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.

Continue reading Tivo vs. MythTV

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?

Continue reading Playlist for Life

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!

Time-shifting and place-shifting

The demise of soap operas (of which I was never a huge fan anyway) prompted me to write a rather long-winded piece recently, wherein I decided that DVRs were the final nail in the coffin of long-form serialized daytime dramatic television. Since then, I’ve been thinking a bit more about the disruptive technologies of the recent past and how my childhood differed from my son’s. I was interrupted in this reverie by a phone call, which ended up serving as a perfect example of the major differences.

Caller ID (didn’t exist for my childhood) showed me that The Boy was calling from a friend’s phone. The Boy requested that I bring him a particular toy from his bedroom. I wandered down the hall on my cordless phone (didn’t have that when I was a kid), and found the toy. I said to the child, “You’re at Friend’s house then?” Oh, no – they were at the park. And there went another piece of the implied landscape of my youth – a phone belonged to a location, not a person, when I was a kid.

We had a phone for the family, not for each member of it. We called people at home, and expected the person answering the phone to not necessarily be the person we were going to converse with. This seems to affect telephone etiquette, or my son’s peers are all just clueless gits. I presume the former, out of generosity. When I answer the phone when one of The Boy’s friends calls, it is almost painful to get out of them anything like a coherent statement. You know the kind we were taught to use as kids; something along the lines of, “Hello, this is Gary, I’m calling for James.” What I get now is some sputtering where, if I’m lucky, I’ll be able to pick out the name of the child calling me. More often, it’s incomprehensible or a demand to speak to The Boy, with nothing like an introductory preamble. I’m convinced that all of his friends have their own personal phones now, so they just know to start talking when they answer. *Ring Ring* Look at phone, see it is James. Hey, James, what’s up?  That sort of thing is so completely foreign to us old geezers, even if we are cell phone users. Think about it, how many times do you know who is calling you, and yet the person still goes through the (now old-fashioned) introduction? I predict that the “Hello” when answering the phone may eventually die out entirely, as nobody needs to just answer as if they don’t know who is calling them.

Meanwhile, people talk on the phone an awful lot more than we did. If you were lucky enough to not have siblings screaming at you for their turn, you might be able to have a half-hour conversation on the phone in the 1980s. That was probably all you’d get for a day or more. It’s not that we didn’t have more to say, we just got tired of sitting in the one room where we had a phone for so long. Now that phones are completely untethered from a wall, much less the house itself, why ever stop talking? And so we have people who stick their phones to their heads the moment they are no longer prohibited from doing so. Hey lady, just do the grocery shopping, stop discussing your latest sexual conquest at HEB, huh?

As everyone from Ogg the Caveman until the end of humanity notes, Things Are Different Now. Listening to the Skeptics Guide to the Universe recently, the youngest member of the crew had no idea what “F Troop” was. Nearly everyone from my generation and before knew the same television (and radio prior to TV) shows as everyone else in their generation. After all, we only had three channels. Shoot, even PBS has only existed since 1970, and for most of its early existence was consigned to the UHF dead zone.

So, we all watched Gilligan’s Island when we came home from school, oblivious to the fact that the show had been cancelled before we were even born. We knew all the characters in the Addams Family, which also ended four years before my birth. Such was the nature of the highly-syndicated rerun system of 1970s afternoon television, in the days before cable.

In pursuit of the desire for more options in entertainment and technology, we seem to have lost most of our generational shared experiences. Just about the only thing that seems to remain is popular music. Whether you like the songs or not, if you’re remotely aware of the outside world, you’ve probably heard Cee-Lo’s F You, or Pink’s F-ing Perfect, or Enrique Iglesias’s Tonight (I’m F-ing You). Yeah, I chose those examples because of my amusement at how far we’ve come in pop music. Not that any of those three actually has the F word in the radio version of the song, but what the heck?

