Monday, January 29, 2007

Cory Doctorow in Toronto, February 1

Book cover of 'Overclocked: Stories of the Future Present' by Cory Doctorow

Blogger, journalist, sci-fi author, and Boing Boing co-editor Cory Doctorow is coming to Toronto for the launch of his new book entitled Overclocked: Stories of the Future Present this Thursday, February 1 at Bakka Books (697 Queen Street West), the world's oldest Science Fiction bookstore. He'll be there at 7:00 PM signing and reading books, so make sure to come on out!

I'm really excited about this. After all, it's not every day that Mr. Doctorow himself is in town. Hmm...I wonder if Joey'll be there... it'd be interesting to see him back with his old friend (and ex-boss) from OpenCola...and a little accordion rock-and-roll on Queen Street on a Thursday evening around an SF bookstore and a gathering of geeks couldn't hurt, too Winking Smiley face [ ;) ].

If you can't make it out Thursday but you still want a signed, personalized copy of Cory's book, you're in luck! You can get a signed copy shipped straight to your door! Just Bakka Books (Phone: 416-963-9993) and tell them what you want Cory to write in it. The only catch is you have to do this by February 1st.

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Friday, January 26, 2007

Hide file extensions in URLs with .htaccess files

I was working on a (rather neglected, outdated) site I had previously done and decided it needed some (rather, a lot of) improvements. I was looking for a way to get rid of to clean up the URLs without having to remap my files. .htaccess to the rescue!

.htaccess files are a wonderful thing, and incredibly powerful, ignoring the bad experience I had with them on my current web host (fortunately, this project is hosted by another web host, and everything runs perfectly with them :)), and Apache's mod_rewrite module does exactly what we need.

There are a bunch of reasons you'd want to do this, mainly:

  • it looks cleaner and easier to read and remember
  • by using search-engine–friendly URLs, you're Google PageRank will increase and will increase your website's findability
  • it makes your website environment-independent, so if you ever decide to change the technology your site uses, everything would appear seamless to your visitors.

In this case, we're using PHP files, but you can change it to whatever type of file you're using, be it .html, .asp, .cfm, or anything else, as long as they're all the same type. (If you want to do this for multiple file types, just copy lines 2–4 and apply the same technique accordingly.)

Open your text editor and create a file called ".htaccess" with the following code in it, and upload it to your site's root directory (Note: On Unix and unix-like operating systems, files that start with a dot are hidden files, so you may not be able to see the file after you save it. To get around this, omit the preceding dot when naming the file, and then rename the file back to ".htaccess" after you have uploaded it to your webserver):

RewriteEngine on
RewriteCond %{REQUEST_FILENAME} !-d
RewriteCond %{REQUEST_FILENAME}\.php -f
RewriteRule ^(.*)$ $1.php

(adapted from the Apache mailing list)

Using this code, instead of having to type in, you only need to enter to access that page. And the best part is, you can still access the page with .php on the end of it, so no old incoming links or bookmarks become orphaned as a result of this, and everyone is happy.

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Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Stuart MacDonald to be speaking at FITC Toronto 2007

I just got the latest FITC Newsletter in my inbox and noticed that Mr. Stuart MacDonald was on the list of presenters! If you don't know Stuart (shame on you), he's the one who is responsible for starting, and well as co-organizing the very successful mesh conference last May (as well as the upcoming one this May 30-31).

At first I was a bit surprised to see Stuart on the speaker list at a flash conference, but I'm assuming he's going to be talking about some of the business aspects. It'll be great to see one of my favourite mesh organizers speaking at two excellent events this spring (I'll be volunteering again, as I did last year), along with over 70 great speakers, among them flash guru Colin Moock and rock star flash designer Joshua Davis. No Dave Shea this year, though :( — looks like you'll have to go to Web Directions North or @media 2007 for that (and I really wanted to go see him, too...).

Shawn has left a comment saying that Stuart unfortunately won't be able to speak at FITC Toronto this year after all due to a scheduling conflict. Bummer :(

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Saturday, January 20, 2007


I just spent the last 4 hours trying to get my .htaccess files to work under my restrictive web host. I hope I don't have to go through anything as horrible as that ever again. It was like spending hours working on a jigsaw puzzle, only to find that you've got one missing piece that's preventing you from finishing what you need to do.

Let me explain: Apparently, they only allow a handful of directives to be used in .htaccess files, which to me sounds like only getting half a slice of pie instead of a full slice à la mode as you'd expect.

