Monthly Archives: February 2009

Floorplanner Presents Your Plans in 3D [Web Apps]

Looking to re-arrange the stuff of your house or plan a dream room? Floorplanner is a web-based tool for planning rooms and furniture layouts using a simple but powerful editor.

We originally reviewed Floorplanner in 2007, but since then they've introduced some helpful new features. We originally dug it because of the easy drag-and-drop interface and the extensive library of furniture, fixtures, plants and more are still there. One of the principle reader complaints back then was the lack of 3D planning, but you can now plan in both 2D and 3D, switching between the views for a long view of proportion and layout. The free demo on their site doesn't allow you to save, but does give you a feel for the tools and layout—though you might be tempted to sign up, after a little Sims-style rearrangement. Or, you know, they put that PrtSc key on up there on your keyboard for a reason.

Floorplanner has a free and premium tier; the limitation on the free plan is one house or apartment floor plan. If you upgrade to Floorplanner PLUS for $27.50 a year, you can create up to five home plans.





Using NSScanner to convert Hex to RGB Color

I’ve found that defining a custom UIColor using RGB values is a little counter intuitive compared to the more common hexadecimal notation used in CSS. This is particularly true if you want to define a color value in a file and don’t want to have to split it into three separate values.
For the most […]

Top 10 Tools for Your Blog or Web Site [Lifehacker Top 10]

Having your own hosted web domain has never been cheaper, or easier, with the vast array of free resources out there. Here are our ten favorite tools to help anyone launch and maintain their internet presence.

Photo by Jamison_Judd.

10. Control access to your pages with .htaccess Editor

You're working on a project you want to show a few friends, but not the whole world—and that includes Google's curious crawlies. Drafting an .htaccess file to password-protect files can be laborious text work, but webapps like .htaccess Editor make short work of your privacy needs. It's not the only one of its kind out there, but we like its step-by-step approach to shielding what you've got and setting up who can get at it—and it can also help you set up multiple subdomains.

9. Optimize your site for iPhones and mobile browsers

You might blog about the latest Linux kernel developments, but an increasing number of the web’s readers are getting their blog reads done on mobile Safari. Make it easier for them to read, and you to publish, with tools like the previously mentioned Intersquash, which, while not perfect by any means, does take most of the code-hacking work out of an iPhone-friendly site. If that really slimmed-down, feed-only look isn’t your thing, your blogging platform might have a handy plug-in, like WPtouch for WordPress users.

8. Search-optimize your site (without feeling slimy)

Whatever you do, don’t do a web search for “SEO solutions,” unless you like the net equivalent of getting bum-rushed by 9,000 car salesmen at once. For bloggers and personal sites that don’t need a whole team of suits and engineers working to improve their relevance, there are straight-forward, if not exactly quick, lessons on how to get in Google’s good graces. We’ve previously written up a guide to SEO Made Easy, which covers a more diverse range of search engines. Matt Cutts, the search quality manager at the Big G, has posted his own “Whitehat SEO tips for bloggers that cover a whole lot of ground. And if it’s just your good name you’re looking to get out there with your site, check out Gina’s step-by-step on having a say in what Google says about you.

7. Find a clever, workable domain name

One reason so many new-fangled webapps have such crazy, vowel-deficient names is because the net seems almost completely picked over for .com addresses. Don't sacrifice your clever idea or give up on your name, though—head to Domai.nr. See how it uses another country’s web code for its last letters? The little web utility can do the same for your own phrases and names, as well as tell you which standard .com/.net/.org versions are free or taken. It gets creative with the arrangment of words and forward slashes to find a good fit for whatever you want to get on the net. Hurry now, though, before all you John Smiths of the world have to actually take something like smithjo.hn.

6. Use free, reusable code and media

Your site should say something about you and your interests, not your skill at creating JavaScript roll-down menus and sidebar graphics (unless you’re a web developer, of course). Skip the programming and Photoshop books and run through our six ways to find reusable media, all of them legally sound and not requiring too much heavy lifting. If code’s your thing, sites like AjaxDaddy provide scripts that make your site a bit more fluid and flashy. Or you can simply hit up Google Code Search to plow through open-source apps and grab what you need to get going.

5. Kick back against content thieves

Few web phenomenon come close to the sight of seeing an inspired post you write near the top of a Google search—but it's on someone else's site, plagiarized completely. Keep track of who's stealing from you with a search at Copyscape, or subscribe to an RSS feed of your site’s leechers at CopyGator. Edit your blog’s own RSS feeds to include link-backs that boost your own Google ranking and show the reading world exactly who wrote what when lazy spam-bloggers re-publish your feeds. And, when all else fails, take a multi-step formal and legal approach to getting the copycat stuff knocked down. It isn’t fun writing to domain hosts, advertisers, or site admins with your copyright gripes, but it’s reassuring when your work is reclaimed as your own. Thanks and credit to Digital Inspiration for the last two links.

4. Pay nothing for hosting with free apps

Back when “YouTube” was just a funny way of describing your television, anyone who wanted a web site pretty much had to pay for the domain name and the remote storage space to host it. Not so in these modern times, when any number of services are begging to give you the free space and tools you need to put yourself, or your project, on the web. As we’ve pointed out, the best of those free apps—like Google Apps, Tumblr, the no-fee hosts like Freewebs and Google Page Creator—can help even the most novice (yet cheap) would-be site owner up and running with a decent web presence. Heck, in some cases, they wouldn’t even pay for a domain name.

3. Write smarter blogs with Windows Live Writer

It might just be the smartest marketing move Microsoft has made in years—creating a free software tool that most any blogger the Lifehacker editors have chatted with think is just great. It works with WordPress, Blogger, MovableType, and lots of other blog platforms. It takes the HTML and grunt work out of drafting, editing, and posting your work. And it supports plug-ins that empower it to grab photos from Flickr, start writing from Firefox, and do much more. Check out our feature on tips and tweaks for Windows Live Writer to get familiar with why this surprisingly open-ended tool is so neat.

2. Google Analytics Reporting Suite

This free, cross-platform Adobe Air app puts a fast-moving, attractive-looking face on the raw visitor data Google Analytics can dish out. Tabbed and profiled reports let you skim through all the data you want to know, rather than have to hunt it down. Multiple profiles helps anyone with a handful or more sites and blogs keep up on all their sites' traffic, no login required. It just works, and, for most personal site owners, it's more convenient than the site—not something one can always say about a Google product, either. For more on getting good with Analytics, scan our feature on improving your website with google analytics.

1. Get a reliable, affordable web host

Lifehacker reader Stephanie asked, you responded, and we compiled the feedback from more than 200 comment threads, offered up by readers who definitely don’t pay a ransom for good service. So, excuse us for busting out the brag horn, but our list of reliable and affordable web hosts is a good place to anyone looking to get going with a real, hosted, totally controllable site to start shopping. Each person’s love of their host might be for a different reason, but you know at least some of Lifehacker’s web-savvy readers found a reliable home in this list.

The Lifehacker editors have their own sites and favorite tools to manage them, but we’re just a small sampling of geeks. We want to hear from you on what sites, software, or strategies helped you get a web site up and running, or makes it easier to update. Trade your web admin wisdom in the comments.





Prevent Firefox from Hogging Memory When Minimized [Firefox Tip]

In our latest browser speed tests, I half-heartedly complained that Firefox eats up memory over long periods of use. Our lovely, helpful commenters pointed out that there is, indeed, a tweak to help with that.

It’s important to note that this about:config tweak doesn't actually change how Firefox uses (and hoards) memory over actual use. For the purposes of user speed, then, it's not much change. But while Windows can normally grab memory back from applications that are minimized, Firefox prevents that and keeps all the memory it acquired during your multi-tab wanderings—unless you enable this tweak, which some have claimed also makes Firefox scale down the big memory pile it had going upon re-focusing.

Let’s get started. Type about:config into your address bar, hit Enter, and confirm to your browser that you’ll be careful messing with your configuration. Unless you’ve performed this specific change before, right-click somewhere outside all those period-separated values and choose New/Boolean. In the window that pops up, enter config.trim_on_minimize and hit OK, then select “True” in the next dialog. Close out your about:config window, restart Firefox, and you’re now demanding that Firefox give up some of that sweet, sweet RAM when it’s not even showing on your desktop.

This could lead, of course, to slower functionality when re-maximizing Firefox, or even bugginess. And those who are using Firefox just fine with its standard memory settings should probably leave well enough alone. You can read up on just what this trick does at the MozillaZine Knowledge Base. Need to undo it? Simply head back to about:config, start typing in the boolean variable’s name again (config.trim_on_minimize), and when it pops up, switch it back to “False” by double-clicking or right-clicking.

Have you used this little Firefox tweak to save memory and stuck with it? Finding it buggy and unreliable? Post your impressions and details in the comments.

Thanks to alejo0121 for pointing out this trick, and to our own Asian Angel and Gina Trapani for confirming its validity.





Google Chrome Development Builds Get Full-Screen Mode [Google Chrome]

Windows only: The latest cutting-edge developer build of Google Chrome adds a new full-screen mode accessible through the F11 key. There's no UI—just a full-screen browser window with a scrollbar, so you'll have to take it out of full-screen mode to enter a new URL (though you can open a new tab with Ctrl+T and search from there).

You’ll need to download the Google Chrome Channel Chooser and switch to the Dev channel to get the latest updates if you’re brave enough to deal with potential problems of an experimental build. [via]





Simple Guidelines for Workday Quality Over Quantity

Quality over quantity whiteboard guidelines This succinct set of workday guidelines is a nice blueprint for getting productive on the important stuff and ruthless about cutting the crap. Written on a unknown “major corp” whiteboard pictured here, they read:

QUALITY vs quantity, UX process.
Check email ONLY:

  • 10AM
  • 1PM
  • 4PM

Send any time
Set email to check every 3 hours.
NO email on evenings.
NO email on weekends.
EMERGENCY? = Use phone.

FOCUS 1-3 Activities max/day
LOG 1-3 Succinct status bullets every day on team wiki

MINIMIZE chat
MAXIMIZE single-tasking

OUT by 5:30PM
~No excuses~

These common productivity edicts are worth repeating; recently I advised Harvard Business readers to use a daily three-item task list myself. I’ve been practicing this technique every weekday without fail for the last six weeks, and it’s served me well (though I’ve gotten cocky and the list has started inching up to five or six items). On top of sleeping, showering, eating, working out, commuting, cooking, and communicating, the reality is that three things DONE is a bigger set of accomplishments than it seems. As for the rest of these–well, I’m working on them. Hat tip to Caterina.

English Chests in Charleston, S.C.

This week I’m at my father’s house in Charleston, S.C., to get my USRDA of grits,
tasso and shrimp. Whenever I visit the Holy City, I always make sure to pack comfortable
shoes and a tape measure – I never know what I’ll find.

This morning I’ve been poring over my father’s small collection of English chests.
Most of them he purchased from dealers on King Street a few blocks away. When I helped
him pick these chests out, I was always looking for the ones that displayed the best
craftsmanship. These well-made chests, however, weren’t always the best-looking chests.
So usually he purchased a chest that looked really good and was passable in the craftsmanship
department. Funny, he doesn’t take me with him to shop for antiques anymore.

One of the chests in father’s dining room is similar to a piece I’ll be building at
home this year. The chest is circa 1810, according a friend of my father who deals
in Early American architecture and furnishings. It has some interesting details from
the woodworking side of things.

The chest is a typical size: 39-1/8″ high, 37-5/8″ long and 19-1/4″ deep with four
graduated drawers: 5-1/4″, 6-3/4″, 7-3/4″ and 8-3/4″. The entire chest is pine that
has been veneered with mahogany.

The top is an interesting construction. The front 4-1/2″ of the top is 7/8″ thick.
The rest is 3/4″ thick. I assume that the 7/8″ piece is edge-glued to the 3/4″ piece
– at least that’s the way it looks.

As always, the drawers are interesting. The sides and back are all 3/8″-thick material.
The front is 3/4″ pine veneered with mahogany (with some string inlay). Each drawer
has a tail at its bottom edge that is straight instead of sloped. This straight tail
houses the groove for the drawer’s bottom. Like all my dad’s English chests, the bottom
of the drawer sides have been reinforced with small strips of wood to effectively
double the thickness of the drawer side under the bottom.

The drawers in this chest run on solid dividers – no web frames in this chest. The
back is four wide boards of pine in a rabbet. No shiplaps or grooves as far as I can
tell – the backs have shrunk a bit, and you can see between them.

I really like the flowing lines of the plinth (they are repeated on the sides) and
want to trace them before I leave. I’ll have to keep my eye peeled for some wide butcher’s
paper in town.

— Christopher Schwarz

HDFS and FUSE – a mountable distributed file system

The Hadoop Distributed File System (HDFS) is an open source, distributed file system that’s designed to run on commodity hardware and provide a fault tolerant data store optimized capable of storing extremely large files across many machines. It’s similar in architecture to the Google File System, except that it’s something you can install and play with yourself.

Most people who are using HDFS are using it as a storage system for extremely customized distributed application development and the HDFS data is accessed programatically via a Java API or through a few rudimentary shell commands. But what if you just want to use it as a general purpose file system that will automatically replicate many terabytes of data across a number of spare boxes hanging around the office? That’s where FUSE comes in.

These projects (enumerated below) allow HDFS to be mounted (on most flavors of Unix) as a standard file system using the mount command. Once mounted, the user can operate on an instance of hdfs using standard Unix utilities such as ‘ls’, ‘cd’, ‘cp’, ‘mkdir’, ‘find’, ‘grep’, or use standard Posix libraries like open, write, read, close from C, C++, Python, Ruby, Perl, Java, bash, etc.

There are currently a few HDFS FUSE projects, some of which seem to be more maintained than others. One, called fuse-j-hdfs, is written with the FUSE for Java library and seems to be the most active project. Outside of FUSE, there’s also a Webdav wrapper for HDFS that should provide mountable access from Windows clients.

Are there any HDFS gurus in the room who’d care to chime in with their own experiences with any of these tools?

Mountable HDFS Overview and Instructions
Hadoop Distributed File System

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Building a Bed, Part 3



This is the third part of a series – actually it’s the fourth
part because I slipped the Mortise Machine Mortises entry in without a mention of
the bed (read that entry here)
about my wife’s new bed. Read part one here,
and Part two here.

In all the furniture I’ve built in the past, I really feel there are two projects
that were exceptional. Translation: I would almost always change something about each
and every project I build. Never would I build that same piece the same way.

Most times, I have the project finished before I make that assessment. However, after
the holiday weekend – during which I had completed a good part of the work – something
bothered me about this bed I’m building. The design was stuck in my thoughts. Where
I was at that point with construction is shown below.

What bothered me were the rails of the bed running from post to post and the stiles
fitting between those rails. Of course the center stile would fit that way, but the
outer two stiles – if viewed without the added posts – would not. Think about a door.
The stiles run from top to bottom, not between the rails. It was bugging me, so I
made the change. Take a close look at the top photo and you can see the difference.
Also, the close up of the headboard (below) shows the construction change.

By the way – I blame this on all the blog commenters who didn’t point out this error
in my SketchUp drawing (Hey, I can’t blame myself!). I burnt a Saturday in the shop
making the necessary changes, but, as you can see, I did move forward on the project.

I also had a chance to use my favorite router technique, a square platform jig (watch
a video here).
The rails are too long to stand up and two-step cut the tenons as I normally do. And,
before you say it, it’s not easy to push king-size bed rails over a dado stack if
you don’t have a sliding table at your table saw. So the jig is the perfect answer.

What’s left on the bed build is to attach the posts. As you can see in the photo above,
that’s not an easy process due to the length of assemblies. I have two 84″-long pipe
clamps, but those do not stretch the entire length of the head and foot boards. Shown
in the photo is my idea as to how and make this happen. I plan to cut a couple biscuit
slots into the post and end stiles to help hold things in position as I add the clamps
as shown. The problem I have with this scenario is the time it takes to complete.
I’ll have to add one post at a time.

Anyone have another suggestion? If so, post your thoughts and let’s see if we can’t
knock this build out next weekend. If you remember from the first post (read it here),
my client is losing her patience.

— Glen D. Huey

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Boost Your RSS Efficiency [RSS]

Web Worker Daily rounds up some time-saving ideas for RSS filtering. Included: combining and filtering feeds with Yahoo Pipes, use of NetNewsWire/FeedDemon, and mastering your keyboard shortcuts. Decent internal links explaining the finer points, too.





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