Category Archives: Reviews

Road Trip Planner; add a point of interest

Road Trip Planner (RTP) is an app for MacOS that’s great for planning road trips.  Like Photoshop, it’s a complex, versatile toolset that offers many ways to build your plan.

The data for a road trip is stored in “pins” — database records that correspond to map locations.  There are two kinds of pins:

  1. Route pins.  When you automatically plot your route, it will pass thru these pins.
  2. Point of Interest (POI) pins.  When you automatically plot your route, it will ignore these pins.

A good way to plan a trip is to mark all the places you’d like to visit (POIs), and then create a route that goes to or near as many of them as you can manage.

Add a POI pin to a trip plan

Let’s say I’m going to drive thru Montana and I want to go to museums.  I find the Montana Historical Society Museum in Helena, MT on the web.

  1.  I copy its address to the clipboard.
  2. I open my trip plan in RTP.
  3.  I click Toggle Dividers to make the RTP database “dividers” visible.Screen Shot 2017-08-31 at 8.40.26 PM
  4. In the bottom left corner of the POI Pins list, I click + to add a POI pin.Screen Shot 2017-08-31 at 8.41.03 PM
  5. The Location Window opens.  It gives me three choices; Location, Contacts and Import.  I leave it set at Location.  I paste the museum’s address from my clipboard.   Click the magnifying glass or push [ENTER].Screen Shot 2017-08-31 at 8.42.07 PM

6.  RTP does an Internet search and displays a list of places that it thinks match my location data.  If I enter a complete address, only one item will usually be in the list.  I could instead enter something generic like “Helena Montana museum” and get a list of several items.

  • Whether there is one item or many, I must click at least one item to create a pin.
  • If there are several items (let’s say I’m planning to wander from bar to bar), I can click more than one of them, and then click go to add a POI pin for each of them.click

I switch to RTP’s map view and see my new pin on the map:

pin

There are some other ways to add a POI pin to a plan.  You can:

  • Pick locations in your Apple Contacts
  • Drag a route pin from the Route Pins list to the POI Pins list.  I do this to “hide” a route pin that I don’t want to use for routing right now, and I don’t want to delete it either.
  • Import locations from a compatible program

Oddly, you can’t copy and paste pins.  And you can’t create a POI Pin directly on RTP’s map.  

We can stop now that we have a default POI pin labelled with the address of the POI.  Or we can add some more information to the POI pin.  RTP is capable of adding many kinds of information — probably more than you’ll want.


Rename a pin

When the dividers are visible, I see a list of route pins; a list of POI pins; and in the right-hand pane a set of views controlled by tabs.  The Web, Places, Pin, Dates and Activities views show information about one selected pin.

In the POI Pins list, I click the POI pin I created for the museum.  (You can rename a route pin the same way.). In the right-hand pane I click the Pin tab.  On the top line, I type a new label for the pin:

MT Helena: Historical Society Museum

name.jpg

(I like to put the state abbreviation and a town name at the front of a pin name.  That way, if I need to narrow the width of the name column I can still at least see the pin’s location.)  Right away the new name shows up in the Name column of the POI Pins list.  There’s no OK button; this isn’t Windows.

There’s also a space to write or paste notes about this POI, like the hours the museum is open.  I hate to admit how many times I’ve navigated us to someplace I’m eager to visit, only to discover that it’s closed that day!  Of course, if the museum changes its hours, what I write or paste here isn’t going to change.  I wouldn’t paste the URL of the museum’s website here; there’s a Web tab for that.

iconChange the pin icon and color

Select a POI or route pin in the pin lists.  In the right upper pane, click the Pin tab.  In the bottom left corner of this view, click the pin icon.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Screen Shot 2017-08-31 at 8.44.56 PMThis brings up a menu of pin icons and colors.  Oddly, there is no icon for “Museum” (altho I see one for “Casino”).  “Villa” near the bottom of the list looks like a good general-purpose public building, so I use that icon.

To keep things simple, I avoid making blue POI pins.  Interstate number symbols on the map are blue.

 

 

Save a web site in the pin

One pin can hold many web sites.  Again, POI and route pins work the same.  Oddly, you can’t save a website that you find on RTP’s on-board browser.  Point your external browser, such as Safari, at the web site whose address (URL) you want to save.  Select the URL field contents at the top of your external browser and copy it to your clipboard.

URL

Screen Shot 2017-08-31 at 8.46.38 PMIn RTP dividers, select a pin.  In the right pane, click the Web tab.  In the bottom left corner of the lower right pane, click + to add a web site.  The RTP web site is automatically added.

Edit this entry.  Type a name for your web site in the first field.  Tab to the second field and paste the URL that’s in your clipboard.

 

 

 

 

browserYou can view a saved web site in RTP’s browser by selecting it in the list and clicking Show.  To see it on your external browser, click the globe button underneath the web page image.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Screen Shot 2017-08-31 at 8.51.05 PMSave an activity in the pin

One POI or route pin can hold many activities.  An activity is a way to add a cost to your adventure.  It also provides another place to stash a URL.

Select the pin from a list and, in the right pane, click the Activity tab.  Click + .  Fill in the form on the bottom half of the pane to create an entry in the top half of the pane.

You can set a date/time and duration for the activity.  Note that if the pin is a POI pin, you can’t use the Date tab.  That tab is for dates/times that RTP adjusts when it automatically plots your route.

 

 

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Portal 2; what a good game

A word about the screenshots.  The bulbous white thing with wires sticking out of it that’s always in the bottom right corner is my portal gun that I’m holding.  The blue and orange ring floating in mid-air shows where I’ll make a portal, if I fire the gun at a surface that’s allowed to have a portal in it.


Portal 2 is a 3D interactive, animated puzzle game by Steam.  I really like this game, because it’s challenging and funny and the sets are beautifully rendered.  So I want to show you what it’s like to play Portal 2.  (Yes I know, everybody else was playing Portal 2 years ago; I’m so slow.)  You can run it on a PC, a Mac and some TV game boxes.

I’m running a 2011 iMac with 64 GB of memory and MacOS “Sierra” 10.12.3.  I’ve had some problems with Steam on my iMac.  Sometimes it ignores my mouse movements, which I need in order to turn.  To fix this I have to quit Steam and start it again.  Sometimes when I’m using menus my mouse pointer turns invisible.  Then I grope around.

The setting is a vast abandoned laboratory consisting of cavernous semi-ruined chambers where an insane, affectionate robot conducts fiendish “tests” in which you are the subject.  The goal of each test is to escape the room.  Or sometimes to acquire an object.  Or sometimes to not get killed.  You don’t die very often, because you’re tough; you can fall or jump off any height with impunity, and laser beams just make a nasty noise and bump you out of their way.  If you still manage to get killed, you start your last test over again, like Groundhog Day.

Your main tool is a portal gun.  The gun creates a linked pair of blue and orange holes in any white surfaces.  You can move from one location to another by passing thru the portals.  Other stuff can go thru the portals too.  Portals combine with force fields, catapults, weights, laser lenses and various other contraptions to form the elements of puzzles you must solve.

For a sample of Portal 2 action, let’s look at chapter 2, room 09.  It’s taken me about a week to get this far.  Spoiler alert; the fun in this game is figuring out the puzzles.  So if you’re about to explore chapter 2 room 09, you might want to stop reading now.


 

The elevator opens.  I save the game, in case things don’t work out and I want to get back to this point.  I check the movies playing on the elevator lobby walls for useful information, don’t notice any, and head up the stairs.

05-anteroomAn anteroom at the top of the stairs has wildly-flailing, harmless robot panels sprouting from the floor, a billboard with some visual clues about what’s going to happen next, and a door with a blue-green “running man” exit symbol.  I study the billboard for clues and go to the exit.

10-entranceThe exit is the entry into the test chamber, which feverishly configures itself as I enter.  I’m in a square room that has an upper gallery of some kind (top right).  I don’t notice any white surfaces, so I’m wondering how I will use my portal gun.

15-catapaultIn the center of the room is a catapult (I recognize it from earlier rooms).  Signs on the floor show how it works; I’m supposed to step on it and get shot at a target.  I examine the rest of the room.  But I can’t find the target, and there is nothing else to do here.  I get on the catapult anyway.  It does not shoot me at a target.

Instead, it smashes me against the ceiling.  The mean robot has lowered the ceiling so I will bounce off it, fall back onto the catapult, and get smashed against the ceiling again and again.

20-ceilingThe ceiling is white; so I can get out of this situation by making an orange portal in it.  But when I do, it has no effect, because I haven’t yet made a blue portal to come out of.  It’s hard to look around for a useful white surface while I’m being flung up and down, let alone hit it with my portal gun.

I can’t escape the catapult, which is going to smash me into the ceiling for eternity.  So I restart this test from my saved game.  Now that I know what I’m looking for, I explore the room with better effect.  I notice an overhead beam paneled with white tiles, and shoot a blue portal onto it.

25-portals-on-ceilingBack to the catapult I go, to be flung into the orange portal and out the blue one, dropping onto a hinged platform that has swung out from the wall.

30-objectiveLooking around, I see this test’s objective; a laser-powered motor that’s attached to the opening mechanism of the exit door.  The exit door is in a high alcove, and I don’t see a laser beam to power the motor; but perhaps these details will be resolved as I continue.

35-anteroomGlancing left, I do see a laser beam in another alcove.  To the right I see a white panel slanted at an angle.  I’ve learned that I can make a portal on such a panel and launch myself thru it to fly to a high place.

40-ledgeTo the left in the alcove I see a high ledge, and to the right another angled panel that’s aimed at it.  A sign points at the ledge; and a dotted blue line (I think of these as visible wiring) connects it to a cube dispenser that’s hanging from the ceiling of a higher alcove.  The dispenser’s control is on the first ledge (at the other end of the dotted line).

45-ready-to-flyI shoot a blue portal onto the angled panel.  Now I need to launch myself thru it with a lot of force.  If I just find a white wall somewhere, shoot an orange portal onto it and step thru it, I’ll stumble out of the blue portal onto the floor.  That’s no good; I need to fly upward.  My experience has been that, to attain that much momentum, I need to jump into a pit with an orange portal at its bottom.

I go back to the hinged platform and look down.  No white floor!  What am I supposed to do here?  Oh yeah, the catapult.  It’s still aimed at the orange portal in the ceiling.  I jump down to the lowest level (jumping any distance is totally safe), step onto the catapult again and get launched into the orange and out of the blue portal, zooming up to the ledge where the dispenser control is waiting.

50-dispenser-controlThe pedestal with the huge red button is the dispenser control.  I push it and look over at the far alcove.

55-dispensed-cubeA cube falls out of the dispenser and is sitting on the floor up there, far from the laser beam.

I jump down.  On my way to move the blue portal to another slanted white panel I’ve noticed and catapult up to the far alcove to get the cube, I pause to look at the laser motor more closely.

60-closer-look-at-motorA short wall is between it and the laser beam.  The wall is white; now I know what to do.

70-redirected-laserI get the cube and jump down to the laser beam level.  This particular cube has lenses that can bend a laser beam.  I put it in the laser beam, and adjust it to shoot at the white wall.

I’m going to need two portals to conduct the laser beam from one side of the wall to the other.  That will mean no more round trips to the catapult without a lot of bother.  But it’s going to be fine.

75-laser-into-blueI get up to the ledge with the exit door in the usual way.  I turn around and shoot a blue portal at the laser-washed side of the wall.  In the main room beyond, I can see the laser beam shooting straight down out of the orange portal that’s still in the ceiling over the catapult.

80-work-is-doneI make a new orange portal opposite the motor on the short wall.  The beam hits the motor.  The line from the motor to the exit door turns from blue to yellow, with a check mark at its end.  The exit door opens!

 

The robot with the love-hate thing about me makes some sweetly nasty remarks.  I consider them carefully in case there are hints amidst the abuse.

85-exitI go up the stairs, thru the door and on to the elevator and the next level.

This room took me about an hour to figure out.  What a good game!

Bitten by Bluetooth; bem Mojo II mobile speakers

When I saw these tiny black cubes with elegantly understated controls on a spin-rack at Costco, I was so smitten that I wanted to buy two for everybody for Christmas. Now I’m so glad I didn’t. Their design is sweet; they’re handy; and they sound good when they’re working. But the controls are poorly conceived. The speakers are balky to connect and keep connected. And, whether due to IPhone flaws, Bluetooth technology growing pains or glitches in the speakers themselves, they’re trouble-prone.

Unpacking my Mojo II speakers, I was intrigued to see that each speaker “system” is really two units; a battery-powered speaker and a charger base. Also included;

  • USB cord
  • 120v wall plug with a USB socket
  • 3.5mm “headphone” audio cord

You can use the units separately or together in several ways.

Base charger

The base is all about power–not music. For charging, you can connect it to a 120v outlet or to a USB power source, such as a computer.

The base can power the speaker via a magnetized ring in the base’s top; or any USB-powered device, such as a phone, via a USB socket in the base’s side. This base is also a battery; so it can charge your phone or give your speaker extra playtime without a power source.

  • The base’s on/off switch controls the USB socket, not the speaker.

Speaker

These tiny speakers sound quite nice, but they’re not astounding. If you’ve been listening to a subwoofer, you’ll miss it.

The speaker also has a battery. You can charge it either on the base or directly from a USB power source, such as the included wall-plug.

The touch volume control makes an annoying alarm sound when it reaches the top of its range.  I never use it; it’s easier to control the volume with my iPhone.  But if I accidentally touch it while holding or moving a speaker, it instantly zooms the volume all the way up or all the way down.  I so wish it wasn’t there.

The on/off switch controls the sound and initiates Bluetooth connections.  This switch is small and hard to flick, and I have to use it constantly.  I wish that instead they’d made on/off a touch-activated control like the volume ones, and labeled it “Try again.”

The speaker has a Bluetooth receiver that can input audio from a device with a Bluetooth transmitter, such as an iPhone. If you have two speakers, and your music is coming in over Bluetooth, you can set them to Left and Right channels via switches in their undersides for stereo sound. One speaker alone is still good; set its underside switch to Monaural.

Audio can also be supplied via the 3.5mm audio cord, for example from an iPod. My first disappointment; when using this arrangement, a second speaker remains silent. It won’t magically get its music via Bluetooth from the first speaker.

Connecting

Connecting the speakers to my iPhone is dodgy, especially when somebody else is watching. First I disable and enable Bluetooth on my phone. Then I switch each speaker off (if it was on) then on. If I do this in the wrong order, they’ll never “find” each other. If they still fail to connect, I have to start over.

Problems

bluetoothMojo II speakers are prone to occasional misbehavior. Whether the problem is the speakers, my phone or some flaw in how Bluetooth works is hard to say. The only cure is to turn everything off and reconnect all over again.

  • One of their tricks is to get out of sync with each other (when using two speakers for stereo). One speaker plays each note a fraction of a second after the other, creating a reverb effect like a bad PA system in a train station.
  • Another is dropping the connection, for no apparent reason–unless it’s to embarrass me because other people are listening.
  • Then there’s dropping the connection when I absent-mindedly walk out of the room with my phone in my pocket. You’d think that, when I returned, it would all start working again, but noooooo.
  • Every few minutes I notice a brief sound dropout. I suspect my phone is multiprocessing and has taken a little break from playing music in order to do something else. Terminating apps or going to Airplane Mode seem to reduce the dropouts.  Buying a faster phone might help too.

While making dinner, I set up my phone with two speakers set to L and R channels, all within six feet of each other and stationary.  The speakers took three tries to connect.  In 90 minutes, they got out of sync twice, and one of them dropped the connection twice.  I spent so much time fiddling with them that dinner was late.

In sum, I’d have been happier with a mobile stereo player with a 3.5mm jack, or even an iPod-compatible socket. There’s much to be said for a device dedicated to playing music.  I’m not looking forward to the day my iPhone 6 breaks from Touch Disease or whatever, and I have to buy an iPhone 7 and use Bluetooth all the time.


Trivia: “BEM” in sci-fi stands for “Bug-eyed Monster.”

Storm forecasting; Weather Underground vs. National Weather Service 

I’ve noticed that Weather Underground tends to overlook storms in Seattle WA.  On the other hand, NWS predictions are careful to highlight storms, projecting conditions as bad or worse than the weather we actually get.  The Friday / Saturday October 14-15 storm got typical coverage from these services.  Compare the Friday morning predictions:


Weather Underground predicted winds of 27 to 30 MPH.  But NWS predicted gusts of 41 and 55 MPH, highlighting risky weather and providing a special statement about it.  What really happened:


Gusts under 40, closer to the Weather Underground forecast.  Still, there was a fair amount of damage.  If you had relied on Weather Underground, you might have gotten a nasty surprise.

My conclusion; I’d rather prepare for something bad that doesn’t happen (or anyway isn’t that bad) than be blindsided.  I’ll enjoy Weather Underground’s cool chart when the weather is mild.  But when it gets feisty I’m jumping over to NWS.

Restaurants we’ll go to again

I‘ll be updating this list with good restaurants we find in our travels so we can go there again, and so you can too.

Alaska

Craig

shelter cove salmonShelter Cove Lodge: An elegant restaurant serving delicious food in the middle of nowhere, it far outpaces the pizza parlors and such in town.  1-888-826-FISH  (2016)

Ketchikan

Fish HouseAlaska Fish House: A small, airy place at the south end of the cruise ship area, next to the SE Alaska Discovery Center.  Nice view of the marina.  Wonderful breakfast, and it opens at 6 AM.  (2016)

shogun sushiShogun: An unpretentious Japanese/Chinese waterfront restaurant, half a mile north of the tunnel.  About the only relief from fast food and fish in this town.  Very good sushi, and the miso soup is an antidote for a long, gloomy Alaskan dusk.  (2016)

New Mexico

Albuquerque

Artichoke Cafe: A small, elegant chef-owned restaurant.  If you’re like me and not wild about artichokes, there are other really good things to eat here.  You’ll want a reservation. (2016)

Utah

Boulder

Devil’s Backbone Grill: My theory; if you’re a good enough chef, you can have a restaurant anywhere you want to, even in a town that has nothing going for it except fabulous canyons.  Elegant and unconventional.  (2016)

Washington

Port Hadlock

 

Ajax CafeAjax Cafe: An innocuous wood frame building on Port Hadlock’s tiny waterfront conceals a very popular restaurant.  It’s cluttered with a jumble of historical and hilarious decor, and hats.  Customers are provided with sets of trivia cards to pass the time while waiting for the slow production of excellent food.  The Wooden Boat Building School across the street is interesting, and its dock is a good place to photograph the evening reflections on Hood Canal.  (2016)

H and SScampi and Halibut: A little diner in a double-wide that serves seafood, sides and desserts in monstrous portions.  We were impressed with the salads, crab bisque and decadent chocolate creations.  (2016)

 

Seattle

Razzi’s: This pizza and Italian restaurant in Greenwood specializes in accommodating people with food allergies and sensitivities, in particular gluten-free and dairy-free fare.  And even if they didn’t, their pizza is exceptionally good.  (2016)

LUX HD450 clip-on phone lens; irate customers

Here is a summary of incidents I’ve been told about in replies to my posts about this lens set.  Most replied to my initial post about this product on WordPress; others posted to the “Skeptics” Facebook page I created about the product.  Some people reported more than one of these incidents.

incidents

spider-linkResearched, decided not to order; 8 people.  Good for you!  Reasons given included the countdown timer on the vendor’s website, the pressure to buy multiple units, blurry images of credit cards on the order form and unbelievable reviews.

  • “Did some digging to find some reviews and found exactly what you found; a bunch of vague overenthusiastic posts on a bunch of ‘planted’ web sites.”
  • “Everybody, please do due diligence when shopping for any products, online or face-to-face!! Much easier to keep your money safe and in your account if you don’t click that online link and fall innocent prey to these unscrupulous online scammer con-artists lowlifes!”

Read post, decided not to order; 16 people.

  • “THANK YOU! THANK YOU! THANK YOU! They almost got me. Will spread the word.”

I’m glad I was able to help.  Typically, about 4% of people respond to a query.  So I’m hoping that my posts dissuaded 400 (or many more) people from getting entangled with the HD450 outfit, and generally encouraged consumer wariness toward the Internet.

Read post, cancelled order; 1 person.  Shad o’Hayes managed to reverse the charge after reading the post.

  • “As soon as it clears, the B of A is going after them, hopefully with snarling bulldogs.”

Unexpected/unauthorized charges; 5 people.  These stories told of a combination of bait-and-switch marketing, mysterious charges and delivery of unordered products.  Several people were confused and thought their problems might be their own fault.  But to me it looks like confusion is a strategy of the HD450 outfit.

  • “I just purchased this product but found I was billed for five of the items when I know I purchased only one. In addition, I was charged $72 for a warranty, that they called an upgrade.”
  • “I thought … that I would be paying 29.95 only to find out that would be the cost for each item if you ordered 5 (very fine print). I contacted the company and was told … the cost for one box was 58.00 and since there was an error I didn’t have to pay for the shipping and handling. to my suprise not only was I charged 85.00 (shipping and handling) for the product but I was also sent 5 items and was charged 185.00. (double charged).”

BTW, Amazon sells the same lenses for $9.99 plus shipping.  You’ll deal with a reliable company, and you’ll only have to buy one set to get that price.  But, as they’re identical, the lenses from Amazon are no better than the overpriced ones from HD450.

Poor service; 3 people.  Service seems to get especially poor once they have your money.

  • “My card was charged at two locations. Said I would be getting an email receipt with information within a few minutes. Still haven’t heard from them via email. No answer calling customer service for two days. Finally got a real person who said he would see I got an email right away. Nope. I’m beginning to doubt there actually is a product.”

Received product; 2 people.  Delivery is slow, and the product is toy-quality at best.  Review to come.

Critical Facebook post was deleted; 2 people.  When I started looking into this product, the HD450 outfit had a “fan club” Facebook page.  Facebook’s TOS requires that pages that appear to host user discussions about a product not be owned by the vendor.  Wildlife photographer Lee Duer and I posted critical comments on it; they were promptly deleted.  So I created a “Skeptics” Facebook page to host real customer posts where the vendor couldn’t censor them.  The “fan club” page soon disappeared.

“Infuriates me that these low-lifes get off with no consequences on taking folks’ hard-earned money!”  My feelings exactly.  There’s nothing practical we can do about HD450 and the like but warn each other and learn.  Buyer beware.

If you’re already a victim, here are some thoughts about getting your money back.


Related posts

LUX HD450; beware the laughing bearded man

spider-linkIf you’re researching the LUX HD450 clip-on phone lens, I’ll tell you up front; I don’t recommend the lens or the company selling it.

One of the LUX HD450 websites you might land on features an impressive signed statement by Lead Technologist Simon Greig, based in Suttgart; his photo is above.

I wondered.  Could a company whose headquarters is a post-office box really have a Technologist?  A Lead Technologist (implying that he supervises a team of Lesser Technologists)?  In Suttgart (implying that LUX HD450 has a laboratory or something cool like that in Germany)?  Wow!

Let’s have some fun with a different kind of Google search.  You can upload a photo to Google, search on it, and get a list of web pages in which the picture appears.  It turns out that photos of the laughing bearded man are for sale on a number of image websites like Shutterstock and Dreamtime.  What an interesting man Lead Technologist Simon Greig is to have a second career as a model.

Now here’s an intriguing result.  The laughing bearded man has also given a testimonial for LuxQue, which describes itself as “A boutique real estate marketing firm.”  But the testimonial is signed “Alex P., Pulatani Builders.”

And here’s an even more intriguing result.  David Cowen, Lead Engineer for Infernal Lighter (an electric lighter for cigs or whatever) looks just like Simon Greig!  And this website is just like the LUX HD450 website, right down to the Order From that once you enter you cannot escape save by closing the browser tab.

And, now, the Twilight Zone result.  A photographer coincidentally named Simon Greig includes this copyrighted photo in his Shutterstock portfolio of pictures for sale.  His description; “An adult male in his early forties with a full beard wearing a jacket and shirt. He is laughing.”

If Greig were marketing a picture of himself with this description, he’d be a funny man indeed.

If you’re already a victim, here are some thoughts about getting your money back.


Related posts