Archive for Computers and Internet

Leaving Barcelona

Well, my time in Barcelona is drawing to a close. “Time in Barcelona?!”, you may be thinking. And you should be! Because I have done a lousy, unreliable job of keeping my public up to date on what’s going on.

Well, since going back to work at the end of October, things have been pretty level. But then BAM all of a sudden I’m in Barcelona presenting at the IT Forum TechEd conference for a week. Not entirely unexpected (I’d bought my ticket back in September), but it still came up quite fast. So now I’ve spent nearly the week out of the country and away from J and the boy. It’ll be good to be back!

Sessions all went well, and I was able to do quite a bit of touring later in the week. Barcelona is a great city, and I’m really excited to bring J back here at some point!

Here are a couple of photos of things I saw, and the whole Barcelona 2007 Flickr set is public visibility so feel free to have a look at the rest of the photos as well.

 PB130024 PB140073 PB140068 PB140002

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Rosie the Roomba

We picked out Rosie (our Roomba) a few weeks ago and brought her home.

Rosie

(*for her privacy, this is not actually our Rosie)

So far she’s been a great addition to the family, and she’s done a spot better keeping the floors clean than we ever did previously. 🙂

The other day in the newspaper there was a fun article about how, um, dedicated some Roomba owners/parents can be. Although we’ve not dressed Rosie up in a little maid uniform, we’ve actually considered dressing her up as a pumpkin for Halloween. Ok, I have considered this. I think Jodi’s still sane.

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HDTV (HDHomeRun) update

The last post on this was quite a while ago, so I suppose it’s not really fair to leave it at that. To recap, previously I had purchased an HDHR (HDHomeRun) box to serve as my HDTV tuner into my Media Center (MCE2005). The initial results were not good. I followed all the steps posted in the setup guide at the HDHR forum, and it all seemed to work ok at first… I was able to tune ATSC channels from the attached antenna, watch live TV, etc. However, each time I scheduled a recording, it was a roll of the dice. In most cases, I would get 2-3 minutes of recording out of a 30 minute scheduled show.

Doubly strange, because MCE (I had thought) is supposed to detect a “lost signal” during a show recording and restart the recording when signal returns (?). In any event, this was not happening and we had a few, tragic, missed recordings (I was particularly unhappy to have missed one of the season final episodes of The Office… ACK!)

In any event, there’s a happy ending in here somewhere. I posted to the forum and got no direct response (I’d link the post, but it seems to have been pruned). However, there was an indirect response to someone else with a similar problem, indicating an errant ICMP packet signaling a loss of connectivity to the HDHR. This, evidently, leads to exactly the “partial recording” problem I was having.

I proved the point by scheduling a recording and then yanking out the network connection from HDHR to the switch while it was recording. Sure enough, the end-result recorded file looked just like the symptoms I had been seeing — a full-length recording, where only the first portion was recorded (ie – partial light-colored timeline bar with the rest of the 30 mins greyed out as though it was only 5 minutes into the actual recording process).

Ok, so it was a loss of network connectivity. Hmm. Well, could be cables, could be network card, COULD BE THE SWITCH. Ah ha! This 5-port 10/100 switch I had thrown back into service for the HDHR<->MCE connection is a couple of years old and I had a vague recollection that one or more of the ports on it had had really low throughput in its previous use. The switch was the obvious culprit… maybe a loose connection inside or it’s just finally giving up the ghost.

Sure enough, “switched out” (yes, pun) this older switch for a known-good replacement… and… SUCCESS! Zero missed recordings in the few weeks since I made the swap.

YAY! And now, with a few weeks of success behind us, I can say that the HDHR is the coolest thing since forever. I feel so retro using rabbit ears antenna to get my TV, but the quality is heads and shoulders above what I get from my analog cable; and there’s NO way to get HD on my MCE from the cable company without hacking something together (Firewire from a STB) or paying TONS of $$ for cablecard. Blegh. 90% of my fairly limited TV watching comes from NBC in any case, so now I’m even more inclined to dump my cable. If only Comedy Central would sell a monthly IP/download subscription for TDS and Colbert, I’d be all set.

