And how was your Memorial day weekend?

Last Friday the area around my right side burn got swollen and raw. By Saturday afternoon it spread down the right side of my neck.

By Monday (Memorial Day) everyone was reminding me to see a doctor. It was all swollen and hurt a little with pins and needles pain.

Tuesday morning I am in the office. Two of my friends were saying “Wow, you look like crap”. A third friend walked in a little later took of his shades and said “Hey that looks just like Shingles!”

Shingles, as in the same virus that causes chicken pox. That’ll make me popular!

I left work 10 minutes after that, with one of my friends acting like I was infectious. After seeing the doctor, she confirmed it was shingles. I was sure it was just midlife acne or a bad rash caused by a bug bite.

Tuesday and Wednesday the thing began to really hurt. I couldn’t sleep because of the sharp pain. Today it’s hurting much less, shifting into a burning feeling. Shingles is a virus that lives in the nerves. It can’t be cured but with medicine the length of the flare up can hopefully be minimized. My friend had just seen it one someone else who complained about the pain. At the time I was thinking “what pain?” and now a couple of days later I know exactly what he meant.

Both kids have been vaccinated against chickenpox so no worries there. If I can keep the stress down at work and home then I should be fine. As it is, when something make me snarl I get stabbing pains in my neck. No joke.

That will teach me to take it easy from now on 🙂

Dealing with pond algae

So Lily and I are at my mother-in-law’s house with the kids. It’s hot and the kids are watching cartoons. I’m hanging out with Lily’s nephew talking about the BlackBerry Pearl when I hear yelling from downstairs.

Lily is on the phone getting upset with someone named “Jessica”. Jessica called and is insisting on speaking with Ma. Lily is trying to explain to this person that Ma does not speak English at all. Jessica wont even tell Lily why she is calling and what is this about and keeps insisting on talking with Ma.

Even when Lily started speaking to her in Chinese Jessica still does not get it.

Lily has had it and I get a turn. So I get on the phone and try to explain that

  1. Ma does not speak English, and
  2. until we know what this is about we’re not going to be discussing anything.

After a couple of minutes I just say that I need to speak with her manager. She of course says that she can’t transfer me until I give MY name. So I give her my name and wait.

After being put on hold for a few minutes I hung up and called the 800 number that Jessica gave Lily. Bingo! I got Jessica again. I told her right off I need to speak with her manager, and right on cue she wants my name.

By now it’s obvious that it was a collection agency. I am sure that the delay was that she was trying to look up my name. I am also sure that she could not spell it and that’s what the delay was. I repeated my name and waited on hold. A couple of minute later I hung up and called back again and this time I asked “why does MY name matter?” So I told her that my name is John Doe and she should get her manager NOW.

She snorted and hung up on me.

Now this person is not the brightest in the world. I called that number a few times already and each time she picked up. Now I’m a little pissed off and she’s apparently the only one operating the phone bank. She knows I am going to keep calling until I get someone pretending to be her boss.

Next call she just puts me through to a person claiming to be her manager named Ryan. I tell him that Ma does not speak English and that they are to stop calling her number immediately. I also tell him that Jessica is unprofessional and as hard headed as a door nail.

Yes, I really do say things like that.

Ryan plays the high road card and says “I’m not going to be unprofessional like you and resort to name calling”. I point out that she hung up on me and I think they owe me a couple. He actually says sorry and wants to know if I know some person’s name. And if I do can I get in contact with that person.

I explain that I am not a public assistance service. This silliness goes on for another minute and I just cut in and say

Me: “Ryan can you confirm that this number will not be called again?”

Ryan: “Yes and we will not call again, but it would be helpful if-”

Me: “Thank you and you have a nice memorial day weekend.”

And hung up on him.

Any collection agency (they were not calling for ME) has a dirty job. But when they start to cold call people who may come into contact or live in proximity with the guy they want then they are doing something wrong. They are then harassing, obtuse, and sometimes out right liars.

My mother-in-law is not in good health and speaks no English at all. For them to harass her (her number is on the national do-not-call list; it’s harassment) is just unforgivable.

Lily and I saved the name of the company, the names of the people we spoke with, the 800 number, and the time and date that they called. We looked up their company on the Internet and will report them to BBB if they harass my mother-in-law again.

Adding Slimstat to WordPress

Slimstat thumbI run this web site as a hobby but I still like to have tools to check how the site is doing. Slimstat is a tool that I use because it captures things like search strings, referers, etc. It’s like Google analytics but more local.

For WordPress there is a useful plugin that adds Slimstat to the dashboard. My advice to people is to use the plugin as it is fire and forget.

I don’t listen to my own advice 🙂 so I prefer to add Slimstat outside of WordPress by adding a few lines to the wp-config.php like so:

// Jan added Slimstat
$ip_jan=$_SERVER['REMOTE_ADDR'];
$url_ref=@$_SERVER['HTTP_REFERER'];
if (($ip_jan != "24.46.186.255" ) or ($ip_jan != "64.233.178.136")) {
   if (!(preg_match("/translate.google.com/",$url_ref))) {
      @include_once( "/srv/www/slimstat/inc.stats.php" );
   }
}
/* That's all, stop editing! Happy blogging. */

I am not a programmer and my PHP is horrible. I add the code to wp-config.php because it gets included every time and I don’t have to modify the theme. Putting it there also means when I upgrade the theme or WordPress version it will get preserved from being overwritten.

I put the if statements in there because I want to exclude from logging website requests from a Google address and from my own IP address. I use Angsuman’s translator plugin and exclude anything that is refered from translator.google.com. If someone hits a web page with /post-slug/es/ (for the spanish version) then I want to see that URL and not the ones that the machine translator hit.

Setting up Slimstat is easy as pie. I put the slimstat on a HTTPS portion of my web page, used .htaccess to password protect the URL (for no real reason other than I can) and I get easy stats available to me without logging into WordPress.

Blackberry Pearl

I have been thinking about getting a new cell phone/PDA for a while. When I mentioned to Lily the idea she said “get the iPhone when it comes out”.

I really like the way she thinks.

I mentioned this to my friend and he suggested I try out his BlackBerry Pearl. He got it a while back and became disenchanted with the whole connected-all-the-time thing and has recently gone back to using his Motorola Razr v3. I’ve been using it for a couple of days now and the novelty has not worn off yet.

I signed up for Cingular’s $30/month unlimited data plan. They still charge per message but for surfing and other apps that’s fine.

First thing is the size. It’s small enough that it can fit in my pocket and fits in my hand comfortably. The smaller keyboard took some getting used to but I just type and let the SureType software do it’s thing. It usually gets the words right and I rarely have to correct anything. The size is good and if all PDA’s were this size the world would be a happier place.

Setting up e-mail was interesting. I run my own domain and mail servers. I do not run POP3 or IMAP in the clear; I only use the SSL based versions because I have a real dislike for putting my password in the clear on the Internet. I was concerned that the service would not be able to handle my server because of this.

It was not a problem at all. I gave the system my e-mail address and it was able to do a POP3S connection and get my mail. It was very seamless. When I receive mail it’s because the Blackberry server polled my mail box. When I send mail, it just uses my from address and sends from it’s server. For this reason I turned off SPF in case I actually sent someone an e-mail who checks. From my server logs I can see that hardly anyone is using the SPF records so no big loss.

I have Vista so I went to RIM’s web site to get the latest copies of their software. It ended updating the phone to the current firmware release and I am able to sync up with Outlook 2007. I only use Outlook for managing contacts.

Downloading software to the BlackBerry Pearl was easy and the first one I got was the trial IM+ software. It’s a good instant message client that supports more IM services than I use. It runs in the background and is pretty straight forward. Then I got the GMail client, Google Maps, and some other ones.

The phone experience was good too and I was able to pair with my Bluetooth devices with no problem. I have to get the knack for using the address book but the quality of the sound was okay (for a phone).

