Aaron Walden and CE Image

I would like to thank Aaron Waldon, of Causing Effect, who helped me through some issues with the installation of CE Image for Expression Engine.

And by helping I mean he actually fixed it for me, having to customize some PHP to deal with my wonky server. I think he went above and beyond the $8 I spent on the plug-in and would recommend CE Image to anyone who has to manipulate images in Expression Engine.

GMail, IMAP, Sparrow and Mail. How We Got Here and What I Am Doing Now

I’ve been using Gmail for a while now, long before I liked washing all of my mail through it’s spam filters before downloading to my iPhone, but it hasn’t been so great for me lately.

It’s slower. There has been some downtime for me. And something strange that has been happening more and more lately…

Gmail does not give you control over how often your POP accounts are checked. Where at home, you may tell it to check every 5 to 10 minutes, Gmail does not give you this option, leaving you to trust Gmail to know how often it needs to check.

I have recently been having issues where I will be going about my day, thinking that I am having a very light email day, surprisingly. When I get back to my desk and my email settings, Gmail will tell me that it hasn’t checked my mail for 17 or 18 hours and when I force it to check, 30 or 40 messages will appear in my inbox.

This is unacceptable.

Separately from this, I have started rolling my own servers. What does that mean Steve? Well, by that I just mean I am no longer beholden to your run of the mill hosting plans from the Media Temple(s), who I love, or Dreamhost(s), who I don’t love, of the world.

A few clicks of a mouse on Linode, Slicehost or Rackspace and you have your own little Linux install waiting for whatever you’d like to do to it. This is where my hosting is going. The downside to this is email. Hosting plans come with email, cloud computing doesn’t. Sure I can install my own email server on the box, but is handling email and spam for me and the people I host email addresses for really in anyone’s best interest?

So now I need an email solution. Hosted Gmail is an option. But just because you pay for it, doesn’t mean it’s going to work any better. I have heard from some people that hosted Gmail is even worse. Maybe that’s because they ARE paying for it and expect more.

There are a few good options for dedicated IMAP hosting. Some of the better options are FastMail, RackSpace and FuseMail. They all have their advantages, so investigate for yourself. Many people may be hesitant to pay for email, thinking that it is something they have had for free all this time, but if you want reliable delivery, good spam protection and multiple ways to access your mail, don’t hesitate to pay for a good service. $25 a year is not a lot for a good online service.

The convenience of Gmail always won out for me because I checked my mail in so many places. At home, on my phone, at work. But since leaving full-time employ and working for myself from home, I find that most of my email is done right at my home computer. So, is a web based solution really necessary at this point?

When using Gmail, I only used the web interface when I had to. I would recommend to anyone using Gmail to download Mailplane. It’s Mac only, but we are all using Macs here right. I mean we all want to be productive. It’s a great desktop App for managing your Gmail accounts, wether you have one or multiple. I wish Mailplane would allow for other email accounts as well, so I could still use it. Because like I said way back in the beginning of this ramble, I am getting away from Gmail.

We now arrive at desktop alternatives to Mailplane on the Mac. Supporting IMAP and being nice to use are really the only prerequisites. At this point I am working with two. Mail.app and Sparrow, available in the App Store.

I prefer Sparrow. The interface is nice to look at and minimal, reminding me more of a Twitter client than a mail app. It’s easy to get in and out quickly. But Mail.app does everything I need it to and Sparrow is missing two things I think I need it to have.

I prefer, almost need, a unified inbox. The way Sparrow is designed, it is easy to not notice the new message badge down in your list of email accounts. Yes, there are other indicators to new mail, but a unified inbox is the preferred method of solving the problem, at least in my case, and is keeping me from completely recommending it. Maybe it’s me. Maybe I have too many email addresses.

Not necessarily needed, but definitely wanted, would be for a way to spawn a window of tags/folders to drag and drop messages to for archiving. Or, any improvement to the archiving system. The current method of right clicking and selecting ‘Archive and Label’ is not working for me.

These two changes would probably get me to move permanently to Sparrow, and certainly recommend it. Until then, I will probably use Mail as my primary email solution, occasionally jumping into Sparrow.

