2017-12-21

Music

Music

I love good music. To me, some music seems to be alive, that's the good. Most seems to be lifeless, inert, just a random sequence of notes, sound not music. And there is a lot of annoying, offensive, head piercing stuff that I don't want to hear.

Below is a selection of wonderful music. If you haven't heard any of these pieces, you should rectify the situation - YouTube can help.

There is a lot of wonderful music around contra dancing (a hobby of mine). Hopefully including a tune that I just finished writing. I'm not including any of it here.

I have found that people like songs for two fundamentally different reasons. Some like the lyrics and don't really care about the music. I like the music and don't really care about the lyrics. The songs included here of Schubert and Schuman are in German, which I don't understand - doesn't bother me at all. There are a few recordings of Schubert songs in English.

Another interesting issue that I have encountered is that people have an internal clock that is not constant. This is a psychological speed - I am not referring to your heart beat. If you listen to music that is faster than your internal speed, it can have an energizing effect. If the music is slower it is likely to be boring. If you want to understand slow music, you must first slow your internal clock so that the music pulls you along rather than dragging you down.

A melody is a sequence of tones. Why should one sequence of tones be superior to another? I have no idea. But my head tells me, without question, that this is the case. And there are rhythm, chords, keys, performance, timbre, voice. I have no idea how/why all of this comes together to be pleasing. (If you look at the frequency ratios of the notes that make up the seven tones of a Euclidian scale, a, b, c#, d, e, f#, g# for example, you can see why these scales and 1/3/5 chords work well. But this just scrapes the surface of a complete composition.)

I have been trying to write some contra dance tunes recently. I have little background in music theory, but I have listened and played enough music, especially for contra dance, that the basic rules are internalized. If I violate them the tune doesn't sound right.

Given that I have a tune that meets the basic requirements, I have found that with the repetition required in writing the tune, almost any melody will imprint on me, making me enjoy it. This is NOT good. If I like anything I write - how do I know if it's any good? That might explain the incredible array of awful music in the world. Now how can I avoid adding to it?

Schubert
  Symphony 8 D759
  D760, D845, D958, D959, D960 piano
  Songs
    Thekla D595
    Litanei auf das Fest Aller Seelen D343
    Der Winterabend D938
    Nachthymne D687
    Standchen D957/4 from Schwanengesang
      (this is a song, despite the many instrumental transcriptions)

Beethoven
  Symphonies 2..9
  Appasionata piano sonata
  Missa Solemnis

Schumann
  Symphonies 1,3,4
  Widmung op 25/1 (song)

Emmylou Harris
  The Maker
  Me and Willie
  Poncho and Lefty
  Wrecking Ball (the entire album)

Blondie
  11:59
  Dreaming
  One Way or Another

Fleetwood Mac
  Silver Springs

Patti Smith
  Broken Flag
  Distant Fingers
  Paths that Cross

2017-12-15

Good Stuff

Good Stuff

I've written about a lot of the stupidity in the world. It's time to write about some good things. Of course you have to scour the internet to find most of it.

Mono laser printers - if you don't need color, mono laser printers are cheaper, faster, more reliable, and easier than color inkjets.

Number 11 X-Acto blades in a #2 handle - (Long ago) I used to cut up my thumb when using a #11 blade in a #1 handle. Using a #2 handle buries the bottom part of the blade in the handle - no more cuts.

Vionic flip-flops (sandals) - a flip-flop with heel cup to keep your foot centered and arch support!

Size 10-13 socks - I hate having my foot squeezed. The standard sock, size 6-12, drives me nuts. Size 10-13, which are not always easy to find, are a huge improvement (that's for my 9.5 foot).

Trakline belts - if you haven't tried a ratchet belt, try one. They adjust in 1/4 inch increments and they do not imprint on the leather so the belt lasts longer. Trakline makes ratchet belts with stainless steel buckles and high quality leather (make sure that you get a stainless steel model). Excellent.

Dropstop - a cloth covered foam tube that closes the gap between your car's front seats and center console. It keeps things from falling into that unreachable place on the floor outside of the seat rails.

Wristies - a fleece tube with a thumb cutout. They cover your wrist and the back of your hand but not your fingers. Very nice for around the house when it's cold and for playing the violin when it's cold.

DanceSocks fit over your shoe to let you slide, short tube or full shoe cover. They let you use a supportive, cushioned shoe on the dance floor. They work well with most running shoes. If your shoe is too smooth, the tubes will slide off. If a thread comes loose, use a match to melt it down.

Nite Ize S-biner - that's a double carabiner in an S shape. When huge electronic automobile keys became the norm, it always bothered me to have my keys in the bottom of my front pocket. The best solution that I have found - make a small (three inch) loop with a shoestring, attach it to your belt above your pocket, attach the top loop of a small s-biner to it, attach your keychain to the bottom loop of the s-biner. Now the keys hang from your belt, in your pocket, not bunched at the bottom.

12 hour Neosinepherine / Oxymetazoline HCL nasal decongestant - maybe the most effective drug on the market. It lets me breathe effortlessly for about 10 hours. Watch out - overuse can be a problem.

Rolling wheel paper cutters - what an improvement over the guillotine paper cutters. They don't bubble the paper as they cut so the cut is straight. They cut stacks of paper well (maybe 20 pages max). And they don't provoke a fear of cutting off my fingers when I see them. Sadly the Fiskars model that I prefer is no longer made.

L.L. Bean "Lakewashed Five-Pocket Khakis" - cut like jeans but very lightweight cotton. These are great for dancing, much cooler than jeans.

Ebooks apps for smartphones - I used a Kindle ebook reader for a while. Then I tried reading an ebook on my phone. I never used the Kindle again. The phone is light, always with me, and now the screens are big enough to be very useful for books. All of the reader apps that I have tried (Kindle, Nook, Google Play, Kobo) have annoying bugs or are missing features that I would like. Amazon constantly adds new features and new bugs to their Kindle app - I gave up on it a while ago. I am using Google Play Books.

PDair phone belt cases - leather, good fit to specific phones, fixed belt clip (the rotating belt clips always die quickly). They last for more than a year of constant use, for me.

Free42 - a smartphone HP 42S calculator app. The last HP calculators that I owned died of cheapness with very little use. Free42 is excellent and free.

NHT loudspeakers - whenever I heard NHT loudspeakers in other people's home they impressed me as sounding natural. I finally got a pair with subwoofer - very nice. (Now my hearing is so bad, it doesn't really matter what loudspeakers I have.)

Solid state computer "disks" - they are silent and fast!

Silentpc.com - silent PCs - no fan and a solid state disk. What an improvement! Plus you can get one with Linux ready to run.

Wrist cuff blood pressure monitors - these are much easier to use and less annoying that arm cuffs. They are finally showing up in doctors' offices. But they are typically used incorrectly - read the instructions. My Omron doesn't start up until it is at heart level - how does it know?

Memory foam mattresses - I love them, but I don't like memory foam pillows.

I am so glad that LED lights have replaced fluorescent lights. I hated the spiral bulbs and the slow turn on of compact fluorescents and the buzzing of big fluorescent drivers.

Geared violin pegs (I prefer Wittner) - they don't slip due to temperature changes.

Zarelon synthetic violin bow hair - IT DOES NOT BREAK!

High capacity batteries for cordless electric dremel tool, vacuum cleaner, screw driver. What a treat, no cord to plug in, no cord to get in the way, no cord to put away. And a recharging station so you know exactly where the thing is when you need it.

WHERE HAVE YOU GONE?

Original Glide dental floss - the current Glide breaks constantly.

Various running shoes, but the designs only last for a year and are replaced, often with an unrelated and inferior design concept. And virtually all running shoes are UGLY.

Casio F-28W - an inexpensive wristwatch with recessed buttons. I could take off the band and carry it in my pocket. The recessed button weren't automatically pressed when I sat down. Why doesn't someone make a small pocket watch?

Classic IBM / Lexmark keyboards - superb buckle spring keys. Mine would have lasted for my entire life but the keyboard to computer link kept changing.

Honda CRX - what a great car, but too small to be safe in today's world of trucks and SUVs.

2017-12-07

Plug-in Hybrid Cars

Plug-in Hybrid Cars

First, let me say, I can't see owning an electric only car. They take too long to charge and there is insufficient infrastructure to use one effectively on a long trip.

But a plug-in hybrid could be used as I typically use my car. In town all week, short trips. I could generally avoid any gasoline use. Long trips on the weekends, hybrid mode, mostly on gasoline. This would give excellent efficiency during the week, using electric with no engine warmup issues. And it should give excellent efficiency on the weekends, acting as a hybrid.

For those of you concerned with recharging from a coal fired power plant - I have read and I believe that the efficiency of the electric mode results in less carbon dioxide emission than hybrid mode even when recharged from a coal fired power plant.

I have narrowed the choice to the most recent plug-in hybrids - Chevrolet Volt, Toyota Prius Prime, Hyundai Ioniq Plug-in.

CHEVROLET VOLT - it appears that they have optimized the Volt for electric mode and forgotten hybrid mode. 41 mpg in hybrid mode - that's about 10 or 15 mpg below where it should be. But in return, you get a 0-60 time of 7.5 seconds - pretty good.

9 gallon gas tank, with a one gallon reserve that's 320 miles - not enough. How about replacing the 50 mile battery with a 25 mile battery and increasing the gas tank to 12 or 15 gallons.

The Volt needs work on its aerodynamics. The drag coefficient is .29, 21% higher than the Prius Prime. That says styling counts more that efficiency. Drag coefficient helps predict gas mileage above the speeds that the EPA uses for testing. The Volt is a poor 41 mpg on the highway and when going 90 mph instead of 70 mph the aerodynamic drag is increased by 65%.

Ground clearance - not specified - grr. After an inquiry, Chevrolet says 3.5 inches. That's ridiculous unless they are referring to a rubber air dam under the front bumper. Sigh.

Chevrolet says that cloth seats are available, but their build a car web site won't let me select them - grr.

The TOYOTA PRIUS PRIME is ugly, not the shape, but the details. But the drag coefficient is .24, so I'll let that pass. It is much more efficient than the Volt in hybrid mode, 54 mpg. And the gas tank holds 11 gallons. With a one gallon reserve that's 540 miles. People think I'm crazy for wanting a long range between fuel stops, but I hate gas stations.

The battery is good for 25 miles - plenty for me.

But a 4.8 inch ground clearance - not enough. And 10.9 seconds 0 to 60? That will get you around town, but it's not good enough to compete on the highway.

The HYUNDAI IONIQ PLUG-IN specifications are pretty much the same as the Prius Prime, but it looks a lot better. And the ground clearance is 5.5 inches! Still, I can't see trying to go up some of the long hills that I drive, getting stuck behind big trucks or being a left lane nuisance.

Hyundai has much less experience with electric integration in cars than Toyota and Chevrolet. The Ioniq is a first generation, first year car. I don't know if I would trust it even if it met all of my preferences.

So that leaves nothing for now.

Maybe a new Camry Hybrid with new and improved ugly (marketed as "bold" by Toyota) and a shrunken gas tank. It has great specs and a solid history. But I prefer something smaller.

Mazda says they will introduce the 2019 3 with a compression ignition gasoline engine. No electric stuff, but 25% improvement in efficiency. Diesel-like fuel mileage on gasoline. Simpler than a hybrid, no battery manufacturing issues. Maybe I will wait and see if they produce.

The Voice

The Voice

Time to lighten up a bit. It's Tuesday. I like to have the TV on while I'm working on the computer. On Tuesday there is nothing of interest on the TV. I guess I'll see if there is any good singing on The Voice. This is the latest big singing competition (not that it's new - several years old). Here goes (this is based on my past experiences as well as tonight).

I have never seen such ugly haircuts anywhere else. Maybe I haven't looked.

I don't understand why they do singing contests with the opponents singing a duet with each other. I don't have the slightest care how someone sings a duet with their opponent.

I am amazed at some of the boring song choices. I guess they stress the singer's abilities.

The judges/coaches think every performance is fabulous. Where is SIMON COWELL? He is desperately needed. (Simon Cowell is the mean/honest original American Idol judge.)

The real problem with this and other singing competition shows is that there are huge numbers of great voices, but not very many that belong to someone with good taste in music. I would much rather hear a limited voice sing a great song than hear a great voice sing junk. A great singer and a great voice are not the same thing.

And I don't understand why people want music video performances rather than performances of music (this happens in the later stages of the competition, as I recall).

I guess I'll switch to an old Andy Griffith show - Hmm, Barney's interrogation of Otis isn't bad.

2017-11-30

Government

Government

I am avoiding political ideology in my blog (so far), but there are some aspects of government that are not about how to run a country but are about how to run a government. The topics below are, to my mind, not about ideology. I can't see how anything here fits on the left/right spectrum. But they are bound up in the Democrat/Republican duopoly.

I expect that you will shoot my proposals full of holes. That's okay with me, as long as you realize that what we are doing in the USA is not working and something needs to change. Being wedded to the Constitution and tradition will not fix the problem, in part because people have found ways to read anything that they want into the Constitution and in part because the Constitution does not look forward to our current society and technology.

CONGRESSIONAL BUDGETS

It is clear that Congress cannot control the amount of money that it spends. The budget should be prepared in points. When the allocation of points is done, the points would be scaled to the income of the previous year (so no cheating on projections). Regardless of the number of points allocated, the budget would be balanced. Or it could be unbalanced by a separate law that specifies a percentage deficit or surplus.

This cannot include contractual payments, such as interest on the national debt and Social Security payments. It should include entitlements. Entitlements (welfare, Medicaid for example) are not obligatory and should only be paid as the government can afford them.

Furthermore, funds collected by law enforcement agencies, national parks, etc. should be passed on to the treasury to prevent unethical generation and use of the funds.

VOTING

The common election in the United States is - one time vote, the plurality wins. This warps the election and helps ensure two party control as voters are more concerned about blocking bad candidates than electing good candidates. It is subject to gaming - want to ensure the election of a right wing candidate - just make sure that there are two left wing candidates to split the left wing vote. And is not "majority rules".

The fix - easy and used a lot in other places - vote in rounds, first candidate with a majority wins, eliminate all but two candidates after round one.

It would also be good to have a "no acceptable candidate" on every ballot. If "no acceptable candidate" wins, a new election is held, with all current candidates are excluded.

There are other possibilities for voting, but we (the USA) have chosen, perhaps, the worst.

That still leaves us with a bunch of uninformed and easily mislead voters, biased and uninformed news sources, and external influences.

How about some one on one debates? Put two candidates in the same room without a moderator and televise them. Each would have a microphone, but only one microphone would be active at a given moment. Each candidate would have, for example, a total of one hour of microphone time. A candidate would ask a question and flip the active microphone switch. The other candidate would respond and flip the switch. When a candidate's hour ran out, the other candidate would take his/her remaining time. Then maybe two minutes each to finish.

A candidate could bring along an assistant to look up facts, but only the candidate would have a microphone.

The camera should be stationary to avoid camera bias and show the actions of both candidates and advisors at all times.

CHALLENGING CONSTITUTIONALITY

As I understand it, someone must demonstrate imminent harm by a law, executive order, or regulation to have standing in a lawsuit that challenges Constitutionality. But it isn't just a matter of harm, it's a matter of proper functioning of the government. Congress, the president, or any state government should be able to request a quick judgement from the Supreme Court to address laws, executive orders, regulations, and non-enforcement of laws.

And I don't understand why the court judgements take so long. Why can't an issue be resolved within a week after arguments are presented?

DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE

The way it's supposed to work - the Congress makes laws, the Department of Justice enforces the laws. The way it works - the Congress makes laws, the Department of Justice enforces the laws that the President likes. Why? Because the Department of Justice is part of the executive branch.

Congress makes the laws and sets up the rules that allow the executive branch to implement the laws and extend the laws via regulation and executive order. It seems to me that congress should oversee the Department of Justice to enforce the laws that they authored. Or possibly it should be a separate branch of goverment.

SUPREME COURT

Politics has entered the Supreme Court. Decisions are made for political reasons and then justified by (mis) interpreting the Constitution. I think this is obvious from the voting patterns - four votes on the left, four on the right, and a decisive vote in the middle. How can a group that is just interpreting the Constitution repeatedly yield this pattern.

If it's going to be political, we aren't doing a very good job of choosing justices to represent the people.

Let's try this - every five years, four or five justices are elected in a nationwide election. The election is in two rounds. The first round narrows the candidates to eight or ten. The second round selects four or five justices. Everyone gets one vote in each round.

A candidate would need 12.5 or 10 percent in the first round to guarantee a move forward. And 25 or 20 percent in the second round to be elected. Any more votes for that person would be wasted. So candidates could form groups. Any unneeded votes to a candidate would be reassigned to other candidates in the group as needed to move as many of those candidates forward as possible.

This would yield a wide range of views among the winners. In the case of five winners, it would take just one fifth of the voters working as a political group to ensure a representative on the court.

Note that this is just an initial proposal. I suggest a lot of simulation to work out kinks in this voting system.

This direct election of the justices would separate the selection of justices from the president. If you are trying to select a president to handle an incredible variety of jobs, why would you add selecting Supreme Court justices to the mix? That warps the presidential election.

Do you think that this would turn the Supreme Court into a political battlefield? It already is, and the wrong people are in charge of selecting the players.

CONGRESS

Voting for representatives by location was necessary in the past, but no longer. Politically oriented modification of voting districts is a recipe for corruption. How about if we have forty senators and eighty House of Representatives members. Ten senators and forty House members would be elected every two years. The elections would be nationwide, in two rounds, with the first round first narrowing the candidates to twenty for the Senate and eighty for the House. The final round would select ten senators and forty House members. Everyone gets one vote in each round.

A candidate would need only 5 (Senate) and 1.25 (House) percent in the first round or 10 and 2.5 percent in the second round to guarantee a move forward. Candidates could form groups and any unneeded votes to a candidate would be reassigned to other candidates in the group as needed to move as many of those candidates forward as possible.

Now you would need a ten percent political group to ensure a senator and 2.5 percent group to ensure a House member. There are no districts or gerrymandering to get in the way of representation.

The reduced size of the two houses of Congress would contribute to improved decision making, but they are still big enough to be representative of the multidimensional political spectrum.

POLITICAL PARTIES

The Democrats and Republicans have become entrenched and far too powerful. And they fail to meet the needs of many people. For example where does a fiscal conservative, social liberal go? Where does one who just wants to get rid of the current power structure go?

The two party system is not part of the Constitution. But the Constitution set up the environment that allowed it to evolve and take over.

The voting concepts for the Supreme Court and Congress, above, would have an dramatic effect on political parties. A group of twenty percent of the population would have access to the Supreme Court. A group of ten percent would have access to both houses of Congress. Small parties would become useful, getting a foothold in national politics, and becoming an organization that can grow.

PERVERSE INCENTIVES

Any government program that receives or pays money, should be set up to avoid counterproductive incentives.

If a program subsidizes something - food, income, health insurance - a step in income should never result in losing more subsidy than the increase in income - that's incentive to remain dependent.

An increase in income should never result in a reduced after-tax income.

CONSTITUTION

Regardless of how well you think the Constitution could work, assuming that it was interpreted correctly and followed, it set up the environment that produced our current mess. So I have no problems suggesting changes, as noted above.

Since I've opened the gate, one more change - why not get rid of the Senate or House of Representatives. I can't see how having two houses of Congress instead of one has any benefits. And the bill reconciliation process is used to obscure legislative tricks.

And the Constitution could use some more precise language, at least in some of the amendments.

AWFUL ACRONYMS

A side note - POTUS and SCOTUS are possibly the ugliest acronyms that I have ever encountered. How do I get people to stop using them?

2017-11-24

User Interfaces

Modern Computer and Phone User Interfaces

User interfaces - what happened to ergonomics? It's been replaced by PRETTY GRAPHICS, TRICKY SHORTCUTS, and CONSTANT CHANGES.

Graphics user interfaces reached their peak usefulness around Windows XP. A simple two (or three) dimensional menu at the top of the window. After learning an application's menu, you could find a needed function quickly and easily. Some of the menu items had keyboard shortcuts, noted on the menu. The right mouse button invoked a menu of often used functions.

Office 2007, I think, introduced the ribbon and a horrible new interface for graphs in Excel. The ribbon is just a funny looking free form menu where the items are not clearly delineated. And they moved everything. I wasted hours searching for function that I could get to very quickly in previous versions. And on the Excel graphs, you have to specify a myriad of details that defaulted nicely in earlier versions. And for what improvement in function? NOTHING.

Icons - as often suggested, a picture is worth a thousand words. But an icon is worth about one word - IF you can figure it out. Why do people think it's easier to understand the meaning of a simplified American house than the word "home"? Especially now that the word home is easily replaced by the equivalent in whatever language has been specified by the user. Why does three horizontal bars mean a menu? Why does a picture of a globe mean notifications? Why did we advance from the abacus to the computer, just to regress from words to hieroglyphs.

And how do you help or get help over the phone - how do you specify an icon by word? "Click the menu icon." "Which one is that?" "The one with three horizontal bars." "Why didn't you just make a button named menu?"

Why do people like grid menus? It is much easier to scan a list menu that a grid - much less eye movement.

Menu choices should not move unless specified by the user. I expect to find a given menu item at the same place on the menu every time I open the menu. If the menu choices move (based on how often they a used), they are not where I expect them and I have to search. The time saved by having a menu choice at the top versus bottom of the menu, given ordinary mouse control of the cursor, it essentially zero. Worse, when you are looking for an unknown second level menu choice, and the top level menu changes, it is very confusing to do an exhaustive search of the menus. This is a regular occurence on tabbed menus with two lines of tabs, because typically an upper tab becomes a lower tab when chosen.

Hover action - this is web page issue. When the cursor is over an ad, name, etc. the browser will display information about the ad, name, etc. Naturally it does that right on top of what I am currently reading. I didn't specifically put the cursor on the ad, I just shoved it aside to get it away from what I was reading. Web authors - please don't interrupt me when I don't ask for it. Hovering is not asking for anything.

Gestures on touch screens make fine shortcuts for those who want to take the time to learn them (and then relearn when things change in the next version of the software). But for those who haven't seen the documentation, there is no indication that a gesture is needed and, sometimes, no way to invoke a function without the gesture. You should have access to all function via menus.

And you should be able to turn off gestures. Google Play for books - I often try to turn the page and accidentally do some unknown gesture that magnifies the text about 5x. Then pinch to get it back to the normal size. What a pain. In Dolphin browser (on average, way better than Chrome or Firefox) I will scroll down a long page, only to find that the last scroll sends the page off the screen, irretrievable. Then I have to reload the page. I don't know what gestures I've done to cause this and I can't find an option to turn it off.

Squeezable sides, pressure sensitive touch screen buttons - how are you going to communicate to the user what these do and how are you going to handle situations where they are invoked accidentally? And why are they needed?

Blinking cursors, blinking anything on a screen, are very distracting. Some people (me for one) cannot concentrate on an application's function while something is blinking on the display. It is an ongoing series of interruptions. I can't edit text while a cursor is blinking. I can't play a game while an advertisement is blinking.

Full white on all displays that I have ever seen is painful. But if you turn full white down, the other colors become too dark. There needs to be a way to darken full white easily.

Is there anything more idiotic than the Windows Registry? Take all of the user settings for every program on the computer and put them in one place - incomprehensible, uneditable, unmovable. When you update the operating system or the registry gets corrupted ALL of your settings are gone. Is it any wonder that people don't want to update the operating system or switch computers - it takes days before you are up and running again. This replaced INI files - attached to their application, editable with any text editor, easily scanned to find and set available options, easily saved and copied for use with new versions of the program. Why did such a simple and effective system get replaced with such garbage?

Mice could be vastly improved, but no one bothers. How often would you like to move the cursor only vertically or horizontally? A simple button on the mouse could be set to handle that. How often do you want a very low cursor movement to mouse movement ratio for detailed cursor movement? A simple button on the mouse could be set to handle that. Why don't computer companies give us useful function instead of useless features?

Laptop computer touch pads - why are they in the middle? I'm right handed - I want it on the right. Other people would benefit from having it on the left. It can't be hard to make it movable or optional. Instead, it sits in the middle, on EVERY laptop computer that you can buy, and causes HELL from accidental touches.

And most important of all - STOP CHANGING THINGS for no good reason. Why do you think that I want to relearn a device's user interface every year? Maybe you can speed up the interface by 10% (or maybe not). But it is likely that I will spend more than that learning the new interface. Why do you think we still have QWERTY keyboards? It's not because it's the most efficient. It's because we don't want to learn a new interface. (We even use it on those horrible little phone keyboards where touch typing is impossible.) Why don't you spend your time fixing bugs and filling in basic function instead of changing the user interface?

Linux

Linux

For those who don't accept Apple's monopoly on hardware for their OS and Microsoft's ridiculous policies and practices on Windows, there is Linux. Linux is functional and has an incredible array of free software - some great, some okay, some not good enough. Sometimes you have to get Windows software and run it under a Linux Windows environment.

I have used Linux now for a couple of years. I settled on Ubuntu with the LXDE desktop. Not bad once you get it configured.

If the Linux establishment wants to take over the desktop, it will have to be done with ONE desktop, not fifty. And that one will need to not be missing important features.

I tried many desktops before settling on LXDE. They typically had one disabling problem, usually a missing function or bug. One of them (Cinnamon) was great except that it disabled hardware acceleration for the display. This made OpenSCAD (3D design program) unusable. I couldn't find a fix (that worked). LXDE has one big problem - no central application for configuration. I can live with this. And it has one big advantage over all of the others - the CPU monitor on the panel (that's the control bar at the bottom of the screen) makes it easy to see what is going on with the CPUs. This lets me run another app while OpenSCAD is building a model and I can see on the CPU monitor when it is done. One strange quirk - it takes three packages to install - lxde, lxde-common, lxsessions-logout. This is only documented on obscure web pages that you find upon realizing that just installing lxde doesn't get the job done.

LXDE, and other desktops that I have tried, need an simple icon maker that just puts a couple of words in a small image, to be used as a user chosen icon. I used a paint program to do this and have my word based icons in a number of places, most importantly on the panel, where they are used to invoke important applications. For the file manager, for example, I use "Files" "home" on one icon. It brings up the file manager in my home folder. Very useful.

The command to unmount a USB disk from the Linux terminal is "umount", NOT "unmount". This is one of the worst ergonomic nightmares that I have ever encountered. The human brain works on word shapes and meanings, not spelling. When you want to know how to unmount a disk and you see the word "umount", the typical human brain (well, mine anyway) corrects this to "unmount". This, inexplicably, does not work.

Internet help for Linux is horrible. The typical answer to a question has no date, no software version numbers, and plenty of arcane terminology to help you try to fix the issue. If you understand the fix, it is still likely to not work. Not only do support packages have to be installed for many applications, they have to be the right version of the support package. And the support packages need the right support packages. There are automated installer packages to help with this. Often they work. When they don't work, you need a Linux expert to find the problem. Not good enough.

Two essential features of Microsoft Excel in an engineering environment are Solver and Visual Basic. The OpenOffice Solver is useless. I haven't tried Basic in OfficeCalc because I haven't needed it.

Fortunately for Linux users, there is a good way (maybe more than one) to run some Windows programs on Linux - Wine. Wine creates a Windows environment from which you can run many Windows programs. It isn't perfect but if the Windows program is developed with Wine in mind, it can be very good. (I am writing this on my Windows text editor under Wine.)

One of the neat things in Linux is that the file managers can access networked computers that are running a secure shell server. Windows can access secure servers but only through a special program such as WinSCP, not File Manager. I run SSHelper on my Android phone then access it from the LXDE file manager (PCManFM). This can also be done via an FTP server, but that is not secure. Well - Android 8 broke SSHelper, so until it's fixed I must use an FTP server. (For security, I have my WiFi router set up to only allow my own devices on the network.)

I have a large tips file to help me remember how to do things in LXDE/Ubuntu. If people ask, I will post it here.

As Microsoft becomes stupider and stupider, Linux needs to get its act together so people will have somewhere to turn.

2017-11-17

Olympic Sports

Olympic Sports

Walk racing? - as I understand it, this is a race where the participants must always have one foot touching the ground. Is there actually a reason to determine who can travel a distance the fastest while always touching the ground? Seriously?

There is a classic joke about running. Let's see how it translates into walking. Two hikers are walking through the woods and stumble upon a large bear looking hungrily back at them. Already well shod in walking shoes, the first starts walking away. The second says "Why bother? You can't out-walk that bear." The first replies "I don't have to out-walk the bear, I just have to out-walk you."

Swimming - I understand why you might have a race to see who can travel a certain distance in the water in the shortest time. But why is the stroke that you use important? The freestyle races, as I understand it, do not limit the stroke, and the result is that everyone uses the front crawl. To me, these are the only races that matter.

Shot put - again why is it important how you throw the thing? Throw it any way you like and see who can throw it the farthest.

Veledrome one on one bicycle races - I haven't watched them in a long time because they are so stupid, so maybe this has changed. Aerodynamics are so important that it is much preferred to be behind the leader so that you can "slingshot" ahead just before the end. So the cyclists stand around doing nothing or moving very slowly at the start until one thinks they have an advantage. Why not start on opposite sides of the track?

Table Tennis - I loved playing table tennis when I could do it without pain. I was terrible at it - poor hand/eye coordination, slow reaction time. And I was worse in tournaments - I fall apart in competition. Starting around 1970, I think, the game changed due to innovative paddle surfaces - tacky for incredible spin, slick to not impart spin, everything in between, and long pips for unpredictable spin. It became a game of deception that I couldn't even begin to handle. In tennis, facing a pro's serves, I would be lucky to not end up in the hospital, being unable to get my racket up in time to protect my body. But at least I could predict the trajectory of the ball after I had watched it get to the net. Table tennis, the ball gets to the net then hits the table, I have no idea where it's going, and if I manage to get my paddle on it, I have no idea where the ball is going next. I don't know how, but it needs to be fixed.

High jump - these athletes amaze me. Clearing a bar eight feet high. That's one or two feet above the top your head. Incredible. At my peak physical condition, I could probably have cleared four feet. But of also of interest, no one tells you how to jump. Why don't they have separate events for belly up or back up? Because that would be stupid.

Other track and field athletes are amazing too. For example, the pole vault adds a pole and balance skill. Long jumping is good, but just doesn't impress me like high jumping. Running is a great sport but most of the running events take a while to watch - I have a pretty short attention span. (Why doesn't each running event have four different running styles, freestyle, running backward, one legged, and sideways?)

Judged sports - gymnastics, figure skating, diving, a lot more that I can't think of, can be beautiful and fun to watch. But the winner is chosen by the judges, not by a true technical measurement. I know that the judges have technical points to score. But the fact that they end up with different scores means that the score is not accurate. That leaves a bad taste in my mouth.

How many different kinds of wrestling and one on one fighting are there at the Olympics - a lot, as I recall. If you have to limit how you can fight, it's not a real fight. Put two people in a ring and let it go until one gives up (or can't get up).

Of course most of the participants are impressive athletes. But if you want to show me that you are a world class athlete, then participate in a sport that has the best athletes. Basketball or track, not race walking, ice skate racing, diving. Well, I still won't really care, it's just entertainment and advertising.

The opening and closing ceremonies - is there anything more boring than these ceremonies? Perhaps they could score each country's participation for boredom and give out three more medals.

2017-11-09

Yahoo and Facebook

Yahoo and Facebook

YAHOO

I am stunned. Every weekday for many years, I would go to Yahoo Finance, bring up a list of investments, export the end of day quotes to a CSV file (spreadsheet), copy it into a personal spreadsheet and display the current value of my assets.

But now Yahoo has deleted the export function. Why? Because people used it - "It has come to our attention that this service is being used in violation of the Yahoo Terms of Service. As such, the service is being discontinued." I thought I would explain to them that this is a unique and useful service. I have found no other company that offers this function. But I cannot find any feedback mechanism to explain this to Yahoo (I don't think this blog counts).

Incidentally, Yahoo, if you are wondering why business is bad, "Yahoo" is the dumbest web name that I have ever encountered. Look up the definition - "a boorish, crass, or stupid person".

FACEBOOK

Facebook for the desktop is an ergonomic nightmare.

"Return" ("Enter") is almost universally used for "new line" in editing text. But when writing a note on Facebook, it immediately sends the note. Facebook, are you trying to get me to embarrass myself by sending unfinished notes? Could you give me the option to turn this absurdity off.

Why can't I easily view hidden comments on discussions? You tell me how many new comments there are, but there is no way to view them without carefully showing every hidden section. Give me a button that displays an entire thread.

Hover windows - I'm reading a comment and the cursor happens to be on a name or picture. A couple of seconds later a window opens with information about that person. ON TOP of what I'm reading. This is ANNOYING. Why can't I turn it off?

Why can't I move the desktop messenger window? It covers things that I'm trying to read.

For a public group, why is a pinned post not displayed on a phone? If you need a post pinned to the top of a group, it needs to be there for everyone, not just the people on desktop computers.

Facebook sent me this notification not long ago - "Your new notifications are now sorted to help you see what's most important to you." Upon clicking on "Learn more" - "These notifications are listed by how relevant we think they are to you, so they may appear to be out of order." You think you know more about what is relevant to me than I do?

What is the difference between a Page and a Group? I don't know. I don't care. Why don't you have a "Organization" page that people can configure to their needs?

Why does Facebook block me from getting Facebook messages on my phone via my browser? And why does it no longer include the message text in the email notification. The Facebook Messenger app is ANNOYING - I will not keep it on my phone.

"Good afternoon, Cary!" - why do I care if Facebook wishes me a good afternoon? Why can't I turn this off?

AT LAST (October 2017) - instead of "Works at Retired", it says "Retired". "Works at Retired" had annoyed me for a year and a half.

Upon proofreading the above, I noticed a trend. I seem to be easily annoyed. Or maybe Facebook's software really is awful. Do the software engineers use this software? Perhaps they have their own special version and like to inflict pain on the rest of the world.

2017-11-03

Sports

Some of the rules of various mainstream sports are just dumb.

Free throws in basketball. So you get fouled - why are you forced to take a free throw? Why not give the fouled team the option to just keep the ball? This would cut out all of the ridiculous end of game stop the clock and force a free throw nonsense.

Golf - why do you get to have a different club for every situation. Let the golfers show their skill by being limited to five clubs. Or maybe use all the clubs you want but you have to carry (not cart) them yourself.

Tennis - the serve is an overwhelming advantage. Why do you get two chances at each serve? If the server only had one chance then much of the advantage would go away.

Soccer - how is it a contest if no one can score? Increase the goal size until scoring becomes a regular event. Then you will see who is consistently better at scoring. It's not about boredom, although this would help. It's about measuring skill. How have you measured skill if the vast majority of the drives end with nothing? One team could get 10 good shots at the goal, the other never able to cross midfield - score 0 to 0, a tie - huh? Same game but the goal is two feet wider - score maybe 5 to 0 - now the score reflects the game.

Hockey - I'm pretty sure that hockey is just soccer on ice with sticks. Same fix applies.

American football - if you throw the ball down the field and don't catch it, why should you get to keep the ball? Seems to me that a pass should be the same as a fumble. Go ahead and throw the ball - if no one catches it, it is up for grabs. That gets rid of a lot of judgment calls by the refs and it makes a lot more sense to me.

Baseball - I haven't figured out how to make baseball any less boring. But reducing the number of games in a season would make each game much more of an event.

Tie games - choosing winners in a tie game - what a mess. Long overtimes, endless overtimes, changes to the concept of the game. Two soccer teams play to a tie. Then the winner is chosen by kickoff? What does that have to do with the game?

My suggestion is that you start the game with the tiebreaker, integrated into the game.

For timed games (basketball, football, etc.), if you score first in a game, and that game ends with a tie score, you win. No overtime. Not only is it simple, the team that is behind knows exactly what it needs to do to win.

Golf - the first person to take the lead at the end of any hole owns the tie breaker.

This might even be interesting in chess - the first person to take a piece that is not followed on the next move by the opponent taking a piece owns the stalemate breaker (a new strategy would be to take the first piece even if it gives you a disadvantage, then play for the stalemate).

Baseball, the first team that has a lead at the end of an inning owns the tie breaker.

Maybe a lot of this wouldn't help anything, but to me, at least it would help the rules make sense.

2017-10-27

Cars

I want a car with all of the modern safety features - pre-collision braking, lane departure warning, blind spot warning. And luxury features - adaptive cruise control, automatic bright lights, electric seat adjustment, heated seats, leather wrapped steering wheel.

BUT -

I will not buy a car with a sunroof/moonroof. Every sunroof that I have owned has either leaked or rattled (Volvo, Acura, BMW, Honda). They take up an inch or more of headroom and add, as I recall, about fifty pounds at the worst possible location (for center of gravity). Yours doesn't leak? - wait until the drain clogs. Then they will need to remove the carpet to dry it out or risk permanent mildew. Then they will have to avoid oil spots on the carpet and get it back in correctly. Good luck. I won't be taking that chance.

Leather seats? - no thanks. They are hot in the summer, cold in the winter, and slippery. You can add a seat heater which does NOT solve the cold problem because it turns on after you sit down. You can add a seat ventilator which does NOT solve the heat problem because it turns on after you sit down. And worse, if the manufacturer decides to save money by heating the seats via the ventilator, the heating becomes useless - slow to turn on and not hot. I will not buy a car with leather seats. (Of course vinyl is essentially bad quality leather.)

Cars need ground clearance. I will not buy a car that scrapes speed bumps and driveway ramps and bottoms out on common potholes. Five inches minimum - six inches if I can get it.

A touch screen is a TERRIBLE user interface in a car. There is no tactile feedback. And with the typical small touchscreen buttons and vibration induced positional error, they take way too much visual attention and are way too easy to miss.

I hate gas stations. Give me a BIG gas tank.

Why can't you cool the car when it's parked in the sun. Heat rejecting glass might help, but it doesn't fix the problem. Why not have a fan to keep the interior cool?

I want a bumper on the front of the car. Don't give me an ugly grill that has no protective value.

When are we going to get a U-TURN signal on cars? More and more roads require u-turns to get where you want to go. And the u-turner has the right of way over a right turn on red across the street. But you can't signal a u-turn so you often get cut off from your turn.

And stop with the UGLY styling. I don't care how "bold" the styling is. I have to look at my car several times every day as I approach it to get in. I don't want to think "God that's ugly" every time - it puts me in a bad mood. And I don't care if all of your cars look the same or distinct. I want pretty. I want to think "that's a nice design" and get in feeling happy.

And NEW CAR STINK is NOT good. It is noxious and offensive. (I leave my new cars in the sun to heat the interior and bake out the new car smell as quickly as possible.)

What is the point of fog lights? I have never found them useful, even in fog. What a waste.

What happened to door ding strips? I don't like door dings - give me some protection.

I don't know if this is a common issue - it is on my 2012 Camry. When it's cold outside, the ventilation pipe, underneath the center cup holders and storage bin, heats anything above, ruining cold drinks and cooking anything in the bin. How about some insulation?

Again with my 2012 Camry - random mode for a collection of songs should not mean choose a song at random from the folder. It should mean sort the songs in a random order. There is a big difference. After I've heard half the songs, over half the time I'm getting a repeat song.

I have now given up on Volkswagen, Honda, Acura, Mercedes, BMW, and Volvo because, after buying one or two cars that were okay, they decided to stop making anything that I want (this covers 38 years of owning cars). Volkswagen - no more Scirocco, terrible reliability. Honda - no more CRX. Acura - no more Integra, horrible option choices. BMW - rain leaks, no ground clearance, attractive cars replaced with ugly. Volvo - no more S40, limited options.

I understand that I'm outside of the mainstream. Some companies used to market to niches. Why no more?

Does ANYONE want my business?

2017-10-20

About Me

For information about me see

www.ravitz.us
www.facebook.com/cary.ravitz

Cary Ravitz

Smartphones

Dear smartphone makers - DO YOU USE YOUR PHONES? They are getting worse and worse with every new model.

I use my phone, a Google Nexus 5X, for, in order of usage -
  • ebooks
  • portable music player - organized by folders, MP3s from CDs and Amazon, always with Apple wired earphones
  • phone calls - almost always with Apple wired earphones
  • calendar - synced to my Google calendar
  • portable email
  • text messaging
  • navigation
  • camera, calculator, news, stock market, etc.
HOW ARE THEY GETTING WORSE?

"Bezel-less" screens - How am I supposed to hold the phone without touching the screen if the screen goes all the way to the edge of the phone, or worse, curves around the edge? I need a border that is not an active part of the user interface - bottom and both sides.

Curved screen - Rounded edge screens do not handle screen covers well and screen covers have saved my screen many times.

No headphone jack - I prefer a headphone jack, but if you don't have one I can use the USB port - IF it is offset to the side so that I can plug in the headphones while the phone is in my (horizontal) belt case. If the USB port is centered, the phone won't sit in the case.

Voice assistants - The first thing I do when I get a new phone is turn off the voice assistant. I don't mind if you include them, but don't think they are a selling point, and don't make it hard to shut them off.

Odd interfaces such as squeeze - I don't want more interface mechanisms - buttons work. By button, I mean touch screen and physical. I don't want gestures - buttons work. I don't want phone motion moves - buttons work. I don't want pressure sensitive buttons - ordinary buttons work. Finger sliding scrolling is useful. Pinch/spread zoom is useful, especially when the web page hasn't disabled it. That's it.

Backlit LCD screens - these do not allow "always on" display of time, date. While they handle normal duties well enough, an always on display is a step forward. So don't think you're at the forefront of smartphones with a backlit LCD screen.

Android - why can't you set a mode where the notification line and bottom menu line are always shown and the apps must fit in the rest of the screen. (This would be a very good use of the new 2:1 ratio displays.)

Split screen, Android 8 insets - useless and annoying.

THEN YOU FAIL TO FIX PROBLEMS.

Volume - Some phone calls are too loud even when the volume is at minimum. Why is the volume range so limited?

White backgrounds are often too bright. Why can't I set a reasonable brightness level without turning off automatic brightness control?

Glossy screens have a terrible reflection problem. After market matte screen covers, in my experience, destroy the screen resolution. Why won't you spend a bit of effort to fix this with an anti-reflective coating or a high resolution matte surface. Matte screen colors aren't as saturated as glossy screens? That's true IF there is no reflection from overhead light - when does that happen?

Android 7+ - You killed all of the apps that turn off the display. The screen turns off but the fingerprint restart fails. It's still not working right in Android 8.

Android - why does Android preload useless apps. If you think it's useful to preload apps - ask me which apps are useful.

Every alarm clock and countdown timer app should have options to ramp up the alarm volume and automatically shut off the alarm after a specified time.

We need to be able to back off to a previous version of an app. All too often new versions of apps and operating systems break important function. But we are stuck with the new version.

Google Maps - the window size when navigating needs to be adjustable. It's so small that you have no clue where in the trip you are. How hard can it be to let the user specify a default size - miles, or percent of trip, or the rest of the trip would be useful.

Google Maps - alternate routes on the phone app are useless. On the desktop they can be adjusted. On the phone you just choose between bad alternates.

Google Maps - how about letting me optimize routes by: prefer interstate highways; prefer four (or more) lane roads; minimize stoplights; minimize turns. This would be a much better use of "artificial intelligence" than voice assistants.

Google Maps - how about letting me pause when I want to take a small break - gas, food, rest?

iPhone music - the last time I used iTunes, 2013 I think, it was on Windows and it was a horrible experience. But I only needed it for one thing - transfer MP3 music to my phone. Now that I use Linux, as I understand it, there is no iTunes, so an iPhone is not even an option for me. Why can't you fix this trivial issue? Let me download a file to the music folder.

Music players - music levels between songs don't always match. Why can't I set a volume bump for each song? I'm constantly adjusting the volume when listening to tune collections. Why is something so fundamental to music ignored while gimmicky features such as album covers and light shows are included?

SO WHY SHOULD I BUY A NEW PHONE? WHAT HAS IMPROVED?