Why, yes, I *am* a huge nerd.

(Or, how catching up on Doctor Who led me to awk programming.)

I rarely watch television, but when I do, I tend to “read” the shows in some detail. I watch the episodes on DVD, and I break them down to cards as I do so. I take notes as I go, noting the main story beats and act breaks. At the end of each episode, I write a single-paragraph synopsis (analysis) and a single-paragraph review (opinion). Later, I do a little mini-essay on the overall arc (and, yes, structure) of the season.

Obviously, that’s pretty time-consuming, so I have made some effort to make the workflow as efficient as possible. Indeed, I actually have already partially automated the process, crafting a bash script for each DVD set that:

  1. Calls dvdbackup for each disc in the set.
  2. Invokes mencoder for triple-pass encoding of episodes into individual (and much smaller) AVI files using the Xvid codec.
  3. Deletes the original DVD backups.
  4. Creates a skeleton text file in AsciiDoc for each series, season and episode being processed.
  5. Writes wrapper scripts for each episode.

The end result is that when it’s time to watch, say, “Blink”, all I have to do is type ~/action/review/doctor-who/310 at the terminal prompt. The script will open my notes to the right place in vim and then start the video in mplayer.

Now, this seems perfectly straightforward to me. Indeed, thanks to tab-completion and a logical home directory structure modeled on GTD, running these scripts requires essentially no thought on my part. However, there is definitely something wrong with writing lots of very similar one-off scripts to set all this up in the first place. I’m not much of a programmer, but I do recognize the basic problem: stupid repetitive work.

My solution? I’m currently trying to learn AWK (actually, gawk) to automate the whole process based on just a tab-delimited text file that describes each season. If it works, I’ll have written a single, easily extended, data-driven program that writes programs to call programs.

Why, yes: I am a huge nerd.

Where I went

I signed up for domain hosting through WordPress.com for $10/year. Total time, including PayPal transfer, DNS transfer, and importing all my posts? Less than ten minutes.

Why I switched

I only needed the minimal level of hosting that would allow me to keep my domain name and WordPress. Given how infrequently I blogged in the last year—fewer than one post a month—I couldn’t justify even the small cost or time associated with a typical shared hosting account. As I’ve noted before, I’ve been vigilant in maintaining and upgrading WordPress even when I wasn’t using it. Unfortunately, the WordPress Automatic Upgrade plugin works so well that I couldn’t pretend I was doing something with the site anymore. (A WordPress Upgrader is scheduled to be included in the core of WordPress 2.7, so ignoring the tool wasn’t the solution.) WordPress.com fit my minimal(ist) requirements.

What annoys me, and how I’ll fix it

There don’t seem to be any themes on WordPress.com that validate as CSS 2.1 (not even Sandbox). They all insist on stuffing in the CSS3 border-radius property, which is from a working draft, and various vendor-specific extensions as well. (The specification that defines vendor-specific extensions says: Authors should avoid vendor-specific extensions.) So, rounded corners are more important than validation apparently. Damned designers….

Not all errors are the design flaws, though. The CSS Validation Service chokes on Sandbox’s three-digit RGB notation even though the relevant part of the spec explicitly ensures that white (#ffffff) can be specified with the short notation (#fff).

In short: It’s an imperfect world, and I’ll probably end up choosing the custom CSS option. (So much for not tinkering with the site….)

Where I was

A brief note on my previous web host, HostICan’s Base-Host shared hosting plan.

As I recall, I was looking specifically for a WordPress host, and I found HostICan on WordPress.org’s list of some of the best and brightest of the hosting world. Much comparison and examination and review-reading followed. For whatever reason, I think the post that finally convinced me to try HostICan was this one.

Generally satisfactory.
I never had any serious problems with my previous Base-Host shared hosting plan with HostIcan.
Infrequent, transient downtime.
I was never aware of any significant unscheduled downtime. However, I did notice slowdowns, and, very occasionally, my site would be unreachable for 10–30 seconds. Of course, this was on a shared hosting account; it’s not like I was paying for Five Nines reliability. Still, given how infrequently I accessed my site, it did make me wonder about how much downtime I wasn’t aware of.
SSH access was not part of the base feature package.
Other providers (notably, DreamHost) offer SSH as part of the standard shared hosting package. Even with the extra fee, though, the monthly rate was comparable to DreamHost’s. (And, as with DreamHost, there are various coupons / rebates available to lower the initial costs. I used Free HostICan Offers myself.)

The bottom line: if I needed to leave WordPress.com, I’d seriously consider doing business with HostICan again.

Woodpulp and wonder

Jack Williamson on writing science fiction for Harry Bates:

Most of the stories he published look pretty crude now, but they were stories. Concise, clearly written, about people solving problems. […] The hero had to be sympathetic, pitted against ugly evil. The conflict had to keep moving, rising steadily from a quick beginning to an exciting climax and then a triumphant resolution brought about by the hero himself.

Though such rules aren’t enough to make a story great, they do reflect fundamentals the writer has to master before he can ignore them. There are ways to win and hold interest. If the reader isn’t interested, early and firmly, all else is lost.

Source: Williamson, Jack. Wonder’s Child: My Life in Science Fiction. New York, N.Y.: Bluejay Books, 1984.

Daniel Myrick’s Objective

I read this and winced:

“Afghanistan is a mystical place completely infused with superstition and religion,” Mr. Myrick explained by phone. “I thought it would be an effective contemporary backdrop for a thriller.”

Daniel Myrick, of all people, managed to sound like a condescending marketroid chasing faded trends while promoting his new film, The Objective. This is particularly painful given his obvious desire not to be seen as a one-hit wonder who rode the zeitgeist atop the hype-machine that was The Blair Witch Project.

David Carr only makes it worse with his synopsis:

In the film a C.I.A. officer joins up with a Special Forces crew for a mission deep in the mountains and tells the team members little, at least very little that is true, about what they are actually looking for.

(I think I liked the sound of this movie better when it was called Predator….)

They are confronted by mortal and supernatural threats that leave the crew decimated and wondering precisely what it is up against.

(And I liked the sound of this movie better when it was called…The Blair Witch Project.)

I think it would be great if Mr. Myrick could succeed on his own terms–as he so clearly wants to–but if this is the culmination of nine years of effort, I have to wonder if he might have been better off selling out a bit more readily.

(Via The New York Times.)

It still needs a splash screen, though

Matt Mullenweg on his new design:

I wonder if there’s a way to only allow comments from people with Gravatars? It looks so much better.

Boy did that rub me the wrong way.

Still, it did inspire me to spend 2 minutes in The GIMP making this protest gravatar:

<img src="spacer.gif" alt="" />
<img src="spacer.gif" alt="" />

I’ve no idea if it’s original or not, because I zap avatars when browsing the web.

(I would simply have used a transparent image, but Gravatar is so amazingly lame that the latest version broke transparent PNG support. [This was fixed two months later.])