Monday, May 29, 2006

Memorial Day

Not sure if it's appropriate to wish someone a "Happy Memorial Day." Being a bit of a solemn occasion, perhaps "happy" is not the correct word.

I always think of my Dad on this day. Like most of his generation (a.k.a. The Greatest Generation), he served in the U.S. Army during WWII. But he also was a Special Agent in the FBI, so I guess you can say he served his country for pretty much his entire life.

Memorial Day in Douglaston, Queens (NY) where he lived from 1972 till his death in 1996, was the occasion of an annual parade that always drew large crowds from all over the borough and I believe remains one of the largest, if not THE largest parade in that part of the city. When I lived there from 1972 to 1978, I became involved with the Little Neck-Douglaston Volunteer Ambulance Corps as an EMT. And, every year on Memorial Day, we would put on our dress uniforms and march proudly in the parade. Heck, they even have a website for the parade!

So, the flag is flying on my porch in Augusta. The day is hot and steamy - perhaps an omen for a hot, sticky summer - we're overdue. And I'm thinking of "my old man."

Happy Memorial Day.

~j The LN-D Ambulance Corp

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

It's Official

The new and improved is up and running thanks to the excellent work of Wayne the Tech Man at Applied Innovations. I must admit that after three previous attempts at getting a CMS installed, I was starting to think it would never happen. But Wayne made it work, so now it's there.

This time we installed DotNetNuke (DNN) which is an open source CMS built on the Windows Server platform. I am pleased with the way it operates, but now the fun begins...making it work, and making sure it's accessible.

The former seems to be going well, the later, well, we'll have to see.

There is an Irishman in Sweden who claims to have developed a XHTML valid & compliant "skin" for DNN. His site is indeed compliant, and I have downloaded the skin, but I can't get it to load.

One of the features of the new system is the ability to install my own blog...which of course I have already done. You can check out the new blog here. But I am not comfortable with that one quite yet, so I will be posting in both locations for a while.


Thursday, May 18, 2006

More Frustrations

After more frustration with the CMS on, I have uninstalled Etomite and moved on to try one built on ASP. There seemed to be endless problems related to making a CMS app designed for UNIX to run on Windows - despite the assurances to the contrary.

So dotnetnuke comes recommended by the tech folks at my host. So far I have not been able to get this one to run either. So much for simplicity.

We'll keep you posted.


Wednesday, May 17, 2006

New - Microsoft Expressions Web Designer

Fresh on the heels of the merger of Macromedia and Adobe, Microsoft has positioned itself to give Dreamweaver a run for the money.

MS just released its beta version of Expressions, a completely new web authoring product to replace FrontPage. Built around SharePoint Designer, the new product is already being described as a noteworthy opponent to Dreamweaver. Here is a good review to start learning about Expressions. [Warning: Lots of pop-ups on this site.]

And MS FrontPage MVP, Cheryl D. Wise who is a GWADS member and concerned about accessibility issues, has started her own testing and review, all posted on her website.


Tuesday, May 16, 2006


Sounds like a made-up word. The kind of thing Time Magazine was famous for doing. Perhaps this will enter the lexicon.

I trying a new web application called Performancing which is designed to allow you to cruise around the blogosphere (in Firefox) and when you see see something you like, blog it on the spot!

We're trying this out now to see if it works.

Here were go....


Saturday, May 13, 2006

My IE 7.0 beta Review

I just listened to a totally useless podcast of NYT reporter David Pogue's review of the latest version of MS Internet Explorer (IE 7.0 beta) browser. Pogue complains that IE 7.0 is not as good as Firefox (FF) but never states why or how. Like most Anti-MS pundits, he alludes to the fact that 85% of the computers in the world run IE and suggests these people are all stupid because they don't know there are alternatives. What a moronic thing to say. Hey David, maybe people like IE? [Who wants to bet Pogue is a Mac Snob?] Scratch that bet, here's the proof.

I've tried them all, Mozilla, Opera, FF, - I've even played around with Safari on a Mac. I see no big difference between or among them. Yes, FF is a bit compulsive and will render things correctly based upon valid HTML and CSS, so there is some value in testing websites in FF before publishing. But for 99% of the websites out there, they look pretty much the same on every browser regardless of o/s. The differences between browsers are more related to the widgets and gadgets that run with the browser, and much of that may be simply a matter of taste.

Yes, FF was among the first to have the very popular tabbing feature (the ability to open multiple webpages within one browser session) - and now IE 7.0 has that too. I like the tabbing feature very much and I've already begun to put IE tabs through their paces. But both of these tabbing systems ultimately fail in my book because linked content continues to open up new browser sessions. The tab feature would be infinitely more powerful if it automatically opened up a new tab rather that forcing open a new window session.

The tabbing system could also be made to work more smoothly in IE (and FF for that matter). At least in IE, you can see the tabs at the top of the screen at all times. I'm not sure how I would make it better. Maybe when you open a new web address (CTRL - O) the browser could offer you the option of opening a new window/browser or a new tab? I'd vote for the latter.

The major reason I use IE as my default browser is because it opens faster and generally runs faster. I'm glad MS built it into the O/S and hope they continue despite the critics and lawsuits.

Now, here are my negative criticisms of IE.

BTW, I did try to provide some of this feedback via the MS IE beta website, but am not sure it got through.

1. When IE 7.0 beta installed on my machine (which, BTW went incredibly quickly and smoothly) it automatically installed a default setting to use "Clear Type" which made all of the text on all of the webpages I looked at very blurry and distorted.

Now, for those unfamiliar with Clear Type, this was a circa 1999 invention intended to make text on the screen (particularly on laptop screens) easier to read. I remember when it first came out, e-books were the rage and everyone was talking about getting rid of paper and reading their daily news on the john with a laptop on their knee. Never happened.

Frankly, Clear Type sucked then and still does. I'll let you look up the description on what it is supposed to look like. Suffice it to say - it ain't CLEAR!

Being a bit annoyed and initially not able to figure out why the text in the new browser looked so blurred and hard to read, I dashed off an angry note to MS. I then remembered Clear Type and spent about a half hour trying to find a way to turn it off. I could find the switch to turn it off in Windows XP, but it continued to run in IE. After I sent off my complaint to MS, I was finally able to find the switch in Internet Options> Advanced> last switch in Multimedia (dumb location) and turned Clear Type off.

So now I am happy. But MS should let people know how to turn this off, or better yet, keep it off in the default settings.

2. Putting the Favorites button right underneath the browser directions arrow was very dumb. They are simply located too close to each other. I've already click the wrong button about 20 times in two days. The size of the button should be bigger for us old farts with poorer eye-hand coordination.

One thing I like about FF (and I think Opera has this feature too) is the ability to install on different "skins." If you don't like the default colors and layout of the browser, you can change it very easily. Maybe MS will get smart and add this when they get closer to production.

I will say that the idea of having the little drop down arrow which allows one to see the list of current and already viewed pages is more elegant in IE7.0 than in the older versions of the browser where you had two drop downs, one for the right arrow (forward) and one for the left arrow (back).

3. The location of the home button, pages and tools are obscure and I've stumbled a few time to find what I need. I think this will simply be a matter of getting more familiar with the layout and location of the buttons.

4. I'll include this anti-Phishing filter thing on the neg list for now. I'm not exactly sure what it does and so far it has just managed to slow down the loading of a number of websites. I would presume it was a smarter device and would be designed to learn from the behaviors of the user or simply cache its results rather that re-testing every page. But right now it seems to want to filter every page and it does slow things down. We'll see.

Now, here are my positive criticisms:

1. I like having the Google search box on the desktop. Good idea

2. I love the Quick tabs. Great idea.

3. I love the larger screen area, especially the truly FULL screen setting. Fantastic idea

4. Despite the location of the Favorites buttons, I do like the Plus Sign used to add items to the Favorite, but I think they could still make it even faster and better.

5. I like the RSS feed button, but I'm still not sure how this works. I prefer Bloglines since I can sort and do other things.

