Category Archives: Server Room

For the most part, I am a LibreOffice user in lieu of Microsoft Office. LibreOffice is free and meets most of my needs. I also sometimes dip my toe in Apache OpenOffice. LibreOffice and OpenOffice both use ODF formatting, which is an open-source standard in competition with Microsoft Office’s old binary format (doc, xls) and their newer streaming format (docx, xlsx).

For the most part, I don’t miss Microsoft Office*. The problem is… Google.

Google’s Android apps, Drive and OpenOffice, don’t read ODF files. There is a third-party app that can read them capably, one that can edit them clumsily, and one that can edit documents but not spreadsheets. It’s all harder than with regular MS Office docs, however, where there are multiple apps that can edit them well.

If Google were to offer support within Drive, that would be remarkably convenient. Not just for my phone, where I wouldn’t be doing anything non-major, but for the desktop as well. Their refusal to support ODF files is maddening. It’s honestly not clear to me why they, like OpenOffice and LibreOffice, shouldn’t use ODF by default. Their decision to do so, as well as their decision to not even support ODF at all (as Microsoft Office does) reaks of a desire to challenge Microsoft’s formatting with their own rather than simply to support an alternative.

Happilly for me, the UK has announced that it will be shifting to ODF formatting for all of its government documents. This may not stick, as the state of Massachusetts did the same (more or less) and then backed off. My hope, though, is that this will be the burr in the saddle that Google needs to finally do what they should have done all along.

* – Other than Google, the only problem with my decision has been that I do not have the command knowledge of MS Office that I used to. Which means that when it comes time to job hunt, I am going to have to re-familiarize myself with software I once had mastery over.


Category: Server Room

NavFreeOne of the many things that smartphones are good for is car navigation. Android comes with the Google Maps navigation system, but you may be interested in alternatives either because there may be something better out there (there is) or because you want to be able to use maps offline. So over the past several weeks, I’ve been using nearly every mapping option I could find, looking for the perfect free or near-free offline navigating option. Unfortunately, I didn’t find it. I did find some options that would work in a pinch. I looked at Accuracy (How up-to-date and comprehensive are the maps), Appearance (Does it look cool?), Addressing (How capable and convenient was it finding addresses), Estimations (How well it could guess how long it would take), Exploration (Can you use it to drive around without a destination in mind?) Offline Status (does it work offline), Retention (Did the program stay open and remember your route if you switched over to the music player and back), Features (what else it can do), and Voice (Whether it pauses your music while it’s talking, for example). Any grade not listed is a “C” which means that it was satisfactory but did not exceed expectations at all. (more…)


Category: Road, Server Room

A little while ago I asked if anybody had a problem with splash pages coming up when accessing the site. CG Hill suggested that it might be Sitemeter, which is what I was already suspecting.

Having done some investigation into it, Sitemeter does appear to be a common denominator.

So, hopefully, mystery solved.

Goodbye Sitemeter.


Category: Server Room

The very first "Hit Coffee Mug" picture in 2005. (Never used.)

The very first “Hit Coffee Mug” picture in 2005. (Never used.)

The famous Hit Coffee mug was obtained roughly ten years ago. It was a freebie gift for the contracting agency where I briefly worked, taking calls for CignalTV. I didn’t work there very long, leaving with some memories and that mug.

The mug became the primary icon of Hit Coffee shortly after the site was started. I needed some sort of object for the header photos and it was the only mug I had handy without some conspicuous logo on it. You may notice that the picture of the mug is always taken with the handle to our right. That’s because to take it on the other side is the name of the company that gave me the mug.

Despite the mug, and the icon of myself with a cup in my hand, the site has nothing to do with coffee itself. I’ve honestly never been a big fan of the drink.

That’s changed over the six months or so as I have tried to make a point of drinking coffee with regularity. I am mostly trying to transition away from drinking as much as I do in the way of soft drinks, and coffee is a good replacement. I only learned how to actually make coffee from beans about four months ago.

It is with a touch of irony that my newfound interest in coffee resulted in the destruction of the mug that has been this site’s icon for so long. I decided about a week ago to start using the official mug for my morning coffee drink. it turns out that, after ten years, it’s not particularly sturdy. The lid broke.

I can probably glue it back together for the sake of using it for pictures. Which strangely feels more “false” now than it did before. at least before, I knew that I could drink coffee from it. I will hold on to the mug, but I may get a new one as the site’s icon.

A coffee mug that I shall actually drink coffee from.


Category: Server Room

Has anyone been having pop-up ads or splash pages while visiting my site? I have not signed on with advertising partners. So if this is an issue, it’s not because I’m selling out! Let me know and I will try to get to the bottom of this.


Category: Server Room

Commenting management system Disqus has apparently degraded the “downvote” portion of its “upvoting/downvoting” system. For those of you who have never used Disqus or don’t comment on many blogs, a number of them include thumbs up and thumbs down options where you can sort of grade other comments.

Bayard Russell supports the move (and may have been the catalyst for it):

I have to say, I’m grateful not to have anonymous trolls using the down-voting system simply to attack, undermine, and annoy. As I told you all after NCR suspended its comments system some weeks back (you all know comments are back up and running there, right?), when a set of anonymous down-voting trolls migrated to Bilgrimage after that happened, I contacted Disqus to ask if they could turn off the down votes for this site or perhaps make it optional for blogs using Disqus.

If that request (which other sites may also have made) is the reason Disqus has stopped showing down votes here, then I’m surely grateful to Disqus. I don’t see this as any kind of suppression of free speech, but as getting rid of an unnecessary annoyance, since what kind of “speech” do anonymous down votes by people working together to troll a blog site really represent, in any case?

Warner Todd Huston, on the other hand, thinks this is an example of “feminizing America“:

Apparently, Disqus felt that so many Americans were getting their widdle feelings hurt that they had to take measures to return everyone’s self-esteem to tip top condition. Yes, America, each and every one of you are wonderful, smart, and gosh darn it, people love you and Disqus is going to make sure you don’t get your delicate mental balance upset.

Feel free to go through life with your badly spelled, idiotic comment forever emblazoned across the Internet tubes and given the Disqus seal of approval. You aren’t a brainless racist, a grammatical moron, a pointless troll, a dimiwtted liberal, or a knuckle-dragging conservative any longer. You are a shining light driving the world to truth, justice and the new American way where no one gets their feelings hurt.

I used to like the idea of upvotes and downvotes, but the more I saw them in action the more skeptical of them I have become. It was my hope, when I was introduced to the concept, that generally polite and well thought out comments would get upvotes and pointless snark would get downvotes. At least on the sites that I read and participate on which tend to have commenters that are more polite and thoughtful.

However, even “good” commenting sections have their bad apples, of course, who seem to be there to disrupt the discourse. They also tend to have lurkers who don’t comment but do vote who may veer hard on one side or the other. In either case, voting seems to attract people looking for “Boo-yah” comments instead of carefully considered ones, because the upvotes and downvote tallies I see tend to lean towards which side of the argument they’re taking instead of the actual content of their message.

This has a discouraging effect on (ideological) minority voices, which exacerbates echo chambers. I mostly stopped commenting on a particular site for a couple of reasons, but one of the biggest ones was how frustrating it was to write a carefully considered comment explaining that a situation is more complicated than it appears gets two upvotes and ten downvotes and is followed by a “Republicans are soo stupid and you are stupid for giving them cover!!!” gets ten upvotes and two downvotes. Which is, in my experience, how it generally works. Truthfully, the fact that people seem to agree more with “Republicans are soo stupid” guy and feel the need to downvote me is more discouraging than the comment itself, which I can dismiss as a crank. Except I can’t when his view is apparently more popular than mine.

The upshot of this, in a way, is that it does democratize commenting communities. It lets people say what kind of comments they want and don’t want. Yay democracy! The views of a particular commentariat can often differ, though, from that of the people who actually run the site.

That creates something of a problem for the latter folks. If wanting a more positive commenting atmosphere makes me a namby-pamby feminized dude or whatever, I am pretty okay with that. Heaven knows there are more than enough sites that are battle arenas. So eliminating downvoting makes a lot of sense from their point of view. Obviously, Hit Coffee doesn’t generate the sort of comment traffic to make such an endeavor worthwhile, though if it did I would try to go in the upvote direction.

It would be better if Disqus gave siterunners the option of upvotes only, downvotes only, or both. But absent that, I would prefer upvoting only over a requirement for both.


Category: Server Room

I had to change a number of passwords thanks to the Big eBay Hack (and may have to change them again).

One thing I found really interesting, though, is a back and forth between Charles Hill and Jack Baruth about eBay. Here’s Jack:

It’s fair to say that I am deeply ambivalent about eBay: it’s raised the price of old books into the stratosphere while simultaneously adding a $250 transaction fee to most vintage guitar sales. On the other hand, it’s enabled me to find and purchase items that I’d have never found otherwise. You have to take the good with the bad; yes, you can now actually find a brand-new Atari 1200XL, but it will cost you.

Charles cops to raising the prices of used books.

I find this interesting because of the effect it has had on comic books. While there has been a lot going on in the world of comic books since eBay got started, I am convinced that eBay has shredded the price of older comic books. Most specifically, the unfamous ones. It used to be that Mile High Comics would sell you a batch of comics for twenty-five cents a piece, but it was a random lot. Now you can get whole runs of series for around that price if it’s a relatively unremarkable series or at least under a dollar for some good old stuff. Even newer stuff is relatively affordable.

Again, a lot of this has to do with the state of the industry, but not all of it. A lot of it instead has to do with the market being flooded with people with old comic books they’re looking to get rid of. You used to have to find a seller who had old issues of Blue Beetle as you tried to piece together your collection. Now you have some collector who wants to reclaim his garage.

I find it interesting that this hasn’t happened with old books. Or maybe it’s that Jack is looking for classics. I would not be surprised if highly desirable comic book prices fell only in accordance with the shape of the industry, or may have fallen less so due to a concentration of interested buyers.


Category: Server Room

There is apparently a trend among posh restaurants to google customers with reservations:

The maitre d’ in question, Justin Roller, says he tries to ascertain things like whether a couple is coming to the restaurant for an anniversary, and if so, which anniversary that is. If it’s a birthday, for instance, he wants to wish them “Happy Birthday” when they arrive. He’ll scan for photos of the guests in chef’s whites or posed with wine glasses, which suggest they might be chefs or sommeliers themselves.

It goes deeper: if a particular guest appears to hail from Montana, Roller will try to pair up the table with a server who is from Montana. “Same goes for guests who own jazz clubs, who can be paired with a sommelier that happens to be into jazz,” writes Grub Street.

The natural response to this ranges from horror at the invasion of privacy to thinking it’s awfully cool. I actually fall into the latter camp.

When the government eavesdropping and invasions of privacy recently came to light, a lot of people suggested that we really have no standing to complain given how we freely we let private companies have and keep this information. My response is that the private companies want to use it in order to find out what I want and sell it to me, while the government has different things in mind.

Every now and again I will see arguments about how well Facebook and Google allegedly know me with the implication that I should be freaked out. Facebook, after all, knows if you’re in a relationship with someone or not perhaps before even you do.

I would be worried about it quite a bit more if the advertising that Facebook and Google pitch in my direction weren’t so rudimentary. I mean, when I look up laptops it’ll try to pitch me laptops. But sometimes it is famously, silly wrong. Several months ago Facebook was convinced that I was in the market for divorce attorneys.

Now, once they start becoming more accurate, like the restaurants who google, perhaps there will be more reason to be concerned. If it weren’t for the fact that once they’re that good, they will be more helpful than ever.


Category: Server Room

aimloginMashable has a great piece on the history of AOL Instant Messenger (AIM), which is a good read for those of you old enough to remember it and young enough to have used it.

AIM played a critical bridge in my life, in between the old BBS days and the Age of Facebook. When my friends all went off the college, instant messaging was the primary way that we stayed in touch. Or got back in touch, as there was a brief gap in between the BBS and ICQ. ICQ was what most of us used before AIM. It was superior in some respects like keeping automatic logs. But AIM understood the Instant in Instant Messaging, and became the default before too long.

Somewhere in the dark recesses of my file server are mountains of old AIM chat logs, sitting next to old BBS logs and some ICQ ones. I was meticulous in my record-keeping. Countless early conversations with Eva, for example, are meticulously recorded. As is the heartbreak that followed. I don’t expect to ever read them, but they’re there for posterity.

With 20/20 hindsight, it’s really kind of surprising that AOL didn’t figure out how to make AIM work for them financially. It was a social network waiting to happen. One that, in my view, could have been strong enough to withstand MySpace and later Facebook had it been remotely well done. They had the userbase, which it turns out is worth quite a lot. There was, as the article says, some critical underinvestment because it didn’t turn around and make money right away for one of the few companies at the time that was used to making money.

Download AIM today! Wait, you can’t… (well, you probably can somewhere, but it won’t work.)[/caption]When Facebook came along, and texting became more prevalent instant messaging (as its own thing) started becoming largely redundant. It’s no coincidence that I discovered Facebook and stopped bothering to install IM apps within a year of one another. Not just because Facebook had its own messaging apparatus, but because it served as the bridge to regular chatting with people that AIM had been.

The company that really ought to be kicking itself is Yahoo. They also had a capable messenger program and a whole lot of the trappings of a social network without managing to put it all together in a Google+ fashion. Given that they were already dependent on advertising revenue, they would have been a natural fit to be a market leader, with comparatively little investment.

Which brings me to Google Plus. Google Plus has hit allegedly hit the skids. The showrunner for G+ has announced his departure and there are rumors that the project is being dismantled, at least somewhat. I personally find Google+ to be superior to Facebook in just about every way except that almost nobody uses. Like Yahoo of yesteryear, Google definitely has the customer base. They’ve got the messenger and more! So why hasn’t G+ succeeded? Timing, as they say, is everything. The key for AOL and Yahoo is that they had an opportunity to jump in the game before Facebook started dominating it. Google entered later.

Contra the doomsayers, though, I don’t see Google Plus going anywhere. The key to Google+ is that it is the unifier of the Google platform. It brings together various Google utilities, everything from Android phones to email to messaging to calendar. Where it hasn’t succeeded is as a social network (given that “nobody uses it” problem). But that’s probably okay.

The purpose of running a social network, from a business standpoint, is that you get to know the users better and can sell them more stuff by having a better idea of what they want, and that when they use your products you’re acting as a salesperson. Google owns so much of me and a lot of other people that it’s hardly necessary that I kvetch on G+ instead of Facebook. If Google Plus does pivot, they should actually make it more formally a “home base” and replace the feed streams with useful things. Of course, they’ve cancelled some of those “useful things” like Google Reader and iGoogle, but unless they can make progress on the social networking thing it makes sense to me to revive Reader in some way and transition the mobile Google Now onto the desktop.

Google, though, has lots of options. Yahoo, on the other hand, doesn’t. Their options are much more limited. But at least they’re not AOL, who had everything they needed to take off and didn’t see the money it.


Category: Server Room

Don’t you hate it when you get a new phone and all of your old chargers no longer work? Well, the EU intends to do something about it:

A common charger should be developed for all mobile phones sold in the EU, to reduce waste, costs and hassle for users, said MEPs voting on an update to EU radio equipment laws on Thursday. This draft has already been informally agreed with the Council of Ministers.

“The modernised Radio Equipment Directive is an efficient tool to prevent interference between different radio equipment devices. I am especially pleased that we agreed on the introduction of a common charger. This serves the interests both of consumers and the environment. It will put an end to charger clutter and 51,000 tonnes of electronic waste annually”, said rapporteur Barbara Weiler (S&D, DE).

There was a time when I might have welcomed this development. I once had a phone end up getting crushed and my “insurance plan” gave me a phone with a different brand that required a whole new set of chargers. The chargers, at the time, weren’t cheap.

But this is the equivalent of a parent yelling at his kid that he has to do his homework before he can leave the house… while the kid is sitting at his desk with his book open. This is a problem that has already, more-or-less, resolved itself. The apparent scam where every phone maker had a different and proprietary charger is pretty up, if there ever was a scam at all.

There already is a standard, called Micro-USB, and even dumb phones seem to be using it. Heck, even a lot of bluetooth earpieces use it. The only major holdout is Apple. But Apple has their own standard, which they’ve been sticking to for a while, replacing a standard that survived from the iPod to the iPhone. Plus, since they’re Apple, you can get charger cables relatively easily in a pinch. And once you have them, you can generally rely on them being good for a while.

It’s convenient for me that the Android devices all use a single charger, compatible with other devices, but it’s not without its own problems and isn’t (or shouldn’t be) permanent. On the first score, if I get a generic Micro-USB cable, it’ll work but often kind of shoddily. The connection won’t be firm, for instance, on generic cables. Some of the chargers don’t supply enough power. They’ll work in a pinch (usually), but I get and use Samsung OEM chargers when I can. The proposed EU regulation would do nothing to fix or standardized that, though, and I will still have plugs I use mostly for earpieces and others I use for phones.

And the thing is, I don’t want to be using these forever. Back when this idea was first floated, I was surprised that they went with Micro-USB instead of Mini-USB, which my phone at the time used and I considered to be better. It had more firm connections, wasn’t as fragile, and so on. But as it turned out it was too fat and Micro-USB was necessary for the slimming of devices. Super-thin devices are not my think, but they’re clearly what a lot of people want. At some point maybe someone will come up with an cable that has a thin barrel at the end that will take up even less space in the phone and be less fragile. But how much would they want to invest in something that isn’t compliant with the standard?

And for a problem that has been resolving itself for several years now. Apple will almost certainly continue to go its own way, but the Android makers have been converging on a single standard for a reason. People don’t want to replace the power cables they have if they switch phone brands. Since most phone brands want you to switch (to their brand, obviously), they have an incentive to use the standards. And if they have an even greater incentive to do something else, well maybe that’s a reason they should do it. The innovation isn’t done yet.


Category: Server Room

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Queenland

Greetings from Stonebridge a fictitious city in a fictitious state located in a tri-state area in the interior Mid-Atlantic region. We're in western Queenland, which is really a state unto itself, and not to be confused with Queensland in Australia.

Nothing written on this site should be taken as strictly true, though if the author were making it all up rest assured the main character and his life would be a lot less unremarkable.


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