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The Wife Test is back!
After 15 years, I have republished my wife test, now with upgraded technology and backed by a database.
Posted 03/16/2013 10:00 PM in Geek Stuff, Ramblings, Who knew?
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My DVR List
I've been having problems with my DVR. First, the second tuner stopped working so I couldn't watch in my room. Then it started taking longer to respond to commands. Now during playback it pauses every few seconds and the sound cuts out to the point that some recordings are unwatchable. Today, it started making clicking noises, which most likely means the hard drive is physically dying.

I guess I'm going to have to get a new one (and possibly upgrade to HD). Hopefully I can catch up on my recordings but I have about 80 hours of content. If my HD finally goes, I might lose a whole season of 24, Lost, Survivors, The Clone Wars, Caprica, No Reservations and various other items. Boo.

I also need to catalog my DVR recording queue so I can recreate it on the new HD DVR when the time comes, so here it is:
  • 24
  • How I Met Your Mother
  • Gordon Ramsay's F Word
  • House
  • Top Gear
  • Lost
  • Heroes
  • The Office
  • Family Guy
  • Last Restaurant Standing
  • Fringe
  • Kitchen Nightmares
  • Robot Chicken
  • Parks and Recreation
  • Dirty Jobs
  • Mythbusters
  • Star Wars: The Clone Wars
  • Primeval
  • Ace of Cakes
  • Bleach
  • American Dad
  • Top Chef
  • Good Eats
  • Attack of the Show
  • Verminators
  • Wrecked
  • No Reservations
  • Ninja Warrior
  • The Next Food Network Star
  • Warehouse 13
  • Top Chef Masters
  • Community
  • Glee
  • 30 Rock
  • Caprica
  • Survivors
  • Human Target
  • The Cleveland Show

Posted 05/08/2010 06:43 PM in Geek Stuff, Ramblings, TV
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The Train Man
When I was in Japan, my friend Mappe introduced me to a Japanese program (from 2005) called Densha Otoko, literally "Train Man" about an Otaku (uber-geek, i.e. an anime obsessed, socially awkward internet dweller) who falls in love with a beautiful woman on the subway.

I watched the TV series and enjoyed it so much that I decided to do a little more research on it. The story is based on the unfolding threads on the 2Chan Japanese forums in 2004, and are generally accepted to be a real story. The original compiled forum threads are available in the original Japanese and translated into English if you like to read internet forums.

The series of threads were so popular that they were compiled and published into a book and eventually made into a movie and also into a TV series. The movie is available on Netflix and the TV series is available for streaming at MySoju.com

If you're a bit of a geek, or would like a look into the Japanese geek world, this is an amusing and touching (though slightly over dramatized) series to look into and I highly recommend it.
Posted 11/13/2009 02:05 AM in Geek Stuff, Japan, Movies, Reviews, Videos
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Map and Vids from TSSCC AutoX 8
Using MyTracks and GPS on my Google phone I recorded this week's AutoX at Route 66 Raceway in Joliet, IL. You can view the map on Google Maps along with some annotations I made.

And with a cheap $30 camera mount I got on Amazon, I managed to get a few decent runs recorded. It was a rainy day and you can see lots of puddles in the vids. This was after a couple runs during Heat 1 so things started to dry out. Unfortunately, it started to pour during Heat 2 when I was working so I got pretty soaked running after cones (good thing I bought extra socks)!

When it was my turn to run again in Heat 3 it was still to wet so I couldn't take any more vids so you don't get to see me drifting through the slalom or spinning out. However, the big bummer of the day was that on my last run, I was feeling really good and didn't make any big mistakes. I was certain that it was my best run and that I had met my goal of the day but when I crossed the finish line, my time read 0:00 due to a timing error! I got a re-run but I spun out, so I'll never know if I managed to get a good time finally. :(

Posted 10/03/2009 07:22 PM in Cars, Geek Stuff, Videos
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Blogging Fail
Ugh, I can't believe that I've been so bad at blogging for the last several months. And don't get me started on my pictures... i've got hundreds of pictures I still have to organize, some dating as far back as last November! When I'm a year behind, I know there's something wrong. Maybe I need to take a vacation just to catch up on those things.

Part of it is work which keeps me busy and makes me want to do nothing but veg out at night. Part of it is that random inconsequential rambling is much easier on Twitter, which also makes me less verbose with it's 140 character limit. I mean, look at this post! I was planning to write two sentences and now I've got two paragraphs and it's still pouring out! Must... stop... typing...
Posted 08/04/2009 06:28 PM in Geek Stuff, Ramblings, Work
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Air Traffic Control
A couple months ago my flight to Chicago had a medical emergency and we had to land in Cleveland to drop off a passenger. I decided to listen to Air Traffic Control (ATC) which is a feature offered by United. I found it pretty interesting and not at all like what you see in the movies.

One thing to note is that ATC is made up of several independent divisions. Here is a brief summary of all the divisions that my flight passes through on its way from Hartford to Chicago:
  • Taking off from Hartford we start with the Tower, which provides runway conditions and clearance for take-off.
  • Once the plane leaves the ground, we contact Departures which coordinates which way the plane turns and what bearing and altitudes it should take.
  • Once clear of the airport, we contact Boston Center to coordinate regional traffic, altitudes and flight conditions
  • Leaving the Northeast and passing through North Central, we contact Cleveland Center
  • Leaving North Central and crossing over the Canadian border, we contact Toronto Center
  • Crossing back into the US, we contact Cleveland Center again
  • Approaching the Chicagoland area, we contact Chicago Center
  • Approaching O'hare, we contact Chicago Approach for headings and runway assignment
  • After receiving runway assignments and headings, we contact O'hare Tower for clearance to land
  • Once we've landed, we contact O'Hare Ground for taxi and gate routing.

Below is a transcript of radio chatter from my flight, United 719. This starts soon after we contacted Cleveland Center. It's interesting to hear all the different people talking. For instance some people are friendlier than others and some have thick accents, like Korean 360 which obviously had a Korean pilot. It's also interesting to hear them announce "traffic" when routes intersect or run parallel within 2000 feet of elevation.

Numbers are constantly tossed back and forth and may refer to flights, speeds, headings, altitudes or radio frequencies. Sometimes they say the whole number and sometimes they read out the digits. Jargon is also pretty common, for instance saying puddle to refer to a puddle-jumper, a small propeller driven plane for short regional flights or heavy when referring to jumbo jets or cargo planes. They also use words to call out letters for instance Quebec for Q, Foxtrox for F, etc, particularly on the ground where every taxi-way and runway has a specific letter and number designation (more on that some other day). So it requires a basic understanding of what's going on and a good ear to figure things out sometimes.

One thing you can't see in this transcript is how crazy things get near Chicago where the traffic and congestion mean constant radio chatter. The radio is always on with updates from dozens of flights and you never know what you're going to hear when your crew switches channels. I really feel for the ATC controllers that have to work at O'hare. I actually heard pilots saying "Unbelievable!" to the ground control after having to back-track a route to get to their gate. The controllers have to be on top of things and there's very little breathing room with so much traffic and thousands of lives in their hands. My hat goes off to them.
(UA719) Cleveland Center we're experiencing moderate chop at 3-6.
(CleC) United 6, conditions?
(UA6) light chop last four minutes
(UA719) How is 4-0-0?
(CleC) light chop reported but that was 20 minutes ago
(UA719) Trying 4-0-0
(CleC) United 7-19, Status heading up there?
(UA719) It's been continuous chop all the way, United 7-19
(UA719) 7-19 now picking up light turbulence at 3-8-0
(CleC) Puddle 6-60, how is it where you are?
(660) at 3-6-0 had some chop while we leveled out but it's better now
(CleC) United 7-19, Puddle 6-60 says 3-6-0 is better now
(UA719) Going to 3-6-0 United 7-19
(CleC) United 7-19, Toronto Center says 3-60 should be a pretty nice ride soon
(UA719) Appreciate you checking for us, United 7-19
(CleC) 7-19, contact Toronto center 3492
(UA719) Toronto 3492, United 7-19
(UA719)Toronto Center, this is United 7-19 at 3-6-0 experiencing light chop
(TorC) United 7-19, hello, that should clear up for you in a little bit, it gets better as you head west
(UA719) Thanks
(TorC) United 7-19, traffic at 12 o'clock 1000 feet below
(UA719) Traffic ahead, United 7-19
(TorC) United 7-19 contact Cleveland Center 1-2-6-5-2
(UA719) 1-2-6-5-2 Cleveland, United 7-19
(UA719) Cleveland, United 7-19, 3-6-0 finally smooth
(CleC) 7-19, what was your condition?
(UA719) Well, it was 100 miles back, continuous light chop
(CleC) United 719, maintain 3-4-0
(UA719) 3-4-0, United 7-19
(CleC) United 719, contact Cleveland Center 1-3-3 dot 8-7
(UA719) 1-3-3-8-7, 7-19
(UA719) Cleveland Center, United 7-19 at 3-4-0
(CleC) United 7-19, maintain 3-2-0
(UA719) 3-2-0, 7-19
(UA719) United 719, at 3-2-0
(CleC) 7-19, Roger, no complaints
(CleC) United 7-19, descend at discretion, maintain 2-0-0
(UA719) with discretion, maintain 2-0-0
(CleC) United 7-19, contact Chicago Center at ????
(UA719) ????, United 7-19
(UA719) Chicago Center, United 7-19 descending to 2-0-0
(ChiC) United 7-19, 2-0-0
(ChiC) United 7-1-9, cross fire ??? at 0-0-niner thousand
(UA719) Cross fire at 9000 feet, united 7-19
(ChiC) United 7-1-9, contact Chicago Approach, 1-1-niner-0
(UA719) 1-niner-0 7-19 g'day
(UA719) Approach, United 7-19 at niner thousand
*lots of stuff*
(ChiA) bonzo?, United 7-19
(ChiA) United 7-1-9, descend and maintain 7000
(UA719) 7000, 7-19
Of course we had to turn off all electronics after this so that's all I could get.
Posted 06/25/2009 10:14 PM in Chicago, Geek Stuff, Hartford, Ramblings, Travel, Who knew?
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G1 Power User Group Journal Entry 5
App Updates:
  • Touchdown | Uninstalled | Free Trial expired and I can't justify spending the money for Exchange connectivity.
  • Toggle Settings (Cupcake) | Updated | I discovered that the new version can put a shortcut into the status bar which means that changing settings can be accessed anytime you can see the status bar instead of having to go to your home screen.

