Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Flirting with Androids

So yeah... I was told that the organization I work for will buy me a new phone a few weeks ago. This is like taking a three year old to Toys R Us and telling them that they can only... have... one. So, naturally I spent the next few days (okaaaay... next week) looking at the phones that were out on the major carriers, and took a look at the phones that were expected to be released in the coming weeks, both rumored and confirmed.

I settled on waiting for the newest Android phone coming from Sprint, the Samsung Moment, because of what looked like a nice side sliding keyboard, and a best in class 800Mhz processor, but wanted to hold it in my hand before I took the plunge. It turns out that waiting to test this bad boy out was the right move.

With all due respect to Android, the problems that you may have read about it in regards being a little slow to respond at times are true. Even with that monster processor, Android had noticeable delays while handling simple tasks, an issue that you don't see in either Windows Mobile 6.5, or Palm's WebOS (or the iPhone for that matter). We will find out in a few days whether this will be less of an issue with the upcoming Verizon Droid, which comes with a much slower processor (550 Mhz) but is the first phone to come out with the revamped Android 2.0. Regardless, the phone that I had considered as a backup ended up exceeding my expectations, and I'm not waiting any longer to get a new phone.

While I lust after the future possibilities of Android (give me a sleeker version of the Droid, with one of those 1Ghz snapdragon processors and an OS thats a bit snappier... I'll be in line on opening day) Samsung's candy bar (shaped like a Blackberry) Windows Mobile phone has everything I need and then some.

Enter the Samsung Intrepid...

I owned a side slider with an older version of Windows Mobile a few years back, and I'll tell ya, WinMo 6.5 is an enormous improvement. It has everything I'm looking for in a phone, as there are literally tens of thousands of apps you can download for WinMo, both paid and free, its snappy, stylish and does everything I need it to do.

Most importantly, it has one of the best keyboards on any phone I've ever played with. Some reviewers have called it cheap feeling, but I thought the clicks were solid, the keys were huge in comparison to phones with similar layouts (the phone is quite wide and the keyboard covers the whole width) and the keys had a bit of a rubbery feel to them that reminded me of my old Palm Treo. I text, update, email and even occasionally blog from my phone... so they keyboard is the most important thing for me. I was typing away at nearly the same speed as I can on my Treo now in a matter of 3o seconds once the Intrepid was in my hand. Besides... and maybe this is because I was a bit of a Trekkie when I was a kid... I like the idea of being able to say my phone is called an 'Intrepid', hahaha.

If you're wondering why I am just looking at Sprint phones... Verizon is great and all, and has measurably better service in my experience, but isn't worth the extra cost (even when the company is paying for it). On top of that, Verizon just decided to double their early termination fees. As if the world isn't nickel and diming us enough... I have never made it the whole two years before upgrading to a new phone, so this is no small deal for me. Hopefully this shady move wont spread to Sprint, AT&T, T-Mobile and the like...

So! Keep flirting with Android kids. If you're more concerned with the cool factor than function, then maybe its for you. But if you're like me (aka... your smartphone doubles as an extension of your brain) and don't have the patience for the quirky issues they're still working out, then I'd say stick with the Palm Pre (if you're fingers aren't too big, like mine). iPhone (if you don't need a keyboard at all) or a nicer WinMo phone.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Another website launched with Drupal

I just got done putting up my second website using Drupal as the CMS.  The site can be found at http://www.maywoodband.com.  This site is home to my band, Maywood.  It includes both public and private forums, picture and video galleries, and a customized theme.  And it took me only two days of work to get running.  To anyone who says that Drupal is hard to work with, I say: Two Days.  Not bad for a “steep learning curve”.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Drupal Notes – My Project

So I’m posted a boatload of entries about Drupal, but why am I learning all about it? Well, first of all, it’s friggin’ sweet, but that’s not why I got interested to begin with. I’ve got a project, and I want to get it to the web quickly.

Enter Drupal.

One of my good friends, and occasional contributor to this blog, Sol Kleinsmith, turned me on to the idea of open source content management systems. He chewed my ear off one night over beer and wine about Drupal, I did some research, and was immediately hooked. Ha! Hooked! I’m making Drupal jokes already! (see some of the other posts about Drupal to … well… see how big of a nerd I just was.)

One of the things I was looking for was the ability to extend functionality. My project involves storing, retrieving, and comparing information about different computer systems. Obviously this is pretty specific, and there’s no built in functionality that can be used to achieve this in Drupal. Custom Modules are going to have to be written.

So if you continue to read these posts, you’ll learn how to put together a new custom Module that takes in and stores information in a MySQL database, makes it searchable, compares like information, and displays it in a readable, customizable fashion. Pretty much anything and everything you can do with Drupal, I’m going to try to do.

If you want to check out my work, click on the link below:

Side-by-Side Geek

And if you’re feeling brave, sign up and start posting in the forums!

Monday, October 19, 2009

Drupal Notes – Modules – Creating the Files

Creating a new Module is as simple as creating a handful of files, as long as you know what to call them and where they should be placed. Oh, and you have to know PHP. Details, details…

If you’ve explored the directory structure of your Drupal installation, you might have found a few directories of interest. Specifically, there’s a modules directory in the root of your Drupal installation, which holds the Drupal core modules. You might have also found the sites/all/modules directory. This is where you want to work when writing and installing custom Modules.

When creating a new Module, there are a handful of standard files that are generated. When you write a new Module, the first thing you do is give it a short but meaningful name. For this example, we’ll use the name “modulename”.

The first time you create a new Module, you’ll need to create some directories in the sites/all/modules directory. In order to make changes and updates to downloaded Modules easier, you’ll probably want to create a custom directory. Then, inside the custom directory, create a directory, named after the Module, for each custom Module you’re creating. So, in our case, we’ll be creating a modulename directory. So we end up with:


Once you get the directories all set up, you’ll create the following basic files:

Readme.txt . . . This file describes what your Module does, just in case someone else has to take over maintenance.

modulename.info . . . This file provides information to the Drupal Core about the new Module. We’ll get more into the use and structure of this file later.

modulename.module . . . This is where the meat of the module will reside. Hooks are implemented here. This is another that we’ll get into in greater detail in a future blog entry. Just know for now that you’ll be spending a lot of time in this file.

modulename.admin.inc . . . This file isn’t mandatory, but if you have any kind of configuration in your module, you’ll probably me creating this file. It holds information about administrative forms. Stay tuned for more on this file.

So there really isn’t too much to creating a simple Drupal Module. I’ll get much, much deeper into development in future posts. Keep reading and learn as I do!

Monday, October 12, 2009

Drupal Notes – Terminology

Before we get started with development, there are some terms that need to be defined. It’s important that we keep these concepts straight, because it can get pretty confusing if we don’t. So here are some terms and concepts that we’ll need to know before going any further:

Modules . . . The most fundamental concept in Drupal development is the Module. A Module, to put it simply, is a container of code that introduces some sort of behavior to the system. For example, there is a Module that handles Ad Sense publishing. There is a Module that allows you to run forums. There is a Module for blogging. Modules can be enabled and disabled (except for certain modules that are required to run the basic Drupal framework). Custom functionality is added to Drupal by way of custom Modules.

Hooks . . . In order to let Drupal know about newly added functionality, we use Hooks. If you’ve done any event-based programming in the past, you’ve probably heard of callback functions. For those new to the idea, basically what you’re doing is letting a control loop know about functions you’ve written to handle certain events. That’s what Drupal’s Hook system is all about. When you define a Hook function, you’re letting Drupal know you’ve written a function that handles a certain circumstance. I’ll get into a lot more detail in a future entry, but just know for now that Hooks are how you integrate your code with the Drupal core code.

Themes . . . When it comes to presenting information on the web, there are really two parts to the story. There’s the information you’re presenting and then there’s the format you’re presenting it in. That’s where Drupal Themes come in. Themes can be thought of as the presentation part of the system. They define, through HTML markup and CSS code, how the data is displayed on your users’ browser. Again, more detail to come, but know that you should have a good working knowledge of HTML, CSS, and PHP in order to effectively work with Drupal Themes.

Nodes . . . If Modules contain code for dealing with events, hooks define those events, and Themes define presentation, then Nodes define the actual types of content Drupal can deal with. I know this can be a little confusing, and you’re probably wondering why the designers of Drupal would take this approach. Basically, it allows content types to exist independently of functionality, and allows you to apply any functionality to any content you like. Believe me, it’s very cool, and after you get past any confusion, you’ll really like it.

Blocks . . . So how do you take all that great information in your Nodes, press it through the code in your Modules, and display it on the screen? Through Blocks, of course! Well, maybe it’s not that obvious, but that’s how it’s done. Blocks are regions where information is displayed. An example of a block from the Drupal Core would be the Login Block, where you enter your login information. The Block displays a login prompt when no-one is logged in, then displays a menu of options that is dependent on your level of access.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Drupal Notes Series


Over the past few months, I’ve been working on a website project in my spare time.  In order to speed up deployment of the site, I decided to use Drupal.