So, that's it for now. I'll probably have more to add in the future as I have more time working with this baby.


Monday, May 08, 2006

Norton Hears A Who?

The folks who make Norton Anti-Virus should be ashamed. They have taken a great product – one that historically won the PC Editor’s Choice Award year after year – and ruined it. I used to love Norton, now they are on my blue list for endangered species.

It started a few years ago. I noticed that among other things, the AV programs they were bundling were getting clunkier and clunkier. They took longer to load and used up far too many resources. And, they would crash. At least in those days you could easily find a phone number or e-mail address to contact customer service. I remember spending about an hour one time with a fine tech while we re-wrote the registry on my computer after it choked on a particular upgrade.
But they have only gotten worse. Granted many, perhaps most IT companies are outsourcing tech support to Asian companies, most commonly in the Sub-Continent. But, it seems Norton is not at its best these days.

Last week, my bookkeeper’s computer in my other office was indicating that it had not uploaded the NAV definitions for two weeks and that I should urgently do so. I thought this was odd since that computer and the identical one I run in the next office are set to automatically update this file whenever the computer is on. And mine was running just fine. Long story short, I was not able to get the update and kept getting error messages with cryptic and frankly frightening descriptions of what was happening i.e. YOU ARE INFECTED!. The proposed solution was to run the “intelligent” updated – note the quotation marks, it is not a very smart program despite its name. Needless to say, more error statements and even more ominous warnings. Now I was being told the computer has a Trojan and I was advised to download and run this Trojan removal program. An hour later I was still getting errors, no Trojan could be found so I tried to contact customer service through the help screen. “This version is no longer covered by support” the screen hissed at me. Whadda ya mean? I think. This is version 2004. It’s only two years old. I just sent you guys a bunch of money to continue the subscription.

Being somewhat compliant, I headed off to Staples and purchased two copies of NAV 2006. Armed with a fresh new CD, I spent the next hour trying to get that program to load, update and scan. The computer in my office went through the motions fairly smoothly, but did give me a statement indicating that the latest definitions were corrupted or unavailable. That’s odd. Could it be that all along the problem was not with my computers but with those big servers in the sky?

It was now 7:30, I left the creature to scan itself, headed to Wendy’s for dinner, came back and got the same error….latest definitions corrupted…Hmmm.

Finally, I find a phone number (well hidden on the help website and only after agreeing that I would be charged for a service call) and speak to Aaron in Bangladesh. His English isn’t too bad, but we do struggle to communicate. He reads my incident report and tells me – get this – there is a problem with the server – all of the customers are getting this error – please try again in 24 hours.

I felt like that character on Seinfeld – Aboo – and wanted to shake my finger at the Norton screen…”Norton Anti-virus, you are a very, very bad program! Very, very, very bad!”

So four hours, $80 and the damn thing still did not work. There’s got to be a better program out there.


Thursday, May 04, 2006

Blogging From the Porch - aka Spring is Here

When you live in Maine you have to really enjoy the outdoors in all seasons. If you are one who salivates over long stretches of hot steamy weather, you're out of luck. Some say we have three seasons, winter, mud season, and huntin' season. Others would add "fishin' season" to that mix, but few if any would talk seriously about summer. Yes, we have summer in Maine, and it is quite wonderful, but it is very short.

So all the more reason to welcome a warm spring day when the temps are predicted to go to 70. This is a bit rare for early May, but then again this has been an unusual year weatherwise. No boring details. Suffice it to say, all those who prayed for a mild winter got their prayers answered.

About six years ago the landlord of my apartment development decided it would be a great idea to add porches/patios to all of the apartments. They had someone draw up a rendering of what these would look like and posted copies in the vestibules of all of the buildings. The tenants, mostly "little old ladies" clicked their teeth and shook their heads. "What's do we need porches for?" was the general sentiment. After all, we would only be able to use them for about 8 weeks out of the year. I wryly responded that they could store their snowmobiles out there!

When it comes to building things around here, we don't move too swiftly. The landlord has a small army of Frenchmen who work for him and do the maintenance of the buildings. They actually do quite lovely work, but they take their time. This is primarily because they don't ever work from plans.

When I moved in there, ten years ago, they had just finished a complete renovation of this apartment. Everything was replaced except the bathtub and the air conditioner (it was only a year old). The stripped the walls to the studs and even changed the floor plan. It was gorgeous, still is, albeit a bit more cluttered and soiled. Mine was the first apartment with this new configuration and, in keeping with tradition, it was all done with out a written plan. As a result, for the next three years, as they continued to gut and renovate apartments as people moved out, the Frenchmen would knock on my door and ask to take measurements. It's amazing that the building is still standing.

So, it came as no surprise that the porch project would take about four years to get done. That's another story, but I am enjoying the fruits of their labor on this delightful spring morning in Maine. I've had my coffee and read the newspaper and now am blogging from the porch. The robins, sparrows and crows are busying about, chasing each other and looking for grub.

Well, time to get in the shower and off to work. Enjoy your day.


Frustration Central

The saga continues with the website upgrade. I'm on my third system and still trying to get one to work. Not sure if is the fact that I am running on a Windows server and all of these systems are designed to work on LAMP. They all claim that they should work fine as long as I'm using PHP4 and MySQL4.

I've encounted headaches at every turn, and because this is mostly open source stuff, there is no customer service folks to call and get help.

Part of the purpose of this exercise, in addition to upgrading the server, was to learn, and in that regard, I have to admit that I'm learning a great deal about PHP and MySQL. Unfortunately, my basal knowledge base in this area is quite low so this makes asking for help rather difficult. I don't really know what to ask. And some of the answers are like reading Martian. If I ever figure this all out, I'll have to become a consultant.

There is also the distinct possibility that this is all related to the gremlins that have invaded my house in the past two months. The hard drive, wireless router, and cordless phones snafus are all related, I'm sure. The planets are out of alignment and there are excessive sunspots.

It can't be luck.


Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Trial and Error

I will admit, I am sleep deprived. Those who know me know I do not function well when I don't get my "beauty sleep."

So, I decide that this would be a perfect time to install a Content Management System (CMS) on my server. Sure, piece of cake! Do this while you are juggling 12 jobs in the air.

The short version of the "long sad story" is I decided at this very busy time of the year to upgraded my hosting contract to add databased capability and install a CMS. There were a few hiccups with this part of the process, but it seems to be working. Then I disassembled to clear space and avoid conflicts with the new app. Then after much searching, I selected a CMS that was promoted as "easy." It was anything but. Four hours and I was lost. So, I deleted that and went to my next choice. This one is "open source."

For those unfamiliar with the open source concept, simply this means software that is being developed in the open market with lots of players who are doing this work for free. The advantage is you get cutting edge technology at essentially no cost. The downside of course is you often get what pay for. There is essentially no "customer support" since to play in this field assumes you know what you are doing (and that you are ultimately contributing to the great good). Dangerous assumption. I know just enough to be dangerous.

You know all that money you play to Microsoft and other software companies? You know what you're buying? You're buying ease and peace of mind. Easy in installation - yeah a monkey can do that! - and piece of mind that some technogenius in New Delhi will get you out of a jam at 2:00 in the morning. You are paying for thousands of beta tests and insurance that the application will not crash the rest of your system. And you are paying for simple maintainence - most things are easy to fix, there are usually lots of co-workers who can help, and there are mega resources to help you when you get into trouble.

So, now I am looking for a good samaritan to help me get this thing installed. I am, as I put it tenderly on the discussion board of the group that puts this app together- " I am the lone voice crying out in the darkness - Help!!!!!!!!"

There has been a lot of trial and error. Partially because I don't really know what I am doing and am learning on the job. But I have successfully installed other PHP/MySQL apps before (see the lovely Moodle site on or the PHPbb discussion group at the same location - stunning. These were simple by comparison.

Since there is no investment here in money, it is just time. Oh, and no sleep.

More later