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05/06/13

Permalink 09:45:53 pm, by Paul ROBINSON, 471 words   English (US)
Categories: Announcements [A]

Webcam

In an earlier article from over a year and a half, I mentioned the new computer I bought - I am using it now - the Acer Aspire, and how, it came with speakers, which I use any time I listen to music, You Tube Videos,BBC World Service radio webcast, or if I use Skype, or anything else.

Apparently I did not mention it, I bought a webcam some time ago from Radio Shack, which I paid $20 for, more than I usually would (webcams are usually so cheap you can get them for around $8), but their ad promised zero installation, you just plug it into the USB port and it works. No software to check, no nothing And it does. Plugged it in one day, fired up Skype, and it can see me. I have even used the Webcam for fill-in (when I have to include extra details or add a segment to an otherwise completed video) in post-processing of at least one video I uploaded to YouTube.

Plus, the webcam has two nice features. First is it has a focus on it. I had a device I was trying to read the serial number off of, and its like, you'd think they could make the print smaller so that it wouldn't merely be impossible to read, it would be worse than impossible. And I can't find my magnifying glass, is that digit a 6, a 5, an 8 or a 9? Same for the other number. But then, I thought of the webcam, and because it does have a focus knob, I can turn it around and read the number off the screen, it's 55. The video quality is that good that it can show text that I can't read with my bare eyes. (I had an eye exam back in 2011 when I transferred my driver's license to Maryland, I am fine for close work, I only need glasses for slight correction of nearsightedness, (very distant objects are sometimes fuzzy) my eyesight is good enough to drive without correction. This is nothing new, I've needed corrective lenses for this since the first time I had to get a replacement license maybe 12 years ago when I first got it in Maryland, I discovered then how much of a difference my vision was on far away objects when wearing glasses.)

The second nice thing about the webcam is that it has a built-in microphone, and it's also either far enough from the speakers that it doesn't get feedback or they've figured out how to eliminate it. Which means when I answer a call from Skype, I can either answer it as a video call, or audio only, and I can just talk and listen as a hands-free phone call (unlike calls that come in on my desk telephone, which is wireless but I still have to use a handset.)

Permalink 09:12:47 pm, by Paul ROBINSON, 308 words   English (US)
Categories: Announcements [A]

Well, so much for that idea...

I get a weekly circular in e-mail from Staples where they mention the latest selection of their wares. This week's offering includes a selection of HP Printers. HP, which, of course stands for "Higher Prices," or "Highest Price," as their ink prices are always the highest around. They do make good stuff, but, of course, they charge out the wazoo for it. As I mentioned to my friend, Hewlett Packard is the CVS of printer companies; in this case, CVS, of course, refers to the drug store chain, who always charges very high prices relative to everyone else for what they sell, not to the source code control system.

Staples sometimes does have good prices, though. I bought an HP All-In-One combo color inkjet printer, scanner, color photocopier and fax machine, as a Christmas present from my sister to me two years ago (I picked it out and she let me use her credit card to buy it), and it was $99. Across the street at Target the exact same model of the exact same HP All-In-One is $119.

Well, I click on the link in the e-mail from Staples and it goes to their page on HP Printers. Well, I'm a messy cheapskate, so I want to see what they're offering by price, as they do have a combo box on the web site that allows selection by price low to high. Click on the selector, choose that sort order, and Bang! it goes to a page that says they can't find it, the equivalent of a 404 file not found page, with the cute message "We thought duct tape fixes everything."

Staples' own page can't even go to it's own link for a change in sort order for that page. Contrary to Staples ads, clearly, "that's not easy." So where is that easy button when you need it, Staples?

04/26/13

Permalink 11:01:31 am, by Paul ROBINSON, 131 words   English (US)
Categories: Announcements [A]

A piece of American trivia

A shotgun consists of three parts, which, in alphabetical order, are

  1. the barrel or barrels, which is what the shell travels along when fired. Illegal "sawed-off" shotguns have shorter barrels, I think this allows a tighter "spread pattern" for the shot.
  2. the lock mechanism, which is the trigger, the hammer, which can be cocked by pulling back, or, in some cases is cocked from below (you can see that when Lucas McCain uses the lever action on his shotgun in the western The Rifleman, and
  3. the stock, which is the wooden part that you're supposed to butt up against your shoulder so you don't dislocate it when you fire the weapon.

So this is where where we get the expression that something is completed, it is finished, "lock, stock and barrel."

Permalink 09:47:25 am, by Paul ROBINSON, 1771 words   English (US)
Categories: Announcements [A], News

Posted from my new computer: A PowerPC MAC OS X 10.4

Note: Most of this was posted about 1:37 this morning; after I played with the computer for a while, I shut it down, went to bed, then got up and restarted the Mac, then added more details.

I am using a new (to me) computer that just arrived yesterday, a Macintosh OS X 10.4 PowerPC. I am posting this message from that Mac. Now, some might say it's obsolete because Apple stopped supporting it back in 2009. But, as I see it, for not a lot of money I get the opportunity to get my feet wet doing some things on a Mac and discover if I should go further.

