just one more geek in a sea of austin techies

December 12, 2012

Lorem Ipsum ...and Bacon #WebDesignGeek

"Lorem Ipsum" is nonesense placeholder text created by printers either in the 1500's or in the 1960's depending on which site you trust most for your historical facts. Its use has thrived as part of modern-day print and web design. Placeholder content is useful for mocking up web pages and free online Lorem Ipsum generators abound, including a few rather unique options...

November 28, 2012

Ups/Downs to $19 unlimited smartphone plan #PhoneGeek

Republic Wireless is one of the first companies in a long while to look like it may have some success in seriously shaking up the US cellular market status quo. The last company to do that was Apple but that, unfortunately, was at the cost of increasing the average prices consumers pay for cellular services. Republic Wireless, on the other hand, is trying to change the cell phone plan game by saving consumers money. A LOT of money. The company is offering just a single service plan: $19 a month unlimited everything with no contract (wow!)

No, the offer isn't too-good-to-be-true but it is true-that-it-isn't-all-good...

November 8, 2012

Testing 508 Compliance #WebDevGeek

For years an item that has been overlooked by many US web developers is "508 Compliance". US Federal law requires certain classes of websites to meet Section 508 standards. Failing to do so can place a site at risk of litigation.

Fortunately you don't have to become a Section 508 guru in order to know whether your site is compliant. A number of tools -- and one free online service in particular -- will quickly tell you what you need to know...

November 3, 2012

Apple Hurting Microsoft Security #SecurityGeek

The latest "vulnerability report" from Kaspersky Lab included a surprise: Apple products show up twice in the "top 10 vulnerabilities list" while Microsoft products are no where to be found. What is even more interesting is that Apple's security issues are hurting Microsoft in the "vulnerabilities" department by introducing security holes in Microsoft systems...

October 31, 2012

Happy Halloween #ZombieGeek

A few weeks ago local-IT-company-done-good Spiceworks premiered a second video combining IT and Zombies. It's "part 2" so you'll want to watch it back-to-back with "part 1". These videos were filmed and edited by Spiceworks' own staff here in Austin, Texas. I'm lucky enough to have visited the company's headquarters a few times and have met a number of people featured in the videos. The company works hard to foster a fun, friendly environment and does a great job carrying that approach all the way through to their customers. These IT Zombie Apocalypse videos are a good example of that company culture.

(Note: The company mascot is a T-Rex. Just so you know.)



October 30, 2012

Gawker DR Scrutiny #DisasterRecoveryGeek

Gawker, Lifehacker and 
others surprise with no 
Business Continuity plan. 
At the time of this writing the latest "storm of the century" (hybrid storm/hurricane Sandy) is still working its wrath across a major portion of the US. The expected devastation has occurred across a number of states including loss of life, property, coastline, etc. Power outages and flooding were a given but what is unexpected is the loss of some well-known websites that, apparently, were hosted only in Manhattan. As in the island of Manhattan. Who would choose to have their popular, highly-trafficked websites hosted on servers located on a tiny island using an infrastructure already pushed to the limits by a densely-packed population? Here are a few such websites...

October 24, 2012

Web Stats and Your Target Audience #AnalyticsGeek

General web stats don't tell 
the whole story and can 
sometimes severely mislead.
Web browsing stats are a regular news item: mobile device browsing gaining heavily on desktop browsing, IE use still outnumbers Firefox use, etc. We hear the general trends but rarely the fine details. IE users continuing to outnumber Firefox users? Not within tech circles. Chrome now more popular than either IE or Firefox? Not even close for web-based content related to health (as we'll see).

Because generalizations don't tell the whole story I regularly review statistics for sites I create and maintain, both business and personal. In that vein I thought I'd share some "targeted audience" stats and highlight a few trends...

October 22, 2012

XKCD graphs via Python #CodeGeek

XCKD web comic influence has now
crossed over to Python programming code. 
Say "XKCD-style" and a great number of people will know exactly what you mean. For everyone else XKCD is a web-based comic that has steadily gained rep among geeks, especially coders and math nerds. The visual style is decidedly sparse and obviously hand drawn -- the focus is on the ideas, not the artwork. In this sense XKCD is very similar to mock-up tools that purposely generate "rough sketches" rather than polished facades.

In the past month a movement has popped up among coders to create "XKCD style" graphing routines. In just a matter of weeks several solutions have surfaced but the first I happened to run across was written in Python...

October 16, 2012

Nokia FAIL Wireless Charging #PhoneGeek

Nokia 920 wireless charging. 
Every year a company raises hopes that wireless charging of mobile devices will finally move to mainstream. And every year such hopes are dashed when product details are revealed. Typically the issues are price and availability: either your device isn't supported or the equipment costs far too much.

Enter 2012/2013 and the Nokia 920/820 smartphones with optional wireless charging. Huzzah! Nokia is fighting for life and really needs to outshine its competitors with unique devices brimming with advanced features. Wireless charging is a perfect fit! Too bad, then, that Nokia also seems intent on maximizing phone accessory profits...

October 13, 2012

New Dog #TwitterGeek

I couldn't resist turning this tweet into a photo. The tweet is courtesy of @johnmoe, former host of Marketplace Tech Report and current host/writer/performer/humorist of MPR's WITS. This one manages to rate a post on ATXGeek thanks to its tech-related source (that's my excuse, at least)...

October 2, 2012

Nest: Updated But Still Not Complete #GadgetGeek

The Original Nest Thermostat
Nest is the company that brought "Apple-influenced design" to thermostats by creating a beautiful, super-advanced yet super-simple device. The Nest shipped less than a year ago and the company has already unveiled it's successor: a sleeker, more advanced update of the original.

The Nest is to thermostats what the original iPhone was to smartphones: a huge leap forward and a shining example of the type of modern features and design we should expect from our major home appliances. As good as it is, though, the Nest is still not "complete"...

October 1, 2012

iOS: Four Walls and No Gate #MobileGeek

iOS vs. Android? 
Consider the roads...
Van Baker, an analyst from Gartner (the world's largest technology research and advisory company) who analyzes Apple products, was recently quoted on the iOS-versus-Android smartphone debate as saying Android is heralded mostly by "technologists" while iOS is more often supported by "fans". The implication is that Android proponents have concrete, technical reasons backing their choice while iOS proponents are more simply driven by fandom.

I agree with the "technologists" part of the assessment but, taking a few steps back, I also doubt there would be any serious complaints if iOS had remained the only game in town. Why? Let's compare mobile technology to US roadways...

September 19, 2012

Improve photos by avoiding the knee chop #PhotoGeek

An otherwise nice photo whose
subjects are chopped off at the knee. 
Here's one to file under "pet peeves": photos of people cut off at their knees (or waist, or ankles). There is a strong tendency for people to frame their subjects near the center of a photograph. For portraits it's often people's heads that get centered instead of the entire body. While this works for some shots it usually results in way too much overhead space and not enough under-head space. This tendency is so common that, when handing the camera over to someone about to snap a quick portrait of my family, I often say "make sure you get our feet, too". The person snapping the photo may find the request a little odd but I end up with better-framed photos.

Once you've gotten your friends and relatives to master the art of not chopping people off at a joint, try sharing the "rule of thirds" to make shots much more interesting. From there move on to a few more simple techniques for improving photos.

September 14, 2012

GoDaddy FAIL = SAVINGS #WebHostingGeek

GoDaddy FAIL
GoDaddy didn't quite meet its 99.999% uptime goal this week when technical difficulties affected a huge number of websites and millions of users. Every cloud has a silver lining and this cloud's lining comes in the form of GoDaddy apologies -- apologies backed by hard cash (er, credits).

You don't, however, automatically benefit from GoDaddy's mea culpa credits.  You have to log in and do a bit of manual click labor to reap the downtime rewards...

September 13, 2012

Password Cracking Estimation Tool #SecurityGeek

By now most of us have seen the "password strength" estimators when creating a new account on websites. That's handy but it's not nearly as eye-opening as the "time needed to crack your password" tool over at

Just enter your password -- or, preferably, a password that's similar-to-but-different-than any password you actually use -- and the tool estimates how long it would take a standard PC to crack your password. Although there are a number of advanced password-cracking techniques in common use (such as rainbow tables) the estimate appears to be based purely on the simple brute force method. This means the estimate is actually a best-case scenario -- a real world password cracking attempt is likely to take even less time.

