Archive for the ‘Computers’ Category

More House Wiring

Monday, October 12th, 2009

Saturday was challenging. We took advantage of the cold to climb in the attic and run a whole bunch of Ethernet. My roof is really low. The high point is about 5ft and I’m 6ft. I’m really sore. In two hours, we ran 7 cables. The new computer room (closet) needs at least a wire for Internet. I took the opportunity to add a lot more wires. A wire to the kitchen for that AppleTV, which is on the other side of the living room. Two for one.

There were a few discoveries. Like the box of Ethernet cable I left up there from last time, plus wire cutter and a drill. We used up that 500ft box and another 50ft of additional cable. I drilled one hole for the computer to discover that the boards were 6-8″ thick. When we went to run the Kitchen cable there was already a hole drilled. That really saved a lot of energy at the end. It would have been difficult with all the air vents and chimney.

All the major locations have a run to the attic hole. Some locations have other runs. Like between the old and new computer rooms and the new computer room and the kitchen. Though that last one was a mistake. Measure before you cut. The attic hole is close to the house phone line, before it splits. I’m very excited to cut it and rewire the house phones through a DSL filter and put the DSL router closer to the telephone box. So, all the runs to the attic are for getting Internet from one spot. I’ll drop a battery backup up there and run the DSL router, wired Router/Firewall, and Pogoplug off it. I’m really excited at the prospect of faster Internet by cutting out all the interference from the house telephone wiring.

The wall wired Ethernet should make it easier to plug in most anything. At this point, the house is basically networked. Yay.

Links to DVD Covers

Friday, October 9th, 2009

It can be challenging to find cover art for DVDs. Three sites seem to get just about everything for me.

Cdcovers.cc – Contains fan scanned DVD covers. Many are non-english and non-US and in a wide variety of resolutions.
Amazon.com – has small images and some have this zoom feature that makes them unobtainable and Flash-y.
Netflix – seems to have everything, but only in tiny 5 kb files. Last resort.

Just right click the image and save it. Don’t forget to crop it. Backsides from CDCovers and white edging from Amazon.com are annoying and unnecessary. Macs make this exceedingly easy with Preview.

My Home Network Goes Traveling

Monday, September 28th, 2009

So, Apple dropped the 40 gig AppleTV and dropped the price of the 160 gig version to that price a few weeks ago. It seems they waited till all the new 40’s had sold and there was nothing to put on clearance. I couldn’t resist picking up a refurb’ed 40 gig for $150. Of course, the plan is to put it in Dalton’s room or the living room. For now, I’ll take it to Jennifer’s house. You need an iTunes server to hold all the video for an AppleTV, which works great with fact that the old G4 Cube has been replaced by the nVidia Mini. Thanks to SuperSync for copying the iTunes library + meta data into the Mini.

The Cube by itself doesn’t have enough storage for the songs plus videos. That’s were the Drobo upgrades come in. Two new 1.5Ts in the big box put two 640gigs in the small box and two 500gigs came out without a home. These two can go in an external box and hold more than enough iTunes library to the Cube for the little AppleTV.

That means that videos aren’t limited to being played at my house. We can watch anything at Jennifer’s too. And it provides an offsite backup. Yay

It seems like my computers have sought to colonize every room in the house and to temporarily “go abroad”.

The Wedding Blog is at..

Monday, September 28th, 2009

Of course, you know I would have to make a blog for anything significant. The wedding blog is at http://stephensite.net/thewedding/

Storage

Monday, September 21st, 2009

I keep track of a number of things on the blog; Macs and storage space for example. And I was rather surprised to note that my capacity is doubled from last year; 3T to 6T. Most of it is on 2 RAID5 Drobos. Seems like a lot in one year. It’s also interesting the the largest drive capacity they sell has also double in that time form 1T to 2T.

iTunes 9

Wednesday, September 9th, 2009

iTunes 9 looks exciting for a couple of reasons. One is the ability to share libraries across computers. This has become a major annoyance, because I have a few computers to act as servers and the current iTunes views other computers’ libraries as if all the content were songs in one long list. The other day we played an episode of a TV show and after it finished the next “track” played and we got random music. This was really a silly constraint. Other computers now show the nice clean delineated Movies, Music, TV, etc. that see on every iTunes. Maybe this signals something about the AppleTV. Certainly, adds to a shared media server type home environment. I wish the really big, old, G4 file server, which runs 10.3 could run this version. But maybe it can.

The other interesting item is the expanded Genius functionality. Not sure how well it will work, but it seems they have acquired a massive amount of data on people’s songs (54 billion).

Some stuff is kind of dumb. The LP functionality. Really? I’m supposed to want text and graphics that record labels stopped making 25+ years ago when we moved to tape. Uh, yeah, I’ve so been missing album covers and I would never have thought of going to the internet to look for that kind of stuff, because I’m so stupid.

And the sync by genre and artist functionality. What the? I thought Apple got it with the Genius feature. Show me music I like. Who cares who wrote it, sung it, or how it was arbitrarily classified. Most of my songs are ripped from a Windows machine anyway. There is no genre info on a lot of them and many are just wrong. Sync by playlist was fine. The rest just adds more complexity.

Looking for a Calendar..

Thursday, September 3rd, 2009

We’re looking for a web based calendar program that would integrate with Outlook, Apple iCal, iPhone, and iPod Touch. These links make it seem like Google Calendar would work well.

http://lifehacker.com/5048189/five-best-calendar-applications

http://lifehacker.com/399407/how-to-sync-any-desktop-calendar-with-google-calendar

Computer Changes

Thursday, August 27th, 2009

I’m very excited about the changes to the computers in the house recently. The wires are moving off the floor and computers are going in and out of the computer room.

One Mac Mini was moved into the bedroom to make video files from TiVo and VCR tapes. It’s a new one and unfortunately they only work with digital TVs (none of mine) and I had to resort to dragging in a computer monitor to put on the floor. This really bugs me. Now though, I have run coax cable from the bedroom to the kitchen and computer room and move the computer. The new Mac OS 10.6 should arrive on Friday and this little gem is the only box to get the upgrade. It’s been working great at transcode DVDs to AppleTV and iPhone formats. The VCRs can move with the Mac Mini too. Clears up a lot of clutter.

The cable used to run along the floor and stop in the guest bathroom. Now it goes through the walls and runs down the hallway (still visible) to the kitchen TV. We’ve been using the AppleTV a lot and it only spits out digital, which is very expensive to move around the house. VCR, DVD, and TV all work fine over the coax. The new wire cleans up the signal a lot and we want AppleTV in the kitchen without spending $200 to do it.

So, I checked an older Mac Mini that I wasn’t sure of, one that can output analog composite video, and discovered that it works fine. Better than fine since it can play on any of my TVs. With the proper cable that is. Which will come in on Friday too. This Mini was 10.4 and is upgraded to 10.5. It’s flakiness came from a possible botched upgrade from 512 meg to 2 gig. Seems like the upgrade was successful. This little gem will go in the kitchen TV. I need to run an Ethernet wire to this spot, but the wireless is ok.

Running the wires along the wall is annoying, but the attic is just too hot, cramped, and awful it’s worth it. The drop in the kitchen works for both the kitchen and living room. That’s very handy. This wires most of the house; kitchen, living room, master bedroom, and one bedroom (computer room). Though I still need coax and Ethernet to the bathrooms and a bedroom. And the “server closet” in one bedroom might need to move to the garage or hall closet.

I’m really hoping for new Macs in September or October. Not so much to get a new one, but to get a current one on clearance for $200-400 less. Maybe, a 24″ with 4 gig and a dedicated video card. The Minis are fine and I love my overheating upgraded Cube, but I would really would like to have transcoding take 1/3 of the time and to have at least one powerful machine. For a long time I wanted a Mac tower, but I just don’t have enough work to make up the $2200+ price tag. This box would replace the Cube as the desktop machine and I could use it as a spare web browser. It will output S Video to a TV, a very handy ability.

A little separate note on cutting off the cable..
The antenna works well and money spent on cable has gone to buying cheap movies and TV series at Walmart. The AppleTV has been a gem, but only because we rip the DVDs we buy and transcode them for it. All the shows are in one enormous list. Purchasing though Apple is ok, but they have not obtained new episodes and shows for everything and rental fees and terms are outrageous compared to Hastings, and downloads take hours or days through standard DSL. There are cheaper boxes that do the same thing, but without iTunes, and I would have chosen one of those if I were doing this again. The Mini going in the kitchen is saving transcoding time and space and $200+ worth of hardware. It’s outrageous how expensive it is to push a component video signal 50′ vs coax.

iPhone Review

Tuesday, August 4th, 2009

So, back in June, just before the Seattle bike ride I got an iPhone. The expense is a bit much, but I would like to program it when summer is over. At least that’s my rationale. :)

For the bike ride, I looked to conserve weight were ever possible and the iPhone does a lot of things. The camera, internet, phone, and text messaging are the beginning. The apps are like the cherry on top. The inability to send or receive photos is annoying. So, I took the iPhone and left the Netbook and camera at home. There were reports of dead batteries and cracked screens (Jessica). So, I got a case that doubles as a spare battery, the Mophie.

Right before the trip I realized that I could put video on the iPhone and then, with a special cable, play it on the motel TV. This was an invaluable feature. I thought I had a cable to do it, but was mistaken. After a visit to a nearby Apple store in Seattle I was all set. The cable is pricey at $50, but probably a knockoff would be cheaper. Since then I convert all my DVDs to play on the iPhone so they can come along. When we went home to Canadian a couple of weeks after the Seattle ride we brought Gran Torino and played it for Grandma.

The phone worked great most of the trip. I got 150 photos in the first 3 days. The phone worked and the internet is just really handy to have. The motel’s internet was unnecessary and the lack of a tactile keyboard really just kept my typing short and my thoughts down to 1-2 sentences, because that’s all you can see at a time. The text messaging was very helpful. And I found an app for Facebook to update that status too. As I went along on the ride I would send a single word, the name of the town I was in.

Somewhere in the despair portion of the second day the iPhone died. Nothing I did would wake it up. It’s really too bad. I wish I had photos of the finish line and last rest stop. The best photos of me taken by Marathonfoto were of that last 10 mile or so stretch. I got 4 of them. They are really good. Because of the rain all the second day I thought little iPhone was dead, but I charged it up anyway to see and within 10 minutes it was apparent that the battery had totally drain somewhere along the ride and my backup hadn’t helped it.

It was great for the rest of the trip with my cousin and her family. Monday morning I got to listen to my TWiT (This Weak in Tech) podcast. Now, I did bring along my iPod Nano. That was and still is the music box. The battery life is just so much better than the iPhone. Which is one of the major reasons I got it. The Nano is 16 gig and it holds a lot more music without competing for photo, video, and app space.

The first App on my iPhone was Pandora. And it’s really helped me discover music like I used to. I can listen at work and tag songs. Normally streaming music is blocked. The iPhone’s Internet connection gives me a private “unfiltered” Internet. I’ve been playing with it to find and tag music to buy for the Mexico trip.

The second App was Facebook. My peeps are on Facebook instead of Twitter. And the third was a copy of the bible for when I forget mine for church. It’s come in very handy.

I really like the iPhone, much more than I expected. It’s very nice to have the Internet so close at hand. And I discover new apps or features. Some are quite amazing. For example the Amazon Mobile app lets you take a photo of something and then matches it to a product Amazon sells and displays a list of sellers. It’s not for everyone. The slick glass keyboard and 1 day long battery life are problems. And it would just confuse my grandmother. It’s a good device for me.

Electric Cut

Tuesday, April 21st, 2009

The power cut off again today while I was at work, at least I think it did, because the non-battery backed computers were off. Sometimes I’m crazy to have 6-8 batteries and then this happens 3 times in as many months.

Oh, and the cats pissed into the outlets on the battery side of one and it is now dead.

Home Network Changes

Tuesday, April 21st, 2009

Lot’s of little things happened yesterday. I hope to set most or all this up an leave it be. The weather will be fantastic this week and I need to be on the bike.

The main router came in an I configured it. The RV042 seems very fast and the interface is easy enough for what I do. Certain web pages, like Hotmail, are surprisingly fast sometimes. I even got the wireless router to work with the netbook.

The Mac Mini for Boxee came in. I got this a good bit stronger than necessary, because it’s so hard to open and upgrade and I need a Mac with modern interfaces to maintain the Drobos. It’s the new Mini, two gig of memory, Core 2 2.0 GHz, and 9400 video. This is now my fastest computer. Drobo2 is plugged into it and it’s Handbraking several of my DVDs into single files for Boxee or iTunes or whatever. This might take a couple of days and then there’s the really big Drobo to do. The EyeTV Tuner is plugged in and it can record TV like Tivo. Not sure how this will integrate. I really like TiVo. Though you can copy anything out of it.

Also, the netbook is handbraking Friends Season 1 that I got this weekend. For comparison, the Mini is clipping along at <30 fps and the Acer is slogging through at <5 fps. Thank God for the queueing feature.

Drobo2 has a 1TB to replace a 250GB and a 640GB that died a few weeks ago in the other Drobo to replace a 37GB. I thought it would say the 640 was dead, but it didn’t. The new 1TB is to ensure there’s no data loss if it decides to fail again and I have a 500GB that came from Drobo1, because it was showing bad during one reboot. This Drobo will stay on the TVMini and be it’s storage, contain single video files. The other Drobo will be permanent deep storage contain the full versions of whatever.

Finally, with the 2 Drobos I don’t feel constantly afraid I’m going to lose everything any minute again. It’s just a matter of seeing that at least one copy of whatever it is makes it to a Drobo. With 1.5 TB drives and sub $100 for 1TB, the price of storage isn’t an issue.

MacWorld ‘09

Tuesday, January 6th, 2009

Apple announced it’s new products for Q1, at least. iLife looks cool. Snooze on iWork. And the top end MacBook Pro that was left out of the Sept ‘08 upgrades was upgraded with a very cool custom battery that gives it 8 hr. Unfortunately, it didn’t get a Quad Core CPU. iTunes goes DRM free for more money. This really highlights the fact the DRM is a feature only for the copyright holder and is an obstacle for the consumer. Something artificial that you have to pay not to have. Wait, that sounds like protection racket.

I was hoping for Apple TV, Mac Mini, and Mac Pro updates. Particularly, the first two are looking very long in the tooth. The desktop Macs really have to wait for Intel to make lots of new quad core chips, which’ll be a couple of months. Also, iMacs were left out of the upgrades that the laptops received in Sept. The one where a slide was presented showing just how dog slow the iMac video cards are. I betcha this is all, because of the difficulty nVidia has had with shipping low defect chips. If so, Apple has got to be plenty pissed that many of it’s product lines are delayed, because of it.

Overall good, but boring. Show me the products that I know are going to be updated or tell me when. I don’t want an Apple TV that is obsolete 1 month later. Which is exactly what could happen in the next three months.

BTW, I’m loving the G4 Cube after the upgrade. It’s all back in it’s case, lying on its face, and running great. A few quirks like forget about using sleep mode, and the limited USB 1.1 bus can get drastically overloaded, forget running Leopard, and Adobe doesn’t know how to code Flash for G4s. It looks cool, runs pretty stable, and the CD through USB 1.1 scans and burns just fine. This has been my main computer for the past 3 months.

_GET['cat'] Doesn’t Work With Permalinks

Saturday, January 3rd, 2009

My sidebar shows different content based upon the category that you are viewing at the time. There are so many links that I want access to that I had to break out the big categories like bicycle and garden into their own subpages.

The other day I switched to using permalinks for the URL. This replaces the URLs like this:
WordPressSS/?post_id=763
With URLs that look like this:
WordPressSS/2008/12/22/penny-stove/

This caused a big problem with showing different sidebar content based on the category. The category used to be passed in through the query string and you get it with _GET['cat']. Permalinks don’t use query strings.

To restore functionality, you need to replace “current_cat = $_GET['cat'];” with
$category = get_the_category();
$current_cat = $category[0]->cat_ID;

It would seem the permalinks can handle multiple categories, because get_the_category() returns an array. This might be useful for some feature I can’t image. Perhaps a sidebar for a tab to show Programming+Computers+Technology content.

Semantic Philosophy Engine

Wednesday, December 24th, 2008

So, I’m catching up on philosophy lately. This is a very large field that it would take years of diligent study just to gain an overview.

I know it’s not reasonable to study the cliff notes. You need to read the author and get a feel. And there are other issues; language drift, translations from the works original language which of course has drift, unique usage of words that doesn’t match the dictionary definition, poor writing ability, and more issues I’m sure. Then there are non-philosophical texts, fiction, that depend upon a certain idea. A kind of submarine philosophical proponent. Some streams of thought overlap or dovetail yet the authors never knew of each other. Or their language is just different enough to make them seem unique.

I imagine these arguments are structured or partially so having a family tree. My interest is in generating a road map, reducing the number of authors to read, highlighting tourist traps, and actual scenic vistas. I’m reluctant to trust this job to a person. Each has biases and it would take a considerable amount of time.

My favorite tool is the computer and I think that what I describe is a semantic engine. Most of the work these days on semantics focuses on web search, but I think this is a dramatic waste.

Semantics is the meaning of words. It’s relative is syntax, which is the spelling and grammar of words. Computers don’t understand semantics very well. English is a shitty language in a lot of ways. One word has multiple meanings and the other words, which also have multiple meanings, must be used to figure out what is intended. In a way, we are all computers that have been left on for 10+ years. So, it’s not much surprise that a device with inherent weaknesses that’s a few minutes or even weeks old can’t keep up.

What I want is a box to which I can input text and it will compare the sentence structure and word usage, compare to other related texts, and generate a detailed comparison. I want the computer to read the text and tell me what else is like it. If an argument is a rabbit hole I don’t care for I want to it to warn me before I spend all that time reading it. The computer can do in minutes or hours what would take me days or months. This is all pattern analysis on a huge scale.

Eventually, I want it to do more. It should “understand”. I don’t know what this means exactly. Perhaps, generate cliff notes of any text with links to other texts that seem related. To place a text in relation to other texts that are similar. A big one is finding similar texts that are unrelated in time and place.

Eh, I’m getting sloppy in the specs. I think this could be useful to people in general, as a research age, plagarism detector, redundant text detector,.. I don’t know.

Our society has an increasingly unreadable quantity of text available. We could use a tool to help navigate this vast sea of information. Teaching computers to understand language and navigate the memes seems the only way to do this.

On DOS Age Game Interfaces

Sunday, December 21st, 2008

Lately, I’ve been exploring the crusty old world of DOS gaming. This weekend I got enthralled by one of my favorites; Master of Orion (MOO) and Master of Orion 2 (MOO2). Especially, MOO2 is just as good then as today. There was a MOO3 in 2003, but somehow it wasn’t very good. Not nearly as interesting as MOO2.

MOO was released for DOS in 1993. You start with a planet whose control has been reduced down to how much $$ to spend on Production (Ships), Defense, Industry(Growth), Environment, and Technology. There is one planet or less per Sun and the goal is to colonize the galaxy. Technology improvements help population growth, ship speed, weapons, etc. Each race has unique qualities such as cyborg, silicon, high tech, militaristic, etc. There are a limited number of ship designs, but they are completely customizable and the combat portion is playable, as opposed to a roll of the dice. As with most games of the time, given the limited graphics and CPU power available, everything is turn based.

MOO2 was released for DOS and Windows 95 in 1996. It is drastically improved in all aspects. The engine is more complex. Graphics are twice as detailed. There is much more control over planets, ships, and races. The core of the original game is there. It just has more of everything. They added a limited number of hero characters, which was the style of the time as in Master of Magic (MOM). Suns have multiple planets of more types. More types of ships with more kinds of weapons. The combat engine, in some ways the heart of the game, is much improved. Also, a high tech enemy was added, the Antareans, which comes and wipes out the colonies of all those with inferior defense tech.

As I played, I began to notice certain oddnesses. Little things that I realized I had accepted as normal at the time. It comes down to the interface. Windows has won and we all use the mouse, no matter what program, basically like we are in Windows. Drag and Drop for various activities based off the programs and files, Right Click for a Context Menu, Single Click to select an item, plus Shift or Ctrl to select a list of items, Double Click to fire off the default action, Enter acts like a Double Click, Cancel with the Escape key, Print Screen takes a screenshot, etc.

In 1993, Windows was not quite a competitive Graphical User Interface (GUI). And later in 1996 as Windows 95 it was not the winner and most games still ran in DOS mode for performance reasons. DOS was a command line interface for running other programs. Many of these did use the mouse. DOS did not and there was no one standard program everyone used. WordPerfect and Word were still fighting it out. Windows existed, but not everyone could or did run it and it had competition from OS2 and Apple. In this Wild West of GUIs the mouse could be used anyway that seemed best for the particular program.

That’s exactly what these games show. This is how most things work. Single click performs an action, there is no double click, drag an drop works on certain icons, right click pops up a set of help messages for all the displays and buttons, and Enter is just a keyboard key. Scroll wheels hadn’t been invented so to zoom in on the map you click a button, which highlights a box the size of the new map window and you drag that box over the part of the map you want to see and right click again. Lists don’t respond to the scroll wheel, which feels really weird.

Except for the scroll wheel and lists I like this interface better than most. It’s simple, relatively flat, and most information is quickly available. Right clicking to get context menus and selecting an action is a horrible crutch. This is the kind of game that would work pretty well with the single button Mac mouse. It feels solid. Not like you could accidentally click the wrong things or drag a game piece over something to create a disaster.

Looking back one thing that has hurt games that try to replicate the success and feel of MOO2 is the use of 3D space. MOO and MOO2 are flat 2D games. It’s easy on a 2D monitor to move game pieces around the board. To jump to 3D you have to constantly fiddle with the map to shift around the Z angle. Since Real Time Strategy (RTS) has apparently one the style of combat in games you have two actions to perform; stop the clock and move the camera. This just gets in the way.

These games are fun and quite innovative without being the enormous and addictive time sinks that current games are. I’ve been playing MOO2 for a couple of months now and a I can walk up and play for a few hours without and then leave it for a week without thinking about it once. This is rare for me. So, this slids right into a sweet spot.