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Grocery Shopper Data Use

2009 Oct 13, 11:15

Photo of Hostess Pride chicken display from the Library of VirginaQFC, the grocery store closest to me, has those irritating shoppers cards. They try to motivate me to use it with discounts, but that just makes me want to use a card, I don't care whose card and I don't care if the data is accurate. They should let me have my data or make it useful to me so that I actually care.

I can imagine several useful tools based on this: automatic grocery lists, recipes using the food you purchased, cheaper alternatives to your purchases, other things you might like based on what you purchased, or integration with dieting websites or software. At any rate, right now all I care about is getting the discount from using a card, but if they made the data available to me then the grocery store could align our interests and I'd want to ensure the data's accuracy.

PermalinkCommentsidea boring data grocery store

Who you calling boring?

2009 Jun 2, 4:00"A notice was sent out by the real estate department with the provocative subject line Campus notification - Building 7: Marking Boring Locations."PermalinkCommentshumor english language boring

Browser Versions Over Time

2009 May 23, 4:45

In honor of Google Chrome's recent v2 release and because I read they don't make too big a deal about version numbers, I thought to create a graph of browser major version numbers over time.

Yeah that's not too useful of a graph. I got the release dates from Wikipedia of course.

As you can see from the graph, Netscape and Opera are leading all other browsers in terms of major version number. The other browsers really need to get on that.

PermalinkCommentsbrowser technical boring google ie graph

Send URL to Cellphone - QR Encode Accelerator

2009 Apr 14, 9:26

I've made a QR Encode accelerator around Google Chart's QR code generator. QR codes are 2D bar-codes that can store (among other things) URLs and have good support on mobile phones. The accelerator I've written lets you generate a QR code for a selected link and view it in the preview window. In combination with the ZXing bar-code scanner app for my Android cellphone, its easy for me to right click on a link in IE8 on my desktop PC, hover over the QR Encode accelerator to have the link's associated QR code displayed, and then with my phone read that QR code to open my phone's browser to the URL contained inside. Its much easier to browse around in the comfort of my desktop and only send particular URLs to my cellphone as necessary.

PermalinkCommentstechnical boring accelerator android barcode ie8 google qr code

Flickr Visual Search in IE8

2009 Apr 10, 9:48

A while ago I promised to say how an xsltproc Meddler script would be useful and the general answer is its useful for hooking up a client application that wants data from the web in a particular XML format and the data is available on the web but in another XML format. The specific case for this post is a Flickr Search service that includes IE8 Visual Search Suggestions. IE8 wants the Visual Search Suggestions XML format and Flickr gives out search data in their Flickr web API XML format.

So I wrote an XSLT to convert from Flickr Search XML to Visual Suggestions XML and used my xsltproc Meddler script to actually apply this xslt.

After getting this all working I've placed the result in two places: (1) I've updated the xsltproc Meddler script to include this XSLT and an XML file to install it as a search provider - although you'll need to edit the XML to include your own Flickr API key. (2) I've created a service for this so you can just install the Flickr search provider if you're interested in having the functionality and don't care about the implementation. Additionally, to the search provider I've added accelerator preview support to show the Flickr slideshow which I think looks snazzy.

Doing a quick search for this it looks like there's at least one other such implementation, but mine has the distinction of being done through XSLT which I provide, updated XML namespaces to work with the released version of IE8, and I made it so you know its good.

PermalinkCommentsmeddler xml ie8 xslt flickr technical boring search suggestions

Thoughts on registerProtocolHandler in HTML 5

2009 Apr 7, 9:02

I'm a big fan of the concept of registerProtocolHandler in HTML 5 and in FireFox 3, but not quite the implementation. From a high level, it allows web apps to register themselves as handlers of an URL scheme so for (the canonical) example, GMail can register for the mailto URL scheme. I like the concept:

However, the way its currently spec'ed out I don't like the following: PermalinkCommentsurl template registerprotocolhandler firefox technical url scheme protocol boring html5 uri urn

Outline View Internet Explorer Extension

2009 Mar 23, 8:13

I've made another extension for IE8, Outline View, which gives you a side bar in IE that displays an outline of the current page and lets you make intrapage bookmarks.