And, yes, that "3 hours" estimate shown in the screenshot *is* the result of me testing a password similar to the passwords I get using my favorite password generation method. Time to rethink my password strategy...

August 29, 2012

"Choose Your Own Adventure" Dissected #BookGeek

"Choose Your Own Adventure" (CYOA) books have been around since the 1970's and provided the fundamental pattern for the earliest computer RPGs. A few years ago a very smart person by the name of Christian Swinehart set about studying the composition and workflow of CYOA books.  The resulting 13-month-and-11,000-lines-of-code effort yielded a detailed and informative analysis with a few surprising results.  Perhaps the most appealing aspect was the article's supporting charts which were, quite simply, "gorgeous"...

August 22, 2012

Zombies in 8-Bits-Or-Less #ClassicGeek

This t-shirt marries geeks' love affair with zombies with the ever-present lure of tech nostalgia. From the description:
Harken back to ye olde days of 8-bit graphic gaming with this fearsome display of an attacking horde of Zombies. See how the little sticks that sort of look like arms reach out from the general body area under the blob that most likely represents a head. Scary!  

(Is he really trying to fight zombies with pew-pew guns?!?)

August 21, 2012

Smartphones without a Data Plan #PhoneGeek

If you own a smartphone you know the drill:  mandatory data plan. Even if you're willing to go wifi-only with data and restrict cellular to voice service your carrier won't allow you to not have a data plan. Well I'm here to say that there is a way to avoid the mandatory data plan (for now) but going that route does have a few pitfalls...

August 16, 2012

Mockup Tools FTW #DesignGeek

The more I strive to meet customer expectations for excellent web-based applications the more I come to appreciate the value of mock-ups and prototypes.  While we were still dating my now-wife worked as a User Experience engineer for Dell and routinely batted me (a Dell software engineer) over the head with the subject of usability years before "Web 2.0"  and user-experience were en vogue.  She gifted me with Jakob Nielsen books and offered (unasked-for) assistance in critiquing my own applications.  Back then low-fidelity prototypes and early user feedback were still a novel idea.  Now, however, I find them to be nearly-indispensable steps in satisfying customer expectations...

August 13, 2012

I challenge you to a Bottle of Wits! #MovieGeek

Bottle Of WitsYeah, you read that right:  a Bottle of Wits!  As if I didn't already love the Alamo Drafthouse more than is reasonably healthy, Tim League went and made a special deal to be able to offer these Bottles of Wits.

Wits comes in As you Wish White and Inconceivable Cab.  If you somehow aren't already a huge Princess Bride fan, this is a reference to the Battle of Wits that occurs after the protagonist inconceivably overcomes a few major obstacles. The Battle involved the drinking of wine thus making these Bottles of Wits an awesomely-appropriate tie-in.

The Alamo Drafthouse is selling this specialty line in celebration of the movie's 25th anniversary.  Bottled Wits start at $28 and range up to $100 for a two-bottle "fan pack" with a t-shirt and wine glass charms.  Is $28 wine not your thing?  You can also get just a t-shirt or just the you wish.

Rapid Austin growth to continue...for 30 years! #DemographyGeek

IHS Global Insight recently named Austin the US city with the biggest potential for population growth over the next 30 years. The average expected population growth for US metropolitan areas is around 30%. By contrast, Austin's expected growth is a staggering 91%! If you're a patient sort of person it may be time to invest in some real estate...

August 7, 2012

Tech panel in two weeks #SpeakingGeek

My next technology speaking panel engagement happens in two weeks.  I love these things and wish I had the opportunity to participate in more of them.  This one will be a private event sponsored by a local tech company and attendance is restricted to its own employees so.... let's describe the expected turnout as "intimate".  While it's always gratifying and humbling to think that any group of people might actually care to hear what I have to say on some subject, the real thrill for me is simply in meeting and talking with attendees.  I always learn something, make interesting new contacts and come away with a renewed sense of purpose to go immerse myself in some new technology or another.

If you need to fill an empty speaking-panel slot at your next tech event please keep me in mind!  I also have very reasonable "talking tech" rates for birthday parties, weddings, QuinceaƱeras...

July 31, 2012

Revisited: JSON bigger than XML???

A little over a year ago I stumbled across a Google code sample comparing JSON and XML that caught my eye for a reason completely unrelated to Google's intended subject:  the sample JSON-encoded data was larger than its XML equivalent!  This represented an unlikely exception to the generally-accepted view that JSON is the leaner data format.  Still, I was recently wondering if others have made any serious efforts to point out the fact that XML can be leaner than JSON...

July 21, 2012

OpenSpan Certified (and there was much rejoicing)

I'm now certified in a nifty software automation product called OpenSpan.  The initial in-person teaser demo I saw back in 2011 was quite interesting.  Later, hands-on use of the product itself quickly highlighted a number of limitations. That said, I do believe it to be a worthy automation solution for the right type of problems...

July 4, 2012

Forget the Numbers...Tablets Aren't PCs (yet) #AnalystGeek

New projections by NPD DisplaySearch (a display chain consulting firm) indicate that more tablet PCs will be sold by 2016 than notebook PCs.  This announcement was immediately picked up by eWeek, PC Magazine, VentureBeat and others.  Increasing sales of tablets is good news for mobile computing fans.  The underlying premise of the "tablet vs. notebook" sales comparison is faulty, however:  tablets as we know them are not on par with notebooks (so please stop suggesting that they should be compared apples-to-apples...)

July 1, 2012

Excellent food, decent prices and no wait #EatAustin

With small kids in the mix my wife and I don't get to try new restaurants as often as we used to.  This weekend was different: we managed to sample some new spots (kids included) and still stay finances-friendly.  In all I added three new food vendors to my growing list of preferred Austin eateries.  In this post I'll share our experience with a new "kids eat free breakfast" find and, true to the atxgeek blog theme, manage to clumsily tie-in and rant about something technical in the process...

June 21, 2012

B4A adds Object Oriented support

Last year I began dabbling in Android programming.  Just for fun and only as time permitted so....not a lot.  I did manage to find time enough to run across Basic4Android (B4A), a visual IDE and language similar to VB.Net.  Though not overly advanced, B4A was inexpensive to get into and much easier to set up and churn out a first app than Android Java + Eclipse.

This week B4A took a big step forward by adding support for classes and, therefore, objects -- the fundamental requirement for object oriented programming (OOP).  Suddenly B4A is looking a lot more attractive for serious app development...

April 7, 2012

Westinghouse tracks Over-The-Air TV use #TVGeek

I finally got around to unpacking a recent bargain buy: a 37-inch 1080p Westinghouse LCD TV at an ultra-low price. Westinghouse TVs are definitely on the inexpensive (read: cheap) end of the spectrum but have tended to source fairly good screens for the money. These are ok sets if you can stomach the warranty (often with no returns to the store, only direct to Westinghouse), the hit-or-miss compatibility with universal remotes and the weak audio typical of most flat-panel TVs. However, I was somewhat shocked during setup to learn that I had to get a special code from Westinghouse in order to "activate" the built-in tuner to watch free over-the-air (antenna) channels...

March 11, 2012

Me, an Apple III and programming the 6502 #CodeGeek

Way, way back -- back when I was a grade school kid with plenty of free time, my father brought home an Apple III computer.  Although I'd previously tinkered with a loaned Sinclair ZX80, the Apple was the first computer that was ours (er, mine!)  My father's company had moved to using Apple III and Lisa systems and, always the forward-thinker, he was determined to have the same capabilities at home.  Though unintended, that decision determined my own life's direction...

January 26, 2012

Did Symantec really just send me that?!? #SecurityGeek

Yesterday the usual unwelcome snail-mail spam included an envelope with a letter and ad slick from Symantec.  I barely even glanced at the slick but was immediately struck by the opening of the letter.  Its contents triggered three "red flags" in my mind even before the start of the first sentence.  Did Symantec, a leading security company, really just lead its marketing pitch with warning signs I often coach users to steer clear of?...

January 16, 2012

New year, new panel (#SpeakingEngagements)

Month one of 2012 and I'm engaged for another small panel event.  This round involves speaking to the marketing group of a leading global tech company although I'm more on the supplemental end of this one rather than being front and center.  This will also be a bit more "under the covers" as I've been asked to sign an NDA and am not allowed to mention the name of the (Fortune 50) company...