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June 30, 2009

Rabid Bats

Recently there was a paragraph in the paper about my neighborhood saying that a rabid bat had been found in someone's house. I then made a question about this the first post on the new local bulletin board to see if I could find any additional information about it. I didn't, but one person responded and that made me go look up more information. It's not that I was worried about it, I had just never heard of rabid bats being a problem and wondered it if was just fear mongering or a legitimate public health concern.

I found an excellent page at the CDC's website about bats and rabies and was very surprised to find that most cases of rabies in humans are caused by bats! Not dogs, not raccoons, but bats. So it is a more serious problem than I originally thought, though rabies still isn't all that widespread. I imagine that one reason it can be a problem is that bats are pretty small and the sick bats are more likely to get in your house or come out during the daytime. Then people try to move them and, BAM! bat bite.

June 28, 2009

Meeting the Neighbors

The city commissioner that I wrote to about setting up a bulletin board, mentioned me starting the board in his electronic newsletter on Friday. About 10 people signed up that day and I picked up a few more yesterday. I figure about 20 people is the critical mass where they can get conversations going and get some word of mouth (it shows 19 users right now, but 3 of those are me). Also if you Google "Avondale Estates forum" (not in quotes) then the page shows up on the first page of results. So Google at least has me indexed.


The manual process of activating members has been fun. I send a standard e-mail to people who have signed up asking them for their real name, address, and phone number. This verifies who they are (kind of; I'm not actually calling them so they could be faking, but I do look up the name and address in the city directory), but more importantly if I ever have to kick them off prevents them from signing up again.

I also got to hear from some interesting people. One guy is a photographer who has a blog where his most recent post exclaims his first tomato of the season. Except because he is a professional photographer, it is the best picture of a tomato you could ask for. Another person works at the Atlanta Opera (not a performer). So it has been kind of neat getting to know people even though I haven't met any of them.

June 19, 2009

Avondale Bulletin Board

For a while the city of Avondale Estates had a community bulletin board on its website. It wasn't all that active, but it was a good place to go for information sometimes and every now and then there would be a good discussion. But about a year ago, the bulletin board was removed and it looks like nothing has taken its place. I know one of the city council members was active on that bulletin board, so I looked up his e-mail address and asked him if there was a new one. He said he had invited people to start their own Yahoo or Google groups when the city pulled their site, but it doesn't look like there is anything all that active except for a few very specific uses.

Based on my experience with the Engineer's Association bulletin board, I knew it wouldn't be that hard to get a domain and install some bulletin board software. avondaleestates.com has been taken for a while, but I thought lakeavondale.com would be a good substitute since the lake is kind of a place for people to get together. It was available, so I went ahead and bought it for a year.

I can host it along with igirder.com on my asmallorange account. Nobody will know they are related since they will look completely indepdent. I had used PunBB for the Engineer's Association because it was free, simple, not hard to install, and handled all the basics. Last time I checked there was a fork of PunBB called FluxBB and they were both still updating their software. Would this still be the best option?

I found MyBB as a more powerful alternative. It is also free, but allows users more customization, so I figured it would be better for a community.

Installation and setup is always such a nightmare. The problem isn't really following the instructions, which are pretty clear. The problems stem from dealing with domains and sub-domains and that they don't propagate right away. That means I can set up what is called an "addon domain" with my hosting service that will use the files in a folder of igirder.com as if it was a separate domain (lakeavondale.com). So I did this and tried to see if it worked and it didn't. It kind of worked. I could enter http://lakeavondale.com in my browser, but it would redirect me to http://igirder.com/avondale/ which is the folder where all of the files were. That's not what I wanted. Later I thought that what happened is I didn't wait long enough. But at the time that made me try some other things, like deleting the addon domain in CPanel or trying a new folder name, moving the folder, or changing a password. I even tried editing the .htaccess file. But that just made things worse and I would get error messages in my browser that a location didn't exist. It's just very aggravating.

The biggest snag with the installation was also related to CPanel. I had set up the MySQL database with a name, username, and password. I entered those in the MyBB installation script but it said that something failed and it couldn't log in to the database. So I tried changing the password, deleting the user and adding them again, and so on. In the end I had left out giving the user I had created permission to the database I had created. Ugh. After that it was pretty much off to the races. Except then once I was done, the forum looked awful. The CSS obviously wasn't working so it looked like a low-fi version but even worse. This is because I had set up the location of the files that MyBB would need in the forum.lakeavondale.com subdomain and that subdomain wasn't working yet.

I waited. Before too long, the forum looked perfect, but it had forwarded me from forums.lakeavondale.com to igirder.com/avondale/mybb which is the actual location of the files. Plus when I would log in, it would say I was logged in okay, and send me back to the opening page of the forum, but it was still calling me a guest. I guess this had to do with the subdomain still not propagating correctly. I narrowed this down to a problem with cookies. The forum was trying to give me a cookie from lakeavondale.com but I was actually in igirder.com so my browser wouldn't take it (that's a basic security feature). So when the login sent me back to the page, my cookie authenticating the login wouldn't take and therefore I still had guest status.

That raised a real problem because even as an administrator, I couldn't log in to the forum and change anything. So at that point I figured I'd wait until morning and hopefully everything would propagate and work.

The next morning I was still being forwarded to the igirder folder. So frustrating. At this point about the only thing it could be would be cPanel's forwarding or the .htaccess file (which cPanel might write; I'm not sure). In desperation I deleted the .htaccess file know that might screw up igirder which uses domain forwarding to send people who go to www.igirder.com to just igirder.com.

Now it was working in Internet Explorer and Firefox, but I was still being forwarded when I used the SeaMonkey browser I had used when I was setting all of this up the night before. It turns out that SeaMonkey puts domain forwarding instructions in its cache somehow. After I cleared the cache, SeaMonkey stopped forwarding.

I need to add some pictures of Avondale to the board and the home page, but I have it up and running:



MyBB is actually pretty nice. It has a ton of features similar to the commerical vBulletin that most big discussion communities use. It will also let me manually approve people who register (which I want to do to limit membership to Avondale residents and also to prevent robots, although MyBB automatically includes a Captcha system for weeding out robots). It uses CSS for formatting, so I think customizing the look is going to be pretty daunting, but the editing of templates is done through the admin interface which should make it easier. There are a number of themes available if I want to change colors, but right now I just want to get rid of the MyBB logo and replace it with a picture of the lake.

A follow-up entry when people started signing up

June 16, 2009

Spotlight on Me

Maybe a year ago, iLounge introduced a spotlight comment that would highlight a user comment on one of the news articles they had recently posted. Yesterday they had an article summarizing several different news items (which they call a mix) and one of those items was that Dataviz was introducing Docs to Go for the iPhone and Touch. This is one of the crucial apps I use on the Palm that wasn't available on the Touch yet. They have had a page saying it is coming soon for about a year. So it finally showed up and it's only $5 (for the next 2 weeks anyway, so I went ahead and bought it even though I don't have a Touch yet). So I wrote a comment that I was happy Docs to Go was finally available. Today I was the spotlighted comment!


June 9, 2009

End of AvantGo

One of my favorite uses of my early laptop computers was as an offline browser. I had a program that would download a page and everything linked on that page. By pointing it to the table of contents of that month's Business Week, Atlantic Monthly, or Scientific American, I was able to download all of the articles. Then I could read them on the go and they would come up instantly without any sort of wired or wireless connection. It was great for the train.

When I ditched the laptops and got a Palm, there was a similar piece of software called AvantGo. It was designed to download sites of its partners, but you could also tell it to download custom sites. I used it for a while to download US News and World Report and still use it to download my blog and movie reviews. Since I am reading on the train and it goes underground, even wireless networks can't provide this kind of service (if I wanted to pay for them, which I don't). I use it to get most of the New York Times, movie times, movie reviews, space.com, and Tidbits (a Mac-oriented newsletter).

In the latest AvantGo download they announced they would no longer be providing mobile service as of June 30. Apparently they have become obsolete in an age of smartphones and data plans.

This was one of those programs that really made the Palm useful and unique. I don't think offline browsing was ever really embraced by the general public, but I love it. And as far as I know there isn't anything to replace it. They mentioned a program that is available, but it doesn't run on Palms. There are RSS feeders, but I'm not sure what exists for Palm and if I can get the entire articles at once so that I can read them later without being connected. Unlike Amazon's Kindle, the content was all free. And unlike smartphones, there was no data plan I had to buy. I could still carry around my dumb phone.

I know eventually I will replace the Palm TX I have now with an iPod Touch, but the Touch still lacks some key functionality that the Palm has like synching with an Access database, Word and Excel documents, and my Outlook calendar. AvantGo (or some kind of offline browser) was one of those things I wanted for the Touch to have too.

Lately I have been watching movies on the Palm on the way home from work so I haven't used AvantGo as much, but I definitely use it every week. And with my newspaper subscription running out soon and the price doubling, I was thinking I would be synching every morning to AvantGo so I could still read the news on the way in. Oh well. A great idea, now thrown on the heap of obsolescence.

June 8, 2009

Ex is in Texas

Well Susan is moved to Texas for the most part. She still has a lot of furniture in her Atlanta house to make the house look lived in while it is on the market. Once the house sells, she will have everything moved out to her professionally. Unprofessionally we packed up a big U-Haul trailer attached to her Jeep and drove out last Thursday. We wanted to leave by 7 AM, knowing it was 820 miles and all needed to happen in a day because it would be hard to stay anywhere overnight with all of the animals. After helping her pack until almost 11 the night before, I was back at her house at 6:40 Thursday morning. There was still a fair amount to do, but the trailer was packed up and ready by 7:30 anyway, so I offered to take it while she got the cats and house ready, knowing the Prius would be able to catch up pretty quickly anyway.


As soon as I got on I-85 and up to speed, the trailer started fishtailing pretty badly and the only solution is to let off of the gas until it stops. So the fastest speed I could go was around 50 mph. A trip I thought would take 16 hours with stops, was now going to be at least that plus stops. And up hills I could barely keep it above 40 mph. Within 20 minutes I got a call from Susan saying that one of her cats had gotten out and run away. It had already been given a sedative for the trip so was kind of clumsy and sleepy, but ran down a storm drain to get away from Susan. Despite a chase through the woods with Susan getting scratched up and a case of poison ivy, it would be about two hours before the cat returned to the back door to be let in.

Still, with me plodding along, she was able to catch up at the Mississippi state line where we walked the dogs at the welcome center (I'd also stopped at the Alabama welcome center, so we stopped in every state). The decision then was should we stay together or let the Prius go ahead. Since I was already set up in the Jeep with my iPod transmitting to the FM radio and with all of my stuff, we just stayed the way we were and Susan sped on ahead (which was a lot easier on the cats who weren't dealing well with the car ride). Slow and steady does not win the race.

I eventually got to her new house (she signed a 6-month lease) at around 1:40 in the morning, so it was a 19-hour trip. Susan did it in 14. I realized when I saw the first U-Haul truck hauling a car trailer behind it that we should have opted for a truck instead of a trailer, plus we really packed that trailer and wound up leaving some stuff in Atlanta that Susan could use in Texas. It would have been easier on the poor Jeep too, whose new trailer hitch was so weighed down that once it got dark I noticed the headlights didn't even shine on the ground, but the overhead signs were brilliant green. In driving 820 miles (almost all along I-20) I never passed a single vehicle. I came close one time in Louisiana, catching up with a slow-moving pickup truck, but then we started uphill and I started losing ground. I backed off to let other vehicles pass us both and waited for a downhill, but at the top of the hill the truck exited.

The next morning the cable guy showed up pretty early (9:30?), but he had a really hard time getting the cable and internet set up properly. In the meantime we got all but the heaviest stuff moved into the house. He finally got it working and 3 minutes after he left the internet stopped working. This put us behind in getting to Six Flags Over Texas (which opened at 10:30 AM), but we wound up getting there at 1:20 and enjoyed some pretty short lines for some really good roller coasters. The best one is the hypercoaster Titan. It claims 85 mph top speed down a huge 255' first drop (it is on the Top 10 lists for highest, fastest, and biggest drop). It eventually goes into a tight horizontal helix pulling enough g's that I started to black out (awesome!). People black out at 5 g's and it goes to 4.5 so this common. It is similar to Atlanta's Goliath or Busch Gardens Williamsburg's Apollo's Chariot). The floorless Batman Ride was fun and similar to Atlanta's. The shuttle coaster, Mr. Freeze, features a linear induction motor that accelerates you right out of the gate without having to be cranked up a hill (a short, but amazing ride). Mr. Freeze also appears on a number of Top 10 lists for shuttle coasters. The wooden Texas Giant was pretty rough, the double-loop Shock Wave, and Runaway Mountain (an indoor dark roller coaster like Space Mountain in Disneyworld) were not as good. They had a really lame motion simulator ride based on the lame movie Fly Me to the Moon about 3 houseflies that hitchhike with Neil Armstrong to the moon. It wasn't even in 3-D. We got tired pretty quickly after getting almost no sleep, so we left around 5:30, but we packed a lot in.

I've always wanted to visit other Six Flags parks, so it was good to visit the only one older than Atlanta's. Plus it made us take some time out from the whole process of packing, moving, unpacking, and getting settled. That put us a little behind (probably could have bought a refrigerator Friday and had it delivered Saturday instead of buying it Saturday for a Monday delivery), but that was about the only time we took out other than going out to eat or just driving around to see where stuff was.

The flight back was uneventful and much quicker than the drive out. I wound up picking up Austin and Katie Sunday night because Jenny had discovered a tick on Austin's ear and didn't want to remove it. So I went over there and did it and brought them back.