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“Shellshock” Bash Exploit a Big Deal, Here’s Why

You might have seen a lot of information in the news about the “Shellshock” Bash exploit that recently came to light. What may not be clear is why it’s such a big deal. You’re probably used to seeing information about exploits and bugs on Windows-based systems, but it’s relatively rare for issues of this size to pop up on Unix based systems. That’s one reason this is such big news, but the other reason is the sheer scope of the risk. Continue reading

JSFiddle: Test and Tweak your Scripts Instantly

One of my favorite places on the web is JSFiddle.net. Its simple interface allows you to create and test your jQuery and JavaScript quickly and easily. All you have to do is create some basic HTML, style it, create your script and when you click “Run” you’ll see your results all in the same window. If you don’t like the results you can tweak things and click “Run” again to see how your changes impact the results.

If you’re just learning jQuery or JavaScript, JSFiddle is a great way to play with the language and get instant results. If you create an account you can save your “Fiddles” and share them with others. One drawback I’ve found is there is no obvious way to make your fiddles private, if you save a fiddle it will be publicly available on your profile. Other than that I have no complaints, and it really isn’t a very large complaint because I actually don’t mind sharing.

Do you use JSFiddle or know of another great service similar to it? I’d love to hear about it in the comments!

 

Announcement: Learn Ruby on Rails with my Basic Blog

I recently took a course on Web Application Architecture offered by the University of New Mexico via Coursera.org. Part of the course was to develop a very basic blog application using Ruby on Rails. The course just finished and is still in the grading process, but once it is fully completed I intend to make the source code for my blog application available for you to use free of charge under the GNU Public License (GPL).  I expect the course to have completely finished and graded by tomorrow so I’ll have it available and will give a link to the source code in a future post.

Please note this is not a part of my SimpleCMS project, and is very basic in function. It does little more than allow one to add posts and comments. That said, I think it will serve as an excellent base for anyone who wants to play around with Rails.

XAMPP: Maximum Productivity, Minimal Setup

When I started playing with WordPress I installed separate copies of Apache, PHP, and MySQL on my workstation. It wasn’t horrible, but configuring them so they worked harmoniously was a pain. I learned early on of a wonderful project called XAMPP which combines Apache, MySQL, PHP, and Perl in a single installation.

The great thing about XAMPP is that it works straight out of the box. Once you install it you can start using it right away, it’s already configured so the various components work together. If you need to further configure it the administrative panel makes it very easy to open and edit the various configuration files. You can even set things to run as a service so they’ll automatically start when you start the computer.

XAMPP is a development environment, so use caution using it in production. It comes with a minimal security set up, which is fine for development but dangerous in production. If you want to use it in a production environment you’ll need to harden it first.

Overall I really like XAMPP. It makes life a lot easier and I can spend more time coding and less time configuring my environment.

What do you think? Do you use XAMPP or something similar? Let me know in the comments!

Nitrous.io: Develop in the Cloud

A couple of weeks ago I talked about Aptana Studio and how wonderful it is as an alternative to Dreamweaver.  Both applications are great for developing directly on your workstation, but wouldn’t it be nice to have an IDE that follows you everywhere you go?

Nitrous.io allows you to do just that.

Nitrous is one of the coolest cloud based services I’ve ever run across. What you get is a virtual Linux box configured with Rails, PHP, or some other development language. What makes it incredibly cool is the web-based IDE that you also get access to. The IDE connects to the file system of your virtual box, provides a text editor with context sensitive coloring, a command console allowing you to send commands directly to the shell, and much more. It is one of the most powerful and useful cloud based applications I’ve seen.

There are some limitations to the free account such as your virtual box will shut down if it sits idle too long, but I’ve not seen this as much of a drawback for what I’m doing. If you’re working on a project where this is unacceptable you can pay to upgrade the account. Virtual boxes don’t shut down for paid accounts. Another drawback is that you can only have one box on a free account. You’ll have to buy more “N2O” to create another, but again, I haven’t seen this as much of a problem.

Perhaps the biggest advantage to using Nitrous is Rails development on Windows. Most people will agree, installing Rails on Windows and getting it to work right is a real pain. With Nitrous you can do all your rails development right in the cloud. You can even use a Git repository if you want. Your virtual box comes pre-configured with everything you need.

I’m incredibly impressed with Nitrous, and now that I’ve used it awhile I’m very happy I found it. I still prefer to do my coding locally on my workstation but with Nitrous I can pull my repository and work on a project during my lunch break without installing anything on my work computer. That kind of flexibility is invaluable.

Do you use Nitrous.io or something similar? Share your experiences in the comments! 

VirtualBox: Making Virtualization Accessable

Virtual machines are a great way to test on a variety of platforms without requiring a separate workstation for each one. A single physical server can host multiple virtual machines which can then be accessed and used just like a physical machine.

I wanted the power of virtualization but lack the resources (i.e. cash) to buy a copy of VMWare Server. Thankfully I ran across a nice free alternative… VirtualBox.

VirtualBox does for small developers what VMWare does for the enterprise without paying enterprise level prices. In fact, VirtualBox is free, open source, and released under the GNU Public License (GPL).

I run several virtual machines on my workstation. They range from a CentOS Linux distribution to several versions of Windows containing older versions of Internet Explorer.  This configuration is invaluable for cross browser testing (As a side note, the virtual Windows machines came from modern.ie, another resource I’ll be featuring later) .

I really like VirtualBox and have yet to find any serious problems with using it. So far the only limitations I’ve run across have been the physical limitations of running it on my workstation. I can typically run only a single virtual machine at a time before I start seeing serious performance degradation. Other than that it’s been great and I definitely recommend it if you’ve been looking for a good, cost-effective, virtualization solution.

Do you use VirtualBox? Let me know what you think of it in the comments!

 

sepia keyboard

Aptana Studio: A Free IDE With a Lot of Power

I was looking for a good Integrated Development Environment (IDE) a couple of years ago and ran across Aptana Studio almost by accident. I say “almost” because I found it by searching for Open Source alternatives to Dreamweaver on Google. I decided to try it out and have yet to look back.

If you’re looking for “bang for your buck” quality, Aptana Studio has it in spades. It is a full featured IDE supporting many of the most common programming and scripting languages from HTML to C++ and as of Version 3 they’ve joined Studio with their RadRails Ruby IDE which means you don’t need a separate download to develop Rails apps anymore.

One thing Aptana Studio lacks is support for iOS and Android development, but with its sister product, Titanium, this isn’t a huge disadvantage and there’s plenty of features packed into Studio that more than make up for this shortcoming.

I’ve used Studio since just before version two and I’ve only scratched the surface in unlocking its power. If you’re looking for a nice, full featured alternative to Dreamweaver I highly recommend Aptana Studio.

If you use Aptana Studio or have another alternative you like I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below!

Digital Dreams

Coming Soon – Resources to Help You Get Started Coding

Does this sound like you?

You’re in college pursuing a Computer or Information Science degree, or maybe you’re just a regular Jane looking to learn code because, hey, it’s fun!

Whatever the reason, you need to set up your own development environment but lack the funds to buy a fancy server and a bunch of software. So where do you turn for help?

Look no further, for I am here for you.

Over the next several weeks I will be posting articles on a variety of free (or almost free) resources to get you going. All of the resources I’ll be featuring are Windows-based since that is my development environment, but most of them also have offerings for MacOS and Linux as well.  So keep an eye out and expect them to start appearing in the next couple of weeks.

Black Hat

Word Spinning and Black Hat SEO

I recently received (what I consider) a spam comment encouraging me to check out a “tool” that will allow me to create unique content for my blog “…with a single click of a button”. My curiosity peaked, I checked out Google to see what this thing was all about. What I found shocked me so much I had to write about it.

To use this tool a person would copy the text from an article and click a button. The application changes a bunch of words around and spits out “unique” content. You’re then supposed to use that content in your own blog to boost your SEO ratings.

Maybe I’m old-fashioned, but that sounds like a clear-cut case of plagiarism to me.

Questions of intellectual property aside, there’s a few issues I can see with using this kind of tactic. First and foremost no automated tool is going to catch the subtle nuances of language. Much of what we say isn’t what we say but implied in subtext, “reading between the lines” as it were. Secondly, computers are great at a lot of things, but understanding context is not one of them. Much of how we say things depends greatly on the context in which it is said. Simply switching the word “apple” with “orange” can completely alter the meaning of a sentence. If the point is to generate content that makes sense to humans, these tools fail miserably.

I’m proud of the fact that everything you read on this blog was hand crafted by me. Sure, I’d like to post more often but that’s part of being human. I have a day job, a family, other commitments… all of which need and deserve my time., so I write when I can which isn’t as often as I’d like to. Would I like to boost my SEO rankings? Sure I would. I’m just not willing to sell my soul to do it.

Digital Dreams

Responsive Design – Algorithm to Center An Element using JQuery

Positioning an object on a web page is simple to do in CSS, but doing it responsively is trickier. Given the number of devices and potential viewport sizes a user could be using it’s nearly impossible to anticipate how your design will look in all possible scenarios. Basically you just have to try to account for the most likely variables and hope it works out.

I came up with a simple algorithm to dynamically center an object on the viewport. In my case I am using jQuery as the scripting language of choice, but the basic algorithm should work regardless of the scripting language you choose.

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