Author Archive: Don Meyer

COVID-19 Pandemic Links

A few interesting pandemic links:

 

When It Comes to Covid-19, Most of Us Have Risk Exactly Backward

Good discussion about risk.

 

This Overlooked Variable Is the Key to the Pandemic

Very thought-provoking.

 

I traveled across the U.S. during the pandemic. Experts weigh in on what I did right and wrong

Can’t decide if this makes me more or less likely to try flying at some point.

VR Games

I’m still just getting started trying various games, so I may have not gotten to some of the best ones. Plus, depends on the type of game of course.
 
Valve’s “The Lab”, which is just a demo, is actually pretty impressive. Some fun games in that even at the demo level. Seems like they could do a bit of work and sell them. Free, and a great intro to what’s possible in VR.
 
If you like shooting evil monks and other creatures with arrows, “In Death” is quite good. Unforgiving gameplay, but well done. I stuck with it and have gotten pretty. Although anyone under the age of 35 would consider me laughably unskilled. 🙂
 
“Space Pirate Trainer” is a lot of fun, shooting SF weaponry at robot drones.
 
“Moss” is a seated game with an interesting style, and not a “shooter”. I played it for a few minutes and then put it on hold until I can spend some time with it.
 
I’ve got several more well-rated games in my library, just waiting to be played. I really am just beginning to explore what’s available.
 
It’s also pretty impressive to just visit some of the “environments” that people have created. And Google Earth is neat in VR, gives a whole new depth to Street View. (Note that some aspect of that program was getting me a bit motion sick, so some slight caution is advised.)
 
As you may be aware, the Vive uses two transmitters in the corner of the room called Lighthouses to allow tracking headset and controller motion. With amazing accuracy and latency!
This is a fascinating article and video about that technology:
 
 

Vector Returns!

Although it’s old news by this point, I had to talk about the return of the Vector robot. Ok, “return” is still a little premature, but ongoing support has happened.

A company called Digital Dream Labs purchased all of the rights to Vector (and, I believe, the rest of Anki’s products) and ran a Kickstarter to keep the little guy alive.

I backed this of course, because robots.

While they have yet to produce the final products that may of us paid for (which is software they are working on), they are moving things formward with minor updates and od course the important task of keeping his servers up.

What’s promised is a way for those of us who want to develop for Vector to do two main things. One is redirect him to a new server, including a self-hosted server. This is the safety net should DDL someday cease to exist.

The second is full access to programming Vector, not just being able to control him via an external Python program. This is the one I’m really excited about. I like robots that can access the network and leverage it to do things, but the ability to add intrinsic behaviors is really important.

So thanks to DDL for rescuing Vector, and fingers crossed that they find the success they deserve!

Leaving Facebook

Here is the post I made on Facebook about leaving Facebook:

 

For a number of reasons, I have decided to disable my Facebook account.

 

I’ll spare you all a lengthy rant, but the short version is that Facebook has clearly become a force for bad in our country. My “so many of my friends are here” rationale for staying is no longer one I can in good conscience maintain.

 

I realize that me leaving isn’t going to bring Facebook to its knees. But at least I can stop supporting a company that is doing possibly irreparable harm to our country and society.

 

This quote applies: “No single raindrop thinks it is responsible for the flood.”

 

I’m going to try to become active on Twitter again (yes, I know, that’s not a bastion of truth and beauty either), so hopefully we can stay in touch there.

 

I’ll stick around Facebook for a few more days, so please feel free to send me your Twitter names and/or email addresses via PM.

My biggest concern and sadness is the thought of losing contact with you all!

 

Some further rationale and explanation. I felt this was more appropriate for my blog versus some lengthy Facebook diatribe that no one would read.

(Versus a blog post that no one will read!)  🙂

 

I’ve never been a fan of services for which I am the product, rather than the customer. That’s one reason I’m such an Apple fan. They don’t try to advertise to me to pay for what I get from them, I pay them for iCloud, Apple TV+, and so on.

 

But I could live with that because I do get a lot of social value from Facebook.

