Monday, December 31, 2007

AppleTV underrated

For those who haven't heard, AppleTV is a device that connects to your TV, and syncs up with your iTunes to deliver whatever cool stuff is on your computer on into your living room. Given the rate at which my little girls seem to destroy DVDs, we decided that HandBrake combined with an AppleTV was our best bet at remedying that problem.

So far, however, the reviews have been pretty bad for the poor device, most of them claiming that the AppleTV doesn't do what they want it to, i.e. replace their Tivo or their DVD player. Well it doesn't do either of those things really. But if you know what you're getting when you get it, it's actually a really nice unit. The image quality on my Bravia 40" is terrific, and we can watch ripped movies, listen to all our music, show iPhoto slideshows, and watch movie trailers and YouTube videos easily. Its profile is classy and unobtrusive. I've been far more impressed by that unit than I have by HD cable...

I should mention at this point that my opinion of something is usually measured by the difference between what I got and what I expected. I got a lot more than I expected out of the AppleTV, but now that you've read this, if you buy one you might not. =)

Spanish diacritics on the Mac

Writing something in Spanish on your Mac? Diacritics are pretty easy:
  • accent (á, é, í, Á, É, etc.): option-e, then the letter
  • tilde (ñ, Ñ): option-n, then the letter
  • upside-down question mark (¿): option-? (which is option-shift-/)
  • upside-down exclamation point (¡): option-1
  • weird quotation marks (guillemets, actually -- «, »): option-\ and option-|
Wanna see the other cool characters you can type? Go to Apple menu->System Preferences->International->Input menu, then turn on the Character Palette and Keyboard Viewer options, then click "Show input menu in menu bar". Now in your menu bar off to the right you should see a US flag -- open that menu and select the keyboard viewer, and push on the option key to see what character you'd get if you pressed option before hitting a particular key.


Saturday, December 15, 2007


An invaluable (that means "valuable", right? =) timer for OS X. Free, and updated.

I use this thing almost every single day.

Big Lie.

The big downside of living in temporary housing that has free cable with HBO is that every time I flip through the channels I bump into it.

Usually HBO is not interesting enough to catch my attention, but tonight I happened to land right in the middle of "Big Love", HBO's show on polygamists living in Utah. I didn't stay long, but long enough to catch the following lines:
  • "Don't you dare look me in the eyes when you talk to me."
  • "If you go to Mormon seminary you're going to turn into one of those snotty ******** just like all the rest of them. They'll brainwash you -- make you think your body is dirty."
  • "I know what I saw." .... "Let's never talk of this again."
  • "You were drivin' real fast..." "Yeah, I was late for work. Gotta go, see ya."
  • "Just stuff from my old life. And I hate it."
Look, I don't know who the writers are, but they've never met me and my family. This stuff is *ridiculous*, not only in content but in *attitude* and *feeling*. In 3 minutes (!), they've managed to portray Mormons as authoritarian, manipulative, flesh-despising, deceiptful, and deeply angry people.

That's not Mormonism. That's the opposite of Mormonism. If Mormonism were like that I wouldn't be a Mormon. "Learning" about Mormons from that show is like learning about life in America in an Al Qaida training camp. I'm surprised the church hasn't sued for slander -- but then again I imagine very few active members are watching it.

There's a warmth and comfort about being a Mormon that is more beautiful and meaningful than I've seen anywhere else. Why would someone construct a story to misrepresent it so badly?

But as angry as it makes me, I still have to step back and remember that it's not *my* church they're misrepresenting -- it belongs to One who will address the problem far better than I ever could. And I'm okay with that.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Leopard: Print to PDF in 3 keystrokes!

I love that OS X can create PDFs of anything you can print. I was even more thrilled that the new Preview app (part of OS X) can combine documents, reorder pages, etc., and save a new PDF -- wonderful.

But creating PDFs always required the mouse, which was irritating. Now with Leopard, not anymore:
  1. Apple menu -> System Preferences -> Keyboard & Mouse -> Keyboard Shortcuts
  2. Hit the "+" at the bottom of the list
  3. "All Applications" --- Menu Title: "Save as PDF..." (must be typed perfectly!) --- Keyboard Shortcut: cmd-p
  4. Click "Add"
Now, whenever you want a .pdf file created, just hit cmd-P twice.

Love it!

Sunday, December 9, 2007

"But I can't vote for Mitt Romney... Mormon beliefs are just too weird."

I'm surprised how many times I've heard that.

I have lots of friends who aren't Mormon, but few ask me questions about it. They get their information (and misinformation) about Mormons from somewhere else. But not just information, they get their attitude toward Mormons from others -- which seems to include a lot of distrust, and more skepticism.

What do people think Mormons believe anyway? That we all get lots of wives and are quietly prejudiced and think Adam is god and god was once a regular guy and we kill sinners and that people live on the moon? I think those are the worst of the ones that I at least know where they came from. In high school and college, kids told me that we worship Joseph Smith, that an apostle has to sleep with every woman who goes in the temple, that we don't believe the Bible, and that Mormons have horns (and lots of other things).

Well, all of those are flat wrong. And we don't believe any of them.

In the early days of the church they didn't have tape recorders or video cameras. Their speeches were written down by whoever happened to be there. Most of those statements in the first list above were written by folks listening to Pres. Smith in the 1840s and Pres. Young in the 1850s-80s. And all of those statements been downplayed by subsequent prophets as inaccurate, or at least incomplete.

I happen to think they were misunderstood or mistranscribed by the writers.

And guess what: not everything that every modern prophet or apostle says or writes is considered church "doctrine" (or "official teachings"). We are only required to believe things that are in the scriptures, that are told to us by the prophet (President of the Church), or that the Holy Ghost has put in our hearts and we *know* to be true. That's why I don't believe any of those things that I listed above.

So what do Mormons believe? Joseph Smith himself answered this question in 1842 in a letter to "Long" John Wentworth who was the editor of the Chicago Democrat. His response is now referred to as the Articles of Faith. So here's a challenge for you: write down the first 3 Mormon beliefs that come to your mind. Then, go see if you can find them in the Articles of Faith.

Let me know how you did. =)

Thursday, December 6, 2007

TomTom -- Tool or Toy?

I grew up in AZ, and aside from stints in CA, TX, and Ecuador, I lived there my whole life. I've been all over the state, and could probably find my way home from just about anywhere without a map (and with enough gas =).

But a week ago we arrived in Huntsville, Alabama, and now all that navigational comfort has gone out the window. I've scoured the maps, but since we're driving all over househunting, I often get turned around (but never "lost" =). Yesterday I drove halfway to Decatur because I didn't realize there wasn't an exit for County Line Rd.*

So 3 days ago I saw that the TomTom One, 3rd edition was on sale for $149 ($100 off!). Amazon reviews were good, so I picked one up, hoping to not be too disappointed going with the bottom-of-the-line unit. At first I thought it'd just be Kyla's Christmas present, but I didn't even get out the door at CompUSA before I realized that wouldn't work -- remember the bowling ball with Homer's name on it?

Anyway, as soon as I turned it on I knew I was going to like it.

I guess first I'll give the rocket scientist's primer on navigation. Navigation probably conjures up images of old maps and compasses and sextants, or maybe Netscape and Lincoln Navigators. But for ships and planes and missiles and cars, navigation seeks to answer the question: "Where am I?" This goes hand in hand with guidance, which goes after the questions: "Where do I want to go?" and "How do I get there?" And the autopilot makes sure you don't kill yourself on the way.

So the TomTom handles the navigation, and the last part of the guidance, "How do I get there?" And it seems to do a terrific job. Turn it on, and it tells you exactly where you are, with a nice perspective line drawing of the roads around you, their names, and other miscellaneous stuff.

Tell it where you want to go, via a stored "Favorite" place, an existing Point of Interest (POI), e.g. shopping, hospitals, gas stations, etc., a street address, a crossroads, a latitude/longitude point, or a spot you pick out on the map. Instantly it figures out the best route (minimizing travel time), and shows you which direction you need to go with a big green arrow on the display.

Items of note:
  • TomTom tells you when to turn in a spoken voice so you don't have to watch it: "Turn right". It's a pleasant voice, too, not a backseat driver voice (though you could probably add one if you think you need that).
  • It does *not* tell you when the light is red, or when someone is stopped in front of you and you need to stop -- obviously. Still, I'm not used to a device telling me where to go, and my brain had to draw a new line where the device's job stops and my brain has to pick up...
  • It appears to be about 98.5% accurate; it thought we needed to turn right into Wal-Mart when it was really a left, and one street it had the totally wrong name for. All the rest of the time, though, it's been dead on, usually picking out the right house on the street.
  • If you make a wrong turn, TomTom doesn't choke -- it just recalculates a new "best" route. It also doesn't criticize you for lapses in attention. =)
I love the feeling that we could just go driving -- randomly turning whichever direction looks best, even in a different city, or even state. At any point, we click "Navigate to", then "Home", and it puts us on the right road back to our life. And unlike cellphones, since it's getting its info from satellites, you have coverage everywhere in the world! (except maybe caves)

I'm thrilled. Tool or toy? Both!

* Note, I didn't have the unit with me when I did this...

Mitt on religion

Well spoken.

Does anyone read this thing?

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