Friday, February 29, 2008

Homelife Security - Handy Advisory System

Men - take a few minutes and review this system. This handy, color coded system, could help save your life, or the life of a loved one.

Click here to see it.

I wonder where I can get one those handy color coded charts for my friend's kitchen, personally, I'd never need one.

Grandpa Shocks and Amazes

Yesterday, I got a scary text message from my brother - grandpa has chest pain, heading to hospital. Within an hour, my otherwise (relatively speaking, for an 88 year old) healthy grandpa was in ICU, sedated and on a ventilator. What happened, nobody quite knew.

Well, the good news is, he's back! Today, he's off the vent (or as my E.R. doc brother wants us to call it, the "blower"), talking and in good spirits. In theory, tomorrow or the next day, he'll go home from the hospital.

I can only hope that I inherited just a little bit of his incredible set of genes.

Still, the Dr.'s aren't quite sure what's next or what caused the incident in the first place - but I can tell you one thing, we're all feeling might lucky and amazed that we got him back.

Life, ladies and gentlemen, is fragile - cherish every single moment of it.

For those interested in saying a misheberach over him, his hebrew name is Yitzchak ben Rachel.

Adding Sound To A Web App

I was working on an app yesterday that called, I belived, for a few sound effects, to give it that polished feel. There were two challanges to solve, and here's how I solved them:

  1. How to play a sound based on a JavaScript event. I found the SoundManager did just what I wanted. I was able to hook up button presses and even AJAX events to specific sounds. SoundManager leverages flash, but you don't actually need to own or use the Flash authoring environment. As packages go, it's hard to beat.
  2. What sound to play. I'm not exactly sure who the istockphoto of sounds are, so I resorted to Googling around. I found sites here, here and utlimately here that had sounds I could easily download and appeared to have reasonable licenses.

The biggest lesson out of the whole experience though, was just how valuable adding the sounds to the app was. It was the equivalent of adding drop shadows and rounding the corners of the design - it doesn't make it look a little better, it makes it look much better. It's those little tweaks that add polish to an application and make it more pleasing to use.

Try adding a few subtle sounds to your next web app, I think you'll be impressed with the outcome.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Earning My (Script-Fu) Blackbelt

I've been really impressed with The Gimp 2.4. It's been a really solid performer and with the short-cut keyz situation worked out, a breeze to use.

Today I had to scale about 20 images down to a height of 240px. I also wanted to experiment with different values of the JPEG quality setting. My first thought was to use ImageMagick, but the super handy convert script doesn't easily allow you scale to a specific height (you need to provide both height and width, or just width).

Then it hit me, why don't I whip up a quick Script-Fu plugin to do what I wanted? That script, combined with adding a short-cut key to it, turned out to be an ideal solution. It wasn't quite as automated as a shell script, but allowed me to visually inspect my changes as I went.

And best of all, It Taught Me To Fish, so now I'm more comfortable with scripting the Gimp.

Here's the script I came up with. Notice, it's not parameterized with respect to how the image is scaled or the JPEG quality. I did that on purpose because I didn't want to bother with prompting while using it.


(define (bs-script-fu-scale-and-save img drawable)
  (let* ((orig-width (car (gimp-image-width img)))
         (orig-height (car (gimp-image-height img)))
         (dest-height 240)
         (dest-width (/ (* dest-height orig-width) orig-height)))
    (gimp-drawable-transform-scale-default drawable 0 0 
                                           dest-width dest-height
                                           TRUE TRANSFORM-RESIZE-CROP)
    (gimp-image-resize-to-layers img)
    (file-jpeg-save 1 img drawable 
                    (car (gimp-image-get-filename img))
                    (car (gimp-image-get-filename img))
                    1 0 0 0
                    "Saved by Ben's scale-and-save filter"
                    0 1 0 1)
    (gimp-image-clean-all img)))
                    
                    


(script-fu-register
 "bs-script-fu-scale-and-save"
 "Scale and Save"
 "Scale an image down and then save it as a reduced jpg"
 "Ben Simon"
 "copyright 2008, Ideas2Executables"
 "Feburary 28, 2008"
 "RGB"
 SF-IMAGE      "Image to Scale" 0
 SF-DRAWABLE   "Drawable to Scale" 0
 )
(script-fu-menu-register "bs-script-fu-scale-and-save" "/Filters/Util")

I'm quite impressed with The Gimp's scripting capabilities. Yeah, it's Scheme, which is fun. But it's also highly dynamic, easy to find and read about existing functions, and provides an interactive console where you can try out expressions.

I found these docs here, here, here and here to be helpful in getting comfortable with Script-Fu.

To me, The Gimp wins big points for being so easily scriptable from a developer's perspective. Not so much for fancy effects, but because it allows me to apply my inner programmer to image problems easily.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Putting my wallet on a diet

OK, I've tried to be rational about this. I've gone through and cleaned out my wallet multiple times. I've taken out the membership card to the video store we never go to, Shira's old college ID, countless bits of paper, my dental card and whatever else I thought I could live without. My wallet was still bulging. It's gotten to the point where I find myself taking it out of my pocket when I sit in the car - that's not good.

So, I'm putting my wallet on a starvation diet. All it has in it right now are:

  • A personal and business credit card
  • ATM card
  • Driver's License
  • Some cash (remember I'm married, so we're not talking much here)
  • A safety pin and a paper clip (which will both one day earn their own blog post, not doubt)

That's it. Finally, I can sit down again.

My plan is to add things back in as I find that I need them. Also, I'm thinking that I don't always need to carry around my medical card, I'll just bring it with me next time I go to the doctor. Same goes with my metro fare card - I'll just grab it the once every 3 months I actually use it.

I'm going to try my little experiment. If it goes well, I may try to pick up a money clip or smaller wallet to really complete the package.

So, tell me, how can this plan of mine backfire in the biggest possible way?

Update: So, Shira read about my plan. She doesn't approve. Specifically, she said that I should always have my medical card on me. Without it, the ambulance leaves you at the curb and the hospital won't let you in. I laid out my argument as to why this was most likely not true. I think it was a solid argument.

The medical card is now back in my wallet.

Back at the Orthodontist

So I find myself at the orthodontist this morning. It's not for me, and it's not for braces - whatever, forget why I'm here. I just am.

And I have to say, I'm not all that pleased about it. This is bringing back memories of going to the orthodontist as a kid, and they are, needless to say, not great memories.

Right now, the office here is quiet, but I overheard the receptionist say that they expect 50 checkups this afternoon. We better not be here for that rush. I'm getting sweaty palms thinking about it.

I have two strong memories from my braces days. First, was the hurry up and wait. Invevitably, we'd arrive to my appointment late. Then we'd wait in the waiting room, then I'd wait in a dental chair, and then someone would finally check me out. The check took about 45 seconds. That's it. Why they couldn't check me in the waiting room, or if we had them, via a web cam. Why? What a waste.

My second memory was of the toothbrushes. Looking back, this made a lot of sense - you're dealing with 11 year old kids after school, they probably have a good two meals stuck in their braces. So, what do you do? You have them brush their teeth before the appointment. Sounds sane. How it was executed, I have to think looking back, wasn't.

At the beginning of the year, you were given a toothbrush, a plastic tube, and a number, say 397. At the start of your appointment, you'd grab your toothbrush from a gigantic rack (well, when you're 11, it looks gigantic) and brush. This means pulling #397's tube, taking out a toothbrush that had been sitting in an airtight tube for weeks, if not months, brushing, and sealing back up again.

Yuck.

Now imagine you're a dyslexic 11 year old? I must have brushed my teeth with 397's, 937's, 793's brush. I can't imagine I used my own toothbrush every time. Sorry my fellow ortho patients.

Like I said, not the funnest of memories.

--Ben

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

OO: Public, private and pubment?!

I was studying up on the MzScheme OO library (for some potential MrEd development) and came across the pubment method decleration. I know all about public, private and protected - but pubment?

It's a pretty slick concept, check it out:

The stack% class declares its print-name method using pubment, which means that the method is public, but it can only be augmented in subclasses, and not overridden. The implementation of print-name uses inner to execute a subclass-supplied augmenting method. If no such augmenting method is available, the (void) expression is evaluated, instead. The fancy-stack% classes uses augment to declare an augmentation of print-name, and also uses inner to allow further augmenting in later subclasses.

pubment appears to allow you to write a method, and yet give your subclass a way to intervene, in a controlled way, during the method execution. The result is that your subclass can provide functionality without it having to re-implement or delegate to, an entire method.

Interesting.

I find this fascinating, and useful, not because it's Scheme and Just Better, but because it reminds me that there's more to OO than what Java or C++ decides is OO. It's also a powerful reminder of what happens when your OO framework is a user-level add-on, and not a core part of the language. Programmers will not only come up with novel OO conventions, but will also be able to implement them fairly easily.

A poweful lesson, if you ask me.

I wonder how pubment compares to Aspect Oriented Programming. Guess I could try that in MzScheme too.

Retro Gadget Watch: NEC MobilePro 700

I stumbled on this discussion of what cheap laptop you might want to pick up for blogging purposes:

I tried a number of things (Tandy Model 100, HP Jornada, Palmpilot w/thumboard, alphasmart laptop, etc), but found my favorite to be the NEC Moblilepro 7xx series. I have an ancient 750, but I find it perfect for writing txt files to a Compact Flash card, which I then unplug and transfer to my desktop in seconds. I've been using it for years now, and can't imagine anything better.

Now, this is not a palm-sized machine. It's a tiny tiny laptop, just bigger than a VHS cassette. However, it's the smallest instant-on machine with a nearly-full-size, very usable keyboard you'll find.
The later models, 770/780/790 are readily available on ebay from $60 to $150.

And sure enough, the NEC MobilePro 700 does appear to have an impressive set of features, including a touch screen, a full touch-typeable keyboard, and even voice input. With a CF card slot, it should be possible to cajole the files onto a USB thumb drive somehow.

And they really do go for under $100 on eBay.

I was thinking this might be an ideal machine to pickup for traveling when I didn't want to travel with a real laptop. I could blog on the device and then upload the content when I was near an Internet cafe or at the hotel. Or, I could always make use of the blazing fast 33.6 modem to upload content.

Did I mention it runs Linux?

It's no OLPC, but it does look like it would be a fun device to kick around.

Monday, February 25, 2008

First Sighting and Tagline Of The Day

<Gulp>. Passover must be coming. You saw it here first.

And Rogaine wins the Tagline Of The Day contest with the pithy, yet perfect: "Use it or lose it."

--Ben

Update: My Mother-In-Law passed on another candidate for Tagline Of The Day. It's from Terrapin Grille located at Niagara Falls. Their tagline? The only thing we overlook is the falls. Nice.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Video To Mix

One day, when I have a bit of free time, I'm so going to mix this video with some images I have lying around.

Unfortunately, the person who uploaded the video won't let me embed it - but trust me, it's worth a look.

Any suggestions for what imagery I should mix with this audio?

GUI Scheme Programming Tip: Drag and Drop Capability

Here's a tip - if you're looking to develop a desktop GUI application in Scheme and you need to have drag 'n drop capability, you should be looking into the pasteboard object in PLT's MrEd library.

This took me a while to find, as I made too very poor asumptions:

  1. An Editor widgetw would be useful just for text editing
  2. A pasteboard had something to do with Cut-And-Paste

Both of these assumptions were wrong, and if I had read through the manual a bit further I would have found the following:

Programs that need a canvas with dragable objects -- The drawing toolbox provides a generic drawing surface for plotting lines and boxes, but many applications need an interactive canvas, where the user can drag and resize individual objects.

Which is just what I wanted.

Luckily, the kind folks on PLT mailing list striaghtened me out in a hurry.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Travel Tip: Plugging In On The Plane

Last time I was on a plane, I noticed what appeared to be a power plug next to the seat, but didn't fit any adapters I had seen before. I finally got around looking this up for my next trip and learned:

American Airlines has retrofitted their airplanes for more leg room in coach, which makes it far easier to extend your laptop screen. And if you're on American, look for a "lightning bolt" symbol on the overhead bin row — these are the ones with power port-equipped seats. Most airline laptop outlets require an EmPower plug, which is not the same as a car lighter plug.; when buying an adapter, check if it has a convertible plug that works with both airline and car chargers

Sure enough, for $10.00 I can convert my car adapter into one that's Airplane friendly.

What you say, you don't have a car adapter to power your laptop? How on Earth do you program for hours while your wife drives? Don't tell me you actually talk to her on 5+ hour trips? You can pickup an adapter for around $30 that should do the trick for both the car and plane. Your wife (or husband) may not thank me for this.

There's also an interesting warning from the above article:

Some airline passengers have found that they can plug a laptop computer AC adapter into 110V/400Hz airframe sockets, usually located under covers near the floor next to an exit door. Don't do this. Aside from the issue of running your adapter on 400Hz, these outlets are intended for medical devices during flight. If there's something wrong with your adapter and it trips the circuit breaker, someone could literally die before the problem is corrected — the breaker is difficult to access because it's located below the main passenger deck. If you see someone using any outlets on a plane other than the approved laptop charging outlets, alert a flight attendant.

Good to know.

New Shades and a Warning

Us in our new shades:

I know, I know - I might think I look pretty cool. But never forget, coolness has its limits (thanks John for the reminder!):

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Tip: Ask if the camera is on first, not last

Here's a novel suggestion: ask if the camera is on before yous start harassing kids, not at the end.

One a more serious note - this video does raise an interesting question. What would I do If I were the head of PR at the Baltimore, PD, and saw this video? I'd start video taping all officer encounters with suspects and post them on YouTube. I'd flood the site with video. Just hire some high school intern to edit and post the video.

I'd make it perfectly clear what this was - one cop, having a bad day (or maybe one cop who shouldn't be a cop). As a bonus, people would see that 99% of the time, the officers on the force are doing great work under the most difficult of situations.

Someone at the Baltimore Police Department needs to pick up a copy of Meatball Sundae and study it. They need to realize that they are a business, and how they do business (such as leveraging YouTube) should be changing, just like every other organization needs to learn this lesson.

Thanks to Gavin Purcell for the find.

Review: Meatball Sundae

Meatball Sundae, by Seth Godin, is an important book for anyone in business to read. Its goal is to catch you up on the latest trends that are revolutionizing how people do business (and it's not limited to .com's either). Luckily, along with being important to read, it's fun to read.

It's a typical Seth Godin book, in that it's concise, easy to read, full of fun stories and has a can do subtext to it.

I know that Shira's glad I'm done with the book, as every few pages I'd holler out to her - hey honey, listen to this one.... She's essentially read the book, without ever having to pick it up.

I'm giving the book a 8/10 - not because it's not perfect, but because Seth has set the bar so very high. So, this book is good, but not quite as eye-opening and life changing, as say, The Dip. But still, it's good and meets its primary goal: educate the non-web savvy among us.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

A Vista Friendly Local Mail Server Solution

A while back I found Free STMP, an easy to use SMTP server for Windows XP. This seemed like an ideal solution for PHP and Java development. But, I think I've found one that's even better, and it's Vista compatiable too:SMTP Server Emulator.

You download, install it and it runs as service. The app does what it promises - to the PHP and Java, it looks like a SMTP server, but mail is never actually sent anywhere. It just gets stored locally and is easily viewable in Notepad.

This approach to mail handling has some major advantages:

  • You don't need to worry about spam traps and delays when sending yourself e-mail. Trying to convince your gmail account that it should accept mail from some random laptop running a basic SMTP sever can be a real pain.
  • No mail is ever sent - so you can't accidentally mail folks when testing the application
  • Every mail message sent by the application can be audited, even those that don't have the developer in the To: field.
  • The totally local setup allows you to do development that involves e-mail even when not connected to the Internet. Like, say, when you're programming in the car (while your spouse is driving).
  • You can instantly inspect e-mails that were sent rather than waiting for them to arrive in your inbox.

Proof Of A Business Expense

Think the IRS would prefer the diagram I scribbled on our takeout
container over a mere reciept as proof that tonight was a work related
dinner?

I could just imagine sending my accoutant a stack of napkins, take out
containers and other temporary whiteboards at the end of the year. He'd
love me.

--Ben

Episode 1: Grandpa on How It Is

Here's Episode 1 of Grandpa on How It Is. This is the director's cut version - unedited and totally uncensored. My brother David gets credit for the shooting the video.

My Grandpa is one of the best storytellers I know, and like all good storytellers, never let's the truth get in the way of a good story.

Hopefully, this will be the first of many episodes to come.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Our Collaborative Art Project

Here's the result of an art collaboration between myself and the brilliant 3 year old artist who I had the pleasure of working with (and she's good with technology too, note the cell phone).

The contents of the picture include: the sun, moon, stars, 2 kissing elephants, and a magnifying glass. She chose the contents, and I'm sad to say, I did the drawing.

Kids have the most wonderful imaginations...

Update: I used The GIMP for this picture, though I should really have used Tux Paint. Tux Paint is a free drawing program for 3 - 12 year olds that runs on Mac, Windows and Linux.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Kids are nice...

But putting them to bed and pigging out on ice cream and home made
brownies isn't so bad either.


--Ben

Keeping up with kids

You'd think we could easily keep up with a three year old and an 8 month old... but it's not as easy as it sounds!! Thanks so much to our NY friends for hosting us and for letting us play aunt and uncle for the day.

How cute cell phone technology is when it comes in pink princess!

Check out Shira having a heart to heart over the Jared jewelry box regarding the importance of jewelry. Men, this gets ingrained at a young age.

Hats off to Crayola for their Color Wonder technology, where the color only shows up "where it's supposed to." This supposedly means that your walls and furniture are safe. Fascinating. Just fascinating.

Whatever you do, don't ask me to choose who's cuter.

They Do This To Mess With Me

Changed the wipers blades on the cars today - and of course, had extra parts. They do this on purpose, just to mess with me. [1]

AutoZone was kind enough to print a handy receipt for Shira that told her exactly which size blades she needed for each of our cars. I'll mention them here to record them for next time, when such critical info may not be so accessible:

Acura TL: Driver side: 26", passenger side: 19"

Acura TSX: Driver side: 26", passenger side: 16"

Don't tell Shira changing the blades was trivial, I'd like her to think I did some serious car hacking this morning.

[1] - Yes, of course the part is useful - but go with me on this for a sec.

--Ben

Snail Mail Meets Blogging

The Find

Tonight, I had a half baked idea for doing a podcast and was curious how I could get the audio converted to text. I found enablr.com, which will do the transcription for me at $1/min. I was also surprised and impressed at anther service they off - blog distribution by snail mail:

You've got something to say, but not everyone reads the Web! Get your blog printed and mailed as a digest to family members, clients and prospects

Apparently, for $2.00/post, you can signup with the stenographr service, and they will happily mail your blog post to a recipient via the USPS. Fascinating.

I haven't checked it out thoroughly yet, perhaps it's a left over April Fool's day joke I've stumbled on. But I happen to like it. Don't think I'll use it, but I'm still impressed.

My Big Idea

This all brought back an idea I've had for quite some time but have never implemented. It's called, Blogging By Postcard. Here's how it would work: You're an avid blogger going on vacation. But you're going off to some remote location where internet access isn't really feasible. Or, more likely, your spouse will kill you if you trapse half way around the world and spend your time writing blog posts. What to do? You use the cutting edge blogbypostcard.com (or maybe? postcardrblogr.com). All you need to take along with you on your trip is a index card with the postal address of blogbypostcard.com. As you go through your vacation, you jot down notes on the postcards and, you guessed it, mail them to blogbypostcard.com.

As the folks at blogbypostcard.com get your notes, they post them on your blog for you - both putting up the image of the postcard (both sides!) and the text.

Sure, it might not be the most practical way to communicate with the folks back home, but 'cmon - how much fun would it be? And a few years from now, I'm sure those postcards would be precious memories.

I'm tempted to start the service and offer it for free. But of course, who would post my postcards when I was on vacation?

Seriously, one day I'm going to execute that idea...

Dev Tool Of The Night: Stand Alone IE 6

Why on Earth would someone get excited about an ancient, non-compliant browser, which has caused untold pain in the development and design world? Because,try as I might, IE 6 isn't going away anytime soon. This leaves one with a dilema - which version of IE should you have installed on your box? Or do you need two boxes? Or some fancy-shmancy virtual server setup?

Now for the exciting part -- thanks to this how to, you don't actually need to choose. Turns out, it's easy - just download IE 6, stand alone version and run it. There's no install process, just unzip and go.

This was a huge help tonight in diagnosing an odd IE 6 bug and should come in handy in many a dev session to come.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Crowned

So, they just put my crown in and now I'm waiting for the cement to
set.

It's times like these that I think about the deeper questions in
life....like my lord, how much saliva can one man produce! I'm a drool
factory!

Another few minutes, and this should be my last blog post about dental
work for say 6-8 months.

Happy flossing y'all!

--Ben

How to: Giving design direction for a new website

When you work with a designer to create a new website, inevitably, among the first questions he or she will ask you is What sites do you like?. Seems like an innocuous question, right? After all, you surf web like everyone else, how hard can be it be to pick a few of the sites you come across as ones that you like.

If you're like me, it's really hard. When I actually think about sites that I visit on a daily basis, none of them seem like much use for design inspiration - weather.com, Google and CNN just don't provide much in the way of design help for a new corporate web site or product.

So, here's what I've learned to do:

  1. Open up a blank e-mail message, ready to be sent to the designer
  2. Open up a new web browser and point it to www.css-galleries.com. If that web site isn't up, then head over to Google and search for CSS galleries and pick another site.
  3. Now, click on the first thumbnail shown in the gallery. This will take you to the website so you can get a closer look. Copy the URL into the mail message you've started. Go ahead and note in the e-mail what you like or don't like about the site. If you're completely non-phased by the site, simply note that it didn't do anything for you. Some ways you might want look at the site include:
    • Colors - Love a particular shade of blue? Is it too dark?
    • Use of images - Are images used in a way that you like? Could they be bigger? Smaller?
    • Textures / patterns - Do you notice any textures or patterns you like? Find annoying?
    • Theme - Is the site too retro? Too corporatey? Do you love the down home look?
    • Layout - do you like how information is organized? Is it a mess?
    • First impressions - is there just something about the site you like? Hate?
    Negative comments are just as useful as positive ones, so regardless of what catches your eye, note it.
  4. Repeat. Hit the back button in your browser to go back to CSS Galleries and choose another thumbnail. When you've done the first page, click on the "Next page" link in the upper right hand corner. There's currently 365 pages on the site, so there are plenty of pages to look through.
  5. When you've noticed that your comments are starting to get repetitious, then it may be time to stop. Are you seeing a trend in the positive comments? Great - then you probably know what colors, layouts, etc. you like.
  6. Look over the sites that worked for you - which of them really capture that elusive I like this quality? You'll want to shoot for around 5 of these sites. Put them at the top of the e-mail, along with what you like about each of them. You'll want to summarize what you like in 2 - 4 sentences. Finally, leave the complete list of your positive and negative comments in the e-mail, though put it at the bottom of the message. Put a short introductory sentence before those comments that reads something like "Below is a list of websites I checked out, my comments might be useful in giving you a better idea of what I like and don't like in a design."
  7. Send the e-mail to your designer
  8. Be prepared for followup questions and explinations

Be warned - this process does take some time. But it's time well spent. Good luck on the new site!

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Psst. Wanna buy a watch?

No seriously, want to buy a watch? i2x built the Watch Report Marketplace for Watch Report, the premiere watch review and news site. The Marketplace officially launched today and is now open for business. Christian, the man behind Watch Report, describes the Marketplace as follows:

The new Watch Report Marketplace is the easiest and most powerful way to buy and sell watches online.

I've asked Christian if the marketplace was for mere mortals like myself who don't own a Rolex or Omega, and he assures me it is (of course, it's also for watch aficionados). If you've got an old watch lying around, why not make a few dollars off it? Or, better yet, why not pick up a fancy new watch for your significant other - they're sure to love it.

If you have questions or comments about the site, drop Christian a line. If you find a bug, let me know and I'll fix it in a hurry! (What, ideas2executables has bugs in their software?! There's a first time for everything, I suppose).

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Photoshop'acizing My Gimp

I've been playing with The Gimp, 2.4 on my new laptop and I'm quite impressed. Usually, I'd insist that the company I was working for pay the $1,000 or so for the latest version of Photoshop - but now that I am the company, I decided I should take a closer look The Gimp. For serious image editing, Photoshop is still the way to go, but I'm curious how far The Gimp gets me.

The basic feel of the Gimp 2.4 is solid, and it had no problems opening up client's PSDs. However, I noticed that I was tripping over myself while using it. This was because I kept using Photoshop key combinations, which of course, don't do what you expect. Check out this typical sequence:

  1. OK, I've got a selection I'd like to clear, so I'll hit Control+D
  2. D'oh - what happened?! Where's my image
  3. Wait a second, that's right, Control+D in Gimp duplicates an image. I'm looking at the duplicate.
  4. I'll just close this image and get back to work by hitting Control+W
  5. Argh, now it wants to interrogate me about whether or not I want save the image. Of course I don't want to save the duplicate, I didn't want it in the first place!
  6. Ahh, now I'm back to my original image. Now, how do I clear a selection?
  7. ...Find the Selection menu, then find the None option - Oh yeah, it's Control+Shift+A
  8. ...7 minutes later, repeat...

I'd hit Control+D a few times and I'd be ready to chuck out The Gimp altogether.

Of course, you can easily redefine the keys - and that's what I did today. There's actually some great resources on the web for making The Gimp Photoshop friendly, though they appear to only work in older 2.2 version. Setting your preferred key combinations is as easy as going to File >> Keyboard Shortcuts and following the instructions. It took about 20 seconds to fix this major annoyance.

If you want a Gimp 2.4 version of a keyboard file with some Photoshop friendly additions, you're welcome to grab mine here. If you have any suggestions for key bindings to add, let me know.

The other feature that through me off, until I remembered how it works, was the Floating Selection. Turns out, this is quite handy - and probably something I'd miss if (when?) I switch back to using Photoshop.

Besides, if I use The Gimp, I'll get to hack it in Scheme. How cool is that?

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Casting My Vote

There, it's done - I voted.

Now I can continue to kvetch about our government...

--Ben

Another Reason To Vote For Barack

Here's another reason to vote for Barack: in Arlington, VA, he appears to be the only one talking. In the last few weeks, we've heard 3+ radio commercials, gotten 3 phone calls and had 2 people stop by our house and leave flyers -- all for Barack's campaign. We've heard exactly 1 Clinton radio commercial and absolutely nothing from McCain and Huckabee.

I mean, we aren't on any Republican mailing lists, but still, I'd expect to at least hear a commercial or two for the them.

Is Clinton pulling a Giuliani, and ignoring Northern VA? I don't get it.

What's supposed to happen is that Hillary is supposed to run these terrific ads that get me scurrying off to YouTube to search for her. But instead, I just hear Barack. I can't imagine how anyone undecided in this area would go for Hillary. But, maybe she'll surprise me.

Review: The Great Debaters

Last night, Shira and I caught The Great Debaters, a movie about a 1935 black debate team from Texas, that makes history by debating various white universities. While the movie wasn't perfect - it was predictable, the trailer gave a way a bit too much, and at times the pace didn't seem quite right - it was actually very good. It got across an important message: if you were black in 1935, you were fundamentally not safe in your own country. It was scary stuff, and the movie brought that home well.

The movie was produced by Oprah, and directed by Denzel Washington, so you can imagine it's going to be an uplifting and strictly PMA film. And it did that well too.

Put this on your list of movies to see (perhaps rent?) and make sure your kids see it too. It's too important a story to pass up.

Update: Two things. First, Shira thinks I'm being a bit too harsh on the movie. She thinks it was a really good movie and my implying that you should see it more out of educational value than entertainment value was off base. She's probably right.

And here's a thought. The teacher and sage in the movie is Melvin B. Tolson. Tolson is not only a teacher and inspiration to children, but also an activist, and according to his Wikipedia page, a writer and politician. But most surprisingly to me, his primary job description is that of poet. I don't know about you, but when I think of poets, I don't think of activists, or politicians, or inspiring kids. I think of a solitary craftsman creating hard to follow writing, which I won't get. So if this film did nothing else but to get me thinking of poets, and poetry in a different light, it was worth it.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Barack Obama - I'm Still Impressed

I've been a fan of Barack for some time now, and with the Virginia primary coming up, I figured I better make sure he's still the one that's earned my vote.

While my mind isn't fully made up yet - he's still impressing me. Check out these YouTube videos that I found while researching yesterday. I'm impressed not only by his oratory skills, but also by the specifics he's willing to go on record with. So often politicians can expertly answer a question without saying anything at all.

Claims like having full health care coverage for all Americans in 4 years are tough to make, and then deny. Or how about the video where he's telling a bunch of folks in Detroit that he's going to be especially tough on them when it comes to energy policy, and that their lobbyists have worked hard to avoid change. Those seem like gutsy statements to make.

Check them out and tell me what I'm missing. Better yet, share some links to some Clinton, McCain and Huckabee vidoes I should be watching too.

Barack on Isreal

Short and to the point - Barack, how do you feel about Isreal?

Barack on Iran

More on Isreal, Iran and the Middle East.

Barack on Oil

Here's Barack breaking the bad news to the Detroit Economics club - you guys are going to have to change, and you're to blame for part of this mess.

Barack On The War

Barack let's us know how he really feels about the war. Again, I think he's being quite blunt in an environment that is strictly on the record.

Barack Convincing Virginia To Vote For Him

This is a fairly lengthy speech Barack gave recently to bolster support in Virginia. Again, I find him going into specifics here that sound good to me - universal health care within 4 years, I'd like to that. He's either brilliant, or crazy.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

The Post-It Note - The Ultimate Art Canvas

Check out The Post-It Note Project. It features some wonderful sketches all done on Post-It notes. With the constraints of a Post-It note, one has to think that this is the haiku of drawing.

Check out this example:

It's remarkable stuff - take a few minutes and check it out.

Food, Wine and Rock & Roll!

One of Shira's co-workers put on a really fun house warming / wine tasting / Rock Band party. I had yet another chance to embarrass myself while struggling to sing and strum my way to fame. I even shot a video of myself on the drums. It's so hideous that I dare not post it. And that's saying a lot.

Some snapshots from the party...


All Rock Stars hold hands in photos - right?

Check out this impressive drumming technique by our hostess!

Did I mention there was wine and food? And lots of it!

Friday, February 08, 2008

Google Goodies

I just stumbled across the latest tweaks to Google Spreadsheets.

Two of the improvements include: adding support for including images on your spreadsheet and supporting dynamic forms.

The images are handy, and fairly expected. The forms idea is clever. Essentially, you can write up your own survey, and send it out. Folks respond on a basic website, all the while filling in your spreadsheet without ever logging in or facing a spreadsheet UI.

It's a feature I didn't know I wanted. But I'm sure I can find a use for it it. After all, Google Spreadsheets is among my favorite Swiss Army Knife style on-line tools.

Artist Of The Day: Ridley Bent

I discovered Ridley Bent while listening to my favorite French Country Music Station.

He seems part old time country, part rapper. I have to say, it works. Check out two of his videos below, hard to believe it's the same artist. I especially like the first song - how impressive is it that a country song could feature Nine Inch Nails in it?

Fun With Em

After way too long, I'm finally starting to leverage the "em" unit of measurement in my CSS. This is, of course, a best practice I've been hearing about for years, but never fully got.

Well, I'm on my way. These two articles gave me the details I needed:

http://clagnut.com/blog/348/

http://www.informit.com/articles/article.aspx?p=397663

I find there were two mind bending aspects to this:

(1) Changing the font size of a tag results in changing the definition of 1 `em' and therfore, all other measurements. Tweak font size, and your padding changes. Spooky.

(2) The size of an em is calculated by combining all the modifications your parent nodes have made to it. So, I find myself thinking: 1em = 10px in the body tage, 1em = 16px in the #page tag, 1em = 11px in the #menu tag, ...

This is going to take some practice, but the resulting fluid layout is just too cool not to take advantage of.

Besides, there's something cool about starting off a style sheet with the magical incantation:

  body { font-size: 62.5%; }
--Ben

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Lessons From The Dentist

Just got a crown and a filling done, the result of my latest regular
checkup. I had quite some time in the chair, and couldn't thinking
about some of the lessons learned:

- The problem with dental procedures isn't the pain. The discomfort
never got above a 2/10. The problem is the fear of pain. Or more
generally, the fear of the unknown. Manage this, and I'm golden.

- The dentist delegates like a madman. As soon as he's done his little
bit, he hands off the work to someone else and goes and helps another
patient. He must have been doing 3 of us at once.

- The dentist sets a fast pace. I don't know if he really is working
faster, but he gives the impression he is. Usually, you want doctors to
take their time with you. That is, unless they're drilling holes in
your teeth. Speed here is a very good thing.

- Novicaine in a remarkable invention. Simply amazing.

I survived, and have to head back in a week to finish the job.

--Ben

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Websites For A Rain Day

Here's a list of sites I keep meaning to check out when I get a bit of free time:

  • Broadtexter - C'mon, you know you want you own mobile fan club. This site will power it. Actually, thinking about it, it's pretty much Twitter a bit more focus. But I just love the fan club idea.
  • Mowser - Browse the web on your phone. All pretty like. What attracted me about this site is who built it - Russell Beattie. Russell was the first blogger I followed, and a fair number of the good parts of this blog can be traced back to his advice. The site also has some suggestions for making your site mobile friendly in a hurry. That alone is probably worth investing the site for.
  • The best newspaper in the universe - yours. Found this one while browsing Russell's blog and it caught my eye. It's model of can't read it now, click a button and read it on your mobile really sounds good to me. This one is ideal for those trips to the mall.
  • Synergy - OK, this one isn't a website. It's a piece of software. It allows you to link up two computers and use one mouse and keyboard between them. All via software. This is great, for say, when you are switching between an old and new laptop.
  • avoidfilter.net - Anonymous web browsing. This one is a bit sketchy, but looks like it might be a handy utility site. Maybe?
  • Freelance Switch - Advice for those interested in switching to freelance work. My recommendation: read it all you can while you have a day job, once you switch, hopefully, you'll be too busy to read it.
  • Flat Stanley - This is a low tech, but fun project for kids. Print out Stanley, and mail him around to folks. He's then supposed to be sent back with photos and souvenirs of his travels. The site is down Check out the site, but and wikipedia can explain more. Via OLPC News.
  • OnTheIssues.org and FactCheck.org - Super Tuesday has come and gone, but Virginia has yet to vote. These sites look like good ones to gather intell for making an informed decision.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Edwards Holding His Own

Apparently, I wasn't the only one who was sold on Edwards from his exit speech.

According to CNN, he's earned second place in Alabama. Way to go Edwards!

Monday, February 04, 2008

Vista to Ben: Don't Call Us, We'll Call You

This has to be among my favorite Vista error messages. It just raises so many questions:

  • Are you sure Apache stopped working? From the server log, it hasn't.
  • How on earth are you going to diagnose this problem? Wouldn't you like to have a bit more to go on, like what the heck I was doing?
  • "Windows" is going to contact me? As Microsoft the company? Or as in my Windows, along with running my operating system, is going to busy researching this problem, and when it finds a solution, I'll be the first to know.
  • And how are you going to notify me? Via another popup? E-mail? Phone? Singing telegram?

I just read the message as (with a NY accecent):

Yeah, ya know, something went wrong. But don't you worry, we gots our team on it. So you don't call us, we'll call you. Yeas, as soon as we have a solution, you's be the first to know....Should have it solved by never, how's never work for ya?

