Something Fun

My wife is pretty fun.

FeedReader: My New Favorite RSS Aggregator/Reader

My requirements for an RSS feed reader were simple:

  • Windows Support
  • Toaster Pop-ups (with individual news item titles)
  • Feed filters
  • Free
  • I had been using FeedDemon for a while, but it missed the second half of my toaster requirement. That and for whatever reason it seems to take days to get updates to feeds, even when I’d tell it to update sooner.

    I recently switched to FeedReader, and I have to say, if you’re looking for a Windows-based RSS reader, you should make this the first client you try. It will probably be the last one you’ll need.

    If you aren’t using an RSS reader, I highly recommend it. They make life so much easier when you are trying to keep up to date with your favorite news sites, and most sites offer an RSS feed nowadays. It’s nice to be able to just open FeedReader and see a list of what sites have updated articles, and even limit the stories to the topics you want. In my case, it’s made keeping up with all the latest Palm Pre news a snap. Instead of periodically refreshing 10-15 different sites in Firefox, I just listen for that chirp.

    SourceForge Spam (or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Just Cancel My Account)

    After having a SourceForge account for about 10 years, I’m canceling it for one reason and one reason alone: Spam. SourceForge has this “feature” where anyone can email you at yourusername@users.sourceforge.net, and they will happily forward it on to the email address you have on file with SF. That’s great, except, I don’t want spam bots emailing me. It would be great if you could either opt out of this behavior, or even specify a human-readable anti-spam address as the forwarding address, but SF doesn’t offer either of these options. It’s either you have an account and all the crap that comes with it, or you have nothing. So I choose nothing.

    Thanks for nothing SourceForge.

    So I guess if I actually want to use the SF site for forum activity, I’ll have to re-create my account each time.

    Update: Ok I lied, sort of. Turns out that if you delete your SF account, you can’t come back and re-create it. This sucks because I like my persona, and should I come back, I’d like to re-use it. So now I’m willing to give feedback a chance. Vote for Solution 3!: SourceForge Spam Solution

    Update 10/15/2009: You complained, and SF listened. I got a Tweet last week from @sourceforge informing me that they have added an option to allow you control over your alias behavior. You can find this setting at https://sourceforge.net/account/. Go there. Now! That is all.

    Palm Pre Release Date Hinted?

    Could this be a hint at the release date for the Palm Pre?

    http://blog.palm.com/palm/2009/04/sprints-new-pre-portal-news-videos-tweetsand-doughnuts.html

    I’m taking a shot at yes. Here’s why it makes sense to me:

    – Why else would you put up a countdown to zero (Doughnut, btw) to such an obscure holiday?
    – As has been restated by Palm and Sprint repeatedly, the date falls in the first half of the year (albeit late).
    – It’s a few weeks after the start of the just-announced Sprint vacation freeze
    – It’s the weekend before WWDC, potentially stealing the iPhone 3.0 / next-gen iPhone thunder.

    Now, my only skepticism of the date is how close it lands to WWDC. Either the Pre will be a massive hit, and the buzz will be loud enough going into the following week to drown out the potential iPhone announcement, OR the Pre buzz quickly loses steam following launch, drowned out by the well-established Apple fanboy crowd. The potential for loss on this toss of the dice is pretty great.

    That’s why I’m making one additional prediction: Palm drops another bomb on release day. Probably some yet-unseen killer app that the iPhone doesn’t have. I’m guessing something that exploits the multitasking capabilities, and furthermore, can’t be done via push. Palm needs something more just after the release to keep the unique multitasking abilities of the Pre in the front of people’s minds right through the iPhone announcement.

    If I’m right, you can say you heard it here first.

    Update 5/20/2009: So close.

    Palm Pre Goodness

    I’ve been drooling over this device since it was announced in January. Now that ads are actually starting to show up, the only thing left to see is a release date.

    UPDATE: Adding new commercial clips as they come out.

    MuchTall.com: In With WordPress, Out With PHPNuke

    I’m finally taking the plunge into WordPress. I’ve moved all of the accounts (minus passwords), categories, stories, and comments over from the old PHPNuke site. I have yet to pretty up the theme, but I just couldn’t wait any longer. PHPNuke was just too difficult to maintain, and worse, was prone to spamming from bot-created accounts.

    More changes to come.

    Windows Desktop Essentials

    In my travels between KDE/Linux and Windows, I’ve found that Windows is lacking in many features that make my move(s) back to Windows relatively painful. That and often times I’ll be thinking "Gee. It would be nice if there were a utility to do this or that that would make my life easier.", which often times do exist in Linux, or are easy enough to reproduce with some scripting.