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My ATSC dilemma

I have basic cable. I have a Windows Media Center computer (still running MCE 2005, although I’ll update it to Vista one of these days when I have a free afternoon and nothing set to record).

Now, for the dilemma… I also have a nice Samsung DLP HDTV. Hooked to the media center computer over DVI and running 720p.

Why is that a dilemma? Well, because standard definition TV looks markedly LESS good on a big-screen DLP TV than it did back on the Sony 27″ CRT we used to have. Because it’s blown up much bigger onto the larger screen, I guess. Makes sense.

But it still stinks. Especially since at every level of this setup there’s no good reason why I can’t get the shows in high definition.

Except that I can’t. Well, at least not with Cable. Not to rip too much on MS or any of the other players, the short version is that currently you really only have a couple of choices:

  • Get an over-the-air (OTA) HDTV antenna and some way to get OTA HD channels into the media center
  • Buy an expensive, new media center with “CableCard” OCUR device and pay a bunch more each month to the cable company
  • Get a crappy HD DVR from the cable company and stop using media center
  • Stop watching TV and/or give up on HighDef

So, realistically I need to drop the last 2 from the list since that would defeat the whole purpose of having the MCE box (unifying all our media-music/dvds/tv through a single device). And the 2nd one is also not realistic with a baby on the way. So I guess I’m down to the first option.

Which is not actually too bad of an option… I reviewed the TV that we regularly watch and >75% of it is free broadcast channels (nightly news, NBC sitcoms, etc). 2 weeks ago I bought a small, indoor HDTV antenna and confirmed (with the tuner in the Samsung TV) that we can get pretty much all of the channels locally — benefit to living in a 4th floor condo at the top of a hill, plus, right in downtown Seattle. 🙂

Next, to get the HDTV (ATSC formatted, since it’s OTA broadcast) into the media center, I just bought an HDHomeRun. I’ll plan to follow up here once I receive it and can comment on how it works… maybe we’ll just end up canceling cable. Do you hear that, cable company?? You’re far more likely to LOSE ME AS A CUSTOMER than get me to sign up for HD cable because you’ve been part of making this whole process so frustrating and expensive.

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Sharepoint Designer and the loss of Themes

One rude awakening I encountered when upgrading from Frontpage 2003 to Sharepoint Designer 2007 for Doddsnet a few months ago (back when SPD was still in beta) was the “loss of themes. Well, to be fair, it was really a “deemphasis” in themes rather than a loss, since my current site kept working as-is.

But the key change was that I couldn’t (at least not easily) change the themes applied to the page or change the design of the themes. It looks like later in the beta a little more of this control returned, but still, without a doubt, the emphasis is meant to be on CSS instead of these themes. Ok, fair enough… I suppose it’s about time.

That said, it was a bit of a shock. I’d not totally realized how heavily I had been depending on themes in my site design. The overall page styles were fairly easy, since I could just reuse the theme CSS files. The much harder part was having to get rid of the navigation theme elements.

In Frontpage 2003, things like the page banners and active buttons would all magically derive from the site/page theme. The buttons got created simply by setting navigation and then dropping a Frontpage “web component” into the page (or page template).

Removing themes from this picture turned the Frontpage components into plain text links rather than the pretty pictures I’d been used to. Ugly!

I had to scramble to find a way to solve this problem. Someone gave me some tips on how to redirect the navigation bot to use HTML directly rather than using the themes.

