May 6, 2016

I am done with Volkswagen (, )

by fluffy at 7:12 PM

In college I drove my family's old 1985 VW Jetta, which was a lot of fun. It didn't have power steering, the air conditioner only had two settings ("warm" and "off"), and it would vibrate alarmingly when approaching New Mexico's freeway speed limit (which it took quite some time to get to), but I had many, many fond memories of that car nonetheless.

Last August I had a reason to have a car again, and I'd always been fond of the classic Beetle, so I figured I'd buy myself a New Beetle. I'd heard good things about them, and they definitely had a lot of devoted fans. The newest model seemed kind of fugly to me and I wasn't about to spend $24K for a car, though, so I decided to buy used. I looked around and found a used 2009 at a small dealership with all the options I wanted, and the Carfax checked out, so I took it for a test drive and fell in love, and bought it then and there.

That was my first mistake.

April 26, 2015

Cintiq Companion 2 (, , )

by fluffy at 4:53 PM

Maybe my standards are just too damn high, but I'm not happy with the Cintiq Companion 2 either, and I'm probably going to return it (although I'll give it a couple more weeks to decide, since there's a 30-day Satisfaction Guaranteed window on it, and return shipping is not free on that).

Reasons I'm unhappy with it:

  • The stylus tracking is still pretty bad (the stability is fine but the accuracy leaves a lot to be desired)
  • The battery life is abysmal - like, 1.5 hours or so
  • It's heavy and loud and cumbersome
  • Every time Windows Update happens I end up needing to basically reinstall everything, because Windows is still a pile of crap (and Windows itself is also really aggravating for lots of reasons)
  • And, a big one for me, is that being stuck with Windows also means needing to be stuck with Lightroom if I intend to do multiple-device photo management

I really, really don't like Lightroom. I also don't like what Apple did with Photos but at least there's the potential for Apple to fix the couple of glaring problems (namely the inability to migrate portions of a library between systems, which was the one reason I bought Aperture in the first place). Adobe has shown time and time again that they never ever want to fix glaring, fundamental problems with their software, they just like adding more features and complexity in ways that make it less and less useful. I haven't figured out a reasonable workflow for working with Lightroom, and even just using its basic functionality is painful and obnoxious. So, Photos is the lesser of two evils, and I'm probably going to switch back. But this means that I can't have a single device for both drawing and photography on the go... or does it?

Because there's an app called Astropad that basically turns an iPad into a Cintiq, and Peggy swears by it, and I've played with the demo and it's quite nice. So if I could just do what Peggy does and connect the iPad to my MacBook via USB, I have everything I want, right?

Well, probably not everything. But still, less aggravation than what I'm dealing with right now.

Anyway, I don't completely regret actually paying for Lightroom, because it's $120/year and comes with Photoshop, which I'd been, er, "borrowing" before. So $120 for a year of legal Photoshop is still worthwhile, even if I never touch the festering pile of garbage that is Lightroom again.

Meanwhile, I've ordered one of Astropad's recommended styluses and will try that out for a while, and I guess I should see if it's possible to migrate my Lightroom library back into Aperture so that I can convert it to Photos... or more likely, restore my Aperture library from backup. Because, ugh ugh ugh, I can't imagine trying to use Lightroom to actually do anything useful.

April 10, 2015

In which I purchase, and almost immediately return, a Surface Pro 3 (, , )

by fluffy at 5:07 PM

Lately I've been getting a lot more serious about my art, and while I upgraded my dying Intuos 2 to an Intuos 5 just over a year ago (holy cow, has it been that long already?), I'd recently been bitten by the Gotta Have A Cintiq bug yet again (mostly because I was chatting about tablets with Jake, since he'd upgraded from a Yiynova to a Cintiq a while ago).

February 24, 2015

YouTube's broken copyright system (part 238942 of ∞) (, , )

by fluffy at 9:01 AM

So in the past I've talked about how broken the copyright system is from the perspective of someone whose content gets falsely-flagged. But there's also problems with it from the perspective of a legitimate rights holder!

