Saturday, December 3, 2011

Chrome OS ssh

We recently bought a Samsung Chromebook (v5) to replace a 3-year-old laptop. I must say, I'm impressed. It's not a Macbook Air, but it's surprisingly close considering the price ($350). It's small and light, boots quickly and has amazing battery life. 'course, it's basically just a Chrome browser, but, seriously, how much more do you need in a laptop?

Ah, yes, after two days of using it, I yearned for one more thing: ssh. But, Chrome OS is a bit more than advertised---it's easy to access a shell and ssh support is native. Press Ctrl+Alt+T to bring up a shell. Type "ssh user host" to ssh. Yup, it's that easy.

I like the fact that they chose Mac-style mouse controls. You have to push down to click, scroll is achieved by swiping two fingers and right-button is press with two fingers. One drawback compared to the Air is that scrolling isn't as slick. It's certainly more effort to get to the right place on a page versus using Chrome on an Air. But, the Chromebook doesn't seem to have the odd bugs that Mac OS X does, like the occasional inability to focus after logging-in.

Update 12/4/11: After reading this post I was afraid that my Chromebook might not do video chat (at least not without some effort on my part). My suspicions were proven wrong when I tried video chat today. It worked fine. The speakers and microphone seemed a little weak, and it took me a little while to realize that to maximize you have to hit the "full screen" button (in the top row of the keyboard next to the reload button), but it's fine for family video chats.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Fixing Woodpecker Damage

Yesterday morning, I heard a rat-tat-tat noise while sitting in my study. I thought it might be some nearby construction, but wasn't sure, so I went upstairs to check. The noise was coming from the back of the house. "That's strange," I thought. Construction noises usually come from the front of the house. The noise was clearly coming from the back of my dining room. Now that I was closer, I knew what it was---a woodpecker. My first thought was to try to scare it off. I quietly opened a door to the deck, then walked to the back of the dining room and made a loud noise. I barely caught a glimpse of the bird as it flew away.

It was clear where the woodpecker had been---there was a 1"x3" hole in my wood siding. He had drilled all the way to the plywood. Not sure what to use to fill the hole, I went to Home Depot. They recommended Minwax High Performance Wood Filler. I brought it home and read the instructions. It recommends gloves and eye protection, so I got some latex gloves and safety goggles from high school chemistry class (somehow I've kept them over all these years...). I used a plastic bowl to hold the stuff and a plastic spoon to mix and apply the stuff (they recommend a plastic putty knife, but I don't think it would have worked any better). You definitely want to use disposable things---don't use your good putty knife. The filler looks like a grey goop and isn't that easy to remove from the container. It took me a few minutes to remove enough to my plastic bowl. Also, you'll probably want to do this outside---the wood filler *stinks*. I scooped out about half the filler, then mixed in about half of the hardener, which comes in a little plastic tube. I stirred until I couldn't see white streaks from the hardener, then climbed my ladder to apply.

The mixture was a pain to apply. It was easy in a tiny hole the woodpecker had created, but in the main 1"x3" hole, the stuff just wouldn't stay---it would gradually slither out. What's the point if it won't stay in place? I kept trying to push it back into the hole and after a few minutes, it started to hold a bit better. Then I realized that the mixture in my bowl was starting to harden. I tried to put some of the semi-hardened mixture in the hole and my patch started to harden-up. After another minute of futzing with the stuff, it finally looked like it was going to hold. Phew! I suspect that I should have mixed the goop better and waited a few minutes before trying to use it---it was just too liquid-like at first. But, it appears to have done the trick. I'll report back sometime later to let you know how it hold up. One plus is that the goop perfectly matches the color of my shingles :-)

Monday, September 19, 2011

Calibrating Sound Levels with ALSA

I'm trying to use a single headset for both listening to music and talking on the phone (via Google Voice). It's more difficult that it sounds! One big problem I found is that when talking on the phone, I have to jack-up the output volume (to close to 100%). But, at that setting, music playback is extremely loud---I prefer approximately 33%. Fortunately, there is a way to modify the volume of a particular application. Under Preferences->Sound->Applications, I found an "ALSA plug-in [ogg123]" control. I play music with ogg123. I can use this slider to control volume of music playback. By setting this slider to 33%, I can set the overall output volume to close to 100% and not have to switch volume back-and-forth when I go from listening to music to talking on the phone.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Weather Percentiles

I just learned about It provides historical temperature information better than any other web site I've seen. The best part is the fact that it provides not just high/low means, but percentiles, so you can get a sense of how variable the temperatures are and whether-or-not the weather you're seeing is extreme. They overlay actual temperatures so you can easily compare actuals versus historical patterns.

Friday, September 9, 2011

How to Set the Font in New Emacs Windows

I frequently use C-5-2 to get a new window without creating a new emacs process. In emacs lingo, each window is called a frame. At some point, I was surprised to find that the new window had a font different than my default font. After some searching, I learned that emacs has a completely separate font specification for new frames. See the GNU Emacs Manual page on Creating Frames. At the bottom of that manual page is where you'll find the recipe:

(add-to-list 'default-frame-alist '(font . "6x13"))
I've used my favorite font name ("6x13") in this example, but that may be too small for many people. Many fonts are available. Try "10x20" for a larger size. Also see the GNU Emacs Manual page on Fonts

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

How to Take a Screenshot using a Mac


Note that this automatically saves a file to the desktop. You will not see any prompting or indication that the operation is complete. Just go and look for a file on your desktop.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Don't Freak Out if Your Baby Eats One Lily of the Valley Berry

Yesterday, I went on a walk with my wife and two kids (4 yo daughter, 1 yo son). On our way back home, my daughter picked a reddish-orange berry off what was likely a lily of the valley plant (we have a ton of them in Natick). My daughter loves picking berries. She does it almost every time we go on a walk. So, when we got home, my wife and I didn't think to be worried about the fact that she'd probably bring it home and leave it on the table in the playroom. Normally, that wouldn't be a problem since as of one week ago, our son wouldn't be able to reach such a berry. But, beginning about a week ago, our son has started pulling himself up. And, he loves exploring new sights and chewing on anything he can get in his mouth. So, the inevitable happened. One of us heard him coughing and came to check him out. Suspiciously, he wouldn't open his mouth. Normally, he lets us see inside with little prodding. We knew something was up. Then, we remembered---the berry!

After we stuck him in a high chair to keep him still, one of us managed to get a finger in his mouth and swipe out the skin and seed of a reddish-orange berry. My wife suspected Lily of the Valley (LotV) and recalled that the berries are toxic. I confirmed online that LotV has such a berry. I called the national poison control emergency line. They recommended going to the emergency room, but recommended that I talk to my local poison control first. The Massachusetts poison control told me not to worry---the berries are technically toxic, but one berry is not a problem for (even) a one year old child. She said we only need to worry if he starts acting strange---lethargic, nauseus, vomiting. Phew! We both heaved a sigh of relief. My wife didn't completely believe poison control and called our doctor. He said we did the right thing and, yes, we should believe poison control---there is absolutely nothing to worry about.

Note: When I called the 800-222-1222 number Sunday afternoon, I was transferred to the national center. They gave me the following local numbers, one of which connected me to the local poison control: 800-682-9211, 617-232-2120, 617-355-6607.