Archive for the ‘Tech’ Category:

GCM prototype 2

September 12th, 2010

Just a quick update to announce that I updated GCM, my Google Calendar Map project.  New things

  1. New GCM Homepage
  2. Old GCM prototype moved to gcm2009
  3. New features of GCM prototype (yes, still prototype)
    • New Date sliders
    • New “Warning” link to quickly fix problematic addresses
    • Reskinned to keep content a bit more tight (still needs work)

Please post any comments about GCM on the GCM Homepage.  Thanks!!

New Job

July 11th, 2010

Well, new-ish job.  Back in March I decided to enter the world of full-time employment again.  This is my first full-time job since I left yahoo in 2006.  Immediately after yahoo, I enjoyed time with friends and family for several months. In 2007 I traveled around the world.  Then in 2008 I decided to follow my girlf.. ahem, fiancee, the lovely miss shayna, to chicago where she began grad school.  Since I’ve been in Chicago I’ve pursued various opportunities in technology and business.  I spent most of 2009 doing entrepreneurial ventures with midventures, some successful, some not.  I met a lot of interesting people and learned that Chicago startup tech scene is quite different than San Francisco (aka silicon valley) in many ways.  Then, looking for something a little different (as I often do), I did some contract work in the agency world, working with BBDO and Whittman Hart, then landing at my current position with Critical Mass.

critical_mass_red

Critical Mass is great. No, I am not talking about the bike ride, although that is great, too.  My Critical Mass (aka CM) is a digital advertising agency. That means they primarily build websites and mobile apps, but operate more like an advertising agency than a technology shop. That means lots of client handholding, helping with strategy, extra creative power, and generally going above and beyond the call of duty. CM likes to say they create extraordinary experiences.  Their clients include big names such as Budweiser, Nissan/Infinity, USAA, Autotrader and United Airlines.  The last one, United, was and is where I spend most of my time. United Mileage Plus (UMP), which is actually a separate business unit from United Airlines, just launched a new version of MileagePlus.com designed by CM.   That made for a very busy month of June for me, Mr. Chad.

My role within the company is somewhat unique.  My title is Senior Developer, but I do more client management than i do technical work.  I also manage other CM developers working on United, and engage with the technical people on the client side.  As somebody who’s had experience in various roles and technologies, I am a good fit for this position. I enjoy the diversity it offers – I interact with a really talented and great team of people at CM, I get some freedom to manage my time and career, and the chicago office in general is a fun and creative group.  I hope the challenges keep coming !!

If you know anyone looking for a job, Critical mass is hiring.  Email me and I’ll put in a good word.

Multiple Firefoxes

July 8th, 2009

2011-9-15 Update – see below

Firefox 3.5 officially came out a few weeks ago, and I decided its time to try it out.  However, google gears does not yet work on 3.5, and I need my gears to have offline access to gmail and google docs.  Time to revisit the question I’ve had many times before –

Can i run different versions of firefox at the same time?  or different instances of the same version?  … Yes.

The solution involves Firefox Profiles.  Profiles are separate from the application itself – it’s where all your customized data is stored, like homepage, history, saved form info, settings, plugins, etc.  In order to run 2 firefoxes at the same time, you need 2 different profiles.  It doesn’t matter which version of firefox is running a profile. For example, you could have 4 profiles like me:

  • Firefox3.0 – google gears in here – use this for offline gmail access
  • Firefox3.0_heavy – firebug and other add-ons in here
  • Firefox3.5 – surf the web from here
  • Firefox3.5_Guest – clean empty profile with no history, used in business meetings

Firefox has good instructions on creating profiles, so I’m going to skip that.  Next step is to figure out a way to easily launch your profiles – here is where it gets into MAC only mode, but not much different for Windows.  If you only have one profile for each version of firefox, you can edit the files inside the firefox app directly, like Devon did. (Another way is to create an application bundle). So what happens if you want to run 2 instances of the same firefox version?  Well, expanding on Devon’s way, just create a script (executable text file) in your /Applications folder that calls the firefox version and profile you want.

However, neither Devon’s solution nor the application bundle is perfect – there are still some dock issues.  First, with both solutions, there will be an icon that launches firefox with your favorite profile, and when you click on it, it creates another firefox icon on the doc.  Ideally it should act like finder or any other mac app – the icon you click on the dock is the one that should bounce and start up.  It should also be the one to right click and “Quit”.   Its confusing enough already when there’s 2 firefox apps running, i don’t need extra icons.  Second, I’m also a big fan of switching between my running applications using Command-Tab (like Alt-Tab in Windows), and when I do that I want the names of the different firefoxes to match to profiles and versions if possible.