This reminds me of DRM in a way, crippling your use of their services, even though you're paying full price for what you'd expect to be everything you asked for.

And this isn't the only limitation their hosting plan offers: they only allow you to have 2 custom MX records, so when I wanted to use Gmail for your Domain, there was nothing I could do since Google needs you to set 6 of them in order for it to work properly. I was distraught, but I had the fallback option of using plain old Email Forwarding... or so I thought. So I set it up, and when I tried testing it to see if it would work, it didn't. I tried again days, weeks, months later, even just five minutes ago, and it still doesn't work. Sure, I could use one of their POP accounts, but the main reason I want to use email forwarding is because I prefer Gmail's user interface, and having to use a desktop client would completely defeat the purpose of what I want to do.

I've paid for the hosting already, so I guess I'm stuck with them for another 6 months, but after that I think I might sign up with another hosting company like Dreamhost, where they seem to be much more allowing of what you can do with your account, that is, unless Netfirms resolves all its problems. And the only reason I bought my Netfirms account was to support Amber, Jeff, Mikey, and Brian over at commandN (and because I needed a web host at that time). Ah, the deception of promotional discount codes...

And the worst part is, once I had figured out what was wrong in my .htaccess, I only needed to modify 1 line from the original file to make it work (if only I knew that from the beginning).

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Blogged with Flock

Friday, January 12, 2007

And another thing

And not to mention I've got to get my site's Unfailed Redesign launched before then. I've made a such mess of Doug Bowman's elegant designs & code. I should probably choose a new template so I can stop worrying about how many validation errors this site's got for now, even if it'll destroy all the hacks code injections superfluous crap customizations I've added. Luckily, Drupal 5 RC 2 was just announced, and as the final release date for Drupal 5.0 draws nearer and nearer, so does the day my new site will be launched. I'm working on it, along with a bevy of other things. It will come, soon enough.

Update: Well, I tried upgrading my blogger template to the new version, but upon passing it through the validator, it had 901 validation errors, a lot of them being false positives on the validator's part (it recognized Blogger's proprietary <Variable> tag when it was contained within CSS comments), and others being bad template coding decisions that have no clear way of modifying in the new template HTML editor (such as wrapping an extra paragraph tag around each blog post). Even though some template-updating features have been added to improve workflow, I think I'll stick with my old template for now until I finally migrate over (soon, I promise).

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Ask and you shall receive—almost

I was just in the middle of an email to a friend of mine about how I may not be able to attend Web Directions North in February last night (which is a real shame, I've been wanting to go ever since I found out about it in September), how the price was too high for me, and the affiliate badge I had put on my site had yet to yield any results. But last night as I was checking the WDN site to reference what presentation topics were being covered, I noticed a special announcement of a student scholarship program, where I'd be able to get a ticket for a much more affordable $195! It was as if my prayers had been answered! Quite a coincidence, I must say. For a while it made me forget about how crappy I was feeling from losing my iPod earlier that day. Thanks Dave, Derek, Maxine, and John!

Web Directions North

But alas, the Fates may have determined that this was not meant to be for me. As much as I've been yearning to go these past months, it simply may not be possible for me. Not for now, at least.

Also coming up soon is SXSW in March, which promises to be excellent week, and twice as costly.

Here are th Top 5 reasons I'd prefer attending WDN over SXSW:

  1. It's Canadian (comme je suis) ;).
  2. They've got an excellent speaker line-up. I was giddy with excitement just from reading the names of the presenters
  3. SXSW is huge. Maybe too huge for my first out-of-town web conference. I find the (relatively) smaller atmosphere more comfortable to be in.
  4. I've already met Joe Clark at a Toronto Interacts event he spoke at in November (my first time listening to a web guru live and in-person), and I'd really like to see him speak again, as well as to get a chance to hear all the other great speakers who, up until now, I've only had the pleasure of listening to via podcast.
  5. I've always wanted to go to Vancouver, but I've never been.

And being on a student budget doesn't help my situation much. I'd have to work twice as much to be able to go to both events, which might not be possible.

Pros for SXSW:

  • way more people will be there (and in turn more presentations with more prestigious speakers, more parties, etc.), therefore more opportunites to meet interesting people and web luminaries
  • 4-day event vs. 2 days for WDN


  • it'll cost nearly CAD$1500 for me to go to SXSWi. WDN would only cost half as much.
  • It's in the U.S., so I'd have to get my passport details sorted out before March (but I'd need to get that done eventually anyways)

Sigh... I really would like to be able to attend both, but sometimes things are not meant to be. However I'll be working hard to try to do everything in my power to get things sorted out soon and hopefully they'll still have a student ticket available for me by then *fingers-crossed*.

