Tag Archives: technology

eReading and dyslexia

So about a month ago I finally took the plunge and bought myself a tablet. I had been reading on my phone for a while and I admit that, unlike most people, I didn’t have much trouble with the size of the screen. Still, I was looking forward to having a more reasonably-sized page.

One month later the takeaway lesson is that while the bigger screen is great for watching movies, reading comics and getting some work done, for reading I’ll stick with my phone, thank you very much. Simply put I hadn’t realized how much that little screen was helping me to focus, or what kind of a difference having shorter and fewer lines to contend with at a time  made. Yes, I can read on the tablet’s screen, and I wouldn’t exactly describe it as a struggle, but it is more of a chore and I also finding far more tiring.

I don’t know if it’s just me, but if you are dyslexic, and you enjoy reading, you may want to give that ‘annoyingly little’ screen a chance. You may be surprised by the result.

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Trying to get back in the rhythm of things without much success

Okay, so these past few days haven’t exactly been productive, as I have been trying to figure out what am I supposed to do with my site going forward. No, it’s not going anywhere, not of I can avoid it, but at the same time I realize that there may well be some issues, as I am effectively stuck with a really crappy host I’m convinced is nothing but a scam… and seeing how getting a refund (even a partial one) out of these people is not an option, I am effectively being held hostage. Anyway, I want you to know what’s going on, in case the site goes down, even temporarily (I’ll try to prevent it, and to prevent or at least minimize any potential loss of data, but at the same time I realize that they are unlikely to be happy about these posts, and there is a very real possibility that they may choose to retaliate. Yes, I have paid my hosting fees, but I don’t exactly expect anything remotely resembling an ethical behavior out of them).

Well, the good news is that while I did fall for their ‘unlimited hosting’ scam (for the record, my bandwidth usage for the month is well below 5 GB, and I still got taken off line for using too many resources) I didn’t fall for it when they asked me to transfer my domain to them for free, meaning that, even if the site goes down for a while, the site will effectively remain my site. The legacy zones are safely backed up, and I’m trying to keep a relatively up-to-date backup of the blog’s database… annoying as that is in light of the obstacles GreenGeeks has put in my path when it comes to doing that.

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A limited view of ‘unlimited’

And just a little update on my problems with my ‘unlimited’ host (that would be greengeeks). Since my site was taken off line for the better part of an afternoon with no previous warning whatsoever for using too many resources last week I have been keeping a closer eye on things (I had assumed that ‘unlimited’ meant that I could relax, or that they would let me know if there was a problem…I learned the hard way that that wasn’t anywhere near the case).

So far I have managed to get the number of spam comments being posted down to zero (the problem was caused largely by excessive spammer activity), but given that the site is already in those spammers’ databases, the fact that they can no longer post hasn’t really had much of an impact on my resource usage yet (and I don’t know if it ever will, as getting deleted from those databases is likely to be all but impossible). Still, the most interesting thing was a little tidbit I came across as I checked my resources usage statistics, as it made crystal clear just how ‘unlimited’ is defined: 256 MB per day.  I am including a series of screengrabs showing not just the limitation notice, but also some additional details about my data usage for the month (the site was restricted on the 12th).

Resource usage restrictions

Daily usage statsDecember stats

That means that, at least as far as greengeeks is concerned, ‘unlimited’ translates into between seven and eight gigabytes per month tops (as traffic varies from day to day, that would be if you reach the resource limit on a daily basis without ever going over it, and that’s not likely to be the case). Assuming that these restrictions are close to the industry standard, I have to say that it is a pretty rotten deal. In fact, with the exception of the most limited of starter plans, few metered packages restrict you to less than 10 GB per month… the problem is that most of the hosts that used to offer rollover bandwidth have either gone out of business, or they have converted to an ‘unlimited’ service… and yes, I am incredibly frustrated by this whole mess (and by the fact that while greengeeks  offers free migrations to entice new customers, it disables the ‘Backup Wizard’, making it that much harder for existing customers to move away, or even take the most basic precautions to ensure their data’s safety).

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The reader in me vs. the writer in me

I confess: when it comes to automated translations, I am a hypocrite. As a reader, I have turned to them on a couple of occasions. They are clumsy, and at times almost unreadable, but I admit I find them useful as a last resort. As a writer (one who does some translating on the side and is used to agonizing about each and every word), on the other hand, they make me cringe.

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QWERTY & shortcuts

Keyboard shortcuts are a wonderful invention. They allow us to integrate common tasks into our typing without really disrupting its flow, and for the most part they follow rules that are more or less consistent. We have that ‘i’ is for ‘italics’, ‘b’ is for ‘bold’ and ‘o’ is for ‘open’ all of which seem reasonable enough, but then we have that ‘x’ is for ‘cut’ and ‘v’ is for paste, simply because no one else would have them, and because they are stuck on either side of ‘c’, which is for ‘copy’ (that, and because ‘p’ is for print and because, with copy already hogging the ‘c’, cut is out of luck). So far, so good… well, more or less.

The problem is that we are just as likely to make mistake when typing a shortcut as when typing anything else, and our keyboard layouts can give rise to some rather dangerous clusters, such as (U)-I-O-P and B-N. While underline is not much of an issue, this means that all of a sudden you may find yourself being presented with a dialog window helpfully asking you which file it is that you would like to open when what you all you are trying to do is italicize some text, or with a print dialog when you are trying to open a file (though that is nowhere near as annoying, as in both instances you are expecting a dialog window to pop-up and ask for your input)… and that is only if you don’t find yourself suddenly in front of a brand new file when all you are trying to do is add a little emphasis.

No, these shortcut typos that bring up an unwanted dialog window don’t happen often enough to be a major issue, but I admit that, when they do, they tend to get on my nerves (especially because, at least in my case, they become more frequent  when the juices are flowing, and I’m typing a little faster than I should). The good news is that this is a situation can be addressed by remapping or disabling some shortcuts either throughout your system, or for any given app. The bad news is that, if you go that route, you are likely to have to make some compromises.

If you want to shift a shortcut on a system wide basis you have to make sure you are not going to be creating a conflict with some obscure shortcut used by some app, meaning that the alternative shortcuts are likely to be less than intuitive. If you want to modify your shortcuts on an app by app basis you can avoid this problem, but then you’ll have to remember which shortcut goes with which app. As far as I’m concerned, neither one of these options is worth the hassle.

A more realistic solution that can be applied on a system wide basis -but one that does take some getting used to, and will drive anyone who happens to borrow your computer crazy- is to have bold and open switch places. That way you get one cluster with underline, italics and bold, and a second cluster with new and open. Of course, if you do this, then print becomes more of an issue, as -just like open-it brings up an unwanted dialog window.

The easy alternative is simply to get rid of ‘open’ and ‘new’ in your main writing apps. That way you don’t have to worry when trying to use bold or italics. Unfortunately that means that you are giving up some functionality, as you are then stuck selecting those options by hand.

Anyway, if you want to remap your shortcuts you can do it from from the system preferences on a mac (go to ‘keyboard’, select ‘keyboard shortcuts’, and then click on the plus sign to bring up a window where you can remap your shortcut). If you are running windows I think you need a specialized program to do this, but there seem to be a few of those out there.

As for me, for the time being I am still trying to implement the other choice I have when it comes to this particular issue, but I admit hasn’t been easy: I’m trying to learn to own up to my mistakes, quit whining, and become a better -or at least a more careful- typist.

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The scent of the past

Yesterday I stumbled upon one of my very old books… and by that I mean one of those my mom used to read to me when I was only a couple of years old, long before I could read them myself. The thing was falling apart, and there was some evidence that it had been patched up more than once. In other words, it showed all the signs of a children’s book that has been ‘well-loved’ (read ‘thoroughly chewed’). When I saw it, I was overjoyed. It was such a seemingly insignificant  thing, but it brought back so many memories. I spent a couple of hours getting reacquainted with some I hadn’t really forgotten (though I admit I was surprised to realize that that little book included The Three Astronauts, a very short story by Umberto Eco) and getting a little teary eyed.

It was, in other words, a wonderful experience… and then I started thinking about kids today, who are learning to read on a tablet, that will get replaced and discarded in a couple of years, kids  who will never have a chance to stumble upon an old friend as I did yesterday, and I couldn’t help but to think that they will be missing something… and the worst part is that they’ll never even notice.

Oh, I’m not denying that there are plenty of advantages to technology, but it is a trade-off, and the kids that are growing up glued to their tablets will never know what they are missing. They will never know the joy of stumbling upon an unexpected treasure in a pile of old books, they will never wonder about the hands that held the book they are currently reading a hundred years ago. In short, we are heading into a world in which there are no first editions, and in which getting your favorite book autographed by its author is no longer an option. Granted, moving half a world away with a library comprising thousands of volumes is bound to be easier with a tablet or an ereader than with thousands upon thousands of pounds of dead trees (I’ve done it, and I’ll be the first  to admit that it is not much fun), but there is a certain kind of magic to the printed page. Cracking open an old book brings back a scent of the past… and that is a scent that is on the brink of being lost for good.

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Apple, the NSA, iWork and the cloud

Okay, let me get this straight: the new version of iWork (one that is sorely needed seeing how the last major update of the desktop version of that particular app suite was released back in 2009) is going to be iWork for iCloud. That means that if you want to access get some work done you have to rely on Apple’s servers and online storage, where we your files are ‘conveniently kept for you’ and where you know for a fact that you have no expectation of privacy… am I the only one that sees something very wrong with this particular picture?

Yes, I realize that Google Docs has always been a cloud-based service, and that there are a number of other such services available, but the key there is in the always part of that description. People signing up for these services knew all along just what it was that they were getting into. iWork users, who are stuck with a proprietary format, are effectively being shoved into the cloud whether they want to or not.

Now, I realize that, except for the iOS ecosystem, iWork is a pretty minor player in the field, but I am afraid that this is just the beginning, that other programs will eventually follow suit (so far other programs allow you to collaborate online, but they don’t force you to do so). To me this push towards the cloud is unacceptable.

Don’t get me wrong, I know the cloud has its uses, and I appreciate the freedom it gives me, and the comfort of knowing that my files are (relatively) safe no matter what happens,  but I want to remain in control of what I store and where I store it. I want to retain the freedom to choose a different service provider or to work off line altogether, and this move (and others like it) threaten to deprive me of that right. It is my computer, my work and my files we are talking about here… what part of MY doesn’t Apple understand? After all, given what Apple, Google, Microsoft, Facebook and the like have done with my trust in the past, is it that surprising that I want Apple and its ilk to keep their filthy hands to themselves?

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Blurring the lines

I saw an ad today, I don’t really remember what it was for, but it was one of those futuristic ones with a world dominated by touch-screen interfaces, gleaming surfaces and the like. The thing is that while those ads are supposed to represent a sort of utopia, they chill me to the bone. Yes, we live in a world that is increasingly interconnected, but at the same time I would like to keep some boundaries, thank you oh so very much. I would also like to retain the right to just be me… or at least I would like to retain some semblance of control. No, I’m not a technophobe, but I see no need to rush in just because some marketing guy (or gal) somewhere has new gadget to sell. I want to be able to adopt only those technologies I believe benefit me, and I want to be able to adopt them when I want to and in my own terms, but at times I feel like I can’t. One very simple example: there are a growing  number of services online that either require that you provide them with your mobile phone number outright, or that keep nagging you to supply that information every time you log in, where you don’t even have a ‘don’t ask me again’ box you can tick. Yes, I realize that an SMS message can help keep your account safe, and because of that giving your service provider your mobile phone number can be a good idea, but the thing is that I don’t know of any law that requires people to have a mobile phone (yet), and none of these companies list having a mobile phone as a basic requirement in their TOS, so why do they demand that you provide them with the mobile number you are not required to have in order to take advantage of their services?

Sure, I know this example applies only to a small fringe group. I know most people have a mobile phone (if not a smartphone) and don’t see such a requirement as a burden, but while having a mobile phone has a number of undeniable benefits, I am also aware that there are some who have chosen to opt out of that particular bandwagon, and I can most definitely appreciate their reasoning. Let’s face it, there are some distinct advantages to not being available 24/7, and to not being expected to be available 24/7. It’s called retaining the ability to set some basic boundaries because, let’s face it, just owning a mobile phone  is enough to create certain expectations that all but impossible to overcome (family time? What family time? Your boss has a right to call you whenever he/she wants, he/she expects you to pick up the phone and, seeing how you know it is your boss that’s calling you, you know you better take that call).

Anyway, I am wondering why that add bothered me so much. I guess it was because in light of what we have learned in the past couple of months about electronic surveillance I have come to distrust mobile phones more and more (not that I was ever too keen of the blasted things to begin with). I see them as intrusive, as tools that can all too easily be turned against us, and I also see the way in which they have become a de facto requirement. No they haven’t passed a law that says we have to carry a GPS tracking device with us at all times just yet, but almost.

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Skype

Today I called my dad on Skype. It’s something I do often, but this time around it got me thinking… and trying to imagine what my life would have been like if such a service had been an option back when I was growing up. You see, I grew up basically half a world away from most of my family. In those days even an international phone call was a luxury, and I remember that almost as soon as I was old enough to write, writing a letter to my grandparents became an integral part of my Sunday routine. I would write a letter, have one of my parents proof it to make sure I wasn’t mentioning anything I wasn’t supposed to, and then I would write the envelope (the hope was that the fact that it was a child’s scrawl would get the letter past the post office unopened… let’s just say that there was a reason I was living half a world away from my grandparents, and leave it at that). In time phone calls became less expensive and the letter-writing fell by the wayside, but the thing is that in a way my grandparents, to say nothing of some of my aunts, uncles and cousins, remained virtual strangers (a phone call to my grandparents was a luxury, a phone call to my cousins was unthinkable).

My grandparents are gone now, and none of them ever got to use a computer at all. As for the rest of my family, we have made some efforts to reconnect over the years, but the truth is that (at least as far as I was concerned) by the time computers came along, too long had passed. Most of them were (and some of them still are) names without faces, so I wonder what Skype would have meant for my family back then. I don’t know, I can only imagine.

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Selling an end to privacy

Earlier today I was thinking about a conversation I had with one of my best friends on the issue of privacy long before the subject became a fashionable one. She had a new baby, I had just microchipped one of my pets for the first time a couple of days prior (yes, it was that long ago), there was a kidnapping that was making headlines, and we were talking about safety. I remember asking her what would she do if someone were to come to her and tell her that there was a new GPS chip that could be implanted under her baby’s skin, one that would ensure that, no matter what happened, the child’s location could be pinpointed in a matter of seconds anywhere in the world. The trade off was that such an implant would be permanent, her child would be tracked for life… and that since she was the one who would making that call, her baby would have no say on the matter.

To me the idea of being tracked 24/7 was horrifying, and she was not too keen on it herself, but at the same time when she weighed her distaste for the thing against her own fears –even if those fears revolved around a very remote possibility– she hesitated. No, she didn’t want to be tracked herself, but the possibility of allaying what were some of her worst fears, fears that were actually being fanned by a media machine, was obviously alluring to her. Continue reading Selling an end to privacy

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