29 April 2005

H2G2

Much digital ink will be spilled about The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy movie this weekend. I saw it this evening with more than a little trepidation. I'm a huge fan of the books. In fact, I make it a point to re-read them at least every two years.



With that in mind, the movie isn't that bad. It's not the book, but then, what movie is? It is, however, in the spirit of the book. The opening 45 minutes bear a striking resemblance to the book. After that, it's hard to tell where the bits made up to fill in the bits written by Douglas Adams start and end. The movie works, despite Mos Def's flat effort as Ford.



In short, I give it a 7/10. It's nowhere near as bad as Adams' biographer made it out to be. If you like the books, hang your critic out for the evening and go see the movie with an open mind. It really isn't that bad.

27 April 2005

And here I was going to donate that old computer...

MAKE, a occasionally interesting "hacking" blog, came out with a whopper of an article Monday detailing how to turn an old PC into a DIY TiVo/music server/gaming console. If you have an old PC and the console gaming stuff, it's a pretty cheap solution. Aw heck, it looks like fun to build, too. It even using Cygwin, so it has a hint of Linux without all the command-line odor.



Link

26 April 2005

Why did Abobe buy Macromedia?

Because Microsoft is coming for them, targeting one of Adobe's flagship products.


Later in the day, Microsoft also unveiled "Metro," which can be best described as an alternative to or replacement for Adobe's PDF. Metro is an XML-based document specification that covers creation, viewing, and printing. Windows applications will be able to create Metro documents and Microsoft hopes to have printer manufacturers include support for it in much the same way as Adobe's PostScript. Microsoft will offer developers APIs so they can incorporate its features into their applications, as well as royalty-free licenses in order to encourage its adoption.

Adobe broadened their portfolio, so to speak, just in case. I wonder what they know about that hasn't been announced by Microsoft yet.


[Via Ars Technica]

Longhorn Help (or, The Way It Could Be)

Much has been made of the upcoming release of Windows, still called Longhorn. (Can we possibly get someone in Microsoft Marketing to stop that stupid Office campaign [warning: Flash site] and come up with a name for the next version of Windows?)



While I'm not convinced that Longhorn is simply a bunch of "fixes and cosmetic enhancements", I'm also not convinced that Microsoft is going to deliver a compelling reason for lots of people to upgrade. They've already dropped WinFS and scaled back Avalon, both major incentives to use Longhorn.



That said, I do know of one thing that is coming that is actually kind of exciting. Terrifying in its own way, but potentially very cool. Longhorn Help. That's right, I said Help. First, a little background.



Back in the WinHelp days, technical writers and developers rarely met, and when they did they exchanged barbs and went back to their own sides of the building. Then along came people who can write AND develop. They got a hold of the WinHelp engine and started writing DLLs that made up for the shortcomings of the Help implementation in Windows and made some usable, if not impressive, Help.



Then comes compiled HTML help, CHM files. Suddenly the world of HTML is open to the Help development world. Some people (not many, mind you) but some learn HTML inside and out. They learn Javascript and CSS. They learn that tool vendors can do really cool things with HTML technology. Better help is written. Disk space increases and video starts popping up. Suddenly Help and instruction collide and you have technical writers working with instructional designers and *gasp* working with developers. (Reality check: this scenario represents about the top 10% of writers/companies/developers. The usual adversarial attitudes abound in the technical writing/development world still.)



The Help got generally better, more robust and, well, helpful. One fundamental limitation still held many writers and developers back, however; Help was not a part of the application. It was a separate engine buried inside Windows, doomed to non-interaction and certainly not able to actually DO things for users (except within a very specific set of instructions).



And now, on the horizon, is Longhorn. Longhorn could change the face of Help development. Could. If Microsoft would have done one thing. Microsoft has pledged to maintain the Help engine not just for CHM files (one level of backward compatibility), but also for WinHelp (five levels of backward compatibility). Which means that all those people who cut their teeth on WinHelp, and know it inside and out, will not switch until they're forced. They have provided no incentive (or demand) that anyone in the Help world change. Which is bad. Why?



Because of this. Longhorn Help is built on MAML, the Microsoft Assistance Markup Language. It's a proprietary XML language specifically written for the User Assistance in Longhorn, and it's also the first engine able to make actual end-to-end User Assistance. Why?


Help topics can use system data from Windows to determine the most appropriate content to display for the user.

For the first time in a Windows environment, writers have to work with developers because now writers have the ability to provide accurate, on-demand, personalized content. Oh sure, tool vendors will make much of this functionality available through their tools but, as with the previous incarnations of Help engines, the really useful stuff will come from that top 10% who can hack the system to make it do what they want, not what a tool dictates they can do.



Microsoft has demonstrated the ability for UA developers to have multi-tiered assistance. If the user doesn't accomplish something by being told how to do it, you can do it for them (with some limitations). A user shouldn't see some part of the UA because of rights restrictions? No problem; Longhorn Help is aware of the current users permission level and limits topics based on those rights. No solution was found anywhere in the UA? Within the same panel, the user can connect to a support forum or live support.



Is this pie-in-the-sky kind of assistance? Sure, because there's nothing forcing people to learn how to develop User Assistance at this level. The adoption rate of writers/developers/companies will be driven by not just the adoption rate of the OS (which could potentially be glacial compared to XP), but also by the perceived "unnecessary" cost of training writers to be quasi-developers or the outright unwillingness of writers to learn the new technology.



This also requires a fundamental shift in the way User Assistance is written. First, it has to be developed as User Assistance, not Help. Help is informative, demonstrative, and expository. It is not well-suited to assisting users, because it can't. Longhorn Help can, but only if you program it to do that.



Which brings up the second major shift. UA is programmed, not written. Yes, the instructional parts are written, as is much of actual assistance. But, like an interface, the words are minor parts of a larger solution. UA should be a solution, not a manual.



I'm looking forward to seeing what writers can do with Longhorn help (which I see has been dubbed TrésHelp). But, what I'll be really interested in seeing is what the other 90% of writers can do. I said in another post directed to MadCap Software: "let writers write, designers design, and everyone publish". That still holds true, but I think many people who self-identify as "writers" will soon be redefining that role. Should be a fun ride.

Since we're looking at houses...

...this could come in handy. The Clamptite: "It transforms any old wire into the tightest clamp you can imagine."

Sounds like $24 well spent.

[via Kevin Kelly -- Cool Tools]

Ah del.icio.us

You know why I love del.icio.us? Because I dump stuff there I would never have bookmarked before. Maybe it's the niche nature of the tool, or the buzz, but I do like using it.

Plus, it let's me find stuff like The Always Amusing Euphemism Generator. Now, Lord only knows where I ran across that the first time, but I had foxylicious installed so it was right-click, add tags, hit save. Which means I could find it today. Which now means I have the phrase "smurfing the peach" stuck in my head for the rest of the day.

Thanks del.icio.us!

25 April 2005

One Last Go 'Roung with the Theocracy Thing

From Instapundit:

MICHAEL BARONE LOOKS AT religion and politics in America:



But whether the United States is on its way to becoming a theocracy is actually a silly question. No religion is going to impose laws on an unwilling Congress or the people of this country. And we have long lived comfortably with a few trappings of religion in the public space, such as "In God We Trust" or "God save this honorable court."



The real question is whether strong religious belief is on the rise in America and the world. Fifty years ago, secular liberals were confident that education, urbanization and science would lead people to renounce religion. That seems to have happened, if you confine your gaze to Europe, Canada and American university faculty clubs. . . .



America has not moved in the expected direction. In fact, just the opposite. Economist Robert Fogel's "The Fourth Great Awakening" argues that we've been in the midst of a religious revival since the 1950s, in which, as in previous revivals, "the evangelical churches represented the leading edge of an ideological and political response to accumulated technological and social changes that undermined the received culture."



My thoughts on the subject can be found here.



UPDATE: Jon Henke thinks we're far from theocracy:



I'm simply not persuaded by the argument that there is a burgeoning "Theocracy" in the United States. You can tell the Social Conservatives are losing by the very battles they are fighting. Almost without exception, they are doing rear-guard duty. I mean, we've got partial nudity on prime-time television, and gay marriage on the radar.



That's one hell of a long way from the 1940s-50s, where even married TV characters had separate beds, and the question was not whether homosexuals deserved marriage, but whether they deserved a lobotomy. We may feel strongly about arguments like the 10 Commandments statue, Intelligent Design in schools, and Janet Jackson's nipple, but the fact that we're arguing about these should indicate just how secular our government has become. 50 years ago, we were putting God into the Pledge of Allegiance.



Indeed.





It is a long way from the '40s and '50s. Maybe we just have to give up on the instant gratification. Change happens, just not very fast. Considering it took almost 50 years for this "revival" to start, we may be in for a few years of holier-than-thou rhetoric (from both sides). But, like most things religion, this too shall pass and secularlism will once again dominate, as it usually does, even with those who identify themselves as religious.


[Via Instapundit.com]

NASA's big wins

Much is made lately of the problems at NASA. While some of that criticism is well-deserved (the shuttle program in particular), NASA often gets the shaft when it comes to the projects they got very, very right.



Projects such as the Hubble telescope. Yesterday was the Hubble's 15th anniversary, the projected end of its service life. Even with current budget problems, the project could feasibly continue operating for an additional 3 to 6 years. With the shuttle's functional and budget problems, there certainly won't be a de-orbit mission for quite some time.



Mars rovers, NASA has had two very long-running programs that have made front page news that then faded onto page G15. It should be news on the order of the Apollo programs. The constant bean-counting and administrative BS only undermines the true purpose of projects like this. Exploration is tough, and it costs money. While the idea human space flight is sexy and, in some respects, a necessary component of space exploration, it's not very efficient. The benefits to all of us is tangible. The intangibles are even greater.



Pictures like these are more than just striking images: they are the hard science we need to have. This is the kind of thing that inspires a new generation to become engineers, scientists, and pioneers. It's money well spent.

24 April 2005

Hack the Planet

Tons of cool toys and tools for whatever color hat you wear. Use a good browser since some of the sites linked have nasty pop-ups (some got around Firefox).


Link

Linux vs Windows - my perspective

I'm a basic computer user who happened to have grown up in a technology-rich world. Computers were everywhere for me beginning about 2nd grade. The kids of the '90s, those who are now starting college, are steeped in technology in a way that I can't even imagine. To have never seen a record player (pre-clubbin'), to have had a computer from the moment your fingers were dexterous enough to use a keyboard, to eschew email as inefficient and old--these are concepts that an 18 year old lives in. I understand some, but can't fathom others.



But is this the way it's supposed to be? Everything I know from school and experience tells me that, deep down and generally, people do not want to think. Thinking requires sacrifice and effort, two things most of us are unwilling to give. Technology is the ultimate "needer". It needs you to keep up, to be current, to understand ever more concepts in order to function at the top of the heap.



This is what Linux advocates miss time and again. I've played with Linux (I'm downloading the Suse Live DVD right now). I understand the benefits, I understand the philosophy, I understand the sense of community. But when I see a list like this of the literal hundreds of Linux Live distros, it cracks me up. The whole point of a Live DVD (or CD) is to give Windows users the experience of a Linux environment without having to actually install and learn Linux. Except, the average Windows user can't. Hell, I've never heard of 3/4 of the distros on that list. Unless you're a part of the aforementioned community, how could you?



The bigger problem is, how can that community reasonably expect anyone other than a community member or fringe lurker to ever choose one of these distos, much less use it or, blue-sky world, switch to Linux? They can't, and defending that position is laughable. Read Slashdot for around three hours and you'll get a sense of the cognitive dissonance that isn't setting in with the Linux community. You can't have Windows users who are so stupid as to not install updates (and decry the fact that updates exist in the first place), and then build so many distros that someone with a reasonable amount of knowledge is still unable to effectively compare what, to the non-initiated, is suddenly a virtually endless parade of options. You can't "know" the user you're trying to convert, and then not use that knowledge to make your product fit the user.



As much as I understand the need for a solid competitor on the desktop, Linux won't be it. The community will always hold it back. The very essence of the open-source community is its own fatal flaw. People, as a group, cannot makes important decisions. Design by committee doesn't work. The Linux community gets a taste of this every once in a while when someone cuts off a code branch or makes a unilateral decision. OSS people laugh and fork the code, but miss the point. That fork isn't just doomed to obscurity itself, it dooms all connected projects to obscurity. Joe User doesn't understand, or need to understand, the religious wars that cause a list 236 Live CDs/DVDs. Try explaining that concept to someone who didn't use a computer until they were 40.



