A ludicrously large bar of soap

A ludicrously large bar of soap!I meant to post about this a few weeks ago, but I just never got around to it. Then today when I discovered (never mind how or why, exactly) that Google does not have one single page in its index containing the phrase “ludicrously large bar of soap” I simply knew that I must finally make a post concerning the ludicrously large bar of soap.

For, you see, there is presently in the shower at my house a ludicrously large bar of soap. My wife received it as a Christmas present from her mom. Her mom is great with gifts, and she loves to go all-out. This year that meant finding an incomprehensibly, ludicrously large bar of soap.

Your average “large” bar of bath soap, you see, is somewhere in the realm of 4.5 ounces. This “Egyptian Cotton Moisturizing Bath Bar,” however, is a whopping 12 ounces. But knowing that it’s slightly less than three times the mass of an ordinary bar of soap does little to convey just how ludicrously large it really is. In its dimensions, it is roughly the equivalent of six ordinary bars of soap, stacked three in a row, two deep. The first time I attempted to use it I dropped it and the colossal thud was enough to raise the ire of the neighbors’ dogs. Woe to the poor fool who drops it on their foot!

But it is a very nice bar of soap. It has a pleasantly subtle, gender-neutral aroma, and it produces a wonderful creamy lather that is more than adequate for my daily cleansing needs. Plus, I don’t think I’ll need to buy another bar of soap until my kids are in college.

I hoped to locate an image of this wondrous bar of soap online, and surprisingly enough someone is apparently selling them on eBay. But this photo alone cannot possibly do justice to the magnificent size of the thing. In fact, even holding it in the wrapper, it’s hard to imagine how ludicrously large it will actually look once you take it out.

In order to better convey the relative size of this bar of soap to other, more familiar objects, I have prepared the following handy visual aid:

That bar of soap is ludicrously large!

Addendum, 2 minutes later: Just to see how frighteningly omniscient Google really is, I went there immediately after posting this, and once again searched for the phrase “ludicrously large bar of soap.” And yes, it was already there. It even said “2 minutes ago” in the search results.

A configuration-based solution to the translucent menu bar in Leopard

I had forgotten I’d even found and tried this until I looked up at my menu bar today after changing my desktop image and noticed it was opaque. I can’t find the site where I originally got the code, but I’ve found another blog that mentions it. The code to execute at the command line is:

sudo defaults write /System/Library/LaunchDaemons/com.apple.WindowServer 'EnvironmentVariables' -dict 'CI_NO_BACKGROUND_IMAGE' 0.63

(The code all needs to be entered on one line, of course; I need to work on my CSS for displaying code, probably employing Google’s Syntax Highlighter. So add that to my gigantic and ever-growing — at an increasing rate — to-do list. At my present trajectory, I will get this done approximately 10 million years after never.)

As the poster notes, the number 0.63 at the end can be any decimal value from 0 to 1. It represents the lightness of the opaque menu bar: 0 is black, 1 is white, and anything in between is shades of gray (surprise!); all non-white values have a subtle gradient as well.

This works great, which is not surprising, since this is the way Apple designed it to be managed. (In other words, they didn’t intend for the end user to be able to adjust it at all… but they built a way into the code to allow their programmers to adjust it.)

Of course, in the meantime since I first complained about it, I have actually come to tolerate (if not like) the translucent menu bar. But for now I’ll leave it as it is. If I do decide to change it back, I’ll run this:

sudo defaults delete /System/Library/LaunchDaemons/com.apple.WindowServer 'EnvironmentVariables'

And of course, because these are system-level changes, you need to reboot for them to take effect (which is probably why I had forgotten I’d done it in the first place; I didn’t restart immediately and surely got distracted by whatever it is in my life that’s constantly distracting me… two kids, perhaps).

OK, I’m convinced Steve Jobs fired all of his UI designers in a fit of rage…

Much has now been written, a smidgen of it by me, regarding the various design faux pas committed by Apple with Leopard, but here’s another new inexplicable one I just noticed:

Weird drop shadows in Mac OS X Leopard

What’s wrong you ask? Well, if you think about it, this just plain makes no sense. I’m not complaining about the weird blur effect on translucent elements in this new version (although that bugs me too). It’s this bizarre drop shadow on the little slide-down alert dialog box. Why is there a drop shadow here? Presumably it’s to make us realize this dialog is attached to the window (as they’ve been ever since Mac OS X debuted, albeit without a gratuitous shadow). But the effect is to make it look like the title bar is casting the shadow. Yet, the title bar does not cast a shadow on the rest of the window itself. So it therefore appears that the dialog is recessed below the window itself. And yet, the dialog casts a shadow on the window as well. It’s M.C. Escher’s worst nightmare. As others have already said about other UI elements in Leopard: Why, Apple? Why?

On the other hand… I have to admit, I’m actually starting to like the translucent menu bar. The horror!!!

Please, somebody, just tell me how to turn it off!

Yes, I drank Steve Jobs’ Kool-Aid a long time ago. I lined up at 4:30 on Friday outside an Apple Store to wait for 90 minutes for my copy of Mac OS X Leopard. I had read lots about it before it was released, so I knew what was coming. And yet, as much as I like most of the new features (especially the new Finder), and can put up with the things I like less (such as the cluttered-looking new Dock), I simply cannot stand the translucent menu bar.

Since I installed it yesterday, 90% of my computer time has been spent online trying to find out what I can do — whatever it takes — to just get back to a normal-looking, opaque menu bar. Why, oh why, Steve Jobs, can you not cede one tiny millimeter of interface control to the user? (OK, maybe I’m just bitter because I’ve spent the last week in the nirvana of user customization that is Ubuntu Linux.)

Judging by a Google search, it looks like I’m not alone in my frustration. But so far the only fixes I’ve seen are a hack app that only worked with the beta, and the somewhat obvious but equally lame option of incorporating a proper menu background as a band at the top of all of your desktop pictures.

Unfortunately, it looks like I won’t even be able to take the “somewhat obvious but equally lame” route, as it appears that Photoshop 7 (yes, it’s pitifully out-of-date, but it’s the version I own) doesn’t work in Leopard. D’oh!

Some more searching revealed a plausible, inexpensive alternative called Pixelmator. Of course, I am always dubious when someone posting on a forum or a blog comment says “this $59 shareware program can do everything Photoshop can do.” Um, yeah. Right. For less than 1/10 the price it was worth at least investigating though, so I downloaded the demo. It’s definitely a nice program, but it looks like the one thing I need most in Photoshop for the work I do, its layer effects, are completely missing from Pixelmator.

Update: Finally an elegant (if still fundamentally hackish) solution has presented itself, in the form of a little app called Opaque Menu Bar!

Incremental increases in intuitiveness

Hopefully (yes, I know that’s not a word, but hopefully William F. Buckley isn’t reading this), this site has now become slightly easier to use, thanks to my super-cool new translucent navigation bar. I’m taking the transparent PNG thing to the next level here, stacking transparencies on top of one another, and the overall effect is very cool, I think: the nav bar is shaded, but you can still see the photo through it all. Actually, the individual text links on the nav bar are separate transparent PNGs, in the top layer. (OK, technically they’re not CSS layers, but whatever.) Then the nav bar itself is part of the next layer down, which includes all of the shading and the logo that are overlaid upon the actual photo, which is at the bottom. This way, I can easily swap in new photos without having to redesign anything else. The photos just need to be cropped to the right dimensions. (Of course, it’s been ages since I’ve taken a new “34” photo. But maybe now I’ll get back into that project. I really want to take a picture of the signs at the end of the offramp from eastbound 494 onto County 34, because they’ve got “End MN 100” and “Begin Cty 34” side-by-side. And I’ve been a fan of 100 since I was about 5 [for some reason… but at any rate, this parenthetical has gone on far too long now].)

I’ve also added in an “Offspring” link which, if you’re logged in and have been granted access, will take you to the new Gallery2-based photo library. But since I don’t want just any old stranger/psycho looking at pictures of my kids, I’ve added the log-in requirement. Like I mentioned in my last post, if I know you, feel free to register for an account, and then let me know and I’ll set you up with access to the gallery.