The machine cost $100 plus another $30 to ship and once I got it, I saw why. The damn thing is twice the size of either my Optiplex or Acer, both of which are also 64-bit desktop/tower machines (running Windows). OS X 10.4 ("Tiger") is old ("old" meaning "originated in 2005"), and Apple would be happy to sell me an upgrade to OS X 10.8 ("Mountain Lion") for $20. I might go with that at some point in the future, right now I'm just having some fun playing around with it. But it's interesting that since Apple went to using Intel processors most of the software being released now, whether it's in open source or are things like device drivers for my HP network printer, is only supporting Mac on Intel and is no longer supporting IBM's PowerPC processor; to the extent it is supported it's either in older releases that are deprecated (they've dropped it off their website altogether and you may have to go to third parties to find them) or are simply kept as archived material.

This machine is spare (as in "the outside has very few things showing") and huge. The box has two handles, one on the front and one on the back, is silver-gray anodized aluminum, has a slot for an optical disc (which I originally thought was not installed), and the front looks like a speaker grille. There is a control panel on the front which is on the left center, is about 1/2" wide and 3 inches long, consisting of a power light, on-off button, headphone socket, USB 2.0 port, and Firewire port. That's all. I thought the optical disc was not present because it was a flat plate, but issuing the eject disc command from iTunes caused the plate to drop (inside) and the tray to pop out. From what I read I suspect it's a DVD writer. (Further research leads me to believe it's a DVD-R drive with a CD-RW writer; it can read DVDs but can only burn CDs and CDRWs.)

The back has a video card with output for DVI and ADC, a couple of antenna ports for AirPort and Bluetooth, two USB 2.0 ports, 3 audio ports, 2 more firewire ports, an Ethernet port, a modem port and a power socket.

This machine weighs a whopping 55 pounds. No wonder I had to slide it across the floor to move it.

I bought it off Amazon for technical reasons - I was approved for one of their store credit cards and thus I'm not using my regular credit - and the one mistake I made was I bought a DVI to VGA adapter cable (which actually arrived before the computer did) because I figured I could use my existing KVM to run it. But the cord is the wrong type, either I would need an adapter to hook up to the VGA, or I should have purchased a DVI cable, because I discovered that my monitor supports both VGA and DVI input.

So I can't use the KVM and for some reason hooking the Apple to the monitor directly via the DVI to VGA cable doesn't work.

I didn't want to wait, so I went on-line and discovered that Radio Shack sells DVI monitor cables, they cost $27. While RatShack is often higher price, I've found their stuff works well out of the box, so I take the bus over there, buy the cable for $30 with tax, and come home. I have a spare USB keyboard; a Mac can use the same USB keyboard as a PC as long as you realize the ALT key is COMMAND and the Windows key is OPTION. I borrow my 2-button with scroll-wheel USB mouse (the Mac stopped using a one-button mouse years ago), and plug both into the Mac, plug in a power cord - it's the same type as a Wintel box, in fact I just unplug a Windows machine that I'm not using and was off anyway, and plug that cord into the Mac - reset my monitor to DVI, and BOOM! I see the Apple gray start-up screen.

It doesn't recognize the keyboard. It asks me to press the key to the right of the left shift (z), then the key to the left of the right shift (/), and it now recognizes it as a 102 key keyboard.

Mouse and keyboard work fine. Has no Internet, which I figured. I shut it down, I go get my 25-foot network cable I purchased, plug it into the switch - I have a switch and a router - and plug the other end into the Ethernet port. I start it up and Safari - Apple's web browser - can now reach the Internet. (Since OS X is a derivative of BSD I knew I had to restart the machine to get it to use the Ethernet because - unlike Windows, which recognizes that networking is available as soon as a network cable is plugged in - the Ethernet daemon doesn't start if no connection is detected and I have no idea how to get it to start otherwise.) [Update May 6, 2013] This is incorrect, as an associate from a BBS I use mentioned, Apple's OS X is not merely a rebadged BSD, the people at Apple do know how to build an Operating System, if you plug an Ethernet cable in it works immediately. I discovered that to be the case, presumably it detects it, issues a DHCP request to the router for an IP address on my intranet, and by the time you have plugged it in, it has the address and is hot. When I plugged in the Ethernet cable and tried Firefox again, it connects just fine. [End Update]

Later on when I got up again around 9AM this morning I started the machine again, but without the network cable plugged in because the cable runs across the room and I can't risk running over it and breaking it, so I have to disconnect it when it's not in use. I tried starting Firefox and there was (correctly) no Internet. Plugged the cable in, hit the 'try again' button and it immediately recognized that the Internet was available and connected to a website.

So I use Safari to download Firefox and install it so I can download other things because I'm more familiar with working with Firefox on Windows and how it works. But I want to figure out how to get the machine to recognize Windows networking so that I can download things to my Buffalo NAS because the Buffalo is a 1 TB drive with 500GB free; the Mac only has 80GB with about 66 free, I only want to store what I have to on it.