My Fundamentally Flawed Response

John Gruber hardly needs anyone to defend what he has written or agree with him online to help his argument. Especially here, a blog where no one will even see it. But I would like to add something in response of Aaron Holesgrove’s post at Business Insider to John’s Daring Fireball post.

There is no need to go point for point to respond like Aaron decided to, and what I feel needs to be said is less a response to the article and more inspired by the article and it is something I have felt for a while and while I am typing this, yes, I believe this point is obvious. But not to PC defenders.

Up until a few years ago, Microsoft had a 90% plus share of the computer market. They no longer do. Why is that, you ask? Well, it is quite simple. The market that Microsoft has dominated, they still continue to dominate, but they, and their most avid supporters, refuse to realize that what they consider the ‘Computer’ has been redefined with out asking or permission.

Microsoft still dominates the market of towers under desks churning away at spreadsheets and word processing documents all day. They still control the market of glorified calculators and typewriters. And honestly, that is great, because with out calculators and word processors, a lot of work would come to a halt. And if you ignore quality, and the actual cost of your time and effort to keep PCs working, they still win most of the spec wars.

And you know what, I was right there with you for many years, reading specs and comparing bullet points. I used to get into heated arguments online about how stupid the idea of cost per Gigaflop was when the G5 Macs were first introduced. And I loved deciding if I was going to go with the Abit/Intel combo on my motherboard, or if it was time to try an Asus/AMD combination.

But, while everyone was speculating wether or not this was the release that Microsoft was really going to get rid of DOS, Apple quietly moved on. They changed the game and showed everyone that there was great power in simplicity and beauty. Apple products are considered toys because PC users can’t imagine that things can be simple and powerful.

You code the word ‘Slow’ into dozens of languages around the world and the Mac uses an image of a turtle. You say, ha it’s for kids. It’s a drawing of a turtle. Someone who puts a little more thought into things might see that Apple found a single image that the entire world will recognize and interpret as slow and, while simple, found a much more simple, powerful and elegant way to say the same thing.

To draw an image of a person and have them be recognizable is easy, but what if you were challenged to capture everything about that person, and make them just as recognizable, in as few strokes as possible. In the end, the drawing itself may look very simple, but let me assure you, the work and skill going into making it seem so simple, would be anything but. Somewhere in that poorly written thought, I think, is the Mac.

Feel free to continue to dismiss an entire platform as a toy, it won’t hurt our productivity. And it sure doesn’t seem to hurt sales.

BTW, I did once go with the ASUS/AMD and just wasn’t satisfied. During that time, I also forgot the thermal grease once and fried the chip, too.

Acorn 3.0

I worked for years with a group of, let’s call them people, who would insist, and I mean absolutely insist, that they could not do specific functions of their job without Photoshop.

Can’t do it. Not gonna happen. We need Photoshop.

This job entailed, as far as I could tell, opening and closing pictures. And from the quality control side of things, I would argue that they didn’t even look at them, but that’s another post. In the end, we had to waste thousands of dollars on Photoshop licenses because they were able to convince the right people.

Gus Mueller, of Flying Meat, has put together a great image editor that has just been updated and made even better. Why anyone would spend all that money when Acorn is available for $29 is beyond me.

Writing, Taking Chances, and Merlin Mann Made Me Do This

Merlin Mann told me to do this. Type, type, type. If you want to write something and for some reason, whatever that may be, it isn’t happening, you should start moving your fingers on the keyboard. Eventually the words will start to come.

Well, this is me typing. I don’t know if I really have anything to say right now. I would like to write about refusing to help the guy at work who doesn’t know how to ‘copy and paste’, but I haven’t figured out how to write about that without being and sounding mean. I don’t know, maybe I should allow myself to be mean.

Just start to become comfortable with the sounds of the keys clicking as you hit them and you will find yourself eventually writing. Not just typing, but actually writing. My keys do not click very loudly, not like when I was a kid and my dad sat at the dining room table typing away on his typewriter, creating tests for his students. That was a comforting sound to me I think. Yes, this is my stream of consciousness just coming through my fingers.

I have always thought that I had something to say. Not that I necessarily wanted to be a writer, but I think that everyone does have something in them that should be communicated. Some people use art, some speak and some write. I think everyone has a story to tell.

