Monday, February 28, 2005

Books: The Bourne Identity

After I finished Jack Welch's book, I started in on The Bourne Identity. The book was written in 1980 by the prolific Robert Ludlum but has experienced a resurgence of popularity lately with the various Jason Bourne movies.

I have read one Robert Ludlum novel, although it was actually just his characters, written by someone else after his death. That book (The Altman Code) was pretty good, and since I enjoy the Bourne movies I picked up The Bourne Identity for 50 cents at a rummage sale.

The Bourne Identity was good, I enjoyed it. The pacing was fast, and the plot was significantly different then the movie (imagine that, Hollywood changing the plot), so that kept things interesting.

About the only thing that annoyed me about the book was that some parts felt repetitive. There were portions dealing with the main character regaining his memory where he would experience flashes of insight into his past again and again, each time recalling a few more details. I understand why they would do that, but it felt somewhat repetitive the millionth time you read 'Delta is for Charlie, Cain is for Delta'.

All-in-all I enjoyed the book, and went ahead and borrowed The Bourne Supremacy from the library. First though, I am reading You Shall Know Our Velocity.

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Sunday, February 27, 2005

Guinness

Last night Linzy and I went to O'Donovan's with some friends. While enjoying their rather extensive collection of Irish beers on tap, we ended up talking about the St. James' Gate Guinness brewery in Dublin.

Years ago while Moen and I were in Dublin, I picked up an interesting statistic about the number of Guinness pints produced daily in Dublin, the number consumed in Ireland and related topics. So when the conversation veered towards Guinness, Linzy was asking what the stat was.

Except I couldn't remember it. I distinctly remember writing it on a postcard (of a Guinness Pint) to her when we were on the trip, but at the time I couldn't remember it.

Tonight I couldn't find the postcard, but I did find part of the statistic with some web searches:

The St. James Gate Brewery makes somewhere around 450 million liters of Guinness a year. Roughly 4 million pints of Guinness are consumed in Ireland per day, a bit more then one pint for every man, woman and child in the country.


Actually we learned all kinds of cool facts on that Guinness tour, most of which escape me now. Like how the workers at the brewery are given free liters of Guinness as part of their pay (formerly given every day, now batched up and given once a week), how the only Alcoholics Anonymous in Dublin is across the street from the brewery, etc.

Sitting in O'Donovan's sipping a Smithwicks really did feel like being in a pub in Ireland.

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Saturday, February 26, 2005

Cat-like Reflexes

Today Linzy and I spent most of the day doing some pre-spring cleaning. Mainly this just involved cleaning the whole house very thoroughly, dusting everything, edging the carpets while vacuuming, straightening up, etc. I also did some serious cleaning work on the bathroom like washing the base trim, scraping dried hairspray and other more disgusting materials off of cabinets, emptying and cleaning the bottom of drawers, etc.

It was a lot of work, but the house looks really nice now. In theory, now we will try to keep it this way until next Saturday when Linzy is having a bunch of friends over for a party. In practice, we'll probably be cleaning again next Friday.

During my cleaning frenzy I discovered that I had quite the collection of totally unnecessary bathroom crap.

The collection included such gems as:

  • 5 containers of free-from-the-dentist floss (none of which have been used)
  • 18 packages of skin lotion that can only be used in a Norelco electric razor that broke and was thrown out 5 years ago (must have been on sale just before the razor's power switch burned out)
  • The blade top for aforementioned razor (why??)
  • three different half-empty bottles of glasses cleanser
  • A dried out bottle of ear piercing cleaner (my ears are not pierced)
  • 7 half-used travel-sized toothpaste tubes

At some point during the cleaning I left the bathroom long enough to have turned off the lights behind me. When I returned to the room and flipped the lights back on, I heard a loud POP. One of the lights above the mirror literally exploded, shooting the top half of the light into the air, where it shattered against the ceiling, showering the room with broken glass shards and a mysterious but hopefully non-toxic white powder substance.

Luckily with my cat-like reflexes I was able to avoid the deadly blades of glass plummeting from the sky, and escaped with no injuries.

I've never seen anything like it. I assume the light burned out, but it was a pretty strange way for it to go.


The would-be murderous light.


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New Board Games

Last night Linzy and I made a trek to Games by James to look for a new two-person board game to play. We have lots of board games, but most are for bigger groups (like Catch Phrase) or are ones we don't like to play together (like Axis and Allies).

Games by James had quite the selection of games, including lots of the top rated games from BoardGameGeeks. Alas most of those are strategy type games and were fairly pricey for a game that didn't really look like something we would want to play very often.

[ War of the Ring did look pretty dang cool though, if I can find a couple other people to play it with. ]

After looking through pretty much everything in the store (including cool 18,000 piece puzzles) we settled on some old classics:

Rummikub - A tile-based Rummy game Sarah and I used to play as kids
Cribbage - We thought we already had a board but couldn't find it, so we got another.
Dominoes - We have had lots of fun playing with our respective grandparents when visiting, so wanted a set for home.

In a fairly cheapskate move, we actually went to get the games from Target after we decided we weren't going to need anything exclusive to Games by James. That turned out to be a good move, as Target ended up being close to $30 cheaper.

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Friday, February 25, 2005

Bad Hair

Last night while I was trying to come up with something to write about, I watched a profile on G4 about Mark Cuban. It wasn't particularly well put together (like say a Behind the Music, True Hollywood Story, or Driven, or something), but it was somewhat interesting. They mainly just interviewed Mark and Todd Wagner, Mark's friend from college and co-founder of Broadcast.com.

