Jim's Inchoate Weblog
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hits since 18th June 2002
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We live in litigious times, so I should say that content reflects only my opinions!
Friday September 5 2003
I've updated my consumer electronica page with some more specific comments on the gear, and had a very mild cosmetic tart-up in general. Probably so subtle that no-one will notice, but it keeps me happy. By the way HTML-Kit, which I mentioned in the previous post, seems to be awesomely powerful and configurable. It also appears to be so complex that there will be a lot initial learning to do, but I love the real-time previewing it affords. More on the package soon.
Posted at 5:41 pm by Jim Woods
A nice site which gives a whole lot of clearly-written, concise tips on programming, Windows in general and the internet. I really like this site, since it seems to admirably bridge the gap between the techie and the introductory. Recommended. They also offer as a free download something called HTML-Kit which looks to be a decent development environment. I'll let you know what it's like when I've run it a bit and knocked up a few pages in it.
Posted at 5:09 pm by Jim Woods
Basic HTML editing etc
I've removed the blog entry on creating a simple home page, since it's now permanently linked as the first article in the articles collection (of one, but that'll change). No doubt I'll do the same for security and a few other things I've got around the place when time permits.
Posted at 1:15 pm by Jim Woods
Thursday September 4 2003
More ghost fleet
Wow - just found these really nice pics.
Posted at 2:30 pm by Jim Woods
Basic web page tutorial
As it seems to be getting some interest, and as I'd intended to anyway, I'll be making my recent article on how to get up and running with a simple home page into a page of its own rather than just a blog entry. It'll be linked from the left-hand box here, and I'll have got it sorted out in about an hour's time. In fact my various articles on security and so on will probably end up there as well. This'll herald the start of a basic reference library on internet topics that I shall be writing to make myself useful and to promote my writing a little in order to try and garner some work in this field (hint hint).
Posted at 12:45 pm by Jim Woods
Ghost fleets - why not have two?
Well, I've only got so much software energy so after my marathon tinkerings and writings on the subject over the last few days I've gone off on the well-trodden shipwreck path instead for some light relief.
I was reading a load of stuff on the US ghost fleet, which is a collection of rotting old ships moored up in the James River in Virginia. There's a nice article with some good photos here. Just the job, although these old clunkers are just short of being wrecks for now, since they're just about floating. Amongst the assortment of marine old crap are one or two rather interesting ships; the experimental nuclear-powered passenger freighter Savannah, which is still beautiful even if it was impractical, and the MH-1A Sturgis floating nuclear power plant - a converted liberty ship. For the latter, including a pic, see this page on unique nuclear reactors. All good stuff.
While happily researching all this I found another ghost fleet. At Mallows Bay on the Potomac in Maryland there's still appreciable evidence of the remains of a huge number of wooden ships built while America was taking part in the First World War. I'll let you get on and read the whole story here. Don't miss this one if you're at all interested in maritime stuff.
It's well worth noting that you can see pretty detailed satellite images of all this on the superb TerraServer site. The best way to go about finding specific locations is to use the search and the topographic map features of the site and then switch to photographic view when you're in the zone!
Posted at 12:18 pm by Jim Woods
Wednesday September 3 2003
I'm not joking, you know
Hire me! Hire me to write things! ANY things. I guarantee your only problem is going to be getting me to stop.
Posted at 2:36 am by Jim Woods
Browsers - there, I've said it
Don't go thinking I'm obsessed with software. Oh no no, I do other things. Like, er.... yeah, alright - I haven't done anything else for days. But you, darlings, can reap the benefits of my sickness! Because here's more stuff on software!
Browsers, right. More and more the browser is the primary interface to the world online. You use HotMail (hack, spit) or its horrid little friends, right? You obviously surf el webbo, because you're reading this. You participate in forums. Much of today's software that has to do with databases has an online component, and I'm seeing a lot of stuff where the configs are done via a local web page on your machine. Dear old Java lets us run almost any app from a web browser. You can look at webcams without needing a purpose-built viewer (but if you're a diehard scenery stalker you should play with the free Webcam Watcher as it's a gas). You can use something like Mozilla and do IRC in it, and create web pages and read your email and do newsgroups. Even Windows explorer often use html to do displays of directories and files. Yes, today's browsers are pretty much the only piece of software you need most of the time. Sure, a multiplicity of little gizmos help for other purposes, but there's very little you can't do - albeit sub-optimally in some cases - with the browser.
So why the hell do 96% of people use a creaking heap of bum-candy like Internet Explorer then?
Poor old IE. It's not going to be developed further in any case - Bill has said so. It tragically fails to control popup windows at all, it only views one page and if you want to access a slew of sites simultaneously it covers your toolbar with devil spawn mini-me copies of itself like capillaries on a drunkard's snout. I mean, who the hell looks at one site at a time these days? You'd have to be the most tepid surfer, or your mum really. It's the work of a lifetime to keep nobbling MS messenger from "integrating" with it every chance it gets. It's like bloody dogs at your dustbin. Every dysfunctional teen in Christendom spends their time poking at its vulnerabilities, which are legion, with a bloody great software stick. It attracts malfeasance like a w*nker attracts gold chains from Argos. It doesn't just suck, it doesn't just blow - it does both at once, like a didgeridoo player showing his friends a neat trick with a can of tomato soup.
Stay tuned, campers, because I'm only warming up so far.
Using IE exclusively is like riding a Puch Maxi in your string y-fronts, with "shoot me, I'm a loser" written on your forehead and just one horn on your viking helmet. In deepest winter. Sat backwards. Slowly. In Deptford. And trying to pull. Your aunt.
But everyone does it. I'd say "words fail me", but I'm afraid they don't.
I'm a fair sort of chap, though, and not given to unreasonable criticism: there are some good points to the IE after all. Favourites are very easy to manipulate, and you can guarantee that there's always a copy of the beast on the (Windows) machine. Actually, the latter is as much of a minus as a plus. But what the hey. Er - oh yes, some people write sites that require it. They'll be the first against the wall when I rule the world, and don't be thinking I shan't, but I guess it's easy to do and I suppose it keeps them in cosy cardies and Star Trek videos.
Oh yeah - there are a whole slew of new technologies that it doesn't support. I keep hearing this from pros, so there must be some truth in it. If anyone paid me to spew this bile then I'd have to enumerate said technologies, but they don't so I shan't. And while I'm on the subject, someone please give me a writing job: I'll write the arse off something with an arse so large you can't write the arse off it. And I love money. Love it. Give me a shedload of it. Go on (that was my CV).
Really - do us all a favour!
It's not perfect, but it's really, really good. Read the page on it. Try it. I'm not going to eulogize it here at any length, but take my word for it - it's far more what you need these days. It is beast at taming web crud, it's quick, there are piles of great extensions available for it. And it's undergoing intensive development, and this will continue. You can read the source code and SEE what it's up to, if you're the kind of colossal pervert who gets their jollies that way. You can do everything with it except fry your wig. It's the way of the future, it's the voices on DSOTM, it's the black olive in the center of your house special pizza, it's the dimples on your gently smiling deity, it's BAD baby.
More Twinings Earl Gray tea for me now, I think.
Posted at 1:50 am by Jim Woods
Tuesday September 2 2003
Here, in a post refreshingly free of recent scatology, is another cool tool. Steady. You will recall that I told you about RSS feeds recently. They are a nice way of getting news stories from diverse sites without having to use countless browser windows. FeedReader, although an alpha release, is a free program for doing this which I rather like. I was spurred on to dig this one up because Aethera (again, I recently posted on this), although a cracking piece of software in many respects, has an RSS feed aggregator that seems to balk at Slashdot. And Slashdot's RSS feed is a sine qua non of my online news reading.
I don't suggest you immediately can Aethera and install FeedReader, not least because the RSS feed functionality is only a small part of what Aethera does, and it has many, many other good features. But if you are, or want be, an RSS nut then FeedReader is well worth a shot - and not in the head. Also, if you were to ditch Aethera you'd miss the beautiful photographs and time-of-day-specific greetings which it displays on startup. Corny though it is, I rather like the beautiful sunrise that greets me when launching it early in the morning!
Posted at 7:12 am by Jim Woods
Who's up half the night playing with software?
Not me, that's for sure. Because I'm up THE WHOLE NIGHT playing with software. Hahaaaaaargh!
Found a few handy things while I'm at it. First, Hotmail Popper. This little piece of free software is genius. It sits between your (ghastly lame) HotMail account and your proper email package, whatever you use, and lets you send and receive mail from your HotMail account. All you have to do is set up an additional mail account in your mail software, which is easy enough, and point it at the Popper. This makes it a great deal easier for you to download six thousand offers of a larger willy every day. Silly, really - I mean you might be a woman, right? Of course you might be a woman who's looking for a larger willy, in which case - no, it's probably still not what you meant.
Anyway, let's move on from all that. Secondly I have for your delight tkBlog. On the plus side this is a really simple blogging application that should provide you with an alternative to Blog. It's simple and elegant. On the minus side, you'll need to do quite a lot of work with editing configs by hand and so on to get it up and running. And in fact I have yet to get it up and running :( Some kind of silly FTP thing seems going awry. Looks to me like it'll be worth the effort though, so you may want to play with it a bit. I'm going to persist, and I'll let you know how I get on...
Posted at 4:56 am by Jim Woods
Should you wish to get straight down to the business of creating a blog, then this site provides an excellent and comprehensive overview of the available software and the different ways in which it works. It's a nice piece of design work, too. Pretty but functional.
Posted at 2:32 am by Jim Woods
Monday September 1 2003
Source of arcane blogging info
I got started with this whole blogging thing - as far as I can remember, which is not as far as I'd like - by hearing about this piece of software called Blog. I wish I could remember where, but I can't. I'm an inveterate fiddler about with software, so my usual method of discovering new internet applications is by downloading them and running them around the metaphorical block. Others may well participate in discussion forums (forae?) and stumble across applications that way, but I don't. I see what happens. I play about. The advantage of my approach is that it's user-centric. If I play with something for a while and no good comes of it, I'll tell you here.
Actually, that's not really true. It's more that if I find anything good I'll tell you about it. The level of my fiddling is such that there is very little commonly-available web software I haven't played around with (no doubt that's something of a conceit, but it seems that way). My whole focus is to recommend good free software to users. That's on the computing side, of course - I take an interest in all sorts of content too. No point playing about on the net if it's just a self-referential exercise in, well, finding new ways to play about on the net is there? I'm not that much of a techie.
Anyway, where was I? Ah yes, the purpose of this post. It occurs to me that I've said little, if anything, here about the actual process of creating a site like this. By this I mean painless ways of generating content for the internet. Yesterday's rant about security, during which I thought I fizzed splendidly darlings, has given me the taste for essay-writing. In fact, I think that I'll be linking these articles up to my site so that they are actually available as permanent links from the front of the site, rather than elegantly fading away into the archives where they'll have to searched for. So here's the skinny on generating content for the web, written from the perspective of someone who wants to simply put stuff out there painlessly...
This is really simple stuff, written for the confused and non-technical. If you know a fair bit about the net, then you'll know all this. First principles indeed. I'm sticking it up in a separate article for clarity.
Posted at 10:22 pm by Jim Woods
Be sensible, since it's free
Hmm - worms all over the net wasting bandwidth and taking down loads of systems. Probably time I did one of my periodic articles on how to minimize the dangers and crap and maximize the signal-to-noise ratio by using the right software.
You can run a browser that kills popup windows, or a utility to add this functionality to your existing one. Entirely your call, but do you actually enjoy random rubbish popping up all over the shop while you're surfing? It's really easy to prevent. Mozilla is the browser you should probably all be using. The bookmarking bit is bollocks, I know, but then almost everything other than the favourites manipulation is bollocks in IE, and now Microsoft have ceased developing it to boot (if you'll pardon the pun). Try some living software, if you'll be advised. If you're really dead set on IE (and I realize that one does need it for the occasional recalcitrant site like Windows Update) try running MyIE2 as a shell, or use a popup stopper at least - such as PopOops. Blessed relief!
While you're at it, take the trouble to suss out the security settings in your browser, and then set them up accordingly. This is important. If you don't really understand what they do read up a bit - there's loads of info out there.
Forget the appalling grandmothers-and-kids Outlook Express, and get other email software. Pretty much anything else will do, believe it or not. I use Vivian Mail, as it's simple and great for multiple accounts; of course I use a few accounts, and so should everyone, since then spam-magnet activities such as - well, anything but communicating with personal friends - can be done from a "disposable" account. I think it's safe to say that any activity that puts your email address on the web (posting to forums, software registration and so on) will cause a deluge of spam sooner or later :( Figure out the filtering rules in your email package and deploy them. No filters? Use something that has. The time it takes to learn a different mailer is as nothing compared to the time you'll spend deleting spam. And if you're constantly having to delete spam you'll probably delete something you did want in the process sooner or later. Bummer. You may not be able to vanquish spam entirely, but you can easily enough get your foot on its neck.
And here's a sobering fact: the mere act of receiving - not even reading - spam often validates your email address as a worthwhile target for endless spam. Turn off HTML email, turn off read receipts, don't open attachments from unknown sources. Ever.
Run, and check for updates daily, anti-virus and malware scanners. Fair warning: there is a lengthy and vitriolic "good netizen" rant coming up...
AVG is an effective and free virus scanner. So why wouldn't anyone use it? You may think that you don't really need to bother, and you may find that most of your friends reckon you don't need to either. It's your computer. Maybe there's nothing important on it. But wake up, guys, viruses are bad, bad news. If you've got time to reinstall everything when something goes wrong as a result of a net-borne nasty, do that. But you could be propagating all sorts of viruses (I always want to say virii) around your social circle in an exponential progression. So it's a question of consideration for others.
Look at it this way. Let's suppose that I have decided that I really can't be bothered to climb up all those stairs to the toilet, even less muck about with my flies. I'm relatively continent. My luck is good. And what the hell, I have other (attractive, of course) underwear I can deploy if the devil strikes. This approach, barring the odd mishap, works well for me. It saves me time and hassle. I'm the scatological equivalent of someone who doesn't reckon it's worth the trouble to get their anti-virus act together. And no-one really cares as long as I'm at home do they? But guess what, guys - I'm coming to tea with you all, and I love tea. This makes me a ticking bomb, the equivalent of someone who emails and forwards stuff willy-nilly (arf arf) without taking any precautions of the kind I've outlined above.
"Aha", you say, "but if the pompous hectoring berk ran all the stuff he's saying we should, then what does he care? He'll detect incoming nasties, so no damage done".
My reply: nothing's foolproof. Prevention and information at all levels (and there's loads of advice around) is only sensible. The clueless force us all to either go through this rigmarole or spend our valuable time cleaning up after them. Oh yes, and returning to the analogy (pretty much arf arf again), you can get a bucket of disinfectant and a mop sorted for teatime can't you? 'Cos baby, I'm in a visiting frame of mind...
Think on it. It's just good manners we're talking here, after all.
Rant segment change.
Use Windows Update. Apply all available critical updates to Windows. I know they tend to be big. Live with it. Do it anyway. Or you're worm bait, nay indeed a breeder of worms. Get broadband if you can - it's cheap now, and really takes the sting out of those big downloads. Or don't bother. Why would you lock your house either? I don't imagine that I'm at all the only person whose data is far more valuable and hard to replace than anything in their living room. All those memories in digital photos, my recordings, writing, online banking records, business plans, sometimes client's stuff - and more. Not practically insurable in most cases. Backed up scrupulously, and don't tell me you don't bother, but I'm not going to back it all up every time I receive an email, now am I? And you can back a virus up as effectively as you can your data, so scan first. Please.
On backups, by the way. A friend of mine's a historian. He writes stuff that really, really takes time to research, and in some ways you could almost say his life depends on it. He uses a certain word-processing package. I'm willing to bet it's the same one as you do. Now, I know that if he loses his stuff it's a sizeable b*stard to him. Maybe years of his life down the drain. And I'd heard that this piece of software, which damn near everyone uses, very very very occasionally corrupts its files. It also helpfully has the ability to automatically save every so often. This neatly ensures that if it gets its knickers in a twist it overwrites the good data with the knickers periodically.
I'm sure you can guess the rest. He thought that he had his magnum opus on the hard drive, and in memory. And he punctiliously copied it to a floppy for good measure. And then he had nothing but a lot of corrupt data one day, and then he trod on the floppy containing the only safe copy. Could happen to anyone. Unbelievable anguish. All of which could almost certainly have been avoided by not using the market-leading brand of word processor (like a sheep), and definitely by doing multiple rotational backups. I mean, how expensive are floppies these days, or even CDs??? Takes a lot of time? Try redoing ALL your work from scratch; that also takes a lot of time. And however many copies you have of stuff, if they're all at home and it burns down what do you do? Accepted wisdom is that if there aren't at least three copies of data and they're not in at least two buildings a good distance apart then they're not backed up. Obviously not everything is worth that kind of trouble, but amazingly large numbers of people don't bother with stuff that clearly IS worth it.
Spyware and it's nasty little friends can be a real pain. You can just click through boxes that pop up, trying to get at something or other on a website, and before you know it you've gone for a cuppa and a dialler has rung a fiver-a-minute number to enrich some pr*ck. Believe me, it's not uncommon. There's all sorts of rubbish out there. At the very least a lot of software will splurge all your doings to its masters, and cause further spam and invade your privacy and generally take the piss. Keystroke loggers can send all your home banking passwords, and other vital stuff, to organized crime or to spotty erks. Please believe me - this possibility is not as remote as you think. It's pretty trivial to fake email to your boss purporting to be from you and advising him to breed with a nile monitor, or to inform your partner that his or her arse is too big or you're running off with the pikeys. And many bored idiots love doing stuff like that. ALL your data is a security risk to some extent or other, and it's really not worth the risk for want of running some free software. Run Spybot Search and Destroy, and keep it updated, and you'll be able to immunize against much of this sort of thing and detect the rest well before anything goes pear-shaped.
Finally, run a decent firewall at all times. Even if you only ever go online when you're sat right there in front of the computer. You'd be amazed at all the dodginess that goes on right under your nose. Deploy the free version of the ZoneAlarm firewall, for example. And when it keeps giving you warnings, don't just give up on it because it's a pain. It'll tell you in clear terms what's a threat and what isn't. All those annoying boxes it pops up are the online equivalent of the rattling that signifies Ali Baba trying your doors and windows. Don't chance it. The worst case scenarios happen to people every day, and hackers don't even need to be clever if you won't take measures to defend yourself.
Think backups, virus scanners, spyware detection and good old plain text email and you'll be good.
Fun though it is to go on, I've got better things by far to do. But until everyone plays the game, I'll have to keep on periodically banging on about security. Because I'm getting just a little bit tired of emails with stings in the tail, and sorting out computers for idle dickheads. It's just rude.
Posted at 3:04 am by Jim Woods
I've mentioned the Quiet American site before. It's full of one-minute location recordings that can really take you somewhere else if you listen to them a good pair of headphones. Mmmm - binaural. But that's not all. Go here, and there is a clever and beautiful installation, for example, which yer man is running at Burning Man this year.
I love the Quiet American site. Every time I visit there's something great to hear or even see. It's so good when you come across really different web content. I spend so much time beating the bounds of my virtual manor and researching stuff that I don't always get to see as much of the simply wonderful, in the literal sense, stuff that's out there behind the adverts and spam and other noise.
Which reminds me....
Posted at 2:09 am by Jim Woods
There is no happier creature than I...
...when finding another complicated piece of free software to play around with. Perhaps that's why I'm always getting stability issues with my setup. Still, some of us are born fearless crusaders, evaluating software for the common good, mindless of our own interests, burning the midnight oil...
Blah blah blah. I just can't help it - who am I kidding?
Anyway, now we've all had a good cry let's talk about Aethera. What is it? I'll quote the website:
"Aethera is a pim application, i.e. it handles all kinds of personal information: email, contacts, notes, tasks, todos, journals. It has various communication features regarding: send/receive email, send/receive task requests and appointment requests via email. It can help you to know quickly the world's news and weather."
What this means is that you can organize pretty much all of your stuff and share it with other Aethera users. Groupware, basically. The built in news function (via RSS) is nice. For the non-cognoscenti RSS is a method by which the subject lines of news sites can be fed to an application - on an automatically updating schedule of your choosing - for you to click on and read in full. This is cool because you can have one screen of data synopsizing many news sites. I have the BBC, Slashdot, The Register and a few others running all the time for example. You simply save on browser windows and desktop real estate, and you don't need to download all the graphical stuff and the full stories unless you want to explore in more depth. Excellent for my favourite endangered minority, the dialup medievalists.
Because the whole application is built around the concept of plugins it's possible to adapt it to your needs. I don't use Outlook Express for my email, for example, and frankly nor should anyone with any interest in system security. If you do, you can import from it into Aethera's mailer very painlessly. I'm able to simply disable that plugin, so everyone wins. No more clutter than you really need. Nice.
Apart from the fact that the HTML help section inexplicably just garbles itself to death whenever I scroll within it, using plain old IE 6, Aethera is a very handy thing. It does the nice integration thing; you all know by now how much I like using a few apps instead of a great mass of tasks. It's simple enough that I doubt you'll need the help anyway, and of course help may be legible on your boxes. For ten dollars each you can also get shared whiteboard and instant messaging plugins if you like - all else is free. Note that shared whiteboard and instant messaging are available free in MS Messenger on XP. Not integrated into Aethera of course, but free's free.
I've not used Aethera much yet, but from what I can see playing with it I reckon it's well worth a shot.
Posted at 12:35 am by Jim Woods
Sunday August 31 2003
Oh yes indeedy we like to watch the webcams. My experience, however, is that most sites which link to cams are rife with crap. Many dead links, constant attempts to push cams of young women (which to add insult to injury are never working anyway) and so on. I'm hesitant to get too evangelical about the Earthcam site as it's a relatively new toy for me, but when I fired up a few cams from it at least they all worked, and there is a good selection. So go to it, web-voyeurs. Stalk that scenery.
Posted at 11:45 am by Jim Woods
Due to some sort of technical hitch with the web servers at my ISP, Pipex, this page is sporadically unavailable at the moment. So if you can't read this, you'll - er - well, I'm sure you can see where this is going.
Pipex is generally pretty reliable, so hopefully the troubles won't persist.
Posted at 10:45 am by Jim Woods
Posted at 10:40 am by Jim Woods