I ended up using a nav bot code like this:

<!–webbot bot=”Navigation”
S-Orientation=”horizontal”
S-Rendering=”html”
S-Bar=”Numbered”
S-Btn-Nml=”&lt;a href=&quot;#URL#&quot;&gt;&lt;img src=&quot;/_css/doddsnet-arctic/TopBar#LABEL#.gif&quot; alt=&quot;#LABEL#&quot;&gt;&lt;/a&gt;”
S-Btn-Nml=”&lt;a href=&quot;#URL#&quot;&gt;&lt;img src=&quot;/_css/doddsnet-arctic/TopBar#LABEL#.gif&quot; alt=&quot;#LABEL#&quot;&gt;&lt;/a&gt;”
S-Btn-Sep=”&lt;/li&gt;&lt;li&gt;”
S-Bar-Pfx=”&lt;ul class=&quot;top-navbar&quot;&gt;&lt;li&gt;”
S-Bar-Sfx=”&lt;/li&gt;&lt;/ul&gt;”
S-Type=”global”
B-Include-Home=”TRUE”
B-Include-Up=”FALSE” –>

Wow, it’s a lot more work than the old way, but it’s doable without themes!

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Stattraq 1.1.1 and Evan’s fixes

While upgrading to WordPress 2.1 I did a periodic spin through my plugins to get the latest and greatest updates. I noticed that Stattraq 1.0b was no longer the latest update — in fact, there’s a new maintainer: “Murph” and he’s released a version 1.1.1 with a number of fixes.

Unfortunately, I had made a bunch of tweaks to 1.0b over the year I was running it. Bug fixes, performance improvements, anti-referrer-spam stuff. Mostly stuff I hacked together myself or picked up from other blog comments while I was troubleshooting some problem.

The good news is that windiff showed me that a number of these fixes were included in 1.1.1. The bad news is that windiff showed me that a number of these fixes were NOT included in 1.1.1

So I made the fixes again to my copy of stattraq.php. And then I tried to post the details back to Murph’s blog so that they could hopefully get integrated going forward. But the blog comment posting stripped all the meta data out and undoubtedly makes the changes hard to follow.

So, here (below) is what my blog post was supposed to look like. Also, here’s a link to my modified stattraq.php file in case you want to use it and/or DIFF it with your own changes.

The intended comment:

Couple of things I had fixed in my copy of 1.0b that are “rebroken” in the 1.1.1 release. Please consider integrating these so I can just run the baseline going forward:

1) Blogs using pretty permalinks (ie – not “?p=64” style) don’t properly break page views out into the list of pages; everything shows up as “multiple pages”. This is because it’s not able to resolve the page view back to the actual page.

Changes:
$s_id = session_id();
<! // **EVAN – Move $urlRequested up to here (need it before you can get the article ID) and fix it to be the right value
<! $urlRequested = $_SERVER[‘PHP_SELF’] . $_SERVER[‘REQUEST_URI’] ;
<! // ** EVAN – End of $urlRequested change (except for commenting the original out below)
<!
// need to get the real article_id or type of server request (RSS, RDF, ATOM, Ping, etc)

and

$ipAddress = statTraqGetIPAddress();
<! // $urlRequested = $_SERVER[‘PHP_SELF’] . (isset($_SERVER[‘QUERY_STRING’]) ? “?”.$_SERVER[‘QUERY_STRING’] : ” );
!> $urlRequested = $_SERVER[‘PHP_SELF’] . (isset($_SERVER[‘QUERY_STRING’]) ? “?”.$_SERVER[‘QUERY_STRING’] : ” );
$browser = statTraqGetBrowser();

2) Make sure favicon.ico is excluded from tracking also. Also, change the insert style to “DELAYED” to improve performance.

