Thursday, December 20, 2007

Personas for Firefox

If you're looking for a fun add-on to make some aesthetic customizations to Firefox, you should check out Personas for Firefox. The add-on doesn't really add anything functional to your 'fox installation, but it does add the ability to swap in some pretty nice looking themes.

I didn't think this add-on would be that interesting, but I have to admit that I find Firefox way more pleasant to look at with the themes made available by Personas. You can also swap between themes quickly and easily from a new icon that the add-on places in your status bar.

Thanks to Chris L. for telling me about this!

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

A Quick Music Recommendation

I rarely venture out of my main focus of this blog (technology), but I feel that I should pass along a nice gift that I got recently. MacDerm told me about a band called The Smithereens and that they will be playing a free concert at the U. this week. In preparation for the concert, I decided to download some Smithereens music and do a little background reading on them.

Suffice to say I really like them - I won't attempt to analyze their musical style; I leave that to those better qualified to do so. I will just say that they are a very melodic rock band. If you want to get a quick sample, download "Behind the Walls of Sleep" from Amazon and check them out.

One of the most impressive things that I read about the band is that they influenced Kurt Cobain during his writing of Nevermind, an album I consider to be among the greatest ever. You would never guess it at face value - the Smithereens sound nothing like Nirvana to me.

Anyway, thanks to MacDerm for this. I am really looking forward to the concert.


So, I was reading Lifehacker today and I came across a post for Foxmarks, an add-on for Firefox that allows you to synchronize your bookmarks across multiple computers running Firefox. This is pretty interesting (and many people have asked me if it's possible to do this), but I think that it may be too little too late given' recent boom in popularity and its integration with Firefox being about as tight as the built-in bookmarks functionality.

Although, I could see this being a viable option for those who don't really have any aspirations of sharing and tagging bookmarks. And, like delicious, it relies on a third party server to manage the synchronization. So, you would be no more vulnerable to data unavailability if you used Foxmarks.

So, I am posting this for two reasons:

1) for the benefit of anyone who may find this tool useful

2) because I like where this technology is going. There are certain vital applications that I wish would follow suit here, address book syncing in Thunderbird being the foremost.

I haven't personally tried this tool out, so I'm in no position to speak to its quality/reliability. Please let me know what you think of it if you decide to check it out.

I'm back (I think)

My apologies to those who follow my blog for not having posted anything in nearly a month. I knew that I couldn't keep up the overly-ambitious pace that I started with, but I didn't anticipate December being this busy! Anyway, sorry for going AWOL on you!

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Wireless Power?

So, generally, I try to post about technologies that make my life easier or technologies that probably would make my life easier if I was motivated enough to try them out - i.e. I post about things that already exist. However, tonight I will make an exception and post about a miracle technology that is supposed to be coming out soon, wireless power transmission.

I read about a company called Powercast that is creating a device to wirelessly transmit power to devices. The technology works with a pair of devices: a transmitter that plugs into the wall and sends power from the outlet wirelessly, as radio waves, and a "dime-size" receiver that can receive the transmitted power from up to a yard away.

If this is true and it actually works well, it will be blockbuster. Imagine never having to plug your computer in. Over time, we have seen the need for physical wiring in desktop computer setups wane. First we abandoned our CAT-5 cables for wireless Internet, then our wired keyboards and mice for their wireless counterparts. At this point, there are only two wired connections that really prevent us from being completely wireless: power and video. If this technology is for real, we can eliminate the former.

If all of that isn't enough for you, the company claims that it can produce the receiver for around $5.

So, let's keep an eye out for this. It sounds pretty sweet.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

GPS Functionality For Google Mobile Maps

I haven't gotten the chance to check this out yet, but I just read on Lifehacker that the new beta version of Google Mobile Maps supports pseudo-GPS functionality - in addition to the ability to work with a real GPS.

Let me explain. True GPS requires a GPS receiver and can pinpoint your location with a fairly high degree of accuracy. Then there is what I call "pseudo-GPS." This is a technique that determines your rough location by using a triangulation technique. It calculates your distance from a couple of nearby cell towers and uses that to give a rough estimation of your current location. Apparently, the new Google Mobile Maps supports both techniques.

This is very cool. As I said, I haven't tried it out yet to see how it works, but I think that there is definite value in being able to see your location without having to purchase a costly GPS receiver. Sure, you probably can't use the pseudo technique to obtain detailed driving directions, but I could take or leave that feature.

Anyway, I will check this out and report back someday. If you beat me to it, let me know how you like it!

U3 Drives

A pretty cool (but simple) technology that oft goes overlooked is the U3 USB technology. So, I think it would be safe to say that just about all of us have experience with USB flash drives - those little USB key storage devices that have reached the pinnacle of promotional giveaway ubiquity.

But, you may not know about the U3 technology that allows you to run certain applications from your USB key, leaving no footprint on the machine you are using. Here's an example. Let's say that you are a Thunderbird user that is always on the go. You don't take your laptop around with you and find yourself frequently using kiosks and other public computers. You don't want to use some freakin' webmail application. What do you do?

You get Thunderbird Portable Edition, a copy of Thunderbird that can run right from the USB key. You can plug the key into any computer, run T-bird from the key, and remove it when you are done. There should be no trace of your email data on that machine; it should all be on your drive, ready to go with you to the next computer. (BTW, this could be a good way for T-bird users to keep their addressbooks in sync across multiple computers. Just a thought.)

There is also Firefox Portable, FileZilla Portable, and the list goes on. Check out to see a bunch more.

Or, if you're feeling brave, you can create your own U3 apps by dragging and dropping Windows EXE's into Package Factory. Keep in mind that this will only work for programs that need little to no writing to the Windows registry. You can also set up your U3 apps to auto-run whenever you put the drive into a computer so that you don't have to locate the app and launch it.

Unfortunately, this technology is Windows-only. Also, if you want to try this, make sure that your USB key explicitly says that it supports U3.

Have fun!

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Google Experimental Search

If you're an early-adopter type, you may enjoy checking out Google's Experimental Search. There are a handful of add-ons that are still in the experimental stage that you can use to augment (assuming they work well) your Google searches.

My favorite one in the Keyword Suggestions add-on. It replicates one of my favorite Firefox features from the Google search page. Have you ever noticed how in Firefox, you can start to type a search term into the built-in Google search and it will start to auto-complete with popular Google search terms as you type? This add-on does that from the Google page, only a little better. It also includes how many search results each result will yield.

This is extremely useful when you want to see how other crafted their queries for the same thing you are looking for. It also helps when you are not quite sure how to spell one or more of your keywords. Example: it helped me get the spelling right when I was trying to research the Tunguska event.

Caveat: the Keyword Suggestion feature does not work with iGoogle yet. If you have an iGoogle page, you can only use it on subsequent searches - after you have performed your first search and are on the results page.

Anyway, I would recommend checking out Keyword Suggestions and the rest of the experimental features to see if any would work for you.


Oneof my new favorite programs is HandBrake. It's a really nice video conversion/encoding program that runs on most operating systems - Windows, Mac, Linux. The best application of the software, I think, is if you want to convert DVD's that you own to a digital format.

HandBrake has several encoding templates that you can use to encode your videos to meet your technical needs. For example, you can use preset templates for the Apple TV (if you want to optimize for streaming your video wirelessly to Apple TV) or iPod (if you want to convert your DVDs so that you can watch the digitized videos on your video iPod). There are a bunch of other templates too.

You can also just use the normal template to encode your DVD's to MPG4 files. If you read my post a while ago about creating a computer-based home media center (the main idea was that you could digitize your DVD's and play them from your computer), this program would be a great addition to that setup. The normal template encodes to the standard DVD resolution (720x480).


- depending on how much juice your machine has, the encoding process can take a long time. On my 1.8GHz Core Duo with 2GB of RAM, it takes about 4 hours to encode a DVD, with 2-pass encoding

- the file sizes can start to add up. Two hours of video will take up around 1.25GB when using the normal template.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Minimize To Tray

First off, thanks to John Carroll for answering my recent call for help so quickly! John sent me a link to a very cool app that helps to mitigate the ever-present nuisance of application window clutter. It's called MinimizeToTray.

MinimizeToTray is a Windows-only program that allows you to minimize all of your open Firefox and Thunderbird windows to your system tray - the area of your taskbar to the right, near the clock. This is pretty useful, as you know how crowded your taskbar can get when you're working at full speed.

Also, this app can speed up some common tasks for you by allowing you to execute some commands by right-clicking on the tray icon. For example, if you have Thunderbird minimized to your system tray, you can right-click on its icon and select "Compose New Message" to start writing a new message.

This seems like a pretty nice app. Hope you find it useful!

Mouse Gestures

Well, I have to assume that for one of my computing ideals, the desire to control everything on my computer through keyboard commands, there is an antithesis: the desire to use the mouse as the predominant input device. While this is contrary to my entire computing style, it doesn't make the latter any less valid. For all of the "mouse people" out there, I can across an app called Mouse Gestures that might be of interest.

