30 Years Ago… Remembering Challenger

30 Years Ago… Remembering Challenger

It’s hard to believe that the Challenger disaster happened 30 years ago today. I was in seventh grade at the time, and learned of it in school. First, the announcement over the PA system, then the remainder of the school day was spent watching the coverage on TV.

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Time For Some TV – Cosmos

Time For Some TV – Cosmos

I don’t watch a lot of television. When I do, it’s usually a New England local sports event. On the rare occasion I do find myself getting into a series, I am always late to the game: The Big Bang Theory, Parks and Recreation, Game of Thrones… I have been in catch up mode with all of these series when I first discover them. This also includes probably one of the best science series to be on television in a long, long time… Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey.

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Cosmos is an updated version of the TV series done in the 1980s by Carl Sagan, author of the book Cosmos. I have had a strong interest in astronomy going back to my childhood, and my late uncle John “loaned” me his copy of the book (which when I asked when he’d like it back some time later, he basically said that it was mine now). I have his copy to this day.

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Hosted by astrophysicist Neil DeGrasse Tyson, the updated Cosmos series explores multiple scientific concepts of our cosmos in the “Ship of the Imagination”. From the largest scale of the universe itself, down to the tiniest micro scale, the series explains these concepts in a way that both folks not from a science background, as well as those knowledgeable in science can appreciate. The fact that my wife (who generally isn’t into physics or astronomy) found the portions she watched very interesting is a testament to this. My son’s favorite part so far of those he watched was about the tardigrades.

This is one of the series’ appeal. That it can take concepts that can be hard to really appreciate at full scale, and put them in terms that can make it a bit easier to contemplate; e.g. taking the 13.8 billion years of the universe and condensing it into a single calendar “year”, and that all we know of human history takes place on December 31 of this cosmic calendar “year”.

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I plan on finally investing in a Blu-Ray player, and this will likely be the first title I get on Blu-Ray. It’s that good.

This is a series you can watch with your family. While the youngest of children may not grasp everything, depending on the particular child, I think age 10-12 is a great age where they can get a good understanding of the series. This is a series that I really believe helps start an interest of science in kids, and perhaps, hopefully reignites an interest in adults to become more scientifically literate. Not everyone can be a scientist, but everyone should attempt to become as scientifically literate as possible. This literacy can mean more knowledge you can bring to a family hike in the forest that you pass along to your kids; or to the voting booth or correspondence with our elected officials when important policy questions are being debated that involve technology and science.

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I Like Android, But I Have A Gripe…

I’ve been a long time Android user – approximately four years now since moving off of a feature phone, and using an iPod touch for my media consumption and apps. I’ve been mostly happy with Android, especially the latest revisions (Ice Cream Sandwich, Jelly Bean, and Kit Kat). So maybe this is less to do with Android itself, and more how Android devices are handled by carriers (and manufacturers)…
android-robot-logo-give-me-my-codeYes, I know I can root my phone, etc, to upgrade to a later version of code, but this is something that tech savvy people are likely to do. When I think of everyday users, these folks are not likely to do this, so they are stuck with whatever code their carrier has qualified. While new features are nice, what concerns me more are folks getting access to security updates.

I am reminded of this every time Apple releases an update to iOS. Just yesterday, iOS 7.0.6 was advertised to my son’s iPod Touch and my wife’s iPhone to fix a security issue, which I promptly installed for them. When Apple releases a code patch, it is available to the end user at that time. With Android, the user must wait weeks or months for the update to make it to their device, based on what testing is done at the carrier (assuming the device is not rooted, and the user has loaded their own version). My Nexus 7 (a wifi only tablet) is running 4.4.2, but yet my Galaxy Nexus phone is currently stuck on 4.2.2. While there is a 4.3 based code available for the Galaxy Nexus, Verizon has yet to release it to their customer base. (I’m not addressing Windows phone here since I have no experience with it, and honestly don’t know how updates are handled for these devices.)

So let’s think about it… Does my ISP (Comcast) dictate when and what patches or OS upgrades I can do to my home systems? Of course not – the idea sounds absurd, doesn’t it? So why are carriers essentially acting as the change control agent?

