31 December 2004

The Christmas Post - 1 Week Late

So, I'm lazy (and busy) but mostly lazy, and haven't posted my Christmas post. Not that I had some huge thing to post or deep insights into the Season, but it can hardly go without a mention.


Obviously, my big gift to myself was building my computer (and buying the parts). J-- got her pink iPod mini (and she was surprised, thankfully!). She gave me a Wusthof Classic Santoku (or Asian) knife, a ton of sushi-making materials (which work wonderfully, I might add), way too much chocolate, and a nice broadcloth white shirt. I know I'm forgetting something, but we had a good Christmas between the two of us, and not just for the gifts. Although, the gifts were nice, especially the stuff from our parents. Automatic coffee maker, with built in grinder, you are wonderful, if a bit noisy. They should put decibels rating on packing for those things.


Of course, it wouldn't be Christmas without the families. All in all, the gatherings weren't that bad, considering the sheer volume of parent/famliy exposure we subjected ourselves to, it's a wonder we haven't throttled anyone, much less each other.


Oh! I know what I forgot. And I'm wearing it for the love of Pete. J-- got me a T-shirt with a Get Fuzzy panel on it! I love that comic. Yeah, it's a well-worn path of comic strip, but it's so funny to me because the cat, Bucky, is the perfect example of how I imagine our cat Mina to be. Sarcastic, scheming, and somewhere barely underneath her skin, ready to usurp us at a moment's notice. I'm trying to find the strip, but Comics.com only makes it easy to find the last 30 days of comics. This one was published on 11/24, if you're interested.


Anyway, since we're bored, we're falling back on on consumeristics roots and going to Costco.. never been there, but I here it's like a slightly less evil Sam's Club. Hey, at least I don't hear about Costco building stores literally on top of ancient ruins.

30 December 2004

Half-Life 2 Mod - The Weird Side of Gaming

This has to be the weirdest use for a game mod I've seen in a while. Garry's Mod allows you to pose the characters and actually construct new machines in-game. A cool hack to be sure, but the screens used to demo the mod are, uhm, odd, to say the least.

29 December 2004

Deep Thoughts from Supermodels

I think the title says it all


Link [via Gawker]

A New Tagline

Tonight, J-- and I went out for Chinese food. Which is to say, we went to a strip mall that served food cooked by Chinese-Americans. We had Triple Vague Delight, Six Ways, with rice. Of course, at the end of the meal we got not just the bill. Oh no, we also got fortune cookies. Ah, fortune cookies, that wholly American contribution to an ironically obscure practice in China. By the way, no one in China had heard of fortunes stuffed into cookies before someone in the States saw the market for them.


I digress. I dutifully crack open my fortune cookie, fully expecting two things: 1) A stale cookie and 2) A cheesy fortune. I get neither. What I do get is a crispy yet tasty cookie and an interminalbly profound fortune. So profound that I immediately say to J--, "this has to be stolen from someone".


The fortune? "Simplicity of character is the natural result of profound thought." The source? Chinese proverb? Nope. William Hazlitt. Wonder if his heirs can sue a fortune cookie manufacturer.

The Flame to End All Flames

I have to say, I have my doubts about the authenticity of this, but it's damn funny, no matter where it came from. I'm especially enamoured of the response form at the bottom. Classic newsgroup rage.



Link

Up and running

My new machine is up and running. Actually, it's been running for a while, I've just been playing with it so much I didn't post.


One annoying thing to remember if you're building a new system and expect to play any game made in the last 4 years. Many of the game publishers are putting DRM on their discs now which won't allow you to play the game from a CD or DVD writer drive. You'll need to add a CD-ROM drive to pass their system check, usually every time the game starts up. One more BS thing to keep in mind.


