earCandy: Ween – Shinola Vol. 1 (2005) 4/5

Posted on 31. Oct, 2005 in All, Blog, earCandy | 4 Comments

So, first thing first, Ween is not for everyone – and I really, really mean this. Ween exists on the same line of evolution as Frank Zappa, Duckman, Family Guy, and all the other creative efforts put in place to push the boundaries of comedy and “artistic expression” (I use that term loosely, but they deserve it as much as most).

Shinola Vol. 1, as the name suggests, is the first in a series of albums. These albums collect various outtakes, oddities, and rarites from one of the most prolific “college” bands that has graced the airwaves of campus radio and the CD players of freaks everywhere. As bizarre and varied as Ween is, it’s somewhat understandable how these tracks, as great as some of them are, did not fit on the band’s other albums – though, strangely enough, they seem to fit well on an album with one another. I’ve been exposed to a few of these before (e.g. the Prince-inspired “Monique the Freak” which, frankly, is the only song on the album for which I enjoy the earlier version better than the more newly re-produced version – I just didn’t need the Stephen Hawkings on crank version of the chorus) and I’m happy to hear these tunes given the production they deserve on a formal release. Then there are the tracks that I’ve never heard – the rockin’ “Gabrielle”, the tongue-in-cheek (actually, everything Ween does is tongue-in-cheek) flamingly flamboyant “Boy’s Club”, the Jewish-wedding jazz tune “Israel”, and the Pink Floyd-ish “Did You See Me?”.

Ween defines themselves with equal parts of eclecticism and offensiveness, and this may not be appealing to the general public. However, if you’re the type that enjoys the irreverent, juxtaposed strangeness that is Ween, then by all means, haul out the Scotch-Guard and enjoy ;-) .

PS: This album is only available for order online from Ween’s website, which is just fine. I got mine (in Canada!) within a couple of weeks and I like knowing that the $14 is going straight to the band – after 15 years of crazy albums, fantastic stage shows (they are just about the best band I have ever seen live), and endless self-abuse, Dean and Gene deserve it :-) .

MacOnMacs: Screenshots on your Mac

Posted on 29. Oct, 2005 in All, Blog, MacOnMacs | 2 Comments

I’ve used screenshots (i.e. capturing what’s on the screen of your Mac as a picture or video) a lot. They are essential for doing some of my commandN segments, especially techTIPS, but I find them useful for a lot of other things too: performing website evaluations with my MGImedia.ca company often requires capturing the contents of browser windows, and captures are a great help when you’re dealing with tech support issues (e.g. trying to describe what you see on your computer screen can be difficult over the phone, so just take a screenshot and email it to the person you’re talking to – if they’re tech support, chances are they’re in front of a computer and will receive the file in moments ;-) ). But how do you do this? I’ll outline two ways, a simple method that uses software that comes with your Mac, and a robust paid application that can help you record movement on your screen and a host of other things.

Grab: You may not know it, but if you look in your Applications/Utilities folder you’ll find that the good people at Apple have included a screen capture application called Grab for free with your computer. To use Grab, launch the application and then choose to capture either a Selection, Window, Screen, or Timed Screen from under the Capture menu. Selection lets you drag over a portion of the screen you want to capture, Window lets you select any open window (e.g. your browser window), Screen lets you capture everything on your whole screen, and Timed Screen gives you a ten second countdown to when your screen will be captured. The resulting capture will pop up in a window and can be saved as a .tiff picture file (you may not recognize this format, but almost all image editors, including Preview, will recognize it and can convert it to a .jpg or .gif if you’d like). If you want to capture your whole screen with just a keystroke, and you haven’t changed these settings, just press Command-Shift-3 to have a screen capture saved directly to your desktop (to see where this is set, just check out System Preferences->Keyboard & Mouse->Keyboard Shortcuts).

Snapz Pro X: Now if you need to capture video from your screen (e.g. you want to make a little movie to show your Mom graphically the steps to take to, say, capture her Mac’s screen ;-) ) then you’ll need something more powerful. The solution is the fantastic Snapz Pro X from Ambrosia Software. Snapz Pro lets you do everything Grab does, but also allows you to capture video (and audio simultaneously if you’d like to), include your mouse in the captures, select your frame rate and resolution for video captures, save to a variety of formats, etc. As they say on the website, think of it as a digital video camera for your screen. About the only complaint I have about Snapz Pro is that it’s always on – it’s sitting in the background and, by default, is activated by using the Command-Shift-3 shortcut that would have formerly been assigned as mentioned above. However, don’t let that hold you back. The full video version costs $69, but there’s a free demo available too (I believe this leaves a watermark on the capture). If you need to make training videos, produce simple product demos, archive streaming video, and more, then I don’t think there’s anything else out there that’ll match this app!

mindCandy: Humans and Dinosaurs and Wheels, Oh My!

Posted on 28. Oct, 2005 in All, Blog, mindCandy | No Comments

OK, it’s a little late and I’ve found myself somewhat obsessed mentally by a book I’ve just perused – so much so that I’ve decided I need another category for my thoughts on this blog :-) .

A friend recently asked me when dinosaurs roamed the Earth vs. when humans were around (do not ask this question to a creationist ;-) ). I spat out “several hundred million years ago” and then noted that I really had no idea and that that seemed like an awfully long time ago. Well it turns out that the age of dinosaurs actually was 248-65 million years ago.

At the same time I was thinking, after watching HBO’s fantastic series “Rome”, how much alike we are to the people that lived in that period, several thousand years ago. Well this just aroused my curiosity even more and, with a bit of research, I discovered that early man existed from 3 million to 3000 BC – which is astonishing. Even 400,000 years ago, we were making tools, using fire, and gathering grains, berries, and nuts. Circa 60,000 BC, Neanderthal man was caring for the aged and including flowers in their burial rites. The last Ice Age was around 50,000 years ago, dogs were domesticated about 14,000 years ago (there’s a reason they are man’s best friend ;-) ), and, in 36,000 BC, Homo Sapiens reached the Americas from Asia.

It’s just astounding to think of the scale of time in all this. Here we are, with an average lifespan of roughly 75 years, and 186 generations ago (that’s a lot of “great-great-great”‘s), we were training dogs to be our friends! Incredible. The earliest civilizations in Mesopotamia were about 5000 BC and the first libraries in Egypt were about 2500 BC. Does it ever occur to you when you enter a library that these things have been around for over 4 millennia?

We have so much access to information nowadays, and the digital age has certainly accelerated our technological accomplishments greatly, but I think there are times when we need some perspective on where we are in history. I mean, the wheel was invented around 3480 BC by the Sumerians, who also invented writing around 3500 BC. The Egyptians were playing the harp in 2200 BC and the Gilgamesh epic was written by Sumer in 2000 BC. To put it simply, we’ve been doing a lot of “stuff” for an awfully long time :-) . Funny to think that the concept of “zero” as a number was only “discovered” in India in 600 AD.

We go along in our lives with a lot of thought invested in the moment, and there’s nothing too wrong with that. But I think it might help us put some things in perspective when we realize we are where we are now after having thousands of years of fairly sophisticated civilization to build upon. If you’re thinking about next year as a long time away, you might want to consider that astronomers believe that universe itself is 13-20 billion (that’s 13,000-10,000 million to the Brits ;-) ) years old. So, if I were to have lived through all that, I would have lived 173,333,333 human lifetimes. Wow, and people feel old when they turn 40 :-) .

PS: For reasons dating back quite some time, a “billion” in Britain retains its original meaning as a million million (hence the prefix “bi”), whereas in North America it means, of course, a thousand million. As the old joke goes, if you want to be a billionaire, best to live in the US than the UK, as it’s a thousand times easier ;-) .

eyeCandy: A History of Violence (2005) 4/5

Posted on 27. Oct, 2005 in All, Blog, eyeCandy | 3 Comments

A History of Violence is based on a graphic novel (to the uninitiated, that’s a big word for a long comic book ;-) ) by John Wagner and Vince Locke. It is the latest from Canadian director David Cronenberg, who has a history of bizarre movies (sort of a defining element for Canadian films, it would seem :-) ) including the Fly, Dead Ringers, Crash, Spider, and, my favorite of the bunch (although not for the faint hearted), Naked Lunch.

The film stars Viggo Mortensen (Aragorn from LOTR) as Tom Stall, a seemingly average coffee shop owner in small town USA. I don’t want to give too much away but, suffice to say, there’s more to Tom than meets the eye, which becomes apparent when he handily deals with some out of towners attempting to hold up his restaurant. The subsequent publicity brings the attention of some undesirable characters from Tom’s past and threatens to dramatically upset the quiet life he has built for himself.

Despite a couple of violent scenes, this is pretty tame fare for Cronenberg, who does a wonderful job avoiding the excess that so many directors indulge in and, instead, brings us a powerful and concise movie. The story leaves the audience considering how we can become trapped by our past despite our best efforts to distance ourselves from it, and what obligations we might have to share this past with those in our “new” life.

Aside from a strangely abrubt (although not necessarily poor) ending, I think this movie is relatively flawless. It is entertaining and thought provoking and avoids, to good effect, the general cliches we’ve become so accustomed to from Hollywood. I think it’s quite telling how the medium of comics, ridiculed by most for the longest time (and still to some degree), has brought us content that, in recent years, has been readily embraced by the public at large. Whether it be the classic superhero story (X-Men, Spiderman) or deeper, darker fare (From Hell and this movie), I find it very pleasing that the medium that I spent so much time with for many years has finally gotten some well-deserved recognition for its creativity and inventiveness. Now, please, someone do a good movie rendition of Neil Gaiman’s Sandman for me. :-)

inPrint: Macworld (November 2005) 5/5

Posted on 26. Oct, 2005 in All, Blog, inPrint | No Comments

Well the guys at Macworld must feel a little silly when their magazine comes out with an opening editorial talking about “the Future of the iPod” and a full article on “Picking the Right iPod” without being able to mention the new video-capable iPods and new iTunes b/c Apple’s “One More Thing” announcement and Macworld’s press-time missed one another by a few days :-) . However, as usual, the rest of the magazine is great.

This issue has as its focus “Spinning a Better Web”, which includes a ton of great tips for getting more out of the web, and supplements a review of all the major web browsers. Articles in this section include:

the Secrets of Safari 2.0: Some stand outs in this section include how to extend Safari using Saft, which adds more than 25 very useful features; PDF Browser Plugin to help those of us who need more robust PDF viewing in our browser; SafariSource, which adds sytax colouring to source views; AcidSearch, which adds a pulldown to choose a number of search engines in the standard Google search box; and more.

the Power User’s Guide to Firefox: This article made me want to use Firefox more (if it weren’t for that darn .Mac syching I like so much!), it just seems you can do almost anything with it. Extending Firefox is a very helpful section here – I used Tab X to put a close button on each tab (instead of only one at the end of the tab row – bad design); the Brushed Theme to get a more Mac-like look; miniT so that I could rearrange my tabs; Firefoxy to beautify web-page controls; and the fantastic SessionSaver, which saves the state of your browser on close and reopens it exactly how you left it (and I mean exactly: windows, tabs, contents of web forms, scroll bar positions, etc.).

the Best Blogging Tools for Mac: Tips on Blogging for Photographers, ratings and reviews for Blogger, Typepad, etc., and more.

the Web Pro’s Tool Kit: Thank you Macworld for answering a request I had from a commentor on my blog who asked about exactly this. To preface the following and to more fully answer that visitor’s question, Macromedia Dreamweaver and Adobe GoLive are the two main professional Web design apps. Here, Macworld presents some lower cost options (the cross-platform open source NVU for web design), points us to some royalty-free images (e.g. MorgueFile), gives us a way to help pick colours for the web (Color Schemer Online and others), supplies us with an online measuring tape (MeasureIt), and much more.

If the above topics interest you then definitely pick up this issue, as I’ve just scratched the surface here – there are tons of great web tips and all the other usual outstanding content.

eyeCandy: Kingdom of Heaven (4/5)

Posted on 25. Oct, 2005 in All, Blog, eyeCandy | No Comments

Kingdom of Heaven is the latest of Gladiator director Ridley Scott’s movies (and there are many more than that! :-) ). Clocking in at almost two and a half hours, it does drag in places, but all in all I found it quite enjoyable for several reasons.

The movie tells the story of Balian (Orlando Bloom), who joins his father (Liam Neeson) to journey from Europe to Jerusalem during the 12th century crusades. Scott deserves some credit for showing the range of manifestations of religious belief on both the Christian and Muslim sides (not all bad, but not all good), and there are some very admirable and very despicable characters that develop (and lots of epic battles too ;-) ). My biggest disappointment was at a pivotal instance (which I won’t elaborate upon, but which is not historically accurate either) where one of the noble characters refuses to do some mild “evil” which would result in great good, and instead paves the way for great “evil” to occur – I’m sure you’ll know what I’m talking about when you see the movie. Anyway, that black and white thinking always gets to me ;-) .

However, as can be seen through a couple of good special features (especially History vs. Hollywood and A&E Movie Real on Disc 2), Kingdom of Heaven actually contains a good deal of historical accuracy. Above and beyond using period costumes and weapons (which should be a given for any period piece), many of the characters are real (though with some dramatic license used) and many events are actual historical events (which, in some instances, have been rearranged or altered slightly). In fact, the general arc of the story is remarkably accurate considering how easily it might be dismissed as simple creative storytelling. I really value this in a movie and it probably was one element that pushed my rating to 4/5. Really, the reason I enjoy period pieces so much is how they have the potential to educate you as to what it was like to live in such a time and what types of events occurred (HBO’s Rome is great for this too). In addition to this, I love witnessing the strategy employed in these large combat and diplomatic situations (another great aspect of HBO’s Rome) and, aside from the typical Hollywood overuse of fire when there just shouldn’t be that much fire, this film delivers on that account too.

Probably not for everyone (though it will certainly appeal to anyone with D&D sensibilities ;-) ), but certainly a worthwhile addition to the recent spate of medieval/ancient dramas.

PS: The music in it was pretty good too. I’m a real lover of ancient and medieval music and, although they certainly weren’t spending a lot of time worrying about authentic period music, they at least have avoided overusing modern orchestral settings/styles and have incorporated some elements of the ethnic music in the area.

iRant: Traffic, Travelling, and Technology

Posted on 24. Oct, 2005 in All, Blog, iRant | 4 Comments

I’ve lived in big cities for a good part of my life, but my recent trip to Toronto really made me appreciate living in Halifax. I find that I have most of the things I like about big cities here – good restaurants, stores for eveything, lots of nightlife – but it’s on a scale that’s more conducive to keeping human interaction a liitle more personal and civilized (not always the case in not-so-friendly Toronto ;-) ). For instance, I like to be out amongst the masses sometimes, for sure, but I also like the opportunity to get away from the crowds too. However, the thing that really drove me crazy was the number of times that it took 30 or 40 minutes to drive from point A to point B within the city without ever leaving the car.

Now comes the real catch-22: because housing prices are so expensive in Toronto (and most big cities), people are moving further and further into the burbs. Well this just makes the whole driving thing worse for everyone. In a hustle and bustle world, it’s so unfortunate that, on top of working longer work weeks, people are put in the position where they spend an extra couple of hours a day just driving to and from work because of housing prices. I’d be interested in seeing some easy way to calculate just how much you would save in car upkeep, gas, parking, etc. (and sanity!) by spending more on a home closer to the heart of things.

At least as technology advances, it gets easier and easier to work remotely – heck, I shoot commandN segments for our Toronto-based show in Halifax, I do conference calls for web evaluation and other projects through Skype (and have recently had Skype calls to as distant a place as Sri Lanka), etc. With a computer, microphone headset, web cam, and some other tools, it’s amazing how connected you can get with people thousands of miles away, even when you are on the road. Yet, there’s still something about having physical, face-to-face meetings – I mean, it’s why I was in Toronto in the first place (well, that and hosting our newly-branded episode 19 of commandN which will be out later tonight).

I sure got a lot of use out of my laptop on this trip – including on the plane and in those long car rides, which is great (aside from the awkwardness of having an unexpected nude scene flashing across my laptop in the midst of an otherwise quite tame movie I was watching :-) ). Of course, you’re not online in those situations, but hopefully that’ll change. But it’s getting ridiculous the amount of equipment I take with me when I travel. I mean, you have to have your iPod, cell phone, camera, laptop, wires/plugs for everything, etc. – I’m just glad they let you carry a second bag on the plane for those quick trips (still pretty annoying not to be able to take a razor with me when I’m travelling with just carry-on, though).

Anyway, I had a great trip (and lots more coming in the future), but I am glad to be back home in Halifax. My multibutton mouse, my desktop and scanner, a nice big monitor, and a cozy place to work in comfort. I guess there will come a time when travel will become pretty seamlessly practical for work, but a few things need to happen – wireless internet everywhere, no more cables and not as many plugs, and, oh yeah – teleporters – those long drives just eat into too much of my personal time ;-) .

MacOnMacs: Quick Clean-up in iTunes

Posted on 23. Oct, 2005 in All, Blog, MacOnMacs | No Comments

Another post at the end of a long day on the road :-) . Had a great live call in/interview session with Frank Linhares and friends on his techPhile podcast earlier this evening, which was a lot of fun. In any case, as I’ve been cleaning up/reinstalling everything on my sister Amber’s Macs this week, I’ve come across a lot of little time-savers and procedures that I’m not sure everyone might always think of. One big problem I was having was with just clearing up some space on her hard drive to begin with.

For many people, the largest amount of data they have stored on their computer is their music library. However, in the process of adding songs and managing the library, you might have ended up with a considerable amount of doubles or different copies of the same song – this is just wasted space (unless you really need to keep duplicates songs from different albums aligned in groups, I guess). There are scripts you can download to do this sort of thing, but one way to approach this just using what comes with iTunes is as follows:

  • Open iTunes and highlight Library as the source
  • Select from the menu Edit -> Show Duplicate Songs (note: this is not the right place for them to put this as far as I’m concerned :-) )
  • Ordering the resulting list of songs by Name, you can see these are all pairs of the same song (although sometimes just a very similarly-named recording!). If you have duplicated songs through performing multiple imports, try ordering by Date Added and remove duplicates as a group (as long as the list is updating, there are only duplicate songs in this list, so you should be safe in deleting these, as there will be another similarly-named song elsewhere on the list ;-) ).
  • Select a song to delete by clicking on it, or select a group of songs by clicking on one then shift-clicking on one further up/down the list (and command-clicking to add or delete individual entries).
  • Now you need to understand that, if your iTunes library is set to how it likely should be (Preferences->Advanced->General-> Keep iTunes Music Folder Organized AND Copy Files to iTunes Music Folder When Adding to Library) then just hitting “delete” will only delete the entry from your iTunes library – it will NOT delete the file from your computer. Not only is this not much of a space-saver, it also leaves files hidden away where you’ll probably not think to look for them again. To delete the Library entry AND the file (an option mysteriously unavailable in any of the menus) just hit “control-delete” together – this will delete the song entry from your Library AND the song file from your computer.

Lots of other ways to do this and similar tasks, but I’m beat now, so hopefully that’ll do ya ;-) .

commandN: Live podcast Sunday, New graphics and music Monday

Posted on 22. Oct, 2005 in All, commandN, Video | No Comments

Sorry that I missed a post or two this week, but we’re gearing up for commandN‘s new launch this coming Monday and have lots of other stuff on the go! We’ve shot our segments and are now laying down the new intro/outro and segment header graphics and music. It’s gonna be great – check it out Monday at www.commandN.tv.

On top of that, I’m joining the rest of the commandN hosts (Amber and Mikey) on Techphile for a live web radio show/podcast this…

Time: 6:00 PM EST – 8:00 PM EST
Date: Sunday Oct. 23rd, 2005
Stream: http://sc6.spacialnet.com:13284/listen.pls
Phone: (508) 644-TECH
IM: netsurge on Skype
IRC: #techphile on irc.techphile.ca
Email: questions@techphile.ca

Call, email, IM, or ask your question in our irc chat room.

…tune in – it should be lots of fun!

MacOnMacs: Restoring Applications with Pacifist

Posted on 20. Oct, 2005 in All, Blog, MacOnMacs | No Comments

I’ve been visiting my sister, Amber, recently and I’ve been doing a lot of maintenance/optimization work on her computers. With all of the trial applications and settings she goes through using her PowerBook for home AND for hosting on G4TechTV’s Call for Help with Leo Laporte, she manages to really gunk up her computer :-) .

One of the strange things that has happened in all this is that she lost the Apple Preview application – the default app for viewing PDFs, pics, etc. Preview is a fast and one stop way to handle these types of files before you need to open anything heavier (e.g. maybe Photoshop to deal with a .jpg) – I guess that’s why it’s called Preview. ;-) Anyway, she wasn’t in the position to immediately do a clean reinstall (too many files she needed, nowhere to back them up quickly) and yet Preview is only available (as far as I could see) from the install disks that came with her computer. So here we were, unable to reinstall a program that came with her PowerBook for free. Enter Pacifist…

Pacifist is a shareware application (you can try it for free if you want to wait for the initial startup delay) that allows you to peak inside packages (.pkg files) and see their contents. Although there are other ways to do this (and Tiger itself increases your Mac’s built in capacity in this respect), Pacifist also lets you REINSTALL specific packages from your Mac install disks. This is a fantastic benefit when something has gone totally wonky with a program that came with your Mac.

Pacifist lets you see inside the installer disks, select the packages you would like to install (in our case just Preview, but this is also good for things like OmniGraffle, which comes with newer PowerBooks), and then install them individually without installing the rest of the operating system, etc. This may not be a program you use all the time, but when the time comes that you need it, it can save you hours of effort and can make this potentially difficult task become as easy as pie.

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