While Drupal, with all it’s addons and plugins and themes, is a very complete system for people making community portals, e-commerce websites, internal intranets, and many other flavors of website, it doesn’t quite handle the concept of my project.  Because of this, I’m going to be learning how to extend Drupal’s basic functionality.

In order to make my life a bit easier, I purchased a copy of Pro Drupal Development, Second Edition.  I’m hoping the book can help me figure out how to properly and cleanly add the functionality I’m looking for.  I thumbed through it, and things look promising.

So, in the spirit of sharing, I’m going to be posting my personal notes on Drupal development.  I’ll post one installment every week, Monday morning at around 8am.  I’m going to cover everything from how to set up your initial installation to how to add custom modules.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Zune HD – And Drool All Over my Keyboard

As the release date for the new Zune HD (September 15th, in case you’ve been living under a rock) closes in, I thought I’d provide a link to Engadget’s Zune HD Hub. It’s full of videos, articles, and all sorts of Zune eye candy. Enjoy!

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Robot Hands Will Rule the World

This is the most amazing video I've ever seen in my life. I'm not even going to write about it, except to say that it perfectly illustrates exactly how our robot overlords are going to grasp the whips some day. Seriously, though, check this out. It's incredible.

High-Speed Robot Hand Demonstrates Dexterity and Skillful Manipulation

Friday, July 31, 2009

How to Buy a PC

I recently wrote my cousin a little how-to on buying a PC laptop.  She’s getting ready for her first year in college and needs a computer.  Not to sound like those PC commercials, I do think that you can get exactly what you need out of a computer without paying extra for the Apple name (now now, I’m a HUGE Apple supporter, so please extinguish your flames).  Here’s what I told my cousin:

Shopping for a PC (Macs are WAY easier) can be pretty daunting. There are so many choices, it's tough to figure out exactly what to look for. It took me a couple of months to settle on the machine I bought, and it was only after learning some of the nomenclature that I finally figured out what I wanted... so to cut to the chase, here's a quick guide to buying PC laptops:

1. More memory... this one's obvious. Memory is the single best upgrade for a computer. Buy one with as much as you can. 4GB is about right.

2. Dedicated Video... if you can afford it, dedicated video is the way to go. Basically what this means is that there is a seperate bank of memory for the video card, as opposed to "integrated" where the video shares memory with the rest of the computer. If you see "Intel GMA 45000MHD" or something similar, it's integrated video. If you see "NVidia" or "ATI", it's dedicated. If you don't play videos games much, and don't see yourself doing so, this is less of a concern.

3. CPU... Here's where it gets tricky. There are so many different CPU's out there (we're going to stick to Intel stuff, just to simplify. You don't want to get into the comparison between Intel and AMD) it's tough to know you're making a good choice. In order to make things simple, here's a tip: CPU's are categorized using a letter then a four-digit number. Only worry about the number. The higher the number, the better the CPU. You'll see clock speeds... GHz speeds... don't sweat that, as there's a lot more that goes into performance than the speed. Shoot for the highest number you can (anything 6400 or over).

www.newegg.com should be your best friend. If you go to their homepage, in the PCs & Laptops area, you'll see a link for "Laptops / Notebooks". Go there, and you'll find along the left side of the page, a search system. This is how I found the laptops I'm going to link to you. I searched under CPU Type for "Intel Core 2 Duo", Memory for "4GB", and various different screen sizes. I looked mostly at HP (my personal preference, feel free to check out others). Here are the ones that I thought were decent...


The first one (the HP DV6-1050) definitely has the most horsepower for the $$$, but is a touch large. The other two would be very good machines as well. I would suggest playing around with the search on newegg, and reading the reviews.


Wednesday, July 29, 2009

So, Are There Any Questions?

I spend my entire working day answering questions and giving tips on how to use computers more effectively, both at work and at home. So I was thinking the other day, why not do that on Tux-Midwest as well? I've got decades of information stored in my head on subjects ranging from how to interface with a MySQL database using C++ on a Linux box to how to most effectively clean a laser printer. I think it's time for me to start sharing, don't you?

So if you have a question concerning technology, any technology, post it in a comment right here. I'll do my best to answer it in a future post, and if I don't know the answer, I'll do my best to find it. So post your questions here! I look forward to reading them!

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

World of Warcraft... the Movie?

Direct from Examiner.com, I bring you rumors of a World of Warcraft movie.  Yes, that's right... a movie.  Actually, this shouldn't come as too big a surprise to the roughly 11 million subscribers who pay to play the world's most popular MMORPG.  It was really only a matter of time before somebody decided to exploit the popularity of this Guiness Book of World Records-holding triumph of time-wasty-ness for their own personal gain.

But don't get me wrong... I'm just jealous it's not me.

According to Miss Tanya Gupta of Examiner.com, Legendary Pictures, Blizzard Entertainment, and Warner Bros. will be working jointly on the film, and Sam Raimi of Spiderman fame has been hired to direct.  While no specific timeframe is set forth by Miss Gupta, she asserts that Raimi is slated to start work as soon as he's finished with Spiderman 4.

This could rock, or this could suck.  I, for one, will keep an open mind.  I like the Warcraft series.  It's got some great plot potentional.  I just hope that Raimi understands he's going to be dealing with some real fanatics, so staying true to the background of the game is going to be pretty important.  I say to you, Mr. Raimi:  Good luck!

Monday, July 20, 2009

Windows 7 is Beautiful

Anybody who knows me knows that I'm pretty much Linus Torvald's bitch.  I've been running one flavor of Linux or another since 2000.  I've written some pretty serious code on it.  I've hosted a couple of websites on it.  I've lived it, breathed it, and annoyingly evangelized it.  So the title of this post is, well, very out of character for me.

But it's true.

Microsoft's latest offering-to-be in the operating system world is, well, beautiful.  Based on Vista code, it's no great technological departure from where they were headed anyway.  Realistically, they've just taken the lessons learned (read as: sour grapes) from Vista and applied them to Windows 7.  For those out there who are thinking "Well crap, doesn't that mean Windows 7 is just the same pig with fresh lipstick?", I'll get to that in a few minutes, but for right now, let me just say... "No".  When you see the OS in action, it becomes quickly apparent they've taken people's complaints very seriously.

My Little Experiment

So what would possess me, a self-proclaimed Linux guy, to take a chance on Bill's latest OS?  Well, I've got a handful of applications that I run under Windows.  They're things like games (World of Warcraft, Warcraft III) and applications that have life-critical data (MS Money) stored in them.  Things that wouldn't run well in WINE, or are too sensitive to trust to WINE (which is basically permanent beta software).  My wife and I also store our digital picture and music collection on Windows SMB shares.  Yes, I could build some on a Linux box, but I decided a long time ago that easy is better than cool, and I could set up a Windows file share a lot easier under Windows than Linux.  Anyway, I've got a couple of good reasons to run a Windows box, so there we are.

A few months ago, my Windows XP home-brew desktop machine started acting up.  It refused to fully load web pages.  It didn't matter what browser I used, images and CSS would refuse to load, leaving web pages an unreadable mess, at best.  So instead of sweating it out trying to figure out what was going on, I decided to just reformat and reinstall the OS.  That's when I heard about the Windows 7 Release Candidate.  I decided to give it a shot.

Chrome, Chrome Everywhere

The interface guys over at Microsoft had a good time with this one.  The first thing you'll notice is the taskbar.  It's been completely revamped, showing only icons for opened applications.  At first I was skeptical about whether this would be enough, but I found the new organization easy to use, especially since all application names (and an active screenshot) are shown when the mouse cursor is placed over the application's icon.  The taskbar application shortcuts and the active applications sort of blend together on the taskbar, which creates an interesting, and very function, integration of active and available applications.

And speaking of organization, Microsoft introduces what they're calling "Libraries" in Windows 7.  A library is a collection of like-typed media, all sorted and organized for you.  This media could all be in once directory, or spread all over your heard drive.  The library brings it all together, sorts and organizes it, and makes it available to you from the left side of any Windows Explorer window.  While I find the added layer of abstraction a little annoying (as in: where are those files REALLY?), this feature will be extremely useful for every-day users.

Most of the interface is almost exactly the same as Vista, so anybody out there who has been using Vista for a while will feel right at home in Windows 7.  The Windows Explorer, file copy dialogs, and other system-level interface features look almost identical.  One thing you won't notice, at least not nearly as much, is the Windows User Account Control.  The UAC seems to have been toned down even more than Vista SP1.  It still picks on you a pick, but only when you're actually doing something that alters the operating system.

