Wednesday, April 30, 2008
If you can't tell, that's Miley Cyrus (Hannah Montana) in that picture. Yes, we must save those in the most need. Those suffering extreme poverty, such as Ms. Cyrus. She only has millions of dollars.. she needs your help. Please, give all that you can. Then give a little bit more. Multi-millionaires are starving all over the world. Please help!
Sunday, April 27, 2008
I just rediscovered Jelly Belly jelly beans. They are very good.
My favorite flavors are: Plum (yes, plum!), Green Apple, Grape Jelly, Very Cherry, A&W Root Beer, and Red Apple. I used to really like Juicy Pear, Peach, and Buttered Popcorn, but not quite as much now.
I absolutely despise Cappuccino, Cafe Latte, and Jalapeno. If any of these foul flavors enter my mouth they are invited to do an immediate about-face.
Friday, April 25, 2008
Thursday, April 24, 2008
It's about a guy (Ted) who has been trying to get a girl (Stella) to go out with him for weeks, and she keeps turning him down. In this clip she finally gives in. Enjoy!
I had a few interesting thoughts recently while traveling. We all know that there are a lot of hassles associated with air travel, and my mind kind of began wandering, wondering why we're putting up with all of this nonsense. Is it really necessary? And is all air travel going to be like this (or worse) from now into the unforeseeable future? (I sure hope not, it already takes forever to get on a plane, let's hope it doesn't get worse.)
Now I'm not going to pretend to have any sort of answers to the problem, but I have had a few "what if" scenarios come to mind.
So let's think about this... we've got tighter security to protect from potential terrorist attacks, right? And if that's the case, why are commercial airlines such valuable targets? Are smaller planes targets? It doesn't seem so, as the security at smaller airports isn't anywhere near as stringent. Terrorists try to inflict the most damage with the smallest amount of effort, and bigger planes make that easier to do, that's all.
It's the big planes they are after, right? So what would happen (hypothetically) if everybody started flying on small planes? Would the threat of terrorism in or via aircraft go away? I don't know, but it's interesting to think about.
This also begs the thought, why do we fly on big planes so much? It's all about efficiency, isn't it? It's cheaper to fly a big plane than it is to fly many smaller planes carrying the same number of people. But is it? With the added costs of higher security, are the airlines, and we as customers, actually saving any money? I have no idea, but it does make you wonder.
Anyway, just a thought I had. None of us like the security hassles of flying, and it kind of makes you wonder whether it is really necessary or not.
Wednesday, April 16, 2008
I just watched the movie Lars and the Real Girl last night and actually really liked it. Not that I had low expectations going into it; I had heard from more than one person that it was good. But I found it very enjoyable: touching, and humorous all at the same time.
It's the story of a gentle young man (Lars) who has been living a secluded life and is experiencing feelings of isolation and solitude due to a family tragedy. His response to his loneliness is to order a life-size doll over the Internet, and he actually believes her to be not only a real person, but his girlfriend, whom he names Bianca. Lars' brother and his wife, concerned with Lars' mental state, consult their doctor who recommends that everyone go along with Lars' delusion, and that when he no longer needs the delusion it will go away. Everyone in the town is asked to participate, and in the process they come together to support Lars, helping him to deal with his condition. Because of this, Lars begins to come out of his shell, and begins his journey of healing.
One of my friends told me she thought it was the most hilarious movie she had ever seen in her life. I can see how it would be funny (I can't imagine how the actors pulled it off with a straight face) if you look at the way Lars and everyone in the town treat Bianca, but really it isn't meant to be intensely comedic. The overall tone of the movie is serious, but is kept light with many mildly comedic moments. One of the funniest is about a third of the way into the film where Lars is laying in a treehouse singing.
It was just released on DVD this week so it should be available for rental or purchase, but since it wasn't a well-known movie, there aren't a lot of copies around. It stars Ryan Gosling (from The Notebook), is raged PG-13 (Bianca is technically a sex doll, and there are a couple off-color jokes about that, but the doll isn't even suggested to be used in that way; the film is otherwise very clean). I highly recommend this movie.
Tuesday, April 8, 2008
Okay, I'm not really… But it seemed like time to add a post about what I'm doing with my life, rather than just venting or dispelling information of high value. J
The last year or so has been full of changes in both my personal and professional life. Fortunately it has pretty much all been for the better.
A little over a year ago I received a phone call inviting me to do some contract programming work for an engineering firm in Houston. My friend Brian had referred me to one of his customers, and they were pretty excited to have me come down and do some work for them. So Brian flew up to Utah and we drove back to Houston so I could begin working on the project. It turns out they wanted an easy way to track the projects they were working on and coordinate between employees. A pretty simple idea, really, and the resulting program is actually pretty slick. They're very happy, so they've had me come back down for followup and an additional project since then. I'll be heading back down for yet another followup visit shortly. They treat me pretty well, and each time I go to Houston I get to visit Brian and my sister Suzanne. It works out really well for everyone involved.
In August my brother Brent was asked by his former boss Jared to help out with a Point-of-Sale application that would end up in pizza retailers. Before long it became obvious that the project requirements were outside his realm of expertise, so Jared asked me to take on the project. The catch? It needed to be ready to use in a Little Caesars store opening in just four weeks. (Has a decent point-of-sale system ever been written in four weeks? Somehow I doubt it.) Anyway, I got the basics done in time, and it has actually been a really fun project to work on. Learning how to interface with fingerprint readers and design touch-screen friendly interfaces has been enjoyable and a nice deviation from the sort of software I usually create. Plus we've been able to come up with some really innovative stuff in it, like very accurate sales predictions and intra-company email messaging. The package has a lot of potential and could really shake up the industry if we can market it properly. I say "we" but really I mean Jared and Rob; I'm not much of a marketing guy. It's still keeping me busy with new development. The last week or so I've been trying to tackle staffing needs based on predicted sales, with limited success. I'll get it, though. After that I'll target pizza delivery and begin working on the training video.
As part of the sale of the Pizza POS (we'll call it "PPOS" for short) I was invited to go to Washington state to help install it in five stores. And the locations just happened to be within my mission boundaries, one of which was in my greenie area. So for the first time in 13 years I got to go back and tour my mission. We didn't have a lot of time to play or visit, but it was nice to see a few of the people that I lost contact with a long time ago, and amazing to see just how quickly we were able to reconnect.
I was also asked to go to Tulsa, OK to install our system in a Little Caesars store opening there. That's where my parents now live (as of one year ago), so I'll spend about a week there visiting the folks and working in the store. I don't know an exact date as to when that will happen, but it should be in the next 3-4 weeks or so.
In October and November I taught an introductory photography class in my home and streamed it out live to the internet. The videos for the five classes are now available on Google Video: Class 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5 (my favorite). And the backdrop I used for that is still hanging in the living room… it is so much more attractive than the inside-of-a-1970s-sleeping-bag wallpaper!
Speaking of photography, in August I had my first out-of-state job. It was a wedding I shot was in Portland. And the couple was very happy with the results, and I was glad to go to a city I'd never seen before. But it didn't increase my "I've been to 45 states" number; I had been to Oregon before. When am I going to get a job in Alaska, Hawaii, Minnesota, Michigan, or Wisconsin?
For Christmas I spent two weeks in my parents' home, much of the time was spent doing projects around the house: wiring the house for a network, hooking up TVs to the satellite dish, building a workbench, and doing other electrical work. I love doing that kind of stuff, and it's fun to work on that stuff with my dad and other family members. I'm sure we'll find more projects to work on during my upcoming visit.
It kind of sounds like I've done a lot of travelling, doesn't it! I guess I have… Several months in 2007 I spent as much time out of Utah as I did in Utah. Crazy. 2008 will likely be the same. April looks like it's going to be one of those months.
Let's see… as far as other projects I've worked on recently…
- I'm currently working on software to allow you to play real music using Guitar Hero and Rock Band controllers. It's working really well now. But before I release it "out in the wild" I'll have to write a synthesizer engine so people without MIDI pianos/keyboards can use it. Not totally sure when I'm gonna get it done, but it's coming along. I'll post it on my web site and do some viral marketing using YouTube when it's ready to go.
- Over the last couple of days I've been writing a game (at least that's what I guess you'd call it) for my new Toshiba Portege M700 Tablet PC. It's a game where you navigate a ball through a maze using the accelerometer in the computer – you tilt the computer to make the ball roll. Not something I intend to do anything with professionally, just a "can I do it?" kind of thing.
- I finally wrote the software to allow me to do video switching with a touch-screen monitor about a year ago. In addition to controlling all of the video switching and routing hardware, it also controls multiple DVD players to synchronize video playback with the video transitions. The project is kind of in limbo right now, but it's a fun one that impresses everyone who sees it, even non-techies. With the Tablet PC I just got, setting up the system will be a lot easier.
- Six weeks ago Brad and I created a two minute video on how to make an apple pie for one of his classes.
- Within the last year my first two (1, 2) real television commercials have aired, both for car dealerships in Idaho. I also created one for the Utah Flash, but that project fell through and it never aired.
- One of these days I'm going to create my car computer. Kind of hard to describe, but essentially it will be a music player and navigation system with a lot of unique and innovative capabilities. I've already figured out how to do some of the neatest things about it, like door-to-door driving directions, real-time weather maps, XM radio. It will also have real-time email notifications, and WiFi internet sharing for anyone in the vehicle. I'm still trying to figure out how to do two separate video feeds, one for the passenger, one for the back seat. I'm sure I'll figure it out, but I'm still in the very early design stages of the software. The hardware installation is going to be a big deal, too, because it will require rewiring a significant portion of my audio system, and building a new center console to hold some of the equipment.
- Lots of new toys in the last year (as always)… two new high definition video cameras and three new laptops, just to name a few.
- Brian and I attempted to start a podcast a few months ago, but we've found that we're too busy to coordinate schedules long enough to do regular recordings. Oh well… the idea had promise and it was fun while it lasted. Though I haven' totally given up on the idea.
- As part of my calling in my stake, I was asked to figure out how to send video between multiple church buildings back in August. We installed the equipment in January for a stake conference a few days later. I think I'm still coughing up insulation. But the idea worked. Sometime before this coming June though we're gonna do the first equipment upgrade so it works even better, so I get to spend even more time in the attics of the local church buildings. I sure do spend more time in attics than I like. And it is fun to setup my video equipment. This last time we had four cameras going.
- Since I started the PPOS project, I haven't had as much time to dedicate to FileBack PC or my eClipse presentation software. I still have big plans for both, just no time to work on them.
- About a year ago I started attending the family ward that I live in. The ward itself is fine, but I feel like a fish out of water, being one of just a couple unmarried adults.
- Speaking of being an adult, I recently had my 35th birthday and yet I still don't feel like I'm a grown-up. Does anyone ever really get over that? Maybe after you have kids? The one thing that makes it feel more like reality is that my "little" brother is 28 and my "baby" sister (14 years younger) is almost 21.
- The last several months have been filled with really late nights working on PPOS and working with Jared and Brad on various projects. We like to get together late at night, flip down the projection screen in the living room for one of the world's largest computer monitors, and work on various programming projects into the wee hours of the morning.
- I haven't had a ton of professional video jobs lately, but when I have had them my customers are more than thrilled with the results. I just need to figure out how to advertise my services a little more. But not a lot more, I like the balance I have between different types of projects now, and I think I'd get burned out on video if I were to start doing it a lot more often.
- Since I'm no longer involved with any singles wards, the occasions to get out my professional audio equipment have been cut back greatly. It's kind of a shame that I have some of the nicest equipment in Utah Valley, and care more about the way things sound than most sound guys, yet the equipment and I sit idle most of the time. Of all of my hobbies, this is the one I wish I could do more.
- Along the lines of "sound" and "idle…" I've been watching American Idol this season again, and am very glad that there are two strong LDS contestants. They're not the first, but they both seem to have a better shot at winning it all than in previous contestants did.
- A lot of people ask me about the iPhone. It's cool for what it is, but way too simplistic for my needs. There are several core features they'll have to add before I can even consider one. But if you're considering one, hold off until this summer when the new model ships.
Overall I love my life. I've got the best situation with my "job" if you can even call it that. I get to do all of the things I love doing. It's the best.
Just an update...
Apple Software Update woke me up this morning. I have a computer with three monitors in my bedroom (actually five, but two are usually powered off) and this morning when Apple Software Update popped up to inform me of an iTunes update (my guess is they added an extra comma or space to the license agreement somewhere, forcing yet another 70MB
half-a-gigabyte download) it awakened my sleeping monitors, in all of their blaring-white-light glory, awakening me as a result. Since I have been having an extremely hard time sleeping lately, this is extremely annoying. I only got 4 hours of sleep and I can't get back to sleep. My left ear is ringing (that's what happens when I'm sleep-deprived, go figure) and I'm getting a migraine because of it.
Why does it need to awaken my monitors? And better yet, why are they kept on as long as the ASU software is running? Is that really necessary? How much power is being wasted in the world because people's computer monitors are coming and staying on needlessly? And are other people are being awaken by ASU popping up to notify them of unnecessary Apple software updates?
And while I'm at it, why won't QuickTime keep monitors turned on when playing video? Every time I watch a video longer than 10 minutes (like television program episodes, say from iTunes?) in QuickTime I have to keep moving the mouse or pressing a key on the keyboard so the monitors don't shut off. But Apple Software Update [turns/] keeps them on. This seems backwards. (Most other media players are smart enough to handle monitor power properly, why won't QuickTime?)
And what's with putting the iTunes and QuickTime icons back on my desktop and Quick Launch bar with every update with nary an option to prevent this? I don't want them there, so I deleted them. And deleted them again. And again, and again, and again. And I've moved the iTunes/QuickTime Start Menu shortcuts into more appropriate subfolders. And new ones keep appearing, and appearing, and appearing. Apple, if you're doing an update, please don't create new shortcuts! Your users have already setup their computers the way they like, and they probably don't want to have that configuration mucked with. I don't know of any other "updaters" that do that. Very aggravating.
On a vaguely related note, my Mac won't turn off its monitor, despite the fact that the System Preference says to after 10 minutes. It just stays on all of the time. And it also just started dropping its WiFi network connection. Puzzling.
Sunday, April 6, 2008
It seems like most of the people I've talked to about the switch to digital-only television next February don't really have a firm understanding of what is going to happen, or how (or if) it is going to affect them. So here's the rundown:
- On February 17, 2009 all over-the-air analog television transmissions will be shut off. All broadcast television will then only be done in digital form.
- If you receive your television over an antenna ("rabbit ears" or rooftop for example) and the TV does not have an ATSC digital tuner, you will no longer receive programming.
- Televisions with compatible digital tuners are typically larger-sized HDTVs manufactured in the last 2-3 years. The tuners have been slowly integrated into smaller and smaller TVs during that time. If your television is more than 3 years old it probably doesn't have an appropriate tuner. If it is not high definition it almost certainly doesn't have a digital tuner. If you aren't sure about your television, look in the manual for "ATSC Tuner."
- If you can already watch high definition programming from an antenna you already have what you need for the changeover.
- If you receive your television programming via a satellite dish on your house, you are not affected by the switch. (Dish Network and DirecTV have always been digital.)
- If you receive your programming via analog cable, you may be affected by the change; it is up to the cable company as to whether they make the switch to all-digital or not. Most companies have pledged to not require digital tuners initially, but this is almost certain to change over time, and at some point cable companies will probably require digital cable boxes or tuners too. Contact your cable provider for information about how they are handling the change.
- The U.S. Government has a voucher program that allows each household in the country to receive up to two $40 credit vouchers for purchasing converter boxes to allow older TVs to receive digital programming. Currently the converter boxes are available at Wal-Mart, Radio Shack, and other stores, starting at $50 each. Sign up for the voucher program at https://www.dtv2009.gov/ApplyCoupon.aspx.
- The reason that this is taking place is that digital programming uses less of the radio spectrum, and a significant portion of the radio spectrum is being reallocated from television broadcast to other services, such as cell phones and wireless data cards for laptops. The benefit for consumers is that digital transmissions are much clearer and many (most prime-time) programs will be in high definition. Each channel can now also carry multiple sub-channels, so each broadcaster can have multiple programs running simultaneously.
Wednesday, April 2, 2008
Two weeks ago Apple Software Update prompted me to install Safari (Apple's web browser) on my computers. That was pretty sleazy of them, because I didn't already have Safari on the computers. I didn't want it (I already have Opera, Firefox, and Internet Explorer on my computers, I really don't need another browser!) so I unchecked it and proceeded with the other updates in the list. Deceitful and annoying once, but not infuriating.
But it has been raised from annoying to infuriating today. ASU is now prompting me again to install Safari on all seven of my computers. I said I don't want it two weeks ago, why would I want it now?
This method of software distribution is identical to one of ones used by virus and spyware writers. Click one wrong button, and your computer is infected with software you don't want. But this is worse. Because it comes back later and tries again! Yes, I know there is a way to tell the updater to ignore a product (it's terribly designed, BTW), but you know it is going to come back again. It already has on at least two of my computers.
I didn't ask for Safari, I don't like Safari, I don't want Safari, I already told it once that I don't want Safari, so stop freaking trying to install it! Apple, you are really getting on my nerves with your arrogant attitude that everybody wants all of your products. There are a lot of people left in this world that don't, so stop trying to force them on us! If you absolutely must use your updater to try to push out a new product: (1) please don't do it in the first place, (2) It needs to not be turned on by default, (3) If someone elects to not install it their preference should be honored, and (4) just don't do it!
And while I'm on the subject, why do I have to download 70MB every two weeks for an iTunes update? Why can't the updater be smart enough to only download the parts of the program that have changed? Why does it have to be updated every two weeks (or more often)? I have like 7 computers so every two weeks I have to approve and download like a half a gigabyte just to keep the updater from nagging me.
I guess since I very rarely use iTunes I should just try to uninstall it and stop having to worry about choking my internet connection with unnecessary updates. (I say 'try' because it leaves traces of things behind even after uninstalling, but I know how to get rid of those.) And while I'm at it I guess I'll have to remove QuickTime too, because whenever you have QuickTime installed, Apple Software Update will prompt to install iTunes regularly too.
Between this and the generally poor job that Apple does of writing Windows software, I think I'm about ready to have a "no Apple software on my PCs" policy. Apple products on Macs are fine, but they've proven time and time again that they don't really understand the way to write stable Windows software, or the way that non-Mac folks think.
Yes, the format has been abandoned. But the players are excellent upscaling players for DVDs, and the HD-DVDs are getting cheap. Plus I already had 10 movies on HD-DVD because I have the Xbox add-on HD-DVD drive. So anyway, I got the Toshiba HD-A30 for $129. And Brent bought one too.
I just picked up a handful more movies and season 1 of Heroes on HD-DVD, and they look amazing.
It's been seven months since I bought my last laptop, so I've really been itching to get a new one. Just kidding! I usually get new ones about every two years, not every six months!
Seriously, though… I really, really loved my Dell XPS M1210. The size was perfect, it lasted forever on a battery, it was super fast… overall an excellent product and an excellent buy. But recently I've gotten involved in projects that involve touchscreen user interfaces (my Little Caesars, video switching, and car computer projects just to name a few) and it has gotten to a point where it would be nice to have a touchscreen laptop to demonstrate, test, and use these apps away from my development environment. At the same time Brad mentioned to me that he was looking for a new laptop, so I decided to take the opportunity to sell my newest beloved computer and get one with all of the features that I have really wanted all along. Fortunately I had gotten an amazing deal on the XPS, and I was able to pass that along to Brad and still get a decent amount of money for a used machine. If I had paid full price for the XPS I don't think I could have parted with it at a price that anyone would be willing to pay. And Brad loves his new computer.
