Archives for November 2005

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Fun with Web Design

I hate Flash. Sort of. I hate when sites use it poorly, and I particularly hate the ways the Flash plugin breaks the client user interface experience (stealing key focus breaks arrow key scrolling and keyboard shortcuts, etc). But today I found myself implementing sIFR (Scalable Inman Flash Replacement) on a site I was getting paid to design. The site has little text and is very look driven, so it makes sense to use the superior text rendering in Flash and the ability to remote deliver a font using sIFR. I got it working, and after banging my head against the wall for a bit I actually even got it working right.

But still I had a problem. The site design has the replaced text over a light background image, which needs to show through like it would on normal text. Flash has some support for that via the wMode attribute, but it's a bit flaky and doesn't work at all under Linux.

That got me thinking: I know the background image I want to lay under the text. To figure out a width and height for the text, sIFR's javascript looks at the DOM to determine the width and height of the text being replaced. Conceivably I could similarly look to the DOM to tell me where my content is on the page. With those bits of information, could I then pull the background image into the sIFR Flash movie and pan it to the appropriate spot so that the movie looks transparent without actually using wMode?

That's the question for tomorrow.

On a related topic, I today renewed my distaste for Internet Explorer and its broken box model.

Some eThreads Changes over at blogdowntown

I installed some new eThreads code tonight. Nothing earth-shattering, but I implemented a couple fun new bits over on blogdowntown.

First, author information is now includes with posts (as evidenced in the little "By e;" on all the posts). That may seem like a no-brainer, but oddly it required creating the idea of symlinks in eThreads' internal tree of values to implement cleanly (if 20 posts all have the same author we only want one copy of the author's info in memory).

Second, I added the title of the post to the "Recent Comments" list in the right sidebar. This again sounds easy, but eThreads keeps blog stuff and comments completely separate. The comments code doesn't care what you're responding to, and the blog code has no conception of comments. This can let you do really funky things like having two looks for a blog, and having each look tie a different set of comments onto the blog posts. In this case I solved the bridge problem by allowing the user to pass a 'titles' argument to the RecentComments plugin and having the plugin look up the title in the appropriate place from that.

I also made a few CSS changes to the site, but nothing major. I do like getting rid of the colored links in the sidebar lists and doing the rollover coloring instead. I think that's less distracting from the content.

PHP and I Have Made Peace

PHP and I have been fighting for the last three months. And that really hasn't mattered much to me, since I'm a Perl guy and I had very little I was actually using it for. It all started back in August, when some manual changes I made to Apache caused mod_php4 to start segfaulting. Then about a month ago I tried to make peace, but PHP wanted to go nuclear and get rid of my kernel.

The other day I got around to trying again, and worked through the apt dependency issues. I had to enable Force-LoopBreak (from the man page: SUCH A LOOP SHOULD NEVER EXIST AND IS A GRAVE BUG) and ask for e2fslibs, e2fsprogs, initrd-tools and libc6 to upgrade. Then everything was ok. But still mod_php4 segfaulted for me.

And now, finally, today I got PHP to play nice. I found error messages (when the module was installed but not enabled) suggesting that a pair of .so files were missing. I ran apt-get with the --reinstall option to make sure all the appropriate php files were in place, and all of a sudden things started working.

All this to get a piece of forum software working. If only I still wrote forum software.

Christmas Time Travel

One month from today I fly to South Carolina, where I'll be spending Christmas. In the week before Christmas I anticipate having some free time, and planning for the trip I thought it would be fun to figure out a way to bring my bike along and do some riding.

The problem? Transporting a bike is neither cheap nor especially easy. United charges $80 each way for bicycle transport. Plus baggage handlers and screeners aren't the most delicate of people, so some rugged packaging adds cost to the venture.

I had almost given up on trying to figure out a way to make this work. Then I found USA Cycling and their free bike vouchers. So now I'm a member of USA Cycling (which I guess means I could race in 2006 if I felt so inclined) and have sitting on my desk two "Check Your Bike for Free" vouchers.

That still leaves the question of a case. Right now I'm looking at the Thule Round Trip. At $329 it isn't cheap, but it looks to be built to last and I could see myself getting a good bit of use out of it over the next twenty years.

Now all that's left is to figure out some good South Carolina cycling, preferably centered out of Sumter. Some interesting distances out of Sumter: Charleston, 99 miles; Myrtle Beach, 95 miles. I think I could be up for a century by then.

Ghetto Drafting

Monday evening I got a great draft on my way to USC. I was on the bike, headed down Flower, when I pulled in behind an older Cadillac convertible fully lifted on hydraulics, with a big gold pop-up behind the seats that said "Ghetto Life". I tailed him from (I think) Washington to Jefferson. We weren't flying, but thanks to him I got a comfortable cruise at 27 - 28mph. The lift kept him from coming off the line too fast, so I got to stay on him even after having to stop at the light at Adams. I gave him a nod as I peeled off at Jefferson.

The Quandry of Rain

I hate waking up to rain. Not so much because I have anything against the rain, per se, but because it changes up my transportation choices. Today is a class day for me, which means heading the 3.3 miles or so to USC. I don't particularly care about getting wet during the 15 minutes I'm on the bike -- heck, I get sweaty on good days -- but there's no way I'm letting my bike sit uncovered on campus for several hours in even scattered showers.

And that led me to the question: what would a professor do if I brought my bike into class? At least for this first class the room in question is plenty big. I could stash it on a wall without getting in anyone's way.

I think that's what I'm going to do. I'm not going to bring a lock, so either the bike stays or I go.

Update (4pm): I did indeed ride and take the bike into class. No real problems, but I learned some things I'll share after the jump... — Continue Reading...

XBMC Rocks My World

I upgraded my installation of XBox Media Center yesterday, and all I can say is Wow. I've had XBMC (or originally XBMP) installed for quite a while now, hadn't updated my installation since early in the year. To say that they've polished is understatement.

I should probably back up, though, for those of you I confused with that first paragraph. XBOX Media Center is a piece of unauthorized software (Microsoft won't sign it and make it an official app) that runs on the XBox and allows you to play media both local and over the network.

For instance, in my apartment I have a server with 19GB of audio and 117GB of video on it. That video includes 34GB of Simpsons, 6.4GB of Coupling, and 4.5GB of the new Dr. Who (and obviously a good bit of other stuff). That server sits in the living room ceiling and I can play video or audio from it on any computer in the apartment. With XBox Media Center that statement includes the XBox, and by extension the television.

The new XBox Media Center plays audio and video in pretty much any codec, DVDs, Shoutcast internet radio stations, and can even download and play movie trailers from Apple. It'll also show me a weather forecast if I feel like asking it. And it does it all in a slick interface. Simply amazing.

Fun With Accidents

So the MTA's new Orange Line busway is having a problem with cars. The LA Times today reports that there were two collisions yesterday. The MTA's response: slow down the buses.

Yaroslavsky realized this after witnessing several near-misses. On Wednesday morning, after hearing of the first accident of the day, he suggested that MTA chief Roger Snoble slow down the buses. After the second accident, Snoble imposed a bus speed limit of 10 mph at intersections.

But I fail to see how that's going to do anything.

The more serious collision Wednesday occurred shortly after 2 p.m., at Woodman Avenue and Oxnard Street in Valley Glen. A 78-year-old woman driving south on Woodman -- who, witnesses told police, was talking on a cellphone -- ran a red light and crashed into the midsection of a bus, spun around and struck the bus again.

If anything the bus needs to speed up so it has less time in the intersection and less opportunity for dumb valley drivers to hit it. I mean come on, she hit the midsection of a 60-foot bus. We welcome Houston drivers to the valley.

No Laptop; No Notes

From an announcement for the class I'm in right now (it hasn't started yet):

With respect for your fellow students, laptop computers may not be used during the discussion portion of the class. In addition there will be no talking during the discussion, except for those who are participating in the discussion. If you need to discuss an issue with a friend please do so outside of the classroom.

Dumbest policy ever. If I can't use a laptop I promise I'm not taking notes.

Update (8pm): Let me just update this to clarify that my annoyance is largely built on the midterm for this class, which of any exam I've taken in my nine semesters here was the most anal about the process of taking a test. Bags on the sides of the room; have to show your ID when you turn in the test; emphasis placed on there being cameras in the room to catch any cheating. That was dumb.

Yes, people should be quiet and respect the class. But don't go turn people off to the class by making up overbearing rules. Just punish those who don't act properly.

The Problem of Pants

Prana Jericho Long Knicker With the coming of cold weather[1] it becomes necessary to explore the question of how one goes about biking wearing pants. I'm really not cool with the whole idea of the strap around the pantleg or tucking a leg into your sock, so for me the question centered around short pants. Some people call them capris, others shants and even others manpris. I figured the whole concept of bikable attire (that wasn't bike attire; ie no spandex leggings or anything like that) had to be a fairly solved problem. This thread on bikeforums steered me in the right direction.

And so a week and a half ago I ordered two pairs of "knickers" from Prana: one pair of Mantis knickers and one of Jericho long knickers (pictured). The Mantis pair turned out to be sold out, so I only got the one. Finally having ridden in them today I'm happy to give a glowing report. The length is perfect for just clearing my front derailleur, and the combination of flexible material and a gussetted crotch work together to allow unimpeded riding. In fact I'm enough of a fan that I just ordered another pair, this time in Gunmetal (blue). I also ordered a pair of jeans, but those are for casual wear, not riding. — Continue Reading...

Three Strips are Better Than One

So as mentioned previously, Kathy and I went to the Arclight on Friday to see How the West Was Won in Cinerama. It was a full-on three hour movie with an intermission and more than its share of big stars.

Watching Cinerama and the three strips is interesting. One of the articles I linked to in that last point noted that you start getting interested in seeing what creative set dressing they use to hide the overlap lines. It's obvious that the three panels are separate, but for the most part that didn't bother me. Some of the shots were just amazing -- in particular the Indian attacks and the buffalo stampede. The level of detail is kind of absurd.

I also really enjoyed the sound. The whole concept of filming with live surround (literally seven mics set up with placement resembling that of the speakers in the theater) is very low-tech cool.

After the show they let people walk through the projection booths and gave out little samples of film (four strips -- three picture plus one sound). The projectionists (not your average multiplex button-pushers) hung out to tell stories and answer questions. Pictured is one of the projectors (Charlie, in Cinerama parlance). Also interesting are pictures of the camera lenses and the rear of the camera with its multiple magazines.