Shop Helper

posted in: Art, Fun | 0

This is apparently all true.

One of the reasons I love photography is that it lets us see things in ways that we couldn’t otherwise see them.
Now, I’m mostly a still photographer, though I’ve dabbled a bit in video. If you look at my Flickr portfolio, you’ll see a lot of macro, or close-up, photography. The camera, and nice macro lens that I have, let me see things that I might otherwise miss. Details that I wouldn’t experience any other way. But, too, beyond that, photography captures not just a vision of things, but also their time. A photograph is quite literally a little slice of frozen light and time that we preserve forever, that we capture for future use and enjoyment. Video, in many ways, is that and much more.
The link I bring you this week made me smile, which, frankly, is sometimes the best you can hope for. It’s been a bit of a rough week and a smile was definitely needed. So, if you’re in the same spot, hop over to PetaPixel to see a mouse clean up a man’s shed. Yes, that’s right. Just like the mythical shoemaker’s elves, a retired electrician had a little helper cleaning up his workshop every night. A helper that seemed impossible, until he worked with a friend and a game camera to discover who was cleaning up for him
Seriously, it’s amazing and seems like it can’t be real, but it is.
I’m pretty sure my wife would like to have an army of them to try and tidy up behind me!
Either way, it’s only a 2 minute video and definitely made me smile.
Enjoy!

Government Sponsored Font

posted in: Art, Fun, The Tools | 0

Your tax dollars at work for better design!

No, seriously, this is actually US tax dollars working to develop a “better” font. Not even kidding.
Believe it or not, there’s a little something called the United States Web Design System that’s collaborative team specifically started to “…make it easier to build accessible, mobile-friendly government websites for the American public.” And, as it turns out, they have some resources that might be helpful for non-governmental web designers, too. One such is a simple font called Public Sans, which they call “A strong, neutral typeface for text or display.” Which it is, actually. It can be downloaded from their GitHub page, which further describes the font as “principles-driven” and “open-source”. It’s also a fairly nice, and free, change from Helvetica. Oh, and it includes webfonts, so you can, in fact, use it to unify your on-line and off-line branding identity.
And, again, all freely available and all brought to you, one way or another, by the United States of America Federal Government.
Sometimes, the government really IS here to help!

Enjoy!

A Conspiracy of Facts!

posted in: Fun | 0

What if “facts” are what actual “news publishers” wanted you to know?

Since the last US Presidential election, there’s been a lot of focus on “news” and “fake news” and what the difference between the two might be. Many have suggested that it’s the super vague and click-bait-able nature of the “information” being shared. I tend toward Marshall McLuhan’s idea that “We become what we behold. We shape our tools and thereafter our tools shape us.” At first, we responded to these eminently shareable factoids because they didn’t mean much. It was the mental equivalent of a junk-food snack. Not harmful in and of itself, but not very satisfying either. Then, because the little independents were getting more clicks and more “eyeballs”, the big boys started doing it and now, well, here we are.
But, it’s Friday and I refuse to let these thoughts curb my enthusiasm for life! So, I today I share with you the humorous and ironic Prospiracy Theories! It takes the tone of those terrible social media conspiracy posts and substitutes real, actual facts!
It’s hilarious and accurate. What could be better?

Enjoy!

Size Effects

posted in: Art, Fun | 0

How big are those Star Wars ships?

This week, I just have something quick for you because I’ve been busy. Stop laughing! It happens!
Also, this is just cool, so I’m glad to be sharing it. Have you ever wondered just how big the ships and stations in the Star Wars movies really are? I know, sometimes, I wonder about it, because of the engineering that must have gone into it. But, also, I think about how long it takes for people to get from one part of the ship to another. Not only that, but what about all the places that have those huge, open spaces where people inevitably seem to get pushed and fall into oblivion? How can that even happen if the place isn’t gigantic? Anyway, this week, I’m giving you a link to something that explains it pretty well. Personally, I like reading the written word and seeing infographics that I can study, but I know a lot of people prefer videos and that’s what leads me to share this. STAR WARS on Earth! – How Big the Ships REALLY Are.
It’s only a five minute video, which is time you can surely spare on a Friday if you’re reading this post, so go, look and be amazed. Revel in your geeky fandom!
And come back next week for more!

History of Doggos

posted in: Fun | 0

I think it’s understandable that I have dogs on my mind lately.

It’s only been a few weeks since I had to put my 16-year-old dog, Hilda, down and I’m still surprised how hard it was. Unlike almost any other domesticated animal, dogs have an incredibly close relationship with humans. I was always amazed at how Hilda could seem to read my every expression and know just what me clearing my throat at her meant. Frankly, I think that, along with the innate urge to please people, may be the chief advantage of having dogs over children. Also, dogs don’t ask for expensive electronics or college educations. Dogs are humankind’s best, and possibly oldest, friends. There’s evidence that humans and domestic dogs have lived together more than 12,000 years by even the most conservative estimates. And, all the hundreds of varieties of dogs all came from a common ancestor of the wolf. So, think about that, everything from the Bull Mastiff to the Shiba Inu to the Chinese Crested all came from a common, wolf-like ancestor.
And, that’s what I’m sharing with you this week, a TED video, by way of BoingBoing titled A Brief History of Dogs. It’s only five minutes long and mostly accurate, though it incorrectly says that all modern dogs are descended from the grey wolf, “canis lupus”, which researchers know is not quite correct any more. (For more on that, check out this article from LiveScience.)

Anyway, the video is short and fun and mostly accurate. And, it’s about dogs. Who doesn’t like videos about dogs, even if they’re animated and about science?
Enjoy your weekend!

Making a Great Space Helmet

posted in: Art, Fun, On Creativity | 0

It’s harder than you think!

It’s no secret to anyone who reads this blog that I love science-fiction. I don’t know if it’s the escape of it, or the promise of a better tomorrow. Or maybe just the idea that we can engineer our way out of some of the troubles we have created for ourselves as a race. I know that I believe that the Universe is far too large for us to be the only intelligent life out there. It seems statistically improbable that we’re alone in the entire vastness of space. And, perhaps optimistically, I have to believe that if such beings exists, eventually we will at least find evidence of them, which most likely means traveling to distant worlds. Just how distant and by what methods require more math and physics than my poor, little brain is capable of dealing with, but I think that just makes it easier to believe it’s possible.
In any case, that belief draws me to science-fiction about space travel, whether it’s novels or movies. I have to admit, though, a good, realistic feeling space travel movie is really a joy. You may remember that I shared a short with you last year about this time called Prospect, about colonists on an alien world, mining some precious mineral. Well, that short got expanded into a longer feature that’s been the darling of several film festivals. And, this week, I’m just sharing an interview with the creators of Prospect, where they talk about the challenges of making a good prop spacesuit helmet. It’s actually quite an interesting interview, especially if you have any interest in making movies, science-fiction or making props. It’s not too long, either, which gives you plenty of opportunity to refresh your memory and re-watch Prospect so you can admire their handiwork.
Enjoy!

In Summary …

Executive summaries for internet articles.

I don’t read as many books as I used to when I was younger, but I think I actually read more text. Granted, I’m part of the generation that really grew the internet as we know it, and my entire career is technology-based, so I may be on the web more than a lot of other people. And, of course, there’s the fact that I blog at all anymore, since I’m told that the average internet use prefers video to text. I’ve been blogging for just under 19 years on various platforms, with a lot of that archive being at Diary of a Network Geek, and as a frustrated writer, text has been my preferred communication medium for a very long time. So, I read a lot. And, the web just keeps expanding, so there’s always more and more and more to read. Combine that with the unfortunate need to seem, and feel, well-informed and pretty quickly, I’m overwhelmed.
Imagine, however, a website that takes some of the best, most current non-fiction writing on the web and summarizes it into four or five salient bullet points. Seems like a dream for a guy like me, doesn’t it? Well, now it’s a reality! And, it’s called bullets.tech. Focusing mainly on technology and science, this site takes the “best articles” and shortens them to 5 bullet points or less for easy reading and digestion. I love it! And, they even link to the original article if you want to read more about the summarized subject.

So, there you go; your Uncle Jim bringing you technology to make your life better!
Enjoy!

Historical Communications Security

posted in: Art, Fun | 0

“Check your flaps and seals.”

If you’re a spy history buff, like I am, you’ll recognize that as an admonition to a fellow practitioner to make sure that their communication is secure and that they don’t have any “leaks” in their organization. When I was in high school, back before essentially all communication that mattered was digital, “tradecraft”, as it related to the spy game, was all about surreptitiously opening someone else’s mail, reading it, and then sending it along, possibly altered. The first codes go back to at least the time of Caesar and have been in use for centuries. In modern secure communications, we are often concerned with verifying that the sender of information is, in fact, the party who claims to have sent it and that it hasn’t been tampered with. In digital communications, both tampering and providing algorithmic checks to discover tampering are surprisingly easy to implement and use. Of course, most people don’t bother because, well, most of us don’t have to worry much about secure communications.
But, somewhere between the two extremes of ancient cyphers and modern digital encryption and verifications, between the 10th and 17th centuries, innovative letter-writers developed other ways to let their recipient know that the letter is from whom it claims to be and hasn’t been tampered with called letterlocking. I’d never heard of this, until I read Before Envelopes, People Protected Messages With Letterlocking. Now, I figure most of my readers will be familiar with things like wax seals and signet stamps to “secure” letters, but, like me, had never heard of “letterlocking”. It’s fascinating, the idea of folding and stamping and marking letters, mostly without envelopes, to try to ensure message security. It reminds me of my primitive note-passing in grade school. If I’d had access to the letterlocking dictionary, things might have been more interesting.

So, as I warned you earlier this year, I’d still post things on Friday, but I completely expect that they’ll be increasingly idiosyncratic and may not be “fun” or interesting to anyone else but me. But, also, I encourage you to write a physical letter and use the letterlocking dictionary to teach yourself one of the letterlocking methods there, just for fun. I may just start leaving love notes for my wife this way. Then again, I may not. Maybe if she reads this and mentions it to me, I will. Think of it as yet another method of verifying communication. (Also, don’t worry. My blushing bride has a pretty damn good sense of humor. She needs to be married to me!)

Come back next week to see what I come up with next!

Hilda Hoffman

Born December 8th, 2002. Departed March 13th, 2019.

