Bringing it back, FPV style…

I can’t believe my last post was about that stupid, stupid Dollar Shave Club.  Even worse is that it’s still around.  People are crazy.

I’ve been running around trying my hand (while keeping my fingers clear) at flying quadcopters.  The general public call ’em drones, the government calls them UAS (Unmanned Aerial Systems), the military calls them UAV (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles), but the actual term for these things is quadcopters, or just quads. That being said, the world likes to call ’em drones, and in my opinion that’s become the de facto term for the little flyers.

I worked with some of the light-duty consumer-grade aerial photography platforms (Phantom, Iris+, Bebop, etc) and that was kinda fun. It’s neat to get up there and take hi-def video and photos, and they’re just so forgiving to fly. That was neat, and it provided some really good experience. What’s really cool, though, is the “racing” quads.  High speed flying, racing, and aerial stunts adds a fresh level of dynamic action to the… hobby? Sport? I think the aerial photography stuff is a hobby, unless you’ve taken it to the level of turning it into a business.  The racing stuff, that’s definitely a sport. It requires reflexes, concentration, and it’s just so much fun. Getting there, though, takes a little work and a little dedication. I’ll get into that, for sure.

I’m gonna rekindle my blog to document some of my time with this. Maybe it’ll help some other noob, maybe it’ll be useless, but Oscar Liang (and countless others) have done it and I can’t tell you how often I find myself looking through their blog trying to figure out what’s going on.

So I finally decided to post again… and the Dollar Shaving Club

Due to the enormous pressure by all the people who visit my site and wondered if I yet live, here I am, posting once again, to prove that I am, indeed, alive.

First things first.  Wordpress keeps going through updates, and that’s just great.  Just… great.  Except it keeps getting slower.  ZOMG it’s driving me crazy – I’m going to need dedicated hosting just to run WordPress.  But whatever, it works and I’m not going to go through yet another migration for the sake of eking out a smidgen of speed.  Meh!

Anyway, I ran into something rather interesting tonight.  Here we go.

I hate shaving.  That’s not true, I don’t really hate shaving – it’s not terrible.  I do it in the shower and it works out pretty good.  What I hate… what I hate… is paying $22 (or more) for a pack of razors for my Gillette Super Mega Spaceship Lasersword Razor Extreme Fusion 12.  To whit – I use my razors way, way longer than I probably should.  This causes discomfort while shaving, which in turn means I am less likely to shave, which in turn means I get to sport a sweet beard.  This is a win-win-win situation.

But sometimes I dig the shaved look.  Takes a few years off (especially now that my chin has gone grey) and it just feels good.  But man, those blades… those blades… they’re just so damned expensive.

My recent obsession with economics and efficiency has led me to many, many cool places as I search for more economical methods to do things (read: efficient in cost of resources, both financial and in pure effort).  I’m keenly interested in taking a step back and away from this unbelievably ‘disposable’ mentality that we seem to have evolved into.  Not really looking at going full survivalist here, but definitely trying to keep my eyes open for opportunities to explore increased self-sufficiency, or at least reduce waste.

So, during one of my weekly forays into the nest of ridiculous memes and self-indulgent status updates that is Facebook, I noted a curious ad for something called the Dollar Shave Club.  Instantly my ear (just one) perked up and I made a fox noise (if you don’t know what that sounds like, you need to hear a song…)  I clicked on the link and was led to a hilariously hipster website featuring a promo video filled to brimming with irreverent humor and cool retro fonts.  I can dig it.  Here, take a moment and check it out.

The message?  Stop paying all that money for razor blades!  For a few dollars a month (as few as 2, and as many as 9) you can have razor blades delivered to your door!  What!?  That’s just crazy.  I pay more than that for Netflix (I think?) and that’s nowhere near as entertaining!  Well, whatever, I clearly needed to investigate this, as I’m also a huge believer in the old adage: “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.”

Well, it is.  But not for the reasons you think.

The products they offer are, apparently, quite good.  From what “the interweb people” say, as good as (or maybe even better than!) those name-brand razors.  Cool, right?  And cheap – way cheaper than spending $22 (or more!) every month on razors.  I thought so too.  $9 every month versus $22 (or more!)  Great deal.  But just like everyone who runs across a great deal, I started doing research.  That’s when I ran across a couple of super interesting articles about the Dollar Shave Club… articles that exposed the one thing those guys probably didn’t want everyone to know:  Who their supplier is.

