Create Your Own Twitter Kiosk

I recently found myself in need of a way to view a Twitter timeline while having the following two requirements met:

  • New tweets must show up automatically
  • The font size must be able to be set high enough to see from across the room, preferably for only the first three tweets (as opposed to all of the tweets)

I scoured the Internet for a Twitter client that met these two requirements and was quite surprised to find that all of the major Twitter clients (TweetDeck, Seesmic, twhirl, etc.) lacked the ability to set the font size to a very high setting. I could just use the official Twitter website and use my browser’s zoom control to increase the font size, but the thing about the official Twitter website is that it doesn’t show new tweets automatically; it only notifies you of new tweets.

Seeing that I couldn’t find a Twitter client or webpage that met my requirements, I decided to create my own webpage. Since the time I made that decision, I’ve created a PHP/JavaScript version and a JavaScript only version. I call it “Read Only Twitter” because it’s meant strictly for viewing a Twitter timeline; not for tweeting.

I highly doubt I’m the only person in the world in need of a Twitter client or webpage that meets the two requirements listed above. That being the case, I decided to release my project to the world.

You can view a live demo (using the public Twitter timeline) and download the script here.

How to Manage Your Finances for Free on Your PC

Managing your finances on your computer can be extremely helpful. For example, if you write a check to somebody and they don’t deposit it until a few weeks later, you may forget you even wrote the check. Also, debit card transactions can sometimes take a few days to appear on your online bank statement. Even when they do appear, if the transaction is at the stage where it hasn’t cleared yet, the amount might not be accurate. This is often the case with transactions at restaurants (usually due to the tip) and gas stations. These scenarios can all lead to NSF fees. Paying fees to a bank because you weren’t responsible with your money is the same as flushing your money down the toilet, and nobody wants that!

What if you want to track where your money is going? Or what if you’re trying to plan ahead and want to know how much your electric bill was for a certain month last year so that you’ll have a rough idea of how much it’ll be for that same month this year?

You can see why managing your finances on your computer is a good idea. There are so many reasons to do it, and with a free application like Money Manager Ex (comparable to Quicken or Microsoft Money), there’s no reason not to.

Here is a tutorial video I made on how to use Money Manager Ex:

Use a Batch File to Detect Windows 2K, XP, 2003, Vista, or 7

A while ago I was in a situation where I needed to be able to detect the version of Windows that was being used to execute a batch file. After searching the Internet, the best script I found was this one by Rod of Rod.Net. I made some modifications to it and I came up with what I believe is the best script to use to detect which version of Windows is being used as long as it’s 2K, XP, 2003, Vista, or 7. Here’s the script:

@ECHO OFF
SET OSVersion=Unknown

VER | FINDSTR /L "5.0" > NUL
IF %ERRORLEVEL% EQU 0 SET OSVersion=2000

VER | FINDSTR /L "5.1." > NUL
IF %ERRORLEVEL% EQU 0 SET OSVersion=XP

VER | FINDSTR /L "5.2." > NUL
IF %ERRORLEVEL% EQU 0 SET OSVersion=2003

VER | FINDSTR /L "6.0." > NUL
IF %ERRORLEVEL% EQU 0 SET OSVersion=Vista

VER | FINDSTR /L "6.1." > NUL
IF %ERRORLEVEL% EQU 0 SET OSVersion=7

IF %OSVersion%==Unknown (
 ECHO Unable to determine your version of Windows.
) ELSE (
 ECHO You appear to be using Windows %OSVersion%
)

ECHO.
PAUSE

How to Manage Home Pages in Internet Explorer

Although I’m not a big fan of Internet Explorer (as made clear in my last blog post), there are times when you have no choice but to use it. This tutorial will show you how to manage home pages in Internet Explorer versions 7 and 8. If you’re not sure which version you have, open Internet Explorer (if you’re not using it already) and visit http://www.thismachine.info/. It will say which version you’re using in the “What browser am I using?” section.

Say Hello to the Home Page Button

Internet Explorer has a home page button in the toolbar, located here:

Internet Explorer home page button

Internet Explorer home page button

Notice in the picture above that the home page button has two parts to it—the part with the house icon and the part with the arrow. If you click the part with the house icon, Internet Explorer will open your home page(s). If you click the part with the arrow, you can manage your home pages. On my computer, this is what I see when I click the arrow:

Internet Explorer home page button (clicked)

Internet Explorer home page button (clicked)

I only have one home page (Google), but you can have several home pages if you want to. Each home page will be opened in their own tab. More information on tabs will be provided later in this tutorial.

How to Replace Your Home Page or Add a New One

  1. Go to the website of your choice
  2. Click the arrow directly to the right of the house icon (shown above)
  3. Click “Add or Change Home Page…”
  4. You will be asked if you want the website you’re at to be your only home page or if you want it to be added to your home page tabs. The choice is yours.

How Does Having Multiple Home Pages Work?

If you have multiple home pages and you open Internet Explorer, each home page will be opened in its own tab in Internet Explorer. Tabs are shown at the top of the Internet Explorer window, like this:

Internet Explorer tabs

Internet Explorer tabs

This is a very useful feature because if you always go to a few particular websites every time you open Internet Explorer, this saves you the trouble of having to go to each website one at a time. You can easily switch between the websites by clicking the tabs at the top of the Internet Explorer window.

What’s Wrong with Internet Explorer?

Internet Explorer is the most widely-used web browser in the world. Most people use it simply because it’s the only web browser they have on their computer. They aren’t aware that they have other choices such as Mozilla Firefox, Opera, Safari, and Google Chrome. So when they want to check their e-mail, or get driving directions, or watch a video, or go on Facebook, what do they do? They fire up Internet Explorer and away they go. So what’s the problem? Well, there are actually three problems:

  1. Internet Explorer is insecure and unsafe.
  2. Internet Explorer is much slower than other web browsers, as shown by the graphs on this page.
  3. With Internet Explorer, things often don’t look the way they should.

Although the first two points in the above list are important, this article focuses on the third point. Here is a link to a page on my personal website showing ten examples of things that look wrong in Internet Explorer, but look right in Mozilla Firefox, Opera, Safari, and Google Chrome:

Ten Things That Look Wrong in Internet Explorer

Please note that there are far, far more problems than just ten. The point of the page is to make it easy for the average person to see the problems. For a much more technical and exhaustive list of problems in Internet Explorer, see this page.

Why is Internet Explorer so different from other web browsers?

For whatever reason, Microsoft (the maker of Internet Explorer) decided to program Internet Explorer in such a way that it breaks many important rules of the web set by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C).

What is Microsoft doing to fix Internet Explorer?

As of March 2009, Microsoft is still developing the next version of Internet Explorer (version 8), which aims to be more compliant with the rules of the web. They have a public preview available to download, but it’s still far from perfect. Even when it’s finished, I’m sure it will still have many flaws.

What should I do?

You could cross your fingers and hope that Internet Explorer version 8 ends up being a good web browser, but I highly doubt that will happen. I recommend immediately switching to Mozilla Firefox, Opera, Safari, or Google Chrome. That way you can surf the web much more securely, much more quickly, and with the confidence that you’re seeing the websites the way that they were intended to be seen.

Be aware that there are some websites that require Internet Explorer. If you happen to run into one of those websites, go ahead and use Internet Explorer for that website, but don’t use it for anything else.

Crash Course on Screen Resolutions

There are two important things to know about screen resolutions:

  1. The higher the screen resolution, the smaller things appear. Think of high resolutions as “zooming out” and low resolutions as “zooming in”. The follow two pictures illustrate several common screen resolutions and how they appear in relation to each other:

    Common Screen Resolutions for Full Screen Monitors:

    Common Screen Resolutions for Full Screen Monitors

    Common Screen Resolutions for Wide Screen Monitors:

    Common Screen Resolutions for Wide Screen Monitors

    As you can see, the high screen resolutions can show a lot more on the screen than the low screen resolutions.

  2. Many programs and websites are designed for screen resolutions of at least 1024 x 768. If your screen resolution is lower than 1024 x 768, some programs will be much more difficult to manage because you’ll have to scroll horizontally in order to see all of the menus. Some programs simply won’t show all of the menus if your screen resolution is too low, effectively making it so you can’t use all of the program’s features! Websites are like this as well. So even though 640 x 480 may seem like a good screen resolution for people with poor vision (because it looks like the monitor is zoomed in), it can also be bad in that it can make certain programs and websites difficult or impossible to use. It really just depends on what programs and websites the person uses. My recommendation for people with poor vision is to get at least a 22″ wide screen monitor and set the resolution to 1440 x 900. This way, programs and websites will look the way they should, but things will be big enough for people to not have to squint to see.

Want to know what your screen resolution is? Check out WhatIsMyScreenResolution.com.

Quickly Find a Windows Computer’s Sysprep Identification String

At work, I’m in a situation where we have over 1,000 computers to manage. Over the years, we’ve gone through several different versions of a base image of Windows XP created with Sysprep which we put on all of the new computers that come in. When we’re out in the field troubleshooting a problem on a computer, it’s nice to know which image was used on that computer. Previously, I was having to open regedit and navigate to HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SYSTEM\Setup\OemDuplicatorString. This got old real fast, so I wrote a quick VBScript to display it:

Const HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE = &H80000002

strComputer = "."
Set objRegistry = GetObject("winmgmts:\\" & strComputer & "\root\default:StdRegProv")

strKeyPath = "SYSTEM\Setup"
strValueName = "OEMDuplicatorString"
objRegistry.GetMultiStringValue HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE,strKeyPath,strValueName,arrValues

If IsNull(arrValues) Then
	Wscript.Echo "This computer has no Sysprep identification string."
Else
	Wscript.Echo "This computer's Sysprep identification string is:" & VbCr & VbCr & arrValues(0)
End If

Simply save that code as “Display Sysprep Identification String.vbs”! For an extremely detailed guide on how to use Sysprep, I recommend this one.