Lack of Updates

Submitted by jbreland on Thu, 04/19/2007 - 23:24

If it seems that I haven't spent much time working on my website recently, well, I haven't. :-) A whole lot has been keeping my busy for the last few weeks, including:

  • Accepting and preparing for a new job
  • Tying up loose ends at my old job before leaving
  • Purchasing/assembling/installing Gentoo on a new desktop system (which takes a while to work out all of the kinks)
  • Shopping/purchasing a new laptop since I lost my work-provided system

That's the highlights, but I've been dealing with some other stuff as well. I have some projects I'm trying to get done before I start my new job on Monday, and of course once I do begin my new job I'm sure it'll keep my busy for a while. So, to be honest I don't know when I'm going to be able to start posting regular updates again, but hopefully it won't be too far off.

One important task I'd like to finish up is putting out an update for Universal Extractor 1.5.1. I had mostly completed it about a month ago, but just haven't had time to fix a couple remaining issues and get the updated translation files. I'd like to start working on that again this weekend if I can finish my other projects in time, so keep an eye out for it in the next week or two.

LegRoom Changes, Part 3

Submitted by jbreland on Sun, 04/01/2007 - 05:28

For my third and last post in this series, I'd like to discuss overall site management design changes. Prior to this latest change, I had always run LegRoom off of PostNuke. Now, PostNuke has been good to me over the years. It's been around for a while so it was a pretty mature product even in 2002, it has a huge community behind it, and it's been flexible enough to let me do pretty much anything I wanted during the previous couple redesigns. I'm very appreciative of all the hard work that the PostNuke devs and community have put into the product, and I certainly do no regret choosing PostNuke for my site.

With the latest redesign, however, I felt the need for something different. I could've just slapped a new theme on top of my PostNuke install, as I did previously, but I really wanted to migrate to a new content management system altogether to give me a chance to truly redesign the site from the ground up, as well as clean out a lot of the cruft that had been gathered over the years (see Part 2 for some examples of this). Additionally, while PostNuke was a capable and mature CMS, I wanted to move away from it for three main reasons:

  • Development progress seems almost non-existent. Take version 0.8, for example. If I recall correctly, initial development of 0.8 began in 2003, possibly even 2002. However, version 0.8 has still not been released. Now, I'm quite sure there are a lot of factors contributing to this delay, and I don't even pretend to know all of the facts, but just from a pure end-user perspective this is ridiculous. There have been minor updates to the 0.7x branch during that time, but to go so long without a major release gives the impression that either development is stalled or non-existent, there are severe technical difficulties involved (which can shake confidence in the developers involved), or there are severe personnel and/or communication difficulties within the developer community (which, again, can shake confidence). Personally, I just got tired of waiting.
  • PostNuke is a heavy system, and the generated output (at least from my older version) was just plain ugly. I wanted a CMS that produces cleaner, more efficient, and standards-compliant code, something that doesn't use several levels of nested tables for positioning. From what I read, this situation has supposedly improved significantly in the current PostNuke releases, but that doesn't help me much because of the next reason.
  • In order to make PostNuke work how I wanted, I had to make some fairly extensive modifications to the codebase. I completely rewrote the menu generation code and RSS publication module, for example, as well as made various changes here and there to several of the other modules. The problem with this approach is that it makes an in-place upgrade nearly impossible. The end-result is that I was left running an extremely vulnerable version of PostNuke for several years. I was honestly surprised that I was able to hold off the hackers until I was able to complete the Drupal migration. Now, this isn't PostNuke's fault in any way, but simply another factor that has to be considered. I need a CMS that will do what I want without requiring modification of the codebase. PostNuke couldn't provide that.

So, after a rather extensive search, I settled on Drupal. As of version 5.0 it seems to offer the best combination of capability, flexibility, efficiency, and standards compliance out of all of the open source CMSes that I examined. (By the way, I'd really like to thank the admins of OpenSourceCMS for making it easy to "test drive" so many website management systems. If you're a webmaster that's not familiar with this site, check it out ASAP.)

So, aside from the CMS change, what else is new? While migrating all web content over to the new site I spent a lot of time "updating" all content to use a specific look and feel. My previous site was something of a testing ground for me, and was originally started when I just didn't know much beyond pure HTML. Each page that I added to the site was essentially created using whatever level of experience I had mastered at the time, resulting in a hodgepodge of styles and techniques. This is especially true of the Tips and Tricks pages, of which some had to be nearly completely rewritten. Now, however, I was able to apply the same coding styles uniformly across all pages on the site. Yay!

In addition to the common style, you may also notice a common layout for all of the pages. Each has a navbar across the top that will take you to any location in the page. Each page is broken up into the same sections, where appropriate, for consistency and easy of use. I also added section breaks, along with "return to top" links, to cleanly separate each section. These are a lot of subtle changes, to be sure, but they really do a lot to enhance site usability.

Other page-specific changes:

  • The Bookmarks page is now properly styles to match the rest of the site (thanks again, Steve)
  • As previously mentioned, I added a new Coming Soon section
  • DailyStrips has also been restyled to match the site, including rewriting the output engine to work better in the context of a website module (and no more tables!)
  • The Metasearch page (aka, Search Internet) has been tweaked and has had a couple more sites added

I think that pretty much covers it. I hope you enjoyed this brief look into the redesign process for this site. Up next - the conversion script I used to migrate from PostNuke to Drupal. It is truly one of the most ugly pieces of code I've ever written, but it got the job done. As promised, I'll make it available to everyone else to use, along with an explanation of the details and shortcomings of the script. I just need a bit more time to clean it up and write the details.

Download/Saving Streaming Videos

Submitted by jbreland on Thu, 03/29/2007 - 10:16

Streaming (aka, embedded) video has been around since the beginning of the internet, and while it can certainly be a very useful technology, I hate companies and websites that require you to stream the video and don't even offer an option to download it. What if you want to view it multiple times? What if you want to show a friend or co-worker? Tough! You have to stream it (re-download it) every single time you watch it. The only possibly reason for doing this that I can think of is that it supposedly allows the hosting site more control over the video, but it creates a severe inconvenience for users, prevents a number of possible customers from watching it in the first place (eg, if they're not running a "blessed" operating system, browser, or plugin), and exponentially increases bandwidth costs for the hosting provider. Additionally, the very fact that the movie has to be sent to the client to allow it to be played and displayed means that the client still gets a copy and can still save it anyway, just with much greater hassle.

If you want to save a streaming video from a site that doesn't offer a proper download link, you have a few options. Like most things in technology these range from easy but limited to difficult but extremely flexible. For now, I'm going to discuss the easy approach. :-) I'm also going to assume you're using Mozilla Firefox (if you're not, you really should be).

There are a number of Firefox extensions available that can greatly assist with saving embedded/streaming video clips. A simple search for "download video" on the Firefox Add-ons returns 19 extensions. I've personally used VideoDownloader in the past, and it worked well.

If you don't want to install a new extension just for downloading videos, and option is to use Greasemonkey scripts. Greasemonkey is a really powerful extensions that allows users to create or install custom scripts that can change the behavior of any web page. In this case, a Greasemonkey script can analyze the page for embedded video clips, then automatically add a download link to that video; simply click the download link to save the video. Two great scripts for downloading embedded videos are Apple Trailer Download and Download Video (though I use this version of Download Video). Note that you must first install Greasemonkey before you can install these scripts. You can find a lot more useful Greasemonkey scripts on my Mozilla Firefox Tips and Tricks page, as well as a massive collection of contributed scripts on Userscripts.org.

The primary limitation with the extension/script method is that it's often limited to particular sites. Apple Trailer Download, for example, is limited to just movie trailers hosted on the Apple Movie Trailers website. Download Video and VideoDownloader both support a number of different sites (including the most popular, YouTube and Google Video), but are still limited to only sites they "know" about. I'll follow up this article with more advanced techniques and suggestions that should help you save just about any embedded video.

Coming Soon

Note:  This page hasn't been updated for quite some time. I'm not sure whether I'll begin using it again, but for now I'm leaving it here for archival purposes.

Introduction

I often hear about various games, movies, products, etc. that sound really interesting, but are still only in developmental stages. While this is nothing new, the problem for me is that I then tend to forget about said item once it's finally released. To paraphrase one of the greatest movies of all time, this is something we shall have to remedy[1].

In order to help with this problem, I'm going to start keeping track of new and upcoming stuff that I find interesting and/or particular noteworthy. Not only will this help me keep track of what's "Coming Soon", it'll also allow me to share this information with my visitors. Now everyone can see just how geeky I can be at times (though I maintain that I'm still not random!).

Each item will be posted to this page, along with a description and estimated release date. I'm not sure yet how populated this list will become, nor what I'll do with the entries once they're officially released, but I figure this will be an interesting experience regardless. To kick things off, here's the first batch of items.

Concerts


N/A

Games


N/A

Movies


Star Trek: The Next Generation: The Complete Series

  • Release Date: Tue, 10/02/2007

Yes, I'll admit it. I'm a Star Trek fan. I'm not a die-hard fan or anything, but I've always enjoyed the television shows and movies, going back to The Next Generation. (The Original Series, in case you're wondering, was well before my time and I never got into the reruns.) The Next Generation has been out on DVD for some time now, but it was originally released in season sets while I was still a poor college student. $110/season x 7 seasons isn't exactly affordable. Now that it's being released in a significantly discounted series box set, it's time to finally take the plunge. This is, after all, the TV show that got me into science fiction.

Stargate SG-1: The Complete Series

  • Release Date: Tue, 10/09/2007

I've been wanting to catch up on Stargate SG-1 for a few years now, though I guess since it's no longer on the air "catch up" is no longer the right word. I really enjoyed the original movie back in the day, and have more recently been enjoying Stargate Atlantis, but I missed out on SG-1 entirely. At ten seasons, it was just a bit too much for me to borrow from a friend and work through. Now that they're releasing a complete series boxed set, though, for a pretty significant discount over the original releases, it looks like I finally have the excuse I've been waiting for. :-) Complete details of the release can be found here.

Music


N/A

Archived Content


The Bourne Ultimatum

  • Release Date: Fri, 08/03/2007

This is another movie about which I'm cautiously optimistic. The Bourne Ultimatum is the third film in a trilogy of films based on the Robert Ludlum books of the same name. I thoroughly enjoyed The Bourne Identity, which came as quite a surprise to me as the trailer didn't excite me very much. I thought it had an intriguing story, a well-executed plot, and a great balance of action and drama. The Bourne Supremacy, however, was a letdown. The production quality seemed to drop considerably, and the provoking storyline was largely dropped and replaced by a number of boring and pointless action sequences. I can only guess that this shift was the result of a new director for the second film. Sadly, the director of the second film will also direct the third. I still find the world and overall storyline created by Ludblum intriguing, and am looking forward to watching the third and final installment of the franchise, but I think I may hold off and read some reviews of the movie before going to see it myself. I'd rather skip it altogether than spend money on another letdown.

I passed on this one. As I said, I'm a big fan of the original, but thought that the direction of the second film when severely downhill. Since the third was directed by the same as the second, I was nervous about the quality, and sure enough after seen a couple reviews similar to "The Bourne Ultimatum Made Me Sick", I knew this move wasn't for me.

Babylon 5: The Lost Tales - Voices in the Dark

  • Release Date: Tue, 07/31/2007

Yes, I'll admit it - I'm a Babylon 5 junkie. The show was phenomenal. The character development and scale and complexity of the main story line is rarely rivaled even today, and in my opinion has yet to be topped. Needless to say, I was delighted beyond words when it was announced last year that he would be developing a new series of direct-to-DVD movies beginning in 2007 entitled "Babylon 5: The Lost Tales", after a 5+ year hiatus from any B5-related projects. There was much rejoicing in the streets (ok, in the homes of sci-fi geeks everywhere).

