Thursday, May 31, 2007

Photoshop math

When it comes to Photoshop, I'm an expert. Photoshop is designed, for the most part, for print design. It isn't exactly what I'd call web-friendly. Over the past few iterations Adobe has done things that help us web, icon, and what I call "scratch graphics" designers do stuff more easily.

However, I'm working in Photoshop right now and just realized that I started calc.exe for the zillionth time. Looking back over the years, I've realized that every time I start Photoshop, I have inevitably started calc.exe or pulled out my graphing calculator (now dead - a huge nuisance - should probably replace it but my experience was that it regularly chewed through batteries).

So, what I'd love to see in Photoshop is allow every field that takes a number to also take a mathematical formula and evaluate it. Real example of how I want it to work follows. Take the "Canvas Size" dialog:


For this case, I want to increase the width of the canvas to 886*2-1 pixels. Or 1771 pixels. Sure I can do the math in my head, but I save time by firing up calc.exe. I would save even more time if I could simply enter the formula "886*2-1" into that field. Or do what Microsoft Excel does and put an equals sign in front of the formula to indicate that it is a formula, "=886*2-1". I don't think I'm asking for a whole lot here. Writing a basic calculator program is a first-year college student assignment (every semester, a few requests from students pop up on mailing lists for someone else to do their homework assignments for them). This is Photoshop we're talking about. It is supposedly the cream-of-the-crop, top-of-the-line professional graphics editor and here I am running calc.exe to do basic tasks in Photoshop. Ironic.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

1and1.com dedicated servers...

So you are a small business like me and you have a Geocities/Yahoo/freebie website. Ads pop up all over the place and, well, it looks ugly.

Or maybe you pay something like $10 per month for scripting abilities and get embarrassingly slow speeds with the site when visitors do their thing and, uh, visit.

Or maybe you need some sort of customized setup. Or you are tired of paying tons of money for a few gigabytes of bandwidth per month. Or you run the web server on your Cable/DSL line and have an outage every month or two. Then let me point you at my provider:

http://www.1and1.com/?k_id=9130514

If you visit forums, you will probably find users ranting about how horrible 1and1.com is. Those users are paying for the $2/month service. 1and1.com dumps something like 300 websites onto a single server blade and then moves onto the next blade, dumps 300 more websites, etc. They don't give a darn about you if you go with their shared hosting services. And why should they? You aren't the core of their business if you use shared hosting. Where they shine is in what is called "dedicated hosting". You probably have seen dedicated hosting solutions and wondered what it is all about.

Shared hosting is where your website and a few hundred others all reside on the same PC. Now you might get lucky and get a whole bunch of useless websites on the same server that no one visits and yours is the only one consuming CPU, RAM, and HD space. But there is no way to tell who else is on the same server and your data is accessible to 1and1.com staff (and perhaps others). For most businesses, that last sentence is the killer - off-site hosting solutions are a no-no because of sensitive business data. 1and1.com managed hosting has the same problem - someone can log into the server that is not part of your business.

A dedicated host means you (or your trusted IT person/web developer) manage the server. 1and1.com provides the PC, power, bandwidth (1 Terabyte transfer per month), and basic software and then leaves the rest up to you. And they are pretty affordable. The downside is you have to keep up to date with the latest stuff or risk getting hacked.

I keep my server secure by employing a triple firewall approach with IP address/port-based restrictions and no VPN into my own internal network (meaning there is only one computer in the world that has access to my webserver and I have to be physically sitting at it to make changes). And I don't put all my eggs in one basket. Even if 1and1.com gives me the shaft (for whatever reason), my DNS is hosted by GoDaddy.com. While I don't like GoDaddy's tasteless marketing strategy, they DO offer the most affordable domains and have plenty of good reviews from users. Every developer I know will tell you: Don't buy hosting at the same place you get DNS from.

From my own perspective, this combination is perfect: 1and1.com provides me with uptime, power, CPU, RAM, HD, and bandwidth and then they get out of my way to let me do whatever I want with my server. They can't even log into the server. I do have to manage the little things like updates, but otherwise it runs itself by itself.

One other thing of note is I have a highly customized setup. I'm working on making it a little more standard as I go but it is a slow process - mostly because I'd rather be doing other things. And what always amazes me is that as soon as you mention "I have a dedicated server" to 1and1.com support (should you actually need it), they instantly treat you like an actual customer.

It is also important to back up the server regularly - you have to treat it like any other PC only web servers are much more volatile. Hard drives go bad sooner, the blade might set itself on fire, someone else's blade next to yours might explode which then sets yours on fire, etc. They'll replace the blade for free but data recovery is left up to you. Even still, this is excellent value for the price. I've looked at what solutions are offered locally and nothing stands up to 1and1.com. I know they only have 'one 9 support' (99.9% guaranteed uptime) but I've never had any outages and I've been using the dedicated hosting service for a couple years.

If this convinces you to use 1and1.com dedicated hosting, please use my affiliate link above. It'll help me cover my monthly costs for hosting. Even if you don't use dedicated hosting or 1and1.com, you should be better educated about dedicated hosting solutions after reading this. I used to wonder why people would choose dedicated over other options. It is a terrific, yet cheap solution for small businesses.

If you need help setting up a 1and1.com dedicated host, I can help you. Call me: 517-803-4197.

Monday, May 07, 2007

The world's first unified language

is source code. The various programming languages on the planet. It never ceases to amaze me, I can go to a page completely written in Japanese but the moment they get to source code, they start speaking a language I understand. I don't know a single word of Kanjii, but I do know C/C++ and even if the programming language isn't something I know, I can understand the gist of what the person is trying to get across.

Unlike most languages that carry cultural baggage, source code is internationally independent. Sure it is "written in English", but that is inconsequential. Most of those same Japanese pages use unrecognizable variable names and comments, but it is really easy to figure out what they are saying based on the source code...even the Japanese parts.

For some reason I see more Japanese results for really cool but slightly obscure stuff than any other country. And they seem to write better quality code than most American programmers. While businesses outsource their software development to India, Japan seems like a better choice unless all you are after is cheaper labor and don't care about the quality of the programmers you'll get. But then you can't complain about the Nike sweatshops.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

VerifyMyPC works!

Despite the doubts people constantly send my way, VerifyMyPC works. Last night it caught an automated software installation of a Java-based application that was installed via a webpage _without_ my express permission. Needless to say, it got uninstalled.

It was a pretty harmless application written by computer nerds. Math nerds who know how to write computer software, specifically. The program's name is GCalc.

VerifyMyPC (http://www.cubiclesoft.com/VerifyMyPC/) notified me that GCalc was installed, which immediately sent me on a panic to figure out what it was because I knew I hadn't installed it. Searched Google for 'gcalc' and came up with the page I had visited. Once I figured out that it was pretty harmless, I just ran the uninstaller.

This is what makes VerifyMyPC so awesome. It catches things that wouldn't be found out otherwise. Sure it doesn't have a magical, happy "fix my system and make it better" button, but there is a reason for that: Magical, happy buttons have the tendency to make computer systems WORSE, not better! Even the best anti-spyware and anti-virus tools mess up occasionally.