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Browser update

Well, thanks in part to the suggestions made by the commenters to my earlier post, I’ve managed to get Firefox set up to work almost like Opera, and in some ways even better. I’ve only had to make a few minor adjustments to my habits, like using Ctrl-click to open a new tab rather than Shift-click; and there are a few things I have yet to get used to, like the tabs being on top instead of on bottom, or the Find in Page box being in the lower left and opened by Ctrl-F. One drawback I’ve just discovered, though, is that I can’t seem to reduce the tabs in size within the window; if I want to have two half-size pages side-by-side, I need to open them in separate windows. But that’s a minor adjustment and might actually be slightly easier.

As for the Thunderbird mail client, it seems to work after all. I’ve realized that the main reason it didn’t seem to be getting new messages consistently is that I often mark them as read or delete them on my smartphone before Thunderbird gets around to checking for them. I didn’t realize until yesterday that when I do that on the phone, it changes the messages’ status on the mail server itself. I’m used to my old Eudora client program that used POP (locally downloading and working with mail) rather than IMAP (interfacing directly with the server). But Thunderbird’s already notified me of two incoming e-mails this morning, so I know it works. I’ve now got it set up to interact with both my mail accounts, and I discovered that I could use it as an RSS feed reader as well, which lets it take over the one last Opera 12 function that Firefox didn’t seem equipped for. (Yes, FF has Live Bookmarks, which does something similar, but Thunderbird’s format is closer to what I’m used to from Opera.) I preferred Opera’s arrangement of three parallel vertical columns, since Thunderbird puts the pages in a fairly short window underneath the list of entries; but it’s easy enough to click on the link and read the message on its original page in my browser. So it’s a minor adjustment.
So I’m finally back to a place where I only need to have one browser open as a matter of course rather than two — and just a few days ago, I was afraid I’d have to get used to switching among three browsers to do different things. So I’m definitely glad I managed to sort this out. And thanks to the commenters for the helpful suggestions.

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Browser brouhaha

October 27, 2014 4 comments

For years now, I’ve been using Opera 12 as my main Internet browser, but more and more sites are upgrading their tech to be incompatible with it, and apparently the current versions of Opera lack much of its functionality. For a while now, I’ve had to rely on Firefox for certain sites that Opera couldn’t handle well, like Facebook and Netflix. But I had trouble figuring out how to import my Opera bookmarks into Firefox, so I kept on using Opera for most things.

Lately I’ve been thinking I should go ahead and try Google’s Chrome browser — in part because I have it on my smartphone, and since it stores bookmarks in the “cloud,” importing my Opera bookmarks to Chrome would automatically put them on my phone too. Also, I found out this week that Chrome would let me use a bookmark bar like the one I so rely on in Opera, with my favorite sites all listed without the need to open menus. So I decided to try Chrome, and it works fairly well, except for some annoyances, like how there’s no way to open a link in a new foreground tab (which is shift-click in Opera and, as I’ve just discovered, control-click in Firefox), and no RSS reader. Also, for some reason, Chrome doesn’t get along with Netflix streaming at all. Even with the most current update of the streaming software, the image was low-resolution and posterized. So clearly I couldn’t switch to Chrome as my exclusive browser.

But here’s the thing: Once I imported my Opera bookmarks to Chrome, I was able to import them from Chrome into Firefox — and yesterday I figured out how to create the kind of bookmark bar I wanted in Firefox! So I finally have all my bookmarks organized and available in Firefox as conveniently as they are in Opera. Which gives me a strong incentive to keep using Firefox as my primary browser (and I’m using it now as I write this post). And there are other minor ways in which using Firefox is closer to the Opera experience I’m used to, like the ability to open new foreground tabs. It still has a couple of drawbacks, though. Opera has a function I really, really appreciate, which is the ability to disable animated GIF images. I’m very easily distracted and annoyed by such things, so I love having a browser that I can set to disable the animations by default unless I choose to turn them on. I gather there are things you can download that let you temporarily freeze them by hitting the Escape key, but that’s not the same thing. It’s mainly an issue for me on the TrekBBS, whose edit window has a bunch of animated smileys adjacent to it, and that can be very distracting. I may try to see if I can just get used to it, since there are so many advantages to Firefox over Opera 12. (For one thing, when I copy and paste a text in Firefox, it retains formatting like italics and bold.)

So it looks like the main benefit of getting Chrome on my desktop is that it’s helped me make better use of Firefox and my phone. So it’s been more a transitional aid than anything else. It’s a good thing these downloads are free.

