Archive for the ‘Technology’ Category

"But please give us subsidies"

“But please give us subsidies”

I wrote a small review of John Etherington’s book “The Wind Farm Scam: An Ecologist’s Evaluation” at GoodReads:

The Wind Farm Scam: An Ecologist's EvaluationThe Wind Farm Scam: An Ecologist’s Evaluation by John Etherington
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Rather dry, but a good overview of why wind-power is a scam: uneconomical,an ugly blight on the landscape, unlikely to reduce the “problem” of greenhouse gases (assuming for a moment such a problem exists), and a way for “green energy” firms to drain “rents” (tax money) from gullible governments. Focused almost wholly on the UK, the discussion is useful to critics of wind-farming here in the US, too.

View all my reviews

Not so sure I like GoodReads, but, what the heck. I haven’t posted here in a while.

And wind-power is still a farce.

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You’re sure to sleep well after looking at these:

"They're coming for you..."

“They’re coming for you…”


Here’s an excerpt from the Wired article:

It can be hard to take your eyes off a good GIF. Turns out, it can also be tough to take your eyes off a terrifying one.

In Oswra, a collection of GIFs by self-taught animator Hayden Zezula, we witness baby parts rearranged into all sorts of endlessly-looping abominations. A plaster-white baby head sits atop a churning cone of arms and hands. A dense cluster of legs marches nowhere at all, like a sea anemone with tiny feet instead of tentacles.

A couple of these convince me the artist is secretly a Yog-Sothoth cultist. And I bet the mutant babies work with the evil clowns.

Sweet dreams!

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My new best friend

My new best friend

Well, for TV shows and movies, that is. I came to the decision more than a year ago that, while TWC provided good service, they were just charging way more than I wanted to pay. I was paying for more than 200 channels, but watched only five or six with any regularity. Seems kind silly to subsidize the rest, no? But, being a NFL football addict —and my 49ers are good, again!!— it was hard to cut back to Internet only. I mean, I could catch the shows I like through streaming services or their web sites, but… football. (Said in a slack-jawed, caveman voice.) Then I did the math and realized I could save $85-$90 per month.

Football isn’t worth that much to me.

So, yesterday I “downgraded” my service and returned the DVR box to my local TWC office. And the choice to do so is no reflection on Time-Warner; I’ve had almost nothing but great service from them. And there was no hard sell yesterday to keep me, just a couple of offers and then making the change I asked. Returning the equipment was no questions asked, out in ten minutes, tops. So, well-done, TW.

My replacement is the Roku streaming video box pictured above. Because my TV is older (no HDMI), I had to get a switcher box so I could also connect the DVD player to the TV, but, overall, the set up, both physical and online, was very easy. Video playback and sound is excellent, and I’m impressed with the breadth of channel offerings. (1) I’m now linked to my Amazon Instant Video and Cloud Player accounts, so I can keep current with the shows I watch (2), paying only for them and not for channels I’d never watch.

So far, I’m very happy with the change.

Now all I need is a live streaming option for the NFL…

1. Okay, some are on the level of public-access cable, but, you never know when you’ll find a gem. I mean, I found a channel for military miniatures enthusiasts! How cool is that?
2. Currently: Grimm, Justified, The Americans, Person of Interest, Sherlock, The Black List, and Covert Affairs

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logo kubuntu

Yes, this is how I spend my weekday nights: loading new operating systems, just to see what they look like.

I know, I know. You envy me. You wish you were me. Everyone does.

Anyway, for quite a while now I’ve considered abandoning Windows (especially after the fugliness that is version 8), and one of the alternatives I’ve been considering is some flavor of the Linux operating system. There is a lot to like about linux and it’s derivatives. For one thing, it’s free. It’s also stable, powerful, rarely targeted by viruses, and is supported by software that does most everything one could do on Windows, except most Linux applications are also free.

Free is good.

Anyway, a couple of years ago, my friend Richard sold me a his Linux laptop when he decided to dedicate his soul to the Cult of Mac. Since then, and quite a bit recently, I’ve been teaching myself Linux using Ubuntu, one of the many Linux derivatives. I’ve been quite impressed with what one can do (the Linux command line is like crack to someone like me, raised on DOS), but I wasn’t thrilled with the Unity desktop. It just didn’t work the way I wanted to (or was used to?). So, I decided to switch the laptop to Ubuntu’s close cousin, Kubuntu and its KDE Plasma desktop and give those a go. Installation was a breeze, and, though I’ve only used it for a few hours, I so far like Plasma quite a bit more than Unity.

(From what I’ve gathered, desktop preferences can generate flame wars in the Linux community, much like Mac vs. Windows fights. So, no offense intended — it’s just personal taste.)

The next steps will be to install the software on Kubuntu that I used on Ubuntu: Apache Open Office, Chrome (Unless the already-installed Chromium, from which Chrome is derived, lets me log into my Google account?), and a few other things. I did a clean wipe-and-install, so all this will have the benefit of forcing me to learn my way around Linux. After a few weeks of this, I might give a try to other Linux flavors, such as Xubuntu and Mint.

In case you’re wondering, the only reason I have not switched all my PCs yet is that there are still some applications I use in Windows, such as Final Draft and Roboform, for which I haven’t found adequate substitutes in Linux-land. I may have to eventually set up a means to boot Windows 7 or Linux on the same machine, as needed, so I can have access to those programs. From what I’ve read, that’s not too hairy a project.

At least it will give me something to do on a weekday night. 🙂

PS: If you were confused by the vague references to various operating systems and desktops, you’re not alone. There is an incredible family tree for Linux (being an open-source movement, it seems everyone has to make their own) and a dizzying proliferation of desktops. And, of course, they’re interchangeable. Plasma comes with Kubuntu, but I could have installed it with Ubuntu and just switched between it and Unity. Or I could (I think) install Xubuntu’s Xfce desktop over Kubuntu. Or…. You get the idea. For me, this kind of customizability is a benefit, not a problem.

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Dungeons Dragons Dark Creeper

Aside from being weird in itself, the idea of hiring assassins to kill someone’s online character is just full of wonderful possibilities for stories:

According to reports, a man in China became so exasperated by the amount of time that his unemployed son was spending playing World of Warcraft that he decided to do something about it. It seems that the lad had quit a software development job after just three months, and was doing nothing to find another one.

Showing, perhaps, a rather limited understanding of how these things work, Mr Feng hoped that killing the 23-year-old’s character off repeatedly would put him off playing altogether – and hired virtual assassins to do just that.

According to the Sanqing Daily, he managed to find killers who were at a much higher level than his son – despite all his hours of game play.

In fact, I’d swear there was a Japanese anime series on a similar idea.

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Makes me want to break out my old copy of Mosaic:

17 Ancient Abandoned Websites That Still Work

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Can I have one? Pleeeeaaaase? I promise to use it only in the event of a zombie apocalypse.

Or a day ending in “y.”

Let’s see, mount it on the back of a truck and….

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satire computer smash

Really, it won’t leave me alone.

Background: A few days ago, Amazon “upgraded” it’s Cloud Drive software, changes that very much annoyed me. A helpful individual (not an Amazon employee) on the Help Board pointed me to a way to make Cloud Drive at least stop doing the Annoying Thing. Once that problem was safely solved, I uninstalled Cloud Drive through the Win 7 control panel, planning to only access it via the web interface. Problem solved, hero gets the girl, movie ends, right?

It’s baaaaack.

Tonight, when I logged in to Windows, a message appeared asking me to log into my Cloud Drive account, and there was the Cloud Drive icon in my System Tray, just as if nothing had happened…

It. Won’t. Die.

Really. There’s no trace of it in control panel, nor can I find it installed anywhere in the program directories, but it does appear under “Favorites” in the File|Open dialog.

I never knew Amazon was in the undead virus creation business.

Anyway, I’ve posted another question to the help forum. We’ll see what comes up.

And, Amazon? I’m annoyed. Very, very annoyed.

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A bit of background: For a while I was using Google Drive (formerly Google Docs) for my offsite backup, but I decided I didn’t like having all my eggs (email, offline storage, online doc creation, photos) with one company, particularly one that has a tendency to regularly annoy me, such as…. Google.

So, when Amazon offered 5 free GBs of storage to go with my Prime account, I decided to buy 20 GB and make that my offsite backup, diversity of vendors having its attractions. All was fine until last night when I logged in after getting home and saw a message from Amazon that an upgrade was available and asking for permission to install it.

“What could go wrong,” I should have thought.

Apparently they’ve “improved” the software. Now it copies the folder structure of your Amazon Cloud Drive to your  hard drive, and then it downloads copies of all the files you’ve uploaded to that new, local “Cloud Drive.” (Yes, that’s what the top level of the new directory structure is called.) Now, if I want to upload files to the Amazon Cloud Drive, I can copy them to the corresponding folder on the local “cloud drive” and they will be synched to the server. And if I upload directly to my Amazon Cloud Drive, they’ll be synched to my local “cloud drive.”

If the downloading of all files to my hard drive struck you as odd, you’re not alone. I tested my suspicions by copying a photo I’d never uploaded to the local Cloud Drive’s “photos” folder; it was synched to the server no problem. Then I deleted the copy from the local Cloud Drive and…

It was instantly deleted from the server, too.

I tested this several times, including uploading directly to the server and letting it synch to the local Cloud Drive, and the result was always the same: If I want to keep a copy of a file on the server-side Amazon Cloud Drive, I have to keep it in the local hard drive version, too. On top of this, the original file(s) is in its original location, too, so now I have three copies!

As you can imagine, this left me thinking “Amazon, what were you thinking?”

Space itself isn’t the issue for me: I have a 1.5 TB drive that’s barely 25% full and I’ve used only 5GB of my Cloud Drive allocation, so the downloaded copies barely register.

But the whole nonsensical design annoys the heck out of me. Dropbox, a popular file-sharing/storage service, also creates a local “Dropbox” directory that then synchs to their servers. But it’s basically a fancy “copy” command — it doesn’t create a new file that must stay on your hard drive, if you want to keep the server-side copy available.

But, with this latest iteration from Amazon, they’ve wrecked any utility this has for me as an offsite backup; why would I want to backup anything to their “Cloud,” when it forces me to keep more and more duplicates on the local hard drive? I’m better off saving the money and relying on my external hard drive. (I like the dual redundancy of local and offsite backups, though.)

I wrote Amazon about this, thinking it’s a bug they’re fixing, but, no. In their reply, the customer service droid told me:

I’m so sorry to hear about the disappointment the new cloud drive application update has caused to you. When a file or folder is deleted from the Cloud Drive folder on your computer, it will also be removed from Cloud Drive.

That is more than lame. That is just stupid. Bad, bad design.

A user on Amazon’s “general help” board suggested a work-around that I’ll try tonight. But, unless Amazon fixes this, I’m looking for another offsite storage service.

PS: Amazon provides great services, but you have to wonder about their software design choices. Not just in this Cloud Drive problem I’ve described, but in the Kindle Fire, too. I love my Fire, as I’ve mentioned, but the failure to implement “collections” is just inexplicable. Or, if it is, Amazon isn’t telling anyone what the explanation is.

PPS: I forgot to mention — Soon after the installation of the new, improved Cloud Drive software, I discovered my Kindle for PC software (another Amazon product) was gone. Vanished. Utterly deleted. Now, I can’t swear the Cloud Drive installation caused the KfPC deletion, since I hadn’t used it for a few days, but the coincidence (and what I’ve heard of other glitches with Amazon software) is pretty suggestive.

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Now, if only it could shoot electric bolts from its tip. Maybe in version 2.0…

Proof that anything you can imagine in D&D can be made reality?

Just don’t volunteer to be a test-dummy for it:


(But I still want one!)

via io9

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I’ve had a Kindle Fire since last April, thanks to the generosity of a friend, and, after using it for a few months, I posted a review of it at Amazon. I’ve reproduced it below, with some added comments at the end. The short version, though, is that I love it.


I’d wanted an e-reader for quite a while, since the first Kindles came out. And, while new models kept coming off the line from Amazon and other makers, I held back, because I wanted color and a few other functions besides a reader. Eventually, I acquired a Kindle Fire and, boy, am I glad I waited!

Let’s go through the various functions, briefly.

Reading: I’m an avid reader. Have been all my life, and I can’t imagine going anywhere without something to read. But, books are often clumsy to carry around, plus they can get damaged. The Kindle Fire is a perfect answer. Not do I have ready access to a far broader library than I could ever carry around, but the reading experience itself is much more pleasant than I expected. I was one of those who thought I wouldn’t like not having the “feel and smell” of a book around. Wrong. Reading from the Kindle Fire is easy on the eyes, page turning is smooth, and jumping back and forth between text and endnotes is a breeze. And it’s simply a much more convenient size than many books or magazines. I love books, but I don’t miss having one in my hands.

Music: I’m also a music nut with a large collection, which I uploaded to the Amazon Cloud Drive/Player (before the recent service changes). With earphones, I think the listening experience is as good as on my iPod, and having my entire library available via wireless is very handy.

Video: This is surprisingly good on the Kindle Fire. My iPad-owning friends were impressed. Video quality is excellent, playback is smooth, and, again, sound quality is great. I currently have two TV shows bought through Amazon Digital that I follow on my KF, rather than on my TV.

Docs: I don’t use this feature much, but the PDF reading experience is good, not great. I’ll have to use it more, though, before I can give it a fair review.

Apps: Honestly, like my iPod Touch, I just don’t use apps all that much. The email app is functional and handy, and Tweetcaster is an excellent Twitter app. Mapquest is very useful, when a wireless connection is available. The most I can say is that you’ll find a wide variety, from utilities to games.

Web: the included browser is fast and renders pages well, but many come out too small to be easily read on the KF’s screen: you have to expand them, which means scrolling around the page. Here I think the larger iPad has an advantage. Still, I did find it a figurative life-saver in at least one case, when I had to quickly reschedule appointments and had to hunt up numbers.

Weaknesses: None of these are even near-fatal for the KF, but I do think they are design flaws. First and foremost, why can we not organize books in collections? Kindle for PC can do this. If, like me, you have a lot of books, the inability to organize them for quick access is frustrating.

Carousel/Favorites. I like the carousel feature, but wish I could turn off the feature that adds items to it automatically when you open it. That is what I would use as my “favorites.” The actual favorites shelves, below the carousel, seem redundant.

That’s really about it. The weaknesses just mentioned mean my five-star review is really a 4.5er, but don’t think I am in any way less than thrilled with this device. If what you want is an excellent e-reader and music and video player with some neat additional features, take a long look at the Kindle Fire.


Just to amplify on a couple of things…

I really don’t understand why one cannot arrange books in folders/collections/categories/whatever you want to call them. It can be done in Kindle for PC and on earlier Kindle models, so why not the Fire? You can’t tell me it’s beyond the OS.

Also, the “carousel” is a neat feature (seen on Apple devices, too) but setting it to add any item I open automatically, without giving me a way to shut it off, is damned annoying. Let me choose which items go in the carousel, please. And it doe make “favorites” redundant. Why not give the user the choice of one or the other, including being able to configure it? Sloppy design on Amazon’s part, in this case.

Like I said, music sounds good. Apps such as Pandora give you access to “radio stations,” while your own collection is available through Amazon’s Cloud Player, presuming you pay for the service. I had originally bought the 20GB Cloud Drive deal for offsite storage. It came with unlimited room for uploaded music, played through the Cloud Player. I have a large library, so this sounded like a good deal.

However, Amazon recently changed the terms (perhaps under pressure from the evil RIAA?) and separated the services. The music I had uploaded to the Drive is still available, and I can upload new music to the player (or it matched to songs in their library?), but the terms are still unclear to me. This doesn’t really affect the player as a device, per se, but might lower its utility in the future.

I’ve also noticed the device no longer fully recharges. I can nearly drain it (less than 10% power left), turn it off, recharge it overnight, and yet it will only be orughly 85% charged in the morning. Perhaps, rather than a battery problem, the meter is off? Regardless, it’s a minor problem, but I may want to talk to Amazon about it.

So, like I said in my review, overall I love this device and hardly go anywhere without it.

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I often say the American military has all the best toys, but, well, this flying machine gun –and bomb!– is pretty danged cool.

Slight language warning:

I really could have used one of these last night.

Now, if we could only combine it with the cat-copter

hat-tip to The Jawa Report


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Google, never a company afraid to innovate, has decided to take it’s popular Maps site forward into the past, recreating those wonderful days when we were all playing King’s Quest on CGA monitors:

That, of course, was their Arpil Fool’s joke. Hah! 😀

Google often annoys the heck out of me as a company, but they do have a pretty good sense of humor.

PS: Speaking of King’s Quest, I really miss Sierra’s style of computer games.


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I am weak…

Okay, I’ve wanted a new laptop for a while (Hey, my current one came new with Windows 98 SE. It almost needs its own wheelchair.), but I hate taking on debt, so, even though there were some good bargains out there, I kept telling myself “no.”

Well, that ended a few minutes ago, thanks to the combination of a $500-off online coupon and easy terms from the HP online store. (Bad economies are good for something, I guess, such as companies desperate to sell.) So, for (just) under $1,000 —including California’s godawful sales tax— I will soon be the happy owner of a 17″ laptop with HD screen, 8 GB ram, 750GB hard drive , 2gb ATI video card, and i7 quad-core processor. It also has a built-in camera and mic for video conferencing, so this should be… interesting. I bought a new desktop from them last April and, so far, it’s been almost perfect.  And fast. Fast is important to me.

It’s scheduled to ship the 29th, but HP typically ships early. And still I want it now, danggit. Oh, the pain of instant gratification denied…

Now I just have to think of a name for it.

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You want to jaywalk, buddy? Well, the city has a message for you:

Or maybe Nature was having a bit of a joke. 😀

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There’s an app for that. Seriously.

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Yet very funny. MAD TV looks at all you can do with Apple’s new iPad:


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Researchers in Israel claim to have developed a way to decipher previously unreadable ancient texts using technology similar to that of fingerprint readers:

The program uses a pattern recognition algorithm similar to those law enforcement agencies have adopted to identify and compare fingerprints.

But in this case, the program identifies letters, words and even handwriting styles, saving historians and liturgists hours of sitting and studying each manuscript.

By recognizing such patterns, the computer can recreate with high accuracy portions of texts that faded over time or even those written over by later scribes, said Itay Bar-Yosef, one of the researchers from Ben-Gurion University of the Negev.

“The more texts the program analyses, the smarter and more accurate it gets,” Bar-Yosef said.

I love history, and it always gives me a thrill when some lost ancient text is recovered. The possibility of a Google-like searchable database is fascinating. I can’t wait to see what this new technology uncovers.

Now watch. It will be some scribe’s shopping list. 😉

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Apple and DRM

New Macbooks prevent DRM-protected movies from being played on unauthorized monitors. Has Apple taken a stupid step backwards?

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Open Office 3.0 has been officially released. Go and download it now, and know the joys of life free from Microsoft Office and its thrice-cursed ribbons.

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