Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Meaning in Life

(Warning: the following contains subtle hyperbole for comedic effect)

If asked "What is the meaning of life?", a well trained Christian boy should be able to rattle off the answer without a thought... "To serve The Lord in thoughts and deeds..." (something like that). But if you take away the traditional God concept, people tend to become uneasy. What IS the meaning of life if not dictated by a supreme being?

I've long been an advocate of the idea that people are free to make their own meaning in life. If you find joy, happiness, and meaning in studying ants, or helping the poor, or kicking a foot ball, or investing money, or raising a family... that's your choice.

It could be something altruistic, such as promoting literacy, or giving comfort to the sick and suffering... it could be something creative like building the Real Life Mousetrap, or painting your masterpiece... or it could be something more mundane, like cheering for your football team or watching survivor. My judgement of the worthiness of the activity is irrelevant... as long as it doesn't directly conflict with my goals.

If your choices directly conflict with others, then you should expect some friction. If your choice directly harms others, then you should expect some friction from ME and many others, as most people choose to live in a world where harm is reduced.

But often people can not find meaning in life, or are on a quest to find it. I used to be in that category... until now.

I finally found the cause that has given me purpose and drive... and a nifty new title.

From now on, I am an ADVOCATE OF TAU... feel free to use that in lieu of "Esq" when referring to me by name.

So what is an Advocate of Tau? Essentially and Advocate of Tau is dedicated to the annihilation of Pi. Yes, the mathematical constant Pi has to go !!!

In its place, we will instead use the more elegant constant Tau, which is simply two times Pi.

There is an enormous amount of work to do, getting every single text book from 5th grade mathematics up to Quantum Physics to replace every reference from 2Pi to Tau... but it must be done, and I intend to do my part to make it happen.

I've followed my bliss and it lead me to this.
Hmmm... I wonder if I should get a funny hat to go along with my new title.... like the Bishop of Canterbury or Cardinal of the Arch Diocese.

p.s. Once this goal is achieved, I'll take on switching our number system from base 10 to base 12.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Hacking the Phone

Once again an essay, or a rant... in either case, to big for an e-mail or a FB post. And the blog has a sense of permanence to it, so here it goes.

A few months back I got a call from a client who often has decent paying jobs for a freelance tour guide. Lots of airport "meet and greet" type stuff. I got her call midday in mid-town, and she asked if I was available on a particular date the next week. I had to say "I'll be home in an hour and will check my calendar and let you know ASAP."

The job went to somebody else. That's when it was decided to step up to an Android phone.

Miser that I am, I am definitely not the early adopter. (Been there... got paid for that.)  But when I'm LOSING money for being a generation or two behind... well, that's just unacceptable.

Frankly, it's embarrassing to have been THAT far behind the times. And even my old phone did have some sort of calendar feature, so my laziness is certainly a factor here. But in any case, the quest for the best Bang for the Buck had begun.

I was already signed up for the best deal in town, as far as carriers go.  Virgin Mobile had me with unlimited text and data, and 300 minutes of voice... for $25 per month. That's under $30 with the fees. Nobody beats that.

Only catch... well 2 catches...
Buy your own phone...
OK, so I shell out $100 for a phone and I'm still WAY ahead of the game compared to Verizon or AT&T.
Reception Area...
OK, this is bad. But hear me... I get GREAT reception EVERYWHERE I GO... except my apartment.

In any case, the $25 plan is not even available anymore (it's $35 now), but they keep renewing me every month. I feel like I'm saving $10 a month.

So, I check what Android phones are available on my current plan... and HELLO, a $70 LG Optimus V. Don't worry if you're not impressed. The title "Optimus" doesn't mean anything, and the V isn't even a 5... it's "V" for "Virgin". But did I mention it's a fully functional Android phone for $70?!?

This was not even a question. I was ENTERING the world of Android (not exactly true, my tablet is Android), but I was coming in on the entry level out of necessity, but with confidence that the current state of tech would alow me to do EVERYTHING that was required. I was going ENTRY LEVEL, and will squeeze whatever I can out of this thing.

I resist the urge to go "kid in a candy shop" and instead choose only to install apps that I will use. Google Calendar (obviously), Google Maps, several mail clients for my several e-mail accounts (gonna trim this down soon), a subway alert app... not much else. I even tried to delete some of the bloat that they shipped with... Point, SCVNGR, some sort of bloated Twitter client... but these are locked into the system and can't be removed. They apparently reside in the ROM. (stay tuned)

So that's that... $70 phone, lowest monthly plan EVER, and all the features I need. But I had to push it. I want FACEBOOK!

Yup, I want to "check in" at the Statue of Liberty, I want to check in at Grants Tomb, or wherever I happen to find myself on a particular day. I want to tell the world that I'm dining with an attractive young lady. Shouldn't I have that option, even at the entry level??

Well, no. You see FaceBook is a memory hog. Of course that term only makes sense in relation to a device that has less than enough memory to run FaceBook. But long story short, when I install FaceBook, I start to get warnings that I'm running low on Memory and my incoming TEXTS get rejected. Clearly, this is not acceptable. FaceBook gets the big DELETE. :(

OK Open Source Community... OK Linux Community... Talk to me Powers of the Tech World Who's Name We Dare Not Speak.... what are my options ?!?!?

Well, funny that you ask... because they actually have an answer. Might not be completely pretty... but honestly, it's kinda BEAUTIFUL to my way of thinking.

So you have an SD card slot, right? And that can give you up to 32Gb of memory, right? Plug into your computer and drag and drop movies, videos, and tunes !!!  But is that any different from the memory that this phone RUNS on ??? Uh, apparently no! Or, kinda sorta.

In any case, the underlying tech for Cell Phone Memory is layered between "onboard" and external. Except they are really using the same basic tech... but are produced in quantity in such a way that there is a distinction. (Some is hard wired onto a sort of motherboard, other is buss-ed in from external sources).

So the fact is, the entry level phone has little built in memory, but up to 32GB via SD card. And there is a lower level of memory, closer to the CPU, but let's not even go there... the rest is handled by swapping out to the memory pages.

Well it turns out that most apps have their memory requirements mapped out into three discrete units. We can fool the system into stashing two of the three units onto the external memory, thus leaving plenty of space on the phone's internal memory. The apps don't even have to be aware of this (or written to support this)... if they write as per the Android specs, this will just happen seamlessly.

Hurdle #1 (not a huge deal, but not trivial):  Root the phone.
Anybody coming from the Unix world knows what "root access" means. You get to read and write to memory locations that are not available to most applications. This is essentially what happens when you root a phone. It voids the manufacturer's warranty (as if Virgin was gonna get into this with me), but you get access to files you otherwise would not have had access to. This includes the Operating System.

Lots of apps written for the Android phones simply don't work, or only have limited capabilities if you don't have root access. But in my case, this was essential to achieve my goal.

Rooting the phone is easy enough... if all goes well. The first attempt (which everybody seems to advocate) didn't work. It gave me an error, something about drivers not installed... went down the rabbit hole of making sure the right drivers where in the right locations... then bailed. I bet this method works perfectly for most users... I saw 5 different YouTube vids with MY PHONE doing this in 60 seconds. But I got error due to missing drivers.

Found 2nd method of rooting device. Downloaded script for my phone (directly from my phone, not my computer) and got it rooted with no problems.

Won't get more into detail now. More than enough details out there. Talk to me in person if you plan on doing this.

Then the simple app fixed everything... Link2SD.  OK, still not trivial, but conceptually clear. My SD card holds 8Gb of data. Mount as a drive in Windows (i.e. plug your phone into USB Port and go to "share as drive"), and use a 3rd party app (Windows Disk Manager could NOT do this !!!!). Partition your SD card so 6GB (more or less) are available for storage, and the other 2 GB (totally invisible to Windows) is partitioned and formatted and ready to use.

Now return back to the phone, and install Link2SD. Reboot at least once, and then start moving apps to the SD card, or LINKING apps that can not be moved. The "LINKING" moves a large portion of the app onto the SD card, leaving the internal memory available for every day operation.

