10 March, 2012

Non-believers of the South, I’m sure some of you may have heard of SAUCE FOR ALL. If you haven’t, you’re missing out on an awesome organization that has recently started to take off. It’s notable enough, in fact, that the friendly atheist wrote a small bit about it.

Why did I type the name of the organization in all caps? Because SAUCE FOR ALL is actually an acronym. A bit forced, but an acronym never-the-less. It stands for “Southern Atheists United for Candid Expression, Freethought, Openmindedness, Reason, And Living Life”. A bit long-winded, but cleaver.

“The goals of SAUCE is to united the godless of the South, promote tabula rasa atheism and atheism as consequence, and mitigate the deleterious effects of religion through education via the methods of online discussion, collegate discussion, and conferences.” – SAUCE FOR ALL

So why am I blabbering on and on about this? For one, I want anybody who actually reads what I write to know about the existence of the organization, since most live in the South. For two, I helped modernize the site, making it more streamline on the back-end and look far better on the front-end. The site relaunched today, providing some dynamic features that were missing from the old site, like multi-user editing and an events calendar.

There are more developments in the future for the site, but those are still going to be under wraps until they are launched.

So, check out the site, find a local organization in your area, and meet some other people like you (if you’re an Atheist).

The New System Anomaly

The New System Anomaly

21 January, 2012

A few long days, domain and host transfer, and several fixes later, I have a new site. I still need to finish one little part of it, the part with photos, but for now, enjoy the new site.

This change in design and location also speaks to a new direction for the site. If you notice, much of the backlog of posts are no more. This is because I’m going to embrace the social networks on my random finds, ideas, etc, and leave the blog as a platform for my ideas and things I have to say that require a bit more than 140 characters. This means more original articles and less re-posted things.

Another new features is that the comments are now integrated into Facebook. A neat feature about this is that it’s not limited to Facebook, but accounts from Yahoo!, Hotmail, or AOL may also be used. After ragging on Facebook, why would I do this? It makes it easier on both you and I regarding comments. I can moderate the comments, but don’t have to deal with as much spam (and spam registrations). Likewise, as a reader, you don’t have to create an account on my page (adding to the number of things you have to remember), but can use an existing one. Better yet, if you’re already logged into Facebook, you’re already logged into my comments. It saves you time. And you get notifications on replies to your comment.

I’m excited for this new look, something fresh for 2012. It isn’t quite perfect yet (and I’ll still do tweaks here and there), but for the most part, it’s done. I intended on using more of the color of the year, tango tangerine, but I feel it may not have been needed as much as I was expecting it to. It may find its way back, though.

Resolutions 2012

Resolutions 2012

31 December, 2011

This will be the year I will remember for a while. 2011, overall, was a great year. I got a salaried job with benefits, went to the hospital for the first time not as a visitor, got both Apple and Dell certifications, was one of the first people to root and install a launcher on the nook Simple Touch Reader, and other things. It will also be remembered as the year that politics, related to youth voters, has significantly changed, both locally and nationally.

1. Semester GPA 3.0+.
I’m not going to set the goal too high, but not lower it too much.

2. Get myself back on good footing financially.
Hospital bills didn’t help. Everything that was going towards saving up a small amount and paying the balance on one of my cards to clear it went out the window when I had to pay for a bunch of medical supplies and a hospital bill. I need to restructure my budget (it’s been an ongoing process) to get myself back somewhere a bit more stable. Some things can’t be changed, but others can. But it will happen, sooner or later.

3. Finish something regarding writing.
I have this desire to write that, on previous years, I’ve promised myself I would do, and fail. I’m going to do it again, but hopefully, actually do it.

4. Read through my reading list for 2012.
I don’t have a reading list set yet, and I need to create it. I’ll do it by early January. It’ll be a short, 10 book list, but that’s somewhere to start.

5. Go on a road trip.
Not a trip somewhere that I drive on the interstate the entire time. A trip where I take the back roads and explore some of the little towns on the way to a destination. A weekend to be reasonable.

Less this year than last year, but less to fail on.

Road Trip

Road Trip

12 October, 2011

On my way to Jacksonville, AL (home of the JSU Gamecocks!), one of the Alabama NPR stations, which, by the way, aren’t synced up like they are in Mississippi, nor have nearly the same continuous coverage, was playing This American Life. The topic this week was on our love affair with cars. Love it or hate it, cars are here, and here to stay. Some of us love them, some of us love to hate them, and the rest of us think nothing about them.

For some, a car is just a means to get from A to B, and no more. It’s a convenience that is taken for granted. Some even think that cars are of no use at all, can be best replaced by public transportation, and if can be eliminated, all the better.

I agree that public transportation can alleviate the energy crisis, traffic, and several other impending doom situations that cars create. If I had a good way to use public transportation to go to work (which might actually happen in the next two years in Starkville), I would use it.

So why do I like the car? A car gives me independence from the need to rely on somebody else or a schedule that is no my own. It gives me the freedom to go wherever I want, whenever I want. I can take a road trip, go to the market, or just drive around for driving sake. A car is more than transportation. A road trip is more than getting to the destination.

The act of driving a car is thrilling for some, terrifying for others. You’re in control of a beast bigger, more powerful, and faster than you. Like a horse. And like horses, some stay away from them like the plague, and others seek not only every opportunity to be in control of these beasts, but look for the biggest, most powerful, and fastest ones out there.

Continuing with the horse analogy, some people even develop a sort of relationship with their cars. The sort of relationship a trainer develops with their horse. After a while, a person is able to really master a car, get to know its qwerks and how to really make it run the way the person wants it to run.

A road trip is about those hours between your home and destination. It’s about spending time with people you like, don’t like, or yourself. It’s also about taking those long ribbons of pavement we’ve strewn across the country. It’s about seeing those cities between here and Atlanta. It’s about going over the river and through the woods. And the best part of a road trip – no TSA to deal with.

Cars will continue to get better, no doubt. Safety features, smarter cars, easier to drive cars, and cars that use electricity will become more common in the future. I’m excited about this, and for the most part, fully support it. But even as my daily driver gets replaced by these better, faster, smarter, more fuel-efficient things, I will strive to keep a good, old-fashioned gas-powered car in my stable. Nothing feels as good, sounds as good, or looks as good as a powerful engine. Yes, they waste gas. But as the car saved the horse for leisure, the electric car will do the same for the old beasts. While less gas is used on a daily basis, there will be less of a crisis for gasoline as demand for it goes down, and the car will be saved.

As I sit in my hotel room, watching a zombie movie, typing this post out, I am not thinking about the training I have to attend tomorrow. I’m thinking about Sir Stirling Moss’s Mille Miglia drive in 1955. I have this imagery of a silver bullet rocketing across the Italian country side, Moss at the wheel and Jenkinson trying to hold on for dear life, navigation notes in hand. The imagery is beautiful to me. That is what motoring, at its purist, is to me.

A Word on Thunderbolt

A Word on Thunderbolt

30 June, 2011

If you follow any news about new tech at all, especially news coming out of Cupertino, you probably already know about the existence of a new port called Thunderbolt, the be-all and end-all for ports. Except that, right now, it’s not. I’m not going into detailed technical specifications (go to Wikipedia if you’re interested), but in a nutshell, it makes a very fast port inside the computer, normally used for video cards and things of that sort, combines with with a new display port standard (called DisplayPort, how original…), serializes it, and makes it available to external devices. Since most of the technology involved already exists, it’s easier to implement than a new protocol, say, FireWire, for example (also known as IEEE 1394 by non-Apple users). While FireWire was intended to replace existing technologies, Thunderbolt uses existing ones to its advantage.

History is repeating, itself, in the form of Thunderbolt. See, in the mid 90’s, FireWire was introduced by Apple. It provides a high amount of power through the port. It can be daisy-chained. Its main uses were fast external hard drives and video capture. Sony was one of the first to adopt the protocol into its own proprietary format (as Sony does), called it i.LINK, and then PCs started adopting it. However, due to its higher cost (as compared to USB), it was pretty much limited in its mass-market appeal, never really leaving the realm of pro and semi-pro uses. A lot of computers have FireWire. Not a whole lot of people are using it, nor really know what the port is for.

Thunderbolt is, unfortunately, going down the same path FireWire is. Yes, it’s a different technology. Yes, it’s super-crazy fast. And yes, it’s expensive. There’s only one place where you can get Thunderbolt cables right now, and it’s $50 (and this is why). The port provides up to 10 watts of power. It can be daisy-chained. Its main uses, currently, are external hard drives, video captures, and (because it uses the DisplayPort… port) video output. Sony is the first manufacturer other than Apple to announce utilizing Thunderbolt, and (rumored) will have a proprietary port for it (admittedly, though, it’s possibly similar to USB, which might make future users know even less about it if it’s adopted like that). And, due to the high cost of “Thunderbolt-ready” devices, I don’t see mass-market appeal, and I don’t see it overtaking USB either. But, unlike last time, Apple does have a ball in its court: popularity. The cult following is much more powerful now than it was 15 years ago.

