Category Archives: Everything Else

Us yore spiel checker, but us yore heed

Every word in this title is correctly spelled, but it’s not the correct word. When doing any important writing, it’s a good idea to have a dictionary and thesaurus (or an app) handy. A spell checker or grammar checker can’t tell what you’re trying to communicate. It can help with some errors, like the word beleive believe for instance, but it’s no substitute for knowing and using good English. You may think spelling doesn’t matter much, but poor spelling and poor sentence structure can change the meaning of what you’re trying to write or make it completely incomprehensible. It can also make you look like an idiot, which could be a career-limiting event.

Some spell checkers feature an “Auto-correct” and “auto-complete” system; these can be particularly dangerous to those who don’t proofread what they write. There are many stories of “patties” being “corrected” to “panties,” “dog” becoming “dad,” and “cranberry” becoming “crankshaft,” causing much embarrassment for all concerned.

The moral of the story? Always read what you wrote before printing/publishing/sending it. It may keep you from losing your job, or worse. You will avoid (most) glaring errors such as these:

AUTOCORRECT

Mr. Bush said he saw a need to “flush out” his basic campaign themes so they appeal to a wider audience.

Most gardeners limit their experience of growing beans in their backyard gardens to snap beans. In fact, snap beans are second in popularity only to the omniscient tomato.

To describe a church as an orgasm is bound to offend someone; yet …

I poured over the proof for typos, my wife poured over the proof, my friends poured over it. I was certain that my job hung in the balance. (It did. You’re fired,)

Reread your work to see if you any words out.

GOVERNOR’S PENIS BUSY (Should be “pen is.”)

Eye halve a spelling chequer
It came with my pea sea
It plainly marques four my revue
Miss steaks eye kin knot sea.

Eye strike a key and type a word
And weight four it two say
Weather eye am wrong oar write
It shows me strait a weigh.

As soon as a mist ache is maid
It nose bee fore two long
And eye can put the error rite
Its rare lea ever wrong.

Eye have run this poem threw it
I am shore your pleased two no
Its letter perfect awl the weigh
My chequer tolled me sew

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Copywrong and Copyleft

Question: Are these actions a violation of copyright?

  1. You downloaded a recent movie from some site or other that promised a free download if you’d only register with them. You did not sell any copies of this, however.
  2. You downloaded a very old movie from the 1920s from an internet archive.
  3. You copied a complete article from the New York Times website into an email to all your friends.
  4. You wrote a whole new “Star Trek” story and published it on your blog.
  5. You used a 10-second clip from a popular song as an intro for a video you made.
  6. You wrote a scathing critique of someone’s book, quoting short excerpts.
  7. You forwarded someone’s private email to all your coworkers because you thought it was funny.
  8. You “ripped” a CD to mp3 files so you could play them on your iPod.
  9. You “ripped” a CD and gave copies of the music to all your friends.
  10. You wrote a parody of a popular song, using your own lyrics.
  11. You copied something that did not have a copyright notice.

Answers:

  1. Definitely. Just because you didn’t sell or even give it away, you still violated copyright law.
  2. Probably not. There are reputable sites that archive old movies and books that are now in the Public Domain (i.e. out of copyright).
  3. Definitely, especially if you copied it from a “subscribers only” area of the website.
  4. This is a violation, since copyright protects “Derivative works,” however, many (not all) copyright holders often ignore such works. Best to get the owner’s permission before publishing if you want to avoid trouble.
  5. Maybe. This could fall under the “Fair Use” provision. The criteria for fair use include whether the portion copied is an insignificant portion of the whole, whether the use is commercial or non-commercial, and whether it takes any money out of the pocket of the copyright holder. All these things are decided by the courts on a case-by-case basis.
  6. No. This usually falls under the Fair Use provision, as long as the copied portions are no larger than reasonably necessary to get the point across.
  7. Yes, emails are copyrighted by the author upon creation, although the courts have better things to do than litigate stuff like this, since most email has no commercial value. An exception may arise if the email in question severely damages someone’s reputation or reveals trade secrets.
  8.  No. The courts have ruled on similar cases, the most famous being “Is it legal to tape a TV show so I can watch it later?’ in the 1980s. Changing the format of a copyrighted work you already own is generally acceptable.
  9. Yes. You have the right to make a copy for your own use only. That doesn’t extend to sharing it, even if you don’t charge money for it.
  10.  No. Parody is a form of Fair Use, but it better really be a parody.
  11.  Probably yes. Just because something does not have a copyright notice does not mean it’s not copyrighted. If there is no copyright notice, your odds of being hauled into court may be lower, but it can still happen. Current copyright law says that all original works are copyrighted, whether notice is given or not.

