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PyCharm vs Komodo IDE for Python Scripting

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Activestate seems to have lost its way with Komodo – their scripting language IDE.  It used to be a fast, light, and highly usable IDE that made debugging easy.   They went off the rails with version 8- it was mostly a UI re-skin with very unstable code, it crashed frequently, froze when opening certain files, and had extremely slow network access.  I called it the ‘so what?’ release.  They fixed most of these issues in rev 8.5 but the high memory usage still remains.  What soured me was paying for a full version upgrade for what was mostly a buggy UI update.

Lately, I’ve been getting into Python and I’ve discovered JetBrains’ free Python IDE – PyCharm.  JetBrains has a moderately priced paid version but what is amazing is that the free version of PyCharm includes a Python debugger.  Compare this to Activestate’s free Komodo Edit which does not include a debugger of any sort.

Plus, the paid version of PyCharm includes subscriptions and upgrades for 1 year.  Activestate requires you to pay $87 in addition to the price you pay for Komodo for a 1 year subscription.

Besides all the price gouging, I’ve found that the free version of PyCharm is a much better Python editor than Komodo.

Here are some great features in PyCharm that are not in Activestate’s Komodo:

Multiple debug sessions.  Want to debug two scripts at the same time?  You can do that with PyCharm.

Typing in the file window highlights all files that match any of the characters.  Komodo only goes to the first match and that is only if you type really fast.  Otherwise it will skip around.

Dropdowns for everything.  PyCharm dropdowns are almost as good as Visual Studio.  In PyCharm I can define a variable as a list/string/dictionary and every time after that I’ll get all associated methods when I type in the period after the variable.  Importing a module?  You’ll get dropdowns for all the module members.

Built-in Python package manager, built-in TODO manager, built-in windows cmd console manager (it even lets you have multiple sessions open), and even a built-in repository browser!

A little lightbulb (similar to ReSharper) pops up when there is an error or the code can be improved in some way.  Clicking on it shows a list of things it can do to fix or improve the code.  It makes the changes for you!

 If you are a Komodo Python user, then try PyCharm.  You will be pleasantly surprised.

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Written by M Kapoor

August 30, 2014 at 12:40 am

Posted in IDE, review

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Private Internet Access Review – Only The Paranoid Survive

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I bought a 1 year subscription to Private Internet Access (https://www.privateinternetaccess.com) about three months ago in order to protect my privacy when traveling and to ensure that my information was protected at my house.  I live in a high density neighborhood where I can see at least 10 WiFi access points from my laptop. At home I regularly check my router logs to ensure there are no new users but I’m paranoid that someone will hack in and cover their tracks.

Private Internet Access gives you access to VPN clients in many countries. They assign you a username and password when you sign-up and this is used to log into their servers worldwide. They state that they keep no logs and store no data. However take this with a grain of salt and avoid passing sensetive information via non-HTTPS connections. For additional protection you can daisy-chain your own server in the flow to get more privacy.

I chose Private Internet Access because they were highly rated at the VPN sub-Reddit, they have a representative on Reddit answering questions, and because they offer clients for all major operating systems.

So far I’ve had no issues and they say they don’t throttle bandwidth.  My usage is light but I have a feeling I might be restricted if I tried to pull 10TB of data through their servers.

Cost:

Private Internet Access is relatively cheap.  At one year, it is cheaper than hosting your own VPN server and definitely much less hassle.  A one-year subscription costs $40, one month is $7, and six months costs $36.  It is apparent that they steer you towards the 1 year plan.  They occasionally have discounts so keep your eye on the Reddit VPN page.

Android Client:

The Android client is very easy to use. Its usage can be summarized in three steps:
1) Download and install from the Android Play Store
2) Launch app and enter your username and password
3) Click the ‘Connect’ button

You can optionally select a server but it defaults to picking the fastest host.

A nice feature is that the app shows the current up/down transfer rate as well as the total usage for that session. However when transitioning from wireless to the cell network and vice-versa the app introduces additional delay as it gets disconnected and needs to re-authenticate with the VPN server. This is annoying because it usually happens when I’m walking out of a building checking my messages or getting directions.

PIA Android Login Screen

PIA Android Login

PIA Android Select Server Screen

PIA Android Select Server

PIA Android Status Screen

PIA Android Status Screen

Windows Client:

The Windows client is equally easy to use. Installation and execution can be summarized in four steps:
1) Download from Private Internet Access
2) Run executable
3) Enter your password
4) Run

PIA Windows Screen

PIA Windows Connect Screen

PIA Windows Login Screen

PIA Windows Login Screen

Linux Client:

Linux client setup proved to be difficult. Rather than providing a client, PIA provides instructions to perform the setup. While the instructions worked in a graphical Ubuntu VM on my laptop, they do not work on my non-GUI DigitalOcean VPS. I was able to figure out an alternate way to perform the setup however it took a lot of digging. It would be nice if PIA incorporated instructions for manual setup and connection on their site.

Pros:

  • Privacy
  • It is cool to connect to server in Romania and see the Google Romania page show up.  However using it is impractical due to latency
  • Multiple sites around the world to reduce delay wherever you go
  • Easy setup

Cons:

  • Android client introduces delay as it re-authenticates when transitioning between data providers
  • Private Internet Access says they don’t log data and that they would reject PRISM monitoring requests.  Take this with a grain of sand and always encrypt your data!  This does not guarantee that your data is not being monitored at PIA’s outgoing ISP or that your home computer does not have a keylogger.  Or if they are really watching you!

Final Thoughts:

It is hard to see if connecting to Private Internet Access is protecting me. I’ve used it at home, around town, and when traveling in hotels, coffee shops, and airports. As far as I know none of my data has been compromised. I think it is hard to see if it effective, but it is an additional layer of protection and you protect yourself just by being more difficult to hack than the next guy. Ultimately the only way to be safe online is to not go online!

Written by M Kapoor

July 4, 2013 at 9:34 pm

Mighty Plugs – World’s Finest Ear Plugs Review

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I recently bought some Mighty Plugs Earplugs to help block noisy co-workers at work and to use while traveling. The earplugs are marketed as the ‘highest blocking‘ and ‘most comfortable‘ earplug in the world. They have a sticky putty like consistency which helps them mold to the shape of your ear. This stickiness allows them to attach to your ear without being too invasive.
My choice was between purchasing these or the Howard Leight Laser earplugs. I ended up getting the Mighty Plugs because I hadn’t tried them before and they seemed interesting. I’ve been using the Mighty Plugs for six months and so far they’ve been good. They mold to your ears and are good at blocking external sound. However they are expensive, sticky, and get nasty after a while.

I’ve decided to go with a pros/cons format instead of my usual review style. Read more below.

Pros:

  • Mighty Plugs don’t go too far into the ear canal. The earplug molds into your ear cavity and canal to create a full seal. They form a good seal but can come out while sleeping or chewing. The Leight Laser plugs are more invasive and can also come out in similar conditions.
  • 20 year shelf-life (so they say). Leight Laser earplugs will probably last longer due to their synthetic construction.
  • Mighty Plugs last 25-30 uses but they pick-up dust and residue over time which reduces their effectiveness. Leight Laser earplugs last 2-3 uses and you can afford to have a new pair whenever you want. You also are not pushing in old buildup into your ears. Over the long run the Howard Leight earplugs are cheaper, 6 pairs of Mighty Plugs at 30 uses means one pack of 6 can be used 180 times. A box of Howard Leight will last at least 200 uses and you can get a new pair every time.

Cons:

  • Sticky lanolin leaves a tacky residue on fingers and on ears.
  • Earplus are sticky so they pick up dust, stuff from your fingers, and earwax from your ears. Re-use means you are pushing this stuff into your ears regularly. You also have to ensure you have clean hands before you start or you’ll contaminate the Mighty Plugs for the rest of your uses.
  • Need to knead them for 30-40 seconds before first use and then 15-20 seconds for each subsequent use. Leight Laser earplugs are ready to go in about 2-seconds: squeeze, insert, and hold in place for a moment.
  • Very expensive – 6 pairs for $20 plus $5 for shipping. Leight Laser earplugs are $20 for 200 with free shipping if ordering over $25.
  • Shipping is padded by $1 when ordering from Amazon.com – Mighty Plugs performs a bait and switch to show matching price from their site but then rip off the user via shipping. This is probably done to make up the money they pay to Amazon for their commission since Amazon does not charge commission on shipping charges.

Overall:
This is a decent earplug. However, the tackiness, residue build-up, and expense are major detractions. Their tendency to break their seal is about the same that of regular earplugs coming out. I think they are good for office and other clean environments. They are useless for outside work due to their tendency to pick up dust from the air and your fingers.

Written by M Kapoor

July 3, 2013 at 5:41 pm

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Logitech Trackman Marble Mouse Review

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I bought the Logitech Trackman Marble Mouse after finding the Logitech Anywhere Mouse MX to be too small for my long fingers.  Excessive use was causing my fingers to cramp up which is not fun after a long day at work.  It is too bad because I loved the Anywhere Mouse and found it to one of the best mice I’ve ever used.  A co-worker suggested the Trackman because it was ambi-dexterous and it accommodates long fingers.  I bought the mouse from Amazon.com for $23.

Looks
The trackball is very unassuming, there is a red ball at the top you manipulate with your fingers and two buttons on each side.  One side is meant to be clicked with your thumb and the other side by your ring or pinkie finger.  The top is made of a slightly textured plastic that doesn’t get

Logitech TrackMan Marble Mouse Top View

Logitech TrackMan Marble Mouse

uncomfortably hot with use.  The bottom is the standard mouse black plastic with three anti-slip pads spread around it.  The entire unit is sheathed in shades of an unassuming gray that exudes a sense of boredom.

Feel
The trackball feels like what you’d expect from a device made from cheap plastic. If feels decently comfortable in my hands, I can rest the palm of my hand on the base and stretch my fingers around it to reach the ball and buttons.  The buttons are typical Logitech, the have a linear feel and click with very little drama.  Each click is accompanied by a precise ‘snick’ that provides auditory feedback of the action’s execution.  I can tell that these buttons are well made and that I can count on them to perform reliably for years.

The ball is smooth but is a little heavy and has quite a bit of friction.  I have to put in more effort necessary to move it around, I can’t just flip the ball and move the mouse all the way across the screen.  The ball is removable and this is a good thing because gunk tends to build up on the supporting pegs.

Usage
Becoming proficient in using the mouse takes a day or so, precise pointing takes some practice but you can go from opening the box to clicking links in Google in a couple minutes.  The main left and right click buttons are easy to find and click.  The 2nd set of buttons, meant to be used for back/forward while browsing the web, are useless.  Clicking the buttons requires me to contort my hand beyond a comfortable level that is intolerable for any amount of time.

Logitech TrackMan Marble Mouse Separated

Logitech TrackMan Marble Mouse Separated

The ball is heavy and has a lot if friction.  This makes it hard to scroll rapidly across the screen during regular use and I can feel fatigue in my fingers towards the end of the day.  A big issue is that gunk from your fingers builds up in the ball supports which further impede progress.  I find myself cleaning the ball supports at least once a day.  The heavy ball becomes aggravating after a while and I feel like Logitech should have put more work in this part of the design.

Thoughts
Overall the Trackman Marble Mouse is a decent trackball considering the price.  It has no fancy features and it does the work of the equivalent two button mouse.  Having a sealed sensor means that the buttons or the ball will wear out before the sensor breaks.  it also means that we’ll have precise sensing for the life of the product.

Annoyances include the extra buttons are useless and I think they were put there just for marketing reasons.  Gunk tends to build up in the ball supports which requires frequent cleaning.  The base doesn’t fit well in my hand – It would have been nicer if the base had been wider or had a slight dip for the base of my hand.

Pros:
Cheap
Ergonomic

Cons:
Useless forward and back buttons
Heavy track ball
Tendency to build up gunk in the ball supports
No scroll-wheel

Logitech TrackMan Marble Mouse Top View

Logitech TrackMan Marble Mouse

Written by M Kapoor

June 27, 2013 at 7:27 pm

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Fenix HL21 LED Yellow Headlamp Review

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I bought the Fenix-HL21 to light my way during my early morning runs.  My reason for choosing it is that the headlamp uses just one battery and the output is regulated so it wouldn’t slowly go dim and fade out.  The one battery means that the headlamp is light which means it won’t bounce around when running. I bought the headlamp in December of 2011 and I’ve now had it for about a year and a half.  I use it semi-regularly at night and for general work when I need extra light for a dark space.

Fit and Finish

Overall the lamp is decently but not well built.  Unlike other Fenix products which have an aluminum body, the lamp body and battery compartment is made of plastic.  The plastic is thick and feels decently rigid in my hand.  The casing around the LED is made of aluminum and this is done to facilitate heat dissipation. The cap on the battery compartment has good sized threads which makes it easy to open and close.  The plastic construction probably allows the big threads, most aluminum lights have tiny threads that are easy to mis-thread when screwing on the cap.  The big annoyance is that the lamp attachment to the headband is not secure and the lamp can come off if you are not careful when handling it.  I’ve had issues with my past Fenix lights where the negative terminal spring wears out and no longer makes contact with the battery.  It hasn’t happened yet but I fear that it will happen one day.

Light

This is my second headlamp, my other lamp is a Zebralight which is floody and perfect for indoor work. Compared to the Zebralight, the light on the HL21 is highly focused and projects a decent distance.  It is very diffuse and dim at the lowest 3-lumen dim setting but brightens up at the 43-lumen mid setting with the 90-lumens high setting being the brightest.  It is hard to tell the

Fenix HL-21

difference between the 43-lumen and 90-lumen settings except that the 90-lumen is slightly brighter.  This may be due to the logarithmic nature of our brightness perception.   There is very little flood which means there is little light for your peripheral vision which means you’ll be swivelling your head back and forth when you are outside.  In addition there is a small gap around the cap of the LED which means there is a ring of light that leaks out around the gap.  If you don’t adjust the light high enough on your forehead this leakage shines into your eyes which is annoying.

Battery Life

Battery life in the HL-21 is decent.  It is not great and definitely does not match the product listing, I can expect an Eneloop battery to last about 1 1/2 hours on medium and an hour on high.  The light has a tendency to turn off abruptly instead of dimming gradually.  This is probably due to the active circuitry used to maintain constant brightness and the non-linear discharge of rechargeable batteries.    Low mode is incredible though, I’ve had the lamp stay on for two whole days with juice left over in low mode.

Comfort

The primary reason I bought the HL21 was because I expected it to be light due to the single battery design.  The headlamp is indeed light and is ideal for running and night expeditions.  The headband however only loops around the head without a piece that goes over the top of the head. This means that the lamp has a tendency to slip down my forehead unless I tighten it to the point

Fenix HL-21 Back

that it cuts of circulation to my head.  In addition, the area where the lamp attaches to the cord is not padded and it leaves a mark on the forehead.  The mark is especially deep when you wear the lamp for long periods and the mark persists for a while afterwards.  Imagine going for a run in the morning and then heading to work with a strange red mark on your forehead.

Overall

Overall the HL21 is a decent headlamp for its price.  it has a couple annoyances that shouldn’t be present at this price point but its worked out well so far.

Pros:
Multiple light modes
Light single battery design
Solid construction
Good focused light
Solid, decent construction

Cons:
Annoying headband
Possible weak internal spring
No peripheral light
Gap around lens cover shines light into eyes
Doesn’t work well with rechargeable batteries

Fenix HL-21 Night Shot

Fenix HL-21

Fenix HL-21

Written by M Kapoor

June 27, 2013 at 7:19 pm

Posted in Flashlight, review

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WinHost ASP.NET hosting review – Boring is Good

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It has been a year since I moved my website off Mono at Linode to WinHost and I’m being honest here – the hosting has been absolutely boring and that is a great thing!

After spending some time looking at ASP.NET hosts it came down to DiscountASP.NET, GoDaddy, and WinHost.  I ended up choosing WinHost because they offered database hosting in their base package, promise not to oversell, and I couldn’t find any bad reviews about them.  Looking at my other options – The web is littered with bad GoDaddy reviews and DiscountASP.NET doesn’t offer a MS SQL database (or any database) at the same WinHost price point.

Unlike hosting with Mono – I do not have dink around with arcane text files, there is a nice GUI interface to manage my site.  I can select my ASP.NET version, manage my databases, and do everything I need to manage my site through their interface.  My website and iTextSharp based BingoCard maker just work!  In addition, I’ve had no downtime or hosting issues since I’ve started hosting with them.  Perfectly boring!

Of course nothing is perfect – I’ve had a few a couple issues with them:
Their auto installer would only install WordPress in domain.com/wordpress.  I couldn’t choose another sub-directory like /blog or /diary.  However, I was able to manually install WordPress in a different directory on my own.

Another problem I’ve had is that I had trouble connecting to WordPress Jetpack through my install.  However it seems that they’ve now fixed the issue.

