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New Biofuel System

This technology is probably the only biofuel technology I'm really excited about. Unlike E85, it doesn't use food crops, and although algae based programs don't compete directly with food crops, they still require fermentation of cellulose, or refining of algae produced oil to create fuel. More links here and here. Joule Biotechnologies website here. I've been thinking for a while that we should be able to extract CO2 from the atmosphere and produce fuel. Now Joule has gone and built something that might be able to do that.

Usability and "Linuxification"

This week, Neil McAllister at InfoWorld wrote about User Interface (UI) design in applications (whether for in house or general use). He argues that the UI should be left to professionals, that the professional UI designers should be given final say in UI design, and that software suffers because developers are building the UI or the usability expert's concerns are dismissed or overruled by developer interests. I certainly have seen the "damage" that software developers can do when left in charge of user interaction; terse messages, techno-babble, pointless configuration options, arcane defaults, etcetera. I'm guilty of such damage myself, but I make no claims to expert status, though I'm a bit more motivated to acquire that status to improve my consulting business.
Continue reading "Usability and "Linuxification""

Working around KDE bug 162485

KDE Distro If you want to add support for third party certificates in your KDE 4 desktop, you'll have to work around this languishing bug. KDE for some arrogant reason includes its own certificate authority bundle located in /usr/share/kde*/apps/kssl/ca-bundle.crt, but doesn't provide the tools needed to modify the collection as a normal user. Therefore, as root, move this file out of the way, and link to your distribution's certificate bundle (typically in /etc/ssl/certs). This will let you use your distribution's SSL tools for managing SSL, rather than waiting for KDE to implement these important features. Changes to the distro's CA bundle will require restarting the applications using SSL/TLS before they can see the new root certificate authorities, but that's better than having to click through nag screens for certificates that should be trusted. We still have the security problem of not being able to verify certificates in any app but Konqueror, but the above fix removes the need to do that if you have a Root CA.

Why is it so hard...

to put on a decent festival? Is it the economy? Is it greed by the organizers, by civic leaders? Is it the need to "show a profit?"

Today I took my family to Hog Days for the fourth time. We like to go for the BBQ, the carnival rides, the artsy vendors, the car show, and the booths by the civic organizations. We also like to hang out by the Project Racing Home tent and scratch the ears of Gus's old kennel-mates.

This year however, the entrance fee -- which was free the first time we went -- was $5/adult, up from $3 the last two years. The number of artistic vendors was down about 30% from the last year, and about 70% since the first year. The carnival rides were few in number, the first year there were tons. The civic org booths were pathetic, the car show, while it had a nice '65 Shelby Mustang, a '45 Ford Custom and a few other nice classic cars, also "featured" a 1997 Ford Crown Victoria with a cracked plastic panel near the hood and cheesy 19" wheels, and had about half the number of cars as last year's show. There was no motorcycle show this year, though there had been the last three. At least the BBQ was top notch; the sandwiches were much larger than last year too. I think I even know the guys who won 5th place.

Then there was the issue of parking.

When you go to an event as large as Hog Days, you expect a hassle when parking. The last three times we went to Hog Days, we enjoyed just parking on the street and walking a few blocks. It was a little crazy, but not overly so, but we never stayed much past noon because of the heat and the need to get the kids home to take naps. I imagine in the evenings it would get bad as the crowds built up towards evening. Still, for the "largest festival in Orange County" with attendance of up to 35,000 people, not that big of a deal.

This year, however, as we went to pull onto our customary parking street, a police officer waved us on, then explained that they weren't allowing street parking on that road (apparently there were a couple of accidents the previous year on that street). He said that we could park in one of the public decks (at $3.00 a car), at the old Walmart (and pay to take their shuttle), or on any other side street. So we picked a side street that fed into the rear entrance. It was actually a shorter walk than we typically have had. However, when we left the festival, we started seeing tell-tale pink slips on every car on the street. Hillsborough's finest had written a $10 ticket with the reason "obstructing the lane of traffic," to everyone who had parked alongside the street. Now, I admit that our car was sticking out onto the pavement about 12 inches, but two cars could have still passed on that narrow street, and traffic was still getting through. Of course there were no signs about warning about the arbitrary parking rules, though I doubt a town as large as Hillsborough doesn't have a few dozen barriers at their disposal to advertise them. A passing motorcycle cop explained that they had "made an announcement over the PA" for people to move their cars -- of course we never heard it -- and that they were ticketing "everyone parked on the street" when I asked if it was because I was still on the pavement about a foot. As we drove away, he had started writing more tickets on a different street. At least it was only a $10 ticket. They could have really filled their coffers if they had arbitrarily set the fine higher.

Well, that $10 parking "fee", and $5 admission makes a $4.00 BBQ sandwich an up to $19.00 BBQ sandwich, and the BBQ just isn't THAT good.

I can understand why they would not want thousands of cars parked along residential streets; crime invitations, potential property damage since almost no one in NC has proper streets, gutters, and sidewalks, neighbor complaints, traffic congestion, blocking driveways. But it's one lousy day a year. They already have all the police officers out and about to handle the potential problems. Now, Hillsborough has a potential revenue bonus in hundreds of $10 tickets, but they've lost four years of built up goodwill and lots of word of mouth advertising. I'll have to apologize to several people for having recommended that they should have gone this year, especially if they happened to make the same parking "mistake" we did. I'll also try to discourage anyone I hear talking about it from going next year.

Since attendance seemed down significantly this year over last, and it's been declining since our first year, I don't imagine that Hog Days has much time left unless serious changes are made. I certainly won't be going back again until those changes happen.

Are there other local festivals that haven't imploded on themselves? We're running out of options.

Web Browser Posers

Ok, I'm not a novice when it comes to developing websites: I've been building web pages for close on 15 years. But within the last week, I've come across two browser behaviors (or perhaps they're browser addon behaviors) that make me scratch my head.

First, a request coming from something sending the User-Agent "Mozilla/4.0"-- yes, that's all, no clarifiers or parentheticals-- is lopping off the GET parameters when a popup is launched through a button click via an onclick handler. This site states that this is a Yahoo! search something, but the links are not something that a Bot would come across. On the other hand, there is no referrer sent, whick makes me think it could be some kind of link preloader or some other browser add on. Also, I saw a very similar error today coming from Firefox 3.0, though I'm not sure it's related.

Second, and this is really baffling: Sometimes I'm getting requests from a browser identifying itself as IE 6.x that has the entire URL made lowercase. I'm use nice REST-ful URLs for my application, so when a identifier comes across as lowercase, it throws off the lookup. Of course my own copy of IE 6 doesn't exhibit the behavior. For this particular case, I'm using JavaScript to build a URL, and then sticking it as the src attribute of an embedded iframe that is also being created by JavaScript. I'm seeing other errors in my logs though of IE6 and IE7 browsers going to different links (links that would typically be clicked or pasted from an e-mail) that are all lower case as well. Again, not sure if that's related, or if people are just typing them in (lazily) or if it's a browser bug. The only thing I can seem to find about this is this forum (news?) post from 2005 with no replies.

Of course my Google searching is revealing nothing to help me keep my hair, so I turn to the Lazy Web. :-) Any ideas?

In search of good [flash] help

I'm working on some freelance work to rebuild a website that has a whole bunch of flash v4 movies that need to be moved forward to flash v9 or higher. I received a reference of a guy who does good work on the flash programming side of things, but finding a flash animator who isn't afraid of a little action scripting has proven extremely challenging. Anyone know of someone who is free for a project immediately?

Sort Tabular Data

I hate the way that tabular sorting is typically done in web apps (make links on every column with sort_order="columnname" or similar). It is tedious to code, and requires a lot of bandwidth and round trips from the server, not to mention additional load on the database.

Well, today I Googled a bit, and found SortTable.js. Add the script, and add a "sortable" class to the table you wish to sort, and you're done. It automatically detects string, numeric and date columns and sorts them using a very quick (though non-stable) sort.

I only had a very small problem (some of the CSS styles in FF3 stopped working) with the mechanism used to set the table up to be sortable (window.onload replacement), so I switched it to use jquery(document).ready, which happens later in the page loading process. Works nicely.

Check out the documentation for additional features.

KDE in Foresight

KDE Distro I get asked a couple of times a week what's going on with the Foresight KDE edition, what is the status of KDE 4.x, and when is the KDE edition going to be released. I thought I'd blog so that something exists in Internet-firma that can be referred to and even "Googled".

First the status of KDE 4.1: I have no plans to build KDE 4.1 into Foresight. While a giant leap forward from what KDE 4.0 was, KDE 4.1 is still disappointing. Part of what happens when you rewrite rather than make incremental improvements is that functionality gets left behind, and some core functionality that I feel is essential to making a decent desktop experience for the end user is missing or buggy. Also, two of KDE 4.x's killer apps are less usable in 4.1 than they are in KDE 3.5.9: Amarok 2.0 lacks basic wholesale tag editing, dynamic playlists, and is a very buggy Alpha; and Kmail 4.2, part of Kontact is significantly slower than it's 3.5.x counterpart. Kontact itself doesn't yet feel cohesive when it comes to user interface interactions. There are a few KDE 4 apps that I would prefer over kde 3 though: kopete, konversation, potatoguy and many others show marked improvement.

Even though we won't be shipping KDE 4.1 in Foresight's KDE edition, it will be available to install side by side with 3.5.x in kde.rpath.org@fl:2-kde4.1-devel so long as someone is willing to maintain it.

For the KDE edition, there remain a few cosmetic issues with the theme, but mostly what we're missing is new ISOs on the release label and testing. If you'd like to help, jump in #foresight-kde on Freenode. I'm hoping that I'll be able to free up some time in the next few weeks to get us over the final hump.

Icon View Style Grid Layout?

Turbogears For a couple of projects now, I've wanted a grid layout engine that is similar to how desktops display lists of icons: nearly fixed width items, but varying slightly in height, displayed on a variable width page, so your layout could end up with 1 column or 8 depending on the width of the browser window. Tables are no good because they're always a fixed number of columns. Div elements using float works, so long as you make all the elements a fixed width, but they also have to be the same height, or you'll end up with gaps. I'm thinking it's going to have to be javascript driven including redrawing when the page size changes, and to manually size all items to the tallest item in the row, but I can't seem to find an example on the web anywhere (or my Google foo is weak).

Dear lazy web, can you point me in the right direction?