Archive for the 'Technology and software' Category

A hi-def “tragedy” in four short acts

Posted in Movies and TV, Technology and software on October 29th, 2013

Act 1: 2008

Pioneer introduces the Kuro line of plasma TVs, which offer the best picture quality of any flat-screen HDTV ever made (with the possible exception of the 12″ $2,500 Sony OLED TV, and that’s too small to count). The Kuro TVs use a number of special technologies, including panels that eliminate the air space between the plasma pixels and the glass front, which cost extra but make for a superb picture.

Act 2: 2009

Pioneer exits the TV business. End of the Kuro. It sells several patents to Panasonic, and it’s possible that some engineers moved there as well.

(By the way, the Wikipedia “article” on the Kuro is offensively wrong–saying that Panasonic is the only other significant TV manufacturer involved in plasmas omits those tiny little nobodies Samsung and LG.)

Act 3: 2013

Panasonic introduces the ZT60 series (TC-P65ZT60 and TC-P60ZT60, where the P number shows the diagonal size in inches). It involves several technological advances–including a panel with no air space between the plasma pixels and the glass front.

According to a review in the October 2013 Sound & Vision, done by a reviewer who still owns a top-of-the-line Kuro set and included a side-by-side comparison, the ZT60 is essentially the equal of the Kuro in all key areas of image quality. In other words, it’s the best HDTV (at least at 1080p) you can buy.

Act 4: Later in 2013

Panasonic announces that it’s getting out of the plasma TV business.

And, I guess, we wait for OLED to make it to big-screen and reasonable-price.

(About the only weakness of the ZT60 was that it’s not enormously bright in 3D mode. To which most of us might say, “who cares?” )

Does your library website really need Java? Three times over?

Posted in Libraries, Technology and software on June 27th, 2013

Dear public libraries,

About your website…

There’s one old issue (with some of you), which is that the library picture or banner is so high-resolution that it’s the last thing on the page to load, and takes quite a while. (It’s remarkably easy to resize images so they’re more suitable for web pages…)

Let’s not even talk about your use of Comic Sans. Yes, I know, it’s friendly and all…

But this is about Java.

Some of us–millions of us, I’d guess–don’t allow Java in our browsers, for reasonably good security reasons.

When we hit a library website with a Java item (or, as I just saw, three of ‘em in a row), the browser hangs, we get an error message, and if the site’s persistent, we keep getting the error message.

Oh, eventually we just get an error message on screen and can go on about our way.

But really…do you really need Java? Is it that crucial for your home page to be so dynamic–crucial enough that you’re willing to annoy security-conscious patrons?

Your call, of course.

Archaic–but also convenient?

Posted in Technology and software on June 22nd, 2013

I find it amusing when Tech Gurus proclaim X is Dead, where X is typically a technology or medium that’s doing just fine but may have ended its growth phase.

Amusing as each instance is, there’s a broader issue for some (by no means all) of the technologies denounced as dead, which is another way of saying “Proper contemporary people shouldn’t use these things.”

To wit: sometimes obsolescent technologies are convenient.

Fax? Obsolete for quite some time now. And yet…sometimes it’s just plain convenient.

Magazines (by which I mean print magazines)? They’re really not either obsolescent or obsolete. But they sure are convenient in a number of settings.

I could go on. But this is just a silly little post, so I won’t.

No major point here…except to note that gurus seems to live in a different world, a world where cost and convenience are secondary to being Up To Date. (Proper gurus make so much money that cost really isn’t a factor, and they probably have People to take care of convenience issues.)

For the rest of us, it’s frequently a tradeoff. If the “old way” still works–well, why abandon it?

Some technologies never die

Posted in Technology and software on June 21st, 2013

Do you have a fax machine at home?

Of course not (I hear some of you thinking). What a silly question?

Are you sure?

Well, yes–I mean, I’d know if I had some bulky old machine attached to a phone line and using roll paper, wouldn’t I?

OK, here’s a related question: Do you have a dial-up modem?

An equally absurd question. Next you’ll be asking whether I have a wire recorder…

One more question: Do you have a multifunction printer (all-in-one or copier/printer combo)?

If the answer to that one’s no, then never mind: We won’t take this any further.

But if the answer to that one is yes, then don’t be surprised if the answer to the other two “Do you have” questions is also Yes.

If you have a numeric keypad on the multifunction printer, I’d almost bet on it–and there’s a decent chance it’s true even if you don’t.

Go look at the printer. Look at the connection area(s). See one with a little phone icon?

Guess what? You do have a dial-up modem…although you can probably only use it to send or receive fax.

Check your instruction manual (if you can find it). Or just look at the front panel for a phone icon. Or, what the heck, open the printer-apps launcher. Don’t be surprised if there’s a fax option lurking in there somewhere.

All you need to do is disconnect a landline phone (if you have any landline phones) at the phone, reconnect that cable to the multifunction printer, and, lo and behold, you have a fax machine.

(The same discussion applies to libraries that believe they stopped dealing with fax some years back…)

And sometimes it’s convenient

Sure, it’s faster to “sign” a PDF and send it back or, at worst, print something out, fill it in and sign it, scan it to PDF and attach it to email.

But some institutions–financial ones, for example–won’t accept that route. They want USMail or fax.

I speak from experience. Not only within this millennium, but within this month.

[The first time I really could use a fax, I knew I had the fax–but assumed I didn’t have a dial-up modem. I was wrong.]

Tools vs. Emotions and the context of EVIL

Posted in Technology and software, Writing and blogging on June 15th, 2013

I don’t think I’ve ever struggled with a post as much as I have with this one. I’d done three minor rewrites, each time saying “Or I could just scrap the whole thing” but not doing so. This time, I’ve scrapped a whole bunch of it.

What’s left may not make much sense unless you’re in the ALA-TT group on Facebook (which, by the way, has nothing to do with ALA) or unless you saw a certain high-profile blog post and were able to make an unnamed connection. I feel I was badly misquoted in that post–but the writer didn’t actually use my name. So I’ve scrapped most of what I was going to say but will leave portions.

Although, try as I may, I still can’t see how “I can’t believe people still choose to use Microsoft” as a complete statement from someone who hadn’t been in the thread before, tossed into a thread on a new iOS version, is humor. Or is not an attack on people (which, by the way, probably include most Mac owners–e.g., anyone using Office for the Mac or Word for the Mac) who “choose to use Microsoft.”

Anyway, shorn of most of the discussion and the names involved, here’s what’s worth saying:

There’s nothing wrong with loving Apple products, if you’re one who extends love to things other than people and perhaps pets. Enthusiasm is a good thing.

I do not understand, and do not appreciate, how it is that loving Product A makes it commendable or even OK to diss those who choose to use Product B.

I like Honda Civics a lot. In my lifetime, that’s all I’ve driven as a primary car–and the one time we purchased something that wasn’t a Honda, we were deeply disappoint. If I was given to loving object, I could say that I love Honda.

But, you know, it would never occur to me to say “I can’t believe people still buy Toyotas.” Or GM, or Subaru, or BMW, or whatever.

The point at which a preference for A turns into the felt need to put down those choosing B–with the exception of sports teams, where the corporate structure seems to rely on this silliness–is the point at which fan turns into fanatic. There’s at least one broad strain of fanaticism that says “our way is the only way and those who feel differently are wrong (and maybe should be punished).” I don’t much care for it.

The post in question–the one that I’ve decided not to name explicitly or discuss in detail–also gets into tools vs. emotions; the person seems to think you should be emotional about (that is, love) your computer.

Here I plead guilty. I’m a tool-user. I like Word a lot because it’s an exceptionally flexible toolkit; ditto Excel. I like that Windows lets me use any of half a dozen different ways to do something, whatever suits my own habits at the time. I don’t gaze in awe at the desktop or have any desire to stroke my notebook. I use it. A lot. I never worry that what I do with my computer might not be “worthy” of Windows or Gateway. It’s a tool (actually a toolkit).

But, you know, if you love your Mac, that’s OK. I know people who use Macs and iPads and iPhones as tools. They’re good tools. For some people, they’re better tools than Windows PCs or Android-based tablets (of which I happen to have one, a Kindle Fire HD 8.9–I find it a good tool, also, but don’t love it) or Android phones. And that’s their choice. If they develop a more emotional relationship with their Apple devices–well, again, that’s their choice.

I honor their preference. I don’t feign lack of belief that they could make such choices.

I couldn’t do as much writing as I do without Word (and, having tried it, I don’t think LibreOffice would work nearly as well for me). There is no way I could be doing the large-scale analyses I’ve done of public and academic libraries without Excel’s speed, flexibility and feature set. I find Windows a welcoming environment for me.

Of course my computer is my primary creative tool–but it’s still a toolkit, a means of producing something, whether it’s a post, an article, a book, a presentation or a tweet. My computer is a means: the end is the actual expression.

As for love? I love my wife (of 35.5 years so far, and shooting for many more). I love our cats. I tend not to love objects–in fact, I like Honda Civics, I don’t actually love them. I am, admittedly, not the world’s most emotional person. I do not love my 5-year-old cheap Gateway notebook, but it sure has been a good toolkit!

Oh, and for those who did read the other post: I never ever said that Mac fans are EVIL. I would never say that. Not even in jest. Here’s what I said:

…good to be reminded that it’s EVIL to criticize Apple fans, but it’s perfectly OK to trash any of us who prefer Microsoft. Thus it has always been; thus it will always be.

If you can turn this into a statement that Apple fans are EVIL, you’re a more clever reader than I am. Just as, if you can turn “”I can’t believe people still choose to use Microsoft,” all by itself, into humor, you have a much keener sense of humor than I do.

It’s obvious–once you know how

Posted in Technology and software on June 3rd, 2013

I see in this morning’s social streams a Mac-using librarian sneering at Windows and Microsoft–this time because shutting down a Windows 8 computer isn’t obvious.

I can sympathize. Sort of.

Several years ago, when my wife & I were visiting my father (now deceased: this was a while back), he was having trouble with his iMac (which I paid for one-third of: we three siblings agreed to buy him a Mac because my brother, a two-platform user who prefers Macs, would be doing most of the support). He wanted to shut it down entirely to see if a fresh power-up would solve the problem.

I looked for the proper shut-down button. Whoops. I looked for a Start menu. Whoops.

Eventually, I stumbled upon what I assumed to be a decorative element over in one corner, the Apple icon. Clicking on it brought up a menu, including shutdown.

Obvious, once you know how.

I’m not saying Windows 8 (which I don’t have) is better. And Windows 7, to be sure, has it under the little Windows logo–but there’s so much under that logo that if you don’t recognize it you’d be sorely hampered. (And I do remember how many people objected to the fact that Office 2010 and, I think, 2007 “hid” the file and print commands under…yep, that’s right, the Office logo. I understand that Office 2013 has changed that, but I haven’t moved.)

What I think I’m really saying is that “intuitive” and “obvious” are both tricky things to say about most any aspect of a PC or tablet interface. (Oh, c’mon, you tell me that swipe-to-unlock is intuitive or obvious: and that’s on a device, the Kindle Fire HD 8.9, I rather like–as I guess it is on many other tablets.)

Oh, yes, I almost forgot the shutdown method for OS X that I found when doing a web search: you bring up a terminal window and use a “sudo” command. What could be more obvious? (There’s also a four-keystroke intuitive command…)

Too clever by half

Posted in Movies and TV, Technology and software on March 20th, 2013

Sometimes companies seem to use technological improvements in a way that may be snazzy…but is also counterintuitive and even baffling.

We encountered one of those a couple of days ago. This isn’t a Serious Story, but it is a little bit of too clever by half.

Background

Most evenings, we either watch a current TV show (if there’s one we’re watching–currently that means two nights out of seven) or an episode of a series we’re watching via Netflix (discs, not streaming). (Saturdays are movies.)

Currently, one of the two series we’re watching via disc, which we’d never seen when it was on, is Smallville.

We pay the Blu-ray premium for Netflix, ‘cuz we do see the difference, which means that anything that Netflix has in Blu-ray will be sent to us in Blu-ray. (If, for some bizarre reason, we wanted the DVD version of a movie, easy-peasy: there’s a pull-down menu on the disc line in the queue. That doesn’t work for series, because Blu-ray versions sometimes/frequently come on fewer discs than DVD versions.)

We finished Season 5 (with some gratitude for being done with it) and started Season 6 last Sunday. Season 6 is available in Blu-ray. So that’s what we got.

Foreground

Put the disc in. No previews: Nice. Also no opening theme and episode menu…it just started in with the first episode.

Well, OK, that’s fine for the first episode. But we’re not marathon viewers: we watch episodes individually, the way they were intended. (Pounds cane on floor; yells at kids to get off our lawn…)

So, I figured, surely Top Menu will get us to an episode menu, as it does in Chuck (which we own in Blu-ray but won’t rewatch for a couple years yet, probably, and which does the same right-into-episode-one trick).

Nope. Top Menu brings up the extras menu.

Maybe Pop-up Menu. Nope: That doesn’t do anything at all.

Yes, sure, I can turn on the chapter display and skip chapters until we get to Title 2 (the second episode); fine for the first four-episode disc, not so great for five-episode or six-episode discs. And stupid.

I look at online fora. This question has arisen. The snarky response was “Use the pop-up menu.” Which did nothing.

The Big Finish

Last night, after skipping chapters to get to and watch the second episode, I thought I’d try something else.

I was aware that one of the Big Vaunted Advantages of Blu-ray is that you can make menu selections while the disc is playing. I guess that’s a big deal; normally, personally, I’d rather pause the picture, make the changes, and then go on. But hey, it’s a nice feature.

So what if I hit Pop-Up Menu while the episode was playing and not paused?

Oh look: There’s what I would think of as a Top Menu along the bottom of the screen. Episode list and special features. Click on the third episode, and shazam: the third episode.

But surely I must have screwed up on Sunday: Surely Pop-Up Menu would do this if you, sensibly, paused to make a selection.

Not so! In Pause, Pop-Up does nothing at all on this disc.

Gee, thanks, Warner: In your infinite wisdom, you’ve hidden what should logically be the top-level menu where a submenu should be–and made it available only while episodes are actually playing and not paused.  Meanwhile, the submenu of special features is available as the top menu. That’s really clever.

Too clever by half.

Obligatory Google Reader post

Posted in Technology and software on March 15th, 2013

This post contains nothing of import.

Like many other library folk, I use Google Reader–in my case, not as a news source, but to keep up with liblogs (and a few dozen other blogs).

Like many others, I was saddened by Google’s announcement that, as with other Google services that don’t seem to bring enough $$$revenue$$$, it’s killing Google Reader. Hey, at least Google gave 3.5 months warning.

I’ve read lots of posts about the shutdown and alternatives. Several seem to have good advice. A special partial-hand salute to those who say “You shouldn’t use RSS anyway, social media are all you need.” Works for them: Fine. Telling me that if it doesn’t work for me, it’s my fault: Not so fine. Personal preferences matter.

Free services tend to go away. I know that. You should remember that. (Public libraries aren’t free: They’re community-funded on a prepaid basis.)

I don’t really have more to say that hasn’t been covered to death by others.

My own experience in getting out while the getting is good:

  • Restored my Bloglines account. And waited. And waited. And… Removed Bloglines from my Favorites list.
  • Tried Feedly this morning. I think that’s going to be workable; they sure have made from-Greader migration easy. We shall see. (I’m a Firefox user, and I think that helps.)
  • Haven’t tried The Old Reader because of other stories about the backlog. If Feedly turns out to be annoying, maybe I’ll try it later.

No great thoughts here.

 

Paint.NET and Pinta: One informal comparison

Posted in Technology and software on February 21st, 2013

I’m not a big graphics person, but sometimes I need to do some graphics work.

I don’t do it often enough to justify one of the commercial programs (say Corel Paint Shop Pro, which my wife uses and likes, or Adobe Elements)–and, as I found when I tried to use Paint Shop Pro, if you’re not using them reasonably often, there’s a significant learning curve each time you use them.

I tried The GIMP–I guess it’s now just GIMP–and the learning curve seemed like a cliff in front of me. I gave it up fairly quickly.

Then I tried Paint.NET, and found that I liked it pretty well. I used Paint.NET for a couple of book covers, for example.

More recently, I heard about Pinta–which I mistakenly took to be a fork of Paint.NET. It’s not. It’s another open source software/freeware effort, “inspired by Paint.NET” but–like GIMP and unlike Paint.NET (which is Windows-only)–available for Mac, Windows and Linux. I downloaded it as well, without deleting Paint.NET

Background

Recently, I prepared a report based on Give Us a Dollar… but specific to Oregon and Washington public libraries, as part of a speaking agreement (I’ll be doing two talks and, if people sign up, a preconference during the 2013 joint conference in late April 2013). Initially, I planned to make the report available exclusively as a free 6×9″ PDF. To make an interesting cover page without needing to be an artist, I decided to create two mosaic strips, each 3″ high (900 pixels) and 5″ wide (1500 pixels), consisting of graphic elements taken from Washington and Oregon public library websites and Facebook pages. That didn’t always mean pictures of libraries; some Oregon libraries using Plinkit for their sites use images evocative of where they are.

I used the wonderful Windows Snipping Tool [if you ever need to capture screenshots and you’re using Windows, I suggest you find this tool–key “snip” in the Start box–and make a shortcut to it on the desktop or, better yet, the taskbar] to capture images from various libraries. I think I used Paint.NET to normalize image sizes and then to fit the three dozen (or so) images into two mosaic strips. It wasn’t difficult, and I was happy with the results. You can see a smaller version of those results, and the rest of the cover page, in this post (which also discusses the three talks).

Foreground

A bit more recently, I thought it would be nice to make the Washington/Oregon special report available to others as an example of what I could do for other states or groups of states, either as part of a speaking engagement or as a separate project. The person who I’m working with on the conference and I agreed that the following approach would be reasonable:

  • Beginning March 1, 2013 or thereabouts, the PDF–it’s a 73-page 6×9 PDF–will be available as a free download from Lulu. I’ll probably take it down around October 1, 2013. It will be available to anybody, and it’s the best example I have of at least one approach I could take.
  • When I do the formal announcement, I’ll also say how people can turn the PDF into a nice little printed book, albeit a book that’s just slightly smaller in each dimension (telling Adobe Reader to print it in booklet form, which puts two 6×9 pages–reduced to 91.7% of original size–on each side of 8.5×11″ paper and prints the pages so that, folded, they’ll be in proper order, then center-stapling the results).
  • I’ll offer a slightly expanded version of what I just said for a simple reason: Because 20 of the 73 pages include color graphs, a paperback Lulu edition would be expensive–the whole thing has to be printed in color, at $0.20 a page rather than $0.02 a page. Whereas a color laser printer or inkjet with, say, $0.03/page for black text and $0.15/page for 4% coverage in four colors (a lot more coverage than the color pages–except for the cover page–actually use), using $0.01/sheet paper, can probably print the whole thing for less than $6, maybe considerably less. (Actually, I’d guess around $3: since each “page” is really two pages, figure $0.03×37 plus $0.15×11 plus $0.36.)
  • But I’ll also offer a true book for those who might want it–and it will be a book, hardcover and all. It will probably cost around $30-$35, a couple of bucks more than production costs. (It will only be available while the PDF is available–probably March 1, 2013 to October 1, 2013.)
  • To do the book right, I needed to strip off the “cover page” and add a true cover–and I liked the idea of a wraparound cover with those mosaic strips wrapping all the way around. That meant having two strips each 900 pixels high by 4,260 pixels wide (front, back, spine and enough extra for the binding bleed). And it meant building a new cover 3,225 pixels high and 4,260 pixels wide.

I captured a whole bunch more images using Snipping Tool and normalized them (not all to the same size, but all to sizes that could plausibly be combined into a mosaic) with Pinta. I found Pinta a little less smooth than I was used to, but…well…OK.

If you’re wondering, which you’re probably not, both the original strips and the new strips are chosen to include a broad cross-section of libraries by LSA in both states; the new strips include roughly one out of three Oregon and one out of two Washington libraries–Washington has fewer libraries.

Then I wanted to paste the old Top strip into a new, much wider, Top2 strip and add more images to fill out the almost-three-times-as-wide strip. And immediately ran into trouble. Pinta would turn the bottom half of that large strip image into garbage. I “fixed” that by opening the strip, resizing the canvas to the new size, and going from there–but I ran into the part-garbage situation in a few other cases, when I was copying-and-pasting larger images. I also found that the copy-and-paste process was slow and difficult, enough so that I wound up with a few places where the pieces aren’t combined as carefully as I’d like. But since this was all just a frill, I accepted the results.

And then, wondering, decided to do the Bottom strip with Paint.NET rather than Pinta. It went much better–no problems with larger images, much smoother operation, some convenient info on the screen that Pinta didn’t offer and that made life easier… Well, it just went better. So much so that the Bottom strip became the Top strip for the new cover, since that’s more prominent. If this was a project where I anticipated lots of sales for the hardcover book (where “lots of” is significantly more than, say, 3 copies), I’d probably redo the other strip from scratch. I didn’t.

As you can probably guess, I used Paint.NET to create the full cover as well. Once I remembered the layer tricks to be able to get the spine text done properly (you have to put that text on a separate layer and rotate that layer–there are other ways, but that’s the most straightforward) and to have guidelines where I wanted them, it was a snap.

cvrsamp

Here’s a small version of the cover (you’d never see all of it–the leftmost and rightmost 1/3 inch or so is swallowed up by the binding, as are the top and bottom fraction of an inch). As you can see even at this small size, the bottom strip is, well, a little ragged by comparison to the top.

Conclusion

For me, at least, and with a Windows computer, Paint.NET is the tool of choice. It just seems to be more polished, smoother, more powerful. I wish I’d used it for both strips. (But for various reasons, it would be a LOT more work to go back and redo the bottom one…)

That doesn’t matter if you’re using Linux or Mac OS X: Paint.NET isn’t available.

It might be the other way around for some other uses–there are aspects of Pinta’s UI management that seem to be clearer and more modern. I think.

Of course, you can have both: they’re the same price. Still…after using both, I’m more fond of Paint.NET than I was before.


Update, February 22:
As I was maybe procrastinating a little on preparing the Powerpoint slides for the talk that features this book, I found myself touching up that lower strip with Paint.NET. Not redoing it entirely, but doing a little selective modification. It’s not perfect, but it’s a lot better. And I found it easier to do on Paint.NET.

After which, I did do the PPT…

Checking my math

Posted in Technology and software on January 14th, 2013

Just a tiny little post:

I just saw an ad for a powerful flashlight. The ad said the flashlight had a 55 watt bulb and a rechargeable 3 amp-hour 6 volt battery.

By my calculations, that means that the flashlight should run just under 20 minutes on a fully charged battery.

Am I missing something? Have the formulas changed?

Comments, if any, welcome.


This blog is protected by dr Dave\\\\\\\'s Spam Karma 2: 104741 Spams eaten and counting...