An Alternative to ATI Catalyst Control Center

Upon installation of Catalyst Control Center on my workstation, I discovered an immense drag.  I checked my running process and found that 1/3 of my system resources were being used by CCC.exe.  This is a problem, since presumably I need those resources to run high quality graphics, not to run my graphics driver.

A program not made by ATI called “ATI Tray Tools” seemed to be a worthwhile alternative.  (Tray Tools is specifically designed for the Radeon Family, your mileage may vary with other cards).  My first inclination was to uninstall CCC, but that would affect the performance of the card.  Tray Tools allows you to make the exact same (or close to it) changes to your cards performance, but on my workstation the tray tools process is barely using 8megs of memory, a far cry from the several hundred of CCC and 00 CPU power, as opposed to the average 37% of CCC.

I have used this card on 3 other PC setups without major slowdown, it could be due to my recent upgrade to Server 2008, or the new mother board, but either way, other people’s setups may be suffering the same way.  If you notice that CCC.exe is hogging your resources, give Tray Tools a try.  No harm I can foresee, you can always reinstall CCC.

When uninstalling CCC, I recommend you do a custom uninstall and only remove the control center, keep the display driver, unless you want to download it seperately from AMD (This is an option, especially if you think your driver may be out of date).  Tray Tools does not provide a driver for your card, it only allows you access to the card’s control settings.

If you’ve had problems with CCC, let us know.  Likewise, if you have had good or bad experience with Tray Tools, let us know.  I have NVidia on most of my machines, because I enjoy Linux Support and ATI is very late to that party, so I have only tested this software on my main box; with great results.  However, these results may vary, since CCC seems to only act up on certain configurations and I can only assume Tray Tools to be the same way.  Hopefully one or the other will provide what you need.

Skin Your Mac OS X Leopard with Magnifique

Tired of the way Mac OS X Leopard looks? No, me neither. Still, if you want a change of scenery, it’s easy to try some new Leopard themes with the Magnifique theme manager.

Magnifique – Main site

To get started, install the Magnifique app (drag and drop). Here’s the main program window:

Magnifique - Main
Magnifique - Main

Themes available for download are shown in the bottom-left corner. There are only about 16 themes available as of this typing, but I expect that number to grow soon. You can get a preview (and download) of the theme just by selecting it.

Once you apply a new theme, you can see its new effects by hitting the Restart Finder and Restart Dock buttons at the top of the app. It’s the same as issuing the killall Finder and killall Dock commands in the Terminal.

One quick note: when applying a new theme, notice that you have a few choices available. Certain themes will allow more choices than others.

Be wary when applying a new theme and choosing the Apply custom mods option (if available). Whether malicious or not, it leaves the most room for the developer to harm your system. Read any and all documentation about that theme before you enable this option!

Some Sample Skins

Here are a few themes that I have tried:

Veritas

A beautiful, streamlined theme that includes skins for Quicktime, VLC, and Adium.

Nothing drastic, but this is my favorite theme that I have tried so far. What can I say? I appreciate elegance.

Veritas comes with a dock mod, custom mods, and a selection of wallpapers.

Black Mac OS X

As the name implies, this is a dark theme for Leopard. I tend to like dark themes in general, but this one is not as satisfying as I thought it would be.

The blue and black clash pretty hard. If you have some custom icon packs, that would definitely help.

I’d love to see a dark skin that fully enshrouds the Finder, erasing all blue elements.

Milk (Leopard Port)

This is a lighter-colored theme modeled after a popular Linux skin.

Like most of the available themes, the changes are subtle, but noticeable. Actually, if I were to offer any complaint about Magnifique, it’s that most of the available themes don’t offer much striking contrast. Hopefully that will change with the addition of more themes.

To remove a theme and get back to normal, just hit the Uninstall theme button. Your original Leopard theme will be quickly restored.

Do you have a favorite Magnifique skin for Leopard? Do you use a different skinning program? Let us know in the comments.

