Moondog

18 10 2013
Faint, but it's there.

Faint, but it’s there.

Supposedly, there is a lunar eclipse going on right now, but the clouds are too thick to really see it properly. Nonetheless, the wife and I got to see a beautiful moondog. And yet again, I am amazed at how much better our eyes are than any camera.



Rush

28 09 2013

I remember the exact moment I knew Star Trek: Into Darkness was going to be a complete piece of crap. It was Jon Stewart’s interview with JJ Abrams, who announced, unprompted, that he didn’t like Star Trek. By contrast, I had extremely high hopes for Ron Howard’s Rush, a movie about the utterly insane 1976 Formula 1 championship battle between two legends of motorsport – Niki Lauda and James Hunt. In numerous interviews, Ron Howard was passionate, engaged and enthusiastic about both the rivalry and motorsport itself, and having seen (and loved) Apollo 13, I was looking forward to seeing the movie.

And then I did, and I had but one question: how did it all go so badly wrong?

For one, not once did I think I was watching an actual Formula 1 race, except in the very brief actual TV footage used in the movie while Lauda is recovering in hospital. There are certain defining characteristics of how F1 looks like on TV. For example, at every single track, in order to accommodate the F1 standing start, a wide-angle lens captures the race from a position some way down the start/finish straight (usually near the first turn). The camera never zooms in during the hold, but rotates as the pack goes past and then zooms in to the back of the pack. Then inevitably it hard cuts to either a shot from a helicopter or from the first turn slow enough to capture the cars as they go past. If you’ve ever seen an F1 race, this is a shot you will recognize instinctively. Not once, not a single time, in the depiction of nearly 15 races across the movie, does this ever happen. There are certain other stock shot setups in F1: cars slowing and locking up as they are turning around corners, weaving through corners, disappearing into the distance on a straight. None of these stock shots are present at all. Not once. Yes, there is slow-mo, which didn’t exist in the 1970s broadcasts, but even there, they have it wrong: with slow-mo on straights, not turns.

This is a film directed, filmed and edited by people who have NEVER seen an F1 race on TV.

If you told me this was set in Grand Theft Auto (no, not that one), I would believe you. To me, this is probably the greatest crime of all: we don’t have perfect recollections from the characters in the film, and for that we allow the script writers and movie makers leave to fill in the blanks, but we do have the celluloid that preserves the look and feel of F1 races from as far back as 1929; note the wide-angle lenses watching lots of cars. This isn’t how F1 looks like visually.

I can’t speak to the rest of the film’s authenticity: I was not around for it, but Niki Lauda himself wrote two books – To Hell and Back, For the Record – that chronicle his rise to the 1975 and 1977 world championships. What saddens me, however, is how shallowly everyone else is dealt with in the book. Mario Andretti, who went on to win the 1978 championship, and found a competitive racing dynasty, is barely rated a voiceover by an announcer. Clay Regazzoni is given a scant 90 seconds of screen time spread over 15 minutes of the movie. Lella Lombardi or Divina Galica? Nope – and 1976 was last time there were two women simultaneously in the championship. We don’t even get the privilege of learning the names of the dead: I believe the film portrays the deaths of Helmuth Koinigg and Mark Donahue, but this is based on my searching after watching the firm; it’s quite possible the film portrayed dangerous, but not fatal, accidents. In fact, even Marlene Lauda and Suzy Hunt barely rate screen time and are given just a handful of lines of dialogue. It’s fortunate then that the leads, Chris Hemsworth and Daniel Brühl deliver, both in looks and temperaments of Hunt and Lauda, but this still leaves the film feeling rather like an engine without a chassis or wheels.

I could go on and on about this film as an F1 fan, but really, what you need to know about this film is this: on the opening weekend, during a time the rest of the cinema was packed, there were a mere 35 people in the auditorium when Rush started, including me. There were less than 25 at the end and yes, I counted. The film may one day recoup its costs outside of the US, where F1 isn’t popular, but it will leave a bitter taste in the mouths of fans of Formula 1.

Oh well. At least, next week, we have Gravity to look forward to. That at least looks right, but I’m prepared to be bitterly disappointed again.



KeePass

19 09 2013

Security gurus (ex.: Bruce Schneier, Brian Krebs) generally have a set of rules for passwords that can be summed up as: exercise common sense, don’t reuse, choose hard passwords, and change often. Sadly, humans are not particularly suited to the last three (and the first is open to argument), which means one of the simplest ways to increase password security is to use a tool that remembers the passwords for you and helps you generate strong passwords. There’s a number of options out there, from the ever popular LastPass, mSecure, PasswordSafe and, my choice, KeePass. Both of the latter two are open source (which I consider to be important in such a tool).

Since KeePass is available for such a wide variety of operating systems, I thought I’d put together a list; a more comprehensive list is available on KeePass’ own website, but it includes non-FOSS implementations. I’ve also tried to look for applications that look native (as opposed to being run through an emulator), and researched whether the applications appear to still be under development (loosely defined as “has there been a release in the past 12 months” of this post’s date) and marked those which do not be under active development with an asterisk. So, without further ado:

Notably missing of the current crop of OSes is FirefoxOS, the PlayBook’s OS, Sailfish, and Ubuntu Touch (though presumably, the last can use the stock KeePass package from the Touch repo). I’m also still experimenting with plugins for browsers and haven’t included these here. One additional useful tool is BrowsePass, which at least allows you to read the contents of a KeePass database through a browser, if none of the other options work.

I’ll try to keep this list up to date as I go, but this should get you started at least, in case you decide to go down the KeePass route.



Android without Google

11 09 2013
Screenshot_2013-09-11-17-30-18

Look, no Play anything!

For some time now, somewhat inspired by my friend Kats, I’ve been debating whether it’s possible to continue to use Android without relying on Google. Unlike Kats, who writes operating systems for a living, I’m reliant on pre-built applications and compiling source code. I can fix small errors in code and I can follow instructions, but I definitely cannot write applications from the ground-up, which seriously limits what I can do in terms of filling in gaps: either the app exists somewhere, or I make do without. With that in mind, I set out to see I could use Android, without Google.

The short answer, as in so many cases, is: it depends. In this case, it depends most of all on how far one is integrated into the Google ecosystem. If you are completely reliant on Google for mail, contacts, calendars, social networking, document storage, movies, music, books, magazines and other things, then the answer is very much no. On the other hand, if like me, you are able to secure alternatives, then it comes down to picking alternatives.

The biggest question that one needs to answer is: “where do I get the applications I use?”

For many people, Amazon’s extensive and rapidly growing AppStore is the answer: it provides a decent selection of applications, usually at competitive prices and current versions. There are some notable exceptions to this, including, as I discovered, the alternate email client I am using, K-9 Mail, which is several years out of date on Amazon’s AppStore. I also believe the official Facebook and Twitter clients are a couple of versions behind their Play Store brethren.

If Amazon is not for you, HowToGeek has a nice round up of the alternatives, with the caveat that some of the alternative app stores require you to already have Play Store installed. Also not mentioned, but one that I’m partial to is F-Droid, a British effort to only compile software available in source code form into APKs, much like Maemo/Meego. Another option, of course, is to just download the relevant APKs directly, though then the onus is on you to keep up with updates.

It’s a work in progress, and I’ll see if I can genuinely manage without the Google apps for a while, but in the meantime, I have to say, a day of fiddling suggests that while Android may be better with Google, it is by no means unusable. Promising first steps, I suppose.



Revenge for Google Reader

2 07 2013

So what does someone who is leery of Facebook, but has no desire to reward Google’s decision to kill one’s favourite product do for a social network in 2013?

Twitter?



Bad Apples?

23 01 2013

DeadChargers The picture is of two identical 60W MagSage Power Adapters, the kind that came stock with 2009 “Unibody” Apple MacBooks that year. They came with machines bought 42 days apart in 2009. BAGKA, the one on the left, was used with my machine which was bought first, and saw a lot of use and is literally scuffed from use. YAGKA, on the right, came with the second MacBook 42 days later, and the machine saw next to no use and literally sat at home plugged in carefully. YAGKA looks new, smells new, feels new – the power cord still has that slightly rough sandpaper feel that all new MagSafe adapters cords have.

42 days ago, BAGKA failed without warning. In the morning, it was fine. In the evening, it didn’t charge either computer. If you stuck your ear next to it, you could hear a steady static buzz that didn’t change whether it was plugged in or not. The next day, I went out and bought a new power adapter because I thought I’d destroyed BAGKA with use.

Today, YAGKA failed without warning. In the morning, it was fine. In the evening, it stopped charging, and it’s making the same static buzz noise that BAGKA did.

So my question is: as unnerving as it is to have these fail exactly the same number of days apart as we bought them, did we get unlucky? Or, are we caught up in some wider quality problems that Apple hasn’t spoken up about yet?



Next Laptop: Probably not a Mac

21 12 2012

With any luck – *knocks on wood* – my current laptop, a 2009 MacBook, will last me another 2-3 years. I’ve maxed out the memory, replaced the primary drive with an SSD and removed the optical drive in favour of a second mass storage hard drive. I’m still on 10.6.8, rather than 10.8, which would enable the possibility of creating a “Fusion Drive“, but now more because of “it works, don’t break it” rather than the compelling reason I had earlier – a 32bit kext for which no 64bit kext will ever be made.

However, in the wake of my third failed attempt to replace the prematurely dead internal battery, I got to thinking about the next laptop I would buy. For many reasons, I am reluctant to buy another Mac. The one reason I would is because of the Magsafe connector, which means that when the cats go flying past, the laptop doesn’t go with them. It’s literally been a lifesaver for the machine; it’s also been incredibly convenient. Since the USPTO has, in its infinite (lack of?) wisdom awarded Apple a patent for an obvious connector, there are really no other machines available with this incredibly useful feature – possible exception, the Surface and I’m not sure if it’s a pogopin design.

Meanwhile, I have not seen anything compelling in the latest Mac OS releases – Fusion Drive possibly excepted. The iOSification of Mac OS means that increasingly Mac OS doesn’t offer me anything that cannot be done elsewhere. At the same time, I have moved the rest of my computing life to Android, which is increasingly more capable, and quickly replicating the power and flexibility that I used to think was possible only on a desktop OS. If indeed Android eventually gains windowing support, I could actually see myself using that full time.

Fortunately this is still a hypothetical discussion, but I’m hoping there will be more choices by the time this machine eventually needs to be consigned to history.

 



Colours of Halo

11 11 2012

I took a few minutes to start playing Halo 4 today and I was again reminded fairly early on in the game why it is I have always loved the series: the colour palette. Unlike other games that use predominantly one portion of the spectrum – think of the reds or oranges of Gears of War or dark browns and grays of Call of DutyHalo has always had dark indoor scenes interspersed with bright blues and greens of a perfect sunlit day outdoors.

To this day, I rue the closure of the Halouvre, a gallery of some of this visual wonders – now you’ll either have to play the game, or take our word on it.

Or as we would say on the internets: JUST LOOK AT IT. And try not to die in the process of gawking.



Ugh.

28 09 2012

image

It’s 2012, flash costs ≈$0.25/GB and I have to manage every KB carefully because I can’t buy a stock Android device with more than 16GB* of storage space. #fail

*: <13GB usable.

PS: Pic shows result after removing apps and music of about 1.25GB.



Err …

4 09 2012

Well, shit. Pray this disk isn’t going bad; this isn’t easy to replace.