Only the future will tell how widespread Thunderbolt will get. I supported FireWire, and I support Thunderbolt, but, like many consumers, USB is just cheaper and easier to get devices for than either of these newcomers. Drop the price of Thunderbolt cables to something reasonable (like, say, $5 vs $50), and maybe we’ll talk.

nook STR

nook STR

11 June, 2011

That, above, is my new toy (and Kurt Vonnegut), the Barnes & Nobel nook Simple Touch Reader. For about 140 big ones, you too can get one, and I recommend this. 6″ E-ink touchscreen running Android 2.1. Out of the box, it can read nook books, ePub files (say, from a library), and PDFs. Claimed is a 2 month battery life, though most likely shorter. Definitely got some advantages over a Kindle (aside from the constant data of the non-Wifi only models). And frankly, after playing with both, I do like this one better. Don’t exactly know what it is, but it might be just the culmination of features.

I do enjoy reading the occasional book, and the only thing really stopping me was figuring out how to hold the book in certain positions and the bulkiness of some. I’ve been considering some kind of e-reader for a while, but after this device was announced and available for order (I tend to not pre-order things), I bought it. Just came in today, and I’ve already had a field day with it. It’s about the size of a small paperback book and light as a piece of cardboard. The back (pictured below) has a nice curve to it and the material is that soft-touch plastic that’s pretty popular. It feels good in the hand and doesn’t cause fatigue like tablets and some larger books would cause. Really, really nice.

The device is also pretty thin. Unlike a cell phone, this aspect isn’t as important, but is a nicety. Stick in a purse or a bag and it’ll barely even put any bulk in it. Big enough of a pocket, it’ll fit nicely. Also, in the photo above, you can see the cover for the MicroSD card slot. Expands memory up to 32GB for all of those books you want to download. Sweet.

So, start up the nook and the first thing you’ll get to is the home screen. Features what’s being read now, what you’ve bought and not read yet (and I assume downloaded if subscribed to magazines), and the B&N Top 100, should I want to read another book. Not a badly organized home screen.

Press the “n” button, select library, and you come to your library. A nice tiled list of books with covers. You can do a kindle style list if you want, but I think covers look nicer.

Of course, you can buy books too in the B&N nook Shop. Decent prices, though at times Amazon is cheaper.

The best part of this device is the e-ink screen. The text is nice and crisp (cell phone pics do no justice), response time is very fast and usable, and as with any e-ink, can be read outside in full sun. Perfect as a paper book replacement.

So, out of the box, the nook STR is a simple e-reader that pretty much does everything the Kindle does with some differences. Unlike the nookColor, it doesn’t come with a music player, browser (actually, it has a hidden one that isn’t that good), or even an app store. Or apps for that matter. But it runs Android. So, naturally, people want to root it. A short time after this was released, the device was rooted. And shortly after that, Angry Birds was run on it (though not really well).

So, this prompted me to go ahead and get it and see what I can do with it. It was a fairly straightforward process, and in less than 5 minutes, it was rooted. \o/

Then it took me a good several hours to get everything I wanted to run on it. But I finally got it working. It’ll now be more useful to me at work and on the road. I bought it mainly as a book reader, but on the side it can browse the web (thus checking things), take notes (kinda), and read e-books that the nook can’t read out of the box.

The first thing I did was use something I knew Android did when another launcher was installed. I (correctly) assumed that it just ran its own launcher and installing another launcher like ADW.Launcher would cause it to ask me which launcher I would like to use. I used ADB and push installed ADW.Launcher onto the nook, and, once again, \o/. So, with a launcher installed, I could run whatever I wanted without having to use ADB. Interesting to note, the stock software will put a back button and menu button on any non-nook software. Also, the n button will still bring up the nook menu. It will NOT bring you back to home, however, so I had to keep that in mind.

But, I now knew what I needed to do and tried to see what else I could push to the device via ADB.

I would like to do the occasional browsing on the device, so Dolphin Browser was installed. It works much better than the hidden one. Still some qwerks, but overall usable.