Moving WordPress to MediaTemple Hosting

I just finished transferring hosting for TipsFor.us from 1and1 to MediaTemple. I had no major qualms with 1and1 other than feeling like we had outgrown them (see the downsides of shared hosting). MediaTemple will give us a lot more room to grow without worrying about the occasional spike of traffic from Digg, StumbleUpon, or whatever.

During the move, I had a heck of a time getting WordPress to work. No matter what I tried, I couldn’t avoid the dreaded WordPress white screen of death. In other words, WordPress only displayed a blank screen, nothing else. Frustration beyond frustrations!

I didn’t get it. I moved all my files from the old server. I exported and imported the database without error. What the heck could be wrong? Manually disabling the plugins by renaming them didn’t help. Messing with the .htaccess file didn’t help. Shouting at it certainly didn’t help (though it DID make me feel a little better). What else could I do?

Tips for a Successful Migration to MediaTemple

If you’re having a hard time migrating WordPress to MediaTemple, try these tips:

1. Remove/Rename your .htaccess file.

In your main hosting directory (html for MediaTemple), you likely have a file called .htaccess. If that file came from your old web host, there may be some wacky stuff in there that is conflicting with the new host. Just try renaming the file to something else. WordPress will create a new .htaccess file when it needs one.

2. Create a new user for your database.

What I found slightly confusing when setting up my WordPress database at MediaTemple is how they do not automatically assign a new user to the database (like 1and1 does). Instead of trying to rely on the default database user (dbXXXXX), just create a new user under the Global Settings.

Once you’ve added a New User, be sure to hit the Permissions button and set the permissions for that user to Read/Write on the specified database.

Now just add the appropriate entries to the wp-config.php file.

3. Disable the WordPress Super Cache plugin completely.

TipsFor.us did not come to life on MediaTemple until I completed this step. The Super Cache plugin, while ultimately helpful, was the culprit in causing the site to only produce the blank screen of death. If you had the caching plugin enabled on your old host, you may need to complete this step.

To completely disable it, first take a look at your wp-config.php file. Look for the line near the top that reads:

define('WP_CACHE', true);

Comment it out by putting a hash mark (#) in front of it. My site came alive after I did this. You can worry about re-enabling the Super Cache plugin later.

Moving to MediaTemple was ultimately a straightforward process. In my case, I ran into a bout of trouble for a couple hours while I figured out what the culprit was. If I could do it all over again, I would definitely disable ALL plugins BEFORE sending it over to the new host. Lesson learned.

Overall, I like MediaTemple a lot so far. I’m still doing some experimenting, but I think I’ll stay here for a while. The site certainly feels more snappy than it did with 1and1. Let’s hope it stays that way.

Traveling Internationally with your iPhone

I’m planning on doing some international travel soon, and I’ve been wondering whether or not I should take my iPhone with me. I had a lot of questions about how international travel works with my trusty phone, and ultimately, in my case, I concluded it was just too expensive to travel with my iPhone. Read on to learn what I found out.

Traveling the World with your iPhone
Traveling the World with your iPhone

Does calling US numbers while abroad incur international roaming fees?

YES. And it ain’t cheap. You’re looking at fees around $2 per minute in most countries. You can check AT&T’s site and use their widget to see how much a particular country will cost. Just in case you’re bad at math, let me give you this reality check:HOLY !@#$%^ THAT’S EXPENSIVE!!! $2/minute is $120/hour! Unless you’re a lawyer or surgeon, you’ll go out of business calling your clients while overseas!

How much does it cost to use your iPhone internationally?
How much does it cost to use your iPhone internationally?

Does calling local numbers in that foreign country incur international roaming fees?

YES. ANY calls you make in a foreign country are subject to international roaming charges. Gulp!

The rates change periodically, but here’s an idea of what you might be spending:

Country Cost per Min. Cost per Min.
using AT&T World Traveler
($5.99 / month)
Thailand $1.99 $1.29
Japan $2.29 $1.69
Germany $1.29 $0.99

* Source of data: http://www.wireless.att.com/learn/international/roaming/international-roaming.jsp prices change.

How much does it cost to access Data with my iPhone?

About $20 per MB. If you recall from earlier articles, the iPhone has a lot of extra features that will drain your battery, but while traveling they could drain your wallet too! If you are paying international rates for data usage, YOU WILL PAY THROUGH THE NOSE!!!.

International Data Plans

20MB $24.99
50MB $59.99
100MB $119.99
200MB $199.99

You may wonder “how much data do I use?” You can see for yourself: on your iPhone, go to Settings → General → Usage. You’ll want to reset the statistics and monitor your usage for a week or so, but you may be surprised by how much data you use. I was using about 40MB in a couple weeks… if I had been traveling internationally, this would have cost me $20 per MB, or $800. Holy flaming monkey balls!

Data Usage on iPhone: You may be using more than you think
Data Usage on iPhone: You may be using more than you think

How will my Calls be Handled while I’m Traveling?

Normally. If you take your phone with you, it’ll ring like normal (but you’ll pay for answering it). If you turn it off and leave it at home, calls will go directly to voicemail.

My strong suggestion is to turn the phone off and leave it at home — it’s safer there anyway.

How can I check my iPhone’s Voicemail while Traveling?

To check your voicemail, simply call your phone, then interrupt the greeting by pressing * — the default password is your 7 digit mobile number (i.e. your number without area code), and you should set up a unique passcode for it as soon as possible. Call AT&T to have the password reset: 1-800-331-0500.

Alternatively, you can forward incoming phone calls to another phone number, e.g. to a friend or relative or to an answering service (you can’t forward calls to toll-free numbers, suspended numbers, or to international numbers). You set up forwarding by calling AT&T at 1-800-331-0500; they set up forwarding for you IMMEDIATELY; there’s no way to schedule forwarding to begin next week, for example, and the only way to stop forwarding is to call AT&T again. There is no fee for this service.

How are my Texts handled if my Phone is Off?

Normally (probably). Normally, the texts just queue up, and when you turn your phone back on, they all come streaming in, BUT THIS IS NOT GUARANTEED, and it’s even “less guaranteed” if your phone is inactive for long periods of time. In fact, texts in general are not guaranteed. Just like email, texting is an unverifiable protocol. Don’t bank on it. There is no external way to access your text messages; you must access them using your phone, so I hope you’re not expecting any important texts.

Can I get a new SIM card once I’m in a foreign country?

NO, not with an iPhone. On most phones, you can request from AT&T the “subsidy unlock code”; it releases the phone and enables it to be used in another network by another carrier with a new SIM (it unlocks the phone). For most phones, you can request this code in the United States BEFORE YOU TRAVEL. But you can’t get this code for iPhones! That’s the whole weird restriction that iPhones must be on the AT&T network, remember? The only reason you’d want to unlock a phone is if you needed to take THAT particular phone with you. For most of us travelers, we just need ANY phone, so doing this is rare.

If you decide to unlock your phone for international use, you are essentially flying off of AT&T’s radar because you start dealing with another carrier. And, to complicate matters, iPhones don’t like to be unlocked… you have to crack the phone, which is just one more complication that you’d have to deal with while traveling. Keep in mind that unlocked iPhones have quirky and unreliable behavior (e.g. they don’t always ring, the contacts disappear, etc.).

Can I take my SIM card with me and use a different phone?

YES, but this is a bad idea.. You get the worst of both worlds: you leave your nice iPhone at home, but you still pay those high roaming prices. The only valid reason I can think of for doing this is if you MUST have your phone number working at all times for a VERY important call (or maybe your company is paying your phone bill).