You Never Get a Second Chance...

I've got to say, my first impression of Windows 7 has been very positive.  I've only used it for a couple of hours, but so far it has met or exceeded my expectations.  I'll be writing more as I learn more, but for the moment, I'm giving it an A+ as a replacement for Windows XP and Windows Vista.  Check back for further information in Windows 7 RC.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Why the Zune HD is better than the iPod (for some)

The talk that resulted in Tux offering me a slot on here revolved around his being in the market for a new top of the line pocket media/MP3 player. For his birthday last year a few of us got him a new Zune, which he loves, so he was thinking about getting a nicer one. I had to tell him to put it off for a bit, as the next generation of bad ass was coming soon.

For some the iPod is king... but its not for everyone. Below is my description as to many of the reasons why people would choose the Zune HD, which comes out Sept 8th, over the iPod line.

#1 - Look at the damn thing! I can't speak for the world here, but I really can't stand the swoopy, curvy soft lines of the iPod, and most Apple products in general. When I have the option, I go for cool factor, something that has the feel of a machine rather than an artsy paperweight. This mean puppy has the look of a serious device, and as you will read below, its all business when you get past that killer venier. Past the esthetics, there is less space between the edge of the screen and the edge of the device. This actually means that you get the same size screen in a smaller overall package.

#2 - Its not just the size of the screen that counts... but its the motion of the ocean... right? I've always been a fan of the size AND motion of the ocean strategy, and Microsoft agrees with me here. They decided to kick Apple in the shins and replace their old screen with a 480 x 272 OLED, which in English means it'll be uber sharp and bright, more so than the oh 'so last month' iPod Touch.

#3 - Under the hood is perhaps where this puppy shines the most. Its got the brand spankin' new Tegra processor from NVIDIA, meaning this bad boy will rip through your video faster than anything out there now, and... get this... will be able to port out to your TV, with an HDMI cable, with full HD video. Until the interwebernetz connects everything to each other, you can bypass those ancient circular plastic pieces of junk DVDs, keep your movies on your harddrive and just hook your good old Zune HD up to your flatscreen and watch Firefly with abandon... thats what I'll be doing anyway :)

#4 - Other killer features that the Zune has over the iPod line include HD radio reception, wireless sync, and for the gamers among us, the unique ability to view content you buy for the Zune on your Xbox or home computer. This mixed with the Zune Pass subscription service, which lets you download all the music you want onto your Zune for 14.99 a month. As their ads say, compare this to the literally tens of thousands of dollars you would have to pay to fill your iPod with MP3s, and the victor is clear for me. The Zune pass can even be used on up to three computers and three Zunes.

I'm no Microsoft fanboy, as a matter of fact I'm fairly anti-Microsoft on a number of fronts, especially Windows vs Linux, Microsoft Office vs Open Office, Hotmail vs Gmail and Explorer vs FF and Chrome. But here we have a qualitatively better product, with a handful of better features and, in the eyes of this beholder, a better design. I've gotta tip my hat off to them for this awesome piece of hardware. I've been holding off on getting an MP3 player, just keeping a few on my netbook and smartphone for the last few years for when the radio gets boring, but this puppy might pull me down off the fence.

Windows 7 Discount, Available for a Limited Time

Windows 7 is slated to be released to the general public on October 22nd, 2009 (well, sort of… 14 languages, including English, will be available on the 22nd, the other 21 languages will be released on the 31st.), but if you pre-order, you can nab yourself a 50%+ discount.  Not bad, Microsoft, not bad at all.

As Wilson Rothman reports on Gizmodo, this pre-order period will begin tomorrow and only last a limited time.  Also starting tomorrow, if you purchase a new computer, you’ll be entitled to a free upgrade to Windows 7.  Again, not a bad deal, considering Windows 7 is supposed to be leaner than Windows Vista, so it should perform rather nicely on just about any modern hardware.

Ars Technica has a really killer article that lays out all of your options as far as purchase of and upgrade to Windows 7.  I would highly recommend checking it out, especially if you’re considering going directly from XP to 7.

Windows 7 Pricing (from Ars Technica):

Purchase Type Home Premium Professional Ultimate
Retail Upgrade $119.99 $199.99 $219.99
Full Retail $199.99 $299.99 $319.99
Discount Upgrade $49.99 $99.99 N/A

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Please Welcome Solomon Kleinsmith


Recently, I was back in my home town visiting with friends, and the subject of mobile technology came up.  I myself lack extended expertise in the subject, so I was talking to my friend Sol Kleinsmith, who I knew had a strong and growing interest in that area of technology.  Well, a few strong drinks later, we were examining his new Acer netbook and talking about the future of cell phones.  Needless to say, I was very impressed with his level of knowledge.  By the end of the night, I’d asked him to join this blog as a contributing writer on mobile technology, and he accepted.

During President Obama’s campaign, Solomon was a grassroots organizer for the state of Nebraska, running several political groups in Omaha.  During this time, he learned how to leverage technology to mobilize his groups and organize activities.  Since he worked mostly without an office, he learned very quickly which technologies work, and which aren’t worth the time.

I’m extremely glad to have Sol as a member and writer of Tux in the Midwest.  I think he’ll be able to fill in a huge gap here on the mobile technology front.  Please welcome Solomon Kleinsmith!!!

My netbook aspirations - HP Mini 5101

This being my first post on here (heyo!), I thought it appropriate to make it something about my most recent purchase of gadgety goodness. Like many people, I have a home desktop thats pretty beefy, but most of the things I do are relatively light running, so I don't need something with a lot of horsepower very often. So when my old laptop went kaput, I knew it was time for me to finally enter the heavenly world of netbooktopia!

Had this happened many moons ago, I would have gone for something nicer, but I ended up going for the cheap and popular Acer Aspire One. I really can't complain about it, and as a matter of fact I love the thing. I love being able to pack it in my knapsack and barely tell I added anything to the four or five books I seem to have to have with me at all times. It does all the things my old laptop did (seemingly faster, even with a slower processor and less RAM), has better battery life, and you seriously can't beat the pricetag. I got the puppy for a whopping 304 dollars, including shipping... which was the kicker for me since I'm living the poor sad life of a Masters student.

But my heartstrings were plucked the other day when I came across this work of netbook sexiness. The HP Mini 5101 is where HP, who's pretty blah HP Mini 1100 (now with an extra 1 at the end! wheee!) was one I skipped right over in my recent search for its lack of anything to make it stand out what so ever, decided to go for the lovers of the sharp lines and edges of my breed of gadget heads. I'm not down with the Apple brand of design, with swoopy and smooth and blah blah blah... nay my friend, give me your dark colors and sharp edges. Make my gear look like a machine, not an art deco paperweight.

Engadget got some pretty sweet pics here and here. Underneath the slobber slobber design, the specs are standard top of the line for netbooks these days, with some nice upgrades like a 7200rpm HD, with 80GB or 128GB SSD options, a 2.0MP webcam... and of course a fancy shmancy magnesium and aluminum chasis. Dude... my laptop is made of magnesium and aluminum, how about yours... punk? Wouldn't that be nice to be able to say when the leader of the pack at the local coffee joint peers through his emo flop hairdo at your snorg tee and jeans from Target? Yes Timmy, yes it would.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Vineet Nayar says US Tech Grads are Unemployable

In an interesting twist of I-don't-know-what, CEO of Indian IT services vendor HCL Vineet Nayar stated in a speech in New York City in front of 50 customers and partners that the reason his company doesn't employ more people here in the United States (HCL currently has 21 offices in 15 states, employing over 3,000 people) is that US tech grads are "unemployable".

This probably comes as a swift kick in the shorts to anybody who has ever dealt with "overseas" tech support, however Rob Preston of InformationWeek quickly put Nayar's comments in perspective. Preston explains that Nayar was driving at the fact that "...American grads looking to enter the tech field are preoccupied with getting rich..." and are less inclined to "...spend their time learning the 'boring' details of tech process, methodology, and tools...". This results in the American grads being more expensive to train than their Indian, Chinese, Brazilian, South African, or Irish counterparts.

Having never personally experienced education from an Indian perspective, I can't vouch for how true or untrue statements made concerning American versus Indian education are. I have only my personal experience to build from. I can say that my own education did, at times, trade low-level hands-on experience for a higher-level, creative problem-solving approach. Whether this was a good or bad thing is debatable, however I do feel that it does offer some benefits over a brute-force approach.

In my dealings with overseas technical support (HCL included, as they are contracted by my current employer), I've found that the individuals I've worked with, while very knowledgable concerning the product they are employed to support, lack basic problem-solving skills and tend toward trial-and-error when it comes to fixing issues. While this can work in a lot of situations, it's not nearly the cleanest or most efficient way to get the job done. On more than one occasion, it has actually made problems worse, because the technician made changes that he couldn't remember how to undo, changes that made matters worse.

I'm not going to be rough on the Indian folks I've worked with over the years, because, while some of them have been occasionally frustrating, a lot of them are some of the most intelligent, creative IT people I've had the pleasure of working with. And believe me, the same holds true for the American IT staff, both positive and negative. The reality is that the American and Indian IT educational systems aren't perfect, and can learn a lot from each other. It's just a bitter pill to swallow when the criticism is pointed back at you.

Microsoft Enters the Free Anti-Malware Arena

Hot off the presses...err, the Intarwebs... CNET.com published a little gem giving the details on Microsoft's new free anti-virus / anti-malware software, dubbed "Microsoft Security Essentials".

The new software, which is targeted mostly at those who don't already have a security suite installed on their computers, will be available for free from Microsoft. The software, like its direct competitors, will stay up-to-date via auto update features, and will protect against current and new virus threats, as well as rootkits.

Microsoft Security Essentials is slated to replace the Live OneCare suite. Microsoft Security Essentials will not include features such as a firewall, performance tuning, or backup and restore. Security Essentials is intended only as a free, simple, bare-bones security solution.

Click here to read what Elinor Mills from CNET has to say about the matter...

Twitter and Iran

Time.com just published an article last week that does a very good job of explaining the phenomenon happening on Twitter surrounding the Iranian election. Until today, I'd not had a chance to really learn much about what's going on, and I found it very enlightening.

In the past, I've been pretty hard on Twitter. While I'm still of the opinion that day-to-day Tweeting is, well, mostly silly, I've got to say that what is going on in Iran is one of the best uses for this new technology I could never have personally imagined. I think what's going on is amazing. Technology can be used for social change, and to circumvent a corrupt government's attempts to deny freedom of speech.

So I raise my glass to the folks at Twitter. May your network be strong, and your servers never go down.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Dell Vostro 1220 Images Leak - Clean but Boring

There's nothing thrilling about Dell's latest budget offering, the Vostro 1220. Engadget has the scoop on images of a crimson version coming to a Walmart near you. With a Core 2 Duo T6750 processor, 4GB of RAM, a 320GB hard drive, an ExpressCard slot and even a fingerprint reader, it's actually pretty solidly spec'd. For those who value function over form, this little number might be right up your ally.

Click to check out Engadget's images of the new Dell Vostro 1220.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Windows Vista Service Pack 2

For all those proud Windows Vista users out there, Microsoft recently released Service Pack 2, the latest upgrade to their much-frowned-upon, but much-improved, desktop operating system. Incidentally, they also released Windows Server 2008 SP2 the same day.

So what does the May 25th Service Pack 2 release get you? Well, according to SoftSailor.com, a whole list of interesting goodies, including:

  • Windows Seach 4.0
  • Support for Bluetooth 2.1
  • Data recording on Blu-ray
  • Simpler WiFi configuration
  • Better resuming for active WiFi connections
  • Support for VIA's 64-bit CPUs
  • Better audio and video performance for HD streaming
  • 10% more efficient power management in some configurations
  • And the list goes on...

Also included is the usual list of hotfixes and security updates. According to Yahoo! Tech, the body count for fixes and updates is almost 700, however a good number of them "represent very rare bugs that only a small percentage of users will ever encounter".

Christopher Null (what a great name for a computer blogger) says, at the end of his entry, "I'm running the update and have encountered no problems to date...". Well, if it's good enough for Chris, it's good enough for you.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

What Kind of Tech User are You?

You are an Digital Collaborator

If you are a Digital Collaborator, you use information technology to work with and share your creations with others. You are enthusiastic about how ICTs help you connect with others and confident in your ability to manage digital devices and information. For you, the digital commons can be a camp, a lab, or a theater group – places to gather with others to develop something new.

Yup, that’s me… a “Digital Collaborator”. I’d better be, since I work in IT. Find out what kind of tech user you are by visiting PewInternet.org and taking their quiz.

Windows 7 on Your Old Computer

Hot off the presses: Michael Scalisi wrote a nifty little article for PCWorld.com's Business Center dishing the dirty on Windows 7's older hardware support. According to the article, which can be found here, the minimum system requirements for Windows 7 RC are "a 1GHz Processor, 1 GB RAM, and 16GB of free hard disk space." So in true geek fashion, Mr. Scalisi grabbed the nearest almost-there (Intel P3 933MHz processor, 768 MB of RAM, and 80GB hard drive) old PC he could, and went about installing Win7 RC on it.

Surprisingly, aside from a few hardware glitches, it seems that he was successful in Frankenstein-ing together a rather reasonably running box. Sure, there were some driver issues concerning older hardware, but those were quickly remedied by swapping those particular pieces (DVD drive, video card, and network card) for something a little more modern. You're also not going to be rocking Aero at all on a box like this, but if you're just looking at taking a peek at the OS in general, that shouldn't be a problem.

Michael Scalisi ran the machine through some real-world paces, launching a handful of tabs in Chrome, as well as IE 8, while playing some music on Media Player. He says it's a little sluggish, like you'd expect, but not so much so that it's unusable. He calls it "perfectly usable as long as your expectations are appropriately low."

So what does this exercise in geekery prove? Well, for starters it means that Microsoft has rolled back their inappropriately high minimum system requirements to a more reasonable level. The machine that Mr. Scalisi used for his article was built in 2001. It also means that business that have been waiting for all this Vista stuff to blow over and Microsoft to come out with a reasonable replacement for Windows XP might not have to upgrade their hardware after all. Did Microsoft think of this when they started hacking away at Windows 7? Ummm... we think so.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

What's Your PC History?

The current generation entering the workforce today can't remember a time when they didn't have access to a personal computer. Whether it was at school playing "Oregon Trail" or at home playing "Maniac Mansion", computers were, in the late 80's and early 90's, starting to become as ubiquitous as televisions and telephones. I'm feeling a bit nostalgic today, so I thought I'd ask everyone out there: What's your PC history?

Here's mine:

It all started with a combination of the Apple II+ and Apple IIe. My father was, and still is, quite the computer hobbyist, programming in assembly language, C, C++, Visual Basic, and HTML/CSS. He's been his university departments webmaster for years, and continues to tinker and learn. His first machine was an Apple IIe, which he learned everything he possibly could about, and passed that knowledge on to me in the form of my first computer, the Apple II+, and manuals and technical articles. I got my start on that machine, programming in BASIC and assembly language. Those were the crazy, pioneering days of personal computer technology, when programmers were akin to magicians, and I was five years old.

I rocked that machine well into high school, both programming on it and writing school papers. By the time I was finished with it, we'd attached a 20 MEGABYTE hard drive to it as well as a mouse, and I'd started trying to write a graphical user interface (ala Macintosh or Apple IIgs... remember GSOS?) for it. About mid-high school, my parents invested in their first Macintosh (circa 1996), the Performa 450. This what around the time Apple had released a myriad of confusing configurations. No one knew what any of the names or numbers meant. That computer lasted my parents until sometime when I was in college, when they upgraded to a second-generation iMac.

As for me, when I entered college, I entered the world of the PC. I'd avoided it as long as I could, hearing horror stories of blue-screens-of-death and lost data. Fortunately for me, I purchased my first PC just before Microsoft released Windows ME, so I avoided a lot of the issues that my friends who bought computers saw later. My machine was a highly customized Gateway PC, with an 800Mhz Pentium II processor and 128 megabytes of memory, a 20 gigabyte hard drive, and a 15-inch CRT monitor. Looking back on it, it seems like such an underpowered machine, but it was state-of-the-art at the time.

That machine carried me through college in pretty decent fashion. After graduation, I decided I'd also graduated to a laptop, which took the form of a Dell Inspiron 1100. With a 2.4GHz Celeron, 256 megabytes of memory, and a 40 gigabyte hard drive, it was a definite upgrade. I actually still use this box, rocking Fedora 9 Linux. It's been upgraded to 1 gigabyte of memory and a 80 gigabyte hard drive, but all the other parts are still original. My wife has the same laptop, and it still works great for her.

A few years ago I tried my hand at system building, and ended up with a custom-built desktop designed around an Asus M2N-E SLI motherboard with an AMD Athlon 64 5400+ processor. It's loaded with 2 gigabytes of memory and over 1 terabyte of total hard drive space. It's a great machine, runs anything I throw at it, and stores and backs up all of my photos and music.

My last purchase came in the form of a new laptop. It's an HP Pavilion DV7-1270us. It's got an Intel Core 2 Duo 8600 in it, rocking at 2.4Ghz, 4 gigabytes of memory, and a 320 gigabyte hard drive. It's a really nice machine, my main recording machine, and plays all the games and runs all the software I want it to.

