Opera Mini Beta 2 Microreview

There’s a new version of Opera Mini, the best cell phone browser out today. They fixed my biggest issue with the previous version: The old version didn’t recognize the Blackberry menu button, using the Q button instead for some reason. Now it does.

And it’s faster than before.

And it’s still free.

By the way, this browser works on most internet enabled phones, not just the Blackberry. The only one that I know for sure isn’t supported is the iPhone, because Apple has locked out all third-party developers. (That’s right iPhone owners: You spent $600 on a phone that can do less than mine. Ha!)

See all the cool new features of the beta, like the Virtual Mouse and integrated search engine box. And, just like before, Opera compresses the page before it sends it to you, so it uses less data and is a lot faster than your phone’s default browser.

Shutting Off the Firehose

I enjoy the internet. A lot. Too much, in fact.

It was getting to the point where I would spend hours obsessively checking Fark, Digg, reddit, Metafilter, Facebook, and Google Reader. And then, by the time I had finished the cycle, the first site would have something new, and so I’d repeat the cycle again.

There’s a lot of interesting content on all of these sites, but it was becoming a firehose of unnecessary information. Have you ever tried to drink from a firehose?

So I decided to quit reading Fark, Digg, and reddit, the places I tended to waste the most time. And to prevent myself from accessing those sites accidentally, I blocked these sites using my HOSTS file.

Basically, adding a site to the HOSTS file tricks the browser into thinking that that web site is located on your computer rather than on the internet. It won’t be able to find it, and so it is effectively blocked.

It’s easy to undo, but it’s just enough of a roadblock to prevent me from getting to those sites on muscle memory. I have to deliberately unblock them if I really, really want to see them.

Here’s how you do it:

First, you have to find where your HOSTS file is for your system. A quick Google search turned up this reference page with locations of the HOSTS file on OSX, Ubuntu, and Windows. Vista users should check this guide if you’re still using the UAC.

Once you’ve located your HOSTS file, open it in Notepad and add lines like these at the end of the file:

127.0.0.1       www.digg.com
127.0.0.1       www.fark.com
127.0.0.1       reddit.com

The number of spaces between the 127.0.0.1 and the site being blocked doesn’t really matter

Save the HOSTS file, then close and reopen your browser. If you try to open that website now, you should get an “Unable to connect” error instead of the site.

Oddly enough, since blocking these sites, I’ve found myself taking the time to enjoy the content from Google Reader and Metafilter a lot more. It’s made browsing a much more pleasant experience, while freeing up time for other pursuits as well.

It’s a lot more pleasant to drink from a water fountain than from a firehose.

Quote of the Day

The hatred people direct at those who are different to them doesn’t even begin to compare to the hate people reserve for those who are extremely similar to them.

-Metafilter User Flashboy

Flashboy was commenting on a fairly heated argument over Metafilter vs. BoingBoing (both popular news websites), but the quote works in a lot of contexts. Democrats vs. Republicans. Clemson fans vs. Carolina fans. Any two of the thousands of denominations of Christianity. It’s a very versatile observation.

Stuff Reduction and College Note Scanning

I have noticed a trend of people wanting to reduce the amount of “stuff” in your life. While the goal of simplicity is older than Thoreau, lately the need for an uncomplicated life has become far more acute. There are now highly-trafficed blogs devoted to reducing clutter and blogs devoted to getting things done.

The problem of clutter results from an overvaluation of stuff. (As a side note, this essay by Paul Graham is an excellent article on the subject of “stuff.” You ought to read it.)

On a related note, I’ve been going through boxes of old papers in my room, sorting out the trash from the treasure. Old homework assignments and the collection of old Collegians I saved for some reason—gone. Notes that might actually prove useful some day, I’m saving.

Now that I’ve finished sorting out the remaining papers by subject, I’m going to go through all of my notes and put them into my computer. My goal is to get this all in an indexable form, so that I can search for stuff with Windows Vista (or Google Desktop on an XP machine). If you can’t search for data and find it really, really quickly, it might as well not exist. Theoretically, I’ll be able to search my entire college career in seconds.

Some of these notes are easy to index, because I was storing print outs of typed notes or powerpoints that I already have in my computer. I just dump those into my new School Stuff folder from my archive on an external hard drive.

Some of it is a little harder, because they’re print outs with hand-written notes on them or handouts from class that I don’t already have electronically. These I’m planning on scanning into my computer as PDF files. Since I’m using Adobe Acrobat, I can run an OCR scan and make PDF searchable.

The really hard stuff is the pages and pages of hand-written notes. This stuff I can’t just scan, because there’s no way that Acrobat can read my handwriting. So I’m going to have to type up all of my old notes into text files.

While this will probably take a couple of days, I don’t think that that’s necessarily a bad thing. I’m thinking of this as a sort of comprehensive college review, a way of remembering all of the stuff that I learned. And once it gets into an indexable form, I’ll be able to find stuff as quickly as I can think of it—and it won’t take up physical space anymore.

Stupid Google and Microsoft

Can someone explain to me why, all of a sudden, when you search Google for “jd harper” I’m no longer the top result?

Same for live.com.

Yahoo still has me at the top–for now at least.

Likewise for one of my most-googled posts, about an obscure error code for Cygwin. Searching for “proc magic mismatch detected” on Microsoft’s Live.com and on Google used to give you my guide to fixing the problem. Yahoo still does.

Could it be that (until just a minute ago) my home page at http://www.jdharper.com/ used PHP to redirect to http://www.jdharper.com/wordpress/ ? I changed it to do that when I was setting up my test blog for the Sandbox competition because my previous htaccess file was screwing up my subdomain setup. Was that a mistake, search-engine-wise?

I hate how the big search engines are so inaccessible to web developers. Visiting my account on the Google Webmaster page tells me that my page is in the Google index, but it doesn’t tell me why I’m suddenly no longer in the top search results like I used to be. It took me two months to get into the Google rankings at all, and it ticks me off that I’m suddenly back to next-to-nothing.

I mean, I’m doing everything I can to play nice with the search engines. I’ve even installed a plug-in that automatically updates a site map so the search engines can find all of my pages. But now they’ve both betrayed me here, without even letting me know what the problem is.

My Favorite T-Shirt



My Favorite T-Shirt, originally uploaded by J. D. Harper.

I got this T-Shirt for my birthday. It’s the coolest T-Shirt I’ve ever seen: The Decepticon symbol glows in the dark in different patterns. It’s available at ThinkGeek.