The memerable thing about the show was how monumentally bad both of their hair was in some of the pictures (Mark) and during the interviews (Todd). Mark is well known for having somewhat crazy hair, but Todd Wagner suprised me by showing up with a hair cut/style that looked like a copy of Mark's on a bad day.

The best picture I could find on the Intarweb doesn't really do the hair justice:



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Thursday, February 24, 2005

Low, Low Prices

I've had a receipt sitting on my desk at home for months now, since the last time we were in Chicago. The receipt caught my eye when we got home because it was completely unexpected.

Apparently on our way out of Gurnee, we had stopped for gas at "Crazy Ron's Mobil".

I had no idea.

You would think if you were going to market your owner's insanity to the point that you name your establishment after it, you would advertise it rather openly. Instead (from what I could recall) the gas station looked just like any other, and certainly didn't have "Crazy Ron's" on the marquee.

Ron must be crazy, in a low-key sort of way.

Perhaps, as my little cousin referred to my Dad, "Like Monk".

[ For the record my Dad isn't crazy. He was teasing my cousin, joking with her about something. But it was pretty funny. ]

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XBox Replacement Cord

It amuses me to no end that the new replacement XBox power cables are...XBox Huge.

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Wednesday, February 23, 2005

CompUSA - Identity Crisis

During my lunch break from class today, I was out killing time and wandered into a local CompUSA. I'm not sure when it happened, but they appear to have completely lost track of what their core market is.

Now, I've never been a huge CompUSA customer, so this could have been going on for years, but today I was completely amazed at the insane variety of products they are devoting floor space to in that store.

Walking from one end of the store to the other, we had:

  • Hard-core nerd products like round IDE cables and LED case lights
  • Big screen-TVs (Plasma, DLPs)
  • Home Theater equipment

As well as the crowning jewel:
  • Yamaha Electronic Keyboards (i.e. Synthesizer)


Who goes to CompUSA for a musical instrument?

This was all in addition to the expected, but somewhat non-core products like DVD movies, video games and cell phones.

This particular CompUSA happens to be quite small, so having all this stuff crammed into a small area made it extra strange. I thought CompUSA had gotten out of the business of being a half-assed Best Buy years ago, and started to focus on computers and computer upgrades exclusively. So why are they devoting valuable floor space to big-screen TVs and home theater equipment?

I suppose they finally came to the realization that it was too hard to compete with the razor thin margins of the internet-only computer part sellers like NewEgg, ZipZoomFly, etc, when they have to maintain stores, employees, and everything else that goes with a retail store. But it seems unlikely they are going to be able to compete with Best Buy and Circuit City for serious consumer electronics, or Target and WalMart for low-end consumer electronics products.

Office Max and Office Depot suffer from somewhat similar fates, but at least they have the office products niche to fill. CompUSA has only nerdy computer parts as differentiation. And I'm sorry to report that the same person who is looking for led case lights is likely capable of ordering them off the Internet and saving 5 bucks.

If I were Larry Mondry, I'd be looking for a new strategy. Maybe acquiring Office Max (struggling, so potentially reasonably priced), or Office Depot, ditching the consumer electronics and focusing on computers and office products. Or perhaps fixing up the craptastic CompUSA website, leveraging all those computer hardware supplier relationships, and trying to sell more computer hardware via the website.

Of course, I don't really know anything about running a retail business. I'm pretty sure selling Yamaha keyboards isn't going to get the job done, though.

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Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Books: Hacking the XBox

This past week I finished reading Hacking the XBox after I borrowed it from the library a few weeks ago. It wasn't the primary book I was reading over the same period, I would just pick it up and read a chapter every now and then. So all in all it was a pretty quick read.

And the quick read was my main problem with the book.

The book was really just a few related chapters wrapped around the information that first brought bunnie to (Internet) fame, namely the story of how he cracked the security on the XBox 1.0. Then there is a short follow-up chapter on how the security system in the XBox 1.1 and later was cracked. The rest of the book consisted of some trivial background chapters, a chapter on the DMCA and other legalities, and a couple chapters on basic XBox repairs and simplistic hardware mods. And that is not hardware mods like most people are interested in, instead it is things like how to replace the green/red led on the power button with a blue led or how to make a USB adapter out of a controller cord.

Since I had already read the original paper on the XBox hack long ago, and am passingly familiar with the more recent XBox hardware issues, there wasn't really much new in the book.

I suppose part of the problem has to do with the legality about publishing a book on circumventing the XBox security. That, coupled with the realities of having to actually sell a book primarily dealing with a technical subject like snooping boot-time initialization over a southbridge probably resulted in a watered-down book that didn't really break any new ground.

I do have to say the writing style was engaging and easy to read. Most of the explanations of clear and concise, so with just a smattering of general computer knowledge you could probably follow along with what was going on.

The book would likely be an interesting read if you were not familiar with any of the history behind cracking the XBox security scheme.

I'm just glad I borrowed the book, instead of buying it.

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Monday, February 21, 2005

Oracle Class

Whenever I take an Oracle class and listen to the questions/comments asked by other people in the class, I never fail to be reminded that for some people having eight years of experience with Oracle does not mean that you understand it or are good at administering it.

The amount of misleading or downright incorrect anecdotal information bandied about by some of these DBAs makes me shudder.

It did make my day though when I ran into some former co-workers at the class who reported (with no prompting from me) that they are still using the Java application server/website I wrote them as an intern one summer and later worked on while an employee for a year. They've had projects to replace it twice, the second time at a cost of at least $500,000. Each time whatever they were trying to replace it with couldn't match up despite the fact my code hasn't been touched in the 5 years since I left.