So, as you can see, I've owned and used quite a cross-section of machines in my time. What does your PC history look like? I'd like to see what you've owned/used over the years.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Three Wolf Moon T-Shirt - Magic on Amazon

According to the many, many reviewers on Amazon, this shirt does everything from attract the opposite sex to cure cancer. It's HILL AIR EE US.

Seriously, check it out. HERE

Thursday, June 4, 2009

NEWS: ReadWriteWeb Points Out the Reality of Web 2.0 for the White House

Last post of the day, honest!

Some of us out here in the etherwebs have been waiting, watching, and wondering what the heck happened to all the talk of Web 2.0 in the Whitehouse. The folks at ReadWriteWeb, specifically Frederic Lardinois, have put together yet another great article on just that topic.

Their article does a great job of pointing out the difference between posting blogs as a campaign and posting them as an administration. First of all, there's the scale. Next you have security. And then you have scale. Oh, did I mention scale? Anyway, you should read the article. It's good.

GADGET: Is the Palm Pre an iPhone Killer?

Digg.com is a-buzz with articles and blog entries about the new Palm Pre, but is it the iPhone killer that lots of people think it's going to be? It looks sharp, has a killer interface with webOS, and has all the tricks that the iPhone packs. I'm not sure I'm sold, though.

I read through PCMag.com's full review of the Pre, and was pretty impressed. They've got all the bells and whistles you can think of: web access, integration with Facebook and other social websites, email... the list goes on. However, one thing stood out to me as a huge con, and something that bothers me about a lot of modern "smart phones": it doesn't sound like it's a very good PHONE.

I'm wondering if perhaps designers have strayed a bit too far from the original concept of a cellular phone: to be a phone. These things are packed so full of extras that it seems sometimes the phone functionality is secondary to the rest. But that's just one man's opinion.

Click here to check out the PCMag.com article, or just go to Digg.com to read a myriad of other articles about the Palm Pre.

NEWS: So Much for Privacy

Arstechnica.com posted an article last night entitled, "Warrantless surveillance lawsuit thrown out". According to the article, federal district judge Vaughn Walker "rejected lawsuits that aimed to hold telecommunications companies accountable for their role in a controversial warrantless surveillance program". Judge Walker is citing a FISA amendment that retroactively grants immunity to the companies.

It's this sort of legal maneuvering that makes me worry for our right to privacy. Congress should not be allowed to pass laws that make companies retroactively immune to anything. It pretty much guarantees that, as long as the companies are in line with that those in power want, they'll be safe from any sort of prosecution.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

TOY: M-Audio KeyStation 49 Review

As well as being a rock-solid computer geek, I am also a pretty well-seasoned music geek. A few years ago, I joined a band that was itching to record, but didn't have any sort of budget to blow on studio time. Being the geek that I am, I decided to investigate setting up a little software-based recording studio in my apartment to allow us to record at our leisure. I looked into several different packages, all of which were entirely too expensive. I also investigated some free options, all of which were either too buggy or too complicated to really be used effectively.

Then one day, I was at Best Buy, and I happened across this little gem: the M-Audio Session KeyStudio 49. I had been thinking of buying a keyboard for a little while, and knew that I didn't need an 88-key monstrosity. I just needed something that could play some chords and give me the abillity to test-drive musical ideas quickly. After some consideration and quick research (I didn't want to waste money on a lemon, after all), I made my purchase.


Before I get to my thoughts on the KeyStudio, let me give you an outline of what you get with it. Of course, there is the keyboard itself, which is a 49-key, velocity-sensitive, synth-style (unweighted) keyboard. It's got pitch-bend and volume dials, octave select buttons, and an "edit" button. It's also got an on/off switch, in case you want to leave it plugged in to your computer but don't want it taking up USB bus bandwidth. It's powered off your computer's USB bus, so there's no wall-wart power supply.

It also comes with M-Audio's Session recording software, which is actually pretty good software. Don't get the wrong idea, ProTool it's not, but you can do some decent editing with it. The software also comes with loads of samples, a solid synth library, including all the standard patches for drums, piano, guitar, brass, and strings, and some really cool odd-ball sounds. The loop library is not bad either, including drum loops that work pretty well to back up your recorded sounds.

Which leads me to the M-Audio Micro USB audio interface. At first I dismissed this thing as being a cheesy little dongle I didn't need. Don't make the same mistake I did... USE IT. It's a USB-powered audio interface which allows Session to record low-latency audio tracks. You can plug a microphone or your guitar directly into the Micro and record to your heart's content. Just make sure you use the Micro for monitoring as well, as the audio card in your computer will probably add latency to your sound.


It took me a while to warm up to the M-Audio Session KeyStudio 49. I've spent some time in recording studios, so I think I was biased toward the more "professional" software, and didn't think I could get a good recorded sound out of something that only cost $99 total. Boy was I wrong. When I finally got around to using the whole system, I was blown away. As I said before, this isn't "professional" hardware and software, but for home recording, it's really very good. I used it last weekend to record a couple of tracks for one of my friends, and the whole thing sounded excellent after a little tweaking.

Yes, there are some quirks, but you can expect that out of any audio software. When you're pushing around that much data in what has to feel like real-time, there are going to be some small issues. Fortunately, there were all solved by stopping and restarting playback or recording. No reboots, no lockups.

If you're in the market for a good quality, inexpensive home recording system, this really might be the way to go.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

NEWS: More Batteries Bursting into Flame

As if identity theft, hacking, viruses, and spyware weren't enough to be concerned about, we are again faced with the possibility that our computers could burn our homes to the ground. Yes, that's right: it's laptop battery recall time once again.

This time it's HP, with about 70,000 lithium-ion-powered timebombs on their hands. According to AboutLawsuits.com, HP/Compaq sold these little nightmares between August or 2007 and March of 2008, both separately and bundled together with laptop computers. For further reading from AboutLawsuits.com, click here.

As usual, a website has been provided for further information, including how to replace your battery with one that won't cause property damage. In this case, you can point your browser to http://www.hp.com/support/BatteryReplacement.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

DRUPAL: Themes and Modules - Installation and Configuration

In my previous article, I gave a broad overview of my first impressions of Drupal, from extendability to installation and configuration.  Today I'd like to do the same with their Theme and Module systems.

Extendability is one of the major things that make systems like Drupal so useful.  Without being extendable, Drupal would merely be a repository for content.  Extendability is what makes each Drupal-based website unique.  It allows some Drupal-based sites to be blogs, while others are forums-based, and still others are data-warehouse style systems.  And it is Themes and Modules that allow this to happen.

What is a Theme?

Simply stated, a Theme is the site's layout.  This includes background images, coloration, font style, as well as the overall placement of items on the page.  Themes can be table-based or div-based, statically sized or dynamically sized, with all sorts of variations on placement of objects.  The possibilities are pretty much endless.

Themes are developed using a combination of HTML, CSS, and PHP.  Really only a rudimentary knowledge of each of the these three languages is required to make changes to a Theme, but a good grasp is needed to build a theme from the ground up.  So far, I haven't found any tools for WYSIWYG generation of Themes, but I wouldn't be surprised if there's something out there somewhere.  At the moment, the approach I'm taking is to take a pre-existing Theme and modify it to my needs.  From what I understand, this is currently the most common approach to Theme creation.

What is a Module?

Modules are pieces of HTML and PHP code that add functionality to a Drupal site.  Almost everything you see on a Drupal-based site is a Module, from the login box to the main content to the main menu to the navigation.  Adding or removing functionality from a Drupal site is as easy as enabling or disabling the Module that provides that functionality.

Adding your own modules is pretty simple as well.  They're written in PHP and HTML, so being fluent in those languages is very important.  Drupal also has its own API, so being familiar with that is also a must.  I'm still learning the ropes, but fortunately there is a killer API reference right on Drupal's website.

Modules are the key to building a unique site with Drupal.  They are what separates Drupal from, say, a Wiki, which only serves pages of plain text and links.  Modules give the web master the ability to add whatever type of information they want, whatever type of form, and display it in whatever format they wish.  Modules can even be used to build custom interfaces with a MySQL database.


Themes and Modules are the core of what makes Drupal a useful tool for website development.  Themes enable you to build a uniform look and feel for your site, without having to worry about inconsistencies.  If used properly, they can really help take the headache out of the "design" part of being a web master.  For me this is huge, as I am much more of a programmer than a designer.  Get the Theme right, and you're taken care of.

Modules are the meat of the site.  They allow the web master to really customize the experience for his or her user.  Again, as a programmer I appreciate this a great deal.  It will let me collect and display information to my users in the manner that I want to do it.  It will also add the ability for the site to be dynamic in nature, which is a bit part of my design concept.  Before this is all over, I'm going to end up a pro at Modules.

