot I’ve used thus far. StarOffice and Openoffice.org are both nice products, but the layout and graphical tweaking done on Lotus Symphony is just great.

First of all, the beautiful blue rounded tabs of each document make for a warm, modern, and welcome theme. The formatting controls on the right hand side are smartly available like Office 2007’s “ribbon”, Also, the buttons are attractive and easily decipherable and the best part is that I can actually find what I’m looking for. I’ve been using Office 2007 for a few months now, and my biggest pet peeve in Word is that I often highlight text as I read it and a floating formatting box pops up, often causing my to mistakenly format the text I’m reading. Symphony doesn’t have that problem.

Lotus Symphony
Click thumbnail for a full screen

As far as compatibility goes, I tried opening several Word documents, some complex with embedded images, Word Art, formulas, tables, forms, protection, and more, and it handled all of them properly, often with only minor format tweaks if any at all. It would not read my Office 2007 .docx files. It did easily import some complex Excel files without flinching.

It imported all of my Open Document formatted documents perfectly, as expected.

As far as Powerpoint compatibility goes, it properly formatted a templated, fairly hairy presentation, but the tools to manipulate presentations were not immediately understandable, so the Presentation interface manipulation portion of Symphony needs some tinkering for certain.

The only weird choice, one I’m very confused about, is their decision to move *back* to a single window frame. StafOffice 6 used this “desktop” view to encapsulate all of its components, and that was done away with for OpenOffice.org 1.0. Oddly, now that tabbed-interfaces are all the rage, Symphony makes the single window usable again. I’m actually pretty jazzed to see this paradigm begin to work. It is much better executed now than it was with previous versions of Star Office.

Other than that, Lotus Symphony is a really beautiful start to a free office suite. I cannot imagine ever wanting to go back to OpenOffice.org after using this program as an alternative. That said, I hope they bring me my Mac version soon!

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Mac Freeware RSS via Yahoo Pipes

Ever wanted to view all of the MacUpdate universal binary apps, but limit it only to freeware? MacUpdate doesn’t offer such a feed, but thanks to the incredible Yahoo Pipes, I was able to make the feed myself. I love that site, it’s really amazing.



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My Faith in Google Is Now In Question

As my readers will know, I’ve detailed my isses with Google, or more specifically, Picasa Web in the past. Well, today, I was surprised when Picasa refused to upload new photos for me. I cannot use my iPhoto exporter anymore, since that broke with one of the last two updates to iPhoto, so I tried the web interface and then the “Picasa Web Albums Uploader” application Google provides. The reason it failed? No storage.

“That’s odd,” I thought. I have extended storage and about 5 GB free. But alas, it expired. In fact, my storage SHOULD have expired in August, but just did recently. So I tried to upgrade again. After all, Google’s been good to me on the whole. But my order was cancelled by Google. The reason: “Another order modified the user’s storage plan before this order was received

What the heck? So I tried again. And once again: cancelled. So my storage has been cancelled for a few days now, no upgrade has been applied, no warning whatsoever from Google (at my account, which is a Gmail account!), and no way to upgrade!

Gmail has been a fantastic app for me, but I’m just not sure about extended Google services. I’ve heard way too many nightmare stories about people having stuff cancelled and there is just no recourse: Google provides no support, no assistance, no real time communication, nothing other than crappy, slow-to-respond Google groups from very unofficial people.

Google’s storage engine has been modified heavily lately, and this does not bode well. If it can expire without notice – will they delete my stuff? How long will they hold it, being as though I can’t upgrade? If Google deletes even one bit of my stuff, I am through with PicasaWeb and Google’s expanded storage for good.

Boo Google! Boo! It may be time migrate to smugmug, Zoto, or zooomr.com.

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