If you ask someone born around 1940 what they remember from their childhood, many of them would reference “Fibber McGee and Molly” on the radio, listening to Bo Diddley and Elvis, and the films of Hitchock or stars like Cary Grant, and of course Sputnik and Apollo. When you ask someone born around 1970 what they remember from their childhood, you’ll get references to “The Brady Bunch;” listening to Joan Jett,  Johnny Cougar (neé Mellencamp), Madonna, and Michael Jackson; movies like Star Wars, ET, and the Breakfast Club; and the space shuttle (first launch and the first explosion). When kids today look back in nostalgia at the early 21st Century, will any significant percentage be thinking of the same things? Will the customized nature of modern society mean the end of common experiences? And is that even a bad thing anyway?

Predictions from 2010

Last year, I made a set of predictions for 2010. Let’s see how badly I did this year.

  1. I assumed tablet PCs would remain a niche nobody had heard of. Assuming you count the iPad as a tablet PC (I don’t), this is obviously false. Less obviously, everyone has at this point at least considered a tablet PC. I’m counting this as a miss, but with the caveat that tablet PCs are probably never going to catch on – what we’ll have are tablet devices (which are not PCs).
  2. President Obama has, if anything, grown even larger horns in the eyes of the right-wing media and punditocracy. Considering that he’s also become something of a punching bag on the left for not actually having a spine or delivering on many of his promises (States Secrets, Gitmo, whatever), it’s almost painful to watch. Definitely got this one, although it was kind of a no-brainer.
  3. I heard the GOP did ok in the midterms, so I suppose this one is a hit as well. Again, not really a tough call – the non-Presidential party almost always gains midterm seats.
  4. The economy is improving, by some measures, but most people will still look at their bank accounts and pay stubs and have a hard time believing it. I missed this one, and it makes me very sad.
  5. Yeah, still no crypto that anyone uses, and boy are the leaks popping up everywhere!
  6. The ebook readers continue the trend of walled gardens – stupid move, in my opinion, but a hit for my prediction ability!
  7. Sarah Palin is the worst game of whakamole ever. Please someone make her go away.
  8. TSA flight restrictions pissed people off and made headlines, but somehow the airlines look to actually be profitable this year. Miss, but barely (In May, the IATA predicted losing billions).
  9. The weather was indeed remarkable, and the denialists continued to pretend that there was nothing wrong anywhere ever. Another sad hit.
  10. Another year without any substantive disagreements between my lovely bride and myself. Yay!

My hit rate this year was less than impressive. I got 7 of 10, slightly worse than last year (and it’s 8/10 if you don’t consider an ipad a PC – neener).  Somehow, we’ve made it over one decade into the 21st century, and we haven’t seen flying cars, jetpacks, or even aquatic aliens on Jovian moons.  *sigh*

Airport Review – LAX

Finally, the third of my three airport reviews – Los Angeles International (LAX). Holy crap, what an awful experience. I didn’t have to opt for the nudie photo or sexual assault, because it appeared the nudie photo machines were down on my security line. The counter agents and TSA employees were all quite polite, but there is obviously a serious infrastructural or procedural problem with LAX’s checkin process.  Since I’ve not been through LAX in many years, I assumed it would take twice as long to get through all the hoops as I was accustomed to in years past.  I was pretty close to accurate in that assessment, and I could imagine that there are times when my estimate would have been an underestimate of an order of magnitude.

I arrived four hours before my flight was due to takeoff, because I had run out of things to do in my hotel room and I can read at the airport just as well as anywhere else.  It took over 30 minutes just to get my bag checked, and then I had to carry it myself to the security scanners.  It makes me wonder what those giant conveyor belts behind the ticket agents are for.  Not to mention, since LAX is one of the growing number of “self check in” airports for American Airlines, the name “ticket agent” may be inaccurate as well.  The counter agent merely prints out the label that goes on the bag, after you’ve already verified your identity and printed out your own boarding pass at a kiosk that seemed to drive many people insane with confusion.

After that bizarroland detour, which was leavened by a trio of children who wanted to share all the details of their Disneyland experience, I was directed to the security line.  The security line started outdoors.  It started down the sidewalk.  It actually started near the neighboring terminal.  Thankfully, it only took 45 minutes to get through that line, which was a surprise of inestimable proportion.  It looked like the highest-volume day at Disneyland, waiting for Splash Mountain.  Insane.

Finally, I arrived at the top of the stairs where I could just see the security machinery.  The line bifurcated, then bifurcated again.  Each of those four lines went through a screener who made sure your ID and boarding pass matched. Then, each line split into 2-6 more individual lines.  Since I have a netbook which is listed on the sign as one of those items you don’t need to remove from its case, I didn’t.  That was wrong.  Take it out. Don’t put the case on top of it.  Give me your book.  It was weird as hell, but ultimately just a little more useless security theater.

Now I’ve entered the concourse, past the TSA employees who think they’re cops (no law enforcement function is endowed in these people, no matter what they dress up like).  I’m sipping an iced chai from Starbucks, and wishing that LAX was enlightened enough to have free wifi.  Just as in DFW, the options are T-Mobile or Admiral’s Club, which are both fee-based.  Unlike DFW, they don’t even have a wired free internet option available.  Considering the sheer number of business travelers through LAX, you’d think free wifi would be one of the most obvious things in the world.  *sigh

Airport Review – DFW

I didn’t have to go through security and check-in at Dallas-Fort Worth, so I can’t address those portions of the airport experience. The terminal is bright and easy to maneuver through, with two counter-rotating monorails zipping you around. There are CNN Airport News screens all over the place, but not too loud. The one closest to my connection looked like someone had tried to silence it with a shoe – the LCD had lots of nasty lines in the picture.

There was a Smoothie King right next to my gate, so that was nice. Opening up the netbook to make an entry was a bust, though. Unlike the tiny SJT, the massive DFW charges for wifi. Strangely, they provide several “free charge and internet” stations around the concourse. I don’t understand large corporations.

I’ll address LAX when I head home – it’s hard to get a flavor of an airport when you’re arriving. All I did was leave the plane, get my bag, and hop on the Enterprise shuttle.

Cheers.

Airport Review – SJT

As this is the first time I’ve flown since 2002, I am seeing three different airports with relatively fresh eyes. This morning, I started the journey at San Angelo Regional Airport (SJT), which is not the smallest I’ve been in (hello, Sierra Vista!) but it’s only got one airline and you have to ring a bell to get them to come to the counter.  They appear to have no more than 6 employees, who work as counter help, baggage handlers, and general support staff all.

SJT has free wifi in the lobby and in the concourse. Strangely, they are two different networks. They’re both “protected” by iPrism software, which has decided that I can’t program my DVR, read Gizmodo, or see images or CSS from Ars.Technica. I also can’t get to Livejournal because it’s a “web log” site, but I can get to Facebook just fine. This comports with my usual assumption that blocking software is based entirely on capricious decisions with no rational basis.

Security at SJT is relatively quick and painless, with no back-scatter body scanning and nobody I saw get groped. So far so good.

One great aspect of the SJT concourse and lobby is the complete lack of CNN Airport News. Those blaring idiot boxes with no means of escape are possibly the single longest-running aggravation of the traveler. I hated any layover when I traveled for work – even the airport employees seem to have no control over the volume on those things, because that would intrude on some revenue sharing no doubt. Anyway, SJT is quiet enough to hear all the cell phone conversations around you.

And the plane should be boarding soon, so off I go…

Paper?

As much as I’d like to think Gary and I have been married for 10 years, it has only been 2. 2 years of his recipes out of Cuisine magazine, gifts for no reason, always opening my car door first, paying for my tattoos, taking care of my every whimsy and never saying no. Okay- he did discourage my lip piercing which my piercer forbade me to get and refused to do anyway. Whatever.

At the risk of his old flames or wannabes reading this, I can say without a pause that your loss is my gain. Gary, or G-fly as I often refer to him (you’ve heard him rap, right?) is the best human I’ve ever met. Best friend, best lover, best driver, best travel companion and in a couple years, best roommate to have in California. 2 down and a lifetime of anniversaries to go….. Go Bearcat!

Stupider Computer

After two evenings of boot disks, operating system CDs, external drives, SATA drives balanced precariously atop an open case, and a couple of hard ciders, it appears the great computer meltdown of 2010 has been repaired.

Sadly, after all the effort, I still don’t know what was wrong. The computer stopped booting without an error, so I tried to fix it with a variety of different tools.  Some of them may have introduced other errors, or exacerbated the original error, and somehow it all ended up booting again around 6pm today.

Things which I tried which did not help: fixmbr, fixboot, copy partitions to a spare SATA drive I have lying around (waiting for that new build I’ve been planning for nearly a year now), copying NTLDR, hiding and unhiding partitions, making partitions active and boot, and pulling out hair.

Things which I think led to the fix: editing the boot.ini file via a Linux boot disk to point to partition(2) instead of partition(1), ensuring the recovery partition does not get assigned a drive letter in XP. And possibly the cider.

And this is why I have several USB drives about, as well as why I experiment with live distros on USB keys so I’m not completely flummoxed when everything goes pear shaped.  I still don’t trust this machine, though.  Flaky like croissant dough.

Stupid Computers

It’s never good when your computer shows a flashing cursor for twenty minutes after you turn it on.  It would have flashed longer, but I turned the machine off.

Now booting off a live Linux USB stick, running diagnostics on the machine. There appears to be nothing wrong with it. SMART shows no errors.  NTFSChk shows no errors. I can mount and browse the drive perfectly well in Linux. Now I’m running a freshly-updated CLAMAV scan against the 200+ gigs on the main drive, but I begin to think this won’t reveal anything either.

Naturally, I can’t afford a new computer currently. Heck, I’ve got parts for a new build in my dining room that have 6 months of dust on them already.  *sigh*

Vacation 2010 – Back to Cali

Facebook updates aside, I’ve been remiss in documenting our most recent vacation. So, here goes…

I’d been holding to a tradition of taking a “big” vacation in even years, and just short trips in Texas in odd years.  Then there was the unfortunate contract recompete that led to my job being gone for six weeks, and coming back at a 15% lower salary, so we doubled up on the Texas years. This year, we finally had the cash to stumble out to the west coast again, so we did.

For several years, The Boy has wanted to take a surfing class. Kat had an abiding distrust of Disneyana, and a love of animals. I love Monterey. All these combined to produce our itinerary of San Diego, Anaheim, and Monterey.

Continue reading Vacation 2010 – Back to Cali

Year Two: Electric Bugaloo

And so it begins continues….

My lovely bride and I have completed our first year of wedded bliss. It’s been a great year. Well, the getting laid off and burning through all our savings and putting off home improvement projects for 10 months and the car accident and the repairs we didn’t expect on the truck…not so much great there. But, we muddled through all the minutiae and trivial nonsense everyone deals with in life, together.

Some people continue to claim that our lack of major disagreements and complete lack of yelling and fighting means that we are repressing something vitally important. We contend that we just get along well. It helps that we both have the same basic view of the universe and how important some things are and how unimportant most other things are.

We’ll see how outside forces conspire to deflect our plans, but hopefully we’ll actually stay on track to our great goals of vacationing out of state, getting the hot tub installed, painting the house a less-putrid shade, and saving up for an eventual move out of West Texas. Even if things don’t work out as we plan, we’re still happy and that’s something no outside force is going to change.

Love you, pumpkin.

Surfing with Dolphins

We’re spending a long weekend in Corpus Christi, concentrating on kayaking activities, but doing other touristy things as well. This morning was our introduction to kayak surfing, in an area known for relatively low surf because we’re big wimps. As I’m paddling out to hit some nice swells after a half hour or so, Kat yells, “FIN!” I turned to see a nice fin surfacing about 20 yards away. Fortunately, we recognized the fin as a dolphin relatively quickly (the constant diving and surfacing was another indicator), and then we watched and hoped there were other pod members nearby to entertain us, but to no avail.

This afternoon we watched some other dolphins at the aquarium, but even though we were quite amused by the near-constant pooing those critters were doing, they were not anywhere as memorable as the close encounter in the ocean off Padre Island.

Tomorrow is a paddling trail excursion at Port Aransas; wish us luck – there is a common recomendation to take a waterproof GPS with you. 🙂