Screaming Into The Abyss

Google Thinks Disney is Malicious
By Ben Zvan
On January 31, 2009 at 09:10
Computers

Google Thinks Disney is MaliciousLast night, the Internet seemed to work like it always had. I'd enter something into the Google search field in Firefox and Google would show me a list of links that matched my search. This morning the results are pretty much the same except that Google marked the entire internet as "suspicious" with their new, Safe Browsing feature. And the best part about their Safe Browsing feature is that, in order to continue to a "suspicious" website, you have to copy the url from the body of the warning page and paste it into the browser. I'm all for moving changes to production in a timely fashion, but this is one of the many times that quick builds for fixes can go wrong.

My first thought: We should all learn from this that software, like an airplane, needs to be tested before being put to use.

My second thought: How much extra traffic are Yahoo and Hotmail getting today?

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Why 1984 Won't Be Like 1984
By Ben Zvan
On January 22, 2009 at 16:28
Computers

25 years ago today, Apple released the add that launched the Macintosh. Go watch it and read about it at Gizmodo.

And while you're there, learn how to hack a road sign.

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New Blog Engine In The Works
By Ben Zvan
On December 08, 2008 at 11:50
Computers

perlThe blog you're reading is running on a homebrew perl engine that I wrote for the purpose of allowing customers to edit content on their page without needing ssh access to the server. That's a little daunting for people if they just want to change a few lines of text. The code is a few hundred lines and has a configuration file that is independent from the executable code. There's also no database, just a series of flat files. It's pretty basic, but it has served me well.

After learning what I have of Java and AJAX, I'd like to make some improvements. At the moment, nobody can comment on my posts, so I rarely get feedback. I occasionally post links on facebook where people can comment, but that seems like a lot of separation of content to me. When looking at other blog and community sites, I've discovered some things about how comments are handled and, in my opinion, what works and what doesn't.

I don't like the forum layout except for getting questions answered. Even then, it seems a little clunky without a working knowledge of the forum's organization. It seems to me that forums aren't a streamlined mechanism for community building because of their rigid organizational structure. Tagging would be an improvement on this because the user is more likely to guess a single tag correctly than guess the category a post is placed in sometimes.

Blogger/blogspot has an extremely clunky comment system. Posting a comment requires going to a new screen where, by default, the context of the comment you are about to make is removed from that screen. It's a small annoyance to make an extra click to see the orriginal post, but an annoyance nonetheless. Even then, the interface feels cramped since it is limited in width and has two columns of information showing.

Science Blogs is getting there. When you click on the permalink for a post the orriginal post, all the comments and a form to enter your comment are all displayed in-line on the page. It almost forces you to pre-read or at least scan the comments before yours prior to making a new comment, which is good for a community that has a tendency to not read things before spouting off duplicate comments. Not that I'm saying that's what the commenters there do, just that I've seen it before. Particularly on the Gawker Media websites.

Gizmodo and Gawker Media, are also getting there. They changed their commenting system a couple years ago to force users to log in, which I know annoyed some veterans of the site. This has given them the ability to store your preferences for following other commenters or bookmarking your favorite posts. Many of the Gawker sites will honor your login from another Gawker site, which is very good, but some of them don't for some reason. That forces you to either log in again or create a new account. While that's not bad when you consider that the sites are not all the same and will have different readership and a different commenter base, it's a little annoying for users who are fans of the Gawker network as a whole. This sticks out especially so when one site crosslinks to another Gawker site and I can't comment there.

Facebook has made leaps and bounds in the community department, but their AJAX implementations seem to be a little random at times. I can refresh my news feed and get a completely different set of items, there are some people I rarely see in my feed even though I can see that their status has been updated, and there seems to be some sort of persistence algorithm that removes items from my feed after facebook is bored with them even if I haven't seen them yet. They do have a good, if militant system of notifications that not only sends you an email when someone has commented on you or something you have commented on but also tells you on the webiste, just in case you aren't following your email. It can get a little confusing at times since the email contains all the same content you would see on the website (usually) and I have a tendency to think "haven't I seen this?"

Flickr, despite being primarily a photo-sharing site has what I think is the pinacle of comment management. The news feed on your home page shows every photograph you're associated in one handy place. This is a change from the format that I actually liked better which showed comments on your photographs on one page and comments made after your comments on other photographs on another page. This keeps users interested. I comment on Gizmodo and on Science Blogs occasionally, when I feel I have something to say, but I don't get any feedback there. Someone could comment in direct response to my comment and i wouldn't know. At Gizmodo, I can go to my profile page and get links to all the comments I've made but then I have to click on that link to see if anyone commented after me and then filter through all the comments after mine to see if any of them are related. At Science Blogs, I have to remember what I commented on and go digging through the posts to find my comment and see what other people had to say. With Flickr, I can go to my home page and see that 8 people have commented since I commented on a photo (shown in thumbnail form) and read the comments right there.

As a result of my frustrations and happinesses of commenting in online communities, I've come up with a wish-list for the new blog engine that I'm working on.

  1. Users should be allowed to log in to make a post, but not forced to if they wish to remain anonymous. (Blogger)
  2. Users who wish to get a commenting account can comment with a username and password, if I like what they have to say or at least think it's interesting, I grant them an account. (Gawker)
  3. Users can see the last several comments on posts that they have commented on by logging in and going to their homepage. (flickr)
  4. Other users can see what commenters have posted by clicking on a commenter's name. (Gawker)

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Back Up Your Data
By Ben Zvan
On September 28, 2008 at 17:11
Computers

My Memory Fails MeLast week, I had a hard drive die. In the past, this has been an earth-shattering event.

When I bought my new computer last spring, I made three major hardware decisions. The first was to get the most future-proof, powerful machine I could afford. The second was to equip it with RAID. The third was to invest in multiple, external drives for incremental backups made by Apple's Time Machine.

The first decision doesn't really come into effect here except that everything that follows the failure happened much quicker than it would have otherwise.

When a drive fails, you loose all the data stored on it, that's just the way it goes. The beauty of RAID 5 is that you can lose any one hard drive and keep all your data because it is stored redundantly. There is a very convenient function of binary math called XOR that is used by RAID 5 arrays. Basically, if you XOR all the bits in the same spot on each drive together, you get 1 (or is it zero? I can never remember.) So if one drive dies, you know that the bit stored in that spot on the drive is whatever results in 1 with an XOR opperation. As a result, when my drive failed I got a notice from the RAID controller that I was down one drive, but everything was otherwise pretty okay.

At some point, I rebooted my machine, I don't remember why. When it came back up, the RAID controller no longer seemed to think that drive was back. "Great," I thought "I'll just throw it back in the group and rebuild it." In the mean time, I was copying data between two remote web servers, and installing Parallels Desktop to make it easier to take a class from home next week. As it turns out, the current version of Parallels for Mac is not compatible with something on my machine and caused a kernel panic. That's like the Blue Screen of Death, but for Macs. You almost never see them... really.

Rebooting again, I found that my RAID controller no longer felt that it had a valid array, and that the one bad drive was preventing my machine from booting at all. Once I removed the bad drive, told the RAID controller to create a new array, and created a new filesystem on the remaining three drives. I used the Mac OS install disk to restore my system from my last known good backup on the external drive.

The moral of the story was best summed up by my friend Rick: If you're paranoid, you only have to be right once to make it worthwhile. If you always assume the best, then you have to be right every time. Two bad failures in a row + zero data loss = a happy Ben.

-Photograph of dead hard drive, by Ben Zvan Photography

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Are Macs Overpriced?
By Ben Zvan
On September 01, 2008 at 21:28
Computers

Overpriced My AssPatric Rhone had a link to this article over at Tom's Hardware that was quite informative. The linked page is kind of in the middle of the article, so click around to read all of it. The basic conclusion is one that I've been aware of for quite a while: Apple hardware is not overpriced, but their upgrades are. As long as you're willing to go to NewEgg or FirstTech to get your RAM and hard drives, there's no price-related reason not to buy Apple hardware. It seems a little ironic to me that the people who could legitimately complain about Apple's prices (for upgrades) are the people who can't install their own RAM. That's not, to my recollection, the people who complain about the cost of Apple hardware.

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How To Manually Set Message Color in Mail.app
By Ben Zvan
On April 17, 2008 at 11:56
Computers

As a Mac user in a windows shop, I feel I need to use Mac applications when I can rather than the sometimes better open source alternatives to Microsoft products. I use Firefox because I find it to have two or three critical improvements over Safari, but Safari is getting there. I use iChat for instant messaging and I use Mail for all my email. iChat has its issues, but that's another post. This one's all about Mail.

During the average business day, I receive a multitude of email messages of varying priority. I found that it would be useful to be able to mark priority by color. Many email clients have this ability including Thunderbird, so I felt a little left out by Apple on this one. Searching the Internet, I found details on how to set up filters that will automatically change the color of an incoming email, but that's childsplay. I also found AppleScripts to manually change the color, which seemed like too much of a hack to me.

As it turns out, this functionality is built into Mail.app and, while it's not as user-friendly as a right-click option, it works quite well. Here's how to do it.

  • Select the message you wish to change to a different color
  • From the Format menu, select Show Colors. ( Shift-Cmd-C )
  • Choose your favorite color-picker. I like the crayons
  • Choose a color for the message.

It may not look like this did anything right away so choose another message and experience the beauty of your new colors. If you do this a lot during the day, just leave the color picker open so you have quick access to it. You'll need to re-open the color picker the next time you start Mail.app.

Happy coloring!

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Random Image Via Perl
By Ben Zvan
On March 25, 2008 at 10:56
Computers

I don't know if it's useful to anyone but me, but I was trying to figure out the best way to display a random image on a webpage. What I ran into for using Server Side Includes is that the image to show is defined in my css which isn't parsed by the server for includes and apparently include directives within class= statements are ignored with my server configuration.

Well, it seemed that there should be a simple way to do this. The result was to create a configuration-less perl script that displays a random image from the folder it's in. It currently only does files that end in .jpg, so I'll leave that change as an exercise for the reader.

If you just want to use the script, here are some instructions. In the directory where your source images are stick the code in a file whatever name you like as long as it ends with .cgi or .pl, I'd suggest something like randomimage.pl. Make the file executable (chmod a+x randomimage.pl (windows users are on their own)). In your html or css use the name of your file as the name of the image, something like "http://www.yourdomain.com/randomimages/randomimage.pl" would work nicely. This will work best if all the images are the same size so the web page doesn't look different every time and you can define the image dimensions in the html or css.

#!/usr/bin/perl

opendir (THISDIR, "./") or die "no such directory: $!";
@imagelist = grep { /.*\.jpg/ } readdir THISDIR;
closedir (THISDIR);

$max = $#imagelist + 1;

$imagenumber= int(rand($max)) ;

print "Content-type: image/jpeg\n\n";

open (IMAGEFILE, "<", "./$imagelist[$imagenumber]") or die "can't open file $imagelist[$imagenumber]";
foreach (readline (IMAGEFILE)) {
    print;
    }
close (IMAGEFILE);

Anyway. No guarantees. No promises. Code provided as is and free for any legal, non-malicious use.

--Ben

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Ofuscate Clearly
By Ben Zvan
On February 18, 2008 at 16:23
Computers
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iChat Duplicate/Double Windows on Launch
By Ben Zvan
On February 07, 2008 at 10:41
Computers

Looks like I need to add a "Computers" section to my news page here... Done.

So, I use iChat on a fairly regular basis at work. It's great for getting a slightly quicker response to questions. (He says as he waits for a response to a question.) But I discovered an interesting problem and figured that I wasn't alone for once.

When I open up a new chat using the iChat menu-bar icon, I get a second, identical window directly behind the first. Not a big deal. I just close the second window and go on with my chat. It started to get a little annoying though. After a couple of quick googles, I found a forum thread over at Apple that dealt with the issue. They suggested deleting the com.apple.ichat.plist preference file which I had deleted earlier for a different reason. They also suggested deleting the com.apple.iChatAgent.plist which I haven't tried.

Anyway. I found one possible solution. If you're having the same problem, check out this thread at Apple.

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Arts

New Pictures 8: Sarah Jones
Minneapolis Institue of Arts
04/18/2013—02/02/2014 - Free

31 Years: Gifts from Martin Weinstein
Minneapolis Institue of Arts
11/02/2013—08/31/2014 - Free

New Pictures 9: Rinko Kawauchi
Minneapolis Institue of Arts
02/20/2014—08/10/2014 - Free

Finland: Designed Environments
Minneapolis Institue of Arts
05/10/2014—08/17/2014 - Free

Music

Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds
at State Theatre
06/21/2014 \ Doors 8:00pm

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