Al Gore

May 13, 2003

A buddy of mine, Ty, headed out to Washington D.C. today for an interview (I could tell you who he was interviewing with but I think I'd have to kill you, or I'd be killed, or something). He just called me to let me know that Al-freaking-Gore was sitting in front of him on the airplane. Right in front of him! Ty hesitated for a while, but then decided to go in for the autograph. Apparently he was more than accommodating and was extremely nice to him. Perhaps the best part of this story is that Mr. Gore was using an Apple PowerBook and an iPod the entire time he was on the plane. Damn straight.

I can't stop drooling

May 11, 2003

Well, I'm in quite the creative mood lately and can't seem to stop myself from making changes to the site. These changes include substantial modifications to both the structure (XHTML) and the layout (CSS). I've been able to test the site on the latest versions of Mac browsers (namely Safari, Opera, IE, and Mozilla) and IE 6 for Windows — everything seems to work fine (after a little tweaking because of something that broke in, you guessed it, IE for Windows).

Also, if you are in Windows XP and using an LCD screen (or CRT for that matter), then please, for the love of god, enable ClearType on your machine. I can't believe that EVERYONE isn't running this yet, but then again I can't believe that it isn't defaulty enabled. Oh, and another thing, if you are able to enable ClearType on your machine, then please, for the love of god, get a new computer (i.e., one that doesn't run Windows).  :P

Misc crap

May 09, 2003

I've put a search box inline with the menu on the left and removed the 'search' link from the navigate menu.

I've been working hard on some other designs that deviate quite a bit from what you've seen from me before. The only problem with these designs is that they make heavy use of the latest CSS2 standards and some browsers (*cough* Internet Explorer *cough*) break the design pretty badly. It absolutely flips me out to build a site, conform to all available standards, have everything validate, and then load it up in six different browsers and get three different outputs. It genuinely discourages designers to try new things because they want what they create to look the same across all platforms (as it should if you remain adherent to standards) and so they are forced to not think outside the box; whatever, I've made this argument many times before.

I'm debating whether or not to start using an iTunes utility called Kung-Tunes. This would allow me to display, in real-time, the song I'm currently listening to on the site. It works by gathering the relative data from iTunes and then uploading this data every so often to my webserver. From there, I would write a small PHP script to parse the file and display its contents on my page. Like I said, still not sure if I'm going to implement this or not.

I got a chance to play with an iTrip today and walked away less than impressed. The FM signal was extremely weak and just wouldn't work well in any practical position in my car. I could hold it up and put it near my roof and my radio would receive the signal fine, but that's obviously not an option. I'm extremely disappointed as I've been looking forward to this device for some time. Not only is it the smallest iPod FM transmitter, but it also runs solely off the iPod's battery and eats up as much power as headphones otherwise would. Speaking of the iPod, I read today that the latest software for the iPod (Mac) will keep track of the number of times you've listened to each song (something that iTunes does as well) and will update iTunes with this information each time you sync it. Brilliant. :)

Get at me

May 07, 2003

Made some slight aesthetic changes to the site. The CSS has been cleaned up and slimmed down. As usual, let me know if something looks a little odd (keep in mind that I'm now developing on a Mac and so I can only test on Mac browsers). I really wish that IE for Windows would get its ass in line and start conforming to standards — their dotted lines still insist on looking like a row of hyphens instead of dots and since the majority of people out there still insist on using IE (*puke*), I'm going to stick with the solid lines for now.

Apple PowerBook: Forever converted

May 04, 2003

Where to start, where to start. Coming from a strong Linux background, I immediately wanted to get "under the hood" of this bad-boy and tinker with Mac OS X. It was tough for me to take things slow as I usually feel extremely comfortable in front of a computer, and even though this was a Unix-based machine, on which I'm very well-versed and confident, it was an Apple and was going to require me to think differently about some things.

Let's start with the initial bootup sequence. After answering a very brief questionnaire concerning the registration of the PowerBook, the machine booted up without incident. Within three minutes of taking it out of the box, I was already browsing web sites through my home wireless network. Yes, three minutes! If this was any indication of what this experience was going to be like, I was in good shape.

One of the first things I did after I started messing around with the machine was download Safari, Apple's new homegrown browser. I must say that I'm quite impressed with it; so much in fact that it has already become my default web client on this machine. Its standards support is pretty damn good and getting better by the day from what I read. It's incredibly fast and looks great. The only thing it's really missing is the ability to restore your previous session (i.e., have it remember all the sites you had open before the browser crashed/was closed and be able to bring those back up), something Opera has been doing forever. I'll never understand why this hasn't caught on with the entire browser community as I find it incredibly useful, perhaps more so than any other single feature.

Everyone has seen the switch ads and probably thought that if you switched you would be able to easily move all of your Outlook data to your Mac. Not true. Apple nor Microsoft provide a way to move your e-mail/calendar/contacts from Outlook to Mac. Unbelievable. Either way, I knew this going in and took steps so that I could do it on my own. There are third-party programs out there that will do the majority of the dirty work, but I wasn't about to spend more money. As far as my e-mail is concerned, I have all of my sent/received mail from 1999 (when I really started getting into my digital-packrat mentality), in a bunch of different formats. Given this, I wasn't really worried about importing my current mail from Outlook because I can just grep through the .pst file if I need something, as I currently do for mail saved in formats other than .pst. As far as my calendar and contacts are concerned, I used a program (whose name escapes me at the moment) to batch-export all of my calendar entries and contacts to vCard, knowing that iCal supported this standard format. It was at this point that I realized that I had 563 calendar entries — time to clean up. I dropped the entries I wanted to keep into iCal (individually, ugh) and was all set there. The contacts were even easier as it let me import all of them at once.

One of the biggest worries I had was whether or not I'd be able to use my PC iPod on the Mac. I knew that OS X could mount a FAT partition, the filesystem used on the PC iPod, which would allow me to move files to and from the device, but I wanted to use the iTunes software and go completely Apple. I knew from research that it was possible to convert the PC iPod to an Apple iPod, but I didn' think it would be as easy as it was. I started by installing PodMaster. I used this software to move all of my music from from the iPod to the PowerBook. I then used the iPod Software Updater to format the device to the HFS+ filesystem and to install the Apple software. Next, I just copied the music files over to my iTunes Library and then sync'd it with the iPod. Good to go.

This machine is, by far, the quietest notebook computer I've ever messed around with. It just doesn't make any real noise, save the slight hum of the fan (when it's actually on).

The slot-loading Superdrive (CD/DVD burner) is incredible. I really like how it is placed on the front of the machine instead of the side. Being a slot-loading drive, the first of its kind in a notebook, it sucks the CD/DVD in just like a car CD player — very neat.

As one might expect, the PowerBook feels incredibly solid. I'm sure its titanium casing doesn't hurt (so freaking sweet!), but it's more the construction itself that makes it feel indestructible. I honestly don't think a bullet would hurt this thing; it feels that tough.

I've started to use Apple's e-mail client, Mail, because I don't yet have Office v.X (under which I would use Entourage for e-mail). There are a few things that I don't like about the program, especially the way it handles replies, but for the most part, it's a decent application. On a related note, I have the filtering software in training mode and received an e-mail from Apple regarding my registration — a simple thank-you — Mail thought it was junk and moved it to the trash. Perhaps I should alert Apple to the fact that their e-mail software doesn't like the e-mails they send out. I realize that anything could have set off the filter trigger, but you would think that an @apple.com would slip through.

In conclusion, this machine and OS X are truly brilliant and have quickly turned me into a huge Mac proponent. While Windows never really had a shot at becoming my OS of choice, Linux certainly did, and was for a very long time, but I'm afraid they've all lost to OS X — Mac interface + Unix guts. You can bet that I'll be putting all of my obsessive-compulsive energy into learning the ins and outs of this hardware and software — I can't wait.

I'm a computer engineer

May 02, 2003

Well, today is the big day — I'm gradutating from college. I'm not going to lie, it's been incredibly rough at times and I often wondered if it was ever going to end, but I can't say that I haven't enjoyed the pressure and competition, not to mention the wonderful friends I've picked up along the way. I've busted my ass these last few years and feel rather accomplished.

Goodbye engineering; hello law. In three months it all begins anew.

New photo layout

April 29, 2003

I spent a good part of yesterday redesigning my photo page(s). I've been using the Gallery script for quite a while now, but I decided that I wanted to write my own PHP script to deliver the pictures. I really wanted my photo pages to validate and sit within the current site template, which I probably could have done through Gallery, but it would have taken much more time than it was worth. Another problem I had with Gallery was that it was just too big and offered more features than I needed. The PHP script that I whipped together sits within a validated XHTML template that I created and cycles through the current directory to display the thumbnails (with links to their larger pictures) for all of the pictures in that directory. If ever I create a new set of photos or want to add to a current set, I simply need to plop the pictures into the directory and point to the PHP script. It's really kind of slick and if anyone else is interested in using it, let me know and I'll send you the code.

I've also removed the original image files to reduce the amount of space that the photos take up. I've resized all of the files (using netPBM) to a size of 500x375 and moved the thumbnails down to a size of 50x38. The photos and their associated thumbnails used to take up around 200MB of space — they now take up ~20MB. You can find the new photo page here.

On its way

April 29, 2003

My current notebook has been sold and the Apple PowerBook has been ordered. It should be here on Thursday. Nice little present to play with after my final computer engineering exam Thursday afternoon.

Oh the memories

April 27, 2003

Anyone who grew up with the Nintendo Entertainment System will definitely appreciate Nintendo - The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly. It's a fairly inclusive collection of early NES memorabilia, add-ons, and otherwise useless products with entertaining, albeit sometimes overly passionate, commentary. It's a good ride back in time.

Senior Design

April 24, 2003

Our Senior Design demo for the EE department went very well. Much better than than the presentation/demo we did for CISE. As promised, I got some pictures and video of the project. The video is very short (I took it with my digital still camera), but it does show off all of the project components: voice-recognition, IR transmission, and RF transmission/reception. Given that the voice-recognition is trained around my voice, it is kind of neat that it works fine for Sean (as is shown in the video) — it works fairly well for guy voices in general. You can find the pictures and video here. I've put up AVI and MPG versions of the video as at least one person was having trouble with the AVI.

Pain(t)ball

April 24, 2003

I went paintballing for the first time today and had a lot of fun. A buddy of mine is REALLY into the whole thing and lives on the outskirts of Gainesville where his place is surrounded by a rather large, dense, forest. He actually had six guns and masks at his house and his own CO2 tank. Impressive. We had six guys and played capture-the-flag most of the time. We played for a full four hours and went through roughly 2000 paintballs. I was obviously not looking forward to getting hit, which fortunately, didn't occur too much. Save the knock I took to the head and the ass, I'm feeling pretty good, especially considering the beatings some of my friends walked away with.

How dare they

April 23, 2003

Most of the people that frequent this site know that I'm a big Linux fan and have been for many, many years. Most of you also know that during some semesters (including this one) I have been unable to run Linux because of courses that require the use of programs that will only run on Windows. I've been waiting so long for the day that my course schedule didn't dictate my operating system. I have one more final exam and I'm done with computer engineering (as a degree, not as a way of life :). I start law school in the fall and have been anticipating the purchase of an Apple PowerBook for as long as I can remember. I know all of my friends are sick of hearing about it, but damn it, it's too sexy to not talk about.

Back to the story. I received an e-mail from Santa Clara today concerning their deal with Dell and how I can get a PIECE-OF-SHIT Dell Lattitude notebook at a discounted price. After noticing in the e-mail that it said that this particular notebook has been "successfully tested with ExamSoft and SmartPrint," I did a little research. It turns out that ExamSoft is test-taking software used by most law schools so that students can take all of their in-class exams with their own notebooks.

It may come as no surprise that this software will only run on Windows! That's right, I'm again being told what operating system I have to use. Unbelievable. I've researched this quite a bit and it turns out that there really is NO way around it. There was quite a bit of information about this topic on the net as it has been a problem for a few years (ever since law schools started to use this software for exams). One of the best sources of information I could find on this subject was at MacInTouch.

Apparently, all ExamSoft does is lock up access to the computer (i.e., no disk or net access) so that you can't cheat. Some law schools, realizing the absurdity of requiring their students to run Windows, have reverted back to an honor system. Unfortunately, the law school I will be attending (like most others) requires that ExamSoft, and subsquently, Windows, be used if you want to take your exam on a computer. Most of those who have taken issue with this have gotten around it by, you guessed it, purchasing the cheapest Windows-based notebook they could find and using it only when they have to take a test. This will probably be my solution as well because I'm so bent on getting a PowerBook and get so livid just thinking about running Windows for three years (*shudder*). Hopefully I can find a notebook that will do the job for < $500. Donations are encouraged. ;)  "I ain't 2 proud 2 beg."

This whole thing has seriously turned my stomach. Ridiculous.

Out of our hands

April 22, 2003

I had my senior design presentation last night for the Computer Engineering department. The presentation went fine; the demo could not have gone worse. Allow me to explain. Most of you guys know how much time we've spent on our project, a voice-controlled IR/RF remote. EVERYTHING had been working fine for a couple of weeks and we had been tweaking it daily. The point is, we essentially finished the project and were quite proud of it.

Sean and I go to our presentation (Jorge and Ty, the other two guys in our group, weren't required to go as they are EE majors). We were the last ones to present last night which meant that 13 people went before us. Three and a half hours after arriving, it was our turn. We walk up there pretty confident, especially after seeing the presentations that went before us; our demo would blow those out of the water. We had a really cool project idea, and it actually worked.

Our presentation went off without a hitch. Sean and I spoke fairly well. It was time to demo the finished product. We had everything setup: the RF receiver circuit in the back of the room connected to a lamp, a 27" Sony TV we borrowed and brought up to the room, the IR transmitter, the RF transmitter, and the microntroller board connected serially to my notebook running MATLAB (for the voice-recognition). The micrcontroller board was reset and I began running our voice-recognition software on my notebook. What happens? What is the worst thing that could have happened? The MIC started picking up SHIT from SOMEWHERE and was just flipping out. We coded up a threshold for the MIC so that it wouldn't respond so easily to ambient noise. This had worked perfectly for the ENTIRE semester and usually required me to speak relatively loudly into the MIC for it to begin recording and to subsequently realize the spoken command and respond to it. Not the case now; not when we needed it most. No one could explain this; the room was completely quiet as per the evil stares I gave to the audience as if I were going to kill them if they so much as breathed too loudly. In short, it didn't work at all and we were at a loss for words. We've done this in so many different rooms and houses and environments. We just don't know what could have been causing it. It was obviously some sort of electrical interference; something outside the range of human hearing. We were able to show off the IR and RF by manually sending the commands to the microntroller board, but the voice was a no-go. I came out of that room angrier (outside of relationships) than I think I have ever been in my life. We put ALL SEMESTER into this project only to have it BREAK unexplicably on us when we needed it most. Of course, it worked fine as soon as we got out of that room. Whatever. I just don't know what to say. Unbelievable.

We have another presentation for the Electrical Engineering department tomorrow evening. We're not worried about it breaking during that demo because we've done it 4342323 times in the room that the demos will be held, unlike the Computer Engineering demo, in which case we weren't allowed into the room until demo day.

I plan on getting some pictures and digital video of the project in action tomorrow, before our EE presentation. I also plan on sending the video to the guy that ran the CE presentations, just to prove to him that everything works and that something in the room was throwing it off. He believed us and was impressed regardless, but I would still like to show him that the project is fully operational, if only to help me sleep better.  :)

You might live in the ghetto if...

April 17, 2003

...you're talking to your buddy on the phone while you're on the patio and you look out onto the parking lot of your complex and see some ass-clown with a golf club and a ball. He proceeds to drop the ball onto the pavement and hit it. The ball nails a Ford Explorer; I can't contain my laughter. I'm fairly certain the guy saw me. Does he stop? Of course not. He hits the ball a few more times, apparently trying to get it over the fence surrounding the pool area. He fails.

I'm going to miss Gainesville.

Too much spam

April 15, 2003

In my endless effort to combat spam, I've implemented the Hiveware Enkoder from Dan Benjamin. The Enkoder completely removes my e-mail address from the site, at least as far as e-mail-harvesting robots are concerned. Dan writes:

The Enkoder will encrypt your e-mail address and wrap the result in JavaScript, hiding it from e-mail-harvesting robots which crawl the web looking for exposed addresses. Just paste the resulting JavaScript into your website's HTML. Your address will be displayed correctly by web-browsers, but will be virtually indecipherable to e-mail harvesting robots.

Instead of merely breaking up and printing out a standard mailto: tag, The Enkoder generates a unique and random key and ties that to an encrypted array containing your address for even better protection.

And now, the Enkoder uses a genetic algorithm to generate the JavaScript so it's different every time. Because the JavaScript changes each time you run the Enkoder, it is virtually impossible for spammers to parse and decode your address.

I have been doing a kind of half-assed version of this for a while by using "justin at justinblanton dot com" on the contact page, but that method obviously disables the ability to simply click on the address. With the Enkoder, I can retain the "justin@justinblanton.com" phrase and the link.

Yes, the Enkoder requires the use of JavaScript, something I'm usually against as a rule (I like to the keep the pages as 'clean' as possible), but I feel that the immediate benefits warrant the aberration.

On a related note, if you plan on implementing this yourself and decide to use the Enkoder Form, it won't produce the correct output in the latest Opera release (v7.1; perhaps earlier versions as well). You'll need to view the source of the webpage and copy the code from there. The author has been notified of this slight quirk.

Zwan

April 12, 2003

Zwan will be on SNL tonight. Zwan's debut album, Mary Star of the Sea, is my favorite album of 2003 so far. Yes, I realize that SNL is shit without Will Ferrell, but, we are talking about Zwan here, a band fronted and controlled by Billy Corgan (formerly of Smashing Pumpkins — one of my all-time favorite bands), who is certainly the most prolific songwriter of my generation, if not the best. Don't miss it.

Switchin' it up

April 10, 2003

You've no doubt noticed the new stripes and title across the top of the site. I originally wanted some sort of gradient bar (#CC0 - #FFF) at the top but didn't want to use an image. I decided to try do it with CSS and after playing with it for while I realized that I liked the stripes without the 'fading' between them and so I only used three (instead of the eight that were to be used to achieve the gradient look). I used the Color Blender from Eric Meyer to get the middle color. Great little tool. As always, any feedback is appreciated.