It’s also a MP3 player but I have an iPod which I use so I don’t expect to get much mileage out of it.

If I can use it for my personal mail and IM then I’ll be satisfied.

WordPress 2.2 is out

WordPress 2.2 is out and has at least one really useful feature that I’ve already used.

I backup my blog software and database on a nightly schedule. The whole works, database and files gets copied to my backup server on a VPS.

Testing the backup is a pain since the database points to the real URL and hostname. Now with 2.2 you can override the site url and wordpress home with these two lines in your wp-config.php file:

define(‘WP_SITEURL’, ‘http://www.sample.com/wordpress’);
define(‘WP_HOME’, ‘http://www.sample.com’);

I created a new backup and restored it on my VPS server. I made that change to the wp-config.php file to point to the name and location of the backup server. Now all the links and administration work fine referencing the real hostname.

See http://codex.wordpress.org/Version_2.2 for more information. This feature lets you test your database on another server and play around without impacting your real blog.

Thunderbird Webmail Extension

I am a big user of freely available software. Here is a short list of what I use.

  1. Firefox – no brainer
  2. Paint.NET – Image editing
  3. WordPress – Server blog software
  4. Thunderbird – email

Thunderbird 2.0 now integrates with Vista. I like it because it’s a full fledged email client. In order to use it with web mail, you need to turn on POP3 with the mail provider. Google Mail supports this but with Yahoo and Hotmail you need to shell out some dollars.

With the Webmail extension for Thunderbird you can treat Yahoo, Hotmail, and a bunch of others as if they were a POP3 mailbox. The extension listens on localhost on a port that you can decide (defaults are POP3 at 110, SMTP at 25, and and IMAP at 143) and receives e-mail from the site for you. Thunderbird then connects to localhost to get the POP3 mail.

Webmail extension dialogOn my Vista system I could not use the port defaults. It’s probably due to Vista goofiness or the personal firewall software I use. I first installed the Webmail extension and changed the defaults to 8110 and 8025. Here is what the options dialog box looked like.

After that I installed the additional Yahoo and Hotmail extensions and configured them both for the BETA website versions. With the Web Mail extension installed in Thunderbird 2.0 you can now add Webmail accounts. These accounts are just POP3 mail accounts that happen to speak to localhost. I changed the account names to make them shorter. If all goes well you should have something like this added to your folders list.

Webmail folders

This also works in Thunderbird 1.5 (I tried it on my Ubuntu laptop) except 1.5 puts all the mail into one local folder. In the current version each account gets its own inbox.

Thanks to this extension I can now use Yahoo and Hotmail email with Thunderbird without setting up (read as: pay for) POP3 access. This is a neat solution and provides a shim to make web based email accessible via more common interfaces such as POP3.

Pidgin Windows Spellcheck

Last Update: Oh good grief. Pidgin spell check works fine and it was an aspell issue all along. The file aspell.exe needs to be in your PATH.

Install Pidgin 2.2.2 and make sure you install the language you need. That will kick off Aspell and the dictionary. Once the installation is done go to the control panel. In Vista it’s “System and Mantenance” then click on Advanced system settings.

Vista environment settings

Click on Environment Variables and modify the Path environment variable. BE CAREFUL not to mess up that settings as it could do bad things to your system.

When you edit the PATH variable, append to the end of it with a semicolon the path of your aspell.exe. On my system I added to the end “;C:Program Files (x86)Aspellbin”.

That’s all there is to it.

Spell check now works in Pidgin

This is probably documented somewhere but hey as long as it works…

Update: Spell check for Pidgin 2.2.2 (current as I type this) does not work on my installation. I believe the problem is that pidgin is looking for Aspellbin in the wrong directory but that’s just a guess on my part. If I can get it to work on my Vista 64 installation and reproduce it, I’ll post it here.

In order to get the Windows version of Pidgin spell check working, go to http://aspell.net/win32/ and get the full installer as well as the pre-compiled dictionary.