Archive of August 2008

Installing a Linux ERD

After making the whole-hog switch to Linux at work, I’ve been gradually reassembling the pieces of my development environment in the order of need (not priority). Some of these pieces are easy. Web server? Easy. IDE? Easy. ERD tool? Not so easy. I didn’t really have any idea what ERD tools, specifically for use in database design, were available for Linux.

In Windows development environments, I tend to use a Win-centric product called DBDesigner 4. I’m familiar with Dia and have even used it on Windows, but I’ve never particularly enjoyed that experience so I was hoping to find something better. After digging around and asking a few questions, what I found is that there’s a something of a dearth of these tools available for Linux. After a day or so of searching and waiting for answers to my questions, it occurred to me that maybe I could just install DBDesigner 4 via Wine.

I’d heard that the functionality of Windows apps in Linux can be pretty spotty using Wine, but I’d lose nothing by trying. Besides, even on Windows, DBDesigner has more than a few quirks (though nothing serious or even seriously annoying). To my surprise, it worked beautifully. Once I installed Wine and downloaded the DBDesigner installer, I was able to run the installer executable via Wine without a hitch. What I’d heard about spotty functionality turned out to be true – at least with respect to this app which, it should be pointed out, is not listed as a supported application in the Wine database. Nonetheless, after roughly a week of regular use, I haven’t run across anything serious and I’d call the experience a good one. Certainly better than having no ERD tool at all.

If anyone is looking for a decent ERD tool for Linux, you could do far worse than to install DBDesigner 4 via Wine. The project has been rolled into the MySQL Workbench effort, but the legacy installer is still available on the fabFORCE downloads page.

A few days after installing DBDesigner, I was told about a product called SQL Developer that also looks pretty nice. It appears to be a Java application that will, of course, run natively on Linux. It seems to be worth a look.

Why I Switched to Mac (and Not Linux)

This weekend I had one of those experiences that exemplifies the reason that I switched to Mac rather than Linux nearly two years ago. I spent the better part of this weekend trying to get my girlfriend’s laptop to dual boot into Linux because she’s been having all sorts of inexplicable issues with Windows. After hours and hours (and hours and hours) of driver hell…no mas. I’m done.

The laptop is an old one of mine, but it’s hardly ancient. It’s a Dell D600 Latitude – about four years old, I’d say. The specs are still pretty decent too, except that the wireless and ethernet cards are provided by Broadcom, a company that appears to be somewhat (in)famous for not offering Linux drivers. The result: I couldn’t get online – wired or wireless. That put me at a distinct disadvantage with respect to getting anything else done, so I tried to make it work.

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A Quick & Dirty Theme Update

Having grown tired of the wrapping post titles that resulted from the ridiculously constraining, three column layout that I was using, I made a quick and dirty change to my Chyrp theme to allow for more space. The modified layout also allowed me to increase the font size which I hope will assist with readability. This end product (some might argue by-product) of this modification has its own issues and violates more than a few of my own aesthetic preferences, but it addresses the most egregious need and I’ll get to the rest when I update my entire product code base to the latest version.

I tell you this because I care. And for absolutely no other reason.

Update 9/6/2008: I decided to pin this post so that everyone knows why the site looks just a little bit like ass. I’m tired of responding to individual inquiries. A better looking/working version is in the works. Really.

MacBook Pro Touchpad Tricks

Ordinarily, I’m no fan of touchpads – trackpads, if you’d rather. On every Dell laptop I’ve bought, I’ve always ensured that they ship with a nipple – or the even lamer sounding pointer stick because I’d rather use that than the touchpad. Interestingly, though, I don’t mind the touchpad on the Mac. Sometimes I even forget that I’m even using it because the transition from a real, live mouse is so smooth.

The reason the transition is so easy, I think, is due to the additional functionality Apple has built into its touchpads. The “trick” is enabling this additional functionality to promote productivity. Admittedly, calling these “tricks” may be a little ambitious since I thought they were pretty introductory, but I’ve had enough people notice what I’m doing and ask, that I figured I’d go ahead and put them in print.

