XMLSpy 2009 Disappointment

I’ve always thought XMLSpy was a great product. Unfortunately, today I discovered the caveat that you have to spend lots of $$$ on it to be impressed.

I just bought a copy of XMLSpy 2009 Standard ($129) after evaluating 2009 Enterprise ($999), since that’s the version that the free trial links go to. Anyway, I’m highly disappointed about the read-only grid view and read-only schema view in the Standard edition. The schema editor is pretty cool and unique, so I can understand it being Pro-level ($499), but it’s pretty lame to have the grid read-only. I work at a small company, so I couldn’t justify $370 for grid view anyway, but I probably would have stuck with free XML Notepad had I known.

Windows Update Finally Working

When I got my iPhone 6 months ago, I had to upgrade vile and hated iTunes to activate it. After the iTunes upgrade, it wanted me to restart the computer. When the system booted back up (and on every subsequent reboot), there was a crash in userinit.exe. Unable to find any trace of a surgical solution on the web, I resorted to the blunt solution: reinstall Windows (in place).

After reinstalling, the userinit.exe crash went away, but then a new problem surfaced that has plagued me constantly until today: Windows Update fails on all updates. Back when the problem first occurred, I could find no solution that mentioned the particular problem, which surfaced as error 80246002 or “AUClnt FATAL: Error: 0x80004002. wuauclt handler: failed to spawn COM server” in C:\WINDOWS\WindowsUpdate.log. At long last, thanks to this page, I found the solution, KB943144, posted October 26, 2007. The short answer:

net stop wuauserv
regsvr32 %windir%\system32\wups2.dll
net start wuauserv

myFairTunes

I’m very excited to find that it’s not difficult at all to remove iTunes DRM from songs purchased from the iTunes Music Store. myFairTunes will convert all your purchased music from M4P to M4A in place, add it back to your iTunes library, and optionally back up the M4P files to another folder and remove them from iTunes. Since my primary music computer has trouble syncing my iPhone, it’s very helpful to be able to move the music to another computer that doesn’t have as much sync trouble.

myFairTunes on SourceForge

Congress needs to hold Cheney accountable

From MoveOn.org:

Did you see the news? President Bush let Scooter Libby, the one man who was convicted for the lies around the Iraq war, go free. Paris Hilton served more jail time than he will.

And the obstruction of justice doesn’t stop there. The Senate recently subpoenaed documents from the Vice President’s office around the illegal wiretapping program and so far he has not complied. It’s clear this administration thinks it’s above the law. That’s un-American, and I think it’s time for Congress to hold them accountable.

I just signed a petition urging Congress to force Vice President Cheney to respond to its subpoenas. If he doesn’t, Congress has to begin impeachment proceedings against him. Can you join me by clicking the link below?

Petition: Stop Executive Overreach

Thanks!

P.S. If you’re on Facebook, join the group “I am outraged over Bush’s pardon of Lewis “Scooter” Libby!”.

Local Events Sites

As a follow-on to my research into Evite alternatives, I also decided to look into sites that allow you to find or promote public events in your area:

  • Upcoming.org (a Yahoo company): Fairly basic public and friend-network social events calendar, providing to opportunity to meet new people interested in the same events. Seems to have a decent number of events, reasonably attractive layout, and RSS/iCal/Yahoo integration. However, the navigation leaves a lot to be desired. Most importantly, you can’t browse by category or venue (though you can narrow a search by category). The network building features seem weak too. For instance, clicking the Contacts link at the top of the page takes you to a page that shows your current friends (which for new users is just a lot of blank space), and allows you to search for existing users one at a time, but nowhere on the page can you invite new users (there’s a link on the home page for that). Also, there doesn’t seem to be any search/invite from address book feature.

  • Eventful: Public events site claiming to have “the world’s largest collection of events”. Browse by topic or venue, with roll-up of event counts in each. Share events through email, digg, del.icio.us, reddit, and Live Clipboard, and add to Eventful, Yahoo, Google, Outlook, Rabble, or iCal calendars.

    In addition to a large number of upcoming events, you can also request events from performers and get alerts on future performances. I’d be curious to know how successful this is. The status of demands goes through Started Demand, Reached Critical Mass, Performer Contacted, Performer Agreed, to Event Scheduled. However, looking through the current top demands, all are in Started Demand, even with 2000+ people. If there has been past success here, they don’t seem to be bragging about it.

    You can also create your own public or private events, including recurring events. The set of event options seems quite rich: description with limited HTML, up to 3 categories, tags, cost, picture, shareable URL, calendar and group. For public events, there’s also an option to allow submitting the event to other event-related websites. I really like the way you can click arrows to grow or shrink the multi-line text boxes. The only thing missing (which Upcoming.org features) is the ability to control guest invites and total event size.

  • Zvents: Public-only event search and sharing, along with friend group calendar sharing. Browse by category hierarchy or venue, though unfortunately event counts don’t roll up to the top-level categories. The look is professional, navigation is easy, and the event pages are quite rich. Nice integration with Google Maps to get a map view of the events in a category, and with Plaxo to access your address book in Outlook, Hotmail, Yahoo, GMail, AOL, or CSV.

  • Meetup: Find special interest groups near you. The site seems well-executed and features quite a few groups (currently 594 within 25 miles of Seattle). I really like the discussion board of new features.

