Category: Computers

Google Chrome’s Automatic Translation

Living in Germany is made a lot easier by some of the tools Google has produced, like the Google Translate app, which uses your cell phone’s camera to do on-the-fly OCR (Optical Character Recognition) to read things like foreign language signs, labels, and any other text, then translate that text to English (or one of many other languages.) It’s an amazing product; not perfect, but a huge, huge help!

Another helpful item from Google is the automatic translation feature built into the Chrome web browser. The translation can take a page that’s written in German (for example) and convert it to English with a right-click command. You can even set up Chrome to automatically translate any page you view in a given language. And that’s how I have Chrome set up; whenever it recognizes German text on a web page, it converts it. Most of the time it works well enough that I barely notice it’s working. The translation is never perfect, but that’s usually just a result of the grammatical differences between German and English. It at least gives me a good idea of what the page is trying to communicate, which would be totally lost on me if I was looking at nothing but Deutsch!

That automatic translation got me in a bit of trouble last week though… One of the family computers died, so we needed a replacement. I didn’t have my ducks in a row when we were visiting the US over spring break, so I had to find one over here. I shopped around on Amazon and eBay, and finally settled on a Lenovo ThinkPad L520 I found on eBay (the sizeable balance in my PayPal account was pretty much the deciding factor!) Here’s a screenshot of the purchase details, which is how I saw the ad, translated:

The price was right, it was well-equipped, and it even had a QWERTY keyboard, which is an important consideration when living in a country where most computers come equipped with a German language keyboard, which has a few different letters than the US keyboard, and has the Z where the Y should be. So I ordered it.

But when the computer arrived, it did have the German keyboard AND the OS was all in German. Crud. The OS I could deal with (although why changing languages in Windows is ten times as difficult as in Mac OS I will never understand) but the keyboard… I got back onto eBay and shot the seller a message, telling him I wasn’t terribly happy with what I saw as a keyboard bait & switch. Surprisingly, I got a note back within a couple hours telling me that nowhere in the auction was anything said about a QWERTY keyboard. I chortled; wait until I show him the confirmation email I received… But when I went back to the email, it did say QWERTZ, not QWERTY! What?!?!

So I went back to eBay to take a look at the auction; for some reason the translation took a little longer than usual, and sure enough, the description said QWERTZ, not QWERTY, but after a moment the translation finished, and the description said QWERTY!

Well now that’s a problem. Here’s the purchase details sans translation:

See the difference?

So apparently in Google’s world, QWERTZ translates to QWERTY. But of course that translation doesn’t transfer over to the real world.

Yes, I should’ve been more attentive on this deal, but like I said, the translation just works well enough that I just don’t notice it doing its thing. And when searching through a page of 25 items in the search results, of course the items further down the list are going to be translated before you get there. Still, I should have verified with the seller before ordering.

So for now, Caleb will have to live with a keyboard that doesn’t match the key map, and I’m shopping for a real US keyboard for a Lenovo L520. Doh.

Yet Another Reason Windows Blows

The PC users at work are pretty much standardized on Windows XP, but a couple of people use applications that are slated to be upgraded soon, and one of the requirements with that upcoming new version is Windows 7 Professional or Ultimate. I had zero seat time on Win7, so to prepare for that upgrade I installed it on my computer a few months back. I wasn’t ready to say goodbye to XP just yet, so I thought I’d be smart & set it up to dual-boot between XP and 7. That process went pretty smoothly — so much so that I don’t even recall how exactly I did it. After a few initial glitches, playing with testing 7 went pretty well, and it’s now been a long time since I’ve needed to jump back to XP. I’m finding that 7 is much more stable and user-friendly than XP (go figure… I’m even liking some features, like the one-key jump to the Search Programs & Files thing, which is very similar to QuickSilver’s app launching feature on the Mac) so it’s here to stay on my desktop.

Last week I ordered a couple of new Dell machines to replace some older hardware elsewhere in the building, and both of them arrived with Win7 already installed. Both had more horsepower than my (then) current desktop machine, so I decided exercise my prerogative as Preventer of Information Services to shuffle my year-old desktop down to one of the other users and drop one of the new machines on my own desk. Migrating my stuff over to the new machine — Windows 7 to Windows 7 — was pretty slick (another nice Win7 feature, but what about moving apps?), but when I set about ridding the machine of the dual-boot situation, I ran into a snag…

When I set up the XP/7 dual boot, I installed 7 on a second hard drive, thinking that when I decided to either go back to XP or stay with 7 I could just pull the other drive and sail along on my happy way. After all, it’s worked that way with the Mac OS since about forever… (must’ve been lulled into thinking the guys at Redmond had made some legitimate advancements to the Windows platform.) I shut down, pulled out the XP disk, and the computer refused to boot. Fantabulous.

So to Google I goed, and found lots of help to get me where I needed to be, but it was far from easy… The short of it is, I had to boot up in XP, copy the boot record files from the XP drive/partition over to the Win7 drive/partition, boot up with the Win7 installer disk, go into the Repair mode, jump into the command line and enter some magical incantations, and finally it would boot up from the Win7 drive. Of course it took me quite a while to actually get there… The video below was the best set of instructions I found to get the job done, but because that tutorial deals with a dual-boot setup on one disk and deleting the XP partition, I had to make several adjustments along the way. Plus, setting this computer up was one of those peripheral tasks I was doing while doing a couple of other things, so it was more of a minor annoyance; I was about this close to just nuking the disk and reinstalling from scratch when the planets aligned and everything came together. All’s well that ends well, I guess.

Windows 7 is definitely an improvement over XP, but it’s still no Mac OS X.

The Importance of Multi-Platform Browser Testing

The SD Secretary of State’s office put up a nice reference to display election results tonight, Election Night 2010. Must be a new system because I don’t remember the look from the 2008 election. But when I pulled it up in Safari (5.0.2), it was obvious that somebody didn’t do their homework. I was pretty sure it wasn’t supposed to look like this.

Now here is the same page, as viewed in Firefox 3.6.8:

I’m not sure what the Secretary of State office’s annual budget is, nor what they allocated for this website, but you would think they would’ve spent a little time to make sure it displays properly in a browser that probably comprises ten percent of the hits they’ll receive tonight. One can only guess what it looks like in IE 6 & 7; I’m guessing it looks worse, and they’ll make up another 20 percent.

The sound you hear is my eyes rolling.

Remote Access Gone Wild

Ok, here’s a weird remote access tale, that just happens to be true…

Tonight I needed to edit some video on a computer at church — a Mac G5. That particular computer is set up for remote access by way of VNC, but is behind a pretty tightly controlled firewall. The church does have a Windows Small Business Server 2003 with Remote Web Workplace running on it that is accessible through the firewall. The problem is that Remote Web Workplace requires ActiveX to be running on the client computer, so Macs need not apply…

Or can they?

At work I have a Windows XP machine that is set up for outside access via GoToMyPC; GoToMyPC recently released a version that works great with a Mac as a connecting client… So I use my humble G4 PowerBook to open a GoToMyPC session with my work computer, then connect to Remote Web Workplace from there. Once connected I open a session on one of the Remote Workplace computers, fire up VNC, and hit Connect with the address for the G5. Three layers of security, three different ISPs & six passwords later… Can you say “latency”?

That latency is especially evident where trimming the video is concerned. Moving the Quicktime trimming controls with the mouse can only get you so close to where you need to be, so that’s followed by nudging the video with the arrow keys, at a rate of about 50 clicks per second of video. Painfully slow.

I think it might be faster to just drive out there, and save this trick for something for which it’s better suited. For.

Typing Hardware Addresses

All network interface cards have MAC addresses, a string of alphanumeric characters unique to each interface. In keeping records for the machines at work, I’ve noticed that when keying in a hardware address it’s possible to do it two-handed on a standard US QWERTY keyboard with a keypad — numeric characters are entered with the right hand and alpha characters with the left.

I don’t think that was what the designers of the ethernet protocol intended, but it’s a great unintended positive side effect. A MAC address is represented as a set of six groups of two hexadecimal digits each. Hexadecimal, a base-16 counting system, uses 0-9 and the alpha characters A-F to comprise its sixteen digits.
0=0, 1=1, 2=2, 3=3, 4=4, 5=5, 6=6, 7=7, 8=8, 9=9, 10=A, 11=B, 12=C, 13=D, 14=E, 15=F
It’s just a happy coincidence that those six characters can be struck using the fingers of the left hand on a US keyboard layout. Meaningless to most I suppose, but I found it interesting. And handy!

Video Game Driving Challenge

My kids have asked me before why it is that driving a computer-simulated car in a video game is so much different than driving a real car. My off-the-cuff answer has been that the controls in the video game are usually much cruder than those in a real car. Imagine if you were driving down the highway and your steering was controlled by two buttons for left & right, the throttle was an on-off switch, as was your brake. Controls like that in a video game make driving pretty dodgy, but if it were in real life… I’m glad I don’t have to share the road with vehicles like that! Cars would have to be just as indestructible as their game-world kin.

The guys in this video were wondering something similar; how it would work if you tried to control a real vehicle from the typical video game driving perspective. The results, even with normal vehicular controls, are pretty hilarious. (There is some foul language in the video, so keep the volume low or headphones on if there are kids nearby!)

I’m guessing the drivers could improve with a little practice. Or maybe a lot of practice.

What Changes Will The Next 18 Years Bring?

I was digging through my Sitemeter visitor stats a few days ago, and noticed again with a bit of wonder that one of the posts that consistently sees a fair bit of traffic is the one about the 68000 dash 30fx computer I have at home. The dash 30fx a monster of a Macintosh clone that was built without Apple’s blessing in the early ’90’s. The manufacturer got away with it by building the computer around the logic board of a IIfx purchased from Apple. The IIfx was no slouch in its day, but the 30fx stepped things up to the next rung, but at a high price.


You can read more about that relic in the old post, but seeing a bump in interest on that page made me wonder whether some of that traffic might be driven by some new chatter about those computers. So I did a little searching, and came up with several Google Books hits that I hadn’t seen before. One of them was a Network World article from June 15, 1992:

The part that got me…

The network had to be Ethernet-based in order to accommodate the Macintosh equipment. But the bandwidth constraints of a conventional Ethernet LAN were insufficient for transmitting images ranging from 100M to 300M bytes in size.

That’s a blast from the past. I remember the days of 10baseT ethernet all too well, when pushing a 100MB file over an AppleTalk network would take a matter of minutes, and 300MB… Start the transfer and go take a coffee break! It makes me feel a bit old. The digital prepress shop described in the article sounds amazingly similar to to our shop at CCL where we used the dash 30fx along with a IIfx, some Quadra 950’s, a LaserWriter, a couple of Sun SPARCstation 2s (which served as raster image processors (RIPs) for a DuPont Crosfield imagesetter). Our operation was a lot smaller than the one described in the article, as we only had one Crosfield — they had ten. They may have had more equipment, but still dealt with the same constraints in moving data around the network.

I started work for CCL in 1991, and moved to the graphics department about a year later. I worked in traditional stripping, proof & platemaking for a while before transferring to the digital art department. Not long after getting in the door, the department’s tech guy decided to venture out on his own & started a digital imaging company. I was “promoted” to fill his shoes, providing tech support for the department in addition to my regular duties. In that position, one of my first tasks/learning opportunities was to move a couple of pieces of equipment around in the department, which involved making a couple of changes on the old thinnet daisy chain network. I started the job on a Friday afternoon after everybody else had left, and could not get it working again. Thinnet was as quirky as it gets; throughput may have been slow, but reliability & configuration flexibility were awful. That made the speed less of an issue I guess.

One of the projects my predecessor had started but hadn’t finished was upgrading the network in the department to 10Base-T twisted pair ethernet. The network drops were in place and most of the pieces were there, but we were still waiting on a few last pieces so we weren’t quite ready to pull the trigger on it. The trouble I had that evening helped me decide we were ready enough, so I blasted forward with the 10Base-T and figured I’d deal with the missing pieces afterward. I didn’t see much hope in getting the thinnet working, so even if I spent the whole weekend finishing the project up, I figured I could spend the same time with the thinnet and still end up with a slow dodgy network that might still not work. That turned out to be one of the best decisions I ever made. I had everything installed and working in less than an hour (after screwing around with the thinnet for four hours just trying to get it to work.) The few devices still on thinnet stayed on a little sub-network, with a Mac bridging the two segments. We limped along like that for a week or so until the rest of the equipment showed up, but just having things working — and working at five times the previous network speed — made it more than worthwhile. My boss was impressed!

I learned a lot on that first 10Base-T ethernet network; the 10 megabit speed in AppleTalk, combined with those early machines made image processing pretty time consuming. In 1992, pushing a 100MB file around the network indeed took a while, plus disk space was very expensive, so all kinds of extra work went into making things as compact as possible. Even on the state-of-the-art RIP running on that 90MHz Sparc 20 workstation, an eight-page layout literally took hours to process before it would begin imaging. A lot of times, we’d set up a layout, send it to the RIP and let the RIP chew on it overnight; if we somehow made a mistake somewhere along the line (it happened; not often, but it happened) we’d have to fix the foible & start all over again. Even before the job went to the RIP we’d examine the Quark, Illustrator & Photoshop files trying to find places we could streamline things a bit; Photoshop images that were scaled and/or rotated in Quark or Illustrator would take extra RIP time, so we’d take the time to re-do those files in Photoshop so they would be placed at 100% with no rotation.

Now though, eighteen years later, with RIPs running multiple 3GHz processors (with multiple cores), 4GB of memory, and gigabit ethernet, that same eight-page spread takes a matter of minutes to send to the RIP and for the RIP to process it. And modern operating systems, gigabit ethernet NIC’s and faster hardware make file transfers of several gigabytes pretty much a non-issue. Then there is disk space; one of the first purchases I had to make was a 1GB SCSI hard drive to replace one that had died in a Macintosh Quadra 950. I don’t remember exactly what I paid for it, but I know it was in the neighborhood of $1,000. Now you can buy a 1 terabyte drive for under $100! So with disk space so cheap and network transfer speeds so fast, the time we spent trimming file sizes and optimizing placement seems a total waste.

The years I’ve spent in this business have pretty much flown by At this point in my career, I’m probably in it for the duration. But thinking about how much things have changed since I started back in 1992 really makes me wonder what kind of changes and improvements the next 18 years will bring; cheaper, faster, smarter…

Apple’s Magical Mouse

I helped a friend set up her new 27″ iMac last weekend, and it came with the coolest new mouse… The Apple Magic Mouse.


The mouse is the button, plus it has no scroll wheel, but you can use it to scroll up, down, diagonally and sideways. Comes in one color, wireless Bluetooth, but right now is only supported for use on a Mac (Windows support is coming!) The way it works is similar to the MacBook trackpads with multiple-finger functions, but that is a couple of steps above the trackpad on my getting-older-by-the-day PowerBook G4! I want one!

Actually, these would be great for use at work; seems like I’m replacing a mouse somewhere in the building at least once a week. The failures are usually with the scroll wheels, and the Apple Mighty Mouse with its tiny little scroll ball is the worst offender. The Magic Mouse with no external moving parts should be nothing but great! And as great as this mouse is, the tablet computer that Apple is expected to announce should be nothing less than amazing.

A Strange Way To Track Time…

I was digging through the system logs on the MS SQL server (SQL 2000 on a Windows Server 2003 virtual machine running inside VMWare ESXi on a monster Dell box; very cool. I’ll write about it sometime…) at work just now, trying to track down a goofy slowdown that happens on occasion, and came across this System Event…


The system uptime is 1339878 seconds.

That’s one million, three hundred thirty nine thousand, eight hundred seventy eight seconds, which translates into 22,331.3 minutes, or 372.1883 hours. Which, as everybody knows, is the same as 15.5079 days (rounded to four decimal points.) Or it could be expressed as 15 days, 12 hours, 11 minutes and 18 seconds (as calculated by a quick formula I threw together in Excel.)

Filtering through the System Events, I can see an eventlog entry for every day and every time that service had been stopped or started since November, 2007. The machine has been in operation for much longer than that (probably since 2004), counting the seconds that go by one. At. A. Time… Day in and day out. It’s useful information to be sure, but why display the time in seconds? Couldn’t the geeks in Redmond be bothered to modify that to show the time in days, hours & minutes instead? It’s a computer, for crying out loud, and most computers have plenty of extra capacity.

Seeing the time in seconds — especially in numbers that big — is absolutely meaningless to me. It’s not like running a calculation to make the time count easier to read would tax the system much… A holdover from an earlier time when every processor cycle was counted as precious? Or just an item very low on the priority list? Or maybe I just have too much time on my hands today?