Technology’s Infestation of my Life

Examples of how technology has permeated every single bit of my life.

How Any Enginerd Can Date a Beautiful Woman

Ignite Seattle 10 is coming up just around the corner on June 14th, so mark your calendars. They had a call for submissions and I thought, “What the heck. But what to present on? It needs to be funny, but also relevant. And not a shill for some product.”

As it turned out, I had already asked this question from the last time I wanted to present at Ignite Boulder. I flipped through the comments and decided that Jeff’s suggestion on How Any Man Can Pick Up Beautiful Women would be good starting point.

I submitted my topic suggestion with the following description:

I am a nerd, and I am an engineer.

How do I know this? Because I was drawing schematics of Star Trek related devices when I was in 5th grade, I ran my own web server from my home when I was in 9th grade, and, most importantly, I just (well, a year ago) graduated from the Colorado School of Mines with a BS in Engineering, Specialty in Electrical Systems, Area of Special Interest in Mechanical Systems.

Now, I work for an aerodefensespace1 corporation, as an engineer.

And I’m dating a beautiful woman; actually, that’s not quite true.

But I have learned a lot about being an enginerd and being able to talk to women. And have them talk to me.

So, just because I haven’t found the “love of my life,” the Deanna Troi to my Will Riker, doesn’t mean that you can’t benefit from what I’ve learned.

It’s a shoe-in to win, right? Not quite. Unfortunately, I was not selected for the round of Ignite talks (they had a record number of entries). So you’ll have to wait for now.2

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  1. I thought about shortening this to “aerodeface” 

  2. Story of my life…. 

Preposterous Voice Transcriptions

I use Google Voice for all my voicemail needs. One of the cool features, in theory, is that it will transcribe a voicemail left for me and send it to my phone or email. This is great when I’m in a meeting or in class and can’t actually listen to the voicemail, but I can glance at it. Unless of course, the transcription goes completely awry. As in this case:

Hey Drew, this is Karen me and my daughter give me a give me a kiss on Saturday and she wanted to go if you can do it would be great. We can go ahead and yeah call or on that, so if you to call. It’s going to come back number is (206) 555-12121 bye.

The voicemail was actually my friend (a guy, by the way) calling to see if I wanted to go skiing on Saturday.

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  1. the phone number was practically the only thing the transcription service actually got correct 

Do you want to scan and fix YUKON (I:)? No, go away.

I had this really annoying box pop up whenever I plugged by iPod into my computer that said, “Do you want to scan and fix YUKON (I:)?” It happened when I was running Windows Vista and it happened when I was running Windows 7. It took a half second to click, which means is wasn’t annoying enough for me to do anything about for the longest time, despite the fact that it drove me nuts.

Fortunately, Mark Flavin has the answer to why it was doing this annoying behavior and how to fix it:

From www.futureofrealestatetechnology.com:

The reason for the error is that his IPOD was formatted FAT32 on Windows XP; this can affect thumbdrives, cameras, smart cards. What happens is the device was not properly dismounted by Windows XP and there is an archival bit set that Vista needs to reset before it will stop reporting there is an error.

Read the solution over at Resolve Vista Scan and Fix Error When Plugging in IPOD or other Devices

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Getting Touchpad to Work with Windows 7

I’ve been using Windows 7 on my Toshiba M700 Tablet since the RTM was available on MSDN a couple of months ago. And it’s been great! No kidding. There were a handful of drivers I needed to download from Toshiba, but everything just works, except for the mouse.

Well, that’s not entirely true. The mouse works just fine. It’s all the special features that don’t work. And that’s not the fault of Microsoft, it’s the fault of Toshiba for not having the needed drivers.

Today though, I got sick of it. One of my biggest issues is that while I’m typing, my hands are very near the touchpad, practically on top. And more often than not, I’ll ever so gently catch the touchpad with my palm, and reposition the cursor. It drives me nuts. Fortunately it hasn’t been an issue because most of the time my tablet is docked at home. However, now that I’m on vacation and using it on the go, it’s been a huge issue.

The solution was easy though. After searching through some forums, several people noted that version 7.2.303.107 of the Alps Pointing Device Driver was working for people using all sorts of laptops with Windows 7 (including Dells).

The best place I found to get it was from the Toshiba Drivers Download Site for the Portege A600. Select “Touchpad” from the categories and click “Alps Pointing Device Driver (32/64bit) (v7.2.303.107; 10-06-2008; 7M)” from the results. It’s designed for Vista 32-/64-bit, however I’m using it on Windows 7 64-bit just fine.

Problem solved!

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The Day The Music Died

Yahoo! is shutting down GeoCities today. A little known fact is that I used to have a web presence on GeoCities. In fact, it’s still there! I’ve checked back a couple times a year to see if it was still up and running it, and it always was.

Starbase 1561 was the place I used to call home before I started hosting my website on my own server. Today, though, will be our last day to actually view it in it’s native habitat2.

While you’re at it, you might want to check out XKCD’s front page, an awesome homage to my middle school and high school coding days3:
xkcd

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  1. Last updated 05/30/01 12:19 PM Pacific Daylight Time 

  2. I made an archival copy a couple of years ago 

  3. Well, not mine exclusively…but you get the idea 

Google Voice Invites

I have three invites for Google Voice sitting in my inbox and I’m trying to figure out how to best distribute them. I could sell them on eBay or Craigslist for between $5 and $15 each it looks like. Or perhaps come up with some crafty give away contest. Thoughts? Is there even an interest left?

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The Droid

I’ve had my current phone, an LG VX8300 for over two years now. It basically does what I need it to, make and receive phone calls and text messages. But I’ve been itching for more.

I’ve watched as the iPhone was introduced1, reintroduced2, and re-reintroduced3. I also watched as AT&T’s network and lack of infrastructure continues to collapse under the pressure.

Last Christmas, I watched as Verizon rolled out the Blackberry Storm, hoping that this would be the device that would rival the iPhone; it wasn’t.

I watched as Google released the Android operating system and T-Mobile, of all companies, grabbed the G1. Amazing, I thought.

Well, now the day could be mine to have and everyone else’s turn to watch. Verizon is launching the Droid. And I’m thinking, “This could be cool.”

It does pretty much everything I’d want it to, including being awesome. In particular, it has WiFi and Bluetooth, a decent screen, replaceable battery, and the latest Android operating system – codename: Eclair4. Mmmm, doughnuuuut.

What else: 16GB of internal memory with expansion support, 256MB RAM, and support for running multiple applications at once.

The Android app market should also be pretty well stocked, and I’m probably savvy enough to write any app myself that I can’t find. So like I said, “This could be cool.”

I hope they get this right.

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  1. Original iPhone 

  2. iPhone 3G 

  3. iPhone 3G S 

  4. Yes, as in the doughnut 

Moving iTunes

In preparation for my trip, I wanted to move my entire iTunes library computer from my tablet (Daedalus) to my netbook (Nautilus) so I could listen to music while I was traveling. Unfortunately, I’m of the anal-retentive type when it comes to managing my music. Specifically, I must keep track of my play counts and ratings. I have no idea what I’m like this way, it’s my thing, just go with it.

I decided the best way to this would be to copy my entire iTunes folder over the wired-network, essentially duplicating my entire music library on my netbook, which is the computer I’ll be bringing for my trip. I used TeraCopy to move the files, which took about two hours. I get the files onto Nautilus, but then I run into a bit of trouble with iTunes.

iTunes keeps thinking the music files are located in C:\Users\AndrewFerguson\Music\iTunes, however, for various reasons, I’ve put them onto the D drive at D:\iTunes. After dinking around1 for a while with iTunes, trying get my music, play counts, ratings, playlists, and podcasts all imported, I conclude that iTunes will not be helping me in this endeavor and that I’ll either need to put the music into C:\Users\AndrewFerguson\Music\iTunes, which I can’t do for various reasons (including the fact that I don’t have enough space on that partition), or just reimportant my music and lose all my beloved data.

To me, neither of these solutions is adequate. Then I have a stroke of genius. I remember that *NIX systems have something called symbolic links or symlink, for short:
From en.wikipedia.org:

A symbolic link merely contains a text string that is interpreted and followed by the operating system as a path to another file or directory. It is a file on its own and can exist independently of its target. If a symbolic link is deleted, its target remains unaffected. If the target is moved, renamed or deleted, any symbolic link that used to point to it continues to exist but now points to a non-existing file. Symbolic links pointing to non-existing files are sometimes called orphaned or dangling.

The only question remain was: Would Windows XP Home support my cunning plan? As it turns out, the answer is yes! Although it took a bit of massaging.

First, I had to download a program from SysInternals called Junction. This brings up a side note, what everyone else calls symlinks, Microsoft calls junctions. I don’t know why, they just do.

Second, I had to create the C:\Users\AndrewFerguson\Music\ file structure, which is basically just a bunch of empty folders. Not a huge deal and only a minor inconvienence.

Finally, I opened up a command prompt and typed in

junction c:\Users\AndrewFerguson\Music\iTunes\ D:\iTunes\

and got the following response:

Created: c:\Users\AndrewFerguson\Music\iTunes\
Targetted at: D:\iTunes\

I fired up iTunes and my music played! When I’m done at the end of my trip, I can just copy the iTunes Library file back and all my ratings and play counts will remain intact.

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  1. yes, that’s the technical term 

Technology Understanding Fail

One of the great things, I think, about today’s current state of technology is that if there’s something that I need and it doesn’t exist, I can create it. Case in point, there was a group1 who added and published MP3’s to their website on a weekly basis, but had no Podcast to distribute it. Thus, if I wanted to listen to these audio files on my iPod, I would have to manually download it every week, add it to my iTunes, and then sync to my iPod.

Of course, I would not stand for this. So I wrote a simple script that would check for a new audio file on this groups server2, download the files to my server, and the generate the appropriate XML needed to bring the file into iTunes. Insta-podcast.

Anyway, being the nice and sharing guy that I am, I decided to unleash my little XML podcast feed to the world. And all was well. A few people found it, including the Apple iTunes store, and I was pretty content. Eventually the group get’s their act together and publishes their own XML podcast feed. I see this and do something called a “301 Moved Permanently” redirect. In short, if you were using my XML podcast feed, your program got a nice message that says, “Hey! What you were looking for isn’t over here anymore, it’s over there. Furthermore, it’s never coming back here, so you should just always go check over there from now on.” I figure cool, I did something good. They never notice (which is how it should be). All is right with the world.

Well, a couple years after all this goes down, I get an email:

Hi,

I recently found out that you submitted the ABC podcast to iTunes. While I am sure you were doing this to be helpful, it does not allow us to edit the submitted podcast in iTunes. We need to be able to do this, please remove the podcast so that we can submit it ourselves.

Thank You,

Bob

I do some poking around and, to humor the guy, send a request to the iTunes Music Store requesting that the feed be removed. Remember, I’ve done a “301 Moved Permanently,” so I shouldn’t be having this issue. Just to be sure, I remove everything…including the redirect. Any future requests for this resource will now result in “404 File Not Found” error.

A couple months go by, and I get another email from the guy.

Andrew,

I just checked the podcast again, and it is still listed under your e-mail address in the iTunes store. Would you mind following up with Apple?

Thanks,

Bob

At this point, I know the problem can’t possible be on my end. It has to be this guys problem. So I do some more checking and research. And respond back:

Bob,

I did some poking around and here’s what I’m thinking. The podcast has been completely removed from my site for several weeks now and accessing it produces a 404 error (whereas it used to just be a 301 – Moved Permantely redirect). However, when I check iTunes, I see the latest podcasts. This makes me believe that iTunes is in fact fetching the content from your server and not mine.

Looking at the XML formatting for your podcast (http://www.abc.com/podcast/meetings/meetings.xml), I noticed that you are not using the iTunes specific tags (http://www.apple.com/itunes/store/podcaststechspecs.html), specifically the “<itunes:author>” tag.

My thinking is that iTunes has decided to cache the information and that’s what you’re seeing. If you were to update your XML file with the iTunes specific tags, you should be all set.

Does that make sense?

I check the next day and the data on iTunes had been updated. I never did hear back from Bob.

About a year later, the group decides they’re going to outsource their entire podcast to another company. They post a podcast say, “Hey, we’ve moved feeds…here’s how to find us again.” Which is fine, I guess3. However, there was a much better way. I did a bit of research (seriously, about five minutes) and sent Bob another email:

Bob,

I noticed that you guys changed the URL for the podcast and are asking people to resubscribe. As a thought, you could set the current podcast URL send a 301 – Moved Permanently instead of having people resubscribe as it will automatically tell the program that the URL has changed and it should update its records with the new URL (which is actually the entire point of issuing a 301).

iTunes and the iTunes store support this nomenclature in addition to a special “<itunes:new-feed-url>” tag.

For more information on the iTunes redirect: http://www.apple.com/itunes/whatson/podcasts/specs.html#changing

For more information on sending 301 headers with ASP:
http://www.wrox.com/WileyCDA/Section/Redirecting-HTTP-301-Status-Codes-with-ASP-NET-and-IIS.id-306460.html

Merry Christmas,

Andrew

They never did implement my idea. And Bob never did email me back. Sometimes I think it would have been better to have kept the podcast, rather then let them run it. It never ceases to amaze me the monkeys some groups will let control their network. As of the time of this posting, Bob still works for ABC Group.

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  1. historians of this blog may know who I’m talking about 

  2. they happened to name their files in a sequentially predictable manner 

  3. The danger here is that you risk losing subscribes when you ask them to perform a required action. Thus, if you make the action automatic, you don’t risk losing subscribers. It should be a “no-duh” point, but often people miss it. 

E-Mail Address Update

Public Service Announcement:
As of May 8th, 2009, I will no longer be using my school email address, aferguso@mines.edu. If you use this email address, please begin using my personal email address, available on the upper right hand corner of my blog, to send all future correspondence.

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