Category Archives: Technology

Memo to IRS management

Maybe the IRS should consider moving to Gmail.   They never seem to crash, its constantly backed up  and its free.

Radio Free Galveston

I  changed the Tagline of the blog to today. from “Observations of a Yankee Living in Galveston”  to “Radio Free Galveston”.  The old Tagline was lame and didn’t reflect about what the blog is really about.  The new one in three small words defines  the things I want to post about, and combine to make a tribute to an  effective free press operation.

The new Tagline suggest:

Radio. Is my newest interest and I am  fascinated by different aspects of Amateur radio.

Postings of Galveston news , happenings and politics. Now that the newspaper the Galveston Daily News has turned in a shadow of itself and the website has been buried behind a paywall, There aren’t aren’t as many choices as there used to be.

Free as in freemen (women too) there will always be free people and those who wish to take those freedoms away.

 

New Computer Build

Windows_logo_and_wordmark_-_2012.svgMy trusty little Intel Atom based desktop died a couple weeks ago.  This was a an Ubuntu based system was very inexpensive and yet functional.  I replaced it with a new modern Dell.  Its $600 price tag was double what my Ubuntu based Atom board costs, and came with Microsoft’s new Windows 8 operating system. I  need to have a functional Windows system these days, unfortunately I haven’t figured out how to configure the system as a dual booter. So for now I’m stuck in the Windows 8 ecology.  I can’t say that I’m impressed with Windows 8 the apps and the convoluted way one must do things,  but the whole Idea of an operating is to run the programs we need to use.

I’ve been downloading and configuring the different program and applications I will need and want to use. I find it kinda surprising how short my list is of essential programs that I have installed.

 Google Chrome

I have been using Chrome since the beggining.  What is pretty kewl is that the apps follow the user in a new installation, as well as ones favorites and book marks.  Eventually I’ll install Firefox but for now Chrome is good enough to do what needs to be done.  The nice thing about Chrome though is that the apps I’ve been using automatically got installed.  Some of these Apps are Tweetdeck and Barcode reader

Thunderbird

Thunderbird is the default email reader for most people these days.  I’m amazed at how fast it is to set up and configure. The program prompts the user for email addresses passwords and IMAP or  POP3.  for most configuration login and mail download is automagilcly done.  Those who are still checking their email via a web brouser might reconcider and check out Thunderbird.

 Olympus Viewer 3

Linux and Windows Vista had pretty good import utilities.  Windows 8 though calls up an app when you plug in a camera into the USB port. The problem with Windows 8 apps is that they don’t use the desktop, so practical multitasking is not accessible.   I’ve previously avoided OEM supplied downloaders, and they were not available for Linux based systems anyway. The new Viewer 3 does a pretty good job and allows some touch up editing.  The program uploads and organizes images just fine. While I installed mine from the supplied CD, it is available online from the Olympus site and I suspect it might work from any camera or flash media.

Arduino

I have a couple of Arduino devices, including the Arduino Mega 2560. The new versions of Arduino Programmer.have a real Windows install routine The Arduino is a great development tool for students and professionals alike.  Arduino is an inexpensive and easy way to develop both software and hardware solutions to control or measure or interface with just about anything.

LibreOffice

I don’t have a preference or do I even know what the differences are between OpenOffice.Org and LibreOffice. As far as I am concerned they are pretty much equivilent.  Libre Office is now at version 4.0 and is my gotto for any document creation and editing.  A great Office suite and more than adequate for anything I’m likely to need at my home office.

Microsoft Online Office 365

 This is both a cloud and an application suite.  We moved to this at the office and it came with 5 installations per user so I was able to install everything at home on my desktop.  Suite has a bunch of parts, all which tends to encourage collaboration. The online stuff is hosted by Sharepoint.and is where all the collaboration magic is going to happen.Outlook is available with all of its normal parts, such as tasks and calendars.  Also available are messaging and a newsgroup type functions, blogs and website building tools.   Outlook is pretty good and is pretty much full function the rest of the Office applications is pretty much a neutered version of the real thing.  but is capable of of opening and creating  most documents.

Office 2013 comes to the package and is quickly installed from on line.   Microsofts cloud storage application. Skydrive Pro, the cloud storage app and resoursource is what ties the desktop apps with the online cloud apps. As long as one stores and accesses the Skydrive everything is synced.

This is all rent software and the desktop stuff only runs on Windows 8 or newer OS or Apple OS10 10.3  and better is supported. Vista and XP users are out of luck,  . While my installation is a corporate version . There is a home edition available.  With a licence for up to 5 machines it might not be a bad deal for some home offices with multiple machines and users.

Python 3.3 and 2.7

Python is a programming language. Its today’s BASIC. The nice part about python is that it is cross platform, and it is an interpretive language no compiler required. Its great for writing scripts and even serves as a self documenting calculator I mostly use 2.x because the syntax is a little different for 3.x .  Its a great install for someone who wishes to learn objective orientated programming or create some quick and dirty utilities.

Some stuff I haven’t installed yet but I know I will is Firefox. and Adobe Reader. While some might claim the PC is dead there is still a lot that can be done on a  home desktop. If it is a Windows machine.

 

Google Cleaning House.

Google is discontinuing their reader service on June 1st.  Google seems to do this a lot, offer a service and get a lot of people to use it then take it away. Most of the ideas are an attempt to get people to  work and stay while in their environment.  The problem is Google wants us to use their tools so that they can mine mine data from us. Unfortunatly, often  what they give they take away, Remember Blogger?    A creation of Pyra Labs,Blogger introduced both the blogger and reader to the art and science of blogging, It was free, and all that was required was a host.  which in many cases was provided by our ISPs When Google bought out Pyra Labs. they introduced free hosting., although bloggers were allowed to self host. In other words  to use a host of their own choosing.  This allowed one to use a commercial Web host. This no only allowed users to maintain ownership of their content, but to avoid Google Censorship. Now Google wasn’t all that dictatorial at least in most cases. But any system which responds to complaints subjective decisions as well as automated processes will make bad decisions.    Self Hosting Blogger was the best of both world.  Until Google insisted that we should use their hosting.  This left bloggers with a choice abandon years of work or move their blog to  Google servers.  I left mine on my leased servers , but with out ability to modify, add new comments.   One  unintended side-affect was the loss trust in Google. The user is aware  what Google gives Google can take away.  All this while Google is trying to pull us into  the collaboration in the the clouds scheme.  The grand plan to pull us in and keep us in a Google environment.

There have been a few attempts by Google to build an all inclusive environment  Google Wave was pulled away it just as people were learning to understand it. bloggers and heavy internet consumers were using Google reader, so Google is taking it away in June.   . Google drive is supposed to be the end all using the cloud collaboratively, Its been a year of promises yet Google still hasn;t delivered Google Drive for Linux.

Its getting pretty apparent that while Google gives us great things to play with, they can’t be trusted with real tools that will be available in the long run.. Bing is actually looking pretty these days.

 

Amazon’s Kindle Fire HD Review

This summer Amazon announced a new replacement for their $200 dollar tablet, the Kindle Fire. The new replacement device to be called the Kindle Fire HD. I received mine as an early birthday gift in September. The FIRE HD now comes in several flavors. The Second Generation non HD version  with 8 gigs of storage memory  7″ tablet sells for $159.00. The 64 Gig 8.9 inch with 4G connectivity for $599.  The model I have and reviewing is the $199 16G 7 inch HD model. The Kindle arrives packaged without a lot of extra goodies inside the box.  It comes with a USB cable but there is no charger, there is no paper manual. The metal and glass  construction of  Fire HD gives it a solid heft and feel. The unit comes fully charged and  preconfigured to your Amazon account. All that is required to do is to make the entries to enable the connections to your home WIFI.  Amazon’s Highlighted features are:

  • 1280×800 HD display with polarizing filter and anti-glare technology for rich color and deep contrast from any viewing angle

  • Exclusive Dolby audio and dual-driver stereo speakers for immersive, virtual surround sound

  • World’s first tablet with dual-band, dual-antenna Wi-Fi for over 35% faster downloads and streaming (compared to the iPad mini)

  • High performance 1.2 Ghz dual-core processor with Imagination PowerVR 3D graphics core for fast and fluid performance

