Archive for the ‘Tools’ Category

Mac OS X voices for using with the ‘say’ command Aug 19 2008

A neat trick if you have a Mac OS X machine is to do this (make sure your speakers are turned on):

  1. Open
  2. Type in at the command line: say hello world

This will make your computer say “hello world” in the default voice (Victoria).

Here is a list of the other voices you can also use:

Female Voices

  • $ say -v Agnes "hello world"
  • $ say -v Kathy "hello world"
  • $ say -v Princess "hello world"
  • $ say -v Vicki "hello world"
  • $ say -v Victoria "hello world"

Male Voices

  • $ say -v Bruce "hello world"
  • $ say -v Fred "hello world"
  • $ say -v Junior "hello world"
  • $ say -v Ralph "hello world"

Novelty Voices

  • $ say -v Albert "hello world"
  • $ say -v "Bad News" "hello world"
  • $ say -v Bahh "hello world"
  • $ say -v Bells "hello world"
  • $ say -v Boing "hello world"
  • $ say -v Bubbles "hello world"
  • $ say -v Cellos "hello world"
  • $ say -v Deranged "hello world"
  • $ say -v "Good News" "hello world"
  • $ say -v Hysterical "hello world"
  • $ say -v "Pipe Organ" "hello world"
  • $ say -v Trinoids "hello world"
  • $ say -v Whisper "hello world"
  • $ say -v Zarvox "hello world"

Have fun. You can now add voices to your monitoring applications, or freak people out if they don’t know about this cool trick.

To learn about all of the functionality of the say program, type in man say in Terminal to learn more, or click here to view the online man page for say.

How to check if your DNS server is vulnerable to the recently discovered DNS exploit Jul 28 2008

In case you’ve missed the recent news about the major DNS exploit problem and haven’t checked to see if your DNS server is vulnerable, this site has a checker that will test to see if your DNS server appears to be patched or not.

Recently, a significant threat to DNS, the system that translates names you can remember (such as to numbers the Internet can route ( was discovered, that would allow malicious people to impersonate almost any website on the Internet. Software companies across the industry have quietly collaborated to simultaneously release fixes for all affected name servers. To find out if the DNS server you use is vulnerable, click below.

Check your DNS server here: DoxPara Research.

(via David Shea @ Mezzoblue, found on RSS2)

Why you should upgrade your WordPress installation to version 2.6 (just released) today Jul 15 2008

WordPress 2.6 is Available! Security Advisory to upgrade ASAP!

First, the good news: Matt & his brave crew of WordPress coders have just released version 2.6 of the Open Source award-winningly awesome content management system called WordPress (download it here). I’ve been using it since it was called b2, and love it. I recommend it for most of my clients, and they love the simplicity and ease of use. I also really like how easy it is to customize and extend, using the excellent theme and plugin system.

If you have a WordPress installation yourself, please upgrade it today. Why should you do it today? In short, not only does the latest version of WordPress have some awesome new features (like content change tracking, a new “Press this” browser bookmark, using Google’s Gears system to make it faster, and about 194 bug fixes) it also contains the latest SECURITY FIXES.

Why should you care about security fixes? Because older versions of WordPress are vulnerable to exploits. I know this for a fact, and have been working on cleaning out a number of older installations of WordPress that have been hacked. This isn’t a fun process, and if you stay up to date, you will have the best chance of not getting hacked yourself.

This isn’t a problem exclusive to WordPress, and they’ve done a really good job generally at fixing holes (the current release proactively fixes a number of potential issues), but it is an issue you should definitely look into.

On a Unix machine, one thing to look for is this pattern in any files: md5($_COOKIE'

You can do a search through all your hosting accounts by running this command (run as root):
# grep -R 'md5($_COOKIE' /home/

That will tell you if you have any infected files (for this particular exploit). If you find any, you need to clean out those files. If you are running your sites out of version control (like using svn), this may be slightly easier.

$ svn st should tell you if any files were changed from the last time you checked them out. If you see unexpected files show up, you’ve been hacked.

To clean out your installation, not using version control method (done as root in this case):

  1. Copy your whole public_html directory to another location so you can do forensics on it and copy valid files back into your new installation:
    # cd /home/USERNAME/
    # mkdir public_html-hacked
    # mv public_html/* public_html-hacked/
  2. Download a clean copy of WordPress into your public_html:
    # cd /home/USERNAME/
    # wget .
    # unzip
    # cp -R wordpress/* public_html/
    # chown -R USERNAME:USERNAME public_html/*
  3. Create a new wp-config.php file. It’s probably a really good idea to first change your MySQL database password. To create your new config file:
    #cd public_html/
    # cp wp-config-sample.php wp-config.php
    # vi wp-config.php

    Enter the correct (new) values for your MySQL database name, username, password, and the (currently 3) authorization unique key values (go to to automatically generate the 3 keys for you to copy/paste into your config file.
  4. Next, upgrade your WordPress database: You’ll have to sign in with your admin username and password. Once this is done (should go without a hitch, hopefully), examine your user table to see if there are any entries there that shouldn’t be. Delete any users that you didn’t create. Also, it would be a good idea to update the password for each user in the system.
  5. Go through all of your Settings, looking for any suspicious changes. Specifically notice what the Uploads directory is set to (in Settings->Miscellaneous). It should probably be set to something like wp-content/uploads. If it says something like ../../../../../tmp/ change it back. Also go look there to see if there are any left-over files that need to be investigated and removed.
  6. Make a local copy backup of your database and then clean out entries that don’t belong there. Check your raw database (using something like PHPMyAdmin or command line mysql tools) and examine the wp_users table. Look for a user called WordPress. Delete it! If you found it, also check the wp_usermeta table and delete all entries associated with the bogus WordPress user ID. Next, check through your other MySQL tables to look for any suspicious entries (attached files, comments, posts, etc.) Delete anything that looks incorrect or wrong, but be sure not to delete your actual content.

As you can see, there are lots of things to check for if your installation of WordPress gets compromised. So, to save yourself a lot of pain and suffering, make sure you upgrade your WordPress installation(s) just as soon as you can.

More good info if you think your WordPress installation has been hacked:

How to connect to a VNC machine that is behind a firewall using SSH tunneling, OS X and Chicken of the VNC Jun 20 2008

VNC is a very useful program for accessing a computer remotely. These are instructions for accessing a remote machine using OS X, Chicken of the VNC, and Vine Server when there is a firewall in the way.

VNC SSH Tunnel

Normally it is a fairly straightforward process to connect from a VNC client to a VNC server running on a remote machine. A firewall in the middle can complicate the process a bit.


  1. On MY MACHINE, create a local SSH user account and password – call it vnc_user
  2. On MY MACHINE, determine my public IP address – go to (MY_IP_ADDRESS)
  3. On REMOTE MACHINE, turn on the Vine Server and set the password
  4. On REMOTE MACHINE, open up Terminal and enter the following command:

    ssh vnc_user@MY_IP_ADDRESS -R 5900:

    where MY_IP_ADDRESS is the IP address of MY MACHINE.

  5. Enter the password for the vnc_user. You should now be connected to MY MACHINE over SSH.
  6. On MY MACHINE, open up Chicken of the VNC. Connect to localhost and enter the password for the REMOTE MACHINE.
  7. You should now be connected to REMOTE MACHINE’s VNC server and be seeing their screen.
  8. Notes:

    • Make sure that you are not running a VNC server on MY MACHINE, or that it is turned off
    • If you are running a firewall on your own network, you may need to enable port forwarding for SSH to ensure that SSH requests on port 22 are connected to MY MACHINE and not blocked by your own firewall.

    Thanks to this article that describes how to do this and also includes an Applescript that makes the connection.

New site design is live (also upgraded to the latest version of WordPress – 2.5) Apr 1 2008

New site design is finally live!

In preparation for upgrading a whole mess of sites to using the latest version of WordPress I decided it was time to finally upgrade my own site and to implement the new design I’d been working on for a while (for over a year now).

Check it out:

How to fix PEAR installation of XML_RSS / XML_Tree invalid package.xml file problem Dec 18 2007

As part of getting an upgraded server set up and transferring sites from the older server, I had to re-install PEAR XML_RSS. One of its dependencies is XML_Tree.

Normally, this command should have worked with no problems:

pear install XML_RSS

It downloaded XML_RSS just fine, but then choked on XML_Tree, which was a required dependency.

Initial output:

# pear install XML_RSS
Did not download dependencies: pear/XML_Tree, use --alldeps or --onlyreqdeps to download automatically
pear/XML_RSS requires package "pear/XML_Tree"
No valid packages found
install failed

My next try was to specify installing XML_Tree:

# pear install XML_Tree
WARNING: "pear/XML_Tree" is deprecated in favor of "pear/XML_Serializer"
downloading XML_Tree-1.1.tgz ...
Starting to download XML_Tree-1.1.tgz (4,826 bytes)
.....done: 4,826 bytes
XML error: not well-formed (invalid token) at line 10
Download of "pear/XML_Tree" succeeded, but it is not a valid package archive
Error: cannot download "pear/XML_Tree"
Download failed
install failed

After some troubleshooting, here is how I fixed this problem:

  1. Change directory into the PEAR download cache directory: cd /tmp/pear/cache/
  2. Clear out all the old cache files: pear clear-cache
  3. You should see the downloaded file: XML_Tree-1.1.tgz
  4. Extract the files: tar xvfz XML_Tree-1.1.tgz
  5. Now edit the extracted package.xml file: vi package.xml
  6. Go to line 10 and change the ö to an o. This is the character that is causing the XML validation of the package file to fail. Next, save the file (ESC :wq)
  7. Next, remove the old .tgz file: rm -rf XML_Tree-1.1.tgz
  8. We’re going to recreate the package: tar cfv - package.xml XML_Tree-1.1/ | gzip > XML_Tree-1.1.tgz
  9. Next, we’re going to install this package and not use the network: pear install -O XML_Tree-1.1.tgz

XML_Tree is now installed. You should now be able to continue installing XML_RSS normally.

