Blame the Stick

I find myself telling this story a lot more recently:

Spring of my freshman year at university, I took a 100-level art course. Black and white, charcoal and ink and collage, very basic stuff. The instructor tried – with varying success – to inspire his students. Admirable for a survey course at a state school.

One fine day, we were working with brush and ink. Our teacher became more and more frustrated as we hunched over the paper and tried to make fine, controlled movements when he wanted broad, bold strokes. Finally, he’d had enough.

“Everyone! Put down your brush. Pick up your pad and your ink bottle, and come outside!”

He marched us out to the front of the building, which faced the tree-lined quad. “Find a stick about as long as your arm,” we were instructed.

Once everyone had their stick, he nodded and gave us our orders. “Hold the stick by one end. Now, dip the other end in your ink. This is what you’re painting with.”

Our dismay must have been obvious. His glee came through in his voice, “Anything that you don’t like, blame the stick. Now paint.”


This story comes back to me when I find myself, or others, getting hung up on perfection. When the desire to be Insanely Great on the very first iteration prevents me from getting a single thing done. When nothing seems as good or creative or elegant as what inspired me.

That’s when I’m reminded of a spring day, painting with crufty twigs.

Blame the stick. Now paint.

Score with iPhoto

I use iPhoto on the Mac to organize my digital photos. I try to assign keywords and such as soon as I download photos – nothing fancy, but enough that I can find pictures from one thing or the other without much fuss. Like pictures of Nathan from the past 12 months.
One of iPhoto’s other features is the ability to create and order photo books. Pick a slew of photos, pick a theme, tell iPhoto to do an automatic layout for you. Tweak the ordering a bit, add titles and such, and you’re good to go. Click “order” and it’s sent to a printing service that makes and ships the book.
So the year, for Christmas, I made up a keepsake book for my parents – a series of about 50-odd pictures of Nathan that spanned 2005. 8 1/2 x 11, hardcover, glossy paper, nice layout. Score. Not only are my parents raving about their book of grandson pictures, but I’ve been told in no uncertain terms that this is now the expected Xmas gift for the foreseeable future. Their friends are asking to borrow the book so they they can show their parent-of-grandchildren kids what they want for Christmas.
Score.

Fighting a War

Since Monday afternoon, I have been fighting a war. The smoke has cleared, and the front is now quiet, and I have a chance to look over the battlefield.
Starting sometime in the wee hours of Monday morning, a virus author controlling a large army of zombie machines started a massive propagation campaign, sending hundreds of thousands of messages to myriad targets on the Internet. Besides their binary payload, the messages had one crucial thing in common:
Their headers were forged to appear as though they’d originated from the company of my employ – from a randomly generated username (usually invalid) at my company’s domain.
As these messages reached their targets, immense numbers were rejected or bounced. They “returned” to their apparent port of origin. Us. Even though our inbound mail server is a buffed dual-Xeon 2GB spam-processing machine, it quickly developed a backlog of over 90,000 messages. All “legitimate” – because they were bounces, not actual spam or viruses. From myriad IP addresses, because the originating spam campaign had myriad targets.
In the end, we built a script snippet that would delete any bounce messages – related to the given storm surge or not. First pass took 20 minutes and deleted over 43,000 messages from the backlog. A tweak, another run, and 15,000 more were gone. Two hours, several passes, and no more surges later, we’d caught up.
More than anything, this simply reminds me that there’s a shadow war on the Internet – one that most users rarely see the depths of. spambots, virus campaigns, zombie armies, cancelbots, incessant probes, firewalls, VPNs, virus filters, spam filters… there will come a time when this overhead becomes too burdensome to do business online. Not sure what will happen, then. The Internet shares part of the UNIX philosophy, in that it “doesn’t prevent you from stupid things, so as not to prevent you from doing clever things”. But the stupid is growing, and doing its best to eat the clever.

