Email Alarm System

I’ve been in the mood for some hardware hacking for a while. Recently at work I thought it would be nice to have a way to know if an important (emergency) email came in that required attention. These fire-drills are just part of the job. I have multiple computers and screens so an on-screen alert isn’t always effective. Audible alerts don’t work either because speakers are only connected to one computer at a time and often headphones are plugged in. I need something more independent.

My solution was to build a USB alarm system: Two rotating LED lights to get attention visually as well as a 76 db piezo buzzer which chirps when the system is activates to help get attention. The buzzer only chirps and only when the system first invokes so it’s not an annoyance. It’s enough to get attention, but not enough to bother others. It has multiple chirps so that I can potentially setup multiple alert types.

Now we can really be on the ball!
P1 Bug Report Alarm
Obligatory goofy office signage

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The Death Of Duke Nukem Forever

Way back in 2006 I blogged about all the things that took less time than Duke Nukem Forever. A running joke in the technology industry as a whole has been how long the mythical game has taken to develop. Wars have started and ended in less time than they spent on the game. Take World War II for example.

Now that it’s effectively a dead project, Wired has an excellent article on the death of Duke Nukem Forever. It’s a very worthwhile read if you have any interest in technology, business, gaming, or just succeeding in anything. Among the takeaways:

  • Having seemingly unlimited money can be a curse more than a blessing. Being on a budget forces discipline that’s necessary regardless of budget.
  • Always have milestones and deadlines.
  • Always have an end-game.
  • Once you pick your platform, stick with it until you release a product unless it’s impossible to do so.
  • Check your ego.

I suspect at the end it’s now come down to an IP grab and they are really just trying to get the name, which is likely worth more than all the years of software development in the project. That however doesn’t take away from how poorly managed things were.

Web Development has a notable difference in that it never really “ships”. So there’s no end-game unless your handing off the project/code. It’s an iterative process. That however still leaves milestones that need to be met.

Hopefully someone will salvage what’s left and release the game. However that would only be a good thing if its done right. To often these situations end up with a half-baked half-salvaged Frankenstein of a product.

Top Windows Programs Open Source

CNet has a slide show with it’s top Windows programs. It’s a pretty good list. I’d agree with it for pretty much everything. What I found really interesting is that of the 9 listed, 7 are open source. Here’s the rundown with the license for the source of each:

Interesting to see the penetration of open source here.

Mac Email Showdown

ComputerWorld has a rather good showdown of email clients on Mac OS X. The best breakdown of features I’ve seen on the Mac side in some time.

That said, I think they were slightly unfair to Thunderbird. For example, Thunderbird does have calendar support via Lightning which wasn’t mentioned (though it does indicate webmail support via extension). I’ve been using it with Google Calendar and it’s been working very well for me. It also says that Thunderbird can’t read from the Mac OS X Address book, though it should be noted that’s now fixed for the next release. It does however in another part of the breakdown briefly discuss Apple’s upcoming Mail release.

Another interesting note is that there doesn’t seem to be any mention of Entourage still not being available as a Universal Binary, meaning it’s very slow on Intel based Mac’s as I’ve mentioned before. We won’t see it as a Universal Binary until 2008. As someone who uses it daily at work, I’m counting down the days. IMHO this problem alone makes Thunderbird a much better mail client (minus the lack of Exchange support).

Does anyone know if Mail supports exchange? The review seems to think so (see the chart), though I thought that was only over IMAP. Apple seems to agree with me (emphasis mine):

Mail works with the following account types: POP, IMAP, .Mac, and Exchange (only if configured as an IMAP server). You can’t log in directly to Hotmail, AOL, or any service that does not support POP or IMAP access, and retrieve email using Mail.

I wouldn’t really call that support.

Other than those things which I believe aren’t quite accurate, I actually liked the review. I though it was a decent breakdown on a level I haven’t seen before. It exposes features that few really look at (search for example), but really matter in terms of user experience.

Remote Desktop Connection 2.0 Beta For Mac

Microsoft yesterday released Remote Desktop Connection 2.0 Beta for Mac OS X. This is the first release since 2002. The current version was really old, clunky and limited compared to it’s Windows counterpart. Worse was the fact that it was PPC native and was never turned into a Universal Binary, making it just that much slower. This is a really welcome upgrade for all Mac users in a PC environment. Unfortunately it’s still missing key things, but it’s still beta so there is still hope.

I’m primarily a Mac user at work, but do work on a few PC’s as well, so I have RDC running constantly since I find it easier than hitting the KVM switch all the time. No, I don’t use Parallels as of yet. This works pretty well for most tasks, but on occasion when I need to do more intensive PC work I do switch over using the KVM for the time being. Because I work like this, I switched to CoRD, which is an open source Remote Desktop implementation. I’d highly recommend it. It’s very good.

RDC 2.0 has a really nice new look, and much improved performance for Intel Mac users. It does however have some issues that still aren’t addressed.

RDC Menu

Adding a computer using Remote Desktop Connection 2.0

Notice in the menu above, you can’t make a “new” connection. Only open a saved one. I can’t for the life of me understand why this is. Do I really have to plan my connections in advance? What if I’m connected to a computer and want to quickly connect to another? The only way I can find to get a prompt for a new connection is when you don’t have any connections open. This just doesn’t seem right.

CoRD - Add Computer

Adding a computer using CoRD 0.4.1

With CoRD I can easily add a new RDC connection using the quick connect box, or by adding it to the tray. This is in my opinion essential functionality. It’s so easy to manage connections in CoRD. IMHO it’s the greatest feature this application provides.

RDC - Dock

Switch between computers in Remote Desktop Connection 2.0

Having multiple connections open in RDC 2.0 gives multiple dock icons with the address of the host in the icon. A rather nice way to tell who you’re connected to. There is a bug however which results in one looking cut off on my PPC Mac Mini, not sure about the Intel one (maybe lack of Core Image support at fault?). One downside to this design is that the dock can get pretty cluttered quickly if you have a few connections open. But in my case it’s never really more than 2, so it works well for me.

CoRD - Tray

Switching between computers in CoRD 0.4.1

CoRD uses a “tray” like interface for managing connected an saved connections. This means no connection files sitting all over your computer (yay!). It also means switching between connections is really easy, even if you had a dozen, and it doesn’t clutter your dock. It’s great interface.

New to RDC 2.0 is Full Screen mode. Something that was missing in prior versions (and really hurt). CoRD also has this feature. This is one place where both applications have shortcomings. In RDC 2.0, if your resolution isn’t ideal for your display, it crops and looks really poor. In CoRD if you are using a windowed view, and go full screen, it disconnects then reconnects to go full screen. This is a real drag. There is however a workaround for CoRD. The trick is to start full screen and exit if you want to use it windowed. CoRD then seems to scale down the resolution but maintain the same connection. Despite scaling the fonts are still very readable.

I don’t think CoRD can map drives though. That’s a pretty nice feature.

Overall I think I’ll be using both applications depending on the tasks at hand, but I think I still prefer CoRD.

For anyone wondering, Entourage on an Intel Mac isn’t bad. Can’t wait for the next release where everything is a Universal Binary. PowerPoint is dead to me until that upgrade.

Coda Coolness

So I downloaded and tested out Coda a little bit today. My initial impression is that I’m very impressed. It could be the new standard. A few like Alex King point out that it uses Safari as the default engine. I don’t think that’s so bad. Nothing stops you from using 2 windows one being Firefox (obviously running Firebug). I think the editor itself is rather well polished and very refined. The use of Bonjour to allow for collaboration makes it perfect for multi-developer environments. And yes, you can have more than two developers collaborating in 1 document.

My typical workflow is very abrupt. I tend to have Firefox, IE, and an IDE open at all times when coding pages. Not to mention a KVM switch to go between platforms. This still consolidates several things, and with a much nicer UI.

I’ll need to try it (for actual development purposes) for a few days before I could tell if it really works as well I hope. Panic is one of my favorite Mac developers. Really well polished products are their specialty.

Is Vista For Me?

CNet’s review pretty much sums up my feelings on Vista after playing around with it for a little while:

The bottom line: Windows Vista is essentially warmed-over Windows XP. If you’re currently happy with Windows XP SP2, we see no compelling reason to upgrade. On the other hand, if you need a new computer right now, Windows Vista is stable enough for everyday use.

I don’t see a reason to upgrade. There’s nothing I really want/need in Vista that I’ve seen. Aero is a giant waste of battery life on laptops, not to mention it’s GPU hungry. So I don’t see my laptop enjoying that. Then there is the issue of all the DRM, and “security” (aka annoyances) they built in. Not to mention the added cost of upgrading older software to work with Vista. XP seems to do the job just as well as Vista does. Oh yea, it’s not exactly priced to sell.

Perhaps by Vista SP1 there will be some compelling feature or benefit. At least for now I don’t see what the big deal is.

On the other hand, I’m somewhat impressed by the Office 2007 release. In my opinion it’s much more polished than past releases. I’m still using Microsoft Office XP (2002) since there was nothing in subsequent versions worth upgrading for. This one may be worth getting, though I’ll likely wait until they shake the remaining bugs out and it’s a bit more used in the real world. I have a feeling corporate adoption may be a little slower due to the UI changes. This upgrade may require some retraining of employees, and I’m sure many companies won’t be into that.