Google Notebook – New and Improved

The Official Google blog today announced the release of the new, updated multi lingual version of Google Notebook. Put simply it’s a free service that provides a very easy way to save and organise research and thoughts as you browse. It’s provides very similar functionality to the snipit service that I have discussed previously on this blog.

Users can make their Google Notebook public and share the notes they’ve taken with others. As a result, the time and effort put into their research can be harnessed by the online community as a whole. Each note has a heading or title and you can drag and drop notes in order to organise them within a notebook. The interface, like most Google products, is intuitive and easy to use. I’ve installed the FireFox extension for Google Notebook which build support for clipping content and create notes directly into the browser.

Have to admit, I really like it.

Enemy Territory Quake Wars – Training Videos

Here’s a couple of training videos that explain how the GDF and Strogg forces and their respective character classes function in the Enemy Territory QuakeWars – a title I’m eagerly anticipating and judging from the videos the game looks incredibly impressive.

GDF Training Video


Strogg Training Video


The video’s are a bit old but certainly give you a pretty good insight into the gameplay. I’m really looking forward to this release.

Cracking weak passwords

A really interesting read over at One Mans entitled “How I’d crack your weak passwords“. The article outlines how he’d go about cracking weak passwords, which involves making some educated guesses which in 20% of cases actually succeed. If they don’t he resorts to brute force attacks.The attacks can vary in the amount of time they take to crack a password, with the time increasing depending on the strength of the password. Here’s a table that demonstrates this, and should illustrate why its a good idea to use strong passwords:

People are generally very bad at selecting strong passwords, the OneMan provides a some tips on how you can go about selecting a strong password. One tool that he recommends and that I have used in the past is Microsofts Password Strength Tester. Another tool is Google’s password checker, which is driven by a URL request that returns an integer in the range 1 – 4, where 4 means Strong and 1 means very weak, for example, the password “123456” returns 1 denoting its very weak:

It’s relatively simple to integrate Google’s solution into your own web applications, however I should point out that the company does not provide any official branding or user interface, and im not sure how long they will continue to provide it.

When We Two Parted

When we two parted
In silence and tears,
Half broken-hearted,
To sever for years,
Pale grew thy cheek and cold,
Colder thy kiss;
Truly that hour foretold
Sorrow to this.

The dew of the morning
Sank chill on my brow -
It felt like the warning
Of what I feel now.
Thy vows are all broken,
And light is thy fame:
I hear thy name spoken,
And share in its shame.

They name thee before me,
A knell to mine ear;
A shudder comes o'er me -
Why wert thou so dear?
They know not I knew thee,
Who knew thee too well: -
Long, long shall I rue thee
Too deeply to tell.

In secret we met -
In silence I grieve
That thy heart could forget,
Thy spirit deceive.
If I should meet thee
After long years,
How should I greet thee? -
With silence and tears.

Lord George Gordon Byron

Yahoo Widgets 4.0 Released

Yahoo Widgets 4 is now available for download. The new version makes significant performance improvements over earlier releases. They have also finally provided a built in method of updating widgets, as well as discovering new ones – something I’ve been keenly looking forward to, since I had to implement my own update listener for a set of widgets I wrote last year.

Also new in this verison is the Widget Dock, which is very similar to the Google and Vista Dock bars, basically allowing you to manage and neatly organise widgets on the desktop. I also like the new Flickr widget which is bundled with version 4. The widget not only streams photos from Flickr directly to your desktop it also provides drag and drop upload capability so you put your photos onto Flickr with relative ease.

From a development point theyve made massive performance improvements with DOM traversal of XML and XPath seems substantially faster against large XML DOM’s – which is something I used to whinge about a lot. You can view a list of all the changes in the versions release notes.

All in all, its not bad!

Firefox Extensions/Add-Ons

A few people have asked me what FireFox add-ons I use, particularly to aid development work. Here’s a list of the FireFox extensions/Add-On’s I have installed – not all of them are development oriented but I find them all very useful.

  • Download Statusbar
    Allows you to view and manage downloads from a tidy statusbar, without that pesky download window getting in the way of your browsing
  • Fangs
    This extension creates a textual representation of a web page similar to how the page would be read by a modern screen reader. I find this useful for doing some cursory validation of accessibility.
  • Firebug
    Firebug integrates with Firefox to put a wealth of development tools at your fingertips while you browse. You can edit, debug, and monitor CSS, HTML, and JavaScript live in any web page.
  • FireFTP
    FireFTP is a free, secure, cross-platform FTP client for Mozilla Firefox which provides easy and intuitive access to FTP servers. Along with transferring your files quickly and efficiently, FireFTP also includes more advanced features such as: directory comparison, syncing directories while navigating, SSL encryption, file hashing, and much more!
  • GreaseMonkey
    Allows you to customize the way a webpage displays using small bits of JavaScript. It’s also a cool way of adding functionality to web pages based on come criteria. To get an idea of what you can do with Greasemonkey have a loog at this little demonstration by one of my colleagues Richard Wallis who creates a greasemonkey script that uses our platform API’s to add a Libraries panel to amazon pages.
  • IE Tab
    This is an awesome add on. It basically embeds Internet Explorer into Mozilla/Firefox tabs. This is a great tool for web developers, since you can easily see how your webpage displayed in IE with just one click and then switch back to Firefox.
  • JSView
    All browsers include a “View Source” option, but none of them offer the ability to view the source code of external files. Most websites store their javascripts and style sheets in external files and then link to them within a web page’s source code. Previously if you wanted to view the source code of an external javascript/css you would have to manually look through the source code to find the url and then type that into your browser. With this nifty little plugin you can download/view all the externally referenced resources.
  • Live HTTP Headers
    This allows you to view the Http headers of a page while browsing. Comes in very useful when you want to check or validate the response headers that your application is sending out.
  • Quick Locale Switcher
    Allows you to quickly change and apply a different locale from the tools menu. Its very useful if your doing anything with multi lingual support.
  • RDF Viewer
    We’re doing a lot of work building applications that use RDF. This tool can be quite useful when inspecting RDF Documents.
  • View Formatted Source
    When you use the normal view page source option in firefox, it will render the source exactly how the server outputted it. The problem with this is often contain snippets of code generated by different components and the source is actually very difficult to read through. This little add-on formats the source and provides syntax highlighting and some neat code folding as well as optional CSS support.
  • Web Developer
    A Must-have add-on, allows you to perform standards based validation on pages, tinker with browser setting, the list if far too long to mention. If your doing any form of web development this should be a requisite!
  • XPather
    Quite a feature rich XPath generator, editor, inspector and extractor. I sometimes struggle with figuring out the xpath to a particular element or node in a file, this makes it very easy! It has a few quirks though.
  • Yellow Pipe Lynx Viewer
    RightLynx displays a Lynx view of a web page via right-click or Tool menu. With just one click and without leaving the page (RightLynx opens in a new, small window), preview the page you are on with a Lynx Viewer. You can see what what a page will look like when viewed with Lynx, a text-mode web browser. It is also presumably, how search engines see your site. In addition, it can help determine if web pages are accessible to the vision impaired.

Movie Review: Frank Miller’s 300

After work last night Amanda and I with a group of friends went to watch Frank Miller’s new movie: 300.

Image source: Wikipedia

300 is an adaptation of Frank Miller’s graphic novel, which I remember reading years ago. The movie is extremely faithful to the original graphic novel. It’s one of the most visually stunning movies I’ve seen in a long time, and as you’d expect from one of Miller’s works, its extremely graphic in its violence.

For those who dont know, the movie tells a pseudo-historical account of the Battle of Thermopylae, which took place around 430 BC. The then Spartan king Leonidas along with his personal guard of 300 Spartans defended the narrow pass at Thermopylae against the Persian King Xerxes and his army numbering over a million for three days. With the odds so heavily against them they knew they would die, yet they sacrificed their lives to give the rest Greece time to unite and mobilise against Xerxes invading army.

The special effects in this movie are incredible, but it’s the slow motion closeups of the fighting between the two arms that is breathtaking to watch. I thoroughly recommend this movie, you wont be disappointed!

Google Tech Talk: Change your mind, change your brain – The inner conditions for authentic happiness

This is one of the most original and engaging talks I’ve seen over at Google. The talk is given by Matthieu Ricard a gifted scientist turned buddhist monk. The talk focuses on the question “if happiness is an inner state, influenced by external conditions but not dependent on them, how can we achieve it?”.

Google Tech Talk: Mashups – Combining Web Applications to Make Desktop Productivity Tools

An interesting tech talk by Mark Birbeck CEO of X-Port. Some of my colleagues saw Mark talk at the mashup* event in London last month. Although I have reservations about the Sidewinder framework he proposes, we at Talis are doing more and more work to make API’s available to developers that can be called from desktop based applications like the widgets and gadgets Mark describes. The problem with Sidewinder though is it provides a wrapper around web based applications allowing you to run them on your desktop – and im struggling to see the value in that.

I’ve done a fair bit of work creating Yahoo (Konfabulator) Desktop Widgets that use our API’s which will be released in the new few months, as exemplars of how developers out there can mashup our API’s with other services to create interesting and even compelling new applications. We like mashups at Talis, in fact we held a very successful mashup competition last year, which we are running again this year so if your interested why not enter the competition.