Grepping though things

02.01.09 - Mark

I've been aware of GREP for years. I sort of remember it as a feature in BBEdit Lite, the great program I really learned HTML with, but always made do with the regular, plain english search and replace commands to fix problems. That stayed true when I finally moved to TextWrangler (after it was released as freeware to fully replace BBEdit Lite).

I also knew GREP or sometimes referred to as Regular Expressions, was in Perl and PHP, saw it on XKCD, both as a comic and as a t-shirt. Probably knew it was available at the command line of OS X and Linux. Those references and bits of knowledge made me aware of it, but it wasn't until earlier this year that I was given a task that I probably could have hacked though it with traditional search and replace, but needed enough changes made that I felt it would probably take less time to learn how to use a bit of regular expressions.

Regular-Expressions.info helped me a lot, but it still took a little longer to figure out than I had guessed. However, it was well worth the effort, over and over the GREP has proven to be very helpful, and while I'm not a master of the syntax, I can do a bit of damage with it in Textwrangler without a cheat sheet.

About two weeks ago, I stepped up to using some grep in a PHP script.

I've been off and on reading Rockwood Comic for years, but it's lack of an RSS feed sort of pushed it back further. The odd thing is I remembered a bit about scraping websites to create RSS feeds. While there are plenty of tools out there that will do the same thing, part of me figured it would be simpler, more precise and up to date, and a fun little challenge to create it myself - at least for that comic site. Plus once it was kicking around in my head, I knew I'd be using GREP in PHP to dig out some of the content. Once I think it's working a bit better I'll think about writing another post on the hack, especially since this post is mostly rambling on about how wonderful a tool GREP is for geeks, and that I created an RSS feed for Rockwood Comic using PHP, GREP, and cron to write the RSS file it, all wrapped up in Feedburner to give it a prettier URL than the sandbox address my code resides at.

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Walking past Front Row

22.29.36 - Mark

While I still live in a house with a subscription to a satellite TV network, even with an included DVR, I really could do without it. While I was skeptical about the success and value of streaming video when it really started appearing it's grown on me a lot - to the point where I almost only watch streaming videos. I can watch it when I want to, love having to deal with fewer commercials, and being able to rewatch things that have been off the air for years (and some which never made it to DVD) Yes, it's a little hard to watch some things I miss from the plethora of TV stations, but there are solutions to those problems.

For almost all of these streaming videos, I've been tolerant of my MacBook's screen. One person watching a 13" screen from a foot or two away works fine - battery powered and completely portable can even make it favorable. Using a decent 22" LCD desktop screen and a set of speakers and you can make it work for 2, occasionally 3 people. Not the most comfortable, but it works.

So recently I went back and got the Mini-DVI to Video adapter for my MacBook, dug out the Apple remote that came with it, twiddled with some of my cable solution and now enjoy using all these full screen streaming videos on a decent sized TV. Navigating around to find the right video however, has become a bit annoying.

The browser and Finder are work fine when you're at the computer, but if you want to use a remote from across the room control you need to keep it simplified. At one point, Apple's Front Row (which no, doesn't require a remote) along with a plug in called Understudy let you get to Netflix and hulu though FrontRow. It worked, but was a bit of a hack. When Hulu had to start actively preventing people from putting the streaming video onto their TVs, Understudy doesn't work with it anymore. While it still works with Netflix, it's more of a kludge than a useful tool.

Boxee's software, which is sort of like Front Row on steroids. While it's a beta, it's open source, cross platform, and a few weeks ago announced it was releasing a hardware solution at CES. At one point I actually preferred it over Front Row. More power, easier navigation, and no hacks needed to get to some streaming video content providers - including Netflix. It's useful, particularly for navigating around Netflix via remote, but I never really enjoyed it enough to find a way of making the Apple Remote open it in place of Front Row. I also wanted a good way of getting into Hulu over remote.

The only non-browser approach to hulu streams is Hulu Desktop. After they had to block boxee (and other applications) they developed their own desktop player. To their credit it provides better navigation and works with my Apple remote, but it's all it does. No other streams, no messing with local files.

So my question became, how can I get to all these tools by using my Remote. Understudy plugin instantly picked up on Hulu Desktop's presence, and while it's a little buried, I was able to "switch" from Front Row to Hulu, but since it was off the path, and wouldn't open Boxee I turned around to dig. and sure enough it was out there.

Hole in the Ceiling figured it out and posted Front Row plugins to launch several applications including Hulu Desktop and Boxee.

So while there's no single application that lets me watch what I want to controlled by a simple remote, at least I don't have to walk across the room to run one commands.

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Wearable Displays

23.45.31 - Mark

Over 10 years ago I got a bit hooked on the idea of wearable computers. One handed keyboard+mouse devices, lightweight CPUs that work for hours, maybe with the speech recognition software, and a display that "floats" in front of the eye. Being in high school at the time I managed to scrounge together some pieces, with mixed degrees of success. I was given some semi-dead mac laptops and got some of them to work. Bought one of those one handed keyboards but never got it to work with my assorted Apple hardware, and even got a couple wearable displays.

While I gave up / sold / repurposed a lot of that stuff, the displays are about the closest I got to success. It was older gadgets, but I adapted it to take better, less expensive batteries, and when I got a second display I carefully took it apart and tried to convert it to a more discrete monocular version based on a few of the hacks I found online. While I managed to kludge together a "working" model, it was loosely assembled on a chopped up pair of sunglasses, a few pieces from an old erector set, scraps of plexiglass, and a zip tie or two. It showed me the amazing effect of monocular displays, but made me look like a massive idiot.

However with technology getting smaller, and these micro-displays getting less expensive and somewhat more common I'm playing around with the idea of getting one to hack. When I started taking another look at the commercially available ones, I found A Monocular Myvu hack. These Myvus, along with many of the other modern wearable displays, are geared for videos from iPods and other portable video players, and easily found for $100 or so. Not great resolutions for a computer, but could be a nice tool for some of my camera work or getting videos off my iPod.

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Making Shortcuts

21.25.53 - Mark

Recently I've been helping on putting together a couple websites for a couple local businesses, one as a hired web developer, the other where I'm somewhere between being a website advisor and lowly website janitor (which is a needed site but has been a mess for 9 months and counting). So while I may or may not be the code monkey on both these sites, my skills as a decent photographer have been called on for content.

However both these projects piled up to a couple hundred images needing some tweaks or edits in photoshop, and generally not the changes that a batch process would do without mistakes. I didn't even have a problem with doing this work, 95% of those changes were easy, and the rest were fun little challenges. My problem was the lack of keyboard shortcuts for most of the tools I was using in Photoshop.

Some I could understand not having shortcuts (same tool in several places), others unused enough to not receive one, some merely annoying to a Mac user due to Adobe's universal standards, and on top of the fact that lots of people don't seem to use shortcuts other than copy, paste, print and save. So I just whispered curses over my lack of shortcuts.

What I missed however was being oblivious. I've tweaked Photoshop's preference settings for almost as long as I've used it, and never in it's preference setting area did it have anything about controlling shortcuts. However the other day I found a little link to one of Adobe's blogs about how they're Doing the right thing with Cmd-H for us Mac users. Mostly the write up talks about how CS5 will make Photoshop a little easier for the user to make it a bit more OS friendly. It also talks some about why it's been avoided for so long.

Since I'm still hacking away with CS3, the changes in CS4 and the upcoming CS5 don't matter a lot for me (at least not yet...), but within that write up a little gold nugget hit me just right (my emphasis):

With regard to Cmd-H, Photoshop's keyboard shortcut editor has long made it possible to assign Cmd-H to hiding the app. Doing so takes just a few seconds, yet many people are unaware of this or unwilling to invest the time.

While some of the shortcut combinations (both the ones given and the ones you can create ) can be a bit big and cumbersome, they're a hell of a lot nicer than reverting to nothing more than moving around the mouse and clicking like crazy.

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A Collection of Thoughts

22.54.59 - Mark

I've been lazy this past week. There have been things I've wanted to say, but nothing that really deserved it's own post So I'm going to lump a few together. There's some other stuff that I want to get out, but deserve more thought and longer posts - like how "old media" still can't produce a useful website, even after 15 years of the world wide web and a solid five years since "new media" platforms like blogging started appearing in a big way.

First up I finished George Carlin's When Will Jesus Bring the Pork Chops last week, and while I enjoy Carlin's material it felt like binge reading a thing-a-day calendar. I'm pretty sure they formatted it so it was easy to stop after 5 or 10 pages, which in a way helps but for a book that has a list price of $24 (I was given the hard cover edition as a gift) you would hope there's at least a little continuity.

Next, Voice actors are amazing. Period. Almost entirely unrecognized and it's a true shame. I love animation and have been chewing though some "old" cartoons from the mid to late 90's (back before the FCC's Educational and Informational rules kicked in, when Saturday morning cartoons still existed and didn't totally suck) as well as some more recent stuff (like Futurama) and it's amazing when you watch these shows and realize that in a recording booth somewhere, these guys are having conversations with themselves. It's great when you can just see (or hear) these people working - like the Simpsons episode of Inside the Actors Studio or some of the DVD extras - The live reading of the comic on Bender's Big Score comes to mind. It's a shame that more and more animated movies want to fill ranks with celebrity voices. Afro Samurai strikes a good balance - a few big name voices supported by some voice actors.

Third, and kind of similar to voice acting I never realized how amazing Who Framed Rodger Rabbit? was, and how it's the sort of movie that would never get made today. Intellectual property lawyers, standards and practices, animators, and celebrity voices would totally ruin the thing before it got started. You would never see alcoholic detectives helping cartoons, kids with cigarettes, social commentary (the description of freeways is far from positive) the same level of animated violence, or some of the more sexual scenes and obfuscated language in the easter eggs. Maybe some of them, but not all of them. It's a treat

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15.10.44 - Mark

Today's odd bit of trivial is that LEGO Bricks turned 50 years old today. While I'm not a full fledged adult fan of legos, I had countless small lego kits (and a couple of big kits) as a kid, and while I would keep a model around for a while they inevitably got recycled into the big box of legos for use in other creations. Of course, that was the fun of LEGOs. Even into high school I would spend hours each week digging though my lego box and building models - then of course playing with those creations. I still have the big box, but it rarely gets used anymore. The first set I can remember having was the Super Nova II which would have been around 1991 - and it still has some of my favorite pieces, and I remember driving my parents crazy over the Deep Freeze Defender. I used to look at the weekend circulars before my parents even woke up to see if any stores had legos on sale and tried to figure out how much the set would cost with taxes, and if I could afford it with how ever many weeks allowances I had saved up. I think my parents eventually gave up and called it close enough so I would stop obsessing over the set, then I spent hours building it in the living room with my brothers. It was a fun set (and like all the other sets was eventually recycled into the box). The last sets I clearly remember getting for me would have been a rock raiders set or maybe a Town Space Port set around 1999, so I've got nearly 10 years of lego sets.

Since it's the 50th birthday I dug out the old box, and I've got tons of specialty pieces. I sort of wish I had more regular brick pieces to do more brick models and buildings with, but legos are still amazingly fun to play with.

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Bad Ratios

16.20.24 - Mark

As much as I love taking good photos, and happily spend time tweaking them in Photoshop, the rewards are cut short if you don't share the images. There are lots of ways to do this from in camera viewing to websites, to getting some decent quality prints made. I love this site, but good prints are far more useful. I've still got boxes and boxes of old 3x4 and 4x5 prints, and have walls decorated with enlargements I had made when I entered photography contests (some of which I really need to digitize)

As I've picked up my cameras again, I've started printing again. From at home printing on consumer level hardware - which despite what printer manufactures claim is wicked expensive and gives at best mediocre quality - to instant print kiosks and onwards and upwards to professional photo labs.

The thing is, the "standard" photo sizes are based off the aspect ratio of 35mm film (3:2) while nearly all digital cameras shoot 4:3, and many are starting to adopt 16:9 as a shooting option, if not the native sensor size. Most printing places recognize these and similar ratios (this isn't scientific, but I think the SOL point is is you want something narrower than 2:1), but these machines will refuse to print them correctly, and make stupid assumptions rather than ask the user how to handle each image. In a smallish sample I've had images condensed, expanded, and cropped, and only when I get it manually forced into zooming out is there a chance it will print correctly, and then I had to manually trim half an inch or more of white space off all four edges.

The real sad part is that everyone seems stuck with bad ratios and terrible metrics. The industry seems happy with it's standards and simply suggests digital photographers "plan to crop digital images". Should you find a printer who doesn't mind a different aspect ratio, they hand out DPI numbers that you'll need to meet, except it's hard to translate pixel counts into useful DPI numbers, since it's not the straight 1 to 1 ratio many people claim. Depending on print method and inks used you might have half a dozen dots working to represent the color value of a single pixel.

No wonder you can still buy polaroid 600 film...

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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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Mole Day

23.54.16 - Mark

I forgot that today was Mole Day, it's not quite as memorable as Pi Day, but more entertaining. The better science teachers in my life were probably igniting fireballs in the school parking lot about 18 hours ago. Much more amusing than watching the movie Pi

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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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Seeing the big picture

17.35.02 - Mark

Today's adventure in photography is panoramic photography. This is a photo of Camp Raven Knob (from the upper knob) that I've been wanting to take for years, but have more or less lacked the experience, tools, and skills to pull it off. That's changed - when I was at the local art council's photography club I knew one of the members had some experience with digital panoramas and asked for some tips after the meeting. The tips were take the photos on full manual controls, take the series in the portrait orientation, then stitch them together in Photoshop by hand - aligning them in layers, then using layer masks to smooth out sharp lines and other misalignments. I have to say that his tips worked out really well, and the results are worth the extra time and effort involved.

Here's the first stitched image, A 15 or 16 image series forming one horizontal row. It's not particularly well suited to serve as a desktop (unless your desktop is a flight simulator or you have 3 or 4 wide screen monitors as your workspace). I took a series with two horizontal rows, but I might try and get a 3 or 4 row series later on. I'll stitch the two row series together next, and if it turns out well that may make a better candidate for desktop images and prints. I also might have to dig around for some QTVR software and use one of the 360 series to make a panoramic movie. For now, I really want to make a panoramic photo into a poster, but I want to have the image first (then worry about finding a reasonably priced large format printer...)

Panoramic photo of Camp Raven knob taken from the upper knob

View Medium (4764 X 1024) Suitable for a multi-screen desktop
View Large (12100 x 2600) Suitable for printing - maybe

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Pi day

16.57.42 - Mark

It's March 14th again, which means it's Pi Day, one of the few Geek Holidays I can remember the date for, that and I rarely pass up a chance to have Pizza or Pie (even if I somehow managed to screwed up the pie crust for the first time in months). Homemade Apple pie to celebrate Pi Day (Edit - Despite messing up the crust, the pie was quite good)

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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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Blog Newly Refined

15.22.41 - Mark

Getting bored while fixing bugs is not a good thing. Rather than simply fix the bugs in my commenting engine and clearing out the crap comments that have piled up over the last several months I started fiddling with other aspects of my blog code, adding toys like a complete tag cloud, and index pages for my better posts and my multimedia files, improved sidebars fixing a bug in my archive calender and adding a stripped down version of my tag cloud as a navigational block, as well as adding some practical features, like displaying post titles in the page headers and fixing a long list of things with the comments.

Having done almost no programming or web work in the last few months, I almost forgot how much fun it can be to churn out some code.

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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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Certified Geek Credentials

01.14.46 - Mark

The logo says general purpose certified geek - and all certifications (real or imaginary) should have a cool seal to go with the respect said certification should command.

MarkW.us Official Seal

Made with the Official Seal Generator

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House Cleaning

02.44.00 - Mark

After letting my blog sit in its own juices for the last few months while I was at camp, it managed to get hit by comment spam pretty hard - one post had something like 327 spam comments that snuck past my (admittedly crude) filters.

The total ammount of spam I've recieved this year was close to 10MBs of data! Just for comparison all of my 1500 some blog posts takes up about 1.4MBs - 1/7th the space!

That's not to say it's all been deleted. Because I was in there doing some heavy duty cleaning I shifted some structures around to make it more manageable and I'll need to fix some of the related scripts to match it - so don't worry too much if commenting is broken over the next day or two.

On the other hand there's no doubt in my mind that spam is a serious problem, even for small bloggers using homebrew software.

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Magnetic Attraction

20.35.06 - Mark

Earlier this week I got a shipment from think geek which contained a renewed supply of Bawls and the game of Polarity.

I love it, nearly as much as Fluxx which I have a known addiction to. (In the end Fluxx wins out because a deck of cards is more portable than 52 magnets and a heavy table)

The basic idea of Polarity is to influence magnetic fields on the playing field so that you can "float" magnets against each other's magnetic forces, while making it extremely hard for your opponent to do the same. Winning depends on making your opponent screw up by making two or more magnets touch in significant and often humorous ways.

It requires a seriously steady hand, a sharp mind and a perfectly flat, rock stable surface (stable surface not required if you don't care about keeping it overly-sensitive adult friendly)

Better add a good sene of humor to the requirements, you will loose when you're not supposed to. You're trying to control forces of nature here...

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Two steps taken

22.44.27 - Mark

Going offline for the evening wasn't so bad. I got someone tolerable at the CompUSA tech desk (can't really say the same for the customer service) and snagged one of those $30AR 200 GB seagate drives. Guess we're honoring George and his fellow Commanders by making their green tinted portraits go a little farther than usual. Gotta love this consumer culture of ours. Not that I'm complaining about a $30 hard drive. This pushes me up past .75 TBs in my primary computers. I think this is when I'm usually supposed to date my inner geek by making some comment about how I never thought I would fill a 160MB hard drive, let alone contemplate measuring my network's storage capacity in terabytes

Also stumbled across Stainless Steel Chopsticks at another store. Part of them is for the sake of having decent chopsticks around the house for when I eat Asian cuisine, part of me likes the idea of being able to toss a pair or two into my camping kits and not need to worry about them breaking or finding whatever silverware I need. Kind of like my brothers obsession with metal sporks

Too bad tomorrow isn't looking that enjoyable...

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Flipping the Switch

19.55.24 - Mark

When I started writing my own blogging engine a few months ago, I had three very clear goals.

Get off Blogger.
Keep my Content.
Keep the links working.

I met the first and second goals back in December when I flipped the switch here. The last goal has been sitting on the bench waiting to see if anything failed horribly here. Fortunately it hasn't, even if things need occasional fixing, so I just switched on my Blogger Redirect Engine.

Because I coded everything, it was really easy to set up a redirect engine by putting a HTML Refresh in my blogger template that points to the look up script. With the refering URL, it can instantly figure out where the user needs, no matter if it's my index page, an archive file, or a post and it moves them there. Nice and simple with no demand on the visitor.

It might have been possible with wordpress, but it would have been a lot more work, and I liked the challenge of coding my own blog engine. Control is good.

So long Blogger. You're great for beginners, but you gotta do something for your serious users.

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