Mouse Gestures is an add-on for Firefox that allows you execute command by holding down a key (presumably of your designation) and moving your cursor in a given pattern. For example, if you move the mouse is a straight line from right to left, it will perform the same action as click the "back" button. (Don't know why you wouldn't just press the backspace key!) You could also open a new tab with a given link by drawing a vertical line through said link. (Somewhat more interesting.)

More interesting, though, is the ability to define your own mouse actions. It seems that Mouse Gestures allows you to define your own gestures to execute just about any action the browser is capable of executing. So, for example, you could define a rule that adds the current page you are visiting to your bookmarks whenever you draw an elephant with your cursor. :)

Anyway, I'm joking around because this isn't my working style, but this seems like a pretty cool app.

Sunday, November 25, 2007


Dear Stazz's Stuff Readers:

I need to ask you for a favor. I've set a standard of posting multiple times a day to my blog - hopefully, posts that are somewhat useful to you. However, it is starting to become apparent that it will be difficult to keep up this pace while still posting content of any value. I will continue to try in earnest.

I'd like to ask you this: if you come across interesting technologies or applications, would you please let me know about them? I will, of course, give you your due credit in the post. It can really be anything: little utilities that make your life easier, web sites that you use frequently, whatever. You've seen the site; you know what the focus is like.

If you know my email address, just send me an email with your post ideas. Otherwise, just comment on this post and I will see it.

I've immensely enjoyed developing this blog and I look forward to continuing to post information that may help make your computing life easier!

Thanks very much,

New Web 2.0 Sites

A while ago, Ira sent me a link to and I have been playing around with it a little at a time. The site is a directory of new, beta Web 2.0 sites. It's actually somewhat overwhelming to look through since there are so many sites it links to.

The site references everything from audio and video services to social networking to travel sites and beyond. Basically, it can refer you to a site that puts a Web 2.0 spin on many things that may interest you.

Caution: it's easy to spend way too much time on this site! Visit at your own risk.

Online File Storage

It seems that a developing trend in online services is the ability to store files online (or "in the cloud," as they say in the trade :) ). The first product that I was aware of offering this service is the Windows Live Sky Drive. Today, I learned that Adobe is offering a comparable service, Adobe Share.

The basic premise of these services is that they allow you to upload files to a server and permission them so that other authorized people can access them. The benefits of this model include increased collaboration and obviation of the need to send files as email attachments.

I think the idea of such a service is good. I like offering new ways to share information, but I wouldn't I would use such a service to store my only copy of anything or anything confidential - but, that goes without saying, really.

Anyway, if you are looking for ways to share files with other people and you are sick of the versioning hell it creates to mail document revisions back and forth, I would recommend checking these services out.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Dirkey - Bookmark Folders in Windows

I was reading Lifehacker this morning and I came across a post on Dirkey. If you're a Windows user, this seems like it would be a pretty handy app to have around. It allows you to create a bookmarks list of your favorite folders and access them via keyboard shortcuts (which you know I love) and even from Open/Save dialogs.

I've mentioned before that one of my biggest pet peeves is having to clicking through my file system looking for a file or folder. I just want to tell the computer what I want, not go looking for it myself. You can accomplish this to some degree with Dirkey. Once you create your list of your favorite folders, you can access them by using ctrl+alt+[0-9] (you get 10 keyboard-accessible shortcuts).

You can also bring up this list of favorites from the Open/Save dialog. So, if you frequently save files to a certain location, you can get to it quickly from the open/save command. This seems like it could be of limited utility unless you are talking about files stored outside of (or deeply nested in) the My Documents tree.

Anyway, if you're looking for a way to speed up your Windows usage, this could be a good start.


Hello, and Happy Thanksgiving! OK, enough pleasantries; let's get down to business. Yes, that's right: Stazz's Stuff does not take days off for holidays. We're here everyday to nourish you with your daily nerdiness - except for yesterday, when we took a day off.

I am currently very interested in a technology called Greasemonkey. It's an add-on for Firefox that allows you run various scripts (Java Scripts) that modify the behavior of many popular web sites. I have to admit that I am Greasemonkey neophyte, but I am starting to research various ways of using it and I am very impressed.

The main way that I use Greasemonkey is as the basis for the Better GMail add-on. Better GMail is a set of scripts that make GMail...better. It adds support for HTTPS connections and folders (for those not into tagging). There are tons of customizations that Better GMail provides, but the point is that each one of them is a Greasemonkey script; all of it is built on Greasemonkey. Another example is Better YouTube.

Anyway, you can find tons of Greasemonkey scripts if you look for them. If you're ever using a popular web site and find yourself thinking "I wish this site did _______ differently," take a look and see if there is a Greasemonkey script to make it do what you want. A good place to look is I am planning on researching this further and I will report on what I find.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Delicious Library

Do you ever wish you could keep an inventory of that pile of CD's and DVD's that you own? Do you loathe the idea of having to type in information about each disc but, at the same time, want a complete record of everything you own? Well, my friend, if you own a Mac, look no further than Delicious Library.

This is a pretty sweet app that Al M. showed me a while ago. You can actually scan the bar codes on your DVD and CD cases using the built-in cam on your Mac! Yes, you read that correctly: you can scan bar codes like those infrared things they use at the supermarket using your built-in iSight.

Once you scan a CD or DVD, Delicious will look it up in an online database and present you with a graphical view of the disc, containing cover art and a bunch of metadata. You can inventory your whole library quickly and easily! It even works for books and video games. Sweet!

Anyway, this app will run you $40, but if you have a large pile of media that you would like inventoried, it seems like a pretty reasonable deal.


If you're looking for a good SCP/SFTP client for your Windows machine, WinSCP is definitely worth checking out. WinSCP is a bare bones app that can handle your SCP/SFTP needs - i.e. it is a can handle secure FTP connections.

I haven't played with WinSCP in a little while, but I used to use it all the time. I hear there is a way to work with files "live" on the server, just as I was describing in my Text Wrangler post. All in all, this is a small app that can handle your file transfer needs.

If you're using more [unnecessarily] complicated FTP programs, you may want to check this one out. After all, SFTP is a pretty simple protocol and you don't really need a large, bloated app to manage it.

Monday, November 19, 2007

If I May Boast For A Second...

Please allow me this opportunity to bask in the glory of triumph over the trials of home ownership, to revel in my victory in the battle of man vs. appliance. Yesterday, days before Thanksgiving, my wall oven decided to cease functioning.

OK, I generally recoil in terror at the thought of fixing anything that does not have a network port. Given the fact that: 1) this freakin' thing has to be simpler than some of the systems I work on and 2) my wife being very upset about her inability to bake during the days leading up to Thanksgiving, I decided to try to figure this out.

Here are the facts:
- the broiler still worked - there was a little coil that would go red hot and ignite the gas coming out of a burner
- bake mode did *not* work - there was a matching coil at the bottom of the oven that never heated up

The hypothesis: The igniter for the baking part of the oven is broken.

The experiment: My wife went out, located, and purchased a new igniter. We turned off the power to the over at the breaker, I removed the old igniter, and spliced in the new one. Yes, I did wire splices and everything!

The result: Success!

Podcast Maker

A couple of years ago I attended a session on creating and managing podcasts. It was very interesting, but the best takeaway from the session was using Podcast Maker to create podcasts from my Mac.

Podcast Maker is a simple, Mac-only program for creating podcast feeds. Essentially, what it does is give you a drag-and-drop interface that generates a valid XML podcast file. It's really easy. You just drag in your MP3s (or whatever you're using), enter the metadata, publish your feed, and you're done! It even supports SFTP for easy publication of your feed. (Yes, it also support plain-text FTP, but would you ever use that? No!)

If you read my blog at all, you know that I am generally not a fan of code generators or bloated editors. I prefer the hands-on, under-the-hood, grease-under-my-nails, [insert automotive methaphor here] process of writing my own code. BUT, RSS/Podcast feeds are an exception to this rule. It is a major pain to maintain feeds by hand. Just about any little problem will break the feed.

Unfortunately, this is not a free program. Podcast Maker will run you $30, but it is well worth it.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Pandora - Love it!

I've been using Pandora for a few years now and I love it. Pandora is like an Internet radio station that allows you to build your own channels based on artists and songs that you like. So, for example, I can type in "Light My Fire" and Pandora will create me a music channel that plays other Doors songs and songs similar in musical style to "Light My Fire."

As Pandora plays each song, you can tell it whether you like or dislike the song it has chosen for you. Doing so, will result in more intelligent choices on its part. I find that after minimal training, Pandora plays almost all songs that I like. It's really very interesting.

I think the coolest thing about Pandora is that it seems to use musical theory and analysis to choose the songs it plays for you. It will actually explain to you why it chose a given song. It will say something like "this song contains soaring lead vocals and rhythmic snare cadences" - or whatever.

You can create multiple channels and switch between them whenever you want. The one thing you can't do is control the flow of the music. You can't choose your songs manually. The only control you have is that you can say that you don't like a song and Pandora will skip it.

Anyway, I highly recommend Pandora for finding new music that you will like.

Appropriate use of TinyURLs

I've seen the topic of appropriate use of TinyURLs raised several times this week and I have been giving it some thought. The real catalyst for this post was a blurb on Slashdot that I read this morning about TinyURLs (and the like) weakening net architecture.

TinyURLs are a very handy tool and completely appropriate for may applications - shortening URLs for email or text message transmission, etc. However, some uses are questionable. It would probably not be a good idea to use TinyURLs for articles (especially in print publications) or as links between web pages.

The reason is pretty simple: there is no guarantee that these "aliased" URLs will be survive for any significant period of time. In fact, it's almost given that these links are ephemeral. If everybody used TinyURLs on their web pages to link to other web pages, the web's functionality as designed would fail if the service running the TinyURLs failed - i.e. there would be a single point of failure.

Also, consider if some company purchased the system (e.g. TinyURL) that operated all of these aliased links. It could result in numerous infringements on the freeness of the web.

Anyway, here's the point: TinyURLs are great for using in emails and text messages; you should really think twice about deploying them on web pages or publications. Just my .02...

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Google Reader

I was thinking about this earlier and sometimes I take certain technologies for granted. I gloss over posting them on my blog because they are so ingrained in my daily life that I don't see them as "news." I shouldn't do this because not everyone knows about some of these technologies. So, today, I want to point out one of the applications integral to my technology life: Google Reader.

Google Reader
is an application that of a type that is traditionally referred to as an "RSS aggregator." In other words, it is a single site you can visit to read updates from all of your favorite news and blog sites.

In the "old days," you would have to visit *every site* to see updates: you'd have to go to the New Yorks Times site to check the news, Yahoo Sports to get updates on your favorite teams, and all of your friends' blogs to see their posts. This is: 1) annoying, and 2) so Web 1.0. :)

The new style of information dissemination is passive: content comes to you, not vice versa. This is where RSS and, by extension, aggregators come in. Here's an example: in my Google reader, I subscribe to all of my friends' blogs, the Philadelphia Phillies' Yahoo Sports page, the New Yorks Times, Lifehacker, Gizmodo, and Engadget. I visit my Google Reader compulsively, almost as much as I check my email, to get information as soon as it becomes available.

Also, if you are an iGoogle user, you can add your Google Reader as a gadget on your iGoogle home page, which is somewhat useful.

Anyway, if you don't already have an RSS-aggregator preference, I would highly recommend you check out Google Reader. It is fantastic.

Friday, November 16, 2007


First off, allow me to apologize for the heavy concentration of Mac-centric posts of late. I don't mean to shun the PC-users out there. It's just that I use a Mac everyday and therefore, I end up finding mostly cool Mac apps. I promise I will make an effort to promote systemic diversity on my blog from now on...sometimes...

Anyway, back to Mac software. I came across TextWrangler (from the makers of BBEdit) today and I have to say that I really enjoy it. Traditionally, I have been a UNIX, work-right-on-the-server, I-don't-need-a-GUI kinda guy. Well, I still am, but I am starting to back off that stance a little, mainly due to the ease of use provided by TextWrangler.

is a free, robust text editor. It can do syntax coloring and, most notably, work over SFTP connections. In other words, when I work on web pages with it, I get the best of both worlds: I get a syntax-colored text editor and I don't have to download/upload whenever I want to make a change - and, it's secure.

I would highly recommend checking this out, especially of you do any kind of web work.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Here's another one that might be old news to you that I just found out about. Do you guys know about It's a web site that sells only one product per day. The product changes everyday. Usually, the item is for sale at a pretty discounted price.

For example, today's item in an 802.11g PCMCIA wireless card for $10. That's pretty good.

Anyway, you never really know what is going to be for sale on any given day or how quickly they will sell out - the site only stocks a very finite quantity each day. It's probable that the item will sell out, especially on days when there is a particularly good deal.

There is also a "side deal," which is a second item for sale alongside the main item - today, it's a Gateway computer for $350.

The site has an RSS feed, so if you want to keep an eye on the deals, just add it to your aggregator (news reader)!

Afloat - Mac Window Transparency

I decided to go looking for something that could give me the ability to set window transparency in all of my apps. I love the fact that iTerm and the built-in Mac terminal support transparency.

Before I tell you my findings, let's dispel a common misconception: window transparency is *not* a useless feature. I have read several articles that dismiss it as such (as eye candy), but I strongly disagree. Having window transparency increases my productivity because I can see my inbox in the background of the window I am working in. Why do I care? I get *tons* of email everyday, some of it SPAM .

When Thunderbird alerts me that I have new mail, I feel compelled to drop what I am doing and read it. I have to know new information as soon as it becomes available. This is why my email response time is like 2 minutes, on average. Anyway, if I can see the subject of the message in the background, I will not stop what I am doing if the message is not important. Hence, transparency is a productivity boost for me.

Anyway, I came across Afloat, a Mac window transparency app. It is pretty good, but it only works with Cocoa apps (apps written in the Mac's native language). Examples include Safari, iChat, Mail, etc. Unfortunately, most of the apps I use are not Cocoa apps (Firefox, Thunderbird). But, I am running it anyway for now because it has some other cool features.

Afloat can also make windows "stay afloat" - they never drop into the background and are always visible. It's kind of cool because it turns down the transparency on these floating windows when they are not in focus.

Also, Afloat lets you drag windows around by grabbing them anywhere in the window - you don't have to grab it by the title bar.

All in all, I really like this program. I just wish it would work with my non-Cocoa apps.

FairStars Audio Converter

If you do a lot of work with audio on your Windows machine, one great tool to consider is the FairStars Audio Converter. It can convert audio between just about any formats. In addition the its breadth of supported formats, a couple of my favorite features are:

- batch conversions - if you have a bunch of files encoded one way and you want to convert them, this is the program for you. Let's say you have 100 WMA (Windows Media Audio) files and you want to convert all of them to MP3. No problem. Just drag and drop them in the FairStars and you're off

- preservation of ID3 tags - FairStars can actually preserve your metadata when doing conversions, which is HUGE. If you have laboriously ID3'd hundreds of MP3's, you don't want to lose that data in the conversion!

The reason I originally came across Fairstars was because I was trying to help someone convert hundreds of problematically encoded files to a usable form (they were stereo files with audio on only one track - you would only hear audio from your left speaker). Since the files were just voice recordings, we decided to collapse them to mono MP3's. FairStars did the job very well and saved us a bunch of time.

Definitely worth a look if you're into audio.

More on the new command line

This article is actually the one that directed me to the one that I posted yesterday, the one about Firefox Quick Searches. This is also by Gina Trapani of Lifehacker. It's a fantastic read and I highly recommend it. Make sure watch the movie in the middle! It illustrates everything very well.

The main reason that I love all of these command line, keyboard based utilities (in addition to the speed increase they provide) is because they are nods to the power users. They don't perpetuate the assumption that everyone needs the most simplified interface possible. Some people are willing to take a little pain during the learning curve to reach the goal of a having more power at their fingertips - not just simplicity at all costs.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Firefox Quick Searches

I am absolutely in love with this article by Gina Trapani of Lifehacker about setting up Firefox Quick Searches. I read in the larger context of an article about the return of the command line as manifested through Firefox and Web 2.0.

The basic idea here is that you can set up "Quick Searches" to simplify common tasks. Gina's article lays it all out very well, but I will summarize. Let's use as an example. If you go to Amazon's web site and right-click (cmd+click) in the search box and select "add a keyword for this search," you will get the dialog to create an Amazon quick search. You can name it Amazon and use "a" as the keyword. Now, you can perform Amazon searches by typing the following into the URL bar of Firefox from any page:

"a apple"

without the quotes. This one would search for the word "apple."

You can do this with literally any page that has text form fields. This is extremely powerful.

If you read my blog semi-regularly, you may have noticed that one of my major themes is using the keyboard as the main input device - i.e. I am not crazy about the mouse and I don't like to take my hands of the keyboard. Learning about this technology is a major leap forward for me in this regard.

I hope you enjoy this one. I think it's huge.

This Thanksgiving I'm thankful for...

...having my Mac back!! I'm thrilled to report that my Mac is back to its old self and we are reunited. I got a my new AC adapter - which I could have had 3 days ago if it weren't for a certain snafu with the store where I purchased it - and I am back up and running.

You know, whenever I heard people say how they need a certain computing setup to be productive, I always would question the merits of such an idea. I took great pride in one of my favorite sentiments, "it doesn't matter which OS, browser, or client you put in front of me; I can use them all." Well, it turns out that only half of that is true: I *can* use them all. However, it *does* matter what I am using.

I find myself to be vastly more productive on my Mac than on my PC. The same is true of browsers and clients. Not having my Firefox and Thunderbird, complete with all of my add-ons tuned the way I like them, really did hurt my pace. I wanted my Quicksilver - start->run wasn't cutting it anymore.

I'm not trying to be a baby about all of this - I mean, at least I had another computer to use. I just want to express the point that whether it be real or psychological, a dramatic change in systems can make you feel like you are moving way slower than usual.

Al F. has been telling me this for years, about how if he doesn't have his tech set up just the way he likes it, it will dramatically and adversely affect his productivity. Well, Al, you're right!

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Task Killer

I don't mean to regurgitate Lifehacker posts today, but this is another cool program that you should know about: Task Killer. If you're a Windows user, you know what it is like to feel the frustration wash over you as an application you were using grinds to a halt, sometimes graphically dissolving into the ether.

When this happens, you know the drill: ctrl+alt+del -> task manager -> locate offending process -> end process. Now, you can cut out some of this old song and dance by using Task Killer. It is a small application that runs from your system tray (i.e. near the clock) that allows you to quickly terminate runaway processes without having to go into task manager. The processes that have "stopped responding" should be highlighted in red so that you can easily identify them.

Also, if you're a super nerd, you will appreciate to know that there is also command line support for all of your scripting needs!

Drive eRazer

I've seen several posts on Lifehacker and Gizmodo about this device. Apparently, it can format hard drives for you without the use of a computer. I kind of like the idea of this, even though I think there are better ways to accomplish the task.

I know several people who put their old computers in their basements when they get a new one in the hopes that they will someday find a use for their old computers - they never do. Usually, this leads to two or three computers collecting dust until they decide to donate or dispose of them. Herein lies the problem. The average computer user will not always think to format his or her hard drives before turning over a computer.

You have a ton of personal information on your computer that still exists, even if you delete the files from your computer - the data is physically etched into your hard drive. It's essential to format or otherwise destroy your hard drive before giving it away. Since most people do not know how to do this (as it is not particularly simple to format a boot volume), this device would be perfect.

For power users, I would recommend using an IDE-to-USB converter and formatting using your operating system.

Monday, November 12, 2007

On a personal note...

I am having a tough time coping with my Mac being down. The power brick decided to fry (and I mean that pretty literally; there was a puff of smoke and all) and the battery is dead. So, I have no way of charging it up. The replacement brick is en route, but I have to suffer through using a PC until it gets here.

This is kind of ironic, me being a Windows expatriate, but I have to say that ever since I switched to Mac, I will not even consider going back to a PC. I'm not going to PC-bash and say that Macs are better, but I find myself to be way more productive on a Mac. This is probably due to the high level of customization that I have on my Mac (Quicksilver, etc.).

It's extra ironic because my first computer was a Mac (when I was 5 years old) and so were my second and third computers. Back then, there was truth in the stereotype that Macs didn't have anywhere near the plethora of software available to their "IBM-clone" counterparts. I could never play the games my friends could (enter violin music). This is actually one of the reasons why I have some of my current skills (HTML, C/C++, etc.): because just about the only thing my Mac was good for was nerdy, under-the-hood types of things. I vowed to get a PC someday and never turn back.

Well, so much for that...

Unwrap Text

If you've spent any time reading my previous blog posts, you know that I am pretty into customizing my Firefox with add-ons. Let me tell you about one of my favorite add-ons, Unwrap text.

Unwrap text is an extremely simple applications that makes things a lot easier. Have you ever noticed how annoying it can be to look up a multi-line address in Google Maps or Mapquest? First, you have to copy and past the street line, then the city/state/zip line. Not anymore. If you have Unwrap Text, you can highlight the whole address, right-click and select "Unwrap text" to open a new tab with that address mapped out in Google Maps.

You can also use Unwrap Text to unwrap URLs that have wrapped to multiple lines and are no longer clickable. Here is one example. Many times, Thunderbird breaks long URLs into multiple lines and renders them unclickable. If you select the whole URL (all lines), paste into your broswer's URL field, select all, and unwrap text, the link will work. I know; that sounds really confusing. It's actually pretty easy. Just play around with it.

This add-on is highly recommended.

Sunday, November 11, 2007


So, I'm sure this post will be beyond boring for experienced bloggers, but I think that those new to blogging could be interested in learning about Feedburner. Feedburner is a tool to support analyzing how your blog (and/or podcast) is used through RSS.

I know that Feedburner provides several uses, but the one that I mainly use it for is traffic analysis. There is nothing that I love more than seeing how many people subscribe to my blog and their general geographic locations. For example, today I was elated to see that I have a subscriber from Japan! Feedburner claims to be able to help you get ad money for your blog, as well, but this is of no interest to me. (Have I ever told you how much I hate the word "monetization?")

My basic problem was this: I could analyze http traffic to my blog itself using Google Analytics, but what about people who read my blog via RSS? I know that I rarely visit my friends' blog sites; I read everything through my Google Reader. These would not register as hits to Google Analytics. Feedburner allows me to track this traffic as well.

It was very easy to set up. I just went to, entered the URL for my RSS feed, and was given my new Feedburner URL. I went to my blogger control panel, told it to redirect my RSS hits to my new Feedburner URL, and I was done. Now, I can log into Feedburner whenever I was and get real-time usage data.

Again, forgive me if this is old news to you. If you are a blogger or podcaster and have not tried Feedburner, I highly recommend it.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Internet Speed Test

Does your Internet connection ever feel sluggish? Do you want to know if the problem is just with a particular set of server or with your connection in general? Well, now you can find out with with this handy app that MacDerm sent me:

Speedtest is a Flash application that lets you test your download and upload speeds to a host of different severs in various geographic locations. After you run your tests, you will get stats for both your download and upload speeds and comparisons on how your connection ranks against others.

I think a good idea would be to run this when you are getting peak performance as a baseline. You could run it again later if your connection is feeling sluggish to see how you are differing from the baseline. Of course, all of this is academic, as you can't really do anything about your connection being slow at a given time. :)

I'm very curious as to how this works. It seems that you download a somewhat large file and then upload it back to the server you're testing against. Can Flash do that - upload files without user intervention?

Anyway, definitely worth checking out.

Firefox Dictionary Lookups

One of my favorite things to do is read. These days, I mainly read online, articles I aggregate from various technical and news sources. I also love to write and to try to harness the exact words I need to convey what I am thinking. I find that I always want/need new words to express my ideas. And, one of the ways I grow the word base is to look up any word that I happen to come across that I do not understand.

Traditionally, I have just used my firefox search add-on to look up words. I would command+t to open a new tab, search for my word, and close the tab to resume reading. But, today I just installed Dictionary Tooltip, another add-on for Firefox. It allows me to highlight words on any website and pull up a definition for that word in a little pop-up. This is very nice, as you don't need to leave the page you are reading.

It seems that there are several ways to pull up the definition window - command(right)-clicking, a keyboard shortcut, and clicking a little dictionary icon that appears whenever you highlight something.

I'm not too familiar with the dictionary site that it uses, but it seems effective, nonetheless.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Buzzword and a tangent

I just started playing around with Buzzword, Adobe's answer to Google Docs. Of course, since this in an Adobe product, it is Flash-based. This is a major strength for the same reason Flash works so well for YouTube, just about everyone has it and it renders pretty much the same on any computer.

It seems to be pretty good from the cursory run-through that I have given it. It is very easy to share documents using it. You just click "Share," enter the email address of the person you want to share with, and you are done.

Ironically, a feature I found myself looking for was the ability to download my work locally to my computer. Unfortunately, I don't think this feature exists.

Anyway, I'm not sure there is a ton of value-add over Google Docs here, but it's worth checking out.
And a tangent:
What's interesting to me here is not so much Buzzword as a product, but the fact that it signifies yet another client-side software giant getting into the web-hosted apps market. I never cease to be amazed by the pendulum of paradigm shifts in computing. In the old days, everything was client-based: mail programs, word processing, music players, everything. The only real web-based, daily productivity apps around were mail sites, like Hotmail, I think.

Nowadays, in response to the Google-set tone of having applications web accessible from anywhere, companies who are centered around client-side apps are trying to break into the web-based software model. The most notable of these companies being Microsoft, with their Windows Live initiative.

Anyway, I just thought this was interesting. I'm sure that once everyone in the web-based software arena, the "cutting-endge" thing to do will be to install client-side software.

For PHP Web Developers

I realize that the interested audience for this post is probably pretty limited, but I think this is an important topic. It is so common to see SQL Injection vulnerabilities in code these days for a multitude of reasons.

I think the prime reason, at least in many academic settings, is that we use homegrown applications that have not been updated in years. I'm sure that these applications were written very well for their day, but that was a different time than now. Nowadays, the prime concern in writing code is security, given the modern boom in easily exploited vulnerabilities.

