Wednesday, December 05, 2007

No joy in Mudville

A few of you may know that I like to partake of the kingly sport of betting on NFL football. This week I decided to put in a slightly larger stake, with the goal of putting together the significant portion of the cost of a new ASUS Eee computer. My potential take was $377.68, about $20 less than the cost of a new eee system.

Bottom line: Every bet came through. Except the (5-6) Broncos, who had won the last 5 matchups against their arch-rival (3-8) Raiders, and wound up committing 4 turnovers, leading to 24 Oakland points, thus not only failing to cover, but actually losing outright; I wound up with a net loss of $15. No new computer this week.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Two Mac quickies

Just a short post today. Wanted to share two cool OSX Leopard hacks that I've found today that are definitely on the useful side.
  1. Add "beautifying" icons to the default Stacks. I have the Applications, Documents and Downloads stacks in my dock, and they show the first item in the stack as a miniature icon. Not especially useful, or good to look at, especially because my first document is an all black picture (called black_169.tif).
    This hack from LifeHacker shows you how to add nice "drawer" icons to the top of these stacks, helping you to clearly differentiate them from application icons, and make the entire Stack much better looking.
  2. Add a "Recent" and "Favorites" dock icon. This hack, again over at LifeHacker, creates a cool icon that allows you to access 5 things:
    • Recent applications
    • Recent documents
    • Recent servers
    • Favorite volumes
    • Favorite items
    All right from the dock. Very slick

Monday, November 19, 2007

Wither RSS?

People always come up to me at parties, on the street, or during laps in my F1 racecar*, and compliment me on my blogs here, here and here.

"But, Ian," they ask, "what blogs do you read? What catches your fancy during the downtime between skydiving naked and snorkeling off the Great Barrier Reef?"*

Well, kiddos, here today is my listing of the blog feeds I read on a daily basis:


Ars Technica - Reviews and news on a more techincal bent
Autoblog - The best of what's in automobiles
Boing Boing - The old granddaddy of the internet tech blogs; news and views you can use
Digital Home - Canadian technology news. Brief but occasionally informative
Download Squad - lots of cool software news and trials. Most of the software I've blogged about has come to my attention courtesy of DS
Engadget - Gadgetry, computers, cool tech; winner of best technology blog for the last 4 years
Engadget HD - a sister site to Engadget, dealing primarily with High Definition TV and DVD news
Planet DB2 - DB2 coverage; keeps me up to date on my day job
The Unofficial Apple Weblog (TUAW) - Coverage of all things Mac; one of my favourite resources

Personal improvement
Lifehacker - lots of quick ideas to help make your work and home life more productive and enjoyable
zen habits - a blog of self-improvement advice and assistance. I don't read it all very often, as I'm too lazy, but I'm sure I'll get around to it

Entertainment (News, Movies, Sports, Shopping, Gossip)
Edmonton Journal - News - My local Edmonton news site

ESPN Feed: Bill Simmons - ESPN's The Sports Guy
From the Pressbox - Elliot Freedman's blog, he works for the CBC and covers NHL hockey, CFL football and a few other lesser sports.
Melt Your Face-Off - A hockey blog
With Leather - Sports news and gossip with more than adequate amounts of scorn; an absolute favourite

Cinematical - Keeps me up to date on the happenings of Hollywood.
My Boring Ass Life - Filmmaker Kevin Smith's personal blog
Pajiba - Hollywood news with equal servings of wit and sarcasm
What Would Tyler Durden Do? - Celeb gossip with a helping of attitude
WWdN: In Exile - Former ensign Wesley Crusher's fantastic personal writings, covering technology, entertainment and his personal doings

seems Artless - A photo blog from my friend David Sky - Latest Deals - Deals for Canadian shoppers; my bank account and wife hate me reading this site

Penny Arcade - A fantastic web comic

There you have it gang -- get out and explore my world so you can be just like me.

(*activities depicted may or may not actually have occurred)

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Dvorak, when the walls fell

I'd heard of the Dvorak keyboarding method years and years ago, but I never really got a handle on it or why it was better for me. Then last week, I came across this post on boingboing linking to a very informative e-comic that outlined exactly why I should switch.

So I hitched up my pants, spat into the brass spittoon and said "Y'all know me. Know how I earn a livin'. I'll catch this bird for you, but it ain't gonna be easy."[1] Metaphorically, of course.

Literally though, I set up the Dvorak keyboard on my Thinkpad (it's included as a option in the Regional Settings portion of the Control Panel), took an old keyboard apart and reassembled it Dvorak-style -- for referral purposes only, you don't need a new keyboard to learn Dvorak -- and went online to find some typing tutorial software that would help me learn. I eventually went with Ten Thumbs and their cool viking cartoon helpers.

