Thursday, September 29, 2011

Where did FireFTP go?

Somewhere along the path of Firefox upgrades, my FireFTP menu item got lost.  It is no longer in the Tools menu where I expected it to be.

The solution was simpler than I thought.  It got moved under Tools/Web Developer.  Why anyone thinks it belongs there is beyond me, but there it is.

Triple-monitor grid file for Gridmove

Gridmove is a fabulous little utility for those of us with lots of screen real estate to manage. Having become somewhat addicted to Gridmove, I was sore to see that the default .grid files didn't support my new third monitor.

Fortunately, this was easier to fix than I thought.  If you're interested in custom grids, skip the help file - it's loaded with terminology.  Just open up an existing .grid file with notepad, you'll see how it hangs together pretty fast.

Here's the grid.  All I did was expand it to three monitors.  Eventually I might delete the elements I don't use, but it works well as-is.

Friday, September 16, 2011

DVD rentals die a quick, unexpected death in some neighborhoods

So the neighborhood video store is now a thing of the past.  But not quite in the way that everybody expected.

There never were a lot of services in my immediate neighborhood, but when my family moved in we were pleased to see a Blockbuster just down the street.  Very handy for picking up the weekend entertainment for the larger family - being the only couple with a theater room, we were the de facto nominees every weekend.

About three years ago, the Blockbuster closed.  Pity, we said, it seems the grocery store next door is moving in to the space.  We ended up going to Rogers Video, only a few more minutes away, for the most part.  Occasionally a trip to the next closest Blockbuster was in order, but for the most part it worked fine.

Oddly enough, the grocery never moved in.  Eventually we realized that particular Blockbuster location was an early casualty of the shrinking DVD rental business.

Then BAM! - all gone.  Blockbuster is bankrupt, and all the stores are closing.  Rogers is also closing their local store - God only knows why, as it's the only one for miles around.  Not to mention it also seems to do a decent business in cell phones and accessories.

I even looked at VHQ, but it was purchased by some failed US video company, and seems to have been sold to Zip some years ago.  There was a VHQ not too too far from here, and close to the McDonalds where I get my weekly coffee fix, but it's not listed anymore, and calls to their number remain unanswered.

So - what the hell are we supposed to do?

Shaw VOD?  Nice, although I do not like not having a physical disc.  They do advertise VOD availability the same day as the DVD release, which is a plus.  Also - at least in theory - there is never a problem with availability.

However, I've never had need for a cable box in the theater room - a fact that caused Shaw employees some significant dismay during my last job interview with them.  So now I have to invest $100 into more equipment, for no other reason than I can't get media for my existing high-quality, region-free upconverting players that have never once let me down.  Seems stupid.

Netflix?  Face it, getting the latest releases from them on physical disc is impossible.  And all reports say their streaming selection stinks. 

(Months ago I recommended "Parndorum" to my brother, but when we looked it up on his PS3 it was not actually available.  For shame, Netflix, for artificially enhancing your catalog listings with unavailable titles - that's called dishonesty.)

Even if I can get the latest via streaming, you're still paying the subscription fee plus another $160-$200 for Netflix-compatible streaming hardware.  And no, I don't have a PS3, Xbox 360 or Wii - I don't have time for that kind of crap - so I don't have the stuff lying around. 

The least expensive option is a Samsung BD-D5490 from Costco for $156.  That gets me a Blu-Ray player that I don't want in order to get Netflix, which I don't want either.

Not to mention the teeny-weeny problems of "bandwidth shaping" and download caps imposed by ISPs like Shaw and Telus.  I'm on Shaw, and never had a problem, but watching HD movies over the net will certainly eat your bandwidth in a big damn hurry.  As one blogger observed, even getting sick a few days and catching up on some flicks could put you over your bandwidth cap for the month! 

Add the potential unreliability of the internet connection and NO, thanks.  My experience with non-HD streaming video from "major" players has been poor, to say the least.  I prefer my media local, uninterruptible, and unlimited, of a quality and format >I< dictate.  That's how I set up my personal theater room and I'll be damned if I'm going to let that go for the dubious advantages of streaming video.

Zip?  I had Zip ages ago, and it worked for what I wanted - older films.  The wait times for the latest releases are so long, they're no longer "latest releases" by the time you get them - if you get them at all, that is. 

I had 50-100 titles listed on my want list, and I rarely if ever got the ones I would have preferred to get.  Eventually I cancelled because I was running out of old stuff to watch again, never having gotten some of the better titles that I listed.

Their streaming service is not ready for prime time, despite promises of a "spring" launch.  (I guess they meant Spring 2012?)  And oops, there's the bandwidth elephant lumbering around again.  Pass.

Amazon Prime?  USA only, so up yours, Canada.

Walmart?   Ditto!

Youtube?  HA!  Yeah, right.  You can't be serious.

So I guess I'm stuck with VOD - at least it's "cable TV" and not an "internet" service, meaning it doesn't count against my bandwidth, and it shouldn't be relying on the internet bandwidth for functionality.  Here's hoping the damn thing doesn't stutter, glitch, or break up when we try to use it.

I guess I'll have to pick up the DVDs when they hit the bargain bins - in a year, or so.  Fortunately, Movie Collector lets me carry my collection around on my Android, so at least I won't be buying movies twice - or missing out on some good bargains.

The other option is to just go to the next nearest store, about 15 minutes away.  Which, in all honesty, we'll probably do for a while.  VOD rubs me the wrong way.

90 million DVD players out there, plus a perhaps equal number of DVD-ROMs and in-vehicle units, plus who knows how many Blu-Ray and console units - and nowhere to rent media.  Go figure.  How long before someone realizes there's still a market?

Friday, September 9, 2011

Emergency preparedness and antique lists redux

Moving on to the last item in my little rant about the antique-ness of most emergency 'preparedness' lists:

The #1 item missing?  The smartphone.  Lest ye think I'm off my rocker, let me explain.

The smartphone represents many things in an emergency situation.  First, and most obviously, it's communications.  Communications are so important that emergency first responders invest millions of dollars into infrastructure-independent communication systems for their personnel, so there can be little argument that it's important for Joe Public as well.

Sure, the infrastructure can fail, or be overwhelmed.  This happens pretty often during disasters in urban areas - the cellular infrastructure just can't handle the call volume.  So it's certainly not perfect.

On the other hand, some people don't even have a landline any more, and many people that do have moved on from the POTS network on to IP phones or other such rigamarole.  (The author is among the guilty.)  Those old enough to know will remember that the plain-old telephone systems were independently powered and had battery backups, so they work in a power outage situation.  IP phones and other fancy modern gimcrackery will not, which may leave your mobile as the last line of communications.

Not to mention that your mobile can be recharged from your vehicle, as mentioned above.  And even if voice calls don't work, sometimes little miracles can happen with text messages.  An SMS telling someone you're OK, where you're meeting, or what's going on can be a godsend.

For an example of where a little basic communications would have come in really handy, you need look no further than the curious case of one Aron Ralston.  Granted, in his particular situation, only proactive communication would have prevented his situation, but many disasters give little to no warning.

After basic communications comes data.  Again, reliant on external infrastructure, but if something is working then you may be able to get your phone (or laptop) onto the cell networks for news and information updates.  Not so likely, I admit.  But possible, and useful in later days when municipal, federal and emergency services may just be getting back into working order.

Even if the cell network is kaputsky, the smartphone (and, to a lesser extent, the laptop/netbook) still has its uses.

Firstly, it probably already has a list of everyone you need to contact.  Not a bad start.  I doubt you can remember everyone's phone number(s) any more.

Assuming you did some basic homework, it can also have a copy of an emergency plan.  Maybe the plan isn't any more complicated than finding Aunt Magdalene, but if it is, you can have it on there - just in case.

Next up:  apps.  (No, I'm not going to say the catchphrase, thanks.)  As cliche as it may sound, there are mobile applications for most platforms that can be pretty handy references in a bad pinch.  Witness one Dan Woolley, an American trapped in the Haiti earthquake, who managed to both put his affairs in order and survive after being buried alive.  Peripheral credit was given to third-party first aid application First Aid & CPR for helping him survive and cope.

Now, things may or may not have turned out differently had Mr. Woolley not downloaded the app.  But he does point out the single most important thing about the phone - he had it on him.  A pocket first aid kit, however, was not something he would have likely carried around, any more than anyone else does.

Without belaboring his exact situation, the fact remains that there are a lot of resources you can load into a phone.  In addition to first aid (adult and child), you can load in emergency numbers, lists of radio stations for updates, locations for muster or emergency stations, websites to access when possible (such as weather, government emergency or crisis sites), a database of emergency supplies (complete with expiration dates and reminders), lists of emergency supplies (for when you have to stock up in a hurry), and measures to take for various types of disaster.  There's even a bunch of "Emergency Button" apps that let you carry out pre-programmed actions with one button.

Remember, none of this stuff is going to be available on-line in a real disaster situation - you can't just hop on the net and get it.  Having it preloaded standalone could be the difference.  And obviously you want the phone for SMS/voice calls, once service is restored.  Being able to recharge from nearly anything should keep it going for any reasonable period of time.

(One can certainly imagine situations where your significant other may be screaming at you for playing with the phone while someone is bleeding to death, but having the information there is still better.  And it's no worse than trying to flip through the table of contents of a printed book.)

Many of these items come from FEMA, the Red Cross, and other established organizations.  Strange how although they have hopped on the mobile bandwagon, mobile hasn't made their lists yet.  I guess with all the new mobile stuff, nobody really looks at those 1950s-era lists any more.