Milk & cookies, throwing balls, and chocolate bitches

Benjamin and I are uncles to some cute, very funny, and scarily bright nieces and nephews. We aren’t related to most of them genetically but that hasn’t stopped us from adopting them as our own anyway. The more I hear about their antics the more I think my friends’ children are rapidly outsmarting their parents and that the world needs to watch out! Two small examples follow.

Three-year-old RG (the name used by her mother Renee when posting about her online) is a crafty one. She eats her cookies with a milk chaser, just like her Uncle Casey, and used that fact to outsmart her mom. From Renee’s blog:

As I was making lunch one day, she opened the refrigerator and looked around. Then, she asked me for some milk. Since she never asks for milk, I said sure. I got down a coffee mug and put a little milk in it. Then I handed it to her. She waited only a brief second to then ask “Now may I have a cookie, please?” Hmmmmm….I got taken….royally outsmarted by a 3 year old. Should have seen that one coming. Since she was so clever, I gave her the cookie and then made lunch.

Caleb, Jan’s 1.5-year-old angel, is equally crafty. From Jan’s blog:

He knows the word ball and he also knows that balls are meant to be thrown. He likes to throw. He also knows that non-balls cannot be thrown or else you get sent to time out. He doesn’t like time out.

The solution?

Everything is a ball. He’ll pick up a shoe, block, car etc and proclaim “ball! ball!” and then throw the sucker halfway across the room. Nice. See, is it’s a ball then it’s a legal throw and you can’t fuss mom. Yeah, no. Time out here you come buddy.

Tonight I asked Juan if perhaps Caleb might be a little confused and not know the word “throw” and thus he was saying “ball! ball!” because he wanted to throw and didn’t know how else to express himself. I said this in front of Caleb. Who promptly looked at me and said “throw! throw!”

That covers the milk & cookies and throwing balls — but trust me, don’t miss the story about the chocolate bitches. Just wait until she starts school and asks her kindergarden teacher for some!

I’m not your target audience

[in which I rant]

I’m not your target audience…

  • Radio talk shows: I don’t want brainless blather in the mornings. I turn on the radio to get music. If you’re talking, I’m changing the station or even turning the radio off altogether.
  • Work-related podcasts and videos: I don’t want information provided to me in a podcast as I don’t like listening to them. Ditto work-related videos. Just give me the transcript to speed-read through.
  • Control-less iPod Shuffles: I liked the concept of the first and second generation Shuffles — they seem great for working out or running and B loves his for that very reason. Then they moved to the Shuffle-without-controls which is a non-starter for me leaving only the Nano. Why would I want to buy proprietary headphones to control my music device?
  • Video on iPod/iTouch/iPhones: Nanos started out with a small screen that keeps getting bigger with each generation reportedly so people can watch videos and movies. Movies on such a small screen? Are you serious? Sure I watch the random movie trailer on my iPhone but I can’t imagine watching something more than 2 minutes on such a microscopic screen.
  • Animated web ads: I realize that web content isn’t free and in general I’m ok with ads on web pages. If it moves, however, be it via animated GIF, javascript, or (heaven forbid) Flash — you’re getting blocked. Ditto anything that does pop-up or pop-unders. Your ads should be relevant and unobtrusive (see Google Ads) if you violate either of those edicts you’re getting AdBlocked.
  • Flash-based webpages: I’ve long been an advocate of non-Flash based web pages. Flash is rife with security issues, browser compatibility issues, unstable, and based on the iPhone porting reports also resource intensive. If you’re still designing Flash-based web pages today you’re also alienating every single iTouch and iPhone user out there who can’t see your content. Die, Flash-based web pages, die — and take your evil twin Silverlight-based web pages with you.
  • Windows 7: I’m told you’re the best Windows yet. You’re stable and even have an XP emulation layer to run all of those XP apps that won’t run in Vista or native in Windows 7. Based on the customers I support via freelance: you’re still a solution looking for a problem. You won’t run on the hardware that we have happily running XP. The application versions we use, and work for us, aren’t supported on you. You’re years too late to the game. When XP downgrades finally become unavailable for new computer systems, you’re no longer the winner-by-default: we’ll be evaluating your actual merits against Mac OS X and Linux.
  • MS Office: I’ve converted two MS Office die-hards over to OpenOffice and they haven’t even blinked. OOo uses the tried-and-true menuing interface that everyone is familiar with, opens/saves your documents, and comes at an amazing price: free. What is it that you have to offer again?

