I’ve been using the open source virtualization software VirtualBox lately to run my Drupal development environments. I started using image from the Turnkey Linux project, until I discovered a project on Drupal.org called Quickstart. Quickstart is regularly updated and comes pre-configured with a variety of useful tools for Drupal developers, including Drush, XDebug, git, and a whole lot more. It even includes its own Drush plugins that make spinning up new sites a snap.
While Quickstart has been a big productivity boost, VirtualBox sometimes leaves a bit to be desired. In essence, it’s finicky. A lot of the problems seem to be related to the screen, either it will stop resizing properly or appear jumbled.
More recently, I’ve started having problems with the latest 4.0.8 release of VirtualBox that were more troubling. I started getting errors along the lines of:
Runtime error opening 'C:\Users\COMPUTER_NAME\.VirtualBox\Machines\VM_NAME\VM_NAME.xml' for reading: -102 (File not found.).
Once the error appeared, I wasn’t able to start the virtual machine. At first, when I went to check the directory, I saw that the file was gone. I thought I’d lost access to the whole virtual machine because of that missing file. Since the code I’d been working on was in version control outside the image, I eventually decided to use it as an excuse to download the latest version of Quickstart. After a few weeks, a similar error appeared (though a different file had gone missing this time).
That’s when I started to do some searching about the error that I realized the file was there, but had just been renamed. In essence, this forum post explains it all, but in summary, simply copy the FILENAME.xyz-prev file and rename the file to FILENAME.xyz. That fixed the problem for me on two different virtual machines.
For quite a while now, I’ve been meaning to start a series of blog posts about interesting projects that my friends are working on. Conveniently, a friend recently made news with an event at the Texas Capitol.
My friend Lori Najvar recently started a nonprofit called PolkaWorks to help preserve and feature cultural traditions through documentaries, other media, and events. One of the PolkaWorks projects is a photo exhibit on Texas auctioneers. The exhibit was on display last week at the Texas Capitol and, on Friday, Lori organized an auction demonstration in the Capitol rotunda to help bring attention to the exhibit. The event was featured on KXAN news.
If you look very closely in the video, you might see me in the crowd. And you can see some of my work on the PolkaWorks website, which I helped Lori set up.
Now that Drupal 6 has been out for almost a year, I finally got around to updating my Drupal Theme Developer’s Cheat Sheet accordingly. Since it borrows from the Drupal Handbooks and API documentation, it’s available under the same Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 license.
Please contact me if you’re interested in translating the cheat sheet into another language and would like a copy of the Microsoft Word document used to create it. Also, let me know if you have any corrections or additions that you would like to see included in future revisions.
Smashing Magazine recently ran a great post that rounds up 50 Incredible Stop Motion Videos. It looks like they missed my favorite though, so I’m including it below.
It’s a short film called Gisele Kerozene that’s part Mad Max and part Harry Potter. It’s a bit hard to tell at YouTube-quality, but all the flying sequences are accomplished by stringing together individual shots of the actors jumping off the ground with a broom between their legs.
For the last several years, Jason Kottke has posted an annual list of his favorite links of the previous year. As usual, it’s a treasure trove, with links to interesting videos, radio shows, some excellent non-fiction, and lots of other interesting randomness.
I haven’t made it through all the links yet, but the Mystery on Fifth Avenue article from the New York Times caught my eye right off the bat. It’s definitely worth checking out. And don’t miss the associated slide show.
I’ve been keeping an eye on the new generation of Netbook computers for a while. A friend bought one of the OLPCs a while back and another bought an Asus EEE. I almost bought one of the early EEEs, but I wanted to hold out for a slightly larger screen. I’m glad I did.
I finally bought an Acer Aspire One recently. After about a month of using it, including two weeks of traveling, I’m loving it. It’s super light, has a surprisingly decent keyboard, and even the battery life isn’t too bad.
In terms of technical specs, the Aspire One has a full-width (1024×600, 8.9″) screen, 1 GB of memory, and a 120 GB hard drive. The 1.6 GHz Atom processor isn’t a speed demon, but it’s not nearly as sluggish as I expected, considering the price. Speaking of price, they can be found for under $400.
My old Dell Vostro 15.4″ laptop was just too heavy and bulky to lug around much. I’ve finally started really taking advantage of the free Wi-Fi that’s available practically everywhere now. A lot of people ask me about it, when I use it in public. Several of the flight attendants talked to me about it while I was using it on the plane. There’s probably a huge market for this size laptop with airline employees alone. For anyone who lives out of a suitcase, especially a carry-on, it’s ideal.
There are only a few downsides I’ve run across, so far. The trackpad buttons are on the sides of the trackpad, rather than below it. Out of the box, that would probably be my single biggest complaint, except that I’ve been using a portable wireless mouse instead.
I got used to the keyboard pretty quickly, except for the Home and End keys, which require that you also hold down the function key. As a result, I’m not as quick at navigating through big documents as I am at a normal keyboard.
Finally, some applications aren’t designed to work on such a short screen. The width isn’t a problem, but height can be. Photoshop gave me a warning when I installed it, but it did still install; and I’ve been able to do what little I needed to do with it. The Windows version of the board game Ingenious installed, but the board doesn’t fit on the screen, so it’s basically unplayable. I suspect there may be other problem programs in the future, but those are the only two I’ve run into, so far.
Apparently netbooks are selling quite well. Now that I have one, I can understand why. The convenience far outweighs the downsides.
Over the last few years, I’ve put together a few homemade versions of board games. Websites such as Board Game Geek and Game-it-Yourself! feature lists of games that can be made at home. Some can be printed, cut out, and playable in a matter of minutes. Below are a few of my favorites.
Time: 30 minutes
Glik is an abstract game where players try to move their colored pieces from their start square to their goal area. The board is made up of cards, most of which are randomly placed at the start of the game, adding an element of chance. Pieces move in a straight line until they encounter a wall, a neutral piece, or a player’s piece. In addition to Glik, the same board cards can be used to play the game Glak.
Time: 30 minutes
In Rat Hot, players act as merchants, trying to stack their goods near each other, while guarding themselves from rats. Players take turns placing cards onto the board, attempting to balance defensive and offensive strategy. Cards can score points simultaneously for the player and the opponent, plus the game can end abruptly if too many rats are exposed at once.
Time: 40 minutes
In addition to web-published games, I’ve also made my own versions of games. For instance, I made a homemade version of an otherwise out-of-print game called Holiday. I used the open source vector graphic program Inkscape along with Creative Commons licensed artwork from the Open Clip Art Library to make my own version of the board.
In Holiday, players bid for control of a charter plane and the ability to determine the plane’s next destination. Each destination city has a number of sights, each with an ideal day to see them. Players score points by playing one of their sight cards in the appropriate city. The closer you are to the sight’s ideal day, the more points you get. The game ends once any player has played all their cards. The player with the most points wins.
A recent newsletter by one of my favorite authors, Simon Singh, included a link to the following YouTube video. Singh writes excellent books that explain complex topics in terms that are both interesting and easy to understand. He ranks high on my hypothetical dinner party invitation list. Consequently, it’s not surprising that the video introduced me to a musician/comedian that I turned out to like a lot.
Tim Minchin might be the result if Eddie Izzard and Elton John had an Australian love child. Add a bit of Tom Lehrer influence and you’ll start to get the idea. If you like this video, check out more on YouTube.
I’ve been going out to see a lot of live music lately. Tonight, I had the pleasure of seeing Bitter:Sweet at the Parish. The show apparently started much earlier than I’m used to. I got to the club a little after eleven, expecting to have missed just a few songs. Instead, the door man said that he’d only charge me $5 since it was so late. I only got to see half a dozen songs or so, but I was very glad I did get to catch the band.
The sound at the club was a bit disappointing, but the band still put on a great show. I wasn’t too familiar with the background of the band, except that their publicity photos show just two people; however, there were six people on stage: a DJ, guitarist/trumpeter, bass player, drummer, violinist, and lead singer/keyboard player.
Smashing Magazine recently linked to a bunch of creativity inspiring music videos. Besides the OK Go video I’ve blogged about before, two of my favorites were the Bat for Lashes video for the song “What’s A Girl To Do” and the RJD2 song “Work It Out.”
After discussing those two videos with my friend Steve, he recommended a video by a bluegrass band called Uncle Earl. The video for “Streak O’ Lean, Streak O’ Fat” is a mind-bending mix of genres that I’ll call “Bluegrass Tiger, Hidden River Dance.”
Bat for Lashes — What’s A Girl To Do
RJD2 – Work It Out
Uncle Earl – Streak O’ Lean, Streak O’ Fat
UPDATE: I’ve now posted an updated Drupal 6 Theming Cheat Sheet.
