In a struggle to be happy and free

Drystone Wall

Category: software

Alarm Clock 2

Tuesday morning did not start well for me. I woke up at 10:30, two hours after I was supposed to be at work.

I looked at my alarm clock and the display was blank. It’s the same clock I’ve been using since I was seven years old so I can’t be all that upset about it forcing the issue of retirement. I quickly sent a message to my team-leader saying I’d be in by lunch and I’d take a half-day off to make up for the lost time.

I had to address the alarm clock problem to save myself from a repeat performance on Wednesday morning. Remembering a round-up of alarm clock software on one of the Mac blogs I follow, I thought that I may not need to buy another clock. Why not just use the Mac I already have?

I quickly settled on Alarm Clock 2, with the initial attraction being the reasonable price: $0. Alarms can be one-time events or repeating. When defining a repeating alarm, seven buttons allow you to select the days the alarm will be triggered. Neat! So I can have an alarm for the weekdays, and a different later alarm for the weekend.

The alarms themselves can be a default tone, which sounds very much like an electronic travel alarm clock. Alarms can also come in the form of music from your iTunes library. Choose a song, or choose shuffle to have a different song every time.

I’ve never been partial to musical alarms because they can sometimes be quiet and other times they’ll be very loud, depending on the song. Alarm Clock 2 fixes this problem. Enable ‘Easy Wake’ for the alarm and the music will start quietly and gradually increase in volume. You can configure the initial and final volumes, as well as the time required to make the transition.

I typically put my Mac to sleep before bed rather than turning it off, but Alarm Clock 2 can wake the machine before the alarm so this is not an issue. What if there’s a power failure? The software cannot turn the machine on. The Mac itself solves this problem because it can be configured to power on at the same time every day or just week days or weekends. As long as the power isn’t out when the alarm is triggered, I’m good to go.

Or so I thought. I’ve configured the Mac to sent its audio through the line-out connection to my receiver and external speakers. This sounds far better than the Mac’s own speakers. The problem is the receiver cannot be configured to power on after a power failure. Perhaps I need to suggest to the Alarm Clock 2 author that it be able to use the internal speakers even if the Mac is not configured this way. Who knows if this is even possible.

After getting home on Tuesday, I discovered my long-serving alarm clock was not dead. It seems to work just fine now. Your guess is as good as mine about what happened. The up-side is that until I get the receiver situation sorted out, my alarm clock is set to go off fifteen minutes after my Mac cues a random song to wake me. Assuming no power problems overnight, I can turn it off before the alarm sounds.

The first day was a nice surprise. I awoke to the lovely Lisa Loeb singing that she missed me. Yesterday was Rush’s La Villa Strangiato. Today it was The Camera Eye. The Mac knows me. Then again, I don’t use iTunes so the only tracks in the library are all of Rush’s studio albums, Lisa Loeb’s The Purple Tape, and the free songs iTunes has offered in the last month or so. Stacking the deck? Damn straight.

Oh, I forgot one thing. One of the reasons I particularly enjoy the Mac are the little usability features. They’re nothing you’d gush about, but all together, they really make the user experience better. In this case, the pause button on the Mac’s remote control can either snooze or stop the alarm, depending how Alarm Clock 2 is configured. Sweet.

So far, I’ve found my waking far more pleasant and effective with music. Perhaps I haven’t yet become accustomed to the change, but I suspect the reason is my brain seems to devote more resources to listening to music than just a plain tone. More active resources means more wakefulness. I automatically try to remember the song title and what album it’s from. I’ll remember the riffs and instrumentation and follow along with the words when the singing starts. Even if I trigger the snooze, I find myself far less likely to fall back to sleep.

I think this is going to work out well.

Update (March 16, 2013)

The Alarm Clock 2 homepage at http://www.robbiehanson.com/alarmclock/ has been been unreachable for weeks now. It appears that Alarm Clock 2 is a thing of the past.

Orbiter

You know how you can somehow not see something long after you should have noticed it? Such is the case with Orbiter. On the Orbiter homepage, the software is described as,

a free flight simulator that goes beyond the confines of Earth’s atmosphere. Launch the Space Shuttle from Kennedy Space Center to deploy a satellite, rendezvous with the International Space Station or take the futuristic Delta-glider for a tour through the solar system — the choice is yours.

But make no mistake — Orbiter is not a space shooter. The emphasis is firmly on realism, and the learning curve can be steep. Be prepared to invest some time and effort to brush up on your orbital mechanics background. Good starting points are JPL’s Basics of Space Flight, and R. Braeunig’s Rocket & Space Technology.

This is right up my alley so I was amazed to discover the software’s been out for at least seven years now. The latest version was released in 2006. And still, I just heard about it for the first time yesterday. The author, Martin Schweiger, holds a Ph.D and is a Senior Research Fellow at the Centre For Medical Image Computing at University College London. He considers the development of Orbiter a hobby and doesn’t charge money for it. He does accept donations however, and if the software is as good as it looks, he’ll certainly get one from me. Have a look at this screen capture from the simulator showing a space shuttle launch, just after the solid rocket booster separation:

The reason I stumbled across mention of Orbiter is I was searching for information about the Eagle spacecraft from Space: 1999. Someone mentioned the simulator and I found it with some help from Google. Of particular interest is the Eagle add-on some wonderful soul constructed for the simulator:

I already know I won’t be getting much done this weekend. Until then, I’m not even going to download the simulator because I might forget to go to sleep.

Free, with strings

What is with the media? The New York Times printed an article titled “Microsoft Pledges Cash for IT in Developing World.” This is not nearly the whole story, however. Orlando Ayala, of Microsoft’s education division, lets us in on the important part: “Of course, that includes the fact they use Windows.” So if the potential recipients of this ‘cash’ don’t use Windows, they get nothing.

This seems like a drug dealer offering free samples. Once the user is addicted, there’s money to be made. Windows is not compelling enough to be addictive, but switching operating systems is a major undertaking, even if no hardware requires replacement. Rather than aid, this is simply an investment to grow their market. Is smart business charity?

The article does get into this issue, but only in its last half. The title gives a very different impression of Microsoft’s actions than you get after reading the whole story.

DRM: their rights, not yours

When are people going to wise-up and stop supporting DRM-infected media? They’re learning, even if one at a time. Take Allan Wood. He’s a regular Joe who also is a die-hard Red Sox fan. Major League Baseball opened up a digital download service allowing fans to buy videos of old games for just $3.95 each. Given the low cost, Wood started downloading. He bought nearly $300 worth of games.

Imagine his surprise last year when he tried to watch a game he’d purchased and was instead presented with a message informing him he needed to obtain a license to watch the video. Given that he paid money for the file, there must have been some sort of mistake, right? A link took him to a page where he could confirm he did have a licence. Even more surprisingly, the page was gone.

What happened was Major League Baseball changed DRM providers. Maybe they got a better deal. Who knows exactly why, but you can damn-well bet that money was behind their decision. Switching DRM providers, and therefore DRM schemes, isn’t such a big deal. The fans who bought videos still have the videos and they can still watch them, right?

Wrong.

When you want to play a video, the player first verifies your right to view the video by confirming your licence. No licence, no video. When they changed DRM providers, the licence infrastructure, and the licences themselves, disappeared. No one who bought games protected by the old DRM system will ever be able to watch them.

Seven months later, the Major League Baseball site still carries this same message about the digital download service:

As part of MLB’s continued desires to improve customer experiences, the Digital Download Service is going through an extensive upgrade. We appreciate your support and ask you to check back soon to view this improved section.

What they don’t say is this upgrade will not allow previous buyers to watch the videos they purchased in good faith. Will the previous purchasers be given the games they’ve bought under this new upgraded system? No, they won’t. Will they offer a refund of any sort? No, they wont. Major League Baseball told Wood the games he bought were “one-time sales” so he’s left with a bunch of files he will never be able to watch.

Well thank you very much Major League Baseball, for fucking all your customers in the ass. Here’s hoping they won’t continue to feed your bottom line now that you’ve shown them how much you truly value their loyalty.

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