Tag Archives: Tech

This is Real Broadband

Really fat bandwidth graph

Care of VVD Communications, the cool company with a bad website, I now have a synchronous 10mbps connection in my apartment. The first thing I did was go to a bandwidth testing site, as seen above. I was using Comcast before which was pretty snappy, but this is a whole new way to experience the internet. This is even faster than the connection I get at work.

This will definitely mean I’ll be able to run a lot more things from home, the upload bandwidth is about 10x what I had before, which means it’ll be much faster to upload pictures, serve files, stream music from home, and all the other stuff you should be able to do in a hyperconnected world. (Maybe I’ll even catch up on photos now.) They were also able to light up all the ethernet panels in my place so now doing some of the multimedia things I wanted to do around the house should be much easier. (Wireless was really too slow.) Best of all, the whole thing is only $35 a month and there was no setup.

I’m still going to have Comcast for a few months until my contract runs out, what I’m wondering now is if there’s a way to have the router balance the internet traffic between the two connections. I’m using a WRT54GS which I’ve loaded up with alternative Linux-based firmware before with good success. I wonder if that sort of balancing would be possible?

Yearly Tasks

As the year draws to a close, and it has been a wonderful year, I find myself drawn to a few tasks that always seem to catch me around this time:

  • Updating copyright years on sites that don’t use the PHP trick.
  • Archiving old mail and logs to local server.
  • Checking none of the low-traffic stuff broke without me noticing.
  • Backing up.
  • Cleaning out old/dead accounts, consolidating where possible.
  • Putting everything remotely versionable into Subversion (new for me this year).
  • Writing notes to old friends.
  • Organizing music.
  • Making lists (much like this one).

What catches up with you at the end of the year?

Assorted Links

  • 50 Miler Panorama is one of the coolest panoramas I’ve seen. Zach’s dad sent me an email detailing a little of the process:

    Dan Hale here – Zach’s dad, and the guy who created the panorama. I did this one entirely by hand in Photoshop. I made nine shots that day, placing the people in only the middle third of the frame of each. I shot with a super wide lens – a 17mm on a 35mm camera. The stitching was painstaking as I wanted to overlap the shots in such a way as to hide the transitions. This process was complicated by the fact that the cloud movement between shots varied the brightness, contrast and color of light. Evening that out took a lot of work. I did have the presence of mind when I did the shooting to use a constant shutter speed and aperture. I could go on and on about this labor of love. All in all it recon it took me 14-17 hours or so of work in PS to get to its current state.

    Wow. Hat tip: Zach.

  • Nightly builds of WordPress. Oh, and 1.0 is out. More on that later.
  • Adam Gessaman has the best response, Locke, Property, and Software, to the lame Aaron Swartz screed on Nick Bradbury’s On Piracy. One thing though, I’m tired of people making comments about Aaron’s ideas in relation to his age. Either talk about his age and be safely ignored, or treat his ideas independently.
  • How to fix <abbr in Internet Explorer. Nifty.
  • :hover anything in Internet Explorer. Awesome.
  • Simple Quiz from Dan Cedorholm has some of the most high-threshhold discussion of CSS and HTML semantics around.
  • Tantek is naked. Now what he really needs is to shed some of that extraneous list markup that really isn’t adding much to the semantic richness of his site. At least one level of that list could be eliminated. I’m not going to call Tantek’s markup bloated, but he could shave a few K off with that list markup. There are some novel ideas there though. I wonder what he could do with a good content management package. I’ve got a version of WordPress running with markup very similar to Tantek’s, but the blog isn’t public yet so I can’t link it.
  • Joi asks Are Blogs Just? I really like how he brings in things from all over the spectrum. Joi continues to pleasantly surprise me.
  • Apparently US money has a watermark of some sort so that if you open it up in Photoshop or try to print it the equipment has built-in guards. Pretty crazy.
  • WordPress nightly builds. Builds are released nightly, bugs are released hourly. Get 24 new bugs in every release.
  • Drawings from a guy on acid.
  • Cruft-free URIs in WordPress. 3 steps, one of which is clicking to the options screen and another which may be automated in a future version.

