Is this going to be forever?

Let’s talk about me.

Super Smash Bros. Melee wasn’t released at a very good time for me. I was in col­lege, away from home and most of my gam­ing friends. Also, it was released for the Nin­ten­do Game­Cube, which his­to­ry has shown us wasn’t a ter­ri­bly suc­cess­ful con­sole. In fact, I don’t think any of my clos­est friends back then owned a Game­Cube.

But because I know peo­ple who know peo­ple, there was a hand­ful of oppor­tu­ni­ties to play Melee over the next few years.

I’d be at people’s hous­es and find mostly-young, mostly-male groups gath­ered around the TV trad­ing smash attacks between sig­na­ture Nin­ten­do char­ac­ters in the most won­der­ful­ly whim­si­cal car­toon fight­ing game imag­in­able. Mor­tal Kom­bat this is not. Con­tin­ue read­ing “Is this going to be for­ev­er?”

Not everyone’s a critic

As a kid, I hat­ed “crit­i­cal think­ing” ques­tions.

I didn’t know what the term even meant, but what I did know was that about a third of the ques­tions at the end of each chap­ter in my school text­books were “crit­i­cal think­ing” ques­tions. I’d read the assigned text — well, usu­al­ly — but skim­ming the chap­ter for key words would mag­i­cal­ly reveal the answers… at least for all the nor­mal ques­tions.

In what year did Napolean what­ev­er? I knew the hack for that: scan the text for num­bers.

My goal was to get my work done as quick­ly as pos­si­ble, because the draw of TV time at home, and “free time” in class was strong. Crit­i­cal think­ing was an annoy­ing road­block to very impor­tant leisure. I just want­ed to get done.

As an adult, I take my time when I work — I just try not to com­plete­ly Dou­glas Adams my dead­lines, if you catch my drift. Qual­i­ty is impor­tant (although it’s only job two), and if I fin­ish some­thing ear­ly, odds are it could use some more thought, anoth­er look tomor­row with fresh eyes, or some­thing like that.

There real­ly is no prize for fin­ish­ing first.

I real­ize now that the crit­i­cal think­ing ques­tions were the only ones that ever real­ly mat­tered. Teach­ers prob­a­bly told us that, but it didn’t mean any­thing at the time. And when I look around today, I get the sense that to a lot of my peers, it still doesn’t.

Derechos, am I right(s)?

Span­ish is a lan­guage I’ve stud­ied on and off through­out my life, but nev­er hard enough, it seems. See­ing a pam­phlet recent­ly, titled Declaración de los dere­chos, made me feel that way. The actu­al mean­ing (“dec­la­ra­tion of rights”) was easy enough for me to fig­ure out, but I was sur­prised when I real­ized that the Span­ish word for “rights” is dere­chos.

Whether or not you under­stand Span­ish, you may be won­der­ing why I found this so strange.

Well, a word in Span­ish I cer­tain­ly know is derecha (which means “right”… as in, the direc­tion that isn’t “left”) — it’s one of the first words any­one learns in Span­ish. And despite that word and dere­chos hav­ing dif­fer­ent gen­ders, it can’t be a coin­ci­dence that the two words are almost the same in both Eng­lish and Span­ish.

What’s so weird about that? Why shouldn’t these Eng­lish homo­phones be sim­i­lar in Span­ish?

I’d explain it like this: I most­ly feel this way because of how it works with anoth­er pair of Span­ish words — in Eng­lish, the word free has dif­fer­ent mean­ings that each trans­late dif­fer­ent­ly. Most of the time we prob­a­bly think of it in the “cost­ing zero dol­lars” sense… but there’s also the arguably higher-minded def­i­n­i­tion “exist­ing with­out restric­tion.” In Span­ish, they’re two very dif­fer­ent words, the for­mer being gratis and the lat­ter being libre.

In the English-speaking world, I see the dif­fer­ence between the two “frees” most often come up in the Free Soft­ware1 com­mu­ni­ty. When dis­cussing Free Soft­ware phi­los­o­phy, peo­ple will wax elo­quent about the dif­fer­ent mean­ings of free, using phras­es like “free as in beer” and “free as in free­dom” to help con­trast the two. They’ll also occa­sion­al­ly veer into expla­na­tions of Span­ish vocab­u­lary to high­light the dif­fer­ence, point­ing out that gratis and libre are more pre­cise ways to describe two kinds of soft­ware, both of which are “free,” but in sig­nif­i­cant­ly dif­fer­ent sens­es of the word.

With my mind steeped in this soft­ware salon cul­ture of the back-alley forums of the Inter­net, I became so keen­ly aware of the extra mean­ing words can pick up when trans­lat­ed into oth­er lan­guages.