If you’ve got another travel-ready phone, or you can buy a cheap phone from AT&T for $39.99 (e.g. Nokia 2600) that will work in most countries (but again, if you are doing this all through the “proper channels”, you’ll still be paying the hefty international roaming charges). Check to see if your phone will work in the countries you’ll be traveling to. AT&T has a handy widget to help you. head over AT&T’s site, and under the “Getting Started” section, click on the “wireless device link” and build an itinerary of countries you’ll be visiting, then choose a phone, and you’ll get a list of whether or not it’ll work in those countries. Or call 1-800-331-0500 and ask for assistance.

Will my Phone work in that Country?  Check AT&T's handy widget.
Will my Phone work in that Country? Check AT&T's handy widget.

Recommendations

Leave your phone at home! Unless you’re in some really special circumstances, it’s not worth the money or risk to travel with your iPhone.

Buy a calling card once you are abroad. It’s cheap to use them to call the US… perhaps 5 or 10 cents per minute for some countries. They’re cheap!

If you NEED a phone, buy a cheap phone once you’re in the destination country. Realize that it may only work in that one country, and as soon as you cross a border, it may break or incur roaming charges. Alternatively, check AT&T’s site and find a phone that will work in the countries where you are traveling (or call 1-800-331-0500 to ask for assistance), then buy a cheap used phone before you leave the US (e.g. Craigslist) that will work in those countries and get a SIM and a calling plan once you get there. You can then use a calling card to call back to the United States.

Make sure you can check your voicemail on your iPhone using another phone! Don’t wait until you’re thousands of miles away to discover there’s a problem with accessing your voicemail remotely.

Talk with AT&T to turn off additional features of your account. Why pay for unlimited texting if you won’t be using your phone? Turn off additional “plan-perks” before you go and save some money if you can. This may only be possible if you’re traveling for a long time and/or your trip coincides nicely with your billing cycles.

Tips for Stubborn People who Must Travel with their iPhone

Get the AT&T World Traveler option. With the astronomical rates for international roaming, it’ll pay for itself with a single call.

Get an international data usage plan! Otherwise, you’ll pay about $20 per megabyte, and remember: your iPhone likes to check weather reports in Cuba and gather Tokyo stock quotes behind your back, so this gets expensive quickly.

Turn off all unnecessary services: Data Roaming “OFF”, 3G Off, Fetch New Data: Off.

Watch your Phone! Cell phones make great targets for thieves, and they are difficult to insure! Be sure to read our article about what to do if your iPhone is lost or stolen.

Safe travels!

Get Gmail Tasks on your Desktop with Google Chrome

Gmail Labs Beaker I love Gmail Tasks. It’s my to-do list of choice for its simplicity, portability, and (of course) integration with Gmail. If you’re a fan of Google Chrome, you can also easily add Tasks as an application directly on your desktop.

Enable Gmail Tasks

First things first, if you have not already enabled Tasks in Gmail, it’s time to do so. Within Gmail, go to Settings –> Labs. Scroll down until you find Tasks, and switch it to Enable.

Gmail Tasks - Enable

You will now find a Tasks link near your Contacts. This is all fine and dandy, but now let’s see how you can quickly make it a stand-alone application.

Integration with Google Chrome

Google Chrome has the slick ability to turn any page or site into its own application, similar to Fluid on Mac OS X. With Chrome, we can turn Tasks into a standalone app with just a few clicks. I find it handy to have my to-do list separate so I don’t get distracted with e-mail or Google Chat while I’m working.

Here’s how to do it: Launch Chrome and go to https://mail.google.com/tasks/ig. If it asks for a username and password, check the box to remember it. You should now see a full-browser version of your Tasks, but we’re not finished yet!

Go to the Page Dropdown Menu and click Create application shortcuts.

Chrome - Create Application Shortcuts

A Google Gears window will spawn. Tell it where you would like the shortcuts placed, and hit OK.

Google Gears - Tasks

That’s it! Whenever you open your Tasks shortcut, it will take you directly to your to-do list, no distractions needed. I do suggest resizing the window to something more manageable.

Chrom - Brian Tasks

More about Gmail Tasks.

Get Google Chrome.

