Entries from November 2003

Appliance Karma

fridge.jpgOur fridge is one of those old, icebox-style fridges that were built in the late Sixties, early Seventies. I have no idea who made it, because there is no logo, brand name, or other identifier to be found anywhere on it. I personally like to call it "that piece of crap".

Our fridge really sucks. I've been on the caretaker's back for months to replace it, as it seems to only want to cool things once a lunar month, when the moon is waxing gibbous, or when it's completely empty. I curse at it often, especially whenever I open it up to gaze upon yet another tupperware container of spoilt food that I just put in there a couple of days ago. As I bury another fuzzy meal in the depths of a garbage bag, I'll mutter evil, irrational things under my breath in the fridge's general direction. I'm like that.

A couple of months ago the fridge light gave up the ghost, and I've been too lazy and too disinclined to replace the damned thing. That is, until this weekend, when I was siezed with a mysterious bout of motivation that came from lord knows where.

So I bought some replacement lightbulbs, and went about finally replacing the burnt out one. I reached into the fridge to start unscrewing the old one. As I grabbed the bulb and started turning, I noticed that the bulb was surprisingly cold. I remember thinking, "hm - must be that time of the month again".

As I turned, the chilled bulb suddenly shattered into a thousand tiny, needle-sharp shards, cutting my fingers and sending blood all over the milk and yoghurt containers. The trouble really started, however, when my fingers instinctively closed into a fist, grabbing the firmament of the bulb tightly.

I think I now know what it's like to be a human exclamation point. 120 volts of good ol' Manitoba Hydro power flew giddily from the lightbulb, through my hands, and out the soles of my feet. For a couple of seconds I stood there, grasping the broken lightbulb, and mentally willed my fingers to open and release. I could feel my heart pounding in my stomach and in my throat.

Finally, I managed to wrest myself away from the bulb and fell back against the kitchen table, hard. Blood splattered against the wall from cuts in my fingers, and I noticed in my reflection in the toaster oven my hair was standing on end.

I believe in karma. I no longer curse my fridge.


I'm sitting here trying to work my way through a mound of assignments that need marking, but I can't get any work done.

I found out today that one of my students passed away over the weekend. He was a design student of mine for all of last year, and was planning to return to classes in January. A boating accident, and the freezing waters of Shoal Lake ended those aspirations. He was 22 years old.

I'm hesitant to write about this in many ways, as I've tried to avoid writing about work out of respect for my students, and out of the understanding that many of my students know about this site. But it seems important somehow to acknowledge here the brief time that I knew Sebastian.

Sebastian's death saddens me in many ways, not only because of the pure loss of potential. Sebastian wasn't one of my best students; in fact, at the end of last year he had been suspended from classes for a number of reasons. But we all have been impulsive, brash, and spontaneous at one time in our lives (or even still), and had the chance to learn, to mature, and to mellow.

It saddens me to know that Sebastian won't get that chance.

Sebastian, for all of his all-too human difficulties, was an enthusiastic student, and was a genuinely friendly, well-meaning person. He loved cats at least as much as I do, was an ardent rock collector and was deeply passionate about design.

There are many other designers whose careers would receive acknowledgement throughout the design world upon their passing. Even though Sebastian was just at the beginning of his own career before it was unjustly cut short, I hope this small gesture helps acknowledge what was, what is, and what could have been.

POPFile “OS X”-esque Skin

POPFile imageThe spam-filtering POPFile system is powerful, great, and makes dealing with the torrents of spam I personally receive every day much, much easier. But the various "skins" that it ships with look, frankly, not very hot. They remind me of something out of a bad, 1996 web service, nutty descriptive names notwithstanding ("Strawberry Rose", "Lavish", the spine-chilling "Outlook" or "Windows").

I don't mean to totally diss the developers who have created or contributed to POPFile; I know they are trying to reach a broad audience, and have to make some concessions for the diverse number of platforms POPFile can run on. But, I can be an interface asshole sometimes, and today, instead of carping about how POPFile looks, I tried to do something about it.

So: as a more design-friendly counterpoint to my decidely geeky instructions on how to install POPFile on Mac OS X, here's a skin I whipped together. I called this skin "os x", even though it doesn't really look like an OS X application. The overall OS X feel was what I was trying to accomplish, albeit sans images.

Installation of this (or any other POPFile skin) is simple: it's a single, lone CSS file. Just download the CSS file (right-click and save to disk), and put it in the skins directory inside your POPFile folder. My POPFile folder is located at /Library/POPFile; yours may be in a different location, depending on where you installed it, or if you're running a different operating system.

To get POPFile to recognize the new skin, you'll need to restart POPFile. If you're running the default settings, clicking here should stop POPFile.

To restart POPFile, either restart your computer (if you've installed the StartupItem, or if you're running POPFile as a Windows service), or launch a terminal window and start it up manually. Again, this really depends on your OS, so I'll leave this in your hands.

Now click on the Configuration tab, and you should see a "Use Skin" select menu. Select the item called "osx", and hit apply

Hope you like it. Drop me a line if you have any comments or suggestions. Keep in mind that I spent a grand total of 15 minutes creating this, so it's not the best design or code ever. But, it's better for me, and I guess that's all that mattered at the time.

Logs to nowhere

For those of you running Macs, if you haven't picked up Mac OS 10.3 (silly marketing name: Panther), don't let the isolated reports about Firewire drive problems or the new secure FileVault feature scare you off. The latest update (10.3.1, which is out a mere two weeks after 10.3 hit the shelves) fixes most of these problems, and the speed and maturity of 10.3 is totally, totally worth the cost.

Much has been posted about how this release is really one about refinement, and I'm not going to dive into the fray with another review. But there's one thing that annoys me.

crash.gifApple has added in the capability for users to send in reports whenever there's a crash. That's a great idea, which builds on the "bug" button that the Apple Safari browser ships with. But this dialog window appears whenever any application crashes, and not just an Apple application.

(For those of you who can't read French, this dialogue says the familiar: "The application MozillaFirebird-bin has unexpectedly quit... The system and other applications are not affected. Would you like to send a bug report to Apple?")

So unsuspecting users are sending their crash reports into Apple for all sorts of applications. My guess is that the majority of these reports are discarded or ignored, even if they involve Apple code. What's worse is that any valuable information that could help a 3rd-party developer fix their applications is also being sent into this crash log black hole.

I've logged a bug report with Apple - hopefully they'll tweak the dialogue, so you can send reports to a custom email address, or save the crash log to your desktop for easy email attaching. It's annoying to see a perfectly good mode of communication poorly implemented.

And no, the irony of logging a bug report to notify Apple of a problem with bug reporting isn't lost on me.

Return of the Grey Lady

greyLady.gifBecause I'm mildly stupid and completely sadistic, I took a break from marking today by rummaging through some of my old file archives on my hard drive. In a folder strangely marked Cheesy Puffs, I found a complete copy of the 2nd design of this site (the present one you're soaking in being #3), with all of the files exactly as they were the day before I pulled the site down for redesign.

That was the stupid part. The sadistic part was, instead of getting up from the computer and taking a long, invigorating walk like a good healthy boy should, I decided it was time to resurrect the "Grey Lady" and add it to the Retired Sites design graveyard. I'm incredibly nostalgic; it's a fatal flaw, sometimes.

So, yeah. For all two of you who complained about how you preferred the previous design to this one, it's back, warts and all. Say "welcome back" to retired site design #2.

Retired site design #1, the first design for this site, is still available for those of you who actually care about these kinds of things.

Heck in a Hand Basket

It’s rapidly approaching that time again, when stress levels start to rise, and students start to wander the hallways with increasingly panicked looks on their faces. Men will start cultivating woefully neglected facial hair faster than you can say “David Suzuki!”, and the younger students will quickly adopt a kind of rictus of horror as they realize that this just isn’t high school anymore.

Yep, it’s end of semester time for my students, and I’m slowly burning out along with them. If I could grow facial hair without it looking like a handful of pitifully kinked strands (did I mention David Suzuki?), I’d be sprouting some of the most swankadelic pubs on my face that you ever saw.

As it is, I sometimes catch myself walking from my desk to class with the sound of steam whistling from a kettle escaping from my clenched lips, and have to pull a Scooby Doo shake and “huh?” to get myself back in order.

Yes. School is stressful.

It doesn’t help that the environment around work these days is becoming even more politicized. I won’t go into details, less I suddenly find myself waking up with lead boots and a large melon crammed into my mouth, but it really does boggle the mind how accurate Dilbert is, PHB’s and all. Yes, it really does.

iCal To Do display

Lazy Web, I've been looking everywhere for a small application that allows you to display and edit iCal to do lists on the desktop, in an elegant, unobtrusive window. Transparency and other Quartz niceties are always welcome, too.

I know that there's a few Konfabulator widgets that have a similar function, but I was thinking that there has to be a shareware or freeware application out there that does just this, and does it well. Anyone?

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