The Forgotten Role of Technology: One Step Away from Magic

I’ve noticed an increasingly more prevalent theme this year. The core theme is the concept of technology that is so ubiquitous and elegant that it appears to work like magic. For most of us that is rarely our experience. Often technology, whether we’re using an electronic tool that performs some physical work, or a piece of software that executes a virtual action, rarely seems like magic.

Some of this is simply due to the fact that most of us have developed a specific level of expectation over time through gradual changes that occur across the span of decades. There are certainly many things that might be perceived as magical to someone from an earlier time, whether it was someone from five hundred years ago or only a decade ago.  Perhaps magic, in this context, might be defined as something that is done for you that you didn’t even think about when you made it happen. Like turning on a light switch or opening a door, except the level of interaction is subtler.

Earlier this year I was fortunate to have the opportunity to join a college at a conference where Josh Clark, a user interface design expert, presented along with several other experts. While there we also had the opportunity to speak with him directly at one of the lunches, where he joined our table. Much of our discussion was on this very subject as was his presentation. His topic, of technology functioning like magic, was engaging and, in my opinion, a change heading toward us rather quickly.

I love technology. I enjoy learning about new innovations and gadgets and I have spent several late nights and weekends just tinkering with devices and software, sometimes without a defined goal. Some of those projects were dead ends. Others were successes. I learned from each one.

Yet, over the years, I continue to notice one problem with much of the technology that we have at our disposal.

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Using a Smartphone App to Verify Solar Panel Placement

Distant-Suns

Prior to installing the solar panel for an attic fan I selected two candidate locations for mounting the panel. The first location was up on the main roof of the house. Though this seemed like the natural choice there were a couple of issues with this plan. The first is simply that it would be a bit of a challenge to safely access that part of the roof. I was also hesitant to do anything that would potentially compromise the roof.

The second location was on the west side of our back porch roof. By placing the panel there it would be easier to install and it also wouldn’t be visible from the street.

Placing it on the back porch roof became the more desired location but I was uncertain whether or not the panel would end up being shaded by the house during most of the day.

How could I determine if the panel would be exposed to direct sunlight most of the day?

Well, it turns out that I already had an app that could do this. It’s an astronomy app called Distant Suns. Typically, I only use it the night of an annual meteor shower in order to determine where the radiant for the meteor shower is.

Fortunately, the app can also calculate positions of celestial objects, including the sun, at different times of the year. Using the app I was able to advance the time and also the date to find the exact position of the sun relative to where I was standing (and oriented). For example, I was able to advance the time to 11 AM and then hold the phone up and move it around until the marker for the sun was visible.

Sure enough, I was able to determine that the solar panel would receive direct sunlight most of the time when mounted on the back porch roof.

 

Adobe Acrobat Pro (CS6) Stops Opening in Windows

I recently ran into an odd little problem while working with a copy of Adobe Acrobat Pro (installed as part of a CS6 suite) in Windows. In this case both the problem and the solution were specific to when I had installed Acrobat and the platform that I was using at the time. This particular instance of Windows 8.1 wasn’t very old – all of the data had recently been transferred from a Windows 7 system.

Sometime last week, while attempting to view a PDF file from within Outlook, the installed copy of Acrobat X simply quit working. It didn’t fail with an error. It simply didn’t launch. My other Adobe CS6 applications continued to work just fine. This sudden change in behavior was a bit alarming at first but it didn’t take me very long to identify the problem.

It seems that, for whatever reason, Acrobat encountered a problem when it had passed the initial 30-day trial period. This is even more of an oddity considering that I had never set it up to act as a trial – the product key was correctly entered when I originally installed the software.

While searching for a solution I stumbled upon an Adobe support document (possibly linked from a forum post somewhere) that describes the problem I was having and it also offers a file to fix the problem. In my case Solution 1 worked perfectly. Acrobat Pro now opens once again. The link to the support document is included below:

Acrobat Help / Doesn’t launch after 30 days | Installed as part of a CS6 suite

 

Learning Experience: Attempting to Transfer a Windows 7 Install to Boot Camp (PC to Mac)

Source System
Lenovo Notebook
SSD Hard Drive
Windows 7

Target System
MacBook Pro (Late 2013, 13.3″ with Retina Display)
SSD Hard Drive
Boot Camp

For the more literal folks, I apologize. I realize that a Mac is actually a PC but for the sake of simplicity I added it to the title so everyone would understand what I was trying to do.

I recently needed to transfer a Windows 7 install from a Lenovo notebook over to a MacBook Pro Bootcamp partition. I need to make it clear that this project was not a success. However, I have learned a few things that others will find useful. In addition, had I followed some advice available in a blog post it’s possible that it would have worked. After all, I did succeed in migrating the partition over and it did attempt to boot…

This particular transfer was a bit more challenging due to the fact that both systems use SSD drives. As a result, I couldn’t simply pull a drive and execute more direct partition clones.

Should you be considering such a move then a good place to begin is a blog post by twocanoes titled Migrating a Real PC to Boot Camp with Winclone 4. Basically, this is the advice I did not follow. Now, my reason for not following it wasn’t irrational. I was very concerned that I’d run Sysprep before cloning, only to then discover that it simply wouldn’t work. Perhaps if I hadn’t been trying to do this quickly I could have attempted this while also having a good fallback clone of the partition made BEFORE running Sysprep or any other changes (and it did not turn out quickly – I spent more time trying to make this work than I did simply starting with a fresh Windows 7 Bootcamp install).

So, once again, I’m confident that I could have succeeded in this endeavor had I followed the advice from twocanoes. However, even though I wasted a lot of time I did learn a few valuable things along the way.

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OS X Mavericks Affecting Trackpad/Keyboard on Older MacBook Pros?

I’ve read a few articles at different tech sites, along with some Apple support forum postings, discussing a problem with keyboard and trackpad issues on new MacBook Pro Retina systems. Apple even has a support article titled MacBook Pro (Retina, 13-inch, Late 2013): Keyboard and Multi-Touch trackpad may become unresponsive.

I don’t think this issue is limited only to newer MacBook Pro Retina systems. A day after upgrading my wife’s 13″ MacBook Pro, which is a 2010 or 2011 model (and doesn’t have a Retina Display), we experienced a similar problem. She was trying to use her laptop but the mouse cursor did not follow the movements on the trackpad. It seemed to stop responding for brief moments and then move off in a slightly different direction when it did work. I witnessed this problem myself and even checked to see if something had gotten on the trackpad that was throwing it off. Nothing had.

Because I had yet to learn of this problem I happened on the solution by accident. My wife had become frustrated so she closed her laptop and let it sleep. I grabbed it, opened the display, but it wouldn’t fully wake up (an issue that itself isn’t exactly rare). Rather than power the laptop off, not knowing what she may have left open and unsaved, I simply closed the lid and waited until the LED pulsed to indicate that the system was sleeping. Then I opened it back up. This time the system woke up properly and, once again, the trackpad behaved normally.

It’s certainly possible that something else was the cause but the problem hasn’t recurred so I doubt it’s a hardware issue. This has never happened before. In addition, a friend of mine mentioned that he also had a similar problem with an older MacBook Pro. So, if you have an older MacBook Pro that behaves this way try the solution for new MacBook Pro systems.

It’s Nothing Personal (Software Updates Changing Preferences)

I’m departing from the usual purpose of this blog to take a moment to rant about software updates changing settings, especially when previously selected options still exist in the updated software.

My annoyance of the week goes to Apple for changing the security setting that permits the installation of any third-party software. I changed this setting in Mountain Lion a long time ago so I wouldn’t be restricted to using only software developed by Apple partners.

Sure enough, on every computer we installed Mavericks on, this setting had been changed. Previously, we had it set to allow apps downloaded from “Anywhere” but after the update it was set to the second option of “Mac App Store and identified developers”.

I suppose this might be an effort to curb future malware problems though, even if that is the case, it shouldn’t be reset after any update. I realize this is a minor annoyance but it’s not uncommon to experience similar problems with iOS updates and these particular options seem, in my opinion, to be modified in order to “encourage” a specific end-user behavior.

A long-time offender includes Mozilla with Firefox updates, which is why I created a post with specific settings that I could refer back to after installing browser updates.