Dylan: November 2002 Archives

Going Home

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Yesterday was my last day of work. We did the usual last-day sort of stuff, then I gathered my stuff and left. I met some good people at that company. Some very good dynamics were created.

Today, in a little over 12 hours, I fly home to Canada for 2 weeks. I'm really looking forward to it. Top reason? I get to see my wife! Woo!

I'll have to see how connected I'll be while there. It's possible there will be a 2 week gap following this entry.

Now I've got to go practice saying 'aboot' and 'eh'. I think I'm a little out of practice. heh.

Bobby Fischer

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The Atlantic Online has a good article titled Bobby Fischer's Pathetic Endgame that outlines the rise and fall of former World Chess Champion Bobby Fischer and where he is today. A very sad read I'm afraid. Unable to return to the US because he violated an Executive Order in 1992 by going to Yugoslavia for a rematch against Spassky, he has been living in exile in Asia. He has apparently lapsed into a severe state of paranoia and delusion convinced of grand conspiracies and deception. The article gives an engaging rundown of the events in his life, his craziness, his arrogance, and his deterioration. The article seems to leave little doubt that he had some type of mental illness. Was it never addressed? Did he never receive help or treatment?

Fair Airfare

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When you buy plane tickets online, you usually have to agree to all sorts of restrictions. No exchanges. No refunds. No modifications without hefty fee. etc etc. I went through the whole routine an evening last week when buying my ticket to fly to Vancouver this coming Saturday. The following evening circumstances changed and I needed to modify my ticket. Oh joy. Wasn't looking forward to it. I wanted to move the return date into the future by 8 days extending my stay. My original ticket was $150 USD and I was quoted an additional $150 to alter my reservation. I winced. "But that's what I paid for the original ticket in the first place -- just last night" I whined. "You bought it within 24 hours?" I was asked. I confirmed this and was informed that since it was within 24 hours they could cancel the first ticket free of charge. Woo! So I got them to cancel it, went online, found another ticket for the same price but returning 8 days later and here I am telling you about it now. Just something to keep in mind during future online airfare purchases.

Warm Parking

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Do you think when you park in a spot that has only just been evacuated that your car is disturbed by the still-warm asphalt under its tires?

Would you like a Segway with that?

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Amazon is selling the Segway. Orders taken now. Available to the public. Shipping March 2003. Starting price is $4,950.. which should hopefully come down soon. I don't think I want to buy one, buy I definitely want to try one out.

Warmbrain turned one

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Dang it. Just finished the previous post and realized that November 13th 2001 is the first official entry in this weblog and I missed the one year birthday. A whole year. Cool.

Transitions

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Today I resigned from my job. I received an offer from a prominent search engine company that I couldn't refuse. Now my life gets hectic for a bit.

First I need to get a new VISA, so I am flying to Canada this Saturday. I visit for 2 weeks, come back and begin work. I also have to find a new place to live since I am not keen on commuting. Mix that all in with Christmas, New Years, and the flurry of paperwork and my next 2 months are going to be interesting ones.

It was just a little over a year ago I left my previous job. There's even a weblog entry. Let's hope I'm not forming a pattern here.

A-OK

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Dave's fine. Just a slow morning.

Scripting News

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Dave hasn't updated his weblog yet today. Makes me concerned. The last time his page was unchanged, he was in the hospital. Here's to hoping it is nothing so dramatic.

Merriam-Webster knows all

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Through email from a friend: Merriam-Webster's pronunciation of George W. Bush.

A chuckle on a Wednesday afternoon.

Damn Spam

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Logically I can see that if Spam (unsolicited email) didn't make money, then spammers wouldn't keep sending it. I guess I just have a hard time believing people actually read, then click, then fill out, then hand over their credit-card # for all those lame offers I see filing through my inbox. "Sales-O-Matic", "Business is EXPLODING!", "Refinance Now, Rates are the lowest in 40 YEARS!", "sweet ecstasy", etc etc etc.

Well it does make money. This article in the WSJ interviews a woman who sends out about 60 million emails a month and pulls in close to $200,000 a year. And get this -- she doesn't think of what she does as spamming. What? Does she consider all 60 million of them personal friends??

Until people stop clicking through, filters become perfect, or email becomes like online messaging services (where you explicitly choose who can send you messages) the vast majority of us have to suffer through our roles as the non-respondents in the spammer's numbers game.

Principia Stolen

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[Reuters] : A first edition of Newton's "Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica", originally published in 1687, has been stolen from a Russian museum. Apparently you could actually request access to the book, and look at it while on-site. They discovered the theft only after the reading-room closed and found that the book hadn't been returned.

Spaces Public Alpha

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Diego Doval has released the first public Alpha version of Spaces, the P2P, RSS-ready, multi-faceted PIM that people are talking about.

I've tested the pre-alpha-1, pre-alpha-2 and now the public release alpha, and I have to say the changes and improvements are fast and furious. Sometimes the turnover between a bug being filed and a fix being posted was a matter of minutes.

Although some rough-edges and the occasional Not Implemented dialog box, a common response in the mailing list has been surprise at just how complete and solid the app is at this stage.

Go and download yourself a copy and check it out.

MovableType Templates

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Last night I discovered a wonderful feature in MovableType. Template Modules. Effectively it is Server Side Includes (SSI) but integrated completely into MovableType. Strangely enough they are located at the bottom of the templates page in the MovableType admin, so I didn't even see them until just yesterday.

I found them while I was modularizing my site using SSI. I was extracting common bits and putting them in .inc files and saving them as Index templates in MT. I ran into problems though because when one of these included pages contained MT Template Tags, MT tried to process them when the .inc page was generated to disk. I didn't want them to be processed then though, I wanted them to be processed AFTER they were included. To do that I would have had to save the files to disk manually which means they wouldn't exist in the MT database. A bad thing if the directory is wiped and I need to rebuild from the MT database files.

In retrospect it was a lost cause approach from the beginning since SSI works at page delivery time and not at MT page-build time. Even if I had saved the .inc files manually, they would have been included when the page was requested and just appeared as unprocessed tags in the delivered page. So I started hunting.

Enter MT Template Modules. Essentially these are exactly what I was looking for. Unprocessed chunks of template code that can be MTInclude'ed in the standard templates wherever I need them. Heaven.

The column of stuff down the right side of the main index page are separate modules. At the time of this writing: Search, Recent Entries, Blogroll and PoweredBy. This means on each new template I can mix and match what I want to appear just by adding and removing single lines.

For example the 'links' div (the html behind the side column) in the Main Index template used to be about 30 to 40 lines of html. If I wanted to remove a section or re-arrange, it meant picking through the assortment of divs, copying and pasting and seeing how it looked. Now I just have this:

<div id="links">

    <$MTInclude module="Side Search"$>

    <$MTInclude module="Side Recent Entries"$>

    <$MTInclude module="Side Blogroll"$>

    <$MTInclude module="Side Powered"$>

</div>

Cool, huh? My main templates now are one tenth their original size and very easy to work with. The real power though then comes when I want to change something like what the 'Search' module looks like. I change it once, rebuild affected pages and I'm done.

One of the other things I made modular is the banner/header displayed at the top of each page. The banner is effectively everything inside of the coloured striped including the navigation. What I wanted to do next though was have the current page you are on somehow marked so you could see where you were. When viewing the main page, the 'main' nav text would be dark and not a link. When viewing the archives page the 'archives' nav text would be dark and not a link. Sounds easy, eh? Well it should be -- but isn't.

I first considered doing it with JavaScript, which would work, but is cumbersome and I didn't want to do the processing client-side. It's like letting a friend borrow a shirt but handing it over dirty so it needs to be washed first. It just seems rude. I like to hide the workings of how a page is produced which MT does quite well. No client-side leaves us with server-side and whatever tools MT provides.

I first checked out if there are any general built-in conditional tags I could use. No go. All the conditional container tags in MT are designed for a specific purpose. For example: <MTEntryIfExtended> and <MTEntryIfAllowComments>. Somehow this just seems wrong to me, but I persevered. Next I checked out MT's external resources page and found a list of third party plugins. One in particular caught my eye: the regex plugin by Brad Choate -- and more specifically the <MTIfMatches> tag. After downloading and installing the plugin to my remote host I started to play around with it. It works. I am able to define a variable named NavLoc at the top of each template index using <MTSetVar> and then check to see what the value is using <MTIfMatches> and <MTGetVar> inside of the banner module. Cool huh? Not so fast though. That check allowed me to display the unlinked version of the nav, but I needed an 'Else' clause. What to do in the case it doesn't match.

Well as it happens, MT v2.51 introduced an <MTElse> tag that can be applied to any MT conditional tag (or plugin) to take care of the else clause. Cool. I was running MT v2.5 and so needed to upgrade. I downloaded, ungzipped, untarred and copied across all the new files. No problems. I then started experimenting with the <MTElse> along with <MTIfMatches>. There was no joy in mudville. For whatever reason it wasn't working no matter what combination tags I tried. The <MTElse> tag was just being ignored. A read through the plugin forum on MT's site turned up the problem. The regex plugin isn't coded like a true MT conditional Template tag -- and so is immune to the suggestive pleadings of the <MTElse> tag. And also at the time of this writing, there did not exist an <MTIfNotMatches> tag. Argh. And that's where I stand. Brad Choate mentions that he'll consider adding such functionality in the next version and so in the meantime my nav links are page-oblivious -- remaining links whether they need to be or not.

Distributed Proofreaders

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Found a posting on Slashdot to a private group called Distributed Proofreaders whose aim is to support Project Gutenberg by getting more books digitized.

Essentially, they recruit people to compare a computer's version of what a scanned page contains to what it actually contains. Upon joining you can immediately start proofing. Select a book and a round (every page goes through 2 rounds of proofing) and you get taken to a split screen page with the zoomed-in scanned document on the top, and a editable text area of containing the computer's guess on the bottom. Your job? Read through the computer's guess and correct anything it guessed incorrectly.

It's actually more fun than it sounds. I've done three pages in quick succession and I found the process quite soothing. Plus if you keep selecting the same book then there is a good chance you'll be proofing them in order and able to follow what is being talked about.

I think it is for a good purpose as well. Digitizing older books and making them available for people to read online. I think this will be particularly useful when electronic ink and portable flexible screens become a reality. No harm in getting a head start on the reading material though.

The Distributed Proofreaders project is asking people for only a page a day. Sign up and check it out.

Blackout

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I left work a little early today with the plan of going for a run in the rain. It was incredible. I was completely soaked within 5 minutes but I was warm so wasn't concerned.

When I was coming back towards my place, the sky flashed briefly full of lightning and the neighbourhood went dark. The electricity was knocked out and I watched it happen.

Instead of stopping running and going inside, I decided to keep going. Check out how far the involuntary light discipline went. Everything was out. Traffic lights. Street lights. It was very impressive. A nice way to celebrate the first rains of the season.

Preparing Network Connections II

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hehe... I was just checking out the promo images of Microsoft's new Tablet PC.. and I clicked on this one. Can you read the small text status message on that baby? You guessed it! "Preparing Network Connections"

Rain

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It rained during the night. First time in around 6 months. Such is the weather in California. It smells great outside. Wet pavement. Wet dirt. Wet newspapers. heh.

This is the first time I've lived anywhere where something as fundamental as rain is considered seasonal. Weird.

I commented that winter was coming to my Roommate, and he said: "Finally we'll see some green in our front yard". heh. Too funny. I've been down here three years now and I still can't get used to warm green wet winters.

Mozilla Minimum Font Size

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As a follow-up to my earlier post about Jakob, Mozilla and font sizes, it seems Mozilla already addresses this issue without even having to resort to a full blown manager. According to the list "101 things Mozilla can do that IE cannot", item #43 says Mozilla allows you to set a minimum displayed font-size for all web pages. They realized that the main reason for wanting to modify the font size is because something is too small to read. Tell Mozilla to not go smaller than a certain size and you are home free.

Jupiter's Moons

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Jupiter's Moons

Original source here. I've got this as my desktop wallpaper right now. Click the above image for more pixels.

Mail from Aggregator

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Dave Winer has introduced a new feature for UserLand Radio: Mail-From-Aggregator

Effectively what this new feature does is allow people to have Radio email their RSS feeds to them so they can read them in their email client. The reason this even makes sense is because the structure of RSS news entries and email are fundamentally similar. They have a subject, a date, and some content.

But what if you could take it a step further though? Wouldn't it be easier to just have the news aggregator incorporated into your email client? Merge the notions of 'get new mail' and 'get new news' into a single application that already has the read-offline paradigm build in. This would avoid the hassle of having to configure the news aggregator to retrieve the RSS feed once, parse it, repackage it and then send it back onto the network to be retrieved by email. Wouldn't it rock if there was an imminent release of just such a product?

But there is! Diego Doval's spaces is exactly that product and it can do all I mentioned above and a whole lot more.

With the release of Spaces just around the corner, I'm sure it is reassuring for Diego to see UserLand adding a feature to their product that mimics in a slightly less efficient way what his product will do so well.

Septogenerian

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Learned a new word today. Septogenerian. It refers to someone between the ages of 70 and 80. Who knew?

Amazing what you can learn by reading the lyrics of songs.
New Age Girl
Dead Eye Dick

I've got a new age girl
(Tell us what she's like)
An environmentalist girl
(Does she ride a bike)
She has crystal necklace
(She spend a lot of cash)
Though her vibes are rather reckless
(She's heading for a crash)
Oh her flowing skirt is blowing in a transcendental wind
And she wonders without knowing where did she begin..

Mary Moon.. she's a vegetarian
(Mary Moon, Mary Moon, Mary Moon)
Mary Moon.. will outlive all the septuagenarians
(Mary Moon, Mary Moon, Mary Moon)
Oh, she loves me so
She hates to be alone
She don't eat meat
But she sure like the bone

RAH!

You knew she drives a wind car
(How does she like it)
It doesn't get her far
(Why doesn't she bike it)
But it gets her to where she's going to
(I don't know, I don't know, I don't know)
Where that is, I wish I knew
I don't know where she's going
And I don't know where she's been
All I know that loving her has gotta be a sin

(Chorus)

RAH!

Mary Moon will you hesitate
Don't segregate your thought from your emotions
I know that devotion isn't way up there

RAH!

Mary Moon.. she's a vegetarian
(Mary Moon, Mary Moon, Mary Moon)
Mary Moon.. will outlive all the septogenerians
(Mary Moon, Mary Moon, Mary Moon)
Mary Moon.. She's an intellectual
(Mary Moon, Mary Moon, Mary Moon)
Mary Moon.. Despite that fact remains quite sexual
(Mary Moon, Mary Moon, Mary Moon)
Mary Moon.. She's the one for me, me, yeah

RAH!

Radio Migration

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Welcome Bryce to the MovableType club.

Design Inspiration

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Well the new design seems to be burning in fairly well. A few days have passed and I'm not already itching to change it. I wanted to give kudos to Brent Simmons of inessential.com for his weblog design and style which I have most definitely borrowed some themes from. Ok, ok.. it looks like a direct copy. It isn't. Really! I coded it from scratch -- honest! I liked his use of the image in the header, and where he placed his header navigation, and his ample use of white space around the content. Thanks for the inspiration, Brent.

Use it or Luse it

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Jakob Nielsen is widely accepted to be a usability Guru -- So why do I not enjoy visiting his website then? I drop in to the homepage and then hit a wall. It (ironically) isn't obvious what content is available and how it is organized. My first thought is that it looks like a mocked up website with coloured boxes to show the managers where the content will go. I find it very distracting.

I wish it wasn't so ugly because I do like to check out his AlertBox articles. A recent AlertBox titled Let Users Control Font Size (Alertbox Aug. 2002) points out a long standing bug in IE where a website that uses absolute font sizes within CSS can't be modified via the View->Text Size menu. This means that if you have a font set to 12px on your website, then IE users can't do anything about it.

"Hooray!" say the print designers. "Now we're talking!"

"Boo!" say the old1 people. "Wake up and smell the medium!"

Dr. Nielsen then goes on to talk about "Improving Future Browsers" and starts using phrases like 'central database' and 'pre-fetch' with respect to how people get their font sizes set. it might be just me but I think there is likely an easier way of setting font preferenes than to store them centrally on a server on the Internet. Throw in his idea that the browser would also pre-fetch the preferred font-sizes for each link on a page you are viewing and I'm starting to think: huge waste of bandwidth.

A quick glance at Mozilla and it seems there is already a paradigm for doing what Jakob wants to do. Under the Mozilla tools menu we have: Form Manager, Cookie Manager, Image Manager, Password Manager and Popup Manager. Each of these managers allows you to control settings on a site-by-site basis. Don't want Amazon tracking your moves and clicks? Turn off cookies on Amazon.com. Tired of all the popups when you visit AOL? Turn off popups for the AOL domain.

So we just apply this concept to fonts. Want to always view the New York Times in 24pt MS Comic Sans? No problem. Tell Mozilla to use that setting for the nytimes domain. Mozilla's 'manager' solution seems to be very effective and I'm an avid user of the ones they currently provide. Font sizes are personal preferences. Not something that needs to be out-sourced to a central database and all that entails.

1By 'old' I mean mature. Old-skool. Internet-savvy. No offense to you blind old bats. :)

Dive into Skydiving

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Wow. Awesome. Amazing. Mark Pilgrim went skydiving. Looks like quite a rush!

Skydiving seems to be one of those things that many people say they will do someday. I know I want to. Whenever my mom heard me say it she would always reply the same thing: "When you do go skydiving... tell me afterwards". Heh. I mean, the stats are pretty good now aren't they? Only 1 in 6 die or something? ;)

About this Archive

This page is a archive of recent entries written by Dylan in November 2002.

Dylan: October 2002 is the previous archive.

Dylan: December 2002 is the next archive.

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