One last annoyance is that they don’t include Scheduled Tasks in their basic $5 package.  This means that I can’t set up tasks a-la-Cron like a Mono-on-Linux install would allow.

Overall I’m happy with my experience, perfectly boring ASP.NET hosting with database for just $5/month where everything Just Works!

Have other questions? Check out the WinHost forums!

Update 12/29/2014:

I’ve switched to using Mono at DigitalOcean on their base droplet.  I get 20GB of disk space and greater ability to run scripts or set up a database for just $5/month.  Also, WinHost changed their monthly price to $5.95/month with a 3-month pre-pay so DigitalOcean with Mono is cheaper, faster, and comes with more features.

I still highly recommend WinHost for beginners and for those that want no-hassle hosting.  Maintaining your own server does take time and sometimes requires technical troubleshooting.

Written by M Kapoor

June 27, 2013 at 7:14 pm

Posted in ASP.NET, hosting, review

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Komodo IDE 8 Review – A Blatant Money Grab

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I am a big fan of Komodo IDE.  I’ve been using it since version 3 way back in 2006 and I still use it now 7 years later.  Besides using it for Perl debug, I also use it as a general text editor because the VI keybindings make document navigation easy, the places feature simplifies file navigation, and syntax highlighting can be applied to arbitrary files.

I am not a Komodo fanboi, I think Visual Studio is the gold standard among IDEs.  Unlike the free version of Komodo IDE – Komodo Edit, the free Visual Studio Express editions come with a debugger.  The IntelliSense feature allows for quick parameter selection and easy navigation of large projects, and the syntax highlighting is equivalent to or better than Komodo.  Visual Studio is the best editor for those that can develop in their language of choice.

In the Perl IDE space, there is also EPIC – the Eclipse Perl Integration.  I played around with it and with the Vrapper plugin it seems to satisfy basic Perl debug.  It is a little slow due to the need to run the Eclipse engine and getting Eclipse to recognize arbitrary file extensions is a pain.

So with all that said and despite ActiveState’s proclamation that Komodo  ‘Revolutionizes Developer User Experience with Komodo IDE 8.0‘, I have to call Komodo IDE 8 the ‘So What?‘ release.

Lets look at their big revolutionary features:

New User Interface – Every new software release has a New User Interface and the general trend of software has been towards minimalism.  Look at Visual Studio 2012, that interface is new.  Nothing new here.

Floating Side Panes – Yup, very revolutionary.  Been there in every other IDE like Visual Studio and Eclipse since way back.

Minimap – Cool, a top level view of the code on the right.  Except that the font is unreadable, function headers and variables don’t pop-out to make navigation easy, and zooming in and out is inconvenient. Oh and in Komodo IDE 7 you can easily get the same view with Ctrl+Scroll Down and then go to any part of the code by hovering your mouse over it and doing Ctrl+Scroll Up.

Open Files Side Pane – Great I can sort files by file type.  I have this option in Windows Explorer.  Since Windows 95.  Please.  Don’t want to alt-tab into another window?  Seriously – do you even develop?

Retina Display Support – Doesn’t help me.  Most of my time is spent in a Windows or UNIX machine debugging Perl and not admiring the resolution of the icons on the task bar.

What irks me is that they haven’t fixed anything else or in parts I use: opening and editing over a network is still slow and often locks the entire editor; switching to Komodo with a network file open freezes the editor; there is no variable drop-down a-la Visual Studio or even EPIC; I can’t search in the recent files box; Can’t save a file over another open file; random “this script is taking too long” messages keep popping up.  There is even a file that crashes IDE 8 when I apply Ruby syntax highlighting but works fine in IDE 7.  These are features that should just work in a IDE that costs money.  I do not believe that I’m the only one that is annoyed by these shortcomings.

Ultimately there is no new compelling features for me in Komodo IDE 8 that make it a compelling upgrade.  EPIC is free, highly capable and and has many of the features in Komodo.  Komodo IDE 7 was just released last year and asking for $136 another year later is a purely blatant money grab.

Why!!!?

 

EPIC Perl variable selection drop down

EPIC does Perl variable selection dropdowns … Komodo does not. Komodo costs money … EPIC does not.

 

Written by M Kapoor

June 27, 2013 at 7:11 pm

Posted in IDE, review

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