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February 25th, 2015
11:39 pm

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calendar update
Massive snowstorm coming down as I type so take anything listed occurring in the next couple of days with a pillar of salt: trust, but verify.
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February 18th, 2015
12:40 am

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The ice has trashed all schedules. Who knows?

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February 14th, 2015
06:55 pm

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Why the caution about the Amazon Echo remote control?
In my last entry I wrote "Just don't put the [Amazon Echo] remote control down on anything that a magnet can bother. " Why?

On Tuesday my new gadget the Amazon Echo (think a desktop cylinder version of Apple's iPhone Siri with natural language processing and really nice speakers) arrived. Tuesday night I unpacked it. One of the pieces in the box was a storage caddy for the remote control: wrapped tightly in clear plastic, the underside felt squishy. I turned it over and saw the underside had a piece of double-sided sticky tape. Fine.
Crowded for desk space I put the caddy onto the palmrest space on my MacBook Pro. A few minutes later I heard a repeated clacking sound and the spinning beachball of death had replaced the cursor on screen. Rebooting the laptop produced a series of clacking sounds then the folder-with-question-mark icon on screen.
Picking up the caddy I unwrapped the plastic to find the double-sided tape was not attached to the caddy but held to it by the wrapper as an optional accessory, and that the caddy contained powerful magnets. So I fried the hard drive heads by putting a magnet on it.
The caddy wrapping did not have a "Warning: Magnets" label on it, and while the quick start guide mentioned the magnets in the caddy's description, that was not highlighted in the quickstart text.

Amazon Echo support's response:
"I am so sorry to hear what has happened to your computer's hard drive. I appreciate that you have let us know how we can improve the Echo Remote packaging.

Customer feedback like yours is very important in helping us continue to improve Amazon Echo. I have specifically forwarded your message to our Amazon Echo development team as we are making further improvements.

Again, I'm sorry to here [sic] about your experience and I am glad to hear you were able to save your computer.

Thanks for taking the time to provide your feedback.

Did I solve your problem?

If yes, please click here: [link]
If no, please click here: [link]"

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06:48 pm

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Amazon Echo
How's the Amazon Echo? It's limited to its powercord tether, plus it's the dimension and roughly the weight of a bottle of wine minus the neck. So not portable, but movable in the house should you want to. The natural language processing bit means it needs an active wifi connection, but that like Siri you can ask it "how many cups in a quart?", set timers or alarms by voice (so Merrie​ may want one for the kitchen).

Name (what you say to get it to pay attention to commands) is limited to Alexa or Amazon, so I can't name it Ariel and indulge my inner Prospero.

Its music selection is limited to your Amazon music, some radio, and some internet radio features, but with Amazon's AutoRip feature that means almost every CD I ever bought from Amazon for the last decade - a small subset of my 4000 CDs ripped to lossless, but on the other hand I don't have my iTunes server rigged for voice control.

For music quality, it's impressive: the sound quality in the bass for a 2.5" woofer is really surprising. I'm testing it with Philip Glass' pipe organ and choral-heavy score to Candyman and it sounds really nice: the Magnepans or the Bang & Olufsen 140s in the same room sound better but each of those speaker pairs has a 200w stereo amp powering it.

Just don't put the remote control down on anything that a magnet can bother.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amazon_Echo

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February 12th, 2015
09:00 am

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Lessons learned from Tuesday night's laptop drive failure
Lessons learned from Tuesday night's laptop drive failure:

(Note: haven't used a desktop as a primary system for years, so a laptop is my primary computing.)

* Using Dropbox for active files allowed me to switch to the backup laptop with barely a break in content access: some things I was missing, some of which I'm considering moving into Dropbox because of that. I could have done much of that work through my phone, even. Note: If using Dropbox, you really should use two-factor authentication.

* Apple Time Machine and Time Capsule have been a painless full restore from backup solution for me. If you're doing a manual backup and have discipline, that's great, but most people who use manual backup strategies are like most people who intend to go to the gym: they don't as often as they should. For me, automatic backups are one less thing to worry about.

* Things would have gone faster for me if I'd had a replacement hard disk in storage. Drives are cheap so when I bought the replacement drive yesterday I bought a spare.
(The logical extension of this is to have a full spare laptop that routinely syncs from system A's backup. As hard drives have been the most common single point of failure in my experience this is an improvement with minimal cost.)

* Web browser sync of bookmarks in cloud would have been one more thing to not have to catch up or clean up afterward.

* Lacking: offsite backups.

* New project: look into making or buying a degaussing coil for disposal of the old hard disk: as what failed was the controller for the heads I have to assume the data on that platter is still recoverable. Have sledge hammer, lack furnace.

Other useful ideas and strategies, add yours.

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February 9th, 2015
07:17 pm

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Jupiter Ascending
Big goofy space opera fun.
The Wachowskis tell you in the first ten minutes that this is a Cinderella story so you’re watching a fairy tale with different trappings. If you're looking for hard SF go back to complaining about Gravity and Interstellar because you're in the wrong room.

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February 6th, 2015
01:04 pm

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January 23rd, 2015
09:49 am

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January 17th, 2015
10:42 am

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[film] A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night
Saw A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night last night at the Rialto Colony (Colony, specifically: runs today through Thursday, at 9:30pm only). Worth your time.

Often described as a "vampire Western", A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night (written and directed by Ana Lily Amirpour) is to me really more like what would happen if someone told a young David Lynch and Godard about John Hughes young love movies of the 1980s and they collaborated on a movie together: it's like some mix of Le Samourai, Alphaville, Eraserhead, and Sixteen Candles. Great 80s-influenced soundtrack. It's slow paced like Only Lovers Left Alive was, but even sparser in the way Scorsese's After Hours felt: the city is deserted except for the characters. Black and white. Little onscreen violence, almost no nudity, lots of silence between dialogue. Some of the film didn't work as well for me as I think it was supposed to: scenes of the girl stalking her victims was just not quite precisely enough mirror behavior to work for me. But the skateboarding was a lovely zero-budget way to give the visual suggestion of flying on screen. Yes, skateboarding. It works, really. So 60 French New Wave, 70s experimental, and 80s pop romance all in one movie. Works for me.

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January 14th, 2015
12:51 am

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