Archive for the ‘Boring Technodrivel’ Category

What’s This Button Do?

June 27, 2013 - 3:14 pm 9 Comments

So, as we’re clearly in the filler-or-nothing mode of content, still, it’s my turn to dust off the keys for a bit. For those of you who aren’t warcraft/gaming nerds, go ahead and just pretend it’s status quo and there’s no post. For the rest of you, if you’re happy with your gaming set up, you can probably do the same, because all I’m going to talk about today are mice.

For those who do like warcraft, you’ve probably noticed, “Hey, there’s a metric shitload of things I would like to have quick access to!”, possibly during a raid while a boss is nomming on your face, possibly during pvp while a rogue is making your life miserable. I too found myself in one or both of those situations, and so when I saw the Razer Naga I was all over it. Once integrated into my setup, it quickly became indispensable, though over time it was not without its flaws. The thumb-grid was extremely useful and after a bit of practice reasonably intuitive, but the scroll wheel flat-out sucked on ice; this was the naga’s biggest flaw. Frequently using the wheel to scroll a web page down, the jittery little shit would wind up scrolling up. There was also no side-to-side tilt on the scroll wheel, which is not a dealbreaker, but incredibly useful for in-game movement.

As the naga was first to the scene with this enormous raft of helper buttons, I accepted the limitations and went on about my way. Until one day, Amazon made an actual useful suggestion with their “other people looking at X liked Y” section, the Logitech G600. What’s that? A giant raft of buttons, plus a couple more, and a tilting scroll wheel from a company that specializes in mice and keyboards? Oh hells yeah.

So I jumped on it. And overall, I have to say the logitech is the superior shitloads-of-buttons mouse. For starters, the scroll wheel is not even a little bit flakey, and the tilt function to it covers that shortcoming from the naga. Otherwise, it’s basically the same mouse but with a few minor differences that manage to change and improve the quality of life surprisingly well. Where the naga’s thumb grid is laid out on one convex grid, the g600 instead uses two concave depressions on the side to arrange slightly larger buttons. After getting used to muscle memory of “slide two buttons back, one over to do _______” with the naga, this new arrangement made finding the right button even faster. This also means a couple of buttons I didn’t use for much of anything on the naga were now easier enough to find to take over Vital Functions. It also feels somewhat larger in the hand than the naga – that’s a pro for me, but probably a con for the smaller handed.

Neither mouse really wins in the configuration software department, but the logitech sucks less because you don’t need to create an account to configure anything, or be online, and the profile is stored in the mouse itself, rather than in the software. In the minus column for the logitech, one of the buttons is, for my use at least, more of a pain in the rear than an asset. The far right button, the “g-shift” key, is designed to be essentially like the shift key on a keyboard, and be a on/off to modify the function of other keys. Out of the box, it changes the mouse’s sensitivity on the fly, which, uh, sucks, to put it mildly, when your nice zippy responsive mouse suddenly drives the cursor like molasses in January because you cycled out of the top end of the sensitivity and back down to the sludge setting. The two buttons behind the scroll wheel did the same thing, which was particularly festive when configuring VuhDo for my priest to use those for healing. And it’s ridiculously easy to hit by accident. Even with that button remapped to something more innocuous, I still find myself brushing it occasionally while holding my push-to-talk button and cutting myself off mid-instruction/rant/dirty joke.

Both mice are nerd approved on the grounds of the thumb-grid. The naga’s scroll wheel, after getting back to one that works properly on the g600, would now definitely be a deal breaker for me though, and the current iteration of razer software utterly blows. Got a lot of skills or macros you need in a hurry? There’s worse ways to go about getting to ‘em.

PSA

September 12, 2012 - 8:06 pm 1 Comment

The spam filter is extra hungry lately. I have no clue why, though I assume it must be associated with the WordPress upgrade. If your comment doesn’t appear, I will be trying to dig it out, and if I have been out of town or similarly behind, you may need to poke me.

The Site is Dead. Long Live The Site.

September 5, 2012 - 11:32 pm 11 Comments

Well that was a fun and exciting week, wasn’t it? As I’ve mentioned before when we go down for a bit, the hosting company we used had a screaming deal from us getting in on a promo many years ago in the before times. The trade off, obviously, was reliability. The occasional jihadi hacking someone else on the same box, some hardware failure, and a couple other general case “shit just broke, yo” cases. We lived with it because there’s no advertisers to keep happy, we don’t lose money when the site’s down, and basically it just means we don’t have the pressure to write something. Ok, so we’re not exactly churning out the volume on that last point lately, but shut up, I’m telling a story.

Anyway, this last go round with the cyclic soaring elation of having access to our stuff again and crushing disappointment of it going back down sometimes less than two hours later finally lit a sufficient fire under my ass. We are no longer with the old company, which was your basic godaddy/dreamhost/whatever cpanel jobbie with many users on one server, to our very own (virtual) server. More work, but more control. Costs… well, I’m not happy about the increase, but it’s still less than I spend on burritos in a month, so I think we’ll live. Trying to shoehorn configuring a server, getting all the shit we *cough* totally religiously backed up like the baddass pros we are collected and moved, and all the rest of the associated crap in the middle of work, derby, and family birthdays was a heap of fun though, lemme tell you…

There’s a few things I know still need fixing (for some reason we had to rebuild the blogroll manually; we did a little trimming and updating while we were at it) so pardon any dust.

So we’re back. Content as we think of it. Oh, and those of you who pester people that are not us about our online/offline status? C’mon. Don’t be that guy. Chill and wait; if we decide to pull the plug we’ll say so in advance.

Technical Difficulties.

September 4, 2012 - 4:02 pm 2 Comments

Yes. We know. No, we’re not pulling the plug. Yes we’re moving soon. (And because of that any comments on this post probably won’t make the trip over, just like that last box of junk from the drawer in the kitchen). More when it’s done.

Sigh

July 13, 2012 - 5:38 pm 8 Comments

I have concluded the most interesting things to happen to me/do in the last two days fall under the heading of, variously, only remotely interesting if you are me or one of the people I interact with weekly, entirely too delicate to blog about without landing on either rude or overweeningly sensitive, or only interesting if you follow the exact same stuff I do, which doesn’t even apply to Stingray. Perhaps content will appear if something bloggably interesting happens in the next four hours or I saddle up a new hobbyhorse for crusadin’ times.

So, a question: has the “view conversation” function basically been nonfunctional on Twitter for the last few weeks for anyone else? Is it a “don’t have a Twitter account” thing they decided to implement for Reasons? I don’t do Twitter, but I watch the Twitters of a lot of people who are a lot funnier in 140 characters than I am, and watching people talk nonsense to the winds and walls has been a less fun experience than the original one.

Small Serving Ice Cream

March 13, 2012 - 3:21 pm Comments Off

Due to Assorted Circumstances, you may have noted that posting has not been as regular lately. Assorted Circumstances will continue throughout the week. (The short version for those who are deeply curious is that, having acquired a social life and taken on a couple of projects, I have about .5 more hobby/project than I have hours in the day.)

During this time I’ll try to experiment with shorter posts and more linky with less thinky. This will hopefully not be a long-term change, but it’d be nice to be better able to cover middle ground between nothing and ten thousand words of something.

So about that SOPA thing.

January 18, 2012 - 10:56 pm Comments Off

I think we’re all agreed it sucks sweaty syphilitic donkey balls (and if you don’t agree, fuck you you’re so wrong you’re in the column of “needs to die in a crotch fire.”). And I think congress would do well to remember that if they make a serious effort to gut the First Amendment, there’s another one right after it specifically in case they do try to make such bullshit stick.

That said, I lol’d pretty damn hard at this.

We now return to your regularly scheduled misanthropy and science.

You Didn't Ask Yet But You Were Going To

January 5, 2012 - 11:20 am Comments Off

- Billing error caused by new systems implementation.

– Yes, we are getting tired of this.

– Because we’re getting an amazing bandwidth deal and have someone within easy reach to shout at.

– Not sure yet. It’s a possibility. See above.

Actually, You Can Stop The Signal For A While

November 16, 2011 - 12:02 pm Comments Off

In the spirit of explanation (seriously guys, the concern is appreciated, but if we go down we go down don’t pester other folks’ comments trying to internet-detective us- we’ll say so if we’re pulling the plug deliberately) what happened is someone’s account on the server we run the site off got hacked and rooted, and Jihadi Joe killed the server’s virtualization setup so the couple dozen sites that would normally get sorted and routed in software all got dumped to one site for the whole server, full of the message of islam’s peaceful and loving nature and how awesome it is to hijack servers other people are paying for, and then tech support at the colo shoved their heads up their asses and have taken the better part of a week to do what should’ve been a hour or two fix because it does not take that fucking long to change out a hot-swappable drive and re-image it.

And the first time I told that to a non-techie friend while we were down, I’m told all he heard was Charlie Brown’s Teacher, so for our non technical readers, here’s your version of what happened.

Back in the before time, it was one website per special giving-stuff computer, or “server.” Then someone got clever and came up with a way to put a bunch of websites on one server, and change things around based on special little bits of information that the users never know about, just as a basic part of how they ask to see a website. So theoretically, me, Matt, Sal, NFO, FarmGirl and Tam could all have our blogs on one physical special-giving-stuff-computer machine, but the magic elves would make sure Tractor Tracks sent out info on how not to piss off your cashier, and booksbikesetc would send out information on obscure WW1 pistols that six people have heard of including the designer, NFO’s website would give you naval aviation jokes, and so forth.

Then, one fine Saturday morning, Jihadi Joe killed those magic elves, so they couldn’t sort things to make sure the right info got to the right people, and all that particular machine’s elves knew how to offer up is Peace & Love & Stonings & Hijacking and yi-yi-yi music. People wanted their obscure WWI pistol information, and other people wanted their over-long scientific analysis of pop phenomenon and pointless profanity but there were no elves that knew where that douchecocking information lived anymore!

Then the stupid doubled-down. The tech monkeys at the place where the special-giving-stuff computer physically lives couldn’t figure out how to pull a small box out of a slot, insert a new box that looks just like it into the now empty hole, and press a button to trim and shape and form that part to behave as it’s supposed to. Really, they made a monkey fucking a football look dignified, elegant, and capable of all sorts of rocket surgery.

And now we’re back. The end.

Your 'Like I Know What I'm Doing' Guide to Beer

September 7, 2011 - 3:28 pm Comments Off

Most of you know LabRat as your basic all-knowing font of biological type sciencey goodness. In a trait common to advanced-functioning robots such as her and Data from Star Trek, she sometimes feels the need to appear more human. Her ill-advised method this time is to badger me until I write a post about where the flavors in beer come from and how to identify what you’re tasting in a given bottle of suds, because clearly I have not just been getting my recipes from books in the format of “Put this in and do the usual shit to it.”

Just bear with me and we’ll try to muscle through this so she can go back to normal.

Before we can start figuring out flavor, we have to figure out what the possible sources of those flavors are. To that end, way back in the day, there was the Reinheitsgebot, or Bavarian Purity Law, which stated that the only allowable ingredients in beer were barley, hops, and water. That law is pretty stupid since it ignores the yeast that sort of has just a bit to do with turning it from cloying pine-scented sugar water into beer, but people were in general stupid back then and didn’t know about yeast or what it does. So really, not much has changed.

Ok, so water, barley, hops, and yeast. You want to know what the main flavor in your beer is? Well, by volume the dominating characteristic pretty well has to be the water. Taste whatever you’re brewing with- if it occasionally bursts into flame and tastes like the chassis of a ’49 Buick left in a field for 30 years, that’s what your beer will mostly taste of. Whatever flavor is in the water the beer is made from is the easiest to ignore. I mean, it’s water. Of course it’s in the beer. Who cares what water tastes like? Dassani, Arrowhead, et al thank you for your interest in that topic.

After the water, the next largest contribution would be, essentially, sugar. Malted barley is barley grains that have been allowed to start the process of germinating/growing in order to take advantage of the plant converting complicated starches in the grain into simpler sugars, and when the beer is made, those sugars are extracted either through a process that basically makes grain-tea (steep ~15lbs of various grains at 155F for an eternity or two, then collect the steep water), or by paying someone else to get all those sugars out and concentrate them into malt extract, either dry or liquid.

Extract is by far the easier to work with, and more consistent. Since it’s basically sugar, that’s where you get any sweetness in your beer’s flavor profile. Let us all now thank LabRat for badgering me into telling everybody that sugar makes things sweet. None of us could’ve seen that one coming, Counselor Troi! With extracts, there are various levels of darkness (light extract, amber extract, dark extract, etc) and the darker one goes, the more earthy and roast-y the malt flavors tend to be. Any grains used can contribute to this effect too, bringing flavors like chocolate or coffee or nuttiness into the mix. If words like “bright” or “crisp” spring to mind trying to describe a flavor, you’re not talking about something brought in by the malt. Bread-like flavors? Gosh, working with grain where on earth could those have come from? Wheat and rice are used in some recipes to shake things up from all-barley all the time, and they bring flavors to beer pretty well in line with the flavors they bring to anything else. Adding some rice won’t transform your beer into sake (well, if you go crazy overboard you can basically just make the sake, same as beer more or less), but it will give it a bit of the same sort of tang. If you really want to get into this for not a lot of cash, visit a beer making supply store, and just get a quarter pound or so of as many types of grains as they have that catch your eye, and have them crushed. Take them home, and do each one up like you’re trying to make oatmeal basically, and whatever that tastes like… well, that’s how it’d go into beer. You can probably get 10-15 types of grain to try for less than $20.

You know what’s really boring? Beer without hops. Straight malt liquor. Go dump that 40 and we’ll move on to where you will find words like bright and crisp in the description of the flavor. Hops are a rhizome, Humulus Lupus, that is for trivia’s sake very remotely related to weed. It’s a vine that produces little pine-cone lookin’ things like this:
Home grown, no less.

What happens here is you boil those little buggers (or you get them processed into a form that looks like hamster food) and that moves alpha acids and oils from them into your beer. Those particular hops taste of lemons and grass, but the category overall ranges from pine, to citrus, to pepper, to fruit. Covering what every particular type of hops brings to beer flavors is a work more suited to something book-length, but there are some rough guides floating around without too much work at google. This one covers a good whack of the more commonly used hops in homebrewing. Some of the oils and acids are more volatile than others, and they’re used to bring beer much of its aroma. Since smell is so tied up with taste, the flavors translate pretty directly, you’re just tasting it through a different sensor for a bit before those volatiles finish vaporizing and wafting away. This is why a freshly opened beer is so much better than one that’s been sitting out for a while. The lack of carbonization in the old beer is related, since all that foamy fizz is carrying more of that hops addition up your nose in the fresh.

The last contributor, and by far the trickiest to nail down, is the yeast. There are as many strains of yeast that can produce beer practically as there are people who like beer. What flavor they contribute ranges even more widely than the contributions of hops, because the temperature at which the yeast does its work fermenting the wort (the cloying sugar water mentioned before) affects what byproducts the yeast produces other than alcohol and carbon dioxide. These are the strains offered just in one format from just one producer, and while I can’t take a sip and say “Why yes, this was made with the Belgian Saison strain!” the differences range from subtle to “holy shit.”

To over-simplify, there are two basic types of yeast, top fermenting, a.k.a. ale yeasts, and bottom fermenting lager yeasts. The difference is exactly what it says on the label. Using an ale yeast, if you do your fermenting in a glass container letting you see the action, you will see a foamy raft floating on top of the concoction. Using a lager yeast, there’ll be a pile-up at the bottom of the jug. From there, it breaks down basically into what you’re feeding your yeast and the temperature you’re working them at. Alcohol and carbon dioxide are obviously the main products, but it’s the other byproducts that give different strains their flavor profiles. Esters are the most common, and arguably important, compound produced, and they lend themselves to descriptions such as fruity. They’re also fairly volatile and affect the aroma quite a bit. Diacetyl and 2,3-Pentanedione ketones chip in, and mostly affect the difference in how a “new” beer feels in your mouth vs. an older, aged beer (not the stale one sitting out from the hops example). Think buttery mouthfeel when you think of those compounds. Fusel alcohols come in from the yeast, and those aren’t necessarily good things. Too high a concentration of them leads to descriptions like “solvent.” Guess why. Smaller doses can help open up the palate, but it still goes back to what type of yeast you have, and what you fed it. Some people think more visually, so maybe this’ll help:

(Courtesy of Salamander via Alabev)
Alternately:

Again, a thorough and fully correct examination of how yeast affects beer flavor is a book-length subject better left to someone who didn’t just barely squeak through chemistry because he had a copy of “Alice in Quantumland” hidden behind his textbook. Atoms are easy. Fuck molecules.

And now, having spent in excess of 1400 words vaguely waving my hands about a subject described better and at greater length and clarity by many people who are not me, I can confidently extend my middle finger to LabRat’s latest attempt to look slightly less awesome, secure in the knowledge that I have muddied the waters for all. And now I’m going to drink a beer.