Two Finger Scrolling

I hate to think of what my life would be like if were still having to navigate my cursor all the way over to the scroll bar, place it just so on the buttons and click my way to the position in the document I was looking for. Uh uh. On the Mac, I just drag two fingers across the touchpad – anywhere on the touchpad – and the document scrolls in that direction. It doesn’t sound like much, but I swear that this alone saves me about an hour a day.

To enable two finger scrolling:

  1. Open System Preferences.
  2. Select the Keyboard & Mouse icon.
  3. Select the Trackpad tab.
  4. Check the option to Use two fingers to scroll.
  5. Optionally, check the option to Allow horizontal scrolling, if that sounds like fun.

Two Finger Right Click

This feature doesn’t have quite the direct impact on productivity as two finger scrolling, but it’s still pretty convenient. Since Apple’s laptops, like their mice, ship with only one button (seriously, it’s the 21st century; now they’re just doing it to spite us), the only way to right click is to move your left hand off of the home keys and press the Ctrl key when you click the button below the touchpad.

Unless two finger right clicking is enabled. Then just place two fingers (of either hand) on the touchpad and click the button to access the context menu or whatever other right click functionality should be triggered. To enable two finger right clicking:

  1. Open System Preferences.
  2. Select the Keyboard & Mouse icon.
  3. Select the Trackpad tab.
  4. Check the option that (rather verbosely) states, For secondary clicks, place two fingers on the trackpad then click the button.

Again, these aren’t advanced tricks and frankly may not be tricks at all, but enough folks seemed impressed and awed by my use of them, that I thought they might be worth writing about.

Run Eclipse-Installed Ant from the Command Line

In the midst of my transition to Linux at work, I’m also working on updating the Ant build script templates that I’ve used for years to deploy every project I/we develop. When I built my Linux box, I installed Eclipse using Pulse. More often than not, I run my Ant scripts from within Eclipse (I love that integration), but from time to time it’s expedient, for one reason or another, to execute a build from the command line.

In previous lives, I’ve installed a standalone copy of Ant and used that for command line execution, but this time I was feeling thrifty. Clearly there’s an Ant executable baked right into Eclipse, which I already have installed, so why can’t I just use that one? Well, no reason, except that I didn’t know the path to said executable. So I dug around.

As you might expect, this is not a difficult problem to solve. I found my Ant root directory by looking in Eclipse under Window > Preferences > Ant > Runtime. On the Classpath tab, the first expandable group is named Ant Home Entries. Expand that to see all of the libraries that exist in the native classpath or, more importantly for this purpose, to see where the Ant home directly exists. To find the Ant home directory from these library paths just drop the /lib/[…].jar part of the library path. On my Pulse-installed instance, doing that leaves me an Ant home directory of /home/[user]/Applications/Pulse/Common/plugins/org.apache.ant_1.7.0.v200706080842.

Once you know the home directory, all that’s needed is to set a couple of environment variables and you’ll be able to run the Eclipse-installed instance of Ant from the command line or Eclipse.

For Linux and Mac users, edit your shell’s login script. In my .bash_profile, I added the following lines (syntax will vary for other shells):

export ANT_HOME=/home/[user]/Applications/Pulse/Common/plugins/org.apache.ant_1.7.0.v200706080842 export PATH=$PATH:$ANT_HOME/bin

Once you’ve saved and quit the editor, ensure that you “source” your modified script (or exit the terminal and return or even just open a new tab) to activate your changes for the current session:

$ source ~/.bash_profile

That’s it. To test, just type “ant” at your shell prompt. Ironically, Ant is alive and well if you get a failure message:

$ ant Buildfile: build.xml does not exist! Build failed

That’s it. Linux and Mac users can go on about their day.

Windows users will have to set/update the ANT_HOME and PATH environment variables in Control Panel > System > Advanced > Environment Variables. Windows users may also have to restart in order for their changes to stick unless they also set those values at their own command prompt for use during the current session. For the values to persist beyond the next reboot, though, the first method is required.

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