Archive for the 'Technology' Category


USB type-A male to USB type-A male cables not available at Radio Shack

USB cableI have this drive enclosure that I got from my dad a while back. It’s got a couple jacks to connect it to your computer. You can either connect it via a standard USB Type-A female jack (type-A is regular-ass rectangle USB) , or you can plug in an ethernet cable and connect it to your router. Pretty easy. I decided to go the simple and direct USB route. It should have been simple, except I don’t have a type-A male to type-A male USB cable (pictured above). I used to have dozens of these all over the place a few years ago; they came with every new gadget I bought, and I had a few still in the plastic. Yet, when I needed one, I couldn’t find any in the house. I have type-A to micro, type-A to mini or type-A to the “chunky square one that connects to printers”. What I don’t have is just a plain old USB to plain old USB (pictured above). I figured I’d pick one up at Fred Meyer electronics. No big deal, since I had some shopping to do anyway. I scoured the place. Nothing. They had lots of variations, but no male-to-male type-A cables. The guy there said he hadn’t seen any in years. Feeling like I just stepped out of the Twilight Zone, I decided that I should just go to Radio Shack and be done with it.

I walked into Radio Shack, which is apparently a cell phone store now, and attempted to find my cable. I had a strange disembodied feeling and momentary vertigo. Was it possible that I imagined that these cables ever existed? No, of course not. They were completely commonplace a few short years ago. Still, as I scan the shelves I can’t seem to find one…and this is the store that should have every conceivable combination of consumer electronics cable.

Right as I’m about to leave, one of the never-helpful Radio Shack clerks walks up, and asks if he can help me find anything. [Side note: Radio Shack clerks are minimally trained in electronics, and heavily focused on loss-prevention. You are a thousand times more likely to be profiled than helped in their stores. They also try to position themselves between you and the racks of cables and adapters that you’re trying to scan through.] This dingus, whom I finally realized hours later to be the embodiment of the Zack Galifianakis’ pretentious illiterate character , asks what I’m looking for, then proceeds to tell me that no such thing (like the one pictured above) exists, nor has it ever existed. He tells me that USB cables always have something besides a type-A male connection at the other end (unlike the one pictured above). He says “I’m sure that if you go home and look closely at the drive, you’ll see that it has this connector” He shows me one of the square-type connectors that I mentioned above. I reply “Actually, I looked at the drive very carefully last night, and it doesn’t. Which is unfortunate because I do have those cables.” He then pulls a Microsoft Easy Transfer cable down off the rack, which is USB Type-A male on both ends, but has a giant chunk of mystery electronics in the middle of the cable. These are specifically for transferring your user folder from your old computer to your new computer and they cost $40.  He says “ah, this is what you’re looking for”. And I reply, “no, that’s a specific cable for transferring data directly between computers, and it’s also quite a bit more expensive than what I need.” He says “Still, I’m pretty sure it will do the job.” Skeptic Chad was skeptical.  Then I say, mostly thinking out loud, “This is really strange, because these cables used to be everywhere a few years ago.” At this point the guy delivers the line of the evening: “Clearly the world has moved on since then.”

In a flood of crimson rage, I reach out in a cobra-strike and press my fingernails into his windpipe. “Listen up you smug little shit!” I hiss through my gritted teeth, “You have no fucking idea what you’re talking about!” I shove him up against the rack, knocking adapters and cheap glittery iPhone cases everywhere and sending his glasses askew across his face. “I LEARNED TO CODE ON A RADIO SHACK COMPUTER TEN YEARS BEFORE YOU WERE EVEN CONCEIVED! EVER HEARD OF A TRS-80? DO YOU EVEN KNOW WHAT “TANDY” IS? YOU’RE NOT GOING TO TELL ME ABOUT TECHNOLOGY, PISSANT! I’M FIVE AND A QUARTER INCHES FLOPPY AND YOU’RE TWO AND A HALF INCHES SOLID STATE! YOU DO NOT MESS WITH OLD SCHOOL GEEKS! I WILL FUCK YOU UP WITH BASIC!
10 CLS
30 GOTO 20

None of that last paragraph actually happened. I just muttered “I guess I’ll look around online.” So I did. Four bucks on Amazon. I’ll be damned if I don’t get fucked right in the ass every time I attempt to shop brick and mortar.

The author as a young boy on his TRS-80. (Re-enactment.)


Wallet makers! What the hell?

It’s the 21st century. Why are wallets either hopelessly bulky or antiquated?

Here are my requirements:

  • Made of something indestructible, virtually. I’ve tried stainless “cloth”. It’s virtually indestructible, it’s also sharp, which means it cuts holes in your pants. How about whatever kepur straps are made out of?
  • Shitload of card slots! Everything has a card now! And until stores are ready to accept digitally stored cards directly from your phone, I need to carry them. Three is not enough. Six is not enough.
  • ID window. Quick ID access is super convenient. Do it.
  • Cash slot. Unfortunately I still sometimes have to deal with paper money. Until it goes away and we all get our subdermal microchips I still need this.
  • Not an aluminum box. I just don’t like the shape of the current aluminum offerings. Also, they’re a fixed size. Every once in a while something stupid happens, like a bar owner pays me in $1’s, I need a wallet with “give”.
  • No money clips! WTF?!? Why are these all the rage? Who are you trying to impress with paper cash in a clip? That’s ridiculous! Just carry one ATM receipt! That should be sufficient to impress anyone if you store your money in a bank like a normal person.
  • A little pocket for whatever else. I drop coins in the tip jar or the nearest ash tray, but I still sometimes have small things to keep track of eg. spare guitar picks, SIM card, those tiny little “keychain” cards that I don’t want cluttering up my keychain.
  • Modern looking. I realize that I could buy a thirty compartment nylon “tactical” wallet that looks like the first wallet I got when I was 9. I’m not feeling it.

Bring me this wallet and I will buy it.


Display quality of HTC Inspire 4G super LCD vs. Apple retina.

I spent a lot of time agonizing over display resolutions when choosing my latest phone, the HTC Inspire 4G.
I had seen an iphone 4 at the Apple store and was impressed with it’s nearly pixel free clarity. For reasons I won’t get into here, an iphone wasn’t an option this time, but I wanted to make sure I got the nicest looking display I could. I read a ton of reviews and really nerdy arguments about displays and competing technologies; qHD…s-lcd…amoled…WTF?
I’m here to tell you friends: It’s moot. These newer non-retina displays are beautiful. I could walk around on stage in a mock turtleneck being a pompous prick if it would help convince you, but trust me you would not be ashamed to take these ladies to the prom. All the things that I looked for and was so impressed with on the iphone are here. Text is nice and crisp with smooth curves. Corners of rounded app buttons are smooth, even when you look at them from up close.You’d have to get nose grease on the glass to be bothered by pixels.
My point is that while mathematically and intellectually you could argue the fine points of display tech and pixel density, even someone who spends a lot of time assessing visual quality doesn’t think there’s enough difference here to make this a factor on the pro/con list. You’d be wiser to consider whether you’d rather see videos and rich content or a blue brick when you visit a web site.


Super quick no frills wireless router shootout: Linksys E1000 vs. Netgear WNR1000v2

Are you ready? This is going to be a really quick one. Here goes:

Buy the Linksys E1000, it’s stronger* and it looks like something from Tron.

The End

*Ok, seriously. I loaded up on the iPad and took multiple readings at different locations around the house. I repeated the test using both wireless routers. At the furthest corner of the house, the Netgear was delivering about 2-3 Mbps while the Linksys was delivering 6Mbps. At the point where data rate started to fall off with the Netgear (down to 15Mbps from 20), I was still getting full strength on the Linksys. Also worth noting; even though this is the bottom rung on the current ladder of Linksys home wireless routers (which run from about $70 to ~$200) I haven’t found anything that it doesn’t do well, from gaming to streaming Netflix movies. Downside: Comcast will give you the Netgear for free if you ask.

Hidden Comcast/Xfinity data restrictions

Let me just quote this to start, it’s from a hidden Comcast FAQ  related to a data usage cap that was not disclosed during any part of the service order/contract process:

What will happen if I exceed 250 GB of data usage in a month?

The vast majority – more than 99% – of our customers will not be impacted by a 250 GB monthly data usage threshold. If you exceed more than 250 GB, you may receive a call from the Customer Security Assurance (“CSA”) team to notify you of excessive use. At that time, we will tell you exactly how much data you used. When we call you, we try to help you identify the source of excessive use and ask you to moderate your usage, which the vast majority of our customers do voluntarily. If you exceed 250 GB again within six months of the first contact, your service will be subject to termination and you will not be eligible for either residential or commercial internet service for twelve (12) months. We know from experience that most customers curb their usage after our first call. If your account is terminated, after the twelve (12) month period expires, you may resume service by subscribing to a service plan appropriate to your needs.

The back story

I recently switched to Comcast because Qwest had been unable to provide the level of service that I’ve been paying for; typically delivering around 1.5Mbps rather than the advertised 7Mbps. At peak times Qwest performance would drop to near dial-up speeds, and at best we would clock close to 5Mbps around 3am with no one else using bandwidth in the neighborhood. We’ve been streaming a lot of movies on the Xbox recently, and this requires a fairly steady data rate for uninterrupted playback. Qwest just hasn’t been able to keep up. Picture quality is dynamically adjusted by the Netflix Xbox application to attempt to account for bandwith issues, but even with the picture at low quality there are still times where we can’t maintain a playable stream at all.

So when a Comcast rep knocked on the door offering higher speeds for roughly the same price, we decided to give it a shot. After a few hiccups (they wouldn’t drill through stucco, so we had to have a separate contractor put in the jack) we got Comcast internet yesterday. This morning, a graph appeared in my Customer Central page that wasn’t there last night. The graph shows my total data usage out of  a max of 250GB, already at 6GB used. It’s been a little over half a day’s worth of use. My math says we’ll be over the threshold about 21 days into a 30 day cycle. So then what happens? Like I said at the top, I had to do a little digging to find the answer.

Let’s take it point by point:

  • “The vast majority – more than 99% – of our customers will not be impacted by a 250 GB monthly data usage threshold.”
    • Decodes to: If you exceed this limit, you’re an oddity. The problem is You the customer, not Us. Granted, my internet usage is heavy, but higher than 99% of all Comcast internet users? Even those that purchase the top tier speed package?
  • “If you exceed more than 250 GB, you may receive a call from the Customer Security Assurance (“CSA”) team to notify you of excessive use. At that time, we will tell you exactly how much data you used.”
    • Decodes to: We have a special department to meter, micromanage and badger you about your internet usage. I haven’t dealt with this kind of heavy handed bandwidth management since the days of the local ISP operating out of a small office with a T3.
  • “When we call you, we try to help you identify the source of excessive use and ask you to moderate your usage, which the vast majority of our customers do voluntarily.”
    • Here’s where it starts to get nasty. Comcast is now judging my internet usage and applying the term “excessive” and then hinting around at a threat: “We can do this the easy way or the hard way, buddy.”
  • “If you exceed 250 GB again within six months of the first contact, your service will be subject to termination and you will not be eligible for either residential or commercial internet service for twelve (12) months.”
    • Ah-HAH! The threat at last. Decodes to: If you don’t stop using the product which you are paying a heavy monthly fee to use, we will kick you off the internet for a year.
  • “We know from experience that most customers curb their usage after our first call.”
    • Decodes to: We are very proud of the fact that most customers are sufficiently intimidated by our threat that they stop using the product that we’re billing them for.

I find this interesting. Comcast is unable to provide the level of bandwidth that they’ve contracted for, so they avoid embarrassment by pushing the blame back onto their customers. In the modern era, 250GB of data is a lot of data, but certainly not the unreachable limit that they make it sound like. We watch by far less streaming programming than the average family watches TV, but we prefer the option of being able to choose when/what we watch. There’s nothing really “excessive” about it. It’s a feature that is offered on all standard game/entertainment consoles, and even smart phones and iPads.

So right now the plan is to watch our usage for the first month, and if necessary invoke the 30-day service guarantee. But I’d much rather have the best of both worlds, the unlimited usage we had with Qwest, and the speed that we’re getting with Comcast. I don’t fancy the idea of having to closely watch our data usage. This should be transparent to the end user, especially when you’ve contracted for the top tier of residential bandwidth.


The Elements

Last night, purely on impulse and a nudge from rabbit, I picked up a copy of The Elements by Theodore Gray. It’s an element by element rundown of the periodic table, and it’s thought-provoking, informative, enjoyable and laugh-out-loud funny. I finished it in about 4 hours, with lots of stopping to read the really interesting and funny bits to my partner.  That’s the first time I’ve managed to get a book completed in the last couple years, and the first time in the last twenty years that I can recall knocking a book out in a single sitting.

The author is one of the founding partners of WolframAlpha, who are famous for Mathematica and for just being really smart folks in general. He’s also one of a rare breed of collectors who focus on trying to obtain a sample of all of the elements – or at least all the ones that are possible to obtain (in keeping with the laws of the land and the laws of physics). His writing style is conversational and witty. He gets into the underpinnings of atomic structures and electron orbitals without going so far off into the woods that a layperson wouldn’t get it. I found it particularly enlightening to read about all of everyday uses for “uncommon” elements. Uncommon not necessarily meaning less plentiful in abundance, but rather the ones that aren’t quite the household names that they probably deserve to be (and the ones that were once household names, and really shouldn’t have been). Like Radium.

I forgot to mention the photographs. Every page has big beautiful photos of the elements  in their purest available form, as well as examples of objects containing those elements. If you’re already someone who watches shows like Mythbusters, this book is right up your alley. If Dancing with the Stars is more your speed, you’ll probably still enjoy turning the pages and looking at the pretty pictures – or you might just see a bunch of shiny rocks.


Does Kalashnikov make a lawnmower?

After attempting to repair two gas lawnmowers in two weeks (the score is 1:1)  I’m astonished to report that the proper operation of a Tecumseh engine comes down to tiny pores in metal barely visible to the eye, and springs scarcely larger than those in a ball point pen. Is this really the best we can do? I understand planned obsolescence, but one of these babies only lasted 2 months before failing to start. How are we supposed to maintain our lawns after the zombie apocalypse with such delicate machines?

Growing up we had just one lawnmower and we never babied it. I don’t recall dad putting fuel stabilizer in it, running it empty at the end of the season or rebuilding the carb every year. Maybe he did without me knowing, but anyway… They don’t make them like they used to.

Briggs & Stratton, you’re on my list too.

Dyson guy, if you’re out there, lawnmowers need a thorough reinventing. I just want it to work properly, as you say.