Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Google Chromecast

by Bill Holmes

Monday 7/29 was my lucky day. Right after I installed the Android 4.3 OTA update on my Nexus 7 (2012) I went to the mailbox and found a Google Chromecast. Here's my first impression of the Chromecast.  

  • The install is a breeze. I used the Chromecast setup app on the N7. I checked the setup website on my PC but got a message that maybe it wouldn't work because my OS isn't fully supported (I run Linux Mint). The install and setup took less than 10 minutes including fat fingering my WiFi password the first try.
  • I didn't try Netflix yet, but YouTube and Google Play Music & Movies/TV work great on the N7. There is no way to cast from the Android Chrome browser yet.
  • The Google Cast extension for Chrome on the PC is pretty much unusable for video. The video barely moves, more like a slide show, and the CPU usage goes through the roof. Despite the bad video the audio plays normally. The high CPU usage was mostly due to Chrome GPU processes. WiFi network usage wasn't too bad but then again not much video was actually being transmitted to the TV.
  • When I chose full screen for the videos the TV screen would go black but the audio kept going. As soon as I exited full screen on the PC the picture reappeared. Don't know if this is a Chromecast or Linux problem. I tried several websites with video all with the same results.
  • The video on the PC screen was also moving very slowly. It didn't seem to matter what quality I set in the Cast extension. 720p high bit rate, 720p and 480p are the three options. 
  • Pandora and Google Play Music websites cast OK. The album cover graphics moved very slowly on Play Music when I expanded them to the large size. CPU usage is medium to low. I didn't try Play Movies/TV web sites.
  • I kept losing the connection between the PC and Chromecast when I tried to display pictures stored in the cloud. Both Google Drive and SkyDrive had problems. The rendering of the pictures on both the PC and TV was extremely slow.
  • The YouTube website has a Chromecast icon right under the video on the bar with all the other controls. This works great. It automatically goes to full screen on the TV. No delays and good quality video with insync audio. Since the streaming is handed off to between the cloud and the Chromecast dongle on the TV, there is no CPU usage problem on the PC.
This is only a first blush review but I think it's pretty clear that there is a huge difference between native support and just getting a Chrome browser tab cast to your TV. The Chrome browser Cast extension is a Beta release, so some problems are to be expected. I realize this is a bigger obstacle because the PC or mobile device, the TV and WiFi LAN are involved during the entire cast. There is work to be done. I'll be interested to see how other users do with different PC operating systems and WiFi networks. 

There will be other apps and websites that get native support. Pandora is already announced as coming soon. While Google Play Music & Movies/TV apps on Android have native support, the web sites don't yet have it. I'm hoping that the apparent popularity of the Chromecast will encourage many other app and website developers to add native support. I've already seen some articles that indicate this may already be happening.

Bottom line it was a worthwhile purchase. It's a bargain at $35 and I ordered mine while the three months free Netflix bonus was still in effect. That made the Chromecast price $11 plus tax and shipping. I bought it for YouTube access since that's one thing Roku doesn't stream. YouTube on the TV works great with the N7 and PC. I would have loved it if the casting from a Chrome browser tab worked but maybe some day. There are a lot of websites that have video I would like to watch on the big screen without using an HDMI cable between PC and TV. One small bonus was that the USB to Micro USB cable that came with the Chromecast is longer than the one that came with the Nexus 7. Since my TV has a USB outlet close to the HDMI connections I used the old N7 cable for that and now use the longer cable for charging the tablet. That gives me a little more slack for the times I need to charge and use at the same time. I also now have another AC to USB charging brick. Every little bit counts in the life of a geek.


Monday, July 29, 2013

Scattershooting 7-28-13

by Bill Holmes

Scattershooting while thinking of the great Willie Mays - Sunday's Summary

My incomplete recap of the week

I know I'm behind the times, but I finally watched Lincoln this week. Unfortunately I was disappointed. Maybe because of all the hype about it. I thought it was a very slow beginning followed by a slow middle and then a slow end. It was also too long. It seemed like the vote on the 13th amendment went on for hours. I think the performances were very good. Daniel Day-Lewis and Tommy Lee Jones were exceptional. I did appreciate the attention to the historic details. Too bad because I'm somewhat of a Civil War buff and was hoping for a better movie. Actors good, writers and director not so much. 

The evil Yankees come to town to play the Rangers. It has been painful to watch the Rangers the past few games. No clutch hitting, mental mistakes, errors, poor base running and mediocre pitching. Time for Ron Washington to kick ass and take names. Absolutely no excuse for the knuckle headed brain freezes on the bases. They look like Benny Hill & Co. Let's break out of the funk tonight.

There are approximately 370,000 babies born every day worldwide. Only one makes the news. You'd think it was a Kardashian baby or something.