Plus this way the Mac can also read my video and music library on the NAS. It has a built-in speaker on the front, for playing sounds it's okay but if I wanted to really listen to music a real set of speakers or headphones would be better.

The Mac has a "dock" which is like the taskbar on windows (icons are much bigger, in the 48x48 pixel size, I think although they look bigger). It has "System Preferences" in the dock, which is the same as Windows Control Panel. By enabling Windows Sharing I can access the Buffalo NAS to save files.

So I am installing a bunch of things and we'll see how it goes. Oh, have to see how it handles plugging in a jump drive or external hard drive.

I did; I plugged a 16-GB USB thumb drive, after a few seconds an icon of a removable drive appears with "No Name" as its identifier which is probably right, and double-clicking on it opens Finder, which is similar to Windows Explorer, and I can see files on it.

Also need to see if the webcam I bought from Radio Shack a few months ago for $20 that worked on Windows out of the box without installation of drivers or any software whatsoever will do the same on the Mac.

I did. Plugged it in. Windows gives off a noise when you plug or unplug a USB device; Macintosh doesn't. I don't have anything that can monitor a webcam, so I downloaded a program, fired it up, and just like on Windows, the Mac recognizes the Webcam and it worked without having to install anything at all.

From reading one of the System Preferences tools the Mac also apparently supports using VNC directly, (VNC is an open-source program and protocol to remote view and control a computer) which means I think I can set it up headless and just connect to its desktop over the network instead of needing it to be regularly connected to a monitor.

I installed both Apache Open Office and the Inkscape SVG editor. For PowerPC processors running OS X 10.4 Inkscape wants the optional version of X Windows installed - as opposed to the standard X Windows setup - which Apple apparently only includes on the installation DVD which was not included with this machine, but someone has made it available to download (since X Windows is licensed for unrestricted distribution there really is no legitimate reason for Apple to restrict it.)

I loaded an Open Office document from the Buffalo NAS I'd been editing in Windows and used Inkscape to open an SVG file stored on the Buffalo as well.

Also something else interesting, DVI has priority with my monitor, when both are hooked up, if the DVI goes dark because the Mac shuts down or drops signal to the monitor, if there's a signal on the VGA it will bring that up. If the DVI becomes live, the monitor switches to that instead, which is pretty slick.

I have another mouse around here so I might just keep a keyboard and mouse on it and the keyboard and mouse on the KVM, if I don't figure out how to set it up headless and use the network to control it with a keyboard and mouse on another machine and the video sent remotely.

04/17/13

Permalink 09:50:52 pm, by Paul ROBINSON, 275 words   English (US)
Categories: Announcements [A]

Turkey Hill Premium Black Cherry Ice Cream

I happen to like black cherry flavor. I really like black cherry soda, and so, I saw that Target had Turkey Hill Premium black cherry ice cream, so I decided to try it. I had a bowl the other day and had some again tonight to confirm something I suspected when I ate it the first time.

I can see it's pink, and as it states on the front of the container, it has slices of black cherry in it - plenty of chunks, they're not skimping - but it doesn't really have a flavor like you'd expect a cherry or specifically black cherry flavor ice cream, if anything, it tastes like a vanilla ice cream with chunks of fruit. When you buy strawberry ice cream, for example, it tastes strawberry flavored even if you don't have any fruit in your mouth or even if the ice cream is a cheaper brand and really doesn't have fruit in it, the ice cream itself tastes like strawberry. "Must show you this. Lickable wallpaper! ... The strawberries taste like strawberries! The snozzberries taste like snozzberries!" - Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.

So, I thought about complaining about it, then I realized I hadn't read the lid. "A premium vanilla ice cream with slices of plump black cherries." So it's exactly what I thought; it's pink vanilla ice cream with fruit chunks. It's not really black cherry ice cream any more than a pink vanilla with chunks of strawberry would be considered strawberry ice cream, or a brown vanilla ice cream with chopped Hershey's kisses or Toll House morsels would be considered "chocolate." At best it might be "vanilla chocolate chip."

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Welcome to My blog! This is where I store my thoughts so that I can come back to them at some point in the future. This allows me a place like a journal to keep what I'm thinking about. But anyone else is welcome to visit; I make this place public so that other people can hear what I'm thinking.

This is where I make comments on any subject I find of interest. My political comments are in the Politics section, and technical items are in the Computers section. Note, if you want to make a comment, e-mail it to me at paul@paul-robinson.us. I am sorry that I had to disable comments, but after I had deleted the 300th worthless piece of spam comment on this blog and receiving exactly zero valid comments, I decided to stop allowing spammers to excrement all over me and my blog. If you have *anything* at all to say, send it to me in e-mail; if it is even the slightest bit relevant - even if I don't agree with it, I will post it. (As soon as I find a way to stop spammers from posting junk I'll allow direct comments.) Note that if you are a visitor and post a comment, it defaults to "draft" meaning I have to approve it before it is visible, so if you're posting spam, don't bother, nobody will see it.

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