Archive for May, 2010

The glass is half full – but of what?

May 31st, 2010 Comments off

We’re in a recession, oil is gushing uncontrollably into the ocean with humans helpless to stop it, North and South Korea are on the brink of war, the Middle East is near boiling, the US is mired in two intractable wars, and the ending to “Lost” was thoroughly unsatisfactory.

Perfect timing for me to start reading Matt Ridley’s newest book “The Rational Optimist”, don’t you think?

The subtitle is “How Prosperity Evolves” – so I have a good idea what Ridley’s thesis will be. I generally much prefer doom-and-glood books, but I like having my preconceived ideas challenged, and I really liked Ridley’s earlier books on evolution and the human genome, so I am actually quite looking forward to the new book….because let’s face it, the way the world is going, I need some sunshine and unicorns right now.

Categories: Books, reviews Tags:

Ten Ghosts of WWDC Past

May 21st, 2010 30 comments

Apple’s Worldwide Developer Conference kicks off in just over two weeks. If you want to get a good idea of what the conference is like, Jeff LaMarche’s guide is a good place to start.

This will be my 12th WWDC. The first one I went to was in 1999, when the conference was much smaller and took place in San Jose.

I was feeling kind of nostalgic, and thought it might be fun to come up with a list of ten things that used to be part of WWDC but no longer are. Come along with me on a random trip down memory lane of WWDCs past.

Beer Bash at the Apple Campus Believe it or not, Apple used to charter what must have been every tour bus in the Bay Area and ship some 3000+ geeks over to Apple HQ for a beer bash and concert in the parklike area in the middle of Apple’s campus. This was a highlight of the week…you got to visit the Apple Company Store, drink beer with 3000 of your best friends, go to various plugfests and other interest areas, and of course, drink beer? Why did Apple put an end to this…it should be obvious…it was a logistical nightmare, and once WWDC moved to SF and the attendance kept growing, it became ridiculous…with several hour waits to board busses and get into the campus. These days, Apple holds the party at Yerba Buena gardens right across the street.

Movie Night One of the nights of the conference used to be devoted to Movie Night. Apple would project a first run movie on the big screen in the main hall, and provide popcorn and snacks. It was a lot of fun, but in an increasingly packed week, I suspect they decided it just didn’t make as much sense to keep the tradition going. I don’t recall when they stopped, but certainly before the move to SF in 2003.

Major-league swag giveaways Every year, you would get some type of laptop carrying case (wanna bet this year it will be an iPad case?) However, Apple has really topped themselves in the past, with expensive and desirable giveaways like the brand new iSight cameras back in 2003 and a really nice leather OS X logoed jacket in (I think) 2001.

Printed conference guides These amazing gizmos were made from processed tree carcasses, and contained a list of sessions and logistical information. Of special note were foldable grids and maps for each day’s sessions the would slide into the back of your badge holder, making quick reference checks super easy. These days, it’s an iPhone app and we’re all better off, but 2000 years from now, will WWDC archeologists be able to run an iPhone app? I think not!

Conference Expo Apple used to have a mini Macworld Expo-like show floor the first three days of WWDC. Companies with a development or IT focus would actually exhibit at small booths. This was actually a really great way to find out about obscure tools and applications, as well as score swag, and it was a shame when the plug was pulled.

Jamba Juice All the free Jamba Juice you could drink. Unless I was blind or am going senile, I didn’t see them last year. I’m guessing it is cheaper to provide the pre-packed drinks and snacks.

Birds of a Feather Birds of a Feather sessions were “out of band” semi informal conference sessions about relatively obscure topics where aficionados of, say, Ruby, GUI scripting, or QA would gather and geek out. Usually held after hours or sometimes during lunch, they were great ways for there ot be coverage of topics for which there wouldn’t be enough interest for a full-on conference session.

Gaming Area Apple used to bring out a few dozen high-end Macs, give them big monitors and gaming mice as well as a few of the best new Mac games, and let you play. It was like a big, floating all-day LAN party, and if you had 15 minutes free, you could relax by fragging a few noobs in between sessions. The last frag in a WWDC gaming area was at least 3 or 4 years ago.

Feedback Forums All of the items so far (except maybe the Birds of a Feather) are ancillary to the purpose of WWDC; not so the Feedback Forums. These used to be an opportunity for attendees to give direct feedback to the various teams at Apple. There would be a feedback forum for each area (such as Quicktime, Core OS, Server, IT, etc.) and the session was basically an open mic where you could talk to the engineers in a structured but informal way. Best of all was the Vice Presidents Feedback Forum, where a bunch of Apple’s VPs would answer questions about anything. Can you imagine that now? Apple did away with “Ask the VPs” several years ago, and gradually whittled the other Feedback Forums over the years until they disappeared entirely in 2008. In these iPhone days, I think it is obvious why they will never return!

Developer Store There used to be a big third-party developer store. Essentially an Apple Store on wheels, where you could buy pretty much any Mac accessory you might suddenly find yourself needing (spare HD, USB cable, etc.). These days, you walk the five blocks to the Apple Store on Market.

Ah, nostalgia.

Categories: Apple Tags:

Oooh, it’s a “Washington Takeover!”

May 13th, 2010 Comments off

Anti Net-Neutrality folks are running a set of ads warning that net neutrality would mean a “Washington takeover” of the internet.

Never mind that the internet was invented by the government, and that net neutrality, far from being any kind of “takeover” would actually enhance competition and internet access for American.

Instead, I just want to say, why is a “Washington takeover” considered automatically a bad thing? (well, I know why, because of the hard work of decades of right-wing demagoguery)

I want Washington to “takeover” certain things. I kind of like the “Washington takeover” of national defense, the national park system, child labor laws, consumer protection regulation, and civil rights laws. And more recently, the “Washington takeover” of Wall Street and GM (as unpopular as the bailouts were) was the only thing that saved this country from a second Great Depression.
The jury’s still out on the so-called “Washington takeover” of health care, but I’m pretty optimistic the mild set of regulations that were part of health care reform will certainly do better to bring quality health care to more people then the unregulated private insurance industry did.

I have philosophical appreciation for libertarianism, but in the real world, it is like communism — something that is appealing in theory but can never work in practice because of human nature.

I don’t think the government can – or should – do everything. Economic innovation belongs to the private sector. But making the rules and enforcing them do belong to the government.

I am glad a private company called Apple invented the iPhone. The government never could have. But I am also glad that the government is regulating the frequency spectrum the iPhone uses and making sure the internet traffic that flows to it is treated fairly.

Categories: Politics Tags:

I need backup!

May 12th, 2010 3 comments

I have invested a lot of time and energy into Twitter and Facebook. You probably have as well. Think about it. On Twitter, you have the (probably carefully managed) list of people you follow, as well as your favorite Tweets, followers and other leavings. On Facebook, you have your friends lists, your profile, and of course all of your notes and Wall postings…not to mention photos.
As a computer user, you always back up your important files (right?) With services like Twitter and Facebook, it’s not so easy, since all the data and settings live in “the cloud.” Imagine if a glitch on Twitter or Facebook destroyed your account, or even worse, if your account were compromised and actively vandalized. In a worse-case scenario, as with any data loss, you would have to manually reconstruct what was there before.

Luckily, there are some pretty easy ways you can backup your online presence. I decided to backup my three most important cloud services, Facebook, Twitter, and Gmail.

For Facebook, I tried two free services. Both of these services act as Facebook API applications, so you have to give them permission in your Facebook account, the same way you do when you use, say Farmville. The first app is called Give Me My Data and it is barebones and geeky. It issues commands to the Facebook API that return various data objects such as your Wall history, profile, friend lists, groups and so on. The data gets returned in a variety of formats such as raw text, CSV, or XML (your choice), which you can then copy and paste into a local document.
Give Me My Data is pretty thorough, but the data’s raw format isn’t for everyone.

A slightly more user friendly but less thorough app is Disco Explorer which sucks down the entire history of your Wall — all the links and bon mots you’ve shared over the years, plus friends’ comments and so forth. Disco Explorer uses the local database functionality of modern browsers (like Safari) to save the entire Wall as a locally cached web page, which you can then return to later. It automatically updates with your latest wall posts too. You can save the page as a webarchive in Safari and back that up also.

Between Disco Explorer and Give Me My Data, I am pretty comfortable that most of the content of my Facebook account is backed up. However, neither of these apps backs up photos. I am embarrassed to say that I backed my photos up manually, which actually only took about 15 minutes of clicking an dragging. There is a commercial app that does this (see below) but I didn’t want to spend any money.

On to Twitter. Here the choice is easy. There are several free webapps that backup the exact same data, which is made available via the Twitter API. You basically can back up your timeline (all your Tweets), the list of your favorite Tweets, your friends, followers, and direct messages. The two services I used were TweetScan Twitter Backup which will backup Twitter for you and send you a link to download an Excel spreadsheet with all the data, and Tweetake which does the exact same thing, but gives you the option of a CSV file. Both of these apps authenticate to Twitter using the normal Twitter OAuth API.

Finally, Gmail. You can always be lazy and download from Gmail using POP (assuming you set your account up to support it) but I went with Gmail Backup which has a free command-line app for the Mac, and a GUI for Windows to backup all the Gmail messages, as well as the Gmail labels for each message and any attachments. It took about half an hour to suck down the couple gigs I have on Gmail.

I should also note two solutions I did not use but you might find useful. First, there’s the commercial service, BackUpMy.Net which offers one-stop backup solutions for Gmail, Twitter, online photos, and blogs (it doesn’t do Facebook). Filling that hole is SocialSafe which offers comprehensive Facebook backups, including photos. So if you want to spend a bit of money, you can combine those two services for a truly comprehensive backup. I didn’t go this route, preferring the slightly more complicated but free services.

By the way, you might wonder, how to I back up the clous service that is this blog? SSH into my hosting provider and backup the mySQL database behind the blog, then download the database dump to my Mac (where it gets integrated into my local backup). The static pages I download manually and backup the same way. Both of these could easily be automated.

However you do it, you should back up your online presence. I’ve never met anyone sorry they didn’t back up enough stuff, but I have heard the opposite many times.

Categories: Internet Tags:


May 10th, 2010 1 comment

I think Facebook is kind of like Microsoft Word. When it started, it was really cool, and really useful. Lots of people really liked it and became enthusiastic fans.

With each revision, the people in charge of Microsoft Word added new features. Some new features people liked, some they hated, but in generally many of the new features were useful and made it a better program.

Eventually, diminishing returns were reached. At this point, Word pretty much did everything people wanted in a word processing application, but the pressure was there to keep making it “better” and adding more stuff.

Feature creep became a serious problem. New revisions started piling on useless “features” that people would never use, becoming more and more confusing. Even worse, old features people relied on were changed for the sake of change.

Eventually, Word became the bloated application it is today. Of course, most people still use Word, because it is the de facto standard; however, there aren’t too many people who find Word to be a pleasure to use, like in the old days.

I think Facebook is going down the same path. Each new “revision” makes Facebook less and less useful and fun to use. Furthermore, the continuous changes in how popular, well-liked features work make the entire site harder to use. Many of Facebook’s most recent changes seem to fall into the “change for the sake of change” category. Some of the changes actually take away existing functionality, and have semi-intentionally made the essential privacy settings a confusing mess.

I consider myself somewhat knowledgeable about “figuring stuff out” on computers and the internet, and I think I’ve managed to get my privacy settings at a level I am conformable with. However, it took me several hours of testing to get to this point, and even now I still cannot figure out how to enable what should be simple things like getting Facebook to display to my friends the fact that I graduated from the University of Kansas.

I am not going to “quit” Facebook. Like Word, in spite of the cruft and crap, enough of the underlying functionality (casual communication with old and new friends) remains instant that I still find the site useful. But I remain disappointed that Facebook is worse now then it used to be, and likely will continue to get worse in the future.

Categories: Internet Tags:

Greek flu?

May 6th, 2010 Comments off

I understand intellectually why economic unrest in the tiny, and thoroughly meaningless (unless you are a history buff) country of Greece has caused my 401k to decrease in value by a not-so-meaningless amount, but on a gut level, the fact that a sneeze in Greece caused the American stock market to crater is a real sign that the entire international economic system is a massive house of cards.

Well, I guess we kind of knew that already, but still, it is depressing. Or recessing.

Anyone up for a gyro platter for dinner?

Update: is user error to blame?

Categories: Politics Tags:

The spirit of freedom

May 5th, 2010 Comments off
SSHing into the jailbroken iPad

SSHing into the jailbroken iPad using Terminal on the Mac

I jailbroke our iPad last night. For those unfamiliar with what jailbreaking is, it is the process of opening up Apple’s iPad software to allow modifications to the operating system that Apple itself doesn’t allow – the primary one being multitasking. In other words, on a jailbroken iPad I can listen to music in Pandora while using other apps like Mail or Safari. This is impossible on a stock iPad.

