I like… Webcomics

I was going to pick just one, but I can’t really stretch a whole post out of why I like a single webcomic, so I’ll speak generally and then give you a list.

I’ve followed certain webcomics for probably about 10 years now. In the early days that involved remembering which sites to go to and checking them every day. Needless to say, I didn’t follow too many back them.

At one point, I followed a set of instructions for writing a script for downloading all your favourite strips for offline reading (this was before always on broadband internet was common). It worked really well too. I even managed to write an offline ‘home page’ in HTML that displayed them all for me in one big page, one after the other. It also left me with a great archive of all the strips if I ever wanted to revisit them.

I never did.

Nowadays we have RSS feeds for most of them and it is a simple matter of plugging in a feed address into Google Reader or your reader of choice and away you go. Every time the strip gets updated, there it is. Webcomics have never been more accessible.

There is something about webcomics (as opposed to the normal paper-based strips) that appeals to me. First of all, I don’t buy the paper that often and the one that I do (the Weekend Australian) doesn’t have a funnies page (it’s far too high-brow for that). But as well as that, there are particular themes that run through many of them. Computers and the internet for one (for obvious reasons), geek culture in general is another. They make me feel right at home.

When I went to compile my list I noticed how small it has got. I have sometimes had as many as twenty or more, but I do cull them occasionally (like I do with all my RSS feeds) and I haven’t replaced them with anything new.

Just on the culling process, I have found that I don’t really like the larger strips with convoluted stories. Those strips that are essentially short stories in picture form. I like to just have a quick look, have a giggle then go on to the next one. For the same reason, when I read a paper with funnies I tend to skip over Phantom or Modesty Blaise and the like. If I want to read a graphic novel, I’ll go buy one from the newsagent.

Here I have my list of comics that are currently in my Google Reader:

    • Darths and Droids: A screen-capture strip made in homage to the great DM of the Rings (and if Shamus happens to read this: please, please, please put the old strips of Chainmail Bikini up somewhere). The artist is taking screen shots of the Star Wars films and making a comic strip story based on the premise that they are characters in a roleplaying game. Plenty of D&D and Star Wars in jokes. A bigger strip, but not too many words for my attention span.

 

    • Order of the Stick: D&D in jokes galore. OOTS is starting to try my patience with too-long strips, but I have had far too many laughs from them in the past to give up just yet.

 

    • PvP: or Player vs Player. The life of the team at a (computer) gaming magazine. Crude and sometimes potty-mouthed but without a doubt my favourite strip. Characters are well-defined and lovable (especially Skull the flatulent troll). I sometimes miss the computer-game references but there is plenty of D&D love in there too and most of the jokes are PvP-jokes anyway. Good work @pvponline!

 

    • Dilbert: Dilbert is required reading. It has its own line in the geek code for goodness sake!

 

    • Doghouse: as in “In the doghouse”. I’ve only just starting following Doghouse, but anything that makes jokes about the differences between men and women is good value in my book.

 

    • UserFriendly: The first version of The IT Crowd, only Canadian. An oldie but a goodie, but currently only running repeats.

 

 

j j j

auTAKU: An Australian Otaku Blog [tilt review]

To start my TILT (Things I Like Thursday) series, I thought I would point you in the direction of a relatively new blog run by my friend Steve McKenzie.

I make a point of following all the blogs run by RL friends and family and when I found Steve’s old blog “Steve Likes…” I added it to Google Reader and read the articles as they came off the press. To be honest, a lot of the things that Steve Likes I don’t have as much interest in as I might earlier have (but that probably says more about me than anything else) but Steve writes well and inspires interest in the things He Likes.

Which brings me to the successor blog, auTAKU. The name itself is a play on the term otaku with the “au” replacing the “o” because he’s an Aussie. Apparently, an otaku is a “person with obsessive interests, particularly anime, manga, and video games.” (thanks Wikipedia) and once you understand that, you’ll get an idea of the content over at auTAKU.

