Archive for November, 2006

Well it’s definitely not Miller Time…

November 30, 2006

Okay… FlickrTime (but the page says FlickerTime) is a neat use of flash. Not terribly useful, but neat nonetheless.

Only one complaint though. The poor choice of font for the title on that page might lead your co-workers to believe it’s “F*#ker Time”.


Thinking Skills vs. Doing Skills

November 29, 2006

Commenting on Scoble’s post about the apparent shift to commercial skills-based education in Universities where he questions the role of a university. Mike over at Searching, Searching, Searching comments and asks:

Don’t we need the skills to THINK through the problem?

I wonder whether a mix of the two is not the best solution. Of course it depends on what it is your studying. Not everyone in university is studying in areas that involve rapidly changing information.

That being said, here’s my experience:

I earned a university degree in structural engineering, and have been a practising professional engineer for almost 10 years.

After graduating, I worked full time in construction for about a year and a half (which I have on and off since I was 16) and finally found a structural engineering position.

I also teach a structural design course and a construction methods course at a local college part time. So I have seen both the University and College side of things.

I found that my university training, while giving me the theoretical background and ‘thinking’ tools, left me at the bottom rung when it came to real-life, real-world experience. It was my construction experience which saved me in this regard, not the degree. This practical experience coupled with the education gives you a leg up on others when it comes to solving problems and providing quality design work in my opinion.

I think that while Universities should concentrate on developing the ‘thinking‘, they shouldn’t forget about the actual ‘doing‘ either. They could use a shot of practicality in my view (Co-op programs are a great start but only available in some programs.).

Likewise, I think Colleges should put some more emphasis on developing the ‘thinking‘ skills. I try to impart those in the courses I teach, but make no mistake, it’s all about delivering the goods, in the right quantity, in the allotted time. I make time to discuss the why’s and not only the how’s, but I can’t necessarily say the same for other instructors.

Clearly universities and colleges could both do with a little change.

Inkscape – Simple Tutorial On Creating A Button

November 29, 2006

While noodling around a little more with Inkscape, I thought about doing up a quick example just to give an idea of how simple it is to do neat things with it. So here I’m going to create a nice blue ‘rubberized’ looking button with an inlaid green glassy-type button. What we’ll get at the end is this:

First I started by creating a simple blue filled rectangle without any visible outline like this:

Then, by double-clicking the rectangle and Ctrl-dragging the adjustment grips I created rounded corners:

I then selected the shape and hit Ctrl-D to create a duplicate of the object. I then changed the fill colour of the duplicate to be a light blue. Also, I applied an opaque to fully transparent gradient over the left end of this light-blue rectangle. This is done by selecting the object, clicking the gradient tool and adjusting the gradient grips to suit your taste. Here’s the result so far. Obviously, the lower object is the one with the lightened colour and gradient adjustment:

Putting the light blue object directly over the original rounded rectangle gives you this:

Not bad so far. Now for the green inlaid button. First I created a simple green-filled shape with the Star button, making some adjustments to the shape controls. I chose to hide the outline of the object as well. Here’s what I came up with for a shape. You could use just about anything you want for a starting shape:

At this stage, I duplicated the shape you see above and moved it to the side. I then created an outline with the Bezier curve tool. I’m going to use this shape to generate a ‘shine’ on the green button. Here’s the green shape, it’s duplicate and the path I’m going to use:

I then selected the star on the right along with the path-shape and used the Path->Intersection command to generate a resulting object as shown below:

Then I selected the resulting partial star shape and adjusted its fill colour to be a very light green. I also adjusted the overall opacity of this shape to be about 50%. Here’s the adjusted object:

Overlaying the lighter shape on top of the darker one gives a nice button with kinda of a shine to it:

In this next step, I took the full star object (the dark one), duplicated it, and moved it over the right. On this duplicate, I turned off the fill, turned on the outline, set the outline thickness to something like 3 and then applied a gradient on the outline itself. The gradient went from a dark blue on the upper left to a light blue on the lower right. It’s tough to explain in words – better that you see the result here:

The outline itself is created this way to make the final green button look inlaid into the rubber. You could probably create this outline directly on the darker green star object without creating a duplicate. But separating it makes it easier to see what I did. Now overlaying the gradient outline on top of the shape gives this:

Now all that’s left to do is plunk this button on top of the blue button we created in the first three steps and we’ve got our final inlaid button!

I am no graphic designer by any stretch, but it’s really not that hard to create attractive graphic objects with Inkscape. The gradient features along with transparency can really open up some possibilities. Once you create something you like you can re-use those concepts to create other things (like that dark-green, light-green concept to create a glassy effect). You see that all over the place. It’s easy to do and can yield quite nice effects.

