Marco.org • About ▾

I’m : a programmer, writer, podcaster, geek, and coffee enthusiast.

[Beer] regulates the bowels, prevents constipation, and becomes in this way a valuable substitute for vegetables.

United States Sanitary Commission, here (via voodoopuff)

I wasn’t going to read it when I first saw it on Tumblr. I didn’t read it before approving it for Give Me Something To Read. But now I’m interested.

The Band — The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down

Inspired by Ted’s post of the same song, except that I like this version better. It’s from their famous last concert, The Last Waltz (DVD, Blu-ray, 2-CD set, 4-CD set… but unfortunately not available for download from Amazon MP3 or iTunes).

If you like classic rock, you need to see this concert. If you might like classic rock, this will make you like it. If your parents like classic rock, it’s a great gift.

What I really love about this is that it’s a bunch of musicians. Not pop stars, not marketing creations, and not “performers”. Just musicians with real talent and real soul. That’s too rare in today’s mainstream music.

Me and my new favorite beer. Photo by Tiff.

There’s no question that drug prohibition has been every bit the failure alcohol prohibition was. Nearly 40 years after the CSA passed, we have 400,000 people in prison for nonviolent drug crimes; a domestic police force that often looks and acts like an occupying military force; nearly a trillion dollars spent on enforcement, both here and through aggressive interdiction efforts overseas; and urban areas that can resemble war zones. Yet illicit drugs like cocaine and marijuana are as cheap and abundant as they were in 1970. The street price of both drugs has actually dropped — dramatically — since the government began keeping track in the early 1980s. The main difference between the two prohibitions is that one was enacted lawfully, and once it became clear that it had failed, we repealed it (and government revenues soared with new alcohol taxes). As the drug war has failed, the government merely claims more powers to fight it more aggressively.

Radley Balko (via azspot)

People may talk about stressed consumers trying to get bargains. Sorry, I’m not buying. This incident is a sign of the basic soul sickness of a nation where too many people have become nothing more that “consumers” sucking greedily on the corporate matrix. Not citizens. Not stewards. Not fellow souls on a too-short journey through a cold world. Consumers. Consumers would do such a thing. Just as they would abandon the local merchants on their main streets to shop at a company with the predatory and anti-employee practices as Wal-Mart. They have made it the largest employer in many states. Their countless and thoughtless votes at the cash register helped destroy American manufacturing and create store shelves where every product is made in China. They think sweatshops are spas to lose weight put on while consuming. They wonder what happened to the good jobs their parents had and they blame unions.

Rogue Columnist (via azspot)

zoya:

sending a care package

OK, am I the only internet nerd who looked at that and thought of something completely different? (update: like this)

allisonweiss:

Think my computer just crashed. Good thing backed up my type portfolio today. What does blinking folder with question mark mean?

Technically, it means “I can’t find a bootable disk.”

Most likely cause: a dead hard drive. Your suspicions are correct. Glad to hear that you have a backup.

Design Tour - World of Goo

This puzzle game is incredibly fun and smart, and the graphics and sound create an amazing atmosphere. Watch this design-tour video (created by a fan) to get a sense of how good it is, then download the demo.

If you like it, and I think it’s pretty likely that you will, support the two guys who made it by buying the full DRM-free version for Windows, Linux, or Mac OS X for $20. (It’s also available on WiiWare, whatever that is.)

I’m rarely this impressed by a game. It’s truly first-class. Even if you don’t usually like games that much, give this a try.

(edited to replace the Vimeo video with YouTube because Vimeo has so many users that they need to kick out many of the great ones)

andyandvalerie:

On Andy’s potential wedding band front, he wants tungsten.

Tungsten is a great idea. That’s what I got for mine. Wikipedia says:

Its hardness makes it ideal for rings that will resist scratching, and are hypoallergenic and will not need polishing, which is especially useful in designs with a brushed finish.

I’m sure you know all of this already, but just in case:

Advantages:

Disadvantages:

I’ve received tons of compliments on mine from both sexes. Nobody knows what it is, but everyone wants it.

Enjoy, and congratulations again on (soon) getting married!

Canon gearhead update

Tiff and I tried out the 5D Mark II and a bunch of lenses tonight at B&H. (They have a 5D Mark II for demoing with the SLR lenses, but they don’t have them in stock for sale yet. I tried.)

Lessons learned:

First impressions are that the 5D Mark II is an absolutely amazing camera and worth every penny. I really can’t wait to get it. The very helpful salesman said that their first shipment had 20 (preorders took them, of course), and they expect general availability in 2-4 weeks.

Compared to the Rebel XTi, the 5D Mark II feels huge, but not unreasonably heavy. The additional weight in the camera made it easier to handle heavy zoom lenses, giving more balance and possibly even letting me take a steadier shot.

The screen is huge and vivid. Previewing photos on this will be a lot more useful than the XTi, whose screen was already large by market standards.

Having never used any camera with its control layout, I was fairly comfortable with it in less time than I expected. My only slight dislike was the closeness of the autofocus points clustered around the middle of the frame.

Now, onto lenses, the real reason we were there. By moving to full-frame, we’ll lose compatibility with our two EF-S lenses: the ultrawide 10-22mm, which we’ll replace directly with the 16-35L or 17-40L, and the 17-55mm IS, which we won’t immediately replace (to encourage creativity with our other lenses and justify a fun new prime or two).

The 16-35mm 2.8 L II has the fastest and quietest autofocus motor I’ve seen yet. The 17-40mm 4 L is also very good for the price, but the aperture difference is noticeable: ultrawide at f/2.8 can have a very nice and very noticeable effect that you just can’t get at f/4. The size and weight difference is noticeable, but not nearly what I expected compared to other f/4-vs.-f/2.8 lens pairs. I’d classify both as medium-weight, with the 17-40 almost identical to the EF-S 10-22.

The 85mm 1.2 L II is completely ridiculous. It’s incredibly heavy and focuses very slowly. The 85mm 1.8 is far more practical in size, weight, focus speed, and especially price ($330 vs. $1800!) if you can spare the aperture difference. For most people’s needs, this is one of those cases where more expensive isn’t better.

I also tried the 135mm 2.0 L, which might be a fun luxury purchase in the future if Tumblr sells for $100 billion. It’s a very nice prime and supposedly the sharpest lens Canon makes. At $920, it’s hard to justify, but it would make a very nice indoor/night telephoto.

In more instances than we want to admit, tips not only won’t (and can’t) help us to improve; they will actively get in the way of fundamental improvement by obscuring the advice we need with the advice that we enjoy.

Merlin Mann: Real Advice Hurts. Read it.

Automation does indeed bring a lot to the table — humans can’t possibly discover and organize news as fast as computers can. But too often the lack of real intelligence leads to really unintelligent results.

Techmeme: Guess what? Automated news doesn’t quite work

energyface:

ATX Explosive
This schematic came with my computer when I bought it nearly 6 years ago. Still alive but it’s days are numbered.

Is that the infamously popular, constantly rebranded, impressively average Enlight 7237 that everyone built computers into between 1999-2004?

By Rune Guneriussen. (via dailymeh, mefi)

energyface:

Marble Madness - The Advantage

This song stresses me out, but I love it.

Ah, memories of my first impulse-purchase video game. I was so incredibly disappointed by how awful it was that I never impulse-bought another video game… until I bought this one. Not a good record.

If you hit a golf ball at our wedding, go see if it’s in the (ongoing) gallery of found balls!

There are a lot of people who’d be a lot happier if they stopped worrying about other people’s 800 pound gorillas.

John Gruber: Not My Gorilla (via chartier). A great read.

By dropping support for Windows or IE, think of how much more time a lot of projects’ developers would have to improve it for the other platforms and how much cruft they could remove from the code. Obviously this wouldn’t work for software or websites that are predominantly used on Windows, but I can think of a number of projects that such a decision would work well for: how about PHP?

Tiff: “I wonder if you could just jump straight into a shark’s stomach.”

I love Sunday nights.

Parallels

We just watched episode five of Ric Burns’ epic New York documentary (Amazon). This episode was primarily about the buildup to the 1929 stock market crash.

This was produced in 1999, but I swear it could have been made last month, explaining our current financial problems. It’s creepy how much it applies to today — how we made the exact same mistakes to lead ourselves into this.

Plenty of smart people have declared promising things about this recession, saying that it won’t be “as bad” as the Great Depression because we have so many protections in place and the government is responding differently. Let’s hope they’re correct about that. But what led us here in the first place is strikingly similar to the conditions that led to the 1929 crash — something that far too few people were able to step back and see until it was too late.

Showing random selections from my Wish List on the order confirmation page after I bought a ton of holiday gifts… that’s so mean.

A new espresso bar opened downstairs. Verdict: good.

I’ve spent an unbelievable amount of time writing Sprint-specific email handling code (and updating it when they change things).

I’m pretty sure youtube is a video sharing site for people who hate themselves and their videos.

Ted Roden

Do you think there will ever be any other articles published with that tag? (link via fatmanatee)

nycmeetups:

This Sunday. 5 p.m. Stand. Tumblr casual holiday party. Reblog or comment to RSVP.

See you there.

internet map

grahamgrafx:

im looking for the most accurate depiction of a visual layout of the internet. does anyone have any links of a recent one? (>= 2006)

best internet map i could find

Here.

While doing my holiday NutsOnline shopping, I came across these Gummy Filled Bears:

Classic gummy bears filled with a raspberry flavored filling.

Wouldn’t it be a little strange to bite a gummy bear’s head off and see a bunch of blood coming out?

mariereich in response to the bloody gummy bears:

instantly tempted - the site is open on another tab right now.  yeah, so what if i’m vegan?  all things gummi remind me of care packages from my oma.  she sent the best christmas care packages.  nostalgia should be a free pass, right?

Lucky for you, they have vegan organic gummy bears too. Guilt-free junk food!

(And I should mention that I really like Nuts Online.)

(via livejamie)

Even David’s whiteboard design is clean and pretty.

What’s the appeal of Nikon over Canon?

I’m not making this post to be inflammatory — I’d honestly like to know, objectively, why a new SLR buyer today should choose Nikon over Canon. I know a lot about Canon’s camera and lens lineup, but nothing about Nikon’s.

The other day I was trying (while horribly uninformed about Nikon’s lenses) to recommend a lens upgrade path for Allison Weiss’ Nikon camera. Applying general knowledge that should apply to both Canon and Nikon’s 1.6x-FOVCF cameras, I figured I’d recommend:

And a few optional lenses for the future that we‘ve found fun in our shooting, including:

I browsed through Photozone.de’s Nikon lens reviews and was very disappointed overall.

There are a few lenses that I wish Canon had equivalents for (most notably an image-stabilized macro prime). But there were far more lenses that seemed completely missing from the lineup or inferior to their closest Canon equivalents in speed (widest aperture), build quality (metal instead of plastic), features (fast focus motors, image stabilization), or optical quality (edge sharpness, CA, barrel distortion, vignetting) — and usually at equivalent or higher prices.

Most of the praise I’ve heard for Nikon has been about their supposedly superior camera bodies, especially in regard to high-ISO noise performance. That looks like it’s no longer true, especially in the midrange and high end, although they’re both very good. Either way, it looks like Canon and Nikon are close enough in general body quality and performance that it’s hard to declare a clearly “winning” brand for more than a few months at a time.

Therefore, it should be the lenses, not the bodies, that determine which brand a new buyer should invest in. You’re likely to spend more money on lenses than bodies (at least, you should), and you’ll keep the lenses through the lifecycle of multiple bodies. Lenses are far more important.

And from the impressions I’ve gotten so far, I’m just not impressed by Nikon’s lens lineup at all.

But a lot of people whose opinions I trust swear by Nikon equipment. It’s clearly great for them, but with my limited exposure to it, I’m just not seeing why.

What am I missing? Why should a new buyer today, with no previous investments in either company’s equipment, choose Nikon over Canon?

Update: Answer roundup.

squashed:

If I stir a cup of espresso into my brownie batter, what will happen? Carolyn has a paper due tomorrow.

Depends on how much you mean by “a cup”.

A 1.5-ounce shot of espresso has about 77mg of caffeine. By comparison, an average 8-ounce cup of regular drip coffee has about 145mg. But drip coffee varies a lot depending on what you make and how you make it. Starbucks’ 8-ounce “short” size, for example, is 180mg — but most people don’t know that size exists, so they get the 12-ounce, 260mg “tall” size that Starbucks gives you if you ask for a “small”. Then they wonder why it hits them so hard and why they get addicted to tremendous coffee drinks with stupid names from Starbucks and why they can’t sleep well at night which makes them get more coffee the next day to stay awake. (And that’s only if they order the small.)

Anyway, if you mean 1 cup for cooking purposes, that’s 8 ounces of espresso, which is about 410mg of caffeine. I’ll make some assumptions:

So each of you is likely to consume, at most, 205mg of caffeine, or about as much as one and a half cups of coffee.

That’s enough caffeine to keep most people awake for a while, but it certainly isn’t going to cause any extreme effects, although I’m not sure I’d recommend eating half of the brownies in one night.

Quick review: Undrinkably sweet, even after adding extra water. Lingering aftertaste of its first ingredient, a strange fiber-sweetener. Very, very bad.

We’ve had one of these before, when the dot-com bubble burst. What I told our company was that we were just going to invest our way through the downturn, that we weren’t going to lay off people, that we’d taken a tremendous amount of effort to get them into Apple in the first place — the last thing we were going to do is lay them off. And we were going to keep funding. In fact we were going to up our R&D budget so that we would be ahead of our competitors when the downturn was over. And that’s exactly what we did. And it worked. And that’s exactly what we’ll do this time.

Steve Jobs (via danw, mikehudack)

Geek blogger worship

Karmcity posted a story about how some of our most prominent tech/startup bloggers are assholes.

The reason they’re able to be assholes is because in their world — our world — they’re worshipped like gods. If you think they’re assholes, stop contributing: and that means stop reading their content and stop linking to it. Even when it sucks, and even when you disagree. There are plenty of great reasons why you’ll never see me (or any sites I edit) link to their garbage.

I don’t think much of Mike Arrington* and haven’t read any of his sites in years. If I accidentally open a link to his site, I cringe and close it faster than I’d close Goatse. I don’t think Scoble knows what he’s talking about (update!), so I don’t pay attention to him, either. And I don’t even know who Steve Gillmor is (for all I know, he could be great).

I haven’t missed anything important.

This is my industry, and I’ve lost nothing by ignoring these people and their publications. There’s so much high-quality content being published that you can afford to delete the inferior information sources from your feed reader.

Geeks and tech-business people will continue to worship these blogger prima donnas, their egos will inflate further, and the quality of their material will decline as they farm out their actual work to unskilled, desperate kids willing to write a few fluffy blog posts per day for nearly nothing. The geeks will continue blindly believing everything they write. The business people will continue thinking their audience is bigger, more valuable, and more influential than it is. Trust me. This will never change.

But you don’t have to be a part of their world. Just don’t support them in any way whatsoever. Don’t read their sites. Don’t link to their sites. Don’t read interviews of them by other publications. Don’t read content they’ve written for other sites. Don’t attend their speaking engagements. Don’t attend their events. Don’t buy their books. It’s that easy.

* I almost didn’t write this post, then I almost deleted it before publishing, because I didn’t want his name on my site. But I’ll make an exception for this, since I think it’s an important message.

When I grow up, I want to design a heat radiator that has a setting between “off” and “hell”.

Follow-up: What’s the appeal of Nikon over Canon?

I asked why a new SLR buyer should choose Nikon, and actually didn’t get many good answers. But here are some reasons why Nikon is preferable, from the answers:

Beyond that, most answers were invalid or purely subjective. So I’m still not convinced that a new SLR buyer (especially one spending less than $2000 on a body) should go with Nikon, although it seems close enough or advantageous in enough categories that it isn’t a downright terrible idea. But my biggest fear was, for the most part, confirmed: beyond a few bright spots like the 14-24mm f/2.8, their lens lineup has many disadvantages and gaps compared to Canon’s.

I’m over the fake Polaroid photos.

Things that feel outdated but sadly aren’t

Discs of all types. Why do I need to take this plastic disc out of this plastic case and insert it into this complex, loud, clunky mechanical drive mechanism every time I want to use it instead of copying it to a hard drive once or just downloading it in the first place?

DVD menus. Why do I have to wait through this crap that I can’t skip? Why was one of the most successful consumer-electronics technologies in history designed to be so hostile toward consumers? I can hit Play on the Apple TV or the Netflix 360 thing and it just plays. Why is the more expensive product, the DVD, giving me a worse experience? (And from what I understand, Blu-Ray is no better.)

Retail stores. The big markup used to be justifiable because getting things at near-wholesale prices was nearly impossible for individuals and the stores would have knowledgeable salespeople to answer questions and help you make a good choice. Now I can get nearly everything I buy from online vendors for less money whenever I want, and I’m not missing anything, because the salespeople in the stores are now just burnt out college kids who don’t give a shit about anything, don’t know a thing about whatever they’re selling, and certainly can’t possibly help me with anything.

Adorama’s 5D Mark II shadiness

We walked past Adorama’s brick-and-mortar store today and decided to walk in and see if they had the 5D Mark II in stock yet, knowing this was unlikely, as the website is still only taking preorders with no ETA.

They didn’t have it in stock, officially. And the salesman said that there were “thousands of people” with standing preorders. Fine, that’s what we expected. But then he continued: we could actually get it today.

They keep three 5D Mark II body-only units in stock that they’ll sell to anyone who walks into the store, but only if you buy it in a package with:

Essentially, you can jump the preorder line, but only if you buy an overpriced set of very-high-profit accessories. And the first three preorders are, correspondingly, delayed because (see update below) these three are reserved for this higher-profit scheme.

Nice one, Adorama.

That was my first and last time in your store.

Update: Adorama responds and clarifies that these three units are not delaying any preorders — the NY store has a separate allocation from the NJ warehouse that ships the online orders.

Adorama’s response to Adorama’s 5D Mark II shadiness, in full blue Comic Sans glory.

So the three reserved units were not delaying anyone’s preorders, but they still will only sell them in the high-profit warranty/accessory bundle.

Less shady, but still shady.

spiteshow:

I wonder how many about/blank entries are in Instapaper’s system…

A lot.

Anyone know landlord/tenant laws in NYC?

cbeth:

I just picked up my lease renewal, and the two year renewal option was automatically marked.  Not cool. Does this mean the one-year option is not available?  Can they do that?  Help! I don’t want to move :(

Disclaimer: IANAL and I don’t know anything about New York tenant laws.

If it’s not a rent-controlled apartment, I bet there’s no legal recourse for you to prevent them from requiring a 2-year lease. They can’t increase your term after you’ve signed a lease, but this is for a new one that you need to agree to before it’s binding. I doubt that they have any obligation to keep any part of the old lease, including the duration, price, or terms — barring imposed controls, it doesn’t really matter that you already live there. They don’t even have to renew your lease at all.

But it’s possible that this was just a clerical error or an unscrupulous landlord hoping you weren’t very observant or assertive. Call and ask for a 1-year renewal, and make sure you get that on paper: get a new copy of the renewal contract with a 1-year term clearly indicated.

If they won’t do it, then you’re stuck with either accepting the 2-year term or moving.

How to get Xbox Live to stop complaing about “strict NAT” with a pfSense router

It’s not a UPnP problem (although UPnP does need to be enabled), nor will any combination of port-forwards work.

Switch to Static-Port mode, and it starts working immediately with no additional firewall or NAT rules.

This took me forever to find tonight.

(Information contributed to the internet for the benefit of other people looking for it eventually.)

Tiff just learned that it’s not wise to identify a jar of cayenne pepper via the usual spice-identification method of taking a huge whiff.

Pangea has been developing Mac games for over 20 years, but according to president & CEO Brian Greenstone, the company’s App Store sales since July alone have brought in more revenue than the company’s total retail sales over the last 20 years.

Some iPhone devs raking in the cash from the App Store.

I’m happy for the people making hundreds of thousands (or millions) of dollars from the App Store, but the key word in this headline is “some”.

I fear that too much press about iPhone-app “lottery winners” will have two negative side effects:

  1. People will flood the market with crap in a gold rush.
  2. Good developers will put tons of time into apps that never make more than a few hundred or a few thousand bucks, therefore not being worth the time they took to create.

(note that both are already happening)

There’s money to be made with the App Store, but it’s not as easy or random as some of these articles imply.

karmcity:

I propose swapping the default behavior. Any time a variable is output, it should automatically escape any HTML. If I really do want the site to render the submitted HTML, I have to explicitly tell it to.

This is actually how XSL output works. It’s a nice luxury.

Companies who can build authentic, honest, open, collaborative relationships with consumers are significantly more profitable (and sustainably profitable) than companies who treat consumers deceptively, antagonistically, and manipulatively.

Umair Haque: Why (Real) Relationships Matter (via mikehudack)

When you call B&H, you speak to an intelligent, motivated, non-outsourced, English-speaking human in New York City, right in their store which is also their warehouse, who has great knowledge of the product line and the power to change things and get things done for great service.

It’s so sad that this is so unusual. The best way that I can support it is to shop there whenever I can. You should, too.

(Jared will probably reblog this and tell me to go to Calumet instead. I haven’t shopped there for anything yet, so I have no idea if they’re better. But B&H is definitely great — and I didn’t even talk about their awesome retail store and salespeople in this post.)

There was a lot of snow on the car. (Yup, that’s Tiff through that snow-brush-shaped hole.)

There was a lot more snow on the ground. And enough snow in the entire parking lot that there was absolutely no reasonable way we were getting out, even after we brushed off the entire car.

So my 5D Mark II is sitting at the UPS facility in the Bronx, without me. :(

Curry In A Hurry.

(This is a week old, but I’m emptying my iPhone photos now.)

This is the longest battery charge I’ve ever had to wait through.

Gee, thanks, Andrew Wilkinson! No, that’s OK, I don’t need any reblog attribution or even a photo link. That’s OK. You keep it. Really. Happy holidays!

My first photo with the new camera. The very first snap, IMG_0001.JPG. No postprocessing at all.

I missed the focus a bit, but damn, look at the colors! (Model: My beautiful wife)

Oh, and this was on Auto-ISO at ISO 2000.

Tiff unwillingly stars in “Taking too long. Walking.” (HD)

That was right after she assaulted this mailbox.

Initial notes on the 5D Mark II

We’ve upgraded from the Rebel XTi to the 5D Mark II. We decided to skip the 20/30/40/50D series and wait until we could go to full-frame. Here’s how the transition is going on day one:

It didn’t take very long to get accustomed to the controls, which are very different from the Rebel series, but generally in good ways.

The viewfinder is much larger and brighter.

The screen is much larger and brighter. Photo review is much nicer.

The shutter is much quieter and (subjectively) sounds more professional.

We haven’t seemed to reach a consensus on how to quickly abbreviate the model name in speech or writing. I’m going with “5D2” for now.

Auto-ISO is very useful. I think I’ll be able to use Tv mode (shutter-speed priority) more.

The high-ISO noise levels are so low, and the photos so usable, that very-wide-aperture lenses aren’t as necessary for a lot of low-light uses.

I’ve always heard this old rule that a hand-holdable shutter speed for X mm should be 1/X. The 5D2 has such high resolution that I’m not always happy with the sharpness at 1/X, so I have to go a bit faster.

Video recording is very impressive, but the reality of it (autofocus limitations, image-stabilizer noise, 12-minute limit per clip) will prevent it from replacing a camcorder for most people who need a camcorder. That said, most people don’t need a camcorder. The 5D2’s video capability is exactly what I wanted: the ability for photographers to occasionally dabble in video with their existing lenses. But this isn’t something you can record your kid’s musical with.

Live View has one unexpectedly useful benefit for still photos: you can zoom way in for manual focus adjustments. The process of actually doing this is too time-consuming for quick candid shooting, but it’s probably very convenient for setups and tripods.

This move to full-frame has shuffled up the usefulness of our lenses quite a bit, some in unexpected ways. The biggest difference, of course, is that the full-frame sensor now makes every lens look about 60% wider, as illustrated here (almost every SLR on the market is that inner 1.6x rectangle, while the 5D2 is the outer 1.0x).

When using the XTi in low light, we’d have to use very long shutter speeds, relying heavily on image stabilization, and hope nobody moved. Or we’d have to rely on the 50’s sub-f/2 apertures, which aren’t very sharp even if you nail the focus (which isn’t easy).

With the 5D2’s noise performance, we can actually take usable shots at ISO 3200, and image stabilization is far less necessary until you reach the telephoto range. The lack of IS was what was holding me back from using primes more. So now, I think we’ll use zoom lenses far less frequently than before.

Overall: It’s a completely different world from the XT series. We have a lot to relearn. But so far, I like it a lot.

It’s cold.

(photo by Tiff)

Got Sirius?

The jam-band channel (Jam_ON, #17) is running a great compilation of tracks recorded in their studio over the last few years.

Wow, you really don’t need to use a lot of that at all.

Cayenne pepper: 2.
Marco and Tiff: 0.

We eat a lot of pistachios.

Tiff’s lamp.

Spousal to-do lists are so much easier when illustrated with descriptive stick drawings. (By Tiff, of course.)

Incredibly low-risk Apple predictions

My guess: Sometime in January or February, the Mac Mini and iMac will be quietly updated to use the same new NVIDIA chipset that the new laptops all use. They will replace their DVI ports with HDCP-compliant mini-DisplayPorts. There won’t be any other major changes or redesigns in this update.

Then, as soon as Intel can deliver them in quantity, the Mac Pro will be updated to the “Gainestown” (Nehalem-core) Xeons. The new models will come in 2.93 and 3.2 GHz configurations, both using two quad-core CPUs. The video cards will be updated to new HDCP mini-DisplayPort models as well. The price points won’t change. This will probably be around February-March and will be separate from the Mac Mini/iMac updates.

lfarm:

Guess what’s the worst idea ever? Macy’s 3 days before Christmas.

If anyone was curious what my personal hell would be: this is a good start.

Why I take photos

Many people take photos professionally, and I might look like a bit of a tool for buying much of the same equipment they do and posting my photos in some of the same places they post theirs while lacking most of their talent.

Merlin Mann recently wrote a great piece on why he takes photos, entitled Photography, and the Tolerance for Courageous Sucking. Read the whole thing, but I liked this part most:

Yeah, I know, it’s no masterpiece, but I’m proud of it for reasons of my own. Because, last night, as I was splayed prone in the fog along Taraval Street, I realized I was getting a little better at this.

The key is that he’s taking photos for himself. And that’s my motivation as well.

Sometimes I share my favorites with the internet. But I’m not displaying them with any intentionally implied semblance of expertise: I have absolutely no idea what I’m doing. I’ve never taken a photography class. My framing and perspectives need a lot of work (Tiff is much better at those). My keeper rate is pathetic. I never plan or set up anything. Many of my best photos are the results of luck, not skill. And my subject matter is fatally dull for nearly everyone except me and occasionally my friends or coworkers.

But I’m not taking photos to create world-class art. I don’t care if my photos aren’t popular or relevant to other people.

I take photos to document my life and the people, places, and things around me. Most of my photos were taken in my office or at home, because those are the places in which I spend the most time.

I photograph people around me doing absolutely ordinary things, like working at their computers. I know it’s not interesting to you. But it’s interesting to me because I know these people, and this was my life for this time period. And when I look back at these pictures in ten years, they’ll bring back the good memories of this environment that I spent part of my life in with these people.

I love taking pictures of random things. I can take a picture of a CPU fan, and I’ll enjoy it, because I like the way that CPU fan looks, and I’ll know it was my CPU fan and it cooled well as part of this great silent computer I built. It’s documenting a minor accomplishment in my life or some thing I liked. To a pro photographer or aficionado, this would be the most worthless picture they’d ever seen. To me, it’s a valuable memory.

I could easily take these types of photos with any consumer point-and-shoot camera, and it would be far more practical: I could get a pocket-sized model instead of carrying around 5 pounds of equipment in a backpack wherever I go. I could spend a few hundred dollars instead of thousands.

But then the pictures would suck. Another side of my personality interferes with that idea: I’m absolutely ruthless about quality. I want all of my photos to be technically great: high sharpness, contrast, and saturation with low noise, no CA, and no unintended distortion.

Essentially, I strive to take technically great photos of the people and everyday minutia in my life for my own satisfaction.

To anyone who knows me well, that shouldn’t come as much of a surprise. And the reasons I write are very similar.

So I buy all of this big, heavy, expensive stuff to take technically good but compositionally mediocre pictures of boring things. But I do it for me, because I’m slowly developing a skill that I’ve always wanted to have, and the process is producing results that I value highly. Any enjoyment or praise of my photos by others is a welcome bonus, but not the goal at all.

I’m very impressed with the video quality of Netflix’s on-demand streaming service to the Xbox 360. If your internet connection handles it, it streams what appears to be 720p resoluion, and up to about 4-7 Mbit/sec as measured by my router. At the highest bitrate, I don’t see any noticeable artifacts. It looks excellent.

(Unfortunately, I am not as impressed with Cablevision’s Optimum Online cable service, which usually delivers 12M/2M speeds but keeps capping out at 2-5M tonight. Netflix handles this gracefully by pausing playback and rebuffering at a lower bitrate.)

Results from the iPhone’s new rate-on-delete dialog

The new rate-on-delete popup in iPhone OS 2.2 has already destroyed the average for Instapaper Free.

Before 2.2, it was a solid 4.5-star average (the same as Instapaper Pro). Since then, very few written reviews in the App Store have been added (about 10 of the 180 total in the U.S. store). And if you look at the written reviews (sort by Most Recent), they’re overwhelmingly positive, with very few lower than 5 stars.

Now, the average for Instapaper Free is 3 stars, and since it was pulled down so significantly and so quickly after this change, I expect it to go lower.

I wouldn’t be complaining if this were an accurate reflection of people’s usage and opinion. But it’s not. I estimate that the number of delete-ratings to affect it so far has been in the low hundreds. But thousands of people use Instapaper Free every day, as measured by the server-side update API. If they’re using it every day, they’d probably rate it higher than 3 stars. If even a small portion of them rated the app, they’d dramatically overpower the low average set by the deleters.

We really need a corresponding rating dialog on positive experiences. This is going to destroy too many good apps’ averages.

Tiff always wraps gifts that look a lot nicer than mine.

It was a very good Christmas.

Our gifts from us to us. (The best kind.)

This is not a good camera if “small and light” are particularly important goals for you.

Left: 5D Mark II, battery, and charger with 16-35mm f/2.8 L.
Right: Rebel XTi, battery, and charger with EF-S 10-22mm (same effective range) f/3.5-4.5.

If you think other industries don’t have shit jobs, you’re deceiving yourself. If you think 99% of our industry is like your little Office Space neck of the woods, look around a bit.

Joel Spolsky responding to a programmer wanting to change fields because he thinks the entire industry is as bad as his crappy job.

Tip: Tiny laptop hard drives are not a good match for the 5D Mark II if you intend to shoot videos or raw-format photos.

Sarah asks:

Does anyone know if the Ikea Stockholm Sofa is comfortable?

I haven’t tried that particular one, but I bet it’s not.

IKEA is good for hard things: desks, tables, bookshelves, dressers, lighting, storage.

But their soft things are usually very bad: couches, beds, chairs, linens.

I suggest you get a couch from a “real” furniture store, and one that you can go sit on in person. I got mine from Raymour & Flanigan. They have a lot of great couches for similar prices as IKEA, and they’re all far more comfortable (and probably better-made). And you can easily negotiate free delivery.

The wedding gazebo, still with tulle attached.

Most of my Christmas photos from upstate are awful because there was no light indoors and there was no sun or color outdoors. Or they’re of people you don’t know wearing pajamas all day who would be very upset if they were displayed on the internet in that state.

But I really like this one. I also took myself a new wallpaper. Both are available on Flickr in max resolution.

Neither have undergone any postprocessing at all except a crop on this one, and neither were intended to be awesome: I only took one shot of each scene, and I stupidly brought my polarizer mounted on the f/4 lens because we were going outside (I mistakenly assumed “outside” meant “sun”), so they both have higher noise and worse sharpness than I’d like because I had to rely on image stabilization and high ISOs. But they look OK small or up to 24”-monitor size (1920x1200). Just don’t look too closely at those pixels at 100%.

Tiff’s enjoying her Christmas present: Left 4 Dead.

(Now Paul can stop asking me every day if I’ve seen it yet.)

