Monday, March 18, 2013

It's a thing

Somebody on Twitter reminded me of this when he mentioned using Excel as a random number generator.  Here's an alternative from the world of Python. It of course assumes Python is installed and that the interpreter is in the command path.

c:/ > Python

Python 2.7.3 (default, Apr 10 2012, 23:31:26) [MSC v.1500 32 bit (Intel)] on win32
Type "help", "copyright", "credits" or "license" for more information.

>> import random as r

>> r.randrange(25)



Replace the "25" with whatever range you want. 

It takes all of 20 seconds once you get the hang of it, no saved shortcuts required. Other than the shell, which any good geek will have on the desktop.

You can also specify the lower bounds of the range.

>> r.randrange(3,7)


You can also do a thing with a list of items, but who needs all that typing?

Thursday, March 14, 2013

The End of Google Reader

Update 2: Forget FeedDemon, they were dependent on the Google Reader API and have no idea what to do without it, so they're shutting it down.

Update: NetVibes? I can't figure you out.

In an innocuous bullet point, Google announced the end of Google Reader.

We launched Google Reader in 2005 in an effort to make it easy for people to discover and keep tabs on their favorite websites. While the product has a loyal following, over the years usage has declined. So, on July 1, 2013, we will retire Google Reader

There's also some nattering about how to export your data.

But that's it. No fanfare, no polls or other awareness efforts, just, *pouf*, it's gone.  For those of us smugly secure with our gmail-as-primary-mail strategy, this is a bit like a mild temblor near the San Andreas rift. Is this just what it appears, or is something about to blow?

I could wax poetic on the injustice of it all and how this just shows how unreliable Google really are, but plenty of people are already doing that (see: slashdot). Time's a wastin', we have to find a new home!

A few years back I started writing my own RSS feed reader using Mark Pilgrim's wonderful feedparser library. There are two points of irony here: 1) he, himself, works at Google (go ahead with the conspiracy theories now), and 2) he himself abruptly disappeared from the ineternet in 2011.  I think I still have that around, and possibly I might investigate.

But I'd rather have something like Google Reader that lets me read and sync up from multiple locations at once. The requires the "cloud", which is a trendy way of saying that I need one server that I can talk to from multiple points and have actions from one location reflected to all.  To that end and to make my life a little easier, a list.

  1. Feedly – Chrome extension, IOS and Android apps. Depends on Reader's API but claim to be working on their own.
  2. Pulse – Another magazine-ish alternative, not sure I like the interface, and importing Reader subs looks like it might be a problem.
  3. NetVibes – haven't looked into this one yet, but it looks really slick and is getting a bit of buzz.
  4. NewsBlur – No experience with the UI yet, but the crawlers it uses are somewhat ferocious, based on my server logs. Expect this one to always have up to date feeds.

Incidentally, efforts to sign a petition or whatever in order to get Google's attention and show them just how much Reader is actually used is kinda pointless. They have the server logs. They know when you logged in, what you clicked, and how often you use it.  A popularity contest won't hack it. You have to put this in terms that they will appreciate. Considering that they hadn't even updated the Reader blog since October 2011 (coincidence, Mr. Pilgrim?) I would say that internal interest is what has declined the most, and that that is what you have to get going to save Google Reader.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

So, you like the juice, eh? Juice is good, eh?

The electric car is the future of personal transportation.

Any movie you watch in which the future is depicted, cars are electric. That's just the way it is.

Like many things – transporters, FTL travel, and medscanners, to name a few – electric cars are presented as whole cloth, with no explanation as to why or how they manage to work and, most frequently, defy the laws of physics.

But we geeks are nothing if not hopeful, so we always agitate in grand fashion when one of our sci-fi tropes gets close to reality.  Well, except talking computers. I never see anyone get excited about talking computers.  You would think geeks would get excited about that, but no.  I imagine it's our secret dread of having to hold down a conversation at work here.

I digress.

Chevy EV1Up to now, we've had precious little to choose from in the arena of electric cars.  The EV1 was a moderate flop, viewed by some as a good try and others as a misguided failure. Hybrid cars have taken another crack at it, with the Toyota Prius leading the pack, and other, more interesting offerings like the Fisker Karma following in its tracks.

But our geek juices don't flow for the "almost but not quite" feeling you get from a hybrid. Yes, they have amazing mileage when you treat them right, reduced emissions, are cheaper to operate if operated right, and so forth. But they're not really electric cars, not the science fiction toys that we want to be in when firing our phasers at aliens as they buzz us in their flying saucers.

(We gots issues)

Setting the Stage

In 2003, a company called Tesla Motors was founded by Elon Musk, one of the cofounders of Paypal (thus explaining his large and prominent bankroll).  The vision for the company immediately stoked geek flames around the world; nothing less than the ultimate goal of having an affordable electric car available for everyone.

Tesla RoadsterEverything starts small, and Tesla was no different, starting with the Tesla Roadster, nothing less than an all-electric sports car. With ferocious acceleration and acceptable range, it put Tesla on the map and attracted just the sort of attention to get partners, investors, and potential customers to line up.

The Roadster also garnered some unwanted attention, too, but not because of any problems it had. Not directly.  Famed and/or infamous BBC automotive show Top Gear tested the Roadster on their track, and ended up trashing its mileage estimates soundly.

"Although Tesla say it will do 200 miles we have worked out that on our track it will run out after just 55 miles and if it does run out, it is not a quick job to charge it up again." – Jeremy Clarkson, Top Gear, 2008

Clarkson was first to praise the car's performance, and first to point out that nobody's mileage estimates ever survived a drive on the Top Gear test track. They drive in a decidedly un-recommended fashion, trashing tires, transmissions, and batteries alike. The test track segment is to test performance, nothing more.

While he did praise the performance, however, they stood fast on is mileage issue, and Elon Musk pretty much went mad over this. They sued Top Gear, twice, and were thrown out of court, for Top Gear had an ace in the hole: while the cars that were provided for the show's taping were closely coddled and monitored by Tesla, Top Gar had gone out and bought and tested a different car weeks before, and that was where they derived the actual data from. This did not stop Tesla, or rather, Musk. But the courts did.

Future Forward

Tesla SHere we are in 2013, and the scene plays out again. The New York Times was approached by Tesla for a review of the Tesla S, a coupe offering, along with the Tesla "Supercharger net", a network of charging stations for electric cars that can fully charge a car in around an hour.

The road trip and review, which took place in Winter, was not a raging success, and Musk, as he did with Top Gear,  accused the review of being "a fake".

In Top Gear's case, the team was quite familiar with dealing with pettish personalities (they do, after all, review Italian sports cars along with American electrics). They had the power and stability of the British Empire behind them, and they are incredibly competent at the whole driving and reviewing and gathering facts thing. So, Musk could threaten and cajole all he wanted, they were having none of it.

The New York Times, however, is a shadow of its past, seemingly more a collection of bloggers with financial backing than the guardian of the Fourth Estate that they used to be. And thus they can get a little bit timid when pushed. And Musk pushed. He sounded the fanboy whistle and an army of well-heeled geeks started spamming the airwaves with anger and recreations of Broder's trip and, well, just a mob scene, really.  Meanwhile, Musk continued to whip it up.

So it's no surprise that the NYT threw Broder under the (electric) bus here. They do not have the capital of the BBC or the NYT of the past, and cannot just go out and buy a Tesla S and carry out their own review without the guidance, oversight, aid, and, potentially, interference of Tesla Motors.  They have to rely on the good graces of companies like Tesla to test the big-ticket items, because they just don't have the deep pockets they once had.

The data themselves are inconclusive.  Musk's attempts to paint the data logs on the machine in an unflattering light were only partially successful, but they do reveal some driving habits that can easily be interpreted to be malicious. 

I tend to go along with the "Broder wasn't paying attention to his instructions" interpretation. Broder was under the impression that he was allowed to test this car as if it were just another car, and that he should be able to get in, drive to his destination, no fuss, no muss, no bother. Other test drivers followed the directions given by Tesla engineers in great detail, and had greater success, but considering that some of the things done were such as overriding safety interlocks, I have deep, deep suspicions.  The fanboy mentality has a way of destroying reality in many ways, and moving otherwise reasonable people into irrational courses.

We're just getting started

I have no doubts that Tesla will be able to achieve the goal of an affordable electric car for all. I don't expect instant success and neither should Musk.  Instead of creating all this negative drama around his company, he should be using these setbacks to define new goals to meet.  His, well, tantrums are far more damaging than the NYT or Top Gear reviews ever were.

His other company, SpaceX, has had a lot of success lately, but they, too, have gotten some negative press. Nobody remembers what about. What everyone remembers is Elon Musk's reaction.  He's PR poison, and he should be grateful that the US was willing to overlook his unprofessional behavior and award the contracts they have.  The could easily have decided otherwise based on his behavior alone.

This, Elon Musk, is your legacy, if you don't watch it.

"One detail Sullivan didn't address is something of a well-kept secret in tech journalism: Musk is a genius, a highly successful serial entrepreneur, and indisputably an important figure doing great things. But he also has a nasty habit of busting the balls of reporters who are acting in good faith, when the reporting they produce includes any criticism of SpaceX or Tesla." – Xeni Jarden, Feb 19 2013

Friday, February 15, 2013

Hey batter batter sa-WING batter

The universe is putting an asteroid right in the ol' stroke zone.  We don't have a prayer of doing anything about it if it was a bean-ball asteroid, but at least this time we're in the wrong place at the right time - but if we were fifteen minutes slower, this sucker'd be going right through the metaphorical batter's box.

NASA is putting up a UStream of the asteroid as it passes, which you can watch here.

Streaming by Ustream

Pretty neat, eh? 

There's a lot of speculation about whether the meteor in the Urals this morning is related. That particular bit of rock was around ten tons and broke up somewhere around 20-30 miles above the ground. In true Hollywood tradition, it blew out windows and littered the landscape with sonic booms. Nobody's sure if one of those booms was the it actually exploding, but probably not.


It's a curious thing; in Russia, most cars have dash cams due to the need to prove innocence against corrupt cops and the like. As a result, we have a huge offering of dash cam views of the thing entering the atmosphere and blowing up. They even have time, location, and speed information embedded. Talk about synchronicity!

 Phil Plaitt, the famed "Bad Astronomer", has a few words to say about the event.
This is almost certainly unrelated to the asteroid 2012 DA14 that will pass on Friday.
He adds:
For one thing, this occurred about 16 hours before DA14 passes. At 8 kilometers per second that’s nearly half a million kilometers away from DA14. That puts it on a totally different orbit.
He has a few other compelling reasons as well.  But, as he says, what a coincidence! Keep checking back on his blog, he's updating it as more information comes in.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Missed it by that much ...

A few years ago, Penny Arcade saw Twilight, and extrapolated a probable future.

Well, they were close

And here we go again

I've done my own thing. I've done LJ. I've done Tumblr. I've done other, terrible things. But so far I have not employed Blogger as a personal blog. That changes now.

Things of nerdish, geekish nature will be told.  I can't promise politics won't sneak in, for that is the stuff that regulates our existence at times, but given the dislike many have for a contrary opinion, I'll try to reserve my pith for the really important matters.

I make no other promises. Off you go.

Tron Uprising: probably a lost cause

Tron: Uprising has been cancelled (probably).

This isn't a surprise, in that it was on Disney XD, at midnight. A kid's channel, but kids are usually in bed by then.  What was left was those geeks savvy enough to find it and geeky enough not to care what channel it showed on.  It just isn't enough.

The shame of this is that the series wasn't bad at all, and was showing steady improvement over the course of the season. The imagery in the last three episodes is especially well done.  Female characters in particular were starting to show some nice characterization in chose-up. I had given up on that previously because of the highly stylized imagery - a deliberate choice, and one I was willing to live with. The "upgrade" in latter episodes was a welcome, and unexpected, improvement.

This prequel series takes place in between Tron and Tron: Legacy, in a corner of The Grid that we don't see in Legacy. Other than Tron, and Clu's occasional cameos, the characters are all throwaways - "The Renegade" (Beck) that dresses up as Tron obviously doesn't make it into Tron: Legacy.  Tron himself is a kind of overseer to Beck's education as he learns to "be" Tron's public persona. And we all know that Tron will be "re-purposed" as Rinzler before the end.  So, this series can take a few chances, go places the "canon" Tron can't, and fill in some gaps in what happens on the Grid building up to Clu's ultimate attempt to break out of the Grid.

The thing that kept Tron in the background was a virus he picked up, something that weakened him and forced him to undergo constant treatment. This is why he was grooming Beck to lead the uprising.

The final episode, I thought, was going to give us Tron's re-purposing to Rinzler, which was the baddie's goal, but in the end, Beck gets Tron out after the virus is purged, but before he's actually turned to Clu's side. This makes him "Clu's worst nightmare."  But, at the end, Clu is approaching, backed by the might of his entire army. We've not transitioned Tron to Rinzler, so that story is left untold. But it sure doesn't look good for Argon City.

Pretty much the same as for the series itself.

The linked article above hints that there might be hope, but seeing as the viewing time wasn't changed, and that the schedule was variable (both are hallmarks of a series that the network wants to go away), I have little hope that that will be the case.  It's a shame. Given a chance, it does grow on you.

There's a petition, and rumblings that it succeeded, but I've seen nothing official.