My Halloween 2008 Costume: Rick Astley

For Halloween this year, I decided to be Rick Astley. With a little bit of hair spray, spray-on hair color, and some make-up for a widow’s peak, it looks like this:

Rick Astley in blue jeans

Matt Cutts as Rick Astley in blue jeans

Rick Astley in trenchcoat

Matt Cutts as Rick Astley in trenchcoat

Rick Astley in suit

Matt Cutts as Rick Astley in suit

What fun. To make the costume complete, I took my Android G1 phone and bought a copy of Never Gonna Give You Up from Amazon for $.99. Then I put the song on continuous loop and turned on the external speaker. The G1 can really belt out music! Presto, not only do I look like Rick Astley, but I’m Rickrolling everyone who comes within ten feet of me!

In order for you to fully appreciate the experience, I’ve added an “embed” code into this blog so you can experience the costume for yourself. Let me know if it works for you. ;) (Update: Apparently Firefox and Chrome don’t like embedded MIDIs and other Web 0.1 technology, so I’ll spare you the audio experience of getting rickroll’ed.) Thanks to my wonderful wife for the idea and for her help with the costume this year. She also made a special treat for people at work:

Mummy cupcakes!

Yummy mummy cupcakes!

Other Halloween fun from previous years.

Halloween easter egg: Google protects itself from zombies

You probably saw Google’s Halloween logo today:

Google Halloween 2008 logo

But you may not have noticed that Google made another change for Halloween. Check out Google’s robots.txt file today:

Google Halloween 2008 robots.txt

That’s right. Zombies are disallowed from accessing /brains on Google today. You can never be too safe! :)

Hat-tip to Google Blogoscoped spotting it first and to Search Engine Land for a round-up of Halloween logos.

Happy Diwali!

A little late, but I hope everyone had a good Diwali! I enjoyed some good Indian food and I hope you did the same. :)

Moving the locked top panel in Ubuntu/GNOME

A new version of Ubuntu (Intrepid Ibex) is coming out this week, so I’m trying out the release candidate. Here’s an annoyance I hit and how to solve it. I keep a list of steps to perform after installing Ubuntu, and one of my steps is

Drag the bottommost taskbar/panel to the right and the topmost taskbar/panel to the bottom.

I like my “start menu” at the bottom of the screen like Windows does rather than at the top of the screen like Apple’s Mac OS X does. Dragging the bottom panel to the right works fine, but dragging the top panel to the bottom of the screen didn’t work! So I do what any GNOME user would do: I right-click the panel, select “Properties,” and try to set the Orientation from “Top” to “Bottom” in the General tab. Except I can’t.

Instead, I see the message “Some of these properties are locked down”. So I do a Google search for that exact phrase. There’s not many pages that match that phrase, and most of them are translation pages. Grr. That means that not many people have encountered this problem before. After a little query rejiggering, I search for [gnome panel properties locked down] and find this Ubuntu forum thread in which the person says

It sounds like your gnome-panel is locked down. You can remedy this from gconf-editor. Start it from the quick launch dialogue (ALT+F2) or from the terminal: [with the command] gconf-editor

Once the editor has opened, navigate to “apps” > “panel” > “global”, and uncheck the key called “locked_down”.

Great! That sounds easy. I fire up gconf-editor and navigate to that spot, only to find that apps/panel/global isn’t set to locked_down. Hmm. Maybe there’s another locked_down value that is superseding things somewhere else? I search for locked_down anywhere else in gconf-editor and find something at /schemas/apps/panel/global/locked_down, but the value for that is a “<schema>”, and when I try to edit that, gconf-editor helpfully tells me that “Currently pairs and schemas can’t be edited. This will be changed in a later version.” Grrr. So that schema might be affecting my locked-down panel, but I can’t edit it? This is roughly where I start cursing in my head.

But that’s okay, because I’m a computer science geek. If I have to find a “locked_down” text string in the underlying filesystem, I can do that. I search in all the delightful dot directories in my home directory, and I don’t find any mention of that string. Quick pop quiz: would it be in .dbus, .local, .config, .cache, .gconf, .gconfd, .gnome2, or .gnome2_private? Hey Ubuntu/GNOME developers, do I really need 29 (really!) dot directories after a fresh install?

By the time that I’ve sudo’ed to a root shell and I’m in /etc running “find .* type -f | xargs -i{} grep -i locked_down {}” that’s when I’m cussing out loud. So I take a deep breath, metaphorically step back, and head to the Google again. This time I search for [gnome lock top panel] and the #1 result is this Ubuntu bug which leads me to this GNOME bug.

Browsing those bugs makes it clear what happened. Some non-savvy users with really sensitive touch pads were accidentally dragging their panels all over. The solution was to lock the top panel. I can understand why that decision got made. The discussion on the thread didn’t contain the answer (they were talking about making ALT+drag move the panel and mentioned another discussion about this issue), but it made me rethink what I was doing. GNOME/Ubuntu people were shooting to make accidental drags impossible, but they must have made it possible to drag the panel somehow. So I go back to the panel, right-click on it, and carefully read through the options. Sure enough, there’s an option under the right-click menu: “Allow Panel to be Moved“.

I understand why GNOME or Ubuntu folks decided to lock the top panel: they wanted to avoid accidental click-and-dragging by novice users. And maybe it’s my responsibility to carefully study every new menu when I install a fresh version of Ubuntu, instead of just quickly working through the instructions that I’ve written for myself without scouting out every new option. But if I right-click on a panel and select Properties, it’s pretty utterly useless to tell me “Some of these properties are locked down” without giving me any help on where to unlock the properties. There has got to be some user interface principle that says “Giving people an error message without any pointer on how to fix the error is frustrating.”

Is Intrepid Ibex better in some ways? Absolutely. It identified my display resolution correctly on my Wal-Mart PC that I use as my canary for test driving before I install Ubuntu on an important computer. That’s a first. But for everything that works better in recent versions of Ubuntu, I worry that something else will break. That’s why I predicted that Apple would approach 20% market share this year and not Ubuntu. I still root for Ubuntu and want it to do well, so I’ll keep you posted on what I find as I play with Intrepid Ibex.

Signs of Los Angeles

I have a pet theory that you can tell a lot about a city by paying attention to its signage. So I like to keep my eyes open when I’m in a new place and take pictures of things that strike me as especially interesting. When I was down in Los Angeles, here are a few of the signs that I saw:

Yes, you really can get plastic surgery on Rodeo Drive:

Los Angeles Signs: Rodeo Drive Plastic Surgery

Here’s a 90210 sign:

Los Angeles Signs: 90210

What’s unusual about that? Well, I also saw an different 90210 ad with the letters sideways, but it looked like the actors had been photoshopped into the second ad with the same poses. Ah, here we are:

Los Angeles Signs: 90210 sideways

That’s just distracting. They could have at least changed the poses around a little bit. Let’s see, I also visited a book store in Los Angeles. When you buy a copy of Beowulf, you get a script book from the movie:

Los Angeles Signs: Beowulf

Fitness appears to be a big activity in L.A. and they offer some exercise workouts that you might not find in other cities:

Los Angeles Signs: pole dancing

You have your pick of:
- Indoor cycling
- Pole dance workout
- Yoga
- Abs and sculpt

I also saw a “Stunts Unlimited” sign; that’s a business you’d probably only see in L.A. I headed to the beach and enjoyed walking along the boardwalk when I saw this swimsuit sign:

Los Angeles Signs: having best price

It says “Come in and having the best price bikini for men and women.” But possibly the sign that took my fancy the most was this one:

Los Angeles Signs: teeth whitening party

It says “Organize a teeth whitening party and get your teeth whiten FOR FREE.” I’ve heard of things like botox parties, but that was the first time I’d heard of a teeth whitening party.

Please don’t take these pictures as mean-spirited; L.A. was a ton of fun and an amazing city to explore for a week. I just took pictures of things that grabbed my eye as I saw them. A few of the other fun things I noticed:

- near the Beverly Center, I saw fruit vendors with vibrant multi-colored umbrellas.

- a huge boat parked on the street with a “for sale” sign in the window.

- L.A. has a ton of Land Rovers compared to Northern California.

- someone wearing a hipster shirt that read “MySpace makes work fun.”

- the funniest street name I saw was Cattaraugus Avenue.

That’s about it. If you want more than that, you’d have to read my twitter-logue of the trip.

css.php