June 29, 2004

It's Summer.

obscene-stattoo.jpg

Oh bloody hell. It's really an Arizona summer.

11:31 pm. 91 degrees. Woohoo!

That's a really depressing set of statistics to look at.

What's the app making those lovely capsules? Panic's Stattoo, which is my current desktop-widget-generator of choice.

Luckily Stattoo doesn't have a "how much of Arizona is aflame" capsule, or I'd have to walk away from the computer. Plans had been tossed around to head up north several times this summer, but that idea's kind of shot to hell with huge tracts of Arizona's forests burning.

Posted by Colin at 12:41 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

June 28, 2004

Dashboard: Oh, Shut Up Already.

[This is a regurgitation of an entry that disappeared.]

Earlier today, Apple made its announcements at its developer conference.

Among them was the announcement of Dashboard, which nearly immediately resulted in cries of "Apple's killing third-party developers again!" from the wacky side of the Mac crowd.

Konfabulator is a rehash of desk accessories. Konfabulator is a rehash of dockapps. Konfabulator is a rehash of many things that existed prior, no matter how many articles or forum posts have Arlo quoted as "inventing" the concept of small desktop utilities that are readily accessible.

Konfabulator rehashed Apple's and NeXT's ideas, now Apple is doing the same. It's okay for third-parties to do this, you see, just not the party who originated it.

Whatever.

Let's say for a moment Apple did shamelessly rip off Konfabulator. What happens next? If Konfabulator's authors don't want to go the way of the dinosaur, they'll improve Konfabulator. And there are people, like me, who feel it needs a lot of improvement.

For me, Apple's Dashboard simply makes more sense -- Konfabulator creates annoying desktop clutter unless you're running at some gigantor resolution, Konsposť has an ugly background, and the weird limbo the widgets exist in means you have to left-click them before you can right-click them. With Dashboard, your widgets only appear when you specifically want them -- just like the old desk accessories in GS/OS and Mac OS as early as 1.0.

If Arlo and Perry want the $25 from people like me, they'll make improvements. If they want the $25 from more casual users, they'll make improvements.

If they want to fade into the ether, they won't make improvements.

It's simple. Improve or die.

Complaining about how unfair life is doesn't make things magically better, particularly when people start calling you on the factuality of your statements.

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Problems

Having problems with the site.

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Bond, Moonraker, and Netflix

I grew up in a house where there was regularly some sort of spy movie watched regularly, and more often than not it was James Bond. It follows, then, that I've become such a James Bond addict. As dated as the older films may be today, they're still a lot of fun.

And camp. Oh, are they campy.

I'm getting to the point where I've seen nearly every official Bond movie ever made, Moonraker having been the latest. Of the non-Brosnan movies, that one's easily my favorite. Like so many movies that have become the victim of my MST3K-style viewings, I watched it with my brother. We soon discovered that the secret to appearing to be in space was to flail your arms and move slowly. The popcorn was passed back and forth many times that night a la 1979 zero gravity.

All this talk about Bond brings me to the crack-rock that is Netflix: its one shortcoming is that you can't pop "James Bond" in the search box and get a listing of the movies. To find all the James Bond movies, you pretty much have to know all the James Bond actors. In some other cases, they offer nice groupings in their navigation system. James Bond, unfortunately, ain't one of them -- even in the already-narrowed "Espionage Thrillers" category. C'est la vie; searching for "Roger Moore," in particular, will get you most of the Bond movies as related movies.

Posted by Colin at 11:25 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Nightowl

True to my current night owl nature, I was doing my nightly (morningly?) weblog crawl when I stopped at D's site. She subscribed to the infernal Netflix machine.

I had Netflix for a while myself. In fact, according to the billing history on my freshly reactivated account, my membership was last current two years ago.

Netflix to its former subscribers, you see, is much like a good gin and tonic to an AA member. If you didn't leave because of some customer service horror, you have no ill will against Netflix. So long as you don't think about how nice it was or how wide the selection was or even how nice it would be to set up a huge queue of movies without a pencil or want to get recommendations without asking the wanker at the video store who thinks low-budget poorly-dubbed Kung Fu movies are the living end, it's possible to avoid re-subscription.

But then someone like D posts about it, and you think "Oh, good old Netflix. I'll go there just to check things out."

So you do, and get the old "Ha ha ha! Reactivate your account to see your account!" screen, and hem and haw over the options. While $21.99 sounds like money down the drain, simple math soon proves you wrong. Blockbuster charges nearly $7 for a rental, plus their selection sucks and their employees are braindead. If you watch 3 movies a month, you've already "broken even" so to speak.

The next thing you know, you've reactivated your subscription, queued up three movies for delivery this week, and there are 23 more waiting to slide into your 3-out plan as you return the ones you've viewed.

Netflix is the devil. The convenient, helpful, entirely delightful devil.

The sad thing is I justified it with "I can cancel at the end of the month. I don't have to keep spending $22 a month." Which is exactly what I justified it with when I signed up originally for the free trial and ended up paying for a good year and a half of Netflix service. We see how well that worked the first time.

Posted by Colin at 2:29 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

June 25, 2004

hrie@: Damn.

It looks like the hrie@yahoo.com spamming script has gotten wise to people blocking its old "email" address, because now it's using a new one to spam with. Which is exactly what Paul Allen said would happen and is the reason MT-Blacklist doesn't include the submitted email address in the blacklist.

Given MT-Blacklist also returns an error message, which may be alerting the perpetrator to the problems, perhaps a stealthier solution is in order. Something to just silently take all comments posted using hrie@wherever.com and ignore them as if they never existed.

hrie@yahoo.com sucks. The IPs cover an enormous range of land (stolen accounts? zombified Windows systems?), so banning by IP doesn't work. It's already changed its email address once, so that won't work. It's constantly hawking new sites, so even MT-Blacklist's attempt at being proactive falls rather flat.

Upgrading to MT3 and requiring everyone to post with TypeKey would be one solution, but there's already a case of a comment spammer being registered with TypeKey "in the wild." TypeKey, after all, is intended to authenticate you as you, not stop dedicated comment spammers dead in their tracks.

Sure, deleting the offending comments is only one click away with MT-Blacklist, but dammit, I shouldn't have to. Instead, hrie@yahoo.com should be having to reassemble his or her computer from tiny pieces using a leaky tube of Krazy Glue.

Here's hoping the scumbag behind it reaps what's being sown, eh?

Posted by Colin at 3:56 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

June 23, 2004

Lurid Food

Inspired by the fact that my woodcut method only makes bad 70s food about 50% of the time, I set out to more accurately reproduce the Family Circle Effect. After about 20 minutes of noodling around, I had it. And now you can too, along with an action to automate most of the woodcut effect (it'll pop up a threshold dialog, the rest is magic).

Download now, while it's hot!

Guaranteed to make even the prettiest food ugly, or your money back!*

* Since you're not paying for this, I'm not returning any money if it doesn't work for you. Just shut up and uglify some food already, whiner! If you really feel gypped, go walk around outside for a while. You'll probably find a penny, which you can consider your cosmic refund.
Posted by Colin at 2:37 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Araujo Mistrial Because of Degree

I thought the outcome of the Gwen Araujo trial was sad when I read it last night, but it's that much worse with today's news.

While the jury was deadlocked, it wasn't over whether or not the defendants were guilty. They were deadlocked over whether the murder was in the first or second degree.

All that time, all that energy, all that money, so close to a conviction... and the perpetrators get off because the jury can't unanimously agree on whether or not the murder was premeditated. That's nearly as tragic as Araujo's slaying itself.