  • Over 23 million movies, TV shows, songs, magazines, books, audiobooks, and popular apps and games such asFacebookNetflixTwitterHBO GOPandora, and Angry Birds Space

  • Integrated support for Facebook, Twitter, Gmail, Hotmail, Yahoo! and more, as well as Exchange calendar, contacts, and email

  • Front-facing HD camera for taking photos or making video calls using Skype, Facebook, and other apps

  • Free unlimited cloud storage for all your Amazon content

  • Kindle FreeTime – a free, personalized tablet experience just for kids on the Kindle Fire HD. Set daily screen limits, and give access to appropriate content for each child

  • NEW Kindle FreeTime Unlimited – just for kids. Unlimited access to books, games, apps, movies and TV shows.Learn more

  •  Prime Instant Video – unlimited, instant streaming of thousands of popular movies and TV shows

  •  Kindle Owners’ Lending Library – Kindle owners can choose from more than 270,000 books to borrow for free with no due dates, including over 100 current and former New York Times best sellersI guess the biggest question one might ask “Is this tablet is the best one for me?”

The answer. of course is, It depends”

Amazons tablets strength is also its weakness. The Operating System is a modified Android Icecream Sandwich. It has been tweaked to work int the Amazon environment.  This is a particular benefit if one subscribes to Amazon’s Prime free shipping program which normally has a $79 annual subscription  fee.  We have found that the free 2 day shipping is well worth the Prime membership fee in itself, and Amazon is our prefered on-line retailer.  The free Kindle stuff is icing on the cake.  The free loaner library is mostly unknown authors, but there are some blockbusters there.  The Ian Flemming’s James Bond ,   Suzzane Collins’ Hunger Games and J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series.  There is a decent selection of free videos I find the movie selection is better (not more, just better) than Netflix. The Kindle HD is a very nice personal video player. The screen and audio is surprisgly high quality for such a small device.

The Perhaps the most disappointing thing about Kindle is the supplied web browser, Silk. I wish they had supplied a more developed browser like Firefox or Chrome, It doesn’t support Flash, or as other have claimed  Flash doesn’t support it. I have never been a fan of Flash, but there are still interactive web and you tube sites that demand it. while Silk can seem sometimes awkward it usually works pretty well and remains pretty transparent in its use.

Still the Kindle HD is primarily  an ereader, and it does an outstanding job at this.  Books are highly readable, there is a good selection of fonts and styles supplied, and the kindle is readable most any conitions ecept when a bright sun is behind you. The bright light will wash out the screen. While there are lots of free books and inexpencively priced books available, Sometimes the ebook prices seem out of line.  We are told that the publishers set the price.  I still purchase the dead tree versions when a bargain can be found.  I enjoy reading ebooks, and they have many advantages and do most of my entertainment reading on the ereader.  Occasionally it just pays to be the cheap deadtree paperback at Sam’s club or the used book store.

My biggest praise for tablets such as the Kindle HD is its use as an Adobe PDF reader. As a field service rep. I have lugged around hundreds of pounds of service and user manuals. A laptop and some labeled fashdrives helped a lot, but with an AC powersupply and limited battery life, even a laptop isn’t always user friendly.  Using a tablet with the free PDF reader program has made my life a little easier.  Another use I have remarkably handy is Skype.  If one can find a Wifi connection it can be really handy face to face communications. There is also a useful magic Jack app which is usefull when the cell phone isn’t working.

All in all the Kindle HD has been a very handy an convienient device, and has is one of those things that is essential to  my every day life at work and play.

 

Notes on ebooks

I’ve been reading a lot thIs summer. I finished Ayne Rand’s Atlas Shrugged It only took me about 3 years. I stared by reading it on an old PDF. The problem is the book is so long it strained my little computer and tended to bog it down pretty seriously.  I got recycled nook, and bought it on line.  The Online book cost around  $14 at Barnes and Noble. It was available cheaper as a paperback. This struck me as a lot of money for a 60 year old book. The ebook cost practically nothing to print and nothing to distribute.  Yet, Barnes and Noble charge more than for a real book.  Atlas Shrugged is available in paperback for $7.99  I thought I was getting some insight why Barnes and Noble may be going out of business.

After  trudging through 1200 some odd ages of of  some pretty dry reading, I decided on something lighter. I had a couple of Lee Childs “Reacher Novels” that my darling Equality had picked up for me.  I noted that they had a Sam’s Club price sticker of $6.36.  The price reflects printing, manufacturing, profits and royalties.  Everyone gets and deserves their share. Amazon wants $9.99 for the same books in electronic format.   Seems to me that taking the printing costs out should save some money.

I like the ebook format, and decided to install the the Kindle reader app into my Home desktop and a netbook. The install wasn’t flawless and simple into Linux WINE, but I managed to get it too work.  The Kindle for PC is pretty nice, book marks kept, and notes can be made.   I am disappointed in the price of the ebooks.   I understand that some books can be bought for the 3 , 4  and 5 dollar range. or even for free, but these aren’t the books that I want to read.    Why can I buy a real book cheaper than the electronic version.  I will continue to buy books at discount brick and mortar joints save money even while paying sales tax, and hold off buying a Kindle. I will continue to buy books I can’t get elsewhere from Amazon, but I won’t buying ebooks that are more expensive than the real thing.

NBC and Twitter Conspire to Censorship.

Posting the email address Gary.zenkel@nbcuni.com cost Tweeter his account.

Guy Adams is pretty upset with NBCs Olympic coverage and the way it is handling the time shifted coverage, and hasn’t been shy about letting the world know.  He holds Gary Zenkel, the president of NBC Olympics, as the “moronic exec behind the time delay.” And he said Zenkel should be fired. When He posted Zenkel’s publicly known email address NBC complained to Twitter and Twitter cancelled his account.

Adams said in a column for The Independent that Twitter claimed he crossed the line by tweeting out Zenkel’s corporate email address and encouraging his followers to contact the executive directly.

The email address is easily identifiable, common with how thousands of NBC/Univision employees’ email addresses are determined.

Twitter soon suspended Adams’ account, he said. In a story he wrote in The Independent, Adams wrote that after filing an article critical of NBC’s coverage, he checked his Twitter account only to find it had been suspended. When he inquired why, he received the following response: “Your Twitter account has been suspended for posting an individual’s private information such as private email address.”

With that, the account was gone.

And a controversy was born.

Those who object to the heavy handed way that NBC handled this might wawwant to drop an email to. Gary.zenkel@nbcuni.com

Pi in the Sky

Rasberry Pi
Rasperry Pi

In England some people have decided to do something about what they feel is a slipping in their computer skills as a nation,  They have been working on a $25.00 solution. The Raspberry Pi.  The boards are slowly being let out to the legions of waiting hackers ( I expect to get mine at around the middle of April. The Raspberry Pi has created a lot of chatter and plans. It will be able to run several OS systems including some pretty robust Linux based systems,  complete with the standard development  tools. Of all the different plans and hacks, the strangest idea may be comming from the folks at The Pirate Bay.

The idea is to set up drones flying over international waters and using the a Raspberry Pi as a portal to route traffic to secret ground based systems.  In a blog posting yesterday The Pirate Bay folks laid out their plans.

With the development of GPS controlled drones, far-reaching cheap radio equipment and tiny new computers like the Raspberry Pi, we’re going to experiment with sending out some small drones that will float some kilometers up in the air. This way our machines will have to be shut down with aeroplanes in order to shut down the system. A real act of war.

We’re just starting so we haven’t figured everything out yet. But we can’t limit ourselves to hosting things just on land anymore. These Low Orbit Server Stations (LOSS) are just the first attempt. With modern radio transmitters we can get over 100Mbps per node up to 50km away. For the proxy system we’re building, that’s more than enough.

But when time comes we will host in all parts of the galaxy, being true to our slogan of being the galaxy’s most resilient system. And all of the parts we’ll use to build thatsystem on will be downloadable.

They aren’t without their critics, and while I  believe the future belong to those who take bold steps, I cant help but wonder what these guys are smoking and what tint of purple haze are they in while they type this stuff.

Just wondering ..

Montgomerry TX, Militarized Zone

Montgomery County crashed a drone into their SWAT team tank. I suppose we should just be grateful that it was a tank they crashed into instead of an officer or even an innocent civillian.

As the sheriff’s SWAT team suited up with lots of firepower and their armored vehicle known as the “Bearcat,” a prototype drone from Vanguard Defense Industries took off for pictures of all the police action.   It was basically a photo opportunity, according to those in attendance.

Vanguard CEO Michael Buscher said his company’s prototype drone was flying about 18-feet off the ground when it lost contact with the controller’s console on the ground.   It’s designed to go into an auto shutdown mode, according to Buscher, but when it was coming down the drone crashed into the SWAT team’s armored vehicle.

The damage was not severe, according to Buscher, who described only some ‘blade strikes’ on the prototype drone that was being shown off to the Montgomery County Sheriff’s team.

Maybe Tom Kirkendall has a point when he questions whether the Montgomery County Sherriffs Department has too much money.  Montgomery County is just north of Houston’s Harris County and has some high value taxable lands in the Woodlands  and parts of  Kingwood.  Apparently the county received a Obaman TARP grant to buy one of these things.  So it isn’t just Montgomery county citizens paying for this thing, but all of us.  Do they really need tanks and drones?

Seems like they hold little regard for the people they are supposed to protect and serve. The safety of a drone will never achieve the safety of real piloted aircraft.  Pilots know that any chances taken with an aircraft endangers their life first. A drone operator has little at stake.  The  GAO has looked these droned with skeptism, and spoke of the risks involved.

In the 2008 GAO study, Gerald Dillingham, Director of Civil Aviation for GAO said,

“The concern is that you could lose control of that aircraft and it could crash into something on the ground or, in fact, it could crash into another air vehicle.”

The GAO study found that 65% of drone crashes were caused by mechanical failures.  The study analyzed Pentagon and NASA data on 199 crashes of drones on battlefields.

Before this Montgomery County crash, the only crash of a law enforcement drone was recorded in 2006 in Nogales, Arizona.   The Customs & Border Protection flight crashed in the desert due to the same “lost link” scenario that sent the Montgomery County unit crashing into its SWAT team tank.

When the link between the drone and the control console on the ground is lost, all drones are designed to steady up and glide to a landing.   In some cases, the drones already have a location programmed in for landing in the event of a problem.  In others, there is no such pre-determined landing zone.

Dillingham said that’s another dangerous problem with drones in urban areas.  He said,

“If you’re onboard the aircraft, you can tell that you’re in turbulence and you can maneuver to get the plane or the aircraft out of the turbulence.   But if you’re using a UAV and there are no sensors aboard, you don’t really know that and, again, if you lose that communication link as a result of that turbulence or for any other reason, then you have an aircraft that is not in control and can, in fact, crash into something on the ground or another aircraft.”

Montgomery Sheriffs Department had no comment.

Harry Reid’s Secret Plot to Take over the Internets

You just can’t make up this crap.

Harry Reid is having secret meetings in a plot to have Homeland Security take over the Internet. Perhaps believing, “If the people didn’t like SOPA maybe they would like something worse”.

Details about the bill remain shrouded in secrecy. Clues available to the public suggest that the bill might be stronger than President Barack Obama’s cybersecurity proposal, which was released in May 2011. Reid said that he would bring the bill — expected to come out of the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee, chaired by Connecticut independent Sen. Joe Lieberman — to the floor during the first Senate work period of 2012.

A classified meeting behind closed doors in October 2011 between key Senate committee leaders with jurisdiction over cybersecurity and White House officials, took place at the request of the Obama administration. Lieberman, in an interview with The Hill in October, said that past Senate cybersecurity bills were considerably stronger than the White House proposal.

I guess my question, “Is this about protecting real security interest or is this another powergrab to protect Hollywood from the teenager  downloading the latest tunes?” He shows little concern on how the voter, or the civilian experts and is prepared to move ahead, despite the peoples will.

“It is my firm hope that the working groups will be able to achieve an agreement on legislation by then, but I believe the cyber threat to be of such urgency that we must act whether or not such agreement can be reached,” Reid wrote.

 Some people never never learn.