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Topics - timns [ switch to compact view ]

Pages: [1] 2 3 4next
1
Quite a few times I have tried some software that I'm sure would be useful, grabbed it quick, but then I find that I get no use out of at all.

This is not necessarily a reflection on the quality of the product (although that is often a factor) but somehow it just doesn't "click" for me. Or maybe I'm just dumb and don't use it right - I'm sure the author of at least one such product would be delighted to agree with that statement  :Thmbsup:

Does anyone else suffer from that problem? Not sure whether to share the list or not, as I don't want to dissuade you all about products that just don't come together from my point of view.

2
Living Room / My musical homage to Donation Coder
« on: January 01, 2013, 01:08 PM »
Sung to the tune of "Bike" by Pink Floyd

I've got a site
That I think you would like
It's got RSS
And YouTube links,
And things to make it look good
I'd show it to you if I could
But someone hacked it

You're the kind of forum that fixes my boredom,
I can post about anything
Everything if you want thing

I wrote an app
It's a little bit crap
I might as well be blunt
It's kind of drab
I'd put it off for months.
But if you ignore all the bugs,
Then I win a mug

Repeat chorus

I know a mouser
He lives in my browser
I don't know why
I call him Jesse
He's getting rather odd
But he's a good mouser

Repeat chorus

DC has a suite of wonderful wares
Made with flair,
Debonair,
Lots of free software
Take a couple by all means, mate:
But please donate

Repeat chorus

DC has a room full of software reviews
Some neutral
Some brtual
Most of them are useful
Let's go into the forum now and have a look!

3
Living Room / With apologies to John, Paul, Ringo and that other bloke
« on: December 31, 2012, 12:05 PM »
Sung to the tune of "Yesterday" by that popular beat combo, the Beatles:

Yesterday, all my troubles seemed so far away
But now my files are all in disarray
Oh, I wish I backed-up yesterday

Suddenly, I could really use an un-delete,
My folders all seem incomplete,
Oh, catastrophe came suddenly

Why they had to go I don't know, they're all astray
I clicked something wrong, now my bits are like puree...hey hey hey...

Yesterday, I downloaded a free game to play
Now my computer has Trojan/A
I've paid the price for my naivete

Why I stole the game, it's the same, same old cliche,
I wanted new software, but was too mean, to want to pay

Now today, I got a call from the CIA
they say they want to put me away,
'scuse me folks, I'm incommunique
Hmm mm mmm mmm mmmmmm

4
Application NameClueMeIn
Version0.1
Short DescriptionA simple Sudoku-like logic puzzle game with some math
Supported OSesAnything that runs Java and has 640x480 or greater screen
Setup File [url=http://head-in-the-clouds.com/game/ClueMeIn.jnlp]ClueMeIn!
System RequirementsVery little
Author Infotimns
DescriptionSharpen your brain by using both deductive skills, logic and simple mental arithmetic to solve the puzzle from the clues presented.

All puzzles can be solved without guesswork.
FeaturesSmall game area, simple to learn, ideal for a coffee break
ScreenshotsUntitled.png
InstallationNo installation required
Using the applicationMouse only. Left or Right click to remove tiles according to the rules shown, until the grid is filled with each of the numbers 1 through 9, exactly once.

Rules:

x < y means that the number represented by x is in a column to the LEFT of the number represented by y
x ^ y means that the number represented by x is in a row ABOVE the number represented by y

The numbers in at the end of each row and the bottom of each column are the SUM of the three correct numbers across or down respectively.
UninstallingDelete the shortcut
Known IssuesDoes not respond to every mouse click







5
Developer's Corner / Opinions sought: should I open source Auspex?
« on: April 04, 2012, 03:36 PM »
As some of you may know, I wrote a text expander / replacer for NANY 2011. It was a bugger to write, and it seemed to polarise opinions from certain parties  :D but it achieved its goal. Certainly I use it literally the whole time so in that respect I guess it was worth the effort, and based on feedback from a fair number people, seems to be a reasonable example of this type of app.

But! Development has stalled - I do have a list of features I'd still like to implement, however at the moment I certainly don't have the time. I think it deserves some more attention, and has plenty of potential if it were actively developed further.

The project is written in Delphi and I would open all sources except the keyboard hook which will remain available only as a dll.

What do you reckon, folks? Anyone up for wading in there?

And if so, what sort of license model would work for this? I don't want some clod lifting the source code, re-badging and selling it on.

6
Living Room / When they make the movie about your life...
« on: April 02, 2012, 07:30 PM »

... who would they cast to play you?

... would it be a drama? a comedy? a thriller?


7
Living Room / Those "Boy's Own" type comics from the 40's & 50's
« on: April 01, 2012, 12:22 PM »
Anyone remember them? Always written in a slightly breathless, "gosh, cor, super!" tone.

Fun Facts from an edition of the time:

"Space researchers in the United States (a large country on the other side of our Atlantic Ocean) believe they may one day be able to visit the Moon! One scientist at NASA (the National Association of Space Americans) told us, “we fully believe we can get a man safely to the moon; maybe back too. The moon is an incredibly inhospitable environment. Our boys will probably have to wear specially designed protective clothing to protect them in the cold, thin air.”

We expect this includes sweaters knitted in a special air-tight pattern, and hats with extra insulation to keep out the solar wind.
   
The moon is actually quite large, appearing small to us here on Earth simply because it is so far away; possibly as far as 150 miles or more.

In fact the moon may be several miles across. Meteorites have been striking its surface for hundreds of years, giving the moon its distinctive appearance, and if they ever manage to land there, astronautical personnel expect to have to dig several inches into the debris to reach the actual surface of the moon and obtain samples of the various types of cheese."


8
When I first looked into setting this up, I was fairly confident that I would quite easily find a way to create a simple shared calendar and todo list for my company. After all, it’s such a basic requirement.

But it did not take long to find that it’s actually quite a messy business. For a start, we have a very open IT policy. All our staff are pretty IT savvy and they can install and use anything that they feel is best for them as long as it's licensed correctly. Consequently we have a mix of Thunderbird and Outlook clients. This kind of ruled out Exchange as an option, although there are Thunderbird plug-ins to allow connection.

Failed / Rejected:
  • BackPack from 37 Signals – this web-based calendar has two massive drawbacks.

1)   You cannot add, update or delete events from within your client. You have to connect to their website.
2)   When you do add an event, it can take literally hours to be propagated to your desktop calendars. Are they kidding?

  • SabreDAV – never could get this going at all.

  • ownCloud – almost worked. I could add events to the online calendar, but I could NOT get Thunderbird to sync. A lot of people seemed to have the same issue.

  • Google Calendar –it’s just me, I don’t like Google’s services. I don’t like clouds either. For several reasons, our data needs to be on a server that we control.

But anyway, eventually I came across Radicale – a very lightweight CalDAV server written in Python.  Installation was extraordinarily simple, and it just works! Right away!

And here’s how…

First, gather your software:
•   Radicale (http://radicale.org/)
•   Python (http://www.python.org/getit/)
•   A web server (we use IIS)
•   XYNTService (hard to find – contact me if you need a version)

What to do:
The following steps are the ones I had to take to get a Windows server up and running. I would expect a Linux system to be comparable or perhaps even easier, since you will not need XYNTService at all.

1.   Install Python (if you’re on Linux, you can skip this step). I used the msi installer and it took just a few moments to get all set up automatically.

2.   Install Radicale. This is even easier. Create a folder, and then download and unzip the archive into it. We’re using 0.6.4.

3.   At this point, I recommend testing it from the command line. Open a command prompt, cd to the Radicale server and type
Code: Text [Select]
  1. C:\Radicale> python radicale.py

All being well, Radicale will start up, and open port 5232. You may of course need to configure your firewall to allow this port to be used.

Using your mail client (I used Thunderbird for my testing and it does seem to be the easiest way) you can create a new calendar on your server:

New.JPG

Make sure you say it's on the network:
NetworkCal.JPG

And it's connecting to a CalDAV server:
setup.JPG

The address to use is as follows:
Code: Text [Select]
  1. http://<your server>:5232/<yourname>/calendar

If everything goes according to plan, you will see Thunderbird sync, and on the server side, you should see a new calendar file appear. You can find this in your user folder. In my case it’s

Code: Text [Select]
  1. C:\Documents and Settings\Tim\.config\radicale\calendars


since we still use Windows Server 2003 for this stuff.

4.   If everything is working well, there’s only one thing left to do, which is to get the Radicale script to run permanently. If you’re on a Linux or Unix server this is easy since you guys have nohup.

For Windows, it’s only one step more work. Unzip your XYNTService files into the same folder as your Radicale script, and edit the XYNTService.ini file.

This is mine:
Code: Text [Select]
  1. [Settings]
  2. ServiceName=CalDAV
  3. CheckProcessSeconds=30
  4. [Process0]
  5. CommandLine="c:\python32\python c:\radicale\radicale.py"
  6. WorkingDir="c:\radicale"
  7. UserInterface=Yes
  8. Restart=Yes
  9. PauseStart=1000
  10. PauseEnd=9000

You’ll need to specify your own path names in lines 5 and 6, depending on where you installed Python and Radicale.

Then install the service by using the command
Code: Text [Select]
  1. c:> XYNTService –i

Finally, fire up the services control panel, and start your new service.  Open up the Task Manager and make sure you can see ‘python.exe’ running.  If so,  you’re all done!

Further reading:
I recommend you take a look at the Radicale documentation (http://radicale.org/user_documentation/) especially if you would like to make any changes to the basic configuration. There’s also some good information in there about private and public calendars.

Clients supported (and there are probably more)
•   Evolution
•   Mozilla Calendar (Mozilla Lightning & Mozilla Sunbird)
•   Postbox Postbox and its Postbox Lightning add-on, working very well. (It's paid)
•   Mulberry
•   Chandler
•   Cadaver
•   Kontact / Akonadi / KOrganizer
•   iCal version 3.0.1 onward from OS 10.5
•   SOHO Organizer
•   Outlook via iCal4OL
•   RemoteCalendar for iPhone
•   iPhone and iPad fully working.
•   CalDAV support for Android
•   eTask (Task app for iPhone)

Why I said (almost) Free:

I switched to Outlook from Thunderbird quite a while ago, and as usual we Outlook users have to pay for everything. Outlook cannot sync with a CalDAV server without some 3rd party help. Fortunately there is a remarkable piece of software called iCal4OL that takes care of this. This software is remarkable for two particular reasons. First is that it seems to be utterly unique - it's literally the only program I can find that offers this facility.

The second remarkable thing about this software is its user interface. I can honestly say I've never seen or used anything quite like it. Prepare yourself for some serious head-scratching when you first set it up. But to its credit, once configured it works beautifully.

In Closing:
I hope you have as much luck with Radicale as I did. We have a bunch of shared calendars set up and so far the only issue seems to be someone who's on an old Sunbird installation. I think an update to Lightning will solve that.

Troubleshooting:

  • Radicale script does not appear to be running:
  • Check that you have set up your XYNTService.ini file correctly

  • Cannot get the calendar to be created / updated in my client:
  • If Radicale seems to be running, check your firewall  - it’s likely that port 5323 is being blocked


9
Living Room / Looking for opinions on changing ISP
« on: February 25, 2012, 01:23 PM »
I am thinking of switching to these guys. Anyone have any experience with them?

10
Living Room / Any DCer's in Seattle?
« on: January 14, 2012, 04:45 PM »
Is anyone here on DC living and/or working in Seattle?

