Archive for category The Net

Roku XDS – A Review

If you’ve been following my blog at all, you’ll know that we bought an Apple TV v2. That experience was really, really bad. The details are here if you want them, but suffice it to say that I was impelled back into shopping for a similar device, because the Apple TV simply wasn’t going to cut it.

Enter the Roku XDS. Same price, same general type of device, a fair amount of buzz. Enough to catch my attention, consume a few reviews and comments… at $99, these things don’t exactly break the bank, so, in for a penny, in for a pound, we bought one. This is the story of how that went, often contrasted to the Apple TV v2, as that was what it was replacing. You might want to grab some popcorn.
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Google. Delivering mediocre results by design.

In my view, Google’s problem is that “the algorithm” equates popularity with goodness. The more links Google finds on the net to any page in particular, the better (higher in the search results) Google ranks that page.

However, we know that in fact, the more popular something is, the more likely it is to be middle of the road, not special, not best of class. It may, however, be shocking, LOLcat, or prankish. In this way, in my opinion at least, Google is an enormous force pushing towards mediocrity and worse.

I know that in my area of expertise, Google’s search results are really not impressive. Instead of knowledge about the subject, Google returns innumerable blog posts written by people who know little to nothing about the subject matter — a good deal of which is outright wrong.

I don’t have a solution outside of an expert-moderated search (and that’s very hard); I’m simply observing that Google’s intent to “do no evil” is compromised right out the door by the very nature of the algorithm they’re using.

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September Surprises

modemYesterday began with a nice surprise — it snowed here. Outside temp was 35 degrees, and it melted (here) when it hit the ground, but snow it was.

Even The Media Noticed

Then, at about 5pm Friday afternoon, our DSL modem flaked; indicators looked good, and it was in pass-through so normally it doesn’t really do much, but oh man, was the network hammered.
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Interp project

graphYeah, about that coding problem. More of the same. This one is about generating temperature and humidity estimates with a single latitude / longitude input using the point measurements of the National Weather Service nearest the point of interest, and interpolating in a useful and hopefully likely manner. As a project, it gets its own static page, right here.

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Publishers and the E-book Ecosphere

leap-pubIn e-tech, publishers look to be an obsolescent cog. They exist(ed?) with books in a legitimate role because someone needs to take on the cost of printing a physical book, shipping it to a store, etc., and your typical author can’t afford to do that. With an e-book, the costs – such as they are – are handled by the retailer (Apple, Amazon, smaller sellers – even the author.)

Speaking as someone somewhat familiar with the industry, publishers, long known for providing only minimal advances and the smallest possible royalty to the actual artist (the author(s) and illustrator(s)), appear to have no role in the e-book ecosphere.
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Hackery for my auroral photo pursuits

sssssTrying to figure out if there is an aurora, and if it can be photographed, really requires looking at some different kinds of data. One is the earth’s magnetosphere; how disturbed is it? That’s what causes auroras. That information has to be obtained from the GOES satellites, or magnetometers on the ground (I find the satellites to be a better indicator.) Another is the weather – if it’s cloudy, give up now. Then visibility comes into play – fog will kill the opportunity just as quickly as clouds. You can get that from NOAA (or whoever is your local weather provider if you’re not in the US.) But what if the moon is above the horizon? That’ll kill it too, at least, if the moon is showing any significant crescent. And of course, along those same lines, the sun has to be below the horizon. The moon and sun information can be calculated.

After repeatedly looking all this stuff up, and occasionally forgetting an important issue (like, is it cloudy?) before I drove out to my dark viewing area with my camera gear, I finally decided to pull all the information together into one handy place. And here it is, sized to fit on my iPod’s display, too. Further, since all the data is in one place, I have the underlying engine SMS me if conditions are right for an aurora; also, as long as I keep a browser open to the page, the page auto-refreshes.

The underlying processes keep an eye on things for me, updating their snapshots of satellite data and weather and lunar and solar states every five minutes. So I can be out and about, and if things look hot, I’ll get a text message on my cellphone. How cool is that?
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What does TL;DR Really Mean?

This is the first in a series of helpful tips on Internet shorthand. Quite often, we’ll encounter an acronym and not know what it means. So, I’m here to help.

TL;DR is, at least at first glance, an abbreviation for Too Long, Didn’t Read. What it really means is that you have encountered a person with a pathological attention span; they are simultaneously saying that they have failed to bring adequate reading skills to bear, combined with the intent to cut someone down for “elitist” behavior. What elitist behavior? That of writing a literate post. Yes, really.

So when you encounter TL;DR, you can just ignore it. I put no small amount of blame upon the “sound bite” environment created by television. The erosion of the ability of much of the populace to deal with even a mildly extended presentation has closely followed television’s failure to present any such thing.

No discussion of this would be complete without a nod towards courtesy. If someone addresses an issue at length, this is an offering of information to everyone else. If you legitimately don’t have the time to read it, then the answer is not to say “you should have written a sound bite.” The answer is silence until you have read the material.

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Google Base

Recently, I’ve had an opportunity to help a friend utilize Google Base.

I searched for Traxxas Slash; these are web results (and an ad.) To use Base, I'll click the link I've circled at the top in red.

I searched for Traxxas Slash; these are web results (and an ad.) To use Base, I'll click the link I've circled at the top in red.

Base is Google’s attempt to offer a database listing of as many products as humanly (machinely?) possible, with the objective of getting you to use it to find things, and while doing so, be further exposed to ads from their core business. My friend, feeling that this was a marketing opportunity presently unaddressed, was very interested, and understandably so. Base is what you get when you click the “Shopping” button at the top of a normal Google search page.

I agreed to write the code necessary to create the file that packages his inventory (over 30,000 items) for Base, do the uploading, and generally handle the process for him. What could go wrong? It’s Google, right? A company with enormous respect from the technical community, a huge web presence, and a mantra of “do no wrong.” Well. That’s what makes this worth writing about.

I didn’t think it would take a lot of time to implement as I wrote his entire e-commerce system for him and was familiar with the lay of the land, as it were, and in that, at least, I was right. Base is very easy to integrate with; using Python, it only took me a few hours to be able to generate the required data file to Google’s specifications. Uploading the resulting data file to Google is trivial. But… unfortunately, Base has many problems that go far beyond just uploading a correct data file to the system.
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