Archive for the ‘Something to know’ Category

Kindle madness

Monday, June 8th, 2009

I’m just going to say it for the record. The Amazon Kindle goes on my list of one of the greatest tech toys I’ve ever gotten. I’ve had mine for about a month now and it’s been absolutely fantastic. The page looks so much like text printed on a page that I’ve been able to read books left and right. This comes at such a good time too because I’ve been running around too much to sit and read an actual book. I have tried to set a goal for myself of reading 40 books a year. Last year was my first year and I conquered my goal.  That may have had to do with the fact that I had a broken leg for a month and a half so all I did was read books during that time. This year however, has been a challenge due to the fact that I’ve been moving around a lot. All the driving has me a little out of the flow of reading.

The Kindle solved all of these problem. First, I carry it everywhere just like my mp3 player. I started to count audiobooks into this equation late last year therefore I really enjoyed putting audiobooks on my mp3 player. The Kindle solved that too with it’s very listenable text-to-speech (TTS). I had written a script in Linux to grab PDF’s off my server, convert them to text and feed them into the program Festival (a TTS program) for this purpose but now I don’t need to (or so I thought but read on). The Kindle proved very easy to listen to and not too robotic. I had a collection of PDF books on my server that I used Calibre to convert to .mobi format instead of the proprietary .azw format of the Kindle.

Then it all fell apart. Amazon was sued by the audiobook companies. They have overhead. They pay people to read the books for their audio versions. Who was I to get a book and think I could have my personal robot read it to me? How obsurd.  I jest because I was really pissed that Amazon just caved in instead of giving them a fight. So, somehow Amazon decided to turn off the feature for your Kindle to read most books to you unless it gets authorization from the publisher. I found the book I bought recently did not have that authorization and since it was originally published two years ago I doubt they’d try to find out if they could get it. So, I’m kind of screwed there.

Scrreeecch! Hit the brakes! You thought I gave up there? Please… There are tools to convert and rip .azw files. Calibre won’t do it and neither will Stanza but they tell you to find 3rd party programs. That’s a slick way of saying, “Hey if you can find it out there I won’t look. Once you’re finished bring it back to me and I’ll handle the rest.” So, off to find these 3rd parties. I will let you know what I find. Especially if I can come up with a command line program to do it. That way I’ll have the files converted and ready for my Kindle seconds after it notices it’s plugged in. The script will copy new .azw’s convert them and put them back as .mobi files.

The love of tech continues.

Nothing new here people. It’s just a tool.

Wednesday, October 29th, 2008

I was at a PTA-like meeting last night at one of my sons schools with my wife (it’s actually like a class but that’s a whole other story). Next thing you know we were talking about “Things that get in the way of our children’s success.” Of course sooner or later subjects like Myspace, instant messaging and porn come up. It soon became quite a hot topic when some parents believed children should never have computers in their rooms.

I have a lot of thoughts on this subject being a young curious kid myself. However, no sooner had I thought about all the things I could say before my wife redirects the crowds attention to me explaining how our kids don’t have this problem. In short I explained to the class that a computer in the room is like having a whole bookshelf full of books because of all you can learn and that with some small tweeks you can provide some amount of safety. However, if I had wanted to spend more time on the subject I would have taken a different tact to address a more pessimistic mother.

After the class seemed appeased with the fact that they can provide a good amount of internet safety, one pessimistic mother had something to add. “Children will always find a way around whatever you do.” I didn’t respond however I was at first insulted by her defeatist attitude before I realized that the core of the problem was elsewhere. The child.

I tell companies this all the time as well as families: “The computer is a tool just like a hammer is.” That’s it! It may be slicker looking, made of plastic and metal and have lights but it’s just a tool. A hammer can be used to build a house or kill someone. It all depends on the operator of that tool. In the context of the class, I could have provided security on the level of the CIA on that computer however, just like with a hammer, if you want to do something malicious there are hammers laying around all over town.

“There is no new thing under the sun” is a verse from Ecclesiastes 1:9 (which I searched for on the internet). It holds true for all the things we talked about in class that people who watch the news all the time need to realize. Our world is no worse than 2000 years ago when Jesus was here and people felt it was the end of times. People afraid of homosexuals in office don’t realize that most of the Greek and Roman senates were openly gay back then. Murder and mutilation were paraded in the streets. Rape happened often. The world hasn’t changed it’s just newer and faster tools.

The cycle continues you just need to focus on the operators not the tools.

Politics, business, and computers

Friday, August 29th, 2008

I’ll start this post off with the disclaimer I’m not a person that is a big fan of or a believer in politics or politicians. Also, I’m going to say that I understand that two things you never talk about with people you don’t know are religion and politics.

With that said, I’m going to talk about the Obama speech today at the Democratic convention. Let me say in short… WOW! This is where the business and tech stuff comes in. I didn’t originally watch the speech. I did however watch it on CNN online (www.cnnpolitics.com). The reason I did is because of a client calling me right afterward and saying he wanted to get started right now on a project that we planned for possibly a month from now. He was fired up and ready to make some change in our country.

Soon after that were posts on Facebook from my friends and colleages about it. Still not convinced I chose to actually watch the video before my meeting tomorrow and I was not disappointed.

Now, I must say, I have not counted out Sen. Mccain nor do I even know much about what he really stands for. However, whatever happens, our country will definitely need their IT departments to step up the pace and be a little more cutting edge and progressive. People are getting fired up and I will make it my duty to keep you looking toward that edge. Still with the cost effective, budget minded and people centric nature that I have always provided.

Ooops, maybe I’ve been turned into a bit of politician there myself. Naaahhhh… You know I’m not changing. I’m still me.

What is a simpler time?

Wednesday, July 30th, 2008

What is your definition of a simpler time? In our efforts to make everything easier are we neglecting what is… simple?

In the new millinium the 1950’s are considered a simpler time. In the 1950’s the 1920’s were considered a simpler time. What are these people that search for this simplicity really looking for? Usability experts look to make the computer or your electronic devices think like you do. With this logic your DVR will know you so well that when you get home from work it will probably listen to the tone of your voice and decide if you want to watch an episode of “Lost” or the local college basketball game. That sounds pretty simple (by the way Sony, you can have that idea for free) but I don’t think that’s what we’re really looking for.

Maybe we’re looking for freedom. Freedom sounds simple, right? You wake up in the morning and the government wants nothing more than for you to be happily content. Nobody want’s anything from you or gives you anything so you have no expectation either way. Cave men had it that way but that simple kind of scares us. Knowing what needs to be done like hunting down your food. Let’s fast forward to at least the age of bartering.

Let me propose this concept for your approval. You are living in the simpler time if you chose to only accept it. Not because you can talk to your phone and tell it who to call or even the fact that everyone has a phone on them all the time. Not because your TV has a thousand channels and you can even have the TV in your car. Not because the internet allows you to find someone somewhere that had the same problem as you and has solved it or allows you to find a product you could find for cheap in your local store. These are not the answers but in all actuality the causes of more of the problems. Psychology studies have shown that more choice actually causes people to get more unhappy. Thus as our lives seemingly become more simple they do get more complex.

These are the good old simple days. Just narrow your choices intentionally. Take the first parking spot you see and walk to the door to the mall. Realize that once you’ve made a decision on a product you’ve got the best thing possible at there and there could be no better. Realize that almost any computer you get (at least for the average user) is so much more than enough. If you could take a time machine back to any time in history they would tell about some of the complexities in life that you would absolutely laugh at while hopping back into your time machine back to the present. Keep reading my blog. I definitely try to keep it simple.

Open design and the real world

Friday, April 25th, 2008

In a previous post about “Communist design” I got a weird thought about taking the opposite into consideration but in the real world. Open source vehicles, buildings, spaceships, boats, etc. People combining their thoughts for a better solutions. I found that these ideas already exist.

jsfpic.JPGMy first I’d already heard of was the Joint Strike Fighter aka JSF F-35 jet fighter. This jet fighter is a collaboration of a couple companies and countries. It’s actually a working plane that will be the next major fighter. It has stealth, virtical lift off, supersonic speed, massive firepower, and advanced computer and camera integration. In a word… COOL.

The next on our list… The OScar. Right now this car is strictly conceptual. The concept started in 1999opencar.jpg but became fully open to everyone in 2006. According to an article posted at Autoblog the Open source car actually debuted last March (2007) with it’s first concept vehicle. Looks pretty sleek and not totally the spec that is posted on the OScar website but there’s a lot of room to really make this something that could change the world.

Watching a video on TED I also was very intrigued by the open source textbook publishing company. Imagine, books that evolve quickly and are cheaper because the book can be printed and bound on demand. Our kids wouldn’t be left behind with old information because new books are in print, etc. This really would have helped out when Pluto was ruled out as real planet.

How about a music synthesizer? this video is from South by Southwest in 2006. A lady namd Limor Fried talks about her open source synthesizer and open source in the real world.

Why not collaborate on food? Yes it’s true. There is an open source cookbook and open source beer project.

So, there you have it. Those are some of the great real world applications for open source. I’m sure there are more and I would be very happy to know about them. If you are technically minded though, I also love to mention cool sites like: Makezine, Hack a Day, and Hackszine. It’s pretty much open source to me because the comments allow you to combine your ideas for a better final project.

We need an enemy

Thursday, April 24th, 2008

Let me start by admitting that I’ve been taking in a lot of the Military channel lately. I’ve mostly been watching the history channel like documentaries on the wars of the past. Mixed with my Discovery channel viewing I got a couple of ideas.

I’ve talked to my kids and have talked about it many times but we need an enemy that the whole world is against. That’s when people come together for a common goal. During WWII the United States used its automotive industry to outproduce tanks and planes at a rate of almost 10 to 1 of Germany (and a couple other countries combined). At the same time peaks in technology development start due to the needs of weapons and surveillence. After each war technology development falls off. Ghengis Khan absorbed civilizations and turned their aim at the next target. The newly incorporated believe were treated good and soon offered their technology to his war efforts.

If we felt like aliens from outer space were going to attack in a given amount of time then we’d all get together and become prepared as a planet. People need to have a motivation and not just a desire for excess. Right now sea and space exploration seem to be excess. I guess nobody really realizes that their short on resources till they’re desperate. I need to start filling up my tank before I get on “E” too. Non-metaphorically speaking, I need to find where I can help here. Tell me if you have any ideas.

Who’s rummaging through your files?

Wednesday, December 19th, 2007

In a recent article posted on Ars Technica, Kenneth Sodomsky (oddly similar to sodomy if you know the story) was prosecuted for child pornography after some techs at Circuit City found child porn on his computer. No doubt he was wrong as could be. His computer was littered with video and pictures of 13 – 14 year old boys being “touched” (s0rry for the gory details).  His information was turned over to the police by Circuit City after a tech was supposed to be installing a DVD drive on the computer. It was deemed that in the normal process of installing the drive the tech didn’t violate his privacy because he needed to search through his files for videos.

This is an American tragedy. Not because of the fact that we have perverts in the world looking at under age children.  That’s the perfectly obvious part.  However, I am appalled that he was prosecuted and the Superior Court of Pennsylvania upheld that the techs needed to search through his computer for videos.  When has it ever been necessary for a person to need the video files on the computer to install a DVD drive.

The issue at hand is your privacy.  If you send your computer into a shop they don’t have the right to rummage through your files.  Imagine if the tech went through the person’s database or accounting data. This is very sensitive information but if information is on my hard drive it’s all sensitive.  I don’t even send in error reports on anything because that developer may keep IP address information with the data sent back to him with any other data that could be sold. This data could be used to give a company a competitive advantage because they know something about me that their competitors could never know.

Imagine if you’re an avid Quicken user and you files are looked at.  You could be brought up on charges of tax evasion or money laundering because of your shoddy accounting techniques. Does the ends always justify the means?  In my book the answer is no.  In the case of the Kenneth Sodomsky he’s getting what he deserves however, I would have rather him get it from good investigative work that my false privacy beliefs from your local computer store.

Skype can take my money?

Friday, November 9th, 2007

I’ve got to say, I really do love using Skype.  It is Voice over IP made very easy to use.  I’ve even heard about the new Skype phone that’s coming out.  That is very cool although I already have one.  It’s called a PDA with Skype installed on it.  Yes, you can install Skype on mobile devices and take advantage of the built in speaker and microphone using it like a cell phone.

Seeing all this Skypey goodness I decided to pay $30 at the beginning of the year and it gave me unlimited calling for the rest of the year.  I could call from my computer to any phone in the US and some abroad for nothing more than the $30 I paid.

Sounds really good.  However, a small gripe just came to me when I had just not used it in a while.  I got a letter telling me to either use it more or I forfeit my credit.  Who in the world thinks this is actually right?  Of course, it did work because I did end up using my Skype account again but what business is it of theirs?

It’s not really the same thing but can you imagine if clothing companies did this?  Imagine you buy a pair of Levi jeans and if you don’t wear them in a month someone knocks on your door and says, “We’ll be taking those back now because you obviously don’t appreciate them.”   Will satellite TV start cutting off stations because we don’t watch them much?

Oddly, enough, in thinking about this AT&T was doing this with internet access here in California.  They decided to lower everyone’s DSL speeds unless you called in to complain.  If you did they’d act like their fixing something and give it back to you.  Be warned Skype, AT&T did this to me and I called in.  However, they didn’t put my speeds back to where they were.  I’m no longer on DSL now.  I’m on cable internet.

Notice to Skype:  No VOIP is an island.  There are a million companies waiting for you to screw up.

Batman and Dick Tracy… Here I come

Friday, October 5th, 2007

Why do us techies do it? What are the gadget freaks after? Why do we love it so much? Well, when we were growing up we saw something. Maybe it was Knight Rider’s car Kit. Dick Tracy’s wrist communicator. A space shuttle leave the starship Enterprise. For me it was the computer in the Bat cave on Batman. batman_2_th.jpg

There couldn’t have been a better example of a computer system that I dreamed for at the time. All the information on anything and anyone he needed but he had to use his brain to solve the problem. The live versions of the shows only had blinking lights but the cartoon was a vision of the future. The den of my house as a kid was my bat cave in the making. Now, I hope for the real thing. My office is networked and filled with computers as servers and workstations to do whatever I can.

That’s the goal for all of us techno types. To do whatever we can. Now, I’m too close to Batman. He had a good run but I’ve got to take it to the next level. I’ve got two big projects then I’m on to making my house a starship on the level of the Enterprise.

So, here’s the plan. If you can help that would be great. I’ve got to tame LDAP, Directory services, and maybe voice recognition and talk back capabilities. I’ll let you in on some of the contact data and database components when I know what I’m talking about.

I’m sure all the gadget freaks are onboard with me too. Dick Tracy’s watch isn’t so unbelievable if someone saw it in a magazine today. Still cool but not beyond belief.

Live blogging from Podcamp in Ontario

Thursday, September 27th, 2007

I’ve been so wanting to post something in the last day or so but a lot of running around and getting ready for going to the Podcast and Portable Media Expo has had most of my focus.  I am out in Ontario, California today at the Podcamp the day before the expo.  I’m listening to some great speakers right now and had lunch with Roxanne Darling of Beach Walks.

I seemed to have had a ton of interest in a question I decided to speak up on about getting my grandmother on Linux.  More precisely it was about making her listen to the new media of podcasting like the old media of radio.  I’ve been approached by quite a few people about how I did it.  One man was saying that I was the hit of the show so far.  The bad part is, I introduced myself but not my website.

I’ll have more info about what I learned here and possibly go into more depth about my family podcast setup and my new job as programming director for my family’s viewing and listening needs.

Follow the link to Roxanne’s show.  I should be on her podcast later today.