A Respect for Cross Platform Developers

02.52.30 - Mark

I long time self declared geek, I'm a little surprised I've never really sat down and learned C++. I mean I've played around with a variety of programming languages, and I've had a copy of CodeWarrior for the Mac for a decade or so. So while I remember doing some "Hello World!" and tutorial work on it, I'm only now learning it between I'm taking a college course on it. While a lot of the basics are similar to the PHP and Arduino I already work with, the fact is I'm learning a bit more than I expected.

Specifically, as a happy Mac user, I'm comfortable with banging away in Apple's Xcode. Unfortunately, the course prefers Microsoft's Visual C++ Express, which no, does not play well with WINE like many other Windows apps do. So while I'm quickly picking up on the syntax of C++, defining my own rosetta stone comparing and contrasting the languages I know, I'm also working on the art of cross platform development.

Ten years ago when OS X was new and shiny and Macs still ran PPC processors, cross platform development was pretty rare. Only a few, like Adobe, Blizzard and Bungie would actually make an effort to straddle the fence. It always annoyed me that only the big (or at least Mac based ) companies would go cross platform, after all they were almost all using C, C++, maybe some PASCAL, so why not cross over? Was the Mac really that daunting?

Well, while I still don't considering the Mac daunting, translating even a "common" language can be a gauntlet. While I'm not going to claim to be a programming prodigy, it only took about an hour to read over the requirements and bang out a working program in Xcode. Add another hour to write up the documentation, and it was time to handle it on the Windows side. At which point I spent another 90 minutes trying to figure out what the windows side needed, rereading my code and googling the error codes. In the end I had repeatedly ignored the rather simple solution, one that probably should have been required on the Mac side, but the fact is, the people who manage to port software deserve a lot of respect, especially those who add linux into the mix...

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22.44.26 - Mark

Screenshot of the monster photo I was shooting photos out at Hanging Rock State Park last week, taking a few panoramic series, a handful of HDR sets, long exposures of waterfalls and similar stuff. I also started experimenting with Vertical Panoramas and sets that involved a little more than just the x-axis. One of the sets I took was coming up to the main rock face of Hanging Rock Mountain itself, and for lack of a wide angle lens (or a DSLR that can take a wide angle lens) I took about 40 photos trying to get the whole mountain. Now not wanting to try and stitch it together myself, last night I opened up the files, told photoshop to stitch them together itself (something I don't do on my regular panoramas) and let it do it's thing.

Now I've already discovered that Photoshop CS3's photomerge function doesn't do vertical merges well on it's own, so I finished up the last few chapters of The Anansi Boys checking to make sure it could handle the set before going to bed. It didn't spit up any errors so I let it work into the night, and when I woke up I found it showing off a pretty distorted, and absolutely massive stitched pano, in addition to a few system error messages that were effectively screaming for more RAM.

The 14172 pixel wide by 30634 pixel high image is so big, Photoshop is incapable of saving it as a photoshop file, let alone a jpeg. The only way I could feasible save it was a 3.91GB tiff file, that takes 30 minutes to open on my 1ghz ibook.

I'm in the process of downsizing the file to a more manageable 10000px high, but at the rate photoshop is going it may be a couple hours. Until then, here's a screen shot of the monster photo.

Frankenphoto Screenshot - View Large (441 x 957)

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Computer Merit Badge Circa 1969

00.00.00 - Mark

The Boy Scouts of America have had Computers Merit Badge since 1967, and the old book is pretty amazing. Beautiful fonts, weird photos, even some really neat looking projects. Not everything is horribly inaccurate (considering it predates the Altair 8800 and the personal computer revolution by over 5 years) Even some of the original requirements are still in the modern version! I'm going to have to look for some other old requirement books for merit badges, I'm sure there's some neat stuff to dig up. Here's a PDF of the book (mirrored copy from Dave's Old Computers)

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Saving in slow motion

15.52.34 - Mark

It's been a years since I've had to wait on Photoshop for long periods of time to process a single command, but I've wasted an hour waiting on it to just between the save as and resize commands, which is insane since it only took about 90 minutes to stitch together. Maybe that's just a commentary on how large of files I'm working on, or maybe my old ibook g4 needs replaced...

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Apple Store Greensboro

20.42.15 - Mark

Apple is opening up an Apple store in Greensboro next year, which is a bit more than an hour away. I might go to the opening whenever that is, but the first thought I had wasn't "cool" it was more along the lines of "I wonder what this will do to Cybergear?" (an Apple Authorized Retailer / Service Provider in Mount Airy).

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You're having a bad day when...

