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, 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, 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

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  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,'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  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  Once I got my hands on the .tar.gz file, I pushed it up to'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  Run by two Criminal Justice professors, 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

Click HERE to check out

Monday, May 11, 2009

NEWS: Cyberbullying really is a Bad Thing 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 (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, 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. 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, 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, which had more detail.

According to the entry, Microsoft will be making Windows 7 RC downloads available on the Windows 7 website, at  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 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 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, 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?