    So here’s a small list of some of the tools that I’ve found that help make life on Windows a little bit more bearable.

    AutoHotKey
    By far my #1 pick. Think of it as an easy-to-use scripting language and GUI macro system in one. Have a program that you need to start on login, and THEN go though a complicated process to actually start it up? AutoHotKey can enable you to script mouse clicks and keyboard operations with great flexibility. Not only that, but you can script for certain conditions (such as a failure condition) and code alternate procedures to handle them. I liken it to having the power of Bash on windows, though that’s probably an understatement. I find new uses for this program almost weekly. Best of all, it’s small and free.

    Clipboard Recorder
    In KDE, you’ve got klipper. I missed this greatly years ago when I had to start doing desktop support as a one-man IT department. Then, I found Clipboard Recorder. Just think of it as a clipboard history for Windows. It supports any textual format (HTML, etc), so when you copy from Word into another app, the formatting will stick even when you call it up out of the history. When you rely on copy/paste as much as I do (I find it to be a huge timesaver and helps improve accuracy of data-reentry), you find that this is a must-have.


    PdaReach

    This is more windows-centric, but nonetheless very useful. Just think of it as VNC for your PalmOS PDA. It’s so much easier to operate your PDA when sitting at a PC when you can use the full-size screen and keyboard in front of you. My only gripe with it is that it seems to interfere with my PocketTunes streaming on the PDA, so I have to close it when I’m done using it if I want the stream to continue seamlessly.

    AllSnap
    Windows snapping for Windows. This works like the windows snapping in KDE or for you windows users, WinAMP. For a neat-freak, this is a godsend. It helps you keep your windows nicely organized on your screen and quickly make full use of your screen real-estate.

    John’s Background Switcher
    This is a recent discovery. This allows me to take all of my photos on my PC and randomly use them as backgrounds. Added bonus: it handles dual-screen PCs with versatility. And although I haven’t yet checked out this feature, it apparently will tie into popular photo sites such as flickr and facebook so you can use your online photo store as a source of images. Sweet.

    So there you have it. I’m sure I’m missing a few items here and there. They’ll have to wait for part 2.

    UPDATE 8/15/08: One more addition that I think should be placed on the list.

    InstallWatch
    How many times have you thought when changing a setting in a program "I wonder where that setting gets saved." Most of the time programs store setting in the registry, however occasionally they are stored in a file somewhere. With InstallWatch, you can take a snapshot of your system before a change is made, make the change, and then analyze the changes, revealing exactly where your setting resides. I use it all the time to make .reg files that make changing a setting as simple as 2-3 clicks (instead of searching for the setting in the applicable program). This of it as "diff for regedit", only better.

    I’m Gonna Be A Dad!

    Due date: September 6, 2008

    Whoo hoo!

    Gear Head Quick WebCam Basic (WC330I) Review

    While at my local MicroCenter, I noticed this cheap ($15) webcam being sold. It said nothing of Linux support, but I had read that in the past couple years there were alot of cheap Chinese-made webcams that gained support in Linux. I figured I’d give it a shot, and if it worked out, I’d pick up a handfull more for my ZoneMinder system at home.

    Now, I should say that I run Windows XP on my work workstation, and I just wanted to get a feel for the quality of the cam before I did anything more with it, so I plugged it in and installed the drivers. I have to say before I go any further: The pictures speak for themselves…

    Horrible. Muddy. Overcompressed. Dark.

    The poor quality of this cam really just defies words. I guess what expect I’d hear after making these statements is “What did you expect for $15?”. Something other than absolute crap I suppose.

    Just in case you have further interest in this product and it’s support in linux, the USB device ID is 093A:2460 and appears to have some sort of support in linux (http://www.qbik.ch/usb/devices/showdev.php?id=3144). If you choose to buy one of these, good luck with it.

    I’ll be returning mine as soon as possible.

    Greasemonkey: 2002 Ford Explorer – Electrical Issues

    I don’t really know if this is worth posting about. The solution seems rather obvious, but just in case someone find this useful, I’ll post it anyhow.

    This weekend, while in the midst of a 6-hour drive to the in-laws, the truck’s ABS light started flashing. "Odd" I thought "I guess we’ll have to get that fixed when we get back". Minutes later, the red battery indicator started flickering, and then went on solid. Oh crap. The voltage indicator was practically pinned on "L". Minutes after that, the dash went completely dark. No speed, no RPM, no lights, no nothing. But the truck was still running. Thank God we managed to make it a few more minutes to a parts store at the next exit.

