Thursday, July 26, 2007

Google Image Labeler - Using the User

Have you ever tried out Google Image Labeler? I had never heard of it, and I'm not sure if it's new or not.

Doing a quick image search on something, I was presented with the question at the bottom of my results asking whether or not I wanted to try it. Curious, I clicked the link to find out what it was. According to their web page, Image Labeler is:

"...a new feature of Google Image Search that allows you to label random images to help improve the quality of Google's image search results."

So you get paired up with a partner and for two minutes you are shown a variety of images. As each image is presented, you (and your partner) enter plausible labels for the image. When you and your partner match up on a given label, you move on to the next picture. At the end of it, you're presented with a score and ranking.

It's no surprise to me that Google has given a neat way to help improve their search product and involve the user in the process. They don't hide the fact that yes, they are using you to improve their search. I took a few minutes out to do it and it was quite fun to see how high I could get my score. It didn't bother me in the least. How effective it is at improving their product I don't know.

[note: I'm assuming you need a google account to use Image Labeler - not entirely sure]

DIY Linux Box (literally!)

Anybody who has ever seen the Red Green show will have come to know the full potential of duct tape. If Red Green wanted a linux box, you just know he would have made it himself, and it would have looked something like this one.

[via digg]

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Screencasting Workflow Mess

I was a bit overwhelmed last night putting together my last screencast. The actual recording of the screencast was done early last week and took about 25 minutes. But last night I set about getting things in order to upload things to the site and to YouTube. Needless to say the whole process was a dog's breakfast and took me several times longer than it should have.

So in order to try and get a handle on it, I've used Gliffy to do up a simple flowchart (see below) of the shameful process I used. You will plainly see that I don't know what I'm doing. But that shouldn't be news to anyone. ;)

Have a look if your interested and give me some suggestions if you see some step or process that is plainly retarded.

I'm going to try and streamline this mess so that it doesn't take me 3 hours of fiddling to get things online once I finish recording a screencast. We'll see how that goes. ;)

Device Graphic - Inkscape Screencast

Amidst the quagmire heathenx and I are calling 'Codec Hell', I did manage to get another Inkscape screencast done. This one demonstrates the use of Inkscape's guides, gradients and some shadow effects to come up with a decent looking 3D device graphic. This one is about 17 minutes long (my longest to date), so I had to split the YouTube version into two parts. Hopefully I won't lose anybody at the halfway mark. With their 10min/100MB limitation it makes screencasting about something substantial a bit of a tough one. But that's one of the reasons we started So if you want to see the whole video in one piece, and in significantly higher quality, check it out there instead.

Also, please let us know via our blog at or via the comments here if you have any trouble watching the video.

Monday, July 23, 2007

New organic food logo...

The Canadian Federal Government has come up with a new logo for organic foods that have been tested and certified by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.

I have nothing against organic foods or the logo, but at first glance it reminded me of the Maple Leaf Foods logo for some reason.

Even though you'd find it tough to argue that the two logos were anything but distinct, there was enough there, that as a Canadian consumer, it's the first thing I thought of. And if that feeling is widespread, it might be quite beneficial to Maple Leaf Foods Inc. in the long run. Lucky break maybe.

Police Reunion Tour - Awesome Concert

A nice last minute opportunity gave the wife and I floor seats (16th row) for the Police reunion tour concert in Toronto tonight. I'm not always a big fan of rock shows, but this was awesome awesome awesome!

Even the opening band (Fiction Plane, fronted by Sting's son Joe Sumner) was pretty darn good. He's got a very strong voice reminiscent of his father and Bono. There was a lot of young middle-agers there. And while it had its fair share of cougars and cougar-wannabes, there is something to be said for an audience who's there to sing and dance without the aggression and stupidity of youth. Not quite as friendly and nice as the beautiful James Taylor concert we went to years back, but very nice nonetheless.

The Police have always been one of my favourite bands. And I think they've stood the test of time so well because of their complete lack of schtick and the fact that their music has always been so unique and honest. Just three guys rocking out without the hairspray, pyrotechnics and gimmicks.

They played for about 90 minutes and then did two encores as well. I could have sat there just watching Stewart Copeland drum all friggin' night. What an amazing band - very very impressed.

