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Tech & Nerdery
- Wednesday, July 27, 2016The Biggest Winners and Losers from SDCC16Biggest Winner: Diversity
I feel like every day we're being told we're not doing good enough. We don't like cops, black people, women, immigrants, gays, Christians, Jews... You watch an hour of news and you feel like our country is falling apart. But spend an hour at Comic-Con and you'll see something completely different.
Was there anyone not represented at Comic-Con? I spoke to black writers, women artists, gay creators, Christian publishers, and the list goes on and on. I spent five days jammed into a building with 130,000 people and didn't see a single fight or really even harsh words. Everyone just got along. We were all part of something... and maybe one guy likes My Little Pony and another likes Minecraft, it didn't matter.
If you want to see Martin Luther King's dream, this is it.
Biggest Loser: Exclusives
I really hope SDCC figures out a way to solve the "exclusives" problem. No one seems happy with how it's currently working. Vendors are mad because people are too busy running around to get in line and not spending time visiting the various booths; Fans are upset because they can't get access to products they actually want to own. I never really cared much for exclusives so I largely ignored it all last year, but this year I saw the situation from several viewpoints.
I met someone who was willing to scam disability access and stab a friend in the back, just to get an item she could flip on eBay minutes later for a $50 profit. Some of the "scalpers" like her had items listed for sale on eBay before they even got a place in line.
A friend sells comics and comic-related merchandise for a living. Access to an exclusive is a big deal for his business, but he had to choose between standing in an all-day line or viewing panels that actually interested him.
Another close friend is simply a big fan, visiting from out of town, and wanted to get an exclusive because he loves the product. Watching a person leave the Mattel booth with four massive bags of merchandise, while being told they're out of the thing he wanted, is truly disheartening.
For all three, the exclusives detracted from what the convention is supposed to be about.
I heard one suggestion that each badge allowed you a specific number of exclusives. One badge, one exclusive. That could help, but maybe a better option would be to eliminate the exclusives all together.
Close Second: Disabled Access
Disneyland used to have special lines for disabled people, but they recently had to end it because of the blatant abuse by park attendees. Comic-Con is nearing the same position. Currently, the convention allows disabled people to get front-of-the-line privileges, but it's being over-run by people who are not actually disabled. For example, on preview night I watched a young lady in a wheelchair wait by the entrance, and as soon as they let her in she ditched the wheelchair and ran to a booth to get in line for an exclusive. Each disabled person can also have one "assistant" that gets the same privileges as a person with a disability. It was beginning to look like there are more people with ADA access than without. It sucks for the people I saw who were truly disabled.
- Tuesday, June 14, 2016How I Obsessively Manage My MusicOne of the reasons I prefer to own my music as opposed to streaming, is because I'm ridiculously anal about my music files. Every track I have has been tediously tagged to help me find exactly what I want to listen to, no matter what mood I'm in at the moment. Aside from the default tags (song, artist, album), there are three tags that I concentrate on... Grouping This gets set to "radio", "radio friendly", or left blank. The radio flag simply means the song was released for airplay. Radio friendly means I think the song would be a good radio track but perhaps was never actually released as a single. For example, Peter Gabriel's "Party Man" appeared on a movie soundtrack, but was never released as a single. Rating Rather than use the ratings for how well I like a song – which is completely subjective and actually changes dramatically based on my mood that day – I use the ratings a bit differently. Each star means something. One star means the file is broken and I need to re-download this song. Two stars means the song has explicit lyrics, so I can filter out these tracks when sensitive ears are present. Three stars indicates this song is one of the best by that artist. Four stars indicates this song is one of the best songs for that genre. And five stars means this song is so good you shouldn't dare speak over it... and I'll break your wrist if you try to skip it! Comments This is where the magic happens. In the comments field I add a comma separated list of keywords to help group the songs. For instance I have a keyword, "80s". You can't just assume that a song is an 80's song just because it came out between 1980 and 1989. For example, Nine Inch Nails' first album came out in 1989. Likewise, Led Zeppelin's final album came out in 1982. Neither of those are 80's bands and don't belong in the same playlist as "I Wear My Sunglasses at Night". Conversely, "Personal Jesus" was released in 1990, but clearly belongs with other 80's songs. I also have a tag, "soundtrack", which is followed by the name of the movie the song appeared in. This allows me to build a playlist for movie soundtracks but keep the songs with the artist and album where it belongs. Similarly I have a "commercial" tag for songs that appeared in TV commercials. Other keywords include the genres for the song, "remix", "live", and so on. About Genres I don't use the genre tag for my music. I think most music falls in multiple genres. OneRepublic is alternative, but also pop. By using the comma separated tags in the comments field, I have the ability to tag songs in more than a single genre. I also tend to make up some genres. Like, "loud", which covers bands like Foo Fighters, but also Deftones. Or, "background", which are songs that can span multiple genres, but work really well to play in the background when I'm having people over. Building the Playlists Once I have all my tags carefully managed, I am able to build amazing smart playlists by specifying the appropriate tags. If I want my own 80's radio station that doesn't play the hair bands: [grouping contains radio]; [comment contains 80s and pop]. If I only want my favorite songs from that set, I can add: [rating is between four and five stars]. If I want the best of Phil Collins: [artist contains Phil Collins or Genesis]; [rating is between three and five stars]; [comment contains Phil Collins] (to weed out the Peter Gabriel Genesis tracks). When you own thousands of tracks, this sounds overwhelming, but it's really not. I'm typically tagging full albums, not individual songs. And I tag each album when I first get it, so maintaining this system isn't terribly difficult.
- Tuesday, June 16, 2015Proofreading TipSpell checker works great for catching a misplaced letter in a word. We’ve all seen the bright red squiggly underline; it’s hard to miss. But what is hard to miss is a correctly spelled typo. For example, you meant to type “customer” and entered “costumer” instead. Spell checker didn’t notice, and a read-through might not catch it either. I read through all of my posts and never catch every mistake, so I use a neat trick to proof read my posts to ensure they’re (mostly) error free. Macs and iDevices offer text-to-speech, so I have my laptop read my post back to me. Hearing my words read back, a misplaced word really jumps out. Also, I use the British voice so my words sound much smarter.On the Mac, highlight a block of text, right click, and select “Speech”, then “Start Speaking”. On the phone (or iPad), highlight a block of text and tap “Speak”. (The iPhone requires a couple of steps to enable text-to-speech: open the Settings app, General > Accessibility > Speech, enable Speak Selection.)
- Wednesday, April 15, 2015Apple Popup DictionaryI've been using the Dictionary shortcut on my laptop since it was introduced in Mountain Lion. The three-finger-tap (tap, not click) shortcut on the trackpad is indispensable when you need to get the definition or a synonym up a word. (You can alternatively right click and select “Look up” from the context menu.) In the most recent OS X update, Apple changed the display a little. If you've never seen it before, it looks something like this:
- Friday, August 29, 2014Overcast“Why would I need any podcasting app instead of using the built-in apple player?” That was pretty much my friend’s reaction when I suggested he download Overcast. Frankly it was my reaction too, at first. I’ll be honest, I hate paying for apps (or in this case, in-app purchases for upgrades). I’ll buy $100 shoes, spend $20 for lunch, and pour premium gas in my car. But asking me to shell out a single dollar for an app on my phone is like asking me to give up one of my kidneys for a person I don’t like very much. But Overcast convinced me to give up five “kidneys” to unlock all the premium features. I’d love to tell you that I was sold on the great interface design, maybe the careful selection of the Concourse font, or the smarter playlist functionality. But honestly, I didn’t care about any of those features (sorry Marco). Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad they’re available, but I wasn’t going to pay for them. Nope, the single feature that flipped me was Voice Boost. I listen to all of my podcasts while driving. Not most of my podcasts, all of my podcasts. In fact, I’ve never listened to a single podcast episode somewhere other than in my car. Also, I drive a convertible. In San Diego. If you’re still not getting the picture, let me explain: I very rarely drive with the roof up on my car. Not very ideal conditions for listening to people talk. In professional recording studios and professional sounds systems for live events, there’s a device commonly used called a compressor. In a nut, the system takes the quieter sounds and pushes them up slightly, and it takes the louder sounds and brings them down. This makes more of the sounds being pumped through the system come out more evenly, which provides clarity to the listener. Well, that is what Voice Boost does. Prior to using Overcast, I would constantly adjust the volume on my radio. One person would speak and I’d crank it up a bunch to hear him/her talk. Then the other voice would speak and blow out my ear drums. Now I set the volume once and I never have to readjust it for different people. When you upgrade Overcast, you also get Smart Speed. I didn’t pay the premium because I wanted Smart Speed, but now I’m glad I got it. Smart Speed is interesting because what Marco Arment has managed to do is figure out where there are pauses in the dialog, and speed up through them. If you watch the app while a podcast is playing (which, of course, I would never do while driving), you can watch the playback speed move around as the app automatically speeds up through silent spots. Here’s the thing about insanely great features: the best ones are the kind you don’t even notice when they’re working. That completely describes Smart Speed. If you watch the clock, or time a 30 minute episode, you’ll notice the difference in time. But you never actually hear it happening. I never figured I’d pay money to replace one of the built-in apps on my iPhone; Apple-made apps are usually about as good as you’re going to get. But this was the best five bucks I’ve spent on any app so far.
- Wednesday, August 27, 2014DrivePop Online BackupI keep hearing about how great online backups are. There’s nothing to remember because it’s all automatic, secure, and safer than an external drive that can crash. So when StackSocial ran a deal a couple of months ago for a lifetime subscription to DrivePop Cloud Storage, I jumped on it. Things didn’t turn out as well as I had hoped. After purchasing the deal from StackSocial, I was sent an email with some simple instructions on downloading and registering my new backup utility. DrivePop runs a small utility (an app called Livedrive) in the system tray and keeps tabs on the system for new files to backup. I expected the initial backup to take a while, but I didn’t realize exactly what I was in for. The entire time Livedrive is active, my machine is being hammered. I suspected a problem when I heard the fan on my laptop kick on. A quick look at the Activity Monitor revealed CPU for the Livedrive process would go as high as 85%... the lowest I ever saw it drop was 56%. The “energy impact” (which is how you can monitor the impact an app has on battery life) hovered around 70. Keep in mind, Photoshop stays below 10% for CPU and around 10 for energy impact. Real world conditions... this means the bottom of the laptop gets so hot I can’t stand to hold it on my lap, and the battery lasts less than an hour. I continue to let the backup hammer my system for six weeks. I’m still assuming the initial backup is going to be rough, but once it’s done I’ll be in good shape. Livedrive is running the entire time during my usual 40 hour work week, plus I leave the machine awake all night. My estimates put the backup at running 72 hours per week for six weeks, totaling more than 430 hours of scanning and uploading. Checking the status of my backup, the time it should take to complete is 73 days. Give or take. I should mention for background that I’m pretty good about backing up my laptop. If I know I’m going out of town, I always make sure I run a backup right before I leave. I also have multiple backups... one at home and one at the office, both external hard drives. I figure I’m covered unless my office and home burn down at the same time (at which point, I may have bigger issues to worry about)! Last year I had my laptop stolen while I was on a road trip in Indiana. When my replacement arrived, I booted up the new machine, plugged in my external drive, and a little while later my new laptop was exactly in the same state as the one that was stolen. Every application, every setting, even windows I had opened, were back like I had simply booted up my old laptop. This is not even an option with the DrivePop backup. The backup manager will only let you select certain folders on your machine to backup, mostly directories inside your users folder. If I actually let DrivePop finish, the backup won’t include any files in the root directory of my hard drive. I contacted DrivePop and explained my frustration with the backup utility. Their response was that I purchased the subscription through StackSocial, so I have to talk to them. StackSocial has a pretty firm “no refunds ever” policy (even on items that come broken, believe it or not). The cost of the subscription was cheap, so it’s not worth my frustration to do anything except kill the Livedrive process and go back to my external backups.