Abandonware: Searchy

Hey, guess what? I’ve got nothing at all going on today, I’m working on a small project to be announced in the next one or two days, and I haven’t yet managed to finish the first book I intend to review this summer. You guys know what that means: another abandonware posting! Yes, that’s right! You all get another opensource Visual Basic program that I wrote in high school, and don’t plan to update anymore. Today, it’s Searchy. Searchy is a small program that allows you to perform quick searches by typing in the string, and selecting the website to search. This was a lot more useful when I wrote it, before we got the new Firefox address bar. This also means I get to see if macjournal can correctly upload files to my WordPress install. If you can see and download searchy, then it passes the test. If not, than it’s a failure, and I need to fix something.

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finally purchased Mac Journal

After having some formatting issues with the entry I posted this morning, I finally got sick and tired of writing in my browser, and purchased Mac Journal. Hopefully, that marks the end of this nonsense. No, this entry doesn’t have any real content. I’m just testing. You can now go back to whatever you were originally doing. I know it works, now.

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Online Chatting: The Anti-Communication Tool

I have been contacted by far, far too many online morons who have nothing to say, and can’t even manage to communicate that nothing clearly. I am grumpy. If you’re reading this, your not one of them. But still.
Online chatting has been around for longer than any of today’s young computer users could hope to remember; however, it only really took off fairly recently. While computing itself became truly mainstream with Windows 95, the application that made online chatting the next new thing was ICQ (a pun on the words I seek You). This bloated, slow, and unreliable application was loved by users everywhere, and quickly became a standard mainstay of every internet addicts computer. The only people who weren’t receptive to the new technology were the old timers and power users, claiming that it had all the downsides of email without any of the advantages: it interrupted you like a phone call, but didn’t offer voice or any interaction closer than an email.
Despite these vocal protests, though, ICQ became a huge hit. Soon other companies were releasing messenger products in order to get in on the market: Microsoft’s MSN, AOL’s AIM, Yahoo’s YIM, Jabber, and many others. Instead of improving the situation with competition, this just made things worse. Now, to talk to all of their friends, a user may be required to install two or more competing messaging programs. This takes up twice as much space, and offers no advantage at all. While the situation has improved recently, with the release of third party programs like Miranda and Adium, these programs don’t offer all the same features of the official program, and often stop working as network upgrades are performed.
Adding to these messaging woes is another disadvantage of instant messaging that seems built into the system, but only became a true problem recently: It’s too convenient and cheap. In the same way that the telephone ended the doctor’s house calls because people would call too often for too little reason, so will instant messaging end the art of thinking of something to say before contacting someone. Pushing the send button is just too easy. Just ten short years ago, online communication (in the form of email and usenet) was an art. Now, however, it’s hardly worthy of the name communication:

sexxxysoxxx: sup
evildeathmaster917593: nm u
sexxxysoxxx: nm wat u doin
evildeathmaster917593: nm
sexxxysoxxx: oic
evildeathmaster917593: huh
sexxxysoxxx: oic=oh i see
evildeathmaster917593: oic
sexxxysoxxx: asl

And so it continues, endlessly. No useful information is passed on, and thousands of hours are wasted. You don’t even know who you’re talking to anymore, seeing as most young females tend to have usernames like SexySunshineLoveStarsRainbowsAndKisses333, unless they’re depressive when they tend to call themselves BloodyDrippingTearsOfTorment666, and all the teenaged guys are things like DrDeathMaker92. People who get through the teenaged years, and realize they might, some day, have to give their online username to a boss, girlfriend, or priest, tend to be utterly unidentifiable collections of letters like klogla, rms, or…well…fastfinge.

This mass downgrading of the art of socializing and communication is bound to have unpredictable effects on future society; already we’re seeing people use chat acronyms in resumes and professional email, and people who are completely ignorant of the English language. What will we end up with? A world of people completely unable to communicate about anything other than the weather, unable to write a moving speech or letter, unable to enjoy reading a well written book? Sure, instant messaging is fast and convenient, but what is the cost? Is it really worth the price?
I can tell you it’s not worth the personal price. If one more person sends me a message reading “sup”, and turns out to have nothing to say and nothing to talk about, I am going to begin jibbering madly, and will probably have to be restrained by medical professionals.

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Salt: Take it Away, They won’t even Notice.

The following is a slightly refactored version of an article I wrote a while ago, and did nothing with. The information is, however, still current.

Canada has become a nation of salt fiends, and it’s not even our fault. According to Statistics Canada, the majority of Canadian’s consume over twice the recommended amount of sodium daily. However, less than 30% of Canadian salt intake comes from saltshakers and home cooking; the rest is served to the Canadian population unawares in fast and processed foods.

In an article for CanWest, titled Salt has invaded Canada’s food supply, Sharon Kirkey writes that processed food products like Corn Pops, Rice Krispies and Special K cereals contain as much as 85% more salt when purchased in Canada rather than elsewhere. This is a large contribution to something that organizations like The Canadian Stroke Network and the Heart and Stroke Foundation see as a serious problem.

“Adults should consume between 12 to 15 grams, or about one tablespoon, of salt. However,” says Marco Di Buono of the Heart and Stroke Foundation, “Canadians are currently consuming about double that.”

“What we know from data in Canada is that the majority of extra salt comes from processed foods, especially frozen pizzas and deli food,” Di Buono adds.

That’s why the campaign to reduce Canadian sodium intake is focused primarily on pressuring the food industry to change, rather than asking Canadians to make lifestyle changes themselves. “One of the good things about salt in terms of it’s potential to increase public health is it’s something that can be taken out of the food supply without having the consumer doing a lot of work. It’s difficult to get people to change their lifestyle. But with salt and trans-fats, industry can take it out. People won’t even notice that it’s gone. So it has the potential to have a major impact that doesn’t require the individuals to do anything. That’s why it’s such a good target,” says dr. Kevin Willis, director of the Canadian Stroke Network.

According to Di Buono, the reduction in salt is going to be a gradual one; Canadians won’t be expected to kick the salt habit all at once. Rather, the plan is to reduce slowly the amount of salt in food over the next 10 to 20 years. The change, in fact, should be mostly painless. “The most important thing consumers can do is arm themselves with the right information. What we’re recommending is that all Canadians refer to facts on packaging to identify foods that have an optimal sodium level,” Di Buono says.

This simple change will have a huge impact. Di Buono estimates that if Canadian salt intake is reduced to more reasonable levels, problems related to blood pressure, heart attacks, and strokes will be reduced by as much as 30%, saving Canada millions of dollars in healthcare costs every year.

According to Willis, the amount of the Canadian population seriously effected by excess sodium is staggering: over half of all Canadians currently suffer from clinical hypertension or pre-hypertension.

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Playing With The Blog Again

Hey, guess what? I’ve been playing with the weblog again! Just off of yesterday afternoon’s high of making a new page for the Christmas letters, I decided to completely change my blogs layout. Just six months after the last layout. What can I say? I like fiddling! But honestly, I like this new theme a lot better. It’s less complicated, not as full of crappy hacks to make things work, the blogroll is less messy, etc. I’ve also deployed Google Analytics over everything on interfree, so I’ll have even more stats to play with. Go me! And, of course, you can now subscribe to my updates via email. BIG WIN!

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Listen to last.fm on your Nokia N82

A little while ago, I covered how to get Foobar to play nice with XM and last.fm. Unfortunately, XM still isn’t available for the Nokia N82 smartphone. However, last.fm is, thanks to a client called Mobbler. All you need to do is install the program to your phone, and enter your last.fm username and password. It even works perfectly with talks! Cursor up for love track, down for ban track, right for next track. Use the volume keys on the side of your phone to turn the sound up and down. Press key 2 to hide the application, and go on with your other work, while listening to music. Unfortunately, last.fm uses 128 kb/s mp3, and can’t transcode to something lower. That means that it’ll only work on 3g or wireless.

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Making Foobar2000 Social

If you’re a user of foobar2000, the player now has all the components you need to enjoy the online music revolution, right from your media player! With just four downloads, you can add last.fm support and XM Radio to foobar.

The easiest is XM Radio support. Just download foo_xm from this website. Unzip the file, and copy the dll file into the components directory of your foobar2000 installation folder. Then open prefferences, and enter your XM email and password. You can now add XM channels to any foobar playlist, just like you would add any other type of streaming radio. No more opening your browser, loading flash, and logging in just to play XM. Also, now-playing notifications can be shown on the system tray, in your msn status, or anywhere else you already have foobar set-up to show now playing info. You can even use your DSPs on XM streams. It’s all the power of foobar, plus XM.