My favourite of the night: Truth Hits Everybody (from the album Outlandos d'Amour). I hadn't heard this song for years, but it brought me right back to a 1982 trip down to Florida in the back seat of my uncle's Monte Carlo.. tape deck blaring. :)

If you get a chance to see them on this reunion tour, I highly recommend it.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Intel Onboard Graphics Performance Upgrade in 10 Seconds

I've had this desktop computer for two and a half years. I've been running Linux pretty steadily since October 2005.

Today, July 20, 2007, I figured out that I could enter the bios upon bootup and increase my onboard video card's shared ram (default 8MB) to 32MB. This took a total of about 10 seconds.

Performance is now significantly improved everywhere on my system.

I, faithful reader, am an idiot.

So if you own a pc with an Intel onboard graphics chip (mine is an i915) and it uses shared ram, do yourself a favour and check if your bios will let you increase the default amount.

Now excuse me while I go tar and feather myself.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

8 Things You Didn't Know About Me

Earl Moore has tagged me to supply Eight Things Previously Unknown. They ended up being a bit wordier than expected so apologies there, but let's get down to it:

1. I eat a bowl of cereal almost every night before bed. I've done this since I was probably 5 years old. Special K - lightly sugared, is my absolute favourite.

2. Out of high school, I applied for Architecture at 3 schools. One of them accepted me, but at that time they were not fully accredited with the Ontario Architect's Association (they are now). I declined and went into engineering in Ottawa instead. The rest is (a lower paying) history. :)

3. I worked for my father's company in plumbing and pipe-fitting work for years. My first duties were answering phones, filing, and accounting/payroll ledger work starting at the tender age of 13. I moved on to actual construction work at 16. From the start I learned that an honest day's work is something to value. Since then I've always respected hard honest work much more than easy money. Spoiled son of the boss, I was not. My dad wouldn't have put up with that crap.

4. I have an older brother (2 years older). We got along well (and still do) but in a lot of ways we're as different as the day is long. He's a licensed plumber and moved out west to Edmonton several years ago. We speak about twice a year on the phone. He's a man of few words, always has been. But still we get along remarkably well. We accepted our differences long long ago.

5. My father was born in northern Italy, my Mom in Manitoba. I only ever had an Italian set of grandparents since my Mom was basically abandoned as a young teen by her family. And although some of her family is still alive, I've never met them and never care to. I think my Dad, Mom and brother went out to visit them before I was born, and we've never ever been back since - I guess that tells you how well it went. ;) Do I feel at a loss? No. Not at all. My mom has always been remarkably strong and self-sufficient. I love that. I can't speak much Italian and my Nonno and Nonna couldn't speak much English, so I never really had the typical grandparent-grandchild relationship that most others did.

6. At age 9 I was at a week long summer hockey camp. On a dare, I picked up a pay phone, dialed zero and said 'There's a bomb here..' and quickly hung up. I almost soiled myself 15 minutes later when police and fire trucks arrived to evacuate the community centre. I was never caught, and I never made another crank call again. Boy, you can be remarkably stupid at nine years of age.

7. After graduating from university, my first engineering job involved being a technical specialist for a startup company developing a new extruded concrete building product. The money was great and I had my own big office. I thought I had it made. After 4 months it turned out that the owners were trying to take the company public and were swindling shareholders in the process. It all ended for me during a shareholders meeting at a downtown hotel. I sat in the audience and was called out by the owner to tell everyone when the product testing certification was finally going to be completed. He expected me to say one month. I told the truth and said six months. I was let go shortly after. I was glad I left. The owner ended up in big trouble with the securities commission and was even sentenced to some jail time. Talk about a rude introduction into the engineering world.

8. I did all kinds of semi-embarrassing things as a kid. I learned to knit at age 5, took tap dancing lessons around age 7, accordion around age 7 or 8 too. I learned to do laundry well before 8 years of age and could cook a decent supper shortly thereafter. At around 7 years old, using one of my mother's cookbooks as a guide, I made and baked an apple pie from scratch while she napped (Mom was a shift-working emergency nurse). She told me the kitchen was an absolute disaster area but the pie tasted great. As a result of this type of upbringing, one of the things I always encourage of our daughter is self-reliance. Don't wait to be taught something if you can learn it yourself.

