Property Assessment

Several years ago Dekalb County voters passed a freeze on property value assessments. So since that took effect, my house and land have had the same assessed value each year. Since the crash of 2008, however, property values have gone down, even in my snooty neighborhood and the freeze was only supposed to stop increases in assessments, not decreases. But this has never been reflected in my assessment, which has remained frozen . . . until this year. I got a notice last week that the value of my house and land has dropped 31.6%. The last time the assessment changed was back in 2006. The oldest form I could find was 2001, and the new value is 17.6% lower than that.

Wikia

When I started the Flashlight Wiki (now getting 100-200 visits a day), one of the sites that would turn up when I searched for “flashlight wiki” was a flashlight wiki on wikia.com. I had read an article about Wikia that it was a for-profit version of Wikipedia with fewer rules about subject matter. It is a good place for fans of TV shows, video games, etc. to go into endless detail about a subject, which Wikipedia would not allow.

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CHDK

Today on one of the flashlight discussion areas, a guy had taken some macro photos of a flashlight he had taken apart. Someone said that if he used a Canon camera, he should use CHDK, which allows you to create RAW images and add a lot of features to your camera. Well, I have a Canon camera. And one of the things I would really like for it to do when I’m taking pictures of flashlight beams (shining them on a wall to see what tint, brightness, and beam pattern you get) is to turn off the automatic white balancing that the camera does. If I have a flashlight with a cool white, bluish beam, the camera will reduce the blue color and make it look more white. If the flashlight has a warmer, more orange, tint, the camera changes it to make it more white. So I end up with two pictures that look the same even though the tints are very different. I can shine both lights at the wall, which helps some, but often the camera will exaggerate the differences, especially if the tints are fairly close. So I’d like to be able to turn that off, but the only way I can figure to do that is some process where you take a picture of something that is totally white in order to set your own white balance. And I don’t know if that is stored or if you have to do that every time you want to take a picture.

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Master Password

One nice feature of Firefox that I started using on my laptop (I had been using Sea Monkey as my browser on my desktop until this week when I finally switched to Firefox) is the master password which you enter once and then it will keep track of all the different usernames and passwords for most sites that have them. The problem with the master password is that a lot of times I leave the browser open and then the computer goes to sleep and I don’t think about it anymore. Now if anyone were to break into the house, all they would need to do is open my computer (I don’t have a Windows password) and they could get into all of those sites if I had left the browser open. Most of the really secure sites don’t work with the master password, but it works on enough sites that I wouldn’t want someone to be able to do that.

So I thought it would be good if the master password would expire or time out after some amount of time, but there doesn’t seem to be an option for that in Firefox. A search found an extension that will do this, but just a little more digging found that Firefox can do this on its own through some config settings. I didn’t even know about config settings, but you can get to them by typing “about:config” in the URL bar.

Once that page opens you have a long list of settings. There is one setting called “security:ask_for_password” that is the master setting. If you set it to a value of 2, then you enable the password timeout. Then you can go to another config setting called “security:password_lifetime” and change it to the number of minutes you want the master password to work. The default is 30 minutes, which I figured wasn’t enough, so I changed it to 150 minutes. I don’t usually use the laptop in the morning, so by the time I leave the house it has been 8 or more hours since the laptop was in use. With 150 minutes, I might only need to enter that once at night and it will stay good. It’s easy enough to change later.

Solarforce L2i

Today Grant and Mom and got flashlights. These are not just any flashlights, but take a lot of great features from a number of different sources. The flashlight is a Solarforce L2i. People absolutely rave about how great a light the Solarforce L2i is, and I will explain more about them later, but one nice thing is that it is a P60 host meaning it takes a standard reflector and bulb combination that is easy to switch out if you want to upgrade the flashlight. And unlike most P60 hosts, this one uses standard AAA batteries. So Mom and Grant also got some of the best AAA rechargeable batteries available: Duracell precharged with white tops that are made in Japan. These batteries are thought to the be the same thing as Eneloop batteries which are the best. What makes them great is that, unlike normal rechargeable batteries, these don’t lose their charge very quickly sitting around waiting to be used. While a typical battery might lose 50% of its charge in a couple of months, these batteries will only lost 15% of their charge in a year. So the flashlight will be ready to go whenever it is needed. But because the flashlight uses 3 batteries and most battery chargers only charge batteries in pairs, they also got a Sony Cycle Energy charger that charges the batteries individually. I have been very impressed with this simple and compact charger that does everything right. There are very few chargers out there that will properly charge batteries by using an acceptable current, cutting off when the battery is full, rejecting bad batteries, while charging batteries individually and without a trickle charge.

solarforce-l2i.jpg

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Battlestar Galactica

For the last couple of years, I have been watching episodes of Battlestar Galactica on my Palm and then iPod. This isn’t the series from the 70’s with Lorne Greene, but the newer version that started in 2004 on the SciFi channel (now just SyFy). But the basic plot was the same in that robot Cyclons wipe out the human race except for a few spaceships full of people, led by a military spaceship called, the Battlestar Galactica, who all go searching for Earth which many think might just be a myth. I finally finished it up this week (I won’t tell you how it ends).

The series is a lot darker than the original. And they did make some significant changes, like some of the hotshot fighter pilots are now women and in addition to classic robotic cylons, there are humanoid versions that look like regular people (except better looking generally). The humans dismissively call the Cylons “toasters” or “skinjobs.” One of the hooks is that even though the Cylons have this great technology to make robots that look exactly like people, they only have a limited number of molds, so a lot of the Cylons look just alike. This is good for the actors because they can get killed and one of their copies can still show up in the show. Speaking of copies, one of the actors from the original series (Richard Hatch, who played Lorne Greene’s son, Apollo) got a minor, but recurring role in the new series.

Anyway, the original series only lasted one season, but the new one got a lot of acclaim for an original cable series and lasted four seasons. It is produced by a guy who worked on several of the Star Trek TV series sequels that started in the 90’s. There are a lot of neat sci-fi twists and even religious storylines (the humans believe in multiple gods, and it turns out the Cyclons believe there is only one God).

Honestly, the series wasn’t always that great. I thought they made some of the characters do kind of stupid things in order to make certain plotlines work. It was still worth watching though, all the way to the end when either the humans are wiped out by the Cylons, find Earth, or none of the above. But it certainly had a lot of neat ideas and concepts in it. And the cast was large enough, not even counting the duplicates, that there was always a lot going on. And the nice thing is it didn’t overstay its welcome like some shows (Lost).