I hope this changes. Updates should be available to consumers at the time of their general availability.

Happy New Year 2014!

I wanted to take a moment and wish everyone a Happy New Year, and hope that you all have had a great Holiday season.

In reviewing my WordPress “year in review” that all WordPress.com users get, I realized that I have somewhat neglected this blog over the past year – two posts were published. Not quite the frequency I intended. I did make one change: if you haven’t noticed already, you can now reach the blog at http://scienceattic.com (the old URL of http://scienceattic.wordpress.com will still work though).

My goal for 2014 is to revitalize this blog. I hope to devote a little more time to write about tech and science topics that interest me, and maybe a few random topics as well.

Take care and Happy New Year!

Computer Conundrum Solved

A couple of months back, I was weighing my options for a new system. After I wrote my past post, I went and installed the evaluation version of Windows 8, and chose to use as my primary system, which turned out I did so for about three weeks. After all, I did want to give it a fair shake since I had not really used it since Consumer Preview. I’ll be honest, I am not quite as negative on Windows 8 as I was previously – there are noticeable performance improvements, and I started getting a little more used to the Start screen (once getting in the mode of hitting the windows key, then typing what app you want – ala Unity in Ubuntu). I still find it odd though that some system settings are in Metro, while others are still in the traditional Control Panel area. In the end, it still feels pretty disjointed. I’m hoping that Blue, now to be officially Windows 8.1 will solve some of this.

So in the end I chose a Mac, and purchased one about a month ago. Specifically a MacBook Pro 13″ – the base model, but had the RAM upgraded to 8GB. This was partially due to budget, and partially I found I like a smaller to medium footprint in a notebook, but still wanted decent hard drive space.

Now, I was still playing with Windows 8 some on the old system. I attempted to configure it for my son to use while we were going away for the weekend, but it had an issue with Minecraft complaining about video drivers. Once I installed what was supposed to be Windows 8 video drivers (ATI), Minecraft would run, but then the system would “blank out” after some time, and then not respond until you hard rebooted it. Time was running short, so for that trip, I had to revert back to Windows 7.

So back to the Mac. I like it. I am still relearning some things, but honestly remember quite a bit from when I used one last several years back. My setup is a 24″ monitor, keyboard, and mouse, with the laptop to the right opened as a secondary monitor. I’ve also moved the dock to the left side of the screen, as I’ve done in Windows when I use it, and as Unity does by default in Ubuntu. There is also a monitor to the left of the 24″ monitor, but that is hooked up to a cable box to use when I want to watch some TV.

One of the biggest adjustments I’ve needed to make is using Command instead of Control with keyboard shortcuts, i.e. Ctrl-C becomes Command-C in OSX. Once nice thing about having a mechanical keyboard is that I was able to physically move keycaps on the keyboard to match the remapping of keys I did. Note the Ctrl, Alt (equal to Option in OSX), and the blank “Windows” meta key used for Control.

To raise the laptop up so the screen is closer to the height of the main monitor, and also give some more room for the external mouse, I found Bench Cookies work quite well!

Some of you may be thinking, “once someone gets a Mac, they’ll want all their devices to be Apple”. This is true for some – one person I know also switched recently to Mac, then he quickly followed by getting an iPhone, replacing his Android. I tend to be a person who says “never say never”, but at this time I just don’t see myself adopting all things Apple or migrating into the Apple ecosystem. I am using OSX as an OS that gets out of my way. My wife has an iPhone, which I think is a great fit for her, but I personally still am more drawn to Android for my phone and tablet. I use Google products and really like how Android works with those products. My approach as I see it is very similar to Lamarr Wilson, with the difference being I have and like my Nexus 7 while he enjoys an iPad for a tablet. (If you are not familiar with Lamarr, check his channel out. He’s a very funny dude.)

So there it is. You can probably expect posts in the future that will include Mac, as well as Windows and Linux when I discuss OS related topics. Isn’t variety great?

The New Computer Conundrum

question-markI’ve been running on an aging low end laptop for close to a year now, after passing down my main system to my son after his system died. The laptop I’m on now was never meant to be my main system, but an extra for testing, or something I could bring down to the shop when I wanted (since then my Nexus 7 fills that role). It’s time to think about the next computer purchase.

And I’m torn.

It’s no secret that I’ve been critical of the “tabletization” of the desktop OS. I’ve generally liked Windows 7, and also like Linux. I like how Linux works, it’s open source philosophy, and customization options. That said, I’m a support engineer, which means I spend my day fixing broken systems (in my case a storage virtulization solution, which is built on top of Linux). I am finding that when I come home, especially now that I am getting more into video creation for my other blog, I have an increasing desire to not have to fix, tweak, or jump through a bunch of hoops to “get stuff done”.

So step one is to look at user requirements. What is the “stuff” I’m looking to “get done”? In short:

  • Web (and email, but I use the web interface of Gmail, so include it under web)
  • Office apps (whether it be MS Office or an alternative such as LibreOffice)
  • Sketchup (formerly by Google, since sold to Trimble)
  • Netflix, Hulu, watching DVDs
  • Music (Play and manage local files, as well as services such as Spotify)
  • As previously mentioned, video (and audio) creation and editing

Now what are the options I am considering? I should note that I’ve been running Ubuntu 12.10 for the last couple of months on this old laptop as an experiment to see how things will work, and to see how much I would be looking to go back to Windows 7 for a task. In short it’s been pretty good and I haven’t had a huge reason to want to go back to Windows, with one exception: video creation and editing. More on this below.

Options I’m considering in no particular order:

Windows 8

I don’t like Windows 8. No I don’t like it, Sam I am… OK, I never claimed to be Dr. Seuss. Seriously though, the Start screen (aka “Metro”)  in Windows 8 is the primary reason for my distaste. I tried, using both the Developer and Consumer Previews. I won’t reiterate what I’ve already mentioned in previous posts about the new Start screen. Let’s suffice to say though I need the truck. I don’t think I should need to install third party apps, or do registry edits to make my operating system behave as the operating system with the features enabled that I use.

If I were given a free Windows 8 system now, the first thing I would do is disable the Start screen and enable the traditional Start menu, either by registry edits or third party apps (less preferable) to make it more like Windows 7. Maybe I sound like a grumpy old man, but it really seems this was change for the sake of change, not added usability. I will say it makes sense for mobile, but that then brings me back to the point I’ve made in the past that when a mobile experience is what I need, I’ll reach for my tablet or phone. When I am on a desktop/laptop, it’s because I need it to do something more. The experience on the desktop vs. mobile does not need to be the same. The one plus that Windows 8 has going for it is the reported performance improvements.

Windows 7

You can still get systems with Windows 7, or I could buy a system with Windows 8, then install 7 instead (but that then counts as buying an OEM licence for Windows 8). I said that I generally like Windows 7. My concern here is support. Officially, their site states that mainstream support ends January 2015 (extended is 2020, but this is only available to corporate customers). I generally get, and expect, more than two years of service from my systems, especially if I am paying a bit more for better than low end hardware.

Linux

I like Linux. I like how it works (navigating both the GUI and CLI), and have played with several distributions. I mentioned that I am currently running Ubuntu 12.10. I have also used to varying degrees previous versions of Ubuntu (and derivatives) and Linux Mint as my main usage distro, and others for testing them out. Unity has grown on me some, and I consider it superior to Windows 8 Start environment… at least in Unity, it still acts like a desktop. I’m not crazy about the inclusion of web in the search, but at least this is easily turned off. At times, I’ve had some sluggishness, but I would not want to pin blame on Unity, since I am running on older hardware and it could be either (or both).

I like that Linux stands for freedom of choice, customization, and the control it provides. What is an issue still though is options for video creation and editing. There are some promising projects, but they are not where they need to be yet. I’ve tried Openshot, Kdenlive, and Cinelerra. The learning curve is a bit much for what I’m looking to do when it comes to Cinelerra. I had issues with Openshot bringing in captions (using Inkscape, there is no internal way that I know of to do it), and while I did get a movie edited with Kdenlive, I found it odd that I needed to relaunch it using sudo in order to have it render the video. This isn’t exactly what I have in mind when I state I’m in the mode of “getting stuff done”. Linux is great, but for me, it’s clear there are still limitations that will prove frustrating in everyday use. I will still continue to use it though as a “hobbyist” either on a test system, and/or a virtual machine.

