My Rental

Slushy Road
Originally uploaded by super_structure.

I took my truck in yesterday to have some service done (minor recall crap). The dealership gave me a rental for the day, which turned out to be a Mazda 3. Okay, it’s not Ferrari or anything, but much nicer than the broken down Ford Focus they gave me last time. Anyway, it’s a really nice little car. Very sporty. It even has manu-matic shifting (or whatever Mazda calls it) like my truck. Unlike my truck, it has red & black interior with carbon fiber trim. The dash is all submarine-sytle red lights. Even thought it’s a small car, I thought it was very comfortable. It did feel like large bumps might make it take air pretty easy, though. Unsettling for a guy who usually drives small sport utility vehichle.

Speaking of which, they had to replace the trim-work on the A-pillars of my vehicle. Come to find out they didn’t provide a whole lot of padding in an accident. Of course, isn’t that what seatbelts are for? Anyway, the problem is, on a Freelander, the A pillars are already pretty massive and this didn’t really help. They now have a sort of aerofoil shape to them, which is larger and far more dangerous looking than the origional trim. I didn’t think to ask the dealer if I could keep the old plastic… Oh well.

Firefox Plug-ins And Searchable Markup

Today, I’m working on a Flickr search engine for FireFox. Why hasn’t someone done that already? Well, for one, Flickr isn’t really set up for external searches.

Flickr

Today, I’m working on a Flickr search engine for FireFox. I was really surprised that no one had thought to create one yet, give Flickr’s huge popularity. Okay, maybe I’m more of a fan that your average Joe (or Jane), but it does seem to be pretty hip with the kids. Anyway, these little search plug-ins are really pretty easy to write and they are extremely handy.

That being said, when you look at the code from a search from Google, you’ll notice little remark tags before and after each search result item:

<!--m--><a href=http://www.jasoncoleman.net/>super_structure | <b>Jason</b> <b>Coleman</b></a><br><font size=-1><b>...</b> And The Coal Men — singer Dave <b>Coleman</b> and cohorts Dave Ray and <b>Jason</b> Hitchcock [yada, yada, yada]<!--n-->

As you can imagine, those little remarks containing m & n make for very nice search strings. The set of search results for each page returned are also bound in similar remarks, with a & z (get it? From "a" to "z".). Yeah, anyway, most of your other sites don’t contain such luxuries (like, say, Yahoo). Flickr, sadly, has even less. The results from a tag search at Flickr, such as "cameraphone" don’t contain any deliminators to speak of. Of course, the idea here is that you just use part of the mark-up as a text string in your search for where an item begins and ends, but that doesn’t work so well. Of course, the natural markup would be <li> & </li> (Flickr uses <p>, which is the same for this argument), but alas, that’s no good when you add a class, id, or style which contain " ‘s (quotation marks). The problem is that those " ‘s truncate your text string prematurely. (Also, Firefox doesn’t seem to understand using &quot; in this context).

All this being said, I’ve submitted my little code to the Mycroft people at Mozilla, so maybe it’ll be up there soon. You can download the file right now from me, and just stick it in the \Mozilla Firefox\searchplugins\ directory and restart Firefox. You won’t have an icon just yet for Flickr. They like those to be downloaded from their site, as opposed to just any old place.

I think that Google’s use of the remark tags as deliminators is a pretty nice little feature that 99.9% of users never know about, but can benefit from because of features like the toolbar search in Firefox. If you happen to have installed the sidebar search, and have my Flickr search, then doing a search on a term in both Flickr & Google simultaneously will show you the benefit. Google returns results just like the Google page. My Flickr plug-in only returns the thumbnail (non-hyperlinked) and the creator (also, non-hyperlinked). I had found a way to include the title of the photo, but then the link for the result went to the creator’s "photostream" and not the individual photo. Is there a way around all this? I’m sure, but I’m not a good enough code writer to do it. Plus, I doubt most people even know about the sidebar search, let alone use it.

Up next, a search plug-in for Wired News!

Everything That Was Old Is New Again

I’ve got the site, well, looking exactly like it did a couple of days ago.

Okay, well… I think I’ve taken the 20-lb sledge to most of the look of the site, if only to get exactly back to where I was two days ago (before I upgraded to WP1.5). However, there’s some more power under the hood now, and hopefully I know a little more about what’s going on behind the scenes around here. I have to say, it took me forever to figure out how to tweak the HTML code of the link categories in the sidebar. Man, is that buried in here!

I have a long list of things to get to, and I’m looking forward to hearing from everybody as to what they think. That reminds me, you can cannot leave comments again (I’m so jealous of people who have blogs that work, right now). Let me know if you find anything broken. I hope to get the RSS feeds back again, soon as well. There’s always e-mail, although that’s so 1998.

Did You Change Your Hair?

I’m in the process of upgrading to WordPress 1.5. Yes, I’m about a week late, but I’m no less excited.

Things look different about the same around here, and it’s not all for the best at the moment. You’ll see that the individuality has been sucked right out of the look at super_structure. You may also find that a number of links are dead around the site (hopefully not the posts… my precious posts). Ah, who am I kidding, there were always dead links around here.

Anyway, I finally took the leap of the deep end of the blogging pool and decided to upgrade to WordPress 1.5. It’s got a couple of really cool features that I’m very excited about using:

  1. Pages: Not everything in the world is a blog post. My old site had tons of cool pages that I’ve been searching for a way to integrate on here, and I’ve now got an answer. Best of all, it doesn’t involve me writing so much damn markup!
  2. Themes: This goes along with the whole pages thing. Now, I can create a nice look and feel that is consistent among all the pages and posts with in the site. It even allows me to have 404 pages that look like the rest of the site. I best be getting right on that one, since you’ll be seeing a lot of them for a while!

Well, I’ve got a lot of work to do, and it’s going to take a while. Check back often and please post comments here if you find some broken links, errors, etc.

Update: Well, if you’ve tried to leave a comment, then you know that’s pretty tough to do. There is something or other wrong with the comment field such that you can’t fill in your name or e-mail and of course you can’t comment without those! Well, I’ll work on getting that corrected. You can always just e-mail me at jason(at)jasoncoleman(dot)net

“Numb3rs” on CBS

Numb3rs has a lot of promise as a series. It can certainly have some interesting cases due to the fact that pretty much everything can be tied in to math. However, I do find the portrayal of the scientists as somewhat trite, in that they’re all spacey and can’t remember if they weren’t going in or out of the building because they’re too deep in thought.

Quite frankly, it’s been a while since I really followed anything on CBS. That’s why I was intrigued that Rob Morrow was going to be on a new series, and further, that it would be about a mathematician helping the FBI to solve cases. I’ve been collecting some of the shows on the TiVo for the past month, but I’ve been waiting until after I had a chance to watch the fourth episode, "Structural Corruption," to post some thoughts about the show. Yes, that was a week ago, but keep in mind I have a day job with long hours.

NUMB3RS - Pilot Episode

NUMB3RS – Pilot Episode – Image courtesy of www.numb3rs.org

Ok, the 2 second soundbite review of the show: "A Beautiful Mind" meets "CSI." Now, onto the meat. Rob Morrow is actually quite believable in the role of FBI Special Agent Don Eppes. I don’t find myself thinking of waylaid doctors in Alaska at all. The other cast members are all well done as well. This isn’t NYPD Blue heavy, where things are so gritty you need a shower after the credits role and it isn’t a soundstage sitcom, either. It’s a nice drama, with as much on the personal stories of the characters as the cases themselves. It seems no show is willing to follow the original Law & Order format, where the cases are the stars and the reoccurring actors just help to support the story. That’s okay, seeing where the characters live is not bad for the greater story that spans episodes, either. I do find the portrayal of the scientists as somewhat trite, in that they’re all spacey and can’t remember if they weren’t going in or out of the building because they’re too deep in thought. I’ve know many brilliant scientists and mathematicians, and they mostly thought about beer and sex just like the rest of us. They never had a hard time walking and chewing gum at the same time, so to speak. I will say, that for all the parts, the show’s producers seemed to bother to try and find people who could pull of the part rather than just look while blankly going on about statistics, formulas, and number theory.

NUMB3RS - Pilot Episode

NUMB3RS – Rob Morrow as FBI Special Agent Don Eps & Sabrina Lloyd as F
BI Special Agent Terry Lake. Image courtesy of www.numb3rs.org

The direction of the show is in the style of Fox’s 24, with handheld camera’s filming from sometimes inconvenient angles, such as from outside vehicles and through doorframes, etc. It’s well done here, and the style isn’t tired yet. The special effects are nice. Given the shows running theme of mathematics (and it’s many disciplines, such as physics and engineering), it’s like watching those nice little animations on a Discovery show like Mythbusters.

This brings me to the fourth episode. First of all, the premise of the show (that is, a student discovering a structural problem with a already built, high profile building) is based on the story of the Citicorp building in Manhattan. A year after the landmark building was opened, structural engineer William LeMessuerier received a phone call from a student who claimed the columns were not in optimum locations to resist loading from wind. It’s the very first story, chapter one, of my college engineering ethics textbook. Anyway, the story ends with LeMessurier realizing that even though the way the building was constructed (which wasn’t exactly the way he’d specified) would likely fail catastrophically in a 16-year wind, not a 50 or 100-year wind that the building would have been designed for. LeMessurier came up with remediation plans and Citicorp implemented them, saving the building, the church at the buildings base, and any number of people from harm or death. It’s considered the story engineers tell their children to teach them how to respond to errors.

The Numb3rs episode deals with this, as well as college students’ high risk of suicide, shady contractors, and even finds time to bring up some romance. As a structural engineer, some of the technical discussions seemed a little child-like. However, I’m sure that most of the stuff I can’t follow on ER my wife groks without thought. The fact that Charlie (David Krumholtz) and his physicist mentor, Larry (Peter MacNicol), build a computer model of the building to respond to seismic and wind forces in an afternoon is a little comical. I won’t go into it, but it’s not likely they would be able to do it in a month, let alone a few hours. They at least bother to explain what’s going on. Anyway, Charlie gets very wrapped in determining what the young engineering student was trying to discover. The students death, judged to be a suicide, seems to deeply affect our hero. Oddly, it seems the engineering student left nothing but lots of blueprints of buildings around and no notes or calculations of any kind to indicate he may have been concerned about excessive deflection under quartering winds. Oh, well, some engineers do things in their heads, I suppose. With the help of the FBI strong-arming some rotten contractors, the building is soon to be saved with the help of our old friend: the tuned mass dampener.

Numb3rs has a lot of promise as a series. It can certainly have some interesting cases due to the fact that pretty much everything can be tied in to math. They do it already on cop, medical, and investigation dramas. No reason to think this couldn’t be just as successful. The show needs to try and find it’s own voice and feel early on, so as to not be anything more than "A Beautiful CSI – Los Angeles." For what it’s worth, it’s not got a season pass on the TiVo. What show could ask for more?

Professional Amatuers

Bloggers seem to be the story in the news lately. This all reminds me of Gomer Pyle shouting “Cit-i-zen’s Arrast, Cit-i-zen’s Arrast!”

After the credit for bringing down Sen. Trent Lott, Dan Rather, Eason Jordan, and Jeff Gannon (aka J.D. Guckert), bloggers seem to be the story in the news lately. By news, I mean the "mainstream media," although bloggers seem to be doing an awful lot of back-patting of their own. It’s been said the media’s favorite subject is itself and it seems bloggers are no different in that regard. The story, it seems, is the question as to weblogs place in the media. Wired had a story yesterday about the question of bloggers having the same protection as mainstream journalists. Political-minded weblogs are arguing back and forth about which journalists or media icon they brought down has the most political significance and who is responsible for their fall. I might ask here, has anyone read anything about a blog making someone famous? I guess that’d just be dog-biting-man stuff.

Press Hat

This all reminds me of Gomer Pyle shouting “Cit-i-zen’s Arrast, Cit-i-zen’s Arrast!” While I don’t think that too many places have licensed journalists (unlike say, doctors, pharmacists, engineers, or hair-dressers), I think that we all understand the idea of being a "member of the press." Remember those goofy white cards sticking out of the guys’ hats in all the 50’s & 60’s shows that read PRESS? That doesn’t make sense unless we all have some understanding of the concept of what the press is. Like the freedom of the press in the 1st Amendment. This is also why bloggers go by the very populist title of "citizen journalists." It sounds all so folksy and grass-roots doesn’t it? Well, I for one think it’s about as folksy as a case of rabies. When you have no rules or understood ethical guidelines, it is amazing what you can get done. However, those rules and ethics are what make the news news and not simple gossip. I’m not naive and I’m fully aware that this doesn’t always happen. I remember Stephen Glass and Jayson Blaire, too. However, we had a sort of market guarantee that the evening news or the morning paper were going to try and get it right (yes, the facts) and not take the insanely stupid risk of reporting something that just wasn’t true or that no one was willing to go on the record as saying. It seems Bloggers sometime relish in the fact that they don’t have to play by any certain rules, just because of the exceptions in the Mainstream media that broke said rules. This is just the latest development in what I think is a worrisome trend.

Somewhere along the way, we got Fox News for conservatives and I guess CNN is for the rest of us who just don’t think Fox News is worth a damn. Anyway, we got these news channels that suddenly had demographic audiences they seemed hell bent on pleasing to keep. The news was custom tailored to what the audience thought the truth ought to be, rather than what it might actually be. Now, with blogs, it goes a giant leap beyond. Now, people are reporting what they think the news should be. No longer do we just subscribe to our own little news filters, we filter it with our own lens for others! They dictate what the spin is and seem to have little trouble in pushing it relentlessly until the Mainstream Media picks up on it. In this brave new world, your on the record 24-hours-a-day, 7-days-a-week.

I have a blog. I’m not trying to fool you. This is all an exercise in vanity, just like every other blog is. Let’s just keep in mind that quitting our day jobs to sit around in our pajamas and spew digital bile on those we hate isn’t going to make the world better for anyone except pajama manufacturers. I’ll let Chuck Olsen & Jon Stewart have the last word. Thank’s Chuck for posting this video. (We all know what a true friend of the Mainstream Media that Jon is.)

The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly

Not much going on today, other than tons of work and still under the sick spell. I did want to point out a very short, but glowing review of the The Coal Men on the Tennessean web site posted yesterday. Just in case you’re too lazy to click:

You won’t find a shortage of skilled roots-rock bands slingin’ chords around on any given night in Nashville, sure, but really, really good ones still stand out.
And The Coal Men — singer Dave Coleman and cohorts Dave Ray and Jason Hitchcock — are really, really good, bashing out a collection of expertly crafted songs that have as much bite as they do twang. Coleman’s got a heck of a baritone and Ray and Hitchcock’s rhythms are spot-on, but their sets are still loose enough to feel lived in.

That’s about typical for the Tennessean’s reviews of the band. They love the local guys, and they really love The Coal Men. Oh yeah, about locals: If you read (in the Tennessean or elsewhere) last week about the 27 year old female school teacher who was busted for multiple counts of rape of a 13 year old boy, then you may have read on to learn that she’s from my home county. It’s always great to see someone from a small town striking it big in the news. I didn’t know the woman back then, although I’m sure I saw her play some basketball and recognized her maiden name: Pamela Rogers.

Lastly, on the subject of famous people, be sure and read Wired’s article on celebrities that come into the Apple Store at The Grove Mall in Los Angeles. Funny stuff.

Twin Turkey Vultures

Twin Turkey Vultures
Originally uploaded bysuper_structure.

A couple of turkey vultures landed outside my office window today during my lunch break. Apparently, they come around every once in a while to prey on the dead geese and ducks around the small lakes in the immediate area. While quite possibly one of the ugliest birds you can imagine, they’re actually quite interesting to watch.

Anyway, I’m trying hard to ignore the symbolism of having a couple of vultures hovering around just outside my window. I have a couple of project deadlines early next week and am struggling to stay on top of things. Fortunately, I’m not alone in the office and on one’s going to leave my carcass out for the birdies. Still, I think I’ll make sure they are no big birds of prey flying around when I leave work today.


Coming Up For Air

My reason for not posting for the last week is that I’ve been very sick. Some sort of respiratory infection. Nothing that would constitute an emergency, though.

I know I haven’t been posting anything for over a week now. Of course, if you’re not a person interested in TiVo, then you probably haven’t been reading my posts for longer than that. Sorry about that. What can I say, I got a new toy and I’ve been playing with it. Actually, the reason for not posting for the last week is that I’ve been very sick. Some sort of respiratory infection. Well, 3 OTC’s, 4 prescriptions, and 2 trips to the doctor’s office later, and I’m beginning to feel a little better. I promise never to make fun of Richmond’s Doc-In-A-Box again. I’m so glad there here and can help me on a Sunday afternoon! Okay, I’m not going to make them into something they’re not. However, I’m not going to bust their chops either. They do good work over there. Not to mention, they keep a lot of people out of the emergency room. We can all be thankful for that.

Well, other than a less-than-rousing State of the Union address, there’s not been too much goings on to write about. I won’t go into here, other than to say that the "ownership society" rhetoric is getting a little old for me. Have we all forgotten Enron & Worldcom? Who the hell wants this to be the future of Social Security? For all the talk of social security being broken and in need of immediate repair, what we really need is to understand that it’s not projected to run out of money until 2042, even by conservative estimates. That’s if it’s left alone right now. There is no emergency and we don’t need to go blowing trillions (yep, that’s a T) by privatizing any of this. Not yet at least. Let the government take some time and use some leverage to get private companies and investment firms to go along without that massive cost. That’s something of an over-simplification, but not unreasonable. I understand some important people won’t make as much money in the short term, but this is Social Security and was never about making anybody money. It was about ensuing we’ll all have some help after retirement… to ensure that Americans could even consider retirement. I’m not Social Security expert, and I’m certainly not investing Guru. However, I can spot a bleeding emergency when I see one, and this folks, isn’t such a thing. Having the common sense not to rush into fixing this program that is currently working reasonably well (I have family members that get their checks) is the same common sense that kept me out of the emergency room for a bad cough.