Category Archives: Uncategorized

Invasion of the Pods

I stopped by the Apple Store on the way home from church, always an expensive detour. This Sunday was no exception. I auditioned the HomePod and was suitably impressed. In the noisy way-too-big Apple Store hall, it sounded creditable in the near field. My impressions after a day at home follow. Most of the reviews focus on Siri when the focus should be on the killer app of the “smart speaker”, music reproduction. I’ll talk about music reproduction.

Continue reading Invasion of the Pods

Hi Crash and Nick are Half-Brothers

Back in the winter, I kept a friend’s greyhound while she was on holiday. Crash joined Nick and Missy as their guest. Crash was a perfect gentleman with impeccable manners in the house, in the garden, and on lead. After all, he’s a US racing greyhound and they’re indeed special.

krash-greyhound-1-of-1
Hi, I’m Crash

Crash enjoyed his stay with us. He and Missy had several epic chase sessions in the back garden. Missy was overjoyed to have a bouncy boy about her own age for play. Nick, he’s 11 and acting positively senior.

nick-and-missy-christmas-2015-1-of-1
I’m Lord Nick

Continue reading Hi Crash and Nick are Half-Brothers

Is there a real camera in your future?

Recently, a friend asked her social media peeps for camera recommendations for a first camera that is not a point and shoot. Her expected uses are garden macrophotography, the occasional photo of the moon, and urban/country trekking photography, including wildlife photography (BellaBob?). And of course, photographing her photogenic dogs when a phone camera just won’t do.

Since I was last in the marketplace, the players have changed somewhat. Several have introduced innovative product lines and new product types. Several manufacturers now make mirrorless advanced cameras. Some are styled to mimic the rangefinder cameras of old and others to mimic single lens reflex cameras. All have an eye to camera view finder. Two things distinguish an enthusiast camera from a point and shoot, the view finder, and the shutter lag.

Rather than try to survey the market, this article will inform you of important camera design considerations and the way in which they influence a purchasing decision. After reading this article, considering how you might use an advanced camera, and consideration of personal characteristics such as hand size, vision, and fiscal health, you can venture forth into the market place. I suggest that you handle each camera and take some snapshots with it on a memory card that you bring along. This will give you a feeling for the view finder, menus, and control layout that you won’t get from reading Amazon reviews. And keep your friendly shop keeper in business by buying local rather than ordering.

Continue reading Is there a real camera in your future?

2016 Holiday Letter

I kept putting off writing the year end newsletter. I couldn’t think of anything to write about. Once I got started, I couldn’t believe how long it had become. Anyway, 2016, that was the year that was.

Milestones

Last summer, niece  Alison Kiehl and Sarah married. This summer, they came to the beach to celebrate their union with Alison’s Virginia Beach friends and family. They rented a nice beach house, held a reenactment of their wedding ceremony, and held a reception for family and friends.

2016_Alison_Sarah_Union_Anaversary.jpg
Alison and Sarah

Sadly, three friends since high school days, Dar, Elmer, and Fred Kiehl passed away. Fred was a high school classmate overcome by advanced lung cancer. Fred’s parents, Dar and Elmer lived to 88 and 90 respectively. Both were good friends and gracious hosts for summer holiday when I lived up north and were the center of Kiehl extended family life, as much a result of their charm, wit, and patience with offspring as their oceanfront address in Virginia Beach.

We live in interesting times

My countrymen surprised me by electing Donald Trump president. I’m hoping for the best but fearing the worst.

Donald Trump, in his election eve speech, said some hopeful things but I fear his darker nature will keep them from happening.

In my old age, I’m a pragmatist desiring a competent government that works to create a future worth living rather than struggling to prevent futures we fear. In my life, I’ve watched our fear-motivated policies squander so many opportunities to make a better world for all to enjoy.

Around Home

This year’s home projects were all small potatoes. A local contractor replaced the carport columns and front porch rails and my fencing contractor installed the bits I deferred until the carport was repaired. The perimeter fence and carport fence make a nice playground for my greyhounds.

As part of last year’s renovation, a landscaper sodded the side yard, installed paver walks for carport access and wheelie bin storage, and constructed a small bed with flowering shrubs and ground cover at the new porch. This year’s strange weather resulted in a wet fall and spring that caused significant fungus loss in the new sod and the jasmine developed root rot and croaked. I also lost one of the two spreading rosemary plants in that bed. Feeling brave, I planted Encore Azaleas to replace the jasmine that I lost. I’m watching them nervously. A dry October and November followed a hellishly wet August and September. Mild weather is keeping shrubs active longer than normal.

The Dogs

2016_Nick_Missy.jpg
Nick and Missy

Oh no, Mr. Nick!

This was Nick’s year for minor injuries. First, he skinned up his forelegs belly flopping in the hurricane Matthew flooded street. Just recovered from the street encounter, he cut a pad hooning in the garden. Probably while trolling passers-by at the fence with Missy.

Krash Boards

krash-greyhound-1-of-1
Guest Dog Krash

Life with 3 is interesting. Krash is a perfect gentlemen, about 5 years of age and a year off the track. Krash visited while his mum toured the Biltmore Estate for 2 days. So I had to figure out how to do routine with 3. Three dinners. Walks for 3. Play for 3. The dynamic was interesting. The youngsters played while Nick chaperoned. Every time Missy and Krash began to hoon, Nick would break things up. Finally, I kept Nick in and let the 2 young ones have a go. They played some serious chase tossing a prey stuffy back and forth. After 2 minutes they were spent and settled for the evening.

Krash liked his ration wet with canned food. So I fixed his wet and the resident’s rations dry. Mine turned their noses. up at their dry rations. Finally, I had to feed them all wet and share the canned food for three. I continued feeding my two wet food which completely fixed their fussy eating. A few ounces of warm water and the ration goes down immediately. No picking at it. And Nick cleans his plate. No more food thieving, Missy.

It was really funny watching him the first evening. Judy slipped out to join her trip mates without a visit so Krash was a bit unsettled. He looked for Judy for a while and paced for a while more. After 2 hours of this, he settled until bed time. Come bed time, he had no idea what to do. Who sleeps where? Where do I sleep? Nick took a bed in my bedroom. Missy took a bed in my study. Krash finally settled on the second bed in my room. All made it through the night without issue. Nobody stepped on. Nobody chomped. The second day, you’d think he’d always been here.

Technology Tinkering

Each year stuff wears out and needs change so I keep tinkering with the household technology. This year, I changed the video stuff around to add a Roku set top box, nVidia Shield Android TV, and a Google Chromecast Audio gadget. I also figured out how to get Adobe Lightroom CC to earn its keep.

Roku Premier

Clarkson, Hammond, and May move to Amazon Video after Jeremy slugged one of his assistant producers. Being a fan of the show, I had to change things up to see the new program. Apple and Amazon are competitors as music and book distributors so Amazon keeps its original programs away. No Amazon Video for Apple TV. But Amazon Video is on Android TV (Amazon Fire) and Roku. I bought a Roku box because all the distributors play with Roku. It works decently well but doesn’t have that nice Apple look and feel.

nVidia Shield

I’ve been wanting to move the music serving chores off my Mac Mini so I could log it out when not needed. It looks like I can actually do this. I added MacOS Server to MacOS. This program sets up and administers file sharing and other services present in MacOS. I was able to export my iTunes library and should be able to mount it on an nVidia Shield (coming). nVidia Shield includes a PLEX player and PLEX server as part of the standard software load out. I can also add Kobi to it making it a flexible media player. More on this when it happens in a week or so.

Chromecast

I also have a Google Chromecast Audio device. I use it as an alternative destination for PLEX which has chrome cast built in. Although Google doesn’t make a big deal of it and most reviewers fail to mention it, Chromecast Audio has a TOSlink optical interface built in to the 3.5 MM connector in addition to the normal stereo TRS socket. This lets me pass the pristine bit stream on to my Parasound Halo P5 preamp. It’s a bit fussier to get going than AirPlay but once going, you can’t tell the difference. And the Chromecast puck is all of $35.

Photography

Apple’s tinkering with Photos has pretty much abandoned the hobby photographer. Photos is fine if you take snapshot and want them automatically organized. It is lacking if you want to render them. So, about a year ago, I subscribed to Adobe Lightroom CC which includes Camera Raw and Photoshop CC. This summer, I downloaded Lightroom Mobile and figured out how to set it up. I now have it rigged to post photos from my iPhone and iPad to CC and from there to Lightroom CC. Apple convenient but with Adobe rendering muscle. The images appearing here are all original images

Institute for Learning in Retirement

‘m Communications and Technology committee chair for Institute for Learning in Retirement, a local seniors club. ILR is a life long learning institute affiliated with the Road Scholar network. Other Institute is a similar organization. Both promote senior’s life long learning by running local institutes and Road Scholar offers senior’s “adventure” travel overseas. Outdoor Adventure Travel offers similar programs. Both organizations aim for local culture immersion rather than a posh travel experience.

Back office automation

Last year, the board tasked CTC  to find a replacement for our home brew registration system using MS Access and MS Excel. The system was single user and amateur developed (lacking input validation, etc). Our registration workload had grown too large for a single operator to process it in the time available. After a market search, we settled on ProClass, a software as service operation with 1500 clients that included many life long learning clubs like ILR. We’re part way through the transition with both systems operating in parallel. We expect to shift to the new system in 2017 and hope to offer on-line registration later that year.

ILR Website Rebuild

I’m also our webmaster. Our current website is an Open Academy Drupal 7 based site that replaced a legacy MS FrontPage site that was becoming seriously out of date. Our new site uses the Drupal 7 content management system that separates editorial content from presentation much like WordPress does for this blog. The site is relatively easy to maintain  with a built-in menu system and document rendering that is responsive to screen size and shape. It automatically does layout for phones, tablets, and desktop displays.

Drupal 8 is replacing Drupal 7. Our Open Academy environment is last in a sequence of open source projects that must be revised for Drupal 8 which picked up many of the capabilities of the middleware packages in Open Academy as built in Drupal 8 capabilities including the page by page paned layout engine. But Drupal 8 does things differently. So it is not a matter of removing the redundant package. The client bits must be rewritten to use the new Drupal 8 native implementations of the capabilities added to the core. This is not happening quickly, and given that small consultancies wrote these modules for their own purposes, it may not happen if the shop’s business has taken a different direction.

For this reason and to expand our volunteer author and editor pools to a size greater than one (me), we’re moving the site to WordPress at our current host later this year. We need a custom hosting service (Pantheon) because the ILR site requires an added module or 2 for things we want to do. WordPress hosting restricts us to pre-packaged versions of WordPress and curated fixed plug-ins. To add an event manager, we need custom hosting. To restrict content by user roles, we need a custom host. So ILR will be staying with Pantheon.

I’m an ILR Presenter

This winter, I gave my first ILR presentation on electric power with an emphasis on the history of electric power, understanding of the utility business characteristics influencing utility decisions, and the challenges posed by renewable generation. It was a bit too much material for 2 hours but nobody threw produce.

And, ILR invited me back. This spring, I’m planning a new presentation on nuclear power. This presentation will focus on the early history of reactors, Alvin Weinberg, and the emerging molten salt reactors with emphasis on their safety and operational advantages over the expedient light water reactor technology in use today.

 

 

S’mores: a little fun in the Twitterverse

Remember s’mores, that gooey campfire treat we brought back from Scout camp? Several things have happened.

  • It’s a US delicacy
  • It’s hard to get the makings off-shore
  • S’mores have inspired many gourmet Graham cracker, marshmallow and chocolate creations in the form of bars, pies, and ice cream.

Twitter friend @SamsBellabob’s mum smuggled (Bella would never smuggle) a packet of graham crackers and a packet of marshmallows into the UK while returning from her US hollibob. Sam had heard tell of the mystical s’more but had never prepared them. @SamsBellabob posted a photo of the makings on Twitter and asked the #houndsoftwitter for help. All activity came to a halt as Bella and 10 of her dearest Twitter friends figured out how one might make s’mores in a country where you can’t buy the makings and there is no dry wood for a camp fire.

The rest of the world is s’mores deficient

In the US, s’mores and the makings for s’mores are ubiquitous. In the UK and much of the rest of the world, Graham Crackers and Marshmallows are found in the world food corner of Tesco or mail ordered from Amazon at premium prices if they are available at all. I dare say, we could find Hobnobs and Walker Shortbread Fingers at a lower premium here. So their first handicap is that it is difficult to get the ingredients, hence the need to bring some back in the overhead bin.

The second problem is that few UK/EU folk have prepared this gourmet delicacy so there was a difference of opinion about how one should go about s’mores. Nobody knew that it was campfire food so there was lots of speculation about microwaves, regular ovens, and such. And health and safety weighed in that lava erupted from toasted marshmallows. Apparently, toasted marshmallows are on the list of UK national menaces.

So after much hound role playing silliness, the group agreed to make s’mores this week.

How Mum made em

We almost always had s’mores on a day where the barbie was used to cook supper. We would mount the marshmallows on kabob skewers and toast them over the dying charcoal fire. You could toast them slowly or let them ignite for that activated carbon taste. Once the marshmallow was done to the maker’s specification, a Graham cracker was broken into halves, a square of Hershey’s milk chocolate placed on it, then the gooey marshmallow, and topped with another Graham cracker to make a sandwich. The eater allowed the marshmallow to cool and the chocolate to melt to personal taste before consuming the finished product.

Occasionally, we made them in the kitchen without the barbie. We had an electric hob with Calrod coils. Turned the puppy on high and used the outdoor procedure to toast the marshmallows over the red coils and proceeded as on cookout nights.

They should look like the example in the top of the photo in this article.

As you can see from the remainder of the article, s’mores have inspired all manner of gourmet variations. I do not endorse any of them. Just stick to the basics. Apparently, there is a National s’mores day, complete with Presidential proclamation and Michelle Obama recipes.

2016 Challenge

I thought everybody was being silly about how to make s’mores without a cook fire. Then I realized I had an induction hob and could no longer toast marshmallows over the glowing coils. How would I make them today? How would I make them for a grand-kid’s name day party?

After reflecting on this a bit, I came up with the following untested method.

  • Preheat oven to 350 F or equivalent C degrees
  • Prepare baking sheet with baking parchment
  • Place marshmallows 4 inches on center on parchment as needed to serve the assembled multitudes. They don’t spread but room is needed to remove them with a spatula, hopefully without injury.
  • Place in oven and roast until nicely toasty. I have no idea how long this will take — think 10 minutes like cookies to start. Convection oven will be faster for a given temperature. My oven makes me choose between bake and roast. I have no idea how the two differ having tossed the booklet.
  • While marshmallows are toasting, prepare a tray with Graham cracker squares and thin milk chocolate bar sections to cover and tops handy.
  • When marshmallows are toasted and flames extinguished, transfer still hot marshmallows to the prepared cracker/chocolate bit and top with the second square to make a sandwich. Be advised that lava can erupt at any handling miss-step.
  • Allow hot marshmallow to melt the cool chocolate to personal taste.

When cooled somewhat, consume noting that too hot marshmallow has lava-like properties and can cause pizza-burns inside the mouth if not cooled sufficiently.

Where to get s’mores makings

UK bloggers report that Tesco stocks s’mores makings in the world foods section. At a world foods price. I believe their Graham crackers and marshmallows are free-range raised in the Loire valley near Chateau Margot or Chateau Rothschild and commend an appropriate price. If you happen to have a US military person among your friends, they can be approached to procure the s’mores makings from the post Commissary at US home market prices or better. A bottle of single malt is the appropriate gratuity.

 

TabloTV Update

A couple of years ago, I wrote about Tablo TV, an off-air DVR product. Since then, TabloTV continues to improve with an Apple TV 4 App in the works (real soon now). TabloTV made firmware updates to support the app but the app is still awaiting release.

Plex

Plex is a OS independent media server that runs on Linux, MacOS, and Windows. The server component is free with the clients a la carte. There is also a subscription option that enables watching content away from home.

Plex has plugins that allow Plex to present foreign content such as Tablo TV recordings and live TV. I’ve started using Plex to watch the evening news and recorded content. The Plex Tablo plugin has a much nicer interface for viewing content than that in the iPad app. The plugin is unable to manage schedules or recordings but it allows AppleTV 4 to play content without AirPlay from an iPad. My iPad is free for ill-behaved apps like Facebook (network hog).

Recommendations

All of this stuff works well enough that I’ve been using Plex for most of my audio and video playback. The Plex Media Server is mature, the Plex ATV plugin is mature, and the iPad client is mature.

Once the TabloTV AppleTV client becomes available, it should be possible to manage recordings and schedules directly from AppleTV. Until then, the Plex TabloTV server plugin will fill the bill.

IPad Faceplant

In a moment of clumsiness in the dark my original iPad took a high dive off my dresser to do a face plant on the oak floor five feet below. Miraculously, there was no visible damage but sadly, no Apple Care. Yesterday I dropped by the Apple Store to visit the Genius Bar. Had I been an Apple Care dude, they would have swapped it for a refurbished unit. In spite of my clumsiness. My alternative was to do an exchange for $250. I spent some time looking at the new one while awaiting my turn at the bar. You can’t believe the new display; it is drop dead gorgeous. Since I use mine for magazine reading etc, I opted to pick up a new iPad. What to with the old one?

Well, it’s not kaput but mostly usable because there’s about a thumb width of dead screen at the top. Many tasks are still possible and for someone without, it is a free introduction to iPad and half off on a refurbished unit. A little display flipping moves the bad stripe out of the way, the touchscreen is still good and AirPlay is unaffected. The bad spot is an annoyance.

A friend lives in a house full of Frankenstein Windows machines built by her son and handed down. Mike keeps current so she has Win 7, Home Essentials, Xbox Live, and Netflix but is still tied to her desk. I showed her the new one at church and pitched my retired unit to her. She was fascinated by Scribbles and Paper. And she paints which means she’d like the drawing programs that can do water colors, pastels, and pen and ink — that’s Paper. And I showed her the conceptual design her son’s Small Potatoes architect friend had made for me. She’s game so I’ll clean the beast up and get her started with an iTunes account and a good password so her granddaughter doesn’t spend her into the poor house. And add a few of my favorite apps so she won’t have to run them down herself.

The real magic of iPads is AirPlay. I can play anything in my iTunes library on the iPad or send the output to Apple TV to see on the big screen. As Cult of Mac has noted iTV is here today, you just have to integrate the bits as I described in an earlier post. The magic of the new one is the high res Retina display. Text approaches book quality, Time Magazine’s Lightroom, Flipboard Photos, NatGeo, PBS video, etc are crisp and luminous because blacks and contrast, already good, are the best LCD display out there. Images are smoother with noticeably less posterization. Skin tones are natural. (Nothing helps the Fox bimbos! Not even Apple magic can make them real) After that, it is little things like touchscreen insertion being easier and textures and shading in the UI widgets.

The camera is a pleasant surprise. It is the same one in iPhone 4s and it is sharp. The Retina display shows the full image in a manner almost like using a big view camera. You can see to compose. This may turn out to be a surprising bonus. Maybe some entrepreneur will make a tripod mount for it.

Almost Vegan Life

As I mentioned in my holiday letter, I’m eating mostly vegan. I’ll have a cheat meal or ice cream on the weekends but I’m sticking to the straight and narrow during the week — fruits, vegetables, beans, and nuts. Since the holiday, I’ve lost about 10 pounds.

Eating vegan is not hard. To actually loose weight, I’ve had to switch from a mostly vegetarian diet that included dairy products to a vegan diet with dairy only as a cheat day treat. Since making that change, I’ve actually started to loose weight as Dr Furman described in Eat to Live. He writes that if you keep the faith, your weight should settle in near your healthy weight.

The past 18 months has been a search for meal alternatives a meal at a time. When I moved up here, I switched breakfast from cereal to salmon and fruit. After 6 months, I switched to fruit and nuts. Twelve months ago, I stopped fixing meat entrees because I couldn’t find the good lean grass fed beef that I like. I started learning to make chills, curries, etc using beans. Last summer, I found One World Vegetarian Cookbook and began making some of the African and South American fare found in its pages. About six months ago, I stopped eating frozen for lunch and began eating fruits, vegetables, and nuts. At this point, I was pretty much eating vegetarian other than bacon with eggs on Saturday. This fall, I started baking bread with the return of cool weather but was eating too much so I’ve had to give up baking. During this experimentation period, my weight was slowly creeping up so I had to drop the cheese and chocolate I’d also been eating. Since making this change, I’ve started to loose weight.

With the return of cool weather, I’ve been making “Red Soup”, a Hamby family thing. I believe my grandmother served it while my parents were growing up. Dad married the girl next door and went off to war. Mom lived with Dad’s parents during that period and learned to make red soup from my grandmother. (Watsons don’t know red soup.) I’ve since figured it out and started making chicken and Manhattan clam chowder variants. This fall, I learned to make a bean variant that comes out pretty good. I use 6 oz dried beans soaked, onion, cabbage or celery, corn, sweet potato, peas, and a couple of cans of unsalted diced tomatoes. The onion is softball sized. Everything else is 1 cup of whatever. Process is simple. Sauté the onions in a dutch oven or stock pot, add everything else and water to cover plus a cup or so and bring to a boil. Once boiling, reduce the heat to low for a slow simmer. Let cook until the beans are soft. Add make-up water as needed. You can add herbs and spices as desired. I’ve tried sherry, fresh basil, dried basil, cinnamon, black peppercorns, dried red pepper, and a red chili power.