I dug in with both hands (ha!) and began to see why Dvorak can be such a blessing for touch typists. All the main letters (s,t,n,a,d,o,e,i) are on the main "home" row. A lot less finger movement means more efficient and presumably faster typing.

Then I started to run into the problems:
  1. O.M.G. was I slow. I'm a pretty fast touch typist on QWERTY, roughly around 75-90 WPM when I really get it going. With Dvorak, I went back down to 18-25 WPM and I could not stand it. Emails, chats, writing technical documentation -- I do a lot of writing in a day, and I literally kept forgetting what I was trying to type because it was taking me so long to type it. I know that it's idiotic to think that I would be as fast a typist right away, and I certainly was improving after only a few days, but it was giving me headaches to try and rewire my brain like this.
  2. Copy/Paste - on your normal computer keyboard, CRTL+C and CTRL+V are the copy and paste shortcuts. But in Dvorak land, C and V aren't beside each other anymore (for the record C goes in the "I" position and V is in the ">" position, QWERTY-wise). I wound up losing efficiency with my keyboard shortcuts.
  3. Multiplicity - I work with a lot of computers. A lot. I have 5 systems in my office, plus my wife's iBook, and literally dozens and dozens of other virtual machines both here at home and remotely at work. That's just too much pain to set each and every one of those up with the Dvorak layout (not to mention that my wife was having none of this madness, so there'd have to be both layouts on several systems to support both of us).
  4. Keyboards - I mentioned that I took apart a keyboard and set the keys up in Dvorak layout, but most keyboards today are "formed" to a physical design and you can't just move keys from one location to another on the keyboard and have it look normal. The alternative is to paint or tape over the letters and put the Dvorak keys in place. Way too much hassle.
So in the end, I pulled the plug on the Dvorak experiment. I think for someone just learning to touch type, or someone who only has one computer, it's definitely a great choice, and I admire all the proponents who swim against the stream to keep this alternative alive. But I've got deadlines to keep and miles of documents to write before I sleep.

[Those of you wondering about this post's title: see here]

Monday, November 12, 2007

A post to talk about no posts

I know your all waiting for the follow-up to the gmail post, and it's coming, but I've also started learning Dvorak typing, so I'm too slow right now to do a long post.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Leopard prints

My copy of Leopard came in the mail on Wednesday, and although I was excited to get my hands on it and upgrade my Macbook Pro to the latest and greatest, I confess I was a bit apprehensive. After all, I'm a long time Windows and Linux user, so operating system upgrades are, in my mind, never easy or clean.

I'm used to backing up my entire hard drive, erasing and then installing the new operating system, then I spend days reinstalling various applications and getting my settings back to normal. Needless to say, a highly frustrating experience.

Leopard blows this out of the water.

Everything was well set up for the OS upgrade. I popped the Leopard disk in, clicked one icon, and then ran a complete erase and install (because I had a backup, so I wanted to see how well a completely clean install was going to work).

The install took about 45 minutes, after which it detected my backup drive, and asked if I wanted to import my applications and settings from my earlier backup. Now that's intelligent software design. Impressed, I said yes, and in less than 20 minutes the installer moved all of my existing documents, applications and settings into the new Leopard system. And what's more -- everything works!

Chalk another one up for the lads at 1 Infinite Loop.

Friday, November 02, 2007

I want one

I know I just bought a $2k MacBook Pro. I know that I have 9 computers in the house now (in my defense, 3 of those are not in working order).

But, man, would I love to have one of these:

The Eee computer from ASUS is a perfect, "take along" laptop. Going out for coffee or to watch the kid's soccer game, need to write a quick email, or want a computer for journals and uploading pictures while on vacation?

Take this puppy along: at less than 2 pounds, you'll barely feel it in your bag, and if -- horrors -- someone walks off with it, you're not out a huge wack of cash.

I think I'll be putting this on my "nice to have" list. If you want to buy me one, here's a link.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

The Great Email Adventure, Pt. 1

You may have heard that Google has enabled IMAP for all users on their free Gmail web-based email application. What does that mean? I turn to for an excellent summation:
Why does IMAP matter again? Because unlike POP, IMAP supports back and forth communication between your offline email client and Gmail. If you set up your iPhone, Outlook, or Thunderbird client to read your Gmail using IMAP, every time you read a message it will be marked as read on the web interface. If you delete a message on your desktop, it will be deleted from the web. If you use POP, you'll have to repeat all of those actions twice.

Naturally, since it's a cool new technology, and my personal emails have been web-based (as opposed to a local application like Thunderbird or Outlook Express) for years now, this interested me.

