Here’s a couple of app/service ideas that I don’t know if they do exist (if they do, my google-fu failed me, that I think *should* exist. But I’m unlikely to write them in the next 2 months, so, please feel free!
Sigfile-scanner: I want to be able to select/copy the signature of any email someone sends me and have it auto-scanned & filtered into a consumable vcard/contact info. This should work in Mac Mail, and in gMail on the web. Ideally it IDs at least name, phone, email, URL & street address, but extra stuff would be cool. I know there’s alot of variance in how this info is presented, but the info itself feels somewhat standard.
Warranty-info-manager: I want a centralized service to maintain all my warranty info. For anything I buy. Ideally, all I should have to do is perhaps scan a barcode & enter a purchase date (default date should be when I scan it), maybe submit the serial No (or better yet – translate a picture of the serial no into text). It should then be able to retrieve all the relevant warranty info for that product – and tell me in plain english things like when it expires, if it’s renewable/extendable, contact #s/addresses, etc. This could likely be crowdsourced, API’d so that as other people add their products, the common info gets shared, or companies could easily submit their warranty info automatically. I should be able to get reminders about when things are expiring well in advance too. Bonus points for being able to store/auto-submit registration info for those things that require registration (although this gets into the hazy what’s too much information to store about a single person zone).
I’m not a terribly sentimental guy. The other shootings, those this year and years earlier have washed over me. I’ve been able to smugly shake my head at America. But this last one in Connecticut is different. I’m destroyed by it and I don’t know why.
Last night we went to a christmas part for Kellan’s daycare. When I got there, I pulled my little guy into a great big hug. He squealed, pulled away and went to play with some toys. I smiled, but didn’t feel better. When Leah and Liam arrived, I gave him a great big hug, longer, tighter than usual. But I didn’t feel better.
When we got home, I started to read twitter, the news. Usually in times of stress, my virtual community is a balm, because my shit isn’t everyone else’s. But reading twitter only made me cry. I don’t cry, as a rule. I thought maybe the news would be better. Information, for me, is a calming tool. Facts are impersonal. But there is no news, only conjecture & opinion and what facts there are too horrible to comprehend. 20,000 dead is a statistic. 2 dead is a tragedy. 27 dead falls just beyond comprehension, but not so far as to be dehumanized.
Last night, I had terrible nightmares. I went back to that daycare party, but there was only bloodied, dead toddlers and screaming parents, not dancing and merriment. In my dreams, over and over I saw Liam lying on the ground, riddled with bullets. I saw my wife bleeding & crying holding a limp & lifeless Kellan. Over and over.
I didn’t wake refreshed this morning. I don’t feel better. Everyone is still stuck on this. Those feeds that are stuck on this topic I can’t read because it’s too terrible, too close. Those people not talking about this seem out of touch and useless. I can’t move on yet – how can you?
And through it all, this low-level, but rising disgust at the discussions taking place about the role of guns, the cultural values of gun-ownership, and mental health. I’ve distilled my current thoughts to this:
If you believe it’s ok to own guns, you are culpable in this massacre.
If you don’t believe in free, easy access to mental healthcare, you are culpable in this massacre.
I don’t know if that will change. When I first wrote the above, I had it set as “morally culpable”. But that’s not quite what I feel. That gives your opinion a distance from this massacre that I think isn’t excusable. And those are harsh, extreme opinions that will likely temper over time. But you know what? There’s been dozens of other chances for the gun lobby to prove that ownership can prevent, or lessen the impact of these attacks. But where’s the story of the heroic gunmen who killed the assailant? What? there aren’t any? Fuck you and your rhetoric then. You shouldn’t pay for someone else’s mental illness? Health coverage shouldn’t be a right? How many of the last, oh, dozen mass-shooters in America were not mentally ill? How many were off medication because of difficulties in getting access? or paying for it? or simply the social stigma? Fuck you and your rhetoric then.
I hope this feeling goes away. I wish I felt angry, or sad. Those would feel like progress from where I sit right now. I have a weekend with my family ahead of me, a party to attend tonight. But I don’t know how to get through the day right now. I don’t know how I’ll stop my eyes from filling with tears today. I don’t know how to mend myself. I don’t know what it is about this story thousands of kilometres away that has so broken me, but it has.
For someone for whom music has always been central to my life, I was very late to the CD party. I grew up in a house where there was a communal stereo in the living room. First, custom built shelves of old bricks & boards, LPs stored underneath, a row of cassettes, then the amp & cassette deck. The record player held the place of privilege, alone atop the unit. My parents had a sizeable record collection: dozens of folk & singer-songwriter era records from their youth, along with an even larger, but to me, largely invisible classical collection. the LSO’s recording of Brahms was only an obstacle to find the Cat Stevens or the Beatles.
Upstairs, in their rooms, my much older siblings had their own music collections. MY brother had an even larger collection of LPs, stored in milk crates. His collection was largely contemporary, and for the era, pretty outside the mainstream. When he wasn’t home, or I thought I wouldn’t get caught, I would sneak up into his room and just gaze at the albums. Slip Diamond Dogs out of the sleeve, careful not to rip the paper liner, cringing as inevitably the corners would get folded. He had a small lint-brush kept atop the milk-crates that was to be used solely to clean his records. I cleaned so many records that I dare not actually play, hearing in my head the music held within them. My sister, to my memory, did not have records in her room. She had posters and cassettes, and it was all much scarier and I left it more or less alone. Teenage boys can be angry towards their little brothers. Teenage girls fiercely protective of their space are downright scary.
The CD already existed during all of this time – but it was a non-factor in my family’s life until it had been out for nearly a decade, around 1990 or so. Somewhen after my siblings left for university, when I was 12 or 13, our house was broken into. The record player, visible on its pedestal from the porch outside, was a victim of that burglary, along with any number of records from below. When the stereo system was replaced, my parents bought a CD player. My mother was a fan of the Concerto de Aranjuez, and that LP went missing during the robbery. For her birthday I bought my first ever CDs, 2 different renditions of the Rodrigo’s masterpiece, for my mother.
Even though there was a CD player in the house, I continued to buy tapes for myself for entirely practical reasons: When my brother left home I relocated my bedroom upstairs into what used to be his, and in that room I had a double-tape-teck-radio blaster. It was terrible, essentially monaural because the right-side speaker was constantly shorting out and I loved it. Late sunday nights I would stay up in bed, desperately hoping to keep the signal so I could listen, & record, the Grateful Dead Hour radio show. I bought 120-minute tapes so I could record the entire hour on 1 side of the cassette. I would carefully label each episode, and stored it in a pleather-covered cassette-holder briefcase. I would also endlessly make mixtapes. Some were themed (songs starting with the letter I, spelling the recipient’s name), some were educational (all songs produced by Rick Rubin), some were mercenary (I would give and sell and trade tapes to friends). But every single one of those tapes was made on my crappy double-cassette-deck, painstakingly lined up to optimize each side of the cassette. CDs just didn’t lend themselves to easy trading. They were artifacts of consumption, not catalysts for creation like cassettes were.
The first CD I bought for myself was (keeping with my love of the mix-tape & live music), a bootleg 3-cd set of a live Led Zeppelin show from Montreux that sounded terrible, contained mistakes but I thought was the most beautiful sound I’d ever heard. I bought it at a market in Paris while I was on exchange there. I didn’t have a portable CD player with me in France. I didn’t have a CD player of my own at home, but I wanted that set.
It wasn’t until a year later that I got my first CD player, in 1994: for my birthday, my parents gave me a stereo amp. I hooked it up to the 4-ft speakers my brother had left behind nearly 5 years prior in my room. All it could do was play the radio. I was both thrilled, and crushed, that it sounded so good and I couldn’t play my music on it. But that christmas, 2 months later, came part 2: the double-cassette-deck component, and, a cd-player. It all came to university with me, including the way-too-large-for-my-dorm-room speakers, and I loved it. I had acquired a bunch of CDs & quality headphones that I bought second-hand from the owner of a nearby headshop. I still use those headphones today, but nothing else remains from that stereo. Not even the CDs.
For having started collecting CDs fairly late, I made up for it quickly. I bought dozens of magazines that came with sample-music CDs. It was a fantastic way to learn of European techno from Toronto, or music from the New York folk scene. Nearly every spare dollar I had went to buying music. When I moved in with Leah some 8 years later I owned just north of 1000 CDs. I spent hours re-arranging my CDs – if you’ve seen or read High Fidelity, you’ll recognize the obsessive levels of re-arranging I would do. It wasn’t until I realized that Leah didn’t understand how to browse my ordered by alphabetical by producer/songwriter that I gave up on all that & started grouping roughly by genre, then alphabetically. It’s amazing that less than 8 years after that, not only could I no longer arrange my albums by producer, I don’t even know who produced the vast majority of albums I own: it seemed so vitally important to know then, so trivial now.
In 1996 I started working at the student computer help desk at UBC. A manager there, named Jeffrey, had a SCSI CD burner. For work purposes, of course – legitimate duplication of software to hand out to UBC employees (trumpet winsock, anyone?). But late one evening he showed me that he could also duplicate CDs. Create an exact digital duplicate. No loss in fidelity like as what happened to my mixtapes. I was hooked. I couldn’t begin to afford to buy a new CD-R, but when UBC upgraded his machine, they let me buy his old CD-R for a couple hundred bucks. It was single-speed, but It. Was. Awesome. Everyone I knew and loved received a custom-made mixed CD for christmas that holiday. I printed my own album covers & liner notes on my brand-new bubble-jet printer. I asked my girlfriend of the time to hand-write on the discs because my handwriting is terrible.
I experimented with buying CDs, duplicating them and then returning them to stores, but I discovered that I missed the liner notes, so that only happened a few times. I also discovered that because there was no “skill” in making mix CDs that I didn’t enjoy it as much as making mix tapes. The fade-control, time-limits could all be effortlessly predicted through the software. I played with DJ mixes, but was terrible at it, and the software for making such things was very bare-bones back then.
I last bought a CD about 4 years ago. I started a project to digitize my CD collection, and now buy all my music digitally. I don’t miss the format at all. Well, that’s not entirely true. I miss the thrill of examining the packaging, reading the liner notes terribly. There is nothing quite like rushing home with a new purchase, peeling it out of the plastic wrapping, putting it on the stereo and lying there, headphones on to really hear the album, and browsing the liner notes. You can’t do that with digital music. There’s nothing to hold. When my toddler is old enough that I don’t have to worry about him breaking things, I’ll likely buy another turn-table and buy some favourites on vinyl, but not another CD.
On our recent trip to Florida, we were upgraded from our requested car to a Ford Edge. This was nice, in that with 2 kids, carseats & a stroller, the extra room is always helpful, and that it is remarkably similar to our own car, a Toyota Highlander.
The 2 cars are more or less identical in size: the Edge’s wheelbase is 111.2″, the Highlander’s is 109.8″. In length/width, the Edge is 184.2″/76″, whereas the Highlander is 188.4″/75.2″. That being said, the Edge feels less roomy inside – at least the driver’s seat feels less roomy – I didn’t sit anywhere else.
The place where the Edge truly shines is the dash/nav system, which uses the Sync tech. The display was clear, easy to see at a glance, provided clear information was very easy to control both with on-steering-wheel controls, and also voice. If we had hooked it up to some sort of internet-capable device, I suspect it would have been even nicer. By contrast, the Highlander’s nav system (nb: we don’t have the new Toyota “entune” system in ours), is really pretty terrible – the voice controls are unusable, the display is so low-res as to be ugly, I can’t use it if I’m wearing sunglasses, and the audio controls are buried and hard to use. Despite how much better the Edge’s nav/dash system is, there was one clear problem: it seemed to get confused very easily if/as I switched audio sources from bluetooth to usb and back – it would list the wrong artist frequently and I’d lose the ability to control the audio from the steering wheel controls. The only fix I found was to turn off the audio, then reconnect.
This may be a minor thing, but the steering wheel itself was much nicer in the Edge. It is slightly thicker, and felt much more comfortable in my hands. I also found it easier to adjust the tilt/height to be exactly where I wanted it.
Otherwise the interior was reasonable. The other noticeable interior differences have to do with finish – but I’m not sure there’s a fair comparison because I’m assuming the rental version is the most basic, whereas ours is somewhat kitted out. But! overall, there seemed to be a lot less attention to detail in the Edge: the door pulls felt cheap/flimsy, the cargo mat didn’t sit flush ever, the seatbelt buttons didn’t press smoothly, etc.
The mileage on the Edge was decent – we drove about 500 miles & had to fill up once – and was about 1/2 empty before filling it again to return to the rental place – I had been expecting to fill that more often. Our Highlander is a hybrid, so not a terribly fair comparison, but the Edge’s listed mileage is better than that the non-hybrid Highlander’s listed mileage.
The cars’ handling is very different – whereas our Highlander is best described as “smooth”, the Edge is definitely not – it felt really jumpy at low speeds (starting from stop, for example) and again, at high speeds (80+ mph), felt really shuddery to drive. Both have kick when you need it, but with the Edge, you can feel it moving up and down gears, whereas with the Highlander, its a much smoother transition – I don’t know if the hybrid-electric engine plays a part in that.
Given that both cars have more or less the same starting price ($28K), I’ll take the Highlander over the Edge every time, but, much like my old Ford Focus, Ford continues to impress me – not enough to lure me back to buying an American car, but maybe in a few years.
I spent some time over the past couple of days pushing out a few minor updates to http://wherepost.ca. Here’s the rundown:
I imported, and now scrape, the KML file from Matthew Hoy’s mailbox-mapping project. This doubled the size of Where Post, and merges work doing the same thing.
I finally got around to adding in a “name” field, per David Eaves’ request of oh-so-long-ago. When you add a mailbox, if you enter a name or twitter handle (neither is linked anywhere), it should set a cookie that’ll remember who you are for next time.
I added in some social-sharing buttons. But because I actually dislike the way these look in general, and like the minimal interface WherePost presents, particularly on mobile, these currently only show on the “About” pages. I was thinking I should add these to the “add mailbox” results, but am holding off for now. I would appreciate it if you went ahead and used these though!
Caching: Most result-sets are now cached for an hour, although adding a new mailbox will reset that cache. This is to account for the odd times when it looks like a bot is scraping the site and causes actual load.
Post Offices: Because the GooglePlaces API returns Yellow-pages data, whom I don’t like, and in a way that was pretty broken (you’d always get duplicates, for english/french names of the same place, even if the data was identical, plus it’d overlay a link to the Yellow Pages), I’ve removed this, and added in the ability to specify you’re adding a Post Office OR a Mailbox when adding a new location.
Feeds! It felt wrong to be pulling in all this data, but not providing an easy way to get it all back out for you to remix however you wanted. So you can now get all the data WherePost has in 2 formats: JSON & KML. To do this, simply go to: http://wherepost.ca/load. This page has a few query-string params you can pass in:
1)FORMAT: you can pass ?format=kml to get the feed in KML format – JSON is the default.
2)RECORDS: you can pass ?records=X, where X is an integer to limit the resultset. By default, WherePost will return up to 10,000 records.
3)SW & NE: to limit your results to a particular region, pass sw & ne coordinate bounds. So, for instance, ?NE=49.350405349378214,-122.72854022578122&SW=49.16644496927114,-123.2606904943359 will *roughly* return all the results in Vancouver
I think that’s all the updates. Let me know if you run into any difficulties!
I’ve been quiet around here of late, for a few reasons, only some of which are because I started to dick around with the design of the site, then got busy and so stopped and so now it sits in limbo, not yet finished. But some fun things from home:
Liam, who is dreaming of being a grown up, while everyday become more grown in my eyes as he plays chess and researches strategies and helps out with Kellan and generally shows signs of being a very interesting, if damnably distractable boy.
Liam recently wanted to be a detective when he grew up, and so magnifying glasses and forensic kits and books about detecting were bought, karate was taken, and everything we encountered was a clue to solving something else. It was a wonderful time that leant well to our mutual tendency to be lost in our heads dreaming of alternate futures.
Currently, Liam wants to be a bicycle-accessory inventor. He has described in such detail that I could never capture it his future shop, on Broadway, wherein the front of the shop people will buy bicycles and the accessories that he has made, such as an automatic rain-cover that detects the rain and creates mudflaps and booties for your feet; while in the back he and his team will work, in the open, so that everyone can see the craft that goes into his work
Craft & artisanship are a common theme with Liam. He’s very interested in the methods by which things are made, and cared for, and the seemingly inherent artistic-ness of watching something be made. He loves YouTube how-to videos, and he’s dead into arts & crafts and crafting, and dreaming of how things are made: not at a large-scale industrial way that you see on DiscoveryTV, but Brooklyn-hipster style, small-scale, hand-crafted. It is unfortunate that neither Leah nor I are crafty, at all, and I wish I knew of ways to let him explore this more. I wonder if I could get him involved in VanHackSpace, or carpentry camps, or cooking, or gardening in a way that is beyond my ken.
Kellan, in the last few days, has started addressing me as ‘Dadda/Daddy’ to get my attention, not just as a sound in the middle of a river of sounds. He’ll say DaddaDaddaDaddaDadda in the car, and when I look back, he’ll grin and squawk “hi!”. He’s been pretty sick lately, and I’m so happy to have my crazy-non-stop-on-the-go-little-guy back again.
The computer I use to edit my photos & videos is the home iMac. It’s where my Drobo is, it’s where I’ve installed Lightroom, it’s where we keep our iPhoto library. For various reasons, this Mac is tied to Leah’s iCloud account. our Apple TV’s, my iPhone’s Photostream are tied to my iCloud account. There’s currently no way I’m aware of to get photos from Lightroom into my Photostream without linking this computer to my account. Solve this.
We currently have in our possession 3 iPhones & 2 iPads. The old iPad 1 is more or less Liam’s portable gaming device – Leah uses it for recipes, but I’ve more or less moved to using the office’s iPad 3 for all my browsing/email needs. Because we download all our iOS apps through 1 account, my account, as a family account, all 5 iOS devices are tied to it. This somehow or other lead to my Game Center account being on all devices. My Pocket Planes game, which I play on my iPhone, somehow overwrote Liam’s Pocket Planes game, which he plays on the iPad. There were tears. I’ve now created & installed Liam’s Game Center ID on the old iPad – but now I can’t play games with my account there. Solve this.
Liam is 7, highly literate, fairly computer savvy, and interested in gaming & creativity apps. He doesn’t understand passwords. He doesn’t really get working in a budget yet. I’d love to give him the ability to buy some apps regularly, without my intervention – or least my direct intervention. I’d love to have diurnal review of his app-store activity so I could, as a last resort, retroactively remove an app, but not have to provide up-front approval/password entry to our shared iOS account, thus removing any semblance of freedom. Solve this
I’m currently working on a web app/social tool that will be used by kids as young as kindergarten, all the way through high school seniors. This means that many of the users of the app are pre-literate. However, we have to maintain identity. How do I create a secure login system for users that might not know how to spell their name, let alone have an email address or be able to remember a password? How can this then scale, linguistically and visually, as these users grow and become high-school seniors themselves? Solve this.
I try and use Stv as my online handle across all social networks. This means I often end up signing up for early access, alphas, betas, etc, just so that I have a chance to reserve this 3-letter handle. Many networks don’t let me have a handle that is only 3 letters. On some networks like Twitter, it can’t figure out when someone from Scotland is address their local TV network, known as STV), that they’re not addressing me. In the real world, I personally know 5 other people who go by the name of Steve. We are rarely confused for each other. Online identity & handles need to be as flexible. If I want people to address me as Stv online, that should be possible across all networks, regardless of how the network itself identifies me. Solve this.
Lots of websites paginate their stories – we all know the so-called justifications for why – so I won’t expand on that argument. However, many also helpfully include a “view all” link at the footer of each page so that if you want to view the whole story on one page you can (aside: with the various time-delay readers like Instapaper or Reader mode in Safari, this might be moot now, but I still use it a fair bit).
Unfortunately, these “View All” links are totally, and totally unnecessarily, broken. Have a look at this recent Wired article: “3-D for your ears”. It’s split into 3 pages, and at the bottom is one of those links. But when I click on it, it reloads the entire page, and leaves me at the top, not where I was.
I understand their desire to do a whole page refresh – in the game of page-view-counts, one more view is presumably a good thing. But their internal CMS must also know how/where a page splits – as it provides a split option. And we have the ability in HTML to link to any arbitrary point on a page via an Anchor Link. So why not tag the bottom of each page with an anchor – something as basic as “page1″. In the View All, you could then link me to the anchor link for the page , using the #page1 anchor link. You still get your extra page view, but you don’t annoy me in the process by making me find where I was in the now much larger content block.
I think the best solution of these “View All” links would be to simply load in the rest of the content in the current page via AJAX call – so the content simply stretches down – less bandwidth for everyone involved, and significantly more “refined” feeling in practice – but as I said, that doesn’t help the page-view-count game.
Because these view all solutions are currently such an annoyance, I find myself clicking the “Reader” button in Safari on almost every site I go to that paginates their stories. But for much the same reason I was never big on reading sites in RSS readers, I don’t particularly like this interface. I like the content to be snuggled in the chrome it was intended to be in.
I have always been super-anal about file-structure & organization. I loathed big-bucket directories. I would carefully arrange applications into categorical subfolders, my documents were all organized by project in subfolders. My music has always been organized by letter->artist->album, with the large folders of letters being further sub organized. The idea was that I would never be looking at any folder list with more than around 30-40 items. Not sure how or why this happened. Likely years and years of working in DOS with tiny monitors and hating having to paginate listings.
But I realized lately that I essentially *never* browse my filesystems anymore. If I’m looking for something, I search. And I don’t care where it, because the spotlight search is so fast & efficient. We have historically had a pretty strict file-structure for web files too – for software packages, this is still useful. But we used to do it for assets as well – but now more and more we’re rsyncing uploaded files to big-bucket CDN/cloud servers anyway, so our precious file-system organization is not useful. And because there’s often a software layer between where files are stored and browsing them, we can use software to categorize the display in a vastly more useful manner than folders – this is the glory of tagging & meta-data.
And so, after my external HDD died at home, along with it my home music library, when I started to rebuild my iTunes library, I did something that would be anathema to me just years ago – I’ve let iTunes organize the files internally, however you like. & have set up watch folders for it to auto-import as I download from eMusic and whatnot. And it is very liberating. I haven’t pulled the trigger on it yet, but I might just do that for photos too, getting away from the year/month/day/file structure I’ve been keeping since 1996.
I just backed the XOXO Festival on Kickstarter. It seems amazing, its local(-ish), and when I first read about it, it seemed like something I’d regret not going to, if I didn’t. I don’t actually know if I can go at this point – Leah’s work schedule will dictate that. But I’m going to try. & it’s in Portland, where I’ve never been, but keep meaning to get to. So. 3 things checked off my bucket list: 1) first time backing a project on kickstarter 2) first time going to Portland 3) attending a non-directly-work-related conference because the topic is cool.