Here it comes…

Remember what I just said yesterday (yesterday!) about the buzz ball being in Microsoft’s side and that, among other things, we’d see people publicly switching back to Windows based on the aforementioned buzz?
Here’s another backswitcher. Among the reasons? As he told Scoble in email, *The corporate blogs that he reads convinced him there’s a future in the platform.*

Buzz ball in Microsoft’s court

In the “Apple vs Microsoft” camp of computing, it’s pretty hard to deny that the power of buzz has been on Apple’s side for at least a year and a half. As Microsoft stumbled – shutting down their engineering to focus on security (and still having some serious issues right after), “rebooting” their Longhorn (now Vista) development plans – Apple was getting all the good media buzz. Halo effect from the rampant success of iPod/iTunes, the Mac mini, Mac OS X 10.4, and several highly-visible “Web 2.0″ personalities making the Mac their personal computing choice.
Well, the pendulum is swinging again.
Yes, the iPod nano is sweet. But the iTunes Phone was a non-starter. The record companies are, in their greed, ready to hamstring ITMS. There’s no new Mac OS X version coming down the pipeline for a bit, and it’ll be hard for Apple to excite people with new hardware until they truly get their Intel transition underway (the rumored dual-core Power Macs will still be G5s). The news isn’t bad – there just isn’t much at the moment.
In Redmond, however, Microsoft looks to be ready to blow out its constipated pipeline. Xbox 360, IE7, Vista, Office, Sharepoint v3, SQL Server, Longhorn Server – all this and more should be shipping over the next 24 months. Microsoft, for better or worse, looks to be embracing (and expanding) some of the technologies and practices they’ve been lambasted for ignoring (RSS, anyone? Blogs? Hi, Scoble!)
What does this mean? Lots of press about a resurgent Microsoft in the near future, with concomitant articles about an Apple being “under attack” (by MS on one side, and the labels on the other). People who switched from Windows to Mac OS X during the Tiger buzz will start to blog about having second thoughts or even switching back as they see news about the bright-and-shiny from MS (this is already starting). Microsoft diehards will let loose their I Told You So posts. Apple diehards will fall back into almost predictable zealot stance (shaolin monkey school).
That is, unless Microsoft fails to follow through on the proto-buzz they managed to generate in the past month (hitting a current high after PDC and the company meeting), or if Apple pulls something Big out of the bag at MacWorld in January (or at WWDC in July). Those are possibilities, sure.
But for now… I’m putting my money on a “resurgent Microsoft” theme starting in the tech media, and staying with us for a while.
Postscript: All I’m talking about it buzz here, kids. IE7? Summer 2006. Vista? Late 2006. First Apple Intel machines? June 2006. Office 12? Early 2007. We can judge the products when they ship.

Google’s Gmail Notifier

Google has finally come out with a Gmail Notifier for MacOS X, written by software engineer Greg Miller in his 20%. (All Googlefolk are expected to spend 20% of their work time on a project of personal interest).
Not that this niche hasn’t been addressed by the Mac community – most notably GmailStatus – but Gmail Notifier includes some spiff features, such as showing header excerpts of unread messages, allowing you to directly view only your unread messages, and the ability to make Gmail your default mail program. I’ll miss GmailStatus’ support for Growl, but Gmail Notifier has already taken over.
Also, a little side note. The new Google Desktop for Windows has a nice feature – not only does it index your desktop (and Outlook while it’s open), but it also indexes your Gmail account and makes that available. No Gmail importer for Spotlight on MacOS X 10.4 – so I went ahead and added a Gmail account to Mail.app, with a ruleset that marks any new Gmail messages as read it into a Gmail Archive folder. Voila – my Gmail messages are being archived by Spotlight.

Princeton doesn’t get it.

Engadget noted on Saturday that Princeton will be offering digital textbooks starting this fall – with a focus on the intensely onerous and user-hostile nature of the DRM involved. Princeton’s response this morning? A letter from Thomas Bartus of their Office of Communications telling them to take down the “protected image” of the Princeton school logo they posted with the story.
They don’t get it.
Not to say that it comes as any surprise, having worked 15 years in large universities (Such as UW, where they’re force-feeding Napster and Dell to the students). But still… Princeton – or the people making these decisions at Princeton – doesn’t get it.

Productivity Tip: Throw everything on your desk in a box

From the good guys at 37signals:
>Toss everything, and I mean *everything* on your desk in a box. If it doesn’t fit in a box, put it on the floor. Your desk should be completely cleared of everything — no monitor, keyboard, mouse, pencil, paper, stickies, gum, etc.
>Next, get to work. Only remove something from the box (or the floor) when you *absolutely need it*. Not before. No anticipation. If you don’t need a pen now, don’t get the pen. Only place it on your desk when you need it.
>Throw out the remaining items in the box in 30 days or sell the contents on Craigslist. (Edit: or give it away on Freecycle)
>Disclaimer: Before you toss it, you may want to go through it and make sure you pull out the picture of the family and the legal documents, but toss everything else.
When we decided to move this spring, we started by “de-cluttering” our house (at the recommendation of our selling agent). Loads of things to criagslist, freecycle, goodwill, a 10×10 storage space, or just the dump. Made our home look much better, and certainly contributed to the quick sale.
Not to mention it made the eventual move *so* much easier.

Wil Shipley on… everything.

Wil Shipley founded Delicious Monster, which makes the damn awesome Delicious Library (a media cataloguing program that has to be played with – preferably with an iSight – to be believed). He’s interviewed on DrunkenBlog, and you should really really read the whole thing. Management, Coding, Depression, Macs, and Extreme Gardening.
A lot of good nuggets in there…
>[...] core hours aren’t as important as, say, having a clear vision and motivating your people.
>—
>You don’t adopt the mannerisms of *big, successful companies* when you’re small, because those mannerisms aren’t what made the companies successful.
>They’re actually symptoms of what is killing the company, because it’s become too big. It’s like if you meet an really old, really rich guy covered in liver spots and breathing with an oxygen tank, and you say, “I want to be rich, too, so I’m going to start walking with a cane and I’m going to act crotchety and I’m going to get liver disease.”
>—
>Depression isn’t like that, though. You don’t “snap out of it.” There’s a chemical missing in your brain, and your whole life is like those dreams where every action you try to take is hindered by a huge pile of invisible wet blankets.
>—
>Mac users love their machines; Windows users put up with their machines because they don’t believe there’s anything really better.
>It’s depressing, really, because it’s like dealing with victims of abuse: “Seriously, there’s a better world out there, and you deserve it! You don’t have to put up with this! You can leave! Mac will treat you right!” And their response is right out of the textbooks: “Why would I trust Mac? I don’t think anything can be good after this.”
>—
>Microsoft has *nothing to gain* by making life better for small programmers. They have millions of lines of code written to the old, crappy Windows APIs, and they make all their money selling Windows and Office. If they actually enabled small programmers to do cool things, they’d be creating the very furry mammals which would be their eventual downfall.
>—
>If there’s one thing I’ve discovered, it’s that there is no stable state in life. There is no getting somewhere and going, “Ah, *NOW* I’m going to park myself down and just rake in the fat loot.” Change is scary, but it’s also the foundation of life and happiness. We need it. We get bored and lazy without it. Once more, into the breach.
Like I said – go read the whole damn thing.

.NET on Rails

Laughter. Of course, I make a smack about MS jumping on the Google/37signals AJAX bandwagon, and my humor is slower than the Internet. Back on June 28th, Microsoft announced that they’ll be adding AJAX support to ASP.NET.
Of course, it won’t ship with the Visual Studio 2005 product, and developers won’t even see a preview version until September, but the announcement should be enough to prevent the larger, slower moving shops from jumping to, say, Ruby on Rails.
I gotta step up the funny.

Jim Gaynor