The miscellaneous ramblings and thoughts of Dan G. Switzer, II

Stupid Glasses...

Around 1993 I developed an astigmatism in my right eye. The first time it started acting up I got real nauseous trying to focus on anything for too long at a medium distance. I went to the eye doctor to have my eyes checked out, which is when I found out I had an astigmatism. My vision has always been at least 20/20 (it's still 20/20 in my right eye and 20/10 in my left.) Anyway, the doctor prescribed me glasses for reading (and for staring at the computer screen) to help calm the astigmatism. I wore the glasses for about 3 or 4 weeks until my eye calmed down and then I just stopped wearing them.

Anyway, about every 4 years or so the eye acts up again and I go through a similiar routine. Eye starts bothering me, go to the doctor, get glasses, feel better, stop wearing them. Well, just recently my eye starting bothering me again, so I just got my third pair of glasses.

The thing I always forget (and they never tell you about) is how much glasses can shift your perspective until you get used to them. Any rectangle within 12-24" of my face looks like a trapezoid. Here's what I'm talking about:


Cool App: True Launch Bar

I was just recently tipped off about a pretty cool replacement for the Windows Quicklaunch bar called True Launch Bar v3.2. Overall, it seems to be a really good enhancement to Windows XP. The only thing I've found that I dislike is that I haven't found a good way to apply configuaration changes across different toolbars (you have the ability to customize each toolbar to behave differently--which is great, but often I want to make the same change across multiple toolbars.) I'm sure there's probably a way to do this and I just haven't figured it out.

I've always used multiple toolbars, I usually have the default "Quick Launch" toolbar and then a couple others for Remote Desktop Connections, VPNs Connections and Games. The nice thing about the True Launch Bar is you can configure a bunch of different virtual folders on a toolbar to really customize how Windows XP works. They even have "plug-ins" which are active items that run in a toolbar.

So, I've broken my taskbar into 3 different toolbars. The "Quick Launch" bar, a "Virtual Folders" bar and a "Plug-ins" bar. The Quick Launch bar shows the default items in the Quick Launch bar. I use these for the applications I use every single day that I want one-click access to. The "Virtual Folders" bar consist of icon shortcuts that pop-up a folder of shortcuts (which can contain subfolders.) Basically think of this as a bunch of specialized "All Program" folders. My "Plug-ins" bar currently has two plugins in it—the Battery Life and Wireless Signal plug-ins. These give me live feedback on my battery status and my WiFi connectivity.


Firefox v1.5 Released

Firefox v1.5 is being released today. The website still says RC3 is the latest build, but you should see an official announcement later today (probably between 6pm-9pm EST.)

Download Firefox v1.5 (English) now.

MS SQL 2K Bug: Query with Large IN Clause Results in Stack Overflow

On a site I'm managing, there's a query that was written by another developer that I've been trying to speed up. The query searches over a text column in a MS SQL 2k database. The table this column is in contains several million records and the query performance isn't up to par.

Anyway, I've been trying anything I can think of to increase performance over this query. Oddly enough, in gentle testing using SQL Query Analyzer it was indicating I might get better performance from this operation by spitting thing into two seperate queries. This lead me to find this bug:

BUG: Query with Large IN Clause Results in Stack Overflow


Eyetrack III - Revealing how user's view a web page...

I actually came across this article several weeks ago, but just never came around to blogging about it. Eyetrack III has released their results from their latest testings and the results are pretty interesting, but not exactly surprising.

In a nutshell, this survey tracked users and the movement of their eyes when viewing a web page. Here is a diagram of how most users tended to first scan a web page:

User's Eye Movement Pattern


Browsershots.org - Website screen capturing service

A new free, community driven, web-based Browser Screenshot tool has been introduced called Browsershots.

The concept of Browsershots it to provide you screenshots of a URL you specify in a variety of different browsers and platforms. This is so you can verify that your pages are working correctly.

Browsershots uses a community computing to do all the processing of the screenshots. Users from around the world can load a client on their PC which will grab requests from the queue, process them and then upload the static images to the Browsershots web page. Since everything works off a giant queue, processing may take awhile--they suggest to keep checking the queue for up to 24-48 hours.


MD5 Collision Attack Code Released

I missed this on Slashdot (since I rarely read it anymore,) but thanks to Cameron's blog post I caught this piece of news. The first code has been released that shows how to find collisions in the MD5 algorithm. Essentially this means two completely different source files can be salted to produce the same string. In a nutshell, if you're relying on an MD5 hash to gaurentee the integrity of a file, you have problems—especially if you're relying on it producing unique, secure hash strings.

For a good layman explanation of the problem and the exploit, Magnus Daum & Stefan Lucks have published a really good article over at CITS titled Attacking Hash Functions by Poisoned Messages "The Story of Alice and her Boss".