Category Archives: tools

I don’t know how I was able to survive without…

… comic style images of me. No kidding. I text a lot with my wife. At work or university, sometimes there is only a little time between appointments – sometimes not enough for a phone or Facetime call.

Personal emojis as provided by Bitmoji make the difference. We (my wife and myself) use this a lot – and it’s fun even for a grown-up adult.

iPhone iMasse Screenshot using the Bitmoji emojis

It comes as a iPhone app which provides an keyboard with the emojis, but also a an Android app and is available as Chrome extension as well.

To create your avatar you simply create one selfie, and within seconds you’ll have your personal comic style emojis to be used in almost any ab by copying and pasting the images.

It’s not a productivity tool at all and basically, it is just a little bit of fun – but hey, who told that life should be no fun at all?

tiny Reader RSS

I recently started using Tiny Tiny RSS as feed reader. I was looking for some reader I am able to host by myself. To achieve this, I’ve set up a dockerized version of tt-rss to be hosted on my server (more on this topic later).

While I am overall pleased by the overall experience with tt-rss, I was looking for a complementary iPhone app. I found (and can highly recommend) tiny Reader RSS by Pascal Pluchon.

The app comes with a clean UI, very easy to use. When opening the very first time you might run into the error API_DISABLED.

To fix this, log into tt-rss and navigate to you settings pane. Simply check Enable API to allow the app to communicate with your server.

Link: https://tt-rss.org
Pascal Pluchon’s site: https://www.pluchon.com/en/index.php

Tool Tipp: Fast.com – The Netflix Speedtest

From time to time you might be interested in how fast your internet connection is. In real. There are various tools out in the wild. In Germany most of the time Speedtest ist used. Many providers also offer a speed test – which in fact ist just a branded site of Speedtest.

The issue here is the fact, the speed test servers are living behind “the internet” in some other computing centers. They never give you a real idea of your connection speed. They give you an idea of how fast the data transfer to these servers is. If the test is run repeatedly, it also provides different results. Depending on the server on the other side.

Today, I learned about fast.com which is a speed test based on the Netflix servers. It seems that if some company knows how to transport large amounts of data bypassing the restrictions of the internet, Netflix is the one. Said that it seems these Netflix servers are the ones least affected by the rest of the internet. Tests I run on fast.com is mostly appropriate, providing similar download rates I see with Xbox Live downloads while other test sides show large divergences.

Therefore, fast.com ist my recent tip if it comes to testing the speed of your internet connection.

fast.com speed test results

Usable Google Reader Alternative

I haven’t used feed readers a lot after Google Reader was cancelled on March 13, 2013. Before I made extensive use of it with quite a lot of resources. Personal weblogs, article feeds and so on. Once Google cancelled Reader it seemed many applications and sites stopped supporting RSS and Atom as they did before. I am not saying they did not provide feeds anymore, however, it seemed that feeds haven’t been first class citizen of the Web anymore.

Since my personal focus recently changed towards new and actual technologies (again), I started to read a lot more online articles as I did during the recent six years. So once again, I am looking for an alternative to Google Reader (again).

Feedly never seemed to work for me due to various reasons, including a monthly fee of 5$. But recently I found Inoreader to be very handy. So far, I was not aware of this service.

First of all, it is a Freemium service as well, however, with the free membership it seems you get all basic functionality needed. The very only limitation seems to be a limit of 150 sources. Once reached you can upgrade to 20$ yearly plan to set a new limit of 500 sources. This seems a absolute reasonable price I am willing to pay for this service.

Inoreader Screenshot

So I will give it a try to keep up to date with my favourite sites, looking forward to hit the mark of 150 sources soon.

Link: https://www.inoreader.com/

High Quality Icons – The Noun Project

I always loved to enhance my presentations and lecture slides with visual content. At Microsoft, we used to have a Ressource DVD with hundreds of box-shots and icons to be used for marketing and other occasions. Meanwhile, I prepare a lot of educational lecture slides. However, universities usually do not provide such resources. Even most of the companies I’ve worked for did not provide a lot of these materials.

Eventually, I learned about the Noun Project where you can get thousands of high-quality icons for an absolutely fair price.

The project does provide various applications for Mac, iPhone as well as add-ons for Microsoft Word and PowerPoint. I just started to use the PowerPoint add-on being highly pleased by its functionality. You can search for icons, select from various resolutions and choose an appropriate color. Considering the time I spend to create, search for and adapt icons the price of 40 € is quite fair.

Noun Project PowerPoint Add-On

tl;dr

If you are looking for a high quality and easy to use collection of icons, you should have a look at the Noun Project.

Link: https://thenounproject.com/

Customize Windows 10 File Type Icons

I just realized, that recent Windows version make it very hard to customize some aspects of your desktop.

As I am using Sumatra PDF as my default PDF viewer, I do not have the typical Adobe icon on my desktop. While having these icons on my Mac as well as on my work PC, this is rather confusing.

I came along File Types Manager which actually takes away the registry fiddling.

File Tymes Manager Main Window

It works with Windows XP, 7/8 and Windows 10. if you have any .ico files available it is pretty easy to change an icon for a particular file type just by assigning it.

Changed PDF file type icon

Also there are tons of other features, I haven’t used yet.

tl;dr

If you want to change file type icons on a Windows 10 system, you ca use File Type Manager to do so easily.

Simplifying Shortcuts using Windows Snipping Tool

At my current company laptop, I am very limited when it comes to installing additional tools to improve my productivity. From a company view understandable, it is very frustrating to me. One of the tasks I do several times a day, is creating a screenshot. Unfortunately, I am not able to install tool such as my beloved SnagIt.

I use Windows Snipping Tool instead a lot. However, pressing Ctrl + Esc, typing Snip and then pressing New gets annoying over time. So I decided to create an Instant Snip instead when.

So head to the Snipping Tool and right click it to navigate to its location on the disc.

Snipping Tool Context Menu in the Windows Start Menu

Copy the shortcut in this folder and rename it. In my case, I copied the shortcut to a Prg folder in my Home directory where I save programs, batch files and shortcuts.

Copying the Windows Snipping Tool Shortcut from its original location to another folder

Now right click the shortcut and do the following small changes:

  1. Add the parameter /clip to the command line in the shortcut
  2. Optional: Add a keyboard shortcut in case you are not happy with the Windows default (in my case Windows+Shift+I)

Properties of the Snipping Tool Properties UI

At the very end, I have put this shortcut to my taskbar to create instant clips with a single mouse click.

That way you can use the shortcut to create a clip directly. Using the /clip patemter you can use Snipping Tool in semi-automated processes but also the keyboard shortcut you have just defined.

In case you are only looking for the default keyboard shortcut you can use Windows+Shift+S to start the clip mode of Snipping Tool.

One point to bear in mind is the fact, when using the /clip mode, the clip is directly saved to the Windows clipboard and the Snipping Tool UI cannot be accessed right after the screenshot is made.

tl;dr

Windows Snipping Tool has a parameter /clip to create a instant clip from the command line without starting the UI dialog but also can be started using Windows+Shift+S to create such a clip.

Blogging again with MarsEdit

Since WordPress cam up with the new editor, actually, writing does not spark fun anymore. Actually, I do not know why I do not like the new editor. Therefore, I recalled MarsEdit, which I used quite some time ago.

MarsEdit 4

I am still not disappointed by the editor. Connection the WorPress installation worked like a charm. Looks like I can start writing blog articles again in a “traditional” manner. 

MarsEdit 4 Editor

Said that, this is going to be the first article written with MarsEdit for a long time.

The McGyver GIT Survival Guide

Working with version control system is one of the elementary skills for each and every software engineer. Over the years, I worked with CVS, Subversion, SourceSafe, Perforce as well as Mercurial. Within Microsoft, I worked a lot with Source Deport and Microsoft Team Foundation Server. At home I run my dedicated SVN repository. In fact, I don’t feel comfortable when not being able to check in source code at all.

For my personal projects, Git especially Github works quite well, however, since the openHAB project moved from Google Code (Mercurial) to GitHub, I deal with quite a lot of issues within Git over and over. Currently we have more than 50 60 forks and more than frequent pull requests. Therefore, keeping your local branch permanently in sync is quite inevitable.

Abstraction None
The worst thing about Git is the fact, the user interface and console commands seem to reflect the Git implementation bit by bit. Personally, I have the feeling there is zero abstraction for the user. Even worse, when used to non distributed systems like SVN or TFS doing simple syncs and commits, the concepts behind Git might drive one mad.

Small Steps
This seems obvious, however, try to make only small commits to the repository. The more collaborators you have, the more challenging it might become to merge. At the same time, the less experienced you are with Git, the smaller your checkins should be. Commit single files, minor changes as isolated as possible. This will make you life just so much easier.

Daily Routine Conflicts
As daily routine, fetching and merging the local branch should be done via

git fetch upstream
git merge upstream/master

Usually, this should work quite well unless there are changes on local files that should not be merged at all or you have done changes not to be merged yet.

Updating e21a751..349468b
error: Your local changes to the following files would be overwritten by merge:
        foo/bar/buzz.ext
Please, commit your changes or stash them before you can merge.
Aborting

To just avoid the merge stash the changes via

git stash

Do the merge, and than pull the stash.

git stash pop

Again, usually this should work fine unless the merge results in a conflict which cannot be resolved automatically.

Auto-merging foo/bar/buzz.ext
CONFLICT (content): Merge conflict in foo/bar/buzz.ext

Simply run

git mergetool

to solve the issues and try to pull the stash again.

Delete from Repository only
To remove a file from the repository whilst keeping it locally just performa a

git rm --cached myfile.c

Bear in kind, this git will realise this file immediately as a new. rm works on folders as well, though. Anyway, this will become very handy once you accidentally check in files that are not intended to be checked in.

Backup early – Backup often
Just in case you don’t know what’s going to happen e.g. due to a larger refactoring – move the current state into a new brach as backup right after a commit

git branch my-backup-work

Reset to Remote
Ok, this one gave me quite a hard time, as I had changes checked in my forks but needed to reset particular files to the current revision of the original repository (not your local branch and neither your fork).

To do so, reset your working copy to the upstream master:

git remote update
git reset --hard upstream/master

Afterwards push this new branch-head to your origin repository, ignoring the fact that it won’t be a fast-forward:

git push origin +master

you might have something like

Fetching origin
Fetching upstream
remote: Counting objects: 685, done.
remote: Compressing objects: 100% (336/336), done.
remote: Total 507 (delta 249), reused 321 (delta 87)
Receiving objects: 100% (507/507), 6.57 MiB | 146.00 KiB/s, done.
Resolving deltas: 100% (249/249), completed with 64 local objects.
From https://github.com/aheil/example
   f55f8b0..e060456  master     -> upstream/master
macbook-pro:example andreas$

Reverting to a specific Revision
This one is easy, you simply need to tell git the hash of the revision you want to check out. This works quite well, however, you always need to consider the visibility of the branch you want to check out. To understand the reachability in git, you might want to read this article.

git checkout e095 -- somefolder/somefile

Conclusion
In my very personal opinion, Git is s**t if you are used to centralised repositories. If you worked a lot with Mercurial, Git is simply to complex. Git is not abstract enough. When working on code, I want spend 99% on the code and 1% on the revisioning system, not the other way around. When working on the open source projects, I currently waste a major part of my time on Git.

I probably will never setup and run a personal git server (I do run a SVN server and did run CVS before) and I probably will not maintain any Git servers (I did at work maintain Microsoft TFS, SVN and CVS servers, though).

Git is great when it comes to some kind of mass collaboration (but I haven’t found anything so far Mercurial won’t offer for the same purpose). While everybody plays nicely together, it works just great.

As there is much more to learn about Git, you eventually want to pick Pro Git to get some insights.

Where is my Space

Using Bootcamp, running a Mac OS X and a Windows installation in parallel, space is slowly but constantly running low on my MacBook Pro. Before upgrading my HDD, I was looking for a better way than using du or df -h to check where I might free up some space on my disk.

Disk Inventory X is a free tool available using cushion tree maps to visualise the disk usage. A similar tool was developed at the Technical University of Eindhoven named SequoiaView. While SequiaView was developed for Windows, Disk Inventory X is designed for Mac OS, working fine with version 10.8.3.

Disk Invetory X

After selecting the disk, it’s possible to browse through the directory structure analysing where your storage when to.

Disk Invetory X Cushion Tree

Both, SequoiaView for Windows and Disk Inventory X for Mac are quite useful programs that should be definitely part of ones toolset.