A blog about the many neat things in life, along with the many other things that are lying around. Categories include: political things, philosophy things, design things, template things, garage things, music things, and lots and lots of other things!

Friday, February 24, 2006

Newfangled Radio

When I'm at work, I need music. It helps keep me from going crazy while coding, doing photoshop, or whatever it is I do around here. I can't bring too many scads of the stuff with me - I have a 512MB thumb drive, a 512MB PSP, and a 256MB SD card in my Treo (which unfortunately, I cannot attach headphones to at the moment). Even with all that, it's only a tiny portion of my 11+ days of music on iTunes. And even more so, listening to music for 3-5 hours a day would run through my much smaller collection of "stuff I listen to often" very quickly.

So, internet radio. I use Portable Winamp 5.1, since I can't install programs onto the self-cleaning builds we use at my office. It has the standard winamp list of crazy radio stations from Shoutcast, Yahoo! and AOL. I thought, since I'm in the business of reccomending places for free music, that posting endorsements for my radio stations would be a good idea. So, here goes.
  • Secret Agent - The soundtrack for your stylish, mysterious, dangerous life. As far as I know "spy music" isn't a genre, but what is? They rock it with some chill downtempo, house, jazz, and lounge music. I just heard one of my fav. Thievery Corporation songs, so you know it's good.
  • Masters of Hardcore - on the totally opposite end of the spectrum, this Swedish station throws out tunes designed to bust some eardrums. Great to listen to when on a roll.
  • Bassdrive - my favorite Drum & Bass channel. They play a good mix of stylish, jungle, and dark themes. I never hear any tunes from my collection - they usually play the newest and freshest d&b beats.
  • Digitally Imported - a collection of about 20 radio stations of any concievable genre, these guys have quality.

I also heartily reccomend pulling up the list built into your favorite media player and just clicking around. See what pops up! Life can be full of happy surprises.


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Can't Touch Things

Holy crap, MC Hammer has a blog! Warning: annoying intro sounds.

I wonder if Chuck Norris will follow suit?

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Thursday, February 23, 2006

The History of "Agius"

My email is agiusmage-at-gmail-dot-com. My AIM handle (which is rarely used) is agiusmage. I even had a blogspot with that handle for a while (before I went back to Neat Things, which is just a cool title). Honestly, it's a little foolish, since I have been using my Gmail account to apply for jobs online - though I have been using GMail's "send as" feature to send out email from atevans at purdue dot edu (replies sent to that address get autoforwarded back to gmail).

Anyway, agiusmage is a composite of two words. "Agius" and "mage." The latter refers to a class in Dungeons & Dragons. The former is the name of a character I played, way back when we first started D&D back in Gaithersburg. "Agius" was inspired heavily by the worlds of Margaret Weis & Tracy Hickman. He was a combination of several racial characteristics from that world - a frightening splicing of Tinker Gnomes and Kender. As a friend once put it, "Good lord! As a tinker gnome, he can build anything if he has the parts... and as a kender, he has everything concievable in his pouches!"

Also, tinker gnomes and kender are both known for fearlessness (both generally because they are too absent-minded for fear to be realized). Both races are shorter than dwarves. Agius, if he were played right, would probably be a dual-classed wizard/rogue (they have specialized classes for that now). The extra skills he got as a rogue would be evenly distributed between sneaking and invention, and his wizard spells would be primarily transmutative in nature. All in all, it's a pretty frightening combination, especially since a properly played Agius would be consistantly loaded with useless wands, Rods of Wonder, and other seemingly random items.

Agius became my online handle because I liked the character so much. Back when I was just getting started with instant messenging, email, and other internety-things, I was even more into D&D than I am today. Thus, my natural online handle was an extension of myself, a part of my character - Agius. It's a simple name that's rarely taken, and at a mere five characters, it's not hard to spell. I stuck with it. I still do.

I use this name everywhere. In general, if you go to a forum and see "Agius," it's very likely me. Part of the reason I continue to use it is that the handle has such momentum. If I wanted to start a new identity, I would probably have to change my Flickr, del.icio.us, email, and all sorts of crazy things. It'd take forever. And is it worth it to change all that just to get a more professional-sounding email? Or a name representing my more furry allegiances, rather than my archaic D&D character?

Eventually I'll have to "grow up" and start using my real name @ company dot com. I already have an email address at NIST which is like that. If I were to reveal to any prospective employers that I'm not using my domain name email, let alone a free email service, I would probably look silly. But I suppose until GMail for your domain takes off, I'll probably just stick with it.

So - how did you come by your handle?

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Saturday, February 18, 2006

Too Many Friends Syndrom?

I have stumbled upon a problem lately that I was hoping I wouldn't have.

It began with instant messaging. Whenever I would sign on, I would get (on average) 10-15 people talking to me. 2-3 were usually from real life, 5-6 were from forums, and the rest were from cons or other places wherein I had usually met the person in real life once. It usually took about 10 minutes of start-up time, and then another 10-15 to say goodbye to everyone when I was done chatting. This got on my parents' respective nerves, because I couldn't just pick up and go whenever they wanted to do something. However, it was a lot of fun for me, so I stayed online 85% of the summer following my senior year in high school.

Then college came. I was online a lot less, since I now had classes, and other things to do. By week 5 or 6 at Purdue, I had enough friends and appointments that I rarely had enough time to get online for more than a few minutes before bed. This started pissing my online crew off. Most people started saying guilt-trippy things like "You never talk to me any more!" or "You should get online more often..." I responded with a simple statement: "You can always call or email me." Only 2 of about 50 people on my IM buddy list ever took the trouble to email me, and those have mostly disappeared by now. But, because opening any IM program got to be such a damn pain, I decided screw it, IM is not that important to me. So now (and for the last year or two), I don't use instant messenging programs at all.

Now the problem has spread, and it's started taking over my phone. I try to call my family once a week, usually for 45 minutes to an hour per family member. Since my immediate family lives in 3 different houses, that's 3 calls (and potentially 3 hours or more) per week. It's a pretty good amount of time to try and devote to a home one to two thousand miles away. I really want to keep a close relationship with my family, so I consider the time more than worth the investment.

However, now I'm getting some other calls once or twice a week, where people call "just to talk." There are a couple friends from in and out of state that like to talk, and now it's getting to be another 3-4 people that expect calls once a week or more for an hour or so at a time. And I hate to say it, but I just don't have time for it, and now I'm waking up with a message on my phone asking me to call someone. Having an hour free to talk on the phone comes once or twice a week at most, so as much as I want to, I cannot keep up with everyone. And sorry, but unless I have a bad crush on someone (which right now isn't true of anyone), I cannot afford to prioritize phone conversations for out-of-state friends over actual face-to-face meetings with local friends.

So, what can I do about this situation? Getting rid of IM has been kind of a pain in the past (everyone at cons always asks for my IM, and even local friends use it to arrange meetings). Getting rid of it seemed to be a darn good bandaid on my problem, but it appears to have not solved it. So what options does that leave me?
  1. Institute a rule: you can only talk to me online or on the phone if you have met me in real life, and/or can do so in the next 3-6 months.
  2. Just start ignoring the people I don't have time for...
  3. Stop being so damn nice to people in the first place. If I make fewer friends, then this stops being a problem.
Honestly, I hate all these solutions. The solution I would like to have would be a 30-hour day. But since that's not going to happen, I need to come up with something so I don't have to get stressed about failing to connect with all the people who want to connect with me.

If anyone else has this problem, or has some tips for dealing with it, please drop a comment.

Additional Comment: Maybe this just means I am failing horribly at time management, rather than failing to implement commitment management. Maybe I should work on Getting Things Done.

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Sunday, February 12, 2006

Dick Things

Dick Cheney "accidentally" shot his friend on a hunting trip! ZOMG!

According to ABC, Cheney hit him with a shotgun to the face and chest at about 30 yards. I want to know - why the hell are you hunting quail with a shotgun?! Wouldn't that kind of explode it? And is 30 yards really that far?

Just kidding. I'm sure it was an accident. But I haven't heard of any democrats shooting their friends in the face lately.

"George! Cheney's team killing again!"
"Stop being a dick, Dick!"

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Friday, February 10, 2006

Audacity Things

UPDATE: And no sooner to I post this micro-step-by-step than does O'Reilly come out with a huge article giving all the juicy details of audio conversion. Funny they don't mention any of the free programs like Audacity, though.

Continuing my tutorials series... I posted this on Ex-Gay Watch because they needed some help converting enormous AIFF files to mono mp3's for internet distribution. Might be useful if you're recording conversations or podcasting.

Audacity us a free, open-source, Windows/Mac/Linuz program for optimizing and mixing audio.
  1. CTRL+Click on your AIFF file and choose Open With->Audacity.
  2. Go to Preferences->File Formats
  3. Adjust the "bit rate" under "MP3 Export Setup" to something small, to reduce filesize. Voice seems to become unrecognizable below 64, so I reccomend not going lower than that.
  4. Hit "Okay
  5. Go to File->Export as MP3
  6. Save your mp3 file.
You're done!

The only kink in this might be that you do not have the LAME mp3 encoder installed. A tutorial for installing LAME is located here.

Alternatively, open up Garageband, make a new Real Instrument track, drag your AIFF file onto it, and hit "export to iTunes." That will export a 192kbps mp3 file into your itunes, from which you can publish or do what you like.

Finally, you could use Audio Hijack with the pro version. It might be overkill, but it's only $16 if you already own Audio Hijack ($32 total), and it does mp3 exports and allows you to pick quality and other settings to reduce filesizes.

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Firefox Security Things

I've been posting tutorials around the web for various people who have needed help for various things lately. I figure I'll post them here, in case anyone else has any use for them. First off, how to delete your saved passwords from Firefox, when even uninstalling won't do it.

  1. Tools -> Options
  2. Click on the "Privacy" Icon
  3. Click on the "Passwords" tab
  4. Click on "View Saved Passwords"
  5. Click on "Remove All"

That should do it! Also, if you go to the "Settings" button near the bottom, where it says "The Clear Private Data Tool..." you can set it to erase all passwords, history, cache, etc. when you log out. Click "Settings," check "Clear Private Data on Logout" and hit "OK."

As long as you have a unique network logon, though, you shouldn't need to worry about it: other people can't access your firefox passwords.

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Monday, February 06, 2006

Dept. of Homeland Security Things

Looks like the DHS is violating the recent Bush order against animal-human hybrids... their Ready.gov site is full of furries... and looks creepily hentai-ish.

Hat tip: Boing Boing.

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GIMP Things

With a recent discussion on Slashdot debating the subject, and the linked article not listing enough criticisms, I thought I should chime in on why I don't use the free, open-source GIMP instead of Photoshop.

I have tried to use GIMP before. In fact, in my work at NIST, redesigning a departmental web page and doing some simple graphics work for presentations, I was forced to use GIMP because our office did not have enough photoshop licenses. The behind-the-title image on this very page was made with a gradient and simple filter in GIMP - much easier than making a similar thing in Photoshop. And yet, I still find GIMP too irritating to use. Why? Here's why:
  • GIMP's single-document-interface is deeply, deeply flawed. Basically, GIMP opens three windows: two control panels, and whatever image you want to open with it. The problem with this interface is that the control panels are the same level of window as the image itself. So, if you focus on the image (say, by clicking on it or using any tool on it), the toolbars for GIMP will become hidden behind it. Now maybe this is an okay schema for a 30" Apple Cinema display, but for any normal monitor size, it means you will spend more time moving windows around to gain access to the menus, than you will actually using any of the functions on those menus.
  • Speaking of menus - the menus in GIMP are totally inaccessable. They are grouped into categories that make very little sense, and I constantly had to read every item on a menu to determine whether the function I was looking for was there or not. I dare anyone to run a usability study on this - I think the results will be unpleasent.
  • The rest of the interface is very clunky as well. Filters and scripts and even color manipulations have a tendancy to pull up modal dialogue boxes. This means that you can't do anything else in the program until you complete that dialogue box. If you pull up the curves box, for example, and play with color curves, you cannot refocus and preview your image with the new settings. You can only see the part the color curves box isn't blocking. Now, they may have changed the curves box since I used it this summer, but there were so many of these quirks I didn't want to experiment with the various properties of an image at all.
  • OK buttons and the like are difficult. Maybe this is a property of GTK+ on windows, but whenevevr a dialogue came up, hitting "enter" did not hit the "OK" button. Using a crappy mouse at work, this caused many a hassle, as non-modal dialogues disappeared behind my image when I missed the "OK" button. I then had to resize my image in order to see the dialogue I had pulled up at all!

So basically, it's the interface, as it is with most Linux items. What I think people fail to realize (which Apple, Flickr and the like realize more than anyone) is that the user interface is not a way for the user to get to the product. The user interface IS the product. It's all the user sees. It's all they deal with. It is inseperable from your functionality, and it encompasses all aspects of your product. No matter how awesome your feature set, if it is awkward to arrive at, hidden, or impossible to get to, then it will not match up to the competition.

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Sunday, February 05, 2006

Anubis Things

I passes Anubis on Expert yesterday. It has 32nd note streams. I generally try to keep my posts about interesting things, but I'm pretty proud of this.

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Thursday, February 02, 2006

QotD Things

Roomie: Wouldn't furry Kirby be... furby?

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Bush Says "No!" to Furries!

I didn't watch the State of the Union address. Though it's up on Google Video, I probably won't watch it. I expected him to say the same things he has said at every major speech, fake town hall event, fake soldier interview, and radio address in the last year.

"Stay the course" as the war gets more unpopular, Iraq's new government starts to align with Iran, and terrorist attack continue to rise in frequency. "Let's cut medicare costs" by reducing medicare benefits. The economy might look like it's in trouble, but it's doing great. I'm doing great on education: never mind that whole NCLB thing. My illegally spying on you is perfectly justified. It's the homos what's destroying America. I have never made a mistake.

He said all these things, and one thing that was a little surprising. He wanted to ban human-animal hybrids. From the White House:
Tonight I ask you to pass legislation to prohibit the most egregious abuses of medical research: human cloning in all its forms, creating or implanting embryos for experiments, creating human-animal hybrids, and buying, selling, or patenting human embryos.
[emphasis mine] So now Bush has officially taken a strong anti-furry stance - I anxiously await the furry community's response to this egregious assault on our dreams of fox ears & tails.

Also check out Superfrankenstein's informative post on the subject.

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