Better than Expected

No links necessary: things haven't gone well for the Celtics the last decade or so. Outside of one Eastern Finals appearance, its been a tough ten years. Toughest of all has been enduring painful personel decisions--how many future all stars have we traded? And what did we get in return? No, no, it hurts too much to look up the links.

But tonight's NBA draft seems to be a move in the right direction. Although he's got a big contract and is coming off of surgery, I think Ray Allen will be a great addition. So long as he meshes well with Pierce (and his ability to share the ball with Lewis would indicate he will), the Celtics shouldn't suffer through the offensive woes of the last few seasons. They haven't provided Paul any real offensive help since Walker left this team, and that was closer to last century than this season.

I'm even more excited about the prospects of Big Baby. Critics don't like his weight (official scale: 290), but I think being a second round pick will motivate him. And the East doesn't have too many quality big men after Shaq and Howard (we'll see how Ben Wallace plays next season, and if Jermaine O'neil is even in the East).

Finally, I'd like to congratulate Ainge and co for the moves they didn't make. They didn't part ways with Al Jefferson. They didn't part ways with Gerald Green. They dumped Wally Szerbiak's insane contract (he's not good enough for me to care about spelling his name right). Sure, I would have loved Kevin Garnett for Jefferson and the 5 pick. I would have cheered the five pick for O'neil. And I was skeptical when I first heard the name "Allen"-- I thought we would overpay. But they didn't: they made a reasonable trade, brought in a proven all-star, and should rank among the favorites (with Toronto and perhaps Jersey) to win the Atlantic next year.

6'10, 290 lbs. Awesome.


A Sign of the Apocolypse

I had another post written up and ready to go last night, when I came across this NYTimes article on a chef suing several posh New York restaurants for stealing her menu. I laughed it off, dismissed it as crazy, and went to bed.

But all morning the lunacy is driving me crazy. And I think its because is seems to me that capitalism is beginning to fight itself. And the side of capitalism I support is clearly losing. Let me explain.

First, let me share the portion of the article that raises my blood pressure:

Charles Valauskas, a lawyer in Chicago who represents a number of restaurants and chefs in intellectual property matters, called their discovery of intellectual property law “long overdue” and attributed it to greater competition as well as the high cost of opening a restaurant.

“Now the stakes are so high,” he said. “The average restaurant can be millions of dollars. If I were an investor I’d want to do something to make sure my investment is protected.”

Ms. Charles’s investment was modest. She built Pearl Oyster Bar for about $120,000 — a cost that in today’s market qualifies as an early-bird special.

She acknowledged that Pearl was itself inspired by another narrow, unassuming place, Swan Oyster Depot in San Francisco. But she said she had spent many months making hundreds of small decisions about her restaurant’s look, feel and menu.

Let's ignore the obvious: that her restaurant was inspired by another. We've all read Lessig, we know most of our classics are adaptations of other classics, that the fetish of original thought is a perversion of some Romantic ideals injected with steriods. What really bothers me is Valauskas' comment that an investor [in a restaurant] would want to do something to protect an investment. I completely agree. Do you know what she can do? Cook a better lobster roll. Cook better fried clams. Just f#cking cook better.

Isn't that the spirit of capitalism? Free-market competition. We all have access (at least theoretically) to the materials, now who can put them to best use? Or, I should say, that was the spirit of capitalism, which is now lost under an "protect ip" culture that makes Big Brother look like a comforting Uncle. Again, Lessig spelled this out for us: applying 19th century [PHYSICAL] industrial property laws to a 21st century [INTELLECTUAL] service economy is going to stifle our society's ability to create and compete on a global level.

I understand that the design of a restaurant, like the design of a website, is work. And that work should be rewarded. That work should be protected from theft. But not adaptation. The contemporary disdain for any kind of remixing or sampling is becoming more and more reactionary to me. And now that I'm about to be a dad, I 'm thinking about what kind of world my son/daughter will inherit. If things continue like this, then it won't be one in which America is near the front of the first world. This post is one of my contributions (with teaching, with digital activism) to changing it. So, if an adult Thomas Edward or Rowan Margaret happens to find this post, daddy did what he could, which wasn't much.

Sigh. At least I got that off my chest (catharsis is good).


Help Save the Music

Today is a "Day of Silence" for internet radio, the SaveNetRadio Coalition is encouraging all internet radio stations to go silent for one day in protest of the extreme rate hikes expected to go into effect July 15th. Although I don't listen to internet radio, I see this as a crisis. This rate hike would kill off many, if not the majority, of internet radio stations. This would be a major blow for the "many-to-many" dynamic of the internet and would move us toward a centralized, command and control media online. Boo. Read/Write web has a nice summation of the issue.

