Archive for January, 2008

My old PC on eBay

Wednesday, January 30th, 2008

Westchester County has an eBay department and eBay Store pickup in Elmsford. They don’t ship, which is a shame, because they would get more money for their items. I have though about offering a service to ship the Westchester County eBay items for people who have paid for them. Shipping plus 20% of price, but it might be more trouble than it’s worth.

The PC in the picture above is the PC that I used for several years here at work, which is now listed on eBay. I am quite nostalgic about it and I am almost tempted to buy it. The trouble is that I would have no place to put it and it is, after all, about 5 or 6 years out of date and is about the same age as Erica’s PC.

I am getting used to not having a a laptop next to my chair and checking my mail every few minutes at home. I go downstairs every couple of hours because I like to keep on top of the NameAStar correspondence. I also use the DVD Burner in the machine down in the cellar to cut old episodes of House MD, to which I have become addicted. The camera is filling up with cat pictures, but I am going to buy one of those terabyte backup disks before I risk losing any more images in a disk crash. In the mean time, the flash cards hold several hundred images each, so I am OK for a month or so.

I bought a thirty gig drive that I would like to put in the little Panasonic, but there are two types of connectors for these drives and I am not sure which one is right for the pc. I will know when it arrives and I can find time to disassemble the PC. To cover myself, I bought a little external drive case. I can use the drive and case to store files if the drive does not fit in the computer. If it is the wrong kind of drive I’ll get another disk – it turns out you can pick them up cheap on ebay, so I am not worried about it. One advantage of buying the case is that I can take the old drive and run recovery software on it and try to get back the archive of my pictures that were lost in the crash. They say if you cover the drive in dry ice, it sometimes will work for a little while (seems far fetched to me). The disk drive and case should arrive this week. When I get a nice rainy Saturday, I can sit down for three or four hours and try to take apart the Chinese puzzle box of a computer.

Edward Tufte: Interface design and the iPhone

Friday, January 25th, 2008

Edward Tufte, the design guru, is always a fascinating read. I have several of his books. They are visual wonders, but a little light on text, and I like text.

I try to think in terms of the principles of design that he lays out in his books, but not being as visual as some, I always make ugly ass pages. I do try to make the program flow in my systems redundant, obvious and logical so that users don’t easily get lost.

Tufte has written a blog entry on the iPhone which explains, in design terms, why it is much more successful than the interface to a normal phone. There is a nice long excerpt from his 1997 book Visual Explanations, which is required reading if you want to understand how good designers create the interface to software.

All other cell phones reek of boiler plate designs originating overseas in programming sweat shops and written by programmers paid by the line. One of my design rules is that reality is not hierarchical. Interfaces should not be menus within menus. Interfaces should facility the accomplishment of tasks and this often accomplished by jumps to the next step, but paths form a network or spider web of threads rather than a tree.

Long Weekend cut off from the Internet

Tuesday, January 22nd, 2008

This was Martin Luther King weekend and because I work for a municipal government I had Monday off. Justine’s little Panasonic notebook is dead, probably permanently. The hard drive is a 1.8 inch 3.3 Volt drive located deep in the gizzard of the thing. I found the directions for taking it apart and replacing the drive it says to allow and hour to disassemble and and hour and a half to assemble. It is like a Chinese Puzzle Box.

I have not found a source for buying a replacement for the little drive, but I found out how to modify a 5 Volt 1.8 inch drive by snipping pins. I am not sure that I want to try this.

When the disk died I lost my archive of cat pictures. The only pictures I have now are the ones that I’ve uploaded to the blog.

In the mean time, I have ordered a power cable for another one of Justine’s castoff notebooks. This one is very old and slow, but it might do if I can find a driver for the USB wifi that I have.

I kept up with my email correspondence and my NameAStar site in the cellar. It was about 40 degrees down there and I could not sit there for long before I started to shiver.

Justine has promised to send me another small computer from her closet of lost technology. I hope she finds it. I am having a computer jones. My eyeballs will fall out if I have to watch any more prime time TV. I can’t listen to the MP3 player because I fall asleep and miss huge chunks of the books.

In the mean time, Justine told me that she might be buying the new Apple MacBook Air. Erica said that she wants one, but it is out of my price range. I generally find my computers on the side of the road.

Words Words Words — The Dream Cafe Weblog

Tuesday, January 22nd, 2008

Science Fiction Writer Steven Brust has started blogging at the Dream Cafe. His old blog at Live Journal was put out of business by anonymous readers who flagged his blog as having objectionable material. This only because of his politics, because the blog itself was a just an interesting writing blog. He rarely blogged anything that could upset even the most sensitive neocon.

Brust states that he admires the Making Light blog. Well, we all do. Making Light is folksy, cluttered, and full of interesting finds.

I’ve updated my “Good Morning” directory in firefox. I use “open all in tabs” every morning to read the latest news and gossip from around 30 blogs, web pages and news sources. Add Steven to your morning routine (and Making Light if you don’t already have it).

Words Words Words — The Dream Cafe Weblog

Here is an edited “Good Morning” list. (I took out stuff that would only interest me, like the weather in West Nyack or Java jobs within 10 miles of my house.)


Friday, January 18th, 2008

The tiny Chinese laptop computer (on right in picture) that Justine brought back from Hong Kong died over night. I use a computer while I watch TV to check the TV schedule, answer mail, monitor my websites, post pictures to the blog and play Mine Sweeper. I have even worked on a story or two.

The cats are hard on the laptops and this is the third one that has died due to being knocked onto the floor by Gracie or Ollie.

I now am without computer at home unless I go into the basement and use the big Dell monster server. I’ve been using that computer as a file server for my video and mp3 collection.

It appears to be a hard drive failure. I am going to take the hard drive out of the computer on the left (it died again early last year when the cats broke the repaired power connection) and put it in the little Panasonic. I might have to wipe the disk and reinstall the operating system. I will also have to find the drivers for the on board wifi and reinstall all the neat software.

I will not get to this for a while, so it means no blogging from home and no pictures. I can’t have pictures of cats on the screen at work because my cubicle is too open.

Star Trek: New Voyages

Wednesday, January 16th, 2008

I download the first three episodes of the New Voyages.

I used uTorrent to download the files. If you are new to torrents, the file winds up on your disk from hundreds of others who are sharing the file. It takes hours (if not days) and you have to leave your machine on while it is working. uTorrent will notify you when it is done. These are very large files.

I used a program DVDFlick to burn them to DVD. I must say that DVDFlick does a great job and I have been using it to burn DVDs for a couple of months. I have lots of blues stuff on disk and tape and DVDFlick is the best way to do the actual burn. (Justine, if you want the DVDs, I can mail them to you).

The episodes are highly compressed WMV files and Jim’s old DVD player barfs a little at the compression, rendering the screen as a swirl of color from time to time.

We watched the “episode one” teaser last night at poker and we all laughed at the bad acting and direction. I had previously watched the whole episode and I found much to dislike, but I am nostalgic about the original series and for the most part these new voyages are a loving tribute. I can ignore the poor casting decisions and piss poor delivery of lines. I found myself getting into the strange and confusing story line, that seemed like a mishmash of all the worst episodes from the original series.

You have to watch these as a fan and ignore the obvious problems with them. They are made with love by people who respect what Star Trek means, even if they can’t write, direct or act. The episodes keep getting better and I hope that they make a dozen more. If you have watched the original series lately, you’ll realize that some of those professionally produced episodes were not much better than what this group of dedicated fans is producing right now.

Jim made the statement that I have made many times:

Even the worst Star Trek episode is better than anything else on TV.

UPDATE: I watched the second episode last night. Much better than the first episode. It has a convoluted plot that only a trekky could follow, but the acting was better mainly because with all the action, there was no time to emote. Erica missed many of the references. Lots of “phasers on kill”!

Last of the Cute Cat Christmas Pictures

Tuesday, January 15th, 2008

GrandCentral Beta

Tuesday, January 15th, 2008

There’s been a bunch of these free telephone number places, and I am not a big telephone talker so I don’t use them much.

I just got a number from They have a button that I am testing to call me. I have it set to send any callers to voice mail, but if it works, I can make it ring my work, home and cell number all at the same time.

This is how you contact me.

I tested it out. What it does is asks you your name and your phone number. It then gives you a call and you can record a message to me.

I can set it so it will give you a call and ring me up and connect us so you never know my phone number. This is neat, but I am not a talker. This would be good for someone who dreads missing a phone call.

Probably doesn’t work in Canada, Jim, but it’s free so give it a try.

I like the idea that I can give you my GrandCentral number and you can call that and it rings my home, work and cell all at the same time and connects to whoever answers.

I like the ring-back idea for security. I can out the contact button above on my website and people can call me, but they never actually get a hold of my phone number.

They say that they have limited numbers, but I got my invite the very next day.

My apologies

Monday, January 14th, 2008

My friend Skip sends me all of those awful forwarded email jokes. He has a low threshold of humor so I just delete them. This one was bad enough to blog.

The caption is “Never Fart in a Wet Suite”.

I am so sorry.

Amazon’s Digital Text Platform

Monday, January 14th, 2008

If you are not aware of it, Amazon has released a book reading device called the Kindle. This is a nice little electronic book/mp3 player that lets you read electronic books. It has been getting good reviews from such notables as Neal Gaiman and Robert J. Sawyer. I suspect that authors like the Kindle because it will sell more of their books at a higher profit.

Amazon, in an attempt to get more content for Kindle, and therefore make more money, has opened the Digital Text Platform up so that an anyone can publish a Kindle book. It is a new outlet for the terminally self published, but it is also a way for any author to begin selling books on Amazon without any investment other than a few hours of their time.

I experimented with Amazon’s new Digital Text Platform for about an hour this morning. I managed to get a very rudimentary book published. I will eventually create a how-to page for Amazon publishing, but for now here’s my first impressions.

1) The most important thing is how much money can you make. You can charge anywhere from 99¢ on up. You make 35% royalty. How many sales you make depends solely on how well you promote your book. Amazon will list the book in its Kindle section and the book will show up on Amazon searches.

2) The system wants bare bones HTML. It will take zip files containing graphics, but it will not handle multiple pages HTML with links. It wants a one large HTML file.

3) The system will take a PDF file, but will screw with it. The Kindle format is based on HTML so it is best to go the HTML route from the start. (DO NOT USE SAVE-AS-HTML IN MS WORD – THIS IS BAD! BAD! BAD!)

4) You must provide SSN and bank account info to complete your account information. I have an Amazon associates ID, but it is not recognizing that I have already entered this information.

5) The best procedure is to create a large HTML file, preferably without special characters or odd formatting. Use named anchors to link to the internal chapters (I will give exampled in my how-to page). Upload the file and let Amazon process it. Then download the file and see how Amazon has messed with it. Make changes. Add heading tags and the special Amazon page break tag for each chapter. Upload it and view it using their viewer and then download it again. Rinse, repeat, rinse.

6) Images must fit in the Kindle window which is 450×550 pixels. They say that PNG files are best. JPG files are compressed and sometimes the compression can cause artifacts and blur.

7) HTML must be very simple. Don’t use background images. Don’t use tables, frames, divs or other block items. I would avoid fonts, text colors or anything that would get in the way of reading. The KISS principle is useful here: Keep It Simple Stupid!

The Kindle is another way to get your novel or short story collection out there. If you are making $1.00 on a $10.00 book sale through then you can charge about $3 on Kindle and still make a dollar per sale without having to worry about postage. I would recommend going for the 99¢ price and settle for making 34¢ per sale and hope to make lots more sales. Amazon lets customers sort by price and it would be nice if you showed up at the beginning of the list rather than down near the end.

Basics of Science Fiction Writing

Saturday, January 12th, 2008

RCC has a course in SF writing (page 24 in the link above). I get in for free because I’ve been teaching there. I am considering going. Only one thing wrong with it is that I can’t find anything published by the teacher. I don’t know if Anne Phyllis Pinzow has a pseudonym or not, but I’d feel a little better about it if I knew she had a pro sale or three under her belt. All I can find is some fandom stuff at the cons.

The class would be fun and a chance to talk to other SF writer wanabees.

Basics of Science Fiction Writing

For writers who want to learn the fundamentals of writing science fiction and all the genres generally lumped under that title. It involves a great deal of imagination, thinking the unthinkable and asking questions most people don’t even think to ask. The action can take place in the vast realm of outer space or the inner space of the mind of a single individual. It can involve hard science or fairy dust. Who is to say they are not one and the same, dependent on the universe you choose to create?

DATE: Wed., Mar. 26 – Apr. 30
TIME: 7 – 9 PM
FEE: $199
LOCATION: MC, AC II, Room 2311
INSTRUCTOR: Anne Phyllis Pinzow

How to recognise a good programmer

Saturday, January 12th, 2008

I liked this article, even though it was not well written. I have been saying these same things from time to time.

Dangerous Physics

Friday, January 11th, 2008

I have thought a little about the possibility of a physics experiment destroying the Earth or the Sun. It would make a good short story. A powerful particle accelerator might create a black hole and if it doesn’t evaporate through Hawking Radiation, it might grow up and quickly swallow the Earth. (See the great lost classic movie The Magnetic Monster. The Magnetic Monster -the thing that came alive, is not a lurid monster movie but a thoughtful science fiction suspense mystery.) It could be that civilizations never develop beyond a certain level because every time a scientist tries a simple experiment and their civilization goes poof!

Here’s one I like. It is speculated that an experiment could destroy all space-time.

There have been speculations that future high-energy particle accelerator experiments may cause a breakdown of a metastable vacuum state that our part of the cosmos might be in, converting it into a ‘true’ vacuum of lower energy density. This would result in an expanding bubble of total destruction that would sweep through the galaxy and beyond at the speed of light, tearing all matter apart as it proceeds.

Of course, if this could happen, it would have happened somewhere already and very likely we would not be here. In any case we would not see it coming because it travels at the speed of light. We would not feel anything or be aware of our deaths. It would be like turning off a light switch.

It is also possible that the current state of the universe is the result of an experiment gone bad in a previous universe. The last words prior to the Big Bang might have been from a physicist who said: “Ok, turn it on and see what happens”.

John’s speculation that we are a computer simulation might protect us from this, but is also possible that we could create a cellular automaton at the quantum level that would have the same effect on the our simulated world as a black hole might have in a real world.

Star Wars Theme

Thursday, January 10th, 2008

I read on his blog where Jim was trying to learn the Star Wars Theme on his keyboard. This got me to thinking about my own website and how hard it is to read tab. I wrote a Flash object that lets you play single piano notes using JavaScript and now my tab site has sound to match the tab. Just roll the mouse over the note and hear the sound of it. One of the song snippets on the web site is the Star Wars theme. I only had the sounds of piano notes, but I am going to record all the notes on a harmonica.

So Jim, here’s the first few bars of the Star Wars Theme. I think it’s in the key of G, but who can tell with these translated tabs?