April 2007

VMware Workstation 6 RC2


Well I dropped the ball on this one, but we released VMware Workstation 6.0 RC2 last week. This is our second release candidate, and for those using our betas in the past, you should know that that means a final release isn’t too far away!

Not much has really changed in RC2, aside from more bug fixes. We’ve taken care of a lot of critical issues that have affected some users and ourselves. If you used the Workstation betas in the past and haven’t tried an RC release, you should notice a huge speed increase when using the guest. Feels a lot more native with all that debugging turned off.

The betas are of course free to use, but Workstation 6 itself must be purchased. If you’re in school, you should be able to get a nice academic discount, and if you’ve bought Workstation 5.5 since January 1, 2007, you can get a free upgrade.

Desktop Integration

One of my personal goals has been to improve integration with the GNOME desktop. I feel we’ve made a lot of progress since Workstation 5. The big highlight of 6 has been the Tango icons (I’m biased, as I made most of them). Even the product icons on Linux are in Tango style now. This definitely cleans up the look and feel of the product and helps it to feel like it’s just any other GNOME app, rather than some big proprietary product half-ported to Linux (of which there are many).

There’s more that we could do, though. I’d like to hear from GNOME developers and users about other ideas to better integrate with the desktop.

Universal segfault

(I’m sick today with a stomach flu and have recently consumed NyQuil, so this may make much more sense in my own head. I’m also not an expert in quantum mechanics, so please excuse any misconceptions I have.)

I was reading an article about quantum mechanics and how many scientists in the field want to find a definite reasoning for the whole “Spooky action at a distance,” where two particles can be quantumly entangled, causing changes to one particle to affect the other, regardless of the distance between them.

So I began to think about this. I imagined the universe as a simulation program, exposing basic building blocks into the simulator that everything was built upon, so tiny in comparison to anything the developer would expect to grow or evolve in the simulator. The developer powers it on, watches for a bit, goes to grab a cup of coffee, and checks back periodically. Perhaps he even interferes just a bit in the affairs of the simulated life inside the system, and then goes away for a while.

Now at some point the “life” in the system gets curious and starts heavily investigating those basic building blocks. So far the simulation has been pretty stable, but now the basic building blocks are being messed with, poked at, accessed in ways that weren’t intended. And like any software, there’s bugs. The lifeforms in the system manage to get two of these objects to entangle with each other. They marvel at the fact that the objects are still somehow linked even across great distances. To the developer, this wouldn’t have been that surprising. Afterall, they’re just two objects with various properties, and location is just one of them. Perhaps they’re even designed to share certain types of data for memory optimization reasons, and they don’t sanity check locations between linked objects for performance reasons. It may not matter that much to the developer, but it certainly managed to confuse the lifeforms in the system poking at the objects. Fortunately it appears safe, but they’re poking at a whole lot of different things that weren’t meant to be exposed, and no program is bug-free.

So pretend for a second that this was the case for our universe.

What if it crashed?

Netvibes Universe

Netvibes, a popular customizable Web 2.0 homepage/portal site, just announced Netvibes Universe. Until now, all Netvibes pages have been private, requiring a login, but Netvibes is trying something a little different where users can create public pages with content available for others to see. These are practically the same as any other private Netvibes page, but can be shared with anybody.

To start off, they’ve provided several branded sites, such as CBS News, eMusic, and TechCrunch.

I’ve been unable to create a universe. It seems it’s not open for public creation yet, but I’m eager to try it. I’m trying to brainstorm how I would use this, though. I think the most interesting thing to me would be to provide open source project “universes” containing RSS readers for project news and developer blogs, download links, screenshots, project schedule, etc.

What would make that more useful, though, would be if somebody would create Bugzilla and Trac search modules. It’d be an interesting and useful project. Any takers? 🙂

5 ways to make Twitter work for you

I’m a big fan of Twitter, the social presence site that’s been getting a lot of buzz lately. It’s an idea that was almost too easy. Provide a way for people to say what they’re doing right now. Allow other people to see it, in a semi-controlled manner. It’s kind of like away/available messages on MSN, AIM, Google Talk, etc., but separated from the actual IM accounts and put in a central place.

Now, Twitter as a lazy form of blogging seems silly to many people who just don’t want to share what they’re doing every minute with the world. Fortunately, Twitter’s power is in its simplicity, and it can be useful in other ways. Here’s five ways you can make Twitter work for you.

  1. Status reports

    Like many people, I’m supposed to submit a weekly status report to my manager describing what I’ve done in the week. I typically start writing it up on the day it’s due, trying hard to remember everything I’ve done. Sometimes I’m good and actually write these down as I go along, but then I spend too much time organizing it on paper, when I should be doing that when I prepare the actual status report.

    Alternatively, I could use Twitter to record things as I do them, and then look over my archive or at an RSS feed of my activity when I begin to prepare the status report. Entering data into Twitter is quick and easy, and it gives you enough room for a short description while at the same time limiting what you need to say. So in the end, you have a nice summary of your week.

    Depending on how public you want it, you could even inform other co-workers of your Twitter account, making it easier for people to know who’s working on what. Not long ago I posted a Twitter update about something I was doing and a co-worker immediately came in and asked about it. Pretty useful.

  2. Keep organized at conferences or events

    When at conferences or some sort of large gathering, it’s easy for people to get out of sync with each other. Dinner appointments may be missed, people may end up in different talks, or whatever. The solution I’ve been personally using in the past is to try to catch everybody on IRC or IM, or just call/text message the people involved. However, this can be a pain and can involve a lot of micro-management.

    Instead, get people to create Twitter accounts and add each other as friends. Set up SMS notification and communicate through Twitter posts. You can send a quick “This conference is ending in 10 minutes, so let’s meet at McDonalds for lunch at 2:30” post to inform everybody of the current plans. You don’t even need access to a computer, as you can send updates via SMS as well. For most phone services, sending this one SMS is going to be cheaper and easier than sending SMS messages to multiple people, so there’s a net win here.

    You can apply this to parties or to school as well.

  3. “Note to self…”

    How often have you thought of something you need to do or something to remember for later, or even a neat piece of info that you know you’re going to forget? I’d say a lot of us aren’t organized enough to have a central place for these notes. I typically use post-its, but those become disorganized quickly, and by the time I think about it later, I’ve lost the note.

    Give Twitter a try for anything of the “Note to self” variety. You can refer back to these notes later in your RSS reader or your Twitter archive page.

  4. News updates and release announcements

    Many projects maintain a news update or release announcements listserv or RSS feed, but Twitter is a pretty good alternative as well. Many people check their Twitter page throughout the day or are in some way notified (via a program or SMS message) when someone posts to Twitter. Take advantage of this by creating an account for your project and posting whenever there’s a new release. It might get to your users faster.

    A couple examples of projects making use of Twitter in this regard include WordPress and 30Boxes.

  5. Record your travels

    I often take a lot of pictures when travelling, but forget exactly what I did on what day. Makes it harder to write about it later or associate meanings to the pictures when I finally go to upload them.

    Given Twitter’s ability to post via SMS, it’s easy to make brief notes about your trip as you go. Others can see how your trip is progressing, and you can use those notes later to document your trip better.

For those who know me and use Twitter, feel free to look me up or add me. I’ll be posting a few other tricks I’m experimenting with in a future post, such as how to tag your Twitter posts and separate them into multiple RSS feeds.

Other interesting Twitter reads:

  • Twitter Lingo – Controlling Twitter through SMS
  • Twitterholic – List of the top 100 users of Twitter in order of number of followers
  • RSS2Twitter – Auto-converts RSS feeds to Twitter posts
  • Twitter Tools – Several tools, clients, mashups, and plugins for working with Twitter

Feeling of “Terror”


This is a word we’ve heard quite a lot the past 6 years. I can’t recall too many speeches given by our president that hasn’t mentioned this word or “Terrorism” a couple dozen times. It’s not like it was an unfamiliar word before 9/11, but I don’t feel it had the same effect, or rather, lack of effect as it does today.

I was having a conversation with family today about schools and zero tolerance policy. If a 2nd grade student is in Cub Scouts and attends school forgetting to leave his pocket knife at home, he can be expelled from the school, even if he gives the teacher the knife the moment he realizes and explains the situation. I commented, sarcastically, that this is necessary to weed out the 2nd grade terrorists.

People laughed at my comment, but then I began to think about it. It seems that when I hear “terror,” “terrorist” or “terrorism” brought up these days, it’s used as part of a sarcastic comment or something. Rarely do I hear it in the context of something to be concerned about or something taken seriously. “Dirty clothes” is a more concerning topic. Maybe it’s just that I live in California, or because of the people I hang around.

And yet, when I hear “Night Terror” or “Reign of Terror,” I get a whole different feeling.

