Browsing Tag

geekery

Books, Other People's Books

Opening 2019 book roundup, with bonus extra 2018

It will probably surprise none of you that I didn’t get too far into 2019 without getting more new books. 😀

Ebooks

This is technically a book I bought at Orycon, but I didn’t actually go download it off the publisher site until this month. So I’m counting this as a 2019 acquisition: Soul Born, by Kevin James Breaux. This is a fantasy novel put out by Azure Spider Publications, who had a table at Orycon right near the one I was sharing with fellow NIWA members Madison Keller and Jeffrey Cook. I liked the look of the cover, and had a pleasant chat with the lady at the table. So I bought a download code for the book!

A Princess in Theory

A Princess in Theory

Meanwhile, acquired from Kobo, because both of them were on sale for $1.99 at the time:

A Princess in Theory, by Alyssa Cole. I don’t normally buy contemporary romance. But Alyssa Cole has been on the Smart Bitches podcast a couple of times, and she’s delightful. Plus, a) I liked the previous thing of hers I read, An Extraordinary Union, and b) the cover on this title is beautiful. I really like how it’s dynamic and romantic without having to rely upon either person being scantily clad.

Plus, the color scheme stands out to my eye as well. Cole even talked about that on the podcast, and about how the heroine’s dress and the hero’s tie were both patterns she came up with herself, inspired by traditional African ones.

And since she’s an author of color I am happy to explore more of her work!

And #2: no lie, I will totally be reading this thing and mentally casting Chadwick Boseman as the hero. 😉

A Study in Honor, by Claire O’Dell. This one is SF, and came across my radar last year as a new Sherlock Holmes pastiche. The thing here is, the Sherlock and Watson analogues here are both black, queer women. Which strikes me as rather awesome. I’ll be intrigued to see how the author handles keeping core recognizable “Sherlock” and “Watson” characteristics while diverging so hugely from the original characters, as well as so blatantly different a setting. I.e., a futuristic SF dystopia.

Print Books

This actually was a book I acquired in 2018, but which I never mentioned: Cracking the Coding Interview. I ordered this from Amazon last month because I need it for job hunting purposes. And I’ve started slowly working my way through it. It came highly recommended to me by one of my former Big Fish teammates, and so far, a few exercises in, I’m already finding it valuable.

And, since my household always does a gift exchange when Paul returns from Virginia, this also counts as a 2018 acquisition: the hardback edition of The Fall of Gondolin! Which I’ve already read in ebook form, but which I also wanted in hardback.

This bumps my 2018 total up to 59. And so far for 2019, we’re at 3!

Site Updates

And this is me testing the WordPress block editor

I am pretty sure I’m not a fan of the block style editor that WordPress 5.0 has now by default. But I’ve also discovered that the WordPress team has released a “Classic Editor” plugin to bring back the previous UI if you need it for whatever reason. Or if you just like it better.

This plugin also includes the ability to switch back and forth between the editor styles. So right now I’ve got annathepiper.org set to dealing with the classic UI, because apparently the new one is cranky at the photo gallery plugin I’m using. But I’m playing now with using the block style editor on angelahighland.com, just to give it a fair shake and see if it shows its worth to me.

I will say that I like that this UI looks more like a word processor. But I don’t think I like the “block” concept much yet. It feels clunky to me and I’m not sure why yet. Perhaps specifically because it makes WordPress look more like a word processor–but no word processor I’ve ever used does this block-level formatting thing. I don’t like the formatting bar following me around from paragraph to paragraph.

But of course, yeah, this might also just me being older and set in my ways now, computing-wise. 😉 So yeah, I’ll play with this a bit more and see what I think.

Photos

Some thoughts about the Olloclip for iPhone 6

If you follow me on Facebook you’ll possibly have seen me periodically posting about how my neighborhood in Kenmore is overrun by wild bunnies in the summer, and this year is no exception. One of the things I quite enjoy about the walk up and down our hill when I’m doing my daily commute is looking for bunnies–whether they’re hanging out openly in someone’s yard, or ducking under bushes, or what have you.