The outline is generated based on the heading tags in the document (e.g. h1, h2, etc), kind of like what W3C's Semantic data extractor tool displays for an outline. So if the page doesn't use heading tags the way the HTML spec intended or just sticks img tags in them, then the outline doesn't look so hot. On a page that does use headings as intended though it looks really good. For instance a section from the HTML 4 spec shows up quite nicely and I find its actually useful to be able to jump around to the different sections. Actually, I've been surprised going to various blogs how well the outline view is actually working -- I thought a lot more webdevs would be abusing their heading tags.

I've also added intrapage bookmarks. When you make a text selection and clear it, that selected text is added as a temporary intrapage bookmark which shows up in the correct place in the outline. You can navigate to the bookmark or right click to make it permanent. Right now I'm storing the permanent intrapage bookmarks in IE8's new per-domain DOM storage because I wanted to avoid writing code to synchronize a cross process store of bookmarks, it allowed me to play with the DOM storage a bit, and the bookmarks will get cleared appropriately when the user clears their history via the control panel.

PermalinkCommentstechnical intrapage bookmark boring html ie8 ie extension

Notes on Creating Internet Explorer Extensions in C++ and COM

2009 Mar 20, 4:51

Working on Internet Explorer extensions in C++ & COM, I had to relearn or rediscover how to do several totally basic and important things. To save myself and possibly others trouble in the future, here's some pertinent links and tips.

First you must choose your IE extensibility point. Here's a very short list of the few I've used:

Once you've created your COM object that implements IObjectWithSite and whatever other interfaces your extensibility point requires as described in the above links you'll see your SetSite method get called by IE. You might want to know how to get the top level browser object from the IUnknown site object passed in via that method.

After that you may also want to listen for some events from the browser. To do this you'll need to:

  1. Implement the dispinterface that has the event you want. For instance DWebBrowserEvents2, or HTMLDocumentEvents, or HTMLWindowEvents2. You'll have to search around in that area of the documentation to find the event you're looking for.
  2. Register for events using AtlAdvise. The object you need to subscribe to depends on the events you want. For example, DWebBrowserEvents2 come from the webbrowser object, HTMLDocumentEvents come from the document object assuming its an HTML document (I obtained via get_Document method on the webbrowser), and HTMLWindowEvents2 come from the window object (which oddly I obtained via calling the get_script method on the document object). Note that depending on when your SetSite method is called the document may not exist yet. For my extension I signed up for browser events immediately and then listened for events like NavigateComplete before signing up for document and window events.
  3. Implement IDispatch. The Invoke method will get called with event notifications from the dispinterfaces you sign up for in AtlAdvise. Implementing Invoke manually is a slight pain as all the parameters come in as VARIANTs and are in reverse order. There's some ATL macros that may make this easier but I didn't bother.
  4. Call AtlUnadvise at some point -- at the latest when SetSite is called again and your site object changes.

If you want to check if an IHTMLElement is not visible on screen due how the page is scrolled, try comparing the Body or Document Element's client height and width, which appears to be the dimensions of the visible document area, to the element's bounding client rect which appears to be its position relative to the upper left corner of the visible document area. I've found this to be working for me so far, but I'm not positive that frames, iframes, zooming, editable document areas, etc won't mess this up.

Be sure to use pointers you get from the IWebBrowser/IHTMLDocument/etc. only on the thread on which you obtained the pointer or correctly marshal the pointers to other threads to avoid weird crashes and hangs.

Obtaining the HTML document of a subframe is slightly more complicated then you might hope. On the other hand this might be resolved by the new to IE8 method IHTMLFrameElement3::get_contentDocument

Check out Eric's IE blog post on IE extensibility which has some great links on this topic as well.

PermalinkCommentstechnical boring internet explorer com c++ ihtmlelement extension

The 'Is It UTF-8?' Quick and Dirty Test

2009 Mar 6, 5:16

I've found while debugging networking in IE its often useful to quickly tell if a string is encoded in UTF-8. You can check for the Byte Order Mark (EF BB BF in UTF-8) but, I rarely see the BOM on UTF-8 strings. Instead I apply a quick and dirty UTF-8 test that takes advantage of the well-formed UTF-8 restrictions.

Unlike other multibyte character encoding forms (see Windows supported character sets or IANA's list of character sets), for example Big5, where sticking together any two bytes is more likely than not to give a valid byte sequence, UTF-8 is more restrictive. And unlike other multibyte character encodings, UTF-8 bytes may be taken out of context and one can still know that its a single byte character, the starting byte of a three byte sequence, etc.

