My New Year Brain Dump

January 2, 2008

I hope everyone out there had a safe and happy holiday. Happy New Year to all.

I just got back from a 4 day mini-trek down to Lockport NY to celebrate my daughter’s 6th birthday and New Years as well. And while we had a laptop and high-speed connectivity at the hotel, it just never got plugged in. And you know what? It was kind of nice.

Of course it’s back to the proverbial grindstone/rat race tomorrow but I feel somewhat refreshed and I’m ready to start chipping away at everything once again.

I’m not big on New Years resolutions. I’m one of those people that figures if you want to make a change, then you just go ahead and make it no matter what time of year. But I guess it’s an excuse to at least pony up some ideas. One of mine is to scale back and simplify. No, I’m not selling my house and living in a mud-hut off the grid – although that actually sounds cathartic at times. But I’ve got several goals which I intend to chip away at. Even if the chipping is just a little more aggressive than last year, I’ll be a happy camper. If you set the bar low enough, you can succeed at anything. :)

Some of the goals floating around inside my graying noggin at the moment:

  1. Eat less. Not salads and tofu. Just a little less of everything. I tend to eat well past the point of comfort sometimes. And many times when I’m not even hungry. And not a wholesale change of menu either. I’ll take my fancy for pizza, cereal and apple pie to my grave. I’m talking about quantity reduction. Not masochism.
  2. Exercise a little more. No Tai-Bo. Not looking for ripped abs in 10 weeks. I just want my pants and shirts to fit better. Nothing revolutionary – just less sedentary.
  3. Finish the blog and website. The website and blog theming are about 60% of the way there. It’s just going to take a little diligence and effort to get the job done – at least to the point where it’s presentable and not embarassing. ;)
  4. Simplify simplify simplify. Both online and in the ‘real world’, I plan on slowly removing things that are useless or counter productive. One by one, bit by bit. I have too much useless crap cluttering up my mind, my house, my desk at work and on my pc. I’m going to fight the pack-rat in me and try to give more crappy stuff the heave-ho.
  5. Move the focus points. Family, happiness, enjoyment and achievement. Less wasted time doing things that don’t further those things. And this does not preclude work either. I’m doing fine in that realm, but there is plenty of room to ‘sharpen the saw’ in all of those areas.

This post isn’t really meant as a goalpost or some highbrow social contract with myself. It’s just like most other blog posts, a brain dump just to get the process rolling.

Over the past week I also purchased a few interesting books and magazines. Whether they belong here in this post I don’t know. I may review a couple of them if I get the chance in the near term:

The Plenitude – Creativity, Innovation and Making Stuff by Rich Gold. This is a rather short, but interesting book. Rich Gold was a designer, inventor, writer, artist, and composer among other things. He worked at Xerox PARC and for Sega and Mattel. I’m halfway through this one and it’s very interesting reading. To me anyway.

Bulletproof Web Design by Dan Cederholm. This book is about improving the flexibility of web sites with XHTML and CSS. And while I’m very much an XHTML and CSS newbie, it seems to give some very valuable advice. Also, just going over the various sections, it seems like it will bolster my understanding of the basics as well.

Issue 100 of Linux Format magazine. I’ve read this mag in the past and quite like it, but the price is steep for me (around 20 bucks(!!) when purchased here). So I don’t buy a lot of these, but this one was special since it had an article on Linux related podcasts. I haven’t thoroughly read the article, but after skimming it I’m pretty sure I’m not entirely in agreement with their reviews on several fronts. Podcasts are highly subjective things. The review seems to read quite the opposite. We’ll see.

Design It Yourself edited by Ellen Lupton. This one is quite a nice inspiring book to browse through. It encourages creativity of the graphic design sort. There are lots of wonderful examples of practical projects and ideas. It’s far from a design reference and doesn’t pretend to be. It’s fun to read, and like I said, very inspiring for someone like me.

So there you have it, the first brain dump post for 2008. I hope everyone tries to make the most of the year ahead. Thanks to all for reading.

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Great graphic design stuff and thieving bastards…

December 21, 2007

A while ago I purchased some hosting, bought a couple of domain names and committed myself to designing a new website for myself and moving this blog to a proper WordPress install. All that stuff is going ahead.. albeit a little more slowly than I originally anticipated. However, just as I’m feeling all cocky and proud about venturing out onto the web ‘for real’, along comes this to jolt me back to reality:

David Airey, a talented graphic designer who writes a very useful blog by the way, posts about how his site was hacked the day after he went away on vacation. He’s now in the process of trying to wrestle back control of his domain name davidaireyDOTcom which he’s lost to the attackers. So in the meantime he’s using davidairey.co.uk. If you’re a fan of his, or want to check out lots of good graphic design related stuff, make sure you update your aggregators and/or bookmarks to the .co.uk address.

And to David, kudos for exercising such careful restraint in your posting about the incident and best of luck in getting back what is rightfully yours – I’ll be following the story.

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Everday Normal Guy…

December 21, 2007

Finally… a rap song aimed straight at me.. motherf!#@er…

[warning: if you didn't get the gist.. you might find the language (or at least one word repeated many times)  in this video somewhat offensive - or just funny]

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The Fantabulous Inkscape 0.46 About Screen Contest

December 20, 2007

Ryan Lerch spreads the news that the About Screen contest for the upcoming 0.46 release of Inkscape has been announced. The deadline is January 6th and I may try and make some time to field an entry or two once again. No luck last year, but it sure was fun coming up with ideas.

I seem to be mired in end of term exam marking, full time engineering work along with the website/blog stuff I’m trying to get finished. Oh yeah, and then there’s Christmas to contend with…better start shopping. ;)

I may just have to extend an arm and “sweep the desk clean” for a little while over the next week or two and come up with some new ideas for the Inkscape 0.46 About screen. It would be kind of nice to see your name up in lights inside one of my absolute favourite apps.

Here are my not-so-great entries from last time out.

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Un-FunWall

December 19, 2007

I have had a Facebook account for at least a few months now. It has proved useful for one thing: reacquainting with school chums from long ago. I log in about  twice a month – usually only to read and reply to a private message someone has sent me.

One email notification thingy I’ve seen popping up repeatedly is that one contact or another has written something on my “FunWall”. Oh Joy. And up until tonight, I’ve resisted signing up to see what they’ve written there.

Turns out that the times they are a-changin’. Instead of sending out forwarded chain letters and un-funny photos via email, they’re posting them on my ironically-named FunWall. Better yet, each one is accompanied by the typical ‘Forward to three friends or get bad luck’ or the more succinct “Forward!!” message  tacked on the end.

Send over the paperwork. I’m ready to sign. I’m officially a Facebook-hatah.

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What’s Your Favourite Application/Project Name?

December 14, 2007

I just responded to a comment on one of my blog posts about various aspects of the free and open-source OS world versus Windows. One part of that discussion was about application naming, with the commenter suggesting that more descriptive naming would be an important thing to have. While I’m in agreement theoretically, my heart just isn’t there. I love a creatively named application or project.

One of my favourite application names is Inkscape (and not just because I love the program too – which I do – that name is just uber-cool to me). But there are other good ones like: BlueFish, XSane, Opera, DamnSmallLinux, SeaMonkey and F-Spot.

There are of course other names I don’t like, with Gimp, Avidemux and Pidgin immediately springing to mind.

Of course none of this has anything to do with how well the applications work.

What’s your favourite application, distro, or project name (open or closed, free or non-free)? Which ones do you hate?

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A Couple of Quick Command Line and IRC timesaving tips

December 12, 2007

I’m one of those people who figures out things bit by bit. I learn enough to get what I want accomplished and then move on. A consequence of this is that I find out some time-saving trick literally years later, when it could have served me well from the beginning. But I’m too lazy (and too eager for immediate gratification) to take the time to thoroughly learn every nuance of some new exciting new toy.

So here are two things I’ve learned recently which you may or may not know:

1. In most IRC chat clients (Gaim/Pidgin anyway), you can use tab-completion to fill in nicknames of those in the chat. So if you wanted to type: “heathenx: You’re a sorry excuse for a human being.” , you could type “he” and then ‘tab’ and it would fill in the ‘athenx’ for you. If there are multiple matches, it lists them out and you type additional letters the next time to get a single match. **

2. In the bash terminal (works in rxvt under Cygwin, and likely on Mac terminals too), if you’re searching for a past command you entered – and it’s still in your command history – hit Ctrl-r. This will bring up a prompt so that as you type the first few letters it will find the most recent command matching those letters. It refines it’s search result as you type more letters. If you find the command you wanted,  hit enter to execute the command or hit the right cursor key (or ctrl-j) to bring it onto the command line for you to edit.

So there are a couple of tips that might save you some time and frustration (things I’m intimately familiar with).

Note: Any reference to heathenx’s or sorry excuses for human beings in this post are strictly fictional. No actual heathenx‘s were harmed in the production of this blog post – even if they claim to be. ;)

** – this tip comes via a Lotta Linux Links IRC chat session a while back. Check out the venerable Dave Yates and his podcast, blog, forum and irc channel at lottalinuxlinks.com – you’ll regret it if you don’t.

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Uber-slick and simple paper airplane animation site

December 11, 2007

One thing I’ve loved doing since I can remember is making paper airplanes. If you’re looking for a few neat paper airplane designs to keep the kids (or yourself) busy?  Check out the ultra-neat site at: Lowe-Tech – portfolio for a few models described in deceptively simple and attractive folding paper animations.

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Creating a windows installer from your WxPython application.. a love story.

December 5, 2007

I’ve just finished wrestling with a small wxpython application I wrote a few years back for our bookkeeper. It needed minor updating with a couple of new features. Now that I’ve finished the process here are a few remarks:

  1. Python is a lovely language. After about 14 months of not touching this app (or much of python in any case) it only took a few minutes of review to get back up to speed on it. Granted, I made judicious use of comments and verbose variable naming when I wrote it, but dang is it ever nice clean, clear and simple code.
  2. Once I had the thing running I downloaded and installed the latest version of py2exe (this app is to be installed on an XP machine). This little gem is invaluable in making .exe files from your .py files  and not requiring a Python install on the machine which is going to run the application. Our bookkeeper has no interest in what Python is, never mind running it.
  3. I love the Nullsoft Installer System (NSIS). It’s an open source system for creating professional looking Windows installers. No funky console windows or command line gobble-de-gook for the person installing it – typical modern looking windows install  – wizard style.
  4. Now the Nullsoft installer system is scripted (you have to create a script file to direct the setup) which allows for a lot of power and customization. But if you’re like me and have no interest in building these things by hand, you can use the wonderful HM NIS Edit application which lets you set up the whole thing through a nice friendly wizard.

So in the end, with the combination of my original .py file, py2exe, NSIS, and the HM NIS Edit, I have a very professional looking windows install file after about 5 or 10 minutes work. Brilliant!

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Jericho – Feb12 return?

December 4, 2007

Looks like CBS has *finally* decided to air the 7 episode long second season of Jericho. I’m not a big TV watcher at all, but this was one series I truly enjoyed. Glad to see it finally get aired. The launch date appears to be set for Feb 12, 2008 at 10pm. We’ll see. ;)

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