Ride to Finland

In case you've missed it an you're only following this blog, we've started a new blog that is about our motorcycle ride to Finland. We're starting tomorrow, Friday, and we'll be on the road for 16 days.
If you're interested, follow the Ride to Finland blog.


Testing Blogsy for iPad.

This blog post isn't really about anything apart from a bit of ramblings to be able to test a new blogging application on the iPad. The application (or popularly called Apps) is called Blogsy. You can find it in the AppStore and the website at: http://blogsyapp.com/how-to/

It brags about easy drag-n-drop style image addition etc. So far it's working well, but I'm a bit annoyed that I can't type on the "other" side, but only the "write" side. Watch the videos and you know what I mean.

But let's try some photos, these are from my Picasa album.

That worked well. Adding links seem to work quite well too. I tried a few things (after having watched the tutorial videos) but it still wasn't totally intuitive.

Let's add a video too.

"Third time is the charm" it seems. I had trouble getting the video into the end of the post, but it's there now.

The quick verdict; It works, but it could be better. Worth £1.79, yes, I'd say so. Especially if you factor in the AppStore-factor; Apps will only get better and I'm sure the guys will add some impressive features and polish to Blogsy over time.


Micro Frabster a tiny templating system

I thought I'd mention it here too. I've had this templating system lying around for a long time. The first version was built sometime in 2003 or so. It has since been improved over several iterations, 4 at least. A breakthrough came at iteration 2 or 3 when I cut out the "content file". This simplified the whole process a lot.

Micro Frabster is now live at Frozenspeed, and has been so for over a year (at least). It's also running on a few other sites, but I think they might need some updating, so I'll leave them unmentioned.
The whole idea centered around the fact that users, or site owners, are usually very happy to add and edit content. They know their content. Having some cocky programmer tell them what to do or not to do is usually not a good idea. So I wanted my "customers" to be able to edit their own pages, add more pages and so forth, without my intervention. However, I wanted to keep them on the straight and narrow when it came to how the site looked. If they can easily change everything, they will. This distracts from the content, not to mention it'll look abysmal.

Also many of my "customers" are clever enough to be able to read simple PHP code, understand the required HTML code they need and so forth. They're also pretty decent when it comes to uploading files and such things.
This is the reason why I wanted to create a system that "wasn't in the way" of simple content. I just wanted the content to come from the author and for them to put it on a web server, but framed in their nice look and brand.

The principle is that the templating engine reads the file where it came from, called the content file. It then picks up the important content from the content file and prints those pieces out inside the template. It then terminates the execution before it's time to display the original content.
I've also included a tiny meny-system (only one depth) in the source so people can start a simple site within minutes. I've built more elaborate menu systems if someone needs them.
I've also incorporated a way to run simple business logic, erhm... that's PHP code, sort of a "module" on a page.

Technically it's running on PHP, and needs no particular dependencies. It should work straight out of the box, no config needed. I've had it running on IIS in the past, but as I don't have one to test on, results may vary. It is however developed on Linux/Apache and runs just fine.

Anyway, it's out there, for anyone to use. It's released under the Mozilla License, so feel free to use it commercially. I'd love to hear feedback on the system and I'd love to hear ideas on how to improve it.
Find the source on Github https://github.com/jocke/Micro-Frabster
See it in action on my home server: http://madhouse.selincite.com/js/microfrabster/ :)


Building a Chopper Bicycle

This blog post starts waaaaay back in time, sometime in my childhood. After learning to ride bicycles. My friend had a, what could be considered, a chopper bike. It was nothing more than his normal bike, that his stepdad had fixed up a bit. Removed the luggage rack, shortened the mudguards, but above all, installed the long forks from an adult bike. Then painted it in metallic blue. Gorgeous. And amongst us other kids, his bike was awesome.
Let's add to that, the fact that I had friends who all had garages and/or access to welders, grinders, and other tools. They had home-made stuff, and customised stuff. I never had that. I wanted to cut, bend, weld, etc, but I never really had the equipment, nor did I have the encouragement. That last part is quite important. If you never get encouraged to do things you can't do, you'll end up living in a life that's surrounded by a wall that tells you that inside the wall is stuff you can do, and outside the wall, there's stuff that you can't do, and that you shouldn't really aspire to do the things you're clearly not capable of doing. Welding is one such thing that I was told is difficult and that you just can't do.
Well screw that! Here's a fact I've learned, and the sooner you learn it too, the better the world will become.

The skills you don't master right now, are only hard work, studies and lots of practise away. Just learn how to do it. That's all. Really. There's no magic in it. Tedious practise, studying, investigating, and so forth. It can be done, but you're the one going to have to do it.

Back on track... Chopper bike.
As you can imagine from the aforementioned setting, I've always wanted to build a bicycle. I never really knew how to do it, and I never knew where to start. I thought I had to have calculations, drawings, engineering degrees, precision jigs, and so forth. Thanks to Brad and Kat at Atomic Zombie, I've realised, that I don't need all that. What I need is scrap bikes, a bit of hard work, unconventional engineering ideas and a bit of "just do it"-attitude.
So, there I was. I was given a complete girls cheap mountain bike - perfect. I paid £5 each for two car wheels, and a ridiculous £10 for a kids 20" mountain bike, fully suspended, I might add, but it doesn't add anything. With that, a welder, some other tools, I was ready.
From there on, I had to order some tubing, I got some 3/4" 18swg tubing along with some 1 1/4" 18swg (that's 1.2mm wall thickness for the civlised world).
Well, to cut a long, sweaty, bloody, painful, burning-flesh-smelling-story short, I spent about two months in the garage. The above picture is taken on 3rd June 2010, and I fitted the new brake cable on the 29th July 2010.
The result is this;
 I've learnt a lot, and I've had a lot of fun. One mistake I did was put a deadline on the project. They always take more time than you expect, but this took a bit more as I had hoped to build a trailer for the Chopper too. This deadline was because I wanted Mark Willhans of Pinstriping.se to do the gorgeous pinstripes on the bike. He was kind enough to do it, but I must admit I felt quite stressed during the last week or so. I think the quality dropped a bit too.
When I ride the bike people stare, stop and ask, give thumbs up, ask for test rides and so forth. It's actually quite hilarious. I love riding it.
I'm considering the bike done, but as time passes I'll do some improvements to it and it will evolve a bit. I need other bars for it, and another wider seat. Also the aforementioned trailer will be built at some point.
If you're interested, there's some 240+ images of the whole project in my Picasa album "Chopper Cycle Project".
So, all in all, one more thing ticked off the list, and a funny object to be a bit proud of. Finally a thought for all of you; Just do it - you can, all it takes is hard work.


Upgrading MacBook Hard Disk

I thought I'd share my adventures of swapping my 160GB disk for a 340GB disk in my MacBook (Black one, bought Summer 2007).
I have been running this 160GB disk since I got the laptop, and since TimeMachine (Apples built in backup system) became available I've been using an external 2.5" 250GB USB disk for the TimeMachine backup. The reason for the 2.5" is quite simple, it's small, and it doesn't require an external power source. This means I can easily do backups wherever I want them.
To upgrade I bought a new SATA 340GB disk (Western Digital Black). I opted for a 7,200rpm one as I'm mostly using my laptop plugged in, so a decline in battery life isn't that critical. Then I also bought a new external backup disk. My choice fell upon the Buffalo 500GB one. I'm pretty pleased with it, it's black and shiny, pretty much similar to my old WD backup disk.
To get started with the disk swap I watched a YouTube video about it. As it turns out, Apple's hardware is, as it has always been, lovely (and we only buy these machines because they're "shiny" - right!!!). The procedure is, simplified, remove the battery. Unscrew the shiny L-shaped guard by undoing (not unscrewing) the three small phillips head screws. Carefully remove the L-shaped bracket. The disk is hidden at the short end - you'll see a white plastic tab, unfold it and pull the disk assembly out. Use a Torx T8 (I carefully used a Torx T7) tool to unscrew the four bolts that hold the "caddy" on the disk. Swap disks, reverse procedure to assemble. That's the hardware done.
Then you stick your Snow Leopard (or whatever MacOS you're using on the old disk and the backup disk) into your CD/DVD drive. Also plug in the TimeMachine USB disk. Boot the machine. It should now boot up to the Mac OS installer. At the installer choose the option for restoring your machine from a TimeMachine backup. You can now click forward in the wizard interface until you get to the spot where you select the disk to restore to. In my case, my disk was either unformatted or, formatted with the file system of a more commonly used operating system. Fret not, dear upgrader. Simply go to the "Utilities" menu and select "Disk Utility". Locate your new "blank" disk, and on the "Partition" "tab", select Options and choose "GUID Partition Table". Proceed and wipe the new disk and format it with the new filesystem. When done, exit "Disk Utility" and return to the Installer/Restorer. In my case the newly formatted disk was already found, so all I had to do was to select the steaming fresh disk and click forward until the restore proceeded.
The actual restore too about 4 hours or so.
The next part is to move your existing backups to the new backup drive. This is, simplified, done by "just dragging the 'Backups.backupdb' folder from the old disk to the new disk". However, there's a few things you need to do, such as turning the automatic backups off. See this Apple Knowledgebase article for full details: Mac 101: Time Machine. The information is under the "Mac OS X v10.6: How to transfer your backups from your current hard drive to a new hard drive" sub-heading.
BUT! There had to be one, hadn't there?! The Apple KB article mentions that "This may take some time to complete". In my case, "some time" meant 24 hours. I'm not kidding you. You have been warned! Now, there's a speck of good news; Firstly you don't have to do this on your own machine. You can use any Mac (or any other machine that can read/write that OS - I'm guessing) to copy the folder over. Secondly, I assume that using a command line option would be better, such as plain old cp (copy) or rsync (remote synchronisation). If I'd do this again, I'd use my girlfriends Mac and I'd use rsync to do it. That way I could interrupt the copying if needed.
Once you've got your old backkup on the new backup disk, it's time to reactivate your automatic TimeMachine backups and obviously to choose the new disk as backup target. And then you need to make a new fresh backup of your system. This might take some while as the file modification times have changed etc. It took about 2-4 hours for me - I don't know exactly as I don't know when it finished. :) Also, Spotlight will want to index your new backup disk too (process named mds), so expect your laptops fans to whirr away whilst this is happening.
So, not totally painless, but a lot less pain than I expected. If the backup copying would have been faster I think it would have been pretty much totally painless. There's a few caveats, but all in all, quite a straight forward process.
If you wonder about the faster disk? Did it make any difference? Yes, it has, but it could also be due to that the machine, now, has got "unlimited" swap capacity. (160GB+ compared to 1-4GB before). The machine feels a bit nippier and I'm very pleased with it. Battery life has decreased quite a bit, but the only time I've ran it off battery power, I wasn't very kind to the CPU with a lot of software running, so that was definitely contributing to the short battery life. Either way, very pleased. :)