Saturday, December 30, 2006

The rise and rise of fan-created random off ofs

Saturday, December 30, 2006 4

The 2006 edition of Lake Superior State University's Banished Words List is out. Sadly it doesn't include any of my latest pet peeves so I intend to bore you with them here instead.

'Off of'. An imbecilic, infantile and totally redundant John Wayneism, yet it's everywhere you look at the moment. I'm convinced people are deliberately shoehorning it into the most inappropriate sentences simply to wind me up. There are almost no circumstances under which it makes sense to say 'off of'. "Spin-off of x" or "rip-off of y" I'll grant you, but in practically every other instance 'from', 'on' or a single 'off' will suffice.

Just stop it or I'll bounce the Oxford English Dictionary off of your bonce.

If you type "for * fans by * fans" into Google you are treated to a mélange of 126,000 instances of fans of one thing or another claiming to have created something for other fans of one thing or another. It seems to be the stock slogan for people who don't do slogans, yet insist on christening their magazine, blog, TV show, podcast or whatever with one anyway. And they don't just slip it in subtly, they announce it with chirpy glee as though the audience won't have heard anything remotely like it ever before.

Worse still is the even more glib variation "for the people by the people" (247,000 Google results!). On second thoughts, this one is quite informative because it distinguishes media intended for the consumption of rabbits, but created by snails from that devised by humans for humans.

If you're really that desperate to adopt a meaningless tagline use this instead. At least add a bit of flavour to the mix.

Why bother? Is it not safe to assume that if you're running an extensive web site solely dedicated to Tony the Tiger collectibles and memorabilia of the 1920s that you're reasonably fond of the subject matter? Even if you're getting paid to produce content for a niche readership I'd imagine that you've been specifically selected for the job at least partly on account of your specialist knowledge - and hence interest - in that field.

'That's so random'. Have you noticed how absolutely everything is 'random' these days? Life hasn't spontaneously become more haphazard than it was previously, yet only recently have people become preoccupied with pointing out what appears to be a new discovery for them. Unless you write a daily script to rival the predictability of a Scooby Doo cartoon and hand it out a week in advance to anyone you expect to come into contact with, you can guarantee that some Muppet will look at you with a tilty-headed, quizzical expression and declare "that's so random.

For the record, this post was generated by an exceedingly formulaic mathematical algorithm developed at the beginning of the paleolithic era as foretold by a soothsayer during the Lepton Epoch.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Filtering Google search results by date range

Sunday, December 17, 2006 0

Supposedly we are able to use the operator 'date:3/6/9/12' to limit search results to only those added to Google's index within the last 3 months, 6 months and so on. In practice you may as well not bother because all this tweak does is return pages which include keywords such as "Date: 12 December 2006". Chocolate fireguard anyone?

An alternative, undocumented, super-secret operator you can use is 'daterange:[julian date]-[julian date]'. Huh? As defined by Wikipedia: "The Julian day or Julian day number (JDN) is the number of days that have elapsed since 12 noon Greenwich Mean Time (UT or TT) on Monday, January 1, 4713 BC in the proleptic Julian calendar . That day is counted as Julian day zero. The Julian day system was intended to provide astronomers with a single system of dates that could be used when working with different calendars and to unify different historical chronologies."

Right so Stephen Hawking has his bases covered, but how are the rest of us going to do the maths in our heads? We don't need to. We can use the Gmacker date range search, which will plug in the correct calculations automagically based on the number of days or dates entered. The problem is, using the daterange operator doesn't make a scrap of difference to your search results either. Great tip this is turning out to be, eh! I hope the likes of Likehacker are taking note. The recipe for a top tech tip: identify problem > offer solution > decide solution is rubbish and shrug shoulders.

Take a major, recent news story, for example, and apply the only-the-last-30-days modifier to the keywords entered: ipswich prostitutes "serial killer" "paula clennell" daterange:2454055-2454085. Now try the same search without the daterange operator. Either way you get 44,500 hits. That's precision fine-tuning at work.

Actually I shouldn't call the victims 'prostitutes' so we're told by the politically correct, feminist mob because it belittles the tragedy and demeans the women involved. According to these pedants it isn't useful to identify them in this way so that other sex workers will know to be wary, employ safety-in-numbers tactics, or get off the streets altogether. Also it doesn't help the police to be able to draw correlations between the targets enabling them - with the help of criminal psychologists - to build a profile of the killer.

They argue that if all the victims had been McDonald's employees, this facet of the case wouldn't have featured so prominently, or received so much media attention. I think the rest of McDonald's staff working in the area would beg to differ.

One commentator ratcheted the farce up another notch when she tried to sugar-coat the reasons some prostitutes were still walking the streets in Ipswich despite the heightened risks: like any other doting mothers they need to put in extra hours at this time of year to be able to afford Christmas presents for their children. Paints a cosy picture doesn't it, but in reality most of them are compelled to put their lives in jeopardy to feed their addiction to hard drugs. According to the BBC's victim profiles page, only one of them was a mother, and a heroin user.

Of course the sum of these women's lives shouldn't be defined solely by their chosen career path, but surely a dead spade is still a spade? Why does truth have to be the casualty of news reporting in this era of politically correct doublespeak?

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Excluding trashed items from Spotlight search results

Saturday, December 16, 2006 0

By default, OS X's Spotlight results include whatever is lingering in your trash can waiting to be permanently purged from the system. This can be confusing if you're engaged in a seek and destroy mission because the files you banish don't disappear from view until the trash is manually emptied.

To fix this you can exclude the trash can from Spotlight's search results by dragging its folder into the 'Privacy' pane of its 'System Preferences' panel.

First though, before you can manipulate your .trash folder you must instruct Finder to reveal any hidden files and folders on your system. This can be done in any one of the following ways...

1. Use the multifunction system maintenance tool, OnyX. 'Parameters' > 'Finder' > tick the 'Misc. Options: show hidden files and folders' check box.

2. Open a Terminal (located in /Applications/Utilities) window and type the command, "defaults write AppleShowAllFiles ON" (without the quotation marks).

3. Double-click on Show\Hide Files to reveal your hidden files and repeat the process to hide them again.

Once you've outed your trash folder, visit your /Users/Username/ folder and drag .Trash into the 'System Preferences' > 'Spotlight' > 'Privacy' pane.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Bollardial impalement

Friday, December 15, 2006 0

Normally the merest mention of 'hilarious, must-see' YouTube movies has me yawning in record time, but when they feature an area of your home town you pass by almost every day, any old dross is worth a peek.

This one depicts screw-loose motorists trying to beat the bus-only automated bollard system we now have in place right in the city centre where traffic is at its most hectic.

The lengths some lazy chavs will go to to access a 'no park zone' where you are limited to crawling at a maximum speed of 2 mph due to the swathes of blinkered, Dawn of the Dead style shoppers spilling out into the road is staggering!

Suddenly sitting on a public bus in the midst of wannabe Tupacs blasting out gangster rap through their loud-speaker phone/MP3 players doesn't seem quite so bad. Whaddaya mean you're not in awe of them? They wear their jeans round the angles and swagger in time to the beatz. What more do you want? They're keepin' it real don'tcha know. There's no pleasing some people.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Tread carefully and carry a big ski pole, or two

Tuesday, December 12, 2006 1

Whenever I'm out exploring the countryside I see people - who clearly consider themselves to be serious, die-hard hikers - carrying ski poles. No skis, no snow, no dry ski slope, just the poles. I've always assumed this is some sort of cliquey, ramblers club fashion statement and left them to their own devices... besides, the Men in White Coats already have their hands tied rounding up Tom and Katie.

However, according to this wikiHow article, these Gandalf staffs come in very handy for testing potentially unstable ground, jimmying yourself out of quicksand quagmires, or can function as tarpaulin tent holder-up-erers should the heavens open unexpectedly.

Who'd have thunk it? I was also surprised to learn that the view of quicksand as portrayed in the movies is nonsense. Providing you follow a few simple guidelines you can take a dip in the gritty goop and survive to tell the tale.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Botched with NVU

Thursday, December 07, 2006 0

Oddly enough you can't snag a show-your-support badge like this from the NVU home page, only the 'made with' ones.

NVU is a streamlined, free alternative to the clunky Dreamweaver WYSIWYG HTML editor. Sounds great in theory doesn't it. In practice it's wonkier than a drunken giraffe bowlegged with rickets, totally incapable of performing the simplest of tasks - inserting a *gasp* ...table for instance.

It can't be argued that the glaring gremlins in this crippleware were unknown; people have been posting (and ranting) about them on the official support forum for eons. Nevertheless, there hasn't been the merest whiff of a bug fix release since June 2005 - in fact the project seems to have been cut adrift by all concerned.

Given this lack of activity you'd think the developer would be delighted to see someone breathing new life into NVU without asking for anything in return. But no, Kazé has offended his delicate sensibilities by taking what is essentially the stub of a promising open source project, improving it and re-distributing the code for the community at large to benefit from. Shame on him, dissin' the spirit of the open source movement like that!

From now on each time I press a button or write a chunk of code in KompoZer and it does precisely what I expect it to I'll adopt a steely gaze, shake my fist and curse that menace to society.

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