22.48.54 - Mark

I've spent a few hours today looking for some digital photos I know I should have somewhere. There should working copies on one of my main computers (buried somewhere in my distributed Terabyte or so of storage space), and at least one sufficiently current backup, but so far I've been having absolutely zero luck. On the other hand I'm finding some (completely useless) files over and over and over and over again. Add on top of this a couple systems that have some really obnoxious operating system quirks and all of a sudden adopting a Scorched Earth policy followed by a week or two ground up network rebuilding doesn't look too bad.

As Terabyte+ storage solutions becoming more common, backups alone aren't going to cut it, people will have to learn some heavy duty data management skills. That or move everything online and let google try to sort it all out...

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00.08.34 - Mark

Ubuntu's handling of network printing sucks. Apple has proven that network printing doesn't need to be rocket science, so how come a similar "User Friendly" Linux can't get it working without 5+ hours of research and working? It may get fixed after I update to the latest version of Ubuntu, but somehow, I doubt it.

Firewire is amazing, simply amazing. It's the ultimate multitasker when it comes to computer interfaces, handing every thing from printers and scanners to networking to video to mass storage (and yes, you could make random fans, lights and desktop missile launchers too, just like USB). Too bad Steve Jobs had to go and enforce a B**LSHIT trademark, pissing Intel off enough that they dumped Firewire in favor of USB, thereby making it the computer interface standard and dooming Firewire to smaller markets and higher costs. Thank you Steve Jobs. Now to find a IDE to Firewire adapter that doesn't cost more than $30.

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10 years of waiting

04.39.19 - Mark

Starcraft is probably my all time favorite game - ever. If it isn't it's a close second. Unfortunately it's never gone as far as the warcraft series, but hopefully that's changing - if only a little. Today Blizzard publicly announced Starcraft II and it looks amazing. The graphics may be a bit cartoonish compared to the original, but it seems to keep with the same game style. SC2 isn't going to be a MMORPG, just a Real Time Strategy game like the original (I wouldn't like it any other way) but the initial reports suggest a lot more options in play. If it's half as good as the original I'll be quite happy.

The downside to all this is that between Starcraft II and Spore I may have to put together a real gaming box...

SC2 cinematic on youtube
SC2 game play on youtube

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Hope for the ClampBooks

20.45.47 - Mark

I've learned to live with my iBook, and that fact that the only thing keeping it working is a piece of cardboard. However before the cardboard, there was the clamp. I've tried telling Apple that this is their fault, but they refuse and tell me that I stilled liquids on the motherboard, which is extremely insulting. It has bugged me that there has been a lack of a US class action lawsuit (just as much as it bugs me that one is necessary), but a recently decided Danish complaint case could be changing that.

I hope Apple will fix this iBook. I've always been a strong advocate for Apple, and I lost a good bit of faith in Apple after the way they treated me. Them fixing it would almost make up for it. Even if they don't fix it it's getting time for me to upgrade, but my iBook is still usable, and I'd hate to junk it just to avoid passing on its quirks.

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MacGyver CD repair

02.38.50 - Mark

I've heard for years that the best way to fix a scratched CD is to use toothpaste to polish the scratches out of the plastic. Thankfully I haven't actually had to test it out, but when working on an iMac I needed an Mac OS 9.1 CD. The bad part is that I only have one full OS 9.1 CD (plenty of 9.0) and I haven't taken the best possible care of it and its been scratched all to hell. So, out came the toothpaste, and after a couple passes, a couple minor scratches had come out, but not the major ones that were corrupting the disk. So, a quick google search and it turns out Brasso is the best CD scratch remover, so out it comes and after one pass it had done far more than the toothpaste.

I still had to do a couple more passes with the Brasso before the disc was usable (I don't have a photo, but this disc was seriously scratched) but its done the job and saved me $20 (going rate for a OS 9 cd on eBay)

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Shutdown Day

18.02.15 - Mark

There's a campaign to get thousands of people to shutdown their computers on March 24th. (They're up to 43000 with a week and a half left) The first time I saw it was a few weeks ago, and I initially blew it off as a bunch of geeks daring each other to drop their tech addiction for a day. I don't think I've had to go without a working computer for more than a few hours in years, but I don't find it hard to turn off for a day or sometimes a week. In fact, every few months I find it necessary to get away from computers and recharge my own batteries, which after looking at the Shutdown Day site seems to be the whole point. I already know its going to be extremely easy to not use a computer on the 24th (CRK staff weekend) but I don't know that I'll make a pledge not to. Still, its a more worthwhile cause than I originally thought.

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Adventures in Tech Support Land

23.59.28 - Mark

As a geek, there's some sort of unwritten law that dictates that to maintain geek status we have to respond to the technical woes of friends and family, especially when those individuals think that we have the technical knowledge of Bill Gates (which is wrong in several ways). Usually these are simple problems and can be resolved by running spyware and antivirus software, or reinstalling a couple applications.