What I want, as an independent musician who believes in a free exchange of ideas, is a copyright flagging system that:

  • Notifies me that my work is being used
  • Gives me a reasonable cut of any ad revenue already being applied to the work
  • Ensures that my work is being attributed in a way that people can buy my source material if they so choose

What YouTube's ContentID system provides:

  • Tells the user that they are violating my copyright
  • Gives them the option to either remove my music from their video entirely, or add new ads that go solely to paying me
  • Notifies me that my work is being used
  • Ensures that my work is being attributed and directs people to the Google Play store

There are a few big problems with ContentID as it's implemented:

  • It's an all-or-nothing traditional-copyright-based system (no allowance for Creative Commons being used in the way it's intended)
  • It assumes a totalitarian grip on materials (because that's what the RIAA members wanted, and Google doesn't give a crap about indies)
  • The verbiage provided to the content user implies that they did something wrong and that they have broken the law and now must pay penance to the holy content creator
  • Content creators can either enroll their stuff in ContentID (and get all the above) or they can have it not enrolled, meaning that content users will either get spurious matches on other things or can get away with not actually following the CC license in the first place

What would be awesome is if YouTube were to add a ContentID mechanism that were Creative Commons-friendly. Enforce compliance with the CC license, and give a cut of existing revenue to the content source. But asking for such a thing is still like pissing into the wind.

October 8, 2014

More whining about drawing apps (, , )

by fluffy at 8:32 PM

Every now and then I start trying to draw comics again and every time I do I run into the same roadblocks where I feel like I'm spending too much time trying to work around Photoshop's crappy brush model instead of actually just getting into the basic drawing.

The big fundamental problem with Photoshop (and all of the Photoshop clones, including GIMP and Pixelmator) for inking is that it treats brushes not as continuous lines of varying width, but as sequences of tightly-spaced circular blobs of ink. This is the fundamental reason why its lines tend to be blurry with round tips and that characteristic inked-in-Photoshop look.

September 7, 2014

RSS is my social network (, )

by fluffy at 12:46 AM

RSS is my social network, and these are my reblogs.

(Also I really wish FOAF had caught on, but it sadly never really got past the "here's an amazing schema that does a lot of great stuff if only people would write tools to support it!" phase.)

July 24, 2014

Whither blogging? (, , )

by fluffy at 12:31 AM

It seems like I never have anything to say in public anymore; most of my entries are friends-only these days, and I don't even post much of those either. All of my older entries embarrass me. I should unpublish a bunch.

The friends-only functionality is the only reason I even keep phpBB around, and it's such a terrible comment engine that's far outlived its usefulness. I often think about dumping MovableType for some templates written in Jekyll but I don't know how feasible it would be to add in friends-only stuff.

June 14, 2014

Photoshop CC gripes (, )

by fluffy at 1:04 AM

I have two gripes with Photoshop CC, which are tiny things that have a stupidly huge impact on my comic-making workflow.

The merely annoying one: no matter how I set my paint bucket tool, it only does partial coverage of my fill region and leaves a gap by the edge, unless I double-click to tell it to cover the covered region. What the hell? (Although an alt-backspace fill is quicker and doesn't have this issue anyway.)

The really frustrating one: pretty much all the freaking time it gets confused as to whether my Wacom stylus is being pressed down or not; often after I click or stroke with it, it thinks that the stylus is still down, and while in that state it doesn't let me change tools and it'll mess up polygonal lasso selections (which I use a lot) and so on. I end up having to tap AGAIN, hope that it lets me change tools, then cmd-Z out of whatever thing I just did to convince it to let me do a new thing. UGH. Never mind, turns out it was a bug in the version of the Wacom driver I had installed. Never mind again, this problem still persists.

I really wish there were any other drawing programs that were even remotely usable for me.

I'd just go back to CS4 (for this and other reasons too) but it doesn't work on my Retina MacBook. And I remember CS5 having many of these problems when I tried it.

October 4, 2013

Things that should exist: smart water heaters (, , )

by fluffy at 9:48 AM

Why keep heating a water heater to its peak need temperature all day when most of the time you only need a smaller amount of hot water? Why can't a water heater learn that you tend to use more hot water at 8:30 AM and raise the set point an hour or two in advance to anticipate the need, and then turn the set point back down to a more energy-efficient level later on?

