Archive from June 2014
Science & Astronomy
26. June 2014

Last year, the Curiosity Rover celebrated its first Earth year on Mars, but on Monday the Mars Science Laboratory actually completed its first Martian year – has it really been that long already? It feels like it was yesterday when the rover performed a hair-raising landing perfectly, but since then Curiosity has been hard at work learning about the planet, discovering, amongst many other amazing things, without a doubt that there was once flowing water on Mars. The prime mission is now over after 669 Mars days, at least on paper – but the rover is still healthy despite being a little dusty and having some holes in its wheels. Curiosity’s great exploration adventure on Mars will continue together with its smaller relative Opportunity, which has already been on the planet for a decade!

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Science & Astronomy
26. June 2014

When the Curiosity Rover arrived on Mars in 2012, I had put together a collection of useful links about the Mars missions, which I still frequently use. The reason for the list was to provide all the information without having to write constantly about the Mars missions myself, something which others are doing in a much better way. I have occasionally written articles about NASA and the Mars missions since then, but even today most of these links are still valid and absolutely essential if you want to keep up with what’s going on on Mars. This is the third edition of the link list, this time a little more compact and streamlined because I removed some non-essential and defunct links.

NASA Websites – The official sources
Mars Science Laboratory @ JPL – The most important, always up-to-date site
Mars Science Laboratory Raw Images – Everything the rover cameras deliver
Mars Science Laboratory @ NASA – NASAs Curiosity website with sometimes different content
NASA Main Page – Not only Mars news, but still a great resource
NASA Television – Live stream of the current program
NASA Television @ Youtube – NTV’s video archive

Other Websites – The inofficial ones often do it much better
Universe Today – Simply the best resource not only for Mars, but all things space
Universe Today @ Youtube – All the videos from UT including the hangouts
Planetary Society Blog – Emily Lakdawalla’s detailed reporting
Curiosity Rover Images – Better overview of the raw images including an RSS-Feed
• Midnight Planets – Another browser for the raw images of both rovers
Mars Ogler – Another browser for the raw images
HiRISE Image Catalog – High resolution images from orbit (also with an RSS-Feed)

Twitter Streams – Because it’s often much faster
Curiosity-Rover – NASA’s official account of the rover
Mars Rovers – Spirit and Opportunity’s account
• NASA JPL – Jet Propulsion Laboratory’s account
• Curiosity Log – A drive logbook of the rover
Universe Today – Announcements from the website
Emily Lakdawalla – Planetary Society Space Evangelist & Mars Writer

27.09.12 » Added HiRISE and Curiosity Raw Images Browser
03.10.12 » Added Mars Ogler
08.08.13 » English version posted, slightly updated & improved
26.06.14 » Cleaned up and improved 2014 version posted

22. June 2014

Two weeks ago, I posted a somewhat angry rant about what had transpired with the Google+ Android App on my tablet, but I think I have to write a kind of retraction as I already mentioned in an update of the original article. After things went really bad, they got a lot better – there were a couple of updates of the Google+ App in the last two weeks and the current version runs practically perfect now. Has Google really listened to the bug reports and fixed the fatal problem with the edit box? It seems so, because I can now post again without problems with the app and it seems it has become even faster than before. So, kudos to Google for making the Google+ app really useful again – I forgive them, they’re not perfect and make mistakes, but they are always relatively quick fixing them.

The Google+ App in action – the two top bars seem huge, but they scroll away if you swipe down!
(No, I actually don’t use the app in landscape mode all the time, it just fits the article better.)

There is still one aspect of the Android App and its mobile web counterpart that puzzles me, though: if you start a post from the main screen, you can choose a photo – but only from the highlights or local storage, not from your albums. For that, you have to go to the photo section of the app, choose the image and share it from there . This is not a very big deal, but surprisingly counter-intuitive to the openness of the app from which you should be able to access all of your Google+ content from everywhere. The exclusion of the Albums from the “quick share” option has been in the app from the beginning and seems like a glaring omission – this is, after all, a great tool for photographers who want to share their content and having to make a detour like this feels a little strange, especially because the option is there in the desktop version.

Apart from these slight imperfections, the Google+ App has improved so much over the last few months and using it even on a small 7″ tablet is extremely comfortable. Are there other improvements on the way? We’ll have to see – Wednesday and Thursday is the Google I/O conference and there are usually a lot of updates around the corner. It’s entirely possible that the web interface of Google+ gets revamped again like it happened last year. Stay tuned, and don’t panic if something looks different :-).

Science & Astronomy
20. June 2014

It’s almost summer and that means there will be new radio shenanigans from Brian Cox and Robin Ince – their brilliant science-comedy radio show The Infinite Monkey Cage will return to the airwaves starting on July 7th via BBC Radio 4 and, as usual, also in the shape of freely available podcasts published on the series’ website in mp3 fomat. There are already 48 past episodes available plus a special from this March called Brian and Robin’s Infinite Inbox in which the duo answers some of the mail the show has been getting!

I can only highly recommend this show – Brian Cox and Robin ince are utterly funny and their guests are always fantastic. Besides, it’s even educational, despite most shows ending up somewhere completely different than they originally started – but that’s just the fun of it. As usual, major English listening skills and a healthy curiosity about science are required, but it’s actually quite easy to listen to. And, of course, if you like Brian Cox and/or Robin Ince, you’re in for a very special treat.(Note: I wrote the last paragraph for the previous post about the series, but why write something new when there’s something perfectly okay available to recycle?)

16. June 2014

I think it’s time to put up these signs. Football, or Soccer as it’s known in America, is like Carnival: it’s a matter of taste and believe it or not, there are some people that don’t like it and other people who cannot understand it that some people don’t like it. That is why signs like these are unfortunately necessary. By all means have fun watching the games and cheering for your team, but do not expect me to partake in any of this. If you have use for these signs, you can download them as printable PDFs in both English and German versions. Thank you for reading :-).

16. June 2014

Last week, our nearly eight-year-old Canon Pixma iP4200 inkjet printer finally succumbed to a broken print head. Because it had a good run and a new head would cost almost as much as a new printer, we simply decided to get a new one. The requirements were an A4 photo printer with five single ink tanks and the capability to print on CDs and DVDs, making only one choice possible: the Canon Pixma iP7250, because it is currently the only non-multifunction printer from Canon with these exact characteristics. I did not even bother looking at other manufacturers because we had such a good experience with Canon, so the choice was actually very easy.

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13. June 2014

This week, our inkjet printer kicked the bucket – but it’s not really a bad thing, since the Canon Pixma iP4200 lasted almost eight years on a single print head and the same set of refilled ink cartridges. It was only our third inkjet printer and the fifth altogether, but the one that lasted the longest. Bought in August 2006, this printer has gone through thousands of pages of text and hundreds of photos, all in absolutely brilliant quality especially considering that it had originally cost less than 90 Euro. Actually just the print head is broken – the printer itself is still working, but since a replacement head would cost almost as much as a completely new printer, it’s now time to buy a new one now.

I can almost hear the cries, “Inkjet printing is terribly expensive!”, but that’s simply not true. While there are mechanisms in place that try to prevent refilling the ink tanks, they can be easily overridden on Canon printers so you can just re-use the original cartridges. There are no real ink level sensors on these tanks, the printer drivers just decide that ink tanks get empty after a certain amount of pages. This is why switching off this feature is absolutely no problem – after all, the ink tanks are transparent and you can always check how much ink is left by just opening the printer hood and pop out one of them to look at it.

Refill ink sets cost between 15 and 20 Euro for a set of five 20ml bottles of ink – I have been using the KMP RU5 set since the beginning and never had any problems with it. The refilling takes a bit of practice and is kind of messy, since you need to squirt the ink with a syringe into a hole you have to drill yourself into the top of the cartridge, but if you get used to it, you can refill all five cartridges in less than fifteen minutes. Each set of bottles is enough for about four refills, which is ridiculously cheap considering a complete set of original Canon cartridges costs about 50 Euro!

This is why our new printer is going to be another Canon – the Pixma iP7250 to be specific. Originally, we wanted to buy it in our local electronics store, but guess which printer was the only one they didn’t have in stock anymore? This is exactly why we do our electronics shopping mostly online nowadays. If the local stores can’t keep up then I’m sorry, but I had to order the printer from Amazon anyway and it’s probably going to arrive tomorrow or on Monday.

The good news is that it’s going to cost only about 80 Euro – hopefully it will last as long as its predecessor, who is not going to be put away, but into storage as backup and in case I can find a replacement print head one day that does not cost as much as a new printer. But I’m excited about the new printer – it has more resolution and even WiFi, which will come in very handy as a network print server. Maybe I will do a little product review, but done right this could take some time – nevertheless, stay tuned for more printer shenanigans and maybe an article about our printer history all the way back to the late eighties with the dot-matrix noisemakers :-).

8. June 2014

Warning, this is a bit of a rant and the reason why I didn’t post as many photos today as usual… Recently, the Google+ Android App got a big update with some interesting and useful design changes and a lot of improvements under the hood, which meant that for the first time the app didn’t slow down my whole tablet to a crawl. Reading, posting comments, even the problematic browsing of my own photo galleries works perfectly and I seemed to have a completely new tablet because everything else became lightening fast.

But today, I actually tried to post something and my tablet locked up to the point that I had to make a hard reset – the pin-in-hole kind. On the next reboot, the whole tablet was extremely slow, probably because the crash had damaged the database of the G+ app. It took me almost two hours to deinstall the app and then I also had to deinstall Chrome and Hangouts because they also slowed up the device. After reinstalling the three, everything worked fine again. And then I tried to post again and exactly the same thing happened. At the moment I’m on round three and have come to the conclusion that it’s pointless: the sharing/writing component of the Google+ app simply breaks my tablet.

This should not happen on a device which I just bought last year – it’s by no means a high-end tablet, but Android 4.1.1 on an 1.6 GHz dual-core cpu with 1 GB RAM should really be enough to run the Google+ app, which works absolutely fine until you want to actually post something. Interestingly, on my older tablet which only has a 1.2 GHz single-core processor and 512 MB RAM, the share/edit box does not crash, so I fear that this whole thing is a bad bug only happening on certain devices. The problematic thing is that I cannot even file a proper bug report because the tablet even crashes doing that! This is all extremely frustrating to the point that I just want to give up.

Option A would be going back to the older version, which is not really acceptable because it slows down my whole tablet and needs constant cache-clearing to keep it working. Posting, with a lot of patience, works though, but it’s hardly worth the effort.

Option B would be keeping the new version for reading and commenting, but not posting. This would mean that I would only be able to post via the WordPress Publicize feature to Google+, and that means especially for posting photos that I won’t be able to post full-size images to Google+ any more. I am seriously considering this for the hot days when I can’t use the laptop much over the day, although I might post the full-size photos later.

Option C would be for Google to fix this bug!! I don’t want to complain about something that’s free, but I’m really frustrated at this point of having the possibility to do everything comfortably from the tablet, but being prevented by buggy software from it. Come on, Google – you’re better than this! The G+ app is the best thing out there and should not suffer from bugs like this.

Option D only occurred to me the next morning – why not use the G+ mobile website? To my surprise, the mobile website now hast about 90% of the features of the app and getting to my albums to post photos certainly seems no problem. And because I’m already in the mobile web browser using WordPress I would not even need to switch apps, only tabs. I’ll be testing this later today.

The bottom line is, I don’t have anything against Google+ and actually love the Android app especially in the new version, but if such a bug prevents me from sharing content from my mobile device, what can I say? Please fix this problem, Google!

In the unlikely event anyone from Google actually reads this post, my tablet is an Odys Genio running Android 4.1.1 on a 1.6 GHz dual-core Rockchip RK3066 processor with 1 GB RAM and 8 GB flash, not rooted or anyhow else modified from the factory version.

[Update June 17th: It seems like the recent version from June 13th has fixed the crash on the posting box, at least on my tablet. Did someone from Google really listen to my bug reports or was that just coincidence? I have no idea! I’m going to write another post soon about this issue.]

Kategorie: Android, Google+