The July 2004 Blog
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Afraid Of Instant Messaging? (Thursday, Jul 29)
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Some people like instant messaging in the enterprise, some people don't. It seems like the people who are reluctant to implement or use instant messaging at work fall into these categories:

The first four items just end up being management issues: if you can convince management to buy in to the concept, then they can deal with getting the users to use it. That fifth item is the tough one to me. Does anyone know of a good reference for understanding the issues surrounding that lawyer problem?

Understanding Restricted LotusScript Agents (Monday, Jul 26)
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Just so you can keep it straight, here's the deal with "restricted" operations in LotusScript:

All better? Okay, now who's on first...?

Notes Calendar As A Compact Web Page (Saturday, Jul 24)
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Okay, so this past Wednesday I mentioned how cool it would be to display my Notes calendar as a little Active Desktop window. It's Saturday, and no one has bothered to write any code to do this for me yet, so I guess I'm going to have to do it myself.

After a couple of late nights hacking through this, here's what I came up with (I stuck this page in an Object tag so you can view it inline, but if you don't see it below just use this link):

That's my Notes calendar (on my R5 test server at home) served up by an agent as a compact little web page. The links aren't live, but you can see some of the features I included:

As I said earlier this week, I primarily want this so I can show my Notes calendar on my Windows desktop in a small, unobtrusive manner (my desktop is solid black, hence the somber color scheme). I wrote this as a self-contained agent, so all I have to do is add the agent to my mail database and then add an Active Desktop component that points to the URL of the agent (something like http://myserver/mail/maildb.nsf/MiniWebCal?OpenAgent), and there it is. Synchronized with my Notes calendar, and I don't even have to have my Notes client open for it to work, just an Internet connection to the mail server.

Since you call the agent as a URL, it's also trivial to use this to add a small version of the Notes calendar to a web page (maybe a Portal page?) using an Object tag or an iFrame, just as I did above in this blog entry.

If you want the code, here's a link: MiniWebCal.lss. Just read the comments and import it as an agent in your mail file. No database modifications are required.

It's after 1:30 AM where I'm sitting, so I'll take the time to publish this as a proper tip later on this weekend. Time for Julian to sleep now.

My Active Desktop, Part 2 (Wednesday, Jul 21)
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When last we spoke about my desktop, I was writing some simple web pages to act as convenient little Active Desktop components. I recently added a calendar that sits snugly at the bottom right-hand corner of my screen (I also added it as a sample file to the tip I published about this).

Just what the world needs, another JavaScript calendar, huh? But it was something I wanted -- I always like to have a calendar accessible, just like some people compulsively look at their watches -- so I did it. And it got me thinking, "Why not write an agent that sends the contents of my Notes e-mail calendar down as a little screen like that?" Now that would be cool, because then I could always have my Notes calendar on the screen and accessible, even when my client isn't open.

Which then got me thinking some more: "Why not turn my whole desktop into a mini-Notes portal?" Something like the Workplace Welcome Page, but much more minimal and completely web-enabled. Add a little Java, and I could even use Sametime Links to access my Instant Messaging information (a la the Ambient Sametime app that recently appeared on LDD). Hmm, I could really dig something like that...

In other desktop news, I also loaded up the Windows XP Virtual Desktop Manager PowerToy. It's a pretty good substitute for the multiple desktops that I love in Linux, and the preview screen is fun to show to other people.

2004 Bulwer-Lytton Winner (Monday, Jul 19)
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At last, the judges of this year's Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest have picked a winner. The winning line was pretty funny, but for some reason I was much more fond of one of the runners-up (technically, the "Grand Panjandrum's Special Award" winner):

She sipped her latte gracefully, unaware of the milk foam droplets building on her mustache, which was not the peachy-fine baby fuzz that Nordic girls might have, but a really dense, dark, hirsute lip-lining row of fur common to southern Mediterranean ladies nearing menopause, and winked at the obviously charmed Spaniard at the next table.

I think I'm going to bring a Sharpie marker to Starbuck's tomorrow and write that on the wall...

Reverse Spam Filtering (Sunday, Jul 18)
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A few weeks ago, I made what could be considered a drastic change in my handling of e-mail: I now treat my inbox as a spam folder.

The problem is, despite some fairly conservative spam filtering by my ISP, along with the automatic filtering available in Thunderbird, I still get a lot of spam every day. Way more than the number of legitimate messages I get (at least a 20:1 ratio of bad to good).

So I started thinking, "Why am I trying to filter out the bad messages, when such a large percentage of them are bad in the first place? Wouldn't it be easier just to filter out the good ones?" So that's what I started doing. I set up some filters to take all of the obviously "good" messages (anyone in my address book, certain newsletter addresses, etc.) out of my inbox and put them in a whitelist folder. Instead of checking my inbox when I open my mail client these days, I just go right to my whitelist folder.

I still have to go through my inbox to make sure I didn't miss anything, but heck, I had to do that before anyway, and now there are a lot fewer messages that I have to cherry-pick out of there. Virtually everything that's left in my inbox is spam, and I can pretty much trash the whole thing.

In some ways, it seems like this is the direction that e-mail is headed. It used to be that you assumed that most of your messages were valid, and you just screened out the bad ones in the bunch. Now you pretty much have to assume that most of the mail is spam. Hence all the new plots to validate sender's addresses and not let any e-mail through unless it's on a whitelist.

Sad that it has to come to this.

Fun With Active Desktop (Thursday, Jul 15)
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I got a new laptop at work, and I've been setting it up this week. As painful as it is to have to gather all my data from the old machine, reload all my software, and tweak all the settings until everything feels right again, I try to look at it as an opportunity. Not only can I get rid of (or archive) all those old files that I never use, but I can also try to streamline the new machine to make it a more efficient workspace.

One of the things I'm playing around with is all the toolbars that come with Windows. If I use a program more than once a week, I'm adding it to the Quick Launch bar (once a week is my cutoff, to keep the clutter down). The address bar and the links bar are close to being useful, but I can never find a good place to put them, and they aren't customizable enough.

Then I remembered how Volker linked over to the Konfabulator site earlier this month, and how I wished I could run that on Windows. Which got me thinking about Active Desktop... Why not just write one or several minimal web pages to be stored locally and displayed as Active Desktop elements? Easy to customize, minimal programming, unobtrusive.

My initial experiment with adding some usefulness to my desktop in this way is here: Fun With Active Desktop. Right now I just have an input box to quickly pull up a website, another to do a Google search, and a drop-down list of links and programs (yes, you can launch programs from a locally saved web page). As I get more creative, I can see a lot of VBScript in my future -- since HTML files on the hard drive are outside of the normal Internet "sandbox", you can access all sorts of things with the scripting engine in this way.

I'll see how it goes. Either I'll be writing little Active Desktop pages for the next six months, or I'll be done with it tomorrow. So many other things to do...

UPDATE: Ben Poole alerted me to a pretty cool product called DesktopX that's worth a look. Lots of little widgets to play around with.

GMail Agent API (Sunday, Jul 11)
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jonvon graciously extended a GMail invitation to me a week or so ago, so I'm now one of the "chosen ones" who has a GMail account.

It's pretty nice, I guess. The interface has a barebones feel to it, but some of the features are nice -- address drop-downs, mail threads, replying to a message that you're reading without bringing up a whole new window, etc.

However, the thing I keep thinking is: why on earth do I need another e-mail address? Especially one that I can't access using my POP3 mail program? That's just one more thing I have to check every time I get on the computer, and I'm tired of having one more thing to check.

My friend Mark sent me a link to a pretty cool little program that might help, called the GMail Agent API. It's a .NET API for accessing your GMail account(s), with some sample applications that let you monitor your account and import address book contacts. Since it's an API, you can also build your own GMail applications using the functions that are supplied.

Admittedly, I haven't attempted to use this app/API yet, so I have no idea how well it works. If it does what it says it does, I imagine it could be a very useful interface (if you happen to be on a Windows platform with the proper .NET runtime installed). There's also a link on that page for a project called Pop Goes the GMail, which says it allows you to check your GMail from a POP3 desktop client. That one requires .NET too, for what it's worth.

Testing SUSE 9.1 Personal Edition (Wednesday, Jul 7)
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Today I downloaded and installed SUSE Linux 9.1 Personal, and I'm very tempted to stick with it as my desktop Linux of choice.

You can actually get a free, single ISO version of SUSE 9.1 Personal from one of several mirrors, which is a whole heck of a lot better than the strange FTP process you normally have to go through for a SUSE install. Highlights include:

Interestingly enough, I think one of the installation blurbs said that a Commodore Amiga emulator is included as well. Not entirely sure why...

If you're thinking about setting up a Linux desktop to play around with (or use full-time), you owe it to yourself to check out this puppy. It's only one CD. If nothing else, it's worth it just to see how easy they made the installation process -- I think it took like two mouse clicks (granted, that was on a blank hard drive; it's probably one or two more clicks if you want to install next to Windows).

Or, if you're feeling wimpy, you can just download the live eval image and run it from CD. That's a good option if you're a girlie man.

Build Your Own Wireless Cantenna (Friday, Jul 2)
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Since I have a long weekend to play with (Independence Day), I was trying to think of a project to work on. I have about a dozen programming projects on my plate, but I'm still not quite done tweaking my wireless network.

So I might try to build myself a wireless antenna (or is it "cantenna"?). I wonder if I should use a coffee tin or a big ol' can of beans...?

July Resolutions (Thursday, Jul 1)
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Today is July 1st, the official halfway point in the year.

Many people make New Year's resolutions (I halfheartedly make them most years), so why not make some Mid Year's resolutions too? Maybe they can be affirmations of the ones you made on January 1st, or maybe they can be new ones -- things to get you through the rest of the year.

Whatever you do, it's important to have goals. If you have no goals, you just end up floating through life, watching and waiting. Even if you just make common goals like exercising more or losing weight, at least it's something to focus on. Something that will better yourself. And if you aim higher with things like writing or learning or volunteering, then the rewards get even greater.

Or you could just go to work every day and then come home and eat and watch TV and surf the web until it's time to go to sleep. It's your decision.

Do you have any goals?