Team Murder No Brain No Headache.


Easy Things Make Me Nervous

I've been using the Akismet comment spam plugin for the last couple of days and it's been absolutely painless so far. Until this morning I hadn't seen any indication that anything at all was happening. Although it starts me worrying this is exactly what a plugin of this sort should do. Past implementations of this sort of functionality have always fallen somewhat short dealing with the compromise between 'friendliness' (oh, term, how I loathe you) and configurability but Akismet seems a reasonably happy medium between not knowing what the fuck is going and needing to do everything yourself in response to the demands of the plugin. The only thing that still concerns me is the centralization of its infrastructure. Everything is working smoothly now but Akismet was only rolled out to the general public (albeit the general public with a API) a couple of days ago and only to those with a WordPress account. We'll have to see how it holds up under the stress of wide deployment over the next couple of months.

Crap. After writing all of that out I realized that I'm using it in conjunction with the wonderful wonderful wonderful Bad Behavior plugin which limits robot abuse. Hmmm. Guess a fair assessment would be pretty impossible but I'm happy that I don't have a whole lot to evaluate at the moment. I have yet to dig into the database of BB results to see what it's coming up with because I passionately hate dealing with phpMyadmin for anything more complex than dropping tables and the like. I realize that some people would be lost without tools like it but I'm definitely not the target audience for this sort of tool.

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My God, It’s Full Of Toolbars

The 2.0 release of slithered its way into the unstable branch of Debian so I've been tinkering with it. I actually have a paper coming up that must be formatted in the accursed Chicago style that necessitates things like footnotes be dug out of the mothballs and have life hammered back into them. I was a little nervous about all of the things I've been hearing about the potential weirdness of the 2.x series.

The big fear is the greater implementation of the dreaded Java. I had the same phobia until I cranked up the new version. It isn't faster but seems to chug along at relatively the same speed as the 1.x OO. I don't think speed was ever really a goal of the OpenOffice folks so as long as it actually runs without making a mockery out of top I'm basically fine with that.

Tool bars -- there are like 1500 of them now. Most of them are utterly useless to me since OO is, for me, an overloaded word processor. The navigation bar is actually pretty useful and would be even more useful if desktop publishing tasks were on your plate. The standard tool bars with a little bit of customization were all I needed. This is mainly because the line spacing controls aren't included on the default bar. This seems odd because all of the crap for setting up bullet points is there in the default settings as well as the highlighting and background color controls. Guess business-folk have more time to fuck around with their documents than I do.

PDF output seems to be improved considerably. You can actually adjust the compression for images now and there are menu entries for sending a document as a PDF attachment in the file menu. There is an identical entry for sending MS Word attachments that is probably more practical than the new PDF features. It might convince a few more people that you can actually exchange documents with other people who don't use the same office suite that you do. I'm not that old but I remember when that didn't sound so far fetched. Granted, if you lard your stuff down with nested tables and things like it the results are a lot less likely to please. But what really differentiates between that and what happens between versions of Microsoft Office? People have already had enough public hysterics about the new Open Document format which is now the default format for OO. Backwards compatibility is a sort of bloody shirt here since I had absolutely zero problems opening my old files or converting them, by saving, to the new format. Yes, you'll probably have to pay a little bit of attention for a while until 2.x becomes more widely deployed and packaged but to get all fearful about it is probably overreaction. You could also save everything as rich text format documents if it's too much for your beady little brain to bear.

The database features included in the new release go zooming right over my head. I think they're primarily intended to compete with Access and since I'm not in the slightest concerned with the recipe card collection disguised as database it makes little difference to me. I looked around a little bit to see if anyone had said anything significant about difficulties with the database features and came up with nothing other than installation quibbles. I think this stuff has always been included in OO but I paid as little attention to it then as I am now.

I haven't needed to do anything significant yet with the new release so I'm sure I'll eventually find something wrong with it. Maybe not. Maybe I'll just keep using it with minimal annoyance and maximum pragmatism like I always have.

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Check Out My New Pet Rock

There have been an absurd number of new toys released into the wild over the past couple of weeks. I've been playing with some of them but up until now, and now being nearly four in the morning, I haven't had a chance to write about any of them. Because I'm lazy, incompetent, and apathetic, I haven't taken any notes as I've plodded along. This is going to be a mess. No surprises there I suppose.


I spent some time messing with Flock over the past couple of days. I downloaded the developer release that required a password to download only to see it released to the world later that day. That shouldn't bother me but for some reason it does. I have the feeling that Flock should an extension of Firefox rather than a separate build entirely. As a toy to monkey with, I don't mind opening an additional web browser to click around a little before closing it and moving on to real work but that won't continue for a significant amount of time at least not for me. New things will noted and played with as far as the attention span will stretch, but other than my new accounts on the services that Flock promotes, this will pass more quickly from my mindscape than the term Web 2.0 will cross from the current events section into its more permanent home in humor. Here is what happened in real world terms: I fired up the browser for the very first time. It doesn't want to import anything but Opera settings despite the fact that I use the browser they're building this shit on top of exclusively. This is a fantabulous way to lose points. I did sign up for a delicious account, realized immediately that the little bookmarklet things would work in Firefox, and messed around with delicious in my real browser for a while and abandoned Flock altogether. I also signed up for a account which sits empty here. Again, signed up for the account and promptly switched browsers.

One thing that they do get absolutely correct is the proper handling of RSS feeds from the browser. Rather than coughing a thick and unattractive wad of XML when you've mistakenly clicked on one of those hideous little orange buttons Flock just says that there is no application associated with that protocol and does nothing. That isn't to say that it does anything fantastic but at least the application knows not to feed (heh) you raw XML and surrenders gracefully. Those features are wonderful but I've really got to see a finished implementation to even consider using Flock for anything more than monkeying around with a feature they've rolled in. The 'shelf' feature is also pretty cool as a you drag random things here to bookmark them feature. I'm not sure exactly what I'd use it for but it is pretty impressive to mess around with. The browser doesn't seem to like larger photos as I managed to crash it twice by dragging an 800x600 wallpaper into it. I'm also not entirely sure that I buy the weblog integration thing. How many people really still compose their posts in the text area box instead of pasting it in from a real text editor? I tend to think (and I'm probably incorrect) that more new users tend to do that kind of thing and that close pairing coupled with the crash and burn tendencies of a pre-beta browser is going to probably tick some people off. Or not.

As a preview Flock is impressive but if the choice were mine to make I might have kept the developer preview going for a little while longer. There's been a considerable amount of hype generated by their silence and a sorta ready beta is going to lead to some disappointments. Well, at least I signed up for a Delicious account a full year behind the rest of the world. All of that said, Flock is full of good ideas but really needs to make the browser more stable since a browser that gives you good interoperability between web doodads but randomly crashes isn't going to a browser that sees a whole lot of use. Releasing to the public is, well, releasing to the public. I'll be curious to see how the whole thing shakes out.

More coming but I was hard pressed to set aside a few minutes to get through this.

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More Reading And Less Insta-Clicking

I thought this article about the license verification 'bot in World of Warcraft was worth pointing out especially if you don't pay much attention to gaming news and I generally do not. I know someone that I specifically have to pay a visit to, here at work, because he is totally violating HIPAA by having potentially sensitive medical information on hundreds of people being sent to Blizzard. I don't have a copy of the game but the EULA is available online and although it does mention that the vendor has the right to update the game without user knowledge it leaves out the part about the possibility that it might transmit any information back to Blizzard.

I guess the question I'm working towards here is whether or not the somewhat limited language of the license agreement leaves Blizzard open to lawsuits for breaches of information. Obviously I'm not a lawyer so I might be missing some essential assumption that protectors the writer of the contract. It seems like the random scanning of files throughout the hard drive is something that users ought to know about. I'd love to see how something like played out in court. There are a few people I'm going to mail with a slightly more complicated pitch of this situation. I'll post here if I find out anything interesting. The main reason that I'm even bothering is because I'm interested in the question and not because I plan on launching some hojillion dollar liability suit against Blizzard. Feel free to give it a shot if you're feeling up to it.

From the post referenced above:

watched the warden sniff down the email addresses of people I was communicating with on MSN, the URL of several websites that I had open at the time, and the names of all my running programs, including those that were minimized or in the toolbar. These strings can easily contain social security numbers or credit card numbers, for example, if I have Microsoft Excel or Quickbooks open w/ my personal finances at the time.

That seems a little excessive even for the sake of disarming cheatware. I wonder if the scan is that intrusive on purpose or just due to some clueless coding. What a nightmare for all parties involved

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Forty Hours To Rewrite The World

I haven't been working on the zombie game for the past couple of weeks. Being unable to hack on it during work hours has significantly reduced both the time I can spend on it and my enthusiasm for the tangled jungle of web/game development. People have (thank you, thank you, thank you) graciously volunteered to help out and this will happen at some point in the future when the actual code is less messy and does what it is supposed to do in most cases. Meaningless details of another of my go nowhere projects aside, if you've ever tried to jump head first into game programming by busting out huge chunks of code over an extended weekend or something then you will empathize with How To Build a Game In A Week From Scratch With No Budget.

This is one of the better ideas for recording the development process that I've seen lately. More people need to keep detailed notes of their development process because its (and this really shows my geek colors here) fascinating reading and because others need to know that the horrible, horrible process of trying to get a complex system working is pretty much awful for everyone who attempts it. I don't have to deal with the insanity of deadlines so some of the last minute feature cutting stuff is less familiar to me than the agonizing over design decisions, etc. I challenge you to read the article and resist the urge afterwards to fire up the coffee pot and start prototyping monsters. I'm going to have to take a closer look at PyGame in the not so distant future.

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And Then The Gadget Hounds Gnashed Their Teeth And Swore Terrible Vengeance

Um, this just seems like the beginning of another AOL reaper watch countdown as AOL shrugs off its death throes yet again to stagger back out from the tar pit and buy up marginally useful things which it will later kill when it cannot figure out how to transform it from something people actually want into a conduit of obscene profits. I think it would be kind of funny if they tried to make the entire network subscription only. My love of gallows humor is unfortunate at the very best.

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Beating Dead Horses Out Of Sheer Spite

There is a great war of words going on over at Planet Debian about the newer version of Galeon and its lack of configurability. I stopped using Galeon a long time ago after using it pretty faithfully because it was small, fast, and had most of the features I wanted in a browser. This necessity for smallness/fastness came from using Debian on my clunky old laptop that would choke on either Mozilla or the then new and flashy Phoenix derivative. I tried it out again today and was even more disappointed although less irked because with the rapid development on Firefox I don't really need any of the toy browsers anymore.

Ouch. Toy. I know. The reason I call it, in addition to Epiphany, a toy browser is that it doesn't really do anything. I liked the initial plan or the one expressed by one of the developers that Galeon was supposed to be the 'advanced user' browser while Epiphany was for the "so I put the arrow on the box and I push the button then?" crowd that Gnome envisioned as its core audience. The other alternative (and a much less sane one) is using the gconf editor. Of course, Wouter Verhelst has the answer to why this sucks and he does a lot better job of demolishing its use as some kind of acceptable contingency plan for that evil, evil application level configuration. What is even more annoying to me is that the alleged advanced browser is just another Gecko dependent, clone of the other. Why? I guess because Gnome are designing for theoretical users instead of those actually trying to use their software. Fucking genius.

The sad part is that I really like some of the applications that come with the Gnome desktop but I guess if you don't love it then you should leave it. I've never been a patriotic resident of anywhere so I'm done trying to fight devs and phantom users and their bizarro world desktop environs.

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What This Editor Really Needs Is A ‘Crazy Talk’ Checker

It's getting to that point in the week where I'm partially caught up on the work I've procrastinated on up until now and I'm trying to work my way through a few ideas I've been thinking about. The best way for me to do this, usually, is to spill a couple hundred words here and have some of my friends call me on the terrible parts of my ideas. You really can't ask for more than that.

One thing that has really vexed me for a while, and maybe this is because so much ink has been spilled over it in the past few months, is the perceived damage that Ubuntu is doing to Debian. This subject is wildly interesting but ultimately not that important in the bigger picture. Debian has survived how many near identical attempts to exploit (and I mean this in the nicest possible sense of that term probably more akin to 'leverage') the core as another product, etc, etc, etc.? This subject deserves a longer and more explicit post about it but I just don't have the time tonight. Go read Mark Shuttleworth's recent additions to the FAQ and ponder in the mean time. I have very mixed feelings about many aspects of what he's said but more when I have time to think it all through rather than spewing a bunch of bile.

Seth Godin has a post about kinds of cereal and marketing that is equally applicable to the recurrent debate about the number of Linux distributions. If there are too many for you to handle then ignore the others. There is plenty of room at the pond for even the slowest and least intelligent of the animal kingdom. I do like Seth's analogy, though, as it uses pretty universal terminology even if the word 'marketing' appears more times than I would like it to.

This issue of First Monday is devoted to open source. I haven't had time to read much more than the introduction but much of it looks intriguing at the very least. Even when First Monday has totally pissed me off I've never actually felt insulted. That is an indication of higher praise than is probably apparent. ESR has some pre-shithouse rat crazy writings featured in it (yes, it is the thing you've already read) and there are some others that I want to read simply because the title sounds promising.

The site is going to undergo some minorly major changes in the near future. It is time to trim flab and fluff. It is also time to write something that approaches coherency and stays on topic for plural seconds. Yes, there will be longer things. It will be just like the good old days except Aaron won't be here and your heating bill this winter is going to be $Freedom million dollars. Prepare your hand baskets.

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