I'm thinking of popping over for a visit and would appreciate any travel info  :Thmbsup:

11
General Software Discussion / Getting crowdfunding for your project
« on: January 06, 2012, 12:00 PM »
I found this article quite interesting:

http://www.rpgwatch....amp;ref=0&id=483


12
Living Room / Three little words
« on: November 30, 2011, 07:15 PM »
If you had to pick just three words to describe yourself, what would they be...?

And what do you think are the three words other people would choose to describe you?

13
General Software Discussion / MailStore Server - gotta vent
« on: November 28, 2011, 01:49 PM »
I've been fooling around with this for a few days now (thank you, Carol) and liked it so much that I decided to buy a license.

It's just for me, but there are features of the "server" version that I feel I must have. The indexing and searching is first-rate, I can get to 15 years' of emails from anywhere, and it solves a long-standing issue I had with Lookeen causing my Outlook to shoot to 100% CPU. Nice!

So I asked about a license:

Unfortunately we have to inform you, that MailStore Server can only be ordered according to the official package sizes with the respective minimal amount of 5 user licenses.

Thank you for your understanding."


Expletives
Actually, no I don't fucking understand.

What the hell?

But anyway, I really want this thing, so I bought the 5x license bundle for $190.

Opinions and comments appreciated!

14
General Software Discussion / Spamihiliator
« on: November 24, 2011, 02:34 PM »
Anyone else here on DC using this spam filter? I've been testing it for quite a while now and I must say I'm very happy with it indeed:

http://www.spamihilator.com/

It sits between your POP and IMAP accounts much like MailWasher - but it seems to have one step better integration, in that when I send/receive from my email client, it springs into action, then my mail arrives. So unlike MW, I don't need to keep switching between applications (well I do, but only once a day to make sure nothing got trapped that should not)

By now where I have it at the point where it's really well-trained and also has some nice custom filters: I'm basically spam free yet confident that everyone who should get through, does get through.

The filters are extremely versatile, and there is a plugin SDK available which means it's adaptable for some fairly specialised scenarios.

I'm nothing to do with these folks (except a donor to the project) but I think they could use some recognition.  :Thmbsup:

15
N.A.N.Y. 2012 / Release: Fentwiss (a simple calculator / converter)
« on: November 15, 2011, 01:34 PM »
NANY 2012 Entry Information

Application NameFentwiss
Version0.8
Short DescriptionSimple keyboard-centric calculator and converter
Supported OSesAnything that runs Java
Setup Filewww.head-in-the-clouds.com/game/Fentwiss.jnlp
Suggested Donation49 cents. Donations will be divided up in support of Donation Coder itself, and two of my favourite charities.
System RequirementsJava runtime environment - which most of you will have already
Author Infotimns
DescriptionTwo things drove this NANY submission:

1. Me not really finding a tiny converting calculator that suited my own needs. During my working day, I deal with quite a few measurements and volumes in varying units, as well as a number of currencies and of course timezones. I wanted a very light application that would let me do quick arithmetic and quick conversions with a minimum of clicking and selecting. I've tried quite a few, and they all suffer from bloat and too much mousing around. (The closest I can get is 'Frink' which I do really like, but it does have limitations from my point of view)

2. Me wanting another NANY mug.

So my criteria were:
  • Easy conversion without using the mouse
  • Ability to see and edit several calculations for comparison
  • Accurate currency conversion
  • Always available
  • Keyboard-centric
Features
  • Simple and natural syntax for fast calculation and conversion: e.g. "32 miles as km" or "4 1|2ft->cm"
  • Tries to present the results in a human-friendly way (mixed units, fractions)
  • Very accurate conversions
  • Online currency look up for correct exchange rates
  • Fractions
  • Mixed conversions and calculations
  • Available under a hotkey
Screenshotsscreenshot0032_2011-11-15.png
InstallationFentwiss will be provided as a Java Web Start link

You may see the following message - this is because I have signed the jar file using a self-generated key and certificate. Since this key, certificate and signature is not issued by any CA, webstart displays it as "Publisher: UNKNOWN"
fw1.png

If the "More Information" indicates the file is from DonationCoder and signed by the author, you may trust it and run:
fw2.png

fw3.png

Using the applicationFentwiss tries to be intuitive: it will attempt to recognise the calculation or conversion you are keying in, and will evaluate it on the fly. There is no "=" button to press.

In addition, you can tell Fentwiss your preferred units and formats to save extra typing. For example: if you tell it you like to think in metres, length conversions are automatically shown in metres unless you say otherwise:

Default: 15ft = 4.57
Override: 15ft->cm = 457.20

Examples of use

Simple arthimetic:
11+22*33-44/55 ( = 19 )

Fractions:
8 1|2 + 9 3|4 ( = 18.25 or 18 1|4)

Math functions:
sin(0.7)*cos(0.9) ( = 0.4 )

Hex / Bin / Programmer functions:
2^64 ( = 18,446,744,073,709,552,000.00 )
12245589->hex ( = BADA55 )
0b101010 ( = 42 decimal)

Conversion:
1271 cm -> ft ( = 41.70, or 41 128/183rds, or 41ft 8.39inches)
2400usd->gbp ( = 1516.08 at today's rate)

There is very little error checking. If you want to do something silly, no-one minds. For example, my height in Canadian dollars is $2.79. I will not be sharing my weight in British pounds ;)

UninstallingDelete any shortcuts you may have created
Known IssuesOh well just start playing with it, no doubt there are some beauties in there.