Tankless water heaters try to solve this same problem in a different way (only heating the water as it's needed) but they have significant issues with TCO and maintenance, and they have a lot of lag between water being pulled and water being heated, meaning that it ends up wasting a lot of water as it heats up. They're also pretty limited in how much of a temperature delta they can produce, especially in electric models, and this can be a big problem in colder climates.

A hybrid approach (moderate-sized tank with a moderate set point, on-demand heating to get to the target temperature) might work better but it seems like it would bring in the worst of both worlds (even more maintenance, more space usage, more peak power, and still wastes a lot of energy all the time).

Obviously, a conventional water heater with perfect insulation would be great. If someone can figure out how to insulate it perfectly, that would be a start. (Remember, a lot of heat loss comes from the pipes that are connected to the heater in the first place!)

July 19, 2013

Please stop being dumb about gluten (, , )

by fluffy at 12:39 PM

So, I went to Whole Foods for lunch today, because their by-the-weight food bar isn't terrible.

I got some panko-breaded cod, and decided I'd like some lemon. They didn't have any lemon slices, though, just lemon juice at the salad bar dressing station, so I went directly to it. A person who was a few slots away got annoyed at me and said, "Sorry, but you're going the wrong way!" probably thinking that I was intending to make a circuit of the whole salad bar or something. But, whatever; I ignored her and just took the lemon juice while she glared at me. Then she grabbed some poor random Whole Foods worker and started asking about whether any of the salad dressings were gluten-free.

"What are my gluten-free options for salad dressing? Is this lemon juice gluten-free? I don't see an ingredients list on the vinegar. How can I be sure there isn't any gluten in it?"

I wanted to, but didn't, say, "Lady, do you know where gluten even comes from? It's a product of wheat flour. As in, the only thing that's even in the salad bar that has gluten at all are the croutons." I don't like assuming things about people, but I can't help but think that this is yet another example of how people hear about things being "gluten-free" and then assuming that gluten is somehow bad for you and that you need to stay gluten-free because of some nebulous Health Issues, and it's this stupid faddish trend that does nothing but make it even harder for people who actually do have a gluten intolerance to find things that are legitimately gluten-free. (Relatedly, people avoiding "glutinous rice" because of the gluten. Sorry, but no, that's a completely different thing.)

On the way back, the hair salon next door was advertising "vegan, gluten-free hair care."

April 14, 2013

So much for T-Mobile (, )

by fluffy at 5:28 PM

I just spent a rather annoying time with a T-Mobile CSR attempting to get some clarification on why my account would be subject to an ETF if I were to convert it from monthly to prepaid.

Timeline of events:

2001: got my first cellphone on Voicestream, liked them, liked T-Mobile even better when they bought Voicestream out
2008: iPhone siren song got too strong, switched to AT&T with an unlocked, unsubsidized iPhone.
2009: Eventually gave up on AT&T, decided to never use them again and switched back to T-Mobile (via a pay-as-you-go service).
2011: Still on T-Mobile's prepaid, had an increasingly frustrating experience with the lack of integration between prepaid and some of their services.
August 2011: Switched to Virgin Mobile. Had a terrible experience all around (both with quality of service and billing problems)
November 2011: Switched back to T-Mobile. Purchased an LG Optimus 2X with a monthly installment plan (no discount or subsidy to the device).
July 2012: Upgraded to a Galaxy Nexus, bought unsubsidized directly from Google.
August 2012: Moved to Seattle, had terrible coverage, started using a VoIP provider with my home Internet connection, T-Mobile minute usage dropped to practically nothing.
February 2013: Applied a corporate discount to my account to mitigate some of the expensive suckiness. This reset my contract term to 24 months.
April 2013: Paid off the remaining payments on the installment plan, contacted T-Mobile support to make a service change and, while I had the CSR's attention, asked about switching to a discounted prepaid rate, in light of their announcement of doing away with contracts entirely and a coworker finding a much lower non-contract rate plan that suited my needs much better. Thus, this chat transcript (which I have also submitted to The Consumerist).
???: Going to switch to another provider that doesn't keep on jerking loyal customers around. Probably Ting.

