Post a Week 2011: Blogging year in review

This year, I participated in WordPress.com’s Post a Week Challenge.  Well, how’d I do?

I was using Joost de Valk‘s Blog Metrics plugin, but that only tells you how you’re doing overall and how you’ve done in the last 30 days and, while I could have logged how many posts there were on January 1 and compared it against how many there were on December 31, I, uh, didn’t.  So, instead, I forked his plugin and modified it to use a ‘year’ query instead of a ‘month’ query.  It seems to have done the trick, although the results are a bit inconsistent…

According to Blog Metrics, I’ve published 200 posts this year.  This is across all blogs/sites (not including the super-secret blog I started over the summer) and also includes 3 posts by my wife on our kidsblog.  When I went through the posts and manually added them up, I got 196, so, we’ll say that I published 193 posts over the last year and assume that maybe the Blog Metrics plugin is including posts in the trash or something like that.

77 of those posts came from this blog (which covers the 52 I would have needed to create to “pass” the Post a Week challenge), and 62 came from my Tumblr blog (which aren’t really posts, so we could, feasibly subtract those from the total, but, according to the rules of the Post a Week challenge, photo blogs/posts still count, so we’ll include that stuff).

This is still quite a bit higher than I expected.  Let’s look at what I wrote about in the last year. I:

…and that’s not including stuff that I was writing about on my WordPress theme development site, web design studio site, or netlabel site.  So, I guess that does count for quite a bit.

Next year, I plan on not being subscribed to the Post a Day updates, and doing much of the same sorts of stuff I did this year.  For anyone who stuck with this blog this year, despite it’s complete lack of focus in any one particular area, thanks for hanging around, see you next year.

 

the truth about hacked software

I want to get something out in the open.  It’s not illegal to hack your software.

This is probably contrary to what you might assume when you hear the words “hack” and “software” used in the same sentence, but there is an important distinction to make: hacked software is not the same thing as pirated software.

Let’s throw out a couple examples.

The OSx86 Project

OSx86 is a project whose goal is to allow people to install the Apple OSX operating system on Intel-based PCs.  (Actually, allow isn’t quite the right word…you can already do it, it’s just not made very easy – the OSx86 project is to provide tools (and documentation) to make it easy (or easier, anyway)).  The theory here is that now that Apple is using Intel chips to power their computers as opposed to Motorola chips, the hardware infrastructure isn’t a completely different animal the way it used to be.  PCs and Macs are much more closely related.  This is amplified by the fact that OSX is a BSD-based system, which is a Unix variant that shares a lot of similarities with current popular Linux distributions like Ubuntu, particularly with the ‘sudo’ element (a commandline argument that allows a user to take on the roles of the system administrator without the need to log in as the root user/sysadmin – much like the User Access Controls that exist in Windows Vista and 7).  It is a violation of Apple’s terms of use to install OSX on a PC.  However, this is not a violation of the law.  (They might like you to think it was, but just last year Apple was overruled in a case against the ‘jailbreaking’ of iPhones while they were under contract with AT&T.  Installing OSX on a PC is similar to said jailbreaking, just applied to an actual computer.)

Ripped Music

You may not think that ripping music from a CD counts as software, but the theory holds and mp3s are nothing if not digital files to be manipulated by another software application.  You may also assume that ripping a CD to create mp3s is not violating any terms of anything.  The RIAA, however, would have you believe that you are violating copyright law by ripping mp3s from a CD that you own.  The reason here being that the record company may also sell those mp3s themselves and just because you can create your own mp3 copies doesn’t necessarily mean you should.  On the other hand, we’ve all come to accept the common terms of property law which states that, once you purchase something, you can do pretty much whatever you want with it.  (This is why it’s no more illegal to copy a record onto a blank cassette than it is to sell the record to a used vinyl shop for cash.)  In this, the recording industry really has no bite since we’ve already established that copying music to a tape doesn’t violate any law (although they tried to disallow that in the 80s), so there’s no reason why creating a digital copy should be any different (they would disagree again, pointing out that it is possible to create digital copies of music with today’s technology that are a direct facsimile of the original – to which we all say “…so?”). 

Windows Genuine Advantage Validation Hacks

This is what lead me to start writing this post in the first place.  When Windows 7 was in beta, I signed up and was using Windows 7 for almost a year in it’s early beta and release candidate forms.  I was so impressed that I decided to actually purchase a copy for each of our computers.  Of course, according to Microsoft, Windows 7 beta/RC was not for use on any machine you actually use (which sort of defeats the purpose IMO) and there was no direct upgrade path to a retail version of Windows 7 from the RC.  It wasn’t long before someone found a way around this, which even worked for me, who bought Windows 7 Home Upgrade (the RC had the featureset of Windows 7 Ultimate).  But fast forward to both hard drives on both my computers failing (at different points).  Though you are allowed to do a format and install with an upgrade version of Windows 7, the license key is not valid for a full install,  I had to find a way to workaround the Windows Genuine Advantage Validation to use the copy of Windows that I purchased.

Commercially-Supported GPL Software

This one is close to home because not only do I write commercially-supported GPL software (in the form of Museum Themes), but I also support commercially-supported GPL software (in the form of Event Espresso). In this instance, hacking may not be anything more malicious than taking the code and modifying it for your own purposes (something that is allowed by the software license). But what if the means by which you obtained the software wasn’t one of the “official” channels? By the terms of the GPL, anyone, anywhere, for any reason has the right to take GPL software and distribute it in kind as long as they do not alter the GPL license itself. This means that you could take GPL software that you purchased and post it on your website for people to download.

However, with most commercially-supported GPL software, what you are actually paying for is not the software itself, but rather the support (and the knowledge that the software is being maintained, tested, and the developers will presumably fix any bugs you may find – all things that may be harder to come by when you are working with free – as in beer – GPL software). If you took the example above and posted your commercially-supported GPL software on your site, you would likely earn the ire of the developers if not violate the terms you agreed to when you purchased the software, and they would more-than-likely deem you invalid for receiving any further support or updates.

Common threads

At this point you should be seeing a pattern.  “Hacked” software is making the software do something that wasn’t the intended use by the manufacturer.  The consequence isn’t death, the FBI won’t come after you over your illicit VHS copies of movies you rented from Blockbuster, and you won’t go to jail.  You will not, however, be able to get support for whatever software it is that you are hacking.  The EULAs that you click through without reading, though they sound like legalese, are at the end of the day just license agreements and generally not a basis for legal action.  We have become so used to clicking through EULAs without reading that, as a result, we only follow the terms of them as far as it resembles common sense or, at the very least, supports what we were already intending to do with it.

Breaking the rules

I was going to end this post here, but I’ve recently been made aware of something that is making the rounds in the Warrior Forum.  For those of you who don’t know, the Warrior Forum is basically where spammers and black hat internet marketers are made.  It is to scammy online money-making schemes what 4chan is to griefing.  Recently, some brilliant member of the forums realized that because the terms of the GPL allow you to redistribute the software (even repackage and resell the software) that you could potentially make a lot of money stealing other people’s code and selling it.

Here’s the problem with that.

GPL software is released without any warrantee that the software even works.  No guarantee is made for support of any kind.  As discussed previously, that’s what you’re paying for.  How likely is it that the guy you got a free copy of a WooTheme from is going to help you out when you have a problem with the theme or want to upgrade it to the latest version?  Not at all.  Go to WooThemes for support?  Sorry, if we don’t have a record for your purchase, you’re SOL.  This hurts not only the customer trying to use the theme but, ultimately, becomes a big headache for the guy trying to redistribute it because he probably didn’t realize that he’s going to have to help (or ignore) the people he gave his theme to.  For someone out to make a quick buck, this was probably not part of the plan (however, for anyone actually in the business of selling GPL-licensed commercial software, this is precisely the plan).

The moral

Hacking software or using hacked software is not illegal.  Once it’s (legally) in your possession, you ultimately have the right to do whatever you want with it.  However, doing so means you should at least be aware of the consequences, namely: you’re on your own.  If you break anything after hacking your software (or using someone’s patched version of commercial software), you can’t go back to the developer and ask for a refund, or support, or much of anything, really.  Hacking is not piracy and shouldn’t really even imply piracy (though pirated software often requires a hack in order to bypass the built-in protection against just that).  Hacking is just code, which, broken down are just words, which are protected by article one in the constitution allowing free speech.  That said, there are many cases when the forces in place guiding you toward actually purchasing or using the software legitimately have benefits that outweigh whatever benefits of the hacked version.  Maybe this is in the form of support from the developer or maybe you just believe in the product and want to help them keep writing good code.  As a free-thinking individual, it is up to you to make the choice for yourself and understand the consequences of either decision.

So this is why Hollywood blockbusters aren’t very good

Disney exec says storytelling is B.S. when it comes to B.O. | Blastr.

How are we supposed to be expected to shell out $15 a seat to watch a film in the theatre when Hollywood execs like Andy Hendrickson from Disney say things like this:

People say ‘It’s all about the story.’ When you’re making [blockbuster] films, bulls**t.

Using Alice in Wonderland as an example (made $1 billion), he said at an international conference: “The story isn’t very good, but visual spectacle brought people in droves. And Johnny Depp didn’t hurt.”

Seriously Andy Hendrickson, chief technical officer at Walt Disney Animation Studios?  Seriously?  There are more movies being made than ever before and yet the tickets sold hasn’t changed, and you want to make up the difference by recycling the same crap movies and you expect that to pull us away from our 60 inch, 3D, plasma flatscreens and 500 channels and our Netflix and Hulu and streaming video and movies distributed on BitTorrent and give you money for that?  I’ll stick to waiting until they show up on Netflix streaming, thanks.

Veganaise

I am not vegan.  Or, at least, I never considered myself to be.  Even when, a few years ago, we were forswearing just about all forms of food that you can generally buy at an average grocery store for the sake of our son’s digestive issues when he was a baby (this included no eggs, dairy, gluten, nuts and anything else that tastes good), I didn’t consider myself vegan — at the time I would still, occasionally, eat fish or other things off the restricted menu when we went out to eat.

Things have shifted more into the being-a-crazy-vegan department of late.

It all started when I tasted some amazing homemade vegan sausages at some event at my son’s school that were made by one of the parents in his class.  That made me think well, if he can do that, I’m sure I can find a similar recipe and do it, too.  This led me to finding an awesome vegan sausage recipe.  Then came the fantastic black bean burger recipe from the Veganomicon.  Later, we tried the chickpea cutlets, also from the Veganomicon.  Pretty soon, I was making some kind of vegan meat thing on a regular basis.  This coming from the guy who insists he can’t cook and blows something up when he’s in the kitchen (although, I still succeed in getting at least some of the ingredients all over the front of my shirt when I’m making one of these items).

Lately, we’ve made some of the breakfast recipes from the Rabbit Food Cookbook, which has a surprisingly normal-tasting French Toast (considering it’s made without eggs), and actually-pretty-good eggless waffle and muffin recipes.  If we don’t need eggs for cooking, that led to the concept, well, do we need eggs at all?  Sure, you can’t make scrambled eggs without eggs, but with tofu you can at least make scrambled something.  So out eggs went.

That leaves cheese as the only thing left on the vegan no-no list.  Having formerly been employed as a cheese cutter at Whole Foods, giving up cheese is not an easy task.  Certainly on the list of foods that are procured through inhumane means, cheese probably ranks low on the list.  Lately, we’ve been eating a lot of goat cheese, not because it’s any less dairy than cow cheese, but because goat cheese does not contain lactose.  The problem with giving up cheese is that vegan alternatives to cheese are uniformly horrible, and often aren’t strictly vegan either.  Many “vegan” cheeses contain casein (a protein that comes from milk) or rennet (an enzyme produced in a mammal’s stomach).  I don’t imagine that cheese will be completely leaving our diet anytime soon, but, even so, the amount of food we make that has cheese in it, these days, is much less than it was maybe 5 or 6 years ago.

However, the real sign that we may be turning to the vegan Dark Side is the subject of this post’s title.  For years, even when making vegetarian dishes, we only used mayonnaise when mayonnaise was called for.  Vegenaise just sounds weird.  And certainly not very appetizing.    (Also, as it turns out, it seems to be spelled wrong — when I started writing this post, I assumed it was spelled Veganaise — you know, like the vegans.  Turns out it’s Vegenaise.  I’m not sure what a vegen is, but I’m keeping my original post title because Veganaise is more descriptive…)  However, with the last empty carton of eggs tossed dutifully into the recycling — and with it, the vow to never get eggs again…probably — came the first appearance of a new vegan condiment in our refrigerator: Vegenaise.  Is it edible?  Well, we will see…

Google Music: The revolution you’ve been waiting for is (still) not here yet

A month or so back, Google announced its new plan to take over the world: Google Music.  No one was really sure what it did, but it was made by Google and it had something to do with music, so it had to be good right?  Oh, and there was something in there about syncing your Android devices…whatever that means.

Just like when Google said “hey, we’re going to give a whole bunch of people some of our brand-spanking-new ChromeOS tablets that haven’t actually been built yet,” or when they said “hey, we’ve got this new technology called Wave…we’re not really sure what it does, but we want you to test it for us,” I put my email address in the box to sign up for the beta.  Last week, I got my invite.

Here’s what Google Music (presumably) does:

You upload your music to the server (up to 20,000 files for free).  Once there, you can access, stream, and play it from pretty much anywhere.  The application is web-based, so it’s not platform specific (except for the Music Manager tool which runs on your desktop computer and handles the uploading part).  The interface is sparse bordering on unfinished.  The features are limited.  It’s sort of like a simplified iTunes if iTunes was what it was circa version 1 or so.  To be honest, I’ve barely used it, and this is why.

The first problem I had was that I couldn’t sign into the Music Manager application.  It said it didn’t like my password and locked me out.  I decided that this was most likely because my Google Apps password for my email address was different than the password I used for the same email address that I used for my Google identity everywhere else.  However, knowing this didn’t fix the problem.  Eventually, I found a bit of a hack/workaround by using my YouTube screenname (jazzs3quence) and the same password I use for my regular Google identity (which is also used by YouTube). This worked and it turned my YouTube screen name into a Gmail address ([email protected]) — an interesting trick.  A couple days after I figured this out, I got a response to my reported issue to Google saying that it was because my Google Apps account hadn’t migrated over to the new version yet.  I more or less ignored this piece of useless information since I had already managed to get it working.

The second problem may only be a problem for me, which is the 20,000 file upload limit.  Presumably when this thing launches, you’ll be able to upload more for a fee.  I have between 30-40,000 music files, so 20k doesn’t really cut it.  The Music Manager program far from lives up to its name, not really providing a place to manage your music — it does what pretty much every other program of its ilk does, which is let you specify where your music files are stored (or import via your iTunes playlist).  However, if I’m limited to 20k, I’d like to be able to pick what gets uploaded and what doesn’t — the Music Manager doesn’t really offer a good way of doing this other than drilling down your directory tree and individually adding each folder.  Since I let iTunes handle my files, that means I have a separate folder for every artist (as well as artists iTunes doesn’t have a clue about and dumps in Unknown Artist).  Doing that for the equivalent of 20,000 files would be a glorious waste of time.  Once uploaded, you can delete songs, albums, and presumably entire artists from the Google Music interface, but I’m unconvinced that doing so would have any influence over whether that artist got uploaded again after it scanned your collection again and realized you had music by them.   Say I don’t plan on listening to Dizzy Gillespie on the Android device that I don’t actually own, if I delete Dizzy from Google Music, how do I know that Dizzy won’t get uploaded again before, say, Trent Reznor since it exists alphabetically sooner?  The only real way to be sure would be to exclude the Dizzy Gillespie folder, which, as I’ve pointed out, isn’t very manageable with a huge number of artists.

The biggest issue for me, though, came as I was trying to do work.  The Music Manager was chugging along in the background, up to 10,000-something of 30,000-something files, I was listening to iTunes (not Google Music) and trying to code.  I say trying because even though the Notepad++ application I use for coding is tiny, it was straining to do anything.  Alt+TABbing forced me to wait several minutes, and I was increasingly getting the Windows 7 gray screen of death on various windows.  When I finally manged to pull up Task Manager, I found the culprit: Music Manager was sucking up over 90% of my CPU resources.  This is essentially like the midget flame-eater telling the ring leader to step aside, he can take the show from here — screw the clowns.  Once I killed that process, my computer happily went along doing its normal business as if nothing had happened.  It even seemed to flip through windows perkily, like I’d finally been able to find that irritating itch that had been bugging it.  Granted uploading 10,000+ files is fairly excessive, and granted that uploading files at all can be fairly resource-intensive, why a program designed to run in the background can be allowed to use that much of my system resources is astounding.  I started wondering if maybe I had downloaded a virus — instead, the only virus I downloaded was Google Music.

The only positive thing I can say about Google Music is that, after picking your favorite genres from a ridiculously-simplified list of possibilities (for a musicophile like me, anyway) is that Google Music will come pre-loaded with some selections from those selected genres.  However, for the reasons mentioned above (namely having more than 20k files to start with), this really isn’t that helpful, especially considering the inclusion of artists like Cab Calloway (in the Jazz category) and C-40 (in the Hip Hop & Rap category) whom I have little-to-no interest in whatsoever.  (Also included in Rap was Kriss Kross which could be considered a keeper if only for novelty value.)  Meanwhile, checking on my Music Manager informed me that it had made its way to my collection of downloaded audiobooks, which I have absolutely zero interest in actually having on the site when every file counts.

Considering I don’t have an Android device, Google Music has nothing to offer me.  Even if I did, the platform is unappealing and without any features that I would consider essential.  Moreover, there’s nothing that Google Music is doing that couldn’t be done for at least five years or so with a little open source web app I discovered called Ampache, which you could use — with some configuring — to turn your desktop computer into a web server and stream your entire music collection to any device (assuming it could handle Flash, Shoutcast streams, or playlist files).  And since the debut of Ampache (which I discovered sometime around 2005 and it had been in development for several years before that), other things have cropped up that allow you to stream your music (or other files) to various devices like Wiisic, Orb, and dot.tunes, which take care of the server side of things to make it even easier to set up.

So, sorry Google, maybe you’re winning someone over, but I’m unimpressed.  Now get your stupid Music Manager the hell off my system and stop sucking up my processor power.  Thanks.