The most frequent offender, I think, is the application vulnerable to SQL Injections. A SQL Injection is an attack where a malicious user enters SQL into a field on a webform. If the application that processes the form does not take care to parse out any code that was injected from the form, this maliciously-injected SQL can be executed by the database engine. If permissions are lax, this could even be used to delete your entire database!

The cure? In PHP it's pretty simple; just make sure that you run all of your form data through the mysql_escape_string() method before sending it off to the database. In essence, this method parses out characters necessary to perform SQL Injections - quotes, semicolons, etc.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

gOS? Hmm.

I assume you have all formatted your computers and installed your copy of gOS by now. If you don't feel like doing all of that work, you could always throw out your current junky machine and get one with gOS pre-installed for $199. (I'm totally being sarcastic.)

I'll give you one guess what the "g" in gOS stands for. You guessed it. For those who didn't here is a quote from the gOS site:

"We recommend Google for just about everything... Gmail, Gtalk, Calendar, Maps, Docs and Spreadsheets, and more. We'd like to welcome you to the idea that Google already is your 'operating system.'"


So, this is an operating system centered around Google apps. It has an Apple-esque dashboard that contains Google alternatives to popular applications. For example, you would have a link to Google Docs & Spreadsheets instead of MS Office.

I don't mean to sound so critical about this, as I love many Google products. But, there is something highly unsettling about a company who makes the vast majority of its money through advertising and user analysis being the basis of an operating system. Insofar as I can tell, this is just a hacked (customized) version of Ubuntu Linux and there is no formal link to Google, Inc., but I'm curious as to whether it will stay that way.

Take from this what you like.

Campus Food

OK, I know this post doesn't exactly have the same level of technical cachet as some others, but I feel it necessary to bring this discovery to your attention. As with many of my favorite technical discoveries, this one occurred during a conversation with Workstation Services. It went somethig like this:

me: hey, any good food truck recommendations?
Kyle: there is a good one on the other side of campus
me: I'm feeling kind of lazy...don't really wanna walk far

So, I went to, selected my state and university and was presented with a laundry list of restaurants in the area - many of which I didn't even know existed. Kyle and I decided to get some pizza. We ordered and the pizza guy was at our building literally in about 10 minutes!

You can order online (most places support delivery) using each restaurants full menu. When you are finished your order, you can either pay for it online or use cash when it is delivered. Apparently, you can even order via text message. They have a ton of universities included on the site, as well.

All of this is a little too sweet. I kind of wish that I didn't know about this site! Now, I have no reason to motivate myself to leave the office. Oh, well. Check it out.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Amazon's Music Store

I really like's new MP3 Download Site. I'm not sure that they have the same breadth of selection that iTunes does, but it does have several advantages over the iTunes Music Store:

- All songs are DRM-free*
- All songs are in MP3 format - an open format
- many songs are only 89 cents - it's 10 cents cheaper, but I'll take it!

It's kind of interesting how the site works. First, I downloaded some Amazon download client onto my Mac. This program associated itself with the extension ".amz." I browsed for a while and found a song I wanted onto the website. I clicked "download" and paid my $.89. After paying, I was taken to the download page where I was prompted with the "Open/Save" dialog for an amz file. I clicked "Open" on Amazon's advice and it launched the download application that I had installed earlier. It downloaded the mp3 copy of the song I wanted and dropped it right into my iTunes library.

I would love to know how this works. What is the amz file? Is it some kind of token that says that I have paid and which file to download? Let me know, if you know!

Anyway, back to the point: I like the Amazon download service and I will probably start to use it exclusively because I love the idea of the distribution of DRM-free music in an open, non-proprietary format.

* DRM - digital rights management. This is a generic term of any technology that limits your abilities to interact with a file based on copyright or other intellectual property laws. An example is the format that the iTunes Music Store uses. It will only allow you to copy a song to so many computers, etc.


Chris S. was telling me about Multiplicity yesterday, and it seems like a pretty cool program. Apparently, it's a robust software version of the good old KVM.* The difference though, is that Multiplicity only shares the keyboard and mouse; every computer must have its own monitor.

Basically, it allows you to share one keyboard and mouse among several computers. It doesn't do this in the traditional KVM switcher model, but rather over your wireless network. I believe that each computer listens on a certain port for it.

The software claims to be able to perform text copy/pastes between computers and even allow for file transfer - you can right-click and copy a file or folder on one machine and right-click and paste on another.

Overall, this seems pretty nice if you run multiple computers on the same desk, but I would make sure you're up to date on your network security before running this. The first thought that came to mind when Chris told me about this was: so, since you're using the wireless network, aren't you like broadcasting all of your keystrokes in a 150ft radius?

* A KVM is a hardware device that allows you to use one keyboard, monitor and mouse for multiple machines. Usually, there is a keyboard shortcut or a physical button on the KVM that allows you to switch between machines.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Forcing an "Open/Save As..." dialog from an Apache Web Server

Have you noticed that many times, when you click on a link to an MP3 or Quicktime file, your computer will automatically start to play that file in whatever your default media player is? I've been asked several times how to force media from a given web server to always give the "Open/Save As..." dialog, rather than to just start playing in the default media player.

The reason that your computer takes a certain action whenever you open a given file type is because of MIME types. Basically, the web server reports to your browser the type of information that it is sending. It knows this based on a file's extension. Your browser, in turn, knows that when it sees a certain MIME type that there is a corresponding program that it should use to handle files of that type. When you get the "Open/Save As..." dialog, it is generally because the server is sending a generic MIME type or because your computer has no program associated with the given MIME type. So, if we can forced the web server to send a generic MIME type for a certain type of file, every time a user accesses that file type, he or she will receive the "Open/Save As..." dialog.

This is pretty easy to accomplish in Apache. You can do so with a ".htaccess" file. Here's all you need to do:
1) in the directory where you would like to force the "Open/Save As..." dialog, just created a file called .htaccess
2) in the .htaccess file, add the text:
"AddType application/octet-stream mp3"
(minus the quotes) and save.

That's it! This example is for mp3 files, but you can substitute any extension for "mp3." Basically, what we have done is override Apache's MIME types just for the directory where you placed your .htaccess file and all of its subdirectories.

Some Web Tools

I haven't had to do much heavy-duty web work of late, but I used to do web creation very frequently. During that time, I liked a couple of tools very much. I haven't used these tools too recently, but I suspect that they're still very good. Experiences as follows.

1) Meracl Image Map Generator - For me, this was one of the most useful tools in my arsenal. It allows you to quickly and easily create image maps*. All you have to do is open an image in Meracl and it will allow you to drag out shapes over the top of the image. You can then set each shape to direct to a different URL. One click copies the image map's HTML code right to your clipboard, ready to be pasted.

2) HTML Kit - I was never really one for GUI, WYSIWYG HTML editors (wow, that was a lot of successive acronyms! top that!); generally, I prefer to shell into the server and work live. But, when I do feel the need to use an editor, I use HTML Kit. The nice thing about HTML Kit is that it helps you to write code; it doesn't try to figure out what you are trying to do and then implement it itself.

HTML Kit also supports a whole bunch of language. I know that it can do HTML, JavaScript, XML, and CSS. Plus, I think you can download modules for other languages. One of my favorite features is that you get a tabbed view and can swap easily between your code and built-in browser tabs - including tabs for multiple browsers, like FF and IE.

* An image map is a link embedded in an image that takes you to a different location based on where in the image you click. We've all probably seen image maps of the United States where you can click on each state and go to a page particular to that state - e.g. clicking on Maine takes you Maine's page.

Monday, November 5, 2007

TinyURL Firefox Add-On

Really quick:

MacDerm told me about the TinyUrl add-on for Firefox earlier today. It's really nice. You get a menu item added to the Tools menu in Firefox that is capable of creating a TinyURL from the site you are currently visiting. It also automatically copies the TinyURL to your clipboard for you. Sweet.

For those who don't know, TinyURL is a free service that can turn long, ugly URLs into short (tiny) URLs. Generally, you would paste the smaller URL into an email so that you don't have a long URL that wraps to the next line and becomes un-clickable - you know what I mean: everyone has had to copy and paste those long URLs piecemeal into their browser's URL bar!


Do you ever wish that you could run "grep -ril searchTerm *" from your Windows machine? I feel the need to do this just about all the time - oh wait, nevermind; I use a Mac now and I *can* do that. ;) But, when I'm on my Windows machine, I use WinGrep.

WinGrep is a nice, lightweight application that gives you a GUI grep functionality. It's extremely useful when working with code.

One way, in fact, that WinGrep can be more friendly than using a good ol' UNIX box is in its find-and-replace functionality. I'm sure someone will correct me on this, but, to the best of my knowledge, there is no way to do a true find and replace across multiple files in UNIX. You need to run a loop and "sed" each file into a temp file and then overwrite the original with the temp file. WinGrep can actually do in-place find and replaces.

Anyway, thought you might find this useful.

Sunday, November 4, 2007


While I am thinking about enterprise storage solutions, I should point out an interesting product that Jim McDade told me about a couple of years ago. Jim told me about FreeNAS, a 32MB NAS (network attached storage) operating system that can run from a USB key.

Apparently, if you need a bunch of storage and you don't want to shell out for a commercial NAS product, you could get an old computer, stock it with as many HDDs as you can fit in it and run FreeNAS from one of the disks or from a flash memory device. It supports RAID 0, 1, and 5. A PHP-based web interface is also available.

Anyway, I haven't had the chance to play with this yet, but if you are looking for a homegrown storage solution, this may be worth a try.

Random Stazz Idea: HDD-based Home Media Center

After spending the bulk of the day feeling uncomfortable in Home Depot, I've been thinking lately about what would be a cool tech home improvement project. I will be the first to admit that I am no Bob Vila. If something does not have a network port, I probably don't know how to fix it. So, that said, you will probably not find me with my power drill holstered to my hip while wielding a Spackle knife in a display of home improvement prowess. Below is my latest of idea of a home improvement I *can* design and implement, a hard-disk-based media center.

While watching a pretty good game between the Patriots and Colts today, my eyes happened to fall on the DVD racks that flank my TV. There must be at least 150 DVD's there. Then the thought hit me: why do I need all of these discs lying around all the time? Why do I have to go find a physical medium that contains a single movie, should I want to see that movie. That is so 1999! There are a number of ways to implement my HDD-based solution, but I will pick one and give its recipe.

Ingredients needed:
1 Mac Pro (it has 4 HDD bays and it probably the ultimate in scalability)
1 DVI cable
1 wireless keyboard and mouse set
1 copy of VLC media player
1 optical cable

While I haven't tested this yet, I assume this would be pretty simple. I chose a Mac Pro because it seems to have the most ability to scale in disk capacity. Also, with dual Xeons, it should have plenty of processing power to do your rips quickly - I assume VLC is multi-threaded. If you're feeling particularly creative (and rich), I guess you could get an Xserve RAID array. ;) You could probably build this with a way cheaper computer too if you don't have that many DVD's.

The idea is this: you would hook up the Mac Pro to the HDTV via the DVI cable and control it with the wireless keyboard and mouse (presumably from the couch). Over time, you could rip each DVD in your collection to the drives in the Mac using VLC. I would suggest putting them in some common "movies" folder and using "search light" to track down what you want to see.

Then, you could run the optical cable from the Mac's soundcard output to your 5.1 system to get sweet surround-sound audio. You can also use this connection to play your music collection through your nice home theater system.

That's it. Of course, I've omitted topics such as backups and the like, but you get the general idea. Will I ever build this? Possibly. If you have something like this, let me know how it is!

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Lightning for Thunderbird

I don't really get too into new calendaring programs since we use Meeting Maker at work and I don't know of any easy way to get another calendaring client to interface with Meeting Maker. I do, however, play with other calendaring products from time to time just to get a feel for what is out there. Lately, I have been playing around with Lightning, Mozilla's calendaring add-on for Thunderbird. Lightning is the sister product to Sunbird, Mozilla's standalone calendaring application.

I think the basic idea of Lightning is to make Thunderbird more of an Entourage/Outlook-like product. I really like the idea of this, as I think that there should be a tight coupling between mail, calendaring, and contacts management, but I don't think this product is quite there yet. But, it's only in version .7.

One cool thing that I noticed about Lightning is that it can handle ical (.ics) files sent to Thunderbird. If you get one of these and open it, Lightning will prompt you about adding the event to your calendar. I assume that Sunbird does the same, but I have not tried it out yet. I'm also running the Provider for Google Calendar add-on that allows Lightning to interface with my Google Calendar.

If you're in the market for a new calendaring solution and you are an early-adopter type, you may like Lightning. If you want a polished, ready-for-market product, this is probably not it.

There are a couple of areas where I usually lag behind everyone else: music and Web 2.0 technologies. For music, the reason is pretty simple: I listen to my MP3 collection all of the time and rarely get exposed to radio or any other medium that distributes new music. Therefore, the other day, when I happened to listen to the radio for a while, I heard a "new" band. I told my wife later, "hey, have you ever heard of this new band, The White Stripes?" She just shook her head at me. Apparently, they are not so new. Whatever.

As for Web 2.0 technologies, I guess my disinterest in tagging and every site having a social tilt is the cause for my current place on the late-adopter end of the curve. That said, thanks to MacDerm and Warren and I have decided to try out The idea is that you store all of your bookmarks online in an easily accessible place, rather than in your browser's bookmarks section.

Then, if you're into the whole Web 2.0 thing, you can tag your bookmarks and make them public so that people searching on the tags you used will find them. This, I'm less interested in. comes with a cool Firefox plug-in that makes adding links very easy. You can also get to your online repository of links easily with the plug-in.

Anyway, if you've been using this technology for years and you are utterly bored by this post, my apologies! Otherwise, I would recommend checking this out.

Friday, November 2, 2007

Grand Central

Ever since my desk phone went VoIP, I have been saying how I love forwarding my desk phone to my Treo and only giving out my desk phone number. So, basically, whenever anyone calls my office phone, it forwards through to my Treo. I can turn this off anytime -- although, I generally never do. This is great for multiple reasons: I only ever have to give out one number, I don't have to tell everyone my cell number, I can get calls from anywhere, if my cell number changes, it's seamless, etc. But, it looks like there is something even better coming out.

Grand Central is a service that has just been acquired by (you guessed it) Google. I haven't used it firsthand yet, but here is my superficial understanding of it. Once you set up an account, you can enter all of your phone numbers - in my case, a couple of cells, office, etc. In return, you get one number. You would distribute this number to all of your contacts.

Here is where the cooler part starts. On the web site, you can set up advanced calling rules. Examples: if Mom calls, route her call to my personal cell. If John from work is calling, send it to my Treo. If I'm waiting for a call from John, ring all of my phones. It also has the ability to set SPAM rules for telemarketers. You can swap phones in the middle of a conversation. Pretty awesome.

Caveat emptor: As much as we love our Google apps, we have to remember they are in this for the money. I am not sure that I would be comfortable routing all of my calls through their servers. I'm sure they will figure out a way to do voice recognition and show me ads based on the words I use on my calls - and, this is probably on the innocuous end. That said, I'm sure this would be a very useful service to have if you can deal with that.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Windows Home Server

I was reading on Gizmodo earlier about Windows Home Server. Apparently, this is a flavor of Windows Server that is being marketed toward average users, with a focus on families. The idea is to facilitate the process of creating a cohesive home network. It is meant to provide easy backups, act as a file server, and even act as a web server. The OS would come pre-installed on server-grade hardware - boxes containing expandable RAID arrays and the like. That is what is intended.

Here is what I think: there is a reason that people who know what they are doing are employed as server administrators. Every service offered creates a new potential attack vector for prospective hackers. I shudder at the thought of someone who knows little to nothing about how a web server functions running one out of their house.

Plus, here is one of the core differences between a Windows client OS (e.g. XP) and a server OS (e.g. Server 2003): the server OS supports more than 8 concurrent SMB connections. The other main difference is that clients can't be domain controllers. That said, if you know what you are doing (that annoying caveat for which MS is trying to obviate the need), you can build such a setup using an XP computer; you don't need a Server OS for this since you probably have less than 8 computers at your house.

Google Mobile Maps

I really have to stop posting about Google products everyday, but here is one more. While my wife was driving us up to Vermont, I was tinkering with my Treo, as always. I happened to stumble upon Google Mobile Maps while playing with the web-based Google Maps. It knew that I was using a Treo 700p and asked if I would like to download Mobile Maps. I clicked the link to download and it downloaded and installed "over the air," no sync required. I was fired it up and my eyes widened in amazement. Can this freakin' thing really do all of the stuff that it claims?

We were on the way up to Vermont, so I typed in my current location (Garden State Parkway, NJ) as my starting point and Manchester, VT as my destination. It thought about it for a second and gave me my route drawn out on a map, just like web-based Google Maps or Mapquest. But, it also gave me the option to look up real-time traffic and aerial views.

One of the coolest features is that you can say "find local businesses" and give a keyword, like "pizza." Then, all of the pizza places in the area will pop up. If you clicked on one, you would have a button that said "call" that you could use to call without ever typing in a phone number.

All I need now is for this software to be GPS-enabled so that I can buy a bluetooth GPS receiver and really nerd out.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007


I just installed Quicksilver on my Mac and, so far, I am really enjoying it. I have to admit that I don't think I fully grasp what the program can do yet, but here is a description of my limited usage. Basically, Quicksilver is an app for managing how you open programs. For example, once I invoke QS through a preset key combination (in my case, control+space), I can start to type the name of an application I want to run (i.e. calc... to get to calculator) and QS will auto-complete what I am typing. Pressing enter will execute the selected app. If that app is already running, it will switch to it. It's very quick (I guess it's aptly named) and convenient.

This is a great app for keyboard-centric users. It's a nice complement to Nostalgy (see previous post), as well. I see that it supports plug-ins. I haven't had the chance to try any out yet, but I would like one that works with Firefox and Thunderbird to add more keyboard commands. Maybe these already exist.

If you're a former *NIX user or just someone who likes to user the keyboard as your primary input device, I would check this out. Of you're a point-and-click person, probably not worth it.

I'm back!

Hi, and Happy Halloween! Sorry for the dearth of posts over the past couple of days. I just got back from a relaxing trip to Vermont. My wife and I stayed at the Equinox Resort, which was pretty awesome. Here are a couple of recommendations if you find yourself in the Manchester, VT area:

- Laney's Restaurant - some of the best ribs I have ever had; they came with homemade BBQ sauce. I wasn't reckless enough to try the deep-fried cornbread with maple butter, but I am sure that it is very good.

- Up For Breakfast - I am rarely impressed by breakfast, as it is usually just different permutations of the same half-dozen foods. But, Up For Breakfast really impressed me. I had the "Morning Glory Pancakes" - think a hybrid between pancakes and carrot cake.

- Vermont Pub & Brewery - went here with Richard when we visited Burlington. Try the Beetlejuice Hefeweizen (Wheat Beer).

- Mulligan's - we went to "Tijuana Tuesday" at Mulligan's. This included $10 all-you-can-eat fajitas - turns out, you can't really eat than many fajitas.

Anyway, I will get back to tech posts after this one, but just wanted to let you know of these places in case you find yourself in southern VT.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Picasa vs. Flickr

So, I have been playing around with Flickr of late, and I have to say that I am not crazy about it. It's interface is very nice and it seems to work well, but there are a couple of minor details that I don't like:

1) the URLs are not easy - I don't want to have to log in and copy and paste the URL of my pictures to send it to people. I want to be able to remember it and just type it into any email. Insofar as I can tell, the Flickr pages use these weird, randomly-generated URLs. Maybe there is a way to get a simple URL, but a cursory search did not yield any results.

2) the Web 2.0 thing is not for me - I don't want to be prompted to "tag" my photos or anything like that. I guess it is fine for people who want to make their archive very searchable, but that isn't of too much interest for me. Flickr seems to cater to that sort of web use - tagging and searching on tags to get images. I just want the traditional web-based photo album.

So, that said, I decided to try Picasa on Ira's advice. I really like it. There is a very easy-to-use photo uploader for my Mac (I think Flickr has this too) and I was able to push all of my images up and give them captions very quickly. The URLs are exactly what I want, algorithmically-generated, predict able URLs. I hate to promote everything Google, as I am a big proponent of diverse applications that meet the need of a specific task, but everything they put out seems to best meet my needs!

Check out the pictures from my Vermont trip up on Picasa:

Saturday, October 27, 2007

A non-tech post?

Given the amount of time that I spend in the city everyday, I have started to look for nice, long weekend trips that my wife and I can go on. One day, I stumbled upon a link for the Travel section of New York Magazine - I think Richard might have sent it to me. I have come to love this site for getting travel ideas. I think the market focus of the Travel section is New Yorkers who are looking to get out of the city for a little bit. Being a Philadelphian, I feel these also apply to me, since I am so close to NY.

Basically, each section in the Weekend Escape Plan is broken into 5 sections: "where to stay," "where to eat," "what to do," "insider tips," and "an oddball day." Each category is pretty self-explanatory . I should note, also, that this section even covers international destinations and other places that might be longer than just a weekend getaway.

Pretty soon, I am going on vacation to Vermont for a few days, as suggested by the article Raid the Cheese Pantry in Vermont. We're going to check out the Cabot Creamery (makers of the world's best cheddar), visit Ben and Jerry's (headquartered in Vermont), and visit Richard. I'll post some pics when I get back. I'm thinking about checking out the Kennebunks for our next trip.

Anyway, check it out and let me know if you end up trying any of these trips!

Friday, October 26, 2007

Airport Express

I want an Airport Express so bad. Why don't I have one? I have been too lazy and/or have not had to the time to go out and buy one. I will soon, though.

So, what can this thing do? The Airport Express with AirTunes plugs into your home theater system and allows you to stream music wirelessly from your computer to your home stereo. Wait! It gets better. You can have multiple devices in different locations, each plugged into a different stereo. So, what, you say? Well, you can name each device and your iTunes will see each one and load them into a dropbox. You can then pick which one you want to send your music to.

Let's say you put one of these in your family room and name it (you guessed it) "Family Room." And, you could have another one named "Living Room" and one named "Kitchen" and so forth. Then, you could choose from a listing in your iTunes where you want your music to play!

This technology isn't new by any mean, but Apple gives it their special touch: making it simple to set up and use.

PrintBoy - Printing from your Treo

Have you ever wished you had TCP/IP printing available from your Treo (or Windows Mobie or PocketPC device)? Probably not, but if you did, you could use PrintBoy. PrintBoy is a nice little program that allows you to print to network-enabled printers from anywhere you have an Internet connection. And, it integrates pretty nicely with Documents To Go.

It's a little pricey at $50, but I guess this is kind of a niche solution. It's actually very handy if you need to send a hard-copy of something from your Treo to someone in your office while you are on the road.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Some thoughts on Thunderbird...

Here are some miscellaneous thoughts on Thunderbird:

1) I like this Nostalgy add-on that Ira told me about. Basically, it makes TB more friendly for those who would prefer to control it through the keyboard, rather than having to click and drag. Here's an example. If you have a ton of folders like I do, and you want to file mail into those folders as you are done with it, Nostalgy allows you to hit the 's' key and start to type the name of the folder where you want your message to go. It will do an auto-complete for you and you can just hit enter to move the message there. This also works with copying and tagging messages.

If you're into using the mouse, this add-on is not for you. But, I would say it's perfect for someone who is a....former elm user. (I'm looking at you, Al!)

2) So, the other day one of my cats (JL, I know you're wondering which cat; it was Tiger Woods-Mustazza) walked across my keyboard and f-ed up inbox. All of my messages got grouped into categories based on when they were received. Moreover, they were put into these collapsible containers that would close from time to time and hide my mail - ugh! Somehow, I got everything to go back to normal.

A couple of days ago I clicked this icon of a swirly thing and all of my mail got grouped into conversations, like in GMail - and, again with the collapsible, nested categories! Again, I could not figure out how to turn this off.

Thanks to MacDerm, I now know how to get out of these situations when they arise: just click one of the headers that sorts your mail in your inbox - i.e. click on "Date" to sort your mail by the date. This causes said collapsible categories and threading to vanish. Thank God.

More on GMail IMAP

I have been very curious about how GMail will handle the inherent conflict of labels and folders when they roll out their new IMAP service. The idea of labeling or tagging mail (and then moving it all to a common archive) is pretty much the opposite of the traditional file-an-email-into-a-folder model. The difference is that the former model allows for a single message to be categorized by multiple categories and the latter latter only supports one category, the folder that the message is filed into.

Thanks to MacDerm and Warren for sending me these links explaining how GMail will handle the process:

Executive summary: when you file a message into a folder in your IMAP mail client, the message will be tagged with the name of the folder. To tag a folder with multiple lables, you have to make copies of that message into multiple folders.

I guess this only matters if you would manage your mail through both the web interface and an IMAP client.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007


I read about TasteBook on LifeHacker today and it seems pretty awesome. The general idea is that you upload your own recipes (or maybe old, family recipes that you have written on index cards in a card box somewhere) into your profile. You can also connect to popular recipe sites and download recipes from them into your TasteBook. You can either keep all of your stuff online and share it with your friends or, once you have 100 recipes, you can have a full-color cookbook created and mailed to you for like $35.

I haven't had the chance to play with this yet, but I am excited to check it out, as this site lies in the intersection of two of my interests, technology and cooking.


Thanks to Jessica H. for showing me this the other day. I couldn't stop laughing the first time I saw this.

DISCLAIMER: Stazz's Stuff is not a political blog. Stazz will not broadcast his political views from this venue or any other and he does not care about yours. Stazz appreciates this clip for its nerdy humor; he also enjoys typing in the third person.

Breaking News - IMAP on GMail!

I got an email from Warren early this morning with the subject line "google testing imap?". I went right for this message, as there are not many subject lines that could trump this one -- maybe just "URGENT: Server on Fire" or "Free Food Today."

It appears that Google has added IMAP help docs, but the feature is not yet available in my GMail account. Download Squad has a story on this saying that some users can see the IMAP controls already. I will be checking compulsively until I can see the settings in my account and test them out! If anyone already has them and decides to test them out, please let me know how it goes!

I would be really interested to see how conversations and tagging are handled, not to mention that one of the pillars of IMAP is the ability to manage server-side folders; GMail does not support the use of folders.

Anyway, this is great news and I can't wait to see how it unfolds. If you have more information on this, please send!

Tuesday, October 23, 2007


So, as a relatively new Mac convert, there are still some things that I miss from Windows. One of them was using SecureCRT. The thing I loved about SecureCRT (starting in version, 5.0, I think) was the tabbed sessions. I loved being able to have separate SSH sessions in different tabs and toggle between the tabs. During the course of a normal day, I need to connect to several different servers, and sometimes have two or three sessions open to the same server. This was managed nicely by SecureCRT.

But, thanks to a recommendation from Kyle and Dareus, I've started using iTerm on my Mac. iTerm supports tabbed sessions and has another feature that I love, not even offered by SecureCRT: window transparency. The greatest thing ever is to be able to see through your SSH window to other programs. Sometimes when I am working with information from an email that I have open, I can look right through my iTerm window at that email. Sweet.

I just started using iTerm today and so far I really like it. There were a couple of things that took some getting used to, but it is way better than the built-in Mac terminal that I had been using.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Better GMail

If you use GMail, this FireFox add-on is essential: Better GMail. This is an entire suite of GMail augmentations, including everything from skins through encryption. By default, GMail only encrypts its authentication. This means that only your username and password are safe from people eavesdropping on the network; your mail is not. Whenever you open a message or view your inbox, all of that data is sent across the network "in the clear," visible to anyone who is looking for it.

Using Better GMail will force GMail to encrypt all data sent to and from your computer, including your email. I would strongly recommend installing better GMail if you use GMail for your mail. You may need to install Grease Monkey first.

It can also do a ton of other stuff that I haven't had the time to play with yet. I'd be very interested to hear if you have any success doing cool stuff with this add-on!

Thanks to Ira for telling me about this add-on.

Some background on this, for those interested:
The web uses two main protocols to transfer information from a web server to your browser: HTTP and HTTPS. The former is unencrypted and the latter *is* encrypted. When data is not encrypted (i.e. sent "in the clear"), it is susceptible to be intercepted in transit by someone maliciously listening on the network (or "packet sniffing"). It will appear to said eavesdropper in clear, plain text. He or she can see all of the data you can see on your screen. When the HTTPS protocol is used, the data is encrypted by the web server and decrypted by your computer (and vice versa when you are sending data to the web server). This means that, should someone intercept it in transit, it will be garbled junk. Useless. HTTPS is essential for web sessions where you would not want someone to be able to see your data: banking, etc.

The way you can tell if something is using HTTP or HTTP is by looking at the URL bar in your browser. If the background is yellow and the URL starts with "https://," then your session is encrypted; otherwise, it is not.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Upgrading my wardrobe

I really want this shirt. If you think this shirt is funny, you are nerdy, indeed.

I want this one for a different reason. It seems that no matter where I am (e.g. the airport, the mall, standing around by the yellow tape of a crime scene trying to get into my parking garage so I can go home [yes, this has happened]), people somehow divine that I might be a good candidate to ask about their computer woes. It probably has something to do with the fact that 99% of the time I have my Treo in hand and volunteer unsolicited computing advice. :)

Google Analytics

I've been pretty interested by this Google Analytics traffic analysis suite. Traditionally, I've always used Analog as my web stats program, but I really like the reporting offered by Google. You can get map views of where your visitors come from, referring pages, etc. All you have to do is setup a profile with Google and add some JavaScript to each of your pages. Google takes care of the rest.

The only thing I'm not crazy about is handing over data about a site's usage patterns to Google -- or any other external entity, for that matter. Analytics is quick and easy to set up and may be a good choice for users who are not familiar with applications that parse your web server logs or for personal web pages. In fact, I am using GA to get usage stats on this blog. But, I don't think I would use it for anything work-related.

Anyway, check it out. It's a pretty nice suite and very easy to set up.

Friday, October 19, 2007


This is one of my favorite programs of all time. PDA Net allows you to use your Treo as a modem to connect to the Internet. You actually get a very good connection. The Treo 700 is significantly faster than the 650 in terms of internet connection speed. If you try this with a 650 and then upgrade to a 700, you will see a huge difference.

With this program, you basically get an internet connection anywhere you have cell service on your Treo. This is perfect if your phone has an unlimited data plan.

I hear there is a way to do this with a Mac too, using a Bluetooth connection, but I haven't seen it firsthand yet.

Mac Tips

Here are a couple of cool Mac keyboard shortcuts that I've learned about recently:

- Partial Screenshots - Apple + Shift + 4 allows gives you a cursor that you can use to drag out a box over part of you screen. When you release the mouse button, a screenshot of you selection will be taken and saved to your Desktop as a PNG file. This is a lot better than having to take a full screenshot and then crop it down to only show what you want.

- Switching between windows in the same app - you probably know that Apple+tab allows you to toggle through a list of your open apps, but did you know that Apple+` (the key next to 1) allows you to swap between windows within the same app?

Example, let's say you have 5 open chat windows going in iChat. If you want to cycle through them, you could use Apple+` to go through them one by one.

Thanks to Gavin for finding this. Very useful for me with Thunderbird.

- Not a keyboard shortcut, but did you know that you can scroll in any window my dragging two fingers on trackpad? That's right! Instead of having to navigate your mouse to the scroll bar and drag up and down or left and right, you can scroll from anywhere within the window by dragging two fingers on the trackpad.

You do need to enable this in your system settings, though: Apple menu -> System Preferences -> Keyboard & Mouse -> Track Pad ->Use two fingers to scroll.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

USB George Foreman Grill

No one believes me when I tell them about the USB George Foreman Grill Well, people believe as to the this hilarious device's existence, but what no one believes is that this thing does not need a power adapter. That's right: it gets all of the power it uses to cook through the USB bus!

This is the best phrase from the grill's page: "provides a sophisticated web-based cooking interface." I love that this thing is TCP/IP-enabled. Do you think we need to worry about security vulnerabilities here? Maybe someone should break out Tamper Data (see post from a couple of days ago) on this thing. ;)

For the Treo 700p Users...

I have to credit Al F. as the reason that I found this program. About 2 years ago, Al asked me if I knew of any way he could connect to our UNIX server from his Treo via SSH. Wow, connected to a UNIX shell from anywhere? Too sweet. So, after a little research I found PSSH.

PSSH is a very lightweight program for Palm OS that allows you to SSH into your server. It has proven invaluable to me. One time, I even fixed a user's mail quota problem from the beach!

The downside to PSSH is how small the font in, even at its largest. But, in a pinch, this program can save you.

BTW, check out my ode to the Treo in last year's Philadelphia City Paper. You have to scroll down a little.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Cookie Swap

Do you ever wish you could be logged into multiple webmail accounts simultaneously? Maybe you have a couple of GMail accounts that you use for communicating with different people and you want to have them both open at the same time. Unfortunately, this isn't possible with many popular webmail clients, including Yahoo! and Hotmail. The reason is that these services use a cookie to keep track of who you are. You can only have one cookie per site so it would seem impossible to be able to log into multiple GMail sessions, right? Wrong. Enter Cookie Swap.

Cookie Swap is a plug-in for Firefox (yeah, yeah, I know, another Firefox plug-in post) that allows you to have multiple "cookie profiles." So, you could have one profile for one GMail account and another for your other GMail account. Each profile contains its own independent cookies that do not know about cookies in other profiles. It's pretty nice for quickly switching between accounts.

Caveat emptor: if you open multiple tabs or windows and change your profiles from profile 1 to profile 2, it changes in all of them. So, you need to remember to switch back to profile 1 when you go back to window or tab 1. This is extremely annoying and I hope they will fix this in future versions.

Good night.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Welcome to my blog!

Hi, and welcome to my blog! I've wanted to have a blog for a while now, but I have finally mustered the courage to actually create one. I will attempt to be as least boring as possible, but no promises. BTW, if you're not a total nerd like I am, this site will serve as an excellent cure for insomnia. Anyway, on to my first post.

It seems that the topic of the day, every day, is information security. Rarely does a day go by when I don't hear about having to perform code reviews because an application may have been the cause of a server breach -- or something along those lines. Web developers today have a growing number of attack vectors to be wary about -- XSS attacks, SQL injections, etc. In addition to others, the first place a potential hacker usually starts is by exploiting form fields to pass unexpected values to an application. As a web developer, one should try to anticipate any and every form of malicious data being passed to the application via HTTP GET or POST requests. A handy tool that I use when writing code is the Tamper Data plug-in for FireFox.

When you are running Tamper Data, it will intercept all form submissions and server requests and ask you if you'd like to tamper with the data before it is sent to the server. This is an excellent way to test various types of inputs in POST requests, where the values aren't so freely available to play with as they are in GET requests. This is also a good lesson to burgeoning web developers: just because you set a form's method to POST, doesn't mean people can't mess with the values of data after the form is submitted!

I know this was kind of an uber-techy post and I will try to post more about technologies that are useful to everyone, but this is one of my favorite plug-ins!