Recently in Technology Category
Notice how I cleverly picked a day where I did good?
Items not drawn exactly to scale
Two months ago, I couldn't spell "cartographer," and now I am [on my way to becoming] one. As a Geographic Information Systems (GIS) specialist, my duties include generating and editing maps, and I've found the learning curve to be challenging.
There are actually two different challenges. One involves learning the systems we use for mapping. Most of our engineering and geological analysis tools (for those in the know, we use Petra and GeoGraphix) include mapping modules, as do many of our online sources of production and industry activity data. Our company has a proprietary mapping application, and I'm also learning to use ArcGIS, one of the most powerful standalone GIS programs in existence. So, thus far I've used about six different programs, none of which I'd ever seen before August 22nd. Fortunately, they all employ similar conventions and processes, so the transition from one to another isn't that tricky. But like so many things in life, they're easy to learn and difficult to master.
Not one of mine.
The process of converting a three dimensional representation of the earth onto a two dimensional surface is called "projection," and humans have been experimenting with different kinds of projections for more than 2,000 years, trying to come up with the "best" way of locating geographical points of interest. The thing that all projections have in common is that they don't tell the truth...that is, none of them are completely accurate 3D-to-2D translations. They all distort one or more of the following characteristics: direction, distance, shape, or area. (For a nifty comparison of the more common map projections and their uses, advantages, and drawbacks, refer to this USGS resource.)
This is not just an academic or theoretical issue. The accuracy of maps has real and often significant implications. Maps can also be manipulated to achieve specific goals or serve specific agendas.
I'm reading a book entitled How to Lie With Maps by Mark Monmonier. I recommend it both as an easy-to-read reference for basic cartography, and as a primer on how maps are used to exert social, cultural, and/or political influence in ways that aren't necessarily ethical.
Anyway, while my specific job duties don't necessarily require that I understand some of the more esoteric cartographic principles, my natural curiosity about such things has led me to delve into a wide variety of resources, and if nothing else, I've learned how much I don't know. I've delved into the world of Great Circles, rhumb lines, sinusoidal projections, graticules, and azimuths.
That seems to be the story of my life. I keep telling myself that that's a good thing; it will keep my brain young. Someday, perhaps I'll even convince myself of that.
- eBags backpack: I switched to a backpack from a traditional computer bag last year, and I'm never going back. Besides having a plethora of pockets and pouches for storing all kinds of gears and accessories, a backpack doesn't scream "steal me because I have $2,000 of equipment inside!" Plus, a backpack frees up your hands for carrying suitcases or coffee.
- Eagle Creek mesh bag: This is one of the handiest accessories I've run across. Everything you see in the photo (except the backpack and the table!) will fit into this three-compartment (two smaller ones are on the back side) zippered bag...along with the power adapters and cables for my laptop, phone and iPad. The mesh bag then stores nicely inside the backpack's middle compartment.
- Kensington notebook lock: This won't prevent a determined burglar from making off with your computer, but it will thwart snatch-and-run thefts by passers-by who peek in while the housekeeping crew is busy leaving you those useless little soaps.
- Nite Ize gear ties: I've just discovered these at REI, and I buy a pair every time I'm in a store. They're twist ties on steroids, and their usefulness is limited only by your imagination. Plus, they're fun to play with! They come in multiple sizes and the big ones are truly heavy duty. Bend them to use as a makeshift tripod for your compact digital camera, or a document holder when you're typing.
- 1-to-3 AC adapter and 12" power cords: Hotels are getting more savvy about providing abundant AC outlets, but you still occasionally find one that just won't accommodate all your electronic charging needs. These simple accessories multiply the available outlets, and the short power cords accommodate adapter bricks.
- Right off the bat, you need to determine the version of firmware your camera uses. This is critical to ensuring that you install the proper version of CHDK. For me, the perfect solution was ACID - the Automatic Camera Identifier and Downloader. This free program, available for OSX, Windows, and Ubuntu Linux, is an all-in-one firmware identifier and CHDK downloader program. Once you download and install ACID, you can discover your firmware version simply by dragging a photo from your camera's SD card into the ACID program's window. The program not only identifies the firmware, it provides a link for downloading the proper CHDK for your camera.
- You need to have a properly formatted SD card onto which the CHDK can be installed. I found another free program called SDMInst that performed that task for me with just a few click. Note that this program works only with OSX, but I'm sure there are other similar apps for Windows.
- After the CHDK is installed, the SD card must be locked (you'll still be able to take photos); I think this prevents the programs from being overwritten by the camera's firmware, but that's just a guess. Once this is done and the card is re-inserted into the camera, you can confirm that installation was successful by the appearance of a new boot-up screen that appears briefly on your camera's LCD screen. Here's what mine looks like:
Now that I've got it, what do I do with it?
My reaction? *yawn* Been there; done that.
- Menus - Adobe CS5 applications are infamous for their extensive menus which can consume your workspace and leave little room for the actual task at hand. Using Air Display, I can shift Photoshop's or Dreamweaver's menus onto my iPad and free up my entire MacBook display for the work.
- Secondary applications - At any given time I'll have around a dozen applications open. Only a few of them are essential for the work I'm doing and I'll keep them on the notebook's screen. The others can be shifted to the iPad.
- Separate browser tabs - Using Chrome's tear-off tab feature, I can move a browser window to the iPad while keeping the active window open on the MacBook. That's what I'm doing right now, in fact, with a separate tab on the iPad open to my previous blog post, while typing this on the notebook.
Tele Atlas supplies maps to the companies that make devices or applications, not directly to the people who use them. We update the map we supply so these companies can incorporate the map update in their own systems. When this process is complete, your change will be made available to you. It may be possible to purchase an updated map; please contact your device manufacturer or application provider for further information.
Thanks again for your willingness to help keep Tele Atlas maps up-to-date and accurate!
Lots of icons and control bars. Fortunately, the application's tooltip function works well, providing a summary in the yellow box of the purpose of each icon and option as you move your cursor over each of them.
Photoshop CS5 - HDR Toning
Photoshop CS5 - Merge to HDR Pro
HDRFactory - "AKVIS Default"
The communication doesn't have to occur between two handheld devices, like two phones, however. It can also work with a mobile device and a target of some kind - for example, a point-of-sale system at a store's checkout counter or even something as simple as a tag, sticker, poster, decal or card with an NFC chip embedded. In the case of these simple targets, batteries are not required to power the NFC chips. Instead, the chips are in a passive state, waiting to be activated by another device that can generate a RF (radio frequency) field.
It's an effective way to expand on subject matter in traditional media, although it requires a bit of work from the reader. This is apparently a new technique for the magazine, because the publisher has included detailed instructions on the table of contents page about how to use the QR codes.
On this page you get a very brief plot summary, the primary actors, the director, and options to either play the movie or add it to your queue. Again, very clean and straightforward.
It's taken a while to get accustomed to the new printer, but overall I'm pleased with it. It has about the same footprint as the HP, but takes up less usable space because its paper tray is completely enclosed rather than extending from the front like the HP's. The printer connected to our wi-fi network on the first try, although the process was more convoluted than it should have been. (These situations make me appreciate even more Apple's "It Just Works" plug-and-play implementations.) Debbie's MacBook also recognized the printer once the software and driver was installed.
Print quality is excellent, as expected, and the machine is pretty fast (up to 27 pages per minute). The duplexing (front-and-back) print feature works well. I've never had a printer with this capability and I like it a lot.
So, to recap: fast, high quality, front-and-back printing. What's not to like?
Well, I do have a few quibbles. First, the machine is noisy, and not just while it's printing, but even in standby mode, which lasts quite a while before it finally goes to sleep.
Second, printing envelopes or postcards is a bit tedious. You have to open a slot in front, open a tray in back, and pull down two hard-to-reach levers to facilitate the straight-through print path. Once you're finished, you have to unflip and reclose everything.
Third, manual feeding of media is problematic. There's no tray on which to rest the paper or envelopes, and thus far, the printer has had problems taking an envelope on the first try. When that happens, it pitches a little tantrum, displaying an error light and forcing a shutdown/restart. I'm probably not inserting it just right, but that shouldn't be a skill that the operator has to learn.
In summary, this is not a perfect printer, but if you can live with the quirks, it's hard to beat given the street price of $100 or less.
That display is so teensy. I know; that's the compromise I made when I selected that model, but it's occasionally (OK, often) aggravating not to be able to see two open documents simultaneously. Gee, if there was only some way to add another display, but without having to lug along another piece of equipment. Life would be so good.
Well, effective yesterday, life is so good. Yesterday, I purchased (for the princely sum of $9.99) a little application called Air Display from the App Store thereby increasing my laptop's screen area by about 55%. Air Display allows you to connect your iPad (or iPhone or iPod touch) to your laptop or desktop computer and use it as a second (or third) monitor.
The main requirement is that the computer and the iPad have to be connected to the same wi-fi network, but once the app is installed on the iPad (and a small "helper app" put on the computer), the connection to each other is quick and sure. You can configure the app to automatically connect to your iPad when they're both in range, or you can do it manually.
And it works as advertised. There's some latency in the iPad's screen so you wouldn't want to use it for gaming or videos while functioning as a second monitor, but the resolution is crystal clear for documents and still graphics - probably even better than on my laptop.
With Air Display, I can put a Word doc on the iPad and use it to copy and paste text into an HTML doc on my laptop. Or I can monitor a website on one device while doing a blog post on the other. The really slick thing is that you can move the iPad wherever you want it - even put it in your lap - and reorient it to landscape/portrait mode and the picture automatically adjusts.
The iPad's touch screen continues to operate even while connected as a monitor, so you can navigate that device via either mouse or touch. According to the documentation, depending on your operating system, you can even use multi-touch gestures on the iPad, although I haven't tried that.
The Air Display works with both Mac and Windows machines (but check system requirements for both), and with the iPad, iPhone, and iPod touch. And again, this app works only if you have access to a wi-fi network.
Note: Your mileage may vary, but I do find that the auto-connect feature is a bit jicky. If I use app switching on the iPad (double click of the Home button) to select a different app, and then switch back to Air Display, it doesn't always return to the original state. I'm not sure if I'm doing something wrong or if that's a bug. But when it does work, it's like having a Very Smart Monitor.
Note #2: I took advantage of Avatron's live chat support feature and the tech confirmed that the reconnect feature was somewhat dependent on the length of time you were away from the app. Jumping away for a few seconds to check WeatherBug is probably OK; leaving for a few minutes to play Angry Birds will require a reconnect. I hope they'll fix this in a subsequent release.
As Vinh observes, the Blu-Ray picture is exquisite...when it works. But in my experience, this technology is still not ready for prime time on too many levels.
QR Codes (the "QR" stands for "Quick Response") were created in Japan in 1994 for tracking auto parts, but their use has expanded exponentially since then. For example, many airlines now print QR Codes on their tickets/boarding passes to provide unique identifiers for passengers. Their usefulness is in the ability to provide a fair amount of information in a small space, and in an easy-to-read form.
Well, it's easy to read if you have the right scanning software. There are a lot of QR scanning apps available for camera-equipped mobile phones. If you have a phone running the Android operating system you may have something called Barcode Scanner installed on it. It's based on Google's XZing library, and variants both free and paid are available for all popular platforms. I use (and highly recommend) the free iPhone app RedLaser.
By now you may be completely confused, especially if you can't picture a QR Code. So, given that a picture is worth, well, you know, here are a couple of actual working examples. If you have a camera phone and scanning software, try scanning each and see what happens
The uses for these little blocks of information are limited only by one's imagination. Put one on your business card or sales brochure to direct people to your website. Add them to a coffee mug or t-shirt or any other promotional material to allow your tech-savvy audience to access more information.
The last piece of the puzzle? How to generate these codes, of course. Google the phrase "QR code generator" and you'll find an amazing number of free services. The codes shown above were generated using Google's own such service.
I'm already kicking around the idea of a QR Code-equipped Fire Ant coffee mug and coaster, and maybe even a hoodie with nothing but a giant QR on the back. Those things are just for fun, but I also have a few clients who should consider using QR Codes in their promotional material. As I implied above, the technology requirements limit the audience for these purposes, but that audience will inevitably continue to broaden.
But what really caught my eye was the inclusion of a point-and-shoot camera, Canon's PowerShot S95. Wired's editors raved about the little camera's features and especially its fast and long-zoom lens. I was excited to see it on the list because I got one for Christmas*, courtesy of My Lovely Bride.
I'm still learning how to use the camera, but first impressions are that it's a very serviceable replacement for an entry-level SLR, and for many people may be the only camera they need.
Canon has packed an amazing array of features into the pocket-sized device: 10 megapixel stills, 720p HD video, 28-105mm (equivalent) zoom lens, high speed image processor, and image stabilization. It has the ability to capture images in RAW format as well as JPG+RAW, and provides multi-aspect image mode options. The camera also accommodates Canon's HF-DC1 external flash for more control over flash photography (the link is to Canon's site, but you can get it for $100 via Amazon.com).
The S95 allows full manual control of shooting modes, but it also has a myriad of preprogrammed modes and special effects, including the in-camera ability to replace colors in a scene, to lighten or darken skin tone, to create HDR photos, and to apply a tilt-shift effect to the image. It can even snap a photo in self-timer mode when someone in the scene winks at the camera. (Is there a big demand for that?)
One of the minor miracles of the camera is how quickly it's ready to shoot when you turn it on. I tried to measure the interval between pressing the "on" button and completion of the ready mode, but it was only about one second.
If you're looking for a carry-everywhere camera that provides the flexibility of an SLR, the ease of a point-and-shoot, throws in HD video, and is less than $400, I can't imagine a better alternative than the S95.
*Funny story about this. I opened the gift and apparently had a puzzled look, because Debbie said, "well, you put it on your wish list!" I didn't remember doing that, and she claimed that I had blogged about it just a few months earlier. I knew my memory was spotty, but didn't realize it was that bad. A day or so later she said she went back on the Gazette and found the post where I mentioned I'd like to have one...and it was from October, 2009 (and just a brief mention in a Random Thursday post at that). I felt a bit better.
The times, they are a'changing, and with it, a lot of terminology. If this trend continues, will we begin to see:
- cool guys trying to pick up girls with the line, "I'm the lead iPhoneist for ________"?
- marching bands lining up with an iPad line?
- iPhones providing musical accompaniment in Church of Christ worship services? ("It's not an instrument, it's a phone.")
- an updated version of The Message where Psalm 33:2 reads Praise the Lord with the harp; make music to him on the iPod touch.
- adolescent boys kicking the doorstep and giving the excuse that they can't come play baseball because they have to "practice the stupid iPad"?
Oh, I almost forgot. If you want details on the apps used in this performance, check this out.
This came to mind as I continued to think about this post about the obvious (to me, anyway) similarities between songs by Joe Ely and Toby Keith. Rob left a comment linking to another comparison of two similar songs; that comparison involved an analysis that went well beyond simply hearing a tune and thinking it sounded very familiar.
And then I began to wonder what the criteria are for determining whether a melody is so similar to another that it can be deemed a violation of copyright. I suspect it's a pretty subjective judgment - but is it unnecessarily so? Music and mathematics have much in common, more so than I understand, and surely there's a way to perform an objective computation that would spit out a "percentage match" between two songs. And, indeed, a Google search for "mathematical comparison of two melodies" turns up a number of scholarly articles on the subject.
Then there's this article with the enchanting title of Statistical Comparison Measures for Searching in Melody Databases (PDF format). Such research has undoubtedly informed the technology behind such music identification software as Shazam and SoundHound, which are so scarily effective as to be, as they say, indistinguishable from magic. In fact, Slate described in layman's terms the approach employed by Shazam:
Obviously, it's much more complicated than that, and Shazam's co-founder, Avery Li-Chun Wang, published a scholarly paper (PDF) describing the technology in more detail. And as good as Shazam is, some think SoundHound works even better (it will also identify melodies that are simply sung into a microphone). Unfortunately, SoundHound's explanation of its technology laps over into the magical realm with its references to "Target Crystals," and the company is obviously protecting intellectual property.
In any event, I wonder if these math-based, objective comparisons of melodies have ever been used in a court of law to determine copyright infringement, and if there are any quantified guidelines to be used by judges and juries in making such calls. Gee, if there was only some way of searching a database...
The December issue of MacWorld has a good tutorial for setting an "if found" message on the home screen of your iPhone. This is accomplished by creating an image to use as wallpaper on your iDevice, and that image is overlaid with text giving instructions regarding how to get in touch with the rightful owner of the lost device.
The example in the magazine uses the following text:
If found, please return phone to Dan Miller 415/555-5555
I'm not crazy about this example. For one thing, it's illogical; you can't return a phone to a name and a phone number. Also, I don't like the privacy implications of putting my name on my phone's screen, along with a phone number.
I think a better approach is what I've done, as shown below.
No name, no extraneous text, and the phone number I actually used in place of the sample shown above is my wife's mobile phone, making it harder to cross-reference to a person. But this also has the advantage of increasing the odds of the caller actually reaching someone quickly.
I think I'm more likely to misplace or drop my phone when I'm traveling, and most of my traveling nowadays is done with my wife. Using her cell number means that we wouldn't have to wait until we got home to get information about the missing phone. I'm simply playing the odds.
While MacWorld's tutorial is directed toward the iPhone, the technique will also work for iPad and iPod touch users. The iPod's screen resolution is the same as the iPhone's (320 x 480 pixels), but the iPad's is 768 x 1024 pixels.
Here are the steps for creating your custom "If Found" message.
- Find a photo or image that you want to use as your wallpaper, and crop it for the device you're creating the wallpaper for (again, 320x480px for iPhone/iPod touch; 768x1024px for iPad)
- Use a photo editing program to overlay the cropped image with the text you want to use
- Save the edited image in JPG format
- Import the image into iPhoto
- Connect your iDevice to your computer, open iTunes, and on the Photos tab of your connected device, make sure that Sync Photos from iPhoto is checked, and that the event or album containing the image that you just imported is also checked. Sync your device to transfer the image to the iPhone/Pod/Pad.
- Disconnect the device from your computer and open the Settings panel. Select the Wallpaper setting and navigate to Last Import. Choose the image you created and click the Set Lock Screen button. You can also use the image for your Home Screen wallpaper, but it's not essential, and may not be advisable since the "return phone" text will make for a distracting background for your device's icons.
I've long argued for this change. Thirty seconds simply isn't long enough to decide if you like a relatively unfamiliar song (or a familiar one in a new arrangement) well enough to pay for it. I predict that this will indeed lead to more music purchases via the iTunes Store, which is Apple's argument to music labels in support of the change.
I can think of at least a couple of occasions where I've taken a chance on a song based on its short clip, and found that the clip is the equivalent of the 30 seconds of really funny material in a trailer of an overall lame ninety minute movie.
The report says that Apple got push-back on this change from some recording labels, presumably for fear that people would either just listen to the track samples rather than buying the whole songs or somehow record them. That's a ludicrous argument, but I'd be perfectly content if Apple appeased them by providing a lower-quality sample to make such unlikely piracy even less realistic. After all, when I listen to a sample on iTunes, I'm not trying to assess the sonic accuracy and every nuance of the song; I just want to understand what I'm buying before I buy it.
Thank you, Apple, for making a rational business decision that benefits the customer.
A couple of months later, I needed to access some of the data on the old drive, so I pulled out a USB "universal drive adapter" and tried without success to connect it to my Mac Pro. I never figured out the issue, but I also didn't spend a lot of time on it since the situation wasn't critical. But it made me think that there had to be a better way to access old hard drives.
Enter the Voyager family of hard drive docks, from Newer Technology. These little units sit on your desk, looking like stubby toasters, and hook up to your computer via a wide array of connectors (including USB 2, FireWire 400/800, and eSATA). They accommodate both 2.5" and 3.5" bare SATA hard drives in their "toast" slots, in capacities up to 2TB.
Mine just arrived this afternoon and I quickly unpacked it, and connected it to my Mac via FireWire 800. (The unit comes with all the connector cables, which is pretty cool in and of itself.) I grabbed the aforementioned 3.5" drive and stuck it in the slot, hit the power switch on the dock, and in less than a minute, the drive appeared on my desktop as a typical FireWire volume, and was accessible just like any external drive.
The unit is plug-and-play (on my Mac, anyway) and the drives are hot-swappable.
This is a great and relatively inexpensive solution for the problem of what to do with full back-up hard drives. Combining a Voyager dock with these stackable anti-static storage cases makes accessing back-up data easier than ever.
But it made me wonder whether the iPhone plays well with the dockable keyboard* that Apple markets to iPad owners. I had never even considered the idea before, so I popped my phone onto the keyboard, and sure enough, it works.
I can assure you that this combination will make you the baddest geek in the Starbucks, if that's your aspiration.** (And, really, why wouldn't it be?)
*And, in anticipation of your next question, the iPad's Bluetooth keyboard also pairs up and works with an iPhone. This combination is even cooler because you can set your phone off to the side while keyboarding, giving people the impression that you're typing with no obvious device to receive the input.
**While the combination may appear ridiculous, I've actually found a legitimate use for it. I have a password management app on my phone and it's a royal pain to input new entries via the virtual keyboard. The next time I have several updates, I will definitely be using the external keyboard.
This is a pretty cool application; expect to see it more often around here.
I've already spent two hours watching a documentary on Cream** (the band, not the dairy product, although that would probably be interesting too, as long as I can watch it on an iPad).
Netflix doesn't provide every movie in its catalog for streaming, but there are enough titles of interest to suck up every otherwise-productive moment of the day. Very dangerous.
*I've been prone to hyperbole for, like, a billion years.
**Things I Learned: Ginger Baker was the driving force behind the formation of Cream (the band, not the dairy product, although I suppose it's possible he also spent time churning milk). He's also a very bitter fellow who hated bassist Jack Bruce for most of their time together. Also, Eric Clapton was planning to give Jimi Hendrix a left-handed Stratocaster as a gift on a certain night, but never was able to connect with him. That turned out to be the night Hendrix died of a drug overdose. And, finally, all three of the band members have lost significant hearing as a result of their time in front of high-powered amplifiers, and they blame Jim Marshall.
See, we've got this new car - a Honda Ridgeline, if you must know. It's loaded with toys - navigation package, XM radio, 115 volt auxiliary power outlet, and Honda's HandsFreeLink, a Bluetooth-based system for using your cellphone and the car's GPS without actually touching those devices. Those are all really cool things, but the owner's manual is almost 400 pages, and the configuration of the technology is not always intuitive.
So, I sat in the car in the garage for more than an hour yesterday, pairing my phone to the car's system, and [making attempts at] importing my contact list into said system. At one point, my wife felt it necessary to come into the garage and observe that I reminded her of Jeremy from the aforementioned cartoon, when he and his friend took possession of an ancient, non-running VW bus and, lacking funds and skill to make it go, contented themselves with just sitting in it. I couldn't really argue with the comparison, given the less than stellar success I was having making this hands-free thing go.
I did eventually get my phonebook imported, sort of. If your first name begins with "A" through "P" and you're in my contact list, then I can call you via the car's system, but for some reason, you who are in the dread "Q-Z" category didn't make the import. I'm really sorry, but you probably won't be getting a call from me anytime soon, at least not while I'm sitting in my garage, since I still haven't figured out how to do anything with the whole shooting match while actually driving down the road.
Baby steps. Or, at best, teen-aged steps.
Brett Domino (the head geek) will surely be an integral part of the Napoleon Dynamite sequel, if ever there is one.
And even this post isn't so much about the iPad itself, as I haven't seen one in real life, much less tested one (although that hasn't stopped a disturbingly large number of people from expressing a disturbingly large amount of hate/revulsion/contempt for a small inanimate object and/or its manufacturer; really, people...Get. A. Life.). No, I simply want to point you to Seth Godin's musings about lessons other businesses, large and small, can learn from the launch of Apple's latest offering. He makes some great points about how businesses should think about their strategies and their customers. You don't have to work in the tech industry to benefit from his insights.
Here's how you know that you're about to tackle a serious piece of electronic equipment:
"At least 2 people"? Granted, it weighs forty pounds, but it sounds to me like somebody's got an overzealous legal department.
The really scary thing is that the owner's manual weighs almost as much as the receiver.
- When we built this house two years ago I wired it for 7.1 surround sound. We had the four rear speakers installed in the ceiling at the time so they could be painted to match, but two of them have never been connected because our current receiver is an old-and-busted 5.1 model. The new receiver will enhance our listening pleasure by approximately...let's see, carry the one...20%. (The new box is actually a 7.2 receiver; I guess the .2 means that we could run two sub-woofers, but I have no idea why I'd want to do that. I value our drywall too much.)
- Our current receiver also does not have an HDMI connector, meaning that the digital HD cable signal is bypassing the receiver completely, going from the cable box directly to the display. So the picture is great, but the audio - well, not so much. Plus, whenever we want to watch a DVD, I have to plug a separate S-Video cable into the side of the TV, which looks ugly in addition to being less than optimal for picture quality. (I knew that eventually I'd have HDMI capabilities, so I didn't go to the trouble to run an S-Video cable through the wall to the TV...in case you're wondering.) The new receiver has six HDMI ports, which should pretty much satisfy our hi-def connection needs for, say, the next two decades, or until something better comes out next month.
- This means that we can upgrade to a Blu-Ray player if we so desire. Perhaps April will be a good month, too, although Blu-Ray machines are becoming almost ridiculously inexpensive, at least compared to where they started.
- And, finally, because the new receiver supports music streaming by Ethernet, I can finally see if the CAT-5 cable I had run from my office over to the A/V bookshelf actually works. Or, to be more precise, I can finally see if I know how to hook things up so that my computer will talk to the receiver and make sweet music together.
What I am simultaneously dreading/looking forward to is disconnecting everything from the old receiver and trying to get it all plugged into the right places on the new one. And, because of the "cascading upgrade" effect, I'll have to do this multiple times, as I move the old receiver into another room to replace and even older one, and move that even older one into a room without one at all.
So, the theory was that by installing cameras - and alerting the driving public of their presence - motorists' behaviors would be positively modified and the result would be fewer accidents. Well, not so fast (pun intended). In the Chicago area, a study of intersections fitted with these cameras showed either no change in accident rates, or increases in those rates, presumably from an increase in rear-end collisions as drivers suddenly realize that the intersection they're approaching has a camera and decide not to chance making the yellow light. For some states that actually bothered to check such statistics, the decision was made to ban the cameras.
It's hard not to be cynical and figure that the real reason cities want cameras at their intersections is to increase traffic citation revenue. If they were really serious about reducing accidents at such intersections, they'd either increase the amount of time the yellow light stays on, or increase the time before the green light for cross traffic switches on, or both. Both of these things have proven effective in reducing accidents at intersections.
I hope the city of Midland will be cautious in any consideration it's giving to installing such cameras.
And, in yet another fine example of the the law of unintended consequences, creative punks have learned how to use those cameras to harass their enemies.
Anyway, someone has posted step-by-step instructions for converting an AC wall outlet to USB, presumably so you can plug your iPod or iPhone directly into the wall to recharge it. At first, this struck me as one of those "why didn't I think of this?" ideas, at least until I saw the approach they are taking.
The whole project is essentially hard-wiring a USB mini-charger to an AC circuit, then gluing the mini-charger to the back of a standard wall plate. From my perspective, all you've accomplished in doing this is (1) spending 30 minutes of your time (2) playing with potentially fatal electricity to (3) replace a perfectly adaptable wall outlet with a limited purpose USB outlet, (4) using something that was meant to be plugged into said wall outlet to begin with. I mean, if you already have the mini-chargers, why limit their use to one location by integrating them into a wall plate?
I give this project a rating of one ant (out of five, in case you're keeping track). They could have at least provided instructions on how to make the outlet glow in the dark or something equally useful.
- We don't live far from Carlsbad Caverns, in New Mexico, but I've never seen the bats emerge from or return to the caves. I'll bet you haven't either, at least not like this:
The flight of the bats was filmed using an infrared camera which tracked their movements via their body heat. Amazing footage. I've watched it closely, and out of a half million bats (unaudited, I suspect, but still) I saw not a single collision. Drivers in Houston's rush hour traffic should be so skilled. (Via Wired)
- From the sublime to the, um, not so. Here's how Terminator should have ended. (Via Geeks are Sexy)
- Wonder if Bruce Schneier knows about this?
- Peace Frog is a Japanese motorcycle shop (manufacturer? customizer? hard to tell) which has assembled what appears to be a Royal Enfield with an Indian badge. Gotta love the minimalism; I'd ride one.
- Speaking of bicycles (well, sort of) here's a lush new (to me) online-only cycling publication called The Ride (big honkin' PDF). It's mostly a series of one page essays written mostly by people unfamiliar to me, although Greg LeMond does recollect The Time Trial (surely you don't have to ask).
- On a less light-hearted note, I continue to be disappointed, if not downright disgusted, by the names appearing on the petition to have Roman Polanski released. Wonder how many of them would be OK with their 13-year-old daughters being raped? Ah, don't answer that.
- Last, and probably least, here's a list of 50 large corporations whose PR departments dropped the ball, social-media-wise, and allowed their names to fall victim to cyber-squatters. It's interesting that Chevron's fall-back name, @chevron_justinh, makes it sound like they've assigned their Twitter campaign to an HR intern. Not that there's anything wrong with that, of course.
What you won't know after looking up your phone is whether the radiation level is good or bad, because, apparently, no one else knows. The assumption is that any radiation is worse than no radiation, and while the FCC sets guidelines for acceptable levels for cellphones, the EWG doesn't put much stock in those guidelines.
For the record, my iPhone 3GS emits radiation in a range of 0.52 - 1.19 W/kg*. By comparison, the best phone in the study, the Samsung Impression, emits a maximum of only 0.35 W/kg, or one-third the iPhone's level. (I'm sure that has something to do with the Impression's impressive five pound weight; those lead cases aren't light, you know. OK, just kidding.)
*watts/Kilogram - This is a measure of the rate at which a mass of tissue (that's you) absorbs energy (that's radiation)
Today, I've got three terabytes (that's ~3,000 gigabytes) of storage scattered among a handful of internal and external drives, and that's starting to feel a bit cramped. So, where do you go when terabytes are insufficient?
If you're BackBlaze, a company that provides "unlimited" online backup space for $5 per month, the next step is measured in petabytes (~1,000 terabytes or 4 quadrillion bytes, numbers that make even the US Congress look like an underachiever). BackBlaze has built and, presumably, continues to build its storage system in components that they refer to as "pods," each of which contains 45 1.5 terabyte Seagate hard drives, totaling 67 terabytes. Total cost of each pod: just $7,867. And if you want to build one for yourself, BackBlaze has helpfully provided detailed instructions. It really is a DIY project, albeit a bit more technically challenging than painting the guest bedroom.
BackBlaze has managed to get the cost of a petabyte of storage down to $117,000, or around 150% of the cost of the raw hard drives. This is a pretty amazing feat, especially considering that some of the currently available turnkey storage solutions run north of $2 million.
H/T: TechBlips via Twitter
The tinny little speakers in our iPhones are better than nothing, but not by much. On the other hand, we didn't want something that was too big to pack easily in a beach bag or that would have enough oomph to intrude on others whose musical tastes don't correspond with ours (to call our tastes eclectic is an understatement).
A little googling turned up a likely candidate with the catchy name of Chill Pill. This diminutive pair of speakers clip magnetically into one tidy package for storage, but when separated and connected to a sound source, put out a sound that, and I write this without the least bit of exaggeration, is amazing.
The speakers are powered by an internal lithium battery that recharges via your computer's USB port (or iPod A/C adapter).
The neatest feature? The top of each speaker is spring-loaded and with a twist they pop up a bit and provide a little boost in the bass output. They won't rattle any windows, but, again, that's not what we wanted. Still, the frequency range is pretty incredible for speakers of this size.
For $40, I have a hard time believing you'll find a better sounding pair of speakers for your iDevice than the Chill Pill. Highly recommended.
*OK, back then the preferred tanning application was baby oil. Can you say "deep fried teens"?
This situation begs the question, how does Google add new places to its maps and how frequently does it make updates? Google provides an input form for businesses to add their locations and information, but that's a completely different scenario than adding new city streets.
This is not simply an issue of wanting to be noticed. Well, not entirely, anyway. It has practical implications. There have been a couple of times that service providers have been unable to locate our address and have called for directions. One of them stated that while he had never heard of our street, he was confident it would be on Google Maps (wrong), or on his TomTom GPS (also wrong). Our reliance on these online services has grown more than we realize.
I found this page for reporting "bugs and omissions" to Google Maps, and I submitted an entry for each of the streets in our neighborhood. We'll see if that yields any results. Then I found this thread, entitled "How often does Google update its maps?", on Google Maps's forum. One of the commenters pointed out that Google has changed its source of map data from something called NAVTEQ (which apparently provides maps to many navigation system vendors including Garmin) to another service called TeleAtlas*, and that corrections and updates need to be submitted to TeleAtlas rather than Google. He helpfully provided a link to the TeleAtlas feedback page, where I was able to request an update to add our neighborhood's streets to the database. Again, we'll see.
In the meantime, I found that the map feature of Microsoft's new search engine, Bing, does show our neighborhood and streets. I never thought I'd see the day where Microsoft makes Google look lame, but there you go. And, of course, Bing uses NAVTEQ for its mapping data. I guess I'll have to add Bing to my toolbar, and consider dropping Google Maps if it doesn't get its act together.
*TomTom also uses TeleAtlas as the source for its digital maps.
Update (Same day, 9:30 am) - I received a reply from TeleAtlas regarding my request for a map update. Apparently, I have to draw them a map in order for them to update their map. I kinda figured that's why they were in business.
As I said, I find this compelling for several reasons. First, I like the song (If I Can Dream of a Better Land), which, despite its naive and vaguely hippie-ish lyrics (not to mention its questionable theology), still provides some dramatic musicality.
Second, I like both performers. Dion is one the biggest-selling female singers in history and one of the few contemporary performers that I'd pay to see in concert, and Presley's musical legacy is unquestioned. Michael Jackson may have been the King of Pop, but Elvis needed no such qualifier.
Finally, I'm intrigued by the technology that brought two performers from different generations (the original footage for this video was from a 1968 concert, the year Dion was born). The video is one of those productions where your first thought is wow!, followed closely by I wonder how they did that?" With regard to the second thought, well, to borrow a line from Apple, there's a video for that:
Some YouTube commenters excoriate the creators of this video (Hollywood technical experts David C. Fein and Marc Fusco, operating on YouTube as "2livefools") for what they deem to be unfair criticism of the techniques and quality of the "spliced video," but I think the creators are simply offering unbiased and expertly professional observations. They're making no judgments about the quality of the performances (indeed, they go out their way to comment that it appears that Dion's performance was intentionally toned down out of respect to Elvis).
- Anyone who's tried their hand at editing videos will appreciate the effort it takes to achieve something like this. And while 2livefools repeatedly state how simple it was to create the duet, that's only because they're no doubt used to working with the latest technology (hardware and software) and large budgets. For the rest of us, this pairing of Elvis and Céline represents sufficiently advanced technology as to be indistinguishable from magic.
P.S. If you're a purist and insist on a Canadian-free version of Elvis's performance, here's the original:
Amazon had a recent "stumble" in which it unilaterally and without warning deleted a couple of books from its customers' Kindle e-book readers, citing "licensing issues." Amazon's founder and chairman, Jeff Bezos, later apologized profusely for doing this, but the damage to the company's credibility has been done.
Perhaps that's not a fair way to put it, though. More likely, the innocence of consumers has been punctured with respect to acquiring their books electronically, and I think that's probably a good thing. Ulin's article raises a number of interesting questions, but in the end, Amazon (or any other company in the same business) can exert only the control that we permit. As with any other purchase, an informed consumer is the best guard against commercial impropriety.
If we're really concerned that our "shared informational heritage" won't be properly stewarded by Amazon, we shouldn't be buying, er, licensing e-books from them. That's a decision each of us has to make on our own.