Tribolum.com Making Light of Things

October 2003 Archives

Life Uncommon

We trudge upon the road. Once upon a time pioneers, now tired and forgotten. Our backs are heavy with the memories of so many who have left the path. Comrades we respected, friends we loved, now blown away like the sands of time.

With Dawn’s departure, I am led to think of so many others, both real and virtual. There is hardly any distinction between the two: a physical meeting is no more tangible than the reading of a blog. Now with Arizona behind me, the transience of life becomes ever more apparent to me.

We have wasted far too much time making sandcastles. The Bridegroom stands by the door and we’re still stumbling on our feet trying to stay awake. Many of our lamps have long burnt out and still many more flicker precariously. No one even mutters or cries “When Lord?” anymore, because our eyes have long lost focus of the one true purpose of all creation. “The Lord is not tardy about what He promises, as some consider tardiness, but He is patient towards you, not desiring that any should perish, but that all should turn to repentance.” (2 Peter 3:9).

I’m still looking for a job. Now that most of the renovations and preparations are completed for our new place and Ralph and Ai’s wedding matters are behind me, my sense of self-worth takes a beating whenever others mention how I should be earning some money. It is a fact that I am well-aware of, but hate being constantly reminded of.

I need so much humility. Did Christ not bear the scorn of the world for me? I want so much to walk the way He wants me to.

I want to do web-design because it is something I have spent so much time working on. I want to do work that impacts the world. I want to be recognised without having to mention so much as my name to another person. In His own gentle way He has led me to see that these ambitions hold no place in His heavenly kingdom. However noble or self-giving I could dress my ambitions up, what I wanted had to be what He wanted, no more or less.

Recently I have been led to look at work outside of web-design. It is not easy giving it up, but I have to learn to count it all but loss that I may gain Christ. I’m thinking of applying to work in Prisons. But like I said, however noble an intention, Christ needs to be its Origin and Ending.

I lay myself at His feet. May His strength be made perfect in my weakness.

Clean and Jerk

After two clean (erase hard-drive and install) installations of Panther, I finally have what I think is a relatively stable working environment. My initial upgrade (over the older version Jaguar) disabled my browser. The clean installations resolved that issue, but the time / date icons, along with all the other icons on the menu bar refused to display. I surfed up and down the Internet for solutions, but not many people seemed to have that problem.

I finally found the solution on the Macosxhints forum. It was because I had put in Singapore as my place of residence. The difference between the way we display dates (dd/mm/yy) and the American (mm/dd/yy) somehow meant that the date had to be rendered in unicode (that’s what the browser told me) and therefore display on the menu bar was impossible.

So falsely reporting a residence in USA solved the problem. It worked for many refugees. It saved me this time.

To Infinity and Beyond

Going for a clean install of Panther. Wish me luck.

Big Cats and Safari

I’ve moved on to the next evolution of the Mac OSX cats. Panther (Mac OSX 10.3) comes after Jaguar (10.2) and Cheetah (10.1). I don’t know what they’re going to name future upgrades. In my opinion they should have started with something small, like Lynx or Ocelot, which I think are still really cool names.

Panther boasts 150 new features, but it would be wise to remember that it is hardly a version 11. It is very much like the Jaguar of old with some improvements. Exposé which every reviewer seems so dazzled with, does the same thing the “Show Desktop” icon in Windows XP does, only loaded with the Apple eye-candy we have all come to expect. It is hardly ground-breaking in nature.

While it is nice to see that Apple isn’t too proud to pick up pointers from the common WinXP, Panther still hasn’t quite figured out the Alt-Tab function. In WinXP, Alt-Tab allows you to move from window to window, regardless of application. Command-Tab in Panther brings up the cool taskbar thingie in the middle of the screen that allows you to select the application (not the window or document) you need to get to. This means that if I have five Word documents open, I’d still need to go through Exposé, or window / document1 on Word’s menu.

Safari has stopped working. It doesn’t crash in the way Windows applications crash. Crash would be too inelegant a word for Apple applications. It “quits unexpectedly”, and the OS is quick to point out that it’s uninformed resignation did not affect the morale of the other applications still hard at work.

I’m running on Camino now, and though my Apple-developed analistic sense of design doesn’t sit well with the fact that Camino’s white iBookish interface doesn’t match the brushed-metal look of Panther or my sweet Powerbook, I’m generally happy with the way it’s performing.

Happily Ever Afters

Cinderella danced away with her prince charming. He made everything seem so surreal and perfect. Now, held in his arms, she experienced the sort of euphoria that seemed strong enough to last a lifetime, if not forever.

While she waltzed her way through the enchanted forest, she came upon Snow White, who was still lying in the enclosure of glass, still asleep.

You see, fairy tales are told far and wide, but no one remembers how they correlate with each other anymore. Chronologically, Cinderella found her happy ending before Snow White found hers. Frankly, at that point in time, no one knew if Snow White would ever find a happy ending, or if sleeping was already the end.

Cinderella paused. How could she feel such happiness in the face of so much sadness? Was it selfish to celebrate the closure of her suffering while so many were still in the midst of theirs, with no end in sight? Goldilocks was still being held captive by three rather ferocious bears and a rescue grew improbable as “Baby Bear” had grown to a gargantuan size. Her joy was now mixed with a forlorn sorrow. She made a silent wish in her heart; that if it were at all possible, that her joy be foregone if the rest of the world could experience but a shared fraction of it.

Was it fair that she should be in such bliss? Was her waltzing around, public displays of affections with P.C., blogging about her honeymoon rubbing salt in the wounds of others? Or did it give them hope that a happy ending was possible?

She planted a kiss on Snow White’s glass canopy. She wished with all her heart for Snow White’s happiness.

Remembered

It was my birthday yesterday (technically a few hours ago). Now of considerable age, birthdays are easily forgotten as years fly by. Though I joke about how Deepavali (the Indian festival of lights) falls on my birthday I scarcely remember its significance; or maybe it’s because I downplay birthdays in general as unimportant.

We have been preparing for Ralph and Ai’s wedding (which will be in a few hours). It is a far more important event, and I expected my birthday to pass by without so much as a mention or two about Indian worshippers gathering all over the world and lighting my birthday candles in their temples.

At midnight Min text-messaged me from Arizona wishing me happy birthday. Faith then brought out a slice of cake she had successfully smuggled into the house. It even had a lit candle and all. Today the boys from church greeted me with with a gift. The girls baked me a double-layered brownie wrapped around a bed of vanilla ice-cream. Casandra and Jaclyn gave me a beautiful hand-made cross-stich of my name. Min (through the wonders of the Internet) bought me a George Foreman-styled grill. Louelle bought me VCDs that must have cost her a good two weeks of allowance. Ralph and Ai pawned their wedding jewellery and got me an external harddrive.

As you can already tell, I am the center of the universe. Because it is Deepavali and I have a hundred-thousand worshippers praying that my every wish come true.

Or maybe it’s because I’m surrounded by the most wonderful people, who in their very own special way encourage me to be as wonderful as they are.

I’ve forgotten more than my fair share of other people’s birthdays; and in my financially broke state been unable to give sweet tokens of well-wishes. I hope you surround yourself with more grateful people who remember things better than I.

Visual Aid

The reason why no new photos have been displayed are two-fold: I haven’t been taking many new ones; and iPhoto sucks as a backup tool.

Like Adam and the many others who groused about how iTunes messed up their mp3 directory structure, iPhoto implements its own scheme of things. Photos would be sorted out by year, month, then day.

The problem is that iPhoto uses the day the photos were last modified, ignoring the metadata (the exif data) that tells me when the photos were taken. Who cares when I photoshopped / cropped / converted to jpg? I want to know if the photo was taken Homecoming 2001 or 2002.

Forcing me to use its own directory structure meant that I had come to rely solely upon iPhoto as my photo-organiser. It’s all fine and dandy, as long as I can get what I want when I want it. Much as it is a thorn to my side, I’ll let the internal directory structure go if I could have an interface that made sense to me.

Problem arises when too many photos are in the iPhoto. I’ve more than 5 gigabytes of photos. The startup time for iPhoto now rivals that of Mac OSX after it delivers me the semi-transculent screen of death (in multiple languages, no less).

So now when I show my clients their photos I need to arrive a good hour early just to fire up iPhoto. You could say I’m exaggerating, or that I’m merely extrapolating what would actually happen when my photos reach 10 gigs.

Anyone knows of a better (preferably free) photo-organising tool? iView MediaPro looks industrial-grade, but it comes with an industrial price. Not to mention anything that starts with an “i” has always tried to reorganise my life.

Keeping House

The last few days have been extremely tiring. Faith did some major importing of books from her parents’, and that required quite a bit of shelving. When I get into the groove, I start tidying up the entire house: cleaning the floor, wiping any horizontal surfaces, even stacking up coasters to form a star of David, and then sitting the zen-like kettle Cheryl bought for us from Vietnam over it.

I’ve also been delving in the tweaking of midi files. I’m hardly what you would call musical and I can’t even play “Happy Birthday” on the keyboard without hitting all the wrong notes. But I’ve been adjusting sound volumes on different tracks, finding soundfonts and converting midis to wavs so I can burn them on a CD for Faith. So in a sense, her job productivity has doubled to superhuman levels. I’m starting to think this is how the top dogs do it. They really do have 48 hours in their day.

Feelings

It’s been far too long since I went for a photo-walk, something which I did ever so often in Tucson. I suppose it was easier then; I didn’t have a wedding to plan and execute, a house to renovate and move into, or a sister-in-law’s wedding to help out at. I suppose I walked about because I felt lonely.

There’s a sweetness than comes with loneliness. It’s melancholy and longing seems to satisfy some masochistic desire within me. Don’t get me wrong, I am very happy sharing my life with Faith. It’s just that happiness and bliss is enjoyed with such jejune candour. Life kinda loses the dynamic range in good times, when happiness is at a max.

I will not forget the sorrow of unrequited love or the loneliness of the long-distance relationship because it is only in remembering these times I can fully appreciate what I have now. And I grasp with more gratitude the grace that has been given me.

Hack or Bug?

Any MT users experience this? You get a comment spam, head down to your MT installation to delete it. When you click on delete in the popup window, you are brought back to the entry screen of the particular entry in which the comment was deleted so you can rebuild the page.

But instead of the original content in the Entry Body field, the comments you just deleted is in the field. If you click on “rebuild” without hesitation, you’d have replaced your main entry text with the comment spam. That friggin’ sucks!

I’m running Safari on Mac OSX. Is this peculiarity found elsewhere?

I Love Spam

The salty kind. You can make a lot of money out of it too. Even with a website that plays cheesy (pun intended) music.

Comment spam (where low-life idiots put their ads in your blog’s comments) has been in the limelight recently, with Jay Allen’s MT-Blacklist made an almost required plugin for any MT user. An example of comment spam lies right here in Tribolum. Read the comments laid down by a Mohd. Aqil who sells brass candlesticks. Comment spam is now getting smarter and more automated, using bots to generate comments like the one at Vantan.org. I’ve had to manually delete a number of those already.

So spammers, don’t bother with this site. You can’t sell squat here. I know because I’ve tried. No one will buy my photos. I’m sure no one will buy your candlesticks so their houses can look like the Esplanade.

Ideologies for the Real Life

There are times when I still wonder if what I did was the right move.

Back in August, I was hired in a manner one could only describe as a godsend. Two days into the job, I realised that my employer was paying twice-over for his website to be done. He had hired an external IT vendor, and then there was me, to work on the interface which the vendor didn’t seem to think was important.

Part of being an employee (to me a least), is having the company’s best interests at heart. At that time I did a quick calculation and realised that the best interest of my employer was to renegotiate the payments with his vendor if the vendor wasn’t producing good work, which in turn required him to hire me. I voluntarily stepped out of my job.

We met up with the vendor, a three headed organisation consisting of the technical, logistical and business directors. The first two seemed keen to pass it on; it was the third that refused. And that was how I talked myself out of a job.

It was never my intention to make a quick buck by pulling the project from under the vendor. I was hired because the customer had doubts that the vendor could pull off something satisfactory. Last I checked, the site-in-progress still doesn’t display in Safari or Mozilla. It’s a problem because Macs are huge when you’re doing web design for a photography house.

When I tell folks about it many of them voiced out that I should have just taken the job and kept quiet. It was still “money in the pocket”. True as that is, I want to produce work that contributes. If there’s anything I learnt from the army, it’s that there are only so many chances to prove yourself to yourself, and skiving off measures your quality. You can hide it from your employer, but you’ll always live with the knowledge of what you’re made of.

Met Up

Guess it’s only right if I complete the trackback circle. Singapore had it’s first official MT Meetup Monday night at Olio Dome in Suntec. There was a non-MT user who turned up, but like most non-business meetings in Singapore, we were there for the food. The company comes a close second and the agenda is often nowhere in sight.

Kristen printed a set of MT-related questions in a feeble attempt to keep us on track. We know she did it because she’s a permanent resident of Singapore and knows no better. Citizenship will be hers when she realises that food is the only thing that matters on this island.

Vanessa printed out a full-page MeetUp sign in case anyone missed our non-distinct faces. Us bloggers aren’t usually the types that turn heads. The proof of our geeketry was in the pie: When Kristen mentioned about her plans to buy a digital camera, the other three of us all whipped out our gadgets.

We did other “normal” things like complain about work (the rest of them who had work, anyway). A L had to spoil things by saying she was happy where she was at, which prompted Kristen to swap sides and embrace her evil corporation.

All in all it was a good meeting. The potato wedges weren’t half bad.

Finding Music

Ok, we’ve been sitting here for the past two hours looking for the title to the song in the Caltex advertisement where the small boy who dresses as Elvis tries to impress his “future mother-in-law”. I’ve searched the web and googled in a billion different directions. We think it’ll make a great song for Ai’s (Faith’s sister) processional. Might be, anyway.

Holler if you know / have the song.

Formula

“Eat like the French, spend like the Americans. Have a Japanese wife and a Chinese lover. Then your life will be fulfilled.”

I overheard this while grocery shopping today. Many people have their own formulas for happiness and even more turn to self-styled gurus for direction.

Profession

There’s something very debilitating about joblessness. I ate lunch alone, as I do everyday, missing Faith who is busy making my lunches a possibility. I am so thankful to have her as my wife: she has never grumbled or even brought up the fact that supporting me is a burden we did not plan on. Just when I thought she couldn’t possibly be more deserving of my love, she exceeds every expectation my heart ever imagined.

I finally had time to restructure some parts of the site, on top of planning and praying about starting up on my own. I retrofitted some old layouts this morning. You can swap stylesheets at the About page. They’re hardly pixel perfect, due to technicalities I’ve given up struggling against (one afternoon is all that I can spare). It’s something to do with nested CSS boxes, if you’re interested to know.

In this time of seeking out God’s will for me, it has been hard not to hold on to my own ideas of what my future ought to be. I’ve had so many dreams pass me by as I grow older; some more ambitious than others. But God wants for me to lay down everything at His feet, and that is something I’m still learning to do.

I read about Hannah today and how she pledged her firstborn son for the Lord’s service. There was no record of her struggle or any hesitation, but instead the Bible records her praising God while giving up her son. I’m sure she would have had the same reservations we all have when asked to give up something precious to us. She must have wondered if God would let her off her promise, or if he was indeed tangibly real enough to do anything about it should she not keep her end of the bargain.

But she praised. In like manner, I fall on the knees of my heart, offering everything I have and everything I am only because He is worthy of these things and much more.

