Technology


Hedra is a new dice-rolling program for iOS created by the people that brought you Dicy, which has been reviewed previously here. The creator contacted us a few days ago about the review of Dicy — which remains my go-to dice roller for RPGs when I’m running off of my laptop — to htank us and let us know about Hedra.

I downloaded the app and played around with it for a few minutes and now it’s time for the review:  Hedra is a very lightweight, minimalist dice rolling program. No fancy backgrounds, and right now there’s no build-ins for modifiers to the dice. Pick what you want and roll it. There’s no limit to the number you can roll, save you can only roll 20 at a time. (I rolled 40d6, just to feel like I was playing old Star Wars for a moment…) There’s all the usual polyhedrons you’ll need d4 o d20, and d100. The background is an off-white, the dice are each a single color to easily differentiate them, and the program totals them for you. The only die that is hard to read the individual dice are the d4s.

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To roll multiple dice you can either tap like a lab rat looking for food, or swipe up and it will tell you how many it will roll when you let go.

I made the suggestion to the developer on the App Store to add Fate dice to the options. I think up-sizing the d4 is another good idea.

So is it worth it? It’s a buck. It’s a light serviceable dice roller. So, yes.

So, I went ahead and loaded the new macOS onto my MacBook Air. Installation was effortless and took about 45 minutes, start to finish. I was able to use the laptop for half of that while the file downloaded. Nothing was changed — my wallpaper, sounds, etc, were left as is; this felt more like an update than a “new” system (which it’s really not…)

The big new feature is Siri. I’ve been using it on and off, and it’s okay. For some things, it works well, like quickly finding a file that’s nested somewhere in a series of folders, or getting the weather…other things, it’s still a little, well, useless. Siri, however, was not the most useful change.

That’s tabs. Tabs in Pages, Keynote, Maps, etc. I usually have several Pages files open at the same time, and having them tabbed is useful. Next up, Universal Clipboard is potentially really useful. I sometimes find an article, or phrase, or picture on my phone and want to use it in a file. You can cut and paste between Apple products. You do need to be on the same network and have Bluetooth up and running. i played with it, and it’s pretty cool. If my iPad were new enough to run iOS10, it would be moreso.

Connected to that, the new iCloud services to store crap you don’t use that much off the laptop is a great idea if you have an Air with a small SSD…however, you only get 5GB from Apple for free. Come on, Cupertino — Google, Dropbox, they all are far more generous with their cloud services, and if you really want this to be a big thing, you might want to give people 20-50GB so that they can play with Continuity and iCloud. If they like it, they’ll use it and might want to start storing stuff online. (I think it’s a foolish thing, from a security standpoint, but there you go.)

Gatekeeper is more of a pain in the ass than it was before. Yes, I understand you don’t want idiots downloading malware onto their overly-expensive hardware…but I don’t want to jump through a load of hoops to get some app I’ve been using for years into action on my computer. (Fortunately, it hasn’t affected anything already loaded.)

The new Os is using IPv6 for networking, and it has been a smooth transition. Additionally, I noted the computer was finding my network drives automatically. I don’t have to go out and do it manually. This is one of the better features of the upgrade.

I don’t have an Apple Watch, so none of the auto-unlocking for me. Don’t really care. APFS — their new file system that’s in the offing and is tailored toward the particular needs of flash drives — is aboard this version, but not in use. Supposedly you can enable a partition using it, if you want to be so bold. Me? Don’t care, right now.

So is it worth it? For me, the automatic locating of my network drives, and the tabs make this a yes. If you use Siri, then, definitely. After all, it’s free…

 

Over the years, my group has tried to do the distance gaming thing. We had a bunch of our gamers move away to Texas, or their schedules were such that getting to Albuquerque to play was inconvenient. We tried having people Skype, Google Hangouts, or Facetime in so that we could have the gamer on the iPad or computer, the group on the other side. This led to issues of sound quality, trying to arrange the play space so that the missing player could see everyone, and connection quality. In short, it never quite worked out. One option that popped up was Roll20, an online gaming tabletop.

A few nights ago, I was talking with a friend from my high school/college gaming days, who was lamenting his being out of the hobby for almost two decades. He just hadn’t been able to find a group, and finally gave up on it. We were discussing Roll20, and I finally had a good look at it. Previously, it wasn’t really an option. I’m on a Mac, and my old 2010 Air wouldn’t have handled the Flash-based video conferencing without the fan sounding like a jumbo jet taking off; the new 2015 Air, however, handles the site with no issues…so I decided it was time to revisit.

The website requires you to set up an account, and you can set yourself up as GM or player. As GM, you invite your players to a game-specific web address, then you can video conference. I suspect the best way to do this will be with gaming headsets for sound quality. It has a table “space” that you can draw or import maps, player icon/tokens, and annotate. You roll die in the space, as well, and the results are tallied on a running chat panel to the right of the play space. Dice types, combination rolls, Fate dice — they’re all possible. Players can also upload characters sheets (there are already many of these set up on the site), to make things easy.

I’ve only played around a bit with it and haven’t yet tried the conferencing feature, but I suspect this might be a good option for folks looking to play with friends around the world. It looks best set up to handle two-five players, each calling in  individually. I’m going to have a go with it at some point in the near future, and will report back once I have.

Sooooo…I was doing some quick shopping yesterday, and when I came out of the Albertson’s, I found (or rather didn’t find) my backpack with my old Air in it missing. A quick call to the Albuquerque Police Department got me a “file a report online”…nice. After using my iPad to call it in, and to file an insurance claim, I got permission from “She Who Must Be Obeyed” to pick up a new laptop. A not-impressive visit to the Apple Store — usually so helpful — and I had my new MacBook Air 13″.

Setup was both very easy and a giant pain in the ass. The initial setup, with iCloud, setting up the email accounts, etc. was fast and flawless. Software upgrades and adding Sophos anti-virus, Caffeine, and Dropbox, had me on the latest Yosemite version within an hour of getting the thing home. Then I started trying to get it to do handoff with my iPhone and iPad. Getting iMessages and FaceTime turned into an hour long exercise in swearing and gnashing of teeth. The issue turned out to be the iPhone, in the end — between two-step authentication, app-specific passwords, yadda yadda I finally got it working, but it was not exactly “Just working”.

So, how’s it stack up to the old Air? It looks almost exactly the same as the last version, except the power cable is different. I swear, Apple changes its power cables every damned iteration of a machine so you have a collection of useless power cables. It’s got a Thunderbolt port, two USB ports, an SD card slot (which is very handy for an extra “hard drive”.) It’s got a 1440×900 screen resolution with an Intel HD 6000 with 1536mb card. There’s backlit keys, where the old late 2010 didn’t.

Performance is noticeably better for video. YouTube, both Flash and H265 ran smoothly and the fans never kicked on. I have most of my media on a 2TB external drive that the old Air hated talking to. The new Air played all of Zombieland last night over wifi from the external drive without the fan coming on, nor any lag. So for video playback, it’s much, much improved.

Battery life is incredible! The original 2010 Air was getting me seven hours of use after four years of service, still pretty damned good for a new laptop. The 2015 Air gave me six hours of use, including watching a full movie, and still had 50% of the battery left. With moderate internet use, I should be able to get a good 10-12 hours of use out of the laptop.

The latest iteration of OS X Yosemite has a few nice touches, the most obvious being the new Photos app. It’s a lot like iPhoto, but with a much more stripped down interface, and it seems to be less intrusive (so far) when trying to, well, anything. iPhoto used to jump to the rescue whenever you tried to sync devices; Photos does it, too. I loaded a 32gb-sized photo library into Photos and it took about three hours with organizing, etc. I didn’t really see a dramatic difference between the function of the two programs, save Photos seems faster — especially pulling pics from the SD card. Likewise, iTunes seems a bit less sludgy, lately, and was pulling from the SD card library, or from the external hard drive with nary a hiccup. The old Air would have be stuttering and freezing during the whole process.

So in closing, the new MacBook Air isn’t the hot, trendy machine it was four years ago, but it’s still a damned good computer with got a lot going for it, and I would suggest the utility is higher than the new MacBook. (The point of which, I will admit, eludes me.) The battery life is second to no other laptop, it is remarkably able at handling big projects and gaming, and with a 256GB SSD and a 256GB SDXC card, it’s equal to the base MacBook Pro for storage space. It’s thin and light — especially useful for someone on the go a lot (or who rides a motorcycle and doesn’t want a ton of weight slung over his shoulder…) It’s less pricey than the model was a few years ago, gives better performance, and still looks great when you’re pretending to write your novel at the local coffeeshop.

I had been looking to upgrade the Lilliputian drive space on my Late 2010 MacBook Air — it has the 128GB SSD and is very fast and effective, but has always made storage an issue. From the jump, I got a 64GB SD card for the machine as overflow for pictures and the others things that quickly gum up a computer’s memory. I tied it to a wireless 2TB drive…but that doesn’t come with me outside of the house, and the 64GB…well half that gets eaten up in pictures, the other in music.

I was on the cusp of a $170 SSD upgrade to a 256GB stick, then realized, I could just as easily drop a similar-sized SDXC card in the side of the machine for half the price. I settled on the PNY SDXC card with 256GB — effectively trebling my “hard drive” space.

Installation was simple: put it in the side of the Air, bring up Disk Utility and “erase” the card, setting it up for OS X Extended (Journaled). This took about two minutes. The PNY runs at at advertised 90MB/s, and that seems about right.

It took about a third the time to load the 50GB or so of material from the old SD card, plus my 35GB of music from the iTunes drive. So far, reading and writing is about as fast as hitting the laptop’s SSD. The only time there’s a lag is when you first hit the SD card after a bit of a wait or sleeping the computer. Once you start using it, no noticeable issues.

Total cost $80 to treble the “hard drive” space, and it allows you to pull the card and any important or sensitive information if you are traveling with the laptop. Bonus when going through airport security. There’s also the plus that you can use it on any other laptop (if you leave it in FAT format.) As for longevity: the first SD card is still going strong after 6 years — fist in an old Dell machine, then 4 years in the MacBook…so at least as long as the average laptop’s service time. The only real issue is that the card sticks out of the side of the laptop, and could be at risk for preakage, but it hasn’t happened in the time I’ve had it, and I’m not the kindest person to his laptop when traveling.

If you’ve got a MacBook Air 13″ with the 128GB SSD, this is a no-brainer for upgrading the machine on the cheap.

So, I’m getting ready to grade the last assignments for the class I’m teaching. I get to the coffeeshop — because doing any work in my house requires the endless interruptions from a four-year old.

My cuteness is my only defense mechanism!

My cuteness is my only defense mechanism!

 

So I’ve got my coffee, the breakfast burrito is on the way, and I’m opening first assignment…and up pops the autoupdater for Office.

Microsoft Office: Gee, I know you’re really busy doing some work, but I thought I’d just update myself for the next 10 minutes, ‘kay?
Me: No, it’s not okay. I’m kinda busy.
MS Office: And we appreciate your frustration, but this update is really necessary — like every one we download every time you start Office. It’s a dangerous internet out there, after all. So if you could just password into the most basic functions of your OS for me…
Me: Maybe if you coded your shit right the first time, we wouldn’t have to do this EVERY time I use this product.
MS Office: Well, you know, Apple’s been having a lot of issues lately, too… Maybe you’re being too hard on us.
Me: What the fuck does that matter? iOS 8 still worked bteter than most Redmond product even whilst sucking a bag of dicks. I’m trying to grade! I could have been done by now.
MS Office: You don’t grade that fast. We have the application data.
Me: Wha…? You’re so damned slow I’ve actually eaten my breakfast while waiting for the download.
MS Office: That’s the shitty throughput at the coffeeshiop. Besides, it looked like you needed a few minutes to relax and eat that burrito. Was it good?
Me: Could we just get to the point where I do my work.
MS Office: I’m guessing no.
Me: I could just use Pages to open Word files.
MS Office: That would hurt my feelings. Besides, I do spreadsheets, you know.
Me: Why does everything with Microsoft come down to spreadsheets?
MS Office: Business. Spreadsheets are important for business. ‘n stuff.

Scott goes to close the autoupdater after 10 minutes and wants to go start Pages. At this point, the update starts…requiring me to close Safari and pretty much every other f#$%ing app open on the laptop because Microsoft coders can make an update that doesn’t 1) require me to password into the operating system, and 2) can’t run without everything else being closed.After another five minutes of the update lagging in the last five or ten percent, or so, I finally manage to get Word open to read the papers.

MS Office: See, that only ate up 10% of your enormous battery life on the laptop. It could have been much much worse.

Really, Microsoft…this is why Apple is steadily eating into your business. Let’s not even start with what a disaster you are for mobile stuff.

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