A few months ago I signed a few digital petitions and emailed my congressmen, now it seems its time to up the ante. The coalition is asking everyone to call their congressman in support of net radio, specifically to endorse the "Internet Radio Equality Act," which would have internet radio stations share the same amount of profits as satellite radio stations already do (7.5%).

Please help save the net.


Victory is (Almost) Mine! (Standards Compliant Slideshow via ImageShack)

I recently finished working with a local dog group on a website redesign. Intially, I was particularly proud to recreate what was a table-based layout in xhtml and css. Later, the group decided they wanted to make some significant changes and I taught my wife enough Fireworks and Dreamweaver for her to redesign the color scheme. We worked together and remain married. Go us. But that's not today's victory.

From the beginning of the project the group wanted some kind of photo gallery for the site. The problem: how do I create a standards-compliant site that group members can easily update? My first idea was to use Flash to create a gallery. But this didn't seem like a good option, since images need to be re-sized before they are added to a collection, and every update means going in and editing the flash file. No...no..no. I also thought about using Javascript (I've done this before for Purdue's GradSEA), but this technique isn't standards-compliant.

Reading a Mashable article on image editing resources yesterday, I came across a link to ImageShack--a photo hosting service that allows users to easily create slideshows and pumps out code to embed the shows on other websites (kind of like the libraryThing widget Michael uses on Wishydig, but using Flash rather than Java). The problem? Embeds are banned by the w3c--use the easy widget, lose your validation. All seemed lost. Especially since the classic fix for embed, McLellan's satay method, works best when you can create a container moive. This wasn't the case. Then I remembered (via del.icio.us) Elizabeth Castro's article on how McLellan's technique can be used on Google Video and YouTube movies without the satay...

When you complete a slide show with ImageShack (and you don't have to register to create a slideshow, but you do have to register to be able to edit a show), it will produce this code:

<embed src="http://img515.imageshack.us/slideshow/smilplayer.swf" width="426" height="320" name="smilplayer" id="smilplayer" bgcolor="FFFFFF" menu="false" type="application/x-shockwave-flash" pluginspage="http://www.macromedia.com/go/getflashplayer" flashvars="id=img515/8742/1182697433ltj.smil"/>

Following along with McLellan and Castor, we want to transform this embed into an object:

<object type="application/x-shockwave-flash"
width="400" height="326" id="VideoPlayback">
<param name="movie"
<param name="allowScriptAcess" value="sameDomian" />
<param name="FlashVars" value="playerMode=embedded" />
<param name="FlashVars" value="id=img515/8742/1182697433ltj.smil"/>

The key to getting this puppy working is to include the unique id as a FlashVars parameter (the final line of the code). Google and Youtube supply each movie with its own URL, ImageShack doesn't--rather, it assigns each slideshow a unique id in its database. So, bottom line, you have to include this id to get the show rolling. The only line I am unsure of is the "allowScriptAcess" line--it was in Castor's code, but I'm not sure if its necessary. I tried removing it and the slideshow still played in Safari, but I'm not sure if it is an IE command (with the satay method, IE doesn't like auto-starting... if anyone has IE, let me know if this is working, I promise not to chastise you too much for using IE).

Victory is mine! And, best of all, ImageShack is an awesome 2.0 app--it automatically resizes images, allows for easy captions, allows users to re-order images, determine background color, tag presentations, import images from Flickr or other URL's (as well as direct upload), choose transition effects, add music (please don't), and make shows public or private. And now, thanks to A List Apart and some wranglin', it can be standards-compliant. Cool.

Here's the final, standards-compliant code in action:
Go to ImageShack® to Create your own Slideshow

UPDATE: Things aren't going quite so smoothly with my actual dog park moive. Yesterday, while working on the slideshow above, I noticed that the ImageShack server was reacting really slowly at times. I finished a sample dog park slide show last night, and it works fine through the standard embed method, my object method is running into problems:
Go to ImageShack® to Create your own Slideshow

I have no idea why this movie isn't loading....

UPDATE: I am dumb. Problem solved. Already sent "I'm an idiot" email to ImageShack (see my comment... before I delete it). Now I have to write this post up into something a bit more constructive and submit it to imageshack's tutorial contest...


