fieldsnyc: (Default)
Why can't anyone get online music management right?

So, iTunes was finally released for Windows this week, big revelation, hell froze over. No suprise though, like everything else Apple, it tries to make things "easy" by hiding the details of the underlying implementation, and it's a leaky abstraction. In this case, the abstraction is the idea that my music is all globbed together in iTunes and it doesn't matter where it actually lives - on my local disk, on the network somewhere, on a removable disc. Bzzzt. Wrong. It does matter, very much.

There's music on my local drive, there's music on my server, and there's music on removable discs. And it's not always available, especially on my laptops. And there's some duplication - some songs exist in multiple places.

And iTunes, like every other music player/manager I've seen, draws no distinction. It happily lists duplicates as duplicates, and if they happen to be available, it plays the songs twice or three times when playing a whole album. If they're not, it doesn't tell me that until I try to play it. At least in some other players, you have the option to list the actual path in the index window, but iTunes doesn't even allow that.

I want my online music manager to understand this concept, to let me choose from music sets, and to know when they're available or not. I want it to be smart enough to understand that a song is a song, even if it may exist in more than one location.

Does such a thing exist?

iTunes is actually worse than others in Windows, because if you have a network drive mapped to a drive letter, and you drag music from that drive into iTunes, it adds the songs twice - once for the drive letter and once for the full network path. So not only do they not get the underlying concepts right, there's a fundamental (and surprising) misunderstanding about how Windows networking works. Even worse, there's no way to segregate the recording directory from the one where iTunes stores its metadata, so you can't record to a shared network repository.

I like the idea of iTunes, and, as is the case with other Apple stuff, I really truly deeply >want< to like it. But the implementation falls short. And, yet again for the nth interminable time, it really fucking irritates me that they insist on only allowing window resizing from the bottom right hand corner.
fieldsnyc: (Default)
Yesterday, just after 4pm, the power went out. I was working on my laptop at the time, and the screen flickered a few times. I thought it was maybe just a surge, so I immediately unplugged the AC power, and then proceeded to notice that the overheads, phones, and all of the other computers were also off. Since I'm working on 23rd street and I was home during The Great Collapse, my first inclination was to go to the window and check to make sure the Empire State building was still there.

Since it was, I ventured back out into the hall where a group of my co-workers were gathered, listening to the radio. I was a bit nervous for a few minutes, then started to calm down as it began to sink in that it was "just a blackout". Eventually, we got tired of sitting around the office, and the internet (which was still working on UPS power) had no useful information to offer, so we wandered across the street to a bar and got some beer. The rest of the people from the office had gathered there, and we hung around and drank for a few hours, as thousands of people shuffled past us on the streets.

As it began to get dark, our group dispersed, and I began walking uptown with two of my friends. We had originally had plans to meet a bunch of people at Virgil's, so we figured that that was as good a destination as any. As we walked uptown, it was actually really nice to see the pedestrians owning my city for a change. The traffic seemed to be working just fine without the actual traffic lights, and everything was oddly calm. More than ever, in near-total darkness, I'm amazed at the beauty in this modern work of art I call home. As the sun began to set, it got darker than I've ever seen it in Manhattan, and the stars came out. Normally, I'm a bit sickened by the spectacle that Times Square has become, but it's pretty at night with no lights.






We wandered around, got a hot dog (most of the restaurants were closed, and every gas-powered pushcart was making a killing), and drank some more beer, then dispersed. I took the bus the rest of the way home, one of the few bastions of air-conditioning left.

