Archive for January, 2006

The Great Wall of China

Wednesday, January 25th, 2006

No, this isn’t about Google censoring searches in China.

It is a basic question spawned by a comment in the Dilbert Blog.

If you know the history of the Great Wall, it was highly successful in keeping out animals.

Seriously, was it good at keeping out animals?

Given the age of the wall and the length, if it were any good at keeping out animals, I would expect there to be some differentiation between various species that lived on either side of the wall. Not much, certainly, as the wall is pretty young in the global age.

Has there been a study of the environmental impact of the Great Wall?

Chicken, Probe & Camera Trauma

Tuesday, January 24th, 2006

And now for something completely different. Frivolous, even.

Beer Butt Chicken

I made another round of Beer Butt Chicken over the weekend. Perfect. Key difference this time around was using a temperature probe to monitor the internal temperature of the bird. Kill the grill when it hits about 140 to 145 degrees. Leave the birds on the grill and their internal temperature will climb a bit before removal. Perfect, juicy, flavor infused chicken meat will result. I used a ton of rosemary from my neighbor’s rosemary hedge (yes, it grows as a hedge around here).

I can only imagine that a chicken would be traumatized by the thought of a beer can being shoved inside of it. Of course, grilling has to be pretty traumatizing. Then again, chickens are pretty much vegetables on two feet, as far as I can tell. Not much going on there.

As previously documented, the temperature probe on my digital thermometer burns out when exposed to high temperatures. Well, I just burned through another one.

Now, Taylor has excellent customer service and would be happy to send me new ones cheap. But I’m not really stoked by the idea of burning through a probe every three meals or so. Any ideas? Maybe wrap the probe wire in aluminum foil prior to use?

The big trauma over the weekend was camera related. My camera rolled off the counter while in the nicely padded bag. I didn’t think much of it. Until I tried to use it to go shoot some cala lillies in the evening sun.

Couldn’t get the lens cap off. Uh oh. Finally get it off to be faced with shattered glass.

No good. Hopefully only the UV filter on the end is actually broken. Without poking at it further, I hopped in the car and headed to San Jose Camera. A helpful employee immediately grabbed the lens, a small screwdriver and a pair of pliers. He proceeded to pop the broken bits out of the lens and bend, then rip, the ring of the filter out of the lens.

After some careful cleaning with an air blower, it turns out that the front element of the lens is completely undamaged. Not a single mark on it at all.

Looks like that $40 UV filter paid for itself more than 10x over. If you have a digital SLR, I would highly recommend grabbing a cheap, but decent, NULL filter for the end of the lens.

Detecting and Disabling Smart Crash Reporter

Friday, January 20th, 2006

A number of folks have indicated that various apps anonymously install Smart Crash Reporter. As well, a number have asked how to detect and disable SCR.

Easy enough. Look in Library/InputManagers in your account. Smart Crash Reporter will be found in there, if installed in your user account. It could also appear in /Library/InputManagers (or, if something truly evil installed it, /System/Library/InputManagers).

If it is there, tossing it in the trash will disable Smart Crash Reporter. Until the next time you run an app that silently installs it.

To permanently disable the anonymous installation of all InputManagers, go to Terminal and:

# Yes -- this next line will remove all InputManagers in your account.
rm -rf Library/InputManagers
touch Library/InputManagers
sudo chown root Library/InputManagers
sudo chmod a-rwx Library/InputManagers

This could obviously be modified just to target Smart Crash Reporter, but I really don’t want any Input Managers installed unless I specifically give the OK.

If your user account has administrative privileges, you will also likely want to do this:

sudo chmod -R g-w /Library/InputManagers

This will require authorization (or sudo) to install anything into /Library/InputManagers. Personally, my user account is not enabled for administration. I edited /etc/sudoers to allow sudo access for my primary account and I have a separate admin-only account that I use to do machine administration.

SCR: Response from Sandvox

Friday, January 20th, 2006

I received the following from Terrence Talbot, one of the Sandvox developers:

b.bum: Sorry to catch you off-guard. In the next public version of Sandvox we’ll include an extra dialog specifically allowing the user to install — or not — SmartCrashReports.

A number of great apps out there make use of SCR. I don’t mean to draw other developers into the controversy, but Unsanity publishes a list on their site. FlickrExport, for example, links to the same .o as we do, but doesn’t install SCR. If it’s there, fine, it uses it. If not, no crash reports go back to the developer. This is a fairly important feature for us, however, particularly during the beta period. You’re right though, we should have made its use explicitly optional.

Putting the merits of using an InputManager aside just for a moment, SCR is actually a very nice solution in terms of “on the screen” user experience. Apps crash, and reports go out, in the “standard” way (over HTTP).

The only other “public” crash reporter for developers is ILCrashReporter which we’ve also tried. It, too, is somewhat of a hack, killing off Apple’s CrashReporter and leaving a third process running around that didn’t always go away. (It also explicitly uses SMTP which our early beta testers found to be blocked by corporate firewalls.)

An in-house solution would probably need to be a similar hack since some process would have to run outside the app watching for problems — just as Apple’s crashreporterd does now. Would you consider this to be unacceptable? (I think having extra processes running around, not under control of the system, has its own set of problems for the user.)

Obviously as a user you shouldn’t have to care. As a fellow developer, however, I’d rather use this as an opportunity to push for a crash reporter that we all can use. SCR seemed to be a great step in that direction. What’s the best way to move this forward for everyone?

I would like to see the same kind of tool, as well. I agree that having an additional daemon or that replacing Apple’s crash reporter isn’t really a good solution. Fortunately, it doesn’t appear to be necessary.

One person suggested something that monitors ~/Library/Logs/CrashReporter and redirects bugs accordingly. This is certainly a viable solution. It could be done via launchd, which can easily monitor a path or directory for activity.

Another solution is to do this entirely from within your own process. That was how CrashCatcher worked. Or do so in a wrapper application that springboard launches the real application. Sandvox is actually already doing this to provide the user with a nice dialog indicating that Sandvox won’t work on versions of Mac OS X prior to Tiger.

Sandvox “hidden” feature.

Friday, January 20th, 2006

I have turned off comments as it felt like things were about to turn ugly. There are other relevant posts to comment upon. Keep it on topic and no personal attacks, please. Thanks to everyone who contributed to a very interesting conversation/debate.

I was debugging a random crasher problem today and noticed that something called Smart Crash Reports appeared in the inventory of my Cocoa app’s list of frameworks and bundles.

As it turns out, Sandvox silently installs Smart Crash Report in ~/Library/Input Managers/ when it is launched. As an input manager, SCR is thusly loaded into every Cocoa app launched and subsequently uses various non-supported mechanisms to modify the behavior of said application.

Completely unacceptable. Sandvox is now gone from my system and will not return until this feature is “opt in” only.

I know that the whole Haxie thing has caused a bit of controversy in the community. I suppose I should outline my position before anyone tries to do it for me.

Bottom line: Haxies work by modifying the system to do things that it was either not designed to do or by enabling features that were disable for a reason.

I cannot afford to work with a system in such a state; neither professionally nor personally. And if I did choose to run in such a state, I would not expect to be able to receive any kind of support from the operating system vendor or any third party application vendors.

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I’m such a statistic.

Friday, January 20th, 2006

Nielsen NetRatings pulled together a bunch of statistics about the iTunes Music Store and its listeners/users.

World Cup in Subaru

Apparently, iTunes users are 2.2 times more likely to own a Volkswagen. Missed that one. But Subaru is also favored and I have a Forester. Of course, I got the Forester because it is the smallest enclosed car of any practicality that can hold a pinball machine (including one with the backglass folded down).

Alcohol of choice appears to be cider, then imported beers. Almost — Tequila, then beer here.

Completely missed on the magazines, though. I gave up on Wired at the same time they claimed “The Web Is Dead. PUSH Is Here.”. Yeah. Total bust. Coincidentally, Wired ventures was heavily vested in the push related companies. I did run across the article about the 100+ things Apple should do to survive (1997). I think #36 or so was the first thing Apple actually did. To be fair, I do like some of their online content.

iTunes users are also quite likely to watch Cartoon Network. Heh. I just discovered Perfect Hair Forever. Da-da-lalalalalala.

iWeb and SandVox

Thursday, January 19th, 2006

I have been wanting to provide some more content for the root page for a while. But I really, really hate futzing with HTML.

Conveniently, January saw the release of two apps that might fulfill my desire to create a page that isn’t totally vomitous while also enabling me to skip the whole manual HTML tedium.

First, I gave iWeb a try. Bone simple. Beautiful product. Frightening HTML+CSS output. Integrates seamlessly with the rest of iLife. And, most importantly, allows the user to create a simple web site with zero awareness of the stupidity or limitations of HTML (hence, the frightening output).

However, iWeb doesn’t allow for the injection of customized chunks of source. I don’t need to inject much; just the Google adwords and search bars from which I derive a pittance of income over time (pays for Warcraft, anyway).

Now, some might think that this is a horrible limitation of iWeb. I believe that such a conclusion indicates a lack of understanding of the goal of the product. If you need to deal with source, you are not in the target audience of iWeb.

So, what about Sandvox? Sandvox is Karelia’s new web site design package. That it uses Core Data immediately scores bonus points (for obvious and completely irrelevant reasons).

Playing with the app, which claims to be a beta, I was immediately blown away by the fit and finish. The attention to detail is just incredible. For example, the little bar of templates below the toolbar actually tilts a bit as it scrolls to give it that extra-analog zoomy-wooshy feel. That is just awesome. And the little touches of gooey animation do not stop there…

While Sandvox allows for arbitrary HTML injection in the form of pagelets, there doesn’t seem to be any way to control the layout of said pages. Sandvox also seems to be limited to the layouts provided by the various templates. It has many more templates than iWeb, but seems to have less control over the templates.

Both neat tools. Each has its own advantages and disadvantages. Given the sheer idiocy of HTML, both tools do an amazing job of producing content that looks excellent with a minimum of pain to the user. Both development teams deserve a round of applause.

Unfortunately, neither tool appears to do what I want. I just want a page like the one at friday now, but with the silly ads centered and with a bit of content that I customize regularly.

Maybe in Sandvox 2.0 or iLife ’07 (assuming the pattern continues).

Printable Tools (The PDF Revolution Is Here)

Wednesday, January 18th, 2006

In the previous post, I linked to Bolt Depot’s rather awesome collection of printable fastener related tools.

A friend mentioned that he ran across a site that has printable graph paper. I did a bit of google searching tonight and came up with some neat stuff.

It seems that PDF’s ability to describe the exact geometry of output has yielded wealth of such tools.

There are lots of examples of printable graph paper. Some sites let you create graph paper to your specifications.

Rulers are also available. This site includes Ruler PDFs along with lengths of common objects (like currency) so you can check the accuracy of your printed results.

There are also protractors.

And lots of math stuff. Including one with a smiley face and a couple of pac-men making out in the corner?

Battle maps.

Speaking of maps, there are incredible maps of various state parks in California.

Sheet music. And customizable sheet music.

Tons of education related content.

This site contains an incredible array of basic electronics information in a series of PDFs.

Both JameCo and Digi-Key offer full catalogs online. I’m certain many other companies do, as well.

There is also the Subversion Book, the Twisted Documentation in PDF form, the Python Documentation, and loads of PDFs in Apple’s support site.

Since Tiger so nicely indexes PDFs, I grab every PDF of interest I run across and toss ’em into a directory in my Library. Same for every interesting web page that I may want to refer to later — it is converted to PDF and squirreled away.

Monday, January 16th, 2006

The kind folks at sent me a set of their thread gauges in response to my article about my amazing screw oriented fastener acquisition. Thank you!

The screw guides are quite handy, incorporating diameter and thread pitch measurements into a single piece of flat plastic along with a handy ruler useful for measuring bolt length. The diameter measurements don’t go below 1/4″, so a lot of the fasteners commonly found in pinball machines are off the scale on the small end. However, the thread gauge does go down to 28 TPI (threads per inch)d which is plenty small enough to cover just about all of the screws I run into.

Beyond having an excellent assortment of bolts, screws, and related fasteners, Bolt Depot also has an incredible online library of fastener information. It includes everything from fastener type charts to various standards tables (Like the recommended torque table) to material guides.

The neatest resource is the set of PDFs that, when printed, yield thread and diameter guides. You can find these on the Printable Thread Gauges and Other Tools. They encourage folks to link to and use the various guides!

Thread Gauges and other Printable Fastener Tools from Bolt Depot


WordPress Test & Neat Desktop Image

Friday, January 13th, 2006
Common CA groundcover weed

This is a picture of some weeds that grow in front of our house. Actually, they grow all over the area. Tiny round ball like blooms composed of a dozen or so little white flowers with yellow stamens.

If the image actually floats to the left with the text wrapped around it, then it indicates that the newer version of WordPress fixes an XML-RPC bug.

Update: This is Sweet Alyssum, seeds of which can commonly be found at various hardware stores and nurseries (thanks for the identification!). “Weed” refers to its growth habit. In Northern California Sweet Alyssum grows unbounded, spreading rapidly and growing with little care or water. It doesn’t appear to choke out other species to any significant degree and it seems to stick to relatively barren or disturbed areas. As such, said features make this a highly desirable plant!
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