Star Trek: The Animated Series Online

When I was a kid growing up in the eighties, in a very rural part of the country, my exposure to Star Trek was somewhat limited. I was too young to the original series that much, opting for Lost in Space reruns if they were on, instead. However, when Nickelodeon began showing reruns of Star Trek: The Animated Series
, I was very much into it.

Unlike the original series (and, for that matter, subsequent ST series), this show had very alien-looking aliens1. Though some of the stories were cribbed almost line for line from the original series, some others were new and even more fantastic than anything with live actors. My wife is a die-hard ST: The Next Generation fan and I’d venture most folks either go for the original series or TNG. The Animated Series has always been my favorite.

So I’m very excited that CBS is streaming all of the episodes on StarTrek.com.

Decent animation, good stories, and voice acting from the origonal series stars (including, the wonderful James Doohan as Arex as well as his more famous character, Scotty)

I just watched the first episode over lunch and I can’t wait to watch more with the family. Given the very different budgetary concerns of animation, where special effects are cheap but each frame costs a lot, the show has little movement in any given shot but the shots are often dramatic. In fact, rather than looking as dated as one might expect, much of the show looks like a modern flash-animated series for those very same reasons. The stories are excellent; on par with a good science fiction novel and with less techno-babble than many series in the genre suffer from2. Though

  1. I have read that part of this was Gene Rodenbury’s desire to never cover the actor’s features. He seemed to feel that a more realistic portrayal of an alien’s emotions and facial expressions was more important that make-up and prosthetics. Admirable, though there is absolutely no reason to believe that alien species would express things in the same way as us (or even have the same emotions or logic), given that pretty much no other species on Earth does. []
  2. The jargon used in the first episode is actually all pretty sound science and very little of it is just science-y sounding filler. []

Printing in iOS With Your Old Printer

The feature that I (and I’m sure, many) was most looking forward to in iOS 4.2 was printing. Apple advertised this as one of the main features and, having used Bonjour to configure many a printer in the past, I looked forward to actually being able to use it. Bonjour is Apple’s nearly-zero configuration utility for sharing resources (mostly printers) among computers on a network. It is one of the best examples of Apple’s it just works motto. If you’ve never tried to configure a printer on a network then you can’t really appreciate the special level of Hell from which this little technology saves you.

Not having any printers makes my iPhone sad.

So, despite this, I was upset that Apple had all but canned printing in the final release of iOS 4.2. Oh, sure it works with a handful of new HP printers. However, I wasn’t really interested in purchasing a fancy new printer when I have an old HP that works just fine, thank you very much. I am holding out hope that this is a matter of not releasing the feature until it really does just work. Regardless, it seems like a half-baked way to put a feature out there. I had even told friends that they should consider buying an iPad because printing would becoming soon. I’m not looking forward to explaining the rest of the story to them (as they are not really techies and are likely to simply blame me).

Fortunately, there are a couple of nice mac utilities that can at last bridge the gap for our household (an OS X computer which is on and shares a printer): Fingerprint by Collobos and Printopia by Ecamm Network. I downloaded a copy of Fingerprint (free seven day trial which allows you to ensure it works with your network & printer). Open the application, select my shared printer, and then print from my iPhone 4.

That’s it.

The Fingerprint utility window. Not really much else to show here, actually.

Zero configuration. It simply uses Bonjour to tell my iPhone that there is a printer available. I select that printer and set the number of copies I want. All other settings are just the default for the printer (so, no grayscale printer, for example). I can also save to my desktop or DropBox folder in .PDF file format, which is great for saving and sharing things which I don’t really need tp keep a hard copy. Fingerprint even includes the capability send it your print job to iPhoto, which is a nice touch. In fact, that is how I transferred all the iPhone screenshots for this post.

Note: Apparently, Printopia does all these things as well (minus the iPhoto bit) for a couple of dollars more, so I chose Fingerprint. However, Printopia is nice in that it is added to the System Preferences panel instead of being a separate application.

The printer options screen and printer selection screen once Fingerprint is running on any machine on the same network.

Fingerprint is $7.99, which is a lot cheaper than a new printer and easily worth it for our household to have this feature. The application has in-app purchasing and licensing if you decide to purchase and they accept credit card or PayPal.

We still do print things from time-to-time and having that ability on our iPhones (and iPad, someday… right, dear?) is awesome. Because Apple may never release this for just any old printer. They really aren’t known for supporting legacy hardware, after all.

Here’s a video of how simple printing in iOS is, once it works:

Printing in iOS 4.2 using FingerPrint from Jason Coleman on Vimeo.

Dark Sun Worldwide Game Day Recap

While I might not be the strongest believer in fate, I happily recognize and accept serendipity when it occurs. I had signed up for the lastest Dungeons & Dragons Worldwide Game Day — to get players familiar with the new Dark Sun Campaign Setting supplement — with my local gaming group. As it turns out, I went to the wrong of the two venue addresses listed on the page. As luck would have it, there was another group there playing the same adventure (it is worldwide, after all) who had a seat for one more person. Not wanting to let me scheduled afternoon of gaming go by (thanks, Angela!), I jumped in.

It can be a mixed bag when going to a game table blind, but generally it is a good experience. This was a great experience. The individual running the table had loads of giveaways and free drinks arranged for players. The group I was gaming were friendly and eager to play off one another during the four five1 hours of gaming. I missed the chance to play with some old gaming pals of mine but making new friends is always fun for me and these are guys I hope to roll some dice again with soon.

WWGD Dark Sun

The ambushes just kept coming in this adventure. Dark Sun is a place where elves and templars are trouble, and we kept running into them.

As for the adventure itself, it was a good one. Sure it was the typical "You’re in a bar together in the village and are approached by someone offering gold to find something … " but it did capture some of the elements that make Dark Sun a unique setting and offered some nice opportunities for role playing. As a matter of fact, I a great opportunity to ham it up when my character lept into the dark pit ahead of the group and them climbed back up to report what he’d seen. I’d have gladly done so without the promise of real-world reward, but I got voted best role-player of the session and won a set of condition cards for it.

D&D Condition Card Set

Thanks to the group for voting me to get these cards; which I will be using in every game from now on in 4th Ed.

So, enjoyed playing Dark Sun enough that I’m going to (literally, as soon as click the Publish button) go pick up a copy of the Dark Sun Campaign Setting book. It’s like Dune meets Mad Max, but with d20s and I can’t wait to play some more.

Dark Sun Campaign Setting

Update: No, I wasn’t using "literally" in a figurative sense.


  1. As it turns out, Dark Sun can have some additional random encounters due to the nature of the setting. We ended up running an hour later than scheduled but it was no less fun and my terrific wife entertained the kids without once calling me to ask where in the hell was I at. I’m not sure I’d have had that kind of patience in her shoes, and she’s awesome for being so cool about it. And if you think I’m just trying to score some points; I can assure you she never reads this site. []

Steam on the Mac

While I think it’s great that Steam is finally available for mac users, I’ve still yet to benefit from it. I first bought Portal about two years ago and played it via Boot Camp on my iMac. It was just as wonderful as everyone said it was and I had a great time. Some time later, Parallels 4 allowed me to play it on a virtual machine. No longer needing to reboot was nice but the video was still a bit choppy. I would have never made it past some of the later levels if it had been that way in Boot Camp. Fortunately, Parallels has only gotten better with gaming and Portal looks and plays great on my iMac.

Portal On My mac

Ironically, a year and a half later, Valve releases Steam for the mac and gives Portal away for free to everyone. Okay, that’s not the ironic part; that’s actually really awesome of them. The irony is in that I can’t play Portal on Steam for the mac because my video card doesn’t meet some as-yet-unknown system requirements.

The Cake *IS* a Lie

It’s pretty clear this dialog box hasn’t been updated for the Mac port. Yes, there is a link there for “Show Minimum Requirements …” and no, it doesn’t do anything.

That’s right. Valve doesn’t know what the system requirements are and I can’t find them anywhere on their store/site/steam/labyrinth. But they know that my mac can’t handle it. Except that it has been playing this same game for over two years.

Let’s face it: my iMac isn’t that new. It’s over four years old now and is on it’s second video adapter. But, it still works fine and the video adapter is far from being a poor one1. So I can understand that it might not be able to play every game; especially not the latest. But Portal isn’t a new game. Portal is was released three-and-a-half years ago and it didn’t really push the limits of PC gaming hardware then.

The real issue in all this actually has little to do with Portal. I’ve already played it through three times over2. My issue lies in the fact that I have no way of known what the system requirements are for a game. I wouldn’t even know if I could play it at all until after I’d bought it. Even then, the message is so cryptic as to be useless. Is this something that is a true limitation or is it as arbitrary as having a “white list” of hardware? I don’t know, but I’m not going to spend a penny on a game until I know for sure I can play it.

Not that I have any time for gaming anyway, mind you.

Update: I did find some system requirements at the bottom of the Portal product page. I suspect I just didn’t look there (despite it being the obvious place). As you can see, I did find some mixed messages. The clearly state that Mac requires a GeForce 8 card or better, which is both unfortunate and still confusing. In the meantime, I downloaded the demo for Torchlight, which plays just fine on my mac (if a bit sluggish when a lot of enemies are on screen). I’m hooked and will cease to complain about Portal.

Update 2: I just downloaded an update for Portal. I now get an error message with data for my OS and graphics card. The link to minimum system requirements for the game also now takes me to the product page system requirements section.

There have also been a number of reviews and news pieces for Steam on the mac which have pointed out that a lot of my issues are due to the fact that Mac OS doesn’t take full advantage of the graphics hardware (poorly written or older drivers) when compared to a Windows machine. This partially explains my issue. However, the virtual machine doesn’t have native access to the graphics card (as evidenced by the fact that the graphics card is displayed as a “Parallels Graphics Adapter” and not the actual card. Still, Parallels does taught better graphics support and I have no doubt they have squeezed every ounce of performance they could get out of Windows for VM gaming purposes.

On a somewhat related note, Steam for mac seems to not play very well with Spaces on my iMac running OS X 10.6.3. It seemed to leave pop-ups, tool tips, or something on other Spaces when it wasn’t in focus, and would then try to jump back to those at odd times. I finally had to turn Spaces off just to prevent me from screaming at my computer any more.

  1. It’s an NVIDIA GeForce 7300 GT []
  2. That 6 hour figure you see above doesn’t really seem correct to me; I’m not that fast of a gamer. []

Archaic Iconography

In many computer applications1, you’ll find a toolbar which contains a save tool & icon. Almost without fail, that icon is of a floppy disk (most closely resembling a blue 3 1/2″ floppy). But why not a computer hard drive (though those often end up looking like sardine tins in small icons) or a reel-to-reel tape? It is interesting that we sort of all agreed on one slice out of our technological history to agree upon as the standard for saving data. Of course, the irony of using this for to execute a save command is that very few computers today have a floppy drive at all and using these as a primary method of saving predates even the 3 1/2″ floppy itself.

I’ve often wondered if I’ll have to show my kids a old floppy disk to explain the history of the icon. That is, assuming I can even find one around here. When I did my Spring cleaning last year, I had to borrow a USB floppy drive from my father-in-law since I didn’t have a computer handy to even read those disks. Regardless, I believe the icon itself will be largely abstract to them; though I don’t doubt they’ll learn to recognize what function it represents immediately. They will become symbols more than direct representations, which isn’t a bad thing in of itself2

Similarly, you might find a old phone handset representing calls or phone functions and a snail-mail envelope for creating or checking e-mail. These, too, are outdated (or nearly, in the case of the envelope) tools to represent their digital replacements.

But then, what icon better represents saving data? Or making phone calls? Or sending mail?

  1. This is mostly a Windows and Linux GUI convention. You’ll occasionally find it in Mac applications, though mostly in those written by Microsoft. This is because in most Mac applications, the file-level commands are only found on the menu bar and not in a window toolbar. A lot of web applications use a similar icon, as well. []
  2. Pretty much all letters, numbers, and other symbols all had more concrete meaning at one time. Take, for example, the octothorpe/pound/hash/crosshatch/number symbol (#). According to The Elements of Typographic Style, this was once used in cartography to represent a village. That is, it was a symbol for a town square surrounded by eight fields. The fact that we have so many different names for this symbol is indicative of its many modern uses and that we have all but forgotten its original, more literal meaning. []

Using Location Based Social Networking Sites

As I’ve become more and more attached to using Twitter, I (like most everyone else) has enjoyed adding more rich information into tweets. I personally love including links to a photo, which essentially renders a tweet to a caption (Arguably it also adds a 1,000 words or so to your actual tweet length). I have also been trying to use some of the location-based social networks on and off for a couple of years now, most of which seem to thrive based on their integration with Twitter.

First, we had BrightKite, which – while an attractive site – was trying to do too much. Foursquare and Gowalla both seem to be restricting themselves to I was here and did this1.The value I see in these is to add some location context to a tweet (rather than the game of Foursquare or Gowalla, for which I couldn’t care less). It also provides a way for any additional data I wish to add to be made available to others if they happen on the same spot.

That being said, it is very annoying to me that these two methods for adding information to tweets (images and locations) aren’t really integrated better. After struggling for the better part of 15 minutes to add a Flickr2 photo to a Foursquare post, I figured I’d likely never try that again.

Twitter + Foursquare + Flickr = headache

Perhaps it could be argued that having multiple URLs in a single tweet is a bit much information for a system that was built around minimalism. To that end, I at least try to provide enough information in the tweet itself to make it of some value. I almost never just use the default “I went to [blank]” text in Foursquare. If it is worth posting, it’s worth letting others know why I did it. This is how I choose to use Twitter. That is, letting anyone interested in what I think know what I’m doing and why it is of value. Unfortunately, it just doesn’t seem to be the intention of many of the services on Twitter.

  1. It’s no coincidence I use the past tense here. One of my issues with putting my location online, in real time, while doing something away from home is best explained by the site PleaseRobMe. While I don’t worry too much about actual thieves tracking my whereabouts via the web, I find it best practice to limit who knows where I am and when. Thus, I generally post to Foursquare just after I’ve left. I’m just cagey like that, I suppose. Some feel this abuse of Foursquare is cheating the game. To those I would point to above and remind them that shit = not given. []
  2. Despite Flickr’s adoption of their own URL shortening, it has been poorly adopted by Twitter, its clients, and its services. The lack of integration there really puts a damper on my interest in using these as well. Why must I use TwitPic (less attractive and interesting to me) when I already am a long-time Flickr user? []

TiVo Releases Biggest Update in a Decade

In something of a surprise to me, Coleman-Dyer household favorite TiVo released a updates pretty much everything today. Primarily, they showed off their upcoming DVR hardware, called TiVo Premiere. I have to say, it looks very slick:
The new hardware is a smaller form factor and has a very streamlined look. What’s more, the new remote there may look just like the TiVo XL remote, but it has a slide-out keyboard (similar to many popular mobile phones). This allows you to enter text in search fields, but also can be used to quickly filter your "Now Playing" list. And speaking of the interface, it has been completely overhauled to match the look of the Flash-based TiVo Search beta that was included in the most recent service update. They also added the feature that I most wanted: playlist profiles.

I’m really excited to see that Tivo, despite years of questions regarding their future, is still working to remain fresh and keep their top spot in the field of DVRs. (Both images from GDGT)

Portal Gets a Mysterious Update

Also in the surprise-to-me-release category, Valve released a rather strange update to their 2007 hit Portal today. Though not much in terms of gameplay was added, the ever-present radios placed throughout the game now seem to have some sort of significance. Carrying the radios to various points within the level unlock a new game achievement. What’s more, the radios begin to broadcast various signals such as Morse code, data transmissions, etc. Some very crafty gamers have found that this is actually a rabbit hole leading to a out-of-game alternate reality campaign. Portal remains one of the most amazing games ever and if this is the how Valve chooses to start a marketing campaign for a sequel, then this bodes well for the future of the game. Here are a couple of screenshots I took while exploring some of the new game features:

Updated: It looks like Portal 2 is official (this December) and it is likely coming to the mac, too.

What It Says and What It Does

Ars Technica reports that the FCC asked the public how and if the term "broadband" (as in internet connection) should be defined, after it had proposed that "basic broadband" as simply 768kbps to 1.5Mbps (as in connection speed). They also seemed to think that this should be based on the actual speed that providers have, as opposed to what they claim in advertisements.

Sadly, the providers had a few issues with this. Mainly, they’d like to define what is broadband based on nominal speeds, not the actual speeds they provide. They argue that it is complicated to determine actual speed (never mind that there are countless sites to assess your current connections speed when a provided wants to sell you a different service). Even worse, they don’t want to have the definition tied to any applications (that is; video, torrents, gaming, VOIP, etc.). That way, if they decide to conveniently turn off a service on their pipeline, they can still call it broadband.

So what if you can’t actually do anything with it? It’s still fast! Well, in theory, anyway.

Some Nerd Treasures in the Attic

Pile of Old Disks

We’ve been in Spring cleaning mode here around the house. Angela went through our old file cabinet, combing over records for the past decade plus. We also both chucked most of our papers and files from college. That alone ended up being ten boxes to take to the document shredding & recycling place.

In the process, I ended up with a rather large pile of 3.5″ floppy disks to get rid of. I decided to go through them and copy any files before we had them destroyed. Of course, we actually don’t own anything with a 3.5″ floppy drive! Even my old linux box in the garage only has a optical drive. Fortunately, Angela’s dad has a USB floppy drive he was able to loan us.

So, in the process of going through some of the disks (many of which included programs for obsolete operating systems), I managed to find a few gems:

  • Lots of photos from around 1998-99, when Angela and were first dating and she was going off to pharmacy school in VA. It probably goes without saying, but we’ve aged a bit in the past decade.
    Our first ever big date, almost 11 years ago.
    Our first ever big date, almost 11 years ago.
  • The first help document I ever wrote for software. It was for a DOS program called Plane Frame & Truss (PFT, for short, because filenames back then couldn’t exceed 8 bytes). It is written in a very snarky voice; probably not something I’d try and reproduce in my current writing (okay, maybe here):

    How to use Dr. Noel Tolbert’s Plane-Frame-Truss Program (PFT)
    By Jason Coleman

    First of all, PFT is not user-friendly, regardless of what Big-Daddy-Tolbert may say about it. However, if you are using PFGTAB (the quasi-graphical version), simply read everything it tells you until you are more comfortable with the program. The questions the program asks are not always clear at first, so take your time with them.

    How PFT works: (This is more-or-less from the horse’s mouth)

    This will cover, for the most part, how to use the graphical interface, PFGTAB. You have to be at an MSDOS prompt, and not simply in a Windows Shell. In a windows shell, you can only run a program once, and then the shell more-or-less quits, and when using PFT, you actually have to run two programs consecutively. That’s one of the many non-user-friendly features of PFT.

  • The first program I ever wrote in Visual Basic (or anything that had a GUI, for that matter). It was a program for Advanced Mechanics of Materials grad. level course which would determine the stresses in a curved beam member under a specific loading. It wasn’t exactly anything very useful (unless you need to design clamps for a living), but it also didn’t look too bad for a first attempt:
    Curvbeam.exe's screen.
    Curvbeam.exe's screen.

So we found a few nerdy treasures from our past lives. That’s one of the fun things about cleaning out so much of that sort of stuff: you find the things that really mean something and can put them somewhere you can access, instead of buried in a tomb of junk.