Dave, morphed

I found this “cool morphing site”:1 on digg.com today. You upload your photo, and a java applet morphs your image in various ways.

Here I am morphed to a Manga cartoon and an El Greco painting:

It’s like Sunday morning comics!

[1]http://www.dcs.st-and.ac.uk/~morph/Transformer/

LOST, But Catching Up

On a whim, Robin and I rented the first DVD for the TV series _Lost_ a couple weeks ago. We were hooked in the first five minutes, and had to restrain ourselves to make the first season last a whole two weeks.

But what to do about the second season? It won’t be released on DVD until September, and the thought of waiting three months without a fix watching new episodes was just out of the question. Catching reruns on TV would be painfully slow, and also out of the question. We love instant gratification, but how to get it? Download Season Two from the iTunes Music Store, of course!

Having downloaded way too much lots of music from iTMS already I was already familiar with the process, and bought the entire season with the click of a button (they do make it easy, don’t they?). But downloading the first episode took forever, and it stopped in the middle 7 or 8 times and needed to be nudged. Luckily the download resumed from where it left off but it was still a pain, and it took what seemed like forever but was probably more like a half hour to finish downloading. Not quite instant gratification, and comparisons with watching a pot waiting for it to boil came to mind. Still, it finally finished, I copied the episode over to the iPod, and we headed to the movie room to watch it.

The quality was surprisingly good, better than VHS but not nearly as crisp as DVD. The volume seemed low and I had to crank the sound system for these aging ears to hear the quieter dialog. I missed being able to turn on subtitles, but it was far easier to fast forward and rewind than a DVD.

The episode was great, of course, taking the series in a bunch of new directions and introducing a lot of new elements; this looks to be an interesting and wonderful season. When it was over, the Lost Craving continued, and I decided to bite the bullet and go back to yet another painful download. When I went back to the Powerbook I was pleasantly surprised to discover episode 2 had already finished downloading, and it was halfway done with episode 3. We watched both, of course, but by then it was after midnight and we decided to save more for another time.

It seems the best way to download episodes is not to anxiously watch over them, but to just let them download in the background at their own pace.

WordPress 2.02

Successfully upgraded the blog to WordPress 2.02 this morning, it only took about ten minutes. Only glitch was a problem where the weather plugin has a problem updating its cache file; commenting out the cache update code solved that problem. Anyway, this version is supposed to be more secure and even run a bit faster, so we’ll see.

With the increase in spam comments (600+ in the last month), I’ve bumped the spam check settings so that if a comment looks like spam (has words like poker, casino or mortgage, or meets any number of other criteria) commenters will be asked to enter a Captcha code, where they have to enter the letters presented in a distorted image. A pain, but it’s for my own sanity…

France vs. Apple's DRM: A Third Way?

I’m reading today on MacNN that Denmark is considering legislation similar to the law passed in France this past week, which forces Apple to open up their FairPlay DRM to competitors. Conventional Wisdom says that Apple, faced with either
1) allowing songs from the iTunes Music to play on rival MP3 players or
2) leaving France
will do the latter since it’s such a minor piece of Apple business, and the lesser of two evils.

But I’m wondering if it’s possible for Apple to take a third way: dropping its DRM completely, removing the protection that keeps its songs from playing on other players, and keeping the songs from being pirated. Does the French law supercede any agreements Apple has with the music publishers to protect those songs with DRM?

Just a thought…

Video iPod

I know, Steve doesn’t want us to call it that, and there will undoubtedly be a “real” video iPod by summer 2006, but in the meantime let’s just call it what it is, OK?

My last iPod 2nd generation, the kind with the row of buttons just underneath the black and white screen. It holds 20 gigs of music and cost $400 new.

This shiny new video iPod has a big, bright, screen, is noticeably thinner than the old one, holds 30 gigs, and it can display color photos and play videos. It cost $100 less than the old one. It’s beautiful. It looks like something out of the movie _2001 A Space Odyssey_.

So where does one get videos to put on it? I already have a few music videos, commercials, and comedy bits downloaded off the internets over the past few years. And I just bought a handful of music videos off the iTunes Music Store while waiting for the iPod to arrive. But I quickly discovered that not all videos would play on (or even transfer to) the iPod. A few different video converter programs have surfaced lately, and I’ve been having good luck with one called MoviesForMyPod which has converted just about every QuickTime movie I’ve given it. Some things have been tougher (Windows Media file, Flash movies), but I’ll figure a way to convert those too.

