Friday, December 29, 2006

Birthday Celebration - On Ice and In Chinese

Our Almost-Five year old finally turned Five today. :)

We went to see Disney on Ice at the SkyDome ..er.. Rogers Centre today to celebrate. The show was a lot of fun (although I'm miles away and no closer to being a figure-skating fan than I was before).

We got monetarily raped in the process of getting a couple of souvenirs for our sweetheart. This (pointless) spinning glow-in-the-dark Tinkerbell contraption was the only thing worth getting really. It was funny when a mother in the next seat asked me how much it cost, I told her "twenty bucks ... about 17 bucks more than it should have!". Such is the Disney empire.

After that we did a late lunch at a nice Chinese restaurant. This was the absolute highlight of the day since the restaurant was nearly empty and upon bringing Em a chocolate sundae, two employees fully versed in the karaoke experience, along with microphones and accompanying backing track, sang Happy Birthday to our daughter in both English and Chinese. Very very nice.

It kind of reminded me of the scene in A Christmas Story when the family goes out for Chinese food on Christmas Day. :)

Please Indulge Me For A Moment

Please indulge me for a moment. As you can see on the top of this page (unless you're reading through an aggregator) I've toyed about with a new blog header image and finally came up with something I kind of like. Let me know if it works for you - or not.

I created it in Inkscape and it kind of came about as I was creating my three entries for the Inkscape 0.45 About dialog box contest over on deviantArt (which I posted about a short time ago). You can check out my three entries right here. You'll notice that my new blog header image is similar in concept to my third deviantArt entry.

Inkscape 0.45 (which is about to be released shortly) has a new blur feature which I've put to use here in moving those small tiddlywinks to the background. I've gone away from the shiny floor reflection since it's oh so 2006. (psst - actually I still like that effect but don't go telling anyone).

Anyways, I toyed with the thought of revamping the look of the blog completely for the start of the new year, but actually decided I still quite like the blue background. I will however make it my mission to update my blogroll and add my Flickr zeitgeist widget over on the right when I have time.

Let me know what you think.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

My Christmas Battle 2006

Sitting here nimbly typing away, I notice my fingers slightly trembling. I've developed a subtle but unmistakable throbbing in the back of my head, just above the nape of my neck. I'm also noticing a discrete nerve causing an intermittent twitch under my left eye.

Too much Christmas cider? Nah, can't stand the stuff. Too much coffee? Nah, can never get enough.

What I am describing is much more hideous than that. It is the result of the parent-hating, sadist who thought up the idea of the 15,000 piece bead kit (and my in-laws who decided to buy it for my daughter).

Sure, it looks like a great idea. Heck, I'm no crafty crafter, but some beads and string matched up with an almost 5 year old seems like a safe bet... Just don't try to unpack it.

The box it came in has a nice clear front panel that displays all 15,000 beads (it might as well be 150,000,000) in neat little compartmentalized cavities. My in-laws had the awesome idea of giving us a small plastic Rubbermaid-type 4-drawer cabinet along with it to keep little one organized.

The transfer of beads from original package to 4-drawer plasti-chest proves my undoing. Of course the large bead thingys are a piece of cake. Being the engineer I am, I sat and scratched my chin for a moment before getting a small teaspoon to aid in the material transfer operation. Making great strides with the compartments containing larger beads, I thought pretty highly of myself.

Did you know that they can make beads that are almost microscopic in size? Did you know that square shaped compartments made of thin vacuum formed plastic can act as minature trampoline-like launchpads for said tiny beads?

With every slight snap of the oil-canning compartment bottoms (think the bottom of the classic Trouble board game's pop-o-matic bubble), came the shower of untold hundreds of micro-beads. With every dip of the spoon, every surgically gentle extraction attempt, came flying micro beads.

Every flying bead took with it a shred of my dignity and a whole whack of my patience.

Ninety minutes later, the transfer is done (unbeknownst to my daughter, at least 200 micro-beads remained in the package and were headed for the trash) and we are stringing beads.

One final humiliating realization came to me while trying to thread some of the smaller beads. Daddy needs glasses.

Grrrr.

Okay... then why?

Robert Scoble writes:

"But, I’m not going to write a lot about John Edwards."

Sorry if this is a stupid question Robert, but why exactly did they invite you along then? Maybe I'm missing the point.


[Edit: Maybe for ScobleShow video coverage?]

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

It's Over... or at least partially...


Hopefully everyone enjoyed (or is still enjoying) their holiday time. Myself, I feel kinda relieved it's over once again for another year. It's such a mad rush at the end of the year. As you can see from the photo above, our dog Jessie was as beat as we were by the end of it all.

It's not completely over since our little one has her birthday a couple of days from now and New Years is just next weekend. If holidays are supposed to be restful, then these don't qualify as holidays.

Among the nice shirts, belts and ties, I snagged a nice gift certificate to a local camera store. Right now it's a toss-up between a new lens and a new printer. I've been pining for the Epson R800 printer for over a year now, but the price never seems to drop ($449-499 CDN). I feel guilty for paying that much for an inkjet, although I have seen the output and it is quite nice.

So it may be that I'm leaning towards a Canon 85mm f1.8 lens. It's a little more than the printer, but it's fast and relatively cheap. On my 350D it will work like a 135mm lens and since I love available light photography (witness most of my nicer photographs) that nice wide aperture is very very appealing. So we'll see in a few days if I change my mind.

For now, my absolute favourite shooting is done with the 50mm f1.8 cheapy that I bought a while back. While you still have to fight with moving subjects under typical indoor lighting, sleeping dogs turn out rather well. :)

Friday, December 22, 2006

Freefall... positively...

Talk about a positive outlook. Here's an extremely entertaining and well-written guide to surviving a 35,000 ft freefall. If you do manage to exit the aircraft at 600mph, at least you can be prepared. Here's a small excerpt of the greatness that is this article:

Snow is good—soft, deep, drifted snow. Snow is lovely. Remember that you are the pilot and your body is the aircraft. By tilting forward and putting your hands at your side, you can modify your pitch and make progress not just vertically but horizontally as well. As you go down 15,000 feet, you can also go sideways two-thirds of that distance—that's two miles! Choose your landing zone. You be the boss.

At least somebody is thinking ahead. ;)

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Bubbling Up

Ahh the holidays. When you couple the Christmas, New Year (and in our case birthday) season hurtling towards you with a ridiculous amount of work as every Tom, Dick and Sally comes out of the woodwork wanting projects finished and permit applications submitted before the new year, you end up with time for little else.

It's truly amazing how life can get so busy that you simply have little time to ponder anything at all (and that includes potential blogging topics). You forget how valuable those (these) spare moments are to your sanity.

A couple of things that *have* managed to bubble up:

The next version of Inkscape, 0.45, is upcoming. The Inkscapers group on Deviantart is soliciting entries for the "About Inkscape" dialog box. I managed to create a DeviantArt account (a long time fan of the site, but never a member, until now) and posted a couple of entries. Lots of very talented and creative people there, so I'm not sure I stand any chance although as of yet, there are not many entries. What the heck though, worth a shot.

My daughter has taken a real shine to TuxPaint as of late. While the resulting canvases (sp?) will likely only win rave reviews from Daddy and Mommy, it has done absolute wonders for her mousing and keyboard skills in a very short time. Don't be fooled by its overly simplistic look (this is not a Disney creation). It struck just the right balance between providing fun painting tools with good sound feedback and appropriately sized buttons and controls. Although typically thought of as a Linux app, it is available for both Windows and OSX as well.

Finally a quick note or two just to piss off those people who always harp and complain about political correctness during the holidays.

1. Happy Holidays, Seasons Greetings and [insert other generic holiday term wishing well to people of all faiths from the athiest to the agnostic to the devoutly spiritual]. Why should we be ashamed for wanting to include all people in our best wishes? Get over it.

2. My daughter is learning about a multitude of cultural and religious celebrations at school right now. She brought home a little craft that outlined the meaning of Kwanzaa. Ahh Kwanzaa, I used to laugh at that - in some way, the butt of jokes. The principles of Kwanzaa outlined on that little craft sounded more profound and reasoned to me than anything I'd gotten out of Christmas celebrations in the past.

See, even an almost-five year old can expand your horizons.

Shopping is done. Presents are bought. Two more days of the daily grind until we coast to Christmas. It couldn't come at a better time.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Some good news in the news for a change

I think we've all become somewhat used to hearing about medical progress in terms of identifying problems, treatments to mitigate symptoms or preventative measures. Not every day you read about the reversal of a disease.

Of course it's not quite "there" yet, but "Canadian scientists reverse diabetes in mice".

Some good news in the news for a change.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Early Gift From Flickr!

Looks like Flickr has given an early Christmas present to its users! Free account holders get their upload limits increased 5X to 100MB/month! And even better still Pro account holders (of which I am one) now get unlimited uploads!

Now I've really got to get my arse in gear. I've yet to run up against the old 2GB/month limit. Sounds like I'm not taking or uploading nearly enough photos. ;)

Ho Ho Holiday Flickr Fun with Photos

Lifehacker has a post up about a neat little Flickr easter egg which lets you put a Santa hat or beard on a photo.

But why do that when you can do the real thing! Here's a shot of my lovely niece Sarah from this past weekend:

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Somebody set me straight on Hip-hop for 5 year olds

1. Breakfast done, Dad flips it to The Learning Channel and then heads to the kitchen to ready the school lunch for his almost-five year old daughter.

2. Dad overhears the backbeat of hip-hop music and some rapping.

3. Peeking into the living room, it's Hip Hop Harry. He's rappin' the benefits of sharing, playing fair and staying fit.

4. It's kinda like Barney, only instead of being annoyingly sanitized and corny, he's leading a breakdance competition to end the show.. oh yeah, and he's a bear wearing a big medallion, not a purple dinosaur.

5. In the show-ending dance off, each kid takes a turn in the circle, body-popping, spinning around - y'know all the moves, but everyone - even the girls- are dancing with a very serious, almost grimace on their faces. It's like they're saying 'yeah, that's right.. I'm a bad mofo..'.

6. Tonight, almost-five year old is quietly singing/rapping, 'Go Harry..Go Harry..Go Harry..'

Ok. I'm torn. I'm not supposed to pre-judge. I told myself I'd always be open to new things. But in my head I'm thinking, "Hip-hop aimed at 3 to 6 year olds????"

I know that listening to hip-hop doesn't turn you into a street hood. Even I like listening to it sometimes. But can you honestly tell me it wasn't borne out of that culture? Why are so many hip-hop videos about SUV ridin' maniacs tearin' down da house?

Yo yo yo... I don't have a problem with the hip-hop. It can be da bomb so to speak. But 3 to 6 year olds?? C'mon. Would there be a complaint if a show was created with goth-type characters to the backbeat of something like Marilyn Manson (does that even have a backbeat?) ?

Am I simply a confused middle-aged Canadian father whose falling into the conservative trappings of so many before him? I don't have a problem discussing the state of death metal with my 17 year old nephew. Why am I so confused with this?

Somebody please set me straight.

Short Answers and the Fall of Civilization

Here's the email I send to a client asking for confirmation on a couple of items (of course the names and subject matter have been changed to protect the innocent... and me):


Hi Zanzibar,

So it is full height jibberjabs and blickity blocks with a continuous 12x9 pinky-doo everywhere? Are blingitybings or additional rinkydinks required?


Thanks,


Richard Querin, P.Eng.


No fine work of literature to be sure. But it was simple and clear enough don't you think? Here's the response (via frickin' Blackberry of course)



Yes



So is that a yes only on the jibberjabs, blickity blocks and pinky-doo? What am I to assume for the second part of the question?

Is this a result of PDA/SMS/Blackberry short cryptic notation syndrome? Where is the art of communication going? I read plenty of emails a day. You would think the proliferation of written communication would yield some improvement, but all it's done is laid the problem bare for more to see.

I know, I know. Another grammar rant. But there wasn't even a period on the end of that single word reply! But at least it was spelled correctly.

I must be going a little batty, because I actually enjoy reading the odd email that comes to me with full punctuation, correct spelling and some semblance of coherence and planning. It happens once or twice every couple of weeks (I swear - no more frequent than that). You have to enjoy them when you can.

Apologies for liberating the curmudgeon in me again. But somebody has to document the fall of civilization. Why not me? ;)

Monday, December 11, 2006

Photos and Inkscape



[click here to see a higher resolution version on Flickr]

A quick note to the Inkscape mailing list today gave me a couple of quick ways to trim imported bitmaps to the shape of any arbitrary boundary:

1. Select both objects and then choose Object->Clip->Set

or

2. Create a pattern fill based on a bitmap using Object->Pattern->Objects To Pattern, and then fill the object with that pattern.

This proved to be quite fun, so I put together the little collage you see above. It was probably easier to create this in Inkscape than in a bitmap editor like GIMP or Photoshop since you could easily create, rotate and modify each 'snapshot' throughout the process and modify gradients etc..

You can do quite a few neat things with a bitmap photo imported into a vector based editor like Inkscape. There are a few neat demo video's over on the Xara site. One of them shows some interesting things about photo editing on a vector graphics editor. Good stuff.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Inkscape Screencast 2 - A Quicky Glass Globe

Did you know that if you take a strip of masking tape, one cheapy Dell stick microphone (which came with some of our old systems at work) combined with my mini camera tripod, a creatively bent coat hanger and one of my daughter's nylons for a wind/breath screen, you can actually record a screencast with narration? Hah!

It took about 4 takes before I was even remotely satisfied that it was audible enough. The sound seemed so low and hissy at first. Still, it's not the greatest - and of course YouTube has simply butchered the video quality, but it might be useful to some.

In this screencast I create a quicky glass globe. Now, as I've mentioned ad nauseum, I'm no Inkscape expert or graphic designer. If you've got Inkscape tips or some other constructive criticism, please, let's hear it!


Friday, December 08, 2006

Inkscape Screencast - My First Experiment

A few posts ago I gave a few quick examples of shiny web2.0-like objects I created in Inkscape. Before I posted that I actually did a little half-hour attempt at a screencast with a program called Xvidcap. It failed miserably, generating a tiny video at about 2 frames per second. Not Good.

Will Simpson commented on that post that he'd like to see a screencast of some Inkscape stuff, so I took a little more time to investigate. With the exception of having to modify the first line of the configure script (changing bin/sh to bin/bash) the instructions in this post worked! So I configured, compiled and built this patched ffmpeg program that let me create a somewhat decent screencast.

The long and short of it? I created a quick screencast showing the creation of a simple black shiny button using Inkscape. Before criticizing it too harshly, read the notes and caveats below.




A few caveats:

  1. Uploading the video to YouTube significantly degraded the quality (originally 800x600 at 30fps - 1000 kb/s bitrate) - if I find a decent place to host it, you will be able to download a much better version.
  2. I don't have a microphone to create decent sounding narration so I didn't even attempt it. I may try to pick one up in the next little while.
  3. Tutorial-type screencasts are kinda (very) useless without narration, so don't expect to learn too much from it - it's really only an experiment.
  4. To help alleviate 3 minutes of utter boredom I dubbed in a nice Rob Costlow track using Kino - I hope you like some nice solo piano.

Notes:

I converted the avi video from ffmpeg to dv-video for use in Kino. I dubbed in the music with Kino and trimmed it slightly. However I couldn't figure out how to get Kino to export to mpeg4 which supposedly converts best with YouTube so instead I generated an mpeg2 file which may be the main reason for the blurry YouTube quality. I've got to figure this part out better.

The patched ffmpeg program seemed to capture the 800x600 video flawlessly, but when I tried 1024x768, even at lower bitrates, the capturing program would just quit on me. Not sure why. Meh. 800x600 is ok I guess.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Christmas Recon Mission - Circa 1981

Talk about your tough love. Makes you wonder why people complain about wasted tax dollars and court resources..

Some of you will hate me for this, but what the hey...

I clearly remember sneaking into my parent's closet on several occasions during mid to late Decembers of years gone by. If the coast was clear, I would look for the presents with my name on them (opening my brother's gifts would clearly be immoral!). Boxes were evaluated not by size, but by heft - a much better indicator of the potential cool-ness of a gift. A quick scan of the taping method and a couple of deft razor blade slices later (my Dad still uses a Wilkinson double-edger by the way) I was in.

Of course I never actually played with the toys. I would open them up just enough to see what they were. After that I was perfectly content to wait until Christmas morning to get them. And I never went through them all. One or two of the heftiest was enough to satisfy me. And it wasn't always smiles and sunshine. It could be Stretch Armstrong, it could be a pair of shoes, you spin the wheel, you takes your chances.

Did it ruin Christmas morning for me? Nah. The excitement was still there. I didn't have to feign the enthusiasm, nor the excitement - only a little bit of surprise. And besides, the greatest parents in the world (my parents - in case you didn't know) weren't idiots and I was no world class cat burglar. I'm sure they knew what I was doing - at least had some clue - because there always seemed to be the one or two "awesome" presents at Christmas that I never ever saw coming.

Would you have called the cops? Heh.

Variations on a Shiny Black Theme

I've noticed a seemingly endless number of "Web 2.0 Shiny Button" tutorials lately. Most of them involving Photoshop. Looking at a couple, it all seems to be about gradients and transparency - something that Inkscape is good at.

I figured I'd take the opportunity to practice my Inkscape chops and play around a bit. So here are some variations on a theme. If you're sick of Web 2.0 with it's shiny, chunky buttons, then take this as your final dose. :)

For anybody interested in playing around with these, you can download the inkscape svg file right here: buttons-fun.svg

First, your typical fat shiny button. Literally 20-30 seconds work in Inkscape.


Next a shiny black and red power button. BTW exactly when did this symbol become synonymous with the power switch anyway?



An over the top version of a vertical scroll control. Either that or a power window switch in your car. This ain't getting any better is it..


Started as a lozenge. Then went for a control button. Ended up with a shiny, buttonless Kensington Trackball.


Is it a remote, or a phone? Not sure. Take away all the buttons and you've got the start of a perfectly good shampoo bottle. Spent about a half-hour on this one. Probably 15 minutes too much. ;)

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Lowering the Bar

I have a question. How can someone go to work day in, day out for over 10 years where the primary objective is not to aid progress, not to develop, not to grow, but simply to plod through, exerting only enough enthusiasm to do two things: get paid, and cover your ass. How?

While everyone else both up and down the proverbial totem pole is trying to get to the root of a problem, this person's far too busy eschewing any culpability or fault to contribute to the solution.

Clearly there is no shame in it for him. He casts away blame with such outward vigor that he's clearly proud of it, or ignorant.

The ironic thing is that in most cases this person probably ISN'T the source of the problem, ISN'T to blame, but the act of immediately and vigorously denying any blame does more to hurt his reputation and respect than actually causing the problem.

I've always believed that owning up to mistakes is a necessary part of building reputation, character and respect. But that assumes you care about building those things. If you don't, then happily escaping blame, avoiding responsibility and getting paid is fine I guess.

Ten years on and I still find it hard to believe someone can go through life perfectly happy to wallow, perfectly happy never learning anything and perfectly happy never progressing.

Maybe it's time I lower my expectations of others.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Will Wright on Colbert this Monday night

In case you hadn't heard or read:

Will Wright is going to be on the Colbert Report tomorrow (Monday) night.

Wright is the designer of such awesome games as SimCity, TheSims, and the upcoming Spore game.

I love his games simply because they make you think, make you work, and illustrate how great computer games don't have to be about burning down Santa Monica Blvd or (the Streets of Baghdad) with guns 'ablazin.

Video editing on Linux - Any Recommendations?





Back in August of 05, just as a test I posted this short video clip on my family blog. I think it illustrates how effectively a well chosen bit of music can enhance just about anything (slideshow, video or otherwise). I haven't done a heck of a lot of video editing since then (just too many other pursuits I guess). I've shot video clips off and on, but they've yet to make it from the mini-dv tape to the pc in the last year. The clip you see above was created using (gasp!) Windows Movie Maker. The music is by the awesomely talented Rob Costlow.

But I'm hearing and reading more and more about video editing on Linux lately. I've tried out Kino once or twice and while it seemed a little alien to me, I'm sure with a little patience and a little effort I could nibble into the stack of DV tapes on my desk that just sits there collecting dust.

Right now I've read or heard about Kino, Diva, Cinelerra, QDvdAuthor, ManDVD, and KDEnlive.

Have you edited video on Linux? What have you used? Any recommendations?

Note: Apologies for the poor quality of the youtube clip. I only had the video in wmv format (which supposedly doesn't convert so well to flash I guess) and I didn't have time - and didn't know how to convert it to mpeg4 or divx which is supposed to work better. If anybody's got tips on that, please let me know.


Working Tablet + GIMP = :)



Back about a week ago, I posted about the trouble I was having getting my Wacom tablet to work correctly with the GIMP. It wasn't moving over the full extents of the screen, and it wasn't getting recognized as an extended input device in the GIMP (which lets you use pressure-sensitivity).

As you can see by the image above, I now have it working. But I almost forgot to post about getting it to work. Thanks to Donncha for sending me a comment on that previous post which reminded me. BTW there are some awesome photos on Donncha's blog, you should check them out.

So here's the story. I cleaned up my xorg.conf file so that any references to serial or tablet-pc based entries in the wacom sections of the file were deleted. I also uninstalled and reinstalled the wacom-tools package as well.

But I'm not sure which (if any) of those things were the problem. My other problem was (and is) is that restarting X after each modification didn't seem to work properly. Normally (for the Ubuntu distro anyway) you hit Ctrl-Backspace to restart X. On my machine, this logs me out, returns me to the GDM login prompt as expected. But on re-logging in, it can never get back to the desktop. I end up stuck at a light blue screen with full mouse movement but no desktop to speak of. The only option left is to reboot.

So being the newbie that I am, I was making changes to my xorg.conf file and then logging out and logging back in. Apparently, this does NOT restart the Xserver which means any of the changes I had made were not 'taking'.

The long and short of it is that I cleaned up the xorg.conf file, reinstalled the wacom-tools package and then the next morning when I started up the machine, the tablet was working fine. The Gimp recognized it and full pressure sensitivity was enabled.

Sorry there was no magical answer here. But I can say that there are several good threads on getting tablet devices to work. If you want to see what my current xorg.conf file looks like, I posted it right here in a message thread on ubuntuforums.org. It seems to work flawlessly for me right now so check it out if you're having problems.

Note: I have a Wacom Graphire3 tablet, a miniature notebook sized MS mouse (for my daughter), and a normal sized mouse, all of which are USB( and all of which are always hooked up and all of which seem to work perfectly now). I'm running Ubuntu Edgy with Beryl installed. If you have a serial model or are using a different distribution or setup your mileage may vary.

Friday, December 01, 2006

OLPC - Why Criticize? And the "Evils" of Computers and Kids

There is some discussion and criticism going on about the One Laptop Per Child program. And while if there's one thing blogs are good for, it's criticism. But you have to wonder sometimes how people rationalize their arguments.

Sure, providing a cheap laptop is not as high a priority as sanitary drinking water and food. No brain surgery degree required there. But what point is there to shooting down a perfectly good idea and project? Does providing a computing tool to people who would otherwise never have it necessarily preclude the work being done by humanitarian agencies to provide safe drinking water? Do you think if most of these people weren't developing the OLPC they'd be doing anything at all? Take what you can get brother! At this stage should we really be waiting for the one and only 'perfect' solution and shooting down every other attempt from some other direction? Can we really afford to do that? Let people contribute in any way they want to contribute. Be glad their doing anything at all.

And then in one of the comments on Jeff Jarvis' blog I read this snippet:

Admittedly, I’m a Luddite parent of kids who go to a Waldorf school, where we still believe in sitting quietly and listening to stories. But I really believe– even though I make my living at a computer– that my young kids (2nd grade and preschool) are getting a lot more out of learning to knit (really!), out of playing on the beach in rain or snow, out of being driven to use their imagination and handle the physical world and interact with each other than they would get, or will get for some years, from a box that’s very good at spoonfeeding information and providing reward cues that make you think you’ve gotten a lot more out of it than you really have.
Whoa! I'm all for getting out there and experiencing the world, natural and otherwise. But to dismiss the computer simply as a box that's good at spoonfeeding info and providing reward cues that make you overestimate your accomplishments is ridiculous.

