Archive for the 'Geek' Category

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Turning Tricks

February 9

Since I’m a stay-at-home dad now (not that I’m not looking for work!), I’ve had to adapt how I use my computer. You can’t just plop down on the couch (or, more likely, our new recliner) with the iBook in your lap and go crazy.

The external USB keyboard that Elaine got me for Christmas last year (an old strawberry iMac one that’s been rekeyed to Dvorak) works great. The keys are a little loud, but not so bad that it wakes Monkey up if I keep the typing sane and calm. And Quicksilver eliminates the need for a mouse to launch programs.

Still, a few things bugged me. For one, I couldn’t always know or remember the keyboard shortcut for something in some obscure app that I only use every 3 months. Enter KeyCue. This awesome little app shows all the keyboard shortcuts for any app when you hold down the Command key for a (configurable) brief period. It even changes the highlight depending on your modifier keys.

If that’s not quite enough for you, Apple has something a bit more roundabout built-in. Hit Control+F2 to focus on the menubar. Esc will take you out of it if you don’t chose something.

Window-switching is another area. Yes, I know I could use Exposé, but having learned most of my Mac on an iBook, the function keys aren’t always the most useful (you have to hold down a second key to, for instance, go to Dashboard). I’ve used Witch and it works great if you need to jump from one application’s windows to another’s. If you just want to switch around the windows in a single app, though (like TextMate which has great shortcuts for almost everything else), Witch makes it a bit difficult, as the list is presented in alphabetical order, which is, I now see, configurable. Now, though, I know why TextMate didn’t build that in; Command+` rotates between all the windows open in a given app. Does Apple love you or what?

And, lastly, I’ve been using Firefox for quite awhile since Safari isn’t the most stable on my computer (probably my fault) and I’d really rather work with something more cross-platform. It is, however, a bit annoying to have to reach over to my trackpad just to switch tabs (Command+Shift+Left/Right, or Command+Tab number), switch to the search bar (Command+K) or address bar (Command+L), or switch the search engine (Command+Up/Down when in the search bar). Thankfully I’ve found all of those in the last couple of days. Oh, and to just search through the links on a page, hit ‘ before you start typing.

So I seem to be pretty well set for all of this mouse-less, keyboard-only computing. Now if only I could figure out someway to get my computer to fetch me a drink. Do you have any awesome keyboard/usability shortcuts that you want to share?

The update of Webpen went really well. I was quite surprised when it worked the first time I tried it. Just goes to show how the universe likes to screw with you. I’m not finished with it, though, by any means. I need to do a bit of an overhaul on the database, too, so that’s kind of put me in slump on it. Soon, though. Soon I will have the bastard figured out and work will resume.

The most awesome thing this week, though, was getting back into Camping. It’s amazingly easy to get started and really makes you learn Ruby more thoroughly. I have a feeling those small wheels are going to come in handy really soon. If nothing else, it’s another bullet point to add onto a resumé.

No, that sounds wrong. i don’t learn things just to stick them on a piece of paper to sell myself more. I learn things so I can use them. I learned Ruby on Rails so I could make web applications like I thought we needed; I learned CSS ’cause font tags and table-based layouts are tedious and extra work. So, now I’m learning Camping ’cause not everything needs the power and heft of Rails behind it.

Back Into the Depths

September 12

I’ve been running an Ubuntu box downstairs (or, rather, on my old PC) for several years now. Probably something like 4 years. Wow. Anyway, lately it’s just not doing what I need it to do. And with the kid, I’m not able to spend a day troubleshooting one file’s permissions or why CUPS doesn’t want to let me print a test page from the Mac. I’m thinking of going back to Windows on it.

All I need to be able to do is share (as writable) the music folder on an external drive and use the printer. I’m sure Windows can handle those bits, right? Testing in IE 6 and 7 will be nice, too, of course. I plan to strip the rest of the system as much as I can, though. I don’t even plan on having email or anything like that set up. Well, maybe some sort of torrent application, to save the iBook some trouble.

So, here’s my question for you, dear reader, what’s essential nowadays for Windows? And do you have any advice on doing the few things I want to be able to do?

A Big Switch

August 31

So, if you’re reading this in a feed reader, I should pat myself on my back ’cause that means my .htaccess trickery worked, which it seems to from my little bits of poking around. Anyway, if you’re reading me in a feed reader, come on over and check out the new site.

Yeah, I’ve switched over from using Textpattern to using Wordpress. It’s a lot less beta-feeling than TXP and seems more powerful. That’s kind of an odd statement since Wordpress is supposed to only be for blogging, not a CMS, which is kind of what TXP is considered.

Most of that power comes from Wordpress being doled out in files. I don’t have to spend hours reloading a browser window to tweak how my comments display or how the page templates are set up, like in TXP. And since it’s more out-and-out PHP, you can just drop in some new code and it works.

Anyway, hope you guys like the new design and let me know if you see any problems. Everything should work, but I’m still adding stuff to the Work section. So, if you see any posts from there out here, just let ‘em pass. Thanks!

I’m actually still working on the site. I’ve put it up for review a few places and I’ve gotten some great advice. So, look for improvements in the next few days.

So some shit went seriously belly-up on my ibook yesterday, so i’m going to have to reformat and start over. Hopefully I’ll be back to normal operations in a day or so. Wish me luck. Details at eleven.

Aaaaaand wwweee’rre baaack!

OK, maybe some of you remember that sketch from SNL. If not, you’re not missing much.

Well, we did finally get completely moved into the new place (some still-un-packed boxes, but we can get by in our day-to-day lives) and everything is alright here, aside from the neighbors constantly clomping up and down their stairs like a heard of elephants. And there’s no baby yet, so I was lucky in that regard to be able to pay attention to the iBook when it gave itself a lobotomy.

I’ve been using an awesome Finder replacement named Path Finder for the past few weeks and I really like it. I plan on getting a license as soon as I can (probably for my birthday in a few weeks). It’s fast and it holds onto my NFS shares better than Finder does (as in, PF actually does hold onto them, instead of dropping them and making me restart every 20 minutes). But the version I was using, which was a couple of revisions back (4.0.1, I think, as opposed to 4.1) had a fun little glitch that I wasn’t the first to find.

When you did Get Info on an item, any item, you had the option to specify what application you wanted to open it with. Normally this is a good thing; maybe you have a JPEG that constantly opens in Preview but you always want it to open in Photoshop. No problem; change that file to open with Photoshop and you’re good to go. The problem came from the fact that you could do that same ‘open with’ magic on applications. So you could make Fireworks open in Photoshop.

Yeah, I’ll let that sink in for a second.

So, trying to get an application I had downloaded whose name happened to end in ‘.5′ (which is apparently associated with Script Editor) ended up with me looking at it’s Info. It was definitely marked with an APPL type (denoting to OS X that it’s an Applictation), and the file type was listed as ‘application’, but it still opened in Script Editor.

One of the kind of annoying things about the ‘open with’ part is that it’s kind of insistent. If it doesn’t agree with what you’ve changed it to (i.e. it’s not a logical choice like opening an image in a text editor), it’ll switch back. I didn’t know this at the time. That’s important later.

Applications in OS X open with themselves. They all contain a little bit of system-scripting that runs the appropriate code. So I set this little .5 app to open with itself and in the blink of an eye clicked ‘Apply to all’. Yeah, I just heard you gasp.

So it say that the file type was an Application and in that split second switched from opening with itself to opening with Script Editor. And set all applications to do the same.

Again, I’ll pause for full effect.

Still breathing? Good. So now all apps were opening in Script Editor, everything from Photoshop to Mail to Path Finder itself. I went digging in the system, on Google, in the MacOSXHints IRC channel, and on the Cocoatech forum. Where I found out I wasn’t the first to encounter this. And, looky-looky, a solution!

So I restored the LaunchServices daemon. Something like 20 times, restarting randomly in that span. I updated Path Finder, thinking that could have been the problem. I cleared my cache two or three times at the advice of one of the Cocoatech employees/troubleshooters. Nothing.

So, I thought, I’ll back up and format and reinstall and then just bring over what I need. Yeah, that would have worked great except that my USB drive isn’t formatted as Mac Extended. It’s Fat32 so I can take it anywhere. And I can’t just copy it’s data to the iBook, reformat it, and then continue with my plan, ’cause the music library on it alone is almost three times the size of my entire iBook’s hard drive.

So I did it manually, moving everything I though might be important over to Puma (the USB drive) and then I crossed my fingers and reformatted.

It went a lot faster and smoother than I thought it would. I had most stuff up and running pretty well the same day. I’m still adding things back in as I find I need them, but everything seems to be working fairly well. The hard drive is still nice and open so the machine runs pretty fast. I didn’t even lose the iTunes library (thank god!) so I can sit here and listen to pretty music while I type this (currently listening to the newest episode of radiotelepathy).

Anyway, be careful of that. The newest version of Path Finder has fixed that problem, but it might still pop up later.


February 16

My God, this has been a horrible week for my web development work. Absolutely horrible…but only in two areas.

Well, not even two “areas”. Just two connected things that are driving me crazy.

In the development of Webpen, I’m using a wonderful little Rails mixin/gem (that’s basically a plugin to you non-Rails folk), to make objects taggable, like your photos on Flick or links in del.icio.us. Only two problems with it.

First, notice I haven’t provided any links to it? That’s ’cause there are none now. The developer’s site has gone AWOL and only the RubyForge page is still up, but that’s not the most helpful of sites when you have a problem like I do. What’s the problem? The freakin’ thing can’t use PostgreSQL, which is the database that I use here at home for my work. So I can’t test without uploading to the server. Which is a right pain in the ass since the server runs, rightly, in production mode. Which means I have to restart it for code changes to take effect. Which is more than I want to do.

This little problem leads me to the second one, MySQL. Now, I use an Apple iBook and it came with MySQL already installed. Which is fine and dandy at the beginning. I don’t know anyone who hasn’t bunged up their install of it and had to either reinstall or move on to something else. I moved on.

But now I need MySQL. Should be easy, I thought to myself this morning. I’ll just download the new package from mysql.com and upgrade. It’ll take all of 20 minutes and then I can get back to work.

I couldn’t have been more wrong. I did download the new binaries and I did upgrade, but the MySQL server wouldn’t start. I removed the old install and the new and installed again. No dice. I did this a few more times.

Then I tried installing from source. That didn’t work either. Don’t know why, but it didn’t. I nearly cried.

So furter removal, got rid of anything I could find, even removed /tmp/mysql.sock. Nothing, even though everything was returning as successful. Time to move to a better environment, I decided.

After SSH-ing into my Ubuntu box, I tried to install MySQL there. Well, that would have worked I think, but my apt-get can’t connect to the servers. So I download the Linux binary and try it. Nope, no go.

So now I’m waiting on the Linux source package to finish the make cycle. If this doesn’t work, I don’t know what I’ll do. Probably scrap the tags and find another way to represent abstract grouping.

Anyone have any ideas for either the server or the gem?


Well, something must have worked, ’cause MySQL is working now (which means tags are, woot!).

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