    After some conversation with the parts store employees and a physical inspection of the battery, it became pretty clear that the battery needed to be replaced. It was, according to the clerk, the original battery for that model. So the battery is/was about 6 years old. Some bulging had started to occur, possibly due to freezing. However, after some testing with the new battery in the truck, he was uncertain if the problem had been resolved, or if the alternator needed replacing. His suggestion was to drive around for an hour and see if the meter continues to drop. As I had quite a few hours ahead of me, and the next parts store was about an hour away, I figured we should just continue on our way.

    Sure enough, about an hour out, it became evident that the battery was losing juice. After running around to a few parts stores, and yet again barely making to the final store (dash went black), I had a replacement alternator. Beleive it or not, an alternator is easy enough to replace. Assuming it’s not crammed underneath the engine somewhere, or in an impossibly tight space, it’s something that can be replaced in under a half hour with the right tools. You may need a metric wrench for some of the bolts involved. In my case, I needed a 13mm metric wrench for the mounting bolts. The socket for the positive connection nut was easy to find in the standard imperial sizes. Finally, and most importantly, you’ll need a serpentine belt wrench. This tool has a square socket post on the end of a 2-3′ flat-bar. This inserts into a spring-loaded tensioning arm with a pully on it, usually near the alternator. This arm keeps the belt tight, and the spring is quite strong. It’s nearly impossible to move it without the serpentine wrench.

    Anyhow, as I said, the repair is pretty straightforward. Once I had the proper tools, I was able to replace it in the parking lot of the parts store in about 30 minutes, and back on our way.

    Greasemonkey: 2001 Chevy Impala – Hard Start

    Seems like I run into enough car problems that I should start logging my experiences with them. Thus, I’ll be creating a new section titled “Greasemonkey” with all of my mechanical-repair escapades.

    To kick it off, let me tell the story of my wife’s 2001 Chevy Impala recent repair. About 2 months ago it started losing power. Initially it would only show up when using a good deal of throttle, such as when passing or accelerating from a stop. It would never die, but it would sound like it was gasping for air, and huffing in effort. Initially, I thought that the the plugs hadn’t been changed since the car was purchased, and the car now had just under 100K miles on it. So I went out and got new plugs and wires. No change. Then I figured that it wasn’t getting enough fuel, so I replaced the fuel filter. At this point I gave up and brought it into the local auto shop. Diagnosis: Plugged catalytic converter. Fortunately it was covered by something like a 100K mile recall. After replacing that, the car was back in shape.

    Fast forward about 2 weeks. The car start having problems starting. It turns, but doesn’t fire off until about 5 seconds into it. After it has been started, you can shut it off and start it right back up again with no problem. This past week it started dying while driving down the road. You could start it right back up in neutral. We just started parking the car in a garage and had noticed after the car had been sitting in there for about 10 minutes, the garage was filled with a gasoline odor. However, there were no evident puddles of gas. I initially suspected a failing fuel pump, but the fuel smell was nagging me. So today, after driving it home, I popped the hood. Low and behold the vacuum tube near the fuel regulator has a wet appearance. I pulled the tube coming from the regulator, and gas started dripping out. I hopped online, did a search for “2001 Impala fuel regulator” and didn’t find much, but about 2 pages into my search I see this link on a different vehicle: GMC Repair: 1999 GMC Sierra 1500 5.3L. Still, a GM vehicle, and similar year, but a different vehicle. However, the symptoms are identical. So I run down to the local Checker Auto, grab a new fuel regulator and some spring retainer clip pliers. Here’s what I did: Remove the rubber tubing connector from the regulator. Be sure to drain the pressure from the fuel line. Place some towels around the Schraeder valve and press the pin. Fuel will spray, so be careful. Next, compress the retaining ring with the pliers, being careful to make sure the ring doesn’t spring off and get lost. Finally, pull the top of the regulator off, and remove the screen and rubber gasket if they remain inside. Take the new regulator and push it in place. Replace the clip, tubes, and cap to the valve.

    Now, just start it up! In my case it started immediately. However, it’s possible you could have some air in the lines, so just let it turn a bit if it does not. Turn the car off and let it rest for about an hour, then try it again. In my case, it worked like a charm.

    Good luck and have fun!

    Geek Squad: A New Face For An Old Problem

    I just got done reading this article on the Geek Squad, written by a former Geek Squad employee.

    This story is quite familiar to me, as I used to work as a Best Buy tech. However, I worked for them years before the rise and fall of Geek Squad, back when we were simply known as PC-Install Techs. Back then we had similar pride in our work, and similar reasons for an ailing department.

    Initially Best Buy had some great techs, but they started transferring people from the sales floor to the tech bench. I recall being hired as a salesperson, a job I abhorred. I took a tech position 6 months to a year later. I excelled in the position, but not long after, the push for revenue came to our desks. The more PC’s we could pump through, the better. Quality work became a thing of the past. I quit soon after, and gave my resignation to my managers, stating that the corporate culture had destroyed a good company.

    The Consumerist’s account nearly mirrored my own memories. And clearly, Best Buy has a lasting habit of applying bad management to great business models. Geek Squad, on it’s own, was apparently a great service. Then Best Buy got ahold of it, applied it’s management strategy, and killed the tech bench once again.

    Way to go Best Buy, way to go.

    The Server Blew Up

    The past month and a half has been filled with many great days, and a few bad days. One of the bad days was 4/12. My server decided that it’s hard drive absolutely had to die a week before my wedding and two-three week honeymoon. I managed to get a bunch of files recovered from the server, but not everything.. I had to re-install the servver and get some people’s sites up and limping. Fun stuff.

    So after getting my life back on track, catching up with some projects at work, and getting some things straightened up at home, I finally got my own site working. It’s not all here, but all the stories and comments should be. I have to see what database tables got lost and re-create them to make sure that the site is at least functional.

    I have to say thanks to my new wife, Kaylan, for being patient with me as I geeked out and fixed stuff.

    Wedding and Honeymoon pictures coming soon!

    – Mr. MuchTall

    Server Migration

    The era of Devnull is coming to a close as we usher in the era of “Courage”.

    My new server, Courage, has been up and running for about 4 weeks, however with limited usefulness. It had just been sitting there for some time waiting for a greater purpose. My home workstation, Integrity, was originally going to be the successor to Devnull, but after waiting for many months to get a new installation and start the migration process, newer hardware came into my possession that gave birth to Courage. Now I’m not quite sure what to do with Integrity. Another MythTV frontend maybe?

    In any case, migration has started to Courage, and I believe that most of the essential services have been moved (http, mysql, ftp, named, and ssh). I have yet to move the mail-related services (smtp, imap, pop, etc.) as I am migrating to postfix over sendmail and am working around some configuration conversion issues. I expect that to be done in the coming days.

    John's!@holmstadt.com

    I give up. Thunderbird, as great as it is at classifying spam, just isn’t good enough to combat the all the crap that fills my inbox. It probably only catches %80 of the spam that comes my way, and that’s pretty bad when I get 50-100 spams a day.

    Why so much spam? It’s pretty simple. Just go and register any domain. Set up a catch-all for @yourdomain.com to point to an account, and watch the spam come in…. for everyone. Susie, Ron, Bob, Jack, Tom, Tim, Phil, and of course, John. If it’s a common name, you’l get email for it at name@yourdomain.com. Spammers guess at all sorts of common names to try to find new targets for their herbal viagra ads and genital enlargment creams.

    This has become a problem for my email address. John is a pretty common name after all. But really, few people actually email me there. I’ve taken to creating a new email address for each entity I share my contact info with. I’ve prepared for this by creating a catchall for the subdomain of @john.mydomain.com For instance, if I share my address with Joe Blo, I ask him to email me at jblo@john.mydomain.com. If his computer ever gets compromised, or he decides to share this address with spammers, I simply tell sendmail to start rejecting this address.

    Other than the fact that i’ve been still accepting mail for john@, It’s been working pretty well. The only people who have emailed me directly are family members and spammers. So I’ve told family to start using a sub-domained address and told sendmail to start rejecting john@mydomain.com.

    So that’s it. I give up. You’ve ruined my uber-slick email address, so I must reject all of your mail and move on to a less convenient address.

    Muchtall's New Groove

    So it’s been much too long since my last updated, but I figured I should say something before it gets to be any longer.

    About a month ago I put in my two weeks at WealthSpring and took a new job at API Group Inc. I now do primarily Linux server administration. It’s my dream job.

    I didn’t mind WealthSpring, but I needed to be in a certain place financially at this point in my life, and they just didn’t seem to be willing or able to provide that. So I started looking for other work. I got an interview with another company and they brought me in for 3 interviews, after which they called me to inform me that the position has been reorganized out of existence. That day, while sitting at home with Kaylan, talking about the situation, I got a call from a recruiter. He sent me some information on the job and it sounded great. A couple of days later I was in an interview with them. A week later I had accepted and offer and I put in my 2 weeks that Monday.

    I’ve now been in my new job for a little over two weeks and I love it. I’m working with Linux servers pretty much all day, I get to travel occasionally, and of course the pay is good.

    MuchTall Upgrade to PHPNuke 7.9

    I finally got PHPNuke upgraded for Muchtall.com. Unfortunately the upgrade was not painless. If you see anything out of place, let me know.

    Thanks!