Voices in the Dark is the first of the series to be released. It features two mini-movies focusing on two of the core characters of the series (John Sheridan and Elizabeth Lochley) as well as a third character from the spin-off series Crusade (Galen). It will be released on July 31, 2007.

Note to self: Look into new soundtrack as well, released by Varese Sarabande.

Now this, on the other hand, was fantastic. The DVD is divided into two halves, each telling a story focused on one of the major characters from the show (Lochley first, then Sheridan). The Lochley episode was ok - not great, but ok. The Sheridan episode, however, was fantastic. If you're a fan of the series, you'll definitely want to pick this up. Also, if you're a movie soundtrack buff, I recommend picking up the soundtrack as well. It's scored by Christopher Franke, the composer for the entire original series. Very good music.

Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer

  • Release Date: Wed, 07/04/2007

I'm cautiously optimistic about this one. Despite the severe browbeating that the first Fantastic Four movie received by critics, I personally enjoyed it. Overall, it was a fun and enjoyable movie, with a decent storyline and a good cast that, for the most part, really nailed their roles. I'd expect the sequel, Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer, to be at least as enjoyable as the original, but I'm waiting for a proper trailer before making my decision on this one (the teaser trailer is omits any hint of plot or production quality).

This was pretty decent, but I can't say it lived up to my hopes. Overall the movie was enjoyable and fun to watch, but near the end it began suffering from shear ridiculousness (and yes, I know it's based on a comic book). I don't think I'll pick up the DVD when it's released.

Dream Theater - Systematic Chaos

  • Release Date: Tue, 06/05/2007

Systematic Chaos will be the first Dream Theater album released under their new label, Roadrunner Records. Anyone that knows me personally is well aware that I'm a huge Dream Theater fan, so it goes without saying that I'm really looking forward to this. Their last studio album, Octavarium, was perhaps the best of their 21 year career (in my opinion, of course), and I'm eagerly awaiting my next musical fix.

This CD kicks ass. It's definitely not for everyone, but if you're a fan of progressive rock/metal, you definitely need to pick it up. It took a few listens before it really grew on me, but damn, it's hard to listen to anything else now (and I'm writing this about 3 months after it's release). It was so good I also planned a vacation to Chicago around their concert schedule to I could see them live. :-)

Sister Hazel

  • Sat, 04/22/2007 - 20:00
  • Horshoe Casino & Hotel
  • 1021 Casino Center Dr.
  • Robinsonville, Mississippi 38667
  • 21 & Over, Doors @ 7PM, Hazel @ 8PM, Tickets $20-$25

This concert was awesome. Cheap tickets, short drive, GREAT music, and a fun show. I can't really ask for much more. :-) I strongly recommend seeing Sister Hazel live if they play anywhere near you.

Spider-Man 3

  • Release Date: Fri, 05/04/2007

Have you seen the trailer for this? It looks freakin' amazing! I normally don't get this exited over sequels, but the story, action, and effects all look top notch. This is one movie that I will see in theaters this year, without question. Given the extremely high quality production of the previous two films (both of which were better than I expected, especially story-wise), I think Spider-Man 3 will be sure to please.

I don't care what anyone else says - this move was awesome. Yes, there were some weaknesses, as many have pointed out, and I won't dispute that. However, on the whole the movie was extremely fun and engaging, and very much a worthy end to a phenomenal movie trilogy. I highly recommend going to watch it if you haven't already done so.

Dawn of Mana

  • Release Date: Tue, 05/22/2007

Secret of Mana, released for the Super NES way back in 1993, was one of my favorite games released for that system. Developer Square (now Square Enix) did an amazing job of blending traditional console RPG elements with action/adventure style gameplay popularized by The Legend of Zelda. I have longed for a sequel for many years, and despite numerous related releases, I never was able to enjoy one (due to Japanese-only releases, the choice of console, etc.).

That's about to change. :-) Square Enix is set to release Dawn of Mana in North America on May 22. Despite my self-imposed ban on buying any new games until I finish playing through all of the older ones that I already own but have not played, I think I'm going to have to make an exception for this. The graphics look pretty amazing (despite the somewhat overly-cartoony style), and if the gameplay and story lives up to that of its predecessor, it should make for a damn fine game indeed.

Well, this one has come and gone, and unfortunately I didn't pick it up as planned. Despite the amazing potential, most of the reviews I read rated game play and control very poorly. As much as I would like to play through it anyway just for the story, I just don't have much time to spend on video games these days, and I'd rather continue working through my backlog of games rather than pick up a less-than-stellar new one that will undoubtedly take many hours to complete. Come on, Square. I expect much better of you. :-)

This is a test

Have an Upcoming Test? Forgot to Study? Here's Some Inspiration.

Submitted by jbreland on Wed, 03/28/2007 - 15:34

Someone with too much free time on his hands (not that that's a bad thing) collected a number of scanned test/quiz documents with some rather creative answers. This should make for a rather humorous end to your day (as well as feeling better about your own test grades from school).

Remember, there is an elephant in the way.

Universal Extractor Translation Updates

Submitted by jbreland on Fri, 03/23/2007 - 09:30

I've added several new language files for Universal Extractor since the 1.5 release, including (as of this post): Korean, Portuguese, Portuguese (Brazilian), Romanian, and Turkish. These files can be downloaded from the Universal Extractor page and added to your current copy of Universal Extractor if you'd like, and they will be included in the next release.

I'd also like to point out that all 18 (and counting!) language files have been voluntarily translated and contributed by UniExtract users that simply wanted to use the program in their native language. I'd like to send out a big thanks to all contributors for improving Universal Extractor by making it much more accessible to foreign users. Thanks!

If a translation doesn't currently exist for your own language, and you have a good understanding of English, consider contributing a translation yourself. The process itself is very straightforward; simply copy English.ini and follow the instructions at the top of the file to translate the English strings into your native language. If you're gracious enough to contribute the new language file for all other UniExtract users, I'll be happy to add your name to the list of contributors, as well as link back to your own website (if you'd like).

The only "catch" is that I'd ask you to keep the file updated as I release newer versions of Universal Extractor. These updates typically involve only minor changes or additions, and are only necessary as often as I release new versions (which, honestly, is not that often). I can only speak English myself, so I rely entirely on the generosity of UniExtract users to maintain the language files.

Thanks again to everyone that has contributed a language file to Universal Extractor.

Status of E-mails Regarding LegRoom Software

Submitted by jbreland on Wed, 03/21/2007 - 23:07

Several people have e-mailed me regarding a couple bugs in my programs, as well as to submit new translation files for Universal Extractor. I'm behind on a lot of my e-mail right now due to some other priorities, so please forgive the delay in response. I'm reading each and every e-mail that comes my way, and will reply as soon as I get the chance.

For everyone else that may have found a bug or wants to suggest a new feature, please consider using the new LegRoom Support Forum instead. I won't necessarily be able to reply any faster, but the information you provide will at least be visible to all other users, which could help them if they're having a similar problem or were thinking about requesting a similar feature. Plus, it helps cut down on my e-mail. :-)

I'm going to try to knock out a few UniExtract-related e-mails before going to bed tonight.

How to Create Truly Obscure Passwords

Submitted by jbreland on Wed, 03/21/2007 - 17:09

I recently came across an interesting article on Irongeek.com (which itself is a pretty interesting security site that I'll probably add to my list of news feeds) entitled, "ALT+NUMPAD ASCII Key Combos: The α and Ω of Creating Obscure Passwords." The author suggests the idea of using non-standard (ie, not defined on standard keyboards) special characters as part of your password. It's common knowledge that adding special characters to your password greatly increases the difficulty of guessing or brute forcing the password. This extends the idea by adding normally hidden (and often unthought of) characters to the mix. So, while something like abCD1234%^&* might be a good example of using special characters in a password (though obviously you'd want something more random than that sequence), consider this password: äßÇн²¶╔¥¢. I'd love to see the password cracker that can crack that one. :-)

Of course, as the author mentions there are downsides to this. Increased complexity notwithstanding, its strength is also its main weakness; these are non-standard characters, and as such not all applications and operating support them in the same manner (or at all). While this may work great as a Windows user password, for example, it may not be possible to use it as a Linux user password.

Regardless, it's still an interesting concept that deserves some attention. Check out the article for more details on the subject, as well as a tutorial and reference charts for entering special characters. The Wikipedia article on Windows Alt keycodes (also referenced in the article) is another good resource.

Small update for Firefox Tips and Tricks

Submitted by jbreland on Tue, 03/20/2007 - 13:43

Update: 03/21/2007 14:41
In a rather ironic mistake, I accidentally specified a bad link to the Firefox Tips and Tricks page. Oops. :-) That's been corrected.

I just noticed that the links to several of my modified Greasemonkey scripts were not updated to reflect the new site layout. I fixed these links on the Mozilla Firefox Tips and Tricks page so that they now point to the correct location.

Sorry for the inconvenience.

LegRoom Changes, Part 2

Submitted by jbreland on Mon, 03/19/2007 - 16:51

My last post on this subject discussed the changes the most directly affect users. This post will discuss content changes.

With the exception of the previously mentioned Support Forum, there's that's truly new in terms of content. While everything has been reorganized and cleaned up, I haven't yet had the chance much new information to the site. I did, however, remove several sections that were available on the previous site. Here's a summary of what was not migrated:

  • Downloads - This was the native downloads module included with PostNuke. It was largely unused, aside from a couple of custom PostNuke modules I had uploaded long ago, so I'm dropping it for this site. All "downloads" are available directly from the application's web page.
  • E-Mail (Webmail)* - This is currently not available due to some changes on both the website and the LegRoom mail server. I'm working on a replacement, though, and will bring it back as soon as possible.
  • Photo Gallery - I setup my photo gallery back when LegRoom was just a small personal/test site. Since then it's become more of a development and news site, and I'm not sure that the photo gallery belongs on here anymore. I'm still trying to decide what I want to do with it, but I think it will eventually be moved to a separate site.
  • Powered By - This was something of a play page I setup with the initial version of LegRoom, and was largely ignored since then. There's no need for it on the current site.
  • Query Tools* - This was a cool PostNuke module that allows convenient access to various DNS and network diagnostic functions, but it's just not worth maintaining my own page when there are already lots of better services available.
  • Server Information - This information is now restricted to administrators.
  • Submit News* - I previously allowed any registered user to post news content; now, this is restricted to administrators. I may allow this again in the future, but I'd like this restricted while I get used to Drupal.
  • Topics - This page allowed browsing of archived news based on categories. Drupal doesn't appear to provide a similar capability, but I'm looking for a module that will enable this. It was a semi-useful feature that I'd like to bring back.
  • Website Statistics - This is one of the few areas that I find Drupal to be at a severe disadvantage compared to the previous site. It does provide statistics, but it's very limited compared to what PostNuke provided. It also seems more geared toward logging and diagnostics now, so I've restricted statistics access to administrators on the new site.
  • What is F/OSS? - This page just didn't get very much attention after it was first written. It may make a reappearance at some point on this site, but I'm not sure yet if and how so.
  • Zina* - This was a really nice web-based music library frontend. This may make a return as well, just not sure what I want to do with it at this time.

*Restricted to authorized users. Anonymous users couldn't see it.

That should cover it. If you have a questions or comments about these removed sections, please post a comment and let me know. I'll probably make one more post on this topic, covering overall site layout and design changes.