At 11:25am this morning, the vet told Sharon and I what we already knew; Hilda had passed on from this world into the next. I got her when she was just barely four months old and able to be spayed, because I wanted to come home to someone who loved me. And, I never doubted that she loved me. She was always Daddy’s girl, even though she spent more time with Sharon the last several years of her life, and surely loved Sharon at least as much as she loved me. She was born to a rescue already, or as I liked to remind her when she occasionally got sassy, she was the foundling of an unwed mother. I told her she should be grateful, but it turns out I was the one who was grateful for her.
I named her, against the strong objections of my ex-wife and step-daughter, Hildegard, though we always called her Hilda for short. She was named after Hildegard von Bingen, the 12th Century German saint, who was famous for being a writer, composer, philosopher, Christian mystic and polymath. I thought my own Hilda deserved no less a significant name.
Although she looked like a very small Golden Retriever, her paperwork says that her mother was a Tibetan Terrier mix. We don’t know for sure what breed mix her father was, but based on the purple spots on her tongue, I always suspected he was a Chow mix. When anyone asked what kind of dog she was, I always told them, “Brown”. And, mostly that was true. She was just a good, brown dog. The kind of dog every boy hopes to have when he asks his parents for a dog.
She was always sweet-tempered, and neither Sharon nor I can ever recall her snapping at us, no matter what we had to do to her for health or grooming reasons. Though, I do understand in her later life, she was less patient with strangers at the vet’s office. I sympathized with her; I don’t care to be pawed at by doctors either, if I can help it.
I had her for sixteen good years. She saw me through my divorce. Even when my ex-wife conned me into letting her take Hilda to Phoenix, Arizona when we split, through strange circumstances, I managed to get her back. She came back to me via animal freight on a United Airlines flight and the inestimable kindness of strangers. She’d been crate trained until then, but after that adventure, she was a free-range pup. She spent most nights on the couch next to me and then in bed next to me. I think she was afraid she’d be kidnapped again if she didn’t.
She saw me through a very rough year of cancer treatment, too. Always patient with my lack of energy and just happy to be near me. While I was single after the divorce for many years, we had a regular ritual of driving to a pet store of an evening, then stopping at Jack-In-The-Box for 99 cent tacos. Years later, when Sharon brought her Jack-In-The-Box tacos, it was clear that she remembered them fondly.
And, then, when Sharon moved in and was having some difficult times, Hilda was always there, by her side, happy to give kisses and eat treats and french fries and chicken until Sharon felt better.
She also got very protective of our house and yard once Sharon moved in, as if she sensed that Sharon was important to me and needed to be kept safe, even if it just meant keeping her safe from deliveries and marauding kitty cats. It was also Sharon who came up with the idea of taking Hilda on rides in the car when she got too old to go for long walks the way she used to love to do. Hilda would lean her face into the wind, her nostrils getting a big as she could stretch them trying to gather in all the smells flying by. I truly think that those car rides brought her joy. I know for sure that having Sharon around to dote on her improved the quality of her life in her later years.
About two years ago, Hilda had a little scare with cancer, too. She had a very successful surgery which seemed to completely correct the cancer issue. And, it was at that point we decided that I would stop trying to get Sharon not to spoil Hilda so much and stop pretending that I didn’t spoil her just as much. At the time, we thought we’d only have another six months with her. We got more than two more years. Two bonus years of unconditional love and joy on four feet.
In short, Hilda was everything that a dog person could hope for in a companion, even, I think, converting Sharon from a cat person into a dog person. She was, not to put too fine a point on it, a very good dog.
And, now she’s gone and I’ll miss her. I know we’ll have other dogs, but we will never have one like Hilda again. She was one of a kind, and a true blessing for everyone who had the pleasure to know her.

You can see our collected photos of her here.

Archive Data

I don’t care what anyone says; you just can’t have enough data.

With storage being so relatively cheap, I don’t really get rid of any old data any more. It’s true. I have so much cheap storage around my house that I have literally hundreds upon hundreds of digital books, documents, photos and other files. I used to have a huge library in my house. Literally thousands of books. Books in virtually every room. The problem was, a lot of the books were horribly out of date. Or, I’d gotten them with the intention of reading them, but I was never honestly going to get around to reading many of them. Instead, they just took up space. So much space, in fact, that when my wife was getting ready to move in, I think she despaired of having room to fit! She really helped me realize that I didn’t need to keep all those physical books around. Though, I’m not sure she truly understands my personal obsession with data, or the brobdingnagian archive I have quietly lurking upstairs by the wifi router. I assure you, it’s epic. And, now I know that I’m not the only one, thanks to an article on Gizmodo this week.

My problem, though, is that I often remember some obscure bit of information that I read once on a website. Sometimes, I remember the site, but the page is missing. Or, the site is gone. Or, even worse, the site is still there, but it’s been taken over by domain squatters who are squeezing the Google pagerank to shill some internet snake oil of some kind. Then, I’m stuck trying to find that bit of data, that one reference that will take me to the promised land of information, often to no avail. Well, this week, while no doubt doing something totally unrelated, I stumbled across a Chrome plugin for the Wayback Machine. If you’re not familiar, the Wayback Machine is the search engine on The Internet Archive. And, it’s fantastic for guys like me, trying to dig up obscure and forgotten information. The plugin, according to its page, “[d]etects dead pages, 404s, DNS failures & a range of other web breakdowns, offering to show archived versions via the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine. In addition you can archive web pages, and see their most recent & first archives.” And, I assure you, it’s glorious. It’s also free, so well worth installing. And, if you, like me, use Firefox as much as Google Chrome, there’s a Firefox version as well!

So, go ahead, fellow data hounds, install those plugins and relive the days of data past!

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