Category Archives: Computers

New Camera

I got a new camera yesterday and got it set up. I’ve been taking some test pictures to start.

This camera has been talked about a lot recently as folks anticipated its availability – they weren’t kidding! I just saw these images from the full-sized files on my desktop monitors. STUNNING!

These were all taken with just the ambient light from inside the houses and a couple of street lights. The street light in our front yard that’s been the bane of my existence (when I’ve been taking pictures of ISS passes) is out. It’s dark out there.

Poking through the clouds up there is Jupiter. Mind you, I haven’t done anything yet to learn about all of the features and settings on this camera. If you think these are cool, wait until I actually learn how to use it! All I did for these was push the button and see what happens. I didn’t even use a tripod, so the fact that these aren’t blurry or jiggly is amazing to me.

Again, Jupiter’s the bright one, Saturn is the one closest to the right edge, and if you blow this up to full sized you’ll see all kinds of stars it captured. And all I did was hold it while standing in my back yard and push the button.

What’s even MORE amazing about this camera is that it’s got two more lenses. These were taken with the regular lens, but there’s also a telephoto and a wide angle lens built in. Fun times ahead playing with those!

Oh, yeah, and this camera also has a small supercomputer built in, as well as wi-fi, bluetooth, it shows me TV, movies, streaming video, has a whole slew of business apps, GPS and maps, connects to the internet, can keep a huge music library as well as hundreds if not thousands of books, health apps, and on and on and on.

Yeah, I got an iPhone Pro Max.

Cool!!

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Rabbit Hole

Wow, what an internet rabbit hole that was!

To start, something came in to my personal email account that I needed to send to a couple folks at the company I work for. I decided to be lazy, and rather than send the email from my personal email account to my company email account and then forward it internally, I just sent it from my personal account. Now, I’m aware that my personal email account is really old and has a weird domain name, so there was a possibility of it being sent to Spam or blocked, or the folks I was sending to wouldn’t recognize that it was from me. On the other hand, my usual “first initial last name” user name was right there… What could go wrong?

But that got me wondering again about the age of that email account and domain name. I’ve looked a couple of times before but haven’t been quite able to ask the right questions. I vaguely remember some things, but it was a long time ago…

This was well before Gmail came along. This was before Google existed! This was before Windows XP. In fact, it was probably right around the time that Windows 95 came out, maybe just before. Now it’s administered by EarthLink, but before that it was Mindscape, and before that it was Netcom.

The email address is pwillett@ix.netcom.com. So how long have I had it, more or less, and what does the “ix” stand for?

I finally figured it out, more or less.

Yes, I remembered the Earthlink –> Mindscape –> Netcom evolution correctly. Netcom started in 1988, running as a local service in San Jose for college students who lived off campus. As they expanded and this thing called the World Wide Web started to be a thing, Netcom released a  program called NetCruiser. NetCruiser was originally released for Windows 3.1 in 1995, and I found a very old Cnet article from Jan 10, 1996 announcing that NetCruiser for the Mac would be available Q1 1996.

WOW! NetCruiser included the ability to display both GIF and JPEG files! It also included email, Usenet, IRC, Gopher, ftp, and Telnet! The Netcom/NetCruiser combo was $19.95 per month for 40 hours of peak time use and unlimited use off-peak (midnight to 09:00) and on weekends! And it worked up to 28.8 kbps, almost blinding speed!!

“Wow” indeed.

And that matches what I remember! I had a Netcom account for at least a while, a year or two maybe, before NetCruiser came out. I remember how much easier NetCruiser was than manually setting up programs for different parts of the Internet, like email, web browsers, usenet, and so on. I remember getting those CD’s with the NetCruiser distribution on them – probably have them buried off in the garage someplace.

So that places my ix.netcom.com usage back to at least 1994, possibly a year or two earlier. But where does the “ix” come from?

I finally found another article about Netcom that talks about that. The original Netcom email accounts were in the “user@netcom.com” format. But during the development of what became NetCruiser, the original name was “Internet Xpress.” They ended up making the name change to “NetCruiser” due to legal issues with the “Internet Xpress” name. But the “ix” prefix stuck.

So the account and address are at least 26 years old, possibly 27 or 28 years.

To come up with a more precise answer, I’ll bet that somewhere on an old enough set of back up disks I have backup copies of my Netscape or NetCruiser emails. But that rabbit hole will have to remain unexplored for tonight.

Today I also have a couple of different Gmail accounts, plus my work accounts, plus my CAF work accounts, plus… But the primary is always the “ix.netcom.com” account. Occasionally I’ll meet a fellow geek who recognizes it and knows that it means that I’ve been doing this for a long time.

Geek cred – gotta love it!

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What’s Wrong With This Picture?

The photo isn’t from today, but seems appropriate for a Friday the 13th.

Things seeming a bit wonky today? My iPhone knew how you felt.

Not edited or Photoshopped – just…off

May your Saturday the 14th go smoothly!

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No Context For You – April 28th

I *hate* it when that happens…

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No Context For You – February 11th

By the way, DisplayPort cables are wonderful! When I upgraded my monitors last week I at first was using the DVI cables from the old monitors, which was fine, it worked. But it was obvious that I wasn’t getting 100% of the results I wanted. Turns out that with these fancier, newer video cards and monitors the various outputs and cables (HDMI, DisplayPort, DVI, or, god forbid, VGA) all have different maximum resolutions. (I’m sure there are those of you going “DUH!” but while I may have plenty of experience with both hardware and software going back well over forty-five years, I don’t always do this on a daily basis and there are always new things to learn.) A little research resolved the issue and now everything’s WONDERFUL with my new setup. 27 inch dual monitors and 2560 x 1440 resolution might not be ideal for gaming (which is where a LOT of equipment is sold these days) but it’s wonderful for business.

Which is good, because it looks like when things open back up with COVID, I’ll continue to work from home along with a big chunk of the rest of our office staff. Why pay for all of that office when folks can work as well from home?

Brave New World. It’s here…

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What Could Possibly Go Wrong – February 09th

Chugging through my day, dealing with the usual…

My office desktop that I connect to in order to run our accounting software pops up with a message that there’s a Windows update it’s ready to install. Okay… I had heard that there’s one out there. The timing’s a bid odd, middle of the day and all, but sure, go for it.

Less than five minutes later, I’m back online. No problem.

About a half hour later, my office laptop, which I use to connect to that office desktop, gives me the same message about a Windows update. Sure…

Less than five minutes, no problem.

An hour or so later, my personal desktop, which I use for about 99% of everything else in this year of “work from home” (which is more like “live at work” sometimes), gives me the same message. Sure…

It goes through the usual Windows update screens with the progress reports and the spinny-balls thing and the warning about not turning of your computer…

And I get this:

Wait! What?

Ten minutes later both monitors are blank, but the computer still seems to be on. I’ll wait.

A half hour later, nothing on the screens, no beeps, no error messages, nada, zippo, zilch. Starting to sweat a bit – I’ll wait.

An hour later, having started a new book (pretty good so far, “The Second Star” by Alma Alexander), nothing, nothing, none, nada, zilch. I’ll wait. It’s time for Zoe’s Extraordinary Playlist anyway. (WHAT! You’re not watching the show yet??! Jeez louise… Your loss. Best new show since probably Game of Thrones or The Good Place.)

Another hour later, we’ve gotten through the end of Zoe’s “fall finale,” check the computer and find the status quo. It looks like it’s on, but no sounds of any disks running, no blinking lights showing any CPU activity, nothing showing up on the screens. I know it said, “Do not power down your system,” and I’m a big proponent of following computer instructions in bold, red text, but c’mon. It’s been almost three hours.

So I hold the power button until it shuts down, give it a minute for the capacitors to discharge, then power it back up. Only to be met by about twenty seconds of disk activity, a click, and a shutdown.

Shit.

I blame myself. I’ve got a dentist appointment first thing tomorrow and I hate going to the dentist about as much as I hate getting a colonoscopy, and I had been whining about needing and excuse to not go. It’s that whole “Monkey Paw” thing – be careful how you word those wishes. Having to do emergency computer surgery in order to be able to work from home without doing EVERYTHING on that laptops isn’t quite what I had in mind as an excuse. But I guess I wasn’t specific enough.

Try the reboot again. Same.

Breathe. Think. I’ve been fiddling with computer since (literally!) before there were IBM PCs. I started doing hardware and programming on paper tape on a PDP-8 using 32-bit machine language, one command at a time. I can do this…

Unplug the system and let it sit. Perhaps it’s not quite in a completely powered down state yet. There’s “off” and then there’s “OFF.” To make sure we’re getting a clean reboot, let’s make sure it’s OFF. Wait another fifteen minutes. (What did the Kings do tonight? Lost 4-3 in a shootout. At least we got the one point, but still in last place. I guess now that I won’t be wearing my Chiefs gear I should get out my Kings jerseys.)

Now, once more with feeling and four part harmony…

The system comes back online normally and seems to be working.

Some days the gods are just fucking with you to make sure that you’re not getting cocky. (Those would be days that end in “y.”)

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Efficiency Strategy

Sometimes to get more done, and to be able to get more done in the future, even though you’re on tight deadlines NOW, you need to back off and do something else to make yourself more efficient. It might seem counterintuitive if you’re tightly focused on the goal and the methods you have to get there, but it’s a lesson to be learned about not losing sight of the bigger picture and being open to opportunities.

Case in point – it’s now been almost a year since the pandemic hit and many of us, myself included, ended up working out of a spare bedroom or odd space at home. When that crisis hit, and one crisis after another, we had to simply deal with it with the tools at hand. In my case, while I have a company laptop here for connecting to the server and accounting software there, the laptop with a single, smaller screen and fixed keyboard and trackpad isn’t the best form factor for me to get volume work done. It can work – it’s just not the easiest or fastest way to work.

However, I have my personal desktop computer here that is quite capable, has dual monitors, a full-sized keyboard, trackball, and so on. So I’ve worked out ways to get a lot of my work done on that computer, simply because it’s so much easier to work on.

But one thing I’ve noticed in the handful of times that I’ve gone back into the office is how much I miss my big 27″ monitors at work. The ones I’m using on my home desktop were picked up when my former office shut down about nine years ago, and while they were pretty cutting edge then, they’re small by today’s standards. They’re also slightly mismatched, different manufacturers, which is a little bit crazy-making in a dual monitor setup. But the price was right (they were being thrown out) and they work fine for what they are, so I’ve gotten used to it.

Earlier this week it struck me – I can do better. Those 27″ monitors today are about 1/3 the price of what those much smaller monitors were ten years ago. And I could use that extra screen space to get much more done, faster, easier…

The new monitors came in today, and while I’ve got deadlines, I took several hours this evening to NOT be working on those Excel files and deposit coding and data entry, and instead rearrange and clean my desk, move the old monitors out, and get the new ones in. It’s like a weight has been lifted, one that I didn’t even realize I was carrying.

Onward and upward! Work smarter, not harder! (Insert totally inappropriate non sequitur platitude here!)

 

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Erratum – They’re Not Wrens

Remember the birds from the back yard? I called them “house wrens.” They’re not.

They’re “house finches.

(The Cornell Lab Merlin App)

I don’t share this with you simply because I know that some of you, out of an overabundance of politeness no doubt, have been biting your tongues for days, knowing that they were finches and not wrens but not wanting to rain on my parade. (I know no such thing.) No, I share this because I found this really cool free app!

I don’t know about Android phones, but if you’re on an Apple iOS device, look for the “Merlin bird ID” app. It’s from Cornell Lab at Cornell University and it will ID birds with a picture, by answering five questions, and possibly (I just got it this afternoon, so maybe?) with a live photo as you’re watching the bird? It doesn’t appear to be able to ID birdsong, but if you ID your bird from a picture you can hear a sample of the birdsong for that species and confirm the ID that you just completed.

Check it out, it’s cool!!

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I, For One, Welcome Our AI Overlords…

Some time late last week, while sitting on my ass and perusing the internet as is my wont when I’m trying to unwind a bit, I had a question enter my mind about the weather for Saturday when I would be out at the CAF hangar in Camarillo.

Being a savvy, hip, handsome, intelligent, completely not full of shit, modern sort of guy, I said, “Siri, what’s the forecast for tomorrow’s weather in Camarillo, California?”

Simple, eh?

Until my phone, my iPad, and my watch ALL ANSWERED AT THE SAME TIME.

And all had slightly different answers.

I’m really, really looking forward to when they start arguing among themselves about those different answers.

When it gets to physical violence, or trying to infect each other with computer viruses in retaliation, then I’m turning them all off and moving to a cave in Alberta that’s 100 miles from the nearest cell phone tower.

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Too Many Computers

00:07 Friday morning (Okay, it’s Thursday night…)

I just finished writing (what is now) last night’s “Too Many Numbers” post, the process of which was way, WAY too stressful.

Too tired, too many computers (five right now, counting the iPhone and iPad which I’m using to pull up data), too many screens (seven total), too many numbers…

And suddenly I see that my website directory has vanished. The directory on my local hard drive which keeps all of my working files for my website as well as the original copies of all of the pictures I’ve posted for the past five years or so, as well as the backup documents and…

But that’s okay because it’s on Dropbox! I can recover it! Yeah for Dropbox!

Except that Dropbox isn’t showing ANY of those files in its deleted files list…

Crying starts to sound like a perfectly good option…

There was a power outage today – did that fry something? I’ve gotten an occasional error message from Win 10 that the primary SSD hard disk is doing unexpected things – did that fry something? Do the gods just hate me?

From somewhere a calmer brain takes over. A quick search of Dropbox for the directory name shows that it got moved to be a subdirectory of another directory. It’s now sitting under a directory that used to be next to it alphabetically on the list of directories. Which makes me think that I’m using too many mice, trackballs, and Apple Pencils on too many computers on too many screens.

I wonder if I didn’t point, click, and drag on computer B when I was looking at computer A and computer B did exactly what I told it to, i.e. take this directory and move it and drop it on top of this other directory, which translates in most OS’s as “move this thing into that thing.”

I need a smarter and less literal computer. And an antidote for adrenaline.

23:40 Friday night (not Saturday morning yet!)

Oh, and I had the sense while I was waiting for my heart rate to stop resembling a hummingbird’s to pull out a 6TB external drive and let it run overnight, copying everything off to something less dynamic than DropBox.

When did you run your last full system backup to an external drive?

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