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Posts in “Misc 2004”

November 29, 2004

Back to Work

We had a wonderful Thanksgiving; it was difficult going back to work today.

Cat Pix

I put up some pictures of one of my previous foster cats, Tigger, in his new home. They were taken in March, 2003, but I misplaced the pictures until recently.

November 14, 2004

Maine lobster roll page updated

I've added the great state of Maine to my expanded lobster roll section.

November 2, 2004

Election Day

We voted at around 7:30 this morning. In contrast to many reports, there were no long lines to wait in and everything went smoothly. As I write this, the polls have closed in a number of states, and we're spending our evening following the returns. Hey, if the Red Sox can win, or, more significantly, if the Yankees can lose... anything is possible. As Yogi Berra said, “It ain't over till it's over.” I hope Kerry wins—I'd like to go back to Europe someday.

November 1, 2004


Although last night was not technically our first Halloween in the new house, it's the first one we celebrated. We had about 100 very nice kids stop by, everything from pirates to princesses. The candy supply just barely held out. I took some pictures of the pumpkin carving.

October 27, 2004

New York lobster roll page updated

I've added New York state to my expanded lobster roll section.

September 28, 2004

These Kids Today

We signed up for a French class at a nearby high school and last night was our first class. About two blocks away from the school, my car suddenly felt like it was running over rumble strips. I thought, flat tire? No, the car was rolling smoothly. Then the noise stopped. Seconds later it started again. I was able to swing the car off the road and into the high school’s driveway, but the car would not climb the hill, and the noise became more pronounced. I realized that the sound was the transmission screaming in agony, so I coasted to a stop (not that I had a choice). We placed a call to AAA and were told that it would take about 90 minutes for a tow truck to reach us. During the call, the AAA dispatcher and I exchanged breakdown horror stories. My worst was a transmission failure in Pittsburgh, which is about 350 miles from home. His worst was a breakdown in Binghamton, which sounded equally bad until I realized I had no idea where he lived.

The 90-minute wait didn’t seem so bad, because all in all, it was a great night to break down. The weather was clear and warm, and our car was safely out of traffic. Unfortunately, we missed the class. We could have walked there, but we couldn’t leave the car. We used the time to catch up on phone calls to friends and relatives. Of course everyone we talked to wanted to know if we needed a ride home, etc., but we were close to home and everything was under control.

The 90 minutes passed, and a Ford station wagon pulled up behind us. Uh-oh. What’s he going to do, chain us to that thing? It turns out that AAA had mis-coded our call as an “out of gas” request, so the driver was unable to help as he stood there clutching his plastic funnel. Anne called AAA again to try to get an idea of when the truck would arrive. We were told it would be there at 9:47. That sounded suspiciously precise, but we couldn’t complain since it was only 45 minutes hence. Sure enough exactly at 9:47 the tow truck arrived. I compilmented the driver on his punctuality, which was no doubt pure luck. He seemed somewhat surprised himself, but then smiled and said, “I’m good.”

The point of this entry is to report an observation I made during the ordeal. While we were waiting, a car passed by us at least every few minutes (as well as one polite and friendly cop). Out of the fifty or so cars, only two stopped to see if we needed help. Both were driven by teenagers. Say what you will about “these kids today,” some of them are certainly well-mannered and helpful.

September 27, 2004

Connecticut lobster roll page updated

After enjoying a number of new lobster rolls over the summer, I decided to expand my lobster roll coverage by adding a page for each state. The first state I’ve added is Connecticut.

August 26, 2004

Back from Maine

Our trip to Maine wasn’t a photo expedition for me (even though Maine is full of gorgeous scenery), but I had my camera with me most of the time and took about 7 rolls. I haven’t even begun to edit a set of pictures for the site, but I did put one of my favorite images up as the Week 31 Picture-A-Week.

August 9, 2004

Lobster Hats

Lobster hats

Anne made these cool lobster hats with the excellent lobsters from Stuffed Ark.

How about these hats! Anne created them to wear to the Maine Lobster Festival held in Rockland, Maine last week. We got quite a few compliments, too. We thought the hats would be a low-key way to get in the spirit, but since almost no one bothered to dress up at all, we really stood out. I have to admit I enjoyed the attention. We had a great time. We didn’t get a chance to take a decent picture of ourselves; this one was taken by Anne holding the camera at arm’s length while we were waiting for a parade to start.

July 28, 2004

iPod Earbuds

Apple iPod Earphones

Apple iPod earbuds with their fussy little case.

Where I work, it’s like totally iPod Nation. It seems like everyone either has one or is thinking of getting one. I admit it would be fun to have one (and it would make a great place to store photos from the digital camera on field trips), but, really, I don’t have much use for one. I do listen to music, however, on the train ride to work using my laptop. One CD at a time, one track after another, in order. It’s good enough.

That’s enough background; we’re here to talk headphones. I had been using some old “open-air” headphones for a while, but the foam on these finally disintegrated. I switched to a set of earbuds that had come with a free radio. These were horrible. Not only did they sound tinny, but they weren’t very efficient—even with the computer volume all the way up, the music was just barely loud enough. What I liked about them, however, was their size; they took up almost no room in my backpack. Once I tried a set of full-size headphones on the train (Sony MDR-V6). They sounded great, of course, but they were obviously too big and heavy.

It looked like earbuds were the way to go, so I tried a friend’s iPod earbuds, and these sounded much better than my free earbuds and were plenty loud as well. They were more than good enough, so I ordered a pair. Note that the iPod earbuds that Apple sells as an iPod accessory are different from the ones that are included with the iPod, although they do come only in the same trademark white. For one thing, Apple provides three sets of interchangeable silicone elastomer earpieces so you can choose the set that makes the best seal in your particular ear. My initial experience was that the seal was anything but tight, and the sound was thin. I attempted to phatten it up by using the iTunes equalizer, but that only provoked distortion. After much experimentation, I found that the longest sleeves promised to provide the tightest seal, at least in my ear. When the seal wasn’t adequate with normal pressure, I just screwed the earbud into my ear with a firm twisting motion. (Owww! I hate when that happens.) That did it. I finally had a tight seal, and suddenly I had mega-bass. I actually had to roll it off a little to keep my skull from rattling—and that was with Mozart!

Even with the earbuds jammed in that tight, they were very comfortable to wear. You just gotta love a good silicone elastomer. The tight seal not only provides excellent bass response, it also seals out most of the ambient noise.... oops, I just missed my stop.

July 25, 2004

PAASUG Notes and Photos

I posted some notes and photos on the most recent Philadelphia Area AppleScript Users Group on my AppleScript page.

July 13, 2004

Can You Love a Keyboard?

Apple Extended Keyboard II

Old Reliable—The Apple Extended Keyboard II. Even with a couple of broken keys, it’s still a great keyboard.

I didn’t start out as a keyboard snob. The keyboard on my first computer, a Macintosh Plus suited me just fine. Hey, I didn’t know any better.

It wasn’t until I went off to college that I found a keyboard I actually liked. The IBM terminals in the library were a dream to type on; they had a marvelous light touch and made a happy clattering racket. It was a long time before I found the equivalent in a personal computer keyboard—and it was for a PC! Arghh. I bought an Avant Prime, which was recommended by Jerry Pournelle, who was quite passionate about keyboards. (It’s no longer his favorite, however.) That tank of a keyboard was the one thing that made using a PC bearable. In fact, I took this keyboard to work to replace the spongy nightmare that came with the company-issue Dull.

There was nothing like the Avant Prime for the Mac, but at least Apple’s Extended Keyboard II was a fine keyboard that I used happily for years. The Extended Keyboard II was never updated for USB, and Apple’s USB keyboards have never come close to the quality of the Extended Keyboard II. My keyboard had lost a couple of keycaps (see photo above), and had a non-functioning option key, so I was excited to learn that Matias Corporation had introduced an updated version of the original Extended Keyboard (which I’ve never used). They claim it “is built from the same premium keyswitch technology that Apple used in its original Apple Extended Keyboard, widely viewed as the best keyboard Apple ever made.” It didn’t take me long to decide to get one, but I wondered... Could this be not only better than the Extended Keyboard II, but as good as the Avant Prime? Well, the Matias “Tactile Pro” arrived today, and it is every bit as good as the Avant Prime. I am clattering away on it right now, and it feels great.


Matias Tactile Pro Keyboard for Macintosh

The Tactile Pro keyboard from Matias Corporation, a remake of the original Apple Extended Keyboard. In white with USB, so it matches the iMac at least. (Not even Apple makes a keyboard to match the G5. What’s up with that?) The keys sport legends of the characters you get with option and shift-option; cluttered, perhaps, but handy. About $80 wherever fine replica keyboards are sold.

June 30, 2004

I Wish I’d Shot That

I point to this collection of street photography not because it’s the best work I’ve ever seen (although I think it’s awesome), but because it strikes me as exactly the kind of thing I would like to do (if I had the talent, of course). Street Snaps by Zurich-based photographer Alex Sologubenko showcases street photography in a classic style that’s often witty and sometimes downright funny. Although I have no artistic pretensions (a good position to take when you have no talent), I have to admit when I see work this good, I wonder why I bother.

June 28, 2004

The Struggle for Semantic Purity

I wasn’t looking for trouble, but as so often happens, I found it. I happened on a reference to a snippet of CSS code at Kalsey Consulting implementing CSS tabs with submenus. I thought, Cool! But then I flushed with shame when I realized that my CSS tabs, which already have submenus, implement the submenu as a separate menu. So my navigation certainly failed the semantic purity test. Since I had already gone to the trouble of making the navigation a simple list (laying it out horizontally using CSS), I thought I should go all the way and move the submenu into the main list where it belonged. That way the navigation would not only make much more sense, but would degrade nicely if the linked style sheet were missing. The only problem was how to lay out the same list both horizontally (main) and vertically (the submenu). The solution turned to be relatively straightforward, although I had to learn even more about inheritance and selectors than I already knew to get it to work correctly.

June 27, 2004

G5 PowerBooks “Close at Hand”

I read today on MacMinute, which summarized an eWeek article reporting that IBM has promised that a notebook-ready version of the G5 chip is close at hand. So a new PowerBook based on the chip may be only--oh, a year away. It will be introduced at Macworld San Francisco, but won’t actually ship until the end of March. You heard it here first.

I just put my PowerBook back in service. I had thought that the charging circuit was dead, because the battery would no longer charge, but it turned out to be the battery itself. I had to buy a VST battery charger on eBay to find that out. One new battery later and Old Faithful was back in business. In fact, I am writing this on the train using my new (very old) PowerBook.

Now that I am working on two machines, I need a way to keep files synchronized. Rsync seems to be the best way to do that. With help from these two sources, I should be able to put together something.


June 6, 2004

Return to Titanic

I just learned that Robert Ballard, the discoverer of the Titanic, is currently back at the wreck (May 27 through June 12). A National Geographic special, “Return to Titanic,” including live pictures from the bottom will be broadcast tomorrow night at 9 PM on the National Geographic Channel. For once, I wish I had cable. For more information, see National Geographic and Return to Titanic.

June 5, 2004

Memories of Reagan

It isn’t often that I can claim any kind of connection with world leaders, but when I learned of the passing of Ronald Reagan, I was reminded of a gig long ago where I breathed the same air as the President. The photo below was taken at a Congressional Ball (the White House version of the office Christmas party) probably around 1985. I was quite touched that the White House thought enough of the entertainment to have these pictures taken and distributed to members of the band.



That’s me on the left... the guy with the beard at the drums. Shaking hands with Nancy Reagan while the Gipper applauds us is Mike Carney. In the foreground is Colleen Casey. (click image for a larger version)

May 31, 2004

iMovie Rocks

My niece called today in a panic asking if her family’s iMac had a FireWire port (she wasn’t at home to check). Her question surprised me, as she is normally completely uninterested in computers. It turns out that she and some friends had been working on a video for school that was due—you guessed it—tomorrow. She really needed a computer with a FireWire port and iMovie, so they could edit their video. My wife graciously donated her iMac to the cause even though none of us had ever used iMovie. This promised to be a real adventure in software.

If you’ve ever watched Apple’s CEO, Steve Jobs, demo iMovie or any of the other iApps during a Macworld keynote, you can’t help but be sucked in by the ease of it all. He makes it look effortless and for a moment, you think Hey, I could do that. But then the glow fades, and you remember it’s only a demo. Nothing (especially software) works like that in real life. Well, I felt like I was living a Steve Jobs demo after using iMovie for the first time. With little more than a glance at the handful of brief but well-written PDFs that comprise the entire “documentation,” we were off and running.

We started by copying the video from the digital camcorder to the iMac. The iMac recognized the camera, and we started importing video. We soon discovered (accidentally) that iMovie made a new clip at each scene change automatically. That was a very pleasant surprise and saved a lot of time. It was the first of many such discoveries.

Editing was similarly elegant and painless. Throughout the process I was amazed at how smoothly the program ran knowing how much data was being slung about. We hardly had to wait for anything except when rendering a complicated effect, and I never saw the dreaded beachball. One of my niece’s friends was very computer-literate, and I was quickly replaced in the driver’s seat. She did a great job. Even though she had never used iMovie (or, I suspect, a Mac), she was editing like a pro in short order, because iMovie’s interface was so simple and intuitive, although it was necessary to consult the PDFs for an explanation of a few of the features. The only time we stumbled was applying titles, which didn’t seem to “take” on the first try.

In a few hours, they had finished editing their video from over a hundred clips down to a 20-minute finished length with music, sound effects, titles, and special effects. Getting the video back into the camcorder was as easy as getting it out (we would have burned a DVD, but we didn’t have any).

As hard as I am on Apple at times, I have to admit that iMovie is a winner.

May 27, 2004

Philadelphia FileMaker Users Group Forms

After work I attended the first-ever meeting of the Philadelphia FileMaker Users Group. Attendance was excellent and our host, IT Solutions Consulting, served pizza and soda. I arrived too late for the food, but heard most of the presentation extolling the virtues of FileMaker 7. I was struck again and again during the presentation not by how good FileMaker 7 is, but rather by how utterly lame previous versions have been by comparison. I can’t believe how many years we all (FileMaker users and developers) have suffered with FileMaker’s infuriating limitations. But hey, in its niche, it was the only game in town.

May 26, 2004

Leica's Fixed

So what’s new? Well, I got my beloved Leica M4 (here’s some pictures of a famous one) back from being repaired. And lo, there was much rejoicing. That put me in a photographic mood, so I have added five pictures to my PAW (Picture-a-Week) project. None of them were taken with the Leica. Go figure.

May 23, 2004

Oakes at Ten Months

There’s a new picture of our Seeing Eye puppy, Oakes, taken about a week ago at ten months of age.

May 11, 2004

Moving Day

So, we’ve moved. Whew! I could really use a beer after lugging all those pixels.

When I changed from, uh, the empty void it was (2000 to 2002) to the lively, thriving... well, at least somewhat less empty site it is today, I was always bothered that the domain name didn’t suit the nature of the site. Finally I registered the name I’ve been calling this place for over a year and completed the move yesterday. Since I only changed the domain name, it was easy to redirect any address at to the new domain. Welcome.

The other project that has been keeping me busy was putting up my photos of our trip to Denver last summer. I did it the hard way, of course, with PHP and MySQL, but it was a great learning experience.

By the way, I’ve updated the history of the “early years” here with some amusing looks at earlier incarnations of the site. Someday I’ll look back at this site and laugh, too, but for now it’s home.

April 21, 2004

Tales from Deep Space

"Tales from Deep Space" from Snarkmarket, like, totally cracked me up.

April 18, 2004

Spring Planting: Hostas

Although Spring arrived some time ago, this weekend was the first with actual Spring-like weather, and it was glorious. We spent most of Sunday in the yard doing chores and working on the garden. I decided that my recently-arrived baby hostas would be much happier in the ground than in their cramped little pots, so with Anne’s help, I planted them in a holding area until I could decide where they will ultimately go. Two of the three varieties really were babies—the pots looked empty except for the tiniest green dot to indicate a new shoot. The third kind, Fair Maiden, were about 4 inches tall and had substantial roots poking out the bottom of the pots. All went well for my first-ever planting, and I am looking forward to the plants’ progress.

SSH (the secure shell for an insecure world)

Over the last few days, I’ve been messing about with Open SSH (the secure shell), which I need to connect to a MySQL database at my ISP, and upgraded the version on my Mac to the latest one. I had to upgrade Open SSL as well, and it was a bit of a hassle as well as a learning experience, but it all works fine now. I am especially happy that my little successes mean I won’t have to rely on Fink to obtain Unix software. As fine a project as Fink is, the packages I’ve been interested in are not up to date. This may mean that the Fink maintainers are being cautious about releasing new versions before thorough testing has been conducted, rather than simply not keeping up with new versions. I haven’t had any problems with any of the “cutting-edge” versions, however. Just lucky, I guess.

April 8, 2004

Blissed Out

Anne is taking a quilting class and got a sewing machine last week. Tonight I was treated to the soothing sound of the machine’s intermittent hum from the next room while I was wrestling with some database problems. I could almost feel my blood pressure and heart rate drop. Ah, domestic bliss. Maybe that’s why I finally succeeded in “hooking up” the Perl script that builds my pages to a MySQL database. It’s not all bliss all the time, but it’s a wonderful life.

April 2, 2004

Canine Courtship Rituals

We haven’t added any new pictures of our puppy Oakes to his page for over a month, in part because he hasn’t changed that much, but our friend Jessica took this nice picture of Oakes playing with her Seeing Eye puppy Ella. They almost look like they’re cooperating instead of competing. I think he’s saying, "See? Men can too be sensitive!"


March 31, 2004

Brand Spanking New Perl... By Accident

After my last adventure with Perl, I was wishing I could upgrade my Perl 5.8.2 to 5.8.3 without breaking anything. I had learned that the “autobundle” command of CPAN can create a giant archive module of all your modules to make reinstallation of them easy after an upgrade.

In testing autobundle, however, I ran into an immediate problem. While I could easily create my autobundle, I couldn’t re-install it. The message I received was: “Warning: Cannot install, don’t know what it is.” I Googled for help with this, but came up dry. There’s a lesson to be learned here. Whenever you have a problem that no one else has ever had (apparently), it means you’re probably doing something incredibly boneheaded and not encountering some rare bug. This was true in my case, as well. Perl modules and bundles have extensions of .pm, but in CPAN you don’t use it. All I had to do was chop the extension off of and all was well.

In reading the output from the reinstallation, there were some modules it was having trouble with, so I tried installing one manually, using “force.” This particular module is reportedly included with the new version of Perl, so CPAN merrily set about installing Perl 5.8.3! Not what I had in mind, of course, but it all went well. I have a shiny new Perl and all updated modules. Ain’t technology wunnerful?

March 30, 2004

Cool Science Stuff

Two links from the world of science: 1) a breathtaking slide show of images from the Hubble, and 2) an equally awe-inspiring animated journey from outer space to subatomic particles. Each frame of the animation is an order of magnitude smaller than the one before.

In other news...


March 28, 2004

More Songs About Wine and Food

We subscribe to three food/cooking magazines at the moment: Cook’s Illustrated, Fine Cooking, and Bon Appétit. The first because we saw copies at a friend’s house and were hooked; the second because everything from Taunton Press is first-rate (I was a long-standing subscriber of Fine Woodworking and Fine Homebuilding back in the day); and the third because it was really cheap. (I’ve linked to each magazine’s web site, but to be honest, I haven’t spent any time at any of these sites.)

More often than not, we make things from magazines instead of cookbooks these days for several reasons. The recipes are seasonally oriented, so they suggest making what we’re already in the mood for, and the instructions are typically more complete with techniques illustrated with color pictures. Magazines keep things easy and interesting.

Tonight we made one of the “juicy pork chop” recipes featured in the current issue of Fine Cooking accompanied by a side of skillet-roasted Yukon Gold potatoes. We took the opportunity to stage another wine tasting, this time between two Pinot Grigios: San Angelo and Folonari. The clear winner was the San Angelo with a lively and complex flavor with distinct citrus notes. The Folonari was quite dull by comparison. The price difference between the two is substantial; the Folonari at $7.99 was one of the cheapest Pinot Grigios we could find, while the San Angelo at $13.99 cost almost twice as much. So far, we haven’t found any bargain wines.


There’s something different about this entry. It has a title as well as a "file under" destination. Some of the recent entries have been exceedingly geeky, and I think it only fair to warn people before they waste time reading it. No one really wants to read about making photo thumbnails with ImageMagick. I mean, really. Next time, you’ll be warned. It’s just another fine service of Homegrown Systems, the web site that uses blogging software with No Features[TM].

March 25, 2004

Korn Shell version p

It’s funny. With all the cool new software pouring into the market every second, why am I so interested in the humble shell? It’s not like I spend all day in the shell. Hardly. (Something to ponder...)

As of Panther, the default shell for OS X changed from tcsh to bash. Bash is a fine shell, but for a variety of vague, unexplored reasons I prefer the Korn shell. No version of OS X has even included the Korn shell, even though it was released under an open source license a few years ago.

A version of the Korn shell is available through Fink, but if you want the latest, greatest Korn shell (and you do, don’t you?) using Fink, you’ll have to “hack” the .info file (the .info file tells Fink where to get the source, etc), because the current Fink info file points to a download long gone. When this situation occurs, the FAQ recommends downloading the source to the default source location /sw/src/ and installing from there. I tried this, and it didn’t work for me, and besides, the Korn Shell has one dependency (something called INIT), so I decided it would be better to edit the .info file that Fink knows about.

Begin by checking for the latest version by consulting the release change log and look for the latest stable release (as of March 25, 2004, that is “ksh93p”). Grab the source for the darwin.ppc version of ksh93 and INIT from here and put it anywhere. Then run md5sum against the two .tgz downloads to note the checksums.

Open the .info file and look for these four lines:


Source: \
Source2: \
Source-MD5: fbbcdcf490cb478f6fc2b9e0ed8d9fc4
Source2-MD5: 7f7d7eb4cfe25302a29dcce2761986f7


Change them to these values (I broke the URLs into two lines here): \
Source2: \
Source-MD5: fa91217bc99ccf9cc32b3250a2431185
Source2-MD5: cd4cc8fe24b040685451bea07f9bd163


Run fink install ksh93 as usual, and it should build the newest version from February 29.

March 24, 2004

No-Guilt Web Design

I felt a twinge of guilt when I read this entry on Andy Budd’s web site explaining how his CSS design sub:lime for the CSS Zen Garden was ripped off by a design firm in Akron, Ohio. Even though Andy claims that he is “not massively bothered about people using a version of sub:lime on their personal sites,” I still felt queasy for doing just that—until I remembered that it wasn’t Andy’s design that I had “used a version of,” as much as I liked it. It was Ray Henry’s design that this page is an homage to. In fact, I was so taken with it that for a short time, I re-did the whole site, but now all of the pages except for this one follow my own original “design.” It may not be pretty, but it’s all mine. I don’t think there’s any danger of it being ripped off.


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March 23, 2004

Building ImageMagick

I was successful building ImageMagick, but only after about eleventy-seven tries. After building the latest version (5.5.7) without any problems, I was somewhat surprised to discover that I was unable to work with JPEGs, because JPEG support is not built in. I got the source for the JPEG library libjpeg-6B (from the Independent JPEG Group) and built that a few hundred times. Either I put it in the wrong place or made some other blunder, because after each rebuild of ImageMagick, JPEG support was still denied me. I finally found a set of directions by “mud” that worked fine. Still working out the reasons why...

With ImageMagick working, I experimented with various settings and finally settled on this:


for img in "$1"/*[!T].jpg
   file=`basename "$img" .jpg`
   convert -filter Mitchell -resize 190x190 +profile "*" -quality 75 -unsharp 0x1.0+0.7+0.05 "$img" "${1}/${file}T.jpg"


What this does is call ImageMagick’s convert command using the Mitchell filter. It strips any embedded profiles to save space and adds a little unsharp masking for that extra sparkle. I wanted the thumbnails to be 190 pixels on their long dimension regardless of their orientation, and specifying 190 for both width and height does that. For the results, please feel free to visit the Photography section and look for thumbnails that are 190 pixels (not all are yet).

March 17, 2004

Making Thumbnails Programmatically

The last pages on this site to be updated after the redesign are the ones in the Photography section. (Don’t look; they’re a mess.) Among the many changes I wanted to make, one was to make the thumbnails larger. They are just too small. (What was I thinking?)

I don’t relish the idea of opening up all those pictures and saving out each one in a new and improved size. I knew there must be some kind of automated way to do it. Photoshop offers a way to create a "web gallery" with thumbnails, but I wanted all the thumbnails to have the same long dimension, and Photoshop doesn’t let you do that.

Apple’s Image Events looked promising. Image Events provides a way to use AppleScript to do just what I needed, but it only runs on Panther. ImageMagick is a powerful package that would work as well. The version available through Fink is rather old, so I am trying to build it from source. Most of the time, I rely on Fink to take the pain out of installing Unix software, so I don’t have much experience doing it the hard way. We’ll see how it goes.

March 16, 2004

Shopping for Hostas

A hosta from my in-laws’ garden. If the leaves don’t look green, please adjust your monitor. :-)

There’s nothing like a good blizzard to make you start planning the garden! Well, OK, it was only two inches, but with the warm weather we’ve been having, it was quite unexpected. It’s easy to forget that some of the worst snowstorms we’ve ever had have occurred in March.

With a crisp layer of snow outside, I spent some time inside surfing the Wayside Gardens site for hostas because they were having a hosta sale. After deliberating for a while, I made my decision. Of course, none of the hostas I chose (Northern Exposure, Paul’s Glory, and Fair Maiden) were on sale.

March 14, 2004

Some Comments on HTML Comments

At some point in the distant past, BBEdit added syntax coloring to its long list of useful features. For example, as I type this text, the words I’m writing are colored black, but all the HTML tags are displayed in contrasting colors.

There was one inconsistency about this coloring that puzzled me for years. I actually convinced myself it was a bug in BBEdit until yesterday, when I learned it’s not a bug at all; I just didn’t understand it. What about HTML could I possibly not understand? (A lot, but we don’t have time for that now.) It’s the humble HTML comment. When I write an HTML comment, BBEdit colors the comment text gray, but I noticed that if the comment text contained two hyphens (that’s an em dash in “typewriter”), then the text after the comment suddenly turned gray! It turns out I didn’t know how to write comments.

I always thought that comments began with <!-- and ended with -->, but it’s not that simple. A comment actually begins and ends with two hyphens, so when my text happened to contain two hyphens, BBEdit interpreted that as the end of the first comment, and the --> sequence as the beginning of the next comment, thus turning text after the --> sequence gray as well.

I had always considered the opening of the comment to be <!--, but this sequence is actually two tags. <! is a markup declaration, a kind of generic sequence that tells the browser, “Here’s a tag.” It’s the double hyphens that mark the beginning of the comment. There are documents all over the World Wide Web Consortium explaining this.

It’s interesting that now that I finally understand this, I’ve stopped using double hyphens for em dashes and started using the entity &#8212;. At least there’s nothing wrong with BBEdit. It’s also interesting that every browser got it “wrong” and closed my comments at --> instead of at the next closing tag. I’m thankful for that.

March 13, 2004

A Nice Used FM2n

I was in the camera store the other day picking up prints (Yeah, yeah, I still use film. You gotta problem wid dat?), and as I usually do, I nonchalantly drifted over to their cabinet of used equipment. For once, they had something interesting: a black Nikon FM2n in beautiful condition. Understand that I already have an FM2n, which was my first “real” camera. I bought mine used, and even though it was the nicest FM2n of the ones they had, it was in poor condition. I put some money into it, but it still has a few problems—the frame advance doesn’t travel far enough to fully advance the film, so you have to double-stroke it, and the frame counter only works intermittently.

Since I still use it, it would be nice to replace it with a body in better condition, but I don’t think I can justify it. For one thing, we are saving for our first digital camera, a Nikon D70. That’s $1000 right there, but the bleeding won’t end there, I’m sure. That body will need a lens. The lenses I own are all manual-focus “AIS.” They will physically mount on the D70, but they won’t work with it at all. There’s no autofocus of course, but the D70 can’t even meter with these lenses, so we’re assuming that we’ll be getting one modern autofocus lens. Which one, though? The perfect lens would be the new 17-55mm f/2.8 DX lens, but this lens will probably cost more than the camera. What we’ll probably do is get a 35mm lens, which on the D70 will act like a 50mm lens on a film camera. Since we both use 50mm lenses primarily (me on my Leica, and my wife on her Pentax K1000), that should be adequate.

So I don’t think a “new” FM2n is in my future after all. Besides, I’m not sure it even makes sense. For one thing, you can still buy a new FM2n for about $850 (complete with 50mm lens), but for the same money, I’d probably get an FM3A. As long as I’m just dreaming, I should pre-order the Epson R-D1, which is the closest thing to a digital Leica M we’ll see—until Leica itself introduces a digital M (if they ever do). The R-D1 is a real rangefinder camera that you focus optically; it just doesn’t use film. It will cost about what a Leica costs as well, reportedly $2700.

March 12, 2004

Quadra 610 Technical Specifications

I subscribe to Apple’s Support Updates email newsletter because I want the latest, most up-to-the-minute information on new documentation, software updates, etc. And I want it now.

In the newsletter dated March 10, I noticed that a few Knowledge Base documents had been updated. Let’s see... “Troubleshooting a cable modem, DSL, or LAN Internet connection” (good one!), “Using Unicode fonts with AppleWorks for Mac OS X” (I’m sure somebody will care)—Whoa!!! What’s this!? “Macintosh Quadra 610: Technical Specifications.”

I was nonplussed. The Quadra 610, while a very nice machine in its day, was discontinued, what, ten years ago? I checked out the article and was even more surprised to find that it had been created March 15, 2002, eight years after the last Quadra vanished forever from dealers’ shelves and passed into the history books. I was unable to discover why the document had been updated; I’m sure there’s a logical explanation.

I’d be upset about Apple wasting time updating documentation on ancient hardware (they’re not archaeologists), except that Apple has gotten a lot better in general at getting documentation finished and keeping it updated. At least I now know where to get the official (and updated!) specs for the venerable Quadra 610. Should I ever need them. I look forward to reading the updated specs of one of the Macs I actually owned. Ah, the Duo 230. Yeah, now that was a laptop!

March 11, 2004

Philadelphia Flower Show 2004

While the weather has been decidedly brisk this week, I can already feel the symptoms of Spring fever. We went to the Philadelphia Flower Show on Monday, and if the sight of all those blooms doesn’t put you in the mood for Spring, I don’t know what will. I really enjoyed myself this year. This was our first Flower Show since moving into our new house, and we bought some decorations to celebrate—a dried wreath to hang over the bed, and a framed arrangement of dried fern “fiddleheads” from Vermont Botanicals.

Anne forwarded an email to me from Wayside Gardens about a 40% off sale on hostas. At the old house, I had planned on planting a small hosta bed as my first foray into gardening, but never got farther than clearing the bed of sod. In our new yard, the bed is already cleared (no grass grows in the shade of our dogwood), so the hardest work is already finished. All I have to do now is decide what to plant. The trouble is, there are so many kinds! Last night I was surfing the sites of the American Hosta Society, the regional site, and the local club. It was all very inspiring. Seeing little green shoots all over the yard this week was also inspiring. We’ll have a mess of tulips soon.

I’ve Stopped Smiling for Now

After my initial enthusiasm for Smile, I haven’t had much luck using it for doing real work. Even working around the inconvenience of Smile not being able to step through “if” and “repeat” blocks or into handlers, I was still stymied by weird errors. As much as I like Smile’s unique features, I don’t think it’s practical to use on a script of any length or complexity.

March 9, 2004

Trying Smile

I’ve wanted to try Smile (the AppleScript editor) for a while now. Many people like it a lot because it offers some unique features, but every time I tried it, I gave up in frustration. I just didn’t “get” it. At the time, it didn’t really matter, because I have always been a very satisfied user of Script Debugger. The most recent version I own is 2, however, and since I haven’t been doing much scripting in recent years, I didn’t feel justified spending the money to upgrade to version 3. My needs were met by using Script Editor. I wasn’t happy about it, but I could get by. With some scripting projects to do, I took the opportunity to give Smile (2.5.9) another chance. After all, there was no risk involved—Smile is free!

I was pleased to find out that Smile is really cool, but I felt that the documentation (which consists of a Getting Started PDF and a few paragraphs of online help) was rather skimpy. I can see why I was frustrated. Herewith, then, are some notes to myself on using Smile.

My first project involved opening a script saved as text into a Smile “Text” window. “Text” windows are a unique feature of Smile. In a Text window, hitting the Enter key executes the current line or the selection (compiling first if necessary) instead of running the whole script top to bottom as would normally occur in other editors (or a Smile “Script” window). I’m sure this works fine for writing a script from scratch a line at a time—but I was starting with uncompiled text

When you reach a line containing a call to a handler later on in your script, you will get the error that <<script>> doesn’t understand the <<handler name>> message. That’s because the handler hasn’t been compiled yet. To fix this, select the handler and hit Enter to compile it. Another problem with “Enter-stepping” is that Smile can’t step through any part of a code block (examples: try, end try, with timeout, end timeout, if, end if, multi-line comment, etc.) unless the line is a complete statement, so every time you reach a block, hitting Enter throws an error. To get around this limitation, you need to select the entire block and run it as a unit. Even with these annoyances, I’ve discovered that Smile has a lot of potential, although from reading these criticisms, you’re probably wondering where it is!