So, my system as running currently is:


  • MSI K8N Neo Platinum motherboard (Model 7030)

  • Athlon 64 3400+

  • 512 MB PNY PC3200 RAM

  • 120GB Maxtor SATA 7200 RPM Hard drive

  • BFG Tech GeForce 6800 OC 128 MB video card

  • Rosewill Combo Drive (52x32x52x16x) Model C523216

  • Dynex 52x CD-ROM (Model DX-CDR100)

  • Thermaltake Silent PurePower 480W W0013

  • OEM Floppy drive

  • Antec CS400B Case

As soon as I get a little more RAM and a KVM switch, I'm all set.


Oh, and just for the record, while time-consuming (it probably took me a decent 5 hours to assemble and configure the OS), this was way easier than I imagined it to be (knock on wood). A great learning experience and something I'll have to do again, if for nothing else than the joy of actually building something that works. I can finally imagine what all the gearheads in the '50s must have felt when that GTO finally turned over after a rebuild.

27 December 2004

Light posting

Not that my posting has been heavy with the holiday (or ever, for that matter), but it will be lighter still as I'm going to be putting together my new machine. Last component came today and now I actually have to do this. (Deep breath).

CleanSoftware.org

No, not "clean" as in no porn, but clean as in no spyware/adware. This site lists applications that are free of the nasty evilware that exists in so many programs. And, this software is available for free!



Link

23 December 2004

A plea to web app developers

Ok, this won't win me any points if some random web app developer happens across my page, but I have a request for anyone who'll listen.

Please, for the love of God, consider the actual user of your application.

Let me explain where this comes from. I work on the development of a web app, not in the technical sense (I'm not working in the backed), but I am using an admin-type web interface to modify and enhance the UI that our customers will use. So, in essence, I'm the middle man. I consume what our solution provider makes, use the product to create another product, and then maintain that second product. Confused? It's a standard scenario I'm having trouble verbalizing at the moment (Christmas is close and I want out of here; give me a break).

This is my dilemma, issue, beef, if you will. One of my tasks is to implement user assistance. I won't get into the idiotic implementation our solution provider has "provided", but suffice it to say, they need to read this post as well. We have gone with hosting static files on the same server as the web app, linking to those files from the UI of the application, and then doing whatever we need to do in our own "environment", so to speak. Yes, it's a hack, but it'll work for our purposes and minimizes the politicking that would be required to use, say, ASP. I digress...

My plea begins here. Adding a link to our static pages is fairly simple, unless you want to do anything except add a value for “href”. Why? Because the Active X control that has been implemented allows only for input of a protocol and an address. Because lots of people are linking to Gopher these days. (Seriously, that’s an option in the pull-down menu.)

This is a dead easy thing to implement. Allow me as a middle man user to add links to whatever I want however I want. I can't say how much the system cost the organization, but adding fifty bucks to the cost of the license to implement an Active X control that allows me to specify a value for “target”.

I know that right now, someone is saying, "just edit the code, dummy." Yeah, there's another shortcoming. While you can edit the code directly, sometimes code changes take. Sometimes they don't. No one set down why code would be reverted, or a way to change something and set an ignore switch somewhere. Even our developers went, "Humph, isn't that interesting?" Not very helpful.

After I rolled my eyes for the 7th time this morning, it dawned on me that I'm on the receiving end of a more fundamental problem. It's not that the tool couldn't accommodate these enhancements, it's that the solution provider didn't think anyone would use their product any other way than how they imagined it to be used. Ok, that was a mouthful, so I'll just say it bluntly.

The original developer was shortsighted. They envisioned a single scenario of implementation and use, for both the middle user and the end user. It never occurred to them, or was completely ignored by them, that legitimate uses outside of their development efforts should be accommodated. Every crappy HTML editor in the world allows you to set values for the “a” tag. Not theirs. Why? It would've cost them something, and they weren't willing to spend the resources.

Who am I to tell them how run their business? Their customer. While it may be a PITA for me to work with, I have to work with it because I have to provide a solution. The ultimate sufferer is going to be my end user, my customer, because I have to spend ridiculous amounts of time coding the simplest things, which leaves less time for me to actually assist the user. To me, that's a bad tradeoff.

So, my plea is this, web app developers (or, really, solution developers): Think about the actual end user. Make your solution fit what they will need. If your customers (people like me) are going to use you app to build other apps, I need to provide things like documentation, user assistance, UI enhancements, and god knows what else. Making it simpler for middle-level developers to use your apps only improves your products.

21 December 2004

Mash-ups

I'm addicted to mash-ups.

Most of them suck, usually because someone is trying out a new technique or learning their way around a mixer (and, no, I shouldn't be one to criticize because I couldn't mix two tracks of static). But once in a while, a great one comes out, like the Grey Album or Collision Course or The Justified Ancients of Mu Mu.

It's an interesting concept of doing music, completely (or heavily) relying on other artists for your source material. It's gets to the heart of copyright law or lack thereof. When does artistic freedom trump the rights of copyright holders (and not necessarily the artists who created the work). Should artists be able to consent to their work being used for such a project, or dictate the terms of another artist's project? Should artists be able to sample whatever they want as long as they don't try to pass the original work off as their own?

But I'm neither a lawyer or an artist, so I'll just sit back and enjoy the product of this controversial practice. Like today: presenting, The Beastles.

More mashy goodness at DJ BC: The Boston Mash-up Project.

17 December 2004

New Apple signiture iPods

Bwaaahahahahahahahha!


Link

Confluence!

I don't even know if that's a word. But this story has all the elements of a classic West Michigan story; 2nd-tier University, Lowell, and rednecks.



Raychel Swift was driving back to Lowell Friday afternoon when her pet boa constrictor, Mr. Cracker Basket Sassy Pants, sneaked out of a pillowcase and slithered its way into the car's dashboard.


Take that Florida. Mr. Cracker Basket Sassy Pants. Man, I need to find a dealer around here.


16 December 2004

Shutdown GPS; stupidest idea yet

I'm a conservative, that's no secret. I support this administration when I can. I have issues with a few things they're doing, but Ashcroft is out, so that's one huge thing off my list.

Until today. This has got to be the stupidest thing I've ever heard. In the event of a terrorist attack, the government could shut down the GPS system.

First of all, why? Is the huge barrier to sucessfully carrying out a terrorist attack knowing how to get out of somewhere? I'm pretty sure they were doing this long before Garmin had a handheld unit. Not to mention, the event that would trigger a shut down of the system is the very event the shut down is meant to prevent. You see the logical black hole created with that last sentence? Yeah, that's where this idea emerged from. Hopefully, it looks around, sees the idiot telling people (with a straight face) about possible implmentation scenarios, and then heads right back into that logic hole.

Link

14 December 2004

Maps, get your maps

Doing some work at home, I stumbled across .gov sites with block- and tract- level maps of almost every county in the country. They're FTP sites, but the PDF maps are current from 2001. Wonder how long before this gets pulled down to save us from "the terrorists"?


Block maps (FTP)
Tract maps (FTP)
County voting districts (each 000.pdf is an index)

Blockbuster decides to confuse yokels

I wonder how long before they get sued over this. I have money down for three weeks.


Blockbuster Video is implementing a plan on 1 January to allow you to keep your video an additional week beyond the due date without penalties. However, if you keep it beyond that week, they charge you for the full movie, minus the rental fee.


I have two problems with this:


  • So, now, not only will new releases be gone on Tuesday afternoon, they won't be back in the store for half a month.

  • The first time Jane from Allendale's kid forgets to turn in "Walking Tall" and she gets charged for it, her first call is to Sam.

Plus, don't video stores pay hundreds of dollars for the videos they rent out? Are they going to charge customers for the video they actually rented, or are they going to charge consumer retail prices?

13 December 2004

First Day

Well, it's official; I'm a Wolverine. I think we're actually required to say that as new employees of the University of Michigan. I'll read through the hundred or so dead trees I was handed today during orientation.



Nothing too spectacular today; your basic sign-here, date-here, smile, sign-here kind of day. And then I got to lunch when I got to my office. You know that standard easy day you get when you start a new job? Find the bathroom, find the coffee, decorate your cube? Yeah, not me. I'm in it head-first. Thank God I have a vacation over Christmas.


I'm working on the MPRIME project. A very cool and worthwhile project; should be a challenge and a blast. Can't be any worse than what I tossed at my last employer.

Anyway, light posting for a while until I get to a) breathe and b) figure out what I can and can't do at the U.



Go Blue (sorry Dad; I'm not required to cheer for the football team so, take heart!)

10 December 2004

The end for Ann Arbor (stop cheering)

For anyone who doesn't live in Ann Arbor (A2 to the initiated), this town has one, ok two, huge problems. The first one is that residents (which around here means "non-students") don't like the University. Oh sure, they love football and being able to say they live in Ann Arbor, Home of The University of Michigan, but they really, secretly, hate the damned University. All that traffic, all those students, all that lost tax revenue. It's enough to drive a socially-over-conscious-fiscal-conservative mad.

The second problem is related to the first. See, residents outwardly love the University so much, more and more students keep coming here. From everywhere. And (and this is the worst part), some of them aren't rich. I know, it's awful. So, some people in the city thought if they build affordable housing, more students will not only come here, but maybe talented people will stay or come and work here, too. I know, it's crazy, but they've been told that it works elsewhere.



Enter the residents again. In order to build affordable housing, you have build affordable housing. Somewhere. Which leads to the NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) scenario. Ann Arbor is Overrated (it's a blog and a statement) has one of the best quotes ever to sum up everything that is wrong with A2.



What could happen if their concerns [on development issues] are overlooked? "What happens is that more and more affordable housing keeps coming, and the risk is that you could just create a ghetto of some sort," [Judith Marks, the president of the West Liberty Homeowners Association] says (emphasis ours.)


Lovely. Someone in A2 has actually found a way to turn a liberal buzzphrase into a euphemism for "projects". Read the comments being left on AAiOR for the reaction from some business owners about why the fight the neighborhoods are putting up is futile and ultimately counter to their desires. It's a beautiful switlie to the collective snooty head of this town.

More movies

I didn't know this, but they have made a new version of the Merchant of Venice (trailer at apple.com).

Stars Al Pacino as Shylock, Jeremy Irons, Joseph Fiennes, and Lynn Collins. Opens 29 Dec 04.

Official site (gratuitous use of Flash)

It will be curious to see how the play gets treated in this ultra-sensitive, politically-correct world. Even in the best of times, the play has had its critics and apologeits; the loonies that come flying out of the woodwork with an all-star-cast movie should be entertaining.

Interesting aside; there is an open-source stock trading program at Sourceforge call Venice.

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (Depp) trailer is online

And it looks really cool. Note that this is not a commnet on the movie itself, just the visuals, but they are awesome. Check it out at Yahoo!.

Link

McSweeny's: History's Most Notable Films Reconsidered

In the vein of yesterday's post on insulting cultual icons, I present McSweeny's second look at some of the best films.


Link

Wanna play a game?

Here's a list of way too many board games (yeah, they still make them). This list is heavily skewed towards fantasy/risk-type games, but it's got a lot of other. Definately won't find many of these at Meijer's.

Link
Slashdot story

09 December 2004

My apologies

I'm an idiot. I neglected to enable commeters to actually, you know, comment. For the time being, posts that have comments turned on should allow anyone to post. However, if you aren't registered with TypeKey, your comments are moderated, which means they won't show up until I approve them. Sorry, but spammers are everywhere. If I get hit with a spammer, I may go to requiring a password from TypeKey, but I hope that doesn't happen.

Bravo to CyberNET employees

Proving once again that Barton Watson and his ilk are not representative of the West Michigan work ethic, soon-to-be-former employees at CyberNET spent their Thanksgiving weekend salvaging Roadlink USA's computer system. For their efforts, Roadlink will give them contracts for employment.



Congratulations to the soon-to-be-former CyberNET employees. And thanks to Roadlink USA. A bright spot here and there for these people is more than welcome.



Link (Previous entry, 2, 3)

I hate

In the interest of full disclosure, I do not like the Beatles. Commence the hate now.

Done? Cool, because the Guardian today unleashed its writer on every huge act from James Brown to Bob Marley to, yep, the Beatles.

There's sure to be something in this article that makes you nod with approval and then curse in disgust. Brilliant stuff.

Link

08 December 2004

Down the rabbit hole; CyberNET's descent continues

Amongst the clamour of people trying to associate themselves with the Van Andel family now that Jay has shuffled off this mortal coil, TV 8 managed to get inside a warehouse with a pile of goodies that Barton Watson kept for himself, apparently on the company dime.



The list of vehicles includes a Bentley, a Ferrari, a BMW, and... a Ford Focus??? I'm wondering if someone got wise to Watson and decided to help themselves to something, just nothing that would blip too hard on anyone's radar.

Link to story (Link to previous entry, 2)

Free Anti-Virus Software

I've been using Avast as my primary anti-virus application for a number of years now with great results. However, in the last couple of months, Avast has upgraded the application (a common occurance), but broken something. My system is slower and, when I had the Network scanner turned on, noticably lowered my connection speed.

So, I've gone looking for a new, free, AV program, trying things out before I shell out for McAfee or Trend Micro (screw you Symantec and you're resource-hogging applications). First up, AVG.

Bush's America: It's officially an overplayed excuse

God cut from Dark Materials film

The director and screenwriter of the film adaptation of Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials is to remove references to God and the church in the movie.

...

"You have to recognise that it is a challenge in the climate of Bush's America,"


Uh, right. And the same result wouldn't have come about if Kerry were President. Sorry, I don't buy it. Making a movie of this series of books (I want those hours of my life back, Pullman!) would be difficult under any circumstances, and the administration in the White House would be pretty low on the list of issues. First, despite Mr. Pullman's statements to the contrary, this series of books is a stinging attack on the Church. Mr. Pullman obviously has some issues with the Church, and wrote about it. He's not unique in that, and I hardly think he deserves to be held up as The Neo-oppressed.

The books themselves trade heavily in Church mysticism and elements of Gaia-based religions. Guess which one is always right and ends up solving the problems in the book? Making this movie is difficult because the themes are huge (religion as a war), the characters are complex to visualize (lots of CG) and the size of the audience is inversely related to how faithful you are to the story.

So, cheers to the BBC for biting on the beginning of what is sure to be a years-long PR campaign to make "His Dark Materials" a watered-down blockbuster version of what were mediocre books.

Link

07 December 2004

Stem cell solution?

The main argument from religious circles to prevent stem-call research is that you have to kill an embryo in order to harvest the stem cells. Apparently, the Catholic Church has defined a point at which the death of an embryo is actually the death of a whole person.

William Hurlbut, "an earnest young member of the [President's Council on Bioethics] conservative wing", has come up with a novel, if not creepy solution: harvest the cells before they become an embryo.

As Hurlbut puts it in his presentation paper, "Incompletely constituted or severed from the whole, subsystems with partial trajectories of development may temporarily proceed forward with a certain biological momentum." In other words, the parts of an embryo—or the parts that normally would become an embryo—might produce stem cells, even if, to avoid the moral problem, we kept these parts incomplete or severed.


Basically, he wants to turn off a gene that tells the cells "you become an embryo". The cells continue to develop, eventually producing the desired stem cells, but never become a defined organism. Of course, not just stem cells form. Other things, called "organ primordia" also form. That's limb and organ "primordia", "a ball of tissue, grown inside some poor creature, full of bits and pieces of what would have been a body." Definitely high on the shiver scale.

