At peace with the news

At peace with the news – dove and olive branch

My father had a reputation as a very smart guy who, at the same time, was notoriously bad at taking care of his own health. He never exercised, he worked himself ragged, drank a fair bit, and smoked right up to the day the doctors put him on oxygen. Nevertheless, he also did a lot of things right, and – like any father’s son I suppose – I owe a great deal of who I am, to who he was.

As a kid I was lucky enough to be smart enough to appreciate Dad’s virtues as virtues, while understanding his vices were just vices. Any kid who’s paying attention has an opportunity to learn twofold from their parents, once by mimicking their strengths, and once again by seeing what doesn’t work, what not to do.

And so I grew into a man with my father’s appreciation of beauty, his love for nature and science, his decency and honesty, his eye for a good design and his love for anything that simply works. And an ability to tie a fast bowline. Conversely, I never smoked, I kept work and play in balance, I ate healthy, and I got outside for a run every day. These are all things I owe to my dad.

What’s this got to do with news? (more…)

January… February…

January... February...

January and February were nice months for Transrio. The New Year’s resolution released lots of happy energy. First off, I started right in doing pronunciation every morning first thing. New habits are cantankerous at first, but I did stick with it, and now it IS a habit, and something I enjoy. I made lots of improvements, natural of course whenever you’re doing something daily. I got fascinated by TTS (text to speech) and upgraded my Spanish voices to Rosa from Acapela, and Penelope from Ivona. The quality, on both these voices, is incredible. It really makes my morning practice a lot more fun. Good TTS voices cost $35-$45 apiece, (more…)

“What did I just do?”

"What did I just do?"

(Progress update, November/December)

Looking back over timecards, I see that the last two months of 2012 were singularly unproductive for Transrio. In particular, I never got around to following up the leads I had from the Farm Progress trip. Truth be told, I bogged down badly in gadgetry.

That happens sometimes. When it does, I always go easy on myself. Just like a chicken or a lobster in molt, any modern person needs to go through yet-another ugly duckling phase while they re-organize hardware and software for themselves. (Much as I would like to call it metamorphosis, it’s molting.) I recently read an interview with Kevin Kelly, founder of Wired Magazine; he was talking about his new book "What Technology Wants." I like him; I always enjoy hearing what he has to say. The one new thought that stayed with me from the interview was (and I’m paraphrasing here, because Kelly talks English, the article was Spanish, and this is back to English) he said (more…)

Ultralight writing gimmick

Ultralight writing gimmick

I’m used to writing with no keyboard; I’ve been doing it for years. But just recently I switched to writing, at least sometimes, without a computer. In fact I’m doing it right now. Total weight for everything is four ounces. Battery life, days. It feels like using a Kindle, except for writing instead of reading – Kindle being a device minimized for reading and nothing else, here’s a device minimized for writing, writing, and nothing but. I was pushed into it by my daughter Sally. She writes with one of these, and she told me I needed to try it out.

What is it? It’s called an Olympus DS 7000 voice recorder. It’s expensive, considering how simple it is, but it’s smoothly designed to work with Dragon, giving clear output of anything you dictate. You simply write something, by voice, and later you plug the thing into your main computer. Dragon takes it from there and types clean text.

I had to take Sally’s strong recommendation on faith; it didn’t seem like something I would really use. But now that I have it, it’s my favorite way to write. (more…)

KML – a little goes a long way!

A little KML goes a long way

At the end of my last post I signed off saying "What’s next for me? … KML." In my mind I pictured learning KML to be like learning HTML, i.e. quite a project. To my happy surprise though, KML is easy. It’s a friendly little critter!

Here’s what transpired. I was thinking about this new route up this mountain, then suddenly I thought "Why don’t I give it just ten minutes and see what happens? Who knows, maybe I’ll get lucky." Well big surprise, in ten minutes I was done! I drew the route on my big computer Joe, moved it onto my little tablet Flaco, and got it to open in all three of my Android map apps. It being the weekend, we packed along the little path with our candy bars etc, and took the hike. That’s all there was to it. Hiking on the real mountain the route was anything but obvious, but following the little pre-made path and the blue dot, we stayed on track easily.

KML stands for Keyhole Markup Language. Keyhole was originally the company Google bought in 2004 so that they could own the knowhow which quickly became Google Earth and Google Maps. (more…)

The Blue Dot

Screenshot from Google Earth, Blue Dot beside Juniper

Last week, in a fit of simplifying and a leap of faith, I threw away my topo maps. Maps that had been carefully selected and bought, one by one across the many years; each one lovingly trimmed by my own hand, labeled in ballpoint around the margins, individually indexed – representing 30 years of precious family memories in Montana and elsewhere. Every one of my 7.5-minute quads for Beaverhead County, all my 30×60′s, the old 15-minutes, and every 1:250,000-series covering the state. I couldn’t help but count them: 440 maps in all! To buy them again would cost 440 x $6 = $2,640. Not mentioning the work of labeling, folding, and filing. Needless to say, I was aswirl with emotions – nostalgia of course, the sadness of saying goodbye to friends, but also mixed up with that an excitement of jettisoning weight. Freedom. Often it’s true, it’s the things we used to love the most, which need to go.

Last July I wrote a long post titled "Topo maps: what’s now and what’s next." In that article I said:

"Right now, in standard orienteering, you hold your GPS in one hand, about the size of a smartphone, and your map in the other hand. The devices are too cramped for map reading. That’s why GPS people are so fascinated by gridlines on maps, they sync their gadget with their paper, by brute force. When the map and the GPS merge and become inseparable in one device, that’s going to be fundamentally different. (more…)

Things that Just Work

Handwritten drawing: Things that just work

The world is made up of things that work, mixed together with things that don’t work. The busted and dysfunctional, tripping against beauty and perfection. The yin and the yang as it were. It’s human nature to think that things should work all the time. We get bummed, when they don’t. Oddly, we do this day in, day out, like it’s an everyday predictable recurring surprise. Since we are designed by nature to be problem-solving animals, it’s hard not to transfixate on the broken.

I think happy people train themselves, by hard work, to continually notice the many little things that are actually working. It’s incredible, if you look around, how many things, on any given day, really work well.

But this post is not about the singing birds. It’s about computer stuff. My daughter Sally and I were talking about this, how some things are just so easy to use, and it’s hard to appreciate the achievement behind that surface simplicity, the sophistication that must be going on in the background. So this is an Ode to Things that Work:

OneNote & Evernote. First on my list. Unless I’m walking through a swamp someplace, (more…)

Quick & fun language warm-up

Quick & fun language warm-up

Back in May I described a great method for language learning based on finding super-interesting articles, then reading them in combination with the text-to-speech and mini-translator functionality in Word (New Toy, May 2011). I now use this technique every morning, usually for 10 to 30 minutes. It’s by far and away the best thing I’ve ever found for an easy, everyday language warm-up. Since writing the original article, it has smoothed out for me into something I look forward to, and a good little habit.

Here are the actual steps I go through now – (more…)

In love with Kindle

KINDLE (heart). Where have you been all my life?

A year ago I wrote an article about traveling light without a computer, even in a business setting, by using a cloud drive along with public computers instead. I had just returned from Argentina, and the method worked great. This year I was packing for the same trip again, and planning on doing the exact same thing. The technique involves a small amount of printing to paper. In the original article I said this:

"Every trip is different. When packing data, I think about the trip, I think about the things I’ll need, I think in terms of a toolkit at my disposal which includes 1. Paper, 2. Computer, 3. Mobile devices, and 4. Thumb Drive. (Paper, by the way, should never be underestimated. Instant-on, infinite battery life, and who cares if it’s stolen. So thin-and-light that it vanishes when viewed on-edge. There’s a reason it’s popular.) To this list I can now add #5: Cloud drive."

So there I was, packing for the same trip a year later, and thinking as usual of the few things it would be nice to have printed ahead for paper reference. (more…)

OUCH.

OUCH.

Man, talk about unpleasant and inconvenient…

Four days ago I clicked my own homepage, and saw my antivirus go bananas. Looking at my own source code I saw a strange little script that had no business being there. At first (being extremely naïve way back then, four days ago) I thought, hmm, that’s weird.

I finally got the mess cleaned up. It’s Sunday night, and it took me 20 hours of hard work. I’m leaving for Argentina in a week, so I really needed to be able to point people to my blog. I couldn’t afford to just take it down. (more…)

Next Page »