Category archive: General 310 posts

An Ode to Walter, who was afraid of a lot of stuff in Pawnee, Indiana

Posted by Jer Clarke on October 16, 2015 · General

I finally started watching Parks and Recreation recently and it’s a wonderful show. The humor is goofy but also really subtle and honest. I love the many details they work into the shot or script that reward you for paying close attention.

One such detail is the brief but heartwarming appearance of a character named Walter (Walt) Koypond, played by Brendan Jennings, in Season 5 Episode 12.

A public meeting is taking place and “Walt” stands up to speak.


Walt: I’m afraid this park will raise my taxes.

April: Ah, well, fear not! Between the normal parks budget and our corporate partners…

Walt: [interrupting] I’m also afraid the park will be noisy.

And full of spiders.

And dark at night time.

I’m scared of a lot of stuff. [pauses]

Everything is fine!

I’m fine.

I’m Walter and I’m fine.

He sits down slowly, giving up.

I love that no one replies to him because he’s already contradicted all his own complaints. His fears about the park collapsed in upon themselves and everything is fine.


I love the comedy gag about “being afraid”. His first two complaints – “I’m afraid this park will raise taxes” and “I’m also afraid the park will be noisy” –  sound like things anyone might say. It’s only the absurdity of his other worries that imply – surprise! –  his previous statements were based on phobia rather than rational concerns.

I love the backstory this scene implies, of the phobia-riddled person who comes to city meetings to express their unusual fears, but is aware enough of themselves to know when their fears aren’t going to be taken seriously (“Dark at night time”).


I like to think this character comes to many meetings with similar complaints, but no one notices they all start with “I’m afraid”. It’s heroic in a way, since it must have taken a lot of courage for him to speak his fears publicly.

Unfortunately there’s only one credit for “Walt Koypond” and/or Brendan Jennings on IMDB, so we’ll have to wait for the fanfiction to find out what else Walter has contributed to Pawnee government meetings.

I have no idea why he’s credited as “Walt” when he clearly states his name as “Walter”. It seems like something that would bother Walter a lot.

I think there’s an underlying joke and message to this scene, about how democracy is so often driven by fear, whether it’s rational or not. We need to check ourselves and ensure we aren’t making decisions only out of fear.

We can’t pretend that spiders and night time and noise and our taxes don’t exist, our denial just gives them power over us. We need to seize power over ourselves, remember that everything is okay, and reject all fear.


The time Yahweh tried to Kill Moses, but left him alone in the end.

Posted by Jer Clarke on October 5, 2015 · General

Exodus 4:24-26 (New Century Version):

24 As Moses was on his way to Egypt, he stopped at a resting place for the night. The Lord met him there and tried to kill him. 25 But Zipporah took a flint knife and circumcised her son. Taking the skin, she touched Moses’ feet with it and said to him, “You are a bridegroom of blood to me.” 26 She said, “You are a bridegroom of blood,” because she had to circumcise her son. So the Lord let Moses alone.

A lot happens in these three verses from Exodus 4. Yahweh has just sent Moses to Egypt with his “walking stick of God“, his 3 new miracles and an existential threat for the Egyptians.

Out of nowhere, while Moses is resting for the night God shows up and tries to kill him. The following verses imply that God was angry at Moses for not circumcising his son, but it’s never mentioned before this. His wife Zipporah seems to know that God is killing Moses because their son is uncircumcised, and does impromptu surgery which seems to satisfy Yahweh who leaves them alone and doesn’t kill anyone in the end.

To me the emotional crux of this passage is Zipporah’s reaction, which implies that she had wanted to avoid circumcision for her son, and she’s mad at Moses for forcing her to do it. She calls him “bridegroom of blood” which was probably a sounded better in the original language.

There are a lot of scenes in Exodus, Numbers and Deuteronomy where Yahweh suddenly gets really angry and kills one or many of the Hebrews with little to no explanation or warning, but this is a rare one where he tries to kill the main character. It’s interesting how passages like this were maintained in the Bible despite making God look pretty terrible from just about any vantage point.

Here’s another analysis of this passage that I pretty much agree with (though the author is probably coming from a very different perspective than me).

I kind of wish this scene had made it into the movie.

Experiences with the Fuji X-T1 in light of the X-T10’s imminent release

Posted by Jer Clarke on June 18, 2015 · General

As an enthusiast photographer I chose Fujifilm as my system about a year ago, buying the already out of date but affordable X-E1 camera ($800 with the 18-55mm kit lens). My plan was to upgrade to whatever came out as an update to the X-E2, which I already knew was missing features from the flagship (i.e. expensive) X-T1 that had been announced. Fuji is releasing a new camera, the X-T10, a cheaper but feature-compatible version of the X-T1 without weather sealing, missing the coveted ISO dial and with a smaller EVF (electronic viewfinder). This article is my analysis of the most interesting features of the X-T1 that are new to me as an X-E1 user and the ways they do or don’t apply to the X-T10.

I’ll start with a spoiler alert: I’ve already pre-ordered an X-T10 and am psyched to get my hands on it, so I may be biased and my criticisms of the X-T1 may be sour grapes. That said, I had a really interesting time finally using an X-T1 for a project and I wanted to share my thoughts on what was good and bad about it, and what I’ll miss/won’t miss about it when my X-T10 arrives.

Context: The project was my first serious wedding, done as a gift for a friend. There were 60 attendees, it was in the country so there was lots of nature for portraits and a small, bright naturally-lit indoor venue for ceremony. I had my untrustworthy X-E1, 18-55mm f/2.8-4 kit lens and dreamy 35mm f/1.4 prime lens, but I wanted a second body and a little more reach so I rented the X-T1 and 56mm f/1.2 (~100$ Canadian at Lozeau in Montreal).

X-E1: It’s old and missing features

A lot of this is from the perspective of a 1st-generation Fuji X user. The X-E1 and X-PRO1 were updated many times with vital firmware fixes and new features, but they won’t be updated meaningfully again, and are missing pretty much all of the features discussed below. I’m going to keep my X-E1 as a second body and still consider it useful, but I’ll definitely use my X-T10 any time I need decisive autofocus or stealth.

Electronic Shutter: The silencer works

I already wanted a second body as a backup, but the true reason for my rental was the silent “electronic shutter” (ES) on the X-T1 (Firmware announcement). During the ceremony it was a godsend, letting me snap away constantly without distracting the audience with noise. By default the electronic shutter makes a simulated shutter noise with the speaker, so you need to disable all shutter and system sounds if you really want the camera to be silent. I forgot this initially, but once my the sound setting was disabled it worked like I hoped.

When I switched to my X-E1’s mechanical shutter (MS) the difference was deafening. CLACK, CLACK, CLACK, people were turning their heads to look at me as soon as I took a shot. Switched back to X-T1 in ES mode and everyone stayed focused on what was important: My friends getting married!

The worst risk with ES is of course “rolling shutter”, which I’ve read happens any time the movement would normally blur at 1/15s. This is a real problem and it’s important that everyone is careful to avoid using ES on anything with significant movement. In practice though it’s rarely noticeable, even when there is some movement that should look distorted. None of the photos I took at the wedding were ruined by shooting in ES mode, though I tried to explicitly switch to MS mode any time there was fast action, such as the walk down the aisle.

Another downside of ES mode is that flash is completely disabled because it can’t work with an electronic shutter. You need to remember to set the camera to MS any time you want to use a flash.

To me this feature is a no brainer for any candid photography where there isn’t too much movement, and I will never buy a non-silent camera again. Remember that smartphones and point and shoot cameras (i.e. also mirrorless) are all silent by nature too. The mechanical shutter sound is a curse tolerated on DSLRs because the mirror already made noise, but in the mirrorless present we shouldn’t waste the opportunity for quiet, undistracting operation.

MS+ES Auto Mode: Ultra-fast simulated shutter speeds came in handy

Aside from making the camera silent, the electronic shutter also allows you to simulate the exposure effects of super-high shutter speeds, which came in handy during outdoor portraits where there was too much light for the 1/4000 limit of the mechanical shutter. This comes up more often than you’d expect if you’re shooting at f/1.2 in the sun.

To get this effect I usually left the camera on MS+ES mode so that the MS would be used by default, with ES engaged only when the camera needed a shutter speed faster than 1/4000. This is important to avoid “rolling shutter” (discussed above) whenever possible by using MS. For most of my shots ES wasn’t necessary, but when there was too much light the automatic mode worked flawlessly to switch the shutter type. No overexposed shots at 1/4000 from not noticing the problem (common on X-E1) and no getting distracted trying to figure out what’s going on when I bumped up against the limit.

MS+ES auto mode: Thanks for fixing flash!

The new firmware for both X-T1 and X-T10 will make the automatic MS+ES mode even more useful by fixing a bug that blocked you from using flash even if MS was currently in use (most of the time). This meant you had to set the camera to MS-only to use any kind of flash. With the update I’ll be able to leave MS+ES on essentially all the time unless I want ES-only mode, with very little risk unless I’m in direct sunlight.

It will take time to develop instincts about when to use MS/ES/MS+ES, and most importantly when to disable ES temporarily, but my experience was that it was manageable and I didn’t end up with any important shots missed as a result. I had shutter type on a function button which worked fairly well, though the Q menu might work just as efficiently.

You have the electronic shutter as an option on both the X-T1 and the X-T10, so it’s not a big choosing point between them. That said it’s absolutely a knock against the X-E2/X-PRO1 which only have mechanical shutter, in case you were still considering them as options.

Fuji: Please change the effect of the “shutter type” function button!

Right now the Shutter Type control you can assign to a function button works like an ISO or white balance menu would: Click, up/down to choose, click to select. This is absolutely overkill for a menu with only three items. It should instead work like “View Mode”: Click and it switches the next item in the list. That would mean I only need to push 1 button once or twice, rather than needing at least two buttons and needing at least 3 pushes.

FACE DETECTION: Always focus on the nearest eye

Fuji’s face detection system is flawed but extremely useful, and I’ve definitely been missing it on the X-E1. I had it enabled almost constantly and it rarely caused problems. If there are no faces in the shot (details, landscapes, etc) you move the focus point like normal single-point AF, but when there’s a distinct person it locks on and nails focus on their eye even at f/1.2.

The worst case scenario is that it can’t find a face, and you need to move the AF point over your subject’s eye, which you were going to do anyway. Several times while I was picking a focus point because it couldn’t find anyone the face detection eventually found them, I still got precise focus even better than the AF box would have given. It seems it sometimes needs a couple of seconds to catch, but is pretty accurate if given time and good light. Learning how to use this “robot vision” and give it time to work is something I’ll have to practice, but for this wedding it was super helpful.

You can enable/disable Face Detection in the Q menu which has it’s own button, but I also set the front function button on the X-T1 to control Face Detection so I could quickly turn it off. There were a few times I needed to disable it because there were faces in the frame I didn’t want to focus on or it detected faces in things like curtains.

While face detection alone wouldn’t have justified the rental, it was a priceless feature to integrate. I’m really excited Fuji is continuing to innovate on this feature and take it seriously with the new firmware. Fast, precise eye-detection AF is a vital feature for users of ultra-fast primes like Fuji specializes in.

Fuji: Please fix the Face Detection function button too!

The criticism of the shutter button applies in the exact same way to Face Detection, which should just switch the feature on/off rather than pulling up an awful up/down menu with only two options. If they made it work like View Mode it would only require 1 click on 1 button in all situations, rather than 3 clicks on at least 2 buttons.

Fuji: Face Detection needs an escape hatch

If I want to keep face detection enabled all the time (I do) I need a way to disable it temporarily for a specific face it finds, without turning it off completely. There should be a button that cancels the currently targeted face and lets you choose a focus point. 

E.g. You’re framing a shot of something in someone’s hand, but face detect focuses on their face in the background. Hit a button (focus assist?) and the box dissappears, returning to the single AF point that would show if there was no face (currently you’d have to disable face detection completely and re-enable it after).

Fuji: Let me pick the face I want

Another thing that’s direly needed is a way to switch the “dominant” face in the shot (MUCH more than we need to pick left/right eye as was added in the new firmware). Currently it picks one face (based on centrality according to the manual) and you are stuck with either focusing on that face or turning off Face Detection completely. This is a huge bummer, because the camera already knows there are many faces (non-dominant ones are shown in a white box) but has no way to let you choose which to focus on. Some mechanic to cycle between the various faces would be extremely useful (I keep thinking of how the tab key works in Word of Warcraft to cycle between enemies). Obviously a touch screen would be ideal, but even without it there must be a button that could cycle between faces and let you pick the most appropriate for your composition and depth of field. Why not the left/right arrows on the D-pad?

Fuji: Show me whether the other faces are in focus too

In group portraits I was dying for a way to know whether the non-dominant faces were also in focus or not. My goal when using shallow DoF is to get the eyes all lined up, line myself up with that plane, then focus on one person so everyone is sharp. As-is all the non-dominant faces are surrounded by a white box no matter what, so there’s no way of knowing whether I’m aligned with the group. It would be great if there were three colors: Green for dominant-focused, white for non-dominant-also-focused and red for out-of-focus. This would let me rotate myself until there was no red before firing and not end up surprised by one blurry face when I get home.


Now we’re getting into differences between X-T1 and X-T10, because the spot/auto/full metering dial is among the features “missing” on the X-T10. In summary this dial is useless. I didn’t really need to change the metering mode over the course of the weekend and when I did (heavy backlighting) it didn’t solve my problem and Exp. Comp. was faster and more effective.

The dial itself is cool to look at, but surprisingly hard to manipulate in the intended way. The tiny nub at the front got “stuck” in the left position (spot metering) and I had to fuss with it to get it back to auto, making me not want to use it too often.

Of course it DID move a lot when bringing my camera in and out of my bag, which was obnoxious and resulted in me being confused about how dark my shots were coming out at one point.

Final verdict: Anyone who loves this dial please say so, otherwise Fuji should find another setting to create a hardware switch for. Personally I’d have WAY more use for an AF type (single/zone), Face Detection or Shutter type switch than this photometry one. As-is, this dial is a reason NOT to get an X-T1 since it’s a useless liability (to me at least).


Like most others I was fascinated by the ISO dial when the X-T1 came out. It felt like the final frontier of manual control, and I was worried I’d miss it if I bought a camera without it (i.e the X-PRO2 who’s format seems like it wouldn’t have space). Having used it my heart has grown cold. I don’t think it’s necessary and was fine with Auto-ISO over the course of the weekend.

The real problem is that Fuji’s Auto-ISO implementation is so good that the dial isn’t necessary. There’s no “creative” reason to select a particular ISO (unlike shutter speed and aperture) so there’s no real reason to choose a specific value as the dial implies you should.

I set the minimums/maximums for the auto system and just pay attention to whether the camera is able to use them or not. For me a switch that just said “base ISO” and “auto ISO” would work just as well and take up a lot less space/visual clutter than the current dial on the X-T1. Alternately a nub-style dial with just “auto1” “auto2” and “auto3” would completely solve my ISO needs.

Maybe others will dissagree, but I bet a lot of people who lusted for the ISO dial now basically ignore it. I for one won’t waste any tears crying over it’s absence on the X-T10.

Fuji: All we need to be completely rid of ISO dials is a couple more tweaks to the auto ISO settings. Specifically the ability to indicate a target aperture the same way we designate a desired shutter speed. I often want “Max ISO 6400, Minimum 1/100s, Wide open aperture”, but when there’s enough light for ISO 200 I am left with the camera raising the aperture to f/4 without raising the shutter speed to 1/4000 first. I know I can use the manual aperture for this, but it would be good if there was an option to integrate that decision into the full automatic logic.


Unlike the ISO dial on the X-T1 the drive dial was extremely useful. On my X-E1 changing drive modes is a shockingly byzantine experience, especially the way CH and CL are so hard to get to. Having the little nub dial was a huge improvement, both because it was easy to change and because it was easy to look at the camera and see what setting was active.

For this feature the X-T1 and X-T10 are roughly equivalent since both have a drive dial, but if anything I’d give the advantage to the X-T10. To me the drive dial is more valuable than the ISO dial and I’d rather have it as a full milled metal wheel rather than the nub system. On the X-T10 the drive mode is visible when looking down (along with aperture, shutter and Exp. Comp.) and I can turn it precisely with two fingers rather than shifting the nub with just one finger. That last part is a mixed bag since changing it with one finger is also a valuable option, but I don’t need to turn the dial that often (compared to say exp. comp.) so the big wheel will work fine. The big wheel also lets it hold more options (9 rather than 7) without being any more finicky which is a bonus.

Overall the X-T10 has 2 fewer dials than the X-T1, but as it stands I won’t miss either of them. The nub dials for photometry and drive mode end up being overkill for my purposes, and though it might not scream “professional” compared to the complexity of the X-T1, the simplicity of the top plate of the X-T10 is more beautiful IMHO, and at the end of the day removing useless dials means reducing the number of issues I have from dials moving when I take the camera in and out of bags (of which the aperture dial on lenses will always give me enough surprises to keep life interesting).


Another major difference between the X-T1 and X-T10 is how the command dials and buttons work in relation to each other, which is explained by Fuji as resulting from the X-T1’s weather sealing. I’ll start by saying that obviously if you NEED the weather sealing then this is a non-issue: You need the X-T1 and it doesn’t matter how “mushy” or hard to use the buttons are. Fuji had to make concessions and you get a lot in return for the awkward buttons.

That said: I hate the buttons on the X-T1. I hate how recessed the directional pad buttons are, I could barely find the focus-assist/Q buttons without looking and the command dials were mushy and hard to spin if my hands were even a tiny bit sweaty. It makes sense that I felt like I was wearing rubber gloves (both keep out water) but it was not a good feeling at all.

Now of course, I haven’t tried the X-T10 buttons yet, but from what I’ve read they feel and work just like on the X-E1, and I LOVE those buttons compared to what the X-T1 has. The command dials especially were disappointing on the X-T1, because they don’t have the function buttons integrated into them which means you need to learn two extra “positions” for your fingers to take and you are that much more likely to have to use multiple positions to get something done. On the X-T10 you can click the dial, spin it to choose an option and click again to confirm, changing a setting with only one finger and without moving your hand. This is how it should be.

IMHO the extra buttons also make the camera a little uglier/noisier to look at because there are extra buttons visible. Sure more buttons is usually good and makes the camera look cool, but for me invisible tools are pretty much always more valuable than ones that take up extra space (and they could still have those extra buttons if they wanted, giving you even more shortcuts). I also found the front button in particular to be frustrating because I would press it when I didn’t mean to, especially when I was looking at the LCD and changing settings. I would surely get used to it eventually, but I would never push the command dial by accident on the X-T10.

Hopefully this was a temporary setback and Fuji can figure out how to make clicky buttons and a weather sealed dial that has an integrated button for the X-T2. For now this is definitely a knock against the usability of the X-T1 that makes me glad I’m getting an X-T10 instead.


I consider this one a “bonus” because I didn’t actually get to try it, but since it’s missing on the X-T1 and I’m excited about it as a feature of X-T10 I figured I’d mention it. The full auto switch seems like a really smart idea to me that will help both hardcore professionals and hardcore amateurs.

For amateurs the appeal is obvious: Use that lever and you don’t have to learn about photography or your own camera, only disabling it when you have time to ponder the unknowable mysteries of the exposure square and focus points.

For pros the appeal is more nuanced, but I think very important and multi-faceted. For starters there’s the obvious use case of handing off the camera to a noob. In that situation other Fuji’s are ridiculously complicated to hand over, requiring potentially several dial/knob turns and a trip through the menus to set AF to something simple (anyone else tired of trying to get people to put the box over your face?). The new auto switch means you’ll be able to hand off the camera after a single change AND you can immediately change it back to your manual settings after, rather than having to remember/re-create them once you get the camera back. I’m really excited about having full auto work like this, especially now that the face detection/zone focus modes are powerful enough that it will work “like a smartphone” and help noobs get the pictures they expect.

To me though there’s a whole other appeal, which is that it gives you a way to have a second “save state” for all your settings, which is notably missing from Fuji cameras. Sure you can use the “Custom settings” system in the Q menu, but that thing is garbage, only letting you save the stupid JPEG related settings and ignoring everything important (af mode, shutter mode, face detect, timer). I find that Custom settings feature on my X-E1 messes me up by accident more than it helps me, and I’ll probably remove it once I have a camera that lets me customize the Q menu.

On the other hand this new SR Auto switch won’t let you have a CUSTOMIZEABLE set of saved settings, but because it changes all settings to their most automatic format it can completely change the behavior of the camera in an instant without losing the work you put into the current setup. I can imagine this being extremely useful when I’m doing very precise work with the camera but have an intermittent need for more general shooting.

E.g. While shooting macro I have everything on manual to make the flash work, I have a lot of settings configured in ways that make normal shooting impossible. If I suddenly see a deer with the X-T1 I might need to change a lot of config to get a shot of it, but with the SR Auto switch I could get a shot in seconds, then revert back to my elaborate macro configuration just as fast. Similar situations would come up any time you’re using manual flash or when you’re switching back and forth between two lenses (e.g. f/4->f/1.2) where one type of shooting can function on auto but the other requires special configuration.

Finally I’m excited about the SR Auto switch because if everything else about the camera is set to auto already (auto ISO, shutter, and aperture, how I usually use my X-E1) it will act as a super-fast switch for Face Detection/Zone AF, letting me use SR Auto to let the camera try to guess the AF point and disabling it to use the D-Pad instead. I’ll have to wait and see how often this comes up, but I’m guessing there are a lot of situations where it will be useful (as long as the actual “scene recognition” doesn’t get in the way and overdo it, though no one has complained about that yet).

FUJI: For bonus points make the auto switch configurable, and give us a few more options! Would love if you could choose it’s effect from a list like this:

  • Enable/disable SR auto
  • Enable/disable Face Detection
  • Enable/Disable Zone Focusing
  • Enable/Disable MS+ES auto mode.

If it was that configurable I bet a lot of “pros” would be dying for a similar switch on the X-T1


There you have it, tons of detail that adds up to “both cameras are great” and “X-T10 is an easy choice for me.” If I needed weather sealing I would get the X-T1 of course, but I might just keep it as a second body for bad weather and sports. For almost all types of shooting I do the X-T10 would be just as capable and ergonomically more appropriate, in addition to being much much cheaper

P.S. I didn’t talk about buffer rates, in which context X-T1 easily comes out ahead. If you need 8FPS for dozens of shots then you need the X-T1. Personally I never want to deal with all those RAW files, so CL is fast enough and from what I understand the X-T10 will do fine at that rate.

P.P.S. The other significant difference I didn’t talk about is the picture-in-picture focus aid mode, which is awesome and only exists on the X-T1 because the X-T10 has a smaller viewfinder. I didn’t use this very much but will indeed miss it on the X-T10 since it strikes me as the best manual focus solution. That said focus peaking will still work great and having a non-mushy focus-zoom button on the command dial is just as valuable to me

What is Jurassic World?

Posted by Jer Clarke on · General

Jurassic World is a thoughtful contemplation of animal rights in the context of zoos, genetic manipulation and artificial selection.

Jurassic World is the best pan-millennial, meta-cinematic work of self-satirizing marketing-fiction ever created.

Jurassic World is a silly movie about cartoon dinosaurs fighting in front of product placements.

I recommend it, but as always don’t watch the trailer first, it ruins all the fun.

Star Wars Day Meditations: Jedi Code v. Sith Code

Posted by Jer Clarke on May 4, 2015 · General

The Jedi Code from a comic book


This Star Wars day consider studying some Jedi philosophy along with the memes. The natural starting point is the Jedi Code, a short mantra that was the foundation of Jedi emotional control and a key element of the Knighthood for thousands of years.

The Jedi Code

There is no emotion, there is peace.
There is no ignorance, there is knowledge.
There is no passion, there is serenity.
(There is no chaos, there is harmony.)(*)
There is no death, there is the Force.
The Jedi Code (Based on the meditations of Odan-Urr)

For bonus points dig into the Sith code to consider what distinguishes them and which you agree with more.

The Sith Code

Peace is a lie, there is only passion.
Through passion, I gain strength.
Through strength, I gain power.
Through power, I gain victory.
Through victory, my chains are broken.
The Force shall free me.
The Sith Code (as written by Sorzus Syn and taught by Darth Bane)

Book recommendations for true Star Wars nerds (both have excellent versions):

Darth Bane Trilogy – The story of the founder of the modern “rule of two” Sith tradition who killed all the other Sith lords ~1000 years before Anakin Skywalker was born.

Darth Plagueis – The shocking and fascinating life of Darth Sidious’ own Sith master, a high-powered banker in the Old Republic who used his position in conjunction with Palpatine’s to fund the destabilizing “war” with the separatists that ultimately toppled the Republic.

Both of these books (well all 4 since the Bane books are a trilogy) are centered on Sith Lords rather than Jedi, but they are still probably the best way to understand what motivates the Jedi and their religion. Jedi define themselves in relation to the Sith just as Christians define God in relation to Satan, and it seems that the Sith are more willing to think honestly and frankly about the true nature of the force than the Jedi are.

Read books about Jedi for action, heroism and blind faith. Read books about the Sith for ethical enquiry, contemplation and historical analysis of the Republic and it’s super-powered rulers.

A Love Poem in PHP

Posted by Jer Clarke on November 7, 2011 · General · WordPress

Wrote this a long time ago but never posted it. Stumbled onto it while cleaning up my email:

	$me = new Lover;

	$me->partner = $you;

	$me->feelings = array('adore','miss','want','love');

	foreach ($feelings as $feeling) {


		if ($you->feeling_mutual($feeling))

Sure, it’s not the most expressive form of writing out there, but like with Haiku I think the limitation and challenge of putting poetry into code form can help push you to create something really fresh and strange without the baggage and cliché feel of regular poetry. I also just love naming variables and methods ;)

Either way, I think my poem is at least more uplifting than this other PHP love poem I found.

It was actually a follow-up to a shorter, twitter-length PHP love poem I wrote around the same time:

	$things_i_dont_miss_about_you = array();

Submit your coded love poems in the comments, bonus points if it could at least theoretically execute in real life (assuming for example things like the existence of a “Lover” class with an express_feeling() method). If you’ve got the time write us an Epic PHP Poem, including all the needed class definitions :P

iOS apps worth considering

Posted by Jer Clarke on June 29, 2011 · General

A friend emailed a few people to ask for recommendations of what to install on her new iDevice. My reply was detailed enough I thought you might be interested too. Seasoned iOS experts will yawn at the list because a lot of these are commonly accepted good choices, but if you don’t spend time each day on apps you’ll probably find something you didn’t know about below.

Note: I’m too lazy to find links for them all. Open up iTunes and search and you should be able to find them pretty fast.


Richard Nixon on the failed Apollo 11 Moon Landing and Deaths of Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong

Posted by Jer Clarke on March 18, 2011 · General

The text below is a speech written for Richard Nixon in case something went wrong during Apollo 11, the first manned landing on the moon.

It assumes that the astronauts (Neil Armstrong and Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin) are trapped on the moon and doomed to die. The American people know about it in real time and need guidance:

Fate has ordained that the men who went to the moon to explore in peace will stay on the moon to rest in peace.

These brave men, Neil Armstrong and Edwin Aldrin, know that there is no hope for their recovery. But they also know that there is hope for mankind in their sacrifice.

These two men are laying down their lives in mankind’s most noble goal: the search for truth and understanding.

They will be mourned by their families and friends; they will be mourned by their nation; they will be mourned by the people of the world; they will be mourned by a Mother Earth that dared send two of her sons into the unknown.

In their exploration, they stirred the people of the world to feel as one; in their sacrifice, they bind more tightly the brotherhood of man.

In ancient days, men looked at stars and saw their heroes in the constellations. In modern times, we do much the same, but our heroes are epic men of flesh and blood.

Others will follow, and surely find their way home. Man’s search will not be denied. But these men were the first, and they will remain the foremost in our hearts.

For every human being who looks up at the moon in the nights to come will know that there is some corner of another world that is forever mankind.

(Emphasis mine)

Obviously this is a beautiful and moving speech, and should have helped Americans understand this theoretical tragedy had it occurred, but what I love best is the careful avoidance of any mention of God or religious ideology.

The writer mentions ‘Mother earth’ and ‘fate’ but the overall feeling is clear: Mankind did this thing on our own, using our ambition, ingenuity and hope. Whether the mission is successful or not we had achieved something miraculous and unbelievable all on our own. We can take credit for the success just as we must face the blame if things go wrong. Either way we had re-invented our place in the universe for all eras to follow, and, most importantly, for the best possible reason: “the search for truth and understanding”.

Too bad the space race was as much about the cold war as it was about science, and that Nixon was a horrible person in the long run. For today his alternate-universe self will be my Atheist superhero. (The actual speechwriter was William Safire and not Nixon of course. Here is some audio of Safire talking about writing the worst-case scenario speech).

(Found in this amazing article by Robert Krulwich about the Soviet space program and it’s awfulness).

Raven: My Custom Theme (Templates) for Munin

Posted by Jer Clarke on February 19, 2011 · design · General

This post is about Munin and the custom theme I built for it, Raven.

Click here to skip to the download and installation instructions if you just want the theme »

Click here if “Load average” means nothing to you.

What is Munin and why am I bothering with it?

Munin is a program you install on servers to track their resource usage and application performance on a minute-by-minute basis and present you with graphs giving tons of detail about it’s status over time (each report can be viewed for daily, weekly, etc.) It has lots of core and community-built plugins to track different server applications and different aspects of a server’s health.

The basic idea is that you install a ‘node’ on each server you want to keep track of, then one ‘master’ that queries the nodes and generates the graphs for you. I’ve had it recommended to me by pro sysadmins a few times in the past but was intimidated by the complexity of installation and the inscrutability of the resulting graphs, which depend on you having pre-existing knowledge of the command-line tools who’s output they aggregate. Oh, my iostat is up… um… what do I do about that?

The best guide to understanding and installing Munin I found was this great set of articles on the Slicehost blog. They are intended for Slicehost customers, but seem to apply pretty well to anyone using the Linux distrubutions they cover.

The problem with Munin and it’s Theme ecosystem

So I got it running and am trying to figure out how to read the information it presents but there’s a problem: It’s woefully, sinfully and abysmally ugly. The web pages output by munin are not just composed on 90’s style tables, they are ugly tables, with tiny text and wasteful spacing.

It seems the sysadmin crowd just doesn’t care about these things, because even though there is a really easy system for modifying and restyling the underlying HTML and CSS there is only one alternate template available on the whole internet! You can find it here in the Munin docs but it is almost as ugly as the default and the way you install it is completely counterintuitive and under-explained. On the bright side it has some really useful javascript features that the default doesn’t, if you can get it to work that is.

FWIW I don’t even know how to refer to this. The files themselves are called ‘templates’ in various places on the Munin site, but IMHO the package as a whole should be called a “theme”, at least that’s how we do things in WordPress land. I tried to use both in this post so people find this post, but I’ll call it ‘theme’ from now on.

My Munin Theme: Raven

Screenshot of Raven theme

Screenshot of Raven. Click to enlarge. Compare with screenshot of alt-default theme.

My answer to this problem is a new theme based on the javascript-enabled alternative from the Munin site. I call it Raven because Munin is named after a Raven ally of Odin, Norse king of the gods. Essentially it’s just the default theme with 80% of the ugly removed and a grey and white facelift. There is still a lot of work that could be done to actually fix all the ugly-ass HTML, but I want to see if this gains any traction before putting in the time.

Features of Raven compared to the default theme:

  • Javascript-enabled so the various sections of the ‘overview’ page are in tabs at the top instead of one never-ending page. (this is the most important usability improvement)
  • Larger text all over to actually use up all the empty space created by the unavoidably-large graph images.
  • Reduced unneeded spacing and <hr> tags that just added noise.
  • Calm light-grey colors and rounded corners to soothe your mind while you toil over server performance.
  • Readme/installation instructions in the .zip file.

Download Raven theme

If I get good feedback about this I’ll post it on the official Munin Wiki, but for now you can grab the zip file above. Please take a look at the contents and read the README-INSTRUCTIONS.txt file before installing the theme.

Installation Instructions

The README-INSTRUCTIONS.txt file contains all the information you need to use Raven, including detailed instructions with background information about the locations you need to upload files to. Here is the summarized instructions so you can get a sense of how simple installation is:

  • Upload the “templates_raven” directory from this zip file into your Munin config directory (i.e. same directory that munin.conf is in, probably /etc/munin/)
  • Upload the ‘raven-htmldir-files’ directory from this zip file into your Munin HTML directory (where the public HTML is served from).
  • Edit your “munin.conf” file on the master and change the “tmpldir” property to reference the new “templates_raven” directory in your Munin config directory instead of the default “templates”.
  • Wait 5 minutes for the Munin master to refresh itself and reload.

Feedback? Thanks? Bugfixes?

Obviously this is my first attempt at a Munin theme and there is not a lot of other examples to emulate, so I may have done something horribly wrong. If you have questions or comments please use the comment form below to let me know about them.

I will try to get back to you ASAP but be warned: I am not going to support your Munin problems for you. I am sharing this theme to give back to the community, but if your problem is complicated I may not be able to help.

Thanks in advance to anyone brave enough to try out the theme and leave feedback!

WordCamp NYC this weekend, expecting good times

Posted by Jer Clarke on October 14, 2010 · General

WordCampNYC – Oct 16-17 I’m giving a talk incredibly similar to the one I gave at WordCamp Montreal this summer: Widgetize everything: building smarter themes with widgets and sidebars.

Not there? Missed my talk? Forget everything? You can see the slides I used for the talk on my slideshare account. It should also be embedded below: