New Eyes

I think it’s time for a new monitor.

I have a pretty sweet computer setup, with a monster tower and three monitors, but lately there’s been a bit of a problem. You see, I make a living doing high-end graphics and I also have a pretty serious photography hobby, both of which demand displays that can give me the best images and most true-to-life color reproduction as possible. As I said before, I have three monitors. On the left is my newest monitor, a two-year-old Asus VE278Q. On the right is a ten-year-old Acer AL1916w. And in the center, my main monitor, is the once-awesome, eight-year-old Planar PX2611W.

And it’s the Planar that needs to go.

Colors are shifting, brightness is uneven, fast moving objects like the mouse pointer blur and smear on the screen, and there’s a wavy pattern on the right side that is constantly annoying me while I’m working on graphics and photos. Now, the thing still works, so I don’t want to just throw it away, but it’s obviously not going to continue being my main monitor. All of which is why I think I’ll move the Planar to the right on my desk, which will mean my Acer will move to the donation pile. This will leave me just enough room for a brand new monitor, and I think I’ve found just the baby for me.

ASUS_PA279QThe ASUS PA279Q is a 27 inch, 2560×1440, WQHD, AH-IPS display specifically designed for photo editing and graphic design work. It’s color reproduction ability is amazing. The rated color accuracy is 99% Adobe RGB, 100% sRGB, and 120% NTSC, all of which basically means this monster can show nearly every color that’s possible for current-tech monitors to display. It tilts, swivels and telescopes and has six built-in USB 3.0 ports and a 9-in-1 card reader. And the reviews are universally positive.

Oh, mamma. Sooooo sexy.

So, having done my due diligence by reading reviews, checking expert opinions and comparison shopping, I am pulling the trigger and buying this puppy tonight. By Tuesday I should have it in my hot and sweaty hands and by Tuesday evening it should be all set up and ready to go. Sometime in the next couple of weeks I’ll write up a little review of both the monitor and the X-Rite ColorMunki Display that I’m also buying so I can properly calibrate my monitors. And maybe, if I’m really feeling my cheery-oats, I’ll do a video review as well.

But I wouldn’t hold my breath for that.

Push Pins

Stick a PIN On It

I think I need a personal assistant.

Well, maybe not a personal assistant, per say. Maybe what I really need is just a Personal Internet Nag  who will contact me once a day, every weekday, to make sure I’ve accomplished the tasks I promised I would do that day. And they’d also give me feedback on any tasks I might have accomplished the previous day if that’s something the task needs. In return, I would be that person’s PIN, too. Nagging them about the things they promised to accomplish so that they also stay focused and on target for their goals.

Let’s take a look at how this might work.

Let’s say a hypothetical person wanted to write a book, practice photography, update a couple of blogs, AND learn how to code PHP. That’s a whole lot of stuff to do and each task takes up a whole lot of time. And let’s also say that this hypothetical person also has other responsibilities like taking care of children, cooking, cleaning and a host of other tasks that take up a large portion of their day. Said hypothetical person might, just MIGHT, become overwhelmed and/or dissuaded from even TRYING to accomplish their goals when they realize just how much TIME each task takes and how little free time they actually have.

Enter the Personal Internet Nag.

Hypothetical person wants to write a book? Stick a PIN on it and every Monday evening, Hypothetical person would get an email requesting that week’s work accompanied by a short critique of last week’s submission. Hypothetical person wants to code PHP? Stick a PIN on it and every Thursday morning hypothetical person receives an email asking for confirmation of completion of an online course like Code Academy or W3Schools. Want to learn photography? Stick a PIN on it and every Friday you have to send them a complete, edited, gallery-ready photo. Want to learn how to crotchet? Stick a PIN on it and every Tuesday you have to send them a photo of your latest creation.

See how helpful this could be?

I bet you’re asking, “Well, this sounds good, but what if hypothetical person DOESN’T do what they’re supposed to do? What’s the penalty?” Well, don’t get your panties in a bunch because I’ve thought about this, too. Of course, the penalty would necessarily be different for each person, because what works with one person may not be a deterrent to another. But some ideas could be; monetary fines for missing deadlines, a photo of the person holding a sign shaming them for their lack of discipline that will be posted on FB for all to see, a 500 word essay espousing the virtues of the PIN to be shared with the world, the naming of a book character after the PIN, etc., etc..

Yeah, a PIN would be awesome.

And I actually mean it because a PIN would be very, very helpful for me. I have so many projects going on that it’s sometimes extremely difficult to concentrate on any one project for longer than a couple of days before I am distracted by another one, and so NOTHING I want to accomplish seems to ever get finished. It’s frustrating to the max.

So… anyone want to be my PIN?

The Return

Testing The Waters

And I’m back.

After over two years of inactivity, I’ve finally gotten to the point that I might be able to begin writing again. I’m hoping that I can because truth be told, I miss this site, being silly and writing things that make me laugh. Putting my thoughts out there for the world to read was rewarding to me on a spiritual level and without this outlet in my life I’ve been feeling a bit lost. Yes, it’s true, I have a wonderful family life, a challenging work life, and plenty of hobbies that have taken up my time these past two years. But writing on this site has always been something I enjoyed doing just for the sake of doing it, and I have really missed it.

So, nothing much more to say. Just saying I think I’m back… again.

Uhmmmm…

I don’t know how to leave if you just keep staring at me. Could you maybe blink, or turn around, or something?

Soooo awkward.

Anime Becomes Reality

A few years ago I became infatuated with a remarkable piece of anime called Denno Coil. I won’t be spending time here explaining all the intricate details of the plot and characters, mostly because that’s what the Denno Coil Wikipedia page is for, but I do want to bring to light one soon-to-be-real aspect of the show.

AR glasses.

That’s right, thanks to the tireless innovation machine that is Google, there may well soon be real AR glasses you can wear around town. Now, while I’m positive that the first iteration of Google’s AR glasses will not be the sleek, modern and nearly invisible units shown in Denno Coil, what I am positive of is that if they don’t screw it up completely this will be the next big technological wave every other tech company will be trying to catch up with in the not-too-distant future. When I first saw Denno Coil, I must have driven my wife crazy as I literally shouted, “Why hasn’t someone invented this yet?!” every five minutes. And it wasn’t just the AR glasses I was so amazed by. It was the entire, interactive, virtual reality world where the children were playing that was overlaid upon the “real” world. It was the interactive maps, virtual assistants, virtual pets and all the other things the glasses made possible.

And yes, you could also make phone calls using them, too.

I don’t know if Google’s AR glasses will be the “right” implementation of the AR glasses concept, because I for one don’t think hand gestures alone are the best way to interact with the AR. I’d think a combination of hand gestures, voice commands and tracking eye movement would be best. However, the fact that Google has so much information at their disposal that they could connect you to, so much data they could put in front of you for your AR pleasure, it makes me hopeful that one day we will actually reach the level of total interactivity with the virtual world that Denn? Coil will seem less like fantastic science fiction and more like plain, old science.

And on that day Neal Stephenson will smile and say, “Told you so.”

I Hate SOPA/PIPA

I was going to write a long and drawn out post explaining what SOPA and PIPA are, why enacting them into law would fundamentally change the internet for Americans in a distressingly negative way, and what you could do to make your opposition heard AND counted. However, this infographic combined with this one-sheet breakdown from EFF and this easily digestible website from Google do the job much better than I could have on my own.

So, here’s what you can do right now to stop these two poorly written and ultimately draconian bills from becoming law.

The Simple, Fast and Easy method:
Go to Google’s Anti-SOPA/PIPA site, fill out the form on the right and click “Sign the Petition”.

The Slightly More Involved Method:
1) Look up your senator to find out if he/she supports or opposes.

2) Click on your appropriate representative’s photo or name to get their contact information.

3) Print out the following on a piece of actual paper, sign it and physically mail it to your Senator.