So my solution is to have a one-to-one mapping of application name to profile name.  For example, given the 4 profiles above, I have 4 copies of firefox in my applications folder

  • /Applications/Firefox3.0.app
  • /Applications/Firefox3.0_Heavy.app
  • /Applications/Firefox3.5.app
  • /Applications/Firefox3.5_Guest.app

Each one of these I edited the Contents/MacOS directory, renaming firefox-bin to firefox-bin1 and creating a firefox-bin script (like Devon did).  Each script is uses its own directory and profile. For example, here’s the contents of my /Applications/Firefox3.5.app/Contents/MacOS/firefox-bin file:

/Applications/Firefox3.5.app/Contents/MacOS/firefox-bin1 -P Firefox3.5 &

The last thing I do to make it easy on myself is to create a bookmark on the toolbar, all the way left on each of the 4, where the name of the bookmark is the name of that profile.  That way I can look at the window and know which firefox profile i’m using.

The downside to this is that you waste some disk space (its about 50MB for each firefox installation).  The other thing that kinda sux is that if you rely on firefox to remember password forms, you must remember to always use the same profile/app, but that isn’t hard if you do my bookmark trick.

Update 11/2: Here’s how I handle firefox updates (like from 3.5.3 to 3.5.4).

Basically i reinstall my fix after update.  That is, rename firefox-bin to firefox-bin1, then create firefox-bin script.

However, This used to work but today it no longer does.  Basically if i call firefox-bin1 -P Firefox3.5 from cmd-line, it works.  But the app uses the default profile instead.   My workaround is to create and use “application bundle” method linked above. still testing …

Others attempts (but no mention of my dock issue)

  • http://67central.com/bc/2009/02/07/single-purpose-web-dev-browser/
  • http://stackoverflow.com/questions/730748/how-to-change-the-executable-in-an-os-x-application-bundle
  • http://weblogs.mozillazine.org/asa/archives/2008/08/shortcut_to_lau.html

2011-9-15 Update – New method

With firefox 4, 5, 6 … Firefox is clearly updating more and more frequently.  My new method is to make it easy to update the main app to the latest Firefox version, yet still keep the profiles separate (cookies, add-ons, etc).

Therefore I create 2 types of apps.  The first is just the app downloaded from firefox, copied from the .dmg file.  I rename this to something like Firefox6.app.  The second type of app is one made for the dock, which will launch Firefox6 with a specific profile.  I call this FF6.app and create it using Applescript.  If you don’t know applescript, there are many sites that explain it, here’s one the talks about creating applescript and saving as an app (more).

Here’s what my applescript code looks like for FF6.app

on run {input, parameters} 
do shell script "/Applications/chad/Firefox6.app/Contents/MacOS/firefox-bin -P firefox6 &> /dev/null &"
return input 
end run

Note on changing the icon – Open finder, right click on an application or document, and “Get Info”. By selecting the icon in the “Get Info” window, with a mouse left-click, it will cause a blue border to appear. Using the keyboard combination of [Apple Key ] + C (the standard copy text command) you can “copy” the icon. Then, by opening another Get Info window and highlighting the icon in the same way, you can use the standard paste text command, [Apple Key ] + V, to paste the icon for the other one.

Google Calendar Map

June 12th, 2009

UPDATE 2010-9-12 Updated Prototype and New GCM Homepage – Leave new comments there!

As previously mentioned in my google maps mashup post, I love maps.  Due to the clean APIs and very fast response, many people have built  cool mashups using the maps API.  I even got paid to do one for landmarkfinder.  But recently I’ve been using google calendar alot, and with all the summer action here in Chicago I wanted an easier way to know where and when to go places.

Enter my new Google Calendar Maps Mashup. Basically it takes a google calendar and plots all the events on a map.  Well, at least all events that have a valid map address.  The mashup works with any google calendar, as long as its public. Basically you provide the URL of a google calendar XML Feed, my javascript code eats it up and spits out markers on the map and lists them on the right side.  The list is really a table, with sortable columns (sort by day, event name, address). The map acts like a filter – you only see events that occur on the map canvas.  For example, if the map is zoomed in to show downtown Chicago, you might only see events in grant park.  But if you zoom way out you will see events in north chicago or suburbs, too.  This is great when there is a calendar with tons of events going on all over the place.  If you only have a couple events or all the events are the same location, its not too exciting.    Check it out.

I got to know jquery and javascript a little better during this project  – I’m even planning on releasing my code as plugin.  Expect that in a week or two after i’ve cleaned it up and solidified the features and UI.

UPDATE 2010-9-12 Updated Prototype and New GCM Homepage – Leave new comments there!

Blurb Book

May 28th, 2009

Last week a book I made and printed using blurb.com arrived.  It’s one of many photo books I’ve made (see qoop books), but my first using blurb.   I liked the control i had when making it – There’s an app for the mac that lets you pick a template for each page and add pictures and text accordingly. It took me a while to figure out what pictures to put in there, plus write text for each one.

I ordered a 7×7 book, 200 pages, Hardcover with image wrap (no dust jacket). It was $48 + $8 shipping. see more blurb prices.

I am quite satisfied, the quality is close to that of regular books. My only complaint is that a couple of my pages didnt’ print – the inside flap – I assume its because i opted for no dust jacket. Sigh. Compare cover to blurb preview, also compare to Qoop Books.

Testing IE on a Mac

May 6th, 2009

I love my macbook pro, as most mac owners do, but if you develop web sites you need a good way to test IE, since 2/3 of the internet uses it (browser stats).  Since IE doesn’t run on MAC, you’ll need one of the following solutions:

  • VMWare Fusion 2 vs Parallels 4
    • Pros: IE running on a real Windows OS (2000, XP, Vista), fast and easy to use IE alongside mac apps (once setup – parallel note).
    • Differences: Both are very similar, Parallels 15% faster than Fusion (src), Fusion better (src2, src3)
    • Cons: Both around $80 (30 days free), You’ll need 2GB+ disk space to install a vmware OS
  • VirtualBox 2.2
    • Pros: Free version of VMWare Fusion and Parallels, from trusty Sun.  With “Guest Additions” Installed (instructions in user manual), works almost as well as Fusion 2.
    • Cons: Longer setup, flew glitches (src).
  • Bootcamp

    • Pros: Restart computer, booting into a real Windows install
    • Cons: must restart computer to test IE
  • Xenocode
    • Pros: run different instances of a program (ie6, ie7, and ie8)
    • Cons: only runs on windows, need fusion, parallels, or virtualBox
  • ie4osx
    • Pros: free
    • Cons: only intel mac, a little buggy, requires darwine and X11,
  • Other

I ended up using VMWare Fusion 2, since I had a copy of XP and liked using vmware in the past. Man, do i love it! Fustion 2 is much better than the older version – Installation was super easy. And once installed, you can run it 2 ways – all windows apps (IE7, Firefox, etc) running in one vmware-windows-xp mac application window, or switch to unity mode which lets windows apps (IE7, firefox) run on their own mac application window. I prefer the Unity way – the first time I ran IE the logo appeared on my mac dock and I chose to “keep on dock” to quickly launch and test in IE. Awesome.

In order to test IE6, IE7, and IE8, you can either create 3 vmware virtual machines (XP only likes one version of IE), or better yet, create one XP virtual machine with one version of IE and launch the other IE versions thru xenocode spoon.net (must download/install spoon plugin, only runs on IE).  Overall IE on the mac this way is kinda slow, but so incredibly easy it makes up for it.

UPDATE: Virtualbox is working smoothly .. not as good as vmware, but good enough to not buy vmware once my free 30 days are finished.

UPDATE 2: Figured out a good way to debug javascript in IE – use Microsoft Visual Web Developer. Setup Instructions: http://axonflux.com/how-to-get-internet-explorer-j – more options: http://notetodogself.blogspot.com/2008/08/debug-javascript-in-ie.html

Happy Testing!

Hostmonster Sux

April 28th, 2009

I loved hostmonster.com ever since I signed up with them in September 2007.  They are a dirt cheap web hosting with pretty much unlimited storage, lots of easy to install applications, and ssh access.  SSH is very important for developers like me – I can get in there and do my business cmd-line style, as all hardcore developers like to do it.

But then after 19 months the abuse department gets all up in my business.  Basically they suspended all my sites and removed ssh access without any notification whatsoever.  After several unanswered emails and form submissions, I call and finally get a hold of somebody.   Initially he was cool – he gave me back my ssh access so at least i could get to my files.  But when I tried to get out of him what I needed to do end my account suspension, he kept it vague, telling me I was not allowed to store stuff online.

  • First we ended up arguing for almost 20 minutes over the fact that I had 4 versions of my resume on there (all publicly addressable) .. he claimed that was storage.
  • Then it became an issue of any file not linked to by my website was storage – what, i can’t put stuff on my site and email a link to it to my friends? I have to publicly link to it from my blog or something?  what type of policy is that?
  • The last issue revolved around .tar, .tgz, and .zip files.  First he said they were allowed if it was “software release or something similar”, which makes sense.  But how does that really differ from having my resumes as a .tar file?  Ok, now that i question the policy changes – he refines his statement and says those files are never allowed.  sigh. Again, WTF?
  • Over and over I asked the same 2 questions – what do i have to do to remove suspension and what is hostmonster policy.  The answer was always the same subjective “no online storage allowed”.

Sure, they are legally allowed to do that – their Terms Of Service (TOS) state they are not to be used as online storage and can suspend users without notification for violating this rule.  Online storage is a pretty broad term, legally they could suspend any one of their users since its pretty hard NOT to store anything on your website.  But the way they handled me was incredibly rude and disrespectful.  In the back of my mind I wonder if they just wanted to get me to leave since I used so much storage – several GB’s of jpgs (all 35,000+ are now on flickr).

The guy I spoke to was the acting manager of the abuse department the day I called, April 8.  He was childish, immature, and seemed to be on a power trip.  I attempted to get a hold of anyone else in management thru various form submissions, emails, and phone calls, but 36 hours later (almost 3 days since initial suspension) I gave in and signed up with mediatemple.net and started moving my domains over.  The next day I got a voicemail from the real manager of the abuse department, but by then I was behind in work and already moved to mediatemple, so why sink any more time in this?   This post is to just warn people – hostmonster.com sux.

So if you noticed some hiccups a couple weeks ago, this is why.  For that I apologize.

Google Maps Mashups

March 27th, 2009

I’ve always loved maps, and when google maps came out they raised the bar.  After they released their maps API and the mashups began.  The first cool one I remember was a craigslist mashup that listed all apartments for rent on a map – that’s huge when you’re new to a city, and invaluable in renting-competitive cities like NY and SF.  Now there are tons of mashups out there, and here’s a few that I’ve found recently.

Random mashups (coolest ones first)

Build your own map: (sorted by compete monthly usage 2/2008-2/2009 more)

Find more maps (reference)

What’s your favorite map?

Iphone OS 3.0 Beta

March 18th, 2009

iPhone 3G

I’m totally excited. Yesterday Apple announced the newest version of the iPhone OS, 3.0, to be available in June 2009 to both iPhones (original and 3G), and iPod Touch (1st and 2nd generation).  For those building iPhone apps, the beta version of 3.0 SDK is available now.  That means developers can actually start playing with 3.0 TODAY.

Here’s my favs from what’s new in 3.0

  • Cut, Copy, and Paste (finally)
  • Send photos, contacts, audio files, and location via MMS (iPhone 3G only)
  • Push Notification Service
  • In App Purchase Support
  • Peer to Peer Support
  • Maps API
  • Audio and Video Enhancements

I’m glad to see cut’n’paste is gonna finally work.  So many times I want to copy a URL from a text or email to Safari, or copy an address to google maps.  However, I’m really pissed that MMS (send a picture message) is only for iPhone 3G.  Back in 2005 I was using my cell phone to send pictures AND VIDEO to my friends phones.  2 years later I bought the iPhone, and now I still can’t do it.  As a phone, iPhone kinda sux.  But as the most awesome portable touchscreen internet customizable high quality audio and video playback device, iPhone rules.

I like the “Push Notification Service” because it allows custom iPhone apps to do receive messages from the internet even if they are not running.  For example, when you get a SMS Text message, an alert pops up on the iPhone with the text message, which you can close or reply, launching the Text Messaging app.  Similarly, the new push service allows an alert to pop up for a custom app.   However, if user hits close the alert goes away and the app is not run.   That means that background processing is still not allowed.  Another way to view it is:  Internet –>  iphone –> Human –> iphone app.  I much prefer this view:  Internet –>  iphone –> iphone app.  Skip that human interactive component and let the app process a notification as it sees fit.   NOTE: originally I thought 3.0 would allow background processing, but 3.0 beta SDK corrected me.

If you want to make money, the “In App Purchase Support” is huge.  You can make an app cost $0.99 in iTunes, offering some basic functionality at a low price point for mass adoption.  Then offer premium services for an additional $1.99 (or whatever) right there in the app – it does not get easier.  Perfect for games (download the next 10 levels for $1.99) or for monthly services ($5.99 for next months premium financial or sports information).

Peer to Peer Support is cool because it makes it easier for iPhones to talk to each other (or other devices that support apple’s bonjour protocol).  Examples include games (just like online multiplayer playstation games), exchanging virtual business cards, or sharing documents.

Maps API has a lot of potential, especially since its closely intergrated with Google Maps API (terms).  Combined with location aware (GPS or cell tower triangulation) phones, this makes it much easier for apps to have custom annotations displayed near the user’s location.  You can also do some of this in safari, skipping the iPhone app and just makeing a website page specific for iPhones (the new safari in 3.0 allows javascript to know users location).

Audio and Video have also been updated.  With iPod Library Access, an app can play any song on the phone. One example would be a game tied to a specific playlist, where each game event (begin, score, foul, goodbye) is mapped to a song, allowing users to customize the audio themselves.  Video Streaming is improved – now you can playback video streamed from a standard HTTP (Web) Server.  Expect more websites to have a feed made for mobile devices. Core Audio and Audio Recording got newer engines under the hood, including support for more codecs and software decoding.

OpenID

January 29th, 2009

Today I started using OpenID.  Even though its been around for years and major players like Yahoo have adopted it, I had trouble finding good documentation – Even I had trouble understanding how it works exactly.  So, I wrote this little blog as Overview/FAQ for OpenID.


What Is It?

As the name suggests, it is an Identification system that is free, safe, secure, and open source.  Nobody owns the system, it is not and will never be a money maker, and you control your own identity. The goal is to have one identity and use it everywhere on the internet instead of having a login/password for every website out there.


How Does It Work?

When you want to login to a website, instead of giving a username and password, you give your OpenID URL. The site then redirects to your “OpenID Provider” (see definitions below) where you are authenticated and then back to the original site.  If it is your first time on the website, some new user info (first name, last name, etc) may be filled out for you.  It is important to note that safety and security are important – passwords are not transferred back and forth – it is similar to how HTTPS can make a secure connection to your online bank.


Why Should I Use It?

You don’t have to remember individual username/passwords, just your OpenID URL.  Also, you can have profile information associated with your OpenID that can be shared.  For example, when you register on a new website, you often fill out first name, last name, username, password, email, etc.  Instead of doing all that, you just provide your OpenID URL and it will automatically get your first name, last name, email, or whatever other info you have decided to publicly share.


Why Should I NOT Use It?

If you only visit a few different sites when you’re online, and those sites don’t support OpenID, then there’s no point now. Competition includes Google Friend Connect and Facebook Connect, meaning those 2 major players most likely won’t support OpenID (src).


Definitions

  • OpenID-Supported Site
    AKA “Relying party” or “service provider”. This is a website that allows you to login using OpenID URL. They will mention OpenID or have the logo (pictured above).   More info, including list of sites.
  • OpenID URL
    The URL you provide to the OpenID-Supported Site, must support OpenID and is usually unique.  You can have more than one. For example, yahoo, flickr, blogger, and aol all support OpenID, so if you have an account with them you have an OpenID URL.  Some sites, like Yahoo, allow you to simply use yahoo.com as a shortcut to your OpenID URL (which is something like http://me.yahoo.com/a/FSegzjtnmOzMcgVI3)
  • OpenID Provider
    This is an entity that verifies who you are then provides information about you to the OpenID-Supported Site. Examples: MyOpenID.com, Verisign, Yahoo.


Examples

Here are some examples of OpenID-Supported sites I use: Sourceforge.net, CareerEco.com, Plaxo, and my.pbwiki.com. I use Yahoo as my OpenID Provider.  That means I sign up by entering “yahoo.com” as my OpenID URL, the site redirects to yahoo.com, yahoo asks me to continue, then I’m back on the site signed in.  With high speed internet this only takes a few seconds.

First I enabled OpenID at Yahoo.  This is super simple, and by default shares the following information: Full Name, Nickname, Yahoo! Email Address, Gender, Time Zone, and Language .. although not all sites will use it.  You can edit that info at profiles.yahoo.com.

Then, the first time I signed up with Plaxo, I went to sign in page, and picked “sign in with openid” and entered “yahoo.com”.  Yahoo auto-authenticates you and asks to Continue, displaying the Plaxo URL.  Click on continue and you are redirected back to plaxo, with info filled out.

If you are paranoid, you might not want to use a 3rd party like yahoo to store your info.  If you have your own server on the internet, you can setup your own OpenID Provider for you or your friends using phpMyID or any other OpenID Identity Servers.


More OpenID