I always wanted to be able to write. I feel like I can tell a good story. But something about the process of writing has always kept me from even really trying. Writing isn’t fast. It takes a long time to put your words down and even longer to fix your mistakes along the way. Then, eventually, you have to show what you have written to someone.

I think that is where my problem lies. I hate wasting time. So much that is crippling, and the thought of showing something I have created / written to someone and feel like it is going to be judged in some way is enough to keep me from even trying. The anonymity of the internet doesn’t even help because I know someone will see it eventually.

I guess the real issue for me isn’t moving my fingers across the keyboard to see what happens, it is letting myself actually say ‘screw it’ and allowing myself to take a chance.

This has been a monstrous year for me in terms of taking chances. I adopted a little girl in early 2010. After putting the process off for so long out of fear, I finally gave in and went for it, no matter how scared I was. Now, I walk / drive my five year old daughter to school everyday and thinking of her can bring tears to my eyes with how much I have grown to love her.

In September of 2010 I left my full time job. For years, and I mean years, my wife has been begging me to leave. She hated me working there more than I did. I felt underpaid, and being a web developer, my job was made for working at home. Why did I have to go and deal with these people that drive me so crazy for such little money when I had a wife begging me to leave to work for myself.

I resisted her for a solid 6-7 years until I finally said screw it. I walked in and told them I was leaving. I thanked the owner of the company, told him I loved my time there (I had been there for almost 15 years) and that it was time to move on. I needed to work for myself and I wanted more time to see my daughter. She needed me and I wasn’t going to let a job I was hating keep me from being with her. I was tired of leaving at 8 in the morning and not returning until almost 8 at night.

You really find out what your worth to someone when you tell them you are leaving. All of a sudden I was indispensable. They couldn’t go on with out me and would do almost anything to keep me. All of a sudden, there was more money available. Maybe I could change my working situation. Maybe we could find a way to work around my daughter’s schedule.

It was becoming apparent to me that it was really more about the job. It was becoming more about my little girl all the time. And no matter the money, I told them I couldn’t be there they way they wanted me to anymore. But I said I wouldn’t abandon them. They really did and do need me, so I agreed to come in for about 10-12 hours a week when my girl was at school, basically as an on-site consultant or freelancer, but I was not going to be available to them anymore, and I went home that day terrified. Did I really just quit?

Then out of the blue, I got a call. Someone needed a website built, could I help them? Well, I sure could. A relative had a business she needed online. Another needed an online gallery built. Someone I had working at my home needed their business website updated, and then his wife was starting a business and could I help her. All of these opportunities started appearing. I don’t know if they were there before, but now they were.

I felt like I was being rewarded for taking the chance to quit. Which I was only able to to because I felt like I needed to be around more for my daughter. Which only happened because I finally dove into the adoption head first.

Taking that one chance has dramatically altered any path that I was on and I could not even imagine what my life would have been like if I didn’t.

And now I am sitting here, moving my hands over a keyboard, wondering if I actually have anything to say and, at the same time, realizing that I could probably keep typing for the next hour.

If you aren’t familiar with Merlin Mann, you should be. he talks about being in control of your time and your attention. He is smart and personable and listening to someone like that talk, even if you don’t find it educational, it is definitely inspirational.

He got me to write 1100 words, didn’t he.

Real Steel (2011)

Look, I have been laughing at the previews for this movie for almost a year. What was Hugh Jackman thinking? I mean, isn’t this Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em robots with a different name.

Not so much, it’s more like Rocky with a robot.

And it is a lot better than any robot boxing movie deserves to be. Honestly, if you like Rocky, you will like this movie at least a little. At one point I could almost hear Sylvester Stallone yelling, “Hit me harder” in the final match of the movie.

The combination of Jackman pulling out all the charisma he can muster and a kid that isn’t completely annoying, and the filmmakers managed, against all odds, to put together a movie that is pretty fun and enjoyable.

The Ides of March (2011)

I think at this point it is fair to say that George Clooney makes good movies. Really good movies. Yes, I am ignoring Solaris.

I would argue that since Syriana, Clooney has been on a roll and I have to argue that it continues with The Ides of March.

The storyline is not the most original, but at the same time, it surprised me when it unfolded. And while not original it still wasn’t the direction I was expecting the movie to go. The previews did a good job of hiding what the conflict was going to be and the way it unfolded was quite nice, and a little unexpected.

