June 30, 2005

NBC's hitting the crackpipe

Did NBC really just use the words "hip" and "entertaining" in the same sentence as "Tucker Carlson"?


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June 29, 2005

APC: Great Customer Service

I've always been happy with APC's products. They make great stuff, real workhorses. Plus, with their TradeUPS program, I upgrade to a newer model of Uninterruptible Power Supply when the batteries die rather than shelling out for new batteries.

One of my UPSes recently failed, and I'm happy to say their customer support is as good as the other aspects of their company. An exceptional rarity in today's world, I actually worked with one service representative through my entire issue. From filing a ticket to troubleshooting to getting an RMA, it was all the same guy.

Excellent. It's always nice to work with someone who already knows the case history rather than starting from scratch at every step.

Posted by Colin at 6:40 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

June 25, 2005

Google Maps: Making Sense

One of my big complaints about MapQuest has always been that it loves to make you turn left onto busy streets across multiple lanes of traffic.

Google Maps, on the other hand, prefers right-hand turns. This is much more sensible, as you can almost always make a right-hand turn work. Since they're using map data from the same company, they'll both fall apart depending on the accuracy of Navteq's data. As far as routing algorithms go, though, I'm vastly preferring Google's at this point. Google Maps is also better about inferring what you mean from what you give it. With Mapquest, you always get the "I didn't find that exactly, did you mean this?" page even when there's only one result on it. Google more smartly forges ahead since there's only one option.

It also has the added benefit of being able to easily switch to satellite photo view so you know what the area looks like before you drive through it (e.g., "the turn I want is past the big statue," or "I think I'll double-check the doors are locked").

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June 24, 2005

Jerker Notes

Ikea's Jerker computer desk really is a lovely piece of design. For my needs, it's easily as customizable as an Anthro desk without the rather outlandish price tag. Anthro does make some great stuff, but for my needs it's well above what I'd consider paying (even with the lifetime warranty considered). Perhaps if I ever started raking in the big dough I'd reconsider, but at present the under $200 that have outfitted this desk is far more than satisfactory. (For comparison, a base unit from Anthro to compare with the way I've configured my base Jerker is $949 -- and it's both 5 inches lower than my $129 Ikea desk and short a shelf.) Tip for the evening: a 12" Apple notebook will fit perfectly in one of the Jerker magazine holders. So if you're the owner of a 12" iBook or 12" PowerBook and a Jerker desk, shell out the $10 for the magazine/CD holder set and have a handy place to store your 'Book without taking up desk or shelf space. Heck, you can even leave the power adapter connected so it's charging and ready to go. For extra protection, grab a RadTech PowerSleevz to pad your laptop in its new nest and prevent scratching.
Posted by Colin at 10:22 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

June 23, 2005


The following Senate members are idiots: * Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter (R-PA) * Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-TN) * Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (R-UT) * Sen. John Thune (R-SD) * Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY) Also stupid are 209 House Republicans and 77 House Democrats, but I hold a special place in my stupid list for Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), Queen of the Evil. Extra special props to Ms. Clinton, however, for perhaps the stupidest thing I've ever heard come out of her mouth: > [I would] support federal legislation that would outlaw flag desecration, much like laws that currently prohibit the burning of crosses, but I don't believe a constitutional amendment is the answer. There's a big difference between burning a flag and burning a cross. Burning crosses are symbols of intimidation used against individuals. Burning or desecrating a flag is a form of political speech *about our government*. If I hate my new neighbors because they're black, I don't whip out an American flag and burn it. I get out a can of gasoline and a box of matches, and burn a gigantic cross and offensive racial slurs in their lawn. And then I dance around in a silly hat because I'm too ashamed to let my face be seen. Ms. Clinton is outdone, however, by Ms. Lofgren (D-CA). She first makes a little speech about how a flag desecration amendment would be the first amendment to curtail the First Amendment, and this is a bad thing: >[O]ne of the things that has made our country strong and free is the proposition that Americans are free to express their opinions even when we don't agree with those opinions. And as has been mentioned by other Members, the amendment before us would be, if adopted, the first time that the first amendment to the Constitution of the United States had been altered by an amendment. I think that we would make a mistake to amend the first amendment. That's why our soldiers go off and fight for our country, to keep our freedoms down through the lines. Sane enough, right (if you ignore the fact that "Congress shall make no law" seems to fly over everyone's head)? But she then goes on to attempt an amendment to the flag desecration amendment such that the flag desecration amendment could not pass into law until war veterans receive an amendment (still with me?) providing the benefits and medical care they were promised: >But I think there's another reason why this amendment has been offered, and that's to divert attention from something that we can do something about, and that's making sure that our veterans get what they are entitled to for the efforts they have made for their country. My amendment would make sure that this article would not take effect until Congress, by law, ensures that the veterans benefits promised to an individual in connection with that individual's enlistment or induction in the armed services cannot, after that enlistment or induction, be diminished. Her motion fails, having been tabled after a tiny bit of argument. After it's tabled is when she goes completely bat shit loco and her true colors show. Amending the Constitution to ban flag burning is bad, so let's just accomplish the same end through another means. She brings up another of her amendments, and the clerk reads it: >Amendment to H.J. Res. 10, offered by Ms. Lofgren of California. Page 2, strike lines 8 and 9, and insert the following: Every flag of the United States manufactured in or imported into the United States after the effective date of this amendment must be manufactured out of flame-resistant material. Yes, your eyes do not deceive you -- after giving the impression of railing against the flag desecration amendment, she offers a way to ban flag burning without banning flag burning. Let's just amend the Constitution (!?) to make the flags flameproof, then you *can't* burn them! Eureka! Heaven help us. As much as current members of the government in both the Democratic and Republican parties don't want to hear it, political speech and expression are still protected in this country by the First Amendment. If someone wants to burn the country in effigy using an American flag, that's their right. Countless people have died in the history of America to protect our rights. Even today, the "War on Terror" is being spun as our men and women being overseas to "defend our rights." Why, then, are our Congresspeople and the Bush administration trying to take away right after right directly under our noses? Do we need to deploy the National Guard to defend us from the idiocy of Capitol Hill while the Army defends us from all those WMDs in Iraq?
Posted by Colin at 6:00 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

June 15, 2005

No you haven't.

Sorting through my junk mail today, I came across an ad for a new portrait studio. "We've totally re-invented the studio experience," their slogan touts. Except none of what they've done is new. At all. They might be able to convince people that have only gone to Sears Portrait Studio their entire life that this is revolutionary, but the rest of us (particularly anyone with an interest in photography) get a good laugh. Their innovations:
Our experienced, professional photographers use hand-held digital cameras, freeing them, just like professional fashion photographers, to move and interact with children and adults being photographed.
Golly gee, I guess I must have been hallucinating when I went to have my senior portraits done in high school and the photographer was using a medium-format camera both on a rolling tripod and handheld. And if this studio is like most mass-market studios, "experienced, professional photographers" translates to "we gave them a couple days of training."
Choose from 36 great poses. Not just 6. ... Displayed right in front of you, on our giant, color plasma screen, are all 36 of your poses for you to digitally edit, enhance, crop, or zoom in to enlarge...
Again, having more than a couple poses is nothing surprising unless you've only gone to Walmart or Sears for portraits your entire life. (This isn't to say they necessarily turn out bad work. For what they are -- high-volume, low-personality cheap portraits -- they're fine.) And a giant plasma screen? Their start-up costs could have gone to much better things than giant plasma screens. Particularly since not every customer is going to want a giant plasma screen showing their proofs large enough everyone else in the store can look at them. 36 poses, of course, is a made-up large number they know they'll probably rarely have to deliver on. You're not going to want to sit through 36 poses, especially if you're in a group. If you're doing portraits of your kids, there's no way in hell they're going to last 36 poses. It sure does make for nice ad copy, though.
Special effects, tones and props create one-of-a-kind portraits
Yep. Nobody in the history of portrait studios has ever offered any of the following:
  • Vignetted edges
  • Collages
  • Double-exposures
  • Sepia toning
  • Black-and-white
I'm sure glad somebody came along and "innovated" the things you could do with photography.
Portraits in 15 minutes, not 15 days
Because nobody else has a Fuji Frontier or any other sort of digital printer these days. Of course, that 15 minute figure can't possibly include retouching (which isn't even mentioned as an option in the mailer). As much bullshit as their alleged innovations are, it's the sample portraits in the mailer that really make them look horrible. There's one toddler portrait that's suitably adorable, though even that one has technical problems. The rest of the pictures are pretty bad. The front cover of the mailer features a portrait of two kids who melt into the background, likely because either (a) the background isn't properly lit or (b) the kids are too close to the background (both things "experienced, professional photographers" would have known about). On the up side of things, the composition's nice on that one. The toddler picture I just mentioned? Same problem. The same problem occurs again with a picture of a little girl, but is made even worse by the fact the background they're using is supposed to look like a scene. Instead, due to the way it was lit or composed, it looks like they cut-and-pasted her using Photoshop. Those are almost passable portraits. Then you open up the brochure one more fold and hit a doozy. It's a family portrait (or possibly a portrait of actors pretending to be a family). Whatever the case, it's awful. Absolutely awful. They're dead in the center of the frame, for starters. Beyond that, there's a huge gap of dead space around them on three sides. The way they're posed is an ugly jumble, with half the people either too close or too far from the other subjects. The best (or worst) part, though, is again the background lighting. It's not lit evenly at all, giving a wonderfully hideous tinge in varying shades of grey everywhere shadow falls on the seamless paper. It's one thing to take a picture that bad. **It's another entirely to then take it and use it in a national advertising campaign.** While crappy photographs are one hell of an innovation, there's one they don't mention in the brochure that I think is the most important of all: horrible studio design. A lot of people are self-conscious when being photographed. I am -- I prefer to be behind the lens (though my senior portraits were awesome because I both trusted the guy and recognized the lighting configurations he was setting up and could pose appropriately ahead of time). This is why most studios -- even those at Sears -- tend to have doors. This innovative portrait studio prefers an open floor plan. So now mom isn't just self-conscious about being photographed, she's also self-conscious about everyone in the lobby watching her be photographed. A more brilliant plan for horrible portraits has never been hatched!
Posted by Colin at 2:27 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

June 13, 2005

if ([code seemsGone]) then [screamUntilDuhMoment:@"Shit!"];

There are a variety of ways in which one can start one's day that are acceptable or even favorable. The way I started mine? Not among them. Last week I had nearly finished rewriting the core of one of my applications. The version I've been using has been plagued by memory leaks that have needed plugging. It was also written when I was much less familiar with the frameworks I was using, making it a pain to maintain and nearly unreadable in places. So I sat down last week and rewrote the whole thing, much cleaner, with no memory leaks, and with much better performance than the half-baked original. Other than two very specific bugs, it was ready to go. I'd had enough of trying to figure out why the bugs were occurring and told myself I'd come back to it later. Not being working code, I didn't check it in to my Subversion code repository. This, as I would find today, was a mistake, though it was well inline with my and everyone else's development practices (most people don't check broken code in). I logged into my desktop Mac, went looking for the code... and found nothing. "No big deal," I thought, "I did develop it on my laptop after all." So I put the laptop on an empty corner of my new desk, plugged it in (which is much easier since I set the desk up so the surge strip and APC Uninterruptible Power Supply are on a shelf about a foot below the desktop), and went looking through my Projects folder for the code I knew would be there. Except it wasn't. So I started digging through every folder with any revision of that project, hoping one of them would be right. Nope. Exasperated, I popped open a Spotlight search box and typed in code I was certain was in the version I'd written last week. Never before has "No results found" been such an aggravating message. I wrote that damn code on both computers, but I could find it on neither of them. * * * Now, as cool a technology as Spotlight is, it's not going to save your bacon if you're a complete moron. What I had forgotten in my annoyance was that I'd given that version of the framework an entirely different name so I could distinguish it from the original (oops). And that I had named my variables better, so when I put that Spotlight search in for the code I knew I'd written, I only got back the old stuff with crappy naming practices (oops). My "missing" code had actually stared me in the face when I broadened my search terms, but I ignored it because it wasn't the filename I was expecting (oops). Oops.
Posted by Colin at 12:25 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

June 11, 2005

Radio! From space!

I'm starting to think there may be a point to satellite radio after all. When it first came out, I thought it was a neat idea (a ton of stations, accessible from the whole country, with no commercials), but I thought the prices were a little much. Then both XM and Sirius ended up at their current $12.95 per month and I shrugged it off as even worse than the $9.99 one of them was charging before.

Both XM and Sirius now offer a 3-day trial via the internet, though, so I figured I'd test the waters. I dutifully installed Windows Media Player for Mac, signed up for the XM trial, and color me impressed. While I do have an iPod and it's loaded with music, I've heard most of it. Sometimes you want to hear something brand new. Or sometimes you're in the mood for nothing but 70s or 80s hits -- in my case, there's almost nothing that old on my iPod because everything I own from the 80s is on cassettes.

I'm still not sure it's worth $12.95 a month, but if I magically had an extra $12.95 at the end of the month, I could see it going to good use on subscription radio. At least for my taste, Phoenix is down to one good station (The Edge). I haven't used my iTrip to broadcast my iPod to my radio for a while because some station is illegally bleeding over onto the empty frequency I was using and I haven't sat down to find a new frequency.

To just plug something in and have good music streaming in from Earth orbit? Fine with me. I could get used to listening to nothing but 80s music all day.

Posted by Colin at 11:38 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

June 8, 2005

Gushing about Rails

This is the point where I take a moment out of my week to gush about [Ruby on Rails][]. It's a wonderful framework for rapid web development. I always thought it sounded interesting after I first heard about it (especially seeing how well [Basecamp][] works). I do a little software development in my free time for the Mac OS X platform, and both fortunately and unfortunately my software's been quite popular. This is fortunate because it gets my name out there for any future software I might want to build. This is also fortunate because it's led to a ton of praise and suggestions from users. Where it's unfortunate is that I tend to get flooded every time I release a new version or a newsletter, and the massive flood of messages with the first release was downright unmanageable. I expect the flood will be just as bad with the upcoming version, which will essentially be 2.0. I've promised to contact several people when the features they're waiting for are added. When users report bugs, it's nice to be able to follow up with them. And heck, it's just nice to know who you've already corresponded with and what you've talked about. So far, communication with users has been managed two ways: "look what's in my inbox" and "make notes in the bug tracker". Both solutions suck. Things get lost in the sea of inbox messages very quickly, and it's not much better in the bug tracker since customer information gets mixed in with my updates to the bug tickets, leaving me slogging through every ticket after I close it looking for contact information. As a result, I went looking for a Customer Relationship Management package. From a previous post on that subject, it should be obvious I didn't find one that met my very specific desires (opening doors, not closing deals!). So I decided to roll my own. That was a little over a week ago. Today, through the wonder of Rails, I have a working custom CRM solution. To me, that's astounding. In one week, I: * Sketched out the interface * Implemented cross-browser CSS/XHTML for the interface * Learned [Ruby][] * Built a complete Rails app starting from scaffolding Ruby and Rails are both brilliant in their simplicity, and paired together they're as dreamy as any 1980s big-hair superstar you can remember. I'll post later about what exactly I was able to build in that short time period, and where Rails made it painless, but for now just "wow." [Ruby]:http://www.ruby-lang.org [Ruby on Rails]:http://www.rubyonrails.org [Basecamp]:http://www.basecamphq.com
Posted by Colin at 10:50 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack