Why you shouldn't learn to code

By · Published · ramblings, politics

The Internet is abuzz with the news that President Obama is calling on every American to learn how to code. And while I think it's a good idea for everyone to have a basic grasp of computer technology and a basic understanding of the role computer programmers play in the world, I have some very specific thoughts about whether or not everyone knowing how to code is really a good idea.

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Cocoaconf Atlanta 2013: A Review

By · Published · apple, mac, osx, conferences

So this past week I attended the first (I think) Cocoaconf to be held within a reasonable distance of Huntsville. In this case, a mere 3.5 hours away in Atlanta.

Overall, I'd say this was a very good conference. It was small (I'm guessing about 150 or so attendance). The location was easy to get to, and the conference in general seemeed well organized.

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What I use: 2013

By · Published · apple, mac, osx

Since it's been awhile since I wrote a post about what I use in regards to software, perhaps it's time that I did that again. So here's a list software I'm using in 2013:

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dystill moved to Jekyll and Bootstrap

By · Published · jekyll, dystill

I moved the dystill website to Jekyll and Bootstrap. This was pretty simple overall, since the site is just one page. It was more a task for converting the custom CSS I wrote to use the matching Boostrap libs. I also added the neat little ubiquitous "Fork me on Github" ribbon you see on a lot of sites.

Go check it out at dystill.org.



Nine lessons I've learned since becoming a Dad

By · Published · parenthood, ramblings

On November 27th, 2012, I became a Dad. My little girl, Scarlett, was born at a little past 8pm that night. Being that she's coming up on nine months here in just a few days, I thought I would look back on what lessons I've learned in the nine months since she's been on planet Earth. This post could alternatively be titled: What I wish people had really told me before becoming a Dad.

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Creating an iTunes Dropbox on a Mac

By · Published · apple, applescript, appletv, howto, mac, osx


I recently added a Mac mini to my setup at home, that I'm using to drive my in-home "video on demand" system. With many of the TV's in the house on AppleTVs, any TV in the house can watch any movie in the library at any time. I put the mini (headless) in the closet, along with the Drobo and a printer.

But, the new Mac mini lacks an optical drive. So, how to continue ripping the DVDs I already own?

The solution, it turns out, is to continue doing the actual work on my iMac when it comes to ripping, filtering the files through iDentify and MetaX. But I don't want to have to go to screen sharing on the Mini and add a file to iTunes. I want that to happen automatically. That's where Automator - one of the most underrated pieces of software that comes with every Mac - comes in.

With Automator, you can attach an action to a folder, so that that action will be performed whenever anything is added to that folder. So here's what I did to get files from a folder into iTunes:

  1. Create a folder somewhere on your system. I put mine in my user directory.

  2. Open Automator.

  3. From the dialog box, select "Folder Action."

  4. At the top, where it says "Folder Action receives files and folders added to," select "Other" and select your new folder.

  5. Search for an action called "Set Var of Value". Drag that action over to the right.

  6. From "Variable" select "New Variable." Call it "Source"

  7. Search for an action called "Import Files into iTunes". Drag that action over to the right underneath the variable action. Be sure to select "Library" from the empty dropdown.

  8. Search for an action called "Get Var of Value". Drag that action over to the right underneath the iTunes action.

  9. Be sure the selected variable is "Source".

  10. Search for an action called "Move Finder Items to Trash". Drag that action over to the right.

  11. Search for an action called "Run AppleScript." Drag that action over to the right.

  12. In the AppleScript action, paste this:

on run {input, parameters}
    tell application "Finder" to empty trash
    return input
end run
  1. Save the action. You're done.

On Apple and Maps

By · Published · apple

Unless you've been living under an Internet rock, you know that Apple released a new version of iOS, featuring a much heralded new mapping application. This application replaces the old Google Maps application. You also probably know that it has been roundly criticized and mocked.

Now, before anyone accuses me of blatant fanboyism (although, without a doubt, I am an Apple fanboy), the new Maps application sucks. It's a step backwards from the previous one, lacks some of the features the previous one had, and is generally disappointing. I especially don't like how it didn't degrade gracefully on the iPhone 4 (no voice turn-by-turn, and, for some strange reason, it seems unable to count down the distance to the next turn). In general, it clearly isn't ready for primetime, Apple over-advertised it, and I think Apple could have done better.

But, other than being disappointing, the new Apple Maps application has no real impact on me because I never used the old one. It sucked also, and I think people are forgetting just how badly the old one was allowed to languish without significant updates. The Google-based Maps app in iOS 5 was essentially unchanged from the one that was released 4 years earlier.

Here are some things that were wrong with the "old" Google-based Maps app as of iOS 5:

  • No voice turn-by-turn directions.

  • Had to manually advance while driving when doing directions.

  • Searching sucked: you had to spell things exactly right or it wouldn't find them.

  • For some reason, it thought I lived in Madison, Wisconsin all the time.

If you live in anywhere but a large city, it was essentially useless for navigation. You could maybe find an address, if you knew exactly what you were looking for, but you couldn't safely get there in a car. In short, I long ago abandoned the built-in mapping application for better services available in the App Store.

I've been using the free Mapquest app for the last couple of years, and it's worked great. It's gotten better with each iteration, to the point where it's pretty much my sole navigation app now. My process flow as usually been search for an address in Safari (or get it from another app like Yelp or Urban Spoon) and paste it into Mapquest, or search in Mapquest (usually with a little better luck than the built-in Maps app). Bam. Reliable turn-by-turn voice navigation that actually works on my iPhone 4. Pair that with the new Bluetooth stereo I put in my truck, and it works like butter. If it would just do night colors, it would be damn near perfect.

Now, if I lived in a big city, I can understand being upset with the new app. Lacking walking or biking directions and public transit directions seems a curious oversight considering how many of Apple's iPhone customers live in those environments. I can't really understand why Apple would leave that data out unless they simply could not get it, and I hope they address that soon for all the people that do rely on it.

But, for me, the new Maps app sucks just as much as the old one did, and I will not use it just as much as I didn't use the previous one. So, for me, nothing has changed.

Just, more than anything though, I'm disappointed in Apple, for two reasons. One, that they couldn't get this right, and two, that they released it in spite of what they had to know were serious problems with it, all while heralding it as one if iOS 6's killer features. Especially in light of news that they still had a year on their Google maps contract, I would rather they have spent that year fine tuning it rather than release something that clearly wasn't ready for primetime.


Merging M4V files on a Mac ... with chapters!

By · Published · apple, appletv, howto, php, mac, osx

As I've mentioned a couple of times before, one of my projects right now is ripping all the DVDs I own so that I can watch them on my AppleTV (or any AppleTV in the house).

Well, one of the problems I've run into a couple of times is longer movies that are distributed on two discs. This is usually movies like the Lord of the Rings Extended Edition or The Ten Commandments. Really, they're one movie, but are distributed as two separate movies because of the restrictions of physical media.

Well, digital media imposes no such restrictions on us, so why have two separate movies listed on the AppleTV? So after much trial and error, I finally discovered a way to get everything play nicely together. Unfortunately, this is not an easy problem to solve and even involved me writing a small script that could merge chapter files together because every single method I could find would eliminate chapter markers.

So here, in abbreviated form, is the process for merging m4v files together and preserving chapter markers.

Note: This tutorial assumes some level of technical proficiency. This is not a point-and-click process (yet :P) and requires the use of multiple tools and the shell.

Tools you'll need:

  1. Handbrake or whatever tool you're using for ripping your legally obtained DVDs.

  2. MetaX and/or iDentify

  3. Subler

  4. remux

  5. Quicktime, which is now built into Mac OS X.

  6. chaptermerge, a script I wrote that merges chapter files together.

The proces:

  1. Rip both movies from their individual DVDs using Handbrake or whatever other tool you're using. Be sure that you're adding chapter markers.

  2. Load each movie into MetaX and download the chapter names. That's really the only thing you need to add to the file. Save the files with chapter names.

  3. Load each movie into Subler and extract the chapter files. To do this, select the chapter track and select File -> Export.

  4. Now, open the first movie in Quicktime.

  5. Drag the second movie on top of the first one. Quicktime will add the two together.

  6. Save the movie for use on an AppleTV. Get a beer or 6, because this takes awhile.

  7. While the movie is saving, use chaptermerge to merge the chapter files together. See the docs on how it works.

  8. Once the file has finished saving as a Quicktime MOV (it's actually still h.264 inside the file), fire up remux and convert the merged file back into an m4v. Drag the file into remux, set the output to m4v, and save. Should be pretty quick - a matter of minutes.

  9. Load the merged file back into Subler and add the merged chapter track. Drag the chapter file into the Subler window. Save the file.

  10. Load the merged file into a tool such as iDentify or MetaX and add the remaining metadata.

That's it! You now have a merged file with both parts of the movie, accurate chapter markers and full metadata, ready to be copied to iTunes and viewed on your AppleTV.


NBC and the Olympics

By · Published · ramblings, sports

It's always amusing to watch what happens when old media slams head first into a new world.

NBC, the broadcaster holding the rights to Olympic coverage in the United States, seems not to have realized how much the world has changed since Beijing in 2008. Social media is huge now - much more so than it was then - and people routinely have access to a much larger amount of information than we did back then. Whereas most countries saw it, or could at least access it, in realtime, NBC decided to show the Opening Ceremonies on a 3 hour tape delay so they could cash in on the larger primetime audience.

I actually had to turn Twitter off yesterday afternoon because I was already seeing tweets about the Opening Ceremonies from people in other countries and at least one person I know who was actually at the thing.

Now, to their credit, NBC is actually streaming a lot of coverage live on their website and showing highlights for the American audience in primetime. So why not do the same with the Opening Ceremonies? Why not stream it live on the website for those of us who might have wanted to watch it in realtime, then show the tape delayed version later for the larger audience?

Well, someone asked NBC that and this was, no lying, their response:

“They are complex entertainment spectacles that do not translate well online because they require context, which our award-winning production team will provide for the large primetime audiences that gather together to watch them,” the network told the Wall Street Journal.

Right, because we're all bloody mouth-breathing morons who can't figure out what's going on without their precious context.

Is this the same "award winning production team" that didn't know who Tim Berners-Lee was or realize the significance of the computer he was sitting at? Tim Berners-Lee is why I have a job. Tim Berners-Lee is why I'm able to type this right now, and why an economy that generates billions of dollars every year exists. The British thought it important enough to salute him in the Olympic Opening Ceremonies. They didn't even know who he was?

Is this the same "award winning production team" that made cracks about Kim Jong-Il while the North Korean team was walking in the parade of nations? Yes, he was a brutal dictator and his "11 holes in one" story is laughable to say the least. But first of all he's dead now, and second the Olympic Opening ceremonies are not an appropriate time or place to be cracking jokes about other countries'  deceased leaders. I wonder if the BBC called Mitt Romney (who was sitting in the audience) "the American Borat" or made cracks about the French president?

Is this the same "award winning production team" that never mentioned that Kenneth Branaugh was playing the role of Isambard Kingdom Brunel, perhaps the greatest engineer that ever lived?

Here's a clue, NBC: anyone with two brain cells could figure out what was going on, and your "award winning production team" was annoying. Not to mention the advertising EVERY FIVE MINUTES during the parade of nations got really, really old.