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screencasting software tools

A couple of good tools for making screencasts:

wink

camstudio

buying bolts online

Yessir today I am buying bolts online. And let me tell you bolt depot gets it right.

Handy charts. Good prices on 100ct boxes of small stainless machine screws. Nothing else between me and what I need. An odd place to find an internet a-ha moment.

viewing http requests

I recently had to debug a script that makes invisible image requests for metrics tracking purposes.

The browser doesn't really give you a a clue what it's doing in this case, and putting in alerts or writes actually changed the behaviour (!!).

So I looked into getting software that logs and reports on outgoing http reqyuests from the local machine, hoping I could find something like a console that would run independantly of the browser. I downloaded and tinkered with a bunch looking for something that was functional, free, and reputable.

The one I ended up using (which seems to work great) is HTTPLook.

charles is a reverse proxy that can be used for http monitoring and also connection throttling.

pageengage is a nifty and convenient plugin for IE. With a terrible name.

the future of ideas

I'm skimming Lessig's book "The Future of Ideas". I think parts of it would be annoying if you weren't already basically sympathetic to the generally anarchist "information longs to be free" ideology.

But it would be sad if that annoyance kept you away from the book because he makes some very coherent nonpartisan arguments.

Among the most interesting is the framing of the copyright and patent debate in two profoundly different contexts. You may think that copyrights and patents support basic property rights to intangible things. Or you may think that copyrights and patents extend state supported monopolies in the interest of encouraging innovation for the good of all of us.

There are good arguments for both viewpoints. Lessig gives really good support for his assertion that the first viewpoint dominates the current debate to an unhealthy extent.

He also (and this is truly unusual for books that criticize the current state of affairs) devotes serious effort to outlining solutions or at least paths to solutions for the problems he documents.

All in all it's an unexpectedly good read and although certain sections date it firmly to the immediate post-napster timeframe, none of the problems he's talking about have been solved yet.

simultaneous editing with Moon Edit

When you have more than one person wanting to edit the same file at the same time, there haven't been a lot of options and they've all been clunky.

Now there's a really good solution and it's called moon edit.

You can see all the cursors of all the people editing at any given time, watch their typing appear, and hear their keystrokes (if you choose).

It lets you group thoughts better than IM, it's quicker than twiki, and it's a lot more fun that screensharing with netmeeting or equivalents. For working together on a document it can't be beat.

It has a very neat slider that lets you replay the history of the document. It has a bunch of emacs like stuff with creating scripts and evaluating expressions inline.

It's a wicked tool with a retro unix-y gui. Check it out!

quicksilver

I am 2/3 through an 800 page book and feeling very proud of myself, despite reading reviews from people who have finished the trilogy already.

In spite of reading Quicksilver on again off again I'm overall impressed. This book is both good and bad... wait I take that back, it's both great and horrible. I have been frustrated, excited, amused, depressed and even comforted (in a world weary kind of way).

Neal Stephenson is the first historical fiction author whose writing has made me aware how much history is an act of storytelling. We all have memories of incidences past that we can see as having shaped our present. When I fixed the bedroom door I made it squeaky, and that piece of history I am reminded of every day.

We often tend to confuse those kinds of "history" with older "histories" we read in books, even when we remember to think pithy thoughts like "history is recorded by the victor"

It may be partly his background as a science fiction writer but I'm acutely aware that Stephenson is using a bunch of known facts together with a bunch of conjecture as a framework within which to tell a story.

A question often asked in science fiction is "what relation does the way we now think have with this invented future?" With Quicksilver Stephenson engages in a remarkably close analog: "What relation does the way we think now have with this invented past?"

The critical difference is that in this case the people and events related may actually have had some real effect on our present. The juxtaposing of the concrete "my bedroom door squeaks" type of history with over-the-top storytelling is pretty interesting.

It's also fascinating to hear his interpretation of what the ramifications would be for such dry historical facts as:
  • sanitation was not very good
  • plague outbreaks would cause riots
  • advanced cases of syphilis cause hallucinations


I have to add that this book demands a great deal of indulgence. Some of the tangents leave the captain crunch description from Cryptonomicon in the dust for sheer over-statement. Also, this is really two or three books interleaved for no apparent reason. Frustratingly, some of the story lines are very much more interesting than others, so this interleaving is actively distracting and annoying.

man's search for meaning

I'm reading an incredible book, "Man's Search For Meaning" by Viktor Frankl.

The existential struggle is not with the meaninglessness of life but with the rational mind's inability to fully comprehend that meaning. Logos precedes logic.

The rational mind cannot distinguish between an inability to perceive meaning and the absence of meaning. Only as feeling beings can we perceive meaning.

perversion tracker

Have you ever read this in a software review?

"Indeed, one glance at the interface is enough to reveal that Apimac Software must have decanted a large portion of their pickled hamster collection into the power-supply fan of their terminally ill G4 tower, thus forcing the development of this scrobiculated application to be completed using a wet cowplop and three yards of burlap painstakingly crafted into a working computer by a colorfully costumed troupe of trained pubic lice."

If not, head on over to perversiontracker right now for a heap of abuse (aimed at third parties (assuming you're not a developer of bad OSX software))!!!

murdered a stone


yesterday I murdered a rock
I injured a stone and
hospitalized a brick.
I'm so mean
I make medicine sick!




waking life

Watching the movie Waking Life. It's in the "movies with a lot of talking in them" genre, but succeeds where many others fail. It's not just the animation, though that does add a lot. The character's speach and movements illustrate who they are in a way that's interwoven with their philosophy.

suspension of belief

I'm reading "The Media Equation". It's a collection of studies evaluating the extent to which people react towards computers and TV in ways that are similar to the way they react to other people.

Great example: The authors had people do a task on the computer, then fill out a questionnaire evaluating the success of the task and the usefulness of the computer's aid. People who sat at the same computer to fill out the evaluation were much more positive, encouraging, and polite than those who transferred to another computer to do the evaluation.

The most interesting thing I'm absorbing from the series of studies presented is that the term "suspension of disbelief" is a bit of a misnomer. A state of belief seems to be very natural to humans. It takes either grievous mistakes in presenting the media or a great deal of effort on the part of the observer in order to make us critical, and even then there's a large part of our brain that keeps right on believing.

The tests used in the studies are simple and ingenious. Great lessons learned:
- people give more weight to the opinion of a specialist
- if you criticize it makes you look smarter
- praise from a third party matters more than self praise
- people change their evaluations to be polite without realizing it.
- it works on you even if you don't think you believe it

Opera 7

Opera 7 is here, and it only gets better. A bunch of the things that I've always liked are even better than before.

- Support for DHTML. I haven't thoroughly checked this, but a bunch of pages that didn't work with Opera 6 now do. Support for layers and positioning has been brought up to speed in Opera 7.

- In Opera, you can open a set of windows each in its own tab, then save that set and call it back up later. In Opera 7 this has been made a lot easier, so it's really practical to use.

- History is in a tab of the sidebar (mozilla has this too)

- Another sidebar shows all the links in the current window. Opera had this in a links window before, but the sidebar's a really good place for it.

- skins...

- The new email client, M2. More on this later.

Opera browser: rave review

I've been using Opera for about a year now. I am totally addicted to some features of the web browser.

- Tabbed browsing is excellent. I can have 20 windows open and not clutter up my task bar. I can open links as tabs in the background and cycle through them as I please. When I start the application, it re-loads the set of windows I left off with the last time I was browsing.

- Mouse gestures are addictive. Right button with the following: drag left for back, on a link and wiggle down-up to open in background, drag in a checkmark (down then right) to close window. Lots of others.

- Great keyboard shortcuts

- Fast. Opera fast. Mozilla slow.

- Misc: save window sets, links window shows you all links in page, zoom in or out on page.

minority report

Saw Minority Report last night. It was a lot like a P.K. Dick novel, with nods to Blade Runner and Brazil. Stylish and fast moving all the way through.

The movie really began when most movies would have ended. In terms of plot, what would have been the resolution instead sent the story off in a new direction. Also, I think that was about the time an average length movie would have been over.

I enjoyed the whole thing, including trying to piece together the puzzles and paradoxes after the movie ended. My one lingering concern: Shouldn't Leo Crow's have been a red ball?

affordances visibility constraints mapping

Reading The Design Of Everyday Things.

Affordances are attributes of a thing that suggest ways for it to be used. (I love it when I find a rock that fits my hand perfectly. I guess that's a false affordance, but I love it anyway.)

Constraints are limitations that prevent you from using a thing in a way it was not meant to be used.

Visibility means that you are provided relevant information about the state of the thing before you take action with it, and that you can see the effect of your action.

Mapping is harder to explain quickly. A thing should help you build a mental model of how it functions. Putting up and down buttons next to each other is bad mapping. Putting the up button above the down button is good mapping.

barnes and noble website

Just went to the barnes and noble site for the first time in years. I was amazed to see it's a virtual look-alike to amazon.com.

Imitation the sincerest form of flattery? Or just a belly up submission pose?

B&N

primate's memoir

I read "A Primate's Memoir" (amazon link).

It's about the author's experiences studying baboons in Africa. He also talks about his journeys around Africa both pursuing his studies and just touring.

His written voice is so consistent and so full of personality that you can just hear him telling you the story. This contributes also to the fact that while some outrageous things happen, it's always utterly believable.

Mixed with his recounting of places and happenings are opinions and thoughts about science, baboons, life, people, and particularly the people and circumstances of Africa. I found myself accepting his opinions so readily that it was easy to miss how carefully his observations of fact were kept distinct from his speculations and judgments.

I read this book, then kept it nearby and would open it up and re-read sections. Then I read it again cover to cover. Not too many books make me want to do that. And even now I'm reluctant to loan it to a friend in case I want to read it again soon.

finePix A200

I got this camera for a Christmas present, so I haven't had it long enough to comment on how durable it is, though it seems sturdy enough. All the parts have a nice feel, and it's light but not too light.

I went through my first set of batteries after taking more than 100 shots, many in low light with the flash.

The flash is fine for illuminating your subject but the rest of the room may remain dark, especially if the wall is far away and the room is not bright to begin with. Low light shots without the flash tend to have a reddish tinge and you have to be careful to hold the camera steady. I've been able to hold it steady by hand, having about half the shots I take that way work, and the other half come out blurry.

The controls are easy to use and intuitive. I figured almost everything out just by fooling with the camera, though I had to consult the manual for flash modes. I wish I could turn of the "are you sure you want to do this" messages for some of the functions to let me do things like lock a frame with one button push instead of two. A very minor complaint.

Colors in normal light conditions are good, and the camera does avoid the washed out or metallic looking highlights I've seen in other digital cameras. Also blessedly absent is the pause between pressing the button and getting an exposure that a friend's camera has. With this camera, you press the button and that's the image you get, not an image from a second later.

I still have just the 16MB card the camera came with, which holds 24 of the highest quality photos. That's more than it sounds, because you can throw away shots you don't like. For me this means 24 shots is equal to about 3 or 4 rolls of film, so I'm in heaven. I'm experimenting with shots that I'd never try with a film camera and having a ton of fun. When I go on a road trip I'll spring for a bigger memory card.

My main annoyance is that after you take a picture with the flash the LCD goes blank for a couple seconds. I'm also miffed that the digital zoom doesn't work in highest quality mode (you can only zoom if your picture is being taken in a lower quality mode). This makes sense, I just wish the product description had mentioned it.

the finePix at amazon.com

blast winamp volume

I just figured out that if you turn the internal volume all the way up in the winamp program it's much nicer in two ways.

The sound quality is much better, at least on my system.

The system alerts are much quieter in relation to the music. This is especially nice because sometimes if a song ends or I pause my music to talk on the phone, I get blasted by an alert.

No!

I used to love They Might Be Giants back in the early 90's. Now they have a kids album out (No!), and it's great. They've kept their the playfullness while making the quirky sensibility that I always loved just a bit simpler.

The result: Erika and I love the music, and the kids giggle and dance.

This album gets a strong thumbs up from a three year old, a seven year old, and two thirty-something parents!

P.S. The "extra" part is even fun!

translation software

I ran a song in Spanish (Orisha's "537 Cuba" listen!) through alta- vista's translation software. The results were suprisingly poetic:

I come from where
there is a Tabaco river
and cane plantation
Where the sweat of guajiro
makes to the Earth to dream

I am of Cuba
which imposed
and that sticks
and when it arrives
does not take off,
it beats, beats

What put the Russian in the speech
That Compay Segundo put between your sejas
Now the distance is!
If on me language I am living and calming
me faithful sadness
Of which she forms
you love you who I stop the love
blood and mother country
That run by the veins

Generations old and new
Of heart it bleeds and lung
There far Where the sun warms up more
I forgot me heart,
a stream and palmar Deje' me
dear mother country

For more of a year already
No matter how hard I propose
me wounded Me will not close

I come from where
there is a Tabaco river
and cane plantation
Where the sweat of guajiro
makes to the Earth to dream

Estraño me dear earth
To speak of her neither
you try it
All along is in my mind
I remember It,
it understands speaks the heart to Me
that me mienente brother

Floating I do not walk passing the hand,
hand On the map of this one World
and from deep of me the heart
I feel nostalgia
One strange sensation like nostalgia

Of this one distance that interposes
That I will return bién
assumes and that puts the man the more happy
to me by a second
Or sang Compay Segundo
and I Listening complain
me small people Bién again
I explain you Cuban 100 percent prototype

I will take the heart
and I will hope my return
to remove it
and to place it in me chest again

I come from where
there is a Tabaco river
and cane plantation
Where the sweat of guajiro
makes to the Earth to dream
X 2

Key Bone, San Leopordo Vuena Vista,
Miramar Decorative clasp,
Old the Habana Victory,
District New Rattan field
Where are you me Incline?
The sun that sings,
the Cathedral the Capitol rises

In the oido one of these voices 23 and 12,
Private preserve, Stroll of the Prado
Your lions side to side Comprise
of my traditions
My emotions
You are you me Cuba
Like you no Caviosile,
I am Yoruba
That is not left doubt (Anja)

That if I cry he is because estraño
not to see me
Levee my friends of me zone
Those that were born with me
Those that they played with me
To remember them
without having them traz does damage
Year to me year dream
with returning to see those friends
whom Your scent of the countryside longed for
when it rains the Nose,
Cannon shot of the Nueves
The one that never wants to you dies
no, never, never

I come from where
there is a Tabaco river
and cane plantation
Where the sweat of guajiro
makes to the Earth to dream
X 4

Cygwin

I can't believe I haven't fooled around with cygwin sooner. I have a fairly complete *nix environment on my windows box now. I'm busy setting up cvs control for all my windows programming projects.

"Cygwin is a UNIX environment, developed by Red Hat, for Windows. It consists of two parts:

- A DLL (cygwin1.dll) which acts as a UNIX emulation layer providing substantial UNIX API functionality.

- A collection of tools, ported from UNIX, which provide UNIX/Linux look and feel."

Cygwin

random shuffle in winamp, quinamp

I love to just load a fat playlist of good music into my mp3 player and let random shuffle give me whatever comes.

I've been really bugged, though, because neither winamp or quinamp shuffles very randomly. With both, there were whole groups of songs I never heard, while other stuff songs repeated just about every day (and this out of a playlist with thousands of songs on it).

Anyway, I found a plug in for winamp that really seems to randomly shuffle music. You can also weight songs and artists that you want to hear more often. I haven't tried this out, being willing to take a random sample (and being lazy).

The plug in is RoboDJ

A new kind of review

A review of Wolfram's "A New Kind of Science". Posted on Amazon.com. I found it via BoingBoing but couldn't resist linking to it as well.

Exerpts from the review:

I can only imagine how fortunate you must feel to be reading my review. This review is the product of my lifetime of experience in meeting important people and thinking deep thoughts.

...

My review allows, for the first time, a complete and total understanding not only of this but *every single* book ever written. I call this "the principle of book equivalence."

...

It is staggering to contemplate that all the great works of literature can be derived from the letters I use in writing this review. I am pleased to have shared them with you, and hereby grant you the liberty to use up to twenty (20) of them consecutively without attribution. Any use of additional characters in print must acknowledge this review as source material since it contains, implicitly or explicitly, all future written documents.

Book Of the Eskimo

Peter Freuchen is a Dane who lived among the Eskimo for most of his adult life, in the late 1800's and early 1900's when the arctic hardly knew the influences of the white man.



The Eskimos have a keen sense of humor, and so does Freuchen. His simple phrasing conveys the overstated modesty and dry wit of the Eskimo with truly entertaining results.



The conditions of Eskimo life and culture are incomprehensibly harsh, and this too is conveyed in a simple, matter of fact style that heightens their impact all the more.



Freuchen writes with an insider's knowledge and an outsider's comprehension, conveying Eskimo life as no-one else could.



You may have trouble finding this book, since I think it's currently out of print. It's not really rare though, so if you keep your eye out at the used bookstores or search for it on the web you can probably find a copy.

Tom Sawyer

This is a great book. If you haven't read it or haven't read it recently enough to smile at the mention of the title, you should read it again.



Not should in the sense of "More people should read Emanuel Kant, so that we can have a more rational frame of discourse with respect to our all important abstractions"



Should in the sense of "You should read this, you'll have a good time!"

Holy Fire

Holy Fire - Bruce Sterling



I read this a while ago and hated it... actually, I was disappointed because I really didn't get what I was expecting. Here are the things I didn't like then that I still don't like:



- meandering plotline



- cheesy attempt by male author to create a female protagonist



- uses the word quotidian too many times



But somehow this time my expectations are out of the way and I'm really enjoying the book.



So much sci-fi is nostalgically patterned after earlier sci-fi, which talks about what the future seemed like it was going to be like from a vantage point that's now many years in the past.



This book finds a future both recognizable and suprising, extrapolating from the world of 2000.



Fortunately, Sterling caricatures our modern human state without ignoring real human issues. Like what does survival mean when survival is no longer in doubt?



Other things I'm noticing this time around that I missed last time:



- Human themes of transformation and redemption



- Sterling's sensitivity to the humor of the human condition and the irony of the transformative effects of technology.



- Articulation of the "post-human" era (are we post post-post-modern now?)