Domain registrar hijackers! There should be a law!

Got another one of these in the mail today and I can’t tell you how much it pisses me off! Obviously, *I* know better, but I wonder how many unsuspecting folks fall for this type of scam. Basically, the company sends you this official looking *invoice* titled “Domain Name Expiration Notice”. As you can see, it has a decent amount of long blocked text; long enough that some might skim over it.

They start off saying that your domain name is due to expire in the next few months. Sure, in the second sentence they truthfully say, “When you switch today…”, but I would bet that there are many people who have domains, but don’t totally understand how the system works and will totally fall for this scam. Another gem from the invoice is “This notice is not a bill. It is rather an easy means of payment should you decide to switch your domain name registration…” More like an easy way to get tricked.

IMHO this is deception of the worst kind. It preys on the unsuspecting. I don’t have a problem with companies trying to get you to switch registrars, but this is a clear attempt to trick you into switching.

What’s even crazier is that they want $30 a year!!! Geez!

If you see one of these in the mail. Toss it immediately. Do not be duped! Your true domain registrar will *email* you. Of course, I think everyone should use HotpointDomains.com, but that is a shameless self-promoting plug.

Turning web pages into standalone desktop applications for better performance

It’s ironic. The promise of running full browser-based desktop-like applications has nearly been fulfilled using web technologies like AJAX, CSS, .NET, etc. However, it has led to some unintended consequences. Browsers were just not really designed to display and run all of the dynamic pages that are so common today. I would argue that  much of the real-time dynamic web apps are based on hacks. The language and tools are just not very standard, robust, or well thought out. Web developers live in a world of incompatible browsers, unknown application environment, vague standards, poor memory management, extensions, etc.

Running a web app as a standalone desktop application doesn’t magically solve all of these issues, but it can help to provide a much nicer user experience. I find the apps are snappier and much  more responsive. I’m experiencing that right now as I type this into my WordPress blog posting app. There is probably a lot less battling over application resources, including demands from extensions and I have tons of those. Hell, even tabs have added to the chaos. Running web applications, like gMail, Google Reader, or Facebook like they were standalone applications has some very compelling benefits and is drop-dead simple to do as you will soon see.

Tearing an application away from the browser UI lets it run as its own system process and moves much of the full browser’s overhead crap out of the way. I find that the single processes seem to manage memory better too. I often had Firefox bulging at its seams after keeping it running just overnight. Browser memory management is abysmal and I’m sure sloppy page coding doesn’t help (I’m as guilty as anyone. object=null anyone? ;-). Plus, running a lot of extensions can exacerbate the problem. I suppose it’s not too surprising if you think about all of the junk that goes into a browser; the rendering of the page is almost secondary.

Besides the memory issues, I also found that the typing buffer would ebb and flow causing irritating pausing when I typed even just a few words. I found that this basically disappears when running the pages as desktop apps.

Both Firefox and Chrome have the ability to turn a web page into a standalone application. For Firefox, you need to add the Prism extension. After installing, navigate to the web page. From the Tools menu, choose Convert Website to Application.

A dialog will appear where you can set a few options. The Show navigation bar option will display a toolbar with the basic navigation buttons, plus display the URL. The Show status messages and progress option puts a progress bar at the bottom. The Enable navigation keys option allows keyboard shortcuts for page navigation. The Display in the notification area option just puts an icon in the system tray.

For the most part, I only find the Enable navigation keys option mandatory; the other options just add clutter. When navigation keys are enabled, you can use Alt+Left/Right arrow to navigate backward/forward. Most browsers have a ton of keyboard shortcuts (e.g., Firefox and Chrome). F5 to reload is a good shortcut to remember.

I like to save the shortcut to the Quick Launch Bar, but you can also save to your Desktop and/or Start Menu.

For Chrome, first navigate to the desired page. To the right of the address box there is an icon that looks like a page with a down arrow next to it. Click it and choose Create Application Shortcuts. A dialog will appear where you can set where you want the shortcut placed.

That’s it! As simple as it can get. Of course, you will end up with a lot more items on your taskbar, but you’ll have fewer browser tabs. You also get much more screen real estate since the UI window is barebones and doesn’t have all the clutter of the standard browser. You might miss some of your extensions though, like Flashblock and Adblock. Oh well, ya can’t have everything!

Note that links that open in new windows will open normally in the matching browser (i.e., Firefox or Chrome).

No sign of anything similar for IE, Safari, or Opera, but Mac users should be able to find Prism for Mac.

NOTE: What’s kinda interesting is that you can figure out which pages are the true memory hogs since each runs as a single process. Let the apps run overnight and open up Windows Task Manager to see the real pigs. You’ll need to kill the process and see which window goes away, cuz the process (image) names will all be the same for the same browser engine.

The worst offender? gMail. Note that the increase was pretty small, less than 10MB. A relatively distant second was Facebook. Google Reader was actually pretty good, surprisingly. Full Firefox running without any pages open had the biggest increase. No doubt owing to it’s infamous memory leaks and one or more of my extensions. I’ve heard that Forecastfox is notorious, but hell, that’s why I’ve got 4GB in this baby, right?

Sources:
“Turning Web Apps into Desktop Programs”, MaximumPC, September 2009
“Prism or Chrome?”, http://www.xul.fr/mozilla/prism-or-chrome.html

DIY Anti-Ant Pet Food Bowl

Yeah, I know they sell commercial versions, but this seemed like an easy DIY project and so it was. The idea came from my hummingbird feeder which has a water moat to keep ants out. I figured I could rig up a similar thing for a cat food bowl. Initially, I used a sour cream container and just glued the lid onto the bottom and filled the lid with water. Worked pretty well, but the cat didn’t seem to like sticking his head into the deep cup.

