Ramblings, meanderings, rants and discoveries.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Utilities, Tools and Widgets

Let me start this out by saying I am an advocate for doing things the easy way. As I have said in the past I am lazy. Now that doe not mean I avoid doing work, it does mean I will spend hours even days setting something up so that I can perform a repetitious action in minimal time.

Actions like updating links, calculating and checking statistics, and most of all updating. So the idea of widgets, (called by some toolkits or utilities) has always appealed to me. Yes, those little apps or programs that make life easier. Here is a list of some I have tripped across, used and my opinions of them - so far.

Headline Animators - Like the one to the left for the OTHER blog. I like these little widgets. It is a slick fast way to promote a feed. They can be customized to fit in any website's theme.

RSS feeds - Kind of nice, but once you subscribe you get everything. If I post 20 things in one day about how the aliens are beaming messages to my crowns, and you are subscribed to me, you get them. But then, perhaps you read Andromedian and are interested in those intergalactic missives?

RSS Readers - Something about these remind me of the old echomail (now called usenet mainly) readers. I miss Blue Wave and kill files. I have just started playing with these. A kill file would be nice so I can filter out those blogs about the messages and pay attention to the ones about how to hack the starship that is approaching.

Trillian (and Miranda) - I love these types of apps. I hated having clients on different IM's and needing to load or unload one or another because the engines all fought with each other for supremacy. The only draw back to these is that they rarely get warning of changes in the messenger services. The last Yahoo change caused me to lose messages from people, the app would crash and I had a few system slowdowns. But you know these are worth sending the coders a donation or buying the commercial version. They are extremely useful.

Mihov image resizer - A perfect utility. It does just what the title says and little more. It resizes graphics. That means I do not have to load up Photoshop, load the graphic then play with it. I just load the resizer, enter the file name, it gives me the attributes and I tell it what I want and it resizes. It will also run some conversions like gif to jpg etc.

ID Serve - A quick DNS lookup tool from Gibson Research. I enter the URL or the IP and it goes out pings the machine and tells me what it can about the server. It defaults to port 80, but you can configure or request any port.

I continue to seek out new Widgets and will post here when I find them. I have yet to find a site builder that passes W3 compliance. (Yes that is my current quest) I like building websites, but it would be so much nicer if I could find a site builder that I like. One that gives me flexibility and lets me control what elements I wish and is W3 compliant.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Contributing to the digital divide

Lately it seems to me that more and more companies are contributing to the digital divide with their practices. I may run a state of the art machine, but my connectivity is limited by what I can afford and is available in my area. In other words dial-up of the 56K variety. I have spoken to many online who are hampered by this same stumbling block due to their location. We have started compiling a list of sites that are starting to really annoy us. Here are some recent examples:

Gamespot - owned by Cnet
First every single page is graphics heavy, it takes anywhere from 30 seconds to 5 minutes for a basic forum page to load. Yes you read that correctly a page that should be nothing more than text. Why is this? I am not 100% sure but I THINK it has to do with those annoying adverts.

Zone Labs -

Yep, the makers of Zone Alarm. What is their problem? Ok, so when i try a file transfer with Opera it may or may not complete. BUT according to their site, one should download with I.E. Why? because it seems that other browsers including Firefox may corrupt the download. BAD show Zone Labs. If you want me to replace my MS preferred firewall with yours, then let me do so with my non MS browser. I will have more to say about Zone Labs in my next Blog - unfortunately. They used to be one of my favorite companies.

Yahoo.com -
Sigh, their new look and upgrade now take forever to load. Trillian had to be patched because of all the new "features" causing system crashes. I am starting to really hate all IMs.

