Missing Updates?

Submitted by Brad Tombaugh on 8 February 2011 - 6:46pm

Like most of us, I've come to rely on Apple's Software Update to tell me when new updates are available. It seems that most third-party software has its own built-in mechanism for checking for updates as well, so I hardly ever go to http://www.VersionTracker.com or http://www.MacUpdate.com to look for new releases any more.

I've discovered in the past few weeks, though, that I've missed some updates, because the built-in updaters haven't alerted me that new software was available.

One of these packages is the Adobe Acrobat Reader, now just called "Reader." I know that it has its own updater, but version 9 never told me that version 10 was available! I had updated Reader up to 9.41, but it doesn't offer to upgrade to Reader 10, which came out back in October! I had seen an article on the web that mentioned that Reader X wasn't susceptible to the latest malware attack. I didn't remember getting Reader X, so I opened Reader, and checked the version number in the About box -- 9.41. I manually ran "Check for Updates" and the Updater ran, and told me that I had the latest version. I went to Adobe's website (http://get.adobe.com/reader/), though, and found that 10.0 was available. I had to manually download and install version 10 last week, but its told me today that version 10.0.1 is available (and its updating right now!).

Another one of the other updates that I hadn't gotten was for the "Flip for Mac WMV" plug-in that allows playing Windows-format video clips on websites. It also has its own "Check for Updates Automatically" preference, but hadn't updated to the latest release that came out months ago. I had to open its Preference Pane, and click "Check for Update" myself in order to get it up-to-date.

I was also changing some settings in my Qwest DSL router last week, a Motorola Netopia, and clicked on the software update tab. It said that there were no updates available. The next day, after getting an ad suggesting that I upgrade my DSL to fiber optic, I went to Qwest's website to see if faster speeds were available in my area -- they aren't... But while I was there, I went to the Modems page (http://www.qwest.com/internethelp/downloads-auto-firmware.html), and clicked on the link for my modem, and found that there was a update almost a year ago that I didn't have yet. I had to manually download the firmware image, and upload it to the router through its web interface, and now it actually seems faster! There might be firmware updates for your wireless access points and routers, as well as your DSL routers or cable modems. It doesn't hurt to check...

While we normally think of software updates as adding new features, and perhaps fixing some bugs, many updates also address security issues, fixing vulnerabilities in the software or devices that might allow hackers and viruses to get through, so its always a good idea to keep your software current. Even if you have turn on auto-update everywhere, and have Check for Updates run automatically, it doesn't guarantee that everything is going to be up-to-date. Take the time once in a while to manually check for updates that you might not have gotten.

Another suggestion, if you have the latest version of Snow Leopard (10.6.6) is to check out the "App Store" application. I've re-installed several apps that I already had installed, using the App Store, as it has an Updates tab much like iTunes, that will also check for updates for your installed applications.

Verizon iPhone

Submitted by Brad Tombaugh on 11 January 2011 - 11:44pm

So today's big news from Verizon is the long anticipated announcement that they will begin carrying Apple's iPhone. My reaction: Disappointed...

As I've mentioned on my Android page, I gave up waiting for a Verizon-badged iPhone about a year ago, and picked up a Motorola Droid. Jeannette has also gone with an Android phone, the Samsung Continuum, but with a backup plan -- we have another upgrade coming up in February. She's been happy enough with the Continuum that she's not sure that she still wants to switch to an iPhone, even though she uses a MacBook, an iPad, and an iPod or two...

So why am I disappointed? When I saw that Verizon was starting to carry the iPad, I was certain that the iPhone was on their horizon. Since the rumors of a January announcement coincided with Verizon's roll-out of there shiny new LTE 4G network, I assumed that the timing was intentional, so that Apple could be one of, if not the first, 4G LTE smart phone for Verizon. Since one of the common complaints from AT&T iPhone users is slow data network speed, I assumed that Apple was interested in expanding to Verizon's market not only because of their large customer base, but also because of their network infrastructure, and their 4G network speed.

However, in the details of today's announcement were a number of disappointments. First, the Verizon iPhone would only be compatible with CDMA technology for Verizon's current 3G network. In fact, Verizon has said that their 4G network is currently only for data, not voice, so you can't use only LTE at this point. Full voice and data capability isn't expected until 2012. While that's a long time to wait, the next problem is that by the time Apple and Verizon have everything ready for LTE, early adopters of Verizon's initial iPhone offering will only be half way through their two-year contract, so they will likely have almost another year to wait for high-speed 4G...

I used to work in the cell phone industry, so I have some understanding of cell phone subsidies and early-termination fees, but its become frustrating as a consumer that the life cycle of most new handsets is now only a few months, while the time to complete the contract is 20-24 months. This leaves most of us with "antiquated" technology for nearly 75% of the time. The Droid that I have now was introduced in about November 2009, and was replaced by the Droid X and Droid 2 in about April 2010, as I recall, only a couple of months after I bought mine.

By the time my 20-month commitment to my current Droid is over, both of those newer models will also be history, probably by 2 or 3 newer models. Maybe by then there will be an LTE capable iPhone available. Maybe by then I will have decided to just stick with Android...

What Cables Should Cost

Submitted by Brad Tombaugh on 30 December 2010 - 12:14am

Since my son Eric has gone to college, and taken his Sony PS3 with him, I didn't have any way to watch Blu-Ray movies any more. While Christmas shopping, I realized that Walmart had quite a few Blu-Ray movies priced as low as $8 each, nearly the same price for the same movie on DVD. I decided that it was time to buy a Blu-Ray player. After reading a few reviews, and shopping around a bit, I found a decent deal on a Sony BDP-S370 on sale at Sears. When I hooked it up, I realized that I was going to need another HDMI cable to get the full resolution. I had my previous DVD player hooked up using a Component Video cable, but that seems to only support up to 1080i, not 1080p that I can get using HDMI.

I checked the prices on the HDMI cables at Walmart when I picked up a few Blu-Ray movies, and found their best deal was a 6-foot HDMI cable from Vizio for $28.

Instead, I've ordered online from Monoprice. They have 6-foot HDMI cables for about $3 each. So I ordered 4 of them, in different colors, so that I can tell them apart when I hook things up. I also found they had a Component Video cable for Melissa's WII for about $3.30, and one with Composite and S-Video for $2.72. Even with the $7.75 or so for shipping, the total for the order came to only $26.

So I saved a couple of bucks over Walmart's cheapest price, but I'm getting 6 cables instead of one! I'll have a couple of extra HDMI cables, and a hookup for the WII on each TV so we don't have to unplug and move the cable when we want to move the WII.

Monoprice is the only vendor that I've found that sells quality cables, for the price that cables should actually cost. Most cable is less than .50/foot, and connectors shouldn't amount to more that .50-1 apiece, so it shouldn't cost more than a buck for a USB cable, or $5 for an HDMI cable. I don't know whether to laugh or cry when I walk through Best Buy and see HDMI cables for $50 or more!

Please, save yourself some of your hard-earned money, and order your cables online!

Updated Android Car Home

Submitted by Brad Tombaugh on 29 December 2010 - 7:52pm

Last February, I gave up on the possibilities of either Verizon getting the iPhone, or any chance of our family ever being able to coordinate a switch to AT&T, so I bought Motorola Droids for Eric and I when Verizon had a "buy one, get one free" deal.

I quickly decided that despite being an Apple fan, that I really like my Droid... Three things that I liked right away -- the charging and data connection is done using a standard micro-B USB cable, which I was able to get extras from Monoprice.com for about a buck a piece, including a 6 foot cable that is actually long enough to reach when using the AC adapter. I also like that it has a standard SD memory card, so if I want to load more apps, music or video later, I can replace the 16Gb memory card with a 32Gb when the prices come down. Third, I like that the battery is removable and replaceable. Eric and I have swapped batteries several times when his was low, but he needed to go somewhere, and couldn't charge it.

The next two accessories that I picked up after some extra USB cables, were a Griffin PowerJolt dual USB 12v charger for the car, and the Motorola "Car Dock," which is the suction cup windshield mount. The phone clips into the car dock easily, making perfect for navigating with Google Maps. I also found that the speaker phone mode works well enough that I just use that when driving instead of getting a bluetooth headset.

When you clip the Droid into the car dock, there is a magnet embedded in the back that activates a switch in the phone so that it automatically launches the "Car Home" app, which gives 6 large buttons for functions that you would commonly use while driving, including Phone, Maps, Navigation, Voice Search, etc. When the Android 2.2 update came out, there were additional buttons the second screen that were blank. I always wanted to be able to assign other apps to those buttons, like Speedview and Wardrive, that I often use when driving.

A couple of days ago I was searching through the Android Market, as I had seen someone mention that there was an updated Google Voice Search app, so I opened the info page for one of the Google apps, and picked "Other Apps from this Developer" to see what other apps Google had published. One of the first things I noticed was that Car Home was listed, and didn't show that it was already installed! I clicked Install or Update, and downloaded it. Turns out that is version 2.2.1. I don't know why it didn't get loaded automatically as an update, but installing manually worked fine.

The biggest difference that I see with Car Home 2.2.1 is that it now shows "Add Shortcut" in all of the blank buttons, so that you can add apps, navigation destinations, or direct dial numbers to any empty spot! I've already added a couple of apps, and a few direct dial contacts. This is a nice upgrade! I only wish that it would have shown up automatically...

State High School Marching Band Competition

Submitted by Brad Tombaugh on 24 October 2010 - 9:49pm

Yesterday we went to the Colorado Bandmaster's Association State 4A/5A High School Marching Band Finals held at Falcon Stadium at the Air Force Academy near Colorado Springs.

First I have to say how amazing each and every band performed! I'm very impressed by the level of performance shown by all of these kids. I think that are far above where I remember my high school band, and possibly college bands at the time as well.

I was planning to take pictures of Arapahoe's band and color guard during the semi-finals, since it was during the afternoon when there would be plenty of natural light. We got a phone call from one of the color guard parents asking for help moving the large props that are used during the performance, as not all of the volunteers that they had arranged for had been able to make it. We were happy to help out, but it was a lot of work to wheel them down the hill from the parking lot, and into the tunnel leading to the field. It turned out that the tunnel wasn't quite as tall as they expected, and the candy cane tubes were slightly taller than they thought, so they were a few inches too tall! We tipped a couple of the at an angle to get them through, but decided that was taking too much time. We discovered that removing one of the tie-down straps that attaches the tube to the base allowed the top tube to drop down just enough to clear the top of the tunnel. A quick re-adjustment on the other end of the tunnel, and everything worked out just fine.

Unfortunately, that meant that our vantage point for their afternoon performance was from behind the end zone, instead of high up in the stands, and without my camera...

Arapahoe placed fifth in the semi-finals, so they moved on to the finals in the evening. We were told that there should be plenty of volunteers for the evening, so that we could return to the stands to watch. Even though the 4A finals were first, we wanted to watch, since we've seen some of the 4A bands at some of the other competitions.

During the Loveland High School Band performance, the woman sitting directly behind me was constantly "cat-calling" and "hooting and hollering" so loudly that I couldn't hear the band at all! I tried moving over into the empty seat next to me so that i wasn't directly in front of her, but it didn't really help... At the end of their performance, as the women was gathering her things, she hit me in the head with her bag! She muttered "sorry" and I turned around to tell her "that wasn't as bad as all of the screaming..." She then told me that "if I didn't want any noise, that I shouldn't have come." I told her that I came to hear the bands, not the parents... She then had the gall to tell me that I "should have sat somewhere else..." as if I had some choice about sitting in front of her... What a b****... I guess there isn't much "love" in Loveland... ;-) This is as bad as Little League, where the parents behave worse than the kids, and are more competitive. You know, I think that if she had said "sorry" that she "just got excited when her kids were performing" I probably would have gotten so irritated... But when she turned it back to become MY fault, it really made me angry!

Loveland ended up in second place, behind Air Academy High School, who are very impressive with their speed and precision in their formations. Loveland's show incorporates spreading several enormous tarps on the field in the shape of a crescent moon, one of the elements of their show. It takes an inordinate amount of time to lay out all of the pieces, which have to be taped together in places to hold them down. Last night, two of the kids fell on them. A trombone player seemed to have tripped over one of the edges, and one of the color guard girls seemed to have lost her footing on the slippery surface. I hope that both of the kids are OK...

Arapahoe had perhaps their best performance of the season in the finals. Since they are a smaller band than most of the other 5A bands, they don't seem to project as well as the other bands. They have a great show, though, and did very well. The color guard did a great job, with only a couple of little slips. Overall, the judges marked them 0.4 points lower than Douglas County, so they finished in fifth place in the finals as well. They were rated fifth in the state going into the competition, so really they did as well as expected. See all of the scores here.

Being somewhat new to this, I have a few observations about band competitions in general.

One of the things I find interesting is that the bands are lead by student drum majors, not by the band directors... They do an awesome job of directing, and have amusing salute routines when they start and finish, and during the award presentations. However, I guess that I object somewhat to them being spotlighted so much more than the rest of the band members. Most of them are in different uniforms than the band, which seems unnecessary to me... We can tell that they are the drum majors when they climb onto the stand. Also, some of the bands have their drum majors, who are predominately girls, dressed in evening gowns. While elegant, it doesn't seem to fit in with a "marching band."

Another thing that surprises me is that all of the bands have a "percussion pit" that seems more suited to a concert band than a marching band. Lots of bells, marimbas, and xylophones, chimes, timpani, gongs, etc. Some of it seems like gratuitous use of as many percussion pieces as possible, whether warranted or not. Some of the bands also have electric bass and guitars, and synthesizer keyboards, which are hardly classic marching band instruments. I also notice that none of the bands use handheld cymbals in the drum line, only in the percussion pit. The exhibition performance while the judges tabulated the results was by the University of Northern Colorado band, who didn't use any percussion pit, and had four cymbals in the drum line that worked very nicely.

I also think that some of the elaborate scenery pieces, particularly the tarps spread on the field, like Loveland uses, are both unnecessary and dangerous. Having to step on and off of different surfaces while marching backwards seems like too big of a risk to make it worthwhile. Douglas County High School uses tarps, too, but much smaller than Loveland, and only in one corner of the field. I think that they start out on the tarps, but I don't think that they return to them during the performance.

Again, though, I was very impressed with all of the bands, and congratulate everyone who participated, as a performer, parent or staff. Its obvious that everyone puts a tremendous amount of effort, and lots of practice time, and it all showed on Saturday.

A Lightweight Approach to Wireless Access Point Geolocation

Submitted by Brad Tombaugh on 17 July 2010 - 11:38am


One of the side-effects of "wardriving" to detect the locations of wireless access point (WAP) using a mobile device such as a laptop computer with a GPS is that all of the locations of the WiFi hotspots all appear on a map at the location where they were detected, not where the source of the radio signal originates. This generally means that all of the mapped locations of detected networks are marked in the middle of a street.


The geographic location of a wireless access point (WAP) can be approximated by recording the GPS coordinates and signal strength in three or more locations. The point of origin can then be calculated using trilateration.

To optimize efficiency for use with a mobile device such as a smartphone, use of a simple algorythm to capture four points, corresponding to the minimum and maximum latitude and longitude coordinates where the signal from the WAP can be conveniently measured.

Watch "The Pluto Files" on PBS tonight!

Submitted by Brad Tombaugh on 2 March 2010 - 8:48am

Tonight, 2 March 2010, is the premier of "The Pluto Files" on the PBS science series "Nova." Pluto was discovered on February 18, 1930 by Clyde W. Tombaugh, the first planet discovery by an American. In 2006, its status was changed to dwarf planet amid much controversy. This episode of Nova explores the history of Pluto and the decision and reactions to its change in status. If you miss tonight's broadcast, the episode will be available on-line starting tomorrow, 3 March 2010.