Mac

It’s been a long time since I’ve used a Mac. When I did, I generally liked it, although it was not my primary system. When I was in a network support/operations role, I had three systems on my desk: Windows (XP), Solaris, and Mac. Each did some things better than others. There was one other time I considered buying a Mac for my personal use. It was back in the Windows Vista days and I had issues with performance degrading on my system. But then Windows 7 came out and fixed many of those issues. I now find myself once again considering the Mac.

I’m either odd, or just part of a larger, but much quieter group of people in that I am neither a huge Apple fan and devotee, nor an Apple hater. We have iPods and an iPad in the house, but I use Android as my main mobile environment (Nexus 7 and Galaxy Nexus). I think Apple makes high quality products, albeit expensive, that deserve thoughtful consideration. I’ve been critical of Apple at times, for example, being “paternal” (perceived attitude that they know better than the user what they want their user experience to be), or overzealous in patent litigation (huge rabbit hole here discussion here, and they are not the only guilty party). I also give them credit though. Even though it is a more controlled (or maybe because it’s a more controlled) experience, they have an environment where it is easier for most folks to “get stuff done”, especially, it seems, in the content creation area. My thinking here is if I do purchase a Mac, I would use iMovie for the video editing, then decide later if I should move to something like Final Cut or Adobe Premiere.

What are your thoughts? Anything I haven’t considered in your opinion? Please though, no flame wars :).

Let The Truck Be A Truck

Let The Truck Be A Truck

A few posts back I made reference to “tabletizing” the desktop/laptop OS. Since that post, Linux Mint has remained at the top position on Distrowatch, followed by Mageia, then Ubuntu. Distrowatch may not be the “be all end all” of distro ratings, but seems to be one of the best indicators of at least interest of a particular distro.

Linux Mint’s main offering of their latest version (13, an LTS or Long Term Support release) comes in two main different desktops: Cinnamon, and MATE. Cinnamon is an offering to make the Gnome 3 desktop a more traditional desktop, while MATE is a Gnome 2 fork for those that really want to stay with that experience. Mint also offers an xfce and KDE edition. I am currently running the xfce variant of Linux Mint 13 on my Linux box.

I have not followed Mageia closely, but understand it to be a community fork of Mandriva that came about when Mandriva fell on some difficult times financially. They have a default environment of KDE, but also offers Gnome 3, xfce, lxde, and a couple of others.

From various places I’ve read around the net, folks seem to be still critical of Unity (the default Ubuntu desktop environment), as well as the desktop formerly known as Metro for Windows 8. Of course there are some folks that seem to like those interfaces, but to my unscientific observations, there seem to be more folks critical of these “tablet oriented” interfaces on the desktop/laptop than those embracing it.

My take, and it seems there are others who may agree, is when a tablet experience is all I need, then I will reach for my tablet. When I am on a desktop or laptop though, it’s because I need it to do something more. Something the tablet either cannot do, or do as well or efficiently as a laptop or desktop.

The late Steve Jobs made the analogy that personal computers are like trucks. At one time, when the US was much more of a farming nation, most folks had trucks. As that trend changed though to less farming and into other occupations, less trucks were used in favor of cars. Of course, trucks never went away, and similarly, I don’t see personal computers completely going away anytime soon.

So why “tabletize” the experience of a personal computer? I know in the case of Windows 8, I can click on the “Desktop” tile to get to a more traditional, Windows 7-like experience, or do some registry hack. When looking at the case with Ubuntu, I can install a different evironment.

But I shouldn’t have to.

Why take the truck (in this example, let’s assume the standard pickup), and cut 6 feet off of the 8 foot bed, taking a key function of the truck and reducing it to a significantly less function? It seems to me that the truck functions as a truck when, well, we let it remain a truck.