Archives for the Month of April, 2014

Arvixe Status Report

In 2010, I posted about my woes with WebHost4Life (which I'm shocked is still around.) I looked around for another host, and ended up going with Arvixe. I've been happy with them ever since.

In the comments, Sebastian wrote:

Sebastián Cañizares writes:

Arvixe is the same problem … they say “We are currently facing network issues across at least one of our facilities The packet loss is disrupting service” and after 3 months my site still has the problem … the site going up and going down …

I was wondering if I was blind to a problem, so I thought I'd do a bit of digging.

Since learning my lesson with WebHost4Life, I've been using a simple PowerShell script to monitor my blog uptime and response time. It's been running since 9/1/2012.

Caveat: This is running from my house - so the data is actually a combination of:

  • How fast and reliably Arvixe responds to requests
  • How fast and reliably my home connection (Comcast, router, etc.) responds and transmits those requests

In any case, the data I have doesn't seem to back up what Sebastian says.

Uptime: Out of 12,978 samples, my combined data only failed to get a "200 OK" response code 154 times. So that's about 99% uptime.

Response times:

  • Until about October 2013, the response times were usually less than 2 seconds. This includes the time that WordPress takes to render the content / etc.
  • After October 2013, most of the response times are still usually less than 2 seconds. However, there has been a secondary band of response times around 5 seconds.

 

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For $6 a month, Arvixe continues to be a great investment.

Handle Hitch Knot for Pulling Thin Rope

If you’ve ever tried to pull hard on thin rope (maybe to tighten slack in a line), you’ve probably wrapped the rope around your hand and felt it dig in as it constricted around your fingers.

Here’s a knot that solves the problem – I call it the Handle Hitch. I couldn’t find it anywhere else – if you’ve heard of it and it has a name, I’d love to know.

With slippery rope (i.e.: paracord), it isn’t suitable for massive loads due to its similarity to the sheepshank. However, it unquestionably improves your ability to grip a line.

Wrap the cord around your hand

The first step is to wrap the cord around your hand. I find it useful to wrap from the outside in.

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Create a bight in the exiting rope

And tuck it between your fingers and the series of strands on the back of your hand.

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Pull the bight forward

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Create a loop in the standing end

Create this loop in a similar way that you create the loop in a sheepshank. The bight we previously created is on the right, the sheepshank loop is on the left.

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Pass the bight through the sheepshank loop

As you do with the bight in either end of a sheepshank.

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Tighten the sheepshank loop

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Let go of the standing end, and pull

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Once the rope is under tension, it can accommodate medium loads. With paracord, I found the bight would slip out of the sheepshank loop with about 100lbs of pulling force - a similar failure mode to the sheepshank, but far greater than what is comfortable to pull by just wrapping the rope around your hand.

For loads greater than that, you really would want something more secure – for example, using a strong stick or your pocket knife in a Marlinspike hitch.

Here’s a video of tying this knot:

Gregg Shorthand from a regular QWERTY Computer Keyboard

 

Download – Gregg Shorthand Keyboard:

ShorthandKeyboard.exe, 720kb.
ShorthandKeyboard.ahk (AutoHotkey script source, 19kb)

 

 

If you’ve got an interest in languages, writing, and computers – you may have stumbled into the crazy world of Shorthand and stenography. Pitman, Gregg, Teeline, and others.

File:Gregg shorthand A Christmas Carol.jpg

(Image courtesy of Wikipedia)

Pitman shorthand isn’t very practical in modern society because it relies heavily on thick vs. thin lines. Today’s writing instruments offer very little variation in that regard – because the days of the flexible fountain pen have tragically long since passed. (Of course, you could argue that shorthand in general isn’t practical in modern society, but then you wouldn’t be reading this post.)

Gregg shorthand is entirely possible in today’s world of boring pens and pencils. The speed of Gregg Shorthand comes primarily from:

  1. Alternative letter forms that are faster and easier to write than our traditional alphabet.
  2. A list of “brief forms” (abbreviations) for common words. For example, “men.” instead of “morning”.

For the first step, learning the letter forms is quite easy and takes very little practice. For the second step, most of the refinement in Gregg Shorthand over time has primarily been tweaking the brief forms: how many, and what they are. Learning the brief forms is not easy, and takes a lot of memorization and work.

Since shorthand is a skill subject, it requires REGULAR practice, preferably on a daily basis.  Forty-five minutes to an hour a day would be a good goal if you can squeeze it in.

http://shorthandshorthandshorthand.com/Starting_Out.htm

A person writing regular "longhand” can reasonably get to 50 WPM just writing out regular words as fast as they can. Add in a more efficient symbol system, and then you’re maybe at 70 WPM.

Most speed improvement in Gregg Shorthand comes from the second step – learning the brief forms. That’s what will take a stenographer from 50 WPM to 200 WPM.

Now, you may look at these numbers and think – “I can already type 80 WPM longhand!" In that case, you’ve elevated the symbol system speed improvements from our traditional alphabet to another level. Instead of writing the entire outline of letters (or even faster swooshy shapes), you just flick your fingers in a certain way.

To improve either your Gregg Shorthand skills, or regular typing skills, you may be able to increase your speed even further through regular learning and use of brief forms. But how? By integrating it into your regular daily typing, that’s how.

Attached to this post is a simple “Shorthand Keyboard” application to let you do exactly that.

This application converts the 147 Gregg Shorthand Diamond Jubilee brief forms into their longhand equivalents. You can type shorthand all day, but your [email | blog | Twitter | whatever] readers get the English equivalent. If you type the longhand equivalent of a brief form on accident (or you didn’t know it), the application gives you a simple on-screen reminder.

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So when you type: “Ths application converts the 147 Gregg shorthand diamond jubilee brief forms into their longhand equivalents. U k type shorthand all day, bt u-r [email | blog | Twitter | whatev] readers get the English equivalent. If u type the longhand equivalent o a brief form on accident (or u didn’t know t), the application gives u a simple on-screen reminder”, you get the paragraph above.

The application doesn’t replace the brief forms by default, since that tends to conflict too often with stuff you type regularly. Instead, you press your Caps Lock key, enter the brief form, and then any non-alphabetic character (such as a space or a period).

Minor notes:

  • If you want to combine brief forms (such as You + r = Your), use a dash character: [Caps]u-r[Space] = “your ”
  • If you want your replacement to be capitalized, end it with a right-shift. [Caps]u[Right-Shift][Space] = “You “
  • The Gregg Shorthand dot symbol (to add an “ing” to whatever word you just wrote) isn’t supported, since that conflicts with ending sentences. It is implemented for “men. = morning” and “th. = think”, though, as these are the common ones. “A” and “an” are so quick to type anyways that the dot equivalent is not a useful speed gain.
    Enjoy!

Fixing KeePass’ Slow Startup Performance

If you don’t use a Password Manager to store your login information for websites, first go read this: http://www.troyhunt.com/2011/03/only-secure-password-is-one-you-cant.html.

I’ve been using KeePass for my password manager for years, but noticed that their Professional Edition had a pretty brutal startup delay. As in – launch KeePass and wait 80 seconds for the window to open. While password security is important, that kind of delay will make even the most security-conscious person start thinking about using ‘123456’ for their password instead.

Surprisingly, I hadn’t seen many complaints online (and certainly no solutions), so I decided to see what Process Monitor might say. After setting an application filter for ‘keepass.exe’, here was the answer:

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At 7:14 and 10 seconds, it starts enumerating the files in the directory where it is installed. And then doing this for every subdirectory. On my machine, that results in processing over 1600 files – as it was a random ‘Tools’ directory with all kinds of junk and support files.

At 7:14 and 55 seconds, it finally completes. And then creates a PluginCache file.

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If I were a betting man, I’d say that it was looking at each of those 1600 files trying to figure out if they were some sort of KeePass plugin or not. Which takes a long time. This seems even more likely when you load the program a second time. It doesn’t take nearly as long to start because computers are quicker to read files a second time with the assistance of filesystem and hard drive caches.

Fortunately, this is simple to verify:

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After rebooting to clear the caches (there are more elegant ways), our suspicions are confirmed. Only 2 seconds to launch – the highlighted line is when Keepass brought up its UI:

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So there are two solutions:

Disable Plugins

If you don’t need plugins, you can just disable them.

Move KeePass

If you need / want plugins, create a subdirectory in your Tools directory for KeePass. For example, c:\Users\Lee\Tools\KeePass. When KeePass launches, it will still scrub through that whole directory and its subdirectories – but there will only be a few files there. Then, put a launcher script in your Tools folder:

:: keepass.cmd

start %~dp0\keepass\keepass %*