I am writing to you as a voter in your district. I urge you to oppose S. 968, the PROTECT IP Act. The PROTECT IP Act is dangerous, ineffective, and short-sighted. It does not deserve floor consideration. I also urge my representative to vote “no” on SOPA, the corresponding House bill.

Over the coming days you’ll be hearing from the many businesses, advocacy organizations, and ordinary Americans who oppose this legislation because of the myriad ways in which it will stifle free speech and innovation. We hope you’ll take our concerns to heart and oppose this legislation by voting “no” on cloture.

4) Share this post with EVERYONE you know so they can add their voice to the opposition of SOPA/PIPA.

Political Anger Management

I am sick and tired of politics in my country.

Over the last 12 or so years, something’s been bothering me about the political system in America and I’m finally at the point that I can’t keep silent anymore. You see, I’ve been wondering why We The People keep electing self-selected, career politicians into office instead of searching for and electing the people who are best suited for the job of actually running the country. The politicians have made it VERY clear via their actions and history that the only thing that can possibly motivate them to actually do their jobs is the threat of losing power, or the promise of acquiring MORE power. In the rare instances that an elected official has a clear and workable plan for doing something that the majority of the country wants done (whatever that thing might be) other elected officials will do their very best to thwart that plan for the sole purpose of pandering to a tiny but vocal select minority of people to whom they are beholden, or from whom they wish to curry favor.

Why do We The People stand for this?

Where does it state that We The People can only elect someone to office from the pool of choices handed to us by those ALREADY in power? Isn’t there a write-in candidate section on the ballot? Why can’t We The People, who now have nearly unfettered and unregulated access to the great knowledge dispenser known as the internet, find someone the majority of us can agree would actually do their job and write that name in on the ballot? A single website, where anyone can be nominated by anyone, followed by a Wikipedia-like vetting of those candidates, and a constant online poll to narrow the pool down to a manageable number, seems like a FAR better way to discover viable candidates than the current method of… Well, of what? How, exactly are the current crop of candidates selected? Does anyone know? As far as I can tell, people simply declare their intention to run and wait for whichever party they’re a part of to bless their campaign. If no blessing is forthcoming, the self-proclaimed candidate just vanishes in a network news cycle.

Or worse, they become a political commentator on basic cable.

Look, it is my personal opinion that ANYONE who actively seeks an elected position in a capacity higher than that of Mayor is someone that should NOT be elected into office. I believe that term limits should be implemented across ALL facets of the government and that Senators and Representatives should be forced to relinquish control of their cushy jobs every set number of years, never to return to that post as long as they shall live. And I also believe that We The People need to change our government because it is a sure bet that our government will not change on its own. I’m not saying I have any answers; I’m not that smart, savvy or intelligent. What I am though is angry. Angry about the economy, angry about jobs and angry about taxes. In fact, where it concerns politics, I’m angry about just about everything. And, based on everything I’ve been reading and hearing out there for the last 12 years, I don’t think I’m alone.

So, isn’t it about time We The People did something constructive with all our anger?

Why can’t We The People create a political revolution whereby ALL current elected officials are removed from office and we hold another election where ANYONE, regardless of political party affiliation, can run? Technology should have made vetting political candidates easier, it should have made the entire political process more transparent and accessible, but it hasn’t. The internet should have made it possible for ANYONE to run for office, yet we are still faced with the same two political parties who keep propping up candidates who will be beholden to their party and the special interest lobbyists who cater to their party. The parties themselves are becoming more and more polarized, more and more vitriolic and extreme and just plain crazy. They pander to the extremist fringe of their constituents, the foaming-at-the-mouth, die-hard, take-no-prisoner believers which is leaving more and more people in the middle, who are level-headed and willing to make concessions or compromises in order to do what is best for the country as a whole, disenfranchised and without a political voice. To some, what I’m suggesting sounds like a new political party, but to even mention introducing a new party into the political process would mean ridicule and derision, because that would be a “waste of a vote.”

Well, why the hell is that?