Posted by Colin at 1:52 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

June 22, 2004

The Woodcut Effect

Also: How to get that appetizing 70s cookbook look

With the death of Nocturna's grunge brush collection, I started digging around for instructions on how to make one's own grunge brushes for Photoshop. The key, according to every tutorial, is the Threshold adjustment.

While this adjustment will let you get a nice brush, it also allows you to fairly easily get something resembling a colored woodcut. In the case of food, you'll usually get something vaguely resembling those horrid 1970s Family Circle cookbooks.

And it's easy, to boot! Simply follow along.

Cheap "Art" a la Photoshop
1. Load your desired starter image.
2. Image > Adjustments > Threshold
3. Adjust the Threshold Level slider to your desired balance of detail and inky black. In most cases, the default will work.
4. Select All (Cmd-A/Ctrl-A).
5. Copy (Cmd-C/Ctrl-C).
6. Revert (F12).
7. Paste (Cmd-V/Ctrl-V).
8. Hit "V" to switch to the move tool.
9. Adjust the opacity of the new layer to achieve your desired effect. 40% or 50% usually works.

The tricky part of this is that the effect relies entirely on the source image. The forest example turned out a lot like a woodcut because it was high on contrast and dark areas, giving Threshold a lot to work with. The palm tree example, on the other hand, looks more like an example of an early color photography process. So unlike my haze removal trick, this one won't always get exactly what you're looking for.

Still fun though!

Posted by Colin at 9:00 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

June 18, 2004

Get A New Ad Agency

I ran across a Citibank ad today, targeted at the gay and lesbian population of the US.

Back on the old blog, I commented on a Firestone ad that subscribed to the "throw two cute boys in an ad and call it done" approach to selling tires. I didn't think anyone could beat that for the least inspired and lamest attempt at advertising ever. But then Citibank came along and yanked the rhinestone-encrusted tiara and Farrah wig right out of Firestone's hands. The ad copy reads, "Think of us as your financial life partner."

Not content to stop there, Citibank also partakes of the "two cute boys" (I think they're supposed to be cute, anyway) school of thought.

I'm still wiping tears from my eyes after laughing so hard.

The creative fields are teeming with gay and lesbian people, but apparently no large corporation's ever been able to find an ad agency that employs any of them.

Pella. Think of us as your well-hung life partner.
Serta. Think of us as the life partner happy to give you a good lay.
Harley-Davidson. You can ride this partner for life.

Posted by Colin at 2:47 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Crickets

I thought I hated cockroaches.

I thought I sympathized with Adam and D about how horrible they are.

But it's 2:57 in the morning, I'm still awake, and cockroaches are not to blame.

No, it's the damn crickets.

Two of them. One right next to my bed somewhere and terribly loud, the other on the other side of the bedroom. Just when I'm starting to drift out of consciousness.... CHIRPIRPIRPIRPIRP! How did we get "chirp" for that noise anyway? Good onomatopoeia it is not.

Anyway. One starts. It stops. I almost fall asleep. The other one starts. They chirp in unison. They take turns. Then they shut up, I thank God, and I try to go to bed. Then they start again.

If I remember my bug science properly, crickets chirp to attract mates. And only male crickets chirp. So either they're both looking for cricket poon-tang in my bedroom or I'm sharing a room with two gay crickets that are too stupid to find each other and do ... whatever nasty thing it is bugs with exoskeletons and no apparent genitalia do to each other.

Once there was a cricket on the ceiling as I was getting into bed. It fell on me. Not as disgusting as a roach, but it drives you out of your skin to have some squirmy thing fall out of the sky and start jumping around on you when you're half-bagged. Or, to steal a phrase from my mother, "three sheets to the wind." Whatever the heck that's supposed to mean. Maybe something about laundry and clotheslines.

Now the crickets just plain won't shut up.

Why yes, I am surprisingly lucid for it being 3:04. Thank you for noticing. It takes years of practice. Years of practice pulling all-nighters to finish assignments. Ah, the glory days of high school, where my best work was BSed in the wee hours of the morning and I got a whole two hours of sleep before going to school to turn the insufferable assignments in.

