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Call me maybe

10 Aug

From my friend Jenn:

gfxCardStatus for MacBook Pro

10 Aug

Ok, more tech tips. On the late model (2008-2012) MacBook Pros, there are two graphics cards. If you want to see if this is the case for yours, go to the Apple Menu -> About this Mac -> More Info (and then System Report for mine). Under the Graphics / Displays tab, you will note that there are two listed.

For me, these are an AMD Radeon HD 6770M, and an Intel HD Graphics 3000. The Intel card is ‘integrated’, while the AMD card is ‘discrete’ (i.e., attached). When you need a higher-power graphics card, the Mac is supposed to automatically switch to the more power-hungry one. There is a toggle for this in System Preferences, under Energy Saver. But….

But the switcher kind of sucks, and most of what you are using your computer for does not require the discrete card. Plus, when you are on the go, or on the sofa, you often want more battery than higher graphics.

Sooooo, a college kid named Cody Krieger wrote a small piece of software that allows you to control this switching. I have mine set so that when it is running on battery power, it runs ‘integrated’, and when it is plugged in, it runs ‘dynamically.’

The upshot of this is that I am getting literally hours more battery life out of my laptop than I used to get.

There is an Ars Technica article about the hows and whys of this little piece of software. Highly recommend.

Torrential!!

9 Aug

As part of NewsFree August, I thought I would include some tech-y tips. If it’s not your cup of tea, here are some cute pandas playing on a slide.

Ahh, torrent. Remember back in the day, when people told you that everything in the world is on Usenet? Actually it still is. But let’s leave that for the moment, and consider torrent. I am not giving a theoretical discussion about peer-to-peer networks and how they work (plus, you can find many many descriptions of p2p on the web if you want). From Michael Carrier’s paper on innovation and copyright (p10):

The defining characteristic of a p2p network is that the transfer of files is performed directly between users. Such a system stands in contrast to the client-server model, in which the data flows from server to client. In the client-server model, computer users request information from websites (servers) that is delivered to their computers (clients).

File-sharing on a p2p network is often facilitated by the compression of music into a digital file format known as MPEG Layer-3 (MP3), which speeds up transfers between computers. Networks that contain p2p architecture offer advantages over those implementing a client-server model. For starters, p2p scales more quickly and cheaply. Instead of clients lining up at the gates of a server, users rely only on their broadband connection, drive space, and local content to send files to and receive files from each other. In addition, p2p networks are more fault-tolerant and can handle a higher load than client-server models.

On the other hand, p2p networks significantly increase the likelihood and extent of copyright infringement. Users’ easy and instantaneous access to files vastly heightens the potential for widespread infringement.

But still, many of my tech-savvy friends don’t really know what torrenting is, or how to do it. Let’s go through this bit by bit. I am assuming you have a mac. If you have a PC, it is probably the same (though possibly a touch more likely you’ll download a virus accidentally, but I don’t know that for certain).

1. What is torrent?
Torrent is a file type, life a .pdf or a .doc. It is a .torrent file. This file contains the relevant information about the actual file you want to download. So, if you want to ‘torrent’ a concert file, you find the appropriate torrent, while will allow you to download the concert mp3 or whatever as a peer-to-peer file.

Think of the .torrent file as the map. You need the map.

2. What can I torrent?
All sorts of stuff. Much of it is illegal. Some is not. I am not advocating that you download files that are copyrighted. In fact, you could spend the rest of your days with the over 1 million downloadable music, books, and movies from the Internet Archive. It is the fastest way to get stuff from the Archives. Also, you can see Andy Baio’s data from 10 years of Pirating the Oscars. Interesting, right?

I think many games companies are using p2p now, I feel like Blizzard is using it internally to download their game clients (like Starcraft2, etc.). You don’t need extra software for this.

I know, this is like buying a bong at a head-shop, where people say they’d like to buy a ‘water pipe’ for herbs and stuff. I’m of two minds about this, but ultimately I don’t see how knowing how to do something illegal is the same thing as doing something illegal. Plus, you can use a damn 3D printer to print a frickin’ gun. Seriously. We have 99 problems and spreading knowledge of torrent is not one.

3. Where do I get torrents?
You can find lots of stuff at places like Isohunt, or the Pirate Bay. Go to this Wikipedia page on torrents. Read though to indexing/searching. Consider your options.

4. What do I do with a torrent once I found one?
Get a Bittorrent client. Oh, screw it. Just download Bittorrent.

Once you have that program, it will be able to ‘unpack’ .torrent files.

5. Can you give me some tips, tricks, expectation management?
Yes! A few things to know. First, if you are downloading something illegal, you are at risk of being sued for it. Given that Pirate Bay is like the 71st most popular site in the world, that risk is probably very small. This doesn’t make your actions morally or legally defensible. It just means you are unlikely to be prosecuted for them.

Second, if you are searching for a torrent, be sensible. It is possible you will be downloading a corrupted file, which will not play (read comments, sometimes they say something). Sort by the number of seeders, to increase your chances of getting the most popular torrents for the file you want. Often you can pick and choose individual files within a torrent pack. Minimizing size minimizes time to get it.

Third, you may end up with something like an .mkv file for video. Use VLC, or VideoLAN player, to watch it. It’s an open-source, play-most-everything program.

Fourth, it probably will take a long time to download something. This is because files are big, but also because your ISP is probably throttling your connection, especially when they detect that you are doing p2p. It’s not Netflix, you’re not going to be watching your video in 10 seconds. You might, but you might not.

6. So can you wrap this up, maybe like a workflow/step-by-step?
Sure!

Do this:
a) Download Bittorrent. In preferences, you can manage how much of your bandwidth you want to use for uploads or downloads.

b) Download VLC.

c) Go to Pirate Bay, IsoHunt, the Internet Archive, etc., and search for something you want to see, hear, read.

d) Get the torrent, which will launch the bittorent client, which will download the file.

e) Wait.

f) Jellybeans!

Singapore

8 Aug

You know all those times you’re thinking how awesome it would be to live in…Singapore? Because their creepy government-sponsored baby-making program is 100% awesome (via James Fallows). Happy National Night!

Magic Arms

7 Aug

via O’Reilly Radar, here is an amazing use of 3D printing.

Magic Arms.

On Mars

6 Aug

In the only news I’m following this month, Curiosity has landed on Mars. If you think this is an easy thing, <a href="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ki_Af_o9Q9swatch the challenges the Curiosity faces on its way from Earth to the planet’s surface. The 7 minutes of Terror is kind of awesome.

Congrats to NASA and JPL, this is the kind of amazing we should expect from all of our endeavors.

And of course, XKCD captures my feeling perfectly:

Go read aworkinglibrary

2 Aug

I have nothing amazing to say about Mandy Brown’s A Working Library. Except that it is a lovely site, with good recommendations for books, and excellent occasional essays about the reading experience in the digital era. For instance, here are her thoughts on reading the news. Smart.

It seems very much that e-reading is a code that has not yet been cracked, for what that is worth (Instapaper, Flipboard to the contrary). The best I have seen is maybe Al Gore’s Our Choice.

Of course, Push Pop Press was bought by Facebook, and has abandoned its plan to make its publishing technology available to others (compare how awesome their vision was in concept, esp. the last couple of paragraphs there, with their acquisition announcement. If you listen carefully, you can hear the sad trombone). I haven’t tried Apple’s own iBooks Author application, maybe it is just as awesome (minus the 30% to Apple to sell through iTunes, etc…).

For kids, simply nothing beats the Fantastic Flying Books of Morris Lessmore, from Moonbot Studios. It is an ipad app, and it is an alchemy of books + Pixar magic. If you haven’t looked at this, you should. You’ll thank me.

I have been trying to be good this year about tracking my (conventional, though mostly Kindle) reading on Goodreads, though that does not include my summertime re-read of the Harry Potter books. I also ignore books I read for professional work/development. I want to start a book club around Cheryl Strayed’s Wild but so far, no takers.