I'm excited to dig into these two systems more.  As usual, I will share my experiences right here.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Google Tools and Your Blog / Website

I've recently discovered Google's Webmaster Tools, a rediculously cool set of tools published by Google for checking out just exactly how your site is crawled and indexed.  It allows you to see what keywords are drawing users to your site, as well as the words that are most used on your site.  In other words, it lets you see your website the same way the Googlebot sees it.

This is really very cool for those of us who care about getting traffic to our site.  Google is the single largest, and most used, search engine on the internet, so getting ranked highly in their index is, well, pretty much the best single thing you can do for your site.

Webmaster Tools is accessed via http://www.google.com/webmasters.  You've got to have a Google account in order to access it, but you can sign up for that right on the Webmaster Tools homepage.  Once you're signed in, you can add sites to your account, verify those sites so you can access more in-depth reports, and learn all about how Google sees your site.  I'm not going to get into all the details on how to set that up here, but I will say that it is extremely easy, and Google provides a load of good documentation.

At the end of the day, the only good way to up your site's page rank is good, well written content.  This is illustrated particularly well on Webmaster Tools.  Go ahead and check it out.  It could teach you a thing or two about your own website.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Technotica's take on Cyberbullying

I'm an avid fan of Helen A.S. Popkin, MSNBC.com's Technotica's blogger.  I think she's witty, intelligent, entertaining, and pretty insightful at times.  So I was interested in what she had to say about cyberbullying.

She published a post entitled "Cyberbullying laws won't save your children: Luddite lawmakers continue to confuse their principles with the medium" today, in which she proposes that lawmakers are far too focused on the fact that the bullying is happening online, and not focused enough on the reality of teen suicide, depression, and other problems.  She feels that lawmakers are on a bit of a witch-hunt, demonizing the medium and the technology, and not addressing the real issues behind the suicides and other incidents that have happened as a result of the cyberbullying.

And she's got a point.  While I do feel the sentiment is correct, the laws that are being proposed are flirting dangerously with infringement on free speech.  Popkin claims that people "have a right to be mean", and that a certain amount of meanness is acceptable so "meanness doesn't become beatings and such".  All right, fair enough.  On the other side of that, however, is the fact that people have a right to block out other people's meanness.  Back in the olden days, before all this unfiltered, instant communication, kids had a way to block out anything that didn't want to pay attention to.  If it was a bully following them home at the end of the school day, that filter came in the form of their front door.  That filter doesn't work nearly as well when the bully is sending you text messages on the same cell phone you use to talk to your friends.  So what's the answer?

Back when I was a kid, another kid about 2 years older than me picked on me.  He would follow me home, threaten me, and generally make my life a little less pleasant.  What was the answer to that problem?  My father taught me how to throw a punch.  Don't get me wrong, I'm not suggesting that kids find the rogue texter in their life and beat them senseless.  What I'm saying is that my father educated me on how to deal with the bully.  Education is the key, not legislation.

Kids have a right to happiness.  That happiness includes not having to deal with being bullied.

DRUPAL: First Impressions

After having played with Drupal for about a week now, I've learned enough to have formed a pretty solid opinion of the software.  First of all, I want to say that, having built my own document management system for a website in the past, I know that building something like this is no small task.  It's complicated.  And to make it flexible enough to suite a good number of unique uses, well, that's monumental.

I won't say that Drupal is for everyone.  If you want your site up today, Drupal really isn't for you.  It takes some work, some research, some trial-and-error, and some patience.  However, if you're looking for something flexible, secure, and robust, Drupal might just be for you.

My hosting provider is GoDaddy.com.  I purchased the domain name and hosting plan from them before I knew I was going with Drupal.  Fortunately, they include all the tools you'll need to get going with Drupal.  In fact, they will even install and configure a base Drupal website for you if you choose.  I decided to go the long way, however, because I wanted the full experience of installing and configuring Drupal.


Drupal can be downloaded as a .tar.gz file directly from Drupal.org.  Once I got my hands on the .tar.gz file, I pushed it up to GoDaddy.com's server via an FTP link I'd set up in Windows Vista.  I decided not to uncompress it locally since I wasn't sure how permissions would be affected by the transfer from Windows to *nix, and GoDaddy gives you access to a SSH shell, so uncompressing on the server is no big deal.  Once the .tar.gz package was on the server, I logged in to SSH and uncompressed with a "tar -zxvpf drupal-6.11.tar.gz".  This created a folder with the Drupal files in it.  I then issued a move command that placed all the files from the newly created "drupal-6.11" folder into my html root folder.

Now, if you didn't understand the last several sentences, don't give up!  There is a load of really good installation documentation on the Drupal website.  Yes, it helps to have some knowledge of command-line computing.  Yes, it helps to have some knowledge of how web servers work.  If you're a little short on either one of those, don't be discouraged.  Read the documentation carefully, and go step by step.  If all else fails, have GoDaddy do their auto-configuration for you.

Ok, so now the files were on the server.  The next step is to set up the database.  Drupal, by default, is configured to use MySQL server for it's backend.  Since GoDaddy provides up to 10 MySQL databases, this was no problem.  I got into their MySQL configuration manager and set up a new database.  I found out there is a catch to this: MySQL databases are actually set up during a job GoDaddy runs over night, so you might have to wait to continue your setup.  In hindsight, I probably should have set up the database the day before installing the Drupal files, since having an unconfigured site just hanging out there isn't a great idea.  But it worked out for me.

Another thing to keep in mind if using GoDaddy as a host is that their web servers and MySQL servers are different, so you'll need to know the hostname of the MySQL server to properly configure Drupal.  Fortunately, this is on the MySQL configuration page at GoDaddy.  I just copied and pasted it into the Drupal configuration... which we'll get to next.

First Run and Configuration

The first time you point a browser at a new Drupal site, it runs a configuration page that allows you to set everything up, including your database, timezone, name of your site, and other global settings.  It's really quick and painless, but like other parts of the installation, there are some gotchas.

First of all, you'll need to make a copy of a settings file in the sites/default directory on the server.  This is outlined in the Drupal documentation.  Second, you'll need to temporarily set the permissions of your settings file to allow the server to write to it.  Again, this is easily found in the documentation.  Not doing either of these will cause Drupal to throw errors at you, and the configuration won't go through.

Once you work your way through the configuration screens, you'll be dumped into your site.  One of the things that people complain about with Drupal is that it's administrative screens are actually integrated into the main site.  People say this can lead to confusion.  I understand where they're coming from, but after a while, I got to understand the difference between the site and the admin pages.  It takes some getting used to, but once you use it for a while, it really isn't a problem.

First Impressions

As a programmer, I can appreciate the complexity of a system such as Drupal.  They refer to it as "Community Plumbing", which is a really great way to describe what Drupal does.  It's not the face of the website, though it does contribute to the design and look of it.  However, it does more than that.  It allows administrators to control, really very finely at that, the functionality of the site.  They make no claims at being the prettiest system out there.  They're much more concerned with being the most flexible, extendable, and functional.

Drupal is going to take a lot of work.  Perhaps more than some of the alternatives.  But in the long run, I think I'm going to be very happy with my choice.  I'm looking forward to learning about the API, as well as how to properly upgrade and maintain the core software.  Everything I learn, I'll share.  Just look for "DRUPAL" posts here for more information.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

NEWS: Technorati is all Blow'd Up

The blog search and ranking site Technorati is in the midst of a move right now, which means some of the site's major functionality is experiencing some problems.  According to Dorian Carroll, Technorati's Vice President of Engineering, they've been running for about a week with there server farm "split between the two colo facilities."  What this means for users is a little bit of rough seas when it comes to page loads and speed.

I myself have experienced some issues with my claimed blog not showing as claimed any more.  I'm chalking that up to being just some of the growing pains that are involved in moving over 100 servers from one location to another.  Having done a move of about 20 myself, and knowing what can go wrong even with as small a number as 20, I don't envy the guys and gals at Technorati.  Even in the best of situations, a move is tough to get exactly right.  And we all know that the best of situations is rare.

So be patient with Technorati, keep up to date on what's going on over there via their Support Blog, and keep writing your blog entries.  They'll be back up soon, and so will your Authority rating.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Cyberbullying: Spread the Word

If you've read my blog at all, you know that cyberbullying is an issue that had the occasion to hit close to home, affecting my teenage brother-in-law.  He was the target of some pretty nasty cell phone text messages about six months ago.  Fortunately, he wasn't as negatively affected by this experience as some, and has been able to disregard the experience as the stupidity of a few small-minded classmates.

As a result of my brother-in-law's experience, I've done a lot of reading, and found out that this issue is more wide-spread than I thought.  It shouldn't have surprised me.  Kids can be mean, and with new, more immediate ways of communicating, they can be mean a lot easier than ever before.  All it takes is a teenager with a cell phone and a bad idea to turn another kid's cell phone, email account, IM account, Facebook, or any other "cyber" communications method into a mode of attack.

On my journey through cyberspace to learn more about the problem, I happened upon a website called CyberBullying.us.  Run by two Criminal Justice professors, CyberBullying.us aims to raise awareness about cyberbullying, promote discussion, and provide information for parents, teachers, and students on how to prevent cyberbullying in their homes and classrooms.

Cyberbullying is real problem, and has consequences outside of a few nasty messages sent to a kid's cell phone or computer screen.  Awareness is the key, and I applaud Dr. Sameer Hinduja and Dr. Justin W. Patchin for putting together a resource like CyberBullying.us.

Click HERE to check out CyberBullying.us

Monday, May 11, 2009

NEWS: Cyberbullying really is a Bad Thing

MSNBC.com just posted a reprint of an article written by one of my all-time favorite pro-Bloggers, Helen A.S Popkin, that gives some interesting insight into why cyberbullying is so bad.  I mean, we know it's bad, but her article gives some real-world examples of the connection that can be made between cyberbullying and real-world, physical bullying.

I think it is easy for us adults to think of cyberbullying as "no big deal".  Our age has helped us grow thick skins, and we understand that those on the other end of mean texts, IM's, and emails are small-minded, and can easily be ignored and dismissed.  Kids, who aren't as emotionally developed as (most) adults, have a much harder time with this, and tend to take things harder, even if they don't give us any idea that they have.

Friday, May 8, 2009

DRUPAL: Injecting Adsense into Drupal 6

Everybody wants to make a buck, right?  And one of the major ways to do that on the web is through publishing advertisements on your website.  So it would probably make sense to make sure you can inject the Google Adsense code that's going to make you a web millionaire into Drupal somehow.

Fortunately, the answer is available directly on Drupal's website.  Check out this link for further information.

Using Drupal to Deploy a Website

After much reading and searching, I've decided I'm going to be using Drupal to put together my latest website project.  While I usually code everything from scratch, I think this time, in order to get something going in the least amount of time, I'm going to use something "prepackaged".

The two major players in the world of open-source content management systems seem to be Joomla and Drupal.  I did some comparisons between the two, and Drupal, while perhaps not as "pretty" as Joomla, seems to support customization a lot more readily than Joomla.  Don't get me wrong, I'm sure you can customize Joomla to your heart's content, it's just that I didn't find information about customization in Joomla as readily as I did with Drupal.

So I'll post any and all that I learn working with Drupal, so perhaps my wanderings into these waters can teach you something, as well.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

FrontPage 2003 Users, Beware of SP3

Yesterday, our desktop computer administrators decided to install Service Pack 3 for Office 2003 on all of our machines.  It turns out that, much to my dismay, SP3 causes problems in FrontPage 2003.

If you do any ASP.NET development, you're probably familiar with the <asp:textbox> tag.  This tag can be used to create a textbox on a form on your webpage, which can then be manipulated and read from the server, thus giving you access to user input.  This, and every other ASP.NET input tag that I've tried, no longer renders correctly in the WYSIWYG editor in FrontPage.  Instead, you're met with a huge grey box with an arcane error message such as: "An unhandled exception has occurred.  RegisterForEventValidation can only be called during Render();"

So far my Google searches for any information on this error have turned up empty.  I will post anything I find out over the next few days, and I ask anyone who has information concerning this error, please post it in the comments so we can figure out a fix for this.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

WEIRD: Big Brother has a Name: Robert Spence!

Canadian filmmaker Robert Spence is taking documentary making to a new high.  He’s having a camera installed in his head.

According to NewsOfTheWeird.com (click here and scroll down to “Lead Story” to read the original article), Spence is having a prosthetic eye with a camera installed “into the socket from which one of his eyes had been removed as a result of a childhood accident.”  He’ll use his cybernetic implant to create a documentary on people’s attitudes about privacy.

Cyberbullying Bill a Potential Free-Speech Threat

A while back, I wrote an article about a situation my brother-in-law was living through.  A few kids he knows at his school were sending him mean, nasty text messages, and it was really starting to get to him.  With time, some conversations with people who know and love him, and a thickening of his skin, he was able to start ignoring the stupid messages he was getting and move on.  He's a good kid, and knows that people say and do dumb things.  He's no worse for it, and from what I know, it has stopped and doesn't bother him any more.

Other kids are not as fortunate as my brother-in-law, and don't necessarily have the tech-savvy and attentive parents, brothers, and sisters that he does.  Some kids are left to deal with this sort of thing on their own.  It is with that in mind that HR 1966 was introduced to the United States House of Representatives on April 2nd, 2009.  The bill, known as the "Megan Meier Cyberbullying Prevention Act," is designed to prevent and punish bullying using electronic means, such as "email, instant messaging, blogs, websites, telephones, and text messages."  The bill would amend United States Code Title 18, Chapter 41, which is the section on extortion and threats.  It would make harassment by electron means punishable by fines and up to two years in prison.

While I have no issue with the spirit of the bill, I have a giant, monumental problem with the way it is written.  Section 3 of the bill adds a new section to Title 18, Chapter 41 of United States Code that reads:

    (a) In General- Chapter 41 of title 18, United States Code, is amended by adding at the end the following:
`Sec. 881. Cyberbullying
    `(a) Whoever transmits in interstate or foreign commerce any communication, with the intent to coerce, intimidate, harass, or cause substantial emotional distress to a person, using electronic means to support severe, repeated, and hostile behavior, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than two years, or both.
    `(b) As used in this section--
      `(1) the term `communication' means the electronic transmission, between or among points specified by the user, of information of the user's choosing, without change in the form or content of the information as sent and received; and
      `(2) the term `electronic means' means any equipment dependent on electrical power to access an information service, including email, instant messaging, blogs, websites, telephones, and text messages.'.
    (b) Clerical Amendment- The table of sections at the beginning of chapter 41 of title 18, United States Code, is amended by adding at the end the following new item:
      `881. Cyberbullying.'.

Parts (a) and (b) of the proposed amendment to United States Code basically states that anyone writing anything that could cause "substantial emotional distress to a person" could be prosecuted.  Even the use of the word "coerce" is questionable, since there are plenty of websites in the internet designed to convince their audience of something.  And the inclusion of "blogs, websites" in part (b) makes all bloggers and web journalists vulnerable to prosecution if they publish something someone doesn't like.

Now, don't misunderstand, I do support legislation that protects kids.  Having been bullied a bit myself when I was younger, I understand that it can cause all sorts of social and emotional problems.  So I would like to propose a solution: A change of wording.  Just add an age-specifying phase, such as "at or below the age of 18" to part (a), so it reads:

`(a) Whoever transmits in interstate or foreign commerce any communication, with the intent to coerce, intimidate, harass, or cause substantial emotional distress to a person at or below the age of 18, using electronic means to support severe, repeated, and hostile behavior, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than two years, or both.

I believe this would still offer the protection that is the heart of the bill, but would eliminate the big-brother type worries that currently surround the proposed amendment.  After all, isn't the intent to protect kids under the age of 19 from potential threats, not limit the freedoms of our country's blogging and journalistic communities?

Update: The MacBook Air vs. Dell Adamo

As the battle between Apple and the PC world continues, CIO.com has hopped into the mix with the latest MacBook Air vs. Dell Adamo article.  Actually, it's one of their slideshows (which I always enjoy).  They examine everything from the screens and keyboards all the way down to the packaging the machine comes in.  If you want a side-by-side comparison of the two ultra-slim, ultra-light machines, you've come to the right place.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Tip: The Power of the Windows Key

I’m a keyboard person.  I’ve been this way since my dad started me on the BASIC programming language on the Apple IIe so many years ago.  No mouse, no tablets, no touch screen.  Just the good old keyboard.

Fast-forward 24 years, and I’m still the same way.  If there’s a way to do something without the mouse, I’m all over it.  So when I found out about Windows Key Combinations, needless to say, I was excited.

Wikipedia.org has a pretty comprehensive list of Windows Key combinations available here.  I’ve read through the list, and here are a few I think are extremely interesting or useful:

  • Windows Key + D : Show the Desktop
  • Windows Key + L : Lock the Computer
  • Windows Key + M : Minimize all windows
  • Windows Key + Shift + M : Restore all windows
  • Windows Key + R : Open the Run… dialog
  • Windows Key + Tab : Switch windows using Flip 3D (Vista Only)
  • Windows Key + Up : Maximize window (Windows 7)
  • Windows Key + Down : Minimize window (Windows 7)
  • Windows Key + Left or Right : Align window to respective side of the screen (Windows 7)

Using the list above, one can pretty much completely avoid using the mouse.  For a keyboard purist such as myself, this is heaven.

Monday, May 4, 2009

IT Freelancing Lessons Learned the Hard Way

There will come a time in every young IT professional’s life when he or she is faced with a choice: To freelance or not to freelance?  Chances are, if you’ve got any talent with computer repair at all, someone at your place of employ has asked you to “take a look at” their computer.  They recognize you as an expert, have some issue at home that needs resolution, and show no hesitation toward you working on their personal computer.

While the idea of making a little extra money on the side is always appealing, there are several things you will need to keep in mind, and several ways your would-be clients will try to take advantage of you.  Keep in mind that they don’t mean to do it, they just don’t know any better.

First, you should really think about whether or not you really have time to do the extra work.  If you’re working a normal 9 to 5 job, your free time is precious, and shouldn’t be given away lightly.  Dig deep and be hard on yourself on this one.  Potential income gained by doing extra work often times does not outweigh the value of free time.

Second, you should really ask yourself if you’re capable of doing the work being asked of you.  It’s really easy to get yourself into situations that are above your head, especially when dealing with sensitive data, such as photos and music.  Your client is looking to you to tell them what you’re capable of, and if you really can’t do what they’re asking, tell them.  A little embarrassment is a lot better than losing a coworker’s data.

Another thing to ask yourself would be if you’re prepared to become that person’s full-time computer support technician.  The problem with working on a coworker’s computer is that, well, you see them at work.  If you take their machine home and the fix isn’t going fast enough for them, you will probably hear about it, most likely several times a day.  Some people can deal well with this, some can’t.  If you can’t, perhaps doing house calls instead of taking custody of their computer is the right direction for you to take.

Finally, and arguably most importantly, is the method of payment.  Have this conversation up front.  Make sure you tell your potential client exactly what you want to be paid, and discuss exactly what you are going to be doing.  Failing to have this conversation can lead to an assumption on the client’s part that you’re working for free, or that you’re going to be doing more work that you anticipate.  No matter what sort of payment you’re looking for (i.e. money, food, beer, etc.), state it in no uncertain terms.  Work out exactly what you’re going to be doing, so there is no confusion when you start packing up your tools at the end of the job.

I’ve made my share of mistakes, and the list of tips above outline exactly what I’ve done wrong in my freelancing career.  They’re painful lessons, and these are tips that I follow every time I’m presented with an opportunity to do some side work.  Freelance work can be very rewarding, and can help you get that next geek gadget you’ve been eyeballing.  Follow the tips I’ve given, and you’ll avoid the headaches that I’ve endured over the years.

3 Ways Twitter Has Made Us Dumber

The online mini-blog service known as Twitter has been making headlines lately, both good and bad.  Its I-can-blog-anywhere ease of use coupled with the fact that you can’t post more than 140 characters per message make for a combination that has left me dumbfounded.  Seriously, people.

So I’ve decided to compile an incomplete list of how this service has managed to help its users actually shed IQ points.

First, there was the infamous case of Dave Prager, who decided to Tweet about an intruder in his apartment, as it was happeningI’m all about sharing, but you should really be on the phone with the police during a break in.

Then there is the case of Jennifer Aniston and John Mayer, whose relationship was allegedly torn apart by Mayer’s constant Twittering.  According to a source close to Aniston, Mayer would ignore Jen’s phone calls, emails, and text messages in favor of keeping his Twitter account up to date.

Finally, we have the Twitter marriage proposal.  I’ve decided to omit the link I was going to post, because I do feel that a proposal is a very personal expression, and I’m not going to mess with that.  However, I really hope the lameness of this one doesn’t need explanation.

I’ve always been curious about Twitter, and I’m not negative on the service as a whole.  I do think there are some people out there who really need to evaluate how they approach their personal lives, however.  Sending a message to an online service should not be our natural reaction to danger, our impulse in the stead of a relationship, or our method for solidifying a life together.

I mean, come on!  Get out into the world and live a life!

Is the E-Book Reader Becoming the New iPhone?

In a world that seems to be ruled by the niche market, Samsung will be releasing their latest hand-held gadget, called “Papyrus”.  Starting in June of this year, the Papyrus will be released to readers in Korea, becoming available to the US and UK markets sometime within the months after that.

For those who are still very much attached to their dog-eared copies of Moby Dick, these new devices seem like silly little toys with not much functionality.  I mean, what could be more portable that your trusty old paperbacks, right?  But for the tech-savvy who still enjoy a good story, these things are being a must-have.  So let the competition begin!

Amazon still has the killer device in the Kindle 2, but I have a feeling more device manufacturers are going to be getting on the bandwagon.  Devices such as the Kindle 2 from Amazon and the Samsung Papyrus might just make it hip to be a bookworm.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Windows 7 For Free

According to SlipperyBrick.com, Microsoft is gearing up to give users free copies of the latest Windows 7 release candidate on Tuesday, May 5th.  Further searching brought me to Computerworld.com, which had more detail.

According to the Computerworld.com entry, Microsoft will be making Windows 7 RC downloads available on the Windows 7 website, at Microsoft.com.  Microsoft will be making both 32-bit and 64-bit versions available, and have no plans for limiting the number of times Windows 7 can be downloaded.  The Release Candidate, just like the beta, will be times to expire, this time on June 1, 2010.

Check out Computerworld.com for further detail in their complete FAQ on the Windows 7 Release Candidate.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Security as a Habit – A Web Developer’s Mantra

Not too long ago, Twitter was hit with what would become known as the “Mikeyy” worm, a malicious little bit of code that exposed holes in Twitter security.  Those holes have been patched, and life goes on at Twitter, but it has inspired some important discussion about web security.

As a very well written article at ReadWriteWeb.com points out, there are two different ways to address security when designing a web application: Input Filtering and Output Escaping.  While a discussion of the pros and cons of the two schemes in definite worth having, that’s not where I want to go.  I want to focus on the base of the issue, and that is security as a habit.

I recently was given the task of developing a web application for tracking discounts given to customers by the sales staff where I work.  This application was to be simple for the sales staff to use, collect specific information, and load it into a database.  We have a Windows 2003 Server that is available for me to use as an application platform, and I’ve got MySQL installed on it.

I was given about a day and a half to get something working.  That’s a pretty compressed timeframe by almost anybody’s standards.  So I put on my headphones and got to work.

Security was the least of my concerns.  I was interested only in getting something functional, from my boss’s standpoint, and roughly stable.  Needless to say I cut corners.  I now have a load of work to go back and do, because validation is non-existent, and I did absolutely no output escaping.

The moral of my story is this: making security a habit instead of an afterthought would probably have saved me what will most likely become days of work.  Throwing a project together with no concept of security automatically breeds an insecure system.  More than that, however, it creates a situation where you’re chasing security holes, possible for years, instead of standing sure that you are secure from the beginning.

So all you web developers out there, heed my warning.  No matter what security scheme you decide to live by, make sure that you are consistent in your approach.  Do it all the time, every time, and you’ll be running some of the most secure code on the Internet.

The New Firefox Goes Tab-less

A preview of a redesigned Firefox interface comes with a surprise.  Or lack of surprise.  Or perhaps what it lacks is surprising.  Well, anyway, it doesn’t have tabs.

According to ReadWriteWeb.com, Oliver Reichenstein and Aza Raskin, feel that tabs might be falling by the wayside.  In a world where browsers are becoming the center of people’s computing universe, they feel that something more flexible is in order.  They envision a browser organized more like iTunes, with folders, libraries and bookmarks all organized on the side of the window, with large image icons showing screenshots of your favorite sites in real time.

Swine Flu – Patient Zero?

If the Interwebs are good for one thing, it’s humor.  Count on the geek masses, armed with Photoshop and a dark sense of comedy, to come up with this one…


Patient Zero, perhaps?

Thursday, April 30, 2009

How is the Dell Adamo like a Paris Fashion Show?

Well, if you read Engadget, you'd know already.  The Dell Adamo is like a Paris fashion show because, like a Paris fashion show, it looks great from a distance, but once you get up close, you realize you've paid a whole bunch of money for not much material.

I wrote an entry not too long ago comparing the technical specifications of the Adamo to those of the MacBook Air.  Engadget, however, got down-and-dirty with the Adamo, making a very close inspection of everything from fit-and-finish to the Windows Experience Index.  What did they find out?  Well, you've basically got to be a shallow socialite non-tech-savvy elitist with cash burning a hole in your pocket to buy an Adamo.

Well, ok, that might be a little over the top, but Dell's premium offering is definitely lacking in certain areas.  According to Engadget's review, the machine buries the CPU usage needle when performing simple tasks, such as opening a web page or running a handful of simple applications simultaneously.  In short, it's not as beefy as you would expect a high-priced, modern mobile computer to be.

On the other hand, this computer probably wasn't designed for high-powered users, but more for users who want to be able to perform some simple computing tasks in style.  Perhaps a status item for high-powered executives?  Who knows?

Check out the full review on Engadget.com.