Useful Utils #1 – SlickRun

I thought I’d waffle on about what apps and utils that I find useful. It’ll be in no particular order, just what springs to mind. So for my first useful util I’ve chosen is something I use everyday, almost all the time.

Its SlickRun from Bayden Systems. Essentially its a floating command line that allows you to set up aliases (magic words as it calls them) to various actions. For me its meant I can get rid of all my short cuts and icon clutter. All I need to do now is press “Windows Key + Q” to open the prompt and then start typing the magic word I’m after, as you can see below:


It might not be the most sexy looking of programs but it sure is functional. The amount of time this program has saved me is immeasurable. Instead of playing hunt the icon on a toolbar I can quickly run pretty much anything in seconds.

It doesn’t just run programs though, you can also type in paths and file names and it’ll open them. It also has a little maths parser built in. If you type “=” first and then your calculation, as you would in Calc, then hit enter, you’ll get a result. Obviously for something like this it has auto-complete for that little speed bump in usage. Oh and its free too!

I found it purely by accident from a 10 utilities in 10 minutes video that Scott Hanselman did last year. Expect more utils from that video!

Amusingly, someone I converted to SlickRun says he’s sure programs load faster with it! I wonder if there’s any truth in that?

Yep, you guessed it, SlickRun is a Delphi app :D.

O’Reilly Network Safari Bookshelf

Just over a couple of weeks ago I was in the thick of writing reams of PHP code for my group website & design project. I was searching the interweb looking for PHP security guides (I know has a ton of stuff there, but I was after something specific) and stumbled across a website for an O’Reilly book, Essential PHP Security.

As it happens the two chapters I needed were downloadable (as PDF’s), but after finishing those I wanted to read more of it. I thought surely there would be an e-book version of it? I tried the “Buy Now” option and ended up on Amazon America where I have no intention of buying off. So I went to the O’Reilly website and after much messing about I ended up at the Safari Bookshelf.

It works like a library where you can have so many books a month depending on your subscription level. A 14 day trial was available so I signed up on that. I picked the book I was after… and found out I could read all of it online but needed “download tokens” to get the individual chapters as PDF’s. On the trial you get 1 as a gift but you can’t buy any more. Bugger!

Anyway I found the service very useful. I was able to search all of their books, but in order to properly read them I needed to add them to my “bookshelf”. You can look at a book beforehand but you can only see the first few lines of a chapter. You get so many slots on your bookshelf and depending on the size of a book, it may take up more than 1 slot. Also worth noting is that its not just O’Reilly books you have access to, but books from other publishers such as Addison Wesley, Microsoft Press, Sams and Que to name a few.

My 14 day trial finished last weekend and I err… well I was in two minds about signing up. My mind was made up for me though because I didn’t cancel it, so I’m subscribed monthly at $20 (ex VAT) which allows me 10 bookshelf slots, 5 download tokens and 30 to 35% off the print version of any book. Since I’m doing some Citrix work at the moment, I’ve decided to keep subscribed, since there’s a ton of useful stuff.

But I do have a few gripes. I don’t like the font used for the books content, petty I know, but its Times New Roman which is just an unreadable, horrible, mess of a font. You can increase the size of it but its not good enough. Its just not nice to look at (but with a bit of Web Developer Extension and Greasemonkey tweaking I’m sure I can sort that out :D).

Second to that is how many download tokens its costs to download a book chapter. The logic for it doesn’t add up. I currently have a Citrix book on my bookshelf which takes up 2 slots. The book has well over 20 chapters and it seems each chapter costs 3 download tokens!? With the subscription level I have I get 5 tokens automatically, but to download the book I would need 60+ tokens. A pack of 5 tokens costs $10 which means to buy enough to download the book would cost $120. The book retails for $55! And since I’m now subscribed, I can get a 35% discount so its only $35ish. Ouch. Apparently thats a worst case though…

Finally, whatever method is used to check you’re logged in (cookies me thinks) can be a bit flaky. There have been a few occasions where I’ve closed Firefox, brought it back up and it thinks I’m logged in but doesn’t know who I am! Logging in again fixes that.

All said and done though, I think its a very useful service. I think the pricing could do with lowering but one way to think of it, is like this: If you’re happy to just read online then $20 for 10 books for a month is a bit cheaper than buying them all!

Note 1: I should mention that the majority of the Essential PHP Security book is also available as an Apache Conference paper. Of course I didn’t find that out until afterwards!

Note 2: I also found out that the author, Chris Shiflett, has an excellent PHP Security blog, so that got added into my many, many feeds in FeedDemon.

Renewing my passport costs how much?

I’m apparently getting married abroad later in the year and there’s a long list of things to get sorted. Near the top of the list is a new passport since my existing one runs out next month. Now maybe I’m a cheap bastard but I find the charge for renewing my passport is a tad steep, at £51.

Oh, I know you could say “Well thats for 10 years, so thats only £5.10 a year!”… but that doesn’t really equate since I have to pay for it now, not over several years. To add insult to injury you have to pay for postage. Why is that then?

This isn’t for some special quick service either, it’ll be 3 weeks! If you’re feeling flush you can pay nearly £80 for it to be done in a week, but you have to book an appointment at you local post office for that. If its urgent you can pay another 20 quid more and get it done on the same day.

The cost keeps going up too, the lovely wife to be renewed hers last year and it was about £47. What’s suddenly changed to cause it go up so much? Thats alot more than inflation!

Site Tweaking

I’ve yet to find a WordPress theme that I really like, but out of those I’ve looked at Regulus by Binary Moon is my current choice. B0rked-CategoriesEven with this theme I’m not totally happy, so I’ve been making minor changes to it. I wanted the categories section in the sidebar to show the count of items in each category. I was told the default theme did that, so I loaded it up, worked out it was wp_list_cats() with various parameters and tweaked the Regulus layout to match. Unfortunately I broke it slightly… as you can see from the picture on the right.

I was a bit stumped as to what the problem was. There was nothing obvious in the HTML source, so I figured it must be the CSS. Oh joy, this could take a while! I was looking at messing about with it in TopStyle.

However, Vondur pointed me to this excellent Firefox plugin, the Web Developer Extension. I know every man and his dog who has the vaguest interest in web development has it already but I don’t see the point of adding another Firefox extension unless I really need it (Firefox uses enough memory as it is!).

And boy was it useful, I was able to edit the CSS and the changes appeared instantly, which made finding the problem easy. The culprit was “display:block;” in “#sidebar a”. Turning that off fixed it, but the links were too close together. So I tweaked “#sidebar li” with padding-top / padding-bottom values and that fixed it.

Having the right tools for the job makes it so much easier!

MPQArchive using WordPress?

A thought occurred to me, what if I use WordPress for the MPQArchive site? It might be stretching it a bit, but its got to be quicker than me writing something.

If I could set the reviews up as pages and not posts and have them categorised, I think it would work. Just need someone to come up with a nice design :D. Gom, Vondur, what do reckon?

Yay! Exams over!

I’m currently doing a part time degree in Internet and Information Technology and earlier this evening I finished the databases module (I hope!) with a 2 hour exam. So I can now empty my head of the following:

  • Normalisation
  • Entity Relationship Modelling
  • Formal Database Models (Network, Hierarchical and Relational + Others)
  • Types of DBMS (Database Management System)
  • The Layers of Abstraction (External, Logical and Physical)
  • Transactions – The ACID model
  • Serial / Serializable Execution
  • Concurrency Control Methods
  • Two Stage Commit Process
  • Locking methods (Exclusive, Share, Pessimistic, Optimistic)
  • Timestamping
  • Distributed Databases
  • Horizontal and Vertical Table Fragmentation
  • Lost, Assumed and Phantom reads
  • etc…

Well maybe not, some of it might actually stick!

At least it brings to an end 3 weeks of hard graft and 2am+ nights / mornings. I’ve had to do a group project about websites (lots of PHP coding plus Apache security tweaking), a presentation of that, a two part assignment (1500 word essay and 15 SQL questions) and an exam. The latter two of which were due in the same day (today). So I’ve had to make sure I was organised, but I still had to take some days off work to make sure I was prepared enough. Which is a bit annoying, since I took extra time off work at the beginning of January to get a start on it. Thankfully where I work is very understanding.

Getting back to databases, I found Databases Demystified (book) incredibly useful. It was the cheapest database book at the local Waterstones, but I doubt any of the the others could do a better job. It covered pretty much everything except distributed databases and table fragmentation. The notes we were given were a bit lacking in substance and examples so I needed something!

I found tons of stuff on the net as you’d expect, but it was hard to work out what was right and what was wrong. I found a great example on distributed databases two phase commit (its like a wedding apparently) but it never came up in the exam (I thought it might do, it was in the previous years). I read one example about vertical and horizontal tables where 3 “experts” answered a related question. The first chap waffled on and mixed the two up, the second was straight to the point and the third obviously didn’t care! The majority of stuff just isn’t worth a light.

Sadly Wikipedia fairs no better and is average to poor on the subject. Don’t get me wrong, there is a lot of stuff there, but some of its badly written, poorly linked and at worst inconsistent. I’ve gone and edited a page or two so they link together better but what it really needs is an expert in the field to give the entire section a good going over. Amusingly I thought that back in December when my first databases assignment was due and now some of the pages say exactly that.

With that over with, I’ve got a two one week break until the second semester fires up!

Nice bit of music

Vondur has put up a column written by Shambler (another Quake peep) about various types of dark ambient style music. There are also some reviews thrown in there for good measure. I tend to listen to all sorts of music but I do like a bit of drum and bass every so often. I tend to ask Shambler what’s good since his really knows his stuff. The majority of music I’ve bought off the back off his recommendations has been really good, and I’ve used Juno in the past to buy from. They have a huge selection of music to chose from. In fact, it might be time to go pester him again for suggestions…

Worst Tagline Ever

Expedia, the online holiday peeps, have got a series of new ads running on TV with the wonderful tagline of “Let Yourself Go�. Now the first thing my warped mind conjures up is probably not what the marketing gurus had in mind. Its actually the use of this…

Champion One Piece Toilet

(Thats a Champion® Elongated One-Piece Toilet in White Heat 208 for reference. Nice!)

Follwed by this…

Letyourselfgo-1 Fatcat Letyourselfgo-2

What were they thinking?! Is it just me that sees it like this?

Rather worryingly whilst searching for pictures for this post, I found lots and lots of pictures of people sat on the bog (mostly work safe). It seems the “Ha ha surprise, I’ve a got a camera and you’re on the toilet!� picture is very popular. Although I did find this which is pretty cool.