Category Archives: Nerd Stuff

Weekend Fun – Play Tribes 2 Online For Free with TribesNEXT

If you want to blow off a little steam this weekend, consider playing Tribes 2 for free. Sure, it’s an old game by today’s standards (released in 2001), but it’s still fun, especially if you are into first-person-shooter (FPS) games.

Tribes 2 was opened to the public for free download in May 2004. Back in November 2008, Vivendi shut down the authentication servers for a number of games (includes Tribes 2). Online play was no more.

Until now. The gauntlet has been thrown down, but a community project called TribesNEXT has answered. By releasing a BETA patch, TribesNEXT has restored multiplayer functionality to Tribes 2.

Download

If you already own the game, all you need to do is install the BETA patch from TribesNEXT.

Download Page

If you do not own the game, the unpatched full game download is available from several mirrors. Here is a direct link to the torrent file (full game plus patch).

Note: the patch is not necessary for single-player mode.

Have fun! Maybe I’ll see you online. I’ll be the guy falling all over myself and running in panicked circles.

New Year Resolution – Clean Up Your Gmail Account with Labels and Filters

A new year is upon us, and once the hangover and the food coma have worn off, it’s time to start working on those resolutions for the fresh new year. Instead of the traditional desires to lose weight and stop smoking, I propose a more realistic and achievable goal – clean up your Gmail account.

Gmail makes it easy to keep your Inbox organized, but those tools are of no use unless you harness them. Perhaps you already know about these tools, so consider this post your wake-up call to start using them more effectively.

Labels

Labels are the equivalent to folders in other e-mail services, but they offer an additional benefit. You can apply multiple labels to a single conversation in Gmail.

To create new labels or edit your existing ones, click the Edit Labels link on the left.

From there, you can rename, remove, or create new labels at will. I suggest creating labels based on sender names, or create an overarching category such as Bills or Services. To apply a label to existing mail, just check the box next to the conversation and look under the More Actions drop-down list.

Once your labels are set, move on to Filters.

Filters

Filters are one of Gmail’s most powerful features. By setting a filter, you can automatically perform any number of actions to incoming messages. Filters are incredibly helpful for dealing with recurring e-mail from the same sender. Example: If you get a lot of e-mail from NewEgg, you can set a filter to automatically label incoming NewEgg messages. You could also archive, delete, star, or forward incoming e-mail. The organizational possibilities are practically endless.

To start applying filters, first go to Settings at the top of your Gmail page, then switch to the Filters tab.

Click Create a new filter to begin the process.

Enter any criteria, such as a Subject or specific e-mail address. Hint: you can also use a wildcard (*) to capture all e-mail from a specific domain, such as *@newegg.com. Hit the Test Search button what existing messages in your inbox match the filter, then hit Next Step.

(Tip – if a friend often uses multiple e-mail accounts, you can still use just one filter to categorize incoming mail from that person. For the From criteria, just use the OR operator. Example: email1@gmail.com OR email2@gmail.com).

Now you can specify any and all actions that you wish to perform. In the example below, I’m choosing to apply a label and archive incoming messages from NewEgg. I highly recommend also checking the box to apply the filter to the existing conversations in your Inbox.

You can create an unlimited number of filters in Gmail. I just counted, and I currently have 49 filters running in my primary Gmail account. Am I a fanatic, or does anyone have me beat?

Archive

Once you’ve set a bunch of filters, most of the e-mail in your Inbox should have one or more labels. You can tidy up your Inbox now by using Gmail’s Archive feature. Archiving essentially just moves conversations from your Inbox to All Mail. You can retrieve those conversations at any point by clicking the relevant label, going through All Mail, or by using the Search box.

If you’re feeling daring, select all the messages in your Inbox and click the Archive button. Voila! You now have a clean Inbox! Doesn’t that look great?

Don’t worry, you can get them all back if you want by switching to All Mail, selecting all conversations, and clicking Move to Inbox.

So, while losing weight and quitting smoking are great goals, cleaning up your Gmail Inbox is a goal you can accomplish right now. I have two Gmail accounts that I use regularly, and I took an hour to set labels and filters in each. You, too, can enjoy that clean Inbox feeling by taking a few minutes to label, filter, and archive your messages.

When you’re finished, at least you can say that you didn’t break ALL your New Year’s resolutions this year. 🙂

TipsFor.us 2008 Review – The Obligatory Summary Post

The year 2008 has come to an end, and thus concludes the first year of existence for TipsFor.us. It’s been an interesting year for us, and I’ve learned a lot so far.

TipsFor.us was re-born from the ashes of a previous domain in March 2008 and is therefore a fledgling site. We’ve made some mistakes in our youth, and I’ll share what I’ve learned here.

A Few Stats and Charts

First, some numbers. We’re definitely a small site, but we managed to muster almost 500,000 pageviews in our infancy.

As you can see, we had a big spike in late March when an article on open-source Windows apps was featured on StumbleUpon and Del.ico.us. Traffic has been relatively flat (but consistent) since.

An overwhelming majority of you visited our site on the Windows operating system (almost 89%). We really need to start writing more Mac and Linux articles.

On Windows specifically, most of our visitors came here on XP. Vista didn’t even muster one-fourth of our Windows visitors. People still use Windows 95?

Within the Mac category, Intel-based Macs absolutely dominated the older PPC models. No big surprise.

Concerning web browsers, Firefox crushed the competition. No surprise again, since this is a tech site.

Opera managed to slightly best the young Google Chrome, but I’m curious to see how the stats will compare next year, especially once Chrome is released for Mac and Linux.

We’re ending the year with roughly 350 daily RSS readers, up from almost zero at the beginning of the year. Hey, upward is good.

By the end of next year, I’m aiming for a modest 1,500 RSS subscribers. Maybe more.

Mistakes and Lessons Learned

The biggest mistake we made this year was lack of consistency. The traffic spike in March and April gave us some steam, but then I left the country to live in a Greek village for a couple months this past summer and the site languished. We didn’t start gaining momentum again until September.

The old adage is that content is king, but consistent content is even better. In the earliest days of the site I settled for writing an article whenever I felt like it or found the time, and posting was sporadic at best. In the last few months I’ve settled into a much more consistent posting schedule. I’ve found WordPress’ scheduling feature quite handy, since I can write a few posts at once and then schedule them for specific days/times.

I would love to maintain a daily posting schedule, but all of us who run this site are busy people. Everett works as a programmer full time, while James and myself are full-time graduate students. Still, I resolve to create and stick to a consistent posting schedule for next year, even if it’s just 2-3 times per week. I want to see TipsFor.us grow, and consistent, quality posting is the best way that I know to grow and keep traffic.

Future Plans

I have several big projects scheduled for next year. My ultimate goal is to make TipsFor.us one of the premiere tech tips sites on the Internet, and while I doubt we will ever achieve national or worldwide recognition, I still aim to write useful and as high-quality articles as I can muster. The ultimate purpose of this site is to share knowledge, and we will continue on our path of writing tips, tutorials, reviews, and perhaps even an occasional rant.

Though our readership is comparatively small, I offer my thanks to those of you who are returning visitors and subscribers. It warms my heart whenever I read a thankful comment or one offering additional advice and knowledge. This site would not be what it is without you.

I also offer thanks to my co-authors, James and Everett. Thanks for your friendship and contributions!

Here’s to the past year, and to a bright 2009!

~ Brian

TipsFor.us editor (and Self-proclaimed Ruler of the Free World)

AT&T, Verizon, and Flickr – Good and Bad News

If you pay for broadband Internet through AT&T or Verizon, I have some good news and some bad news for you. First, the good news:

Good News

You have a Flickr Pro account. Congratulations! Perhaps you already knew about it, but if you did not, then YES, a Flickr Pro account is complimentary with your broadband package. Just sign in with your AT&T or Verizon credentials.

So go start uploading your unlimited number of photos. Enjoy! But wait, it’s time for some bad news.

Bad News

Don’t enjoy your Flickr Pro account too much, because you won’t have it for long. Come the first of February 2009, your Pro status will be revoked unless you chalk up and pay the required $25 per year.

From AT&T (requires login):

Beginning January 31, 2009, AT&T Internet members will no longer receive Flickr Pro free of charge. These Flickr Pro accounts will be converted to free Flickr accounts which are similar although with some limits. The free Flickr account lets you upload up to 100 MB of photos per month and allows you to view or share up to 200 of your most recent uploaded photos. Don’t worry, if you have more than 200 photos or videos, they are still stored and will not be deleted unless you delete them yourself. You can easily renew your Flickr Pro account at any time.

Here’s a screenshot of the text. Sad, isn’t it? I blame the recession.

I was just getting used to my complimentary Flickr Pro account, too. Oh well, back to Google Picasaweb I go.

Sync Your Phone’s Contacts and Calendar with Google for Free with NuevaSync

Many moons ago I wrote a beefy article on Sycing Your Windows Mobile Contacts and Calendar with Plaxo, Thunderbird, and Google for FREE.

Since I wrote that article, NuevaSync, the free synchronization hub, has added a few features. Notably, NuevaSync now supports syncing directly with Google for Contacts, thus eliminating the need for Plaxo.

Today, I’m going to show you how to simply sync your phone’s Contacts and Calendar with your Google account. Since I have a MOTO Q, this tutorial will be from a Windows Mobile perspective, but NuevaSync also works with iPhone and iPod Touch 2.0.

Tools Required

That’s it. There’s nothing to install on your phone or your computer.

As always, please back up your current mobile data before you proceed. This tutorial should work flawlessly for you, or it may drink all the eggnog in your refrigerator. Always keep a backup.

Step One – Configure NuevaSync

To get started, first create an account with NuevaSync. The main NuevaSync configuration area is quite spartan. All you need to do is click the change button next to Contacts and Calendar and select Google for each of them.

The Contacts area now offers Google in addition to Plaxo. Note: NuevaSync will sync with your real Google contacts, not your suggested contacts.

When you click setup, NuevaSync will ask you to enter your Google ID and request authorization for access to your account. You do not need to give NuevaSync your Google password.

Step Two – Configure Your Phone

Now that NuevaSync is configured, let’s move on to setting up your phone. On Windows Mobile:

1. Launch ActiveSync (Go to Start → ActiveSync)

2. Go to Menu → Add Server Source (or Configure Server)

3. Configure your Server Settings. For the Server Address, enter www.nuevasync.com. Check the box to enable SSL encryption.

4. Next, add your user information. Enter your NuevaSync user name (full Gmail address) and your NuevaSync password (NOT your Gmail password, unless they are the same. If they are, shame on you).

Under Domain, enter nuevasync.com. My phone automatically added the www, but it still works fine. Be sure to check the box to remember your password.

5. On the Options page, only check the boxes next to Contacts and Calendar. NuevaSync does not yet support E-mail and Tasks.

Hit Finish, and you’re done. To start the sync process, go back to ActiveSync and hit the Sync button. If you configured everything properly, your phone should connect to Google through NuevaSync and update your Contacts and Calendar accordingly.

Hint: You can adjust the scheduling frequency in ActiveSync by going to Menu → Schedule.

Final Thoughts

I really like NuevaSync. Though it’s still in Beta, it works surprisingly well, and I appreciate that there’s nothing to install. Of course, I’m patiently waiting for them to support IMAP e-mail and Tasks. With the recent inclusion of a Tasks To-Do list by Gmail labs, it seems like a logical inclusion for NuevaSync to support Gmail Tasks. I would love to see this happen.

Happy syncing! I don’t have an iPhone, but maybe one of my iPhone-toting co-authors could provide iPhone-specific instructions. Stay tuned.

Defeat the ‘Oops. An unknown error occurred’ Message When Importing Contacts to Gmail

Lately I’ve been working on consolidating all my Contacts into Gmail. During this process I ran into this maddening error message:

Oops. An unknown error occurred while importing your contacts.

Grrr! It’s enough to make a pacifist like myself want to pummel baby penguins! Just kidding, PETA.

All I want to do is import a CSV full of contact information, and that error message drove me crazy until I figured out a workaround. Here are two possible ways that I’ve found to work around this problem:

1. Try Google Chrome

After my first dozen, error-prone attempts to import the CSV from Firefox, I decided to simply try another browser. What better browser to communicate with Gmail than Google’s own browser – Chrome!

I have no conclusive evidence to prove that this method works, other than it worked for me. Simply switching from Firefox to Chrome to import the CSV into Gmail worked the first time. It may be a bug with Gmail (or Firefox), or it may be the alignment of the stars in the heavens, but it worked for me.

If it works for anyone else, let me know in the comments.

2. Switch to the Older Gmail

If method one does not work, try this: click the Older version link at the top of your Gmail window.

Now go back to Contacts and try to import your CSV file again.

The older version of the importer worked for me without that @*%^ error message. Hopefully it will work for you, too!

10 Great OS X Applications for the Web Developer

One of the things I think of every single working day is how great a platform OS X is for software development. Now, take that with a grain of salt… I do development in a LAMP dev shop running Linux, Apache, MySQL and Perl/PHP, but we’re running some enormous sites (LowFares.com, IdentityTheft.com, and Low.com). All of those technologies are open-source, and (in my opinion) very well suited for serious commercial sites. Java is fine if you need to send a man to the moon, but it you just need to say “Hello World!”, you’re still might be dealing with a rocket launch…

Peanut Gallery Java Pot-Shots

.NET isn’t any better… every .NET shop I’ve dealt with has had horrible down-times and massive release delays… but I digress…

Why is OS X Awesome for Software Development?

  1. Exposé — this feature saves me 30 to 45 minutes per day (yes, I’ve timed it). It’s unbelievable how much time you can save if you can quickly get between documents and apps.
  2. The BSD Subsystem — if you’re working with Linux/PHP/Perl/MySQL, it saves so much time to have OS X’s Terminal right there with a Unix variant under its hood. No need to emulate with Cygwin or go remote with Putty. You can test your Apache config or database queries without ever having to connect to the network.
  3. My Mac Runs Windows! — I can test my web pages in all major browsers by flipping between OS X and Parallels Desktop running Windows, or by using VirtualBox.
  4. It’s Not Windows — ha ha… I had to slip that one in. Sorry if you’re suffering through XP. I mean Vista. I mean the NT kernel.

Top 10 Applications for Software Developers on OS X

Ok, on to the main event. Here are ten great applications for a software developer working in OS X. These are the applications that have found an integral place in my workflow. Not all of them are free, but I have tried to list a free alternative when appropriate. I’m not recommending you get ALL of these, but depending on what exactly you’re doing, you might want to try out a handful of them.

iTerm: A Better Terminal

1. iTerm (Free)

Link – iTerm

This is to the command line what Firefox is to browsers: if the Terminal is IE, iTerm is like Firefox. It is simply a better Terminal. It allows tabs and bookmarks for those of you who log into multiple servers.

TextMate: a powerful interface and editor2. TextMate ($57)

Link –TextMate

I do like Smultron a lot (it’s free), but TextMate’s interface is preferable to me. It’s similar to a full-featured IDE such as Eclipse (which is also free) because it gives you a full folder-structure view in its document drawer (something that Smultron or TextWranger do not).

One thing – unlike Eclipse, TextMate is lightweight and fast without ump-teen Preference pages. If you need an IDE, give NetBeans (free) a try.

Transmit: a Powerful FTP/SFTP client with a great interface3. Transmit ($30)

Link –Transmit

Although there are free FTP clients out there, Transmit has one of the best interfaces because it incorporates Mac OS X’s column view. To be fair, I have had some problems connecting to certain servers when using Transmit, but I don’t know enough of the firewall internals to know why one client performed better than another.

If you prefer a free alternative, my recommendation is Cyberduck (free).

Sequel Pro is the sequel to CocoaMySQL4. Sequel Pro (Free)

Link –Sequel Pro (Free)

There are only a couple of choices when it comes to GUI MySQL interfaces for OS X, the other big one being Navicat (they have a lite version that’s free). The other popular choice for a long time was CocoaMySQL, which is still available for 10.4 users, but development on it has been abandoned and the project has moved over to Sequel Pro (the sequel… get it?) Sequel Pro offers an improved interface for 10.5 users (I prefer it to Navicat).

OmniGraffle: graphing, flowcharts, and designs5. Omnigraffle (Bundled with OS X, or $100, or $200 – Pro)

Link – OmniGraffle

Imagine Microsoft Visio, but clean and not bloated and well… not Microsoft. If you have to diagram databases or put together product requirements for documentation, this is a beautiful little product that may have come bundled with your Mac. The Standard version can almost get you through the medium and large projects. I haven’t seen anything on the Mac that comes close to what this application offers, and even though I get the feeling that the high price tag is getting validated by riding Visio’s bandwagon, I still think this is a good bit of software.

6. PhotoDrop (Free)

Link – PhotoDrop

This is a very simple app that lets you create droplets for bulk image processing. Each droplet can do things like convert images between formats, perform scaling and cropping, even watermarking. If you are doing web development, this is just a simple (and much cheaper) alternative to running Photoshop’s Save for Web feature over and over and over again. Very, very handy.

unArchiver: never type a weird command-line un-tar statement again.7. The Unarchiver (Free)

Link – The Unarchiver

This is handy if you’re frequently dealing with Zip, Tar, GZip, BZip2, Rar, 7-zip, LhA, and StuffIt files. Yes, you can handle many of these on the command line, but if you’d rather deal with a GUI, this tool is handy.

8. Nvu (Free)

Link – Nvu

This is a complete Web Authoring System for Linux, Windows and OS X. It’s like a free version of Dreamweaver (which maybe you’ve already outgrown?).

It has good support for style sheets and a Javascript console, but one irk is that the tabs that show multiple open documents seem to disappear if you are viewing the HTML source for the document (instead of the “Normal” WYSIWYG view). If you’re beyond the integrated WYSIWYG type of thing, have a good look at Eclipse (Free)… it’s a big framework that does a lot of things, but a number of web developers I know use it for its convenient browsing and previewing capabilities. Eclipse also integrates with versioning software (like SVN), but because it’s heavy-hitting, I only recommend it for more mature users. NetBeans looks to be a lighter alternative to Eclipse, but I haven’t tried it myself.

9. Seashore (Free)

Link – Seashore

This is a lightweight photo-editing application. It’s got all the things in Photoshop that I use frequently (layers, brushes, and exporting for web). It’s got some handy keyboard short-cuts, but it’s missing others.

SuperDuper: Elegant and Powerful Backups10. SuperDuper! (Shareware, $28)

Link – SuperDuper!

This is a popular backup utility. If you’re serious about doing development work, you know there is a lot of effort put into maintaining your valuable code and prior versions of it. You can use SuperDuper to create bootable clones of a drive, too. Hot stuff.

You can use SuperDuper! for free (forever), but the advanced features are available for a $28 fee.


Honorable Mention: Fluid (Free)

I mention this little app because I’ve found it extremely handy over the past couple days. If you compile a site into its own app, you can take advantage of the built-in Apple-tab shortcut to get to it. Another really helpful thing about working within the application-switching workflow is that you can assign the application(s) its own icon. That’s REALLY helpful when you’re working with a dev and a production version of a site… honestly, those simple little things can prevent disaster.

But the real reason I was compelled to mention Fluid is its inspector. It breaks a page down into the html tags, images, and style sheets ridiculously well. In my opinion, the layout of this program is sickly good… IMHO it’s better than the revered debugging plugin Firebug for Firefox. Wow. Yes, really. I’ve never had an easier time tracking down problematic HTML or a goofed up CSS declaration. However, the Fluid-compiled web site seems to have some weird behavior with its caching… you know the drill: make your edits, clear the cache, refresh the page. But sometimes the Fluid version doesn’t refresh correctly. I don’t know if this is something I can configure or if its an artifact of compilation, but I really hope it’s the former. The DOM inspector is just too slick to overlook. For more information, check out Brian’s post about Fluid.

Summary

I hope you’ve benefited from my sharing of this short list. I don’t recommend that you rush out to get all of these programs: some of them may be more relevant than others. If you think one looks interesting or practical, give it a try and see if you like it. Feel free to post your own suggestions about helpful OS X applications for software and web development.

Feature image credit: Guillermo Esteves