Google Chart API is very cool Dec 6 2007

Gabriel Serafini 2007

Google’s new Charts API is very cool. I am interested to see how we might possibly use that with Collabofit to do additional charting.

Here’s the code used to generate that graph above:

Very simple, clean, elegant and neat.

How to sync audio and video for DVD playback using your remote speakers, AirPort Express, Rogue Amoeba’s Airfoil and VLC Dec 3 2007

Apple AirPort Express

I’ve been enjoying using my Apple AirPort Express to stream music from my laptop to our living room speakers using iTunes. The other evening I wanted to watch a DVD and use the good speakers to get the best sound, but you can’t do that without using a helper program.

Rogue Amoeba's Airfoil

I found a program that lets you route any audio signals to your AirPort Express — it’s called Airfoil (free to try out, $25 to purchase) and is made by Rogue Amoeba. It’s very simple to install and run. When I tried playing a DVD, though, the audio didn’t synch properly with the video.

This is the solution I found to fix the audio synchronization problem using VLC to play back the DVD and by adjusting the preferences and using VLC’s ability to buffer audio and adjust the synchronization settings.

How to increase audio buffering amount in VLC for DVD playback

  1. Open preferences in VLC
  2. Click on Advanced tab on bottom of screen
  3. Select Input/Codecs
  4. Select Access Modules
  5. Select DVD with menus [Note: to make this same adjustment when you are playing back regular files as opposed to DVDs, simply select File instead of DVD with menus and continue with the rest of the instructions]
  6. Change the default value (300 milliseconds) to 6000. This will increase the amount of audio data buffering to 6 seconds, which should be enough to synchronize the audio playback.
  7. Click Save to activate your changes (you may need to quit VLC to ensure the settings become active).
  8. Re-open the DVD using VLC and click Play.
  9. Click the “f” key repeatedly to adjust the amount of audio synchronization offset. It adjusts the audio offset downwards by 50 millisecond increments. I had to set mine to around -4900 milliseconds to correctly match the audio with the video output on my system. Press the “g” key to increase the offset in the other direction. Watch the actor’s lips and adjust the offset until it matches perfectly.
  10. Enjoy listening to your DVD audio through your speakers, streamed wirelessly!

Hacking the Gibson

Download VLC (Free Open Source video player)

Download Airfoil

The funniest IT Crowd episode yet Sep 21 2007

The funniest IT Crowd episode yet.

The IT Crowd is so awesomely funny. Tonight’s episode is so funny we’re watching it again. Completely hilarious. LOLed for about half the show.

You must watch this now. Run don’t walk.

  1. Get Miro (used to be called Democracy) – this is an Internet TV player
  2. Copy this URL:
  3. Open Miro, then click Channels > Add Channel. Paste in the subscription URL.
  4. The latest episode (season 2, episode 5) should begin downloading.
  5. Watch episode and ZOMG LOL.
  6. Enjoy the earlier season’s episodes and all new ones which will automatically download to your computer.

One of the funniest lines from this episode said by Moss:

Ah, well, prepare to put mustard on those words, for you will soon be consuming them, along with this slice of humble pie, that comes direct from the oven, of shame, set at gas mark egg on your face.

So freaking funny.


Some excellent WordPress plugins I found recently – Breadcrumbs and better Links page management Aug 2 2007

I’m working on a new site relating to Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act compliance (it will replace the useless site that is currently up at and was looking for breadcrumb functionality and a better way to manage outputting links from the Blogroll on the links.php page.

I had searched for a good WordPress breadcrumbs plugin a while ago, and the ones I found didn’t really impress me. I’m really happy with the one I ended up finding this time. It’s called Breadcrumb Navigation XT and it does exactly what I was looking for. I’ll be using this probably for any future needs when it comes to breadcrumbs and WordPress.

The second plugin that I found was related to fixing how WordPress currently outputs links using the default get_links_list() function used in most links.php template pages right now. I had used on the links page another WordPress function (wp_list_bookmarks()) that only works for WordPress 2.1 and higher, and is still undergoing active development / documentation. That function, however, only allows you to output the description, and doesn’t appear to include the functionality to show notes. Since there is a larger amount of allowable text for the notes field, and that is what I needed, I still needed to find (or write) a solution to outputting all links, ordered by category, displaying the notes field as well as link title, url, image, etc. This is the plugin that I found that does just this (found it after writing about 80% of the same functionality myself). It does just what I was looking for, shows all the categories that contain links and the links within each category.

Plugin author’s latest post about WordPress 2.1 support: Link Library now supports WordPress 2.1

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