Changes:
}
<! // **EVAN – also exclude favicon.ico
<! if (strstr($urlRequested, “favicon.ico”))
<! $isIgnored = true;
<! // **EVAN – end favicon.ico change
<!
if (!strstr($_SERVER[‘PHP_SELF’], ‘wp-admin’) && !strstr($_SERVER[‘PHP_SELF’], ‘wp-stattraq’) && !$isIgnored)
<! // **EVAN – make the “insert” a “Delayed” insert for performance
<! $wpdb->query(“INSERT DELAYED INTO $tablestattraq (session_id, access_time, ip_address, url, article_id, referrer, user_agent, browser, user_agent_type, search_phrase) values (‘”.$s_id.”‘, NOW(), ‘$ipAddress’,’$urlRequested’, ‘$article_id’, $referrer,’$userAgent’,’$browser’, $browser_type, ” . ($search_phrase==null?”NULL” : “‘$search_phrase'”) . “)”);
!> $wpdb->query(“INSERT INTO $tablestattraq (session_id, access_time, ip_address, url, article_id, referrer, user_agent, browser, user_agent_type, search_phrase) values (‘”.$s_id.”‘, NOW(), ‘$ipAddress’,’$urlRequested’, ‘$article_id’, $referrer,’$userAgent’,’$browser’, $browser_type, ” . ($search_phrase==null?”NULL” : “‘$search_phrase'”) . “)”);
$wpdb->show_errors();

3) Added in some additional referrer parsing plus antispam protection against some spam referrer strings

Changes:
$key = “q”
<! // **EVAN – added a few more search engines to parse for
<! }else if(strpos($referrer, “icerocket.”)!== false || strpos($referrer, “search.blogger”) !== false){
<! $key = “q”
<! }else if(strpos($referrer, “blogsearchengine.”)!== false){
<! $key = “p”
}else if(strpos($referrer, “yahoo.”)!== false){
$key = “p”
}else if(strpos($referrer, “aol.”) !== false || strpos($referrer, “netscape.”) !== false){
$key = “query”
}
<! // **EVAN – Antispam for search queries
<! else if(
<! strpos($referrer, “bingo”) !== false ||
<! strpos($referrer, “backgammon”) !== false ||
<! strpos($referrer, “casino”) !== false ||
<! strpos($referrer, “oyun”) !== false
<! )
<! {
<! return null;
<! }
<! // ** EVAN – end Antispam for search queries
if($s != null && $s != ”){return $s;}

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Word 2007 and Zip Code Labels

I’m dismayed to report that Word 2007 won’t print my zip code labels. <sniff>

That’s right, one of my favorite parts about sending our xmas cards out was printing the address labels. Labels that have the recipients name and mailing address. And the little zip-code scanner bars at the bottom.

Sure, I’m a huge dork for wanting to print zip code bars on all of my mailing labels. But I DO want to print zip code bars on all of my mailing labels.

And I spent easily 20 mins in the new Word 2007 looking for this feature. And then I found it. Sadly, I found it in the “Word 2007 Help” rather than in an actual feature:

Why can’t I include a POSTNET bar code or FIM-A code on envelopes or labels?

Symptoms

In an earlier version of Microsoft Office Word, I was able to get a bulk mailing discount on my mailings by inserting a POSTNET bar code, as well as a FIM-A code on envelopes and labels. In Microsoft Office Word 2007, I cannot find the options for adding these codes to my envelopes and labels.

Cause

Periodically, the United States Postal Service (USPS) changes the way it calculates postal bar codes. When this happens, bulk mail that uses the bar codes generated by Word may not be accepted by the USPS. To avoid providing bar codes that may become obsolete, Microsoft has removed this feature from Office Word 2007.

Resolution

Your bulk mailing can still qualify for a discount, but you must work with a third-party provider and the USPS.

Prepare a bulk mailing

This procedure provides general steps to follow. For more information about how to qualify for a bulk mailing discount and discount mailing services for businesses and organizations, go to the USPS Web site.

  1. Have your address list verified with the USPS through a third-party service provider.For information about third parties that provide this service, visit the Microsoft Office Marketplace on the Microsoft Office Online Web site.
  2. Assemble your bulk mailing.
  3. Use the bar code that is provided when your list is certified.
  4. Sort the mail according to USPS requirements.

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RSSBandit and Vista

Now that the RC2 bits for Vista are out, I decided to go all out and load it up on my laptop (my last remaining machine running XP). Well, truth be told I actually decided to carefully and cautiously back up my laptop and add a second partition to do a dual-boot safe install.

Of course, fate had something else in mind and I ended up botching my partitions before I got the backup done. So I found my self at 1pm with a laptop with no working OS, corrupted partition mappings, and therefore no easy way to get a good backup of the XP settings. “Going all out” I guess it is then!

So, an hour or two later I was finishing up installing a bunch of the apps I use on my laptop (my primary computer). Most everything worked great, but one I was having trouble with was RSSBandit v1.3.0.42 (the latest version at the time).

Every time I went into the menu system, it spawned a bunch of other items on the taskbar and locked up unti I killed the process. Yikes, that makes it a bit unusable. After a bit of searching the Internet and the RSSBandit forum, I found some references to an outdated/incompatible menuing DLL used by this version of RSSBandit. So presumably they’ll eventually get around to rewriting this part of the product and the problem will disappear in later versions of RSSBandit. But that doesn’t help me reading my feeds today.

But, the Intenet provides a solution once again. Thanks to Eric Denekamp and his blog post for a workaround (that worked)! Short version: Disable Aero Glass theme. It’s not a great solution, but it’s tolerable until a new version of RSSBandit comes out.

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Removing lists from Doddsnet

Subtly, quietly, a few weeks ago I removed the lists archive from Doddsnet. Well, sort of. The list archive is still there. It’s just frozen in time and hidden. So any search engines that have indexed historic posts (and a bunch have, according to my hit logs!) will still be able to find these posts. But I’ve unsubscribed from the various lists and stopped generating any new additions to the archive.

Why? Well, I’d been archiving these several lists going back years and years. And when I started doing this a few years ago, it was because *I* was reading these lists and found it useful to have a local (and searchable) archive of their content available. This was back before these lists provided such a thing on their own — or at least not that I could find at the time.

But over the last 2–3 years I’ve found that I never really use it anymore. I don’t read these lists. It was a fine service for others who ran across it via a search engine, but it wasn’t useful for me. And it was kind of a pain to keep going, since I had to install and keep updated all sort of tools (Perl, etc) on my server that I wasn’t using for anything else. Plus, worst of all, it meant that I was relying on the Exchange “M: Drive” (EXIFS) functionality to get access to the emails as simulated files. Since the M: drive is a legacy concept, this dependency meant I couldn’t easily move my server forward to later versions of Exchange.

I decided that it was more important to me to be able to upgrade my server than to figure out some new way of doing the archiving that I don’t use anymore.

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Wiring Closet

Now that I’ve finished swapping out the old POTS telephone line in our wiring closet for another CAT5 ethernet drop, the whole place is wired. And I’m very excited to say it’s pretty unobtrusive and functionally done!

About 6 months ago I swapped in a Linksys WRT54GC compact router in place of the huge WRT54G I had been using as the primary gateway (out in the living room). I like its small size and low heat, and I like how it’s been very reliable. This is great since the new plan was to have it tucked up inside my smartbox in the wall, I didn’t want to have to be getting at it on any regular basis. As part of this move, I put our Dlink cable modem (not quite as small nor as cool-running as the router, unfortunately) into the box. And finally, I needed some GigE speed, so there’s a 5–port SMC GigE switch in there.

Combined with all the telephone stuff (there’s also a 110 punchdown block in there), all of the CAT5e cabling and cable Coax for the distribution throughout the condo, it’s quite a packed smartbox! Oh yeah, I had to terminate the power in there too. So there’s a power strip tucked in there somewhere. Very VERY pleased it all fits! All crammed into a space about 16” x 16” x 3” deep, thanks to careful layering and some zipties.

Here’s what it looks like with the box opened up, click to see it larger:

Wiring_closet1

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