Friday, June 29, 2007

It's so simple now...

From the "I wish I had said that" file comes:

"you do know that Facebook is AOL 2.0, right?"

Courtesy of Jason Kottke.

[via evhead].

Starting from square one - update

An update on my journey back to square one...

I've installed a lot of the apps I normally use that don't come pre-installed in Ubuntu Feisty like Rawstudio, Inkscape, Avidemux, vlc, mplayer and beep media player. No problems there. You gotta love linux distros and their repository systems. In Feisty, there are 21,000 odd packages available for installation and they're just a click away.

I took a stab at installing the new Compiz-Fusion compositing system for those lovely desktop effects, and while it worked, the startup of Compiz was painfully slow and the configuration app seems very kludgy compared to where Beryl is. It also seemed to bring instability to the performance on my system. So off it went.

After verifying that the desktop performance of standard Metacity was up to snuff (it was), I have now installed a fresh copy of Beryl and I'm a happy camper once again.

Problems? A single small one at the moment. My dsl seems to disconnect at random times. Sometimes it will stay up for hours and other times will go out every 10 or 15 minutes. I end up having to do a 'pon dsl-provider' in a terminal window to get it back up and running. It's strange. I can't seem to figure out what could be causing it. I thought it might be the suspend or sleep mode of my system, but I've turned that off and still get the behaviour. If anyone's got any clues on what might be turning it off I'd be thankful. I don't have a router and run straight into my DSL modem, but don't know if that matters or not.

Anyway, the system is running much better that it used to. I am the proverbial Happy Camper right now.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Screencasters Update

There has been significant discussion over on this thread at about our site. We received several good suggestions and as a result we've updated the site slightly. Kudos to heathenx for his successful journey through video encoding hell, and his patience with my absolute skill at butchering his CSS work. ;)

Here's the low-down on the changes:

- tweaks to the css to make it suck less in IE browsers

- we're now streaming the swf files and offering up avi files for direct download (the avi's are encoded with xvid and mp3 codecs for those interested).

- we now show the size of the avi file so that you know what you're about to download

- we added anchor links for each episode so if great people like Ryan Lerch and Nico Buculei and other Inkscapers want to blog about specific screencasts they can link directly to the specific episode

That's pretty much it. If you've got more suggestions, keep 'em coming. Although now maybe heathenx and I can concentrate more on coming up with some new screencasts.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Speed Linking? Didn't know it was called that - but I like it.

David Airey posts about 'speed linking'. I had never heard the term before, but I've seen plenty of it. In fact, Kent Newsome's Evening Reading posts could be termed speed-link posts and are among my favourite reads.

It's actually a pretty accurate term too. I find myself zipping through Kent's ER posts very quickly. I find them to be low commitment - that is, I go in knowing they're not going to be in-depth dissertations on a single topic - which in itself is not necessarily a bad thing. I enjoy a good long well-written post, but at times I want something lighter and fast-paced. He gives me his quick take on a variety of topics and provides the links should I want them. No pressure. In and out.

And it's not a simple link blog post. I get to see what things are piquing Kent's interest at the moment along with his take on them. And it's fun - because I never know what I'm going to find in there. The writing style has a lot to do with it too. Someone pointing me to their delicious links or to their Google Reader shared feeds is NOT the same thing.

I'm not sure how long Kent (or David) spends crafting these things. I fly through them quickly and they 'read quickly' if that means anything, but I imagine they're not so quick to put together. I'd be interested in hearing for instance how long it takes Kent to put together one of his evening reads. David? Kent?

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Clean Slate

After about 2.5 hours of backing up my XP and Linux data to my new USB external hard drive, I popped in the Fiesty install CD and wiped the slate. In a relatively quick 40 minutes, I was back up and running. I had no problems with the install at all. Very nice.

But boy did I ever do a lot of tweaking and customization to my system over the past year or so. You don't realize all the fiddling you've done until it's all stripped away and you're back at square one. I've got a lot of re-tweaking ahead of me, but at least I'll now be running XP-free on this machine (at least in the non-virtual sense if that means anything). Anyway, it's sometimes refreshing to start with a clean slate.

I've now got about 90MB of updates to download and install - seems like the perfect time to let it do it's thing while I sleep. ;)

Friday, June 22, 2007

All revved up, not sure where to go...

I spotted a good deal on a 500GB external USB 2.0 drive, and decided to pick one up this morning. It's an IOMagic drive and cost me $170 CAD (plus taxes of course). While I know kind of what I plan to do with it, I'm still mulling over the finer points. If you've got suggestions I'd love to hear them. Here's what I'm thinking:

My machine has been a mess ever since I set it up as dual boot XP/Linux box. I've never been fully pleased with the performance of linux on this box and I think part of the reason is that the boot drive is a SATA drive, which caused weird problems with early versions of Ubuntu. I could never really get the dual boot setup working right, and performance on the machine is quite spotty.

Since upgrading to Feisty, things have been much better, but still at times it feels like it's got a P3-800 chip on it and not the P4-3Ghz chip that's actually on there. Processing operations are sometimes slow and other times rebooting seems to cure the problem - something that should NOT be a problem on a Linux box.

Anyway, I plan to use the new drive to back up all of my data that resides on my XP and Ubuntu partitions and wipe everything clean, starting from scratch. I'm going to install a fresh copy of Feisty on it, and then run XP in a virtual machine - yes, there are still a couple of things I need XP for... :(

So here's where my questions begin - pardon any stupidity:

1. Do I have to format this 500 GB drive? I'm assuming that I do. Should I do it in multiple partitions? And what type. I was going to do the whole thing in ext3. I can see all my XP data from within Linux now, so I'm assuming that's the best route.

2. Once the backup is done, is there a definitive 'best' partition setup to use for the fresh Ubuntu Feisty install on my internal drives? I've got 2 - 160GB internal hard drives. One is SATA the other is IDE. I can let Ubuntu do it's thing automatically. Is this the best way? Anybody got any pointers on this?

3. Is there any point in trying to preserve the various app settings and configurations that I have? I was just going to really start fresh. And that means reinstalling and configuring a lot of things from scratch. I'm a bit worried that if I try to migrate system settings that my past performance problems might follow me.

4. Is there anything I definitely need to save before wiping out my existing system? I've got all my ISP info on paper, and I generally don't use saved passwords and logon info from my browser so that's likely not a problem. But should I grab device info (like hard drive info) before starting the install? Is there a way to easily get this data? (maybe the dmesg logs?)

Those are my main questions right now. I will be taking the plunge this weekend whether or not I get any suggestions or advice. I'm far too impatient, especially when it comes to geeky stuff like my pc, to wait ;).

Thursday, June 21, 2007

A New Site is Born...

Well we've gone and done it. Fellow Inkscape screencaster heathenx and I have spent the last month or so putting together a home for higher quality versions of our screencasts. You can see the fruits of our labour at

About 6 months ago I uploaded my first Inkscape screencast to YouTube and soon after heathenx started doing them too [he does nothing but copy me ;)]. We've had plenty of views on YouTube, but two things always bugged us. The quality/size of the video, and the 10 minute/100MB limitation on uploads.

So while we won't be abandoning the YouTube posts, we're going to be putting our screencasts over on the new site and likely posting versions to YouTube in tandem with that.

We've got all of our 23 episodes up on the site right now. We decided to encode them in flash format (.swf files) for two reasons really: ubiquity of the flash format and easier streaming capability. You can download the swf files to your local machine and view them in your browser or any flash capable media player, or watch them right on the site in your browser. The site also has an RSS feed which will serve mainly as a outlet for announcements - ie. not as a video blog per se, at least for the time being.

Call me a masochist, but I have to say that the hurdles and challenges we had to overcome to get the site the way we wanted was the most fun I've had in a while. Both heathenx and myself are engineers and because of that, I think that we're pretty much in our element when stuck with a problem and left to our own devices. The fact that we share the same dry and sometimes childish sense of humour didn't hurt the fun factor either. A quick check of the About page will illustrate that fact quite clearly. :)

And that's really the whole motive behind it. Fun. Sure, we could easily use the site to make millions (after all, we developed a completely custom-built content management system for it - in 80 lines of python [cough cough]), but we're far too modest for that. ;)

So if you've enjoyed any of our past screencasts, or want to check them out, head on over to the site at:

We'd appreciate your feedback to help improve the site, so if you've got any comments or questions, you can comment on this post, or email us at: screencasters AT

And of course, if you like the site (or hell, even if you don't) spread the word to your screencast and/or Inkscape loving friends.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Wiki research in mindmap format... nice!

