bookmark_borderA is for “ailanthus,” Z is for “zoom”

RIP Driveway Ailanthus ~2005 – 2019

Here’s a word from Zoom, letting us know that they are taking things “extremely seriously…”

Overall, this is a good message. Zoom appears to be taking the right steps to fix both their existing problems and the mistakes they have made in developing/marketing their product.

Nobody could have forseen the huge increase in volume that Zoom has had to deal with in the last few weeks. They found themselves in the coveted position of “easiest option that currently sucks the least” for a service a lot of people have suddenly needed. That’s as good as it gets.

Performance and support issues are understandable in explosive growth situations like this, and honestly, Zoom has done a much better job at both than I would have given them credit for. They must be paddling like mad, struggling with the best and most daunting problem a tech company can have.

So kudos–and all the patience you can muster–go to them for that.

It’s important to keep in mind however, that the majority of the security and privacy issues that they are now rushing to correct were baked into the product BEFORE this increase in volume, and that increase in volume in no way caused those issues.

They did not underthink the use of the FB SDK, nor fudge the definition of “end-to-end,” nor include the spooky attention tracker, nor release a buggy, insecure Mac OS version because they suddenly had millions more users. In fact, those things were exposed in part because they suddenly had millions of users, and their product came under much more scrutiny as a result.

Zoom built something that had some serious problems, millions of people used it anyway, and the suckage was exposed. Now they are trying to make it right.

I really hope they do. I really hope Zoom ends up with a secure, solid, kick-ass product that does what is supposed to and maintains the ease of access, usability, and low cost of use that attracted people to it in the first place.

But keep in mind that most people did not choose the best possible solution when they chose Zoom–they chose the easy option that sucked least. Most people continued to use it while it was doing things they didn’t want it to do, because it was too much work to change to something else.

If Zoom ends up a solid, kick-ass secure product that does what it is supposed to do and respects privacy and leaves a lemony-fresh scent, it won’t be because people chose that product.

It will be because people are willing to use a worse product.

bookmark_borderThe llama never gets a break

Rock it!
It was before your time

The llama’s ass will continue to get whipped!

You know, I used to despise AOL, but now I don’t. Now I see them as the corporate auto-Robin-Hood that they truly have been.

Thanks to their unique combination of cash reserves, hubris and goofiness, AOL have managed to absorb the difference between the grotesque over-valuation of several pieces of tech (WinAmp, Netscape, etc.), and the actual value of those same assets. They bought those things for the stupid, Facebook-level IPO messiah price, screwed up and starved the productive side of things in a vain search for profitability commensurate with their unrealistic investment, and refused to let go.

The end result: The tech ends up functional, freed of its greedhead investors, with only those who truly care about what it does left and providing the (usually simple) functionality that made it worthwhile in the first place.

And they’ve done it the old-fashioned way–by taking HUGE losses!

Yay market! Thanks AOL!

bookmark_borderFree to read

Beer and Computers
“Free” as in “How the HELL do I pay my rent?”

“What is ‘RSS?'”  Pooh asked, as if he’d forgotten how to use a search engine, which once again, he had.

“It’s short for ‘Rich Site Summary'” said Christopher Robin, though he liked to tell people it meant “Really Simple Syndication.” But he just couldn’t be mean to his friend like that.

“All the new information from a web site gets put into a ‘feed’ that you can read without having to go to the site and wade through all the advertising and bad design.  It’s a great way to get just the news from news sites, or blog posts, or any content from sites that update often. You can collect and read all  your feeds in one place, which allows you to organize, filter and read a lot of information from a lot of sources very quickly.”

“So it’s like a FaceyTwitPlusR newsfeedticker?”  asked Pooh, quoting Buddha, or maybe it was Ghandi.  Or Oprah.  Evs.

“Well, it’s the other way around–those are kind of like what you can do with RSS if you aren’t very clever and like seeing the same thing over and over”  said Christopher Robin, photographing his cat eating lunch.  

“You don’t sound very much like yourself today, Christopher Robin.”  said Pooh.  “You sound kind of like a cranky person who just had a tooth removed and is very tired of yoghurt and Jell-o and smoothies just wants something crunchy something goddamn crunchy for chissake is every ad on TV for goddamn crunchy goddamn things? “

“No, I’m afraid I don’t sound much like myself at all, and it was a terrible idea to think that I would.  I’m sorry.”  said Christopher Robin, who was in no mood to think of a better character to use.

“Let’s never do this again.” said Pooh.  And they never did.

I’ve mentioned before that I used to use Bloglines, which was an online RSS aggregator. That means that I signed up for an account, which was free, and then I subscribed to a bunch of RSS feeds, and then I could read and save the articles in those feeds on the Bloglines site.  That was really cool, because I could read my feeds from any computer that had an Interweresds connection.

Bloglines closed down, and then it didn’t, over and over.  I left the first time it closed.  I then started using Google Reader, which was pretty much exactly the same service as Bloglines, except I didn’t like the interface as much.  It worked just fine, but Google services are really a trade-off:  On one hand, the services are usually really good, and really reliable, for as long as Google feels like providing them.  On the other hand, it’s not much work to find the same services that don’t track and push advertising in my face all the time.

The other hand won, so I started using a desktop RSS feed reader. There are about infinity of these—you can get RSS feeds in your email client or through your web browser or whatever, if you want.  I was using a dedicated client for the Mac called Vienna, which is FOSS, and worked just great for me.

I don’t like being tied to one machine though, and I have hosting for my domains, so I knew that eventually I would want to set up my own web-based RSS reader on it.  I wanted something like Reader or Bloglines, that I could get at from anywhere, but not dependent on the whims of the pretend Inderenet “market.”

Then the power supply on my Mac let go.  That forced me to do something, because I couldn’t use Vienna to read my feeds.  Necessity is a mother, and all that.

I looked at a bunch of options.  I wanted Open Source stuff, and not just because I am cheap and clever and rugged and brave and very very handsome.  Generally when (when) the developer bails on an Open Source project, there is at least the chance that someone will pick it up, or at least document how to get your stuff out of it. With very few exceptions, when (WHEN) companies bail on closed-source, commercial software (or versions thereof), they give it  two to the chest and one to the head, lock the remains in a vault protected by ninja lawyers, and act like it never existed.

I didn’t want to get screwed AGAIN by some third party’s business plan, or lack thereof.

I quickly discovered the limitations of my hosting.  It’s running old versions of PHP, PostgreSQL and My SQL.  Most folks developing stuff will make it work with the current version of those packages, or only be one or two point versions behind. As a result, I couldn’t install the current versions of pretty much ANY web-based RSS reader I found. This is not the fault of the developers—in fact, it’s a virtue—but it meant more work for me.

Eventually, I found Tiny Tiny RSS.  It is small and light and simple and works very well.

Or at least, the version I am using does.  Because of my elderly PHP and database installs, I can not run Tiny Tiny RSS in a standard–or recommended–configuration.  Here are the problems, and how I solved them:

  • My PHP version is too old.  I found this very useful site by a person who has hacked/patched Tiny Tiny RSS to use older versions of PHP.  It works!  That is very cool, and I’m glad there are folks like this out there.
  • Tiny Tiny RSS can use either PostgrSQL or MySQL as the backend database.  The developer, along with everyone else who has tried both, recommends PostgreSQL, because the performance is just way better (faster).The version of PostgreSQL on my hosting is too old to work with Tiny Tiny RSS, so I used MySQL.  It works!
  • The developer, along with every non-annoying person who posts on the Tiny Tiny RSS discussion board, EXPLICITLY STATES that if you run Tiny Tiny RSS on shared hosting, you are on your own.  Also, probably dumb.  I am on shared hosting.  It works—ON MY HOSTING!  This does NOT mean that it will work on any other shared hosting, and if it doesn’t, tough. About the LAST thing you should do is bitch about that, because it says RIGHT ON THE TIN not to use shared hosting.

It took about an hour to get this up and running–most of which was spent reading and tracking down ways to make this work.  It took a few more minutes to subscribe to all my feeds.  It’s been working just splendidly for a couple of weeks or so now.

To recap:  Tiny Tiny RSS is FOSS, and I am running it in a configuration that it is NOT designed for—or supported under—and everything I am doing should give me terrible performance and problems.  And it is working just fine.

That is the highest, most backhanded compliment I can think of:  I am using this software the worst way I can, and I like how it works.  I am pretty sure the developer would slap me upside the head were I to tell him this over a beer, and I would not blame him if he did.  But I would still pay for the beer, because this is great stuff.

Speaking of which, Tiny Tiny RSS is developed by ONE guy, who is doing it in what probably used to be his spare time. He also posts on the discussion board for the product’s support.  The software is free, but he does take donations. I’d be shocked (and happy) if those donations bought him even a quarter of the beer and coffee it must take just to get through the discussion board posts every day.

He’s kinda crabby on to some people on the boards—those who ask stupid questions, bitch about how this free software doesn’t do what THEY want it to, or make stupid demands—and I find that incredible.  I don’t know how he finds the time to even respond to that kind of crap. Much more patient guy than me.

Think I’ll buy him a beer.

bookmark_borderPedal Mod – Ibanez LA Metal

LA METAL!
Because after all, what IS the finest of the metals?

I’ve always believed two rules about bands and pedals:

  • Any group of three or more musicians with a decent amount of talent and commitment can write at least ONE good song
  • Any pedal has ONE usable sound in it.  It might only be usable in the most limited context, but you can always find ONE thing a pedal is good at

Just as the Doors were the exception that proved the first rule, the Ibanez LA Metal pedal was the exception that proved the second.  In its stock form, this pedal absolutely defies all attempts to make it sound better when on than when off.  It is fantastically, mind-blowingly useless.

I have some pedals that are INCREDIBLY BAD–the DOD FX-17 Wah-volume, a Yamaha CP-100 compressor, an Arion Stage Tuner–and I have used several others, but nothing compares to the almost exquisite frustration of trying to get ANYTHING good to happen with a stock LA Metal pedal.  It’s not even usefully horrible.

 

The Pedal – Ibanez LM7 LA Metal

This pedal has three knobs:

  • Distortion – How much crappy fizz-bark you want to hear instead of notes
  • Tone – Whether the crappy fizz-bark should be dull or piercing
  • Level – How loud you want your crappy fizz-bark

The stock LA Metal pedal has three things going for it:

  • It is in a bad-ass looking matte silver case
  • It says “LA METAL” on it in big thick letters
  • It’s actually a dumbed-down version of a much better pedal

The first two things make you want to have this thing in your board just so people will understand how damn cool you are (answer: As cool as LA METAL, fool!). The third one makes the pedal extremely useful.

The LM7 was built by Maxon, who built a lot of stuff for Ibanez at the time.  Maxon also made a pedal for Ibanez called the “Fat Cat.”  The Fat Cat was kind of a cover version of the ProCo Rat pedal.  All they did to make the LA Metal pedal was remove the clipping diodes from the Fat Cat and move a few capacitors around.  They even used the Fat Cat PC board to make the LA Metal. If you open up an LA Metal, you’ll see that the board is marked “FC-10.”

Yes!  I am telling you that someone built a distortion pedal with NO CLIPPING DIODES.  Or MOSFETS. Or anything like that. It’s just the sound of an op-amp being overdriven!  YUMMY!  

Why would someone do that? My only guess is that they were sitting in a room full of open containers of solvents, doing some deep breathing and listening to RATT on a Walkman that was turned up way too loud, and they fell in love with the sound.  Then they married a canned ham.  So curvy…

Anyway, with a few fairly easy mods, you can add some clipping diodes to the LA METAL (screw it–I’m writing it in all-caps from here on), swap around some caps, and end up with what is now my favorite crunchy overdrive pedal.

 

The Mod

The main info on this mod is from this very useful thread, which has a nice summary of other threads/mods in it.  Look for the post from Analogguru time-stamped “18 Dec 2007, 19:42”  He runs down all the mods you need to do in order to convert the LA METAL to a Fat Cat.

I didn’t go all the way on this. I left the tone capacitor (C20) alone, to see if it would be useful as it is.

The end result is just a remarkably useful overdrive, with a wide range of tones available.

  • The Distortion knob now covers everything from nearly-clean gain through light overdrive through heavier and heavier to almost out-of-control fuzz at the far end.
  • The tone control is of MOST use between 10 and 2 o’clock. I could see changing the cap to use more of the knob’s range and get more fine control.
  • The pedal gets louder as you turn up the Distortion, so the Level control is mostly used to set the pedal’s output to where you want it relative to when the pedal is off.

This is now my go-to overdrive, which is shocking when you consider how crap the stock version is. It’s particularly good if you like snarly crunch tones, which I much prefer to smooth, compressed kinds of tones. If you watch late-night talk shows filmed in LA, and you like how the guitar in the band sounds, or if your guitar only has one cutaway, this might not be the pedal for you.

I like the snarl, and I like the ampy-ness of the pedal. It’s quite responsive to picking dynamics and pickup/tone/volume changes. Also, having an LA METAL pedal on my board makes it easy for people to recognize just how cool I am, which has sometimes been a challenge since I thinned out my poodle cut and started wearing looser pants.

The boxes in the Ibanez 7 (10?) series are an odd compromise. The cases themselves are super-solid metal, with which you could easily knock a larger man unconscious. The battery access is excellent, through the nice big, square, spring-loaded footswitch. And the switch itself is just kind of OK.  The switching feels solid under your foot, but the stompin’ area feels breakable.

I usually use this pedal in a true-bypass loop, so I don’t notice if there is any leakage when the pedal is off, and I don’t use the switch much.  I think the average user would be happier doing things this way.

I just acquired a second LA METAL pedal a couple of days ago, and I’m going to fiddle with diode combinations on the new one. I might also put in a socket and mess with op-amp options.

If I can just give the world the perfect LA METAL pedal, I will know I have not lived in vain.

bookmark_borderA life more interesting – One

Parking lot
Or start leaving flowers in the same stall in a parking lot…

Bored?  No-one talking to you?  Try this:

– Put a bag of sand in the trunk of your car
– Run around a bit, until you look kinda sweaty.
– Drive up to a gas station or convenience store.
– Park right in front, head in, so that folks in the store can’t see the trunk
– Rush in, buy a bottle of water and a sandwich or something, look like you are in a hurry, and just grabbing the first things you see to eat and drink.
– Keep your face down. Pay in cash.
– Go to your car, open the trunk, throw the stuff you bought in and yell “THERE! NOW SHUT THE HELL UP!”
– Punch/kick the bag of sand a couple of times.
– Drive off really fast.

bookmark_borderThe netdud Smashing Disaster!

Bumped into the nice folks from Mississippi River Distilling, who make, among other things, River Baron Artisan Spirit.  I bought a bottle, because I am an early adopter of beverage innovations.  You can read all about the liquour on their page.  It’s quite interesting on its own, but opens a lot of interesting doors for new cocktailery.  I present now my first successful mixological effort with this new spirit.

Skol, y'all!
Fourth one takes a while going down

The netdud Smashing Disaster
1 part River Baron Artisanal Spirit
3 parts gin
a few drops of good peaty Scotch
Lemon zest

The first two ingredients should be cold.  You can shake them up quickly with some ice, or if you have some liquid nitrogen, kinda wave that around a bit.  Bruise the zest lightly, throw it in a footed glass, pour in the cold stuff, and then artfully drop in the Scotch.  Swirl, serve, repeat.

bookmark_borderA TV workout that works!

Comic from Falling FiftthI just read this article on the always entertaining and informative Consumerist site, in which three exercise toys advertised on TV are shown to suck.

I now introduce to you, the discerning physical mess, The netdud TV Workout Method.

This workout method combines the best effects of ALL THREE of the workout products reviewed at the link above. I highly recommend that you get yourself a block of Gruyere to gnaw and read through the article and watch the video before you continue with this, or any other workout routine.

 

The netdud TV Workout Method

  • Prepare 16 pints of Irish Coffee
  • Put on your skates (sold separately)
  • Move to the couch
  • Watch TV at the highest volume you can stand (beginners!  Be careful here!)
  • Drink 16 pints of Irish Coffee. This keeps you jiggling, just like the Rhythm Rocker.
  • If anyone tries to take the remote, you punch them, and the alcohol in your system provides the much-needed resistance that makes your muscles work harder.  TO AVOID INJURY, REMEMBER TO MAINTAIN PROPER FORM HERE! 
  • You’ll need to run to the bathroom about every 15 minutes.  Doing so  in skates while hammered and coffeed up will strengthen your core and train your balance. PLUS those regular standing/running breaks will help fight off deep-vein thrombosis.

You are welcome world. You are welcome.

bookmark_borderLong Live the Penmachine.

http://www.penmachine.com/2011/05/the-last-post

Derek Miller was the epitome of a good guy, and the world is poorer for his passing. We were not close friends, but I knew him for many years–briefly in person–mostly through unfailingly helpful, well-though-out and supportive replies to my rambling pleas for information.

This is the only time I can think of when anything to do with Derek has caused me bad feelings, and that’s not a fair way to do this.  You don’t have to have known Derek, or feel bad about his death, in order to appreciate him.  I highly recommend you read his excellent writing, as much of it as interests you, in the archives at the other end of this link.

Derek’s writing reflects the same clarity, wit, and grace that stood out when I met him.  He wrote like someone who truly loved life.  He loved to learn, and he loved to share what he knew with others when it was helpful to them.  He wrote meaningfully, but never stridently.  He was an excellent writer but more than that, he wasn an excellent person. We need more of those.

Long live the Penmachine.