Microsoft - well no surprise there. I have a slow connection and must use the classic mail on MSN. OK I have no problem with that, except that takes forever too. More of the issue is the upgrade etc process. It has nit yet become online only. But it was a pain trying to upgrade online with this old slow machine not running I.E. Add to that they expect everyone to have a credit card. Think about that. What would you do if you had no credit card? Ahh there is paypal right? Yep, except MS doesn't take them. What about an e-check? Nope, they don't take that either. Ok a money wire? Nope. Credit card or nothing. When Word coverts a doc to HTML it does not conform to W3 compliance. A lot of online text editors start getting weird if you try to paste from it or enter the HTML it generates. It is NOT that hard guys. Quit trying to be the owner of the internet and let everyone read stuff.

High schools - I hate to say this, but U.S. and Canadian High schools are adding to the issue. Many now require their students deliver their papers via a website and in .doc or is some cases .pdf format. What does that mean to a student with no machine at home? Hours at the library typing, writing and sending a paper. Same as any other student you say? Not really. One with a computer at home can do so at any time and with no time restrictions except those imposed by their parents. . One with access to the library only must write and send a paper within the hours the Library is open. Oh and most libraries limit time that one may have a computer. For those that do buy a machine they have to then put out the money for the applications that produce the required formats or do as my daughter did for a week or so, spend twice as much time on the paper for pure formatting reasons. I thought the purpose of paper writing was the content not the software format and the students' knowledge of commercial packages?

Neopets - Yes, the kid's site. One must now run the latest flash versions, have a fast connection and who knows what else in order to perform many actions. It is a shame that kids whose parents cannot afford the latest in technology cannot play all the games. What a great message to send to our kids. You need all the expensive stuff in order to compete.

This is a tip of the iceberg. Almost nothing here is crucial to existence, yet. The phone company seems to be moving more and more in the online direction. Which I should point out annoys me no end, how can I get online to check my status when my lines are down? Computer companies in general assume you have online access As I discovered in the almost 2 months I did not after the 98 machine's ports died. Lucky for me CDW, Circuit City and Best buy are all up the road and the library down the road. Companies need to rethink their strategies. If they want to take part in the global economy, they have to take into consideration that a person in a city in South Africa (yes that is where one of the brain-stormers of this was) may not have Vista, a high speed connection, a color printer or a credit card. They should consider not everyone in the world speaks English. (As my French and Danish gaming friends have pointed out.) Remember not everyone can see the pretty pictures that are slowing the load down as my blind friend says (he hates being called visually impaired btw) Not everyone can hear the music that takes forever to buffer as my father points out. I am tired of waiting for Pdfs to load for one small piece of information about my daughter's school arrival times. And last, but not least stop making all the tutorials as videos. Just make it so people who need information can get to it. It's not that difficult.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Criticism is needed

For those of you who do not know in a previous life I was a professional writer/editor. Ok, perhaps it was this life, but it was long time ago. I have to say that while I was not working in a top publishing house, nor was I writing the Great American Novel, we were professionals. As such we always looked to improve our writing. The same was true when I began coding, we looked to others to assist us in writing more efficient code. Perhaps the entire program design was beautiful, but we always looked for ways to improve speed.

About ten years ago I noticed a slight change among new coders. When a suggestion was made for efficiency’s sake, they argued. I do not mean they said, hmm I’ll think about it and keep the code as it was – we all did that if we thought someone was wrong. Or maybe we would test it off on the side quietly . If the suggestion was a significant improvement the app changed, if not no more would be said. But each coder took pride in their work and strove to produce the best they could. I mean the new coders would argue the point as if the person making the suggestion had not actually reviewed the code. (Code reviews were mandatory by the way) “But I HAVE to use a nested IF instead of a CASE here.” And twenty minutes later they would walk off either having decided the coder with 15 years experience was out to get them, had antiquated views or did not know anything about the new world of code, leaving the senior coder scratching his or her head and returning to their project. But as a boss once told me a great coder is like a racehorse and some have a bit of an ego. We would shrug and continue.