What I do want to hear about:
  • crashes,
  • errors in results,
  • errors in understanding your syntax

What I do not want to hear:
  • missing units (yet - I am still adding them, and only have a small subset so far)
  • any suggestions about using online resources for conversion :P - I do not live in a browser

16
Found Deals and Discounts / GoDaddy $1 domain sale
« on: March 18, 2011, 09:38 AM »
Register your com, us, mobi, biz, net, org, ca, co.uk for a buck, apparently...

http://freebiest.com...eap-3.html#more-1110


17
Anyone played with this:

http://www.nemo-docs.com/

I think it has some real potential. We should probably let Paul Keith loose on it for a start.

Freeware.

18
Basic Info

App NameClock-on-Desktop from Positbolt Software
App URLhttp://www.posiboltsoftware.com/
App Version ReviewedExtended Edition
Test System SpecsHigh-spec home-built PC running Vista 32
Supported OSesWindows only: XP and newer
Support MethodsForum, email, FAQ
Upgrade PolicyLifetime updates and support
Trial Version Available?Yes, runs for 30 days
Pricing SchemeLite: $9.95, Standard $19.95, Pro $29.95, Extended $39.95
DC Donation LinkDonate to Site here
Relationship btwn. Reviewer and ProductJust a satisfied user of the product

Intro:

Clock-on-Desktop is a pretty good name for this product really, since that's exactly what this software does: it provides you with any number of very elegant-looking clocks that sit right on your desktop. The software comes bundled with over 50 skins which means you'll probably find several that are to your personal taste.

I chose it since I'm always on the lookout for ways to make my desktop 'just so' and I am a fussy old stoat. The clocks are skinnable, scalable and support any timezone. I have ended up with a fairly plain, very clear skin that complements my rainmeter theme nicely. This in itself is quite surprising since I am a terrible one for fiddling with the desktop.

Anyway, initial impressions are good: the interface is very nicely designed, with smooth-looking icons and a reasonably intuitive GUI for setting up the basics. The guys clearly have a pretty talented artist working with them, and it's this that makes the software quite appealing. It's verging on the slightly-chubby, soft, Mac-like look and feel. Luckily we stay just on the safe side of twee.

pcclock3.png

Who is this app designed for:

I suggest this software is really for an enthusiastic PC user who would like to have their desktop look just that bit nicer while offering a fairly practical piece of software.

dcpic2.jpg  pbclock1.png  pbclock2.png

To be fair, the Extended edition comes with a few other features which could potentially be quite useful, and make you feel a lot better about spending a few bucks on what is otherwise essentially a cosmetic feature for your PC.

This is the complete feature list from their site:

  • Amazing and beautiful clock on your desktop             
  • Great skins pack sorted by types: analog, digital and mixed (more than 50 skins)             
  • Smooth animation and ability to drop shadow for clock and hands             
  • Multilanguage suport             
  • Tit-tac and cuckoo sounds             
  • Multiple clocks with different timezones on your desktop             
  • Effective alarm system that support various alarm types             
  • Easy-to-use reminders             
  • Birthday reminders with support of avatars and Gravatars             
  • Synchronization with any NTP server             
  • Replace default Windows screensaver with Clock-on-Desktop fully configurable screensaver             
  • Todo manager             
  • Colorful notes to pin to your desktop             
  • Personal dairy (I'm thinking they mean diary)

In practice these guys are offering a surprisingly good todo list, on-screen post-its and a personal diary. If I had not already commited to some pretty heavy-duty CRM software I do believe I would probably get some solid use from these features.

The Good

  • As many clocks as you like on the desktop
  • Pro and above gives you multiple clocks with different timezones
  • Very pretty skins and smooth interface
  • Clocks scale very well
  • Reasonably low impact on PC resources

The needs improvement section

For some reason I was required to re-submit my registration a couple of times after the clocks went forward. Luckily it was just a case of a couple of clicks and everything is now smooth again.

I also get the feeling that the forum will not really take off. I posted a couple of messages on there, and it's clearly checked by the developers, but there's no real feeling of activity.

The software is stable enough that there is unlikely to be many new releases. This is both good and bad of course!

You may feel it's too much to spend on 'fluff' software.

Why I think you should use this product

If you're in the market for a nice desktop enhancement, definitely take the 30 day trial and put it up against the many other clocks out there. If you have a hankering for a pleasing-looking piece of software that does just a couple of things, and does them well, this could be for you.

How does it compare to similar apps

Boy, have I tried a lot of world clocks in my time. I picked this one mainly because when I installed the trial, it looked good, was very easy to set up the clocks how I wanted, and then it just sat there and worked. I usually install then remove software like this because there's always something thing that bugs me just a little too much. Among the issues I've bumped into with other software:

  • Does not 'stick' to the location I place it
  • Uses too many resources
  • Has intrusuve UI
  • Clocks do not scale well and look all jaggy
  • ... or just look plain lousy

Conclusions

I'm happy with this software. It starts up when my PC boots and shows me my little list of key timezones. I deal with folks from all around the world from morning to night. It's really nice to get local time for them at-a-glance without having to do advanced mental arithmetic while still smacking my lips and blinking gummily at my first coffee of the morning.


19
Timns Apps / timns Friendly Password Generator
« on: March 09, 2011, 09:23 PM »
A Password Generator with some Friendly Features

Run the program directly from this link (links to signed Java Web Start application)

... and it's only 67k!

Application Nametimns Friendly Password Generator
Version1.0.1.2
Short DescriptionConfigurable Random Password Generator
Supported OSesAnything that can run Java
Web PageHere
Download LinkFriendly Password Generator
Version History
  • Brand New
Authortimns

Description
This is another random password generator, but with a couple of features which I personally find useful. I hope you guys do too.

Features

  • Very random, very mixed, and thus very secure, passwords
  • User-definable password length
  • User-definable password content (uppercase, lowercase, numbers, punctuation)
  • Creates as many passwords as you need

Interesting Features

Clarity - the generator tries to find passwords which do not contain any characters which may appear ambiguous. Examples of such characters include (but are not limited to) O & 0, 1 & l, etc.

Memorability - the friendly part of the program has a basic understanding of how we read words. The generator will try to create sequences of letters and numbers that can be read and pronounced similarly to real words, and thus perhaps are more memorable. They could be used as is, or perhaps provide the seed of an idea for you to invent your own super-safe password.

fpg1.jpg

Include & Exclude - you can suggest to the generator that it should avoid, or prefer, any characters you wish. Simply key them into the text boxes.

Include characters may or may not appear in your password, but will crop up more frequently than other characters.

Excluded characters will NOT appear in your password. This is very useful if you find certain password characters confusing, hard to remember or inconvenient on your keyboard layout.

Key words -  I believe this is a somewhat unique feature (no doubt someone will tell me I'm wrong here). If you specify a word in this field, the generator will create a unique password according to all the rules, same as usual. But - the password will be reproducible any time you run this program, if you use the same key word and same settings.

You can therefore create passwords which are utterly unique, and not have to remember them or write them down. As long as you can remember your key word, you can always recover your password. It is not stored anywhere, so is totally secure.

For example, you can use this feature when signing up to a new site that requires a login. Simply use the site's name as your key word. You will get a password that is unique to you for that site, which can be recovered any time in the future if you forget it.

In addition, even if by some weird coincidence you happen to use the same key word as another person, you will still get completely different passwords to each other.

Copy and Copy Friendly -  the Copy button puts the password into your clipboard ready for use.

Copy Friendly spells out your password so there can be no confusion as to which characters have been used. I personally use this a lot when handing out passwords on our servers.

Here's an example:
Code: Text [Select]
  1. \3sj4>dH
  2.  
  3. \    backslash
  4. 3    number three
  5. s    lowercase s
  6. j    lowercase j
  7. 4    number four
  8. >    right angle bracket
  9. d    lowercase d
  10. H    uppercase H

Planned Features
Profiles may be useful, so that you can generate different types of passwords without fiddling with all the checkboxes and text boxes.

Screenshots
fp2.png

Usage
Installation
No installation required - the program is launched via Java webstart. Just click the link to run.

Using the Application
Launch, and choose your options. Roll the mouse over each checkbox and button to learn a little more about its function.

Uninstallation
Nothing to uninstall.

Known Issues
None that I am aware of.

20
Mini-Reviews by Members / Using Skype to Monitor Remote Systems
« on: March 06, 2011, 09:58 AM »
Background

One of the options my company offers is SaaS  to companies who need a plug-in to help with their logistics operations. We provide a little network of servers that host several web services with various API's. Obviously, as part of this we have to offer support and are committed to fairly aggressive SLA's.

In order to help with this, I decided to implement a continual monitoring system to alert us of any systems falling over in our little farm. Being on a limited budget and an inveterate code tinkerer, I set up a little project to see if I could rustle something up. As far as I am aware, this is a novel approach to real-time systems monitoring. A sort of "poor man's Tivoli" if you like.

Approach

I have set up each machine in our cluster to monitor two others. I've found this to be the optimal arrangement. If we lose a node, we get a maximum of two other servers alerting us to the fact. Even multiple node failures will always ensure a manageable quantity of alert messages instead of being swamped.

WhoToWho.png

So what happens is that every minute, each machine asks its partner machines their status. This is achieved by a small self-written program installed as a Windows service. Every 60 seconds it wakes up and executes a simple call to each web service that it knows about. Depending on the result of this call, the software performs various logging operations and takes further actions if required.

In my case, our webservices will respond to the equivalent of a ping request, returning a brief status message.

One of three things can happen:

- no response: panic in the streets!
- bad response: check as soon as possible
- good response: back to sipping coffee

This diagram exemplifies the steps taken.

NetworkMonitor.png

I decided to keep it very simple: if we bump into an issue, the event is logged so we can trace back when things began to go wrong. But also, if there is an important state change, several of us on the support team are instantly notified by a Skype instant message right to our desktops. Our monitoring app can also dial out via Skype to whoever is on call.

And this is the part that I believe is quite unique. I utilised the Skype API so that we could use it to send messages to anyone who was currently interested in the status of our servers, without them having to be logged in. Or even have any type of account on the boxes. This means we can safely include end-users if they are interested in collating their own uptime stats.

SampleMessage.png

So after installing skype on our servers, all I had to do was write a little bit of code. This was almost pathetically easy: the entire monitoring application is perhaps 300 lines of Delphi code. Skype provides an API with some easy examples to show you how to hook in. Every 60 seconds the program awakens and firstly pings each node on its list. If successful it then makes a status enquiry to the web services themselves.

Code fragment from the app's OnCreate method: (constructor)
Code: Delphi [Select]
  1. Skype := TSkype.Create(self);
  2.     Skype.OnMessageStatus := SkypeMessageStatus;
  3.     try
  4.       Skype.Attach(8, False);
  5.       SendMessage('Bxxxxx Monitor started');
  6.     except
  7.       on e: Exception do begin
  8.         HandleException(e);
  9.       end;
  10.     end;

Code fragment showing how easy it is to send an IM:
Code: Delphi [Select]
  1. if Skype.AttachmentStatus <> 0 then
  2.   begin
  3.     try
  4.       Skype.Attach(8, false);
  5.     Skype.SendMessage(SkypeContacts, message);
  6.   except
  7.      on e: Exception do begin
  8.        HandleException(e);
  9.      end;
  10.   end;

... and to handle incoming messages:
Code: Delphi [Select]
  1. procedure TMainForm.SkypeMessageStatus(Sender: TObject;
  2.   const pMessage: IChatMessage;
  3.   Status: TChatMessageStatus);
  4. begin
  5.   case Status of
  6.     cmsReceived: Logger.Log('Recv ' + pMessage.FromHandle + ': ' + pMessage.Body);
  7.     cmsSent: Logger.Log('Sent ' + pMessage.Chat.DialogPartner + ': ' + pMessage.Body); // handle multiple partners

As you can see, what's really nice is that I can now write entries into any server's log file from my desktop, simply by sending an IM from my skype account to the destination server! We use this facility to annotate various activities and it provides a useful audit trail.

Sample from our log file:
Code: Text [Select]
  1. 9/25/2010 1:36:22 PM-I-Sent Timxxxxx: WARNING: Bxxxxx DOWN on node xxx.xxx.xxx.xxx
  2. 9/25/2010 1:36:22 PM-I-Recv Timxxxxx: Ok, I got this one
  3. 9/25/2010 1:36:25 PM-I-Sent Txxxxx: INFORMATION: Bxxxxx UP on node xxx.xxx.xxx.xxx
  4. 9/25/2010 1:36:27 PM-I-Recv Timxxxxx: Ping timeout. I blame the ISP ;)

Of course at this point you are saying to yourself "how do you keep skype running when you are not even logged into the servers?" and it's a good question. In order to keep skype running, and have it survive reboots without a re-login, I set up the program as a Windows service. To achieve this, I used the excellent XYNTservice program

In conclusion I believe this approach is very useful for small and budget conscious businesses who need some automated way to keep an eye on the health of their services. I've been using this technique for 9 months now and it has proven to be very reliable, and so far we have not missed a single occurence of downtime.

Summary of advantages
  • It is a lightweight, free solution
  • It has proven to be very stable
  • You get an instant message and/or a call immediately any problem is detected
  • You and your team can subscribe or unsubscribe to any of the servers contact lists in order to switch yourselves in and out of support (we use block/unblock)
  • It requires minimal development and configuration
  • The paradigm is scalable

Disadvantages
  • You have to have skype running. Personally I rely on skype a great deal, and encourage our userbase to contact us via skype for low-priority support.
  • If Skype goes down, as it famously did in early January 2011, you will have to find an alternative way to check your systems
  • I would not call it an Enterprise solution

If you're at all interested in more information just give me a shout. I would be happy to show you an instance of the system in action on a test server, and/or help you set up something similar for yourself.

21
Living Room / On the Road to Terror!
« on: March 05, 2011, 03:36 PM »
Engulfed in flames, an innocent OAP driver was literally...

   ON THE ROAD TO TERROR!

It was 8 am on a sunny spring afternoon when the Reverend Cameron P. W. “Bimbles” McColander, O.B.E.  set out for work. A very careful and experienced driver, he carefully negotiated the tricky left turn onto the bustling main road and reversed at a steady 5mph towards his local petrol station, situated on Cackwell Heath Road.

Having lived in Stoatford for 67 of his 53 years, he knew the surrounding area like the back of his hand. “I had no inkling that this day would be any different from any other,” he recalls. “I was due to arrive at my place of work about 8:30 am, where I am a plectrum tester for a large multinational. Being a careful and considerate driver, I indicated in good time and turned into my local garage to fill up.” Little did Rev. McColander know of his appointment with destiny that fateful day.

As he filled his carefully and considerately maintained Austin Princess with premium, he was unaware of a small split in the fuel hose, which, second-by-second, was leaking highly flammable petroleum spirit onto the arm of his jacket. “I didn’t feel anything at the time,” he recalls, running his hand through his thinning ginger hair, “I was concentrating on trying to stop the pump spraying the last few drops of petrol onto my feet as I took the nozzle out of the car’s filler.”

By now thoroughly soaked in petrol, Rev. McColander’s jacket was quite literally a time-bomb waiting to explode. Any tiny spark could immediately cause the entire sleeve to erupt into a flaming fireball.

After having carefully and considerately paid for his fuel, McColander started up his car and drove away, casually resting his petrol soaked right arm along the rim of his car’s open window. “It was a beautiful day,” he reminsces, idly scratching at his testicles, “the air was so fresh and clear, and thus I naturally decided to smoke a cigarette.”

The Rev.’s 8:15 am assignment with fate was now only seconds away. He lit his cigarette and took a deep, invigorating puff. A smoker for most of his life, the Rev. has achieved an almost superhuman lack of common sense, rivalled only by his lack of sense of smell and taste. As he tapped his cigarette out of the window, a fragment of burning ash fell onto his Arm of Doom.

“In moments my whole arm was engulfed in flames,” he states matter-of-factly, picking his nose, “I was on an urban clearway, and naturally being a safe, careful and considerate driver I continued at my alloted speed until I could find somewhere safe to stop.”

At that moment, quite by chance, a cruising police car happened to be passing in the opposite direction, attracted by the smell of frying. “We couldn’t believe our eyes,” reports Sergeant Pierre ‘Snapper’ Cloget, driver of the unmarked jamjar. “All we could see was a wall of flame quite literally gushing out of his car.”

By this time, the Rev. McColander had managed to find a small picnic spot near the beautiful Chiltern Hills, and had pulled over. Leaping out of his car, his arm still aflame, he was casting about for something to quench the fire.

Seconds later the police car driven by Sgt. Cloget and his partner Harry ‘Harry’ Harbinger (who asked to be mentioned in this story) pulled up next to the burning vicar. “I didn’t stop to think,” says Harbinger. A tough-looking 37 year-old ex-wrestler, Harbinger had some years previously exchanged his leotard and make-up of the professional wrestling circuit for the lacy underwear and handcuffs of the special investigative unit of the Police force. He continues, “I just jumped out of the car, grabbed the man, and threw him to the ground, where I was able to execute my speciality, the ‘Harbinger Hamstring and Double Nut Crunch’. In the process, the flames were fortunately smothered by the damp grass.”

“He was a very lucky man indeed,” observes Sgt Cloget, toying with his truncheon suggestively, “once the flames were out, we could see that the thickness of his jacket had prevented the flames from harming him in any way. The only downside is that once we were sure he was ok, duty prevailed upon us, and we had to arrest him.”

But on what charge?

Spoiler
“Possession of an unlicensed fire-arm”


22
Living Room / Are *you* Computer Literate?
« on: March 04, 2011, 11:39 AM »
Are you buggery! So here’s a simple glossary of modern computering terms to help you navigate your way through the technology maze.
 
1.   BYTE - an element of computer memory which stores information in binary form, rendering it completely meaningless to humans, and thus requiring expensive bits of software to turn it back into English again.
   
2.   RAM - Random Access Memory. This is memory which can be modified at any time by the program you are running, usually in order to lose what you have just typed.
   
3.   ROM - Read Only Memory. This memory is used to store programs which do not need to change, as they already have the correct number of bugs in them.
   
4.   MODEM - a device used to enable computers to communicate using high-frequency signals over a telephone line, as is demonstrated when you forget the computer is connected, pick up the phone to make a call, and are deafened by its piercing shreik.
   
5.   PC - Personal Computer. Equipment which enables you to undergo work-levels of stress and time-wasting during your evenings at home.
   
6.   HARD DISK - an excited floppy disk. Ho ho, just kidding! It’s a high capacity storage device, organised into directories which enable the user to lose any number of documents incredibly quickly and efficiently.
   
7.   WINDOWS - a simplified interface to allow the user to destroy files and programs more quickly and easily, using only a tacky piece of moulded plastic whimsically called a ‘mouse’.
   
8.   POINT-AND-CLICK - a design paradigm which presents the user with the simplest, most obvious option for any given situation. Other point-and-click devices include the hand gun.
   
9.   WORD PROCESSOR - you’ve seen what a food processor does to vegetables, right? This software package does the same to your carefully crafted text document.
   
10.   SPREADSHEET - a utility which helps you fit duvet covers.
   
11.   DATABASE - a tool which enables users to organise and store their data in such a way as to make it completely useless to anyone else.
   
12.   QWERTY KEYBOARD - originally designed for old mechanical typewriters to prevent users typing too fast and efficiently; this device continues to excel at its original intention.
   
13.   INTERNET - a massive, world-wide network of interconnected computers which enable spotty social inadequates across the globe to swap reasons why original Star Trek is better than ‘The Next Generation’.
   
14.   MOTHERBOARD - the main printed circuit board which destroys all the most expensive electronic components in one convenient power surge.

23
General Software Discussion / Browser startup times
« on: March 02, 2011, 12:16 PM »
I just ran a little experiment on my PC. I used AppTimer (hopeless gui, but a neat program!) to launch each of my browsers 5 times in a row.

Here are the results (times are in seconds)

browsers.jpg

Guess I'm sticking with FireFox for now. Although to be fair, who cares about such tiny differences? I start my browser in the morning, and close it when I shut down my PC.

But I thought it was interesting.


24
Timns Apps / Auspex Build 1.3.5.109 uploaded
« on: March 02, 2011, 09:44 AM »
Minor fixes based on a couple of recent error reports.

Download link here

25
Mini-Reviews by Members / Centerbase CRM - Mini-Review
« on: March 01, 2011, 08:37 PM »
Centerbase CRM from Centerbase Inc.

Basic Info

App NameCenterbase CRM
App URLhttp://centerbase.com/
App Version ReviewedVersion 5.4.3.29 (Centerbase 2010 aka Centerbase 2011, depending on where you look)
Test System SpecsServer: Win2K3, Clients: multiple Windows PCs running Vista or W7
Supported OSesWindows XP/Vista/2K3/2K8/7
Support MethodsForum, email, phone
Upgrade PolicyMinor upgrades: free. Major upgrades: not sure
Trial Version Available?Yes, fully functional, limited to 30 days
Pricing Scheme$195 per user standalone / $39 per user per month hosted
Reviewer Donation LinkDonate to timns, the review Author
Screencast Video URLhttp://www.centerbas...spx?module_name=tour
Relationship btwn. Reviewer and Product I use a registered copy of this software for which I paid the full license fee

Intro:

I've been trying to get a CRM in place at my company for years. We're a small software business, specializing in logistics, and in the past we have not had a very coherent strategy for tracking leads, scheduling appointments, tracking customer requests or bug reports. Each of us used different approaches. To be fair, for the most part we got away with it. But as customer base grows, you suddenly reach that "tipping point" where there's just too much to track using an ad hoc approach. This year I finally sat down and really focused on trying to get something that would fix it.

After trialling quite a few low-end and mid-end systems, I settled on Centerbase. Please read this review for "why."

Who is this app designed for

I would say this application is designed for the lighter end of CRM. It would expect to run on the PC of a user who is part of a small-to-medium sized business that is trying to get or stay organized with its client base. It feels scalable to some extent, but I would anticipate that large companies with full-time CRM-oriented staff may need to look beyond Centerbase at the more heavyweight systems.

Installation

Installation was not too bad, although I stumbled a bit on the documentation since (in my opinion) it was not made clear that the server configuration must explicitly publish the server's address. However, in most cases it'll be a simple process since you may be using Centerbase's own servers. In that scenario, you simply install the client, and enter the account details provided to you by the Centerbase admins. On the upside, it gave me a chance to try out the support available, and I'm pleased to say my forum post on the subject was answered quickly.

Personally, I am paranoid about using 3rd party servers, and since we run several of our own, I earmarked a box and installed the server on our intranet. In this situation you install the server part first. All in all, it's a simple process. The server consists of a SQL/Server database on its backend, and a (probably) reasonably straighforward Web Service Extension which handles the clients' requests for data. Some minor configuration is required, which is achieved through a reasonable-looking little  program which appears during the installation.

CenterbaseConfigurator.jpg

In my case the setup only took about 20 minutes or so. In fact it would've been quicker than that if I had not misunderstood the ip address issue.

After that, the client installation was a breeze. Two minutes after downloading the client installer, I was set up and ready to go.

First Impressions

CenterbaseDashboard.png

As you can see from the screenshots, it's all very blue! As with a lot of newer applications, there's the eponymous ribbon bar at the top, with the main menu accessible from the button. It's a pretty simple interface and I think all the better for a limited number of toolbars. There is nice customization available including selecting which buttons are shown on the ribbon, and which fields should be shown when viewing your data.

Expectations are that you already know a little about how to use a CRM, and the standard stuff is all readily available to you. I plunked around for a while and it did not take me long to set up a few of our more lively customers, my todo list, and my current support issues. Since then I've been running for several weeks now and the database is filling up nicely. I would expect the system to scale quite well, and there are a few options you can change to help prevent too much up/downloading of data when working remotely.

On the left is a tabbed datatree. Several tabs can be kept open and it's useful to have your contacts listed here. The central pane is also tabbed, and I tend to have tabs open for my todo list, calendar and help desk tickets (which are called 'Cases' in Centerbase) so I can quickly flip through the day's activities.

You can of course also track prospects, leads, contracts etc. and the system will even help you set up forecasts. I have not made use of these features but they are covered adequately in the user guide.

Strengths

Linking of items - I love the linking aspect. It's something I use a lot and it's probably the standout feature for me. In a nutshell, linking means you can connect any item in Centerbase with any other item simply by dragging one onto the other. This makes it very easy to collate and organise your data without needing any duplication. Let's take a simple example:

Someone from Company X downloads your software. You set them up as a Lead, and link them to the Product(s) in which they are interested. Ideally you may also have a contact. Create your contact, and link them to the company. Create a task to follow-up in two weeks. Link the task. (This is all achieved by simply dragging-n-dropping or using copy-n-paste)

In 2 weeks time, the task becomes due. You can have reminders appear as a pop-up window and/or email. From the task view you can instantly see that "Fred Shredd from Company X is trialling Product Z" along with all relevant details -  without having to duplicate any of your data or look anywhere else. Expand the links to see the details of each linked record. One-to-one, one-to-many and many-to-many links are all supported.

CenterbaseAlert.png

This is really scratching the surface in terms of linking possibilities: when working with large numbers of customers, users and developers, the advantages start to add up quite quickly. No doubt some other CRMs share this feature, but of the small and mid-size systems that I looked at, it is unique.

Very easy report creation - Centerbase includes a complete drag-n-drop report designer meaning you can put together reports exactly how you need them to look, usually in just a few minutes. At the moment I'm using this to produce a daily todo list in a nice format, and various weekly summaries including progress reports, outstanding payments and a kind of management summary.

Customization - As well as the report designer, there's also a script engine so you can create your own queries to run on the database. The results are shown in the tree structure on the left of the standard interface. Very handy and it encourages you to look at your data in a lot of different ways, which I think helps to avoid tunnel vision.

CenterbaseCalendar.png    

In addition, you can even edit the program's standard forms, to add or remove fields as you see fit. This should not be overlooked - one of the main problems a lot of CRM users suffer from is overload. In my case I stripped out quite a few (to my mind) superfluous fields to keep the data lean and mean.

Good back-end - SQL/Server is a very solid and proven database engine. I think they made a good choice here. Setting up simple scripts for compaction, backup etc. is just a few minutes work, and as it's such a popular database, there are a lot of resources out there if you need any help.

Collections- as well as the pre-defined screens and data groupings, you can define your own. I've only just started with this idea, but I can see the appeal. In my case, I am grouping users together by which of our software products they have licensed. It's then very easy to focus on a subset of your client database when (say) preparing a mailshot.

Integration - there is a plug-in for Outlook which allows Centerbase to import selected emails and/or addresses. There are also import features so you can scrape large amounts of data from other applications. A special ACT! filter is provided, or it can handle simple CSV files in a fairly configurable way.

The needs improvement section

There are a few bugs. If the system loses connection to its database, it sometimes seems to have trouble re-establishing communication. A restart seems to clear it.

Screen size and location is not stored.

I have found one reproducible error when creating a company at the same time as a contact. We shall see what the support guys have to say about it!

Having said all that, I've only experienced one or two complete crashes since installing, and no data loss.

How does it compare to similar apps

A CRM system is a very subjective beast. I tried quite a few systems, and it's hard to be objective. In my case I was not willing to use any type of online service, and therefore narrowed the field quite quickly. For the rest, it seems that there's a very small subset of systems that go far enough beyond a PIM without charging headlong into overwhelming complexity. I have listed some of the other software that I trialled at the end of this review.

Help & Support

There's a relatively complete user guide available both online and as a downloadable document. It's a bit out of date, but worth going through to get a good idea of the system's capabilities. Unlike a lot of CRMs, you do get a sense that you're able to mould the system to fit your methods of working.

As is pretty common with software providers nowadays, Centerbase has a forum which is a useful place to go when the user guide doesn't cut it. It's not very active, but one of the Centerbase developers ("Andrew") seems to check in daily, and has replied satisfactorily to all of my posts.

Conclusions

So far, with a few small reservations, I'm happy with this software. Sure, there are free systems out there, but I think it's not a bad move to pay a chunk of change for a product like this. It makes me take it seriously, and to be fair, in terms of the price of some big CRM systems out there, it's a drop in the ocean. I can also expect quality support, and to feel that my voice is heard in relation to any bugs I find, or enhancements I may request.

So if you're in the market for a CRM, I think Centerbase deserves a little of your time for a proper evalution.

Also compared:  EnCircle, Desktop Sales Office, vTiger, Sugar, Radix, CustomerHunter, Time & Chaos

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