Hashemian Blog
Web, Finance, Technology, Running

August 8, 2007

Web Scratchpad, Notepad, Clipboard - PADFLY.COM

by robert hashemian @ 12:33 am
Filed under: web

padfly.comThe other day I was chasing a problem on one of our servers. While searching for a solution on my desktop I happened upon a web page that seemed to present a solution. At this point I wanted to go over to the server, pull up the web page and try some of the suggestions. There was only one problem. The URL of that page was one of those long ones with a number of numbered parameters. My choices were:

  • Open Remote Desktop to the server from my PC, fire up the browser on the server, copy and paste the URL into the browser and continue working via Remote Desktop. That's fine and good, except that sometimes copying and pasting from my local PC to Remote Desktop doesn't work. Besides If I wanted to try this on several other servers later on, this solution would be impractical.
  • Commit the URL to memory and then try to recall it at the server's console. Yeah right. Everyone knows how flawed a programmer's memory can be, specially with a long URL that you have to get it exactly right.
  • Copy the URL to Notepad, save it on a shared folder on my PC and access it from the server.
  • Email it to myself and then access it on the server over the web. That would have meant a number of steps including logging in to my account from the server.
  • Use a service like Yahoo Briefcase or Google Notepad and access them from the server, but again there was that login step again and I'd have to remember to log off, lest someone else might get access to my private account.
  • In short, a simple task of saving some text and retrieving it from elsewhere is a cumbersome chore. That's when I stumbled upon padfly.com. This web-based service allows one to copy some text to an easy-to-recall URL (like http://padfly.com/MySavedURL) and then access it from anywhere at any time.

    padfly is free, requires no login, and the saved content can be accessed and edited at any time, by anyone, from anywhere. You can copy any piece of text to a path name of your choice (called a PAD) and then have anyone on the other side of the company or the other side of the world view it.

    I actually used padfly today and it definitely delivered for me. So the next time you need to quickly save and recall a piece of text or share it with others, give padfly.com a try. It might save you a lot of time and hassle. It's a simple web-based scratchpad, notepad, and clipboard you might have been searching for.

    There is a footnote to this blog entry. padfly was actually developed by yours truly last weekend to address the issue I mentioned up above. It was handy enough for me that I decided to tidy it up and put it online. Send me a note if you have suggestions for features, improvements, or other ideas for padfly. Enjoy.

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    July 29, 2007

    Gmail Inbox Changes

    by robert hashemian @ 9:48 pm
    Filed under: email,google

    GmailBeginning about 3 or 4 days ago I've noticed a change in the way Gmail groups emails together. It seems to be a subtle algorithm change but it appears that the glue has been watered down a bit. Email messages definitely don’t hang together the way they used to. Now many come In as separate items.

    Back when Google introduced the free email service, Gmail, it also introduced a relatively radical shift in the way emails are displayed to the users. There are no folders, instead one can use filters to apply labels to emails which sort of mimics the folder functionality of organizing and categorizing messages. There was also a new approach in displaying emails in that conversations within a thread are grouped together in a thread-like format (much like a forum) and a counter is applied to show the number of messages in a particular group.

    It took some getting used to Gmail's way of displaying messages, but I have grown accustomed to it. I don't consider it revolutionary though, it's just different. I'm fine with the traditional way used in Outlook or Yahoo mail. The difference with Gmail, at least at the time it was introduced, was their superior search capability. One could easily recall past messages given a keyword or two.

    I'm not sure what the exact grouping algorithm of Gmail is, but I suspect it has to do with the timestamps, senders and receivers, titles and contents of the messages. At any rate, that algorithm has now been tweaked to loosen the condition by which messages are grouped together. This became evident to me a few days ago when I noticed that my inbox suddenly had a large influx of messages. My Gmail inbox receives a number of automated messages that used to be grouped together, perhaps based on their titles. A closer look revealed that those messages that used to clump together, are now presented as separate items.

    I assume the change was introduced to make the inbox more usable for most people who were unaware of new messages arriving and getting filed under existing messages with similar titles. In my case it meant adapting to the new methodology and creating new filters to keep my inbox from getting too unwieldy. I suspect many others won't even notice the subtle alteration.

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    July 19, 2007

    Ditch Your DBA Today?

    by robert hashemian @ 10:04 pm
    Filed under: computers

    DBAI'm not sure about you, but this ad on a tech site sort of got under my skin. The company claims that this product obviates having a DBA (Database Administrator) managing your databases. As a sign of respect to all DBA's I obscured the company and their product name.

    Obviously the message is to get companies to buy this product and then save money by firing their DBA's. I hope no one is foolish enough to believe that they can simply replace their valuable personnel with a software program and expect things to hum along just the same.

    I'm only a marginal DBA where I work and we use Microsoft's SQL Server. For our purposes SQL Server has always been a reliable product and relatively easy to manage, but then we don’t deal with mountains of data like some other companies do. Any company that has to contend with gigabytes or terabytes of vital data should realize that a good DBA is worth his or her weight in gold.

    A well-trained and diligent DBA makes sure that databases have continuous uptime, manages security, disaster recovery, optimization, reliable connections and handles a slew of other tasks that software could never replace. As for smaller companies, a product such SQL Server comes bundled with enough tools and features that makes a product such as this one unnecessary.

    So if your company has never needed a DBA, don’t waste your time and money on a boastful product like this. You're doing just fine without introducing a new product into the mix. Otherwise don’t delude yourself with the idea that you can replace years of experience and training with hype.

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    July 18, 2007

    Answers Buys Dictionary

    by robert hashemian @ 11:57 pm
    Filed under: financial

    Answers.com Buys Dictionary.comI guess you can call this another case of over-inflated pricing for domain names. Answers.com has agreed to acquire Lexico, the parent of dictionary.com, thesaurus.com, and reference.com for $100 million. Answers.com's market cap is currently below $100 million, and I doubt there's much cash in the bank for this acquisition, so I assume there's third party financing involved. Well, I just read that they'll be raising the cash by offering a variety of securities like floating more shares, bonds and warrants.

    At first strike, it may seem like an expensive domain play. Those are indeed nice names to have in one's portfolio, but there is more to these domains than just their names. They do attract plenty of eyeballs. I myself use dictionary.com often. My choice of online dictionary used to be m-w.com (Merriam-Webster), but I switched when dictionary.com revamped their site and made it a lot more usable and comprehensive. The price seems a bit steep, but it's a calculated gamble. It has success potential, but it'll probably a long-term one.

    My only gripe with dictionary.com is the incessant advert pop-unders and their trickery to circumvent the browser pop-up blockers. It would send a great signal if answers.com started the new relationship by getting rid of the annoying pop-ups and go with a more civilized format. How effective can pop-ups possibly be these days, anyways?

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    July 15, 2007

    Homepage Hazards

    by robert hashemian @ 5:30 pm
    Filed under: hacking,web

    Sites, specially news-related or educational, usually cram their homepages with links to various sections and freshly updated pages. In that regards those homepages are portals into the rest of their respective sites where the real content resides.

    That's all fine and good until they display links from those sections that the site maintains little control over. Forums, for example, are one these notorious areas trolled by spammers and jokers. The problem is that by nature they are supposed to be democratic. Pre-moderated forums generally suffer from anemic posts and little lively action. On the flip side, unmoderated or post-moderated forums spur real-time discussions, but invite nuisance posts.

    This is depicted in the image grab from the homepage of devx.com, a development site frequented by programmers and, in this instance, linking to a prankster's or a spammer's post in one of their forums. The offending post was removed at some point, but the orphaned link remained on the homepage until it was pushed out by newer links.

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    July 9, 2007

    Graphics Design Weekend

    by robert hashemian @ 12:19 am
    Filed under: technology

    Planet of FireMy graphics design knowledge doesn't extend much beyond Microsoft Paint and Picture Manager. I'm not very artistic but I've always wanted to learn a bit more about making simple art and manipulating photos on the computer. Photoshop is the tool of choice for professionals. We have some talented people in the art department where I work who can churn out fantastic material in little time. I've dabbled in Photoshop a bit in the past, but for my purposes it's just too daunting of a task to learn this advanced program. Besides at my level, it would be a waste of money.

    But a few days ago I discovered a free program online that actually captured my interest and kept me busy most of the weekend learning some graphics design skills. It's called Paint.NET and, according to its author, it's written entirely in .NET, mostly C# I believe.

    Paint.NET is certainly not an all-encompassing graphics design tool, but for an amateur like me, it has just enough features to keep me interested without frustrating me. A wonderful aspect for me is a recently introduced plug-in (currently in beta) that allows programmers to quickly prototype a desired effect in C# code and then produce a plug-in to use for themselves or share with others using Paint.NET.