I now see this attitude permeate every aspect of work. It seems no one can take criticism or even suggestions for improvement. It was a sad day when this became apparent in the writing community. Yes,I still keep my hand in. I always have. I am a member of several writers’ groups. I edit for a few sites. I have written online doco for a few. I am sad to say that it has finally become the case that writers no longer seek constructive criticism. Rather they seek to be stroked told how great their piece is and perhaps have a couple of grammatical errors pointed out. I have been in groups where if someone suggests that a paragraph is unclear to them the writer argues rather than asks for further input or for suggestions f how to make it clearer.

It has become the norm to ridicule the critique and its writer rather than thank the person for taking the time to go through the piece and offer suggestions. Nothing says you HAVE take them. One site on which I am an editor offers an award for top sites. We have certain criteria we must check and once that is done it becomes a matter of personal opinion. A petitioner for the award failed some of the base criteria, which includes things like: onsite links must terminate to a page with relevent content, HTML must pass W3 compliance, music must be by request, etc. I informed him his site was not ready for an in depth critique and moved on. The idea is not to critique the contents of the site until the mechanics are completed. Being the best of the best means all code works, the site looks good, is accessable to everyone and contributes uniquely in some way to the RPG community. The site designer/owner argued that the minimum requirements for consideration were unfair. He wanted the prize with out the work. When it was pointed out to him some was merely HTML choices for basic formatting (non W3 compliance) He replied he was not a coder, just a designer. I curbed my tongue and did not state, "Then when you are good enough to try for the award do so otherwise do not waste my time." Sorry but the point of the award is that it is the best of the best overall. If you are not capable of making the site so, do not whine. Go learn how to do it and try.

Which brings me back to the old days in writing. I functioned as both an editor and writer. None of us felt we were writing a great novel. We wrote user manuals for commercial and proprietary software packages and accompanying training materials. Her is how it would work. The author would write a guide. A first level (copy) editor would go through the guide looking for obvious errors in grammar and ensure it complied with the house style.and A tech editor would run through the guide step by step, check the veracity of the information and perhaps catch some errors the copy editor missed. The manuscript would be marked up and sent back to the writer to make changes. The writer would make them or not.

The editors would go over the new manuscript when it arrived, test and make further suggestions and send it back. The writer would do what he or she wanted and send it back. IF an editor noticed a common error they might mention it to the writer: watch tense, avoid to be, use active voice. That was all part of the editor’s job. If a paragraph or more really needed a rewrite it would be noted. The manuscript was sent back again to the editors after changes were made. It was in the best interest of the writer to make the suggested changes. Why? Because the editors had the manuscript last. Many were the times I rewrote a manual that was wrong technically, too long (there are page limits set), or was just poorly written. We called that a heavy edit. Yes, the author’s name went on the work. And we usually never re-contracted with that writer again. Why? Because there are a lot of writers out there who are willing and able to comply with a house style.

What saddens me is the lack of desire by writers to improve their craft. I give some of my worst writing to those groups of which I am a member to critique. Why? Because I know the good stuff is good. I can work with that. It is the parts I need help with that I present. The portions I KNOW are not working. I have received 0 critiques. Why? I request specifically for people to pull them apart. Grammar, I do not worry about too much that is what grammar checkers are for. But tense, tone, action, am I clear? Have I missed stating something does the dialog seem contrived? Does the action seem contrived? Is too much time spent on something? Not enough? Does the piece convey the feeling I want it to through the language used? If I am lucky I will be told “I got confused here who had what.” Most of the time I get, “it’s good, you have a typo here and that’s it now onto the next piece.”

I know I am not that good. Is it that I am such bad writer that they cannot say anything about it to improve it other than throw it out? Is it that they are afraid they will hurt my feelings? I suspect it is more that they are afraid I will argue and take up too much time or that they want to get to their pieces as soon as possible to hear exactly the same “It’s good, maybe change the tense here, now on to the next piece.” It is sad people have lost interest in improvement and rather hear praise than suggestions. But then that would be why so many computer applications are released with bugs. It takes less time money and energy to write a patch than to argue with a Prima Dona.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Microsoft, Digital RIver and other Pains

OK, so the trial version of Office is expired, my daughter needs a word processor, she is used to word. First let me say when the trial version expires, you cannot do anything except view documents. This seems to have affected my ability to print to file even in other applications. That annoys me.

