Upgrading to wordpress 2.1

Whoohoo, wordpress 2.1 was released this morning. I’m upgrading tonight so expect a few hours of downtime/reduced functionality.

Update.

Well that went relatively ok. It seems a few of my plugins needed upgrading. Sadly, no compatible upgrade was available for widgets which I used to beautify my sidebar. But the important stuff is still there. I removed a few other plugins that I was hardly using.

Oddly, the database backup plugin is no longer included. I’ll look for a replacement.

In terms of functionality, there doesn’t seem to be that many features that are vastly different.

The editor is not working as advertised. It isn’t autosaving and the wysiwyg is missing in action. I actually like the current non wysiwyg version better, but still. I’m wondering if I did anything wrong.

Update 2.

I’ve deleted all files except my plugins (google analyticator and openid delegation), configuration and uploads. Then I re-uploaded the wordpress 2.1 stuff this time ensuring that there is no cruft from previous installations. This should have fixed the editor stuff but didn’t. I don’t see tabs for switching to wysiqyg. Also there does not seem to be any spellchecking except for the default firefox stuff. Solution: allow sites to abuse javascript by messing with stuff they shouldn’t be touching. At least that is what is claimed here http://wordpress.org/support/topic/101716?replies=9. Only thing is that it doesn’t work.

Update 3.

OK, found the problem. You need to toggle “use visual editor” in the user profile. Weird place for such an option and an obvious usability problem.

kml2html.xsl

A nice feature in Google Earth is that you can export your placemarks as a kmz file. This is just a zipfile with a .kml file inside. This file in turn is just a xml format that Google uses to list your placemarks.

I spent some time creating a nice xsl file with which you can use to convert these files to html. I use it to publish some of my own placemarks on my website. Effectively, it turns Google Earth into a content management system for publishing information about places.

I do the transformation statically using an ant build file. But you can of course also let the browser do the transformation. However, search engines probably have difficulty handling the kml format. Also, not all browsers can do xsl, e.g. mobile browsers and screen readers. This is why I prefer to generate the html.

The stylesheet has the following nice features:

  • Generates link to Google Maps for each location. It also creates a link to Google Maps pointing to the original kmz file (note you need to set the base url in the build file for that to work)
  • Generates the coordinates of the location formatted using the geo microformat. This allows firefox extensions such as operator and future browsers that support microformats to detect the coordiantes.
  • Produces nice semantic html (makes it easy to style using css).
  • It works for nested folders of placemarks and structures the page using nested unordered lists.
  • Preserves any html you type in the descriptions in Google Earth. So you can add links there and have them appear in the html.
  • Of course includes a link to the original kmz file.

Update. Since posting this I made several updates to the xsl and the css. The link above always points to the latest version of the stylesheet. In the zip file you will also find the css and a ant build file. As part of this update, I also rewrote the text above.

spyware sucks, but ubuntu doesn’t

Last weekend (Easter holiday, long weekend) was a good opportunity to visit my parents in the Netherlands. Apart from beloved son, I’m also their system administrator. Last time I made a mistake, I left them behind with a partially secured windows machine. The thing was behind a router and they were using firefox (saw to that personally). Anyway, when I checked this weekend the machine was full of very nasty spyware. It was basically unusable and the spyware interfered with normal usage of the machine.
I tried to fix it using the usual tools (adaware, spybot) but this did not work 100%. Both tools managed (on multiple attempts) to identify and remove a shitload of spyware. But the remaining few managed to ‘fix’ this as soon as they were done. Eventually I thought the machine was clean but then the rebooting started. After booting everything would look allright, and then it would reboot. Effectively I only had a few minutes to figure out what was going on before this happened. That gets old real quick.
That was roughly when I decided to bring the laptop home and start from scratch. Of course before doing so, I have to make an attempt to back up my parent’s files and family photos. Accessing the laptop in its current state is pretty much impossible, hence the title of this post. I stand corrected: ubuntu does not suck after all. It’s merely very unsuitable for end users :-).

A few weeks back I posted my not so positive review of ubuntu. Currently I’m using it to rescue some files. I won’t bother trying to actually install it on the laptop for my parents. The main reason is that I have a hard enough job supporting my parents without them having to learn an entirely new OS. After years of practice they can sort of do things by himself now. Things like burning a cd, editing photos, doing banking, etc. I have no desire to start from scratch with them on all of that.

But the point is that it would work very well. I booted into the live dvd image. I actually mistook the dvd for my knoppix cd. I was pleasantly surprised to find a booted ubuntu desktop when I came back. All hardware, including smc pcmcia wireless card, onboard sound and display had been recognized. The wireless card needed to be configured for my network, which was easy once I had found the tool. Confusingly there is a system and administration menu that both contain network related tools.

Then I had to mount the ntfs partition. I tried to use the disk tool but it is useless (you can mount but not access the partition unless you are root which is not very convenient in ubuntu where you can’t log in as root). I had to do some googling to make the correct changes to fstab manually and then proceeded to mount using the good old commandline. That worked. Then I sshed (using nautilus) into my windows box (which runs cygwin) and I’m currently uploading some crucial files. After that completes, I’ll wipe the laptop and be sure to lock it down properly this time.

lessons learned:

  • no auto update + no firewall + unsecured wlan = very bad idea
  • firefox + router != enough protection
  • adaware and spybot are not good enough for recovery, these are fine prevention tools however
  • ubuntu doesn’t suck, it’s a nice addition to any system administrators toolbox ๐Ÿ™‚

Nice extension

I used to be able to try out most new extensions. But during the last half year the number has skyrocketed so each time I look there’s dozens of new ones. This particular extension jumped straight into the top ten of popular extensions. And for good reason because Reveal adds a really nice innovative feature. When you hit F2 you get this nice overlay of minature renderings of all tabs you have open. A Firefox session can easily escalate into having 20 or so tabs open. At that point keeping track of all of them becomes hard. This extension brings some light into the darkness.

A nice added gimmick is that you can view the history of individual tabs by hitting insert. Also you can close tabs by middle clicking the miniatures or simply navigate to them by clicking them. Really nice. Easily the best extension I’ve seen lately.

Testing performancing

Well, this seems to work. The performancing firefox extension adds a nice blog post editor to firefox. I’ve just installed it, using this excellent howto for dummies, and I’m now testing if it works. If this post ever appears on my blog, it probably worked :-).

stuff gets released

Lots of stuff has been released or is about to be released. Enough to warrant a little blog post about this stuff.

Open Office 2.0

The 2.0 version is a nice improvement over 1.1. OOo 1.1 sucked IMHO but 2.0 might convince me to actually use it. If only they fixed the bugs I reported four years ago on crossreferences (not implemented properly). Without fixes for that, I can’t write large, structured content in it (i.e. scientific articles). But still, quite an improvement. Importing of office stuff now actually works. I managed to import and save an important spreadsheet at work and removed about 9 MB of redundant data in the process (no idea where this came from), which makes working with the file over the network a lot less frustrating. Also it seems to actually be able to work with word documents without seriously messing up layout and internal structure (and its a lot faster on large documents). In short, compatibility now works more or less as advertised for the past four years (1.1 didn’t, even for trivial stuff). It’s still quite ugly though and lots of usability challenges remain unaddressed. Looking cool is not a product feature, nor is blending in with your OS. It remains the poormans alternative to MS Office.

Update. It looks like I was wrong about not messing up word documents. I did some roundtrip editing on a document written in word and OOo thoroughly messed it up. It turns out it doesn’t handle documents with adjusted page settings. It applied the page settings for the title page to the whole document. As a concequence it looks like shit, all the headers and footers are in the wrong place. It’s a lot of work to fix it too.

Maven 2.0

I spent some time with a release candidate and decided not to use it. The reasons were a mix of poor documentation and a dislike of the structure it tries to enforce on everything you do. I’m pretty sure the ideas behind it are ok but it just doesn’t feel right yet. In short it didn’t pass the fifteen minute test they put on their website: the documentation keeps telling you how beautiful and useful maven is without actually telling you anything about how it works. Some crucial things are lacking like explaining how these dependencies actually work, where the repository where it magically pulls all these jar files from is, how to set up your own repository, etc.

In the end I prefer the more verbose nature of ant. I have a lot of experience writing ant build files now. I’ve even written a few ant tasks at work. I happen to both like and need its flexibility a lot. I don’t see how maven solves any of the more non trivial stuff I do it (other than allowing me to use ant).

The assumptions maven is based on are IMHO incorrect. First of all it is tool centric, if you don’t structure your projects the way it likes you’ll have lots of trouble trying to get it to do anything useful (that means it won’t be used where I work now or any other place that has an existing, complex project). Secondly it solves a lot of easy stuff that is not really a problem with ant and not much else. Compiling, generating javadoc, etc. is not that hard with ant. In fact, most of the time I reuse the same tasks for that (by importing it). And, finally, maven just adds complexity. I find maven projects hideously complicated in their structure. I’ve seen quite a few maven projects and they all spread their source code over numerous modules in nested directories. I don’t want to structure my projects like that. But the most important thing is that maven doesn’t actually solve any problem I have.

Mysql 5.0

Nice to finally see this arrive. I expect this to have some consequences for the use of commercial databases in the next few years. At work our customers still prefer commercial stuff like oracle or mssql. Increasingly this has more to do with irrationality than actual features that are actually used. Performance certainly has little to do with it. Nor does scalability. Our webapp is a few dozen simple tables with some optional stored procedures. The latter are what have kept us from fully supporting mysql though arguably they are not required in our app.

Firefox 1.5 RC1
The release candidate should be ready right about now or very soon anyway. Beta2 has worked flawlessly here, as did Beta1. See my earlier review of the beta for more details.

FireFox 1.5

Everybody seems to be writing about the new firefox and as a loyal user, I shouldn’t stay behind. I’ve been using the alpha and beta versions and they have proven to be mostly trouble free (as much as you could expect from alphas and betas).

The alphas were a little unstable and I encountered a couple of crashes (over a period of several weeks). That hasn’t happened to me with the beta which I’ve been using since it was released. The largest problem has been the intially slow pace with which extensions are tested and ported. By now most of the more relevant (and actively maintained) ones have been ported. There are still a few extensions missing. Presumably the developers are waiting for the final release or simply not interested in immediately fixing their extensions.

Now the new features. At a first glance, not much has changed. Most changes are under the hood. The most visible change is no doubt the rearranging of the preferences dialog. IMHO it doesn’t make much difference but I agree it is slightly nicer this way. Also the rss button has relocated from the status bar to the locationdropdown. IMHO this is slightly awkward or at least unconventional. And finally FireFox now has error pages for timeouts and other server errors, just like IE has had for years. Other than that, I can’t think of any relevant, eye catching changes.

Then there are the changes under the hood. SVG and canvas are two new cool technologies. However, since internet explorer does not support these, I doubt they will be used very much. Firefox only sites are a bad idea IMHO. Sadly, this also applies to the CSS improvements (e.g. css 3 columns) and javascript improvements. Nice, but it’s not likely these technology improvements will see much adoption (except maybe in browser extensions where browser compatibility is not an issue).

The most visible change to end users will be the performance increase. When 1.0 was released last year, it was released off a branch which had been frozen quite some time by then. Meanwhile development on trunk (a.k.a. mozilla 1.8) continued and about 1.5 year of development has accumulated there, most of which will end up in FireFox 1.5. FireFox 1.5 has a new clever mechanism for back and forward which prevents it from rerendering a page and caches the results. Consequently, going back and forth between pages is now fast. Also normal rendering of pages has seen some improvements. It is hard to quantify this but it certainly feels faster.

Something that is often overlooked in reviews such as this is extensions. As I said there are some porting issues but these will go away when the final release approaches. What is worth noting is that some extensions have really evolved from nice toys to real valuable browser additions. IMHO the added value these extensions provide is often overlooked. You can’t really imagine doing web development without such powerful tools as the javascript debugger, the webdevelopment toolbar, live http headers and many more developer oriented tools. As a mere user, adblock, sage, forecastfox and context highlight make life so much easier and fun. And there are loads more of mature, well tested, valuable extensions.

So to summarize, some minor feature and gui development, lots of under the hood changes which you will notice in the form of snappier performance. Other than that it is still FireFox, a damn good browser, a solid upgrade from any browser you currently use.