Expelled The Movie - I've got that sinking feeling

I stumbled on Expelled, an upcoming movie staring Ben Stein about Intelligent Design. The topic of the movie is how evidence of Intelligent Design is being kept from the general population, as science, the media, the courts and others gang up against it. I still stand by the comments I've made about intelligent design - to my knowledge, it's a fine idea, and one you're welcome to study and believe it, it's just not science.

Watching the preview to Expelled, I'm pretty sure I now know how my conservative friends feel when a Michael Moore movie hits the screen. I have to tell you, it isn't a great feeling.

Watching the trailer on the website already got my blood pressure up. The main point that bothered was how Stein divided the world into two groups - those who believe that the world is a Godless one (e.g., believe in evolution) and those who believe it was created by God (e.g., believe in Intelligent Design). What about those who believe that evolution is a tool through which God acts, say, the same way the rest of nature is? Seems to me that choosing people to force between God and evolution is just a trap.

Still, I'd hope to have an open mind when I watch the film. The preview suggests that scientists are being wrongfully condemned for speaking their view - and that's just wrong. So, maybe, in the end, Ben and I won't be so far off.

Just to be safe, we better have Michael Moore make another movie, in a hurry.

Laptop's First Lunch

Well, the new laptop has been a pleasure - and gorgeous to match. But, probably not for much longer. I ate lunch with it today, which means that no doubt it's on its way to being crumb filled.

Oh well, it was nice while it lasted.

What? Not program through lunch? Don't think so. Nothing worse than breaking flow, it's bad enough I had to leave my desk to actually make lunch.

--Ben

Some Vista Dev Gotchas

So far, Vista has been good to me. Sure, every time I move the mouse it prompts me with a security warning, but, whatever. I'm learning to live with it.

While configuring my dev environment this morning, I ran into these gems:

  • MySQL 5.0.51a doesn't run - it gives some odd error about "This application has failed to start because its side-by-side configuration is incorrect." The only solution seems to be to downgrade to 5.0.47 or upgrade to 5.1.22.
  • The default configuration in Apache 2.2 denies all requests. For some reason, the configuration says:
    <Directory />
        Options FollowSymLinks
        AllowOverride None
        Order deny,allow
        Deny from all
    </Directory>
    
  • For reasons that I can't explain, I was able to edit the stock httpd.conf file in emacs, and save my changes. Yet, when I opened the file up in notepad my changes hadn't taken effect. Yet, when I opened them up in emacs, they were there again. Somehow, I was able to edit this file and have my own version stored for me or some such nonsense. This means that I was configuring the server, and yet none of my changes were taking effect. Odd.

Now I've got to convince PHP that it has MySQL support - this only took me about 3 hours to do on XP. Wonder how long it will take on Vista...

Update: Setup of PHP wasn't too painful at all. The only issue I ran into was that I had downloaded the Windows Installer version instead of the Zip Package. As far as I can tell, the Install version leaves off all the extra modules. Why, I have no idea. Once I got the Zip package "installed" and the extension_dir set properly (to: c:/tools/php-5.2.5-Win32/), everything Just Worked. Next time, I'm going WAMP.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Hell Not Frozen Over, But Gettting Mighty Chilly

This one's for you Helmy...

Did you ever think you'd see this splash screen on my desktop? Yep, biting the bullet, and using Eclipse for an upcoming project.

Don't worry I'm still using Emacs in a major way, but for the hard core Java development, I'm giving Eclipse a try.

See, there's hope for all of us...

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Ben's Essentials - Software For The New Laptop

So far, I'm really enjoying the new laptop. I'm just thrilled that the battery meter claims I have 5+ hours of battery life on a single charge.

As with any new computer, I've found that everytime I go to do something, I find another piece of software missing. So, the last few days have been spent re-creating my ideal environment. Below is the list of items I've added to the box so far. I hope to add this list as I add more packages.

Can you suggest any essentials I've missed? The list doesn't include really basic stuff, like Adobe Acrobat or Flash.

In no particular order...

Update: I've updated this list while setting up my new laptop. Items crossed out above are either no longer used, or have been superseded by other tools.

Friday, February 01, 2008

Design Inspiration: Fun With Character Entities

I stumbled on this article, and it reminded me how handy character
entites can be. For almost no effort, you can dress up your site with a
few special characters.

It certainly adds to the polish of the page.

It would be a fun exercise to commit to using at least one infrequently
used symbol in your next design.

Read and be inspired.

http://codex.wordpress.org/Fun_Character_Entities

--Ben

His and Her Dentist Appointments

This is kind of strange - I'm waiting to head into the dentist, and I have Shira next to me. With my flexible schedule, she thought it would be best to do simultaneous appointments.

So far, this has been good, because I could copy off her paper when filling out the yearly patient update form.

I'll also get to see if she's offered (and accepts) all the usual extras: fluoride, x-rays, mouth guard, undercoating, floor mats, etc. Or, if it's just me.

I'm curious, does this count as a date?

[Time passes....]

Crap, got diagnosed with two cavities! In my family, a cavity is a moral failing, so two cavities is bad. Oh well. Wonder how Shira did?

--Ben

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