Saturday, April 28, 2007


We're heading out for a super-mini vacation down to Niagara Falls this weekend. As cheesy as it might sound to some, the Falls are only an hour and a half away from me and they're spectacular despite the tourist-y cheese. My daughter hasn't been to see them since she was a few months old so it'll be fun for her too.

Besides, with a nice hotel room and pool facilities, it'll be a much needed recharge before the work week begins again on Monday.

Who knows, I might actually get to do a little photography while I'm at it. I haven't had the chance to even pick up the camera lately. :(

Things are warming up nicely so I likely won't get a photo similar to what you see up at the top of this post. ;) - I believe it was taken in 1911 when it was so cold it actually froze over .

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Html email stationary, How I hate thee - let me count the ways...

Okay. Html email programs such as Outlook have been in heavy use for what must be more than a decade already. At what point do people realize that using html stationary backgrounds for their emails achieves the exact opposite of the intended effect?

Do you really think it looks more professional when you send me email on some cheesy stationary? Every background I've ever seen immediately reminds me of the horrible wallpapers that came with Windows95/98 — the most markedly horrible of which had to be the 'bubbles' wallpaper in all its 2 colour, continuously tiled glory.

And what bothers me is that I'm seeing it more and more lately. Is it just me or do we have to stomp this out before it proliferates?

I scroll down past a well-written, perfectly valid business-related email and almost expect to see flashing unicorns or animated gifs of dancing babies (don't get me started!) at the bottom.

I betcha Jean Teasdale (one of my absolute favourite reads at just loves email stationary. Just look at her site!

Phew I feel better now.


3D Desktop for Win? Not quite hotness...

During a quick lunchtime scan of my feeds, this post about a 3D virtual desktop app for MS-Windows caught my eye. I have to use XP-Pro at work and one of the things I miss most as compared to my Ubuntu box at home, is the lack of virtual desktop support and the sweetness that is Beryl/Compiz.

I tried out the Yod'm app they mention and looked at Dexpot as well. And after giving those a go, I have a much bigger appreciation for what the guys doing Beryl/Compiz have achieved. It is so much more natural, intuitive, stable and smooth than what I see in the above offerings.

That being said, I take nothing away from these guys. There is a huge potential market of Windows users that could benefit from good virtual desktop functionality - I'm surprised that there aren't more well-known attempts at achieving it.

But as it stands, I'm not satisfied enough with these apps to put them into use here at work. It's less kludgy for me to just use Alt-Tab and be at the ready with WinKey+D to get to my desktop when things get completely overcrowded.

Yes, yes I know that the Mac has Expose (and more recently Spaces) but they've made enough profit lately that I don't have to even mention them here do I? ;)

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Spam blog? Are you kidding me Blogger(tm)?

Creating my post for my 9th Inkscape screencast, I found out that for some reason Blogger has identified my blog as a spam blog and locked it. I can write posts (like I'm doing right now), save them as drafts, but can't publish them.

I have no idea how they identified this site as a spam blog. I don't think I've posted anything about erectile dysfunction or women getting bigger boobies in quite some time (try never!). Maybe it has something to do with that 'Flag Blog' button at the top of the page. That thing has always scared me.

Maybe it's some maniac Adobe Illustrator user that's pissed about all the Inkscape-love coming from this site. ;)

Anyways, it might be a couple of days before you see this post - but maybe I can actually get some other stuff done in the meantime... haven't posted any photos to Flickr in well over a month(!).

Inkscape Screencast 9 - Glass Button Redux

My 9th Inkscape screencast is up. This one shows a simple way to achieve a pretty convincing high-gloss candy look to various shapes.

This one was created in record time for me too. From the moment I fired up ffmpeg to start recording, through the intro recording, sound and music mixing, until starting the upload to YouTube took about 90 minutes. I didn't take a lot of time creating the intro for this one (and it shows), but overall it's still decent I think. Hopefully you like it.

