Category Archives: Technology

Linux Context Menu Image Manipulation (KDE)

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Having recently revived and updated my KDE Linux install, I went looking for the context menu to manipulate images. This tool makes life easier. Like when you want to toss an image into your blog post, but WordPress complains it is too large, it is nice to be able to simply right click on the image and in a click or two resize it (or rotate it, or maybe do other things to it). Historically there was a tool called KIM (KDE Image Management) that did this, but this seems to be no longer maintained and is not that easy to install. Instead, install “ReImage” from KDE Services Menu. Look for the “deb” link on that page if deb is your preferred install method. There is also a tar file there for other architectures.

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Solving the 4K blues: VLC on Windows 10 with a 4K monitor

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VLC is an OpenSource media player that runs on most (or all?) platforms.

When running VLC on Windows with a 4K monitor, you can’t see the menus or any other text without a magnifying glass. That is true of a lot of software. (Don’t tell me about Windows font scaling, that is a broken feature of Windows and does not affect most software that is not Microsoft produced.) Windows 11 is rumored to be better a this, but not everybody has paid the ransom to run that OS on their otherwise capable computers.

The fix for most software is to go into some configuration utility accessible from the software’s menu, and fiddle. For VLC, you have to know the secret incantations.

1) First, “find the VLC.exe file” which is not in a “VLC” folder as you would expect. Go to your “Program Files” and locate the “VideoLAN” folder. That is the folder in which you’ll find “vlc.exe”.

2) Right click on vlc.exe, and pick “Properties.”

3) Select the “Compatibility” tab.

4) Hit the button for “Run compatibility troubleshooter”

5) Follow the instructions for the troubleshooter. It won’t mention anything about resolution, but it will give you a choice for “recommended settings.” Try that. Continue on with the instructions, and your problem will be solved. I took the defaults. You may want to fiddle more.

Bob’s your uncle. Have a nice day seeing your menus!

Turns out you can run this compatibility thingy on any software, or at least, other software. It worked well with VLC, for me. I don’t know how well it will work on other software, but I intend to find out!

Please post your experiences in the comments.

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From Scrivener’s Mouth to OpenSource Ears?

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I am a Scrivener user. I like Scrivener so much that I maintain a Windows computer to run it on, because, sadly, it does not have a Linux version. There are two things that Scrivener does that I don’t think are widely adopted, and I am writing this post in the hopes that OpenSource software developers will notice and adopt.

Help: Search Menus

The first one is totally unique to Scrivener in my experience. This is an item under “help” that simply searches all the menus for what you are searching for. Never mind counter arguments to deploying this idea, that any help system will produce the same results mixed up with other results, etc. Especially never mind those arguments from OpenSource world, where the help item on the menu is, traditionally, so useless that I for one don’t even bother using it. It is vestigial. One way to resurrect the idea of OpenSource software even having a useful help option is to simply deploy a search for a term among the menu items in the software itself as a routine feature. This is incredibly useful in complex software where there are perhaps a hundred or so items across all the menu choices. This should be easy to implement. The list of menu items is certainly a set of objects in the software, and probably comes with links to information that could be added to the results. Play around with it, people!

File: Favorite Projects

The second item exists in some form or another here and there,. Qgiss might have something like this (I’ve not paid attention). This is the “favorite project” or “favorite file” menu item. For Scrivener, I have something like 30 projects on my computer, but some are old and done(ish), some are false starts or experiments, some are long term and at any given moment not of interest. So, I put the four or five that I’m currently working on in the Favorite Projects menu.

I want that for all my software.

Greg Laden's BlogThere are four of five files that I use in Libre Office often enough to want them handy as shortcuts or favorites, but not often enough that they remain near the top of the “Recent Files” list in LibreOffice. A few years ago I tried to convince the LibreOffice community to make the Recent Files item include (as an option?) only files opened in a particular program. The way it works now, recent files opened in Calc (the spreadsheet) are on the list when you are working in the word processor (Writer). Sometimes, when I’m using Calc for a particular project, I may have 10 or 15 files (imported CSV files, various spreadsheets, etc) open over a work session, almost none of which I ever want to see again, but all of which populate the Recent Files menu list. This makes that list less useful, and if the list was separate for each different program (Cals, Writer, Draw, etc.) at least the problem would be partly contained. I don’t remember the reason they gave that this could not be done, but I didn’t buy it at the time. A technical glitch that seemed very solvable.

A “Favorite File” menu item in that software suit would solve this problem.

Microsoft’s office suit actually does this, I discovered while lamenting this problem. They are “pinned” items you can have in the otherwise very clumsy opening screen on the “Home” ribbon item. That good, but I’m not sure if I count that as a solution, since it involves using Microsoft Office and who wants to do that?

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Why we are afraid of AI

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In Western culture, at least, we have a healthy fear, or an unhealthy fear, I can’t decide, of Artificial Intelligent. That fear may be justified, but any such justification is a product of our culture, not rational discourse. I say that with certainty because that’s how everything is, as I’m sure you already know. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t be afraid (or that we should). I’m saying that like almost everything else we claim to believe, we didn’t work it out in a Baconian framework, but rather, came to that belief using the same process of mind we come to most of our beliefs by.

So, where does the cultural trait of fear of AI in Western society come from? The same place all cultural traits come from. Movies. (And other conduits of received knowledge.)

I’m teaching a class on a related topic, and in so doing put together a series of video clips that I thought I’d share. Have a watch, and feel free to discuss. You’ve seen most of these already.

They are in a sort of order. Continue reading Why we are afraid of AI

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Back to School Laptop: The Gaming Mistake

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I’m reminded by a piece in Digital Trends that this is back to school laptop buying season. So, I have some advice.

1) Don’t go back to school. There is a pandemic.

2) But you still need a laptop, but don’t get suckered into buying a “gaming laptop” so you can game and oh, also, do your school work on it. See the above linked commentary for a convincing argument, but here I’ll just point out three problems with a gaming laptop for school.

a) They are expensive, and even if you get a cheap one, the resources you are buying are mainly for super fancy graphics, which are not homework.

b) They run hot and burn through batteries like [insert metaphor here when I think of it later].

c) There are cheaper and easier ways to demonstrate to your new friends at college that you are a gamer geek.

3) I recently bought a laptop, and in so doing, narrowed the good ones down to two, one by Dell (Dell XPS 13 9310 Touchscreen or some version thereof) and one by HP (Envy x360 2-in-1 15.6″ Touch-Screen or some version thereof). Check out the different options and sizes. I got the HP a few months ago because at the time it was the only 17 inch available). A third option is the one by Lenovo mentioned in the above cited piece (Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Nano), but I don’t have research on that. At one time Lenovo was the only laptop I’d buy, but then IBM sold them off and the quality range shifted. I don’t know of the current status of that make.

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Can law keep up with runaway technology?

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Can the law keep up with technology?

Joshua Fairfield asks that question in his new book* Runaway Technology: Can Law Keep Up?, expected out on March 1st.

This is a well written and engaging academic treatment of the problem, looking at technologies as diverse as genetically engineered organisms, deep fakes, and the basic problem of robots taking over the world. Virtual reality is increasingly real (in a material as well as legal sense). Fairfield includes a well deserved (but in my mind too narrow) critique of science, and underscores how limitations in thinking about scientific process and technological advances complexifies the legal problems science and technology create.

Ultimately, he argues in favor of a new kind of law, and he situates law itself as part of the science and technology the law is trying to keep up with. This is also an examination of language and culture, and how technology and law are both embedded in, shaped by, and constraining of, basic humanity. You will find some interesting philosophy in these pages.

This is not escapist literature, and it is not a book by a good writer about a thing the writer found interesting. This is an expert treatment by an expert in a critically important area. This book will be assigned in law classes.

The answer addressed in Runaway Technology to the question “can the law keep up?” is really not so much “yes” or “no,” but rather, it will, but can society and democracy keep up the co-evolution of law, science, and technology, and do so in a way that protects society and democracy.

I’m sure most readers of this blog will want to read this book.

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Kitchen Item as Holiday Gift? Maybe, maybe not

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Historically, kitchen items have been iffy as holidy gifts, because the person that might like something kitchen related is probably a cooking geek, and therefore, either already has the thing or has a better idea of which one to get than you, the gift giver, does.

On the other hand, Covid-19 has caused a surge of interest in cooking. People are cooking all over the place these days because it is something you can do without getting the plague. Usually.

On the third hand, if you look at prices of the more desired kitchen items, they are up about 25% or more. I assume this is a problem of limited supply (Covid-19 effects) and increased demand (more demand because of the aforementioned new interest in cooking).

Whatever. Point is, I’ve put together a list of suggestions, with links to Amazon*, but do not just click on these things and buy them. Prices vary widely, and also, in many cases there are multiple possible options (especially for the Instant Pot, I’ll tell you right now) that you’ll want to consider.

Peternatural Toaster Oven

One of the coolest presents that I got about two years ago was the Panasonic 1300 Watts FlashXpress Toaster Oven. It is a little narrower than other toaster ovens, which is both a feature (fits on your counter nicely) and a bug (you can’t do as many pieces of toast at once, if you make toast in it). I got it because I wanted a device that would make an open grilled cheese sandwich in nine seconds. I never actually make those, but I wanted to be able to do that, so I could apply that technology to other purposes. This device does not make a grilled cheese sandwich in 9 seconds, but it does a much better job of super cooking things than a normal toaster oven. I use it on average once a day.

Everyone has one, so should you, and it won’t explode

The Instant Pot is the novel device of last year. If you don’t have one, get one. If you know someone who does not have one, get one for that person. There are MANY different versions so look around and chose wisely. I know several people who have one but refuse to use it as pressure cooker because they are afraid it will explode. THIS IS A PRESSURE COOKER THAT WILL NOT EXPLODE and if you won’t use it as a pressure cooker, please give it to someone who will and get yourself one of these.

During the a last in-person annual local Democratic Party Chile Cook Off, it was funny to watch the contestants with their Instant Pots full of chili. This was funny because the lid on an Instant Pot, which is a pressure cooker, is clumsy and can not be casually and loosely put on something, like the lid of a crock pot. I recommend considering accessorizing your Instant Pot with a Glass Lid.

This is the difference between civilized society and the Iron Age

Everyone who does not have some sort of KitchenAid is living in an earlier, simpler, but less edible time. The one I point to here is a reburbished job, which may not be a bad idea for this device that can’t easily be killed. There are no subsittutes for an actual kitchen aid. I used to say you need to get the 5 quart model and forego the smaller flip up model, but I’ve changed my mind. They are both good.

Of all the attachments you can get for a KitchenAid, the Grinder Attachment is probably the one that does the most impressive job. I do not have a Flex Edge Beater accessory for my KitchenAid but I covet one. (The one linked to right here is seriously on sale at this exact moment in the US.)

Be like the British Baking Show

… and get a Kitchen Scale. It should be capable of holding close to 10 pounds. “When will I ever have to measure out ten pounds of something?” you protest! You won’t! But you use the scale to weigh out what you put in the bowl. The bowl is on the scale. It weighs a lot. The one I link to is recommended by all the usual sources. They are remarkably inexpensive.

Be cool. Very cool.

I don’t know anything about cold press coffee, other than that it is surprisingly good. But I don’t know how to make it, or what device is needed or what works and does not work. I’m hoping you will experiment with something like a Cold Brew Coffee Maker and report back. Thanks.

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How to save the world one gas station at a time.

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Look at a map of your city or suburb. Search for the gas stations, you know, those places where you can buy cigarettes and petroleum products?

Now imagine going to each and every one of those locations and tearing it down. We don’t need them any more anyway, because we’ve electrified transportation and nobody smokes. Remove the pollution (they are all brown fields, and the government will eventually be charged for this cleanup, so that is where you get your money for this). Remove the above ground structure, remove the pollution, then look at that vacant lot (and the other one one katty-corner across the intersection). Imagine a transit and school bus stop at this location, with an indoor area to keep the kiddies safe during the very hot or very cold days. Imagine a 20 car charging station, a small cafe, and the whole thing is covered with PV panels. (For the entire US that would be upwards of 15,000 mW of generating power.)

That transition would happen eventually, or something like it, but it won’t get far. Do you know why it won’t get far? Because in all its glory and brilliance, the free market is slow and shy and stupid. It will not figure this out fast enough, it will not deploy the changes in time, and when we are about a third of the way through the whole system will collapse because we are being too slow — and too slowed down by deniers and Republicans, Trumpers and Big Oil, dark money and deplorables — to fix it before it fails.

Or, Governors and State Legislators and Presidents and the Congress can just make it happen. Set up a program that buys out gas stations, cleans them up, and inserts them into the new power and transit system. Take care of the job loss, which will be offset by the increase in clean energy jobs, but make that offset work for the victims of progress. Oh, and probably sell lottery tickets at the cafe.

Can we do this please?

Thanks. Get back to me when the blueprints are ready, next week if possible.

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Cool Minecraft Seeds: In or near a village

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If you don’t know what a Minecraft seed is, you don’t want to bother with this post. But if you do ….

Spawning in or near a village provides game play opportunities that are otherwise hard to come by. If you want to materialize in such a location, and are using version 1.16.1, try one of these seeds. To use the seed, enter the number as it is here (including the negative sign if there is one) in the seed box under “options” when you are creating a world. The version of Minecraft you are running matters. These seeds are for version 1.16.1

Version 1.16.3


This seed is a mixed bag. You appear very near a deep forest village that is a short distance from a desert biome. There is a lot of coal but almost no iron as far as I can tell. But, it is a nice village.

Seed: -4718454556811912285

Near a village with amazing mine/chasm

This seed: 5532707655392736628 will get you a couple of hundred blocks from a village. At the edge of the village is a squarish and deep chasm. Down in the chasm is a pretty good mine complex. The bottom of the visible complex is at altitude ca 34, but nearby is a deep extention of the chasm (but no old mine down there) that will get you to 12 blocks elevation. So the entire range of mining possibilities is already dug for you, though not easily navigated.

It is a very large and nice village with major water, like an inland waterway. If you explore along the waterway you’ll find a most unusual shipwreck, entirely on land, like it was buried in an old sandbar.

There is a desert village not too far away (a few hundred blocks) which also has a shipwreck near it (but this one is totally under the desert-side ocean).

Super Mine

This is the best mine I’ve seen, so I’m breaking the theme and giving it to you even though you do not spawn in a village

Enter the world and TP to -670 70 -280 There is a village here and several interesting nearby open caves. There is a second smaller village so close it might be the same village. Mining under the village you will find an extensive mine system with a lot of exposed ore and three chests with good stuff in them.

The seed is -8494316167453570516

Spawning within or in sight of a village:


This spawns within sight of a village on an open landscape near desert and water. There is a mineshaft at about 416 ~ 128, beneath the desert and ocean region.

Spawn right in front of a pillager outpost

Then you die then yo respawn then you die then you respawn… have fun!

See: 9220675143558309571

_______________ everything below this is 1.16.1 or 1.16.2


Spawns right in the middle of a village.
There is a river running through the village, and down river not too far is a mineshaft. The nearest point to the mineshaft is on the surface near 68.90 ~ -261.54

Spawning near a village:


The village is 207 blocks away.

Sparsely populated forest village with some rugged terrain.

Go right around or over the steep sided squarish mountain the village is next to to find a cave with plenty of surface charcoal. There is a mineshaft nearby as well, north of the village, also on the other side of that mountain.

Even though you are in a forest, there is ocean within 400 blocks, where you will find a buried treasure at about -40, -325. Dig around, you’ll find it.

This map also has one of the more spectacular mountain-ocean interfaces.


The village is just over 300 blocks away. There is a mineshaft close by. There is a large house with a library inside. Go to the front steps, then measure out about 8 paces from there, and dig straight down, and you’ll hit the mine system.


The spawn point is near a fairly deep cave with a lot of potential, inclining lava.

