tenpastmidnight blog

Making hay while the sun shines

Spidertest bookmarklet

I've added a 'bookmarklet' (or 'favelet') to SpiderTest. This basically gives you a bookmark that is a little bit of javascript. Click it and it will give you a SpiderTest report for the page you are looking at, without you having to go to the SpiderTest home page and type/cut & paste the URL.

It seems to work OK with IE6, Firefox and Safari, so hopefully I won't have support issues.

Konfabulator for Windows

Konfabulator for Windows is here (or more accurately, here)

Konfab is a program that lets lots of little utilities run, it's been out on the Mac for quite a while now, and now they've written a PC version that can run the same widgets - very cool. Here's my PC running the Picture Frame widget (randomly showing pictures from my photos directories) and Weather widget (showing it's going to be a cold night tonight):

Screenshot of two Konfabulator widgets running in Windows

For extra points, can my Leamington readers (OK, Matt) spot the local landmark in the background?

Tablet PC fiddling

At the Farm the other night Paul was kind enough to bring along his tablet PC for me to have a play with.

I thought about buying an AST tablet PC last summer, but the one I was looking at had keys that were smaller than my fingers, and I wanted one I could type on as well as draw. Paul got his, a Toshiba that's about two years old, via a good bargain on Ebay, but it has the latest version of XP Tablet Edition on it now. It's much better than I expected - the cursor keeps up with writing and drawing very well, it made a good stab at reading the neat version of my handwriting without any training (even I can't understand my normal handwriting so I don't expect any computer to be able to do it in the next twenty years or so.)

I'm very interested in having a computer I can switch around and draw on whenever I like, and the Toshiba was much better than the Wacom tablet with in-built screen I saw a few years back at a computer show. XP does a good job of integrating the text recognition around various applications, although it's still got a little way to go to be really integrated everywhere.

I'm really hoping Apple will come out with a tablet computer soon. They feel like they have the right sort of OS, plenty of designers all ready use it with tablets, and you have less dependence on context dependent menus (the ones you get up with a right-click) which means less fiddling with the pen by needing to use an extra button all the time. Also I basically just like OS X over XP. They've all ready got some good handwriting recognition software developed from what they had in the Newton, but just don't seem to want to make one. I think the market for tablet PCs is always going to be relatively small compared to standard laptops, unless the technology becomes so cheap they replace laptops completely, but Apple seems good at cornering niche markets, so I was hoping that wouldn't bother them.

Still, hopefully next year if I can get my work buffer up high enough to buy a tablet, even if it is a PC version. In fact, I can hear Ebay calling me right now, time to run away and hide the credit card.

Google Scholar (beta)

Google have released an new niche-search service, Google Scholar letting people search academic documents, papers, periodicals, journals and similar published work.

When I was at university we had Psychlit, which would search lots of psychology papers, which was very handy. If Google Scholar has a wide enough database of journals and other sources it will be very interesting to see what searches come up with - journals and sources you wouldn't normally have thought of checking.

My test search was for MDMA Parkinsons, basically looking for research in to whether Ecstacy use is linked to the onset of Parkinsons disease, which I keep my eye on generally since making some dire predictions about it (or links to early onset to a type of Alzheimer's) years ago to some friends. Showing Google's normal speed, I get a range of results from international sites and journals, most of which I'd never have heard of.

As there's really very little dependable information on the web, compared to the huge amount of rubbish around, a search like this is very helpful, and very necessary, if you're trying to get information you can depend on. For academic searches, most of that information is buried in journals somewhere, and you need to search a lot of different sites to get access to all of them. Having a single place to search will be an excellent tool for researchers everywhere.

Context menu MD5 checker

If you download lots of files you'll find some will come with an MD5 checksum - basically telling you if the file you've downloaded matches the one they think they've sent, avoiding any glitches when downloading.

I generally lose my MD5 checkers, so Alex has told me about this handy one that sits in the context menu of Windows Explorer, so all I have to do is right-click on the file and choose 'MD5' for the checksum of the file. Very handy.