There’s reviews of computer games, movies, collectable figures, anime/manga, technology and all sorts of Japan-related stuff. Like I said earlier, most of this means very little to me but if he can keep the interest of an unbeliever like myself I can imagine that the site would be of particular interest to anyone who shares the things Steve Likes (are you listening @starconstant?)

I am particularly impressed with the way Steve has branded his blog. He’s set a target of what he wants to write about, picked a really cool and clever name (which he really needs to pick up the domain for before he loses the chance) and posts regularly with well-written posts.

Anyone with an interest in popular Japanese culture or anyone who just wants to see a well-done startup blog should go visit Steve now. And if you’ve missed all my links hidden in the text and images above, here it is again: http://autaku.wordpress.com/.

(Don’t take this the wrong way Steve, but I rushed this post so I could get started on my Project52 challenge and my TILT series. Doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate your work any less.)

j j j

Violet Crumble Cheesecake

Here’s a nice recipe, minimally converted from a Tim Tam Cheesecake recipe to use Violet Crumble instead and to add some thermomix directions. It was a big hit with children and wife. Mum too, but she made me put more Violet Crumble in it the second time I made it (quantity below is this higher amount).

I love the way the honecomb “melts” if you leave this in the fridge for a while. I’ve never really been a big cheesecake fan myself (this was made primarily for my darling Linda, and then for Mum when she requested a re-do), but I could manage to eat lots of this I think.

Please excuse the copy-and-paste image. I’ll update the post with a photo taken of the real thing once I get the camera emptied onto the computer.

Ingredients:

    • 250 grams plain chocolate biscuits

 

    • 80 grams butter melted

 

    • 375 grams cream cheese cubed and softened

 

    • 1/2 cup caster sugar

 

    • 1 teaspoon vanilla essence

 

    • 1 cup thickened cream

 

    • 3 teaspoons powdered gelatin dissolved in 1/4 cup boiling water

 

    • 200 grams white chocolate melted and cooled

 

    • 150 grams Violet Crumble chocolate (3 regular bars)

 

Method:

    1. Place biscuits in a blender and process into fine crumbs (10 seconds in thermomix on speed 7)

 

    1. Add the butter and process to combine (5 seconds in thermomix on speed 5). Press the mixture into spring-form baking pan and refrigerate 30 minutes.

 

    1. Beat the cream cheese, sugar and vanilla with an electric mixer until smooth.

 

    1. Beat in cream.

 

    1. Melt chocolate (in microwave, give 1 minute at 50% power, repeat until soft). Beat into mixture.

 

    1. Dissolve gelatin in boiling water and beat into mixture.

 

    1. Chop the Violet Crumble and stir into the cream cheese mixture then pour over the biscuit base.

 

  1. Cover and refrigerate until set.
j j j

Running Azureus (Vuze) as a windows service revisited

This is a follow-up to my 2006 post. It’s a shame I’m not using Windows any more and I can’t figure this out for OS X, but the old post continues to get hits, so I thought I would neaten things up a bit!

I haven’t completely tested this system with more recent versions of Azureus/Vuze, but all the files seem to be much the same, so I’m guessing it will be OK. Please leave any comments with news to the contrary.

As before, I have taken much of my information from other places, but I feel I’ve put it together in an easier to follow manner. In particular, the bulk of ideas came from the azureus wiki

Step 1: Install Azureus and enable Headless operation

  1. Download the executable installer from sourceforge
  2. Ensure that the installation directory contains the file Azureus2.jar
  3. Download the files log4j.jar and commons-cli.jar from here and place into the Azureus directory. This will allow command-line (headless) operation.
  4. To run, use command java -jar Azureus2-XXX.jar --ui=console
Your Azureus directory should look like this

 

Step 2: Install plugins

    1. Run Azureus in regular mode. NB: To configure the options for these plugins (and any other general settings such as download directories, you need to be in regular GUI mode)

 

    1. Install the HTML WebUI plugin. Configure the settings for the plugin such as the port number, username and password

 

  1. At the same time, I installed the Speed Scheduler

Step 3: Test the setup so far

    1. Exit from GUI

 

    1. Run: java -jar Azureus2.jar --ui=console

 

    1. Go to 127.0.0.1:6886, enter username and password and you should see the WebUI as below.

 

  1. Exit from the command line (Ctrl-C), try to refresh the HTML (it shouldn’t work).

 

Step 4: Install the service

Thanks to info here and here.

