That Guy In Saving Private Ryan Looks Really Familiar

May 23, 2012

Spoiler Alert: If you haven't seen "Saving Private Ryan", a minor plot point is referenced below. You've been warned. Also, you are way, way behind and should check it out this weekend.

I re-watched the fantastic "Saving Private Ryan" last week. Several familiar actors grace the film in bit parts. Ted Danson from Cheers, Dennis Farina from Get Shorty, etc… There was one I recognized but just couldn't place. In the scene with Private James Frederick Ryan (from Minnesota), I kept thinking, "Damn, he looks familiar."

Private James Frederick Ryan (Nathan Fillion) from Saving Private Ryan

When the scene was over, I still hadn't made the connection and put it out of my mind. At least, until the end of the movie. Since John Williams did the music, I left the end credits rolling to enjoy the score. I wasn't really paying attention, but the name "Nathan Fillion" jumped out at me. A quick trip to IMDB confirmed it. In the future, Private James Frederick Ryan (from Minnesota) would go on to become one of my favorite Captains of all time.

Capt. Malcolm Reynolds (Nathan Fillion) from Firefly

Captain Malcolm Reynolds.

Add one more mark to the plus column for Saving Private Ryan.

It's Been Dry

May 22, 2012

Even with the decent amount of rain we've gotten over the past week or two, it's been dry in my area. To wit, I'm in the dark red "D4 - Exceptional" drought area on this map1:

Florida Drought Map - May 15, 2012

Which explains why the little pond in my back yard is so low.

The backyard pond is low

You can get a better idea of how much the water has dropped in this shot:

The backyard pond is low

For another perspective, the water level used to consistently reach all the way to the grate in the cement wall in this shot.

Water used to be much higher

I'm half expecting to look out one day soon and see a bunch of fish cooking on dry land.


  1. The U.S. Drought Monitor map for Florida. The main page is the map for the country

Installing GD on Mac OS X 10.7

May 21, 2012

I'm installing a piece of software that requires the GD1 library as a dependency on my Mac. Searching only turned up old articles that describe multistep processes that include downloading and compiling yourself. That's no longer necessary. As of 2012, the clean, easy way to do the installation is with Homebrew2. Just run:

sudo brew install gd

No muss. No fuss.

  1. GD Graphics Library - The open source code library for the dynamic creation of images by programmers.

  2. Homebrew - The easiest and most flexible way to install the UNIX tools Apple didn't include with OS X. Also, the software that I use now instead of MacPorts. If you ever have to install unix tools, it's the way to go.

Another Black Brown Widow

May 21, 2012

Found this little surprise in the garage today:

Brown (not Black) Widow in the garage

That makes either three or four Black Widows I've found in my garage. Thankfully, each time they have been perched against a light enough background that I see them immediately. Here's hoping they continue that pattern.

I shot this one with my little Canon S100 point and shoot. If I ever get a macro lens for the big camera, I'll setup a real portrait of one before dispatching it.

Update: Further research indicates that this is actually a Brown Widow Spider aka Latrodectus geometricus. Geometricus is now added to my list of potential band names. In case you were wondering about L. geometricus, they have "a neurotoxic venom that, drop for drop, is as toxic as the black widow's."

Now, You Too Can Write On My Site!

May 10, 2012

Jekyll1, the software I'm now using for this site, doesn't come with a built-in comment system. When I was first deciding how to relaunch the site, getting an external system setup for comments was a requirement. About the same time, a rampant discussion2 on the value of comments started in sites and podcasts I frequent. Arguments against them tended to the "comments are basically useless or worse" perspective. The opposing viewpoint was largely "Thar's gold in them thar comments."

Like most heated internet discussions, so much variation exists that no one-size-fits-all answer applies. The usefulness/quality of comments has too many variables. The number of people who use the site, the overall tone of the site, if anonymous comments are allowed, how much moderation is done, etc…

I had taken it for granted that I wouldn't relaunch the site until I had comments in place. After tuning in to that debate, I decided to abandon comments for launch. By removing that piece of work, I was able to get the site up faster. Also, I was a little intrigued by the idea of having 100% of the content on my site be mine.

Now that the site is back up and running, I miss comments. Since the number of people who visit the site is small and I know most of them, comments here have historically be a nice bonus. So, post-launch next-step number one: Find and implement a comment system.

After taking a brief look, all signs pointed to Disqus3 as the way to go. The navigation of their Knowledge Base could use some work, but the basics are easy to get up and running without much fuss. Just register, drop a little code into your templates, season to taste with CSS and you're ready to go.

For the sake of anyone who finds this post and is looking for a little better than the default set of code to drop in your templates, this is what I'm currently using:

    <!-- An update to my blog engine broke this code sample. So, I removed it -->

The variables are recommended by Disqus. They setup the function so it doesn't have to do any guessing when it's trying to coordinate the comments.

With that in place, the comment system for this site is now fully operational. At least, for new comments. All the old comments (from when the site was in WordPress) are still locked in the old database. I'll get them added back in at a later time.


  1. Jekyll - The simple, blog aware, static site generator that I'm using to make this site. If you're a techie, you'll love it. If the command line scares you (or you don't really know what that is), jekyll is not the blog engine your looking for.

  2. An example of the comments discussion from the "Turn them off side" is Comments Off by Matt Gemmell. He also created a round up of arguments in his post Comments Commentary. Both are worth the read.

  3. Disqus - The crowd favorite, external comment system. And, it just so happens, the system I just installed on my site.

May The 5th Be With You

May 05, 2012

Yesterday was Star Wars Day (i.e. "May The 4th Be With You" Day). For Cinco de Mayo, "May The 5th Be With You" is a wonderful, natural extension of the theme.

Why Dropbox Wants My Location Data

April 30, 2012

Dropbox is a great service. The 2GB of free storage that's shared seamlessly across computers, phones and iPads is incredibly useful. Their tagline "Never email yourself a file again!" nails it. The ability to easily send files back and forth to myself and other people is a huge time saver. Best of all, Dropbox is one of those rare services that just plain works. No need to constantly struggle to get it to do its job.

For all it's pluses, I hit on something that seemed out of character. While trying to upload an image to Dropbox via the iPad app, it asked to use my Location Data.

This request didn't make sense to me. Why should Dropbox need to know my location in order to upload a photo? Where I am during an upload is completely irrelevant to the process.

The little privacy paranoia warning bells go off in my head when I can't think of an obvious reason for a request like this. The map application wants to know where I am for driving directions? Sure. Makes complete sense. Location needed for uploading a photo? I couldn't come up with any need for that. At least, not until I hit the little arrow after the "Go to the Settings app…" text.

That little arrow brings up a statement that Dropbox doesn't use the Location Data. Apple requires the feature to be turned on to upload multiple photos. That seemed weird to me at first. After trying to puzzle it out, I can see where it makes sense. Every image shot with Location Data turned on for the camera app will have the coordinates where it was taken embedded. By requiring Location Data to be turned on for apps that want to send photos (and by extension the embedded location data) off the device, Apple gives some alert that you're letting it out of your control.

I originally thought that the Dropbox Location Data request was another little step in the erosion of privacy. Now, I think it's actually the opposite. A little backstop provided by Apple to allow us to keep a modicum of control if we want it. With Dropbox, worrying about Location Data privacy is a little amusing. Since they can view every file I've sent to them, whether or not they see location data a minor point. I wish Dropbox setup their encryption so they couldn't view my files, but the service is so useful that I'm willing to cede that privacy and just hope they keep it secure.

Incidentally, if you don't have Dropbox and want to give it a spin, you can use this referral link to sign up. We'll each get an extra 500MB of storage space.

Now with Feed! (Adding an RSS/Atom Feed to Jekyll)

April 27, 2012

I've added a news reader feed to the site. You can grab it here:

Note: If you're not a techie, and terms like "Syndication Format", "Relax NG Schema" and "Feed Validation" aren't familiar to you, you can safely skip the rest of this post.

The jekyll blogging engine (which I'm using for this site) doesn't come with the built-in RSS or Atom feeds. Since I'm a huge fan of using feeds via NetNewsWire, setting one up was high on my TODO list. The first result Google returned for "jekyll rss" is a post by a guy name Dave Coyle called "Jekyll Templates for Atom, RSS". It's exactly what I was looking for.

There are two feed options to choose from: Atom 1.0 and RSS 2.0. Most of the propaganda I've seen suggest that Atom is the way to go. I doubt it will really make a difference for me, but that's what I picked.

The steps I used to add the feed were:

  1. Create a new 'feed.xml' file at the root of the jekyll source directory.

  2. Copy the contents of the template in the feed.xml file and replace the various '' specific items with my stuff.

  3. Run jekyll.

Everything looked pretty good, but I wanted to actually validate the output. Unfortunately, I was doing this work at night after a long day in the office. I completely missed the fact that Dave confirmed these were valid and even linked to the W3C Feed Validation Service. Since I missed that, I went down a rabbit hole with the Atom Syndication Format. The spec includes a Relax NG Schema, but it's split across multiple "pages". I pulled the parts out and made my own copy. Sure enough, the feed output validated just fine. (Incidentally, if you want your own, already assembled copy of the schema, I've posted it here. I'd advise just using the W3C service though.)

After the initial validation, I noticed a few things about the feed that I wanted to change. Specifically:

  1. The feed contained all the posts on the site. I just wanted the last 10 or so to keep the number sane. This was accomplished by changing:

     {% for post in site.posts %}


     {% for post in site.posts limit:10 %}
  2. In NetNewsWire, instead of each post displaying the date it was made, they had the time when the feed file itself was generated. Like so:

    Problem Dates in Atom Feed

    The fix for this was to add:

     <published>{{ | date_to_xmlschema }}</published>

    to each entry. (I've forked the original on github and am issuing a pull request to add this update to the original.) With that change in place, the dates show up properly:

    Problem Dates in Atom Feed

  3. I wanted to add a copyright notice to the feed. This was done by simply the following under the root feed node:

     <rights>Copyright © 2012, Alan W. Smith</rights>

With those changes, I ran one final validation. Everything check out and is displaying the way I like. So, the feed is now live and will update as I push new posts.

Enjoy. If you're into that kind of thing.

Update: My pull request was merged so the "published" node is now in the source template.

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