I take pictures of them when I can. Like, say, this one!

Bun in the driveway

You might notice, though, that this picture is kind of soft and fuzzy, and I mean that in a “not just because it involves a bunny” kind of way. The reason for this, I have discovered, is because the iPhone (at least up through the 6’s, as well as the non-Plus 7, according to specs on apple.com) uses digital zoom. And digital zoom gets problematic the closer in you try to zoom.

The common wisdom I’ve seen is that if you want to take a pic with an iPhone, you need to not zoom at all, and crop to get what you want. This is fine if what you’re taking a pic of is pretty close to you. Like this bunny! (This remains my very favorite bunny pic I’ve taken to date.)

Bus stop bun

But if a bunny is more than two or three feet away from you, you kinda have to zoom to shoot it. Because if you try to get closer, it will very likely sense your presence and bolt.

Which brings me to how I saw Dreamwidth friend cruisedirector posting her own bunny pics! She’s got some nice ones here and here and here, and in general, I’m rather jealous of her zooming abilities! She informed me that Samsung rather gets the credit for this, and if I google zoom specs for Samsung phones, I see things like “10x optical zoom” for the Galaxy S4 and yeah, that’d be why she’s taking better bunny pics than I am. ;D

So then I got all “so what can I do to solve this problem?”

Googling around led me to learning that there are assorted third-party lenses that have been made for the iPhone. The top two contenders I saw in my research were the Olloclip and the Moment, and of the two, camera nerds I read up on have been saying that the Moment is the superior lens.

The problem for me though is that the way the Moment works, they expect you to glue a mounting plate onto the back of your device, and screw the lens into that. I was rather dubious about this–and moreover, decided that I didn’t want to go hunting for one of these, even though I’d read in an article I found posted on the Seattle Times from 2016 that indicated that these lenses would be on sale at the Apple Store in Bellevue.

So instead I opted for the Olloclip. And specifically, I bought this thing, which gives me a telephoto lens and a wide angle one. The telephoto one is the one I’m interested in, since it gives me some optical zoom capability… 2x optical zoom as well as a shallower depth of field. It’s super-easy to pop onto the phone, and I can flip it around to use the wide angle lens. Both lenses can line up with the front and back cameras.

The one drawback here is that I do have to take the phone’s case off, but I’m okay with that.

And so far, the one thing I’m not entirely happy with is that test shots I’ve done with notable amounts of sky in them have caused there to be a bit of a dark halo effect in the corners. So to account for this, I will need to practice aiming and then cropping to get rid of that.

Also, if I change phones and want to continue to have an external lens, I’ll need a different one because this one is specifically designed for the iPhone 6. So far though I’m okay with that, too! My current phone is still perfectly lovely and I won’t be updating it in the near future.

So for now this little toy should be perfectly lovely for my bunny-photographing needs, and I will also be taking it to Quebec with me–because I’m hoping the improved zoom will let me do better at taking pics of musical performances, too. 😀

Here are a bunch of test pics I’ve done with the lens clip so far (and if the thumbnails aren’t coming through for some reason, you can find them directly on flickr here):

Happy with the purchase so far. Playing with this is already fun! Looking forward to learning more!

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Starting off the new year by solving problems

Dara has been on a big kick with the turn of the year to get rid of a lot of things we don’t need anymore, and this has rolled over onto me a bit to make the first week of 2017 one of solving a bunch of small problems.

Problem #1: Backups weren’t working correctly on our servers.

How this was solved: Discovering that rdiff-backup wasn’t going to create a directory for me in the backup location if that directory didn’t already exist, unless I gave it a –create-full-path argument. Also discovering that scripts in cron.daily, cron.weekly, and cron.monthly should not actually be in cron format, unlike anything you put in cron.d. Once I figured out both of these things, I was finally able to get backups working properly.

Problem #2: My older laptop got unacceptably warm after a few minutes of use, particularly when booted into Windows 10.

How this was solved: Taking Winnowill apart, which let Dara not only give the inside a good cleaning, but ALSO let her discover that the goop that’s normally supposed to provide some insulation conductivity between the CPUs and the heat sink had dried out. A lot of it had in fact crumbled away. So she ordered some new goop and put new layers of that on the CPUs, and then we put the machine back together.

This made the machine much happier when booting into Windows 10 and actually trying to do things in that OS.

Meanwhile we’re also updating the hard drive from its current 500GB one to a 1T, and going from a Western Digital Blue to a Western Digital Black. Which, Dara tells me, should mean an increase in hard drive performance and hopefully another reduction in the likelihood of it overheating.

In general this should also hopefully increase the lifespan of this machine. Given that I got it way back in 2007, and this box is still chugging along, that’s still a pretty impressive lifespan for a laptop. I was thinking of selling it, but Dara says she’d like to keep the box around just for the sake of having an older and still functional Mac. Eventually it might become our new Time Machine server if Elda gives up the ghost.

All of this did at least also give me a chance to take a picture of what the inside of Winnowill looks like!

Winnie's CPUs

Winnie’s CPUs

Problem #3: The cushion on the left ear of my Bluetooth headphones split a seam.

Apparently this is a thing with Jabra move headphones? A couple weeks ago I noticed that there was a split seam on this ear cushion, and when I googled for it, I found quite a few other users complaining about the same thing. This has happened often enough that Jabra sells replacement cushions, and the replacements are supposedly sewn and not glued. I ordered a pair of the replacements and got the new one for the left ear on there okay with Dara’s help. Keeping the cushion for the right side in reserve on the assumption that this will eventually happen on that side, too.

There are other things I’m in the middle of doing that are more domestic–replacing old bras and old jeans–and Dara and I will also be looking into replacing our mattress. But the techie problems are more interesting, so the post is about those!

Any problems y’all have solved so far with the new year?

Editing to add: By “goop” on the CPU I actually meant, of course, conductivity rather than insulation. Oops! Many thanks to userinfoalinsa for pointing that out.

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Tech review: iOS 10, by Apple

As y’all know, I’m an Apple user of many years at this point. I’m on my second Macbook computer since 2007, and my third iPhone since 2009. And since fairly tech-savvy, I tend to jump on OS upgrades as they happen. This week, with the release of iOS 10, was no exception.

And, as I’ve posted both here and on my social media accounts, by and large I’m happy with it. With the one big glaring exception that the redesigned Music app is an unholy mess and I would now like to shoot it into the sun. Go see that post for details on that, as well as a few initial observations on a couple of alternative apps I am exploring.

This post is about everything else, assorted observations I made through the process of installing the update on my phone and my iPad, and while using it today on the phone on my commute.

Dara’s best reaction to my live updates:

I do indeed figure that any OS update that does not result in my device exploding is probably a win.

During Setup

iOS apparently has two-factor authentication now for logging into your iCloud account. This is a good thing. I approve.

I also noticed that it offered to add the credit card I already had on file with Apple for buying music and such to Apple Pay. I have no fucks to give about Apple Pay but went ahead and let it do this anyway. I may want to test this at some point.

No More Sliding to Unlock

I may be one of the few iOS users on the planet that doesn’t really care about the widgets on the lockscreen. I’m a little sad that “slide to unlock” has become extinct now, because iOS 10 wants you to swipe left to get to widgets, and swipe right to get to the camera. Both of which seem fine to me from a usability standpoint, but I’m tellin’ ya, it’s going to take me a while to get over the muscle memory of needing to swipe left to unlock the phone.

I have an iPhone 6, not a 6s or later, so I don’t get to have the shiny new Raise to Wake functionality. But it is pretty nifty to be able to unlock the phone via Touch ID. Which, come to think of it, I was able to do in iOS 9, I think. I just never ever actually realized that before.

Still, though, this is what it looks like if I swipe left now from my lockscreen.

Widgets! Yay?

Widgets! Yay?

Overall Design

A bunch of font changes all over the place, but aside from the ones in the Music app, so far I’m not seeing anything to annoy me. All of my various apps still look pretty much the same, and none of them appear to have broken. So at least from a design perspective, iOS 10 doesn’t look particularly different from iOS 9 except in the Music app. Nothing here for me to hate, but nothing to get excited over either.

And I’m a little surprised to have found only one new system wallpaper I didn’t recognize. Apparently wallpapers are not something about which iOS 10 concerns itself. I’m a little sad about that, too, because sometimes I do use the system wallpapers. They tend to be a bit better at not making it too hard to read the labels on my apps.

Performance

There does appear to have been a noticeable boost in performance on my devices. Uploading a photo to Facebook and Twitter over the house wifi was smokin’ fast, and even pretty speedy over phone connectivity as well.

Bluetooth

My Jabra Move headphones seem like they’re connecting faster to the phone now, and during the course of today as I played music and podcasts, they held up pretty well. But they started flaking out on me partway through the afternoon, and I’m not sure yet whether that’s the fault of the new OS, or the fault of the headphones maybe running low on battery. I didn’t hear them fire off a low battery warning, so I’ll have to keep an eye on that over the next few days and see if the problem recurs.

Mail

There’s a new filter icon in the Mail app, down in the lower left hand corner, that lets you zoom in on just the unread messages in the mailbox you’re looking at. I don’t know if I’ll find this useful yet, but it seems like something that might be useful to me at some point.

App Deletion

I’m a little vexed that the touted ability to delete the stock apps you don’t find useful is deletion in name only–you can just blow away the icons off the home screen, vs. actually deleting them off the device and therefore freeing up space. But still, I’ll take it. Fewer icons to have to keep track of is nice.

All in All

This doesn’t feel like a particularly revolutionary upgrade to me, and the only thing that’s blatantly different amongst the stuff I actually use and care about, i.e., the Music app, is a significant step downward.

I do not care at all about the new emojis, or the added functionality in the messages app. I certainly don’t care about app functionality within messages. And as I mentioned up at the top of this post, I don’t particularly care about the widgets on the lockscreen either. Since I have a 6, I don’t have the 3D Touch capability that’s supposed to be what makes these widgets so awesome. Y’all will have to look to reviews written by people with newer devices than mine, I think, to get more deets on that. (Try Ars Technica’s comprehensive review, maybe?)

On the other hand, my phone’s general performance does feel faster. I’m seriously disgruntled about the Music app being a dumpster fire now, enough that I’m looking for alternative music apps. But that’s not enough to make me sad that I did the update in general. As Ars Technica says in the headline of their review, if you’ve got a reasonably new device, there’s no particular reason not to update.

(If you’ve got an older device, note also that Ars Technica has an entirely separate post about iOS 10 on the iPhone 5 and 5c, so that might be worth a read to you.)

So if you’re a technophile like me and willing to dive in headfirst to a new OS upgrade, go for it; just be aware of the issues with the Music app. If you’re more conservative though and prefer that a new OS release go through a few cycles of bugfixes, there’s nothing hugely groundbreaking here that I see to argue you out of that.

Final rough grade in general: B+
Final rough grade for the Music app in particular: D-

Site Updates

Testing Jetpack crossposting, test, test, test

Since I was just over on the WordPress.com testing its crossposting functionality via Publicize, I thought that was pretty nifty and have learned that that’s available to self-hosted sites like this one, via the Jetpack plugin.

So this is me testing that! This should be going out to my Facebook, Twitter, Google+, and Tumblr accounts.

(I’m a little irritated that Jetpack apparently does not let you set up to crosspost to Facebook for both your personal timeline AND a page that you manage, which, y’know, is kinda what I need to do. So even if I decide to keep Jetpack around, I will still need Social. Not to mention the older functionality I’m using to throw posts over to Livejournal and Dreamwidth.)

Y’all please let me know if you notice anything weird about site functionality while Jetpack is active. When I turned it on, I suddenly got a huge wave of backlogged comment emails that Social should have sent me and didn’t. So there may be other unexpected side effects. Apologies in advance if anything breaks!

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Side effects of setting up a wordpress.com site

As I announced yesterday, I have now have a minimal backup version of my author site up on angelahighland.wordpress.com. I’m disgruntled that I have had to do this, and only somewhat reassured by having seen our city council put up this statement pertaining to our ongoing chronic outage problem.

But this does at least mean that now I’ve had a bit of direct experience setting up a site on WordPress.com. Which is useful experience to have, since it tells me things I can share with fellow authors who need to set up a site for their books.

Setting up the site is really easy

All you really need is an account on WordPress.com, to start with. Once you have one of those, when you’re logged in, there’s a “My Site” button up in the upper left part of their site. Clicking on that leads you to the setup wizard you can step through to get a site going. They ask you some basic questions about what your site will be about, so that they can give you a bit of guidance as to what default themes they will suggest for you.

This process includes choosing a theme, and choosing what level of site plan you want. Your options for the latter do include ‘free’, with varying tiers above that that cost different amounts of money depending on what level of service you want from them.

Assuming you quickly choose one of the offered default themes and you choose the ‘free’ plan, setting up your site is only a matter of a couple of minutes. This is even easier than setting up your own site with the code from WordPress.org.

Your site will however be limited in available functionality

If you’ve got any experience setting up your own self-hosted WordPress site at all, you will probably find the limitations on a WordPress.com site annoying. Specifically, you will not be able to install your own plugins. I get why this is the case–they are a commercial site, and accordingly, they need to lock down what they’ll let users install and what they won’t, for security purposes. But if you’re accustomed to the fine-grained level of control hosting your own site will provide you, this will likely be a step down for you.

You do get a small range of plugins available to you, though. You can find those on the My Site sidebar, under Plugins. What’s of immediate interest to me is that they do have a “Publicize” plugin that lets you crosspost out to various social media sites. And there’s a Stats plugin that can show you some basic site stats, along with an extended Google Analytics plugin that you can purchase if you want more data than what the basic plugin will provide you.

A similar level of lockdown is in place on selecting themes. But unless you’re a techie like me, with enough HTML and CSS experience that you can fine-tune a theme to get it the way you want it, this probably won’t be an issue. There do appear to be a wide variety of themes available, both free ones and ones you can purchase. What I don’t see upon initial investigation is whether you can install your own theme–which is why I haven’t ported over the one I’m using here on angelahighland.com. I suspect they won’t let you do that unless you pony up for one of the paid tiers of service.

The My Site sidebar is actually kind of annoying

Again, this is a matter of my being a techie and also used to what I have available via the standard wp-admin sidebar in my self-hosted WordPress site. The My Site sidebar WordPress.com provides you is simplified from that–which I think would probably be a plus for less technically inclined users.

For me, though, it’s an annoying step down. And matters are not improved by how that sidebar seems to perform very badly in Safari, my browser of choice when I’m working on my Macbook at home. I can still get to the standard wp-admin sidebar, but it’s extra clicks to get to, and I don’t get to it by default if I try to edit any of the pages on the site. I have yet to find any way to make this my default sidebar via the UI that WordPress.com provides.

All in all

Despite my being vexed by the difference in available functionality between the WordPress.com UI and what I’m used to with my own self-hosted site, I did appreciate the quickness with which I was able to fire up a site there. And I do know that a lot of authors have their presences there and have found it very useful. John Scalzi, for example, has repeatedly posted on his blog at Whatever that he’s very satisfied with the service they provide him; he’s paying for the upper tier of service and he’s finding it very worth his money.

Anybody got any questions about how the WordPress.com site works, that would help you decide if you want to make a site there yourself? Got any experience of your own with WordPress.com sites that you’d like to share? Drop a comment and let me know!