And I must admit, ever since I saw the cool features that are in the new OSX Leopard mail client, I've been thinking about how nice it would be to have all of my email accessible and synchronized from both my laptop AND via the web.

After careful thought this week, I decided to plunge in and get everything up to my primary Gmail account. Unfortunately, this is where I hit the big snag. My primary personal email account has been on Yahoo! for years and years, but ever since 2002, Yahoo! has not allowed you to get to your web email from a local client, unless you paid a premium. I never cared that much, so I never paid the cash. Now, however, I'm tired of Yahoo and their old, outdated email interface (don't even get me started on their new, bloated email interface), so I was willing to pony up the dough to get off. But when I tried to actually go and pay for the premium service, I was greeted with this error from Yahoo!:

We Apologize
The service you are requesting is not currently for sale.
We apologize for the inconvenience.

User experience -- Google: 1, Yahoo!: 0

My next step was to track down a method to run through getting Yahoo! emails down from the server. Sure enough, lots of folks have solutions, the most popular being a program called YPOPs!
which installs a little mail server on your system that can interact with Yahoo! mail server and retrieve the messages in your account. This does require a local client to download the messages, so I fired up my old Thunderbird email client and followed these easy setup instructions.

Once the account was configured, I ran a "Get Mail" on that account, and sure enough, the email from my Yahoo! Inbox came pouring down into my client! Success!

Unfortunately, YPOPs! won't delve into my Yahoo! mail folders (where I've archived lots of stuff) to get old mails, so after I moved my "Inbox" contents to a "temp" folder in Thunderbird, I had to go through this laborious process:

  1. Move the contents of a Yahoo! folder to the empty Yahoo! inbox, but no more than 40 at a time (the limit for downloading seems to be 40 -- I don't know if that's caused by Yahoo! or YPOPs!).
  2. Rename the Yahoo! folder (so I knew which ones were done, usually by appending an "_" character to the front of the name)
  3. Run "Get Mail" in Thunderbird to get these messages from the Yahoo! inbox.
  4. Create a new folder in Thunderbird, and move the messages from my Thunderbird inbox to this folder.
  5. Move the emails from the Yahoo! inbox back into the (renamed) Yahoo! folder.
  6. Repeat, rinse and lather.

As you can imagine, with 1000's of emails, and Yahoo!'s 25-at-a-time viewing and 40-at-a-time download limit, this took a bit of time. But finally, all the emails were down onto my local Thunderbird client, properly organized in folders with the senders and dates intact.

Next time, I'll go over how to upload all these from the local client application, into Gmail!

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

New release of DB2 Express-C available

I know I spend a lot of time talking about hardware, but software is an important part of what I'm all about here at the 3'oclock blog.

In my work life, I work as a technical marketer for the IBM DB2 database, and today marks the release of our latest version of our free version-- DB2 Express-C 9.5, so if your in the market for a free no-limits database, please drop by our download site and grab a copy (currently only available on Windows or Linux).


Monday, October 29, 2007

What time is it?

That's right -- the 3 o'clock blog is back! Starting today, I'm committing to more posts, more cool stuff, more reviews and more, well more!

Lots of cool tech in the air since my last post, and I personally have invested some hard earned money in some of it. In the last 2 months, I've broken open the piggy bank and bought the following:

500 GB Porsche LaCie external drive
24" Dell widescreen monitor (1920x1200 resolution)


(wait for it)

a 15" MacBook Pro!

That's right, I'm officially a switcher. Of course, due to various work issues (conferences), illness and other family related business, I've barely scratched the surface of this whole Mac world. My copy of OS X Leopard is supposed to arrive today too, so I've been holding off on getting too deeply involved in learning the previous version. This will likely be the focus of my posts over the coming weeks, so if you're interested in Apple Mac/OSX, stay tuned.

Friday, June 22, 2007


I just looked over my last few weeks of posts, and I can't believe I've forgotten to talk about Launchy!

I found Launchy courtesy of my constant perusal of Mac OSX sites that always hype Quicksilver (more detailed explanation here), a powerful keyboard based application launcher. So without having OSX to play with, I went looking for a suitable Windows alternative.

And so I found Launchy.

Launchy is great stuff -- hands down one of the most useful software tools I've installed this year. Just hit the "Alt" and "SpaceBar" together and this slick-looking bar pops up:

Not that much to look at, but if I start typing:

And if I keep typing, I get what I'm looking for:

(I could have also used the down arrow to pick the iTunes program out of the drop down box).