I used Spirit, a new piece of software that works with iPads and iPhones. It was the easiest jailbreak I have ever done. In the past, when I have jailbroken my iPhone, it was an hour-long process and involved a full software install. With Spirit, it was literally plugging in the iPad, clicking a button, and rebooting the iPad.

Here’s how to do it, step by step:

1. Download Spirit here.

2. Plug your iPad into your Mac

3. Let iTunes back up your iPad (better safe then sorry!)

4. Launch Spirit. The Spirit window will show you have an iPad connected.

5. Click “Jailbreak”

6. The iPad will reboot and you’ll see a progress dialog on a “spacey” background for about 30 seconds as the jailbreak is applied

7. The iPad will reboot a second time. That’s it, you are done and can disconnect.

Cydia, the iPad “jailbreak app store” will be installed. From there you can install useful apps like “Backgrounder”

For a more detailed “how to” as well as more information on what apps have been made compatible with the iPad jailbreak, check out MacStories.

Categories: Apple Tags:

The ten best places to eat in Lawrence

May 5th, 2010 4 comments

Lists are easy, lists are fun, I am hungry, so here’s one!

My ten most favorite restaurants in Lawrence. The rules…no chains, and the place has to primarily be a restaurant (i.e. no coffee houses for this list)

By the way, if you are a restaurant, there are two things you can do to make me come and throw money at you. First, either get rid of the Flash on your website, or make it so when I visit your site on a mobile device (such as the iPhone — have you heard of it?) I get served a page that actually has useful information on it, as opposed to a broken plug-in icon.

Secondly, join Twitter, or Facebook (or both) and post/tweet your daily specials. Hell, even a blog with RSS is better then forcing me to actually pick up the phone and call you. I can’t count the number of times I have spontaneously gone out to eat at a restaurant because I saw a special on Twitter which sounded good. This takes 5 minutes to set up, and 1 minute each day to use. Its free. It will get you business. Do it.

Free State Brewery
Can’t get enough of that wonderful…not Duff. Seriously, I could eat here 7 days a week (and weigh 100 pounds more if I did, but hey). The beer is as good as any in the world, and the food is gourmet bar comfort food.

Pachamamas/Star Bar
I really like the Star Bar, Pachamama’s elegant bar area, and the dining room is probably the “nicest” place to eat in Lawrence. Great local food.

There are a lot of good Italian places in Lawrence, including the great new 715, but Tellers is still my favorite Italian place by a hair. Superb atmosphere and really great fresh pastas and salads.

Henry T’s
Awesome comfort food, and the best wing sauce in Larryville. They also have gourmet burgers.

Yellow Sub
I love the fresh sandwiches. My favorites are the homemade meatball sub and the “spicy cheese” (get it with buffalo sauce for a real treat!)

La Parilla
What a short order Latin American joint should be. All kinds of fresh grilled dishes, including the titular “Parillas” which are kind of unique fajitas, as well as salads, awesome enchiladas, and the best guac in the city. FWIW, La Familia (which is more pure Mexican as opposed to Latin American) gives La Parilla a run for their money with the best fresh salsa in town.

A little hole int he wall in a dinky strip mall, but seriously the best pad thai this side of Bangkok.

Papa Kenos
Rudy’s is awesome, but Papa Kenos wins by a hair for my favorite pizza in Lawrence. Love the Shredder with the blue cheese and the Santa Fe with real bacon.

The Burger Stand at Dempseys
Real gourmet hamburgers. A heart attack on every plate. They have a lot of unique, flavorful burgers, along with the saltiest, crispiest fries around.
I often just get the classic burger, which is “good enough” but they have a dozen other pretty unique burgers as well.

Best bread on the planet, best cookies in Lawrence, and probably the best overall sandwiches around. Great breakfasts too, although I rarely eat out for breakfast.

OK, there you have it. Hungry?

Categories: Food, reviews Tags:

I’ve touched myself

May 4th, 2010 1 comment

It's me!

Get your mind out of the gutter. I’m just talking about a common command line utility!

Seriously though, if you’re reading this, it means my self-hosted WordPress blog is up and running and visible to the world. Actual content coming soon, I promise.

Categories: meta Tags: