Waiting for my Muse

My Thoughts On: April 28th, 2008

Well, just wanted to add an update showing that I am in fact still online and still planning a future for myself here, somewhere. While a rather silly thought, the internet is a place for growth for me, although I've seen little of that over the last year.

Really I think the thing is to focus and find inspiration, which I notice is a recurring theme for me. I have a mountain of projects to do, but little inspiration, and without the creative juices flowing there is no point starting them. I don't want to be responsible with putting junk on the internet, and despite being a talented designer who can fashion good websites, I missed the boat on Web 2.0 and making any kind of name for myself by innovating design trends. Also too my long-term financial situation is hazy, I've got a great job moving me out of the low wage income earners and into the "low-middle" wage income earners... but despite being moved to a new lead position, I feel like I'm the captain of a sinking ship: my employer is battered and bruised in the highly competitive market of consumer electronics retail, and it's reflected on the District and store level. Writing-wise, I'm still unpublished, my only publish-worthy book is so mammoth its size is a fatal obstruction to its publication, so it sits on the internet in its own museum of my past creative projects. I can't complain too much about publication, I prefer to publish online any day of the week, but I have no real projects planned to take to make into books or peer-reviewed journals, and no qualifications or background that distinguish me from any other schmuck, so my future there is bleak. Likewise, my chances of being involved with law or ever again publishing a bill that becomes law - like my bill in Kansas that increased minimum sentences for sex offenders - is nill to none, despite my passion for it. Politics, law, and government are great interests for me, but I have little hope of future involvement in those fields.

For this, my video blogs suffer, as you've seen I've not released one at all this year. This is partly due to my camcorder being a pain in the ass, recording video blogs will not happen if I don't get the recording routine downpat and each time I begin recording anew I wind up reinventing the wheel. I can't maintain my meager production values to satisfaction with the software packages I find, and it'll probably take some more looking to get it just right, and until then you won't see any new video blogs. Plus, I'd like one of those dandy HD camcorders, and someday a studio, so I can start with a higher quality video, because my camcorder's webcam output is weaksauce (despite being an awesome camcorder). None of this is an excuse though, the inkwell of my mind has been a bit dry lately, like a big brick resides in my head.

Oh, but this inactivity doesn't mean my highly opinionated nature has declined any, and I feel the more that I go without documenting my thoughts, the more of those thoughts are lost. We all hate losing things, don't we?

Ubuntu, or something like that.
New software to explore = greater distractions from productive work

As a computer tech who started using Vista 3 months in beta before it's public release, I'm a big fan of the changes Microsoft has implemented, much to the chagrin of the unwashed masses who spout the "I hate change" line of XP Kool-aid. That said, I do a lot of work in Linux environments and the newest release of Ubuntu 8.04 caught my eye. I enjoy it a lot, and one of the newest features of this release - the Wubi installation method - has made it possible, finally, to install it as a secondary OS without any substantial risk or inconvenience. Despite the purported slowdown a Wubi-style installation is said to have, my speeds blaze while in Ubuntu, even with all the graphical features enabled.

That said, I still can't quite get it the way I want it, and until then that means a big "no" for it being my primary OS. I had no problem configuring Opera (my main web browser, I'll talk more about that in a bit), so that made the experience a little more bearable this time around. Let me give sum up my user woes in Ubuntu by example - my mouse is an MX Revolution by Logitech, an awesome mouse. It requires special software on Windows to configure it's buttons ideally, and Logitech provides no Linux support for that, so you're left to the wild world of Open Source support to find an alternative. Indeed one is available, BTNX it's called, and it even has options for the MX Revolution specifically... which for the life of me don't work. I'm not getting into technical details or asking advice, because this is one example of many of situations where hardware issues exist in a core Linux install which really should not be a problem but is. Even if I did get it to work for basic clickery, making the inner mouse wheel a volume control is a logistical nightmare I care not to try to tackle, but very important to me in how I use it in Windows. Dual monitor settings with my LCD Polaroid HDTV, getting said dual monitor setup working the way I want with Compiz's beautiful 3D effects (close, but no cigar, and I'm even stuck with a buggy pink hue around all my window borders... fun), doing something simple like figuring out how to get my sound card to cut off speaker audio when I plug in my headphones... it has a long ways to go before I can call it a primary OS. I shouldn't have to do as much command line installs as I do but I gotta say considering the history of Linux distributions this is a milestone of progress.

Since the Ubuntu Wubi install is easy, painless, and reversible without any damage to your system, I encourage downloading Ubuntu and giving it a try. Once you burn the ISO to a CD (or loaded it virtually via Daemon Tools), just click "Install inside Windows". Sounds technical but isn't, requires a few reboots and it even keeps Windows as the default boot. Don't like Ubuntu? Just go back into Windows, go into the Add/Remove programs, and click "Uninstall" on Ubuntu. In a few moments it'll be gone. I like to think of Ubuntu like this: it's a usable environment, and might help me a ton if Windows gets problems, and fun to experiment in. When considering trying a secondary operating system, those things are big bonus points, and definitely justifies the install. I really think we should all dabble in alternative OS's - I even installed a Mac OS X Tiger emulator on my Vista machine (via PearPC). Runs great, but man, it does remind me that Macs are total ass. People who use Macs are clearly Communist.

Opera could use a celebrity spokesman... but this does show off the features I mention

Moving on to other new software this year, the newest edition of the Opera web browser, code-named Kestrel, has much promise and I'm already using that beta as my main browser (although it seems a little laggy while loading pages, something I'm sure will be fixed as time progresses). This new "speed dial" feature to me is completely crap, and changing basic navigation features like back/forward away from their previous settings (1 & 2 on the number pad would toggle you between webpages, which was super easy and I had to go in and manually re-add that). After using Opera for a while, I know how to customize it into any number of crazy configurations (it is easily the most configurable browser, so much that you can even install it and use it for an entirely non-browser related purpose), but even though this process is easy it's not very known amongst new users who would probably strongly consider it if they knew about it. Otherwise Opera 9.5's beta is great, I just hoped for a few things new and the new features did not impress me that much.

In the meantime, Firefox 3 is certainly looking good. As a web developer, I use all three browsers (Opera 9.5 beta as my primary, Internet Explorer 8 beta, and Firefox 3), but Firefox has always been my least used of the three. For the longest time, I hated loading Firefox... it was slow to load, IE's indoctrination of the tabbed browsing system made it's tabbed browsing feel inferior (and Opera's tabbed browsing already made them both seem pretty pathetic), but since Firefox 3 came in and increased the performance, revamped the look and feel, I'm enjoying it.

Review footage of Digsby, it was either this or a Demogirl.com review, so don't complain

In waiting for Trillian Astra to come out, which is honestly taking forever, I've been on the lookout for a replacement for my multi-client instant messaging needs, Trillian 3 was simply too clunky and unforgiving. I got excited a while back when I noticed that GAIM, probably the largest major multi-client project, had been replaced by the Pidgin client, I thought this was the revitalization that it needed. While Pidgin looks better and is nice, it's just not what I'm looking for, it doesn't escape the same feeling of crapitude that GAIM originally had. While surfing the web, I found Lifehacker's article on different multi-client instant messenger clients, and from there found out about Digsby. At first I thought it was obnoxious, I hate the stupid little cartoon character icon the program uses.

Not cute.
Fat guy with a hat and no limbs = Suck

Still, I popped it and used it. Being a beta and having a sizable buddy list, it took me a while and some patience to get my buddy list in order, but Trillian 3's buddy list had a long-standing bug not only limiting it's size but making it hard to permanently erase people and a bitch to reorder, and being able to get around that and make my buddy list a little more fluid was a welcome change. Something which really impressed me was the integration with my Yahoo email - for the longest time, I used Trillian to eye my Yahoo inbox, but it always bugged me that I never knew what was in my mailbox until I actually logged in (oh, don't get me wrong, I like Safeway.com reminders and free delivery offers, but they aren't *important*). Digsby actually can somehow condense all of my emails from Yahoo into a list and let me see their titles, some of their content, delete them, mark them as read, all without me actually going to Yahoo to do any of that. Awesome blossom.

Likewise, I've actually begun to use Facebook again, which - for those of you who don't know - I hate. Never did I think a site would be more insecure, buggy, shitty and "trendy" than Myspace, until I saw what college kids passed off as "social networking". I never used it after I made my account, but now that Digsby just shows me all the relevant info right next to all my Myspace info, it's less of a pain in the ass (although I still have next to nobody on my friends list there yet). I have confidence in Digsby's crew because they push updates in a recently deployed automatic update system constantly, and even send you a spiffy user message about it, and while a young project it's definitely a great start. I hear they're working on a Linux version, and that too will be an important factor in the future should I switch my primary OS. Hell, I even threw on Twitter for the hell of it (phoebusapollo, follow me on there). Update: Actually Twitter sucks so I stopped using it.

While on the thought, Windows Live OneCare is my new anti-virus of choice. Yes, it's mainly because I got a free product key as a job benefit, but so be it. It basically has all the best features of the competition - equivocal to Norton 360 - without the bloat or excess crap. It isn't so huge a benefit for Vista machines because it adds some redundant features (like backup), but it's a boon for XP machines since those features are sorely needed. My only gripe is that the product requires you register with Microsoft's Live network, meaning you must associate your subscription to a Hotmail/MSN/Live.com account. While a pain in the butt, and confusing for new users, once that's done it's a very nice anti-virus, and honestly cheaper than most equivocal commercial anti-virus competition. There is a free 30-day trial for unbelievers. If you're looking for free, stay on AVG.

