Once a year? Let’s double that.

Almost 2018. It’s crazy how that went. And how fast it went, but more importantly how it just went.

I noticed that I was posting once a year, so in an effort to make giant strides I immediately decided that I would double that output for 2017. Perhaps I’ll double the output yet again for 2018? Time will tell.

The zen of cross-platform… photo editing.

Programming Books at Home, LHS

Image by fogus via Flickr

I remember back when all the Java pundits were screamin’ about cross-platform this, cross-platform that, etc, etc, blah blah blah.  I loved it.  I was one of them.  

I mean, who cares what operating system you’re running, right?  I can run any app on any computer, period.  That’s just awesome… and it’s not even an unreasonable dream.  But that was long ago.
Java still touts cross-platform compatibility and there are many Java apps that work (and work well) across all three of the major OS’s (Windows, OSX, and of course Linux.)  Unfortunately, UI design seems to be… secondary to most Java developers, but that’s another story.  No, today I plan on kicking off a multi-part story about my search – my zen-like search – for cross-platform photo editing.  
As a photographer, I’ve found that Windows and OSX really have some very fine tools at their disposal.  Linux has several tools that do the job, but they’re all difficult to use and have a steep learning curve (not to mention they’re ugly.)  Ugly shouldn’t be a factor, I suppose, but as a designer and someone who spends inordinate amounts of time in front of his computer, I really place no small amount of value on an attractive and easy-to-use UI.  
I’ll be touching on my experiences with Bibble, Lightzone, and (of course) GIMP.  GIMP has been part of my toolbox for some time, so the typical ‘learning curve’ with using it won’t necessarily be as steep as usual, and I’ll try to keep that in mind.
Lightzone is being installed even as I write this, so next up: Lightzone – Good, Bad, or Just Ugly.

Rotting my brain, one pixel at a time.

Benq laptop

Image via Wikipedia

Check out this article in the online version of the NY Times: Hooked on gadgets, and paying a mental price.  

It’s totally true.  I mean, it’s an extreme case of one guy’s complete and utter obsession, a direct result of his reliance on IT to work and entertain himself… but it’s relevant to all of us.  Look at iPhone users (and yes, even Android people too, lol).  How often have you seen two people sitting across from each other, enjoying some hot beverage, and staring at their phones?
Every once in a while someone pipes up and starts with the whole “computers are turning us into antisocial drones” or “our ability to interact socially is being destroyed by technology.”  It’s unfortunately true.  I know plenty of people who are incapable of the most basic levels of successful social interaction simply because they’re spending way too much time sitting in front of a glowing screen… yet they’re super active on Facebook.  Nice.
Keyboard cowboys are familiar to anyone who spends any time on a forum.  People who are ‘brave’ and will say nearly anything, express opinions, and just be social while logged in, but at the end of the day – when confronted – will always balk.  It’s a sad (though sometimes entertaining) phenomenon.  
It even happens to me, and I go out of my way to make sure I interact, to make absolutely sure that I’m attempting to expose myself as much as possible to social stimuli that goes beyond staring at a screen.  I get upset when I’m too disconnected – when I don’t even have my phone to keep my dopamine squirts going.  There’s nothing we can do.  We’ve made this bed, perpetuated this reliance on technology for our stimuli.  Now we gotta lie in it.  Although there is something to going full lo-fi and disappearing into the woods.
An interesting point that this article brings up is the whole angle on multi-tasking and how it’s actually not a good thing.  After years and years (heck, maybe even decades) of having people pound the concept of multi-tasking being a good thing, this is just a breath of fresh air and a reflection on what I’ve been saying for the last 8 years – basically since I started managing teams and really reflecting on the effectiveness of my teams.  Task-switching is the biggest killer of time, right up there with micro-managing pricks.  Multi-tasking is, in essence, its own worst enemy, and it is a concept fully capable of rendering any team completely immobilized by its own ability to handle multiple projects.  
It’s a concept that requires some reflection to really absorb, and should also require some experience (either on the line or more importantly managing the line) in order to really appreciate.  Minimal research into the matter (a la Google) will give you no shortage of interesting information for you to assimilate, and just thinking about it will be, I think, beneficial.  

Clockwork Recovery Image for Android phones

Image representing Android as depicted in Crun...

Image via CrunchBase

Back in the day, oh so long ago, if you wanted to root your phone you’d go ahead and install Cyanogenmod‘s CM Recovery 1.4.  This worked great.  

Then… much later (billions of years, seems like…) there was the Amon Ra recovery image.  I’ve used it on the Nexus One rootings I’ve perpetrated, and it’s both functional and easy to use.  It has lots and lots of awesome features that I have no use for, but hey, whatever works.  And while Amon Ra was reDICKulously painful to install, once installed it made short work of, well, everything.
Modification of Image:Huxley - Mans Place in N...

Image via Wikipedia

And now, evolution has brought us Clockwork Recovery.  Probably.  I don’t really know nor do I much care, because I probably only use a fraction of the power of these recovery images, and it’s mostly just to flash updated ROMs into my phone.  What I do know is that Clockwork is really, really, really easy to install and use.  I mean, like, almost dummy-proof.  By the nature of what it does, it’s not dummy-proof – not by a long shot – but the interface is really simple and 
straightforward, and I very much appreciate the easily installed front-end GUI, available (conveniently enough) from the Android Market, as – wait for it – “ROM manager”.  Not the most creative name, admittedly, but hey, it’s descriptive enough.
I don’t know if there’s any relation between the two, but I see some similarities between Clockwork and my much-beloved CM-Updater (Cyanogenmod’s original GUI for his own recovery app.)  It works, it’s clean, and it’s just pleasant to use.  So far.  I can’t wait for it to eat total shit and brick my phone.  Then I’ll be singing a whole different tune.
Anyway, Cyanogenmod has released a whole spiffy new version of his ROM, sitting pretty at 5.7 and based on the 2.1 kernel of Android, so here I go again ready to beat the holy hell out of my phone’s hardware in my ongoing effort to make it behave like a much faster, much more expensive phone.  That’s love!  Or I’m being a total dumbass.  Usually I can’t tell the difference.  I’ll update with another post once I’m done smashing.

Nexus One data connection not working? No problem.

Android robot logo.

Image via Wikipedia

Jimbo Slice called me last night to let me know his shiny sexy I wanna have one Nexus One, freshly updated with Cyanogenmod by moi, was having a data connection problem.  To put it simply, it just didn’t have a data connection anymore.  Hm.

So I moseyed on over to the “hoffice” and took a gander.  Sure enough, his Nexus One wasn’t seeing the data network.  Phone seemed to work just fine, everything was peachy otherwise… it even connected to WiFi without a hitch.  But no 3G.  Double-hm.
Jimbo, in typical fix-it-with-a-big-stick mode, wanted to rock it, sock it, and just re-flash the sucka with the original Android OS, or an older version of CM, or something.  Whatever it takes to get it working. Cooler heads (mine) of course prevailed, and I figured the issue wasn’t going to be too terribly complicated to wrap up.
Quick research on the matter uncovered a few similar issues but no real fixes, per se.  Before moving much further, I ran into Settings->Wireless & Networks->Mobile networks->Access Point Names.  Here you should see your network’s APN (T-Mobile or whatnot.)
Hitting menu, I reset the APN to factory default.  A few hot minutes later (it does take a little bit, so be patient), bam, data network connectivity restored.  No need to re-flash or re-install anything, good to go, ready to rawk, and all set.  Enjoy!

Polyphasic sleep… naptime is back, baby!

Sleeping

Okay, so anybody who knows me knows that I’m a fan of Sleep.  Anybody who knows me also knows that while I am Sleep’s biggest fan, I never get any.

Enter Polyphasic Sleep! (Cue horns and cymbals…)
So basically polyphasic sleep is an organized system of what I already do: napping in order to break up regular sleep rhythms into smaller periods, which then (potentially) results in longer periods of awakedness.  Sweet!
By regularizing the periods of sleep, the theory is that we can stay awake longer.  I’ve been testing this theory (inadvertently) for decades, and it’s really interesting to read about what military testing and NASA have uncovered about the efficacy of this method.
Basically, government agencies say that it doesn’t work.
It goes against the body’s natural circadian rhythms and, while it can be induced, there is a significant degradation in performance.  Studies show that we can operate on an induced polyphasic schedule and maintain a minimal performance for a time before our bodies start to manifest the signs of severe sleep deprivation.
Uberman Polyphasic Sleep Pie Chart
The very extreme “Uberman” polyphasic sleep chart.
Whoa, well, that’s really great and all, but I know that I’ve been practicing the fine art of polyphasic sleep for ages.  I find it very useful for those bursts of productivity where you absolutely, positively, indubitably must get that project done by such-and-such date.
Afterwards, sure, there’s a crash, but it’s not as bad as you’d think… a full nights’ sleep and it’s back to business as usual.  This method has served me well and, combined with judicious use of caffeine, can result in about a solid week of pretty high levels of performance and focus, followed by a full night of sleep, maybe the following day to ‘rest’ by doing unfocused tasks (what I like to call “leisure activities” or “hobbies”), and that ‘resets’ the clock.  I’ve personally gone through two months of this cycle, back-to-back, before noticing some emotional breakdown and other signs of extended fatigue.
The other thing I noticed is that this only works for focused tasks and projects.  In my experience, the time lost in task-switching is exponentially increased during these periods.  This results in a decreased ability to multi-task “out of project” (though not necessarily within a project, if the tasks are related and can find a tie to other tasks), so I wouldn’t recommend it if you’re trying to close out, say, two or three separate projects at a time unless you take into consideration those potential gaps and keep them to a minimum.
I don’t think it’s something that can be kept up to the extreme degrees that many of the proponents claim, for extended periods, but I do think it’s very doable in bursts and can be very effective in adding those ‘extra hours’ to the day that everyone wishes they had.  I am, however, going to take a methodical approach to this and staging my own study.  I mean, it’s not like it’ll require a huge lifestyle change, lol! 🙂

Bring out the GIMP.

S

GIMP Icon

Image via Wikipedia

o I keep reading all these great articles about the GNU Image Manipulation Program, commonly referred to as GIMP or “the GIMP”.  Every time I read one of these great articles, I inevitably find the part of the article that says “GIMP has improved muchly since the last version, and blah blah blah” so (equally as inevitable) I install it (again) and try it (again) and fail (again) to accomplish… well, to accomplish anything at all.

GIMP, for the uninitiated or those that aren’t nerdy enough to know, is (as the name states) an image manipulation program.  While the developers of GIMP don’t see it this way (or at least claim not to, though I can’t for the life of me figure out how they couldn’t see it), it is, basically, an “open-source” Photoshop.  It has become the de facto standard for image manipulation for open-source pundits and those that can’t afford a license of Photoshop.  It’s pretty much the only option for Linux users.  
Anyway, GIMP has ups and downs and all-arounds, and it is incessantly compared to Photoshop (of course).  It has a very similar… very similar… toolset to Photoshop, though it’s all in different places and (in some cases) you arrive to the same tool/process/whatever in what many consider (me among them) a seriously backwards way.  It’s almost like the GIMP developers want to be different from Photoshop at any cost, even if their UI suffers for it.
And so, GIMP has had many, many opportunities to impress me, all of which have failed.  I found it frustrating, slow to use (although admittedly it’s a very fast little app – much lighter than Photoshop), and a pain in the butt overall.  All this is only compounded by the fact that there’s just no cohesive documentation – it’s all scattered around and overly complicated.
Well, no longer.  Behold!  GIMP has a spiffy manual!  And it’s not half bad!  It’s not super comprehensive, but it definitely helps a long-time, heavily ingrained Photoshop user migrate a little more efficiently.  How efficiently?  Enough that I’m using GIMP quite often now.  And you know what?  It’s not as bad as I originally though.  There’s really have been countless improvements to the interface, the speed is excellent, the toolset is equal to (in most cases) Photoshop’s, and it works great on crappy old computers.  This is extra relevant to me now that I have to rely on an older laptop running Ubuntu.
I still go to Photoshop when I need something done and I don’t want to deal with a learning curve, but I think that’s just a matter of time.  Also, there’s no simple alternative to Lightroom, so as a photographer I’ll most likely stick with the LR->PS dynamic duo (although Bibble Labs’ offering is looking pretty spiffy… might be worth a serious look.)  GIMP is getting there though, it really is.  It’s no longer “the alternative you get when you can’t afford Photoshop because Adobe charges ridiculous money for their apps”, but quite a viable app on its own.  I am, this time, finally, impressed.
I just read an article that the first thing GIMP should change is the name.  I have to agree with that: GIMP was cute back in the “Linux is only used by less than 1% of the population of the universe” days.  The burgeoning popularity of Linux as an OS, and even GIMP as an app (it’s available on all platforms), makes me wonder if GIMP is all that marketable.  Then again, it’s recognizable, kinda catchy, and you can always say… 
Bring out the GIMP!
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Connecting the dots: Social Networking Hurts My Head.

Free twitter badge

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Much like the 60’s, everybody’s on everything these days.  There’s tweets, buzzes, pings, orkuts, facebooks, myspaces, blah blah blah, ad nauseum.  And let’s not forget the countless blogs and feeds and streams of information constantly flowing in and out of our lives.  

Well, that’s how I feel about it, anyway.  I’m a little overwhelmed by the sheer volume of social networking avenues available to me.  All I really wanna do is update one simple interface and have it reach out to whatever/wherever everyone happens to be, because I know it’s important that everybody know what flavor ice cream I’m eating right now.
It’s that emphasis on how important I feel it is that makes me want to streamline the process so that I can spend the least amount of time possible in broadcasting my extremely interesting activities.  Logging into 15 different sites and updating status incessantly is just… consuming.  Time, spiritually, emotionally… the whole nine.  
Enter these feed aggregator connector sites like Ping.fm and Twitterfeed.  These are just a couple of the many, many, many sites dedicated to filling the role of “your one-stop shop for social networking and status management!”  These sites range from the fairly simple (Twitterfeed) to sites like Hootsuite that promote themselves as “professional twitter clients”.  Good lord, there’s a professional Twitter client?  Most of these sites let you interconnect feeds and read them, send them, blog them, push them, pull them… see, this is where my head starts to hurt. 
 
Getting them all to play well together… navigating the maze of connections to avoid things like double-posting or publishing overly-enthusiastic amounts of times is just painful.  Combine this with interconnecting a whole bunch of APIs that don’t wanna play together (even though they say they want to, it just doesn’t always work out.  No means no.) and I’m just like “maybe it’s not worth all this effort.”
But maybe it is worth all this effort… I must have thought so because I plowed through and signed up for some ridiculous amount of sites (which I have no doubt will flood me with plenty of ‘updates on how awesome their service is’ over the next year) in an effort to consolidate my modest little internetwork (that’s my phrase btw – you can’t steal it.  Okay, fine, you can steal it.)  
The final solution?  Twitterfeed to push my blog(s) to Twitter, and then push everything from Twitter out to things like LinkedIn, Buzz, Facebook (thought Yakket), etc.  Twitter’s interface is simple, fast, and easy, and there’s an app for that.  So that solves things nicely.  For now.  Until something breaks.
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Why I will stay with Movable Type or, How I Learned To Love The Bomb.

Image representing Six Apart as depicted in Cr...

Image via CrunchBase

So for a hot second there… okay, maybe a hot minute… I thought to myself: “I’m going to migrate my blog to WordPress.”  WordPress has been getting a lot of press lately (pun!) not just on the interwebs, but also amongst my peers.  It’s got a nice, simple UI that I can appreciate, it has a very well-developed plug-in library, and it (apparently) gets updated a heckuva lot more often than MT (or pretty much any of the other blog engines.)  These points appeal to me.  I like actively developed software.  It makes me feel like when some new and unbelievably awesome social networking site comes on the scene, my blogging software can ‘keep up’ and ‘plug in’.  Right.

I did a bunch of research, opened up a whole series of windows, loaded up all kinds of articles on migration, and prepared myself for a task that I’ve already done once before (and it was hellish, and the end result was that I migrated back to Movable Type.  What does that tell you? ‘Cuz it tell me a lot.)  Anyway, I ramped myself up, got things ready, psyched myself for the process, got all hot n’ bothered.  Then I ran across this article about migrating to WordPress 2.5.  Full stop.
I was reminded by that article of several very, very good points… and why I was using Movable Type in the first place.
Point 1. It uses static pages vs dynamic pages as the default setting.  Why does this matter?  Well, for SEO purposes it’s always better to have static pages, so there’s that.  The links are cleaner.  The code is cleaner.  And above all else, there’s no database to eat shit when you most need it not to.  The article offers an optimistic example… “when you’re on the home page of Reddit..”  Right.  Well, that’s not super likely.  However, even a moderate hit on a shared database host could cause an outage, bump into some throttle, who knows.  Why bother even finding out?  Static pages FTW.
Point 2.  So much of that WordPress functionality that I would find useful is built-in with Movable Type.  Really basic stuff, just built right into the truly feature-packed Movable Type.  The home page statistics, the asset management, the pinging tools.  There’s lots to love.
Point 3.  The interface.  This point isn’t as terribly relevant as it used to be; the WordPress interface has improved significantly and there are many, many solid UI elements in WP that I’ve really got my eye on.  The Movable Type interface is fantastic.  I’ve loved it since the olden days, before all the fancy new improvements, but the newest iteration of MT is truly a thing of beauty.  Side-by-side, WordPress feels… less than ideal.  Again though, WordPress has its charm – and I appreciate the UI – but it really, truly isn’t MT.
Point 4.  An interesting point in that it kind of works backwards.  One of the ‘positive’ points for migrating to WordPress is that it is under really active development.  There’s quite a bit of activity and that translates to ‘freshness’ to me… as new technology is developed (at that awesome pace it always is) plugins are developed, software is updated, etc.  That being said, Movable Type is by no means a slouch… they’re just not as ridiculously fast to put it out there and let production sites Just Break.  I can appreciate that.  Besides, a few searches and I always turn up whatever plugin I could possibly need at the time from the Movable Type plugin repository.  That Just Works.
Point 5.  Speaking of Just Works, Movable Type Just Works.  So why in the world would I put myself through the inevitable pain and suffering that would ensue the moment I begin the process of migration?  
I wouldn’t.  I mean, if I didn’t stop to think about it, I might have.  But as it stands I won’t do it.  In fact, I was considering “Well, at least I can recommend WordPress to people who want something quick and easy to just put out there, right?”  Sure, I guess I could do that.  But wouldn’t it be better to recommend the Better Product?  I think so, yeah.  
So Movable Type stays on Jose Sierra dot Com.  Thank you, Six Apart, for keeping me on the One True Path.
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When did MT get so darned complicated…?

Man, Movable Type has really gotten… fluffy.  Used to be such a lean platform… and I’ve always been a fan of how it handled things… but the new MT is just so full of goosh.  I’m going to have to go through all these ‘interesting new features’ with a fine-toothed comb and see what’s going on here.  Especially when there’s offerings from WordPress and TextPattern that are still simple, easy, and quick to use – and josesierra.com has been on each of those platforms at least once during the last 6+ years.  

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