Now to tag 5 others to share their own 8 unknown things. Feel free to ignore if you're not into meme's or if you've done it already:

Perwari Naan

Donncha O Caoimh

David Airey

Will Simpson

Rich Burridge

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

My new favourite blog post...

You've got to hand it to Dave Slusher. He took all of my heightening disinterest in Web2.0, social networks and  startups and splattered it all out in one fell swoop. Bravo sir, Bravo!

Three cheers for Dave!!

iPhone's style was originally based on something else...

... the Zenith Space Command remote control from the 70's! Plink!

Wonderfully chunky, rounded-rectangle device. Friends of the family had one and I was jealous. We were still using one of those rectangular brown plastic boxes with the 20 buttons along the top (kuh-chunk!) with the wire running to the tv.

Little did I know at the time, but the Space Command remote didn't even require batteries. It worked on sound frequencies, something akin to a tuning fork. To me it was very cool. Almost like something from Space: 1999.

I wax nostalgic.. Sorry.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Nuking the Firefox Search Box and Finding a Better Way

One of the things I never use in Firefox is the search box up in the right corner. I finally figured out how to get rid of it, and it's super easy-peasy.

Thanks to this wonderful post, you just right-click a blank area on the toolbar, select customize and then drag the search box into the customize window and POOF! it's gone. Fabulous.

So how do I search? Well I go to and then I ... er.. just joking - sadly. What I do is go to the very first time and do the following:

1. Right-click the search box.
2. Choose 'Add a Keyword for this Search'
3. Name the keyword search.
4. Add a keyword. So for this one I entered 'gg'
5. Click OK.

For then on, when I want to google search something like 'favourite sandwich', I open a new tab (Ctrl-T), type 'gg favourite sandwich' in the address bar and hit 'Enter'. This launches a google search for whatever I typed after the 'gg'.

I find this feature to be infinitely useful for a variety of searches. I personally have the following keyword searches saved:

gg <search terms> - Google Search
gis <search terms> - Google Image Search
gbs <search terms> - Google BlogSearch
tn <search terms> - Technorati Search
mdb <search terms> - IMDB Search
wkp <search terms> - Wikipedia Search

If you're comfortable typing, you'll undoubtedly find this to be a real timesaver. The nice thing is that by hitting Ctrl-T to open a new tab, it plunks the cursor up in the address bar anyway - so just hit Ctrl-T, and type away people!

Problem sending large Gmail attachments.. Anybody?

On my windows box here at work, I've always had a problem sending
attachments of any significant size through Gmail. If I try to send an
email with a 150kb file, no problemo. But if I try to send something
that's say, 1.5MB, it just sits there and never sends it.

I'm connected through a LAN which runs through a proxy server
(FreeProxy) here at work, so maybe that's the problem. I don't have
any of these problems on my home machine.

I've tried increasing the dom.max_script_run_time setting in Firefox's
about:config page, but this seems to have done nothing to help me.

Anybody out there have any clues?

Friday, July 13, 2007

Quick Command Line Tip - for XP users no less

I'm always eager to shout about the benefits of the command line to whoever will listen, even if it's XP.

I had a colleague here ask me about how to get a printed out listing of files in a given directory. He was told by a friend that he could use MS-Paint to...

whoa whoa whoa.. I stopped him in his tracks. I'm sure MS-Paint is a solution for something (doubtful, but maybe), however printing out directory listings is definitely NOT it!

I showed him how, by opening up the XP command line, you could navigate to the folder in question and then just do:

dir > filelist.txt

Which of course does the 'dir' command but puts the listing into a text file of your choosing instead of displaying it. The text file I argued, was infinitely more useful than a bmp image. The only downside I told him was having to navigate to the folder you want with a series of cd commands. I demonstrated the TAB completion that XP has in its console window to aid in this regard.

However, a quick google search yielded this page, which describes a few different methods of getting a 'Open Up Command Prompt Here..' function into your right-click context menu in Windows Explorer.

Very useful! ;)

Mis-Advertised price. What would you do?

Okay, it's ethical question time again. Have I ever asked an ethical question here? Dunno. But here goes:

You go visit the Acme Co. website and notice that they're showing their rocket-powered roller skates on sale for $24.99. You're impressed, mostly because those specific skates are normally listed somewhere around $125.00.