Today I discovered that videos converted for the PSP seem to work fine on the iPod! So I dragged over a few items I’d converted for the PSP, including the first episode of _Invader Zim_, ripped from the DVD last spring. A couple days ago I used the free HandBrake program to rip _The Matrix_ to iPod format; it took a few tries to get results I was happy with, but it did a fine job (taking about 2 hours to convert a 2 hour movie).

With all the reports that screen scratches easily, I’ve handled this like an egg. I’ve used the (included) pouch the few times I’ve been with it. I tried the tip of stretching plastic wrap over it to protect it, but removed it shortly afterwards (it looked pretty stupid). Because I’ve been so careful the front is still pristine and scratch-free. I’m thinking the new iPods are no more fragile than the old ones, but with so many more people buying them these days there’s an expectation that something you pay so much money for shouldn’t scratch so easily, and I can certainly agree with that. Hopefully the industrial design wizards at Apple will find a material that’s tough and scratch resistant. The screen of my cell phone hasn’t scratched yet, and I’m not particularly careful with it.

As a first-generation video product, I think the iPod with video is a winner. The screen isn’t nearly as big as the one on the PSP, but the iPod can hold far more video. The form factor is comfortable in the hand and not a strain on the eye, at least for viewing an hour or less at a time. A true video iPod would have a bigger screen (why not the entire front?), and a bigger battery, and an easy way to get video content onto it, but this iPod is a huge first step towards that goal.

The iPod Economy

Yesterday I realized that buying an iPod is just the start of a long chain of purchases. I got a first generation iPod as a birthday present shortly after it was released (thanks, Wooly & Jared!). In order to listen to it in the car I bought an FM transmitter, then because the battery wouldn’t last long enough for long trips, I bought a power adapter that plugged into the cigarette lighter. Eventually that iPod’s hard disk died, probaby as a result of being banged one too many times.

After a few months without an iPod I bought another one, a third generation model with the row of four backlit buttons and a 20gig hard drive. I vowed to protect this one against bumps and scratches, and bought a silicon case that kept it shiny, and it’s still working fine a year and a half later. In the meantime I replaced the funky FM transmitter with a cassette adapter, tho my car often likes to eject the cassette for no apparent reason, making for a jarring listening experience. The right way to go would be to replace the stock radio with one that has a little AUX plug on the front that I could plug the iPod right into, but that purchase is still in the future (tho I can see it coming). And of course a new car stereo probably means new speakers, yada yada. I hear that 1/3 of new cars come with iPod support, but that ultimate iPod accessory isn’t something I’m even considering.

Last spring I got these little portable speakers that the iPod plugs right into, turning it into a portable jukebox. It’s loud enough to listen to outside, and it even runs on batteries.

These days the iPod is often out of its case, as it’s usually plugged into the speakers and next to the bed, and I still take it with me on drives. Altho I’ve been careful, the screen has gotten scuffed enough to make it hard to see sometimes. I’m thinking of getting some screen polish to remove those scuffs and scratches.

I’ve also been thinking of getting one of those new iPods that play video. A color screen would be nice (and it has a nice large screen), and I’d be able to play videos and movies on it. It looks like all my accessories will work with it (yay, Apple!), except for the case, so I’d need to get a new one of those. The new iPods are USB only (no more speedy Firewire, boo Apple!), and my Powerbook only has old-style (read slow) USB ports, so I’d have to get a USB2 notebook card for high-speed transfers.

And that’s just the iPod accessories. Because I now listen to more music, I’ve had to buy CDs and iTunes music over the years. I just checked my iTunes Music Store account, and it says that I’ve bought over 30 albums and 70+ singles since it opened in April 2003.

Is the iPod a gateway drug, or a boost to the US economy? I really don’t know, but I do know I really enjoy listening to music on it. It puts me to sleep at night, it makes driving that much more enjoyable, it helps pass the time while I’m sitting in waiting rooms. And it gives my life a soundtrack, making it even more interesting.

Tracks: Ruby on Rails Meets GTD

I love it when two of my interests collide, and when it’s two fresh new interests that’s even better. The theme for this entire week as been Getting Things Done, and I’ve spent a fair amount of time collecting and organizing the things I need to do. I’ve also been curious about Ruby On Rails, a cool new tool for web development.

It turns out that there’s a GTD tool written using Rails called Tracks that does a great job of tracking projects, next actions and contexts. It’s free and it runs on my PowerBook, both big plusses as well.

