Archive for the ‘ Tech ’ Category

2016: The Year of Automation?

I was at a tech training conference the other month and recently discovered Zappier and If This Then That. So here I am jumping on the bandwagon!

So far I’ve only setup If This Then That and only a handful of things:

  • When NASA’s image of the day changes, change my android phone’s wallpaper
  • Save Fitbit sleep logs to Google Spreadsheets
  • Document Fitbit activity to Google Spreadsheet
  • Log every time I charge my phone to a google spreadsheet
  • Liked YouTube videos post to this site
  • Uploaded public YouTube videos post to this site
  • Twitter tweets post to this site
  • New Flickr photos post to this site

The phone wallpaper change is pretty neat, I like having the new backgrounds daily. Some of the other ones are interesting for data logging. The main big/good change is that it’s much easier to setup integrations here so the old webpage will see some activity. Admittedly all I’ve been mostly using this site for is my tiny tiny rss installation. Ideally this site is a nexus for all these other cool technologies and converging in one space.

This has made me really want to look into the smart lighting and smart car automations that ITTT has with Auto and Hue. Even Nest as well. Setup a scenario where as I leave, the thermostat is automatically turned off when I’m gone. As I come home or as I enter the lights turn on for me, etc. OR this is all a hilarious overuse of technology and it just highlights my want to throw money at my laziness.

Here are the 3 I tried based on recommendation: Feedly | TheOldReader.com | Tiny Tiny RSS

When I tried Feedly here’s what I liked/hated

Liked

  • Imported starred items
  • Relatively quick in response
  • Great iPad app (very similar to Flipboard)

Hated (please note, things changed I hear since I last used this so some of these complaints may or may not be valid)

  • Required extension (I hear they have a website now)
  • Lack of a mark articles as read older than x days. I am a heavy heavy user of this feature

So the hated list is super short and in fact a non-issue and you would think I would have migrated to Feedly but I perhaps jumped on that ship too early and now it’s too late to win me back.

TheOldReader.com likes/hates

Liked

  • Very classic Reader interface
  • I enjoy seeing numbers beyond 1000 (ex. 1252 items unread)

Hated

  • Update speed. There’s something about it that felt a little behind when using it side by side with Google Reader. 
  • Overall speed, felt a bit sluggish. However using it now it feels a bit zippier
  • Lack of a mark articles as read older than x days. I am a heavy heavy user of this feature
  • No starred items imported
  • While it has a very classic interface, it’s also got a lot of dead space

And finally Tiny Tiny RSS

Likes

  • Full control! Will never die since I host it!
  • Speedy, feels great scrolling and j/k-ing through articles
  • Has mark as read over x days old
  • Imported starred items
  • Shows fresh articles (articles X hours old)
  • Customizable look via css

Hates

  • Update speed limited to either last 15 minutes or manual refresh if you’re looking at a feed
  • Broken RSS feeds had to be manually fixed
    • This is not actually TTRSS’s fault. Google Reader auto-found any broken RSS feeds but in the import I had to manually fix a bunch of them

I installed it on this webserver and my regret is that I’m running off mysql instead of postgresql which I hear is much faster. I’m toying around with the idea of running a VM at home and trying out how much better it would be like that however the overhead of ensuring the security seems like a pain. Really though, what I love about TTRSS is that it has all the features I use plus more. I really didn’t have to sacrifice as much (no starred/keyboard shortcuts/marking as read) as other services plus I don’t live in fear that someone will sink and I have to migrate yet again.

I do understand that not many people have the luxury of installing and running TTRSS. Sounds like at work, the coworkers are using Feedly. I think if theoldreader let me import starred items things would be pretty different. AOL, Digg, and even Facebook are rumored to get in on the RSS bandwagon so while this is the close of the silver age of RSS, the future seems pretty good actually.

I remember growing up the only phone I had was in my house. Today it’s extremely convenient to be able to call from anywhere but I rarely do it. If anything, I only need to text periodically. I wondered if it would be possible to ditch the smartphone plan which is basically $70+  a month but keep the benefits of having a smartphone. Additionally I wondered if I could do this while keeping my phone number.

