Friday, December 26, 2008

Free Magazine Hack!

Want to read magazines on your computer and pay nothing to do it? You can if you own an iPhone. The folks at Zinio have teamed up with Apple to give iPhone owners free access to a selection of modern publications. The catch is, of course, the whole iPhone thing. I don't have one.

But now comes the hack. Some clever hacker has figured out that you can simply change a setting in your browser so that you look like an iPhone user when visiting the magazine site. Normally, this would be a pain in the ass and you would find yourself constantly changing your "user agent settings". If you set up Firefox to think it's an iPhone, many websites load in a "portrait" style format to try and accommodate you. But we can use another little hack to make this easier - the User Agent Switcher Firefox Add-On.

Go get your add-on here:

Next, click Tools > User Agent Switcher > Options > Options. Now you are going to Add a new user agent. There's not a lot to this.

Name it something like "iPhone" and then paste this into the User Agent box:
Mozilla/5.0 (iPhone; U; CPU like Mac OS X; en) AppleWebKit/420.1 (KHTML, like Gecko) Version/3.0 Mobile/4A102 Safari/419 (United States)

Now, select your new user agent by clicking Tools > User Agent Switcher > iPhone.

Now, browse to the magazine site:

Read some magazines.

Props to whoever figured this out. It wasn't me. I'm just passing along this awesome little hack.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

My Favorite Firefox Extentions and Add-Ons

Firefox is a pretty good web browser. But when you start putting in a few add-on's it becomes a GREAT web browser. Here is a short list of the extensions which I rush to install after putting a fresh PC image together.

1) Ad-Block Plus - Blocking out advertising is essential for surfing the web these days. Ad-Block basically filters out advertising and shows you everything else. You will no longer be subjected to those "pop-over" ad's. MySpace pages load on a dime. You need this.

2) StatusBar - I don't know why Firefox doesn't just include this feature as part of the browser. Rather than having a separate download windows - this add-on will keep your running downloads in the status bar of your browser. That way you can see how much longer you have to wait on something and keep surfing. You will no longer need that damned notification pop-up that locks up the browser momentarily.

3) Stealthier - Apple's Safari web browser has always had a "private surfing" feature which basically lets you surf the web without keeping any history, cookie, or cached files. This is great for using public shared terminals, Internet banking, surfing for bit-torrents at work, etc. If you want that same functionality in Firefox you can use this add-on. You check the box when you want to start surfing without history, and un-check it when you're done. There have been other add-ons with this same concept in the past, but this was the only one of them to keep up when Firefox 3.0 came out.

4) Classic Compact Theme - I use a little Asus eee PC for a lot of my web surfing. The screen is tiny, so real estate is very valuable. To maximize that little screen, I remove the bookmark bar and status bar. I usually also use the "small icons" feature of the navigation bar. But if you are counting every pixel, you need this classic compact theme.

5) GSpace - GSpace turn your Gmail account into file storage. That being said, it makes a huge mess of your mailbox and you should consider opening a new Gmail account to use just for this purpose. My friend and I share an account and often share music, applications, pictures, and more using our mutual account with Gspace. You can also use it as a way to back up files for safe keeping. I don't know how happy the Gmail folks are about this obvious abuse of their service - but I have been using this for a couple of years now.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Hey Recession, EAT IT! (Part 1)

My wife and I have had some "tough times" in the past. And when I say tough, I mean trying to eat for a week on $5 (Ramen noodles anyone?). These days we are a little smarter. Not really any wealthier sadly. But we have a lot less debt, and the knowledge of how to shop and eat cheap. Which is good, because we have two growing kids who can really put it away.

I am going to share with you some of my favorite cheap recipes. These may not be good tasting meals. They are certainly not good for you. But they are cheap, and easy to make. I promise that when you are done eating them, you won't be hungry any more.

First some general shopping rules:
1) Shop at Aldi's. If you don't have an Aldi's store, you should have something like it. These grocery stores make you put a 25 cent deposit to get a cart, charge you for bags, and make you do all the bagging when you're done. If you can find cheaper food - I don't suggest eating it. I have found their "private label" or generic stuff to be of pretty good quality. I like it better than Wal-Marts generic crap. Check their prices against Wal-Mart. Always lower prices, always Aldi's.

2) Make a list, and combine meal items. My wife and I are still perfecting this science. It's called "working together". Many married couples are losing sight of this tactic. It works like this. I want to make pizza, and I tell her what I need. She reminds me that we have half an onion and some olives in the fridge. We just saved about five bucks right off the top.

3) See what you have in the pantry before going out. Think of what you could add to what you have to make a meal. Sometimes, you don't need anything. Leftovers are fair game.

4) Try new things. Sometimes I handcuff my wife, and she dresses up like a nurse. No wait! I was kidding. What I meant was 'try new recipes' for meals that everyone likes (the kind of stuff you order out for).

Recipe #1 - Pizza
You can spend a lot of money making great pizza. Or you can spend a little money and make eatable pizza. It's better than the frozen stuff, and much cheaper than getting delivery. The key to making it cheaply is to make your own crust, and get cheap (but good tasting) cheese.

This will make two X-large pizza's!

For Dough:
1 bag of flour (NOT self rising).
Sugar and salt.
2 packets of FAST RISING yeast (they sell them 3 at a time, so save one!)
Olive Oil (buy it from Aldi's, or you are paying double what it's worth)
Air-bake pizza pans (you will have to get these from Wal-Mart, but they are cheap)

For Toppings:
About 9 cups of cheese (three bags of 3 cups each, you pick)
Pizza Sauce (Aldi's doesn't sell it, spaghetti sauce works though)
Your choice of: olives, green pepper, onion, ham, etc, etc.

To make your Dough:

Preheat your oven to 460 degrees.

Don't be a wuss and buy the pre-made dough. Get yourself a big mixing bowl to start this in. You can also make this on a counter top without dirtying a bowl. I have done it, but it takes some skill. So put 4 cups of flour in your bowl. Then dump in 1/3 cup of olive oil. You can use a little less if you want. That will make your dough less sticky and you can stretch the olive oil out that way (it's not cheap). Then dump in two yeast packets. Add two heaping tablespoons of sugar (you can guess if you don't have measuring spoons). Add a little bit of salt, and throw it to the side of the bowl - avoiding the yeast. Yeast does not like salt! Now add 1 1/2 cups of hot water. You don't have to heat it on the stove. Just get some hot water from the faucet. Dump the water over everything else in the bowl.

Now get a fork and start stirring the mixture together. Pretty soon the fork will not help you stir any more. So dump your dough out on the kitchen counter and start kneading it. This means you flatten it, double it over itself, and put your weight into it. Do this until it looks like ... dough.

Sprinkle some flour out on the counter and split your dough ball in half. You can push and pull your dough into shape, or if you have a rolling pin, you can roll it flat. Careful that you don't iron it to your counter-top. Make sure you sprinkle flour around so it doesn't stick. Ironing pins are expensive for some reason. I have found an empty wine bottle works just as well if not better, so save one from a party that you are invited to. You can tell the host "I'm keeping this because I liked it and I want to remember the brand". Then they won't know what a broke ass you are.

Lay your flattened dough into your air-bake pizza pans. These are usually coated with anti-stick stuff. If that is the case, do not coat them with cooking spray. If you insist on using cooking spray, use the pure vegie-oil stuff. The butter flavored stuff will leave a sticky stained blob on your pan that is impossible to scrub off.

I will spare you the details of how to decorate a pizza. You know what you like. But here are some general topping tips!

1) Avoid "low moisture" cheese. This stuff has NO taste. In Ohio, we have Krogers stores and they try to sell you this stuff in a purple bag. They remove almost all the milk from the cheese in the name of good health. The truth is, they are cutting the cost of the product by watering it down. UGH. Get your cheese at Aldi's. It tastes far better, it's more finely shredded, and it doesn't taste like ass.

2) Compensate with strong toppings. If your cheese is cheap, use strong tasting toppings. I made some pizza today and I used a combination of green and black olives. They were left-over from a Thanksgiving table garnishing plate. Onion helps here too.

Once your toppings are on, throw your pizza into the oven one at a time. It will be done pretty quick (15 minutes or so). Don't get busy with something else. Check it often. I like to start mine on the bottom oven rack. After 10 minutes or so I move it to the top rack, and I yank the pan out from under it (so it cooks directly on the rack). This little trick gives you a brown bottom to your crust so you don't have to worry about gooey stuff in the middle (yuck!).

When your cheese starts to brown up on you, pull it out of the oven and let it cool on the counter. Cut - and SERVE.

You will have a lot left over from this recipe. You should still have a rather full bottle of olive oil. You will have 2/3rds of a bag of flour. You will have a single yeast packet. Next time you make pizza, it will cost you even less. Oh, and you will have a lot of spaghetti sauce left. My wife uses it for "johnny marzetti". Which is basically elbow macaroni with sauce on it.

See how this little system works? See you next time, with another cheap recipe.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

RSS Doesn't Appeal To Me

A couple of years ago one of my faithful blog readers (I used to have a dozen or so) asked that I enable a feed option in the control panel of my blog so that he could use his RSS reader to read my blog amongst others. I had no idea what it was, so I went out and got an RSS reader and added a few blogs. Then I got bored with the concept, and went back to reading blogs and news sites "the old fashioned way". These days, RSS is built right into your browser and allows you to create "Live Bookmarks" of your favorite sites.

Recently I decided to give RSS another chance. I went out to several of the blogs which I frequent - all of which have an RSS feed. I added the feed to a live bookmark. For a week or so I tried using those live bookmarks in place of the regular bookmarks.

But here are my problems with RSS.

  • Using a live bookmark takes you to one story at a time - I'm sure if I used an RSS reader of some sort this would function better. As it is, I have to load one story or posting at a time. And I am going to read all of them anyway.
  • Feeds don't reflect the blogs design - I actually like to see how people decorate their blogs. Some are pretty simple and stick to the templates, barring any photographs, videos, etc. Others go all out on spicing up the site design. But that is all stripped away with an RSS reader.
  • Going straight to the story is like going straight to what you need at the auto parts store - I like to go to the counter, inspect the part(s) I have ordered in, and then wander around for a bit. Then I remember to pick up all the little items like brake cleaner and a fuel filter. When skimming over a blog you might pick up a story that interests you which you may not have otherwise seen.

So there you have it. Why RSS is a lousy idea in my opinion.

I woke up this morning with a splitting headache which is no doubt a result of the drastic weather change we are having here in Ohio. It's been switching from heavy rain to light snow and then back again for several days. Last night I sat in the rain for a couple of hours working on the brakes on my Bug. It probably didn't do any favors for the sinus buildup. And although the "brake-line surgery" was a screaming success - bleeding the brakes was a complete failure. It seems that I lost all liquids overnight to a slow drip, which allowed air to fill up in the drivers side of the Bug. I can't bleed the wheel cylinder on that side, because the small bleeder screw has been beaten to a pulp by old age and rust.

I woke up first thing this morning to order a new cylinder. Now I wait. It should be there in a couple of hours.

And I will probably sit in the rain all night again installing it, then have to go to work miserable.

The things I do for that car. :-)