Category Archives: Personal

All about me and stuff I care about

Tablet Time Warp

Just over two years ago, I bought a Motorola Xoom tablet. It had been the top Android tablet of 2011, which is damning with faint praise. But, it was $600 for the Wifi-only model or $800 for the 3G model when it was released. I got the 3G model but never used the 3G part of it, and only paid $200 18 months after it was released. Needless to say, it did not do well in the market of the time. This month, I splurged and got myself an Nvidia Shield tablet. This is at the top of the Android tablet market for 2014, so it seems a good comparison can be made about the progress of Android in the tablet space over the past three-plus years. It’s a mixed bag, to be sure.

The first thing you notice about a tablet when you pick it up is how it feels in your hand. The Xoom weighs 730 grams (over 1.5 pounds), while the Shield weighs 390 grams (less than one pound). The Shield is so lightweight, I’m constantly amazed at how much it can do. Of course, the reviews talk about the Shield as being heavy, so apparently less-powerful tablets are lighter. But, the Shield can play Half-Life 2 and Portal! Besides weight, there are other physical aspects of the tablets that strike me. The Xoom feels like a tank. Its body is primarily metal, with a plastic strip to expose the various antennas. The Shield feels delicate. It’s all-plastic, and my first one had a crack when I took it out of the package (RMA time!). For this reason, I’ve ordered a hybrid shock-absorbing hard case for the Shield. If I’m going to be using it to take credit card orders at craft shows, I want it to be protected.

Once you get the thing in your hand, you’ll turn it on. The Xoom has a 1280×800 screen (160 ppi) that can be described as adequate. Colors are a little washed out, and viewing angles are not bad. The Shield’s 1920×1200 screen (293 ppi) is really nice. It’s only 8 inches, instead of the Xoom’s 10 inches, and so it squeezes a lot of pixels into a small space. The tablets with even higher resolution might be just chasing specs, since this has no visible pixels at normal viewing distances. The colors don’t shift, the blacks are blacker, and the whole feeling is just nicer. Even though it’s 2 inches smaller, I can read pages at least as easily on the Shield as the Xoom. It does seem that both screens are a bit dim, so sunlight is a tough place to use them.

Both devices also have stereo speakers, but the Xoom has them facing away from the user for reasons that remain inexplicable. The Shield gets loud and the speakers face front. Both devices have 32GB of storage, which is mystifying. Do modern manufacturers not understand how truly large some programs are getting? Thankfully, both also have Micro SD card slots, and the Shield supports moving apps to the card as well as content. The Xoom has 1GB of RAM, and the Shield has 2 GB. Some other high end tablets are shipping with 3 GB, but 2 is probably plenty for the foreseeable future.

What about power? Whooboy, have things changed in the performance realm. Xoom and Shield both use Nvidia Tegra chips. The Xoom is a Tegra 2, a dual-core 1Ghz CPU with a 400Mhz GeForce GPU. It was quite a nice piece of kit for 2011, but programmers have been expanding the capabilities of Android apps and Google’s own services since then. It’s feeling pretty sluggish today, with pauses and hiccups aplenty. The Shield SOC is the Tegra K1 32-bit variant. This has a quad-core 2.2Ghz CPU with a Kepler-class GPU. Overall, the power of the K1 is in the same ballpark as an Xbox 360 (which came out in 2005, so don’t get too excited). Benchmarks are phenomenally different between the two systems – Xoom gets an Antutu score of 5000, Shield is over 40,000. 3dmark Icestorm on the Xoom gets 1290, but 31500 on the Shield.

But, what about daily usage? That’s where things get frustrating. In 2012, I was struck by how frequently I ran into portrait-only apps on Android. I have not seen a huge increase in non-Google apps that use the landscape orientation, other than games. In fact, some apps which did work on the Xoom in landscape last year were updated to be portrait-only this year. TiVo is a big offender here. It was late bringing out an Android version to begin with, then it produced two – one for phones and one for tablets. Earlier this year, they merged the two, but dropped support for landscape mode and dropped support for the older app as well. In fact, loading the app which worked just fine would cause it to immediately close with the message that you needed to get the new one, regardless of the fact that the new one didn’t bloody well work on the device. So I ended up with no TiVo-branded app on my Xoom. There are a number of apps which work in landscape on the Xoom but force the Shield into portrait mode. Apparently the programmers figured the smaller screen meant, “treat it like a big phone.” For some reason, the popular casual games Simpsons Tapped Out and Family Guy Quest for Stuff are buggy as heck on the Shield, but work just fine on the Xoom. I’ll be generous and give them some time to fix them, but the Shield did come out in July.

Even Google’s own apps are not perfect when it comes to landscape mode. The Google Inbox program (which is starting to grow on me) works in landscape, but doesn’t make very good use of the extra width. Worse, it forces you to perform the quick setup steps in portrait mode. If even El Goog doesn’t care enough about landscape to allow their programs to work exclusively in that orientation, the likelihood of anyone else supporting it enthusiastically is pretty low.

Overall, I’m pretty happy with my Shield. I got it during the Black Friday promo, so it came with not just Trine 2, but Half-Life 2, Portal, Half-Life 2 Episode 1 (upcoming), and the Shield Controller. The controller makes the smaller screen less cramped for games that support it, that’s for sure. That I can play Portal or some very impressive racing games on a device that weighs less than a pound is just amazing. That it cost half what the Xoom did less than four years earlier is really a testament to Moore’s Law.

KARE Crafts on Etsy

I recently started selling paracord crafts on Etsy, to support Kat’s animal rehab work. If you’re not comfortable emailing me or contacting me via Facebook message for custom work, you can hit up the Etsy site for more structure.

We could really use the support right now. The sales we’ve made so far this year have not covered all our animal rehab expenses, and this weekend Kat’s truck got wrecked by someone running a red light. I’ll work my fingers to the bone to create all the leashes and collars and other crafts you order; I’ve got plenty of cord and supplies, and a budget shortfall that was not anticipated.

Thank you, and the squirrels thank you.

Dear Abby

There are a number of media personalities who define an era. Those of us in Generation X grew up with a few TV networks and a relative conformity in popular culture until the late 1980s. This led to a few names being instantly recognizable, even if they were originally marketed to our parents and not to us. This was, after all, before the rise of child-centered life in America, when we were expected to be seen and not heard and did not get a veto over things in the home. It seems the icons of the Boomer generation are almost all gone now, and so the comfortable feeling of Gen X childhood memories are tainted as well.

My mother has always been a reader, and the books I read when I was a kid (at least between library visits) were frequently hers. Thus, I became a fan of Erma Bombeck, one of the great humorists of the 1970s and 1980s, who could be considered a precursor to the “mommy blogger” phenomenon of today. Erma died far too young in 1996, but I still remember the cover art for “The Grass is Always Greener Over the Septic Tank.”

In the days of the Fairness Doctrine, talk radio was not nearly as pervasive and fragmented as it is today. One voice that everyone knew was Paul Harvey. When I attended a broadcast journalism class in the early 1980s, we put together a television news and commentary show. I chose to use the persona of Saul Garvey, which I thought was clever at the time. Paul Harvey died in 2001. And that’s the rest of the story.

We didn’t always have cameras following our every move in public, and we certainly didn’t have YouTube to share our private moments of embarrassment or inadvertent comedy. From 1948 until 1993, we got our dose of schadenfreude from Allen Funt and “Candid Camera.” Rarely mean-spirited, the pranks were hilarious and rather obvious to our older, jaded eyes today. Allen Funt died in 1999. I like to think he was smiling, and in on the joke.

This week, another of the great figures of the latter half of the 20th Century left us. Abigail van Buren was the woman everyone looked to for advice from 1956 until 2002. With wit and empathy, she made us all feel that she could be trusted with any secrets. Pauline Phillips died in 2013. Sadly, she was suffering from Alzheimer’s and was unlikely to be very much like her old self, but we can remember her wit, and her daughter continues the column with some inherited awesomeness.

I don’t think the younger generations will ever know the monolithic nature of popular culture we lived with before 100 channels of television and high-speed internet came along. We have so many more choices today than we did twenty years ago, not to mention the dark ages of the 1970s. Choices are great, and I love the options we have today. But, will there ever again be someone who is going to be remembered as such a pervasive part of everyday life as Dear Abby?

They Grow Up So…well, eventually

The Boy really surprised me this Father’s Day. Part one of the surprise is that he actually remembered the day, although that may be thanks to Kat. The next part of the surprise is how nice a gift he got me. It was relevant and not cheap (Calphalon bakeware to replace some of the cheaper things banging around in the kitchen). Finally, we were at the local media store (books are such a small part of their stock) and he ran off to buy a t-shirt. He used that t-shirt to wrap the pans! Not only generous, but ingenious as well. And the shirt was Doctor Who themed, so bonus points there.

All around, I could not have asked for a better recognition that I’ve got some sort of place in his heart. Maybe this parenting stuff is working after all.

Everybody’s Special

Seeing as many birthday parties as I do (helping Kat at her job), it’s obvious things are different from When I Was A Kid. The new kid order is further highlighted by the end of the school year, which I’ll get to in a moment. First, parties.

Back when I was a kid, the only one who left a birthday party with anything other than cake in their belly was the birthday kid. I don’t know when it changed, but by the time Alex was attending birthday parties, the gift bag culture had developed. If you didn’t hand out candy and toys to the guests at a party, good luck getting your kid invited to anyone else’s. Are we teaching kids that even on a day when one kid is rightfully the center of attention, everyone is still Special?

When I was a kid, the only graduation ceremony you had (before college) was when you got a diploma after 12th grade. That is graduating. Any graduation that ends with, “See you in the fall” is not much of a graduation. I understand marking major events in a child’s life, but when Alex “graduated” from kindergarten, I don’t think he nor his classmates gave a damn about it. The whole thing was for the parents to prove their kid is Special. When he “graduated” from elementary school a year ago, I’m pretty sure the kids didn’t care much either. The boys seemed uncomfortable in their nice clothes, but otherwise they acted like it was just another day. Which it was!

I suppose in two years, he’ll “graduate” from middle school. It still won’t mean much to him, nor should it. Why have we started doing this? If your child doesn’t know how much you appreciate him on a regular basis, if your child doesn’t know how much you love him every day, do you really think a silly ceremony is going to make him feel Special? It seems like we’d be better off celebrating our kids’ individual (or team) achievements when they happen, rather than just wrapping up the year with one big ceremony. It seems to be an admission that we don’t have time to recognize actual accomplishments if we recognize “not being held back a grade” as worthy of a ceremony. When everyone is special, nobody is.

Tivo vs. MythTV

It’s been over a month since my MythTV DVR committed suicide and I replaced it with a Tivo from my cable company. I think I’ve explored the features enough to be able to deliver a decent comparison of the two. Overall, I think I’d be very satisfied with a Tivo if I’d never used MythTV. Let me go into some more detail.

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We’ve Come a Long Way

Every so often, an event reminds me of the rapidly changing face of technology. I was reading a review of Gnome Shell this morning, and of course there’s the never-ending stream of iPad news this month…but the trigger for me this week was the purchase of a terabyte hard drive and being upset that it cost over $100. Coincidentally, it’s almost exactly 20 years since I got my first Windows PC. Let me take a look at how far I’ve come from that old CompUSA 486 to my current machine, which I call Ralf (the Wise and Powerful).

My desktop computer now has 2.5 terabytes of fixed disk storage and 1.5 terabytes of external storage. The 486 had 120 megabytes, so I’ve got twenty thousand times more storage space. The single-core 486 had a 33 megahertz clock, and Ralf has 3.0 gigahertz quad-core chip – 90 times the clock speed and at least five hundred times the computer power (bogomips of around 800 times greater).

While the 486 had 4 megabytes of RAM, Ralf has 12 gigabytes – three thousand times more memory. In 1992, I was glad to have a 14″ monitor, with the impressive resolution of 800×600 with 16-bit color; my 24″ LCD has 1920×1080 resolution and 32-bit color – five times the number of pixels and ten times the video bandwidth.

One of the most influential games of 1992 was Dune II – the first realtime strategy game to become a hit and the precursor to Warcraft. 2012 is barely begun, but it’s hard not to think of Mass Effect 3 as being a big deal on the PC.

Wow, have we come a long way in twenty years.
Also on my desk, I have a Chumby One. The Chumby has a 454 megahertz processor, 64 megabytes of RAM, 1 gigabyte of storage, and a 320×240 touchscreen. Except for the screen resolution, the Chumby beats the 486 by leaps and bounds – it cost me 45 bucks.

Playlist for Life

I was thinking about playlists (formerly known as mixtapes) the other day and decided to make one that involves songs which evoke a particular location or event. Since this set of criteria is so loose as to allow a playlist of thousands of songs, I set myself some rather arbitrary limits. It had to fit on a standard audio CD (74 minutes) and each song had to be specific to a particular location/time and only one song per location/time. So, although high school is four years long, it gets one song. I went to Korea three times for a total of four years, so that’s three songs (one per trip). I also decided that any trip of less than two months didn’t count. So, no song for BNCOC or CEWIOC or business trips. Here’s the 57 minutes I ended up with; commentary follows:

Doug E Fresh La Di Da Di
Living Colour Cult of Personality
Violent Femmes Blister in the Sun
Faith No More Epic
Ministry Everyday Is Halloween
Divinyls I Touch Myself
Ace of Base The Sign
Soundgarden Black Hole Sun
Los Del Rio Macarena (Bayside Boys Mix)
Smash Mouth Walkin’ On The Sun
Kid Rock Bawitdaba
Transplants Diamonds and Guns
Evanescence Bring Me To Life
The Waterboys When Will We Be Married?

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Adventures in Customer Service H&D

I’ve been wary about ordering from Harry & David since their bankruptcy last year, but finally could stand the lack of Moose Munch no longer. The local Target used to carry a nice array of H&D products, but I presume the bankruptcy is to blame for the disappearance of my beloved popcornd and chocolate snack.

Using my mother’s birthday as an excuse to treat myself (hey, I was already ordering from them anyway!), I picked out four flavors of yummy goodness and awaited the mail delivery. Opening the package, I couldn’t help but wonder if my fingers were working without conscious thought on ordering day. Why would I have nothing but milk chocolate products? Why did I have two of the same one? This can’t be right… I hit the email archive to see what I’d actually ordered, and I wasn’t crazy – Harry & David screwed up my order. *sigh*

After alerting them, I got an email two days later (which is an eternity in internet time, but they are primarily a fruit delivery company so we must make allowances) which told me they were shipping me the correct set and to please keep the wrong order as well.

So, that worked. I’m still wary of post-bankruptcy H&D, but at least I got some extra confection out of the deal. Oh, and their S’Mores flavor is really good.

Veterans Day 2011

Originally a memorial for the losses and celebration of the overall victory of World War I (somewhat erroneously called The War to End All Wars), amended later as, “a day to be dedicated to the cause of world peace,” Veterans Day is not the same somber commemoration as Memorial Day. Never ignoring the sacrifices of those who fell in battle, it is a somewhat melancholy celebration of our servicemembers.

I had a great discussion at work this week with one of the Air Force folks I work with, ranging from the importance of the civilian leadership of the military and the intelligent employment of our forces. We agreed that it’s a shame so few of our elected representatives are veterans, as having a background other than international finance might be helpful when dealing with the pointy end of the stick.

I continue to be impressed by the active duty folks that I deal with on a daily basis. This all-volunteer force has had a great deal asked of it in the ten years since I got out of the service, some things a great deal less productive than others. The geopolitical situation has changed greatly and rapidly, and our servicemembers have been forced to adapt just as rapidly.

TS91_Full Team.JPGEveryone who has worn the uniform knew they could be asked to do things and go places where survival may be unlikely. We need to respect that willingness to sacrifice to support the policies of the United States, and we need to hope we don’t ask them to do so unnecessarily. “Support the troops” is a lot more complex than just “war is good” – remember that and maybe the hope that today is dedicated to world peace won’t be in vain.

Three Years

Yesterday marked three years since Kat and I got married. It’s been a pretty damned good three years, and shows no evidence of that changing. For ineffable reasons, the lovely lady decided to celebrate our anniversary by going camping. This surprised me, as I’m pretty sure I’ve spoken before about the relative ambivalence toward anything which resembled going back to a tactical Army mode.

Fortunately, she was smart enough to rent a cabin with air conditioning and a refrigerator and bed. Calling this “camping” may be a bit of a misnomer, but it was a great evening. Kat got to sit around a campfire for the first time in her life, as well as make her first s’more. We saw a porcupine shuffling across a field, were serenaded by mockingbirds, and went on a 2.5 mile hike. I also discovered that match-light charcoal is a much better fire base than crumpled paper and small twigs leading to larger twigs blah blah blah. Sure, it’s cheating – so are matches to some purists.  :-)

We exchanged gifts, which comprised a rather large number of books for me. Yay for books! And now I’m spending the day chilling at home, ready for Year Four. I love you, Kat!

Story Ideas

I need some inspiration for GearDiary posts. I started writing for Judie back in May, but I can’t come up with a huge number of ideas. The first few posts were a mish-mash of reviewing my watch, talking about geocaching, a how-to on getting free blogs on your Kindle, and a series of reviews about open-source media catalog/player software. I recently wrote an op/ed piece about the coming “impulse buy” era of ereaders.

But, since I am a poor person who does not have every new gadget to review (anyone who wishes to send me free stuff, I will happily review it), I run into stumpers of what to write that hasn’t been done to death by every other gadget geek out there. It’s the rare day that I come up with something insightful or interesting that Gizmodo, Engadget, Techcrunch or someone else hasn’t already beaten to death. To be fair, those people are actually paid full-time gadget geeks and people send them information leaks and new toys.

So, any ideas on geeky topics that I might write about? I’d write about building my own DVR, but since the advent of HDTV (another technology I do not possess), my experience is no longer all that relevant. What to do, what to do…

Kochu what now?

After finding great success with the BLT & watermelon salad last week, I decided to go old skool, back to my days in the land of the not-quite-right. Like gang jung, some things may be better left in the memory.

Pulled out the kochujang and tri-tip last night, and produced a meal of bulgogi, be kimchi, and pa jun (I hate Romanized Korean – it’s always just a little off). Alex, the boy who claims to love spicy food, found the kimchi too spicy to consider seconds. Kat declared the tri-tip to be a wonderful cut of meat and it should in the future be served with some potatoes and maybe a side of green beans. She also found the pa jun to be not her style – something about steak and eggs not being cool with her or something.

I guess that’s the end of Korean side dishes; the bulgogi was a hit, of course.

Email is not foolproof

The USAF continues to rely far too much on email for communication, and continues to trust that sending an email is the perfect all-encompassing method of disseminating info with no possibility of failure.

Many years ago, when I was in the Army on this same Air Force base, a zoomie LT thought that a lack of getting a “reply receipt” from an email she sent was insubordinate and got very angry that I was, “deleting without reading” her emails. Of course, I was doing no such thing; Outlook at the time didn’t send a return receipt for previewing a message, and that’s how I read her missives (which didn’t apply to me in the Army anyway, but so much for logic).

Fast forward to 2011. The refrigerator is down the hall from my office, and I keep my sodas there. The fridge is in a common area, and there is a bulletin board right next to it. Imagine my surprise when my sodas were thrown away today. A sane person would have put the sodas aside, if cleaning out the fridge. They aren’t likely to spoil, after all. When I inquired, I was told that “everyone” was informed about the coming fridge purge, so wah (or something equivalent).

Obviously, I was not informed. The building manager sends an email to the squadron secretary, who sends it to everyone in the squadron. I am not in the squadron, but I had myself added to the squadron email list last year due to the necessity to stay abreast of issues in this building, and there is no email list for residents of the building. I apparently got booted out of the squadron email list sometime in the past (who knows how long ago, as I rarely care about USAF business and maybe I was just relieved at the lack of spam I didn’t care about). So, no notice for me, but complete notification to everyone in the building in the mind of the manager.

So…am I a crazy person for thinking, in addition to an email, a sign or note or post-it on the fridge or near it would have been a normal thing to do? I’m simple, apparently.

Broken car

Drivable?

This morning, I headed out the door to go to work, and noticed a distinct lack of car parked behind the truck.  Since I remember leaving a car there, this was somewhat surprising. After the fun of dealing with the most humorless police officer ever, we eventually found that the car had been found even before we reported it stolen. The police said they thought the car might be drivable, but they were going to take it to the impound lot to await all the legal stuff. I question the perceptiveness of whichever cop said this might be drivable. There are only two tires!
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Fake Big Mac

Once again, my imaginary friend Kenji has inspired yet another winning meal. If nothing else, he was able to produce a great recipe for the “Secret” sauce for a Big Mac. We only had larger sesame seed buns (there was no way I was going to glue hundreds of seeds to smaller buns), and thus we made 1/6 lb patties instead of 1/10 lb micropatties. Overall, a great success. Who knew that nuking onions on low for ten minutes made them mild? Yay Kenji!

Day of the Moon

What is up with Steven Moffat and his “arc-y” approach to the Doctor Who series? Although billed as the conclusion of a two-parter, “Day of the Moon” still managed to sneak in a giant hanging cliffhangery wobbly thing.

I love the Silents as the monsters, the whole Rory/Amy/Doctor triad, and the idea that Rory can sort of remember the previous reality where he was made of plastic. That’s about as far as I can go without giving away any major spoilers, but this is a great way to kick of the new season. Woohoo!