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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02.05.14 - Mark

Wiki is Hawaiian for "Quick", and that is supposedly one of the underlying themes in the various Wikimedia projects. I may have bought into that two hours ago, but I've spent the last 90 minutes fighting with Wikimedia services.

It started out with honorable intentions. I've got a copy of the game Polarity, and like all things involving strong magnets it's fun to play. At some point in the past I got to wondering what kind of magnet goes into the Polarity pieces, so I checked the wikipedia article, which is more or less a stub. I filled this tid bit of information away, until yesterday.

I was bored yesterday and decided to set up my $2 macro photo studio (based on this handy design) and shoot some various objects. Because I've had magnets on the brain for a few days, I though it might be fun to shoot some pictures of Polarity pieces leaning on each other, and about the same time that thought occurred, the memory of the wikipedia stub popped up. A quick check confirmed that the article hadn't been expanded, and that it still lacked any images. So I go and shoot my photos, come back a while later, and I set off on the process of adding them to the Hitchhiker's Guid... I mean Wikipedia.

I'm familiar with the mechanics of wikis. I've got a personal mediawiki install, I've played with a couple other wikis, and on occasion have come close to making small changes to the Wikipedia So it should be easy to upload an image right? Wrong. I spent over an hour reading and rereading help documents and wikipedia style articles on how to upload an image, how to format it in the article, blah blah blah, found out I needed to start an account, did (at wikimedia commons, then started to upload the image before getting confused by the media licensing requirements, eventually managed to upload the image (it's here for the curious) quickly realized that despite the fact that they share databases, I needed another account for wikipedia, got that set up, then spent a bit more time looking at formatting guidelines and help files to figure out how to include the image in the article, and finally (after over an hour) managed to edit my image into the article that had an open request for images.

How exactly is that quick? Wikis are supposed to be Web 2.0, so how come the usability is so slow and awkward? All of the information they wanted when I uploaded the image was single line stuff, but they forced me to slow down and rewrite it in their unique syntax. Where's the clean, easy to follow interactive tutorial or brain dead form to fill out. It would have taken me 90 seconds to do the same thing on Flickr and the resulting upload would have almost exactly the same information. It's a bit insane, and more than a bit off putting. I might help the Wiki if I see some simple change that needs to be made, but I don't see myself contributing that much, even if there are some articles I could really help out on.

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Free clicking.

21.25.31 - Mark

Bring Back Free Clicking at the New York Times I ranted about the New York Times referance search popups a while back, and it still bugs me that there's no obvious way of disabling it via the site. Did they miss the memo about web2.0 being about user freedom? It doesn't take much to allow a user to disable a feature they don't like, but nope no way of disabling it. I'm not the only one, there's one comment on that rant, and when I checked his site he had a link to more disgruntled clickers, although they have a couple hacks to get it disabled. The easiest is this greasemonkey script, which works fine, buts it only works on one browser on one of my many regularly used computers. This really should be a user preference on their site, there's no good reason for it not to be.

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Unwanted Features

23.33.35 - Mark

The New York Times has gone off and done something annoying, they added pop-ups to their site. Not advertising pop-up, which are an active form of evil, or even their slightly tolerable cousin where you ask them to send a pop-up window with more information by clicking a clearly marked link. No what they've done is added an unwanted feature where if you double click on a word, any word, it brings up a popup window called "The New York Times: Reference Search for" what ever word you double clicked on. Frankly, its damned annoying.

I have a tendency to click around when reading a web page, I double click words, make random selections, ect. A side effect of being a tactile learner. Most pages, its not a problem, but every time I'm at the New York Times I have to concentrate on not clicking anything.

The only notice they give the user is in small print, well after the end of each article:


To find reference information about the words used in this article, double-click on any word, phrase or name. A new window will open with a dictionary definition or encyclopedia entry.

Unfortunately, as far as I can tel there are no "Tips" on how to disable this unwanted feature. Even browsing the help section of the site didn't produce anything helpful.

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Bits and Words

23.15.02 - Mark

While I can appreciate Direct TV wanting to save some bandwidth when customers are requesting interactive menus, I really question the trade off here. Does randomly dropping words and letters from show titles really save that much bandwidth, and does that savings really outweigh the amount of customer frustration it breeds?

Truncated and abbreviated show titles in Direct TV's program guide

Truncated and abbreviated show titles in Direct TV's program guide

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Six steps to a better DVD

20.11.47 - Mark

Having been watching a bunch of movies recently, most of them on DVD, I'm finding myself annoyed by the same few "features" of the DVD's I've been watching.

1) Kill off the cheesy anti-piracy propaganda
First off, I really don't want to be reminded that piracy is illegal, when I've legally acquired the DVD I'm viewing it on. You really have to wonder what the MPAA's logic is in including their anti-piracy videos on legal media. You never see them pirated material, so they're beating honest customers over the head with propaganda.

2) I've been warned, can I watch my film now?
To be fair, the FBI and Interpol copyright warnings are somewhat excusable, in that by forcing everyone to view them for 10 to 20 seconds takes out any reasonable claim of ignorance. However, do you really need to force me to view them every single time I put the DVD in? Either make it something I can skip, or put it somewhere where it doesn't feel like I'm getting browbeaten with it.

3) Intrusive Marketing. Part One
Then there is the various branding and trailers that used to plague VHS tapes. I think its fine if you want to include some in the special features, however sticking in half a dozen trailers - often on top of the various piracy warnings - is pretty damned annoying. More so in a few months (or years) when I come back wanting to watch a movie and am forced to watch trailers for movies where I've long since forgotten and had no interest in to begin with.

4) Intrusive Marketing. Part Two
Don't feel obligated to loudly pronounce who you are before showing me the film either. I honestly don't care is the DVD I'm watching came from United Artists, Fox, Paramount, or the struggling artist down the street. I just want to see the movie

5) More than a movie
There's only one real reason I buy movies, rather than watch them on TV or add them to my Netflix queue, and that's special features. It should be a crime to release a DVD without any special features, and yet they keep doing it. By far the worst offender I've seen has been the DVD release of eXistenZ which is a spiritual brother to Dark City and The Matrix (the first one) in that the movie totally fucks with your mind by questioning how we perceive reality. It's one of the few movies where I have really, really wanted to watch it again with some form of commentary, but for some bizarre reason the DVD has a total lack of special features. (Just for reference, Dark City, The Matrix, and eXistenZ were all released in 1999. Dark City - despite its relative obscurity - and The Matrix both had feature packed DVD releases)

6) More does not mean "anything"
While I really want to see special features on any DVD I pick up, that does not mean I want to see steaming piles of crap. Short documentaries, production sketches, commentary (director's, actor's, or even a critic's or a fan's) all add to a film. However, some things should be left to die. Many deleted and alternate scenes were left on the cutting room floor for a reason, usually good ones. Simply adding them back in to flesh out a special features menu can be a waste of space (and almost always a bad idea if the deleted scenes don't come with commentary), and anyone who so much as proposes putting cast and crew biographies into the special features should have their eyes pried open and forced to moderate flame wars on IMDB

Compared to actually making a movie, putting together a decent DVD release should not be that hard. For the cost of a few beers you can get fans to create audio commentary (look at what podcasting has done already) and a little common sence should make it easy to create clean intuitive DVD interfaces that don't bombard viewers with MPAA/RIAA propaganda and other Hollywood marketing BS, or at least you would think.

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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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Linux for Human Beings, Even Easier

20.44.48 - Mark

I really like Ubuntu Linux, I've used other linux distros like Fedora and Knompix, unfortunatly even Ubuntu's developers haven't made it easy enough for non-geeks to setup and use enought for it to be functional.

However today I accidentially came across this utility (for Ubuntu) that, while it still doesn't make it as easy as a Mac or Windows, makes it easy to take a default Ubuntu install and make it functional.

The tool is called Automatix, and it automates the process of adding extra applications, drivers, utilities, and codecs.

If you have to install a copy of Ubuntu for something other that a server, go out and get Automatix.

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Long way to go

15.33.38 - Mark

One benifit of having a borked Mac, a borked PC, and the most powerful system in the house using Linux, is that I'm getting a bit more proficient at using linux. Its a hell of a powerful OS, its clean, quick, and does most of what I need it to - if I bang on it with a hammer.

Every time I come back and give linux some serious use, I'm more and more impressed at what it does, and discover more and more what I love about the Mac OS, and even - dare I say it, Windows.

Macs and windows for the most part work. If I want to watch a movie I can open up nearly an media player and it plays. Under linux, it might play, it might not play, and if it does play it might not do so at the size I want it to, unless however, I go in as root with a command line editor, force half a dozen changes in some obscure config file that are no where to be found in the GUI, and then pray I didn't botch something while sacrficeing a goat to the voodoo gods so my changes actually work.

For music I've got three different applications that claim they support music transfers to iPods, and yet none of them have been able to do so and only one was able to read the contents of the iPod. Even just playing music on the box I'm rotating between three applications because they all suck. Misserable playlist management, one crashes when I skip tracks.

Now I'm learning how to deal with these problems, finding these config files, making those bug reports, etc. Your average user on the other hand...

Something for the geeks out there to think about before handing out those knompix and ubuntu discs like they were AOL CDs

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Podcast Woes

00.18.43 - Mark

I'm officially fed up with iPodder Lemon / Juice/ whatever they hell they're calling it, and NetNewsWire, while its a great RSS read is barely a solution for podcasts (at least to me), don't even think of suggesting I use iTunes, and who the hell knows where iPodderX/Transistr is (or if the new release will have bittorrent support?*). I originally didn't like FireAnt, but now that I'm subscribed to a few video blogs I'm going to see about using it some. It seems to have a much better interface for video than the iPodder / iTunes solution I'd using now, but even then looks like its a little lacking.

But that still leave me struggling for a decent pod-catcher. I'll willing to set up plenty of half baked, gum and bailing wire solutions, but enough is enough. After a year and a half someone should have come up with a solid solution, and even with as much praise as I've heard for the iPodderX/Transistr, I have a preference for shipping software (which throughout this name change, isn't)

I might be shooting my mouth off a little soon, but with the exception of iPodderX, I'm using all of the clients I mentioned (even if fireant is relatively new to my software heap)

*Edit : Oops. I guess iPodderX/Transistr has bittorrent support. I'm not sure where I got the idea that it doesn't, since it looks like its been in there since before I even started listening to podcasts. I'm going to take a better look at it, but I should probably buy a copy just because Ray took the time to correct me. Small developers rock, and I feel bad about my college student budget not allowing me to support more of them.

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Some People Get it.

01.15.45 - Mark

I'm not big on IM. I used to be then I started to need to have umpteen thousand different logins in half a dozen clients and I don't have enough screen space for my browser, let along half a dozen IM clients. However I've heard a lot of good things about Audium, a Free and Open Source Software IM Client for OS X. I haven't formed an opinion of it yet, but while I was installing it a little while ago, I realized its a perfect example of how much FOSS developers care about usability

In the disc image, while most developers will simply tell you to copy the application to your Applications folder, the team behind Adium make an alias (shortcut for the unenlightened Windows Users in the audience) to the Application. No opening other folders, no navigating directories, just click, hold, and drag the icon a screen inch or so and it's installed. Geeks care about usability. Just another reason why open source is better than proprietary software

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