MD5 on context menu

Scattering icons in the wind

I installed Yahoo Messenger (sorry, Yahoo! Messenger, must remember that '!') today as a friend has been having problems with the MSN version. Even though I chose the 'Custom' option and unselected everything it wanted to install apart from the actual Messenger program I downloaded, i.e. Yahoo Toolbar, making Yahoo mail my standard mail client, making Yahoo my home page, it still then added itself to my startup items (there was no option for turning that off) and put two new icons on my desktop and in the quick launch area near my 'Start' button and in the bit on top of the first options you get in the Start menu. I've just noticed it also adds it's own icon to Internet Explorer's icons, replacing the standard Microsoft one with it's rather ugly smiling face with little anti-aliased bits around it, as well as two new links on the IE links bar. That's eight icons in all, in addition to the ones I expected to turn up within the 'Programs' section of the Start menu. Eight reminders of their service I didn't want staring at me from everywhere.

Now, I don't mind icons being added to my Start menu, either in the general or it's own section, but if you're going to add more I expect to be asked in the 'Custom' install, and I expect to be asked whether or not I want something to run at start-up, I expect it to be put in the 'Startup' area of 'Programs' so I can remove it easily, and I don't want icons all over the place. This is the kind of thing that irritates people, and you're losing enough ground to Google without irritating any more of your customers.

To add insult to injury, Yahoo Messenger kept going wrong and not sending through all the messages my friend was trying to send. As soon as MSN Messenger starts to settle down for him again the Yahoo product is going to be uninstalled. I would have left it around on the off chance of using it again in the future, but the way it's spread itself around all my other programs has irritated me enough I'll be glad to see it go.

New blog for Matt

Matt now has a business blog to handle the serious stuff, complimenting his existing one for fun and surreal things.

Car update

The welder who's had my car for the last few months got on contact yesterday and things finally seem to be on track for it getting repaired. It's been a frustrating wait but he's had a lot of bad things happening in his personal life and I'm willing to cut him some slack while he sorts things out. I just hope after the long wait it's a good job.

BNM meetup / Firefox party

Last night was a meetup for people on the Brighton New Media mailing list, nominally to celebrate the launch of the first proper release of the Firefox web browser. Tristan put a lot of effort in to sorting out the venue - the upstairs of the Earth & Stars (inc free wifi), decorations and organised some free beer from his employer, Cognitive Applications.

There were lots of well-known faces there, and several new ones, which makes a nice change. A few people had their computers, everyone with a Mac seemed to congregate in one corner, undoubtably happy to meet people who didn't immediately say "Why don't you get a PC then?" and rather said "Isn't it easy to access the net from here" and "actually that's my pint."

Tristan had organised various geeky/webby party games, and I must now ashamedly admit to my geekiest moment ever, which was singing happy birthday to a web browser, for which I blame Weston's Cider, which is very strong. The slice of cake was well worth the embarassment, lovely.

American Election extra

Well, Bush got in for another four years. As with most Europeans, I'm disappointed. The map of the results is interesting - most of the outside states being Democrat, the rest Republican. There's plenty of hot air going around about civil war and other nonsense, but I'm sure that will die down soon enough.

American election

There's so much coverage of the election in America that you'd think it was in our country. In a weird way, I find it more interesting than the coverage of our next election (due in March, or May, or whenever) will be. I think it's just because of Bush. I really can't stand him, he's always looked like a liar to me, his body language is way off and I can never understand why he's so popular.

I'm really hoping Bush doesn't get back in. It was our fault that Blair took us in to the war in Iraq, but Bush started the invasion and now we're stuck there, having helped make the mess we've got to help clear it up.

However, I'm worried. There have been various shows on the TV and radio over the last week or so interviewing people across America, and there's a lot of support for Bush I don't understand. One woman said when his wife was mentioned, the look of love on Bush's face convinced her to vote for him. Personally, I think if that's the way you make your decision, you shouldn't be allowed to vote. Couple this with various shenanigans in Florida, trying to stop people voting, again, and other people who think they ought to keep Bush because he's better because they're at war - well yes, a war he started... anyway, I'm really hoping he doesn't get back in. He's started a war for no good reason, with no exit strategy. His handling of the economy means America's currently going down the tube. Basically, I can't see Kerry doing a worse job, even if he sits on his head in his chair in the Oval Office and spins around gibbering for four years.

Hmm, lets hope it doesn't all go to the lawyers as is predicted.

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