Changing Platforms

Faith and I got ourselves a desktop PC. My last PC ran Win98 and I never bothered to upgrade to WinXP, only using it to play NBA Live 2003 on my sister’s PC every once in a while (ok, almost every day). After having been spoilt silly by Mac OSX, using WinXP almost forces me to remap my intuition towards GUI navigation.

I’m thankful for Cleartype in WinXP. Antialiased text make websites look so much better (one of the main reasons why I got myself a Mac). Now I remember how much I miss the Alt-Tab function in Windows. Mac OSX (only lately) allows you to switch between the last two applications used, but not three.

For PC users who’ve always envied the iTunes music store. A iTunes music store for Windows debuts next week.

Shameless Plug

Just spent the whole morning trying to network my home computers. After an hour and a half I found that the problems I had originated from the ADSL jack not being fully plugged into the phone jack.

Use It

MobileOne has been advertising a Usability Specialist position for some time now. When I first saw the ad, I was highly intrigued as it seemed to suit what I wanted to do to a T. They only accepted online applications through their website, so I put aside my carefully formatted resumé and tried things their way.

It’s a bloody long form, intruding immediately into the details of my family members. I managed to fill in the gadzillion of fields and submitted my information. That was a few months ago.

A few months later, they’re still advertising the position, and I’m still intrigued. I have no way of finding out if they received my information. There was no email autoresponder or any such attempt to create a record of my information successfully reaching them.

I’m half-inclined to apply for the job again to make sure, but the horribly formatted form still gives me nightmares. I intended to look for an email address I could send my resumé to, but none could be found on their website. Just try finding an email address, I dare you.

Ever tried their javascript drop-left menu? It’s a three-tier navigation where each button is terribly small. If you as much as flinched you’d lose the tier you wanted to get to.

I’d like to get my hands at the job, of course. But the usability hurdles placed before me turns me off. Maybe they were placed intentionally so that people who were pissed off enough to complain got the job.

Much as I’ve complained about M1’s lack of usability, it is only one of many examples I’ve seen from Singaporean websites. Another IT solutions company came up with a 200kb popup form for a common supply-chain function. That’s a fifth of a megabyte.

We have a ways to go before user-centric design is engrained in our work.

Typepad Launch

Typepad is out of beta and officially in business.

Maybe now the Six Apart crew can start working on MovableType Pro after tonight’s champagne.

Update: Thanks Matt, for pointing out the errant link.

Coughing Hairballs

I’ve always been a cat-lover. I love the sleek way they slink around and their lean, muscular build. Like most boys I chased them around when I was much younger, but only because I wanted to pit my speed against theirs.

In my adolescence the thought of owning a cat was not entirely adverse to me, but when face to face with the prospect of having my furniture scratched up and made into a makeshift litterbox I shuddered. I’ve read about how you can make scratching posts for them and potty-train them while their young, but the fur-shedding is unstoppable. You’ll get cat-hair on your food, your clothes and on the inside of your PC.

After many hours of housework, I now understand why there are plenty more women cat-owners than men. Women shed way more hair in a day than any cat in its lifetime. After Faith is done using the hair-dryer, she leaves behind a miniature rainforest in her wake. It’s no wonder the problem of cat-hair doesn’t faze the female species.

I still love cats. I’d hate for them to be bald. Isn’t there a better way for us to live together?

First Knight

Last night was our first at our new home. Faith and I spent the last few days doing some heavy lifting. You really don’t know how many clothes you have until you’re made to carry all of it from Point A to Point B. I had to employ a lot of ingenuity in the process - including wrapping all my clothes in my blanket and hoisting it over my shoulder ala Tony Soprano’s lackeys.

It was oddly melancholic, largely because moving here meant moving away from my parents’, where so many memories had been created in our twelve-year courtship and the first three months of being married. We know we’ll miss coming home to a house full of people: my sister Louelle watching telly, grandma daydreaming, aunty lyn bringing out soup she boils for dinner every night. Dad would be sitting at the dining table peeling some fruit for Mom, who would later complain that he was trying to make her fat.

When Dad drove us here yesterday there was a sudden sadness as we walked to the elevator and he drove back home. The physical parting of ways hit us profoundly.

There are times when independence sucks, and I want so much to stay stagnant in time. I thank God for the Asian family mentality, where extended families are common and staying with one’s parents an accepted practice. I know that there’ll aways be two spots at the dinner table for Faith and I.

I’ve just finished unpacking all our books. Faith has a ton of children’s books and I have a ton of geek books ranging from Dante’s Divine Comedy to How to Draw Comics the Marvel Way. The bookshelf is a nice little escape from the spankingly new. The familiarity of books we’ve read takes us back in time somewhat.

Silent Thunder

PB is interviewed by Anil Dash of Six Apart.

When I met PB he came across as the most unassuming person. There was no mention of his work, past or present. His quiet demeanour gave the uninformed no clue that he authored O’Reilly’s Amazon Hacks or coded the popular SnapGallery.

I’m amazed at how Anil managed to squeeze so many words out of him.

Trailing Trailers

The trailer to Lord of the Rings: Return of the King is up! Thanks Kris!

Why do they call it a trailer anyway? Shouldn’t a trailer come after the main thing?

Prophet Without Honour

I tried selling web standards today. He was the director of an IT solutions company and I was the small fry recently returned with an overseas education. It basically boiled down to a “what can you do for me” kind of discussion. The final outcome was nothing short of downright ugly, but I came out of it with some valuable lessons.

Being all excited about speaking to the director of a IT solutions company, I delved right into how the XHTML and CSS helped separate content from presentation, and how semantic markup made websites more than just the visual displays they now are.

Halfway through my diatribe he turns to me and says, “I’m not a programmer. I don’t code. I’m the businessman”. Maybe he didn’t say it as succinct, but those was his point. It’s important to know who you’re talking to.

Businessman. Right. Having read Jeffrey Veen’s article on The Business Value of Web Standards I tried baiting him.

“Do you conduct cross-browser testing?” I asked, hoping to draw him into admitting to code-forking. I’d have him on the ropes then, I thought.

“We don’t really care about people who use macs”. Well, that’d be me, I thought silently to myself.

Still listing the quantifiable value of using web standards I told him that the separation of content and presentation would normally bring down file sizes, reducing bandwidth costs. He was hardly impressed - the costs were miniscule.

“Smaller file sizes would result in shorter loading times for your users”, I urged.

“Broadband is so readily available.” I wanted to tell him the a large majority of web users around the world still use <56k dialups. His company’s site had markup uglier than a hydra: it had two <head>s and three <body>s. Didn’t think arguing over the value of semantic markup would help.

While I emphasised the need for usability, he countered by saying that no one knew the user better than the customer, if the two weren’t one and the same. Nothing seemed to hit. Curveballs, fastballs, slowballs. They were all flying past me as I was quickly striking out.

He concluded that he was in business, and being in business meant being pragmatic. Being pragmatic meant making money. Making money meant lowering costs. Semantic markup is usually more work than generating table layouts in an outdated version of Microsoft Frontpage.

I left the building with the sinking feeling that I was no good to nobody (the double negatives do not cancel themselves out here). During the bus ride home I even thought that maybe all this semantic shit (pardon the alliteration) was an adult’s version of IRC or some role-playing game. That coding semantically is all fine and dandy, but it ain’t so in real life.

I know that there’s a move towards more intelligent markup. I’ve seen it in diveintomark.org and so many other semantically rich sites. I just don’t know if I’ve the strength to sell this same vision in a local web design industry that applauds shortcuts and getting away with sloppy work as profitability.

It is true that businesses are set up to make money, but it is not something I believe in. I believe that businesses are set up to serve the community, and I treat my clients that way. I’m not in it for the big bucks or the fancy car. I just need enough to get by and to know that I gave of my best.

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