ntop is not iftop

On a couple of occasions now I have accidentally installed ntop, a web-based “top” clone for network monitoring, when really I want iftop, with it’s libcurses-based command-line goodness. The web thing is cool and all, and I’ve got nothing against it’s suite of dependencies, such as graphvis, however when I’m frantically installing a network visualizer — which generally means that bad shit is going down on some box over which I’ve formally had little control — then I really do need to know what’s happening *right this second*. Hence iftop.

I think iftop used to be called ntop on some distros, which is why I keep mixing them up.

Kanji Fuda

Well, what was supposed to be a quick weekend project back in March is finally on it’s way to the iPhone App Store; and for the second time no less.

“Kanji Fuda” is a simple Japanese kanji learning game reminiscent of ComCul’s excellent Kanji for Fun. Between work and baby management, I’ve been cobbling it together in fits and starts over the last couple of months. Even have the fancy shmancy website that seems to be prerequisite for releasing any kind of mobile app.

Now that the basic version is done and “released” — assuming that I am able to get it by the App Store gate keepers — I’m working on an advanced version specifically to help study for the year-end Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT). I’ve always wanted to go after Level One, but given how little I actually use my Japanese these days, it’s going to be a stretch… hence Kanji Fuda.

So NOW what is Windows doing?

If you’re a Windows users, then you’re likely accustomed to your box periodically grinding to an inexplicable crawl.  And likely you’ve become accustomed to looking morosely over to the hard disk LED as Windows furiously swaps memory, or randomly formats volumes, or sends secret blinking morse code love letters rapid fire to your toaster, or Gates only knows what it’s doing.

For years I’ve looked for some kind of tool that would give me better insight into what was going on under the hood.  The guys at SysInternals have a variety of apps that are helpful (if not downright awesome), but none that would allow me to causally glance at a dashboardy widget and say “Oh, it’s the whuzawazzit again.  Guess I’ll go get some coffee.”

Enter Moo0‘s System Monitor.


I first saw System Monitor some months back on Lifehacker.  And while it was a useful little resource monitoring tool, it wasn’t really useful enough for me to remember that it was actually installed.   That is, until last month’s update.

Version 1.27 of System Monitor includes one very important and revealing feature:  Bottleneck Reporting.  As you can see above, System Monitor tips you off to the most likely “villain” of any performance slowdown.

In my case (and certainly in the case of most everyone else) the bottleneck is typically going to be the HDD; hence our Pavlovian stare-at-HDD-LED response.   Now, however, I at least know what’s causing my disks to spin and my head to turn.

Outlook, which as always been the primary suspect, is of course guilty as sin.  And to my surprise I see both Firefox and Skype lurking around the “Main Loader” far more often than not.  And then there are the myriad of Windows sub-processes that seem to be taking industrious liberty with my hard disk behind closed doors.

But now that I finally know what the heck Windows is doing, I can finally, at long last, do something proactive to improve system performance.

Like, say, switch to a Mac.

Bulk Rename Utility: The Missing Link of Utility Software Awesomeness

The Bulk Rename Utility is a free Windows app from the makers of ViceVersa.

And it is awesome.

Of course, this is something only a true geek like myself can get excited about… but in all honesty it is the single most welcome addition to my arsenal of software tools in many years.

Every so often (or, as seems to be the case lately, every freaking day) I need to rename a large number of files from pattern X to pattern Y.  Usually this involves firing up Cygwin and working out some kind of rename script snippet.  Not rocket science this, but enough to make me groan inwardly.

I’ve tried a couple of rename utilities over the years; none powerful enough to replace script writing.

BRU is different.  You can see from the screenshot that it has intuitive (well, kind of) filters for just about any possible renaming combination.  Best of all it gives you a preview of how your files will be renamed… before you accidentally mung that entire directory tree.  BRU includes many, many more features, including exotic transformations such as renaming photos from EXIF extensions as well as renaming MP3 files using ID3 tags.

Anyway, enough gushing of the geekery.  It’s a nice tool.  Recommended.

What to do about TortoiseSVN 1.5.x svn+ssh “Connection closed unexpectedly” errors on Vista

Annoying.  If, like me, you’re suddenly seeing this (despite assurances that it’s been fixed), I have two recommendations:

  1. Revert to an older TortoiseSVN 1.4.x build if you can find it.
  2. Try SmartSVN

SmartSVN is a Java-based free and “pro” drop-in replacement for Tortoise.  Unlike other SVN clients, you can use it exactly as you were using TortoiseSVN.  Possibly not as feature-rich, but considerably more polished than our favorite old Testudine.  Runs everywhere.  And it works over svn+ssh.

Unscientific reviews of various (mostly PHP) web shopping carts

Some time back I did a review of various web shopping carts.  In particular I needed a cart into which we could integrate a minor, third-party payment processing system.  We also wanted something that had the following functionality:

  1. multi-currency
  2. multi-lingual
  3. registration management
  4. mailing list management

These are the carts that I found in the order they were discovered and reviewed.

APIs and Frameworks

Started on the assumption that we would want to build and manage our own shopping cart.  It quickly become apparent that a customizable stand-alone application would get us more functionality with less mucking around.

  • Webforce Cart
    Very simple shopping cart class.  After a quick review, decided that it would be better to use something inside a framework like Cake or Symfony.
  • sfShoppingCart
    Shopping cart module for Symfony.  Played around with this but quickly realized that, even in a framework, maintaining a custom cart would fairly troublesome for my simple needs.
  • phpShop
    Another simple, rails-esque cart.  Seems to be a framework built specifically for the shopping cart.  Would still probably use sfShoppingCart over this.
  • Quick.Cart
    Very nicely done, simple cart.  Installed and played around with it a bit.  Difficult to modify the layout; template updating problems.

Stand-Alone Applications
Lots and lots of apps out there.  I was surprised, however, to discover that many of them are branches of earlier code bases.

  • Nexternal Solutions “Ecommerce Shopping Cart”
    Aggressive Google advertising.  Ugly.  ASP-based.  No way.
  • osCommerce
    This has been around a long time; looked at this originally five years ago for another project.  Lots of web shops out there using osCommerce, but developers complain that it is difficult to integrate and maintain.   Admin interface looks like it needs work.
  • Zen Cart
    Fork of osCommerce and, now, possibly the most famous open source shopping cart solution.  Installed and mucked around with it.  Confusing, clumsy interface, though better than the osCommerce original.  Lots of complaints from developers.  Many recommend switching to CubeCart.
  • CRE Loaded
    Another Fork of osCommerce with a corporation behind it.   Nice marketing website.  Same poor admin interface.
  • osCMax
    Yet another fork of osCommerce with (maybe) Drupal integration.
  • xt:Commerce
    And yet another fork of osCommerce.  Corporate backing like CRE Loaded.  Seem to be pursuing global distribution; based out of Germany.  Spanish version on the way.
  • Miva Merchant
    Looks as though this might be the most “enterprise” of the shopping carts.  Starting price:  $995.00.  Pricey.
  • X-Cart
    Comparable to CubeCart but no free version.  Lots of complaints that cost of additional modules rapidly builds up.
  • AgoraCart
    Nasty green interface.
  • Squirrelcart
  • phpCart
    Looked great, but seems to have been replaced by PHP Super Cart which appears to be… even yet another fork of osCommerce.  Ugh.
  • CubeCart
    Good reviews.  Open source and very reasonable commercial models (one-time payment as opposed to recurring  licensing fees).   Easy to localize.  Good currency manager.  Stylesheet-based templates are a little awkward.  Very active development and fairly strong community support including skins and modules.

In the end we went with CubeCart.  So far it’s been “okay”.  Template organization is indeed haphazard; it can be difficult to figure out which templates apply to which step in the purchasing process.  Documentation is also fairly thin on the ground.  And though we paid for support, the replies that come back are fairly unsupportive.

Nevertheless, integrating the third party payment system was not too difficult.  I can recommend CubeCart.. with reservations.  Look around for your own alternatives and settle on this if it seems suitable.

Diggin’ Digsby

For the longest time I’ve been looking for a good universal messaging app so that I don’t have to run three instant messengers, plus Skype, plus deal with email.  And nothing has really fir the bill.

Years ago I originally used Psi, based on the Jabber protocol.  I quite liked Psi, and it worked well for awhile, but development started to wane and I really needed something that could keep in sync with ICQ, MSN, and Yahoo protocol changes.  (That said.. looking at the site it looks like there is a new development team.  Worth checking out.)

Since then I have tried PidginMiranda, and a host of other smaller open apps.  They all worked for the most part, but the interfaces tend to be clunky and, until recently, UTF-8/Japanese support has been spotty at best.   I finally settled on (and purchased) Cerulean Studio’s Trillian round about the time it was turning the corner from version two to version three.

Trillian was great for awhile.  Its got a large database of user-created skins and a variety of useful plugins.  The problem with Trillian is that version three came out over four years ago…  and has been in a time warp ever since.  Its once innovative sidebar interface can no longer compare to other available apps, and actually tends to get in the way.  And the next version, Trillian Astra, seems to perpetually be in a kind of secret alpha mode.

(If you comment on the above in the Trillian forums, angry users will flame you with comments along the lines of “great things take time”, etc.   WTF?  This is not wine.  Trillian’s release cycle is now longer than Microsoft’s.)

Recently, however, I stumbled up on Digsby.  Digsby reminds me of a streamlined version of Trillian with built-in email, mobile messaging, and social network messaging support (brilliant!).

What I really like about Digsby is its non-intrusive messaging popup.   Unlike other messengers (namely Skype), you don’t have to hunt through a host of windows every time you hear a message come in.  The popup allows you to reply right there leaving the state of your desktop undisturbed.  (This need to constantly shuffle through windows has become a major source of frustration during my workday.)

Finally, I don’t think I’ll have to wait years for updates from Digsby.  They seem to be pushing out updates on a weekly (daily?) basis, often in direct response to comments left in the Digsby blog.  Now that’s how software should be built.

Go Digsby.

Celestia 1.5.0 Released

Looks like Celestia 1.5.0 was released the other day. This is one of my all-time favorite free apps; an absolutely stunning desktop planetarium that allows you to zip around the solar system (and beyond). Available for Windows, Mac, and Linux.

What’s more, the Celestia Motherlode hosts over 10 GB of add-ons uploaded by various creators, ranging from detailed planetary texture maps to dozens of spacecraft, Voyagar to Enterprise (though I have yet to see V’ger).

Definitely worth a look if you’re a space buff. There’s a new release every year or so which always prompts me to loose at least a couple of hours jumping back and forth between planets. Wasted time nevertheless soulfully well invested.

The easiest way to get Emacs Tramp Mode to play nicely with Windows and secure ssh connections

The easiest way is to go “under” Emac’s head and not bother with Tramp at all..

The currently distributed version of Tramp (2.0.x) has a design flaw wherein it assumes that ports are designated with a “-p” switch.  If you’re running Emacs on Windows, however, you will probably want to use Putty’s <code>plink</code> command instead of an command line ssh client.  Problem is plink uses a capitalized “-P” to indicate the port.  Urgh.  (Supposedly this is fixed in Tramp 2.1.x..)

Rather than muck around with this, consider tools that map the remote connection such that it appears local.  The well done open source app WinSCP does a pretty good job of this, though is a bit clunky in the way it syncs up its temporary cache.  South River Technologies’ WedDrive, however, is practically seamless.  Well worth the $60 for a one year license.