And that’s why I find it so hard to believe that, en Español, “rights” are sim­ply dere­chos. The trans­la­tion should be some­thing more abstract… more libre-like. I wouldn’t have guessed that when trans­lat­ed, my rights become “not lefts.”

  1. You may also know this as “Open Source,” although there are folks who will tell you that they’re not the same thing. These folks have beards.

No Ovaltine please — we’re cool

As a kid, I didn’t know any­thing about Oval­tine aside from their com­mer­cials, so I hadn’t seen it as a spon­sor of clas­sic radio and tele­vi­sion, as a joke on Sein­feld, or as a big fat liar in A Christ­mas Sto­ry. I can’t remem­ber any of my friends hav­ing any­thing to say about it, either.

I was total­ly unbi­ased.

But from the company’s mar­ket­ing alone, I could tell that rich choco­late Oval­tine was uncool. I had nev­er drunk any — and decades lat­er, I still haven’t — but if I ever had, I cer­tain­ly wouldn’t have told any­one about it.

I’m not exact­ly sure why the stuff made my lame-sense tin­gle as a kid. Maybe because Oval­tine was named after a shape (and shapes are for lit­tle kids), or that its mar­ket­ing proud­ly pro­claimed that it was full of vit­a­mins (like every­thing par­ents love, and kids don’t), but what I sus­pect it was… was a lit­tle more basic than that.

Con­tin­ue read­ing “No Oval­tine please — we’re cool”

Interchangeable Parts: Double-edge safety razors

This is the first in a series of posts about cool things with inter­change­able parts. What?

The first time I shaved, I used a cheap dis­pos­able razor that I hap­pened to find in the bath­room. I was 15.

These were dread­ful, by the way.

I didn’t know any bet­ter at the time, and I didn’t learn any bet­ter for a while. It was easy to just keep using pro­gres­sive­ly bladier multi-blade car­tridge mod­els. Two blades to start, then four after a cou­ple of years. I stuck with four long after the world had moved ahead, but I soon caught up with the whole five blade deal.

Clear­ly my razor wasn’t the only tool in the bath­room.

I’d hear mum­blings from oth­er men about bet­ter ways to shave, but the thought of my moth­er scold­ing me because I cut my throat open because I was using a dan­ger­ous razor still loomed large in my otherwise-independent adult brain. I was in my mid-20s by that point, but I’ll nev­er out­grow that sort of thing because she’ll nev­er out­grow not let­ting me hear the end of it if some­thing goes wrong.

It’s a good thing I didn’t lis­ten to hypothetical-her (sor­ry, mom) because if I had, I wouldn’t have picked up my first double-edge razor a cou­ple of years ago.

My what?

Double-edge razors are also known as “safe­ty razors” because they were a heck of a lot safer than those big, scary straight razors that were com­mon before them.

It may seem iron­ic today, because it’s def­i­nite­ly eas­i­er to cut your­self with a double-edge than with a car­tridge razor, but you know what else is eas­i­er to cut with a double-edge? The hair on your face. Which is what mat­ters.

Shav­ing with one of these sharp thin­gies requires you to take it slow, but that’s alright.

Seriously though, they’re actually good

I use a double-edge razor because1 I find them to be more effec­tive, lead to less skin irri­ta­tion and few­er ingrown hairs, and over the long run, actu­al­ly be cheap­er. It’s also nice that shav­ing this way leads to a lot less waste to be thrown away.

It was only after I began shav­ing with one for the rea­sons above, that I real­ized anoth­er ben­e­fit: I’m shav­ing with an open sys­tem of inter­change­able parts.

Fuck yeah, interchangeable parts

Since safe­ty razors have been around since the very ear­ly 1900s, any patents on the sys­tem have long-since expired. That means that any­one can cre­ate han­dles or blades that are com­pat­i­ble with every­thing else avail­able for the sys­tem, which leads to a wealth of choice for both han­dles and blades… which of course means low prices.

What excites me much more than the poten­tial for sav­ing mon­ey (sor­ry again, mom) is the poten­tial for cus­tomiza­tion that such an open sys­tem allows. Basi­cal­ly, I can pair any razor designed for this stan­dard—fat han­dles, skin­ny han­dles, short han­dles, shiny onesdouchebag ones, ones from the future, uh, this one—with any blade that I want. This means I can sep­a­rate the style from the sub­stance; I can pair my favorite han­dle with my favorite blade and have what is, to me, the ulti­mate shav­ing machine.

Also, cheap

Ever heard some­one com­plain about how expen­sive it is to shave, or more specif­i­cal­ly, to buy refills for a car­tridge razor? I prob­a­bly don’t need to explain the razor and blades busi­ness mod­el that car­tridge razors fol­low. (If you like pay­ing a lot of mon­ey for the rest of for­ev­er, you’ll love it.)

If you perused those Ama­zon links above, you’re prob­a­bly won­der­ing what’s wrong with my idea of “cheap.” Well, the double-edge razor turns the razor and blades mod­el on its head; in this world, the han­dle is the more expen­sive item, with $30 US not being unusu­al for the more com­mon brands. How­ev­er, this buys a qual­i­ty met­al instru­ment that will like­ly out­live you… and you def­i­nite­ly make up for it with the blades — 10¢ or 20¢ blades are com­mon!

The future

The double-edge shav­ing sys­tem isn’t going any­where.

While it’s obvi­ous­ly less pop­u­lar now than it was in its hey­day (but so were fedo­ras, and cool guys still wear those), we know how the Inter­net changes things; retail­ers can use it to sell obscure prod­ucts to weirdos every­where, the kind of things mass-market brick-and-mortar loca­tions would nev­er both­er stock­ing on their shelves. I don’t mind buy­ing online and wait­ing a few days, so I can have any blade I want deliv­ered to my door.

Cheap­er, bet­ter and ulti­mate­ly, more inter­change­able. That’s why I shave like this.

  1. I don’t use them for the same rea­sons these strange shav­ing gear fetishists do.

The word calamity makes me smile (and now I know why)

Words are spe­cial things to me, and when I was a small­er geek and would try to fig­ure out the mean­ing of unknown words, I would often form a men­tal image of a word’s mean­ing based on, often times, anoth­er word it sound­ed like (regard­less of whether the two words actu­al­ly had any­thing to do with each oth­er). Some­times, I’d actu­al­ly use con­text to help deci­pher the mean­ing of the mys­tery word, but that wouldn’t always lead me to the right answer.

From time to time, I’d be unable to shed this first impres­sion of a word, which would stick with me even after I would learn the word’s actu­al mean­ing. I’d have these false images some­times pop into my mind when I’d hear the word itself used else­where, even know­ing full well what it real­ly means.

So when I found myself, in more recent years, find­ing the word calami­ty to be, of all things, bizarrely amus­ing, I began to seri­ous­ly ques­tion how this could be. It’s not like I find calami­ties them­selves fun­ny. And the word is not one I hear used much on a day-to-day basis, and it cer­tain­ly isn’t one used to describe things that are sup­posed to be fun­ny. It’s not near­ly as well-used as its syn­onyms cat­a­stro­phe, dis­as­ter, or even tragedy. So why would I find it dif­fi­cult to sup­press a smirk when hear­ing or read­ing about some­thing that some­one described as calami­tous?

Here’s what tru­ly brought my strange rela­tion­ship with the word to a head: I used to work for a com­pa­ny with pret­ty strong ties to the Philip­pines, so when the rather dead­ly Typhoon Ondoy (a.k.a. Ket­sana) rolled through the coun­try dur­ing my time employed there, the storm, and its effects, were more than just the head­line or two that they may have been to most Amer­i­cans. Read­ing pret­ty exten­sive­ly about the storm, both through news reports and first­hand accounts from many of our cus­tomers, I noticed, a hand­ful of times, many pinoys using calami­ty to describe what had hap­pened there. To what we owe their word choice is not some­thing I under­stand or am real­ly con­cerned with, actu­al­ly. More impor­tant was the invol­un­tary smirk­ing effect the word had on me.

That I could find myself amused by some­thing so strange, in the face of tales and pho­tos of death and destruc­tion, was some­thing I found unset­tling, so I lat­er thought hard about where this feel­ing like­ly came from. I can’t quite remem­ber how I made the con­nec­tion, but it even­tu­al­ly hit me.

That cute lit­tle guy to the right is Calami­ty Coy­ote, a char­ac­ter from the early-90s ani­mat­ed tele­vi­sion series Tiny Toon Adven­tures, a show that may not have made as last­ing an impres­sion on me as oth­ers from the era did, but is one I def­i­nite­ly remem­ber watch­ing. (I remem­ber the theme song very well, for what that’s worth.) Calami­ty is also a rel­a­tive of Wile E. Coy­ote, or some­thing.

Lack­ing any oth­er con­text to explain to my single-digit-aged self the mean­ing of the word calami­ty, I must have assumed that it meant… well, some­thing fun­ny! Because, you know, the show was made up of fun­ny char­ac­ters doing fun­ny things, so this unknown word must mean some­thing fun­ny.

It makes per­fect sense to me, and feels like the expla­na­tion, the true cre­ation myth I’ve been look­ing for. I can’t imag­ine where else a younger Everett would have come across that word, and it’s not one I’ve seen enough times in the inter­ven­ing years, mak­ing this one of those wrong def­i­n­i­tions I still just can’t for­get.

Do you have any words that have a spe­cial mean­ing to you, one that’s com­plete­ly dif­fer­ent than what the word real­ly means? Or per­haps that even tick­le your fun­ny bone in an equal­ly irra­tional way? (I real­ly do want to know.)

How Windows ate my EXIF data (and how I mostly fixed it)

The background

As we’ve already estab­lished, I love to take pho­tos, and I have a strong bias toward dig­i­tal. While I received my first dig­i­tal cam­era (the afore­men­tioned Game Boy Cam­era) on my birth­day in 2000, it wasn’t until the fol­low­ing sum­mer that I got my first “real” digi­cam, a Nikon Coolpix 775.

From there, the flood of dig­i­tal pho­tos began. Ini­tial­ly, I just dumped every pho­to into a sin­gle fold­er on my shiny, new, gonna-help-me-do-well-in-college-this-fall lap­top, and let their sequen­tial file­names (DSCN0001.JPG, 0002, etc.) do the “sort­ing.”

This worked for a while, until it became clear that hav­ing all of my pho­tos in one fold­er was poor for both orga­ni­za­tion and per­for­mance, so I start­ed orga­niz­ing my pho­tos using dat­ed sub­fold­ers (e.g. photos/2001/2001 – 08-12/). This was all the orga­ni­za­tion I did for my pho­tos, and was also how  I viewed them, up until I began using pho­to man­ag­ing soft­ware (first Picasa on Win­dows, lat­er F-Spot under Ubun­tu).

The problem

While these apps excel at tak­ing pho­tos and turn­ing them into a well-organized stream based on date tak­en, I noticed that a small hand­ful of pho­tos were out-of-place in the time­line.1

After spend­ing some time puz­zled by this, it occurred to me that:

  1. none of these pho­tos had EXIF data
  2. all of these were tak­en in 2001
  3. all of these had been tak­en in “por­trait” mode (when you turn the cam­era side­ways), as opposed to “land­scape”

In an exam­ple of clear­ly mis­guid­ed, youth­ful indis­cre­tion, I had man­u­al­ly rotat­ed these pho­tos — remem­ber, cam­eras didn’t have ori­en­ta­tion sen­sors back then — using Win­dows Pic­ture & Fax View­er (Win­dows ME/XP’s default), and it ate my pho­tos’ EXIF data! From then on, I start­ed using the camera’s built-in rotate func­tion­al­i­ty.

But, ugh, I still had a bunch of old, messed up pho­tos. For­tu­nate­ly, I wasn’t total­ly in the dark about these pho­tos’ chronol­o­gy, as I knew the cor­rect dates that these pho­tos were tak­en, thanks to the sur­round­ing sequen­tial pho­tos still hav­ing their EXIF data.

The solution

For the last few years, I let these few pho­tos just be, annoyed that they would always show up in the wrong places. So today, I final­ly did some­thing about this: I gave them new EXIF data using the best infor­ma­tion I had at my dis­pos­al.

While I didn’t know the pre­cise time tak­en, I did have dates for these pho­tos, so I fig­ured giv­ing them EXIF with the right date and wrong time was bet­ter than no date at all. I accom­plished this using a pair of Lin­ux pro­grams: jhead and touch. Here’s how:

First, I cre­at­ed an EXIF tag for a giv­en pho­to using jhead:

$ jhead -mkexif DSCN1282.JPG

Then, I touched the file (in Unix-y par­lance, change the file’s “mod­i­fied” time­stamp) to mid­night (00:00:00) on the appro­pri­ate date (e.g. August 12, 2001):

$ touch -t 200108120000.00 DSCN1228.JPG

Final­ly, I used jhead to change the file’s EXIF time­stamp to the newly-fixed mod­i­fied date:

$ jhead -dsft DSCN1282.JPG

Hav­ing re-added the prob­lem images to my F-Spot library, the pho­tos now appear more-or-less in the place they should. They’re now good enough that I’ll nev­er again have to see those pho­tos mixed in with the wrong year!

  1. I know what you’re think­ing: that there were times when I for­got to set the date on my cam­era. Nope. No way. I nev­er for­get to set the date on my cam­era, because mak­ing sure my pho­tos have the cor­rect date and time is some­thing that I’m a bit obses­sive about, and the first thing I do after charg­ing my camera’s bat­tery is always check the date.