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My Palm Tungsten E decided to format the SD card again, the one where I keep my backups and extra Bible versions and free books I’m reading.  That bothers me, significantly.

So I decided to look around to see what was available for a replacement PDA.

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How much is a life worth?

About a hundred and fifty bucks.

No, I’m not starting up a side business to remove annoying people for a fee.  I’m actually trying to save lives.  With this:

Here’s how.

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I’m on loan to a big project at work, one that requires lots of time with lots of demands.  During the minor breaks (a few seconds here and there while I’m waiting on a screen to refresh, or the down-time while waiting on a meeting to start, or my smallish amount of personal time in the day) I tend to go elsewhere in my head.  Not a wrong place, and not the gardening that Bettie enjoys.  Not a tropical island somewhere.

No, I have it bad.  In my head, I go to GadgetLand.

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I use Gmail as my primary email access.  It does a good job at separating out spam from wanted stuff – not perfect, but probably better than 98%.

I think I’m glad the spammers aren’t that good.

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Ecclesiastes 1:9 ends

there is nothing new under the sun

But we’re all sophisticated, and besides, this is the computer age – there is something new every day!  Like cloud computing.  Sure, it looks a lot like the old client-server computing, where the processing took place out there somewhere, and it looks like the web (where does Google keep its data, anyway?), and it looks like old time-sharing computers.

But we are facing some old challenges with this “new” technology – bad guys. Read the rest of this entry »

I think I must be walking around with some sign on me.  “Bad stuff happens here”.  Is there such a thing as a bad magnet?  Not a malfunctioning one, but a magnet that attracts badness.

I griped about my arm a couple days ago.  I’m sticking with the doctor’s orders, pretty much.  Taking the Aleve, not icing it down like I should, but definitely keeping the elbow splint on.  Those instructions were “take it off to shower”.  I shower at night, and wash my hair again in the morning.  Both of those I do with an unencumbered arm.  As I was working today, I noticed that my hand was swelling.  The splint was too tight and fluid was building up.  Then I noticed my fingers were cold on that hand – bad news indeed.  I loosened the splint, and it’s improved in the last fifteen minutes – swelling down and fingers about the same temp as my other hand.  Lesson learned.

I’m not sure what lesson to learn from my other badness.  I have a Palm Tungsten E that’s about five years old.  Works Worked well until last Sunday.  I could pull up scriptures just fine during church, but trying to power it on after lunch gave me nothing – complete zilch.  It wasn’t the battery – that was fine.  Somehow it had completely reset itself to an out-of-the-box condition.  My calendars, notes, addresses, everything was gone.  I was so happy to have my information backed up – BackupMan is the best $15 I ever spent.  I was right in my very first Cool Tool Tuesday – backups are important.  I had backed up Saturday night, so wasn’t missing a thing.

The other important thing is to be sure your backups are good.  I had not done a test to be certain that the backups worked.  There are problems with my launcher software – I can live without that.  What hurts worse is that I can’t change the screen brightness – PowerBright doesn’t work.  So whenever I’m seeing what meetings are coming up, or playing Pyramid, or reading the Bible, I’m burning through the battery.  I don’t like that, and it’s awful bright at night.  I want something more conducive to quietness and sleep, something that doesn’t imprint itself physically on my eyeballs.

So the plan is to re-crash the Palm down to the metal (after another backup).  Then I’ll start reloading all the applications I want from scratch, not from the backup.  Next is data from backup – all those contacts, and calendars, etc.  Finally I’ll drop in the databases from the backup, the stuff that remembers the Bible notes I have made, and my high scores in Pyramid.

This is not fun, nor quick.  But I need to do it.   I had considered walking away from five years of Palm goodness and switching to an iPod Touch (an iPhone with no phone).  Plenty of applications, and wifi connectivity.  But at $229 for the low end?  I think not.  I’ll put in the hours on the Palm.

Oh, man, an email from Uncle Rik.  You remember Uncle Rik – he was always going off somewhere for some reason or other.  One time he tried to visit every country – in alphabetic order – in a year.  Even when we tried to talk to him about the problems he would face with Latvia, Liberia, and Lithuania, he wouldn’t hear anything of it.

And now there’s this email from him.  But it’s not in English.  Bummer.  You don’t really recognize the language, either, which is bad.  He has a big number stuck in the middle of the email.  It could be dollars.  It could be Zimbabwe dollars.  It could be the distance to the moon.  With Uncle Rik, you never know.

So do you print out the email and take it around to all your friends, hoping that (A) they will recognize the language, and (B) old Uncle Rik isn’t saying anything too personal?  Do you just ignore the email, and hope it was nothing important?

Or you could take Door Number 3, and use Google Translate.

Bummer.  Now I gotta click through all those different languages and see what looks like English on the other end?  Well, nosir, you don’t.  Because Google Translate includes language detection.  If you want to translate Greek to Yiddish, or Welsh to Azerbaijani, you have that choice.  But if you just want to read whatever was written, you have the choice of Detect Language.  And it works.

Google Translate.  It’s not just for Uncle Rik anymore.

I’m a big fan of science fiction – the future of the possible, the documentation of tomorrow.  Part of it is escapist, sure, and part of it is the optimism that we will get through the present mess and do something with space.  I have hope, and want change.

At a library book fair (can’t call it a sale – something to do with receiving government money and also selling goods, so they give the books away and ask for donations) I picked up Robert Heinlein’s Beyond This Horizon.  I read the one with the cover that looks like it’s straight out of the seventies.

(pic compliments of Travelin’ Librarian)

I generally like Heinlein, although he got off into some strange sexual practices in his later books.  If I had a service that could expunge the junk, I’d be real happy.

Anyway, this story was written in 1942, and it had an impact on me in 1976.  That was the year that I was supposed to write a paper for English class, and kept putting it off, until I got an incomplete for the year.  After some parental re-focusing and some neighborly help with typing, I was able to put together a B+ paper on predictions that science fiction had made.  One of those was the waterbed.

And I found the reference in this book – on page 19.

Hamilton . . . settled down on the sheet.  The water rose gently under the skin of the mattress until he floated, dry and warm and snug.

A bit different in real life, where the water stays in place, but not too bad at all.

Something I really liked from the same page was not a technological innovation, but rather a foreseeing of future attitudes.

His telephone started to yammer as soon as he was home.  “Nuts to you,” said Hamilton.  “I’m going to get some sleep.”  The first three words were the code cutoff to which he had set the instrument; it stopped mournfully in the middle of its demand.

What I like is not so much the smartness of the phone, which is visionary, but the idea of choosing not to answer the phone.  Today’s phones can be an implement of torture in their insistence to be answered or looked at or paid attention to.  Heinlein saw, some 68 years ago, that the focus would come back to the human instead of the human serving the technology.  It’s a battle we still fight.

And yet Mr. Heinlein was not perfect.  In another of his books (that I cannot locate right now) the main character has to time something – and uses an egg timer.  In this digital everything world we live in, where even traffic lights in India have count-down timers, that analog glitch stood out.  Nothing wrong with it – I’m all for using simple technology where appropriate – but it seemed like a miss.

You are consumers.  You consume food, cars, computers, and (probably) way too many cell phones.  These things have a price curve.  Expensive when they first come out, lower when they get turned into a commodity or there’s a surplus, real low towards the end of their run, and then occasionally higher when there’s only a few left.

The Space Shuttle doesn’t fit neatly anywhere on that continuum, except for the “expensive” part.  It is a government program, sure, but would you be willing to ride a slightly-controlled bomb that had also been through cost-cutting measures?

Anyway, today’s cool tool is the Space Shuttle.  It has been called a space truck or a flying brick.  And it is going away.  Unless things change, Wednesday’s launch of Discovery (3:52 PM New York time) will be the next-to-last shuttle launch.  I haven’t been to see one go up, and probably won’t.

The shuttle was a platform for moving us to the next stage of space.  The space station doesn’t look as good as we had planned when we watched 2001, and we’re having to rent time on the Russian bus to get there, but we’re a lot closer than we were a quarter-century ago.

So if you’re in the mood, go pick yourself up a slightly used shuttle.  Only a few left, although one of them may have future uses.

Benoit Mandelbrot died last week.  He was the guy who came up with the Mandelbrot set

(nifty graphic from flickmospam)

That’s a cool mathematical thing where if you look deeper at this fractal, crank up the magnification, it goes on forever.  It’s not like looking at stones or a piece of glass, where you can come to the end of a thing.  And it’s not like life, which does come to an end.

Mr. Mandelbrot was raised Jewish.  His obituary doesn’t make any mention of religious interests.  It is not for me to judge whether or not he knew God in a saving way.

But I sure hope he didn’t expect his life to go on in an ever-deepening way, the more introspective he got.

Zeno’s Paradox, where you get half-way from here to there in a set amount of time, is fun to play with from a mental perspective.  If you buy into it, then you can never reach anywhere, because you’re always so close without reaching there.  Very fractally, very Mandelbrotish.  But in the real world, it doesn’t happen that way.  You get to church, you get to the store, you get to the end of your life.

What do you think will happen at the end of your life – a spiral into nothingness?  A bunch of oblivion?  A chance to work it off, to earn a better eternity than you did when you had a physical body?  Or do you face what’s in the Bible, a judgment from God, and then either Heaven or Hell?

Why do you believe that?

And are you living that way?