New router!

Yes, I’m a geek, I know that! I installed some power line adaptors the other day to get a wired connection for my Apple TV. It had the desired effect, streams are now faster and more consistent. My long term plan was to also set up another wireless router up there to give better wireless performance. I hemmed and hawed over this since the existing wifi signal was OK. But you know me… More speed!

Turns out it was totally worth what the airport express cost me. I am shocked at how much faster everything is. Here’s how I have it set up; I run an ethernet cable from the power line adaptor to a switch, from there I have ethernet running to both the Apple TV and the airport express. The AE is in bridge mode so that it is just acting as a wifi access point without doing any routing of signals. Looking at the wifi signal strength, I gained 1 bar. Subjectively, it feels much faster than before. The other thing that has changed dramatically is mirroring from the iPad to the TV via Apple TV. Lots better.

I had thought it was a good idea to hard wire everything when you can, glad this agreed with me.


Online security (kind of long)

Mat Honan was the victim of a rather vicious hack. It resulted in the erasure of his iPhone, iPad, his Mac, and his Gmail account. It was accomplished through a combination of social engineering (a hacker term for fooling people to obtain important information), personal complacence, and the ability to obtain disparate pieces of information that by themselves are harmless but together can be used to exploit security systems.

Honan compounded the problem by not having a backup of his computer (an unforgivable sin for a tech blogger). he lost a ton of pictures and other information when his Mac got wiped. He also helped the hacker by doing some things that made it easy to jump from account to account. Unfortunately, those things are incredibly common practices with the public at large.

His misfortune made me reexamine my own security habits. Some of the things that happened were behind his control. Both of the companies involved with the social engineering aspects are in the process of addressing that angle. He could have prevented a lot of the other things with just a few tweaks but those involve work and most of us lean towards convenience instead of security. So what could he have done, and what should I do?

There are several types of security exploits that I know of. It is possible to have a key logger or other surveillance software installed on your machine and a cracker could then directly access your information. It’s also possible to have a directed social engineering attack like Honan did. Both of those exploits usually require someone wanting specific information from you. These are the kinds of things that the FBI might do to get information on a suspect. In Honan’s case, they were after his Twitter account. 

The things that regular folks need to worry about are theft of their devices and online services being hacked and exposing their information. Obviously, if a thief has your computer, phone, or iPad, they could potentially do all sorts of damage. Luckily, most thieves are much more interested in selling the device and will therefore promptly erase it. Plus, I would imagine it would be a little more difficult to find buyers of information than devices. 

Ideally, if a service gets hacked it would only affect that particular service. The real problem is that so many people use the same password for so many things. If someone gets your email address and a password, it wouldn’t be too difficult to try other services. Hell, they may not have to try if you use the same password for your email. They could just read through your emails and see what services you use.

So that’s lesson #1, use different passwords. Yes, I know, it’s a total pain, but it is necessary. There are a number of ways to organize and maintain all of the different passwords we have. I use 1Password, a well known password manager and generator. Other people keep a file of their passwords (encrypt it!) and others resort to writing them down. The main point is to start using different passwords, just start doing it.

So OK, you have different passwords for everything, but so did Honan. What happened? The weak point is your email. Every online service that I know of will send you an email to reset your password. If someone gets into the email you use for services, you are done. It is super easy to reset passwords to lock you out of not only your email but also all of your services. Think Facebook, Twitter, banking, credit cards, brokerage, the whole 9 yards. If there’s one thing you have to concentrate on securing, it is your email. How do you do that?

Obviously, a good password is a good start. Honan freely admits that if he had a feature called two step authorization activated on Gmail he could have avoided a lot of subsequent damage. If you have that turned on, signing into Gmail from another machine will require a code that is texted to your phone. A hacker would have to have your password and your phone to get into your email account. Clearly, that is much more secure.

There is usually a tradeoff between security and convenience. The more secure something is, the more difficult it is to get into it. Makes sense really. That’s the trade off, two step verification is much more secure, but it becomes problematic if you have a lot of apps that make use of your Google information. Apps typically can’t deal with two step verification so Google generates special passwords for each app. In my case, that involved 12 different passwords spread across my computer, iPhone, iPad, and Apple TV. Still, once you put it in, it will stay there.

One thing you shouldn’t overlook is that securing your email from hackers makes it really tough for them to get to it. It could conceivably make it hard, or impossible for you to get into it as well! I can envisage a situation where I would not be able to get into my own account and therefore wouldn’t be able to access a lot of other things as well. If I didn’t have one of my own devices at hand, including my phone, I wouldn’t be able to log into my own account. Google does provide you with a list of passwords that can be printed out for absolute emergencies. It’s an important key so take care of it!

So this is what I have done so far in reaction to the massive hack of Honan. I have gone through and made much more secure passwords for all of the online services that are important. I will update others like online forums as I come across them. I have enabled two step verification on my main Gmail account. I have three others left to do but they aren’t used for anything facing the web. I need to activate two step verification on them and Facebook. I also need to make secure passwords for my iPhone and iPad. It would be silly to go through all of this just to have someone take one of them (again) and have direct access to my email.

I’m only really truly worried about someone stealing my devices or a hack of one of the services I use. The two step verification is for piece of mind. It’s nice to know that the lynchpin is locked down really well. Having different passwords will most likely prevent a breech of any of my other services. It has made things slightly less convenient but the tradeoff is worth it to me. 



OK, the secure password on my iPad and iPhone simply isn’t working. Typing in a 15 digit password every time I pick up them up is just not acceptable. I realized that I have the ability to erase these things remotely so all I need is a little time if they get stolen. I have a better password than the default 4 digit option that is offered, but it isn’t super long. I think that’s a good compromise.


New realities for making websites

Back in 2004, I started a blog on Livejoural. Yes, yes, I know Livejournal is kind of laughable but give me a break, it was 2004 and I was new to the whole blogging thing. I eventually made my first website in 2005 because I wanted to show some of my pictures, writings, etc. in addition to my blog. At the time, the best integration I could manage with LJ was to have it in a frame or direct to another webpage. 

I didn’t like either option, it was always ugly and awkward. Not that I was any great shakes when it came to web design, but even I couldn’t help but notice how bad that was. I decided to host my blog on my website. The software I was using (more on that later) made it pretty easy to do. While I was in Yemen I switched over the Google’s Blogger for hosting my blog. If I remember correctly, the idea was that I had more access to Blogger over there. When I was hosting my own blog, I had to write it in the software on my computer but I had some serious problems getting my computer to work in the internet cafes at first. With Blogger I could email a post or use the web portal to make new posts. A plug in on the the website software allowed me to host my info on Blogger and still have it show up on my site styled like the rest of it. Later on I downloaded Mars Edit software to make it easier to post to multiple blogs. My workflow has remained the same for quite a few years now.

Even though I haven’t really changed much when it comes to how I make the website, there are ongoing costs. I have updated the website software twice, I also have to pay to register the domains I own as well as a fee for hosting the content. I’ve been using Dreamhost for domain registration and hosting and I don’t really have any complaints. Well, not about them.See, the thing is, there is a lot of fiddly things that make me a little crazy. I have changed the look of my website twice and both times it was a total pain in the neck. 

I have been using Rapidweaver software. It isn’t as powerful as Dream Weaver, but I’m not sure anything is. Ease of use is the calling card of Rapidweaver. I really didn’t want to learn to code just for a website, I don’t have to with Rapidweaver. You pick a theme, you pick what kind of page you want, then you drop the content into the pages. Violá, you have a website! Well, a basic website. It looks much better with third party themes, and you get more control (while still laying off the code) buy buying plugins for the pages. Of course then you have to figure out which plugins will work with things like iPads, you have to keep the main software, the themes, and the plugins up to date. You have to keep track of FTP settings and go back and forth between the “auto” loading of the website onto the host and doing manually. In short, even though the software made things a lot easier, it was still a lot of detail and fiddling around that I really didn’t want to bother with.

Still, I’ve put up with it because… well, what else could I do? Turns out things have changed quite a bit over the years. The emergence of Web Content Management Systems (WCMS) has finally given us a viable option. Essentially, instead of having software on my machine, I log into a service on the web and do all the website work there. What would I gain by doing that? It’s true that there would still be the fiddling with design. I’ve always found that annoying and I’m not very good at it (those two things are probably related). It does look like it is both simpler and better looking than the defaults on Rapidweaver though. Think it will be an easier setup overall. The updates come automatically, there are no FTP issues to deal with, they do the hosting and domain registration. It will replace the website software, the hosting company, and the hassle of making all the moving parts working together. Basically, it will make my life simpler when it comes to my website.

True, I give up some freedom in design, but that’s fine by me since I don’t want to deal with it anyway. The bigger issue is what happens if that company goes away? It’s one thing for your software company to go away, you still have the site on your computer. Ditto for the hosting company. If one company is doing it all, you could be setting yourself up for trouble if there’s problems with that company. I do think a lot of that can be mitigated by picking a good company to begin with. If the company goes under, I will still have all of my content. Between regular exports of the site and the duplication of the blog posts in Mars Edit, I don’t have any worry about losing my blog. The same goes for anything else that I put up there. True, it would be a royal pain to recreate everything, but I could do it. RIght now I have everything being exported by Rapidweaver and I have all of the content, HTML, CSS, etc in a folder but realistically I couldn’t do anything with that stuff if Rapidweaver went away. Seems to me that I am in the same boat in either case.

I’m looking at Squarespace as a possible place to move the website. It’s $8 a month for what I want to do. I’d have to do the math but if I include the price of software updates, domain registration, and web hosting… well, it’s close enough that I’d have to do the math. I feel like I would get a much simpler way to maintain my website and have a lot better support. I still have a little while to go on my hosting plan so I won’t be switching soon, but I’m glad that there are now options,

games technology


I have always enjoyed pinball machines. Too many people think of them as just wildly flailing flippers, trying to keep the ball in play. True, there is always some of that, but there is so much more. Once you get past the problem of keeping the ball in play, you will start to notice that there are goals and targets to get to those goals. In order to get to the highest score, you need to actually aim for certain things, and sometimes in certain orders. There is definite skill involved along with the randomness that only a physical interaction can bring. Every game on a particular table has the same goals, but every game plays very differently.

Pinball machines reached their height right along the same time that video games became popular at arcades. Video games had one big advantage, there is almost no maintenance involved with them, Pinball machines on the other hand are filled with an incredible number of moving parts that are constantly pummeled by a heavy ball. They have constant upkeep, there’s no wonder that they became less and less prevalent in the video era.

Well, that’s one more problem the iPad has solved! The pinball games on it are amazing, the action is very realistic, and there are no mechanical breakdowns. That’s even more important with the last generation of pinball machines. They had gone from a fairly simple layout to to devices with multiple ramps, magnets, multiple sets of flippers, different levels, etc. A lo of the pinball machines from the 80’s were fun, but they eventually would get the ball stuck in some weird way, or some spring would get loose and render it inoperable. No more…

Pinball used to be a pretty simple game. You hit as many targets and numbers as you could while avoiding loosing the ball. Sometime along the way, they introduced the concept of goals like hitting all of one set of targets would trigger a bonus of you did a specific thing afterwards. That added a little more thinking into the process. Once the technology was there, they started to introduce things like multiple balls, multiple levels, and lots of other gimmicks. Here’s an example from an iPad game.



IMG 0029


See the three money bags in the upper left? You have to clear the targets over by the pile of money above them before you can get to the money bags. This one also has a rather simple ramp made to look like railroad tracks. If you hit a certain target, you will then get a bonus for each time you put the ball around the ramp. If you hit the bell in the very top left corner, the table will light up on of the many triangles on it. They’re not illuminated in this image, but the easiest one to see is on the left side about midway on the table. Once a triangle/arrowhead lights up, you get a bonus for hitting whatever it is pointed at. There is usually another bonus for doing several in a row. If you lose a ball, everything resets of course and you have to start all over again.


Towards the end, the tables got a little crazy. They were fun to play, but they were really gimmicky. Check this one out.


IMG 0030


I played this in the arcades and even then I thought it was getting too Las Vegas for my tastes. Lots of flashing lights, voices, lots of crap all over the table. The multi ball has 4 balls at a time! Lots of the graphic you see on the table light up and/or flash. It also showed where we were with point inflation. Every so often, the number of points you got for anything went up. This table gives you a free game when you hit 600,000,000. It’s like the table lives in Zimbabwe or something… This particular table suffers on the iPad because the ball can be hard to see. It’s just another graphic on a really busy screen. It was always easy to see the ball on the original/


It’s interesting that I rarely played what I have always considered the best pinball machine. Black Hole (not to be confused with the machine made in conjunction with the Dinsey film) was a very difficult game to play.

IMG 0031



It was one of the first ones that I ever saw that had multi ball and a different level. This table demanded real skill. On a lot of tables, getting to the other level was just a fun way to wrack up points. On this one, if you got sucked into the black hole, you might loose the ball. The lower level in the center of the table can indeed get you some good points, but you need to hit certain targets and avoid others if you wanted the ball to get back to you on the top. You could also complete the yellow targets on the right and then have the ball go over the sensor in the channel behind the right bumper. That would open up the gate to get the ball back as well. I almost never get the ball back unless I complete the stuff on top first. In addition, when the multi ball setup was enabled (not a particularly easy thing to do either), you frequently had to contend with both levels at the same time!


So why didn’t I play it much? Well, it was hard. Plus, it was also a 50 cent machine. That would have taken too much money to get good at when I was 12 or whatever. I was so happy to find this in the app store! Now I can try to master that table that intimidated me so much back then. They are also going to try to make other tables available too. I remember a favorite, but I don’t exactly remember its name. Something to do with knights I think. It had the innovation of being able to trigger magnets that would prevent the ball from going down certain channels. Really added another dimension to the game.


I think it’s going to be funny if the golden age of pinball will come about because of the iPad. There’s nothing to break, and the physical gimmicks work correctly every single time. The 12 year old in me is grinning from ear to ear.



art books culture technology

I told you it was good

Remember that short film I mentioned? I saw “The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore” in the interactive app of the same name on my iPad. Turns out it won the Oscar for best short film. While I don’t usually pay any attention to what the academy does, I’m pretty sure they got this one right.


I’m doomed…

Last year I bought my iPhone, iPad, and iMac. All within two months. I do love them but it was a bit of a hit to the old finances. I resolved to be a little more practical with my money this year.

Late last year I had decided that I was going to get a “real” digital camera. Still want to get it, and it really isn’t all that expensive as those things go. I also knew that I would be getting the new iPad when it came out. Well, the announcement for the iPad was today, and it has the two things that I was looking for. A much higher res screen and much faster connection to the internet, so I’m in. Last time I got a 16GB wi-fi only model. This time around I will get a 4g model, so that’s an extra $130. Since I’ll be using it in conjunction with my new digital camera, I’ll get the 32gb version, that’s another $100. SIGH.


But that’s OK, I’ll make good use of it. I use my current iPad constantly, I consider it money well spent. So between the camera (and lens) and the iPad, that’ll be a little more than I spent on my computer last year. Still hitting my target for spending less. But then Apple also released the new pile TV. Since I now live in a place with a really nice TV and I’ve subscribed to MLB.TV, this makes a lot of sense. Plus, I can now stream my videos in 1080p to the TV from my computer. OK, another $100, no problem.

And then he said it. The words I was fearing the most. Tim Cook wrapped up the iPad keynote by telling us that “This is just the beginning” for Apple this year. GROAN… Am I going to get a new phone? A new computer? No no, must resist… That’s the thing about Apple, I know that new things from them are quite capable of instilling idiotic desire from me. Of course I want them to come out with the new, amazing stuff, but part of me dreads it too, in a good way of course…:)

books technology

Remarkable animation

The Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore is an amazing short film. It’s amazing how far animation has come. It’s about 15 minutes long, so be careful if you’re on a bandwidth limited internet connection.


It really is a sweet and touching piece. I found it through an app for the iPad that turns it into an interactive book for children. Each scene has some writing that expands the story and at the end of each paragraph, the movie clip becomes interactive. It really is a lot of fun even though it’s probably aimed at the 6 to 8 year old demographic. You get to play pop goes the weasel on the piano and you get to use the iPad to steer Morris through his flight inside a book among other things. I can only imagine what kind of impact this kind of storytelling could have on kids groaning up. Of course when you apply it to educational purposes, the possibilities are endless. Look out future, here we come!

photography technology

I can’t believe it, a digital camera…

They’ve finally made a digital camera that I think I’d like to use. Usually that would be no big deal, Isaac liking a camera, big surprise. Of course I just recently talked about how digital doesn’t excite me and I’m going to do analog stuff… Of course, the last half of my “analog” photography was going to be digital anyway. There’s still the magic of the alchemy and the making of a physical thing. And of course it feels good doing something low tech. So I think I’ll still do it, I think. The problem isn’t the cost so much, the problem is that the cost involved is on decidedly unsexy things. I need to get a scanner, a light meter, chemicals, and some processing equipment like beakers and tanks. To me, that’s like buying a bunch of socks. Necessary but not something you enjoy spending money on.

Buying a new camera on the other hand… And of course, the camera is just an excuse to buy some lenses. I am still a total lens snob. I love good lenses for the images they create but also as objects themselves. That’s why I could never own any Sigma or Tamron lenses. They might have been fine performers, they felt like junk to me. My Leica lenses, various Zeiss lenses I’ve owned or own, the Pentax lenses I’ve owned, and all of the large format lenses have been joys to use and to hold. That’s one of the reasons this camera has caught my eye.

Front camera


It is a bit odd looking, as far as cameras go, but the top plate and back plate are really what caught my eye.


Top camera

Camera back


(all pictures from Pentax)

I have never liked digital cameras. I have long since appreciated their performance, but the cameras themselves were just awful. Lots of little buttons spread everywhere. On small cameras, important setting hidden inside menus or arranged in weird ways. This one is the first reasonably priced digital camera that appeals to me. Very clean, the important stuff is readily accessible without a lot of gunk clogging up the interface. The conventional wisdom on the camera forums is that this thing is the ugliest camera ever made. That was my first impression as well. But the more I looked at it, the more I realized I was just reacting that way because other cameras don’t look like that, and maybe the yellow version that is being shown had something to do with it as well. The more I looked at it, the more I appreciated how it was designed.

I had previously liked some of the small Sony cameras. They don’t make any lenses I like but you could adapt other companies lenses to them as long as you were willing to give up auto focus, auto exposure and even auto aperture. If I were going to go that route, I would have used the Pentax lenses (21mm, 35mm macro, and 55mm) because they are amazing and they are about 1/3 the cost of the likes of Leica. So when Pentax came out with this camera, things started to fall into place.

I have some other things that need to be taken care of (oh the joys of adulthood…) and it’s still not nice enough outside to go shooting anyway. I’m hoping that by the time spring rolls around I’ll be shooting again…




music technology


Dad and Butler brought up my CD collection when they moved me into Rick’s place. I packed them up before I went to Yemen and haven’t seen them since. It’s amazing how much space 400+ CDs take up! I’m in the process of ripping them to my computer where they will take up considerably less space. Don’t know what I’ll do with them afterwards, do people still buy used CDs?

The box I’m working on now has part of my classical collection with some jazz thrown in. I’m struck at the number of discs I got through services like the BBC magazine and the Musical Heritage Society. Before them it was BMG and some other CD service. Before that I was a member of the RCA club for cassettes. You remember those clubs right? They send you 12 or 13 albums for a penny and you only have to agree to buy… what was it, 10? more CDs in the next year. Of course b y default they would send you one a month unless you sent in the paperwork on time. Each time you bought something at full price (17.99 if I remember correctly) they would give you a certificate to buy the next one at half price.

I tried to remember to send in the “do not send me the selection of the month” letter every time for the popular music clubs. I’d screw up from time to time of course and I’d get something or other that I didn’t want. I think the only time that ever worked out was the time I got Pat Benetar’s “Live From Earth” cassette. That was pretty good, at least 13 year old me thought so…

I went ahead and got the selections of the month with the classical clubs mostly because I wanted to hear a lot of different things. The BBC Music magazine was supposedly a cornucopia of classical music information, but I really only ever cared about the CDs that came with it every month. I got some stuff that I never would have thought of getting that way. I never would have dived into early music otherwise. Of course, I also wouldn’t have gotten any of the early English operas either, anyone want a copy of “Alfred?”

We’ve come so far in such a short period of time. Convenience is king nowadays. It is trivially easy to find and download almost anything you want. The world of popular music is your oyster with new streaming services like Spotify MOG. Classical and jazz folks still have to buy their stuff mostly, but it is out there. The streaming and downloading options for popular music sound just fine with the compressed formats. The classical types have a variety of high res formats available to them too.

When the CD came out, we couldn’t believe how nice it was. There was no surface noise, no pops, no cracks and most people mistook the absence of defects for sound quality. CDs and CD players eventually got really good and we figured, “This is it, this is the ultimate audio medium.” Of course having no medium at all has proven to be far nicer, and at no penalty of sound quality. When I sold audio gear, I fantasized about having a 300 CD changer so I could have most of my music in my system at all times. These eventually came into being but they were always too clunky, slow, and prone to breaking down. Now I can stream 12 million songs whenever I want for 10 bucks a month, life is good!




I just googled BMG Music Service, just for old times sake. It’s hilarious. Towards the bottom, there is a pane that says BMG Music Service is what Columbia House Music was. Then the pane above that says that BMG Music Service is closed and is now Columbia House DVD service… Anyway, the deal isn’t too bad really, you have to get 12 CDs for a little under 50 bucks. That’s pretty cheap. I can’t imagine having to deal with the clutter of all of those CDs mind you. The selection is straight out of the 80’s. They boast of having over 14,000 albums to choose from! That was impressive back a ways, but nowadays with iTunes having 18 million songs, 14,000 is laughable. I can only imagine that it is filled with the blandest radio hits type of folks too. Good luck with that Columbia/BMG/Columbia!

odds and ends technology Yemen

My unexpected Yemen bonuses

I had been working at Penn camera off and on for almost 7 years when I decided to move out of the country. I had learned a lot at Penn. My sales technique was honed there and I learned how to deal with people, both customers and employees. I thought it was time for a change, so I decided to move.
I eventually decided to move to Yemen. The decisions leading up to that are a whole other story. By the time the date for me leaving came up, I had saved up over 20 grand for the trip. Believe me, I thought long and hard if spending  that money was the best thing I could do. Ultimately, I spent my mid-life crisis  over there, you can read my blog on my time over there if you want.
I could have invested that money, or I could have put it down on a house. All the while I would still be working at Penn. While I was in Yemen, the stock market tanked and I lost about half of my investments. I would have undoubtedly have invested that 20 thousand the same way, so I would have probably lost 10 grand. I felt pretty good about that, my experiences in Yemen were certainly worth that! Of course, I could have bought a house. We all saw what happened to housing prices…
So, looking back, I cannot believe how lucky I am to have spent my money on that experience. Looking back, it was the very best thing I could have done. May be the only time I’ve done that…
When I came back, I needed a job. Ramona was more than happy to hire me again. I really wanted something different though, so I stayed unemployed for a while longer while I looked around. After I got diagnosed, I was even more in need of a job. I had finally gotten through to the company I had wanted to work for, and they offered me a job, at  little more than half of what Penn had been paying me. Ugh. That was a tough decision. Ultimately, I couldn’t shake the feeling that Penn was on shaky ground going into the future. Photography just wasn’t what it once was, and it’s all Penn really did. So I took the hit in pay in the short term.
It has payed off. Penn Camera declared bankruptcy the other day. The company I work for is incredibly stable and I now make what I used to. Plus, the benefits are quite a bit better. I was about 50/50 at the time I made my decision, thank God I did what I did. I also think that my trip to Yemen helped with this as well. If I had been working at Penn all along, it would have been much more difficult, maybe even impossible to take that hit in pay to work somewhere else. Starting from scratch, I didn’t have the baggage of a rent or lifestyle maintenance to worry about. I had gotten used to being poor, I even lived in a third world country!
So maybe my trip to Yemen was divine providence. It was the best use of my money, it was an amazing experience, it was the very last time I could do something like that, and I think it helped me start a new career. If I had stayed put, done the safe thing, at best I would now be on disability. I certainly would be a lot poorer in spirit.
My heart goes out to the folks that were still working at Penn. Starting over is tough, believe me I know.
I’ll miss Penn Camera, and I’m thanking God I made the decisions that I did. Who would have ever thought that Yemen would be the best thing to happen to me?:)