 

Facebook has plenty of annoying people, and annoying ads. This I dealt with by curating my friends list, and tediously telling FB to stop showing me certain ads.

 

But I could live with that because I do get a lot of social value from Facebook.

 

What became the last straw was the extent to which Facebook has profited by the ongoing destruction of our system of government and our country. It is very clear that if unchecked distribution of misinformation, conspiracy theories, and hate gets them more money, that is fine with Zuckerberg.

 

I cannot live with that.

 

As I said in my final FB post, I know that me leaving won’t fix the issue, but at least I can stop being part of the problem.

 

End of rant!

 

 

A sample of the endless stream of articles about Facebook’s corporate policy of encouraging hate:

 

Facebook’s Kenosha Guard Militia Event Was Reported 455 Times. Moderators Said It Was Fine.

https://www.buzzfeednews.com/article/ryanmac/kenosha-militia-facebook-reported-455-times-moderators

 

 

Facebook algorithm found to ‘actively promote’ Holocaust denial | World news | The Guardian

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/aug/16/facebook-algorithm-found-to-actively-promote-holocaust-denial

 

 

Facebook Admits Ben Shapiro’s The Daily Wire Has Engaged in Pay-for-Engagement Scam

 

Working the Refs Worked: ‘How Facebook Wrote Its Rules to Accommodate Trump’

E-Readers

Ok, it is just possible that I have an e-reader problem…

Or maybe everyone owns 5 of them, and I’m perfectly normal?

I just bought my fifth, a Kobo Forma.

I started with the original Barnes & Noble Nook, the one with the odd little color screen below the main e-ink screen. It was great, with actual page-turn buttons. And the color screen was actually sort of cool, showing the book covers in color but still allowing the actual reading to be done on the e-ink screen.

After that it was on to the Nook Glowlight, which had a more traditional design using a single e-ink screen. This one abandoned physical page turn buttons, but I liked it anyway.

Number 3 was a Nook Glowlight Plus whose claim to fame was being water and dirt resistant, so great for the boat or the beach!

Up until the Forma, the fourth Nook (Glowlight 3) was my favorite, adding back the page-turn buttons and a color-changing backlight.

I decided to try the Forma because of the larger screen, and the hope of a better UI. Wow, what a nice device! I think my Glowlight 3 has been supplanted.

The things I really like about the Forma:

  • Bigger screen
  • Faster page turns.
  • The home screen does not try and sell me books quite as aggressively as the Nook.
  • Better library design, can sort by more attributes, and has an Authors view.
  • When sleeping, shows the cover of my current book. Early Nooks could do this, or show a nice “screensaver”, but that feature went away.¡
  • Landscape mode, which so far is interesting but might be nice.

I had not realized just how slow the Nook was at turning pages. I first noticed the difference when a few times I thought the Forma had failed to turn the page. It had. So why did I have a moment of thinking it hadn’t? Because it did it so quickly it wasn’t obvious! I then did some side-by-side comparisons to confirm, and yes, much quicker.

I still love physical books, but do a lot of reading electronically. Great for travel! I will also be keeping my e-reader collection although the Forma is better enough that it may be hard to go back to the earlier Nooks.

And yes, I have an iPad Pro which is terrific, but for pleasure reading, e-ink is the only way to go. Easier on the eyes, especially after a day of working on a glowing computer screen. Add in the noticeably reduced weight and the dramatically longer battery life and there is no question that e-ink wins for reading books.

Six e-readers. That’s a nice round number…

Sad News for Vector

Out of the blue, Anki, the makers of the Cozmo and Vector robots, shut down yesterday.

This is quite the shock. 😦

My heart goes out to all the employees who were blindsided by this, and are out of jobs through no fault of their own. (The shutdown of the Roambi team by my now former employeer SAP a month or so back makes me especially emphathetic.)

Vector is a nice progression from Cozmo and I am sad we won’t get to see where he would have gone, nor will we see the future generations.

I own both a Cozmo and a Vector. With my relatively ancient Pleo dinosaur robot, this is quite the trail of failed robot companies, sigh. At least I refrained from jumping on the Jibo train! (That product sounded interesting to be sure, but my concerns that they were over-promising turned out to be correct.)

There are a couple paths forward for Vector and/or those of us who have one.

  • Some company or group could acquire Anki or the assets and continue to sell and enhance Vector.
  • They could keep the servers alive via Patreon or a direct subscription of modest cost.
  • Anki could open-source Vector’s code. I’d love to be able to write truly native code for the little guy, versus the current from-the-desktop SDK.
  • They could at least open-source the backend code so we could set up our own servers.

The shutdown sounds abrupt, so I don’t know if any contingencies were in place or plans being made in the aftermath for any of the above options. Hopefully we will hear more in the next few weeks as the dust settles.

Good luck Vector team, and thanks for the cool toy!

My Leap Into Virtual Reality

I’ve always been interested in Virtual Reality and the possibilities it holds. In its early days, I spent a lot of time in Second Life. I still think that at some point VR is going to fundamentally change our lives.

Although I’m usually an early-adopter, I tried to hold back on VR a bit. Then over the holidays I had a chance to really use an HTC Vive setup, and decided I could wait no longer.

I commenced my usual excessive research and in late January I made a decision and started ordering gear.

Which gear? Some of the “inside out” headsets on the horizon were tempting, but I’m skeptical that they will have the processing power and movement-tracking quality of the PC-based headsets, so I narrowed my search to the HTC Vive and the Oculus Rift.

I went with the Vive. It was close between this and the Rift, but after looking at a lot of reviews and comparisons the Vive seemed to be a slightly better option. The fact that my son has one was also a factor – I could be sure that any multi-player games we might want to try would be available without them needing to be available on both platforms.

It was also a close call between the Vive and the Vive Pro. I chose the Vive mainly because I was not certain just how much I’d really use VR and this was an attempt to not go too wild. If money is no object and/or you are convinced that VR will be amazing, the Pro is pretty tempting. It’s better, but probably not amazingly better. And the price difference is significant.

One big advantage of the Pro beyond better resolution is the Deluxe Audio Strap. This is a $100 option if you add it to the regular Vive headset.

The Deluxe Audio Strap is not only more comfortable, but it avoids the need to fool with earbuds. Well worth the money, and was an immediate upgrade for me.

The next issue is how you run the headset. If you have a Windows PC with a sufficiently fast GPU, then you are all set. I’m a Mac guy, so what I had was a very nice Mac laptop with completely inadequate graphics performance for VR. Yeah, you can do things with external GPUs. However, that only addresses the hardware side.

On the software side, the amount of games and applications that are Windows-only is vast. Apple has a real chicken-and-egg problem here, and until they solve it Windows is really the only viable platform for the full VR experience.

I bought an Alienware Aurora R7 tower, and it’s worked well so far. (Other than having to use Windows 10, which is as awful as I was afraid it was going to be.)
I’ll explain later why I went with a desktop and not a laptop.

Here’s the key specs for mine:

  • 8th Gen Intel® Core™ i7-8700 Processor 3.2GHz
  • 16GB DDR4 2666MHz RAM
  • 2TB 7200RPM SATA Hard Drive
  • 8GB NVIDIA® GTX 1080 Graphics

Only thing wrong with the model I got was that instead of an SSD it had a spinning drive. I immediately replaced this with a 512G SATA SSD for a reasonable price. The system I bought was from Costco, and that was worth the drive shenanigans – I like their extended warranty and return policy.

The GTX 1080 is more than the base Vive headset really needs, but I wanted to aim a little high so that when I upgrade to the next generation headset in a couple years, I won’t need to replace my PC hardware as well (hopefully).

I’ve made one other upgrade, which is the HTC wireless adapter for the Vive. This was $300 well spent. Not having to worry about stepping on and getting tangled up in the wire to the headset is great.
May not matter as much if you play mostly games and apps that are “seated” experiences, but for anything room-scale, it is a great advancement.
My suggestion would be to start wired and see just how annoying it is, which is what I did.
Some of the games I enjoy involve a lot of movement and turning, so this was well worth it to me.

I’m still in the early stages, with a lot of games and apps to look at but so far it’s been pretty amazing. I’ll certainly have more updates as I get to spend more time in VR.

Apple iPhone X

iPhone X first impressions, conclusion first. Wow, what a great phone!
 
Screen is big and beautiful. The off-angle performance, which is where OLED gives a little ground to LCD is minimal – no issue at all for any viewing angle I can see using.
 
Face ID is amazing, quick and accurate. It’s like having no passcode set as far as convenience goes. The phone just unlocks.
 
I though it would take me *weeks* to get used to swiping up from the bottom of the screen to go “home”, since there is no button. It took about 10 minutes.
 
My only other concern was the “ears” at the top of the screen around the notch. Turns out they don’t bother me at all either.
 
The screen on my iPhone 6S now seems so small.
 
Worth every penny since it’s a device I use often and every day.

4K AppleTV

When Blu-Ray players came out, I wasted no time in buying one. Well actually I wasted no time in buying an HD-DVD player. Then when that technology died, I switched to Blu-Ray pretty quickly.

I had bought maybe 30 or so movies when it started to become clear that for most purposes, physical media was becoming obsolete. At least for movies. I’ve got a huge TV show collection on DVD which consists of a lot of things not available from iTunes. (iTunes being my chosen source for media.)

So my Blu-Ray purchasing tapered off and my policy became to buy on iTunes. Even when there was a good sale on a movie, if I already had it in Blu-Ray I resisted temptation. Ok, mostly resisted temptation.

Now that Apple has announced the 4K HDR AppleTV and that many movies will be automatically upgraded to 4K HDR I’m pretty pleased with my strategy. I’ve been scorning 4K because I just could not bring myself to buy the same movies in YET ANOTHER format, and for full price again. Yes I have in some cases purchased the same move in VHS, Laserdisc, DVD, and Blu-Ray. Not many did that full ride, but some. And a lot of movies took at least a couple of those segments of the trip.

So obviously the news that I can maybe move into the glorious new 4K world without feeling like an idiot for buying movies in 4K that I own in Blu-Ray makes me really happy.

As of this date, 16-Sep-2017, about a week before the 4K AppleTV ships, I’m already seeing a few movies I own showing up as 4K HDR in iTunes. Hoping more will follow!

Now my only “problem” is that my 1080p plasma TV is still going strong so I cannot readily justify getting a new 4K TV. I’m going to resist as long as possible, in part because my Panasonic plasma still has superior picture quality to any LCD TV out today. It’s looking like OLED will be a worthy replacement when the time comes, but the size I want is still a bit pricey. Another 6-12 months and just maybe I’ll be selling a nice plasma TV…

 

Mindstorms EV3 Revisited

When I noticed that there was a new version of ev3dev available (ev3dev-jessie-ev3-generic-2017-02-11) I decided it was a good opportunity to re-do my system setup post.

This effort also included creating scripts that perform as many of the setup steps as possible.

This post updates and mostly replaces my previous ev3dev blog post.

The first steps are to download and install the latest version of ev3dev from the ev3dev website, and get the EV3 connected to the local wifi network.

Then check out the git repo containing the setup scripts here:  https://bitbucket.org/don/ev3-setup/overview

Run the Mac setup script  setupMac.sh.

Then ssh into the EV3 and run the setup script  setupEV3.sh.

You may want to edit that script to remove the Textmate ‘rmate’ setup step, although it’s harmless if you don’t use Textmate.

What do the setup scripts do?

setupMac.sh

  1. Copies the host RSA key to the EV3.
  2. Copies the setup files to the EV3.
  3. Copies a local ‘Scripts’ folder to the EV3. (If you don’t have one of these, comment out this line.)

setupEV3.sh

  1. Sets up the RSA key. This allows you to ssh to the EV3 without needing a password each time.
  2. Installs the Python FTP library.
  3. Installs a simple FTP server.
  4. Makes any Python scripts copied from the (optional) Scripts folder.

 

After running both scripts, reboot the EV3 and when it finishes booting you should be able to access the FTP server as well as ssh into the EV3 without needing to enter the password.