Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Inspiration

I've come up with a system that I really like for giving titles to my blog posts.  Before I start writing, I try to think of a clever phrase that is in at least some way related to my post.  Then, as I'm writing, I look for ways to insert that phrase into my text.  If I can, great.  If I can't, then I don't worry too much, and I'll generally pick a new title once I'm done from the text that I wrote.  But it gives me one little burst of inspiration and keeps me thinking about what I'm writing, and I like that.  I feel like it keeps me focused, but not so focused that I become too attached to my original ideas.

(This post was originally called "Clever titles," but I renamed it at the end because I came up with something I liked more.  Having that temporary title from the start helped frame what I wrote.)

I think I design a lot of things that way.  When I'm doing artistic work like designing a website layout, I tend to come up with a small image that represents the theme and visual ideas that I'm going for, and then evolve that into something bigger, and then continually refine it.  (Most of this stuff never leaves my own computer.  The design part is the fun part, and turning it into something functional is usually rather tedious, so I never bother finishing it.  Usually something is lost in the process due to technical constraints, too, so it's a little more fun to see my ideas in their "best" state when they're just a nonfunctional mockup.)  When I write code, I start with small little bits of code with a consistent theme and work from there, sometimes evolving it so much that it's completely different by the time I'm done and the original theme isn't even present anymore.  That's fine.  It kept me focused, and it served its purpose as inspiration, even if I didn't stick with my original idea.

Elevator software

At the gym they play three different types of music: upbeat, fast music in workout areas, general pop music in the bistro area, and fairly standard elevator music in the locker rooms and lobbies. While I was changing today, I wondered to myself if it's demoralizing to write elevator music for a living—if perhaps these musicians feel that writing it is beneath them. It's cheap, royalty-free, and the people who buy it probably don't listen to most or any of it before they do. It's sold as music for music's sake, not for its beauty, used in situations where "we need music, but the cheapest music will do." Is that depressing?

Then I remembered that I write freeware for a living. The software that I write doesn't bring in any royalties or directly make my employer any money. People download it because they need to customize and add features to their websites, and there aren't really other options. People don't really download it because it's awesome. I write elevator software. I guess that's not so bad.

(By the way, SharePoint Designer 2010 is available for free download—the first full product I've worked on from day 1. There's not much point in downloading it if you just want to see what I did, though, 'cause you can't do anything with it unless you also set up a SharePoint 2010 server, also available for free.)  (Corrected from original post.)

Monday, April 26, 2010

A grinder of sea salt

Many months ago, Amazon delivered an extra crate of groceries to me that should have gone to someone else. They didn't want them back, so I kept most of the products. Among them was a grinder of sea salt. Since receiving it I've been using it in place of regular salt, wondering if it was worth the cost premium. For the first time ever a few nights ago, I could actually tell that the green beans I was eating were prepared with sea salt instead of regular salt, due to the coarse texture. And indeed, it was slightly better. I'd be wary of believing anyone who insists they can tell the difference between freshly ground sea salt and regular table salt on anything more complicated than green beans, but I'm willing to concede that there are people in the world far more epicurean than I.

Table salt comes out to about 3.42¢ per ounce. Freshly ground sea salt comes out to $1.3632 per ounce. That works out to a 3882% price premium. My perception of the flavor and texture improvement of sea salt versus regular salt was more like about 5%. I think it might be overpriced.

(This assumes that the destructive pleasure one gains from grinding rocks in a device before eating is roughly cancelled out by the inconvenience of having to grind rocks in a device before eating, which is probably also accurate.)

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Extremely important, but I guess not that important

Somewhat regularly I get frantic emails from people who have used my StickyPad program to store extremely important information in their desktop sticky notes, and then decide for some reason or another to reinstall Windows without saving or backing up those notes, and then need my help recovering that data. The first time this happened, I was surprised. The second time, I was sort of humbled and a little scared that people were using my silly little app to store mission-critical stuff. Now I get emails about this every couple of weeks, all desperately looking for help recovering information that was apparently extremely important, but I guess not that important, since they didn't bother saving it.

When originally designing StickyPad, the ability to easily recover essential business information from old hard drives was not one of the features I had in mind. Based on the rough timeframe, I'm guessing that the things that were on my mind at that time included Diablo, Warcraft II, getting my learner's permit, and pictures of naked people. As it turns out, software has a way of staying around longer than originally expected.

(Oh, hey, look, it's almost time for StickyPad's "three years without getting any updates" anniversary!)

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Social newsworking

It occurred to me that my main sources of news about the world around me these days are as follows:
  1. News articles that friends post to Facebook
  2. Four-month-old episodes of Conan O'Brien that I watch while working out each morning (Yes, I'm a bit behind.  Apparently this movie New Moon just came out in theatres last week, and teenage girls really enjoy hot shirtless werewolves.)
  3. Hearing coworkers talk about news events that were referenced on The Daily Show or The Colbert Report in a humorous manner the previous night
  4. News topics that people somehow tie to World of Warcraft on the World of Warcraft forums
  5. News headlines I happen to see flash up on the TV in the cafeteria at work (when it is not playing soccer or Jerry Springer)
I'm so informed.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Coke-operated

Right now I am imagining myself as an arcade machine. I debug for a while, do some stuff, fight bad guys, and then eventually I die and INSERT COKE(S) flashes in the middle of the screen. I get up, go get another Caffeine Free Diet Coke, and then I continue debugging.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Ripping

Previously I kept my music in 192 kbps MP3 format.  A couple years ago I started ripping new music in a lossless format for maximum quality.  I also decided to start the long process of re-ripping everything into that lossless format so I'd always have a maximum-quality copy of all my music and never have to rip again.  I've got about a thousand CDs, but the process hasn't been that painful for the most part.  When I'm about to leave the computer (for work, for example), or I'm just reading Facebook or something else that doesn't require all of my computer's performance, I just pop a CD in, click Rip, and at some point later I run a little tool I made that fixes up all of my playlists that used to include the MP3 versions to now include the lossless versions.  It's easy and it takes little effort.  I won't finish anytime soon (I'm about halfway done, and I've been working on this since sometime last year), but I'm getting there.

But every once in a while, some artist is the bane of my existence, and right now, it's The Roots.  There are a few things that can make the process take five times as long as normal or worse, and they do most of them on each of their albums, of which I own seven.
  • Include guest artists that aren't credited in All Music Guide.  I have to go through and manually add peoples' names to the files.  (Example: contributing artists: The Roots; Erykah Badu; Eve of Destruction; Scott Storch.)
  • Include things that aren't letters in titles.  I have to make sure the new track's filename matches the old one or my carefully-crafted playlists won't find the new song.  (Example: "Do You Want More?!!!??!")
  • Include more than one song on a track.  I have to split this up an a separate encoder program after ripping.  (Example: on their album Phrenology, track 15 is blank, track 16 is also blank, track 17 includes both "Rhymes and Ammo" and "Thirsty," and track 18 is blank.  I want to punch someone in the face.)
I suppose I could just not be so anal-retentive about the organization of my music collection, but... no.