Monday, December 18, 2006

Microsoft set to lock down Office docs; enforced with encryption and DMCA

Ok, this is too much. Via Linux Journal I found an article in InformationWeek about MS's new Vista OS and how it will enable MS to criminalize open document readers and consequently kill open standards computing.

The gist of it is that Vista will enable Information Rights Management (IRM), a feature available since Office 2003, to control the hardware (yes, you read right -- see "trusted computing" below) and software required to open a document created with Office running on Vista while also allowing control over whether that document can be printed, edited, copied, forwarded or any number of other possibilities. These rights can even be "managed" remotely, though I imagine that would require being on a common MS network using Outlook or the network to obtain the document.

The Digital Millenium Copyright Act (DMCA) is invoked by the use of encryption to enforce the IRM. In short, bypass the encrypted formatting and break the law. The IRM features can be incorporated with "trusted computing" principles to completely lock down the documents at the hardware level of your PC.

The InformationWeek article talks of losing open document standards, but the Linux Journal article predicts much more dire consequences: the possible forced obsolescence of Linux and other open standards-based OSes. If most of the computing world is standardized on Microsoft platforms and products and it is illegal to even duplicate MS functionality for common document use, how useful will Linux be?

If Microsoft successfully implements these "features" then it has truly missed the boat of the Internet with a capital "I." The value of the Internet is that it does not matter what client you use as long as it supports the common and public standards the network (i.e., "Internet") uses to move data around. Once documents created with Microsoft products can only be opened or manipulated using Microsoft-approved systems, we've reverted to the earliest Apple/IBM incompatibility headaches and corresponding lack of sharing, communication and creativity among users.

Successful implementation may also create a pseudo net neutrality advantage to Microsoft users. Imagine corporations, who are by the way huge users of MS products, which will not accept documents unless they are submitted in a protected MS Office format or will only make press releases or other company information available in that same protected format. Who cares if your Linux box has as much bandwidth as some other guy's Windows machine -- your Linux-created document simply isn't getting through.

Such a corporate lockdown is not unrealistic given the fact that corporations' IT departments like the consistent, easy-to-manage, standardized (ironic, no?) infrastructure that a MS network provides, plus Microsoft sells IRM as a "company asset" in its description of the feature. What corporation or IT manager does not want "Information privacy, control, and integrity" incorporated into network management?

Please read both of the articles mentioned in the first paragraph and become informed about what software and computing companies are doing. Even if you are only a Microsoft user you should be concerned about your shrinking choices and limits on your free use of your own property.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

The new Blogger beta

Seeing as how this new beta version was declared "feature complete" as of November 2, I figured I'd jump in and convert. The process was easy, I just clicked on "Update my blog" from the old dashboard, signed in with a google account and the rest was all on google's end. The conversion took 3 to 4 minutes and I was notified at my gmail address when it was done.

So far things on the admin side look mostly similar, just more polished and with more features more easily managed. As far as I can tell, the blog's appearance to the outside world is identical to how it looked before. I look forward to organizing my posts by labels.

[UPDATE] The only suggestion I will make to potential converts is to consider whether you want to associate your new Blogger beta blog with a google account that is different from your primary gmail account. This is because unfortunately, when you sign out of Blogger beta you are signing out of your google accounts entirely, also logging you out of any other google services you are currently using.

Actually I just tried and confirmed, and this really sucks, that you can't be logged into two different google logins at the same time at all on the same computer. Well technically you can use a browser to monitor one gmail account and monitor a different gmail account via Gmail Notifier in your taskbar, but that's not really what we're talking about here. If you're like me you have gmail open all the time, you use google's personalized homepage, gcal and google maps often all at the same time, so inadvertently logging in and out of all of that is a hassle. It's best to have a separate google account solely for your Blogger beta blog so you only have to worry about that one thing.

I suppose you could use your main google/gmail account with Blogger beta so that you can stay logged into everything all the time. I hestiated to do that because I'm uncomfortable with my personal gmail data being so closely stacked in the "Google identity silo" with my blog posts.

Related post: Blogger beta hesitation

Kathy Griffin at the Crest

I'm not sure why I didn't post this earlier, but my girlfriend and I went to see Kathy Griffin here in Sacramento on December first. Griffin did two shows that night, and the later 10:00 show we went to lasted an hour and forty minutes! Great stuff, she is a hilarious stream-of-consciousness comic, mainly focusing on her interactions with "A" list celebrities as a self-proclaimed "D-lister." Topics ranged from Britney to Lohan, Clay "Gayken" (allegedly) to Kathy's parents behavior on her reality show on Bravo.

Interestingly, the stage at the show was completely bare except for a stool with several water bottles on it and a microphone stand. This is a 36' X 24' stage in a 975 person theater and the place was sold out. It made me realize just how difficult it must be to build up a routine to the level of being able to keep a paying audience entertained for a full show.

She'll be on tour in California through January 12th before heading to the Northwest and then east again if you'd like to catch a show.

Howard Stern TV media blitz this week

Stern is hitting the "Big 3" networks this week for a Sirius holiday promotional push.

Last night Stern was on Letterman's show (CBS).

Thursday night he will be on Conan O'Brien (NBC, 12:30a Friday, technically).

Friday night he will be on Jimmy Kimmel Live (ABC, 12:05a Saturday).

The Letterman appearance was cool. Howard was wearing a Santa robe with bare legs, and came bearing gifts. He gave Paul and Dave each a new Sirius Stiletto, the latest and greatest portable tuner/mp3 player from Sirius, and then gave everyone in the audience satellite radios with free three month subscriptions! No doubt a more basic model, but how cool is that?

Howard had stories about his and Beth's recent attendance at Bryant Gumbel's Christmas party, showed a video clip of Jeff the Drunk falling down, and talked about a few other things that have been going on since he moved to Sirius. Some more info is on Stern's site since they commented on it quite a bit today. Also, the Lateshow site has a transcript of the entire show. Apparently Regis Philbin heard that Dave actually shook Howard's hand backstage after the interview (a rare event as I believe both Howard and Dave are germophobic) and was so amazed by the occurrence that he may confront Dave about it when he is on Letterman tonight (Wed.).

Conan is great, though I think Howard is lukewarm about him. We'll have to see how the appearance goes. I'll be taping it for sure.

Let me just say that the official Conan O'Brien web site is woefully underutilized as far as upcoming guests go. I actually had to go to frickin' to confirm Howard's appearance tomorrow night. Further exploration on revealed listings for the whole NBC network which included Conan's upcoming guests, but logic and good sense requires that such things be right there next to Conan's smiling face. Woe be upon those who underutilize... web things. We shall never speak of this again.

Kimmel and ABC have done it right. Upcoming guests for the whole week are right there on the front page. Actually the next two weeks. Kudos to you, Kimmel, and all those who make your web presence possible. Kimmel and Howard have a great chemistry which should ensure a great appearance.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Graphological Initiative

So the October 2006 issue of Wired had a full-page ad for TUL pens paired with an additional cardstock page with a postage-prepaid postcard that could be torn out. Both pages show a "Dr. Gerard Ackerman" looking at the camera with some sort of an "I'm smarter than you" smirk on his face, holding a metal clipboard, seemingly daring readers to mail in the attached postcard for a free graphological analysis. The part of the card stock page that one doesn't tear out has text on it that says "Share your handwriting with me and discover who you really are."

What one does is write a specific phrase on the card, I truly need a new pen., include an email address and mail in the card for analysis. I knew it was just a promotion for these pens, but TUL (really OfficeMax) had already paid for the postage, so I did it. I also thought they might send me a free pen. I received the email with a link to my "results" last week and would like to share.

UPDATE: email actually received the last week of October. I've had this saved as a draft for awhile.

The email was short and pretty much just contained a link to click on. "Results" is in quotes above because what I was given is not a personalized analysis of what I actually wrote on the postcard. This was disappointing, but what could I have expected, right? It's free. The general web site is here, where you can have your own handwriting "analyzed" without mailing in anything.