After some research, the basic answer is yes. You’ll need these things:

I won’t go into the details of setting up the accounts for all of these things. If you have a Google account for anything (ex. gmail) then you have a voice account, you just need to go to voice.google.com to set it up.

The voice app for the Touch lets you make calls and make/send text messages but it doesn’t seem to send/receive calls. Talkatone lets you make calls using VoIP and your Google voice number. Setting up Textfree lets you have a phone number for the device which you register with Google voice. From there you can setup call forwarding from the Google voice number to go to the Textfree number.

If you have a current cell phone number you can most likely port it over to Google voice. So if you dump your cell carrier you can transparently make this change to everyone without having to give out a new phone number. It’s a bit complicated but it looks kind of like this

  • Send/Receive texts: Google Voice App
  • Send calls: Talkatone
  • Receive calls: Textfree

The downside to this setup is what I alluded to in the beginning. You only have service where you have WiFi, which may only be your home. For me it’s currently home and office and most places I hang out has free WiFi. WiFi enabled places keep going up by the day so this is sort of a very forward thinking setup. If you can live without a cell phone in your car, this is great.

If you can’t though, there are a lot of devices that let you have WiFi anywhere. For example the Virgin MiFi 2200 will connect to Sprint’s 3G network and give you WiFi. The rates are pretty decent, especially compared to smartphone prices. $10 for 10 days with a 100MB cap. Alternately $50 a month with no data cap. You have to pay for the device though but I think the combination of the iPod Touch and MiFi with a $50 plan pays for itself pretty quickly vs having an iPhone 4 with unlimited texting plan and unlimited voice:

  • $229 for iPod + $149 for MiFi + $50/month
  • $199 for phone + $134.99/month

First month is $428 for the iPod plan vs $333.99. The second month total cost is $478 for the iPod vs  $468.98. The third month is $528 for the iPod vs $603.97. Keep in mind this is before all the taxes for having a phone which means the second month is probably the first month where the iPod setup is cheaper than the iPhone. Also if you can deal with a 300MB cap you could just pay $30 a month, or if you can live with a phone only at home for any of those months, ignore the MiFi monthly price. I suppose I should also factor in the price for Internet and a wireless router at home but for the most part you’d probably have this already.

So there you have it, the smartphone without the carrier is totally possible with much more flexible plans for giving you more mobility for how you want to use it.

Download Accelerators and Chrome

Out of all my computers, the only computer that uses Chrome as the default browser is my laptop. My work and home PC both use Firefox as default, but my usage is still 95% Chrome vs Firefox. The only reason I kept Firefox as default was a silly set of reasons. One, it’s slightly easier to add a bookmark and manage it in the side panel for me. And two, Free Download Manager works natively in Firefox.

Long long ago when I used dial up, download accelerators were kind of all the rage. It would basically do magic by which you could get to fully saturate your downstream. Now, modern accelerators work by making multiple connections to a server to download a file in pieces by which you can fully utilize your download speed. Once you get used to this you’re hooked. For me personally, most of the non-accelerated speeds for downloads are maybe like 200-500KB/s. After I started using FDM though they always download at 1.2MB/s which is my full download speed.

Now the problem with switching to Chrome was that FDM had poor support for Chrome. So I was sort of stuck between browsers if I wanted to do any heavy downloading. Now though, I finally found a plugin for Chrome to help out, Download Assistant.

The reason for the post though is that it seems like it’s tricky to setup for whatever reason, or maybe just tricky for me since I was going the upgrade path. So here’s how I had to do it.

  1. Get/install Chrome
  2. Get/install FDM
  3. In FDM go to Options -> Settings -> Monitoring
  4. Check Google Chrome
  5. Get Download Assistant
  6. In Chrome go to Tools -> Extensions -> Download Assistant Options
  7. Set FDM as the download manager and hit save and close
  8. Close both Chrome AND FDM. By close I mean exit the program.
  9. Restart FDM

Ok at this point FDM will start intercepting downloads from Chrome, making it pretty much the greatest thing ever. If you’ve never used FDM you’ll probably want to check out all the options and other settings because it’s pretty neat on it’s own.

Chrome: Keyword Searches

I just finished the whole upgrade to Windows 7 shebang and started the painful process of getting my bookmarks sorted (thanks xmarks!) and then working on my keyword searches. Fortunately in Firefox they were imported with xmarks since it stores the keyword data in the bookmarks folder. Chrome did something new though.

If you’re using the release version which should be 5.something they’ve basically automated keyword bookmark entries. This is great since you usually have to find the search URL and add that info into the bookmark. However now all you have to do is browse to whatever sites you normally go to, then right click the address bar and go to Edit Search Engines… From there the defaults are on top but below it will populate a list of all sites you’ve gone to with search boxes. If you edit them you can customize the keyword from the default website.com generic keyword to excellent abbreviations.

For example, I change youtube.com to yt. Now when I hit control+L and then type “yt something” and hit enter it will search youtube for the word something. Obviously change “something” to whatever you’re searching for.

You can see what I was talking about in the edit box where the third line says URL:. You used to have to fish around for that and then paste it in there which sucked, but now Chrome has become totally badass!

My choice of keywords

yt: youtube
w: wikipedia
az: amazon

I stick to two letter abbreviations but for imdb I use imdb. I have a lot of esoteric searches I use which follow the same convention. Anyway, browsing becomes a lot speedier (and more command line feely) when you get used to the speed of keyword searching. Very tough to watch people go to a site, click on the search bar (if the site doesn’t automatically go to it) and start typing away.

Google Reader Starter Kit

Google Reader (the best piece of software you probably aren’t using) recently added the ability to share out the RSS feeds you have which makes it easy to give out the subscriptions a person has to their friends. As such I’ve generated a kit with a few of my feeds setup by the folders I have them organized into.

You should be able to just go visit those links, if you’re signed into your Google account hit subscribe and be done. I don’t know if it’s smart enough to add them into folders, but my suggestion is after you add each package, you immediately go into settings -> subscriptions and then create a folder for each bundle.

Friendfeed

Man I didn’t realize how great Friendfeed is. Again one of those things I hear people talking about but haven’t setup myself. It’s basically what my site does, it aggregates all the stuff you are setup for and then puts it into one tidy page so you can do a fast reference of what you’ve been up to. As said below my feed is located at: www.friendfeed.com/timothyhanson and it pulls together all my social networking stuff (except Facebook) in one nice feed.

I’m not sure how Facebook’s acquisition of the site will affect it since there’s already a Friendfeed app for Facebook (that gets kinda spammy and not sure if it affects the home updates) but it will be interesting I guess. I’m toying around with how it interacts on this site and I think I can jam updates into the main article section. If you have subscriptions or accounts with any of the links on the top right, I’d suggest also signing up for Friendfeed to pull it all together.

Twitter/Facebook

It’s always amusing to hear the reaction when you tell people you do/don’t use Twitter/Facebook. It’s been about a year, maybe a little more since I started using Twitter. It’s an interesting thing that’s captured people. Someone at the wedding said “I don’t care if you’ve been eating a taco today!” It’s true that for general or normal people, you may not get the same degree of interest as someone in the spotlight, but if you use it among friends you’ll find interesting tidbits of info about people without having to ask.

I also find that it’s a more accessible style of RSS. If you follow the right people or even use search you can be kept up on really current events. Interesting you can lag behind quite a bit as well. I’ve been doing daily Starcraft 2 searches and I’ll find some gems but the bulk of the news in that area is people finding out there’s no LAN which is month old news. Lots of news sites are also on Twitter so like I said, you can use this as a much easier to use/understand RSS client.

I guess there’s a lot of quality control that’s difficult to filter for new users. Do you want to know when someone is pooping or do you want to be kept up to date with [insert news outlet of choice]? Another problem is what software do you use to keep up with Twitter? I suspect most people assume that you can only access it from the web site and have no idea that there are really great suites like Tweetdeck around, although personally Tweetdeck eats up too much memory for my tastes.

Twitter has this sort of raw, behind the scenes feel to it though. When you’re following someone with more than 50,000 followers you feel like you’re getting an uncensored window into the actual person that doesn’t have to be fed through some PR machine. For now I guess there’s going to be a sharp division on whether or not you find it useful, but I’d advise getting a username you want now.

Ok on to Facebook. I’ve always been against the MySpace/Facebook trend because I always considered them Geocities 2.0. I mean looking at MySpace you still get that feeling, those layouts are generally horrible. Secondly, I already had this site locked down and didn’t seen the need to have accounts there.

As for Facebook I just lumped it in there because it seemed like they went hand in hand, but I broke down and snagged an account. The user base is just stupidly large. I’m very irritated that I lost out on the facebook.com/timothyhanson page so I dunno what I’m going to do about that. I guess you can’t have it all.

Looks like another button for the Around the Web, though that does throw off the sizing of that area. I really need to find a Pandora button to use as well.

My G13 Review

G13

Ok I picked this up for WoW which strangely I’m playing less of, however there are tons of other games on my to play list that this will be useful for. Basically, it’s a USB mini-keyboard that uses Logitech’s key profiler software that allows you map the keys to a variety of things including single key presses, mouse clicks, and macros which can combine key presses, delays and mouse clicks.

A friend of mine suggested the Belkin n52te (http://www.n52te.com/) and I looked long and hard at both. Ultimately what I wanted was more buttons. In WoW alone I have every key mapped in one keyset (you can have 3 for your active profile) and in the n52te I would have had to overlap into a second or third keyset. Additionally, pairing the G13 with my G15 adds a second LCD so I have multi-mini-monitors. I use one for vent and the other for either CPU temp or performance monitor.

Size/Comfort
The actual device is as tall as my G15 with wrist wrest, has a nice curvy height for comfort, and is a little wider than my hand. There are usually display units at Best Buy for you to check these things out. But for me, it’s a little too big. My hands are between small and medium size and I feel like the unit is made for large hands. This is fine because if you made them for small hands then it would be far less pleasant for large handed people to use tiny keys. But I thought I’d note this because some keys like G1 and G7  are kind of far out there.

My biggest concern was going to be that my translation from keyboard to the gamepad would be uncomfortable because my thumb wouldn’t have a natural place to hit the spacebar equivalent. Fortunately the two keys by the joystick work out great for spacebar and the transition I’d say is nearly seamless.

WoW
Ok so for the most part the only game I’ve been using it for is WoW.  I’ve actually been playing a lot more War3 lately than WoW but unfortunately I can’t use the gamepad for War3. This isn’t the gamepad’s fault though! War3 and Starcraft don’t allow remapping of hotkeys for units, actually you can in War3 but it’s cumbersome. As you select new units/buildings in these games they keys for special abilities change even though the placement in the UI is in the same exact location. So anyway, the only game I can really start gushing about is going to be WoW and I have to say, the game feels a lot better.

My old layout was basically a default mapping of most things. QWEASD to move and strafe and 1 though = for abilities that I doubly mapped to the number pad. When I’d play I’d frequently move my right hand from the mouse to the number pad to fire off whatever spell I needed. In general this is ok except for target switching where I’d have to pray that tab would work well enough or I’d have to move my hand in the cast time of my spell back to my mouse. Also, camera motion and quick flipping becomes difficult as well. I used the number pad because I didn’t like having to look down to make sure I hit the 7 through = keys with the left hand. This is probably widely accepted as a poor setup but it’s what I got used to.

Now however, with the G13 I never have to move my hand off the mouse! All my number pad days on my right hand are now shifted to my left hand. I didn’t map the contoured keys (G4/G10/G11/G12) to WASD though which is what I’m sure they’re supposed to be bound to, or maybe for FPS anyway, but I did bind the joystick to QWES. So now I’m moving with my thumb and all the keys for the fingers are spells.

I was very concerned that it would be too hard to make the switch, but it’s been very easy so far. And since I have two actual monitors, I keep the key profiler up on the second monitor to double check. My main spells are pretty easy and were a great quick switch, but some of my abilities I use very infrequently but did map often I forget where they are.

One key that kind of sucks as a key is the joystick itself. You can map it’s up, down, left, right, and pressed as keys. But to press they joystick is incredibly difficult. So that kind of sucks. I wonder if wear will make it easier.

Software
Alright if you aren’t familiar with a G15’s keys and the profiler I’ll highlight how great this software is.  The G13 (and G15) both use a tray app that allows you to map your keys to profiles that can be locked onto running executables. This means when you setup your WoW profile, you can lock it to the wow.exe file and it will flip to WoW mode whenever WoW is the foreground app. Otherwise you have a default mode and whatever other games it auto detects. You can manually add in executables and turn this into a really nice productivity thing with macros as well, so you don’t have to pidgeon hole the device as a gaming only doodad.

If you find that you need more keys than the G13 offers, you have 3 different modes per profile. So for myself, my mage and my priest play very differently, and as such I have 2 different modes for WoW that accomodate them. They always seem to advertise the number of available keys as 87 (29 keys * 3 modes) but I don’t think it’s practical to switch modes while playing. I only say this because the mode buttons are at the top, but you can map any of the keys to the 3 different modes so if you had room for them to flip around then I guess it’s possible, but confusing. Perhaps more advanced people users would get more use out of that.

So besides just assigning normal keys to the buttons you can assign macros/scripts/text blocks/app shortcuts to them as well. I’ve not used scripts/text but for my default windows use on my G15 I have an array of app shortcuts mapped as well as cut/copy/paste. An example macro for my mage is blizzard/flamestrike. When you have these abilities hotkeyed and you press the hotkey, there requires a follow up mouse press to aim the spell. However in my G13/G15 setup I have it press the hotkey and then do a left mouse click after so I just have to have the mouse aimed and it will autofire. You can define delays between events (like if I want it to press the button and wait 1 second just to make sure I aim correctly) as well so you can be very specific. They allow a lot of control over what you want these buttons to do.

Conclusion
Overall I’m very pleased with the G13.  I’m only depressed that I won’t get a lot of use out of it for SC2 unless they allow remapping keys (and allow it to be easier than the War3 method). I mean honestly, what people want with the SC1/War3/SC2 keybinds that would be really easy is to translate the UI elements on the bottom right to the left side of the keyboard. So the top row of buttons are QWERT, the second row is ASDFG, etc.. But we’ll see. That aside, the price is kind of high. The only reason I bought it was due to Best Buy gift certificates I had that dropped the price a bit. But I suppose the extra price is worth it in the buttons, since like I said, the alternative was to have quite a few less.

Windows 7 Pre-Sale

A reminder: Microsoft is offering Win7 Upgrade versions at a significantly reduced price until this saturday.

Preorder Windows 7 cheaply

In select markets, Microsoft is offering its customers the ability to preorder Windows 7 upgrade versions at a significantly reduced price. This is easily the most aggressive pricing Microsoft has ever offered for Windows. The low preorder price will vary per country:

  • US: Windows 7 Home Premium ($49.99) and Windows 7 Professional ($99.99)
  • Canada: Windows 7 Home Premium ($64.99) and Windows 7 Professional ($124.99)
  • Japan: Windows 7 Home Premium (¥7,407) and Windows 7 Professional (¥14,073)
  • UK: Windows 7 Home Premium (£49.99) and Windows 7 Professional (£99.99)
  • France and Germany: Windows 7 Home Premium (€49.99) and Windows 7 Professional (€109.99)

The deal includes select retail partners, such as Best Buy and Amazon, as well as the online Microsoft Store. This program begins Friday, June 26 in the US, Canada, and Japan. It goes on while supplies last or until July 11 in the US and Canada, and until July 5 in Japan. For the UK, France, and Germany, the preorder starts July 15 and runs while supplies last or until August 14. Microsoft was not willing to discuss the limits of the supplies, but a spokesperson did confirm to Ars that the reduced prices for the European countries will simply apply to the full version (as noted above), as upgrade versions will not exist in Europe. In short, these preorders will allow those in the UK, Germany, and France to purchase full versions of Home Premium or Professional, except without IE8, for a very low price.