What Launchy does is index your Windows Start menu, programs directory and bookmarks and then helps you to find what your looking for, then launches the appropriate executable file to start the program or bookmark. I've pretty much stopped using my Start Menu, Quick Launch toolbar and desktop shortcuts since I put Launchy to work for me. And it learns too, putting the programs you use more often higher up in the returned results. You can of course, configure it to avoid certain directories or document types that should not be indexed.

Other cool features:
* Built in searches: just type "IMDB" or "Google" and hit the Tab button. You'll get a vertical bar "|", after which you can type your search term and it'll open your browser and retrieve your search results for that engine:

* Directory launching: Launchy also knows all about your "Documents and Settings folder", bringing you the ability to retrieve (and launch) documents from your "My Documents", "My Music", etc. folders:

Give Launchy a try -- you will be glad you did!

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

My new love (shhh... don't tell my wife)

Apple has bumped the 17" Mac Book Pro specs and somehow managed to shoehorn a 1920x1200 screen in there somehow.

Once Leopard comes out in the fall, I think I'm going to have a third child in the house.

Ars Technica has a good review of the new system here.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Wow: Photosynth

I am pretty surrounded with technology. I work at IBM making software (although databases will never really be on the "cool" side of technology); I love to futz around with computer hardware and software; and I love to see new stuff coming down the pipe.

And then there's stuff that simply takes my breath away because it's so far beyond what I could ever have conceived as possible. Photosynth is one of those things.

Here's a couple of videos that show off Photosynth:

Video - from the TED conference: Video #1
Video - from the Photosynth team: Video #2

This is just jaw-dropping stuff and it will likely revolutionize photo sharing and taking, as Google Earth and Google Maps have revolutionized mapping.

Way cool.

Friday, June 01, 2007


How's your brain feeling these days? Sluggish? Not quite as sharp as it used to be?

Take a look at Lumosity -- a really cool Web 2.0 site that uses games and puzzles to get that mind honed back to razor sharpness. You track your progress through 30 levels using about 10 psychologist-tested puzzles to keep you interested and focused.

It's currently in beta, and it's free (for now), so click through and get your brain choppin' some wood.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Captcha (n.)

You know what a captcha is, right? Sure you do. You know -- those annoying little "tests" on websites where you to type the wacky image text into a form box to prove that you're actually a human being and not a computer.*

Yeah, they bug the hell out of me too.

Well, the folks over at Carnegie Mellon University have done a very smart thing. See, they've tied the text used in those captcha images with a large database of digitized, but not transcribed, books. When a book is electronically scanned, the character recognition software is usually enough to transcribe 90% of what's there into the correct computer text. The other 10%, though, has to be done by humans, who are smart enough to parse the visual part of the text, even when it's slightly blurry, or has lines drawn through it, or whatever.

With the marriage of this slightly illegible text and the constant need for new captchas for website verifications, the Carnegie Mellon group have released "reCAPTCHA" as a web service so that websites can take advantage of the idea (for free!) and all of us poor human users who have to use captchas to log on or sign up will actually be contributing to the digitization of human knowledge via this effort.

Next time you're filling in one of those de-humanizing "human" tests on a website, make sure the site is using the reCAPTCHA system. If they are, you can feel good that once again, you're better than a machine.

* CAPTCHA is actually an acronym for "Completely Automatic Public Turing Test to Tell Computers and Humans Apart". See? The 3'oclock blog isn't just about fun, it's also about learning.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Hey Developer: they're MY documents, not yours

A bit of a rant today, I'm afraid.

I've never been a huge fan of how Windows organizes a User's programs and files. The move to "My Documents" and "Program Files" in Windows 95 (if I recall correctly) made things probably worse than in the Windows 3.1 and DOS days. Now we found ourselves subject to programs installing into "C:\Progra~1\Micros~1\" and user files winding up inside a hodgepodge of folders like "C:\Documen~1\Steve~1\Access~1\" and so forth.

Vista has made things a little tidier. Users are still given an individual "home" folder, but it's in a more reasonable place: C:\Users\Steve -- no more spaces in the filenames. However, they're still using the poorly named "C:\Program Files\" folder as a destination for program installs. Why, oh why, can't we just have a "C:\Programs\" directory instead?!?! It's less than 8 characters, and there's no spaces. It would eliminate all the "~1" garbage now and forever.

Honestly, though, I'm digressing. The point of this post is that I took a close look in my "My Documents" folder today, and I was just disgusted to see how many other applications feel that they have the right to install their related files into MY documents folder, without so much as a by your leave. 10 different applications had all dumped settings and output files into my home location!

A few points for every application developer to take note:
  1. Settings for your application should go into an appropriately labeled sub-folder under the User's "Application Data" folder, not into this documents folder, where a User can easily change and/or delete your application's settings.
  2. If an application needs a spot for temporarily downloading files (for updates or whatever), this is NOT the place for that. Use one of Windows' myriad of temp directories, or create your own under the User's base (C:\Documents and Settings\\) directory. And for the love of all that is sweet and good -- if you absolutely, positively have to, have to, have to, create a temporary folder here -- CLEAN IT UP WHEN YOU'RE DONE!! I have no need to see the ugliness of your update system's directories and files, especially in amongst my personal documents! Augh!
  3. If you have any sort of graphical installer -- and this is Windows, so 99% of you do -- during the install, make sure to ask the user where they want to install the program. Sure, having a "Program Files" folder preset as a default is great, and some folks will be fine to just hit the "Next" button, but be sure to include an option for users that don't like to default to the C: drive, or who use a separate "Programs" folder. And make sure your application knows how to deal with this scenario. It's no good asking for user input if you're just going to ignore it.
  4. Also ask the user where in the Start Menu they want to have your shortcuts. I cannot stand Start Menus that spew out to multiple columns. I have my own organization, and I ask that you respect it.
  5. If you do require a place for user specific settings and update temp files to live, provide an Options panel choice so the user can pick where to put these files. Don't leave the location option specified in a lonely .ini file somewhere, and the only place that option is documented is in the .ini file itself. Likely the average user won't be bothered to change it, provided your location makes sense, but it's a great feature to have for the advanced user.
Anyway, I'm off to get my delete key out for these morons who don't respect my computer, and won't leave my documents alone.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Smart DB2 searches

As a follow up to my earlier post about using keyword searches in Firefox, it's simple to run searches of the DB2 documentation, straight from your Firefox address bar:
  1. Create a new bookmark. Select "Organize Bookmarks" from your Bookmarks menu, then click "New Bookmark..."
  2. In the Properties for the new bookmark, fill out the fields as follows:
    Name: DB2 Quick Search
    Keyword: db2
    Description: DB2 Information Center Quick Search
  3. Click OK
Now you can run all your DB2 documentation searches from the Firefox address bar by simply typing db2 in the address bar (e.g. "db2 db2look")

Firefox Keywords

A quick tip today -- get rid of the Firefox search bar. I came across this site that explains the concept of smart keyword searches in Firefox. This lets you move all the search functionality of the search bar into simple search keywords.

It's as easy as adding a new bookmark to the search portion of your desired site and assigning a short keyword.

(image from

Then, instead of typing the search query into your Firefox search bar, you just type the keyword, followed by the search query into your address bar. In this example, it would be "g widgets", which takes us to:

More importantly, any site that has a search field can be added as a new keyword. Just right-click in the search text area, and select the "Add a keyword for this Search ..." option.

Once you've replaced all the search bar choices, you can remove it by right clicking any toolbar and then select the "Customize ..." option. Drag off the search bar, and you've saved yourself some toolbar space, as well as sped up your searching.

Very, very handy.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Pandora loses the Great White North

For a long while, I've used Pandora to get my music fix. I have a weighty iTunes library for sure, but sometimes iTunes is too much of a pain to manage and tough set a good mix of what I feel like at that moment. That's where Pandora came in. The basic idea was that you set up a "radio station" by listing a few songs or artists that fit what you're looking for, then Pandora searches for and plays similar music in that area. You then help out by giving a thumbs-up or thumbs-down to the song they suggested. For example, I had a "Rock ON" station that was primarily for 80's hard rock, a "U2 Radio" that was for 90's and 00's medium rock, and a "Cream Station" for 70's prog rock. My Pandora site bookmark even reached the coveted "Bookmarks Toolbar Folder" status on my systems.

But last night, I received this email from Tim Westergren, founder of Pandora and the Music Genome Project:
Dear Pandora listener,

Today we have some extremely disappointing news to share with you. Due to international licensing constraints, we are deeply, deeply sorry to say that we must begin proactively preventing access to Pandora's streaming service from Canada. We began blocking access from almost all countries outside the U.S. last week and had originally hoped to maintain access to Canada. However, it has become clear in the last week that we just haven't been able to make enough progress to continue streaming.

It is difficult to convey just how disappointing this is for us. Our vision remains to eventually make Pandora a truly global service, but for the time being, we can no longer continue as we have been. As a small company, the best chance we have of realizing our dream of Pandora all around the world is to grow as the licensing landscape allows.