Enter Dorco.  Aside from having a terrible company name (dork-co? Really?), they provide the exact same product as Dollar Shave Club, and for a fraction of the price.  Profit margin?  Yup.  Check this article out. Now, I checked the math in the article (more or less) and my total came up a little higher than $29 (to the tune of $35) but it’s close enough for government work, and I’m sure Dorco has started jacking up prices now that they’re getting more exposure.  Point is, even if you’re not getting ‘wholesale’ or bulk pricing from Dorco (God, I really hate that name) you’re still saving a nice little chunk of change by going straight to the supplier and skipping the profiteering middle-man.

Sorry Dollar Shave Club guy.  It’s nothing personal.  It’s just that your competitive advantage is that you’ll be sending me blades every month, instead of me having to keep them conveniently located in a box.  Hm.  And for this I’m paying you more?  Nah.  A man’s gotta have his lattes, and those things are expensive!

Even Lifehacker mentions the Dollar Shave Club (and Dorco!).  Doh!  I kinda feel a little bad for the CEO of Dollar Shave Club.  He was gonna make millions.  I mean, everbody has to shave, right?  And soon he’d even offer a ladies’ razor for, you know, the ladies!  Man, it was gonna be so awesome.

So that’s cool.  Now you can really save on razors an’ stuff, and shave for cheap, and stay all clean-shaven year-round if that’s your thing.  Yes!  You’re so welcome…

But that’s not all… mwaaahahahahahah!  Because then I remembered the straight-razor I bought like, 15 years ago with the intention of shaving my face with it.  What’s more economical than using a sweet straight razor to shear the beard?  Actually, nothing.  But for a tiny, tiny bit more money one can use a double-edge (DE) safety razor to get an equally close shave, and it’s easier to use (i.e. less actual effort and learning, which probably translates to not having to visit the emergency room with a slit throat).  Plus it has old-school appeal which, as we all know, is pretty much the reason I do everything.  So what’s the deal behind all that?  Oh, well, you’ll just have to read all about it when next I post… and hopefully that won’t be in another six months. 😉

Kirk out.

When you just gotta go back to Windows…

Sometimes… and it’s a rare case, I know… you just gotta go back to Windows.  It’s an unfortunate state of affairs and it’s never, ever easy, but it just happens.  When such a situation arises, it’s best to just accept it, make it happen, and just move forward.

This week I had to make my little HP laptop run Windows again.  Jackie needed a laptop for school and this little machine has been collecting dust for months.  Granted, I’d just gotten Arch Linux running on it (and what an adventure that was!), but it’s okay – it’s a backup laptop anyway.  FAU’s online learning portals work best in Windows, all the classes require things in MSO formats, blah blah blah… groan.  Long story short, I dug up my old Vista DVD, my Win7 upgrade, and went at it.

The problem arose when I realized that during my foray into Arch, I had converted my hard drive partitions to GPT.  Not sure what GPT is?  It’s a “modern partitioning system.”  Here, read up on it.  Meanwhile, WIndows Vista won’t use GPT-partitioned hard drives for installation.  In fact, apparently this is a common enough problem for people who bounce back and forth between Linux and Windows, so I’m gonna jot down a few notes on how I did it, and maybe it’ll be useful to someone.

So began the process of attempting to convert a GPT hard drive back to MBR.  Here’s an excellent article by Rod Smith about the process of converting a hard drive to or from GPT.  It’s a little confusing, but not too painful.  There’s a lot of information there, it’s good to know, and it may be useful in a broader sense.

That being said, though, while sifting through that article I ran into this article that was absolutely crystal clear on what I was trying to accomplish: converting a GPT hard drive to MBR using gdisk. Gdisk ain’t exactly for the faint of heart, and it doesn’t have a fancy interface or windows or hand-holding or… pretty much anything.  That article is about as clear, concise, and step-by-step as it gets.  Turns out the process is actually pretty darned simple, if you just know the commands and which app to use.  Oh, and I used my Arch Linux USB key to go command-line and gitterdun.  Very nerdy.  Any Linux distro on a USB will do the job though.

Once that was done I looked at my USB key and thought to myself “…but isn’t there a way to install Windows 7 via USB key?” followed by “I have the license, why don’t those bastiches at Micro$oft allow me to download the software?” followed by “I wonder if they do, and I just don’t know it.”  My findings:

  • They don’t allow you to ‘just download’ the software in ISO form.  You gotta buy the software from them, pretty much any way you plan to get it.  That being said, there are… unofficial channels.  Whether they’re legal or not perhaps falls into a ‘grey area’, but like I said: if you have a valid license then it should be all good. Remember that you are, essentially, paying for the license.  And yes, you should, essentially, be allowed to download the software if you have a valid license.  Pretty much every other software developer in the universe does it that way.  Bastiches. Here’s a link to one location where you could download Windows 7 in ISO format.
  • Yes, Windows 7 can indeed be installed via USB key.  You need a Windows machine to set up the USB key and ISO correctly (there’s a little app you can install that comes direct from Micro$oft).  Again, you’ll need a Windows machine to make it work.  Also, a USB key bigger than 4GB which, these days, should almost be a given.

Once you’ve installed the little Windows app, it works similarly (though far more simplistically) to unetbootin or any other USB/ISO app.  Just point it to where you stored the downloaded ISO of Win7 and let it fly.  Takes a little while, so be patient.

At this point, I just inserted the USB key into the laptop, flipped it on, hit the appropriate keys to get it to boot from USB and voila.  Very, very fast installation, incidentally – much faster than the DVD.  I made dinner (a pork tenderloin in mojo marinade and peaches dish… very tasty) and by the end of dinner all was running like a top.  Even most of the drivers were already installed.  I feel like it deserves a Borat-style “Very nice!”

Osprey packs pack a lotta features, and great support

I was given an Osprey Raptor 10 for Christmas – a small, light pack that is nearly perfect for cycling.  It’s a well built unit that does exactly what it’s supposed to.  Even better, Osprey has unparalleled support.  While maintaining the bite valve on the Raptor 10, I noticed that one of the internal parts had broken.  A quick visit to the Osprey website led me to this page:

Osprey will replace broken parts, fo’ free!  That’s just awesome.  I’m impressed, and while I’ve always recommended Osprey packs to friends and family, this is just one more great point I can add to an already superior product.

Two must-have Firefox extensions with Gnome Shell

Okay, maybe “must-have” is a little strong. How about “works great with” or… “I really like.” Anyway, they’re really great extensions that don’t chew up a ton of memory and are (in my oh-so-humble opinion) very much A Good Thing.

But first, a little preamble. After several fairly smooth months of running Ubuntu and appreciating all the good things that came with that experience, I finally got sick of the troubles behind running Ubuntu with Gnome Shell. Why would I want to run Gnome Shell? Because though Unity has some really neat stuff going on, and as an interface I think it’s just great for some folks, I firmly believe that Gnome Shell is just amazing and only getting better. Unfortunately, I’ve run into a ton of problems running Gnome Shell in Ubuntu (it just doesn’t want to play well with Unity), and it got real frustrating real fast. So I looked to Fedora (again – I hop a lot between the two distros) to give me that plain-vanilla ‘pure’ Gnome Shell experience.

A few false starts and a whole lotta hammering later (especially on my laptop), and Fedora has proven to be everything Ubuntu is and then some. Very cutting edge, very fast, memory use is well behaved, YUM and RPM is excellent… I’m impressed. And the Gnome Shell experience has not disappointed (though I know and appreciate that not everyone agrees with me on that).

Gnome Shell’s got a great interface that is constantly improving and I can appreciate the directions it’s going. Unfortunately, not all the apps are quite there yet, and Firefox is among them. When maximized, Firefox still has this annoying titlebar in place (resulting in a kind of ‘double-titlebar’ that eats up vertical real estate and just irks my sensibilities.) Easily solved with the first of my suggested extensions:

PLEASE NOTE: Don’t use this extension with any other desktop environment!  This is only intended for Gnome Shell!

Anyway, once the extension is installed you can maximize the window and voila!  It works similarly to Chrome, maximizing real estate and looking just great.  Now, you could do this by simply hitting the F11 key and going “fullscreen”, and that’s a legit solution for when I’m concentrating on one particular page.  Thing is, when I’m ‘working’ (yeah, I single-quoted that) I often keep a bunch of tabs open and just like to have the top bar in place, so this extension is a happy solution for my needs.

The second extension is a pretty simple thing – it just makes the window look a little more “Gnomish”, specifically Adwaita.  Personally I think it looks great (better than the default, for sure) and it looks nicely integrated into the rest of the environment.  Here’s a link:

Again, this is just aesthetic, but it makes a difference to me as far the whole ‘user experience.’   Feels a lot nicer and just less obtrusive.

As with anything in this world, YMMV.  Try it out, and if you don’t like it, knock it out.  As to why I’m using Firefox instead of my usual love, Chrome, well… that’s a tale for another day.

Watching Amazon Instant Video on Fedora 18

Here’s a great link to an article that will show you how to add support for Amazon’s Instant Video services to Fedora 18.  It has to do with the deprecated HAL extensions and Amazon’s adoption of DRM in their player.  All fine and dandy, but kind of a pain to get into play unless you follow this very, very convenient and quick tutorial:

So yeah it’s been a while… months and months and no signs of life.  Been a little busy, but yeah, I’m back.  /cheer! 😉

Back to Ubuntu with Precise Pangolin, GIMP 2.8 (FTW!), Corel AfterShot, and adding expose-style functionality to Unity

So I keep flip-flopping back and forth between Fedora and Ubuntu.  I can’t help it though, because Fedora is *soooo* darned attractive with Gnome Shell (Gnome 3, whatever) and it has the most amazingly frequent release schedule, yet Ubuntu has all that support, just-works functionality, Google is filled to the brim with articles on how to make something work on Ubuntu, and hey, to be honest, it’s definitely the smoothest linux experience.  Ubuntu’s latest, Precise Pangolin, is no exception.  It’s smooth, it’s fast, it works, and I don’t have to hammer at it until mp3s play, or worry about some jacktard geek’s interpretation of ‘free as in beer’, or their moral standards.  At the end of the day, you’re still getting a linux experience, all the power and flexibility (if you want/need it), and out-of-the-box it’s just a whole lot less of a headache.  Nuff said.

So I installed Ubuntu 12.04 on my laptop, it runs great and smooth, and it really, truly just works.  I haven’t even installed the latest Gnome Shell, I’ve just been using Unity and frankly, I really really like it.  It’s fast to work with, it’s pretty well thought out, and only takes a slight learning curve to get accustomed to.  I still think Gnome Shell is a superior UI, but I definitely see the appeal of Unity and will continue to give it a fair shake.

The guys and gals at GIMP have given us GIMP 2.8.  Oh man, is it ever a worthy update.  Single-window view (awesome!), lots and lots of speed and performance improvements, text editing has been (finally) reworked and is now usable.  There’s so much to love about it.  Can I give up Adobe’s Photoshop?  Well… no, not yet.  Possibly not ever, unless Adobe decides to wait 5 years between updates.  Still, I find that GIMP does most anything I need it to do, especially in a pinch, so maybe.  If you’re on Ubuntu, you’ll need a few special instructions (and a PPA) to get 2.8 properly installed.  Click here for more information on installing GIMP 2.8 on Ubuntu.

Either way, head over there and download it today.  It’s available for Windows too, so if you’re a photochopper or just a graphics guy, and you’re not one of those rabid tool-specific kids that tattoos the Adobe logo on their arm, give it a shot.  You probably won’t regret it too much.

Corel bought out Bibble.  Then they took Bibble’s Lightroom-esque app, rebranded it, fixed up the interface (a LOT) and released it as AfterShot.  It’s effin’ awesome – I like it a lot, especially for the price.  This is worth checking out (a 30-day trial is available) if you’re a photographer and you’ve been looking for an alternative to Lightroom.  I mean, I have no idea why you’d be looking for an alternative to Lightroom (it’s really that good) but if you’re a photographer using Linux (for some reason), or trying to wean yourself off of Windows (for myriad good reasons), you don’t even have Lightroom available to you.  AfterShot is definitely, *definitely* the droid you’re looking for.  Forget all the other pretenders, and just pony up the $60, it’s worth it.  Try it out before you buy and see for yourself.

Finally, here’s a little trick for Ubuntu that I ran across (for Unity, at least).  If you’re like me, you pine for the days when you used to have a Mac, and dream about the day when you can finally afford another one.  Until that day, we just hack and beat on whatever we’re currently using in an effort to make it more mac-like.  Expose (yes, I know I’m missing the accent) is an unbelievably useful tool that you didn’t know you loved until you didn’t have it anymore, and then constantly try to activate.  Well, if you’re using Unity, here’s a link with step-by-step instructions on how to activate expose-ish functionality in Unity, via Compiz.  It’s neat, it works, it’s fast, and it doesn’t cost anything.  Is it Expose?  Not quite, but it’s close enough.


Tasty, tasty Ice Cream Sandwich on my Samsung Vibrant…

So there’s a lot of buzz about ICS (Ice Cream Sandwich), the latest and greatest of the Androids, successor to the inimitable Gingerbread (Honeycomb being primarily for tablets, from what I’ve come to understand…)  Anyway, I was just happy to be running Cyanogenmod 7 (finally) on my Vibrant (also known as the Samsung Galaxy S) and puttering along quite happily, occasionally upgrading to a new CM7 nightly.

That all ended rather abruptly with Cyanogen announcing that he (and his team) were going to concentrate on pushing development for ICS.  I wasn’t too worried about it – I could’ve been perfectly happy with a solid CM7 installation until I upgrade my phone someday.  But the last nightly from the CM7 team was buggy, crappy, slow, and drained my battery like a 2 dollar hooker during fleet week.

I figured someone somewhere probably had a vanilla Gingerbread AOSP build for the Vibrant, so I popped over to the XDA forums to see what I could cram into it.  Something functional, yet basic.  I don’t go for the whole MIUI thing… and not just because I’m a UI snob; it’s just messy.

Well, lo and behold!  Apparently some kind developers have actually taken the new ICS release and compiled a beta ROM for the Vibrant.  I shoehorned that sumbitch right into my phone and followed all the instructions… and….. it sort of works.  Everything was shiny and new… and freakishly fast.  Very smooth, very attractive.  I’m very impressed with everything.  Except the phone doesn’t work.  Neither does GPS, but that’s hardly an issue since I’d resigned myself to never being able to use the GPS (as I’m sure every other Vibrant user in the world has done the same.)  I had to install the framework update (same page on XDA developers dot com, just a little bit below the V5 link) and everything’s working just great.  Except the GPS.  But who the hell cares about that anyway.

So: Ice Cream Sandwich!  I’ll post some thoughts about it once I’ve had a few hours to mess with it.  So far though, it’s worth looking into upgrading.  Muy bueno!

Warm Bodies.

What happens when you mix Grendel, zombies, and a love story?  You get “Warm Bodies” by Isaac Marion.

This book is… riveting.  It’s a quick read – not just because it’s relatively short (only 256 pages) – but because it’s just so well written.  Floating in the middle of an ocean of zombie-apocalypse bologna, here’s a story told from the point of view of a zombie.  A love story.  I mean, right there, right there, I’m hooked.  I just gotta know how Marion’s gonna write a book from a brainless corpse’s point of view.  So I flip open to the first page…

Fast forward a few hours, I put the book down.  Done.  Wow.  This book just made my must-read list.  The writing style flows, it’s a quality piece.  It’s a little cheesy, sure, but it’s a love story.  A zombie falls in love with a living girl.  It’s bound to throw on a little grated goodness. The end, especially, is a bit cheesy; “The Road” this surely is not.  But…

It will draw you in, grip you, and you will read it.  You have no choice, it hurtles you through it and it’s just a great read.  Worth $10, no doubt.  You might want two copies, as you’ll pass it along to friends.  Even those illiterate bastards will be curious enough to read it and even (gasp) love it.

Get it from Amazon here.  You will not regret it.

Installing GIMP 2.7.x on Fedora

GIMP 2.7 is faaaan-tastic.  Huge leap forward, I really can’t wait for 2.8.  Sure it’s a little buggy here and there but the overall experience is great.  And it’s got single-window mode, a feature that I’m a big fan of.

So you’ve got Fedora and you want to install GIMP 2.7?  You gotta hunt around in Google a bit to get this info, so I decided I’d just compile it into one post cuz I’m like, nice or something.

First: Go to /usr/etc/yum.repos.d/

Type in:

sudo wget

If you don’t have wget installed, don’t worry: the shell will ask you if you’d like to install it so you can use it.  So considerate and friendly!  I remember when Linux used to yell at you for using unknown commands.  “Stupid noob! Why would you type that command?  I clearly don’t undersand it!”

Anyway, say yes.  Then try it again.  It’ll output some lines and tell you how successful it was.

Fire up Add/Remove and type in GIMP.  Select it for installation.  Alternatively you could also just type in (because hey, you’re already typing, might as well do it all):

sudo yum install gimp

Once done, fire up the GIMP and bask in the glory.  But wait, it’s still the same old GIMP!  Go to Windows->Single Window Mode.  Hooray for SWM!  It’s so fancy!  So clean!  So much less of a pain in the ass to use!  I actually kind of enjoy beating my head against GIMP now while I continue to struggle with it in my efforts to replace Photoshop.  It really is so many steps closer.

Hope this helps someone, someday.

Okay, back to work.