Then there are the real problems, like massive catastrophic hardware failures, or today's gem - recovering and modernizing database files made with an application that's 16 years old.

Now, it can be a little challenging to recover a word processing file made with a program that old, but it wouldn't be to bad since text files are more or less standardized. Databases on the other hard are wildly incompatible, even different versions of the same software will change significantly. Microsoft Access won't deal with Filemaker Pro and neither plays nice with MySQL, while Filemaker 7 will damn near refuse to work with files made with Filemaker 6. Yet, that's to this user's decision not to keep the database software up-to-date I had the pleasure of getting the information from a Filemaker 1 (circa 1991) database file working in Filemaker Pro 8.5 (circa 2006). To make matters worse, the data structure was pretty bad (read: horrible)

I got the job done, but it makes me all the more thankful for comma-delineated text files and TextWrangler

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Paying Less and Getting More

01.05.54 - Mark

Telco companies are a necessary evil, at least in the US. My internet has been inexcusably slow over the last week, and absolutely intolerable the last two days. This isn't all that uncommon for my connection, and there are no practical alternatives where I live so I usually just grin and bear it (a local RSS reader helps)

This latest slowdown however has been exceedingly painful. When I tried to load a couple of online speed tests, I had one system fail to load the launch page - let alone run the test.

So after checking things on my end, and running a marginally helpful firmware update to my router, I couldn't place the blame anywhere except Sprint.

Well, turns out Sprint (or whatever name they're operating under) doesn't even sell my level of service (512K upstream), anymore! I have no idea when they changed pricing, but the monthly bill is not only being lowered, the bandwidth is going up.

Totally fucking insane! When a business drops or upgrades a low end offering, they should be compelled to offer existing users of that service to a comparable service. Hell I would have settled for notification.

Anyways, all I have to do is wait for the new modem to arrive. I'm not thrilled by the prospect of installing and configuring a new modem when the one I have connected seems to be working fine, but whatever - I like bandwidth.

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Buggy Browsers

18.49.34 - Mark

I don't own a windows box, so when I have to test a site in Internet exploder I usually try and get my hands on a windows box. You would think that as flexible as Firefox is someone would have written a hack that emulates the way IE renders pages. Then I thought about it and I don't think anyone is crazy enough to try and recreate all of the bugs in IE.

Which left me with a problem. Try and assemble a working PC from my parts pile and dump windows on it, or get Internet Explorer working on my Ubuntu linux box.

Surprisingly, it was easier to get IE working under linux than it was to work with Windows thanks to ies4linux, a neat little hack that installs IE on Linux, running under WINE (which I already had installed)

I love linux.

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Keywords, Links, and the Kitchen Sink

16.38.32 - Mark

The comment spam problem on this blog has finally gotten to me (the database powering this thing has 60MBs of plain text spam comments!) and I'm now in the middle to testing a couple of new tools in my little war on spam. The main reason I've put it off this long is because I though it would take an entire overhaul of the comment system to even attempt to cut back the crap comments, but thankfully I was wrong.

When I started Googling for spam filtering tools, I quickly found two existing services. One called LinkSleeve, which basically looks at the links in the submitted data and compares them to its existing database. The second is Akismet, which seems to be the intimidating sentry in the field.

As it turns out neither was that hard to install into my existing system, LinkSleeve was literally cut and paste, with no modifications needed at all, while Akismet was a little more hands on, involving registering with wordpress for a free account, then researching ways to connect my code with their services. While I was able to find the rights material, it involved some programming on my part, adding a couple of calls and changing some variables around.

Since early this morning, all of the comments on this site have been evaluated with my own filtering rules, along with LinkSleeve's URL screening and Akismet's blend of filters, and the results are a bit surprising. When I added LinkSleeve I though it had the best solution, since comment spam is all about the links, I though that it would catch junk comments my filters were missing (The Hey! Cool Site. Comments that are hardest to screen), but not only does it miss most of them, it also fails to catch spam comments with a dozen obvious junk links. This may be due to a lack of users sending comments into the system, but right now its even far behind my rudimentary keyword/ip based filters.

Of course once I had Akismet set up, it blew away my existing tools, capturing the vast majority of the spam comments that have trickled in since its installation. That's not to say its perfect, but I think its safe to call it as being somewhere around 90% right now

There will however be more spam comments here for the next couple of days. While I think Akismet will be my primary tool for stopping spam, I'm probably going to continue using all three systems to catch spammers in the act, and set up a master script to direct spam to various levels of purgatory based on which filters it trips. There are going to be a few other upgrades (in addition to a significantly cleaned up database) to my little system, but I feel so much better having found a better way of dealing with the spam around here.