March 3, 2013

Wherein I delete all my YouTube videos (, , )

by fluffy at 10:48 PM

So, a few years ago I made some remixes of other peoples' youtube videos, as a sort of slice-of-life thing. Many of the videos were about peoples' difficulty with other people on the Internet, or their views of politics, and so on. I was just doing an artsy thing.

January 5, 2013

Giving up on RelayRides (, )

by fluffy at 9:10 AM

The service is great, but holy crap are the renters here idiots.

December 3, 2012

Voice over IP over Google (, , )

by fluffy at 10:05 PM

So, as I've mentioned in the past, I've been living a mostly Google-service-free life for the last year or so. I do my own email and calendar hosting on LiNode, I use DuckDuckGo for search, and I use Tiny Tiny RSS hosted on Dreamhost for my RSS feeds. (And Dreamhost in general for my webhosting, although I might move some of that over to the LiNode or get an EC2 instance or something.)

However, I still quite like Android, and so I still need a GMail account for its user account (for app purchases and such), and while I have that I also have Google Voice for my phone number, which I figure is fairly benign since I don't keep my address book on Google's servers and so far they haven't done anything to monetize my voicemails.

Once upon a time I worked for a VoIP startup in Albuquerque. Everything was based on standard technologies, namely SIP for call routing and various DNS-based things for endpoint lookup. In the VoIP landscape, most providers do something similar. But not Google.

Google Voice provides two forms of call termination:

  1. Routing your calls over the POTS network using a call gateway (which is expensive)
  2. Routing your calls over the Internet (which is cheap) using the Jingle protocol (which is non-standard)

Android itself supports SIP dialing and termination. If you have a traditional SIP account, such as with Vonage, 8x8, or any of the thousands of VoIP services out there, then you can use Internet bandwidth for your call routing, natively and built-in to the Android OS. But Google Voice — Google's own service, made by the same people who make Android — does not support SIP. Instead it uses Jingle, which is a protocol intended for establishing voice calls via XMPP. (Incidentally, most existing IM networks, such as AIM, use SIP for their call routing as well.) Android has no built-in support for Jingle.

SIP also allows you to have multiple endpoints connected to a single account; if a call comes in, then all connected endpoints will ring and any of them can answer the call. Jingle, however, has the same limitation as XMPP, in that incoming messages only go to one connected endpoint, and the rules by which it decides which one gets it are byzantine, opaque, and generally not very useful.

Where this is going for me is that I have fairly spotty cellphone reception in the two places I sit most often: my recording studio, and my office. However, I have great Internet coverage there. So, one of my coworkers pointed me to an app called GrooVe IP, a Jingle client for Android. It has a few rough edges, but it works well enough. However, it doesn't work too well if you have Google Voice set to forward to both your cellphone and your Jingle client, because both of them ring and the phone gets confused. Fortunately, GrooVe also makes GrooVe Forwarder, which you can use to turn the cellphone forwarding on and off based on GrooVe IP's availability. So, that works pretty okay.

I also decided for various reasons that it'd be nice to have a landline going through Google Voice, which is possible because of the OBi110, which will connect to Google Voice accounts, and also provides its own call routing mesh (which, as it turns out, sucks horribly). Unfortunately, it connects to Google Voice via Jingle. Which only supports a single endpoint at any given time. And you have no control over whether the OBi box or GrooVe IP gets priority.

So right now my choices are:

  1. Use the OBi exclusively at home, and my work phone number at work, and just not use GrooVe IP at all (and be stuck with suboptimal but available devices)
  2. Use GrooVe IP + GrooVe Forwarder on my cellphone, and return (or write off) the OBi and cordless phone I got to work with it (I was originally just going to use my AE90 with it, but I'm not sure the OBi can produce enough voltage to trigger the ringer, and anyway it turns out the OBi requires a touch-tone phone for initial setup — and of course pulse dialing won't work with it, not that I expected/needed it to)
  3. Sign up for a VoIP service, connect the OBi (which also supports SIP) to that, and pay an extra $7+/month for the ability to have a backup phone at home (and add it as a Google Voice POTS endpoint)
  4. Hope really hard that Google comes to their senses and adds actual SIP support to Google Voice and then have everything Just Work (ha ha who am I kidding that'll never happen, have you seen what they've done to IMAP and NNTP?)
  5. Sign up for actual POTS service, use the OBi in its intended capacity as a proprietary-calls-to-POTS termination device (which in turn allows me to roll my own limited version of Google Voice, essentially), be sure that my AE90 will work, and pay $14+/month for what just amounts to 911 access

Right now I'm mostly leaning towards option 2, because it works (mostly) and isn't terrible (mostly).

