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A Hundred Billion Degrees

Little Inferno is filled with secrets
Attention! This post is full of spoilers for the game Little Inferno. I strongly recommend that you play the game before reading this, or you won’t enjoy the game nearly as much. It’s short — a few hours, easy to complete in a couple of sittings — and it’s worth the investment. This post will be here for you to peruse when you return. Promise.

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Originally published at Mageuzi's WordPress blog. You can comment here or there.



Motivation with Style

Last month, I wrote a post about my weight loss attempts and initial successes. One of the key points I talked about was motivation: losing weight is all well and good, but it’s nice to have something concrete to work toward and show off. Personally, I wanted to improve my wardrobe, so I found my motivation in clothing. To make things even more interesting, I decided to try a couple of new online options that attempt to shake up how men approach style and shopping for clothes.

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Originally published at Mageuzi's WordPress blog. You can comment here or there.

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Pictures in the Sky

There are three main highways that run through Austin. There’s I-35, the largest highway in the area, running the entire length from San Antonio, through Austin, all the way up to Dallas. There’s Route 1 — also known as MoPac because it runs alongside the Missouri-Pacific railway line — which provides access to most of Austin. Finally, there is 183, a smaller road that primarily serves areas in North Austin. It also continues on down south to the airport, but it becomes less of a highway at that point.

My commute to work involves 183, and there are a few billboards dotted along its length. One that popped up recently was quite simple: the word “healthcare” in all caps and a colorful font. A week later, it changed. The billboard looked like it was split into two, breaking the word down the middle. And then finally, another week later, the billboard returned to its normal rectangular shape with a band-aid down the middle. The word “healthcare” had been replaced with the word “humancare”, and a local hospital’s logo was in the bottom right. At last, the mysterious series of ads made sense.

It’s not really the message that grabbed my attention though. Rather, it was the billboard itself that brought back memories of my childhood.

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Originally published at Mageuzi's WordPress blog. You can comment here or there.



Buying a Vote

This past Wednesday, @FlatFootFox and I went to see Alton Brown at one of his Edible Inevitable shows, and I can say without a doubt that it was amazing. It was like a real-time mash up of Good Eats, Iron Chef: America and just a dash of Cutthroat Kitchen attitude. There was science, music and food all wrapped up in an experience that I won’t soon forget. I’m hoping that in the next few days I can write up a more detailed blog post about the whole show.

But there was one small piece that I didn’t completely agree with.

Mr. Brown was running through a list of things that he was “pretty sure” he knew about food. One of those items essentially boiled down to “vote on food policy with your money”. There are a lot of options at the supermarket, each with varying degrees of controversy behind them — organics, GMOs, buying local, etc.

The government, he declared, is the wrong method for figuring out the policy surrounding these issues. And to a degree, I would agree with that. No one would argue that the government is a model for efficiency. Nor would anyone argue that the government generates concise, straightforward rules. In fact, as someone who struggled through the process of becoming an American citizen, I can speak to the convoluted process that had been put into place — a process that was frequently a black box, with no real indication of how far along I was in the process or when the next steps would occur.

As an alternative, Mr. Brown suggested voting with your money. For one supermarket trip, watch as your groceries cross over the scanner, counting out your cash for each item. Pretend that each dollar is a vote. Because companies listen to money, and decisions will be made on these hot-button food policies based on how well they do in the consumer market.

Again, it was an argument that I don’t completely disagree with. But there are two issues with this line of thinking that are difficult to ignore:

1. Everyone is guaranteed a vote, but no one is guaranteed a dollar. The promise of democratic government is that it gives us all a voice. Even if we have nothing else, we can help build our society in positive ways. Of course, we can’t ignore the fact that we live in a capitalist economy, and money does have a certain amount of influence. The things that we buy support the companies and services behind them. Unfortunately for a lot of these food policies, though, they aren’t cheap. Organic, hormone-free, local foods are often significantly more expensive than conventional food of the same type. If you’re already limited in resources, paying extra to support better quality food just isn’t an option.

2. It’s difficult to vote when you don’t know how your vote is being cast. It’s easy to say “if you don’t want GMOs in your food, then don’t buy food with GMOs”, but it’s difficult to actually do that if you don’t know what food has GMO ingredients. Attempts to try and get labeling in place have been an uphill battle. So even if you have the means to support certain foods, it may still be difficult or impossible to actually find the products you want to support.

I’m not saying that government regulation is the complete answer. In fact, government regulation is partly to blame for the overabundance of corn syrup and highly processed food that litter supermarket shelves these days. But left to their own devices, companies are going to gravitate toward cheap solutions in order to maximize profits — solutions that may not have their customers’ best interests at heart.

If the government was able to level the playing field — allow more Americans to buy the food they actually want rather than make do with subsidized, highly-processed garbage — then that might be the best compromise. But I don’t see a way for pure consumer spending — or pure government oversight — to successfully bring better food to everyone.

Originally published at Mageuzi's WordPress blog. You can comment here or there.



Microsoft Surface

I just watched Microsoft’s first commercial for their Surface tablet. It sucks. I get it: you’re so very proud of that “perfect click” sound you engineered – but that’s not what you center a commercial around.

This is the Microsoft Surface commercial that I would make.

Opening shot shows an iPad on its home screen. “This is an iPad,” starts the voiceover. “All your apps are laid out, ready to launch.” The camera zooms in on one of the icons, “You tap here to see your appointments for today.” Switch to another icon. “Tap here to get updates from your friends.” Switch to another icon. “And you can tap here to see the weather – because it’s not actually 73 degrees and sunny.”

Camera switches to another tablet. This time it’s Surface. “This is the new Microsoft Surface,” says the voiceover. “All your apps are laid out, ready to launch.” The camera zooms in, showing all the information right on screen that would have required tapping and hunting on the iPad.

“But you don’t need to. Looks like I’ll need an umbrella for the football game today.”

End.

Sure, Apple’s new iPod commercial is just as useless as the Surface commercial. But they can get away with that because everyone knows how an iPod works. The Surface is still an unknown to most people. I hope Microsoft gets more serious about their marketing as time goes on.

Originally published at Mageuzi's WordPress blog. You can comment here or there.



Trowl 0.7.3 (Tweet Marker Support)

I’m making a development version of 0.7.3 available for anyone who would like to help me test it before it’s released to everyone. This version has better stream error recovery handling, and makes a couple of other minor under-the-hood changes. The most noticeable change, though, is Tweet Marker support.

What is Tweet Marker?
For those who aren’t yet familiar with the service, Tweet Marker syncs your Twitter timeline across applications by recording the last tweet you read. Applications that support Tweet Marker can quickly jump straight to the spot in your timeline where you left off.

How does that work for Trowl?
Since Trowl doesn’t show you a traditional Twitter timeline (at the moment…), it uses this information a little differently.

Saving your last read tweet: in Trowl, a tweet is considered “read” when its notification is dismissed. Every 15 seconds, it will send the tweet that was last dismissed to Tweet Marker.

Retrieving your last read tweet: every 5 minutes, Trowl will pull the latest Tweet Marker from the server. It can’t remove any tweet notifications already on screen, but it won’t send new notifications for tweets you’ve already seen. Instead, it will pick up with the first new tweet. Depending on your settings, this will also happen when you uncheck the Silence option.

How do you enable Tweet Marker?
Tweet Marker has been added as one of the “missed tweets” options:

Tweet Marker

This option covers both tweets and mentions.

I’ve also updated Metro Display slightly. In addition to the coalescing support that I added a little while back, I also changed it so that the Twitter timestamp dynamically updates – this should have been added a long time ago, so I apologize for the wait. I also fixed a nasty memory leak bug.

You can try both of the new toys here:

Trowl 0.7.3 Development
Metro Display 1.5 Development

Please send any bug reports my way – you can comment here, send me a tweet, or post to the Google Group. Have fun. :)

Originally published at Mageuzi's WordPress blog. You can comment here or there.



Windows 8: First Impressions

Windows 8

I’m still playing with the Windows 8 beta – er, sorry, “Consumer Preview” — and exploring its details. However, first impressions are important, and I think I have a few key observations to make.

Last year, I downloaded the developer preview when it became available. I didn’t spend too much time with it, because it was obvious how early of a build it was. Still, the Metro interface was promising, and the few apps that were available showed great promise.

One big complaint about the developer preview, though, was how much it relied on touch. You could use a mouse and a keyboard, sure, but they were second-class citizens. On the one hand, this was good: Microsoft desperately needed a good touch interface, and there was nothing better than Metro. But on the other hand, it was awkward to use on a traditional computer. Considering that this was the next version of Windows, that was a major problem.

Since then, Microsoft has attempted to soothe everyone’s fears with a consistent message – a message that was reiterated by Steven Sinofsky at the Consumer Preview launch event:

Sinofsky’s concern, however, is ensuring developers are on the same page, designing Metro apps that work just as well on touchscreens as they do with a mouse.

"The goal should be that the operating system scales with you," added Sinofsky.

"That’s what we mean by a no-compromise experience."

For the Consumer Preview, they took many steps to help make the Metro interface more intuitive for the keyboard and mouse, so that there were no compromises. But were they successful?

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Originally published at Mageuzi's WordPress blog. You can comment here or there.



I think that may be the longest title I’ve ever had on my blog. Anyway…

Last week, my Macbook Pro hard drive suddenly died after about two years of dedicated service. While it’s a bit surprising, I did push the little guy pretty hard – I regularly run OS X alongside Windows 7 on VMWare, and I keep both platforms busy. Considering the VM is actually running off the Boot Camp partition, it’s a lot of work for the drive. But I digress.

I’ve been running Time Machine for a while, so I was hoping that I could restore its most recent backup onto my replacement hard drive. There was just one snag, and I knew this would be an issue: my Time Machine backups are stored on my Windows Home Server. As you can imagine, doing this is a bit of a hack (here are some instructions if you don’t know how to do this yet). And as I’m sure you can also imagine, doing a hack like this makes a “normal” Time Machine restore impossible.

What I mean by “normal” is that if you boot off the OS X installation disk, you can choose to restore a Time Machine backup instead of installing a brand new copy of the operating system. When you choose this option, it scans for a Time Machine backup – but only the locations it supports, like external hard drives or Time Capsules.

Now, sure, you could probably copy the Time Machine backup on your WHS to an external drive, since the backup on the WHS is essentially just a disk image. But I didn’t have an external drive large enough to spare – and besides, there must be a better way.

Perhaps my Googling was sub-par at the time (I was in the middle of restoring my laptop, after all), but it took a while to find the answer. You can’t do a normal Time Machine restore, but you can use the Migration Assistant:

  1. Install a brand spanking new copy of OS X. Make a throw-away account when you’re prompted to create your first account. I named mine “Admin”.
  2. Mount your Time Machine backup. In Finder, use the menu option Go –> Connect to Server…, and type the address to your Windows Home Server. This is usually “smb://” plus the server’s name. (For me, it was “smb://beat”.) OS X should find the server, connect to it, and list the available shares. Connect to the share that contains your Time Machine backup, and double-click the .sparsebundle file to mount the disk. (Enter your Home Server username and password, if prompted.)
  3. Run Migration Assistant. This tool is located under Applications –> Utilities on your Mac hard drive. Start it up, and read the intro if you’d like. Click Continue when you’re ready. Choose the “From a Time Machine backup or other disk” option, and click Continue. If you were able to mount the disk image in step #2, then it should be an option to choose from. Select it and Continue.
  4. Restore the backup. The last screen shows you the available items to restore, and how much space they’ll take up. If you created the throw-away account in step #1, then there should be no conflicts with restoring your real account from the Time Machine backup. Select what you do or do not want to restore, and then click Continue. The restore can take a while depending on how much data you have.

That’s it! When it finishes, your account should be back to the way it was, exactly as you left it (as of the last Time Machine backup). You can now throw away your throw-away account, or leave it as a battle scar.

Since it took me a while to find this on Google, I’m writing it up to hopefully give it more exposure. And if this is already well know and I just missed it, well – at least now I have a record in my blog of when my hard drive failed and I was sad. :P

Originally published at Mageuzi's WordPress blog. You can comment here or there.

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My Little Twitter Bot

It all started when @ndoto replied to one of my “eeyup” tweets saying that he wished there was a Big Macintosh Twitter bot that would reply with an “eeyup” if you sent a tweet containing “eeyup”.

For those who aren’t in the know, Big Macintosh is a character on the cartoon My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic. It’s a slight re-imagining of the original show, headed by the same creative mind behind Foster’s Home for Imaginary Friends – an awesome show with clever writing. Needless to say, that same maturity (but kid-appeal) carries over to the new My Little Pony. I suppose I should clarify that I’m not enough of a fan to call myself a brony, but I do think the show is about 20% cooler than most other things on television – and Big Macintosh is by far my favorite character. :)

I’ve always wanted to make a Twitter bot, so I jumped at the opportunity. In this post, I’d like to share some of the technical details, and decision making, that brought @BigMacinbot to life.

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Originally published at Mageuzi's WordPress blog. You can comment here or there.



MAGFest

MAGFest

Last weekend, January 5-8, @Ndoto, @FlatFootFox and I decided to check out MAGFest (Music and Gaming Festival). It was the first time any of us had attended this convention, so it was a bit overwhelming. Still, I think we all had fun! It was like a very small PAX, with an emphasis on music instead of upcoming games. In fact, in many ways, there was a strong focus on older games – chiptunes and 8-bit graphics were prevalent.

Since we didn’t stay at a hotel at the con, it was difficult to attend everything that sounded interesting. Instead of getting the full con experience, we only got a taste – but it was enough of a taste to know that, if we go again, we’ll be staying at a hotel nearby so that we can have better access to all the events.

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Originally published at Mageuzi's WordPress blog. You can comment here or there.



We’ll Listen to Our Scouts… Eventually

Apparently Girl Scout cookies have palm oil in their recipes. Palm oil is not only unhealthy but can cause substantial environmental damage if not produced correctly. Well good news! They’re going to change the recipes.

Girl Scouts of the USA isn’t eliminating the ingredient, but it says that beginning with the 2012-13 cookie season, each box will include a GreenPalm logo as a symbol of Girl Scouts’ commitment to address concerns about the deforestation of sensitive lands caused by production of palm oil.

Oh. Okay. So… they’re sticking a pretty logo on their boxes to say they care very, very much? That’s it?

In its announcement Wednesday, the Girl Scouts said it has directed its bakers to use as little palm oil as possible, and only in recipes where there is no alternative. It wants its bakers to move to a segregated, certified sustainable palm oil source by 2015.

2015?! Right, well, I suppose that’s a good first step, but why would there be recipes where there is no alternative? I think the truth here is that any alternative would create a cookie that is different from what consumers expect, and that would impact sales. Nevermind that palm oil isn’t a particularly good oil.

"Girl Scouts’ palm oil use is very small, but our voice is big," Amanda Hamaker, Girl Scouts manager of product sales, said in a press release. "The world’s food supply is intricately tied to the use of palm oil, so we believe promoting sustainable manufacturing principles is the most responsible approach for Girl Scouts."

… in four years.

Okay, so, taken literally this is good news. But the huge delay in making any meaningful changes, and a refusal to simply stop using palm oil altogether, points to an organization that would rather make themselves look good rather than making a difference.

I guess the girls that are part of the Girl Scouts will have to keep trying to teach their organization about health and protecting the environment. Wait… shouldn’t it be the other way around?

Originally published at Mageuzi's WordPress blog. Please leave any comments there.

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Imagination is never the limit

From Cisco’s infographic about IPv6 a month or two ago:

When billions of things are connected, talking and learning, the only limitation left will be our own imaginations.

Oh, I’m sorry. I didn’t realize our imaginations were so restrictive. I could have sworn money was the limiting factor in situations like this — money for development, money to build infrastructure, money for content and intellectual property use, etc.

I could be mistaken. Perhaps there was no possible way for Cisco to imagine a better Flip player, so they had to kill off the product.

Oh, wait.

Originally published at Mageuzi's WordPress blog. Please leave any comments there.



Portion Control

A recent HuffPost Food article said the following:

And since we are at it , why do we have the "small" soft drinks at the soda fountain look like large pitchers who could serve 3 very thirsty giants? Why are we always served more than we need? Extra butter, more potatoes, super size me.[…] Time to portion control our appetite it’ll do us better than diet pills and miracle diets. I’m for one ready to take the challenge. Are you with me? Let’s portion control, America!

There is definitely a valid point here. Portions in America – and, increasingly, the rest of the Western world – are much too large. But have you ever noticed that the things that come in large portions are also the things that are most damaging in large quantities? Soda, bread, pasta, potatoes, ground meats – stuff that’s processed, and thus cheap. Perhaps one notable exception is the salad bar, but even that isn’t as cheap as the processed alternatives (if it’s a good salad bar, anyway).

In other words, no one would be complaining about portion control if we had a plate full of vegetables, providing us a wealth of vitamins, minerals and fiber relative to the calories we’d be taking in. But instead, our meals are so skewed toward empty calories that we have to take vitamin supplements.

Portion control is important, sure, and it’s a good first step. But portion balance is also key – or we may end up getting even less of the nutrients we need to stay healthy.

Originally published at Mageuzi's WordPress blog. Please leave any comments there.

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Trowl 0.7 Preview – Update!

Just a quick post to provide an update on the next version of Trowl.

Preview builds are now available. I waited until things seemed relatively stable, so if you want to give 0.7 a whirl, you shouldn’t experience too many problems. Of course, if you do, I’d love to hear about it. Then I can fix it and everything will be happy again. :)

While 0.7 is mostly finished, there are still a few small features that I’d like to add. I didn’t want the preview builds to get held up by these last few changes, but you can expect a couple more goodies to slip through before things are finalized.

So, what are those features? Thank you for asking, imaginary commenter!

* New "Event" notification. (NOW AVAILABLE in build 002) The user stream sends more than just tweets — it also sends notifications about new followers, retweets and favorites. So it only seemed appropriate to pass those notifications on to Growl. As new notifications get sent to the stream, I’ll integrate them into this notification type.

* Complete t.co integration. (NOW AVAILABLE in build 003) Twitter is finally starting to push ahead with implementing its t.co URL "shortening" service to the rest of its ecosystem. To that end, Trowl will behave slightly differently when posting a tweet with URLs. Each URL will automatically deduct ~19 characters from your tweet, no matter how long the URL is. My current plan is to keep the built-in is.gd shortening available for those who like to use that, but it’ll probably become less important as t.co becomes more widespread.

* Photo uploads. (NOW AVAILABLE in build 004) I think everyone knows what this is now that Twitter has rolled it out to everyone on the Twitter website. It is not yet (officially) part of the API, though, and currently Twitter has no date planned for a roll out. (So much for late June.) Like mentioned above, this may or may not make it into 0.7 depending on how long this takes.

* Higher resolution profile pictures. (NOW AVAILABLE in build 005) Profile pictures will now be 200 by 200 pixels, if possible. A lot of profile pictures aren’t that large when pulled from Twitter, so some changes were made to how the retweet profile pictures are composed. Overall, though, you shouldn’t notice too much of a difference unless you are using a Growl display that shows large images, or you forward notifications to another device, like Howl on iPhone. Metro Display was changed to show a larger version of the profile picture if you hover your mouse over the profile picture.

Thoughts, questions, suggestions? Feel free to comment. :)

Originally published at Mageuzi's WordPress blog. Please leave any comments there.



Why I Use Dropbox

Paul Thurrott recently (well, “recently”; I’m a bit delayed on this due to moving) posted an article about Dropbox — specifically, why anyone who uses Windows would use it over Live Mesh.

Well, I use Windows, Live Mesh AND Dropbox. If you’re at all interested in cross-device synchronization, then neither Dropbox or Live Mesh should be so quickly dismissed. This is true, even in light of Dropbox’s recent (“recent”) security issues.

First, let me just say that everything Paul says about Windows Live Mesh is entirely true, and the reasons he gives for using it — more storage, flexible folder syncing, peer-to-peer syncing, remote desktop access, application settings syncing — are valid. These are all reasons why I use Windows Live Mesh, too.

Okay, so what about Dropbox?

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Originally published at Mageuzi's WordPress blog. Please leave any comments there.