You get it? The picture is a play on that
All work and no internet makes Phoebus a dull boy

Another of my major life distractions revolving around the infernal computers is the various websites I go to. To be honest, the computer is not an optional appliance, and internet service not an optional expense... progressive society requires both. Of course, that doesn't mean it's not easy to let yourself go... astray.

I do spend some time keeping up on various webcomics (and even the bad ones). Websites with respectable and regularly updated video (+more) and animated content are numerous as the stars in the starry sky.

I, ashamedly, have been following the ugly world of "Let's Play" video game reviews on Youtube, and there really is no more base form of entertainment, but still once in a while I find the reviewers find some high quality game that merits a play or carries their poor sense of humor. Still, some good reviewers can be found on the independent Let's Play forum, but to me a good reviewer knows how to prevent themselves from being utterly obnoxious at all times, ruining the experience of just watching people play a game. Such as Duke of the Bump, mastatsan, or wc10k. All, however, are examples of infrequent updaters, but at least sound like decent human beings who you don't want to hit while you listen to their commentary.

Gawker's media empire produces mostly crap websites, with the exception of Lifehacker which sometimes has quality/interesting content, and Kotaku which provides decent gaming news when inbetween stories about undressable pedophile anime figurines. Joystiq also provides gaming info in a somewhat more digestable fashion, Digg is what I still use for general links, while Myway is still my favorite news aggregator, although I'm looking around for something to replace it. I also found out the guy running the Comic Pirate website is back in business on the Pirate Bay's new blogging service, although you can find that link yourself.

Despite all that productivity wasting time online, I did find a nice site to organize tasks, Remember the Milk. Definitely a great place to go if you want to lay out some duties, pretty easy to access from anywhere, very handy.

All in all said, little new for me as far as that goes, but I thought I'd share.

Worthy candidates, don't you agree?
The 2008 Elections dominate the otherwise boring news, so I must comment on it I suppose

This election has surprised me, I did not expect a candidate to be so patently bad that I would actually root for Hillary to win the Democratic nomination, nor did I think that the Republicans would be the ones to elect the more moderate candidate. Guiliani's campaign was a wash, perhaps I should've sent that I.O.U. for $9.11 a little quicker.

Most of you (being the few who even read this far) know my opinion of the election: Barack Obama is a contrived caricature of the modern politician who has managed to inspire nothing but hopelessness in my faith of the political process to someday right itself. Not even an ideologue, I cannot take any stance of his with any degree of consistency, and I do question his worldview opinions (Obama may be an Islamic convert, but the Christian pastor he followed thinks the white man invented AIDS to kill black people, Jews plotted 9/11, and sides with Iran on the question of Israel's right to exist... not instilling much faith in me there). More importantly Barack is an anachronism, a man of mixed heritage "finding himself" in modern society through the venue of politics is a story of impact for the 1890's, not for 2008. More importantly we as a society should be progressing beyond such notions. His platform is nearly identical to Hillary's, but Hillary's platform is at least her own - she is a clear ideologue, her ideas are her ideas, and she's more bound to consistently follow them. Not that I particularly think that's a good thing, but better the devil you know.

In the meantime, John McCain is eschewing a lot of his stances of moderation to curry the GOP core vote, but I suspect once in the oval office McCain will go back to his moderate Republican principles. Still, he is a war hawk, so that means a continuation of the same political discourse over the War on Terror, a fate nearly as awful as socialist universal healthcare.

The debate continues to inspire the utterly lamest people to voice their opinions, like the clown who drew this cartoon
Case in point: the cartoonist

With political biases obvious, people's opinions are downgraded to their basest form of slackmindedness - oh that mainstream media is so mean to that Obama, but not to Bush! The petulance of people these days knows no bounds. For me, it's easy to criticize the political process as a whole, the lack of saturation of like-minded limited government advocates out there to back the view that government is not some shoddy shovel to bury everyone's problems in a mountain of debt, inflation and regulation... but never could I manage the boneheadedness that this type of myopia illustrates.

So I continue to watch as I slowly lose hope in change, real change. Change is not the Barack Obama "I'll give you all lollipops, health care and candy canes in the land of the magic misty valley" variety of "change", it's not that misguided fool's errands of instilling in others a false sense of "hope". Instead I'm talking about a misplaced faith I have in people that they will someday realize this type of political system is not what will make our union more perfect, it's not what the revolution was fought and won for. Choosing between two big government candidates on the Republican and Democratic sides is disheartening, Americans will typically agree with this, yet they do little to change their worldview about government's role.

Well, I suppose that even though I have substantially more to add, that should give you a good overview of where I've been for the last few months. It goes without saying that I intend to do some more updating soon, but if intentions meant anything you would've seen an update every day for the last 6 months instead of a whole lot of, well, nothing. Anyways, take care, and keep in touch.

Your friend and humble servant,

- Good ol' PA