Social Apps
  • Droid Twitter | Installed and Uninstalled | This is a bare bones TWitter client that just provides a tweet form and your lastest post. When entering tweets, it doesn't count your characters and the last tweet display only shows about 50 characters. The app is described as being focused on quickly submitting tweets however it fails because the app does not automatically log you in so you have to hit login every time you start the app (though it does remember you login info). It is also ad based so at the bottom of the screen there are always ads. Lastly, the splash screen is always showing up when you do things which is annoying. I think that an app can be speed oriented but still follow good usability concepts and I think this app fails at it's own purpose.
  • Twitta | Installed and uninstalled | A simple, pleasant looking app for reading your latest tweets and submitting a new tweet, all conveniently located on a single screen. Once you log in, it saves your information and brings you to your main page. From there You can reply, direct message or visit someone's Twitter page as well as open in-line links in a browser and quickly link to in-line @ replies. My complaints are that the tweet form is very small making it difficult to see everything you've typed and the button is tiny making it hard to submit. The display screen is attractive but apparently downloads a ton of historical tweets and doesn't provide a scroll bar to quickly navigate or tell you where in the list you are. In settings you can customize the polling interval and notifications of new tweets. The one downfall of this is that it notifies you when YOU have submitted a new tweet as well which is a bit silly.
  • Twit2go | Installed | Another pleasant looking app for Twitter. Once you log in, it saves your information and brings you to your main page. From there you can reply, direct message or visit someone's Twitter page. It does not support direct browser links nor does it automatically link @ replies. In settings you can change font size and set up notifications for any replies or direct messages, but it does not notify you of regular tweets. The strength of this app is the tweet form which shows your whole message and character count, but also supports URL shortening and picture tweets. These features alone may make it worth keeping, they just need to add in-line support of @ replies and browser links.
  • Twidgit | Updated | I got this new version and it seems to be much better than the old widget which was unstable. Now, if you attempt to launch it, it tells you how to add it as a widget instead of showing an error. It now shows your last 10 tweets, instead of just the last one and handles connectivity issues much better. The tweet form is simple but done right; it's attractive, shows your entire message, counts your characters and has nice big cancel and submit buttons. I think this app will be the one I keep b/c it's handy having a widget on the home screen instead of having to launch a new app.
  • Pintail | Installed | This is a nice locator app that will allow you to track where you phone is if you lose it. You choose a PIN and if you text the PIN to your phone, the phone will respond with the location determined by Google Maps. Alternately, you can give your friends the PIN and they can text you to find out where you are. The main problem with this is that if GPS is not activated, then it can only give you cell tower accuracy, so when I tested this, "1,956m from Windsor Locks" isn't that helpful if you're trying to locate a lost phone.
  • Google Latitude | Installed | This is not an Android app per se, but Google Maps on Android supports Google Latitude which is a locating application you can sign up for from Google Labs (or on your iGoogle page). When combined with an Android phone, it allows your friends to see where you are on Google Maps based on your phone's GPS or cell tower location. Google Latitude allows you to control who sees this information so random people can't use it, only you friends that you've given permission to.
  • FaceBook Lite | Installed | A simplified version of the FaceBook page with fewer options and javascript based functionality.
  • FaceBook Sync | Installed | This app logs into your FaceBook account, compares your friend list to your phone's contacts and for any matching names, it downloads their FB profile picture and saves it as the contact picture on the phone. Allows you to conduct an optimistic search so matches dont' have to be exact. Optimistic search can results in many false positives and you don't have the option of reviewing/approving the matches. Decent app, but you only need to run it once, then you can uninstall it, not a very good model for customer retention.

Travel Apps:
  • Where | Installed | I decided to try this app after reading good feedback from other power users. I like this application alot as it gives you quick access to things that are available near you, whether it be Starbucks or ZipCar or Yelp restaurants or just your local Yellow page listings. I like that it gives you weather as well.
  • Places Directory | Installed | This is Google's answer to Where. It's a little similar and not sponsored by specific vendors, it just gives you straight local listings from Google based on your location. Not as slick as Where, but the results should be a little less biased.

Posted 06/15/2009 09:13 PM in Geek Stuff, Reviews, Work
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G1 Power User Group Journal Entry 4
  • Android 1.5 Cupcake Update | Installed OTA
    • After installation, home screen was blank and SIM card did not work. Had to re-start the phone again before it behaved normally.
    • Phone now multi-tasks when on a call. Before, you couldn't access your contacts or apps while on a call, but now you can.
    • New auto-rotate and UI improvements such as transitions are nice, but you have to activate some of them and some apps and functions don't support it yet
    • "My Downloads" in Market doesn't register some apps correctly so apps that I already have are shown as "Free" instead of "Installed." As a result I updated several apps and I don't think they changed.
    • Camera response is faster, which makes for better pictures and video is now supported. Have not tried any of the direct upload features yet
    • Support for widgets (mini apps that run directly on your home screen) is nice but right now they are mostly all calendars and weather. Hopefully there will be more creative widgets soon once Cupcake is fully rolled out. To add a downloaded widget to your home screen, press and hold in a blank area or hit menu on the home screen and you can add
    • Voice search is nifty, you can speak into the microphone instead of typing
    • In certain apps, if trying to move through text you've typed, it accelerates the scroll ball and starts scrolling through words instead of letters when scrolling quickly.
    • Support for folders on the home screen is nice since I'm running out of space. Press and hold in a blank area or hit menu on the home screen and you can add a folder, then drag shortcuts into it.
    • I noticed that Google Talk is now separate from IM and looks a little better
    • I heard that the new Rogers (Canada) Android phone will have MS Exchange ActiveSync support, but it will not be coming to the G1, which means we would have to buy an app for it. Boo
  • QSearch | Uninstalled | Not needed with Cupcake soft keyboard
  • Toggle Settings | Uninstalled | Non-Cupcake version would crash every time I opened it
  • Toggle Settings (Cupcake) | Installed | Free | Much nicer looking version with color icons, works pretty much the same but you can now add a shortcut to the notification bar so you don't clutter your home screen. It also supports profiles like "Home" or "Work.". Individual profiles are not customizable yet but you can set rules that say "If battery is less than 30%, use 'Low Battery' profile"
  • Nesoid Lite (NES Emulator) | Installed & Uninstalled | Free | Demo version only comes with a Chip 'n' Dale Rescue Rangers ROM to showcase how well the emulator performs. This was enough to convince me to buy the full version.
  • Nesoid (NES Emulator) | Installed | $1.99 | Allows you to download and use any NES ROM from the SD card. Has ZIP support so you can directly use zipped ROMs without having to unzip them. Found Super Mario Bros, Contra and Ninja Gaiden ROMs on-line and they work pretty well with some occassional degradation or lag in sound. Overall pretty impressive although using the keyboard to control isn't as nice as a dedicated game controller.
  • Bio Lines | Installed and uninstalled | A puzzle game that requires you to connect 5 in a row to clear the board, but there are always more coming. It's kind of slow and can get boring so I got rid of it.
  • Twidget | Installed and Uninstalled | Widget to display the latest tweet from your feed on your home screen and quickly send tweets. This widget seemed to freeze a lot since I was in a bad reception area and travelling alot. The refresh's didn't seem to time out so it would say "Loading" all the time. It eventually crashed and affect the Android system as well. Even after I removed the widget from my home screen, I would get errors so I had to uninstall it.
  • Binary Clock | Installed and uninstalled | Simple clock displayed in binary, except that it displays each digit separately, (e.g. 15 is displayed as 1 and 5, each in binary, instead of 15 in binary). Uninstalled due to this.
  • Binary Clock Widget | Installed | Widget that replaces the standard home clock with a binary clock, good for confusing people (there are only 10 types of people after all, those who understand binary and those who don't). Unlike the Binary Clock App this one can display binary for each digit or for the whole number. It does seem to slow the phone a little bit though.