    My appreciation to the makers(s) of Paint.NET for a great utility for newbies like me. Not only did I learn a number of terms and skills this past weekend, but I put some of that learning to actual use by creating this admittedly garish art. I call it the "planet of fire."

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    July 5, 2007

    The Greedy Shepherd

    by robert hashemian @ 10:28 pm
    Filed under: web,writing

    Preface: A few days ago I received an email from Answers.com inviting me (and other recipients) to write an essay or a poem using 10 words they had selected and link those words back to them — certainly a publicity and SEO stunt. At the end of the contest they will judge the entries and pick a few winners.

    I was going to lambaste the tactic in this blog. Instead, for some inexplicable reason, I decided to take up the challenge and write a short story. I'm not much of a storyteller, although I did write a book about financial markets a few years back, but that's a different matter.

    This is my amateurish stab at a short story. I know, I won't quit my day job.


    SheepThere was a once a shepherd in Belize who took his herd to a field near his house everyday for grazing. The field wasn't the most fertile but there was sufficient grass for his sheep to graze on. His was a perfunctory task, but for all intents and purposes he made a comfortable living from his sheep. He would occasionally visit the local market and sell a few sheep which made him enough money to buy the necessities of life like food and clothes and, on occasion, a gift for his family, like a yo-yo for his young son. On another occasion he made a quid pro quo deal with the local beekeeper to provide him with honey for a year in return for a sheep.

    He had vowed never to change his way of life.

    One day, while leading his flock to the meadow, he met a stranger who told him about a field farther away where the landscape was more lush and the grass was ubiquitous and plentiful. The stranger insisted that on this new field the sheep would get fatter much faster and the herd would double or triple in numbers at no time. He kept filling the shepherd's head with quixotic ideas of wealth and status until the shepherd agreed to take his flock to this new field, abrogating the vow he had made to himself.

    It was an arduous journey but when he reached the new field, instead of the lush grass he found a barren land with scarcely anything for his herd to feed on. Disappointed and ashamed of his gullibility, he set out to make the return trip home, uncertain if his herd would survive the harrowing trip back. Just then a large colony of wasps that had been disturbed by the herd's arrival stirred into action swarming the shepherd and his sheep and stinging them about their faces. His brand of sheep, known for acute melissophobia, panicked and scattered quickly. Soon they were all out of sight, seemingly lost forever.

    The bereft shepherd began the long trek home, alone and destitute with thoughts of regret and penitence circling in his head. Midway to his home, he sat by the side of road to rest his tired and wobbly legs. He failed to notice that his head was just inches away from a large brown recluse spider who had become alarmed by the new visitor. As the spider moved closer to defend her territory with a deadly bite, the shepherd heard a faint bleating and quickly rose in excitement to scan the area. In astonishment he saw his herd, back together, slowly trudging back toward their old grounds. His joy was indescribable as he once again took command of his herd and safely guided every one of them back to their old and trusted turf.

    As he watched his sheep with satisfaction grazing safe and sound, he renewed his old vow and never again strayed his flock from the trusted meadow.

    Moral of the story:
    1) Don't abandon a sure thing chasing after dubious promises.
    2) Melissophobic sheep don't make good herds, but …
    3) They can save a life.

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    July 2, 2007

    Discover Card

    by robert hashemian @ 10:05 pm
    Filed under: business,financial,money

    Discover CardMy memory is hazy on this, but I think Discover Card was the first credit card I ever had. What I'm sure of is that Discover Card was the only credit card I carried in my wallet for years. I signed up for mine back in college years when credit card companies were just beginning to realize the untapped potential of revenue in college students.

    The Discover Card was a new arrival but it had an innovative approach. No annual fees and a cashback program and a slick slogan, "It pays to Discover." It instantly won me over and I started using it exclusively. Their plan was certainly paying off with me. As I graduated from college and entered the workforce and ramped up my expenses, Discover Card came along for the ride.

    But it wasn't meant to last. After some 15 years, I finally parted ways with Discover Card over a small dispute with a vendor. This happened a few years ago and the details of the dispute escape me, but what remained was the bitter taste of a credit card company taking the side of the merchant, rather than its long-time customer in good standing. I can understand Discover Card's reasons to go against me. I'm sure the vendor's business was substantially larger than my paltry charge-ups. But from my point of view I was wronged and by then the credit card landscape had caught up with Discover Card's benefits, so there was no reason for me not to jump.

