Saturday, April 25, 2015

№ 43.

Thursday was my 43rd birthday.

Normally, because I usually have a hard time being the center of attention, I keep things as low key as possible. The more it’s like any other day, the better.

Somewhere along the way, though, my manager asked if I was planning to head to Walt Disney World for the evening—partly because I usually go on Thursdays and also because of the occasion. I said no because I was opting to save on the gas, which I do from time to time if the budget is a bit low.

Apparently the wouldn’t take that for an answer because a couple of hours later, after I had finished training some new salespeople, I found a birthday card from said manager and the other member of our team with a $25 RaceTrac gift card, and an “order” to use it for gas and go to Disney World.

So I did. Here are the photos and the vlog I posted earlier today.



Saturday, April 11, 2015

Geekery: Remove dupes from Apple Photos

This is an AppleScript I wrote to remove duplicate images from the new Apple Photos app based on the date/time of the image, after I downloaded all my images from Google Photos to give the new application a try (and Google keeps a lot of duplicates).

For photos that don't have a date set in the image, AppleScript returns an error -10000, so the actual date check is wrapped in a try block to prevent halting the script. If no date exists in the image, it simply moves on without flagging (those, you'll unfortunately have to do by hand).

Rather than outright delete the images, it assigns the "duplicate?" tag to it, so you can find them and compare to what you already have. I did it this way for those who are shooting rapid images (more than one image per second). Note that "burst" images shot on an iOS device are packaged as a single media item, so they don't get flagged as duplicates unless multiple bursts are found at the same second.

Note that if you have a really large photo collection, you may want to break it up into smaller chunks by selecting a block of images and changing the line set thePhotos to every media item to set thePhotos to the selection.

The way duplication checking works for most of my scripts is that AppleScript sets up a list of previously-viewed values (in this script, that's the theDates variable in the first line), and if the incoming value already exists in that list, it's flagged as a duplicate; otherwise that new value is added to the list and the process continues until it runs out of incoming items.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

The risk of losing our memories

A page out of my Moleskine Evernote journal
with some Hong Kong stamps from a package
and a handwritten valentine from Julia Roy.
Martin Parr, in an article for Britain's The Guardian, writes about how we risk losing our memories for the next generation to enjoy because of the switch to digital photography:
We are in danger of having a whole generation – and this will continue into the future – that has no family albums, because people just leave them on their computer, and then suddenly they will be deleted.
I personally can't begin to tell you how many years of photos I've lost because they were digital and I failed to copy them to new drives or machines when migrating from one old computer to a newer model.

There is no guarantee that whatever photo service we use to keep our digital images will still be around in ten years. No guarantee that the hard drive technology you use now will still be useful when our kids grow up. I don't remember the last time I put or kept anything on a thumb drive—it's all up on Google or OneDrive or Flickr these days.

Hard drives fail. Online services go belly-up or get terminated by their owners because they no longer make sense under their business models.

So I've started trying to clip things into a physical journal, not just snapping an image with my iPhone camera to store in Evernote or Google Drive. I've also started jotting notes into my physical journal when I can unless the situation makes it impractical (hard to write and walk at the same time, for example). When the page is full, I still use Evernote's camera (or Scannable app, which I cannot wait for to come out on Android) to save a copy of the page online, but the physical paper is still there.

When there's something important that you want to be able to find later—go to the very front page of the journal (or even the inside cover), and write a note of what page that item is on.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Review: Nightwish, "Endless Forms Most Beautiful"

Cover image from Wikipedia
The top-selling symphonic metal band out of Finland, Nightwish has just issued its latest project, entitled “Endless Forms Most Beautiful” (a title taken directly from Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species, which gives you a hint of the new album’s theme along with the fact that noted atheist and skeptic Richard Dawkins was recruited to record spoken text for the album, although it is not a true concept album in the form of their previous project, 2011’s “Imaginaerum”). The album is now out in regular and deluxe editions (the latter containing vocal-free versions of all the songs) on all the major outlets (iTunes, Google Play, Spotify, and Xbox Music).

Before diving into the album proper, it’s important to take note of what has happened since their previous project, 2011’s “Imaginaerum”:
  • Vocalist Anette Olzon ended up receiving the same fate as founding vocalist Tarja Turunen—she was summarily dismissed by the rest of the band after falling ill during both U.S. legs of the tours for 2007’s “Dark Passion Play” and “Imaginaeum,” and then complaining after the band chose to perform an “Imaginaerum” show in Denver without her, allowing co-headlining Kamelot’s touring vocalists Alisa White-Gluz and Elize Ryd (and the audience) to sing in her place using lead sheets.

    Immediately after Anette’s unscheduled return to Scandinavia, founder Tuomas Holopainen called on After Forever and ReVamp vocalist Floor Jansen to fill in, and a few performances later she was christened as the new frontwoman of the band. Nightwish released a live DVD of the “Imaginaerum” tour, “Showtime, Storytime,” featuring Floor on vocals as Anette refused to allow herself to be shown on video after her dismissal.

    Floor’s vocal style incorporates the best elements of both Tarja and Anette—she is able to perform pop and metal equally well, both exhibiting whispering emotion and an ability to belt it out as well. Having previous metal singing experience makes her an ideal fit for Nightwish, and hopefully she’ll stay on for a long time to come. My only regret on this latest album is that at times she is overpowered by the rest of the band and orchestra, which rather than being a problem with her is a problem with the audio production/mixing.
  • Englishman Troy Donockley, who has played the band’s folk instruments as a studio and concert musician (Uilleann pipes, low whistles, bodhran, bouzouki) since “Dark Passion Play”, is now a full-time member and contributes vocals to “Endless Forms Most Beautiful” (promoted at the same time as Floor Jansen). He is featured much more extensively and prominently on the new album and brings a refreshingly more “folksy” feel to Nightwish’s sound.
  • Jukka Nevalainen, the band’s first and (until now) only drummer, announced in August 2014 that he would temporarily step aside in order to address a longstanding issue with insomnia, but would continue to work on the day-to-day band-related business. Sitting in his place for the latest album and subsequent tour is Wintersun drummer (and Jukka’s drum tech and personal friend) Kai Hahto. Rather than a mere copy of Jukka, Kai has his own style that also works well with the rest of the band.
  • Holopainen, the band’s keyboardist, chief songwriter, and an unashamed, die-hard classic Disney fan, was also busy, recording a folk/orchestral solo project that he considered his lifetime dream to create, “Music Inspired by ‘The Life and Times of Scrooge’”, released in April 2014, with the blessing and contribution of cover art by Disney character Scrooge McDuck’s creator, Don Rose. If you’ve already heard “Scrooge,” you’ll definitely notice stylistic similarities between it and “Forms,” As Tuomas was working on both projects simultaneously.
Now, as for “Endless Forms Most Beautiful” itself—many other reviewers are comparing “Forms” to 2004’s “Once”, which was the last album to feature Tarja Turunen and Nightwish’s more classic sound and put the band on the map at least outside of Scandinavia.

The opening track, “Shudder Before the Beautiful,” has no build-up. Rather, there is a quiet short reading by Richard Dawkins, and then you are dropped directly into the swirling maelstrom that is Nightwish’s style of heavy, solid, orchestral metal. Once again, Holopainen has turned to Pip Williams and conductor James Shearman in London provide orchestrations and choral cover.

Notable on “Forms” is that the orchestra is much more involved than on previous projects, but at the same time the metal elements are given their own spotlight. At times, though, the band and orchestra overpower Floor’s vocals and she is sometimes hard to hear or understand—I would not fault Floor’s singing as much as the production/mixing values for this.

“Forms” is also significantly “folkier” and truer to the band’s Finnish roots than prior projects, thanks mostly to the promotion of Donockley to full member of the band. His contributions are significant to this project, much more so than on “Dark Passion Play” or “Imaginaerum.”

Notably absent from vocal duties on this album is bassist and (usually) co-lead vocalist Marco Hietala. On previous albums there was almost always a dueling vocal mix between Tarja/Anette and Hietala. However, on “Forms” he is hardly present vocally. Floor is given center stage vocally on this project. His bass guitar, however, is very present and combined with Hahto’s drums in the place of Nevalainen provides a solid bottom end.

The entire project itself is inspired by Charles Darwin’s seminal work On the Origin of Species about evolution and the development of life; however, it is not a concept album in the same order as “Imaginaerum”. According to Holopainen, “The previous album was a tribute to the power of imagination. ‘Endless Forms Most Beautiful’ would be an equal tribute to science and the power of reason.”

Nowhere is this more evident in the concluding track, a five-part, twenty-four-minute epic entitled “The Greatest Show on Earth”, the same title as the book that inspired it by noted atheist, evolutionist, and skeptic Richard Dawkins, who also provides narration both on this track and in the album’s opening track. The song is about evolution and natural selection. Holopainen has noted that they will likely never perform this composition live in its entirety although there is a band-centric section that he has indicated they may be willing to perform.

Technically, the album sounds great, with the exception of the vocals often being overpowered by the music as previously mentioned.

As with all of their recent projects, the deluxe edition contains both the original album and the same songs in “orchestral versions” without the vocal tracks. I always recommend the Deluxe Editions with the instrumental versions, if for no other purpose than to simply enjoy Tuomas Holopainen’s genius.

This is a classic Nightwish project, and I would agree with the numerous other positive reviews that this is among their best material, all personal religious questions aside (full disclosure: I’m Catholic, albeit a poor-but-trying one, but I am also a closet Mylène Farmer fan if that says anything).

FTC Disclosure: This is a not a paid or solicited review. I purchased the Deluxe Edition of the album on my own from Google Play.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Geekery: Safari to Apple Notes

I made the decision in the last few weeks to close down my Evernote account and start saving my documents on Microsoft OneDrive, given that it makes no sense to pay for multiple accounts when one centralized place does the same job. Of course, the one item that leaving Evernote does not take care of is where I would put web clips and things like that.

As I'm primarily an Apple product user (Mac mini at home, iPhone 5S on the road, and Splashtop for remote access to my Mac at home), storing these web clips in Apple Notes seems the better (and less expensive) solution. It syncs with iOS (obviously), and with iCloud for Windows it also syncs with Outlook on my Windows devices.

Other things to note about Apple Notes and Safari:

  • They're stored in your email account in a "Notes" folder. The only difference between it and a regular e-mail is the addition of a header line that tells iCloud it's a note and not a regular email.
  • Apple Notes are standard HTML under the hood.
  • It is therefore simple to grab the source of the HTML page being viewed in Safari and create an HTML note in Apple Notes.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Requiescat in pace, Jacqie

There are a lot of things in life I just don't get.

Death is one of them.

I know that eventually we will each face our own encounter with it—as we like to joke, "No one gets out of life alive!"—but its timing is always a shock, always unexpected, no matter how much we try to prepare for it.

Its manner of arrival is always a mystery. For some it is quiet and peaceful; for others it is sharp and loud and violent and painful. For some it is quick and merciful; for others it is long and merciless.

I'm reflecting on these things because a much-loved and respected colleague of mine passed away Saturday afternoon after a battle with aggressive cancer, and the news hit my Facebook feed within the last hour or so.

She was in her early 30s—almost ten years my junior. Young. Seemingly full of life even in the midst of cancer treatments and intractable pain as the cancer spread. She was still committed to her job right up through the last request I sent to her last week, which she took on with the same cheerfulness that she took on most everything with.

I'm nine years older. I should be the one to go first. Not a 30-something with a husband and three young kids.

When I was involved in biker ministry I attended my share of funerals of bikers who were cut down in wrecks. I've been to the funeral mass of another coworker who had died from cancer, but she was older.

I was a pallbearer at my grandfather's funeral. He smoked every day from when he was 16 until he couldn't put one in his mouth in his mid 80s.

I sat in the front row of my mother's memorial service when a rare form of cancer took her away from us a few weeks before her 50th birthday and ten days before Christmas. The preacher noted that Home Shopping Network had sent their condolences (if you knew my mom you'd get the joke; we used to tease that she was having an affair with the UPS guy because he was at our door so often and she was ordering stuff from QVC right up to the end).

But how do you explain a spouse, a mom, a friend being taken before she even makes it to her mid-30s?

I don't get it either, and in the course of processing my mother's passing I learned that there are questions that will never have a satisfactory answer, at least not from my own limited earthbound perspective.

And you know what? That's okay. I don't need to have all the answers. And no matter how strong or weak my faith might be at any given time, my God is not offended by me asking those questions even if I could never understand the answers fully right now.

Eventually, someday, when my earthbound journey is ended, I'll be in a place where the answers to those questions will finally make sense. In the meantime, I accept that life begins and ends and flows in ways I can never understand here.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

RadioShack: Farewell, old friend

As a geek growing up in the 1980s, before there were Fry’s Electronics, CompUSA (now TigerDirect), Circuit City, and Best Buy, my candy store was RadioShack.


It was where I bought my own first calculator, my first Color Computer II and III (which enthusiasts affectionately called the “CoCo“), my first electronic games, and just about every other gadget that I grew up and went to school with in the 80s and 90s. The laptop that got me through college was a Tandy 1000 with 640KiB of RAM, a black-and-white LCD, and a single floppy drive running Microsoft Works and WordPerfect (or its watered-down counsin LetterPerfect). If I had a crazy project I wanted to build or I needed some kind of rare connector or plug I knew RadioShack was the place I could find it.


Every Christmastime I’d run down to the local RadioShack and peruse the variety of electronic trinkets, remote-controlled toys, and deeply-discounted wares.


Ah, the nostalgia.


Except RadioShack had a hard time leaving the 1980s. The stores became dated. “Big box” chains like Walmart, Best Buy, CompUSA, and the late Circuit City began eating RadioShack’s lunch until over the past few years its future began to be questioned.


It now appears that the future has been set, and it’s not good news.


Yesterday, Bloomberg Business reported that Radio Shack is being delisted from the New York Stock Exchange, and that it’s in talks to sell half of its stores to wireless carrier Sprint and close the rest as part of a bankruptcy. RadioShack as a stand-alone brand will be gone after 94 years (it started in 1921).


It’s a bit of every geek’s childhood disappearing like a vapor.