Long shadows of colonialism

First: an brief, animated guided tour of health and wealth statistics over the past 200 years, from Hans Rosling (this is far more interesting then it sounds at first blush).  If you haven’t seen this video already, you may still know Rosling from his TED.com talks, also excellent and worth looking up.

Creative procrastination

I was taking Mrs. Bang for a walk last night, at 2am or so, and mulling over my ideas for a dauntingly large new feature I want to add to my music theory site. One idea spun from another, and I started thinking about mad libs — you know, the game where you fill in the blanks in a pre-written story with input from your friends (“adjective about a person”, “action ending with -ing”, “unusual animal”), then read the resulting silliness aloud.

Well, an online mad-lib engine would be pretty trivial to write — just collect the words from the user first, and plug them into the text of the story in the right places. You could play madlibs at a party without anyone knowing beforehand what the final result would be, or even play alone.

I jumped from there to erotic madlibs, which seemed at the time to be an amazingly good idea (it would have to be real erotica at heart, but somehow incredibly enriched by the carefully-placed randomness of the contributed words; sometimes silly, but still sexy). I could register “FillInMyBlank.com” or something else slyly racy (or just MadLibErotica.com?) and put up a few good stories for free access, plus a library for subscribers only, and wait, wait, subscribers could also contribute their own stories — there would have to be rules on content, because I don’t want the site to fill up with sexist shite, of course — and….

By this time I was back home. Wow, the domain names I had thought up were ALL available! No one was doing this already! I was already thinking about how to structure the site (should I build on one of the PHP CMSes? Or play with GWT, maybe?). For a user entering a new story, after each paragraph was entered I could pull the text from the textarea in JavaScript, format it to make each word a separate link… hover to highlight, click to show an overlay for replacing it with a “blank” plus description.

I dug around in my pocket for my credit card to register the domain.

The “now you are spending money” alarm went off in my head, so I paused for a second, then a few more seconds.

This all took place in maybe 20 minutes. And here I was, about to launch into an entirely new project at two something AM, Thursday night, because —

Because it was such an amazing idea, right? Hah, no.  It was losing the halo fast now (er, who exactly would subscribe to this site, now?).

No, this was just my brain saying “huh, this looks like a lot of work you have to do here, some complicated stuff that’ll probably take a lot of — holy crap, look over there!”

Nice.  I put the credit card away.

And tonight, I’m writing it up at 3am to share this valuable and entertaining… ah.

Eye surgery

Thank you to all of the friends, and friends of friends, and contacts of friends of friends (!) who shared their advice, thoughts, warm wishes and professional opinions with me when I was deciding how to proceed with the slipped IOL (artificial lens) in my right eye.

I’m documenting discussions I had with my ophthalmologist and his colleagues, the decisions I made, the operation and ongoing status here.

Truly moving… unforgettable.

So.. I have some lyrics that popped into my head while I was driving. Best performed a capella, with deep feeling.

I’d make a video to go with this but wait what the hell am I thinking I have no spare time. One day I’ll be independently wealthy and I will do silly things all day! (And donate a lot to charity)

Amazing grease…
How sweet the sound
That fries two eggs like these!

Melt on some cheese
And lay them down
On toast, with hot sauce, please…

(to the tune of Amazing Grace, of course)

An Approach to Exception Handling

[In response to this post, also posted here, asking about guidelines different developers have come up with….  I actually started a response on the site, then realized I was typing an entire essay into a little comment box.]

Guideline #1: Never discard exception information.

You might either wrap the exception and throw the wrapper, or log it somehow — but discarding exception information should always set off loud alarm bells.  Likewise, catching an exception and throwing a new exception is bad if you neglect to wrap the original one — that stack trace is valuable!

Support Firefox, through Internet Explorer

If you’re a web developer (or if you have to use websites that are still IE-only) you might spend time browsing in both Firefox and IE.

You may also have noticed that when you use the toolbar search box in either one, the browser tacks a few extra parameters onto the Google search URL… so they get credit from Google for sending a user their way.  More specifically, they get PAID.  Which is a great way for Mozilla to support continued open source development… but maybe you don’t want your searches in Internet Explorer to be funneling Google’s money off to Microsoft instead, just because you have to use IE now & then.

Well, if you’ve got a mild anti-Microsoft streak and would like to do a little bit extra to fund open source, it’s pretty easy to tweak IE so that it will build your Google searches to credit Firefox, instead of IE.

Avoiding getting flashed by Dilbert

I’ve been reading the Dilbert comics online for years, always from the archive page — the home page was just overwhelmingly cluttered by ads, and it required extra clicks to see previous comics when I’d missed a few days.

So when the central Dilbert site switched to a super Flash-heavy format for their homepage (including the strip itself!) and the complaints erupted, I snickered smugly.  The archive page hadn’t changed.  I wasn’t affected.

Well, it took about 2 days.  Now the central archive page redirects to dilbert.com.

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