So I suck it up and go off to the Microsoft site to "convert" my product. Digital River runs that side of it. I mutter and fuss and fill out the forms using my husband's credit card (No paypal accepted - that is also annoying, but I'll deal with it). I send off all the info and start checking my account for the confirmation e-mail, nothing. Now it IS Saturday, I mention it to my husband the next morning, He says yeah whenever he has ordered ANYTHING on a weekend it has not gone through till Monday. OK then.

Monday still nothing not even a hey we got the order. I send a note to customer service. Finally a flag is placed on the online invoice with a note there is a problem with the order. I start checking e-mail. Again nothing.

Today I finally get back a note that state the order was cancelled, most likely for one of the following reasons:

1 I cancelled it (I did not)
2. Digital River received no response from the verification e-mail (yeah well, it is difficult to respond to something one never receives)
3. My home address doesn't match the home address on the credit card. (Uh yeah it does at least according to everyone ELSE online including Amazon)

Did I mention that I used to work in data management, including credit card verification and telecheck verification? There are several types of software and some are more sophisticated than others. Some get weirded out if a word is not exactly the same (St. vs Street or even vs St) Some are more forgiving, either way all that do not match kick out a report with the offending record and it is easy to research this. You pull up the order and the on file address and check. Yeah it takes a literate human to do this. Probably all of about a 3rd grade reading level.
I am guessing that either Digital River or their 3rd party verification company is lacking employees with that specialized skill. Perhaps Microsoft should subsidize a literacy program for their suppliers? Just a thought. So, who knows a word processing app that will read and allow us to work with Word .docs? Seems I am in the market.

Saturday, June 30, 2007


Vista is succumbing to my wiles! Yep I broke down and bought a 3.6 USB drive. Plugged her in, pulled the drivers onto a floppy and installed on the 98. Off she goes. So I start pulling data over.

Now for next thing I hate. The account I am using on Vista is a Admin equivelent account. I start by copying my files over. I run some tests, all looks good. Well, some minor annoyances, but hopefully I will figure them out. I suspect it is ME not Vista on those. POSSIBLY the application, but since app. was not meant for Vista or even for XP really, it's my problem to make it work.

I copy my daughter's school stuff over and go to drop it into her directory. I get the must confirm admin screen. That is annoying. Then i decide to break her stuff down by years, freshman, sophmore, etc. So I go to create the directories under her documents, it defaults to mine. I mutter a lot and force it to comply with my wishes. I move the files, I check one. Guess what? I can look at it but I cannot alter it. Now guess who shows as author? Yep, me - mainly because I type faster than she does and like most students she tends to wait until the night before an assignment is due to write it. So I go to change rights on the file and think hmm I wonder, Sure enough I do not have any but view rights to anything, so I check the directory, same. Odd I made the stupid thing, but no matter.

I reassign rights (just add myself as an all instead of as a view only) and tell it to apply to all child objects. It laughs and tells me it cannot because directory is in use. Well yeah kinda, is up in another window, but the OBJECTS are not in use. FINE. I pick a lower dir and reassign my rights. I click apply and yes and click through all the required if you started this message. EVERY SINGLE subdirectory and object within them returns a failure to reassign message. So I go in and look. They show they reassigned. I try to edit one. It laughs at me. So I sit there and reassign each object manually, clicking through. That works.

Uh Microsoft, let's talk about 2 things both apply to security. First I am signed in as and Admin equivelent. You know, that little click through of if you initiated this action is KINDA useless in many instances. Let's face it if I was dumb enough to leave the machine logged into a supervisor account, and some dishonest person came along and started doing stuff under my login you THINK they are going to be deterred by that? It is annoying.

Second. It's nice tht you are keeping me safe from documents that show to be authored by myself. Now I appreciate that perhaps WORD and the OS do not really communicate. I mean why not bring your business model into your software packages? (One day maybe I will bore y'all with old stories about beta testing MS stuff) BUT, i made the freaking directory, assigned rights and copied the files over. I STILL have to manually alter that with multiple click throughs for each document copied? There are times I miss Novell.

Friday, June 29, 2007

God Deliver us from Microsoft

The old friend the 98 machine is very very sick. It started with a pulse through the phone lines that zapped the ports for my modem. LUCKILY it did not hit the CPU (I ran a soft modem on that machine for many reasons)

For those of you how do not know what that means here is a very basic explanation There are two ports for phone lines wired into the motherboard one in and one out. The modem is actually software, so they access the CPU. Now when you are online and doing other things it is SLOW, but if you are online and your machine is running minimal, the thread (part of CPU process) assigned to the modem can be pretty quick for dial up. It all depends on your CPU. BTW it sucks for gaming on MMPORGS, but there are nights when I have a clean connection I can outpace the DSL users with a clogged pipeline. (Cable always has me beat hands down though.)

So I was VERY happy that the CPU, motherboard and drives were undamaged - well until the repair dude from HELL got a hold of my machine, but that is for another Blog. So the upshot is no modem on the old machine. I have data files I need to get from the old machine to the new Vista machine. Now BITD (back in the day) all machines came with a floppy drive. No more. Both have CDRW, Actually the new one has a DVDWR but is supposed to read CDs. Repair guy from hell hosed my periphs on the 98 so I spend a night fixing them. Now have the 3.5 and both CDs work, the read only and the RW. Guess what? The Vista machine doesn't like CDs written from the 98, so no data xfer that way.

What about a null modem cord? Used to be you could null modem using a serial conn or if desperate do writes to the printer port to send via parallel. No problem since machines are right next to each other atm so no 30 foot (maybe it was 15 feet) limitation. Seems Vista only allows wireless networking between machines. Of course the 98 never heard of Vista, so off I go to read support forums both at Microsoft and from people who have a clue. Seems like only way to connect the two machines are through a wireless router or MAYBE USB to USB data xfer cables. Now the data xfer cables have a databridge on them , so a cable for just any old usb to usb type A (aka male plugs) will not do. Don't try this with your camera upload cord in other words.

I go pricing, they run from 10.00 to 50.00 most are USB 2.0 (98 is 1.0) some are 98 compat. Cool EXCEPT it is like the old PC anywhere or other old style master/slave machine setup (for those of you old enough to remember). Yep you have to install the software and drivers on both machines. ALL of the packages I found work with 98 OR with Vista, none work with both. Ok so back to sneakernet methods.

Flash drives! There we go flash or jump drives are slow, but SHOULD work. Guess what I need to down load a driver for 98. I do, I grab a CD I make sure it runs in the 98 machine, I go to burn the file onto the CD. DRIVE not ready. Hmm SO I grab a CD the VISTA machine likes. Burn and pop it in the first CD drive on the 98, nope. I pop it in the second, nope again.

So I have come to this conclusion. Microsoft does not want anyone to preserve their old data. Never mind it may be crucial to running their business, TOO bad. Unless you are willing to jump through hoops and perhaps pay through the nose. you are SOL. so thanks MS it really helps us small business owners.

Oh and my plans for the old friend? Unix, what else. At least I'll be able to copy data files.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Test Almost Over

As some of you may or may not know I have been 'playing' with the site building tool for the ZEN site for RPGs. My evaluation is that it is OK. Now what does that mean? That means NOTHING made me say "wow that is neat!" but on the other hand nothing made me curse for hours at it either - well maybe one thing but I am getting used to that issue.

The Tool
Trellix SiteBuilder-

First I ran a generated page through the w3 compliance checker. It failed on 23 counts. All failures are Trellix generated code, not webgems as they call them for my html.

Line 1 column 0: no document type declaration; implying "!DOCTYPE HTML SYSTEM".
Warning Line 7 column 211: cannot generate system identifier for general entity "sUrl".
Note that in most documents, errors related to entity references will trigger up to 5 separate messages from the Validator. Usually these will all disappear when the original problem is fixed.

Error Line 7 column 211: general entity "sUrl" not defined and no default entity.
Info Line 7 column 210: entity was defined here.
Warning Line 7 column 254: cannot generate system identifier for general entity "Command".
Error Line 7 column 254: general entity "Command" not defined and no default entity.
Error Line 7 column 261: reference to entity "Command" for which no system identifier could be generated.
Info Line 7 column 253: entity was defined here.
Warning Line 7 column 271: cannot generate system identifier for general entity "FileName".
Error Line 7 column 271: general entity "FileName" not defined and no default entity.
Error Line 7 column 279: reference to entity "FileName" for which no system identifier could be generated.
Info Line 7 column 270: entity was defined here.
Error Line 10 column 47: required attribute "TYPE" not specified.
Error Line 14 column 20: there is no attribute "LEFTMARGIN".
Error Line 14 column 34: there is no attribute "TOPMARGIN".
Error Line 14 column 50: there is no attribute "RIGHTMARGIN".
Error Line 14 column 66: there is no attribute "MARGINWIDTH".
Error Line 14 column 83: there is no attribute "MARGINHEIGHT".
Error Line 21 column 39: there is no attribute "BACKGROUND".
Error Line 71 column 62: there is no attribute "BACKGROUND".
Error Line 71 column 139: required attribute "TYPE" not specified.
Error Line 71 column 139: document type does not allow element "STYLE" here.
Error Line 118 column 112: document type does not allow element "DIV" here; missing one of "APPLET", "OBJECT", "MAP", "IFRAME", "BUTTON" start-tag.
Error Line 125 column 110: document type does not allow element "P" here; missing one of "APPLET", "OBJECT", "MAP", "IFRAME", "BUTTON" start-tag.
Error Line 139 column 112: document type does not allow element "DIV" here; missing one of "APPLET", "OBJECT", "MAP", "IFRAME", "BUTTON" start-tag.
Error Line 178 column 45: end tag for element "P" which is not open.
Error Line 205 column 154: required attribute "TYPE" not specified.
The W3C Validator Team

The document Failed W3 compliance.

Now that having been said, I IMMed a friend who uses JAWS 8 speech client and had them check the page. JAWs handled it fine, so the product does create code that is accessible.

The builder is very simplistic, it is designed to work ONLY with Netscape and I.E products. This of course cause a bit of cursing on my part, since I use Opera as my main browser. It would not allow me to start my site creations using Opera. However, I easily performed site maintenance and added additional pages using Opera.

The page file naming conventions leave much to be desired. They do not draw from the title nor do they prompt the user for a name upon creation. As a result they are named cryptically with such titles as ID1, ID2, etc.

The backgrounds supplied with the product are fairly boring in my opinion, but that is better than bad. A fair amount of editing is possible on the editable templates, from color to columns. It is easy to pick up and figure out.

I saw no archive or generation storage to allow for a rollback.

The manual and tool assume the user is not at all sophisticated and as such lacks information on advanced topics such as RSS feeds, frames, and tables. Although if you use the tool as is and are not trying to do anything too fancy, it functions well.

Overall I would recommend this tool for a small business who wishes to have a web presence or as a personal website builder. It could be used as a pure site maintenance tool or as a quickstart on a site. They did make changes over the period of the two weeks or so I used the tool, so the tool is trying to be improved. I will give it one or two more days of playing, then will rebuild as I wish. For the record, my styles tend to be a bit darker.