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Avia S-199 in Israeli Air Force Service

Archive for the ‘Tech’ Category

The Chrome bell

I hate clutter, especially in my menu bars.

I use Safari and Chrome browsers on my Mac. Why two? It’s easy to hide the windows of one while I’m working on a project on the other. There are plugins/extensions on each that I like to use for some sites, like WME Toolbox (Chrome only) on the Waze map editor.

Chrome bellA few days ago, I noticed a greyed-out bell icon in my menu bar (see image at left). Clicking on it revealed that it was a drop-down menu for Chrome notifications, installed without my permission and taking up about a centimetre of valuable menu-bar space.

The standard OS X way to remove unwanted menu-bar items is to hold down the Option and Command keys while dragging the offender of the bar. That wasn’t working.

So I did a little research and here is how you get rid of it:

  1. Open Chrome.
  2. Type chrome://flags in the address field and then scroll down to Enable Rich Notifications. Alternately, you can type chrome://flags/#enable-rich-notifications in the address field to go right to it. Or just copy that string from this post and paste it!
  3. Change the setting for Enable Rich Notifications to “Disabled”.
  4. Quit Chrome.

The next time Chrome boots, your bell will no longer appear.

But here’s the weird part: I tried reversing the above steps to get a screenshot of the bell for this post, but the bell never reappeared. I’m not losing sleep over that, but that is weird.

Another unusual point is that the bell just showed up for me a few days ago, while many people have been complaining about it since last October. It may have something to do with the fact that I’m still using OS 10.8 instead of 10.9 (Mavericks), or maybe it has to do with my use of Google Notifier.

Google Notifier is a small application that sits in your menu bar and tells you when you have new mail in your Gmail account – at least, it used to. It also lets you set all browser mailto links (i.e. e-mail links) to open in your browser’s Gmail account instead of an e-mail client. I really dislike Apple’s Mail application and I haven’t found anything I like better than Gmail’s Web interface, so I strictly use that (in Safari) for dealing with all e-mail.

Google Notifier is no longer supported and it no longer tells me when I have mail but it still works to redirect e-mail links so I still use it. You can get it at MacUpdate.

LogMeIn Free replacement

This news is a week stale, but LogMeIn has decided to can its free service. Cute how the announcement is titled “Changes to LogMeIn Free”.

Users are particularly miffed that the Jan. 21 notice informed users that the service would abruptly end on, yes, Jan. 21. That linked TechCrunch article discusses Join.me as an alternative, but that is another LogMeIn product and is free only during 14-day trial.

I’ve moved to TeamViewer, which is free for private use. It’s cute how they have have added an unnecessary, snide dig at LogMeIn in their standard installation instructions.

Chrome Remote Desktop was another option, but that would force the people to whose computers I log in remotely to help to have Chrome running.

Streaming US media

Having been prompted by the wife to investigate how to access the American version of Netflix and by Child 2′s usage of the same, I did a little digging.

There are many options out there. Unblockus is popular and convenient and it costs $5 a month. The advantage of Unblockus for me is the ability to install its DNS addresses right on the router, thus allowing every device on our network – including the PS3 – to access geo-blocked American media. When you access one of the chosen services, your browser would ask you which geographic location you would like to use. I’m not sure we would get that choice with Netflix on the PS3.

Child 2 was using Hola, which comes in ad-supported free and pay versions. Hola is actually peer-to-peer software and I suspect it of driving up our bandwidth using Child 2′s laptop. Regardless, it is browser-based software and as such may not always work with browser updates or even your browser of choice, like my preference to use Safari.

I settled on a free alternative, Media Hint. There’s another hobby-project called Tunlr that works with DNS redirection, the same approach that Unblockus uses.

Media Hint works in the browser, but also at the system level in OS X, which is how I have set mine up. Here’s how:

  1. Open System Preferences. Open the Network settings pane.
  2. Click on the connection you are using, which will almost certainly be either Wi-Fi or Ethernet.
  3. Click on the Location drop-down menu and choose Edit Locations…
  4. Select your default location (Automatic, unless you’ve renamed it). Click on the gear icon and choose “Duplicate Location”.
  5. Rename the location you just created to something more obvious, like “US TV”. Choose it to activate it and click the Done button.
  6. Click the Advanced button. Click on Proxies in the header.
  7. Activate the checkbox for Automatic Proxy Configuration. In the URL field for Automatic Proxy Configuration and paste this URL: https://mediahint.com/default.pac
  8. Click the OK button. Exit System Preferences, saving changes if it asks you to.

Now, to switch between being local and appearing to be in the US, click on the Apple menu and then click on the Location menu. Switch between them whenever you want this way.

I haven;t checked, but there should be a way to use Media Hint this way in Windows, too. Or you could opt for Tunlr.

Bonus whine:

Who at WordPress decided that Goth was a good look for version 3.8? Blecch.

Magical pants

When once upon a time I was a DM for the game we then called AD&D, I invented in my campaign a magic item called the pants of sloth (and I italicize according to Wizards of the Coast style). These magical pants were a tartan pair of what are now commonly called pyjama pants and they increased the natural healing rate of a character as long as this person did nothing but veg out.

Because I was (am?) an anal-retentive DM, I kept track of things like long-term healing and these pants came in handy in my campaign, even though when I submitted them for inclusion in Dungeon magazine, the editor I was working with (Dave Gross) replied with “Oh, I don’t think so….” It may have been the name.

They say that truth is stranger than fiction, and I would have loved to see Dave’s comment were I to submit for consideration a real pair of magical pants I just learned about.

The Icelandic nábrók, or necropants, will grant you everlasting wealth as long as you don’t mind digging around in a(nother) man’s scrotum for coins. Here’s the transliteration of the audio track available at the Strandagaldur Museum of Icelandic Sorcery and Witchcraft.

One of the most difficult feats mentioned in Icelandic grimoires and folk tales is undoubtedly the nábrók, literally “necropants”. This is another tool to gather wealth by supernatural means.

To begin with, the sorcerer has to make a pact with a living man and get his permission to dig up his dead body and skin it from the waist down. The skin must be completely intact with no holes or scratches. The sorcerer then steps into the skin, which will immediately become one with his own.

A coin must be stolen from a poor widow either at Christmas, Easter, or Whitsun and kept in the scrotum. It will then draw money from living persons and the scrotum will never be empty when the sorcerer checks.

However, his spiritual well-being is at risk unless he gets rid of the necropants before he dies. If he dies with the pants on, his body will become infested with lice as soon as he passes away. The sorcerer must therefore find somebody that is willing to take the pants, and put his leg into the right leg before the sorcerer steps out of the left one.

The pants will keep on drawing money for generations of owners.

The audio does not mention that in addition to the coin, the sorcerer must place the nábrókarstafur sigil in the scrotum.

The museum has a pair of the pants on display and the Web site has the sigil.

necropantsNabrokarstafur

Stream wireless video at home

We don’t own a dedicated TV streaming device. We do have both a Wii and a PlayStation 3, and we get Netflix through those. We subscribe to Videotron’s Illico digital cable TV and also have a grey-market DirecTV dish and PVR, with the Showtime package and no broadcast networks.

We’re well-served in content, even if we still haven’t made the leap to a flat-screen television – yeah, we still have a massive CRT set.

The kids monopolize the TV but I don’t mind. I’ve become accustomed to time shifting. The kids have filled up the PVR with Adventure Time and other Cartoon Network staples, though, so most of my time-shifting involves downloading TV-show torrents.

Boy, this is long-winded.

I usually watch video on my computer but sometimes a subset of the family will also want to watch what I download, either together or at separate times. Until this past summer, I’d transfer shows to a USB memory stick and plug that into the PS3.

I knew there had to be a better way to move video from my hard drive to our TV, but I figured we needed a streaming device like a Roku, AppleTV, or the new Google Chromecast. I had it completely backward.

I searched for ways to get this done, and the consensus choice is Plex, a media server you load on your computer. It’s absolutely free. Plex is fairly easy to install; once I had the courage to ignore some error warnings, it went seamlessly.

You find your video files through Plex’s Web-browser-based interface. Plex handles TV series and movies differently so you’ll want to separate those into different folders if you don’t already. Once it’s set up on your computer, Plex will search the Internet for covers and background info for all of your titles so that the end result looks darned professional. The only issue I had was that Plex misrecognized an old TV documentary and so downloaded the wrong information. I had to manually override that.

But once my set up is done, all I had to do was choose my new media server on the PS3, and boom – all my files are available in a pretty menu. I’ve had rare network hiccups that make me reload a file I’m watching, but that’s barely worth mentioning. I haven’t looked for the server on our Wii but I assume it would be easy to access there.

I was so pleased with my success that I tried to set up Plex for someone with an AppleTV. Oh, Apple…. True to form, Apple maintains a closed ecosystem on its AppleTVs. You can only get what they want you to get and that doesn’t include media files on your computer – unless they are in iTunes. Previously, I had advised the AppleTV user to convert all her downloaded video to MP4 format and then to drag it into iTunes. It works, but not for all video files and it’s kludgy. Plex is more elegant and easier since it will play anything your computer can, from .aac to .wmv.

Apple left a loophole in the AppleTV software, however. The device’s data streams are encrypted – with the exception of its Trailers channel. Some clever coders exploited this to force AppleTVs to access Plex through that Trailers channel. It seemed to work great…until Apple closed the hole with its most recent AppleTV software update.

Now, there are still workarounds and I found the appropriate code and files and followed the instructions to what I could best discern was a T, but I spent four hours trying to get this AppleTV to see Plex without success.

So I can’t recommend an AppleTV. Roku comes with Plex access by default but you still have to install your own media server for it to work. I’ve read that Roku boxes are not the most stable, although perhaps the company’s new line-up will fix that. If you have a newer TV with Google Play, a LG Smart TV, or a Samsung TV that can use that app store, you can also get the Plex client directly.

The Google Chromecast dongle is HDMI only and has a Plex client in development. It’s a $35 device, only available in the US for now.

If I had to design an home media-server installation from scratch today, I’d start with a used Wii. It’s less expensive and more reliable than a dedicated streaming device. And it plays games. By the end of the year, I might opt for a Chromecast if the TV has a spare HDMI input.

Weird Mail issue

I recently dealt with an quirk of Apple’s Mail application for a client. I found a workaround, but I have no idea exactly why it’s happening, or how to prevent it from happening. That bugs me.

My client receives an e-mail newsletter from an industry group. What he gets shows up like this:

HTMLnewsletter

It’s a standard formatted e-mail. The raw e-mail comes in two parts. The first is simple text, and the second is HTML. It’s ugly, inelegant HTML, with layout driven by nested tables, but it works.

A problem arises when my client forwards this e-mail to others. It shows up like this:

screwyHTML

The text is there. It’s just the same colour as the background. Notice that the justification of some of the paragraphs has also changed.

When asked to forward this e-mail, Mail does so, but it adds this before the HTML of the newsletter proper:

forwardheader

Mail adds that little text through some, yes, HTML. And that HTML is what (I assume) screws up the styles of the newsletter.

As far as I can tell, there’s no way to get around this while using the “Forward” function. My workaround takes advantage of Mail’s “Send Again” command. That doesn’t add anything to the message and conveniently can be applied to messages that you yourself didn’t send the first time.

Bonus funny:

I’ve been freelancing for a company that adds subtitles to movies, which is more complicated than you think it is because of competing standards. There’s also a procedure to verify foreign dialogue.

The other day, I was working on Darren Aronofsky’s “Pi” along with two goyim. Each of us covered a third of the movie, which contains a bit of Hebrew and Yiddish, but I was responsible for knitting all three reports together. One of the foreign-dialogue notes one of the other titlers left for me concerned a Hebrew word. His remark cracked me up, and it will amuse anyone who is familiar with Chabad and its tactics:

Teffillin. A type of Jewish phylactery? Appears to be used in the context of a drug.

Apps and Applications

Thanks to “Blackadder the Third” for the influence of title alliteration. Thanks to me for the crappy execution.

Yesterday, I did something to a Mac I’ve never done before and it left me with a sick feeling in my stomach. Behold:

WIn7install

I have some work that requires me to use proprietary software that’s Windows-only, so I had to. I chose VMware over other options because I have a friend who works there, so I figure high-quality tech support will be easy to access.

I had a bad experience with tech support recently. Our old router was dropping connections and somebody on our wireless LAN has been occasionally uploading way more data than normal. I installed DD-WRT on the old router, a Cisco/Linksys WRT54G v.6. Version 6 of that router is crippled with minimal RAM compared to earlier models so the installation left no room for the tools I’d need to install to monitor bandwidth by user. Plus, it kept dropping connections.

By the way, yes, Wi-Fi routers can wear out despite a lack of any moving parts. Probably.

So I bought a new Netgear router and put DD-WRT on that. I tried and failed to install a Linux bandwidth monitor program on it and I felt the best thing to do would be to start anew, with factory settings. I tried to reset the router according to the manual, but it just wouldn’t reset. It did, however, stop working.

I called Netgear tech support and spent an hour with a clueless person. He was trained to follow the script he was given, which was to test the router and repair its Internet connection. He wouldn’t comprehend that I was asking him to help me reset the router. He also wasn’t comfortable with using Macs, so he made me dig out Elvi’s Windows laptop and use the unintuitive networking tools on that. My post-call assessment was not kind – although at some point in the process, the router came back to life, although with DD-WRT and not the native Netgear firmware. I said thanks and goodbye.

Oh, yeah. I’ve also moved up to Mac OS 10.8 Mountain Lion. I forget why.

Anyway, in the upgrade I discovered that my favourite text-editing program, Tex-Edit Plus no longer worked. I’ve been using it for close to 20 years, and I lamented its loss – until I visited the site to learn that an updated version will work on Mountain Lion. Huzzah! It’s shareware, and recommends you pay $15. I paid $50 a long time ago. It’s that good.

I started this post with the intention of noting some apps. I suppose it’s time to get around to that.

I continue to have a torrid love affair with Waze. I’m obsessed with mapping for it. I pretty much singlehandedly filled in everything between St-Jean-sur-Richelieu and Drummondville. On to Trois-Rivières! It’s not healthy.

I’m also using Lose It, which is an app that lets you record what you eat and exercise you perform. I got on a scale in late December and saw 178 on the readout. That’s too much. I set a goal of getting down to 155 lbs by May, roughly a pound a week. Lose It set my daily caloric budget at 1,752. Right now, I’m bouncing between 172 and 174 so it seems to be working.

What I like about Lose It is its bar-code scanner. Scan what you eat and it tells you what it costs in calories. What I don’t like about Lose It is that it is aimed at people who eat prepackaged foods. It’s sometimes difficult to find home-made foodstuffs in its list and of course food made from scratch doesn’t have a bar code. Nevertheless, I’m sticking with it, and to my budget.

Another I want to praise is actually kind of boring. Battleship Destroyer HMS turns you into a gunner on a Royal Navy frigate in World War II. It’s simple and it gets dull after a while, particularly if you stick to the free version. The amazing thing about the game, and this is not unique, is that you can play in gyroscope mode. Instead of using screen swipes or buttons to move, you move the smart phone to view the world around you. Want to swivel your gun turret? Turn around. Want to aim high? Lift the phone toward the sky. It’s surprisingly immersive.

The final app I want to mention is Spaceteam (iOS only). Developer Henry Smith knocked this off to train himself to code iOS apps and has an unexpected hit in his hands. You can only play it face to face, and multiplayer is mandatory. Every player has a control panel and is sent a list of commands. If they cannot use their own control panel to fulfil the command, they must ask/shout at the other players to do so. That’s the whole game. It gets hard, especially when you lose the labels on the controls.

We have a game night scheduled with friends tonight. I wonder if I can use Richard III to whip up some enthusiasm for Kingmaker.

The progressive Conservative copyright bill

Lost in the news blitz of Tuesday’s American elections was the establishment of the copyright provisions of Bill C-11 as active law.

For several years, the combination of phrases “copyright law” and “Conservative government” in an article have provoked anxiety and confusion, and that stems from a series of bills the Conservative Party introduced to Parliament in 2005-2007. The foundation of the government’s approach was the American DMCA, which Canadians generally found abhorrent.

After public consultation and further thought, the Harper government introduced Bill C-11 and passed it this past summer. It is a direct descendant of its ancestor bills, including the almost reasonable Bill C-61.

Canadian copyright guru Michael Geist explains the evolution and bullet-points the features of the Bill C-11.

There are major changes from previous bills. One of the most notable is the establishment of parody and satire as legal uses of copyrighted material. This was the case in the US, but not previously in Canada.

You may now use any material that is public and online for educational purposes. This is an expansion of previous fair-use provisions and, boy, is it broad.

One contentious remnant of the old bills has been effectively neutered if not eliminated. It remains illegal to break a digital lock in order to make copies of media (although you are allowed to possess the tools to do so). Although restrictive, this provision is tempered by the cap on statutory damages for breaking a digital lock for non-commercial reasons. The most a guilty individual can be forced to pay is $5,000. That’s not even going to cover a company’s legal fee for a case, so unless a company is driven by revenge or example-making rather than profit, the cap is essentially permission to copy for non-commercial purposes.

All in all, Bill C-11 is an enlightened approach. It’s not perfect, but what is?

I squished a bug

When I’m not being paid to write, edit, or research, I do home/small-office IT support for Macs. I love doing it. It’s the puzzles that intrigue me. This week, I had a doozy.

A client bought a new Mac Pro to replace her old one. The migration of her old account to the new Mac went pretty well, with only a few wobbly moments – for some reason, her old iPhoto 6 replaced the new version that came on the new Mac.

Once that was done, she had me install a (legal) copy of Microsoft Office 2011 on the new machine to replace the Office 2008 she’d been using on her older Mac Pro.

The first installation (and subsequent updates) seemed to go flawlessly, until it was time to open the Office applications. The splash screen would come on but before any document or blank template would load, the application would crash, with this error (in this example, for Word):

Microsoft Error Reporting log version: 2.0

Error Signature:
Exception: EXC_BAD_ACCESS
Date/Time: 2012-10-26 01:40:50 +0000
Application Name: Microsoft Word
Application Bundle ID: com.microsoft.Word
Application Signature: MSWD
Application Version: 14.2.4.120824
Crashed Module Name: CoreFoundation
Crashed Module Version: 744.12
Crashed Module Offset: 0x0000b849
Blame Module Name: MicrosoftMenuLibrary
Blame Module Version: 14.2.4.120824
Blame Module Offset: 0x000133ec
Application LCID: 1033
Extra app info: Reg=en Loc=0x0409
Crashed thread: 0

And that would be followed by a dump of incomprehensible codes and threads.

I did a bit of research and learned that this was a known problem. The primary recommended step is to delete all Microsoft Office preference files. I did, but it didn’t help.

Next, I deleted every trace of Microsoft software – including preferences, receipts, and fonts typefaces – from the new Mac and reinstalled Office. No dice.

I spent nearly two hours on the phone with Microsoft tech support. The nice lady, via a customized LogMeIn client, also wiped everything clean and reinstalled Office, with as little success as I had. We did learn, though, that Office worked fine for a pristine new user on the Mac Pro. There was obviously some conflict with something in the migrated user account. With that information, Microsoft told me to call Apple tech support.

Apple found a few cache files that Microsoft tech support hadn’t dealt with, but it didn’t help. While on hold while my call was being bumped up a support level, something occurred to me. My client is a graphic designer and has nearly 1,000 fonts typefaces, some of which she’s had for decades. I disabled her migrated fonts typefaces, leaving only the system fonts typefaces and the fonts typefaces Microsoft installs for Office.

Ta-dah! The Office applications worked!

There is nothing more tedious than going through fonts typefaces looking for a problem – but it’s a puzzle and I love it. Especially when I solve that puzzle.

The problem is that there was a an old version of Georgia font typeface in her ~/Library/Fonts directory. That was in conflict with the native OS X version of Georgia and and version Microsoft may have installed itself.

I deleted several duplicate fonts typefaces, but it was the removal of Georgia that fixed the problem. Well, either that or GillSans.

Take that, megacorporations what can’t figure out what I did.

Map appstravaganza

What can you write when everyone already knows your lead? Let me think about this a moment….

Screw it.

You’ve doubtless heard that Apple dumped Google Maps from the iOS line-up. Whole Web sites have been set up to display the flaws in the Maps app with which Apple replaced it.

I did my own little exploration of my navigation apps. I never used Google Maps. I use Navigon (now part of the Garmin family) and the free Waze app. Waze is great if it can find your address or destination in a search. It’s a bit finicky, sometimes without reason. Navigon is better able to help you pinpoint your destination, but Waze is better at the navigation, as it takes into account traffic and anticipated road speeds when it calculates your route.

I decided to look at a tricky section of the map near home. Girouard Avenue south of Sherbrooke used to be one-way southbound and had an entrance ramp onto Autoroute 15. That ramp was closed in December 2010 and that section of Girouard was turned into a two-way street. Around the same time, Crowley was extended to intersect Upper Lachine.

Here’s how the three apps map these major changes, some of which are nearly two years old. Apple’s Maps is on the left, Navigon in the middle, and Waze on the right. I recommend you click to open the full-sized image.

(Ignore the black infestation of the right-side roads on Maps. That’s my fault, the result of a poor fill operation in Photoshop.)

Neither Navigon nor Maps has the Crowley extension. Both have Girouard as continuing to be a one-way street. The ramp may or may not be active; it’s tough to tell. Waze has it correct. It may look at first like Girouard maintains its one-way status, but those arrows are indicating the ramp only. The ramp, you can tell, is not connected to Girouard and Waze will never route you onto it. You can see the extension in place between Crowley and Upper Lachine.

Also note that Waze is the only one of these apps to correctly show that Decarie no longer intersects de Maisonneuve from the south (which is to the right on these maps).

What does Google maps show?


View Larger Map

Google has Decarie and Crowley correct, but fails with Girouard.

I didn’t expect this result, but Waze wins. Did I mention it’s free?

Every click…
...contributes to world domination.