Christmas Letter 1996


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Another reason to love Aardvark

If you don’t already use Aardvark, the worlds best question answering system, you should. Someone on the website will take the time to answer whatever fool question pops into your mind in the middle of the night when you just had a rather strange dream and know the question will bother you until you do something about it. Of course, that’s not a quality unique to Aardvark; when I used to use Yahoo! Answers I had success getting answers to questions about Spider Pigs, or how to contact my local superhero, but Aardvark is much quicker most of the time. The example that prompted this particular post is an answer from someone clarifying…the dietary habbits of centaurs for me, of all things. It’s reassuring to know I’m not the only person in the world who spends time thinking about this sort of stuff:

Centaurs do require more calories in their diet, however due to having a mostly-human digestive tract (The lower intestines are more horse than human in nature), the centaur is an omnivore.  Additionally, due to the fact that they are sentient, they are able to cook meals, also contributing to a full diet.  I’m not sure where to find centaur information.  Don’t you have a local learnatorium?


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Video of Helen Keller and her teacher Anne Sullivan

The following is a repost from BoingBoing for those who might not have already read it:

Wow! From Coilhouse:
Helen Keller — inspiration to generations and inspiration for an entire genre of schoolyard humor — and her teacher and friend Anne Sullivan in a clip from 1930 in which they describe the way in which Helen learned how to speak … It’s a fascinating little clip which pays homage to a woman who, even beyond her amazing circumstances, was a radical socialist, suffragist, and supporter of birth control, who was friends with the likes of Mark Twain and who worked tirelessly to champion the rights of both the downtrodden and the physically disabled.
(Via Richard Metzger)

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Strange political quotes…

“If somebody’s gonna stab me in the back, I want to be there.”

“When you’re talking to me, keep your mouth shut.”

“I hate to confuse myself with the facts.”

“My knowledge is no match for his ignorance.”

“The average age of a 7-year old in this state is 13″.

“Candidly, I cannot answer that. The question is too suppository.”

“I deny the allegations, and I defy the alligators.”

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OS X Scanning: The Saga Continues

As readers of Thursday’s posting may remember, I was attempting to scan documents using OS X. After getting the scanner set-up and installing the correct drivers, I purchased Read Iris. However, I didn’t have a serial number.

This morning, my serial number problems got resolved. At 9:00 sharp, I called Iris tech support. I spent seven minutes and thirty seconds on hold (the exact number from my phone logs), before the system gave up on finding anyone to talk to me and sent me to voicemail. I called back again right away, and spoke to someone in sails. They told me that the serial number was included in the email with the download link. I told them it wasn’t, and read the email off of my screen. Sails decided they couldn’t help me, and sent me to support. Support also told me that my serial number was in the original email. Once again, I told them it was not. So, they read me the number over the phone. They never did explain why the system failed, and my serial number wasn’t in the original email. Oh, well! At least, after 5 days, one unanswered email, and two phone calls, I finally have my software!

Registration of the software was another process. It took three forms, a serial number, a key, and a bunch of other information they already had. But after another half hour, it worked, and I was ready to scan.

I haven’t yet, however, recognized everything correctly. I’m having problems with images getting cut-off, zoomed strangely, etc. But those things, at least, have nothing to do with Iris Read. Image Capture on OS X isn’t obeying the image measurements I type in; it only respects cropping information provided by the mouse. I’ll post when I figure this next problem out.

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Scanning and OCR on OS X

I’ve had a mac computer for over a year, now. However, for all this time, whenever I needed to scan and OCR something, I’ve been using a back-up Windows laptop. Mostly, this was because I didn’t have any OCR software on the mac. I did briefly test out the scanning abilities of the mac, just to make sure things were working with my scanner, but I never seriously tried to scan something…until today.

The first step, of course, was plugging in and recognizing the scanner. I figured this would be a no-brainer; it’d been done before, and it should just happen, again. I plugged in the USB connection, and hardware growler notified me that I had connected canoscan. Yay! I figured all was still well in scannerland. Just to be safe, though, I pulled up Image Capture to do a test run. “No image capture device connected.” Huh? It worked before!

After some help from Aardvark, I found an Apple support article that told me I may need to download updated drivers from the website. I guess some update broke something, somewhere. Thankfully, the Canon website it sent me to was nearly perfectly accessible. Unfortunately, it was then that I realized I wasn’t exactly sure of my scanner moddle.

The first trick I tried, of course, was to go look at system profiler, and see if it would tell me anything helpful:

Product ID:        0x1900
Vendor ID:        0x04a9 (Canon Inc.)
Version:        3.07
Speed:        Up to 480 Mb/sec
Manufacturer:        Canon
Location ID:        0xfd100000
Current Available (mA):        500
Current Required (mA):        Unknown (Device has not been configured)

Well, that was useless. The next trick: scan my scanner with KNFB Reader didn’t work, either. It told me text was cut off at the edges, but it couldn’t recognize the raised text on the back of the scanner. Oh, well. I suspect I remember my scanner moddle correctly, anyway. I just wanted to try and make absolutely sure before installing drivers. The last “trick” is to just go ahead and install what I think is the correct set of drivers.

Lucky for me, the second drivers I tried were the correct ones. After a more-or-less friendly install process, and a reboot, my scanner could be used. I opened up image capture again, gave it another test, and all was well.

With the scanner finally working, the next step was to get some OCR software. According to this guy, Read Iris Pro was the best. I’ve also read that omnipage was accessible, but it had several bad reviews when it came to OCR quality. Neither product had a downloadable demo. After some research, I eventually went with Read Iris. The online shopping cart was, however, confusing and hardly accessible. Links were unlabeled or mislabeled, and the entire purchase process was long and confusing. Anyone with a Visa card will understand the true horror of the process when I say that it insisted on sending me through the Verified by Visa program, a program that most websites (including Amazon, Paypal, and Google Checkout) all avoid because it has been proven so broken and insecure.

I did, however, finally make my way through it, and was emailed an FTP download link. Figuring that was all I needed, I downloaded the software, mounted the DMG, and moved the .app into my applications folder. To my surprise, that application was, in reality, a poorly named installer. Why it wasn’t packaged as an installer package, as is the correct procedure on OS X, is utterly beyond me. It required several mouse clicks to get through, it froze voiceover at several points, and was generally an awful ordeal. I have no idea how crap like that got through anyone’s testing process, to be declared accessible. After about half an hour of fussing, I completed the install.

When I started the application, for real this time, I was asked for a serial number. The problem is: nobody from Iris Link emailed me one! Figuring that the processing system they used was, perhaps, running slowly, I waited for two hours. When I still had no serial, and thus couldn’t get any work done, I emailed Iris. While waiting for an answer from them, I started this weblog entry, in order to kill time until I could do useful work. After getting the entry up-to-date with my adventures thus far, I did my daily work-out, and hit the shower. Still, I haven’t gotten either a reply to my email, or my serial number.

So, after a day of set-up, I still haven’t managed to scan a single document on OS X. Hopefully, I’ll have gotten the information I need from Iris sometime tomorrow. Interestingly, while searching for product reviews of Iris Read, google gave me several links offering torrent downloads of the software I’m attempting to purchase. I suspect that, if I had just downloaded the torrent, I would have my software by now. I’m not sure why Iris feels the need to punish honest customers with extremely unreasonable wait-times. I mean, seriously: they write state-of-the-art OCR software! Couldn’t they have an online activation system at least as advanced as the hobby developers selling $10 utilities? If you ever feel the need to make an online purchase from Iris, this is something to keep in mind: the company doesn’t answer emails, and at this point only God himself knows when I’m going to get the software I purchased.

TO BE Continued…

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Abandonware: Searchy

Hey, guess what? I’ve got nothing at all going on today, I’m working on a small project to be announced in the next one or two days, and I haven’t yet managed to finish the first book I intend to review this summer. You guys know what that means: another abandonware posting! Yes, that’s right! You all get another opensource Visual Basic program that I wrote in high school, and don’t plan to update anymore. Today, it’s Searchy. Searchy is a small program that allows you to perform quick searches by typing in the string, and selecting the website to search. This was a lot more useful when I wrote it, before we got the new Firefox address bar. This also means I get to see if macjournal can correctly upload files to my WordPress install. If you can see and download searchy, then it passes the test. If not, than it’s a failure, and I need to fix something.

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finally purchased Mac Journal

After having some formatting issues with the entry I posted this morning, I finally got sick and tired of writing in my browser, and purchased Mac Journal. Hopefully, that marks the end of this nonsense. No, this entry doesn’t have any real content. I’m just testing. You can now go back to whatever you were originally doing. I know it works, now.

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Online Chatting: The Anti-Communication Tool

I have been contacted by far, far too many online morons who have nothing to say, and can’t even manage to communicate that nothing clearly. I am grumpy. If you’re reading this, your not one of them. But still.
Online chatting has been around for longer than any of today’s young computer users could hope to remember; however, it only really took off fairly recently. While computing itself became truly mainstream with Windows 95, the application that made online chatting the next new thing was ICQ (a pun on the words I seek You). This bloated, slow, and unreliable application was loved by users everywhere, and quickly became a standard mainstay of every internet addicts computer. The only people who weren’t receptive to the new technology were the old timers and power users, claiming that it had all the downsides of email without any of the advantages: it interrupted you like a phone call, but didn’t offer voice or any interaction closer than an email.
Despite these vocal protests, though, ICQ became a huge hit. Soon other companies were releasing messenger products in order to get in on the market: Microsoft’s MSN, AOL’s AIM, Yahoo’s YIM, Jabber, and many others. Instead of improving the situation with competition, this just made things worse. Now, to talk to all of their friends, a user may be required to install two or more competing messaging programs. This takes up twice as much space, and offers no advantage at all. While the situation has improved recently, with the release of third party programs like Miranda and Adium, these programs don’t offer all the same features of the official program, and often stop working as network upgrades are performed.
Adding to these messaging woes is another disadvantage of instant messaging that seems built into the system, but only became a true problem recently: It’s too convenient and cheap. In the same way that the telephone ended the doctor’s house calls because people would call too often for too little reason, so will instant messaging end the art of thinking of something to say before contacting someone. Pushing the send button is just too easy. Just ten short years ago, online communication (in the form of email and usenet) was an art. Now, however, it’s hardly worthy of the name communication:

sexxxysoxxx: sup
evildeathmaster917593: nm u
sexxxysoxxx: nm wat u doin
evildeathmaster917593: nm
sexxxysoxxx: oic
evildeathmaster917593: huh
sexxxysoxxx: oic=oh i see
evildeathmaster917593: oic
sexxxysoxxx: asl

And so it continues, endlessly. No useful information is passed on, and thousands of hours are wasted. You don’t even know who you’re talking to anymore, seeing as most young females tend to have usernames like SexySunshineLoveStarsRainbowsAndKisses333, unless they’re depressive when they tend to call themselves BloodyDrippingTearsOfTorment666, and all the teenaged guys are things like DrDeathMaker92. People who get through the teenaged years, and realize they might, some day, have to give their online username to a boss, girlfriend, or priest, tend to be utterly unidentifiable collections of letters like klogla, rms, or…well…fastfinge.

This mass downgrading of the art of socializing and communication is bound to have unpredictable effects on future society; already we’re seeing people use chat acronyms in resumes and professional email, and people who are completely ignorant of the English language. What will we end up with? A world of people completely unable to communicate about anything other than the weather, unable to write a moving speech or letter, unable to enjoy reading a well written book? Sure, instant messaging is fast and convenient, but what is the cost? Is it really worth the price?
I can tell you it’s not worth the personal price. If one more person sends me a message reading “sup”, and turns out to have nothing to say and nothing to talk about, I am going to begin jibbering madly, and will probably have to be restrained by medical professionals.

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Salt: Take it Away, They won’t even Notice.

The following is a slightly refactored version of an article I wrote a while ago, and did nothing with. The information is, however, still current.

Canada has become a nation of salt fiends, and it’s not even our fault. According to Statistics Canada, the majority of Canadian’s consume over twice the recommended amount of sodium daily. However, less than 30% of Canadian salt intake comes from saltshakers and home cooking; the rest is served to the Canadian population unawares in fast and processed foods.

In an article for CanWest, titled Salt has invaded Canada’s food supply, Sharon Kirkey writes that processed food products like Corn Pops, Rice Krispies and Special K cereals contain as much as 85% more salt when purchased in Canada rather than elsewhere. This is a large contribution to something that organizations like The Canadian Stroke Network and the Heart and Stroke Foundation see as a serious problem.

“Adults should consume between 12 to 15 grams, or about one tablespoon, of salt. However,” says Marco Di Buono of the Heart and Stroke Foundation, “Canadians are currently consuming about double that.”

“What we know from data in Canada is that the majority of extra salt comes from processed foods, especially frozen pizzas and deli food,” Di Buono adds.

That’s why the campaign to reduce Canadian sodium intake is focused primarily on pressuring the food industry to change, rather than asking Canadians to make lifestyle changes themselves. “One of the good things about salt in terms of it’s potential to increase public health is it’s something that can be taken out of the food supply without having the consumer doing a lot of work. It’s difficult to get people to change their lifestyle. But with salt and trans-fats, industry can take it out. People won’t even notice that it’s gone. So it has the potential to have a major impact that doesn’t require the individuals to do anything. That’s why it’s such a good target,” says dr. Kevin Willis, director of the Canadian Stroke Network.

According to Di Buono, the reduction in salt is going to be a gradual one; Canadians won’t be expected to kick the salt habit all at once. Rather, the plan is to reduce slowly the amount of salt in food over the next 10 to 20 years. The change, in fact, should be mostly painless. “The most important thing consumers can do is arm themselves with the right information. What we’re recommending is that all Canadians refer to facts on packaging to identify foods that have an optimal sodium level,” Di Buono says.

This simple change will have a huge impact. Di Buono estimates that if Canadian salt intake is reduced to more reasonable levels, problems related to blood pressure, heart attacks, and strokes will be reduced by as much as 30%, saving Canada millions of dollars in healthcare costs every year.

According to Willis, the amount of the Canadian population seriously effected by excess sodium is staggering: over half of all Canadians currently suffer from clinical hypertension or pre-hypertension.

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