The other issue I have to consider is peripheral to that. I’ve recently tried upgrading from my email client, an old version of Eudora (the original program, rather than the modern namesake that’s basically a modification of Mozilla Thunderbird). I pretty much had to, because for some reason my main email service has suddenly stopped letting me send outgoing mail through a client program (i.e. I can’t access its SMTP server, and I’ve gotten no useful response from the provider’s tech support) and I couldn’t get that version of Eudora to connect to my Gmail account. I tried Thunderbird itself, which works okay except for one thing: It doesn’t seem to check mail automatically, even though I have that option turned on in its setting menu. So I’ve been relying on the mail client in Opera lately — although that’s a bit annoying because I have it downloading mail from both accounts, and my Gmail account automatically picks up mail from my main account, so I get most of my mails twice in Opera. I may have to test out another client or two before I find one that works for me. I could just keep using Opera, but it feels wasteful somehow to have a whole browser program open to serve only as a mail program.

Progress is annoying sometimes. Sure, it’s great when new things come along with new abilities, but it’s frustrating when progress takes away things you were happy with.

EDIT: How about that? Just minutes after I posted this, I suddenly got the test e-mail I tried sending to my Gmail account from my mail client weeks ago. I tried again with a new test message, and it worked too. So the problem has spontaneously fixed itself, immediately after I complained about it publicly. Thank you, universe! I approve of this new, more responsive approach. Keep up the good work!

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Gum again

September 11, 2014 3 comments

Some 14 months ago, I posted about how the first attempt at a gum graft to repair the receding gumline on my lower front teeth, using an artificial collagen matrix to encourage the growth of new gum tissue, hadn’t worked out as well as hoped. The expectation was that I’d have to try again and have actual gum tissue extracted from elsewhere in my mouth, which would’ve made the procedure somewhat more invasive and unpleasant. So I wasn’t looking forward to the repeat attempt, which is part of why I waited 14 months to schedule a new one. Although part of the delay was that I wanted it to be at a time when I knew I wouldn’t be traveling anywhere within the ensuing six weeks, given the need to be selective about my diet during the healing process, when I can’t bite into anything with my incisors. The long delay in arranging my visit to family in Detroit thus delayed the procedure. And then I was behind on my novel and I wanted to wait until I finished it before I did anything as distracting as this.

But now the novel’s done, so I buckled down and made the appointment. If you recall, I delayed the first attempt at the procedure for nearly a year too, and it turned out that in the interim, the doctor learned a new method for doing it, i.e. the collagen matrix. Turns out that in the year since the first attempt, he’s learned yet another new method. So instead of falling back on the conventional gum-transplant method he was going to use, he decided instead to proceed with something called the “pinhole” technique and implant a different kind of synthetic collagen matrix through a gentler procedure than before. I still had to get numbed, but it wasn’t too bad aside from a few mild twinges here and there, and I had my music player on my smartphone to help relax me. (I listened to one of my TV soundtrack albums, and the triumphant closing cue of the episode played just as the doctor told me the procedure was finished! Perfect timing!) I just hope this time the collagen matrix works better than last time, because I don’t want to have to go through this again. Although, granted, it does get a little easier each time, as long as I wait about a year…

So anyway, now I’m on a diet of soft and/or bite-sized foods again, and for the first day or so on a no-hot-foods diet. Fortunately I’ve done this before, so I already did the appropriate shopping. I’ll be having a fair amount of pasta salads and soups for a while, I guess. But it’s a change from all the sandwiches I had over the past few days while trying to use up my “bitey” foods.

Good grief, I’m starting to feel hungry again while writing this, even though I finished eating not half an hour ago. I would’ve expected to have less of an appetite after this. But I guess it wasn’t stressful in that way. Anyway, I guess I should stop writing about food.

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Caution: Possible malware issue on my home page

Folks, a fan just notified me of getting a malware warning when trying to access my home page. I found the files had been altered yesterday and uploaded clean copies from my computer, but I’m still getting the warnings on my laptop browsers, although I get through fine on my smartphone. I’ve contacted the webmaster to find out more, and I’ll keep you posted.

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Getting back from travel

Okay, I’m back home from Detroit. I didn’t post during my trip since something was wrong with my aunt and uncle’s wifi, and I was occupied with other stuff anyway. I guess I could’ve posted from my smartphone, but it didn’t occur to me as something I needed to do.

I had a nice visit with Aunt Shirley and Cousin Cynthia, though Uncle Harry was away with my other cousins because of health issues delaying his return home. I wish him a speedy recovery. Thanks to Shirley’s vegetarian cooking, I tried my first Thai food, rice noodles with satay (peanut and coconut) sauce, and found it fairly interesting. I generally don’t care for Asian cuisine because I’m not fond of soy sauce or sweet-and-sour sauce, and I’d heard that Thai food was very spicy so I wasn’t tempted to try it, but I like peanuts and coconuts, so this was agreeable. The other favorite home-prepared thing I had was some sweet-potato gnocchi that we had along with spinach and onion omelets (another thing I usually don’t eat — I’m not an egg person, generally). And on my last full day, we got a nice “spinach supreme” pizza from a local place, and I got to take a few pieces with me for lunch on the drive home and dinner when I got back.

One evening I went on a bike ride with Shirley and Uncle Clarence (who lives nearby), and it’s fortunate it was a slow ride; I didn’t bring my own bike, and the only one available was a rather unusually structured one that wasn’t quite recumbent but had a seat with a back you could lean against. I don’t remember the brand name of it — something that started with Re-.  (Edit: Cynthia tells me it’s a Revive.) It took a little getting used to, particularly since I’m out of practice at bike-riding anyway (I’ll avoid the obvious joke), but I did okay for the relatively brief duration of the ride.

And I finally got a chance to look through what we call “The Grampa Book,” a Bennett family genealogy that was compiled some decades ago, but that my father never got a copy of because he wasn’t very family-oriented. I do recall getting to see it at least once before, but that was many years ago, and in my more recent family interactions, it wasn’t until now that we actually tracked it down for me to look at. I learned a number of things I hadn’t known before, even about my own branch of the family. I never knew, for instance, that my maternal grandmother had the same first name as my sister. I lost touch with that side of the family after we lost my mother, and I was very young when that happened, so I only knew my maternal grandmother as “Grandmama.” (Which was how I distinguished her from my other grandmother, “Grandma.”) But I learned some other things too. For instance, a couple of my ancestors testified at the only colonial witch trial held outside of Massachusetts, a 1692 trial in Fairfield, Connecticut of an alleged witch named Mercy Disbrow or Disborough. Unfortunately they testified on the wrong side, against her. She was convicted, but spared due to a technicality. (Cousin Cynthia once just randomly discovered that an acquaintance of hers was descended from Mercy Disbrow, a rather astonishing coincidence.)

Also, it turns out that some of my paternal ancestors were a lot more religious than my grandfather and his progeny — his older siblings included some people with unusual Biblical names, like Philander Bennett (it originally meant “lover of men,” as in a philanthropist, but it seems to have gotten confused to mean “a loving man” at some point) and Zadok Alonzo Bennett. I think I’m going to swipe “Zadok” as a Vulcan name in my current novel.

And I finally found out where the Bennetts came from. I’ve known since my first, long-ago glimpse of The Grampa Book that my ancestors have been in the US since colonial times, but I was never clear on where they came from before that. It turns out that the first Bennett in the New World, James Bennett, was born in County Kent, England around 1616. He may have been the son of a tailor named Jacobus Bennett of Appledore (who’s listed in the Canterbury marriage licenses, 1609), but there’s no proof of that. He sailed in December 1634  aboard a ship called the Hercules of Sandwich, which sounds like a slogan for a fast-food offering. He was one of seven servants of a yeoman (i.e. landowning farmer or minor nobleman) named Nathaniel Tilden, the former mayor of Tenterden in Kent and the most prominent passenger aboard the Hercules. They settled in the colony of Scituate, Massachusetts, where Tilden became ruling elder of its first church. I find a number of online sites about the Hercules and its passengers, but poor James B. tends to get lumped anonymously under “servants” in the manifests. Most of my other paternal ancestors seem to be English, mainly from the home counties (i.e. southeast England around London) but some from around Yorkshire or Hereford as well as one from Scotland. Although apparently my paternal grandmother’s ancestry was largely German.

Unfortunately the family genealogy doesn’t go back beyond the first generation of colonists in the 1600s, since the compiler never got the chance to visit England and continue his research there. Still, it’s nice to know this much. I’ve always been an Anglophile, so it’s cool to know I have roots over there.  And I’m rather pleased to find I’m descended from a commoner rather than a nobleman.

(I’m afraid I don’t know much about my maternal ancestors, but doing a web search now for my mother’s rather uncommon maiden name suggests that they were originally from Scotland, part of a wave of Scots and Irish settlers who came to the Shenandoah Valley in Virginia in the 1770s — and apparently never left, since that’s where my mother was from.)

Well, my smartphone did prove useful on my trip. I was able to use a weather radar app I downloaded to warn me when a rainstorm was approaching, which let me sit it out at a rest area while it passed, and I was able to pass the time websurfing on my phone. Although that kind of backfired, since I then ran straight into a severe traffic jam, and by the time I finally got up to Michigan over an hour behind schedule, I ran into the afternoon rain I’d been hoping to avoid, as well as rush hour traffic. Oh, and having unlimited texting was really helpful, because it let me text ahead and let the folks know when to expect me, including updates on my delays. I also used a gas price app to find the least expensive fuel along the route (in the Toledo area), and GPS to get directions to that station and then back to I-75, and then for the final leg to my aunt’s house — although I think I misunderstood an instruction and took the wrong turn, but that just put me on the route I usually take anyway and the phone GPS adapted. However, I found that GPS use really drained the battery, so I had to plug in the backup battery pack that Cousin Mark got me last Christmas. I’d been thinking of getting a car lighter to USB adapter, but I thought I’d try going without one this time to assess the need. The verdict is that next time I really should have one.

Still, as cool as the GPS navigator is, it’s the sort of thing that would work best if I had a passenger to monitor the phone for me so I could keep my eye on the road. Although I suppose they probably make some kind of bracket for placing the phone on top of the dashboard, so I wouldn’t have to glance down at the phone in the cupholder.

The GPS was of mixed use on the trip home. It was helpful for directing me from my aunt’s house to I-75 (a route I’d taken before and brought along printed instructions for, but it was handy to have the directions read aloud to me), and then I didn’t think I’d need it anymore. But I hit rush-hour traffic getting into Greater Cincinnati, so I decided to take an early exit and make my way to a familiar road. But at first I wasn’t sure whether the computer was trying to direct me back to the interstate or not, so I had to pull into a parking lot and pull up the list of directions to make sure it was directing me to the route I wanted. It was, and it even corrected me when I took a wrong turn shortly thereafter (since I was coming at a familiar intersection from a new direction and got confused). But then I realized that it was, indeed, trying to direct me to the next I-75 on-ramp. Fortunately, by that point I already knew the rest of the way home, so I could turn it off. Otherwise, my drive home was uneventful, except for hitting a brief, fierce rainstorm not far out from home. Although I guess most rain is fierce when you’re driving through it at highway speeds.

I managed to get some writing done on the trip; on the drive up, I was able to work out how to proceed with the scene I’d begun before I left, and I got it finished by Saturday evening. Also, Cynthia (who’s from the Bay Area) was able to give me some insights into San Francisco for some material set around Starfleet Headquarters in my novel, so that was helpful. But then I let my mind wander to other things, so now I need to get back to work. The vacation is over.

Getting ready to travel

I’ve been gearing up for a trip to Detroit to visit my aunt and uncle. It’s a trip I’ve been hoping to make for months, but I wanted to wait until my cousin Cynthia was in town to visit them too, and she had bought a “standby” (?) plane ticket whose date kept getting bumped back because of all the flight delays caused by the winter storms this past season. But she’s finally there, so I’m going to drive up tomorrow and stay the weekend.  This is a good time to go on a trip up north, since it’s oppressively hot and humid in Cincinnati right now.

One reason I got my smartphone last month was so that I’d be able to use it to assist me with travel — I now have GPS navigation, a weather radar app to track storms, and a gas-price app to help me find low gas prices (which would be particularly helpful at the moment). Unsurprisingly, the weather forecast for tomorrow has gotten rainier with each passing day, so I may have been wise to get that radar app.

It’ll also be good to be able to check my e-mail and use the Internet while on the road, assuming I stay where I can get a good signal (which shouldn’t be much of an issue along the major interstates, I gather). For some reason, the e-mail program I use on my laptop has trouble sending out e-mail from locations other than my home — I’ve never quite figured out why that is — but now I can just reply from my phone if I need to.

Also, within the past week or so I’ve finally gotten around to copying all my CD collection onto my computer and then saving most of it onto the new 16GB microSD card I got for my phone, so now I have plenty of music to choose from. I’d probably prefer to use my car CD player while I’m actually driving, but it’s good to have the option of listening to whatever music I want at other times during my trip, or just in general. (Unfortunately my car stereo is old enough that it has no input for an MP3 player or an SD card or anything other than CDs inserted in the slot and radio through the antenna.)

I have to admit, after I put all that music onto my phone, I found myself expecting it to be heavier. Really, it’s amazing that that tiny little shard of plastic and metal, smaller even than my little fingernail, can hold as much music as the whole shelf full of CDs in my living room, and still be less than half full. Truly we live in the future.

And it’s a good thing I remembered to copy the photos and other files from my old, 2GB microSD card onto the new one. Fortunately I have two different microSD adaptors, one for a standard SD slot and one for a USB port, so I was able to plug both cards into different ports on my laptop and just copy directly from one to the other, which was handy. (The one thing I still haven’t gotten to work is the software that’s supposed to let you sync media files between a laptop and the phone. I tried downloading two different versions of it and neither one seems able to recognize my phone. So any file transfers, for now, have to be done by removing the SD card from the phone, which is harder to do than with my old phone because I have to take off the whole back rather than just open a slot on the side.)

Oh, and this trip may be an opportunity to make use of that backup phone charger pack my cousin Mark got me last Christmas. My phone does seem to need charging on a daily basis, and I intend to top it off before I leave tomorrow, but it’ll be good to have a reserve power supply on the road in case I need it. I was thinking of buying a car lighter-to-USB adapter, but I don’t think this trip will be long enough for me to need it, given that I already have the battery pack. (After all, I won’t need GPS just to remember “keep going north on I-75.” If I need it, it’ll only be for the last leg of the trip.)

So anyway, I think I’m all ready except for the packing, and I’m glad this trip is finally about to happen.

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Why do we still call them phones? Redux

Here’s a probably incomplete list of the things I’ve done with my new smartphone since I got it two weeks ago:

  • Browsed websites
  • Looked things up on Wikipedia, IMDb, and elsewhere, by both typing and voice entry
  • Posted to Facebook/checked status
  • Checked mail regularly
  • Received a couple of texts from the wireless carrier
  • Taken a few photos
  • E-mailed a photo to my laptop
  • Recorded a test video
  • Listened to portions of my complete Star Trek: TOS soundtrack collection while out on walks (and this morning used it to drown out that annoying Whitney Houston song my neighbor blares every so often)
  • Used the voice recorder to dictate writing notes to myself
  • Checked the weather regularly
  • Entered upcoming appointments and events in my calendar
  • Used GPS navigation to direct me from the movie theater to the grocery store
  • Used the calculator to compute my gas mileage
  • Used the astonishingly bright built-in flashlight
  • Downloaded a magnifying-glass app
  • Downloaded and played a chess game and a bubble-zapper game
  • Used the front-facing camera as a shaving mirror (or tried to — might work better if I magnified the image)
  • Used the memo pad to remind me how much I spent at Taste of Cincinnati
  • Checked the bus schedule online after Taste of Cincinnati
  • Watched a couple of short YouTube videos

Here is some of what I have not yet done with my smartphone as of this writing:

  • Made a phone call
  • Received a phone call

Admittedly, I’m not the most social person around, so going two weeks without making a phone call isn’t unusual for me. I’m sure I’ll get to try out that function soon, since I’m planning to visit family in Detroit later this month. But I still find it amusing that we still refer to these powerful computer/data interface/multimedia devices in our pockets as “phones” when that’s become such a small part of their function.

Indeed, that’s one reason I decided it was time to upgrade to a smartphone, even though it meant spending more money. Sticking with the cell phone I had was a false economy, since the only thing it did that wouldn’t incur an extra data fee was making phone calls, which I hardly used it for anyway, so I was basically spending nearly 50 bucks a month for something I only really used to dictate notes to myself. (Its music player tended to glitch and freeze up the phone, apparently a systemic problem with that model, so I couldn’t use it for that either.) Now I’m spending a certain amount more per month, but I’m getting immensely more value out of it. (Unfortunately it has unlimited talk and text but a finite data limit per month — I wish it were the other way around, since I don’t need the talk and text that much.)

I also haven’t yet figured out how to get it to sync files (i.e. audio, video, photos) with my laptop when it’s hooked up, since the software I downloaded isn’t working the way it’s supposed to. There’s a number I can call where they can fix that, but I haven’t gotten around to that yet. In the meantime, I’ve purchased a MicroSD card with 16 gigabytes to replace the 2GB one I’ve been using, so that I’ll be able to copy and save all my music CDs to it. (Now if only I had a way to do that with my old LPs and cassette tapes.)

I’m particularly glad to have a working portable music player at last. I haven’t had a reliable one of those since the days of the Walkman. (The portable CD player I had didn’t have any kind of strap or carrying case, which was awkward unless I had my backpack with me, and it didn’t handle being jostled well.)

One drawback of the smartphone is that it uses a lot of power. I have to recharge it daily, much more often than my old phone. But then, I’m using it so much more. I guess it’s the same as it was with the fee — I didn’t expend as much before, but much more of what I did expend was wasted.

Although it will help if I remember to turn the flashlight off when I’m done with it…

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