Delivery of Pandora is based on proper licensing from the people who created the music - we have always believed in honoring the guidelines as determined by legislators and regulators, artists and songwriters, and the labels and publishers they work with. In the U.S. there is a federal statute that provides this license for all the music streamed on Pandora. Unfortunately, there is no equivalent license outside the U.S. and there is no global licensing organization to enable any webcaster to legitimately offer its service around the world. The volume of listening on Pandora makes it a very expensive service to run. Streaming costs are very high, and since our inception, we have been making publishing and performance royalty payments for every song we play.

Until last week, we have not been able to tell where a listener is based, relying only on zip code information provided upon registration. We are now able to recognize a listener's country of origin based on the IP address from which they are accessing the service. Consequently, on May 16th, we will begin blocking access to Pandora to listeners from Canada. We are very sad to have to do this, but there is no other alternative.

We will be posting updates on our blog regarding our ongoing effort to launch in other countries, so please stay in touch. We will keep a record of your existing stations and bookmarked artists and songs, so that when we are able to launch in your country, they will be waiting for you. We deeply share your sense of disappointment and greatly appreciate your understanding.
-Tim Westergren
(Pandora founder)
I've had email exchanges with Tim a couple of times before -- I'm always impressed when founders and C-level execs of companies take the time to respond to customers/users. I'm very disappointed to lose Pandora, and I'll put a candle in the window for its return.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Joost: The Verdict

I'd love to tell you that Joost was the coolest thing I've seen come down the pike, and that it will revolutionize television/internet convergence, but that just ain't the case, babe.

I tried running Joost about 10 times, but every time I started the software, my CPU went straight to 100%, and when I did get any video, it was blocky and skippy. I couldn't understand the interface icons, or even how to pick a show. My searches found nothing. The GUI takes over the entire computer screen, including the Windows bar, without asking, or without an easily found minimize option.

Maybe the blocky viewing was my pipe -- I only have a 2 MB/s line into the house, but even still, YouTube and other video clips show fine.I tried rebooting, I tried shut down everything else running on the system, but I couldn't get any real improvement.

Joost is still just in beta release, but as Google has shown, these days, if you're in beta, you'd better be just about ready for prime time.

And Joost is anything but prime time.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Joost: Pt. 2

I was able to get a Joost invite here:

I'll take a look and let you know what I think.


My ever intrepid reader, DS -- who frankly seems to be my only reader -- put up a suggestion at the 3'oclock blog's site that I should blog about Joost. Joost is the cool new internet-based TV killer app that's been put together by the guys who made Skype a reality.

[Sidebar: if you made freaking millions off of one idea, and honestly never had to work another day in your life, would you really go back to it? Wouldn't you want to go out and experience life outside of your current world? I guess if it really is what you love, then leaving it would be bad. I'd be soaking up the sun on a yacht in the Caribbean faster than you can say "department re-org".]

There's only one problem -- Joost is currently only in a "friends-only" beta stage, which means you have to have an invite from Joost to join. But I don't have an invite.


(stay tuned)

Friday, May 04, 2007

Software the bad: Microsoft Vista Ultimate

I love computer eye candy. Love it. Show me a slick juicy icon or desktop wallpaper, or a cool windowing function and I'm all over it.

That's why I had such hopes for Vista. It looks really cool (provided your system can run the full Aero glass GUI).

I went so far as to get an extra hard drive from work (remember this post? -- usually hard drives aplenty, but not for my laptop), so that I could install Vista and get the full effects of a dedicated install, but without trashing my current work system. I installed and toyed around with Vista a bit during my parental leave, but never got serious about installing my full software "environment" that I use on a day to day basis.

Cut to this week -- I'm growing seriously annoyed and bored with my T60 Thinkpad. Windows XP even crashed on me (only the second or third time it's ever done that) and frankly, I'm ready for a change of pace and some new eye candy. I pulled out the Vista drive and swapped it for my XP drive.

First thing I always need on my work computers is virtual private network (VPN) software to connect to work. Without that VPN tunnel to work, installing half of the software I need is either impossible, or really time consuming. So I put the Cisco VPN software on, only to have it fail multiple times, telling me that the service needed to be restarted each time. I Googled the problem, and Cisco says to try their new beta version. Great, beta software for one of my primary applications. OK, fine. It installed, but the connections seem really really slow.

So now I'm connected, the next thing is to install the corporate anti-virus. Only Symantec still haven't worked out how to get their enterprise client to work properly on Vista. Hey, Symantec, Vista's been out for over 6 months and your flagship product doesn't work on it -- get working, numskulls.

By now I've basically given up -- without a reliable connection to work and proper virus protection, this dog just won't hunt. On top of that, my D-link DNS-323 Network Attached Storage device gets recognized on the network, but I keep getting told to install the drivers for it, and the password keeps getting refused. But D-Link doesn't seem to have Vista drivers on its website; and thus I can't log on to my storage device, where all the rest of my software application installers are kept.

