5 Goals For The Next 6 Months

Well, in an attempt to get back on my ‘writing horse’, I figured I’d start with some of the things that are rattling around my brain right now in terms of what I want to get accomplished in the short term. Some are computer-related, others are not. Nevertheless, I have some goals for things that I want to get done or accomplish in the next 6 months. Here are five of them.

1. Buy a new car

With the potential of a great new job headed my way (possibly more on that later), I should have some disposable income in the near future. To celebrate this, I think it’s time to get a new car; my current car, although it holds 5 people, is hardly what you consider sporty, is developing a bad case of rust, guzzles gas like nobody’s business, and isn’t fun to drive at all. I plan on buying a 2003 Hyundai Tiburon with a 5-speed manual transmission. They come in around $9000 before taxes, so on a financing plan I’ll be able to buy that no problem.

2. Build a customized car trunk sound system enclosure

I’d love to put my DIY skills to the test and create a proper molded sound system enclosure for my new car. It’s a lot of work, but it’ll be a lot of fun. This will also be very useful to work on some woodworking skills and some custom fabrication work.

3. Start my development website

For about two years, I ran a security-based site, but eventually shut it down because my interests simply did not coincide with my interests and life aspirations. As such, I’ve decided to start a development-based website. I can do the security-aspect within the programming and development, but I can also get into graphics design. It fits into my interests much more at this point in time, and I think it will be more beneficial to the internet as well.

4. Develop Thimbleberry

I have a new site in the works with a friend. That’s about all I’ll tell you for now. Either way, should be a fun time.

5. Start actively contributing to the open source community

The open source community is amazing. Those of you that have heard of a little operating system called Linux may know that it’s open source. That’s right: it’s free to use, free to modify, and free to redistribute. There are tons of open source projects available online, and I’d like to start contributing to one or start a new one that people will actually use. I’ve been using open source software for a long time, and it’s about time that I gave back to the community that has helped me out in so many ways.

Well, it may be feeble, but it’s a start at getting back in the writing groove. Soon I’ll start doing a bit more technology writing again, and will hopefully do some stuff on interface design. Thanks for sticking with me through my creative drought, and we will hopefully see you Monday.

Level 3 Studios Photo Shoot

After two weeks of dying to actually pick through these photos, I finally found the time this past weekend. My schedule has been ridiculously busy, and as such my blog updates have suffered; that precious buffer I had going: gone!

Anyway, this batch of photos is from my first photo shoot, which I did at Level 3 Studios with a bunch of friends. This was a great first experience in a photo shoot scenario, but also very daunting and intimidating. I’d love to do it again, but I might need some more ideas before I go into that.

Because I was rushed, I never had the chance to do any major photo manipulation with these, and I think a fair number of these will look better after some simple changes, such as a grey scale or sepia tone added to them. I’d love to do that to a selection of them and upload them later.

As per usual, I really appreciate your comments. Post a comment below; I read all of them, I promise!

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February 1 Photography Update

Well, more photos! I have had people breathing down my neck for me to put these up, and I’ve finally given in. Because this week’s update spans almost two weeks, I’ve got almost 50 photos here (48, to be exact), ranging from the hoar frost we had a while back, to the Black & White Swing Thing, to Oldies Night at the Legion.

As per usual, I really appreciate your comments. Post a comment below; I read all of them, I promise!

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January 18 Photography Update

The latest batch of photos is in. This time, all are from this past week’s Legion, where we got a great turnout. I was able to try out using my flash in slave mode, where it gets controller by a 580EX II which is mounted on my camera. Overall, I think I got some great shots this week, including one or two I’m considering getting prints made of (such as #11, the one of Sylvia & Kiral).

I also did a bit of shooting last night in my room with my macro lens of a plant I have. I love some of the colors that came out of the shots, and I included two at the end of the gallery.

Hope you enjoy, and feel free as always to comment below.

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January 16 2010 Photography Update

Over the past week, UMSwing has had a recruitment table up in an attempt to get new members interested in the club. During that time, we do a lot of dancing (a couple hours a day), hoping that some people will be impressed by it. We think it’s working, but we’ll have to wait until the open house to see.

As always, I welcome your comments. Add a comment below!

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An Exploration Into Using An Off-Camera Flash

Cactus V2 Flashes Triggers
My Cactus V2 Flash Triggers

Recently, I bought a set of Cactus V2 remote flash triggers off of a friend for my camera. These allow me to use a flash off-camera, which can give me a number of different lighting effects based upon position and intensity. I’ve been trying them out a lot so I can get a grasp on how to use them, and it’s been an interesting experience. Below I’ve got a few sample photos, as well as some of my learning experiences.

The first photo I ever took with an off-camera flash was of my living room. Needless to say, my first shot was not impressive. It wasn’t even good. Hell, it’s barely worth posting, but it was a step forward. I was learning, and also testing the triggers to make sure they actually worked. If nothing else, I was really interesting at this point with some of the potential effects that I’d be able to do with it.

The First Shot
My first off-camera flash shot. Hardly anything good.

As with anything, practice makes perfect, and despite the rather bland first photo, I stuck with it, trying a number of different effects. I looked around my house for things to photograph that might make for some interesting photos, particularly with some different lighting. An improvement came when I took a photo of a decorative house and Christmas scene that my mom had set up on an antique radio. A bunch of random adjustments and a dozen-or-so photos later, I came up with something that looked decent. Again, definitely not a masterpiece, but a step forward in the right direction.

The Christmas House
A small Christmas scene that was set up in our living room.

Eager to try out my new toy at a swing lesson, I decided to try my hand at photographing moving targets. Looking back at the photos, very few of them turned out well at all. Some turned out okay, and two of them are below. A few turned out well, and ended up in this week’s gallery entry, which I hope you’ll check out. I think jumping into the deep end was a little too hard for me; there were far too many variables to juggle, including the flash position, flash power, camera focus and zoom settings, and the position and orientation of the people I was photographing. It was simply too much to handle all in one shot when I’m still learning the basics when it comes to the lighting, and I’m still learning things about my camera. In retrospect, I should have waited a while before bringing them along.

Tiffany at the swing lesson. I think the lighting is much too hard in this.
Tiffany and Keith
This I'm a little happier with. It turned out better, and the light isn't as harsh.

But, some of my stuff did turn out well, and they’re in this week’s gallery. Some of those are shot with an off-camera flash; others are not. As far as cost-worth purchases go for aspiring photographers, these flash triggers are the best purchase I’ve made (just surpassing the 50mm EF 1.8/f lens). If you have an external flash, pick yourself up a set of these and a cheap camera tripod; you won’t regret it.

If you’d care to see some of my better photos (ie. this week’s gallery), you can take a look at the Jan. 8/10 gallery here.

Random Post: A Programmer’s Desktop

Just for the heck of it, I decided that I would post a screenshot of my desktop right before I start programming (ie. before too many windows get opened and clutter my workspace). Those of you that are sharp might notice that it looks a little…wide. That’s because I have three monitors on my desktop — two 19″ and one 22″ LCD monitors. That gives me a total resolution of 4560×1050: far bigger than a single monitor could reasonably give me.

My Desktop

Extra brownie points go to those who can answer the following questions about the screenshot:

  • How many cores does my desktop have?
  • What music player am I using?
  • What scripting language server is running in the command line?
  • What is the symbol on my desktop, what is it’s significance, and who came up with the idea to use this symbol for this purpose?

Anyways, I have some new photos that will be going up tomorrow, as well as some of my experiences with using an off-camera flash. Stay tuned for that!

Dec. 29 2009 Photography Update

Although I posted them last night on Facebook (they won’t stay up there forever), I’m also posting some photos that I took in the past month here, most of them being from last night.

I just picked up a new Sigma 70-300mm 4.0-5.6/f telephoto lens for my Canon XTi body, and decided to try it out at swing last night. I’m also starting to use my external flash more now, and it’s taking some getting used to, but I’m liking some of the results so far. Thus, take a look at the gallery or the Dec. 29/09 album for some of the shots that I took. Let me know what you think!

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Switching To DVORAK

Recently I made the decision that I would try to switch keyboard styles. Almost everybody I know uses the standard QWERTY-style keyboards because they are so common, but because I use a keyboard so much, I want to protect my fingers.

A bit of background knowledge before I go any further: the most common style of computer keyboard is the QWERTY keyboard, named such because of the first six letters in the top row of the keyboard. It was initially designed during the typewriter days not to improve typing efficiency, but to prevent the keys from jamming up. DVORAK, on the other hand, was designed with computer keyboards in mind, focusing on efficiency and ergonomics. As a result, those who are comfortable with DVORAK typically type faster and cause themselves less repetitive stress injuries.

Now, I think that those are both two very good reasons to make the switch to this different style. There is, though, the obvious drawback of having to learn a new keyboard layout. Thankfully, I don’t need to buy anything to get started; any newer operating system has the ability to remap a keyboard to a new layout. The problem with this is that the writing on the keyboard doesn’t match what I want to type, so I can’t look at the keys to help me learn.

So the goal at this point is to work on my typing speed and hopefully get it to a speed that is reasonable. On a regular QWERTY keyboard, I can type at about 75 wpm (words per minute), but on a DVORAK keyboard I’m at a lowly 20 wpm. In order to help improve my speed, I’ve decided that I will type all of my blog posts on my DVORAK layout. After all, they say practice makes perfect, and if I plan to keep up with my blog posts on a regular basis, I should get better pretty quickly.

So, if anyone else out there is on their computer a lot, I challenge you to try out DVORAK some time and give it an honest shot at becoming comfortable at it. It’s certainly a challenge to pick up, but would be beneficial to preserving the life of your fingers, and when you’re in the Computer Science industry like myself, it’s game over if I can’t use my fingers. So to make things a little easier, instructions are below to enable the DVORAK layout on both Linux (Gnome) and Windows:

Linux (Gnome): System –> Preferences –> Keyboard, then go to the Layouts tab.

Windows XP: Add the Language toolbar by right-clicking on the bottom bar, then go into the Settings section under there to add a keyboard.

ViM Made Easy – Part 1

Well, after the massive spike in traffic to my site after writing the blog post on GNU Screen and Byobu Made Easy, I decided to do another quick tutorial on another Linux command-line tool, ViM. ViM, or “Vi Improved”, is a command-line editor that has been around since the dawn of Linux command lines, and is deceivingly powerful. Although we won’t get into the more powerful parts of the program today, stay tuned for some power tips later.

Now, anyone that has been around two or more Linux command-line junkies I’m sure has heard the Emacs vs. ViM argument at some point. Regardless of which one you like, they’re both great editors. Give them both a shot and choose your favourite.

ViM Overview

Vim can be very overwhelming to start off on, but is great once you get used to it. When you first open ViM, you will be presented with a blank document and you will be in Normal mode (see below). Soon, we will be able to start writing text, undoing a mistake, perform cuts, copies, and pastes, as well as some search-and-replace.

A quick note that almost everything is case-sensitive!

Program Modes

There are six main program modes in ViM, listed below. We will only cover three of them in this tutorial for the time being.

  • Normal Mode. This is where you type all of your commands, typically to move into one of the other modes.
  • Insert Mode. Here is where you’ll actually type text into your document.
  • Visual Mode. Visual mode is mainly used for yanking (copying) and deleting (cutting). Although it can do more than this, we’ll focus on these for now.
  • Select Mode. Similar to Visual mode, Select mode is typically used for deleting a selection of text and immediately typing over top of it.
  • Command-Line Mode. This is where you type your commands, such as saving, searching (and replacing), and the ability to edit ViM’s options.
  • Ex Mode. All-in-all, this is pretty much command-line mode, except after typing a command you end up staying in command-line mode instead of reverting back to Normal mode.

Let’s Write Something!

You’ve just opened up ViM, but every time you try to type text, nothing seems to happen? What gives?! Well, right now you’re in Normal mode, and ViM is waiting for an instruction. In order to start typing text, just type “i” (for “Insert”) or “a” (for “Append”). The Append mode will move your cursor one character forward before you can type, so keep note of that. After you’re finished typing what you want, just hit Escape to get back into Normal mode.

Let’s say, that you just wrote “ViM is awesome!” in your spiffy new document, but saying it once just isn’t enough! You want to say it over and over again, but typing it out so many times just seems like a waste, doesn’t it? Time to go into Visual mode! Move your cursor to the beginning of your text using the cursors, then type “v” (lower-case). This puts you into Character-Select Visual mode. Move your cursor to the end of the text, and press “y” (for “Yank”), which copies the text into it’s built-in clipboard. Move your cursor to where you want to paste, and type “p” (for “Paste”). Note that “P” will paste BEFORE your cursor, so keep that in mind.

Fixing Screw-ups

Whoops! You pasted it one-too-many times, or you pasted it in the wrong spot! Never fear, the Undo tool is here! Make sure you’re in Normal mode (just hit Escape if you’re not sure), and press “u” (for “Undo”).

What if, for example, you ended up typing “ViM is awsemoe!” (hey, your fingers got tied up; it happens). It doesn’t make sense to undo all of that, so let’s just do a search-and-replace. Go into normal mode and type “:%s/awsemoe!/awesome!”, then hit enter. Poof! Problem solved! I’ll discuss the search-replace a bit more in the cheat sheet. If you just want to search for text, type “/your-text-here” in Normal mode, then hit enter. “n” will move you forward through all the findings, and “N” will move you backwards.

Saving and Exiting

Saving and exiting is really easy. “:w myfile.txt” will write the file to myfile.txt. If you opened an existing file, you don’t need the file name, so “:w” is all you need. To do a save and quit at the same time, type “:wq”.

What if you want to quit but don’t save your changes? The best way to do this is “:q!”, which will quit without heeding any warnings about the file not being saved.

Command Quick-Review

- a - Append
- i - Insert
- /<your-text-here> - Search for <your-text-here>. Does NOT use regular
- dd - Delete the entire line that your cursor is on
- x - Delete the character your cursor is hovering on.
- :42 - Move to line 42
- G - Go to the last line in the document
- :s%/<search>/<replace> - Regular expression-compatible search-replace.
    - :s/<search>/<replace>/g - Same as above, except replaces everything on a
      single line. Remove the "g" to replace only the first occurrance.
    - :s42/<search>/<replace>/g - Same as above, except replace on line 42.
- V - Line-select Visual mode
- v - Character-select Visual mode
    - y - Copy (yank) the selected text
    - d - Delete the selected text
- :w - Write the file to disk
- :wq - Write and quit
- :q - Quit
- :q! - Quit without saving

Hopefully those that are starting out on Linux will find this useful. I plan on going in to greater depth in the near future, so stay tuned for that. If you like this article, I’d love for you to Digg or Reddit this page below. It’s such a great feeling when your traffic spikes to 1000 hits in a day. And, for those Emacs lovers, I’ll be doing an Emacs writeup as well.