Justifying the iPhone

Casey Liss debates Verizon-vs.-iPhone:

My wife and I are currently Verizon Wireless users. We’re due to get a $100 credit on new phones at the end of January, thanks to Verizon’s “New Every Two” program.

Unfortunately, things haven’t changed much in that Verizon has (in my opinion) far and away the best network.

I’m not sure how they compare where you live, but in the NYC metro area, Verizon and AT&T have been similar enough in service that I can’t say either network is better overall than the other.

This applies when I travel as well: in some fringe areas like the mountains upstate, Verizon works and AT&T doesn’t. But in others, the opposite is true. For the vast majority of the places I’ve been, if one carrier has coverage, so does the other.

However, they also have awful phones.

In the now-starting era of ubiquitous mobile computing, I have serious gadget lust/envy over the iPhone. I think it’d be nice, and extremely convenient, to have the ability to look up anything, map out any address, and send e-mail without having to have a computer nearby.

If you only ever want to make phone calls, and never want any other features, Verizon’s dumbphone lineup is adequate. But if you ever want to do anything data-related, every choice is absolutely miserable until you get to the smartphone category. (In all fairness, this applies to every carrier, as every dumbphone sucks at anything data-related — Verizon just makes it worse with their “consistent”[ly bad] red interface.)

So it’s really about comparing smartphones. Much of this is personal preference: people who have grown accustomed to Palm or BlackBerry software frequently criticize the iPhone unfairly because it’s different and unfamiliar, not because it’s actually worse in whatever criteria they’re selectively choosing to completely dismiss it with. (The iPhone fans do this to them, too.)

So, I’m standing at a crossroads. Most of my friends, and my in-laws, use Verizon. Thus, it’s free to talk to them. My family, and a handful of friends, use AT&T.

Unless you talk to the Verizon people a lot, this will probably be a toss-up. It wasn’t an issue for me because I rarely talk on the phone for more than a few minutes at a time, and I’ve never come anywhere close to exceeding the lowest minutes-per-month allocation.

I genuinely like Verizon, but if I’m going to get a new phone, I’m going to want one like the iPhone.

Then you need an iPhone. Verizon has nothing “like the iPhone”. Nobody has anything “like the iPhone”.

Now that you’re a recent Mac convert, you’ll understand this: nobody else has anything “like the Mac” either. You know those guys who run crazy experimental desktop-Linux window managers that are themed and skinned and hacked to hell to look like OS X? Calling that Mac-like is about as accurate as calling any other device iPhone-like.

(I was going to lump Windows Vista apologists in there, but I don’t think there are any left.)

What’s the right answer? Drag the missus over to AT&T, which is admittedly an inferior network, just so the self-proclaimed king (me) can have his useless iPhone? Is it really worth all that for a toy?

If AT&T really isn’t inferior in your region, or the difference is too small to be noticeable, is there any hesitation left?

Further, am I really lusting over just a toy, or is the iPhone really more than that?

It’s much more than that. It’s an entire computing platform. It won’t replace a laptop, but it’s a very capable, robust platform with a lot of great software and capabilities, and it’s always with you, ready to be whipped out of your pocket at any time for quick reference, calculation, or entertainment.

Yes, Fog Creek’s standard salary out of college is $75,000, and we’re very profitable. Our product is not a commodity and the same quality product could not be created by “cheap” overseas labor. Software development is DESIGN, not labor, and software developers are not interchangeable. Indian and Chinese developers make less money because they’re adding less value. It’s basic economics.

Joel, here, again

Just a typical day at work.

It should be illegal to bring a magazine or newspaper into a multi-toilet office bathroom and sit there for a half hour, solidly defeating anyone else’s attempt to wait you out in the uncomfortable silence.

Do your business, then leave in a timely fashion. Save the bathroom reading for home.

The elevator smells like someone just transported a bunch of IKEA furniture in it.

I tried Textcast tonight. It converts text to iTunes podcasts with OS X’s built-in speech synthesis, and it’s optimized for automatic conversion of RSS feeds. It’s a way for you to listen to content that you’d otherwise need to read, so you can consume it while walking, driving, etc.

The program still has a few rough 1.0 edges, but it’s very professionally done overall. I was mainly concerned about a much bigger problem: whether I’d be able to tolerate hearing content from fake synthesized robotic voices. I tested it with Fred Wilson’s Bits of Destruction post while walking to the train tonight, and my fears were mostly alleviated. I used the Alex voice at the second-fastest notch on the slider, making this post about 3 minutes long.

It’s strange, and it’s nowhere near as good as a human podcast or audiobook. I missed some words that didn’t get enough emphasis, and I found myself more easily distracted than usual because it was hard to get very engaged.

But it was interesting. It’s definitely worth the 7-day trial to see if you can get into it. I’m not sure if I’ll use it regularly, but it’ll be nice to have around.

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