Tracks was written to do GTD, which it does really well. Adding a new Next Action item (say “call to order a gate for the fence”) is as easy as clicking on the “Add the next action” link and typing it. Optionally you can add more details about that Next Action: you can attach a longer note to it, give it a due date, assign it to a project (Pool Fence Project), or give the action a context where it can be done (“next time I’m at the phone”). It’s easy to edit all three GTD pieces: Next Actions, Projects and Contexts, and to check off items as they’re completed. And it’s easy to print out the current state of things, so you can carry your To Do list in your pocket and leave the computer at home.

I’ve been keeping Tracks open in a browser tab, so it’s quick to switch to it and keep my To Do list up to date. So far Tracks has been trouble-free, and it’s way more fun to use than the Palm Desktop software (which was replaced by Tracks after just one day of using it to do GTD).

The downside of Tracks is that it’s still pretty geeky to set up, as you need use Terminal and set up a mySQL database. There was also a conflict between Tracks and Instiki (which also uses Rails), but I found a quick fix for that little problem.

It’s interesting that I’m relying more and more on browser-based tools like Instiki and Tracks to keep track of my life. They run on my machine and I don’t have to be connected to the net to use them.

*Update Oct 6*
Woke up way too early this morning and decided Tracks was running too slow as a CGI under Apache, so I installed Lighttpd and FastCGI per These instructions, but it barfed on the @sudo gem install fastcgi@ step, til I ran across this solution:

sudo gem install fcgi -- --with-fcgi-include=/opt/local/include --with-fcgi-lib=/opt/local/lib

Tiger: The First Day

After using Tiger (Mac OS X 10.4) all day today, here are my first impressions. Apple’s official Tiger page with lots of screenshots and feature lists is “here”:1.

I’m pleased that just about every program I use works just fine under Tiger. Not just applications, but low level system additions like “MenuMeters”:2 and “iKey”:3. I did have to replace “Virtue”:4 with “Desktop Manager”:5, but I’m missing how Virtue let me tag each virtual desktop with a different “graphic”:6.

Safari displays web pages much faster than before, and Help is finally fast enough to be usable. Graphic effects (like the Expose effect) seem twice as fast. Scrolling in the Terminal is wicked fast, it just it about a second to scroll thru a 200k text file.

“Dashboard”:7 is cool and widgets like the Calendar and Dictionary are useful enough to be incorporated into my workflow. The Stickies widget is my new To Do list, always an F12 key away. I like that Dashboard is yet another virtual desktop for me, and that the widgets don’t clutter up my workspace or take much CPU power when they’re not visible.

I wasn’t so sure about “Spotlight”:8 at first, since it wasn’t finding the things I expected, tho it is amazingly fast. I know now that adding keywords to photos lets Spotlight find them, and that I can tag individual files by adding a comment to them. It would still be nice if there was a way to easily apply a tag/property (like “Final Project”) to set of files *[update: there is, see below]*, and I’m not sure if there’s a way to specify “all pictures with a height less than 100 and a width more than 200” in the Spotlight text box. I could do that by searching in a window, and clicking the plus icon a couple times, then choosing from a few popup menus; that seems like a lot of work however. Still, it’s nice that it’s possible, short of writing a little perl script I don’t know how else that would be possible.

There are some nice little improvements in Tiger: choosing Get Info when more than one item is selected opens up multiple Get Info windows, just like the old MacOS days. The Apple menu and Spotlight buttons work if you mouse all the way up to the corner, so you don’t have to click right on them. Icons are now updated immediately when files are created and deleted (no more having to click on the desktop or in a folder to force a refresh). Command-Control-D shows the definition of the word the mouse is over.

The cool factor is there for show-off Tiger demos. The RSS screensaver is very nicely done, and Dashboard’s widgets are brightly colored and showy. Spotlight makes for an impressive demo, like using it to find a set of photos that you then turn into a slideshow.

Tiger is fast and usable and useful, and a pleasure to use. I recommend it highly.

**Update May 11:** Giles Turnbull wrote an “excellent article”:9 describing how he made **@taggit** with Automator to add tags to selected files in the Finder. A cool introduction to Automator, it solves the problem of how to easily tag multiple files all at once.

[1]http://www.apple.com/macosx/
[2]http://www.macupdate.com/info.php/id/10451
[3]http://www.versiontracker.com/dyn/moreinfo/macosx/11485&vid=142714
[4]http://www.macupdate.com/info.php/id/16530
[5]http://www.macupdate.com/info.php/id/12682
[6]http://pinuptoons.com/Galleries/Sketches/54.htm
[7]http://www.apple.com/macosx/features/dashboard/
[8]http://www.apple.com/macosx/features/spotlight/
[9]http://www.macdevcenter.com/pub/wlg/7050