Efforts to understand, improve, or do less harm to the world around me.


Thursday, April 30, 2009

Compelling Linux

GHack has a series of good articles on things Linux does better why you should switch, and why you should switch now.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Luddism and Open Source

An essay on the possible success of Philosophy and technology in the land of open source.  (20+ pages)

Tuesday, April 28, 2009


A picture put together today (click for full size) while thinking about how denial of surveillance is no indication that you're not being surveyed:

Definition of Panopticon

Monday, April 27, 2009

Why I hate iTunes

Somehow, Apple abandoned the drag-and-drop simplicity they more or less invented with iTunes for Windows. Essentially, they put a long list of barriers between me and playing a song, which is intensely frustrating.
  1. Be of the right file type. MP3 or AAC. Or go find a plugin. For Windows Media format files, it will try to convert them, a process that drastically cuts the quality (think a VCR recording of an other VCR recording).
  2. Go through the library first. You want to drag a music file onto the application and have it play THAT file? Nope. But I want it to play whatever file I put there. Nope.
  3. Wait for iTunes to analyze it. So after putting it into the library, wait for it to run crap like gapless playback and album search that I could care less about (that I can't turn off), and can't run in the background while I'm ... I dunno ... listening to my song. Slow machine? Get comfortable.
  4. Find the file in the list. If you have a lot of audio and its not tagged clearly, that could be a while.
Then I've got to select play.

Worse, I go from place to place and have different music collections in different places so my library quickly gets invalidated from location to location. I have to resubmit files or get a lot of annoying error messages saying "do you want to remove this file from the library?"

Why don't I just NOT use it and quit complaining?

I have to have it for my iPod (Floola's not yet a full replacement).

(Image at top of article care of this guy.)

Friday, April 24, 2009

Mac security: on-the-fly encryption

After a recent theft of some pretty important data, I've been looking into ways to secure my information without slowing me down. There are commercial tools for this but the best solution so far seems to be the free, open TrueCrypt. This software isn't Mac only but Mac users will want to customize it by setting up TrueCrypt to open at system startup.

Really big files

The only negative about TrueCrypt is that the encrypted volumes it creates cannot change in size. When you backup 25 gigs of data every few days, this can be an issue. So I found a Mac-only way to create an encrypted volume that acts like a removable external drive. I like the idea of using tools built right into the machine (something called "hdiutil") and using fewer system resources.

Here's my own modified script:

hdiutil create SecureSparse -size 100g -encryption -type SPARSE -fs HFS+ -volname ImageName
  • Feel free to change "ImageName" to whatever name you would like. This is what will show up on your desktop as a removable disk when you mount (double-click) the SecureSparse file and type in your password.
  • 100g means 100 gigabytes. This is just the cap on the file size and you can change it to any size.
  • When prompted, for extra security, don't save the password to your keychain.
  • Once the file is created, you can change "SecureSparse" to any name you'd like.

Command line fears?

Even though you need to open up a Terminal window to open it, use of the command line is a very brief experience. After that, you can use the created file just like any other. Unfortunately, the archive will grow but not shrink -- the only negative I can see so far.

Update: Users can shrink the volumes (make sure you have emptied the trash before doing this) by using the command:
hdiutil compact SecureSparse.sparseimage

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Lose weight the snarky way

Recommendations on how to have a nice ass while being sort of an ass:
  • Protein powder and oatmeal. If that sounds appetizing, now you're getting a handle on the weight loss part.
  • At some point, your doctor is liable to give you a low sugar (or no sugar) diagnosis. Maybe that won't happen until you're 70, but why wait until you're old to hate your doctor?
  • Splenda tastes like shit? Yes, yes it does even though your sister told you it really doesn't taste that bad. Denial is a very powerful thing, sis.
  • If you don't like cutting up fruit every time, put it in the freezer. If you don't like frozen fruit, you have no soul. Everyone likes blueberries, you undead bastard.
  • Cut out high fructose corn syrup, which means about 3/4ths of everything at the grocery store you can no longer eat.
  • Quit eating meat altogether. Pesticides and hormones can be covered up by that delicious "smoky" flavor.
  • Walk 20 mins a day or exert yourself 3x a week. Sex works fine but make sure its always after an argument. To do this, become very contrary with your partner, but avoid jealousy as that usually ends in her getting "new phase" haircut and dumping you.

Congratulations, now you're a vegetarian health-nut douchebag. Here's how to handle that:
  • Being smug and self-important sure helps
  • Imagine that sugar is radioactive (think cancer -- not the kind that gives you super powers)
  • Read labels with your jaw clenched. It prepares you for the inevitable disappointment.
  • Imagine hooking up with one of those slightly older women at the health food store with amazing skin. Fantasize she's a massage therapist.
  • Avoid other vegetarians. Those guys are dicks.

Additional less interesting notes:
  • Prepare the oatmeal ahead of time and then stick it in the fridge.
  • Put a flax seed on said oatmeal. Its good for your skin, according to legend.
  • As implied above, mix Splenda with small amounts of actual sugar. Ideally honey or fruit.
  • No salt, fried foods, alcohol, or white bread (or "enriched" flour). Sounds awesome I know.
  • Less cheese, sugar, salt, deserts, and eat darker chocolate.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

When pretty backfires

Being good looking is usually seen as beneficial and if you have a YouTube channel, it doesn't hurt your popularity. However, there are times when it can go wrong: this video has been viewed 37,000 times probably due to the thumbnail of an fairly attractive Asian woman. Being that she's a wanted felon, she probably doesn't want the publicity.

For a little perspective, the next most-viewed suspect video of this series was just under 500 people.

Lesson learned: don't be pretty and commit crimes. Unless there ends up being a movie deal, in which case we're back to attractive being positive.

More Mac Freeware

Continued from Mac Software: Must Haves six months ago...

Video Players:
  • VLC - fantastic video player.
  • MPlayer OSX - a low memory, low RAM video player.
  • NicePlayer - a truly OS X program in that it's simple and slick, but somehow the interface is very weird and clunky. Seems to cover more formats than the above programs. Hopefully it gets better.
Other programs:
  • Burn & Liquid CD - burn programs. ISOlator - for just burning ISOs
  • Camino - a light-weight variation on Firefox, which I prefer to Safari.
  • ClamXav - viruses have started to appear for Mac and this program was prepared.
  • CoconutBattery - tells you the age of your machine and the status of your battery. That's it.
  • iBackup - basic and free backup tool. Much more customizable and gentle on hard disk space than Time Machine.
  • iScreenShot - a quickie solution so you don't have to look up the weird keyboard combination (cmd+shift+4) to do a screenshot.
  • KompoZer - great basic HTML editor
  • LiteIcon - change your icons ... I recommend these.
  • Lock-My-Mac - a one-button solution for locking your machine. Or just enable Fast User Switching and select "Login Window" from the drop down menu.
  • Renamer4Mac - like the name - batch renaming of files.
  • Seashore - basic graphics editor for mac based on GIMP.
  • Rainlendar - prefer it over iCal for looks, ease-of-use, and ICS compatibility.

Windows XP Recommended Software - Part 2

A few more:
  • PDF Viewer - PDFXCView - much better and faster than Adobe's product
  • PDF Creator - both useful for when you want to send a PDF as well as previewing your printer output before actually printing.  Saves paper and time.
  • Revo Uninstaller - light years ahead of Windows included uninstaller and fairly easy to use.
See also: Windows Software Part 1, Freeware Anti-Virus, Windows Data Security

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Reviewing Advocare

I was asked to look into this product and this is my analysis. I encourage all readers to do their own research and make up their own mind.

Major issues

  1. Advocare is not a member of the Better Business Bureau. Giving consumers a recourse if they have issues is important.
    • Counter: Advocare is a member of some type of oversight organization, the DSA since 1993.
    • Consumer watch organiztions Scryve, Knowmore and CorporateCritic had no data or analysis of Advocare or the DSA.
  2. Advocare appears to use a multi-level marketing structure. MLMwatch includes them in their list.
    • Counter: MLMs are necessarily bad by nature and their continued popularity is evidence that they work to some extent.
  3. Advocare has doctors endorsing the product but several doctors -- even very qualified ones -- does not constitute safety.
    • Counter: these doctors are at the top of their field and their reputations are on the line.
    • Studies conducted by many very qualified doctors regularly are disproved. This is an insufficient sample. Anyone familiar with how the healthiness of something as simple as eggs has been under review for years now can tell you that just one study would not give you a full understanding. Similarly, it took hundreds of studies before it was determined BPA was bad or you.
  4. There is no way to know if a small section of the population will have negative reactions over a long-term use of the product? Only peer-reviewed information provided by accredited health journals are qualified to discuss this.
  • Counter: Although I can't find any information that suggests Advocare isn't under this type of review, that doesn't mean it doesn't exist.

