Blog Archive for October 2007

FON: Share Your Home Wireless Securely

Some people believe that you should share the wireless signal with anyone, because Internet access should be free. I think that's a swell idea, but it doesn't work well in practice. I like having a secure network within our house because I like to share files and printers between computers. Those two goals don't work together well unless you get a router from FON.

FON is a new company that has the solution. Their routers are made specifically to solve that problem. The router has two wireless access points built in - a secure one for your home network and then a FON access point. If you share your internet by enabling your FON access point, you can access other FON access points around the world via an account. This is much better than just connecting to any old wireless access point, because you know it's a FON router and not a hacker trying to steal your passwords.

What’s FON?

Apparently the idea is so interesting that Steve Jobs himself sat down with the people at FON for a couple hours. Most likely, Steve Jobs is interested in getting more open places for people to browse via their MacBooks, iPods, and iPhones, so it's not surprising that he's coming up with ideas on how to do that. Maybe we will see some similar features in a new version of the AirPort (or a partnership with the creators of the often-rumored Google phone, maybe).


Windows Live Writer: True WYSIWYG Blogging

AftThis post is different.  For most posts to this blog, I just login to the WordPress blog administration.  This one I wrote through a free program called Windows Live Writer, which is currently in free beta from Microsoft.  Here's a bit of the experience: imageimage After giving my blog URL and login, it did some thinking for a minute and dropped me here: image Yes, it looks Vista-rific, but checkout that main pane!  That's exactly how it looks on my blog when it's published!  Windows Live Writer downloads my CSS stylesheet and mimics it to a T so I don't even have to do any imagining or clicking "Preview" to see what the result will be.  Writer is compatible with Blogger, LiveJournal, and just about every major blogging service and software. As far as further features, I just hit ALT+PrintScreen (one of the few functions not built into Mac OS) to get those screenshots and then pasted them into Windows Live Writer and it made them PNGs and added that snazzy drop shadow.  The images were automatically uploaded to my uploads section of my site.  Writer also knew what my categories are so I just selected them from a list at the bottom.  And, as you can see, you can easily insert links, pictures, or even maps and videos without leaving the writer. What's the benefit of having software like Windows Live Writer?  Well, for one, you could write a bunch of blogs and schedule them for publishing while you're on a plane or other place not connected to the Internet.  And, like I said, you have the full "what you see is what you get" interface with your weblog.  Plus, you have a great Windows interface where you can do all the fun stuff like paste into it and it just works.  And it checks your spelling while you do it too. That being said, I probably won't be using this too often.  I rarely write a blog post while not on the web (because I'm often on) and then the draft is only stored on this computer and not on my server where I can access it from any computer.  I don't have this software installed on all my machines, especially my MacBook Pro.  But, it is amazingly nice and well-organized.  Also, I'm a web developer by trade, so looking at HTML code instead of a screen like this isn't annoying at all, and is in some ways soothing because I know what type of HTML code I'll get. There are a number of similar desktop blog editing softwares out there, but this is the first one I've tried and I haven't heard of any this nice and easy-to-use minutes after downloading.


Ext JS: Simple, Full-Featured AJAX

I haven't tried it out myself yet, but this stuff just looks amazing. It seems to perform pretty well, too. Ext JS is a JavaScript library that can easily create some desktop-like window effects. A coworker was demoing it with a table of data and the JavaScript automatically sorted, he could CTRL-select items and you can even drag things around. It seems to be an great open-source application. To get started, check out the documentation which includes some simple examples and the code to generate them. There's also some great examples such as and an entire web desktop. Also, there's a sample desktop app that runs on your desktop via Adobe AIR or Google Gears and a full-function Feed Reader. I was trying to find some sort of cool widget to embed in this post, but I couldn't find something quickly. Tell me what you find, if you're interested.


.mac: What Is It Good For?

In my case, it seems to me the obvious answer is "absolutely nothin'." Am I wrong?

I only have one Mac, this MacBook Pro I recently bought. I have plenty of web sites set up around the 'net where I can store information if I need to. I have websites so I don't need space to put my pages from iWeb, which can only be considered a slight upgrade from FrontPage.

If I had more than one Mac, then I can see .mac being very useful. You can sync files and preferences between the Macs. You can (with the new Leopard) login remotely to your other Macs. But until then, it's not worth it at all, right? What do you use your .mac account and pay the $99/year for (besides keeping Apple's profit margins high)?


Gravatar: The Global Online Icon/Photo

Not too long ago, a client at work was wondering what kind of options they could have for showing buddy icons in their blog comments. I looked around, but didn't really like any of the default plug-ins. Well, one struck my interest a bit, but the client wasn't looking for a third-party solution. What I found was Gravatar, a website that wants to host a visual identifier for you to be used anywhere online. It's a simple concept, but I was of course worried with setting up and managing another service, another plugin for my software, etc. Of course, the second question is whether it will ever be used widely enough to become a standard? At the time, I had never heard of it, but that didn't necessarily mean it was unsuccessful.

Gravatar recently showed up on my radar a couple days ago when looking at my WordPres blog. The feeds from WordPress were mentioning it a number of times, and after a quick look it looks like the folks behind WordPress (a company called Automattic) have acquired Gravatar. They were also outlining how they were planning on integrating it with the services and its built-in user avatar system.

Even more interesting was how WordPress and Automattic founder Matt Mullenweg demoed the simplicity and brilliance of the Gravatar service on his blog. He put the Gravatar icons in his blog's comments with just four simple lines of PHP! WordPress already stores the e-mail address of the commenter in the system, and your Gravatar account is tied to your e-mail. WordPress just sends a non-reversible MD5 string to Gravatar requesting the avatar associated with that e-mail address. There's no e-mail addresses transferred over the Internet, but you still have an icon/photo based on your e-mail address that can be easily used by any blog. Pretty neat!

Another interesting thing about Automattic is that it is one of a handful of recent, open-source friendly companies that has no real headquarters. Companies like Mozilla, Lullabot, and others like Automattic are just a group of developers that have no offices but instead do development from their homes and only meet a couple times per year, if ever. In today's world of instant Internet communication, this is an interesting and potentially cheap way to run a company, I suppose.


Cool Rides At The MOA? Maybe

A couple years ago, a favorite band of mine announced that the rides at the Mall Of America were lame. All of us were like, "Of course!" What was once called Knott's Camp Snoopy has always had a dozen or more rather tame rides. The best was a nice flume ride with two drops, the first one in the dark. Also, the "Mystery Mine Ride" was an IMAX screen with chairs that moved in synch with the movie. I'd been on a couple fun rides in that machine. A year or so ago, it was renamed the Park at MOA and has remained pretty lame. But, it seems that may change.

Nickelodeon Universe Coming Spring 2008

This spring, the Park at MOA will be transformed into Nickelodeon Universe, and there's a bunch of interesting work going on it currently. Here's what I've found as far as information.

The Location of the Mystery Mine Ride

The above photo is the former location of the Mystery Mine Ride. This whole section of the Park has all been gutted, it seems. The IMAX theater of the Mine Ride may still be back behind those doorways on the right, but I'm not sure of that. Here's what's directly to the right below the Pepsi Ripsaw coaster hill:

Beneath the Pepsi Ripsaw

Most of the area has been newly cemented with a line area, so the loading for the ride may be here. Over in the center of the first photo is the preview of the new coaster, which now bears the name of Nickelodeon's biggest star, Spongebob:

Spongebob Squarepants Rock Bottom Plunge

The Rock Bottom Plunge, I believe, is a roller coaster that is supposed to even go upside down. It looks like there may also be a bit of water involved as well, but we'll see.

The other ride I noticed being worked on seems to be located directly in the center of the park. The fountain and little streams going to it are at least gone for now, as you can see:

The Center of the Nickelodeon Universe

This attraction will go straight up like the Power Tower at Valleyfair, I guess. With these additions, it will make the recreational area of the Mall of America a somewhat exciting place to be.

In other Mall of America Phase II news, there is finally some changes happening in the location of the expansion. Here's a couple snapshots I got:

Mall of America Phase II Beginnings

Mall of America Phase II Beginnings

In the second photo, there's a number of dumpsters, although I don't know what they're full of. Towards the far right of the second photo is the dirt and machines where they may be digging in order to start building. However, by all plans I've seen, that area seems to be the area assigned to a Great Wolf Lodge hotel/waterpark connected to the Mall of America. (I expect the Waterpark of America is already beginning to shut down.)

I've been unable to find any concrete information on when or if the Mall of America Phase II expansion will happen, but since I work nearby, I guess you can expect some updates when I find somehting.


Local Whiners Disappointed With New 35W Bridge Proposal

This past week, Mn/DOT announced the plans for a new bridge to span the Mississippi River in the place where the 35W bridge collapsed. Below is probably the most pleasing design due to the rounded support pillars at each end of the river. There are other slight variations to the lighting and supports of the bridge that are still being decided.

New 35W Bridge Rendering

A quick Google News search to find the plans of the bridge found a lot of complaining about the design, which, of course, is what crowds do best, especially after a tragedy like this. Here's my thoughts (mostly taken from reading the Mn/DOT Press Release and this Pioneer Press article):

  • The bridge looks nice. The subtle curves make it just a bit nicer than the usual freeway bridge. Plus, of course, that's also a structural benefit.
  • The bridge complements the surrounding area well, including the neighboring 10th St./Cedar Ave. Bridge.
  • Of course, all the plans stress safety, including sensors built into the bridge to warn of problems as well as a design that will keep the bridge standing if one part fails.

According to a New York Times article, news/talk pundit Don Shelby says, "It almost looks like a causeway to me. It’s just a way to get from one side to the other." Excuse me? Of course it is! Did you ever look at the old bridge and go, "That's one fine work of art." It looks twice as good as the old bridge, so why all that complaining? According to a number of other articles, the vocal populace seems to have many concerns whether Mn/DOT and the design firm are doing their jobs well enough. If you ask me, the handling of the collapse proves the agencies responsible can handle it well.

Sure, it's not an inspiring and standout memorial of the events of the bridge collapse, but is that really such a bad thing? I guess if we want the evening of August 1st, 2007 to be the defining moment of this generation, then we should get someone like Norman Foster to design an inspiring masterpiece. If we did that, I think the Minneapolis downtown river area would be very overcrowded This tragedy, in my opinion, is not the definition of the Twin Cities and who we are. This bridge will serve as a gentle reminder to all of us and will, more importantly, transport thousands of people safely to and from Minneapolis every day.

On a side note, why are people fine with spending to $243 million (or more like $393 million including collapse clean-up and related construction) on this project when they believe that $800+ million is definitely not worth it to connect Minneapolis and Saint Paul with a light rail line. Sure, it's a more expensive project, but it's a much bigger project and helps the Twin Cities much more than this bridge ever will. Plus, if we don't build a light rail line in the next decade, we will be turning 94 into 10 lanes in about a decade.


MetroTransit's GoTo Card Finally Out of Beta!

And people thought that Windows Vista took forever. About four years ago, I saw a green GoTo Card reader on a MetroTransit bus and asked a bus driver what that was. He said they were introducing a new kind of SuperSaver in time for the launch of the Hiawatha Light Rail line. Just this month, the GoTo Card has finally come out for public use, even though I've been using one for most of a year.

The system works much better than the flimsy paper SuperSaver passes they've been using for a long time. Although they say the GoTo Cards will cost $5, right now they'll give 'em to you for free if you put $20 on them. Like the SuperSavers, every $10 you buy comes with $1 of free value on it to encourage use over change and bills. The card just needs a quick swipe over the pad to transfer data, so it's nice and quick. You can reload the card with value via any Light Rail fare machine or via the GoTo Card Website. Plus, it can also handle monthly passes as well. For the last 9 months or so, I've been using the card, and maybe for the past 6 months, I've been using the monthly pass without a hitch even though nobody officially said I could as a part of the early test group. ;-)

I thought that they spent some money doing some kinda fun ideas of ads to put on the light rail stations. These ads are stuck underfoot on the light rail platform and liken the GoTo Card to other common items. Too bad the website is so boring (and only viewable over an SSL connection for no reason).

 Works on Contact

 Unlimited Refills

 Maximum Riding Power


Don't Tune That Gibson!

Check this out! According to this post from Engadget, Gibson Guitars has developed a version of their electrics that require no manual tuning at all. For an extra $899, it has a set of pickups that are solely for tuning the guitar. The guitar can be tuned in a few seconds by pulling out the Master Control knob. It looks like the pickups take the tone to a computer and it tightens the strings within a built-in motor system. More information is also available, and here's my friend Mel's thoughts:

Gibson will start selling a self-tuning guitar. At first I thought this was cool. No more lame guys who desperately try (and fail) to be witty while they wrangle their axe into harmonic shape! Hooray! Maybe we'll be able to forever nix "so how y'all doin?" from stage repetoire.

On the other hand, what a bummer to take out this relational step between a musician and an instrument! I've tried to draw a proper comparison (robotic dog? online boyfriend?) and none of them quite fit. I know not everyone has a bond with their instrument. But I do. Willie does. BB King does. Clapton does. Tuning is the most common opportunity you have to feed the relationship. To care for it, pay it due attention, get it to it's best form, and then work together to play the most frickin' beautiful song you know. Work for it a little! Just a little!