Design SIG Meeting Tonight

I just wanted to let everyone know I’m going to be presenting tonight at the web design special interest group at HAL-PC. I’m going to be covering advanced CSS layout techniques, why CSS is easier for making sites, Topstyle 3, and we’re going to do a brief makeover of someone’s site at the meeting. I’ll be going through my personal methodology in making a standards-based website and redesigning legacy sites. If you have been struggling in trying to move away from table-based design or if you’d just like a free critique of your website, come out. The meeting is free and open to everybody.

Here are the details:

When? Tonight, September 18th, 7:00 PM.
Where? HAL-PC Headquarters, 4543 Post Oak Place Drive, Suite 200 Houston, TX 77027-3103.
Why? To learn and have fun.
How do I get there? Use the map linked above. Easy directions: Take 610 and exit San Felipe, head inside the loop (East) and then take a left at the first intersection. You will come to a stop sign, then pass Microcenter, and then at the second stop sign take a right. Go on that street until it dead ends in a loop, on the right end of the loop there’ll be a driveway going to an underground garage. Park, take the elevator to the second floor, and then the only office there is the HAL-PC offices. Once you’re in the office if you have any trouble finding the room we’ll be in just ask any of the friendly volunteers and they’ll point you in the right direction.

If you have any questions just drop me an email before the meeting and I’ll send you any additional information you might need.

Clever New Comment Spammer

I think I’ve been hit with a new kind of insidious comment spam. At about four this morning I got a comment on an old entry that said:

Well, I just wanted to sign a blog on the first time in my life :))

Kind of cute, right? Isn’t that nice that some guy, “James Hatchkinson,” came across my site and was so enamored that he decided to leave a comment, his frist ever. Well, two minutes later the exact same comment, URL, and name was left on the WordPress blog. Clue #1.

The URL he left as his with his comment is nositeyet.com, which I’m not going to link because this may be this spam’s whole point. I clicked the URL from the comment before realizing it was probably just a newbie way of saying “I don’t have a site yet.” People I know have left similar things for their URL in the past. Well, the link takes you to some sort of web company with a hideous flash intro and an equally mediocre web site. Hmmmmm. Clue #2.

Clue #3, each comment came from radically different IP addresses. Let’s give this guy incredible benefit of the doubt and say just maybe he was a newbie user who just came upon an old entry, left a silly comment with what he thought was a fake website, and then continued browsing to another one of my sites, went to a slightly old entry, and left the same comment. So why did his IP change? The first comment came from, which resolves to anaconda.pacwan.net, and the second from, which is a proxy of some sort. Most users, especially the type that would leave this sort of comment, don’t randomly start using proxies mid-browsing. Strike three.

Finally, I decided to look up this guy’s IP in my access logs, to see what pages he visited. There were no records of his IP visiting any pages on either site in my PHP/Javascript based logging software, which means whatever client was used to leave this comment doesn’t support javascript or the <noscript> tag and images. Time to grep the raw logs. No referrer, none of any of the usual signs you would see in a log entry. Here’s the relevant lines from my photomatt.net logs: - - [18/Sep/2003:04:03:50 -0500] "GET /p644 HTTP/1.0" 301 303 "-" "Mozilla/4.0(compatible; MSIE 6.0; Windows NT 5.1)" - - [18/Sep/2003:04:03:54 -0500] "GET /p644 HTTP/1.0" 200 15796 "-" "Mozilla/4.0(compatible; MSIE 6.0; Windows NT 5.1)" - - [18/Sep/2003:04:03:56 -0500] "POST /b2comments.post.php HTTP/1.1" 302 5 "-" "Mozilla/4.0(compatible; MSIE 6.0; Windows NT 5.1)"

And from wordpress.org:

anaconda.pacwan.net - - [18/Sep/2003:04:01:35 -0500] "GET /development/archives/39 HTTP/1.0" 200 7220 "-" "Mozilla/4.0(compatible; MSIE 6.0; Windows NT 5.1)"
anaconda.pacwan.net - - [18/Sep/2003:04:01:40 -0500] "POST /development/b2comments.post.php HTTP/1.0" 302 0 "-" "Mozilla/4.0(compatible; MSIE 6.0; Windows NT 5.1)"

There’s got to be a good story behind this. If this is indeed malicious comment spam then this is the most clever I’ve seen yet. If I hadn’t been the author of two posts he spammed and gotten the email notification I never would have suspected a thing. Has anyone else seen this?

