Archive - Apr 2011

April 20th

Wordless Wednesday



IMAG0003, originally uploaded by Aldon.

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April 19th

QR Codes on Name Tags

I’ve been to various conferences where a bar code is placed on a name tag, so that when you visit a vender in the exhibition hall, all they need to do is scan your badge to get information about about you entered into their system. It is generally quick and efficient, and I’ve often thought that it would be great if attendees could scan each others badges to exchange information.

Today, I received an email from a friend who seemed to be thinking along the same lines. She wanted organizers of a conference she was helping organize to use QR codes on the badges and was asking me my thoughts about how to do it.

Actually, depending on what you want to put in the QR code, it can be very simple. First, check out Kaywa for a quick and easy QR code generator. If you want to create a QR Code for a URL, just stick “http://qrcode.kaywa.com/img.php?s=5&d=” in front of the URL. Yes, there example has the URL encoded, but you don’t need that. This makes it really easy to set up a spreadsheet which will have a link to an image that you can embed in a mail merge.

In my case, I created a simple spreadsheet. The first column had a name. The second column had a twitter handle, and the third column was the formula:

=“http://qrcode.kaywa.com/img.php?s=5&d=http://twitter.com/”&b2

I copied that formula down for each row. In essence what I was doing was making a column of images of the QR Code for the Twitter handle for each person.

Beyond the Keyboard has a blog post up about Creating a mail merge in Word using QR codes from Google Maps API. it doesn’t go into building the QR codes from the Google Maps API, and I find the Kaywa approach much simpler. However, it does have the information about how to build the mail merge, particularly in terms of the issue about getting images into the mail merge.

With that, you can skip down to the section, BEFORE YOU START: IMPORTANT TO KNOW. It talks about the problem with getting the mail merge to work.

Word does not automatically load the images when you create a mail merge. When Word creates the mail merge, it will not automatically load the image. This is a known problem.

Since I was doing things a little differently than the suggest, I glanced over the instructions and didn’t notice this part until I had tried severally times to get Word to load the images. Once I read that section and followed the instructions, the whole merge came together very simply.

So, for the merge section, I had something very simple
<>
<>
<>”>>

When I tried to preview it, the include picture was blank. That is because of the problem noted above. But, when I followed the workaround, I ended up with a document full of labels with QRCodes on them. I scanned a couple QR Codes and it worked nicely.

Perhaps I’ll make some labels like that for a Tweetup sometime soon.

Of course, instead of pointing to a Twitter page, you could point to people’s LinkedIn accounts, Facebook pages, event registration page, or any other page you could imagine.

So, name tags with QR Codes on them are actually fairly simple to create. Now, I just need a chance to use this.

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April 18th

Music Monday - Stephen Colarelli

With my new job, I haven’t had as much time to dedicate to writing blog posts as I would like. It’s been compounded by computer problems at home and just doing a lot of writing at work. Yet there is an interesting overlap between some of my work writing and my personal writing. Earlier this month, I wrote a blog post AmeriCorps Members a Decade Later. It was about two doctors at CHC who had been AmeriCorps members and are now doctors.

I thought of this as I started writing my blog post about Stephen Colarelli. His bio on Sonicbids includes:

Steve went to Senegal, in West Africa, as a Peace Corps volunteer. He lived in a small village working on agricultural projects. During his spare time he continued to play the guitar and write music. He formed a rock band with several other Peace Corps volunteers, and they would play for dances when they were in Senegal’s capital city, Dakar. After the Peace Corps, he earned a doctorate in psychology, began a career as a college professor and put music on the back burner. Years later, he got a call from one of his Peace Corp buddies about a reunion, and they talked about getting the band back to gather to play at the reunion. They did, and from then on, Steve has devoted much of his free time to writing, producing, and recording music.

There is something deep, tuneful, yet simple about his music, something I imagine it would have been great to listen to in Senegal, or on a college campus in Michigan. You see, Dr. Colarelli isn’t just Peace Corp alumnus and a performer; he is also a psychology professor who is currently working on a book, “Handbook of The Biological Foundations of Organizational Behavior”.

As with other Music Monday posts, let me end off by providing a video.

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April 17th

Taxes, Computers and Cellphones

Well, our taxes our done, and our finances are a little stronger than we expected. That is a relief. However, money is still very tight so I hesitate spending money on any new computer equipment, but it might be that it is getting to be about that time.

You see, my primary computer died again this morning. It does it fairly regularly these days, and each time I managed to eventually resuscitate it. It is an old computer, I am guessing about fifteen years. It still runs Windows NT on it. In a previous life, it had been a corporate server, and I bought it second hand when it was decommissioned. It has four hard disks in in. They were big hard disks by the standards of the time. I think each one may be around 300 megabytes, and when I bought the computer, the people wondered what I would need 1.2 gigabytes for.

Well, since then, one of the hard drives failed. I’ve had memory problems and replaced memory. I think it is the power supply that is going now, and I suspect another hard drive or two are about to fail.

One option would be to power up a couple of the ten year old Windows 2000 boxes. There are three of them that I got when a company I was working for shutdown. I think they’re in reasonable shape and I could probably get by with them for a bit. Perhaps I could mount the disk from the old server into one of these boxes, and copy off the files. I don’t think they have as much disk space, however, and it might be good to get a large external drive for them.

Then, there are three old laptops kicking around. One is about seven years old and runs Ubuntu Linux pretty well, most of the time. It is what I use for a laptop when I need to. However, it crashes fairly frequently. I think the hard disk is dying. There is a heavy ten year old Windows 2000 laptop. It came with the three desktops and is pretty good. I could probably fix that up to be more reliable. If I recall properly, it has a lot of memory in it, but is just heavy. There is a third laptop. This is a nice, newer, sleeker computer. It had been running Windows Vista on it, but it crashed. Besides what appeared to be a hard disk crash, the video has stopped working. I’m not sure what it would take to revive that box.

Then, there is the computer I am using right now. It is only about five years old. I installed Linux on it, and generally, it runs pretty well. However, it is set up as a server, with just about every package imaginable installed on it. It only has half a gig of memory, and has been running pretty slowly, unless I shut down a bunch of different services.

At the same time, I have my trusty Nokia N900 cellphone. It is now a year and a half old and runs pretty nicely. It actually runs as a fairly nice Linux server, besides working as a cellphone. It has also slowed down a bit as I put more stuff on it, and I haven’t really been doing as much programming on it since I started my new job.

I’m also now carrying an HTC Thunderbolt cellphone for work. I’ve really been liking it and am wondering when the time will come that I move off of desktops and laptops over to just a smartphone or a tablet. I’m not quite there, but I’m getting awfully close.

With that, my wife is overdue for a new cellphone. So far, she has not made the leap to a smartphone, but it may be getting time for that.

So, I’ll try to work out something for my desktop and laptop computing needs, as well as my wife’s cellphone needs.

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April 16th

The G-Men and the Evil Robots

It might seem like this hypothetical question is coming from some cheesy 1950s science fiction movie, but actually, it is based on some recent news:

Let’s imagine an evil mastermind sneaks robots into millions of American households. Government agents figure out the plot and raid the evil mastermind’s control center. They are now faced with a dilemma: Do they simply turn off the control center, leaving millions of robots waiting idly for the next command from the control center? Or, do they send out a special command from the control center that disables all of the robots.

This is actually a question that legal scholars, privacy advocates and others are currently discussing. Recently, Federal Agents took down the Coreflood botnet. A botnet is a network of robot like programs that get snuck onto people’s computers. They check in with a control center that tells them what to do, record users keystrokes, send out spam, or other nasty things.

When a previous botnet was taken down, the control center was shutdown and the bots remained on people’s computers trying to contact the control center, but with no control center to command them, they simply remain idle. Of course, if someone creates a new control center, they might be able to reactivate the bots. This time, the Federal agents received permission from the courts to take over the control center, send out messages tell the bots to disable themselves, and recording the addresses of the computers so people could follow up and make sure the bots were removed.

What are some of the issues? Well should the government be allowed to disable programs on your computer? If the programs are malicious? What if you want to keep the malicious program to investigate how to turn it around and use it for good? Can we trust the government not to misuse any other information they get from the botnet? Are there other unexpected and unintended consequences to this?

If you’re interested in more discussions on this, check out Feds ‘Reverse Hack’ Millions of Infected Computers and The Coreflood takedown: building a better, broader botnet response.

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