Collecting the Internet So You Don't Have To

We work on the Internet. As such, we are constantly consuming information. Believe me, there is a lot of it out there. Sometimes we even forget things unless we write them down. Our blog covers everything from web standards to the muppets, php to comic books, music and everything else that we find interesting. Leave us a note when you drop by.

Italy 2008, Days Five, Six, and Seven

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Wil Alambre
Wil Alambre Senior Programmer
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Continuing my ongoing series, I have posted more photos from my recent trip to Italy. I’m giving my Flickr Pro account a run for it’s money, and giving more of my friends reasons to be envious :P

These days were our actual working days, but even those were amazingly enjoyable! It was a bright and beautiful walk every morning to the Institute where we had to do our installations and presentations. We were able to cut around and through one of the Universities of Rome to get there, getting a good feel for school life in Italy. And best of all, we got a flavour for life in Rome outside the standard tourist routes.

An inside view of the main entrance to the University of Rome

Our nights were free to ourselves, which we used to do some shopping and/or more touring about the city... or other things :) I spent St Valentine’s night in an Irish pub, having fun with a group of people touring from Spain. And on our last night, we managed to find the best plate of spaghetti in the entire city!

A great place to eat if you’re in Rome!

The next day would be our last in Rome, and we were hopping onto a train to Cinque Terra to do some hiking. But we’d have all morning and most of the afternoon to do some looking around. And we were not going to ditch Rome without having a walk through the Sistine Chapel!

Italy 2008, Day Four

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Wil Alambre
Wil Alambre Senior Programmer
Visual Lizard
work
1 (204) 957-5520 ext:152
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Wil Alambre Whiteboard Ninja

Day four of my trip to Italy, and the last full day to run around before we had to hunker down and get to work. We decided to get up bright and early and take the Metro over to Vatican City, to visit St. Peters Basilica. As in the past posts, I’ve updated my Flickr account with a new photoset.

The early morning line-up to get into St Peters

St Peters Basilica is awe inspiring, even if you do not share the religion. Just the amount of care and work that goes into every little thing is incredible. And the weight of time and history is apparent in every monument, altar, statue, and chapel. Though you can think of it as a single, large building with a single, cavernous room, the Basilica is actually divided into areas, with their own thematic sets of paintings, statues, and memorials.

Gregory XVI

Even early in the morning and even with the size of the Nave, it started to get pretty crowded a couple hours in. And yes, you can easily spend all day in there, going over every inch, and still not see everything. We went in by ourselves, without a guidebook and not part of a tour group, and still we were in there for four hours or so!

After going through, we popped back out and crossed the Piazza. There’s a long, straight street that leads almost from the river directly to the square, and we ran into a nun parade! It was obviously a scheduled event, celebrating some sort of nursing hospital nun order, but we certainly were not expecting it, and made for a nice surprise. I was able to snap a couple pictures and then then sit back and enjoy some cappuccinos as they went by :)

A consesus of visiting Canadian tourists agreed, this here is one cute looking nun :)

After our outing to St Peters, we split up and went touring Rome on our own. I shot across town on the Metro to Circus Maximus, checking out the Pyramid on the way. All that remains of the Circus is a long lush green field, a common place for picnics and joggers. Right beside it, though, are the ruins of the Roman Forums.

Out by the remains of Circus Maximus

I arrived too late to be able to go down into it (most of the major monuments close to the public at about 4:30pm) but I was still able to go up and around, and find some great views. The sun was starting to set, and cast some amazing shadows. Though work would mean I wouldn’t be able to visit these ruins over the next couple days, I promised myself I would make time before I left Rome!

Italy 2008, Day Three

General
Wil Alambre
Wil Alambre Senior Programmer
Visual Lizard
work
1 (204) 957-5520 ext:152
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Wil Alambre Whiteboard Ninja

Hello again! This is a continuation of my last posting, detailing my recent trip to Italy! This will cover all the stereotypical tourist things I did and went to see while jogging around Rome. Also, I’ve updated my Flickr account with a related photo set. Enjoy!

So, an early rise as Peter and Aaron and I went out and grabbed some fresh coffee and pastries for breakfast. A fact I was unaware of at the time: there is an extra charge at almost every cafe and restaurant if you decide to sit at a table to consume your purchase. So, if you stand at the counter and enjoy your cappuccino and bagel or whatever, that’s one price, but if you decide to sit at a table for the same meal, that’s usually a higher price. Now you know :)

Breakfast time in Rome

Today was a full out hike all around Rome, hitting as many monuments and historical sites as we could manage. the tourist maps we purchased had the spots clearly indicated, so they weren’t hard to find. But rather than have a detailed, well executed plan, we decided to just go in the general direction and enjoy the city, only consulting the maps every half an hour or so to beeline to a nearby fountain or ruin.

Roman ruins

The very middle of Rome has the Colosseum and National Monument. In and around this area are the ruins of the roman forums, with buildings, walls, and columns all over the place. The roads and currently occupied buildings are literally entrenched with these amazing examples of history and culture! We could even go in and wander about, but we saved that for a later day.

The massive scale of the Pantheon

Wandering about, we hit awesome places like the Pantheon and the Trevi Fountain. Even in February, a "slow" tourist season, there were a gaggle of tourists and sightseers crowding around. I cannot imagine the mess Rome would be in August, it’s apparent peak! None-the-less, the scale of these buildings were incredible!

Trevi Fountain from the front

As before, we went looking around after dinner, revisiting all the spots again after dark. Almost every part of the central city is still awake, with cafes and bars open, theaters filling up and emptying, and crowds of tourists and locals wandering about. In the end, called it an early night though... tomorrow, we were going to hit Vatican City!

Italy 2008, Day One and Two

General
Wil Alambre
Wil Alambre Senior Programmer
Visual Lizard
work
1 (204) 957-5520 ext:152
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1 (888) 237-9559
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Wil Alambre Whiteboard Ninja

A blurry shot of the Toronto airport, through a plane window

Hello! I am officially back from my trip to Italy! To answer a couple quick questions: yes it was beautiful, yes I took lots of pictures, and yes it is bastard ass cold now that I’m back in Winnipeg (I even got a bit of a cold). I took a day off after arriving, to recover from the jet lag, and am now back to work and in the swing of things.

Over the next couple of days, I hope to post my pics to Flickr, and accompany them with a blog post covering the same time periods. This is the first of those, detailing the first two days... which were, not surprisingly, comprised mostly of a long flight over the Atlantic :)

I took the trip with Aaron, lead developer for CTRNet. The total flight, including layovers, was fifteen hours. That’s including the eight plus hour flight from Toronto to Munich. It’s a long time to be stuck in a seat, I kid you not! Especially when the in-flight movies are crap like The Game Plan. :/

The advice I was given for long flights like these was "sleep going east, stay awake going west", which makes sense. We started the flight at 2PM Friday from Winnipeg and landed 11PM Saturday in Rome. So, if you managed to get some shut-eye on the oversea flight, you’re in business jet lag wise. I, however, did not manage, and was not in business... but some sugar ladened cappuccinos solved that problem! :P

Taking a bus to catch a plane

Oh, and by the way, a one hour layover at any airport is not enough time to catch a connecting flight. Ever. Our flight was twenty minutes late arriving to Munich, so we missed our connecting flight to Rome. Nothing more frustrating than being in an airport you’re not familiar with trying to make yourself understood to people who speak a completely different language. Luckily, we explained the situation to the right representatives in the end, and not only got another flight a couple hours later, but even got a free lunch out of it. Turns out the Lufthansa airline had an airline passenger bill of rights that cover what we were entitled to based on how long we would be stuck. Neat!

Our first hotel, which we stayed only the night, was a block away from the Colosseum, so we obviously started looking around that area. Bought a map and tucked it in my back pocket; Rome is a beautiful city to just get lost and wander around in, but I want to be able to get where I’m going eventually. Luckily, Rome is not very big overall (you can probably walk across it in an hour if you wanted) and has both an excellent Metro and lots of bus service.

A full shot of the Unknown Solider monument

After the sun sets, Rome gets lit up with street lights and floods. All the ruins and monuments are illuminated, making it worth while to visit every spot at least twice. The only thing I recommend is that you get used to negotiating with Roman traffic during the day, as it becomes a live action version of Frogger during the night! There are very few traffic stops, as Italy uses roundabouts and the like instead, so cars rarely stop or slow down. Crossing the street is more like playing chicken with half a dozen little Renaults and motor scooters!

Anyway, not too much in the first day in Rome... we mainly just went around for the sake of actually being there at last, rather than confined to a seat for hours. Early crash at the hotel, as we were going for an all day run around the next day!

New Iron Man TV Spot

General
Wil Alambre
Wil Alambre Senior Programmer
Visual Lizard
work
1 (204) 957-5520 ext:152
toll-free
1 (888) 237-9559
url
http://www.visuallizard.com
Wil Alambre Whiteboard Ninja

I didn’t watch the Superbowl last weekend, but I did hear about the new Iron Man TV spot that was played during it. Apple has posted that trailer for all to see. And yes, it is awesome!

You Don't Need to Be Running Multiple IM Clients

Technology
Wil Alambre
Wil Alambre Senior Programmer
Visual Lizard
work
1 (204) 957-5520 ext:152
toll-free
1 (888) 237-9559
url
http://www.visuallizard.com
Wil Alambre Whiteboard Ninja

I have several people I talk to through instant messages. Some of them exclusively, as they live in different cities and provinces (and in a handful of cases, countries). One thing I discovered was they all used different IM clients. Some preferred MSN Messenger, some used Yahoo messenger, some jumped on the Google Talk bandwagon, and some even use AIM or iChat. Even worse, many of my contacts had the same problem I did, and were running multiple IM clients to keep in contact with their friends and family.

Wouldn’t it be nice if everyone you knew used one IM network? Or, barring that, there was one IM program that could connect to all these different networks? As a do-not-care-about-the-technology user, all we see is half a dozen programs that all do the same thing but refuse to co-operate.

Turns out, if you’re willing to sacrifice some of the more esoteric features in those IM programs, there is a solution!

The bird mascots of Pidgin and Adium

Pidgin is an all-in-one instant messenger program that works on Windows. It’s mascot is the purple pigeon above :)

Adium is an all-in-one instant messenger program that works on Mac OSX. It’s mascot is the green duck above :)

I’m not going to going to go into the technologies behind them, or the fantastic open-source developers putting their time into building these programs. There are excellent "about" pages and developer "blogs" on each site that will tell everything you’re interested in knowing. The important thing they both do, however, is that they connect to multiple IM networks and combine all your IM contact lists into one manageable whole!

In both Pidgin and Adium, you fill in any and all your IM accounts (your logins to MSN, Yahoo, AOL, etc). The IM client will connect to each network and work exactly like any IM client you’ve ever used: a contact list window, chat windows, various alerts, etc. the difference is that you are running one IM client, all your contacts across multiple IM networks are in a single contact list.

Better yet, in both Pidgin and Adium, you can combine contacts that have multiple network accounts. If your friend Joe has a GTalk and a Yahoo account, by default, he will appear twice in your contact list (once for each network). In both programs, you can combine those two listings into a single Joe contact... so when he connects as either or both accounts, it will simply appear as "online". I personally have two or three contacts who log in and out of about four networks each, and I tell you, it’s nice not having to figure out which IM program they are using on any given day; as far as I care, they are either online or not. :)

There is a downside. Don’t expect the extra "flair" from the individual IM programs to appear in either Pidgin or Adium. MSN’s giant animated emotes (that knocking hello guy, for instance), live streaming video chat, etc. Personally, I never used those elements anyway. Some I even found annoying. If you’re like me, who just needed a contact list and a chat window with text in it, these will do you just fine.

So if you’re like I was, juggling contacts between more than one IM program, I recommend either Pidgin or Adium, depending on your OS of choice. And hey, if you need me, I’ll be online! :P

Discover the PHP GD Library.

Design

The other day a giant 800 page PHP book managed to lure me in. I started flipping around and I found a chapter on the GD Library. The GD Library is an open source code library for the dynamic creation of images by programmers. For some time now I’ve been wanting to learn all about what this library has to offer and how we can find practical uses for it in our Content Management System Catalyst here at Visual Lizard.

I started off by creating little yellow Pacman characters randomly placed all over the board. Don’t forget to refresh page once its loaded.
View Result | View Source

I then created random number of circles and connected them from one to another.
View Result | View Source

Something then clicked inside of my brain that if I incrementally increase the x by  60 pixels then I can get it to somewhat represent a graph with random y values.
View Result | View Source

Based on simple percentages you can easily generate a pie chart. Here’s a picture of my first pie chart:
View Result | View Source

I found some open source code  and here’s what I manged to whip up from it:
View Source


While I may be no Joshua Davis or Eric Natzke, who both had incredible presentations at FITC Winnipeg last year, I managed to whip up some of my own randomly generated PHP art. What I did below is simply created a random number of polygons with random co-ordinates and  colours:

I like to call this "php art"

View Result | View Source

I even manged to whipe up the visual lizard logo in ascii coloured number signs:
View Result | View Source

My conclusion from this is that the GD library is an excellent method for creating graphicaly representations. When it comes to art... Well I’ll keep working on that.