Legal objections and dirty business aside, the reason Windows always won was Microsoft understood their user. Windows does many things pretty well. Linux does a few things perfectly. To a user, the difference is obvious and the winner clear. People will adapt their behavior to the path of least resistance. If that means I have reboot once a day to have my camera just plug in and work, so be it. At least I didn't have to go hunt down a driver on the 20th page of Google results.



I don't see myself switching to Linux anytime soon. It's a cute toy to play with occasionally, but it doesn't give me the experience I want. I also can't game on it (and no Wine-ing). My business apps don't work on Linux, and likely won't for a long time. I wish I had the fix, because I'd love to see my own cognitive dissonance set in.

23 April 2005

Crappy software

This is more rant than anything, but I've been working all day so I need to decompress.



For some reason I was contemplating the software I would immediately re-install if I had a catastrophic failure. From there, I thought about the quality of that software. Then I started looking at some basic stuff, like how resource-intensive these programs were. And then I got annoyed, mostly at iTunes, but others are guilty as well.



Why does Apple get a pass when they make crappy software? (Sit down, zealots.) I have an iPod, so I pretty much have to use this software. It's a pain to go back and forth from one player to another, so I just made my default player. The management/UI/experience part of iTunes is top-notch. Really, I like using iTunes. What drives me crazy is that the application itself sucks up way too many resources.



For example, I have iTunes running right now with my iPod docked. iTunes runs three (visible) processes on my machine: iTunes.exe, iTunesHelper.exe, and iPodService.exe. Three processes for one application. Ok, I can live with that; PGP takes two on its own. But, the amount of resources required is a little high:



  • iPodService.exe - 5,384K

  • iTunes.exe - 52,584K

  • iTunesHelper.exe - 4,316


That's over 60K (or 60 megabytes) of memory to support the functionality of one applications whose sole function (at the moment) is to play music. To put this in perspective, Winamp takes 13,184K, or less than 1/4 the resources. Even taking away the iPodService and iTunesHelper (Helper?? what the hell is it helping? and why can't it be part of the main process?), Winamp is still using less than 1/3 the resources needed by iTunes.



Put another way, all iTunes processes use about the same amount of resources as Outlook. Microsoft gets crapped on all the time for Office apps being resource hogs (which they are), but I just don't get the free pass given to Apple for a good UI. Why can't the application give back the memory it doesn't need now that it's not synching with the iPod? Depending on what the helper is doing, why can't I turn that off if I don't need it (similar to Winamp agent)?



I said others are guilty as well. All those little niggling applications that hide in svchost.exe processes need to 'fess up. Maybe I'm being fussy, but just because I can put a gig of RAM in this box doesn't mean developers should require it.

Barry Goldwater got it

However, on religious issues there can be little or no compromise. There is no position on which people are so immovable as their religious beliefs. There is no more powerful ally one can claim in a debate than Jesus Christ, or God, or Allah, or whatever one calls this supreme being. But like any powerful weapon, the use of God's name on one's behalf should be used sparingly. The religious factions that are growing throughout our land are not using their religious clout with wisdom. They are trying to force government leaders into following their position 100 percent. If you disagree with these religious groups on a particular moral issue, they complain, they threaten you with a loss of money or votes or both. I'm frankly sick and tired of the political preachers across this country telling me as a citizen that if I want to be a moral person, I must believe in 'A,' 'B,' 'C,' and 'D.' Just who do they think they are? And from where do they presume to claim the right to dictate their moral beliefs to me? And I am even more angry as a legislator who must endure the threats of every religious group who thinks it has some God-granted right to control my vote on every roll call in the Senate. I am warning them today: I will fight them every step of the way if they try to dictate their moral convictions to all Americans in the name of 'conservatism.'


More on Barry



[via The Political Puzzle v2.0]

22 April 2005

Gadget lust, part n-1

Like I need to cram more stuff in what has to be an already over-heated box, but this 20-in-1 panel fits into a standard 5.25" drive bay. All the I/O you could want.

Link

[via Boing Boing]

21 April 2005

Anyone registered to vote in Pennsylvania?

Then don't vote for Rick Santorum. This idiot introduced a bill that's just vague enough that the National Weather Service (you know, the one that's tax-funded) might have to take itself offline. I'm not going to quote the article because you need to read the whole thing. The quotes from Barry Myers, Executive Vice President at AccuWeather, are so ludicrous, I don't know if I should laugh or cry.



Don't visit AccuWeather. In fact, if they're so opposed to public services, let them get their own data. How do we legislate that? I'm sure we could find some headline-seeking Senator to sponsor it.



Link [via Geek News Central]

Spreading the mojo or why I love startups

Ok, this post is a little of me bragging, which I'm a little worried about doing. But, I have a greater point, so you'll have to bear with the bragging.



<bragging>I got a phone call today from someone at MadCap software</bragging> Now that that's out of the way, I can get on with the point. This person just wanted to talk. I'm not some super-elite figure in any field. I talked about their product and they wanted to follow up on that.


Excuse me while I put my professional hat on my knee for a second.


That is so off-the-wall, freakin' cool, it makes you jealous for the people that work there. How many employers have you worked for that would allow, much less encourage, you to call someone who just randomly talked about your product on their website? I know I haven't worked for one. In fact, I worked for a company that, if I called a customer without a salesman, a marketing guy, and someone from legal in the room--well, I'd have been out on my butt.



I have this feeling that if you could graph "amount of communication with customers" against "size of company", it would look like a foreslash ("\"). That's really a shame because customers are constantly trying to communicate with the companies from which they buy products. When you hear stories of website email forms that are just ignored, it makes you shake your head.



I'm going to sound like Scoble here, but MadCap, start a blog. I know corporate blogging is touchy, but maybe Mike Hamilton or some people from the development team could blog and open the discussion up to the whole community. We're blogging about you; seems only fair that you get to talk back.

20 April 2005

RE: Creating Jade Empire's Language

Since someone in this household is playing the crap out of this game right now, I thought this might be interesting reading.



The New York Times has a very interesting piece on the invented language of Tho Fan for Jade Empire. The 2,500-word language was created in four months for about $2,000 by University of Alberta linguist Wolf Wikeley. The Ph.D. candidate even created a history for the language and then tested it out by translating the first chapter of John's Gospel into it. It's a great read, make sure you check it out.



