Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Why I like my friends....

My guys would do this.

I think my dog would too....

Can't really type well, I've got something in my eye....

Good Advice

"If you feel unsafe, you shouldn't be there"

Awesome advice.  Critical to those people that put themselves in "Harm's Way"

My professional time has been spent in very risky arenas.  On the street, in the ER, out in the field at my last job, all had serious risks associated with them.  However, I'm definitely not drawn to risk.
A friend of mine once called me "Risk averse", to which I replied "Risk mitigating"

That's the big thing when you routinely do risky jobs.  You learn what the risks are, where things go bad, and you figure out how to prevent them from happening, or how to rapidly address them when they do happen.  Risk is an integral part of everything we do (EVERYTHING), and we have to accept that.  Professionals acknowledge (never ignore) the risk, prepare for it, deal with it, and over come it.

Carrying a gun because you like to go to risky places is pretty freakin' stupid.  First, your best defense against that risk is to completely avoid it.  Second, the minute you pull that gun your risk goes through the roof.  

Good job, cowboy.  /sarcasm

I would take my hat off to Mr. Goodell.  Thank you for taking the smart avenue through this mess.  Thank you for telling your agency the realities of life.  Thank you for cleaning up a group that the public occasionally views as a den of criminals and cut-throats.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Responsibility when other's lives are in your hands

Throughout our lives we encounter people who have power over us.  All sorts of power, sometimes they have power without us even knowing it.  The police officer directing traffic, to the bank manager examining our loan application, to the professor reading our thesis, all of these people have some level of power over us.  In fact, they have a tremendous amount of power that they could use to abuse us, should their concept of "right and wrong" fail.

The professor, reading our thesis, could deliver a scathing and inappropriate grade.  In the age of digital media, he could substitute our submitted work with a previously published article, and accuse us of plagiarism.  At my university this would result in immediate expulsion, and would make it incredibly difficult to continue my education.  He could end my scholastic career, and make it relatively impossible to continue in my chosen profession.  Highly unlikely.

The bank manager, with my loan application in his hand, could control my financial future for quite sometime.  A copy of my loan application would could be sold to unscrupulous individuals for a certain amount of money, and I would face identity theft problems for quite sometime. Again, highly unlikely.

A police officer could easily decide to simply shoot someone out of hand, ending their life.  Properly staged, they could probably get away with it.  Also, unlikely.

All of these individuals have a duty to the person they are interacting with, whether it is professional, civic or otherwise, they have some sort of requirement to help others.

I'm a big fan of people making responsible choices.  Put simply, I'm a big fan of personal responsibility.  Those that risk others to advance their agenda cause me a tremendous amount of concern.

The recent arrest of Plaxico Burress for carrying a firearm without a license caught my eye this weekend.  I didn't think much of it, as it seemed an open and shut case.  The guy was a moron carrying a firearm without adequate care to ensure that it would be safe to himself and those around him.  Allegedly he was carrying a firearm while drinking (an absolute no-no).  While he claims that the firearm discharged accidentally while he was adjusting it, this is no defense, and runs counter to basic firearms safety.

A couple of days later, this article catches my eye:

That any concealed carry advocate could even consider supporting Plaxico Burress is beyond me.  I'm simply stunned.  The guy has quite literally given every gun-banning-legislator a poster boy for irresponsible carry.  The fact that Burress was licensed to carry in another state only adds to the fire.  He was an idiot, he broke numerous fundamental rules regarding gun safety, and if he had a shred of personal responsibility he would shut-the-hell-up and take his punshment quietly.

It's quite clear that Mr. Burress has never consider his duty to others, to keep them safe, and make sure that they are safe in light of his decision to carry.  And why should he?  Society is all to quick to attempt to place the blame away from him.

Let's be completely clear:  Mr. Burress would have been negligent and (probably) criminal if he had obtained a permit in NYC and suffered the negligent discharge in a crowded nightclub.  Certainly if he had been drinking, or if his errant round had struck an innocent, he would be up on charges.  Allowing him to have the opportunity to legally carry would have done nothing to stop this potential calamity.

As it is, we're lucky.  Well, almost lucky.  Mr. Burress shot himself in the leg.  No one else was injured (though I imagine several people were scared witless).  

People who are trained (truly trained) how to carry a firearm are taught to make sure that the general populace is safe.  Further, they are trained that if the general populace cannot be kept safe during a firearm deployment, then the firearm is not deployed.  It's quite clear that Mr. Burress missed that lecture.  A little education (taken to heart) would have averted this potential calamity.

So I come to the article, which I almost believed was a "Wolf in Sheep's Clothing".  I could easily picture a strict gun-control advocate writing the article.  However, that is not the case.

Mr. Kopel, please stop advocating for my rights.  You're doing more harm than good here.  
While your website does make me believe that you believe in gun rights, your execution is terrible, and sheds light on the worst possible aspects of concealed carry.  It does little to nothing to advocate responsible carry, and will only increase the ignorance surrounding the cause.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Another bizarre coincidence

It's been a couple of days since I last posted.  Well, it's been over a week.  
I've been using this spot as a place to rant and rave, and get some of my thoughts down in a semi-therapeutic fashion.  Not as an avenue to get my life out there, but rather to scrawl my thoughts out on a wall in a mostly anonoymous fashion.  

I'm a graffiti tagger on the information superhighway.

I imagine that someone speeding by (googling) this page would see a splash of disjointed topics (maybe a photo or two) and wonder "What the hell was that guy thinking?"

So, I really haven't been writing for anyone, or for any real reason (beyond the reason that I need to).  I get an idea stuck in my head, or a project that I'm working on (got a new one, BTW), and I can jot it down here. 

I'm doodling in the margins of the internet.

So my heart kind of skipped a beat when I saw I had someone commenting on my iPost-its.  

Then I realized it was my best friend.

Now I'm having to fight the urge to re-read everything that I've written for the last month.  I don't think I said anything mean, but I constantly say things that can be taken out of context or misused (I'd make a very poor political candidate for that reason.  I think Palin had it right for the first week.  Just don't say anything public.  Doesn't work so well when you're running for public office though....)

Is it bad that you would be a worse candidate than Palin?  Given the state of mad-media, chopped sound-bites, and misrepresentations?

So, I've got a guy peering over my shoulder, reading what I'm typing.  And he's commenting on it.  Verbally and publically.  Now I gotta make sure I don't step on my crank.

Hey amigo, you freakin' rock.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Sequel to the bad movie


I'm sorry, they can't account for the $90 Billion they've spent since mid-September???

Folks, I keep hearing people screaming about the war in Iraq and Afghanistan costing Billions a week.  

I'm doing the math here, and I'm seeing about $15 Billion per week ($90 Billion divided by 6 weeks), by a single company, who can't say where the money is going.

I know where some of the money is going:  nice business "retreats".  That news story has been done.  But I ask you:  If they're that stupid about publicly spending that kind of money, what are they doing privately?

Cell Phones

It strikes me that a cell phone seems to be the common excuse to be in public, but ignore the public.

It's bizarre that this little tiny device, with it's incredibly small level of interaction, can take the place of the massive sensory stimulus that is the world around us.

I'd like to think that I don't do this.  I know that almost certainly I'm wrong on that.

I do try to not talk on the cell phone around other people.  Let's face it, it's kind of rude to talk to someone that isn't there.  It's why we call crazy people "Crazy People".  We generally don't invite those people to parties.

I hate talking on the cellphone when I'm in the car with someone.  That's got to be one of my ultimate pet peeves.  You've basically just forced this other person to sit down, shut up, and not move.  The strange converse?  I don't mind that much if someone else takes a phone call while I'm in the car.

Not so in restaurants.  Seriously, you wouldn't do it at your mother's table, certainly don't do it out in public.

I truly applaud restaurants with a "No Cellphone" policy.  I recently went to one that kept my meal warm when I stepped outside to take a call.  Incredibly classy place, even if it was a 24 hour diner serving greaseball cheesesteaks (hey, at 2am, sometimes you really get a craving for an awesome cheesesteak).

I guess this is one other part of the "Treat others better".  Not well, but better.  Maybe start small, and just try to make one stranger actually happy that they were in your proximity that day.  If you find that you need to be a little bit stronger in an interaction, it's always easier to go from nice to nasty, than mean to nice.  Give everyone the opportunity to be nice.  I think the results will astound you.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

OK, I feel like this is just a really bad movie


So the two "Big Guys" in the securities industry have allocated $20 Billion (still gets spelled with a big B, at least until I make 1% of that amount) in bonuses to their employees.

A quick quote from the story:
``There is no Wall Street without bonuses,'' said Andy Kessler, a former analyst and hedge-fund manager turned author. ``The guys who know how to make money are the ones who are in demand. If you want to keep them, you have to pay them something.''

 Why the hell are you trying to keep them, you friggin' morons????  These are the people that have bankrupted you, and almost bankrupted one of the largest economies on the planet?  

You think maybe this is a good time to fire the lot of them, and pull in some people that understand how this works?  
C'mon!!!  Even I know that it's pretty risky to give my friend a loan.  You know, the one who can't seem to hold a job any longer than he can hold his bladder.  Sure, he's nice and he's really trying hard, but he's had more jobs in the last year than changes of underwear (I'll give him credit, he can hold his bladder a long time).

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Bunk and garbage


The DMCA is a horrible piece of legislative garbage that has given a litigious backbone to agencies such as the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) and the Motion Picture Association of America.  These are the same groups that have taken to bringing hundreds of thousands of dollars in lawsuits against individuals who they suspect but cannot prove have committed a crime.  Further, they have petitioned the US Supreme Court that they do not need proof of the crime to demonstrate damages related to the crime.  

Simply putting the songs into a shared folder is enough to make you a criminal, in the eyes of RIAA.  So, if I create a synchronized folder on my desktop and laptop, which has copies of my music, then this is illegal?  Even though iTunes says I'm ok?  (I'm not saying that I do this.  I don't need the RIAA coming after me)

Let's take it one step further:  
I have an iPod Touch.  Cool little piece of tech that many would argue is a mini-computer in its own right.  I have a ton of music, both from iTunes and from my CD's.  I routinely synchronize the iPod from my computer.  I'm sharing the music from one computer to another.

Now, I believe that under "Fair Use" doctrine, I'm in the clear.
I also believe that in order to be nailed in a court of law, the plaintiff has to prove proximate cause of their damages.  They have to prove damages, and they have to prove that I caused them.  I'm not going to argue that there is damage occurring (I think the RIAA has caused more damage to itself than it has prevented), but I will argue that merely having songs in a computer system that is capable of sharing the files, is not sufficient proof of damage.

A quick synopsis of my previous ire.

Now onto my current annoyance.

Author David Kravets (http://blog.wired.com/27bstroke6/2008/10/ten-years-later.html) is pushing that the DMCA has opened up the freedom of the web.  


The DMCA is a morass of bills hung on to one label.  The idea that sites like YouTube, Google, and other user-generated-content sites (like this one) would not have been able to flourish without the DMCA is pure rubbish.  These sites are an inevitable extension of the internet.  If they had become popular before the DMCA, I'll contend that we would have had a much better piece of legislation.

His final quote from an MPAA employee: "The ISPs wanted safe harbor provisions in return for their support for the anti-circumvention provisions, which was one of the major and most important compromises in this legislation," he says. "It's not perfect. But it's better than nothing."
This type of belief is moronic!  We can't afford blatantly damaged, distorted legislation.

This is the same mentality that screams out "There ought to be a law!"

People, we don't need or want the government legislating our behavior.  
We didn't need the DMCA to tell us:
It's ok to copy your music from your CD to your MP3 player.
It's not ok to give all of your friends, their friends, and their friends friends copies of your purchased music.
It's really not ok to sell it to them illegally.

A Crisis of Faith

First, I'll start with a typically weak excuse:  It's been a rough year.  It's been a rough two years.

OK, pathetic.  Really, no excuse when I compare with how rough it could be.

I "volunteer" at a local business that is putting in a new bar in my neighborhood.  The place serves around a dozen beers on draft, none of which I have ever seen advertised during the Super Bowl.  The food is excellent, and the owners have a knack for picking out some of the most personable staff it has ever been my pleasure to work with/for.  Finally, it is within walking distance of my house.

In short, an aweseome project to devote some of my spare time towards.  I won't even get in to the owners of the establishment, who are two of the coolest people around.

Anyway, I fixed a computer glitch the other day, and I wanted to stop by and check on it later that night.  I'm walking up to the door, when I see one of the server's around the back.  I wandered over and found him and a co-worker smoking.


I really like the guy.  He's young, smart, seems like a decent guy.  Always pitching in, never complaining, perfect "laid back" guy that you'd hang out with.  Honestly, he seemed smarter than a smoker.  

I know!  I've got a long way to go to overcome my preconceptions.  At least I know I have them, and I try to keep them in check.

So I started my bitching and moaning about his smoking.  It wasn't a real bitch and moan session.  It was more of a "Man, I can't believe you're doing that", and my complaining that I've seen too many people get nailed by smoking.

The two of them tossed it back at me (They don't know what I did for a "real living", before taking up the college student lifestyle).  I just talked about the handful of friends and acquaintances that had died in the last couple of years.  These were people their age who clearly died to young, and clearly not from a car wreck or bizarre drive-by shooting.  Could I say the cigarettes killed them?  No, but I could say that each one smoked.

I wound up BS'ing with them for a little bit longer before heading in to check the computers and talking to the owner.  I walked home without paying it a second thought.

This is the moment that chills me, and I'll get to it in a bit.

Two days later I'm back at the restaurant (I'm a computer guy, but I'll be the first to claim that I'm not a computer expert), and my friend starts his shift.  He pulls me aside and drops a bomb on me.

He's quit smoking.  Cold turkey.  Done.

Ordinarily, this would be enough to make me tear up.  He goes on to tell me that I really struck him the other night.  My coming over, and telling him how I honestly feel made him reconsider exactly what he was doing. 
His words "I just needed someone else to give a shit to show me that this is worth it."


OK, I tried real hard not to visibly tear up.  I don't know how well I succeeded.

I've got a fair number of friends and family who smoke or have smoked.  I've seen all of them try to give up with varying levels of success.  Universally I've seen that it's a trial to do it.  The habit is not hard to kick.

I've heard people compare it to heroin or crack-cocaine addicition.  I'm not sure how valid that is, but I can tell you why cigarettes can be harder:

Social acceptance

This hits on so many levels.
First, a smoker has their "Gang", their friends that go out to the corner of the building and smoke.  You see them, they're the social outcasts now, who have formed their own rebel enclave.  They have secret meeting times, even special "gang signs" to indicate when to head out to the "Butt Hut".  The get together just to smoke.  Not what I would call a great support group.  Certainly not a group that is going to help you kick the habit.

Second, you can smoke in public.  On the street, at the bar, on your porch, in the majority of places you can light up.  No one is going to see you smoking and call the cops.  The next couple of fill-ups at the gas station, see how many people are smoking.  Easier, look for tossed out cigarette butts.  I'm going to bet that people don't carry them around just to toss them on the ground at the gas station.

Third, you can buy them anywhere.  With all the jokes about the invasion of Starbucks across the country (yeah, another addiction, but it's different) you'd think someone would notice that you can buy cigarettes almost anywhere.  Hell, in some places it's easier to find cigarettes for sale than a public bathroom, water fountain or pay phone.

I guess if smoking were as anti-social as heroin or crack-cocaine use, it might be easier to kick.  I don't know.  

I do know that if my buddy calls me at 2am, needing a gum fix, I'll be there.  If he can kick it, he can help someone else do the same.

So the reason that this chilled me so much:
I had almost gotten to the point of not caring.  I'd delivered my canned speech so many times that it was almost stale.  A year ago I would have walked away from the encounter bothered that this guy was engaged in such a self-destructive behavior (to call it anything less is just candy-coating it).   It took him listening, reacting, and feeding it back to me to realize where I was.

I'm really thankful that he grabbed it with such enthusiasm and vigor.  Even more so that he decided to turn around and share it back with me.  He may have saved my enthusiasm.

Speak your mind, share your thoughts.  You never know when it may change someone's life.  You never know when it may make living your life that much more rewarding.

A special shout-out to my best friend, who did quit smoking, has staying off, and vocally advocating others to quit.  I don't always agree with his methodology, but I'm really happy about his success.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Well, you can just rock me to sleep tonight



Apparently these are real images.  Links to the story below.  I'm going to go have a terminal case of the heebie jeebies.



OK, before I start to rant and rave, you might want to just take a quick glance at this article:

This is a topic that was tiring before it even got to this point.  In 1998, Andrew Wakefield (A gastroenterologist, a bowel doctor) and his colleagues looked at 12 children who had bowel disease and developmental disorders, who had all recently had a vaccination of some sort.  All of these children had been referred to him as patients.  They were not blindly chosen for the purposes of a research study.  These patients had been selected (on some level) for care, specifically for their bowel problems.

For some reason, the daft Dr. Wakefield decided that he saw a trend, and published a "study" (this is in quotes because this is a study only in the most limited sense.  An article would be a better term).  The fact that this "study" made it into Lancet (a peer reviewed, and somewhat prestigious medical journal) only makes this story all the more tragic.

The media picked up the story, and before long an international scare burned across the globe.  Parents were petrified of giving their child something that could cause brain damage.  Media generated statistics (read: lies, half-truths, and misintepretations) were thrown into the mix.  Before long, people acted with what was felt to be justified outrage.  In their minds, the medical community was posioning their children.

By 2006, the majority of the authors of the "Wakefield Study" had issued statements of retraction, condemning the study.  The limitations of the study far outweighed any relevance to the practice of medicine, or the safeguarding of children.

The year is 2008, and we see children dying of a preventable disease.  Diseases which have been mostly conquered for decades.  Why?  Because parents remember the media feeding frenzy of 1998, and not th quiet retractions that have happened since then.  No real press has been given to the clarification that, in FACT, there is no proven link between vaccinations and autism spectrum disorders.

Correlation does not equal causation.  If you give a child a vaccine, and months later the child develops mental disorders (or any disorder) that does not mean that the vaccine is the culprit.  Think about it.  In the intervening months the child: ate, fell down (at least I did as a child), learned a new skill, breathed, had a band-aid applied (again, at least I did as a child), played in the dirt, etc.  Any one of these things could be just as guilty (or contributory) as the vaccine.  Or it may have no role at all in the child's developing condition.

Now, another chain of events.  Your child gets Measles (or mumps, or rubella), and now has a chance of dying, suffering from neural damage, or losing their sight.  The child also has a chance of spreading these diseases to others.  Pregnant women may spontaneously abort their unborn child due to rubella infections.  We know for a fact that this happens (if you want to discuss Disease Theory, I'll give it a short try, but this is pretty well established).

Please vaccinate your children.

But now that I've said that, we have to respect a parent's right to bring up their child.  There may be reasons to not vaccinate their children (though none of the above appear to be valid to me).  Strict religious reasons may prevent a parent from vaccinating their children (Not what I believe in, but a patient's beliefs should be recognized and respected.  It is one of those big reasons that life is so sacred).

I don't believe that the government should mandate immunizations in any but the direst circumstances (smallpox containment is an example).  Parents should be able to opt out of immunizations.  However, I believe that the default position should be one of immunization.  Require some level of energy expenditure to prevent the immunization, even if it is simply requiring a simple signature on a simple form.  This way, apathy will still result in protection of the child from potentially fatal illnesses, and help reinforce herd immunity.

Education should also be taking place.  Every flyer discussing immunization should list some of the relevant facts regarding the immunization/autism controversy.  Point out the level of discredit that Wakefield has suffered.  Point out the incidence of diseases of concern (not just MMR, but Autism as well).

The vehemence surrounding this is astonishing at times.  I know parents want the best for their children, and I know that I will never be able to assess "Best" for every parent in every situation.  However, the logic behind some of these decisions, and the numbers that are making these decisions is just baffling.

Stay safe, folks, and take care of each other.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008


That's it.  Just totally freakin' awesome

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

A little perspective

Our government has decided to bail-out the mortgage industry to the initial tune of $700 billion dollars.
When I first saw it, I couldn't really comprehend it.  The only things that I have ever seen 700 billion of were grains of sand, and other aggregates (A human body has more than 700 billion cells, I think).


If you took $700,000,000,000 in $1 bills, it would reach to the moon and back 131 times (with the moon at it's furthest point).  If you just laid them out, end to end, it would reach the planet Mars.  OR, it would circle the globe 2,662 times (around the equator).

This bailout is WAY more money than the US budget for defense.  The budgetary amounts for the Global War on Terrorism, the Gulf Coast Hurricane Recovery, Veterans Affairs, and Border Security add up to $483 billion dollars for 2007, 2008, and 2009 (projected).

That's $17,000 for every man, woman and child in Sudan (the country Darfur is located in).  That is almost 10 times their gross domestic product.


That is $44,000 for every student attending a college or university in 2007, in the United States (A little less than two years of average tuition).
Or we can give each graduating college student $280,000 to pay down their debt or pay for post-graduate classes (or buy a house).

That is a pay RAISE of $112,000 for every teacher in the United States, or roughly a tripling of their salary.

Seven-hundred Billion dollars (It gets a big "B")

That will provide the salaries for over 16,000 nurses.  Those people that take care of you when you are sick, dying, or suffering from a horrendous life change.

The International Space Station has cost approximately (very approximately) $100 billion to deploy.  Yep, we could get seven of these.

Folks, the people who are looking for these handouts routinely take home bonuses measured in the millions to tens of millions of dollars.  During the "Bailout" discussions, these people went on trips costing hundreds of thousands of dollars, despite their businesses being in jeopardy.  What was the purpose of these trips?  Apparently rest and relaxation, given that they went to a posh spa in California.  I can assure you that this rest and relaxation was not offered to the people they foreclosed on when the loans went sour.

Almost no one has mentioned anything about the horrible loan practices that got us into this mess, perpetrated by the businesses that now seek a massive bailout.  We're going to see a shell/shuffle game that rivals the skill of a seasoned con-man, as the responsibility for these bad loans is shifted from company to company.  All were complicit.

This isn't a matter for the upcoming vote.  Neither of the candidates has really announced any plan or strong viewpoint for dealing with this mess.  This really comes down to accountability.  

The $700 Billion that is being thrown around is your money.  The people that are being affected are your peers, your neighbors, the small business owners in your community.  Your congressman, senator, and president will all have jobs tomorrow.  They will continue to make their money (and spend yours), and they will continue to have their job security.  

You will have to worry, and spend some sleepless nights concerned about the roof over your head.  Sleep well.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Blu-Ray Player Update

I wrote a couple of days ago about a Blu-Ray player that I built, mostly using parts around the house.

I took a little time the other day, and underclocked the CPU down from a 2.4Ghz to 1.2Ghz, while dropping the voltage.  I really didn't think I'd need that much computing horsepower to play movies.  

I was right.

The system just finished playing "Ironman" (again), while I was studying (well, playing around with photographs).  The CPU temp peaked at 29 degrees, and playback was 100% stable the entire way through.  No twitters, snags, or bizarre audio.


Our sad state of affairs

I grew up reading Bloom County.  When I first started enjoying the strip, I'll admit, I didn't get all of the jokes.  The anxiety closet, Oliver Wendell Jones, the swimming hole, all of those, I got.  It took me awhile, but once I figured out what a "Tomato" was, well, I got it.  Pretty much all of it.  I laughed my face off when "The fishes were going to tear gas us".

For awhile I've felt that we (The United States) have become too divisive.  Our national pasttime has become tearing down opposing viewpoints, in the loudest, brashest manner.  The easy "food" for this is the media generated garbage that is spewed forth.  Some talking head gets on TV, says something, and is made "Media-Fact" before anyone takes a second to check the veracity of the statement.

I mean seriously, who gives a crap what Tyra Banks thinks about the election?  Do people really take Adam Baldwin seriously (Don't answer that, I'm finding out that Yes, people do).

My family is pretty representative of the voting demographic.  We've got staunch republicans, devoted democrats, and fringe idiots that seem to enjoy typifying the "arguing for arguings sake" problem.
The email exchanges were fast and furious.  It seems that the older generation is particularly mouthy, and willing to accept as gospel anything that is printed in the press (If it's on the internet, it must be true, right??!?).
The emails came to a screeching halt when my cousin piped up with some fact checking, and multi-source comparisons of facts.  It seems that she decided "Enough is enough", and just went out and checked some of the facts in these emails.  After the first email, she realized "Hey, I've struck gold", and started digging in all of the emails.  Her final email was about as bi-partisan as it could be (because both sides were spewing pure crap, in some cases), and pretty long.  A weak attempt was made by one party (who I'll just label as "fringey" for now) to attack one of her facts, but that was the end of the "Fact"-backed political email argument.

It seems that facts get in the way of a really good argument.  

I've had this conversation with my father (and a couple of others).  There have been several big media stories where the fundamental facts have been understated, or misconstrued.  I don't remember this happening when I was growing up.  I guess I had this childish innocence then, but I seem to remember being able to take newspapers as fundamentally accurate.  I was told that I was being naive, and that this had always been happening.  The media has always had a bias, in one way or another, and that the extremes have always been there.

From off stage comes Mr. Breathed, with an upsetting annoucement, and shoring up of my sanity and perceptions.
I feel like a friend has died (again).  If Opus can't keep us "Real", and grounded, I am truly horrified.  Hopefully someone else will come back to tell us we need to attack dandelion puffballs, and kick back on the hill looking for shapes in the clouds.  We need to open the closet door and face down our anxieties (frequently with harsh, glaring realities).  

I'm glad that Mr. Breathed has stepped from behind his characters to tell people that there is a problem.  That we're heading for a bad place (hell, that we're already there).  That we should be paying attention to not just what we're saying, but what we're attacking.  That our fundamental tolerance is slipping, and this tolerance is what our country is supposed to be based on.  This is countered by our supposed grounding in reality.  Our education, our critical thinking, and our willingness to face realities, and force those around us to face those realities (if you haven't read page two of the interview linked above, make sure you read it).

I hope, either way, that Opus will retire to when he should be.  I hope that it includes his harem, a waterhole free of snakes, and an unlimited number of dandelions.  Either way, the tears on my face will be real, as a childhood friend will be passing on.

Prayer pimples for hairy fishnuts.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Junk to Jewels

I'm a creative guy, but as an artist, I suck.  I truly do not have a good eye for aesthetics (my best friend does, and it drives me crazy).
So when I set out to make something, it has to work.  It may not look good, but it's going to work (and if it works, it typically works very well).

I build computers on the side.  Friends and family get it for free, others pay a small amount, typically less than what they would be paying for a retail computer.  Oh yeah, you don't have to wait an hour to get me on the tech support hot-line.  And yeah, I do make house calls.

I've got a fair amount of compu-junk lying around in boxes, or attached to old projects (My last big build was a dedicated computer built into my truck.  Full nav, MP3 player, position and speed tracker, on board diagnostics, a real nice system.  Too bad I had to yank it when I sold the truck and bought a Prius).  Much of it is older stuff that has been taken out of a computer or other project that is being upgraded.  Every once in awhile, I get a new piece thrown my way.

This build started off as a "perfect storm".  Everything came together rapidly.  First, my sister bought me "Ironman" on Blu-Ray (great movie).  Unfortunately, I don't have a Blu-Ray player or an HDTV.  I went and did a little research, and those things are expensive, particularly if you want a good player:
I specifically wanted one that could output to a variety of sources, and would connect to a home network (it turns out that this last option is kinda rare, and not cheap).  I was looking at hundreds of dollars, probably over $500.

As a lark, I researched Blu-Ray drives for PC's.  While searching, I took a look at Blu-Ray recorders, and found a unit from LG for $190, including free media:
A Blu-Ray burner, for under $200?   This project started to have a pulse.

A friend of mine had recently told me he was going to give me a motherboard that he had bought for his office computer.  He had purchased the wrong one, and in exchange, I would help him get the right one (turns out he was doing something similar, he wanted to use his PC on his big HDTV on the wall).  So, I was getting a buff new board, from my favorite MOBO company (ASUS).

A friend had given me a shuttle PC case and power supply a couple of years before.  I'd never had a MOBO for it, but that was getting taken care of.  I went and grabbed it out of storage, and it looked perfect.  Unfortunately, it's a couple of years old, so I don't really have a weblink for it.

Memory was going to be salvaged, along with the processor (Intel Q6600) from an older motherboard.  As it turns out, the memory was not compatible with the new motherboard, so I had to get new sticks (thank god they're really cheap).
The price is off on the website, mine was $50 with another rebate on top of that.

The fan also had to be replaced.  The fan on the old motherboard was too tall for the shuttle PC case.  I splurged a little here, and got a Zalman fan with a 16dB sound rating, for $34 (Thermal paste another $7).  I was a little worried that it was going to be too broad for the motherboard, but it fit beautifully.  Even at it's highest setting I can't hear the fan noise over the background noise in my bedroom/office.  Certainly when the TV is on, I won't be able to hear it.

I salvaged another graphics board from an old PC.  This board (a Radeon x1600) had a VGA, DVI and S-Video output.  The S-Video is what I really needed (The MOBO has VGA, DVI, and HDMI outputs.  Unfortunately the DVI is not a full DVI output) to be able to get the computer to display on a standard TV.

So, the build was broken down like this:
ASUS P5Q-EM Motherboard Free
Intel Q6600 Processor Free
ATI Radeon x1600 Free
Zalman Fan and thermal paste ~$42
Corsair 4gb Memory ~$50 (minus a rebate)
LG Blu-Ray Recorder Drive $190
Windows Vista Ultimate Free from old computer

Total cost: $282 (I missed my original price point of $250 by 

I choose Vista because XP doesn't support Blu-Ray drives (or playback).  I also happened to have an extra license from an old computer that wasn't going to get ressurected (at least not right away).  I also have had pretty good experiences with Vista to date, and I'm not really sure what the griping is about (though I'll admit I would have like to see more of the promised features in the upgrades).

I'd like to thank the ASUS community forums real quick.  The memory incompatibilty issue really stumped me.  When I first started testing the board, it powered up, but nothing came on with the monitor.  This isn't my first build, so I spent quite awhile (hours) trying to figure out what was wrong.  Within hours of posting a plea to the forum community, I had a simple answer (that I probably should have come up with), and my fix was evident.  This is one reason why I keep going back to ASUS.

Once that was taken care of, installation was a snap.  I initially installed using a dedicated computer monitor.  I wanted to get the system up, drivers installed, and everything working before attempting to connect the computer to a TV set.

Once that was accomplished, I set the screen resolution down to 640x480.  I then shut the system down, and hooked the video and sound up to the TV.  Lo and behold, the Windows boot logo came up, and the desktop appeared.

I put in Ironman, which immediately booted through PowerDVD (bundled with the Blu-Ray drive).  Ironman immediately accessed the internet and pulled down additional content (pretty cool, but I have no idea what it actually pulled down).  I watched the first scene, and fell asleep, happy with my build.

I finished watching Ironman the next day.  While I'm really pleased with the build, I can't wait to see what this looks like on a true HDTV.  That's probably going to be a really long time in coming, as I had to reach deep just to finish this build (I'm actually a poor, not-quite-starving college student).

The interface is a little difficult.  I need to find a way to make my Harmony remote control the media functions of the PC.  I also need to find a decent wireless media keyboard for the system (my old Media Center Keyboard apparently has had a stroke or something).

I don't know that this is a viable option for the majority of the people out there.  Cost is close to a real unit:
Case ~$100
Processor ~$75
Memory ~$50
Motherboard ~$140
Operating System ~$150 (at least)
Blu-Ray Recorder ~$200

So around $700, call it $850-$900 with labor.  However, this system will RECORD to Blu-Ray disks (and CD's, DVD's, dual layer disks, and lightscribe).  It's incredibly hard to find Blu-Ray recorders for home theaters, and the ones I found ranged from $1000-$2,500.  Granted, that price is going to come down tremendously over the years.

However, this system will also do everything that a normal PC will do (email, internet, etc).  With the addition of a TV tuner board:
This thing will also be able to act as a TiVo/DVR (Approximately $150).  It won't be able to get premium channels (yet), because the consumer electronics industry hasn't jumped on the capabilities of the CableCard system yet (that's a rant for a later day).

I need to figure out how to get movies from this system to my iPod.  I've never watched a movie on my iPod (I don't really sit still long enough to do that), but I'd like to be able to do it.  Also, the Genius's at the Apple Store told me I couldn't.

Don't tell me "no".  It just eggs me on.

Be safe out there, and remember to vote.

Edit:  Quick update.  I under clocked the processor to run at 1.2Ghz (half the normal speed), which dropped the CPU temperature from 36-39 degrees centigrade, down to 26-29 degrees centigrade with the fan now running at the lowest setting.  Video playback seems to be unaffected, but the boot times seem to be slightly longer.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Freakin' Awesome Photos

I'm a geek. I admit it. I find science fascinating, and I'm a sucker for the latest tech toy (well, almost. I don't really have a game console, so I guess that cuts me out of the geek running).

Every once in awhile, I'll hit on an article or website with some amazing pictures, articles, or rarely, video clips. This one looks to combine all three:


A quick rant about Macs, the Apple store, and the zombie fan boys

I don't really think of myself as particularly dedicated to any one tool, tactic, technique, or gizmo.  If something works, I'll grab it.  Sometimes I'm an early adopter, sometimes I'm a late adopter.  It took me years to get an iPod.  I thought they were overpriced and overblown, and it seemed that an easy way for a manufacturer to make 25%-50% more on an item by labeling it "iCrap".
Then my sister got me an iPod Nano.  I was amazed at the awesome sound coming from such a small, light package.
The Nano failed at an inopportune time when the sync cable interface cracked.  I found an iPod Touch and grabbed it, impressed with the excellent user interface.

However, I'm still a Windows guy.  I do a tremendous amount with my computer that I simply can't do with a Mac.  Case in point, I just finished turning old PC parts (and a drive) into a Blu-Ray Disc player and Recorder.  As of this morning, it's questionable whether Apple will ever support Blu-Ray.  Keep stifiling those options....

So, back to the iPod.  I switched laptops recently, and had to move my collection of music from one computer to another.  I won't get in to DRM and the MPAA/RIAA, that's a rant for later.  What I will get into is the error that happened a couple of days later.

Suddenly, iTunes is refusing to load.  I get an "Unknown Error: 13026".  I'm lucky that I live in an area where we have a couple of Apple Stores, as nothing in the iTunes knowledge base pointed to this problem.  So I made an appointment, and went to see them.

My first clue that I was going to have a problem was when I see a girl, near tears, at the "Genius Bar", hearing that she needs to spend $350 on a half-terabyte backup drive.  Why does this iCrap cost so much?  
One gigabyte (twice the storage) for half the price.

I didn't say anything.  My dumb-ass.  At the time, I thought (and still think) it would be rude to walk into a shop (anyone's shop) and offer contrary advice.

So I get up, and present my problem.  The first thing out of the guy's mouth "Well, the big problem is that you're using Vista.  You should get a Mac".
OK big guy, I just bought a laptop for less than a grand that lets me do the photoediting I need.  To get something even close to this, you're suggesting I spend over $2,300, not including the $1,000-$2,000 software suite to go with it.  Thanks, "Genius".

So, the error says it's from iTunes.  This guy tells me it's a Vista problem.  I just want to make sure that I've got the rundown on this:
iTunes is available for Windows XP, Vista, or even Vista 64-Bit.
Apple makes a fantastic amount of money from Windows users who purchase music over iTunes
I purchased an iPod Touch for use with my Windows system.  Which is supported (at least according to the box).

All of this would leave me to believe that I could expect some modicum of tech support.  The "Genius'" suggestion?  Wipe the hard drive, start from scratch.  Buy a Mac.
It was at this point that I did launch into him, listing the reasons why I wouldn't buy a Mac (though I would probably get one for my Mom, who is a little behind the times when it comes to computers.  Let's face it, Mac's are pretty durable in the hands of people who don't understand computers).  I finally got a little peace from the idiots behind the Genius Bar, who told me to wipe the drive (and the music, coincidentally.  That part didn't get mentioned.  They didn't offer me a $350 backup drive either).

I went home, and did what I should have done in the first place:  I researched the problem, found the solution, and implemented it.  In 20 minutes or less.
Incidentally, the problem (13026) is caused by a bad file, Genius.itdb (the irony of this is kind of funny).  Simply erasing the file will cause iTunes to generate a new one, but one that should be competent.

So, I'm kind of curious, why does iCrap cost so much?