I've always been a fan of the concept of mind mapping, but for the most part, for me, it has remained in the realm of pencil and paper. I've found a few good tools, but just haven't put enough effort into any of them thus far.

Will Simpson posts about a great online app called WikiMindMap which pulls the search results for any term from and displays it in a mindmap format. The output is great for this type of data since it let's you expand different nodes to effectively drill down without the clutter.

I've seen a few posts in my feed list about mind mapping in the past. What tools are people using to do this stuff on the desktop? Leave a comment and let me know.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Daddy's day...

To all fathers out there. Happy Father's Day.

Make sure to celebrate it with those that make you a father. Namely
your sons or daughters.

Hope you all enjoy the day.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Another Twist on the Quick Chill

Here's a twist on the cold beer hack I spotted over on this morning. That post suggests using a tray full of salted ice water in the freezer to quickly chill a room temp beer. If, like me, you haven't got any room in your freezer, a trick that I've used to good effect in the past to achieve similar results is as follows:

1. Pour a sink or bucket full of cold water, some ice and some salt. Make it deep enough that the entire bottle (or can) of beer can be submerged including the air trapped in the neck of the bottle - that's crucial.

2. Grasping the bottle top in your fingers, spin it back and forth keeping it as vertical as possible. Higher rpm is better but don't strain yourself - you're chilling a beer after all ;).

3. A couple of minutes of that will drop the temperature to a respectable degree.

4. Dry off the bottle and add a side of nacho chips, chicken wings or pizza to suit. Enjoy.

I think spinning keeps the beer from foaming, and also keeps moving the warm beer in the middle of the bottle out to the sides where it's nice and cold. The part about submerging the air in the bottle neck is crucial since this can inhibit the chilling effect.

If you're good, you can spin two at once and enjoy that beer with a friend. :)

While you should be able to do it with cans, spinning them might be more difficult. I don't normally drink canned beer, but give it a try. What the heck.

My personal recommendations for a hot summer day are Pilsner Urquell, Creemore Springs or a nice Sam Adams.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

On the DoFollow Wagon...

Following the lead of a few of my favourite reads, I've decided to disable the nofollow attribute for commenting that's built into my Blogger™ template. So to encourage commenting and discussion if you leave your link in the comments, you will be justly rewarded.

Now of course I manually moderate the comments - and oh boy, it's such an onerous job with the hundreds of comments I get on each post ;) - and any spam comments that show up will of course be swiftly dealt with. I've even put up an ominous commenting policy over on the right, but that's more just to encourage people to participate rather than lay down the proverbial law.

If you've got a Blogger™ blog and you're want to spread the Google juice to your commenters then check out this post.

It's All Text

Via Chromatic's post at the O'Reilly OnLamp blog, I tried out the It's All Text Firefox extension and I have to say I love it!

This extension lets you quickly bring up your favourite text editor any time you need to enter text on a web page. I find my own Blogger comment entry box for instance woefully small and inept. With this add-on installed, I can either right-click in the text box and choose "It's All Text" from the popup menu, or click the semi-transparent edit button that the extension puts at the bottom right of text boxes. If you haven't set an editor preference yet, it'll ask you to do so the first time.

From then on, once you do it, your editor of choice (gVim in my case) will pop up and when you save the document, the text gets pasted into the text box. Nice and simple.

I don't think it works in Gmail's rich text mode when composing an email, but a quick switch to plain text mode reveals the edit button once again. You shouldn't really be in Rich Text mode anyway should you... ;) Of course you can always compose the bulk of the text in plain text mode and then once it's been pasted in, switch to rich mode to add links and such.

All in all, a very useful tool. If you do a lot typing on the web and miss using your favourite offline editing tool, check it out.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Do you still email Word documents?

Kent Newsome cites Ed Bott, who writes about receiving MS-Word documents that inadvertently contain revision history and comments. Granted, I'm not in law, but I would assume that the engineering documents we send to our clients (sealed drawings, letters and reports) are every bit as much contract documents as what the lawyers are sending. But I have to say we very rarely ever send MS-Word documents or AutoCAD .dwg files to our clients. These days, the drawings, letters and reports that go out to our clients via email almost always go in PDF format.

The main advantage to us is formatting control. With drawings, the print quality and line weight issues have traditionally been a problem. We'd have to do a lot of futzing around with pen settings files that would have to go along with the drawings, and depending on the recipient's printer, we'd still have no guarantee that what they printed would accurately resemble what we intended. PDF solves that problem for us. The PDF we generate from AutoCAD (I use CutePDF) prints the same on the recipient's end as it does in our office. In addition, we can protect our PDF's so we can more securely send drawings with a P.Eng seal and signature - although the effectiveness of this is still a hotly debated topic among consultants.

If the documents we're sending are letters or reports to be reviewed and marked up by the client, they either have to do it using a PDF editor, or they hand mark it and send it back. If CAD drawings and plans are to be marked up or used by the client, contractor or another engineering consultant, we will send them AutoCAD .dwg files, but those drawings have the P.Eng seal and signatures removed (in fact those things are linked to documents on our servers and never get sent out anyway). But any drawings containing signatures and a seal are sent out in PDF format or hardcopy.

While we do use .doc format internally for some things [I try to use OpenOffice of course ;) ], I am always surprised and a little amused when someone sends me a Word document via email. Almost everyone in our business seems to have moved to PDF for document exchange.

Maybe Ed and Kent are talking strictly about clients being able to make revision-trackable comments and changes to documents. In that case, I can see the familiarity of MS-Word being an advantage, but the lack of protection, formatting control problems and the inadvertent escape of sensitive metadata makes me wonder why it's still the format of choice for them.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Now there's a Linux Ad...

I know you've likely seen this one before, but this IBM commercial about Linux is a heck of a lot more appealing to me than any Mac-ad spoof.

Friday, June 08, 2007

If a Tweet falls in the forest.. do I care?

I think I've officially lost all interest in Twitter. At least for now. Granted, I only have 7 friends (and 8 followers), but either Twitter is busted or nobody in my tiny circle of friends is using it anymore. There's only one who seems to be posting with any kind of frequency and he's not even what I'd call a personal contact.

I have failed to see the usefulness (for me anyway) in this style of short message posting. And believe me, I'm all for useless but fun web services, but I don't even find it fun.

I guess it's no surprise that I haven't posted a lot on Twitter - there are many things competing for my attention at the moment and it's survival of the fittest. My lack of Twitter postings (or tweets or whatever you call them) are clearly indicative of how far down the ladder of interest it is for me.

I won't close my Twitter account, but suffice it to say it will likely drop off my radar completely in short order.

In fact I think it's in a race to the bottom with Facebook at the moment. ;)

Planting The Seeds of Decent Grammar

Faithful readers,

Having read this blog, you know full well that I am not much of a grammar nazi. But I try to use proper grammar and full, reasonably coherent sentences. Sure, I throw the odd semicolon around with wild abandon, but I don't normally go around chastising people for their dangling gerunds (I looked that up btw). However, I draw the line at the increasing use of "Good" as a response to "How's it going?" or "How are you doing?".

I attempted to head this off at the pass this morning as I drove my sub 6 daughter to school:

"How is so-and-so doing?", I asked.

"Good", she replied.

Attempting to seize the opportunity and right the listing ship, I tactfully say, "Y'know... it's proper to say 'well' when someone asks you how you're doing or how is it going."

"No it's not Daddy."

"I'm pretty sure it is, cupcake.", I reply, deciding immediately that this is neither the time nor place to introduce the concept of verbs into the conversation.

"No. I'm right, and you're not Daddy."

Perhaps weakly, I resort to the standard, "This would be a good thing to ask Mrs. X".

Mrs. X being her teacher of course. The one person who can overrule whatever nonsense it is that Daddy tries to pawn off on her as knowledge.

Based on a multitude of similar conversations I've had with her in the past, this tactic usually works. Normally, I won't bring it up again right away, but (hopefully) I'll notice her slipping in the 'well' in place of the 'good' on her own accord.

Perhaps the job is just to plant the seed. All you can do is water it, care for it, and hope it grows.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Speed test anyone?

It's probably been at least a year, if not two, since I last checked into the speed of my DSL connection. I remember back then that I was supposed to get 1500 down and 500 up and that various speed tests were showing me at about 80-90% of that.

It seems my service has improved since then. (Click the graphic to visit the site and test your own connection).

Nice to see things improving.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Half the Geek

Whoa! I guess I'm not half the geek I thought I was. Scoble posts his top 35 favourite feeds of the month.

I read only three of those 35 (Digg, Lifehacker and Thomas Hawk).

I dropped Engadget a fairly long time back. Too many posts, too little interest.

Boingboing boinged it's way off my feed list about 9 months ago. Too many posts, and a little too weird. Sport jacket made entirely of meat anyone?

All things 'crunch' - I grew very tired of web2.0 startup news. I am finding this area of news more pretentious and less interesting every day - and it's not just Mike. But hey, that's just me. When Steve Gillmor closed the circus tent, I started losing interest - quickly.

Actually, I'm finding that that there are so many good and interesting relatively low-traffic blogs grabbing my interest that they are slowly but surely shoving aside many of the incumbents in my feed reader.

The old guard had better watch out.

Conversation with a Facebook Refugee

A friend of mine recently told me he was 'done with Facebook'. Naturally, I asked him why. He said that old "acquaintances" were coming out of the woodwork, and while it was great that his wife was (and still is) a Facebook member, he was uncomfortable seeing scrawlings on his wall from partners from days gone by. Clearly, he didn't want to deal with the potential problem of the 'crazy ex-girlfriend'.

He also lamented the fact that it became a way for friends and acquaintances to shoot cheeky responses around at each other. Now if you combine this with his demographic (mid to late 20's - very recently married - but very much a guys night out type of guy) you can safely assume the banter back and forth was not always G-rated (but probably quite fun.)

We soon got around to discussing the things people do and write on the web. And that while it might be fun to post outrageous things on someone's "Wall", you can't really count on being able to take them back. And further, you can't count on something you write (anywhere on the net) being really deleted or somehow disappearing into the ether after a year or two.

Now this guy is not that tech-saavy - doesn't blog, frequents YouTube but not Digg - you get the picture. So I thought it'd be fun to show him the Internet Archive's WayBack Machine. Needless to say he was amazed that so much of what has (and is) going on on the net is being archived and captured.

I have a feeling that most people in the mainstream who are now just starting to generate and publish (however inadvertently) things on the net, don't really get the potential permanence of it.

As I've said several times before, be proud of what you write (or at least not embarrassed) and you'll do fine. If you don't, you'll never know when it might come back and bite you.

ps - While I have never found Facebook very compelling, my interest in it is declining even further day by day. But then again, so is my interest in Twitter. But that's another story, for another post.

Monday, June 04, 2007

How is Technorati *supposed* to work?

I was checking out the newer, faster, better, Technorati today and did a search on 'inkscape' to see what new things people were doing. I noticed quite quickly that my YouTube hosted screencasts are there in all their glory but no mention of my blog at all. I didn't expect it to see it under the 'posts' tab since I haven't tagged anything 'inkscape' in the last few days, but I do have probably 20 or 30 posts tagged 'inkscape' on my blog so I kind of expected it to show up under the 'blogs' tab.

Hmm. I thought the Blogger(tm) labels were like any other blog tagging system and that they'd be picked up by Technorati. Maybe I've got to add Technorati specific tags to my posts like Kent does?

I signed up and 'claimed' my blog there a couple years back, but maybe I've got to be doing more to be visible there?

Anybody care to educate me on this?

Someone please tell me how this is supposed to work.

2012 Olympic logo - [cough cough] fugly [cough cough]

David Airey is not impressed with the new 2012 London Olympic logo that was recently unveiled.

I can't say I'm awestruck either.

At a rumoured $600,000.00 cost.. maybe dumbstruck is more accurate.