The web site gives its analysis of your handwriting by asking you a series of questions about the characteristics that appear as you write the phrase I wrote on the postcard. The characteristics are 1) Slant; 2) Size; 3) Spacing; 4) your capital "I"; 5) your lowercase "t"; and 6) your lowercase "y." I won't bore you with the respective options for these characteristics, but suffice it to say there are quite a few permutations that TUL had to make separate results videos for.

My results

My handwriting slants to the right (extroverted, emotionally responsive, trusting) and is medium-sized (average) with narrow spacing (conservative, inner strength, uptight, inhibited, aloof, emotionally remote, frugal).

For my capital "I," the tail of the "I" is dominant (dominant father and a lame who's your daddy with pimp graphic joke in the video). My lowercase "t" has a short crossbar (matter-of-fact, efficient, proficient) and my lowercase "y" has a full, almost voluptuous loop (physical, imaginative, flexible, uninhibited, direct).

Putting all that together for a coherent profile is pretty much impossible. You can see from my results that I am both emotionally responsive and emotionally remote, extroverted and uptight/aloof, inhibited and uninhibited, and trusting and frugal. I'm not sure how to add in the other characteristics, but I'm sure if I consult my astrological forecast I'll be pointed in a direction.

Any direction.

Of course the good doctor uses the results to make a particular pen recommendation using his apparently summarizing title of my characteristics, "Captain of the Boardroom."

No free pen.

My favorite pen right now (yes, it changes. Past honors have gone to the Uni-ball Vision Exact and Uni-ball Vision) is one I received as a promotion from my investment advisor at a brokerage firm. Of course the firm's logo is laser engraved on the cap, but the pen is solid brass, so it has a nice weight and balance to it. It's the BL8650S: Latitud Rollerball Pen of the Basics line offered by Logomark, Inc. It has nice, smooth rollerball ink and a consistent ink flow for easy writing. And it came with a certificate for 5 free refills. The site has a "refill wizard" and appears to have refills to fit lots of different pens, not just ones from Logomark. You pay shipping, but $4.95 isn't too bad for some quality ink.

Do I think too much about pens?

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Colbert is absolute gold

You must check out this video of Stephen Colbert boxing newly elected Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi -- using custom Mii avatars on Nintendo's Wii Sports boxing:

If for some reason the YouTube video does not show up, click here. Colbert puts more thought and effort into his show than almost anyone I've seen.

Monday, November 13, 2006

For a moment there...

I thought Google was forcing Blogger users to switch to "the new version of Blogger." The above image is what I saw at 6:51p tonight when I tried to view my blog. I saw the same error message for my friend Chad's blog, also on Blogger. All seems ok now, but Google sure does want us to switch as the first thing a user sees in the current Blogger dashboard is a "Your new version of Blogger is ready!" message and a prompt to make the switch.

I haven't done it yet because there were issues with the new version such as not being able to edit the HTML code, but apparently all of the original features of the old Blogger are now included plus some new ones like labels for posts, dynamic serving (no more "republishing" for each new post and pages are dynamically served from a database instead of a static HTML page) and more site feed options like the ability to have RSS feeds for comments. Cool stuff for sure, but for now I'll keep up with the Known Issues for Blogger in Beta blog and stay where I am.

UPDATE: Well, there's the answer, straight from the Blogger Status page:

No details, but it has been fixed. Apparently if I had been using the new version of Blogger I would have been unaffected.


Thursday, November 09, 2006

Amazing argument for not going in to work

The cost of driving to and from work can be measured by more than just dollars per gallon. Until I saw this post on the blog of an attorney who works from home I had not seen just why it can make so much sense to work from home. The key concept here is opportunity cost, the value of the next most valuable alternative forgone in favor of the choice made. After computing the formula there really is no argument.

In the example the author references, a couple has bought a house that requires a 1.5 hour commute each way and being skilled technology workers they earn $100 per hour. From his post, here's the formula and how it works out:

(Commute time * Productivity per hour) * Days Commuting per year

(3 * 100) * 230 = 69K

Based on similar formulas I calculated the following numbers:

  • Yearly opportunity cost - $69,000
  • Lifetime (30 years) opportunity Cost - $2,070,000
  • 8-hour work days spent commuting per year - 86.25
  • Lifetime (30 years) work days commuting - 2587.5
  • Number of work years spent commuting - 11.25

That’s right! They will spend the equivalent of 11.25 work years driving to and from work. I defined a work year as 230 8-hour days.

Even if you're just one person earning $50 per hour and commuting only half an hour each way, that's (1*50)230 = $11,500 per year, $345,000 over your work lifetime! I don't know about you, but that would give a tremendous boost to my IRA/401k/life insurance.

Plus, the person in my example with a more modest commute would have the equivalent of an extra 28.75 eight-hour work days each year and 862.5 eight-hour work days over 30 years, adding a total of 3.75 work years if commuting was eliminated from the day. If nothing else such a reclaimed opportunity cost could help relieve some billable-hour pressure. Pretty cool.

This one's for you, Eric.

Yes, you.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Voting Accomplished

Remember to vote today, if you haven't already. Polls are open until 8p.

For those who want a quick reference for the Sacramento area:

Sacramento News & Review's recommendations; and

Sacramento Bee's endorsements.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Popcorn & This Old House

It really doesn't get any better. I am at the midpoint of the This Old House hour where the work on the project house for this week has been documented and we are about to begin the Ask This Old House portion of the show. This week, TOH did some serious work on their project house in East Boston, consisting of demolition in the kitchen involving asbestos-tainted floor removal, knocking down a wall, and replacement of a sewer pipe that had become clogged with the roots of a nearby tree. They actually had the city come in with a backhoe to dig up the sidewalk and dig down to the sewer main to replace a section of pipe that had been compromised and clogged with roots. The backhoe operator was, as they said in the show, friggin' surgical. He pulled up a three-foot square section of sidewalk in one piece and put it right in the dumpster still in one piece.

If this doesn't excite you as much as it does me, maybe you don't appreciate circular saws, sledgehammers, 6-mil plastic liner, hepa-filtered exhaust fans and triple-chambered isolation tunnels. Oh, and I'm eating popcorn that is goooood! This is my specialty snack and just can't be beaten. First, I pop my corn old school, you might say, popping kernels in hot oil right in a saucepan -- no microwave for me. With the popped kernels still piping hot, I add Jolly Time Buttery Seasoning, which just makes it simply heavenly. It's like friggin' bacon. I can't give enough praise.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Howard Stern free for 2 days on internet radio

Sorry for the short notice on this one, but for all of you who have not heard Stern's show since he began on Sirius satellite radio here is your chance to check it out for free. Beginning 12a Eastern on Wednesday, October 25 through 11:59p Eastern Thursday, October 27, anyone who signs up for a free trial userid and password at can listen to the Howard 100 and 101 channels via internet radio during that two day period.

I don't believe you have to download the Howard Stern-branded media player to listen to it as Sirius pops up its own browser window to play internet audio streams. In fact I recommend you don't download the HS player because you'll have to go through the rigamarole of signing up for a login on, download and install the player, deal with another password and you apparently have to have a Windows-based machine to use it.

I know, "waaaaaaahhhhh" you'll say, "I have to sign up and download another program, waaaaaaahhhhh." The Sirius thing works fine.

The schedule is on Stern's web page.

Some great stuff is in store in addition to Stern's regular radio show, including a new half-hour radio sitcom written and directed by Simpson's co-creator Sam Simon, a replay of the Top 10 Bits of all Time which was originally aired on Sirius over the Labor Day weekend (this includes material from Stern's KROC show, uncensored), and on Thursday a roast of Stern's producer, Gary Dell'Abate.

The roast alone should be worth signing up for this. The Howard Stern Show has almost single-handedly revived the roast comedy format since its move to Sirius, and if you have liked what Comedy Central has done with the Pamela Anderson and William Shatner roasts, you will love this. Stern has hosted at least three other roasts on his show and they have all of the kinks worked out of the format as well as having a great group of comedians who are just brutal and ruthless, exactly how a roast should be.

This free promotion is not to be confused with the similar offer for HowardTV's iNDEMAND 1 cent preview taking place November 3 through 5, which is only available if your local cable provider runs HowardTV on its iNDEMAND service. Howard's pay-per-view show is much like the show he used to have on E! except this one is uncensored. Hence, the charge of 1 cent. I'm not sure why the audio version of his show can be offered for free and the video version costs one cent, but I'm sure the Internet has something to do with it. Oh, and uncensored nudity.

For those unfamiliar, there is no doubt Stern's show can sometimes be juvenile and vulgar, but it's also very often funny and provides an intelligent and alternative perspective, different from the whitewash of mainstream media. Give it a shot.

Related posts: Stern still has it; Stern's 60 Minutes interview; Howard's first Sirius broadcast;

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Gamespot: Afterhours event in SF

Thanks to my friend Rita who put me and my friend Shawn on "the list" to get in, I went to this last Saturday night. It was pretty cool, and free. It was a small-scale videogaming event somewhat like PAX or a consumer-oriented E3. Unfortunately neither one of us remembered to bring his camera, so you'll have to savor my descriptive prose as a tasty substitute.

There were lots of different booths with groups of consoles set up by various developers to show off new or upcoming games. Surprisingly, about half of what was available was for the PC, so that platform is certainly not dead yet even in the face of the enormous popularity of console gaming. I saw the new Guitar Hero II for PS2 in action, and for the 360, Splinter Cell: Double Agent, Dead or Alive Extreme 2 and Lost Planet, among others. The list of all the games available is here. I only mention DOA Extreme 2 because it was really funny how obvious it is that a) it was developed by guys, for guys and b) that game has the most advanced "boob physics" anywhere. Every single movement the girls made onscreen resulted in a generous sloshing of their chestal regions, and the several "minigames" (Butt Bumper, Beach Flag Grab and Tug of War come to mind) were obviously created to emphasize this type of action.

I was hoping they would have a hands-on demo available for the Nintendo Wii, but I don't recall seeing Nintendo or any developers of upcoming Wii games anywhere at the show. Apparently there was an onstage demo by a Sega producer and one of the GameSpot guys later in the night of Super Monkey Ball: Banana Blitz, but we had already left by that time. There is video of that demo on the After Hours web site under the heading "Hour by Hour" and the video "The Future is Now - 7pm." Super Monkey Ball starts at 41:20 and shows how movements of the Wii remote translate into gameplay. Wii will certainly redefine interactivity when it comes to videogame control.

What I was most interested in, and what I was unexpectedly drawn to, was taking a gander at the playable PS3s. It was an interesting setup: each console was connected to a huge black box behind the monitor that was about the size of two VCRs laid one in front of the other (you can see it in this video). Apparently these were test (dev?) kits, and indeed the consoles had "TEST" printed right on top of them just beneath the PLAYSTATION 3 moniker in the Spider Man (see #55) font.

The console is physically huge, easily bigger than the original Xbox. Visually it's not appealing -- it seems to be a model of a domed stadium with a cheap, glossy, curved roof. Predictably the beast felt pretty heavy and plenty of hot air was being pushed out of its exhaust vents. The controller was unexpectedly light, but felt sturdy enough. To my knowledge none of the games demoed there utilized the tilt feature of the "Sixaxis" controller. The games available for play on PS3 were Full Auto 2: Battlelines, Ridge Racer 7 and Gundam Crossfire.

I played Full Auto 2 and watched the other two and while the graphics were pretty, I could see no real difference from current 360 games. Gameplay of Full Auto 2 was also no different from any other racing game I've already played. All of these games were very "arcadey," making no attempt to feel realistic, and in my opinion did not really show off the capabilities of the PS3. I suppose it says something about the power and potential of PS3 that its first generation games look as good as second generation 360 games, but by the same token an equivalent graphical appearance is no reason to choose PS3 over the 360 this holiday season, particularly when the 360 will be available on the shelves at most stores and for hundreds of dollars less than PS3.

There were also a number of "viewing only" demoes in separate rooms that were pretty cool. We saw presentations of Sid Meier's Railroads! and Bioshock. The cool thing about these was that members of each game's respective development staff were there and could answer questions and explain features and what they are trying to achieve with their games. No juicy inside stuff here, but Railroads! did crash on Windows while we were watching. Bioshock looked nice and had some creative combat ideas involving genetic mutation, but it's a good thing it won't release until 2007 because still needed some polish on keeping its framerate up during busy battles.

Thanks again for the hookup, Rita.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Caveman with tennis racket in the airport: the music

You know you like it. It's catchy, poppy and elevator-esque.

I found the answer in a forum post here. It's Royksopp's "Remind Me" (Radio Edit).

RealMedia sample is at the artist's web site, (click the band name, then "Discography" on the popup and then Remind Me / So Easy) and the commercial is on You Tube. Royksopp's label is astralwerks Records, and provides a Windows Media version (bigger, better version) of the commercial.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Analysis of Star Wars as "entertainment"

I've read John Scalzi's Whatever blog on and off for probably a year. He's a professional writer with fiction and nonfiction books to his credit, among many other things. He's also the Chief Entertainment Media Critic for Official US Playstation Magazine -- who knew? His fiction is mainly sci fi stuff, and an online discussion of science fiction and "entertainment" spurred quite an explosion of prose on his part in today's post.

It's quite long at 7 "Page Down"s till one reaches the end, but it doesn't feel like 7 "Page Down"s because it's structured well, is interesting and entertaining and is also just plain right. The meat of the post is that Star Wars as an entity, as a series of movies and as a mythology, is merely a vehicle for George Lucas to entertain himself. Since entertainment as a concept involves caring about and engaging an audience there is no way Star Wars can be considered entertainment.

It's all in the post: Joseph Campbell, mythology, incredible special effects, bad dialogue, the occasional acclaimed actors. You really should go read it. I'm a huge Star Wars fan and haven't wanted to admit the weaknesses of Episodes I, II and III, but there they are in all of their shame, pointed out to me and now undeniable. He gives reprieve to Episodes IV and V because they occurred at the right time in cinematic sci fi history, and were actually well-written (i.e., not by Lucas), respectively.

Then keep up with Whatever for awhile. In addition to sci fi he writes about politics, current events, goings-on with his family and occasionally, writing itself. His insight is sharp and writing clear and concise. He also actively participates in comments discussions. You'll like it.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Artie Lange on NPR's "Fresh Air"

Artie was interviewed by Terry Gross on Fresh Air this morning. Interestingly, Gross said she and the producers of her show are Howard Stern listeners and think Stern uses the radio medium in an innovative way. She could have said "genius," but I'll have to listen back once the mp3 is posted on NPR's site at 3p eastern today.

The cool thing about this interview is that Gross asks mostly about Artie, his life and progression as a comic and actor. She took the interview seriously, unlike most mainstream media figures who treat anything related to Stern as mere "entertainment," purely "offensive" or a circus freakshow that only appeals to the most crude and base listener. The local NPR affiliate host announced this interview at 7:30 this morning and said that while she "would never listen to Stern," NPR would play an interview Artie Lange, a member of Stern's show. Typical.

They talked about how Artie came to be a part of Stern's show, what he does to prep for the show and the fact that the show acts as a kind of therapy for Artie. They talked a bit about Artie's beginnings on Mad TV, mentioned his movies such as Dirty Work, Lost & Found, The Bachelor, Old School, Elf, and now Beer League.

Artie talked about his desire to only "do the funny stuff" in movies but that with movies like The Bachelor and his most recent movie Beer League he realized that doing other non-funny parts (like creating a believable romantic interest) help develop the characters and allow the funny stuff to work better for the audience.

Gross asked about the death of Artie's father and Artie's response gave tremendous insight into his motivations and addictive behavior. Artie even discussed things I hadn't heard him say on Stern, like bombing at his first try at standup comedy and then not trying again until four years later after his father had died. There was also some discussion of Artie's "waaaah" bit on the show and Artie said the death of his father "was his waaaah."

It was refreshing (hello, Fresh Air) to hear Lange being taken seriously in a major media interview, and the approximately 30 minute piece is well worth listening to.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Why Howard Stern's interviews rule

Howard -- "What do you do?"

Guest Jessica in studio -- "I'm an independent contractor, a courier."

Howard -- "What's that, like, a pigeon?"

-From 9/13/06 show

Friday, September 08, 2006

Feedburner initiated

Thanks to an entry on the McWilliams' World blog I am trying feedburner to manage my RSS feed. I'm not sure whether those of you who subscribe and use feed aggregators will have to resubscribe, but I think Blogger still sends out the standard RSS and Atom feeds. I'll be experimenting with the feedburner syndication "chicklets" as it calls them (the little graphics one clicks on to subscribe to a feed) so some things in the right margin may be reordered or changed, but that's it.

Feedburner allows its members to monitor how many people are subscribers to their feeds, among other things. I love tracking my visitor stats, so these additional numbers will feed my hunger for more data.

Linux distro suggestions request

I know a number of you out there use some distribution of Linux, so I need some advice and information. I'm a big fan of open source software and the general idea and ethic behind it, so I am finally going to make the jump and do an installation to see if I can accomodate all of my computing needs with a fully open source Microsoft-independent PC. Just using Firefox isn't cutting it anymore, and my hard drive with Win2000 is nearing death, so I figure now is a good time for a new hard drive and new OS.

My question is which Linux distribution would you recommend for a first-time Linux user? I know there are legion, but based on your experience what do you think?

There are a myriad of questions you will want to know about my PC hardware and computing preferences before advising me, so I'll try to list below all of the relevant information.

Computing preferences:
Software: Fairly basic needs including word processing, spreadsheet, web browsing, email, mp3, video, pdf, photo editing. Ability to interoperate with MS Office may be a necessity for work.

Hardware: Wireless, wireless, wireless.

Me: I'm an intermediate computer user, able to build a PC and troubleshoot most hardware and software problems. I'm not a coder, but I am familiar with programming structure and logic and take technical issues as a fun challenge.

PC hardware:
  • MSI motherboard, K7T Turbo Limited Edition w/RAID (using onboard sound)
  • AMD Athlon 1133 MHz
  • 512 MB RAM
  • ATI Radeon 7500 AGP, 64 MB, AGP
  • Intel Pro/100S PCI network adapter
  • D-Link AirPlus G DWL-G510 wireless PCI network adapter
  • EIDE hard drives
  • Philips PCRW404 CD-RW400
  • Generic EIDE CD drive, 48x
  • Generic 3.5" floppy drive
I also may try to make an older PC more useful with Linux:
  • ASUS motherboard, VX97
  • Intel 200 MHz MMX
  • 48 MB RAM (non-matching SIMM modules)
  • SoundBlaster AWE 32 (?) sound card
  • ELSA Victory Erazor, 4MB, PCI (thanks, Mish! that was a killer upgrade.)
  • Hauppauge! WinTV card (not a deal-killer if this is not Linux-compatible -- does the "Win" in the name automatically disqualify it? :-P)
  • Kingston PCI network adapter
  • EIDE hard drive
  • Generic EIDE CD drive, 4x (?)
  • Generic 3.5" floppy drive
If I can resurrect my laptop with a new hard drive I will also convert it to Linux:
  • IBM i1452; (Lenovo link)
  • Celeron 366 MHz
  • 64 MB RAM
  • 56K Lucent onboard winmodem, but two PCMCIA slots available for a network card
  • CD/DVD drive, 2x
What I have found so far:
Reading up on the subject, I have found Eric S. Raymond's web page to be inspiring generally about the open source movement, and he made the suggestion of finding a local Linux user group to help with a first-time installation by a Linux newbie. The nearest active one to me is the Linux User Group of Davis and wouldn't you know it, they have Linux installfests.

On distros in particular, SUSE was recommended to me long ago (pre-Novell) by a techie whose opinion I respect, but things may have changed since SUSE was bought out. I've also thought about Fedora Core since it was developed by the ubiquitous Red Hat which I assume makes it more likely to have wide hardware support and consistent technical support. Lastly I've considered Ubuntu, mainly because one of my friends has installed it, it seems to have a small footprint and is pretty much the hot new thing right now.

I haven't decided on a desktop environment yet. The general consensus seems to be "try them and use whatever you like best," so based on what I've read I'll start with KDE.

Ok, go!

Monday, August 28, 2006

Microsoft's Live Drive for Vista -- how about supporting the Xbox Live service?

Free online storage is a good idea -- it's convenient and, well, free.

With readily available upgrade options, free online storage is also less of a concern for PC users than for console gamers. I haven't heard yet whether Microsoft plans to integrate its Xbox Live service into Live Drive, but I bet it would be much appreciated by gamers.

Think of the ability to store game saves, trailers or demos online. This frees up local hard drive space on the console, plus would allow for a place to save these things for transfer back to the console in the event the console hard drive needs replacement or is at some future point upgraded with a larger capacity.

Sounds good to me.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Boycott Beerfest, go see Artie Lange's Beer League

I know little about "Beerfest" beyond the inane TV ads and the movie's weak tagline, "From the comic geniuses who brought you the phenomenon 'Super Troopers.'"

Phenomenon? Phenomenon? Super Troopers is something you jump to late at night on basic cable inbetween segments of Talk Soup or the World Darts Championship on BBC Sport. When the best tagline you can come up with to promote your new movie actually promotes another movie you made five years ago, you can bet there was a problem selling this one to the studios.

What I know about Artie Lange's Beer League is that Artie Lange wrote the script, plays the lead character, and he also happens to be funny as hell as a full-time member of The Howard Stern Show on Sirius satellite radio.

Beerfest opens this Friday, but I have no plans to see it. There is no doubt I'm biased against Beerfest because I love Artie on The Howard Stern Show, but I like to support people whose talent I admire. The open nature of the Stern show and Artie's humor and storytelling ability on that show make me feel like I actually know him, so this is also about loyalty. Artie Lange's Beer League opens for limited release on September 15 with wider release soon after.

For gcal users, click on this button to add this event:

Related links: gcal beta; Create your own gcal event buttons

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Another move, another wireless network to administer...

So as of Tuesday morning, 8/1/2006, at 12:30a I am now a resident of Elk Grove. The move was fairly painless, at least in the physical sense, as far as moves go. One large 15-foot truckload of "the big stuff" and three smaller trips in my pickup took care of it. No matter what I intend there is always the rush of the last day. Believe it or not, on July 31, the day I had to be out of my apartment, I returned the 15-foot truck, made one trip to the new place in my pickup, returned the utility dolly and moving blankets I had rented, had two fillings done at the dentist and returned my high-speed internet modem and cables to the main Comcast office, all before cleaning the entire apartment and making one final trip to the new place. I spent a lot of time driving and listened to most of that day's Howard Stern show three times as it replayed throughout the day on Howard 100.

One of the first tasks I like to accomplish once moved into a new place is to establish my connection to The Great Intertron. In this case, broadband access was already in place, so I merely had to set up my PC and Xbox.

Or so I thought.

I am sharing a condo with two other people I have lived with before, and when I moved to Fair Oaks almost two years ago I left my wireless router with them because it was time for a new one for me. So now I'm back and need to utilize this router once again. There's nothing wrong with it, it's just that 802.11b is so 2003.

You understand.

The only problem with connecting to this router was that it was encrypted and...

wait for it...

here it comes...

they had lost the admin password and no longer had the WEP key written down.

Oh, joy.

Being determined as I am, I set up my Xbox first and tried to connect just to see what would happen, and was presented with the discouraging message Not connected. No surprise.

Once my PC was set up I tried logging in with "admin | password" and then "admin | 1234," but to no avail. Using my roommate's laptop which contained the mysterious WEP key I brought up the router's support page on the web and proceeded to do the "restore to factory default" procedure. All went fairly smoothly, although I had to tell the laptop not to power down the network card (wired) when running on battery power and set up a new network connection and then reboot the cable modem and router several times before everything started working.

I did the usual practical precautions of changing all of the router's defaults and also generated a new WEP key. Perfect.

Xbox (no, not a 360 yet!) connects painlessly despite entering a 128-bit WEP key with a gamepad, with a signal strength varying from "Good" to "Very good." The network bridge sits on top of my TV at a decent height and the signal only has to go through a couple of walls.

PC connects, but at only a 40 - 50% signal strength. I could establish a connection with the router but for some reason it would not assign an IP address to my PC, so I could not even login to the router itself. The PC, and correspondingly the wireless NIC antenna, sits near the floor and the signal goes through the same two walls as the route to the Xbox, but there is another computer (the laptop in the next room), many books and a closet full of stuff also in the way. For whatever reason, the signal sucked. Elevating the router two rooms away helped quite a bit with a boost to about 70% signal strength, but I had the router on top of a tall box right next to one roommate's laptop which wasn't really practical.

So today I bought a high-gain antenna for my PC's wireless NIC. This is an extremely simple solution to weak or distant wireless signals. It also turns out that regular consumer stores like Best Buy and Circuit City don't carry this type of item. I could have ordered online but dammit I needed this today, and ended up at the all-powerful Fry's Electronics and they had everything I had found online and more. I ended up buying an AirLink ASB-10MA, primarily because it had the best price-to-gain ratio. I also considered the D-Link ANT24-0700 and also just a remote antenna stand from Linksys to give my regular antenna more height. The AirLink was $18 while the D-Link unit was $34 and the Linksys stand by itself without a high-gain antenna was $25 (high-gain antenna sold separately at another $35!).

I don't pretend to understand the concept of antenna gain, but the AirLink model provides +10dBi of gain while the Linksys antenna provides +7dBi and D-Link offers two varieties at +4dBi and +7dBi, so when in doubt more is better, right? After scanning that article on antenna gain it is apparent that these manufacturers are fudging the true and actual gain a bit by using a theoretical baseline (really, don't ask -- I just look these things up as I need them. I can't explain them), but what am I really going to do about it?

The antenna boosts my reception to almost 75% (varies), but the speed is also noticeably improved and the signal is definitely more consistent. With my original antenna and the router elevated the throughput was only about 1 Mbps and the router connection would drop regularly. Now it appears to jump up to the full 11 Mbps potential of 802.11b and has remained connected since I plugged it in this afternoon. The only complaint I have about this antenna is the short length of the connecting cable -- it's only 100 cm. 1 meter, or about 3 feet. Online reviews at revealed this is a common complaint about these high-gain antennas. The D-Link and Linksys items have 1.5 m cables. I have a rather large shelf that sits on my desktop, so I had to place several empty keyboard and modem boxes under my PC to raise it to a height that would allow the antenna to sit on the top shelf.

So all is well now with a consistent, albeit wireless, umbilical cord to this electronic wonderland. It remains to be seen how my Xbox Live connection will perform. I haven't played in months and I'm truly itching to see how it does.

[Additional info]: I just removed a decorative metal tin (duh!) from in front of the new antenna and the signal strength jumped to 85%.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Carson Daly is a genius

Okay, before you call me a nutball, listen up:

I've never given his show a chance because I think he's a complete moron and a horrible latenight TV host. Tonight I happened to catch the beginning of his show because Conan ran right up to the last minute and Carson's show began immediately.

Carson did a few ok jokes, but the genius is that he knows when to stop his opening monologue. His interviewing "skills" are atrocious, and generally he's a boring guy on TV, but he certainly knows when to quit.

If you're not a funny guy, knowing the moment to go out on top with a great joke somebody else wrote is genius in my book.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Almost another month...

Things should be settling down now, as the temp job is pretty much over. The purpose of the project was to prepare data in a legacy system for upload to a new software application on the client's server which should happen tonight and tomorrow morning. Today was the last full day of work and next week will be just a few days of cleanup to fix things that didn't upload properly.

No more 12 hour days, 60+ hour weeks, at least for awhile.

Just a post to let you know I'm still alive.

Oh, and I'll be moving at the end of the month to the other side of town. The suburban mecca of Elk Grove is calling. A friend of mine has a new condo with a room available, so I'll be saving on rent and helping him with the mortgage.

Good times.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

TV can be good

Last weekend I caught an episode of Austin City Limits that kicked ass. Apparently it was a replay from 2003, but it was great. Jason Mraz first, then Fountains of Wayne. Mraz has a cool freeform style and the audience was full of girls -- he really plays it up to the ladies. At first I didn't know who Fountains of Wayne was, but then they played their insanely catchy song Stacy's Mom and I instantly recognized them. The other song of theirs that was great is Great Future in Sales.

Another episode that played right after that was also from 2003 and featured John Mayer with guest appearances by Buddy Guy and Stevie Ray Vaughan's band Double Trouble. I'd seen this one before, but if you don't know about Mayer's blues roots you owe it to yourself to check him out. He plays that Stratocaster and gets a killer tone, both clean and dirty. He makes the craziest faces when he sings, but damn he sounds good. He played Empty Arms (Vaughan's song) with Double Trouble and Leave My Little Girl Alone (written by Guy, I believe) with Double Trouble and Buddy Guy and, wow, he nails those songs.

Buddy Guy is one of those legends of blues that has only recently begun to collect the acclaim he has been due. He was hugely influential, in the same league as Albert King, B.B. King and John Lee Hooker. Do a google search, find these guys' music and learn your roots, boys and girls.

Double Trouble still plays without Vaughan, most recently on record as Storyville. Storyville has a great blues style definitely influenced by Vaughan, but updated and a bit more radio-friendly. The band seems defunct unfortunately, as I can't even find a web site for them. I have two of their CDs, A Piece of Your Soul and Dog Years. Both excellent, though I've now lost the CD of A Piece of Your Soul for the second time and have to buy it again.

Ok, time to grab a beer and go play some Guitar Hero!

Related posts: Guitar Hero Madness; Gaming slumber antidote

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Again with the delays...

Alright, this is ridiculous -- a friggin' month?!

Lots has been on my mind, work has been busy, blah, blah, blah.

Waaaaaaaaahhhhhhhh, I have a job and think too much so I can't update my blog, waaaaaaahhhhhhh.

It's true I've been working three to four 12-hour days a week for about the last month, plus one day on the weekends, which isn't necessarily bad (please, argue with me on this point), but what sucks is it's a temp job, not in the field I'm trained for, and working overtime is the only thing that makes the money decent.

And by decent I mean I can get by. My bills are paid but there's no extras. Not that I need extras, but extras can be what makes things fun -- an Xbox360, playing on Live with friends, actually hanging out in the same physical space with friends, reading. Lately I've hesitated to even consider myself a gamer since I haven't been on Live in probably four or five months and hardly play other games. One of my friends on Live who lives in New York actually called me on the phone today to see what I was up to. Man, that's bad.

Hey, hey, come back -- I didn't mean to dump on you, I've just had a lot going on lately. I just needed to vent a bit. I think the worst is over. That, and it's past 10:30 and I have to go to bed so I can be up at 5 to be at my job by 7. This whole work-for-money-so-you-can-spend-it thing sucks.

On a positive gaming note, Guitar Hero has begun to pull me out of my gaming slumber. The past three nights I've been on that thing, playing those songs. That game is the most fun I've had playing videogames in years. I'm just now getting the hang of the hammer-ons and pull-offs with those fret buttons. It's very satisfying when you can make it work.

I felt I just had to post tonight to break myself out of my non-posting habit. I see that my friends edoo and C-had have been updating very nicely in my absence. E and C, if you want a fun party game, the next time we get together I can bring "GH" -- I have two guitar peripherals and we will duel. I guarantee you will be hooked.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Starmate Replay ST2 DC adaptor failure

The day the music died...

I listened to Stern on the way to work this morning and then when I went out again to listen on my lunch break, my Starmate wouldn't power up. I use the DC adaptor which I plug in and unplug each time I take the unit in and out of my truck, and this time it just didn't work. After moving the adaptor around in the cigarette lighter jack the tuner would periodically power up and would sometimes stay powered up as long as I kept pushing the adaptor into the plug, but once I released it power was lost. I tried all three of my power jacks, all with the same result.

I actually had to listen to regular FM freakin' radio during lunch.

The humanity!

I don't know how widespread this is or might be, but I was surprised at this failure less than five months after purchasing the unit. There is no way short of breakage to open the plug to check for a fuse, so I stopped by Radio Shack after work and picked up a new "Universal Adaptaplug DC Power Cord," part number 270-1594, for $13.46 including tax. It's definitely nicer than the SIRIUS-supplied power cord, and fairly cheap, but it would've been nice to not have to purchase it at all. I've had my cell phone car charger for 4 years with no problems.

By the way, the staff at Radio Shack was extremely helpful. I brought in my tuner and power cord and they opened up a new Starmate Replay accessory bag to check the manual for the power requirement, opened up the power cord I ended up buying, figured out which polarity was correct (the "outside" of the plug should be the negative part, the "tip" is inside and positive) and even tried it out to make sure it worked. Did you know that Radio Shack actually has cigarette lighter sockets right in the store to try this stuff out? I didn't.

The cool thing about the new adaptor is that it has an on/off switch (I can now leave the plug in the cig jack), a replaceable fuse, a light to show when power is flowing, and it includes 4 plug adaptors ("Adaptaplugs") for different sizes of power jacks. The plug adaptors can even be rotated 180 degrees on the wire to change polarity.

FYI, the Starmate Replay's power requirements according to the manual are 9-16 volts, Negative Ground, DC. Anyone else have a similar experience with a SIRIUS or XM tuner using the factory-supplied cigarette lighter power cord?

Related posts: Chevy S10 install; SIRIUS activation; SIRIUS rebate received; SIRIUS billing; SIRIUS impressions; Howard 100 audio spam

Friday, May 12, 2006

Wii for the win

If the length of lines waiting to play new consoles at E3 is any indication, people are much more interested in Nintendo's Wii console than Sony's PS3. While PS3 screams incremental advancement and a total lack of creative thought, Wii wins on all counts. Brute-force powerful hardware cannot overpower risk-taking originality.

The only console of this next generation that I will have no hesitation pre-ordering and/or waiting in line for is Nintendo's Wii. There will be great games and a new way to interface with those games, plus I just want to see what it can do. I have a feeling I know exactly what PS3 will be able to do -- play hi-def versions of the games I played on PS2 and Xbox. X360 is much the same story as PS3, but at least it has a robust online component and the fact that Microsoft appears to have going for it the fact that it listened to consumers and has given us what we want in a gaming machine.

The only way I'm going to shell out $600 for PS3 is if Blu-Ray becomes the hi-def DVD standard and I ever own a HDTV. Even my obsession with the Metal Gear Solid series (amazing 15 minute E3 trailer here [large] and here [small]) will not compel me to purchase the infernal machine before its time.

I'm thinking 2008.

Related post: PS3 launch disappointment

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Roth is fired; Opie and Anthony to replace him; CBS Radio continues to lose credibility

Last Friday, April 21, was David Lee Roth's last day in Howard Stern's old timeslot. CBS gave him four months to fill the shoes and equal the ratings of a radio-industry veteran of over 20 years who was consistently number one in many of his markets and drew millions of loyal fans nationwide.

According to an exclusive interview (bottom, "Farewell to Free FM") with Roth by Steve Langford of Howard 100 News, David's show was cut off 20 minutes early on Friday and ended only with music. Roth stated to Howard 100 News that his career in radio was not over and that he would be "stopping by SIRIUS sometime soon." Additional quotes and background audio clips are available on Stern's SIRIUS web page under Howard 100 News Special Reports.

Short-sightedness isn't really a surprise given the focus on immediate returns that corporations can't seem to get away from these days. Pure stupidity and hypocrisy, however, are another story. The purported replacement show for Roth is none other than Opie and Anthony (O&A), the very duo that CBS Radio fired over four years ago because they broadcast the sounds of what was allegedly a couple having sex in St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York. I can't wait to see the spin put on this rehiring move to appease sponsors, the religious right and other conservatives who will almost certainly make a stink about this.

Opie and Anthony were hired by XM in 2004 after being fired by CBS. Their show is supposed to be "one of the top 10 most listened to" programs on XM, but curiously the show doesn't even have its own page on XM's web site. So now CBS Radio will supposedly broadcast a three hour version of O&A's XM show, which will of course be censored, in Roth's time slot. That should make for some great radio -- O&A will have an incentive to clean up (read: make boring and less "outrageous" as they are billed on XM) their show so listeners will be able to follow the show on terrestrial radio, plus terrestrial listeners will hear only an incomplete version of the entire show. Every day. Sounds pathetically boring. This isn't good for the XM subscribers either because even though they will hear the "uncensored" version of the 3 hour CBS simulcast, they will undoubtedly hear a watered-down show due to O&A trying to work within CBS's and the FCC's content restrictions.

How sad is it when the executives of the dominant radio medium, terrestrial FM radio, think they have to go to a competing upstart content provider for material they are counting on to make back top ratings? What a complete lack of thought on their part. You can't tell me there is no one else at CBS radio who can do a decent morning radio broadcast. Who says the only way to make big ratings is to copy Howard Stern? Give someone a chance to innovate.

Interestingly, this pairing of terrestrial and satellite radio will also be promoting XM Radio, a company that provides a service CBS Radio is apparently afraid of losing listeners to. Promotion of satellite radio and the corresponding alleged loss of revenue due to it is exactly what CBS is now suing Howard Stern over. Maybe CBS Radio is hoping it can use it's marketing muscle to promote XM enough to make SIRIUS a minor player. Whatever its motivation, this move by CBS Radio reveals its knee-jerk decision-making process, short-term thinking, and real fear of truly original broadcast content.

Related posts: Sacramento drops Stern; Stern still has it; Adam Carolla on Free FM

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Why the PS3 launch will disappoint gamers

Sony's "anti-hype" has been deafening. If one is to believe everything one reads and hears, the PS3 will play the highest definition movies available, play games in "true HD," provide the best online gaming experience (for free!), all by Fall 2006. It also seems likely to be unavoidably expensive. Ken Kutaragi, President of Sony Computer Entertainment (SCE) has actually said:
PS3 is “for consumers to think to themselves ‘I will work more hours to buy one’. We want people to feel that they want it, irrespective of anything else.”
More funny and strange quotes by Kutaragi are available here.

Enough with the "leaks," "slips" or "mistranslations" of information -- here are my predictions for why the PS3 launch will be disappointing for gamers:

1) PS3 will not play games in 1080p;

At least not at launch. It's true. Practical limitations of hardware and bandwidth make this impossible with any current equipment that exists. At the current time there are no broadcast sources of 1080p material, and consequently there are very few consumer-level TVs that can even accept 1080p input despite the fact the TV may theoretically be capable of displaying it.

Bandwidth is related to framerate, and with fast-moving action like sports and videogames, more is better. More to the point more frames faster is better. 60 frames per second (fps) with a progressive scan display is what you need for a smooth and flicker-free image. When it comes to HDTV at 1080 lines of progressive scan resolution, a source capable of 60 fps output simply doesn't exist yet. There isn't even an agreed-upon broadcast standard for 1080p60. If you can believe it, Ken Kutaragi has actually stated that the PS3 will be capable of running games at 120 fps. This is absolutely ludicrous. I'll give him the benefit of the doubt that the Cell processor and its associated 8 "synergistic processing engines" may be capable of processing that amount of data, but the PS3 will not be the machine to have the end-to-end architecture capable of delivering that much data that quickly.

2) PS3 will not be a gaming machine;

Sony is positioning the PS3 to be a universal media box at the center of home entertainment. It is merely a vehicle to bring Blu-Ray and the Cell processor into the maximum number of households. At launch the focus will be on high definition movies using the Blu-Ray disc format, and, oh yeah, did you see these games over here?

3) PS3 will cost at least $499;

Consider the realities of the hardware: a brand-new Blu-Ray drive, a brand-new Cell processor, separate graphics chip, 60 GB hard drive, built-in wifi and Bluetooth plus everything else to tie it all together to make it work as a single console. Give me a frigging break. I think $600 would be the max Sony would try to charge, as that's been established as the "3DO-launch-disaster-break-point," but given all of these components I don't see how PS3 could retail below $499. New Blu-Ray DVD players alone are estimated to start at around $1,000.

4) PS3 will offer a poor online gaming interface;

Notice I said interface. Sony can probably pull off a good gaming experience once a player has connected to a game, but actually finding a game and finding a reliable server is another story. Microsoft has established its Xbox Live service as the gold standard of online gaming interfaces. Even before the Xbox 360, Microsoft showed how it could and should be done. And it's not just the interface -- MS put a lot of time, effort and money to make its Live servers and player-matching work really smoothly. Hopefully Sony has taken notes, but until I see proof I'll be skeptical.

5) There will be few games available at launch;

PS3 develpment kits will go out this summer. Time is the critical factor. High quality development and high-definition output require time, effort and a budget that most developers simply won't have in order to make Sony's scheduled holiday launch window. There may be a few in-house and first-party titles at launch but I'd be surprised if there's much more.

6) PS3 games will cost at least $60;

High development costs + proprietary Blu-Ray media = expensive games.

7) Three words: proprietary media support.

Proprietary media support in and of itself isn't new to gamers -- Nintendo, Sony, Microsoft, Sega and others gaming hardware manufacturers often use this technique to try to prevent piracy of game software. What will be frustrating for gamers is how PS3 will be restricted as a machine outside of gaming.

Blu-Ray is again the culprit here. Anyone see a pattern? And it's not really Blu-Ray, it's what will be on those discs -- burdensome Digital Rights Management (DRM) encryption. Deciding on a standard for the use of DRM with Blu-Ray to enforce intellectual property (IP) rights is one of the reasons Sony has had to delay the PS3. The use of such DRM is one of the reasons Sony has the backing of the majority of film studios for the Blu-Ray standard. Sony itself owns Sony Pictures, a huge media and production company, and Sony BMG Music Entertainment, an enormous record label conglomerate. They have tons of IP to protect as well as a reputation to maintain after pushing so hard to have studios commit to using Blu-Ray for future media distribution. As a media company, Sony's reputation will ride on its ability to deliver high-definition content in a secure format.

Unfortunately for consumers, "security" for media companies means "restrictions on use" for consumers. This doesn't just mean restrictions on copying DVDs, it means restrictions on what types of devices a particular piece of media can be played on, how many devices that media can be played on, how many times that media can be played and possibly the quality of playback of that media. Don't think that these companies wouldn't just love to charge you for every single and different type of use you want to make of their property. They would and they will because new DRM technology allows it. This will be frustrating and confusing for consumers. It will be interesting to see how Sony attempts to balance making the PS3 a universal media box with protecting IP rights.

An alternate outcome

It's possible that Sony will surprise everyone and deliver on its claims, but here is what you will need to make that happen: Sony PS3; Sony HD video cables; Sony 1080p television; and games, music and movies on Sony Blu-Ray media.

Oh, and a wheelbarrow full of money because all of it will be brand-new. I think this outcome is unlikely. I look forward to this year's E3 where hopefully Sony will reveal more about its plans for world domination.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Google calendar beta

Just released yesterday: gcal

That's what I've named it, anyway. A C|net article is here.

Cool stuff. It's supposed to integrate with gmail, but the implementation seems incomplete at this point. From within gmail there is no visible connection to gcal, but from within gcal I can send invites to events using my contacts list from my gmail account. I guess it's a beta release, but so is gmail itself, so I don't know what the deal is.

The calendar itself is clean, simple and easy to use. Very much like google maps, you can simply click on a day, type a few details and the engine parses your phrase and makes an appointment. It gives you a lot of control over appearance and functionality, plus your calendar data can be shared with others and output in Apple's iCal format or the more universal XML. It can even import events from other calendaring software such as Outlook.

The calendar supports event scheduling and invites and will send you reminders via email or text message on your cell phone. Your calendar data is searchable and you can manage the sharing privileges of your calendar globally or by event. If made public, your data will show up in the results of anyone's gcal search.

You can add other people's calendars to yours so you can see their appointments or events. Lots of potential here if particular venues or retail stores set up gcals. It'd be cool to be able to overlay particular movie times, concert dates or release schedules for new games or music right on your personal schedule. Looking forward to some cool applications and hacks using the gcal API.

UPDATE, 4/17: Ah, yes, now the mini-menu above the Gmail logo in the top left corner has appeared and opening an email with scheduled events prompts a clickable link in the right margin to add the event to my calendar. Clicking on the "Add to Calendar" link opens up a new small window with the event details prepopulated. You can then add any additional info and save.


Sunday, April 09, 2006

Weekend good times

Went over to my friends Eric and Katherine's place this weekend for Eric's birthday. Good food, good drinks and great company were the order of the evening. Those pics are fairly well into the night -- I'm in the first picture in the blue jacket and I'm working pretty hard on that water. I'm pretty sure Chad was saying something interesting at that moment.

I was gently but repeatedly (I keed, I keed because I love...) reminded by these good folks that it has been awhile since I've updated my blog. Indeed it's been about three weeks, which is entirely too long. I'm teetering on the edge here of breaking my unspoken personal rule (D'OH!) of not mentioning blogging in my blog posts, but rest assured things will be picking up around here.

You can see part of the shirt I was wearing that night. It's a new acquisition and the design was a runner-up* in's Pixelante t-shirt contest. Profits from the sale of the t-shirts benefits the Get-Well Gamers charity. Pixelante is a term coined by Miami attorney Jack Thompson to describe gamers who, in his words, are "sociopaths with mouses." I won't give Mr. Thompson any more pixels than is necessary to understand the context -- he's a self righteous holier-than-thou blowhard who makes inflammatory remarks to stir up publicity for himself and his causes. He has campaigned to have music and music videos censored (2 Live Crew, Ice-T, Madonna), filed a complaint with the FCC that led to Howard Stern being taken off the air in Orlando, Florida, and has made reckless connections between criminal behavior and the playing of videogames. He is the attorney who filed the lawsuit in Alabama alleging that the playing of the Grand Theft Auto series of games led to the murders of three people.

So the shirt is a jab at him and all that he "stands" for. A Wired article provides a bit more context.

* For those unfamiliar, as I was, is the online store for the t-shirts and is a pretty slick and efficient outfit. I placed my order around 1:20a Thursday morning and the shirt was in my mailbox by Friday afternoon. They don't have a "bulk" or "slow" shipping option (the cheapest is priority 2-3 day shipping) but the few extra bucks are worth having a reliable shipping method. They even have USPS Priority Mail envelopes preprinted with their logo. I was very impressed.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

SIRIUS tuner rebate actually in-hand

It was sitting in my mailbox after work.

An envelope. You know the type: tightly folded, perforated tabs on each end with small print that says FOLD AND TEAR ON PERFORATION. I knew what it was, but after reading Sean's comment to my previous post I was a bit apprehensive. Could this be the denial postcard of which he had so vehemently directed his words and in fact most of his own entire blog? It was within the realm of possibility.

Alas, and forsooth, yea, verily, it was a check. Not just any check, mind you, but one pre-printed with the greatest of efficiency, minimizing the resources consumed to create and propel it on its winding journey from Young America, Minnesota to my humble abode on the west coast.

One lovingly personalized as it passed through a high-speed printer and mass-mailing folding machine, with my given name...

The name my bank will recognize as being associated with my checking account.

So as I bathe in the light reflected by its preprinted whiteness and sip my nitrogen-charged Murphy's Stout my eyes are drawn to the numbers enclosed within a small grey box along the right-hand side of the check, just below center...


... and there was much rejoicing.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

SIRIUS Starmate Replay: The Chevy S10 pickup install

At long last, it is here. Never mind that I used an old camera with genuine actual film I had to have developed. I don't have physical pictures, mind you, 4X5 monstrosities that only take up space. I had the pics transferred from analog negatives directly to digital bits on a CD, thank you very much. Thanks to my buddy Em for use of her low-tech but functional camera. All of these pics are after-the-fact, but should still show you how I did it. It's a long post, but hopefully you'll find it informative. The truck is a 1994 extended cab.

First, the tools. Nothing particularly specialized here, though I did need the right sized hex-head wrench to remove the plastic lens from the third brake light. I bought it at the Chevy dealer, but something similar should be available at any hardware store. From left to right, we have: 1) Craftsman hand drill with multiple sized bits; 2) round file: 3) hex wrench; 4) Leatherman Super Tool; 5) small Phillips head screwdriver; 6) shoe horn; 7) plastic wire clips.

The first step was to put the antenna wire from outside through the third brake light to inside the cab. First I removed the two Phillips head screws that hold on the interior cab light onto the back of the brake light. I thought I'd be able to route the wire through a hole somewhere in the brake light's housing, but the holes there weren't big enough. I happen to have an extra third brake light because I had intended to replace the whole component at some point, but that's another story. Anyway, here's what the light looks like by itself:

Black housing, two bulbs, red lens. Each of the bulbs is within a small concave cavity, both cavities coming together in the middle to form an angle, like the inside edge of a Venn diagram. Apologies for the lack of close-ups.

I used the hand-drill to make starter holes from the outside right in the center on each side of the "angle" between the two bulbs that equalled the approximate diameter I needed to fit the antenna plug through. It ended up being about half an inch wide. There didn't appear to be any electrocution danger since the wires are at the side of the housing. With 6 to 8 holes made all the way through the plastic housing I then used the Leatherman saw blade and the round file to enlarge and shape the hole. I wasn't able to capture a good angle or distance for an interior shot of the hole, but here it is:

It's the red circle right there in the middle. Maybe those wires are closer than I remembered. Once that was done I fed the antenna wire through there and immediately underneath the headliner toward the back window. I pulled all the slack through, leaving enough to route it around the outside housing and onto the roof.

The finished installation from the outside looks like this:

I had to make matching notches in the black interior housing and red lens to allow the wire to pass through with the housing fully screwed down. These notches were made with the Leatherman saw blade. Again, this is after the fact so it's not easy to see, but the lens extends about 1/4" beyond the actual bulb housing all the way around, forming an interior weather seal for the cavity and a small channel outside of that which I used for the wire. I notched the interior housing and lens to allow the cable to pass to the "channel" toward the rear of the truck. I routed the wire from the inside, out the hole, through the notches, around the housing to the right and then straight up toward the front and through another notch made in the part of the lens that overhangs the housing, where you can see it emerge above. It took 4 or 5 tries of holding the cable and screwing down the lens at the same time to make the cable length come out right. My reasoning with that route was that if any water came in the notch on the front of the housing it still wouldn't reach inside the cab because the notches where the cable actually goes inside are at the rear. It's been raining like mad up here in Sacramento for weeks and nothing has shorted out yet so I'm counting this one a success. To finish off the outside installation I also made a notch into the side of the plastic strip that holds down the antenna wire. You can see it just a bit in the picture.

Once inside the cab, the purpose of the shoe horn becomes clear. I used the flat part, the part you grab with your finger when performing a manual assist for your heel, to get under the edge of the headliner and all other plastic trim as I routed the wire toward the dashboard. From the other side of the third brake light, inside of the cab, I ran the wire toward the driver's side underneath the headliner, under the plastic trim along the driver's side, over the door, down the door frame and then around to the bottom of the dashboard right next to my emergency brake release handle. There's a bit more notching done here to accomodate the cable. You can see the cable emerge from the driver's side door seal and toward the light switch right next to the fuse box cover. There's a joint in the plastic trim right there where I notched to bring the cable around and under and behind the dash. Extra cable is looped there also.

You'll notice the distinct influence of the Utilitarian style on my work. Exposed cable runs are a hallmark of the genre. Those little self-adhesive wire clips are awesome. $2 at Fry's Electronics for about 25 of 'em.

The opposite view:

And the finished interior view:

I mounted the tuner bracket just to the left of the main console right under the main gauge cluster. A little custom work on the bracket also -- I shaved down the tab on the left side of the bracket, the tab without the little extension to release the tuner, so the tuner would just pop out easily instead of my having to struggle with it. Here's how it looks from the driver's seat:

Recently (after about one month -- boooo!) the self-adhesive velcro that holds the bracket on has started to pull free causing the tuner to angle down a bit, so I've rigged up a paper clip that hooks to the back of the bracket and then up over the inside edge of the main gauge cluster. Works and looks great now.

I've had very few reception problems in and around Sacramento. The signal has been briefly lost under large overpasses (not frequent and not readily reproducible) and is definitely lost under fast food restaurant overhangs. Almost any time there's a metal structure above the antenna there's going to be a problem. Outside of the downtown area the "Satellite" antenna strength is almost always pegged to 10 bars. When downtown the "Terrestrial" antenna strength is usually 7 to 10 bars.

Related links: SIRIUS activation; SIRIUS impressions; SIRIUS billing; SIRIUS receiver rebate

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Katamari goodness

If any of you Katamari Damacy fans eat at Japanese restaurants and like edamame, you will appreciate this food imitating art.

SIRIUS tuner rebate received and processed...

6 weeks later! Better late than never when money is involved, at least when you don't account for interest. I received two email confirmations today. Or rather, after not checking my email yesterday, I saw the following emails today. The first, at 12:03p, PST (it's when it showed up in my email box. 4:55a may have been time sent plus EST adjustment b.s. plus Intertron inferometer telemetry interlineation):

From: SIRIUS Satellite Rebates
Date: Feb 25, 2006 4:55 AM
Subject: Your rebate has been received


Your SIRIUS Satellite Radio rebate submission for 50.00 has been received. Please allow 8-10 weeks for processing.

The second, at 12:48p, PST (again, I can't explain the time differential -- 4:55a to 6:49a is one hour, 54 minutes but 12:03 to 12:48 is 45 minutes. See Intertron, supra):

From: SIRIUS Satellite Rebates
Date: Feb 25, 2006 6:49 AM
Subject: Your rebate has been processed

Your SIRIUS Satellite Radio rebate submission in the amount of 50.00 has been processed. Your check will be mailed shortly. Please allow 2-3 weeks for completion.

Ok, I can deal with that. My guess is that SIRIUS received on the order of hundreds of thousands, if not close to one million, rebate requests right around the time I submitted mine. Maybe I'm optimistically assuming everyone submits rebate requests, but suffice it to say they received a lot.

So, 50 bucks headed my way soon. Nothing bad to say about that.

Related posts: SIRIUS activation; SIRIUS impressions; SIRIUS billing favorable outcome; Rebate received