My biggest concern was that this movie was going to turn into Clooney’s dream of a politician and his statement on what was wrong with the country right now. And while you can’t argue that some of that was present. Clooney plays a presidential candidate that is very flawed, and when it gets rough, he seems prepared to get as dirty as necessary. Enough to make you think someone could be killed.

I would recommend this movie to almost anyone in the mood for a good thriller and say that is one of the better movies I have seen in the last few months and probably the best movie in the theaters right now.

Google XML Weather Feed with Classic ASP

This took me a few days to get working and it drives me crazy because of how simple it is. My problem is that I tried to do it in Javascript first and my Javascript skills aren’t up to my ASP skills.

It is actually quite simple and here is the code.


set xmlHTTP = server.createobject("Microsoft.XMLHTTP")
xmlHTTP.open "Get", "http://www.google.com/ig/api?weather=philadelphia,pa", false
Set xml = xmlHTTP.ResponseXml
city = xml.documentElement.childNodes(0).firstChild.firstChild.attributes(0).nodeValue

currenttemp = xml.documentElement.childNodes(0).firstChild.nextSibling.childNodes(1).attributes(0).nodeValue
conditionstext = xml.documentElement.childNodes(0).firstChild.nextSibling.childNodes(0).attributes(0).nodeValue
conditionsicon = xml.documentElement.childNodes(0).childNodes(2).childNodes(3).attributes(0).Value


Then you can just response.write the values where you need them.

Bringing the object back was pretty easy, but traversing the DOM to get the information that I was looking for was a real pain. A combination of Firefox and Firebug made selecting what I needed a lot easier.

You will also notice that I have ‘philadephia, pa’ harcoded into the URL, but where this is being used, I use an IP locator to get the IP address of the user, convert that to a city and state and put that value into the URL, so that users can get their own weather and not mine.

Also ‘conditionsicon’ brings back a relative URL to an icon image for the current conditions. If anyone has a list of all possible conditions that would be amazingly helpful.

The Devil Wears Prada

I’m a little behind in my reviews, and I thought I’d catch up with what may actually be the best movie of the summer.

The story is pretty simple and most people are familiar with it at this point. Anne Hatheway is a beginning journalist wanna be and Meryl Streep is her satan like boss.

Meryl Streep comes alive and just eats this part up as the devilish boss of a world reknown fashion magazine. As Anne Hatheway stumbles through her best attempts to please her boss, Meryl Streep digs in, and digs, and digs and never lets up.

Even at the end of the movie when we get our ‘everythings peachy’ ending, Meryl Streep still doesn’t let up enough to make it seem feel good.

Most men will probably want to avoid this movie, as was evident by the proportion of women to men at the showing that I was at. But I wouldn’t pigeon hole this as a chick flick just because it’s about a fashion magazine and has an almost all women cast. This is basically an evil boss movie and I think that’s something almost everyone can relate to.

The problem with Twitter

I remember seeing a James Bond movie recently, probably on TNT, and noting the camera takes. I saw, in the film, a scene that went on for close to two minutes with nary a change in angle or cut in the scene at all. And it was hardly the only scene in the film that was like that.

Contrasting that with a movie of today, editors are seemingly cutting movies for audiences on crack. Scene and angle changes take place over the course of seconds never allowing an audience to focus, never putting enough content in front of an audience for a long enough period of time to find the substance within it.

It makes filmmaking easier. It lowers the bar for real talent. When you are only giving the audience enough time to focus on what is moving in the scene, you can take short cuts and ignore what might give what you are making some actual substance.

I feel the same way about twitter in a lot of cases. Now, I realize that much of twitter is quick Q&A’s and FaceBook-like updates, but if I am following someone on twitter it’s usually because I want to hear what they have to say and I think I want to hear more than 140 characters.

I think others feel the same way as more and more people are using twitter as a portal to their blogs. Making it more of an announcement system than a micro-blogging platform. Which is exactly what I don’t like.

Twitter grabbed a hold of our country’s ADHD-level attention span and along with FaceBook, Tumblr, texting, and summary blogs – are creating a level of communication with out context or substance.

Certainly everyone can be a blogger. But not everyone can be a writer.