Friday, April 23, 2010

Redesign notes

I got a little distracted by... ooo shiny thing over there... oh sorry... by general web design stuff and stumbled across the new Blogger 'In Draft' features (basically Google Apps for Blogger). The new design is still a work in progress, for instance, I'm not wild about the background pic, but it's a little taste of things to come. Just a few things to note on here now:
  • New social bookmarking links on the right - these will likely be expanded and changed slightly, but you get the idea. Easily add DNI to Delicious, Digg, Facebook, etc. NOTE: To avoid the massive amounts of spam this could generate, please add a personal message whenever a service allows it, so I know you are a human, or at least partly human.
  • New tag cloud spinning ball thingy. I like the way it looks, but I'll probably replace it with something that takes up the same amount of space and doesn't have the processor overhead involved in this neat little ditty.
  • News feed - I'm forgetting which things I said I would 'star' versus 'share' in Google Reader, so for now it is set to my Starred items. Again, this will soon be replaced by a more snazzy widget that is more multi-functional. But I'd like to get the rss feed items up there so that visitors can keep up on the news items I've noted.
  • More complex layout - Personal/contact info at the top, minimal. News/feeds in a wider column format. Utility links, like archives, in narrowed columns within the right column. There's some tweaking to be done, like too much padding and combining elements, but it's pretty close to what I want.
  • Color! Yeah, I know. Shocking! I like blue.
Anyhow, enjoy! And feel free to leave any comments if you like certain things or you spot any major problems. The site renders fine in Firefox 3.6, Chrome 5, and mostly in IE (tag cloud fails to render, so another reason to replace that).

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Visual Studio and other Microsoft programming tools free

For students, that is. Nevertheless, it does include the brand-spanking new Visual Studio 2010 Pro, which, if your university has annoying IT/software access policies like Brown, can mean less frustration for you. So far I've procured 3 copies of Windows 7 Pro x64, Visual Studio 2008/2010, and Expression Studio 3 for $30 (cost of a student IEEE membership). And there's still plenty more stuff available to play with should I suddenly become inspired.
The weird thing is that Brown University has an MSDNAA agreement (the MSDN Academic Alliance program, which allows schools to provide free and deeply discounted MS software to students). In fact, we have 4+ agreements! Check if your school has a sane policy in place. Here, I'm a grad student in the Dept of Neuroscience, working in a lab that's part of the Engineering Dept. Somehow, I qualify for almost nothing, as far as these MSDNAA memberships go. Oh, wait. I can get a free copy of Windows XP! Woo! The school pays me, through grants to the lab, but I don't qualify as an employee or staff member. Fair enough. But I don't qualify for the CS Dept or Engineering Dept programs because I'm not taking any classes in the departments. I could TA, but even then I'm not technically enrolled. I've fired off a few hot-headed emails, but the responses have been the usual Brown hand-waving/"Wait until we start the Program"/"We're talking with people about that" types. It was easier for me to sign up for the IEEE and hunt down offers like this, rather than deal with my own school, which still gets paid $45k/year for tuition. Amazing.
Aaaanyhow, get yer software at the Microsoft DreamSpark site.

If you're not a student, there are 'Express' versions of many Visual Studio tools available for free. These lack MSDN Library access, which is a great thing to have, as well as 64-bit compilers and some of the more powerful tools, but they're free, legit, and lack alot of the bloat you would usually just throw into a new install. (Am I going to be using SQL Remote Doppleganger USB Ninja FlipFlap elements? I dunno. Meh, just install all of it.) Get them here.

Monday, April 12, 2010

iPhone app worthy of "WOW!" and a Chrome fix

They thought it wouldn't get through the mysterious Apple approval process, but Opera Mini is officially available for (free) download at the App Store. And boy is it a whole new ball game for regular ole 3G (non-3GS) owners. It's friggin blazing fast. It feels like my iPhone did when I got it - instantly launches, instantly renders the page, and just a great experience all around. The only downside is that your bookmarks don't automatically sync. I'm betting there's some type of limited access to user info, like bookmarks, that Apple prohibits, but that's totally speculation. There is syncing built in, but only to an Opera account, so I'll have to look into ways of getting that to sync with Firefox or Chrome. The desktop Opera app is actually very good, and similarly speedy. Alas, every time I try to stray away from Firefox I end up running back for the add ons. But, definitely worth checking out if you haven't.

