The Two Flags of France

Here’s something you might not know… France has two official flags! You’re probably familiar with this flag, often called the Tricolour or Tricolore in French:

Flag of France
(via Wikipedia)

But you might have seen this flag and not even noticed it:

Civil and Naval Ensign of France
(via Wikipedia)

What’s going on here? Why is one flag slightly different?

It all comes down to history, of course. The French Monarchy used a variety of flags over the centuries, but most had some form of blue shield and gold fleur-de-lis on a white background. The traditional colors of the city of Paris are blue and red, and during the French Revolution local militias wore red and blue cockades. Since white is a more “national” color, the Marquis de Lafayette suggested that white be added to the red and blue cockades, and the tricolor motif was born.

The flag of Paris:

Flag of Paris
(via Wikipedia)

Just move the stripes over and add a white one in the middle to create the new French flag.

But not really. The first post-Revolution flag actually had the stripes reversed:

First Flag of France
(via Wikipedia)

This flag was adopted on October 24, 1790, and the colors reversed to the current design on February 15, 1794. Despite this, the Tricolor wasn’t used often. Most commonly, the red flag of the Jacobin Club was flown as a national flag. But one guy really dug the Tricolor, and his name was Napoleon. Throughout his reign, the Tricolor was the official flag of France. But then, in 1815, the Bourbons were restored to power, and they went back to the white flag of old. Or rather, they did, until the July Revolution of 1830. It’s been the official flag of France ever since. In fact, after the overthrow of Napoleon III, the French elected a royalist majority to the National Assembly. The Assembly, in turn, offered the crown to Henri, Count of Chambord. But Henri demanded that the nation switch back to the white Bourbon flag. The French people – given the choice of the flag or a king – chose the flag. And that was the last of the monarchy in France.

But what about the weird flag at the top of this post, the one with the skewed proportions? That’s the naval ensign. Unlike the official flag, with three equal blue, white and red stripes, the naval ensign uses proportions of 30:33:37. Why? When seen at a distance, the proportions look normal, especially if the flag is flapping in the wind. But the thing is, the flags are so similar that they’re often used interchangeably. I’ve heard, for example, that the ensign is often placed behind government officials at press conferences, because the red is more prominent, and looks more like a “French flag” than the regular flag. When standing still, like at an indoor press conference, the red bits sometimes get lost in the folds of the flag, or are below camera level. Using the ensign fixes this.

The Welcome Screen 24 Hour Clock

I once worked in an industry that used the 24-hour clock (“military time”) almost exclusively. While I hated it at first, I’ve grown to love its lack of ambiguity. There is no “7AM” or “7PM” in my world, just “07:00” and “19:00”. I’ve set all my electronic devices to display 24-hour time, and even bought an alarm clock specifically because it can display 24-hour time.

Which is why Windows 10’s Welcome Screen drove me insane. In Windows, most regional settings are handled on a per-user basis. So if my GF and I shared a computer, I could use the 24-hour clock on my account, but she could use the 12-hour clock on her account. But the thing is, when you boot up a Windows 10 computer, no user is logged in. By default (in the United States, anyway) Windows 10 displays the 12-hour clock. It’s hardly the end of the world: I only reboot my computer once a month for updates… but it just nagged at the OCD part of my personality to see “2:34PM” on the Welcome Screen instead of “14:34”.

Can you change that? Of course you can!

Open Control Panel and go to “Region”.

If you haven’t already, use the drop-down boxes to choose the 24-hour clock option under “Short Time:” and “Long Time:” (red arrows) and click “Apply”. Then (or if your computer already uses the 24-hour clock) click on the “Administrative” tab (blue arrow):

Welcome Screen 1
(click to embiggen)

Click the “Copy Settings” button:

Welcome Screen 2
(click to embiggen)

Lastly, check the box under “Welcome Screen and system accounts”. I also read a couple of posts saying to check the “New User Accounts” box, too. Since I’m the only one who uses this computer… why not?

Welcome Screen 3
(click to embiggen)

From here on out, the Welcome Screen should display the 24-hour clock. Hooray!

Plex: Still Sucks

I have a desktop computer in my upstairs office. I have a large HDTV in the downstairs living room. All I’ve ever wanted to do is stream video files from the computer to the TV, under two specific conditions: 1) I didn’t want any kind of “app” running on the desktop PC; and 2) I didn’t want to deal with any kind of “library” feature.

After researching for weeks, I decided on the WDTV Live, because it was the only one that met my two conditions. As to the former, the WDTV Live is the only streaming box that supports SMB. Since I’d already shared my video folder to the local network, all I had to do was configure the WDTV Live for my Wi-Fi network, then click Video > Choose Source > Network Shares > Windows Shares > [My Computer] > Video. As for the latter, the WDTV Live has the ability to search for metadata and create a nice library of my videos. But since all I want to do is watch the video once and then delete or archive it, I like that all I have to do is download a video and make sure it’s in the correct folder: no adding it to (or removing it from) a library… in an app that has to run on my desktop PC 24×7.

I’ve had the WDTV Live for several years now, and the local video portion of the device still works as good as ever. I download a video to my “Videos” folder, and it’s available instantly on the WDTV Live. The device plays almost any type of video file, except for WebM, gifv or flv (none of which are really used for TV shows or movies). DivX or XviD in an avi container, mp4, mkv containers… the WDTV Live seems to play them all.

The WDTV Live also has a variety of streaming apps, too, like Netflix, YouTube, Spotify and others. But Western Digital discontinued the WDTV Live last year, having not updated the firmware some time before that. So many of these apps no longer work. So I have a box that can play any type of locally networked file… but can’t do Netflix, Amazon Instant, Hulu, Spotify, TuneIn or Pandora any more.

I asked for (and received) one of the new(ish) Chromecasts for Christmas. And it works OK, but has a strange bug: my Vizio smart TV loses connection to the device randomly. For 2-5 seconds the screen will go black and say “No Signal”. Sometimes it’ll happen three times in five minutes; other times it’ll only happen once every 2-3 hours. Since my Time Warner DVR and the WDTV Live have never had this problem, I thought the issue might be the Chromecast. So I ordered one of the new Roku Streaming Sticks.

Continue reading Plex: Still Sucks

Moving VirtualBox Machines

I have a client who makes extensive use of virtual machines for a remote office. Back when I set this up (almost a decade ago), I chose Microsoft’s Virtual PC because it was free (and VirtualBox didn’t exist yet). I let Virtual PC put the config files wherever it wanted under AppData, but I kept the VHD files in a folder called C:\VMs (for easy backup purposes).

Well, time passed, and Virtual PC seemed slow and creaky. So I switched the client over to VirtualBox. There was a bit of a learning curve with this: under Virtual PC, for example, I could easily make a copy of a VHD and attach that to a new virtual machine (for a new hire, for instance). You can’t do that in VirtualBox, at least not without getting “UUID already exists” errors. You can reset this from the command-line but… eh.

In VirtualBox, the easiest way to duplicate a virtual machine is to open the management console, right-click on an existing virtual machine and choose “Clone”. You can then choose a name for the new virtual machine, and an exact duplicate will be made. Only problem is, in my case, the new hard drive will be located in c:\users\[user]\Virtualbox VMs\[new VM name] instead of C:\VMs.

Of course, I could easily just edit the backup script to include the new location. But I like having all the virtual hard drives in one location. So how can you move the virtual hard drive?

For starters, make sure the virtual machine in question is powered off. Then click File > Virtual Media Manager. Right-click on the new hard drive you just created and click “Remove”. Click “Close”, then move the VDI\VHD to its new location. Back in the VirtualBox manager, right-click on the virtual machine and choose “Settings”. Choose “Storage”, then, under “Storage Tree”, click the “Add Hard Drive” icon (the one with a tiny hard drive and a + symbol). Then choose the VDI\VHD file you just moved. OK and close out of everything, and you should be good to go!

DOWNLOAD: Steelers 2016-17 Schedule!

The NFL released the official 2016-17 schedule today, and for the 14th straight year, I’ve got your Pittsburgh Steelers schedule ready to go!

There are a couple of very minor changes. I dropped “for Outlook” from the “branding”, since the calendar works with Outlook, Yahoo! Mail, Gmail, iOS devices, and more. I also switched from “at” to the more traditional “vs” in the schedule. So instead of “Cleveland Browns at Pittsburgh Steelers”, it now says “Cleveland Browns vs. Pittsburgh Steelers”. I also continued putting asterisks next to (the many!) flex games this season.

The schedule is packaged in a single ZIP file. Please make sure to import the correct version into your calendaring software:

steelers_2016.csv is the Steelers schedule only, for Outlook\Yahoo!
steelers_2016.ics is the Steelers schedule only, for Gmail\iOS
steelers_nfl_2016.csv is the Steelers schedule and the NFL playoffs, for Outlook\Yahoo!
steelers_nfl_2016.ics is the Steelers schedule and the NFL playoffs, for Gmail\iOS

Click below to download:

Pittsburgh Steelers 2016-2017 Schedule

For more information (including complete instructions), click the “Continue Reading” link below!

Continue reading DOWNLOAD: Steelers 2016-17 Schedule!

One GREAT Mega Feature

You may have heard of Mega, a cloud storage service started by notorious hacker-turned-entrepreneur\wanted fugitive Kim Dotcom (Dotcom has since left the company).

Mega offers 50GB of storage space for free accounts, and also has a “MEGAsync” app for computers that synchronizes the cloud data to your local computer (like the Dropbox or OneDrive desktop apps). Like those services, Mega also has apps for Android and iOS that let you access your cloud drive anywhere, and also automatically upload photos taken with mobile devices to your cloud account.

One thing the Mega app does that no other mobile app does is… give you the option of keeping your photos’ original filenames. This may sound trivial, but it’s not. Here’s why:

Dropbox renames all the pictures you upload, and (last time I checked) it doesn’t give you the option to disable this. Dropbox’s official reason for doing this is because some devices name your pictures sequentially, as in IMG_01.JPG, IMG_02.JPG, IMG_03.JPG and so on. So if your software were to update, or if you upgraded your SD card, or if you got a replacement phone, the numbering might restart at IMG_01.JPG, causing problems for Dropbox. By renaming the pictures, Dropbox avoids this problem.

Which is great… until you want to manually back up your pictures. You attach your phone to your computer via USB, open the SD card via Explorer, and drag the photos to your Camera Uploads folder… instantly creating a giant mess of duplicates, because your computer doesn’t know that IMG_1234.JPG and 2015-06-25 17.34.10.JPG are the same picture. This is especially annoying if your mobile device already names pictures like Dropbox does, but does it just a bit differently. Because again, your computer doesn’t know that 2015-06-25 17.34.10.JPG (Dropbox) and 2015.06.25.173410.JPG (LG phone) is the same photograph.

Which is what makes Mega’s app so cool. Just open the app, go to Settings and scroll down to the Camera Uploads section:

Mega Photo Name Option
(click to embiggen)

Problem solved! The next time you want to manually back up your pictures, Windows will warn you about duplicates!

Crock Pot Blackeyed Peas

I know this isn’t much of a “recipe”.. but I had these at a family potluck a few weeks ago and have made them TWICE since!

Software

1 16oz. bag dried blackeyed peas
3 packets Goya Ham Flavor Concentrate
Non-stick spray

Hardware

1 paper plate (see below)
1 mesh strainer (see below)
1 large spoon
1 Crock Pot

1) Go through the peas and remove any deformed peas or debris like pebbles or twigs. I pour about a quarter of the bag onto a paper plate, go through them, dump them into a mesh strainer, then repeat with remaining peas until done. But that’s just me.

2) Once you’ve gone through all the peas, rinse them thoroughly in a mesh strainer or colander.

3) Spray the inside of a Crock Pot with non-stick spray, then dump the peas in. Fill with water until the peas are covered by approximately 2 inches of water.

4) Add the three packs of Goya seasoning, then stir well to dissolve.

5) Cook on HIGH for two hours. Every so often check that the water level is OK, and add more if necessary. Give them a stir around once an hour.

6) After two hours, taste them. You may find them a bit too hard for your liking; if so, continue cooking for another hour or so, until done. If they’re close to being done, turn the heat down to LOW and cook for an additional 30 minutes or so.

We usually eat around 6:00 at my house, so I start these around 3:30. By 5:00 they’re nearly done, so I turn the heat down to LOW and let them go for around another 30-40 minutes before eating.