Wait... it's silence. Maybe the crickets have given up on achieving a homosexual liaison in my bedchamber this evening. One can only hope. I can only hope. Maybe they're getting their freak on right now. Maybe some big dyke cricket will come use them for their cricket-sperm and then eat them like a praying mantis, leaving only herself, a being incapable of making that horrible racket.

Time for attempt at sleep, number... I've lost track. Also, my beard itches. But at least I don't have sweaty teeth like Uncle Walt (name the movie, win nothing!).

Posted by Colin at 4:08 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

June 17, 2004

Tradeoffs

Come the end of last semester at ASU, I had a choice to make: where am I going to park?

I foolishly missed the May 1st opening of "hunting season," so I was left with two options: Lot 59 (which is all the way out by the Salt River), or Structure 7. Structure 7, for those not attending ASU, was built atop part of Lot 59. Structure 7 is slightly closer to campus than most of Lot 59, but it's also $150 more costly.

Having been stuck with Lot 59 more than once now, the decision was simple: pay the obscene $225 to park in the shade. Nothing's quite so satisfying as sweating like a pig on the mile-or-farther walk to your car, then getting into the equivalent of a blast furnace to sweat some more until your poor, overworked air conditioner can suck some form of cold air out of the blistering summer heat. A parking structure was the only logical choice, though I generally hate parking garages.

Garages are always about 1.5 lanes wide instead of two, and they always have those cramped, worthless parking spaces. Plus the hassle of a million people trying to cram themselves into the same endless 1.5 lane loop.

I've already determined that if things are too bad, I'm returning my decal and magic windshield genie for a Lot 59 decal.

Structure 7 is one of those bizarre newfangled parking garages that they're trying to make look more like a building by throwing windows on it. The odd decision was also made to put public art and a meeting area around the parking garage so it could be a focal point for the campus community. I, like many other people, don't get it: it's a parking garage. A remote parking garage. I'm not going to go spend my time hanging around outside a parking garage that's a mile from the center of campus. Between "Hey, let's go hang out at the parking garage!" and "Hey, let's go get some overpriced swill from Starbucks!", which one are most people going to choose?

Given the windows, I'm also hoping someone at ASU had the foresight to include an air handling system in the garage's design, or we're going to see a surge in CO-related deaths. Or maybe exploding cars as the greenhouse effect sets in. Parking garages with windows. Sheesh.

Posted by Colin at 1:38 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

No Nice Things

Apparently I'm not allowed to have nice things. Last week I won a Matias Tactile Pro keyboard. It's a sweet little keyboard with good old-fashioned mechanical keyswitches, a spring to every keypress, and that long-lost clacky noise. Typing on a modern keyboard feels like mush after that (even on a keyboard I formerly loved, like the black Apple Pro Keyboard I'm typing this on now).

Between the first sentence and the parenthetical comment of the last, it should be obvious I've encountered trouble in paradise.

My Tactile Pro, I fear, is afflicted with a phantom. I hadn't experienced phantom keys or blocking keys in years (over the years, I had a single cheapo Logitech that had it on a modifier key). Then I tried to empty the trash using my usual shortcut of right Command-right Shift-Delete a couple nights ago, and no dice. Worked fine with left Command and left Shift, just not with their clones on the right side.

As I'd soon find out using Keyboard Viewer, which I prefer to call Son of Key Caps, a significant number of the keys don't function using the right Command key in combination with either shift key. Left Command is free to traipse about the land commanding keys with his hollowed-out Apple and Scandinavian point of interest symbol, but the minute Right Command happens on to the scene, bad shift goes down.

It's truly disappointing. While that keyboard was probably slowly rendering me deaf with its incessant but nostalgic clacking, it had increased my speed (probably because I could actually hear my rhythm again) and accuracy. And it sure was purdy, with its clear and white, and the entire range of available characters printed on each key.

