Archives for the month of: January, 2009

I have a “client” that needed a new computer, and they didn’t want to spend an arm and a leg, but they wanted something that would be reliable and last.  It’s a computer for a small office, that will be used for internet surfing, video playing, and some basic bookkeeping done using spreadsheets. I offered to build them a computer,  I ordered all of the parts on Newegg, and spent around $420.  Here are the pieces i ordered:

I have to say my favorite is the 19 inch wide screen.  after being stuck on my laptop screen for so long I’m envious and nearly bought one for myself, they were only $119.  Everything went extremely well with the computer building, and i have to admit that is is the first computer I’ve built out of all new parts, I’ve Frankenstein a lot of old junk together to make little file servers and boxes to tinker with different Linux distro’s and the like.  It didn’t take long to put the pieces together, and the Ubuntu install was quick and painless.

That’s right. I’m installing Ubuntu for the client.  They will be a completely open source shop. Their website is hosted on MODx and their desktop operating system will be Ubuntu 8.10 64bit.

When I was ready to upgrade to Ubuntu 8.10 I was pondering whether or not to give the 64 bit version a try, and in my research i read someones rational for giving it a try as this “If it’s never adopted, it will never get awesome.” Unfortunately i can’t remember where i read that, but it seems to be that it’s something to live by.

So I’ve been running a 64 bit OS for several months and I am really enjoying it (on my laptop). I have 4Gb of ram so being able to address More than 3Gb is really nice. There are two minor issues that I suppose need to be mentioned. The first thing I noticed was that my webcam wasn’t working quite right. It would start up, the indicator light would come on momentarily and then it would turn off and not work. I never attempted to fix this issue because I only really intend on using my webcam in Windows using gtalk. The other issue is that of web video. 95% of the time it works great, YouTube is always good, hulu is good, rarely though I will run across a site where the player won’t load. For example I can’t watch the Colbert Report on Comedy Central, though I could probably find it on YouTube.

All and all I would encourage any one considering the switch to go for it! I’ve had great success with it on both my laptop (Thinkpad T61) and a desktop that I built from scratch.

Today i came across a sweet little tool that gives you information about disk size and usage.  Discus is easily installed and is really handy for figuring out how much space is left on a server. Here’s a screenshot of the install (sudo apt-get intall discus) and it’s output.


After doing a little more looking, and RTFMing i realized that it was just a “prettier” version of df.  Here are the two outputs.


To me they seem pretty much the same.  Discus’ bar graph is nice, but both give you a percent, although by default Discus’ is a little more precise.   df gives the ability to display file system type (-T) which i like, i also used the human readable (-h) tag which cleans up the output and makes it easier to read. One thing i couldn’t find is a way to get either to display information on multiple hard drives.  The server in the second screenshot has a second 100Gb hard drive but neither show it. i’m sure there is a way though…

The long and the short of it.  you don’t have to install anything for df, and the output is practically the same. so unless you really dig the graph and the blue headers don’t bother with discus.

this is an update of the Usability post.

First of all i need to say this yet again: users don’t read anything. Nothing. After adding the text “Enter Feedback….” into the feedback form we are still recieving what we can only assume are search terms like “MCG” a building code for McGill Hall.

On a happier note these are the analytics for the past couple of days. Seems like a lot of folks are getting to it.



Today is the first day of school, and it is the first time the general population on campus has seen the new map.  I’ve included a screenshot, if you click on it you will get the Big version which is Actual Size or you could just go to the map

Our Analytics when something like this (Thursday: 42 -> Sunday -> 900; Monday: 964 and still counting):


If you look at the map there are Two text input boxes, one at the top and one at the bottom.  The top on is the search, and the bottom is the feedback input form.  We’ve had a lot of good feedback, but there were some interesting entries:

  • college of technology
  • social science
  • ED 315
  • ss
  • clapp

These are all places on campus, which lead us to believe that folks were getting confused about what that feedback box was for.  It is Clearly labeled: ” What do you think of this page?” It seems this re-iterates that users don’t read anything. To Help with this problem I decided to add in a default value of “Enter Feedback….” into the textbox that disappears when a person clicks it, hopefully that will help clarify.

We’ve been constantly working on the map, fixing issues and concerns brought to light via the feedback, and also improving the current functionality.  A couple of things that were commonly left in the  feedback were

The scroll wheel controlling the zoom of the map is confusing. – so we “fixed” it, now the scroll wheel doesn’t affect the map.

The Building Codes for the Buildings, for example  Social Science is SS,  are missed so we are going to do some conditioning on the zoom level to indicate whether or not to print the building codes.

We have also been getting lots of great information about the data that displays about each building. People have been good about letting us know when our data isn’t accurate and pointing us in the right direction to get it fixed.

For Christmas Collin, my 3 and a half year old, got a fancy digital camera.  He has had a really good time taking all sorts of photos. I posted most of them on Flickr:
Created with Admarket’s flickrSLiDR.

the direct link to his flickr account is here: it’s really interesting to see what a 3 year old find picture worthy…

Cadavre exquis, or the exquisite corpse, is based on a couple of ideas, the collective unconsious, the belief (held by surrealists) that any one can be an artist, and, finally, the mystique of accident. For example, check out this:

It was created by Hans Arp, surrealist painter, who is said to have let the squares of paper fall to the canvas where they may and them adhered them to it. It was not intentional, it was accident they way they landed.

The actual game is based on an old parlor game played by several people, each of whom would write a phrase on a sheet of paper, fold the paper to conceal part of it, and pass it on to the next player for his contribution. The technique is said to have gotten its name from results obtained in initial playing, “Le cadavre / exquis / boira / le vin / nouveau” (The exquisite corpse will drink the young wine). These poetic fragments were felt to reveal what Nicolas Calas characterized as the “unconscious reality in the personality of the group” resulting from a process of what Ernst called “mental contagion.” (Just so you know, the source of the information in this paragraph is:

Another technique was automatic writing, where you sit down and write for hours (usually under the influence of alcohol or marijuana, the surrealist were not adverse to altered mental states). You don’t think about what you’re writing, you just do it. This is how they would write their poetry. Of course, you end up with pages upon pages of unusable material which you have to sift through to find the really striking images. Anyway, it was thought that in this way you could access the unconcious. And of course, there was the dream world. See Salvador Dali.

So we played the game, the basic rules are:  half of us wrote the begining of a sentence starting with If, and the other half wrote the second half of the sentence starting with Then. This is what we came up with.

If you were smarter Then I’m a Jelly Doughnut
If i were a little teapot whose spout is broken and whose handle is splintering Then Nick will be Awesome
If I were president Then i would get some delicious things

Thanks much to Tonya for introducing the game and giving me all this excellent information!

Ski Boy to the rescue, originally uploaded by nshontz.

So when Microsoft starting coming out with their new skin for everything, you know the one that doesn’t have the File…Edit…View menu. I said it was irritating and I didn’t like it. Somehow I felt like I had lost the things I needed to get around and actually Use the applications. When ever I am in Windows I use Chrome as my default browser and am still really impressed with it. My only complaint is that I can’t have it in Linux. Last night and this morning I was tinkering with Firefox trying to get closer to the huge viewable space that Chrome gives you. Only see status bar info when there is something to see, remove the title bar, because it’s a waste of space and make things as clean as possible. These are great things. I couldn’t make Firefox do what I wanted, but I did find a chrome theme that cleans up the UI a little bit. So I hated it when Microsoft did it and loved it when Google did it. Why?

  • Could it be because Microsoft removed it from their apps, where chrome was something completely new?
  • Was it the way in which the UI was constructed to make the tools of old easier to access though I have heard complaints about chromes lack of options….
  • Is the/my stigma towards Microsoft really that bad?
  • Do Google’s UI team get paid an unfathomable amount of money to make things so intuitive?

At work right now we are working on the UI for our map. It’s been really interesting getting peoples reactions to something that really requires interaction. It seems a lot of folks, technical and non-technical alike, are hesitant to just start clicking and tinkering. Are there good ways, and helper text is not one of them, to encourage users to really Use something. I think visual cues are extremely important and if it’s designed right people will notice and understand the functionality with out being told via text or prompts. Those visual cues are where it’s at, but being subtle enough as to not distract them and blunt enough not to confuse them is a tricky balance. The map lives at Give it a look, and give us your feedback.

An Excellent Post on what we can expect

I saw this post on twitter, thanks @stevemtzn. It seems like there is already a really clear distinction between the two presidents.

Bush: Nearly 2400 Disallow entries.

Obama: One Disallow entry.

Transparency in government: priceless