No more tables

December 01, 2002

In further accord with my latest obsession with web standards and accessibility, I'm looking to completely remove the table tag from the site. Instead, the entire site will use relative and absolute CSS positioning. The CMS I'm currently using would make this very difficult, especially with the 'plug-in' it uses for static pages, and so I'm forced to try out another CMS. I'm in the process of setting this up and if/when I finish it, the site should look fairly similar to how it looks now. In fact, it is my intention that the change is transparent to the visitor.


November 29, 2002

I've finally found some time to put up a photo gallery. After quite a bit of research I decided on a PHP-based solution known, appropriately enough, as Gallery. My hosting provider had neither netPBM (a photo manipulation toolkit) nor jhead (parses information from the exif header of jpeg images) installed, and so I had to put those on the machine. Nothing major.

The installation/configuration of Gallery was really quite simple. Granted, there were a few aesthetic things I had to hack around, namely, the fact that it would put up thumbnails for all of the albums listed on the main page when I just wanted text lists.

After much consternation, I opted to not put it 'inside' the CMS I'm using. Not only would it open up a whole host of problems to have to spend time hacking around, but I don't know how long I'll continue using this CMS as there are a couple of others I'd like to try out.

Without further ado, the photos.

Make it stop!

November 21, 2002

Well, it seems as if I'm developing Carpal-tunnel syndrome. Going on just my quick net research, CPS looks to be the thing that most closely matches up with my symptoms. It started out as a slight tingle in my left pinky finger about a month ago. Since then it has become increasingly worse and infinitely more annoying. I would say that 90% of the time now my left pinky is just kind of numb and the finger next to it is starting to tingle. While the strength in those fingers hasn't decreased, the fact that they feel like they're asleep most of the time is quite scary.

I have an appointment with my physician back home over xmas break. Hopefully, he can give me some kind of diagnosis and either prescribe something or refer me to someone who can 'fix' it. *shrug*

I like to tell myself that it was unavoidable. I mean, I literally sit in front of a computer 65% of the day and have done that for ~10 years. I guess it had to catch up with me sometime, but damn, I'm only 22. We'll see what happens. Hopefully this can be remedied.

*note* I can't complain about my pinky condition without yelling at emacs — the main editor I use. the control-x-s save combination is killing my poor little pinky.

WARNING: Potential nerds beware — it's dangerous.

XHTML 1.0 validation

November 13, 2002

Well, as is usually the case, my inner-nerd took over and told me that this webpage needed to validate as XHTML 1.0. I couldn't wait for the managers of the CMS I'm using to make the move from HTML 4.x to XHTML 1.0, so I went ahead and did it myself this morning. Surprisingly, it wasn't that tough. I used a progam called Tidy to do most of the converting. The only real problem is that as configurabe as Tidy is, I could find no way to tell it not to insert the main HTML tags (ie, html, body, !DOCTYPE, etc ). This was a problem because the website is dynamic and pages are built on-the-fly from smaller HTML files through PHP. When I went to convert all of these 'partial' HTML files to XHTML they would convert just fine BUT would have all those extraneous (in this case) tags, which I had to remove.

After all of that was done, I started testing the validity of the site. I ran into a few problems because, again, Tidy treats all HTML files as if they are the only file being used and not as if they are part of a template system. Most of the hang-ups were just a matter of figuring out what start tags went with what end tags in the final, PHP-produced HTML file. Nothing major. I also went ahead and made sure that my CSS was valid as well. You can check the XHTML validation here and the CSS validation here.

Let's all move to Japan

November 08, 2002

I've deciced to discuss some of the wrongs with the PDA+phone market, particularly in the US. What triggered this little rant is that it was recently pointed out to me that I've had my current phone for > 5 months (I haven't done that since 11 phones ago, literally). After thinking about that for a while, it was easy for me to see why that is the case.

The main reason is, quite simply, that there is NOTHING else out there. I currently have a Sony Ericsson T68i. This phone has everything: one of the first phones with a color screen, first phone ever with MMS capability, a decent PIM, SMS, GPRS, IR, bluetooth, and it's fully syncable with Outlook and other PIMs (granted, Linux syncability is lacking, but that is something I've come to live with over the years). The fact is, I will never buy another phone again until it has all of these features + more. This hasn't always been the case; I used to 'swap' features for other features,but I've settled comfortably into the current feature set and will require it on future phones. That said, there is simply nothing else out there right now that can give me all of that. The main thing that manufacturers keep leaving out is a simple way for you to sync your contacts with your phone (and in the case of the T68i, your schedule as well). This capability has been around for a long time, but it is still treated as if it is a perk — this should be a requirement. It should be able to sync out of the box without requiring a separate data cable. This should have become a nonissue years ago, but as it stands, it is still something not usually seen on mobile phones. Fortunately, Bluetooth is becoming increasingly cheaper and will hopefully be ubiquitous in the future (if not Bluetooth, then perhaps 802.xx will pick up the PAN market). I watch this industry like a hawk and have yet to see a perfect device (read: one limited only by current technology). They just can't seem to get it right: they give you a color screen, but only 8-bit color depth; they give you 16-bit color, but a 102x111 pixel screen; they give you an SD slot but no bluetooth. It just doesn't work.

As I've said for years, this 'perfect device' will eventually come down to a GOOD PDA+phone. Unfortunately, these are few and far between and the ones that are available are either too heavy, too power-hungry, or lacking key features. I owned the Samsung SPH-i300 when it first came out. This was the first Palm phone (first one available for Sprint I should say. Qualcomm made a BRICK-like device for Verizon prior to the SPH-i300). I was quite impressed, but it certainly failed in a few key areas, not the least of which was its horrible form-factor. It all boils down to a tradeoff between needs and wants, but the fact is, these differ for everyone. Given this, I do understand the restrictions placed on companies having to decide between what might give them the initial "ooh-ahh" factor and what *will* sell, but damn, there should be at least ONE great device out there. I'd like to say that the current US market is inundated with GOOD PDA+phone combos, but it ISN'T. Not even close. There are a few decent devices, but nothing spectactular. While I'm on the subject of current devices, I'd like to tell Palm that I'm quite disappointed with their brand-new line of PDAs (and I'm sure they're reading this *pfft*). I'm speaking of the Tungsten line. Palm finally realized that people want a resolution better than the 160x160 crap they've been pushing on us for the last eight years and came through with a brilliant 320x320, 16-bit screen (something Sony has been doing for years I might add). I honestly think that if Sony hadn't been pushing the envelope with their Clie series the past few years Palm would have died out a while ago. Though Palm was coming out with new PDAs every couple of months, the reality is they offered no substantial new features. In fact, for the most part, they just kept taking features away and making the devices cheaper. Anyways, back to my beef with their current offerings. The main problem I have with their Tungsten line is the Tungsten|w. Palm dropped the ball big time with this one. This device claims to be some kind of wireless wonder BUT to use the built-in phone capability one must use a hands-free headset. That's right, they built all this great wireless crap into the PDA, but then require a separate piece of equipment to use it for voice communication. Absurd. One is quickly reminded of Motorola's failed Accompli 009. Palm likes to say that this isn't a big deal, that this is "designed for the mobile professional more reliant on e-mail than voice communication," but the fact is, they missed a HUGE opportunity here. There are a lot of people out there (myself obviously included) waiting on the perfect PDA+phone device. Palm could have come pretty damn close with this one. I'm still on the fence regarding my preference for mobile OS's (Palm, Pocket PC, Symbian — I've had a lot of experience with all of them), but was quite ready to give Palm another shot, especially since Palm OS 5 fixes a lot of the problems I've come across with earlier versions. Perhaps the best thing about OS 5 is its support for ARM processors (read: Palm finally realized that the 33MHz Motorola DragonBall isn't going to cut it forever, especially with the Intel 400MHz XScale line now available). Given Palm's lackadaisical approach to new devices/features, we probably won't see this situation rectified for at least a year, which gives Symbian, Smartphone 2002 (MS's phone OS), and Pocket PC ample time to further eat away at this growing market.

Speaking of Smartphone 2002, Sendo just announced that they were discontinuing all development on their z100 smartphone-enabled mobile phone. This is a big blow to MS as this was to be the first US device to use Smartphone 2002. Sendo's reason for letting go of Smartphone 2002 was cited as being MS's closed-source policy, something that is starting to affect MS more and more. The best part about this story is that Sendo has since licensed Symbian for use on their PDA/phone. My guess is that this didn't go over too well with MS. :)

I realize I've been all over the place with this little rant here — I tend to get both excited and frustrated when talking about this topic. Let me end this with a list of my REQUIRED features for the 'perfect device' (this is well within what is currently possible):

400MHz Intel XScale processor
stereo sound
no smaller than the latest iPAQs (3800/3900 line)
320x320 resolution
16-bit color
screen must be transreflective
GSM 900/1800/1900
built-in CF slot (I and II)
SD slot
must weigh less than 5 oz.
flat (ie, no clam-shell design)
internal antennas

Again, the jury is out on this one. It isn't like we have too many options here, but it's going to be a while before someone really rises above the crowd (perhaps embedded linux will end up beating them all!).

From HTML 4.x to XHTML 1.0

October 22, 2002

Today I asked the maintainer(s) of the CMS I'm using if there are any plans to move from HTML 4.x to the XHTML spec. He said that there were definitely plans to do this in future revisions. I can't wait. Of course, I'll have to modify my custom theme quite a bit to comply, but it should be fun.

In XML-related news, I've read that Microsoft's Office 11 suite (to be released mid-2003) will be XML-enabled. This is a very big deal. I mean, all MS file types (Excel, Word, etc) will now be able to be exported to XML, with no data loss (ie, Office files are XML files). this implies that they are now in an open and internationalized format. A huge step for Microsoft.

Apple iPod

October 20, 2002

Let me begin by stating that I'm in love with this device (I knew I would be and now wish I bought one earlier). I've had the device for two weeks now and have been using it non-stop. Though there are a few minor things that need to be fixed, for the most part it is a very solid device.

I ended up getting the 2G 10GB PC version (there damn well better be some way for me to move stuff to it when I'm back in Linux). The differences between the 10/20GB versions and the 5GB version are pretty substantial. To start with, the 10GB+ scroll-wheel is like a trackpad (the flat area on a notebook where you slide your finger to simulate the mouse) instead of an actual scrolling wheel, thus giving the device no external moving parts. The 10GB+ also gives you "better" headphones. I dare say I have pretty discerning ears when it comes to music and really fought against using the packaged headphones instead of my beloved Sennheisers, but due to the nine foot cord on the Sennheisers, the supplied bud-style headphones have proved to be a bit more practical for campus life and have naturally become the main ones that I use, despite the fact that their sound quality leaves a lot to be desired. The 10GB+ models also come with an in-line remote control and a carrying case. The case comes across as pretty cheap; the iPod fits it well, but it offers no way for you to touch the buttons (guess that's what the remote is for) nor does it cover the sides of the iPod.

There are three semi-major problems I have with the operation of the device. One of the most annoying things is that ~90% of the time, after initially filling up the industry-leading 32MB buffer with the beginning tracks of a new album, it mysteriously skips past the first track and starts playing the second track. This makes me insane!!! I'm assuming they will fix this in future firmware updates (it's firmware upgradeable) as it a pretty big nuisance.

Another thing I really can't stand is how it actually moves the files over to the device. It is done through a MusicMatch plugin. For those of you not in the know, MusicMatch is the lamest, most bloated thing I've ever seen. It is ridiculously packaged and not aesthetically pleasing in the least. I would have much preferred a small, simple program from APPLE (you know, the makers of the damn device) than the setup they throw at you. While it does the job, it's just annoying. Period.

The third and most inconvenient thing is how difficult it is to actually remove the cable from the device (ie, when it is done charging/moving data). The connector really sticks and it doesn't help that it is quite slick. Sometimes it takes two or three tries to get it out. I wouldn't be so bothered by this if I didn't have to deal with it so often, but I charge it daily.

The iPod handles ID3 tags very nicely (at least up to v1.1, haven't tested against version 2.x). All sorting, be it by the artist, album, or genre, is done through ID3 tags. It could be a little more robust in this area though. One example is when a track name in an ID3 tag contains the track number, it should not display the number on the device. Another example is when there are no track numbers in the respective ID3 track number field, BUT, the album, artist, and track names are present, it should be able to discern from the actual file name (assumed to be preceded by the track number) the order of the tracks.

This being my first FireWire (400Mbps) device, I was pretty impressed. It's mad fast and that speed is much needed — I couldn't imagine trying to move 10GB across a USB 1.x line.

The battery life is SUPERB. Really incredible. The specs claim 10 hours and I have to say that it is very near that. Quite impressive when you keep in mind that it is powering a hard drive (one of the ways it keeps the power level down is the 32MB buffer — the HD spins up, fills the buffer, and then spins down). This leads to another minor gripe I have: playing files that are > 32MB keeps the HD spinning, drastically reducing battery life. This needs to be fixed.

One last very impressive thing about the device is its output power (30mW RMS per channel). It has no problem driving my Cambridge Soundworks Digital FPS setup (those speakers are obviously externally powered, but the point I'm trying to make is that the sound still comes off quite full and warm, not weak and drowned out).

As I've said for a year now (without even owning the device), if you are looking for an mp3 player, there is NO competition — get an iPod.

Just blabbing

September 29, 2002

Well, you can all breathe a sigh of relief — I've sucessfully migrated my backup script (bash shell script) from Linux to Cygwin under Windows. Actually, there wasn't too much that had to be changed, mostly just path adjustments. Unfortunately, I was unable to move over a *tiny* Perl script I had written to output, in real-time, the status of my wireless card's connection to my router.

One might ask, "Justin, why in Linus's name are you in Windows?". Well, as is usually the case, school has kind of forced me into it, at least for the next two semesters. After that, I'm sure to be back in some *nix distro — Mac OS X if I win the lottery (PowerBook G4 baby!).

One might also ask, "Justin, why don't you just use some multi-OS program?" The fact is, I've used most of them (Windows on top of Linux, Linux on top of Windows), with VMWare being my personal favorite, but I just don't like running concurrent OS's, and dual-booting is out of the question (unlike this guy, who can boot any one of the 37 OS's on his machine).

In related news, I've found Vim for win32 to be quite faithful to the *nix version.

Counting Crows - Hard Candy

September 17, 2002

While sitting in my AI class this morning it occurred to me that I've made no mention of the Counting Crows' latest installment to their ever-better discography. As most of you know, and have known for years, Counting Crows is one of my favorite bands of all time (arguably, album-for-album, the best band to come out of my generation). How many bands of the 90's can say that each subsequent album got significantly better? I'm obviously not talking about August and Everything After, their debut album, which has been in my top ten list since 1993 when it was released. I don't think they could ever top that, but they've come very close with Hard Candy.

I must admit, the first time I listened to the album I wasn't all that impressed (which is usually the case for albums I end up loving). After listening to it A LOT these past few months, I have to say that it is easily their second best album (probably their BEST album if you were to ask anyone else familiar with their music, but as I mentioned earlier, August just has a hold on me). There are a few absolute gems on this record. The song that immediately stood out was the last one, Holiday in Spain. Gorgeous. So sad and desperate and perfect. My other favorites include Hard Candy (classic Counting Crows), Miami (just a brilliant rock song, wow), and Black and Blue. The only song I really don't care too much for is Butterfly in Reverse, but I won't elaborate as I already feel somewhat heretical in saying what I have.

In short, listen to this album.

Toshiba e740

September 13, 2002

Well, it's about that time of the month again, that's right — a new gadget. I purchased the Toshiba e740 Pocket PC a few hours ago and just got back from returning it. The device is incredible, but had a few flaws I couldn't accept. Let's start with the pros:

  • 400MHz Intel XScale processor (yes, 400MHz :P)
  • Integrated 802.11 wireless (first handheld ever with this feature; had it working fairly quickly on the wireless network in my apartment)
  • Great form factor
  • All of the usual bells and whistles expected of current Pocket PC devices (240x320 resolution, 65K LCD TFT-reflective screen, 64MB RAM, 32MB ROM, etc)

Now for the cons:

  • There is NO backup battery. I had read about this in reviews and just decided I could live without it, BUT, as was mentioned in a few of those reviews, the removable lithium-polymer battery came loose from routine handling of the device (there is a latch on the side that is supposed to keep the battery in place; this came undone), which resulted in complete data loss. This is obviously unacceptable. What a ridiculous oversight by Toshiba. I mean, really.
  • Another major drawback was that though the 802.11 was surprisingly easy to setup (using Toshiba's installed application), the antenna strength was rather weak — even just like 30-40 feet from my wireless router. Overall though, not a bad attempt for a 1st-gen feature.

So, there you have it. As much as I want to put this one on my gadgets page, I digress, I only owned it for 3 hours. :P

Coldplay - A Rush of Blood to the Head

September 12, 2002

I can't get over how good this album is — been listening to it for a solid month now. So much better (much tighter vocally and musically) than their first album, Parachutes. The album as a whole just works effortlessly and reminds me a lot of Radiohead's sophomore effort, The Bends. My favorites on this one are easily Amsterdam and The Scientist.

City By The Sea

September 11, 2002

This movie started out rather slow and never really picked up. I wouldn't say City By The Sea was a bad film, but it was certainly far from great. The movie evoked no real emotion from me (which is very rare) due to the fact that it was hard to place any real relation between the son and the 'estranged' father, about which the story pivots. All of the relationships in this movie were too disconnected and/or strained; to this end, the film as a whole just didn't tie together too well and too many things were left wide open at the end. I'm going to have to add this to the ever-growing list of slight disappointments this year (Insomnia, s1m0ne, etc).

Mailing list

September 08, 2002

As everyone who visits this page already knows, I'm a computer/technology/pop-culture *nut* and read daily any and everything that has to do with said topics (an obsessive habit I've kept up for ~8 years now). When I find something especially interesting (IMHO), I tend to want to share it. A lot of you are already on my 'mailing list,' but if you aren't and would like to be, just e-mail me saying as much.


August 30, 2002

The first week of fall semester is officially over. Time for alcohol and the opposite sex. :) First football game of the year tomorrow (we play Alabama-Birmingham). Speaking of football games, anyone interested in my UF-Miami ticket? Let me know.

Up and running

August 29, 2002

Well, I've spent the last few hours tweaking this script and feel fairly confident that everything is working correctly. As usual, please e-mail me with any comments/criticisms about the new layout. As some of you know, there are quite a few things on here that aren't linked directly from the website — if you have trouble with any of these things please let me know.


August 26, 2002

Saw s1m0ne earlier today and I have to say I was a little disappointed. It wasn't a bad film, just horribly hard to swallow. Not only does a 5-1/4" floppy play a pivotal role (I won't give away its purpose here), but they insist on assuming that we are buying the movie as much as those within the movie are 'believing' in s1m0ne.

Still searching

August 26, 2002

When I finally decide on a PHP/MySQL engine for this thing (been static for too many years :P), I plan to put up some pictures. Probably gonna use a PHP script called Gallery; seems to be the best thing out there.

In other news, the fall semester started today. Bleh.

New hosting provider

August 24, 2002

Just changed hosting providers so that I may have full access to PHP/MySQL (without having to pay out the ass). I hope to have a new site design up fairly soon.