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Paul(admin)
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The browser showdown

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Tuesday, February 16 2010, 12:51
My colleagues have been insisting that I switch from Firefox to Chrome on grounds that Google's browser is simply much faster. I am quite familiar with Chrome, and it is fast indeed.
I would be inclined to label it the fastest browser were it not for two things:
  1. The title "fastest browser on Earth" is taken by Opera 10.5 (though still beta)
  2. Chrome 5.0—Google's latest beta—crashes unceasingly and seems slower than all of it's predecessors
That said, I took a moment to run all of the candidates through the SunSpider JavaScript benchmark to get a empirical result.
Browser speed test results
Sure enough: Opera 10.5 is the fastest browser, and not by a little, either. It is twice as fast as the fastest Firefox yet, 3.7 alpha. Remarkably, it is 50% faster than Chrome 4.0.
Chrome 5.0 never succeed in finishing the test, crashing well into each attempt. At the rate it was going, though, its score would have been miserable.
In daily use, there is a noticeable speed difference between Firefox and Chrome, and similarly between Chrome and Opera, but the overwhelming number of features that Firefox provides over the competition (and the promising speed improvements) hasn't quite swayed me.
The blue bar towering above the Internet Explorer logo comes, of course, as no surprise.
Update August 8th:
  • Opera 10.60: 430ms
  • Safari 5.0.1: 460ms
  • Chrome 5.0b: 470ms
  • Internet Explorer 9.0a: 560ms (Platform Preview v1.9.7)
  • Firefox 4.0b3: 680ms
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Compiling Java Jars to Linux native libraries

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Friday, January 22 2010, 12:49
I had successfully compiled my Java application to native code on Linux, but linking it to make an executable was causing undefined reference errors.
Providing the Jar path seemed sufficient, so I was puzzled why it wasn't working. The obvious then dawned upon me: linking native code of course requires native libraries.
Here's how to do it.

You have to compile the imported Jars into .so libraries individually. Make sure to provide the Jars in the --classpath, both while compiling the libraries as while compiling your code.
An example, where I'm compiling the GNU crypto library to an object file:
gcj --classpath=source/:libs/gnu-crypto.jar -fjni
-c libs/gnu-crypto.jar -o libs/gnu-crypto.o
Then compile the object file to a native library:
gcj -shared -fPIC
-o libs/libgnu-crypto.o libs/gnu-crypto.o
-o libs/libgnu-crypto.so
Finally, execute your executable through a shell script referencing the library path. For example:
#!/bin/sh
export LD_LIBRARY_PATH=./libs/:$LD_LIBRARY_PATH
exec ./MyJavaApp $*

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Scanning double-sided pages into a single PDF

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Wednesday, December 16 2009, 14:54
Having to scan 150 double-sided sheets, I ran into the problem of merging them into a single PDF file. We have an Automatic Document Feeder at the office, but it can only scan one side at a time, giving me two PDFs; one with all fronts, one with all backs.
The problem consists of two parts:
  1. The PDF containing the backs is in reversed page order, since I simply flipped the stack over and put it back in the ADF.
  2. The two PDF files need to be interleaved into a single file such that the back of page 1 lies between the front of page 1 and the front of page 2.
No fear, the PDF Toolkit is to the rescue!

To address problem 1, simply enter the following command:
pdftk backs.pdf cat end-1 output backs-rev.pdf

To address problem 2, enter the following set of commands:
mkdir pages
pdftk fronts.pdf burst output pages\%04d_a.pdf
pdftk backs-rev.pdf burst output pages\%04d_b.pdf
pdftk pages\*_?.pdf cat output combined.pdf
Presto! You have all the pages neatly combined into combined.pdf — in the correct order! You can then proceed to delete the temporary pages folder.
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L4D Launcher (version 1.4.1)

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Friday, December 11 2009, 23:09
Left 4 Dead launcher
Another new version of L4D Launcher is available, updating it to version 1.4.1.41673!
This minor update allows modified install locations to be automatically detected via Steam's application list.
I can assure you that the next major release will include support for Left 4 Dead 2!

Update May 15, 2010: updated to version 1.5.

