R.I.P. V.H.S.

2006/11/23

I cannot help it, but it is awkward feeling when something that was part of your life, was so omnipresent is announced to be dead and disappear shortly. Exactly this is happening to video tapes and format VHS specifically. The news has been all around the net day or two ago: studio’s stopped after 30 years production and distribution of the VHS media.

It does not seem to so many years ago when VHS was and new and struggling to survive against more technically advanced BetaMax (I still remember how great the BetaMax movies looked). Now the VHS is slowly disappearing and everything moves to digital format and DVD. One one side, it is better – higher quality, less compatibility issues (no more struggling with expensive VHS players that can play both NTSC and PAL tapes on NTSC TV (strangely enough, the other way is much easier and many players sold in Europe do play NTSC tapes OK, but require 220 Volt/ 50 Hz and PAL TV). Compared to this, the DVD “zones” create much smaller problem, especially since Linux folks gave us some very good tools :-). Even the DVD and medium seems to be approaching the beginning of the end of life – albeit it is very unclear who will win the BlueRay / HD-DVD war. Maybe nobody will prevail, consumers will wait until the live with live streaming and video on demand with PVR’s will be practical alternative to physical distribution.

So – as suggested in one of the blogs mentioned above – let’s pause the PVR’s for a minute of silence for VHS. And while doing that, let’s contemplate what are we going to do with all the tapes with many unforgettable moments ? Maybe it’s highest time to start converting them to something digital, before the VHS players become expensive collector’s items as vinyl record players did … Going digital is the only option ( at least you do not loose all your content as I did when I switched from reel tapes to CC or from CC to CD few years later – when MP3 came, I just ripped all my CD’s). But it still feels a little bit sad – same as few months ago, when Nikon announced that they end production of film cameras

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FEOTD: Live HTTP Headers

2006/11/22

This was is out-of order extension (I mean there are several extensions that I use on daily basis and for that reason I planned to mention them before this one) – but it helped tremendously in my BI project, so here it goes.

Live Headers does one thing only and does it well – shows you HTTP headers of a communication between your browser and any Web site. As long as the browser is Firefox – but why would you want to use anything else, right ?.

It sounds simple – but consider the alternatives. What I was doing in such situations before was to set up a logging proxy that would intercept the HTTP Request/Response, log the data (or display them) and copy the request (or response) to the target. Yes it worked, but it is soooo much more comfortable just to click in the menu – compared to unpacking Tomcat, remembering how is the proxy configured, and so on ….

Big thanks to Daniel Savard and Nikolas Coukouma who wrote this usefull piece of code.


Wiki’s are everywhere …

2006/11/21

Since the beginning of the biometric security project, we are using an excellent enterprise-level Wiki Confluence as knowledge repository and main team communication tool. I was not sure at the beginning, how will the Wiki approach work for all the people on the team, mostly because once before I already tried it and had not much success of introducing the idea. It was few years ago and the Wiki engine I used were nowhere in the same league as Confluence, but main problem at that time was probably the users’ mindset. I am happy to report that this time it worked really really well. I am not sure whether it was because of the fantastic user friendly features and capabilities of Confluence, or because the general awareness shifted thanks to sites like Wikipedia and people got used to the idea of user created content … The truth is that Wiki’s are mainstream now – inside or outside of the enterprise space.

And here yet another proof for that: Microsoft launched the MSDN Wiki that merges content provided from MSDN documentation with user added/edited content. I think it is an excellent idea – MSDN documentation certainly can be improved and enhanced in many places and letting people who actually use the product contribute to the documentation content, is the right way.

The MSDN Wiki engine is right now IMHO nowhere close to to Confluence level of user comfort. From what I have seen so far, Confluence is the Lexus of the Wiki world.

Here is the question: can largest software company in the world deliver something at minimum comparably as good (or better) as creation of a small, opensource-based softwarehouse from Australia (which using, on top of all, Java and Tomcat as the platform) ?

We will see.  Maybe.  Let’s hope.


FEOTD: Scrapbook

2006/11/20

As mentioned before, thanks to del.icio.us bookmarking site and excellent Firefox plugin with the same name, I have almost perfect solution where to keep and how to organize my bookmarks. In theory, I will never loose anything interesting. Or will I ?