For shits and giggles, I decided to install Google Maps. No GPS, so it really won’t find you, but nice if you want a bigger map than what you can see on your phone.

I did want to take notes on my nook, so I installed a drawing application. It’s a big laggy, and really won’t be useful in a fast-writing situation, but I’m working on that one. I can draw, though, so that’s cool. Anyone want to suggest an apk that’s great?

And I do have some Kindle books I wanted to read. So, though this is a bit wrong, I installed the Kindle app on my nook. Still gotta wait for my Kindle books to sync. But awesome never-the-less.

Readability through the Kindle app is also good (after a bit of tweaking since it was optimized for smartphones). Notably, unlike the nook reader app, this app has animations. This does get annoying since page turns are not butter smooth, but every page turn is slightly annoying. I’ll get over it, though.

So, what to do about the lack of hardware buttons? Software ones. Softkeys, written for the nookColor (should you keep stock), works just fine on the nook STR. The only problem is that without certain root-related apps, this can’t be given super-user permission. This means the keys that are written into the nook software (back, menu, search) don’t work. I mostly end up using it for the home button exclusively. But nice.

There are a load of qwerks with this device, but considering I’m making it do what it wasn’t designed to, it’s not surprising. Twitter crashes, and some other apps require Android files missing from the nook. Also, the hardware buttons seems to be mapped differently, so the Softkeys doesn’t come up with a push of the “n” button. Mildly disappointed, and the little button used to call it up does get in the way (though movable). But, this is exciting. I’m not a big-time hacker, so I’m probably not going to go as far as trying to figure out how to flash my own ROM on my own, but I may figure out what the buttons are mapped to. Other than that, it’ll just be time before the nook community will release more and more for this device. It’s really only in its infancy.

The Daily Dwindling in Number

The Daily Dwindling in Number

7 April, 2011

A while back, I wrote about The Daily and old subscription model that the App uses would ultimately be its downfall. Well, it looks like number of tweets emanating from the App is dwindling since its launch. This can’t be a good sign.

To refresh your memory, The Daily is an iPad only interactive Magazine App that is subscription based. The content is available only through the App, though users can share it via social media. However, the shared content is not interactive, but just a static image. This is piss poor compared to the experience from the App. I’ve played with The Daily on a friend’s iPad (since they give out a free trial period for it), and though cool, I honestly couldn’t ever see myself subscribing.

The amount of Twitter posts sent through the App has been dwindling. While this is not indicative of readership, it does show that users are no longer willing to share content in such a crappy way. This is alarming since the daily numbers of The Daily tweets dropped from about 200 a day in mid February to only about 50 a day in March, though, the numbers have not dropped much more since.

Be this an effect of the two week trial period (hundreds of thousands have downloaded the app, but I suspect few have subscribed), or people just getting tired of a daily magazine, I don’t see much life left in The Daily. I predict that it will be shut down by the end of next year, if not this one.

Free (both in beer and speech) press is the future of news and opinions. I keep on saying over and over again, like a broken record, that paid-subscription, unless there is a tangible product, is dead. Pay walls and content walls discourage potential readers from accessing content.

…Except Guide Dogs / Yield to the Train
11 December, 2010
Librave 2010
5 December, 2010
On The Topic of EVs and Hybrids: The Chevrolet Volt

On The Topic of EVs and Hybrids: The Chevrolet Volt

11 October, 2010

GM touted the Volt at their electric savior. We were told that the volt would get 230 MPG and would be a plug-in extended range electric vehicle (See MSU’s EcoCAR for an example of a plug-in EREV). Everybody loved the idea and everybody supported GM in their endeavor. Clearly interest in this new generation of high-efficiency vehicles was there.

Unfortunately, the path to market has changed the Volt considerably. After some real-world testing by Popular Mechanics, a few things became clear.

First of all, the vehicle’s all-electric range was nowhere near great enough to award 230 MPG. Before these tests, GM announced that the all-electric range will be closer to 20 – 50 miles. From the tests, the average range was found to be about 33 miles. Fuel economy was found to be about 32 MPG city and 36 MPG highway. This is far shorter than the 230 MPG claimed. Of course, the caveat was that the fuel economy was calculated after the battery was depleted. While not very far, 33 miles is still greater than the commute of 75% of the population. I travel roughly 2 miles daily, so I could possibly go half a week to a week without having to recharge the car. In my situation, I would get, after 70 miles (assuming the battery depletes at the 33 mile mark), my fuel economy would be about 70 MPG. Still not 230 MPG, but better than the 21 MPG I get from my Sable.

But more importantly, Volt engineers announced that the gasoline engine would actually power the wheels directly like in a conventional car. No longer can the Volt be considered an EV, but is now classified as a hybrid. Edmunds called GM out over Twitter. We were lied to.

Honestly, through the course of development, designs change. Rather than saying we were lied to, I’d rather say we were misinformed by GM PR. The original concept of the Volt was for it to be a EREV. Many concepts don’t make it the market without changes. While the reasons behind why the change in the drive change may not be understood yet, it’s not unreasonable that these kinds of changes were made.

The old design of the Volt was that the electric drive-train was independent of the charging source. This is what an EREV is. It’s an electric car with a non-electric power source to charge the batteries when the batteries are depleted. And this is what I see future vehicles becoming. This design allows the car to run on gasoline, diesel, natural gas, propane, hydrogen, or any other fuel source without too much modification to the overall workings of the vehicle. Classifying an EREV as an EV is correct, however, the term electric vehicle is too broad. It’s better classified as a hybrid.

So why has the Volt always been, technically, a hybrid? The basics on the classification of a hybrid is that the vehicle uses two sources of power to drive the wheels. There are three distinct types of hybrids and two classifications of hybrids.

Parallel hybrids can simultaneously power the wheels with both the internal combustion engine and the electric motor. The distinct feature of a parallel hybrid is that the engine and the motor are not connected directly, though, some hybrids will have a motor inserted between the engine and transmission. This configuration is still technically parallel because the electric motor does not receive electricity due to the engine. The battery is recharged by the engine through regenerative braking and, in cases where the electric motor is not in between the engine and transmission, through the electric motor itself from the movement of the vehicle. Parallel hybrids are particularity efficient at higher, highway speeds.

Series hybrids convert power from the engine directly into electricity. The electricity generated is used to charge the battery pack and can directly power the electric motors. In this case, the electric motors can drive the wheels using two different power sources. Most diesel electric trains are series hybrids. This type of hybrid is starting to gain some popularity in passenger cars, but still doesn’t have the market penetration that parallel hybrids have. One of the biggest factors is that series hybrids are more efficient at lower, city speeds.

Finally, series-parallel hybrids take the best of both-worlds. Alternately, they can be called two-mode hybrids, referencing to the two modes in which they can power the wheels, though series-parallel hybrids are becoming more complicated and can have more than two-modes. These hybrids take the best of both worlds and can disable and enable certain parts of the power train to utilize the most efficient mode for the speed at which the vehicle is moving. The Toyota Prius is one big example. At lower speeds, the computer will disable the mechanical link between the engine and the wheels so that the electric motor is doing more of the work. The engine is only used to power the electric motor. As the vehicle goes faster, the computer will switch the vehicle to a parallel configuration so that the engine powers the wheels at higher speeds.

All three types can be plug-in or self-charging. This is fairly self-explanatory, and the intricacies of self-charging hybrid electric vehicles vary between companies and models.

Aside from the types of hybrids and the ways they are charged and can sustain charge, hybrids are either full (strong) hybrids or mild (weak) hybrids. Full hybrids can use both sources independently from each other or blend the two together. On the other hand, mild hybrids cannot rely on only one source of power. A lot of hybrid crossovers and SUVs tend to be mild hybrids because the electric motors are unable to efficiently propel the vehicles forward on their own. Because of this, many mild hybrids are parallel or series-parallel because of the need for the internal combustion engine to power the wheels.

The Volt uses some non-electric power source (in the current production model, a gasoline engine) to charge the batteries and to power the electric motors. By definition, even with the plug-in and electric only features, the Volt is still a series hybrid. And even though now it’s confirmed that the engine can drive the wheels directly, the Volt is still a hybrid, and was always a hybrid. The behavior of the Volt can now be described as a series-parallel hybrid instead of just a series hybrid since the car can go from a series to a parallel configuration.

So sorry to bust the bubble, but the Volt is still an EV, but it is also still a hybrid. Just as much as a Suburban Hybrid can be called an EV, the Volt is an EV. Just as much as the Nissan LEAF is an EV, the Volt is an EV.

28 September, 2010
17 July, 2010
Take Off
30 June, 2010

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