dr_phil_physics: (hal-9000)
The WinTen We're Taking Over Your Computer Whether You Like It Or Not campaign by Microsoft continues, unabated.

I thought I had posted these Important Messages Upon Bootup back on 14 and 18 October, but I guess I hadn't. This first one is based on the theory that 110,000,000 people who don't know how to say NO, NOT YET, can't be wrong:

But only Millions love Windows 10? That's what, a few percent of the 110,000,000 who upgraded?

Microsoft also increased the threats, by announcing that (a) Windows 10 will be rolled into the Recommended Windows Update lists and (b) Windows 10 will become a Required Windows Update at some point. Wait -- how the hell can you reconcile a Required update with still providing support for Windows 7 and 8 and 8.1 up to their Drop Dead Dates?

Then there's today missive:

Am I the only one who's thinking of the movie Scrooged and the network's tag line, "Yule Love It!" ?

And more to the point, given it's mighty decline in recent years, from James Earl Jones "This is CNN" and the "You Give Us Half an Hour, We'll Give You the World" of Headline News -- is anyone seriously thinking that CNN is a good recommendation for ANYTHING, including which operating system you're running?

This ad campaign by Microsoft is so lame, no wonder it's running in little blue boxes on my computer desktop. They couldn't even find a bad ad agency to run these in print/TV/cable/media anywhere. Microsoft, you are still not inspiring confidence in this upgrade. (Although to be fair, the TV spots are pretty lame, too. Microsoft just can't run ads which tell you what the fuck they do. Instead, they talk about children born today into the blessed light of Windows 10 and love and happiness. Does ANYONE think that a child born today will be using Windows 10 when they're five years old in 2020? Ten in 2025? Fifteen in 2030? Windows 10 MIGHT settle down into a great product, I don't know, but I don't think it's the Microsoft version of Men In Black's "The last suit you'll ever own.")

As I have said before, I am not totally opposed to the concept of Windows 10. But the messages have been very bullying and I know some people who've had some real software and driver issues after upgrading to Windows 10 -- and the promised version rollback to their last working Windows system FAILED. That does not inspire confidence either.

I have a lot of legacy software and legacy files I need to use to get my work done. The upgrades from PC DOS (2.10/3.1/3.21/3.30/5.00/2000) to Windows 95/98SE/NT4 to 98Me/2000 to Vista/XP/7/8.x already have cost me access to some of the programs I use and make it difficult sometimes to read older files. After a year of struggling, I am happy enough with Word 2010 under Windows 7 -- I currently hate Word 2013 and have no experience with Office 365, though as I pointed out the other day (DW) (LJ), that one I am going to probably have to eat in 2016 as the University decides to sell its soul to Outlook.

Someday I'll probably buy a clean native Windows 10 machine -- but I don't want to waste my valuable time to run an upgrade to WinTen just because Microsoft says so. Not until WinTen gets some Service Packs under its belt. That's been my rules going way back to Windows NT 4 Workstation. Me and a whole lot of IT professionals.

Dr. Phil
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dr_phil_physics: (delete-hal)
When I shut down ZEPPELIN at home Tuesday night, there were five updates to Windows 7. So I knew it would have to do some updating when it booted Wednesday evening. Applied 3912 updates, not all that many, considering how long it was updating the downloads last night.

And then you get to boot and Windows pauses to Configure your updates -- and then you get to go to work. Right? Isn't that why you paid money for a computer? To do work? And not just update some company's software?


ZEPPELIN was being really pokey, which happens because you have no good way of telling what the Sam Hell is going on in the background tasks. I had planned to post the Quiz 6 solutions for both classes this afternoon, but as I wrote, I deferred doing anything serious while OUEST was on battery (DW) (LJ) due to the power issues at work.

I had to create two JPEGs from screenshots for the PHYS-1070 Quiz 6 and a PDF for the PHYS-2070 Quiz 6 -- all of this complicated by having to work in both Windows 7 and editing my webpages in Windows NT4 in a virtual machine. This involves having a lot of windows open: Word, Acrobat Reader DC, Paint, Notepad, VirtualBox plus HoTMetaL Pro 4.0 and Ulead PhotoImpact 3.02 in NT4.

The virtual machine crashed when I booted it and I had to try again. Just as I was starting to do my file transfers between Windows 7 and Windows NT4 sessions, I realized there was another icon on the Taskbar below.

Turns out Windows 7 wanted to reboot to finish installing the updates and was running a counter down to forcing a reboot. This in a window WHICH WAS BEHIND EVERYTHING ELSE.

Now I've dealt with this crap before. Basically, it does the eager dog/pestering child routine -- Can we reboot now? Can we reboot now? Can we reboot now? And I swear it is doing this at 85% of the total billions of clock cycles, so drags the whole system down to where, not only does it not work very well, it won't even recognize for a while that you click the Postpone button Microsoft thoughtfully provided. Which, by the way, only restarts this hidden window and its insidious countdown to reboot doom, and polling for permission to reboot NOW, it slows the system down...

So Microsoft fails at coming up with a priority pop-up window for its very own operating system.

But really, it's worse.

Why the HELL did you wait twenty minutes, to where I was knee deep in open windows and doing a bunch of complex procedures, before deciding to let me know you trying to hold it in your pants you needed to reboot so hard?

Microsoft, here's a clue. Windows is YOUR fucking operating system. I think you know how to do a reboot. If this update REALLY needed to have a reboot, you could have built it into the update before I even logged into the computer. After all these years, you should know how to reboot Windows 7.

I'm sure they'd answer that this would delay the startup and... and... and... nothing, guys. Because when I did do the Restart, after interrupting my work and closing NT4 and all the other windows, there was an excruciatingly long Configuring Updates... 28%... 29%... pause... pause... pause... 30%... This was going to take a while.

FINALLY, I got my machine back and sat through more configuring and all. No doubt this was all updates related to something stupid, like future updating to Windows 10 or something else I don't need Right Now.

Man, somedays you gotta wonder if anyone in Redmond has every actually used a computer...

Dr. Phil

UPDATE: To add insult to injury, at 25:10 EDT, when I shut down ZEPPELIN, I saw the little yellow update shield next to Shutdown and sure enough, Update 1 of 1. How much you want to bet it's supposed some they fucked up yesterday? (evil-grin)

UPDATE2: 10-15-2015 Th 09:46 EDT -- Oh, lookee at that... ZEPPELIN at home is Windows 7 Home Premium. OUEST at work is Windows 7 Enterprise edition. I knew when I shut down yesterday that it had loaded 8 Updates. Today when I booted, it Applied 34,361 updates... and then it rebooted. So somebody at Microsoft is smart enough to manage Updates better, but only for big IT customers. Screw the Home users.
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dr_phil_physics: (echo-dollhouse)
So we were watching the rerun of the pilot of the new Minority Report series on FOX.

Apparently TV cops in the future are as bad about following proper police procedures as contemporary TV cops. Go figure. But, there were some very cool visuals, much like last year's short-lived series Almost Human, but better.

I've always liked the Tom Cruise movie Minority Report. I really can't remember if I've read the Philip K. Dick originating story. But the slick production had quite a vision of the future. Some of the big pieces, like the vertical highways, were a bit much. The intrusive advertising, though, was frightfully wonderful. And the end was sweet.

The series also has some impressive visuals. The disconnecting and reconnecting trains -- cool -- but there's some logistic problems with it. Probably not too surprising, since Steven Spielberg has his hands in both movie and series.

I like the concept, don't know if they can keep it up.

But... what was really intriguing was the commercials. We figure that advertisers liked the expected geek demographics of which might be expected to watch Minority Report. There was a long semi-animated Honda ad, vaguely reminiscent of Ah-Ha's Take On Me video.

And... we saw the first ever for us TV commercial for the Amazon Echo. When we bought into Echo earlier this year (DW) (LJ), it was still in Beta and by invitation request only. They've since opened it up a little. I guess that if they're advertising on TV, Echo is going bigtime.

There's an interesting rebranding going on with Echo as well. The Amazon Echo software on the Kindle Fires recently updated and it is now called Amazon Alexa. Personally, I think this is a mistake, because Alexa is one of the two available default command words. You talk about Alexa and Echo perks up and tries to parse the request. They are now advertising Alexa technology in the new Amazon Fire TV systems.

What was intriguing, because I turned my head to look at Echo, is that the blue light failed to come on every time the commercial used the word Alexa or gave Echo demonstration commands. I tried one of the questions they used in the ad and got an answer -- worded slightly different and longer than the one on TV.

I'd be curious to know whether there is anything active in the Echo ad. Whether in the coding of the word Alexa in the audio or if Amazon's servers knew exactly when the ad would be aired. If we had a working VCR or owned a DVR, I suppose we could test this.

Echo isn't quite living in the Minority Report future, but we'll take it for now. (grin)

Speaking of TV cops... there are times I wonder why we bother watching the new Hawaii Five-O. It has jumped the shark so many times that they practically have to keep a precision synchronized shark jumping team on the payroll. Well, I do know why we watch. Because like a few of the other shows we watch, NCIS I'm looking at you, we like the ensemble cast.

Dr. Phil
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dr_phil_physics: (7of9borg)
Back on 17 August, when I wrote about Windows 10 (DW) (LJ), I meant to speculate that perhaps Microsoft would start stuffing the files onto your hard drive, whether you wanted them to or not. I'd already assumed this as a possibility.