So have we in the US reached a point where the topic of terrorism just isn’t taken as seriously anymore, and if so, is it just because we’re used to hearing it in Bush’s speeches and on the news, or has it been this way for even longer? I’m curious as to what people think first when they hear the words “terrorism,” “war,” and “war on terror.” I’m sure this does depend heavily on region and to people’s personal connections to tragic events.

(And now I can’t help but read “terror” as “t-error.”)

New Toy: Panasonic DMC-TZ3K Digital Camera

I received a Sony Cyber-shot DSC-P71 digital camera about four or five years ago as a present, and it has performed well over the years, providing me with lots of decent quality shots. However, the lack of such features as image stabilization and auto-rotation indicators, plus the need for AA batteries has had me thinking of purchasing a new camera. I didn’t know when, or which camera to buy, but today I stepped into Costco and had an overwhelming urge to survey the camera section.

The new cameras were pretty cool, all with features that my poor little DSC-P71 couldn’t begin to match. I was tempted by the newer Cybershot they carried, but I didn’t really want to give Sony much more of my money, nor did I want to deal with Sony Memory Sticks any longer.

I was about to leave when I saw a stack of attractive camera boxes off to the side containing my newest little toy, the Panasonic DMC-TZ3K. I made some calls and had people read a few reviews for me, and talked to my uncle who was there about it. He was fortunately familiar with this camera, and after discussing it, I decided to buy it, figuring I could always return it if I didn’t like it.

I’m not returning it.

The basics

I’ll get the basics out of the way. I paid $320 for this camera. It’s a 7.2MP camera with 10x optical zoom (yes, 10x optical) and 4x digital zoom on top of that (making a grand total of 40x zoom). That is, unless you are taking a 3MP photo and have Extra Optical Zoom enabled (which extends your optical zoom to 15x), in which case you’ll have a grand total of 60x zoom. They’re not kidding around with the zoom here.

The LCD is 3 inches. There is no viewfinder, which is a shame, but the LCD works pretty well in the sunlight (especially with its “outdoors” mode enabled). The camera takes SD cards (which the box does not indicate, oddly enough). The camera features various auto-focus modes and image stabilization. Pictures can be taken in 4:3, 3:2, and 16:9 aspect ratios. Videos can be taken in 640×480 or 848×480 resolutions at 30fps.

The camera is offered in three colors: Black (DMC-TZ3K), Silver (DMC-TZ3S), and Blue (DMC-TZ3A).

Alright, that’s all cool, though most of it is what you’d expect. Now on to my favorite features.

Scene Modes

The DMC-TZ3K offers two independent Scene Mode settings on the mode dial, allowing quick switches between the two. The Scene Mods offer presets for such things as exposure, color temperature, etc. Included settings are Portrait, Soft Skin, Self Portrait, Scenery, Sports, Night Portrait, Night Scenery, Food, Party, Candle Light, Baby 1, Baby 2, Pet, Sunset, High Sensitivity, Starry Sky, Fireworks, Beach, Snow, Aerial Photo, and Underwater.

Did you notice the really odd ones in there? Self Portrait? Aerieal Photo? Baby 1, 2? Pet? I’ll go into a few of these.

Self Portrait makes it easier to take a self-portrait of yourself. The self-timer light on the front will flash if the camera doesn’t have a good auto-focus on you

Aerial Photo is pretty easy. It makes pictures taken out of an airplane window much nicer. I haven’t tested this, having not been in an airplane since I bought this this morning.

Baby 1, 2, and Pet are interesting, and will lead me into Travel Settings and Date Stamping. Before taking a picture with one of these modes, you can specify the birthdate of the baby or pet (it will remember the last saved values). It will then adjust the settings to take better pictures of the baby or pet and display their current age (to the day). The data is associated with the picture, but not included in the image, though it can later be Date Stamped onto the picture or printed along with the picture.

Travel Settings

This camera makes it easy to keep track of what photos were taken when during a vacation. You can set the start date of your vacation and the timezone you’re in (or travelling to). The pictures taken while the vacation mode is set will be associated with that time and timezone. The LCD will also show you the current day of the vacation (when taking a picture) or the day of the vacation the picture was taken (when viewing older pictures). This can then be Date Stamped onto the picture, much like the Baby and Pet scene modes.

Date Stamping

The camera stores some metadata along with the picture. Some pieces of data (current age, current day of vacation, timestamp) can at any point be stamped onto the picture (either the original or a copy of it). If desired, the camera can stamp it onto the picture as it prints without touching the actual file on the camera.

