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Printing passport pictures from iPhoto or Picasa

5/03/2008

I am in the process of obtaining a visa, viagra for which the application requires a 3×4 cm picture. I have a couple of good ‘passport type’ pictures; however, side effects it is not possible to print passport size (or small size, for that matter) pictures from either iPhoto or Picasa.

There are a few products for either mac or windows that let you print these small sizes. Nevertheless, why would one pay for adding barebones functionality to software? http://www.epassportphoto.com allows choosing country and type of document (to get the exact size required), and then uploading a picture. The picture is then resized in such a way as to get the right photo size when printing in common photo paper.

This is the only function of this free site and it works really well.

Filed in software, web 3 Comments

Invasive communication

22/02/2008

Today I received an email from an old colleague. Well, traumatologist it was not a personal email but one of those hideous PowerPoint chain letters. It was not the first time receiving such time wasters so I promptly replied with something along the line of ‘please send me strictly necessary email, physician no chain letters or such’. This person got really offended and stated that I was a ’stuck-up social climber with a Ph.D.’ for not enjoying his email.

Why do some people feel they have the right to invade my main route of communication? Would they make the same phone call to their list of contacts and expect to be well received? It seems that any idiot feels entitled to special attention when the cost barriers for communication get close to zero.

Where was Merlin Mann when I needed him? I was looking for a while for a page for which I could not remember the name so I simply told my ex-colleague to get stuffed. Hours later I remembered the name of Merlin’s Thanks No site, which is what one could use when wants to be more polite… Well, this guy would have got offended anyway.

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A veneer of design

15/02/2008

I took a short break of writing while trying to upgrade, overweight change and dust off my Plus Tree site. The site has been in a state of abandonment for a while, seek and I used some time to move it to Wordpress, decease with the aim of standardising on a single blogging platform.

After moving the few posts contained in that site I started thinking of the design of the site and got stuck. One of the nice things of Wordpress is the huge number of templates available. At the beginning I was quite happy to browse places like Wordpress themes, or one of the numerous Best Wordpress themes sites, which aim to be link magnets. However, one problem was the realisation of how themes are just a veneer of design: essentially most of them are applying pretty pictures and colours, many times trying to emulate real life objects (a folder, a paper clip, a paper pad).

But, what is a web ‘page’? I mean, what is the essence of a ‘page’? How important is the actual content versus the bits and pieces of colours that we are hanging to that content? At what moment the ersatz paper pad becomes important enough to warrant its presence?

I was struggling with this when I decided to roll out my own theme — although I still have a weak spot for plain text themes (I use one in Tren de carga). It will take me a while, but I will do it. Meanwhile I will stick to my current themes: Thirteen (in this site) and Sandpress (in Plus Tree).

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It is about value

2/02/2008

After reading the news on Microsoft’s offer for Yahoo (a ‘few’ billion dollars) I was thinking not about what Microsoft would get out for that deal — I don’t care much about industry speculations — but what is in it for me as a user/consumer. The short answer is nothing.

I use only two Yahoo services: flickr and delicious. However, salve I do not make use of the ‘social‘ features. I do not keep track of who is using the same tags or comment on other people’s pictures or expect comments on mine. I use delicious so I can have a central repository for bookmarks: I do not need tags if I have access to decent search. Any, and I really mean any, service that will let me keep bookmarks, find them and import the ones I have is good enough.

I am not sure why I use flickr. At some point I thought about sharing my pictures (but it is irrelevant now), then I thought backup (but I only keep a low resolution version of the photos) so the only use I have for it is to geolocate the photos. That, and putting some of them in this blog (or in Tren de Carga). However, as many people living outside the USA know, flickr’s mapping feature is very poor in other parts of the world. Thus, I would happily switch to any other service that would let me geolocate photos in a better way. I have tried Zooomr and Panoramio but I am not convinced by their convenience yet.

I am not claiming to be a representative user, but from my point of view there is no reason to be loyal to any of these services. In the case of the former, there is no hurry on moving out, but there are already acceptable options. In the case of the latter, I am keen on finding a service to keep some of my photos geographically organised, particularly now that I want to prepare a new set of lectures.

Coming back to the start of this post, unless there are some big changes coming from a successful deal between Yahoo and Microsoft, from an enduser view point the effect will be no change of value. No change of value, no big news.

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Added a favicon to the site

26/01/2008

Today I was having a cappuccino in ‘Coffee Culture’, rheumatologist Lyttelton (see map), when I overheard the following conversation:

– I got news from X.
– Who is X?
– An old friend of ours who is now a newborn Christian.
– and what was she before that?
– a Buddhist lesbian.
– ?

It was a funny way to finish a hiking day.
This evening I created a simple favicon for Quantum Forest. It is based on the an├╝mka, Hepatitis
a Mapuche symbol for a plant. I created the favicon online using http://www.favicon.cc/.

Filed in miscellanea, web No Comments

Stating the obvious

25/09/2007

Spotty posting is a clear symptom of either being sick with internet or just too busy in real life. In my case is mostly the second; this is the time when I have overlapping teaching of regression modelling and introduction to tree breeding. The other thing I have been doing is completing project reports (two gone!) and playing with some data for a journal manuscript. Overall, esophagitis I have written more this month than at any other time that I can remember.

On the contrary, I have been posting very little to this site and a few posts to http://trendecarga.com. Stating the obvious, the more I write offline the less I write online; and I have been feeling the urge to complete a series of pending writing projects.

A few weeks ago I submitted a paper that has been in that limbo-like close-to-finish for three years. As soon as I finish teaching in three weeks time, I will complete a second paper and start writing a third one. This will take a toll on this site, but one does not get brownie points for blogging or playing with HTML.

There will certainly be some updates to this site (although most likely not in the blog part) as well as a new design for http://plustree.com. On the latter I have been slowly working in a new template and CSS file, aiming for a cleaner and simpler look.

Re-stating the obvious, real life has much wider significance, it is richer and more meaningful than any web site. Do not let anybody convince you of the opposite.

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Tren de carga

13/07/2007

One of the issues of living immersed in another language and culture is the slow — or not so slow — deterioration of the command of the original language. There is not enough practice, discount not enough interaction to keep it healthy and alive. To avoid this, gonorrhea I will be writing some posts in Spanish (hopefully) with a friend of mine.

Because this is an experiment, and quite different from the contents of this site it will be under a different name: Tren de Carga (Freight train). The name originates from a verse by Chilean poet David Turkeltaub, which says ‘vienes tarde otra vez, como tren de carga’ (you are late again, like a freight train). I am not sure why, but this verse has been stuck in my head for many years and this is the first time I have found a use for it.

Filed in language, web, writing No Comments

Living with Google Calendar

4/06/2007

As soon as I heard the news of Google Calendar I got really interested in the idea. As many other people, noun I found the service quite interesting but with three annoying missing features:

  1. Option to set calendar hours, there I mean start and finish hours for a day. I rarely make appointments at 3 am or 11pm. This makes life easier but one can live — at least for a while — without this being implemented.
  2. Simple to dos, with keywords (tags) and due dates. This one is important but, again, I can wait for this or keep my list somewhere else.
  3. The ‘almost a deal breaker’: lack of synchronisation with desktop clients (iCal in my case). How does one access the bloody calendar without internet access and/or a supported browser?

Spanning Sync has positioned itself almost as the de facto synchronisation product between Google Calendar and iCal. However, I still struggled with its price: USD25 per year or USD65 for a permanent subscription sounded very steep just for syncing; particularly when using Google Calendar is essentially free.

I then tried a couple of other approaches. I tested using Thunderbird + Lightning + Provider. I do not mind using Thunderbird as an email client: I think it is quite good, except for the lack of integration with Address Book in the mac. However, after following a very good description of the setup, I realised that the calendar is synchronised and visible only when there is internet connection, defeating the purpose. I am sure the developers are working in persistence while disconnected, but meanwhile is essentially useless.

Quick note here: Incidentally, if you have problems adding a second calendar, just use your normal login and password for the calendars, rather than the bigcode@group.calendar.google.com set up by default.

After not making progress with Thunderbird, I went for GCALDaemon. After fiddling around with download, permissions, editing configuration files, etc. I managed to make it run. Nevertheless, it crashed and trashed the contents of my online Google Calendar after one hour of use. Good thing that I had a backup. I can’t remember where I read a user commenting that ‘why would you pay for Spanning Sync if there was GCALDaemon’. Short answer: read the previous three sentences.

At some point, one realises that the time invested (or wasted) is certainly worth much more than the syncing service’s cost. So I was ready to pay for Spanning Sync, when one major improvement was announced: mobile browser access (http://mobile.google.com/calendar). I always carry my mobile phone, so if I have coverage (most of the time) I am OK. When visiting Australia last April I could still access Vodafone at domestic prices, making the system viable. However, when roaming in other countries the price to access calendar and email through the phone quickly becomes prohibitive. A good thing is that this type of trip does not happen that often, so I will rely on mobile access for the next couple of months and give the system a proper test.

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The effect of community

7/10/2006

(Or why do I prefer software where I do have a say)

Recently I was commenting on some software that I use for writing. I think that one of the main reasons non-strictly related to software usefulness is the quality of the community around the software. This has two elements:

  • How open is the developer to feedback from the users and
  • How active is the community at using the software to push the developer(s) to continue moving forward.

As an example, seek I like using Journler to keep track of odd ends in my mac computer. I also like using Writeroom when starting to write, visit because I can focus on my ideas only. Both programs have relatively active groups of users (here and here) and receptive developers, healthful who are looking for feedback. The feeling is of people who care about a product, which in general is a necessary (although not sufficient) condition for good programs. By comparison, I struggle with Copywrite, because there is no public feedback mechanism: I do not know what other users think or what are the projects of the developer for this software. Is he (or she) still developing it or now he is moving to live in Vanuatu to enjoy the rest of his life?

An interesting element is that both Writeroom and Journler are free (sensu gratis)—although the developers ask for donations—while Copywrite costs US$30 or so. There is a psychological element on paying for software; one thinks that the programmers must be working on the product. However, there is no feedback to confirm this assumption in Copywrite. In addition, I expect more activity from smaller companies: they are supossed to be more agile than, say, Microsoft.

Thus, if you are a small company I expect you to show some changes here and there. If you are a small company and charge for your product I better should have a say on what is going on. If you are a large company, most likely I will buy your software only if I need to, because most probably you are developing not very interesting products (there are exceptions1 of course).

1 Wolfram’s Mathematica is an example. Insightful’s Splus is not: R is much more active, there is plenty of feedback and it is free.

Filed in mac, software, web No Comments

Sending large files

9/08/2006

After playing for a little while, view
I managed to connect my Macbook Pro to the internet using my mobile phone via bluetooth. I have a small Samsung ZV10 and my service provider is Vodafone New Zealand. The steps are quite simple:

  • Click the bluetooth icon in the topbar and select ‘setup bluetooth device…’.
  • Check that the phone is running bluetooth and that is discoverable (Under settings, practitioner
    connectivity).
  • Select mobile phone in the list of available devices.
  • The computer will search and—we hope—find your mobile phone.
  • The computer will generate a numeric passkey that has to be keyed in and accepted in the phone.
  • Select ‘Access the Internet with your phone’s data connection’ in the next menu.
  • The settings to connect to Vodafone in New Zealand are:
    • username: vodafone.
    • password: vodafone.
    • GPRS CID string: *99#
    • Modem script: Vodafone VC701SI

This explanation is based on the excellent—and illustrated—version by Pukupi.

After using the Macbook Pro for a few more weeks, this
I have been settling on my final software selection:

  • Quicksilver: which is a great launcher and keeps learning about my preferences. Additional plugins installed: del.icio.us, help dictionary, firefox and iphoto.
  • Office: well, I do exchange a lot of documents with colleagues and friends that use the Windows version. In general works quite well, although compatibility is not perfect. My main issues have been spreadsheets containing lots of VBA or embedded Activex controls and compressed graphics in PowerPoint, which show that puzzling ‘QuickTime and a TIFF/JPEG decompressor are required to view this picture’ message. In addition, Microsoft has not released a Universal binary for Office, and will not do it until they have the next version available, whenever that is.
  • Thunderbird: after trying Mail.app and Entourage, my experience was disappointment with how unreliable Mail.app was (missing emails and crappy IMAP support) and found Entourage too big and clunky.
  • Firefox and Camino: Firefox is a great browser, but it feels a bit un-Macintosh. Camino uses the same engine, but with a nicer interface. I like the ability of closing the tabs just next to their names (a la Safari). However, it does not have (yet) incremental search, which is something that I love in Firefox (PS 2006-06-29. It is possible to have a close button in the tabs of Firefox through the use of the Tab X add-on. PS 2006-06-30. Bob Cantoni points out ‘to close Firefox tabs, just middle-click on the tab to close it; i.e., click the scroll wheel’).
  • R: a great cross-platform (and free) statistical software. I do most exploratory analysis using it, and only go to SAS, using Parallels (see below), when strictly necessary for working with other people.
  • Parallels: allows running windows and I currently use it only to run SAS. It still feels a bit slow, but for writing and prototyping SAS code is good enough. I bought the pre-release copy at US$50.
  • Copywrite: I normally become very easily distracted when using a word processor to write. All the options, fonts and formats become a real nightmare. Enter Copywrite, which is a simple writer’s editor. It allows only basic formatting, so it is very good for the first couple of drafts.
  • Devonthink: after reading Merlin Mann’s comment on 43 folders, I decided to give it a try. I am quite tempted to use it in a continuous basis. It is a good brain dump, where I can put all odds and ends that I normally loose. The current version still has some bugs and missing features, like that the full screen editor works only for plain text and that changing the colours of text may have effects on other parts of the program. Anyway, searching and connecting notes seems to work quite well. I still think that Copywrite’s full screen editor is much better and less distractive. PS 2006-06-30: I have decided to wait until the next version before buying Devonthink: still too buggy for my taste.
  • Writeroom: I just started testing this great full screen writing system. Just write there, no need to save. If I want something a bit more complex, I can type using Markdown and convert it to HTML using Humane.Text service. PS 2006-06-30. Jers Novel Writer is another writing program that supports full screen mode and that deserves a try.
  • TeXShop a highly polished LaTeX distribution, that I am using for writing lectures notes for STAT220 (Biometry I).

Sharing printers in a mixed network

I can not remember another time when I have been using so many computers in such a regular basis. My main work machine is Mastropiero1 (Macbook Pro 15”), although there is an exception for simulation work, where I use Nutcracker (a.k.a. Black Box, a generic 3GHz, Windows XP machine, which just happens not to be beige). In addition, at home I also use Happy Meal2, a Power PC Mac Mini that acts as back up and has the printer connected. Last—and certainly least—I keep Beige Box (a generic 1GHz Windows XP machine) still functional at home, just in case we need some extra simulation capability when time is not an issue.

Last weekend, we bought another cheap windows laptop for Plus Tree, our consulting arm. It is a Compaq Presario V2000, temporarily named Lucrezia Borgia3.

Given that the printer is attached to Happy Meal and that we some times need to access it from either Mastropiero or Lucrezia Borgia using wi-fi, we:

  • Shared the printer (using System Preferences, Sharing), which works for any Mac computer in the network, including Mastropiero.
  • Allowed access from Windows machines—like Lucrezia Borgia—installing Bonjour for Windows, which has a handy ‘Bonjour Printer Wizard’. Use the Wizard and the printer is now available to Windows too. Piece of cake!

Incidentally, after using the Compaq laptop for a while, I can say that it feels as warm as the Macbook Pro on the top surface. The exception is the part above the function keys in the MBP, which is bloody hot.

P.S. 2006-06-30. Welcome to 43 folders’ readers. Five hundred visits in two days; not bad for a small sidebar link.

1 Homage to the (in)famous composer so many times presented by Les Luthiers (and English article in Wikipedia).

2 Its volume is actually a bit smaller than a MacDonald’s Happy Meal box.

3 Obvious reference to this Renaissance woman.

It has been a log time without writing about research. New country, click new city, unhealthy new job. In addition, thumb
consulting and professional service. Last but not least, family and friends come first: the end result is very little time to blog and even less for writing about research.

So, what am I doing at the moment? Simple, trying to figure out areas where I am not hitting diminishing returns too quickly. For example, estimating two hundred variance components is too rich, if we can do the job with ten. The practical return from all the additional works tends to zero: we are not making much of a difference. So, what’s the point? Yes, I can publish that, but who cares?

From a practical point of view, the real issue for me is on what is affecting competitiveness in a big way. Forestry is a long term endeavour, and the longer the rotation the higher the risk. From that point of view, extending rotation because radiata pine wood quality is not good enough borders on the stupid. Doh, of course is crappy wood; answers:

  1. Use something else or is there life beyond radiata pine?
  2. Select and breed for trees that have decent (I do not mean good) quality.

So, what are my current obsessions?

  • Profitable shorter rotations. What are the limiting factors (hint: crappy wood quality, small size pieces and scale of the operations) to make this happen?.
  • Very early selection of adequate trees. Notice emphasis: selection does not to be perfect to be useful. Adequate selections at age two is much better than good selections at age ten years.
  • Why do trees grow the way they do in wood properties? Why do trees choose different strategies that have such dramatic differences in wood quality?
  • Rapid turn-over breeding strategies. Are we still taking fifteen years for a breeding cycle? It is 2006! Can’t we do any better?

There is an obvious quantitative void in my obsessions, I know. But I am going back to attempting to understand some basic processes before I embark in more number cruncing. Despite of this, I am also interested (but not obsessed) in the following problems:

  • Simulation of breeding strategies. I have a project working on this topic starting in October this year.
  • Mate allocation and population structure. Trying to show that we can get rid of sublines and other artificial groupings when using sensible mating policies.
  • Large scale genetic evaluation: how simple is simple enough? My way to help having frequent genetic evaluations.

What else? I am involved in a couple of three projects with students, dealing with wood quality, breeding or both. I have a new Ph.D. student starting in August on the interaction of economics and breeding. Ah, I almost forgot: there is a large number of lectures coming my way, better look busy…

I ordered a 20” monitor from Dell New Zealand. The price was good (NZD 749), stomach
so I just took the plunge. After over two weeks of waiting I sent them an email and—given that I did not get a reply—gave them a phone call.

The phone call was plagued with noise, troche echo and stuttering sound. That together with the forced pseudo American accent gave away that there was something suspicious about the call centre. Just to confirm my suspicions I asked ‘where is your call centre located?’ Answer: Malaysia.

According to customer service, a courier did go to my office, nobody was there so he left a card. This would be the first time that a courier notice disappears from my post, because I never found any card. I then asked them to deliver it tomorrow, but Dell could not because it was too little time in advance. I said that I could contact the courier and pick it up myself. Well, customer service did not have a phone number—or even the name of the company—delivering the monitor. Hardly surprising if I was dealing with someone in Malaysia. They could not provide me with a delivery time for next week either, so I was supposed to patiently wait the whole day (between 9am and 5pm) for the courier. It sucks and I am seriously thinking about asking for a refund.

After my phone call I finally received an email from my first contact with customer service:

We apologize for the delay in delivery and attention. Kindly advise if you have not received the order.

Should you require further assistance, please do not hesitate to contact us.

Once again thank you for your feedback and it is indeed a great pleasure serving you.

Have a pleasant day!

How about ‘canned answer’ to describe their reply? It sucks3.

P.S. 2006-07-21: I received a couple of phone calls from Dell, again with an incredibly bad sound quality. Customer service informed me that they have been again a day ago delivering the screen and that nobody was there to receive it. I asked her to read the delivery address: the street was correct, but with the wrong number.

P.S. 2006-07-22: I received an email from Dell in reply to one of my complaints:

I sincerely apologized for the experience that you had been through. Proper coaching has been done on the agent for further improvement.

and later

I had asked one of my senior agents to contact you in regards to the re-delivery of the order. Apparently, the order has went futile and thus, we need to re-arrange another delivery for you.

Yes, my order has went futile.

P.S. 2006-07-24. Still waiting. I have left two messages in the 0800 number I was given to contact the ‘senior agent’, because nobody answered the phone.

I am not alone in my trouble: a search for ‘Dell customer service problem’ returns about 2.8 million hits in Yahoo and 19.9 million hits in Google.

P.S. 2006-07-30. Dell sent the order to the University Warehouse rather than the School of Forestry. Of course nobody knew about me in the warehouse, so the order was rejected. Finally Dell gave me the name and phone number of the courier, who informed me that they sent the monitor back to Dell. I then called back Dell to cancel my order. Now, I am just waiting to get my money back in my credit card. One month lost due to Dell NZ.

P.S. 2006-08-01. I received a call from Dell, saying that they would credit my card after I returned the monitor. I patiently explained that it was physically impossible to return something that I have never received. Are these guys smoking pot?

P.S. 2006-08-02. Another call from ‘someone organising the refund but not working for Dell’ (how can that be?) that wanted to confirm the address of delivery and if I knew a ‘Paul’ who could have received the monitor. No Pauls and I want my money back immediately.

Better I continue listening to Neon Meate Dream of A Octafish. by Captain Beefheart. It makes a lot more sense than Dell.

P.S. 2006-08-06. Today my internet banking statement showed that Dell credited back my card. In summary, I lent the cost of the monitor to Dell for one month (on top of my time writing emails and calling them on the phone) interest free. Result: I will never buy a Dell product (or recommend them) for the rest of my life.

I started working with a Spanish speaker Ph.D. student. One of the topics of conversation is the (always long) list of things that do not make sense in English if taken in a literal way. For example:

  • To have a heart condition: everyone has a condition (good or bad).
  • It is a quality product: good or bad?
  • You have an accent: doh, page
    you too.
  • He has an attitude: everyone has one.
  • So on and so forth, page
    you get the idea.

Of course any language has a fair share of inconsistencies, case
strange turns of phrase or grammatical weirdness. Some classic Spanish cultural issues:

  • One takes a decision instead of making one, as if there is a limited set of decisions available (for which I am not responsible).
  • The use of reflexive as in ‘el vaso se cayó’ (the glass fell by itself). So, it is the glass’s fault not mine for dropping it.

The latter example puts the locus of control on the object not the person, so there is an issue of personal responsibility (or lack of it). This used to be a big difference, but English is catching up if not through language but via the legal system. Think of ‘tort law’ and ‘frivolous lawsuits’.

Just another day in language’s terra nulla.

Most of the time I work with small files, prostate
mostly text, shop even if they have a fair amount of equations. Equations are not a big deal, see
particularly if I am using LaTeX (with TeXShop in the mac or MikTeX in PCs). Nevertheless, some times I have to deliver presentations or—in this particular case—receive someone else’s presentation for my classes.

If I am producing teaching material I use Keynote, which is a sucker for file size (my main pet hate with it), but it looks great. I can go for Keynote because I am using my Macbook Pro. If I am giving a presentation to industry I normally have to put my presentation in to someone else’s computer, so I go for PowerPoint (and do not use any compressed images), to avoid errors.

Anyway, this time I was supposed to receive a PowerPoint file from a guest lecturer, so I could print copies of the presentation for the students. The problem was that the presentation was 16MB (not big for these days, mostly pictures), and the university has an attachment limit of 6MB. Google mail has a limit of 10MB and I wanted to avoid taking time for the guest lecturer partitioning his presentation in to 5MB chunks.

I tried using Mediamax, which allows anonymous uploads to registered users. It did not work that well, because the files would take several hours to show up in my Mediamax file manager. Then we tried with a much simpler solution: Mailbigfile. This worked flawlessly, I immediately received an email with a web address from where to download the files and the interface was quite clean. There were only a few text ads to support the service. Simple, reliable and free: what else do I need? In some cases encryption could be a concern, but they do offer a ‘pro’ encrypted version for USD18 a year. That aside, I do not need hosting big files in a permanent basis, so Mailbigfile has spot on features for me.

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