FeedRinse: Search and Consolidate your RSS Feeds

OPML are outlines of RSS feeds...
OPML are outlines of RSS feeds...

Have you run into the problem of having too many RSS feeds that only SOMETIMES contain an article that you’re interested in? They publish lots of updates to your favorite sites, but you are only interested in a fraction of those stories. Don’t you wish you could scrub those results? Well, the folks over at FeedRinse.com allow you to do just that, and it’s FREE.

The Simple Steps

  1. Head over to FeedRinse.com and register for a free account.
  2. Grab a list of all your favorite RSS/XML feeds and paste them into the box while setting up your account.
  3. You can filter each feed based on search terms (e.g. allow the post only if “monkey” appears in the title), OR you can create a channel and add your filters to that channel. It’s simply a matter of scope… if you want to apply global rules to each feed, you can do that, or if you want to apply specific rules across multiple feeds, add those rules to the channel.
  4. Once you’ve set up your feeds and your channels, you can “get your rinsed feeds.”

Problems

FeedRinse makes it pretty easy to get the stuff you want. But it can be a pain because its functionality revolves around an OPML file. What’s that? Exactly. Yes, most feed reading programs support it, but if you wanted to simply subscribe to a feed, then this little file won’t help you directly. You can “Copy your reading list link” — but I had a problem with the site. I had to logout then log back in before that link worked. And even after logging out, I still couldn’t get the feed to show up natively in Safari (which has its own built-in RSS feed-reader).

Alternatives

A simple alternative is to use Google News…. that’s one way to generate an RSS feed based on search terms. You don’t get the benefit of being able to specify specific RSS feed URLs, but it’s much simpler, and you aren’t limited by the OPML file limitations.

Here are the quick and dirty steps:

  1. Go to Google.com and type in a search term, e.g. “Denver”
  2. On the results page, about 3 links down will be a section for “News results for Denver”. Click it. (alternatively, you can enter a search term in Google, then hit the “News” tab).
  3. View the source of the News page containing the top stories for your search term. Search for “RSS”, and look for the link that looks like this:

    http://news.google.com/news?hl=en&q=Denver&um=1&ie=UTF-8&ei=6weVSfTcHJqqtQOqm4TCBw&resnum=5&nolr=1&output=rss

    You link to that page as the source of your RSS feed. Poof! Instant filtered news!

  4. You can go to the the “Advanced Search” option for the news stories and restrict your results to different sources (e.g. CNN).

Summary

That’s it: two simple ways of grabbing filtered RSS results for your fast and valuable review.

A Quick Way to Pin Folders to the Start Menu (XP / Vista)

Here’s a quick tip about Windows that you may not know. While both XP and Vista allow you to easily add executables to the Start Menu via a right-click –> Pin to Start Menu, adding a folder is not so easy.

Actually, I lied. It’s much easier!

There’s no need to deal with complicated registry hacks or anything like that to add a folder to the Start menu. You just have to think a little more like a Mac user!

This method works with both XP and Vista/Server 2008.

Drag and Drop

Step 1 – Left-click and hold the desired folder. Do not release the mouse button. On Vista/Server 2008 you will see a translucent folder icon with an arrow.

Explorer - Left-click and hold

Step 2 – While holding the desired folder, smack the Windows key on your keyboard. Naturally, the Start Menu will open. Hint: you can also just hover over the Start Menu orb (or button) for a couple seconds while holding the desired folder. If you simply drop the folder onto the Start Menu orb, it will automatically become the last pinned link in the Start Menu.

Step 3 – With the Start Menu open, drag your desired folder into it. You will see a black horizontal line to help indicate the placement of the desired folder.

Start Menu - Drag in Folder

That’s it. You now have a link to the desired folder directly from the Start Menu. I found that sticking the Downloads and Videos folders into the menu made life a little easier. If you want to remove the link, just right-click –> Remove from this list.

Video Demonstration

Here’s a very short video demonstrating the entire process. Enjoy.