Category Archives: Computers

Home Alone

We’ve lived in this house for over twenty-six years. There have always been kids, wives (not multiple ones at the same time, smartass!), dogs, cats, etc.

Tonight I’m home alone for what I think is only the third or fourth day in that entire span. It’s a little odd.

For one thing it’s quiet. Like, really quiet. While I’ve been watching the World Baseball Classic on television (let’s hear it for the USA!!) I’ve found it easier to watch with the sound off. Fewer annoying ads that way, and no need to keep turning the sound off and on as the ads come and go.

Then the noises started.

Okay, so I’m not entirely alone. It sounds like Rocky and/or Raquel and the brood are up on the roof. I’m used to that, although it’s surprisingly loud when I’m not hearing it over music or the television.

Once they left, I started hearing a chirping every minute or so. Today, of all days, a smoke alarm started getting low on its battery.

Once I killed that, I was startled by some fairly loud gurgling and watery sounds. I honestly didn’t know what it was and was starting to fear the worst when I got up to investigate. It turns out my short-term memory also sucks – the sounds came from the dish washer I had started a while ago.

(Which is also weird. I’m proud of my “dish washer Tetris” skills but had to start it when it was less than half full. With just me and my visiting son here for a few days, we used paper plates but ran out of silverware. I thought it better to run a half-empty dishwasher rather than going out and buying more silverware.)

Then the music started. I was in the living room but I could hear music from my office. I came in here to find some great tunes playing from my usual Sirius-XM station. The only thing is that there’s apparently no browser open, and it’s not playing a recording from an earlier broadcast, so I have no clue why it started suddenly or how it’s playing.

At least my poltergeists share my taste in music! (Or they can’t change the channel.)

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Filed under Castle Willett, Computers, Critters, Family, Music


I started to type a question into Google tonight. Of course, as you start to type it tries to anticipate what your question will be.

I got as far as “When is…”

Not in this order (which might be saddest part of this) were:

When is The Bachelor on?

I could not conceivably care less – and even I know that it was yesterday. Is your life so sad, empty, and pathetic that you have to watch shows like this? And then you can’t even keep track of what day the big grand finale episode is? Gee, Mr. President…

When is the Super Bowl?

A legitimate question. Probably the first Sunday in February, but it might be the second, so all of the good Chiefs fans should check before asking for that time off.

When is Easter?

Again, a legitimate question. It moves around. There were people with ashes and Mardi Gras was a big deal about two weeks ago? -ish? (Note to self – we have GOT to get to Nawlins for Mardi Gras one of these years!) So, forty days of Lent means another month?

When is Christmas?

Really? No one could possibly ever ask a more stupid question than that!

When is the Fourth of July?

I stand corrected.


Filed under Computers, Farce

Siri, My Darling Siri – March 12th

Okay, so as we’ve seen, I have a certain fascination with human-computer interfaces and Artificial Intelligence and Siri and so on.

Along those lines, I may have discovered a new game.

At risk of feeling a tiny little bit like I’m making fun of someone (something?) who’s handicapped, by accident yesterday I put some garbage input into Siri and got a freaking hilarious result.

“GIGO” is one of the first principles of computing. Garbage In, Garbage Out.

I don’t even remember at this point what the actual topic was, but I had been asking Siri a handful of questions. Part of it is that I’m trying to figure out how to better use Siri as a resource, so in essence, she’s training me. Part of it is probing to see what the limitations of the programming are.

Regardless, what I wanted to say was something like, “Siri, show me a…” Whatever it was I wanted her to show me, I got tongue tied and stumbled verbally, before going off into a “Blah, blah-blah, Blah Blah!” As you see in the blooper reels where an actor blows a line.

No harm, no foul.

Siri didn’t understand, but did the best with what I had given her:

Thanks, Siri! I needed that. I haven’t laughed that hard in a while. (Probably since early November, but that’s a matter for the other blog.)

At least her programming is gracious when I thanked her.

Look at those 9% and 8% battery readings. Maybe she was hypoglycemic or something.

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Filed under Computers, Farce

What I Really Need Is A Good AI Assistant

I’ve always been fascinated by human/machine interfaces. It might come from my days as a programmer, writing accounting, database, and office automation systems for small businesses. We’re talking 8″ double-sided double-density floppy disks days here, but it still taught me a lot about how people and computers interact, and how they should interact. The interfaces on GPS systems is a great example these days, but that’s a discussion for a different day.

Being a propeller beanie wearing, SF-reading, card carrying geek since before it was chic, I’ve seen my share of cool computer and AI concepts. While I would kill for a BrainPal from John Scalzi’s “Old Man’s War” universe, what I really lust for are the sentient ship’s computers/pilots of Robert Heinlein’s “Time Enough For Love.” There’s a reason that I often refer to my computers as “Dora.”

But we don’t have that yet. IBM’s Watson is getting there, but still needs a building to hold all of the processors and hard disk arrays and a small army to keep feeding data into it. When they have that, or at least direct and constant access to that, via a neural link of some sort, I’ll be more than happy to be a guinea pig to test it.

I occasionally play with Siri on my phone or iPad. I’m often disappointed, although I do like some of the more clever Easter eggs buried in the software. But they’re just tricks. Occasionally I’ll ask a question and actually get the answer I’m looking for, but most of the time I’ll get, at best, a “here’s what I found on the web” answer. Which is sort of useless if I’m driving and can’t read it. Like, duh, that’s the reason I was asking Siri instead of using Google, right?

Google’s better simply because you can type out your question and keep honing the exact question to get the results you’re looking for. But it’s not a great mobile interface.

No, I’m going to wait for Dora. Or my BrainPal.

Do you remember what John Perry named his BrainPal?

Want to guess what I’ll name mine?

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Filed under Computers, Science Fiction

Our New Robot Overlords

Boston Robotics has topped themselves again. Watch their latest video in this article to see “Handle” do some of its tricks.

Or you can google videos of previous robots such Atlas (from last year), Spot (from 2015), or Wildcat (from 2013).

It’s astonishing the amount of progress they’ve made in just three or four years.

We’re now getting to the point where, as Über-cool and amazing as these machines are, they’re also pushing the boundaries of the “Holy shit, that’s creepy and terrifying” envelope.

Spot as a tool for carrying a couple hundred pounds of gear for firefighters in the mountains and woods is incredible – Spot chasing you down and dancing on you until every bone in your body is broken, not so much.

On the other hand…

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Filed under Computers

Old Dog, New Computer Tricks

Okay, maybe I’m not the absolute last person on the planet to figure out how to print multiple tabs/pages in an Excel workbook/file, but I’m sure I’m on the short list.

That “discovery” was due to the sudden, lightning-like insight that what I was doing, what I had been doing was stupid. It might have been what I had been doing for ten or fifteen years in Excel, and probably doing before that in Lotus 123, and before that in SuperCalc, and before that in VisiCalc, but – and here’s the insight – why in hell isn’t there a fast and easy way to do this? Just because it would have been incredibly difficult to execute thirty years ago, or even ten, doesn’t mean that it’s not trivial today.

Once that thought lodges in your cerebral cortex, the next one thudding in there immediately thereafter should be (and was), “What are the odds that it’s not that the program won’t do it, it’s just that I don’t know how to?” Of course, from that point, a 30-second Google search tells you how to do it and, yes, it is exactly that simple and trivial once you know which button to push.

The point is not that I’m an idiot or an old phart stuck in his ways (both of which are more or less true, but they’re not the point), but that all of us get into our routines and go through one action after another (pro hint – I’m not just talking about computer programs here) because it’s what we did yesterday and the day before, not because it’s what we should be doing today.

On the other hand, there can be new tricks discovered completely by accident, not because you figure there has to be a better way, but because you stumble on a well-hidden preference or setup trick when everyone is bitching about the trick doesn’t exist.

If you have an Apple iPhone or iPad, you know that with the old iOS you just rested your thumb or finger on the magical fingerprint-reading Home button and the iPhone or iPad would unlock itself and be ready to use. With the latest iOS, you rest your thumb, get a teeny tiny little message that tells you that the device is now unlocked, so press on that Home button to start it back up.

Why is this now a two-step procedure with a “pay attention” in the middle of it?

Do you want it to not be?

Settings –> General –> Accessibility –> Home Button –> Rest Finger To Open –> Set to “on”

There, it’s back to acting like it did before it was made “better.”

You’re welcome!

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Filed under Computers, Paul


You turn on your computer at the office to find this wonderful, random, beautiful desktop photo:

Now they’re just torturing us.

“Look at what’s out there – and you’re HERE for twelve hours today!”

You can almost hear the evil “mew-har-ha-HA!!” laugh off in the distance.

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Filed under Computers, Paul