October 16, 2012

Logitech Harmony remotes (, , )

by fluffy at 11:55 PM

So, my TV only came with a stupid "magic" remote which uses a gestural mouse and is painful to use. LG does a good job of making it hard to tell which of their standard remotes works with their TVs. And I wanted a universal remote that would work with everything; the universal remote which came with my stereo is quite good but, unfortunately, doesn't support the particular LG remote codes I need, either. So I paid way too much money for a Logitech Harmony One.

After spending a couple hours trying to get it to work reasonably I think I've beaten it into submission, but it was still bad enough that I decided to send a not-so-polite suggestion to Logitech support:

There is absolutely nothing intuitive or well-designed about this piece of crap web application thing. It's not even due to it being a web application, it's just that I don't think that the people who wrote the software have ever actually tried using it.

It would be really nice if you could just configure your devices based on what they're connected to (like, PS3 is connected to the A/V receiver on the HDMI2 port, A/V receiver is connected to the TV on the TV's HDMI1 port) rather than having to do a fiddly configuration of every port every single time you want to set up an activity.

It would be nice if you could skip the wizard crap, and just say which devices you want on and in which modes, and if you could see all the stuff about an activity or device at a glance instead of having it broken up into a dozen different pages.

It would be really nice if it didn't consider an Apple TV to be the same as a full media PC with keyboard, mouse, monitor, and gaming.

It would be exceptional if the button configuration for an activity could have groups of buttons set based on the defaults for one of the devices.

As it stands, the Harmony configuration software is CRAP, and it would also be really nice if there were just some XML-based format that users could use to create a configuration with an external tool. Allowing for third-party configuration would be a really good thing in this case.

Your wizards suck. Your UI sucks. The only reason I went with the Harmony is there don't seem to be any other learning remotes on the market anymore. I'm regretting paying this much for a nice device that's configured with such a badly-written piece of crap.

Your UI designers are bad and you should feel bad.

Was this abrasive enough?

September 14, 2012

A reminder of why I don't run Windows (, )

by fluffy at 9:10 PM

So I rebooted my laptop into Windows for the first time in months, hoping to play Black Mesa Source. It came up, but everything was degraded, all my system tray icons were missing or broken, I was unable to configure it to Wi-Fi, and there was a "This copy of Windows is not genuiune" warning in the corner of the screen (which is probably why the rest of it was there). I went to try to activate it, but since I couldn't get online (because one of the systray icons that was removed was my Wi-Fi settings and I didn't feel like tunneling through the billions of different ways of configuring networking in Control Panel which are all maddening and broken and stupid in different ways) I decided to try the phone activation. Which was of course a very slow and obnoxious process, because there were warnings about how long the wait would be if I needed tech support, then overly-verbose instructions about how to enter the goddamn "installation ID" key, and then every single time I entered a group of 6 digits it stopped to prompt me for the next one with a different tone of voice and long-winded explanation of what to do next each time. Finally I got through it all, and then the number it read back to me for the activation went through the same sort of thing. Finally I got my Windows activated, and then rebooted, and then got Wi-Fi working, and then I kept getting a buttload of error messages from Steam that were covered over by other Steam dialogs and I just got sick of it and rebooted back into Linux.

Wake me up when Black Mesa Source is out for the Mac.

September 1, 2012

Please allow 7-10 business days (, )

by fluffy at 10:30 AM

Dear email marketing teams:

Why is it that you can get me on your mailing list the instant I've made a purchase in your store, but it takes two weeks to remove me from it?

Keep in mind that I was already a customer, and when you added me to the list there was no opt-in for the marketing materials.

I don't want your goddamn marketing materials, and all you're doing by continuing to send it to me in this "just in case" period is making me never want to shop with you ever again.

It reeks of desperation. Stop it.

(Latest offender: Guitar Center)

August 19, 2012

A motivated seller (, , )

by fluffy at 3:03 PM

So, this temporary housing is driving me nuts.

Meanwhile, I am putting in an offer on a condo that I really like. (It's a registered historical landmark!)

Unfortunately, my place back in SF won't be on the market until Thursday (thanks, realtor who told me things would move a lot faster than they actually are), and after that it'll take who knows how long for offers to come in, and after that it'll take who knows how long for it to close. Kerri (my realtor in Seattle) is telling me that it'll be at least a month after any offers come in before they can close, and those would come after the open house on the 26th, so that means I'm stuck here until at least September 26 (because I can't close on a property in Seattle until my property in San Francisco also closes). Or maybe it can be moved up with a bridge loan. I'm not sure if I can afford to pay essentially three mortgages (SF mortgage, Seattle mortgage, bridge loan) at once though. I'll ask the loan broker here what works, I suppose.

Anyway I'm pretty frustrated with my realtor back in San Francisco; he told me things would move at a certain rate, but then didn't keep me appraised of things that would potentially delay it until it was too late for me to do anything about it (for example, he decided more painting was necessary than we'd agreed to and that pushed things back a few days, and then the stager wanted to be paid up-front, which she didn't tell me even when I'd met her when I was moving out; I could have sent her a check as soon as she sent me the quote instead of having to do a wire transfer a few days after she said that she hadn't started yet because she hadn't been paid, and of course the stager made it really difficult for me to get her wire transfer details too because she is a total corn flake). Then when I moved like crazy to get things moving as fast as I could, he still dragged his feet at getting it going. I'm pretty disappointed in him.

At least I finally start work tomorrow so I'll have something to do other than being driven crazy by this terrible temporary housing or wishing I had the energy to work on the music app I want to work on. (Of course the basic idea behind the music app is well-explored, but it's the big-picture stuff that I really want to do! But I can't do the big-picture stuff without the basic part of it. And nobody seems to just have a componentized thing for the basic part. Not that the basic part would be that hard to implement, but I'm lazy.)

June 16, 2012

Billing morass (, , )

by fluffy at 9:00 AM

Last November 4 I got an ambulance ride due to another major panic attack combined with a bowel impaction. The drivers didn't really treat it like an emergency and just acted like a really crappy taxi ride, as always. I'd have been better off just having the friends who were staying with me drive me there. Or just finding a way of calming down before it got to the point that I felt I needed medical attention.

Every other month since then I've gotten the same bill from the San Fransico fire department, in the amount of $1786, with the message, "San Francisco Fire Department provided you emergency medical services on the above mentioned service date. At this time, we have not yet obtained insurance information. If you have insurance or participate in any program which will pay for these services, please complete and sign the reverse side of this bill and return in the enclosed envelope."

Of course, every time I've gotten that bill I've immediately returned with my insurance information, and the last few times I've also enclosed a letter stating that this is the Nth time that I've done such, and I have never gotten any response from my insurance regarding eligibility which indicates that they never actually submitted the claim.

On Monday I guess I need to just call them on the phone and see what the hell is going on here. I really don't need this hanging over my head like everything else. (But I'm also not willing to just pay the whole $1786 myself. I can afford it, sure, but there's several matters of principle at work here.)

June 11, 2012

Password security update (, , )

by fluffy at 10:17 AM

Thanks to the recent spate of websites' password hash lists getting leaked and a lot of my internal shame over the fact that phpBB2 still uses unsalted md5 for its auth, I finally got around to fixing phpBB2 to salt its damn passwords. It's shameful how many PHP apps don't use the built-in password_hash() function and just use md5() [WARNING: many of the comments on that page show a DANGEROUS lack of understanding of how this works!] instead - because people just don't understand security (even though this is stuff that's been known since the 1940s or something). It's stupid.

Anyway, I debated either replacing it with password_hash() and requiring everyone to change their password, or just wrapping the existing md5 values up in a crypt and making all future passwords a password_hash(md5($password)) instead, and the latter won out.

If (like me) you're running an old phpBB2 instance and don't want to upgrade to phpBB3, I've provided a handy guide for doing this yourself.

March 2, 2015 I updated this to use the newer (available as of PHP 5.5) password_hash/password_verify API that is far superior to crypt.

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