Archive for the 'geek' Category

with high internet connectivity, user productivity approaches zero

Since I am now anchored to one location and probably will stay that way for the next year or two, I think I’ll be turning my thoughts to digital global culture more often. The Internet has shaped a lot of who I am– I got my first AOL account at age six!– and only when I had to live without it did I realize how much of an impact it has on my life.

Living with the Internet makes everything much more convenient, but it also makes my life infinitely more complicated. In the span of fifteen minutes online, my curiosity and insatiable thirst for information led me from vegetarian recipe searching to a Wikipedia entry about a character from His Dark Materials. (Whoever can name all the connections I took to get there wins a prize.) Think about how much havoc I wreak on my work and sleep schedule when my house on campus has high-speed WiFi! I can hole myself up in my room for weeks and just pull a hikikomori on everyone.

This means I can’t work in my room, and I can’t work in the public spaces of my house because the social interaction is just as distracting. I also live at the top of a hill, so I’m discouraged from venturing out to study, but good *god* it’s almost finals week, I have to. (At least the weather’s a whole lot better than it was a month ago…)

I’ve found that I work best outside of my dorm, sans laptop, in a public place that isn’t too quiet— on campus, The Axe and Palm in Old Union does the trick. I usually can’t work with people talking in the background, but somehow I don’t mind random people talking. Maybe it’s because it’s an improvement from the background noise I get at home, which involves my family talking instead of random people. Or maybe it’s because I’m afraid of making embarrassingly loud noises (i.e. passing gas) in a pindrop-silent study hall. Either way, I don’t have to deal with the knowledge that I have a wealth of information at my fingertips. Seriously, the convenience of a WiFi-enabled laptop destroys me.

But hey, it could be worse– I could have an iPhone.


es kill ya do wee-fee ee-see?

So if you’re in Paris and Internet-less like I am most of the time, here’s a handy guide to WiFi hotspots in Paris.

First off, there is a list of WiFi hotspots in Paris at (French), or type in your address or zip code anywhere in the world and get a few places at But I have no idea how you’ll get to those if you’re Internet-less! I don’t even know how you’ll be able to read this. Whatever, just save a copy of the search results to your computer and you should be golden.

Secondly, the whatever governmental in-charge people in Paris are trying to blanket the city with WiFi, starting with municipal sites, like mairies (the mayor’s offices for each arrondissement), libraries and parks. Yay! Two places I have already confirmed with it are the Parc Monceau and the park next to the University of Paris dorms at RER Cité Universitaire. I’ve heard that service is still a bit spotty in the bigger parks, but most bibliothèques already have it, apparently. They’re open until ten or eleven in the evening, so take advantage of them when you can.

It’s kind of annoying to have to do it all the time, but there’s WiFi available in virtually every McDonald’s you visit. I usually go to the one hidden in an indoor shopping complex off the Champs-Elysées (better known as the place where that guy makes all the bird whistling noises in the front). It’s underground, so you don’t have to look too lame, and the seats are pretty comfy, plus they’ve got tons of power outlets (very rare!).

Other known locations for free WiFi are the Centre Pompidou, Starbucks, and the Columbus Café chain (it’s sorta like Starbucks…). A lot of other cafes have WiFi too; just look for the WiFi sticker affixed on the window somewhere near their front entrance, or just ask a waiter, “Es kill ya do wee-fee ee-see (Est-ce qu’il y a du wifi ici – Is there WiFi here)?”. Actually, you should probably make sure a cafe has WiFi BEFORE you order something and not assume that you can surf the Internet while you imbibe; I’ve been to the cafe across the street from my apartment multiple times, ordered something, and THEN asked about WiFi. (€2.70 for each demi-tasse de cafe and it’s STILL broken. Argh!)

And always make sure that your laptop is fully charged before you venture out looking for WiFi. Parisians apparently know the consequences of public goods, and therefore it’s hard to find plugs for free electricity, even in McDonald’s. (Don’t forget to bring your charger and French plug adapter just in case though.)

That’s about it. Too easy? Ah, but my next post will be about Couchsurfing– or, how to house young backpackers out of the goodness of your heart while making sure that no one too sketchy stays with you.

great free apps for mac os x 10.3.9

I bought a new laptop in my freshman year of college. Since I am a cheapskate and a computer junkie, I decided to get an Apple PowerBook G4 with Panther (OS X 10.3) instead of a MacBook with Tiger (10.4) to both save money and curb my addiction to the Internet and useless things on Windows such as the old-school Chip’s Challenge and Gunbound.

(Un)fortunately, I got fluent in Mac in about a week and am now a big fan. My Internet addiction has been exacerbated by all the beautiful and reliable Mac apps out there. I have very little incentive to pay for a piece of code when one can find so many wonderful and powerful programs for free on the Internet, so the following recommendations are all for free software.

My criteria for this list is as follows:

– Mac OS X 10.3.9 compatible
– Very fast*
– Doesn’t crash
– Doesn’t freeze*
– Good-looking
– Simple*
– Easy to use

The ones with asterisks* indicate that these criteria can be compromised if the app is strong enough in the other features. For example, Skype freezes for a minute during login, but it otherwise fits the other criteria very nicely. And NeoOffice isn’t the fastest app, but it sure as hell beats Word in price, Mac-friendly design, and stability.

Apps I Like

Skype – The ubiquitous VoIP app. Hangs a bit on login for me, but it’s got a skinnier interface and better call quality and is more internationally-friendly than Gizmo. I love its cute “call ended” sound effect.

xPad – A worthy replacement for TextEdit or Stickies (or both). Nice use of the drawer feature for organizing all the text documents– it keeps things from looking disorganized like Stickies. Plus it’s got autosave on exit like Stickies. I love this app to death.

iTunes 4.7 – Before they added all the memory-hogging features (videos, album visuals and crash-inducing Gapless Playback) and went corporate on our asses, iTunes was a great, fast, and easy-to-use app, plus ourTunes made filesharing in college that much easier. Do the world a favor and downgrade.

NeoOffice – Mac version of OpenOffice. Hefty, but fewer crashes than my pirated version of Microsoft Office or the free but buggy AbiWord. I also love the Dock icon– it’s a pirate ship!

Seashore – Mac version of Gimp, an open-source Photoshop. Fewer features but faster. It’s got all the basic image editing you’d need, like resizing (Scale) and cropping as a new file (Select, Copy, then New from Pasteboard).

Camino – Mac version of Firefox. Fewer features but faster. I decided to give up Firefox because it’s slow and eats up so much of my memory and my time– I mean, do I REALLY need ten RSS feeds and a weather forecast in my bookmarks bar?

VLC – Can play both music and videos, handles DVDs well and can play lots of things fullscreen (like .avi!). It often crashes for formats it doesn’t support, but that’s often ‘coz the formats are either proprietary (like RealPlayer) or buggy.

Honorable Mention Apps

Celtx – I can’t believe this is free. If you have ever written a screenplay or had an idea for a movie, you’d appreciate how much is packed into this powerhouse of a media pre-production app. The pre-made info fields for songs and characters can be a little too restrictive, esp. for the first-time writer, but if I used this more often it definitely wouldn’t be just an honorable mention.

Books – It’s a database for your books! And you can input info based on ISBN, which is crazy useful because there’s so much crap to fill in. It’s still a little glitchy because it was translated from German (and stubbornly uses Amazon Germany to look up ISBNs no matter what you do), but if you don’t mind looking up books by hand, you’re golden.

mini-apps i like

I define mini-apps as applications that only do one thing, but do that one thing very well.

Big Clock – A large clock that’s handy on laptops for timed presentations, and can be converted to fill the entire screen. Easy to use, but read the ReadMe first.

Rebuild (iPod Shuffle Database Builder) – This was a must for my new Shuffle after not being able to run iTunes 7 on my computer. It lets you drag and drop MP3s into your shuffle (like a detachable drive) and you just have to run the database builder in Terminal. One catch: files with weird characters (like umlauts or any Asian language) won’t be playable, so you have to rename them.

MP3 Trimmer – If your cell phone has Bluetooth and can play polyphonic ringtones, this is a simple app to use. It’s for MP3s only, but you can get around that with a converter.

Keyboard Cleaner – Freezes your keyboard so you can clean it or let your cat pounce on your keys. Sure, you could turn your computer off to do this, but who’s got the time for that?

iPodDisk – Lets your Mac mount your iPod like a disk image, so you can copy files off of someone else’s iPod. All the song names are intact and organized in the same way that they were on the iTunes that the iPod was loaded from.

Tomato Torrent – A BitTorrent client for Macs with the funniest dock icon ever.

AppDelete – An app that deletes apps and all their associated files. No more hunting for random folders and ghost files!

Stuffit Expander – WinZip for Mac. Well, all it does is expand stuff. But I never need to zip anything, anyway.

Battery Health Monitor – A simple capacity monitor made for iBooks and PowerBooks. (According to this app, my battery was supposed to have died years ago…)

Xinema – All it does is allow you to play QuickTime movies fullscreen, but that functionality can save you the $30 you might have wanted to shell out for QuickTime Pro.

honorable mention mini-apps

Caffeine – An app that doesn’t let your computer go to sleep. Useful for watching movies, but in 10.3.9 you have to force quit it from the Activity Monitor.

iClock – It’s a wonderful app– it puts world clock times in your menubar clock’s drop-down menu, plus it has alarm clock functionality with whatever sound file you choose. The catch? It’s $20 to register, and lots of the features get disabled if you haven’t registered. I’ve had it for 800 days and I still have two world times in the menu and the alarm clock. That’s all I needed, so it’s cool. But still– shareware. Ugh.

Fun Apps I Like

Bullet – Lets you shoot up your screen when you’re frustrated, bullet holes and all.

BinClocken – A good-looking binary clock. “Plus, I was drunk when I wrote it.” XD rocks.

Heart Monitor – I like visualizing stuff– I have the activity monitor pie chart perpetually running in my Dock to see how much system memory I’ve got. This heart beats in time to your CPU usage.

Oregon Trail – The original game (I think this is the Deluxe version). You need to start the OS9 emulator to run it, but it plays perfectly once you do.

BigFoot – A pair of feet that walk around your desktop. They sometimes play with the window edges, or with your mouse pointer. The settings are really funny: ‘Walking speed’ goes from Yoda to Michael Johnson, ‘Gregariousness’ goes from Greta Garbo to Charlie Sheen…

Goban – If you like playing go but are too chicken to play other people, this app is fun to try. (I can only beat the computer on a 9×9 board with a two-stone handicap.)

Okay, this was a really long list. I’ll post some other time about awesome 10.3.9 features and web applications that’ll give Google Apps a run for their money. In the meantime, I should probably give you an update on how I totally screwed up and didn’t realize that registration for Paris-Sorbonne for this coming year ended in January. x_x


This is a blog of things place-related, by a cash-strapped Stanford grad who's lived in various places and writes about life. She's currently looking for a job in Manhattan or the Bay Area.

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