TGIMBOEJ – The Great Internet Migratory Box of Electronics Junk

Two months ago, I heard about a great project called TGIMBOEJ. Nice people put together a small box of random electronic what-have-yous, and send them off to people who asked to be involved. The recipients then remove a few things they find useful or interesting, give some of their own stuff to the box, and send it off to another person.

This week, I got one:

Pretty random. And great.

For those that are interested, I took the external optical drive, and the “ergonomic mouse” above it. The first was because my company laptop (Thinkpad T40…excellent) didn’t have an internal drive, and every now and then I want to do something with a CD with it. The second was because the only USB mice I have are cordless, and frequently have a dead battery. And the shape might be conducive to StarCraft and/or Half Life. I put in a handful of adapters and cables, a super-cheap Chinese PDA-type-thing, a pair of earbud-y headphones, and an electric pump taken from a dishwasher.

The best way to get involved is to sign up here. Or if you send me your address ASAP, I may be able to send you my box.

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On Linux Nomenclature

There’s approximately 28.3 gazillion Twitter-related websites out there in the intertubes, and one of them happens to be Tweetvolume, which is like Googlefight, but for Twitter. I’m sure there’s all manner of cool stuff you can do with it, but I mainly use Twitter to follow and update my friends, not to see what’s going on in the world in general. That said, I did try this:

which I thought was interesting. As far as I can see, this confirms that my views of what people should call an operating system that contains the Linux kernel. That is: a) Use the distro name whenever you’re not talking about Linux in general [Good: "Even though Linux is faster than Windows, Ubuntu is still pretty slow." and "I use Ubuntu."] b) Use “Linux” to refer to the general family of Linux distros. Yes, the GNU project plays a vital role, but since “Linux” by itself is both shorter and more common, I think we should run with it.

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Automated Flashcard Making with Mnemosyne and Python

As a student, I need to memorize a bunch of random stuff. Flashcards are a good way of doing so, and my all-time favorite flashcard program is Mnemosyne. It’s lightweight, simple, powerful, and has this nifty algorithm for determining what card to show you next based on memory studies (by real psychologists(!)).

My current batch of flashcards deal with American history, and they happen to be pretty extensive–instead of

Quakers : Followers of a simple religion popular in Pennsylvania.

It’s:

Quakers:

  • Quakers believed human religious institutions were, for the most part, unnecessary
  • They believed they could receive revelation directly from God and placed little importance on the Bible
  • They were pacifists and declined to show customary deference to their alleged social superiors
  • Their aggressiveness in denouncing established institutions brought them trouble in both Britain and America
  • They opposed slavery and favored decent treatment of Native Americans
  • Elements of this culture would play a role in shaping the characterization of a United States that valued independence and social equality

Impressive, no? Luckily, Mnemosyne supports formatting with HTML, so I could achieve that effect with some <ul> and <li> tags. But if you consider how many tags went into that one card, and that there’s 500 cards in the deck, you’d get might tired of <ul> and <li>.

Luckily, Mnemosyne supports importing decks in a number of formats. The simplest is tab-delimited text files. Start a line with a question, then put in a tab and the answer. One line per card. Simple enough.

And any Linux programmer knows how to play with text files…So behold, Timmy’s Awesome Automated Bullet Maker!

filename = raw_input("Filename: ")
f = file(filename, "w")
while True:
    user_input_q = raw_input("Q: ")
    if user_input_q == "q":
        break
    answer = "<ul>"
    while True:
        user_input_a = raw_input("A: ")
        if user_input_a == "q":
            break
        answer += "<li>" + user_input_a + "</li>"
    answer += "</ul>\n"
    f.write(user_input_q + "\t" + answer)
f.close()

To use it, save it as a .py file and launch it with Python (on Linux, that would be python mnemosyne.py at the terminal). When prompted, put in the filename you want to save to, then the question, then the first bullet point of your answer. Put a new bullet point at each “A: ” prompt. When you’re out of points, input “q”. When you’re done, input “q” at the question prompt. Feel free to post any questions, comments or concerns below.

Enjoy!

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Why I Hate HP Technical Support

This is so bad it would be funny if it wasn’t happening to me. I emailed HP about the fact that my happy tablet randomly powered off, and got the following reply (my comments are in italics and brackets) :

Hello Anne, [I clearly stated that my name was Timmy. We're off to a great start.]

Thank you for contacting HP Total Care.

From the Email description, I understand that the notebook get [sic] shutdown suddenly  with out any error messages. Let me assist you in this regard.

Firstly, I appreciate you efforts in trying to troubleshoot the issue. [I would appreciate the sentiment if it didn't so clearly sound like he had to say that.]

The issue you are experiencing might be due to corrupt BIOS setting or power management utility [No, the issue is because you used treehugger solder and it comes unstuck at operating temperatures]. In order to resolve the issue I recommend you to perform [sic] below  steps:

* BIOS update:

I recommend you to Reset [sic] the BIOS from the below steps: [I'm here to say that the BIOS does not contain any settings related to fan/temperature management.]

1. Turn on or restart the computer.

2. Press the F10 key when the Press F10 to enter system utility message is displayed on the HP Invent screen.

3. Under Exit menu, select the option “Load Setup Defaults.”

4. Click Enter. ["Click"? What, with my mouse? Liar.]

* Reinstalling Power Management:

I recommend you to uninstall and reinstall the Power Management from the below steps:

1. Click Start, Control Panel, Performance and Maintenance, and then System icon. [When I filled out the form, you asked me what OS I had. I clearly specified "other". Which is clearly not Windows, since you listed every Windows version known to man.]

2. This opens the System properties window.

3. Select Hardware tab and click Device Manager.

4. Click “+” beside System devices.

5. Select ACPI Power Button.

6. Right-click the device and select Uninstall.

7. Restart the system.

Power Management will get installed automatically on restart.

Next, install latest BIOS update from the below FTP link:

ftp://ftp.hp.com/pub/softpaq/sp39001-39500/sp39359.exe

NOTE: Please install the BIOS update, if the notebook is installed with Windows vista [sic] operating system, as you have not mentioned I am not sure the exact [sic...I'm getting tired of these. The guy can't speak English. Enough said.] operating system in your notebook. Incase, any other version operating system installed, please ignore the BIOS update.[All right, I think I will.]

After performing the above steps check for the issue, If the issue persists then the issue seems to be internal hardware malfunction of the notebook which requires onsite diagnosis by HP technician[No. You could definitely help me narrow it down a bit. In fact--don't bother. I know it's just because of your treehugger solder and a bad design.] . Moreover, I have verified in our database with the serial number you have provided and found that the notebook warranty expires on  12/18/2008. [Just rub it in, why don't you...]

Hence, I recommend you to take the notebook to any of the HP Authorized Service Center in your region and get it repaired. For your convenience, I am providing the below URL from were you can locate nearest service center in your region:

http://h20465.www2.hp.com/GPL/search.aspx?language_code=en&country_code=us&SearchType=SSP

[There is no Service Center near my house. Not that I can afford to go to one anyway...]

NOTE:  Clicking the link(s) may give an error indicating that it is invalid.  If this occurs, copy the link and paste it on the address bar in your browser until the complete address has displayed in the Address box.

NOTE: Please select (Find a Partner for (Home & Home Office)).

In addition, I would like to inform you that, the HP has not identified any know issues with this series of model notebook.[The mere fact that you said this makes me think you're lying. The least you could've done is unbolded it...]

I apologize for the inconvenience caused to you in this regard.

I am sure the information provided will be helpful and addressed your concern [Well, you're wrong]. If you require any further technical support in future, please do let me know [You bet I will...].  I will be happy to assist you further in a timely manner[Thanks]. We work here to help our patrons 24/7. [All right, all right, enough marketing.]

For information on keeping your HP and Compaq products up and running, please visit our Web site
at:
http://www.hp.com/go/totalcare

Sincerely,

Austin [Don't lie to me, person-with-non-user-friendly-name-from-somewhere-like-India.]

—————————————

I guess I should just stop having any faith in OEM tech support. Remember the shenanigans I had with Dell?


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Respone to “Why You’ll Use a Tablet. Yes YOU!”

