“Psh! I could whup your cocky ass wearing peanut butter and moonbeams.”

— Anaïs Phalèse, from Curvy (NSFW)

Reporting with a straight face…


…here’s CNN:

Al Jazeera unveils code of ethics

Reason’s “Ten Reasons To Fire George W. Bush”


Just for fun, and coming off of a weekend surrounded by true-red Lefties, I decided to see how Reason’s reasons affected my voting decision.

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Why I just deleted Konfabulator


It lasted about fifteen minutes on my laptop. Why? First, because the supplied widgets were primarily designed to be pretty. The weather and calendar widgets are translucent; you can’t make them not be translucent, even if you have wallpaper on your screen that makes them unreadable. The (thankfully not translucent) to-do list doesn’t allow you to edit in-place; anything you want to do with a to-do item involves popping up a bog-standard Mac dialog box and clicking “Okay”, which pretty much renders it useless as a “quick! write that down!” tool or organizing tool. Most of the other standard widgets are similarly long on chrome and short on function, to the point that I have trouble remembering them mere minutes after trying them out.

I was already underwhelmed by the contents of their user-submitted widget gallery, so I’m left with no possible reason to purchase this product, nor can I imagine it ever becoming a significant commercial success. This renders the whole “Apple stole our idea” and “Dashboard was designed to be a Konfabulator killer” claims completely moot. Konfabulator in its current form could never have made its way onto the desktops of a significant percentage of Mac users; it’s just not that interesting.

Will there be a lot of high-chrome, low-content Dashboard gadgets? Sure; as the man said, 90% of everything is crap. The difference is that you don’t need to learn a proprietary development environment to create gadgets for Dashboard. Hell, you don’t even need to learn JavaScript; Dashboard will cheerfully run Flash applications with a trivial DHTML wrapper. You can also embed Java applications, QuickTime videos, etc.

Konfabulator can’t do any of that.

If, for instance, I wanted to build a nice kana/kanji chart around this remarkable collection of QuickTime videos that demonstrate the correct stroke order for the entire hiragana and katakana syllabaries as well as all 1,945 Jōyō kanji, I could (and likely will, if only for my personal use), because a Dashboard gadget is just a web page, and web pages can have embedded QuickTime videos.

The closest thing they’ve got over in Konfab-land is the new Kanji-A-Day widget, which uses /usr/bin/curl to scrape a Japanese web site and import its content into a (cough) pretty window. Maybe that’s the one that will justify the $25 they want for the product…

Your brother is dead, but you’re a moron


An Australian surfer died recently after being mauled by a shark. So what’s his brother’s reponse?

"I don't believe that the shark should be killed just for the sake of what's happened in this situation. I don't believe that Brad can be revenged by killing a shark."

Hate to break it to you, Steve, but the local authorities aren’t planning to kill it for “revenge.” They’re planning to kill it (if, and only if, they can conclusively identify the shark responsible) because carnivores that attack humans tend to repeat the act in the future, having discovered that humans are not only easy prey, but pretty darn tasty. Our place at the top of the food chain is not a result of animals recognizing our natural superiority; indeed, as ably chronicled in The Man-Eaters of Tsavo and other books, there are always a few predators who violently disagree with our position on that subject. I think that it’s in our best interests as a species to continue to press our claim.

I should note that the head curator at the Aquarium of Western Australia isn’t much brighter:

"If you hunt him, so what? A day later another one cannot come and kill someone else?"

Apple’s Dashboard: sample gadget


I’m not really a programmer; I’ve been a Perl hacker since ’88, though, after discovering v1.010 and asking Larry Wall where the rest of the patches were (his reply: “wait a week for 2.0”). If I’m anything, I’m a toolsmith; I mostly write small programs to solve specific problems, and usually avoid touching large projects unless they’re horribly broken in a way that affects me, and no one else can be persuaded to fix them on my schedule.

So what does this have to do with learning Japanese? Everything. I’m in the early stages of a self-study course (the well-regarded Rosetta Stone software; “ask me how to defeat their must-insert-CD-to-run copy-protection”), and authorities agree that you must learn to read using the two phonetic alphabets, Hiragana (ひらがな, used for native Japanese words) and Katakana (カタカナ, used for foreign words). A course that’s taught using Rōmaji (phonetic transcriptions using roman characters) gives you habits that will have no value in real life; Rōmaji is not used for much in Japan.

So how do you learn two complete sets of 46 symbols plus their variations and combinations, as well as their correct pronunciations? Flashcards!

The best software I’ve found for this is a Classic-only Mac application called Kana Lab (link goes direct to download), which has a lot of options for introducing the character sets, and includes recordings of a native speaker pronouncing each one. I’ve also stumbled across a number of Java and JavaScript kana flashcards, but the only one that stood out was LanguageBug, which works on Java cellphones (including my new Motorola v600).

When the misconceptions about Apple’s upcoming Dashboard feature in OS X 10.4 were cleared up (sorry, Konfabulator, it will kill your product not by being a clone, but simply by being better), I acquired a copy of the beta (why, yes, I am a paid-up member of the Apple Developer Connection) and took a look, with the goal of building a functional, flexible flashcard gadget.

Unfortunately, I’ve spent the past few years stubbornly refusing to learn JavaScript and how it’s used to manipulate HTML using the DOM, so I had to go through a little remedial course. I stopped at a Barnes & Noble on Sunday afternoon and picked up the O’Reilly JavaScript Pocket Reference and started hacking out a DHTML flashcard set, using Safari 1.2 under Panther as the platform.

Note: TextEdit and Safari do not a great DHTML IDE make. It worked, but it wasn’t fast or pretty, especially for someone who was new to JavaScript and still making stupid coding errors.

I got it working Tuesday morning, finished off the configuration form Wednesday afternoon, and squashed a few annoying bugs Wednesday night. Somewhere in there I went to work. If you’re running Safari, you can try it out here; I’ve made no attempt to cater to non-W3C DOM models, so it won’t work in Explorer or Mozilla.

There’s a lot more it could do, but right now you can select which character sets to compare, which subsets of them to include in the quiz, and you can make your guesses either by clicking with the mouse or pressing the 1-4 keys on the keyboard. I’ve deliberately kept the visual design simple, not just because I’m not a graphic designer, but also to show how Apple’s use of DHTML as the basis for gadgets makes it possible for any experienced web designer to come in and supply the chrome.

So what does it take to turn my little DHTML web page into a Dashboard gadget?

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Lileks on f911


I’m not generally a Read The Whole Thing kind of guy, but go read the whole thing.

Lots of good points, but I think this is my favorite:

Wait until France gets a hard shot in the nose. Wait until France reacts with some nasty work. They’ll get a golf-clap from the chattering class over here and a you-go-girl from Red America. France could nuke an Algerian terrorist camp and the rest of the world would tut-tut for a day, then ask if the missiles France used were for sale. And of course the answer would be oui.

KonfabuDashboard


After hearing all the whining about another example of how Apple is killing off third-party developers by “shamelessly copying Konfabulator” (which can fairly be described as Super Desk Accessory Toolkit, an update of the classic Mac OS utilities), I decided to take a look at this amazing product that I’d somehow overlooked.

Um, where’s the fire? I just went through the gallery of Konfabulator widgets, and far too many of them are like these two:

ugly clipboard manageryour IP address as a bar code

A small handful of them were useful, but while some of Apple’s sample gadgets from the Tiger beta are badly designed, at least they’re good for something. In fifteen minutes of browsing, I couldn’t find a single Konfabulator widget that was interesting enough to encourage me to buy and install their application. Indeed, the trite “get the original Dashboard now” page at their site showcases a bunch of gaudy widgets that I simply don’t want on my computer.

There’s a fugly clock that slavishly emulates a low-resolution, low-legibility digital clock; another one that slavishly emulates the limitations of an old analog wristwatch; a color-coded pseudo-3D to-do list that’s covered with redundant buttons; a Google searchbar that looks like it’s supposed to be inserted somewhere; and a user-hostile iTunes controller (okay, Apple screwed that one up, too). And how do you gain access to these screen toys? Through a pull-down menu, just like the old Apple desk accessories.

Designing your own means learning to use their XML layout schema. Designing a Dashboard gadget, on the other hand, is as easy as laying out a web page, because it is a web page, rendered with the same engine as Safari. In fact, you can create it with your favorite text editor and graphics program, leveraging your knowledge of HTML and CSS.

What’s Left if you’re not all Right


Another attempt to define where people sit on the political spectrum. Some of the questions are written in a way that makes an honest answer impossible, and like a lot of broken surveys they don’t offer a “neutral” response, but the results are still amusing.

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“Need a clue, take a clue,
 got a clue, leave a clue”