Friday, March 14, 2014

In the year 2000

In this world there are only two tragedies; one is not getting what one wants, and the other is getting it. - Oscar Wilde

Every night MrsChaos and I climb into bed, watch a show on the TV, and then read a chapter out of parenting book we're going through. Then what? Then I have to climb out bed to turn off the TV, turn off the light, and turn on the fan. This is insanity. We live in a world where the sum of human knowledge is available to me from the phone sitting on my nightstand, you might wonder why the phone (capable of controlling the furnace) can't do this for me. I wondered this. I wondered this every night as I climbed out of bed to hit all these switches.

I have been eyeing devices capable of control these various things for a long time - but there expensive. The lights were giving me the most hassle. Belkin makes a WeMo light switch--which is promising, but the bedroom light needs a dimmer. Insteon has a dimmer, but everyone tells me that Insteon isn't quite there. Insteon sits right on the cusp of being a prosumer product version something that is too hard to setup yourself. Then there is Phillips Hue - super friendly and super expensive.

I lamented to my friends that I wanted to solve this problem. I thought the right solution for me was a Hue, but $260 seems to be a lot of money to pay to turn off my lights from bed. While I was gnashing my teeth over this cost to a friend he pointed out the truth of my problem to me: "You're not trying to solve the problem of turning your lights off from bed. A clapper would solve that problem. You are trying to solve the problem that you don't live in the future. IN SPACE! IN SPACE!" Fair enough.

Months went by and no one bought me the Hue system off my wish list. In February, I was having another stare down with my shopping cart full of Hue on when something happened. I found someone referencing another product: Technical Consumer Products WiFi Lightbulbs. (Note: it must really hurt their search results that their actual product name is TCP WiFi Lightbulbs. For these I could get bedroom done for $80!?! The limitation was the bulbs only have one color, but still dim just fine. DONE.

Now at the end of the night, I fire up my phone and launch TCP Lighting to turn the lights off, WeMo to turn on the wall plug that ground fan is one, and Samsung Smart View to turn off the TV. Then I go soundly to sleep remember that I am in the future. IN SPACE!

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Hot Fusion

The destiny of man is to unite not to divide - Merlin (The Once and Future King)

Mrs Chaos' 2011 MacBook Pro was feeling slow and running out of space on its 256GB drive. Wedding videos and baby photos on our bajillion megapixel camera take up a lot of space. Apps don't quite launch fast enough and when Time Machine kicks off her HD emits and audible churning noise. How to solve? I'd been eyeballing getting her a new computer, but she doesn't really need one exactly, so it's a lotta mula. Better solution? SSD.

To replace her HD with a 512GB or larger SSD? Moneysplosion. Instead I decided to get a kit where I could move her current HD into the optical drive slot and then add a second SSD drive. Under this plan I could give her a 256GB SSD and she would still have the 256GB spinning platter and then everyone wins.

This upgrade is not for the weak of heart. Swapping out the laptop HD is straightforward. If the idea of cracking open your laptop doesn't scare you, than you can probably handle changing out the hard drive. But swapping out the optical drive for a hard drive? That involves disconnecting a lot of intricate things (speaker, camera, bluetooth antenna) and removing a couple dozen tiny tiny screws that are each slightly different than others and need to go back precisely the same slots as they came out.

It took around an hour, but the swap went just fine and the computer happily booted up.




My initial plan was to give Mrs.Chaos two volumes to work with: one as her fast SSD for most things and the second of the spinning platter to the videos and photo. My Nerd Core slowly-but-surely talked me into a merging them together in an Apple Fusion Drive. One of the main things MrsChaos does is iPhoto, and so they pointed out that if I make her put the iPhoto library on the spinning disk, I haven't solved one of the main performance issues.

Fusing the drives was easy. I installed a fresh copy of Mavericks and then did a user migration from a Super Duper! backup and the computer was back and working. The verdict is still out whether Mrs.Chaos thinks it "feels faster" but I have the faith.


Monday, January 27, 2014

If These Thumbs Could Talk

A Mario game lets you pretend to be a middle-aged chubster hopping onto a turtle shell. - Jeff Ryan

My nerd podcast (The Incomparable) recently did a video game episode where they talked about the most meaningful video games of their life. What a great idea.

As a younger kid, I grew up a gamer - as hardcore of a gamer as my parents would let me be. They bought my brother and me the Atari 2600 and it was fantastic. We probably had a total of thirty games (30 x $50 = $1,500 <shudder>) There were two games on the Atari that really stand out for me. The first should surprise you, Tooth Protectors. It was a rip off of Space Invaders and you had to defend your teeth with toothpaste. The unique thing was that you had both the top teeth and the bottom teeth to defend, so you had to keep moving between the top and bottom. I got really really good at this game, and part of the reason I loved it was that I was so much better than anyone else I knew. I schooled my brother, and he didn't get mad, he encouraged me. I remember icing the my thumb between levels because it would hurt so bad and he would be cheering me on past my old high score (which we kept written on a piece of paper next to the Atari).

The other Atari game I learned to love was called Star Raiders. This was a very late edition game, required the second generation 2600, and did some very interesting things with using a quick-reset to get back to the star map to choose a new place to go. It pushed the 2600 to limit of what it could do, and it pushed my 7-year-old self to limit of what I could do. The game frustrated me because it was so complex; I loved the game because it was so complex. Even after we got the Nintendo, I would go back and try and do well at this game.

My parents bought me the Nintendo the first Christmas it was out complete with Lightgun and Robbie the Robot. Over the time we had the Nintendo we probably bought fifty games for it (50 x $50 = $2,500 <shudder>).

Super Mario that came with the console. I remember the day Super Mario 2 was released, driving from Sears to Best with my dad looking for it until we final found it! But my favorite game for the NES was Super Mario 3. It was 2-player semi-cooperative (a good thing for brothers) and was the first sort of "open level" design I had seen. You could take different paths through a map to skip places - or let one person do a level he was particular good at (Hammer Brothers). Fantastic.

I group all of the RPGs I played together: Final Fantasy, Ultima, Dragon Warrior. I never beat any of these games - but I played them to death. This was in the days before the internet and the walk-through strategy guides. You beat these games by figuring them out and talking with your friends at school, "where do you get the rat's tail?!? Where is the airship located?" It was an epic group adventure. I still have my Final Fantasy Strategy Guide (from Nintendo Power) - it is a strategy guide, not a walk thru.

We had a neighbor with an Intellivision - the game I wanted to play was Utopia. The first turn-based strategy game saw. This was the precursor to CommandHQ, Civilization, and many more games to come. I loved it, but he didn't, so it was hard to get him to play.

Special mention time! The same year my friends were getting Gameboys, I got an Atari Lynx. I read the gamer magazines and knew this: OH MY GOSH, Atari Lynx was a 16-bit color handheld gaming console. It shamed the Gameboy. It shamed the Nintendo. It came out the year BEFORE the SNES. This was my first experience in life being an advocate for something that was superior to the dominant product. It started me on the road of loving OS/2, OSX, Hybrids, Plasma TVs, Nest, and who knows what else. The only problem is, I don't remember much about the games on it.

By highschool I took a pause on console gaming. I played computer games, chatted on BBSes, started dating, and generally found other things that took up my leisure time. So the Super Nintendo, N64, Dreamcast, GameCube, Playstation all passed me by. My college roommate had an N64 and we played a lot of Killer Instinct and that was fantastic. In our freshman roommate contract it said: "Q: How will settle roommate disputes?" "A: Killer Instinct."

After college I got a real job, disposable income, and travelled for work 70% of the time. I pre-order the PlayStation 2. I 50% wanted it for the DVD Player and 50% for the game console. I had so much fun with my PS2. So much fun. I travelled with me from hotel to hotel.

Before I love my PS2, let me make a call back to a Playstation Game, Bushido Blade. I haven't seen anything like it before or after. Six characters with different traits who can pick between six weapons with different traits and there is only one important thing to know: getting sliced with a sword kills you. No life bars. No power meters. When you opponent gets a killing hit you are killed. The game is much like how I imagine real fencing looks, slow pokes and prods looking for weakness, and eventually three seconds of action and someone is dead. "Best of 30" was a common challenge.

Final Fantasy X and Final Fantasy X-2 were amazing. These were the first console RPGs I beat - and I mean I BEAT those games. In Final Fantasy X I won the Chocobo races and dodged lightening two-hundred times in a row. There is nothing quite as magical as double-casting Ultima for one magic point with both Yuna and Lula. Enemies fall before you. In X-2 I beat the Infinito Dungeon. It goes 99 levels deep, the strategy guides takes you down to level 20 and then says, "this is basically impossible. You don't need to beat it to win." Really? Just because the strategy guide authors couldn't beat it, doesn't mean I wasn't going to. Because I did. I photographed the screen when it happened I was so excited.

Ico was amazing. There was no cheating by the game designers on the map - you were in a fully formed castle that you walked through. No warp tunnels, no airships, just a castle. The two main characters didn't speak, and yet slowly you understood what was going on in the backstory. You probably cried.

My last PS2 callout was Grand Theft Auto 3. The game that defined open map design but wasn't an RPG. Wander the entire city. Sure you had missions, but why not play crazy taxi? Why not do motor cycle races? The game was crazy and it almost felt like you could do anything.

And then I stopped playing games again... I tried to play Epic Mickey. I tried to play Gone Home. I don't have the time. Mrs.Chaos will say, "you could play Epic Mickey for 30 minutes." Unless I can sit down and *PLAY* for a few hours, I don't have the desire. And I can't sit down and play for a few hours.

Someday the kids will be teenagers and maybe then, we can play as a family. We'll see.

Note: Look up the video titled "If These Thumbs Could Talk." You're welcome.

Monday, January 20, 2014

I Feel the Need...

You don't have time to think up there. If you think, you're dead. - Maverick (Top Gun)

I've got a server at home that has my iTunes library on it for Home Sharing to my AppleTVs and it's connected to my AirPort Extreme that has a Drobo hanging off USB 2.0 as an AirDisk. I want this connection to be fast. My speed experiments are really confusing. To test I'm rsync'ing giant files over SMB. ChaosServer is a MacBook Air, so there is no built in ethernet. I have two USB 2.0 to Ethernet adapters - one from Apple and one I bought off eBay for $10 from China.

Connection Speed
WiFi 802.11n 7.63MB/s
Ethernet (Apple) - Left USB 4.27MB/s
Ethernet - Thunderbolt 2.10MB/s
Ethernet (Apple) - Right USB 1.72MB/s
Ethernet (China) - Left USB 307.01kB/s

If you're like me - you're wondering if the adapter is busted? That is so slow. And the one from China is laughable. So I tried plugging directly from the computer to a MacBook Pro which has builtin gigabit ethernet. The results of that?

Connection Speed
Ethernet (Apple) - Left USB 11.20MB/s
Ethernet (China) - Left USB 11.19MB/s
Ethernet - Thunderbolt 49.95MB/s

Wait, what!?! I have no explanation. I guess I should re-run the tests on the computer again. Perhaps there is something crazy happening on Drobo? I'm not sure.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

The Platform of Terror

Lots of people want to ride with you in the limo, but what you want is someone who will take the bus with you when the limo breaks down. - Oprah Winfrey

Heading home from work this week, I jumped off BART and went to the Amtrak kiosk. A young lady lurked over me while I was buying the ticket and when I finished she stopped me, "Can I ask where you're going?"

She looked nice enough, and I figured she just needed help getting a ticket. "Last station, do you need help getting a ticket?" I asked.

"Where do you wait for the train? Down here?"

"Up the stairs; I wait on the platform."

"Is it safe? This is my first time taking the train and I went up there to wait and it's really dark and it's open to people and it makes me feel really uncomfortable, so I came down here where its lit and there is a station agent."

"I do this every week, and aside from being asked for money, it's fine up there. I think it's pretty safe, I just site in the well-lit area in the middle."

"I don't want to be creepy or anything, but you seem really safe, can I just hang out with you?"

"No problem."

Sometimes I forget, being a man who has ridden public transportation in a score of cities around America (and Europe and Asia and Australia), that this kind of thing can be scary. Don't get me wrong, I've been scared plenty of times riding Bay Area public transportation, but the Amtrak station has never evoked that in me. Still - it is very dark and creepy and not in the best area of town, so I can't blame her.

When I was riding BART a lot for work and heading home at the late hours of 10pm or 11pm, I used to dress in my long black trench coat, "gothic fisherman cap" and my "strangler gloves." I figure it was a decent deterient; if you're going to rob someone, better to avoid the guy who looks like he might go psycho on you.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Weather.Next Released!

I wrote another app. I wanted to get an email every evening that told me tomorrow's weather, and I wanted that e-mail to look good when it arrived on my mobile in all views: alert, notification center, mail preview and the actual mail itself. I tried all the major services out there and they were terrible. The subject and preview text had nothing by pre-roll in it and the message itself was desktop formatted and 50% advertisements. Worthless, right?
So welcome to Weather.Next - showing you tomorrow's weather, TODAY! Basically the idea is just to go an request to get the forecast emailed to you sometime in the evening. I'm doing my best to make it super-pretty. It uses Forecast.IO as the weather service. If you're interested, give it shot. If you have problems, shoot me a note. You're welcome internet.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Baby Things

Mini-Chaos made it to three months old. It is hard to believe how quickly time passed; it is hard to believe how long it has taken. When one of my friend's munchkins turned three months, he did an extensive review of all the baby products he liked and didn't like and I found it amazingly helpful. Instead of a writing a Siracusian-length tombe, I figured I would just describe a few things I really appreciated.

BabyConnect for iPhone. Having an app that tracks all of your baby needs is awesome. How long has he been sleeping? How much sleep does he get a day? How much time does he nurse? How many diapers does he go through? When did he last eat? This app syncs across devices and that is priceless. Mrs.Chaos can throw him at me on the way out the door and when he cries I can check "when did he last eat or sleep?" It lets us communicate a lot of information to each other without needing to remember or bug the other person. In theory we could get my parents to install the app as well. Priceless.

Swaddle BlanketVelcro swaddling sack + a standard swaddling blanket. Early on we struggled getting Mini-Chaos successfully swaddled. We would go in to find one of his arms or both of his arms bunched up near his face and him crying. Some babies like to get their arms out - ours is upset by it. We didn't have a lot of success getting our swaddling blankets tight enough. We didn't have a lot of success putting on the sack that velcros shut. Their power combine? YES! So we put him inside the first sack with the velcros nice and tight. That keeps him snug enough that we can wrap the second swaddling blanket around and that keeps him very content and very happy.

BRICA Baby In-sight MirrorBRICA Baby In-sight Magical Firefly Auto Mirror. While your little guy is sitting facing backwards it's nice to have an auto mirror. The BRICA has a pretty great velcro system that has made it work on both of our cars - and we even hooked it on Mrs.Chaos' Camry in the center - there is no headrest, but we attached it to the car seat anchor. If you're going to have a mirror back there, why not have one that also flashes lights and plays music.

Motorola MBP36Motorola MBP36 Video Baby Monitor. I ended up getting this because it is the rock solid best-in-class video monitor. I read so many reviews of other monitors because I really wanted something where I could watch the video when I wasn't home (on iPhone or Internet) - but whatever we got also had to work when we travelled somewhere, even if there was no WiFi network (like over Bluetooth). I eventually came to the conclusion that what I wanted doesn't exist. There were a lot of things that were really really close - but nothing quite did it. So rather than spend a lot of money on something that was going to disappoint, we just spent a lot of money on something we knew would get the job done.

BRICA Seat Guardian. Kids destroy cars. Put something on your seat to keep the car seat from destroying it. When they get older hang something on the back of your chair to keep their grubby little feet from destroying it. Let me say it again: kids destroy cars with a mission.


Sassy Diaper Bags. Kids poop all the time - and sometimes there's no trash bin around so you have to store that poopy diaper. You could use a generic plastic baggy, or you could use something blue that smells like baby powder. I like it.