Technology

Posts filed under Technology

A better look for my blog

Filed in Technology

A few days ago, I began looking at the way my blog was styled and considered methods of improving it or at least making it look nicer. I'm a perfectionist in many ways so placing style information within the actual web page was not the way to go. Instead, I used style sheets (technically known as Cascading Style Sheets or CSS for short). They're similar to the way text styles work in word processors. They were developed by the World Wide Web consortium as a way to simplify and centralise the visual design of web pages but took a very long time to be fully embraced by the web community at large. These days, we're looking at version three of the CSS standard and other than Internet Explorer, almost every browser is on board to fully support the standard soon.

I'm not going to bore you with the techie details because they are boring for all but the people actually using CSS to make their web sites more attractive, functional and manageable.

Anyway, after three nights of customising the layouts and style sheets, my blog's pages are fully scalable. So if you think the text is too small to read, simply enlarge it using your web browser's Bigger Text function and the whole page will scale appropriately; even the left and right columns. If you need really big text, I'd suggest getting a 17" monitor and enlarging the page to the full size of the screen. I tried it, and it works great.

Other improvements: Pictures within the stories will scale down if you narrow the middle column, and they now have a nice black border for better definition. The calendar in the left column now indicates dates with linked stories much more effectively.

And in case I forget, there's also the new Subscribe to email notification feature in the right column. If you'd like to be notified every time I post a new article, type your email address into the field and click the Subscribe button. RSS news feeds still work too if you'd prefer to use RSS.

I'm definitely not a web expert, so if you find any glitches in my blog regarding the placement and size of the text or pictures, please let me know.

As advanced as CSS is, there are still a few aspects of it which are quite mind-numbing. How properties 'cascade' is a little complex in some situations, and creating a scalable page using relative em values was not easy either. The technology still has a way to go before it's really mature, and we're still waiting for wysiwyg web page layout applications which fully support CSS rather than tables and in-tag style properties. On the other hand, if you write the code for your web page with sound structure, then laying it out and adding appearance properties to it becomes relatively easy; once you fully understand how CSS works.

I won't talk much about web technologies. I suspect that for the majority of my readers (Douglas excepted of course), web technologies would be very boring to read about.

My next article will be more to the liking of most of my readers: ie, coffee!

Comments in Chinese?

Filed in General, Technology

This is a heads up for those of you who might want to leave comments in Chinese. It's not a problem. I can comfortably read Chinese and even reply in Chinese if necessary.

Comments in Chinese?

Filed in General, Technology

今晚好開心同 @kayeepo 譚嘉儀 合唱歌。舊年喺YouTube 見到佢嘅時候估唔到我會有機會同呢個靚女 Superstar Youtuber 合作。

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I’m an addict!

Filed in General, Technology

I've been an addict for quite some time, and not just to one thing either. I've been drinking coffee for several years and usually have to drink at least one cup every day, sometimes two or three cups every day. Off and on, I've also been a TV addict, and I'm probably a dog addict but that's still up for discussion. My biggest and worst addiction though has been my computer!

While others get addicted to surfing on the internet or playing online games or participating in online MUDs (are they still around?), I'm simply addicted to my computer whether I'm surfing, checking email, scanning photographs or watching videos. Every morning when I wake up, the first thought that comes into my head is whether there is any email for me even though I receive very few non-spam emails. All through the day, rather than consider useful things to do, it's much easier to sit down in front of the computer and find stuff to do. You can waste countless hours putting all of your computer files in order.

For years, I spent hours perfecting automation scripts on my computer to 'make life easier'. I became an excellent AppleScript scripter but that was the only benefit. While running a computer software distributorship here in Hong Kong, I spent more time perfecting my databases and forms systems than actually selling the products. Maybe it's a symptom of agoraphobia. While sitting in front of the computer, you don't have to face other people.

The reality of an addiction to computers though is very harsh. You wake up in the morning thinking about email. Once you've poured yourself a cup of coffee, you sit down to see what came in the mail. You then surf your regular web sites even though you surfed them just the evening before because something new may have been posted on the sites. When that's all finished, you think about scanning more of that film lying around and cataloging it for easy future reference. Or you watch a few tv series while surfing some more. After dinner, you're back on the computer surfing those sites again and watching more tv series. At around midnight, you feel the first pangs of being tired but you stay seated anyway and half an hour later, you're not tired anymore. Two hours later, the tired feeling comes back with a vengeance and you decide finally that it's time to go to bed. While you're having your shower, you're imagining all of the great productive things you're going to do tomorrow and then you go to bed. When you wake up in the morning; usually not so perky and sprite because of the very late night you had; you pour yourself a cup of coffee and check your email, and the circle continues.

After doing this for a very long time; think years; I decided that I really had to do something about it. (The irony here is that while fixing the problem, I'm here writing this blog on the very computer I'm trying to avoid.)

I'm using Apple's OS X which supports multiple users. I searched for a time-limiting application over at www.versiontracker.com and found one. After trying it for two weeks, I purchased it. It's called Watcher and I've set it up to limit my computer time to just two hours a day. After two hours, Watcher logs out of my account and I have to wait until the next day before I can begin using my account again.

Now I have admin rights and many people will think that installing the time-limiting application is going to be useless in the end because I can always use my admin rights to increase my time allocations. While that's true, I have found that the simple reminder that my time is up is almost always enough to let me walk away from the computer. In any case, I have already assigned admin rights to my wife and taken admin rights away from my own account. Once my wife changes her password, I will not be able to change the time allocation on my account without asking her for the password. That extra complication will almost guarantee that I'll walk away from the computer when my time's up each day.

So what happens when you're forced; albeit gently; to leave your computer after just two hours of usage. Well the first thing that happens is that you suddenly begin thinking about what you're going to do on the computer before you log into your account, and you prioritise those tasks, something you never did before. It's a good thing. Right? But wait. It gets better. (sounds like one of those TV advertainment shows) Suddenly, you don't want to sit down all the time. You actually go out for runs and activities. You play and practise the piano more and you begin doing all of those things that you imagined at night while showering. You sleep earlier because you're not glued to the computer. You eat less because you're not fatigued and glued to the computer. You're healthier because you're sleeping more, eating less and exercising and your mind is clearer and begins to function the way it's supposed to. Overall, it's a great thing.

Are you addicted to your computer? For me, other than the daily routine that I mentioned above, there was another tell-tale sign. I was bored while surfing the net or watching the tv series. That's the kicker. If you're bored while on the computer but you continue to use the computer irrespective especially when there are plenty of other productive things that could or need to be done, then you're addicted and it's time to think about limiting your access to the computer.

My experiment with the Watcher application and time allocation has been a huge success so far.

There was one other thing I did. I created another account for myself. It doesn't have admin rights and doesn't have time limits but it only has access to specific applications. One of those is my backup application so that the computers in our house can get backed up any time of the day without restriction. Another one of the applications is Practica Musica. I figure if I'm addicted to the computer, I might as well use that addiction to improve myself. I need to continue improving my music abilities and Practica Musica can teach me a lot; in particular, ear training, perfect pitch and intervals. Another one of the 'approved' applications is Rosetta Stone's language application. I'm sure you get the idea.

So, I'm a computer addict but I'm doing something about it. Life's looking much better already and I'm actually living again. The future looks promising. What about you? Are you a computer addict?

Digital photos are good?

Filed in General, Technology

For the past 6 months, I've tussled with trying to set up a reliable backup system for my digital photographs and film scans. I have been scanning my photographic film with a film scanner at 4000 dpi. The raw images are around 130MB each and it takes a long time to scan a whole roll of film. My 200GB external drive had numerous scanned images on it and the last thing I wanted was a hard disk failure. A backup was of the utmost importance.

People using computers today are working more and more with digital photos, movies and music and all of these require massive amounts of disk space. Archiving these for protection is not easy. Tape drives are expensive. RAID 5 towers are probably the best option but are also too expensive. That leaves DVD because CDs are too small to consider.

So in August of 2004, I purchased a 8x DVD writer and upgraded my backup software to take advantage of it. Little did I know that the road to successful and reliable DVD backups was going to be so difficult.

Frequently and randomly during backup, the backup program would report DVD drive errors. More than a hundred hours of problem shooting and more than 50 coasters later, I discovered that the DVD drive was the problem. It wasn't good enough for the strict requirements of my backup program. I have now swapped the drive for a wonderful Sony DRU-720A Double Layer 16x drive and everything is right again in the world. My backups work and my hours of scanning are secure.

However, this episode has made me examine the idea of digital photos much more closely. What so many people with digital cameras don't seem to realise is that it's very easy to lose those photos. Hard drives die. CDs and DVDs change and become unreadable. There is simply no way to guarantee that your photos will always be there for years to come. My research has shown that the best option is probably to backup to DVD+R, maintaining at least two separate sets of backups, preferably on two different brands of discs just in case one brand is not as durable as the other. It would also be prudent to duplicate the backups to new disc media every 3 to 5 years. That's a lot of work but remember; once those photos become unreadable or inaccessible, they're gone, forever. Nothing you can do will bring them back. It will be as if they had never existed.

I have a nice Canon EOS 5 camera. It shoots film. I've decided to go back to shooting film instead of digital. If I shoot slide film, scanning with calibration is simple and I'll always have the original film to go back to if the scanned images evaporate from the world of the living.

Digital photography is extremely convenient, but until there's a more permanent way of preserving those photos, film may still be the better option (as long as you can afford the film scanner of course).