Tapirtype Blog: Index

Michael's Posts Archives

November 4, 2008



September 3, 2008

Dialing it up and down

I have a vivid memory of being driven to my first day of High School by my mom. I was nervous to near panic attack proportions that I was going to be late. A worry that lasted until we got close to the school and I replaced it with a panic about being too early.

I'm finding writing a paper to be very similar. "Oh my god, oh my god, I'm never going to have enough data. There isn't enough stuff here! I don't have enough to show! ... Oh, crap! I've got 9 figures. I have to cut!" With barely a pause in between.

August 29, 2008


It's amazing how many people there are who moan about the lack of participation of younger generations, or for that matter of people in general, without lifting a finger to do anything about it. But what is more amazing is how many of them turn right around screaming "Get off my lawn!" when a few of them have the temerity to show up. Perhaps I shouldn't be so amazed, but then I was born long after the end of the Vietnam war, so obviously no one should take me seriously. The more so if I refuse to play my part and stay at home doing nothing so I can stand at ready for whenever a scapegoat for our problems is needed.

August 27, 2008


Totally obscure pro tip: If you own a spyder2express monitor calibration thingy you may have been annoyed that the software only allows you to target 65k as your white point rather than using the native white point of your LCD screen, but felt that this wasn't enough reason to spring for the pro version. Turns out you can still download the old (2.2) software that defaulted to native white point if you go and register for their support site.

Now you can launch either version of the software to select the "option" of which white point you want.


June 21, 2008


I saw naked people today.

We had a lab outing, renting kayaks from Agua Verde. The initial plan was to go out by the Arboretum, but Faith's significant other's son, was with us and we decided that the cut would be a little dangerous for him, so we decided to paddle down toward Fremont instead.

It was also the Solstice which meant that the Annual Fremont Solstice Parade was going on. Paddling past Gas Works Park, we looked up and, yup, sure enough, there they were, naked as the day they were born. Assuming, of course, that they were born wearing shoes and body paint. Which upon reflection most of them probably weren't.

April 28, 2008

Flash Ads

I've become convinced that those flashy blinking ads are designed to drive page hits. How? I just found myself reloading the New York Times web page five times in a row in the hope that I'd get an ad that wouldn't compel me to hold my hand over the screen so I could read the actual content without being distracted.

(And yes, I know there's software to fix that.)

February 20, 2008

Quick thought regarding the silly 24 hour iTunes rental limit

So we all know that the 24 hour limit sucks. That (along with the fact that you can only get HD content if you have an Apple TV, what could otherwise be the killer feature for me) certainly prevents me from me from even considering it as an option beyond something to keep in the back of my head for last resort instant gratification.

Netflix, by contrast is of course quite happy to let you keep DVDs for as long as you like. As a subscription outfit, they just make more and more money off of you. But plenty of people would certainly prefer to pay per rental and herein lies the problem as renting on a long enough time frame becomes indistinguishable from buying.

The solution: Instead of putting an arbitrary cutoff time after hitting play, there should be a virtual check back in. You'd a allowed to have, say, 10 movies checked out at a time, paying for the rental when you download them and keeping them as long as you like, but you wouldn't be allowed to download the 11th until you "check in" one of the 10, rendering it unplayable. Certainly this would introduce some more security holes and would set an upper limit on how many movies you could take with you on a trip if you don't want to access the internet from the road, but it would prevent wholesale abuse. On the whole I think it would work much better for most people.

January 16, 2008

This just in: New MacBook Air is for portable computing.


Or well, you'd think it would be "duh."

I'm not big on ultra portables. I use a mid sized MacBook Pro 15" (named Mallory by the way) because I like to have (and well, can afford) one machine that I largely take from desk to desk going from work to home to wherever else I need to be. I'm a large enough guy that carting Mallory back and forth from work isn't ever much of a problem, and making her smaller, even much smaller isn't going to magically solve the ergonomics of using her away from a desk.

So I've watched the complaints that Apple doesn't offer a decent ultra-portable form the sidelines as a somewhat disinterested observer. Ok, I get that for people with desktop machines who use their portables as portables instead of "transplantable" computers might like something super small to take to the coffee shop or the plane or class or meetings or wherever it is that they go when not sitting at their desktop.

So Apple comes out with just such a machine and all those same people, the people who derided the 17" and so clearly don't subscribe to the "transplantable" computer idea, complain that there are not enough ways to tether it down? Honestly? You really want lots of ports so you can park this super, super thin computer on a desk with wires sticking out of every end so you won't notice how thin it is because you can't pick it up without unplugging a bunch of things anyway? You're really concerned that you need to install software on it with the help of a larger computer? Do you really do much installing of software on the road? If you, like me, aren't willing to sacrifice much in the way of power for size then, news flash, you don't actually want an ultra portable. You want a general purpose portable, and congratulations, Apple already sells those in a variety of size-power-price points.

Update: Many people are further making the comparison to the Cube. I think that's deeply flawed as while both machines made compromises on price in order to achieve small size and exciting form factor, many people appreciate those things in a desktop, but few really benefit from them. Anyone who uses a laptop will benefit in very concrete ways from the lightness and thinness of the Air... even if many don't feel the trade off is worth it. I strongly doubt that anyone out there would find themselves buying a computer they otherwise wouldn't because they could fit it on a smaller desktop. There are definitely people out there who would choose to bring a computer with them at the weight and thinness of the Air that would decide not to bring one at all otherwise.

November 9, 2007

Bizarre scene of the day:

In the middle of our Friday afternoon departmental happy hour, the elevator doors sweep open, and a campus police officer on a segway(!) rolls right out, heads straight across the hall, swings around to look at our alcohol permit, and, without acknowledging anyone's presence, swings back around and disappears back into the elevator.

October 9, 2007

Why are you looking at us?

This is stepping on Sasha's turf, but the "it's not our job to wade into difficult legal questions or conflicts between the branches of government because doing our jobs might be construed to be judicial activism and we'd rather take a nap" Roberts Court has (not) struck again.

Update: See also the NY Times editorial board's take on this.

October 7, 2007


I don't think most ducks migrate, but this mallard has just about finished migrating tapirtype over to the new Joyent shared accelerator "Myrtle".

Just a couple more things to test (this post included) and I'm going to declare it done and switch the DNS over.

September 26, 2007

Verizon really is evil

About a year ago I declared that Verizon was evil in a snarky little post that had much more to do with the company's complete failure at providing us with service in a timely manner than than any grand struggle of values. But now, yup, turns out Verizon is most definitely evil in that sense, too.

Update: They caved quickly. By the way, this was never an abortion rights issue. It's a free speech issue, in that it needs to be made completely clear that Verizon is every bit as much of a common carrier when distributing text messages as when it is distributing voice calls and should have no right censor what kind of speech occurs on their network. There may be a legal loophole for text messages, but even if there is, that's just plain silly. We really need to set policy that being a common carrier means you are common carrier for any kind of data, not set policy piece by piece as new technology emerges.

September 24, 2007


Oh, boy... I just read an op-ed piece in the New York Times addressing the role of elite universities in transmitting social privilege from one privileged generation to the next. As a graduate of one of those elite universities (Sasha and I both attended Princeton and have the dubious distinction of being children of alumni as well) my problem with articles like this isn't that I dispute the problem. There is no question that the makeup of each class at each elite university does not reflect a fair sampling of all those students qualified to attend, and there is no question that we would all benefit greatly if it did. It isn't even that I feel the solutions they propose are wrong--I don't know nearly enough to be able to speak intelligently on what the best solutions are, and don't get me Sasha started on the pure evil that is the test-prep racket. My problem is that, seemingly inevitably, these articles imply, if not state right out, that this is the result of some form of spiteful hoarding of privilege by a wealthy few who do everything they can get away with to keep the poor who are storming the barricades at bay. No doubt there are some few who feel this way just as there really are those few who still regularly write in to the alumni weekly decrying how the admission of women has ruined the university, but in my experience these are the exceptions and rare ones at that.

The piece ends with what is, to me, a particularly stinging and false assessment:

Last, and not least, by undermining the dubious assumption that the applicants admitted are those with the most merit, a lottery might promote a certain measure of humility — a quality in short supply in the upper rungs of the “meritocracy” — among admission officers and students alike.

The idea that Ivy League students have an arrogantly lofty idea of their own intelligence is deeply counter to my own experience and contributes to many of the stereotypes that lead to a difficulty in getting students who don't attend elite high schools or have connected parents to consider an elite university as an option. My own experience of Princeton, and one that has been confirmed among many of my friends, was precisely one of humility. Because every Princeton student was at the top of their high school, academically, you quickly and graphically learn that you are not special. No matter how smart you think you are, someone else is smarter and smarter by a very great deal. Rare is the person with a level of arrogance so great that they can live through that demonstration and still think they are hot stuff because they got some good grades, read some difficult books, or got a degree.

On the contrary, it often seems that the assumption of Ivy League arrogance comes from everywhere but the people who attend them. Sometimes simply admitting where you went to college is interpreted as arrogance: A usual response is something along the lines of "Gee, you must be pretty smart, huh?" This can lead to a pretty ridiculous effort to downplay the affiliation. One of the biggest problems, as I see it, is that the general population views elite universities like Princeton as something foreign. As a different world. The high school I attended was generally lower-middle class, and while they prided themselves on sending a high percentage of their students to college, I witnessed not a single bit of encouragement to even the brightest students to consider elite schools. The only students who did apply to elite schools were those who had the background and resources to investigate them on their own. The elite universities of this country were simply not in the world that my high school expected it's students to live in. Similarly the reaction that my mom would usually get from other parents was to say that they could never consider Princeton because there is no way they could afford it, never mind that with their greater resources, elite schools can often provide much more generous aid, frequently with no debt, than other seemingly more affordable schools. People just don't consider them enough to even investigate them because their first reaction is that those are schools simply don't exist in their world.

As I've said a number of times now, the admissions departments of the elite universities must do more to make admissions fair and to expand access to disadvantaged students (and they are), but the problems lie on both sides of the "divide". I'm always a little disheartened when I read articles that reinforce the idea that Princeton and other elite universities exist in a different world from the one in which "normal" people live. As long as people keep on believing that, it will remain true.

September 14, 2007

Do Not Want!

Things I don't like:

Fiddling around with my speaker wire to see if I can fix the (real or imagined) crackle in my speaker only to find I've poked my finger into an old spider nest.

Further finding the nest wasn't as old as I'd thought when I see a tiny baby spider skitter by on the floor.

Further looking down and finding the very large momma spider rushing towards me out of nowhere doing a very good impression of a momma bear who's found me messing with her cubs.

At least I didn't accidentally summon a fear demon.

September 10, 2007

Cover flow audio stutter mini-kerfuffle

While checking out the new iPods at the Apple Store, I discovered a big defect in the new iPod's marquee feature: cover flow. On the first several iPods I picked up, scrolling through cover flow would cause the audio to distort and stutter unbearably. Not just a little or just when the song hadn't had a chance to cache and not just when scrolling all the way from one end to the other. I was just about ready to give the feature up for useless when I picked up another iPod, one attached to one of the iMacs on the other side of the room and there was no trace of the problem. A quick google search pulled up some other reports of the problem, so it wasn't just something wrong with the iPods in that store, and frankly I was a little surprised not to find more reports given the severity of the problem.

It puzzled me for a while. At first I figured that identical seeming iPods were getting different components. Then I figured it out: The ones by the computers were restarting when they got plugged and re-plugged. Sure enough, I picked up the first iPod again, stuttery as ever. A quick restart, holding down the center and menu buttons, and it was perfectly smooth. Mystery and, as far as I'm concerned, problem solved. Hopefully a future software update will prevent it from happening at all.

Unfortunately this doesn't change that, while cool, cover flow is of limited utility to begin with, especially so on a mobile device device with a large collection that can only be browsed in one long list. What's especially unfortunate is that on the go playlist creation doesn't seem to work with cover flow and that's where I could most see using it: brainstorming about what I want to listen to next.

Product Lineup

iPod LineupI've been thinking more about Apple's new iPods and my reaction to them. I think the basic force behind my disappointed reaction was that, for the first time ever, it wasn't entirely clear to me which iPod I would buy if I could. In fact, I think it is noteworthy that prominently displayed on Apple's webiste is a feature entitled "Which iPod are you?". Apple tends to strive for simple product lineups these days, balancing the need to make as much cool stuff available as possible with the fear of diluting their product image with a flood of sub-par options. Furthermore there is some tendency, I think, to feel that if a customer has to think too hard about which option is the best for them, they might think themselves right out of the purchase altogether, feeling that none of the options is optimal. Apple would much rather have you salivating over the one perfect product.

Apple is in a funny product transition with its iPods, based in part on the iPhone and in part on the increasing capacity of flash based players, and that has, unfortunately, left them caught making their customers choose between sub-par options whose flaws wouldn't even be evident if the other product wasn't available for comparison.

Continue reading “Product Lineup” »

September 7, 2007

A cache that stays...

Ok, I think I have the caching thing figured out. Seems that Smarty (which handles the dynamic publishing--and caching--for Movable Type) defaults to a one hour cache timeout. What Smarty does is write the time-stamp in a header on the cached file along with an expire time-stamp computed by adding an interval determined by the smarty variable $cache_lifetime which defaults to 3600 seconds (or one hour). When retrieving a page, smarty compares the expire time with the time the cached file was built and retrieves the cached file only when the cache has not yet expired.

Why it does this is another matter. One hour seems either far too long or far too short for the life of a cache. It especially makes no sense in the context of Movable Type which seems to clear the cache whenever there is a change to the database, such as saving an entry--whether or not the entry is published--or making a comment (although, not, for some reason, when comments are deleted). Incidentally, I haven't yet figured out how Movable Type achieves this. I can't seem to find where in the code it flushes the cache or checks the modification date on the database, however I have empirically determined that this is the behavior.

This caching behavior especially makes no sense for me, since this blog changes, at most, daily. Fortunately, the default cache lifetime can be changed by editing the smarty.class.php file (found at mt/php/extlib/smarty/libs/). At the top of the file, which defines the smarty class, a bunch of default values for variables are set, some of which are overridden by Movable Type when it creates an instance of the smarty object and uses it to display dynamic content, notably the $caching variable which defaults to 0 (off) is flipped on later if you have enabled caching enabled via publishing preferences.

Setting $cache_lifetime = -1 results in a cache that never expires until the Movable Type database is changed, the setting that makes sense (to me, anyway) assuming that the only way the content displayed for a given page will change is if a change is made through Movable Type. This does bring up an important caveat however (although one I haven't verified), which is that if you have dynamic content on a page that changes based on input other than the Movable Type database, it may not work, or may take some extra effort to ensure that it works.

September 5, 2007


I was hoping to get an excuse to upgrade my 20GB 2G iPod today. At first my heart sunk when I saw the iPod Classic announcement, thinking they had decided not to release the expected touch screen iPod. Then I hit reload, and it was there... Except it kind of wasn't. The iPod Touch has everything I could possibly want in an iPod, except it only has up to 16GB of storage. That's less than my 5 year old iPod which cannot, as of earlier this year, hold my entire music library--the main reason I'm looking for an upgrade. I just can't see a downgrade in storage. Sure, I don't need to take all of my music everywhere, but once I cross that bridge, I suddenly have to start making decisions about which music I am going to take. And now instead of just plugging it in and it's done, I have to think about it. I have to make decisions, and I have to keep things organized. And that's just less fun than the original wonder I had in being able to carry all my music with me anywhere without thinking about it.

I don't know. Maybe my experiments with downsizing my library to fit on my current iPod will convince me that 16GB is enough. Or maybe in 6 months there will be a 32 or 64GB version, or eventually I might get an iPhone and a touch screen iPod will seem less exciting, leading me to an eventual iPod Classic upgrade. But in any case, I won't be throwing any money Apple's way just right now, and I was kind of hoping to be pushed over the edge into doing that today.

Update: Seems about the least I can get my catalogue down to without having to make any really difficult choices is 15GB, which probably wouldn't fit onto a 16GB iPod Touch given the formatting and OS overhead. My next iPod must have at least 30GB.

Fishy Cache

As I mentioned previously, I recently switched a good portion of Tapirtype Blog--everything other than the front page index and the entries themselves--to dynamic publishing. I've been collecting my impressions, although I'm generally waiting for the upcoming move on to Solaris at TextDrive, my hosting provider for any final judgments about performance.

I like the idea of it, but I'm still not sure on all the details of the execution. This is partly because Movable Type uses Smarty for it's template system, so in order to understand what's going on, I have to understand both what Movable Type is doing and what Smarty is doing. Note, this isn't a criticism, I think Smarty is perfect for the job, and I'm glad they didn't try to reinvent the wheel, making their own php template compiler. The biggest concern when switching to dynamic publishing is that the efficiency equation shifts. During static publishing, it makes sense to make trade offs that make build time just slightly longer for the sake of convenience, simplicity, or feature-fullness. Using dynamic publishing, however, this could lead to intolerable page load times, so caching becomes very important in order to make only the first load any slower.

Smarty has two levels of caching. First it complies the templates into php files on the first request. In theory this should eliminate any disadvantage of a template based system as compared to Wordpress style php "templates". Second, as pages are requested the output is stored in a cache folder, so the second request for a given page should be able to simply echo that cache file with no computation necessary. Actually there's a third level of caching, though I'm not sure whether it is a Smarty or a Movable Type feature, which is that the blog will instruct the web browser that the page has not changed since the last request, allowing the browser to fetch it from it's own cache.

But the difficulty with caching is that any caching system is only as good as it's ability to tell when it needs to recompute the content. Preferably, the system would be smart enough to understand which pieces of the content have updated and which are still the same, but at the bluntest it must flush the entire cache every time any change is made. And here's where things have been falling down for me. In a given session, I can sit at the blog, load a bunch of pages, and see that after the first load, the loads get much quicker. However, inevitably, the next day, with no changes made the the blog, I'd find the caches recomputing. With no changes published to the blog, I can't see why this would be the case. The only thing I could think of was the fact that several trackback requests had come in and were marked as junk, resulting in no changes to the published blog. It would be quite silly if that was causing the cache to reset, but just to test, I've disabled trackbacks now. As much as I like the idea of trackbacks, they've never really worked out, anyway, and since adding a captcha to anonymous comments, they are my only current source of spam (although none ever get published due to the insistence that the trackback request come from the same IP address to which it points).

September 3, 2007

Who needs the networks?

In the wake of the current spat between NBC and Apple over the price and DRM applied to TV content sold on iTunes, many people have been considering the status quo of TV distribution and pricing. Fake Steve, through his usual hyperbole probably comes closest to the truth by asking, essentially, why we need the networks at all. Don't they exist simply to agrigate content produced by production companies in order to pipe it over the airwaves to consumers? Why should we need them at all when the content producers could sell directly through iTunes or any other internet distributer? What are they there for other than to take a cut of the profits?

Leaving aside the fact that--for now--vastly more people watch plain old, live, non-time-shifted network TV than any kind of content on the internet, you could come up with a few reasons for networks to keep on existing:

Continue reading “Who needs the networks?” »

September 2, 2007


Hey, I just noticed that I missed this blog's birthday.

Sad blog. I'll have to send it flowers.

August 31, 2007

Typography, etc.

I just discovered something odd... MT used to use SmartyPants to translate typography elements (such as quotes and em dashes) when using Textile 2 text formatting (as well, of course, as when using Markdown).

For a moment I thought it had stopped when I saw –– in one of my old entries instead of the — that they should have been translated into. But it's stranger. Turns out all my static pages, get the Textile right, but don't use SmartyPants (or any other html entities translator). However, my dynamic pages get it right.

Ummm... Hopefully someone will get on that real soon now, so as to not force me to learn about Movable Type text formatters and take matters into my own hands.

Also, MT seems to think I'm in Mountain time in spite of my best efforts to convince it that I'm in Pacific. Or maybe it stopped respecting daylight savings... Interestingly this only applies to the date applied to entries. The "Last auto-save" message tells me the correct time. shrug

Update (typography fixed): I fixed the typography problem by manually turning SmartyPants on in all of my static templates, adding smarty_pants="1" to the tags that write out content that might have typography elements in them (MTEntryTitle, MTEntryBody, and MTEntryMore). This should have the side benefit of ensuring that all entries get the best possible typography translation no matter the text formatter used. Also of note is that SmartyPants is smart enough to not process within html comments or php code blocks so it won't break javascript or php code in entries which is important for my galleries.

Still no idea what the time shifted-by-one-hour time-stamp thing is all about, though.

August 30, 2007

Note to the TV reviewer on the radio:

Umm... When you use the phrases "in the tradition of Buffy the Vampire Slayer" and "in the style of Kevin Smith with borderline potty-mouth humor" to support each other, you make me think you may not have actually watched Buffy.

Nothing against Kevin Smith, by the way. We do love. But come on.

(And yes, Buffy had it's share of the silly as well as it's share of the potty, but that was so no the point.)

New comment policy

Subtitled: woot, no spam!

So spam was getting kind of silly. Akismet was not catching, well, anything.

Enter the new MT4 options.

Continue reading “New comment policy” »

August 27, 2007

Trip to San Juan Island

Before she left for Boston to resume law school last Saturday, Sasha and I took a trip to San Juan Island, staying at the States Inn. We had a wonderful time and some of our pictures are up on Flickr.


August 16, 2007

MT 4.0!

I've upgraded to MT 4.0.

I thought I'd been smart by trying it locally before upgrading online, but it turned out to be a bit more difficult that I thought it would be. To be fair that's mostly because I took the opportunity to make a couple of changes. MT 4 has Textile and Markdown built in, including as dynamic php scripts. I know you could install them that way before, but I didn't want to go to the trouble and that provided a block to using dynamic publishing. So now I've enabled dynamic publishing for most indexes and archives other than the entries themselves. I can't have the entries themselves published dynamically for now because I use php inside entries to publish my photo galleries and that won't work in dynamic publishing.

I've also switched from MTKeyValue to CustomFields. Custom fields isn't compatible with dynamic publishing either, but it is a bit slicker and I'm working around that for now because I'm only using it to publish the recent photos feature which I publish as a static file that is php-included.

I also started using MTFastsearch and even got it working along side dynamic caching, using mod_rewrite to redirect requests to fastsearch directly to a custom mtview.php script which has the caching disabled. In the process I found out that I don't entirely understand what is going on with the .htaccess created by dynamic publishing. Many things that I thought should work would not (for instance I had to put the rewrite I just mentioned up at the top right after turning rewrite on), and some things wouldn't work at all. I seem to have everything but the redirect form the .org site working now.

I also disabled fastcgi for the moment. It seemed to work out of the box, however the memory requirements seem to be even worse than before and I was getting the strange out of memory errors very frequently. The CGI performance doesn't seem to be too bad right now and we'll see how things are after the eventual TextDrive transition to Solaris.

All in all, so far, so good. I'll have to spend some time investigating some of the new features. I got the updated authentication options working (with some difficulty involving the __trans business) except for the option to register directly with the blog, for instance.

Update: One more dynamic publishing snag. It seems that when I delete a comment via the admin interface, the change won't be reflected on dynamically published pages. It is reflected on static pages, so the actual comment disappears from the entry. But the indexes still publish the cached version with the comment total unchanged. The work around seems to be to jog MT to clear the cache by turning caching off and then back on after deleting a comment. I haven't tested this with deleting other content, but the process of actually making a comment on the page seems to work just fine.

August 2, 2007

Trip to Mt. Baker

Mt. Baker

My parents are visiting us in Seattle. Last weekend we used their rental car to take a trip to Mt. Baker. I have some of my pictures up on Flickr here.

July 24, 2007

If I ruled the world: Presidential debate edition

Everyone is talking about last night's youtube based presidential debate (a quick rundown of which is here at Salon). The whole thing is irking me largely because, unsurprisingly, the press is using it as yet another excuse to talk about anything other than the real issues and how the candidates differ--as if we needed another way to cover the horse race instead of the policy. At least it's better than talking about haircuts and the public reaction to them, I suppose.

But even the "novel" format being discussed isn't very interesting. Don't get me wrong, if getting people to submit questions via youtube yeilds more interesting, personal, or compelling questions, then I'm all for it, but the questions are the easy part. Holding the candidates accountable for giving true and deep answers that cover policy is the real problem. If I ran the world, here's what I'd want from my debate formats:

Forget the questions, check the answers!

How about having the first half of the debate devoted to questions and the second half to follow up. People online would have a chance to post followup questions, and more importantly, they and a panel of experts would be available to do live fact checking and would challenge assertions that the candidates make. This would reward candidates who have more to a plan than a soundbite and punish candidates who think they can get away with an optimistic over simplification that sounds better than the complicated truth.

Note: To their credit, I just heard the guests on the PRI/KCRW program To The Point make some similar complaints and suggestions. Notably one of the guests suggested that a better way to leverage the internet would be to have instant polls of satisfaction with whether the candidate answered the question or not, so the moderator could choose to follow up with a challenge like "75% of the audience feels you didn't really answer the question, would you like an opportunity to give a fuller answer?" The hope would be that it would be impossible to say no, however I worry that it would just give the candidates who like to steer their answers back to the same nice sounding platitudes a chance to utter more of the same. The polls would also be deeply vulnerable to manipulation by the campaigns. I think my idea would be a bit more robust and would be more likely to draw more out of the candidates. It would, however, make the time crunch even more of a problem when dealing with so many candidates at once.

July 9, 2007

Young and Slightly Irked

There's a common theme in discussions about political movements these days. Whether the talking heads on the radio are discussing the war, global warming, or urban poverty and race relations, there's one observation that always comes to the surface: Young people are not angry. "We can't achieve our goals, you see," say the baby boomers, "because unlike how we responded to the challenges of our day, you remain apathetic."

As a politically engaged "young person" I find this a difficult message to stomach. Don't get me wrong. I can't dispute the voting statistics, and it's a great shame that such a small percentage of people under 30 vote. But is our level of involvement really so surprising? Were the 60s and 70s really such an eden of political activity? Did the anger really lead to a lasting revolution? I'm not trying to downplay the achievements of the last 30 years--lord knows I wouldn't want to live in any earlier time--but can you blame the grandchildren of the 60s for their cynicism?

Here's one way to read the lesson: when the baby boomers had a chance to nominate presidents from their generation we got Clinton and W. Baby boomers in power have spent their time dismantling the liberal institutions set up by their parents and grandparents in favor of lower taxes, and the drug policy they've implemented has been a grand combination of "just say no" and just lock them up. The lesson that we've learned about what anger in the streets achieves in terms of real policy change is a disappointing one.

So before blaming the problems we are inheriting on our own lack of political involvement, please take a moment to recognize that these problems don't get solved because they're hard and because they take more than a few slogans shouted in the streets. And also remember that the best way to get "youth" involved probably isn't to repeat over and over "these kids today..." After a while it starts to sound like "We ran out of steam... You fix it."

June 22, 2007

With great power comes great responsibility

I was recently trawling through our site logs when I noticed that an IP address registered to Google had been doing an awful lot of searches on this blog lately, which made me think: "Hey, I haven't googled myself lately. Maybe this site's gone up in page rank."

And sure enough, I came to a most startling revelation. Not only is this blog the top result when searching for tapirtype blog (and believe me, this was not always the case), but by at least this one measure, I now appear to be the most prominent Michael Boyle in the blogosphere.

I'm as shocked as you are. All I can really say is: "Listen up, all you other millions of Michael Boyles out there. Men, get cracking. I mean, I don't update nearly often enough to qualify as the representative Michael Boyle blog."

June 17, 2007

Pictures From Saturday Market Trip on Flickr


April 28, 2007

Record Time

Mallory's (my MacBook Pro's) processor fan died recently so I had to take her in again, and I've got to hand it to Apple. I brought her in at 5:00 and she was all fixed by 8:30. What's more they fixed her for free even though I'm a few days out of warrantee (in part or whole because I had brought her in just recently I think). Given all the problems that I've had with her (and she really is a wonderful machine even still) it's so nice that I've had a positive experience every time I've had to bring her in for service. They've really got the whole "Genius Bar" thing down.

They treat me like I know what I'm doing. They're up front about what they do and don't know, and they do their best to look into everything that I bring up and fix as much as they can as quickly as they can.

Very pleasing.

April 6, 2007

This explains my childhood

xkcd from 4/6/2007

April 5, 2007

For the last time people:


It's pretty simple people. If you download new DRM free EMI music from iTunes, you must have iTunes. iTunes can read and transcode AAC files, and without the DRM, there's nothing preventing you from converting them into anything you want, sending them off to whatever player or computer you want. There is no way that you could (legally) come into contact with an AAC file from iTunes and not have the ability to transform it to work with whatever player you want.

And for all you people who refuse to give Apple any credit because they are in the business of making money from selling music and have had their hands tainted by the evil DRM: Get over yourselves! If you can't recognize and support a step in the right direction when it's foot comes directly down on the spot where you have your head in the sand, then you deserve to loose the war. I swear, you must be the same people who refuse to vote for democrats because they aren't progressive enough and then complain when Bush wins an election. Go ahead, and go off to your corner to throw your tantrum while the rest of us try to make the world a better place one baby step at a time.


March 27, 2007

Sleeping on the edge

I've decided to disable the "Safe Sleep" option on Mallory (my MacBook Pro). Safe Sleep is the newish feature on mac laptops that suspends the contents of RAM to the hard disk so that it can recover if the battery is removed during sleep. While this is great for swapping batteries on a flight, I only have one battery at the moment. I think I've made use of the feature all of twice, and I wouldn't have done that other than to test it out or simply be lazy because I knew I could.

On the other hand, I'm annoyed by it every single day. Not only can it potentially be a security risk, but it can sometimes take a very long time to write 2 GB to disk. Especially when you realize that you are about to miss your bus. And you know what isn't a good idea? Grabbing your computer and running with it when the disk is busy. I have my computer set to automatically go to sleep when running off of battery power (though not when plugged in) so I think it would be far more likely that my desktop machine would die in it's sleep due to a power outage than my laptop.

So the solution turns out to be easy. Detailed (and overly cautious) instructions are at Macworld.

In short, simply open up a terminal window and first verify what your current sleep mode setting is, then change it to 0, plain vanilla sleep. The command pmset -g or, to zero in on the sleep setting, pmset -g | grep hibernatemode will take care of the first order of business. To change the mode, type:

sudo pmset -a hibernatemode 0

That's it. Apparently the system may reset to the default if you open up the Energy Saver preferences, so if you see it going back to default behavior just repeat the above steps. And if you are going on a trip and think you might be swapping batteries you can always change the setting back (usually 3 -- 7 if use secure virtual memory -- but you should check what your setting is and remember it). Also there's a Dashboard widget linked to in the Macworld article to automate the process of putting your computer directly into hibernation then resetting things back to normal when it wakes.

By the way, another place where Safe Sleep can save your ass is when you are having battery problems and your power cuts out before you think it will. However this only works if it actually cuts out while the computer is asleep. Usually the computer won't even have time to sleep. And, please, if you are experiencing battery problems take your battery in to be replaced immediately. Malfunctioning batteries can be a very bad thing.

March 26, 2007


The interwebs are all, well, atwitter about Twitter of late, and I thought it was time that I chimed in because I think that much of what I've read from both the lovers and the haters seems to miss the point. To be fair, I've only just signed up and I'm not exactly using it yet as I haven't gotten any of my friends on it yet (incidentally if you are a friend of mine and use Twitter, give me an email, my Twitter name is mjboyle).

Still, I don't get why everyone seems to be thinking of it as a "micro-blogging" or "IM" app. People have been sending IMs and text messages quite well for some time on their own now, thank you, and there are a million places where you can set up a small frequently updated blog.

One of my favorite technology writers, Andy Ihnatko seems to dislike Twitter because he sees it as a micro-blogging platform that is predicated on the idea that shorter posts are better. To be fair, he's giving it a try, and I would agree with him if I thought that was Twitter's purpose. But I've got a blog already. And if I want a more personal, managed, or community oriented one there's always Vox. Twitter isn't about blogging. It isn't about sharing ideas. And it isn't really about sending messages or having a conversation.

As I see it, Twitter is a way to let far flung friends who you don't see in your day to day life have a window into the kinds of experiences, moods, and fancies that are happening to you at the moment. The kind of stuff that makes up the flavor of life, that you share with coworkers or friends you see at lunch, but wouldn't really make it into a monthly letter or a blog post. I figure that if you are sending more than one or two "tweets" a day (and you aren't using it to actively coordinate with a group of people), you are using it wrong.

I know others have said it, but I think Twitter is less IM and more IM away message. I actually got the idea that I might like Twitter from a friend who I haven't seen or talked to in a long time. She went through a period of setting away messages that had a little detail about what she was up to. It made me feel much more connected to her than I have since we were going to school together, but none of the details were things that would be worth making a letter out of. She wasn't sharing every detail of what she was having for dinner, just what was on her mind that night.

If used right, Twitter lets you aggregate what your friends are thinking about right now with very little effort. You don't have to have it IM you or send messages to your cell phone, so you don't have to receive updates except for when you are wondering what's up in your friend's lives. It's just one more tool to help you feel more like you are living life with the people you choose as friends, rather than just those who are physically nearby. As someone far from most of my family and friends, I can see the appeal.

March 21, 2007


While we're on the topic of substance consumption, I've got a new little problem. You see, to get the mix of coffee to milk right in my lattes, I order either a double short or a triple tall. Things is, most espresso machines are set up to make two shots at once, so occasionally they'll offer you four shots to make it even.

Three times in a row now this has happened.

Why isn't this a good thing? I can't say no, but really I'm addicted to caffein enough as it is. If quads stop doing it for me, I'm sunk!

Ah, the inexorable march of caffeine addiction.

March 20, 2007

Backup snags: SuperDuper! after the honneymoon

SuperDuper! Icon

In my rush of initial satisfaction with SuperDuper!, I missed one or two flies in the ointment that make the situation less than ideal. The good news is that there are easy solutions to all of the problems that are graceful enough for the speed, reliability, and metadata savvy of SuperDuper! to win out.

Continue reading “Backup snags: SuperDuper! after the honneymoon” »

March 18, 2007

Backup strategy rehaul. Plus: Insomniac mac solved?

Hard Disk

Since starting graduate school, I've been trying to be better about doing regular, full backups. There's just too many stories about people loosing years of their lives to crashes for anyone without a death wish not to at least try. It also has as much to do with the fact that, for the first time since I've been thinking about backups, hard drives are cheep, and hard drive based backups have become a reality. Which means I don't have to backup 80 GB of data in 100 or 700 MB chunks like in the late 90s when I wasn't good about backing up because I was never going to sit there swapping out that many zip disks or CDs.

Now with high quality external drives of 250 GB or more available for $130 or less, there's no excuse. It helps that I use a laptop as my main computer so I'm stuck with smaller hard drives. Mallory's internal hard drive is 100 GB and I have a 60 and an 80 GB external drive. 100 60 80=240 meaning that for now I can perfectly fit all of my data on my 250 GB backup drive even if I fill everything.

But there's a problem. Just because storage is now economical doesn't mean that backup software is any better. And backup software just isn't something that I'm willing to give any slack. It had better work perfectly and every time or else there's no point.

Continue reading “Backup strategy rehaul. Plus: Insomniac mac solved?” »

March 15, 2007

A fresh set of bile, episode 2: Hard drive heartache

Subtitled: Brand name hard drive enclosures should last longer than a year.

This is just a short little rant today. The next thing that failed me was my hard drive. I have a little external hard drive. It's the result of the death of my old computer. Shortly before it died I'd sunk some money into it (I mean of course, I did, when else does your old computer die but when you've just put money in to make it last another year). So I took my brand new hard drive and bought an external enclosure for it both to ease the transfer process and so that my investment wouldn't have been entirely wasted.

After a cascade of events, I ended up buying a nice sturdy aluminum MacAlly enclosure for almost $40 at retail because I needed it right then. It worked perfectly for a year and lately I've taken to using the drive to offload things that I want to be able to access on the road but don't need all the time so I can off load in order to free up space on my already full internal drive. Mostly movies, older pictures in my Aperture library (Can I say how much I love that I can now offload the originals of some pictures while keeping low resolution stand-ins for offline viewing in the library? Pop my drive back in and they're all there just as if I hadn't off loaded them.), and a game that I've taken to playing.

While Sasha was here I took some time to offload some more pictures and when she left I decided that to console myself I'd have a nice long game playing session. So I plugged my drive back in and... Absolutely nothing happened. The drive seemed to power on as normal, but nothing I could do could make Mallory (my new computer) give any evidence that she had any idea that a hard drive had been plugged in. No drive utilities could recognize that there was a drive attached to scan.

So I figured either the drive was damaged beyond my ability to repair with the utilities I had or the enclosure had died. So I bought a brand new, cheap, Bytecc enclosure for about $19. It's not quite as pretty, but it's aluminum. It's compact. And it even comes with a very nice carrying case that I didn't expect. Worked perfect right away. No problems with the filesystem or anything. Hopefully this will be the end of my worries, but I still see a second LaCie hard drive in my future.

I'll say it again: A retail enclosure should last longer than a year. It's as simple as that.

March 13, 2007

One! Two! Three! Four! ... May I have my coffee cake now?

Subtitled: The military coffee cake complex.

On my way home today I stopped by the U-Store to get a book and was tempted by some coffee cake at Bulldog News on the way back down the Ave.

Just as I was starting to order I heard a man coming up the Ave toward me shouting loudly "One, Two, Three, Four! Who's against this god damn war?!?" repeatedly. He made it up level with me just as I had ordered my coffee and was starting to inquire about the cake when he paused, looked at me, and repeated his slogan. I stopped mid pointing and proceeded to adopt my full on city mode and loudly ignore him, but he wouldn't have it. "Are you against this war?"

"..." I started to try to recover myself and begin to point at the coffee cake I'd like as the Barista and I kind of look around wondering what we are supposed to do, frozen in the middle of the transaction.

"Don't buy that! Before you buy that, think! ... Are you against this war???"

"...Um... Yes, actually..."

He held his hand out and, not knowing what else to do, I shook it simultaneously looking at him for the first time and realizing that he smelled like lots and lots of really old beer. As I shook his hand he said "High five! Now... ONE, TWO, THREE, FOUR, Who's Against This God Damn War!" clearly expecting me to join in and then he walked away.

After a stunned moment the Barista and I laughed, decided that it was ok for me to order now as long as I promised not to tell him so she wouldn't get in trouble for selling something to me, and went back to the beginning of the whole ordering process. Of course now I realized that I'd shaken this not so clean guy's hand just before ordering coffee cake that I really wanted to eat right now, but I tried not to think about that too hard.

The strangest thing about the whole episode was where it was happening. I mean, running into a young guy in jeans with a messenger bag on the Ave in Seattle you aren't very likely to find out that he's for the war. Of course, drunk and crazy as the guy seemed, I'm not entirely sure he knew where he was much less what war he was talking about. Maybe he was trying to recruit people to his side against the war on poverty or something.

A fresh set of bile, episode 1: UPS

So I'm back from the fly meeting and ready to dish out a fresh set of bile to the things that have failed me over the last bit. In this first installment we visit how complicated UPS can make delivering a simple little envelope.

My watch broke a while back. The crystal cracked seemingly spontaneously with a loud ping that was heard from four meters away. I really could put Skagen on the list for that, but it's balanced by the fact that I really, really like my watch, so I'll spare them my wrath for now unless it breaks again. (It did mysteriously loose half an hour a couple of days ago...) It was marginally cheaper--if only marginally--to get a cheap temporary replacement and send it in to be fixed than to get a new one, so I dutifully sent in my little box insured with return receipt and waited.

Next thing, I come home to find a UPS 2nd delivery attempt slip on my mailbox. Strange, I never got a first delivery slip. And no information was filled out, so I could only assume that it was my watch coming back. Oh, and it was dated from the day before... So sure enough I go upstairs and give UPS a call and they claim to already have made a third attempt making it too late for me to do anything about it other than spend money renting a flexcar to drive all the way down to the UPS facility in Sodo. So I talk to a representative, and to his credit, he assures me that he can have it sent to my work now, but it's the last chance and they won't even hold it for me if anything goes wrong. One more problem and it's going back to the sender and who knows what I'll have to go through to get my watch back.

So I carefully ask him exactly what information he needs to make sure it gets through the byzantine addressing of the UW to our new building, giving him building name, floor, room number, lab name, department, street address, and zip plus 4, which should have been redundant about five times over to get it to me. He tells me that unfortunately it's after 6:00, so it won't get to me until day after tomorrow. No problem, I think, just so it gets to me and I don't have to shell out any more money or time. Oh, if only...

So two days roll by and nothing comes, so I track the package and there are about a million notices up repeating that "this delay was caused by an error in routing, we're sorry for the inconvenience..." Or something like that. Finally the next Monday, I have a free moment to think about it and track it again and it says that it was delivered to someone with a name I don't recognize (first name only making directory lookup almost impossible) to the "office." Nievely I run down to the departmental office and ask for my package, but no one has seen it or heard of the person who supposedly signed for it. We spend some time looking around the building for someone who might have signed for it, wasting almost an hour with no luck. Finally we decide that it could have ended up just about anywhere in the University. The problem is, I'm leaving at 3:30 AM the next day for the fly meeting, so I'm afraid that I won't be around when whoever received it tries to find me and I'll never see my watch again.

So on the suggestion of an administrator I gave UPS a call again to see if they had any more detailed information and the recording tells me everything that I already knew plus something indecipherable in a non-artificial prerecorded voice. After asking for an operator, I'm able to gather that I'm being told a room number where it ended up in the I wing of health sciences. You know, the kind of information that would have been actually been useful had it been on the tracking information page.

Unfortunately it is a couple minutes past five now, so I run off to see if I can get in to where my package is and I track it down to a relatively high security locked door with a sign saying not to knock but to use the phone, which I do and get the voice mail of the person who signed for my package. Finally luck struck because as I was about to leave someone came by and used her card to get into the door. She was nice enough to let me in and look for the package which, after some searching, we found stuck behind another envelope. So at least the story has a happy ending.

You see, what happened is that apparently UPS decided to leave out half of the information that I gave them from the new shipping label. So even though it still had the street address and room number which should have been enough to get it to me, they became confused and tried to do a directory lookup on me. The problem is that we just moved and it seems that when I changed my address in the directory when I registered for the quarter, that didn't change my faculty/staff listing (which I should have thought of), so they gave it my expired address. How it then got two floors down from my old address instead of someone in the old space telling them that it was probably something for the who used to be there, is anybody's guess as is why they decided to deliver it to a high security area.

I fixed my address listing and I'd like to think that this won't happen again, but then that would be pretty naive wouldn't it?

March 4, 2007

Movable Type vs Wordpress From a Design Point of View

I've been meaning to collect my impressions of the different blogging systems I've tried for a while now, but I've never seemed to get around to it. But today via Daring Fireball I noticed a little post from Joe Trotter that neatly sums up my conclusions and the reason why I've stuck with Movable Type. So now's as good a time as any to quickly throw in my two cents.

I wouldn't go so far as to say that "I hate Wordpress," and Gruber's response is correct, we shouldn't confuse templates with blogging systems. You could undoubtedly make just about any site in just about any of the top blogging systems currently in use. But just because you can do something doesn't mean that your experience doing it will be pleasant. The key observation is in Trotter's final paragraph:

I think the problem is that Wordpress themes (and to a greater extent the entire system) are so designed that modifications stick out like a sore thumb - the themes never strike a good balance between flexibility and aesthetics. I’m thinking more and more to switch to Movable Type. The cachet of Wordpress just doesn’t appeal to me anymore.

Of course if you are a skilled Wordpress template designer you can make beautiful completely original or tastefully modified templates, but it isn't what Wordpress is good at. What's made Wordpress so popular -- and what has, in part, made Movable Type less popular in contrast -- is that Wordpress makes it very easy to do single click design changes. Whether or not this was inevitable, that (among other things) has made it conversely more complicated to implement templates yourself and encourages (though it doesn't demand) even original templates to conform to a certain "Wordpress way of thinking."

In order to make a new Wordpress template you have to know way more about how Wordpress itself works than you have to know about Movable Type. If you want to do anything beyond the standard you will quickly find yourself thinking about the mechanics of the database queries going on in the background, and if I wanted to think about that, I'd write my blogging software myself. In contrast, Making a Movable Type template is, simply, making a website. Not much different from designing a static page.

Therefore, I'd heartily recommend Wordpress over Movable Type to anyone who just wants to choose an existing template, maybe change a couple of colors and pictures, and get blogging. But anyone interested in the ease of customizing the design would be better served by Movable Type. People talk about how they love Wordpress in contrast to Movable Type because they always feel like they're fighting with Movable Type. But while the vanilla install was easy, designing my own templates in Wordpress felt like as big or bigger of a battle.

I think that explains a lot. Wordpress may have a somewhat slicker application, but if the design is what you care about, Moveable Type is an easier, more elegant, sandbox to play in. I'm sure that has something to do with why people who are primarily interested in design often choose Movable Type (or Textpattern or ExpressionEngine), even as the rest of the world is moving over to the plug and play "good enough out of the box" simplicity of Wordpress.

PS And yes, I know that my own blog looks fairly "Movable Typeish" as it has evolved from the standard templates.

February 16, 2007

Distilled Water: The best streak remover in the business

My screen got pretty dirty yesterday and it was bothering me so I grabbed a couple of those iKlear polish wipes and went to work. I've normally had pretty good success with them, but after a few minutes of wiping away the situation was worse than before with large splotches all over from drying unevenly. I tried again, being very careful. Same deal. So fine, I think, I'll risk using the fancy lens cleaner we've got. If it's safe enough for expensive coated optics, it's probably safe enough for my screen. Same problem.

Finally it occurs to me: You know what they usually tell you to use in the instructions? Distilled water. I work in a lab. There's distilled water and kimwipes all over the place. Instant streak and blotch free screen.

Now I'm not saying that this would have cleaned it best from the beginning. After all I'd wiped it off like five times with other cleansers, so there was plenty of opportunity for them to do the real work of dissolving grease. But it does go to show you that just because someone makes a fancy specialized product for a task doesn't necessarily mean it'll do any better than the most commonly available tools.

February 5, 2007


Ok. I love my MacBook Pro (her name is Mallory, she's pleased to meet you, too). She's the best computer I've ever had. Maybe adjusted for inflation the Apple II+ or original Macintosh I had when I was growing up give her a run for her money, but we're talking top echelon computer royalty here. She's fast, she's sleek, she does everything that I need her to do with enough left over that she keeps me looking out for solutions to problems that I don't even know I have yet. And did I mention that she's fast? I've even gotten over the silly "MacBook" branding.

This makes her handful of flaws that much more frustrating. She's so close to perfection! A couple of weeks ago my power cord gave out. Apparently because the MagSafe design requires pins to be held together with no physical interlock, the plug has spring-loaded pins. And springs can fail leading to stuck pins and no power. This prompted me to do a mad dash at a backup before I ran out of power so I could bring her in to the Apple Store folks to get that and the host of minor annoyances taken care of.

So... How is she now after a complete working over (which by the way involved a complete wipe and reinstall so I'm really glad I got through that backup)?

  • Annoying display smudge that was there from day one? Fixed!
  • Annoying "processor whine?" Still whining away as strangely as ever.
  • "Display whine" when not at 100% brightness? I didn't used to have that, but I do now! (It's really soft, though.)
  • Airport reconnecting after sleep? So far so good!
  • Strange Airport lockout after waking from sleep? Again, so far so good.
  • Bent part of the case (manufacture defect, not from dropping her or something)? Only partly fixed, but good enough for me.

    And last, but not least...

  • Failure to go to sleep upon closing her lid after running fine for a few days? As of this evening, a big old not fixed!

Looks like Mallory's going to be taking another trip down to the Apple Store...

January 21, 2007

Christmas 2006 Gallery Part Two

Christmas 2006 Gallery 2 Banner

Continue reading “Christmas 2006 Gallery Part Two” »

Blog Design Tweaking

I just tweaked the design of the blog a bit. One of the remaining hold overs from the standard design that I wasn't happy with was the way the bottom of the entries were handled. It placed the authorship and date of the articles at the bottom, meaning that you had to look get through the entire thing to see who wrote it and when, and almost worse, the horizontal lines got very repetitive and harsh. Hopefully this update addresses this.

Incidentally, I made the design changes with using Bare Bone's free TextWrangler and MacRabbits's appropriately named CSSEdit 2 which they sell online for about $30. TextWrangler is about as good as it gets for a free text editor and is really useful for editing files in place on sftp servers.

I adore CSSEdit for so many reasons. First off, you've got to love a company named MacRabbit who, when they charge you for their software, have the transaction be with "Space Carrot." The real reason I love them, though is that when I originally bought CSSEdit 1 it was full of bugs and I kind of regretted it. But just when I was about to give up on them, they sent me an email telling me that they were giving me a free upgrade to CSSEdit 2 which fixed almost all of my problems.

CSSEdit has a few killer features. First, it allows you to instantly preview the changes you make to the file as you type (though it still seems to get out of sync occasionally and require a manual reload of the preview). Even better it allows you to look at any web page, extract the css files it uses and override them with the version you are editing. This makes tweaking existing styles very easy, as any new page you preview that references the same css will preview with the new overriding file. It also allows you to click on any element, see it's bounding box--with padding and margins--and see all the classes it has inherited. It's hard to overstate how useful it is to be able to see the bounding boxes of your elements as you edit, because, love style sheets as I do, it isn't always very clear how the bounding box will end up. It also does a good job of making it easy to switch back and forth between editing the code and using their own GUI.

Anyway, I'm a fan, and between those two tools, for under $30 I've pretty much completely replaced my need for an expensive web editing program from Adobe.

January 18, 2007

Comments under FastCGI

I think I've fixed comments under FastCGI. I added one line from the Bootstrap module to the dispatch.fcgi that wasn't in Brad Choate's original instructions and that seems to have done it. I'll update with better instructions soon.

Update put up some more details at the top of the old instructions. I promise I'll get around to putting up comprehensive updated instructions one of these days.

January 17, 2007

Updated to MT 3.34

Well, I did the update and basically seem to be back at status quo. Comments are still flaky under fcgi, so I'm still using normal cgi for them. That may be because I'm not using the Bootstrap module right, this way works for now.

MT 3.34 and FastCGI

Well, looks like Six Apart has released a new version of Movable Type with increased FastCGI support. Presumably this means they've finished tweaking the whole MT::Bootstrap setup, etc. Well, I'm glad I didn't get around to revising my instructions yet.

Hopefully this update will fix the remaining stability problems I've been having with my FastCGI setup. Of course they recommend using Apache and Textdrive previously frowned upon that to me, so we'll see. First I'll just try the update with my current setup and then I might try it under Apache again to see if that'll work now. Either way, a more public, stable, and accessible way to use Movable Type under FastCGI is a very good thing if for no other reason than that there will be just that many more people noticing bugs and clamoring for fixes.

January 4, 2007

Christmas 2006 Gallery Part One

Banner:  Christmas Gallery One

Continue reading “Christmas 2006 Gallery Part One” »

January 3, 2007

What coffee's supposed to taste like!

There are many obvious reasons why it sucks to be back in Seattle: Separation from Sasha, facing work after a long absence, etc. But one thing sure doesn't suck.

Praise be for decent coffee! I really tried to find an independent coffee place in Boston that had good coffee. I tried to think of it as just being different. But no, it's not. It just sucks. And that no one there seems to realize it is the strangest thing.

But my first cup of coffee back here was absolutely perfect.

December 30, 2006

Capers at Revere Beach

Sasha at Revere BeachSasha at Revere BeachSasha takes pictures of the ocean

Sasha and I went to the beach today! We spent the morning wandering around Cambridge and wanted to wander around another neighborhood afterward, so she got the brilliant idea that we should take the blue line out to Revere Beach. It was very cool, both literally because it had just snowed--finally, it's been an unusually warm December--and because it was so pretty. Also, Sasha was adorable running around on the sand and snow.

I also put up a couple of movies of Sasha capering at the beach here and here. We also met a dog named Gohan.

Continue reading “Capers at Revere Beach” »

December 15, 2006

Off to Boston

I'm heading off to Boston in a few minutes to spend the holidays with Sasha!

As this is the first blog enabled Christmas, hopefully this year will bring many pictures and maybe even some video for friends and family over at Vox as well as here.

Holy windstorm batman!

Wow! We had a serious windstorm here in Seattle last night. I've never felt anything quite like it. The closest thing was the windstorm they had in Chicago when I visited there four years ago. My apartment building was shaking in the gusts and I watched, more than a little horrified, as my big window in the living room bowed in and out.

I was lucky, though. I only lost power very briefly and nothing was damaged. Or at least nothing of mine was damaged. There are shingles strewn about outside the building, so I can't vouch for the roof. Many of my coworkers were still without power this morning.

December 14, 2006

Bleeding ears

To whom it may concern:

You might wish to note that if--when I'm riding on the bus, and it's in the middle of a wind storm, and the driver is talking loudly to the driver of another bus that seems to be stuck, and I'm listening to music on my headphones--the music you are playing through your headphones is the loudest thing I can hear, then you are playing your music too loud and you probably don't have to look any further for the reason why you've gone deaf.

December 10, 2006

Pointless Spam

Ok, yes, I know that's tautology, but usually spam at least has a chance of benefitting the spammer somehow. But why, oh why, did I get trackback spam pointing to, and only pointing to, google?

December 5, 2006

Running Movable Type 3.3 with LightTPD and FastCGI

Update 1/27/07: MT 3.34 is out with improved FastCGI support and between that and some experience, I've tweaked my setup some. I need to write up a better set of instructions, but right now my computer is in for repairs and I'm not up to writing a lengthy entry on a borrowed computer right now. The main things that I've changed are that I'm now having LightTPD spawn only one dispatch process and I've added one important line to the dispatch script as follows:

Just inside the eval block right above the line that reads: while (my $q = new CGI::Fast) { I've added in require MT; and right above the line that reads: $app->init_request(CGIObject => $q) unless $app->{init_request}; I've added the line: MT->set_instance($app);

These changes are to more closely match how the bootstrap module handles starting up a script and adding that line seems to allow comments to be reliably published through FastCGI.

However I am still getting periodic out of memory errors when I do more than a couple of big actions in a row such as a rebuild a comment and another rebuild. That makes me worry about what will happen as the blog grows.

Original text below:

Since it seems to be a bit of a moving target (and just so I remember myself), I thought I'd share what I did in order to get my Movable Type installation running with LightTPD and FastCGI at TextDrive. Needless to say, your milage may vary, especially at other hosts (and really I'm not sure that any other host will let you make this setup).

Why did I do this and was it worth it?

If you want to skip the background and get straight to the step by step instructions skip to the extended entry.

Unfortunately the real answer is probably a not so high minded "because I could" or "to see if I could" but in general if there's a better way to do things, I like to at least try to take advantage of it. To be certain, I'm seeking to solve a problem that I don't suffer from all that much. The problem being that standard CGI is slow. Every request for the CGI program will cause the perl (in this case) script to be compiled and loaded into memory even if you just used the same program a few seconds ago. This means that the user waits and the server gets the load of repeatedly starting new processes. It's easy to see how a stateless protocol like http would encourage this, but it can suck, especially when your blog gets hammered by spammers (or users for that matter) generating a huge number of requests to the comment or trackback script in quick succession. Even in normal operation, it simply slows things down and is one reason some people may find Movable Type less appealing than blogging applications which take a different approach, such as using php. The "standard" approach for fixing this in recent years has been to compile a script interpreter into Apache via a module like mod_php, but for a number of reasons that I don't entirely understand, mod_perl is not as secure or common as mod_php. FastCGI seeks to remedy this problem by starting one or more persistent processes which start up once and handle requests for scripts, staying active between requests. Unfortunately, Apache's implementation of FastCGI isn't very good (again for reasons that I do not entirely understand), however LightTPD was designed with good FastCGI support built in. Some people may favor using LightTPD anyway, even for serving static content because it apparently scales much better than Apache for handling high levels of traffic without requiring unreasonable amounts of resources.

So... Was it worth it? Well, as I said, I have neither a high traffic site nor one that has so far attracted (much) spamming, but the second at least is inevitable with time, and who knows, I could see more traffic someday. The bottom line, though, is that where I see the most difference is in the responsiveness of the application, and there you really can tell the difference. You click and the new page pops open. To be sure, there are still delays sometimes, and it isn't as if the rebuilds have gone away, but I never, anymore, have to wait for a link to open longer than I would expect from any static website.

Disadvantages? Well, anytime you stray out of the standard or increase the complexity of your setup, you do risk something unforeseen going wrong. You should probably keep a bit of a closer eye on things set up this way than you would otherwise. At first I did have a couple of major ongoing complaints with my setup: If you want to avoid having the port number in all of your links to the Movable Type application, you will need to proxy through from Apache to LightTPD which, in my hands anyway, causes Movable Type to see all incoming connections to be from localhost, confusing the spam filters. Also, the proxy setup means that you can't adjust mod_security yourself (you'd have to file a ticket to get them to disable it or modify the rules for you). Because of these problems, I've scrapped the proxy setup and simply have links to the application go directly to my LightTPD port. I'm waiting to hear from anyone about whether this could be a bad idea for some reason, but I'm happy so far.

Update 12/10/06: Thanks to a comment from Brad Choate, I've now fixed the problem with Movable Type seeing the wrong IP address and so I am now using the proxying method instead of pointing directly to the LightTPD port, and I've described that setup below.

Ok, here's the goods. Read on for the detailed version of how I got things set up:

Continue reading “Running Movable Type 3.3 with LightTPD and FastCGI” »

December 1, 2006

I for one welcome our new refrigeration overlords...

It's rather disconcerting to see the elevator doors sweep open to reveal three unaccompanied freezers huddled together, leaving one human sized space by the control panel. Perhaps they decided to show initiative and move themselves over from the old building and only made it as far as the elevator? Or maybe their human handlers had something else to do and decided to keep them amused by running them up and down the elevator like little children?

Or maybe it's more sinister? Could this be the new trojan horse? Are three stooped over and disoriented invaders about to tumble out of their refrigerated shells?

November 29, 2006

So cold... So, so cold...

Ways that I know that it is far colder and drier than any self respecting Seattle weather pattern should aspire to be:

  1. It hasn't broken freezing in the shade two days running.
  2. My electric heat is working full time to keep the temperature five degrees below the set temperature.
  3. I've turned on the heat in the bedroom for the first time in two years.
  4. I'm wearing my fleece and my east coast blizzard worthy parka.

    And most of all:

  5. For two days running when I've swung my messenger-bag around to the front to sit down on the bus, the static electricity generated by it as it rubs along my coat has bee sufficient to generate audible crackling in my iPod earbuds.

It's not that I've gone soft... It's just... disorienting!

November 23, 2006

Visit to the de Young Museum

Observation Deck at the de Young

The Observation Deck at the de Young

Masks from Oceania


On Wednesday my Aunt Mary and I went to the de Young Museum at Golden Gate Park in San Francisco. The museum was damaged in the '89 earthquake and has only recently been rebuilt, I believe. We saw an exhibit of Ruth Asawa work. Most of the exhibit consisted of intricate hanging woven wire sculptures with many layers inset in each other. I liked them quite a bit, but I was even more fascinated by a small set of pages from her notebooks. The exhibit did a really good job of focusing on her development as an artist through the years as she discovered and invented various techniques and then came back to revisit them years later. It's not the kind of art that I usually seek out, and it was nice to have an opportunity to see a really good exhibit of it.

After that we wandered up through a large section of Oceanic and Affrican art. I gather that in the old space they never had the room to keep all of it on display, but here it was one of the largest collections that I've seen and some of it was really fascinating.

After that we caught the exhibit on Gee's Bend Quilts and headed up to the observation deck at the top of the tower. I really appreciated that because I haven't been to San Francisco since I was little and it provided a very nice overview of the city. I'm a big fan of stepping back from the edge at decks like that and watching the people standing in front of the city sweeping out below, rather than staring directly out the windows. I've put up a few more pictures on Flickr starting here.

November 22, 2006

PC Design “Innovation”

Ok, I just have to comment:

I don't mean to come off as an Apple zealot. Love Apple as I do, it certainly has no monopoly on the innovative and interesting, but a quick scan through a New York Times article on PC case design revealed this gem of contradictory logic about Apple and it's role as an innovator computer case design:

Apple Computer is widely credited with long ago shattering conventions that had for years dictated how a computer had to feel and look. Windows-based personal computers generally lagged far behind in fusing function with form in ways that consumers found exciting. But that is changing, executives from mainstay computer companies like Dell and Toshiba say.

Gotta love how the sentence contradicts itself. So... Apple is no longer the leader in PC industrial design, with the Windows-based makers lagging behind because, now, long after Apple started innovating, PC makers are coming up with innovative designs?

I'm not sure that sentence means what you think it means...

(And I'm not even touching the obvious question of what the hell else the executives of the competition would say.)

November 21, 2006

C Class Citizen

Southwest has decided that they are not interested in my business. They informed me today that there is no way, short of my coming to the airport 24 hours ahead of time, for me to get anything better than a "C" seating designation: The group of half a dozen or so people who got last minute tickets and are all guaranteed to have only middle seats available to them.

The problem is that I'm on the Watch List. Normally this is just a mild inconvenience. I've never had any extra security screening or hassles once I've got my ticket, they just tend to insist that I see an actual person to check in for my flight rather than using a computer. Seems a little silly since I'm going to show my ID anyway, but not a big deal. Sometimes this means extra delays, but the people at Continental just told me in that case to get in the 1st class line and tell them that I'm a selectee. Works for me.

Southwest, however, bases their seating on when you check in, giving priority to those who check in online ahead of time, something they will not allow me to do. Naively, I assumed that since this is a problem that has been going on for several years now, and every ticket agent that I've ever dealt with has expressed frustration and sympathy about it, helping me to navigate my way through, that the Southwest ticket agents would have a way around this obvious problem, making me an exception since I had no other choice. Not so. They even seemed a bit put out that I asked about it, telling me "You know you're on the Watch List, right?" and acting as though I should just assume that flying would be a painful experience no matter what airline I chose or what I did.

But if I really was a security risk, how would forcing me into the middle seat help anyone? Not a bit. Seat assignment is irrelevant. They just want to check my ID but don't want to take the effort to design a system that would allow me to get in line for a seat without completing the check in process. I mean how hard would it be to just give me a number when I tried to check in saying that I had started the process of checking in, but simply needed to do one more thing at the airport to finish it. Viola! Now I'm treated like a normal person except for the fact that they need to verify that no, I don't fit the profile of whoever it is that is making things suck for Michael Boyles everywhere.

I don't mind a little sensible inconvenience in the name of security, but do not force me into permanent second class status because you're too lazy to adapt on your end.

November 20, 2006

San Francisco Tomorrow

I'm heading off to San Francisco tomorrow to visit my Aunt and Uncle for Thanksgiving. It'll be the first time that I've been out to there to see them since a trip we took when I was in 3rd grade, I think, which is really too bad and kind of embarrassing since they've been out east to visit us. I'm looking forward to it. I haven't had a good chance to visit with them for a long time and it'll be nice to see San Francisco as an adult. I'll try to take some pictures while I'm there and write a post or two.

November 14, 2006

Pagliacci: Best Pizza Place Ever

So it's late and I've been working all night on getting something to work for Sasha with the computer and long distance troubleshooting is never fun. So I decide, blah, it's too late to cook and I'm hungry so I'm just going to throw up my hands and order a pizza. But when I run down to get it the guy tells me "You've been selected for a free pizza tonight." He hands me the pizza and on top of it is a card from them saying "Thank you and this one's on us" with three signatures in it. Now that's a surefire way to make my night better fast!

It’s just chai

Chai means tea, people! You can't say "chai tea." Especially when you're on the radio and doing a segment on trends in tea. I don't mean to be snobby, but this one just bugs the heck out of me for some reason. If you must qualify the word "chai" because you are worried that people don't know that it is a style of preparing tea, at least say "chai style tea."

The sad story of lattes and lids

One unfortunate thing about Seattle coffee culture--at least the part that I'm most tied into--is that for the most part it isn't about people sitting around in coffee shops, it's about people running from place to place and grabbing coffee on the way. And that means that whether it's a disposable cup or your own 99% of the time you drink your latte through a lid. But the good thing about a latte is that it comes with a head of foam so fine that it doesn't come off so much as foam but thickened essence of coffee. Then you slap a lid on it and the tiny bubbles start colliding and merging and by the time it gets to your lips it's either thick foam or coffee, the equilibrium destroyed. I can't say how many times I've been presented with a beautiful latte, leaf design and all, only to have a lid slapped right on top of it.

Today I got a latte on my way to work and grabbed three quick sips, thinking about how I should really buck the convention and go un-lidded. But my desire to avoid a wet sticky wrist won out and by the fourth sip I was back to the land of the lidded.

November 12, 2006


Thanks to Textdrive, I've now got my Movable Type application running under fastcgi using lighttpd. All the normal serving of the pages generated by Movable Type is still going through Apache. More about what I had to do to get it to work shortly...

Update: I'm just testing out a new feature... Nothing to see here... Move along... Did it work now...?

November 11, 2006

Migrated over to TextDrive

My second pre-paid year of web hosting is coming to a close this December, so I figured I should re-evaluate my choice of service provider. Two years ago when I first investigated buying hosting for Sasha to put up Tapir Type I chose, somewhat at random, to go with OLM. When I say randomly, that isn't entirely true because I agonized over the choice somewhat, never having signed up with a hosting provider or registered a domain name before and having for the most part dropped out of exploring the nuts and bolts of Internet hosting before the bubble had even peaked. But they had a good recommendation from CNET and seemed to offer a lot for a little (but not so much so as to be too good to be true) so I jumped on them feeling they were a safe bet.

And they were. They've served me well over these first two years, never giving me much trouble and generally allowing me to do what I wanted to do. But they weren't very exciting or flexible and the few times I did want to do something different or figure out how something was working on the servers I didn't feel I had good options to turn to. And in general they didn't seem to have given too much though or put much interest in how they had things set up, they just made it work--a perfectly valid business model.

But since I got more involved with Tapirtype after setting up this blog, I became interested in going with a host that seemed to have a little more spirit and flexibility. Fortunately, naive as I was when first signing up for hosting, I did get the message that it was a good idea to register your domain name with a different company, so I had the flexibility to jump ship. When I started researching alternatives, TextDrive seemed like a good fit from the beginning. They don't offer the most raw numbers for the money, but on the other hand they were more than just an upgrade in power. Several things got me excited as I explored their website:

  • They have a focus on free software and web standards and have a good Mac OS X community.
  • They have a strong community with forums where people can and do help each other hash out their problems.
  • They have clearly put real thought and pride into how they have set up their systems and have already thought of and come up with solutions to most common and many uncommon problems.
  • There is a decent amount of documentation about how things are set up.
  • Finally, while I might not need it now, they have many powerful options and are staying on top of the most current advances, giving me many opportunities to play with new technologies and expand my horizons, should I, say, get the desire to write my own app in Rails.

So I copied my files and databases over, tweaked things a bit, and pointed the domain over to their nameservers, so this is now being served up from Textdrive.

The move went pretty smoothly. I'll write more about the process and my impressions later, but I got it all done in under a week (and it was a very busy work week with only a little time every day to pay attention to hobbies) and I've only got one strange lingering issue--not TextDrive's fault--that doesn't seem to cause any real problems (for some reason the Movable Type summary screen thinks I have two identical weblogs even though in all other lists there's only the one).

I've already benefitted from the move in one concrete way. One of the problems that I had earlier while decrufting my links was that I was getting some strange behavior related to doing URL rewriting from the sub domain (probably to be expected). At TextDrive I was able to set up blog.tapirtype.com as an independent virtual domain from tapirtype.com giving me the ability to do redirects from mod_rewrite without bouncing back to www.tapirtype.com instead of blog.tapirtype.com.

So my rewrite rules now look like this, as they should, neatly funneling requests to entries in 2006 that might link to the old ".../basename.suffix" to ".../basename" and bouncing direct requests to the index back to the directory:

RewriteRule ^(.*)/index$ $1 [R=301]
RewriteRule ^(.*)/index\.(.*)$ $1 [R=301]
RewriteRule ^(2006/[\d][\d]/)([^/]+)\.(.*)$ $1$2 [R=301]

November 8, 2006

Elections that don't make me want to shoot myself...

Oh, my god. I hardly know how to deal with actually being pleased by election results. It's a whole new world for me.

November 6, 2006

Midterm Elections

From xkcd today comes this tidbit of truth and wisdom:

xkcd: Canada

Yeah, that kind of sums it up. Now I don't need to write a "pre elections angst" post.

November 1, 2006

Gallery: Seattle Fall

Gallery:  Seattle Fall

Continue reading “Gallery: Seattle Fall” »

October 30, 2006


I didn't get it...

I got into blogging almost by accident when I decided on a whim to downloaded Movable Type and install it on a subdomain of the website that I'd gotten set up for Sasha. Since it worked so well and turned out to be such a rewarding experience, I've kind of taken off with it and in the last few months I've done a great deal of exploring the world of writing and reading blogs. I'd kind of sat on the sidelines of the whole "blog revolution," reading a few from time to time, but never participating and never taking the time to explore things more than briefly. The last time I'd done any serious web authoring myself, frames were the next big thing. As a consequence I didn't really get it on a number of levels.

I didn't understand how the technology worked any more. I didn't understand why blogs had become such an effective and popular mode of communication on the internet. I didn't understand the shear breadth of kinds of blogs. I didn't even get what the deal with Flickr was, thinking that it was trying to be some kind of iPhoto replacement only slower and over the internet. And although I still think that the term "Web 2.0" is about the stupidest thing ever, I certainly didn't get what made it different from "Web 1.0."1

Now, I think, I do get it. And playing around with Vox in the last few days, I think it has the potential to have a very important place in it all.

Continue reading “Voxiness” »

October 29, 2006

Faith's Pumpkin Carving Party

die, pumpkin, die pumpkin guts! bucket o' pumpkin guts

Faith was kind enough to invite me over for a pumpkin carving party this year. Which was really nice because without having an excuse to do something like that I tend to just forget that it's a holiday at all. And even for a silly little holiday like halloween, it's nice to mark it in some way.

Faith particularly likes Fall, and I agree. Even with the encroaching darkness and the back to school feeling, there's something nice about the crisp newly cool air and the harvest imagery.

Continue reading “Faith's Pumpkin Carving Party” »

Tip from Daring Fireball: Auto-Completion

I've been using macs for so long that it always comes as a bit of a surprise when I find out that there's a really useful feature that I never had any idea existed. John Grubber at Daring Fireball points out that MacOS X has an auto-completion feature based on the built in spell checker1. You start typing a word in any cocoa text field and hit f5 and a popup menu appears with possible completions for the word. Grubber says that you are supposed to be about to use the escape key unless you are in a context where escape means cancel, but I haven't been able to get it to work anywhere, which is too bad since I'm using a MacBook Pro and to access the f5 key I need to hold down the "fn" to switch the increase volume key into its alternate role as a function key. Maybe it's configurable in system preferences. If I have to use two keys, I'd rather it be an easier key combo...

1 By the way can I say how much I love that there's a built in spell checker. It's the #1 reason I wish all applications would move over to being cocoa, so I can have one standard way of checking spelling in every single text box.

October 28, 2006

A footnote solution: fixing MT-Textile

I wrote a whole entry about my solution to the footnote problems that I'm having since I de-crufted my links. Basically I worked out that it isn't that hard (or long winded) to use Textile directly to make footnotes instead of using the specific Textile footnote syntax. It was great, a little longer than the simple [1] type of input you are supposed to use, but it worked... Except it didn't work1.

Continue reading “A footnote solution: fixing MT-Textile” »

October 27, 2006

The son of cruftless links

Ok, so I went and did the whole "cruftless links" thing and no sooner had I finished writing the post but I found about a million little reasons why what I did and had just described didn't quite work.

I'm still not quite sure what the deal with some of the behavior I'm seeing is, but I've got things to a somewhat stable point now. This is what I've settled on:

Continue reading “The son of cruftless links” »

October 26, 2006

Cruftless URLs without breaking links

Update, the second: Well, so it's not perfect after all. I'd figured that some of the problems encountered by other people had been fixed in the current version of Movable Type. However it looks like for some reason it still insists on sending you trackbacks to the "/index.php" and on sending you back to "/index.php" upon completing a comment. And for some reason it seems to break autodetection of trackback URLs as well. There is no reason for any of this to be the default behavior!

Update: Oh, crap, this seems to break trackback autodetection...

Ok, so at least 90% of the point of this blog so far has been as a tool for me to learn by doing how modern web apps and design works. Sure this is also a great creative outlet and a great way to share little tidbits with friends and family that are far away. As a consequence I find myself being interested in things that are really the purview of much larger sites. Sites that aren't so obscure that they don't even get spammed.1 But because the whole point is for me to learn, and because who knows, if I keep at this for years (and I don't see why I won't) this site might grow, I want to set things up as much "the right way" as I can while it is still relatively easy to make changes.

Continue reading “Cruftless URLs without breaking links” »

October 25, 2006

Ooooh, pretty new building!

Unfinished cafeteria in new building
Unfinished cafe, March 2006

I just went over and got lunch from the cafe in our new building. This is the building that we were supposed to move into last April, and are finally going to be moving into early November.

There's been so much trepidation and anticipation about moving that I've been left with largely mixed feelings, but I think I'm sold. It's sooo pretty over there. The food at the cafe was very nice. They've got these pesto, swiss, tomato sandwiches (with or without ham) that they toast for you. And the espresso machine they have looks to be one of those very highly automatic ones that means that there isn't that much that the barista can do to screw up your coffee--at least if you get an americano.

The lighting is so pretty in there. Things are relatively dim, but there are so many windows and little lights that everything gets perfused with a kind of glow. It's a nice change from the J wing over here in Health Sciences where the windows, if you are so lucky to have one, usually face another wall, and they've disabled every other fluorescent light in the halls. That last, in a city where pretty much everyone starts being affected by seasonal affect disorder at some point during the winter, is the most frustrating. I mean, I'm all for saving energy, but I'm also all for having not crushingly depressed employees.

Oooh, and my card works now to get in to the upstairs of the new building! It's all very exciting. I can't wait until we're all moved.

Continue reading “Ooooh, pretty new building!” »

October 21, 2006

Random Studio 60 Thought...

Man, that time-to-show countdown clock must be a real pain to film with. I mean every take where they hit it or might hit it, they're going to have to make sure to start it from the right time so they don't have continuity errors. And forget it if you decide to cut things into a different order... That must be some prop guy or editor's weekly headache.

October 20, 2006

Copyright fair use intrusions: Not just for the digital realm apparently

Yikes: Misadventures in Copyright.

October 19, 2006

Speaking of TV: Oh please, please, don't abandon the scripted drama!

So I go and praise TV and immediately I hear on NPR a story about how NBC is failing and considering cutting scripted dramas. How sick is it that 8 million viewers (the number that Studio 60 got this week) might not be enough to keep the show on the air? You'd think that 8 million people plus critical acclaim would count for enough to keep trying for a while...

Continue reading “Speaking of TV: Oh please, please, don't abandon the scripted drama!” »

October 18, 2006

Fun and Not Fun Entertainment

I just ran across a post at the blog Mighty Girl complaining about something that I've been thinking about for a while in one form or another: the problem of making movies that that are both smart and fun. In the post she wonders whether it is a trend that we are getting more and more movies that are either pure--through and through--depressing, or light to the point of brain dead.

While I don't see enough movies anymore to know for sure, I think she's at least right that balanced movies are few and far between. The funny thing is that I think in recent years television, which used to be filled with the polar opposites of dour documentary and brainless fluff, has stepped in to fill some of that void. And no, I don't mean the increase in entertainment masquerading as news. The hour long drama has really blossomed in the last decade. Sure there's a lot of crap on TV, but there's also a lot more good stuff than there used to be, and good in smart ways that where almost unheard of before the mid 90s.

In part this may be in reaction to the blight that is cheep reality TV. If you can be so easily replaced by something that costs a tenth of what you do, I guess you have to work hard to be as good as you can and to capture an audience that is never going to watch whatever cheap replacement they come up with. Movies may be trying to do a similar thing, but I think it's just much harder to do it in a two hour format. A TV series can conduct its mood up and down over time, but a movie has to do it all in the space of what would be about three--maybe four--episodes if it was serialized. It's probably easier just to cut out one side or the other.

October 15, 2006


Fall at Tops

I've just signed up to start using Flickr. I'm not sure what mix of photos I'll post to there versus to here. I figure that Flickr can be more of my unorganized organized (I mean they do make it so easy) photo pile: lots of pictures that I just thought were pretty. As opposed to ones that I specifically wanted to single out, format, and comment on. Anyway, I'll see how it goes with time.

For the moment I'm posting different photos there than here, mainly because I've got the bandwidth limit of a free account. If I decide to get a pro account I might try to just post everything to there and make what is here a selected subset.

I'm certainly enjoying the Flickr experience so far (although I do find myself cringing a little every time I type the "kr" for some reason that just works against muscle memory). It's very easy to post to there especially using the Aperture Flickr upload plugin which works like a charm. My only complaint with that is that I have many hierarchical tags in Aperture which I depend on for searching so that if, for instance, I search for "Plants" that will get me everything that I've tagged with "Gardens" as well as "Trees" and "Flowers." That greatly reduces the amount of keywording that I have to do. But Flickr doesn't support hierarchical tags and the exporter just exports the bottom level tag instead of the whole tree. Still, that's just a nitpick. I'm very happy so far.

Oh, and by the way, the photograph is one I took yesterday of the trees behind the Tops school in Eastlake. We do get some fall foliage here.

Continue reading “Flickr” »

Gallery: Seattle Walks Part Two

Seattle Walks Part 2 Banner

Continue reading “Gallery: Seattle Walks Part Two” »

October 14, 2006

I appear not to have been disenfranchised

I'm glad to report that my voter registration appears to be all in order. I was somewhat concerned because a while back I got a disturbing answering machine message claiming to be from Washington State Democrats informing me that my name had been taken off of the voter rolls and that I should call them to get a new registration. I was skeptical because I got the call only a day or two after voting in the primary. Because it wasn't long after the primary when I checked online it only referenced information about the primary election--and I already knew I was registered for that.

So I waited for a while to check again, and yes, I am registered for the November election. Good thing, too, because they can pry my right to vote in the election where we take back congress from (please, please, please) from my cold, dead hands. I figure the call must have been either, a) an honest mistake, b) the most despicable pfishing scam ever, or c) part of an attempt to indiscriminately make sure that all democrats check to make sure that they are properly registered. I did a reverse lookup on the phone number they gave and it seems to be registered to "Washington Victory 2006," so my bet is on option c. The only thing that a google search turned up was a donation from the firefighters union, so they are probably at least somewhat legit. If it is option c and not a, I can't say I condone lying to people about that, but on the other hand, hey, if it gets people to make sure they are registered to vote, no harm done.

October 13, 2006

Gallery: Seattle Walks Part One

Seattle Walks Banner

Continue reading “Gallery: Seattle Walks Part One” »

October 10, 2006

God bless Christopher Columbus, Netflix, and the legions of postal workers who deliver our mail!

Since reading, this morning, the dreadful words "For Wed: Alias: Season 1: Disc 6" in the subject line of the friendly email Netflix sent me on Monday--and simultaneously realizing why it was that I didn't get any mail yesterday--I had been planning on writing a very snarky little post today when I got home. It was going to be filled with bile. Don't they understand that my sanity rests on seeing the last three episodes of the first season of Alias as soon as humanly possible? Don't they get how cruel it is to marathon the first season of a show that you'd always heard was good, realize that it really is good, and have to stop before the last disc? To wait patiently all weekend, knowing that the disc would arrive on Tuesday. To then watch everything you had stored up on the TiVo while you were busy being caught up in the marathon. Only then to realize that some half forgotten pseudo-holiday shut down the post office making you wait one whole extra day?

Well, apparently they did realize because when I got home tonight, I found nestled (Ok, shoved in sideways, crushed and bent) in my mailbox a nice little red envelope from Netflix with my next fix waiting inside. So Christopher Columbus, you get a reprieve. Your holiday is a very fine day, and while I didn't get the day off, I'm very happy for any postal workers who did. And for those of you who may not have gotten the day off, just so I could get my mail on time, your sacrifice is appreciated.

October 7, 2006


That's what Sasha and I have taken to calling Battlestar Galactica. It started as a (partly) joking reference to what we thought the appropriate response to seeing Number 6 appear on screen should be. Well, I finished watching the season 3 premiere about an hour ago, and I think my hands are still shaking! I mean, there's riveting TV and then there's riveting TV! I've never been so disturbed and so pleased all at once. I don't think I've ever seen a show so nimbly knock everything over on its head while staying completely true to itself at the same time. I really don't know what's up for grabs now or where they're going to take things.

It's shaping up to be a really good fall season this year...

October 5, 2006

Run with the chickens...

Overheard just now while getting my afternoon coffee, as spoken--quite truthfully--by the barista: "Because bulls are larger than me! I mean, if it was 'run with large dogs' or 'run with the chickens' I'd be down. But the bulls...? That's just too real."

October 3, 2006

Lest you think I only watch Studio 60...

My thoughts one minute into watching the premiere of Season 3 of Veronica Mars:

"Hey, wait, I know this one, the criminology professor is actually an evil government scientist who will be skewered by his Frankenstein's Monster-like creation..." No, wait, that was my other favorite tiny-blond-girl-who-kicks-ass's first year of college.

Why I love Studio 60

Well, aside from the fact that every actor on the show--top to bottom--is incredible, and that Aaron Sorkin has earned every little bit of benefit of the doubt... just when I was thinking while watching this Monday's episode just now: "Oh, ok, that's a little too perfect..." Danny and Matt say to each other something to the effect that hey, you know there's only one way that this story can go from here.

I've long thought that finding the exact appropriate level of self awareness is the key to good TV, and that was exhibit A.

September 18, 2006


Yes, that is the sound--the only sound I can make in fact--of me watching the pilot of Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip. Words cannot express how excited I am. Aaron Sorkin is back on TV! And he brought really, really good friends!

More reactions later. I'm too excited right now. eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!

September 13, 2006

Funky Fundamentalists in Seattle

I just wrote the previous post about programming in part as a distraction from writing about another Salon article. “Come as you are” by Lauren Sandler describes a mega church in Seattle where "hipster" culture mixes with religious fundamentalism and they preach a subservient role for women in order to have as many babies as possible in an attempt to repopulate Seattle with conservatives. I can't bring myself to write much about it because the whole subject horrifies me. Not because some people would find it an attractive way to live (I can actually kind of see the attraction and besides people can live as they want) but because of the brazenness and openness of the desire to make us all live as they do.

But it mostly just depresses me. First because, these evangelicals who can see their way through to worrying about corporate greed, and the Walmart-ization of the world will turn around and vote for Bush, of course, because he's so loudly a Christian who agrees with them about the things that impact only themselves like gender roles and marriage, instead of someone who might actually do something about those causes that impact other people. But even more than that, it bothers me to no end that religion and community so often go hand in hand with anti-intellectualism.

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Accessible Programming

I just came across an article in Salon titled “Why Johnny can't code” exploring the decline in availability of simple programming tools included with computers. It happens to be written by one of my faveorite Science Fiction authors, David Brin (a fact that I didn't realize until the mention of Startide Rising on the last page--bad me for not reading bylines). His basic thesis is that currently children (or students of any age) have no ready access to a simple programming language like the BASIC that used to be included with every computer, and that because of this, while computers are becoming more and more important, people have less and less of an inroad into understanding how they work.

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Microsoft Internet Explorer hates Tapirtype Blog

I don't own a Windows machine or have access to one on a daily basis, so I took an opportunity to check out the blog from Microsoft Internet Explorer, and man, does it not render right! Of course, it also choked on the New York Times website, so we're not alone. Unfortunately I forgot to check what the version was (it isn't by any means guaranteed that the computer I was using was up to date), but it was under XP. Most of the main site was at least readable, but it couldn't handle the photo galleries at all. It didn't seem to get css widths right and it didn't even seem to be trying to display the pngs.

Anyway, I can't really bring myself to care. I develop this site on a mac and use Safari as my main browser, resorting to Firefox on the rare occasions that Safari can't handle. So I check the site in Firefox before I make anything really new and as long as it works there I'm happy. That said, if you are wondering why this site looks so broken, please do yourself a favor and use something other than Internet Explorer.

Update: Well, it looks like MSIE is back to being able to render the NYT website ok. Must have been a one day thing. The bottom line still applies, though, that imperfect as this site is, I'm going to use standards compliance and how it renders in Safari and Firefox as my target and not worry about whether that breaks things for MSIE (which I can't check easily anyway).

September 11, 2006

9/11, 2006

I wasn't really sure if I should write anything today. Overall I think too many people say too many things about 9/11 that they shouldn't. But I do feel that an important aspect of coming to terms with events (all evens whether traumatic or not) is to talk about them. The more I think about it, the more I feel that the people who have been talking about 9/11 have, for the most part, not been focusing on the right things.

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September 6, 2006

Migrated to php

I just migrated the blog to php so that I can later take advantage of php inside our pages. This means that if, by some chance, someone out there has linked to a page here ending in ".html," they should now be going to the same page but ending in ".php" instead.

September 1, 2006

Gallery: Around Boston

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August 28, 2006

Northeastern: Sasha's First Day

Northeastern University Law School from Au Bon Pain

Sasha started law school today!

I got up and did the commute with her. It was a little more eventful than planned because the T broke down. Fortunately they run all the time and it stopped running after a few lines had converged so we were able to catch another train pretty quick and even waited for one that wasn't packed full (literally). The commute is kind of long and kind of funny, but very easy. We are right on the Green C line of the T, but Northeastern is on the Green E line, so to get from one to the other you have to take the T in to the center of town where all the lines run together and double back changing trains. It gets you door to door service, though! It takes something like 40 minutes. Today even with the little snafu it took us about 40 minutes, so usually it will probably be closer to half an hour. And that included waiting. I can definitely get used to trains that run this often!

Anyway, we got to Northeastern and Sasha wanted to find the place she had to go for orientation, so I told her to be nice to the other children and not to throw her blocks and went off on my own to buy a T pass and get some breakfast. I took this picture from the Au Bon Pain that is across the street and am posting this mooching off of Northeastern's wireless access. Now I want to go and try to buy a map and get home before UPS comes.

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August 27, 2006

A Wonderful Juxtaposition

22X POO ... Shit Happens

Sometimes things come together in the most wonderful way. I mean hey, you get a poo license plate, well, shit happens!

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Verizon is evil

So I've finally got internet access for more than 30 seconds at a time. Unfortunately that is because we finally broke down and went to the nearest Starbucks to buy a T-mobil day pass. Verizon, who we called 12 days ago, still hasn't sent us the equipment to connect to the internet. They had told us that the equipment would be shipped out USPS within 24 hours of the phones being turned on (that happened before we got to the apartment on the 23rd) and would get here one day after shipping. Finally Sasha called them yesterday and they said that they still hadn't sent things out and that the account was in a "pre-approval" state. Riiiiight.

So we're dumping Verizon in favor of the new combined service from Comcast. Yes, I know that's trading one evil monopoly for another, but at least it is trading to one that has never given me problems with providing the services I've payed for, just charged me an arm and a leg for them. And actually when you combine all the services together the prices are competitive. It's too bad. I'd kind of been excited about Verizon's service. Mostly that was because it is a) cheaper, and b) they will eventually have their fiber service which promises to be very, very cool. But that's in the future. And so far their current service is in the future, too, since they seem to be utterly unable to get it hooked up. Comcast will be out on Tuesday.

August 21, 2006

Things that are hard:

Trying not to laugh while getting your hair cut when the Simpsons episode Two Bad Neighbors is on in the background. For those that don't know/remember, that's the one where former President George Bush Sr. comes to live next door to the Simpsons. I think I came very close to loosing an ear at one point, but I pulled through.

Another Grumbly Etiquette Nitpick

I like to hold doors open for people. It isn't a men holding doors open for women thing, it's a basic human politeness thing that I do for both men and women. You see doors are often heavy and no matter your gender, if someone lets one swing closed too close to you it breaks your stride as you have to either wait for it to swing shut or reach in to wrench it open while its momentum is working against you. My problem isn't with people failing to open doors for me, it is instead with the people I open the doors for.

You see, like I said, doors are heavy, so once you open a door for someone, you are at their mercy. Either they can, as they should, take the door from you and continue in after you (holding it open for the next person in line behind them if necessary) or walk on through. If they choose to just walk on through, unless you want to potentially maim them by letting the door swing closed, literally, in their face, you have no choice but to keep holding the door. And if someone is behind them nine times out of ten they will simply follow through the door as well. I've literally been forced to stand holding a door open as a dozen people stride through, not all in one group, but all in a line with no gap large enough to let me safely let go of the door.1 I don't really care about the people following. It is human nature to do whatever the person in front of you does, and I'm sure that I've done the same many times. But that first person should know better.

Today the woman who did it to me did something odd. As she passed through the door she lifted up her arm as if she was about to take the door from me, and then, just as her had was perpendicular to the door so that if I had let go it would have slammed painfully into her outstretched fingers, she dropped her hand back down. It was as if she knew that she should offer to take the door from me, but didn't think for a moment that there was any possibility of me taking her up on that offer.

It is true that most often the people who do this to me are women, so possibly they are misinterpreting my actions as an old fashioned etiquette thing of gentlemen holding doors for ladies. Still, do you really think that I have nothing better to do with my time than stand there all day holding the door open? Like before, the thing that really bothers me is that there is no consciousness of behaving badly. I'd feel much better about it if the person just barged through with a "hey, you gave me the window, I'm taking it" attitude.

1 Incidentally I'm almost always carrying something when this happens.

August 20, 2006

Photo Gallery: Final Trip to the Zoo

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August 17, 2006

Life Stuff: Sasha Moves to Boston

I figured that I should post some life stuff since a lot is happening.

I took Sasha to the airport last night to fly off to Boston to attend Law School at Northeastern University. Actually she flew into Hartford to stay in Northampton with her parents until next Wednesday. I'm lucky to have a flexible enough schedule that I am going to be able to fly out after her. I'm flying into Boston on a red eye over Tuesday night, and she'll pick me up on her way from Northampton and we'll go to the apartment together. The nice thing about that is that we can kind of come into the new apartment together and I can be a part of her Boston life from the beginning even if I'm flying back to Seattle after a few days.

I'm also excited to see the apartment. When we rented it, the former tenants were still living there, and they had been there for several years, so the apartment was due for some remodeling. So supposedly the floors, walls, and kitchen should be all redone. We'll have to post pictures as we are getting things set up.

The picture I posted is of the main living room windows. The apartment sits in the back of a nice, quiet courtyard, and is pretty well lined with windows. Nicest perhaps is that the living room juts out into a big bay window (shown here). It is a bit far away (all the way down the Green C line) and is a bit small, but it was by far the most livable apartment for the money that we saw. Also nice is that it seems to be very professionally managed and doesn't make the assumption that so many (read here, all) of the other affordable apartments we saw made that we are students can be safely treated like we don't know our rights as tenants, or can't be trusted. Interesting aside here. In a town like Boston where there are so many undergraduates, the term "student" gets really funny when applied to housing. You would think that a 26 year old, engaged, law student, would come with a different set of assumptions, than a 19 year old frat boy, but sometimes the word "student" just gets in the way. Another interesting exercise: substitute for "student" the word "black," "hispanic," "gay," etc. and see if the treatment that you can often find seems at all legally or morally ok.

August 10, 2006

Morning, grumbly nitpicks

Ok, it's a little thing, but come on. When you are walking down the middle of an empty sidewalk and you encounter a small group of people coming your way, you politely move to the right to give them room to pass to your left. It's just considerate. And when the guy at the front of the group who has plenty of room to his right, comes up to you, he should move slightly to his right so that you can pass.

What he should not do is walk blithely on ahead, forcing you to move even further on to the curb because he is too self absorbed to move six inches to his right into the empty sidewalk.

August 6, 2006

Movable type entry formatting

You may of noticed that I kind of petered out on my last post about our Saturday morning tradition. That's largely because I spent all day working on a convenient way to format entries in Movable Type with multiple pictures and text flowing around them. We're using Movable Type here at Tapirtype, and largely I couldn't be happier. I looked into it the other day and discovered that I could set up a non-commercial blog for free, which is great, and I downloaded it, expecting to quickly run into a snag that I couldn't resolve. To my surprise, after creating a new subdomain on our webserver, I was able to install and set up the software very easily.

Furthermore, they've set up the software to be almost infinitely flexible, taking care of all the drudgery of blogging, while still allowing you to make your site look and behave pretty much any way you want. I've only done mild re-formatting so far, but I could, and probably will, do much more eventually.

Furthermore, publishing and management is very easy. The software is set up to easily manage publishing text based entries, comments, searching, trackbacks, and the like, and you can easily upload a picture and write an entry around it. But it is just flexible enough to encourage you to want to do more, and produce a well formatted photo essay like the one I wanted to make. Unfortunately, there things get more difficult...

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August 5, 2006

Saturday Morning at Allegro and the Farmer's Market

Cafe Allegro

Photo by: Michael Boyle

Seattle Farmer's Market Sign on The Ave

Photo by: Michael Boyle

Sasha and I have made a tradition of going of getting up late on Saturday morning and going to the University District for brunch at Cafe Allegro after which we walk up to the Farmer's Market to stock up on fruit and other goodies.

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August 2, 2006

Our heroes:


Our heroes (and a very small cat).

August 1, 2006

First Entry!

Alright. It's here. It's big. It's got a floppy nose. And thus far it has no content....

Until now!

Now the Tapirtype Blog has its first entry.

Eventually, you know, it'll have nice stuff like a custom layout, but for now, every step counts.

Update on 8/3/2006: layout now somewhat customized. Go us!

You are visiting Tapirtype Blog. Unless otherwise noted, all content is © 2006-2008 by Sasha Kopf and Michael Boyle, some rights reserved. Site design by Michael Boyle modified from the standard Movable Type templates. I've made an attempt to generate standards compliant content which should look best in Safari or, otherwise, Firefox. Use of Internet Explorer may be harmful to your sanity and I've made little attempt to support it.

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