Road to Nowhere

Posted in Maintenance, Nerd, Technology on June 29th, 2008 by Tom

So I’m not really huge on the internet, or internet-related tests and whatnot, but this made me pretty happy, as I am a huge fan of the ol’ Achewood.

Your result for The Achewood Character Personality Test…

Roast Beef

You’re Roast Beef! You’re brilliantly smart but cripplingly anxious and/or depressed, depending on the day, and as such, you’re the level head of your circle of friends, the one whose reservations keep people from trying to catch ninja stars with their teeth and whatnot. You can be prevailed upon to cut loose from time to time, at which times you enjoy dressing up like historical figures and freestyling about their characteristics. You’re a sharp, talented cat, and your recent successes getting out from under the thumb of your domineering grandmother and proposing to your significant other are admirable, but let’s face it — no dude who has a Nervousness Blanket to throw up under is gonna make it that far without some serious pharmaceuticals, am I right?

Take The Achewood Character Personality Test at HelloQuizzy

As mentioned on the previous entry, I’m hard at work getting the 2.5 version of Schrodinger’s Blog put together. A lot of cool features coming up, and also just some book-keeping/housework type of things too. It’s still a ways off though.

However, part of the process I did feel like sharing with everyone. I mentioned a while back getting prepared for a visual overhaul of the site. I even went so far as to prepare some material for that:

The plan for the overhaul was to simulate the look of a nuclear launch console. I based my design roughly off of this picture. However, the barrier I keep running into is my Adobe PS skills are only what they are. I’m no whizz at the thing, and I don’t really have any training/talent in artsy things.

You can see different manifestations I played with; the leftmost button is “pushed”, and lit up red. The second one I tried for a more realistic backlight, with a textured surface and a washed out yellow light color. The second two have a different orientation of the text, and are “unlit” or “unpushed” buttons. So. That was the first idea.

I showed this to Ethan though, and his comment was that he liked what I had now. And so I thought to myself, ‘I should just polish up the current design.’ What better to make something look fancy than adding brushed aluminum.

You can see my stab and making an aluminum textured surface on which to place the buttons. The leftmost is “pushed” with a red ring around the edge. This and the aluminum were attempts to make the style similar to a real elevator, which the design is patterned off of. In the end though, I dunno. I really like what I have now, and to change it just for the sake of seems silly.

Brak Blog had one major visual overhaul in its day, but that was when we went from Blogger to LandingClouds, and so it was out of necessity. This would just be “’cause,” and I’m not confident it would be a change for the better. (Though I do like the aluminum!)

So ultimately, I scrapped the idea to do any major graphics work, but I thought I’d share some of the failed drafts with you guys.

Not a whole lot else to mention, besides my thoughts on Thunderbird as an RSS reader. Long story short? It’s not bad. It’s way better than my current method, which was to use Firefox’s Live Bookmarks utility:

This is pretty useful to follow like, maybe one or two blogs or webcomics. The problem, at least for me, was that I started to want to keep track of too much stuff. That bar is only as wide as the browser, and then things trail off into side menus, and it’s not nearly as convenient.

Running it through Thunderbird isn’t bad though. Postings to an RSS feed are basically handled like an e-mail. Everyone does it differently, so a lot of times they look a little rough before you get to the content you need, but it works more or less like basic e-mail:

The one thing that helps is an add-on called ThunderBrowse. This allows the message pane (where the little dog is in the above picture) to function like an internet browser. So when your feeds come into the program, they look like little e-mails with links in them; ThunderBrowse allows you to click that link, and visit the page inside the e-mail client itself! Which is pretty cool.

I know maybe that sounds a little complicated, but the alternative is visiting the sites you see in the panel at left constantly, multiple times a day to see if they’ve updated, which had started to become a problem for me. Now, I just open up my e-mail, and it tells me exactly how many times each site has updated. However, if using Thunderbird seems to daunting (and I’ll be frank, the add-on is a little difficult to install), try Google Reader. Ethan uses that to sift through hundreds of updates daily, and he really likes it. Plus, it’s web-based so you can always read it, and it’s pretty simple to set up.

