Wait, Wait! … actually, maybe you should tell me after all

September 9th, 2013

Often, when people would ask where my family (ancestors) came from, I’d say “I don’t know, and I don’t really care to know. I’m probably shaped more by having a father who was a salesman and a grandfather who was a grocer; a mother and grandmother that were teachers than affected by a bunch of people I never met.” Against my will, I’ve picked up a few tidbits of when great or great-great grandparents arrived on this continent, but I refuse to admit to knowing anything.

What hit me today though, was that I probably haven’t learned enough about the salesman, the grocer, and the teachers.

This week on NPR’s Ask Me Another, Don’t Tell Me … Wait, Wait, Ask Me Another their guest contestant was Peter Sagal of Wait, Wait Don’t Tell Me. In the pre-game interview, Sagal mentioned that his family were grocers and owned Evergood Foods in Cambridge, MA. That was a bit surprise, as my grandfather owned Evergood Foods in Dedham. I realized that I had little idea of how my grandfather came to run  the store, or what connection it had to Sagal’s families store. I knew some things about my grandfather: Charlestown Navy Yard during World War II. HP Hood and Sons afterward.

My father filled me on some of the details.

HP Hood and sons owned the Evergood foods chain. A bit after working for Hood my grandfather worked at a few Evergood locations. Egelston Square, Northampton St, somewhere in Allston, et al. Hood eventually wanted to get out of the grocery business and sold of the shops, mostly to former employees. Cambridge and Needham were the prized locations. My grandfather bid on a few and managed to buy the one in Dedham. In Sagal’s interview he says that his grandparent’s owned their shop from 1949-1999. I’m guessing my father got the shop around the same time, but his didn’t last as long. He closed the store in the mid to late ’70s.

I have one frequent reminder of Grandpa’s store. If you go to the Whole Foods supermarket in Dedham, and go to the seating area there are a bunch of enlarged prints taken of Dedham center. There is a shot looking down Eastern Ave onto High Street that shows the Evergood Foods storefront.

Adventure Suites

August 24th, 2013

My family just got back from a vacation at Adventure Suites in North Conway, NH. This is the type of place where each room is done up as a different theme, and I used to think these were mostly designed for couples who wanted to play pirate, caveman, etc. for a weekend. Although I met a few couples there, Adventure Suites seems to try to expand their market to families. They do a great job of it. Here is why, at least in the Jungle  where we stayed:

  • The rooms, are large. It probably takes more room to express a design than to just lay out a typical hotel room. The 475 sq feet is probably bigger than any hotel I can recall staying in before.
  • They have a great DVD collection in the lobby. You can take out any movies you’d like, and just need to return them at checkout. The room we were in also had several HDMI and composite audio/video sockets on wallplates in the room, in case you’d like to hook up your iPad/iPod/tablet/smartphone/etc. and use a streaming service like Netflix, HuluPlus, iTunes, or other service. It also had a Playstation 2 and a collection of games at the lobby.
  • The multi-zoned sound system can individually be switched on or off across parts of the suite.
  • Every place you can imagine needing a wall outlet, you can find one. Since everyone is traveling with phones, music players, tables, etc that all need recharging, I’m finding fewer and fewer places have enough plugs. Enough with unplugging the hairdryer in the bathroom so you can charge your phone for the next day.
  • These people know soundproofing. I noticed this because doors aren’t all that easy to soundproof, but walls are. Sound from neighboring rooms heard in the hallway disappeared when in our room. Movies the kids were listening to upstairs in our suite were practically inaudible downstairs.
  • They bathroom was well split up so that multiple people could get ready at the same time. The toilet had its own door to separate it from the sink and shower area, which then had a door separating it from the rest of the room.

I’m sure people staying at Adventure Suites for more romantic reasons could find other reasons for these features (HDMI is a pretty universal video  interface for both cameras and players now. They may have other reasons for needing an electrical outlet within 4 ft wherever they are in the room. Some might want more privacy for the toilet time than they would for the shower, etc. ) They come in useful for a family too.

Amazon Instant Video on OpenSuse 12.2 – FlashPlayer and DRM issues.

November 4th, 2012

Last week (at synagogue of all places) someone reminded me about Torchwood: Miracle Day. I was interested in viewing it when it came out, but not enough to subscribe to Starz to see it. Later I looked for it on Netflix, etc. but at least at the time it wasn’t available. I finally found it on Amazon Instant Video and decided to buy it.

I was able to view it on a Windows machine and assumed that I couldn’t on Linux. One time when I tried it though, I clicked into the Amazon video help page it pointed to and it said “If you are having playback problems on Linux, please visit the Adobe support pages for additional Linux troubleshooting steps:http://kb2.adobe.com/cps/929/cpsid_92948.html.” and realized that they weren’t immediately ruling out Linux.

There were some issues that I needed to work through though, and the instructions were scattered.

Adobe Flash needs the deprecated hal daemon. It isn’t in the standard OpenSuse install, but is in the KDE 3 repository: http://download.opensuse.org/repositories/KDE:/KDE3/openSUSE_Factory

Adobe’s instructions for the location of the flash plugin is wrong, the RPM version in /usr/lib/browser-plugins/libflashplayer.so works. (Flash is in the NonOSS repository http://download.opensuse.org/distribution/12.2/repo/non-oss/) Adobe’s instructions are to bypass the RPM and download their tar.gz archive. That didn’t seem to be necessary for me.

All in all its straightforward, but the information was scattered to find. The openSuse forums discussed finding HAL in KDE3, but not the exact repository, and in between rants that Adobe shouldn’t be using it anyway and rants that DRM is evil (I might agree with both, but that doesn’t help the issue.). Adobe mentions that it needs hal but where and how to install it for openSuse 12.2. The Adobe Linux flash help page does have a sample flash video player that will report DRM access and a sample DRM protected movie (the “Getty train video”) to test against, but its suggestions to use tar.gz over RPMs has some unfortunate long term consequences.

If you are having playback problems on Linux, please visit the Adobe support pages for additional Linux troubleshooting steps:

http://kb2.adobe.com/cps/929/cpsid_92948.html.

If you are having playback problems on Linux, please visit the Adobe support pages for additional Linux troubleshooting steps:

http://kb2.adobe.com/cps/929/cpsid_92948.html.

New Phone Friday

July 11th, 2011

Verizon delivered new mobile phones to the house on Friday. (more or less, details below.)

We wound up with one Android (a reconditioned HTC Thunderbolt), and iPhone, and and Kin TwoM. So I guess we wound up with a pretty wide cross section of what’s available for mobile phones.

Then Saturday wound up being nearly the worst possible day for everyone to have an unfamiliar phone:

Michelle suddenly had to go to the Cape for her mom’s rental house. Then once she got there realized that a car charger, etc would have been nice to have. (she wound up picking up the bare essentials at a Radio Shack.) Never having any sort of overly complex phone before, she wound up not having too much trouble figuring out the iphone. (Although any little slip up or question she has, Sam suggests trading phones.)

Sam’s biggest problem was copying the contacts from her old phone (my hand me down Nokia e61, which she referred to as a dinosaur) and the Kin TwoM. After a lot of trial and effort, we wound up having to take it to the Verizon Wireless shop, and they managed to do it with “the machine in the back.” Other than the contacts difficulty, she seems pretty happy with it so far. Touch screen and slide out keyboard. Wifi, and the basic applications that you’d expect on a phone. I told her that I didn’t buy the insurance for the TwoM, and that the only insurance I had was the promise that if she breaks or damages the phone I will replace it with something twice as big, and twice as ugly.

Most of my switching (from a T-mobile G1 to the Thunderbolt) went smoothly. I re-signed in to my Google account and all the old data synced and Android Market apps re-downloaded to the new phone. The only problems I had were sheer stupidity. My one non-AndroidMarket app, Tasker, I had “released” the authorization code on my old phone, but failed to write it down. I eventually found the code on an emailed receipt from paypal. The other problem I had was not recognizing my ringtone. I was walking around Roche Bros grocery store and my younger daughter had to tell me to take the phone out of my pocket and answer it.

If coffee didn’t exist, someone would have to invent it

June 28th, 2010

I sent an email to an ex-co-worker a few days back, but I figured I might as well post the same info here:

while back I had a conversation on how I found it amusing that all over the world ancient people had found the plants in their own region that were natural stimulants. In South America they found the Coca plant, in Asia they found the tea leaves, and Northern Africa they found coffee, etc. The coworker responded that the coffee was the interesting one, because coffee has to go through many process before it can be used (beans first dried, then roasted, diffused in boiling water, etc.)

OK, so fast forward from that breakroom conversion a few years, and I’m listening to a podcast called A History of the World in 100 Objects and a few of them discuss aspects of early food that seem to explain things a bit. One points out that
our diet evolved towards the more complex to prepare plants. (stronger but dumber, stronger animals could chase us away from their foods, but if we started eating foods that needed to be husked, boiled, crushed, etc there wouldn’t be the competition.) A later one
described how even ancient maize was more complex to prepare than the more readily digestible form we have bred over the years.

So if a staple food like like corn started with an odd preparation process with limestone, etc. and our brains are built to figure out
and remember complex cooking steps needed for them; then figuring out the complex steps to extract the caffeine out of coffee starts seeming very similar.

Thoughts on “Thoughts on Flash”

May 2nd, 2010

When I was reading the Steve Jobs piece named Thoughts On Flash I was a bit uncomfortable about it. Although Jobs may have some valid points there, there were flagrant factual inaccuracies, false equivalences, and other logical fallacies.

“Adobe’s Flash products are 100% proprietary … By almost any definition, Flash is a closed system.” This section mixes up a couple of different issues. Is it trying to discuss the Flash interpreter plugin that some people want on the iphone/ipad/etc? Or the tools used to create Flash applications and content? Or is he talking about the specification or at least the direction the specification will take in the future? (Later on he’s talking about Flash video, but at this point he seems to be focusing more on the interactive animations aspects of Flash.)

Jobs is leaving out the part where people have downloaded the SWF spec, and created their own compilers and development tools. There is no reason to buy Adobe products or ask their permission to create Flash content. (Although to be fair, I think there are some restrictions about creating an alternative Flash player. I don’t think this is the problem in Apple’s case because Adobe seems willing to help them port the player to the iphone/ipad platform.)

He compares that to HTML5, CSS, and Javascript, but when I see that list, I think of the way that Javascript started out as a proprietary extension created by Netscape, implemented by Microsoft and then sent by Microsoft to a standards committee (much more for Microsoft’s benefit than Netscape’s.) When I hear HTML5, I think of all of the other newly released by not widely implemented standards I’ve seen over the years. Some of them have worked out. Some of them have been deprecated. Standards committees are an advantage to the members that are on the committee, and the hope is that the multiple viewpoints brought by all the committee members prevents the advantage to being too lopsided to one particular party. When Jobs mentions that Apple is on the HTML5 committee, that helps Apple. That only helps Adobe if they are on the committee as well, but either or both of them on the committee doesn’t help me directly.

He then blurs the difference between open standards and open source software by bringing WebKit. His description of its origin is a little bit off. (I wouldn’t describe it as  Apple and a small open source project created WebKit. I’d describe it as Apple taking an existing, completed product called KHTML and adapting it to their uses.) It wasn’t Apple who was “making its WebKit technology open”. They were complying with the license for the code they based it on. In some ways, these 3rd parties using WebKit are in the same position as the people making tools based off the SWF spec mentioned above. They can use it as it is, but they have little input in the direction it takes in the future. There is now WebKit Consortium to corroboratively decide on how WebKit will evolve in the future.

In the section on the “full web”, I found it a bit jarring that he’s moving from Flash as a whole to its video component. I can’t find an exact quote from Adobe that uses the 75% figure, but the references I see from Adobe talking abut the “full web” seem to imply the interactivity features of flash as well as the video. He then touts H.264 video as an alternative (even though video might just be a straw man) but doesn’t disclose the financial advantage Apple has for people using H.264. Apple’s patent portfolio covers aspects of the H.264 spec, so people creating tools for it need to pay Apple.

Flash Games are then cleaved off as a separate from the “full web” issue, and offers games from the App store as an alternative. (how did we move from the web to standalone applications?) Issues like interactive infographics used in news websites and other uses of Flash aren’t mentioned.

In the section on reliability, security and performance there is a lot information based information at Apple or Adobe that I’m not privy to. When Jobs says that they “know first hand that Flash is the number one reason Macs crash.” Does he mean that most of the crash reports they get are from web browsers running flash? If that’s the case, I’m not sure it proves the reliability of Flash is low or if it proves that more people are spending time in web browsers on sites running flash compared to other software. (If there are more crashreporter logs from Safari with Flash in the stackdump than there is for Skype, does that mean that Flash is buggier than Skype or more people use it more often.) I guess I’m wondering about this in the same way I wonder about reports that car crashes are more likely within 10 miles of my home than on longer trips. I spend more than 95% of my time near my home.

Jobs talks about how Flash is not yet shipping on a smartphone, but this seems like a tautology because Jobs controls one of the most notable smartphone manufacturers and is refusing to ship with with Flash. (Adobe will eventually convince someone else to do it, which will eventually be a way around this; but for now Jobs is saying that it can’t ship on his smartphone because it hasn’t shipped on a smartphone. If he ever relented, the argument would no longer be valid.)

The next section talks about battery life. It seems like we’ve swung back to the Flash video rather than the interactive animation portions of Flash. He points out that some systems (I guess including his)  have H.264 decoding as specialized hardware chips and that other Flash codecs need to be decoded in software. These are Apple’s own devices though, and made to their own specifications. They put the H.264 hardware  into the iphone and then H.264 is touted as the better solutions because the hardware is already in the  iphone. (If the iphone or ipad had H.263 or VP6 hardware support built into it, it would have the same advantages.)

Next he talks about the difference between the Touch UI and a mouse and windows UI. (I guess we’re back to Flash as an interactive animation format, and not a video format again.) What I find odd about this, is that he suggests Javascript as an alternative, but the Javascript API in browsers is also based on a mouse interface (the handlers are called “onMouseDown”, “onMouseUp”, etc.) Why doesn’t Javascript need a new touch API or web developers need to rewrite the Javascript for touch?

His last reason is that Flash is a cross platform development environment that would prevent developers taking advantage of the native platform APIs. One oddity here is that he has once again moved away from Flash as a web platform and back to comparing it to standalone iphone or ipad apps (which he last mentioned in connection to games above) I also find it amusing that when Steve Jobs ran NeXT, the OPENSTEP platform was all about having a cross platform development layer for x86, Motorola HP, Solaris, and Windows. At the time it was touted as being a platform that was greater than the underlying native platforms. Can a cross-platform development layer only subtract from the native capabilities? Or can it also add? Also, just because Apple adds things to the platform, does that mean developers will take advantage of it? How many Macintosh apps take advantage of the Services API (something that has been around since OSX was NeXTSTEP.) How man iphone apps take advantage of the peer to peer and multiplayer features they added last year? I would think that if Flash was available but didn’t have access to all the platform features than an app developer could use the native tools as a competitive advantage.

I guess when reading Jobs’ letter, I believed some things are true. I believe that he doesn’t want Flash on the iphone platform for the iphone, ipad touch, and ipad. (all the logical fallacies in the content doesn’t contravert that point of the letter.) I believe that he has some sound reasons, and some of them may revolve around some of the general topics he covers. The letter was distributed to the general public to encourage us to agree with his decision. Unfortunately, the flaws in his arguments imply based on his own self-interest and I’d encourage the general public to consider that there may be some more facts and points of  view beyond what Steve Jobs says.

two videos about filmaking

February 20th, 2010

There were two videos that I came across recently that showed two aspects to current filmaking techniques. The first was
Stargate Studios Virtual Backlot Reel 2009 and the second as The making of Old Spice’s commercial: The Man Your Man Could Smell Like. What is interesting about them are the way they show two different aspects to movie production. The virtual backlot reel show how common simple video techniques like chroma-key (bluescreen) technology is. How common it is that the street scene, etc. that you see in  a TV show or movie has some amount of trickery done. The dissecting of the Old Spice commercial shows how much can be done with little or no trickery, and how much effort a production team will go through to avoid it. I’d be interested in knowing what tips the balances one way or another. When it is more cost effective to build special sets, rigs, etc just to avoid using special effects, and when chroma-key and CGI become more effective than trying to build it in real life.

Friday Squid Blogging

February 19th, 2010

Has anyone else wondered if Bruce Schneier’s “Friday Squid Blogging” is some sort of Steganographic message delivery?

Me neither.

like rats off of a sinking ship

February 17th, 2010

The New York Times is reporting that Kevin Eubanks is going to leave the Tonight Show soon after Jay Leno returns as the host. It really doesn’t matter that much to me, since I stopped watching the Tonight Show soon after Branford Marsalis left the bandleader position.

Again, but that trick never works!

February 15th, 2010

In the article Microsoft starts over in phone software the writer Ashlee Vance says “The product marks a rare moment when Microsoft scrapped previous versions of its software in favor of building something new from scratch.”

I don’t see that as a very rare thing. I see Microsoft as a company that is very willing to scrap existing products and technologies to start over. Some that I can think of are:

  • Multiplan to Excel
  • MSN the non-internet “online service” (compare to Compuserve GEnie, Prodigy, etc) to MSN the internet portal. (and with that Internet Studio/Blackbird and abandoning all the developers they signed on to develop for it.)
  • Windows 1.0 to Windows 3, (and for that matter Windows 3 to Windows 95) were probably as big of a jump as Windows Mobile to Windows Phone 7.
  • MS-BASIC to QBasic to Visual Basic to Basic.net
  • COM to .Net.
  • Project Longhorn to what eventually shipped as Window 7.
  • Microsoft Play-for-sure to Microsoft Zune.

Or for that matter, the long path that the PocketPC (for the PDA market) has taken to to the Windows Phone 7. Any other examples that anyone can think of?

The sentences before and after this quote seem odd to me as well first he says “Microsoft is trying to draw attention away from the application model and focus more on software that’s closer to the company’s roots.” and then “Microsoft has spent the last 18 months trying to add gloss and sophistication to a product that had suffered ridicule as being clunky and too wedded to the company’s personal computer roots.” Which is it trying to move closer to the company’s roots? Or trying to add gloss and sophistication because the existing product is too close to the companies roots? It seems odd to me that something that is described as being the “application model” is straying away from the Microsoft company roots. (Early on, Windows vs. MacOS was described as MacOS being “document centric while Windows being Application Centric. OpenDoc was designed to be Component centric to be a move away from Windows application Centric approach.)

(update on Feb 16: my friend Chris pointed out that I used the wrong gender for the writer Ashlee Vance: s/she/he/g)