stevenpiziks: (Outdoors)
The FBI wants Apple to crack open an iPhone to help the FBI to investigate a case.  The judge who wrote the order doesn't seem to understand everything that goes into such a thing. She seems to think all Apple has to do is click a few mice and POOF! They're in.  This is not the case.

In order to crack the phone, Apple needs to assemble an entire team of engineers.  These engineers would then spend their entire work day writing code to bypass the phone's security system WITHOUT damaging the data that the phone contains, and it must be done in such a way that the findings will hold up in court.  ("Your Honor, how can we know that the code-breaking software didn't destroy evidence that would prove my clients innocence?  All we have is the word of these engineers--and they work for the prosecution!")

This would take a LOT of work and time and money.  And since when does a judge have the power to compel a private person or organization to spend enormous amounts of time and money to help the police?  Does a judge have the power to order a locksmith to crack a safe?  To require a car company to design and build a new car so the FBI can catch a fleeing criminal?  But this judge seems to think it's fine to require Apple to spend millions of dollars in time and money on this little project.

And this is without considering the privacy implications.  If Apple cracks this phone in a way acceptable in court, the genie is out of the bottle.  The software to do so MUST be reviewed by independent third parties AND by the government AND the system must be entered into the court (public) record.  In other words, even if Apple destroys the program, it'll still be out there, ready for the government, hackers, criminals, or anyone else to pick up and use.

For a full explanation of this aspect, I urge you to read this:

The government has greatly overreached itself.  Apple should, with the support of Senators and Representatives, fight this horrifying order or, at worst, simply claim the judge's order can't be done.
stevenpiziks: (Outdoors)
After the last Great Computer Crash nearly destroyed everything I own, I decided to look into on-line, automatic backup systems.  At the moment I'm trying Carbonite.  It has a free test period and it automatically uploads and clones everything on my computer to a remote backup site that will, in theory, let me reclone my hard drive if I ever have a massive fail.  It automatically backs up anything that changes, as long as I have an Internet connection.  I can also access the backups from anywhere on the Internet and from pads or smart phones.  It costs $60 a year, which seems reasonable.

At the moment, Carbonite is copying everything from my computer to the off-site location, and it's taking forever.  So far, it's been running for 24 hours and we've done 17,000 files with 86,000 to go.  It does seem to be monkeying with my connection, though, and I'm wondering if it's fighting with my anti-virus or just eating up too much bandwidth during the initial backup.  We'll see what happens once it's all over.

If this works out, it'll be a relief to know I can restore my computer as-is with a few keystrokes, even if it implodes.
stevenpiziks: (Keep Off)
Aran uses a laptop at school. It's the only way he can keep up with note-taking and writing, since he writes so slowly by hand.  On Saturday, I overheard him say to someone else that he had dropped his laptop at school and the screen was broken.

I was furious.  Not only had he broken it, he hadn't told me about it.  After the inevitable . . . difficulties that followed, I assessed the damage.  The computer itself was all right.  Only the screen was cracked.

I got on-line and surfed around until I uncovered the part number for a new one and ordered it.  It arrived today.  I sat Aran down with me and made him help me tear the computer apart.  First we had to pry the screw covers off with an Exacto knife, unscrew them, and carefully unsnap the plastic cover.  Then there were more screws, many teeny tiny ones, to unscrew.  We carefully extracted the screen, undid the tape holding the connector to the back, and spent considerable time trying to connect the new screen.  Finally got it, set the new screen into place, tested it to make sure it worked (it did) and screwed it back together.  At which point, the new screen refused to work. So we had to tear it all apart again to find the problem.  The connector had come loose.  We fixed it and put everything back together again.  This time it worked.

It was delicate, frustrating work, and since Aran was forced to go through it, I'm hoping he'll take extra care with his computer.
stevenpiziks: (Default)
I'm experimenting with cloud storage now.

I don't actually like the term "cloud storage" or "storing in the cloud" or "cloud computing."  It makes it sound like the data are stored in some heavenly place where angels watch over them for you.  It also sounds . . . well, nebulous.  Like the data can't be grabbed at will, when usually it can.

But anyway, I'm trying it.  It started off as a way to access my network drive at work.  It's possible to access Nameless High School's computer network remotely through the Internet, but the interface is clunky and difficult to handle.  A number of times I've needed to access school materials at home, and it took a long time to deal with it.  Creating a cloud network storage area, however, would let me access materials quickly and easily, and the school allows the use of the Dropbox system on its computers.  So I installed it.

It works very quickly, and I can drag and drop and cut and paste and open and close and save exactly as if I were using my hard drive, but this hard drive I can access from any computer that has Internet access.  This is enormously convenient; I can put most of my teaching materials and lesson plans into Dropbox and get to them anywhere.  Also, I can designate any folder or file as "shared," meaning I can allow any individual I name to access it.  I have a co-teacher in my English 9 class, and I've been emailing her lesson plans and other materials.  Now I just give her permission to access the English 9 folder in my Dropbox account and save the materials there.  Much easier!

Once I started playing with that, I decided to move my current writing into the cloud.

See, I don't have a good network set up in my house.  My computers are all connected to the Internet, but not each other. This means that if I want to write on my laptop, I have to transfer the files from my desktop to a flash drive and bring that to the desk top.  The trouble with that is sometimes I lose track of which file is the latest, and more than once I've copied the wrong version over and lost work.

Now I put THE DRAGON MEN into Dropbox.  Any computer I want to use automatically has the latest version.  So far it's working very nicely.

However . . .

There are a few issues.  I'm limited to computers that have Internet access.  When Aran's at his piano lesson, for example, I like to write, but I don't have wifi there.  No wifi, no Internet.  No Internet, no cloud.

Dropbox also isn't totally free.  They don't charge for the first two gigabytes.  (Apple and Amazon give 5 gig for free--I use Dropbox because the school sanctions it.)  Then it's $10 a month (that's $120 a year).  Two gig is a LOT if you're only storing word processing files, but it's not very much if you want to store pictures or video or music.  And I refuse to pay for yet another utility.  It seems to me that my ISP (AT&T) should offer a certain amount of cloud storage space as part of my Internet access, but they don't seem to be interested.

At the moment, my relationship with Dropbox is a good one, and THE DRAGON MEN will be my first novel written entirely on the cloud.  Perhaps I'll even be able to submit it to my editor and get rewrites and copyedits through the cloud.  But I'm wary.  Nothing's free, and I'm waiting to see if Apple, Amazon, and Dropbox are just biding their time to get our society hooked on cloud storage before colluding to raise prices and force everyone to pay another monthly bill.
stevenpiziks: (Fountain)
As I mentioned earlier, my computer was crashing at least once per day, sometimes twice, and often in the middle of something important.  I've known for some time that the motherboard is wonky, and I could have it replaced, but by the time I bought one and paid to have it installed and wrestled with all the attendant issues that surrounded it, I could just buy a new computer.

Did some searching, and found a factory reconditioned computer for much less than a brand new one.  Go me!  This one has a four-quad processor, 8 gig RAM, and a terabyte of memory. (!)  (Yeah, I'm sure in a few years that'll seem quaint, but right now that's 1,000 gig, man, and my crash-o-matic computer had 300.)  I also realized I can hook my old computer up to my TV and kill cable, which will pay for the new computer in a few months of saved cable fees.

So I ordered the reconditioned unit.

Buying a new computer is like moving.  It takes a long time to recover and find your way around the new place.  I spent two days dealing with file transfers and program uploads and working out bugs.  But now I'm good to go and coming to you from a new computer, one that won't go FOOP on me when I least need it to.

Now I just need to kill cable and I'll be all set.
stevenpiziks: (Steampunk)
Today I stopped by the electronics store to get a replacement part for a household gadget and I came across the Smartpen.  Catherine Shaffer has one, as I recall.  It's a combination pen, recording device, and computer.  You write notes on special paper, and later you can tap the notes with the pen and the pen plays back what was being said when those words were written.  The notes can also be transcribed and uploaded and emailed and so on.

The techno-geekie in me really, really wanted one.  Really, horribly, seriously wanted one.  But I reigned myself in.  I don't do enough note-taking and interviewing to justify it.  I truly don't.

But I still whimpered and drooled over it.


Apr. 13th, 2009 03:47 pm
stevenpiziks: (Hypnotoad)
If you're part of the reading and writing and Internet community, you've heard about the problem.  If you haven't, short version is that Amazon removed the Sales Rank feature from almost all books that contain Gay/Lesbian/Bisexual/Transgender content.  At first they claimed it was because of the "adult content" of such books (except they also excluded HEATHER HAS TWO MOMMIES, a children's picture book), and then they claimed it was a glitch (terrbily specific glitch, if you ask me), and now they're claiming they're working on fixing it, whatever "it" is.  The trouble with this is that the books became excluded from Amazon's search function, making it almost impossible to find (and buy) them.

Various people are howling conspiracy, prejudice, and homphobia.

Me, I think they seriously fucked up.  I think it was meant to be a bit of code that filtered out erotic or other adult content so people could search for books on, say, vampires without getting erotic vampire stories (of which there are a large number).  I think whoever programmed the filter made an enormous error, released the new filter into Amazon's little search engine last February (when some people started noticing their books were excluded), and the filter grew more and more aggressive, excluding more and more books until it finally Got Noticed.

I watched the whole thing explode on Twitter.  It was like watching a few snowflakes turn into a blizzard.

See, I can't imagine Amazon doing this on purpose.  They exist to sell books.  Why would they deliberately exclude an entire section of their catalog just now, especially since they've sold such books for years and years and years?  And especially when they would have to know it would create a PR fiasco?

And since it came to a head over Easter, when no one in real authority was on duty over at Amazon, it was handled stupidly and poorly by people who didn't know what was going on once customers, writers, and activists started to complain.

Was Amazon at fault?  Yes.  Was Amazon stupid?  Yes.  Do they deserve the bad Internet press?  Absolutely.  The situation should never have been allowed to happen in the first place, and the dumb-asses have earned every shred of approbation. 

Do they deserve the chance to fix it?  Yes.  And they better move fast.

At least my books haven't been affected.  Yet.
stevenpiziks: (Signs)
As I recall, Amazon loaded up the first Kindle with a bunch of free books and newspapers and magazines.  They don't do that with the second one.  It came empty, and there were no offers of free books.

I played with it for a while.  It took a bit to figure out how the bookmarks work, but it have it now.  I haven't gone into playing with the text (making notes, selecting text, etc.).  That'll come later, I'm sure.

I downloaded two books.  One thing I like about the Kindle is that it lies flat.  I can use it while I'm eating.  Paperback books (and a great number of hardbacks) don't lie flat and are hard to use at the table, but the Kindle doesn't have that problem.

I'm liking it so far.


Mar. 16th, 2009 06:33 pm
stevenpiziks: (WTF?)
Okay, I'm on Twitter now: . If you've over there, let me know so I can follow you!

stevenpiziks: (Default)
Okay, here's how it happened.

I bought my iPhone yesterday.  I felt I was ready to step into the world of hand-held Internet, and my old phone was eligible for upgrading.

Buying it meant first signing a contract (which I hate, but we're not planning on switching cell carriers anytime soon anyway) and then getting the phone switched on for me.  The very nice clerk transferred many files and much information, shook my hand, and said, "Welcome to the world of time wasting."

I got it home and did what you have to do in order to learn a new techno-gadget--I played with it.  I did have to struggle a bit to get it to connect to our WiFi (finally figured out I was giving it the wrong password, of which there are three to choose from) and download my e-mail (the iPhone automatically generated POP server information that was incorrect and I had to correct it manually), but once that was all straighted out, we were off to the world of tapping.

The screen is way fast and responsive.  It springs instantly to life and does what you tell it to without hesitation.  When you push a button or flick to the next menu, there is no load time.  I like that a lot.  And the special effects are cool.  Aran loves the way you page through photos by tossing them around with your thumbs.

I'm in love with the GPS and Google Map function.  No more getting lost, no more paper directions.

I also downloaded several apps to it--NPR, Pandora, Tic Tac Toe (Mackie's favorite restaurant game), New York Times, Facebook.

I'm getting better and better at using a touchpad typewriter.  Give me a couple of days and I'll be able to write stories on it.  :)

And now

Mar. 14th, 2009 11:31 pm
stevenpiziks: (Default)

I'm posting via iPhone. I'm such a tech stud!

Posted via

stevenpiziks: (Default)
Me have iPhone 3G now.  Me spend entire day playing wif it.  Me have no brain.  Me thumbs wore down to nubs.


Feb. 28th, 2009 06:53 pm
stevenpiziks: (Default)
The Wherever School e-mail server was flooded with virus spam yesterday.  Spam, spam, spam!  It came in the form of an e-greeting card supposedly from Hallmark.  I didn't even open it; I marked it Spam and blocked the incoming address.

Incidentally, if you've ever sent me an electronic greeting card, I never got it--I always delete them unread because so many of them are spam, viruses, or both.

And then another one showed up.  And another, and another, and another.  I spam-marked them all and deleted them unopened, more than a little annoyed.

We all later got a warning e-mail from IT that said, "Don't open the attachment!  It's a virus."

A couple of people in the building did open them and discovered to their horror that the thing hijacked their web browser and turned it into popup city.  Bleah!

stevenpiziks: (Bad Ass)
This site is kind of fun:

You can type things into the translator and it'll translate it into R2-D2 sounds.  You can download them as MP3s as well.  I created a couple for download.  Now when a message arrives, R2 says, "You have mail."  And when my phone rings, R2 chirps, "Answer the damn phone!"
stevenpiziks: (Fountain)
Snurched from [personal profile] tcastleb : .  You can create word clouds there.  It's kind of cool, but snagging a picture from them is really complicated.  I finally managed it and can use it for some of my LJ entries.  Neat!
stevenpiziks: (Default)
I discoverd that Firefox, my browser, has a wonderful add-on script.  It's called ReminderFox.  You add it to Firefox, and whenever you want, you can add a reminder of some sort to it.  At a time and interval you designate, it'll pop up a little reminder box on your web browser to remind you of whatever it is you need to remember.
I love this function.  I have a lot of long-term things to remember but no easy way to recall them.  Sometimes I hear about an anthology that will be open for two months next fall, but will I remember to submit?  Unlikely.  I need to get hold of an editor about something after a certain date, but it's three weeks away.  I won't remember then, so I need a reminder.  ReminderFox will pop up and remind me.
I don't use a day planner--my days aren't =that= full.  So ReminderFox is exactly what I need.  It's great!
stevenpiziks: (Default)
I've found an open-source computer program called Audacity.  It allows you to record various types of sounds straight to your computer and play with them.  One of its nicer functions is that you can hook your computer to a stereo, play a tape, and Audacity will record the whole thing.  Then you can cut the tape into sections, turn each section into an MP3 file (complete with track label, artist, album, genre, and year), and save it on its own.
I'm thrilled!  I have a whole mess of tapes that went out of print before CDs were invented, and I've been wondering how to preserve them.  One of my favorite harp albums is on tape, but I have no easy way to listen to it these days.  I spent a chunk of the evening recording it to my laptop, converting it, cutting it, and naming it.  Poof!  Instant electronic album!  It's now on both my computers and my iPod.  It's not perfect.  I cut some tracks a little too closely and one track somehow got misnamed.  I'm hoping there's a way to edit out the hissing noise you get with tapes.  But it works!
This is so cool.
stevenpiziks: (Default)
I finally broke down today and reinstalled Windows XP on the boys' computer.  They've downloaded so many things indiscriminantly and sucked up so many  viruses that the poor thing just doesn't operate well.  The viruses even managed to destroy McAfee.  So I started over again.  It didn't take as long as I had feared, at least.

I reinstalled Firefox, removed IE from the desktop, installed Firefox's script-blocker and ad-blocker, and I'll have to give the boys yet another  lecture on Internet safety.

Sasha's currently reloading his World of Warcraft software.


Apr. 16th, 2008 05:25 pm
stevenpiziks: (Default)
My desktop computer at school crashed today.  To be specific, it froze and I had to reboot it, whereupon it went into an endless reboot cycle that I wasn't able to break.  The IT person was out of the building, so I was SOL.  We have something like 150 teachers and staff in the building and probably seven or eight hundred computers that get used every day, but WE ONLY HAVE ONE IT PERSON.  When she's out or over-scheduled, you simply do without.  Well, that's not true.  =I= don't do without.  I'm more computer savvy than that.
I could probably have rebooted from a Windows disc, but that would have involved digging through various drawers in the IT person's office to find one, and I didn't feel like doing that.  So I went to the library and snabbed a laptop from the stack set aside for students to use.
The laptop would do me for a while.  It didn't have a login for the attendance/grade program, but the a/g program has an Internet portal, and I have that portal bookmarked on my Yahoo! home page.  I got the laptop hooked into the network and accessed the attendance program so I could run that portion of my classroom.
However . . .
The laptops have touchpads, and the mice in the building are all traditional plugin types--no USB mice.  The touchpad was annoying, as was the keyboard itself.  And I couldn't make changes to the laptop because you can't download stuff to them.  And the librarian really needed the laptop back ASAP so the students could use it in the library.
So during my prep I went down to one of the teacher workrooms.  This particular workroom has two computers in it.  One doubles as the print spooler.  The other is a regular networked computer.  It never gets used because we all have computers in our rooms.  This one wasn't even turned on.  I unhooked the CPU, brought it down to my room, and stacked it on top of my dead one.  Hooked up my network wire, keyboard, monitor, and mouse.  Then I quickly downloaded Firefox and the associated add-ons.  That got me 80% up and running.

No data was lost, incidentally--that's all on the network, which wasn't affected by my computer's little problem.
I'm hoping tomorrow IT can rescue my computer without cloning it.  I've loaded a lot of software onto it and tweaked it so it does what I want it to do, and reloading/retweaking will take enormous amounts of time.  Brlg.
stevenpiziks: (Default)
I spent most of yesterday evening tweaking the laptop with limited success.  I was hoping to find a way to transfer some larger files directly from my main computer to the laptop instead of via a flash drive, but the two computers won't talk to each other, so that was a bust.  I spent a fair amount of time surfing web sites about Ireland and leafing through some travel guides I bought and trying to decide exactly how best to spend my time there.

In Dublin, I "need" to visit:

--the Book of Kells at Trinity College
--a pub or three that plays music
--some music shops
--the National Museum
--the Dublin Writers Museum
--Dublin Castle
--Christ Church Cathedral
--O'Connell Street (site of the Easter Uprising)
--Temple Bar (which isn't actually a bar, but a district)

We'll see if I can squeeze all that in over two weekends, though I can drive back from the cottage to explore some more if I want.

Since I'm currently writing a book about Morrigan and want to write a book set in Ireland at the time of the Easter Uprising, this'll all be good stuff.  :)


stevenpiziks: (Default)

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