Voice Recording

Another piece of data that can be associated with pictures is a voice recording. Ever take a picture and forget what it was about? Now you can just choose to add a little voice memo to a picture and play it back later. I’ll probably be making extensive use of this.


Okay, this is probably one of my favorite features right here. Often times we’ll be designing something on the whiteboard at work and we’ll want a copy for later reference. Of course, the best way to do this is to just take a picture. The problem with that is that you then have to sort through your pictures on the camera trying to find the whiteboard picture later on.

When the Clipboard mode is selected, any pictures taken will be stored in a special area for later access. You can browse your list of clips (whether they’re whiteboard photos, documents, maps, etc.), associate voice recordings with them, or whatever. The camera settings are automatically adjusted when taking these photos so text on a whiteboard or on a piece of paper becomes very readable.

They took this feature a step further by making it more useful to those who take photos of maps. You can specify on a per-picture basis the zoom level and position to display, so that when you open up the clip of a map, you’ll be positioned directly over your area of interest, zoomed in to the street. It’s like Google Maps, except not quite as useful.

LCD, Exposure and Photo List Modes

The LCD is quite large (3 inches) and they took advantage of this by providing some nice features. Various display modes can be quickly activated to show all the basic information (battery life, exposure setting, etc.), one of two alignment/positioning grids, an image histogram, or nothing but the photo.

The standard LCD brightness setting is good for indoors, but when outside in the sun, sometimes you need something more. A quick button press will let you turn on the Outdoor brightness setting, making it far easier to see in the sun. They also offer a “High Angle” mode, allowing the LCD to be easily viewed when the camera is a foot above your head.

Now, this one impressed me. Maybe it’s standard nowadays, but I certainly didn’t have it. Ever take a picture and go “I wish I took a darker/lighter version of that?” Yeah, well I have. This camera offers an option for quickly taking three successive pictures in three exposure levels, allowing you to sort out which you like best later on. I’ll probably be making use of this all the time.

I usually keep a lot of photos on my camera, as I’m quite bad at spending the 10 minutes to dump them on the computer and reformat the stick. So when I want to find a photo I’ve taken, I usually spend a good amount of time looking. This camera eases that just a bit by offering a calendar photo list mode. It will show a calendar view of the current month and mark each day a photo was taken by the first photo taken on that day. Clicking on the day will display all the photos that were taken that day.

If you need to view and compare two photos side-by-side, the camera lets you easily do so. Simply choose the option and rotate the camera. You can then select the photo you want on top and the one you want on the bottom. This is really useful if you just can’t really decide which of two photos you’d rather keep.

In short…

This camera rocks, especially for the price. There’s a lot I didn’t talk about, like the image stabilization and anti-blur (which as far as I can tell works pretty well). I’ve only used this for half a day now (though I’ve played around quite a bit with it, to the point of needing to recharge the battery again). If anyone has any questions, I’ll be glad to answer them in the comments. Likewise, I’d love to hear what other people think about this camera.

Pipe into your netlife: Comic feeds

Penny Arcade and Control-Alt-Del are great comics. I love to read them and do so when I’m not feeling really lazy. See, I pretty much live inside my Google Calendar, GMail, Remember the Milk, Google Reader, and Netvibes tabs, for the most part. I’m pretty lazy when it comes to some forms of content, and if a comic doesn’t show up in Google Reader, I’ll typically ignore it until someone points out a particularly good strip to me.

While playing around with Yahoo! Pipes, I realized I could finally do something about this. I began to play around with a couple of pipes to read in the RSS feeds, look for all comic entries, and change the content. The trick was to copy the location the feed item was pointing to (which would contain the actual comic image within the page) to the description, and then apply a regular expression to the description to turn it into an <img> tag pointing to the image itself.

I got lucky. To my knowledge, there is currently no way to fetch content from any arbitrary HTML page and do something with a piece of that page. I suspect their Fetch Data module might let me, but I haven’t managed to get it to work just yet. I was able to pull this off since the comic image was stored with a predictable path based on the date of the comic, and the page being linked to also contained the date. A regular expression was all that was needed to parse out the date and rebuild the path.

Anyway. the end result is that I now have inline comics in my Penny Arcade and Control-Alt-Del RSS feeds! You can add them to your RSS reader below, or take a look at how they were made.

  • [Pipe] [RSS] Penny Arcade News and Inline Comics
  • [Pipe] [RSS] Penny Arcade Inline Comics
  • [Pipe] [RSS] Control-Alt-Del Inline Comics
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