I hope you found this somewhat useful. If you’ve got any suggestions on how to do it better, quicker or more efficiently, please let me know in the comments. I’m still an Inkscape newbie and always looking for good pointers.

Now that’s Damn Interesting…

November 28, 2006

There are still gems out there on the global interweb. I just found one today via a Digg story ( Do humans explode in the vacuum of space?). It’s called Damn Interesting, and it’s .. er .. damn interesting!

Don’t be fooled by the gruesome subject matter of the example I cited. There are sections relating to History, Nature, Mysteries, Alternative Energy and Medical Science among other things.

Do you know what the Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon is? Maybe you were just thinking about it the other day? πŸ™‚

…definitely going in my list of bookmarks.

Tablet Woes + GIMP = Frustration

November 28, 2006

I haven’t had a chance to edit many photos lately – too busy fooling around with Inkscape and trying to write a blog post every day in November I guess πŸ˜‰

However I finally made some time and brought up the GIMP (the Linux equivalent to Photoshop for all intents and purposes). I quickly found out that my Graphire3 tablet wasn’t being recognized or at least recognized properly. I figured it was a result of my upgrade to Ubuntu Edgy Eft a while back or maybe my installation of Beryl threw my settings for a loop, and set about to correct the problem.

Well, it’s 3 days later and still no luck. I’ve read, re-read and re-re-read several message threads about the subject on and I must have edited my xorg.conf file six ways from Sunday – and yet still nothing.

Actually, ‘nothing’ is not really the correct term. The pointer moves, but only over a limited rectangular portion of the screen. And to make matters worse, the device is not recognized as an ‘extended input device’ in the GIMP which means pressure sensitivity is not enabled. If you’ve ever used one of these tablets for photo editing, you’d know that pressure sensitivity is what makes it infinitely better than a mouse for photo editing.

Anyhoo, rest assured that I will fix the problem come hell or high water. And when I do I will undoubtedly post about it.

Flushed Away, Snack Bar Ripoff, and Inept Parenting

November 27, 2006

We went out to see a matinee flick this afternoon. The intent was to see Happy Feet but when we got there we saw that it was rated PG. Rather than waste 30 bucks to have to pull my almost-five year old out of their mid-way through the picture, we opted to see Flushed Away instead. It was G-Rated and the characters looked similar to the last Wallace & Grommit flick we saw (and similar to those in Chicken Run) both of which I liked. So we had made our choice.

Three main comments on the outing:

1. I absolutely loved the movie. It was like the vast majority of kiddy movies these days in that it had a good action packed story with enough grown-up references thrown in to keep the parents entertained. Incidentally, Curious George is the only film I’ve paid money for in recent memory that didn’t do this – although I still loved that one too. Flushed Away was unique in that it had a real UK bent to it. It seemed more aimed at the UK/European market than the US. Refreshing really. The humour was top notch, very clever and witty. Even the odd bit of toilet humour (literally) was done with intelligence. The top bad guy was a large frog (with a penchant for Royal Family memorabilia) and his cousin’s band of French Ninjas (frogs as well) was absolutely priceless. Very very much fun. I highly recommend it. I will definitely purchase it when it comes out, possibly more for me than for my daughter. πŸ™‚

2. While this is nothing new, I have to say that paying over 12 bucks for a regular Coke, small popcorn and small bottle of water is absolute highway robbery. You can rest assured that come winter, the coat pockets and my wife’s purse will be stocked with the requisite snacks and bottled water before we arrive at the theatre. I felt raped walking away from that snack counter.

3. Listen people. If you’re going to wait in line at the snack bar with several offspring in tow, then either take control of them, or get some help. I had a 3 year old behind me inexplicably grab the seat of my pants (!) A quick turn around yielded only a meek and embarrassed smile from the parent supposedly in control of this pack. No apology was made of course. To further exacerbate the situation, after 10 minutes of standing in line I finally found myself at the counter with 4 strange kids wriggling around right beside me (two on each side). My wife and daughter were already in the theatre waiting for Daddy to make the snack run. Now don’t get me wrong, I know kids are excited when they’re at the movies, but I have a thing about instilling some instruction in my daughter about respecting people’s space. You wait in line, you wait your turn. You don’t go jumping around, bumping into people and pushing your way up beside someone in front. Maybe it’s just me, but I see this behaviour all the time. If you met me you’d know I’m all for having fun (I’m the Dad sitting playing dolly’s with his daughter in the Doctor’s waiting room, or supplying just enough ticklish touch to generate fits of 4 year old belly-laughter in the shoe store), but I also hold sacred the job of defining what’s right and wrong, both by instruction and by example. Why do so many others fail to do the same?

So there you have it: great movie, ridiculous prices and inept parenting skills. We ran the gamut this afternoon.

If there are any parents out there who’ve seen Happy Feet, please let me know if you liked it and what it was like. While our almost-five year old daughter is not exactly shielded from the realities of life, I’d like not to spend 30 bucks and have her traumatized. That can wait until she’s 7. πŸ™‚


Beryl – Quinn Storm Interview – Huh?

November 25, 2006

I’ve heard mention several times in several different places that Quinn Storm (the lead developer of Beryl – a composition manager for Linux recently forked off of the Compiz project) was female. In fact, the TLLTS boys were supposed to interview "her" this past Wednesday but scheduling problems nixed that.

While doing a search on all things Beryl, I came across this video with an interview of Quinn at a conference in Mountainview CA.

In the words of Austin Powers, "That’s a man Baby!". The power of the pronoun.

Linux podcasters (and I think Leo Laporte did it once too) – explain yourselves…  πŸ™‚

Listening Habits

November 25, 2006

As I’ve written about a couple of times in the past, I’m hooked on podcasts and there doesn’t seem to be any let-up in sight. I burn mp3 CD-RW’s and they fuel my 50 minute commute each way to and from work. I probably end up listening to about 3-5 hours of podcasts a week. Right now I’m fairly satisfied with the podcasts I’m subscribed to, but there are a whole whack of them out there. So there are likely quite a few that I would love but just haven’t heard of.

I thought I’d share my listening habits with you, and by all means give me your comments and recommendations on shows that you think I might like, but don’t currently know about. My interests wax and wane like the moon so some podcasts will arrive on my list and others might depart from time to time. So there’s usually always a space for new things.
Here’s a list of the podcasts that are currently making regular rounds in my car’s mp3-cd deck (in alphabetical order):

43 Folders
60 Minutes Podcast
7th Son (Podcast Novel)
Digital Photography Tips from the Top Floor
Floss Weekly (Free, Libre And Open Source Software)
Gillmor Gang
Inside The Net (now called "Net @ Night")
KFI (The Tech Guy)
Linux Reality
Lug Radio (a Linux Podcast from the UK)
Matt’s Today in History
The Bitterest Pill
The Digital Story (A Photography Podcast)
The Linux Action Show!
The Linux Link Tech Show
The LottaLinuxLinks Podcast
This Week In Tech
Web Design Podcast from Boagworld

And a few that are in my aggregator’s subscription list but are not quite ‘regular’ releases:

Digital Flotsam
Morning Coffee Notes

Have you got some suggestions? What are *you* listening to?

Handy Tip – Avoid Being an Idiot..

November 24, 2006

Here’s a handy tip for any newbies to the Blogger-in-beta engine: Don’t be an idiot like Yours Truly.

I just realized that you need to put commas between your post tags. And if you do something like I dunno.. use like.. uhh.. SPACES instead of COMMAS, it will take each term you entered and skooch ’em all up into one long post tag.

Live and learn I guess. If you spot any retarded looking post labels on past posts, it’s just me. I’ll fix ’em when I can.

Raising My Game

November 24, 2006

It is becoming apparent to me that I’ve got to raise my game.

While I have enough trouble managing my own (pitifully uninteresting) personal schedule, I’m bound and determined to do a better job with my progeny. Does it warrant a trip to Office Depot for the ubiquitous fridge-mounted whiteboard calendar? I’m beginning to think so.

If it’s not Pizza Day, it’s Pyjama Day, or Hot Dog Day, or Gym Day, or our turn for Snack Day, or a Field Trip… Just once I’d like to remember some important school date (and any date that is important to my daughter is important to me folks) more than 12 hours before it’s upon us.

I’m honestly not sure if I was born with the scheduling gene, it just comes to me with such forced difficulty that it just *can’t* be natural to me.

And while I’ve got my priorities straight enough to not *really* get flustered with myself when I send her to school with a full lunch on a ‘Pizza Day’, I also want to imprint the message that ‘yes, preparedness is a good thing’.

Although we have set very practical limits on the amount of extra-curricular activities (there *has* to be time for just plain fun after all), winter enrollment in skating already done, and swimming and possibly early spring gymnastics are on the horizon. In other words, the schedule will not be getting any more empty in the coming months and years.

Clearly I have to raise my game.