The good news and the bad news about bookmarks is that they are very dynamic. What you’ve stored in your favorites or del.icio.us may disappear without warning and never come back (actually, thank’s to Google caching it is not so bad, but even Google cache will eventually expire). In situation like this, I always wish to have captured not only link but the whole copy of the page(s).

This is exactly situation where Scrapbook is the perfect tool. With Scrapbook extension, you can very easily capture content of current page or current selection on the page and add it to your collection of saved fragments – your digital scrapbook. The content is saved nicely, with most features such as images, CSS or dynamic content preserved (local links are overwritten and so on). You can even organize your clippings into folders, manage them (delete or combine content), import or export them to very good looking HTML.

It is very easy to maintain several scrapbooks (for example by area of content or by project), everyone with folders. Later on, you can combine them, move content between scrapbooks, merge two scrapbooks or split one into two.

In newest version, it is very easy capture subtree – page with sub-pages – with limiting the depth of links and selecting type of linked files to download. For example JPG or MP3 – or whatever you want – but do not get me wrong, I do *not* recommend or even suggest that you should download MP3’s – this is what iTunes was invented for ;-).

Some of the other bookmarking sites save snapshot of the Web page when you bookmark it, which can sound better than having your bookmarks in one place and your saved pages elsewhere. I still like scrapbook better, though, because I can work with saved content offline and working with content takes lots of time. Most of the content I save (unlike URL’s) needs some processing and have it available offline is very handy when you have your Macbook and some time available but no internet (for example at skating rink) …

Here is one little trick I use to overcome problem with multiple scrapbooks on multiple computers and their consolidation: on each computer I use, I create special scrapbook with same name as computer name (use Tools->Extensions, Scrapbook -> Preferences->Advanced and enable multiple scrapbooks first). This will be your default scrapbook for that machine. When you later on synchronize all computers against shared network disk (using any tool you want, e.g. Offline Folders or rsync), no information will be overwritten and you will have available all information from any Firefox – as long as the network disk is visible – to consolidate the content. And btw, the content is platform agnostic – scrapbooks created on Mac can be processed with Firefox on Windows and vice versa.


Apple makes me healthier :-)

2006/11/19

Not only apple the fruit, but also Apple the company. How does it work ?

Step 1: Buy an iPod. Any model will do, I have got Nano 2Gen, 4 GB

Step 2: Subscribe to some good podcasts

Step 3: Listen to a podcasts while taking long walks – outdoors (preferred) or in a fittness studio.

That’s it. It works great for me. During last four weeks I have digested lots of podcasts, inclusive TWIT (This Week In Tech) netcasts from August 2006 almost up to today. It is a great way how to stay informed and get more interesting news while spending less time in front of the computer. And on top of that, you can have fun along the way. Leo Laporte is great host and personalities like John C Dvorak add lot’s of flavor to the discussion. Few items from latest edition:

  • Windows Vista has gone RTM
  • The 64-bit version of Windows Vista will be much more secure than the 32-bit version.
  • Jim Allchin claims that Windows Vista is good enough for his 7-year old without an antivirus.
  • President Bush has given a plug to Dell televisions.
  • Microsoft’s review agreement for the Zune is rather restrictive.
  • Forbes says that the Zune stinks.
  • Microsoft is going to give Universal a fee for every Zune sold.
  • Office 2007 has gone RTM.
  • A judge has approved a challenge to the RIAA’s $750-per-song claim.
  • Apple has ditched the “Mac Guy” from its ads.
  • Apple has released Macbooks with the Intel Core 2 Duo.
  • CNet News and CNet have gotten Web 2.0 redesigns.
  • A 43-year old software developer is now suing NTP.
  • Google has accidentally sent the “Kama Sutra” worm to 50,000 people on one of its mailing lists.
  • Bit-Tech has an article defending multi-core processors.

I was was really surprised how many interesting podcasts exists out there. Many more than I have time to listen – it is hard to find more than 7-8 hours a week for listening and walking …

Great source of podcasts are podcast directories – such as http://www.podcast.net/, http://www.podcastdirectory.com/, http://www.apple.com/itunes/store/podcasts.html, http://podcasts.yahoo.com/ and many others.

In case the podcast are not enough, try audio books – I have listened (during spring and summer) to all books from Ender series by Orson Scott Card and it was fantastic experience. It takes lot’s of walking, though if you want to listen unabridged versions (typically 8-20 CD’s per book). Recently, Ottawa Public Library started to provide audiobooks as electronic – unfortunately, the DRM is incompatible with iPod’s so I will either have to get some cheapo MP3 player just for these books or stay with borrowing and ripping CD’s with iTunes…

May the TWIT be with you … and happy walking.


New toy

2006/11/18

Got a new gadget. Actually, not quite “got” – just borrowed from Mike. It the digital pen – amazing piece of machinery, that remembers all you write (up to 40 pages) and allows you to transfer written text to computer. The catch is that you *must* write on special paper, with microscopic marks that help to note the position of the pen.

I was surprise how successful was the CRC software of making some sense from my cat scratches :-).

What I think is the best use of this tool for me: design. In the early phases when you draw boxes and classes and lines, you do not really need a design tool – something like Enterprise Architect or Visio more stands in your way than helps. Later on in the design process, you need a tool like these, but for the early phase – pen and paper is exactly what you need. We have been using whiteboards for this purpose and photographing them – but to get clean nice picture is great.

So – let’s the writing begin – albeit it is weird to write without touching a keyboar 🙂


FEOTD (Firefox Extension of the Day): del.icio.us

2006/11/17

If you do not know and use on-line social bookmarking site Del.icio.us, take a break now and go there. Currently owned by Yahoo, is Del.icio.us is a one of many social bookmarking tools out. Probably not the one with most features, not the one with coolest user interface – but pretty good one and certainly winner for me.

I have been struggling with the problem of how to keep my collections of URL’s under control for several years. Yes – every browser has bookmarks or favorites, but if you use multiple computers daily basis (multiple means > 5), with actively accessing Web with more than single browser on each of them (usually with some subset of IE/Firefox/Mozilla/Safari/Opera), you can pretty much forget about browser’s bookmarks/favorites – you will never have your bookmarks where you need them.

I tried several programs that “plug inside” the different browsers and provide bookmark repository for all of them. Some of them were pretty sophisticated and allowed even synchronization of the url-bases between different computer – but … It still had two problems: remembering to do manual synchronization was lot of work, error prone and generally PITA and as these computers were running different operating systems (Windows, Linux, Mac) I never found good software that would run of all platforms.

The solution was obvious: keep bookmarks on line, in some sort of online repository. With this, you will have your bookmarks available everywhere, as long as you have internet connection. Which is the only situation where you actually need a bookmark. I know, it takes some adjustments to entrust your precious But let’s be honest – there is not much use for your bookmark when you are offline – what would you do with them.

The big pain with using on-line repositories is that you must use browser in order to enter them. The user comfort (or the lack of it) was largest problem for me to adopt the on-line bookmarking. Two things that changed it was AJAX and dynamic sites in style of Web 2.0 and tools integrating the repositories with the browser. These tools come in two sorts: for modern extensible browsers (such as Firefox, Mozilla or IE7) there are plugins, for the rest, there are bookmarklets – a tini Javascript programs that are accessible as bookmarks, but instead of opening new Web page, they can do something useful.

Thanks to Firefox pluging del.icio.us and bookmarklet for the same service in IE and Safari, I have finally all my bookmarks under one roof and accessible from any place. All 1225 of them – as of today. Why did I select del.icio.us and not e.g. Spurl, Furl, Magnolia, Clipmarks, Yahoo My Web ? I tried to use all the mentioned before, but del.icio.us had simples UI allowing fastest entry and it was backed by real company with revenue ( I was careful not to store my files on servers of a startup that can be out of business on a week notice). YMMV though – before making your own decision, see the Wikipedia page on social software, or the Social bookmarking faceoff article.

In the process of using it I have discovered the amazing aspect of the world “social” in social bookmarking. Unless you mark the URL as private, it is visible to everybody as well as it’s classification (which is topic for another time). Clicking on the keyword/tag shows you all public links *anybody* classified same way. You can also select combination of keywords … it is goldmine of information, co-created with over 500’000 of the del.icio.us users.

What is so great about del.icio.us is the easy way with which you can add new bookmark and tag it with keywords. The easy and user comfort is in my opinion most important feature of the online bookmark manager. I have stayed with del.icio.us exactly for this reason: it requires minimum amount of work to enter and classify the url. It makes bookmarking AND tagging URL so easy that you’ll never more will have a reason not to bookmark a site …

See for yourself, create an account on del.icio.us, get the Firefox extension and enjoy !

PS: You may also be intersted in this article on social bookmarking tools.