    The downside is the monetization model: the organizer pays $12-19/mo, depending on the billing term of 1-6 months, to start and maintain the group. Personally, I think this is a terrible idea. I wouldn’t want to front $19, $38, or possibly $57 to discover that I can’t find enough interest in my group after a few months. (They offer a 30-day money back guarantee, but that doesn’t feel like enough time to gauge interest.) Even if I found, say, a dozen people, I wouldn’t want to have to collect $2-3 in dues each month to pay for the Meetup group. It seems like there must be better monetization options, or at least a tiered approach based on size of group or amount of activity. I’d love to start a Seattle Hot ‘n Spicy food lovers meet-up, but at these prices, I’ll be looking to alternative services.

Evite Alternatives

[Updated 12/06/09: Indicated dead sites]

I’m getting quite tired of Evite. The ads suck, the layout sucks, the lack of features sucks, etc. It hasn’t changed in at least the last 8 years, except to get slower and include bigger ads. Therefore I started looking for alternatives and here’s what I found:

  • MyPunchbowl: Interesting feature where you can start out with Save the Date or Full Invitation. Cool use of AJAX to integrate with Flickr for invitation image and Google for maps. Features party store locator (i.e. revenue source) and after-party message board and photos/videos. The invitation page isn’t as themable as some, but overall, the service does appear to be a better Evite.
  • Skobee [GONE]: Very nice-looking, professional, icon-driven interface. Supports fuzzy scheduling and the ability for guests to suggest times and places. Really cool email integration: create, update, and RSVP to plans just by cc’ing plans@skobee.com on your emails (check out the Screencast tour). Automatically gets location address, telephone, and map from Google. Except for RSS/ICal feeds, doesn’t have the integration features of some of the other sites. Supports public events, but doesn’t really seem to feature many.
  • Socializr: A very feature-rich clone of Evite. If you once loved Evite, but now just wish it didn’t suck, you’ll probably love Socializr. Integrates well (almost invasively) with other profile sites (MySpace, Flickr, Yelp, …), imports email addresses from all the big free services (as well as Outlook/Plaxo, OS X, and CSV), and let’s you customize your invitations and URLs. I like the way the invitation email includes both the event details and the theme image.
  • Planypus: Shows public events and manages your social calendar in addition to letting you invite friends to both public and private events. Good presentation and use of AJAX. Offers ability to add multiple places and times and have people vote on them. Features blog/web widgets and export to Outlook, Facebook, and Google Calendar. Nice Screencast tour and FAQ. The test invitations I sent arrived at my gmail account immediately, but haven’t made it to my Hotmail account after 24 hours. However, I blame Hotmail, and the Planypus guys are actively working on resolving the issue… They seem to be very motivated to produce a great service.
  • Renkoo [GONE]: Very cute (girly, even), polished, and AJAX-y. Features notifications by IM or text message, contact import from the usual places, calendar export to Outlook/iCalender, Yahoo, and Google, while-you-type location lookup, and flexible time and location.

    (I did run into one usability issue though: By default it sent my invitation to me, which caused it to generate a new password for my account. It’s very confusing when the first page you see after Send Invitation is the login screen and your password doesn’t work… Also, I’m not too fond of the way invitees have to log in with their email address and generated password; there should just be a link in the email dammit.)

  • Goovite: Very simple, no frills, no ads, no business-plan invitations with accepted / tentative / declined / unanswered tallying and option to leave a public or private comment.
  • DarkGuest [GONE]: Also simple, no frills, no ads, no business-plan invitations with image URL, accepted / declined / unanswered tallying, public note, and private response. View the sample invitation. Unfortunately, the operator plans to shut it down soon. For this reason, I’d recommend Goovite instead; it’s almost identical, though there’s no image URL.
  • WhizSpark: Seems primarily focused on commercial event marketing and organizing. Not really what I’m looking for…
  • shindigg: Appears to be a straightforward Evite replacement with much better photo features. However, it’s in limited beta right now, so you can’t use it without requesting to join the beta program. The only public event on it right now is/was Bonza Bash.

All in all, Socializr looks like the best general Evite replacement as far as features go, though the interface isn’t as polished as some. If you want simple and cute, Renkoo is pretty nice (and will match your pink Moto Razr). If you also want calendar sharing and public events, Planypus seems to better in that regard. But if you prefer to use email for your planning, Skobee seems pretty cool.

The Date of Easter

I’ve finally discovered that I don’t have to feel bad about not knowing how to figure out the date of Easter. It turns out the rules are really a bit complicated, but quite facinating if you’re into history or astronomy:

  • Easter falls on the first Sunday following the first ecclesiastical full moon that occurs on or after the day of the vernal equinox;
  • this particular ecclesiastical full moon is the 14th day of a tabular lunation (new moon); and
  • the vernal equinox is fixed as March 21.

The net result is that Easter can never occur before March 22 or after April 25. Oh, and this year, it’s right in the middle on April 8.

Fire Sauce

Anyone who knows me is probably aware that Taco Bell Fire Sauce is my favorite fast food condiment packet. I thought I was pretty fanatical about the stuff until I searched the web…

First I discovered The Condiment Packet Museum, which in addition to almost any other condiment packet you could think of, features photos of the Taco Bell sauce packets with each of their different cheeky sayings. I’m guessing they only show the original series, as I think I noticed some new ones yesterday:

  • Help! I can’t tell where I am. It’s dark and I can hear footsteps.
  • The feeling is mutual.
  • I’m glad you rescued me, Mild was getting on my nerves.

Then I discovered someone’s comparison of Taco Bell Hot Sauce vs. Fire Sauce. I must admit, even I hadn’t thought about it this much. I am anxious to test out the suggested 2:1 mixture of Fire to Hot, though.

Finally, I really need to try making my own from this recipe.

Washington and His Dicks

I have had several recent animated discoveries of such awesomeness that I must share: