Archive for September 2012

 
 

iPod Nano and Fashion

On the latest “Hypercritical” podcast, John Siracusa mentioned that he didn’t like the new selection of colors for the iPod Nano. “I know nothing about fashion, so maybe I’m wrong and maybe these colors are totally in now,” he said.

I’ve seen enough ‘colored jeans’ around lately to think that Apple might be on the ball with this one, so I did some quick research. I visited Express.com and found an assortment of ‘colored jeans.’

iPod Nano versus Express Colored Jeans

From left to right, I give you jeans that are Purple, Turquoise, Jewel Green, Bright Yellow, and Coral. it’s not an exact match in all cases, but it looks pretty close to me. The only question in my mind is if the Light Green color would have been closer.

Weird Al’s Tour Rider

(The following was written a year ago and accidentally never published. Let’s make up for lost time tonight…)

While looking up some information on “Weird Al” Yankovic’s current tour, I found a PDF of a rider from his contract for the 2010 tour. It’s filled with all sorts of nitty gritty stuff that you’d expect a concert contract to have: No advertising signage within 50′ of the stage. 50 tickets in the center section must be given to the artist. What local laws might affect this performance? Where is the rigging? What’s the venue’s layout? Etc. etc.

Then, there’s the M&M section. This is the section that you see occasionally quoted across the web or in wacky news stories of the day. The most famous one is the artist who wanted a bowl of M&Ms with one specific color removed. Well, Weird Al has one of those sections, too. . And it’s not too crazy, but some of it is curious:

- 6 plastic bottles of assorted organic fresh fruit juice (Evolution, Naked, Odwalla, Bolthouse Farms, etc.)

I believe Weird Al is a vegetarian. He’s in really good shape, so this stuff doesn’t surprise or bother me.

- 12 Heineken (in bottles) - 6 Heineken Light (in bottles) - 6 Miller Lite (in bottles) - 6 Bottles of Stella or Pyramid Hefe Weizen beer

Hey, the band has to drink, too.

- 24 bottles of water (no Dasani brand please)

What’s up with that? Very courteous to say “please” here, I must say. But no Dasani? It can’t be an anti-Pepsi thing, because Diet Pepsi shows up later in the contract.

- 24 cans Coca-Cola CLASSIC

Because that new stuff still sucks, 25 years later.

- 6 cans Diet Coca-Cola - 6 cans Diet Pepsi - 12 cans 7-UP - 6 cans Dr. Pepper - 1 Bottle Patron (ON FRIDAYS ONLY!!)

What’s so special about Friday nights?

- 3 bottles of good red wine (Pinot Noir) - 1 bottle of good Sauvignon Blanc wine - 1 bottle of good Chardonnay or White Burgundy – 2 bottles of good Merlot - 10 additional large plastic cups

Is this so they can tailgate out in the parking lot, with a good Merlot?

- 2 Rolls of paper towels

Accidents do happen.

Dressing room assignments section includes this:

# 6 – Local 501st Legion (very large room). These performers are featured during the Star Wars-themed song in the show. Room needs to accommodate up to 15 people with general seating (couches and/or chairs) and a central area for rehearsing. Please provide (1) ONE boombox for playback/rehearsal. NOTE: Where possible, this room should be located in a SEPARATE AREA from AL and band.

I love Al…

For Sale: “Blade of the Immortal”



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Up for grabs, or else it goes up on eBay soon: “Blade of the Immortal” volumes 1-18 and 20-23. (And, no, I don’t know how I missed volume 19.)

I only ever read the first eight or 10 volumes of the book before I kind of lost interest, yet they kept piling up. They’re beautiful books, but I’m more interested in reclaiming space these days.

I am going to put these up on eBay soon, but figured I’d give it a shot and throw them up on the blog first to see if anyone was interested in buying them direct from me. I would pass the eBay fees savings off to you by charging no shipping. This would be, after all, a heavy box.

If you’re interested, I’ll put them out there for $75. Email me at augiedb (at) gmail dot com.