The full rules for well-formed UTF-8 are a little too complicated for me to commit to memory. Instead I've got my own simpler (this is the quick part) set of rules that will be mostly correct (this is the dirty part). For as many bytes in the string as you care to examine, check the most significant digit of the byte:

F:
This is byte 1 of a 4 byte encoded codepoint and must be followed by 3 trail bytes.
E:
This is byte 1 of a 3 byte encoded codepoint and must be followed by 2 trail bytes.
C..D:
This is byte 1 of a 2 byte encoded codepoint and must be followed by 1 trail byte.
8..B:
This is a trail byte.
0..7:
This is a single byte encoded codepoint.
The simpler rules can produce false positives in some cases: that is, they'll say a string is UTF-8 when in fact it might not be. But it won't produce false negatives. The following is table from the Unicode spec. that actually describes well-formed UTF-8.
Code Points 1st Byte 2nd Byte 3rd Byte 4th Byte
U+0000..U+007F 00..7F
U+0080..U+07FF C2..DF 80..BF
U+0800..U+0FFF E0 A0..BF 80..BF
U+1000..U+CFFF E1..EC 80..BF 80..BF
U+D000..U+D7FF ED 80..9F 80..BF
U+E000..U+FFFF EE..EF 80..BF 80..BF
U+10000..U+3FFFF F0 90..BF 80..BF 80..BF
U+40000..U+FFFFF F1..F3 80..BF 80..BF 80..BF
U+100000..U+10FFFF F4 80..8F 80..BF 80..BF

PermalinkCommentstest technical unicode boring charset utf8 encoding

Subst Allows Non-Letter Drive Letters

2009 Mar 4, 2:39

I knew that the command line tool subst would create virtual drives that map to existing directories but I didn't know that subst lets you name the virtual drives with characters that aren't US-ASCII letters. For instance you can run 'subst 4: C:\windows' and then 'more 4:\win.ini' to dump C:\windows\win.ini. This also works for non-US-ASCII characters like, "C" (aka U+FF23, Fullwidth Latin Capital Letter C), which when displayed by cmd.exe via some best fit style character conversions looks just like the regular US-ASCII 'C'. None of Explorer, IE, or the common file dialogs allow the use of these odd virtual drives -- just cmd.exe, so I'm not sure how this would ever be useful but I thought it was odd and I wanted to share.

PermalinkCommentscli technical boring subst windows

RemoteOpen Tool

2009 Feb 7, 10:39

On my laptop at work I often get mail with attached files the application for which I only have installed on my main computer. Tired of having to save the file on the laptop and then find it on the network via my other computer, I wrote remoteopen two nights ago. With this I open the file on my laptop and remoteopen sends it to be opened on my main computer. Overkill for this issue but it felt good to write a quick tool that solves my problem.

PermalinkCommentstechnical boring remoteopen tool

Phone Replacement For Grocery Card

2008 Dec 29, 11:04

My QFC grocery card barcode is 4 46600 03506 4.Another use for my new phone is as a replacement for my grocery card, those little plastic cards with a bar code on them that the grocery store gives you to track your purchasing habits. I've previously gone to great lengths to increase space in my pockets by removing infrequently used keys and reducing my wallet to the essentials. So I was glad to get rid of the QFC card and replace it with a photo of its bar code on my phone. Since the important part of the QFC card is the bar code which is just an image of black lines, if your phone has a camera and a screen with a reasonable resolution you can take a photo of the bar code and later display it to a reader. I've so far been able to try it once and successfully at a normal checkout line, but the reaction from the checkout lady was enough that I may in the future just keep a card in my car. She was very excited, asked me what kind of phone I had, called over another checkout person and generally made a large fuss. Also the checkout people generally don't mind giving me a new card if I don't have one with me.

PermalinkCommentstechnical boring barcode phone

YouTube - Hans Rosling: No more boring data: TEDTalks

2008 Dec 22, 11:05Hans Rosling gives a great presenttation on world health and economy and statistics visualization.PermalinkCommentsvideo ted statistics economics visualization youtube via:swannman

Text/Plain Fragment Bookmarklet

2008 Nov 19, 12:58

The text/plain fragment documented in RFC 5147 and described on Erik Wilde's blog struck my interest and, like the XML fragment, I wanted to see if I could implement this in IE. In this case there's no XSLT for me to edit so, like my plain/text word wrap bookmarklet I've implemented it as a bookmarklet. This is only a partial implementation as it doesn't implement the integrity checks.

Check out my text/plain fragment bookmarklet.

PermalinkCommentstext url boring bookmarklet uri plain-text javascript fragment

Failing Electronics

2008 Oct 22, 12:54

Electronic devices shouldn't fail, they should just sit wherever I place them and work forever. A while back my home web server started failing so I moved over to a real web hosting service. And this was the home web server I built from pieces Eric gave me after my previous one died during the big power failure the year before. The power socket on my old laptop has come undone from the motherboard so that it can no longer be powered. Just a week or two ago my Xbox 360 stopped displaying video. The CPU fan on my media center died. I also want to put my camera and GPS in this list, but the camera died due to accidentally turning on in my pocket and the GPS was stolen so those aren't the devices just arbitrarily failing.

PermalinkCommentsboring personal complaining nontechnical

RPS Interview: Valve's Erik Wolpaw | Rock, Paper, Shotgun

2008 Jun 30, 5:45Erik on writing for games vs books: "Even worse for game writers, the 98% garbage part of a game isn't even usually garbage because instead of reading something boring about the history of Belgium, the "reader" probably gets to jump a Camaro over a dinoPermalinkCommentsgame humor interview valve portal article erik-wolpaw

The Botanical Twitter Kit is a sound machine for your plant - Boing Boing Gadgets

2008 May 12, 5:05"It uses moisture sensors to detect your plant's well-being, then connects to Twitter via Ethernet jack to send surprisingly human-like messages about the excruciating minutiae of your plant's boring, sedentary life. Tweets about how much water it just haPermalinkCommentshumor gift plant twitter hardware

URI Fragment Info Roundup

2008 Apr 21, 11:53

['Neverending story' by Alexandre Duret-Lutz. A framed photo of books with the droste effect applied. Licensed under creative commons.]Information about URI Fragments, the portion of URIs that follow the '#' at the end and that are used to navigate within a document, is scattered throughout various documents which I usually have to hunt down. Instead I'll link to them all here.

Definitions. Fragments are defined in the URI RFC which states that they're used to identify a secondary resource that is related to the primary resource identified by the URI as a subset of the primary, a view of the primary, or some other resource described by the primary. The interpretation of a fragment is based on the mime type of the primary resource. Tim Berners-Lee notes that determining fragment meaning from mime type is a problem because a single URI may contain a single fragment, however over HTTP a single URI can result in the same logical resource represented in different mime types. So there's one fragment but multiple mime types and so multiple interpretations of the one fragment. The URI RFC says that if an author has a single resource available in multiple mime types then the author must ensure that the various representations of a single resource must all resolve fragments to the same logical secondary resource. Depending on which mime types you're dealing with this is either not easy or not possible.

HTTP. In HTTP when URIs are used, the fragment is not included. The General Syntax section of the HTTP standard says it uses the definitions of 'URI-reference' (which includes the fragment), 'absoluteURI', and 'relativeURI' (which don't include the fragment) from the URI RFC. However, the 'URI-reference' term doesn't actually appear in the BNF for the protocol. Accordingly the headers like 'Request-URI', 'Content-Location', 'Location', and 'Referer' which include URIs are defined with 'absoluteURI' or 'relativeURI' and don't include the fragment. This is in keeping with the original fragment definition which says that the fragment is used as a view of the original resource and consequently only needed for resolution on the client. Additionally, the URI RFC explicitly notes that not including the fragment is a privacy feature such that page authors won't be able to stop clients from viewing whatever fragments the client chooses. This seems like an odd claim given that if the author wanted to selectively restrict access to portions of documents there are other options for them like breaking out the parts of a single resource to which the author wishes to restrict access into separate resources.

HTML. In HTML, the HTML mime type RFC defines HTML's fragment use which consists of fragments referring to elements with a corresponding 'id' attribute or one of a particular set of elements with a corresponding 'name' attribute. The HTML spec discusses fragment use additionally noting that the names and ids must be unique in the document and that they must consist of only US-ASCII characters. The ID and NAME attributes are further restricted in section 6 to only consist of alphanumerics, the hyphen, period, colon, and underscore. This is a subset of the characters allowed in the URI fragment so no encoding is discussed since technically its not needed. However, practically speaking, browsers like FireFox and Internet Explorer allow for names and ids containing characters outside of the defined set including characters that must be percent-encoded to appear in a URI fragment. The interpretation of percent-encoded characters in fragments for HTML documents is not consistent across browsers (or in some cases within the same browser) especially for the percent-encoded percent.

Text. Text/plain recently got a fragment definition that allows fragments to refer to particular lines or characters within a text document. The scheme no longer includes regular expressions, which disappointed me at first, but in retrospect is probably good idea for increasing the adoption of this fragment scheme and for avoiding the potential for ubiquitous DoS via regex. One of the authors also notes this on his blog. I look forward to the day when this scheme is widely implemented.

XML. XML has the XPointer framework to define its fragment structure as noted by the XML mime type definition. XPointer consists of a general scheme that contains subschemes that identify a subset of an XML document. Its too bad such a thing wasn't adopted for URI fragments in general to solve the problem of a single resource with multiple mime type representations. I wrote more about XPointer when I worked on hacking XPointer into IE.

SVG and MPEG. Through the Media Fragments Working Group I found a couple more fragment scheme definitions. SVG's fragment scheme is defined in the SVG documentation and looks similar to XML's. MPEG has one defined but I could only find it as an ISO document "Text of ISO/IEC FCD 21000-17 MPEG-12 FID" and not as an RFC which is a little disturbing.

AJAX. AJAX websites have used fragments as an escape hatch for two issues that I've seen. The first is getting a unique URL for versions of a page that are produced on the client by script. The fragment may be changed by script without forcing the page to reload. This goes outside the rules of the standards by using HTML fragments in a fashion not called out by the HTML spec. but it does seem to be inline with the spirit of the fragment in that it is a subview of the original resource and interpretted client side. The other hack-ier use of the fragment in AJAX is for cross domain communication. The basic idea is that different frames or windows may not communicate in normal fashions if they have different domains but they can view each other's URLs and accordingly can change their own fragments in order to send a message out to those who know where to look. IMO this is not inline with the spirit of the fragment but is rather a cool hack.

PermalinkCommentsxml text ajax technical url boring uri fragment rfc

Encoding methods in C#

2008 Apr 12, 10:38

For Encode-O-Matic, my encoding tool written in C#, I had to figure out the appropriate DllImport declarations to use IDN Win32 functions which was a pain. To spare others that pain here's the two files CharacterSetEncoding.cs and NationalLanguageSupportUtilities.cs that declare the DllImports for IdnToUnicode, IdnToAscii, NormalizeString, MultiByteToWideChar, and WideCharToMultiByte.

PermalinkCommentsencodeomatic boring csharp widechartomultibyte idn tool dllimport

Zeno's Progress Bar - Stolen Thoughts

2008 Apr 7, 10:09

Text-less progress bar dialog. Licensed under Creative Commons by Ian HamptonMore of my thoughts have been stolen: In my previous job the customer wanted a progress bar displayed while information was copied off of proprietary hardware, during which the software didn't get any indication of progress until the copy was finished. I joked (mostly) that we could display a progress bar that continuously slows down and never quite reaches the end until we know we're done getting info from the hardware. The amount of progress would be a function of time where as time approaches infinity, progress approaches a value of at most 100 percent.

This is similar to Zeno's Paradox which says you can't cross a room because to do so first you must cross half the room, then you must cross half the remaining distance, then half the remaining again, and so on which means you must take an infinite number of steps. There's also an old joke inspired by Zeno's Paradox. The joke is the prototypical engineering vs sciences joke and is moderately humorous, but I think the fact that Wolfram has an interactive applet demonstrating the joke is funnier than the joke itself.

I recently found Lou Franco's blog post "Using Zeno's Paradox For Progress Bars" which covers the same concept as Zeno's Progress Bar but with real code. Apparently Lou wasn't making a joke and actually used this progress bar in an application. A progress bar that doesn't accurately represent progress seems dishonest. In cases like the Vista Defrag where the software can't make a reasonable guess about how long a process will take the software shouldn't display a progress bar.

Similarly a paper by Chris Harrison "Rethinking the Progress Bar" suggests that if a progress bar speeds up towards the end the user will perceive the operation as taking less time. The paper is interesting, but as in the previous case, I'd rather have progress accurately represented even if it means the user doesn't perceive the operation as being as fast.

Update: I should be clearer about Lou's post. He was actually making a practical and implementable suggestion as to how to handle the case of displaying progress when you have some idea of how long it will take but no indications of progress, whereas my suggestion is impractical and more of a joke concerning displaying progress with no indication of progress nor a general idea of how long it will take.

PermalinkCommentszenos paradox technical stolen-thoughts boring progress zeno software math
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