Older blog entries for Waldo (starting at number 173)

I got a new Dell in the mail today. A $1,100 jobbie, just as a new machine for the office. As I unpacked it, I couldn't help but giggle when I looked at the ports. The thing comes with two PS/2 connectors, and a mouse and a keyboard that plug into them. There are four USB 1.0 plugs, but nothing plugs into those. There is no Firewire connector.

What is this, 1997?

Web Applications: Non-Triggered Events?
Can anybody recommend the best method of causing a non-triggered event to occur on a regular basis within or for a web-based application? I would like to send out an e-mail regularly (say, daily) to individuals based on data stored in a MySQL database. All existing interaction with this database is accomplished via PHP. I figure that I have two choices:

a. Use a cron job. b. Have a frequently-called function check the current date and time. If it is within certain parameters, call the function that will cause the e-mail to go out.

I don't like the former, because it will make it harder for people to install this application. The latter is wasteful. Am I missing a third possibility?

Text Ads Success
Wow. This text ads system that I wrote has turned out to be way more successful than I hoped that it would be. Not the software -- I haven't had the time to do anything with that today. No, the success has been in the deployment of it on nancies.org. We've taken in $100 in ad sales today -- a Sunday, at that, when traffic is by far the lowest. If you'll excuse my starry-eyed optimism, if we made that every day, we could pay our hosting bill a half dozen times over each and every month. Taking in this money has been effectively effortless; people book the ads, and I just have to click a link to approve each ad before it runs. The money just stacks up in our PayPal account. What a beautiful thing. :)

In any case, I'm excited not only for nancies.org, but for how beneficial that this could be for other websites. I've got to package this up and get it out there...it's just a question of how much of a perfectionist that I want to be before I make it available. :)

Text Ads System
I've just completed the pre 1.0 release of my text ads system, and I've put it into testing on one my sites, nancies.org. I had been looking at Text Ads (that's the name of the program), but it's much too bulky for me...plus, it's really going in the wrong direction. I wanted something very, very simple, with PayPal integration, written in PHP, with no accounts system, no method for users to track ad performance...just a basic system good for your average small site. I've shaken out some bugs in the past 12 hours, and it's proven to be a pretty popular feature. I start spring semester on Monday, so hopefully I'll have time tonight to package this up and make a 1.0 pre release out of it.
Charlottesville Wireless Freenet
I've been planning a municipal wireless freenet here in Charlottesville for the past 18 months. Unable to make any headway on my own, I sent a letter to the City Council earlier in the week, extolling the virtues of such a system and encouraging them to consider the creation of a network blanketing downtown. Well, it worked. They love it. We've started work immediately to look into the feasibility, and it looks real easy.

There's really just one major concern, and that's bandwidth. Bandwidth is cheap if it's just for one person. But you can't just go get a DSL and resdistribute that bandwidth to 100-odd people. Well, you can, but once they find out, it's over, so that's not a great option here. An ISP-class connection is pretty much required, and that takes some serious cash, and deep-sixes the "cheap" part of "cheap and easy" with this project. Fortunately, one of the city techs is way into this project (he's an OSS/Linux/[SL|FS]. geek...gotta love it), and he's going to start looking into this with the city's vendors.

I'm optimistic that we'll have this system up in a matter of weeks.

SuSE PPC Install Attempt
I just made my first attempt to install SuSE on my PowerPC. It didn't really work out. It had me copy an install file to the root of my drive and restart. I did so, completed some information in a gnarly-looking installer, and it downloaded a bunch of stuff, complaining all the while. Every now and again, it would -- without warning -- drop me back at a menu, where I would simply select "install," not knowing what else to do. Eventually, it assured me that SuSE was as installed as it was going to get, and dropped me to a login prompt. I logged in as root, and was greeted with a prompt. There was very, very little on the machine -- just a bare bones text install. I thought that perhaps a reboot was in order -- perhaps there was some auto-configuration step that required that. So I rebooted, and now I'm in Mac OS X. No boot manager ever asked me what OS that I wanted, and I have no idea of how I'd get back to SuSE.

Oh, well.