I have a bunch more pictures here.
fieldsnyc: (Default)
Dear iRobot Corp:

My Roomba worked great the first few times. On the large setting, it cleaned the entire room, and picked up a lot of cat hair and stray particles. However, now, its cleaning performance is dramatically reduced (it rolls over small pieces of dust without picking them up), and it makes a lackadaisical pass around the room and then stops in the middle of the room and beeps. I have cleaned all of the brushes and emptied all of the containers. It's overly anthropomorphic, but I can best describe this behavior as "depressed and frustrated". How do I troubleshoot this? Is there Paxil for Roomba?
fieldsnyc: (Default)
In the case of another major terrorist attack on the US, don't do what we did last time. Let's learn from this experience. Here's what happened:

1. Planes flew into the towers. That really sucked.
2. Towers collapsed, and that was worse.
3. People thought 'Oh no, what's going to happen next? Will I be killed? I better save my money in case I need it later.' A lot of jobs went away, entirely due to fear and inaction.
4. What actually happened was a long, slow recovery, which is still going on, whereby everyone gradually realized 'Oh wait, I'm still alive. Crap. I have to spend some money sometime to do all this stuff I need to do to keep my business running and competetive'.

Terrorism works because the terrorists expect everyone to react with point 3.

So, next time, let's break the cycle and jump straight to the revelation of point 4. If there's another major attack on American soil, let's:

1. Take the rest of the day off. Go home, visit your family and friends. Mourn those who died.
2. The next morning when you go into work, hire some new people. Expand your business. 1, 2, 10, 150, 5000. As many as you can. Recover.

Won't those terrorists be surprised.
fieldsnyc: (Default)
Just installed PocketLJ so I can make updates from my Palm. Neato.
fieldsnyc: (Default)
Two things I think are worth $30 each, and which I'd be sad to see go
away. Tell 'em I sent you.

Salon Premium

Prices go up on August 1st. For $30 a year, in addition to full access to the site without ads, there are a number of benefits, including free subscriptions to Wired, Utne, Mother Jones, and US News (which doesn't seem to be on their site, but I got a card in the mail about it).

http://www.salon.com

Red vs. Blue

A $20 or more donation gets you high-res versions of the movies, first access to the fast servers, outtakes, and a DVD when they're done with the whole series. I think this stuff is hysterical.

http://www.redvsblue.com
fieldsnyc: (Default)
There are many reasons to switch to mutt for mail. It's fast, it reads a number of popular mailbox formats natively, it's easily configurable, and it makes life a lot easier in a lot of little ways.

But if I had to pick one feature that takes the cake, it's threaded mailreading.

An example is almost certainly the easiest way to explain this.

Here's a folder with some mail in it, sorted by date:



Lots of messages, and you can easily tell what came in when. But there are a lot of different conversations going on here, and it's extremely difficult to track them unless you're following along in realtime, and even then, it can be tricky.

One simple change - display messages as a hierarchy, with responses nested underneath the original messages - makes this a >LOT< easier. On top of which, it gives you at least three capabilities that aren't present with date sorting:


  1. You can see which messages are responses to responses, rather than responses to the original thread.
  2. You can tell when the subject line of a thread changes, even though it's still a response (which brings me to another annoyance - if you're going to reply to a message but change the subject line, you should also remove the in-reply-to header).
  3. You can refile an entire thread at once.


Here's the same folder, presented in threaded view:

fieldsnyc: (Default)
Kevin Kelly (http://www.kk.org/recomendo-new/index.php) asked me to write up something about essential kitchen gadgets. Here it is:

Knives:

The first priority is a high quality comfortable
chef's knife, which is an absolute necessity for any kind
of cooking. This seems kind of obvious, but it's often overlooked.

I have three that I like very much (just chef's knives), and they're
very different.

http://www.shopping.cutlery.com/&sku=WMSE8C

This is my workhorse. It's big, heavy but well balanced, and very
sharp. The Meridian knives have a German shape but a Japanese-style
edge, which means they cut very well. I use this for anything too
large for my other knives, and when the mood strikes.

http://www.shopping.cutlery.com/&sku=WLSBP6C

This one is a more general chef's knife. Slightly smaller, it's more
lithe. It's deep for its length, so it has a lot of finger clearance.

http://www.jbprince.com/product.asp?0=221&1=231&3=2385

This one is >extremely< sharp. I use it mostly for vegetables which
need a clean cut (carrots, parsnips, etc...) but which are soft enough
that they won't damage the blade (I'll cut through chicken bones with
the others, but not this). The kullens and thin blade also make it
uniquely suited for very thin slices.

You need some good chef's knives, at an absolute minimum. I have a few
paring knives, but I don't like them very much. Since I tend to avoid
cutting in my hand, I prefer this Global vegetable slicer for most
small tasks (it's the middle one in this 3-piece set:
http://www.jbprince.com/product.asp?0=221&1=226&3=2437).

If you're butchering, you'll need a good boning knife. I have a Furi,
which is very well shaped and balanced, but tends to get a little
slippery (in an inconvenient way, not a dangerous one). I don't do
enough butchering that I've been tempted to buy another one yet.

If you're roasting, you'll need a good carving knife. The "chef's
knife" in the global set above is terrible as a general purpose knife
- it lacks finger clearance - but very good as a carving knife. For
large meats, you might need something longer and more flexible, which
are typically called slicers.

Generally, don't bother with "utility" knives.


Critical:

Tongs!

Tongs are invaluable for all kinds of things, and they can often take
the place of a turner or fork. If you're cooking a lot of fish, you'll
want the wire ones (Kuhn-Rikon), but for everything else, the Oxo
locking ones are stellar.

Thermometers!
Oven. As far as I can tell, all home ovens are miscalibrated
by at least 25 degrees. This makes a >huge< difference.

Probe. Don't bother with anything you can find in a store. Go
right for this: http://www.shopping.cutlery.com/&sku=WDTPTT
Nothing else I've tried comes close for accuracy or speed.

Cookware:

There are three basic shapes of stovetop cookware: fry, saute, sauce.

The kinds you'll need is the thing that most heavily depends on what
you're cooking. Heavy pan frying calls for cast iron; eggs and omelets
pretty much require a good non-stick omelet/fry pan. Get most of your
pans with metal handles, so they can go in the oven.

Get heavy gauge pans. Even heating and durability is worth the extra
expense.

Materials. The choice of material is basically based on two
things: conductivity/heat retention, and surface
release. Conductivity is a measure of how well heat spreads
throughout the cooking surface. Aluminum is conductive, steel
isn't, cast iron really isn't, but it retains heat very well.

Steel/Aluminum. Steel is itself a very bad conductor,
but it's very durable. A layer of aluminum
helps. "Clad" pans have a layer or more of aluminum
sandwiched between two or more layers of steel, rather
than a disk at the bottom. This is typically better
and gives a more even heating surface, but more
expensive. I find it's worth it.

Cast Iron. Very cheap, lasts a long long time. I've
grown increasingly fond of my cast iron cookware (now
two fry pans, one grill pan, two dutch ovens, a fryer,
and a wok). They just get better with use, they're
great for searing meats, they're relatively non-stick
(although you need to use oil or butter), and there's
nothing like cast-iron cornbread. They need to be
seasoned, but it's less work than it sounds like (and
the new Logic line from Lodge eliminates this).

Non-stick/Aluminum. As mentioned, for eggs, you need
non-stick. Not a good general-purpose surface, as the
non-stick coating insulates the food somewhat and
prevents it from browning as well. Some of the newer
teflon blends can even be used with metal utensils.

Anodized aluminum. I just don't like it.

Cybernox. This is a new kind of non-stick, with the
browning properties of steel. It is not quite as
non-stick as teflon, but it cleans up very
easily. Great general-purpose stuff, but very
expensive. A friend of mine uses it on his boat
because it's so easy to clean.


Roasting/Baking Pans

I have a few of these, but have found that the cheapo ones work pretty
well. Get a few good aluminum sheet pans for baking. Much of my every
day roasting is done in stovetop pans.

Things you can't have too many of:

Spoons of unusual sizes. Wooden ones. Silicone ones.

Measuring spoons and cups.

Mesh strainers.

Stainless steel bowls. Get the thinnish ones, and make sure you
have at least one that fits cleanly in several of your
saucepans so you can use it as a double-boiler. Don't bother
with double-boiler inserts for their stated purpose, although a
cheap one is handy to have around for shocking stocks and ice
cream mixtures (if you have an ice cream maker).

Whisks of various shapes. I've grown partial to ball whisks,
which do a good job of breaking up solids and aerating
quickly.

Things you only need one of, but for which there's no good substitute:

Oxo swivel peeler.

Chinese ladle. It's exactly the right shape for skimming and
transferring liquids.

Basting spoon/ladle.

There is no spoon.


Mesh skimmer, if you're making stocks.

2-3qt. blanching basket. Blanching seems to be the home cook's
most underused technique. The way to do this is to boil a lot
of salted water, drop the vegetables in it for 30 seconds or
so, then plunge them into ice water. Without a blanching basket
of the proper size, this wastes a lot of water, which then
can't be reused for a second round because you have to pour it
out to remove the vegetables. The blanching basket has to be
square on the bottom so the stuff has room to move around in
the water, so you can't just use a strainer.

Stick blender. Far more useful than a regular blender. Great
for thickening soups, mixing drinks, and making whipped cream.

Specialty

This stuff sort of speaks for itself, but bears mentioning.

Ice Cream machine
Popcorn cooker
Salad spinner


Special mention:

Crockpot with timer (Williams-Sonoma exclusive). Some of the
best (and cheapest) foods are braised. If you have a day job,
you can't do this without a crockpot with a timer. Brown some
meat (short ribs, lamb shanks, something tendony and
braise-worthy) in the morning, drop it in the crockpot with
some vegetables and herbs and equal parts stock and wine to
just cover, and let it go all day. You'll be glad you
did. Braised stuff is much much better the next few days, so
make extra and refrigerate.
fieldsnyc: (Default)
In the past two weeks, my experience with technology hasn't been so good.

1 Palm Tungsten C. Lasted four hours then completely died.

1 Apple 12" Powerbook. Managed to completely crash the uncrashable
twice in three days, and seems single threaded on disk access.

1 Canon S400, dead on arrival. The second of two which arrived
defective.

1 IBM Thinkpad 600X, complete hard drive failure, coincident with
copying the contents to the new machine via samba (which also caused
one of the aforementioned powerbook crashes).

Did I miss a sacrifice or something?
fieldsnyc: (Default)
I'm totally sick of Palm.

I bought a brand new Tungsten C, which arrived this morning. It worked for about four hours, sitting on the couch, before the wifi connectivity completely failed, totally crashing the machine. Now, it does nothing other than sit at a Fatal Exception screen.

What a piece of crap.

Jury Duty

May. 23rd, 2003 10:40 am
fieldsnyc: (Default)
I reported for jury duty the other day. As I was called for grand jury, I was expecting something boring, but I had no idea how mindbogglingly inefficient the whole thing would be.

Grand jury service differs from normal jury service in that if you get called for a jury in grand jury, it's every day for 3 hours for 4 weeks, at minimum. Ugh. And there's no way to get off the grand jury list without reporting. So, I'd been putting it off for years - school, work essentials - and I finally couldn't postpone any more, so I showed up.

After arriving an hour late because I inadvertantly got on the W train instead of the N/R and ended up in Brooklyn (I knew something was wrong when there was daylight shining in the train window going across the Manhattan bridge), and finding that the courthouse was actually closer to Canal (where I could have gotten off the W) than City Hall anyway, I walked in to find them still reading the instructions. One printed page of instructions containing:

1) The five reasons you can be automatically excused. Convicted felon, no longer in residence, that sort of thing.

2) The actual instructions, which consist of "We're going to read out all of your names. When we call your name, say 'AM', 'PM', or 'Application'."

After another half hour or so of going over this, they began the roll call. So, two hours of reading out names, and having the person belonging to the name respond with their preference (some minor altercations in here as some people who were not allowed to say "Application", because they had failed to report earlier, did try anyway). Two hours. Bueller. To add insult to injury, every person in that room was sitting with a card in their hand with their name on it and a barcode. A frickin' barcode! This whole thing could have been done in 15 minutes as we walked in the door. Scan your barcode, make your choice. Hell, it could have been done over the web before we all got there.

There were about 330 people who were supposed to be there. Of that number, about 250 showed up. About 100 of that number said "Application", myself included. We were told to go wait out in the hall. For another hour. As they picked the actual 69 people they needed, from the 150 or so still in the room.

You'd think, several hours earlier, that everyone in the hall would just be extra (you know, you need 69 and you have a pool of 150...), but it was still another 45 minutes after everyone who volunteered left before we were told we could leave.

Is there some reason I'm missing why it has to be this way?
fieldsnyc: (Default)
Yet another robotic vacuum cleaner, from LG.

A feature I'd really like to see on these would be the ability to
distinguish certain types of objects that are strewn about but aren't
trash. Sort of a bayesian filter for the detritus of my
apartment. Extra points for collecting loose coins and rolling them up
for me.

http://www.koreaherald.co.kr/SITE/data/html_dir/2003/04/23/200304230015.asp
fieldsnyc: (Default)
Sometimes a glance is all it takes
to lift your head up, look down the path.
Feel the wind, vibration slight,
the heartbeat of the underground.

A strand of hair moves just a little bit,
a little more in the breeze
as the train approaches.

I can feel it more than hear it.
The presence of the air shifts
to announce its arrival.

Then the sound and light arrive, and trigger something.
A single miniscule tear emerges,
surrounded, isolated, enveloped
and traveling the pulse of the only city.
fieldsnyc: (Default)
The one shining ray of hope in this whole freedom toast debacle is that we still have french of speech to complain about it.
fieldsnyc: (Default)
This looks like a good reference for computability: http://www.cs.siu.edu/~langin/notes/complexity.html
fieldsnyc: (Default)
I sent the following message to the CTO of Opera, and got a personal
response back this morning. He thought I had some good points, and has
forwarded it on to "the people who are in a position to fix the issues
you raise". Hopefully this stuff will be addressed soon.

----- Forwarded message from Adam Fields -----

I am a software developer, and I have been an Opera fan since version
3. I think that you guys have historically made fantastic
groundbreaking software, with innovative and stable
features. Unfortunately, I've found that that statement is no longer
true as of the release of Opera 7.

I typically run Opera in MDI mode with upwards of 50-60 windows open
at a time. I use Opera as my task list for the web, to keep track of
current reference documentation, and things I want to read in the near
future.

I am writing to you directly, because I suspect that my usage patterns
are not the same as many of your users, and I fear that my comments
may be disregarded as a minority opinion. However, I feel that I
represent the fringe of your user base that truly benefits from the
unique features in Opera (at least prior to version 7), and I feel
that because these features are not available elsewhere, they must be
preserved. I have reported these as bugs to your support department
upon the release of 7.0, but I draw your attention to them, because
not one of them has been addressed through the current release.

The new version has disregarded some of the basic principles that made
6.x such a pleasure to use - give the user choices where possible. The
new version has inexplicably dropped some features that are intensely
powerful for power users:

1) In version 6, open windows that had been loaded but not viewed were
indicated with a star. This feature has been dropped and replaced
by the mostly fluff "favicon" presentation, with no option to
return to the previous behavior.

2) In version 6, the bookmark folder hierarchy was browsable
independently of the bookmarks in each folder, in a two-pane
view. This feature has been replaced with an integrated one-pane
view that makes it more difficult to move bookmarks from one folder
to another, and more difficult to see the overall hierarchy. Again,
no option to return to the old behavior.

3) In version 6, hitting ctrl-tab with many windows open offered a
popup menu containing the titles of all open windows. This menu is
present in Opera 7, but even as of 7.03, if the list is
sufficiently large as to take up more space than one vertical
column, rather than wrap to multiple columns (as it did in Opera
6), the list simply doesn't display.

4) After a sufficient number of open windows is reached, new links
open up in seemingly random windows rather than the current (or
new) one.

There may be other issues, but these alone make the new version
sufficiently unusable that I haven't spent very much time testing
it. I continue to use and love Opera 6.05 on a daily basis.

Thank you for your consideration.

--
- Adam

-----
Adam Fields, Managing Partner
Surgam, Inc. is a technology consulting firm with strong background in
delivering scalable and robust enterprise web and IT applications.
http://www.adamfields.com

----- End forwarded message -----
fieldsnyc: (Default)
I feel personally bad about it, being such an Opera fanatic, but version 7 is a total write-off. It is, utterly and completely, useless crap. It is riddled with bugs, has inexplicable poor usability decisions with no way to get back to well-designed defaults of the previous version, and it's vastly slower than version 6. Which is to say that it's a total reversal from their three previous major releases, all of which were massive improvements over prior editions.

Did their product manager get hit over the head with a bat?
fieldsnyc: (Default)
The latest Farscape DVD (Season 2, Volume 5) has the episodes out of order!

There are five episodes on the two discs. They should have appeared in the following order (helpfully provided by the farscape.com site itself):

A Clockwork Nebari
Liars, Guns & Money (3 parts)
Die Me Dichotomy

Instead, the 3-parter is all together on disc 2, and the other two episodes are back to back on disc 1.

So we saw the season finale out of order, were totally confused, and got to the end before we realized "oh, they're not just telling the story out of order like they sometimes do". For a highly serial story like Farscape, watching any episode out of order throws things off a bit, but in this case, it was a season finale with a massive cliffhanger! RRrrr! Frustrating!

Unfortunately, none of the major DVD sites seem to cover Farscape, this incident seems invisible to google, and the people writing reviews at Amazon don't seem to have actually watched the disc, so I have no idea if anyone at ADV even knows.

Farscape is absolutely fantastic, and I highly recommend it if you haven't been watching it (get the DVD's - it's very serial and watching it in order is important).
fieldsnyc: (Default)
This has been a long time coming. I've never written about war, about fighting, about death.

I am an eternal optimist, and I generally only like to think good thoughts. I look for the beauty, the elegant solution, the good. Every time I try to write something otherwise, I struggle to find the words. I have tried on a number of occasions, and thrown away my attempts. It is alien to me, and I'm probably not being coherent at all. But it has become too much to bear, and something must be written.

Once upon a time, in a different world, in a bar in the east village, I heard the words "I believe in war". That band is gone now. They spoke to me in many ways, most of them simple joys, but this was one thought I could not share.

I don't believe in war.

I don't believe in fear. I believe that humanity is meant for something better than simple violent evolution. I believe that the fact of our conscious thought gives us the right to imagine a better future. Anything less would be a waste of our enormous potential. If war is the answer, the question is the wrong one.

To those who would hurt for the sake of hurt, I say "find a better way".

To those who would feed the cycle of distrust and destruction, I say "find a better way".

There are things we wish we could uninvent, more ways to die than to live, more ways to kill than to help. Violence in the name of peace is not an answer.

I have witnessed the shadow of death slide gracelessly along my path, and it is a feeling I could go the rest of my life without. To those who live with it and cannot escape, you have my sympathy. To those who would bring it on, you have my pity.

There are unanswered questions:

Did we bring this on ourselves? I don't think I did. Did our foreign policy bring this on us? Possibly. I don't think I have a way to tell. Do other people have a right to try to kill us, simply for being us? I don't think so. Is this about oil? Maybe. Should we reduce our dependence on oil? Absolutely. Is there any way to break the cycle? Not without breaking the cycle! What do the terrorists want? I have no fucking clue.

But, setting aside the evidence or lack thereof, here are the vastly simplified possibilities:

  Iraq is funding terrorists Iraq is not funding terrorists
We go to war against Iraq We liberate Iraq. Much death. The terrorists that are already funded declare open season on the US if they can. Things get messy from here, as the Middle East destabilizes. The cycle runs amuck. Everyone lives in fear. We liberate Iraq. Much death. Things get messy from here, as the Middle East destabilizes. Maybe. Maybe it's a quick and simple operation. Seems unlikely though. Everyone lives in fear.
We do not go to war against Iraq Terrorists declare open season on the US. Much death. The administration says "we told you so". We stumble about blindly looking for invisible enemies. We live in fear. The status quo holds. There's a chance of breaking the cycle.


I don't believe in war. This is a path without end, and no good can come of it.
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