Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Howard Stern still has it

Howard Stern's talent outshines all others. This morning before work I listened to part of Howard's interview of Danny Bonaduce and it was terriffic. The combination of Stern, who will ask anything that comes to his mind and Bonaduce, who will say anything that comes to his mind, was just outrageous radio. The best parts of Howard's show today, however, were later in the show when he interviewed Jay Thomas, who has had a radio show on SIRIUS (ch. 103, 2-5p weekdays) longer than Stern has but is better known for his many acting roles in TV (Murphy Brown, Cheers and Mork & Mindy). Jay had so many great stories -- Robin Williams and the crazy stuff Williams was doing around the time of Mork & Mindy; his experience of being fired from Cheers because of telling jokes in an interview about how unattractive Rhea Perlman (Carla on Cheers) was; and the fact that he was picked for the role on Mork & Mindy over Jay Leno because according to testing by ABC, Jay Leno's face scared children. A few interesting connections between Thomas and Howard are that Howard listened as an adolescent to Jay as a radio host, and eventually, Howard took over Jay's timeslot when Jay left radio for Mork & Mindy. Also, does anyone remember that Jay hosted the original TV show "Who wants to marry a multi-millionaire?" These interviews go on for 45 - 50 minutes without a commercial break, and sometimes continue after the breaks. You just don't hear this type of interview anywhere else. ANYWHERE.

In addition to those great interviews, Howard also had on the band Train so they could re-record the songs they played live on Howard's show back on terrestrial radio. Before the songs Howard interviewed Pat Monahan, Train's lead singer, and Pat's girlfriend Amber. Again, fantastic and compelling radio. Train then played a piano-and-vocals-only version of their hit Drops of Jupiter as well as a cover of Aerosmith's Dream On. Later in the show Train did a cover of Led Zeppelin's Ramble On as well as Train's new single Cab. Unbelievable. Great sound and great performances.

This was a great show, no doubt, but the amazing thing, and what drove me to write this post, is that starting with Train's appearance I listened to the show's evening replay after work. For three hours. I actually paused Howard's show while I watched NCIS on TV (unpausing Howard during commercial breaks), then continued with the show, popped some frigging popcorn, and listened until the show ended.

This satellite radio thing just might catch on. It's not only Howard Stern. The original, refreshing, freeflowing talk and commercial-free music are very compelling. I'm sold.

Related link: rundown of Howard's show today on Howardstern.com.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Sometimes the kindest acts are small and unannounced

I moved to the Sacramento area from Phoenix, AZ. Phoenix was the place where I owned my first car, the family's 1978 VW Rabbit. My current vehicle, a 1994 Chevy S-10 pickup, was initially leased and then bought in Phoenix. The first time I needed new tires for my truck I went to Discount Tire in Phoenix, known here in California as America's Tire.

As the driver of an 11-year-old vehicle (12 this June) I have been experiencing fairly regular trips to "the shop" over the last few years for repair or replacement of various components that have exhausted their servicable life. So when twisting the windshield wiper stem on the steering wheel column last week caused wiper fluid to pour out onto the ground instead of onto my windshield, I wasn't surprised. It turns out what had happened was that the tube from the wiper fluid tank and pump had pulled out of a rubber seal, so pushing the tube back into the seal fixed the problem. My troubleshooting the cause of the leak, however, had left the wiper fluid tank nearly empty, so a refill was in order.

As regularly as I can, I take advantage of America's Tire's "free tire rotation" service which it offers to its customers. I had this done just last Friday and the technician who serviced my truck said all the tires looked good and that they were wearing evenly. Fine, good. One more thing I won't have to worry about for awhile.

I didn't get around to buying a jug of windshield wiper fluid until today, Monday. When I arrived back home and opened the hood to refill the wiper fluid I discovered the tank was full. The only thing I can figure is that America's Tire filled it for me. Certainly there aren't wiper fluid bandits who open the hoods of the vehicles of unsuspecting motorists, check fluid levels and top off as needed.

Now, wiper fluid is cheap (I paid less than $2 for one gallon), so I realize America's Tire isn't endangering corporate solvency even if this is a regular practice nationwide. Whatever the cost is to them to do things like this is more than made up for in the repeat business sure to be generated by these small gestures. Whatever props my little posts of binary bits can convey to America's Tire are well deserved, so bask, America's Tire, bask.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

General Public License v3 draft is available for comment

The Free Software Foundation (FSF) has made public the first Discussion Draft of Version 3 of its General Public License (GPL). The draft and corresponding rationale for changes is available at the site as well as a very slick interface to leave comments on specific text in the draft.

The GPL was last revised (v2) in 1991 and has been an important part of the growing success of the Linux OS as well as the independent development of countless open source projects. Adaptation to technological and legal changes since 1991 will help this license continue to be relevant, so if you are a developer, user, attorney or are just curious it will be well worth your time to become familiar with these draft changes and comment on how you think it can be better.

Thanks to Dennis Kennedy over at the Between Lawyers blog for this notice.

Nintendo to launch Revolution in US by November 2006

According to an article on Next Generation, Nintendo's president Satoru Iwata revealed to Japanese newspaper Sankei Shinbun that Nintendo must release the Revolution console by Thanksgiving 2006 in the U.S. to have the support of retailers for the holiday season.

Finally a bit of good news and some additional pressure on Sony to provide details on the PS3 release. You know Sony doesn't want to be the last hardware launch of this generation.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Just because...

George Takei has been almost universally praised and appreciated by fans for his presence and contribution to the Howard Stern show as the show's new announcer and voice. His laugh, his voice and his sense of humor were simply outstanding. George apparently enjoyed his time also. All of these pictures are from howardstern.com. An excerpt from today's (Fri., Jan. 13) show summary at howardstern.com:


Following the news, George commented that it was “very, very special” not only being a part of the first week of Howard’s show on SIRIUS, but also being there for his birthday. George added that he plans on visiting the show as often as he can in the future. Howard then closed out George’s week of announcing by replaying his parody of the Christina Aguleria song, “Beautiful,” in his honor.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

SIRIUS billing update and favorable outcome

I received an email today from "Sirius Pricing and Billing" about my prorated charges that were incurred (see my #2 Activation issue and the 1/6 update here) when I activated my subscription on 12/29/05 . An excerpt:
Thanks for contacting SIRIUS, regarding your account balance inquiries.
You are correct, that was the pro rated fee for the last two days of
December. I credited your account for that insignificant balance, we
hope that outcome is favorable for you.
Why yes, this outcome is favorable for me. I logged into my account and indeed, the balance due is $0.00. It's nice to know SIRIUS isn't just triaging customer support issues and then throwing them away. Obviously my request had an additional review and was resolved in the best interest of the customer. While I agree that $0.84 is an "insignificant balance" in the grand scheme of things, the amount of goodwill that this small gesture bestows is not.

Monday, January 09, 2006

Thank you, George Takei

These were the first words of The Revolution.

In pure Howard Stern style, these words were heard after hearing farting of the melody to and with the theme from 2001 and George Takei's introduction.

Believe it or not, George Takei (the actor who played Lt. Sulu from Star Trek; pronounced Ta-KAY) is the new voice of the Howard Stern Show. He was live in the studio today and will be all week. He will continue to be the announcer for the show via recorded pieces and presumably he'll be in the studio when possible.

It was revealed that Howard is NOT married, though he tested everyone's reactions by initally stating that he was. Great reactions all around, mostly disbelief and disappointment since Howard has preached for years to all who will listen that he will never again be married.

The revelations were revealed, though the identities of the corresponding show staff will not be matched together until next Monday. Speculation will run wild until then. Howardstern.com has the list of revelations.

Howard gave a press conference on the air with George Takei moderating and the studio was full of mainstream media. All topics were open for discussion and we'll have to see what is actually reported.

The show went commercial-free from 6 to 11:15 am, though after this initial show there will be approximately 6 minutes per hour of commercials during the show. The staff was actually relieved about having commercials since it will give them a slight break to prepare material or go for food or facilities. There were a few musical breaks, one to correct a technical problem with feedback and others at the beginning and end of the press conference. There were a few lead-in musical bits using songs from Pantera, one of my all-time favorite hardcore/metal bands. Perfect attitude for the show.

Other news
Judge Samuel Alito's hearings have "begun," sort of. I had the TV on, muted, at 9a to see the beginning and I still can't tell whether Judge Alito has even been sworn in yet. The senators have each been making their 10-minute opening statements for about three hours. I suppose the formalities are necessary, but seem there mainly to allow the senators to sound important. Alito looks like he could fall over with boredom at any minute.

UPDATE, 1/9 at 12:21p: Alito is being sworn in!
UPDATE, 1/9 at 2:08p: ...and he's done. Actually Alito's opening statement was maybe 15 minutes and then the hearings were concluded until tomorrow. How boring.

Other other news

The Dow broke 11,000 today if anyone cares. That hasn't happened since June 2001. I can't believe it's not butter.

Related post: George Takei pics

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Samuel Alito vs. Howard Stern

Monday, January 9th will be a big day for news. Ariel Sharon will begin to be brought out of his medically-induced coma and the process of the selection of a new House Majority leader in the United States will make headlines.

For me, at least on Monday morning, there will only be two items of interest: 1) the beginning of the U.S. Senate confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito; and 2) Howard Stern's first show on Sirius Satellite radio.


A Supreme Court nominee or the King of all Media?

The possible tipping of the judicial balance of our country for the next 20 years (he's only 55) or the beginning of a groundbreaking new format for expression and media content like nothing else seen since, well, he did it on terrestrial radio (over 20 years ago)?

"I'll take 'Shock Jocks' for $1,000, Trebek."

There's really no question here, Stern's debut will garner my attention Monday morning. Alito's hearings will last for weeks, if not months, and be reported to death with much speculation and interminable details and analysis. I can pick that up anytime.

SIRIUS will have the east coast feed on channel 100 and west coast feed on channel 101, both beginning at 6am in their respective time zones. Expect to hear Howard comment on whether or not he and Beth are married, as well as the final unveiling of the Stern show members' "revelations" (secret or embarrassing things they've done but told no one until this show) that were touted as a cliffhanger in the last weeks of the terrestrial show.

My weekend project was to install my SIRIUS tuner and antenna in my truck and after almost four hours on Saturday, it is done. Drilling, carving and self-adhesive wire clips were all involved. Everything works, and today will be the inaugural drive to test the reception and sound. There will be a writeup, and if I can borrow a camera, pictures too.

Related post: "Thank you, George Takei"

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Firefox use gaining on Internet Explorer

Congratulations! Today, for the first time, visits to my blog with IE 6.0 have dropped to 48% of all visits. Firefox 1.5 is next at 28%. The remaining visits have been using Safari, Mozilla and earlier versions of both IE and Firefox. I've even had two visits via Blackberry -- using a Canadian IP no less!

All non-IE visits add up to 45% of the total visits. We're making progress.

Keep up the good work -- Get Firefox!

Monday, January 02, 2006

When executive war power attacks

Bruce Schneier, a security expert mainly known for his expertise with encryption and computer security, has an eye-opening article on the implications of the Bush Administration's authorization in 2001 of the expansion of the National Security Agency's eavesdropping powers inward to include citizens of the United States.

Awareness of this authorization implicates many issues including the compromise of the 4th Amendment Constitutional principle of the protection against unreasonable searches and seizures, the separation of powers among the three branches of government, the limit of Presidential power during times of war, and even what "war" means. All of these things are being discussed, and Schneier's article has many links for further reading.

One issue I was not aware of is related to the resignation of federal District Court judge James Robertson who is also a member of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC). The FISC was created in 1978 when the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) was made law, in order to review warrant requests for wiretaps and other electronic surveillance made by U.S. intelligence and / or law enforcement agencies in connection with suspected spy and terrorist activity.

Schneier pulls the relevant passages out of a Washington Post article (finish reading the first page before going to the second or you'll have to register to go back) reporting the resignation:
Two associates familiar with his decision said yesterday that Robertson privately expressed deep concern that the warrantless surveillance program authorized by the president in 2001 was legally questionable and may have tainted the FISA court's work.

....Robertson indicated privately to colleagues in recent conversations that he was concerned that information gained from warrantless NSA surveillance could have then been used to obtain FISA warrants. FISA court Presiding Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly, who had been briefed on the spying program by the administration, raised the same concern in 2004 and insisted that the Justice Department certify in writing that it was not occurring.

"They just don't know if the product of wiretaps were used for FISA warrants -- to kind of cleanse the information," said one source, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the classified nature of the FISA warrants. "What I've heard some of the judges say is they feel they've participated in a Potemkin court."

If any of you are like me you'd like to know what a Potemkin court is. It's not directly defined in Wikipedia (amazing!) but is referred to under Potemkin village as a change to the use of the name "Potemkin" to an adjective. According to Wikipedia, when the term modifies "court" the resulting phrase indicates that "the court's reason to exist is being called into question, not its standard of justice."

So not only has the current legal procedure for obtaining warrants to surveil United States citizens been bypassed, the court that was established specifically to review such warrant requests has potentially been compromised because it is unknown whether unwarranted NSA surveillance was used as the basis of apparently legal FISA warrants issued since 2001.

I'm not sure I can make a final conclusion with this one. I understand there can be an urgent need when national security is at stake, but how far do we want the government to go? It is very likely that as time progresses from the horror of the September 11th terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon the power of the executive branch will recede and self-correct as Congress asserts itself again. The problem is, now that the U.S. has characterized our struggle as a "war on terror," when does the "war" end?

Obviously there will be hearings, and the FISA law may ultimately need to be amended or rewritten to take modern realities into consideration. It's times like these that the importance of the First Amendment protection of a free press is paramount to the existence of a representative democracy.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

SIRIUS impressions

One of my first impressions of using SIRIUS was that it felt very much like listening to my dad's shortwave radio as a kid. Wandering the dial, unsure of what I'd run across and often being pleasantly surprised by what I find.

The sound quality adds to this sentimental impression. The quality is good, about like any FM station one can tune in, but the combination of signal compression on SIRIUS' end, less-than-perfect antenna reception and the fact that my SIRIUS tuner broadcasts the signal to the FM radios in my apartment make for an interesting departure from the "digital quality music" that is advertised by both satellite radio companies, recalling the occasional dips in signal quality common with shortwave reception.

I have finally found an antenna location inside that seems to provide a consistent and medium-strong satellite signal to the tuner. It's as close to my bedroom window as it can be, about halfway up, pointing north and slightly northeast. Interestingly, Sirius has ground-level repeaters in many major cities to improve reception and I receive a signal from both satellite and ground sources. Occasionally I'll receive an "Acquiring signal" message on the receiver for a few seconds, but for the most part the signal has been uninterrupted and strong all day today. I expect reception to be even better in my truck since there should be fewer obstructions for that antenna.

A paradigm-shifting event happened to me today as a result of having access to SIRIUS content. Usually when I have a snack or eat a meal I'll turn on the TV because I can't read and it gives my eyes something to do while my mouth is working. Today I actually put a chair in front of my SIRIUS tuner and explored the channels while eating. Chips and salsa in one hand, my SIRIUS remote in the other! For an audio medium to pull interest away from a visual one is a big deal. I kept surfing SIRIUS even after I finished eating.

So far some of my favorite channels are: BBC Radio 1 (ch. 11); Jazz standards (ch. 75); Pops classical (ch. 86); Coffee House (ch. 30); Howard Stern (ch. 100); Soul Town (ch. 53); and 80's hits (ch. 8). I also discovered that I like bluegrass (ch. 65)! I've also always had a penchant for high-energy dance / electronic music (ch. 33). It just never ends. There's even a channel dedicated to the old classic radio shows and dramas of the 30's and 40's (ch. 118). Any time I hear an artist or song I like I can tell my tuner to remember it and have it notify me the next time the artist or song is on any of the SIRIUS channels. This memory function applies to sports teams also.

After a few days of using this service I have to say it's one of the best purchases I've made in a long time. I suppose I could get by listening to random music on terrestrial radio, not knowing the names of new artists or new songs I like, but why would I when this service is available? I expect my praise to grow once I have the antenna installed in my truck and can totally immerse myself in all of the content.

Related posts: Sirius activation; Stern on 60 Minutes

CLARIFICATION, 1/1: The second sentence in the paragraph about me listening to SIRIUS while eating could be interpreted to mean that I don't know how to read. This alternate interpretation became apparent to me upon revisiting this post and made me laugh out loud. What I intended to convey is that I don't like to read while I eat due to book logistics (holding the book open and reading between bites is very annoying to me) and the desire to avoid foodstuffs and spills on my reading material. I thought the clarification warranted a mention lest you all think I merely bang away here, dropping marbles on my keys, somehow managing to compose and publish this blog oblivious to the meaning of the written words that result.