Goodbye Zoundry Raven…hello ???

It’s with great sadness…ummm…ok, frustration…that I say goodbye to our blogging client of the last few years: Zoundry Raven.  I’ve searched MANY times for free and paid blogging clients for Windows and never found a reason to replace it.  I only searched back then when I found something perhaps missing or not fully developed yet in Raven.  Now, however, I’ve had to resume the search and this time…I think it’s for keeps.

Why?

Well, it stopped working!  I’ve had Windows 7 Pro x64 for almost a year now and Raven was working fine for most of that time.  About 2 months ago, it started having a problem.  I don’t blog that often so I can be sure just what changed.  In recommencing my search for blog clients, I was very disappointed in what I found so I thought I’d take a look at perhaps trying “fix” Raven.  Raven went “open source” a little while ago and unfortunately, it’s not gathered a development community, so development basically stopped at the version that stopped working for me.  I’ve never coded in Python but it looked interesting (still does) and I’d love to learn it.  One must be realistic from time to time however, and diving into a complex piece of software like Raven and trying to find the “bug” when you don’t know the language at all…well, let’s just say that I had my tiny pen knife and I was out to kill the elephant and eat it in one big bite…not gonna happen!

Each month we write newsletters that we post on our site using WordPress and send out as emails using phplist.  So, even if I don’t blog that often, each month comes around and I fire up the blog client and write something.  Well, it’s that time again and I’ve got to figure out how to make something work.  I’ve got an old XP laptop on its last legs where Raven is still working, but for me, I concede defeat.  I’ve got to make a change now.  So, yesterday I went looking again and was both semi-encouraged and frustrated.

First of all, I was, for the first time, open to the idea of buying a piece of software.  For most things, I’m really a freeware/open source (can we say cheap!) kind of guy so this was somewhat of a departure!  Anyway, after having looked over the options out there, I think I can safely say that paid blog clients are NOT any better than free ones!  Freeware can often come with a “price”: you get what you pay for.  Not in this case.  What I think I can say is that each blog client caters to a different type of usage and the paid ones are no different.  That’s why I liked Raven so much…it catered to what I do when I write blog posts and newsletters…at least it did so more than other clients.  I’ll admit that I’m pretty particular and there are features that are important to me that simply are not to others.

I’m also a “feature-hound” in general.  I’d much rather have “too much” functionality than “not enough.”

So, I’m down to three choices now:

I may have to pick more than one depending on what I’m doing.  Obviously Windows Live Writer is getting more and more capable all the time, building a good user base and will probably not be let go any time soon.  Post2Blog is already declared “unsupported” by its creators.  It’s got good potential functionality but definite buggy-ness that, of course, is not going to go away with time.  BlogDesk look really promising, but looking at their forums, I wonder how much more will be put into it.

I’ll try the newsletter today and see how it works for me in these three clients.  I’ll post a follow-up to this to state my choice(s) and why.

iTune out!

I really like NT Wright audio teachings. He stimulates and provokes and challenges and bridges many a theological gap. I found on the NT Wright page (https://ntwrightpage.com) recently a link to some lectures he did at Duke University’s 2010 Convocation and Pastor’s School. I happily went to download the free audio teachings and I couldn’t get past a page that said that iTunes was not found on my computer. Well duh! Of course it’s not found on my computer. I wish it could stay that way!

I detest iTunes and I detest Apple’s practice of creating “monopolistic” and “invasive” software. I’m duly convinced that much of what Apple creates in terms of hardware is really good and from a design standpoint is laudable (if stupidly expensive!). However, their handful of offerings that make it to the Windows world are hugely annoying! They’re probably just trying to stick to Microsoft for their clunky Mac offerings. Of course the losers in this war are the end-users, not the big corporations.

Having had experience in getting other streaming protocols to finally cough up a standard URL of a standard media file via circuitous editing of a series of downloaded files, I did various “view sources” and tried playing my results in different capable, non-invasive media players and tried changing the protocol from itms to http, etc. None of this worked. So I started out looking for specific freeware players capable of playing/downloading itms files. I failed…

Apple has started this thing (I hesitate to use the word “service” as it does us only a dis-service!) called iTunes U. iTunes U is a corner of the iTunes Music Store universe dedicated to more educational media files. They must make it pretty attractive to participate in. Personally, I find it reprehensible that Duke University would, in essence, force people to download Apple software to play a free academic mp3 lecture. I can’t imagine that the bandwidth hit or storage space is any kind of real problem for the university that they just couldn’t put their mp3 files up on their own servers somewhere where anyone could easily download them.

Anyway, I didn’t succeed in circumventing iTunes completely, but I did find this tutorial on how to install iTunes in a less invasive way: The unofficial guide to installing iTunes 10 without bloatware on the zdnet site. I highly recommend doing things this way if you simply need iTunes for some unique capability it offers and you don’t want it to be so invasive or huge. I would add however, this final step: Fire up autoruns after doing the install steps and do a search on Apple. Then you can delete autostarted tasks/services that you don’t want.

The mysteriously constipated ADSL router

Recently I’ve experienced reeeeeeaaaaaallllllyyyyy slow load times for anything at wordpress.com and wordpress.org, including all wordpress.com individual blogs. They would finally load but with no formatting. So obviously something was getting gummed up in the works. I’ve solved the problem finally and so I’ll share my experience in hoping that it will help someone else.

Here’s my process of discovery and solution:

  • It’s only happening on these WordPress-hosted sites. Everything else is loading fine.
  • My Firefox has tons of addons so I load up IE and Google Chrome to see if it’s the browser messing up. Nope. Same results with other browsers.
  • I look at the Net tab of Firebug in Firefox to see what is not loading. I notice that s0.wp.com, s1.wp.com, s2.wp.com and s.wordpress.org are not loading. These all resolved to 93.184.220.20 for me.
  • I lookup “slow loading s0.wp.com” on Google and even in the recent posts there is not unanimous agreement that there is a “general” problem or outage.
  • We have K9 Web filtering on some computers but not others. I try wordpress.com on a non-filtered Windows box and on a headless linux box (a simple wget). Nope. Same results.
  • I do a traceroute/tracert. No problem. Works fine.
  • I can ping both the ip address and the domain
  • We use OpenDNS and its cache check page had no problems
  • I have access to a windows box via VNC that has a different ISP and it worked fine
  • I have access to a linux server at large French hosting service and via Webmin’s HTTP tunnel it worked fine

Process of elimination points to our house and not a specific computer or operating system in our house. What’s left? My Neuf box (SFR) ADSL router. Everything looks fine in its web interface, including its ability to ping and traceroute. It caught my eye that the uptime for my router was 51 days. This problem with WordPress I had noticed, maybe 2 weeks ago. In the past, I’ve had speed issues every once in a while and have discovered that rebooting the router can fix some of them. So, on a whim I thought I’d just reboot the router.

That fixed it. So I’m not sure exactly WHAT was the problem in the router that screwed up HTTP traffic to a single IP but not other traffic, but perhaps this will save you some time if you encounter something similar.

Regular Expressions in Notepad++

I’ve always found regular expressions to be a real un-intuitive mind-bender. I’ve had some very limited success in using them…mostly in a linux command-line grepping situation where I had some very good examples to work from and had no other choice…i.e. I was FORCED to use them. I’m a programmer. I’m a database administrator. I enjoy coding and writing weird SQL! But I’ve never been able to get my head around regular expressions…never really wanted to. See my blog post about my laziness with regular expressions. 😉

I’ve been using Notepad++ for some time now and have sort of a love-dislike relationship with it because it’s very powerful…but some things, notably macros don’t exactly work like I’d want them too…and sometimes, I really think they’re buggy.

Today, I needed to take a list of e-mails and, for each email take the part before the ‘@’ and copy it at the of the line with a tab in between.

So, to start with I have a list of emails like this:

lkjshdflkhsf [at] lkjhsdf [dot] com
oiuyeruyq [at] iuywer [dot] com
nbxvnxbv [at] mnbcx [dot] com

At the end I need lines like this:

lkjshdflkhsf [at] lkjhsdf [dot] com[TAB]lkjshdflkhsf
oiuyeruyq [at] iuywer [dot] com[TAB]oiuyeruyq
nbxvnxbv [at] mnbcx [dot] com[TAB]nbxvnxbv

If you’ve ever had to move contacts from one piece of software to another you may have come across this problem to create an import file for the destination. If Notepad++ macros worked in every situation, I’d have been able to use them, but they would simply “malfunction” on me and not allow me to accomplish this. So I played with regular expressions and became aware of how you can “tag” parts of your search expression and then refer to those tagged portions of text in your replacement string to allow you to move things around and copy things. Really good regex info can be found on the Notepad++ wiki here: https://sourceforge.net/apps/mediawiki/notepad-plus/index.php?title=Regular_Expressions.

So to accomplish this I was able to use the Notepad++ Search/Replace dialog in “regular expression” mode like this:

notepad_regex_example.png

In the image, you can see that in the FIND expression, you have two sections in parentheses. This is how you tag a portion of a string, by putting the expression within parentheses. For the first piece, it tags the part between the beginning of the line, signified by the “^” (caret) character and the “@”, signified by itself. The “dot asterisk” means:

  • dot = any character
  • asterisk = zero or more times

I’ve shaded that yellow. Then the second section that I’ve tagged is between the “@” and the end of the line, signified by the “$” (dollar sign). I’ve shaded it orange.

Now, in the replacement, you can refer to these tagged areas by “1”, “2”, “3”, etc….simply the order in which they appear gives them an ordinal number. You can then refer to them in the replacement string several times if you wish.

I’m still quite the noob in regular expressions and much more can be done with them. But, I found this particular example to be something that I can definitely build on in the future and hope that you can too.

FileHippo Updater

I download a LOT of software. I’m searching a lot for freeware, etc. I’m a “feature-freak” and like a very full toolbox. There are a ton of sites out there with a lot of “flotsam and jetsam” to wade through. Everything is a “free download” but that no longer means that what you’re downloading is “free.”

I’ve found that in the sites that I download from, FileHippo has a unique feature that I really like: file versions. You don’t always need a back version but sometimes it will really save your bacon and they seem to keep a zillion versions of anything that they host. They don’t host everything but they do host a lot of the stuff I use.

At any rate, all my downloading and installing means more things that can get out of date as well. So today I discovered that they have a handy utility that will scan your system for installed software that they host, compare version and give you a results web page with direct download links for the software on your system, for which they host a more recent version. I tried it today and it’s been a downloading/installing fest. It can run at startup, do its check, and if it finds nothing, it terminates itself. I like that!

Check it out! https://www.filehippo.com/updatechecker/

RegEx Nirvana?

My technology path has covered a fairly large swath of operating systems and user environments. I’ve gotten quite familiar with different line-command, GUI and full-screen text (3270) environments. I typically customize any environment I work with.

Currently as part of our missionary work, I’m a systems/network administrator in a small private school in France. I’m the only fish in the pond so I get to do everything. It also means I have to do everything. I don’t have the luxury, therefore, to get good at every technology that I work with. If I don’t know it, I have to teach myself, etc. No training budget here.

My background in programming in various environments and database administration in various environments serves me well in many situations. On thing continues to give me fits, however, regular expressions. These beasts are anything but regular! One thing they are, however, is ubiquitous! As a “mostly Windows guy”, I could get by without them, but even there, more and more pieces of software are adding regex capabilities into their find/replace functions. Add to that the fact that I maintain Linux servers (a self-taught area that has caused me no small amount of head-scratching!) and I absolutely cannot escape regular expressions.

As stated earlier, I don’t have the time to learn every good piece of technology that’s out there, nor a training budget…which translates to no tool budget either. So, I need a good piece of freeware/open source that “holds my hand” in the occasional, but deep, regular expression activity. There’s lots of freeware out there, but 90% of it is simply testing regex…not really helping you understand how to write them. I would search, in vain, occasionally for something that could help me.

Well, I finally found something!!!!

Regulazy (and its big brother Regulator) are written by Roy Osherove and can be found here: https://weblogs.asp.net/rosherove/pages/tools-and-frameworks-by-roy-osherove.aspx I highly recommend them as ideal tools to help you build and test regex’s.

I resent the name Regulazy, but I love its facility to write for you the regex by stepping through a complex string and suggesting appropriate matching expressions for each part of it.

Anyway, thanks Roy for those great tools!!!! You’re helping busy sysadmins the world over!

Testing Wordbook…

Okey-dokey, this is simply a quick test post to see if my WordPress-to-Facebook plugin Wordbook is actually functioning correctly.  Besides that, I’d actually like to see HOW it functions.  If this works and shows up…well that would mean that all past posts will not be automatically stuck on my Facebook mini-feed…which I suppose is a good thing.  Voilà…(that’s French for “voila”) 😉