Apparently the video is only working in Safari. I'm going to play with it this evening. If any visitors are looking at this post, can you tell me 1) what browser you are using [IE 6, Firefox 1.5 etc.] and 2) whether you see two movies above. Thanks.

UPDATE: O.k., its working in Firefox But IE is being terribly tiresome. Back to the drawing board later?


Victory is Ours!

Baby closes, shorted by age (0-3 mos, 3-6 mos) sorted into categories (one-zee, sleeper, out-fit), placed into draws. Go us.

check out those folded baby clothes

more baby clothes, neatly arranged--hoo rah

So Angry I Can't Think Straight

I concluded an otherwise relaxing morning reading a thread on advertising and ISP's over at /. I am now ready to enlist in some nerd militia and storm an ISP. Let me explain.

For those with no desire to RTFA or the thread, internet service providers are using firewall technology to insert advertisements into websites without either the content provider OR the end user's permission. One of the first replies in the thread makes an analogy:

Actually, I'm more pissed as a content provider then I am as a consumer. How dare they! If I wanted advertising on my content, I'd put it there, and get paid for it. For me, this is totally stealing from content providers and not just annoying to consumers. I mean, isn't that like making money off of other peoples content? Wouldn't that be more like a telephone company forcing you to listen to an add before you place or receive a call? Imagine....

Phone rings and you pick up....

(You) - Hello? (Automated Hell) - Hello, this is A-T-And T, we have a call for you, but first, we'd like you to enjoy a message from our sponsors...

(You) - Click!

[posted by tha_mink}

I can think of an even better metaphor: imagine your local cable operator putting streaming advertisments across the top of every tv program. Or think... of fuck it, I'm too pissed off to think of anything.

How is this not illegal? What surprises me is that content providers (those with big powerful legal teams) haven't sued the shit out of the ISP's over this. And I don't want excuses about "rising costs"--as a user I pay top dollar for my broadband connection. As a content provider, I pay for my domain and my server space.

Why am I so angry? Because, as a standards enthusiast, I don't want ISP's junking up my code. This is happening right now with the NALS website. If you hit "View>Source" in your browser, you'll notice all this crap code Yahoo is dumping on our site after the HTML ends. And this code is inserted server side: meaning that even if I download the files, I won't see that code. That code is inserted as the pages are delivered to the web. And they destroy my standards validation. Assholes. Another poster described a similar problem with Virgin.net, and included a comment in his HTML to explain why his pages weren't validating. Bullshit! Shenanigans! I call shenanigans! I dont't want to have to include comments! I want my ISP to deliver content as I create it! S-H-E-N-A-N-I-G-A-N-S !

I keep meaning to send Yahoo a polite WTF email, but since I'm not the "owner of record" (the site is registered to our president, I use his account info for FTP), I have resisted. I think its time for me to begin drafting. In an age when ISP's are battling to regulate and charge more for certain content types, they are also committing one of the most unethical acts I can think of: altering and profiting from an artist's content without permission.


Ignorance is Bliss

Last night our dulah said "The more civilized you are, the harder it is to give birth." We we talking about Lamaze, breathing strategies, and how to remain focused during labor. The key seems to be to shut your consciousness off. Let all of our civilized cogito fade away. Trick your consciousness to turn off. Let your body do its job.

The more I learn about delivery, the more I appreciate SJ's Mind Wide Open. Our conscious mind is such a small part of our total intelligence--our body is thinking in ways that our consciousness can't imagine.

Another Quick One

I don't think we can be friends if you don't like this one:

Powerthirst Sports Drink Spoof - Watch more free videos

Oh, one more thing: the Celtics are in such a dismal place that Kevin Garnett, who hasn't sniffed the playoffs in recent memory, is refusing what (in theory) would be a pretty good trade. Paul Pierce would be the talented wingman that Garnett's never really had in Minnesota. Those two players would make the Celtics a legitimate contender in the East. Oh well. I still think we'll end up trading our #5 pick to the Blazers for Randolf (that way Conley can be united with Oden and the Celtics get another low post player to match up with Jefferson).


Way back machine

I spent most of my blogging brain cells responding to Casey's question on yesterday's post, so here's a breather:

This ranks high in the hall of awesomeness. "Give him ze uppercut!"


There goes Obi-Wan

I read a kind of farewell post over at Lawrence Lessig's blog yesterday with a heavy heart. Lessig announced that he will be changing the focus of his research and activism, moving away from intellectual property and net neutrality and toward what he terms political corruption: the influence of money and greed on political process. No doubt one reason he's come to this decision is the massive amounts of corruption plaguing ip debates. And while I am happy to have someone as brilliant as Lessig on the case, I'm also feeling as if the digital collective has lost its most powerful ally: a figurehead that other figureheads will listen to. While he claims that others can fight the fight better than he, I don't know of anybody that can command attention like he can. Perhaps that's the whole rhetoric part of my brain kicking in (ethos is, um, important).

Lessig himself admits that the prospects for this second venture are extremely grim. Hopeless. And I think that's what bothers me-- the digital battle doesn't seem quite as hopeless. And this year will be one of its most important: as we move toward our next presidential election, issues such as net neutrality should be near the forefront. Probably won't be, but should be. If internet service providers gain the power to regulate content types, then you can kiss the internet as we know it goodbye. If the government continues to claim regulatory power, then kiss the internet as we know it goodbye (think of China-- where it seems they're always thinking about the children). These are not the dystopic ravings of a mad man (o.k., maybe a little bit), they are political questions facing all three branches of government in the upcoming years. They will largely determine the economic and cultural directions of our country for decades to come.

Lessig writes that he will remain committed to this cause, if not as active. Let's hope his presence is enough. And let the rest of us see this as a call to increase our own activity.


Dante didn't descirbe this one...

...but I think this might be a lost layer of hell. I am speaking of grading AP exams down in Daytona Beach.

Ethics disuade me from sharing any of the "jems" I have read over the past few days, but I will say that I have graded almost 500 high school essays in three days. I am wondering what sins I have committed to deserve this.

On the flip side, at least its Daytona Beach.


Bring on 2084?

I'm not sure how I feel about a recent Wired article on contemporary internet security issues. The rhetorical side of my brain sees a lot of metaphors flying around, with significant [disastrous] implications. But another part of my brain sees the internet as potentially dangerous, and in need of security.

Let me break this down: as a left-oriented academic, I see the internet as opening the possibility of ideal democracy. Free access to all. Unmitigated exchange of information.

But as a right-oriented investor, I see the internet as a playground for hackers, crackers, spammers, and other seedy characters. Being a victim of identity-theft doesn't help this argument (apparently, according to Capital One, I spent several thousand dollars in a state I have never visited. Investigation pending).

In the article, security experts are calling for government involvment in internet security, essentially, IP experts are throwing their hands-up in surrender. Now I know this doesn't represent all internet security professionals, but Wired is a fairly liberal and certainly pro-technology publication. If this were Fox News or the Indy Star, I'd dismiss it. But its not.

For those without the time to RTFA, experts are most concerned with bots capable of unknowingly wire several / hundreds / thousands of computers together to perform malicious operations. Some solutions, such as ingress filtering, are pretty unobtrusive. But consider:

A few audience members argued seriously that computer users should have to take a test to get an internet license, maintain botnet insurance and have their machines inspected for information-super highway worthiness. Others countered that individuals shouldn't have to know how to secure their own computers -- the machines should simply be more inherently secure.

An eBay employee suggested that a system like the United States credit-scoring system would be better. Every PC user would get a score based on the security of their system, and the computer would transmit that score in every packet it sends out. Websites could then judge what level of access to give based on that security score.

The metaphor here interests me: it operates on a kind of catachresis, crossing tenor and vehicle to discuss the "information super-highway" as a physical place, appropriate for physical laws. So much for the idealism, welcome to the industrialization of the real.

Without coming off as too much of an idealist, this vision of licenses, scores, insurances, frightens me a bit. Cynthia Selfe has already warned us that we need to pay attention--specifically, pay attention to those people who aren't online, who cannot afford it. The internet creates a significant economic hurdle for those looking to enter the first world or the middle class (perhaps? does the 21st century American middle class revolve around computer ability?). Now we are talking about a series of institutional and economic hurdles (can you imagine how much internet insurance would cost? I wouldn't be surprised if State Farm starts advertising tomorrow).

I know that many people, especially those that post on places such as /., will consider this as illusionary as WMDs, a scare tacit to transfer control from the bottom to the top. Perhaps it is. But the threat to me seems very real, especially given how little most of us actually know about our computers. If this all seems crazy, then go ahead and call up the task manager on your PC. Unless you know what every operation on that list does, then you should care.


Smartest 4th Graders Ever....(Sorta)

As the NY Times reported yesterday, the 2005 NAEP scores are out--and Mass is kicking ass. Woo Hoo! Go home state!! WOO HOO!!!! (Shouldn't academics get some of that sports-passion?).

For 4th graders on reading evaluation, Mass has the toughest state standards for proficiency (although, um, we also have one of the lowest passing rates... what's this whole "interpret the numbers" thing). Given how much more difficult their test is compared to other states, it looks like Mass is near the top of the pack. Conn is also putting up good numbers.

For 4th grade math, Mass comes in second in terms of difficulty (South Carolina comes in first 305 to 301), but Mass passes 42% of students compared to SC's 24%).

For reasons I couldn't determine, Mass reading scores for 8th graders weren't included in the study--I wonder if this is because of the MCAS tests (perhaps Mass doesn't participate in any other national tests since they have such a rigidly structured in-state standardized testing program). In terms of 8th grade math, Mass slips to 3rd in standards. But who cares about math? Show me the reading!!!

As far as my current state, Hooiser nation, its average in reading, but WAAAAAAAAAY low in mathematics. In an effort of cultural fairness, they should recalibrate the math word questions in the form of NASCAR:

If Jeff Gordon has 1 gallon of gas remaining and eight laps left at the Brickyard, should he pit?


For the Love of Gill Sans


Since getting my MacBook, I rarely use a PC. The notable exception might be a two-screen PC in the English department's multimedia lab when I am working on a large scale web project. Recently, I helped my wife with the Lafayette Dog Park website (the site is currently being uploaded to a cold fusion server, so no link yet). Since it was my wife's first go at XHTML or design, we used the two-screen, that way she could work on the code on one screen and refresh the browser in another.

Long story short: during this process, I ended up looking at my homepage. In Firefox. And it looked like crap. To be specific: the font was rendering terribly pixelated and broken. This came as a real shock to me, since I thought I was using a fairly standard font-- Gill Sans -- which renders beautifully in Safari. Love the Safari Gill Sans. Here's a screen shot of my design portfolio in Safari (Gill Sans at 0.9em):

Gill Sans safari screenshot. Nice thick, continuous typography


But here's what the site looks like in Firefox:

Gill Sans at .9em in Firefox, goes horribly wrong


So, what to do? Fighting with Firefox is completely new to me. Its like the first fight in an otherwise glorious relationship. Its Conseco nipping McGwire. Its... well, you get the point. Firefox is usually the hero of the browser wars. Internet Explorer does an equally terrible job with Gill Sans. But thanks to the beauty of conditional comments, its an easy fix to tell IE not to try--to use "Tw Cen MT" instead. This was the standard font in my world: I used it at default size for my last Introductory Composition website and again at 14px for my Multimedia Writing website. I moved away from this font as I started paying attention to web typography: I noticed I tended to favor sites that used smaller font sizes, and wasn't pleased with Tw Cen MT's small renderings. But Gill Sans, that's beauty baby: consistent, symmetrical, with a nice touch of curves (good thick/thin ratio). What more could a designer want?

So, again, what to do? For assitance, I turned to one of my favorite typography sites: Smashing Magazine. Their site looks smooth and sophisticated in Safari:

Smashing Magazine in Safari: clean header and consistent font weight

Nice consistent font wieght, smooth kerning, nice variation. So, I rifle through the CSS, and find out that they're using a pretty standard small-sized Verdana. But look what happens to their site in Firefox:

Smashing Magazine in Firefox, pixelated header text and choppy content typography


Playing around with other fonts, I've come across Univers--which looks pretty good at .8em (and bigger and I find it a bit unprofessional):

Univers at .8 em in Firefox--pretty nice

Not bad... especially considering Univers isn't recognized by Safari. This means I can create a font family: Univers, "Gill Sans", "Tw Cen MT", Verdana, Arial, sans-serif; to cover all my bases. Except that at .8em, the font-size is too small for Safari. This is where I left off yesterday--tomorrow I'm going to try looking at Univers at .9em in Firefox again. Another possible solution might be to see if I can code a conditional comment for Safari (I've never had to code a comment for anything but IE). While the sage isn't over, here's a moral for the story so far (one which I supposedly already knew):

Double and triple check typography in all browsers. In my case, originally all the sites were in Tw Cen MT. I then switched to Gill Sans without checking the site in PC. Boo me.

The next time the Red Sox are on TV I'll do another post looking at typography on the web. Essentially, I want to look at a number of designer homepages (Dave Shea, Mark Boulton, Mike Davidson, and others) to see what kinds of font families and sizes they are using.

UPDATE:: Don't know what I was thinking. Univers looks terrible. Sigh.