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The Swiss Army Knife of text editors

Text editors don’t get much consideration. Some use them infrequently, when viewing ReadMe files or other such short documents. Others use them more often, but may use Windows Notepad because it comes pre-installed.

Windows Notepad is a basic text editor that has been part of every version of Windows since 1985. If you rarely use a text editor, and then only for quick, minimal editing or viewing, Notepad may be fine. For anyone who works with text files often, such as .html or .php files for web site creation, log viewing, config file checking, or just quick note taking, Notepad proves inadequate. Plus, the font used by Notepad is ugly and awkward to read. For an alternative, I recommened NoteTab.

Unlike Windows Hotepad’s single open document limitation, NoteTab allows multiple documents to be open concurrently with a tabbed interface. Its viewing options and user interface are highly configurable, including toggle word wrapping, text statistics such as word count, multilingual spell check (in Standard and Pro versions) and a favourites menu.

Clipbooks are code-entering or text-string entering shortcuts grouped by use. They are user creatable and editable. The installation comes with several clipbooks, and others are freely available from the developer and other users.

For those of us who create or maintain web sites, the included HTML and CSS clipbooks are terrific. The HTML clipbook allows single-click application of commonly-used tags and many less common tags. The clipbook is editable: I edited some HTML clips to match my own coding standards, and added clips for special element structures I used on my sites.

Other NoteTab features include:

  • customizable toolbar
  • ability to install on a USB flash drive for portability
  • font selection for display
  • support of UTF-8 and Unicode
  • HTML tag stripping of text blocks
  • convert text case
  • search and replace
  • extend functionality with scripting
  • customizable menu shortcuts (in Standard and Pro versions).

In fact, there are far too many features for me to do them justice in a brief review. The Pro version is programmable, and includes syntax highlighting, multiple undo/redo, line numbering, toggled display of non-printing characters, and more.

NoteTab includes a command to change Windows file associations to automatically launch NoteTab when opening .txt and other text files such as .htm, .php, .log. Windows 7 blocks this command, so for Windows 7 just use the standard Windows method to change file associations.

Three versions are available: Light; Standard; and Pro. For many of you seeking a better alternative to Windows Notepad, the free NoteTab Light may suffice. I bought the Pro version, and am glad I did.

An active community provides discussion, tips, free scripts, clipbooks and other enhancements. I’ve found the developer’s tech support to be responsive, and the community to be friendly and very helpful. One community member worked with me to create an FTP clipbook that uploads changed files direct from within NoteTab to my web site without having to separately launch my FTP software.

Take my advice: ditch Windows Notepad in favour of the superior NoteTab.

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The Amazing History of Today’s Top 10 Most Trafficked Websites

This is the second episode in a the infographic series WebHostingBuzz started last month, aimed to inform & entertain developers, designers, geeks and infographic addicts alike. In this piece we’re taking a look at the history of the the most trafficked websites, as reported by Alexa, Wikipedia and Archive.org  Click here to see the full size version. Enjoy and let us know what you think!

640 pixels wide version

800 pixels wide version

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“Come Here Often?” Can we make Google bug off?

If you search with Google, you’ve no doubt seen the intrusive banner that recently began appearing at the top of the search results page:

Come Here Often? Make Google Your Homepage, and two choices: Sure or No Thanks.

The banner is so awkward looking that many users worried that it was a sign that they had been infected by a virus.

Even if you click “No Thanks”, you’ll likely see the banner again the next time you visit Google, or after your next reboot. One Google message said that the choice was stored in a cookie, so as long as you didn’t delete cookies then you wouldn’t see the banner again. That’s not correct though, as I stored a Google.com cookie and still see the banner repeatedly. If they are using a cookie, it must be a third-party cookie not identified as Google.

On-line forums show many users complaining about the banner. What makes this promotion even clumsier than it seems is that even users who already have Google set as their home page still see the banner. Some say that they have removed Google as their default search provider and changed to Bing.

Some comments copied from Google’s own forum:

“Why do you ask me if I want Google to be my homepage when it already is my home page ??????? How’s this for an algorithm: If Google is homepage then do not display banner.”

“This is most obnoxious. Ask once and then leave me alone. I do not, nor will I ever, want to make Google my homepage.”

“Will this promotion end soon? I’ll probably stop using Google if this isn’t fixed.”

“Just out of legitimate fascination, I tried answering both yes and no to the legitimate question. But the banner keeps an appearing.

Oh, by the way, Google is already my home page, but I still keep on getting the banner. Hmm …… This kind of reminds me of Groundhog Day. Whether you’re dead or alive, life just goes on.”

Google seems to have erred badly on this one. The banner is clumsy, doesn’t even look like a Google item, and is annoying users unnecessarily. My prediction: after the complaints become widespread and loud enough, Google will stop this promotion rather than risk more customer defections.

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Huge criminal botnet crippled

Score one for the good guys. U.S. authorities last week took action against a huge criminal botnet.

A botnet is a network in which servers run for illicit purposes control home and office computers whose owners are unaware they have been compromised. Desktop computers, often with inadequate virus and network protection, become infected with programs that allow the machines to be controlled remotely by servers.

U.S. police and prosecutors seized servers in five states, and created their own server to attack and disable the larger network.

This particular botnet, known as Coreflood, was used by criminals to steal millions of dollars from owners of hundreds of thousands of infected computers. Data were stolen to allow identify theft of the owners. At its peak, this network was thought to have attacked two million computers worldwide. Keyloggers running on infected computers passed sensitive information such as banking passwords and credit card numbers to botnet operators.

No arrests have been made yet, but it’s possible that authorities know who they are looking for. Prosecutors filed court documents naming 13 “John Doe” defendants. Those anonymous names may be place holders, so as not to alert the criminals until authorities are ready to arrest them.

Let’s hope this makes a major impact against criminal botnets. Now, if only we could get clueless computer users to update their virus protection and secure their wireless routers.

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E-mail: plain text is best – follow-up

After my recent article on formatted e-mail a reader commented:

This is outdated nonsense. Use HTML for all emails (and UTF-8, for that matter).

If you can’t see it correctly, upgrade your mail client. Stop living in the 90s, and stop trying to force others to. Even the author of “Why HTML in E-Mail is a Bad Idea” has changed his mind.

Regarding that article mentioned, more recent reader comments on the author’s blog show that many people still dislike HTML mail. In any event, no one is forced to do anything, it’s a choice and I want people to be aware of the issues.

The comment: “If you can’t see it correctly, upgrade your mail client” is interesting. It’s not about me, it’s about everyone’s recipients. In fact, I use a very recent mail client.

When someone composes a formatted message, whether HTML, RTF, or something else, that user knows how it looks only on their own system. They have no way to know how it will appear on a recipient’s system.

The recipient may have a lower screen resolution, so the message lines may extend past the screen edge. The recipient may have aging or impaired vision, and be unable to see the tiny fonts. The colour choice may be difficult to read. Or, as in one of my examples, formatting may force the recipient to click on each attachment link individually to separately view each photograph, when if it were sent in plain text all images would be automatically displayed.

If you know that all your recipients can view your formatted mail comfortably, then all is well and you have no reason to change. However, many users assume that the way they see something on their screens is the same for everyone. That is not the case, as formatted messages render differently on different systems, software and screens. If we want recipients to be able to comfortably read our messages, it’s important to be aware.

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E-mail: plain text is best

I can sum up my advice on this topic in one phrase: compose and send e-mail in plain text.

When e-mail began 45 years ago, all messages were in plain text. For the technically inclined among you, it was 7-bit ASCII text. In more modern times, the explosion in the popularity of e-mail has led to more features being added. One of those features, formatted e-mail, is in my opinion of dubious value.

Most e-mail clients, whether running on a local computer such as Outlook or Eudora, or web based such as Gmail and Yahoo mail, offer a formatted mail option. For many it is HTML, the same encoding used for web pages. Some offer another formatting method, as Microsoft Outlook uses Rich Text Format.

Formatting allows the creator of a message to select font size and colour, place images in-line, embed links, italicize or boldface text, and more.

For the recipient, formatted mail has drawbacks. If the recipient’s mail software is incapable of rendering the chosen format, then the message will not appear as desired. This is especially the case when a sender use Microsoft’s Rich Text Format (RTF) in such software as Outlook. As far as I know, it may be only Microsoft products that can properly read RTF formatted mail.

HTML formatted mail can be read by most mail clients, but is often not welcome. If the sender chose a specific font size, that size may be too small for the recipient to read comfortably. Or, it may be unnecessarily large. Lines may wrap awkwardly. My friend’s messages, sent from his Mac using Apple Mail, are formatted such that they do not wrap in my e-mail software. The lines of text extend far past the right-hand edge of my mail reader, requiring me to scroll horizontally to read the message.

My sister often sends photos, composing her messages with Gmail’s “Rich formatting”. The result is that many of us can’t immediately see the photos. We must click individually on each photo file to view it, then close it and repeat the process to see the next photo. It’s tedious. Had she sent those messages in plain text, all the attached photos would display automatically in my mail software.

For most e-mail, send in plain text. Don’t use HTML or rich text unless you have a specific need for formatting. Plain text is viewable by all e-mail clients. If you send in plain text, you guarantee that all recipients will be able to read your message, and will see it in their own preferred font and font size.

Each mail software has its own method of changing the default to plain text. Check the help files or Google for the specific steps needed by your software.

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BCC for long distribution lists

Do you ever send a message to multiple recipients? Sure you do. Whether it’s a forwarded joke, the URL to the latest YouTube sensation, or some personal news to friends and family, we all do it. It’s one of the efficient benefits of e-mail.

While the standard way to address multiple recipients is to add them to the “To” field, that may not be the best way. When you list all recipients in “To” or “CC”,  every recipient sees the list of recipients. This leaves that list at risk.

Computers infected with viruses and other malware is a growing problem. Many of those computers are infected with programs that search e-mail for addresses. Those addresses are used as targets for spam and other malware, and forged as senders of such illicit mail. When you create a long “To” or “CC” list, you potentially expose your contacts to this abuse.

The alternative is “BCC”, short for Blind Carbon Copy. Addresses in “BCC” cannot be seen by other recipients, and are therefore not exposed.

There may be times, such as planning a business meeting, when you want all recipients to see who else received a message. Some people have mail services that block incoming mail if their address is in “BCC”. If so, adjust accordingly. Otherwise, consider using “BCC” for long lists to protect those addresses.

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April Fools’ Day part 2

Yes, today is tne annual recurrence of that one morning when it’s somewhat sanctioned to play tricks on your friends, family and co-workers.

Sorry if you couldn’t read the earlier April Fools’ post. It was in binary, that single-minded yes-or-no off-or-on one-or-zero language underpinning our digital lives. To those of you who figured it out, well done! A quick Google for binary to text converter would have translated the article for you.

While most of us associate binary code with computers, it was actually introduced in the 17th century by a mathematician. Binary has long been used in mathematics and logic, and was perfect for the later computing boom.

These days most of us are far removed from dealing with binary code. Our computers, music players and phones all have lovely graphic interfaces, shielding us from the confusing simplicity of binary code.

My first exposure to computing was as a kid, in a progressive high school. Unusual in its day, that high school had a couple of courses in computer programming. We first had to write simple programs in binary code. Later we used pencil cards.

Ah, the days of pencil cards. These were oblong cards containing 80 columns, each column a series of small oval spaces, similar to a lottery form. These spaces represented binary code: an unfilled space is a zero, a filled space is one. Spaces were filled using a pencil. Each brief program or instruction required many cards, and a stack of cards was fed into a machine that used IBM’s Optical Mark Recognition system.

The cards were finicky. If you didn’t entirely fill in a space, or if the pencil mark was too light, it would not be read. I used to buy special 4B pencils (much softer than a standard HB), as they made a lovely opaque mark with ease.

If you left a stray pencil tick anywhere on the card, it might cause a mis-read and an error. If your cards became rearranged out of sequence, woe betide you if you had neglected to number the cards in order to reestablish the order.

I well remember special days when we were permitted to go to the Board of Education offices to work on our assignments. They had a punch card reader! Wow, I thought I was really living in the technological age. I sat myself at the huge combination keyboard and card puncher, and entered my code. Instead of pencil marks, a card was physically punched out to create a series of punched and unpunched areas, again representing binary.

When I edit photos on my laptop computer or download music to my iPod, I’m amazed at how far we’ve come in such a short time. I’m also reminded at how disconnected most of us are from what’s really going on underneath our fancy devices.

S0, how many of you figured out that yesterday’s posts was in binary, and then translated it to read the article?

punch card from my past

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From Horseback To Bullet Train: The History Of Internet Usage And Speeds

This is the first episode in a vast infograhic series WebHostingBuzz plans to release every other week, aimed to inform & entertain developers, designers, geeks and infographic addicts alike. In this piece we’re taking a look at the history of the Internet usage, observing how much has the game changed in the last few years, who are the biggest players, where are the most users from, who’s speedier and so on. Click here to see the full size version. Enjoy and let us know what you think!

640 pixels wide version

800 pixels wide version

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