Posted 06/10/2009 10:42 PM in Geek Stuff, Reviews, Work
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Good news!
Futurama is coming back! Yee ha! Just like Family Guy, strong DVD sales and fan support has brought back yet another show canceled by Fox.
Posted 06/09/2009 06:40 PM in Geek Stuff, TV
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G1 Power User Group Journal Entry 3
  • Moxier Mail | Uninstalled | Trial version expired. Not as nice as Exchange By Touchdown, missing simple things like the number of new e-mails received in the notifications. Otherwise, nice simple interface that is easy to use. I like how the message headers are hidden unless you open them. Unfortunately, the $24.99 sale price is simply outrageous. Since this isn't a Deloitte phone, I wouldn't pay much for corporate e-mail, maybe $10
  • CrystalFour 3D | Uninstalled | Needed the space, not that special of a game.
  • aBooks | Uninstalled | Needed the space and I'm too busy to read them anyway.
  • Chinese Recipes - 1. Soup | Installed | Simple recipe program with pictures and recipes. Pictures look nice, though the English names are in a very small, hard to read font. Recipe ingredients are listed in-line, separated with commas instead of in a list, making it a bit hard to see what you need.
  • Exchange by TouchDown | Installed | 5 Day free trial. Another Exchange client. It is nicer than Moxier with a better interface and more features although the menus are not well planned and seem overly complex with some options buried in sub-menus. $19.99 is a bit steep for an intro price and the $29.99 regular price is offensive, but I guess they are counting on business users who are more likely to pay full price on a corporate account. I found the calendar decent, though it is not easy to snooze items for a specific amount of time and if you simply close the alerts they will pop up again a minute later.
  • GPS 1 Click Directions | Installed | A basic navigation system. It's not as nice as a dedicated GPS navigation system and probably not as good as TeleNav (which is $9.99/month) but the low $2.99 price makes this app a good value. It uses Google Maps as the base and calculates directions for your destination. It allows you to save a home and work address, displays traffic and provides voice commands if you download Android TTS voice support (Free). The voice is a hard to understand and very robotic. On my drive from St. Louis to Chicago on I-55, it kept saying "continue on route 476 for X miles, then turn left onto I-55," even though I was already on I-55. However, having the directions and the ability to track your progress is good enough for me. I would like to see it provide trip statistics like current/average MPH and elapsed time in the future.

Posted 06/03/2009 05:37 PM in Geek Stuff, Reviews, Work
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G1 Power User Group Journal Entry 2
General thoughts:

  • Paperless Check-in | American Airlines allows paperless check-in and boarding passes at O'Hare (ORD), Los Angeles (LAX) and Santa Ana (SNA). Use your browser to check-in and have the 2-D barcode for your boarding pass sent to your phone. At the airport, you turn your brightness up and place it on the reader at security or the scanner at the gate and voila, you're in! The first time I tried at SNA, it worked at security but not at the gate, where they manually checked me in. The second time, at ORD, it worked in both cases. Overall it was pretty smooth and I hope AA rolls it out to more airports.
  • Soft-keyboard | I do sorely miss having an on-screen key-board so I can type one handed or without opening the keyboard. Hopefully I'll get Cupcake this week
  • Response Times | Every once in a while when I run certain apps or return to the home screen, the phone seems to slow down quite a bit. Sometimes I've had to wait 30 seconds for the icons to appear and I can go about my business. I know it's not a computer, and performance is about on par with Windows Vista... but never having slowdown is always a nice thing to strive for.
  • Camera | I'm a bit disappointed by the camera in the G1. Even though it's 3 mega-pixels, the quality isn't that good. I would have loved it if the G1 could replace my point-and-shoot so I would only have to carry my DSLR if desired, but I guess I have to keep both my cameras.
  • Misc Pic 1 | This is a picture of me using Google Sky Map at Griffith Observatory over Thanksgiving. I used it to identify three abnormally bright stars in the sky. To the upper left of the phone is a bright bluish star and a bright white star just above it, to the lower right of the phone is another bright (blurry) star. Sky Map told me those were not stars, they were Venus and Jupiter on the left and Mercury on the right!
  • Misc Pic 2 | Here is the custom phone holder I built to mount my G1 to my windshield with my Garmin suction cup kit. I built it out of scrap wood and painted it black. The G1 is a bit tall so I have to tilt the mount downward to remove it. I cut a hole in the bottom of the holder to allow the USB cable to plug in. Speaker phone works fine, but I have to cut another hole in the bottom so the mic isn't obstructed.

  • BreakTheBlocks Lite | Installed & Uninstalled | Nice simple Arkanoid style game but the free version doesn't have very many levels and I wouldn't pay for a full version
  • Dyno Might | Installed | This is an in car performance meter, but it is in extremely early stages. At this point all it does is automatically start when a large g-force is detected and it records the max g-force, total time and total distance traveled in meters. At this point it doesn't offer much but I'm hoping that it will evolve quickly.
  • Robo Defense | Purchased Full Version | This is the first app that I paid for because I liked this game so much. I've submitted some suggestions to the developers, who seem to be pretty quick to respond so I'm looking forward to additional features in the future. I've wasted a lot of time playing this...
  • CTA Tracker Lite | Installed | This app tracks Chicago Transit Authority bus routes. Looking up the old 56 Milwaukee that I used to take, it says there is a 15 minute wait for the stop near me old apartment. The UI is a bit lacking and the long list of routes and stops are a bit clumsy, but I'm sure it'd be handy if I needed a bus in the city.
  • PdaNet | Installed | A tethering app to use the G1 as a modem. I've used it a couple times but it seemed a bit slow and sometimes it would drop the connection to the phone and sometimes it would just stop responding. I'm hoping they will release some updates to improve performance but for now it's handy if I need it in a pinch. Since it installs on PC first, the G1 makes a great jump drive so I can install the app on any computer.
  • PhoneFlicks | Installed | A NetFlix queue manager that provides basic queue editing capabilities. I wish it had context sensitive menus instead of making you click on every title and opening another page in order to do something with it, but it might be handy to quickly add something to my queue in a snap.
  • My Coupons | Installed | Essentially a coupon blog with direct links to images of coupons that you can print and use. Coupon clippers and deal seekers may find this app pretty useful, though I'm not sure yet.
  • PAC-MAN | Installed & Uninstalled | Classic Pac-Man implemented by NAMCO itself. A fun throwback to the 80's but I found the touchscreen, trackball and accelerometer controls all to be clumsy and not that enjoyable so I uninstalled.
  • Labyrinth Lite | Installed & Uninstalled | This is a balance game where you roll a ball through a maze by tilting your phone. I liked it but the trial version only has 10 levels which I easily beat and I don't think I'll pay for the full version.
  • PapiJump | Installed & Uninstalled | Silly game where you try to help your little smiley pink ball bounce higher and higher by tilting the phone. Simple fun that gets boring pretty quickly
  • Abduction! | Installed & Uninstalled | Similar to PapiJump with better graphics and more features, but still gets boring after a while.
  • Bonsai Blast | Installed & Uninstalled | A puzzle game where you have to shoot like colored balls in order to pass a level. Pretty fun and I like that it was a decently sized game for free. I played it until I won it on all three difficulty levels and was a bit disappointed that there wasn't some kind of ending.
  • Brain Genius Deluxe | Installed & Uninstalled | Kind of like Brain Age for the Nintendo DS, it exercises your mind with activities and puzzles, but I found it kept repeating a small set of activities and I wasn't entertained enough to keep it.
  • The Weather Channel | still installed | This app is the best app for weather, but just like weather.com, this app constantly reminds me how much I despise The Weather Channel. This is the slowest app I have by far and today it crashed three times attempting to display the current radar map. Not to mention that The Weather Channel can't seem to get the current weather correct, let alone tomorrow's or next week's weather. The one redeeming factor is the high quality video they offer, which is pretty nice.