Tech support offered two thrilling options: use Sticky Keys so you don't have to press three or more keys at once (which is what causes phantom keys in all its mutations), or return the keyboard for a refund. Given the lack of an "exchange the keyboard for a different one" option in there, I wonder if the "sold out" everyone's experiencing at various resellers is permanent. Being as the keyboard was comped anyway, I'd probably see a sparkling $0.00 from a "refund" (and fact is I really want the keyboard, not $99.95 plus $20 shipping).

So it's back to my e-mail to enlist the tried-and-true approach of "offer your own solution and see if they bite." Worst they can say is "we'd love to, but don't have a keyboard to exchange it for."

Posted by Colin at 12:46 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

June 16, 2004

A Rotten Apple?

For a while now, some (reportedly underhanded) Apple resellers have been trying to get the ball rolling on a lawsuit against Apple, claiming their practices toward Authorized Resellers are unethical and illegal.

With the horror stories out there about one of the resellers in particular, I can't say I sympathize with them.

Moreover, one of the complaints is that Apple is trying to drive people into their own retail stores at the cost of resellers' customers. Given the state of independent Mac resellers in most parts of the country (including Arizona), this isn't a bad thing. The difference between the sale of a Mac and the sale of a Dell may well be an actual Apple Store.

If you want to to see practices of questionable ethics, you only need to look so far as a certain reseller who offers peanuts on trade-ins and jacks up the price on used equipment through the roof. All while offering a limited inventory and employing staff who make it seem like your being present is the biggest inconvenience they could possibly have ever experienced!

Resellers like that one make the fabled CompUSA Mac section with only one working Mac actually look good by comparison.

And if you really want to get down to who Apple's promoting, all the physical Apple mail I've received (barring AppleCare notices) has encouraged me to go buy it at my local reseller, not the Apple Store. Granted, that's about as likely to happen as it being 14 below tomorrow with heavy snow, but you can't fault Apple for the fact the reseller left a sour taste in my mouth.

Apple Store: Clean, well-lit, variety of products, friendly salespeople
Crappy Resller: Dingy, poorly-lit, minimal variety of products, disenfranchised youth and angry old men masquerading as corporate drones
Gee, I wonder which one I'd choose given the necessity to go shopping for a computer or accessories.

It's another fine example of the New American Business Theory: when you fail, sue someone bigger.

Posted by Colin at 5:35 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

June 11, 2004

Bugs on the Web

You can buy ladybugs from Amazon.com. A 9000 count bag for only $20, which is pretty freaking good.

But as strange as that may seem, it's nowhere near as strange as the fact that you can sell your used ladybugs. Maybe Amazon's software doesn't have the ability to shut off the "sell yours here!" function for specific products, but the notion of used ladybugs is just plain creepy.

Posted by Colin at 5:43 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

June 10, 2004

Goodbye, Mr. Hamilton

I've known J.D. Hayworth as a braindead pompous annoyance for a long time, but his newest plan takes the cake.

He wants to replace Alexander Hamilton's face on the ten dollar bill with Ronald Reagan's.

What the heck.

Even more disturbingly, it turns out Hayworth isn't the only one in Congress with such a stupid plan, but rather just the most vocal. Dana Rohrabacher of California is wasting your tax dollars on a bill to put Reagan on the $20. Jeff Miller of Florida wants to replace Kennedy's 50 cent piece with a Reagan half-dollar. Another plan phases out half the nation's dimes, replacing them with coins bearing Reagan's visage.

Here's a better idea: if you really want to put Reagan on money, how about creating a new bill and leaving the existing currencies how they are? We could really use, say, a $15 bill. The existing presidents and governmental figures keep their currencies, nobody is up in arms about the replacement, and Reagan doesn't co-opt anything but gets his own brand new cashola memorial.

Posted by Colin at 3:46 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

June 8, 2004

#ifdef and Mac OS X

There are a number of command-line programs and daemons out there that barf on Mac OS X, trying to treat it like classic Mac OS.

The cause is this in a source file:


#ifdef __APPLE__
/* stuff */
#endif

To avoid this, you only need remember that Mac OS X has its roots in NeXT (and BSD, by extension), and will respond to many things the same way NeXTStep would. To allow building on both Mac OS X and Mac OS 9 or earlier, most programs simply need two lines added:


#ifndef NeXTBSD /* Allow compilation on NeXT and Darwin */
#ifdef __APPLE__
/* stuff */
#endif
#endif

Posted by Colin at 3:43 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

June 7, 2004

Security Update 2004-06-07

This entry has disappeared and I'm not quite sure why. At any rate, the gist of it was "Apple has released a security update that closes all known issues. Go grab it." So if you haven't already, and you're using Mac OS X, I suggest you do so.

Posted by Colin at 3:48 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

June 3, 2004

Comment Spam!

Are you getting endless comment spam from hrie@yahoo.com?
Are you using MT-Blacklist?
Are you tired of clicking de-spam links every time it advertises a new site?

Manual add, baby, manual add. Pop the e-mail address into MT-Blacklist, and let silence reign.

Ah, lack of spam. So nice.

Posted by Colin at 12:00 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

June 2, 2004

WiFi for the Masses? Not so fast.

WiFi is a good example of advertisers, retailers, and everyone else trying to make a buck off the average home user. Networks without wires sound great to owners of older homes (or cheapskates), and even better is the idea of a box that magically not only networks your computers, but connects all of them to the internet!

But recently I've been following along at a forum I frequent as an Average Computer User attempts to get her PowerBook online using the router/access point she was provided with her cable internet service.

And this, ISPs, is why giving people WiFi without a hand is a horrible idea. She's lost. Doesn't know the name of her access point (the SSID, if you want to get technical). Doesn't know if there's a password. Doesn't know how to get at the administrative interface.

Based on the manufacturer, which is all she's (not surprisingly, as you're increasingly lucky to find a prominent model number) able to concretely offer, I know the default configuration and have contributed it -- and instructions, if the configuration is still set that way -- to the discussion. In the mean time, with that default configuration, her entire network is merrily exposed to passersby.

Telephone and cable companies are giving these things away, but then expecting the new owner to actually read the manual. Ain't gonna happen, folks.

And worse, the units themselves still have administration interfaces only a geek could love. With the terminology they're throwing at a mass-market audience, they're only going to get a mix of pissed off customers and a lot of time on the phone with tech support. While it gives people like me a steady source of income, it's way too difficult for Suzie Homemaker to set up WiFi for the kids.

Things only get more complicated when you consider that many WiFi access points will go into "network expansion" mode when two of them have the same name. With D-Link, for example, shipping every unit with the name set to "default", an attempt to start your home network may result in several hellish hours before a return trip down the highway to Fry's Electronics.

Before giving away WiFi with broadband makes sense, four things need to happen:
1. Access point vendors need to slap a pretty face on their interfaces.
2. WEP needs to ship enabled
3. Simple follow-along quick setup charts/posters/whatever should be packed in with the device. Preferably not in Engrish.
4. Windows XP SP2 (which is much more wireless-savvy than SP1) needs to come out.

If you've been around the WiFi block, you're probably looking at the first three demands and thinking "but Orinoco already did most of that!" Indeed they did, but they don't have much to show for it now, and the current off-the-shelf products (which Orinoco's never were, the OEM market being their core) don't even begin to approach their quality.

Wireless networking could be a revolutionary technology for a lot of homes, but just not in the state it's in. We've actually somehow managed to move backwards (with the exception of Apple's AirPort) in the three years since I purchased my original Orinoco card and Linksys WAP11 access point.

Posted by Colin at 12:22 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack