Archive for the ‘Tech’ Category


A matter of perspective

   Posted by: Mark

Oh my. I just did a comparison of some recent pictures posted on flickr and this site. I viewed them from both my main computer at home (iMac 20″ Aluminum) and a second system (Lenovo T60p laptop). Eew. The pics look flat, dull, cool (temp), and unimpressive on the laptop. Granted, its screen isn’t all that great, but if this is a hint as to what most folks are seeing, I apologize.

I need to work on determining if the laptop really is that bad, or if the pictures are!

** UPDATE **

I had a couple of folks check their systems for me, and although the whole color/viewing thing is subjective, the result seems to be that my laptop is just not calibrated very well. I did manage to get it to look better, so my mind is at ease for a while.


Luther on Kingdoms

   Posted by: Mark Tags: ,

During our trip to Ohio, I had opportunity to read some of Martin Luther’s writings. I brought a copy of “Three Treatises,” which ends up not being all that focused on theology proper, but was a highly enjoyable read. The first treaties is An Open Letter to the Christian Nobility of the German Nation Concerning the Reform of the Christian Estate. This was written in 1520, and Luther was apparently quite aware that his relationship with the Catholic Church was damaged beyond repair by this point (by this time in his life Luther had clearly proclaimed his questioning of papal authority and numerous specific practices of the Church). Even in his written word in this essay it is possible to see the passion he must have had regarding the comprehensive lack of discernment and holiness in the Church, and specifically in the person and office of the pope.

There were numerous passages in the essay that were noteworthy and concise enough to quote, but one related generally to politics really jumped out at me. He was crying out against the actions of Rome (referencing the Church) in its dishonorable acquisition of the Roman Empire from the Greek Emperor, and then his giving it to the German Nation in order to establish a “Second Roman Empire” under his own rule. Luther’s statements are still relevant today:

For the Lord God it is a small thing to toss empires and principalities to and fro! He is so generous with them that once in a while He gives a kingdom to a knave and takes it from a good man, sometimes by the treachery of wicked, faithless men and sometimes by heredity, as we read of the kingdoms of Persia and Greece, and of almost all kingdoms; and Daniel 2 and 4 says: “He who ruleth over all things dwelleth in heaven, and it is he alone who changeth kingdoms, tosseth them to and fro, and maketh them.” Since, therefore, no one can think it a great thing to have a kingdom given to him, especially if he is a Christian, we Germans cannot be puffed up because a new Roman Empire bestowed on us; for in His eyes it is a trifling gift, which He often gives to the most unworthy, as Daniel 4 says: “All who dwell on the earth are in his eyes as nothing, and he has power in all the kingdoms of men, to give them to whomsoever he will.”

This is indeed a good reminder that it is God who gives and takes kingdoms and establishes rulers. Beware of those who suggest that God is any less capable of or active in doing this in a democratic republic!


A few useful applications

   Posted by: Mark Tags:

I have really been enjoying this iMac. In fact, I have plans (hopes, perhaps) to get another in the next year or so for Tami to replace the older one she has now.

There are so many useful applications for this thing, and it seems that each week I find another. Here are some of the ones I use regularly:

  • NetNewsWire – This is an RSS reader that allows organization of feeds into as many folders as you want. I love the ability to navigate it all with the keyboard, and the ability to open web pages in tabs along the edge of the window is great. I can quickly scan through a list of feeds, popping the right arrow key to open the post in another window if I see something I want to read. I only have about 60 feeds, which is a small list compared to some hard-core junkies out there, but NetNewsWire makes it easy to buzz through them regularly.
  • QuickSilver – It may be possible to use a Mac without this tool, but I can’t imagine why you would want to. I barely even touch the capabilities of this little gem, but still use it constantly through the day. Control+space, then type a few letters and hit enter, and any app, url, or document on the system or in my shortcuts will open. I can move files with a few keystrokes, append text to files, look up contact addresses, and perform actions within application menus, all with no mouse.
  • Snap Pro Z – Screenshots or screen movies with no hassles.
  • 1Password – Sure, Leopard has the keychain, but it’s not easy to update, I can’t access it from both Safari and Firefox, and I can’t store non-password items in it like bank account details, work passwords, etc. 1Password lets me organize by category, and I can store anything that needs fully secure storage. And it will automatically generate passwords for me according to my preferences (length, number of letters/numbers/special characters, etc.) when necessary.
  • PandoraBoy – I love Pandora, but having to keep Firefox or Safari open to run it bugs me. PandoraBoy lets me launch directly into the Pandora “mini” player, and still provides the standard mini-payer interface, with access to channels, voting, and song details.

I have a bunch more (Parallels, Skype, Flickr Uploadr, Onyx, TextWrangler, MacSword, and others), but that’s a good start.


Evil hosting company

   Posted by: Mark

I was plagued last week with problems stemming from 1and1 Internet. I had seen numerous advertisements from them in some of the magazines I read, and their prices were quite low. I opened a business account with them earlier this year, but didn’t move my site and related domain registration until about a month ago.

When that all finally went through, there was a rather significant problem that I emailed them about. They assured me they knew about it and were working on it. Three days later I emailed again asking when it would be fixed, and again the said they were still working on it. After six days, it was still not fixed, and I was disgusted with the lack of service, especially on a business-level account. So I canceled and moved to BlueHost. Still a “discount” hosting company, but smaller and apparently more responsive. I encountered two issues, one of which they kindly explained was my fault and the other they proactively notified me about and resolved in short order.

But when I canceled my hosting plan with 1and1, they saw fit to also cancel my domain registration, dropping “” into a cancellation status for 30 days. I could either pay $40 to retrieve it through 1and1, or wait until it expired and try to be the first to get it back. So no site, and more importantly, no email except my seldom-used gmail account.

It ends up that this is not uncommon with 1and1. After over an hour on the phone with multiple agents, they will be refunding me the $40 recovery fee. And I’ll be transferring my domain name out just as soon as I can.



   Posted by: Mark

Dad started us out on a Commadore 64 around the time I was in seventh grade. I remember the awe of seeing that machine and what it could do with Logo and Basic. Dad set the standard for me with his direct assembly-level programming on that machine, and I began writing simple Basic programs. I think he let me take that machine for my first year of college, with a small monochrome green-screen display.

Later in college it was the old amber 8088 that the school provided, then the Amiga 500 Dad bought, and finally the powerful Intel-based 386 I had when I graduated with degree in hardware design. I don’t recall the machines we had after Tami and I got married, but I do know there has always been a computer in the house. I eventually changed my career focus from hardware to software, and even now continue as a software developer.

I built a number of machines over the years, with the latest being a Windows-based PC about four years ago. I have used that system ever since, upgrading drives, memory, and display over time. And I finally decided that upgrading piecemeal would no longer work. I needed a new system.

And resources and opportunity met, and I bought an iMac. I should preface that with the confession that I recently bought Tami her own iMac a few months ago. It’s an older iMac G4, but even in the poor condition from which I resurrected it, it appears to be an excellent machine. It needs some software updates, which are on the way (right, JS?), but allows her to easily peruse email, music, web sites, and photos.

So that planted the seed that maybe the dark side was not all that dark. And then I started really hearing from a couple of “swichers,” and started comparing PC and Mac. And the final straw was the fact that I could run Windows XP natively simultaneously with OS X on the new Intel-based Macs, allowing me to continue pursuing MS-based software development while jumping into the great features of OS X.

I’ve already rambled on long enough in this post, and will address some reasoning later on, but I have not regretted the decision. It hasn’t been a flawless conversion, and I’m not even fully converted yet, but I am not getting rid of this new machine any time soon.

(My new iMac is the aluminum G5, 2.4GHz Intel Core 2 Duo with a 20″ widescreen, 1G RAM with two more gigs arriving shortly.)


Slow progress

   Posted by: Mark

I worked for a bit tonight on the blog, attempting to understand how the templates all fit together in Movable Type. My biggest stumbling block was that the templates in a default installation of Movable Type 4 completely ignore Widgets. I started tonight moving things around so that the templates can use Widget Sets while still maintaining the use of the variable switches at the top of each template.

For users of Movable Type, the obvious and immediate advantage to this is a graphical interface for moving content around on your pages via the Widget Manager. I still have not found any drawbacks, and am puzzled at SixApart’s decision to not take advantage of this.

Another accomplishment tonight involved the addition of a dynamic “latest images” from our Flickr feed, now displayed to the right on the main page. This involved both phpFlickr and help from Jesse. There is nothing fancy in this implementation, but one of the nice things is that the feed is set up as a Widget, and contains only six lines of functional code (plus five for variable declarations)! Jesse mentioned plans to outline his excellent implementation on Movable Tweak, and I do not want to steal his thunder (as if our readership looks at all alike). Once I figure some more things out in the templates, improve the Flickr integration on this site, and glean from Jesse’s upcoming post, I will post some details of how I put things together.


Houdini Starving Artist

   Posted by: Mark

A year ago I spent countless hours in Houdini’s incredible Apprentice edition, learning the interface, concepts, and terminology. It was much different from the old RayDream 3D I had purchased years ago: RayDream was at best a toy and Houdini is a world-class studio-level application (thing Harry Potter, Spiderman 3, Meet the Robinsons, The Last Mimzy, Superman Returns, etc.), and Houdini handles objects and concepts completely differently than most 3D applications, using node-based hierarchies. Houdini was refreshing and a pleasure to work with, but I eventually abandoned it because I knew I could not afford or justify the full version of the program if I decided to move up from the watermarked Apprentice version.

Well I received an email today from Side Effects Software announcing the release of Houdini’s “Starving Artist” edition. Side Effects has taken their astounding Houdini application, pulled out the ability to render to 3rd-party renderers (you can still render to the excellent native Mantra renderer), and set a price of $99. Unbelievable.

Thank you, Side Effects!


What’s the point of the MT Asset Manager?

   Posted by: Mark

I have been installing the beta releases of Movable Type 4.x, and recently installed the final release of this great update to the Movable Type platform. The new interface is very clean, and easy to use once you have worked in it a little. The updated templates seem to be very usable and modularized, making customization easier than in previous versions. And there certainly are a lot of great features.

Today I finally took some time today to work in the system and see what I could learn. I got the Media Manager plugin working (in beta from Byrne), which was a nice accomplishment. (On a side note, this is a great foundation for some powerful integration with external systems, but seems to be lacking in “integratability,” probably because of the limitations mentioned next.) In the process of this I got to play a bit with the new Asset Manager. I added and removed Amazon and Flickr content, looked at the code, read a bit, edited some code, and really tried to bang on it for a little while.

I am still very much a newbie at it all, but I came away wondering what is the point of this super-special, sparky-new Asset Manager? Yeah, it does allow you to “Create a Flickr” asset, but for what purpose? It is a very handy file manager, but nothing more. You can’t add that asset to a post after creation (can you?). You can’t edit it. You can’t move it. You can’t to anything with it except view it.

I am hoping I am just missing some very basic information, and once I get that info, it will all snap into place in my head. I anxiously await insight from Jesse, since he is certainly the foremost non-Six Apart Movable Type guru on the planet. Well, maybe second, behind Arvind.