March 6, 2004

OS X Annoyances: Setting the Default Browser

I have a number of Web browsers installed (there’s no perfect one, but I keep looking...) and the most recent one I installed was Firefox 0.8. I tried making Firefox my default browser by setting it in the Internet preferences pane (under Mac OS 10.2.8). Firefox 0.8 was included in the drop-down menu of browsers, so naturally I chose it. Silly me. What actually happened is that the system ignored this choice and actually selected Firebird, which was still installed. (Perhaps because Firefox was formerly called Firebird? Who knows.) That’s right, I selected Firefox, but when I closed and reopened the Internet preference pane, Firebird was selected, and that’s what the system used when I clicked URLs. I thought maybe if I manually selected Firefox instead of picking it off the menu, that would fix it. Uh, no. After fruitlessly searching through and subsequently trashing,, and, I gave up and trashed my copy of Firebird. That fixed the problem. Interestingly, if I have Mozilla open instead of Firefox, URLs are sent to Mozilla instead of launching Firefox. I guess the system thinks they’re “the same,” in a similar way that Firefox and Firebird are the same.

March 4, 2004

Expensive is Better

I’ve been drinking wine with meals for many years, and although I’m no connoisseur, I can easily distinguish the qualities of one wine compared to another, even between two of the same color! (I knew you’d be impressed.) What I’ve never done is kept any kind of record of my preferences. With our last purchase, we resolved to try to rate the wines we drink. Our plan is to buy two bottles of each type, compare like to like, and declare a winner. (Life can be so cruel.) It’s a naive plan perhaps, but we’ve got to start somewhere. As time goes on, I’m sure we’ll encounter pairs of wine where there is no clear "winner." Both wines are equally good--just different. One of the goals of this project is to identify cheaper wines that are "just as good" as the more expensive ones. Perhaps that goal is just as naive.

Earlier this week we opened two bottles of Shiraz, both Australian: a Wolf Blass 2001 ($9.99) and an Alice White 2003 ($7.99) for the first contest. We administered a blind taste test to each other, and there was no question which one we preferred--the Wolf Blass. Not that the Alice White was bad by any means, but it did suffer in every way compared to the Wolf Blass. (The next night, by the way, I drank the Alice White by itself, and tasted in isolation was perfectly satisfactory.) The Wolf Blass is $2.00 more expensive than the Alice White, but it’s also two years older. Is the difference in "quality" (as well as price) simply due to the age difference? I wonder. Either way, in this our first comparison, the more expensive vintage was the clear winner.

March 3, 2004

The Waffle House Project

I stumbled on this page the other day. It’s a photo diary of Waffle House restaurants "along I-95 between Durham, NC and Stuart, FL." Now, I could say, "Get a life!" or something like that, but, on the contrary, I am delighted to see another photo-obsessive with such impeccable taste in restaurants. Not like that Denny’s Project guy. I can relate to such a project (visiting every Denny’s), just not one devoted to Denny’s. Sheesh.

In 1994, Denny’s was sued by a group of African-Americans who claimed that Denny’s systematically discriminated against black patrons by making them endure long waits for a table. The alleged strategy was designed to encourage them to leave (and never come back, I presume). Not to trivialize the seriousness of the lawsuit, but I’ve gotta say, I must be African-American then! That long wait for a table (and the subsequent long wait for everything else) at one Denny’s store after another is the reason I gave up on the entire chain. Denny’s food was fine, but their service was peerlessly poor, and it was the same at every Denny’s I’ve tried. Nowadays, if I need a Denny’s fix (and there isn’t a Waffle House nearby), I look for a Perkins. They’ve never disappointed.

March 1, 2004

Mardi Gras in Philadelphia

I’ve added a little writeup of our Mardi Gras outing to The Troc with dinner before at Vietnam to the Concert section.

February 24, 2004

Banning Foie Gras

Listening to Marketplace on the way home tonight, I heard a report by Molly Peterson on foie gras. I was glad to hear that many restaurants have stopped serving it, and that legislation has been proposed in California to outlaw the sale and production of foie gras. But having once tasted foie gras, I was struck by Peterson’s description of the stuff. "Chefs and foodies rhapsodize about its velvety mouth feel..." When I tried foie gras, I knew I had experienced that "velvety mouth feel" before somewhere--peanut butter. It doesn’t taste the same, of course, but foie gras and peanut butter have exactly the same texture. Now think about this. If you were served the organ of an animal that had been reduced to the texture of peanut butter, can you imagine the conditions this animal must have endured to cause this?

February 20, 2004

PAW Progress

I’ve pretty much given up on my PAW (Picture-a-Week project) for 2003, but 2004 has gotten off to a good start with four pictures already. So I’m only three pictures behind.

Managing Mere Cat with CVS

Now that the redesign of mere cat is mostly finished, I’m looking for other projects to complicate my life. One thing I’ve wanted to do for a long time is use CVS to manage the changes to my site. Recently, I found what looks to be an excellent introduction to using CVS to manage a web site at Daemon News. There are three articles by Nik Clayton called "Managing web sites using Unix," Part One (CVS), Part Two (make), and Part Three.

January 22, 2004

Busy Redesigning

A lot has happened since my last post a month ago. For one thing, I enjoyed one of my best Christmases ever and rang in the New Year. I haven’t posted anything because I’ve been busy redesigning the site yet again. The first crop of new pages are in the Cats section, which features two new pictures of our puppy Oakes, taken in mid-January.