Who says We The People can’t nominate people from completely OUTSIDE the current political system who are willing to do what needs to be done to fix our broken country, rather than a career, party-line patsy who is only willing to do whatever it takes to keep their job? There are economists, scientists, philosophers, educators, Nobel Peace Prize laureates and a multitude of others who would be far better suited to steer the U.S. out of the hole our two party system has put us in than the career politicians we currently have running the country. If you’re being hired to do a certain job then it shouldn’t matter what political party you belong to as long as you’re qualified to do the job. Does it matter if your mechanic is a Democrat or a Republican as long as he can fix your car? I know it seems radical, but with the current Occupy Wall Street demonstrations taking place around the country, how hard would it REALLY be to get write-in candidates onto the ballot for 2012? What are the REAL barriers stopping We The People from finding a single person to run for President that 52% of the 99% can stand behind and actually believe in? Why can’t We The People ignore the noise and blustered posturing of the talking heads on TV and elect a write-in candidate of our own choosing who DOESN’T have any ties to the broken, caustic, polarized and self-serving political machines in Washington?

And what the hell is stopping us from doing all this RIGHT NOW?!

PowerPoint Killed the Video Star

So, you’re getting ready for a big meeting where you’re going to give a presentation to all the bigwig muckity-mucks at your company. Your boss, and even his boss, will be in attendance to hear what you’ve got to say. You’ve spent all week crafting the perfect PowerPoint presentation to wow them with on Monday and now, on Friday at 4:30pm, you are ready to add all the flair and pizazz that you just KNOW is going to get you a promotion.

It’s time to add the videos and music.

You’re no rookie presenter, you’ve been using PowerPoint for almost your entire career, so you know exactly what you need to do to insert your videos and music. You make sure they’re all in the same folder as your PowerPoint presentation and that they’re all in a file format that PowerPoint can use (WMV or AVI for movies and all your music is MP3). Heck, you even went online and made sure your computer’s CODECs were up to date. What could possibly go wrong? You smile as you remember how Smitty’s presentation flopped last year when his video of cats dancing to the Macarena didn’t play during his big presentation because he thought a MOV file could play in PowerPoint on a PC. What a moron. It’s his own fault that he was transfered to shipping with no hope of a promotion. He should know that MOVs are native to Macs and not PCs. He should have converted the files, or at least tested the presentation beforehand. He just got sloppy. The poor bastard.

But that’s not going to happen to you.

Smirking in your superiority, you click the “Insert Movie from File” button and insert the first video. Fifteen minutes later all five of your awesome movies are inserted and you’re ready to do a test run of The Greatest, Most Awesomest PowerPoint Presentation In The World Ever™. You start the show and go through your mental checklist of all the things a PowerPoint presentation must have in order to be considered AWESOME.

  • Light blue, gradated background? Check.
  • Yellow Comic Sans header text? Check.
  • Typewriter or laser sound effects for each bullet point? Check.
  • Wacky and “cool” animations for every-god-damned-thing on each and every slide? Check.
  • Some slides filled top to bottom with 25 bullet points in 8 point font? Check.
  • Indecipherable charts using every color of the rainbow? Double check.
  • Video of polar bears playing with giant rubber balls? Che… what?

The video isn’t playing.

This can’t be happening. It’s not possible. You checked everything, you made sure… DOUBLY sure, that the videos worked before you inserted them into your presentation. You spend the next two fricking days trying to figure out what the problem is but nothing seems to work. You convert the files to WMVs (again), but that doesn’t help. You make sure the videos are in the same folder as your presentation, which they are. You change your computer’s video settings, to no avail. You do the whole Windows Update thing, including updating MS Office, but still no video. It’s enough to drive you completely mad!

You cannot believe that you’re going to crash and burn like poor, stupid Smitty.

Then, after clicking through your billionth search result you stumble upon a possible fix that is so utterly, ridiculously, stupendously simple that you cannot believe it could possibly be right. But, because you’re already at your wit’s end, you decide to give it a try.

And, by great Odin’s beard, it works.