    1. Need to install the programs instsrv.exe and srvany.exe from the Win2K resource kit. I put it in C:Program Filesreskit

 

  1. Run the following command: C:Program FilesreskitINSTSRV.EXE Azureus C:Program FilesreskitSRVANY.EXE. This creates a windows service in the “services” control panel applet, and the appropriate registry entry.

 

4.1 Edit registry.

    1. Go to the new registry key at HKEYLOCALMACHINEsystemCurrentControlSetServicesAzureus

 

    1. Create a new key “Parameters” and go there

 

    1. Create the following String Values (NB: string values do not contain quotes):

 

    1. Application: Java

 

    1. AppParameters: “-jar -Xrs Azureus2.jar –ui=console” (NB the -Xrs switch is to stop the the console from shutting down when logged off – not sure if I understand why, but the wiki article says “You’ll then find that whenever someone logs out of the computer, Azureus will stop. That’s because the Java VM is trapping some signals like WM_ENDSESSION, and exits gracefully. You can tell Java to ignore it, with the switch -Xrs, as documented by Sun)

 

  1. AppDirectory: “c:program filesazureus” (or whatever is appropriate)

 

4.1 Edit control panel stuff

    1. Go to control panel, administrative tools, services (see image above)

 

  1. Find azureus, double click for properties
  • In the General tab, probably want startup type as automatic
  • In the Log On tab – use “this account” and set up your details. If these don’t match, then what you set up when using the GUI won’t match to the details when running as a service.
  • Tell the service to “start” then test as above

Step 5: Usage

I also created a couple of shortcuts to enable quick starting and stopping of the service (eg when the download is slowing your net connection):

    • “Start downloads”: %windir%system32net.exe start azureus

 

  • “Stop downloads”: %windir%system32net.exe stop azureus

I make sure these shortcuts are somewhere Launchy (or your app launcher of choice) can get to them to make turning azureus on and off a breeze.

j j j

New netgear print server, easier said than done

After the failure of a JetDirect server on one of our workgroup printers, I purchased a NetGear PS101 mini print server to replace it. We have had joy with a similar D-link machine on another printer, so I was confident this would work.

It did work, but not without some fiddling around.

To start with, the server management software would not install on our Windows 2003 domain server. I didn’t chase down why because I didn’t want to have to use it anyway. It had something to do with the 16-bit subsystem. But it was a bad start.

Thanks to this thread on the netgear forums I was able to get things working to my satisfaction, and without having to use the print server software. Here’s the summary.

  1. Discover the IP address the DHCP server had allocated to the print server, log into the web interface and then set a permanent IP address.
  2. Go to Printers and Faxes and “add a new printer”. When asked for a port, create a new one.
  3. Choose “standard tcp/ip port”
  4. Set the IP address to the one you fixed.
  5. Do not try to select a particular print server or network card, just use the “choose generic network card” option.
  6. Finish creating the printer as normal.
  7. Go to the properties of that printer, go to the Port tab and then select “port properties” of the port you created.
  8. Set the protocol to LPR, make the queue name “L1” and enable “LPR byte counting”.
  9. It took me a while to realise this, but I needed to reset the printer before continuing. Check the status page of the online management and if you see “offline” or something similar then a reset will probably solve that problem.

This took far too long to sort out today. When I installed the D-link earlier this year it only took minutes. But it is working now and is likely to stay that way. Good.

j j j

Launch Vmware fusion apps from Quicksilver

I switched to a Mac late last year (traded a Powerbook for a Compaq Presario) and immediately started being jealous of all the owners of newer Macs with their intel chips. Specifially, I wanted VMware fusion so that I could run those select few windows apps I have yet to find reasonable mac substitutes for.

So when I bought a new MacBook Pro recently, I made sure I got a copy of Fusion at the same time. It works as advertised and has been very useful.

Unfortunately, I decided to use my Boot Camp partition as my Windows VM, which was a bad choice as far as convenience is concerned. It is not possible to “suspend” the VM, so starting up Fusion to quickly run Solitaire is not all that simple… It has to wait for Windows to boot.

Today I decided to start a new virtual machine, and it has made a great difference. After suspending the machine before closing Fusion, starting Solitaire from its dock icon takes less than 10 seconds. That’s not much more than a native app.

OK, here’s to the point of this post… I don’t use the dock much. According to all the help docs I could find, when a windows app is running in Unity mode, its icon shows up on the dock. Ctrl-click and then choose “keep in dock” and you have your shortcut. That’s great if you use the dock. I don’t as a rule. I use Quicksilver normally and sometimes just Finder.

So here is my solution:

  1. Have a look in the Finder for your VM. Normally it will be in ~/Documents/Virtual Machines. Ctrl-Click and “show package contents”.
  2. See there… a folder called Applications! As far as I can see, that contains links for all the programs you have previously run in Unity mode.
  3. Go to Quicksilver preferences. Under catalogue, add your VM directory. In my case it was “~/Documents/Virtual Machines.localized/Windows XP Professional.vmwarevm”.
  4. Wait for a rescan and away you go. (If an app isn’t in the catalogue, run it at least once manually: either from the VMware dock icon or menu bar).
  5. Alternatively, you could just find the shortcut in the directory above and create an alias somewhere useful (eg Desktop).

I am looking forward to having much more convenient access to all my (fortunately few) indispensible Windows apps. (there’s a topic for another post)

j j j

Address Protection HOWTO

Please note, this is not about spam filtering. Filtering is like shutting the barn
door after the horse has bolted. Having said that, it is often necessary, but luckily can be
done when it is.
This document is about protecting your email address so that it does not get into the hands
of those who would abuse it. Now that is easier said than done. Consider all of these things
that you may do on the internet:

  • Post to a publically viewable forum, mailing list or usenet group
  • Sign up for a “special offer”
  • Register for access to a site
  • Put your contact details on a web page
  • etc, etc …

Each of these things (and no doubt many more that I haven’t thought of) put your email
address within reach of friendly spammers. Once they have it, it has a tendency to multiply
as those helpful people share their information with each other!
… So prevention is much better than cure …

How to do it?

Only one option:
Never. Give. Your. Email. Address. To. Anyone.
That’s it, problem solved, no more spam.
What? You want to get email?Then why are you reading this?
Oh, you want email from friends?Well, that’s different!
OK, you can’t not give your email address, but you can be careful who you give it to. My
advice is this:

  1. Never put your true email address on posts to mailing lists or forums.
  2. Never give a company your true email address.
  3. Never put your true email address anywhere on the web where it can be freely read.
  4. Be very careful which people you give the address to. Are they likely to send
    pointless messages to everyone in their address book, which then get forwarded on and on
    and on, with the entire history of to: and cc: there for the whole world to see. Unfortunately,
    you may be related to such people and have no choice, but just think about it.

Notice I said TRUE email address. The alternative is to use an address that is not true. What do I mean?

  • Wherever possible you could just make up an address, but
    we are assuming that you want to receive at least some mail from this person or group (even
    if it is just a confirmation to your registration). This option is obviously limited.
  • For web pages etc, you could always do something like this: myusername at bigpond dot com.
    Spammers use “robots” that scan web pages for text in the format of abc@def.net. This avoids
    that, but the spammers and their bots are getting smarter, so this way wouldn’t work for
    long
  • Use an unimportant webmail address (hotmail, yahoo, gmail etc) for spam-attracting stuff. This
    could lead to problems later, but you could always delete it and start again.
  • I consider the best option to be …

    Disposable Email Addresses

    . This is basically what this document is about. I personally use a combination of two systems,
    which I will outline here.

Address Guard by Yahoo!

This method requires that you have a Yahoo! account and have activated your web mail with them. If you don’t want to give Yahoo your true email address, go to the following section first then come back here.
From the main yahoomail page, click on “Mail Options”, then click on “Address Guard”.
I suggest you take the time to go through the “tour”.
First of all, you will need to create a “base name”. This forms (as you would expect) the “base” of your disposable email addresses. Make it different to your Yahoo! ID.
Then you can create a disposable email address as you want one, just follow the prompts. The addresses take the form of:

BASENAME-AFFIX@yahoo.com

where BASENAME is your base name and AFFIX is whatever characters you want
(make it something related to what you are using it for so that you can recognise it later!)

A few points:

  • It is possible to use the addresses so created to send mail from (using Yahoo mail) if you
    set them up to allow that.
  • It is possible to filter the email so that all the messages to the DEA go to a certain folder
    (again, this is set up when you first create the address, but you can go back and edit these settings later.
  • If you start getting spam to that address, simply delete the address (It’s disposable, remember!) And as an added bonus, you also know who is responsible for selling your address (you only gave this address out to one person/organisation right?)

The disadvantage to this system is that each disposable email address must be set up manually first.
To counter that problem, see the next section!

Spam Gourmet

Spam Gourmet (www.spamgourmet.com) is the ultimate in on-the-fly disposable email addresses. The name comes from its creators desire to “eat” as much spam as possible! Its use is somewhat complicated at first, so listen carefully…
First, go to www.spamgourmet.com and create an account. Standard fare, nothing to see here folks. Just two quick points though:

  • They do ask for an email address. This is important as they forward the “real” mail that
    comes through their system to it. So don’t make one up!
  • Try to make your username as small as possible (ie with as few letters/numbers as possible). This just makes your disposable email addresses shorter. Handy, but not essential

That’s basically it. You do not need to create your addresses first like you do with Address Guard, they are literally created “on-the-fly”.
The addresses have the following format:

EMAILNAME.NUMBER.USERNAME@spamgourmet.com

Where:

  • EMAILNAME = the name you give the address. This could be anything. For example, if you are signing up for an amazon account, you could make it “amazon”
  • NUMBER = How many message do you want to receive to this address before they start getting “eaten”. This can be any number (but the most you can set it to is 20, any higher number will still only allow 20 through) or any letter or word. If alpha is included instead of numberic, then the point at which the first letter of the word appears in the alphabet is the number allowed (a=1, b=2 etc). NB: It is possible to “reset” this number on the spamgourmet page, but I won’t go into that here.
  • USERNAME = your spamgourmet username
  • @ spamgourmet.com – there are other alternatives (all the domains registered by the spamgourmet folks). I personally use xoxy.net because it is the shortest.

So when you sign up to amazon, put your address at amazon.10.user@xoxy.net and you will get up to 10 messages from them (or whichever spammers they have shared your address with) and then all further messages will be “eaten”.

A few points:

  • You can add “trusted senders” (or domains) so that all messages from that address will get
    delivered and not advance the number of messages. You can add any number or senders to your account (which will work for any of your addresses) and/or each individual address can have one trusted sender.
  • If you reply to a message that comes through the spamgourmet system, it goes back via
    spamgourmet and looks to the recipient as if it had come from your disposable email address.
  • You can (using a form on the spamgourmet page) generate an address to send a message to so
    that it will appear as if it has come from one of your email addresses (this works in the same way as the reply trick above)
  • The home page has heaps of added features for managing your addresses. Please explore
    further (though I am happy to help if I can, email me at public.email.mule@xoxy.net
    for assistance)
  • If you start to get lots of unwanted messages from an address you can always drop the number of messages remaining down to zero and hide it and not use it any more. You do not delete these addresses, because if you did, it would just get regenerated the first time someone emailed it again!

Conclusion

OK, this is a real hack of a document, but it’s a start.
Bottom line is: prevention is better than cure. Watch who you give your unprotected address
to and where you put it where it can be seen!

j j j