Soon, Acme Co. realizes that the pricing shown is a mistake and erects some sort of electronic barrier to block the page. Some enthusiastic shoppers (who obviously love rocket-powered roller skates) are able to circumvent the barrier and find the incorrect listings. They place orders. Lots of orders.

Shortly thereafter, Acme issues a notice describing the mistake and offered those customers a discount. Normal orders on those mis-priced roller skates increase by 200X over the weekend.

Now would you:

A) Take the discount and be happy.

B) Accept the discount, grumble and tell Acme Co. that it should be more careful.


C) Capitalize on Acme's mistake and fight - for four years -right up to the Supreme Court of Canada.

For me, it's either A) or B) depending on the situation. For a Quebec man and his dealings with Dell Inc. it's C).

There are lots of other minute but important details to the case. But it just drives me nuts when I see people try to capitalize on other people's mistakes in that way.

No, I'm no saint. I've had people undercharge me for things, and later, when I realize it, I've been pleasantly surprised. But there are many more times where someone has undercharged me and I realize it right there and then. I tell them. They appreciate it. I feel good.

Maybe I'm just hokey. Or does the idea of spending 4 years fighting for my right to capitalize on someone else's mistake sound perfectly noble to you?

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Pre-Hammered Sinatra

I finally got around to watching Steve Gillmor's Bad Sinatra 1. Since I don't own an iPhone (and have no desire to), I decided I'd use the nifty program DeVeDe to burn it to a DVD and experience the full glory of Gillmor on my living room TV. With a slice of cold pizza in hand, I hit the play button and watched.

After it was over, I was pleasantly surprised that I didn't feel as though it was '38 minutes I'd never get back'. Clearly it's not polished. Hopefully it never will be. Steve still has his magic. His ability to annoy, cajole and make me chuckle has remained untainted over his months of relative silence. I'm glad.

High points? Dan Farber, definitely. Devoid of the scene-stealing, attention hungry bravado of Calacanis, Farber continues to forcefully right the apple cart that Steve is constantly trying to upset. I admire his attempts at pinning Steve down on some of the issues. Never quite successful mind you, but it's sure fun watching him try.

Other things I liked - Doc Searls of course. Pre-hammered shit and the state of VRM. Now there's a white paper for you. He made me laugh - more than a couple of times.

I wasn't impressed with a lot of the other stuff, not because it wasn't important (to someone), but it wasn't to me. If it was up to me, it would be the Steve, Dan and Doc Show all over again - there is long standing magic there I think - you can hear.. er.. see it. And just to ice the cake, put Jon Udell on speakerphone in every episode and pan away to a lovely scenic shot just as he's about to make his big point on the crackly speaker. That was classic too.

Annoyances? Damn Robert.. straighten the hat and adjust the camera if you need to. I know it's cool to be a nerd these days, but c'mon, that just couldn't be comfortable.

I'm interested to see where it goes. If it's anything like the Gang of old, I'm sure Steve has no idea where that is. ;)

Oh yeah... Note to Steve. The USB input on my new Kia's stereo, combined with my 100km daily commute says to me that audio podcasting is anything but 'dead'. I must have listened to 35 Diggnation episodes and have only ever watched two and they even have hot babes on there sometimes ;) - The power of video podcasting is not as strong as you'd like to think.

I guess the true test will be if I create an audio version of your video show and feel I'm not missing anything. Wanna pull a Diggnation and save me the work by providing an mp3 only feed too?

Didn't think so. ;)

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Expanding the Dell Linux experiment...

Dell's interest in Linux is getting thicker... and Leons getting larger...

25 absolutely free Inkscape screencasts to anyone who can tell me in
the comments where the 2nd half of that line comes from... ;)

Saturday, July 07, 2007

7th Son podcast now back from hiatus.. Finally!!

Almost forgot!

JC Hutchin's fabulous audio trilogy 7th Son is finally back from hiatus. Book Three: Episode Zero is now up (and looks like it was posted on July 4th).

If you're into listening to audiobooks, and you're a fan of the great action/thriller/sci-fi genre, you owe it to yourself to subscribe. I was initially pulled into listening to it via a mention on Chess Griffins' LinuxReality podcast and before long I was completely hooked. It's very very well done and I recommend it highly.