In his article “Why You’ll Use a Tablet. Yes YOU!” (via), Mike Elgan says that tablets are going to be the Next Big Thing in technology. I think he’s right. But I also think most of the reasons he cited are complete garbage. Let’s look at them:

1. Tablets will become hobbyist dream gadgets. People have been talking about computer-powered home automation for about the past sixty years. Bill Gates has been advocating it for about twenty-five. I don’t see how the emergence of tablets is going to solve a bigger issue–the lack of interlacing available in today’s appliances. I also don’t see how a tablet is markedly better than a small laptop or netbook. Yes, removing an uneccesary layer of abstraction (the mouse) is good, but I think it’s evolutionary, not revolutionary, and won’t be a big factor in the emergence of practical home automation. Elgan also seems to think that some kind of amateur robotics industry is going to emerge, but I call shenanigans. I’ve been working on building this robot from xkcd, with the intention of using my netbook-sized Vaio as the brain, and I’m here to say that controlling motors with a laptop is very technically demanding. And I don’t see how touch screens are going to change that whatsoever.

2. They will be optimized for specific tasks. Um…no they won’t. They’ll be all-purpose media players, ebook readers, web browsers, small document creators (especially if there’s a physical keyboard), game consoles, and just about everything else computers do. Elgan’s big things are that he think they’ll be used for documentation/ebook viewers (what’s the matter with a netbook? Or a Kindle? They’re both cheaper and just as (if not more) effective.) and–get this–cameras. How in the world does a $500 tablet do a better job at surveillance than a $300 netbook? Or a $5 old laptop? The Thinkpad 390E I got at a garage sale would be a great networked webcam operator. And let me tell you something–the tablet I just got (HP Pavilion tx1000) is going to be used for all-purpose computing. I’m not going to turn it into a glorified microscope or nannycam.

3. You will be compelled by apps we can’t now predict. I’m no seer, I couldn’t really argue with this even if I wanted to. And as it happens, I think he’s darn right. Third-party apps/extensions/plugins are probably the second-most important technological development of the decade (after Web 2.0). Look at Firefox. Look at Chrome–which is just now getting true popularity due to its matured extensions. Look at Linux’s package managers, especially the Ubuntu Software Center. Look at the iPhone and Android App Stores. Look at gedit, vim, and Emacs’s plugins. The list goes on and on.

4. Tablets will have uses that don’t involve replacing something you’re already doing. I suppose he’s right (again–I can’t predict the future), but his example is pretty weak. I used to have a circa 1999 Handspring PDA that had an app that let me draw custom buttons and shoot an IR beam into it that was assigned to a button. It was cool messing with my family, who initially didn’t know I could do that, but besides that it wasn’t a terribly useful feature. I suppose having a preview of  several channels would be cool, but we have the technology to do that today (most laptops have IR ports) and it isn’t really happening. Which makes me think that people just don’t really care that much about it, and are fine with the already-pretty-fancy remotes and cable/satellite systems they have today.

5. Tablets will be open. What he was trying to say is that some tablets will be open. Which is great for open source enthusiasts like me, but I don’t see it having a profound effect on the market. Laptops with Linux (or *BSD, HaikuOS, FreeDOS, etc.) are open too, but are only responsible for a few percentage points of the market.

6. Your company may buy one for you. Fine.

7. Tablets will become ideal for IT pros. This is a direct quote:

[list of examples for which IT pros use laptops] Everybody uses laptops.

Tablets will do all this in a single package.

Um…Mr. Elgan…laptops do all that in a single package too. As you yourself pointed out. And IT pros are the type who will want excellent hardware specs, not stunted tablet insides. And a non-external keyboard. And IT guys are also smart enough to realize that, while fun, touch screens aren’t actually exceptionally more useful than  a standard LCD+mouse combo.

8. Tablets will be better netbooks than netbooks. They’ll also be more expensive, and may lack stuff like Flash/Macromedia/Java support and a keyboard. Yes, the latter limitations will be overcome, but I think cost will still be a barrier. I’m sure a lot of people will be willing to pay a bit more for a tablet than a netbook, but a lot won’t. I know I wouldn’t.

9. Tablets will get huge. …and expensive. And I’m certainly not going to bring a 27-inch tablet everywhere I go.

10. Tablets will be cheap! I’m sure the price will diminish, but I’m also sure the tablets of tomorrow will be more expensive and less featureful (besides the touchscreen) than the netbooks of tomorrow, so I think this is a smaller deal than he’s trying to put across. Yes, a lot of people will pay an extra one or two hundred dollars for a touchscreen, but a lot of people will see it as a useless luxury.

“Who knows? Maybe you’ll even use an iPad. ” Maybe I will, but I certainly won’t spend $500 for it when I already have a laptop. If I received one as a gift, I would be absolutely ecstatic, but I don’t see that happening and I don’t see myself buying one.

I’d also like to point out that Elgan left out one of the most useful applications of tablets–the ability to write or draw with them. I’m definitely going to use my HP tablet to take class notes (formatting, diagrams, and strange symbols are made so much easier), and I know artists are also huge, huge fans of them.

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One Man’s Treasure…

…is another man’s trash, as my Uncle Rich says. And that’s been the theme of the month.

The highlight is that my Uncle Dave got fed up with his HP Pavilion tx1000, which had a faulty GPU and an expired warranty. So he gave it to me (I guess because I have the reputation of “Caretaker for Laptops with Issues”), which was absolutely fantastic. Some Googling and Wikipediaing showed that GPU borking was a very common problem (there’s a consensus that HP should’ve held a recall…which didn’t happen, since HP has yet to figure out how to not-suck with laptops), and that in most cases it was due to overheating. The proposed solution was to attach a penny to the top of the GPU to act as a heat sink, which I did. I very impressively managed to not lose any screws, but I still had about five extras after reassembling it. Whatever. It’s not falling apart. Then there was apparently voodoo at work, because the darn thing couldn’t decide if it wanted to turn on or not. I’d assemble it, it wouldn’t turn on. I’d start taking it apart–thinking I’d forgotten to plug something in (which was initially true, but quickly fixed). It would start powering up…then it wouldn’t…then it would. It took about two hours to have an assembled, powered device. Very frustrating. And strange. Harrumph.

At this point, I’d like to point out that even though I’m reasonably techy, I hate hardware with a fiery passion. Software is great. It’s usually free. It doesn’t screw up your computer. You can copy it, download it, email it, and mess with it. And if you break it (and you know it was you who broke it, quality software doesn’t just run out of gas and die), you know that it’s fixable. Even as a worst-case scenario, you just have to reinstall it. And while you’re doing all kinds of things with it, you do it from the comfort of your chair, with a happy computer in front of you, and with the knowledge that the world is OK.

Hardware, on the other hand, is angry and temperamental. It does run out of gas and die. It does break if you’re not careful. There is no copying, sending, or backing up. Fixing it usually requires taking apart the Happy Computer and spilling screws, silicon, and screwdrivers all over your desk. It doesn’t even give you nice error messages–instead of “GRUB Error 17″ or Microsoft’s lovely “Error: No error”, you at best get cryptic flashing from your Caps/Num/Scroll Lock lights. And, to quote Kaylee, “Sometimes a thing gets broke, can’t be fixed.” And suddenly you’re out $80 and 3-5 business days waiting for a new hard drive to come in the mail.

Speaking about new hard drives coming in the mail…the tablet didn’t come with a hard drive, RAM, or a stylus. I was talking about it at school, and my friend Jason was like, “Oh, you need RAM?” “Yes.” “Here, I have two 512MB sticks in my backpack that you can have.” [Note: This is not typical. I'm just as surprised as you are. I'm chalking this one up to divine intervention or luck.] “Thanks!”

…and even with RAM it wouldn’t boot off a Live CD. Returning to shady internet forums, I learned that the overheating could cause the solder holding the GPU down to melt, letting the GPU rise up off the circuit board. The proposed solution was to leave the thing powered on but trapped in a case for about an hour (letting it get quite hot, and supposedly soften up the solder), and then press down hard on a certain area of the keyboard to reseat the GPU. For lack of a better idea, I tried it–and it worked perfectly. I am ecstatic that the one time I got lucky with laptop displays it was on the 2008 tablet, not the 2001 mammoth.

And now it’s all happy running whatever Live CD I fancy. Shazam. And I know I’m milking this story, but I’m really excited that once assorted eBay parts arrive, I will have upgraded my RAM by a factor of eight (512MB->4GB), my hard drive storage by a factor of over twelve (40GB->500GB), a 32-bit single-core Pentium M to an AMD Turion 64 X2, and I’ll also have higher screen resolution (1024×768->1200×800), smaller overall size (“Medium” to “Medium-small”), a DVD+/-RW drive with LightScribe, a swivel-licious hinge, and a freakin’ touchscreen. Behold, I have entered this side of the year 2006.

My luck doesn’t end, though. I saved the following from a landfill: a Dell 1024×768 flatscreen monitor (which is the first flatscreen monitor I’ve ever owned), a Brother AX-350 electric typerwriter (shut up, I actually really like typewriters–they’re fun, and they’re good for popping out quick documents and filling out worksheets/forms) with owner’s manual and ribbon refill, shiny Dell speakers, and a Dell PS/2 keyboard. Win.

What’s not win, though, is my health: I got a migraine on December 3 which was so bad it took me out of school for over three weeks. After my doctor ran out of ideas to solve it he referred me to a neurologist, who gave me a cornucopia of drugs, an MRI, and a spinal tap, all of which were no real help. A visit to the ER just after Christmas put me on painkillers which made me feel worse (look up “rebound headaches”), and then I got a new neurologist, who said that the best solution was to resume my normal schedule (WHAT‽), and that in 6-8 weeks I’d feel much better. That was in early January, and since then I have improved (especially in the mornings, but it declines as the day goes on), but am definitely not “well”. Catching up on all the schoolwork and final exams I missed was, uh, buckets of fun, but as of this morning I’ve finished first semester. So at least I can change my IM status from “∫Fds, ∫sdF, ∫Fds” to something cheerier.

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iPads and ChromeOS

Psst! Google! You better hurry up and get a beautiful, intuitive, fun, reliable, fast, and well-designed netbook running ChromeOS out before the iPad arrives. And while you’re at it, why don’t you put together an online index of Excellent WebApps that can be used on ChromeOS and will compete with the miles-ahead-of-you iPhone/iPod Touch/iPad App Store.

Because, quite frankly, I think most people would rather pay $500 for an iPad than $300 for an Internet-only netbook…unless that Internet-only netbook is stinkin’ awesome!

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The iPad…Huh?

Well, let the rumors die: Apple’s come out with a new tablet–the iPad. And I have to go on record as saying I think it’ll be about as successful as Apple’s other tablet–the Newton. Maybe a bit more, just since Apple’s so dang famous nowadays. Why? Because instead of scaling down a MacBook, they scaled up the iPhone/iPod Touch, and made this thing that lacks the portability of the latter and the power of the former. There’s no support for Flash. There’s no support for non-App Store approved applications. There’s not even a ruttin’ keyboard! Is it a great web browser? Yes. A pretty good media player? Yes. A decent ebook reader? Yes. But Apple, listen up–real people have work to do, and can’t spend their days idly watching movies and Facebook/Twitter/Reddit/Digg/Fark/StumbleUpon/MetaFilter-ing. Real people have to write emails, they have to write documents, they have to make spreadsheets, and they don’t have time for touch-screen based shenanigans. And AFAIK, the iPad doesn’t even implement the killer feature of touch screens–handwriting recognition/saving. With a stylus, not a fingernail.

So I don’t really see this taking off except as an expensive indulgence, a, to quote Charlie Brooker, “Fisher-Price activity centre for adults.”

Still–it will take off as an expensive indulgence. If people have the money, it would make sense to own a laptop and an iPad. One for work and one for play. I’m sure the boot speed is going to be impressive, and I really like the idea of being able to whip this out of a backpack (or whatever) and browse the web for half an hour in a coffee shop. Or maybe read an ebook while commuting )if I still lived in Spain and used public transportation). Or watch a TV show if I’m too lazy to get out off bed on a quiet Saturday morning. Multi-purpose machines are always better at some things than others, and owning two would let each one be used for the things it excels at*. And let’s remember this is Apple we’re talking about–they know all about making fancy, expensive stuff that can be criticized with all the logic in the world, but is just pleasant to use. So I don’t think it’s a lost cause–I just don’t think it’ll go over with the average Joe.

* Note: To be honest, I think Kindles et al. are still much better at ebooks–mainly because of the easier-on-the-eyes display, and also because of the battery.

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Lubuntu: I’m Excited

I’ve had a few encounters with Xubuntu, and I wasn’t very impressed–it’s just as fat and heavy as Ubuntu (sometimes more so)–and I like Gnome’s UX better than Xfce’s.

So I’m very excited to hear that there’s a new Ubuntu sibling: Lubuntu (also).

I’ll snag an .iso and test it out (and review it here) when I have time, but I thought I’d pass the word on for now.

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Using a Shared Printer in CrunchBang/Ubuntu–Is This So Hard?

Confession: For whatever reason, using the “Browse” button would should me all the workgroups and devices on the network, and crash the window when I tried to get it to show a printer. So I just used that to remind myself of the path to the printer, and typed:
MSHOME/DESKTOP/HP Photosmart c4100
into the address box.

And IIRC, it’s the exact same thing on regular Ubuntu too.

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