Update March 3, 2011: The project has been migrated to SourceForge, as project L4D Launcher. Binaries can be downloaded from there, but the source code is also freely available through SVN.
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Context menu remains on top of windows

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Friday, November 20 2009, 21:35
In Windows XP and Vista, a selected item from a context menu will occasionally remain on-screen, lingering on top of other applications and obstructing your view.
Perpetual context menu on Vista
On two separate Vista machines I can consistently reproduce the problem by crashing Google Chrome, but other than that, it's difficult to say why this tends to happen.

Temporarily fixing the phenomenon on Vista

  1. Open Windows' Services window from the Control Panel's Administrative Tools, or by entering services.msc into the Run dialog.
  2. Locate "Desktop Window Manager Session Manager" and click Restart. Your screen will flicker twice and the overlay should disappear.
If you want to run the above via the command line instead, simply enter these two commands into a command prompt with administrator privileges:
net stop uxsms
net start uxsms

Preventing the problem in the future

By altering Windows' performance settings, you can disable the root cause of the problem: fading-out of context menus. This takes a little away from the visual experience of Vista, but if you are consistently being bothered by the perpetual "hovering context menu", here's a solution.
  1. Open the Windows' System window, and select "Advanced system settings" from the panel on the left.
  2. Under the Advanced tab, click Settings... in the Performance frame.
  3. In the list of Visual Effects, locate "Fade out menu items after clicking" and uncheck it.
Disabling context menu fade-out on Vista
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Hairy Guns video

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Wednesday, November 18 2009, 15:41
Here's a silly 8-second video of a Hairy Guns member. The number of views determines how many bonus points we get for the quiz tonight!
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L4D Launcher (version 1.4)

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Saturday, November 14 2009, 4:53
Left 4 Dead launcher
The newest version of L4D Launcher is available, updating it to version 1.4.1.41673!
Network scanning has been significantly improved, and you can now use L4D Launcher to play your favorite Left 4 Dead add-on maps, too. It's also become easier to find the map you want to play, as they're sorted by game type.

Update November 15th, 2009: I've fixed the bug Mathijs reported in the comments below.
Update December 11th, 2009: Modified install locations are automatically detected via Steam's application list.
Update May 15th, 2010: updated to version 1.5.

Update March 3, 2011: The project has been migrated to SourceForge, as project L4D Launcher. Binaries can be downloaded from there, but the source code is also freely available through SVN.
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PHP 5.3.0 NTS doesn't load some modules

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Wednesday, November 11 2009, 13:25
This puzzled me for a bit: I downloaded the latest version of PHP for Windows, 5.3.0 non-thread-safe (NTS). Since PHP is only running in a single process, I thought I'd grab the faster non-threaded version.
As a result, many of my modules stopped loading, including php_gd, php_mysql and php_openssl, extensions you really can't live without.
I only really noticed the problem when all my locally hosted sites reported "DB Error: extension not found." Looking in Apache's error.log, the problem was revealed:
Warning:  PHP Startup: mysql: Unable to initialize module
Module compiled with module API=20090626, debug=0, thread-safety=0
PHP compiled with module API=20060613, debug=0, thread-safety=1
These options need to match
in Unknown on line 0
The moral of this story: save yourself the headache. Download the thread-safe PHP binaries instead.
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L4D Launcher (version 1.3)

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Saturday, November 7 2009, 17:36
L4D Launcher
L4D Launcher
I made some modifications to the L4D Launcher, updating it to version 1.3.1.33234.
New features in L4D Launcher include storing preferences, and the long awaited option of being able to specify a nickname. Note that on some versions of Left 4 Dead you will need to specify the "in INI" option to write the player name into the game's rev.ini file.

Update November 7, 2009: I've updated the application to display a "Fix uninstall path" so the user isn't prompted with that dialog each time the Launcher is started.

Update March 3, 2011: The project has been migrated to SourceForge, as project L4D Launcher. Binaries can be downloaded from there, but the source code is also freely available through SVN.
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L4D Launcher (version 1.2)

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Thursday, November 5 2009, 23:43
Left 4 Dead launcher
I made some modifications to the L4D Launcher, updating it to version 1.2.
You can now specify a preferred player (Bill, Francis, Louis or Zoey) and a few small bugs were fixed.

Update November 6th, 2009: I've made some minor modifications, including a bugfix for fixing the Left 4 Dead install location and improved network scanning in version 1.2.1.26431.
Update November 7th, 2009: updated to version 1.3.
Update November 14th, 2009: updated to version 1.4.
Update May 15th, 2010: updated to version 1.5.
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