I should probably end here and now. My $70 phone can now run SCORES of apps that would otherwise tell me I was out of memory. I have Facebook running, at the same time as Google Maps, and some other "hogs"... and text messages are not being rejected.

I expect to be able to install dozens or maybe hundreds of apps in this configuration.


But I'm just not satisfied !!!

OK, granted, I'm ELATED!!!!
My $70 phone with a ($15, generously priced) 8Gb SD card has all the memory and power to keep track of my calendar, my multiple e-mail accounts, all my business needs, and my Face Book nonsense !!!

But what's all this up around the bend??? I have a bunch of bloatware installed on my system that STILL doesn't give me the option to delete. And what's all this I hear about ROMs ???

Most frustrating of all was watching multiple YouTube vids showing my how easy it was to install "Rom Manager" and show how I could load different versions of Android OS on my phone. And in fact back in 2011 when this phone was the hot low end phone to hit the market, it WAS easy to root and hack this phone with different ROMs. But as of August 2013, it is extremely difficult to find the software needed to to install the Rom Manager or Recovery software for this phone.

Let's be clear... there are layers of software installed on my LG Optimus V (LGMV670) phone. Root gives me access to all on the phone... but software needed to update the basic OS files is hard to acquire. Maybe a year ago, this was easy to get. But today it seems to have dried up and disappeared. I signed up to the forum sights, but all the software that is supposed to give me access to "Flash the Rom" has disappeared into the vapor. These are apps that clearly worked a year ago (as per YouTube), but just don't work anymore. On the forum sights, I get a message that "This software is not available in your region." So these "underground" sights are not so underground after all... and apparently neither am I. :(

To this extent "Rom Manager" was THE GO TO APP that would allow you to choose the OS into which your phone would boot.
After installing "Rom Manager", it clearly states that it WILL NOT allow me to change the ROMs (basic operating system files) on my phone.
"Xenobia" (or something like that) says that downloads are not available in my area of the world.

It seems that "The Marketplace" has decided what I can and can not download... even for free... in my current location. That I as an individual, who I purchased a device for $70, am not allowed to download certain files that may make MY device more useful to ME.

Bottom line to this rant... It's not a rant !!
I'm SUPER happy with my $70 phone, my $15 memory card, and my ability to do my business from ANYWHERE and still post my stupid Face Book stuff.
The rest is a work in progress. I'm confident that if I care to spend the time and effort, I will figure out how to install different ROMs on this phone and choose which works best for me, and delete Point, SCVNGR, and the rest... and customize MY phone the way I want it.

It does irk me (understatement!) that the apps to do the ROM replacements were easy to acquire back in 2011, and now seem to have been scoured off the Internet. I'll keep looking... I'm sure they're out there. But the YouTube vids from 2011 just seem to taunt me... "Look, now just download 'ROM Manager" and you're all set." ARG!!!  ROM Manager tells me specifically that it will no longer support my phone!!

Anyway, thanks for letting me vent. I LOVE the state of Tech today. $70 and a $15 SD card, with a $30 monthly plan... and I'm running dozens and dozens of apps in real time !!!!!!!!!!!!

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

A True New York Story

A good few years ago, VB sent us a nice scan of a fold-up map that was given away as a freebe by MTA in honor of an anniversary they were celebrating, probably the 2004 centennial. This giveaway was a re-print of an old map. When it was originally published, it was sponsored by a shopping center who's building was prominently displayed in the center. I can't find the scan now, but the place of business was an impressive looking building near Astor Place, and was identified as "Stewart's"... most likely "Stewart's Cast Iron Palace" or something similar.

I remember trying to find information on this place via a few different searches. Finding nothing definitive, I decided to hoof it down there to see what (if anything) stood there now. In what appeared to be the location indicated on the map now stands an incredibly impressive building which WAS an important shopping center... though it was markedly different from Stewart's as it appeared sketched on that map.

Well I sort of filed that whole story in the back of my mind, and slowly over time the information presented itself. And to my delight, the story keeps getting better and better.

NOTE: I had written the above (and what follows) a day or so ago, and have since discovered more information. A.T. Stewart's Cast Iron Palace was NOT the business establishment featured on that map. It was in fact Mark Arnheim Tayloring... another five story building erected next to the Cast Iron Palace, touted as The World's Largest Tayloring Establishment. Will follow up about Arnheim later, as he too has a story to tell.

As it turns out, if I had just known the actual name of this Stewart, this was mostly all spelled out in a single Wikipedia entry. But I took the long route, including a book I just purchased at The Strand to get the details.

In a little cul-de-sac in Greenwich Village next to the Cherry Lane theater is a nifty looking 19th Century three story brick home with a plaque that explains that this was once the home of A.T. Stewart, the Merchant Prince. At the time when this building was erected, this neighborhood was home to the wealthy New Yorkers who fled the overcrowding and disease ridden lower Manhattan. Massive amounts of resources were spent during this period developing the land, including changing the course of the streams, draining the swamps, and laying out streets among the farms, fields, and orchards. Stewart was among these men of great means.

Immigrating from Ireland as a youth, he arrived with a decent amount of money in his pocket... saved from working as a stock boy in a retail store. Later he inherited another decent amount from his family's estate. Not enough to make a man wealthy, but enough to get him started in a retail business in New York City. He also married into a well established family over here.

Through hard work and ingenuity, he re-defined the nature of the retail store. He included a show room above the store with full length mirrors, so ladies could try on their wares before making the purchase. This seemed to attract an affluent clientele, and soon his dry goods shop became a lucrative outlet for the fashionably dressed.

In an effort to expand his clientele, he dreamed up a risky scheme which payed off in spades. He put together a catalog of items and used the US Mail to send these westward across the country. With the use of a system known as Wells Fargo, he would deliver items to consumers across the ever expanding nation.

He took these successes and leveraged a MAJOR real estate venture. He erected what will always be known as the first true shopping center... The Marble Palace. This was in Lower Manhattan, just immediately north of City Hall. This "palace" is still there. It is still an impressive building, even by today's standards. It was so impressive, taking up the entire city block, that eventually "The New York Sun" newspaper took over the space. (You may remember "Yes Virginia, there is a Santa Claus")

Since this shopping center proved to be a success, and while New York City itself was expanding northward, he next erected The Cast Iron Palace. At the time, the Astor Library (now NYC's premier Shakespeare repertory theater, The Public Theater) as well as the Astor Opera House were among his neighbors. This was during the architectural revolution taking place where the use of cast iron as a structural material was allowing buildings to go higher than had ever been dreamed. This all taking place around the Civil War era, 1860's or there about. The garment industry had flourished in NYC sparked by the need for uniforms for the Union soldiers. This infrastructure quickly turned to fashion for the masses.

Later he took this fortune and entered the Rail Road business, owning a lucrative stretch of rails that eventually became part of The Long Island Rail Road.

By now he had moved up to what may have been the first of many true mansions along 5th Avenue, his being way out of town on 34th Street. It no longer exists.

Eventually, after his time on Earth, an even larger shopping center was constructed on the adjacent block to the Cast Iron Palace. This was the old Wannamaker's department store, one of two, the original being in Philadelphia. This is the building that still stands today. Wannamaker purchased The Cast Iron Palace and built the even larger building across the street, connecting the two via several cross walks high above the street bellow. Unfortunately, The Cast Iron Palace burned to the ground in a terrible fire... terrible enough to burn a cast iron building. Today a 1950s era condominium stands in this location, and while architecturally not to everybody's taste, it is quite impressive in size.

OK, so I found where he came from, where he lived, where he made his fortune, and the fate of the Cast Iron Palace. But were was he laid to rest??? Well that's where it gets REALLY interesting... and I can't make this up.

So after his death in 1876, he was buried in an exclusive location that few people could afford, in the main yard of The Church of St. Marks on the Bowery, next to former governors and mayors (some dating back to the British Colonial days). Heck, even the DUTCH Director General of New Amsterdam, Peter Stuyvesant, has his bones and peg leg interred in the wall of that church.

At the time of his death, it is estimated that his estate which passed on to his widow was $40 Million... that's $40 Million in 1876 dollars, not adjusted for inflation.

Now here's where it gets weird... "poor" AT Stewart apparently was not destined to Rest In Peace. Not long after his death, grave robbers busted up the flat stone laid horizontally on the church ground, cut through the copper vault, broke through the wooden casket, and stole Stewart's remains. Anonymously, the thieves hired a lawyer to negotiate with his estate for a ransom of the remains, which apparently WAS paid and the body was returned to be buried in a different location.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

PC Lemon

A while back I helped out a neighbor with her computer. She bought mid-range ($700-ish) PC, not ages ago... it came with Windows Vista.

FUCK... brain fart as I type... can't remember the name... had the commercial w/ the cute little black kid... has the word "PC" in the name... My PC... Friendly PC... Smart PC... something like that... they were half a service provider, half a PC mfr.

Anyway, her neighbor had installed MacAfee virus suite before removing Norton AV (or vice versa), and the two were fighting each other, and that neighbor bailed (after taking her money) and wouldn't fix the mess she left.

It was a DUAL CORE Pentium... really, should chew up and spit out any menial tasks this woman was gonna throw at it. Seriously... writing letters, e-mail, web. NOTHING more.

So even after I finally got both malware apps off, and did a clean instal of one, it was quickly clear that this PC was a DOG. It took literally five or six MINTUES to boot to desktop. Took six MINUTES to shut down. Getting updates (which required multiple restarts) drove me insane.

So I got a call yesterday asking if I could install her NEW computer. She told me she was so frustrated after (now about) two or three years on this computer she was ready to throw it out the window... she literally would bang on it out of frustration.

So she purchased a Lenovo from Best Buy. Something in the $700 range. She finally got a bang for her buck. And THAT's what has me fuming. This old PC was NOT that long ago... there was NO EXCUSE for the poor performance that this thing gave her. ANYBODY could slap together a $700 PC that would function satisfactorily. This was a brand that was advertising on TV, and couldn't get it right.

Her son told her he'd set up the new PC in 10 minutes, and just transfer the files over... zip zip... and it would be no problem. Good mom that she is, she knows her son works hard all day and has a family, and said that she'd hire a pro (me) to do it right.

She even bought the EZ Transfer Cable (a simple USB cable) to connect the two PCs together to transfer files.

So here's how it went down...

Wake up old computer, and find the "Shut Down" option on the start menu.
Wait four or five minutes while "shutting down" while talking... then realized, "uh, this is ridiculous"
Hold the hard power button until it shuts down.

Crawl under desk. Unplug everything. Spend a few minutes straightening up the mess under there. Move old gear into the hallway... including the LAST CRT monitor on the planet. (so this was right on the cusp of LCD) It still had a roller ball mouse... USB keyboard, PS2 mouse.

Unpack new monitor as she marveled at the weight and footprint (or lack thereof).
Connect everything.
Power up.
(yup, as per her son's prediction... maybe 10-13 minutes)

Ooooo... Windows 8. A first for me. I'm not a-skeered.

So what does MS do?
1) End User License Agreement... option should say "Agree Without Reading".
2) Sign up for your Microsoft Account. (wasn't clear that this was optional), so I went for it... how hard could it be.

name, rank, serial number... e-mail... choose your password.
No, not enough letters.
No, need capitals and numbers.
OK, finally a weird password that this woman will never remember.

Continue and... Windows has encountered a problem. Installation will restart.
Ugh, seriously?!?

Quickly enough, it reboots, and I "Agree Without Reading", and this time OPT OUT of the MS Account. (Hey, why didn't I do that in the first place.)  Most likely it didn't allow to continue because it couldn't yet find the internet... it couldn't yet find the internet because the OS was not yet installed. Thanks GENIUS BOYS !!!

Soooo, Win 8... what-coo-got ?!?

Name this computer.
Create a User... no, not THAT user, must be different from computer name. OK, fine!
On to user log on screen... uh, why are there TWO users. I really only entered one user. Hmm, next time that 2nd user didn't appear... just the once. (WTF?)

Win 8 starts with a nifty snazzy Startup Screen. Not a traditional desktop, just field of apps organized in some fashion... a MS section, a Lenovo section, and some "other" section. One option is "desktop". Click that and you're "kinda" in familiar territory. No "start" menu of any kind... gotta drag mouse to upper right corner to see it magically appear. OK, fine, it works pretty well.

Now to uninstall some bloat... minimalist, I just uninstalled MacAfee and installed free Avira. Told her "just don't use all that stuff that's installed".

One app she needed to use was her word processor. She had disks for (wait for it) MS Works Suite from her old computer. New PC came with teaser of MS Office 2010. (Uh, it's 2013, right?)

So we'll deal w/ that next. First things first... re-set up her old PC... mouse, keyboard, monitor.
Run EZ File Transfer on new PC, which prompts to install a flash drive (I brought), so I can run same app on OLD PC.
Run on Old PC... did I mention this old PC was a DOG. 13 minutes later, I have app running.
Connect EZ Transfer Cable between two USB ports. Select mostly defaults on both PC.
"Looking for EZ Transfer Cable" says the old PC... for six minutes, then reports "no EZ Transfer Cable Detected".
Just about then there's a pop-up at the bottom... Installing Drivers... EZ Transfer Cable dectected".
Yup... maybe 20 minutes now before two computers see each other.
Click to continue on both comps, using defaults.
Transfer starts and both PC say "Don't Use This PC During Transfer" while new PC shows action bars. (Why TWO action bars... 3.2 Gig for new PC, 650Meg for old PC... uh, is something going from New to Old??? WTF??)
This transfer starts to take about four minutes before a chunk shows up on new PC action bar.
Just about then a message appears on Old PC... "You would have faster transfer if you plugged into newer USB 2.0. Click here to see available USB ports."
Yup, I'm plugged into the USB port on the FRONT of the figgin' computer... and that's USB 1.0. Need to use the BACK of the computer to access the USB 2.0 port. WTF !!!!!!!! Not unplugging anything mid-transfer. Just gotta deal with this auto-negotiation back to 1996 tech.

Maybe 30-40 minutes later, transfer complete. All files are moved to where they should be.

So... disconnect, and shut down old dog for the last time in history. Good f'n riddance !!!

Plug in printer, let it find drivers... all looks good. Small glitch, it wants a manual "ok" on the printer's front panel each time we print, asking if it's OK to use the new paper. I think I fixed that in "printer settings".

Now, double click on one of her old word processor files. Options come up for MS Office...
1) have a license, enter code
2) go online and buy a license
3) use trial version

We try her old code from MS Works Suite... not surprisingly, no way.
She decides to buy online for $107 (discounted from $127).
Please enter MS Account or start a new one. ARGGGGG... I just opted out of that an hour ago !!!
OK new account. Enter all sorts of info... continue... uh, account already exists. Huh, it does??
OK, log in as this account, click "forgot password, send me re-set password link."
Wait... wait... wait... uh, they're not sending re-set password link."
Try again... this time e-mail comes.
Reset password. Buy software. Download software that's already installed (18 minutes?). Finally MS Office (Home and Student) is now installed !!!

A few more pokes and tweeks, trying to get AOL as her home page... but where are the "internet options" that I'm so familiar with... can't find them. Find some sort of way that seems to work... two tabs come up, one of them is AOL... but only if you go to DESKTOP first... don't go right to IE from the nifty startup window... that has a mind of its own.

All said and done, just about 3 hours on this PC to do the "10 minutes" of work.
This system DOES work fine. Starts up fast. Loads apps fast. Is QUIET. (Did I mention, old PC had screaming loud fan that didn't make a sound for minutes at a time while PC sat and did NOTHING... the SCREAMED to life as you saw it decide to do something.)

Anyway, her C-note turned into $125. (I just said, "Whatever you think it's worth to you". Was not gonna haggle... bad karma.) Not bad for 3 hours. Low level consultants get that... and this is cash money.