Blog. And sometimes just whinging.
I’ve made or am making some big changes in some small areas of my life. Mostly around technology. Being a self-described ‘technologist’ that means I have to write about it. Hi.
*** Feel free to skip this list and jump right to #4 if you just wanna know about Echo ***
Chief among these are:
1) I’ve jumped ship from iPhone to Android. My new phone is a 2nd generation Moto X running Android 5 Lollipop. As some of you know, Apple and I have gone from a blissful to a troubled relationship of late. Linux boxen out-number Macs in my house now — I’ve even broken down and built a Windows gaming machine because… Borderlands Pre-Sequel, ’nuff said — and my iTunes music library has gone from being a warm, fuzzy vault where Apple kept everything for me to a technological albatross that I had to pull what felt like a bank heist to liberate everything from so I could access all my music from my new phone. Anybody want to buy a Verizon iPhone 5?
2) Along with ditching iPhone, I’m finally weaning myself off Safari (after all, I’m on OSX less and less). It’s a small thing, yes. But when I get around to writing about that, there’s more to it than just changing browsers. Some of the thoughts rattling around in my heads about this: Safari is closed-door Apple kit, but it doesn’t feel as… invasive… as Google Chrome. And Safari is fast. When it’s not beach-balling. But it’s just time to let it go. So do I invest my life more into Google’s ecosystem [and its attendant information Hoovering juggernaut] by using Chrome? I am using their OS now on my phone. And Chromecast is super handy. Or do I switch fully to Firefox all around, despite my love/hate relationship with it? It’s all I use on my Linux machines, but… dammit it pisses me off some times. Or do I split the difference with Chromium? In the end, the integration of all these with things like Lastpass, Yubikey and sometimes 1Password are big deals to me. And they all behave differently. So it’s not an easy decision.
3) Dish’s Sling TV. I haz it. I also haz Roku and AppleTV. I subscribe to Netflix, Fandor and AcornTV. I’ve been threatening, much like George Lucas saying he’s going to go off and do his ‘experimental movies’ and then never doing so, to cut the cord on my cable TV. So now that I have Sling TV and I know I can still watch Venture Bros and Adventure Time, I’m going to do a simulated cord cut. I’m going to rely on everything but my cable TV for a week (starting Monday) and see how that goes. I’ll tell you right up front that I’m gonna break this rule. I’m still gonna watch Archer on Thursdays on my TiVo. And I may use HBO GO, even though it’s tied to my cable subscription. The latter is OK in my book as HBO has announced that GO a la carte is coming. I gotta watch Game of Thrones, y’all. And can I just say, FX and AMC, please get on Sling TV and this will all get tied up with a neat little bow.
4) I have an Amazon Echo. Yes, I’m one of those people who jumped on it first thing. I know. I know. But that’s the thing I want to talk about, now that I’ve bored you to death with all the above. Unless you skipped straight here. In which case, “Weakling!”
First, let me cut right to the chase. I like it. It’s $99 well-spent and I’m happy with my purchase. I’ve tinkered around with computer assistants in the past and they all were terrible. So when Amazon said I could have a PDA with good voice recognition that could play NPR and tell me how old John Hurt is as I wallowed on the couch, I signed right up.
Is it just a glorified Siri? Yes. Or, more precisely, a glorified Cortana. But that’s all it purports to be, if we’re honest. Their ad, the one with the ‘early Richard Dreyfuss’ asshole dad, shows you it can play music, be a Bluetooth speaker, read Wikipedia, tell you the weather or how tall Mount Everest is. That’s what it does. Oh, and shopping and to-do lists which I’ll get to in a sec. But the point being: It was designed to pretty much be a glorified Siri. Or Cortana.
As a glorified Cortana it works really well.
EXCEPT FOR ONE HORRIFYING THING!
IT TOOK ME FOUR GODDAMNNED HOURS TO GET IT SET UP!
BUT I’M IN THE MINORITY SO I’M NOT BITTER AT ALL.
Yes, I spent four hours the first night dicking around with this thing and it not working. I’d quit and come back. I couldn’t accept defeat. I’d search the ‘Net and try other things. The app just sat and spun. And no, I didn’t call Amazon support because I was not prepared to patiently sit through someone telling me to reboot my router, make sure it’s plugged in, etc. My first damned router was configured with a text file and telnet, FFS. This ain’t my first day at the rodeo.
The way Echo’s setup works is you download an app (Mac, PC< Android or iOS), turn on Echo and it will go into setup mode (the ring rotates orange - there are audio prompts along the way), and you will then connect to it as though it were a wireless access point. If you get stuck here, find that rest button. You then select your WiFi SSID and enter your WiFi password (I believe Echo has two radios, as outlined below). In theory, this is where it connects and finishes setting up, culminating in Echo telling you it's ready. This is where I was failing. Initially I couldn't even get to the WiFi setup part.
And the app doesn't give you access to the Help tab... until you're done setting up. Duh.
Finally I found someone on Twitter mentioning that there's a tiny reset button hole on the bottom. Using that to reset Echo and start fresh allowed me to finally get to the WiFi setup and connect Echo to my WAP. Or so I thought. Here it just hung again. Spinning forever. I tried this from my Android phone, an iPhone, a laptop and from an Amazon Kindle FireHD (I bought it on a whim long ago, don't judge). No go on any of them. And I thought it weird how I still had the same IP address on my laptop when connected to the Echo
A bit more searching led me to a post from someone who had talked with Amazon only to find that Echo uses the same IP range (192.168.11.x) for its internal AP as my router does. And specifically it uses 192.168.11.1 for the Echo. Even changing my router's LAN IP to something other than 11.1 didn't help. Presumably this is because with Echo being an AP and simultaneously being a WiFi client, there's a routing conflict and the Echo probably ends up talking to itself instead of bridging the two networks.
So I set up a laptop to share its ethernet connection over WiFi, ran the setup again selecting this new access point (whose internal DHCP was using 10.0.1.x)... et voila. Echo connected and started working.
Seriously. I do enjoy it now that it’s working. Saying “Alexa, play NPR” and it almost immediately starting a stream of my local NPR stattion (WBUR) is so much quicker and friendlier than doing this from another device (unlock, open app, pair to bluetooth speakers, etc.) And, on top of it all, it sounds really good. It sounds like a decent Bluetooth speaker system. Enough bottom end for most things and with clear highs and mids. Today I woke up, padded off to the bathroom and called out “Alexa, play Kraftwerk Man Machine.” (The Echo is in my living room, close to the kitchen door.) I enjoyed some of my favorite krautrock as I woke up and made some coffee. Not in the bathroom. I made the coffee in the kitchen. Weirdo.
I checked the weather, since more snow is on the way, listened to what it calls a “flash briefing” of news and then decided to listen to NPR all day. Something I enjoy doing on weekends but often don’t because I hate dinking around with the radio and sometimes reception is crap. And streaming it involves too many steps, so I just don’t. I end up in silence or listening to audio books form my phone. But today I listened to Wait Wait and some other fare and was able to say “Alexa, pause” when I needed to go back and take care of the outcome of that coffee and then “Alexa, continue” when I was back in the kitchen working on a Tricorder I was adding leather to. It’s sweet. Everybody needs a leather-covered Tricorder. I’ll sell you one if you want. But I digress.
As I was working, I realized I should get some Armor All to shine up this leather.
“Alexa, add Armor All to my shopping list.”
“I’ve added ‘Armor All’ to your shopping list.”
“Oh. I’m out of tea, as well. Alexa, add tea to my shopping list.”
“I’ve added ‘tea’ to your shopping list.”
Later I decided to go to Target for a few things before the next potential snowcano/icenami (I’m trying to stop using snowpocalypse). So while there I opened the shopping list and bought the things I’d put there earlier.
Note to Amazon: Notice how I did not buy these items on Amazon.com. Why? Because the shopping list is separate from all Amazon wish lists. It is not integrated into Amazon.com in any way. The shopping and to-do lists ONLY exist in the Echo app. So it was more convenient for me to, while at a shopping establishment, use the list to buy things while I was there.
And, finally, yes I’ve made Echo cuss and say “boobies” and tell me jokes. I’ve had her ignore me when she thought I was either not being serious or she just couldn’t sort out what I said. And sometimes she just doesn’t get things like “Alexa, what year was the book ‘1984’ published?” Some of that is her, some is Bing, her search engine. And, by the way, Mike J. Nichols, sometimes you’re the general manager at Bing or, occasionally, you’re a “film editor originally from Illinois”. But never The phantom Editor (I decided to use your name as a test as I was listening to Chris Taylor’s book at the time.)
So far I’ve been very pleased with both the accuracy of things she does understand and the speed. In fact, I was playing a Youtube video review of Echo and she would perk up and answer the questions heard in the video at the exact same moment as the Echo in the video. Recognizing speech and performing a near-instantaneous lookup and reply is, let’s be honest here, pretty damned cool.
Am I happy with my $99 Wikipedia reader, music player and NPR indulge-my-laziness player? Yep. Knowing that she’ll do more in future is great, but I’m fairly happy with what [granted, little] she does now.
Oh. FYI – “In Cambridge there’s a winter storm warning in effect until 1 AM Tuesday, February 10th. The current weather is 27 degrees with flurries. Throughout the night you can expect more of the same with a low of 26 degrees.” :)
// September 19th, 2014 // Comments Off // Rambling
It’s an 18″ (plus stand) replica of the Spaceship of the Imagination from the new Cosmos series.
A little more info here on my G+ account and hopefully some build notes and pics later.
// November 19th, 2013 // Comments Off // Rambling
UPDATE: I’ve moved most of my former Pair-hosted sites to Media Temple and I’m also managing a client’s hosting there as well. I’m pretty happy with MT overall for managed-hosting needs. Agghosting and its clients is running on its own server over at Linode and I’m super happy with this [unmanaged] machine.
I recently had to abandon ship from my preferred hosting company of some 12+ years, Pair Networks. Seriously. I once loved them and recommended them left and right. The falling apart started, I now recognize, once I moved from my old and no longer offered plan to their new shared hosting. It was fine for a while. I didn’t host everything there — this blog, for instance, isn’t — but a handful of sites for which speed mattered to me (and some I moved when space became an issue, prior to the move to the ‘new’ system) were there.
Now they’re at Media Temple and they’re fast and reliable again. And the price is the same. I just feel sad that Pair let me down. Like an old friend who suddenly snubs you. I was planning to move Ruining It for Everyone there, but the performance failures made that untenable. It’s still at Dreamhost which was meant to be temporary (and is still more reliable and faster than my Pair account had become). I’ll move it to Media Temple soon, too.
But back to my Pair problem… Sorry. This is long and I didn’t originally intend to spew all this, but it’s happening now so just hang in there… Continue Reading
I made some default comic page settings for myself in Manga Studio, so I thought I’d share the settings here so you can make your own.
Caveat: Bear in mind that the page dimensions are equal to the trim size, not the paper size. So, your bleed line is the edge of the [virtual] page. Register Mark = Margin Area and Basic Frame = Live Area. So, again, full bleed means fill the page completely. You could make them to paper dimensions if you wanted, but I didn’t see the point in it as that would make the printable area too large to print on the intended paper size. I hope that makes sense.
The first is the modern US comic page just as if you bought some blue-lined boards (see below for older page size). I triple-checked this using some blue-line (EonProd and BlueLinePro)… and then Manga Studio rounded up (If this really bugs you, convert to millimeters). I’m going to just live with it. The ‘exact’ dimensions in inches are: 10.5 x 15.875, 10 x 15.375, 9×14.875
Several years ago I illustrated a short piece written by my pal Liz Argall. It was a very simple B&W thing with very few words. I think it turned out OK. Well, today I ran across the files and decided to try out some digital brushes on my new tablet. So, here’s a blast from the past and a little surprise for Liz.
(click to enlarge)
// March 9th, 2013 // Comments Off // Represent
Your desert pleasure barge ain’t truly pimped until you add some barge flaps. Show how hard you party and your love for space princesses, plus keep the dust from gettin’ all up in your grill while you entertain the peeps and maybe eliminate some pesky do-gooders.
I started thinking about this around November 6th, 2012. You can make the connection, I think. And then today I read Ashley Miller’s story of how she lost her father… to racism. So I put all the words into some sort of order, and here they are.
Elegy for a Racist
“I ain’t apologizing. That’s just the way I was raised.”
“That’s an excuse, not a justification.”
So you’re a racist in 21st century America. Welcome to the fringes. Oh, no, you didn’t realize did you. You thought you were still mainstream, salt of the Earth, true blue. Perhaps you’ve surrounded yourself with others like yourself and that helps you maintain the illusion. Or, at the very least, you’ve cowed those around you with your bile and wrath, so they won’t challenge you or call you out. But the truth is that the society you live in no longer accepts you as rational, as educated, as ‘normal’. And it doesn’t care to hear your arguments contrariwise. No, sir or ma’am, you are a minority. You are an ‘other’. The society where you fit in has grown and matured. It has left you behind. You and that hateful lump of smoldering rotten coal that simmers in your heart.
You’re unwanted. You are an artifact of an age, time and place that no longer exists. The words you once loved to use as weapons – now so actively listened for that – even muttering one under your breath is a risk you rarely take outside the walls of your home. And you will sit there, festering and growing colder and harder as you begin to feel the isolation of being an outsider. And not so long from now, you will become a fossil — Bigotus Americanus. And people will look upon you with new eyes, eyes not clouded by the hate you’ve kept burning and tried to pass down to your kith and kin. And they will wonder how you lasted as long as you did.
Yes, surely a few of you will survive long into humanity’s twilight. Your kind are always around, lurking. But no longer in the numbers you once enjoyed, comfortable in the rocking chair of self-satisfaction and privilege you once lazed in. You are now, and they will future be, pariahs. They will be secret outcasts who dare not speak their mind lest they be tossed out of humanity’s warmth. Hiding as you and your kind have made others hide.
But you, you original sinner, you will be long gone.
Update 2: Nope. Now they’re saying she’s ‘lost’ TWO modems and has to pay for both of them. So, basically, if they can’t properly document the whereabouts of their equipment, it must be your fault.
High-speed internet suggestions in the Atlanta area?
Update: The @ComcastCares Twitter people are offering to look into this for my friend. Presumably pre-truck roll. Before it was just (paraphrased) ‘Sorry. Let us know if you have any questions after the truck comes to your house [for no apparent reason and then leaves again none the wiser].’
BTW, I like the whole @ComcastCares on Twitter thing. It’s actually helped me at least once with a d.u.m.b. situation. But don’t fool yourself that this was some brilliant idea on Comcast’s part. A guy who used to work there named Frank Eliason took it upon himself to start it and then showed the company that it worked. To their credit Comcast let him create a small team to do this sort of online triage, but they were, and presumably still are, just a small hand trying to steer a large gun away from continually shooting the foot of the Comcast giant.
IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH
Friends may have heard me whinge about something like this before in person. OK, I realize that doesn’t narrow it down. But bear with me. I’ve never jotted down my thoughts online about this issue and it really bugs me. No, this is not election-related. I’m not up in arms about Honey Boo Boo’s poll numbers or who names a child ‘Saxby Chambliss’ or some such shite. It’s Comcast.
Comcast just seems to want to waste not just your time, but gas and man-hours on trivialities. And they just don’t seem to either A) give two shits about it or B) realize that they’re just wasting gas (and my money) and ERMAGERD STOP BERNIN ALL TEH GASS! This seems to be institutionalized waste, too. She says from her First World perch on her couch in front of her giant-ass TV plugged into #*&^%@^& Comcast cable.
Roll a truck. Roll a truck. Roll a truck. Is there a union inside Comcast that we don’t know about that says “When in slightest doubt, roll a truck. If a tree falls in the woods, roll a freakin’ truck!” And we, undoubtedly, pay for this waste via our exorbitant cable bills. I don’t know about you, but my cable bill is ludicrous for what I get. OK, back up. Actually, I do know about several of you, including the friend who just this week asked me how she can best get rid of Comcast because she feels like she’s being fleeced like a whale in Vegas. But for me it’s a monopoly. I literally have no choice if I want cable TV (and by cable I mean HBO, AMC and ‘all that other stuff’). It’s Comcast or it’s nothing for me.
FREEDOM IS SLAVERY. IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH.
So what prompted me to write this screed and in the sentence after this one compare Comcast to the dystopian bass-ackwards grinding dumb machine that is The Party in Orwell’s 1984? Well, a friend is currently dealing with some Comcast INGSOC. You see, she’s just realized that The Party… errrr, I mean Comcast… or Xfinity… or whatever their name is… is still charging her for her old cable modem. She asked for her a service disconnect when she moved, a tech came and did so and took the equipment away as is their duty. However the cable modem, which is now marked as inactive on her account, is still on her monthly bill. The undisputed part is that it’s clearly not the cable modem that’s currently in use, there’s no question of that. Each unit has a unique ID called a MAC address that Comcast can easily view. So they know what unit is online. If for no other reason than that once upon a time another truck came and installed a different cable modem at her current residence on a completely different order which they have in their system.
1) A disconnect order is somewhere on file at Comcast that her services was disconnected and the tech closed that order, but with no notation that anything was wrong and the modem was not found. And since equipment retrieval is S.O.P. for the disconnection order, the assumption has to be that the device was picked up. Otherwise, the tech would/should have noted that the modem was missing.
2) The service at her current residence is using a Comcast modem that they are fully aware is not the modem in question and was connected on a completely different order, also somewhere on file.
3) The obvious conclusion is that the old modem was picked up along with the other equipment during the disconnect order and someone dropped the ball in removing it from her bill. Obvious to the the Proles, that is.
4) This means they need to roll a truck. Because for every little thing that a billing person is not capable of typing into CES… a truck must roll, a tech must be paid and gas must be burned and… Wait. WTF?
Yes. To sort this out, Comcast’s Ministry of Truth is not looking at the previous disconnect order, using logic to extrapolate the clear error on their part (FYI, Comcast, the tech works for you – their screwups are your screwups) and saying, “Ah. The only logical conclusion is that we screwed up. A tech came out on xx/xx/xx when you moved and disconnected your service and, if the modem had been missing, the tech should have noted this. They did not. Sorry for the confusion, Miss, here’s your refund.”
No, instead of that, their brand of DoubleThink, let’s call it XfinityThink, means they need to roll a truck to have a tech… look at a thing that is not there and declare “It’s not there”.
Yes, that was a long run-on sentence above, but you read it correctly. A tech will show up, stare at the cable modem that they already know is not the one in question, not see it transmogrify into a completely different cable modem that they have no way of knowing where it is and say “OK.” Then get back in a truck and burn some more gas.
Instead of a human with decision-making abilities looking at this situation and saying “That’s a complete waste of time, money and gas, old bean. And it is pointless as, for all we know, even if she had the modem, which seems logically unlikely and would still be our fault for not properly maintaining record of, she could have delivered it in offering to Cthulhu for shinier hair and whiter whites, for all we know. A tech going to her house is not going to change anything other than our gas consumption. And waste her time.”
I mean, seriously, is this tech going to show up and ask to search her house for the missing modem like some TV Cable Cop? CSI: Xfinity? Today’s episode: “Don’t go to work, we need to come look at a modem that’s not there.” A modem that’s probably an old DOCSIS 2 unit anyway that they would just toss in a landfill. But if they can continue to charge you for it — but waste twice the value in gas and tech time — hey, whatever. No. That would be logical. So that’s not the plan. Bad is good, brother. Smart is stupid.
A thing that is Not There is more Not There once we’ve not seen it being Not There with our eyes.
Personally, I can think of at least four instances in recent years where I’ve had a truck sent to my house for completely trivial things that someone could have done over the phone. And every time I wondered “How much did that just cost? And don’t they realize what a waste of money it is? And… how much am I paying for it, ultimately?”
Or do virtual monopolies care about such things like burning crap-tons of petrol? My friends who live in the area of town where there’s actual competition and therefore lower prices can stop laughing and shut the hell up. Or tell me where I need to move so I can get RCN.
Comcast… you are a big stupid beast.