(And as an aside, if you have Firefox on your PC, get this add-on. You're welcome!)

Next up, Google Chrome. I've been using Chrome for DNI related stuff and Firefox for my everyday browser. One thing that had been driving me NUTS was that using my mouse's 'back' button jumped me back two pages instead of one. Every friggin time. Maddening!
So, a little ninja intuition after a hearty googling returned plenty of people with the problem, but no solutions that worked for me, and I figured out how to fix this issue. This might not work for everyone, but I figured that there were 500+ page forum threads on the topic and a few people might be helped by this.

The problem for me was that my mouse (Logitech G9) had the 'Back' and 'Forward' commands bound to the Back and Forward buttons. And the problem with that is...? It appears that Chrome will detect that you have a multibutton mouse and execute the back and forward commands if the appropriate button is pressed. BUT, somewhere in the process of drivers, mouse software (SetPoint 5 or 6 in my case), and Chrome handling mouse events, the button press is detected as a 'back button press' AND 'execute the back command'. In other words, Chrome says, "Hey! That's a spiffy mouse! I'll hook into that button and do what comes natural." But, the Logitech software says, "I don't know what's going on, and I don't care. All I know is that when you hit that button, I send the 'back dat ass up' command." You hit the button, Chrome backs up a page, and the mouse software sends the back command, making Chrome back up another page.

The solution: bind the mouse button to GenericButton4 (for back) and 5 (for forward), or the equivalent in your mouse's software. It might even be listed as 'no function' or 'do nothing' or 'default'. If you use the Back binding in other programs, this can be a pain because it forces you to choose whether Chrome works or your other programs work.

So, try getting Chrome to work and then go about using your PC as normal. If you're missing the back command in some programs, you have a couple options.
  • If you have a mouse with customizable software, like the Logitech SetPoint software, make a special profile for Chrome, set the mouse buttons accordingly, and use application switching detection. This is what I ended up doing.
  • If you have a tilt scroll wheel, the kind that lets you scroll left and right, you probably don;t use the function (I've had the function on my mice for about 5 years and have used it about a dozen times total). Rebind the left right scroll to forward and back or genericbutton4 and 5.
  • You can try searching out some freeware, like this program: X-Mouse (note: I've never tried this, so no idea if it will blow up your computer and eat your children)
  • AutoHotkey might be a decent option if nothing is working and you're minutes from a a Chrome Navigation Bug Induced Triple Shotgun Homicide. Much more technical, but I would bet the actual script would be pretty simple.
  • Search out a registry tweak, though if the above didn't help this probably won't either.
Hope that helps someone out there!

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Friday, April 9, 2010

Interface news avalanche

While I've been too busy to post, hopefully you've taken a gander at the various DNI RSS feeds. Right? Well, if you haven't been keeping up, the HCI/interface world has been a non-stop flurry of exciting and interesting innovations.

Why all the excitement? Three things.

One, battery technology and device efficiency have gotten to the point where rich media on portable devices doesn't drain the power before you're done thinking, "Hey, I'd like to experience some rich media content right now?"

Two: The lines between every traditional computer category are collapsing all around us. Your phone is a slim client, your ebook reader is a netbook, your htpc is a nettop, your desktop is always connected and serving up content, up is down, down is left, cats and dogs are living together! And all this requires that we think a little differently about how we handle, view, sort, and access our delicious data.

And Three: Ohhhh how much data we have! And it's cheap to store. And for the price of a 14" CRT in 1993, you can grab a high def 60" mega-monitor (okay, you'd have to get it second hand and last year's model, but still...) In other words, we have more sand and bigger sandbox to play in.