Jade Empire for Xbox Speaks Language All Its Own [NYT]


[Via Kotaku]

Make paper CD cases

Enter the CD info and this page generates a PDF to make a paper CD case. There's even a search function so you don't have to enter them yourself.

Link

19 April 2005

Flickr ups their limits

Cool things starting to happen at Flickr now that they have Yahoo! money to burn. They've doubled the free account upload amount and doubled the number of photos in the stream. Pro accounts got an extension on their payments (basically doubling their contract lives), and new Pro accounts get more uploads (2 gigs) at half the price.

Very cool. Now if they do video, we can stop hearing about Google Video.

Link

It's a Pope!

Apparently they elected a Pope today. Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI, will lead about a billion Catholics... well, we don't know where. Sounds like he won't be around long, as he's 78. The prophecy draws nearer! Many laugh at St. Malachy's Prophecy (with good reason), but Ratzinger took the name Benedict, a nod to the prophecy. The 2nd to last Pope, according to St. Malachy, was going to be from the Benedictine order (which I can't confirm of Ratzinger is or isn't). In a Church where chance doesn't exist, taking the name Benedict is a fairly significant symbol.

Should be some interesting news, kooky or otherwise, in the next few days.

Link

18 April 2005

Whoa... Adobe Buys Macromedia

I don't know how I feel about this, but Adobe and Macromedia announced that Adobe was buying Macromedia for around 3.4 billion. My gut reaction is that this could be very bad for the design market as these two companies were basically direct competitors. I keep thinking how much I disliked Go Live versus Dreamweaver and shudder at the innovation that wouldn't have happened in the market if these two companies were fighting for market share.

I hope the new company can maintain its focus on both sets of people that have traditionally been serviced by one or the other company: Adobe was squarely aimed at the design professional where Macromedia had web development in its pocket. There's always crossover, but given the Photoshop/Fireworks or Go Live/Dreamweaver choice, you could usually predict where the decision would fall.

It will be interesting to see this pan out (if it does).

Ars Technica - Adobe gobbles up Macromedia in pure-stock buy out worth 3.4 Billion Dollars

Quickie for the morning

A quick funny from the world of Fark. After linking to this page, this comment got thrown out.

Snarfangel [TotalFark]

If knowledge is power, I'd say this guy puts out 2-3 watts, max.


Brilliant.

Check out the rest of the thread as it descends into flamewar; it's usually pretty entertaining to watch one on Fark.

17 April 2005

Why you shouldn't believe everything you see on the internet

I took the What Age Will You Die quiz after seeing it on J-Walk. The first time I did it, I got this result.







You Will Die at Age 67



67





You're pretty average when it comes to how you live...

And how you'll die as well.


I thought, how can I improve that a little? So I read over my answers and changed "Do you get at least a half hour of exercise, six days a week?" from No to Yes. Seems like a pretty standard, simple to implement lifestyle change; it should up that 67 to at least 70, right? Uhm....







You Will Die at Age 64



64





You're pretty average when it comes to how you live...

And how you'll die as well.



Not exactly. Luckily, if I start practicing yoga or meditating, it counteracts all that harmful exercise and gets me back to 67. Whew. I wonder how many people take this crap at face value? You know what, I don't want to know the answer to that question.

Comment to David Galbraith

David, your site doesn't have a comments link (that I could find) so I'm posting it here. (Re: this post)



I actually agree with many of your points. (I'm not sure about your vested interest, so I'll defer to Alex.) I think that religion in this country has become watered-down, over-marketed, soulless and boring. The music is the tip of the iceberg. I've been to about 3 services in the last 5 years and every time, the sermon given was so bland, uninspiring, and neutral--well, if I hadn't left the church before, I would have then.



But, I have to pick a bone with your classification of the religious right as being inartisitc and unspiritual. Too many times in these debates, the "religious right" gets trotted out and poked at. Just like the left, though, the right has its shades. I think it's unfair to lump everyone together and then call them inartisitc and unspiritual. It's all in the nuance; we just don't always appreciate the nuance if we don't know what to look for.



I don't know if the nutters on the right tipped the vote for Bush. I have a feeling that the nutters on the left tipped enough of the fence-sitters to spread the blame around. Calling undecided voters idiots and raving about the obviousness of voting Kerry probably didn't sit well with many who wanted to vote against Bush, but not for a side that runs around insulting people as a recruitment technique.



My two cents.

Back, photos posted

We're back and I've posted some photos of Grand Haven. We walked the pier on Saturday night. The weather was perfect, the people were out, the boats were out--it really make me homesick.



Anyway, photos this-a-way.

Complete Calvin & Hobbes

This is really all we need to know:

* Hardcover: 1440 pages
* Released: October 5, 2005

[Via Drawn!]

15 April 2005

Sorry, one more

I swear I'll stop talking politics (I'm not really good at it), but apparently I may be a South Park Conservative. The article's a little light in the details, but the phrase seems right.



Ok, now I'm out of here... come to CH. Beer == Good.

Out of town

After the rant yesterday it seems odd, but I'm heading to Grand Rapids for the weekend. I have no clue if the POS hotel that Priceline put us in has wireless (I have serious doubts), so posting might be non-existant.



But, if all goes well, we will get to have the most wonderful food to ever grace this planet, Fricano's Pizza.



We'll also be at Cambridge House tonight (after 5). Anyone lurking from GR, meet us there (Sandy will also be coming).

No headphones, but I need to watch this later

I don't know if this is any good or not, but the facial expressions alone make me have to hear the whole thing. I also forgot my iPod at home today, so no headphones for the ole 'puter.

Nutri-grain Ad - ebaumsworld.com

14 April 2005

More comics

This guy has it down. What better way to generate traffic than to make your (hilarious) comic about a hitman who only takes contracts on pets. Very funny stuff. Check it out.



UPDATE: Oops, it's two guys: Jason Salsbury and Matt Kaufenberg. Should read a little bit before posting.

Change of mood

Since that last post was out of nowhere, I thought I would right the mood.



Here's a picture of a puppy.



Religion, politics and my ticket to Hell

I try not to be vulgar on this thing, on the off chance that someone reading it thinks me a witless wonder. (They can easily make that conclusion without four-letter words.) So, I will mention that later in this post I will be using some profanity, but all in the course of making a point. And, as Billie Connelly said, if you don't like, you can fuck off.



There is a growing attitude in the press, on the blogs, in the air that this country is suddenly some kind of theocracy. I read this post by David Galbraith and almost lost it. In making his point, he not only invokes Godwin's law, he sounds like a fool. But the issue really is that he's only a small voice in a larger choir of idiots who are so hung up on the President's personnel politics, that they are falling for the whole sinker as well as the hook.



Here's a memo to all the people who are obsessive about the coming Theocracy: there isn't one. There never will be one. You want to know why? Because of people like me and the thousands of kids who grew up just like me, oppressed, suppressed and pissed. I grew up in the heart of religious hypocrisy, West Michigan. You couldn't mow your lawn on Sunday until I was in high school for Chrissake. When Meijer's opened on Sundays, people boycotted the place. My parents had to leave a church because they sent me to public school. Yeah, I know what it's like.



And all the lather-mouthed, finger-quivering, know-more-than-yous have it all wrong. The community I grew up in doesn't want a theocracy. In fact they'd storm Congress if they tried to install one, not out of principal, but for the simple fact that if any religion got chosen, it would be the wrong religion.



The President and his cronies have you in a strangle hold. You're so damn preoccupied with fighting back some figment of your own imagination, their getting away with far worse. They don't want all the stuff they keep throwing out there, they want you to self-destruct. They want you to tear yourselves apart by thrashing around in disgust. They want you to compare the current administration to the Third Reich because the imagery of that analogy is so powerful, you can't see that it's FUCKING WRONG. If you seriously consider for a single brief moment that this administration in this country is even remotely capable (logistically or otherwise) of implementing a holocaust-style regime... wow, that's some fabulously fucked up thinking.



Here's my favorite quote from David Galbraith: (aside: I will stop quoting David as I don't mean to pick on him, he just parrots so much of this rhetoric, and he's high on alphabetical list of feeds.)



To deny the fact of evolution and deprive people an education because of a particular belief not shared by everybody, is equivalent to the shameful historical revisionism by anti-Semites who wish to rewrite history because of their own ideological agenda.


That's right, kiddies. Holding different beliefs about the origin of life is equivalent to murdering over 6 million people. I'll simplify that. Belief = murder.



One last thing before I hit Mark All Read and remind myself that I keep that feed to keep my perspective. For all the browbeating about how much the Religious Right (whatever that means) forces on people, I have never in my life had so many cultural mores shoved at me than when I moved to a "progressive" town. Makes me pine for the idiocy of the religious in this state. At least they go away when you tell them to fuck off.

Google Maps - Area 51

Check out Area 51 from the air, courtesy of Google Maps.


[via Sploid]

13 April 2005

Kindred Spirits

I stumbled across Alan Gutierrez' blog this evening thanks to the aggregator over at ArborBlogs. Alan seems like one of those kindred spirits that I knew existed in this town, but often kept to themselves out of fear of "a tirade against a red-state," as Alan puts it.



That post isn't what made me write about Alan's site. This one is. I'll quote because Alan nails it (sorry Ann Arbor, he's got your number).


I started with noting how caustic Ann Arbor is. That people lack social grace, because they are Michiganders. They're wipping past each other at 70 MPH all day. They don't know how to say hello. That Ann Arbor is bubble, and people come here to escape the rest of Michigan, they think it is some sort of Paris of the mid-West. Ann Arbor is a bubble and people are bubble people, scared of what is outside the bubble, oddly xenophobic, while trying to seem worldly. Then I talked about having to litterally beg to differ, how thin-skinned, easily offended these people are. Then I mentioned the agenda-oriented social scene, and exaggerated gender roles. Ended up saying that the orthodoxy of Ann Arbor runs counter to mine. I feel people make the best descisions for themselves, that if you listen to them, they'll make sense. Ann Arborites think that people can't make decisions for themselves, and you have to tell them how wrong they are so they'll understand.


I think Alan is like me; here for the time being because this is where the work is. I have no loyalty to this town, I have no ties to the idiocy that this town spews forth everyday. Alan's right: this is a place where ideas come to die, not flourish. Unfortunately (or, fortunately, depending on your perspective), there is one entity that can toss huge sums of cash at lots of people and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. This town will never be forced to gain perspective. It's a shame, really, with the diversity that does exist on campus that Ann Arbor hasn't found a way to integrate those philosophies into the community.

When is the "Make [x] into a battery for your [portable device]" craze over?

Ever since some one crammed a (dangerously simple) battery into an Altoids tin as a backup power supply for his iPod, the Me-Too crowds have been saturating the blog world with their contributions. We have the battery in a deck of playing cards, the battery in a yet-smaller Altoids case (for your mini, of course), and then the ultimate: make your own MP3 player in, yes, an Altoids case. (Sounds like Altoids has a great marketing campaign going.)

And then, today comes around and the "hacks" have started PSPs. Yes, now you can make a battery pack inside an Atari 2600 joystick. This kids is the tipping point. We are now ruining devices that are likely worth actual money (quick check on ebay says $15.00) and making battery packs that are larger, clunkier, and less functional than the device that actually needs the power. Wouldn't be easier to, oh, I don't know, pack along and additional set of batteries sans joystick?

Roger's Dept Store Closing in Grand Rapids

In the latest hit to the West Michigan area, the most recognizable name in business (aside from Amway/Van Andel) is closing up shop. Roger's department store announced today that, after over 50 years in the same location, they are closing down.

Roger's is one of those places that servers a community touch point. It's target client was mid- to high-end on the clothing scale, but they always had customers from just below. The Roger's annual sidewalk sale was practically an city event at one point. Thousands of people would decend on the store trying to get a piece of the good life for cheap.

The sadder aspect of this closing is the loss of the businesses influence in the community. Roger's was the corporate face of a lot of activities for a lot of years. It's departure probably leaves a lot of charities, funds, and causes without corporate sponsorship in a business climate that hasn't been healthy in a long time.

It's a sad day in Grand Rapids.

Link

12 April 2005

Engadget: How-To: Build A Cheap Media Player In 20 Minutes

This is just something for future reference. You know, just in case.