Forget this. Vista may be pretty, and the new games are indeed cool, but until the driver issues are fixed, and Vista becomes the mainstream application, I'm going to have to stick with XP (sigh) for the foreseeable future. My Vista installation will just be an occasional plaything.

Unless I figure out a way to buy a MacBook Pro once Leopard comes out in the fall. ;-)

Software the good: DB2 Express-C

As some of you may know, I spend my working days pushing bits and bytes for the man at IBM. I primarily work on a database software product called DB2, specifically the free version, DB2 Express-C. This week we made a big announcement -- you can now pay for it!

"Uhh....what?" you ask. "Why would I pay for something that's free?"

Ok, that's a good question. The answer is that DB2 Express-C is still as free as before. But now you have the option of purchasing a 12-month support contract, so as they say, you have someone to choke when things go wrong. Database not agreeing with your OS? Call IBM support. DB2 throwing an error that you can't track down on google? Call IBM support.

And to make things even sweeter, with the purchase of the support contract, we throw in licenses to allow you to use DB2 in an HADR configuration, and to work as a database replication server. Trust me, if you know what those things are, you'd be excited by now.

Anyway, come on down and visit us at Jed's discount database emporium, and we'll set you up right. Tell 'em Ian sent ya.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Post the second

Here's the situation: I work from home, so backing up the hundreds of GB on my work systems through a VPN connection to the main office just isn't feasible.

Solution: an external IDE drive with some backup software. It doesn't really solve the problem if, say, the house burned down, but it's far better than not having one at all.

But here's where the cool part comes in. I googled for free backup software, and came across a forum posting that mentioned the good program DiscWizard that comes with Seagate hard drives. I thought, "hey I've got a Seagate hard drive, why don't I have that program". Next stop -- Seagate's downloads page for DiscWizard.

I looked at the software requirements, and the only requirement to use it was that you had to have a Seagate drive. Which fortunately, I do (a 250 GB IDE drive I bought to replace 2 80 GB drives that I never got around to actually installing). The program does check, via the hardware report, that the drive is actually made by Seagate; otherwise it won't work (I tested this with another non-Seagate drive that I had lying around -- yes, I have a lot of hard drives just sitting around. I'm a hardware geek).

<shameless plug>I should point out that the last 3 drives I've bought (the 250 GB, and 2 320 GBs) have been Seagate -- they all carry a 5 year guarantee, and they're usually the best reviewed ones on the web, in terms of performance and reliability.</shameless plug>

After the program installed and identified that I had a proper Seagate drive installed, I was able to make a complete backup image of my 80 GB laptop. But more than that, I could then make incremental backups (rather than overwriting the entire 80 GB image over and over again), and coolest of all, I could mount the created backup image as a drive on my laptop, and access the files inside it. The image mount can be either read-only, or even read/write.

That's pretty useful stuff for free software.

Post the first

I owe this one to David Sky:

If you come across any interesting technology or technology-related stories that you think I should consider, use the tag "3oclock" on to highlight these links and I'll take a look.

The page then summarizes them all.

(David is a world renown kickboxing champ and secret agent. Oh ... sorry if I let the cat out of the bag.)

Friday, April 20, 2007

Back in the saddle

So where did the 3 o'clock blog go? To be honest, I've been a little lazy, but mainly because I just got a new one of these babies.

Not bad, eh? It's a 1.0 release, so there are still a few features to develop and a few bugs to work out, but on the whole, we're very pleased with it.

Back on Monday with lots of tech related stuff to show you.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Transmeta - from bad to worse

Transmeta, once a darling hardware company, is shifting to an intellectual property portfolio company.

Why is this interesting? Because a fellow by the name of Linus Torvalds used to be a big cog in Transmeta's CPU development. That very same Linux Torvalds is the father of the Linux operating system. Which just happens to the foundation of the Free Software movement, which opposes the licensing of intellectual property in the form of software patents.

An interesting circle, n'est-ce pas?

Friday, February 09, 2007

Tech blogs

Everyone and their proverbial dog has a blog these days, and likely 50% of all of them are blogging tech. That's okay though, most of the cool stuff I hear about comes to me this way. Here are the blogs I like to read:

Engadget HD
Wil Wheaton dot Net
Ars Technica
Boing Boing
Download Squad
The Unofficial Apple Weblog (TUAW) -- I don't own a Mac, BTW

All cool places to put in your RSS feeder (along with the 3 O'clock blog!)

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Take it with you

Imagine you're staying over at Grandma's house for the weekend. She's just had a kicking T1 broadband connection installed (hey, who doesn't have a Grandma with a T1? What? Seriously, just me?). You're fired up to download some Linux torrents, or an all night FPS frag-fest. But you cannot for the life of you remember what the stupid URL is for the site. Googling for it doesn't help either, as you can't remember the weird spelling of that site. And was it .com, or .net? AUGH!

Enter Foxmarks. This cool site/utility/Firefox extension lets you keep and maintain one unified set of bookmarks, across any number of computers. And even if your Grandma's never heard of the Fox, you can still log into your Foxmarks account on via any browser and you can access your bookmark list.

I use multiple computers in multiple locations, so foxmarks is tailor made for me. On any new system, I just install the Firefox plugin, enter my account info, and boom -- 5 seconds later, all my stored bookmarks are available through the Bookmarks menu, or Alt+B (for you mouse haters). I've been using it for ages, and I love it!

Foxmarks -
Foxmarks Firefox extension -

Monday, February 05, 2007

Superbowl tech

Does this thing ever live up to the hype?

Even in Canada (where an NFL franchise is only a pipe-dream for some Torontonians) many people gather around the TV in late January/early Feb to watch large men try to gain 10 yards in 4 downs (as opposed to the Grey Cup, where we gather around the tube in late November to watch large men try to gain 10 yards in 3 downs).

Typically though, Canadians are also made to suffer from the pain of "simulcasting" or "sim-subbing" where Global Television, the TV conglomerate that holds the Canadian broadcast rights to the Superbowl, takes the original US broadcast and rips out all the "good" ads and resells the airtime to Canadian companies. If the viewer is lucky, the original advertiser also sells to Canadians, and buys the same airtime to show the "good" ad to Canadian. has a good rundown of the whole evil business here.

Luckily for the guests at my Superbowl party, for whatever reason, the CBS high definition signal wasn't replaced, so we got to see all the original ads. Unfortunately, this year's crop was not the best. A few chuckles, and everyone broke out a hanky for GMC's assembly line ad (which I think is just a ripoff of the great Spike Jonze IKEA commercial from a few years ago), but nothing really that I will remember next week.

The HDTV pictures were great -- pouring rain never looked so good -- and the super-slo motion replays really showed off how talented the players are, able to keep one foot barely in bounds to make a catch, or punch an opponent at just the right spot to knock a football loose. But aside from that, I don't think CBS made the greatest use of the new technologies, partly because the rain kept blurring pictures, or in the case of the overhead field cam, obliterated it entirely.

And the game on the field wasn't that great, either.

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Vista: A clear view?

So ... are you sick of the 24-hour a day Vista hype yet? I caught ol' Billy G. on the Daily Show the other day priming the pump:

I almost couldn't believe that it really has been 5 years since the last major Windows release.

(and does anyone remember the "Friends" cast hyping Windows 95):

But anyway, I've had some time to play around with the new Vista release, and on the surface, it looks pretty good. The repeated User Account Control (UAC) requests to enable functionality each time I do something new is a pain in the neck, especially as this comes up dozens and dozens of times during the early phases (since you are enabling lots of new stuff at the start). I know you can turn this off, but that rather defeats the purpose, in my mind. As time goes on, I'll see this warning less and less, so I'm not too worried about it.

I was planning on a major home system upgrade in the next year or so (I have a 64-bit AMD CPU sitting around begging me to put together a new system), so I'm not overly concerned about missing out on the Aero Glass UI functionality. But, if I put that new system together and then it still doesn't work, we'll see how pleased I am.

At IBM, we have the latest release of DB2 Express-C running on Vista, which is encouraging. I'm always leery of existing applications running on new operating systems, but the coders have done a good job and it runs pretty smoothly. Be sure to download DB2 Express-C and test it out on your copy of Vista. [Hey, I've got to pay the bills somehow.]

Next step is to somehow get Vista running on my T60 Thinkpad. More on that as events unfold.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Cable this

Best place for AV/Computer cables: Even to Canada. And they didn't pay me to say that.

My dream

I have a dream system in my head and it starts off with one of these.

That's right -- a 30" monitor. So if you're enjoying this blog, and you have spare cash, feel free to ship one of these my way.

[My wife's response to my wish to sit two feet away from 30" inches of technological glory? "You wouldn't sit that close to our TV, and that's just about the same size!" Ah, the unwashed masses. So innocent.]

Ahem hem hem


Welcome to the 3 O'clock blog, where I'll be talking tech. Whatever comes my way, whatever cool stuff I see or sites I come across. It'll be much more tech oriented than the blog on my homepage (Shameless plug), so hopefully you'll give more of a damn than about my favourite movies and how my son is sleeping.

So that's background. Post #1 to follow in about 10 mins.