Some works are specifically allowed to be copied, or are licensed in such a way that almost anything goes. For instance, the General Public License (GPL) allows and sometimes even encourages sharing and modification, but the modified software and all derivative works are also under the same license, i.e. it must still be free. A lot of free software has this license, also known as Copyleft.

Copywrong, another play on words, can mean a violation of copyright, but usually means a copyright holder’s draconian methods to stifle competition, or just because the owner is a jerk. A good example would be suing a club because some members sang a popular song at a gathering, or the NFL going after a church  for having a Superbowl party. (A “Public Performance”).

The main purpose of copyright is to allow the author of a work to enjoy the fruits of his labor, usually in the form of money. An extended purpose is giving the author control over how his work is used, for instance, he might not want DVD copies of a movie he starred in parachuted into Iraq.

Bottom line: All original works are copyrighted at their creation, even if there’s no copyright notice. Unless the work is specifically either in the Public Domain or under a GPL or Copyleft license, it is copyrighted. Any use of a copyrighted work that has the potential to take money out of the pocket of the copyright holder can easily get you sued or in jail.

Further reading:

http://www.templetons.com/brad/copymyths.html

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Copyright_misuse

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Copyleft

http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2014/10/20/crooner-rights-spat

For even more empowering technology info, read my new book, “Deciphering the 21st Century,” Available now!

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Free Electricity From The Sky!

If the headline made you think I’d invented a way to throw your power company under the bus, I’m afraid I’m going to disappoint you. This is not some scheme involving gathering vacuum energy with a Delta-T Antenna. (Although if we could get energy from the hot air in tabloid lies stories, our troubles would be over!) The free electricity I’m talking about is lightning, which is not a very user-friendly form of electricity.

With the Monsoon season on the horizon again, this is a good time to talk about lightning.

A bolt of lightning contains quite a lot  of energy – approximately 5 billion joules or about the energy stored in 38 US Gallons of gasoline. Problem is, it delivers all that energy in about 1/100,000 of a second, so it’s a lot like a bomb rather than anything useable. It’s kind of like getting all your lifetime’s Christmas and birthday presents all at once… You’d suffocate under them.

So what is lightning good for? It’s nature’s way of keeping forces in balance between the earth and sky. It helps purge old forests by occasionally setting them on fire (Yes, sometimes fire is good for forests!). And, it’s really good at destroying the works of puny mankind, especially electronics.

Lightning, not surprisingly, does weird things, since it packs more voltage (100 million volts, or about a million times more voltage than a household outlet!) than anything man-made. A customer of mine had lightning strike his TV antenna, just on the other side of the wall where he was sitting, and though it destroyed his TV, it only damaged his computer, and didn’t hurt him at all. Computers are generally the most sensitive to such things, but he got lucky. A friend of mine has had lightning strike close to him several times… No one knows why. A few people have actually been struck by lightning several times and survived. In fact, amazingly, 90 percent of people struck by lightning do survive, although with varying degrees of temporary or permanent impairment.

Lightning will often pass through only the surface of whatever it hits, leading to bizarre injuries in it’s victims: clothes and shoes are sometimes literally blown off by the person’s perspiration exploding into vapor. Sometimes the people aren’t burned so much as bruised over most of their bodies.

You can get a pretty good idea of how much lightning is in the vicinity by listening to an AM radio. Lightning creates a lot of energy all across the electromagnetic spectrum, including radio. The characteristic crackling is easy to identify.

How do you protect yourself and your stuff from lightning? There is no force on Earth that will protect anything from a direct or near strike. To protect yourself, seek shelter in a solid building or an automobile. Do not shelter under trees! Stay away from anything tall. If out in the open and shelter is not an option, make yourself as low as possible. Lie down in a ditch, or at least crouch low. If indoors, stay away from the telephone, electric appliances, and plumbing. Anything metal can conduct the lightning straight to you.

Benjamin Franklin made the first real contribution toward protecting your stuff in the form of the lightning rod. Since lightning usually strikes the highest point in the neighborhood, the lightning rod is installed higher than the top of the structure it’s on, and well grounded. Lightning,  being electricity, will always take the path of least resistance to ground, and therefore should follow the lightning rod instead of setting the house on fire.

For your electronics, the best protection you can give them is unplug them when you hear thunder. If you have a close strike, anything plugged in will most likely be toast. A surge protector won’t help you! Surge protectors may help if the lightning strike is 20 miles away, but they’ll be no help at all for a close one. This goes for anything plugged into a phone line, too, especially dial-up and DSL modems. If your computer is unplugged but your DSL modem is still connected to the phone line, the phone line may be the path the lightning takes, so unplug the phone line as well.

http://www.outsideonline.com/1925996/body-electric

http://struckbylightning.org/

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Studying the Failures

In 1943, the American statistician Abraham Wald was asked to advise the US air force on how to reinforce their planes. Only a limited weight of armor plating was feasible, and the proposal on the table was to reinforce the wings, the center of the fuselage, and the tail. Why? Because bombers were returning from missions riddled with bullet holes in those areas.

Wald explained that this would be a mistake. What the air force had discovered was that when planes were hit in the wings, tail or central fuselage, they made it home. Where, asked Wald, were the planes that had been hit in other areas? They never returned. Wald suggested reinforcing the planes wherever the surviving planes had been unscathed instead.

It’s natural to look at life’s winners – often they become winners in the first place because they’re interesting to look at. There is an important lesson here. If we don’t look at life’s losers too, we may end up putting our time, money, attention or even armor plating in entirely the wrong place.

How does this apply to technology?

We usually learn more from failures than we do from success.

Sometimes the failures are fatal, and it’s important then for the survivors to learn from them. A number of early skydivers died because two of the handles on their parachutes were of similar shape, and some spent the rest of their lives pulling on the wrong handle because they pulled without looking. The same thing happened to some pilots, when important cockpit levers were of similar shape, and right next to each other. In 1983, a Boeing 767 ran out of fuel mid-flight because a fuel crew confused pounds with kilograms. The Hubble Space Telescope had a similar metric/imperial units problem with it’s main mirror.

While it’s always nice to pay attention what we’re doing, in the real world we don’t always do that. Designers learned “Idiot-Proofing.” While few of us are actually idiots, sometimes idiotic things happen when we’re under pressure or not paying attention. If you don’t believe me, next time you’re on the highway, count the tailgaters!

Idiot-proofing in technology is usually a good thing. That’s why a Windows computer will ask you, “Are you sure you want to send this file to the recycle bin?” Windows 8 does not do that with the factory settings (Probably to reduce user annoyance), but I think it’s a very bad idea to not have such a warning.

The problem with warning messages is that most users see enough of them that they start to ignore them, like the villagers in the “Boy who cried wolf” story. Some programs go much further. For instance, if I want to delete a mailing list or blog post, I have to actually type the word “DELETE” to do it. I like that. It makes it almost impossible to delete something valuable with a mistaken mouse click.

Some crises occur when the parties are speaking two different languages and don’t know it. The pounds/kilograms issue with the 767 is a classic example of not being on the same page.

Some disasters are due to a failure of imagination. If nobody imagines that an X-ray machine operator will ignore a cryptic warning message and fry his patient with massive radiation, it will probably happen. Nobody imagined that airliners could be turned into flying bombs with a fanatic at the controls… And we found out how wrong we were on September 11, 2001.

The problem is we are always preparing for past disasters to an extent. We try to prevent another hijacking when the enemy is already way past that in their planning. The only way to avert (most) disasters is to realize how fallible (and sometimes, evil) human nature really is, and imagine ways to keep such things from happening in a worst-case scenario. But, sadly, sometimes people have to die before a flaw is discovered.

For more spectacular failures, see:

https://thegizmologist.wordpress.com/2015/02/05/halt-and-catch-fire/

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This can Save Your Marriage!

Stop arguing over how loud the TV is…

Wireless headphones have become known in the retail electronics trade as “Marriage Savers”. They are not only good for listening to CDs while you’re out in the yard and the CDs are safely in the house, they are the solution to watching TV when one spouse likes it really loud (Or is a little hard of hearing) and the other (Usually the Wife!) can’t stand it that loud. They’re also great for late night TV watching, to avoid disturbing others.

Wireless headphones come in at least three flavors. There are probably still a few very cheap ones on the market that use infrared (IR) to transmit the sound. I would avoid these. Their range is very short, and line-of-sight only. Many currently on the market are Radio frequency (RF), and have the longest range, typically 100-200 feet. Both the IR and RF styles come with their own transmitters that can be plugged into any device with a headphone or audio output jack.

There are also many, many, stereo Bluetooth headphones now available. These are great for listening to a phone or tablet that has Bluetooth, however, they are not suitable for most TV or home stereo use because they do not come with a transmitter. In other words, you can only use them with something that is Bluetooth-enabled. Bluetooth also has a short range compared to RF headphones; it’s official range is 10 meters, or about 30 feet.

Your choice depends entirely on the intended use. For home TV watching, get the RF variety. For use with a Bluetooth-enabled device, by all means get the Bluetooth headphones, just be aware that the range is much shorter, so probably not suited for yard work, unless you’re listening to your phone and it’s on your belt (Or on your lawn mower).

More and more devices on today’s market, such as TVs and laptops, have Bluetooth built in, and Bluetooth headphones will work with all of these. If you’re getting them for your phone, make sure the headphones are compatible with stereo and phone enabled (with a microphone), so you won’t have to take them off to answer a call.

Occasionally an issue arises with TV audio outputs that will turn off the internal speakers when the external audio outputs are turned on. If the TV is hooked up to a home theater system, you may need a splitter so you can send the audio to the stereo system and the headphones at the same time. If you don’t have a home theater system or stereo to hook the TV up to, you may have to decide on one or the other, or get a stereo. TV speakers stink as a general rule anyway, so a stereo might enhance everyone’s viewing enjoyment.

The other possible problem with TVs involves whether the audio outputs are fixed or variable. “Variable” means the volume of the outputs will vary with the TV’s volume control. It’s best to use fixed outputs if you have them; that way, headphone volume can be adjusted independently from the TV volume.

You can see the vast variety of wireless headphones on the market here:

http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=sr_nr_n_1?rh=n%3A172541%2Ck%3Awireless+headphones&keywords=wireless+headphones&ie=UTF8&qid=1406741596&rnid=2941120011

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Universal Converter Box

Ever suffer the annoyance of things that should connect to each other, but don’t?

Fortunately, there are many adapters out there to make your life easier, and a couple that you only think will make your life easier, but won’t work. Almost anything in the electronic world can be adapted to anything else, but sometimes it can be more expense and trouble than it’s worth.

Video: Used to be, the biggest conversion need was a way to get video from a DVD player into an older TV that only had an antenna jack. I almost had a fight with a fellow once that was positive that all he needed was an adapter from the RCA cables off the DVD player to the threaded connector on the TV. I noticed that after he bought the $3 adapter, I never saw him again. What he really needed was a device called an RF modulator, because the video signal from a DVD player cannot be understood by a TV tuner. But the RF modulator costs $20, and he was sure I just wanted to sell him the more expensive item.

The need for the RF modulator is less now, because all newer TVs have the needed inputs, but there are still a lot of old TVs out there. You can pick up an RF modulator at any decent big-box electronics department.

Converting HDMI to Composite video is possible using an adapter such as this one from Amazon. Going the opposite direction and converting Composite, S-Video, or Component to HDMI can be done with this device.

Audio: Audio hookups are considerably easier; there is less information to process, and fewer types of hookups available. The most important conversion you might need is digital optical audio to digital coaxial . That’s not too hard; this gadget will do that. There are others that will go the opposite way.

Computer: In some ways, computer conversions are the easiest; You won’t need to convert digital to analog or vice-versa, it’s all digital. Almost anything in the computer world can be converted: DVI to HDMI, HDMI to DVI, Serial or Parallel to USB, and so forth. Just search your favorite electronics store for the converter you need. (It’s probable you won’t find a lot of these converters locally; You’ll have to buy them from Amazon or Monoprice.com.)

But don’t you wish you had something like this gadget?

universal_converter_box

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You Want One of These!

Here’s a powerful new gadget that everyone should have – The BookBook! No batteries! No power cord! Full color High definition! Preinstalled content! Expandable! Loads instantly! Multi-User support! Voice-activated password protection! User interface so simple even a child can use it immediately.

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