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101  Main Area and Open Discussion / Living Room / Re: What annoys you to no end? on: June 16, 2008, 02:37:17 PM
Ooops - late to the party, and don't really have anything to say about global warming, but stuff that annoys me  Thmbsup

* Lawyers without ethics
* Modern-day Pharisees
* The sad, sad state of education in the U.S.
* Wire coat hangers (Quote: "Wire hangers are the world's grouchiest items." - Oscar The Grouch)

...and the special prize for being the most consistently and enduringly annoying:

* Microsoft
102  Main Area and Open Discussion / General Software Discussion / Re: Let go of your bookmarks! on: June 16, 2008, 02:13:45 PM
I don't have more than a hundred or so bookmarks in any bookmark system...

Of course, I've got at numerous bookmark systems  Cool

* Work-related bookmarks (and browsing) in Firefox
* Personal interest sites that I'm likely to come back to repetedly (or at least once in a while) in Maxthon
* Project-related searches & sites saved as Groups in Maxhton (different list from bookmarks)
* Odd sites that I probably won't vist that often, but that might interest others, in del.icio.us
* A surf list for sites I want to visit in OneNote
* Hotlinks for frequenly-visited webcomics & entertainment sites in the K-Meleon install on my thumb drive

I also have a wish list in del.icio.us, which is essentially a special purpose bookmark list.

Despite all this, I usually just go to lifehacker, consumerist, donationcoder.  tongue
103  Main Area and Open Discussion / General Software Discussion / Re: IDEA: CD-RW/DVD-RW emulated drive? on: June 13, 2008, 09:08:08 AM
Well, to go off in a different direction, is it possible (or practical) to simply capture the audio out of the Audible player and work with that?

I've used Total Recorder (http://www.highcriteria.com) for years to break out DRMed music so I could put it in MP3 format. It's a virtual sound card driver and recorder program that records the output of any application that plays audio and can save it as a WAV or MP3.

If the Audible player can play an entire audio book at one go on the PC, you could start it playing overnight and in the morning have an MP3 file of the thing ready to slice/dice/burn as you please. Total Recorder is pretty smart about not recording silence, system noises, etc.

It's a great tool, and reasonably priced (about US$30 as I recall).
104  Main Area and Open Discussion / General Software Discussion / Re: Unallocated drive space on: June 04, 2008, 02:30:11 AM
A lot of systems (Compaqs esp.) have a small partition on the disk that they use to store setup/recovery info. Some systems use this scheme to store the setup program, instead of running it from CMOS memory.

These partitions can have weird formatting (FAT12? or some proprietary format) that can be tough for disk part programs to deal with.

Not sure how you'd get around this one. Acronis Disk Director or similar can identify many of these partition types, but that doesn't mean you can do anything with them. And you don't want to wipe it out as it may cripple your PC's ability to run setup.

Your best bet might be to visit the PC manufacturer's website and poke around. They may have a downloadable system setup disk that will give you access to this partition, or let you recreate it on a new disk.

As for W2K, check to see if there's a "makedisk" or "makefloppy" program buried somewhere in the WINNT folder. You can use this to create the 4 floppy disks needed to boot W2K. They are setup diskettes whose purpose is to get the OS up and running to where it can read from the CD and finish setup, but they also let you run a limited recovery-console style command prompt, which you might find useful in your tinkering.

Good luck!
105  Main Area and Open Discussion / General Software Discussion / Re: What makes software 'good'? on: May 08, 2008, 12:29:57 PM
Actually, there's a whole field dedicated to solving the problem of what makes good software. It's the Usability/Human Factors profession.

The problem with developing a "standard" is that the measure of how good software is depends on who is using it. Is a CD burner application with hundreds of options good software? It could be, if you are an audio engineer charged with mastering CDs for mass duplication. Probably not so much if you are a teenager who wants to make "backup" copies of CDs you've purchased.

To determine how good a piece of software is, you have to analyze how well it serves the needs of its users, and how well it matches to the way they work, the other tools they use, how they use their computer, and a range of other factors. It's like relativity - there's no privileged frame of reference. Goodness is measured relative to the users of the application.

