Archive of Posts from October 2005

Minimizing Scheduled Scripts

For most of my day I'm sitting at a Windows XP Pro machine. That's where I work in Word, Photoshop, Homesite, Notepad, and other programs I use to get stuff done. And I'm a big fan of the Windows Task Scheduler. Well, more accurately I'm a big fan of setting little scripts to run at certain intervals. I have about a half dozen of them on my home computer right now.

One script grabs the current Amazon sales rank for a specific book and saves it in a CSV file. Another script grabs a mutual fund price from Yahoo! Finance and emails it to me. Another is simply a reminder script that sends me an email every Sunday afternoon saying, "Don't forget to send out ORblogs Weekly." All of the scripts are written in Perl.

So far so good. I'm automated. I'm informed. I'm being reminded of important things. But every time one of these little scripts runs, this pops up on my screen:

command prompt

A blank command prompt. Argh. I'm writing away in Word, or writing an email, or posting to my blog and all of a sudden this black box pops up for three seconds while the script runs and then vanishes. There's no "run minimized" option in Windows Task Scheduler. (why not?) And there's no "run minimized" switch for Perl. (why not?) So today as the fifth black box made its appearance I lost it and decided to find a way to run these scripts minimized.

Here's the solution in case you're among the automated yet annoyed like I was. Run the tasks as a different user. Here's how. Create a new user in Windows XP through Computer Management (Start > Setttings > Control Panel > Administrative Tools > Computer Management > Local Users and Groups). Open the Users folder and Right-click in the right pane to create a new user, and call the new user tasky or something like that. You'll probably need to add the new user to the administrative group depending on the type of scripts you run. You'll also need to set tasky's password, and uncheck the "User must change password at next logon" box. Click OK and tasky is born. Now go to the Task Scheduler and edit each of your tasks to run as [COMPUTER NAME]\tasky. Also be sure to uncheck the "Run only if logged on" box because tasky won't actually be logging into your machine anytime soon.

Now the helper scripts on my machine are running silently in the background—firing off email and assembling files—and I never have to know about it. (I know you lucky cron people are probably laughing, but hey I'm not switching to Linux just for a better scheduler.)

Another Yahoo! Hacker

Yahoo! Hacks

Another copy of Yahoo! Hacks has been spotted in the wild. This copy belongs to Premshree Pillai. He works at Yahoo! and contributed two Yahoo! Search API hacks to the book. One hack shows how to use the API with Ruby, and the other is a nifty little REBOL app for finding images with Yahoo! Image Search.

Vodka drinks you!

Yakov Smirnoff-inspired lines via Google: In Communist Russia * You. Read the bold phrases. In Communist Russia, Google searches you!

Update: Even more matches with: In Soviet Russia * You.

Power of defaults

Interesting article in the Economist this week about Google, Yahoo!, and MSN's interest in AOL: The battle of the portals. This last bit was surprising:
Ultimately, it all comes down to the three suitors' estimates of what Mr Varian calls "the power of the default". Default users are "the great unwashed", says Mr Varian. They are the ones who, for instance, use MSN because it comes pre-installed in Internet Explorer, the web browser that itself comes pre-installed on new computers...Default users are less demanding, older but nonetheless rich enough to target with small hyperlinked text advertisements. For the dealmakers, it all comes down to figuring out how much these naifs, collectively, are worth.
I think the power of the default is diminishing, but I have no proof to back it up. Firefox, blogging, flickring, and even the rise of Google all indicate people are willing to go beyond what's placed directly in front of them. The teenagers and geeks the article mentions who change defaults don't account for the millions who are changing browsers and publishing online. I'm sure defaults are still an important force, but I think their value is waning.

How can I cash out?

Re: AOL buying Weblogs, Inc.

My blog is worth $71,696.58.
How much is your blog worth?

Even though my blog isn't worth millions, its sentimental value is through the roof. I'm going to keep it.

Yahoo! Hacks is go!

Yahoo! Hacks

Last week a copy of Yahoo! Hacks arrived at my door, and I was finally able to flip through the pages. It's very satisfying to see months of work in Word and Photoshop become a solid object that you can pick up, throw on a table, or use to prop open a door. It's really a novel feeling for someone who usually writes in the virtual world. Today the book is available at Amazon without any of that pre-order nonsense. ;)

Yahoo! continues to release new features (and hire people I know) at lightning speed. Just in the past few weeks we've seen Yahoo! Podcasts, Yahoo! Blog Search, Yahoo! Site Explorer, and Yahoo! Instant Search. The public perception of Yahoo! has definitely changed over the course of my writing, and I think the fact that Yahoo! Hacks even exists will be surprising to people who haven't been keeping up with Yahoo! lately.

When I started working on Yahoo! Hacks, I thought I knew the site fairly well and that I'd mainly be focusing on hacks related to new offerings like Yahoo! Web Services, Yahoo! 360, Flickr, and Y!Q Contextual Search. After a while though I came to view Yahoo! as a big city with hidden alleyways and entire neighborhoods that had always been there but were new to me. Of course there are plenty of hacks related to the new services, and I think the book is a good way to get up to speed with what Yahoo! has been up to technically. But I also hope people pick up Yahoo! Hacks and learn something new about perennial Yahoo! features like My Yahoo!, Yahoo! Mail, and Yahoo! Groups. And maybe you'll even discover some new Yahoo! neighborhoods.

That's my pitch. ;) I'm very proud of the book, and I want to thank everyone who contributed hacks, hack ideas, and general encouragement. You can order Yahoo! Hacks at Amazon, read some sample hacks, or flip through it before you buy at bookstores everywhere. It also makes a great door-stopper.


Word of the day:

Producing or designed to produce strict conformity by ruthless or arbitrary means.


Word of the day:

Psychiatry. The immediate and involuntary repetition of words or phrases just spoken by others, often a symptom of autism or some types of schizophrenia.

Facing West

Tonight on NPR Robert Siegel did a quick phone interview with Gary Snyder about the first reading of Allen Ginsberg's poem Howl 50 years ago. At the end of the interview Robert asked, "Where are you actually right now?" And Gary responded, "2,000 ft. level of the Western Sierra Nevada Pine Forest, facing west." For some reason that made me laugh.

So much to blog

There's so much happening that I'd like to comment on right now, but I need to concentrate on some other writing. Here's what I would blog about if I had time:
  • Congrats Andy and Leonard and George on selling Upcoming to Yahoo!
  • I have high hopes for Ning and I love the idea behind it. Just like weblog tools let people without much technical experience become web publishers, I think Ning could let amateurs build fairly sophisticated social applications. And when lawyers and knitters start building applications, interesting things will happen. I haven't had much time to play with it yet.
  • What can be done to save the movie industry? Snakes on a Plane.
  • purchased by Verisign for $5 million $2 million. (huh.)
  • Weblogs Inc. purchased by AOL for $25 million. (double huh?)
  • I'd like to remind the investment community that I run a site with the word "blogs" in the title.
And on that other writing, poking and prodding Flickr has been fun. The book is coming along—and I need to get back to it.

Update: AOL bought 31 blogs. [via Waxy] That's ~$806,451/blog. I hope the weblog authors see some of that money, because they're currently getting around $4/post.


Word of the day:

Of or relating to a tailor, tailoring, or tailored clothing: sartorial elegance.