georges' blog

March 1, 2011

Feed2JS

Filed under: Technology — kendall @ 2:22 pm

I installed Feed2JS on this webserver in about 2 minutes. I actually spent more time writing this little article and inserting the feed below. You can see Feed2JS in action at http://www.georges.nu/feed2js/build.php. It took virtually no configuration. Obviously if you wanted to customized the look, fonts, colors, footer, etc., that can be easily done. What Feed2JS does in short is build some javascript that you can embed in a web page that allows you to insert custom javascript.

Here is a sample feed for my Persons of Interest podcast website:

June 16, 2010

Agnostic v. Nonpartisan

Filed under: Technology — kendall @ 7:54 am

I’m tired of people using the expression agnostic when what they really mean is nonpartisan. As an IT professional I hear it often and mostly in this context: “Our product is vendor agnostic, it works with every one.”

I don’t know how this expression became so popular. I wonder who was the first to say it. Doesn’t matter, but maybe we can stop it. It’s just a dumb thing to say. When people say this they sound ignorant–ignorant of the English language anyhow–but for me it spills over to whatever they’re talking about. Funny, because ignorant is what agnostic means. Agnostic means quite literally “I don’t know.” It comes from the Greek /a/ + /gnosis/. Literally /not/ + /knowing/. So, what these people are saying is, “Our technology doesn’t know. Maybe it’ll work, maybe it won’t. If your technology works, that’s good for you. But for me, personally, I’m just not committing to anything just yet. I’m just gonna shelve it for now. I’m holding out until I get more compelling evidence.”

Whereas, if what you are trying to say is that our stuff will work with anything, then your stuff is nonpartisan. You aren’t committed to any single vendor or technology–not committed to a party–you will cross party lines, reach across the aisle. There are other words you could use: nondiscriminatory, impartial, unprejudiced… Or you could just say what you mean: that your technology is standards based, or open, or flexible, or has multi-vendor support… However, if you want just a buzz phrase or just like a word that conjures up imagery or is more metaphorical, then I’m gonna have to advocate nonpartisan. It evokes images of Democrats and Republicans working together.

Anyhow, that is pretty much all I had to say about that. Just my little crusade to clean up the English language. I’m not going to get radical here. Not going to be rude. Just know when you say you’re agnostic, it means you’re ignorant. That’s what I’m thinking, even if I don’t say anything.

May 23, 2010

Fixing my MacBook Pro

Filed under: Technology — kendall @ 2:27 pm
So, about a week ago the the plug from a set of headphone broke off in my MacBook Pro. Well, it didn’t really seem to break off, but more like the very last bit of the plug just the sort of came unscrewed and came off inside the jack. So, I had about 1/4″ of the plug stuck all the way down inside the jack. There wasn’t enough room and it was too deep to grab with a pair of tweezers or needle nose pliers. I was about to take the whole laptop apart to see if I could get to the jack from another direction, but it didn’t take long to see that I was going to have to completely remove the logic board, and even then it appeared unlikely that it’d be any use. So, after several days of reflection on the situation and a bit of googling, I came upon a solution that sounded better than sending my laptop in for a logic board replacement–a repair unlikely to be covered by my AppleCare. This is what I decided to do…

  1. Take a large paperclip.
  2. Straighten it out.
  3. Wind a bit of electrical tape around it so that it would fit neatly inside the jack, leaving about 1/8″ of the paper clip exposed.
  4. Put a tiny dab of JB Weld on the tip of the paperclip.
  5. Slide the paperclip carefully into the headphone jack, being careful not to touch the insides of the jack with the JB Weld. I stood the laptop up on its side so the paperclip was perfectly vertical inside the jack.
  6. Let set for 6 hours.
  7. Gently pull the clip out with the broken off piece attached.

So that’s what I did, and it worked! Thanks Internet for saving me several hundred dollars and several days sans laptop.

My Special Tool.

My Special Tool.

Setting Up.

Setting Up.

It worked!

It worked!

The little bugger.

Here’s the little bugger that was causing all the trouble.

December 19, 2008

Review: The 3G iPhone

Filed under: Technology — kendall @ 5:35 pm

One thing I could hardly wait to get my hands on while living abroad was the Apple iPhone. I saw quite a few people using unlocked phones in the Middle East, but I was willing to wait until it was available in the Middle East or until I moved back to the US. It turns out that the latter happened first. In any case. The 3G iPhone hit the market just a couple of months before I moved back the US. I picked one up the second day I got back and have been using it since. I pride myself a bit on being non-partisan when it comes to technology–I am utilitarian. Nowadays, there are generally may tools available to get a job done and there are compelling reasons to use one over another in various situations. In my work I need to use Windows, Linux, Solaris, and Apple’s OSX. I am not an Apple fan-boy. But…

I have been using Windows Mobile-based smart phones for a few years now. These provided what I needed in a smart phone. I used both HP’s iPac and iMate’s Jammin. Besides a mobile phone–duh–and sync-able contacts, I needed Arabic language support, an Arabic-English dictionary, a Bible program, a web browser and some tech tools, like ssh, telnet, and remote desktop. Some of these features were great, like Olive Tree’s Bible program. Others were merely adequate. And some were present but painful to use like web browsing and remote desktop.

The iPhone is not without its own problems. But generally speaking, and I am not exaggerating, the iPhone is simply the coolest thing ever. Ok, I am exaggerating, but it is pretty cool. Thanks to AT&T’s 3G network and adequate memory and processing power on the phone web browsing is not something I do as a last resort. Sure it would be better on a full-sized monitor, but when I am out and about I do not hesitate to check something out on the web with my iPhone. Resizing and moving around pages with the touch screen and gesturing quickly becomes second nature. Also, many sites have developed iPhone formated version of their sites. But there are also iPhone apps developed for many activities that would otherwise be browser-based. I’ve got the WordPress, Facebook, MySpace, and Amazon apps installed so there is no need to navigate to these sites to do these things. I could use some better games, with longer playability… But generally speaking gaming is fun and certainly no worse than with a Windows Mobile handheld. Many games make good use of the accelerometer. The camera takes surprisingly good pictures. Phanfare’s Photon app makes uploading pictures from your iPhone to your Phanfare gallery trivial.

The complaints I have heard about the phone are first related to the phone itself and the operating system–that it drops calls or the quality of calls is poor. I can’t comment on that–I’ve not had any problems in this regard. Secondly, battery life. I have found that the battery life leaves a bit to be desired. But only in comparison to ordinary cell phones. Sure you can get days of battery life with a cell phone, but i pretty much got used to having to charge my phone everyday. That is pretty much what you need to do with the iPhone, plug it in every night. If you do a lot of gaming on your phone, it might not make it all day. The third main complaint is that there is no way to tether your phone such that you can use the modem with your laptop. This is simply untrue. But in the interest of full disclosure, it is not trivial. For what ever reason (meaning AT&T wouldn’t allow it) this application is not available at the App Store. You will need to jailbreak your phone. If you use the QuickPwn app this is a snap. Then you will need to use the Cydia app store to install IPhoneModem. There are confusingly two applications named iPhoneModem–one is free and one cost $10. I had no success with the free version, but the one by Addition seems to work pretty fine, particularly version 2. I am online now, while driving down I-40 on our family road trip from Oklahoma to California. We’re about an hour from Albuquerque.

Anyhow, I’m still lacking full Arabic support. There is a product by Islam4iPhone or some such company. I tried installing it, but so far without success. Also, their site is only in Arabic, which slows me down. But I’m confident this will be coming soon. Arabic support is essentially no different than Hebrew support and there appears to be a pretty strong Israeli community lobbying for Hebrew support. On the Arabic-English dictionary side, Google’s online translator is pretty good. It is free. And it does a lot of other languages too. But without native Arabic support, the words don’t look right, because the letters are not connected.

Anyhow, I don’t intend to be comprehensive here, just want to say, love my iPhone. I highly recommend it. It is getting better everyday. It is about time someone made a smart phone that was fun to use. I will probably try to do some individual app reviews in the days ahead.

June 27, 2008

Phanfare Update: They don’t suck so bad…

Filed under: Technology — kendall @ 11:48 pm

I need to set the record straight. After taking pains to migrate my photo gallery to SmugMug, I contacted customer service at Phanfare to cancel my account. They did so quickly and painlessly but included this bit of information in the message:

I know you have likely moved your site, but I did want to tell you that as of June 1st, there will be an additional option in 2.0 to allow you to share your albums publicly (with everyone at your URL) without requiring a login or registration. Based on all the feedback, we decided to allow this change to make the system more useful for people who really did want an open URL. There is still a Phanfare header on the pages, but other than that, the pages are unchanged.

Just wanted to pass that along…

A few comments:

  1. I had moved my galleries–to smugmug. And it was not a painless process. I tried out both Migratr and Smugglr. And neither worked effortlessly. In the end I had two copies of every photo, so I had to manually delete the duplicates. Also, all the galleries were private. So I had to manually set each one to public. At least all the captions and album descriptions were imported.
  2. “Thank you, for finally listening and catching a clue!” I was pretty upset with the changes that came with 2.0, specifically that users could not share their galleries without registration. Based on the reactions on their forum and the few comments I received to my post, there were a lot of unhappy (and some down right angry) users out there. I knew I wasn’t alone. I was glad that they had come to their senses and responded favorably to the public outcry.
  3. “Could you have figured this out sooner and let me know sooner?” Apparently, I acted just days ahead of this going out to all Phanfare users.

So… what does that all mean?

I’ve already swallowed the pill of moving my galleries to SmugMug. I am still feeling burned by the whole thing.

Why would I even consider going back to Phanfare?

Here’s the deal…

On the positive side: Yes, I’ve moved my galleries to SmugMug. That’s a realatively done deal. Also, in the meantime, SmugMug upgraded the feature set for “power user.” This is the package that has the same annual price as Phanfare. They now offer custom URLs for their power user. Awesome. So, feature-wise, did I lose anything by moving to SmugMug?

On the negative side: SmugMug does not support sub-galleries. This made the migration and organization of my galleries clunky. Also, SmugMug’s uploader is simply primitive. Phanfare simply has the coolest upload and organization utility out there. Also, Phanfare offers a lifetime membership–pay for five years up front and you are good for life. That is a pretty good deal. With SmugMug you’ll be paying that annual membership until you die.

On balance, as I see it, Phanfare is simply better.

So, the question is, was I able to put my hurt behind me and trust Phanfare again?

I decided that I could give them another chance. But I wouldn’t make it easy for them. Let’s not forget, so far I’ve paid the price for Phanfare’s mistakes. I moved my stuff to SmugMug and I was beyond the two week money back guaranty window. I was out time and money. Phanfare would have to meet me half-way at least. I extended the olive branch. I wrote Phanfare customer support and said they could have me back as a customer if they’d reinstate my lifetime membership less the $59.99 I paid to SmugMug. They accepted. So, Phanfare got me back. They admitted they were wrong. They paid a small penalty for their mistakes. I was out some time, but not any money. And I got back on with a service that is nearly everything I am looking for in a photo host. I’ll give them a chance. I will trust again.

March 28, 2008

Renting Movies at iTunes

Filed under: Technology — kendall @ 11:17 pm

I’m not going to say yet that I’m addicted to renting movies at iTunes, but we’ve done it three times in about a week and I just have to say, “I like it.” I’m sure we’ll slow down, like immediately, but it really is a convenient way to rent quality films just as soon as they are out and you don’t even have to leave the house. As I said in an earlier post, being able to watch while it is downloading is choice. My experience is that after about a hour of lead time, the remainder downloads concurrently with watching. But, also, I was able to just grab a flick that I knew I wanted to watch though I didn’t know how soon. You have a month to watch, so you can load up a couple of flicks no problem.

So, I’m not a junkie, but am converted and a satisfied customer.

March 22, 2008

On-demand video is the way of the future revisited.

Filed under: Technology — kendall @ 12:46 am

I guess it was at MacWord 2008 that Steve Jobs announced that Apple would start renting movies through iTunes. Well, a few nights ago, Claudia and I rented our first film through the iTunes store. We rented Michael Clayton. It was a decent film, but not one we would necessarily want in our personal library. So, it was a perfect occasion for renting. However, our local video stores are a bit slow to acquire new releases. So, iTunes came to our rescue and overall, it was a good renting and viewing experience. We live halfway around the world, but the download was still only about two and a half hours–1.5 GB. iTunes let’s you start watching while it’s still downloading. So, after about two-thirds was downloaded, we started watching and the download finished before the movie did, so our viewing was not interrupted. We’ve done the same with LOST which we purchase through the iTunes store as well so we’re used to this routine. We aren’t used to broadband performance in the States, but I wouldn’t be surprised if some people stateside are able to purchase and start viewing immediately or nearly immediately. But I would expect that just about anyone could purchase a movie rental before dinner and by the time the kid’s are tucked in, enough or all of the movie would be downloaded and mom and dad could settle in for a little home theater. Anyhow, Apple gets my thumbs up for putting together an on-demand video paradigm that just works.

Another service to keep your eye on is hulu.com. These guys are offering commercial TV for free on-demand. There are commercials, but you’ll get fewer commercial-minutes than broadcast television. Unfortunately, these guys aren’t allowing viewing from overseas, but we’ll see if I can’t figure out a way around that!

I said on-demand video was the way of the future and I’m sure there is more to come.

Desktop Blogging Apps

Filed under: Technology — kendall @ 12:21 am

I like the freedom to edit my blog, basically any where I am by jumping on any computer with an Internet connection and logging into the admin interface at georges.nu/blog. This is particularly nice on any Mac machine which spell checks for you in any browser by default. However, on my own machines, I’ve gotten into the habit of using desktop blogging software. I like the convenience. It’s faster. You’ve got spell check. You’ve got other admin features. You can save local copies to work offline. Anyhow, I just like it. It feels right. On my Windows machines, for this purpose, I use (this may come as a surprise) Microsoft Word 2007. The blogging features work nicely. And since we all have spent a lot of time in Word, it is comfortable. You’ve got all the language tools you need: spell check, grammar check, and thesaurus. I need all the help I can get. At one point (before Office 2007 came out) it seemed like I often found myself editing in Word and then copying over to the browser interface anyhow. Now to be able to simply post when I’m finished is a great little time saver. The thing is, I just got a new MacBook Air, which has become my main portable. I’ve got both Office 2008 and iWork. But Word 2008 for Mac doesn’t have the blogging facilities of Word 2007 for Windows. If I was a conspiracy theorist, I would see here a deliberate effort by Microsoft to cripple their Mac offering to undermine their competitor, Apple. It is rather inexplicable. I generally find that the Mac products from Microsoft are classier and “funner” than their Windows counterparts. Anyhow, since Word 2008 doesn’t have the blogging facility, where does that leave me for a desktop blogging app for Mac? Well, there are a lot of voices out there. It is hard to tell who is out front, but I’m placing my bets on ecto. It has a feature rich editor. All the admin functions you need. And it is priced better than its main competition. I’ve drafted this post using ecto. We’ll se how it goes.

March 7, 2008

News Flash: Phanfare Sucks

Filed under: Technology — kendall @ 10:30 pm

The information in this post is no longer accurate. Phanfare has back-peddled on many of the lame changes they had made. I for one am very pleased about that and say as much in a follow-on post here.

I got this email today saying “Congratulations! Your Phanfare account has been upgraded.” Phanfare is guilty of misusing both the words “congratulations” and “upgraded.” Instead it should have said, “Aha! We got you. You thought we were friends. You didn’t see this coming, but we just [expletive removed] you royal! Ha, ha, ha, ha!”

Just wanted to go public on this one. Phanfare sucks. They’ve turned their backs on their loyal (and very happy) customers in order to try to grab a slice of the social networking and photo printing pie. I was one of those very happy Phanfare customers. Their ease of use was truly second to none. This was a choice feature. I wanted something that Claudia could use easily. It is important that managing your galleries is easy, so you keep them up to date. Phanfare’s client was a pleasure to use. It allowed you to edit galleries, descriptions, captions, everything while the pictures upload in the background. If you made changes on the fly. No problem, the client kept track of it. If you disconnected. It finished next time you’re connected. I wanted my galleries to be ad-free and require no login. They had it. I wanted unlimited storage and user access to my hi-res, full-sized originals. Check. If I wanted to use a custom URL, like photos.georges.nu, I could. Their only weaknesses were that their themes were a bit limited and thumbnails were cropped to a square. Other than that I was really content. I was also committed. I bought the $300 lifetime membership. Pricey, but it was supposed to be a lifetime. Little did know they’d pull the rug off from under me in less than a year.

Now they are requiring that your visitors also get free Phanfare accounts. They’ll need to sign in in order to view your galleries. You’ll be able to see their pictures as well, and keep up-to-date with any activity in their accounts. But this is not how I use my account. This is not how I ever intend to use my account. I’m not interested in trying to get all my friends and family on this service! I just want them to view my pictures!

Well, I’m done with Phanfare. I used to love ’em. Now I hate ’em. They betrayed me. I’m going to have to spend who knows how many hours getting my pictures moved over to a new service. I didn’t want any of my regular visitors to get sucked into Phanfare’s new scam, so I tried to move quickly. I got my smugmug account set up and a couple of my most recent galleries moved over. And I got my links at my website updated. All in less than 24 hours after receiving the bad news. Unfortunately, I wasn’t faster than my mom. She tried to check out our gallery today and was greeted with the “You must sign in to view this gallery” notice. So, she’s one of the new Phanfare 2.0 users. So Phanfare’s user stats are skyrocketing, but I predict it will amount to nothing. They’ll have 99% inactive accounts. What good is that?

Anyhow about smugmug. It has most of the features I want. And the price is essentially the same as Phanfare, only they don’t offer a lifetime membership. They have more themes and more customization. That’s good. But their user interface is not as great as Phanfare. Also you don’t get the custom URL unless you buy the $149 per year pro account. I’m not willing to pay $80 per year for that feature. You get a lot more features with the pro account, of course, but that’s really the only one I’m interested in.

Other disgruntled Phanfare users out there? You might also give zoto.com a look. They have a lot of the same basic features as Phanfare, but the price is a lot more affordable–$19.95 per year. Again, like smugmug, their client is not anywhere as cool as Phanfare, but what can you do?

September 3, 2007

On-demand video is the way of the future.

Filed under: Technology — kendall @ 3:22 pm

On-demand video is the way of the future and anyone who says differently is smoking crack. I don’t know where Greg Sandoval of news.com is coming from. In an August 31 article, NBC, Apple play game of brinkmanship, he wrote:

…nobody has really answered the question of whether people need to watch longer-format shows on their computers when the TV experience isn’t broken.

If nobody has answered that question yet, then I’ll answer it now. The TV experience is broken, badly. Sure there are still armies of people who will uncritically be spoon-fed unsolicited advertising while their televisions are on practically 24/7, however, there is an increasing number of people who are turning off their TV’s altogether and choosing deliberately and consciously what media and advertising they will consume. People are buying DVDs of movies and favorite TV shows. Many people illegally download shows via BitTorrent or other file-sharing apps. I don’t know what the numbers are, but for decades people have recorded TV shows on video cassettes and watched them later fast-forwarding through the commercials. We did this for years when the best TV was Fox Sunday night, with the Simpsons followed by the X-Files. Sunday evening we were generally in church. Thanks to programmable VCRs, we were free to schedule our lives as we saw fit, rather than let the networks do it for us. The birth of Tivo and other genius PVRs were an inevitable evolution from the crude VCR. They allow viewers to watch what they want, when they want, and commercial-free. Now, there are online services, like Apple iTunes and Joost, where people can legally purchase and download movies and TV shows commercial free.

I firmly believe that writers, directors, actors and everybody involved in making quality movies and TV shows deserve to get paid. (Just a point of clarification, yes, there is such a thing as a quality TV show. I haven’t really felt this way since David Duchovny left the X-Files, but Lost brought me back around. This is another post though.) So, since these people deserve to get paid, but many of us hate the commercial interruptions–passionately–and we are skipping the commercials any way we can, I’d say the TV experience is broken. It only makes sense that those of us who are happy to pay for the entertainment we consume have legitimate avenues by which to obtain our favorite programming. Since Apple is the leading distributor of legal media downloads it is reasonable for major media outlets to partner with them. They should have multiple channel partners. But for NBC to cut off Apple is just plain stupid and demonstrates how they are mired in a 20th century paradigm.

My post is in danger of going off in another direction here. Essentially, what is NBC about? Are they about creating quality programming? No, they are about selling advertising time. That is it. The only reason there is competition to create “quality” programming is that the better the programs, the greater the number of viewers, and the more we can charge the advertisers for time. Who are NBC’s customers? You and other viewers? Bah! Do not kid yourselves. The advertisers are the only customers NBC cares about. Viewers are like subjects in a scientific experiment. “How can we keep these laboratory animals glued to the TV screen?” That is all they care about. “But, what about ‘educational programming’ and the news?” you ask. Again, don’t kid yourselves. It’s all entertainment. The news is entertainment. There is no analysis. There is only sensationalism. However, every once in a while, by accident, they get the right people together and they actually produce something halfway decent. (Understand that this is completely different from movies, where their revenue directly correlates to how many people are willing pay to watch the show.) Also, don’t misunderstand me, NBC is not alone here. ALL the major networks operate this way.

So, now you see. NBC and the other networks are not really interested in producing and selling quality programs they are only interested in selling advertising time. NBC is clearly unwilling to observe the signs of the times and the mass migration away from commercial television. They think that if they pretend that people still only want broadcast television where they decide what you will see and when that that will make it so. They long for the good old days, but those days are fading. It is true that youtube is not a TV killer. Nor is iTunes. But, increasingly, my generation and younger will be ditching their TV’s. Our family has not had cable or satellite TV in years. We have never had more than one TV set. Now we don’t even have one. We only have a projector that we use for DVDs and streaming media. We have several PCs. Practically one for every one in the house. And we are not alone. I guarantee that in the not too distant future, the majority of Westerners will be consuming their video entertainment on-demand, fee for service, and commercial free. NBC would be wise to recognize this and continue to provide their content at a reasonable cost and commercial free via legal downloads. It doesn’t have do be iTunes. But, this is the way of the future and they had better transform themselves to conform to that or they will be a thing of the past.

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