Thanks to Steve Buchheit, for finding this article from Ars Technica which says, YES, this is actually happening.
Microsoft is downloading Windows 10 to PCs, even if you don’t “reserve” a copy
Files of up to 6GB in size showing up in a hidden directory.
Worse, from the article it suggests that this Microsoft update KB3035583 repeatedly tries to install. The update page, "Update installs Get Windows 10 app in Windows 8.1 and Windows 7 SP1", is pretty much unintelligible gobbledygook.

Duh, duh, DUH-HHH. Windows 10 is coming for you. You cannot resist us...

So... let's recap.

You choose not to upgrade to Windows 10 now. Microsoft goes ahead and downloads 6GB of files onto your HDD. And keeps trying.

What could possibly go wrong?

My objections are three-fold. One, I am tired of any and all manufacturers thinking that my HDD real estate is there's to play with without asking. Two, given compatibility issues with devices and software, to say nothing of workflow, the $64,000 horror scenario is Windows deciding to upgrade you to WinTen against your will. Three, 6GB is a LOT of disk. But it is even MORE download bandwidth.

Periodically we find that our web access crawls. Often on the Kindle Fires, it ends up being software updates being pushed by Whispernet -- the only reason we know they happen is that either an icon shows up in the beginning of the carousel that we haven't used in a while, or the program launches from scratch when you select it, or Norton reports that So-and-so Is Clean in the Activity Log.

But downloading 6GB over DSL is wasting a lot of my bandwidth. Worse, if I was on the road and using haiku, our Verizon WiFi hot spot, 6GB exceeds the amount of bandwidth we usually buy in the pay-as-you-go package.

It's MY damned computer, it's MY damned hard drive and it's MY damned bandwidth. If Microsoft wants to buy me resources, then they can download all they want. But otherwise, you fuckers, ASK!

I swear, the manufacturers think we buy computers just to install their updates. They don't think we ever have WORK to do.

(The only silver lining is that I don't have to worry about this at work -- this doesn't apply to Enterprise editions of Windows 7/8/8.1)

Dr. Phil
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Dr.'s 3rd

Monday, 24 August 2015 02:03
dr_phil_physics: (cylons)
I have used a whole lot of various small computer devices over the years. Went through a long run of PDAs, starting with remarkable HP 200LX, which was a calculator sized machine which opened to a keyboard and was a full IBM PC compatible, with 2MB of memory (640K for MS-DOS 5.0 and 1.44MB for a virtual HD). Ran Microsoft Word 5.0B and had Lotus 1-2-3 2.4 built-in ROM. Hoo-boy! Remember, this is back in the day when laptops were enormous things. (grin)

While I was in the hospital, at first I did very little webbing. Even SUMMER, the small Fujitsu U810 UMPC seemed heavy and awkward -- and hard to read with its small screen. But a gift card from the UCF allowed me to get an Amazon Kindle Fire HD (DW). No mouse to farble with and lightweight, the Kindle Fire HD was a godsend. Probably kept me sane during the Year Without a Summer. Mrs. Dr. Phil's original first generation Kindle Fire had been a very good unit, and this next generation was even better. I even wrote a 17,000 word story with just a stylus (DW) on it while in the hospital.

Kindles come from Amazon preset for the user. What's amusing is that when I set up my Amazon account A Very Long Time Ago, my default address was the Physics Dept. at WMU, so my address was listed as Dr. Philip Edward Kaldon. Which is why the Kindle Fire HD says in the upper lefthand corner that it's Dr.'s Kindle. (grin)

Then on 27 August 2014, I received Dr.'s 2nd Kindle (DW) -- a Certified Refurbished Kindle Fire HD 7", 32 GB - Includes Special Offers [Previous Generation]. The first Kindle Fire HD had worked so well, that I got a second one to use at the office, so I wouldn't have to carry it back and forth and run down its battery in the winter. Since I've been home for all of 2015 so far, I've been able to swap those two units as the other recharges. Handy.

So last week I picked up a 7th generation Kindle 6". This is the straight Kindle eReader, not a Fire tablet. And it's the base model without a backlight. Very small, very light, very simple. Also an OMOTON cover with auto-sleep. It was a fraction of the cost of the Amazon branded covers -- a real departure from the two covers for the Kindle Fire HDs I bought last year after they were priced as obsolete. (cheap-grin)

The Kindle was $79 -- I missed the $59 sale price by one day as I thought about whether to buy or not. Technically it didn't cost me anything, since we used some Discover rebate money on it.

Why buy an eReader when I already have two Kindle Fire HDs? Well, the Fire HD is a tablet -- and I tend to use a tablet like a real computer as much as possible. Email, Silk browser, PDFs, etc. Getting set up to do eReader versions of my Beta 1 novel took some work, but also reminded me that someone using a Kindle or a Nook, etc. can't just run to a webpage and download.

Also, much like why I don't have a smart phone -- I need a cell phone's battery to be there for emergency phone calls. I don't need to many MORE functions to spend all my time on the tablet. And the Kindle 6" is small and light.

Amusingly the auto-sleep case on the Kindle has more powerful magnets than the Amazon case for the Fire HD. I know this because I set a Fire HD on top of the Kindle 6" while it was on -- and the Fire HD shut off. (magnetic-grin)

Anyway, when the new unit arrived, it was yet another easy piece of cake to get running. Nice packaging, pull it out of its clear plastic bag -- the battery still had at least three-quarters of a charge. Hooked up to our WiFi/DSL without any problems, and I had my handful of e-books downloaded. Including the MOBI version of my Beta 1 novel. It does not have a gravity sensor like the Fire, but you can go into Settings and change from Portrait to Landscape mode manually. I can live with that -- when I want to read a book, I want to read a book. I don't want the display flipping around if I set the thing down.

I haven't bought many Kindle books -- an out-of-print WWI novel I read as a kid, a Scandinavian phrase book. And I also had a copy of Steven Savile's novel Silver. Steven was one of the past winners who was a guest at the 2008 WOTF workshop. He'd mentioned on Facebook that the Kindle edition was reduced to $0.00 for an indeterminate time. So I snatched it. And hadn't gotten around to starting to read it until about two weeks ago. Now I'm reading in on Dr.'s 3rd Kindle. The book opened to the place I'd last been on the Fire. Go Whispernet.

While putting together this post, I was amused to see that I'd "bought" Silver on 17 July 2015. Lord, for some reason I thought it'd been languishing for a year -- and it's only been a month. Time gets distorted when you are working very hard AND not doing the daily job. I guess over 100,000 copies of Silver have been sold and so far it's a ripping good tale. But when I glanced at the webpage tonight, I noticed that the Kindle edition is again/still $0.00. So if you have a Kindle -- or the free Kindle for PC app -- you, too, can snatch a copy.

The Kindle came with a free month of Kindle Unlimited, but I'm going to give up on that. The first search I tried was littered with these stupid little books which are really just repackagings of the Wikipedia article on the book. I do not have time to wade through stupidity.

Will I miss not having a backlight? Dunno. Right now, I can tilt the unit and get enough reflected light, even when the only room light on is across the living room. And it's nice and contrasty during the day. And if you're not being cheap, you can always spring for the Kindle Paperwhite. Or get a clip-on LED reading light.

Dr. Phil
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Win Ten

Monday, 17 August 2015 16:36
dr_phil_physics: (hal-9000)
So, it's the summer of 2015 and Microsoft Windows 10 is upon us.

It will take time to determine if this Win Ten is a good witch or a bad witch. Redmond's track record is not particularly stellar on upgraded OSes. Windows 2000, for example, shipped with what, 50,000 known bugs? NT4 shipped without a working ability for a user to change a password. So if you think I would use the initial release of Win Ten -- you're crazy.

BTW, I'm jokingly calling it Win Ten, because Windows naming conventions have been so varied -- 95, 98SE, Me, NT, 2000, XP, 7, 8.1 -- and not only did they skip Windows 9, the competition went to Roman numbers with OS X.

There's no question that Microsoft needs a clean new operating system. Windows 8 was a stupid attempt to turn real computers into tablets and phones. We didn't ask for that. Windows 8.1 has improved operability, or so I am told. I wouldn't touch with gloves on. But which features? And what stuff will run on it?

I've already had to deal with dropping 16-bit and MS-DOS legacy support by Windows XP -- and Windows 7 doesn't run a lot of legacy software I could still make work in Windows XP. It's not a matter of me being cheap and not buying new versions of software. It's that some of my software HAS no new versions. And others, no longer work in the way I need them to.

As noted here (DW) (LJ), I have just resurrected NT4SP6a on two machines using Oracle's free VirtualBox virtual machine system in order to support legacy software. NT4 forever!

File format creep. Software version creep. OS version creep. Just stop it, dammit!


Wednesday 6 June 2015 00:12 EDT, a new icon appears on the right side of my System Tray. It looks like a four-panel window in perspective. "Get Windows 10" it said. Free upgrade from Windows 7 Home Premium. Hmm...

Actually, it's rather nice of Microsoft to actually offer a free upgrade. They're always complaining about having to support older OSes after they release a new one. Trying to bounce all the Windows 7, 8 and 8.1 users up to 10 sounds like a plan. Maybe Windows 10 learned from Mac OS X. (evil-grin)

And I guess they did a slow roll out. If you ordered the upgrade, you'd be told when it was available. Again, clever. Of course, I've heard mixed reviews of whether the status of Windows 10 drivers and program support works.

I will never understand the thinking that when you get a new machine or new OS, you would just throw away 20 to 30 years of work and act as if that never happened. The real world doesn't work that way. My complaint for a LONG time is that I don't think the people designing and testing these things actually expect people to USE computers. Seems to me a lot of the computer business thinks that I own a PC simply to run Windows Update, Norton Live Update and install new versions of Adobe Flash. Urgh?

Then, with the release of Microsoft Windows 10, there's the issue of advertising. I swear, cell phones and Microsoft -- they don't seem to know how to sell these things. I mean, think of it. Most cell phone ads talk about very useless things and most of them never even talk about using the damned things as a phone. Their rationale for owning a smart phone is pretty darn vapid. It's made worse because ads for non cell phone products, but use cell phones, are equally clueless. Consider the current Eggo waffles commercial with the whole family sitting around the table texting "leggo my eggo".

So... the Win Ten ads? Yeah, the baby ads. They show a bunch of babies and claim that they'll grow up and not have to know about passwords and they'll be able to draw stuff on the screen. Great. You think Win Ten's login procedure is going to rid the world of passwords? Good luck with that. And making cheesy crayon mods of nice sharp pictures, ooh, how classy. Besides, think of it. How long does a typical Windows OS version last? Do you REALLY think these babies will be using Win Ten by the time they're teenagers? I don't think so.

This is NOT the Men In Black Last Operating System You'll Ever Need.

And then there's this:

Not content with the little System Tray icon in my Windows 7 Home Premium, we now get a Win Ten Upgrade pop up box. Get Now! Limited Time!

One -- I have heard that the free upgrade will run for a year after the Win Ten release. So, no panic. Plenty of time for Win Ten Service Pack 1 to get shipped and companies to improve the drivers situation.

Two -- I can even live with the pop up popping up at login. But... on the night August 14th, in one session, I had to kill the little blue fucker SEVEN times.

That is abusive.

And it doesn't endear me to you, Redmond.

Grow up. And figure out how to make a good OS, keep it up to date, keep it secure and How To Market It.

I'll give you time. I'm not going anywhere. And I'm still using XP and 7 -- plus NT4.

Dr. Phil

UPDATE 8/26/15 W: And then, of course, there's this from WMU's OIT:
The Office of Information Technology recommends that faculty and staff not upgrade to Windows 10 at this time. Any time a new operating system comes out, there is a fair amount of testing that has to occur to ensure that the upgrade will work with Banner and other enterprise systems. This testing is occurring, and an announcement will be made when it is concluded and upgrades may occur.

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dr_phil_physics: (delete-hal)
Ah, the law of unintended computers...

So before the university got me OUEST at work, my main machine last fall was LARA, an HP 1030NR netbook running Windows XP Home Edition Version 2002 Service Pack 3. I brought it home after the Fall semester, since I would be using OUEST at the office. The last day I used LARA was 14 December 2014.

One thing I knew I'd have to do when I brought LARA out was to install Norton Security. It had Symantec Endpoint Protection -- the free university's version of Norton Anti-Virus. But ZoneAlarm, whose basic firewall I have been using since about 1996 when I got my first Pentium class Windows 95/NT machine, was dropping updates to Windows XP. So rather than enable the Windows XP firewall, if I installed Norton Security, it came with a firewall. Of course NS requires XP Service Pack 3 minimum -- but that's covered, so I'm good. LARA is the only XP machine I bought which came with SP3 out of the box.

But... LARA has a 16GB SSD solid-state hard drive. Strange to say that 16GB isn't enough to run a machine, when I had all my work on a 4GB special HP USB drive that fits in a special deep socket port contoured into the case and backed up on an 8GB SanDisk Extreme III SD card. But there you go. I know that I had something like 240MB free. Since NS would need about 200MB to install, I knew this probably wouldn't work. Which is why I hadn't done this earlier.

Actually I tried to update KATNISS, the Asus Windows 7 Basic netbook the other week, and it complained it couldn't find the WiFi and I didn't have time to farble with it and used my Kindle Fire HD to do my PowerPoint at the MIAAPT meeting in April. LARA has a nicer keyboard for typing on than KATNISS anyway.

So... the order of things was important. First I copied GIMP 2.8, the Open Source graphics package, from C: to G:, the SD card. That freed up 500MB of space. Then I uninstalled Symantec Endpoint Protection -- that freed up a total of 2.4GB of space! I guess SEP was saving and not cleaning up all its update downloads. I mean, why should a program clean up after itself when "everyone" has terabyte hard drives now. Right? Grrr. After that, installing NS as the 3 of 5 download I bought in December was a piece of cake. Of course I've let Windows XP keep a fairly tight rein on things, so rather than just let it go I decided to start one of my summer reading projects and got out the first volume in the Maze Runner series, and kept allowing Norton to have permission to reach in and tweak things in the bowels of the computer. (Which reminds me -- runs off to disable Automatic LiveUpdates in NS. For a machine that I tend to use remotely, the last thing I need is it burning up limited bandwidth at whim, especially if I'm using the pay-as-you-go WiFi hotspot. Which I'm not.)

Then uninstall ZoneAlarm. ZA seemed shocked that I was uninstalling -- was it because there was a problem? Did I want to download a fresh new version? No, cause you don't have one for my computer, unless you changed your mind from December -- too late now. And then it begged to give them another chance. Nope. Gone. NS wants to know what to do about the Windows firewall. I told it to fuck it, use its own.

Ran LiveUpdate and everything's green. Well, there's a red NO REPORT notice under Last Scan, so to stall off a NS hissy fit, I told it to do a full system scan, which shouldn't take too long on a 16GB SSD drive, and then Shut Down. Went and had lunch. Watched the end of Gangs of New York on USA. A little music -- right, sound was turned on, since I was using Amazon Music Player at work. LARA was shutting down. Fine. All good.

That was Tuesday during the day. That night I did a filecopy backup of SUMMER onto a 128GB USB drive. Then dumped that backup onto ZEPPELIN. As a holdover of having small drive partitions in the old days -- and the fact it is much easier to have multiple drive letters for keeping work sorted -- I started a straight xcopy . c: /s/D filecopy... but it was going to take time to dump drive C: from SUMMER and I don't need the system and software backups. So I killed it and copied files one drive letter at a time. D: E: F: G: H: I: J: K: (no L:) M: ...

Insufficient Memory.

WTF? Huh? Now, realize that I am using an MS-DOS box on Windows 7 Home Premium on ZEPPELIN, and since they don't care about DOS anymore, I know most MS-DOS error messages are misleading. Was it suspicious that it broke after transferring exactly 8999 files? Maybe it was complaining about actual memory. ZEPPELIN has either 2GB or 4GB. But I was playing Solitaire and had Amazon Music Player running in the background. The latter has a bad habit of downloading updates at random. So I killed those and restarted.

Insufficient Memory.

Reboot. Insufficient Memory. So I cobble up a new batchfile, PIECEMEAL.BAT, so I could do these things directory by directory, starting with where I left off. Insufficient Memory. Next directories? No problem. N:? No problem.

Back to M: and let's see what the problem was. The problem directory had transferred 780 of 788 files. Everything else in the backup transferred. But... When I surf the web I do a lot of right-click saves, so I can look at things later. And some of these outfits have outlandish file names like 734547_10154001481240405_8476921583871495048_n.jpg. Sometimes really long. And because of nesting subdirectories being stored deeper on the USB drive than on the original hard drive under Windows XP, I think those 8 really long filenames crapped out Windows 7. I know that there is a different filename length limit in DOS root directories than subdirectories -- go figure. Fine, I'll go in and shorten them someday. They're not critical. The important stuff got all copied.

In the middle of this, I kept on getting DIRE RED WARNINGS from Norton Security about something evil it had found. Turns out it was a piece of the old ZoneAlarm firewall installer and was present because my SUMMER backup is a file-by-file, so it had stuff that had been replaced on SUMMER but not deleted on the backup. The danger was listed as LOW, but it really, really, REALLY wanted to do something to those files. Basically, Norton and ZoneAlarm have never gotten along. Whenever I got a new version of Norton Anti-Virus I always waited for it to be out for a few weeks and then got a new version of ZoneAlarm, so the machine wouldn't crash. I am sure this was a modern example of the old Microsoft "DOS ain't done until Lotus don't run" version upgrade mentality. Alas, poor ZoneAlarm. Norton has ended up winning this round... I cannot WAIT until next fall when I get to find out if Norton Security will continue to support Windows XP SP3... Sigh.

Delete both Checkpoint/ZoneAlarm directory trees and move on...

Next up. I've been editing my photos mainly on SUMMER, so that backup had the JPGs from my digital Nikons. I put the newest files from the NIKON3 directory onto F:, the 16GB microSD card I use for backups on ZEPPELIN. Then I copied the whole card to C:. Pull out the shiny new 32GB SanDisk microSD card (they cost like $14 on Amazon Prime), stick it into ZEPPELIN and...

xcopy . F: /s/D/h fails. Cannot create directory. Now what? I know that Windows 7 is real pissy about letting you create files in the root directory C:\, but F:? Eventually I realized that xcopy *.* F: /s/D/h worked. Sigh. I think the Windows 7 MS-DOS box coding couldn't find a . directory in the root F:\ to copy to. I've done this for years, folks. The kids today keep trying to "fix" stuff that ain't broken, because they don't know how real computers work.

Great, I have more backup room on ZEPPELIN, just like I have a bigger working microSD card drive on OUEST at work. Pack up the old 16GB microSD card with LARA, so Wednesday night I'll have all the latest files and twice the storage space on G:.

And when I get LARA out again in the field... Windows XP can't find G:. Oh, it shows up under My Computer, but the Properties says that G: has 0 length. Great. I can never keep track of the ranges of card sizes that work in various generation units. LARA is just old enough that an 8GB SD card works, but not a 16GB. (Just like my ancient obsolete Nikon DSLRs will only use up to a 2GB CF card.) Fortunately the important work files are all backed up on the Swiss Army Memory, so they got put on that way.

Which once again proves Pournelle's Law -- nothing is truly backed up unless it is on two different media (in two different places). Never assume one backup is going to work or can be read by any one specific device.

Oh, and my spare white extension cord with three outlets I pack in my travel kit? The one I need because most hotel rooms generously give you one whole outlet on a lamp in 2015? Yeah, the charger for LARA has been a pain from the start. Completely overbuilt, needs a three-prong outlet. Had to get a special APC Mobile Surge Protector, PNOTEPROC6, because all my other laptops from Sony, Fujitsu and Toshiba can use the two-prong PNOTEPROC4. Anyway, you guessed it. My cheap little white extension cord is two-prong. No room for cheating with the third prong and I don't have an adapter with me. So the extension cord got plugged in where the coffee maker was plugged in and LARA hogs the lamp outlet all by itself.

I keep sayin' it, and will freely admit that I do some things in an unorthodox manner by today's standards, but I think one of the reasons why people buy new computers is that the error messages aren't helpful and no one knows what they do mean. So people either continue on using crippled equipment or buy something new to get around problems that are completely solvable. It's like you have to scrap your 2008 Toyota, because it can't use 2015 gasoline.

Not trying to be elitist here, but once again the question is... what do normal people do? How can they even use this crap?

Please note that all comments about how a Mac or Linux would smugly solve my problems do not show that I am an idiot, but rather your own ignorance -- so don't even bother.

Dr. Phil
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dr_phil_physics: (hal-9000)
Saturday, and I'm at MSU in East Lansing for the Spring Meeting of the Michigan Section of the American Association of Physics Teachers. Just gave my talk "The Speed of Students" at 10am.

I've been giving presentations for thirty years. Overhead projectors -- hand drawn with colored markers, then printed on LaserJets. Video displays sitting on an overhead projector, displaying DOS pages and screens from Windows 2.03 Paint. Now it's PowerPoint on Macs and PCs. Except today.

KATNISS, my conference Windows 7 Basic Asus netbook, I haven't used in a while. And when I went to update it and test it Thursday, it was having trouble conflicting with the Amazon Echo over an IP address and I didn't have time to troubleshoot. So I left it at home and had my talk on a Swiss Army Memory USB drive.

But I actually just gave the talk on my Kindle Fire HD.

Last night I emailed my PowerPoint from ZEPELLIN to Gmail to my WMU email, which then downloaded cleanly to the Kindle. From the email app, I could call up the PowerPoint application in OfficeSuite 7 Pro.

If I had to, I could use a document scanner to see the screen on the Kindle -- I've done this. But I also have a ten foot HDMI cable for the Kindle.

Turns out the room we're in doesn't have a document projector, but they did have an HDMI input. So, Kindle Fire HD to HDMI to projector. Yup, sound and video work. More importantly, the MSU Guest internet connection logged in perfectly the first time.

PowerPoint with URL links, which opened a new tab in the Silk browser, and call up the two YouTube videos, one at a time of course, swift the YouTube box to full screen. Watch movie trailers. Back arrow to browser. Back arrow back to PowerPoint presentation, already in progress.

Did this whole thing twice. And the Click reveal animation worked fine on all the bullet points.

The point is... this whole malarkey worked beautifully.

But given the steps involved, it's hard to tell if this is progress, living in the future -- or just pigheaded determination to kludge together a talk using a vast array of hardware and software steps, flying in borderline formation. (grin)

The talk, by the way, was inspired by the 2001: A Space Odyssey trailer and a 2012 film student's reimagination of 2001 as an action film. I talked about that here (DW) (LJ).


Dr. Phil
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dr_phil_physics: (Default)
Oh my, what a glorious day it was today. And I don't even mean that in some ironical or April Fools way. Wednesday was just one fine damn day.

Sunday we had some snow. Actually, as predicted, it snowed quite hard, with the temp dropping from the mid-40s down to around freezing. We'd had a good spring warm up, with temps into the 50s and all the snow on our yard had gone, except for some bits in the shadows of the trees. But by Sunday afternoon the driveway and then the weeds and the back deck and finally the concrete pad in front of the garage were all white. And then it rained and it all washed away. Without even creating more than just some water in the drainage ditch by the road.

Wednesday, though. Well, Wednesday was blue sky and sun all day long. Supposed to get up into the 60s.

I had planned on doing my weekly run to the office on Wednesday, because the forecast was so nice. When I started planning I really had just one agenda item. When I last was there two weeks ago, I noticed that the 8GB microSD card I was using to have removable storage on OUEST, the university laptop, was down to about 400 MB free. Well, guess I had order some more tunnel.

Oh wait. I already had coming a 32GB SanDisk Ultra microSD card (with SD adapter) because the silly thing was only $12.99 with free Prime shipping and I figured I need it someday. Guess someday was now. Note that I had bought a 16GB SanDisk Extreme microSD card with adapter for $14.99 to use on ZEPPELIN at home. And I'd bought a couple of 8GB Sandisk MicroSD cards with SD adapters for $6.95 each -- one which went into OUEST last fall and was now full, and one each for our new LG phones back in January. At some point SanDisk and Amazon are going to be paying me to take their larger and larger GB storage units in smaller and smaller form factors. (Compared to the hundreds of dollars I paid for a 512MB IBM MicroDrive Type II CF card -- with a two-platter ¾" hard drive with read/write heads and everything!)

All I had to do was get a card reader for the office, so I could easily transfer from the 8GB card to the 32GB, without dumping files onto the laptop's hard drive ***. And it would be nice to have a Compact Flash reader as well. Alas, the current versions of the bulletproof Sony multi-card readers are very expensive, and the cheap ones had reviews which said they worked great with SD cards but the pins bent and broke on the CF slots. Finally I found a Kingston USB 3.0 Memory Card Reader for $17.43 with reviews saying the CF card slot guides were long enough for the card to go in straight every time.

Whew. So that was my plan.

But... I had a student who needed a new letter of recommendation for medical school applications. We made an appointment for noon. And since I was going to be in, I contacted another student who I'd been helping and we set up an appointment for 10:30. While I was at work I wrote another email to check on a third student -- and also got an email from a fourth student suffering from writer's block and wanted some help getting unstuck with their multiple papers due in mere weeks. That's more students in one day of office hours than I usually get other than just before an exam -- and I'm not even teaching anything this semester! Also did a few story notes. And started in on my PowerPoint for the MIAAPT Spring Meeting at MSU in two weeks.

I didn't get around to opening the 32GB card and card reader packaging and starting the file transfers until 4:05pm. (grin)

It was a good day. Very productive.

And when I got home just after 7pm, the temperature in Allendale was still 63°F. Hey, I could open windows and turn a little fan on in the bedroom. Put my leg up and napped for an hour. And when I got up, the neighbor's power tool bonanza was over.


Ah, the peepers were peeping out in the swampy drainage ditches. A True Sign of Spring and the first time for 2015.

Tomorrow is a writing day -- rain, rain, rain. (grin)

Dr. Phil

*** -- BTW, in case you wondering why I was going to all this trouble with microSD card storage, instead of just using the hard disks, it's pretty simple. On ZEPPELIN at home, I use the 16GB card as easily removed backup. On OUEST at work, I can pull the microSD card and lock it up. The university keeps worrying about security of grades and other materials, so I'd taken to locking up removable cards last year. Not that I want the laptop stolen. After all, before OUEST, the laptops in my office were my own machines.

Remember, nothing is truly backed up unless it's on two different media and in two locations. (better-safe-than-sorry-grin) And a Master padlock trumps a silly little desk key.

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dr_phil_physics: (cinderella-fabletown)
One of the annoying things about the incessant and unnecessary need to "upgrade" operating systems, rather than fixing them so they work right, is that you also have to constantly change programs. It's not as simple as just getting the next iteration of Office/Word or PhotoShop, though Microsoft and Adobe thank you for your business. For those of us who actually use their computers as, well, computers, over the years one collects a lot of useful little programs. (Note that I am talking about programs -- not apps, not widgets, not plugins.)

Microsoft's desire to no longer support 16-bit programs or all the myriad functions and programs usable on an MS-DOS Prompt really bugs me. Because, seriously, there aren't always alternatives you can go to. I mean, after having years of problems, Microsoft is finally doing a better job of having Word 2003/2010/2013 be able to at least read, but not write, Word 95/6.0 files. But Norton Utilities 4.5 and Advanced Edition? This is an ancient PC program and up through Windows XP I have used NCD, FS, TM and other functions forever in an MS-DOS box. Doesn't work in Windows 7. Thanks, Microsoft. And thanks, Symantec, whose current Norton Utilities doesn't include anything like these old useful command line programs.

So... the latest thing is that I used to have a program called ZULU.EXE which displayed a small rectangular box with either GMT (Zulu) or other specified time zone, separately from the clock. It was handy a few times where I was actually doing correspondence overseas, astronomical use and just being nosy. Pretty sure I couldn't install it in Windows XP, let alone Windows 7. So I did a Google search, when in a forum I found:
You can actually accomplish this using the system clock.
-- Click on the tray clock
-- At the bottom, click Change date and time settings
-- Click the Additional Clocks from the top menu bar
-- Tick Show this clock and modify the time zone to suite your needs.
-- Hit Apply
Huh. I vaguely remember seeing the Additional Clocks tab, but never paid it any mind. And, lo and behold, it works. You can have two Additional Clocks. I already have 24-hour time enabled, so it gives me day of the week and time. And you can make your own title for each Clock. For my purposes, right now, I decided not to put up GMT (Zulu), but one for Central European Time and one for Japan.

Anyway, as you can see from the inset photo, it works. Not quite the same as ZULU.EXE, which was always visible, but it's not so hard to mouse over the clock display in the Taskbar and display the 1 or 2 additional clocks. This is in Windows 7 Home Premium. I assume Windows 7 Enterprise, which I have on OUEST at the office, will be similar. But all these Win 7 versions have annoying differences. Right now I am displaying time and date on ZEPPELIN. On OUEST, so far I can only display the time. You get the date if you mouse over the time. I need to fire up KATNISS, the Windows 7 Starter Asus EeePC netbook and see what it can do.

Anyways, I'm sure this is old hat for some of you, or even obsolete if you've moved on to Win 8 variants. But I've only slowly been moving onto Windows 7, so I have to figure out this crap as I move along.

Dr. Phil
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dr_phil_physics: (cinderella-fabletown)
And now we go through that silly ritual of changing clocks and trade an hour of sleep in the so-called Spring for an an hour of sleep in the so-called Fall.

I did decide to quiz Echo...

-- Alexa, set alarm for 2:01am. I don't know how to do that.

-- Alexa, set alarm for 3:01am. Alarm set for 3:01 am.

-- Alexa, cancel alarm. Alarm canceled.

So, Amazon Echo apparently knew enough to know there is not a 2:01 am tonight.

Dr. Phil
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2nd Best

Friday, 6 March 2015 16:48
dr_phil_physics: (kate-goddess)
GVSU has Spring Break this week -- WMU has Spring Break next week. And Friday 6 March 2015 is also Spirit Day at Western, the only university I know of which shows its school spirit by declaring it an early start to Spring Break and having the students leave. (grin) Mrs. Dr. Phil took Thursday and Friday off, and naturally spent part of yesterday working on an online course for work and this morning having a committee meeting on the downtown campus.

Given that, however, we decided finally that if she really could finish the meeting at 11am, we could race out to Celebration North for a movie, then lunch at Twisted Rooster after 2pm -- a place we've never gotten into because its lot is always jammed for lunch and dinner when we go by on Beltline.

For just an hour meeting, I figured I'd just stay in the Blazer and work from there. Besides, it gave me a chance to test whether I really could log into the eduroam WiFi (DW) on GVSU's campus using my WMU .edu e-mail account. Mmmm, not so fast. I tried several times and kept getting Authorization failure messages on my Kindle Fire HD. Okay, but I had my cellphone and I had WMU's Help Desk on speed dial -- so I called down to Kalamazoo. They determined that indeed, authorization had been granted. But after a brief Connect, we realized that the parking lot outside of Eberhard and Kennedy wasn't getting a strong signal. Between either dropping the signal in the middle of the transaction or timing out, the authorization wasn't going well. But I did get it to work.

Yay. Next time I'm in a GVSU building, I should be able to do Internet same as in my office. Cool.

As for the Twisted Rooster, we'd been to their second restaurant the Crooked Goose in Standale by Meijers once -- the latter features Campbell's tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwiches amongst its signature items, while the latter does macaroni and cheese. As a huge fan of mac & cheese, I've been wanting to try Twisted Rooster for a couple of years. Didn't want to go all out, so we each had a Mid West salad -- which turned out huge -- and split a regular Home Made mac & cheese, rather than splurge on the Lobster mac & cheese or one of the others. Very pleased and we will go back sometime and sample some of other goodies. Ooh, they do calamari.

Twisted Rooster is right next to an Appleby's -- I don't know why anyone bothers with the latter when TR is right there. But I suppose lots of people go for the boring name brands, and it may be that Appleby's is cheaper.

In between all this, we went to the movies...

The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel [PG]
Celebration North Theatre 13, 11:40am, 2×$8.50

This is a sequel to Memorial Day 2012's surprise and delightful The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel for the Elderly and Beautiful (DW) -- which itself was based on the 2004 novel These Foolish Things by Deborah Moggach. The new movie merely says it is based on characters by Moggach. And everybody's here, except for Tom Wilkinson, of course.

A review on the formerly-known-as-Roger-Ebert website calls it dull, listless and I suppose, without heart. Look, both movies are British comedies which have to tread a narrow line between drama and comedy, and spend a lot of time making fun of everyone's age and hijinks ensue as the inevitable culture clashes and misunderstandings occur.

Rotten Tomatoes says, "The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is about as original as its title — but with a cast this talented and effortlessly charming, that hardly matters."

Predictable? Perhaps. But how many sequels are truly original and not predictable? The first movie made a decent $137 million and employed a whole lot of beloved actors -- Judi Dench, Maggie Smith, Bill Nighy, Celia Imrie, Penelope Wilton, Ronald Pickup, Diana Hardcastle, Tamsin Greig, Lillete Dubey -- plus our desperate hero Dev Patel and his fiance Tena Desae, and adding in David Strathairn and Richard Gere to the mix.

Speaking of Richard Gere, he may be one actor who is getting better looking and has more sincerity as he gets older. We've thought that since we saw him as the superstar chef in Autumn in New York.

India is, of course, showcased here and gets much better showcasing than in the first movie -- these British seniors are no longer such fish out of water, so we don't have to see the gravest culture shocks. But India has a vibrant and growing economy, one which our Hero is desperate to be a part of. That these grandiose plans are thwarted at every turn, plus throwing in the full-bore Indian wedding to his fiance in the middle of all this -- I can see how some would rebel. For those people, 122 minutes of this is probably too much.

And yet... much like the first one, it is the mix of miscommunications and feelings and a bit of pathos, which still has its charm. Maybe because we aren't kids ourselves, two hours was a fair play for us. And remember, we are not your typical comedy audience. Indeed some of the scenes induce a feeling of wanting to flee in me, but that's always been the case. Oh, and the best fish-out-of-water scene in Second is in the opening, where our Hero takes Maggie Smith to America to try to secure the financing to create the titular Second hotel.

Others might have pieced things together themselves, but the way this is all resolved at the end is not anything I had seen coming, though the clues were all there. Our Hero gets his triumph and the girl AND the wonderful Bollywood wedding dance. This is not exactly spoiler material, given the heart of both movies, it could not end any other way. And we knew Dev Patel could dance with joy, having seen him in the wonderful train platform number tacked on to the end of Slumdog Millionaire.

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED (If you enjoyed the first movie.)

Trailers: For the West Michigan crowd, two Christian films: An Easter release from part of The Bible series done the other year. And Do You Believe?, which cynically looks like a story about a guy who gets people to carry around these small but thick crosses and hold them up, possibly in lieu of say, good works, to prove your faith and show that God loves you and not those other people. Among other trailers, were one we've seen before, Woman in Gold with Helen Mirren trying to get back Gustav Klimt's Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer -- the painting of her aunt which was stolen by the Nazis. And Thomas Hardy's Far From the Madding Crowd gets a remake.

Dr. Phil
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One Month In

Wednesday, 4 March 2015 15:33
dr_phil_physics: (echo-dollhouse)
A month ago (DW) we got our "free" Amazon Echo. Like any good tech paradigm shift, you wonder if it wasn't always like this, even as you can plainly see how long it has actually been.

Echo, if you recall, is the 9" high black cylindrical 2001 Monolith slash HAL9000 device that doesn't come close to running your house, but always on, lurking in the background, waits for its keyword "Alexa" to do a few things which are helpful.

-- Alexa, what time is it? It's 3:38.

-- Alexa, what's the temperature? Currently in Allendale it's 24°F with lots of clouds...

-- Alexa, what's the temperature in Helsinki? In Helsinki Finland it's 34°F with showers. Tonight you can look for snowy, rainy weather with a low of 31°F.

-- Alexa, what's tomorrow's forecast for Helsinki? Right now in Allendale...
Oh well -- its algorithms and voice recognition systems are not perfect. If you are using the Echo app on a Kindle or computer, you can click and get more information. And tell the mothership at Amazon if Echo heard you correctly. If you put in a short pause after the trigger word, you can give Echo a chance to lower the sound level so it can pick your commands out of the air easier, and you don't have to shout.

I have a better time of getting Echo to recognize me, over Mrs. Dr. Phil. It may be the years of lecturing and putting micro pauses between words so people can write notes down, I dunno. Or maybe Alexa is a misogynist jealous bitch.

Many of the local radio stations are available through Tune-In

-- Alexa, play 88.5. WGVU-FM, from Tune-In.

Mrs. Dr. Phil has been experimenting with doing podcasts over Echo, as she does from her Kindle. Here, it is not very successful to do it directly. But if you are running the Echo app, you can call up a podcast and command Echo to play that from the app. Same with music.

Right now the problem with both the radio and the podcast functions is that if the stream is interrupted, you can lose some of the program, and it's hard to cue up if you aren't starting at the beginning.

For me working at home right now, it is the music function which is excellent. Echo doesn't likely have much onboard storage -- sufficient for firmware and buffering -- instead drawing stuff from certain sources on the Internet or on its own Amazon Cloud storage. I've started acquiring stuff through Amazon's music store, and naturally it'll play that. I could upload my non-Amazon music library and it would play that, too.

-- Alexa, play Pirates. Pirates, by Emerson, Lake and Palmer. From Philip's music library.

Amazon Prime has added some of my previous Amazon CD purchases to the library, some 300 songs. All told, I have taken 87 songs as of today and put them in what I call the HAPPY Songs playlist. 84 of those are in the YPPAH Songs playlist, which is the same list in reverse order. I usually play one during the day and the other during the late night sessions -- otherwise one tends to hear the same music in the same order all the time. Which isn't a problem in writing, but you'd never hear all the music unless you played for nearly 7 hours.

-- Alexa, play HAPPY Songs playlist. HAPPY Songs. From Philip's music library.
Perfect. But for the other playlist, since it doesn't start with a normal word, Echo stumbles 95% of the time:

-- Alexa, play YPPAH Songs playlist. What playlist would you like?

-- YPPAH Songs. YPPAH Songs. From Philip's music library.
Still, in the beginning it wouldn't even do that well. (grin) So it is learning.

But here's the best thing about the Amazon Echo -- the sound. The speaker system is deep and rich, covering ten volume levels. (-- Alexa, volume 3. -- Alexa, louder. -- Alexa, stop. -- Alexa, resume.) We typically use 2-3 in the kitchen and living room. So nice we have an ultra quiet dishwasher now. I use 4-5 in the bathroom and 6-10 if I am way back in the bedroom. The Bluetooth remote is in the bedroom, which means I don't have to bellow over volume 10 to try to get myself heard. Also I can reset Echo down to normal levels for the next morning, so the radio doesn't blare on phasor level Kill.

I am sure that a proper audio study would find fault, but from where I am, playing what I'm playing, there is good range of tone and detail at all settings, and I'm not hearing any distortion or clipping even at volume 10. Pretty darn good for the home user.

Upcoming adventure. The last Echo update email said that they were coming out with a SDK -- Software Developer's Kit -- and was I interested in doing a late Beta on that? Sure. What programming languages would you like? Oh, geesh. I don't write apps and crap. And the list doesn't include "real" languages like FORTRAN. (geeky-grin) But of the list there, let's skip Java. And Ruby for now. So let's put down Python. It looks as if I had a couple of sample programs I can follow the syntax of Python.

We still both want to tell Alexa "thank you" from time to time. And the commands don't work with the car stereo. And at the moment, there's no connection to either the TV or phone -- or other functions such as lights. Yet. I am sure that Amazon Echo will morph into a full-featured device to run your home at some point. Maybe they'll have different models and features. Couple it with a home security system. Handle dictation. Read your files or your emails to you.

Whatever, I think that Amazon was pretty smart by starting on these core activities. They've shown that with the Kindles and Kindle Fires, they can make consumer products that can be handled. Provided it endures, both physically and financially, having an Amazon Echo around the house is already pretty useful, despite its limitations.

We've got Echo on a single-outlet surge protector. Bought it from Amazon Prime. (prime-grin)

One month in, we're pretty happy with the unit. It sits up high on top of a bookshelf between living room, dining room/kitchen. It's out of the way. I can see the blue/white ring light when it responds to commands -- and can tell when it's confused and whether it's changed the volume level even if nothing is playing at the moment.


-- Alexa, roll the dice. I rolled a die and got 3.
Yeah, I could see D&D players having a great time with Alexa...

Dr. Phil
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dr_phil_physics: (echo-dollhouse)
So last week...

After two work days of splendid operation, our Amazon Echo started miscueing on playing my playlists. As I said last week, Ms. Alexa's in Beta so I wasn't even upset to have to submit an error ticket to customer support (DW).

But today, well, different story:
Hooray! Tuesday 10 February 2015, around 3-3:30pm, I sat down to do some work. Tried Echo on playlists again and:

Echo is playing one of my playlists, in order, correctly.

AND, echo.amazon.com on my laptop is now showing the current song and a sidebar with the playlist under Now Playing -- it had no information during the troubles.

To recap:
Echo arrived 2/3 Tu, unpacked that night, played no playlists
Echo played playlists correctly 2/4 W - 2/5 Th
Echo did NOT play playlists correctly (and tested every day) 2/6 F - 2/9 M
Echo returned to proper operation 2/10 Tu

And on the survey form I said:
Definitely a Beta teething problem. I don't know why Echo stopped playing my playlists correctly Friday-Monday. Or displaying anything on the Now Playing page of either the Kindle App or echo.Amazon.com/#playing, but it's working now if I had to guess, it started about the time I got the notice that Amazon was providing playlists for Grammys -- as a programmer, I suspect a code push went awry. But feedback via the Echo app and the callback phone help were nicely thought out. Only had Echo for a week, but it's been otherwise great.
Now I shall get busy this week to report that (1) it really needs a volume 2½ setting, because there's too much gap between "Alexa volume two" and "Alexa volume three" and (b) the Now Playing app really should display how long a track is, the way most music apps do.

But that, as they say Ms. Alexa Echo, is for another day

Dr. Phil
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Ah... Beta...

Saturday, 7 February 2015 00:34
dr_phil_physics: (echo-dollhouse)
Ms. Alexa Echo is feeling a bit under the weather.

We got our Amazon Echo on Tuesday and set it up quite easily at 10pm. Wednesday and Thursday I was home most of the day and had it playing my Amazon Music playlists, answering questions, doing math problems.

Friday, however, it's not handling my playlists correctly.

My guess is that someone did a code push to fix something else and there was a coding error or a corrupt server file or something.

Oh, it plays music just fine. Individual songs. But when I started one of my playlists, it didn't start with the first song. And then when I stopped and restarted it, it might play the same song over and over, or play with just the first couple of songs. Shuffle play was off. Telling Alexa to skip or play next track -- usually ended up replaying the current track.

Put in two error tickets. The second regarded the Echo App, both on the Kindle Fire HD and on the webpage for use on my laptop, isn't displaying the current track properly -- not getting the control keys. If you click on a song, it does give the control keys. But of course the app has just told Echo to play the one song.

Anyway, they've got on the Help tab of the Echo app a call feature, where you put in a phone number and they call you back, so you know it's them. Got almost an immediate callback and nearly zero wait for the next customer service person. We spent about 29 minutes trying different things.

It's actually an amusing process, since there's Echo, which you can give voice commands, the Echo remote, the Echo app and the guy on the phone. I tried very hard to refer to the program as Echo and not Alexa, because if you say Alexa followed by anything, Echo tries to parse it for a command. (grin) At one point I reread what was on the Home page, displaying what Echo thought I said, and read it verbatim, so Echo heard Alexa + command and executed it again. (grin)

To get link data back to the DSL provider, they needed me to do something. "Alexa temperature" works, because it also gives a little forecast, so it was on long enough to record.

Anyway, the problem has been turned over to the techies. As it should be.

Any other Echo users out there having trouble with playlists after Noon EST on Friday 6 February 2015?

I note that Amazon is telling Echo users that they have these nifty new Playlists just for the Grammies. Hmm... maybe I was right about the coding error.

Oh, and the Cool New Thing I learned yesterday is this: From the Echo remote only, hold the microphone key and say "Simon Says _______" and Alexa will say whatever you tell her to say. The guy who told me about this said it was really useful when he was writing and needed to tell one of his kids to go get him a fresh soda from the fridge. (evil-grin) No, I haven't tested having Alexa say naughty things. Yet. (double-evil-grin)

Dr. Phil
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dr_phil_physics: (delete-hal)
Mrs. Dr. Phil and I are sufficiently geeky that we keep up on a lot of the tech developments. Actually being early adopters? Mmm... we're usually either too cheap or too smart to get involved in some of the buggy, expensive and doomed things. I remember being really impressed with the Apple Newton when it first came out, which used Graffiti strokes for fast handwriting recognition, much like my mother's generation learned shorthand. But the Newton was expensive. I did, however, buy a Newton black leather zipper case at an Apple Store in Grand Rapids -- and used it for an HP OmniGo 100 PDA which used... Graffiti... and had a physical keyboard. And at less than half the price of the Newton.

Both the OmniGo and the Newton are long gone on the dust heap of failed products.

We didn't get iPhones, didn't get early iPods, never bought an iPad. Or used Windows Vista. Or, so far, Windows 8.

We're not Luddites, but I do get a certain satisfaction about dinosaur computing and all my Nikon DSLR cameras are more than ten years obsolete. I can make them work, though. And at a fraction of the price of the latest and greatest. Hell, we've never owned a car whose model year began with a "2" yet and it's 2015.

I write science fiction, so I have a character who owns a Nikon D5 professional camera -- and we're still a year or two before it even gets announced! (grin)

So it rather amusing when we suddenly look at each and say... yeah. Let's try it.

Monday 29 December 2014

I was driving back from an appointment and had NPR's All Things Considered on the radio. And during an All Tech Considered segment, they started talking about Amazon Echo. It was some sort of box with a quality speaker and a microphone that listened for a wake word -- Alexa -- and then tried to turn it into a request it could serve. Hooked up your WiFi and Internet, the unit itself doesn't require a lot of upgrading to improve -- Alexa is heavily cloud based.

Obviously hooked into the nefarious Amazon ecosystem, it could find and sell you stuff. And let you easily buy music.

But here's the thing. We've used Amazon for years. We dislike malls and crowds. And especially since my hospitalizations we can get medical supplies, and well nearly everything else including a mini fridge for storing IV bags, shipped to our front porch. The only store I've set foot into in 2015 has been the Verizon phone store and that was because I wanted a knowledgeable sales/tech staff.

And Mrs. Dr. Phil was actually an early adopter of the first gen Kindle Fire tablet way back in 2011. The Kindle Fire HD, paid for with generous good will moneys from my UCF friends, allowed me to survive 5½ months of hospitalization in 2013. And I've bought about seventy songs from Amazon to play on my Kindles and PCs -- or got the MP3s for free because of certain CDs I bought from Amazon.

We've been impressed with the Kindle's quality. They want to offer us a home electronic butler, sort of HAL 6000 without the homicidal tendencies or ability to pilot us to Jupiter/Saturn, we could give it a try.

Especially since it was $199, but Amazon Prime members got a $100 discount, so $99. And we had money in our Discover card rebate stash, so $199 - $100 - $99 = $0. Plus $0 for Free Shipping.

I had told Mrs. Dr. Phil about it when I came home. And by after dinner we figured, fine, we hadn't really gotten each other anything for Christmas and I was going to be home for the next semester, so... why not?

Amazon Echo's listing said that if ordered now it would arrive in two days on New Year's Eve. Okay. Fun way to spend the rest of Mrs. Dr. Phil's Christmas break.

Alas, not so fast. In a combination of factors, which surely included the coverage on NPR and elsewhere, since the Echos first starting shipping in like November AND that this was technically still in Beta, you couldn't just order it. You had to request an Invite.

So not knowing what Amazon's algorithm was, we both requested Invites.

And waited.

Tuesday 6 January 2015

FINALLY, I got my invite and ordered my free Echo. Alas, the delivery date was given as February 11th. Sigh. Worse, I knew of two people in the area who had gotten Echos, one receiving theirs just about the time we first heard about them. Oh well.


At ConFusion in mid-January several panelists mentioned Echo in passing. And since I ended up moderating my last panel at 11am Sunday on Science or Science Fiction?, I led off with a reference to Siri (iPhone), Cortana (Android) and Alexa (Echo), as examples of Star Trek, et al, and their voice activated computer systems. There was some significant interest in Amazon Echo, either from the panelists who already had it or people like me who had it on order.

Ugh, and we STILL had to wait to mid-February...

Tuesday 3 February 2015

The other day I got an email telling me to expect my Echo for today. Yay! I heard a delivery truck around Noon, opened the garage and caned over to the back door to find a very lightweight box containing some medical supplies. Oh. Well. The next delivery came at 4pm. Brown didn't drive up the snowy driveway, but their guy trotted up and down the 250-foot driveway. I debated going outside and retrieving it, but getting onto the front porch and then carrying a heavy box? Not going to happen. Had to wait until 6pm when Mrs. Dr. Phil got home. And then we waited until later in the evening, letting the unit get up to room temperature before trying to make it work.

The next hour was a lot of grins and smirks. It's fun. It can do a lot of things we could want it to. The only real glitch came when I asked for the time and the temperature and Alexa thought we were in Chicago. Considering that, like the Kindles we've bought, it comes pre-configured for the user out of the box, this seemed like a bug. But Mrs. Dr. Phil quickly found an answer via Google on her Kindle Fire HD -- Alexa didn't seem to know about settings -- we found the place to put in the Allendale ZIP code. Ask for the weather or temperature or time, and you get Allendale MI. Ask for the weather or temperature or time for Helsinki, and you get Helsinki, Finland. Easy.

It's a sleek black cylinder, about 9¼" high and 3¼" in diameter. And it is heavy, so it isn't easily knocked over. Two buttons you don't have to use. And a glowing ring light which changes color depending on what function you want. Otherwise it sits. And waits.

Kind of like a cylindrical 2001 monolith, with a few more surface features. (grin)

And if you ask Alexa to "Open the pod bay doors", it tells you "I can't do that, Dave..."

More as we play with our new toy. And remember, if you come over to the house, speak carefully -- Alexa is listening. (creepy-grin)

Amazon Prime is 10?

What? February 2005? Who knew?

I mean, I vaguely remember hearing about Amazon Prime early on, I thought. And I remember thinking it silly to pay money to get Free Shipping. And so, like millions of others, we dutifully bundled up Amazon orders to clear the $25 threshold to get Free Shipping. You'd be amazed at how many books, CDs, DVDs and other things -- at Amazon's predatory pricing, of course -- just didn't quite make $25.00.

We actually got Primed for a year free when Mrs. Dr. Phil bought her first Kindle Fire. Prime has a few more benefits than just Free Shipping -- and it's not like we don't buy stuff from Amazon. So...

Dr. Phil
Posted on Dreamwidth
Crossposted on LiveJournal


Sunday, 11 January 2015 00:27
dr_phil_physics: (kate-neverland-cell)
Nearly 7 Years Ago -- 2520 Days

We bought a pair of Motorola RAZR V3a cellphones back on 16 February 2008 (DW). We didn't need to buy new phones, in terms of the phones, but the pair of Motorola V60i phones we were using covered both analog and digital bands -- and the FCC wanted to rid the country of analog band phones. So, Alltel had us come in and get new phones.

Realize that since 1994, we've only each had three cell phones: Motorola MicroTAC/TeleTAC, 2 x V60i, 2 x RAZR V3a.

In the course of time the RAZRs have done swell. We've replaced batteries twice. But Mrs. Dr. Phil, who in the last two years has left hers on most of the time, has had some flaky problems. Which came to a head Saturday around 1pm. Tried to turn it on and it hung while booting -- not a good sign. Got the Hello Moto splash screen and it stayed there. Except for flickering every now and then, momentarily showing a couple of vertical color strips against a black background. Oh that's never a good sign.

Ironically, we'd just been having a discussion the other day about which way we might go with phones the next time we needed to do phones. On the one hand, we really want our phones to be phones. On the other, it would be nice to be able to check a few things online from time to time. We have a Verizon WiFi hotspot which we use on a pay-as-you-go basis for travel and conferences. Mrs. Dr. Phil was even able to take a quick picture of some fall leaves in the U.P. on US-41 in the middle of nowhere with her Kindle Fire HDX, then post to Facebook using HAIKU, the hotspot.

But smartphones? Apple iPhone? Stick with Motorola and get a Droid MAXX or Turbo? The latter has really quick charge and with the Kindle Fires running a form of Android, it would make some sense. But they charge so much for the damned data plans. Our Alltel plan, grandfathered into Verizon, was so old -- and also pretty cheap for two phones.

So basically I figured we had three options: Plan A would be to just get Mrs. Dr. Phil a new phone. Plan B would be both get new phones. Plan C would be to jump to smart phones and get a data plan.

The little Verizon store in Standale was very pleasant -- it's actually a 3rd party franchise, but that's okay -- and they were very helpful. They even had just gotten in the Motorola Droid Turbo, so I could look at it.

But jumping to a usable data plan for smart phones would basically double the monthly cost for us.

Do they even make usable flip phones anymore? (grin) They had one, an LG model.

What about slider phones? I had always admired the original Motorola Droid when it came out. Actually they had two LG slider phones, one with a numeric keypad as well, and one with a touch screen.

Mrs. Dr. Phil finally decided on the last one:

The LG Extravert 2

And this turned out to be a problem. We could change our plan to one with unlimited voice and text and 500MB/month -- we have never really texted in our life -- for only about five bucks more a month. And at nearly seven years, we certainly qualified to get new phones. Our Alltel plan allowed my phone to have 20 texts a month, I think, but I never used it, except to receive free monthly notices from Alltel and Verizon about what the next bill would be. Mrs. Dr. Phil's number didn't have any free texts on it.

This is why we were looking at sliders, because if one was going to text, no way was I going to do the ABC DEF routine -- it was bad enough to input telephone numbers. And the Extravert 2 (which is not a typo by the way) with its touch screen AND slider could presumably text both ways. Plus, both phones would fit in the travel cases we already had.

The problem was... our Alltel plan couldn't be changed. To add a Verizon phone, we had to have a Verizon account. So Plan A, getting Mrs. Dr. Phil a new phone, was out. We were now on Plan D -- both get new phones and a new plan.

Our last two phones, covering a span of some twelve years, were identical models, which meant it was easy to trade batteries and use each other's phones. But I decided I liked the other, slightly smaller slider better:

The LG Cosmos 3

Now let's face it -- we had to do something today. LG is not a brand I would have just sought out if I was making a long-term purchase. I would've bought Motorola, Apple or Samsung. But I suspect that our text slider days are a stopgap before we go to smart phones, about the time that everyone has moved on phone glasses or Uberphones or something, and the ancient dinosaur smart phones will have become cheap. (grin) So I think these will be "good enough" for us for a couple of years. I am not expecting seven years plus from these phones.

Both phones have microSD card slots. A while back I had bought an 8GB SanDisk microSD card with SD card adapter for dirt cheap on Amazon, to provide some removable storage on OUEST, the College of Arts and Sciences laptop I got this year. Still available on Prime. Two cards for $13.90.

Most of the $99 we paid today covered taxes, a protector for the touch screen and other bits, not the phones themselves. The $10/month/phone credit on our bill pretty much covered the "cost" of my phone and just about all of Mrs. Dr. Phil's. It was actually cheaper than what we paid the day we got the RAZRs, partly because my Motorola 720 Bluetooth Borg implant works with the new phone. Must use handsfree while driving in Michigan.

The one problem we had was the age-old problem. Couldn't get the contact list off my RAZR onto the Cosmos, by either wire or Bluetooth. One of techs offered to take it home with him, but no... that would leave me (a) without a phone and (b) without the phone numbers I need. I was always too cheap to spend $50 and get Motorola's USB cable and CD-ROM software, and too not trusting to buy the same kit for $4.95 from any of a hundred vendors on eBay. Now, at least, the new phones have a backup through Verizon, which wasn't available in the Dark Ages seven years ago.

So, not the way I intended to spend the afternoon -- I had just booted ZEPPELIN to do writing when this all came down -- and not the way I intended to spend the weekend -- I have done A-G in the contact list manually. But we stopped what we were doing, had lunch, then hopped in the Blazer and drove on passable roads to Standale, then back to Allendale for the grocery run that had started all this. (grin) On the other hand, I'm getting good real world training of the slider keyboard, and a chance to see some of the crap I have in my contact list, so in a way, it's all good.

But I am glad I got my ConFusion reading story massaged into place last week. (evil-grin)

Dr. Phil
Posted on Dreamwidth
Crossposted on LiveJournal
dr_phil_physics: (norman-rockwell-thanksgiving)
The New Usual

We used to do our Thanksgiving dinner as we had grown up -- big meal on Thursday. But for a long time we've moved the cooking to Friday or Saturday, and chosen to go to the movies on Thanksgiving Day itself.

This year we got to the movies on Wednesday, so decided to stay home for a change. A lazy, warming and partly sunny day with temps near 60°F. Used the TV remote's Jump button to flip between the NFL games and a 13-hour Castle marathon on TNT. We are way behind on that series, as we'd only seen a few Season 1 episodes and then had conflicts at that time slot. Wendy would've approved -- she adored the show and we had fun.

The Thanksgiving Word of the Day is Spatchcocking

We didn't spatchcock a turkey, but it came up with our research on Alton Brown's site.

Actually what Mrs. Dr. Phil was looking up was how to brine a turkey. We've heard about good results from people who had brined their turkey before roasting, both in terms of flavors and keeping it moist. Alas, we realized that while our big canning kettle was probably big enough to immerse a turkey, we didn't have a cold place to store while brining, so it wasn't worth it to unearth the canning kettle from a packing box, which we haven't used in probably 25 years.

Instead, I pointed out that since we prefer dark meat, why didn't we just see if we could buy drumsticks and thighs and brine those? We ended up with a couple of turkey wings and some six turkey thighs -- those drumsticks are too full of tendons to be as much fun as thighs. The cook made half a batch of the brine, which was split between our Revereware stockpot and a similar sized pressure cooker, both of which easily fit in a bed of ice in our big cooler.

For cooking, one group of thighs went into a roasting pan filled with stuffing, the other thighs and the wings went onto a Revereware roasting pan with some chicken broth in the pan below so that the drippings would make gravy. Then 70 minutes or so in the oven.


The brined turkey thighs on a bed of stuffing fresh out of the oven. (Click on photo for larger.)

Our Thanksgiving spread of turkey, stuffing, root vegetables and two kinds of cranberries. (Click on photo for larger.)

Thankful for Mrs. Dr. Phil who built this feast for us. (And yummy leftovers for days to come!) (Click on photo for larger.)

And of course there's pie. Pumpkin pie. (Click on photo for larger.)

The Day After

We'd planned on going back out to the movies to see Lincoln today, but the cold front roared through last night and so we had high winds and snows today. Nothing that was going to likely stick, but with the temp falling to around freezing and all those silly people running out to the so-called Black Friday shopping, we didn't need to involve ourselves with their inabilities to remember how to drive on slippery roads.

Instead, a year after Mrs. Dr. Phil got a Kindle Fire, we decided to abandon Hulu+ and reactivate our Netflix account as a streaming account and connect up with out Internet/WiFi enabled Blu-Ray player. MUCH, much easier to negotiate and better response. More on Netflix streaming anon.

Dr. Phil

New Year Week 2

Wednesday, 12 September 2012 21:37
dr_phil_physics: (wmu-logo)

Back to classes. Back to work. Survived the week one parking free-for-all where they don't ticket students in the faculty lot. And before you think it's just whining, remember my current difficulty in walking -- I just can't go to a distant lot and then walk up hill to my office like I used to.

Using i>Clickers in my two classes -- the first time for me -- now that the university has settled on the third clicker brand in five years and most of my students have used them in other classes. Not using them for grading this semester, but the stats are interesting so far. As long as the answers are A B C D or E. (grin) Physics Dept. wanted the clickers that had numeric keypads, dammit. (double-entry grin)

Huh -- for $10 you can buy an app to run i>Clicker without using a clicker. And was amused to see a student raid the batteries from his calculator to run his clicker. I think he needs to buy some new batteries.

Decided I needed a clean new Windows 7 machine for the i>Clicker base station to plug into. Went by Best Buy a couple weeks ago and picked up an Asus Eee PC 1025C notebook for $199. $199! Dual core Intel Atom processor, 1.6GHz clock, 1GB memory, 320GB HDD. Weighs like two pounds. Named the machine KATNISS since I bought a Blu-Ray copy of The Hunger Games at the same time. (grin) This is the machine I did Iron Chef Flash Fiction (DW) at WorldCon with, as well as gave my PowerPoint which I'll report on Real Soon Now.

Of course if parking eased in week 2, commuting has gotten worse in week 2. One of the construction sites is creating a four mile twenty minute backup on the way home. Grrrr. Mostly avoided the worst of the construction summer woes, even on my trips to Atlanta and Greensboro.


Gas is running around $4.09.9/gal for regular, though my local gas station has upped its grade differential from 11¢/gal to 15¢/gal -- and as I usually get mid-grade for the 1996 Blazer, this is relevant. The last two tanks I've filled on the way home in Wayland and though regular is the same price, the Shell's differential is only 10¢/gal. Whoo-hoo.

Except the last couple of days I've seen two people reporting that gas is running around $1.85.9/gal in Cincinnati. WTF? That's 45% of the price here! I mean, you might be able to get a tanker truck of gas at retail Cincy prices, truck it up here and make money AND lower gas prices. It's like 380 miles!

I. Do. Not. Get. It.

Dr. Phil

PS -- Lots more WorldCon coverage coming!
dr_phil_physics: (hal-9000)

So back in February I mentioned that we had to get a new TV, a 32" Sony 720p HDTV (DW). As noted then, installing the TV was pretty easy.

One oddity was having hooked it up to our old DVD player, where it had only one option for viewing which spread the image full width. But the aspect ratio wasn't quite right. Close, but not perfect. Despite how good the only analog channels looked on the TV, the DVD experience was not as good. Nothing wrong with the player, only the software in how it was rendered on the new TV.

The first time I saw a movie on Blu-Ray was in one of the ballrooms at WindyCon a couple of years ago. They had a player that could do both Blu-Ray and that other system which hadn't yet lost out, and projected with one of the newfangled Texas Instruments movie mirror chips on a big screen. I think that's when I saw Eragon. The image quality was impressive.

Fast forward to 2012 and I looked up Blu-Ray DVD players on Amazon -- again going with Sony, because Bravia Sync will interlink the HDTV and Blu-Ray. Found a unit, but didn't order it. Then Mrs. Dr. Phil was playing with Hulu Plus on her Kindle Fire and I pointed out that there were models of Blu-Ray players with WiFi. Could have gotten a USB WiFi unit for $40 plus the Blu-Ray player, or pay only $20 more and get the model with WiFi built-in.

With some summer birthday money, we finally decided to order the unit and it came the other day, with an HDMI cable coming a few days later. Tonight we decided to hook the thing up. As expected, the Sonys talked to each other right away -- turn on one and the other one comes on as needed.

Trying to input the WiFi password using the remote is a pain. But... the unit has a USB port and it does connect to a standard 101-key keyboard. I've got things jiggered up in a typical Dr. Phil way, so the easy connect method didn't connect. But doing it the manual option got us connected. The unit has a web browser. As you can imagine, it's pretty limited. But it works. The photos from yesterday's blog entry look pretty good. (grin)

Put a DVD in and it looked good. Next test will involve streaming something from the Internet and seeing if the DSL can hold up. Will have to buy an actual Blu-Ray disk to check out that function. I hear that Hunger Games is coming out this weekend and I have a B&N gift card for just about that much, so...

Technology Creep

We're too cheap to be early adopters of new television technology and have been. We didn't get our first color TV until 1985 or '86, when the cable expanded in Laurium and they announced we were going to get WGN-Chicago. And that's when we bought our first VCR, to timeshift Cubs day games all summer long. Put off CD and DVD players for a long time. In fact our DVD player itself works fine, it's only because we have an HDTV that I was at all interested in getting a Blu-Ray player -- and we're not going to duplicate all our old movies. VCR works, too.

It's funny, because a SF writer I know recently dumped his VCR and all his VHS tapes -- and a Pioneer Laser Disc player and laser discs. Ah laser discs. I actually own a couple, because Physics educators were using laser disc players a lot and there were a couple of movies I wanted to show clips in class.

There's a part of me worried about the changeover in technology and the ability to eventually find players for many types of media. And I suppose eventually we'll run into the problem of too many things connecting to the WiFi all at once. Then there'll be another upgrade.(grin)

Dr. Phil


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