The word "intuitive" gets thrown around a lot in these kind of discussions, but it's usually just shorthand for "who the heck knows?" "Intuitive" is a popular term because it removes responsibility from developers. By definition, it implies a certain immunity to logical analysis. But the thing is, there are perfectly objective, measurable ways you can design software that works well and serves the needs of its users. Unfortunately, there are many companies (and individuals) who don't see the need, don't want to spend the time/money or simply don't know that it can be done.

All that said, there are certain qualities of "usable" software that can be taken as touchstones of its "goodness". These were defined by Jakob Nielsen in 1993, and they are:
  • Learnability - How easy is it for new users to learn how to use the software without extensive training/assistance?
  • Efficiency - How well does the software accomplish the tasks the user is attempting to do? Does it speed the process or throw up barriers?
  • Memorability - Can you easily find that function you last used a week ago? Can you come back to the software after a few months away and still use it like a pro?
  • Error Handling - How gracefully does the software cope with the unexpected, either in interacting with the user or as the result of its own internal processing?
  • Satisfaction - How do people feel about using the software? Do they love it, hate it or just think "eh"?

This may not be an exhaustive list, but I'd say that any program that exhibits all of these qualities in abundance will be thought of as "good" software by the people who work with it.
106  Main Area and Open Discussion / General Software Discussion / Re: Your fav' audio CD burner? on: May 08, 2008, 12:09:57 PM
Winamp will also burn CDs, but I primarily use it as a player and haven't really tested that aspect of it.
107  Main Area and Open Discussion / Living Room / Re: questions for programmers on: May 03, 2008, 07:54:30 PM
Just saw this thread - what a great topic! Thanks, Nikki & Gally for getting it started.

As far as the first programming language and how to get started, I was reminded of Hackety Hack:

Quote
In the 1980s, a language called BASIC swept the countryside. It was a language beginners could use to make their computer speak, play music. You could easily draw a big smiley face or a panda or whatever you like! But not just BASIC. Other languages like: LOGO and Pascal were right there on many computers.

In this century, you may have dozens of programming languages lurking on your machine. But how to use them?? A fundamental secret! Well, no more. We cannot stand for that. Hackety Hack will not stand to have you in the dark!!

Hackety Hack is a learning environment based on Ruby that aims to re-create the workflow of those early BASICs - type, run, see something cool happen, tweak, and so on. It's Internet focused ("Code your own blog in 6 lines! Your own IM in twice that!") but there's no reason you couldn't write desktop apps with it too.

Might be worth a look to aspiring programmers of any age. http://www.hacketyhack.net
108  Main Area and Open Discussion / Living Room / Re: Windows is Trying Hard to Push Me Over To a Mac... on: April 23, 2008, 09:31:05 AM
This may be redundant, but have you ruled out hardware issues?

I had a lot of freezing/crashing issues with one of my XP machines until I ran MS's memory testing utility and found that one of my RAM chips was failing some of the tests. Replaced it and my system's been much better ever since.

Bad hard disk sectors could also cause issues like you describe.
109  DonationCoder.com Software / Finished Programs / Re: tv_out: a shortcut for quickly turning extended desktop on/off on: April 21, 2008, 12:33:58 PM
Got it. Thanks!
110  DonationCoder.com Software / Finished Programs / Re: tv_out: a shortcut for quickly turning extended desktop on/off on: April 18, 2008, 03:48:38 PM
I have a script that enables my 2nd monitor and sets it to a particular vertical offset to match the physical arangement of the screens on my desk. It's a total hack based on simulating mouse clicks & drags (although watching the mouse pointer move that 2nd screen into position every time always makes me smile, and think about how many months I spent doin it by hand.)

I never bothered adding the ability to disable the 2nd monitor because it seemed like too much effort for the return on investment, since that only takes two clicks anyway.

I'll have to take a look at the code and see if I can adapt it to use screen offsets. THANKS!

BTW - I didn't seem to get the ICL in my copy of the zip file. Should it be in there?
111  Main Area and Open Discussion / Living Room / Re: Home Network Recommendations? on: April 13, 2008, 06:58:44 PM
Well, depending on the version of your router, you might want to look into the alternative firmwares for the WRT-54G. Not all versions of the router can support it, but if yours can it could give you some very nice extended cababilities for no extra costs, and might improve stability as well.

Check out Tomato, Sveasoft Talisman or DD-WRT for alternative firmware possibilities.

112  Main Area and Open Discussion / General Software Discussion / Re: Confirmed: UAC designed to annoy us! on: April 13, 2008, 10:41:44 AM
I don't run Vista, but I have to ask... are you folks who are seeing so many of these popups running as Administrator?

Because isn't that supposed to be the point? To break people of the "habit" of running in Adminstrator mode, and breaking developers of the habit of assuming their apps will run in Administrator mode?
113  Main Area and Open Discussion / General Software Discussion / Re: ideas or suggestions for mostly free html editor. on: April 13, 2008, 10:34:47 AM
Aw shucks! You're welcome!  cheesy

Will do (the fingers crossing bit). Can't wait to see it!
114  Main Area and Open Discussion / General Software Discussion / Re: ideas or suggestions for mostly free html editor. on: April 11, 2008, 04:34:17 PM
I took a look at this. First I have to say I'm mighty impressed. This is a nice bit of coding, and I especially like the drag-and-drop of components into the window.

What follows may not be the kind of feedback you want to hear, but I'm going to go ahead and say it anyway.

Given that there are lots of programs out there that do what yours does, you might want to give your program a little extra something to make it stand out. I humbly suggest that you make that something real support for styles.

Your app doesn't get styles. Doesn't really get them.  Don't worry, it's in good company. Most WYSIWYG HTML editors don't either.

But in 2008, there's really no need for another HTML editor that generates HTML 3.2, with hard coded formatting attributes embedded in the markup. It's time we all moved on.

What a WYSIWYG editor ought to really do is understand that what I want is well-formed, CSS-compliant HTML, even if I don't know that's what I want. It should understand that when I highlight a paragraph and format it with "Trebuchet MS" I don't  really want a "font face=" tag on that paragraph. What I really want is for the program to: 

1. Create an entry in the stylesheet for me called something like "Normal_TrebuchetMS"
2. Apply that style to the "p" tag on my paragraph
3. Make that style available up in the style dropdown box, so that I can apply it to other paragraphs.

The WYSIWYG program has to understand that on the web today, the stylesheet is not an afterthought but an integral part of the page. It should offer me some control over it; the option to save it as an external file or embed it in the page header, for example. It should let me import or attach an existing stylesheet (as you already do).

But it shouldn't make me monkey around with it too much. It shouldn't just dump me into an "enter CSS here" text box with no guidance, let me fend for myself as best I can, and then basically treat that part of the job as if it never happened. In MS Word, the Style dropdown shows me all the styles used in my document, or those available in the attached template. I can't understand why no WYSIWYG HTML editor does this. Why bother to let me design styles at all if I can't then apply them through the GUI?

The application should handle the creation, application and maintenance of style definitions for me, because that's what computers are good at. And if I'm using a WYSIWYG web editor, that's probably not something I'm good at. Yet it's something I really need to do, even if I don't realize it. And you know what? Even though I personally can code CSS styles by hand without too much trouble, I'd still prefer the program handle it for me, provided it did so in the right way. Hand-coding CSS is not a fun part of the job, any more than hand-coding HTML is. If the program spares me from one tedious chore, why not the other too?

I realize that this is not a trivial task, and that it requires functionality that's not included and would probably be difficult to implement with the default components available to developers. I can understand why a developer wouldn't want to take the uphill path on this. But I have a list as long as my arm of WYSIWYG HTML editors I've tried, and they all pretty much do exactly the same thing. I can't understand why a developer would want to spend their time building yet another Nvu, or another Komposer, or another WebDwarf, or another...  Well, you get the idea.

So I'm sorry if this post comes across as negative. I do like your program and heaven knows it's better than anything I could ever build. But I really feel strongly that until some bright developer realizes that CSS is no longer an optional part of HTML, and makes the effort to embrace all that implies, we're just going see this endless string of the same darn thing over and over when it comes to these kinds of programs.
115  Main Area and Open Discussion / Living Room / Re: Most useless on: April 11, 2008, 10:27:54 AM
Oh, the :Cue Cat! Yeah, I've got two of them. There's a cool hardware hack where you wire together two holes on the circuit board and the thing turns into a regular barcode reader. I did this quite recently when I had a project that required barcode scanning. Worked like a charm.

Digital Convergence's death certainly was well deserved. They were a scummy company. Was it really ten years ago? Yipe!
116  Other Software / Developer's Corner / Re: Coding Horror Blog Essay On Free Software vs. Commercial Software Trends on: April 11, 2008, 10:05:07 AM
I read the Coding Horror entry when it was posted. He makes some good points.

The company I work for has a polciy: no personal software licenses on their machinery. This means that my software choices come down to:

1. Choosing from the already offerred software suite, which covers the basics such as MS office.

2. Going through a fairly inconvenient process of getting the company to buy a software title I'm interested in. This means getting my manager involved, justifying the purchase to IT, a PO process, etc. There's the justification piece: Do I really need it? Why? How much do I need it? Should we consider a site/group license in case other people will need it? To tell the truth, if it were a title that isn't carried by CDW, I doubt I'd ever get the company to buy it for me. The request would probably just fall into a process balck hole.

3. Download and install a FOSS title that's close to what I want.

Guess which option I choose 99% of the time?

I think another key thing to remember here is that software is software, and open-source and commerical titles are more alike than different. Software that focused on the fun stuff (new features) to the exclusion of the not-fun stuff (bug fixing and docs)? I've seen that plenty in the commercial software world. Developers that just walk away from a product after you've made an investment in their technology? Ditto. After all, isn't that one of the things that SPAWNED open source software? The idea of a hedge against vendors dead-ending a product you rely on?

The thing is, the open source ecosystem is a developer's party. So is the closed-source ecosystem when you come right down to it. (Microsoft has been described as a cult of developers, and I think there's some truth to it.)

Developers don't think it's fun to write docs? Well, guess what, there are plenty of tech writers who DO, but where's the welcome mat for them? "Sure you can contrbute - just go this developer's website, download this suite of developer's applications, learn this developer-only source-control technology and then figure out how to fit what you're working on into its constraints. You'll need to compile binaries form source code, but you know how to do that, right? Well, it's not that hard, just look at these 27 interlocking forum postings and you'll figure it out. So once you're all set up, feel free to contribute!"

One thing commercial dev shops (usually) have going for them is they recognize that there's more to software than writing code. They make developers work with the others in the field who are needed to support their efforts. I don't see this nearly as much in the FOSS world. I think it could happen and is more likely to happen in a community setting, but it's hardly a given there, either.
117  Main Area and Open Discussion / Living Room / Re: Most useless on: April 10, 2008, 12:54:44 PM
1. Yes  smiley

2. Probably some sweater I never wore.

3. This is a tough one. I'd say it's a toss-up:

Most useless PC thing that I LOVED - Snappy, from Play Inc. It was a totally cool gizmo, but I think I actually used it about 3 times, and never for any real work. Part of that may have been that it never quite delivered on its own marketing hype. Still, I miss Play, Inc. Sad Serious Magic, too.

Most useless PC thing that I HATED - iConcepts (Sakar) cordless mouse with keypad. Bought it to use mouse and keypad at the same time, but the product was designed to hide the fact that you couldn't do this until after you'd purchased the thing. Then, when I used the keypad, it also enabled the embedded keypad on my laptop keyboard, rendering the main keyboard unusable. Plus the thing ate batteries, and wouldn't work relably more than a few inches away from it's USB dongle.
118  Main Area and Open Discussion / Living Room / Re: Do you collect anything? on: April 10, 2008, 12:44:22 PM
I have the world's largest seashell collection.

You've probably seen part of it. I keep it scattered on beaches all over the planet.

 Cool (Steven Wright)
119  Main Area and Open Discussion / Living Room / Re: So there IS a twilight zone! on: April 10, 2008, 12:37:33 PM
Wow, followed the link to the ZDNEt blog in the one of the comments, and it gave me a totally new perspective on Net Neutrality. There's more to it than I'd heard about. Makes all the political brouhaha seem kind of silly, since what's really needed is a technical fix.
120  Main Area and Open Discussion / General Software Discussion / Re: files and folders emulator on: April 10, 2008, 11:37:03 AM
Actually, Kalos, if I read your original posts correctly, JBOD is not exactly what you want since it assumes all the disks are connected at the same time. It seems like what you want is more like a disk catalog that represents the contents of physically un-attached disks as if they were still attached to the machine.

I used to work for a company that made a product like this back in the Windows 98 days. It added a "catalog" item to My Computer, and the contents of all removable disks remained browsable. If you tried to open one of the files from the virtual catalog, it prompted you to insert the disk on which it was stored.

It was an excellent product, but they were never able to market it and so it died. Remember kids, rule #1 of the software biz is that marketing trumps technology EVERY TIME.

We have a thread here (one of the largest and longest running) about designing the "ultimate" note taking application. I think we might be headed for the same thing on the "ultimate disk cataloging application". I've seen other posts about this topic recently.

It seems like there might be some consensus on what this thing would look like:
  • Virtual library - disk contents should be browsable when disks are not connected.
  • High performance is key
  • Must be able to handle massive catalogs without bogging down (cannot rely on loading the entire catalog into memory.)
  • Integrated into Explorer so there is no new interface to learn
  • Provides smart caching of files written to the virtual library (cahced locally until remote media becomes available?)
  • Can represent disconnected disks either as a single volume or as multiple volumes.
  • Must index compressed archive contents, not just the archive files themselves.

I can say this: some of these technical challenges are not trivial. This kind of program is not something one guy is going to code up in a weekend.
121  Main Area and Open Discussion / General Software Discussion / Re: Lists Of Microsoft's Fame And Shame - 2008 on: April 08, 2008, 01:57:34 PM
Interesting article, but it seems to me like he's been driniking a bit too much kool-aid.

Case in point: Silverlight. I've no doubt that Silverlight contains all kinds of cool under-the-hood functionality that makes developers drool. In fact one of his complaints about Silverlight is that it's not bare-metal enough ("Let us render pixels").

But he totally misses the point of Silverlight vs. Flash: Not everyone in the world is a developer. Why should you need a CS degree to make animations for the web? Adobe Flash made web animation & simple application development available to people who were not "real" programmers: designers, graphic artists, web page authors, amateur animators, etc. That's one of the big reasons it's become so ubiquitous.

It's clear that as a developer, he's judging MS based on a pretty selective set of criteria - how technically advanced its products are. That's fine, it's a developer's blog - but so much of what is wrong with Microsoft is only partly or not at all technical in nature. In fact, a big part of it is that they act as if everyone (or at least everyone who matters) is a developer.
122  Main Area and Open Discussion / General Software Discussion / Re: Recommendation please: web wireframe "sketcher" on: April 02, 2008, 03:49:48 PM
Check out DENIM:http://dub.washington.edu/projects/denim/

Free, Java-based, and does exactly what you aksed for in your first post. They talk a lot about pen input, but it works just fine with a mouse too.

Quote
DENIM is... a pen-based sketching tool for designing user interfaces... combines many of the benefits of paper-based sketching with existing electronic prototyping tools. It allows designers to quickly sketch an interface using an electronic pad and stylus... preserves the important properties of pencil and paper: a rough drawing can be produced quickly and the medium is flexible. However, unlike a paper sketch, this electronic sketch is interactive and can easily be annotated and modified... 
123  Main Area and Open Discussion / General Software Discussion / Re: What's the current 'killer app'? on: April 02, 2008, 03:39:42 PM
My killer app: OneNote 2007.

It's so good that I'm seriously considering upgrading several of my older Win2K machines to XP so they can run it.

Tiddlywiki comes in a close 2nd. It'd probably be first if I didn't have OneNote.
124  Main Area and Open Discussion / Living Room / Re: Haiku Poetry Messages for Microsoft Errors on: April 02, 2008, 03:20:59 PM
These are fun! Here are some more for the current times:

Vista will digest
Hard disk space and RAM as well
But not these drivers

Such arcane commands
Understanding will not come
It must be Linux

The familiar
Sadly cannot long persist
Farewell to XP

Beloved domain
But I must have missed the bill
CLICK HERE TO BUY MEDS!!!
cheesy
125  Main Area and Open Discussion / Living Room / Re: 25 interesting things that you learn about computers only in the movies on: April 02, 2008, 02:53:51 PM
Nice. I'd seen this, or a version of it, somewhere before, with attributions. The "UPLOAD VIRUS" scene I know is from a sci-fi prison movie called "The Fortress."

Another thing I've noticed (I guess in an effort to power all the exploding technology) is that Hollywood computers also seem to run on massively high voltage, not the mild 5V/12VDC found in most common computers.
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