Sunday, February 23, 2020

Geeking with Gary

In this issue:
  • The Indignities of Coach Class
  • A Better USB Connector
  • The Best Screen Saver for Photographers
  • Further Praise for Google Photos
  • Star Trek Web Serieses (that's a word! It's plural for 'series')

More seminars are planned for 2020 - 2021.  See for a full list.

Can't make any of these?  People are still raving about the streaming version!

(Note: This month's blog post has little to do with photography.  I do this from time to time.)

The Indignities of Coach Class

Airline seats are so packed together that there's no room to use even a small laptop.  Look carefully and you'll see the tray and keyboard are both tilted up and pointing to my chin.

Could this design be the answer?

Airline travel is getting less and less comfortable.  On a recent flight I found myself squeezed so close to the row in front of me that I was unable to get any work done on my small laptop.  In order to type the keyboard had to be lifted to a 70-degree angle.  Ever try to do page layout or programming (or even just email) like this?  (The airline in question shall remain anonymous, but it does rhyme with “American Airlines”.)

There has to be a better way.  One day I was reminded of a video I once saw from hardware hacker Ben Heck.  In one of his web episodes he identified this as being a problem and came up with a solution: putting the laptop hinge on the center of the screen rather than at the bottom edge.  Here’s the whole video.   (I like his projects – maybe that’s because I used to be like him.  But I no longer have the kind of spare time I once had to do hardware hacks like this).

Then I remembered that there have been a handful of commercial laptops which utilized a very similar screen hinge.  One was for a Windows CE machine (don’t ask), and the other was from Acer - the Aspire R13 laptop.  I tracked down a brand new, unsold unit from some company's warehouse and ordered it right away.  So what if it would have run modern apps very slowly?  At least I could get some work done on an otherwise boring flight.

My hope faded fast when the package finally arrived – the unit was so old that it could no longer boot the operating system.  (Yes, I tried everything.  Maybe the soldered-onto-the-motherboard clock battery had died.)  Regardless, I had two trips coming up and I couldn't afford to futz with it.  I took these pictures and then sent the unit back.    

Surely the idea can't be dead, can it?  It's not - Acer has re-introduced the hinge into it's very-high-end ConceptD 9 series laptop - it's $5K and is 17.3" wide - too large (and expensive!) for an airplane.

The Acer ConceptD 9 series laptop is too big for planes.
Maybe one day my needs will be met...

A Better USB Connector 

I was going through about 2 USB-C cables per month before I realized what the problem was.  When it came to charging my phone, not all of my cables would seat properly, and some wouldn’t provide enough power to the phone (I know this because the phone would complain, “At this rate it will take 12 hours to fully charge”.)  Thinking that I should stop buying gas station USB-C cables, I upgraded to the Amazon Basics cables, which are actually high spec and they will support any USB-C and/or Thunderbolt functions like driving external displays.  Those proved unreliable too.

“Surely I can’t be the only one to have this problem!” said I, and so I started googling it.  Sure enough, it’s quite common.  And it has nothing to do with the cables!

That USB-C port hole is so large that ordinary pocket lint gets in there, and every time you shove a plug in there it gets compacted down.  After awhile the buildup gets so thick that it prevents you from inserting the plug all the way.  This explains why I got the problem, but not my wife (who carries her phone in her purse).

Here’s how to solve the problem:

1) Power the phone off.

2) Using a sharp and strong object (I used the business end of a safety pin), scrape out the compacted dirt from the bottom of the USB port.  A LOT of muck came out.  It took me 3 tries to get it all.

To prevent this from happening again, I stumbled onto a brilliant solution which I’ve been using for the past six months without problem: Cafele Magnetic USB connectors.  There are a lot of these advertised online; but most of these just supply power to your phone.  The one has several data lines as well, to support applications like Android Auto.

In use, just plug in the “nib” into your phone, and leave it there permanently.  Then use the special magnetic cable (with USB-A on the other end) to connect to it.  Got a variety of devices using different USB standards?  It comes with two nibs for USB-C, Micro USB (B), and Lightning port (for iDevices).  Now everything can all be charged using one cord!

It's a brilliant solution... just take care that it doesn't become accidentally unhinged while in the car.
While it won’t easily fit onto cameras, and it doesn’t carry all the data lines (so you probably can’t use it when connecting, say, an external 4K monitor), for everyday phone charging and driving navigation it has been reliable and less of a headache than manually connecting your phone every time you get into your car.  Highly recommended!

(Disclaimer: I get no compensation for anything I endorse.  (Ever!)  One of these days I'll smarten up.)

The Best Screen Saver for Photographers

I’ve written about this before.  I’m about to turn 60 years old, and I have 19 Terabytes of images that I don’t even remember I took, showing things I don't remember I did.  That’s why I’m so thankful for the PhotoPlus Screensaver – it brings back random memory jogs every day, but that’s not all.  It also shows you what directory the image is in, and allows you to tag it for later examination when you have some time.  The new version also shows you random video clips as well, things you don’t normally peruse like a shoebox full of photos.  Yes, the program crashes regularly (I think that’s because of the sheer volume of images I have on my drives), but the service it provides for me is so compelling that I’m writing about it again.  It’s free (PC only, unfortunately), and highly recommended.

Last week the program randomly unearthed some behind-the-scenes video that someone took of me working in a studio session back in 2013 which I completely forgot about.  I marked the file "to handle later".  Later I went back to look at all of the videos, and assembled this compilation:

(Well, it was interesting to me... :-) )  The program is called Photo Screensaver Plus and you can download your free copy here.

Further Praise for Google Photos

18 months ago I wrote about Google Photos service, which is free and can quickly recall images of particular people.  (Maybe I was more impressed by that than I should have been – after all, you only have a finite number of friends and family members, restricting the number of faces it can match against.  That makes it an easier problem.). 

Since that time Google has made improvements.  It’s now trying to recognize the content of images, not just faces.  So if you typed in “snake” it will bring up all images that contain snakes.  Or a king parrot.  Or you can have it search for images of signs (it recognizes words too). 

And if you’re bold enough to invite one of those Google Assistants into your home (potentially allowing both the NSA AND Putin to listen to your conversations), you’ll discover that you can have it display a continuous slide show of pictures containing only certain people.  What I noticed about that was it tends to show only the good pictures – and I have no idea how it decides what a good picture is – but there are remarkably few “duds” as you sit and watch the parade of images pass before your eyes.  And I'm not the only one to notice it - Farhad Manjoo from the New York Times published a piece noticing it too, and going into further detail.

I should balance this out, though.  Not quite as good are the movies you can have Google make – for example, and tribute video after someone died.  You can have it create a video containing only images of people you specify.  Although it can save a lot of time, I’ve found that I can hand-curate a tribute video with much better pics than what Google chooses.

For Fans of Star Trek: The Original Series

Somewhere in the U.S. state of Georgia sits a sound stage with a meticulously-recreated set of the original Star Trek Enterprise, and a lot of people are making their own Star Trek fan films in them.  Not all of them are good, but if you're a fan of the original show, these should interest you.

The most ambitious of these are the Star Trek Continues series, which looks, feels, and even smells like the original series.  They hired the lighting guy from the original show.  Scotty is played by James Doohan's son.  The guy who plays Kirk is a better Kirk than William Shatner.  I'm telling you, it's good!  Here are a few sample episodes:

Fairest of them All (a continuation of "Mirror, Mirror" - you know, the one where Spock has a beard):

To Boldly Go, Part I:
To Boldly Go, Part II:

If nothing else, just marvel at the sets that they had so faithfully recreated.

Another series by a different team, called Star Trek New Voyages, is noteworthy only because they were able to get George Takai (great episode) and Walter Koenig (horrible episode, but that wasn't his fault) to return to their roles.

The one with Mr. Sulu:
The one with Mr. Chekov: 

There are other productions by other people, but the ones above impressed me the most.

That's it for now.  Until next time,

Yours Truly,
Gary Friedman


  1. For coach, have you considered a solution that would involve a Bluetooth keyboard and a tablet? You get little plastic things that you can put in the gap when the tray table is closed that hold a phone or tablet near vertical. In that case you would be typing on your lap though, which might not be good posture. If it was mainly for that plane, you might be able to buy or make a short arm with clamps on each end, one of which would clamp to the open tray table, and the other to the tablet to hold it cantilevered 8 inches or so above the table.

    1. I've thought about it. Biggest downside is it's a lot of pieces to handle and then setting up / taking down in a tight space becomes less desirable. Plus I've never met a tablet I liked. :-)

  2. Thanks so much for the regular updates.

    Here is the program I use for switching back grounds in 4 multi monitor setup using Windows 10

    “John’s Background Switcher for Windows”

    Just thought you and your readers might be interested.

    I have found it to be stable, reliable and a great way to view my image library.

    Perhaps it might be of use to someone.

    Hope this helps.

    David Henderson

    1. Thanks, David! John's program actually changes the background wallpaper of your computer desktop, which is slightly different than what a screensaver does. Still, it's nice to have options! GF

  3. If you want to work on a business class! I had to say that...because I totally agree that we who ride in coach are being squeezed like sardines. Not that I have anything against sardines.

  4. Gary
    The day there will be enough room for you to work in coach, there will also be room for me to stand up in the window seat - after all, I am only 1m82.

  5. Two somewhat helpful picture apps. Wallpaper Slideshow LT from and JPEGsaver from AFAIK neither has a clue about RAW and who knows about PNG's, etc. NTL for at least JPEG's they work a treat. And they're free. JPEGsaver has a host of cool transitions. Windows only, though.


    1. Thanks for these suggestions! Does Wallpaper Slideshow actually show random pics from your hard drive(s), or do you have to curate the images beforehand? Goat1000's server seems to be down right now.

    2. Oh, it's back up: Just tried it. You'd figure things like "resize large files to 100%" would be on by default. Anyway, I like the way it handles dual screen, and the 's', 'o' and 'e' interactive options look like they fulfill my "Tag this image - I want to revisit it later (or actually, now)!". That's my most-used feature of Photo Screensaver Plus. The only thing I see missing is that you can't tell it to rotate old images that don't have the orientation flag in the EXIF info. Still, I'm going to try this for awhile!

    3. (Too bad it doesn't do video clips...)

  6. Seems Photo Screensaver Plus is only available for Windows :-(

    1. Most Mac owners are very happy with the built-in screensaver... :-)

  7. Hi, Gary. You might want to look at the old Sony VAIO Flip series. They had screens hinged at the center similar to the Acer in your post. Sony sold off their VAIO division a few years back, but you can still find the laptops on eBay, and the specs are decent enough to handle most modern programs.

    Here's an example of a 15" laptop:

    Note the second photo shows the screen in mid-flip, like your Acer.

    They also made 13" and 14" models, which might be more coach-class friendly. Here's an example of a 13" with some of the specs listed:

    I hope this helps!

    1. THAT looks interesting! Thanks - I should investigate this further. Most of the ones I'm seeing for sale have very poor visual examples of how the hinge actually works.

  8. It sure is a shame manufacturers have abandoned some of the more flight-friendly designs over the years. The VAIO Duo 13, Dell XPS 12 convertible, the LG H160 -- these also had hinges in the midpoint of the screen and were more usable on flights (to varying degrees). But they're all getting pretty long in the tooth these days, and there aren't many modern equivalents except for that expensive Acer gaming laptop.

    As a side note -- and keeping in the theme of the rest of your blog post -- do you remember this laptop?

    Jameel Din

    1. Wow, a laptop shaped like the Enterprise from The Next Generation! Never saw that before. That should have sold a gazillion units.


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