NewEgg Awesomeness

I’ve been a NewEgg.com customer for a long time. Back in December, I got a great deal from them on a Samsung widescreen 23″ monitor. NewEgg usually has a very restrictive monitor return policy. Generally the monitor has to be dead for you to get an RMA. In my case, for some unknown reason, the Sammy did not play well with my first generation Intel Mac Mini. Constant ‘blue screen of death’ issues on boot. The one time I did get it to fire up without a safe boot, the monitor was perfect. I couldn’t live with all the safe booting and monitor tweaking so I was going to send it back to NewEgg. Then I read their return policy and said, “Uh oh, my situation doesn’t apply…time to eBay it.”

After two unsuccessful listings on eBay, I decided to contact NewEgg and tell them my tale of woe. I fully expected the ‘caveat emptor’ treatment but instead, they gave me an RMA, waived the restocking fee and gave me full store credit for the monitor. Thanks NewEgg!!

Quicken Essentials for Mac; Worse than Advertised

I bought Quicken Essentials with my 50% off discount that came with Turbo Tax and finally downloaded it tonight. I had read all about the limited feature set but I figured for $30 or so, give it a whirl. I had over 5000 checking transactions going back to 1998. No less than 58 duplicates after importing my old Quicken 07 file. Took about an hour to get my checking balance to reconcile working through all the duplicates. I knew Essentials didn’t track individual Buy and Sells like Quicken 07 but I figured I could live with that considering my brokerage statement is pretty complete. I also knew I wouldn’t be able to import into Turbo Tax but I always double and triple check the imports anyway so maybe that’s not a big deal. However, the deal breaker for me was you can’t set up a loan amortization schedule in Essentials. Seriously?

I wanted to like Essentials but it took about an hour before I realized the lack of basic features can’t be worked around.

Using jQuery and Javascript in WordPress Templates

There are a ton of tutorials out there about how to include javascript and jQuery in WordPress. I probably read most of them as I was adapting my WordPress based CMS to use my newly gained jQuery skills. The theme writer’s approach to including javascript is to modify your theme’s functions.php file and call the wp_enqueue_script function to trigger when wp_print_scripts action fires. However, for the tweak happy folks like me, there’s actually an easier way that I stumbled upon reading the excellent wpengineer blog.

I was reading about contact forms at wpengineer and the code included the wp_enqueue_script call right in the template before the get_header() call. Brilliant! I had never read that about that technique. You don’t have to write conditional statements nor hook in within the functions.php file. This is especially handy if you use a premium theme. Premium themes usually have a functions.php file that includes a huge caveat not to modify it (for a lot of good reasons). An even better benefit to modifying the template is as your theme is updated, you don’t have to worry about carrying over custom edits.

How to Connect a wifi HP Printer with Snow Leopard

The other day I bought a new all in one wifi HP printer/scanner/fax with my new iMac. I have a closed wireless wifi network at home and run Mac OS 10.6 Snow Leopard on the clients. “Closed” meaning it doesn’t broadcast its SSID. So you have to know the network SSID as well as the password to connect.

Now all HP drivers are included (and updated) with Snow Leopard system updates from Apple. Everything’s built in so you don’t have to load HP’s drivers separately. I have an older HP printer with wifi and remembered that you have to configure the wireless via a hard network connection and the printer’s built in wireless configuration web page. However the new HP printer didn’t have a wired ethernet connection. Just a USB port which ain’t a network connection. Hmm.

So how does one configure the device’s wireless capability to a closed network? It’s not really well documented anywhere. Turns out, the printer default settings (once you turn the wireless on on the printer touch screen) sets up an open network called ‘hpsetup’. So I connected my iMac to this new network, went to the Print and Fax in my system preferences and clicked on Add a Printer via Bonjour. Sure enough, it found the new printer and made a connection. Open the Print Utility which will allow you to open the printer’s built in web page to configure the wireless. I clicked on Advanced, changed the SSID and password to match my home network settings and hit ‘apply’. Be careful here to get everything correctly typed because when you hit ‘apply’ it changes the printer’s wireless settings immediately. The page will not reload in your web browser because you’re no longer connected to the printer wirelessly. Don’t worry.

Disconnect from the wireless ‘hpsetup’ network and reconnect to your home network. The printer/fax/scanner will show up in your Print and Fax panel of the System Preferences.

When the Hard Drive Crashes

I’m all set to put a new monitor on my Mac Mini and it’s looking great. I futz with the screen resolution and get a blue screen of death. A quick check of the apple support forums and a safe boot should do the trick. So I do a safe boot and everything comes back to normal. Restart the Mini and it begins the boot sequence. Tries again and shuts down. Uh oh. Never seen that before. Dust off the old Snow Leopard CD, boot from it and hit the Disk Utility. Starts sequencing through but can’t repair the disk. Not good. Off to the Apple Store for a copy of Disk Warrior. My version of it was on a floppy so you know how old that is. Booted into the Disk Warrior startup and it went to work. It created the mirror directory just fine but couldn’t write to the poor old Mini disk. The write head must have crashed.

So I turned on the trusty external firewire disk and told Disk Warrior to start backing up. Life would have been less stressful if I used Time Machine but that’s a discussion for another day. Anyway, My Mini (Intel late 2006) was struggling on 1Gb of RAM so I had planned to replace it on my terms.

Back to the Apple Store, this time with my eye on a new iMac (23″ with 1 Tb of storage and the ATI Radeon graphics card). Came home, hooked it up, connected the external firewire drive (FW 800!!) and was back in business with no data loss in a couple of hours. That’s what I call making the best of a bad situation.

Big Calendar Plugins

I’ve been using EventCalendar3 for a couple of years. It’s a great plugin and version 3.1.4 still plays nice with WordPress 2.9.x. However, I was rolling out a new website with WordPress as CMS with a requirement for a Big Calendar. A couple of EC3 users had built big calendar capability into the development branch. The last beta version (EC3.2 beta 2) had big calendar functionality built in so I installed it. After I made the move to WordPress 2.9, everything seemed to be working fine until I realized my comments feed was returning a 404 all of a sudden. Comments on posts were feeding properly as were category based feeds and the site feed. So, I went through all the usual troubleshooting (check the wordpress.org forums and deactivate plugins). Turns out EC3.2 beta 2 was the culprit. When I deactivated it, my comments feed started working again.

I’ve spent a fair share of time going through the EC3 code over the past couple of years and couldn’t figure out what EC3 and comments had to do with each other. EC3 does highjack some feeds and futz with canonical redirects but everything I saw in the code seemed benign. I commented out some of the redirect functions with no luck. On my other blog with E3.1.4, my comments feed was fine and the plugin is still solid despite its apparent abandonment. Odd. After a couple of hours of troubleshooting, I packed it in.

Fortunately, I hit gold on my first stop through the WordPress plugin repository with Kieran’s excellent calendar plugin. It’s a no nonsense big calendar with two useful template tags to generate lists of events. While similar to EC3 in that it uses a separate table to store event data, it differs in that you add the events using a backend form rather than the posting method EC3 uses. You can link the event on the calendar to a blog posting (or any other url) which is a nice touch as well. Kieran’s plugin also seems pretty bulletproof as WordPress evolves.

It’s sad when a plugin withers away but plugin authors are very special people who give without compensation (for the most part) and are swamped with support requests from all kinds of folks who should have RTFM. When or if EC3.1.4 finally breaks, there’s an alternative.

Lotus Notes Sync to Google

I’m getting ready for life after the Palm OS. My Centro has a lot of life left in it and more importantly, over 9 months until I can upgrade so I need to figure out how to get my enterprise Lotus Notes calendar (version 7) onto whatever my next smartphone will be. The good news it will be either a webOS or Android phone so the obvious solution to me was getting my Notes calendar onto my google calendar since both phone OS play nice with the google apps over the air. Yesterday I dove into CompanionLink for Google. The app advertises to connect to your google apps via the google API and sync your enterprise or local calendar to your google account. Here’s my first impression of the software:

The good:

  • Easy to configure. The wizard picked out all the arcane Lotus Notes file locations both locally and on the domino server.
  • Has a purge/reload function for the inevitable duplicates that will be generated on google.com as you’re fiddling around with getting the right configuration for you.
  • No need for a wired sync. Just a live internet connection. I like that.
  • You can schedule syncs with quite a bit of flexibility. Not quite a push but pretty close.
  • Relatively inexpensive at $39.95. They also seem to roll out new builds fairly frequently. I wish they’d use incremental version numbers rather than build numbers to identify updates. Version 3.0 has been out for a couple of years with a ton of new builds but no move to version 3.1.
  • The address book/contacts sync worked really well.
  • You can sync multiple google calendars to your PIM. I would like to have the ability to select how I want to transfer the events (ie pull from my personal calendar, push or sync from my work calendar, pull from my family calendar, etc) but that’s not supported. If you choose to sync, you sync all the selected google calendars.

The Bad:

  • Windows only.
  • If you are trying to sync an existing google calendar with and existing PIM, you’re going to get duplicates. Get ready to spend some time culling. Use the purge/reload function to clean your google calendar before you sync if you can afford to purge the google calendar.
  • Kind of hit or miss when you have meetings when you are not the organizer. I have a monthly meeting that the organizer sets up once for the year that doesn’t show up on my google calendar no matter how far back I go in the sync date range.
  • Syncing repeat appointments can create duplicates on the first day of the appointment.

Recommendations:

The software is ok. Not great. Not bad. I’ve finally settled on having my google calendar mirror my Lotus Notes calendar which isn’t a sync but a push to google. I didn’t feel like dealing with the duplicates for the amount of times I will create an appointment on google (none). If you can live with your google calendar/smartphone being a mirror, I’d recommend the software. I’m sure the sync works ok, too but I got turned off on the first round of duplicate culling.