I haven't had a lot of time to spend using Inkscape lately, simply because I'm currently buried at work (which has absolutely nothing to do with Inkscape or graphics at all ;-< ). But I did read on the mailing list somewhere that the most recent builds incorporate gradient editing right on the object (not in a separate dialog). That feature would have been useful for this screencast, but no sense in demonstrating a feature that few people can use right now. Here's the link to my other screencasts up on YouTube. You should also check out my friend heathenx's screencasts. I've learned quite a few good tips from him too.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Become a 'new media titan' for only 7 bucks a month

Maybe I'm just tired. But after thumbing through 48 odd online pages of Blogger & Podcaster magazine, I feel intensely bored.

The web - in the raw, all by itself - is chock full of content (entertaining or otherwise), opinion, knowledge, and opportunities. But hearing from the same dozen people about what they do, and reading about how to profit from it all just doesn't hit any of my buttons - no matter how slickly presented (my heartfelt wishes to anyone venturing to that magazine with dialup connectivity).

If you had any lingering thoughts about 'A-List' bloggers, podcasting pioneers, web 2.0 empire builders or the whole circle-jerkyness of it all, look no further than B&P.

Oops, I just noticed the magazine's tagline: 'For Aspiring New Media Titans'. I'm clearly in the wrong room... Carry on.


Saturday, April 21, 2007

Upgraded to Feisty - no problemo! .. yet

About to apply some recent updates this morning, I spotted the 'new release' note at the top of my package updater dialog. Hmm. I know Feisty was released yesterday and knowing full well the Ubuntu servers would be getting pounded today,  I still decided to take the plunge and start the upgrade before I left for work.

Getting home tonight, I had to answer about 5 dialogs which asked whether I wanted to replace specific configuration files or not. I answered yes to all of them (I ran into problems in the last upgrade when I decided to retain my old config files). After about 2 hours of chugging away, the system was ready to reboot. I crossed my fingers...

After noticing the prettier boot splash screen, and the nice ubuntu splash bar after logging in, I was suddenly running Feisty. No problems so far (although I've only been running it for an hour or two).

This may be temporary since I've been contemplating a re-install of my whole machine, wiping out the windows partition completely and running XP in virtualization only when I absolutely need to (CAD and video slideshow apps are still problems for me in Linux). I know almost nothing about VMWare or other virtualization methods, so if you've got any good sources for newbie info on this stuff, post it up in the comments.

I've never been completely happy with my dual boot setup. The running speed of linux on this machine has been consistently inconsistent from bootup to bootup. I think it has something to do with the fact that I've got ubuntu booting from a SATA drive. I've never been able to pin it down to any specific source. In any case, I'm in the market for an external HD to back up all my data and then boom, I'm going to wipe it out and start with a fresh full install of Feisty on this machine.

But until then, I'll be kicking the tires on Feisty and will report any problems I have.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Green Alligators and Long-Necked Geese...

Great. My mother has turned my 5 year old daughter into an Irish Rovers fan. Now I find myself humming the bloody tune here at work. And no, I don't think the unicorn is the 'loveliest of all'.

What's next? Lawrence Welk? Nana Mouskouri?


Thursday, April 19, 2007

Doc spells out the next challenge for Linux

Leave it to the inimitable Doc Searls to frame the bigger picture when it comes to Vista, OS-X and Linux. His recent Linux Journal article is definitely a worthy read, offering up the possibility that we're reaching for the wrong prize entirely. Here's a couple of snippets:

A few weeks ago I was talking with folks who worked inside one of the large hardware OEMs. Somewhere in there they told me about their "Linux strategy". I told them they needed a "Linux strategy" about as much as a construction company needs a "lumber strategy".

If you're going to have a Linux strategy, make that strategy about getting past an OS-bound view of the world. Because the big difference between Linux and Windows is that you can build anything you want with Linux. With Windows you can only build what Microsoft lets you build.

And it doesn't end there:

The Linux community also has to get past the belief that Linux is mostly an alternative to other OSes. The Windows vs. Mac choice is between two silos that both do their best to lock customers in and maximize the dependencies of developers on proprietary platform SDKs and the like. Linux is not an alternative to any platform. It is an alterative to platforms themselves. It is the path to an open marketplace, not just another silo.

An article full of smart, thought-provoking ideas, and not aimed at the typical Linux zealot either. Give it a read right here.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Why do you use Linux? (aka Wufoo testing)

I was listening to one of Leo Laporte's recent TechGuy podcasts and they were discussing a site called Wufoo, which let's you build forms online and put them on your blog (or in other places). They give you 3 forms with the free registration (there are pay versions), so I thought up a quick poll to test it out.

There's a wide variety of controls and fields you can choose from and the layout is very much point and click in it's simplicity. In about 3 minutes I threw together this straw poll about the biggest reason you use Linux (if you use Linux). If you don't, pretend you do, and give it a shot anyway. ;)

I can monitor the results and generate reports over at the wufoo site. So if visitors to the blog start filling it out, I'll report back how the results are shaping up.

Powered by Wufoo

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

New Car Shopping - Rio5? Or am I crazy?

I'm new car shopping at the moment. My current beast is a 95 Integra sedan. It's still a solid little car but at 340,000km it's already cost me some money and with an intermittent squeal from the water pump lately it's scaring me a bit. I don't want it to turn into a money pit.

I'm a small car guy through and through. If only I lived across the pond where the compact/sub-compact segments are a lively market. My wife drives a Nissan Murano, and while it's a nice comfy SUV, it's far too big and bouncy for my tastes - nevermind the gas mileage and running costs (ever price out a set of 4 SUV tires?)

I've looked at the smaller cars from BMW/Mini, Hyundai, Kia, Honda, Toyota, Mazda, GM(Saturn), VW and even Ford (Chrysler is just not a consideration to me), and I have to say I'm favouring the Kia Rio5 Ex Sport model at the moment:

I really like the euro-hatch clean look of the Kia. And for a very reasonable list price of $20,700 CAD (18,250 USD) it comes fully loaded with things like:

15" Alloys
P195x55 tires
4-wheel discs w/ ABS
6-airbags (2 front, 2 side, 2 full side-curtain)
heated front seats (it gets cold up here dontcha know)
heated side mirrors
fog lights
6 speaker CD stereo with MP3/WMA, Aux and USB inputs
alarm system
a kick ass 10yr/100,000km (or 160,000km extended) comprehensive warranty including roadside assistance

The list goes on and on and is actually pretty damn complete. The gas mileage is pretty darn good as well considering gas here has been teetering around $1.03 a litre lately (about $3.50 USD per gallon for you Yankees).

A quick first test drive also showed that Kia has really stepped up the quality game. The car felt and sounded very very solid. No squeaks, rattles or shimmies over various bumps and around corners. It handles very nicely. And while it doesn't have the street cred of a Mini Cooper, it's only shy by about 8 less horsepower. The interior looked and felt very solid as well. The back seat had significantly more room than my Integra 4 door too - although I think I've had only one adult passenger back there in the last two years anyway.

I chuckled the other day when I read a Motor Trend article that said that the Rio5 was faster through it's slalom course than both the Audi A3 (which a co-worker just bought at more than $40k) and the Mitsubishi Eclipse.

I also liked the fact that they didn't bother giving me a price where I had to add on things like floor mats, electric windows and mud guards to get a final price. They offer preselected no-fuss model selections which made calculating a price literally a 90sec affair.

If you're familiar with the 06 or 07 Kia Rio5 and have info to give me or if you want to dissuade me, please leave me a comment. I'd love to hear some opinions before I buy.

Is that your logo or are you just happy to see me?

Another great post by David Airey asking the age old design question... Is your logo design phallic?


Theming Google Reader

I'm not big on Firefox extensions. It's not that I don't like them, I've just never spent a lot of time fooling with them. I have Greasemonkey installed, but don't do much with it. I've also got Google Notebook installed which I use from time to time. But upon reading a digg link today I spent a few minutes fooling with an extension called Stylish. It seems there's a whole crowd of people who want to skin different pages (or all pages) with different themes.

I tried out a few Google Reader themes, but actually came to the conclusion that I like the stock gReader theme better than any of the several I tried. I've said before that I like the functionality, simplicity and look of Google's Gmail, Reader and Calendar. I'm not sure I really want (or need) to theme them. But in case you're into that type of thing, you should install the Stylish extension and visit

[that being said, I see that might be suffering from the digg effect right now so be patient]

CNN frothing at Virginia Tech

Terribly sad story at Virginia Tech yesterday. CNN is frothing at the mouth.

I watched an interview this morning with a young guy who helped barricade his classroom door, quite likely saving the lives of his classmates. Towards the end of the interview the reporter asked him what he thought of people calling him a hero. He couldn't speak. And the reporter seemed very uncomfortable at the silence. Tears welled up in my eyes at what he must be feeling. I know it had nothing to do with him being called a hero. There was just fear in those eyes.

I bet they'll be running that one all day long.

Poor kids.

Friday, April 13, 2007 logo contest winner announced... and he's devilishly handsome too! ;)

They picked one of my logo entries for the new logo!! Going to bed tonight, I am a truly happy camper!


Thursday, April 12, 2007

Sketching, Creativity and the Design Process

I'm a big fan of the design process. Almost more than the result itself.

I remember when I first got my hands on the wonderful book Driving Ambition, and I found myself quickly drawn not to the high quality photography, but to Gordon Murray's initial sketches and the drawings involved in developing various ideas. It's something that has always fascinated me - how people create the things we see and enjoy. If you're at all into car design I can't recommend it enough.

Recently, David Airey had a great post on logo design where he made the point that sketching was a vital ingredient in the design process. He also posted many design options for a project he was involved in.

While reading that post, I was in the midst of posting logo submissions for the Xmms2 graphic contest. And I was, in fact, doodling ideas in a hardcover notebook I keep for jotting down ideas and sketches. So after reading it, I decided that after I was done submitting logos, I'd post up the various doodles and sketches.

Now, I'm far from an accomplished artist, but I had fun generating ideas and transforming them into digital form with Inkscape. Hopefully this will encourage others to post things that illustrate their design process (whatever process that might be). It's something that I don't see enough of on the web (if you know where it is, then point me to it). There's a lot of inspiration in seeing how people create things, even if they're just pencil sketches on a knapkin.

Here are the various ideas I played around with. You can see a fair number of my xmms2 logo submissions that come directly from these sketches. Others never quite went anywhere....

[click on the image(s) to see larger versions]

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Cool 3D photo collage modelling

Now no one can accuse me of not being an equal opportunity blogger:

[Via a recent episode of Leo Laporte's KFI podcast]

Just in case you thought Microsoft wasn't full of smart people (ok, maybe acquired smart people), wanting to push the envelope, check out the demo videos of the Photosynth project.

Think Quicktime VR but formed from a mass of normal digital photographs. From what I understand, they've got software that analyzes a group of photos of a specific location, recognizes datum objects, figures out camera position and angle of view, transforms them to account for parallax errors and assembles them together in a sort of 3D collage model. Put that inside a nice viewer with cool pan and zoom navigation and you have something really really interesting.

You can't get this software yet (I don't think), but it does show some really interesting possibilities for all those millions of photos being posted to the net. A use for photos in aggregate.

Now if only I could find the open-source equivalent.. ;)

*My* Code of Conduct

While I think Kent Newsome was right when he wrote: "Blogs are like cars- they create a false sense of invincability that releases your inner asshole .", I also think that not all people are assholes, inner or otherwise.

If a blogger needs a code of conduct to treat people with civility and respect, then likely that person's problem runs deeper than any code from on-high will address.

Plainly, if you act like an asshole, even anonymously, then almost invariably, you are an asshole - at least to some degree, despite what your alter ego might project.

Conversely, if you consistently treat people with respect and civility, chances are you are not an asshole.

I fall into the latter category (you'll have to take my word on that). But life has taught me that I might not be in the majority. ;)

When I started blogging I made a couple of mental notes: I would write what I thought and own what I wrote. The second part of that means looking forward and determining whether or not you'd be proud of what you're about to publish, whether that is a blog post, comment or forum posting.

Maybe that is *my* code of conduct.. mehh, it's enough for me.

Keys to a better Keyboard - what do you think?

So there's a war on about moving or getting rid of the Caps Lock key.

What about the Scroll Lock and Pause/Break keys? They sit pristine and untouched on my Dell keyboard here at work and on any keyboard I've ever used for that matter.

And while I would prefer a more OS-agnostic glyph for the 'Windows' key, I do find it useful (Windows+D on XP and a multitude of Beryl controls combinations on Linux).

However this Dell keyboard I'm staring at also has a key with a menu symbol on it. It's just to the right of the right hand windows key. Pressing it brings up the right-click context menu in your current app. Completely useless in my mind. The right-click context menu is one of the few mousey things I think is pretty efficient.

So out with Caps Lock, Scroll Lock, Pause/Break and the mysterious Menu keys. (The print screen key is good for screen captures).

Any others we should pry off and throw out?

What do we replace all those missing keyspaces with?? (a double question-mark key??)

Gmail lagging behind?? Bahhh!!

Ron K. Jeffries gives his thoughts about Gmail and cites a PC Magazine review of web-based mail services that disses Gmail and a response here.

I agree with Ron. I love GMail too. The 'search and tag' metaphors are so much more my style than 'folders and drag n drop'. But there is another simple thing that makes Gmail win hands down (for me):

When I log into Yahoo Mail I see my folder list, top news stories, a big  f a t  animated ad on the right hand side, and a few other ads on the left, under my folder list. My actual inbox is another click away . When I log into Gmail, I get... wait for it... my inbox. No ads, no flashing, blinking things.. just my email.

The simplicity of the interface doesn't insult me. It's relatively speedy, clearly readable, and the colours are muted and unobtrusive. It's kind of like comparing Visual Studio to Vi. I'm in the Vi camp.

And I find Google's Reader and Calendar the same. I like the lack of shiny faux-3D bars and stripes. They're functional interfaces, with minimal, unobtrusive advertising. If I were Yahoo or MS, I'd seriously review what it is they're aiming for.

I've demonstrated GMail to probably a dozen people in the last year or so. Three of those were already on Yahoo Mail at the time. Those three are now avid Gmailers. Once you get past the fact that it doesn't work like Outlook, you begin to realize that just might be a good thing.

On a more general, application-wide note, I think keyboard shortcuts are seriously underrated. People somehow take keyboard controls as an indication of antiquated, simplistic and somehow limited application behaviour. But I find myself frustrated when I can't easily find a keyboard shortcut for an often-used command.

Down with Feature-bloat, Up with Functionality!

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Facebook - ewww (?)

I had a co-worker ask me a question about uploading a photo to a web service the other day. He was having trouble resizing (shrinking) the image. I asked him what it was for and he told me that it was for his Facebook account.

Then a few days later I receive an invite from a family member to join Facebook.


While I've only seen glimpses of Facebook, it just doesn't seem like my type of thing. I may be wrong, but with the very limited glimpses I've seen of it and from what these guys have told me, it sounds like meets myspace.


Maybe it's my age. Social networking in that form just doesn't appeal to me. I have a fairly small circle of good friends. And though it might sound antisocial, I'm not all that interested in expanding it by using a service designed to expand it. Seems a bit unnatural to me (but obviously not to many many others).

Sure you expand relationships by blogging and the commenting and linking that comes with it. But you seem to earn those relationships through providing information or entertainment and getting the same in return. Much more my style.

So I've got a Facebook invite. What do you think I should do? Am I completely wrong about Facebook? Set me straight.

I'm ..err.. twitting...

With a slight nudge from Brad Kellett over at, I've signed up to Twitter. I don't fully get it yet, and the last thing I really need is yet another distraction to dilute focus, but I'll give it a shot anyway.

So for a peek into what it is I'm doing (or avoiding doing), check out this stream of semi-consciousness..

Texting isn't my thing, so being able to do it from GmailChat was the only viable way for me.

Incidentally, I see move afoot tonight about a mass exodus from Twitter to Jaiku.  - I must have scared them all away.  ;)

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Inkscape Screencast 8 - Perspective

My 8th Inkscape screencast is now posted. This one involves the perspective effect in Inkscape. I tried to just illustrate the basics of using it. With a little imagination you can achieve some neat things with it. I've been using it for a few of my entries in the xmms2 logo contest.

I had a bit of trouble using the effect on my linux machine. It would work fine, but always popped up a warning dialog. Not great stuff for a screencast. A developer named acspike helped me out by creating a fix to suppress the messages. Good stuff!

The intro as always, was fun to make, and while speeding it up achieved what I wanted, I had a little trouble joining it up to the main screencast portion because they differed in frame rates. However a little playing around with avidemux let me match the frame rates and all was well in the end.

Hope you like it and find it useful.

[Update: Thanks to Joe H in the comments. He pointed out, quite correctly, that you don't have to combine paths into one before applying the perspective effect. You can just group them. This lets you 'perspectivize' paths with differing fill, stroke and colour properties without losing those properties. - Thanks Joe! and check out the sample book and cup image he posted in the comments - awesome!]

Click right here to see the other screencasts I've posted.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Google Analytics - first impressions

Gee whiz. After only half a day since switching to Google Analytics and a single visit to their site tonight, it feels like switching from a 1974 Chrysler Cordoba to a 2007 Audi.

The lack of blinking ads, actual 21st century looking graphical displays and the various tools and options for displaying data simply leads me to believe that spyware cookies or not, Sitemeter just completely sucked.

And while I won't give Google Analytics a ringing endorsement quite yet, they've already raised the bar completely on what I had been using.

Stats Up - Sitemeter Out

Dear Sitemeter,

Vamoose, scram, before I slice you into ham!

Yours truly, without love,


Like many other bloggers out there, I've been using Sitemeter to track visitor stats. Rumblings today indicate that they've been installing cookies into the browser of visitors to this site - with no mention of it whatsoever to me or any of their other users.

Apologies to you readers out there. As you well know, we bloggers are a notoriously fickle bunch. As of 10 minutes ago, Sitemeter is out and Google Analytics is in.

Speaking of site stats, I've been quite happy of late. While I've always tried to provide some interesting content and decent writing, generating traffic has not been a goal for me. I've never run any ads on this blog so that's not a motivator. I love seeing traffic go up, but I don't write with that in mind. However I've seen a 400% increase in page views since the beginning of January. And while the numbers are still incredibly small by most blogging standards, it's the increase that's pleased me.

Why the increase? Well, I don't think it's just coincidental that I started posting my screencasts partway into December just before the steady rise in traffic. Maybe content really is king. But I do it for the enjoyment of it, not for the traffic. Right now, it's linux, open-source, inkscape, and the graphic arts that I find most interesting.

In a flagrant transgression of blogging etiquette - where traffic flow cards are always held so close to the chest - (what do *I* have to lose), here's the final screenshot from the offending Sitemeter showing the increase:

Monday, April 02, 2007

BumpTop demo video - very cool

Via Ron K. Jeffries' great blog Cloudy Thinking:

Just when you thought the well of neat UI and desktop metaphor ideas might run dry, here's a very cool video of 3D desktop prototype called BumpTop. Very very cool. Some of the concepts like the 'lasso and stroke' command interface could be applicable in a wide range of applications not just desktop organization. It's kind of like mouse gestures (something I could never quite get the hang of) only with visual feedback which vastly improves it.