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Thursday, January 11, 2007

Lost iPod :(

I really wish I hadn't left my iPod by that computer in Room 243 earlier today between 1:25 PM and 2:00 PM GMT-05:00. If it hadn't been for me suddenly remembering to print that that 278-page 'CSS Hacks' e-book, I would've never gotten into this mess.

The fact that I've just lost a $250+ piece of electronic equipment isn't what's even bugging me the most; it's the fact that someone would actually Steal something that wasn't theirs to begin with. (Of course, it's not unlikely to imagine what a typical college student would do in that situation. Have these people no morals?)

'sad nano' taken by el frijole

Then again, that e-book I had printed wasn't exactly acquired lawfully. I've been known to use peer-to-peer software occasionally to acquire digital files, but that's not the same: digital files are easily reproduceable and the previous owner still has his orginal copy. And unless I had a molecular assembler, this isn't the case and now I don't have my iPod anymore. :'(. (As a result of this I've put a hold on using any P2P software on my computer.)

(I really should be more responsible with my valuables. Last year I lost a USB drive the same way.)

I really want my iPod back. Fortunately, most of my data on there is safe. All my music is in my iTunes Library, so I'm not so worried about that, and I can live with someone else knowing what my Calendars hold; as for my Notes, some of them had personal information of a friend, but knowing her and how open she is, I'm sure she wouldn't mind too much about it.

I've got bits and pieces backed up, as I've synced most of the older folders on there with my iMac individually, so I don't know exactly what I do or don't have copies of, and since I haven't used my nano to store any new files for the past couple months, I'm fairly confident in assuming that all I'm missing is maybe 5 or 10 files (possibly crucial; I haven't yet been able to recall what they were, hopefully nothing too important), plus the work I did today. It also had the Photoshop mockups of my site's new design (backed-up, thankfully), and a 2x5 sheet of my business cards, so that should provide him with my contact info and the ability to contact me.

I had my folder of unfinished, unpublished blog posts on there, too, as well as some other personal documents that I'd prefer others not to read, but I guess by having personal data on it (and assuming the looter goes through my files), he would be able to identify who originally owned this iPod, and make an effort to reunite the device with its rightful owner.

Advice on safeguarding your iPod from theft / how to increase the chances of getting it back:

  1. As a future precaution, I'm putting an 'OWNER'S CONTACT INFO' file with my phone number and email address onto each of my portable storage devices. I just hope the perp doesn't format it :( (when I left it, it was plugged into the computer via its USB cable, and that was gone when I came back for it, so he could potentially do anything with it).
  2. Register your iPod with Apple. Theoretically, if you've registered your iPod, Apple should be able to detect when the device connects to iTunes, along with the host computer's IP address and other potentially valuable information. If the perp signs into the iTunes Store with their Apple ID, then it is possible to cross-reference the IP addresses and match the Account Holder's name. (Although I'm not sure how helpful Apple would be in helping you recover your iPod; they'd want to get you to buy a new one instead. Their web site sure isn't any help.)
  3. My Apple ID and name are both stored in all files I've downloaded from the iTunes Store, as is everyone else's, respectively. The thief may try to play the songs on his home computer, but won't be able to because of FairPlay, and will most likely delete these files. Let's hope that doesn't happen, as this is one way that I'd be able to identify my iPod.

This loss has caused me to become very distraught and upset. I used to take my iPod wherever I went, listening to music while waiting for the bus or on the (often hour-plus) subway rides home. It even helped me out in a couple of times with its Notes on keeping track of locations of events when I had forgotten the addresses, and allowing me to remember the name of a specific product I wanted to buy from a certain chocolatier as a gift for someone's birthday. But now, I can't do any of that anymore. I just hope whoever picked it up has enough moral sense to turn it in.

I did have a folder with the same name as my domain, however, so if the thief is curious enough to try and access my site, he (or she) may be reading this right now. Improbable, but possible.

So, if you were the one who unplugged a black 2GB iPod Nano from the computer in Room 243 on Thursday, January 11, 2006 between 1:20PM and 2:00PM, i urge you to contact me at gabrielmansour[AT]gmail[DOT]com or turn it in at the security desk. I just want my iPod back. Is that too much to ask?

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