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May 28, 2005

Carbon Copy Cloner 2.3 can work under Tiger, and you don't have to do all this stuff. Just run it with sudo:

sudo "/Applications/Utilities/Carbon Copy Cloner/Carbon Copy Copy Cloner"

I turned in my final analysis project yesterday at school. School's out for summer. Woo hoo!

May 27, 2005

Mark Morford eviscerates (or perhaps amputates the extremeties of?) the Star Wars franchise: May The Force Please Go Away. Hilarious.

May 24, 2005

I just bought a Canon SD20 digital camera. It's a tiny, tiny point and shoot model with 5MP resolution. The optics aren't quite as sharp as some larger digital cameras but I'm not surprised. I took a bunch of test pictures (and a test movie) today while doing errands in the neighborhood. The first unit I got last week was D.O.A.; it beeped and showed "E18" on the LCD and then shut off. I sent it back and Amazon quickly sent another one out immediately.

1GB in an SD card is really a lot of storage capacity in a teensy weensy storage device.

"Digital zoom" is bogus. There's either more resolution, or there's not.

All in all, though, this camera is exactly what I thought it would be, and I'm very happy with it. We'll be selling the venerated Canon PowerShot S20 that this replaces.

May 23, 2005

The new Kojak with Ving Rhames is pretty good. It's not good enough to make me watch the series, but I'm not watching much TV lately so that's not really a criticism. It's a decent cop drama. Ving Rhames and Chazz Palminteri work well together. Tough cops! Woo hoo!

Eyephedrine is one of the best iTunes visualization plugins I've seen. (That means it makes pretty animations when you play music.) About a third of the visualizations are kinda dorky but there are over 50 of them so that's not too bad, and you can disable them individually.

Sylvester Stallone has a new magazine called Sly. I was unable to resist buying it. It's just too funny. Kim has forbidden me to read the editorial page aloud in my Stallone impression voice. But it's so fuuuuun!

May 21, 2005

Revenge of the Sith pretty much sucked. We saw it last night. Kim's assessment of the movie (which contains spoilers) pretty much covers the many issues I had with it.

Overall, the movie fails. Its purpose is to show how and why Anakin Skywalker, young handsome buff Jedi, turns to the Dark Side and becomes Darth Vader, Sith in a big black suit with lots of scars and James Earl Jones' voice and that breathing sound. Instead, we get half a movie of Anakin Skywalker, Jedi hero, and half a movie of Darth Vader, cruel and mostly heartless Sith apprentice, and about two minutes of a cutscene from a video game that purports to explain how one turned into the other, and another minute of cutscene to show why he needs the suit. The rest is just good guys doing good guy things, and bad guys doing bad guy things, and battle scenes full of special effects.

I mean, I can almost see the storyboarding session now: "We've got the opening battle, the lava scene, the wookie scene, all that in the can. Now we just need a quick scene to show where Anakin stops being a Jedi and becomes a Sith Lord. But we've only got 3 minutes of movie time left. Think you can do it?" And that's how it got to be that short, laughable scene that's supposed to provide Vader's motivation for three and a half more movies. There are a couple of bad dreams and some declarations on Anakin's part that he won't let anything happen to Padme but the emotional transformation just isn't there. He's worried, then he's betraying the Jedi without batting an eyelash, then he's killing innocent people, pretty much just like that. WTF? No brooding, no seething, only one moment of indecision, and then he's super evil. Right.

I added my Music 232 final composition to my music section.

May 17, 2005

Over the last couple of weeks we've been making travel plans for a vacation in Europe. A few sites we've found very useful:

  • WikiTravel, not affiliated with (but inspired by) the fabulous Wikipedia, has lots of valuable info such as Discount Airlines in Europe, which is how I found out about...
  • dohop sits atop the discount airlines, some of which only allow you to book individual legs of a multi-stop flight at a time, and glues them together into a complete trip. It also will mix and match airlines so you can get from point to point even if no single discount airline operates in both cities.
  • TripAdvisor has user reviews of all sorts of hotels, including cheap ones. They've got just about every little hotel that the travel books tell you are undiscovered good deals. Their links to online booking services are hit and miss, though - good prices, but not always available. Also, their results page search and sort functionality is buggy, so you have to manually plow through the results. But the results are worth the annoyance.
  • Yahoo Travel has some pretty good user reviews too, but their selection of hotels is more limited, so I'd use this for a business trip or as a second opinion on a specific hotel rather than as a starting point.

Example of what I mean by "useful": AlItalia wanted €1600 ($2,023.04) per person one way for one leg of our trip, and that wasn't even a direct flight. KLM was in the same neighborhood, price-wise. Gluing train rides together would either take about a day, or cost almost €1000 per person, or both. Mixing a cheap direct flight with a rail trip (to get to or from the nearest city where the cheap flight would go) was what I was about to do when I decided to search the web more exhaustively. dohop found a direct flight for under €100 per person one way.

May 15, 2005

The MB-1 bass effects thingy I got is pretty cool. I never really noticed how much I loved stereo effects (like chorus and reverb) until I didn't have them. However stereo effects are only useful if you have a stereo bass rig, which I don't (yet) so this really only matters for my own entertainment when I'm playing through headphones. Aside from that this thing sounds great. The factory preset programs are all pretty good but of course I'll want to muck around with them and make my own. I doubt I'll use even a tenth of the 256 program slots this thing has but it's nice to know they're there. What's more interesting is the effects loop and the possibilities that creates: combine this with a decent octave pedal or another MIDI rackmount effects gizmo, and control them from a single pedalboard. I've been too busy to really play with this thing beyond just making sure it works. Radio Shack is great for AC adapters, and sucky for audio cables. The soulless but convenient Musician's Friend has helped out somewhat with my newfound need for odd cables, such as TRS cables (not for audio, but to hook the various pedals to the main MIDI controller pedal which emits MIDI control information to tell the effects unit to do something different).

Next week is finals week. However, my piano class has three mini-final sections that take place in the last three classes. One was last Friday, and the other two are this week. I don't have a normal final exam in my composition class either; it's a final project that starts next week and a composition project that started last week and is due later this week. We're also planning and booking a trip to Europe for this summer. This week is a biggie, is what I'm sayin'. So no time to really dig into the bass gizmo I bought. It'll be here when we get back, I guess, but that doesn't make it any easier to look at a fun new toy and say "no no no" to myself because I have more urgent things to take care of. Yeah, life's rough.

Family Guy has finally won me over. A while back I gave it a chance and unfortunately A Very Special Family Guy Freakin' Christmas is what was on. Not a good episode. I gave it another chance when it came back to Fox and I'm glad I did. Tonight's episode was hilarious. The chicken fight section (apparently a reference to an earlier chicken fight in episode "Da Boom") and the part where Stewie revels in making Peter fall down had us both laughing our asses off. It's so nice to have a PVR so you can watch stuff like that again and again and again...

May 13, 2005

Last week it was Google (and Gmail) that was down, now it's Yahoo Messenger. I wonder if this is just the occasional goof on the part of the big shots' data center people, or the result of a deliberate denial of service attack? The conspiracy option is so much sexier but I suspect that it's just regular old screw ups.

I'm doing a really ugly hairy data migration project at work (migrating hundreds of bugs from one bug tracker to another, with no migration tool to help me) and DbVisualizer looks really good. I'm evaluating it but I'll probably and up buying it pretty soon. It's like all those gross circa-Windows-95 database tools that have all sorts of tragic user interfaces but are still useful because of the depth of functionality hiding behind the mask, except it's written in Java so it runs on my PowerBook, and it's not nearly as hideous as those yucky old tools. By the way: Scarab has 47 tables with no foreign keys. It's so much fun navigating a data model that looks like you threw a deck of cards up in the air and let them fall onto the table!

May 11, 2005

Ironic: the non-stick muffin pan has bits of dried / burned-on muffin on it, that I can't get off with any of the wimpy scrubbers that are safe for use on non-stick cookware. If it were a regular muffin pan it would be clean now. Instead, it's currently soaking in the sink.

May 9, 2005

Store Wars is hilarious propaganda for the organic food industry.

May 7, 2005

I upgraded to Mac OS X 10.4 "Tiger" yesterday after doing a full backup to an external hard disk with Carbon Copy Cloner. I did the "upgrade" installation (as opposed to the "archive and install" version that keeps a copy of your old System folder around). It worked immediately and although I had to update a couple of apps (WinSwitch and WindowShade), things work fine now. Spotlight did take over an hour to create the initial search index of my hard disk, which slowed things down initially. Spotlight uses the same keyboard shortcut as LaunchBar, and yes they're both configurable, but my muscle memory is very stuck on command-space for LaunchBar now. One exception is Emacs for Aqua, meaning a version of Emacs that runs as a standalone app with its own windows rather than a version that runs inside a Terminal window. For now I'm just running the version that's trapped inside a Terminal window, since that's part of Tiger and is about 99% identical to the version I was using. (I could download the Emacs sources and patch and compile it but it's not worth the effort versus just waiting for the guy to post a binary version.) I really haven't invested much time in exploring Tiger (Dashboard widgets, messing with Spotlight, etc.), except for getting Java 1.5 installed.

Java 1.5 has some new language features that developers (like me) have been asking for for years. It's faster at some things as well. Apple has been conservative about rolling it out on Tiger, so you have to go out of your way to enable it right now. If you're a developer this is trivial, which is the current audience for 1.5 on Tiger anyway. We're supposed to be making sure our apps don't blow up before it's too late to turn back.

Here are some tips for getting Java 1.5 enabled on Tiger:

First, you have to download the Java 2 SE 5.0 Release 1 installer. That's easy enough. The installer puts the stuff on your computer but doesn't make it the default. If you run "java -version" at the command line you still get 1.4.2.

If you want to go with 1.5 as the default JDK systemwide, do this:

cd /System/Library/Frameworks/JavaVM.framework/Versions
mv CurrentJDK CurrentJDK-old
ln -s 1.5 CurrentJDK

I did this, and the biggest scariest Java app I know of (Eclipse) is still fine, so I guess it's OK.

Before I did this, though, I individually tweaked Azureus to run under 1.5. Here's how (technique based on info here):

  1. Find your icon in the Finder
  2. Right-click on that icon and select "Show Package Contents"; a new window will open with the contents of the package
  3. Look inside the Contents folder for a file called Info.plist
  4. Double-click that, which should open it in Property List Editor
  5. In Property List Editor, expand the Root and Java nodes and then select the Java node
  6. Click the "New Child" button which will create a new, empty String node under the Java dictionary
  7. Set the name of the new node to "JVMVersion" and the value to "1.5*" (no quotes on either one)
  8. Save the Info.plist file and quit Property List Editor
  9. Relaunch Azureus; it should start in 1.5 now and will look a bit smoother than before too (I think the Java GUI elements are a bit nicer looking in Java 1.5).

I'm generally very happy with the smoothness of the upgrade. It didn't break the hell out of everything. I got a new OS and a new JDK with almost no problems. The downside of course is that Tiger isn't really that exciting yet, because I'm not spending time playing with new features except for the new Java version.

My love for Wikipedia knows no bounds. It has informed me that there's a name for all those hideous, depressing concrete slabs in D.C. that made me hate looking at all those government office buildings: Brutalist architecture. But the best part of Wikipedia is the hyperlinking. I went from looking for substantiation of rumors of quasi-accepted teenage prostitution in Japan to Kogal subculture to Gothic Lolitas to Visual Kei, with side trips to Cosplay, Comiket, Doujunshi, Yaoi, and Bishonen. It's just an amazing resource for finding out really strange stuff. It's also an interesting crucible for human collaboration, like any Wiki, but especially on highly contentious topics like Woman (discussion page for Woman) and Evolution (discussion for Evolution). Mob rule is dangerous, but mob control over an encyclopedia is working out pretty well, at least for now. Plus, there are some really remarkable things to see, like the Featured Pictures section which is really wonderful.

An unrelated but also really cool image is this cutaway illustration of Piccadilly Circus Station in London.

I recently sniped an auction on eBay for a new toy: an ADA-MB-1 Bass Preamp. This is a rackmounted audio effects processor intended for bass guitar. I remember when it came out I drooled over it but I didn't have the $700 or so that it cost new. $167.50 is a freakin' steal. ADA is kaput but there's a community of musicians who won't let these products die because they're so darn cool. The MB-1 is particularly interesting for two reasons: analog signal path and complete digital control. That is, the audio signal stays analog all the way through the unit, which sounds better than comparably priced digital effects; yes, you can digitize and then digitally process an audio signal and have it sound fantastic but only recently is that coming even close to being as cheap as analog effects. (Digital processing has a few major advantages such as non-real-time processing, infinite configurability, and software updateability, of course.) The biggie for me though is the "total digital control" angle, which practically translates to "map a zillion knob settings to a single button on a pedalboard". So you can spend hours and hours tweaking settings in the effects processor to get just the right sound (iTunes Music Store link) for a particular song (or part of a song) and then assign it a number and get to it by stomping a pedal or sending a MIDI command from any MIDI controller. and disappeared from DNS for at least 17 minutes today (3:50pm PDT is when I noticed it being down, and 4:07pm is when it reappeared, some of which may be propagation delay). I thought of a new joke. Q: how many PhD's does it take to run a DNS server? I don't know what the punch line is, maybe "more than Google has" or "dunno, but right now you'll have to Ask Jeeves". Whatever.

I just found out that a friend and former colleague of mine who is Swiss is in charge of the group that makes the Google Search Appliance. Which looks like Swiss Cheese. Seriously.