Will This Do?

I was reading an MC Siegler post linked to from HackerNews, where he rants about the iOS Gmail client and Google products in general:

And all of this is the M.O. of pretty much all Google iOS apps. They’re half-ass, buggy, and generally ugly to boot.

The obvious retort is “yeah, and Apple never released anything half-assed.  Right.”  But the thing is — he has a point.  Google releases stuff that kinda works.  And then they seldom give it any polish to take it past the “barely useful” level.

Look at Google Finance.  Just look at it.  In particular, look at that chart:

The point of charts is that you’re supposed to read them.  So: How much woas Nasdaq down at 1.30pm?  Let’s see…  the lines are at -0.68% and -1.36%…  and it’s about one quarter below the -0.68% line…  so that should be…  oh, I give up and go to Yahoo Finance.

It’s obvious how that chart came to be.  Somebody was told “make the chart”.  They implemented it by finding the extremal point, and then drew a line at the halfway point, and then made it symmetrical by going the same distance the other direction.

And it’s total crap.  Nobody who has any pride in what they are doing would perpetrate something like that instead of doing it the hard way — finding the “pleasing numbers” (0.25, 0.5, 1, etc) that people can actually read. And then using those numbers on the lines.

That chart has been like that ever since Google Finance launched, many many years ago.

Having a crappy chart on one web page isn’t a catastrophe.  But it boggles my mind how the people responsible can look at that…  thing…  and not spend the half hour it would take to fix it.  For years on end.  This mild feeling of willthisdoitis typifies most offerings from Google. And I wonder why.

Scanning Record Sleeves

A CD Rippin’ Cupboard with an A3 Scanner

In the continuing story of bits and pieces related to my music playing Emacs@Home installation, here’s the sleeve scanning function.  It’s basically just a tiny data base of common CD/LP/tape sleeve sizes. There’s a lot of sizes, unfortunately.

But what I really wanted to have was something that could detect the image area automatically.  Why doesn’t that exist?  I mean, I couldn’t find it when I googled for it half a decade ago, so it can’t possibly exist now.

It should be pretty easy to detect the image area, you’d think.  Record sleeves are usually kinda square.  So you could use…  rectangle detection…  to find the image. On the other hand, I have CD sleeves that aren’t rectangular.  And I have sleeves that have a square border, and then blackness outside the border, so just detecting the square might over-crop stuff.

I thought about using green screen techniques.  If I painted the inside cover of the scanner cover a particular green colour, then I could probably whip up a technique to…  do something.  But I fear that there’d be colour leakage, with the reflected green light giving off a green tinge to paper sleeves that aren’t very thick.

So, I don’t know.  The result is that sleeves that are half a millimeter larger than the standard sizes I have tend to be slightly over-cropped.  It’s annoying, but not annoying enough that I ever bother to re-scan the offending sleeves.  And hand-editing a scan — you know, in Gimp or something — is so ridiculous that I have to laugh.  Just see:  “Ha ha.”

The ignomity of it all.

Greylisting Considered Annoying

Nobody likes spam.  So to avoid spam they either inflict pain on others, like with challenge/response systems that send endless challenges to me since “I” have sent them spam (From headers are so hard to fake? (I know this guy who automatically responds to all challenge/response systems (evil, but understandable))), or they use “greylisting”, which is harmless, supposedly.

It just means that mail takes a bit longer to deliver, right? The first time you try (on a unique from/to pair), your MTA gets told that it has to wait for a while.

So when I do a Gmane subscription handling session, I first fire off a bunch of subscription requests.  Then, since so many list admins use greylisting now, I have to wait for fifteen minutes to complete the process.  Meanwhile, I’ve gone on to do other things, or I’ve left for a holiday in a differerent country, so the process stops in the middle, and the person who requested the list gets all sad and stuff.

See what you’re doing, greylisters?  You’re making Gmane users sad!  For shame!

Adding Commands to mplayer

The computer I use to watch DVDs (and other stuff) with has three sound outputs: via HDMI to the TV, via the built-in analogue sound port to my wireless headphones, and via a USB sound card to external stereo speakers.  Which one I use depends on what I’m watching and what time of day it is.

So it would be nice to be able to change where the sound goes to on the fly. mplayer doesn’t have built-in support for it, but you could do this externally via a PulseAudio or the like, but since mplayer is occupying the screen and getting the commands, it seemed easier to just hack mplayer.

And, besides, each audio sink needs a different video/audio delay. The TV, for instance, delays the picture a bit, so if I’m listening over the headphones, I need to subtract a tenth of a second for the audio delay.  Or something.  I just experimented until I got something where Jon Stewart looked marginally less unhinged.

It turned out that adding commands to mplayer is really easy, but digging into the code this big can be pretty bewildering.  So if you ever want to add commands and keystrokes to mplayer, I’ve put the patch on the interwebs. It probably won’t apply cleanly to your specific mplayer version (and you wouldn’t want to, since it hard-codes my specific commands), but it should give you a rough idea of where to poke around.

Tellstick Redux

I was whinging a lot about the terrible Tellstick range in my last post on the issue.  Deservedly so.  It’s terrible!  However, the Telldus people have released a new version of the device:

The revolutionary new invention is the antenna!  Who would ever have thought that an antenna would give greater range?  Kids these days.

Anyway, it really does work.  I had four separate antenna-less Tellsticks that gave me 90% coverage of my apartment earlier.  With the new Tellstick, a single one gives me 100% coverage.

That’s progress.

Make RSS feeds from last.fm Shoutbox Pages

I was somewhat interested in seeing what people were saying about the new Boris albums on last.fm, but reloading that page is so 1993.  I wanted to read it through Gwene, but there’s no RSS feeds on last.fm.  So I whipped one up (in Perl!  *sob*) and put the service on Quimby.

Feel free to use it or rewrite the Perl script to be less doubleplusungood.