I saw the Paris Protests today and I’m fine

So, I’m sure folks have heard the news about protests in Paris today. That did happen, and in fact I was right in the middle of it for a good part of the day. How could I miss the opportunity to take my camera into a real live protest? 2018-12-0145.jpg

The very short version is, yes, I was at the protests. Yes, there was tear gas and water cannons and lots of people moving around. There were really only a handful of instigators that were egging the crowds on to do damage, but that was enough.

I primarily stayed outside of the major crowds, but I had my camera with me the whole time. Pictures are here:

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And yeah, now I know what tear gas feels like. I don’t recommend it.

Back in the States for Thanksgiving

I’m back in the US for a week to celebrate Thanksgiving with my family. It’s already been a bit of a culture shock but I’m enjoying recharging my New England American needs, starting with my wife, upon seeing me at the airport, handing me an XL Dunkin Donuts French Vanilla coffee. Ahhh.

Lunch is a peanut butter and jelly sandwich (th French don’t do peanut butter. I missed it.)

Hopefully I can take this time to catch up on a few things before I head back to spend most of December in Paris.

Solved: Problems with WyzeCam Android Client

I’ve become a huge fan of the WyzeCam IP cameras. They’re small, very high quality, and have a very good mobile client to connect to them. But sometimes, the mobile client will refuse to start. It comes up with the startup screen, and never proceeds.

Searching around the Reddit and WyzeCam forums, many people have seen this happen, but there’s not a clear reason why.

I’ve had this happen on occasion on my Samsung S9+, and I’ve finally found a pattern – it’s quite simple actually.

On the loading screen, the client is making it’s initial connections to WyzeCam’s cloud services. But it’s quite common for providers, corporate networks, and sometimes even hotels or wifi hotspots to block connections to certain services. If the phone cannot connect to the cloud service, it will sit stuck at that startup screen forever, without ever doing anything.

I discovered this when my phone had connected to a mobile hotspot in the office which required authentication to start operating. The phone was connected, but could not reach the internet. The WyzeCam app was sticking at the opening screen. Once I completed the registration, and reloaded the Cam app, it came up super-fast.

I was able to duplicate this experience at a hotel stay recently as well. The local wifi was extremely crowded and performing extremely badly. The WyzeCam app was hanging at the startup screen again. As soon as I switched my phone from the WiFi to my carrier data, the screen loaded correctly!

I think Wyze could fix this very easily by giving some feedback on the loading screen, showing it’s trying to connect, and giving a timeout message if it fails after X amount of time. But for now, this frustrating behaviour is easy to understand and deal with.

Paris, end of Week 1

So it’s Friday, I have made it through my first week in Paris. All in all, things are going fine. My new apartment is comfortable and easy to deal with.  I’m quite close to the Metro station I use to get to the office (half a block), and the ride is about 20 minutes.  

I’ve mostly shifted sleep schedules (though for some incomprehensible reason, i couldn’t sleep well last night.  Not sure what was up with that).

I’m trying very hard to get as much French and city culture into me as possible, but I fall back on comfort food and headphones when it gets overwhelming.  There’s a lot of simple restaurants around the apartment that have been great for “tonight I’ll just have X” for food.  Supermarkets are no problem, though sometimes it’s hard to decipher food labels.

For example, milk. “Lait entier” is whole milk, “demi-écrémé” is the equivalent of 2% (it’s closer to 1.5, but whatever), and “écrémé” is skim.  Almost always sold in 1 liter bottles (I have yet to see the depth-charge sized GALLON milk jugs so prominent in the US.

There’s whole volumes of stuff I’m learning about paris, france, the people and the country.  So far I’m enjoying it, though I do miss home.  My coworkers are helping me enormously with my French, and if I can get more of that working, it’ll make the whole experience more rewarding.  I can feel myself learning the idioms and I feel like i’m on the edge of assembling comfortable dialog, but I’m still in the “groping for the right word” phase.  I’ll get there!

For map searchers, I’m living in the 15th arrondissment, which is on the western side of the city, about 8 blocks from the eiffel tower (which I can see outside my window every day).  I take the metro about 1/3 of the way across the city to go to work.  I haven’t missed having a bike or a car yet, though the electric scooters that so many people ride around may be a great way to get around.  For now, I’m sticking with the Metro (I have a full 5 zone pass that gets me anywhere in Paris and the surrounding areas, as many times as I like.  That’s a huge win).

Now that I’m relatively settled in, I’m going to start looking around for ‘things to do’.  Volleyball, pingpong, biking, music, art, longer walks – dunno, I need something to keep me active, otherwise I just work all day (this week has been pretty much steady 10-12 hour days).

I have another 4 weeks until I have family folk coming to stay with me.  I think it’ll be okay, if I can keep my brain occupied and not spinning off into lonely spaces.

Bye Bye Volt

Alas, all good things, etc etc.

Tonight I returned the Chevy Volt I leased three years ago. In the intervening time I drove 54,000 miles, at an average of 98mpg, using 550 gallons of gas. Had I continued with the Passat wagon I had before that, which got about 28mpg, I would have burned 1928 gallons. That 1400 gallons saved 28,000lb (14 tons) of CO2 from being emitted. That’s about a years worth of emissions for a fairly efficient house.

Nowadays I work full time from home, so my daily mileage has gone from 70-75 miles a day down to about 6. In a sort of weird reversal of history, where in the above article I lamented trading in my Jeep for the Volt, I now have a 2000 Jeep TJ as my only personal vehicle. Of course Mrs. Geek has a Subaru wagon, which we use for most errands, trips, etc, but the Jeep is mine, and I adore it.

I did have a reservation in to buy a Tesla Model 3 when they were available (which is now), but given the low miles I’m driving, and that I’m spending more and more time out of the country, it doesn’t make sense to have an expensive electric vehicle just sitting at home.

So here I am in mid-life with “nothing but an 18 year old manual truck in the garage”.

I’m okay with that.

Paris

I’ve been in Paris for the last couple weeks, spending time with the engineers I work with. It was a great trip, but I’m also happy to be home in my familiar surrounding… the busy-ness of my home, and the deep deep greens of a beautiful spring.

I spent 2 weeks at a hotel right on the Place de la République, which was an adventure in it’s own right. The Place is about 8.5 acres of open space in the middle of busy part of the city. There is ALWAYS something going on there. Could be demonstrations, could be parties, could be music, could be dancing… for the last weekend, there was a Biodiversity fair where they literally hauled in few acres of sod, grass and plants and make it into a small farm. Complete with cows.

For the last few days, Mariama joined me, and did the sightseeing thing, walking something like 20,000 steps a day for 3 days (OW MY FEET). Gotta admit, the Paris Métro was clean, fast, easy to understand navigate, and EVERYWHERE. You were always a block or three from a station.

I have tons and tons of stories to tell from the trip, too many to ramble about here. But, in my usual style, here’s a bullet list…

  • The Eiffel tower is really friggin huge.
  • Coffee in the EU is challenging for Americans. I stand by my tweet from a few months ago:

  • Did you know Paris is 6 degrees further north than Boston? Yeah, means it gets dark at 10pm around now. Surprise!
  • The French know to to make a damned tasty burger.
  • The French also really like smoking 🙁
  • Contrary to popular perception, most French are pleasant and open and charming. Sure I had my taste of a grumpy personality or two because my french is atrocious, but the VAST majority of people were happy to work a sort of mishmash of english and french that worked well.
  • I did find myself missing open green space. The city is very tightly packed stonework, asphalt, and cobblestone. When I spend more time there, I’ll definitely need a way to get out to the parks and trails outside the city.

I’ll be coming back in the fall… looking forward to it!

Internet Addiction is Killing Your Photography

There’s a wonderful post over on Petapixel (What? You’re not following them already? Get on that… seriously, they’re awesome, whether you’re a photographer or not)..Un petit coin de paradis...

Wait, what i was saying? Oh, right, the post. The post is about how internet addiction is destroying creativity. The author talks specifically about how it relates to photography, but the general case is true…

What I’m getting at in the headline is that the Internet is most likely the cause of your impotence when it comes to productivity. How many people pick up their smartphones and check something online or in an app in the morning, instead of picking up a camera and capturing a sunrise?

I bet 99% of us look at a smartphone before anything else in the morning. If only your first thought out of bed was “What photo will I capture today?” think about how much more you would achieve.

And he’s absolutely right.

Over the last couple weeks (and through being sick with a head cold the last 5 days), I’ve found myself almost breathlessly refreshing news.google.com and my Feedly page or whatever just to keep up the constant stream of input. And when I felt like doing something, it would have to compete with the information overload I was getting off the net. How can creativity thrive under this kind of mental onslaught?

I’m going to try and change things up. Move politics out of my “must check once an hour” need. Stop refreshing feedly to get the latest DailyWTF. I’m not a big social media wank, so Facebook, Twitter, etc are not my main distractions, so I can’t really put this under “i’m quitting social media for a while”. It’s more “I need to set priorities a little. This is not healthy for me.”

In the past I’ve done little life adjustments like this, and whether they stick long term or not, they do shift the balance a little, and nudging yourself out of a well worn groove isn’t a bad thing, even if it means things are a little shaky until a new smoother path is found.

Soylent’s New Flavors and My Weekend at a Con

This past weekend I made my yearly mecca to Arisia, the big SF / Fantasy convention in Boston. I’ve been going to Arisia for almost 25 years now, sometimes as a staff member, sometimes as a volunteer, but I haven’t missed an event since 1990, so it’s sort of ritual now.

Since making the decision to make Soylent a part of my diet, I’ve waxed and waned on how much I take in. Soylent regularly changes the ‘mix’ in it’s products, so that has impacted this as well.  The original version wasn’t particularly exciting, but did fill my belly.

A few weeks ago, Soylent announced 2 new flavors for their ‘2.0’ premixed drink. I’ve been enjoying the premix bottles for 6 months already, and the opportunity to have some new flavors for Arisia seemed like a great plan.  I’d tried the ‘coffiest’ flavor, but wasn’t impressed (I like my coffee super-sweet, and coffiest was bitterer than I like).

Soylent "ready to drink" food bottles, in all 4 flavors
Soylent “ready to drink” food bottles, in all 4 flavors

I ordered 2 case (one of Cacao and one of Nectar – 12 bottles each), and they arrived in time for the con. My plan was to cover half my food intake for the event just via Soylent.

Here’s my take on the new flavors. Note that nutritionally, these are no different than the stock 2.0 bottles. They’re just flavored.

  • Nectar – A subtle taste change. My partner thinks it tastes like rose water – a slightly sweet, flowery taste. Better than the stock 2.0 flavor (which is somewhat like a think vanilla shake), but not “MMMM, this is GREAT!”.
  • Cacao – This may turn into my new favorite drink. It has a rich chocolate taste – essentially a bottle of thick chocolate milk. I’m still trying to get past feeling guilty about chugging down a small chocolate milkshake, but this is one heck of a lot better for me than a Five Guys shake (and still only 400 calories).  The trick is thinking of these as ‘food’.  So not something I’m going to have WITH a burger, but INSTEAD of a burger.

Traditionally, keeping well fed at a convention is a challenge.  Hotel food tends to be expensive, and taking time out in the middle of an event to go get a meal can be frustrating.  It’s easy to fall back on cheetos and Dr Pepper, which does no one any good.  Having what amounts to the caloric equivalent of a Subway sandwich at hand, and requiring only the time it takes to chug down the bottle (I drink mine all at once) is pretty awesome.

I think the only thing we noticed is that you have to think of the Soylent bottles as food.  NOT drink.  Both of us found we needed lots of water or similar even though we had just downed 12oz of liquid.

Overall though, it was an excellent experience.  We stayed fed, it was tasty, and we didn’t need to spend major bucks on buying food, or making a mess mixing our own powders (like you do with Soylent 1.x). Highly recommended!

Revisiting Tethering

For the longest time I was stuck in a weird no-mans land regarding WiFi Tethering on my cell phone. I’m referring here to the practice of enabling a hot spot on the phone so other devices, such as a laptop, can share the data connection the phone is using. This is super-handy when in an area that either has no Wifi service, or the service is sketchy as hell.

Problem is, I had an Unlimited data plan with AT&T. And with that unlimited plan, hotspot service was not available.

A year or two ago I made the change and moved my data service to a family plan with a shared data pool. 5 gig a month spread over 4 phones. We haven’t come anywhere near that limit, even with some heavy duty usage, so all in all, a good choice. What I forgot though, was that by going to a metered billing structure, I was able to start using tethered mode.

My cell phone is a Moto X, aka a Moto X Pure Style.

Speeds over tethered wifi with my Moto X
Speeds over tethered wifi with my Moto X
I’m deliriously happy with it, so setting it up as a Wifi Hotspot would just bring it to a new level of functionality.

Enabling it was easy. I was initially worried about performance, but after connecting to it with my laptop and running Speedtest, the numbers are pretty good.
Working from my laptop over the tethered connection is just like sitting at home. I’ll need to set up a better “show how much data I’m using” mechanism, but right now, this is pretty cool.

I went Sailing Again.

Sailing on Boston Harbor
Sailing on Boston Harbor
This afternoon Zach and I took advantage of a Meetup group in Boston to go sailing on the ‘C’est si bon’, a 46ft Formosa out of Marina Bay, south of Boston. I’d sailed with Ralph before, but this was the first time I was able to go with my son Zach. It ended up being awfully hot, and not much wind, but as many have said before me, a bad day out sailing is better than a good day in the office. We had enough wind to take us from Marina Bay all the way to Deer Island and back again over around 5 hours.

We had a great time, and Ralph was as always a wonderful skipper. We had a crew of 6 total, which was just the right number of people, with skills ranging from newbie on up.

I ended up being completely wiped out by the trip, and once I got home, fell into a zombie-like sleep. I’m still sore and worn from 5+ hours on the water, but it was a great day out.

Pilot G-2 07 – The Best Pens Ever?

I’ll admit it. I hang out with geeks. But not just geeks who love computers or tech or whatever, but also writing geeks, library geeks, and, well, you get the idea. Among the literary circles, I’ve found people sometimes go on and on about a certain pen or pencil they love. This always mystified me, as to me, a pen is a pen, a pencil is a pencil, and the greatest amount of thought I put into the process is trying to figure out where I just put one down.

pilot gel pensAlas, I may have levelled up. I’ve moved into the realm of “This is something I really like”. About a year and a half ago I started writing a fulltime journal (on paper, sorry, no URL). Naturally, I used whatever pen I had lying around. Somewhere along the line I picked up a Pilot G-2 07 pen, and… wow. I found a pen that was comfortable, had a great flow to it, and looked good.

Have I finally gone off the deep end? I found myself two weeks ago placing an order with Amazon to keep a stock of these pens in my carrying bag, and at my desk at work. I have never, ever done this before (okay, qualified – I did it once for mechanical pencils, which I use when sketching out projects), and certainly never for a single style, brand, whatever of pen.

Maybe it’s the fact these are ‘gel pens’, which have a smoother stroke than your typical roller ball pen. That combined with a good feel (rubber grip, etc) just make them a joy to use.

I’m going on about enjoying using a certain pen. Definitely cracked.

RC Racecars are AWESOME.

Yeah, I’ve been pretty focused on drone racing, but this is pretty epic.

My first ‘radio control’ experience was building a Tamiya “subaru brat” model when I was in my 20’s, and that helped later when I started building drones. These cars are a little different, but the feeling is similar. Pretty nifty stuff.

2016 New England Auto Show

Yesterday Zach and I went to the New England Auto Show at the Boston Convention Center. it was right next door to Arisia, so we thought “what the heck, lets take an hour or two to go look at shiny cars.” He’d never been to a commercial car show before, so we trundled over.

2016-01-1717.jpgOn the way in, we ran the usual gauntlet of free coupons, surveys, and other marketing nitwits. The line to buy tickets was super-fast (literally walked right up to the next person selling), but someone had already stopped me in line “Hey, I bought an extra, want mine?” er…. sure! That was $15 not spent.

Once on the show floor it was acres and acres of carpeting with shiny cars and trucks parked on them. I realized quickly that Zach knew more about modern car lines than I did, so I let him identify some things. I helped out with things like “Yes, that really is a Bentley, and yes, they really do cost a quarter million dollars, and no, I can’t tell you why.”

There were some important wins that made the show worth while. I was able to look at the 2016 Volt, and in particular, whether I could fit in it (spoiler: yup). I also love that Chevy redesigned the Volt’s center console, which was a mess. That plus the new battery layout and longer range (about 53 miles on battery, as opposed to the 41-ish I get with my 2015) makes me want to see about changing my lease over.

Two other high points of the show. Zach has decided that his dream car is the Mazda MX-5 Miata. I’ll admit that when it first came out as the Miata 25 years ago, I was pretty taken with it. No way I could sit in it though. 2016-01-1715.jpgZach had never had the opportunity to ‘try one on for size’, so now was our chance. He fit! The soft top closed comfortably over him, and he was over the moon. If you’re going to be in love with a car, at least he’s picking a stylish, not stupidly over the moon expensive one.

