Archive for the ‘Tech’ Category
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.
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.
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:
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:
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:
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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?
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
Date/Time: 2012-10-26 01:40:50 +0000
Application Name: Microsoft Word
Application Bundle ID: com.microsoft.Word
Application Signature: MSWD
Application Version: 22.214.171.124824
Crashed Module Name: CoreFoundation
Crashed Module Version: 744.12
Crashed Module Offset: 0x0000b849
Blame Module Name: MicrosoftMenuLibrary
Blame Module Version: 126.96.36.199824
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.
What can you write when everyone already knows your lead? Let me think about this a moment….
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?
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?
Last time, I established that I come from a line of antagonists. This post, we move from the theoretical to the practical.
A few months ago, I discovered that Navigon was on sale in the US iTunes Store for around half price. I bought it, I used it, I like it. Setting a target address is a little annoying – you have to set the city, then the street, then the number instead of typing or pasting it all in at once. Other than that, and a few pronunciation errors, it works great.
(I think the Quebec map has built-in French pronunciation, which reads “chemin” perfectly but requires five syllables for “Mountain Sights”.)
In February, I head about Waze, which is a free, crowd-sourced GPS navigation app. You can use it for free and live with the reasonably correct maps. Or you be like me and start editing those maps to make them better.
From what I gather, Waze started with a satellite map and had an algorithm (or slave farm) find and plot the streets. After that, users took over and continue to edit the maps into shape. We name streets, set the street directions and types, mark legal and illegal turns, etc. The central Waze brain monitors drives and alerts editors to mistakes they may not know about. Drivers can also send an alert to the system to be dealt with, whether that alert is an incorrect map issue or a traffic jam. The app requires a minuscule amount of data transmission but it’s worth it. Map-editing is perfect for those of us with compulsion issues.
There is a slight problem when it comes to editing: too many cooks spoil the broth. While the Waze wiki provides some guidelines for editors, there is no firm standard for mapping and no oversight. This leads to problems, which is where the antagonism comes in. Remember the antagonism? It’s between cooks.
Some people get a kick out of editing the maps, and for us, there are two primary annoyances. The first is idiots who go on the map and make global changes to amass Waze points with no consideration for accuracy. That’s why, for example, the current map features “Ville St. Laurent”, “Montréal (Saint-Laurent)”, and Saint Luarent”, among other variations for the Montreal borough and former independent city of Saint-Laurent. It’s a huge pain to fix that to the accepted standard (the second one, by the way).
Montreal provides rare challenges to map editors because of the language situation. Street names of more than one word take a dash according to the Quebec government’s strict toponomy, but the cities don’t always follow that rule on their signs. French names take a hyphen (Boulevard René-Levesque Ouest) but English ones don’t (Avenue Mountain Sights). The island is Île Perrot; the city is Île-Perrot.
One of the features/bugs of the usage of Montreal street names is that rarely do we use the generic part of the street name. We say, “Take a left on Saint-Denis,” not “Take a left on Rue Saint-Denis.” We say, “It’s near Décarie and Queen-Mary,” not “It’s near Boulevard Décarie and Chemin Queen-Mary,” or, heaven forbid, “It’s at the corner of Décarie Boulevard and Queen Mary Road.”
Of course, when you use Google Maps to look up street names, all the streets are listed with the generic indicator. Official municipality maps, such as Dorval’s, often skip that formality. Driving and looking at street signs doesn’t always help as many of those are also missing the generic indicator for reasons found at the intersection of budgets and anti-English politics.
It’s my contention, then, that to make a better GPS app means taking into account these real-life considerations – but I’m just one cook.
Two super-users constantly “patrol” and edit the map of Montreal in Waze. The Waze forum allows users to send messages so I know about about the other guy. He’s a francophone Montreal police officer (that’s a bit redundant…). He goes by something like Duff, so let’s call him that.
Duff is all about the rules. I’m all about accessibility. If it were up to him, all roads would have their full names. We have battled a bit about Chemin de la Côte-Saint-Luc, which to me is a ridiculous thing to put on a map when everyone just calls it “Côte-Saint-Luc”. Similarly, who cares if it’s Avenue O’Brien, Rue O’Brien, Chemin O’Brien or Boulevard O’Brien? The advantage of not putting down the street-type designations is twofold: it cuts down on map clutter and it better matches the street signs that drivers see.
Duff disagrees. Early in my Waze phase, we battled over naming, until coming to an unspoken agreement. I stopped changing the names of major streets (e.g. Rue Saint-Urbain) and he stopped renaming minor streets and streets with ridiculously long full names (e.g. Chemin de la Côte-Sainte-Catherine). Together we have converted E and O to Est and Ouest, St. to Saint (to avoid Waze pronouncing the abbreviation as “street”), and put missing French accents into town names (Montréal, not Montreal). We also have begun using abbreviations for boulevard (Boul.) and avenue (Ave.), both of which Waze pronounces correctly, in English at least.
Waze has a problem with accents. It pronounces Décarie as “Dee-Ay-copyright-caree”. I thinks it’s better to leave the accents in and wait for the system to catch up than to poke language purists. The Waze disagreements are language issues, but not typical Quebec head-butting language issues.
After I capitulated on streets like Rue Saint-Jacques and Rue Jean-Talon Est and Ouest and he left the Côtes alone, we have an uneasy ceasefire, with hotspots. Duff and I are still at war in Verdun and parts north. I think he wants to set full names on every street that is indicated by an exit. We bombard each other with changes over des Irlandais, Riverside, Mill, Oak, Marc-Cantin, etc. He also likes to invade Lasalle and change the lonely streets west of Angrignon – uh, Boul Angrignon: Senkus, Cordner, Lapierre, etc.
That’s not all I do, though. I have completed every street and intersection in Hampstead, Côte-Saint-Luc, Montréal-Ouest, and the boroughs of Lachine and Saint-Leonard. I’m halfway through Dorval. I’ve completed large chunks of Lasalle, Saint-Laurent, and within the pre-merger boundaries of Montreal proper.
I feel I’m rambling a bit so I’ll cut out now. I do heartily endorse Waze, even if you’re only a consumer of it rather than a contributor. The traffic updates alone make it worth the price.
I come from a long line of antagonists.
My dad’s mother died a few months before I was born and my grandfather was not a capable bachelor. He met a slightly older woman on a cruise and they got married. Then they got divorced. Then, on her terms, they got married again.
My grandfather needed someone to take care of him. His wife was willing to do that, for a price. It was a marriage of convenience. It was certainly not love.
This woman was the only grandmother we knew on my dad’s side and, as kids, we knew none of this. Nor did we know that this grandmother and my dad shared a white-hot hatred for each other. They hid it well. But this isn’t about my dad, yet. This is about my grandfather.
There was a certain amount of resentment mixed into the convenience. My dad rarely told us much, so I only heard this story from his Wife Two. My grandfather had somehow discovered that his wife detested the phrase “bum wad” as a synonym for toilet paper. Every chance he got, he’d use “bum wad”. “Frances, when you go to the store, pick up some bum wad.” Oh, that must have been a jolly household.
You know what just occurred to me? This was my step-grandmother’s first marriage. She had short hair. She always wore pants. I can’t recall ever seeing her in a skirt or dress. Maybe she was gay.
Anyway, that was my grandfather. My dad’s attitude can best be explained by the following printout I discovered while cleaning up his office in March.
Note the dot-matrix quality of the text. The printout had been laying around a while.
The sheet speaks for itself. I don’t have to make any more comment – well, except to point out that it makes more sense if you replace “on purpose” with “by accident”. The red cloud of vendetta can muddle one’s editing ability.
So that’s my genetic heritage, which sort of explains this, although a) my vendetta is more passive; b) my vendetta was actually carried out until it overwhelmed me; and c) I never bought a paint gun with which to peg speeding jet-skiers in the canal behind my house.
I was going to go on and explain the Waze bit, but I think I’d rather take a nap now. Stay tuned for part two.
On March 24, YouTube sent the following notice about the half-minute “Futurama” clip I had uploaded to illustrate my point in “Futurama commits clownslaughter“.
Your video “Futurama commits clownslaughter”, may have content that is owned or licensed by FOX. As a result, the video has been blocked on YouTube.
This claim is penalizing your account status. Visit your Copyright Notices page for more details on the policy applied to your video.
– The YouTube Team
When this happens to you, you have two options. You can succumb to the man and take down your video or you can contest the accusation at risk of losing your YouTube account.
I contested. In my reply, I claimed fair use of the clip for illustrative and educational purposes.
What do you know – FOX agreed. I got this today: