Labnol.org

Among the most useful “tech” blogs out there — and that’s saying a lot, because there are a ton of ’em.

Digital Inspiration: tech à la carte is special because of how relevant and genuinely useful it is. It’s just stuff to make the Web more usable and fun. apps, shortcuts, tricks, bypasses, etc., in a readable style. As opposed to the “go to Sourceforge and compile this executable file” dry and dusty approach, where the writer plays smart-guy (and where it takes half-an-hour to realize that the writer’s talking about a Windows-only app!)

It’s simple and straightforward and OS neutral, for the most part.

No idea how this guy comes up with what he does, but it’s always very current, unbiased as far as I can tell. Digital Inspiration’s posts really well plugged-in to what’s going on w/ the Web at a given time.

– d.g.w.

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TypeKit

WordPress advertises a new affiliated app called “TypeKit”, which claims to be “the easiest way to use real fonts on the web.” It’s a subscription-based service but the basic version is free when you provide your name, email, site URL. 

So I signed up and checked out their fonts. Neat. They give you a HUGE slew of them, replete w/a demonstration sample sentence to show how it will look. And not just the typical top-down list of typefaces you see in Microsoft Word. TypeKit has super-current ones with slick names, as well as cursive and that sort of thing. I suppose it’s a spin-off on the popularity of Google Transliterate, which is indeed a very cool service (You can type a sentence and have it converted into any language typescript of any language and then copy and paste the resulting typescript – even Hindi, Hebrew, Arabic, etc.). 

The nerds who started this venture are former Googleites, and, http://TypeKit.com/about says the same four-guy crew were behind Measure Map, which was bought by Google and absorbed into Google Analytics. It says the dudes (Jeffrey Veen, Bryan Mason, Greg Veen, and Ryan Carver) are incorporated under the title Small Batch Inc. and were “the core of the team who led” the recent rehash of Google Analytics, which has proved to be hugely successful (and, admittedly, very useful for high-traffic web sites)

You’re prompted by WordPress for an ID provided to you when you sign up for TypeKit and this is automatically embedded via Javascript into your WordPress “Pages”. Then, the TypeKit icon appears on the WordPress Dashboard under “Appearance”. And you can see that you’re linked up and can import fonts.

So I guess they gain access to your WordPress account, but that’s the price you pay, risk you take. But you need to investigate claims and gimmicks thoroughly before signing on; that’s my M.O. when it comes to this stuff – esp. something as valuable to me as my blogs.

One thing: I was perusing the features and saw that there’s a little check-box (defaulted, unless you uncheck it) for “Google Analytics”. 

Nothing’s free!

Sadly. Not anymore, anyway. We’re in the waning days of Internet democracy, many believe.

I’m guessing Google gets to leverage that extremely powerful application – Google Analytics – to interface with WordPress. So if you don’t take the time to “uncheck” the check-box, Google will be running their crazed A.I.-powered Analytics on your WordPress blog(s)! Hey now! (But how convenient). This might also be how Smart Batch, Inc. gets some of their dough (smart!) – i.e., via Google and that little “in” with the checkbox – an “in” on the zillions of WordPress blogs and WordPress-generated sites on the Web. That’d undoubtedly be valuable to someone…

I like WordPress. It’s great. I’ve used it for years. It’s attractive, easy to use, and reliable (though slow). But I can’t complain. It beats Google Blogger/Blogspot by a long-shot. And the hassle of registering a domain name, doing manual FTP-uploads, or hand-coding hypertext-markup, which is a pain in the arse.

It is cool that so many smart folks are out there doing this stuff to make my blog not look so mundane. I recall posting maybe more than a few complaints in my posts about the lack of versatility w/ WordPress “Themes” and the inability to change any CSS on your blog (without a paid upgrade). Even TRY to mess around with the HTML in one of our posts and you’ll be punished unremittingly. (Try it, you’ll see.)

With TypeKit you can customize font to apply to stuff like body text, headers, sidebars, links, so to make your pages and posts look more unique. This has always been the problem with WordPress. I recall writing a Post to the effect that so many people use so few of the Themes (I use PressRow, which may be the most popular) that you can tell a WordPress-generated blog simply by the font and formatting. And that sucks for the individuality of your blog; that’s what your blog should be, an expression of you and your written thoughts.

So this is a step in the right direction, I’d say. But there’s always the fine print.

            – d.g.w.

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Hotspot Shield

Below is an excerpt from a reply to a posting at http://discussions.apple.com/ regarding  HotSpot Shield uninstall problems. Hotspot Shield is a widely used freeware application for Windows and Mac that has been around for several years. It purports to create, with the click of a mouse, a “Virtual Private Network” (VPN) between your computer and Hotspot Shield’s own purportedly secure HTTPS. However, sometimes what sounds to good to be true…(Read what this guy posts below/) I used to use Hotspot Shield successfully with my Macbook, but this time have not been able to connect to their VPN (you’d do this by clicking on the   Hotspot Shield desktop menu icon   icon, in Mac OS found in the upper right of your desktop menu near Spotlight.

Posted by: [xxxxxx]
From: germany
Registered: Aug 12, 2008
Re: hotspot shield — uninstall problem
Posted: Aug 22, 2008 2:55 AM
 

“…HSS must have installed something in the system area, outside user’s home directory or browser profile; it is independent of the browser one is using. To see that this is the case I created a test user account and bang! the banner was there immediately.

HSS appearantly inspects the http stream coming into one’s box and inserts a javascript just after the tag in the page — have a look at the html code. To my mind, this is not only annoying but quite worrying. If they can do that, they can potentially do anything since one has stupidly given HSS one’s password.

Also, in my case I thought I had uninstalled HSS. It was only a month later when I went to a cafe when the banner started reappearing. It does not appear in all cafes, only a couple of them. Again this is worrying since it means it may be the case the software is actually working, it’s just that the user is not aware of it.

For these reasons I have absolutely not trust in that software. I’ll reinstall my whole system asap. Nobody seems to know how HSS works; their webpage and OS X uninstall instructions are useless: they say what one knows anyways (drag the app to trash box), but that does not help. One can’t email them; their forum is a closed one. And if you think of it, there is no reason to install for security reasons anyways. If I go to a bank or email, one should use a SSL connection anyways, in which case I don’t need a vpn.”

MB 13   Mac OS X (10.5.4)


 

This is some revealing information! Point is, be weary of lavish claims like those on Hotspot Shield’s web site :

  • Secure your web session, data, …personal information online…
  • Protect yourself from identity theft online.
  • Hide your IP address for your privacy online.
  • Access all content privately without censorship; bypass firewalls.
  • Protect yourself from snoopers at Wi-Fi hotspots, hotels, airports, corporate offices.

And ask yourself – if this small, easy-t0-use freeware app does the bad-ass stuff it says it does, why are they giving it away for free?

               – d.g.w.

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Trying to embed stuff on WordPress; Themes

Ferdinand, aka “boofer”, aka “ferdy”, ca. Spring 2002.

src=”http://www.keepandshare.com/doc/view.php?”
align=”center”
width=”900″
height=”700″
alt=”Ferdinand in mom’s backyard”

I.

(The above from animals page)

Darn. Well for some reason WordPress is eternally rejecting my attempts at embedding a simple photograph. It particularly does not seem to like KeepandShare’s embed syntax. I don’t know what markup language WordPress uses but it’s very idiosyncratic; seems only to work with itself – whatever that means.

So to celebrate the absurdity of things, here’re a couple of screenshots of the process:

photo of our late Himalayan Ferdinand, ca. Spring 2002

Adobe Photoshop AS

Trying to embed a simple pdf (to no avail)

Trying to embed a simple pdf (to no avail)

 


size=”1″
width=”90%”
noshade

Shoot! See what I mean? Trying to put a simple horizontal rule in here. Gee whiz.

II.

Another thing: maybe it’s just me, but have you ever noticed that when you come across certain web sites – often blogs but other kinds of pages, too – that it’s easy to recognize a WordPress-generated page? You can tell from the font. Now I’ve looked at my “theme” I utilize on this blog and in The Journalist‘s CSS one finds that the font is of the Helvetica sans serif family – Lucida and Lucida Grande. It occurred to me that you could theoretically run the template through a text editor and use find/replace to get rid of that WordPress-signaturesque typeface. It’s just getting increasingly annoying to me that all WordPress pages look the same. You may know to what I refer: a hundred-thousand blogs, easily use the “minimalist” Cutline and “journalist” PressRow themes. Quite frankly it offends the designer’s sensibilities that, as personal as is a blog, each should use the definition of which ought to entail a truly unique handwriting style, or “script”, on each unique blog site. The definition of “weblog” is that it is you’re your own publisher; your own “wordpresser”. But instead our weblogs face the world looking branded; like they’ve come off the assembly line at GoDaddy or Google.

And this isn’t only a WordPress problem, so I don’t mean to single it out – Google Blogger/Blogspot blogs suffer the same malady. Some of this comes down to the fact that both these organizations and every other blog host for that matter, are incorporated entities, and force on their users at least some advertising space on the margins (usually right margin). I’ve always thought Matt Mullenweg and WordPress were cool; cutting edge, etc.

For better or worse, contributors to WordPress of original CSS-designed themes do not get direct credit. For instance, the creator of TheJournalist theme, Lucian E. Marin, (who is not a journalist but a web designer from Eastern Europe) offers it for download on his web site, but states that he releases it under GPL license and requests that you give him a link on your blog if you use it.

WordPress reserves the right to edit stuff out of any submitted theme. Wordpres has the following statement under Appearance > Manage Themes > CSS Stylesheet Editor:

/*
Things we strip out include:
* HTML code
* @import rules
* expressions
* invalid and unsafe code
* URLs not using the http: protocol

Things we encourage include:
* @media blocks!
* sharing your CSS!
* testing in several browsers!
* helping others in the forum!

Please use the contact form if you believe there is something wrong with the way the CSS Editor filters your code.
*/

The ubiquitous themes need to be recycled! They’ll come back in style in ten years, don’t worry!!

– d.w.

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"cloudmir1"

"cloudmir1" by Autechre.

 

Gantz Graf [Best Quality version – not embeddable]: directed by Alex Rutterford, music by Autechre.

        – above audio and video courtesy Autechre and Warp Records

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How to set the email client of your choice on Firefox 3

You click a “mail-to” link on the web and it opens a default email client that usually isn’t the one you use. Sound familiar? Like MSN or Apple email instead of Yahoo or Gmail?

Turns out, there’s an easy fix – to make Firefox open the email client of your choice. (I’m not sure about other versions; I no longer use Firefox.)

    For Macintosh:

1) Open the Firefox browser, go to the menu and click on Firefox > Preferences. Click the Applications icon. The alphabetical “Content Type/Action” list appears. (See screen capture below):

The list under the "Applications" tab.
2) Find mailto and select the corresponding ‘Action’ from the drop-down list box.

    For Windows:

1) Open the Firefox browser, go to the menu, and click on Tools > Options. From here, select ‘Applications’.

2) Under the Content Type/Action list, go to mailto and choose the email client you want from the drop-down list box.

 

Now, when you click an email address hyperlink, Firefox will open the email client you actually use! 
 

                             – d.g.w.

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Vinnie Wilhelm; K. Vonnegut on Writing

Writer Vinnie Wilhelm wrote the following in a correspondence with me in Sept. 2008:

Vinnie and David Wilhelm at Bowling Alley in Ballard, WA

Vinnie and David Wilhelm at Bowling Alley in Ballard, WA

“But questions of identity are ultimately ancillary to the work: they go away in the end, and the work has to succeed or fail on its own terms.”

– Vinnie Wilhelm

 


 

 

On writing better–Kurt Vonnegut

This is an excerpt from his book of essays Palm Sunday. He was here referring to science writing, but you can apply it generally:

1. Find a subject you care about. It’s hard to bring yourself to write if you don’t believe in what you’re writing. We procrastinate for any number of reasons (and perfectionism is one of them). But if you deeply suspect that a thesis chapter isn’t yet ready for prime time, get a reality check. Present it as a 10 minute talk to your lab group.

2. Do not ramble, though. Outline your argument. Boil it down to the essential points. Then use the outline to construct your topic and summary sentences for each paragraph. It ain’t necessary to point out every possible exception to every generalization.

3. Keep it simple. I was once told that the perfect paper in ecology was 10 pages long and had one good idea that was bolstered by a variety of evidence. Such a paper maximizes the possibility that it will be read and remembered.

4. Have guts to cut. Nearly everybody loves the sound of their own voice. Go through your first draft and ask, of every sentence, “Is this really necessary?”. This particularly applies to your Discussion. It is not a repository for every thought you have had on the topic. Relate your data to your hypotheses and to the current thinking in the field, honestly confront your limitations in a caveat paragraph, and propose one or two next steps.

5. Sound like yourself. Science writing is not supposed to be boring or flowery. Write as if you are explaining your study to a colleague.

6. Say what you mean. It is often easy to get lost in the thicket of sentences and paragraphs. Before you sit down for the day’s writing, spend a minute explaining to an imaginary officemate why this paper is worth writing, and what the data mean. Then make sure every sentence advances that message.

7. Pity the readers. The literature is huge and expanding. Clear, concise writing is needed now more than ever. Whenever you are tempted to leave one murky paragraph, imagine a reader some time in the future (or better yet, a reviewer or editor) wincing and shaking her head. Then buckle down and write what you mean.

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MS Live Writer

Temporarily using a Windows desktop computer since my laptop is out of commission. It’s stuck on some eastern European language with no way to revert back, plus I can’t shut it down except for holding down the on/off button, which also is disconcerting. If I lose my Macbook I don’t know what I’m going to do. No money for another one, and I really can only work with Macs, I barely know how to turn on an Windows laptop. Well I guess I could learn : (

Anyway, Since I’m using a Windows machine I tried out Windows Live Writer. It seems to work with WordPress…haven’t tried it with Blogspot/Google Blogger, but it seems to stick inline CSS styles in with your photos and there is no way to disable that setting.

Otherwise it beats writing in the WordPress text editor: they provide a tiny little white space and make you constantly publish and re-publish in order to update what you’ve edited. Anything that speeds up the process of publishing is an improvement. I’d never thought to use Live Writer since I’d always been using a Mac/UNIX.

Better than using Notepad or MS Word to write a blog entry. I haven’t used Microsoft Word since I was in college!

Note: You can download the latest Live Writer free from Microsoft but a warning – they’ll try to get you to install a slew of other crap like Messenger and Movie Maker unless you uncheck these before installing.

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