Tablet PCs (especially convertibles) have always intrigued me but they have always been way too expensive to justify their purchase for my needs. But within the last several months a few less expensive models have become available. I almost always like Dell laptops so that was the first thing I looked at… the Latitude XT. Super nice, super expensive (and multi-touch for anyone that excited about that buzzword). To configure a machine modestly for the way I was going to use it came to about $3200 (plus tax and shipping). Way too much. So I started to investigate other options. HP makes a much less expensive tablet, the tx2000, and I was planning on that one until I discovered it lacks a FireWire interface, which I need for capturing video for the video switching application. It also has a (slow) AMD processor and doesn't have any expandability via PC Card or ExpressCard slot, so I couldn't even add FireWire either. Brent suggested I look at what Toshiba had to offer and originally I thought they were going to be too expensive (as they have always been in the past) or missing key features. Turns out their Portege M700 model comes in lots of different configurations and can be setup with the features I want, and the price isn't too bad. I ended up selecting the M700-S7044V. Everything I wanted, and affordable.
So it arrived yesterday. And it is a lot cooler than I thought it was going to be. Here are some of its features, some of which I wasn't aware of prior to purchase:
- Super fast Intel Core 2 Duo T8100 (new lower power 45nm chip), 2GB RAM, 160GB HDD. My fastest computer to date actually. Came with Vista Business (which is what I use normally) so I didn't have to format the hard drive and re-install Windows like I have had to do on my last several Dells.
- Both Pen and Touch-screen interfaces. I can either use the pen, or touch the screen with my finger. Whenever the pen is in proximity of the screen the touch feature is disabled so you can safely rest your hand on the screen while you are writing. The pen is also pressure sensitive so if you work in programs like Photoshop, you can vary the width or opacity of a line by varying the pressure applied. Not that I am an artist, but it give drawing on the computer a much more natural feel and better visual results. The pen also has an eraser on the top, so if you make a mistake you can flip it over and "erase" it. Or you can just cross out the mistake and it will remove it.
- The handwriting recognition in Vista is pretty amazing. I write really fast and have really bad handwriting and it still somehow manages to figure out what I am writing. Anywhere you would use a keyboard in Windows, you can write on the screen with the pen and it will translate for you.
- It has a fingerprint scanner and it works with Windows domain logins, unlike Windows XP. So to log onto my computer I just swipe my finger across the sensor, or use...
- Pen-based signature login. If I have the pen in hand when starting up, I can sign the screen and that logs me into Windows.
- Alternately, it can be programmed to automatically log you in if your cell phone is nearby (detected via Bluetooth). If this feature was setup I would never have to enter a password as long as my cell phone is nearby. For some reason it doesn't support my phone though, so I can't use this right now.
- LED backlight on the screen. The whole screen is more evenly lit than most LCDs, and it uses less battery power to do it.
- Accelerometer built-in. Not incredibly useful yet. But it does have a couple cool features. Like if I were to drop or knock the laptop off of the table it would sense the fall and brace the hard disk for impact. But based on some of the demos I could write games based on the tilt of the machine (e.g. get the ball in the hole). The included software doesn't have a lot of capabilities based on tilt/acceleration, but you can do a few things, like launch a program or bring up the Start menu if you tilt the computer backward then forward, or left then right. Interesting technology.
- Built-in webcam and microphone. Sure beats taping a USB webcam onto the back of the screen for video conferencing.
- Comes with Microsoft OneNote software. This program is amazing for taking notes. It even includes a search feature that lets you search your handwritten notes and any pictures you take for any text. Yes, even though you are handwriting your notes, they are searchable. So if I can't remember where in my notes I wrote about a certain topic or word, I can just click the search box and start typing. It also includes a feature that lets you record audio (from the built-in microphone or an external microphone), and as long as the recording is fairly good quality that audio is searchable as well! So you take it to class, take handwritten notes, record the teacher, and later you can tell it to find any words or phrases in the handwritten notes or the audio recording. It also syncs up the audio with the notes you are taking at the time so you can either listen to the recording based on any section of the notes, or view the notes taken at any point in the audio. Amazing stuff!
- It works with my existing APC universal power adapter, which lets me power the machine from AC, in a car, or on an airplane. (I had to buy a separate Dell branded power adapter to do this with them.)
- 802.11n wireless networking, Bluetooth 2.1, and gigabit wired Ethernet.
So I've only had it for about 23 hours now but I can already tell I'm really gonna like this machine. And as much as I loved and miss my Dell XPS, this new machine will take its place very nicely.