Chris Claremont Gets It

Art by Alan Davis



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Feature Request for iOS 7: Quick Delete

Now that we have the new version of the iPhone operating system out, let’s take a look at what we’d like to see in the next one. This is, after all, the Internet. We’re always looking ahead. Nothing ever makes us happy.

I have a feature request for the Camera Roll. When I take pictures, I often shoot in burst mode. If I’m inside the house and my daughter is moving around, that’s the only way to make sure I’ll get at least one picture that isn’t blurry.

The problem with this, though, is that you end up with 15 pictures and you want to delete 10 of them non-consecutively. Now you have to go through one by one to delete them. The problem here is that the delete key disappears from the screen when you swipe to the next picture. In previous versions of the operating system, there were arrows at the bottom of the screen that you could touch to go from picture to picture. When you touched the arrows, the on-screen graphics did not disappear like to do now when you swipe.



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Today with the new iOS 6 (iOS 5 did it, also), when you swipe to go to the next picture you lose the garbage can icon at the bottom of the screen. You have to touch the screen again to bring it back up. It can be frustrating to have to slide/tap/tap to delete every time. I know it sounds it a minor problem, but it gets annoying after bit.

I wish the next version of the operating system would bring back those on-screen arrows for us to use or, alternatively, give us some sort of gesture we could use to delete something without having to tap the screen twice. (I’d even take a three finger slide to the right. That would still be easy enough to do while being difficult to accidentally pull off.)

The obvious problem here is that you don’t want to have people accidentally deleting pictures. Thankfully, whenever you do touch the garbage can icon, you still get the pop-up choice to delete or cancel. So there is kind of a backup system to accidental gestures there.

I do wonder, however, why they got rid of those arrows in the first place. They were very handy. I guess someone decided they didn’t want them getting in the way of viewing the images and that more people wanted them to disappear to show the full image rather than give us extra navigation.

Just my two cents for today…

My Blu-ray Player Hates Disney Movies



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Google Maps – All About the Ads

If you’re missing the Google Maps application with your new iOS 6 installation, don’t worry. I have no doubt Google will be back with an app for you to use. Because, you see, the maps application is not a handy guide to get you from place to place thanks to the kindness and benevolence of Google. It is just another vehicle for Google to serve up advertisements.

That’s what Google is: An ad company. So they want to get as many people looking at their maps as possible. And they probably want to show you even more ads.

Take note, for example, that with their new YouTube app, they control things and you get to see more ads. So, too, shall it be with the maps application. Because if you don’t pay for it, someone else will, and you’ll just get annoyed.

That’s just the way the world works.

All this of course raises the question once more: Did Apple get rid of the Map application to spite Google or to chart its own future? Or did Google leave Apple make more money from serving more ads?

Apple’s Parts Leaks

Everybody complained that the iPhone 5 announcement was boring because all of the rumors were correct. And that’s because all the rumor sites had access to parts coming out of the Chinese manufacturers.

So answer me this: if there is, indeed, a new smaller iPad coming out in the next month, why haven’t we seen any of those parts leaking yet?

Does the iPhone just overshadow everything and we will start to see those parts appearing next week? Is there no financial incentive for the Chinese manufacturers to “leak” those parts yet? Did Apple learn from the iPhone and found ways of “doubling down on secrecy” for the new iPad?

Or, if I may put the tin foil hat on for a moment, is there no new iPad?

I doubt it’s that last option but, hey, you never know.

IOS 6: Face Detection Works!



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iOS 6: Panorama Mode

Happy iOS 6 release day!

One of the cooler new features in iOS 6 is the panorama mode for the camera. This is something Sony’s been putting in their cameras a lot lately. There are apps that do this, I’m pretty sure. And Android probably already has it, for all I know. I’m not here to cheer the feature for being first or world-breaking in any way. I just like it and wanted to give you the heads up on it.

iPhone 4S panorama mode

"Panorama" gets its own button on a screen full of choices that don't go together well at all.

You can access it in the same menu you pull down for HDR photography. Click on “Options” at the top of the screen and tap the “Panorama” button. I’m not sure why HDR mode is paired up with the option to show the grid overlay while Panorama is off on its own. Seems a bit awkward to me. Maybe they’ll eventually get to an iconified picker panel with this, the way they have now with the menus to forward something along as a tweet/Facebook status update/email/etc?

Panorama Mode in iOS 6

(Forgot to take this screenshot while I was at the park, so instead you get an image of my carpet...)

After that, you get a clear display to show you which direction to move your camera in, as well as a horizon line so you know you’re moving straight across. If you tap the screen, the direction reverses. It starts out as being left-to-right in portrait mode. In landscape mode, they assume you’re going for an up-and-down panorama. The uses for such a thing are more limited, but there are still uses.

Just click on the camera button at the bottom to start your panorama, and swing your camera around. Watch the display. It’ll show you how far off the horizon line you’re going and warn you when you’re about to be so far off that you’re losing picture. It’ll also warn you when you faster than the camera can stitch the image together.

Just for scale's sake, this is what a single portrait-orientation picture would look like.

The picture is complete after you sweep 180 degrees around. It doesn’t matter whether you’re just twisting the camera in one hand around 180 degrees or swinging your outstretched arm in a half circle. The phone knows. I’d go with holding the phone out a little bit. It slows the image-gathering down just enough to make it easier to complete without losing any data, and it also lessens the bulge effect in the middle of the image, I think.

You can stop early if you’d like. Either tap the camera button again, or reverse the direction of your sweeping motion. Either will stop the process and save your image.

Full panorama picture taken with iPhone 4S in iOS 6

Click on this thumbnail to download the whole 34MB file that's over 10,000 pixels wide.

The results are pretty good. In the few that I’ve taken, I’ve tried to keep people out entirely. I haven’t been completely sucessful, but I’ve had no problems. The person renders only once in the image, and they’re not ghosted or blurry. The built-in software knows to freeze that person in one spot and fill in the rest. I could easily take them out in Pixelmator later, if I wanted to.

The final image size is 10,800px x 2388px on the iPhone 4S. What you see here is a smaller version scrunched down to 600px wide. But you can click on the pic to see the full 34MB file. I brightened it up a tad in Pixelmator and used the healing brush to wipe the top of my daughter’s head out of the bottom of the picture.

Panorama is a neat technique nicely implemented. I bet there are a few apps in the App Store that just got put out of business, though.

iOS 6: The New Share Sheet

iOS 6 Share Sheet for a Picture

Camera Roll > Share One Picture

One of the first differences you’ll see in iOS 6 if you’re the sharing type is the new gridded share sheet for sending out pictures from your camera roll. It’s not a stacked set of gray bars that give you the standard Email/Message/Copy options. Now it’s a tic-tac-toe board of icons. Facebook and Twitter are included, obviously, as are Mail, Message, and Photo Stream. The interesting additions include “Add to Contact” to associate a picture with a specific person; Print; Copy; and Use as Wallpaper. That’s right; you don’t need to dig into the settings anymore to save a pic as your lock screen or background image.

iOS 6 Share Pictures

Camera Roll > Share More Than One Picture

And when you have multiple items checked off, it knows enough to limit your choices. You can’t, after all, have multiple pictures as your lock screen. So those options aren’t shown to the user.

The share sheet isn’t limited to just the Camera Roll. It’s also present in Safari, where the extra options include “Add to Home Screen,” Print, Bookmark, or Add to Reading List.

Share Sheet for Safari on iOS 6

Safari Share Sheet

The Mail.app still has the old grey button bars for Reply/Forward/Print on a single email. Because Apple hates email. (I switched to Sparrow, but I don’t actually hate the standard Mail.app. I don’t use email heavily on my phone, either.)

It’s a much nicer and more graphical way to present options than the plain old gray bars. Now we can all dream of a day when we can make our own additions to the sharing options. . .

What the Smurf?!?

In today’s Pipeline column, I’ll be talking about Halloween costumes a little bit. Here’s a scary one that didn’t fit into the column:

The Papa Smurf Halloween costume for kids is awful.

Papa Smurf. If you squint a little bit. Maybe.

Papa Smurf’s costume is bad enough, but check out the awful Photoshop job done to that poor kid’s face! Maybe his parents wanted him to be anonymous, so they turned him into plastic?

Make it stop. PLEASE!

THE HORRORS! The PHOTOSHOP HORRORS!

The Tenth Blogiversary!

While my Pipeline column has been running continuously for over 15 years straight now (never missed a week), the history of this blog is a little shakier in recent years. Still, we’ve reached a milestone…

Parte the First

A decade ago today, this blog started its life.

The story of how this blog came to be goes back a little further than that, though, when I first registered the domain name. I bought it on February 4, 2000, with the intention of creating my own blog with it. That word wasn’t popularized yet, though I’m pretty sure it was in use already. The model for what I wanted to do was Slashdot.org, the Reddit/Digg of its time. It was a reverse chronological series of stories and links to other stories around the web. It was even written in Perl.

I was a relatively new college graduate (May 1998) who wanted to play more with the Perl programming language. I set out to write my own blog engine, where Slashdot was the model. (I’m not sure if Slashdot had open-sourced its own blog engine code yet by then. It probably had, but I was looking for a learning thing, not just a quick solution.) I had drawn up bits of the look of the thing, and might have even started sketching out some programming pieces. Back then, I didn’t really know what I was doing, though, and I didn’t get very far. I was good with Perl as a scripting language to move some files around and parse their contents, but building a website with it? I likely wouldn’t have admitted it at the time, but I was clueless. And so I didn’t do it.

Fast forward to August 30, 2002, when I decided I was going to start a blog anyway, even if it wasn’t on my own engine. I chose LiveJournal as a host. There weren’t that many choices. But LiveJournal was written in Perl, I knew, so there was a kindred spirit there.

And then my ComicBookResources.com boss and web hosting provider, Jonah Weiland, told me to stop it. Own my own work. Host my own damned site. And he provided the server. And here we’ve been ever since.

VariousAndSundry.com debuted, self-hosted, on September 17, 2002. A decade ago. I started in the shadow of good company, at least: DaringFireball.net just celebrated its tenth anniversary this summer, too. Of course, DF had a focus, built an audience, and is now a tech blog success story. (Sponsorships bring in a half million a year for DF’s John Gruber.) I’m just a loudmouth with a lot of things on his mind that feels the need to randomly blurt them out. Sometimes, they form a coherent theme. Usually, they don’t.

I think the traffic highs for this blog were in the early days of American Idol coverage. There weren’t fifty thousand AI blogs back then, and I ranked highly on Google for a brief time for some specific AI searches. But, truth be told, the traffic here never got higher than a couple of three hundred people a day. The Google Ads have netted me a total of a single $100 check a few years back. And my repeated offers to be a complete sell-out for just a million dollars have gone unanswered by a San Francisco tech community that refuses to believe that I have as much upside as an Instagram or Dodgeball or even a Sparrow. (Remember, folks: Instagram sold for a billion despite having no profits. I’ve made $100 in a decade. Surely, I’m worth $100 billion, at least?)

Part Deux

Five years ago, as my last job was winding down, I wanted to learn something new. I chose the popular web framework, Ruby on Rails, for my mission. I spent months reading books, playing with code, trying to get good at it. I even owned FromPerlToRuby.com, which I planned to make into an instructional blog. The domain name has since lapsed, but I still have the blog entries I wrote for it. Don’t know why I still do, but I do. Writers are notorious pack rats for such things. If VandS turns into a tech blog, I’ll recycle them.

Then I got a new job that still meant Perl, and I put Ruby aside to dedicate my time and energies to learning the new system. I liked Ruby, but I wasn’t getting paid to program in it, and I didn’t have a solid project to use it for. It fell by the wayside.