[Via Engadget]

Housing prices in AA are good, apparently

I was wrong; housing in Ann Arbor is affordable. Just look at this chart from Consumer Reports. Ann Arbor gets a "Fair Value" rating, with only an 8% differential between what's affordable and what the market price is.

Oh, except that in the first three quarters of last year, the rate at which prices increased began to accelerate. I wonder where those $224,000 houses are? Not anywhere near downtown, I guarentee.

11 April 2005

One more Flickr-related blog

I'm quickly approaching the parity point on this, but one more. We have cats. Here are pictures on those cats.

Fun with Flickr

Classifying this as Made Me Laugh is actually telling, since this photoshopped image actually does make me laugh when I see it, and I made the damn thing. I'm such a nerd.


Flickr set of a house in Dexter, MI

So, I'm not an intentional Ludite, but sometimes I'm very, very slow on the uptake. I think it might have something to do with controlled substances in my past, but I don't like that line of thinking.


Anyway, I finally signed up for a Flickr account. I really don't have a reason to do so, but it seemed like fun. My first set is up, and oddly enough, I'm advertising for someone else.


...


I don't know what's wrong with my thought process on this one, but, enjoy the pictures.

House buying

So, J-- and I have been looking for a house for about a month now. We've learned a few things:


  • Basements in this area effin' blow. Whatever crap some ice flow left in this hole thousands of years ago is begging for the next ice age, just to remove the apparent seventeen miles of clay that comprise the majority of the land.

  • Apparently you can repair a foundation/basement that is leaning into the house at roughly a ten-degree angle with some steel rods, steel plates, and enough concrete to anchor a damn bridge.

  • Real estate agents (except ours) are a bunch of liars.

  • "For sale" on a sign doesn't actually mean the house is for sale.

  • Housing prices are a joke in Ann Arbor. Here's a for instance. I had friends in Chicago who bought a 1,500 square foot condo in Wrigleyville (the area right around the stadium). They paid ~$300,000. For $40,000 less, you can buy a piece of shit house on Seventh, which, last I checked, wasn't nearly as fun as Chicago. (see bullet one about basements.)

  • Way too many people in this town think pink is a good color. Without exaggeration, we have toured upwards of six homes where one or more rooms had pink as... well, saying it's a dominate color is an insult to all those colors (like white) that really want to dominate, but just can't get it together.

  • Speaking of paint, we have now seen five shades of green that do not exist in nature, all of them applied to the walls of someone's bedroom. Even mirrors would be an improvement for those rooms.

  • Fuel oil leaking at a rate of one ounce a day will completely saturate a house with its smell within a week.

  • No one in this town understands the concept of grading the dirt around the foundation away from said foundation. (see previous two bullets about basements.)

  • And tonight's final lesson: Railroad tracks != good neighbors.

Today almost broke me... we lost the house we wanted. But, we couldn't just lose it by finding out it was off the market. Oh no. We had to have our agent draw up the papers, set up a time to meet him at the house in question, have him be late (again), only to then tell us that some other dumbass agent had offered that morning, but hadn't updated the listing. While we're standing in the driveway of what we'd though up until that moment was going to be our house. Yeah, nice.

Craiglist hack for displaying for sale/for rent listings

I could only hope to do something like this. Some guy (based on the URL, I assume his name is Paul Rademacher), wrote a scraper that maps all the listing from Craiglist with Google Maps. The results are freakin' amazing.


Link

10 April 2005

Hitchhiker's Movie is Bad says Adams Biographer

Crap, crap, CRAP!
The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy movie is bad. Really bad. You just won't believe how vastly, staggeringly, jaw-droppingly bad it is. I mean, you might think that The Phantom Menace was a hopelessly misguided attempt to reinvent a much-loved franchise by people who, though well-intentioned, completely failed to understand what made the original popular - but that's just peanuts to the Hitchhiker's movie.

That's from the guy who was Adams' biographer. Damn it, damn it, damn it yet again. And now, like the second and third Matrix movies, I have to go drop $8+ to go see something that not only can't live up to expectations (which I was prepared for), but something that a qualified person hated. HATED.

Oh, and quotes like this aren't helping either:
There are quite a few nods to Douglas Adams himself and although these go some way to making up for the almost complete absence of his name from the publicity, surely a better way of paying tribute to this much-loved, much-missed author would be to not fuck about with the sublimely witty dialogue that he sweated blood to create.

But, as someone pointed out, keep in mind the most useful thing in the Guide: Don't Panic. Yes, that's the first sensible thing I've heard about this situation yet.

[Via Slashdot]

New look for an old site

If you visit this page via a browser, you'll see a new design today. It's not huge, just some color tweaks in the CSS and a banner image instead of the default MT stuff. Tweaking may continue, or I could just forget about it for another few months. I'm not designer, so bumping content around with the CSS or making graphics that need to be positioned in pixel-perfect fashion just isn't going to happen for a while.


But, this whole thing started as a learning experience and that's what I'm doing. Experiencing a learning... erm.. experience. If I'm internalizing any of this has yet to be seen.


Oh, if you find something that's busted, displaying improperly, or just plain bad, let me know.

Online color wheel

If you've ever had to generate a color scheme (say for a website) but didn't go it professionally, the availability of color wheel resources on the web is pretty depressing. Lots of people want to teach you about color, which isn't bad, but few enable you to do real color design, such as generating a tetrad color scheme. You can buy an app for it, but I don't want to spend $40 for something I do once a year.

But, this morning as I fuddle with this site, I finally found the motherlode; [ws] Color Scheme Generator. This is an awesome tool: triads, tetrads, color blindness simulator. A very robust tool, online. Check it out.

08 April 2005

Internet issues

I think the DNS attack that's hitting the East coast is spreading to AA. My connection has been flaky all night.


When can we get some vigilante justice for the fools that are poisoning the DNS servers? Idiot spammers.


Side note: I know that "flaky" spell-checks properly, but shouldn't it really be "flakey"? I may have missed that day of class.


UPDATE There is a fix if you know how to edit your DNS server. Change your primary DNS to 4.1.1.1 and your alternate to 4.2.2.2 (solution from Broadbandreports uberforums)

07 April 2005

Budget LCD shootout

Awesome article about buying a budget (read: under $400) LCD, with gaming in mind. The NEC LCD1770NX came out on top.

Budget LCD Roundup

06 April 2005

Why do people hate Robert Scoble?