I headed over to the local 99 cent store to see if I could come up with something better. I ended up just getting a ceramic bowl for the top. For the bottom I’m not sure if it’s a deep saucer or shallow dish, but in any case, the bowl just sits in it. The important part is that the bowl lip is beyond the saucer edge so that food doesn’t fall into the water and get all gross.

When I went to swap out the sour scream container version, I was heartened to see an ant wandering on the edge trying to get at the food =) Incidentally, I’m doing all this for a freakin street cat that I claim I don’t even like.

Incidentally, besides the bowl and saucer, I also got a hot glue gun, extra glue sticks, 3 fluorescent light bulbs, and a sink strainer, all for 9 bucks! I loving going there.

The concept to seasonal sales is now officially dead

I haven’t read this anywhere, so perhaps I’m among the first to say it, but the effectiveness of the traditional seasonal sales is officially over or dying quickly. What I’m talking about are time-of-year sales like Black Friday, President’s Day Sale, Back-to-School, even Christmas Sales. They are no longer significantly meaningful to consumers. We now expect things to always be “on sale” (i.e., discounted)…somewhere. You see something you want, and you just know that you can get it cheaper by searching the Internet. C’mon, were the Black Friday sales limited to just the Friday after Thanksgiving??? No way. I continue to see “Black Friday” sales even now in the middle of summer. Hell, I’ve seen “Black Monday” sales!

Now, I’m not saying that they won’t continue to happen, because retailers love to name their sales events to give them meaning. I’m just saying that they are becoming ineffective as a marketing technique. It probably has a lot to do with the equalizing of the marketing playing field due to the Internet. I like it.

It’s similar to what has happened with TV shows. It used to be that ALL shows started in exactly the same week in the Fall. That is still somewhat true, but TV shows now start all the time. January. Summer. Whenever. Someone finally figured out–I think Fox started it–that launching a show when other networks were showing reruns or whatever was a good time since you didn’t have to compete with other new show announcements. Retailers have figured out the same thing. (

Posting to multiple Facebook accounts

For whatever reason, none of the multi-protocol services, like Astra/Trillian, Seesmic, HelloTxt, etc., allow you to simultaneously post to multiple Facebook accounts. (I am, of course, ignoring the fact that FB doesn’t even want you to have multiple accounts.) I did a little research and people have come up with a variety of different solutions, but I think I’ve come up with a simple and elegant way to do it.

My current fav of the multi-protocol bunch is HelloTxt. I like the way you can group a set of networks together to post to, or pick a set based on tags. It supports more social networks than you can shake a stick at. It has a nice mobile version, as well as the ability to post via email, IM, text message and more. Note that to use text messaging you need an international plan, so US users should generally stay away from that feature.

HelloTxt lets you add more than one Twitter account, but only one FB account. I think it has something to do with the way to have to install the HelloTxt app on your FB account. For the most part, the other networks just require that HelloTxt knows the login and you can post.

First, you need to set up a Twitter account that you only use when you want to post something to your second FB account. Use a Twitter name that starts with facebook, so it’s easy to recognize. On the Twitter Account Settings tab, enable the Protect My Tweets option. This keeps all your posts private as far as Twitter is concerned.

Go to FB and log into your second FB account. Add the Twitter application to FB and allow it to update your FB status from the FB-Twitter account you just set up.

Go to HelloTxt and set up your first FB account normally. Add the special FB-Twitter account to HelloTxt as a Twitter account.

When you are done, you can simultaneously post to both FB accounts from HelloTxt. In theory, you could use this method to post to more than two FB accounts. Unfortunately, you can only monitor the first FB account. I’m still hoping that either HelloTxt or Seesmic implement native support for multiple FB accounts, but perhaps there is some sort of developer TOS that is precluding this.

UPDATE  2010-08-01:  See my new way to do this using Pixelpipe.com

Using Slimserver with iPod Touch or iPhone

I blogged a few days about about how I was moving back to Slimserver (aka SqueezeCenter). Today I started wondering how to listen to the stream on my iPod Touch. A quick search came up with an app called CastCatcher from Return7. It took me a while to figure it out, but if your Slimserver is passworded, you need to prepend the login to the front of the URL for the stream, like http://username:[email protected]:9000/stream.mp3, otherwise, just use http://XXX.XXX.XXX.XXX:9000/stream.mp3. (Obviously, XXX.XXX.XXX.XXX can either be the IP address of the server or a domain name if you are using one. Basically, the standard Slimserver URL; nothing special.)

Once you get the player to connect, you’ll need to limit the bitrate lower than the default 320k. Apparently, Slimserver streams too fast for CastCatcher to handle. If you’ve never done this, the setting can be hard to find. First, go into SqueezeCenter settings and select the Player tab. There are two a pop-up menus just below the tabs. The left one chooses which player you are changing, since there could be more than one. My CastCatcher shows up as “Mozilla from 192.168.1.50”, but yours will likely be different. After the player is selected, choose Audio from the pop-up menu on the right. Change the Bitrate limiting to 64k, 96k or 128k.

That’s it! CastCatcher is only $1.99 in the iTunes store. Seems to crash every so often, but generally I’m happy with it.