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Archive for the ‘Tech’ Category

Waze and means, part two

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.

YouTube Preview Image

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.

Waze and means, part one

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.

Fox backs down

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“.

Dear 101Webs,

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.

Sincerely,
- 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:

Mysteries of the ancient world

I’m back home now, but I still have a few photos to share. It took three full days, but I finally managed to clear out my dad’s office and closet – only to fill the closet again with stuff Brother Two wants to keep but couldn’t fit in his suitcases.

I found a Mac PowerBook 1400C in the closet, deep in the strata. I think in total, my dad had 11 computers, of which two were hooked up. I cleaned up a clamshell iBook and then plugged in and powered up the PowerBook. As you can see if you click on the thumbnail to the left, it booted into System 8.6 as perfectly as possible. I think my dad last used it in early 2003, judging by the dates on the files. Good thing he kept it around.

We also found a brass case. We have no idea what it is. Other than the photos below, here’s what we know…. The “fan” folds open and closed and rotates freely. The axle fits into some sort of plastic apparatus that barely resembles a small electric motor, although there is no resistance to rotation. There is no place for batteries, and since the entire case is made of metal and there are no wires, we doubt it is an electrical device of any kind, or any sort of motor for that matter. But of what use is a manual fan or propellor?

The bottom of the device opens up. Is something supposed to go in there? Take a look, and please guess – or even better, inform.

The inscription on the bottom of the case reads: “PATENTS PENDING / DON QUIXOTE / MADE IN BRITAIN”. Don Quixote is a cigar company and I suspect this has something to do with tobacco, but I’m stumped.

Speaking of mysteries, this video has me, an avowed skeptic, stumped:

Bonus l33t CSS skillz:

I’ve been struggling with getting slideshows to center. I’m using a WordPress plugin called Portfolio Slideshow, which is easy to use and format, but which is inexplicably impossible to center on a page.

Many people have the same predicament, but the developer’s only official response is that the Pro version ($9) has the ability to center the slideshow.

Nine bucks? I didn’t teach myself CSS for nothing! Here’s my custom Portfolio Slideshow CSS code for WordPress. On your Dashboard, open Appearance > Editor. Click on the Stylesheet link at the bottom right. (I ignore the stylesheets for IE6 and IE7. Screw ‘em.) Add the following code to your stylesheet and save:

div.portfolio-slideshow {margin-left:auto; margin-right:auto; width:60%; margin-top:20px; border: solid 1px #d4d7ca;}
div.slideshow-nav {text-align:center; margin-bottom:20px;}

You may want to play with that width percentage to get it perfect on your layout. The margin-top and border styles are optional, as is the entire .slideshow-nav class.

This only works for one specific size of slideshow image. In my case, I’m using 400-pixel-wide images.

My Groupon addiction (and a poll)

I love shopping, and I love shopping for bargains even more. Back in California once, my college friend Alex commented on how nice my suit looked. I told him I found it for only $200. Elvi reproached me about talking cost rather than gracefully accepting the compliment. Had I learned my lesson, I wouldn’t have written that just now.

Groupon has found itself in the news over the past year, mostly due to its failures. I still don’t think it has much of a business model, but great googly moogly, the deals are fantastic.

I was initially lured in by the offer of four 60-minute massages at a reputable spa for a mere $100. Talk about happy endings! After that, I couldn’t turn down a comprehensive auto-detailing package for $85. Nothing polishes off winter like detailing.

I realized I had a problem when I found myself considering a diode-laser hair remover for $200. That’s 80% off retail. No, I let that deal pass.

What I didn’t let pass, at one-tenth the cost ($19 after delivery – there I go again) and 1,000 times the fun of laser hair removal was a VooMote One. Former FCC chairman Michael Powell once called the TiVo “God’s machine“. The VooMote is God’s remote control.

The VooMote One is an infrared device that when couple with an iPhone or iPod Touch turns the latter into a universal remote. It is amazing.

Granted, I could have bought a universal remote but that doesn’t solve my problem, which is that the everyone in my house loses or breaks remotes. This way, I have my VooMote at my desk and I can slip it on when needed.

You can program the VooMote by brand of equipment and a quick test sequence or by teaching it with your remote. It works as advertised, and have I said it is amazing yet?

Not all is perfect, however. I have three issues. Firstly, the app had to attempt the VooMote firmware upgrade three times before it was successful. That happens occasionally, and the company advises you to stop the process and try again if it happens – although the app itself tells you you can ruin the equipment if you do that. Mine is fine.

Secondly, the matte-black plastic case holds onto fingerprints. Mine already looks grubby. It’s not a deal-breaker for me.

The final problem is not the fault of the VooMote. We have an old Sanyo CRT television that the VooMote does not recognize – and I can’t teach the VooMote from the TV remote since the kids have lost it.

Bonus poll:

Buoyed by the success of Nibbler’s teeth, I am considering further customization. I’m thinking of ordering magnetic vinyl decals for the front fenders. On one side would be Nibbler and on the other would be a 101 Squadron badge. Here are the images and a mock-up of what each side would look like. Ignore the positions of the decals for now. We can discuss that later. (I had no side photos with the teeth installed.)

Which, if any, badges should decorate the Mazda?

View Results

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I nearly killed myself

Late last night, after everyone else was asleep, I was leaning back in my chair when I heard a resounding crack and all the lights went out. More worrisome, I smelled smoke.

My biggest fear was that the iPhone had blown up due to a power surge, but I had not connected it to its USB cable. It was working fine. Using the trusty Flashlight app on my iPhone, I investigated all major electronics and outlets in the vicinity: iMac, router, modem, external hard disk, printer, throttle, joystick, and rudder pedals. I found nothing wrong or warm.

I went downstairs and discovered that the downstairs was not affected. Only one circuit breaker had tripped. I flipped it on and went back upstairs. There, I noticed a grey patch on the white extension cord that leads to the printer. The cord was sliced down to the copper wire inside.

I examined my $16 folding Home Depot chair. The plastic foot is missing from one of the legs. (I should explain that I hate chairs on wheels. They distract me and are no good for flight simming.)

I conclude that the leg of the chair was on the extension cord and when I leaned back, it cut into the insulation and shorted out the circuit. The insulation melted or burned a bit, but the voltage passed harmlessly through the chair’s metal leg.

I suppose I was in no real danger, but would have read this lame excuse of a blog post if I hadn’t sensationalized the title? Are you even reading it now?

I am not Imre

Very late in the year, I bought myself a present.

Speaking of segues, I got two of these for my birthday:

Technically, I got one of those and its enantiomer, as we used to say in organic chemistry.

What did I buy myself? A cell phone number! Yes, I who am interviewed by folks writing articles on high tech and social media (really!) can finally text. I’m learning how to do it.

Not long after I learned my number, I received a series of texts from a Marc I do not know. He was asking me how the new job was. I tried convincing Marc that I wasn’t who he thought he was sending messages to, but Marc expressed only appreciation at my attempt to put one over on him.

A week later, Marc texted me again. This time, I asked him who he thought he was writing to. I guess I convinced him, and Mark explained that he was using Yahoo Messenger to chat with Imre Glaser. Given his name, I quickly tracked down Imre. He used to have my Montreal cell phone number but had recently moved to Ontario and gave it up. Rogers recycled it to me. – but Imre had forgotten that he had set Yahoo Messenger to forward IMs to his (my) cell phone. Not many people know where their phone number came from, but I do. I should form a club.

By the way, Imre, I got call for you tonight from the Ottawa region. You should text me your number so I can send these people your way. You know my number, I assume. You can text it to me because I know how to text now.

Now, if I could only get FaceTime to connect….

Bonus apology:

I thought I would receive mail when a comment was held for moderation, but apparently I hadn’t set that correctly. A few comments have been held up because of that. Also, the story of my car’s unsafe liaison with another is still in progress, so I’m going to hold back on that for a bit. It’s nothing major unless you count gall, and then not mine.

Hello 2012, goodbye Chrome

I had a restful holiday. The five of us spent a week and a half in Houston. I spent a lot of that time sleeping. I also bought new shoes. They look like this:

I wrote a long and detailed account of how I solved problems with my Chrome browser intermittently pooping out “Aw, Snap” and “Missing Plug-in” notifications, only to have an “Aw, Snap” page obliterate my advice. At least now I don’t have to admit I was wrong.

I’m going to revert to using Safari until this is fixed.

While on the subject of tech, let me introduce one of the products my brother sells. By name, it’s the GelPoint Path Transanal Access Platform. Below, you can see an animation of it in action. I recommend you expand the video to full-screen.

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The GelPoint Path Transanal Access Platform may or may not be abbreviated to the GelPoint Path TAP, and surgeons may or may not refer to the procedure as “TAP that ass”. The company did not answer my e-mail inquiry.

Before you get all huffy about my disrespect for a potentially life-saving device, allow me to state that I see the unquestionable value of having one’s ass TAPed. So bugger off.

Bonus blog preview:

Coming up soon… a story of how my car got rear-ended.

Attack of the Arab Spring

Uh-oh. Someone in Egypt has logged in to my Gmail account.

I see no evidence of meddling, but this can’t be good.

Is your iTunes not syncing?

Several friends and clients have lost automatic syncing in recent iTunes updates on the Mac. It even happened to me.

Somehow, the updates to iTunes 10.4 misconfigure iTunes Helper, which is behind-the-scenes software that, well, helps iTunes weave its magic.

Here’s how to fix it on Snow Leopard. This fix may or may not work in Lion, too.

Plug in your device and open iTunes. On your device’s Info page, uncheck “Launch iTunes when this iPhone/iPad/iPod is connected.”

Unplug your device and restart the Mac. Launch iTunes, then connect the device. Put a check back in the box next to “Launch iTunes when this iPhone/iPad/iPod is connected.” If this is solving your problem, iTunes should ask if you want to install iTunes Helper. You do.

That should do it for you.

Bonus reading:

Growing up, my favourite book was “Arty the Smarty”. It was about a small, wiseass fish who outsmarts everyone. I wonder what I saw in that. You can read its acid-browned pages for free online. My copy looks exactly the same.

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