The one other bit of fun we had was Zach was able to climb into a real live Modified-class track racecar. We were gaping at it when the owner said “Want to try it on for size?” “Not me”, I said, “But could he try?” I pointed to Zach and he said “heck yeah!”. So after some wriggling in through the window, he socketed into the drivers seat (which was conveniently sized about right for him), and he got a feel for what real racecars feel like.

All in all, a nice 2 hours spent with my son geeking about cars. For me, it was also a chance to try out my lovely new Canon 11-16mm ultra wide angle lens. Here’s the full gallery. This was my first time doing any decent work with such a short focal length, and I was pleasantly surprised with the results. I like it!

Visualizing Content Flow on Social Media

About two years ago, I re-launched this blog. Since then it’s become my primary “I gots stuff to say” mechanism. For quite a while I hoped Google Plus would reign supreme, but it’s become readily apparent that platform is buckling via “Death from a Thousand Cuts.” Google is destroying any hope it had of dethroning Facebook one feature at a time..

Realizing that, I put more effort into making Planet Geek my main sounding platform. I re-launched the site, imported all the old content into it, gave it a facelift, and started writing again. Sadly, with the most popular services not supporting RSS, just having the blog there means many people I’d like to keep in touch with simply won’t ever see the content. I needed a way to stay in touch with my friends, family, and social connections, without having to repost the same thing over and over and over again.

By far the industry leader is Facebook. I briefly considered using it as my primary soapbox, but I just can’t bring myself to subscribe to their “We will capture all the content, all the clicks, and all the users, and share none of it outside our walled garden” approach to media. The final straw is their constant tweaking of “We will only show you what we think you should see” (more rants on this in another post). So, no Facebook for me… so where should I go?

In the end, with respect to which social media platform I should settle on, I’ve chosen none of them, and all of them.

Planet-geek, running WordPress, is my go-to platform. I do 99% of my writing here, and whatever writing I have that passes for “creativity” is created using WordPress content tools. But that isn’t enough, is it? Our online social circles are fragmented and isolated. One group lives on Facebook, another lives on Livejournal, some are still on Plus, etc etc.  They would never see the posts unless I manually reposted either the entire article or direct links to everything I write.

socialmediaflow
Visualization of Social Medi

There’s no way to cover all the bases, so I’ve done the next best thing. I chose carefully where I create and publish content, but I’ve also built links that automatically share, if not the entire content, at least a notification to all the media channels I want to reach. I have to shout out to Nextscript’s SNAP tool for making this as painless as possible. SNAP (Social Network Automatic Poster) can link my blog to just about every social network out there. I’ve set up many links, and the tool works flawlessly.

But I do create content in other places. My photography needs a creative channel, and WordPress just isn’t the tool for it. So, Flickr and Instagram come into play. Wait, but sometimes I post to Twitter directly, what about that? Yeah, okay, that’s there too.  Fortunately, many of these sites (unlike Facebook) allow for external notification / sharing of content.  If I post a picture to Flickr, it has an automatic notification mechanism to Facebook.  Instagram does the same thing.  Sadly, Google Plus has none of these tools, and also has no easy API for posting content, so it tends to be the last thing updated (I need to do it by hand).

Thinking about this, I realized that my ‘communication flow’ would make a nice visual. The graphic above is a map of the public sites I use for social media / interaction. I’ve deliberately left off chat systems and email (I use IRC, Slack, Hangouts, Skype, and of course Email). For the most part, all these services notify me back via Email, so in theory, I should be able to just watch my inbox for interactions. A lot of times that doesn’t work so well.  Still working on that part!

This was a fun chart to put together. It shows the results of months of tool configuration, auto-linking, loop detection (yeah, don’t set up auto-posters to one service that is auto-posting back to the original), etc.

Am I missing anything? Let me know… er, on the blog if you can. 🙂

Sick.

Colds suck. Colds that aren’t really colds but just make your life uncomfortable suck. Colds that aren’t sniffly, but just something sitting in your throat making you sound like James Earl Jones suck… well, okay, the JEJ part doesn’t suck that much… kinda cool actually.

This has been rattling around since last Wednesday (5 days now). I’m at work, but have the energy of an overweight cat on a midsummer day. Just wanna lie around and meh.

Hopefully I’ll be back to full functionality soon. This cold has the weird pattern of a) I’m sleeping really well at night, and b) I want to eat CONSTANTLY. The latter is both good and bad. Good because I have an appetite and it makes me feel good when I eat. Bad because, well, yesterday I ate half a box of donuts. Hmm.

I’d like to be better soon, plz.