Learning to program for iPhone/iPad

Posted on Jun 6 by ack.
Categories: apple, apps.

So after a long hiatus on this blog, I will be starting to post again by documenting some of my fun with learning to program for the iPhone and iPad. This should be interesting since I have never been a programmer but have some experience with “light programming” like HTML, Perl, and some PHP. My experience has mostly been on the markup language side and mostly related to hacking away at existing code, QA tweaking etc. I am very interested to see if this old dog can learn any new tricks.

So I am starting with the Apple Developer Videos and this book:

Wish me luck!

(And somewhere along the way I need to clean up this blog template.. ugg)

Make a friend, eat for a lifetime

Posted on Aug 6 by ack.
Categories: ack.

Make a friend, eat for a lifetime
This quote is what happens when sun-blistered minds fuse cliches together.

Make a friend, eat for a lifetime

The family and a friend had a great laugh about this while we hung out on the beach next to a lake in the Endless Mountains in PA, and I am fully aware this is not nearly as funny to anyone else, but if I am going to be remembered for saying anything, it might as well be this.

And yes, there is a tee-shirt of the saying or two.

You heard it here first.


Posted on Jun 28 by ack.
Categories: ack, web 2.0.

Thanks to a suggestion by GLG, I am giving WordTwit a chance for the automatic Tweeting of posts.

Bugs, Worms and Death Stars

Posted on Jun 25 by ack.
Categories: usability.

Image BrandingWhile I worked at GE on a consulting project, pretty much everyone called the GE logo “The Meatball”, so these logo nicknames resonate for me.

The Death Star is a fun one (not so much from AT&T’s perspective) that I’ve also heard. But the Two and a Half hotdogs is a new one for me.

(via Kottke)

Disqus Custom CSS Styling in 3 Easy Steps

Posted on Jun 24 by ack.
Categories: ack, online, usability, web 2.0.

DisqusSo I have been running Disqus on this blog for over a year now, and I am a huge fan of the service. [Ed note: I got a little fired up here, so feel free to jump right to the steps.] My prior experience with comments had me deleting at least a few comments daily, all being spam. Akismet has improved much since then, but with Disqus I now have only had to remove 1-2 spam comments this past year. That is fantastic results. I also recently checked a friends dormant blog and there were 112K spam comments missed by Akismet needing approval, yes, that’s thousands!

So this is a very cool tech company based in NYC with money from Fred Wilson’s Union Square Ventures (which is how I first heard of Disqus). But what I just don’t get is how they don’t give more support for changing the look and feel of the content they put on my blog.

I understand completely that they can’t actually help individuals with how to code their pages, but the best info they have is on this Disqus wiki page on Custom CSS? I would love to hear any non-html-developer try and make use of that page. It was either written by developers who have long forgotten what it is like to deal with non-developers, or the lawyers got involved (And I don’t consider myself enough of an expert on the topic to start editing their wiki page). By support, all that is needed is a good sample and walk-thru webpage.

Now Disque is a completely user-friendly service that requires only a bit of copy and paste of a line of code, it is perfectly targeted at the non-technical (blogging) audience, yet they really dropped the ball at the last possible moment. Their code and styling look great on untextured white background, and nothing else, and pretty much disappear on a black background based site like mine.

So I mentioned I have been using Disqus for a year, so how did I solve this problem? I didn’t. For the last year I have had black text comments on a black background. You see, when I set this up, I went to try and change the styling from the Disqus admin, where of course it is never even mentioned. From a Google search, all I got was the above page telling me to create something from scratch using whatever elements listed on the page I wanted to use, which frankly is so unhelpful and a waste of my time. So since I have have a very low commented site, I didn’t bother.

But now I actually know enough CSS to be dangerous, so I thought I would finally tackle the issue. As a bonus I assumed with a year passed there should be some better examples floating around, but I was wrong. So now I am providing what I did to solve this simple issue, that I have seen many many people still have.

So here is my own sample for anyone trying to create custom background and text colors for Disqus in three easy steps:

Step 1: Start with a Disqus CSS sample, here is mine: disqus-form.css and save it so that you can edit it.

Step 2: Edit it. HTML and CSS can look scary, but you only actually have to start with one small section to change the background and font text color for the entire Disqus section (which is all I’ve been trying to do). Then upload the file to your blog.

/* Everything Disqus on your page is contained within this. */
#disqus_thread {
background-color: #000000;
color: #ffffff;
border-style: solid;
border-color: #cccccc;
padding: 5px;

Now this looks intimidating, but all you need to know about colors is that “ffffff” is white and “000000″ is black (“cccccc” is gray). So my background color is black and my (font) color is white. If you want to get more tricky then those, look up your html color. Border-color is a gray line around the Disqus area, and the Padding gives a little space around the outside (5 pixels worth).

Step 3: You will need to add the following bit of code to your WordPress/blog header template file, inside the “head” tag. Change “yourblog.com” to your blog address and where you uploaded the file. Save the template header when done.

<script type="text/javascript">var disqus_iframe_css = "http://www.yourblog.com/disqus-form.css";</script>
<link type="text/css" rel="stylesheet" href="http://www.yourblog.com/disqus-form.css" media="screen" />

Guess what, you are done. Hope this helps.

I think it is ALWAYS better to provide a template that has good simple notations for people to make changes, so I grabbed the initial CSS file from this forum post. Most of the advice was to add only the first line to your template header and make half the changes to the CSS in your blog’s template CSS, and I find that too confusing, so I combined them into the same file.

I know I didn’t explain how to find your template files or what all the CSS options are, or even what CSS stands for (Cascading Style Sheets), but that’s what Google is for once you get the basics done. Good luck.

[Ed: added a link to the initial CSS file]

Twitter, Flickr backup with LifestreamBackup

Posted on Jun 23 by ack.
Categories: ack, online, web 2.0.

One of the main risks when using cool cloud services is that you really do not own your data, and you can easily lose everything by having your account hijacked or removed by the service. This has happened in the past to others and can happen in the future.

I’ve never had an account deleted without my consent (knock on wood), but I have lost access to my Flickr photos for months at a time, TWO years in a row, since Flickr/Yahoo seems incapable of accepting money from customers without months of prodding. It actually took me MONTHS to get them to process my credit card payment (and yes I am still bitter). They are lucky I have a lot of built-up loyalty given my years and years of (paid) membership and thousands of full-rez photos on the site, and they have no decent competition given the social aspect of their site (and Google charges way too much for large storage). So for months I could not get to most of my photos since my account was downgraded to the free version… all the while they prompted me to pay up when I already had!

One way to mitigate this risk, is to be able to backup what is important, and this is where Lifestreambackup comes into it. They have managed to create a very easy to use service that currently can automatically backup Twiter, Flickr, Delicious, Google Docs, WordPress, and others. YouTube and Facebook are coming soon they say.

They are pretty cheap at $5/m ($4 on sale) or $30/year ($27 on sale). I actually opted for another option they have, which is to use your own S3 account, which I think it just brilliant. S3 is Amazon’s cloud storage service and is basically where many new websites are storing everything. It is not fail-proof, but I have worked at many web-based companies and I know how hard it is to maintain your own servers… and Amazon runs the best around. Using my own S3 account will cost me $9/year ($15 when not on sale) and Amazon will charge me .15 per GB per month, and .10 per GB for upload.

Since I’ve not run the numbers, let’s compare that to Google account shared storage which is $1.7/m ($20/year) for 10 GB, or $20/m ($250/year) for 150 GB. Google seems to only have storage for gmail and photos (picasa).

So if I have 50 or 150 GB of photos (50 is pretty close, I hope), my annual cost would be:
LSB+S3: 50 GB = $9 + (.1*50 + .15*50*12) = 9 + (5+90) = $104
LSB+S3: 150 GB = $9 + (.1*150 + .15*150*12) = 9 + (15+270) = $294
Google: 150 GB = $250

So I’m actually surprised that Google comes in as cheaper in the 150 GB scenario. But there are a few assumptions here. I don’t think I need 150 GB, and with S3 I only get charged what I use, not so with Google. I also get to pay Amazon monthly, instead of having to pay Google upfront each year, so that makes a big impact. And the biggest assumption is that Google only really stores photos, being able to store multiple chunks of data is important to me. So in the end, Google is not as expensive as the sticker-shock felt seeing $250/year, but S3 is a lot more flexible. As I’ve also followed in the tech news, web backup storage companies have all but failed, so even if LifestreamBackup doesn’t make it, my backup will be on Amazon, and if they fail, I will have other worries.

But as with the case with any backup, it has to be easy and automatic, or it won’t get done. I’m not one of those people that is good about doing manual backups, and some of the this stuff (like Facebook), I can’t even backup manually. So I’m going to give this a try for at least a year and see how the fees pile up. I also want to play around with S3 since I think it’s a great platform.

So this post is a bit longer than I was expecting, but 30 minutes after setup and config, my Twitter and Delicious were each took about 1 second each to backup, and I’m still waiting on Flickr and Google Docs.

Their WordPress plugin didn’t work for me, but I got an email back from co-founder Rob May, who is testing a new version of the plugin and said he would be in touch “in a few hours”.

Thanks to Mashable for the heads up.

Will post updates as I learn more.

Infinite Summer

Posted on Jun 22 by ack.
Categories: ack.

Infinite Jest
I have officially started reading Jest, following Infinite Summer (IS); a plan to read Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace over the summer. The first milestone is this Friday, June 26th, about 70 pages a week (it’s a huge book).

So I have the second printing of the book, and I also bought the kindle version on my iPhone. The IS folks were clever enough to create a schedule including the print and kindle pages.

So what has been hugely helpful for me is reading the wiki page on Jest, which explains the timeline at least and doesn’t give away the book.

Jason Kottke and Colin Meloy (Decemberists fame) finally sealed the deal for me.

I’m also interested in watching The Royal Tenenbaums after I finish the book, since I hear it’s basically a movie version of Jest. I might even read Hamlet since Jest is much related to it.

Wish me luck! I hear the first 200 pages are the hardest to get though.

Afro Samurai Resurrection iPhone wallpaper

Posted on Feb 10 by ack.
Categories: ack, apple, gaming, online.

It’s been quite awhile since I’ve blogged, but I couldn’t resist this little bit of promo for something very cool, as well as rant against some poor implementation. But recently, Afro Samurai’s long awaited return has been released, Afro Samurai Resurrection. If you have not seen the original SpikeTV animated manga/cartoon, you really should rent it/netflix it.

So along with Season 2, there is a PSP3 and Xbox game, and a music album, and of course quite a few marketing downloads. Afro Samurai is wonderful eye candy so this is all good, and these guys have even gone so far as to create iPhone downloadable wallpapers… which gives me all sorts of warm and fuzzy feelings inside. So what do I do as a well conditioned consumer, I jump on my trusty iPhone to download said images, what could be cooler. And what do I discover, the site navigation is all based on Flash, and as anyone who uses an iPhone or maybe read mac news, Flash does not yet work on the iPhone (don’t get me started on this one). Ok, fine, I think, easy to click on a news article and see the house ad for the wallpapers… which I do. And lo and behold, what do I discover, the downloads page (for iPhone wallpapers and desktop wallpapers only) is totally Flash based. I give this a big FAIL. Does no one actually try and test a website anymore. Did no one actually think, “hey, let’s actually download this onto an iPhone from the site!”. Alas, these guys couldn’t be bothered with a non-Flash version, or gasp, text navigation links on the bottom, so here are the images for those of you that happen to land here.

Afro Samurai Resurrection iPhone wallpaper 1

Afro Samurai Resurrection iPhone wallpaper 2

Afro Samurai Resurrection iPhone wallpaper 3

Afro Samurai Resurrection iPhone wallpaper 4

Afro Samurai Resurrection iPhone wallpaper 5

Manhattan and Idaho, Equals At Last

Posted on Sep 9 by ack.
Categories: nyc.

NYC Population

Curbed points to this very cool map of the population of NYC based on 2006 census estimates.

From Very Small Array.

US Open Women’s Final

Posted on Sep 8 by ack.
Categories: nyc, photo.

US Open Womens Final
At the last minute, I went to the Women’s Final for the US Open… rain delayed till Sunday night. Serena Williams played Jelena Jankovic and it turned out to be a great match, with Serena winning in two sets.

As you can tell from the panograph above, the seats were waaaay up there, but it was still great to watch and see Jelena battle the entire time. She really should of had the second set but couldn’t pull it out. The loud and active Serbian crowd helped no doubt.

Raw photos on Flickr.