Regardless of which you pick, there’s a whole world of RSS out there. If you haven’t really made an effort to put some of it to use, I really recommend it. It makes your internet time a lot more efficient, even if that just means getting to your weekly webcomics that much quicker. If anyone’s got questions, I’d be happy to field them. I’m a huge RSS fan, and would love to get other people into it too. (In fact, one such planned update to the site is an index of everything that I get RSSed to my Thunderbird, as a sortof “next gen” version of the old concept of a “Recommended Links” page!)

The Electric Version

Posted in Firefox, Maintenance, Nerd on June 21st, 2008 by Tom

Today I downloaded and installed Firefox 3.0.
It’s very exciting! Once again, the good folks at Mozilla have beat the pants off of Microsoft’s latest offering: IE 8 (still in Beta testing). Firefox 3 was released on… Tuesday, I believe. I downloaded it just a few days ago and I’m pretty impressed with it.

The design was polished up a little bit, and it runs a lot faster than it has in the past, which is nice. It probably runs even better on people with cutting-edge machines, but even on my little ol’ 2.8 ghz Pentium 4, it’s not terribly shabby. However, I had a few gripes that I wanted to tweak with it:

1.) Minimize to Tray Didn’t Work-
OK, so maybe I’m crazy. In fact, I’m fairly positive I’m nuts in my love (need?) of this tiny little extension. All it does is when you click the [X] box to close the window, instead of quitting the program, it goes to live in the little system tray with the clock!

See it there? Now it’s out of the task bar (the bit in the middle where minimized things go), but it isn’t off. My biggest gripe about Firefox is that it takes a while to load up, and this fixes that becuase I never have to shut it off, but I can get it out of the way! As you can see, I have the same extension installed for Thunderbird, and there’s even similar functionality built into iTunes!

The problem is, this little tool doesn’t work with Firefox 3 becuase for whatever reason, the developers haven’t updated it. In truth, it still works, as in functions, but the application won’t let you install it, because there’s a built-in limit to the highest version it could be installed on! This is put there so that they can maintain control over which versions you use it with, so that people don’t install it in unsupported versions and whine when it doesn’t function like it should.

However, that’s exactly what I wanted to do! Since this extension has such a small, simple function, I’m not really worried about it breaking, so the only problem was to remove the version limitation. This is amazingly easy.

  1. Download WinRar.
  2. Downlaod the .XPI file for Minimize to Tray. If you try to use Firefox to do this, it will not work, becuase Firefox recognizes the file type. It either tries to install it right away (on a compatible version) or will not give you access (on a non-compatible version). So guess what? Crack open IE7, and go to the add-on’s page, listed above. View->Page Source. Search that document for ‘,xpi’ to find the correct link location to the .XPI file. Feed that into the address bar of IE7, and it will ask you what to do then, becuase it doesn’t understand what the hell an .XPI file is! Tell it to save the file to your desktop.
  3. Open the .xpi file with WinRar.
  4. Edit the ‘instal.rdf’ file so that the 2.0.0.* line of code actually reads 3.0.0.*. Or you could be a little silly, like me, and have yours be compatible up through version 14 of Firefox. It doesn’t matter, so long as you feed it a number larger or equal to the version you want to install!

I usually only need this hack for Minimize to Tray, but theoretically you can use this for anything. However, do so at your own risk, becuase on more sophisticated add-ons you are less likely to be able to get away with using an antiquated program with newer version.

2.) Tab Mix Plus Didn’t Work-
One of the most popular add-ons for Firefox, somehow, didn’t get updated for the version switch. You can download a developer build from their website which works just fine. No clue as to why this isn’t the version available in the add-on repository…

3.) I Don’t Like That Stupid Star-
Supposedly the little star makes it easier to bookmark things. Personally, I’m not really huge on bookmarks any more. I use them not for things I frequently visit, but for sites I infrequently visit, but don’t want to forget about. Thus, having that little star in the bar all the time is a little irritating to me. It’s pretty easy to get rid of though, so that’s good.

  1. Find your ‘chrome’ folder. If you just search your computer for the word ‘chrome’, eventually you’ll find it, as I can’t imagine anybody has too many things with such a name. It’s located in your root directory (the one with WINDOWS, Desktop, Documents and Settings; that junk). From there it’s: \UserName\Application Data\Mozilla\Firefox\Profiles\crazy-alphanumberic-combo\chrome. Though that’s just where it is on mine; for more help, check out the Mozilla article on profiles. Suffice to say, that’s where your ‘chrome’ folder lives.
  2. Open up the chrome folder. Right-click userChrome-example.css and open it with Notepad. Once you’re in there, paste the following:

    #urlbar > #urlbar-icons > #star-button {
    display: none !important;

  3. Save the file as userChrome.css

When you’ve restarted Firefox, that stupid little button should be gone! Hooray!

4.) Secure Websites Aren’t Yellow Anymore-
I actually stumbled across this while researching something for this entry: they changed the code from FF2 that made the address bar yellow for a secure (encrypted) website. I actually kindof liked that, thinking back on it, and so I went ahead with the fix. As above, it’s just a simple edit to your Chrome file. Paste the following into your userChrome.css file:

#urlbar[level] .autocomplete-textbox-container {
background-color: #FFFFB7 !important; }

Save, and that’s that!

5.) The Smart Location Bar Irritates Me-
I don’t like it. It’s big, and it’s ugly, and it uses a creepy algorithm that finds websites I looked at like… years ago… and slaps them up in this giant green nasty font. I’m sure it’s cool for some people, but if I want to search, I use Google. It’s my homepage. Done. I don’t use the browser itself to execute a search function. Thus, when I type in the address bar, I know exactly where I’m going, and these gigantic green suggestions do not help me in the slightest.

There’s two options for fixing this:

  • Edit the config file. Detailed instructions are available, but I just didn’t feel like it today. You can, if you’re ambitious and computer-savvy.
  • I opted to just download an extension that makes it function like the Firefox 2 bar did. Easy, clean, and more similar to what I know.

I’ve said it time and time again: “I’m like an elderly person. I like things they way I like them.” My browser is no exception; in fact it is the quintessential embodiment of this principal. So yeah, I spent the past two days whipping my browser back into shape, and at the end of it all, I’m really pleased about it.

A new feature I’m using is the “search for text when I type” feature. I don’t honestly know if it’s knew or not, but it is to me: Options->Advanced->General is where you can find this. On any given page full of text, if you’re not clicked inside a form (box for typing) and you start typing, it activates a tiny little QuickSearch bar to find what you typed. Click the page, and it disappears! I thought this was so cool, since I’d been using the old ‘CTRL+F’ shortcut to bring up the ‘Find’ toolbar for years now.

But that’s basically what I’ve got to say about Firefox 3. It’s open source and amazing. The browser I’ve come to love and take great, great pride in these past few years continues to improve and get better. The real beauty of it is that you can hack it to pieces and build it back up to make it JUST the way you want it, and I couldn’t be more pleased!

At the bottom here, a few more updates:
Sadly, there’ll be no radio show this summer! The equipment is all deconstructed and in the process of being moved, so I won’t be back on the air until August! Oh well. Maybe this give me time to finally get the archives up-to-date, and work on that much-lauded podcast. We shall see.

I will probably be working that into what I’m temporarily dubbing our 2.5 version.
Features, as mentioned before:

-Smaller-bandwidth navigation images (plus I need to get rid of the border that appears around them when clicked… thanks for that, Firefox 3)
-New banner set
-Feeds that display the date
-Radio page will have podcast capabilities (hopefully iTunes compatible)
-SnapShots? I still can’t decide on these things. I make up my mind to hate them, and then I come across some website where they’re really useful. Probably not, but maybe.

That should be about it. My other tech-related endeavor is getting Thunderbird set up as an RSS reader, a la Google Reader, which Ethan continually lauds. I want to see if open-source can compete with similar functionality. News on that later though.

[One final thing, becuase this just made me laugh so hard… Have you ever heard of the ‘uncanny valley’?]

Title and Registration

Posted in Life, Nerd, School on June 15th, 2008 by Tom

So yeah. I took a month off. SUE ME!

No, for real. I was home for three weeks. The first week was pretty crazy becuase Erin was graduating and I’d just gotten back and stuff. The third week was equally as nuts because I was getting ready to move back to Kirksville into the house, and I decided that’d be a good week to work too. (I really have no good excuse for the middle week…)

Contrary to what seemed to be my apparent demise at the close of Humans vs. Zombies, I managed to survive the semester. Just barely. Things got pretty rough. I referred to this as my semester of “lasts”, as I would be escaping German, Math, and Chemistry after I’d completed these final courses. They weren’t going down without a fight though. At present, I’ve still yet to check my grades. Given how battered I was at the end of the semester, I don’t really want to see them just yet.

In other news, I turned twenty! I did.
Instead of taking the time to wonder aloud as to how crazy the past five years have been, and wonder how crazy the next five will be, I’m going to recount a lighter aspect of birthdays: GIFTS.

One gift, actually, stood out from the rest in its grandeur. Yamato is a Japanese toy company that makes products from the Macross anime series. Undoubtedly, most of you haven’t heard of that do to a big licensing quagmire related to its release and syndication in the United States as something called “Robotech”. None of that’s really important though.

What is important is that it’s the best toy I’ve ever had.
Imagine a transformer, but then make it perfect.
I present to you the YF-19 Variable Fighter!

The first few are pictures of the ‘fighter’ mode, which is a typical plane. The last one is the robot form, called ‘battroid’.

I even bought some add-ons for it (more armor, rocket booster), but I currently lack pictures of those, so maybe later. Case in point, my toy-addiction has evolved to a new level. I was looking into perhaps purchasing him a friend, but the First National Bank for Tom’s Childish Obsessions/Hobbies is a little strapped at the moment, so this is a while off.

In other news directly after my birthday, Erin graduated from high school! Goodness! Go her, being all competent and whatnot. She even gave the super-important speech at the ceremony and did the best job I’ve ever seen one of those done! And this is the third year in a row I’ve been there. So that was really cool. She also had a giant party at the house, the day I got home from school, which was a little surreal.

But there was Jackstack Barbeque, so I got over it pretty quick.

The whole thing was just another item in the long (and growing ever longer) list of things that make me feel old. It’s already been two entire years since I sulked across that stage to get my empty diploma holder. They mailed the actual diploma to me later… though now that I think about it, I don’t think I’ve ever actually seen it myself. Huh. Hope I didn’t lose it…

On a final note, before heading back up to Kirksville to move into the house (which will be another entry unto itself, with some forthcoming photographic tributes to its state of disrepair), Ethan, Kathryn, Lizz and I all saw Death Cab for Cutie in concert at City Market!

The concert was really good. The venue, City Market, always leaves something to be desired… Given that it’s you and a zillion other people crammed into this out-door space at the end of May when it’s just starting to get up to that characteristically mid-western “hotter than hell” range. Ick. But I got a shirt, and despite a few close calls and head-kicks, we all maintained consciousness throughout the show. [For more details and the set-list, check out the Kansas City Star’s blog post about the concert.]

Here at the bottom I guess I should mention, for posterity’s sake, that the past few days have been pretty hard for me. I’m going through some radical changes in my social life. Things that stayed the same for so long are now suddenly different. I suppose, in spite of everything, that I’m handling it OK.

I am just in awe, truthfully, that I’m even capable of feeling so much pain.
That’s really the only surprise of the whole ordeal…

Lest I get even more DeviantArt than I already have, I think I’ll stop there. I’ve sortof made it a policy to not discuss my intimate personal life on the Blog, and this is no cause to change that. Suffice to say that today’s song says pretty much all you’d need to know to get the general idea of what a mess my life’s been the past few days (and will presumably be to degrading extents in the foreseeable future)…

Big Darkness

Posted in Politics on June 10th, 2008 by Tom

Last night, Ethan and I were sitting down for a nice little LAN party to get a little StarCraft going on. Before I could start the game up though, my little e-mail alert dropped down, displaying the subject line of a single incoming e-mail: URGENT – Kucinich delivering impeachment articles NOW!.

“Huh,” I wondered aloud. “Wonder what this is.” I hopped onto the CSPAN website and pulled up their live feed, and there he was. Dennis, my hero, my champion, and my favorite candidate for the U.S. Presidency… Bravely, he stood there on the deserted floor of the United States House of Representatives, making his case. He has 35 articles of impeachment to get through. 35 separate reasons that he felt merited, each on their own strength, George W. Bush’s removal from office., the only website that was covering this story for quite some time, indicated that it took him four hours and twenty minutes to cover each article. Geez.

In that time span, Ethan and I played two games of StarCraft and ate dinner, while Dennis took on the lying, deceitful leader of the free world. The man is a hero, and he’s getting snubbed by the media and his peers. Pelosi has publicly stated her lack of support for such a move (that link also lists each article and its charge), which I suppose I can accept. Impeachment of the highest elected official in the country is sortof a deal, and it steps on a lot of toes for good and ill; there’s no way to get out of it without doing major damage to both sides.

And yet… listening to Dennis read his articles, everything he says is true. All the lies, the treachery, the lax and poor administrating… he did his homework. This is not some nut standing up and shouting “witch!” Everything in his articles was supported by documents and testimony, most of which came from the government itself. And if these things are true, why not impeach the president?! If he actually committed such crimes, he deserves to get booted.

I conveyed this much emotion to Ethan, and he responded that a fat lot of good it would do: if Bush were removed from office, Cheney would simply take over. That’s the beauty of it all though… Dennis already has that covered. Once we get Bush, Cheney is next, and then guess what? Nancy Pelosi is president of the United States until Obama can take over in January.

Talk about the left wing’s wet dream.

Anyways. I thought that train of thought was somewhat humorous, despite my outrage that major media outlets are largely ignoring this in favor of the “WILL HE OR WON’T HE?!” question of Obama making Hillary his running mate. Ooof. I don’t even care anymore.

In other news, I want to extend a challenge to everyone: Stop perpetuating the Chuck Norris meme. PLEASE. I’m speaking of a general consensus that Chuck Norris is awesome and hilarious and deserves to be immortalized on t-shirts with snarky sayings. Please help to fight this. Chuck Norris is really one of the biggest idiots in the world today. He has a column in syndication, Ethan and I found yesterday. Please read the following snippit from his most recent piece:

Bill Clinton once said, “We just have to slow down our economy and cut back our greenhouse emissions because we’ve got to save the planet for our grandchildren.” That is the type of mentality that got us in this trouble. I’m all for doing our best to preserve our planet, but not at the price of losing our nation in the process. Bill’s words just might come true, but not as he or Al Gore might expect. We might save the planet for our grandchildren, and lose America at the same time, unless we turn around this energy crisis now.

~Chuck Norris, Professional Ass

I’m sorry, but really. Our favorite line was, “I’m all for doing our best to preserve our planet, but-” What? WHAT?! BUT?!?!?!?!. You can’t possibly be serious?! There’s no acceptable “buts” that follow that sentence, due to a very simple axiom: No Planet = NO PEOPLE. I hope I’ll be spared having to explain the Boolean operator that connects the two. Geez. It’s not even that difficult of a concept to grasp. So Norris purports that preserving the American way of life is more important than living? I suppose I’d agree in certain contexts. IE: I’d rather die than submit to some sort of foreign-imposed authoritarian dictatorship. That’s probably true.

But this image of somehow going out in a “blaze of glory” to preserve America while you cruise around suburbia in your Ford Excursion is just absurd. How can life really be worth so little to you that you’re willing to sacrifice your descendants’ right to life for such a trivial privilege?

I don’t understand.
I think that’s, perhaps, becuase it makes ZERO SENSE.

So stop perpetuating the Chuck Norris theme. If we all work together, maybe we can even get Walker, Texas Ranger out of syndication. Just Maybe.

I just received an e-mail from the Dennis People this afternoon that says someone crippled their website early this morning, following the completion of the filing of the Articles of Impeachment.

How childish, radical-right hackers of the ‘net.
How childish indeed.