Tuesday, December 9, 2008

I couldn't have said it better

Campbell Brown is taking on executive compensation in her latest CNN posting, a subject I've covered before. Would it be hoping too much to wish this astonishing and insensible trend be somehow reversed in the coming years?

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

The way things are done, down under

I've already talked about gun bans in Austrailia, and now the Australian government is seeking to further encroach on the rights of Australian citizens. Recent news postings are saying there's going to be Internet Filtering down under. As far as I'm concerned, there's plenty of content that ought to be filtered, but the job of filtering that content needs to fall on consumer's shoulders. Oh, and by the way, if China can't stop all the undesirable traffic coming into their country, what makes Australia think they can?

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Bad Dog! No Biscuit!

I posted this to the CNN discussion board about yesterday's implementation of the new merged Sirius/XM Radio lineup:
I think the sound quality is awful, now. There is way too much digital compression, and too little dynamic range. I can't make out drum/cymbal parts in the songs I listen to, because the overuse of digital compression makes those details too muddy, or worse, nonexistent. I gained an NPR channel, but when I got in the car for the drive home yesterday, there was no "All things considered" feed. I used to like XM82 for my workout soundtrack, but it's gone now. Also, I'm sorry, but I also think that asking for another $4 a month for "the best of Sirius" is ridiculous. I realize that neither company was turning a profit, and that I could've been faced with the extinction of either or both services. I'm paid up with a year's service, so we'll see how things look when my renewal comes due next year.

Monday, November 3, 2008

My new stereo system

In my last post, I mentioned how I was the proud owner of the first car CD player in 1985. Back then, *nobody* my age settled for a factory stereo system in a car.

The sound system in my new car sounds better than some high-end home sound systems I've heard. Bose managed to design a sound system in my Infiniti G35 that has all the sound coming at you from the front of the car, instead of coming from behind you, as is the case with most mobile sound systems.

I'm also testing the blogger.com email-to-blog-posting feature from my iPhone. While I was at it, I attached a photo of my car. I made this photo the morning after I bought the car, and really liked the setting. It was early morning, and the car was sitting in my Mother-in-law's driveway. This was my last visit to her old house last May.

Sunday, November 2, 2008


I went to my 25th High School class reunion yesterday evening. I've not seen much of my best friend from High School, since I've been busy raising two children, and he's been working on his PhD. We ended up spending the whole evening catching up. He had taken a tour of our school campus and remarked about how much had changed. When we were there, physical security amounted to a laminated ID card with our photograph on it. Now, students at our old school carry swipe cards they use to gain admittance to classrooms. Our school was pretty forward-thinking for it's time. In the early 1980's, a local family endowed the school with a couple of dozen TRS-80 Model I computers, and the school made a 1/2 credit computer science course mandatory for graduation. When I graduated, typing classes were optional, and of course, they were taught on typewriters. Now, I suspect students are turning in a good part of their homework electronically on laptop computers. It'll be a few years before my children attend High School, and I'm trying to imagine what their educational experience will be like.

I had a few other rememberances from those years:
  • The heavy metal band, Pantera, was a local group, and they played at some of our school dances. I don't think Darrell Abbott had his 'Dime Bag' nickname back then.
  • I worked two summers to get enough money together to buy my first computer, an Apple II. The computer solidified my "geek cred" for years to come, and was the first of many computers I bought over the years. The summer job wasn't bad, either. I worked at an appliance sales and repair shop, and that skill has come in handy many times over, now that I'm a homeowner.
  • I heard my first demonstration of a Compact Disk player the summer before my senior year. I've written before about what a music and stereo nut I was (and still am.) I still remember hearing Boston's "Don't Look Back," and Carlos Santana's guitar on "Nowhere to Run," during that CD player demonstration, and I remember clearly how breathtaking that level of sound quality was. It made me wonder what people thought in prior generations when they heard an Edison Phonograph for the first time. I went to work straight out of High School, and bought a CD player as fast as I could (in the summer of '84,) and bought the first in-car CD player (summer of '85.)
In other milestone news, this blog will be a year old very soon.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Whither Blu-Ray

I'm not surprised by the news that Blu-Ray has thus far failed to gain customer acceptance. I speculated toward the beginning of this year that Sony may have won the HD-DVD battle, but that they've possibly lost the High-Def disc war. I've upgraded to HD Cable with on-demand programming. I can rent the same HD movie content from my cable box that I would be renting in the video store. There goes my need for another expensive disc player.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

8K627BTDTXL is stolen!

Question: Apart from obvious reasons, why is an iPhone better than an iPod?

Answer: When you report your iPhone as stolen to your wireless carrier, the carrier immediately puts the electronic serial number of your iPhone on a stolen list, and nobody can activate it. You just *might* get it back, or you *might* deter thieves from stealing it, if they know nobody will buy a cell phone they can't activate.

As for the iPod, Apple will in no way assist you with any attempt to recover your stolen iPod. You can register with Apple as the owner of a new iPod by providing Apple your new iPod's serial number, and your iTunes content is associated with the serial number of your iPod. But even with that kind of information in-hand, and with your express consent, Apple won't stop somebody from taking your stolen iPod and attaching it to iTunes on their computer.

So, my 60 GB 5th Generation iPod has been stolen, and it's serial number is listed in the title of this post. Apple won't help me recover it, and stolen911.com seems to be out of commission. stolenipod.com echoes my sentiments about Apple not maintaining a stolen registry.

(Luckily, I found a couple on craigslist who were selling their well cared-for 60GB iPod, along with product packaging, and other verification that I wasn't buying somebody else's stolen iPod.)

blingmenot, not!

Earlier, I alluded to the type of excess that runs counter to my blingmenot ethos. Here is a prime example. This is, no kidding, a $1,800 power cable. Before you rush out and spend that kind of money, consider giving it instead to somebody who needs it. Here's my elevator statement for anybody remotely considering high-end cabling: "We put men on the moon using spacecraft constructed with nickel-plated copper wire. What makes you think your sound system is so important?"

(For my technical friends: Notice how they don't even bother to give you a 30-Amp Twist-lock plug on this cable: the one thing that might have made any difference by increasing the current-carrying capacity of the power cord.)

I could pardon somebody for wanting this as some sort of objet d'art. I've never seen such a beautiful power cord before. But, please, just encapsulate it in a plexiglas cube and put it on display.

Oh, and one last thing.. If you just have to buy this power cord, always remember that you'll be plugging it into a thirty-nine cent electrical outlet. That outlet's being fed by solid copper romex wiring that costs less than fifty cents a foot..

Friday, August 15, 2008

A View from Both Sides

I was issued a BlackBerry as part of my new job assignment. Prior to now, I'd not paid much attention to them. I wouldn't call myself an iPhone bigot, but I figured the iPhone had more features I wanted than the BlackBerry. I elected to keep my iPhone for personal phone/net usage, so my BlackBerry usage would all be billable by my employer.

I must say that Research In Motion understands the needs of the enterprise customer far better than Apple does. Then again, I don't recall seeing folks lined up around the block waiting to hand over hundreds of dollars for the soon-to-be-released new BlackBerry model. It's not like Apple needs to heavily discount their product to make it attractive to corporate customers, when they have a ready, willing, and able consumer market to saturate. Furthermore, I've heard stories of IT managers getting off an Apple call to discuss iPhone in the enterprise who say "they are so arrogant." Apple can afford to be with such a heavy consumer market.

Apple will have trouble competing with the price, the battery life, the extensibility, and versatility of the Blackberry in the corporate environment. Arguably, since Blackberry places no restrictions on who can and can't publish software for their device, Apple faces a challenge in the consumer space as well. I downloaded and tested the free trial of Garmin's navigation software for the BlackBerry the other day (which has Google search integrated into it.) It is much better than the iPhone map application.

Apple needs to fix the approaching black eye situation they have with the iPhone 3G model, with dropped calls and terrible battery life. I sure am glad I bought my "original formula iPhone" when I did. I don't want the new model. Until they do that, BlackBerry can clean up in the enterprise space, and make inroads in the consumer space with a less expensive device.

For the time being, I like carrying both devices, though the geek factor on such an arrangement is a little high. At least, I keep one of the two phones in my pocket, out of sight.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Archetypical Gadget Enthusiasts

My father-in-law passed away shortly after my wife and I were married. I didn't have enough time to get to know him as well as I would've liked to, but I've learned more about him as the years have passed. The first time he visited my house, he noted my sound system/home theater with interest. He looked carefully at the Ortofon cartridge on my Technics SL-1200MkII turntable and asked, "What's the tracking force on your stylus?" I brightened up, sensing I was in the presence of a fellow enthusiast.. "I run that stylus at a gram and a half." I could tell we were going to hit it off perfectly.

I was brought up by parents who had little use for stereo/hi-fi, and I grew up in the heady days of the 70s and 80s, where stereo systems were a thing of pride, to be obsessed over in their purchase, ownership, care, and feeding. My first good stereo system (Pioneer SX-450 Receiver, Superscope Cassette Deck, Dual 1257 Turntable, and homemade speakers) was a source of endless enjoyment for me. My father-in-law was a stereo enthusiast at the dawn of the home stereo enthusiast period: the late 50s and early 60s. This was back when companies like "KLH," "Fisher," "Scott," "Pilot," and "McIntosh" ruled the marketplace. The majority the gear was American-made. (By the time I got my first stereo, most of the good mainstream equipment was Japanese, and the old brands had faded into obscurity, or were now ultra-expensive enthusiast brands. Some of the old brands ended up being resurrected in the 80s, in name only. There were tons of 'Fisher' VCRs on the market in 1986, but that wasn't the same "Fisher" that made legendary stereo gear in the 50s and 60s.) Even though moderately high-end stereo equipment was reasonably priced, it was still somewhat of an extravagance to own a stereo system in the late 50s and early 60s. FM radio stations made a point of announcing they were broadcasting in stereo, much in the same way as television networks made a big point of announcing, "The following program is brought to you in living color." Neither stereo home entertainment, nor color television were mainstream in the early 60s. You were somewhat on the cutting edge of home entertainment technology if you had either a stereo system or a color TV.

When I first visited my future in-law's house, I noticed the two rather large stereo speakers in their living room. There was always something more important to talk about, so I never had time to discuss his stereo set-up at the level of detail I would have preferred. I eventually looked the speakers over and saw they were Altec 'Carmel's. He told me he bought them in the early 60s, but we never discussed what other equipment he used back then. By the time I met him, he had a much newer stereo receiver, along with a late-model Nakamichi CD Player and Yamaha Cassette Deck. I figured he'd gone through a technology renewal in the late-80s, and I tried to imagine what kind of gear these new components replaced. I never even got to listen to his system while he was alive, but I ended up turning the system on one afternoon, because I wanted to hear those magnificent speakers. It only took the slightest amount of gain on the volume control to fill the room with full, rich sound. "Nice Speakers, Dad.." I thought to myself.

Years have passed, and my Mother-in-law is now preparing to move closer to us. We spent the weekend at her house and my wife, brother-in-law, mother-in-law and I packed her belongings, and either sold or disposed of other unneeded items. My brother-in-law handed me a small box he found while cleaning out my father-in-law's workshop. "Dynaco Stereo 70" was printed on the box, and it contained bits of wire, and a handful of resistors and capacitors. I knew enough about old stereo gear to know that Dynaco / Dynakit components were "the shizzle" for their time. I previously imagined my father-in-law bought pre-assembled stereo gear when he built his first "dream system." I asked my brother-in-law if he remembered any of the brand names on his dad's gear. "No, but he built most of it from a kit." That cinched it for me. The man knew how to pick good equipment. The Dynaco Stereo 70 amplifier was (and is) a legendary piece of gear. Further discussions with my mother-in-law confirmed he also made good use of his equipment. He would put on the 1812 overture, and just about run her out of the house. (I've never run my wife and children out of the house with my system, but my parents probably contemplated running me out of the house 30 years ago with my stereo listening habits!)

My father-in-law also raised two children who appreciated good stereo equipment. My wife and my brother-in-law both shopped around and bought nice stereo systems. My wife told me how she and her brother both consulted with their dad and each other about good brands and features while they were assembling their own stereo systems.

There was never a lack of interesting conversation during the short time I knew my father-in-law. I just wish I had discussed stereo with him a little more. It's good to find a fellow gadget enthusiast every now and then, and get the opportunity to discuss shared interests. I also wonder what my children and their spouses will make of my gadget choices many years from now.

Friday, February 22, 2008

What have I been up to?

It's been a while since my last posting. The BluRay vs. HD-DVD format war is over, so we'll see if my prognostications from my last posting bear any fruit.

At any rate, my wait for a new mobile phone is over. I managed to accidentally crack the display on my trusty Sony Ericsson W600i handset, rendering the phone useless.. Well, not totally useless. It wasn't until a call came in that I pulled the phone out of its holster, and saw it was damaged. I tried to make do by putting my SIM card in my backup phone, but that phone doesn't do web browsing very well, and I can't reply to SMS messages on it. I was due to be on-call at work, and I rely on SMS for notification of on-call needs. I needed to do something about replacing the phone, or I needed to locate a temporary phone I could use until whatever 'ultimate' phone became available. I mentioned before how I was either waiting for the 3G iPhone, or for the OpenMoko phone to become usable. I ended up deciding the existing iPhone would be fine for my needs, and bought one. So, I've been an iPhone owner for the past couple of weeks.

(That's not all I've been up to.. We had hardwood floors installed in our living/dining areas and entry way, and I removed the nasty 'popcorn' texture from the ceiling in those rooms, re-textured, did drywall repair -- did you know termites eat the paper off drywall?-- and repainted the newly textured ceilings. Now that the new floor is installed, I'll be doing new baseboards and quarter-round this weekend.)

There are so many things the iPhone does well, but there are so many things that need work. Thanks to the efforts of many dedicated developers, there is a thriving, unsupported, 3rd-party application development scene for the iPhone. So much so, that Apple has decided to release a Software Development Kit, in order to bring this application development community into the mainstream. I doubt Apple will willingly allow the kind of intimate access to the internals of the iPhone that I expect, and I wonder if folks in my position won't be faced with the prospect of choosing whether or not to 'go legit,' and run only sanctioned applications on their iPhones, or choosing instead to continue to use un-sanctioned applications.

There's way more I could say about the iPhone, but most of what I would say is already out there on other blogs and message boards, so it probably does no good to re-hash all that information here. I'll probably have more to say about my iPhone if and when I end up doing something with it that wasn't already thought up by some other developer or hacker.

Thursday, January 31, 2008

The future is (not) Blu

I mentioned a month or two ago that I bought an HD-DVD player when Wal-Mart featured them in a pre-Christmas doorbuster sale for $100. I was not taking sides in the format war... I was voting with my wallet. I don't figure it's worth spending much more than $100 for *any* video disk player, regardless of format. Since then, there's been a couple more rounds in the HD-DVD vs. Blu-Ray slugfest. Blu-Ray's on top right now, due mostly to their content availability coup, where they convinced Warner Bros. to go Blu-Ray only. So, all the fanboys are whipping up the rhetoric in the message boards, goading each other about how HD-DVD isn't long for the world. I've got a few thoughts about this topic:

1.) By far, the most popular Blu-Ray player is the PlayStation 3 gaming console. They cost at least $400, and Sony may have, after over a year of production, finally managed to eke out a small profit on each PS3 console sold. The upshot of all this is that few people are buying the purpose-built Blu-Ray player, where there may be some profit. Yes, yes, I know. My $100 HD-DVD player was sold at a loss, too. But that was back when there was much more of a format war going on. Based on stand-alone player pricing trends over the past few weeks, it looks like Sony and other Blu-Ray player vendors are already 'making their acceptance speeches,' as the victors in the format war. Purpose-built Blu-Ray player prices during the holidays dipped below $300, while HD-DVD was more of a threat. Now, you won't find a player for less than $300, and most are back up to $400. Why would I buy one when my $400 would also net me a whiz-bang gaming console, to boot? - Put more simply, if there's no longer a format war, and your standard is the victor, you better make sure you're in a position to make some money by selling hardware.

2.) My HD-DVD player does a *beautiful* job upconverting standard DVDs to HD quality. No, they don't look as good as real HD content, but upconverted DVDs look *way* better than when they are played back on a standard DVD player. I could be satisfied for quite a while watching upconverted Sdandard-Def DVDs... probably long enough to wait for either Blu-Ray prices to drop *significantly*

or 3.) with the purchase of my HD-DVD player, I may have purchased my last disc player, ever. Once Apple, Vudu, or brand x get their online act together, I'll just rent what I want to watch online, and forego the purchase of yet another disc player.

So... There are three alternatives, any of which are likely, and none of which are unique to my household. None of them feature me adding to Sony's bottom line anytime soon, either. Sony may have won the Blu-Ray battle, but they may have lost the high-def disc war.

(Oh, and by the way, the ability to record on any of these discs is a non-event in my mind. Until one of the multi-hundreds of gigabyte rewritable optical disk formats is economical for the average user, I'll keep buying those unbelievably cheap (by comparison) multi-hundred gigabyte USB/SATA external hard drives for my storage needs.)

Monday, January 14, 2008

The mundane side of early adoption

I accept that I will have to keep waiting for some of the gadgets I really want. The 3G-Compatible OpenMoko phone isn't in the offing anytime soon, and neither is the 3G iPhone. I also don't want to have to hack the iPhone to make it do what I want. This is one example of my early adopter status. (For more examples, see my earlier posting on home theater.)

I find myself being an early adopter today on a far more mundane technology. I want 30 watt dimmable PAR 40 compact soft-white compact flourescent lamps to install in the recessed lighting fixtures in my house. I've been using CFLs for several years in lamps and ceiling fan light fixtures. Now, I want to get rid of the 90-watt recessed incandescent floods in my den, kitchen, and dining area. I use X-10 home control, so the lamps need to be dimmable.

One warehouse store near my house has non-dimmable PAR 40's, and one of the local home improvement stores has *one* PAR 30 dimmable lamp. Then I head over to Wal-Mart. They are spearheading a campaign to foster adoption of CFLs. They even had an endcap display from GE, showing a comparison between the various incandescent lamp types, and their CFL counterparts (and it included PAR 40 lamps.) The display read "You can find lamps like this and more on our lighting aisle." "Terriffic," I think. Sign me up, here's my money! Where are they?! Uhh, there's no such lamp in stock.

Luckily, there are several e-commerce sites that have the lamps I want. I shouldn't bave to resort to such measures to buy light bulbs.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Guitar (anti-) hero, revisited

Engadget has a new take on an alternative to guitar hero. They also mention folks like me when they say "there's one sure way to ruin a guitar party, when a guitar purist suggests the game is a waste of time." At least there's an alternative.