The Drupal Handbooks are an exhaustive resource for learning all things Drupal. Unfortunately, sometimes finding just the information you need can be difficult. The Theme Developer’s Guide alone includes 14 sections, most made up of additional sub-sections.
With that in mind, I put together a Drupal Theme Developer’s Cheat Sheet that includes some of the most handy reference information for themers. The cheat sheet is specific to PHPTemplate, the most common theme engine for Drupal. The two page cheat sheet includes information on available variables, file naming conventions, sample code, and more.
If you have any corrections or suggestions for improving the cheat sheet, please leave a comment.
Download the PDF: Drupal Theme Developer’s Cheat Sheet
I’ve been working a lot with Drupal lately. Drupal is a content management platform that can be difficult to learn, partially because it is so flexible and modular. Though the Drupal learning curve can be steep, the Drupal project founder and leader, Dries Buytaert posted a useful road map for getting you past the “I Kick Ass” threshold with Drupal.
Even with the road map, there’s still the matter of how to learn it all. There are Drupal books, Drupal podcasts, Drupal documentation, Drupal forums, Drupal IRC channels, Drupal groups, Drupal blogs, Drupal mailing lists, and more.
I’ve spent the last year or so developing a variety of Drupal sites both at work and in my off-time. I’m not an expert, but I have learned a lot during that time. For me, the various Drupal screencasts have proven to be one of the easiest ways of picking up Drupal concepts quickly.
Luckily, there are Drupal screencasts for practically every step along the Drupal learning curve, which I’ve collected below. One caveat: because the screencasts are free and produced by a variety of individuals, the quality can vary and some will definitely overlap in what they cover:
Installation and configuration of Drupal core
Users, roles and permissions
Installing contributed themes and modules
Upgrading, patching, (security) monitoring
Navigation, menus, taxonomy
Locale and internationalization
- Drupal Internationalization Screencast #1: Translating the Interface
- Drupal Internationalization Screencast #2: Translating Content
Drastically customize front page
Theme and template modifications
Contributing documentation and support
- How to Contribute to Drupal (slideshow, not a screencast)
Custom content types and views
- Drupal Basics, FormAPI, and CCK
- Let CCK, Views and Panels Kickstart your site!
- Drupal CCK and Views Tutorial
- Custom Content Types (CCK+Imagefield+Contemplate)
- ScreenCast Using CCK with drupal 5
- ScreenCast Using Views
- Custom CCK fields
Actions and workflows
Theme and module development
- PSD into a Drupal Theme
- Theming like a pro
- Hook_form_alter breakdown
- Using the Drupal Development Tools
- Work with your db the Drupal way
jQuery, FormAPI, security audits, performance tuning
Contributing code, designs and patches back to Drupal
More to Come
There are some gaps. For anyone who is interested in creating screencasts, the following topics from Dries’ list could use some more up-to-date coverage: drastically customizing the front page, security monitoring, security audits, performance tuning, locale and internationalization. If you find or create any screencasts covering these or other related Drupal topics, please leave a comment with a link.
This is my first of probably many Drupal-related blog posts. Subscribe to the RSS feed, if you’d like to keep up to date.
I read that recently computers have “solved” the game of checkers, having now mapped out every possible game. That means that a human player’s best hope would be to tie a game against such a computer.
With that in mind, it’s nice to know that humans are still better than computers when it comes to certain tasks. Yesterday, I watched a Google Tech Talk given by Luis von Ahn, a computer science Ph.D., who specializes in harnessing the computational strengths of humans. The talk was not as dry as it may sound. In fact, it was one of the most interesting Tech Talks I’ve watched.
Von Ahn has developed programs and games to help thwart spammers and collect useful data for search engines and other databases. His reCAPTCHA program helps in recognizing classic texts for the Gutenberg Project in a very novel way. When users enter text into a reCAPTCHA script to prove themselves human, they are actually helping to recognize words that computers were unable to.
Von Ahn’s games pit players against one another in ways that allow useful data to be collected. Von Ahn does a much better job of explaining and demonstrating the games that I can. I recommend checking out his presentation (below or on Google Video). Or read the recent wired Magazine profile of von Ahn. Or play one of Von Ahn’s games online.
David Boch’s blog on Yahoo! Finance recently had an eye opening post about cell phone security. I consider myself relatively security conscious, but I hadn’t considered the potential financial consequences of a lost or stolen cell phone.
In addition to some harrowing stories of lost phones, the article also offers some basic tips for keeping yours safe. It’s important to keep in mind that it’s not in a cell phone company’s best interest to watch out for you, so be diligent in guarding and protecting your own phone.
Eileen Perrera’s story revealed what happened after her phone was stolen while she was on vacation. She filed a police report and contacted Sprint immediately, but then received a bill totaling almost $16,000. Sprint claimed to have never received the call from her reporting the stolen cell phone.
Eileen was able to submit proof from landline phone records that she had indeed called Sprint customer service. As her late fees piled up, the situation remained unresolved for months.
I ran across a new service called dotSUB that streamlines the process for subtitling and translating online video. The site recently featured a Rocketboom episode explaining how the service works, allowing users to quickly and easily enter captions which are overlaid onto a Flash video file.
The captions also allow other users to translate the content into other languages. Once subtitles are entered, the new language is immediately available for viewing, since the original video is shown with the new language overlaid on top.
Unfortunately, dotSUB’s options for embedding video in other sites appears to be limited. I wasn’t able to embed the Rocketboom video here because it would break my template’s layout. However, it’s worth visiting the site to check out. I’m willing to bet that the options for embedding video will expand as the service matures.
I think dotSUB has some excellent potential. Off the top of my head, I could see it being useful for nonprofits, activists, language learners, and anyone with hearing problems. I’d love to see some good foreign language documentaries made available through the site.
UPDATE: Apparently dotSUB was listening (see the comments). A smaller version of the dotSUB player is now available, so I’ll include the Rocketboom video below. Try clicking on the up and down buttons (to the left of the speaker icon) to switch between the various subtitle languages.
The OnTheCommons blog recently ran a post about a new law enacted in São Paulo, Brazil, outlawing most outdoor advertising. I know some U.S. towns have laws to limit the size of such ads, but I haven’t heard of anything on the scale of what São Paulo has done. I’m interested to see if the ban stays in effect.
The City of São Paulo, Brazil, the largest, most prosperous city in South America, has gone ad-free! Last September, the City Council by a 45-1 margin approved a law that bans all outdoor advertising in the city of 11 million people. The law applies to outsized billboards, neon signs, electronic screens, ads on the sides of buses, the distribution of fliers, and even advertising banners pulled by airplanes and placed on the sides of blimps.
I first saw Theo Jansen’s sculptures on a video of his 2005 presentation at the Gel Conference. The kinetic sculptures he builds are otherworldly and amazing to watch, as they walk across the sand. Unfortunately, the quality of the Gel video isn’t the best. For a quicker, better introduction, check out this 1 minute video:
For more background, Jansen gave a 30 minute presentation the 2005 Pop!Tech conference. You can download a higher quality quicktime version of the presentation from the Pop!Tech website or watch a streamed version below:
I’m a huge fan of music, but very little of what I listen to is mainstream enough to make it onto corporate radio stations. There are some good community radio stations in Austin, but even those can’t come close to the variety of music that’s currently available online.
Thanks to Internet radio, I’ve been introduced to a wide variety of new musical genres. I’m able to keep up with Hawaiian, ska, Asian underground, and electronic music. I’m also able to discover new music through streaming services like Pandora.
Unfortunately, the governing body in charge of copyright royalties recently decided to more than triple the rates Internet broadcasters must pay. Put simply, the rates are more than the total revenue for some stations and will likely cause stations and streaming services to cease online streaming altogether. PC World posted a story yesterday covering the latest developments in the fight to keep Internet radio alive. Hopefully it won’t be too-little-too-late, but please join me and take a moment to sign a petition to help save Internet radio.
A recent editorial in the Central Connecticut State University Recorder Online has a surprising and sad analysis of the hybrid Toyota Prius. Apparently when you take into account the overall environmental footprint of the car, especially the multiple batteries required for the hybrid engine, the Prius is not all it’s cracked up to be.
The nickel produced by this disastrous plant is shipped via massive container ship to the largest nickel refinery in Europe. From there, the nickel hops over to China to produce ‘nickel foam.’ From there, it goes to Japan. Finally, the completed batteries are shipped to the United States, finalizing the around-the-world trip required to produce a single Prius battery. Are these not sounding less and less like environmentally sound cars and more like a farce?
UPDATE: A more thorough analysis of the Prius lifecycle and additional background on the editorial above can be found in the April 16 article Prius Versus HUMMER: Exploding the Myth on The Car Connection. The article may raise more questions than it answers, but it is definitely a more thorough analysis than the editorial I originally pointed to.