Fina-FRICKING-ly, your videos play correctly in PowerPoint. The Greatest, Most Awesomest PowerPoint Presentation In The World Ever™ is ready to wow your boss and get you that pomotion you’ve always wanted. Even better, you still have three hours before you need to get up for work so you can get a little sleep.

Maybe even take a shower, praise the lord.

As you drift off to sleep your mind wanders back to the genius on that message board from 6 years ago who pointed you to the solution that just saved your butt. The fix was so simple that you didn’t even need a special program or hacker skill set to implement it. All you needed to do was… and you STILL can’t believe it… shorten the filename and/or file path of the videos. How crazy is that? Somehow, even though Windows itself allows filenames (including the file path) to be up to 255 characters in length, mplay32.exe (the actual video player PowerPoint 2003 uses to play videos) can’t play a file with a filename (including the file path) longer than 124 characters! How the hell ANYONE would ever figure out that THAT was the problem when their videos didn’t play in PowerPoint is beyond you. Lord knows Smitty would have peed himself and resigned before he ever figured it out. Lucky thing you found that old message board or you might have been weighing packages and stamping boxes eight hours a day like that poor SOB.

Ah, who are you kidding? You’re a fricking GENIUS!

So, let that be a lesson to us all. If you must include an insipid piece of video trash in your PowerPoint presentation, keep your file paths and names as short as possible or your fabulous videos may not play properly. And we all know that without those stupid fricking videos in PowerPoint all your presentations would suck anal lint from angry badgers.

And for god’s sake, stop using Comic Sans!

How to Install Windows 7 Via a USB Drive

This was driving me crazy.

I searched high and low and it took me far longer than it should have, but I finally figured out how to install Win7 from a USB drive WITHOUT having to create an ISO or do anything too crazy. The hardest thing that I had to do was alter my BIOS settings to make the USB drive the primary boot device. So, what follows is the steps I took to make the bootable USB drive that would install Win7 on my HTPC. First some warnings; Make sure you back up all your important files and programs before you begin otherwise all of your data will be lost. Also, make a list of your most important programs so you can re-install them after Windows 7 finishes installing. Things like; web browser of choice, antivirus, media player, etc.

Things you will need:

  • USB thumb drive at least 4GB in size
  • Access to your BIOS (usually by pressing a key like the delete key or F1 as soon as the computer begins to boot up)
  • A copy of Windows 7 with a valid product activation key
  • A WORKING computer running Windows
  • About 1 hour of time

Now, on to the instructions.

Step #1 – Thumb Drive
Plug in your USB thumb drive and make sure it’s empty. If it has files on it they will be destroyed in the next step, so either copy them to a safe place or delete them now.

Step #2 – Command Prompt Window
You need to open a command prompt window with Administrator rights. Don’t worry, I’ll walk you through this Geeky stuff. It’s actually very simple, so don’t get scared. If you’re using Windows Vista or Windows 7 to create this USB Boot Drive, then all you need to do is go to the Start Orb and type “cmd” in the search box (without the quotation marks). When you see cmd.exe in the results RIGHT CLICK on it and choose “Run as Administrator”. A warning will popup, just click “YES” and a black window with white text will show up. That is the command prompt and you should see a blinking underscore on the screen right after some text. If you’re using Windows XP then you need to go to All Programs | Accessories | Command Prompt.

Step #3 – Find USB Thumb Drive Letter
In order to do the next step, which is formatting the USB thumb drive and making it a bootable device, you need to know what drive NUMBER the USB thumb drive has been assigned. This is different than the drive letter you might see in Windows. At the command prompt type DISKPART and then press ENTER.
Now, you should see the blinking underscore next to the word “DISKPART”.
Next, type LIST DISK and press ENTER.
You will see a list of all the disks in your system beginning with your primary hard disk. Find your USB drive in the list (it’s probably the one with a size of 4GBs or whatever size your thumb drive is) and note what drive number it is. For the rest of this excercise I’m going to assume the USB disk number is DISK 2, but you should substitute your disk number for mine in the next step.

Step #4 – The Commands
You need to type in the next few commands, one at a time, and press ENTER after each command. When you get to the format step, be aware that it might take a while to finish, so have something handy to keep yourself occupied until it’s done.

  • SELECT DISK 2
  • CLEAN
  • CREATE PARTITION PRIMARY
  • SELECT PARTITION 1
  • ACTIVE
  • FORMAT FS=NTFS (this will take a while)
  • ASSIGN
  • EXIT

Leave the command prompt window open, you will need it again soon.

Step #5 – Drive Letters
Now you need to insert the Windows 7 DVD into your DVD drive. When you do this, hold down the “SHIFT” key on your keyboard. This should halt the autoplay feature and let you continue without having to exit the auto-installation routine. Once the DVD is spinning nicely open up “My Computer” and note the drive letters for both the DVD drive with the Windows 7 DVD in it and the USB thumb drive. For the next steps I’m going to assume that the DVD drive is drive letter “E” and the USB thumb drive is drive letter “G”, but don’t forget to substitute your drive letters for the next steps.

Step #6 – BOOTMGR
Now you need to make the USB thumb drive bootable. We do this by going back to our command prompt window and entering the following commands.

  • E: CD BOOT and press ENTER. Substitute “E” for your DVD drive letter.
  • CD BOOT and press ENTER. This is NOT a repeat of the previous step.
  • BOOTSECT.EXE /NT60 G: and press ENTER. Substitute “G” for your USB thumb drive letter.

Once that is done you can close the command prompt window, we’re all done with it. Now you have a USB thumb drive that is bootable and we’re almost done with all the Geeky stuff.

Step #7 – Copy Windows 7 to USB Thumb Drive
Open Windows Explorer, navigate to the Windows 7 DVD and copy all the contents of the DVD to your USB thumb drive just like you would for any other files you needed to copy.

Step #8 – Change BIOS Boot Sequence
This is the hardest part, because this part is where you need to do a bit of work on your own. What you need to do is change the boot sequence of your computer so it will boot from the USB thumb drive you just created INSTEAD of from your hard drive or CD/DVD drive. You do this by pressing a certain key (usually the DEL key, the ESC key or F1 before Windows loads while the system is starting up) and that will bring you to a very ugly screen that can only be navigated by the keyboard (no mouse). Once there, find the boot menu and change the sequence. If you can’t figure this out on your own, then please find a resident Geeky friend who can help you, because each motherboard has a different BIOS so I can’t really give you specific instructions for this step.

Once Windows 7 has installed it will need to restart the computer to finish the installation. During this restart, remove the USB thumb drive and get back to the BIOS and reset the boot sequence so the computer boots from the hard drive first and CD/DVD drive second and NOT the USB thumb drive (remove the USB thumb drive option completely). Once you have the boot sequence back to “normal” save and exit the BIOS and Windows 7 should finish installing without a problem.

Photobloggery

I’ve been a little busy working on a new website devoted to my photography, Dots on Screen. Now that it’s up and running the way I want I can hopefully spend some time fixing things up around here and get back to writing!

Minor GMail Hack

If you’ve run into the GMail limit for checking your other email accounts using POP3 then you might find this helpful.

If you have a lot of email accounts all over the place and want to use GMail to manage all those accounts, you might have run into the limit GMail places on the number of accounts you can access using POP3. There is a quick and easy workaround for increasing the number WAY past the five that Google allows. All you need to do is create another GMail account that will access up to five of your email accounts and forward all the email it receives to your primary GMail account.

Simple, no?

For example, let’s say you need to check 10 email accounts but your main gmail account only allows you to check 5. So, if your main GMail account is “SuperDuperEmailMan@gmail.com” you could create another gmail account “SuperDuperEmailMan1@gmail.com”, have it check 5 of your email accounts and then forward all the mail it receives to “SuperDuperEmailMan@gmail.com”! There. Now you can create millions of email addresses and still check them from your main gmail account.

Go knock yourself out.