Six Months with a Chromebook
About six months ago my main PC died and I needed a new one. Not having a lot of cash, and not really having a lot of free time to spend on the computer, I decided to get an Acer C7 Chromebook to hold me over.
Refurbished units are available on Acer's official refurb store, over on E-Bay. I paid $149 at the time. Now the base 2 Gb unit with a 320 Gb HD is available for $139.
These are Intel Celeron-based systems with 2 SO-DIMM RAM sockets and a mini-PCIe slot that holds the a/b/g/n/Bluetooth adapter. With only one RAM socket populated, it was easy to pop in a 4 Gb module for a total of 6 Gb of RAM. Adding more RAM allows the system to operate better with multiple tabs open. Other than that, you won't notice much of a difference.
Now that I've been using this as my primary machine for the last 6 months I can render an informed opinion.
I'm amazed at how much of what I do now is thru a web browser. After adding an SSH app, there is very little I couldn't do with the Chromebook. Still, there are some critical limitations that have driven me to get a "real" computer.
One of the big ones is the lack of network file system support. There is no way to access SMB/CIFS or NFS shares on the Chromebook. It also doesn't have FTP support, though there is a commercial app available for FTP. It is only $1.99, but needs to phone home to make sure you've paid, so requires connectivity to function.
If you can live with accessing files only through Google Drive, everything is fine. But, if you have -- like me -- a few terabytes of data on local shares, you're stuck. No, uploading every movie, television show, educational video and audio file I've every ripped to Google Drive is not an option.
Speaking of uploading music, that is another limitation. If you use Google Music, you can play everything fine, but will need a "real" computer to upload any files.
Printing, too. There is no direct printing support. The system only supports "Google Cloud Print", which means you either buy a new printer that supports GCP or leave a PC running with the printer driver configured, and logged in to Chrome (browser). You also have to be comfortable with everything you print going up to Google and back down. Meh.
Of course, Chrome doesn't do Java. There are still some things on the web that require Java.
The lack of network file system support is a show stopper for me. I'm also taking some online classes including a couple in Java development, which means I can't use the Chromebook.
Not that I'm getting rid of it. I have given it to my wife. My young son also has one.
For $139 plus $20 or so for extra RAM it makes a wonderful backup system. Or one to grab and take with if you aren't going to be doing heavy development.
Wireless Video Streaming - Update
Some while back I posted a journal entry about streaming video to my television from a central server in my basement. My conclusion at the time was wireless B/G/N couldn't really cut it when streaming via SMB over TCP.
I've experimented with a couple things and finally got it working where I can stream 1080p video (ripped BluRay) to my television via wifi. The difference was switching to the 5.0 GHz band (802.11 a/n) and changing the file share from SMB over TCP (Samba shares) to NFSv4.
NFS has less overhead than SMB over TCP and the wireless channels in the 5 GHz range are wider than those in the 2.4 GHz range.
So this setup now works for me without issues:
Small PC w/Via C7 chip acting as a server. Runs NFS and has copies (h.264 encoded as MKV) of all my movies, television shows and music (Ogg-FLAC). Connects to 10/100 wired switch in basement.
Zotac ZBox HD-11 running w/o a hard drive and booting OpenELEC off a 2 Gb SD card. Connects to home network via Cisco/Linksys WUSB600N USB wireless dongle on 5 GHz band (802.11 n).
I still have Samba running on the server so the couple of gaming PCs my kids have can reach the movie shares and perform automatic backups to private shares. I need to find a nice (free) NFS client for Windows 7. Suggestions?
Manna From San Francisco
Back in 2003 Marshall Brain, founder of How Stuff Works, wrote a short novel titled Manna . It is an exploration at what increasingly looks to be the logical conclusion of the Industrial Revolution. If you haven't had the opportunity to read it before, I highly recommend it. It isn't long or difficult, but it raises some very interesting notions.
I mention it now because of the news out of San Francisco.
While not the same angle as Manna, it essentially is a big step down the same path. In 2012 there were over 4 million people employed in the fast food industry in the United States. What is going to happen to the country when they're almost all replaced by automation?
Thinking about the different jobs that can be done better, faster and cheaper by robots today is an interesting exercise. Contemplating which jobs will be better handled by automated systems in 20, 50 and 100 years...is scary. Scary, that is, unless we fundamentally change the way we think about work, employment and the economy. I'm having a very hard time thinking of any jobs that can't be better done by robots than humans, including the so called "creative" ones, in 50 - 100 years.
Lies of Omission
This is a duplicate of a post I made in one of the recent topics. I'm copying it here for easier reference as I send it to a couple friends.
* * *
So what exactly is metadata?
Many years ago I was a telecommunications engineer for a large company and worked CALEA. For the uninitiated, that is law-enforcement wiretapping.
My job was to make sure CALEA functioned properly on the new cellular network. We tested on an internal, micro-cell network that was isolated from the real world. The end result was to make sure targeted devices sent CDR (call data records, or metadata) and voice to the destination. This was all piped thru IPSec tunnels to the appropriate destination law-enforcement agency.
In the event of a tunnel failure, CDRs were required to buffer but voice was not. Saving voice during an outage required too much storage space, but the text nature of CDRs meant they were small and largely compressible.
Metadata consisted of EVERYTHING THAT WAS NOT VOICE.
To be clear, it included the following:
time of call
duration of call
keys pressed during call
cell tower registered to
other cell towers in range
imei (cell phone serial number)
and a few other bits of technical information.
Everything above "cell tower registered to" applies to traditional, POTS land line phones. This information seems to be what the disinformation campaign currently going on seems to revolve around. They never mention that there are over 327 MILLION cellular phones in the U.S., which is more than one per person. They never mention the bottom set of metadata.
Capturing all key presses makes sure things like call transfers, three-way calls and the like get captured.
It also grabs things like your voicemail PIN/password, which never seems to get explicitly mentioned.
But the cellular set is more interesting. This data come across in registration and keep-alive packets every few seconds. This is how the network knows you're still active and where to route calls to.
But by keeping all this metadata it allows whomever has it to plot of map of your phone's gross location and movements.
By "gross", I mean the location triangulated from cell tower strength and not GPS coordinates. Towers are triangular in nature and use panel antennas. They know which panel you connect thru and can triangulate your location down to a few meters just by the strength of your signal on a couple different towers.
GPS coordinates are "fine" location. For the most part the numbers sent across are either zeroed out or the last location your phone obtained a fix.
GPS isn't turned on all the time because it sucks batteries down. If you own a phone you know how long it can take to get a fix, so this feature isn't normally used.
HOWEVER, it can be turned on remotely and is a part of the E911 regulations pushed to help find incapacitated victims after 9/11.
[There is a reason the baseband radio chip in your phone has closed, binary-blob firmware -- whether or not the OS itself is FOSS. We wouldn't want the masses to be able to disable remote activation, would we? Or let them start changing frequencies and power levels.]
So, are we comfortable with the government knowing where we, thru our cell phones, are at every moment of the day? Because that is what metadata allows.
Think of what can be learned by applying modern pattern analysis to that data set.
Experiments in Raspberry Pi
I've noted before that I have a media library setup. All of my media -- movies, TV shows, music, audiobooks -- are stored in digital format on a small server in my basement.
By "server" I mean a VIA-based mini-ITX box with 2 Tb of storage connected to my home network. For future reference, I wouldn't use a VIA-based motherboard again simply because they don't have USB 3.0 ports. Backing up 1+ Tb of data via USB 2.0 can take an entire day. Adding a USB 3.0 PCI card helped, but only a bit as the PCI bus is too slow to fully utilize USB 3.0 speeds.
Connected to the back of my television by a VESA mount was a Zotac Z-Box HD-ID11 acting as a playing device. The Z-Box has no hard drive and boots OpenELEC off of a 4 Gb SD card. It does have a CPU fan which hums softly, but really can't be heard except at night, when all is quiet. Setting a sleep timer on the system fixes that.
I've been scrupulous about ripping all my video using h.264 as a video codec. Everything under the sun has hardware-assisted h.264 playback, so it plays flawlessly everywhere.
In looking for a second system, I wanted something cheaper and smaller than the Z-Box and the Raspberry Pi seemed to fit the bill.
The Pi model B is $35. The VESA case is another $10, Transcend 4 Gb Class 10 SD card was $8, compact 4Gb USB stick was $10, and the HP Touchpad USB power charger was $20.
Why the HP Touchpad charger? Read this article comparing quality of various USB chargers for details.
Add it all up, throw in shipping and it was almost $100 on the nose. Oh, I reused my existing HDMI cable.
Installing OpenELEC on the Pi is trivial. Download the image, move the image to the SD card, boot. It worked the first time, no issues.
The results are where things get interesting. Thanks to the hardware-acceleration, video playback of everything from animated TV show rips to the latest 1080p BluRay rip was flawless.
Audio is a different story. The Pi doesn't have the chops to properly decode Dolby DTS/AC3 in CPU. While there is hardware-accelerated decoding on the ARM chip, it isn't licensed and thus disabled. The Pi people are working on being able to sell DTS licenses like they do for MPEG-2 and VC-1, but it will take some time.
So, for the high-definition audio streams you need to set OpenELEC to "passthru". Unfortunately my TV is one of the cheaper models and doesn't do DTS either. I need to get an AV receiver that can handle it. Until then (or the codec issue is resolved) a few of my BluRay rips are silent.
The real problem came not from video playback, but from the OpenELEC interface itself. No hardware-assist for X-Window to it is slower than molasses. Unusable in my opinion. Unusable without tweaking, that is.
Tweak 1: Update firmware on Raspberry Pi. A few changes were made and it helped speed things up a tad.
Tweak 2: Overclock the system. The Pi normally runs at 700 MHz. There is a simple text config file you can change that is read on boot. I've successfully overclocked to 900 MHz (ARM) / 333 MHz (Core) without issues. This made a noticeable difference.
Tweak 3: USB cache the data partition. While OpenELEC runs in RAM, the database of shows, thumbnails, cover art and all the rest reside on the SD card. And no matter how fast they claim to be, SD cards are slow compared to everything else. By creating an EXT4 partition on a small USB thumb drive and pointing OpenELEC at that, speed was greatly improved. Now the system boots off of the SD card (a limitation of the Pi) but runs off a USB stick.
Tweak 4: Turn off the per movie, full-screen background art. This just saves the lag of loading a full-screen art image for each movie title you scroll across. I never really noticed it before, so I'm not missing anything.
Tweak 5: The Pi has unified memory, meaning the CPU and GPU share the same RAM. Memory dedicated to the GPU is specified at boot in the cmdline.txt file. I upped it from the default of 128 Mb GPU (384 Mb CPU) to 192 Mb GPU (320 Mb CPU). I do not know if this did anything or not. I need to figure out a way to test it.
Fix 1: In the same config file where you overclock, I set "force_hdmi=1". The Pi has both an HDMI and composite video out. If it detects an HDMI connection, it will output to that. If not, it defaults to composite. So, if you use HDMI and reboot the Pi with the TV off, it'll default to composite and you'll need to reboot again. This way it just assumes HDMI always and I never have to worry about it. Of course, once I stop fiddling with it there will hardly ever be a reason to reboot. If it ain't broke...
Final tweak: Patience of a Zen Master. My media collection consists of well over a thousand pieces -- movies, TV episodes, cartoons, etc. OpenELEC goes through and updates the library, downloading what information it can from TheTVDB and TheMovieDB including various cover art. It caches it in the storage partition (thus the USB tweak above), but doesn't resize the downloaded artwork until display. As a result, when scrolling through a big library there are noticeable delays and missing artwork. Once cached it works fine. Until then, it is frustratingly sluggish. However, this took me an entire weekend of off and on attention to accomplish.
The end result of my experiment is that the Pi is usable for a large media library running OpenELEC. There can be a little lag of a second or so when switching screens from Home to, say, Weather or Movies, but not so much I'm bothered.
Before the tweaks it was unusable and I was looking for something else to use the Pi on. Now I'm happy.
One final note. I've always found streaming HD video over WiFi a waste of time. It never really worked for me. Right now my server is on a GigE switch and I have CAT-6A running to everywhere in the house. Still, I want options.
I use Samba to share stuff from the server and that has excessive overhead from what I've read. I just added NFS sharing and swapped the Pi over to that. My next step is to unplug the wire and see if I can now successfully stream via wireless.
