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.