What makes using the computer (and Internet) as a research tool any different than the once high and mighty intellectual trip to the local library? You search, you read, you consume. Because it's easier, is it somehow less valuable? Since when does reading and learning about things NOT count towards life development? Do you think real life experiences are somehow diminished with the advent of computers? Is one taking time from the other? Or is one able to enhance and complement the other?

Computers are what you make of them. I don't discount the value of trips to the beach (or knitting - actually I was a decent knitter at about 5 yrs of age - don't tell my friends). But I don't think they're mutually exclusive things. One can enhance the other. But that's entirely up to the parents. You find the balance.

If you treat it as a babysitter (as many parents do the TV) you've made your own bed. If you treat it as a tool that makes learning more things more easily, then I feel it can be tremendously valuable. Does it make kids less socially interactive? Does it make them antisocial? Is it a threat to the development of children? Only if parents let it.

I'm of the ilk that thinks too many parents are willing to place the responsibility (or blame) for all these things elsewhere. Anywhere but on themselves. If it's not the school system it's the Internet, or computers or the state of television broadcast standards or something else. Parent's need to realize that THEY are the ones who go furthest in determining how their children grow up.

One look at the throngs of kids hanging out at the malls all day leads me to believe I'm in the minority with that view.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

NaBloPoMo Ends - All Out Of Clever Headlines

So there you have it - 40 odd posts later and National Blog Posting Month has come to an end.

Did I learn anything by doing it? A few simple things:

1. Don't expect things to arrive in your head fully fleshed out. Just plant a little sapling there in the editor and let it grow. You don't have to have it all figured out before sitting down. Further, just because you create a post doesn't mean you have to post it. Sometimes things develop better when you let them stew.

2. It ain't so easy. Not so easy to come up with even semi-interesting stuff every day. Bloggers with several quality posts a day have my respect - but I think they're either employed by their blogging or are serious slackers at work.

3. It is mentally and physically impossible for me to consider consistently blogging on one specific topic area. This is a multi-headed beast that I can't tame. Why should I even try?

4. Traffic just about doubled for the month (but remember, doubling almost nothing leaves you with barely something). Was that all due to the NaBloPoMo Randomizer? Some of it to be sure, but not all of it. Frequent posting definitely helps build traffic if that's your thing. Comment frequency increased slightly as well (from sloth-like all the way up to a snail's pace).

5. While I like writing the odd rant, and posts about blogger navel-gazing far and away get the most comments, I have to say that posts that share knowledge (like a tutorial or the solution to some problem) or even posts that share other sources of knowledge feel the most satisfying to me. It always feels better when I contribute something to the mystical ether other than just my opinion.


Will the post-a-day behaviour continue? I think so, for the most part. There's a certain satisfaction that comes in crafting something - anything. And for me anyway, there's always something new I'm playing with, learning about or willing to opine about.

Rock on NaBloPoMo. You taught me something. :)

Well it's definitely not Miller Time...

Okay... FlickrTime (but the page says FlickerTime) is a neat use of flash. Not terribly useful, but neat nonetheless.

Only one complaint though. The poor choice of font for the title on that page might lead your co-workers to believe it's "F*#ker Time".

:)

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Thinking Skills vs. Doing Skills

Commenting on Scoble's post about the apparent shift to commercial skills-based education in Universities where he questions the role of a university. Mike over at Searching, Searching, Searching comments and asks:

Don’t we need the skills to THINK through the problem?

I wonder whether a mix of the two is not the best solution. Of course it depends on what it is your studying. Not everyone in university is studying in areas that involve rapidly changing information.

That being said, here's my experience:

I earned a university degree in structural engineering, and have been a practising professional engineer for almost 10 years.

After graduating, I worked full time in construction for about a year and a half (which I have on and off since I was 16) and finally found a structural engineering position.

I also teach a structural design course and a construction methods course at a local college part time. So I have seen both the University and College side of things.

I found that my university training, while giving me the theoretical background and 'thinking' tools, left me at the bottom rung when it came to real-life, real-world experience. It was my construction experience which saved me in this regard, not the degree. This practical experience coupled with the education gives you a leg up on others when it comes to solving problems and providing quality design work in my opinion.

I think that while Universities should concentrate on developing the 'thinking', they shouldn't forget about the actual 'doing' either. They could use a shot of practicality in my view (Co-op programs are a great start but only available in some programs.).

Likewise, I think Colleges should put some more emphasis on developing the 'thinking' skills. I try to impart those in the courses I teach, but make no mistake, it's all about delivering the goods, in the right quantity, in the allotted time. I make time to discuss the why's and not only the how's, but I can't necessarily say the same for other instructors.

Clearly universities and colleges could both do with a little change.

Inkscape - Simple Tutorial On Creating A Button

While noodling around a little more with Inkscape, I thought about doing up a quick example just to give an idea of how simple it is to do neat things with it. So here I'm going to create a nice blue 'rubberized' looking button with an inlaid green glassy-type button. What we'll get at the end is this:


First I started by creating a simple blue filled rectangle without any visible outline like this:

Then, by double-clicking the rectangle and Ctrl-dragging the adjustment grips I created rounded corners:


I then selected the shape and hit Ctrl-D to create a duplicate of the object. I then changed the fill colour of the duplicate to be a light blue. Also, I applied an opaque to fully transparent gradient over the left end of this light-blue rectangle. This is done by selecting the object, clicking the gradient tool and adjusting the gradient grips to suit your taste. Here's the result so far. Obviously, the lower object is the one with the lightened colour and gradient adjustment:


Putting the light blue object directly over the original rounded rectangle gives you this:


Not bad so far. Now for the green inlaid button. First I created a simple green-filled shape with the Star button, making some adjustments to the shape controls. I chose to hide the outline of the object as well. Here's what I came up with for a shape. You could use just about anything you want for a starting shape:



At this stage, I duplicated the shape you see above and moved it to the side. I then created an outline with the Bezier curve tool. I'm going to use this shape to generate a 'shine' on the green button. Here's the green shape, it's duplicate and the path I'm going to use:


I then selected the star on the right along with the path-shape and used the Path->Intersection command to generate a resulting object as shown below:


Then I selected the resulting partial star shape and adjusted its fill colour to be a very light green. I also adjusted the overall opacity of this shape to be about 50%. Here's the adjusted object:

Overlaying the lighter shape on top of the darker one gives a nice button with kinda of a shine to it:


In this next step, I took the full star object (the dark one), duplicated it, and moved it over the right. On this duplicate, I turned off the fill, turned on the outline, set the outline thickness to something like 3 and then applied a gradient on the outline itself. The gradient went from a dark blue on the upper left to a light blue on the lower right. It's tough to explain in words - better that you see the result here:

The outline itself is created this way to make the final green button look inlaid into the rubber. You could probably create this outline directly on the darker green star object without creating a duplicate. But separating it makes it easier to see what I did. Now overlaying the gradient outline on top of the shape gives this:

Now all that's left to do is plunk this button on top of the blue button we created in the first three steps and we've got our final inlaid button!

I am no graphic designer by any stretch, but it's really not that hard to create attractive graphic objects with Inkscape. The gradient features along with transparency can really open up some possibilities. Once you create something you like you can re-use those concepts to create other things (like that dark-green, light-green concept to create a glassy effect). You see that all over the place. It's easy to do and can yield quite nice effects.

I hope you found this somewhat useful. If you've got any suggestions on how to do it better, quicker or more efficiently, please let me know in the comments. I'm still an Inkscape newbie and always looking for good pointers.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Now that's Damn Interesting...

There are still gems out there on the global interweb. I just found one today via a Digg story ( Do humans explode in the vacuum of space?). It's called Damn Interesting, and it's .. er .. damn interesting!

Don't be fooled by the gruesome subject matter of the example I cited. There are sections relating to History, Nature, Mysteries, Alternative Energy and Medical Science among other things.

Do you know what the Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon is? Maybe you were just thinking about it the other day? :)

...definitely going in my list of bookmarks.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Tablet Woes + GIMP = Frustration

I haven't had a chance to edit many photos lately - too busy fooling around with Inkscape and trying to write a blog post every day in November I guess ;)

However I finally made some time and brought up the GIMP (the Linux equivalent to Photoshop for all intents and purposes). I quickly found out that my Graphire3 tablet wasn't being recognized or at least recognized properly. I figured it was a result of my upgrade to Ubuntu Edgy Eft a while back or maybe my installation of Beryl threw my settings for a loop, and set about to correct the problem.

Well, it's 3 days later and still no luck. I've read, re-read and re-re-read several message threads about the subject on ubuntuforums.org and I must have edited my xorg.conf file six ways from Sunday - and yet still nothing.

Actually, 'nothing' is not really the correct term. The pointer moves, but only over a limited rectangular portion of the screen. And to make matters worse, the device is not recognized as an 'extended input device' in the GIMP which means pressure sensitivity is not enabled. If you've ever used one of these tablets for photo editing, you'd know that pressure sensitivity is what makes it infinitely better than a mouse for photo editing.

Anyhoo, rest assured that I will fix the problem come hell or high water. And when I do I will undoubtedly post about it.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Flushed Away, Snack Bar Ripoff, and Inept Parenting

We went out to see a matinee flick this afternoon. The intent was to see Happy Feet but when we got there we saw that it was rated PG. Rather than waste 30 bucks to have to pull my almost-five year old out of their mid-way through the picture, we opted to see Flushed Away instead. It was G-Rated and the characters looked similar to the last Wallace & Grommit flick we saw (and similar to those in Chicken Run) both of which I liked. So we had made our choice.

Three main comments on the outing:

1. I absolutely loved the movie. It was like the vast majority of kiddy movies these days in that it had a good action packed story with enough grown-up references thrown in to keep the parents entertained. Incidentally, Curious George is the only film I've paid money for in recent memory that didn't do this - although I still loved that one too. Flushed Away was unique in that it had a real UK bent to it. It seemed more aimed at the UK/European market than the US. Refreshing really. The humour was top notch, very clever and witty. Even the odd bit of toilet humour (literally) was done with intelligence. The top bad guy was a large frog (with a penchant for Royal Family memorabilia) and his cousin's band of French Ninjas (frogs as well) was absolutely priceless. Very very much fun. I highly recommend it. I will definitely purchase it when it comes out, possibly more for me than for my daughter. :)

2. While this is nothing new, I have to say that paying over 12 bucks for a regular Coke, small popcorn and small bottle of water is absolute highway robbery. You can rest assured that come winter, the coat pockets and my wife's purse will be stocked with the requisite snacks and bottled water before we arrive at the theatre. I felt raped walking away from that snack counter.

3. Listen people. If you're going to wait in line at the snack bar with several offspring in tow, then either take control of them, or get some help. I had a 3 year old behind me inexplicably grab the seat of my pants (!) A quick turn around yielded only a meek and embarrassed smile from the parent supposedly in control of this pack. No apology was made of course. To further exacerbate the situation, after 10 minutes of standing in line I finally found myself at the counter with 4 strange kids wriggling around right beside me (two on each side). My wife and daughter were already in the theatre waiting for Daddy to make the snack run. Now don't get me wrong, I know kids are excited when they're at the movies, but I have a thing about instilling some instruction in my daughter about respecting people's space. You wait in line, you wait your turn. You don't go jumping around, bumping into people and pushing your way up beside someone in front. Maybe it's just me, but I see this behaviour all the time. If you met me you'd know I'm all for having fun (I'm the Dad sitting playing dolly's with his daughter in the Doctor's waiting room, or supplying just enough ticklish touch to generate fits of 4 year old belly-laughter in the shoe store), but I also hold sacred the job of defining what's right and wrong, both by instruction and by example. Why do so many others fail to do the same?


So there you have it: great movie, ridiculous prices and inept parenting skills. We ran the gamut this afternoon.

If there are any parents out there who've seen Happy Feet, please let me know if you liked it and what it was like. While our almost-five year old daughter is not exactly shielded from the realities of life, I'd like not to spend 30 bucks and have her traumatized. That can wait until she's 7. :)


 

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Beryl - Quinn Storm Interview - Huh?

I've heard mention several times in several different places that Quinn Storm (the lead developer of Beryl - a composition manager for Linux recently forked off of the Compiz project) was female. In fact, the TLLTS boys were supposed to interview "her" this past Wednesday but scheduling problems nixed that.

While doing a search on all things Beryl, I came across this video with an interview of Quinn at a conference in Mountainview CA.

In the words of Austin Powers, "That's a man Baby!". The power of the pronoun.

Linux podcasters (and I think Leo Laporte did it once too) - explain yourselves...  :)

Friday, November 24, 2006

Listening Habits

As I've written about a couple of times in the past, I'm hooked on podcasts and there doesn't seem to be any let-up in sight. I burn mp3 CD-RW's and they fuel my 50 minute commute each way to and from work. I probably end up listening to about 3-5 hours of podcasts a week. Right now I'm fairly satisfied with the podcasts I'm subscribed to, but there are a whole whack of them out there. So there are likely quite a few that I would love but just haven't heard of.

I thought I'd share my listening habits with you, and by all means give me your comments and recommendations on shows that you think I might like, but don't currently know about. My interests wax and wane like the moon so some podcasts will arrive on my list and others might depart from time to time. So there's usually always a space for new things.
 
Here's a list of the podcasts that are currently making regular rounds in my car's mp3-cd deck (in alphabetical order):

43 Folders
60 Minutes Podcast
7th Son (Podcast Novel)
Diggnation
Digital Photography Tips from the Top Floor
Floss Weekly (Free, Libre And Open Source Software)
Gillmor Gang
Inside The Net (now called "Net @ Night")
KFI (The Tech Guy)
Linux Reality
Lug Radio (a Linux Podcast from the UK)
Matt's Today in History
The Bitterest Pill
The Digital Story (A Photography Podcast)
The Linux Action Show!
The Linux Link Tech Show
The LottaLinuxLinks Podcast
This Week In Tech
Web Design Podcast from Boagworld

And a few that are in my aggregator's subscription list but are not quite 'regular' releases:

Digital Flotsam
Morning Coffee Notes
RanchoCast
ReelReviewsRadio

Have you got some suggestions? What are *you* listening to?



Thursday, November 23, 2006

Handy Tip - Avoid Being an Idiot..



Here's a handy tip for any newbies to the Blogger-in-beta engine: Don't be an idiot like Yours Truly.

I just realized that you need to put commas between your post tags. And if you do something like ..er.. I dunno.. use like.. uhh.. SPACES instead of COMMAS, it will take each term you entered and skooch 'em all up into one long post tag.

Live and learn I guess. If you spot any retarded looking post labels on past posts, it's just me. I'll fix 'em when I can.

Raising My Game

It is becoming apparent to me that I've got to raise my game.

While I have enough trouble managing my own (pitifully uninteresting) personal schedule, I'm bound and determined to do a better job with my progeny. Does it warrant a trip to Office Depot for the ubiquitous fridge-mounted whiteboard calendar? I'm beginning to think so.

If it's not Pizza Day, it's Pyjama Day, or Hot Dog Day, or Gym Day, or our turn for Snack Day, or a Field Trip... Just once I'd like to remember some important school date (and any date that is important to my daughter is important to me folks) more than 12 hours before it's upon us.

I'm honestly not sure if I was born with the scheduling gene, it just comes to me with such forced difficulty that it just *can't* be natural to me.

And while I've got my priorities straight enough to not *really* get flustered with myself when I send her to school with a full lunch on a 'Pizza Day', I also want to imprint the message that 'yes, preparedness is a good thing'.

Although we have set very practical limits on the amount of extra-curricular activities (there *has* to be time for just plain fun after all), winter enrollment in skating already done, and swimming and possibly early spring gymnastics are on the horizon. In other words, the schedule will not be getting any more empty in the coming months and years.

Clearly I have to raise my game.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

More Inkscape Fun...

Participating in the logo discussion for the LinuxReality podcast over the past couple of weeks got me using Inkscape again. (BTW, Chess ended up going with one of the puzzle piece logos I submitted - check out the site banner over there. It was great fun discussing and coming up with that logo.)

Inkscape really is a full featured vector-based editing program. Being vector based, it lets you do a lot of things that you just can't do in a bitmap editor like Photoshop, The GIMP or Paintshop Pro. One of the things I've been playing with since trying to come up with logo ideas is using hand doodles, my scanner, and Inkscape to experiment and have some fun. Here I'll illustrate the basic process I've been monkeying around with.

First I scan the post-it note into bitmap form (in my case .jpg):


I then import the jpg file into Inkscape. Once it's in there I select it and then choose Path->Trace Bitmap. This gives a dialog with 5 different methods of creating a vector object from a bitmap. In this case I used the 'Image Brightness' method and got a fairly faithful vector representation of the original sketch. It creates a path of nodes making up the shape of my sketch.

Then I selected the resulting path object and used the Simplify Tool (Ctrl-L) which well ...er... simplifies it. It rounds corners and makes it slightly more organic looking. You can repeatedly apply Ctrl-L and watch the effects. The image below shows the effect of only one Simplify application.

After simplifying I created a rectangle matching the background colour of my blog and placed it under the simplified path object.


Of course there are a ton of other neat things you can do with Inkscape (and a ton of better sketches you could work with) but it does illustrate some of the flexibility and fun of using a vector based application like Inkscape. And it's currently available for both Linux and Windows (with a native Mac version coming very soon apparently as well), so everyone can join in the fun.

DSL Modem Trouble - Any Clues?

For the last couple of days I've been having a problem with my ADSL modem. Maybe somebody out there can give me some tips on fixing it. Here is a description of the symptoms:

I left the modem powered off all day yesterday. When I got home I turned on the modem and the PC and booted up. Everything works fine - for about 1-2 hours. Upon turning on the modem the ADSL light blinks slowly, then quickly and then stays on steady once it has synched. This is the normal behaviour.

The problem is that after about 1 or 2 hours the modem starts to lose sync. It appears to lose the connection and then the ADSL light goes through it's slow-blink, fast-blink routine and reconnects. It then seems to achieve connectivity for about 2 minutes and then loses it again and reconnects. It repeats this on and off every couple of minutes. Occasionally it isn't able to reconnect at all unless I power down and then power up the modem.

I've tried powering off the modem for a minute or so and reconnecting but this only serves to give me about 5 minutes of connection time before it goes into the 2 minute intermittent connectivity behaviour again.

Very frustrating. I've not had any other problems with this modem.

The only other clue might be the power outage we had a couple of days back. Could this have damaged the modem somehow?

Any help would be very much appreciated. I'm afraid to call my ISP support line since I think as soon as I tell them I'm running Linux they'll tell me they don't support it and won't help me out.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Innocent and Not Yet Assimilated

It was a typically 'not quite as lazy as I'd like' Sunday morning. My daughter on the bed, watching TV and waiting for Daddy to get showered-up so we could be on our way to Grandma's. She's watching Backyardigans or something similar. Suddenly, she calls out "Daddy, something's wrong with the TV...". I peek my head into the room and ask her what the problem is. She says, 'My show keeps stopping and then ... see? There it goes again Daddy!'.

What my daughter was experiencing was a broadcast TV commercial.

Normally she's always watching TreehouseTV, CBC or PBS. None of the three show any commercials in the middle of their shows and even then, only network promotional commercials between programs (or whatever it is you call it when network advertise their own programming). In other words, my daughter hasn't seen any (or at least very very few) 'Barbie', 'Polly Pocket', 'My Little Pony', or thankfully 'Bratz' commercials in her first 4.5 years of life. That particular morning we had it tuned to CBS or NBC or some such. I explained that it was a commercial, that I thought it was annoying and she'd be better off if I switched the channel. She offered no argument. ;)

One benefit of this has been the fact that we can routinely peruse the toy aisles at the local department store without cries of "I want this" or "Please please please get me that". Sure, it won't last much longer, but I'm enjoying it while I can.

Of course my daughter already has at least a dozen Barbies (mostly gifts or fruits of my mother-in-law's penchant for Saturday morning garage sales) and she's quite familiar with all the big franchised products when we pass them in the aisle. But there isn't that intense desire for specific toys yet. If there is a desire, it is not yet strong enough to warrant whining about it - thankfully.

I had simply forgotten about the intensely focused marketing that happens on regular broadcast TV during children's programming. So long ago are the days when I drooled over Smash-Up-Derby, Stretch Armstrong or the latest and greatest Tyco-TRX racetrack setup (I was the proud owner of a Super-Duper Double Looper no less!).

I look back at those days fondly, but I have no sense (nostalgic or otherwise) that my daughter is missing anything. There's still plenty of time for her to be coaxed into buying and begging the latest and greatest things by the great advertising machine that is modern media.

For now, she is not yet assimilated. And that, is a truly wonderful thing.

Monday, November 20, 2006

NaBloPoMo Disaster Avoided.. Phew...

Yikes! Power went out tonight at 7:50pm in the middle of little one's bedtime story. After about an hour of 'fun with flashlights' we decide to get her over to my parents (10 minutes away and fully powered). Getting back here at 10:15pm I thought for sure the problem would be fixed. I arrive back to find total and complete darkness.

Suddenly I realize that a cold morning shower is NOT the top concern. My mind scatters as I try to comprehend the fact that I won't be able to make my NaBloPoMo post for today!!! Am I really going to find myself in the same boat as OmegaMom?? Is this the end for our unlikely hero? (me).

I set my watch alarm for 23:45. Fifteen minutes should be plenty of time to save my blogging soul should they get the problem fixed in time. I resign myself to sleep and was just dozing off when, at 10:52 technology springs back to life all around me. Yay!!

Running around to turn off all the lights left on (it isn't going to be ME to blame for frying the recently fixed system with a power surge) I finally kick the kettle to life and sit myself in front of the keyboard.

Disaster avoided. And perhaps more importantly, no worry about searching for a posting topic! :)

Good night.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Taoist Monks, Blood, Snow-Shoes - Ahh Stress...

In this age of hyperactive personal productivity, telecommuting, and the always-on 24/7 work week, there is a lot of talk about stress and how to deal with it.

Instead of giving you the latest Feng Shui-43 Folder-Taoist monk idealogy (you can get that just about *anywhere* on the net these days!) I thought it'd be interesting to give you an alternate view of stress.

From where I come from (an engineering background), stress is a force applied over an area. It's more popular nickname might be 'pressure'. When you fill up your tire with air you measure the pressure in 'psi'. That's 'pounds per square inch' - a force distributed over an area. Pretty basic huh?

What's better is when you realize how fundamental the idea of stress (or pressure) really is:

Stress = Force / Area

Ever walk in deep snow? If you've got your normal winter boots on, you'll quickly find yourself sinking in up to your knees . How is it that when you put on a pair of snow shoes you can walk on top of that snow? Stress baby! More precisely the reduction of it. The force (your body weight) hasn't changed, but the area you spread that force over has increased. So if stress is a force divided by an area, by increasing the area you're reducing the stress! Snow of course can only take so much stress before it compresses/collapses/fails, so by wearing big wide snow shoes you increase the area, reduce the stress and don't fail or crush the snow (as much as you normally would).

How about a more simple, involving example:

Step 1: Take a nice sharp pencil.

Step 2: Jab it at your arm.

Step 3: Remove said pencil - swear like a trucker - and mop up any blood.

Step 4: Next, take the blunt end of a wooden spoon handle.

Step 5: Jab it at your arm.

Step 6: Smile and notice that you're not swearing like a trucker, nor mopping up blood.

Why is it that the sharp pencil hurts so much while the blunt wooden spoon handle does not?

Assuming you applied the same jabbing force in each case, the contact area of the pencil is much much smaller than that of the wooden spoon handle and hence the stress applied by the pencil is much much higher than that applied by the blunt spoon handle. The larger the contact area, the lower the stress.

This basic concept of stress is put to use all around us everyday. Building footings are designed with this concept of stress at their core (think concrete snow-shoes people!). Bridges, buildings, cars, airplanes, machinery and a multitude of other things rely on the basic principle of stress in much of their design.

So when you think of stress, don't just think of Taoist monks and aromatherapy. Think of blood, pencils and snow-shoes as well. :)


P.S. Wow. I actually put an equation into a blog post. I've really got to get out more. ;)

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Loosing the Battle Against Old Age

I consider myself a fairly 'with it' kinda guy. I think I'm fairly adept at staying in tune with what's going on with those several years my junior. Sometimes it gets a bit wacky (for instance I love to throw the odd urban slang term into conversations just to surprise people... it's the shiznit. Da bomb so to speak.).

Of course if you met me you'd quickly realize I'm about as far away from urban street culture as they come. But being aware of all stuff youthful (and not necessarily engaging in it) has always been subliminally high on my priority list. I think it stems from a fear of growing old, or perhaps more accurately a fear of becoming a 'curmudgeon'.

But alas, at times I find myself inexorably drawn down that path. In the recent past I have noticed my disdain for retail clerks who don't know what to do when the price for something is $8.34 and I hand them a 10-er along with 35 cents. I've been told repeatedly that I must have mistaken the price, and have to explain that I do it so I can get back a Toonie (Canuck-speak for our two-dollar coin) and the one cent is my gift to them :).

In the last few months however my focus has shifted to grammar and spelling skills. I'm a fan of Digg.com. I find some of the stories interesting and many times I find the comments even more entertaining. But I am absolutely astonished at the frequency of incorrect spelling and grammar on that site. And it's not the only one.

Okay. I can forgive to's for too's in blog postings till the cow's come home. The ubiquitous 'teh' for 'the' almost goes unnoticed. But "they're/their/there" mix-ups are really starting to grate on my nerves. And reading about how somebody is about to "loose the game" get's me grinding my teeth (something I haven't done since the age of seven!).

I could go on and on. But I won't because I'm hoping that you dear reader, know exactly what I'm talking about. Now am I immune to it? Likely not. You will find the odd mistake in my posts. I don't use spell checking anywhere (I feel it's a cop-out) and when I'm unsure about a word's spelling, a quick Google search with the "define:" keyword usually comes to the rescue, not only giving me a good chance at confirming a spelling, but also enlightening me to some useful synonyms as well.

Put bluntly, I am NOT a grammar expert. I throw sentences together like a monkey throws poo, but at least I *try* to have aim. A lot of the stuff I read looks like the person wasn't even trying at all. Where is the pride in your work people? Whether it's a comment on Digg or a blog post, don't for a minute think that it will get missed. In this little sphere of text-based technology your writing skills can define you, or defame you. Please people, just take 15 seconds to read over what you type before hitting that 'submit button'.

Now doesn't this read like the ranting of a closet curmudgeon? Next thing you know I'll be prefacing every post with "Back in the day.....". Hmmph.

Word to your mutha.

Friday, November 17, 2006

The Virtues of Virtualization

Despite my utter happiness at running Linux at home, there are still a couple of windows-only apps that I sometimes need to run. They're work related and as much as I try to avoid it, there are times when I need to run them. Right now I am forced to reboot into XP to use those apps every once in a blue moon. I think I may have found a better solution (other than not running them at all).

Today at work (on my XP-Pro machine) I took a stab at downloading the free VMWare Player and also downloaded an Ubuntu Dapper 'virtual appliance' image (there are lots of free images on the site). Within minutes of finishing the downloads I was running Linux inside the player and suffice it to say I was quite impressed!

Doing a little more searching I came across a link to a page describing how to get XP running on a virtual machine on a Linux box. While I didn't have time to do a heck of a lot of reading up on it (I *was* at work after all) it seems that the open-source QEMU virtual machine can do it and by setting up a Samba share you can even facilitate the movement of files back and forth into and out of the virtual session.

Now I know even less about Samba than I do about virtual machines, so when I do get the chance to set it up here at home it may take a while to get it into a usable state for me. But as always (and many times to my detriment), I'm up to the challenge.

Yet another technical challenge awaits. Does it ever end? :)

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Great Luck For You and Your Friends....BAHHHH!!

After more than 6 years of complaining, why is it that people in my office still send me frickin' chain letter emails. Does this mean harsh email replies in red, 48 point bold font demanding that they "never send me this sh*# again" don't actually work? I guess so.

Anybody got any better solutions?

PS - DON'T forward this info to 10 friends and you'll have great luck!!


Wednesday, November 15, 2006

They Always Know

If you're a father...no wait.. a parent... no... actually anybody at all who wants to read a powerful blog post - then read this one.

From sticky note to Inkscape


A week or so ago I posted about using Inkscape to submit some logo ideas for the LinuxReality podcast. I've been noodling around with it over the last week or so and I'm mesmorized at how easy it is to do really neat looking things with it.

One of the things I submitted involved a guy leaning against something. I scratched out an idea at work on a yellow sticky note to store the idea. When I got home it was dead easy to scan it in and import the bitmap image into Inkscape where I easily traced it and added some gradients and outlines. It's by no means perfect but it's dead easy.

Incidentally the pencil drawing packs much more character than the vector art does don't you think?

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Long term housekeeping

One of the first things I intend to start doing is going back and tagging or labeling my past posts to impart some badly needed categorization. It'll take some time since it looks like I've got to back and edit each one (unless someone's got a great timesaving tip for me!). But I'll be keeping it simple with pretty standard tags like 'photography', 'linux', 'family', etc... Keep an eye out for those labels. You might actually find something useful! :)

Update: I just found you can apply labels to posts in a similar way to Gmail, just ticking off posts and applying labels to them while building up a label list. Nice! Maybe this won't take so long after all. Apologies if anyone gets duplicate posts in their aggregator along the way.

beta.blogger.woohoo.com baby!

Woohoo!!! I finally found the time to back up my blog (using HTTrack) and you, dear reader, have the privilege of reading the very first post I've written since switching to the new Blogger Beta!

Do I notice a huge difference? Well, not yet (it's only been about 2 minutes since it switched), but you will hopefully find a tag...er 'label' or two to this post. Something that Blogger(tm) bloggers were ashamedly not yet able to do easily.

After backing up my blog, I logged into beta.blogger.com and in two simple steps transferred my blog over. It took about 5 minutes for the email to arrive notifying me of the successful switch. I know OmegaMom was unsuccessful at making the switch a week or so ago, maybe she should try again.

So over the next little while I'll see how much improved this new engine actually is.

Onward and upwards!

Damn you Doc Searls...

Damn you Doc Searls!

How dare you point me to a website clearly saying things like:

"Your photos. Your words. Put them together and tell your story."

and then that site has the unmitigated gall to follow up with:

"Unlimited storage. No Ads. For a free account sign up now."

Furthermore I was positively incensed to read a Terms of Service and Privacy Policy that were entirely too clear and understandable for the average person .

I mean, where in the hell do they get off doing stuff like this?? Uploading and downloading my own hi-res images and controlling who has access to them? Entirely too functional. Fooey!

Damn you Doc Searls! Don't you know I have enough interesting things on my plate? Don't you know I have actual work to do? Damn you and your insufferably valuable recommendations. Damn you and your sunsets...


Phew! Now that that's all out of my system watch for some Tabblo links in upcoming blogposts... ;)









60 Years of Heroes

Time magazine has listed Linus Torvalds in it's 60 Years of Heroes. Yep. He's right there in the 'Rebels & Leaders' list along side such people as Nelson Mandela, Lech Walesa, Mikhail Gorbachev and Margaret Thatcher.

One of my immediate thoughts was that Richard M. Stallman is equally deserving of being on this list, but is far too politically unpleasant a character to include.

One of the best comments on the Digg discussion thread surrounding this article was by gaijin who wrote:

"It seems to me that Torvalds had an idea that grew into a vision, whereas, Stallman had a vision that spawned many ideas. I'm just glad that the computer world has both of them and that they both have had the commitment and drive to push their visions forward... Now let's lobby Time to give Richard his props. "


I agree.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Don't forget the important part..

Listening to the latest Gillmor Gang I had to smile when Doc said he enjoyed the most recent Reboot conference more than the last one because it was less of the same old faces. It sounds like more than a few of the gang members are growing weary of the Web 2.0 onrush.

Geez, just when Kent was able to get within striking distance of the web conference circuit it starts going out of style! :)

Of course Jason thinks it's all about the money - you can't fault him for being consistent. Doc and Hugh don't agree. I sure hope they're right. In all this rush to capitalize on the content (us) users generate the 'user' doesn't seem to have any vested interest in the whole money-making movement.

Sure it's interesting to read and hear about the first 100 startups scrambling to get acquired, but it doesn't take long to pass right through 'comical' and onto 'boredom'.

The important bit of this whole online environment is the two-way nature of what is being built. Open communication, access to, and the freedom of information is the really empowering thing. The stories of companies capitalizing on it is the glamourous part, but by no means the heart of the issue.

In 10 years time we'll call it Bubble 2.0 or whatever other annoying buzzword we want to apply, but the progress we make as a society as a result of all this technology will be the truly important part.


Sunday, November 12, 2006

Another Post about Posting

At the risk of being a little too "meta" in my posting, one result of trying to post every day in November is thinking a lot about what to post and perhaps thinking even more about how I do that. Phew..

If I'm lucky, something will cross my path that immediately signals itself as a potential blog post. More often than not though, I sit in front of my editor blankly waiting for something to trickle down through my fingertips. Something that continually frustrates me is that my mind is constantly zipping back and forth between entirely different things. I'm notoriously scatterbrained in my interests (hence the title of my blog). So one day it might be tech-related, another time photo related, or writing related or family related or... well, you get the picture.

I do jot down notes on occasion but far less often that I'd like to. I marvel sometimes at bloggers who consistently write quality posts on a single focused topic. Is it that they have bucket loads of material just waiting in the wings? Or do they generate things on a daily basis? Even more, do they have varied interests like I do and just choose not to post on those 'other' things?

I'm going to shift over to the new Blogger engine in the next little while (after I back up this monstrosity - thanks Omegamom for the info) and suffice it to say, the new post labeling (categories to most folks) feature will be put to good use. It will go some way to alleviate the guilt I feel about people reading a good post about Linux one day and then coming back to find a post about parenting or photography the next. I'm sure the format of this blog has not lent itself well to building subscriptions. Maybe that will change. Maybe not.

Anyway, if you'd like to share your posting methodology, do so in the comments to this post or blog about it yourself and link back here so I can find it.


Saturday, November 11, 2006

Black Sheep of The Family....

Here I am trying to find something halfway interesting to write about each and every day of November, and my brother-in-law finally posted again to his blog after an absence of 1 year and 9 days!!

What shocks me the most is that he was able to remember the password. :)

I'm not sure if any of you out there has a family member that blogs. My brother in law is the only one in my family and he is by all accounts not a 'techie' and views his blog more as a low maintenance web site. I'm sure he doesn't have a clue what RSS or a feed aggregator is. But still, he remembered that password and sat down to pound away a post for posterity.

As I posted about before I'm kinda glad people I know aren't reading what I write. Part of that might come from the fact that most members of my family would never consider sitting down and writing anything at all, never mind a little tidbit each and every day.

Do you have writers or bloggers in your family? Does it make things easier for you in terms of what you post about and who's reading it?

PS - If you're so inclined, check out my brother-in-law's blog post and leave a comment if you like. You never know how a comment or two can get someone started. Maybe then he won't wait another year and nine days to post again. ;)


Friday, November 10, 2006

Kent's Close Encounters

Kent Newsome has a great post about being at the same location as the Web 2.0 conference and meeting some of the people he's blogged about in the past.

While sadly Kent seems to be a little bored with blogging lately I wonder if meeting all of those people will affect what (or who) he writes about. And perhaps more importantly how he writes it. Is it a shot to claim it will affect his blogging? I don't think so.

It's easy for us to lay into someone in a blog post. I don't do it very often but I've done it. And I know way back in my head somewhere is the assumption that I will never meet that person. It doesn't mean I start name-calling and attacking but it *does* give me a little too much freedom to write things. Honestly, I think it would be difficult for me to be anything but nice writing about someone after having a favourable personal conversation with them. But I think that's a good thing.

Letting personal interaction affect your writing might not make for an exciting blogosphere if you're a fan of the hit and run blog post. But if you're aim is to turn the whole thing into a conversation, then encounters like Kent had are vital to achieving it.


Thursday, November 09, 2006

Linux Reality and Open Source Vector Graphics Applications

I've been participating in an ongoing thread over in the LinuxReality forums lately. LR is a great weekly podcast by Chess Griffin which is aimed at the new linux user (like me). Recently Chess was pondering for a change in the logo graphic that he's currently using and there are a few people posting some ideas for discussion there. If you want to read the thread you can check it out here.

Anyway, as part of that discussion someone brought Xara Xtreme to my attention. This is a vector graphics application recently ported to Linux. I dabble with Inkscape now and again and love it. Xara has been around for 10 years in the Windows space and is supposed to be even more powerful than Inkscape.

I'm no graphics expert as it is, and I'm likely using about 10% of what Inkscape can do so Xara would likely be overkill for me. I thought it was worth mentioning since I'd never heard of it before and anyone out there with a penchant for graphic design might find it quite useful.

Also note that they sell versions to the Windows market but are providing the Linux version as open source, for free.

Remember, I've never tried it myself, but if you try it or already use it, your opinions would be much appreciated.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Negative Influences

So this is where it starts. Today was the first day that our daughter ever did anything remotely wrong at school since it started back in September. Now mind you she's not yet 5, so anything she would possibly do is way off on the 'minor' end of things. Turns out she said something slightly cross at someone and the teacher thought it such a break from character for her that it beared mentioning.

No big deal of course. But the bigger deal was that it was prefaced with something that maybe a lot of first time parents dread hearing: 'I think she might be a little too easily swayed by other's bad behaviour.'. After chatting about it with my daughter later on it turns out that she was copying what another slightly older new arrival in her class was doing and saying. Over the last week and a half, our daughter has regaled us with tales of this 'new' girl's penchant for getting in trouble. Y'know, rolling around on the floor, not listening to the teacher, even having to call her mom to pick her up on one occasion.

Ahh.. negative influences. Something you can't avoid, and something you thought might actually escape your dearest little darling. No such luck it seems.

I remember getting a report card back in 6th grade and being *deeply* offended that it contained a comment that read simply: "Richard has a tendency to keep up with the Jones's.". Upon getting that tidbit deciphered by my mom, I was hurt. It offended me that my teacher of all people did not think I could make good and bad decisions all on my own. You laugh, but it did offend me. My pride in making independent decisions for myself meant a lot to me. Perhaps my teacher was right at the time. I'm not sure. But hurt it did.

The question is now, how to foster and grow that independence in our daughter. The core idea of knowing right from wrong is critical. Making mistakes and bad decisions is part of life, but making them on your own is important.

I remember my mom saying a few years back that a little cheeky talk back is a good thing. It shows you've got the confidence to speak your mind and not blindly follow, letting someone else make the decisions for you. I agree except that it's key to develop that sense of balance where she knows when to listen and obey (like in a crowded parking lot) and when to forge out on her own.

Any thoughts?

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Shoe Laces, Deli Meats and Typewriter Ribbon Oh My!

Sometimes I think that maybe there is a finite amount of good information from which to cull from the blogosphere. A while back I noted that I had unsubscribed from BoingBoing (among others). Partly it was the overwhelming volume of posts and partly it was that more and more of the posts were just too 'out there', just plain non-useful or simply not for my tastes.

I'm hoping that one of my longtime favourite subscriptions Lifehacker hasn't taken up the cause. It has me worried with the recent DIY Cassette Tape Wallet post. Call me crazy, but I personally see no value lifehacking-wise in this specific project. I'm afraid of finding posts that beckon me to 'Look at this desk blotter weaved entirely out of old Typewriter Ribbons! ' or bear witness to  'A hipster PDA created solely from shoe laces and deli meat!'.

Surely I'm wrong. But you never know.

PS - if you do see either of those items appear in your feed reader, remember where you read it first... ;)