Category Archives: Science & Technology

Could Tumblr Please Explain What’s Going On With Asks?

0,,17321990_303,00Some friends and I run a Tumblr and have noticed a problem in answering “asks” – the site’s blog-specific inbox. For about a month now, we’ve noticed that you can’t upload more than one animated .gif in response to an Ask, and have had to do a “first” answer, then go back and re-open the Ask to add more images.

One co-admin reached out to Tumblr via several communications options (Tumblr, Twitter, email, etc) and hasn’t gotten any kind of response. All three of us are trying to work out if there’s something wrong with our blog, or if Tumblr has the strange idea that this is a feature, or if something else is going on.

Any Tumblr gurus out there who know how we can fix what’s going on? Is it something we did? And if not, does Tumblr have any plans to fix this glitch?

My Grandfather’s Brain Museum featured on The Huffington Post!

Screenshot 2014-07-14 at 16For those who don’t know, my grandfather was a neuroanatomist. (I would say a famous one, but he was very humble and I don’t think he’d approve. Even if it’s true.)

Today, a good friend of the family passed this article on to my parents; it’s a list of affordable family vacations and summer trips across America. If you go to their interactive map, pick the “Atlantic region,” then “New York,” then “The Sophisticates,” guess what – the one thing they pick, out of every cool free museum and interesting thing to do in the state, is MY GRANDFATHER’S BRAIN MUSEUM* in Buffalo, NY.

Which I think is pretty freaking cool. Especially since, as the article states, “Brody built this exhibit to be used by everyone, from kindergartners to neurosurgery students.”

You all should go.

*I should say that the museum’s formal name is “The Museum of Neuroanatomy,” because if you google “my grandfather’s brain museum” you’re not going to find much. Unless your grandfather also has a brain museum. In which case, let me know.

 

Review: FunkyFlick.com, A New Way To Find Movie Recommendations

Coyau / Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY-SA-3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Coyau / Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY-SA-3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

This is a sponsored post written by me on behalf of Funkyflick Company. All opinions are 100% mine.

In between blogging about Netflix, Hulu Plus and Aereo, one thing I don’t talk much about is how I actually find new movies to watch.

I keep lists from what people recommend to me, but just as often I’ll browse categories (like my documentary spree on Hulu the other day) and add things to my queue just because they look interesting. I’ve watched movies for work and research purposes (my binge of Shark Week programming earlier this year), for entertainment (I, like many of you, still catch myself humming Let It Go from Disney’s Frozen).

The flaw in this plan is, of course, that as a viewer, you’re often limited to whatever films, TV shows or books are available on the platform you’re searching – for example, if I open up my library app, I can search for books available through 3M but not what the NYC Library has available for Kindle. (I can get a fuller catalog search by going back to the actual NYPL site, but who wants to navigate that on their phone?)

The other day, at loose ends for something to watch, I checked out FunkyFlick.com, which claims to be able to find recommendations for movies, books and more based on what you already like. Okay, I thought, I’ll give this a go.

One of my favorite movies is (wait for it) Dogville by Lars von Trier, and while I completely acknowledge that von Trier has some major issues when it comes to dealing with women, his films really are a singular experience, often evoking particular emotional states and visceral moods. It’s hard to find other filmmakers whose work has the same effect on me as a viewer; I decided that looking up von Trier’s Dogville was a good way of testing just how robust it is.

The first handful of films that FunkyFlick.com recommended were actually other early works from von Trier, along with some more recent films and other pieces from the Dogme group. Then it got interesting. A couple of Westerns – High Plains Drifter, High Noon, Bad Day at Black Rock – popped up, along with the vampire horror flick 30 Days of Night.  Dear Wendy, a 2004 co-production between a bunch of European countries with von Trier as the writer (but it’s a comedy?) and a really neat-looking piece called Element of Crime about a British detective in Cairo all caught my eye. One horror film, Population 436, (about a census taker sent to a small town) looks like it might be a little scarier than I could handle, but I might give it a shot if it comes up.

I like that each of the films features a short trailer and a summary of the film, and while it might take some searching to find some of the more esoteric titles, at least now I have a way of finding actual recommendations – not just the cheesy “based on what you’ve watched, you might like” ideas that I’m usually handed by online recommendation systems.

All in all, FunkyFlick.com is an interesting site, and I would recommend anybody take a wee noodle around on it when they have a few extra minutes. You’ll definitely increase your to-watch list by (at least) a few titles.

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Congratulations to the Short Frictions Giveaway Winner!

2014-04-07 11For the last month or so, I’ve been running a giveaway for a gift code from ThinkGeek.com…and now it’s time to announce the winner!

Congratulations to Patricia Salyers!

It was cool to watch how every day, Patricia was on Twitter, tweeting the promotional tweet to get additional entries for the competition – and clearly the work paid off! I’ve contacted her privately to arrange for her to get her ThinkGeek code, and send a heartfelt thank-you to everyone who took the time to enter.

If you didn’t win, but still want something free (and who doesn’t want free stuff) then remember, I’m also looking for advance reviewers for Short Frictions, and am rewarding those who step up with both a free e-copy of the book in the format of their choice and a thank-you on the book’s acknowledgements page.

Having lots of reviews is one of those things that helps us indie writers sell books, so not only will you get free stuff if you sign up – you’ll also be doing me a solid.

Advance Copies, coming up!

Woooo! Just got the manuscript for Short Frictions back from my editor, with some great notes. Now that I’m working through those, it’s also time to prep for a new stage in my new self-publishing checklist: advance reviewers.

Image from phys.org (http://phys.org/news/2014-01-google-machines-robotics-companies-involved.html).

Image from phys.org (http://phys.org/news/2014-01-google-machines-robotics-companies-involved.html).

About a month ago, I took a webinar from Writer.ly  that suggested ways of getting the word out about your self-published book. One of the ideas I loved was setting up a list of readers who would comment on the book before its publication, then leave reviews on release day!

Adding a new step to a self-publishing strategy is tricky, but one of the points @Kelsye (who gave the webinar) made that really stuck with me was that reaching as many advance reviewers as possible is important because of how it helps generate word of mouth, and gives people an incentive to read and review your work. While I’ve heard of some writers (specifically, Guy Kawasaki) crowdsourcing feedback, I’ve never tried this strategy myself – it’s a little nervewracking, but I think it will be worth it!

If you still want to sign up to be an advance reader and reviewer, there’s still time to get me your info! You’ll receive a thank-you in the final edition of the book, as well as a free e-copy. Interested? Click here for more information.

Plague, The Videogame

video-game-plague-for-android

You even get to name your own plagues.

It’s been a rough few days. Emotionally, physically, financially…

So when one of my Twitter friends mentioned she’d just started playing a super-addictive Android game called PLAGUE, INC., and she’d destroyed the entire world population twice in fifteen minutes, I asked where to get the game. I need something to take my mind off things. I downloaded it from the Google Play store (free!) and started playing.

This the most cathartic game I’ve played in ages.

The concept is simple. You create a disease – you start with bacteria, move on to a virus, then fungus, and so on – and you get points to help grow/evolve your disease over time. You can win the game if you kill every living person on the planet, or lose the game if either the humans find a cure, or you run out of hosts to infect. (For example, in one game, I infected everywhere but Greenland and they closed their ports, so my disease killed everyone it could infect but the world was still left with humans.)

Additional complexity comes from how you score points – random DNA bubbles that you have to pop when they appear on the map, or else biohazard bubbles whenever a new infection site begins – and then “spend” them on your disease’s evolution. You can pick ways to transmit the disease, features and abilities it has, and its symptoms.

It’s in the Google app store, takes up about 30MB of space, and is both addictive and compelling.

If you want, you can pay to “unlock” special features, but so far I haven’t felt the need.

 

I highly recommend it.

Samsung Chromebook Update

chrome-instead-of-windows-8

It’s been a few weeks since I brought my Chromebook home from the store, and I’m not gonna lie – I am completely and utterly in love with this little machine. It’s light to carry, easy to use, offers comprehensive access to what I need my computer for, and (with about an hour of preparation when I first bought it) puts all my work at my fingertips. I’ve encountered one or two hiccups since booting the Chromebook up for the first time, but have found all of them supremely navigable.

This comes with a couple of caveats: I don’t play computer games, I have above-average knowledge (if we’re talking the average of the general population here) of how a computer works, I haven’t yet used the Chromebook for screenwriting, and I’ve maintained a primary desktop that runs on Windows 7, which I use when I need to save large files or print a document.

With those disclaimers out of the way, here are some of my favorite things about my Samsung Chromebook:

The Keyboard
99.9% of what I use my Chromebook for is typing. Whether I’m tweeting, Facebooking, blogging, novelling, emailing or a dozen other -ings, words are at the center of most of my computer usage. The Chromebook’s keyboard is close enough to full-size to be comfortable and easy to type on, unlike the Asus EEE netbook I bought (and ultimately discarded) four or five years ago. The keys are low to the surface of the laptop’s lower casing, and give a satisfyingly mechanical click when struck. I can’t stand silent keyboards. They make me feel like I’m fooling myself. One reason I picked the Samsung over the other models of Chromebook available at the Best Buy I visited was the tactile experience of testing its keyboard and mousepad before purchase. Given the importance of the tactile experience in my writing process, I think I made the right choice.

Living In The Cloud
Dropbox has become a more important part of my storage life for the last few years. I haven’t yet found a satisfactory way of mirroring files from Dropbox to Google Docs, and since Google Docs can’t open direct from Dropbox, I’ve had to use a roundabout process of downloading, converting and opening files to get my documents across, but I’ve now started saving my work directly to my Google Drive. Almost every service with a web interface is accessible from Chrome, so I’ve been able to keep watching my shows on Hulu Plus and listening to music on Spotify. I’m also (as I’ll discuss next) really growing to enjoy — not just tolerate — the experience of using Google’s productivity suite.

The Software Experience
My biggest point of hesitation when it came to moving away from the Windows OS was my reliance on Microsoft products. All my writing (with the exception of screenplays) has been done in Microsoft Word since around 1993, and being able to access those files is critical. I knew that moving to Google Docs was going to be a transition, but I didn’t give a lot of thought to the casual use of image editors. And even though my phone is an Android, the idea of my choice of OS having a substantial impact on my organization and planning hadn’t really occurred to me.

Where its office suite is concerned, the Chrome OS is a winner. Google Docs (the company’s replacement for Microsoft Word) and Sheets (for Excel) make it possible to import Microsoft files (though you have to be sure to use the “import” command rather than just “open,” or you won’t wind up with an editable file. On top of this, Google offers Forms, which may be the easiest way to set up a survey and collect simple data that I’ve ever used (and I’ve used Access, Surveymonkey, LJ Polls and more). On top of this, Google has added offline mode for everything from gmail to Docs, which means I can keep up with my work even when I’m not online.

Managing Appointments
At the moment, thanks to a plethora of doctors’ appointments, my calendar isn’t as uncomplicated as you might think. Since getting my Chromebook, I’ve noticed a jump in the up-to-date nature of my calendar. Suddenly, putting new items on my agenda has become a seamless process, since I no longer have to navigate the default options put into place for me by Microsoft. Any time I get the option to “add to Google Calendar,” I click it, and presto – my calendar is updated the way it always should have been, but wasn’t, when using my Google Calendar from a Windows machine. It also carries over to my phone’s Google calendar – again, this should have been happening before, but there was some kind of hiccup taking place when I tried to do this from Windows, and I never took the time to fix it.

Photo Editing
Thanks to an article I read early in my research process, I had learned about Pixlr, touted as an online alternative to Photoshop. When I got caught needing to make a picture for my first blog post about Chromebook, I tried it out – and I am happy to say, it works exactly like a replacement for Photoshop – right down to the functions of different tools and where they’re placed. It may not be a twin to the most recent version of that software, but it’s certainly showing the level of functionality I need.

Battery Life
The Samsung Chromebook advertises as having a battery that holds a charge for over six hours. I haven’t timed it yet, but so far I haven’t been dissatisfied with the amount of continuous use I’m getting out of the machine. I can sit down and work and not worry too much about having to plug in again – plus, when that time comes, it only takes a couple hours before I’m back at 100% charge.

The Downsides

  • I don’t play video games, and that’s just as well, because the only ones I could play on the Chromebook would be browser-based games. The downside here is that I really want to play Actual Sunlight and I just haven’t had a chance to play it on the Windows computer I’m using as my base.
  • I can’t watch Netflix from the Samsung Chromebook. This is something to do with site compatibility and what the Chromebook won’t run (I want to say Java?).
  • Skype doesn’t work on the Chromebook (I hate skyping, so I don’t actually consider this a downside, but if there were a situation where I needed to discuss something face-to-face with a family member, friend or client who was geographically distant, it would be Google Hangouts or bust.
  • The keyboard is not a traditional QWERTY setup. There’s no “home” or “end,” no “page up” or “page down.” That row of familiar F-keys along the top of the keyboard has been replaced by a series of icons, the meaning of which isn’t always immediately clear. Right-click is non-existent. Caps Lock has been replaced with a “universal search” key that acts much as the start-menu search in Windows. That said, there are easily-searchable lists of keystroke commands. You can summon the right-click command menu by following instructions on trackpad use. There are alternatives, you just have to be ready to investigate them.
  • Inexplicable technical quirks. The first two times I turned on the Chromebook, my mouse pointer disappeared after a few minutes. Both times, it re-appeared once the computer was restarted. I suspect that I inadvertently triggered some kind of keypad command, but haven’t followed up to see what it was. More worrying was the sudden drop-out of any ability on the part of the computer to connect with my home WiFi network. My Android was still connecting just fine, but despite numerous refreshes and restarts, I couldn’t get the computer to connect to the home network (which it could still see). I went to a friend’s house intent on performing a complicate reboot — and if that didn’t work, mentally preparing to send the whole thing in to Samsung for a replacement under warranty — but when I got to my friend’s the computer connected to her home WiFi network without a hitch. Once I got back to my own place, it was as if the problem had never been there in the first place. These technical glitches are worrying, mostly because figuring them out wasn’t possible and now the problems have passed, and if I’d been under a deadline they would have been extremely distressing – particularly the one about the WiFi not working, since the Chromebook is designed to function at full capacity only when connected to a network.

Overall? I’d still recommend the Chromebook over a Windows laptop for anybody who doesn’t need to game or program with their system. The price is right, the capabilities seem more than adequate, and the experience of use has been more or less friction-free so far.