A Village is just over 100 blocks to the northwest, but you’ll have to go through thick woods and rugged terrain. Head for high ground, you’ll probably find some path blocks there to give you a clue as to where it is.

There is a tall house with a second floor only reachable by an outside stairway. The lower floor has a bed and a crafting table. Go to the front of the house and head out about five or six blocks and dig straight down. That will be your mineshaft. You will have to dig down just over 40 blocks, but it is a spectacular mineshaft with many hazards including water and lava.


You will spawn on a small island off an elongated, mountainous peninsula. Head north, crossing the water. After going around a big mountain you will find a village.

In the village is a squarish house with a red carpet and a brewing station in it, with some grass overgrowing the floor. Directly below the red carpet is a void containing a special prize. You’ll have to dig down about 16 blocks or so.

To locate the nearest underground mineshaft, locate the house on stilts that has the cartography table in it. Go to the back of the house and move about 15 paces (blocks) north. Then walk west about 21 paces, through the garden area. You will need to dig down about 40 blocks, then you will be in part of the mine.

Head east from the village, along the shore, to find large island mountain with a huge void in the middle of it. Off a low rocky peninsula of the island, facing east, is a comma shaped sandbar/island. Just off the sandbar, under the water and under the sand, is a buried treasure that has lots of goods stuff in it.


You will spawn at about 15.50 63.00 41.50 just a short distance from a desert village. There is a mineshaft not too far away. One point within the mineshaft is 277.48 26.00 35.11. Happy digging.


Spawn at -168 82 204
Nearest village: -226 74 128 (Medium size village with nearby cliffs and good terrain, and water.)

Another village: 170 64 157

Mineshaft not too far away at -383 74 304
Point inside the mineshaft: -404 24 295
Buried treasure on a small island at 425 66 473


Spawn at 231.50 70.00 3.50 and travel from there to a desert village at 63.00 63.00 106.68.
There is a nearby mineshaft. If you can dig your way to about -48.85 15.00 87.80 you will find an interesting integration between a large natural chasm and the mineshaft. Careful. The floor is lava!

Bonus village at -790.54 63.94 748.07.

Bonus adventure seed!

Try this seed: -8376010895890193196

You will spawn here: -3.50 110.00 -1.50. Good luck with that.

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Make Your Own Games using Scratch

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Scratch is a computer programming language that is designed for use by children to learn programming, but that is also serving as a paradigm for STEM programming more broadly, and I suspect, for IOT programming of the future. Programs are written in scratch by assembling shapes that represent programming structures or objects.

For example, look at the code block to the right. This is an object that is called when the user clicks on the green flag button on the user interface. That green flag is how one starts a program in Scratch. This is hooked, literally, to a “forever” lop. Within the forever loop, execution (of that object) is delayed for a fifth of a second, then an “If” statement is executed. If the object linked to this object (such as a sprite that might be able to move around on the screen) has come into contact with something green, a chomp sound is made.

The Scratch interface is normally accessed on a web page, and in that context, every single Scratch programmer (that uses the basic interface) has access to every bit of code developed and saved by every other programmer. Or, you can run it on your own computer.

You will see scratch like coding in Lego projects, in association with various robot kits, and I suspect over time, with Internet of Things objects. The coding is so straight forward that even Mikey can do it.

The book Make Your Own Scratch Games! by Anna Anthropy, produced by No Starch Press, brings an elementary school or middle school age kid, or an adult who just wants to screw around, through the process of developing three significant game projects and countless elements that users can use for a number, approaching infinity, of different games.

As is usual for No Starch books, the source code is available, but more importantly, among the on line resources are certain graphics and sound files and such used in the game making.

This is a great book for STEM oriented kids, and Scratch is a great Age of Covid activity.

Anna Anthropy is a video game creator and game historian, and author of Rise of the Videogame Zinesters: How Freaks, Normals, Amateurs, Artists, Dreamers, Drop-outs, Queers, Housewives, and People Like You Are Taking Back an Art Form, a guide to game design that encourages aspiring developers from all backgrounds to create games and contribute their unique voice to the video game industry. Her most recent book, ZZT, explores a shareware game from the ’90s and its lasting impact on developers everywhere.

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Kids, Screen Time, and Covid

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I’m pointing you to a useful article on kids and screen time. The essential points direct us to recognize that not all screen time is the same, that we should exploit the screen time world to maintain some social skill building, and that we need to develop in-home constancy in how we manage this.

We’re totally great at the first two in our hose. We know there is a different between watching stupid teenager youtubers being stupid teenagers, and all the kids in the extended family getting together on Zoom for a book reading by Grandpa, for example. We are also doing some community ed zoom classes.

As for that third item … still working on it.

Anyway, go see: Here’s What Experts Are Saying About Schoolagers and Screens Right Now

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How to best use Zoom, Hangouts, Meet, Skype, and so on

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This is not a complete guide to how to use Zoom or similar face to face on line conferencing software. Rather, this is a list of pointers, many of which you would not get from the software’s manual (were there a manual). As far as I can tell, most people don’t know many of the things I cover here, but these are things that will make you a better Zoomer, Skyper, Meeter, Hangouter, or whateverer.

Give permission so you don’t need forgiveness later

When you start a meeting, you are often asked to give permission for the software to use your video and your audio. Some people get annoyed at this, but you need to know that this is feature, not a bug. You really do not want to grant permanent permission to any entity to have access to your video and audio.

Now that I think about it, you should probably be covering your camera with a Post-It Note between uses. But don’t forget to remove it when it is time to use it.

Massive muting avoids mutiny

The single biggest problem with multi-person on line conferencing is that people have no idea what sorts of noises they are making, and transmitting sometimes way too efficiently, over the microphone. Gentle tapping on the keyboard becomes pounding like the proverbial feet of the Russian Army. Moving something around on your desk can sound like the Concord take off. That one last time. And, most annoyingly, consider the times you turn your attention to the person in your room — your spouse, your kid, even your pet — and have a lengthy conversation with them about how you are out of toilet paper, or whether or not that last cookie is yours, or whatever. The entire group can hear you, mainly you, they stop, and they listen, and they wait and figuratively tap their feet. Because you forgot about the meeting and so you forgot to mute your mic.

A partial solution to this is to always have your mute on, until you need to speak (for more guidance see below). But then, remember to turn your mute back on when you do want to speak. Else, you’ll be yammering on and on and others will be interrupting you and acting like you are not even there and totally ignoring you! Then by the time you realize your mic was off the whole time, the conversation has moved on to the next inane thing. A YouTube video of that happening could be funny, though.

If you are running a meeting, pre-mute everyone, and remind them about their mic and what kinds of noises they make, unknowingly. Then, when someone joins the meeting late, take a moment to remind them as well (but see below for more information on that). Also, make sure to tell them how to unmute themselves. I had a recent meeting where one of the participants, a Zoom first timer, sent me an email asking to be unmuted near the end so he could add his two cents.

Consider getting an external microphone and using headphones. A good set of earbuds with a microphone, or if you like the DJ look, must go all the way and get a set of YouTuber headphones. Generally speaking, using headphones or earbuds will reduce the potential for feedback and other bad noises.*

You’re not going to like the way you look

I have a collection of screenshots of people Zooming that is totally hysterical but that I can’t show you our I’d lose friends and relatives. Just how many nose hairs does Aunt Betty have? I didn’t realize that Emanuel’s forehead was so interesting, but good thing it is because that is all I can see of him. My colleague Jane in Indiana is a demigod, I can tell because of the huge halo surround her body. Or is that just the giant window with the sun blaring through it in front of which she is sitting? I had no idea Ahmed’s face was so freaking big!

Lighting should be shining on you from your front, not from behind you. You want your camera positioned at your eye level or slightly above, pointing at your face, not some other thing in the room. Not just the top of your head. You don’t want the camera shooting up towards you with your head bent down looking at it. Just do that and look at yourself. See the quadruple chin? That is because your head has sunk into your neck because your laptop is on your lap, your screen pointing up at a steep angle so your built-in camera can get your face, but you are looking down your nose (nice nose hairs, by the way). Just stop that.

Sit in a chair. Have your laptop on a desk or table in front of you, probably on a book or two so that the camera is eye to eye with you. Make sure there is a gap between the top of your head and the top of the visible image of you in the software, and make sure your shoulders are visible, at least. Make sure the background is dark, foreground is light, and that what can be seen in the background is not something you don’t want people to see. Or maybe it is something funny or apropos, just not something that ruins either the image or your reputation.

Take a shower, comb your hear, wear a clean shirt. And, just in case you have to stand up for a moment, wear pants. Please.

Consider getting a separate free-standing camera (a web cam) that can be placed somewhere other than on the front of your laptop. You want a small tripod perhaps like this or similar. I suggest a Logitech Webcam, but DON’T BUY IT NOW. With everyone using Zoom all at once, webcams are the new toilet paper. They are sold out, but you can get a $50 one for $300 if you want. Just wait on that, but later consider it.

What did you say, Private? It wasn’t private!

In Zoom, and this may be true in other software, there is a chat function that includes a “private” chat that is person to person. The point of this feature is to allow you to have a side-bar conversation with someone else and not distract the larger group. The point of this feature is NOT to have an actual private chat. It turns out anyone can see this private chat of yours, and this is a feature, not a bug. If anyone clicks on “save” in the chat box, both the “To everyone” conversation and the private conversations are now saved, and visible in that saved document. This is great for keeping meeting minutes. Or, blackmailing your friends and co-workers.

You shouldn’t be saying anything privately that you can’t say publicly anyway, but especially using the Zoom “private” chat.

Be like a Boyscout, but in a good way

Before using any meeting software, be prepared. Have a pre-meeting, and try to get everyone to join in. Maybe two meetings. And don’t expect your first meeting to go well, or to give everyone a fair chance to participate.

I have an analogy. For the longest time, only a few people knew how to drive, or ever wanted or needed to drive. Then, one day, everybody had to drive, so everybody got a car and a learners permit more or less on the same day. Chaos. There are some of us who have been using on line conferencing software on a regular basis, for years. To the rest of you: Welcome to our world!

Get a wing-person, or be a wing-person

For larger, or more complex, or more important meetings I recommend a two-leader approach. One person (in your organization this can be the secretary or communications committee chief, perhaps, whoever takes minutes) initiates the Zoom meeting (meaning, does the invites, sets it up, and acts as “host”). A second person chairs the meeting. The host is in charge of making sure that participants’ names are showing (if someone calls in, that has to be fixed by replacing their phone number with their name), and that everyone is muted, and that people are reminded to unmute and remute. The host force-mutes or throws off the meeting any participate who, probably through no fault of their own, is disrupting the meeting. Yes, folks, if suddenly you are talking to your spouse about the day’s plans and can’t manage to mute yourself, you should be bounced off the meeting, get an email from the host telling you why and welcoming you back.

There is another thing I think the people running the meeting can do, but I’ve not done this, so I can’t advise in detail. In Zoom there is a lobby, or waiting room that you can force people to wait in before being allowed into the meeting. It is very common for people to show up at a meeting late. They should be forced to wait in the meeting room until they have been given the guidelines and norms for the meeting. Otherwise you’ll have 80% of the participants doing everything right, and a too-large number (which is 1 or more) of participants talking to their dog and writing their thesis on a loud keyboard as they pretend to be in the meeting. Or sending scurrilous private notes to others. Or whatever.

Norms and Guidelines

By now this should be obvious, but in case not: At the beginning of each meeting, take a minute to go over a few norms and guidelines. Like, how to get permission to speak, if that is necessary, the muting rules, etc. Ideally, a five or six bullet point text file can be on hand and transmitted along with the meeting invite, and then also put on the chat box. But you will have to tell people that the chat box exists and how to get it. And, much of this can be done in the waiting room.

I hope this helps you, and I hope you add in the comments your own tips and tricks.

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Automate The Boring Stuff with Python Coding

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If everyone in the world understood and had a working command of regular expressions, everything would run smoothly. Especially if all of our interfaces to text allowed for their use. This has been pointed out. And, Automate the Boring Stuff with Python, 2nd Edition: Practical Programming for Total Beginners has a whole chapter on this.

What is a regular expression? We can talk about that in detail some other time. Briefly, it is a string of symbols that is designed to match a specified set of symbols, or a range of a set of symbols, in a larger body or stream of text. For example, if you pass a stream of information (say, all your emails) through a filter with the regular expression:


then any part of that stream of information that looks like a phone number (not using parens), such as 636-555-3226, will be isolated.

Automate the Boring Stuff with Python is a book that teaches beginning Python computer Augean programming focusing on examples from day to day life, including but well beyond REs.

The new edition includes pattern matching with regular expressions, input validation, reading and writing files, organizing files, web scraping, manipulating Excel spreadsheets and Google Sheets, PDF and Word documents, CSV and JSON files, email, images, and automating your keyboard and mouse.

The great benefit of a book like this is that you learn Python (the first part of the book gives you all you need to know to program in Python) in the context of things you actually want to do with Python. If you are interested in learning Python, or coding in general, this can be your first book.

The book is well done, as all in this series are, and fun. There are strong on line resources including all the code, and that information is regularly updated. Generally, “No Starch” press books are great, and this is one of those!

I would like to have seen at least sidebars on manipulating things using Libreoffice software, but note that the book focuses on documents, and OpenSource software does work with normal Excel and Word documents, so it is there.

The second edition adds a new chapter on input validation. The Gmail and Google Sheets sections, and the information on CSV files is also new. I plan on using the software tips and tricks to develop my own highly specialized and targeted search software. I’m often looking for files that have specific extensions, and certain kinds of content, in certain locations. Just the ability to hard-wire where to search for files will save me a lot of time and trouble.

Author Al Sweigart is a professional software developer who teaches programming to kids and adults, and who is author of Invent Your Own Computer Games with Python, Cracking Codes with Python, and Coding with Minecraft, all of which are quite nice. We need a new edition of Coding with Minecraft, by the way, that looks at a wider range of coding options and keeps up with the major advances in that software environment! So, get to work, Al!

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NOAA Gets Cool New Computers

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NOAA will be adding two new Cray computers (one operational and one backup) to replace existing hardware used in weather forecasting. According to a press release, “the computers — each with a 12 petaflop capacity — will be operational and ready to implement model upgrades by early 2022 after a period of code migration and testing. They will replace the existing Cray and Dell systems, “Luna” and “Mars” in Reston, Virginia, and “Surge” and “Venus” in Orlando, Florida.”

When combined with other hardware that will remain in use, the total capacity will rise to 40 petaflops. (A petaflop is a measure of computing speed equal to one thousand million million (1015) floating-point operations per second.) Given upgrades in storage and connectivity, and this increasing computing power, there will be a noticeable increase in resolution and other features of NOAA’s modeling of earth systems.

There is a rumor that the Trump Whitehouse plans to sell off the hardware to some friends who live out near the airport in Queens, and replace it with lower grade equipment that Trump claims works just as well (see illustration).

Though the press release does not give details, a spokesperson for NOAA just informed me that these computers will run the Linux operating system. I had assumed so, but wanted to check. Linux is the standard operating system for super computers, because it is a super operating system. Nobody wants to see the Blue Screen of Death in the middle of their tornado warning.

Specifically, the computers will run the Cray Shasta Linux Environment. This is a high performance suit designed to run large and complex applications on more than a half a million cores, with docker container support, and the robust Cray system management support including staged upgrading capabilities and the low overhead Cray system snapshot analyze.

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Things To Do After Installing Xubuntu or XFCE

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One: set up Dropbox and, as it syncs your files from the cloud, go outside and mow your lawn or rake your leaves.

Two: Start using your computer.

Three: Cancel the order for the new laptop because your old laptop is faster now.

You may have been expecting one of those posts that tell you the “ten things to do after installing [Linux Distribution]” but this ain’t it. In fact, for the most part, those posts have become fairly useless. Consider these “things to do”: Continue reading Things To Do After Installing Xubuntu or XFCE

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