Posted 05/25/2009 11:55 PM in Geek Stuff, Reviews, Work
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G1 Power User Group Journal Entry 1
General thoughts on the G1
  • Cupcake - Where is my Android 1.5 (codename: Cupcake) update? It's got a bunch of nice features to help bring it in line with the iPhone. People on-line have reported receiving their updates over-the-air (OTA) and tons of apps in the Market have been updated to support the new features. Unfortunately, I haven't seen anything yet. T-Mobile, I want my Cupcake!
  • E-mail & Chat - I have Gmail, Yahoo and work e-mail set up now, along with AIM, Yahoo IM and Google Talk. I have different sounds set up for them too, so I can hear immediately if work needs me... I tried setting up work e-mail using the default e-mail client with POP3 and IMAP but couldn't get it to work since I didn't know what ports to use. That could be a set-up issue or Deloitte may not allow those protocols. Instead, my work e-mail is set up through Moxier Mail (see app info below).
  • Accessories - I ordered a slightly larger 1400 mAh Seidio battery (OEM is 1150 or 1200mAh) and that helps by boosting battery life 10-20% while fitting in the same space. This makes it much easier to go an entire day with moderate use, without charging. I also picked up a thin, rubberized hard case from Seidio. It's only about 1mm thick, which is thin compared to most hard cases. It has a nice matte rubberized surface (similar to the matte finish on the black G1) that gives me a little extra protection without being too intrusive. I also have a screen protector.
  • GPS - I've basically retired my Garmin Nuvi because of the G1. It doesn't have good turn-by-turn navigation yet but I'm sure it's coming.(one company offers it but wants to charge a monthly fee which is absurd). My main issue is how to mount the G1 in the car. I could buy a kit on-line, but since it uses the same power source as the Nuvi and I already have the Nuvi mounting kit I figured I'd just make my own attachment. I'm planning to finish that this weekend.
  • Crashes - I've noticed about once a month, my phone has a hard crash and I have to remove the battery before it will restart. Even worse, almost once a week I'll have a soft crash where the hardware/BIOS stays on, but the Android O/S restarts, requiring me to re-enter my SIM card PIN. Hopefully Cupcake will fix that.
  • Android Market (on phone) - There are tons of apps coming out nowadays and trying to browse through them on a phone can be tough. Also, you can only browse apps by most popular and most recent. What if I want an app that is medium popularity and not that recent? Search is useful, but only if you know what the app you're looking for is called. It might be nice to separate free apps from pay apps as well. I know there are some Market updates in Cupcake but I'm not sure what they are
  • Android Market (on web) - The Android Market website only features the top apps, though it does separate free and pay apps. Ideally I'd like to be able to search the whole app inventory on the website and read reviews, then I can search for it on my phone when I know what I want to download.

Those are my general thoughts on the G1 today. On to the apps!
  • Moxier Mail | Installed | Free Beta Version - MS Exchange Mail Client, missing contacts and calendar sync, otherwise it's a nice clean e-mail reader that supports all basic tasks. Supports ActiveSync push mail via Outlook Web Access (OWA), variable pull and "business" mode that pushes during business hours but pulls at night. The app notifies you way too often when these modes are invoked. New mail notifications do not list the number of new messages, which would be nice. So far, recommended for a simple e-mail client but will need to compare with some of the other pay apps out now.
  • BreadCrumbz | Uninstalled | Good idea but I don't go anywhere interesting enough to make use of it.
  • TTS | Installed & Uninstalled | Text-to-Speech codecs. Shows promise, would like to see it integrated with a GPS system to provide turn-by-turn navigation
  • Speaking Pad | Installed & Uninstalled | Notepad interface to utilize TTS codecs, but not really needed without any real functionality
  • SimStapler | Installed & Uninstalled | Virtual Stapler, purely for fun and the author knows it (though some reviewers don't seem to get it). Would like to see it make use of the accelerometer though.
  • Ruger-SR9mm, SchottGunn and AK-47 | Installed & Uninstalled | Virtual weapons, just for fun. The shotgun supports pump action reloading, the AK-47 fires in automatic mode when you shake the phone, the 9mm plays the sound of empty casings falling to the ground.
  • Punch-O-Meter | Installed & Uninstalled | Measures the G-forces of your punch, but it's just asking for you to accidently throw your phone across the room which would be no good
  • Wrath of the Fungi | Installed & Uninstalled | Simple multi-player puzzle game, entertaining but too simple after a while
  • CrystalFour 3D | Installed | Essentially 3D ConnectFour with decent graphics. Good time killer, but probably won't stay.
  • Mini Android Defense | Installed | Tower defense game. UI is ok, but a bit drab and controls could be tweaked to be a bit more responsive. Nice challenge but I probably won't keep it long.
  • Robo Defense FREE | Installed | Another tower defense game, but I like this one much more as it's more real-time and provides multiple upgrade paths as well as achievements (e.g. finish a level without damage) to gain additional bonuses. I might actually pay for the full version of this.

Coming up next week, more MS Exchange clients, MS Office apps, DynoMight in-car dynamometer (for measuring vehicle performance) and probably more games.
Posted 05/15/2009 06:04 PM in Geek Stuff, Reviews, Work
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G1 Power User Group
My company has an internal initiative where they are trying understand how the latest generation of PDA-Phones are used, with a focus on downloadable application usage. Three user groups have been formed for three major platforms: the Apple iPhone, the G1 with Android and the BlackBerry Storm.

I've been selected to be a part of the G1 team. In exchange for a $25 stipend, my responsibilities are to download and use any applications that interest me and to keep an electronic journal of my thoughts.

I figured I might as well share my thoughts here while I'm at it, so first up is an inventory of the apps I already have. It's pretty long and so far, they've all been free. The list is in alphabetical order.
  • aBooks - Open source Android book reading platform. I've downloaded a few public domain books like Alice in Wonderland but have yet to read any. The pages are a little small.
  • Barcode Scanner - I prefer Shop Savvy or Compare Everywhere but I keep this since it's the only one that supports 2D codes, even though I have yet to scan one.
  • Bistro Math - Quick handy tip calculator
  • Bread Crumbz - Allows you to take pictures and associate them with GPS geocodes so you can leave interesting trails/routes on-line. Haven't used it yet.
  • Bubble - A nice bubble level for checking level and plumb when hanging pictures and such
  • Chess - It's chess, what else can I say? Decent UI, ability to undo moves, different levels of AI
  • Compare Everywhere - Barcode scanner to compare prices on products while shopping. I like the search results on this as well as the ability to contribute descriptions for unknown items.
  • ConnectBot - Handy Telnet/SSH client for logging into Linux/Unix server shells when on the go.
  • ConvertDroid - Ability to convert various units, e.g. knots to MPH, but not really needed since Google does it all very quickly.
  • Depth of Field Calculator - Handy reference when shooting with a SLR camera to check focal distances and depth of field based on camera and lens combos.
  • Doom - Classic PC First Person Shooter ported to show Android's power. Provides a framework for other game designers to create their own FPS games as well.
  • DroidFTP - FTP client in the event I need to transfer files to a webserver on the go. The older version was missing some features and I haven't had a chance to test the new version yet.
  • Dungeon Quest - Silly little Role Playing Game that interfaces with FaceBook and the iPhone. Very little action and is ad/spam driven if you want to advance far, but still entertaining if you like RPGs.
  • Fast Local Search - local restaurant and event searcher, but not any better than google maps
  • Flashlight - Plain, simple, white light. Does what it says, does what I need.
  • HotSpot Locator - T-Mobile app to locate T-Mobile WiFi hotspots, but I never use it with 3G
  • Kanji Flashcards - To help me learn Japanese hiragana, katakana and kanji, but I'm not a big fan of the UI and don't use it much.
  • Linda File Manager - Handy file manager to explore your SD card and phone memory.
  • Magic 8-Ball - simple app to answer your questions, works by shaking, just like the real thing.
  • Metal Detector - neat app that uses the electronic compass to detect changes in magnetic fields due to proximity of ferrous metal objects (it's a metal detector). Unfortunately, it has a lot of false negatives and false positives.
  • My Account - T-Mobile account app to quickly see account statistics like minutes used
  • Orienteer - Simple compass app.
  • QSearch - Provides an on-screen keyboard that can be used for google search, google maps or youtube searches, but will be rendered obsolete by the keyboard coming with Cupcake (Android 1.5)
  • QuickList - A to do list that accepts typed input but also allows you to write notes with your finger which is handy when you don't have two hands free.
  • QuotePro - To keep up to date with stock prices in your portfolios. A little too simple though, I'd like to see the ability to enter your purchase price so you can see how it's doing overall, not just today.
  • Restaurant Search - Boo Rah local restaurant search tied to their site with reviews (Boos or Rahs). Not that special, Boo Rah site is small and doesn't have as much info as google
  • Screen Crack - Joke app that locks the phone and makes the screen look like it's broken in case annoying people want to play with the phone
  • ShopSavvy - Another barcode scanner. I don't really like the menu interface, but I do like that it gives you more space on the camera screen to scan barcodes.
  • SkyMap - One of my favorite apps. Go outside at night, point it at the sky and it will use the time, GPS and compass to determine what you're looking at. It helped me identify Venus when I was in the mountains in California
  • Solitaire - Nice simple solitaire app that supports Spider and FreeCell as well
  • Sudoku - Nice little Sudoku app with multiple levels of difficulty. Unfortunately it is ad driven and sometimes I hit those links and it kicks me out to the browser.
  • Terminal Emulator - Emulator to allow command prompt access to Android, useful for poking around the file system. Defaults to limited access but you can easily give yourself temporary root access. Permanent root access is possible as well, but requires some Linux know-how.
  • Tetroid - Nice little Tetris app that allows you to customize the screen dimensions
  • The Schwartz Unleashed - Light saber app. Totally pointless but a must have for any geek.
  • The Weather Channel - Handy app for checking the weather. It seems a little slow to me but the radar and video options are nice. Too bad the Weather Channel can't even get the current weather correct, but that's not the app's fault.
  • Toggle Settings - Quick access to commonly used settings (e.g. GPS activation, airplane mode, screen brightness)
  • Trap - fun little game where you try to trap floating orbs to get points.
  • Twilight - Handy app that provides sunrise and sunset information in your area and any other area you choose.
  • Yellowbook v2 - Local copy of the yellow pages. I've never used it though.
  • Zombie, Run! - Silly game that uses GPS to simulates a radar for zombies in your area. If one is too close, you need to physically run away or your player will be killed. I tried it out but canít bring myself to run for no reason in public.
Now that work is subsidizing me, I'll be looking at downloading a couple productivity apps:
  • MS Exchange Clients for e-mail/calendar/contacts - TouchDown, RoadSync, Moxier
  • MS Office Readers/editors - QuickOffice, DocumentsToGo

Posted 05/12/2009 06:34 PM in Geek Stuff, Reviews, Work
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Go trek yourself
See what you'd look like in the Star Trek universe at Trek Yourself, courtesy of Cheez-It and Kellogg's. Here's me as a Vulcan.

Create Your Own

Posted 04/10/2009 06:17 PM in Geek Stuff
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Taste the Rainbow
Fascinating. As part of a marketing campaign, on 3/3 skittles.com was redirected to a Twitter search page for Skittles that aggregates any tweet containing the word, "Skittles." Note that it's not an actual Skittles account on Twitter, it's simply the results of a search for the word "skittles" on Twitter.

On 3/4, most likely due to spam and inappropriate language, they changed their site to point to the Skittles fan page on Facebook. Today (3/6) their site has been updated again to point to the Skittles article on Wikipedia. I think I'll have to tweet about Skittles too.
Posted 03/06/2009 05:29 PM in Geek Stuff, Ramblings, Snacks
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Dr. Horrible Remote Control
BTW you can get the Dr. Horrible PDA Remote Control that he uses on the van here. It'll look best on a PDA phone but you can see it in any web browser.
Posted 01/28/2009 09:58 PM in Geek Stuff, Who knew?
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The Guild
After watching Dr. Horrible, I decided to look up more about Felicia Day and her show, The Guild which I've been meaning to watch for a while. Note that the latest episodes are published on MSN/Zune/XBox Live before anywhere else.

I was pleasantly surprised and found The Guild highly entertaining. In this story of a group of on-line gamer geeks, the awkward situations and humor can be appreciated by all. However, those who are not familiar with fantasy worlds or MMORPGs may not get some of the references or jokes (even I had to look up a couple terms). Even so, I definitely recommend this web series to anyone who's a self proclaimed geek or anyone who would like to know a little bit more about the geek world.
Posted 01/28/2009 09:47 PM in Games, Geek Stuff, Music, Reviews, Videos
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Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog
This is a bit late considering it's been out for quite a while and already has plenty of rave reviews, but I thought I'd chime in since Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog is only available free on Hulu for 2 more days.

In case you didn't know, the show was an on-line only musical by Joss Whedon (Firefly, Buffy, Angel) that was put together during the writer's strike. It is the story of Dr. Horrible (Neil Patrick Harris of Doogie Howser, How I Met Your Mother), a second rate evil scientist, and his attempts to take over the world. At the same time he must struggle with his nemesis, semi-super-hero Captain Hammer (Nathan Fillion of Firefly) while trying to get noticed by a girl at the laundromat (Felicia Day of The Guild).

I have to say that NPH is the star of the show and deservedly so. His character is quite loveable despite having a PhD in horribleness. The songs are sweet and entertaining and the script is sarcastically witty and humorous. I highly recommend catching it while it's still free on Hulu. If that doesn't work out, don't bother paying for it on iTunes when you can buy the DVD along with lots of extras for a mere $10.49 from Amazon. Extras include two commentaries (one sung as a musical itself), fan videos and a making-of featurette.
Posted 01/26/2009 10:27 PM in Geek Stuff, Movies, Music, Reviews, Videos
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Borrowing phones
Twice this week I've been approached by a complete stranger at the airport asking if I had a phone they could borrow. Am I being too paranoid because I've said no both times? I just don't feel comfortable giving my $300 phone to a stranger...
Posted 01/15/2009 10:35 PM in Geek Stuff, Ramblings, Travel
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Android Progress
Getting into Android has been a little tougher than I thought. Part of it is having to learn a new framework on my own without having anyone around to help me out or bounce ideas against, but part of it is the outdated documentation from Google. I guess they've really left it as an open source project relying on the community to build tutorials and documentation that are more thorough than what they've provided.

The good news is that using my free time I've managed to get my application into pretty good working condition. I've handled errors appropriately and have gotten it working pretty consistently. I've even gotten a few bells and whistles added into it.

At this point I could publish it for the world to use, but I'm planning to add one more feature that for reason I just can't get to work. After that I just need to pretty it up so it's not so bland. Of course with vacation coming up, I might end up being too lazy to make any progress on it until the new year...
Posted 12/19/2008 06:13 PM in Geek Stuff
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I'm such a geek/nerd...
I haven't done any real coding in 2.5 years. I mean, I've done minor PHP stuff on my website, but I don't consider that coding, it's more like scripting and can be done using telnet or Notepad. I'm talking about programming an application, in my case, using Java.

My plan is to start coding Google Android applications, starting with a simple application that contacts the Bible Gateway Web Service to read and display their daily Bible verse. Depending how that goes, we'll see if I can think of something else to code after that.

Since I've gotten a new computer and lots of things have changed since I last coded, I have to go through a fairly extensive setup process:
  1. Removed an old Java Runtime Environment (JRE) that was on my computer from standard web browsing. Also, I cleaned up some old programs and defragged my hard drive.
  2. Downloaded and installed the latest Java Development Kit (JDK) which includes the latest JRE and weighs a hefty 176MB.
  3. Downloaded and installed Eclipse, the most popular open source Integrated Development Environment (IDE) which provides a robust environment to program in (the complete opposite end of the spectrum from the remedial Notepad). This was a slightly smaller 167MB.
  4. Downloaded and installed the Android Software Development Kit (SDK) which comes with an Android phone emulator and foundational components. That comes in at a slightly momma bear-ish 91MB.
  5. Downloaded and installed the Android Development Tools (ADT) plug-in for Eclipse, which allows easy Android application configurations with a mere 2MB download.
The total download for all these components was 428MB and total installation time (including troubleshooting) took about 2 hours. Sounds awfully nerdy and geeky, but I have to admit that when I finally decided to do this last night, I couldn't sleep b/c my mind was busy getting geared up to code again. Hence the title of this entry...
Posted 12/05/2008 10:48 PM in Christianity, Geek Stuff, Work
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Better than a Pot Belly Sandwich?
Chopsticks of Pleasure Several locations in the Midwest
Rating: Chopsticks of Pleasure
They have great sandwiches, but their breakfast sandwiches are even greater!

What could possibly be better than a tasty, spicy, toasted Pot Belly's sandwich? That's easy. A tasty, spicy, toasted Pot Belly's BREAKFAST sandwich.

Breakfast sandwiches are delicious by definition (at least the ones with bacon are). Pot Belly's toasted sandwiches with their lovely combination of lettuce, tomatoes, ultra thin pickles sliced lengthwise, mayo, brown mustard and hot giardiniera are also delicious. Put them together and you have the best of both worlds.

Maybe I should write to CERN and tell them that they didn't need to build the Large Hadron Collider. They just needed to have a Pot Belly breakfast sandwich to see what happens when two great things collide.

There's just one tiny little caveat which is that not all locations serve breakfast. Luckily, the one right across the street from my office does.

Posted 11/17/2008 08:14 PM in Chicago, Food, Geek Stuff, Restaurants, Reviews, Work
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Paperless Boarding Passes Arrive!
I'm psyched that AA has rolled out paperless boarding passes in Chicago O'hare (and will be rolled out in Los Angeles and Orange County on 11/17). When you check-in on-line, a special bar code is sent to your PDA and airport security will have special readers to read them.

This means that if I'm in a rush, I don't to worry about printing a boarding pass or keeping my computer on. Instead I can check in on the way to the airport using my phone. In theory, this should work on my PSP as well. I'll be able to give it a try soon because I'm actually flying to Orange County (SNA) for Thanksgiving week. Unfortunately, I'm still bummed that I'm stuck taking United to Hartford...
Posted 11/13/2008 11:14 PM in Geek Stuff, News, Travel
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An exciting evening
It was nice getting back home tonight and I was happy to play with my new G1 Google phone. I've been playing with that for a bit now. It was a pain transferring a couple custom ring tones over and I actually had to go back to my old Motorola phone and MMS my ringtones to my Gmail account. Then I had to use my PC to detach the embedded MMS ringtones as actual files, then e-mail them as attachments so that I could use my Gphone to check my mail and download them.

More pictures at the bottom of this link.

The other exciting thing was exploring the Arboretum, the new outdoor mall at Higgins and 59. It's an interesting mall set up to feel like a small town with lots of small streets and parking in front of each store instead of in a single large surface lot. Also, some roads are one way and there are tons of stop signs. It looks nice, but I think that traffic could get quite congested as people would be tempted to drive from store to store, especially in the holidays.

In the mall is the new Pinstripes location. Also there is the newest LL Bean location, which means I now have easy access to Subaru gear like hats, which I keep losing. There's an interesting looking chocolate bar there and coming soon is a Ruth's Chris. There's also a new Italian casual dining restaurant called Asta la Pasta (a play on "Hasta la Vista?") I'll check that out some time.

However, what pumped me up the most was the discovery of a new Pot Belly's location. Jimmy John's has been opening up a lot of locations in the burbs near me, but I've been waiting for a while to have a convenient Pot Belly's.

This is all good news to me. In the last 2 years, the number of new commercial developments in my area has been very encouraging. They're all close, but not too close, which should be good for my property value which has actually managed to increase in value by almost 2% (as of September) in the last 3.5 years. Hopefully that'll help me to ride out the bottom of the housing market over the next couple years.
Posted 10/24/2008 00:00 AM in Chicago, Food, Geek Stuff, Ramblings, Restaurants, Shopping
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Foreign Connectivity
Being in the UK makes it easy to post since everything is just as connected as in the US. Even my phone works normally on T-Mobile UK (except that the roaming charges are pretty steep). The Hilton wanted 20£ for internet which is pretty outrageous. I found a cafe that charged 1£ per hour but didn't have my laptop handy.

Now I'm at Heathrow airport and they have a Boingo hotspot which is about 6£ for a day, which is acceptable and Boingo is an American company that is supported by McDonald's and Starbucks. I could have used a T-Mobile hot spot, but I think they're a little more expensive.

Anyway, the point of all this is that after I leave the UK, I'm not sure how easy it will be for me to post, nor do I know how much time I have to post things, so you may see some other posts that I haven't published yet and have nothing to do with my vacation. Athens looks like it's fairly connected via Starbucks but Istanbul and Egypt look pretty questionable.
Posted 09/29/2008 05:00 AM in Geek Stuff, Travel, United Kingdom
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Fermi verses the Jolly Green Giant
Since the Large Hadron Collider (the world's largest particle accelerator) opened just a few weeks ago and I mentioned it in a recent post I figured this would be a good time to recount an amusing story from Hewson's AP Physics (high school) trip to Fermi Lab, the home of what is now the second largest particle accelerator, located an hour away from Chicago in Batavia, IL.

This story is especially pertinent since the LHC had an electrical failure between magnets that caused it to be temporarily shut down. According to Hewson, this is a conversation that took place when they toured the particle accelerator:
Student: What would happen if one of those magnets failed?
Scientist: That would never happen because we have multiple fail safes and redundancies.
Student: I'm just wondering, what would happen if one of them DID fail?
Scientist: Don't worry, that will never happen.
Student: Well, let's just say, hypothetically speaking, what would happen if the Jolly Green Giant came and ripped out one of the magnets?
Scientist: Sir, there's no such thing as Jolly Green Giants.

Posted 09/28/2008 03:55 PM in Chicago, Food, Geek Stuff, Ramblings, Who knew?
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HP Sucks 3
A couple weeks ago, my laptop started acting up. The keyboard would randomly stop registering key strokes and then suddenly register dozens of key presses at once. After some trial and error I found that the problem occurred most often when my palms were resting on the laptop while typing instead of hovering in the air (as recommended by most ergonomics guides, though I personally disagree).

On top of that the battery was starting to die. At 100%, the battery would only last 40 minutes, and that's with wireless turned off and the brightness turned all the way down. If I use the internet, that time drops to 30 minutes and if I used the DVD player that time drops to about 20 minutes. I got the battery in April when I last had computer problems but it may have been used so it could be 2 years old (when they rolled this HP Compaq nc6400 model out) but I suspect it to be younger than that. Even if it was 2 years old, it shouldn't die that quickly.

So I went to IT to see if I could get it fixed and the guy decided to give me yet another laptop shell (all shells have an identical setup so they swap hard drives and usually they're done in less than 10 minutes). That makes this my fifth laptop since February. Pretty pitiful.

I got a new battery too so hopefully that will last a decent amount of time. I heard two other people requesting new batteries as well so I asked the support guy if it was a common problem. His response was, "I think 100% of these batteries are going to die early." Good job, HP. Good job.
Posted 09/26/2008 03:00 PM in Geek Stuff, Ramblings, Work
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3G in Chicago on Thursday
T-Mobile will activate their 3G network in Chicago starting Thursday 9/25. Hopefully I will have pre-ordered my Android phone by then!
Posted 09/20/2008 09:26 PM in Chicago, Geek Stuff
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Added tags to my site
Ok, I spent a few hours implementing basic tags so that my blarghs can be categorized. You'll see a list of all tags on the right and hopefully, as time goes on, the most popular tags will appear larger. I still need to implement pagination at some point and support for uncategorized posts, but I'll worry about that when it becomes an issue. Also, I've only tagged this months blarghs... I might work on doing the rest of 2008, but that might be my limit. Otherwise, let me know if there's any strange behavior on the site.
Posted 09/18/2008 11:27 PM in Geek Stuff
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My eyes are about to fall out
Normally, I spend the whole day at work staring at a computer screen. For that last two weeks when I go home or to the hotel, I also stare at a computer screen reading food reviews for all the places I'm visiting. There's so much info out there and so far I've found at least 150 different places that come highly recommended.

I have no idea how I'm going to choose between all of them and I'm starting to wish I could spend more time in Istanbul and London. I called AA and they said it would cost $900 to change the last leg of my return ticket, even though my entire 4 leg round trip only cost $1000. However, I can skip my morning flight in London and get on the standby list for a later flight without penalty. On top of that, most flights from LHR to ORD aren't full so that looks like a good option so I'll have time to check out Borough Market in London.
Posted 09/17/2008 11:32 PM in Geek Stuff, Ramblings, Travel, United Kingdom, Work
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3G here I come?
T-Mobile's new strategic plan is approaching critical mass. Since May, T-Mobile, which is owned by European communication giant Deutsche Telecom, has been quietly rolling out their new 3g network. They plan to launch the new network in 27 markets on 10/1 and will continue to add coverage until it is available nationwide at the end of 2009.

T-Mobile also announced a press conference on 9/23 where they are expected to finally make official the launch of the 3G network as well as the expected 10/15 launch date of the G1, the first Google phone or "gPhone" which will be a HTC Dream running on Google's Android platform (first spotted in version 1.0 yesterday). Interestingly enough, the G1 will go on pre-sale for existing customers on 9/17, before the official press conference. Looks like it may be time for me to finally make the switch to a PDA phone.

BTW, the markets that have had their 3G networks activated are:
  • Austin
  • New England (Baltimore, Boston)
  • Dallas
  • Houston
  • Las Vegas
  • Minneapolis
  • New York City
  • NJ and Long Island
  • Philadelphia
  • Phoenix
The rest of the markets that should have 3G service by 10/1 are:
  • Atlanta
  • Birmingham
  • Chicago
  • Denver
  • Detroit
  • Kansas city
  • Los Angeles
  • Memphis
  • Miami(9/16)
  • Orlando (9/25)
  • Orange County
  • Portland (9/18)
  • Sacramento
  • San Diego (9/15)
  • San Francisco
  • Seattle
  • Tampa
  • Washington DC

Posted 09/14/2008 11:08 PM in Geek Stuff
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Sew-sew camera bag
To transport my camera around the Mediterranean, I need a camera bag. There are tons of bags out there and most of them are over-priced and have mixed reviews. I researched them on various sites and even visited camera stores in St. Louis and Chicago. The first tip is to buy on-line. The prices at camera stores are incredible (anywhere from 50%-200% higher than on-line) and sometimes I wonder how they stay in business.

I finally settled on a Canon back pack at Amazon. I wanted a back pack so that my shoulders wouldn't get too tired. I also wanted configurable padding and space for packing other items and for future expansion. And of course I wanted a reasonable price.

The Canon bag can be found for $35-45 on-line which is a pretty good price. Overall the reviews were pretty good for the bag, but there was one major issue: The zippers on the bag aren't very heavy duty and aren't very tight, making them too easy to unzip.

The problem is that the camera is held at the top of the bag so the weight could actually cause the zippers to unzip and dump the contents of the bag on the ground. That's a significant risk but it is easily mitigated.

Some people got around this by sealing the zippers with a carabiner but I decided to try another solution. As some reviewers noted, the bag needs a strap that wraps around the front to prevent it from opening all the way. This would make it easy to access the camera at the top of the bag while preventing it from opening all the way.

The interesting thins is that the bag has two extra straps on the sides that aren't very useful but are an excellent place to mount such a front strap. The question is where to get the strap.

When I received the bag, I found that it came with a buckle on the shoulder straps that clips across the chest in addition to a waist belt. The cross-chest strap seemed unnecessary to me so I decided to use those to build a front strap.

After cutting the stitches and removing the side straps, I reconfigured the cross-chest strap to anchor to the sides of the bag and wrap around the front. Once this was done I re-stitched the straps (note the blue stitches in the pictures).

I'm quite pleased with the result. The new front strap is perfectly positioned to allow quick access to the camera while keeping the rest of the bag secure but the clip is easy to release when needed. But, for security, I did end up buying a locking carabiner...
Posted 09/12/2008 10:06 PM in DIY, Geek Stuff, Pictures, Travel
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Japan + Star Wars + Olivia Munn = Spontaneous Dancing
Japan, Star Wars and Olivia Munn, co-host of G4 TV's Attack of the Show. What's not to like about spontaneous dancing in the middle of Shibuya?

Behind the scenes with Danny Choo (the dancing storm trooper).
Posted 09/07/2008 08:54 PM in Geek Stuff, Japan, Videos
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Amazonian Pricing
I reported that Amazon reduced the price of the XSi to 679 on Sunday night and raised it back to 699 on Monday morning. Well Monday night it went back down to 684 and Tuesday night it went down again to 674. Tonight it is 671. I wonder what is causing them to fluctuate their prices so frequently.

Anyway, I decided to try the Bill Me Later $20 off promotion code (BMLDEALS). The code is supposed to be valid one time only and I used it for a PSP game in July but this is apparently a new deal (valid 8/11-8/31) and Amazon honored it. So I placed my XSi order last night for $654.88 with free shipping, no tax and 20 free prints (worth $26.80). Not bad, though it doesn't get to the deal Dan posted a few hours ago, but at least I don't have to wait two months to get cash back from live.com.

There was one other minor bonus. Normally the free shipping at Amazon is a bit of a gamble in terms of delivery date. They estimated it would ship on 9/2 and arrive by 9/13 so I was pleasantly surprised to find out that it shipped today!
Posted 08/27/2008 10:06 PM in Geek Stuff, Pictures, Shopping
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Rebel Without a Case
For the last couple years I've been pretty frustrated by the poor low light performance of my Sony W50 digicam. I also tried a Canon SD250 which was equally poor in low light. Surprisingly, my old Canon (A200?) that ran on AA batteries was better than both of of them in those situations.

Since the abysmal performance of my W50 at the dimly lit L2O (one of the reasons that I ended up with no pictures) I've been looking for an entry level DSLR (digital single lens reflex). Based on various reviews and some recommendations from Yone, I've finally settled on a Canon Digital Rebel since the dim light performance seems to be much better than similarly priced Sonys and a little better than Nikons.

Of course, the newest generation is the best as it comes with an Image Stabilization lens. There are two options in this area, the one year old XSi and the 2 week old XS. The XSi is slightly higher than the XS but being a year old, prices are actually comparable so I've been looking for XSi prices.

I've looked on ebay (where people seem to be buying cameras for more than they are being sold on-line) as well as Buy Dig, New Egg, Costco, Amazon and Dell which seem to be at the forefront of price cutting. The interesting thing is that when I started looking, the XSi was pretty much going for $799. Since then, Yone showed me a DealNews offer for $699. Shortly after that, all the other vendors started dropping prices on a daily basis until they reached about $670 (most likely due to the release of the XS).

Unfortunately, prices actually went back up and settled between 687 and 719 with various combinations of free shipping or memory cards. Then last week, a new deal was announced at Dell: the XSi with lens and free shipping for $589. Alas, this great deal sold out within hours, before I had a chance to act on it. Since then I've been watching prices every day and nothing has budged. After checking prices Sunday morning and seeing no changes, I just about gave up hope for another price drop before my family vacation in October (I need a couple weeks lead time to place an order).

Sunday night, I checked again and Amazon dropped the price from $699 to $679. I was hoping this would spur another round of price drops or deals and perhaps this week will be a good time to order but after checking prices again today, several merchants raised their prices again back to $699, including Amazon. Sneaky. The only vendor that hasn't raised prices yet is BuyDig where it is $687.90. Oh well. Eventually I'll find a deal and pull the trigger. Then I just have to pick out a bag or case for the camera...
Posted 08/25/2008 07:19 PM in Geek Stuff, Pictures, Shopping
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Second Life
One of the famous (or infamous) virtual worlds out there, is Second Life due to their large amount of controversial content and stories such as this most recent one: Woman Attempts To Kidnap Ex-Virtual Boyfriend. It's a bit creepy and includes some sad information about a dog as well.
Posted 08/24/2008 08:46 PM in Geek Stuff, News
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Good to be a Geek
Lots of interesting geek news came out this week.

AA debuts in-flight WiFi access. It kind of makes you wonder why WiFi and cell phones are banned on other flights. Just remember that the ban actually originated from the FCC to reduce cellular network clogging and was then adopted by the FAA which expanded the ban to other broadcasting devices.

Sony announced the PSP 3000 with several minor enhancements. The most significant is probably the built-in microphone. While it doesn't appear that Sony wants to turn the PSP into a phone, the primary use of the mic will indeed be to support Skype and other VoIP services using it's WiFi capabilities.

Lastly, in light of all the iPhone issues, the first "gPhone" utilizing Google's Android operating system has been announced. T-Mobile will take pre-orders for the HTC Dream with Android (aka G1) in September with the phone to be delivered in October. Upgrade prices for existing customers (such as myself) and data plans sound pretty reasonable.
Posted 08/21/2008 11:13 PM in Games, Geek Stuff, Travel
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New Xbox 360?
My company started rolling out the new version of Web Outlook. As I was looking through the options I found the Zune theme which I didn't like that much. Then I noticed the Xbox theme which makes checking my work webmail almost seem like fun.

Posted 08/15/2008 10:16 PM in Geek Stuff, Work
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I'm now on YouTube
I finally decided to create an account on YouTube so I've posted a few of my more interesting videos on my YouTube page.
Posted 07/28/2008 10:01 PM in Geek Stuff, Videos
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Social Network Collisions
Man, there are way too many social networking sites. There are the big ones like FaceBook, MySpace and Xanga and there are the older ones like SixDegrees (defunct), Friendster, ICQ. There have been more and more specialty ones as well, such as LinkedIn which is more business network focused. I've also gotten requests from Plaxo, hi5 and one other one that I never heard of and can no longer remember.

That's part of the reason it took me so long to join FaceBook. Many of these sites are just fads. Social networking only works when you have a large network. Joining these little one-off sites seems a bit of a waste to me so I generally avoid signing up for yet another site unless there is a significant reason to do so.
Posted 07/26/2008 07:55 PM in Geek Stuff, Ramblings
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Yes, I'm on FaceBook
I let the cat out of the bag yesterday by mentioning that I can update Twitter from FaceBook. Indeed I have an account on FaceBook and it's been almost two months now. After lots of nagging from various folks, I finally joined, but I decided to experiment to see how long it would take my network to grow without intervention from my introverted self.

Here's a log of my network growth so far with name, how we're connected and the last time we talked before FaceBook:
  • 5/26 - Joined on Memorial Day
  • 6/01 - David Y, Deloitte, 2007
  • 6/02 - Jeff P, MICDS, 1995
  • 6/03 - Gina Y, Northwestern, 1999
  • 6/04 - Uche O, Deloitte, 2007
  • 6/19 - Poyao W, St. Louis, 2008
  • 6/19 - Steven W, St. Louis, 2008
  • 6/20 - Caroline C, St. Louis, 2008
  • 6/20 - Katie O, Japan, 2002
  • 6/20 - Catherine R, St. Louis, 2000
  • 6/20 - Natatia L, St. Louis, 2008
  • 6/20 - Annie H, St. Louis, 2007
  • 6/20 - Max S, Deloitte, 2007
  • 6/20 - Jimmy L, Chicago, 2006
  • 6/21 - Leonard L, Northwestern, 2008
  • 6/22 - Stefanie W, Poyao, 2008
  • 6/23 - David B, Deloitte, 2007
  • 6/23 - Selma F, Deloitte, 2007
  • 6/24 - Celeste A, Chicago, 2007
  • 6/24 - Kelly F, Japan, 2002
  • 6/25 - Nicole W, MICDS, 1995
  • 6/26 - Jason H, no clue, no clue
  • 6/27 - Jeremy C, St. Louis, 2008
  • 6/28 - Chris H, St. Louis, 2006
  • 6/28 - Ben H, Northwestern, 2008
  • 6/30 - Kristina P, Northwestern, 2008
  • 7/03 - Amy F, Northwestern, 1999
  • 7/08 - Jeff J, Japan, 2004
  • 7/08 - Tony & Tina S, St. Louis, 2008
  • 7/08 - Stan Y, St. Louis, 2005
  • 7/14 - Elena D, MICDS, 1995
  • 7/16 - Queena C, St. Louis, 2007
  • 7/16 - Melissa H, St. Louis, 1996

Posted 07/17/2008 10:33 PM in Geek Stuff, Ramblings
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I've decided to try out Twitter, a site that allows you to easily post your current status on-line.

You've probably seen these status messages under someone's profile or in a chat window. They usually say things like "Filbertman is washing his car." Twitter calls these status updates Tweets but it is not a new concept. Google Talk/GChat, AIM, FaceBook and several other applications allow you to publish status information whenever using their applications. But even before that, IRC has had a similar feature for nearly 20 years (e.g. "/me slaps [user] around a bit with a large trout" which comes from a Monty Python gag).

The main problem with posting these status updates is that real life usually occurs when you are actually out doing things and not when you are sitting in front of your computer blogging. That's where Twitter comes into play. Twitter accepts updates not only through the internet but also via IM and SMS, both of which are easily accessible on your phone, 3G or not. My account is set up so I can update it via Google, FaceBook or via WAP or SMS from my crappy phone. Twitter supports automatic FaceBook updates, RSS feeds and your activities can also be published on virtually any website.

One other thing that Twitter does is automatically track and alert you of your friends' activities. It sounds like stalking, but is it still stalking if you are openly publishing your activities 24/7 on-line?

I'm guessing the novelty will wear off in a couple days b/c I don't think anyone really cares what I'm doing 24 hours a day but we'll see.
Posted 07/16/2008 05:10 PM in Geek Stuff
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PSP is the answer
There weren't any big bombs at the surprisingly long Sony E3 Press conference but there are a couple things that are keeping me interested.

First, the new downloadable TV and movie content that will be available on the PlayStation Network tonight. While it's not a Netflix partnership, I like the fact that videos can be downloaded to the PSP thanks to new single sign-on support for PSN. Supposedly you don't need a PS3 to do this either. I'll find out tonight when the new PSN launches.

Second was additional details on Gran Turismo TV, which will go live in August. GT TV will include content from Top Gear, Best MOTORing and other Japanese programs (thankfully no mention of NASCAR). I hope that some WRC content gets added in as well. I do wonder how much the mentioned fees will be though.

Another item that they briefly mentioned was their partnership with Google, something that MS probably won't have much of. Hopefully this will result in more exclusive functionality in the future. Speaking of exclusives, I'm pleased to hear that Resistance: Retribution will be released on PSP.

But for now, perhaps the best course of action is to stick with the PSP and watch the console wars continue to unfold (and wait for more PS3 games to become Greatest Hits).

Also, the Nintendo press conference was a little boring. The Wii Music didn't seem that great, I'm just not impressed.
Posted 07/15/2008 05:07 PM in Geek Stuff, Greece
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XBox vs PS3
As I watched Microsoft's press conference at E3 on Monday my resolve to get a PlayStation 3 began to waver. Announcements of a price drop for the 20GB XBox 360 and accompanying promotions such as the $25 gift card from Target, were the first straws. The announcement of NBC and Universal partnerships followed by a surprise partnership with Netflix further sweetened the deal. But the final announcement, tacked on the very end of the press conference, was that Final Fantasy XIII would be released on the 360 at the same time as the PS3. That has pushed me to finally consider switching to the Microsoft route.

Blu-Ray won't be sufficient reason to justify a PS3, especially since Sony officially stated they won't be cutting their prices anytime this year. The few exclusive games that Sony has aren't enough to sway me considering the huge number of great games on XBox. Sony will need to have some pretty awesome news today if they want to earn my loyalty...
Posted 07/15/2008 12:28 PM in Games, Geek Stuff
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Website Tweaks
I've made several tweaks to my website but they're pretty minor. A couple you may notice: I finally added titles to my blarghs and I fixed the warning that was being displayed when you submit comments.

The other tweaks you probably won't notice. I wrote a new date format function with more options to fix several formatting issues caused by hasty coding (if you see the word DEPRECATED anywhere, please let me know). All of these changes also allowed me to clean up and improve my RSS feed.

I also made several changes to administrative functions that you won't see but will make things easier for me. I put in a better way to manage spam comments and the ability to write draft blarghs on my site instead of keeping them in a text document on my computer. It feels good to fix some long needed issues, even though most people won't notice them.
Posted 06/25/2008 10:32 PM in Geek Stuff
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Firefox 3
Don't forget to get Firefox 3 and help set a Guiness World Record for most downloads in a 24 hour period. You have until 1:16pm central time (18:16 UTC) on June 18, 2008 to participate in the record.
Posted 06/17/2008 11:59 PM in Geek Stuff
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HP Sucks 2
Less than two months ago my work laptop crapped out. Well, it happened again with a similar problem: the battery would not charge. So I took it to IT services again and they gave me a new battery. That didn't help so they swapped out my shell again.

Unfortunately, that didn't solve the problem because my power adapter started behaving strangely. Sometimes you can hear power adapters buzzing from the electricity but this one would occasionally do it loudly in a pulse. It actually sounded like it was beeping and during these times, it would not supply power. So I had to go to ITS for a third time to replace that as well. So I got a new battery, a new shell and a new power adapter and it finally worked. unfortunately, my new privacy filter is missing a tab, but I guess I can live with that. HP/Compaq. Blech.
Posted 04/08/2008 08:02 PM in Geek Stuff, Ramblings, Work
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HP Sucks
Last November I talked about the AT&T/Cingular aircard that I got through work. I liked it because it was small and stuck out of my laptop a mere 1/2" so I could leave it in my laptop when I put it in my bag. Or so I thought. Just after Thanksgiving, the aircard was smashed in my bag and stopped working. Luckily it was free through my company so no money was wasted. Besides, the AT&T card was removed from my company's authorized list.

So I ordered a new aircard, this time from Sprint. I installed it but my computer kept trying to recognize it as a "Real Time Clock," and couldn't find the drivers. I took it to IT support and they had to give me a new (used) shell (the laptop hardware without the hard drive which they just switch over).

The Sprint card successfully worked in the new (used) shell but I discovered several dead pixels. Then when I took it home I realized that the battery wasn't working. So today I was in Philly and went to ITS again where they discovered that the shell was not charging the battery. They had to swap my hard drive to yet another shell and it started working again.

I had a few more small hiccups with the new shell. My computer thought it was 1980 and for some reason it couldn't connect to any wireless networks (maybe b/c wireless wasn't around in 1980?). But I finally got it working so my laptop is back to normal. And I'm back in Hartford again.
Posted 02/11/2008 10:56 PM in Geek Stuff, Ramblings, Work
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