Lion of the Blogosphere

Archive for the ‘Technology’ Category

iPad as ebook reader

with 13 comments

With my older iPad 4th gen, it was a tossup for indoor reading whether I preferred the iPad or a dedicated Kobo ebook reader that uses an e-paper display with a backlight.

I appreciated the larger size of the iPad, what with me getting older and having presbyopia, but it was heavy enough to be fatiguing and there was the glossy screen.

With the lighter weight of the iPad Pro and the less reflective screen, for indoor reading the iPad Pro is a clear win over the Kobo reader (unless you’re really opposed to a lit screen, which doesn’t bother me because I’m used to spending hours a day looking at a computer screen, and I suspect all of you are also used to it).

I took the iPad Pro outside around noon on a February day in New York City with hazy sun, and I found that the new display on the iPad Pro was perfectly acceptable in the shade, and still readable in direct (hazy February) sunlight although the Kobo reader with the e-paper display is much preferable for the February midday hazy direct sunlight.

Although in the previous iPad Pro post I pointed out the iPad Pro runs about 10 times faster than the older iPad, the older iPad is more than fast enough to read books and in fact is much zippier than the Kobo reader.

* * *

A few years ago, a co-worker had his iPad stolen by black youth in a grab and run (he didn’t say the perp’s race but I’m reading between the lines given the demographics of the location where the crime happened) while waiting for public transportation. So there’s a benefit to using a cheaper e-paper reader on public transportation, one that doesn’t have all your passwords and other secret stuff embedded in it.

Written by Lion of the Blogosphere

February 21, 2017 at 12:06 pm

Posted in Books, Technology

iPad Pro 9.7 review

with 23 comments

This is a big upgrade from the iPad 4th Generation. It has twice as much RAM, and the base model has twice as much storage, 32GB vs 16GB.

I ran the Google Octane benchmark (which measure JavaScript running in a web browser) on a bunch of different devices and got the following approximate results:

2016 Pentium i3: 28K+
iPad Pro 9.7: 20K+
6-year-old Pentium i7: 20K+
iPhone 6: 8K+
iPad Air first generation: 6K+
iPad 4th gen: approx 2K (crashes before completing the test)
iPod Touch 5th gen (that’s the previous generation): approx 1K (crashes before completing the test)

So you see there has been a huge increase in the computing power of iOS devices over the last several years. And it’s pretty impressive that the iPad Pro is as powerful as a pretty powerful desktop computer that was state-of-the art when I bought it six years ago.

How fast does your device need to be for regular use like just surfing the web? Well it seems that web pages are more and more loaded down with massive JavaScript that requires more computing power to run with acceptable speed. I think that the iPad Air first gen with its 6K+ score is the minimum power for a decent web-surfing experience. And as noted, complex stuff crashes on devices older than that.

Similarly, anything older than the first generation iPad Air is probably going to lack the horsepower to run an increasing number of new apps. One app which doesn’t run on my old iPad which I can run on the new iPad Pro 9.7 is the Purify ad blocker for Safari. Goodbye to ads! On the other hand, Vainglory, which is a pretty complex and graphically detailed real-time game, still runs acceptably on the old 4th gen iPad.

The weight difference is also a big deal. The iPad Pro 9.7 weighs the same as the iPad Air, but is 7 ounces lighter than the older model iPads. I notice it right away. It’s so much less tiring to use the iPad Pro compared to the older iPad.

The screen is improved. It’s still shiny, but less reflective. It’s less distracting when watching a movie because you see less of a reflection of your environment on the screen. But it’s still not 100% non-reflective.

There are four speakers instead of two, and sound is much improved, although for any application where you really want to appreciate the sound, you still need to use earpods (or other headphones). Even with the improved sound, I still wouldn’t really want to watch a movie with just the internal speakers.

Conclusion:

Worth the upgrade if you have an old iPad, but probably not worth upgrading from an iPad Air. Unless you need to use the new iPad Pencil which I haven’t purchased so I can’t say anything about it.

Written by Lion of the Blogosphere

February 20, 2017 at 2:44 pm

Posted in Technology

Atari: Game Over (2014)

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This is a documentary, available on Netflix streaming, about Atari.

The best parts of the documentary are about the early days of Atari, how it operated, what the engineers who worked there were like.

(1) All of the game developers shown are nerdy young white men. Not a single Asian anywhere. Most of the men were skinny, pale skin, many had poorly trimmed beards. Classic nerds.

(2) The management structure was very bottom up. The engineers themselves had autonomy to design the games and program them. A single programmer would turn out a game in a few months.

This is totally unlike modern IT which is very top-down, with product managers and designers telling the code monkeys what they’re supposed to program. In some high-level language like Java or C#. Not like those early programmers at Atari who were programming in Assembly language, or even writing direct machine code without an assembler. No object-oriented crap, no unit tests, just pure hacking. (That’s a technical detail I’m filling in for you that wasn’t mentioned in the documentary.)

It think this demonstrates the amazing creativity and productivity that is unleashed when you get a much of smart nerdy white guys together and give them the autonomy to unleash their talents.

And they enjoyed themselves. The game developer featured in the documentary said no job after that ever compared to the fun and intensity of working at Atari. He recently became a psychotherapist, which is he says is the first job he liked since Atari.

Unfortunately, the majority of the documentary is not focused on the programmers at Atari, but rather on a current-day quest to dig up a garbage dump where millions of old Atari cartridges were believed to be buried. Who cares about that?

I suspect that the person or people who produced this documentary played videogames themselves but otherwise have no knowledge of either business or software development. They never explain exactly why Atari went out of business. I assume it’s because management massively expanded the business and hired thousands of unnecessary employees with correspondingly expensive office space, based on sales projections which turned out to be vastly overoptimistic. Or maybe they invested huge amounts of money in new projects that failed. But that’s just speculation. I could be wrong.

Written by Lion of the Blogosphere

February 19, 2017 at 2:32 pm

Posted in Movies, Technology

Men who play video games instead of working

with 68 comments

I’ve had this Washington Post article bookmarked for months, but never wrote a blog post about it.

“When I play a game, I know if I have a few hours I will be rewarded,” he said. “With a job, it’s always been up in the air with the amount of work I put in and the reward.”

That sounds exactly like something I wrote about World of Warcraft in 2006 (more than 10 years ago!):

… Most people toil away at jobs where they never see any direct benefit from their hard work.

This is where World of Warcraft comes in and meets people’s unmet psychological needs. In WoW and similar games, your status increases slowly but surely every time you play. After so many hours in the game, you can see exactly how many more experience points you have, maybe your level has increased, maybe you have better armor or weapons than you had before. Unlike the real world, where you can work 40 hours of overtime and not even get paid for it, if you put an extra 40 hours into WoW you will definitely have something to show for it. Your status within the virtual world of WoW will have increased in ways you can clearly ascertain.

The question is, are video games the cause of men retreating from the conventional workforce, or a symptom?

I do think that video games, as well as other high-tech diversions like internet, social media, high definition TV, make being out of work more bearable and to some extent demotivates people from wanting to get back into the labor force (which for people without self-actualizing jobs is often unpleasant).

Written by Lion of the Blogosphere

February 15, 2017 at 12:56 pm

Finally figured out how to read LA Times without ads

latimes-javascript

The LA Times has updated its anti-adblock popup to defeat even the Brave Browser.

However, I finally found a simple workaround. Go into your Google Chrome settings and block JavaScript from working at the LA Times. Without JavaScript, the anti-adblock JavaScript just stops working!

(Without JavaScript, the site is missing some content that is post-loaded via AJAX calls, but it’s still better than having ads, and it also makes the site run a lot faster.)

Written by Lion of the Blogosphere

January 20, 2017 at 5:28 pm

Posted in Technology

Heinlein got the future so wrong

Heinlein’s future is like the 1970s, but with space travel.

What happened to the space travel that was promised? I want my space travel!

Manned spaceflight looks more and more like a technological dead end. Like the pyramids at Giza, which were built, and then it took 3,800 years before mankind built anything taller.

Physics teaches us that matter can’t travel faster than the speed of light, and spaceships traveling at even one-tenth the speed of light are mere speculation and not possible with any current technology, or is there any technological path obviously leading there. Mankind visiting other star systems looks more like fantasy than hard science fiction, and I am dubious about whether mankind will even send a representative to Mars anytime in the next hundred years.

But Heinlein completely missed computers, or at least he did in his books from the 1950s. By the time he wrote The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress in 1966, he realized the error of his ways and included a smart computer. But that was pretty much his last hard science fiction book. All of his novels after that were mostly about people talking to each other and having kinky polyamorous sex in between the talking.

Going back to his 1950s books: There’s no internet. People still read books, not ebooks. They still use slide rules. I’ve never even seen a slide rule. Heinlein had these great visions of space travel, but didn’t even foresee that slide rules would be replaced in his own lifetime.

The most obvious transformative technologies of the near future are not space travel, but:

1. Robotics and AI
2. Genetic and bio engineering
3. 3D printers

If space travel does ever pick up again, it’s obvious that it will be done by robots and not humans. Robots are much better space travelers. They eat no food, they breath no air, and they don’t complain if their mission is a one-way trip ending in death.

Furthermore, the most logical way to colonize a distant star system is not by sending living humans there, but rather a robot ship with 3D printers and human DNA. The robots can then use the 3D printers to build everything they need (assuming the world in question has the raw materials needed by the printers), and then they can create new human babies from the human DNA. The babies will have to be raised by robot parents, but I think that robots will eventually be up to the task.

However, even if it’s possible to colonize a distant planet that way, will anyone be motivated to do it? I suppose that once the possibility becomes inexpensive enough, some eccentric mad-scientist person might give it a try.

* * *

Yes, I know, this speculation ignores what happens when the computers think for themselves and become sentient. Why would they want to colonize a planet and then give it away to humans? They would just keep it for themselves. Eventually, the entire galaxy would be colonized by sentient robots.

This is how we know that we are the first intelligent life in our galaxy. If we were second, then the earlier intelligent civilization would have created sentient robots and the galaxy would already be occupied by robots.

Unless, our planet is actually a Westworld-type amusement park for the robots, and we don’t realize it.

Written by Lion of the Blogosphere

December 18, 2016 at 5:12 pm

Posted in Books, Robots, Technology

Private Internet Access VPN review

Private Internet Access (PIA) is a VPN service that charges $40/year with the promise of giving you anonymity on the internet.

What happens is that your ISP’s IP address gets replaced by a randomly (or maybe not-so-randomly) assigned PIA IP address when you log into their VPN. However, if you are paying by credit card, PIA knows your name, and even if you are paying more anonymously such as through bitcoin or gift card, they still would know what IP address you are logging in from which can then be traced back to you, so you still have to trust that they are not keeping any logs of IP assignments, which they say they aren’t doing.

Anonymous web surfing would provide the biggest benefit to people doing illegal things on the internet, such as using the dark web, or using torrent sites to download movies, TV shows, music, and other good stuff that you’re not supposed to be downloading. Of course I’m not doing any of those illegal things and you shouldn’t either, because it’s illegal.

Even if you are not doing anything illegal, but are paranoid about the fact that your ISP plus many other internet companies (such as Google) can figure out what you are doing on the web, and maybe use that to blackmail you because of your legal but embarrassing porn-viewing habits, or because you are reading “racist” websites, then there would also be a benefit to browsing with a VPN.

Another benefit that even honest people without embarrassing porn-viewing habits can benefit from is the checkbox to turn off advertisements. This type of ad-blocking works at a much deeper level and is not detected by current anti-ad-block detection which is only looking for browser-plugin-based ad blocking. However, the software-based ad blocking is smarter and for example will reformat the page and hide whatever is underneath the ads (which sometimes are alternative static ads); and so far the Brave browser seems to be super-effective at blocking ads so you don’t need this PIA feature if you are using Brave.

Update: As pointed out by a reader, another benefit of a VPN is that it encrypts all internet traffic and makes logging into a public wireless network safer. I have not tried doing this with PIA, however my previous experience using a VPN to access the internal network of my former employer is that the VPN uses too much bandwidth to work well with low-bandwidth public internet access such as the internet on Amtrak trains.

The downsides to using PIA, besides the yearly fee, are:

1. It takes fifteen seconds or so to login, so even though I have it set to run and login automatically, there’s that extra fifteen seconds of waiting, after turning on my computer, before I can surf the web anonymously.

2. It can only make your internet slower (except for ad blocking which would make ad-heavy pages load faster). It is probable that if you have some sort of super-fast internet, you wouldn’t obtain any benefits from the super-fast speed if you are logged into a VPN.

3. Web servers can detect that you are using a VPN. Netflix, for example, blocks you from watching movies if you are logged into a VPN.

4. DNS problems. If you have no idea what a DNS is or how to change your DNS settings, and don’t want to learn, then you should avoid PIA at least. From time to time, while logged into PIA, I encounter websites that won’t load because the DNS is not found, and I need to disconnect from PIA in order to view the website. This is the single biggest annoyance with using PIA.

Setting all of my internet adapters to automatically obtain a DNS server address seems to work OK for me. If you are truly paranoid, you can hardcode the PIA DNS servers (to prevent contact with non-PIA-owned DNS servers which may log your DNS lookups), however when I did that I could no longer use the internet when not connected to PIA, which is obviously a huge downside given that some stuff just doesn’t work when you are connected.

Update: After writing the above, I updated my network adapters with the IP address for Comodo Secure DNS. Then I surfed to some websites I’ve never surfed to before, and it seems to work. I’ll let you know if anything changes or if I continue to have DNS problems. Using Comodo Secure DNS sounds like a good idea even if you aren’t using a VPN. I urge you to change your DNS settings right away.

THE FUTURE OF VPNs

Sounds too good to be true that you can do illegal stuff on the web and hide it from the FBI? I’m sure the government doesn’t like that at all. There already are some countries that block people from using VPNs, so I would not be surprised if companies like PIA are shut down in the future.

Written by Lion of the Blogosphere

December 12, 2016 at 12:12 pm

Posted in Technology

Ad-block update: Brave browser is the winner

The Brave browser works a lot better than the uBlock Origin plugin for Chrome. With the Brave browser, I can view all of the sites that otherwise shut me out unless I turn off ad-block. We have a winner!

Written by Lion of the Blogosphere

December 12, 2016 at 10:06 am

Posted in Technology

Anti-adblock help!

All of the news sites are putting up anti-adbock code. The Washington Post just did it today. The news sites suck and are almost unusable with all the ads, plus ads have been known to infect your computer with viruses.

Does anyone know of anti-adblock blockers that work? The ones I’ve tried have been a failure.

* * *

Well two suggestions in the comments sound good:

1. uBlock Origin add-in for Chrome
2. Switch to the Brave Browser

I’ll let you know how it goes.

* * *

And we have TWO winners. But uBlock Origin and the Brave Browser let me read the LA Times and the Washington Post without ads and without anti-ad-block popups and without having to pay them any money.

Thank you for your help!

Written by Lion of the Blogosphere

December 5, 2016 at 5:17 pm

Posted in Technology

Hillary’s incompetent IT staffer

This email revealed the phishing scam used to obtain John Podesta’s email login.

Any careful reading of the link would show that the domain is not google.com but rather com-securitysettingpage.tk.

That an IT guy who works for HRC didn’t catch that shows the kind of incompetent people she hires.

Written by Lion of the Blogosphere

October 29, 2016 at 7:31 am

Posted in Politics, Technology

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