Is Ryan Braun just the first of many? It wouldn't hurt my feelings if A-Rod took a fall too.

I think Google just got a few more of my dollars. A Chromecast for sure and probably a new Nexus 7.

Watched a couple of episodes of The Prisoner tonight on Crackle. It's a 60's British TV series starring Patrick McGoohan. Very strange, very 1960's psychedelic. Funny to see their view of technology. Check it out. Crackle is free on your PC, tablet, phone or Roku. Good stuff.

We can be proud of our politicians from coast to coast. It's not just Republicans who are creepy.

Big technology week. Ordered a Chromecast and Nexus 7 (2013). Watch for a spike in Google's earnings and stock prices. My son has consented to take the old Nexus 7 (2012) off my hands. I'll be in full geek mode next week when they get here.  

Is anybody else tired of the constant commercials and crawls we've been seeing from CBS, Showtime & Time-Warner about their contract problems? I don't have Time-Warner cable and don't give a damn if they drop CBS, Showtime or even the Home Shopping Network. Work out your contract disputes in your offices, not my living room.

According to my calculations the Texas Rangers only need two outfielders, maybe three if Cruz gets suspended, a DH, a first baseman, bench bats, defense and some base running lessons. They are 2-8 in the last 10 games, have lost four in a row and are scoreless in last 21 innings. Six games out of first place. Still time to salvage the season but changes are needed. How about a little ass-kicking from the manager.

One of the residents in my complex had a full blown phone argument outside my place. The argument lasted over 30 minutes and took place in an area that has 21 units overlooking it. I'm talking all out argument with loud voice, hand and arm gestures, body language and facial expressions. It looked like a Jerry Springer confrontation but with only one person. Whoever was on the other end had very little opportunity to actively participate in the conversation. I don't know what it was all about, I was behind closed windows and the woman was talking so fast I could only catch a few words. I know people have arguments but I have a couple of questions. Why would you have a long and loud phone argument in a common area that at least 50 people overlook on? Why didn't the person on the other end just hang up?  It was funny to watch. I would have gotten video or pictures but I was afraid the woman would turn her wrath on me if she saw me. I wonder if anything was solved?


Monday, July 22, 2013

Scattershooting 7-21-13

by Bill Holmes

Scattershooting while thinking of the great Blackie Sherrod - Sunday's Summary

My incomplete recap of the week

Besides the "heat" in the northeast, we also have to deal with the "Royal Birth". I'm not sure I can stand all this hard news. Why the hell would anyone be concerned about the birth of a maybe future king/queen who has no power over the government of their country. Especially a country that we fought to free us from a monarchy. I love hard hitting fact based news.

OK, it's predicted to be 98° in NYC today (7/18) and that's the lead story on CBS This Morning. Whenever we're under 100° in July and August we celebrate in D/FW. Could it possibly be that the major media is based in NYC and biased? Oh, and that they're all weenies? No, I'm sure all their coverage is fair and balanced.

When I got putzing around this morning I noticed several mud spots on the entrance & kitchen tiles. There is also a thin brown line that looks like a bike tire track. I have no idea how this happened. Since I live alone I can only assume that someone broke into my apartment, rolled a muddy bike through the entrance and then left without taking anything. I'm hoping the perpetrator comes back to clean up the mess.

What the hell is wrong with these people? US Senator Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) has suggested that we boycott the Winter Olympics in Russia if they don't turn Edward Snowden over to us. Why would we want to punish US athletes who have been working for years for their one shot at the Olympics? Oh wait, Graham hasn't worked hard ever. The drugs in Washington must be fantastic. They never let even a hint of reality sneak in. 

Really? You are doomed if you don't Tweet, Facebook or Pinterest. It pays to be a geek. Follow the Pope.
It's not bad enough that our dysfunctional US Congress can't pass any legislation. Now they want to delay parts of Obamacare that have already been signed into law. By delay the Republicans actually mean stall until we can repeal. I don't know whether Obamacare will turn out to be a good or bad law. I do know that businesses and individuals would like a little certainty in planning their healthcare options. It's time to do something and stick with it even if it's not perfect. Shit or get off the pot Congress.

Some folks have too much time on their hands. Researchers use urine to power Samsung cell phone

Sue the bastards. Even if Asiana wins this suit I don't think it will cover the damages from the suits against them. Seems like having incompetent pilots is a little worse than getting their names wrong.

Those were great days.

The new Nokia Lumina 1020 phone has a 41 megapixel camera. That might be a little overkill for me. My old eyes won't be able to see the difference. My old face certainly won't look good with 41 megapixels of wrinkles. Fuzzy is better at my age.

Just what America needs - Twinkies are back. Now we'll be able to recapture the fattest nation title that Mexico recently took from us. Kroger had signs at the door advertising this great event.

Sunday morning - Nice bike ride this morning. Temps OK but humid. Lotsa people and critters out. Had a beautiful eagle take off right in front of me. Everything green, creeks and ponds full. There was some very fresh armadillo roadkill on John McCain Rd. just west of 26. Wasn't even pancaked yet. My legs were OK after 30 miles but my arthritic elbow and hands are a little sore. Could I be getting old?

The 2013 Tour de France, the 100th tour, ends today with an easy 83 mile ride. The last miles of a 2,115 mile tour. For the first time ever it will be a night finish on the Champs-Elysées.  

Stage 21: Versailles to Paris/Champs-Elysées

The 100th edition of the Tour comes to a conclusion with the peloton starting in the gardens of the Palace of Versailles, passing the Jacques Anquetil monument, through the courtyard of the Louvre and finishing with a ride around the Arc de Triomphe. 

Congratulations to Chris Froome on his win.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Double, Triple, Quadruple Jeopardy?

by Bill Holmes

I am sad that 17 year old Trayvon Martin is dead. I have no idea whether George Zimmerman is really guilty or not. Only he and Trayvon know for sure. I do know that Zimmerman was found "Not Guilty" by a jury after a legal trial. Prosecutors and defense attorneys both had equal opportunity to convince the six jurors. I think that should be the end of it.

This crap about a civil suit or a federal hate crime or civil rights crime bothers me. I don't think prosecutors or personal injury lawyers should get an unlimited number of chances to get a conviction or money judgement. Maybe the double jeopardy laws need updating.

I'm not a fan of so called "Hate Crimes". It is not a crime to hate someone or a group. If it were, most of us would be in jail. If you act on that hate to do harm to that someone or group there are already other laws on the books to handle that. Often the hate crimes are just adding a "hate" component to an existing crime. If you beat up your ex-boss, who you hate, because he fired you that might get you one year in jail for aggravated assault. If you beat up the same guy because he's gay you might get five years in jail for committing a hate crime. Same two people involved, same damage done, same injuries but different sentences.

All these hate crimes laws are arbitrary. They don't cover all hate. They cover politically incorrect hate or the cause du jour. You can hate your ex-wife, your mother-in-law, your noisy neighbor, your boss, Democrats or Republicans, pro-life or pro-choice people, the Kardashians and any number of other individuals or groups. You can even hate members of protected groups, just not for the reason they are protected.

I predict that George Zimmerman will be fighting legal battles for the foreseeable future. He will also be in hiding and require security so that someone who hates him doesn't kill him. That by the way would not be a hate crime. How does he ever get a job to pay for all this?

I'm not a Zimmerman supporter. He sounds like a Barney Fife wannabe. He probably wrongfully initiate the confrontation with Trayvon Martin. That still doesn't mean that he didn't act in self-defense once the encounter began. He might even hate Blacks. Then again, Martin may have hated white fake police officers.

My point is that a crime should be punishable for the act itself, not the thoughts behind it. Any time the government bases laws on thoughts we are in trouble. I do not trust our government to police my thoughts. They already monitor our phones and computers. That's way too much. The winds of what's acceptable thought change often. With the exception of the Anglo-Saxon Protestants, every ethnic and racial group has been discriminated against at one time in this country. Soon many of the majorities will be minorities. Will hate crimes apply to old white guys when they become a minority.

It's sad that we have so much distrust of our justice system that a verdict is not the end but just the beginning. This is particularly true when Blacks and whites are involved. A few years ago many were outraged at the O. J. Simpson verdict. Today many are outraged at the Zimmerman verdict. Just like then, we apparently now move on to civil court. Zimmerman and the prosecutors had their day in court. He won, game over. No redo in federal or civil court.

Is this double or triple jeopardy? I think so. What do you think?


Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Schools or Fortresses?

This blog was originally published on June 1, 2013 in The View Point.

By Bill Holmes

With the tragedies that have happened in the last few years at some of our schools, security our teachers and children seems to be a topic of discussion in many of our newscasts and newspapers. Let's get this straight right up front. Protection of our children is our most important duty both as parents and as a society. But at the risk of being politically incorrect let me ask the question: at what cost? At what cost to our school budgets, teachers, parents and most importantly our children?

No one can deny that incidents like the Columbine High School shootings in 1999 or the more recent Sandy Hook Elementary shootings at the end of last year are tragic. They rip our guts out. There is no way to rationalize the deaths of so many children in such a senseless manner. The fact that these tragedies are reported, talked about and analyzed on every news outlet makes them hard to get away from. We are constantly reminded of them and forced to think about them even when we need a respite.

We can accept when a child dies from disease or an accident. Those things are the luck of the draw. That doesn't make it easy but it's part of the way things have been for all time. Some children don't make it to adulthood. We do a much better job of getting our young through childhood than we ever have before in our history. Medicine, sanitation and improved nutrition means the vast majority of kids are now expected to survive childhood. That makes it even harder to accept when a child dies. We expect all our children to make it safely to adulthood.

Now we have what we think is a new problem. That would be school violence. I don't mean a pushing match in the cafeteria between students. I mean when an armed maniac enters a school campus and kills people. Sandy Hook and Columbine are the worst cases but there are others. Jilted lovers go to schools to confront their ex who is a teacher or employee and it gets violent, maybe with collateral victims. A gang turf war erupts on campus and escalates.

There has always been some violence in schools. Anytime you get a few hundred kids together in the same place there are bound to be disagreements. When I went to school those disagreements were settle by the students with fists or a wrestling match and the discipline was enforced by the teachers. Things have escalated some since those days.

Although I live in a relatively safe suburb, there is a cop assigned to every high school and junior high. You have to show an ID and be either a parent, guardian or designated alternate to gain entrance to a school. Every door except the main front one is locked. There are surveillance cameras everywhere. Many schools have metal detectors at the entrances. Dogs are used to sniff for drugs in lockers. Teachers, employees and students wear ID badges. Some of those badges have radio frequency identification (RFID) tags that allow tracing of each student's location. We have stupid zero tolerance policies that leave no room for common sense. In many places the whole campus is fenced. Our schools are being turned into fortresses.

I wonder what effect all this security has on the children. Do they feel safe or do they feel confined? Are we scaring them and making them overly cautious and suspicious? I mourn the loss of freedom. If there is a camera in the bathroom and one by the back door how can a kid sneak a smoke or cut class? If all the doors have alarms and the campus is fenced how can a student go to Taco Bell for lunch? How do a couple of guys settle a disagreement when they get arrested by the school cop for having a fight?

I know smoking and cutting class and fighting aren't ideal behavior but they shouldn't be criminal offenses either. I worry about the impact on school district budgets all this security has. The Dallas Independent School District (DISD) recently approved $4.65 million in school security upgrades. DISD also has their own police force and asecurity budget over $17 million. The Fort Worth ISD budgeted $9.4 million or $112 per student for security in 2012/13. Even my suburban school district spends about $800,000 per year on security. That is a ton of money. Is it all really needed? Did DISD approve an additional $4.65 million upgrade in February because of the Sandy Hook incident a couple of months before? Are the upgrades necessary or a knee jerk reaction? 

I'm glad our educators and school board trustees are concerned about school safety and security. I'm not happy about the amount being spent. Every dollar spent on security is one less dollar spent on actual education. I also wonder if school boards spend money on things like security and new football stadiums because they haven't been able to fix the real problems in our schools. Chest thumping about a new security system distracts people from the facts that many students aren't prepared for life or college when they graduate from high school, if they graduate.

The fact of the matter is that many more students will be killed or injured in school bus, automobile or athletic accidents than will ever be harmed by an intruder into the school. So our reaction is to install metal detectors in schools but not require seat belts on school buses. We put up a fence around the campus but we let the Jr. varsity kids use old worn out football helmets. We have metal doors with industrial strength locks but we don't build sidewalks or make safe intersections around schools. The schools in Moore, Oklahoma don't have storm cellars or safe rooms but they have security cameras. As usual we concentrate on the issue that's in the headlines, not necessarily the issue that needs attention.

It's good that strangers can't just wander into a school or that young students can't wander off campus. It's good that there are cameras to deter vandalism. The problem is that a camera or a metal detector or ID badge are not going to deter a crazed individual with an arsenal from storming a school or a dorm or a movie theater. I support increased background checks for gun buyers but that won't stop the one in a million lunatic from killing people at a crowded theater.

Don't say “we must protect our children at all costs” because that is simply not true. If it were true we would have safe sidewalks, safe intersections, school storm cellars, safer school buses. We make choices everyday where and how to spend our money. We make compromises.

We can and should be careful but we can never be completely safe. Bad stuff is going to happen and sometimes it will happen to innocent children and good people. I loathe the nanny state and overprotective, helicopter parents. Kids need some freedom. They need to be able to make a mistake or do foolish things and then suffer the consequences.

Remember, there is a finite amount of money for our schools. Should we buy another surveillance camera or another computer for the classroom? Do we need another security officer or another teacher? Do we need more metal detectors or more trombones for the band?

I'm thankful that none of my schools had surveillance cameras, RFID sensors, police officers or locked doors. If they had I would have been in trouble all the time.

I don't have the answers. I hope that our school security budgets are based on real need and not knee jerk, politically prudent and feel good reactions. I just want every possible dollar spent on real education.