Archive for Technology category

What to do before your iTunes Match subscription expires

At $25 a year the iTunes Match service can be a little tough to swallow given all it does is synchronize your music across iTunes especially when other file-sharing services are cheaper and more general purpose (OneDrive, Mega, DropBox etc).

One important thing to know however before you let your subscription lapse or cancel is that once it’s gone all your cloud-backed-up music will be unavailable.

That means if you don’t still have a local copy of the track your ripped from CD/download from anywhere but iTunes you’re going to be digging through backups or have to re-rip or repurchase it.

There is a simple way to download all your missing music before your subscription expires though.

Steps to download all your iTunes Match tracks

  1. Start up iTunes
  2. Create a new Smart Playlist with the criteria (as shown in screenshot)
    1. iCloud Status is matched
    2. Location is not on this computer
      iTunes Smart Playlist for finding Cloud-only tracks
  3. Save this Smart Playlist as say “iTunes Match Download”
  4. Browse to this Smart Playlist and select one song
  5. Select all with Ctrl-A (Windows) or Cmd-A (Mac)
  6. Consider the total size at the bottom of the screen in terms of whether you have this disk space or bandwidth allowance.
  7. Right click on the items and choose Download

This may take a while. You can see the status by opening the Downloads window.

If the downloads stop or fail for any reason just repeat steps 4-6 as your new playlist will keep shrinking as files are now available on your computer.

Enjoy!

[)amien

Setup an Ubuntu server at Digital Ocean

This post is part of a series on Turbocharging WordPress with NGINX and HipHopVM but also serves as a standalone beginners guide to getting an Ubuntu server ready at Digital Ocean.

Virtual machines are called Droplets at Digital Ocean so hit Create then:

1. Give it a name

Give your server a name. This has no bearing on the name your customers see and is only for initially connecting to it/in the Digital Ocean dashboard.

2. Select size

A popular blog should have no problem with the $10 a month 1GB/30GB/2TB option but I run a few sites so went for the next one up with more CPU and RAM.

You can scale up later although you won’t get the extra disk space as it can’t resize the disk. Given static storage like Amazon S3 is cheap and integrates with their CloudFront CDN this isn’t a problem.

3. Select region

Is your audience focused in a specific area?

  • Yes (e.g. a real estate site) then choose the closest server to them
  • No – choose the US East Coast like New York for good global coverage

4. Select Image

Here you select which distribution of Linux, which version and which CPU architecture you want to use.

For this guide I’m using Ubuntu 14.04 x64. In theory you could use alternative distributions or versions but you’re on your own.

Do not select x32 as HipHopVM is only supported on 64-bit architectures.

4. Add optional SSH keys

SSH keys let you automatically sign in without a password – the security being a key file on your computer instead. It’s worth learning how to use this but is outside the scope of this article so just use the normal password for now.

5. Settings

Leave the defaults on unless you want to pay extra for their backup service. Personally I like to use a WordPress plugin that backs up to S3 called UdraftPlus.

6. Hit Create Droplet

Within 60 seconds you should have a fresh virtual machine ready to go.

Connect to your Ubuntu virtual machine/droplet

You will need ssh (preinstalled on a Mac, Windows users should check out Putty) Check the IP address shown on your droplet’s page then:

ssh root@107.170.26.154

You should confirm the fingerprint the first time by typing yes then be rewarded with a Welcome message and a cursor to type new commands into!

Update your Ubuntu virtual machine

Even though the version of Ubuntu you chose is quite up to date there will be a few updates to apply, thankfully this is very easy.

sudo apt-get update

Tells the package manager (known as “apt”) to go find out about all the updates. It doesn’t yet install them though, to do that we need to wait until it’s finished then type:

sudo apt-get upgrade

You’ll need to confirm this with Y and wait a little bit. This upgrades a lot of the packages and applications. Once complete then:

sudo apt-get dist-upgrade

This tells apt to upgrade the core operating system as well. Again confirm with Y and wait a little bit. Once this one is complete you’ll need to reboot your machine with:

sudo reboot now

You’re now ready to reconnect and starting installing packages to make your virtual machine do something useful!

[)amien

Typography in bits: Other English micros

I’ve been wanting to do a follow-up to the popular Typography in 8-bits: System fonts post and the 16-bit sequel for some time and recent Hacker News and ArsTechnica traffic reminded me that I’m not the only one nostalgic for chunky pixel fonts of old.

This time I’m focusing on a handful British machines that were much less well known around the globe which – all seem to borrow heavily from other machines!

Sinclair QL (1984)

Specifications

Condensed sans
5 pixels
7 pixels
ASCII+code pages
256×256 (40×25 text)
512×256 (80×25 text)
Unknown
Download in TrueType

Sinclair QL system font in medium resolution

The short-lived Sinclair QL was Sir Clive’s attempt at getting into the business market but the corner cutting on the CPU (a Motorola 68008 – the 8-bit data-bus version of the 68000) and storage (Microdrives consisting of loops of high speed tape instead of disc) meant it wasn’t taken very seriously. This was a shame as the operating system and software was advanced for its time.

Unusual characteristics

  • True descenders making the font effectively 9 pixels tall
  • Single story lower case ‘a’
  • Over-extended ‘7’
  • Squished lower-case ‘f’
  • Aligns braces and brackets to tightly wrap contents
  • Soft curves on ‘gil’
  • Unusual join on ‘k’

Rationale

A rather tidy condensed font very similar to those used on LCD displays still today. Almost certainly looked good on a monitor although perhaps not using the system default colors shown here. Almost certainly too hard to read on a TV at the time.

Influences

Has similar proportions and characters to much of the Apple ][ font but with various visual improvements such as on the 6,9,2,$ etc.

Memotech MTX512 (1984)

Specifications

Condensed sans
7 pixels
7 pixels
ASCII+code pages
256×192 (34×24 text)
Unknown
Download in TrueType

Memotech MTX512 system font in low resolution

Memotech were a peripheral maker who decided to get in on the action and produce their own machine in the 1984-1985 period that saw a lot of machines and failures. Despite some good specifications it never made a dent and its claim to fame is being the computer in the movie Weird Science.

Unusual characteristics

  • Some very quirky decisions especially in lower-case
  • Awful character alignment especially on ‘q’
  • Uneven descenders on ‘gy’
  • Mismatched ‘.,;:’
  • Weird serifs on ‘adu’

Rationale

This quirky font doesn’t looks okay on low-quality TVs of the time with oddities lost in the blur. On sharper screens it looks amateur and unfinished.

Influences

Despite some similarities in the upper-case to the Apple ][ font it doesn’t take many cues from anywhere else.

Amstrad PCW (1985)

Specifications

Serif
7 pixels
7 pixels
ASCII+code pages
720×256 (90×32 text)
Unknown
Download in TrueType

Amstrad PCW system font in high resolution

Alan Sugar’s Amstrad didn’t waste any time after the CPC in going after the business market with a range of cheap machines for word processing and other general tasks. In the UK these machines could be found everywhere either paired up with Amstrad’s own daisywheel or dot-matrix printers.

Unusual characteristics

  • Pixels were actually rectangular (simulated here by doubling the vertical size)
  • Very distinctive curves on ‘CGOQ’
  • ‘X’ looks like a different style because of high mid-point

Rationale

These machines came with their own monochrome monitors and were very high resolution for consumers at the time. The font is not a bad choice and did allow for 90 columns of text but smarter alternatives existed in word processing programs such as Locoscript.

Influences

An almost direct copy of the Amstrad CPC font disguised by the double-height pixels. Actual changes are the 0 taking on the more oval shape, O and Q taking on the boxier shape and the apostrophe loosing its slant.

The PCW was not alone in using an existing 8×8 font in a double-height manner. The Atari ST, Commodore Amiga and Acorn Archimedes all used the same trick.

Acorn Archimedes/A series (1987)

Specifications

Bold sans
6 pixels
7 pixels
ASCII
various
Unknown
Download in TrueType

Acorn Archimedes using double-height pixels
Acorn’s successor to the BBC Micro was a lovely piece of hardware with an all-new 32-bit RISC processor they developed dubbed ARM. While it did well in Acorn’s entrenched education markets it never found a foothold anywhere else. After various models they cancelled their upcoming Phoebe workstation (yes, named after the Friends character) and would concentrate on thin-clients before abandoning that and focusing purely on processor design where they had immense success. The ARM design now powers almost all the smart phones on the market today.

Unusual characteristics

  • Pixels were actually rectangular (simulated here by doubling the vertical size)

Rationale

These machines came with Acorn’s color monitors and were capable of running VGA-like resolutions. The GUI on these machines really missed an opportunity here to use a specifically designed font and to add proportional text printing and take on the Mac. Instead these used a scaled fixed-width font like the Amiga and ST despite being a couple of years late to that party. Proportional fonts were supported later.

Influences

Identical to the BBC font except for ‘^|’

SAM Coupé (1989)

Specifications

Condensed sans
5 pixels
7 pixels
ASCII
256×192 (32×24 text)
512×192 (85×24 text)
Unknown
Download in TrueType

SAM Coupé in high resolution

MGT were a third-party producer of expansion products for the Sinclair ZX Spectrum who bet their company on a Spectrum successor using VLSI technology that would ‘rival an Amiga’ at a fraction of the price. While the machine was impressive by 8-bit standards when it finally arrived somewhat late and more expensive than originally touted it failed to make a dent as the market went to the 16-bit machines and it took MGT down with it.

Unusual characteristics

  • Rather ugly ‘*’ asterisk
  • Inconsistent ‘.,;:’ set
  • Inconsistent ‘ and “

Rationale

A smart font that despite the various inconsistencies looked good on a quality display in both high and low-resolution modes.

Influences

Almost a direct copy of the Sinclair QL font. The upper-case are identical and a most lower case with some exceptions to squeeze the QL’s 9 pixel high font into 8 pixels. This is especially apparent in the over-extended 7, the slashes and the bracket alignments.

5 simple steps to publishing a NuGet package

There is a fair amount of info on making and publishing NuGet packages but I couldn’t find a simplified guide for the simple case. Here it is and start by downloading nuget.exe and putting it in your path.

1. Multi-platform considerations (optional)

Supporting multiple platforms gives you a choice to make:

  1. Portable Class Library (PCL)
  2. One project with MSBuild magic
  3. Multiple projects

If you can go with PCL do it. For CSharpAnalytics we use platform-specific system info and hooks so it’s not an option – we went with multiple projects.

Multiple projects

Creating a separate .csproj for each platform and putting in the same folder means adding files isn’t too painful (show all files then include the ones you need) but you do need to take steps to make sure the build process for the projects don’t interfere with each other by separating the bin and obj paths:

  1. Set the output path in the Build tab of project properties to be unique per configuration to for the bin files, e.g. “bin\Net45\Release\”
  2. Edit the .csproj file adding a BaseIntermediateOutputPath tag for obj files, e.g. <BaseIntermediateOutputPath>obj\Net45</BaseIntermediateOutputPath>

2. Create your .nuspec definition

Now that you know which release dll files you need to include you can go ahead and create the nuspec file that tells nuget how to package your files up.

Open a PowerShell and type nuget spec to create you an XML file to edit in your text editor

Once you’ve entered your author details, a snappy description and links to your project page and license you can then add the files. Libraries will want to copy the .dlls into the lib folder with element like these:

<file src="..\bin\Net45\Release\MyLibrary.dll" target="lib\net45" />

Each platform will require a specific target and they should use platform name (e.g. net45, sl5, windows8) described in the NuSpec creating packages documentation. That page has a lot more detail on things such as content file types etc.

If you prefer a graphical UI then NuGet Package Explorer will make your life easier.

Remember to check your .nuspec file to source control (there is nothing private in it) and add it to your solution as a solution item so it doesn’t get missed.

3. Create your .nupkg package

The easiest part of the process. From PowerShell type:

nuget pack yourfile.nuspec

If all goes well it will create yourfile.nupkg.

4. Test your package

Just because your package was created doesn’t mean it works and you don’t want to publish to the world until you know it works especially given you can’t delete packages from NuGet:

  1. Create a folder to be your own private testing NuGet repository, e.g. c:\testnuget
  2. Publish to your test repository with nuget publish yourfile.nuspec -source c:\testnuget
  3. Configure Visual Studio to use your test repository by going to Tools > Library Package Manager > Package Manager Settings > Package Sources and then adding your test folder to the Available package sources test
  4. Create a new test application and then add a reference using Manage NuGet Packages to choose your new package from your test repository.
  5. Write a few lines of code to test you can actually use your package ok!

5. Publish to the world

Okay, you’re now ready to publish. If you haven’t yet signed up for an account over at Nuget.org you’ll need to do that first.

  1. Go to Your Account and copy your API key
  2. Run the PowerShell command nuget setApiKey followed by your API key, e.g. nuget setApiKey 99995594-38d2-42cd-a8b1-ddcd722bb7e7
  3. Run nuget publish yourfile.nuspec again this time without the -source option to publish to the default public repository

[)amien