New Gun, New Ammo
One of my hobbies is pistol shooting. I punch various sized holes in paper targets at a distances of up to 25 yards. One day I hope to have enough free time to try actual bullseye competition and not look like a total noob.
As good guns are not cheap, for now I only keep one at a time. Since I also want the gun to be available for self-defense, if needed, it has to be practical for concealed-carry as well.
So, for the last several months I've been shooting a Springfield XD-S. That is a single-stack, small-frame, .45 ACP and a marvel of modern gunsmithing. I love the gun and was loathe to part with it, but sell it I did.
The XD-S has basically two flaws, depending on how you look at things. The first is the grip safety.
The grip safety is a small lever on the back of the grip that must be depressed for the gun to fire. Combined with the trigger safety, you must grip the gun just right or it won't fire. Once you get used to it, it works fine. But if you have to draw in a hurry, such as in a defense situation, it can present problems.
Also, if you have soft webbing between your thumb and forefinger, it won't always depress the safety -- as my daughter found out. Her hands are soft and she had no end of problems getting a tight enough grip to depress the safety. Nothing that a little duct tape can't fix, but I don't like disabling safety mechanisms.
As an aside, the safety configuration makes the gun physically impossible to fire for a small child. This is, of course, a benefit. I'm of the opinion that there should be almost no circumstance EVER that a small child should be trying, but in the case of the worst there is an extra layer of safety.
I say "almost" because in order to test the safety of the gun around my bigger-than-average, soon-to-be 5 year-old child, I unloaded it and had him try a couple of things.
Strong as he is for his age, he was physically unable to rack the slide and thus not load a round into the chamber. Once racked by me (but NOT loaded, duh), he was physically unable to grip it properly to get it to fire. Nothing he did could make it go "click". The wife was appeased.
The second drawback is really a matter of perspective. It is a .45, which is a damn hand cannon. It has a fairly large bullet, will make a very loud bang, and punch a damn big hole in whatever you're aiming at.
And if you run 250+ rounds through it at the range your wrist will need iced and feel like you were punching cement blocks for fun.
What most non-shooters don't understand is that it really isn't so much the size of the round that causes recoil, but the size of the gun. Physical size, that is.
So, while a .45 ACP has a kick, it is much lessened in the traditional 1911-format big pistol. The mass of the gun absorbs a great deal of the recoil and your wrist bears less of the brunt of it.
With the XD-S, that mass isn't there, as 609 grams empty. A stock 1911 is closer to 1,100 grams. As a result, unless you have wrists like Popeye, or are a duty officer who puts several hundred rounds a month through a big-bore pistol, you'll feel it.
This really comes into play with women looking for purse pistols. They gravitate straight to the little .380 ACP pocket guns because of the size, not realizing that even though the .380 is a smaller round that smaller gun (260 grams) is going to kick more than the same round in a full-sized model.
To make a long story short (too late!), it isn't a fun gun to shoot. If you're looking for a backup pistol where you don't have to worry about pesky things like windshields, car doors, or drywall deflecting your shots, this baby is it. If you're looking for something to squeeze off a few hundred at the range, it isn't.
So, off to my local FFL dealer to consign the gun. It lasted less than 24 hours. :-)
In choosing a replacement, besides everything above, I also considered the possibility of over-penetration. If, God forbid, I have to use the thing in a self-defense situation, I don't want the bullet blowing through my target and into some hapless bystander.
So, back down the caliber ladder to 9 mm I went, ending up with a Ruger LC9. The astute among you will notice I picked another single-stack. My hands are a little small and I don't feel comfortable with double-stack grips, which means I don't consider anything by Glock.
At about 500 grams, it is still a bit small, but with 9 mm ammo ranging in mass from 68 - 125 grains (4.5 - 8 grams) it is much more in the "fun" category to shoot. I just stay away from +P ammo, as I never saw the need for the extra kick.
So, new gun in hand, I wanted to go to the range and put it through its paces. Unfortunately, we're in the middle of a nationwide shortage of pistol ammunition and after TWO WEEKS of not being able to buy a single round, I was able to pick up a couple of boxes of TulAmmo at my local Walmart.
TulAmmo is as cheap (cost) as it gets. A box of 50 rounds is about $10. The main difference is the bullet casings are steel instead of brass. Oh, and it is made in Russia. Yes, all I could find were Russian-made bullets. Ronald Reagan must be spinning in his grave. :-)
Google that stuff and all you get is warnings about how dirty, corrosive and prone to misfire it is. Nothing but complains.
Well, it was all I could find and I wanted to play with my new toy, dammit! So, 150 rounds in hand, I went to my local range to see what would happen. I picked up an extra 100 rounds of Winchester USA 9 mm 115 gr FMJ at the range itself to compare.
Short answer, it performed flawlessly. In 150 rounds I had no misfires, jams or failures to eject. The brass-cased Winchester had 1 failure to eject and one jam loading, which is actually pretty good. I've had some other brands that have exceeded 15% misfire rates, which is totally unacceptable.
As soon as I can get it in, I'm going to try some various defense rounds to see what I like the feel of. I have both frangible and high-expansion JHPs from a variety of manufacturers on order. I'm really wanting to see the difference in kick between the 68 grain frangible and the 125 grain JHP.
Once done and home, I disassembled the pistol for cleaning. I did not find it any dirtier than my XD-S was after the same number of "Made in USA, brass-cased, name-brand, factory new" rounds. In fact, I think it was a little cleaner, but that may be because of the smaller load of the 9 mm vs the .45 ACP.
So, I'm off to Walmart to see if they have any more in stock. I want to run 1,000+ through the gun to break it in and get a feel for it and at $10 a box (half of most competitors), TulAmmo is what I'll be shooting. I re-evaluate after the first 1,000 rounds.
When government fines companies, who gets cash?
Back in 2010 the SF Journal published a very informative article titled "When government fines companies, who gets cash?".
If you've ever wondered where the money that is collected by various fines and penalties levied by the U.S. Federal Gov't goes, this article will give you the answer.
Science Confirms Comic
A month or two ago The Oatmeal published a comic titled How much do cats actually kill? It is funny, but emphasizes that little fluffy is a sociopathic killing machine.
Today science caught up with comic as the New York Times published an article titled That Cuddly Kitty Is Deadlier Than You Think.
Same conclusion, bigger words, less kitty-stares-of-death.
Some people say cats play with their food. I always thought it was the other way around -- they eat their toys.
The Cuban Missile Crisis -- Director's Cut
The BBC News site has a fascinating short article on an aspect of the Cuban Missle Crisis of 1965 that I was totally unaware of.
It seems that in addition to the long-range missiles the Soviets were trying to ship in, there were already 100 tactical nuclear weapons there that the U.S. intelligence agencies missed.
Castro wanted to keep them and it took some effort for the Soviets to convince him to return them and do it without the Americans finding out.
Right to Not Be Offended
In regards to the issues currently happening in Egypt and Libya, the problem is intolerance. The proper response to Mr. Bacile and his movie is to ignore it and his childish attempt at attention grabbing. If pressed, criticize it as bigoted, amateurish and hateful. Disagree with it to your heart's content. But to commit violence of any level over the impotent ramblings of a buffoon? Absolutely unacceptable.
Freedom of speech means nothing if it cannot be used to criticize and lampoon those in power -- whether they be people, icons, symbols or beliefs. Freedom of speech that is limited to saying only the bland and inconsequential, never arousing passion or challenging authority is no freedom at all.
There is no such thing as a right to not be offended.
Uranium Harvested From Seawater
While it has long been known that the ocean contains, in aggregate, large amounts of valuable minerals dissolved in it, extracting them has been expensive and difficult.
Attempts to extract minerals using ion exchange started shortly after World War 2. In the 2002, Japanese researchers at the Japan Atomic Energy Research Institute advanced a method using flexible plastic fibers braided into mats and impregnated with an absorbent chemical. The costs involved are around $1,200 per kg using this method, as opposed to the approximate $120 per kg from traditional mines.
Recently researchers at the US Department of Energy's Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) and Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) have more than doubled the amount of uranium that can be extracted from seawater using refinements on the Japanese method. They've successfully brought the costs down to about $660 per kg.
Why all the effort? The world's oceans contain around 4.5 billion tons of uranium, enough fuel to power every nuclear plant on the planet for 6,500 years.
Oral Sex Cures Morning Sickness
Why was this study not released before I fathered my four kids!
Stupid Mistakes #1
I've been having no end of problem with glitches in streaming media when the media is stored on the server in my basement. Wired connections are fine, but then again they are all GigE. Wireless-G has been flaky.
I'd spent hours tweaking QoS on my wireless AP to prioritize streaming media to no avail. It always worked for my VoIP phone, so I couldn't figure out why it wasn't for streaming video and audio.
I finally just dumped some packets and figured out why. I post this here for posterity.
Repeat after me: "SMB over TCP is NOT a streaming protocol". Not as far as QoS default labels are concerned.
Sigh. That is what I get for assuming I knew the Linksys definition of "streaming media". SMB over TCP is what is used for remote network shares like the Samba instance my in-home media server runs.
Little Upgrades that Matter #2
I've mentioned before that I run a version of XBMC called OpenELEC for a wife-friendly way of presenting our media collection on the TV.
I'm currently running OpenELEC v2 Beta 5 and it is flawless. My wife loves it because it is brain-dead simple. I use the Android app for remote control, but have also used a generic Media Center remote an IR receiver. On my project list is to get a Bluetooth remote. I hate having to aim.
The hardware I use is a Zotac HD-ID11 mini-PC. For my use it is almost, but not quite, perfect.
OpenELEC has a tailored distribution just for this type of box. It is optimized for the nVidia ION-2 chipset and under 2 Gb in size.
I don't use a hard drive at all. The system is loaded onto a 4 Gb SD card for total silence, less heat and less power.
The box is mounted on a little VESA bracket that screws into the back of the TV. Perfect fit and totally out of sight. The only cables are HDMI to the TV, power and USB/IR adapter.
My only complaint is their choice of wireless chipset. Included as a mini-PCIe card is an Azurewave combo card which is 2.4 GHz only. That is, 802.11 b/g/n + Bluetooth 3.0.
My experience has been not good in playing HD video (h.264) or audio (Ogg-FLAC) on 2.4 GHz. I have too many things in that frequency in my house and it causes buffering and lag.
So today I opened the box and replaced the Azurewave with an Intel 6230 combo card for $23. Essentially the same specs but with 5.0 GHz a/n support as well.
That solves my problem. There is no lag or delay in playback of HD video or audio using this wireless connection. It isn't as snappy as when it is connected to the GigE wired link, but that is really overkill and this means one less cable and freedom to rearrange furniture.
Everything in this little unit works right out of the box with Linux. The Intel wireless card also just works. No drivers to download, no nothing.
Now to convince it to stream from my Amazon Prime account or Netflix. I think there is an XBMC plug-in for those.
Little Upgrades that Matter #1
I've mentioned before that I have a small server in my basement that I use for media storage. All my movies, music and TV shows have been ripped from DVD or BluRay and encoded as h.264/AC3 files.
The server is nothing more than a mini PC case with a fanless Via C7 mini-itx motherboard, 2 Gb of RAM and a 2 Tb "green" hard drive. Since it is nothing more than a file server it needs very little horsepower and thus I used the low-power, low-performance parts. It works wonderfully.
I have about 1 Tb of files on it that took me almost a year to rip, encode and properly tag. I really don't want to do it again -- ever, so I bought a little external USB 1 Tb HD for $90 at Walmart.
The external drive is USB 2.0/3.0, but the motherboard is USB 2.0. You'd think 480 Mbps is fast, but once you try and copy over 1 Tb of data it seems a lot slower.
So I bought a USB 3.0 card to stick in the one slot the motherboard has. That was a trick, actually. It seems that the older Via motherboards have PCI slots and that since USB 3.0 is *faster* than the PCI bus, almost no one makes a USB 3.0 PCI expansion card. There are plenty of PCIe cards, but finding a PCI card was harder than I thought.
I finally tracked down one -- and only one -- on Ebay. It is from a Taiwanese OEM named "Serial Technologies Expander", whom I can't find online.
The card works like a champ under Linux. Power down, plug card into slot, plug in power from case power supply (for USB-powered device support) and go. No drivers, no nothing. Plugging in my external drive showed /deb/sdb1 available.
US 3.0 maxes out at 5 Gbps, but the PCI bus tops out at just a hair over 1 Gbps. So I'm not getting the full benefit of USB 3.0, but it is more than twice as fast as the USB 2.0 backup was.
I need to do a full benchmark of the speed just to satisfy by nerd curiosity. Because since I backed up once (just "cp -aR /home/media/* /mnt"), I wasn't really wanting to do the whole thing again. A quick "cp -aRu /home/media/* /mnt" did an "update" and only copied newer files over.
For the record: Makemkv is what I use to strip copy protection and rip DVD and BluRay movies. The actual encoding to h.264 is done with HandBrake. CD audio I rip to Ogg-Flac (lossless) using K3B. It all works like a charm. I chose h.264 for video because damn near everything has hardware acceleration support for it.
Cell Phone Transformation
For the longest time the cell phone industry operated with a mix of OS vendors, handset makers and carriers each providing bits of the whole in an attempt to differentiate themselves from the competition.
This worked in the beginning, but once cellphones were used for more than just making phone calls it sucked Until Apple came along and showed people how much it sucked no one really saw any way to fix it.
It sucked because all three tiers had different goals and visions. The best business interests of AT&T didn't align with those of Motorola or Nokia, much less Symbian or Sun (JavaME). The result was not so much a fusion of form and function but rather a congealed mass of inconsistent implementation mixed with confusing designs shat out upon the consumer.
Apple caused a seismic shift in the industry by collapsing the OS and handset tier into one and completely neutering the carrier, turning them into a dumb connection that sells access only.
The phenomenal success of the iPhone was heralded as a wake-up call to the industry. But instead of waking up, the carriers and handset manufacturers just dreamed bigger. Apple showed them that 50-80% market domination was possible if only they had the coolest product.
Handset manufacturers like Nokia and Samsung bought or developed their own operating systems, tweaked it all out, and peddled it to carriers.
But none of them have enough mojo to force the carriers to toe the line. AT&T, T-Mobile, Verizon and the rest still insist on adding their little touches to differentiate. They are really fighting to add enough perceived value so they can charge a bigger price and stave off relegation to commodity dumb network access provider.
And back they are to the way things were. Except the carriers are racing ever faster to commodity status.
Handset makers aren't far behind the carriers and they have Google to thank for that. With the booming popularity and sub-zero cost of Android, big handset makers like Samsung can barely differentiate their hardware from cheap Chinese bulk manufacturers. So they add their software touches like TouchWiz and Sense.
The problem with that model is vanilla Android is pretty damn good. So good that the additions like Sense and TouchWiz aren't seen as enough of a premium to be able to capture a significant market share.
Google, with their Galaxy Nexus phone that Samsung makes essentially collapses the OS and handset maker tiers and by selling the phone unlocked they cut any carrier interference out of the picture.
The handset makers and carriers still try their damnedest to fight commodity status. The result is carriers dragging their feet on upgrading the software -- blaming compatibility issues but the reality is not compatibility with the HARDWARE but with their little software add-ons. (See: CyanogenMod for fixing this.)
Microsoft sort of sees the light. They're moving in Apple's control-the-entire-stack direction. They are fed up with relying one handset makers and carriers to fulfill THEIR vision. Whether or not it works is another story. And right now MS seems to be hedging their bets when it comes to phones. They have their hooks deep enough in Nokia to bring everything in-house but haven't pulled the trigger.
And the latest straw grasp by the carriers and handset manufacturers is partnering with Mozilla for "Firefox phones".
This move may bring some smart phones into the price range of "feature" phones. Telefonica has said the phone price will be significantly cheaper than the low-end Android models, meaning Firefox phones can be priced at levels around $50 excluding operator subsidies.
But after switching from T-Mobile to StraightTalk for essentially the same service and a savings of about 33%, and purging the rest of T-Mobiles infection by installing CyanogenMod, I have seen the light. My phone runs faster, has a longer batter life and is more useful.
What the carriers are providing isn't a value add, it is a value minus. T-Mobile's "features" actually made the user experience *worse*. From what I've seen of Verizon and AT&T, they rate right down there with T-Mobile for value. They exist on inertia alone and commodity status awaits.
It's a tablet, it's a netbook, it's the best of both!
When all you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail. Microsoft seems to be making the mistake that tablets are going to fully replace PCs. They aren't. They, like phones, are going to compliment them. Each is a different tool with different strengths and weaknesses.
There is a reason people don't use iPads and the like for serious spreadsheet and keyboard-based work. They aren't designed for it. Slapping a keyboard in the cover isn't going to change the fact. You can already get keyboards for the iPad and Android tablets.
Yes, they work in limited scenarios, but that doesn't mean people are going to give up full tactile respone and 27" monitors when doing long typing sessions. You think people have issues with carpal tunnel syndrome NOW, wait until they're doing all their typing on one of those things!
Most typical office tasks involving the classic Office suite of products aren't going to change. Those tasks still need to be done, and spreadsheets, word processors and heavy data entry aren't going to disappear anytime soon.
It is the software that drives the hardware. Microsoft knows it. Ballmer's famous "developers, developers, developers" chant is proof of it. Apple knows it, too. This is why they continuously tout the number of apps available for the iPad. And it is why, despite my dislike of Apple's walled-garden approach, I'm getting an iPad. There are apps there to support private pilots that just don't exist on Android (or Windows 8). LOTS more.
Microsoft pushed tablets for over a decade. They didn't sell. Microsoft's interface and applications don't work well in touch format. Windows Metro may change the OS interface, but I fail to see how data-entry heavy applications like Word and Excel are going to work any better than in the past.
Microsoft will sell a bunch of these, simply because they'll most likely dump a wad of cash into promoting them. But, unless they come up with more compelling reasoning that "you don't have to give up Office" for these, I can't see them passing Android or Apple on the sales charts.
TSP Epic Password Fail
TSP stands for Thrift Savings Plan. This is the 401(k)-equivalent that gov't employees can utilize. It is popular.
In April of 2012, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) informed the FRTIB (FEDERAL RETIREMENT THRIFT INVESTMENT BOARD) and Serco that in July of last year, a computer belonging to Serco, a third party service provider used in support of the TSP, was subjected to an unauthorized access incident. This incident resulted in the unauthorized access to the personal information of 123,201 TSP participants and payees. When the TSP learned of the cyber attack, we took immediate steps to investigate and notify our participants and other affected individuals.
The TSP notified their customers on June 1 of 2012 of the hack that occurred on July of 2011, but they only learned about sometime in April of 2012.
So off I go to change my password and what to my wondering eyes should appear? The following constraints:
1. Contain exactly 8 characters
2. Contain both letters and numbers
3. Not match any of your last four passwords
4. Not contain special characters.
And for "security tips" they have:
1. Create words or phrases by combining letters and numbers (golf4fun)
2. Substitute letters for numbers (5 for S or 3 for E)
Screencap of password page: https://plus.google.com/photos/108320036461391153047/albums/5752480492680965105
TSP announcement: https://www.tsp.gov/whatsnew/plan/planNews.shtml#pii
I'm on a password changing kick, using 12-20 character snippets from GRC's Perfect Passwords. Needless to say, TSP choked -- and so did I.
It sounds to me like it is tied directly to an old mainframe account, but there is no excuse for this level of sloppiness.
I thought you all would find it entertaining -- or frightening if this is where you have a chunk of your retirement funds set up.
Private Pilot Exam -- Passed
Yay! I passed the FAA written Private Pilot exam! Now to get some hours in and solo!
I'm on my way to telling the TSA to GFY and still be able to fly somewhere!
Dozens Arrested After Riot at Foxconn Factory
Dozens of workers at a Foxconn plant in Chengdu, China were arrested this week after a clash with security staff, according to a report.
Taiwan-based Want China Times (WCT) reported that the clash broke out Monday night at a male dormitory for Foxconn workers. Security guards had attempted to stop a thief, when several employees with grudges against the officers forced them away.
The situation rapidly escalated, and up to 1,000 workers eventually joined in.
How long before the Chinese workers form real unions and clash with the gov't? That would be ironic. A communist gov't fighting a union.