[update: Episode 0 was just a recap of the story so far.. Good news though, JC has Episode 1 up on the site now, right on schedule. ;) ]

Friday, July 06, 2007

Web Design Gone Bad...

[** WARNING ** People prone to epileptic seizures beware!!! Seriously!]

You just know a Digg comment thread is going to be fun when the title of the post is:

Lots of good... er.. bad horrible competing sites in the comment thread. Makes MySpace look like CSSZenGarden.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Screencasters... The Blog

Lock up your daughters... Screencasters now has a blog!

If you want to keep up with new episodes, leave your comments on how good (or bad) you feel the work is, or just want to discuss something inkscapey, screencastey, or anything else, then head on over to and subscribe to the feed.



Wednesday, July 04, 2007

iPhone, Woodstock and Peeing in Nature.. you figure it out

I was listening to Twit103 earlier today and of course it was iPhone mania. I have absolutely no interest in the iPhone, but at the same time I understand the enthusiasm of others. However, I have to draw the line at the statements made in that episode comparing the wait in line for an iPhone to Woodstock. I mean puhhhleeeeze...

No, I'm not old enough to have gone to Woodstock. But this past weekend we took a short 3 day trip over the border to Buffalo and got stuck in line at the border (Queenston/Lewiston bridge) for 3 hours. Now I would never compare this to Woodstock, but people were wandering off into the bushes on the side of the highway to relieve themselves or 'pee in nature' as my 5 year old daughter likes to put it. That by itself makes it more like Woodstock than any iPhone line.

Sheesh people. Get a grip.

Neon Sign Effect - Inkscape Screencast

I've done a new Inkscape screencast. This one quickly (very quickly) demonstrates how to easily achieve a neon sign effect. Maybe you're putting together a tawdry pr0n site or something. ;) What's next you're asking yourself... flashing Unicorn gifs?? :)

Check out this episode and all of our other Inkscape screencasts at where you can view the flash version online or download a high quality avi of your very own.

My Open Source Oasis

I first started dabbling with Linux almost three years ago. In the past year it became my primary OS at home, and now it's the sole occupant of my home pc. But at work we run AutoCAD on XP Pro, so there's no escaping the giant from Redmond I guess. However, I have managed to maintain my little 'open-source oasis' in this proprietary desert. Here's how I cope:

First, I run windows versions of my favourite Linux apps. Inkscape, GIMP, and GVim get a full workout here on my XP box at work. More recently I've been pleasantly surprised to find that Avidemux (which I use for a bunch of screencasting tasks) has a windows version too. As does Blender, the 3D modelling and animation application that we used to create that 15 second animation for our screencast intros at Oh, and don't forget Audacity which I use for a bit of audio editing - which has a perfectly serviceable windows version. And let's not forget OpenOffice which I try to use in lieu of MS-Office whenever I can. Of course Firefox goes without saying.

Next, I run Cygwin, which is a Linux-like environment for Windows. It isn't an emulator and won't run native linux apps on windows, but you can recompile linux applications from source to run on Cygwin. However my needs are much simpler. I mostly use it as a terminal for file management and my todo list duties. There is even a port of the X-Window system called Cygwin/X that allows you to run many graphical Linux apps inside of windows. For some reason I can't seem to get that working - something to do with our proxy server setup here at work. A head-scratcher that is...

Interestingly, I ran Cygwin from a shortcut on my desktop but was frustrated by the fact that it ran inside a DOS window. This limited my font choices to raster fonts or Lucida console 12pt. I could do various things to customize the bash shell (colours etc..) but the font limitation seemed to stick. That is, until I found these instructions for running rxvt on top of Cygwin.

Now I run a shortcut to rxvt and set up the shortcut to launch with whatever font I want. Here's my current shortcut launch command to get rxvt up and running:
C:\cygwin\bin\run.exe rxvt -sl 1500 -fn "Consolas-14" -bg black -fg grey -sr -e bash --login -i

Now you combine this with the recent excellent blog post (and comments) by Kyle Pott at Lifehacker about turbocharging your terminal, and you've got a perfectly serviceable linux terminal inside of XP.

So there you have it. That's how I get my Linux fix at work. If you're a lone Linux fish swimming in proprietary waters, how do you cope?