I think it's a brilliant solution, if it works. I have little confidence that it will ever be a long-term, widely-used technique. While conservatives have a high tolerance for activities that aren't covered by their beliefs, they also have squeamish stomachs. All it will take is someone posting picture of "organ primordia" on a high-profile religious website and opinions will turn in a hurry.

Link

03 December 2004

CyberNET saga: Local girl makes good on elitest upbringing

Krista Watson, formerly Krista Kotlarz, of Rockford, and also wife of the late Barton Watson, is under investigation for running the Ponzi scheme known as CyberNET (or Cyberco). She may not be charged for months, but you can bet that, when they find her, she'll get the punishment due to Barton.



Wow, someone from Rockford who thought they deserved everything. There's a shocker.



Link (Previous entry)

Open-source strikes again?

Someone posted this to the HATT Yahoo group today; Nvu, an open-source WYSIWYG HTML editor with an integrated CSS editor. Since I (currently) work for a draconion tech company staffed by Luddites, I will have to check this out at home.

Link

02 December 2004

Why I Voted Against the Gay Marriage Ammendment

My friend John Auchter is one of the most intelligent (and by the number of "discussions" we've had, most patient) people I know. John is also really freakin' good at putting those wonderful ideas of his into comics. His latest comic is one such example. To writ:

Now I will say this: Hopefully, in these few weeks between election seasons, we can talk about this in a less emotional way. I think those who would like to see gay marriage legalized have to respect and acknowledge people's religious feelings on the subject. Nobody likes to have something they find distasteful shoved in their face.

For instance, I don't ever want to have to see a Cirque du Soleil show. I don't want to ever vacation in Branson, Missouri. And I don't ever want to tour a veal farm. I have no firsthand knowledge of these things, but the mere thought of them makes me queasy. Perhaps if I were a more free-thinking person I could. But in these cases, I wear the badge of closed-minded prejudice with pride. So, yeah, I understand how being forced to discuss homosexuality could be unpleasant for some. Hold that thought.


And he hits on nail on the proverbial head. Majority isn't always right. Just look at Branson, Missouri.


Personally, I voted against the gay marriage amendment because I don't think it's government's place to tell me what and what is not moral. That's a slippery slope no one should ignore. But, John is a lot funnier about it, so go read his comic and the commentary (you're not allowed to skip the commentary) right now.



Link

Affidavit for Search Warrent for CyberNET

WoodTV has posted the affidavit used to obtain the search warrant for CyberNET. Any teachers out there, you can use this to illustrate just what a Ponzi scheme is.



Link (PDF)

CyberNET dirty all over

This case just gets worse and worse. The remaining executives seem to be rallying around the missing head of Barton Watson and looting the company while they can. Creditors are filing lawsuits left and right but, surprise, there's no money left. Why?

[CyberNET's Chairman Jim] Horton said he doesn't have any money to pay creditors; and yet, just before Watson killed himself during a standoff with police last week, Horton wired money into his own bank account. One million dollars of that money went to an office in Hong Kong. $750,000 went to Barton Watson's mother. Another $20,000 went to Barton's wife Krista, with Horton's wife Angie receiving $20,000.


Right. Since his golden parachute got a hole shot in it, Horton is now screwing the creditors out of everything he can get.

Prison is too good for people like this.

Link to quoted story
Link to Watson 911 tapes
Link to Watson suicide story
Employee reaction
Employees to get no more checks
CybrNET was a "Ponzi" scheme - mLive
CyberNET's final employee newsletter (news story, no actual newsletter)
Employees return to work after raid
Barton a "true con man", and OCD, apparently

Gadget Lust

I want a set of these! Logitech behind-the-head, dual headphone, boom mic, and the cover is red. Very cool.

(Actually, I'm just posting this here so I don't forget it.)

ThinkGeek :: Logitech Internet Chat Headset