I have a news reader (duh) and with that comes about 500 feeds. I've never counted them, but that seems like a reasonable number. One of them happens to be Robert Scoble, who works for Microsoft. His title is something like Evangelist or something like that (I'm too lazy to look it up), but he's basically a technology-enabled brand-builder for MS. He's a marketer who gets the web. He's a salesmen with the soft sell for geeks (well, geeks who aren't rabid MS haters). In short, he's someone who works for a company and promotes that company. Evil, right?

He also has a (wildly popular) blog. People can subscribe to this blog. People can not subscribe to this blog. What amazes me is that people think it's necessary to broadcast that they are now no longer subscribing to his blog. BIG NEWS TYPEFACE INITIATED.

First, nice little traffic booster. Second, who gives a flying.... uhm, fark? You know what, I don't subscribe to Scripting News. You know why? It's none of your damn business! If you want traffic, do it like the rest of us; suck up to A-list bloggers.

Oh, wait...

Link

[Via Scobleizer: Microsoft Geek Blogger]

Hand to forehead moment

This hand slap to the head once again brought to you by Technical Writers. Someone with the title Technical Author (cue eye roll) posted a one sentence question to a Help-authoring tool list. To quote: "Can anyone tell me what 'structured authoring' is?". This was met by links to a Google-searched PDF. The person read about, oh, 7 words, then skimmed and then came back to the list with (paraphrasing) "So, it's using templates?".

Cue hand to forehead.

Ok, this message is for all you Technical Authors, Content Developers, User Assistance Engineers, and plain ole' Technical Writers. (The rest of you can leave if you want.)

You. Are. Not. Helping. In the immortal words of Jon Stewart, "Just stop." If the following phrases don't mean anything to you, start polishing your resume:

  • Content Management

  • Information Architecture

  • Metadata

  • Business Objects

  • Format separated from Content

  • Assembling documentation (and not in a binder)



And I swear to God if any one of you mentions that XML will solve your documentation issues (such as short timelines and content management) and you don't have the first clue about how to accomplish those goals in the absence of a consultant, I'm going to really lose it.

I appreciate the communities that exist out there for authors, I really do. There are some really good ones. But, and I mean this in the most abrasive way you can imagine, some of the people that come there are so damn clueless, there needs to be an official person who virtually (or literally) clubs them over the head when they ask dumb questions. Google is your friend. If that doesn't work, at least think about what you're going to ask. No one hands you information anymore, and as a documentation person, you should know that first hand.

After that, post away but at least put something there for people to react to. Don't come like a child with your hand out asking for an M&M; put some damned effort into it. I know you've had that job for like 20 years and don't want to change, but too bad. I wrote for less than 5 years and I had to change more than once; it's the new way of the world.

Actually, it's not, it's the way business has been for a very long time, you just haven't had to work in a business environment because you've been treated like a cost, a necessary cost of doing business. It is in the interest of anyone who wants to keep writing to make themselves valuable. If you don't, you'll find out quickly what happens if you aren't.

Free online wine course from the CIA

Get a “taste” of The Culinary Institute of America’s professional wine courses by taking this exciting course online—for free. We’ll give you a sample of our in-depth, on-site courses by taking you on a virtual journey through three of the world’s top grape varieties. You’ll learn about where they grow, how they’re made into wine, how the wines they’re made into taste, what foods they work with best, and why they’re hot in the marketplace. We’ll suggest a few simple but great tastings you can do at home, and share some delicious wine-matched recipes from our CIA chefs. Along the way, you’ll meet some of our expert wine instructors and get a look at the full program of professional wine courses we offer. In this short course you will:

  • Learn about three of the world’s most exciting grape varieties from the diverse perspectives of CIA wine instructors, growers, winemakers, chefs, and wine marketing specialists.

  • Discover the principles involved in matching wine.

  • Participate in exciting guided tastings that you can conduct at home.

  • Receive a sampling of delicious wine-matched recipes from CIA chefs.

  • Learn about the CIA’s full program of professional wine courses.



Link

[via Kottke.org]

Ann Arbor Greenway - As Bad as Arctic National Wildlife refuge Drilling

If I ever meet the author of AAiOR, I so need to buy him/her a beer/wine/stiff drink, mainly for making me laugh my ass off at the absurdity of this town. The term "overrated" barely scratches the surface of this pompous, over-marketed, elitist town. Too bad they have one of the best employers around (despite what GEO thinks).

Take today's post today over at AAiOR:

So if you're keeping track, the DDA's plan for a parking lot at First and William is marginally less bad than a putting a landfill or a war zone there, and about the same as an oil drilling operation. No word on how it would compare to a nuclear waste dump or a bioweapons facility.


See other posts at AAiOR about the Greenway/DDA dispute

ann arbor is overrated: a weblog: More Overheated Greenway Rhetoric

Censors on campus? Never!

It's like you could replace the University in this story with "University of Michigan" and no one would bat an eye. It hasn't happened at U-M, I'm just sayin'...

Last year, it was the fashion among campus conservative groups to hold anti-affirmative action bake sales: In such sales, prices are calibrated by the buyer's race, with women and minority groups receiving discounts and white male students paying a presumably "full price" for the same cookie. It was also the fashion for administrators to try to prevent such sales, and, when prevention failed, to shut them down and punish the students who held them. The bake sales weren't great commentary on affirmative action--they convinced no one who was not already convinced, and they angered people who might have been open to reasoned argument. But, inadvertently, they were great commentary on the state of free speech on campus, as group after group succeeded in flushing out the censors in their midst. There is no question that holding such a bake sale falls within the realm of constitutionally protected speech--but administrators persistently refused to see this, and consistently cited their schools' anti-discrimination policies (with no sense of irony whatsoever) as justification for refusing to let the sales proceed and for disciplining those who were holding them.

Tales of anti-affirmative bake sales and the censors who hate them have been comparatively rare this year. There is a classic case brewing at Northeastern Illinois University, however. The College Republicans (it's always the College Republicans) are planning an anti-affirmative action bake sale, and the administration doesn't want the sale to take place. So the administration has threatened to punish the CRs if they hold the sale, even though a campus feminist group recently held an analogous "pay equity bake sale" geared to criticize inequality between the sexes. The other part of the pattern is typical, too--FIRE has stepped in to defend the group, and has today gone public with the details of NEIU's unconscionable refusal to recognize the expressive rights of students whose opinions do not reflect the accepted institutional orthodoxy. Read all about it at www.thefire.org.