X11 apps under Mac OS X and Fonts

One of the odd challenges I encountered with getting Inkscape working on Sebastian were the fonts. The fonts showed up in the usual slew of non-X11 applications but refused to show up in Inkscape. I admit to not have tried the Gimp in this state although I assume this is a fonts-in-X11-apps issue and not specifically Inkscape and thus the Gimp would have had the same problems.

A bit of googling resulted in this forum post that solved the problem nicely.

Macs present both a system-specific (under /Library) and user-specific (under [User]/Library) view of several system resources, such as Fonts. The concept being that a specific user can install a resource under their login ID ([User]/Library/Fonts) and that resource is only available for that user’s login ID. Logging in as another user would not expose those resources. The end-user helpfully sees a superset of both the System and User resources exposed to them in the interface.

If you want a resource made available to all users on the system you place them in the System resources instead of the User resources and in order to install a System resource a privilege escalation is required. Like any good OS this helps limit the damage that any given user can inflict to the system.

Extrapolating from my geek knowledge, it appears the core of the issue is how X11 interacts with user resources — or rather how it doesn’t interact with them. My suspicion is that the X11 subsystem only pulls the System fonts, and not the superset of the System and User fonts, which is the reason why moving fonts from the User resources to the System resources caused them to show up in Inkscape.

Next up on my Mac OS X to-investigate list: making printer defaults stick in X11 apps.

Working some PDF magic: CutePDF and pdftk

Over the past several years Benjamin has developed several documents for use with his business, Memento & Co. These documents are designed in Word and originally had the letterhead on them as well. This proved problematic when we moved because in order to update the contact information he had to open and change each and every document. Word doesn’t provide a way to single-source documents and we decided we needed to do this differently.

B had been using CutePDF to create PDFs of his Word documents for a while so I started poking around to see if there was a way to “merge” two PDFs together: we’d create one PDF with the letterhead that he could use to merge on the first page of Word document printed to a PDF. I discovered pdftk would do the trick. Using this technique B was able to design his letterhead in Inkscape and save it as a PDF document. Using Inkscape allowed for a crisp logo (also designed in Inkscape) and no longer required rasterizing the vector logo into a high-resolution image just to place it into a Word document! He could then run a VB script I write which would prompt for the PDF onto which the letterhead should be applied and the script called pdftk to do the actual work.

Now enter the move to Sebastian and Mac OS X. Initially the process seemed much simpler. OpenOffice can export to a PDF out-of-the-box removing the need for CutePDF. Automator can apply a watermark to a PDF but only if the watermark is a raster image, not another PDF. Moreover it doesn’t tell you that anywhere but simply doesn’t do anything to the desired file making it a frustrating task to figure out what was going wrong. Drat, we’d have to go back to pdftk.

Getting pdftk on the system was a bit more challenging as the program doesn’t come in a DMG. Luckily it is included as a port so the process was a simple ‘port install pdftk’. I then used the Automator to provide a Finder menu option that B can use to apply the letterhead to one or more files. The Automator calls a shell script that calls pdftk to do the actual work.

X11 apps and Mac OS X

Many of the applications that Benjamin used on Meme, his Windows XP machine, were ports for the Linux realm: Gimp (raster image editor), Inkscape (vector image editor), and Nvu (WYSIWYG web editor). Luckily all of these are available on Mac OS X although not without some pain.

  • Inkscape was the easiest as they had a downloadable DMG – easy as pie. Open source developers — this is the way to go!
  • Gimp was more challenging. I initially thought about just installing it via port but didn’t like the idea. There are a couple of DMG-based ports (sounds like typical infighting from open-source developers) which sounded much easier. After I got one installed it wasn’t playing nice with the font size — the ‘F’ for the File menu on the toolbar was bigger than this 13″ MacBook Pro screen! After much googling around a bit I found the Gimp resource file which somehow had gotten a font size of 934! Changing this down to 10 made the Gimp work.
  • The no-longer-developed Nvu wasn’t available on Mac. Instead a fork called KompoZer is, provided in a nice DMG for installing. It appears to work identically to Nvu and was an easy transition.

Inkscape and Gimp are pure X11 apps meaning that X11 has to be running in order to provide the infrastructure for these two apps to run. Coming from a Linux background this makes perfect sense. It took a bit of explaining for B to understand why the X11 app appeared running on his Dock when he started one of these apps — and why he shouldn’t just kill it until he was done with them!

One of his most important apps was certainly not a port from Linux: MS Office. Being the cheap person that I am I encouraged B to try OpenOffice and if that really just didn’t meet his need then we would evaluate Pages or bite the bullet and purchase MS Office for Mac. I was very pleasantly surprised to find that OpenOffice isn’t just running on top of X11 but is a full-fledged Aqua app! This dramatically helped B towards my goal of giving OOo a shot and so far I think it’s been an easy transition. I know he’s been using it extensively during the past few weeks he was out of town. I’m uncertain if I haven’t heard complaints because it has Just Worked or because he’s been too busy with other things to make his case for an alternative office suite.

OS X and the Linux desktop

I’ve only played with Sebastian, B’s MacBook Pro, for a few hours while getting it configured for B, but from what I’ve seen I really like it.

For the past several years I’ve been running Linux both on my desktop and my laptop. The recent move from RHEL to Fedora on both systems helped with the usability issues but it’s obvious to me that Linux still doesn’t have the spit-and-polish that end-users expect on a desktop workstation. Still, I’m much more productive on a unix-based system than I ever was on a Windows-based system even with cygwin installed.

OS X seems to have the best of both worlds: a unix system with a very polished desktop environment. Moreover Apple isn’t trying to hide the unix underpinnings either — you can easily run a bash/ksh/perl/etc script from the Automator. A real scripting language built right into the OS — no more learning VB scripts just to automate some of B’s tasks! [Aside: powershell might address some of this gripe for Windows systems, and I’ve heard great things about it, but it’s been a long time coming.]

While out at a customer site last week two of the IBMers out on-site were using Macs. When my laptop comes due for an upgrade in ~1.5 years rest assured I’ll be moving to a Mac either on IBM’s dime or my own.

Meet Sebastian

Benjamin’s Sony Viao, Meme (pronounced Mem’-ee), has been slowly dying. Well, I guess technically it isn’t his computer per se but the battery. At the end of last year the battery purchased with the computer 3 years ago was shot and after weighing the options we opted to purchase another battery with hopes that it would last until he graduated next May. Instead the $80 battery instead lasted a full 6 months before it too was powering the laptop for only 2 minutes — just enough time to rush from a power outlet upstairs to one downstairs but not enough to get anything productive done.

While flying back from DC early last month B used my laptop to get some work done on the airplane. We discovered that having something to work on significantly reduced his flight-induced anxiety. [Aside: B has had anxiety now for a few years and in general it’s under control. Flying can jump him up on the “not doing well” scale and it’s worse when I’m not flying with him.] Knowing that B would be flying to Houston by himself just three days after we got back from DC, we decided that we needed to get him a truly mobile laptop before then.

The plan has been to purchase a Mac when we eventually did replace the Viao — the question was: is it time to do that now or to buy another battery? The previous battery we ordered online. This time that wasn’t an option given our 2-day time window. So we went trucking off to the Cherry Creek Mall which as both an Apple and Sony store. We first dropped by the Apple store to confirm they had the 13″ MacBook Pro in stock. We then walked down to the Sony store to ask if they had a battery for the Viao in-stock. If so our plan was to fork out the ~$100 for a battery and defer the MacBook purchase until later. The not-so-very-helpful gentleman at the Sony store said that they didn’t stock it but we could order it online. Instead we went back to the Apple store and purchased the 13″ MacBook Pro which was christened Sebastian.

That evening I got a crash course in Mac OS X and after many hours of rsync’ing data we had all of B’s music, photos, and documents off Meme and onto Sebastian. By the end of the next day I had OpenOffice, The Gimp, Inkscape, and KompoZer installed and he was off and running. We’re both still learning things about it but I really like what I’ve seen so far. More importantly B appears to really like it.

Marriage and the Purse Strings

A couple of months ago Renee posted a blog entry on Marriage and Finances. That struck a chord with me and I thought I’d share a bit about how Benjamin and I recently changed our financial pattern to the benefit of our marriage.

For the past several years (4? 5? I lose track) B and I have shared a joint checking account where all income gets put into and out of which all bills get paid. Being the Quicken- (now Moneydance-) centric person that I am I’ve always been the one to pay the bills each month — a task I didn’t mind nor did B mind that I was responsible for. Last year finances became a bit tighter than they were previously with tuition going up, buying the house, and installing the A/C into the house. The unfortunate consequence of our system and this tightening is that I became the controller of the purse strings.

Knowing the “pulse” of our finances and the running tally of disposable income in my head I was giving B some very mixed signals: “oh sure, we can buy item A” might get followed up the next day with “no, we can’t afford item B”. This situation was taking a toll on both of us as I was stressing about managing our expenses to within our means and B couldn’t find the pattern to my mixed signals. After one heated conversation it came out that while I was really stressed out over our finances, B wasn’t stressed out at all (and why should he have been — I hadn’t been sharing enough information)!

I thought about it some and after a discussion with B we decided to move to an envelope-based system for our discretionary funds. One weekend on a trip to Target we purchased a small whiteboard, hung it in our kitchen, made a column for “money left”, and wrote our month’s total discretionary budget at the top of it. Every time we make a discretionary purchase we subtract the amount spent. If we get down to zero before the end of the month we’re stuck at home eating bread and water for the rest of the month. If we get to the end of the month with a positive balance we divide it in half and get to spend it however we want.

This approach has made me much less stressed out and, not surprisingly, has given B a healthy amount of stress and awareness about our finances. The entire process has improved our relationship and enabled us to stop arguing over money.

Frequent Flyer

In the month of August, I slept in my own bed here in Denver a total of 14 days. It feels like a lot less than that however, likely because my extensive travel started even prior to August arriving.

My travel schedule for the past 7 weeks looked something like this:

  • Jul 23-30 – San Jose, CA visiting Meg
  • Aug 06-15 – Reston, VA visiting Renee, Robert, and Rebagrace
  • Aug 19-23 – Seattle, WA visiting Jeff and Jonobie
  • Aug 26-30 – Austin, TX visiting Kelly, Nicole, Kooper, my new niece Isabelle, Leslie, Andy, and Alexandra
  • Sep 01-05 – Milwaukee, WI helping a customer for work

Benjamin had his own set of travel during that time (the Reston and Austin trips we did together). He flies in later this afternoon only to start school again tomorrow.

I had a blast during my visits all over the country but man am I glad to be home for a while. Benjamin has some more travel planned later this month for a wedding but otherwise I think we’re sitting tight until the holidays roll around. Tentative plans have us in Austin for Thanksgiving during which we hope to visit both sets of family to free us up for a travel-free Christmas. But who knows – as SINKs we have a decent amount of flexibility and DINKhood is just 9 months away!