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Too many options

03.19.17 - Mark

90% of the time Ubuntu Linux rocks, and is easy to move to and from in the 4 OS enviroment I'm crazy enough to live in (Mac OS X, "Classic" versions of the mac OS, Windows XP, and Ubuntu)

It's that 10% of the time that keeps it (and linux in general) from being a major desktop OS contender. Sometimes its almost needing a computer science degree to get software installed, fighting with various devices to work, or even occassional wonkiness when going about everyday use that you either find a work around or dig though pages of bug reports and command line hacks. What really keeps it out of reach for many users is the thirty-two thousand ways you can do any one task.

A couple weeks ago on Black Friday I picked up a cheap hard drive figuring I'd need it somewhere eventually. I wasn't dissappointed when my linux box shard crying for more storage space a week later. After getting some better IDE cables (the box has physical space management issues) I went and installed the drive yesterday. On a windows box, I could use the drives included software to format the drive. On a Mac, I could just use Disk Utility.

Under Ubuntu I had to use 7 or 8 seperate software tools, consult help documentation on at least 3 of them. Study several online howtos, actually had to follow two of them, and muck around in a handful of system config files. Yes I like having control over my computer, but I don't happen to like spending an hour and a half partitioning, formatting, and mounting hard drives when I should be able to do it in 10 to 15 minutes.

To save others a bit of time This article covers how to wipe the drive and install a filesystem, then this one tells you how to actually get your new drive to mount on startup.

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Son of the ClampBook

03.08.13 - Mark

Remember the Clamp Book? My two year old iBook from hell that has spent the last nine months alternating between being dead, on life support, and comatose? Yeah well its back. In mid August the old HD started crapping out (probably because it was being pinched by the clamp) and eventually got to the point where I was unable to boot it and do anything useful with the system. Late last week I picked up a cheap 20GB laptop drive figuring I could revive the laptop or make a decent little external. Well after two or three take aparts, and several hours cloning a working OS I have this evil little system work again. While mucking about in the thing I tried placing cardboard shims in the case (once again) and seem to have placed them in the right spots - as I'm cautiously typing this post on the white devil - minus red clamp and external keyboard.

There has been some other pleasant geekiness in the last 24 hours, but I'll save that for when I'm on a known stable system. There might not be a clamp on this box anymore, but that doesn't mean I'm free and clear of the bubblegum and bailing wire.

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Unplugged, Unshocked

10.09.50 - Mark

Every once in a while I get hit by the fact that I'm outside anything resembling cultural norms. The fact hit me a few times this weekend. It's first blow was Friday night when I went to see Borat. I know several people who have described it as disgusting, who have suggested that it should be NC-17, or suggested that parts of it may have gone too far. Except for the 70% of the time they were laughing like crazy. Personally I didn't think it was great. Yeah it had some good lines that I may joke about with friends, and I got a few decent laughs out of it, but overall it wasn't extremely satisfying. Sort of a weekend afternoon movie feel too it, good enough to watch, but not enough block everything else out.

When you get to the disturbing, disgusting, and generally sickening stuff people complain about, I really didn't feel disgusted. It's stuff that I can easily do without seeing and hearing, but it wasn't that shocking to me.

The other strike was when messing around with MacHeist. I kind of got interested in the MyDreamApp thing they finished up a few weeks ago and had the oppurtunity to check out to start playing this alternative reality sort of game they've developed. I play this hidden message type web games on occassion and while some of them do have some pretty good challenges in them I've been finding them largely unrewarding. In the example of MacHeist, of the three prize pieces of software I now have free licenses for, none of them really appeal to me, which is almost hard. I've been a junkie for mac freeware and shareware since I first connected to AOL over a long distance line around 1995.

In the end this doesn't really matter, I'm perfectly fine being outside the box, as long as I have a decent idea about what the inside looks like.

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Day(late) Against DRM

09.52.08 - Mark

Day Against DRM - October 3rd 2006

Don't know why I didn't post this yesterday, but yesterday, October 3rd was Day Against DRM. I didn't participate in any actions, but I don't like DRM. Not because I'm a pirate and want everything for free (as tempting as it may be) but because DRM breaks stuff.

When I buy music, or videos, or event text, I want to be able to work with it, not around it. Some of the music I've bought though iTunes hasn't been listened to in months because it needs a working mac to play it. Even when my computers aren't broken I'm moving between OS X, Linux, Windows, and anymore even older systems like my Newton and Mac OS 9. Even between the first three there isn't a single DRM solution that works, and nothing that would allow me to use the same files on every platform I use.

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