Thursday, March 31, 2005

Finally

This just in - Terri Schiavo has passed away, 13 days after having the feeding tube that was keeping her body alive removed. Her mind died 15 years ago - it just took humanity this long to do the right thing and let her body go, too.

What's going to happen next in the Great American Culture War?

Birthday shout-outs

Happy Birthday to Woodge who's age now represents the Answer. Happy birthday to my Dad, who I will start calling "Pop" any day now.

And happy birthday to Air America, who will turn one tomorrow. Especially since after a couple of months, the initial money had vanished and their survival was in doubt. Recently, they started being carried on-air here in Boston - in fact, simulcast on two different AM stations!

Of course, the two stations each only have sunup/sundown licenses, and broadcast at such low power that when somebody turns on their hair dryer in Peabody I get interference driving over the bridge to Beverly. But I've got 'em both on my AM presets in the car, and it's nice to have an alternative to the usual in-your-face right-wing talk radio. Right now, I listen to WEEI most of the time (since I'm a sports nut), except when Dennis & Callahan are on (who I despise - instead of a righty and a lefty like some shows do, they go righty/Cro-Magnon) or any non-Sox game (including preseason Sox). So other than Imus, I haven't had many alternatives to Right-Wing Radio in the car until Air America.

Imus' station is OK until 1 PM, when they give it over from the slightly right but populist Mike Barnicle (from 10 to noon) and the slightly left but funny Eagan and Braude (noon to 1) to O'Reilly and the utterly vile Jay Severin, with worse afterwards. Other than that, talk is a wasteland until 8 PM when raging moderate Paul Sullivan goes on at WBZ

I'm glad they made it this far. Now, if only Air America can get on a station with a transmitter more powerful than a Glade Plug-In, I'll be all set.

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

For you Mac folken

In today's rumor mill news:

Apple has reportedly finalized a MacOS X 10.3.9 update, to be released in the next couple of days. It's an effort to clear up the last few issues before shifting all their focus to MacOS X 10.4, which has seeded the first Final Candidate build as of this week. Supposedly Apple will be announcing it this Friday, with commercial availability scheduled for later this month.

I went to a developer conference on 10.4 late last fall, and there's a lot of cool stuff I can't tell you about. But it'll be worth it.

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

News Flash

Those "International Star Registry" ads you hear on the radio all the time (at least I hear them a lot)? They're total BS, in case anyone here was wondering. Though I suspect those stupid enough to believe them probably aren't reading this blog - they simply get all their information from talk radio and Fox News.

But, just in case you were wondering, only the International Astronomical Union actually gives valid names to stars. And they have a system for doing so, that does not involve you paying approximately $50 to them.

Monday, March 28, 2005

Media Boy

One of the entertaining little side projects I've been doing is trying to spread media (meaning mostly broadcast TV) around the house as much as possible, and do it on the cheap. It's been kind of a challenge for me. Anyhow, right now my media distribution systems consists of the following components:

  • TiVO Series 2, hooked up to our HD set downstairs

  • An ElGato EyeTV (USB) attached to my iMac

  • 2 standalone DVD players, and one on each Mac in the house

  • Cheap Soundworks 5.1 surround system ($200)

  • One Linux (ClarkConnect) server in the basement


  • The TiVo and all the Macs are networked together. I recently took advantage of my Microsoft Partner status and the Action Pack subscription that I have for work to take an existing PC and convert it to run Windows XP Media Center Edition (MCE). I'm running the '04 version on it right now, and after a long wait for a cheap tuner card I'd ordered back in January it finally arrived late last week - giving me an excuse to work on setting it all up.

    Now, for the cheap plug part - A few weeks ago I created a second blog. The users' group I serve on the board of used to have a print publication called the LANtern. Originally a photocopied letter-size newsletter, when I ran the group it morphed into a full-size tabloid newspaper that we printed at a convenient web press. We used to have pretty wide distribution, too. But as the Internet became huge the demand for a printed newsletter vanished, and the LANtern has been in mothballs for around five years or so.

    Well, we just brought it back as a technology blog, rather than as a traditional newsletter. Faster, simpler, and there's a bunch of board members with posting privileges, so we'll be tossing up content pretty regularly. So far, there's not much, just a few postings by jours truly, but I'm writing an MCE review that I'll post this week in the hopes of really getting things jump-started. So again, to see the cool things I've done with MCE, check out The LANtern Online in a day or so and you'll get to read it.

    Thursday, March 24, 2005

    Storm fizzles, fo' shizzle!

    When I was getting ready for bed last night, there were some light snow flurries and the TV weather nerds were breathlessly talking about 4-8 inches of snow by morning.

    Well, morning came, and the snow did not. There's only enough to coat the grass in patches on some lawns. None on the roads, or sidewalks, or cars. Maybe winter's finally about over. And it's damn well time.

    Unless the Supreme Court decides to be wildly unprincipled for the first time since December of 2000, the sad story of Terri Schiavo is finally almost over. If we're lucky as a nation, some of the idiots we call voters will wake up and see what kind of a theocracy the GOP is trying to impose on us. And maybe they'll start doing something about it. Remember, I don't much like Democrats either, but this past week has been a perfect illustration of just why the Republicans nowadays are downright evil.

    I wish we could have a Centrist Party - splitting off most of the northeast Republicans (except for the New Hampshire Senators and the walking excrement that is Rick Santorum), some of the midwest and southern Democrats, and most of the non-wacky politicians nationwide. Your farthest-right member would be John McCain, and your farthest-left member would be Hilary Clinton (who's so far proven to be far more centrist than anyone expected). Jim Jeffords would join, as would Olympia Snowe and Lincoln Chaffee. We'd also have Chris Shays from Connecticut, John Kerry, a couple of the Mass. congressmen (like Lynch), Mary Landreau from Louisiana, and all the rest of the "mainly down-the-middle" political crowd.

    The Centrists would run the country much more effectively than either the Republicans or Democrats would - leaving the far-left and far-right nutlogs to fight over the details. Please, folks, have a meeting and make all this happen!

    Tuesday, March 22, 2005

    Bahgans

    That camera I bought the other day? CompUSA put it on sale for $250 this weekend, so I went and got price protection on it - equalling a $55 refund. So the camera cost me under $200 in the end. Sweet.

    Bizarro Mac

    A while back, I hopped onto a ludicrously attractive Apple business lease/discount program (for ACN members like me) in order to get a desktop for the office (I usually schlep an old PowerBook back and forth). So I ordered an iMac for my desk, with a 1.8 GHz processor, 17" screen, 160GB drive, Superdrive and Bluetooth. It finally arrived today, after lengthy delay. Sort of. What actually came was an iMac, and it was a 17" display, but otherwise every single option was the wrong one. The processor speed was wrong, disk size was wrong, the wrong optical drive was in it, the wrong amount of RAM, and it had an AirPort Extreme card instead of a Bluetooth module.

    Needless to say, it's being dealt with, but it's rather annoying and I'm expecting it'll be another month or so before it's dealt with. Grumble.

    Friday, March 18, 2005

    Mama don't take my Kodachrome away

    I was an early adopter in the digital photography revolution. So early, in fact, that I was the guy who put digital cameras in my old company (the ad agency/studio down on the South Shore) back in 1992. Before anybody else commercially had heard of them.

    I made a good living for quite a few years based on that decision.

    Anyhow, I also was ahead of the curve in buying a consumer-grade digital camera - I bought an Olympus C-3000z back in November of 2000. It was ahead of it's time, offering 3 megapixels of resolution, a high-quality 3x zoom lens, and excellent battery life, all for a price of about $600. I've used it since then. But it had some major drawbacks, which had become more prominent as time (and later model cameras) moved on. The C-3000z is pretty big and bulky - far too big for any coat pocket. It has a significant shutter lag, which makes it impractical for most action shots (when you have a toddler, every shot is an action shot). At 3 megapixels, the resolution is entry-level for today's standards. The C-3000z uses the very obscure SmartMedia 5 volt variant for storage - expensive, not stocked in many places, and slow in operation. And finally, the lens cap was the sort that had to be removed and stowed separately, or kept dangling from a cord.

    So last fall, I started looking into the idea of replacing it, with Jane's blessing. We decided that our camera was OK unless we got a really worthwhile buy that jumped out at us. And, with my hefty Staples Rewards bonus check (and a $20 coupon) that was about to expire in hand, yesterday one camera did jump out at me.

    I bought an HP R707 - this one is about 1/3 the size of the Olympus, with 5 megapixels of resolution and a really nice on-screen menu system. Shutter speed is fast enough that I actually caught David in the act of eating for the first time since he was a baby (oatmeal). It fits in a pocket nicely, uses cheap SD media, can fire in burst mode, and has all sorts of capable in-camera image enhancement available. Very nicely representative of what a circa 2005 camera can do compared to just a couple of years ago. And it includes Mac software, though it works out-of-box with iPhoto. The cable is also a standard mini-USB, as opposed to the oddball cable the Olympus used. And, the best part is that it was under $250 with the discounts I had.

    What did I give up with this camera? The Olympus had a sync connector for an external flash. And it used "AA" batteries, so I could keep rechargeable handy (Alkalines lasted about 5 minutes in there) - the HP uses a little Li-Ion battery that looks like the one from my iPaq. But there's a disposable battery available from most stores that I can buy and keep stashed to use in a pinch.

    The best part is that the pictures are even better than before, and since it's so small I'll be a lot more likely to carry it around casually - when you have to keep the camera in a bag it makes spontaneity more difficult. So expect more frequent David page updates.

    Kodachrome? I used to use a lot of it. But I've hardly touched my Nikon since going digital 5 years ago, and this is likely to finish off the rest of it. Anyone want a Nikon 6006 in great shape?

    Thursday, March 17, 2005

    A sad tale

    What's happening in Florida right now is a perfect example of what can happen when religious conservatives get full control of a state, and there's nothing to keep them in check. Witness the sad story of the Schiavo family. Terri's been essentially dead for 15 years now, and her husband (who has legal guardianship over her), finally decided some years ago that enough was enough, she would never recover, and it was time to move on in life. He also states that she did not want to be kept around as a rutabaga. Her parents, on the other hand, with no legal say over her, have tied this up for years, mobilized the Florida legislature and every far-right wacko around to do battle, and simply refuse to let go.

    Their love for their daughter is admirable. But she's already dead. her body is just still chugging along, propelled by the more resilient reptilian parts of the brain that regulate the autonomous nervous system are still running. She's not aware, she's not conscious, she's not capable of thought or voluntary interaction. Those parts of her brain no longer exist - they were killed by the heart attack that left her in this limbo and cannot ever regenerate. Stem cell therapy will not save her. Prayer will not save her. It's too late for anything else - the window of opportunity to save Terri Schiavo ended on February 20, 1990, about an hour or so after she had her heart attack. Which sucks. But it's a fact.

    And it's time for everybody to move on and let this tragedy end. Of course, in the state of wackos that is Florida, that's not going to happen. What I expect now is that the feeding tube will come out tomorrow, a week or so later Terri's body will finally shut down and join her mind, and then about 30 seconds later her parents will file a wrongful death lawsuit against her husband. Which will drag around in court for another few years.

    Sad story

    Florida right now is a perfect example of what can happen when religious conservatives get full control of a state, and there's nothing to keep them in check. Witness the sad story of the Schiavo family. Terri's been essentially dead for 15 years now, and her husband (who has legal guardianship over her), finally decided some years ago that enough was enough, she would never recover, and it was time to move on in life. He also states that she did not want to be kept around as a rutabaga. Her parents, on the other hand, with no legal say over her, have tied this up for years, mobilized the Florida legislature and every far-right wacko around to do battle, and simply refuse to let go.

    Their love for their daughter is admirable. But she's already dead. her body is just still chugging along, propelled by the more resilient reptilian parts of the brain that regulate the autonomous nervous system are still running. She's not aware, she's not conscious, she's not capable of thought or voluntary interaction. Those parts of her brain no longer exist - they were killed by the heart attack that left her in this limbo and cannot ever regenerate. Stem cell therapy will not save her. Prayer will not save her. It's too late for anything else - the window of opportunity to save Terri Schiavo ended on February 20, 1990, about an hour or so after she had her heart attack. Which sucks. But it's a fact.

    And it's time for everybody to move on and let this tragedy end. Of course, in the state of wackos that is Florida, that's not going to happen. What I expect now is that the feeding tube will come out tomorrow, a week or so later Terri's body will finally shut down and join her mind, and then about 30 seconds later her parents will file a wrongful death lawsuit against her husband. Which will drag around in court for another few years.

    My early line on Wrestlemania

    Based on the matches announced so far, here's my early predictions (in order of importance):

    -Batista over Triple H for the World title, clean
    -JBL retains the WWE title against John Cena (through outside interference), but then drops it at the next PPV
    -Randy Orton ends Undertaker's winning streak (he's won his match in all 12 of the Wrestlemanias he's been in)
    -Kurt Angle beats Shawn Michaels - this one has the potential to steal the show if it goes long enough. They've built it up great so far.
    -I'm not so sure about the Ladder Match. Before the recent real-life controversy with Edge (which I won't elaborate on, but all the Internet wrestling sheets will), I'd have picked him for the win and the push. Now, I'm not sure. If not Edge, then probably either Jericho or Shelton Benjamin.
    -Women's title match: There's not really enough legit women wrestlers anymore, since several of them were dumped and replaced with eye candy last fall. That said, Trish Stratus (the current title holder) is pretty good and a strong heel, so I see her hanging on. Christy has a little potential as an athlete, but is still pretty much eye candy.
    -Big Show/Akebono (Akebono is a legit sumo wrestler and a Grand Champion) Sumo match: it doesn't matter who wins, and nothing is at stake. This is just a "special attraction" match that should take up only a short time and be entertaining. With these two, there'll be about a half-ton of beef in the ring!

    On music

    Today's New York Times has an interesting article on digital music services. Specifically, it compares Napster to Apple's iTunes/iPod combo.

    The gist of it is that subscription services like Napster's aren't all bad, but right now it suffers from a couple of major shortcomings: inconsistent licensing (not all songs can be downloaded under the subscription plan, some require purchase), and the fact that it doesn't work with the iPod - since the iPod family dominates the digital music field. Napster runs a rather deceptive ad plugging their service which debuted during the Super Bowl, comparing their service to iTunes by saying "it costs $10,000 to fill an iPod, but only $15 to fill a player from Napster. Of course, the $15 is a monthly fee that you have to pay forever, but that's besides the point.

    Anyhow, thus far Apple's dealt with the "try before you buy" model by giving you the ability to play a 30-second preview of any song before you purchase it. The subscription model has its pluses - mainly the ability to sample lots of stuff you might not otherwise listen to. But you also need to be able to own your music - which Apple makes easier than anyone else. Ultimately I think the best answer is to have a cheap subscription available for an arbitrary amount under $10/month. And allow up to, say, 100 songs per month to be active under the subscription. That way, the user is either turning over their inventory regularly, or they're converting the songs to paid and adding them to their permanent collection.

    All I can say is that if Apple does add subscriptions as an option, Napster is toast. And by the way, the $10,000 that Napster cites in their ad? That assumes that you buy every single song on your maximum-capacity iPod as a single from the iTunes store. It does not assume that you have existing CDs to rip, or music from any other source.

    Tuesday, March 15, 2005

    Ugh

    I spent yesterday at a training class that Novell was holding on their new Open Enterprise Server (the successor to NetWare). Unfortunately, I'm missing today's second day of classes. In fact, I'm still in my bathrobe.

    The class was very useful. But I suspect that something in the catered lunch had an unwanted visitor within it, because I've been stricken with a nasty stomach bug since last night. When I went to bed, I had the whole spectrum of nastiness - chills, aches, stomach problems, everything. Yecch. This morning I was a little better off, but when I got out of bed to get ready for class, I felt like I'd been hit by a large vehicle during the night. And since I have a meeting scheduled at 12:30 in Cambridge this afternoon that's rather important, I made an executive decision to rest for a few hours, take some Tylenol, and save up my limited resources for the meeting.

    Which is a bummer, because the class was really good. Meanwhile, business developments have been pretty good over the last few days, and I should be sufficiently recovered by tomorrow to start taking advantage of them. And David started his first full week in preschool today - but he was a little reluctant to leave after being home for several days. Once he established that the usual order was reversed today (Jane dropped him off, I will be picking him up), he was OK with it.

    Wednesday, March 09, 2005

    OK, I've had just about all I need now

    I'm really ready for spring to arrive now. This last storm was the kicker. I think another few inches of snow and I'll be typing "all work and no play makes jack a dull boy" over and over (bonus points if you get the reference) on my PowerBook. Yesterday's storm at least didn't hit until after David and I arrived home, but it caused the cancellation of our BNUG meeting and it also coated our cars and driveway with way too much ice for fun.

    Today, by the way, was the first day where David was actually dropped off in his new classroom. Last week and yesterday, we took him initially to his old toddler room and then he was brought over to preschool by his toddler teacher. So, though he wasn't too happy about it, he made a Big Step towards the transition.

    I think he deserves an extra brownie at dinnertime tonight.

    Monday, March 07, 2005

    Grumble

    One of the ongoing projects I've been working on for a client has involved a complex server migration that entails managing clients with two entirely incompatible operating systems, and using software that really shouldn't play together. I did a lot of research and testing (for which I've been quite fairly compensated), and we've made a few attempts at putting it all together, which have been aborted at various points due to time and availability constraints.

    Today, the customer pulled the plug on the project. Which isn't really a problem for me - I'm still working on other issues for them, and like I said above, I'm being paid for what we've done so far as well. So it's not a problem at all in that regard. They understand what the problems are, they know I'm not the cause of them, and in the process of this we've made some significant improvements in the rest of their infrastructure and filled a lot of holes they didn't even know they had until my audits turned them up. Things are way better over there now than before I started, so it's not entirely a failure at that.

    The problem for me is a psychological one. Since my history is in IT management, and until very late in my tenure I was the "buck stops here" guy, for me failure has never been an option. My outlook (which has served me well so far) has been a "it'll work, or by golly we won't stop until it does" method. But that doesn't fly in the consultant relationship, where it's someone else's money, and someone else's decision. I'm not used to just being an expensive tool used on a problem, and it's still my nature to take it as a personal failing when something doesn't work the way it's supposed to.

    So for me the problem is one of mindset, and part of my maturing as a consultant is learning to realize it and deal with it. Which I think I'm doing OK. Meanwhile, I've done some homework on their behalf for which I am not charging to help work around things, and we'll revisit this at some point down the road.

    After a year in business (by the way, my anniversary was the 1st of March), I'm growing up a little. Good thing.

    Latest and Greatest

    We were supposed to travel to CT and visit my folks this past weekend, but I decided (reluctantly) that David needed the weekend at home to decompress from his stressful transition week. I think it was a good move. He slept a lot, and was pretty much back to his old self by Sunday afternoon. He and Jane are having a nice day at home today.

    Meanwhile, in the nearly 18 years that Jane and I have been together, there was one thing we had never done as a couple, despite my nearly constant desire to do so:

    (Get your minds out of the gutter, you sickos!)

    That was making fish for dinner. Jane has had something of an aversion to "fish" pretty much all her life (she eats most shellfish), while I absolutely love virtually all seafood (with the minor exceptions of oysters, octopus, and eel). So for years I've been suggesting that we should eat fish once in a while, and she's been against the idea. Well, she finally had fish when we went out for dinner a few weeks ago, and she thought it was OK. Then we had a Whole Foods Market open up over in Swampscott a couple of weeks ago, and they have a really good fish section.

    So yesterday, I got her to pick up some haddock filets when she was out doing errands in the afternoon, and I broiled it with a little olive oil, ground pepper, and kosher salt, serving it all over some saffron-infused rice. Yum. David pretty much demolished his, too, and Jane liked it a lot. I think we can start eating fish more regularly, and that can't be a bad thing.

    Friday, March 04, 2005

    First time in a while...

    David slept late yesterday. In fact, he slept from 9 to 8:30. And for the first few minutes, he was cheery and playful - playing peekaboo from under his bear.

    Then, when Jane went in to dress him, his mood shifted Just Like That. And he's been a whining, crying, screaming bundle of emotion ever since. He didn't cry when I dropped him off, though - he was too dazed for that. And to top it off, he's been somewhat lacking in enthusiasm now over the toddler room, even though he says he likes the kids there.

    Feh.

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