Critical Mass: A high price to pay

05 April 2005

Building on legacy systems

I was playing around with MSN Desktop Search (which rocks, by the way), and came across an email from an old friend and co-worker, Tim (last name withheld for future Google-searching anonymity).


I have no idea if this is true or not, but take it as a parable, not so much gospel. It makes me laugh and wonder every time I stumble across it.


Ever Wonder Why?...

The US standard railroad gauge (width between the two rails) is 4 feet, 8.5 inches. That's an exceedingly odd number. Why was that gauge used? Because that's the way they built them in England, and the US railroads were built by English expatriates.

Why did the English build them like that? Because the first rail lines were built by the same people who built the pre-railroad tramways, and that's the gauge they used.

Why did "they" use that gauge then? Because the people who built the tramways used the same jigs and tools that they used for building wagons which used that wheel spacing.

Okay! Why did the wagons have that particular odd wheel spacing? Well, if they tried to use any other spacing, the wagon wheels would break on some of the old, long distance roads in England, because that's the spacing of the wheel ruts.

So who built those old rutted roads? The first long distance roads in Europe (and England) were built by Imperial Rome for their legions. The roads have been used ever since.

And the ruts in the roads? Roman war chariots first formed the initial ruts, which everyone else had to match for fear of destroying their wagon wheels. Since the chariots were made for (or by) Imperial Rome, they were all alike in the matter of wheel spacing.

The United States standard railroad gauge of 4 feet, 8.5 inches derives from the original specification for an Imperial Roman war chariot. Specifications and bureaucracies live forever. So the next time you are handed a specification and wonder what horse's ass came up with it, you may be exactly right, because the Imperial Roman war chariots were made just wide enough to accommodate the back ends of two war horses. Thus, we have the answer to the original question.

Now the extra-terrestrial twist to the story...

When we see a Space Shuttle sitting on its launch pad, there are two big booster rockets attached to the sides of the main fuel tank. These are solid rocket boosters, or SRBs. The SRBs are made by Thiokol at their factory in Utah. The engineers who designed the SRBs might have preferred to make them a bit fatter, but the SRBs had to be shipped by train from the factory to the launch site. The railroad line from the factory had to run through a tunnel in the mountains. The SRBs had to fit through that tunnel. The tunnel is slightly wider than the railroad track, and the railroad track is about as wide as two horses' behinds.

So, the major design feature of what is arguably the world's most advanced transportation system was determined over two thousand years ago by the width of a horse's ass.

And you wonder why it's so hard to get ahead in this world...

Mark Cuban gets it

The countdown for the extinction of CDs is about to begin



MP3 players are changing peoples listening habits. We dont carry folders filled with CDs anymore. We carry our library in our MP3 players. We dont listen to CDs. We listen to playlists that we adjust all the time. We dont burn CDs anymore, its too time consuming. We copy all our music to our MP3 players so its all available at our fingertips.
All of our music in a single device. Available to us where ever we are, for whenever we want it. Music how we want it, when we want it. Easy and breezy. Thats how we want to consume music.
Thats not how we are being sold music.



...



There is absolutely no reason I shouldnt have been able to buy the song or CD i wanted from the FYE record store I was standing in side of , IPod in hand, ready to buy. If only I could just connect the thing and download the songs.



...



The only question is who will be the first label to crack and offer this and how soon will it be. Of course the cynics will say that this wont ever happen, but Im not buying it. Its too much cash up front for the labels to say no to. It also makes too much business sense.



Mark, you're just cool enough to make another billion with this idea. Screw the labels; screw the consortiums. Do it, man. We'll beat a path to your door.

RE: My Other T-Shirt...

I just bought this shirt... I think I need to get in the T-shirt business.





Link



[Via Preshrunk]

RE: Columbia U. researchers seek "Music Lab" survey participants

The Sociology department at Columbia Univ. is running an experiment in what makes a hit song. From BoingBoing:
My colleagues and I in the Sociology department at Columbia University are doing an experiment about pop music which might be interesting to your readers. If they participate they will have a chance to discover and download new music for free.

After listening to the music of Britney Spears, we became interested in why some musicians become superstars while other seemingly similar musicians don't. To understand this process better, we decided to find out how people form their musical tastes. We have created a website where people can listen to, rate, and download songs by cool, up-and-coming artists. All the downloads are free and legal so the site is a great place to find new music, help support emerging artists, and help out science -- all at the same time.

Once the research is completed we hope to be able to shed light not just on the popularity of music, but also on the popularity of other cultural objects like books, movies, and works of art.

Some pretty good stuff there.

Link
[Via Boing Boing]

Starbucks Delocator

Support your independent coffee house (or a second, not-as-large chain).

Or, just Googlebomb this site with
Starbuck's Delocator. Why? From BoingBoing:
"'The Delocator' is a site that helps you find independent alternatives to Starbucks in your neighborhood. So why isn't it called the 'Starbucks Delocator'? Because the San Francisco Art Institute was too scared that Starbucks would come through with the corporate smack-down. Of course this renaming means the site won't show up in google when people search for 'Starbucks', and what's the point if people can't discover it?


Or, it's a complete fake used to send people to Starbuck's because there are no "other" options. (It also serves Starbucks locations, which I don't quite understand; cynacism rising.) I added Sweetwater's to the list. Comon A2, where are the other ones?

04 April 2005

New button in the Links section

I put a new button in the Links section on the right of the page (so if you're reading via RSS, you don't see it, except for this post).

It's for WOXY, an internet radio station. They play a pretty cool mix of modern rock (not Creed). Stuff like Camper Van Beethoven, The Decemberists, and well, lots of stuff I hadn't ever heard. I can stream it at work and it has, amazingly, taken over the iPod's duties for background distraction while I'm at work.

So, check 'em out. Good stuff. (Click the graphic to go to their site.)

03 April 2005

Speaker Placement Guides

eCoustics has a helpful guide that will show you how to setup your home theater speakers for best performance.

Direct link to article


[Via DesignTechnica]

01 April 2005

Been gone, now not

Sorry for the hiatus, I've been sick and work is fuggin' insane.

In the meantime, enjoy today's April Fool's sites.

Urgo's list of April Fool's Jokes on Websites