If you have a last.fm account, with a little more work, you can make foobar your last.fm headquarters. The most important download is foo_audioscrobbler. Download it, install, and enter your username and password in the configuration. Everything you play in foobar will now be sent to last.fm, without having to install the crappy last.fm client.

The next step is to get last.fm radio inside Foobar. Download foo_lastfm_radio and add it to foobar. Add your last.fm username and password in it’s configuration area, and you’re ready to go. You can open any last.fm radio stream from the file menu. You can also right click on a song in one of your current playlists, and select menu entries to play the last.fm artist radio or tag radio for that track. You can also download albumart of the currently playing song, skip songs, see upcoming songs, etc. This makes it really easy to switch between playing tracks from your local music library, and streaming similar tracks from last.fm.

The last step is to add the power of last.fm to your foobar media library, to help you create playlists based on your last.fm profile. Download foo_scrobblecharts, install it, and you can right click on any song, and select a menu entry to automaticly create a playlist of similar songs you already own. This is extremely useful for people who, like me, are two lazy to set-up playlists by ourselves.

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Thoughts On Creative Writing Courses

For reasons I don’t exactly understand, someone sent me an email today asking for my opinion on two different creative writing courses. I’m not a fiction writer…yet, and I’ve never taken any creative writing courses other than Writer’s Craft in grade 12. However, I didn’t let that stop me. I always have an opinion, about everything. So for anyone else who wants my uninformed opinion, here you go.

Honestly, the only advice I can give you is: think carefully about what you want from the course. A lot of creative writing books, and thus I would assume courses, teach you how other people write, and what works best for them. But that doesn’t help you figure out what’s best for you. Why not start a weblog, and write in it as much as you can (daily, if you can manage it)? That’s free, and you don’t even have to risk rejection as you learn. That’s mostly how Ryerson University teaches us journalism. Every few days, I find myself out on the street, doing interviews, script writing, filming, writing for a paper, or putting together features. Our profs spend little time teaching; they make sure we have the requirements straight, and then we learn by doing. If you need critical feedback, you can join writers websites, mailing lists, or a local writers group. I’m not sure you need to take a course for that, either. And I know you don’t need to take a course to submit your work to magazines, and see what happens. You might get rejected, but you can learn from that as well as you can learn from a course.

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Abandonware: JFW Hangman 2.0

If Sean can post all of his abandoned software projects, why can’t I? Anyway, I’m out of entry topics for the moment; I’ve been busy all day, and I just don’t have a darn thing I want to write about.

Thus, have a copy of JFW Hangman. It comes complete with multiple word lists, documentation, and Microsoft Visual Basic 6 source code. What it does not come with, because I lost it, is an installer. You’re going to have to register, if memory serves me, two DLLs before it’ll agree to run. However, to make up for that lack, the program comes with at least three bugs, that I’m aware of. What a bonus! Oh, wait…

It’s abandonware. I don’t even have a copy of VB6 anymore. So even if I wanted to improve it, or fix bugs (and I don’t), I couldn’t.

Beware: I have several other unsupported software projects. Unless I find something more interesting to write about by tomorrow, I’ll post another one.

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Thoughts On Jungle Disk

It all started with a discussion between a group of us over how we could share large multimedia files in production between group members, without a lot of expense and hastle. The ideal solution was determined to be cloud storage. That is, you send your files to another company (like amazon, racspace, mosso, or google) and they store the files for you, on multiple computers, in multiple locations. When you need the file, you can call it up without worry over how, or where, it happens to be stored. For our cloud storage provider, we wanted a solution that was: cheap, unlimited (multimedia files can be huge), fast, extremely secure, multiplatform, and point-and-click both for set-up and accessing our files.

Several companies exist to do this. The way they work is, they create a virtual hard drive on your computer, but instead of all the files on that drive getting stored on your computer, anything you put there gets uploaded into the cloud.

The first provider we looked at was ZumoDrive. It looked interesting: easy to use, fast, and well supported. Unfortunately, it had several problems. First of all, it only seemed to be available for Windows and IPhone. When one of us had windows, another OS X, and a third a linux netbook, that just wasn’t going to cut it. Second, some of the features for optimizing the cache, like changing the bit-rate on mp3s so they could be streamed over low bandwidth connections, or determining what to cache locally based on file type, seemed to be rather insecure. If we wanted our storage provider, and everyone in charge of the networks between them and us, to know what we were storing, we could just use FTP or WebDav to my dreamhost account. Third, we knew we were eventually going to want 500 GB. At $80 a month, the pricing for ZumoDrive was a little high. However, according to the reviews, Zumo Drive used a storage provider called Amazon S3. I figured I’d go looking for other companies using S3 to do the same thing.

The first one I found was Jungle Disk. It runs on Windows, OS X, and Linux. It has extremely secure encryption; neither Jungle Disk, nor Amazon S3, can tell what you’re storing in the cloud. With Jungle Disk, you use your own Amazon S3 account; Jungle Disk doesn’t bill you for anything, or provide you with anything other than the software. That means that if Jungle Disk shuts down, your files will still exist, unchanged. You control your data, not Jungle Disk. I’ve been using the software for a week, now, and I’m overall pleased with my experience. Set-up is a little harder than with ZumoDrive, but the price is also a lot cheaper. It’s 10 cents per gig. That means that if I use 500 gigs in a month, I pay for 500 gigs. If I go on vacation for two months, and use 0 gigs, I pay for nothing at all. For the screen reader users reading this, almost everything is accessible. The automated back-ups on OS X aren’t accessible, and they’re really hard to use on Windows as well, but other than that everything worked perfectly. Unfortunately, the Windows version of the software has a few problems:
1. under network settings, I had to turn off the option to use a windows file system driver, and use a virtual WebDav server instead. If I didn’t, Jungle Disk would crash Windows Explorer, and it couldn’t be relaunched until reboot.
2. Copying files to any jungle disk drive using Teracopy has serious issues.
But once I got those things fixed, everything worked well. One other, small, thing to keep in mind is that Jungle Disk uploads items to the cloud in the order you paste them. So, if you paste in 14 gigs of wav files, then paste in a 20 kb text file, the 20 kb text file won’t be available to other machines using your jungle disk until all 14 gigs of wav files have been sent up. It would be nice if Jungle Disk could detect extremely small files, and shuffle them ahead in the transfer list, so they’d be available to other computers right away.

update: Thanks to a poster in the comments, I was lead to try Wuala. It uses both cloud storage, as well as peer to peer storage, in an attempt to limit costs, increase available storage, and allow for more flexability. It looked, at first blush, as though it was ideal for my needs. Unfortunately, it has several major flaws. First off, purchasing more storage is expensive. You pay per year, rather than per gig used or per month. This is a steep up-front payment for a poor student. As well, it requires even more for-thought as to amount of storage required. While you can trade storage, if you have storage available, you can’t get more than 20 gig until at least 10 percent of the 20 gig you’re offering has been used. As well, your computer must be online for at least four hours in a row, every day. This does not work well for laptops. But the most serious flaw of wuala is that, instead of writing native code for each operating system, Wuala uses Java. While it’s not particularly family friendly, the most accurate, and concise, criticism of Java I’ve heard runs as follows: “saying that Java is good because it runs on all platforms is like saying that anal sex is good because it works on all genders.” I hate and despise Java. It’s slow. It’s interface is strange, and while it’s accessible with NVDA, the interface doesn’t follow any windows standards at all. It eats memory faster than an extremely fat person eats chips. I don’t trust Java to run my entertainment software. Under absolutely no conditions am I going to trust Java with my important files. Some of the features of wuala, like the world feature, could be useful for filesharing and warez. But at this point, in my opinion, it’s not a serious file exchange and file storage system. That aligns with most things peer to peer. Peer to peer is a useful toy for avoiding responsibility for breaking the law. But it’s not useful for when real, legal, work needs to be done. Wuala is an interesting social and thought experiment. But, at the moment, it’s nothing more. I haven’t even gotten into the problem of trading storage on my computer when my ISP caps my bandwidth. In theory, depending on what wuala stores on my computer, it could wind up costing me even more to trade storage than to buy storage.

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