I've received the 40GB IBM TravelStar drive from Smalldog, and installed it in my PowerBook (Pismo) without incident. Installing OS X took a surprisingly small amount of time, and the machine booted to the desktop before I'd realized what had happened. I've got a lot of configuration to do to get this system back to where it was prior to the loss of my 10GB drive, but I kind of look forward to starting from scratch.
Yellow Dog Linux
I set aside a 10GB partition on this new drive to install another OS. I have the YDL 2.0 discs (I ordered them to upgrade my then-primary server that ran YDL 1.2, but YDL provided no upgrade path, so the discs and lovely packaging sat idle), so I thought I'd install that. Big mistake. The installer looks like ass, and failed with some exciting new Python error each time. It was difficult to use, had a logic all its own, and never did manage to install. I'll probably try Mandrake or SuSE or something, but not Yellow Dog Linux. I've decided to give up on it.
For the third time, I am mailing back my Asus A7V-266e motherboard. I purchased it in March. It worked for a couple of weeks, though badly, before dying. The second was DOA. The third was DOA. I called tech support about the third last week, and the tech was baffled. He could attribute its complete lack of anything approaching functionality (including trying two different power supplies, two different sticks of memory, and two different processors) to nothing but it being completely dead. So I'm mailing this one back for a fourth. I have now spent $50 just in shipping and insurance, as Asus is not willing to cover the cost of returning each of these boards. I have used this system for a period of two weeks in the seven months that I've owned it. I'm becoming extremely frustrated with Asus. I believe that I'm going to ask that they reinstate my warranty from the date that they ship motherboard number four, but I'm not sure of what other demands that I'm able to make.
RSS Setlists
In a blatant misuse of RSS, I'm designing a simple schema to transmit set lists (from concerts) via RSS. It won't be particularly exciting, but I'll release a spec.
Linux at Work
I'm back to putting work into switching to a Linux desktop at the office. I've been fiddling with WINE, with some assistance from my local LUG, as there are two proprietary insurance industry applications that I must be able to run. Fortunately, they're extremely crude, Windows 3.1-era programs, so I suspect that it's quite doable.
Dead PowerBook Hard Drive
My local Apple repair shop called me on Tuesday: the 10GB hard drive on my PowerBook G3 Firewire (Pismo) is really and truly dead, with no realistic and economically-feasible shot at data recovery. I back up pretty well (for a guy that doesn't have a backup system), so I haven't lost any great quantity of stuff. But it's sort of like having your house burn down, even if you're fully insured and took your most precious things out of the house; you still have to rebuild your house and experience that akward homeless period in the meantime. I've ordered a 40GB drive from Smalldog, and that should show up in a week or two.
Failed Advocacy
I got a response to my rather-extensive letter to an insurance company with whom I do business. The letter, in a nutshell, was attempting to convince this anonymous company of the merits of thinking beyond their self-imposed (and, to some extent, industry-imposed) boundaries and start to work digitally on a non-proprietary level. The system that they intend to migrate to is entirely copyright- and patent-laden, made by an incompetent company that will surely prove to be a dead end. The response that I got was from a middle manager (not the VP to whose attention I sent my initial letter) who just didn't get it. She was arguing the technical merits of this system, saying that it's really a fine program and that it would work nicely. She was unable to take a step back and see how much that she's handicapping both her business and the entire industry by her willingness to use this pathetic product. I'm going to drop the issue from here. I'd like to push them farther, but it will likely affect our business relationship negatively if I'm not successful. Too bad.
Dead Laptop Hard Drive
My G3 Firewire Powerbook (Pismo) is unconscious. The hard drive has ceased to acknowledge that it has any data on it, and my best hardware and software efforts have been unfruitful. It's in the shop now. Maybe they can do something.
Virus Filtering
I feel it would be best if every major Linux distribution came with Windows executable-filtering as an easily-enabled option for the mail server. I mean, like, a checkbox or a flag-toggle to prohibit the transmission (incoming, outgoing or both) of Windows executables. Another further option could be to provide the choice either dropping the executable and sending the message anyhow, or droping the message entirely. This would surely slow the spread of the Outlook viruses (Bugbear and Klez, notably), and it's not like it would be particularly difficult to interface Sendmail and MIMEDefang as a default install option.
Red Hat 8.0
I've installed Red Hat 8.0 as my office desktop. Or, rather, as a part-time desktop to see if it's feasible to switch my family business over from Windows. I'm playing stupid, and refusing to open a terminal, in hopes that I can figure out what it would be like for the average user. Here's the weirdnesses:
  • Lack of "Network Neighborhood." I can't even figure out how to go about making an equivalent happen. I eventually had to guess that, if I opened Eazel, I could open "smb://" as the URL to get a Windows-style SMB listing. I can then browse to the servers on the network, but it's not possible to make the resulting folders appear on the desktop or mount them as drives.
  • Some stuff just doesn't run via SMB. If I click on an audio file on an SMB share, I get the following error message: "'X Multimedia System' can't open 'Tom Waits - Chrismas card from a hooker in Minneapolis' because 'X Multimedia System' can't access files at 'smb' locations. No other application sare available to view this file. If you copy this file onto your computer, you may be able to open it."
  • What's with the "Extras" menu? It doesn't make any sense. If they're programs, list them where they ought to be.
  • Lack of a "My Documents" folder. No, I don't use it either, but people want it. Particularly Mac OS X's approach, subdivided into Music, Video, Documents, etc.
  • No Flash, RealAudio, MP3 support.
I really like Red Hat 8.0. I'd lost all faith that they had any concept of how to put together a desktop environment. Plainly, I was mistaken.

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