What’s worrying about this whole thing is IP filtering (reactive) techniques that are usually used to block comment spam or content filtering (proactive) techniques which we’ve been experimenting with on WordPress wouldn’t catch this guy. In fact I can’t think of any good way to preemptively block this sort of thing. If Google didn’t give blogs so much credence we wouldn’t be having this problem. I suppose now we have to watch every comment with an eagle eye, on the lookout for anything suspicious.

Update: I got it reversed above, “he” commented on the WordPress blog first and then here.

On the Dvorak Keyboard Layout

It’s a relatively well-known fact that I am a Dvorak typist, and have been for about four or five years now. Just an introduction for the uninitiated, the Dvorak keyboard layout is just a different arrangements of letters purposively chosen because it is more efficient for typing the English language. For example, instead of my left hand resting on the letters ASDF it rests on the letters AOEU. There have been studies both ways saying it is or is not faster than QWERTY, and frankly I think most of them are useless. Logically you can see that if the letters you use most are right under your fingers, ultimately you’re going to work less while typing.

Why did I switch? If I remember correctly, I was surfing around the website of columnist John Dvorak and on some page he mentioned the Dvorak keyboard layout and linked to a site about it. Several web searches later, I had read all about the layout I could find on the web and I was ready to switch. Some of my motivation was that I wanted to be as fast as humanly possible, but it was mostly that I spend a tremendous amount of time typing and I often got pains in my hands and wrists. Switching did not seem like a big obstacle simply because it seemed very similar to learning to play a new instrument, something that as a musician I could relate to and didn’t seem too challenging.

I know now that some of my reasons for switching may have been hype on the part of the websites I read, I can offer what I have found in my personal experience to be true.

Switching is not as hard as people make it out to be. Even if you are already quite proficient at QWERTY, it’s not too hard to switch. You don’t need to buy a new keyboard, in every operating system there is a mechanism for switching what’s called the “keymap” or the mapping between the physical keys on your keyboard and what the operating system prints out. So if you switch your keymap to dvorak you can immediately begin typing dvorak in all your applications. However it can be confusing to press the button labeled T and get a Y, so it is generally better, at least while learning, to give yourself some visual aids. What I did was print out letters on a piece of paper and then stick them to the keys using double-sided tape. Of course I was 14 or 15 and had a lot more time on my hands. For some people it might be enough just to have a printout of the layout by their monitor or keyboard, but there is something to be said for being able to look at the key and seeing what you’re going to type. What I do now, if I want to physically switch a keyboard over, is actually pop off the keys and put them back in the Dvorak positions.

This is much easier than it sounds, and probably takes about ten minutes. Of course be careful because sometimes the keys literally pop right off and might jump behind a desk or something, speaking from personal experience. The main disadvantage to doing this in that your home keys no longer have ridges on them and because of the bizarre way that keyboards are manufactured, on every keyboard I’ve done this two the hook on back of the guide keys (usually F and J on your keyboard) is sideways to every other hook for every other key which means that to put those keys someplace else you’d have to put them sideways, and whatever key you put in that position will also have to be sideways. This isn’t as bad as it sounds because it actually serves as a new guide mechanism, but it looks a little funky. I can’t think of a way to do this with a natural keyboard. You can buy keyboards designed for Dvorak, but for me it has never been worth the bother. I don’t want to have to special-order my keyboard, I just want to pick up whatever is the coolest at the computer store.

My writing speed did not increase significantly. Although I could type faster than ever, the limiting factor in my writing speed is and was the way I formulate sentences in my mind, often thinking of several different ways to say something. However in situations where I can type without thinking too much, for example taking notes in class or at a conference, it has been a huge benefit and often I can keep up almost in real time with what’s being said. Of course if I stop to consider something or participate in class discussion I get behind but I think the advantage of actively participating in the class or conference outweighs whatever benefits I would get from having a transcription of it.

The big thing for me is comfort. I can now type for long periods of time with no fatigue at all, and that isn’t even an issue I think of anymore. I can’t point to anything scientific that says for every person Dvorak will be more comfortable, I just know it’s been a major improvement for me.

One advantage I don’t think I have seen mentioned before is the security aspect. On my laptop in particular there is now a device with all of my personal information on it that might be in the hands of anyone. Lets say that you knew my password, if you picked up my laptop you still would have trouble getting in simply because you wouldn’t know how to type the password in Dvorak. In the grander scheme of things this might only be a minor deterrent, but it’s enough. In situations where I want other people to use my laptop I can configure a keyboard shortcut to switch between the two layouts transparently, but more often I don’t even have the QWERTY keymap installed, simply because I don’t want to switch back and forth accidentally.

It would be overly biased of me not to mention some of the disadvantages though. Nearly every problem I’ve run into isn’t so much a problem with the layout itself, but rather being a Dvorak user in a QWERTY world. Non-configurable keyboard shortcuts are often designed to be convenient on QWERTY and so when you’re under Dvorak they can be awkward. The most notable is X, C, and V, which in most applications becomes cut, copy, and paste when used with CTRL, are no longer right next to each other and are instead all over the keyboard. I’ve found it to be not that big a deal. Though I am still alright with typing QWERTY, I am often self-conscious while at other people’s computers, because as someone who is supposed to be computer savvy it must look bad to have to hunt and peck. Of course I may just be blowing it out of proportion. If I use QWERTY for anything more than a minute or two it comes back to me and I can at least partially touch-type again, but usually my exposure to it is much shorter than that. There might be something else that has slipped my mind, but those are the only two drawbacks I can think of.

I suppose it might be significant that I am the only person I know that uses Dvorak. At some point or another, I know that many of my friends and family have given Dvorak a try, but none have stuck with it. There are hundreds of possible reasons why, but I suspect with most is they didn’t feel like investing the time. For my it was a no-brainer because I knew that however long it took me to learn it would be incrementally paid for by the increased productivity and comfort in the future. Part of it may have been incentive though, and to make things interesting I’m willing to spring for a prize.

I will buy a Logitech Elite Keyboard for the first person who switches from QWERTY to Dvorak (and sticks with it!) as a result of this post.

The judging is completely subjective, but using Dvorak exclusively for more than a couple of weeks is good enough for me.

Funnily enough, this whole thing started out as a simple link/commentary post that was supposed to be about twenty words. Getting to that, there’s an article at Kuro5shin called An Argument for Dvorak that makes some good points. The comments, on par, are mostly useless or misinformed so I wouldn’t weigh them too seriously.

No More Outlook Express

Microsoft abandons Outlook Express says ZDNet UK. I find this highly disappointing because I’ve really become attached to OE, mostly because of it’s enhanced IMAP functionality over Outlook 2003. However if you look at that bizarre out-of-context quote in the middle of the article,

“IMAP is just not a very rich protocol,” Steve Conn, Exchange Server product manager, told ZDNet Australia during the company’s Tech Ed conference. “The great majority of people used Outlook Express because they weren’t on a LAN environment, and Outlook was just too fat for them.”

It’s as out of place here as it is in the article. Basically though it sounds like they’re going to be focusing on Exchange functionality over IMAP. I’ve played around with Outlook 2003 and was very impressed but whether I use it or not is very dependent on how it works with IMAP, which I live on. I’ve been browsing the Evolution blog and the screenshots for the next version look really great, if reminiscent of Entourage. That would be fine for my desktop, and even my Mom’s desktop (I’m moving her over to Linux), but on my laptop which is tied to Windows by proprietary drivers and hardware, I’m still out of luck. Why is Microsoft abandoning the things that made them so prevalent on desktops? Hat tip: Leonard.

Netscape Crushes Competition

Anyone else notice similar trends on their site? Here’s my browser stats for this month to date:

  1. Netscape — 40.23% (Version 6 mostly.)
  2. Internet Explorer — 29.46% (70% version 6.)
  3. SharpReader — 4.99%
  4. Mozilla — 4.81% (Mostly 1.4, but with 1.5 not far behind.)
  5. Googlebot — 3.11%

New Accesibility Forums

Everyone’s favorite Ian, who is at a new URL and finally blogging again, and friends hvae put together a sister forum to his excellent Accessify resource. The new Accessify Forums look like they could develop into a great resource and I’ve already registered. I might even post as soon as things calm down a bit here. I’m keeping very busy with four different kinds of work and most recently installing the new Gentoo. I’m considering setting up a semi-private Portage server for Houston friends. Would anyone else be interested in this?

Short but Sweet: MSI Mega PC

I was enamored with a small Shuttle-type device I saw the other day in Fry’s that actually had a handle so you could carry it around. Ingenious! However as I looked I thought that what we really need for the new apartment is just a small box to sit by the TV/etc. and hold all my and Josh’s MP3s, movies, games, and such. Originally I wanted it also to be a gateway, router, proxy, and firewall but for that I wouldn’t use anything other than Linux (Clark Connect is a nice distro for that) and the entertainment box would probably be best served (for now) with Windows, for the most compatibility with emulators, games, and other multimedia functions. (MythTV is coming along but not there yet.)

So while doing my daily browsing of Slick Deals, PriceWatch, and Tech Bargains—three excellent sites you should always consult before buying anything for your computer—I noticed that a MSI MegaPC could be had for as low as $265, a price that when split with Josh is a lot more palatable than the $350 Shuttle I was looking at in Fry’s. The components wouldn’t be too big an issue, as there are plenty of spare parts lying around here, but even if it wound of being a couple of hundred more to get it setup, it is a low price when you consider (if done right) the machine could function as a DVD player, PVR (TiVo), CD/MP3 player, radio tuner, and gaming console.

The more I read about it the more I’m not sure if it’s exactly what I want. The Intel chip requirement is a bit of a downer, and pushes the final cost up quite a bit. It looks like the remote may not be able to interact with the computer itself, just with the multimedia functions when the computer is turned off. Anyway, here are some of the resources I’ve run across so far:

  • Viperlair Review — Laughably bad. Written from the point of view of someone who has a system that could run an entire home theatre and decides to play Quake and Unreal Tournament. Lots of pictures though.
  • Pricing — From TechBargains, shop around.
  • SFF Tech review — Better than Viper’s Liar?
  • Tom’s Hardware review — As with all Tom articles, say hello to excruciating detail that I’m sure interests someone. Compares it to other similar products, which is good.
  • My HTPC — My Home Theatre PC, some slick looking software to put on whatever I eventually get. Runs on Windows. Nice looking forums.

I’ll add to this list as I find more, just for personal reference, and if you know anything about this yourself or have set anything similar up I’d love to hear about it.

Truly Bizarre

Last Wednesday I transfered this domain to the new server, a dual Xeon with cute hard drives and RAM for days. This domain was, by far, the hardest one to transfer. I couldn’t tar it up because the previous system had a 2 gigabyte file size limit, and that mark was crossed long ago. What I ended up doing with the help of Mat is simply FTPing the albums directory (about 3 gigabytes) to the new server manually, and then packaging and transferring the rest of the account as I would normally. It was a hassle but it worked. Then another problem popped up, everyone seemed to be holding on the their outdated or cached DNS information like it was the last chocolate on earth, even though I had turned down the TTL days before. It was hairy for a few hours, but it all resolved itself, so to speak.

Except one. Mozilla 1.4 on this desktop still pulls up photomatt.net from the old server! Is it not simply a page cache, as I have cleared that and force reloaded more times than I can count. It is not a DNS issue, because Internet Explorer and Opera on the same machine seem to get to the new site just fine. I can ping, I can sing laments, I can fling books, but to no avail. So for the first times since I made the switch I am posting from IE instead of Mozilla, while I contemplate the best course of action from here. Perhaps another go at Firebird or the Mozilla 1.5 alpha is in order. That may solve it, but I’m still so confused as to why it is acting the way it does. Bizzare. Also if you don’t see this entry put your glasses on or, alternatively, contact me.

Prettify Project Gutenberg Books

I’m dead tired, but before I go to sleep I wanted to inform you of a neat tool you might dig. Month before last at the Houston Palm Users Group (which I lead) we did a bit on creating ebooks. I covered the Palm Markup Language which is a sorry excuse for a markup language. To balance out how bad PML was, I wrote a little tool that would convert Project Gutenberg texts to a format more sutable for ebook reading. See the problem with the Gutenberg texts is that they are plain ASCII files which wrap every 76 characters or so. What this means on a PalmOS device is that you get a line and a half of text, and then a break, and it makes reading anything a major pain.

So what HPUG DocIt! does is combine paragraphs of text into one line so you don’t get funny line breaks everywhere, except where you want them between paragraphs. It’s pretty basic, but I’ve found it incredibly useful and a number of members of the group have as well. Even though the only other time it’s been mentioned was at the meeting and on the HPUG website, it converts about a dozen documents every day. Anyway I’d just like to put this out there as a service. The interface should look pretty familar to Texturize users, with the additional option of being able to upload text files. If there is interest there is definitely a lot of room for improvement in this tool, for example it could convert the ASCII faux text styling (stars for bold, underscores for underlined, etc.) to HTML equivilents, and it could also determine when the nend of a line is a hyphenated word and deal with the break accordingly. But for now, it does one thing and it does it well. Enjoy.

WordPress Preview

Partly as a personal todo list, and partly as a special bonus for Photo Matt readers, here’s what’s currently done or in development for WordPress .72, slated for release on [date]. This is in no particular order.

  • Improved quicktags — create ordered and unordered lists easier, <ins> support WITH datetime attribute, possibly cursor aware.
  • HTML Sanitation — Bad code checks in, but it doesn’t check out.
  • MetaWeblog API support
  • Multiple category support
  • Completely revamped options system, never edit a configuration file ever again.
  • Password-protected entries
  • Movable Type import

There are going to be some under the hood changes mainly paving the way for multi-blog support. Also significant is the documentation efforts that have been ongoing. A few other changes mostly related to RSS may or may not make it in, depending on how quickly everything comes together.


The inimitable Joe Clark’s Ten Years Ago in Spy has a brand-spanking new all-CSS layout from yours truly. As Joe said, “Take that, Alex Isley, Christiaan Kuypers, and B.W. Honeycutt!”

I didn’t do a strict before and after comparison, but I estimate at least several K have been saved. The biggest savings should come from the table, which had an elaborate system of classes that I was able to all but eliminate thanks to the flexbility provided by Joe’s semantic markup. Enjoy, and take some time to browse the archives, it’s quite entertaining.

Hey Hey Hey, Z1A

I don’t know how to describe my mood except elation. Remember the laptop that broke last week? Well I’ve been so busy I haven’t had time to take it in to Best Buy until today. If you remember, my hard drive was hosed. I was bringing it out of hibernation and it hung. When I restarted it I was informed that there was no operating system found. Many hours, recovery disks, and general messing, it seemed that the hard drive was fubar.

Obviously it had gotten jolted out of whack or something, and I went in to the store expecting them to send it away and maybe it would be an easy fix so I would have my laptop back in two weeks instead of a month and a half. However they just checked if they had another Z1A in stock and exchanged it out for me. Sweet! The timing couldn’t have been better because I had just started to notice the wear and tear that inevitably happens.

Anyway now we’re trying to fix Josh’s computer, which he’s trying to upgrade to work with Star Wars Galaxies, however Murphy has intervened and nothing seems to be working right. Hopefully we can work things out though.

Update: Josh’s problem was a bad CD-ROM drive. He’s now up and running with Windows XP (which is running really fast on his machine) and everything seems to be working. He hasn’t installed the game yet that prompted this slew of upgrades (XP and 120GB HD) so it’ll be hilarious if it doesn’t work.

Mozilla 1.4

THANK YOU Mozilla 1.4 for deleting all of my bookmarks. This could take months to recover from. I must have a copy somewhere…

Otherwise things are good on my front, the rhyming email project has been going well.

Update: I found the bookmarks.html file and was able to import it successfully. Whew!