Fast forward to today. I’m not sure why it is, but the back end of this blog has slowed down to a crawl. Editing and updating anything on the site is a chore. I guess part of it is that there’s a huge database now with thousands of articles that power it. For whatever reason, updating the WordPress software (with its famous “one click install”) takes more than a click and is a miserable process for me. I want something new. I want this blog to be busier. I want to remove the pain point that is a standard CMS. I need to do it on my own.

So I’ve decided to leap into the new world of static blogging. Drop the database all together. Keep the entire site as a series of static HTML pages. Everything is processed off-line and then uploaded. There are some off-the-shelf solutions for this (Jekyll, Octopress), but I’m using this instead as a project I can use to inspire myself to finally sit down and learn Ruby by using it seriously. I’ve come full circle, using this domain name to learn something new and to create a blog. And since static blogs haves less security concerns to worry about, I feel free to go crazy.

Ruby is very Perl-like, so it feels natural. And since this isn’t being done on work servers for my day job, I don’t need to cut through red tape anytime I want to install something new. Or update a public-facing page. Or ask permission for anything. It’s liberating and it’s fun. I may still program during the day, but I have fun programming at night.

The Hat Trick – Programming the Platform

Moving to a new blogging platform only gets more complicated the further you dig into it. Thankfully, I’ve been able to copy my entire WordPress database off the server and to my local machine, making it easier to use. I’ve written a program to read it in. I’m working now on the part where I write those posts out as separate pages. That’s the (relatively) easy part, though.

Think about what goes into a blog. Forget the design for a moment, something I aspire to but am sadly deficient at. You need a home page with the most recent x posts on it. You need an archives page. Maybe you need an archives page per category. You need an RSS feed. You need a way to automate the posting of new blog entries. I’m looking at moving thousands of files around every time I update the blog. Or maybe I can just run an rsync and move only the pages that have changed. Can I integrate Dropbox into this somehow so I can update the blog even when I’m away from my computer?

If there’s one thing I recognize about myself, it’s that I can stifle myself by planning for all of this. It’s overwhelming. Instead, I’m taking it one task at a time. Finish one thing, start the next. Go into it blindly. Solve problems as they come up. Refactor code after it works. Reuse what you can. Writing a script to generate an RSS feed, for example, should be easy. There are plug-ins for that. (Ruby calls them gems.) So don’t worry about it. I’ve already worked out the gem I needed to format the blog posts for HTML. I’m using Markdown for formatting my plain text files.

But then there are a lot of changes that have to be made server-side to make the final transition seamless. (I don’t want to lose what little Google Juice I may have built up over the years.) Single blog entries will end in .html now instead of a single backslash. I need to redirect that traffic. That’s the scariest part. At some point, when I’m done testing this and want to switch over to it completely, there might be a little downtime while I sort through that mess.

What about generating a site-map for Google? I know there’s a Python script for that. Will I need to learn another language just for that script’s purposes? I’m not averse to it, but at some point I’ll run out of time.

What about all the other little things I’ve forgotten completely about? I’ll see them as I push on, I guess.

In any case, it’s exciting for me, even if it means you see very few changes on the front end. My hope is that the biggest change you’ll see is more posting. It might not be five days a week, but it’ll be more than once a month. Some of that may be uber-geeky stuff while I program my way through this blog engine writing process. You’ve been warned. But, first, I need to write the engine. So I’m off to do that. Ten years later.

Thanks for reading over the years. Thanks for indulging me today. Now get back to work. All of us!

Return of The Wii (U)

Nintendo announced the Wii U for November 18th. It’ll be hitting store shelves for $299. That timing is just like the original Wii, which so clearly won the console wars for that generation.

I won’t be getting the Wii U. Unlike when the Wii came out, I have a mortgage, a kid, and no free time. It’s an interesting beast of a system, though completely scattershot.

It’s an attempt to being the iPad to the TV, which Apple is already working on and will inevitably do. It just seems to me that the device needs more focus. I already have multiple systems competing to be my home theater controller, Nintendo. All I’d want is a solid game machine, if I was in the market for such things.

As it is, my daughter will soon be of the age to play Wii games with Daddy, and I’ll be picking them up off eBay cheap. ;)