    And jump I did, to a no-fee, cashback MasterCard and never looked back. As Discover Financial Services got its own stock symbol (DFS) today and begun trading on NYSE, I couldn't help reminisce of our long relationship and how it was derailed over a small charge. I wish Discover Card well, but I still don't miss it.

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    June 24, 2007

    Circumcision - Religious Child Mutilation

    by robert hashemian @ 12:56 pm
    Filed under: religion

    If you are a male born into a Jewish or Moslem family, chances are you are circumcised. Circumcision is a euphemism for penile mutilation. I was horrified by the images I saw in this LiveLeak video taken from a Turkish ceremony where scores of young boys are gleefully taken by their parents to a butcher shop to be mutilated. It's hard to fathom what motivates a parent to even consider such a savage act against his or her own child.

    Of course, no sane parent would rip out a child's arm, or sever a child's ear, but somehow this barbaric practice is tolerated and even celebrated in the name of god. A reasonable person might ask, why does god care about a man's foreskin? Aren't there more important things for god to consider than obsessing over men's penises?

    Some parents would tell you that god doesn't care, they disfigure their boys as a show of respect and reverence. Others would condone it by claiming health and sanitary benefits! Of course you'd be hard pressed to find anyone who'd admit the truth; that they are fanatics and want to selfishly score a few points with god, or they are just ignorant, following a tradition that, unbeknownst to them, predates theism itself.

    I have no problem with an adult deciding to mutilate himself in the name of god or whatever else. But subjecting innocent boys (and sometimes girls) to this cruel and excruciating practice is nothing short of diabolical, or at least demented.

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    June 13, 2007

    Apple Safari on Windows

    by robert hashemian @ 11:33 pm
    Filed under: web

    Safari on WindowsI'm a man of habits. That trait also extends to my browser of choice and, like many, I use Internet Explorer (IE) to surf the Web. Years ago, when the Internet was still new to the general public, it took me some time to actually start using a browser alongside my favorite text-based programs to browse the Web, read Usenet, or check email. That was the NCSA Mosaic times. Then I took my time to switch to Netscape. And I was yet again behind the curve when Microsoft joined the fray and introduced IE. For now I'm still an IE user, and true to form, I have refused to upgrade to version 7. Not that all the bad publicity has helped anyways.

    I did try Opera once and saw no need for it after fiddling with it for a few days. I do use Firefox occasionally now. Not because I like it any better than IE for general browsing, but mostly to test Web pages. Firefox does have a leg up on IE in one area, the add-ons. Unlike IE, Firefox has done a superb job in designing and integrating the add-ons. They are much more straightforward to program and there's a bevy of available add-ons on the Web to choose from. Greasemonkey is one of my favorites, for example.

    One browser I wished I could have was Apple's safari. That is the browser of choice for most Apple junkies, but until now it was out of the Windows' realm - Until now. Apple finally released a version (public beta 3) and, true to their claims, it is faster than either IE or Firefox. The speed was even evident during the installation process. It has a relatively small installation file and the setup process was fast.

    Safari for Windows is a no-frills browser. It's lightweight and doesn't have a lot of bells and whistles. It does have an Apple-ish look, but after browsing to several sites I could confirm that their claim of being speedy is for real. I didn't clock its rendering speed, but it did feel faster than its other two popular counterparts. The configuration is a bit clunky and bears some resemblance to Firefox (must be the Mozilla heritage) and the fonts are a bit rough, but it performs magnificently. I was impressed.

    Having Safari available on Windows is also a boon to site designers who need to check their pages for browser compatibility. One of the pages I tested was the JavaScript Countdown page on this site. There were some complaints of Safari incompatibility from some of the users. I was prepared to see a broken counter, but to my surprise the page loaded just fine, counter and all. That left me wondering whether there were differences between the Windows and Apple versions. Since I don't have access to an Apple, I am going to tentatively declare that the countdown utility is Safari compatible.

    Safari won't unseat IE for me as the browser of choice for general browsing, but if you are in the market for a lightweight and speedy browser, this could be the one. But even if not, it's a valuable tool for Web designers toiling on Windows to achieve maximum browser compatibility for their pages.

    If you want to download the browser, here's the link: Safari for Windows.

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