Minor issues
  1. The drug has not been approved by the FDA.
  2. Athletic endorsements and "I have a very good friend who has lost __ pounds" are meaningless to me (known as false attribution). That doesn't mean these are false, but I have no way of evaluating their truth.
  3. The ingredients and nutritional information are not clearly available online -- they have to be divined from reading their FAQ section. One article suggests it may contain some ingredients which may or may not do anything.
  4. At least one doctor has come out against giving the product to kids.
  5. Uses Fructose, which no one seems to like. I've posted about high fructose corn syrup before.

NOTE: Please use discretion when adding comments. I welcome a better understanding of this product but arguments must be clear, concise, and enforce their points with reputable information. Posts that lack this and of course links to Advocare distributors will be deleted.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Windows XP - Recommended Software

Put on every system I set up:

  • Comodo Antivirus & Firewall - absolutely commercial quality for free. Great firewall, great antivirus, great registry change watcher.
  • Copernic Desktop Search - outstanding system search program. Even if you keep things in really tight order, this will help you track stuff down faster.
  • Rainlendar - outstanding calendar program -- Pro version plugs into Outlook nicely
  • Alex Feinman's ISO Recorder - a lot of things are exchanged in ISO format and this program makes it super easy to burn them.
  • 7-Zip - for opening zip, rar, and 20 other compression formats, as well as creating optimized ZIP files and the increasingly popular 7z format.
  • Firefox - the only browser for my purposes with the great Smoke theme. Plugins: noscript, Adblock Plus, CustomizeGoogle, and PDF Download.
  • Winamp - still my main player after all this time followed by VLC and SMPlayer (all come in my portable software collection).
  • Notepad++ - my tabbed notepad of choice where I do almost all my work

  • Dragon Naturally Speaking 9 - saves enormous time taking notes, no I haven't upgraded to v.10.
  • Omnipage Pro - use this with a scanner to get all your documents into pure text -- used in concert with Copernic to keep track of all your papers
  • MS Office 2003 - far, far better than the latest version, where possible try to substitute with Google Docs for simplicity and collaboration or OpenOffice for interface and compatibility. Be sure to get the "Microsoft Office Compatibility Pack" so you can open DOCX files. I can't link to it directly because Microsoft loves moving things around on their website so you have to do a Google search for it.


The best "I can has" in a while.

Monday, April 06, 2009

Anti-advertisement guy

RIP some guy who maintained an internet filter.

While the article points out that he may have been hurting companies that survive on advertising money, the article doesn't point out the bandwidth and electricity he saved. From a website that survives on ads that are blocked by his filter, it is still worth the trouble to me. Its also a reason that Internet Explorer, which will likely never have an adblock-style filter, can never take over for a core group of users.

I'm also someone who works on a mostly unknown free software project so I'm sympathetic for other reasons.

I also liked this comment: "Someone else can maintain AdBlock, no one else can be his daughter's father." Individuals working to improve the web. Cheers rick752.

Free Antivirus tools

From my work reviewing them ...
  • AVG: When I used this software two years ago, it was annoying because AVG would do a full system scan EVERY DAY or no scan at all. I thought that was just a waste of resources.
  • Avast: Excellent but I always turn off the tool that creates a file repair sequence. Not necessary if the virus program effectively prevents viruses in the first place.
  • Comodo: Comes with an integrated firewall, very customizable, and won many awards. Its what I use on my system but many of my users are annoyed by it because of its complexity.
  • ClamWin: Its slow because it checks absolutely every file. It also picks up some false-positives, but then so does Comodo. I definitely use the Mac version to check files that I pass around and when I troubleshoot with my portable programs keychain.
Freeware Genius had a writeup on this.

Open VMDK files

Windows users: access the files stored in the VMware file without VMware and without starting up the OS. Download here.

Unfortunately the program isn't even referenced on the VMware site so you have to do some digging to find out how to use it and where to get it. Get some of the basics, a little more detail, and full documentation (in PDF).

Note that although the utility is based in the command line, it will enable the OS to run the program like a regular disk that you can access as a regular drive through "My Computer."

Update: I found out that the commercial WinMount will also (more easily) open VMDK files as an external drive.

Mac users: if you have VMware Fusion installed, you can open files just like an external drive and without starting up the operating system. Simply ctrl+click and select "Open With" and choose "VMDKMounter". Note that the OS inside must have been shut down, not simply suspended.

Portable Freeware Reviews

Created yet another blog, this time as a companion to the Kitchen Sink project: portable freeware reviews. This is meant to combine the best from two great sites I love: freewaregenius and portablefreeware, but specific to software I use in my collection and am already tacitly recommending anyway. An easy next step.