In theory they are starting another project to replace it. Apparently I should offer to come in and make the changes they need for half of whatever they were budgeting for the replacement.

Read the whole post.

Sunday, February 20, 2005

Movies: Constantine & Shark Tale

Yesterday we saw two bad movies, Constantine and Shark Tale.

Constantine

We were supposed to go see Constantine on Friday evening, but the show times didn't really work out, so we went to one on Saturday afternoon.

I went into Constantine with fairly high hopes. The previews looked semi-decent, and our paper gave it 4/4 stars (and our reviewer doesn't like anything). Regrettably the movie was pretty bad, it just didn't grab me. By the middle I was starting to check my watch and wish that things would get over soon.

The acting was as bad as you would expect from Keanu Reeves and the special effects weren't enough to pull it out of its death spiral.


Shark Tale

Saturday night we watched the second-half of our double-header of bad movies, when we watched Shark Tale with my little cousins.

Actually, we didn't even make it all the way through Shark Tale, only the first two-thirds or so. By that point Linzy and I had seen enough, and had to head home anyways.

Usually I enjoy animated movies, but Shark Tale just annoyed me for some reason. For one thing I didn't think the humor was particularly funny. It was mostly lame pop-culture references and Will Smith overacting. And shocker of all shockers, Smith was playing a loud-mouthed, cocky character. Haven't seen that before.

The other thing that bugged me was that all of the characters looked like the actors who were playing them. Deniro's shark had his mole, Renee Zelweger's fish had her pouty scrunched up face, and Will Smith's character had, of course, his ears. The whole thing struck me as lazy character design.

Anyways, perhaps the last third turns into oscar material, but I doubt it.


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Saturday, February 19, 2005

Dual-Head

And I don't mean two monitors.

Did you see this story about surgeons removing a girl's second head?

Thinking about a parasitic head attached to the side of someone's skull independantly blinking and smiling gives me the willies.

[ Update: Extra creepy picture available here. ]

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Friday, February 18, 2005

Short and Long Posts

I've been asked by a couple people about the "Read the whole post" links that I use on my long rambling posts.

It is nothing special, just a combination of the Blogger Help article about making expandable posts, Brenden's method for hiding the link on short posts, an extra tag I use for hiding the middle of a post (The difference between this post and its version on the archive page), and an extra anchor tag to hop right to the correct location in the second page.

Even though it is not ground-breaking, I thought I would post about it in the hopes it helps someone someday.

The whole post thing is basically just a CSS trick. Here is how you do it:

Edit your blog template and include these items in the CSS section at the top of the page (I have mine after the footer classes):

<MainOrArchivePage>
span.fullpost {display:none;}
span.fullpromo {display:inline;}
</MainOrArchivePage>

span.shortpost {display:none;}


Then, inside the <ItemPage> section, add these CSS entries:

span.fullpost {display:inline;}
span.fullpromo {display:none;}


That defines three spans "fullpost", "shortpost" and "fullpromo", that are visible or not visible depending on the type of page you are looking at. Fullpost will be used to hide the bulk of the post on the main page. Shortpost is used when you write something...short...and don't need a 'Read the Whole Post' link. Fullpromo is more complicated, I use it when I want to have the beginning and end of a post on the front page, but the middle only on the full page.

Next, you add a "Read the whole post" link in the main section of the template, after the $BlogItemBody$ tag. Mine looks like this (with a little context so you can see where to put it):

<div class="post-body">
<p><$BlogItemBody$><MainOrArchivePage><br /><a href="<$BlogItemPermalinkURL$>#full">Read the whole post.</a></MainOrArchivePage></span></p>
</div>


The #full on the end of the permapost link is an anchor so that when you follow the link it will pull up the second page right to where the first page had ended.

Anyways, that takes care of the template, so you can save it, and republish the blog.

Next, what I did was setup my default post template (in Settings under 'Formatting') to have this text:
<span class="shortpost">
<span class="fullpost"><a name="full"></a></span><span>


[ Incidentally, this was legal as a post template when I did it last summer. Now it appears to be disallowed. I asked Blogger Support about it, but haven't heard anything back. It is just a convenience to have it already in the post, you can do this without it. ]

Now when you post, you add some extra tags to what you would have written before, to control where the post is split (if at all). The changes will be in blue.

If you want to write something short you would do this:
blah blah blah blah
<span class="shortpost">

The shortpost span will encompass the Read Whole Post link, and make it hidden on both the main and post pages.

If you want to post something long you do this:

blah blah blah this is on the front page
<span class="fullpost"><a name="full"></a>
Blah blah, this is the rest of the story
</span><span>

In this case, the fullpost span will be hidden on the main page, but visible on the post page. The ending <span> is to match the Read Whole Post link span that is in the post template. The <a name="full"></a> is the anchor that the "#full" on the Read Whole Post link jumps to.

Finally, when I want the beginning and end of a post to show on the main page, but not the middle I do this:

blah blah front page
<span class="fullpromo">
<span style="color: grey;">... ...</span>
</span><span class="fullpost">
blah blah middle section
</span>
blah blah end section
<span>

That will put the beginning and end on the front page, with grey "... ..." replacing the middle section that is only on the full post page. Complicated yes, and I can't ever remember how to do it without looking up another post where I did it, but it has come in handy a few times.

The only bad thing about doing this is that your old posts that don't have <span class="shortpost"> at the end will show the whole post link even though there is no whole post to read.

When I originally implemented this, I went back and updated some of the old posts, but eventually it got annoying and I just left it alone. That is why my real old posts all show a link that goes nowhere.

For a while I was putting off doing expandable posts because I didn't want to have to mess with the shortpost span at the end of each of my posts, but it hasn't been difficult to remember at all. And I am very happy with the shortened front page.

Hope it helps!

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Thursday, February 17, 2005

Pippen the Atomic Clock

My fancy computer can't keep accurate time without the aid of NTP. Very few of the clocks in my house actually read the same time. Pippen, on the other hand, has apparently descended from a long line of highly time-sensitive dogs.

Ever since the great diarrhea accident of 2004, we have been forced to feed Pippen hypoallergenic food on a set schedule 4 times a day. Previously we had free-fed the dog, so she could eat as much as she wanted whenever the mood struck. Now Pippen gets a fourth of a cup of food in the morning, afternoon, evening and before bed. And she would like me to tell you a fourth of a cup of kibble is more like an appetizer then an actual meal.

Pippen has always had a pretty good idea of what time it was, at least in terms of knowing approximately when people might be arriving home from work or when it might be time to move from the bed to the living room to catch a nap in a sunbeam or two.

Now that she spends all day with her stomach trying to eat through her spine (or so she tells me), she has become obsessed with feeding time. While we make dinner, she sits by her bowl alternately staring at us, and then at the empty bowl. Occasionally she will stagger over and give the empty bowl a lick, just to make sure no crumbs were missed during the previous feeding frenzy.

So, what does this have to do with atomic clocks, you might ask. Well, that comes into play for the morning and midnight snack meals. You see, Pippen has gotten the timing down for both of those meals. To within 5 minutes. Most evenings I feed her the last meal around 10pm. At 9:55 every night Pippen wakes up from a dead sleep on the bed and runs through the house to find me. She then spends 5 minutes sitting at my feet staring at me, shifting her weight from foot to foot and whining.

The morning is worse, as she has taken to waking me up exactly 5 minutes before my alarm would go off. At precisely 5:17am every day she again wakes up from a dead sleep, and crawls over to stretch across my neck and lick my face. This, despite the fact that I don't actually feed her until later, after I have had a shower.

In the ultimate insult, immediately following her morning meal Pippen heads back and sits in front of the bedroom door, until I let her back in to go back to bed. As if to say "I only wanted some breakfast, I don't actually want to spend any time with you".

Unfortunately, despite her uncanny time-telling abilities, she has not figured out that two days a week I have no desire to be up at 5:30 am.

How can a dog go from soundly sleeping to wide awake at exactly the same time day in and day out? And if I gave in and fed her at 9:55, would she be up at 9:50 the next night, slowly but surely attempting to get the meals combined into one gluttonous stomach-stretching feast?

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Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Turf Wars

Last night at the TWolves game, I was witness to someone learning a very important lesson:

Under no circumstance should you ever try to make a concession sale in another vendor's area. In fact, don't even look at his customers.


We had pretty good seats, in section 138. Our seats were in row L, so they were about halfway up the lower level.

The Target Center has the usual concession vendors roaming up and down the aisles selling overpriced beer, soda, peanuts, and the like. However in the really big-buck seats they have waiters who will take an order and bring the concessions right to you at your seat.

The separation of the Important People from the rest of us in the (relatively) cheap seats appeared somewhat arbitrary from where we were sitting.

Anyways, sometime in the second half I saw a concession vendor (beer) roaring down the steps towards a waitress taking an order. They were too far away for me to hear what was said, but from body language and waving arms you could see that he was yelling at her, while she looked horrified and was apologizing profusely.

The whole time he was gesticulating, with short stabbing motions, at the row one below where the customer she was taking an order from was sitting. Eventually he made her back down the stairs two levels (seriously). Then he took out a beer and sold it to the guy who just wanted something to drink. Meanwhile the waitress stood there looking like she wanted to climb into a hole.

After the offended vendor stomped off, the people nearby to the waitress spent a while trying to console her.

Earlier in the night we saw the same waitress preparing for the game, and it looked like she was new to the arena because another waiter was showing her where to put the menus and generally showing her around.

What an initiation to the ruthless world of concession sales.

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Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Timberwolves

I'm off to the Timberwolves game tonight, to check out the new coach. My dad's friend Don was nice enough to invite my dad and I.

Don's son Eric will also be coming. Interestingly, he happens to be the only person I used to bite as a kid. For unknown reasons any time we were left alone as kids, I would end up biting Eric.

I'll try to keep my teeth to myself tonight.

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Monday, February 14, 2005

Zoinks

I was driving home from work today and I saw a full-sized conversion van going the other way with a complete custom paint-job to look just like the Mystery Machine.

Hopefully it was driving back from solving some crime involving crazies in rubber masks and/or ghost costumes. They would have gotten away with it too, if it wasn't for those meddling kids.

[ Update 7/23: I found a picture of the van. ]


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Overreacting

I was searching for something today and stumbled across this post on one of Oracle's support forums.

The context is this:

Random Guy #1 posts about how he is trying to create a bunch of users and tables in the database, and inserts some rows in to the tables. Then he does a 'rollback', but only the rows he inserted into the table are rolled back, the table and users still exist afterwards.

Random Guy #2 posts the (correct) answer that only DML (data manipulation, inserts/updates/deletes) can be rolled back, DDL (data definition, creating tables, etc) can't.

Guy #1 posts this response:

In MS SQL Server 2000 it's possible to combine any SQL statement (DML and/or DDL) in a transaction with NO PROBLEMS. Rollback works for DDL in the same way as for DML...

Oracle is HORRIBLE product!

I had to laugh.

The sad thing is that this is totally typical of the posts on Oracle's forums. I can't remember the last time I actually found something useful when searching them.

Read the whole post.

Sunday, February 13, 2005

Packrat

I spent a good amount of time today trying to dig up decade old receipts for purchases of Microsoft software. The deadline for the Minnesota/Microsoft class-action lawsuit settlement is the 22nd (it was originally the 18th, but was extended).

Of course I got a flyer on the settlement last fall, but when it became apparent I wouldn't be able to readily produce the receipts, I put it off. Now that the deadline is fast approaching I figured I should put more effort into locating the old product ids.

The whole settlement is a joke, I hope whoever negotiated it for Microsoft got a fat bonus, because they aren't going to have to pay anywhere near the $174.5 million the settlement is theoretically worth.

It works like this.

  • People have ~4 months (Late Oct - Feb 22nd) to file claims for purchases of Microsoft Windows, MS-Dos, Office, Word, Excel, Works Suite or Home Essentials from May 18, 1994 through March 17, 2003.
  • To prove your purchase you have to provide the product id for the software, or a dated proof of purchase.
  • If you file a claim you will get a 'voucher' for use on future purchases of hardware or software. You can also somehow later show proofs of previous purchases of software or hardware and convert those vouchers to cold, hard cash
  • Various products are worth differing amounts of money. Office or Excel are worth the most, at $23 a copy. Windows and MS-Dos are worth $15, and everything else is $9.

All of this adds up to meaning that Microsoft is only going to have to pay out a tiny fraction of what the settlement was 'for'.

First of all, the settlement was not widely publicized, so a lot of people are going to miss the rather small 4 month claim window.

Second, unless you are actively using a program it is difficult to determine the product id. It was only provided on a certificate of authenticity stuffed in the instruction manual. Well, how many people are still using MS-Dos, Microsoft Windows 3.1, or Office 95? How many still have the manual for software that they don't use anymore? And certainly the proof of purchase choice is a joke. I have 10 year old receipts, but none that are detailed enough to show what software exactly I was purchasing. They just show Best Buy product codes.

Third, you can only file online for up to 5 items of $100, any more then that and you have to mail in a separate form and wait for a response. Who came up with 5 items or $100, when the refund amounts are 9, 15 and 23? You can't file 5 copies of Office because that would be $115. Any other combination will end up shy of the $100 mark. Making it difficult to file claims means fewer people will do it. How many people might have 6 items and decide not to file for that last $9 since it means they have to now fill out a form and mail it in.

And don't even get me started on the stupid voucher system. It's just another hoop to jump through, further reducing the actual payout from MS.

In my case, I can think of at *least* 9 copies of software I bought during that time. Three copies of Office (4.3, 95, and 97 SBE), MS-Dos 6.22, Windows for Workgroups 3.11, Word 2000 and Works Suite (from a Dell purchased in 2000), Microsoft Windows 98SE (same Dell), and Windows 95 (a previous Dell). I'm pretty sure there was another copy of Windows 95 for another computer in there, but it might have been during my Linux/FreeBSD days so I'm not counting it.

Of course none of that software is still in use today, and I could only find certificates for three of those products.

All three copies of Office documentation are long gone. I actually still have the 3.5 floppy disks from Office 4.3 (all 16 of them), but they don't indicate the product id. Just a month before the settlement notification I threw out the Office 95 CD case because I hadn't used it for years. I happen to know that the product id was on the back of the case, because I spent a while trying to clean it off so the double cd case could be used for something else. When I was unsuccessful, I pitched it.

I also have disks for Dos 6.22 and Windows For Workgroups 3.11, but no manuals or product ids. I keep lots of stuff (obviously), but why would I keep the manual for 10 years?

Windows 95 and the copy of Office 1997 were sold with the very first Dell I owned, so I guess the rights to rebates for those have transferred to the person I sold it to (who later sold it to someone else). I'm guessing that the product id information didn't make it through two changes of ownership unscathed.

That leaves Windows 98, Works 2000 and Word 2000, worth a measly $33 worth of vouchers, out of a potential $147.

That's a skimpy 22% payout, and I would guess that I am on the high end since I was actually able to find information on software I bought 4.5 years ago.

So using that percentage, the settlement will end up costing MS more like $40 million. Score one for the MS lawyers.

Read the whole post.

Saturday, February 12, 2005

Movies: Sideways

This afternoon Linzy and I went to go see Sideways, which is up for a Best Picture academy award, and sports an unbelievable 96% rating on RottenTomatos.

Sideways is one of those movies that takes a while to build up, as you have to get to know the characters a bit before you can sympathize with them. The pacing of the film is very deliberate, so it takes a long time for much to happen. Eventually things start moving forward and get interesting, and you really get to know the characters.

Initially I didn't think I was going to enjoy the movie. It is theoretically a comedy, but it is more a character exploration with a few funny moments. By the middle I stopped waiting for funny things to happen and enjoyed the movie for what it is.

Both Paul Giamatti (one of those actors you've seen in lots of movies, but can't name any of them without looking on imdb) and Thomas Hayden Church do a terrific job. I also thought the two supporting actresses, Sandra Oh and Virginia Madsen, did a good job as well.

Overall I thought Sideways was interesting and worth watching.

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Friday, February 11, 2005

Lazy Tech Writers

I was amused today when I was flipping through the instruction manual that came with my 6600GT graphics card (the day after installing the card). They are among the most generic instructions I have ever seen for computer equipment.

First, the instructions are titled "WinFast Graphics Series Quick Installation Guide". Probably a bad sign when they won't even print the potential model numbers on the cover.

The first page lists the package contents:

  • Graphics Card
  • Software CD
  • Installation Guide

Then it lists 7 different cables and an adapter, all marked as 'optional'. My particular card came with 2 cables and an adapter.

The second page is titled 'Board Layout'. Ah-ha, now we will get into specifics, right? No, the board layout page only shows rudimentary drawings of three generic graphics cards, 2 AGP cards (descriptively titled "Type 1" and "Type 2"), and a PCI express card (titled "Type 3").

Installations instructions are basically as follows:

  1. Shutdown your computer, remove all the cords and take the case off.
  2. Locate the correct slot for the new video card and remove an existing video card if there is one.
  3. Put the new card in the AGP or PCI Express slot.
  4. If the card has a 4 or 6 pin power connector, connect some power to the zero, one, or two power connectors.
  5. Put stuff back together.

Now, admittedly these are ostensibly the basic steps you have to go through to install a video card, and there isn't much more to it. But it seems a bit on the sparse side of things.

I guess this is what you have to do to make a profit when you are one of 20 vendors selling the exact same graphics chipset in a design only slightly different then the reference design by NVidia.

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Thursday, February 10, 2005

Moore's Law and Then Some

Earlier this week I finally broke down and ordered a sorely needed new hard drive, along with a GeForce 6600GT.

The new 250G drive, coupled with the already present 120G and 160G drives means our primary computer is now sporting a mind-boggling 530G of space, or about half a terabyte.

Interestingly the very first hard drive I ever bought on my own (as opposed to hard drives supplied by my parents) was a Western Digital 540MB drive. This was back in early 1994, when it was pretty much the largest mainstream IDE drive you could get.

At the time I had just started working at Best Buy, and really needed the drive (I think it completed a computer, so that I could have one of my own). Unfortunately you couldn't use your employee discount at Best Buy until you had been employed for 90 days. Instead I had to convince Brenden to buy it for me with his discount.

I believe at the time the drive was retailing for $399, or about 74 cents a megabyte. With the discount, I believe the drive ended up being a bit less then $350 or somewhere around 64 cents a megabyte.

I distinctly remember being really pumped at the awesome deal I was getting, and plotting all the ways I would be able to fill up such a gigantic drive. I installed every game we had, installed Slackware Linux (off a tape drive no less), had an OS/2 Warp partition, and generally wasted space left and right and was still not able to use up the whole drive for quite a while.

Roughly 11 years later, my computer now has almost 1000 times the space, outpacing Moore's Law by a healthy margin.

And none of the three drives were even close to the price of that old 540M drive. In fact, if I was willing to get normal EIDE drives I'm sure I could easily get 540G of space for less then the $350 I spend back in 1994.

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Wednesday, February 09, 2005

So Long and Thanks For All The Money

When was the last time you were given $21 million to leave your job?

Fiorina, the only female CEO of a component of the Dow Jones industrial average, resigned after a showdown on Tuesday afternoon, ending a tumultuous five-and-a-half-year reign. She will leave with a $21 million severance package.




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Interesting Cell Processor Opinion

I thought this article on the Cell Processor by Michael Kanellos was interesting.

It certainly raises some good points about hurdles the Cell processor will have to overcome to become as mainstream as IBM, Toshiba and Sony want it to become.

I didn't realize the chip was going to be so big or run so hot (although it makes sense when you consider all the stuff they are cramming on a chip). Large chips mean low yields and high prices. And no one likes electronics with a noisy fan in their living room.

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Phone Books

How many phone books does a household need? If you ask me, none, that is what the Internet is for. If you ask the phone companies the answer is one more then you have currently.

Every time I turn around it seems like we have a new phone book sitting on our front porch. Occasionally I can figure out which book is being replaced and can recycle the old one. More often this new book appears to be a completely new and somewhat non-overlapping edition such that it is not obvious which old book should be recycled.

Today we got a new one, the Frontier "Greater St. Paul" Yellow Pages.

We already had:

Verizon "Burnsville, Lakeville, Apple Valley" November 2004 White & Yellow Pages
Dex "Twin Cities On The Go" 2004/2005 Yellow Pages
Dex "South of the River Suburbs" October 2004 White & Yellow Pages
Yellow Book "South Metro" 2004-2005 Yellow & White Pages
Frontier "South Metro Minneapolis / St Paul" December 2004 White & Yellow Pages

Between the 5 books, we already covered area codes 952, 651, 763, 612, and parts of 320, 507, and 218.

I really couldn't figure out which book was being replaced, so I recycled the new one. It seemed ridiculously wasteful.

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Tuesday, February 08, 2005

An Evening of Pictures

Soon to be shrimp stir-fry (at this point merely stir-fried veggies)

Pippen guarding the front door while we make dinner.

Linzy stirring...vigorously, apparently.

Pippen saying: Where's my dinner?? Jerks.

My dinner.

The Dakota County library and county service center.

The books from the library. Three for Linzy's research paper, one for Linzy to read, and one for me. Which could that be?

Watching yesterday's episode of 24, and using the treadmill.

Posting.


And there you have it, the most mundane evening ever to generate a nine picture post.

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Monday, February 07, 2005

Books: Jack: Straight From the Gut

A few nights ago I finished Jack: Straight From the Gut, the auto-biography of Jack Welch.

Jack was the CEO of GE from 1981 - 2001, during which time the company took off. In 1979 the companies annual revenue was ~$26.8 billion, in 2000 it was ~$130 billion. Market Capitalization for the company was $14 billion, while it is $383 billion today (and was probably more like $490 billion when Jack retired).

The start of the book details a bit about Jack's life growing up, and his early years at GE. But just a bit. You get 20 pages of Jack growing up, and getting his PHD in chemical engineering, and then he takes a job in plastics at GE. From pages 21 - 61, you get Jack's meteoric rise through the ranks at GE to 'sector executive', basically a made-up-title for the executives who were in the running to take over as the next CEO of GE. Those 40 pages cover 19 years of career, but it seems like every time you turn the page he is getting a promotion/raise. The next 26 pages cover the competition for succession, and then the rest of the book covers all the things that went on while Jack was CEO.

I wasn't sure what to expect from the book. It gets good reviews, and Jack Welch is pretty famous but I have never read a business book before (or even a biography about a business figure). But it really turned out to be enjoyable.

The writing style fit the book perfectly (perhaps more to do with co-author John A. Byrne, I don't know). When you've had as successful a career as Jack Welch, there is probably a fine line to walk in an auto-biography between talking about your successes, and gloating about them. Wherever that line is, I think the authors did a terrific job walking it, as I never really got the bragging-vibe from the book. Part of this could have been do the ridiculously over-the-top success he had, as the numbers can pretty much speak for themselves. Also, there are a few places in the book where Jack talks about mistakes he made and things he should have done, or would have done different, or struggles he had dealing with certain things, etc. That helps make the book much more accessible.

I thought it was fun reading about all the things that happened over his ~20 year career as CEO, and pretty much proved that he deserves the reputation as one of the best business leaders of his generation.

An interesting thing about the book was to see how some of the initiatives Jack pioneered were originally implemented, before they got picked up and bastardized by other companies.

Overall I think the book falls more on the autobiography side of things, then the business manual side of things. While there is business content it is largely to set the stage for various stories or explain initiatives. That isn't necessarily a bad thing, as I wasn't looking for a dry how-to-run a business book.

I was very pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed the book, and would recommend it.

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Commuting CEO-style

Most people complain about their 20-minute commute to work.

The new head of the soon-to-be-spun-off American Express Financial Advisors is going to have a 1000 mile commute. He's keeping his office in New York, and house in New Jersey, even though the company is based (today)in Minneapolis.

From today's Star Tribune article:

Cracchiolo said he is considering plans to buy a home in the Twin Cities, but won't make a final decision until after the spinoff.


I could see living in New York when it was part of American Express, and their headquarters is there. But now that it is getting spun off, that seems a little weird.

CEO continues to be a good job if you can get it.

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Sunday, February 06, 2005

Movies: Spy Game

Yesterday evening, my dad and I watched Spy Game.

Dad had come over for dinner, because my mom was having a bunch of friends over for their monthly 'musical movie' night.

I believe Linzy and I saw Spy Game in the theaters a few years ago. I enjoyed it at the time, but I hadn't seen it since. I've had the DVD for a while, Larry gave it to me as a gift a couple weekends after seeing me look at it while waiting in line at Menards.

Anyways, I enjoyed the movie just as much the second time through. It is not really a movie that lends itself to being watched very often (most of the interest comes from trying to guess what they will do next), but since I didn't remember many specifics it was basically like seeing it for the first time again.

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Fuel Filter

Yesterday I finished the last of the car work I had intended to do last weekend, replacing the fuel filter on my car.

Compared to the PCV valve debacle, it was a cinch. The worst part was getting at the part, as it is sort of buried above and behind the rear differential.

The second worst part was the gas bath. Even with the fuel system depressurized, gas still flowed out of the inlet hose at a pretty good rate. Coupled with some problems getting the outlet hose disconnected, gas ended up getting all over.

But it is done, and nothing appears to be leaking. So that was good. Plus it was 52F out yesterday (a record) so I could have the garage door open and enjoy the sun and warm breeze.

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Saturday, February 05, 2005

WinDirStat

I was trying to clean-up space on our ridiculously full hard drives today, and noticed there is a new version of WinDirStat out (actually it's been out for over a month, but I just noticed).

WinDirStat is one of those programs that I always meant to write back-in-the-day, but never got around to.

I've been using it for about a year, every time I need to figure out where all the space is going. It's not blazingly fast, but the new version boasts significantly reduced memory consumption, and the price is right.

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Friday, February 04, 2005

Commercials

I don't watch much TV, and I almost never watch it 'live'. If there is something I want to watch (say 24), I just record it and watch it later sans commercials.

I never really realized how much time is wasted with commercials in your average TV show.

For the whole second season of 1 hour CSI episodes, with all with the commercials edited out but the opening and closing credits left in, the longest episode is 46 minutes 45 seconds. The shortest episode is 38 minutes 54 seconds. The average is 42 minutes 47 seconds.

So on average, more then 1 minute out of 4 is commercials.

No wonder I can't stand to watch live TV.


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Thursday, February 03, 2005

Video Games: Halo

After finally finishing Dark Cloud, I started into the stack of games I got for Christmas. First on the list was Halo: Combat Evolved, a gift from Linzy.

Halo has gotten great reviews over the years, and won lots of awards (including game of the year for XBox back in the day). I only got an XBox last year, and it wasn't until just recently that the title finally went greatest hits, so I had never played it.

Graphically, the game is pretty outstanding, especially considering it is pushing 4 years old. It takes full advantage of the DirectX 8 hardware in the XBox, with bump mapping and nice shader effects.

Acoustically, the sound effects and music sounded spectacular in 5.1 surround sound. The only problem I noticed was that some of the dialogue in cut-scenes would pan across speakers and make the dialogue hard to hear. That's a pretty typical problem though, so I wasn't surprised.

Initially I was really enjoying the game. Between the fancy graphics, good sound and fun gameplay it was going well. But a little more then half-way through the game (somewhere in 'The Library' level specifically), I really started losing interest. At that point they stopped introducing new enemies, or weapons, and the levels got highly repetitive (to the point where one level was just an earlier level in reverse).

Towards the end of the Library or the beginning of the next level, the game also started to get really frustratingly difficult. Earlier in the game, I would die a few times per level but would eventually be able to battle through. By the last couple levels it seemed like all I was doing was retrying section after section over and over. Eventually I would be able to get off that perfect grenade throw, or memorize where all the 'surprise' enemies would be coming from well enough to squeak by to the next section. Then the retries would start again.

Between seeing the same room 100 times and the frustrating gameplay, by the time I reached the end of the game I was ready for it to be over.

Part of my frustration with the gameplay came because of how they handled weapons and ammo. You can only carry two weapons at a time, and only use one weapon or throw a grenade.

The two main human weapons (the machine gun and shotgun) can only hold a limited amount of ammo, and are most effective against 'The Flood' enemies. There are two main Covenant weapons (the other enemies), but only one is particularly useful, the plasma pistol. The Covenant weapons don't use ammo, they just have a set 'charge' and so you can use them until the charge runs out. After that they are totally useless.

The charge on the Covenant weapons causes one of the problems with the game. You are constantly running out of charge and having to drop one 'empty' gun and pick up another off a corpse. Except the guns don't necessarily stay with a corpse, they can get thrown off to the side, in a corner, on top of a box, wherever. So more often then not you are shuffling back and forth trying to find where the gun was dropped so you can pick it up and fight off the enemies currently filling you with lead.

I'm sorry, but that isn't fun, it is just frustrating. I realize it is more realistic, but I think it would have been better just to leave the guns on the corpses so they were easier to find. At least if you are going to insist that I have to swap guns every 30 seconds.

The plasma pistol is the only way to efficiently take out Covenant enemies. During the early levels you only encounter Covenant, so it is not a problem to carry a machine gun and plasma pistol. However, the human weapons are the only efficient way to take out 'The Flood' enemies. And there are two basic variations of the Flood, one that is best to hit with a shotgun, and the other that you want a machine gun for.

This raises problems in later levels where you encounter Flood and Covenant enemies at the same time, and really need to have three guns (machine gun, shotgun, and plasma pistol). So you have to constantly ditch one weapon and try to find it again later in the level. Again, that is not fun, just frustrating.

The storyline in Halo is relatively well-conveyed, however the universe was a disappointing collection of cliches. There is a ringworld, a race of aliens that are taller and stronger then humans, little round Flood creatures that take over dead bodies (ala Headcrabs in Half-Life), talking computer AI with an attitude, etc. It was a shame because most of the cut-scenes were well-done.

Overall I thought the game was OK, but thought it felt forced in the later levels. It was almost like they thought the game would be too short (which it is already pretty short), and so added 30% to every level by repeating rooms over and over. "Hey, instead of having 3 rooms between here and there, lets duplicate the second as the fourth, and put 4 enemies in it instead of 5."

Nonetheless, I am probably going to start into Halo 2 next.

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Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Where were you today in 1996?

I saw on the news that on this day in 1996, Tower Minnesota reached -60F below (-51C), for the coldest minimum temperature on record.

That reminded me of a story, so let's answer the question "Where was Steve on this day in 1996?".

In 1996, I was a freshman at the University of Minnesota, Duluth living in the dorms. Being in Duluth, where the winters are cold, UMD has built all their buildings connected to each other. In fact, nearly everything is all mushed together as if it was one giant building that they kept adding onto.

This sucks if you are a fan of an open, green, campus because the whole campus is basically one giant building with a surrounding parking lot.

On the other hand, if you like to be warm in the winter, it is great. In fact, all the dorms are directly connected to the sprawling monstrosity of a building, so people in the dorms never have to go outside if they don't want to. You can always pick out the freshman as they are the ones wandering the halls in shorts and sandals in the depths of winter.

Anyways, although it wasn't -60 below in Duluth back in 1996, it was plenty cold and the governor canceled all state schools. That of course included UMD and left the 10 of us or so that lived on the same floor of the same section of the dorms with an unexpected day off.

Now, there is only so many times you can beat Super Mario Brothers in a row, so many times you can race Ghost Valley in Super Mario Kart, or so many times you can watch 7-year old basketball teams on cable access TV.

Eventually we needed something to do, bad.

That year we had gotten a lot of snow in Duluth, in fact the snow was drifted nearly over my window on the first floor. We latched onto the idea of going sledding. Except no one had a sled.

That didn't stop us, as someone came up with the idea of using the plastic shower curtains from the shared floor bathroom.

Next thing you know, a big group of us were heading across the street to a hill, three shower curtains in hand.

If you've ever gone sledding you know with the right combination of snow surface, sled material, and weight you can really get going. Well, the stars had aligned on February 2nd, 1996. No one has ever gone as fast as we did on those slick plastic shower curtains.

The greatest speed came when you piled three or four people onto a curtain, as with the extra weight you could really get up some speed.

The only problem was that the curtains provided absolutely no protection from bumps on the hill. You felt every single one of them going down. But man, you were going fast.

Eventually the curtains couldn't stand up to the abuse and ripped. Later that year we tried the curtains again, but it was never quite the same.

So there I was, on one of the coldest days ever in Minnesota, outside sledding on plastic shower curtains borrowed from the dorm bathroom.

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Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Do you know where that air has been?

Today the air in the Twin Cities was declared unhealthy for all.

Apparently stagnant air hovering over the metro area is making the air quality reach levels where it is unhealthy for everyone (as opposed to merely the old and/or ill).

How exactly, are we supposed to hold our breath until this weekend?

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Sopranos Syndication

I wasn't surprised to see that the Sopranos' syndication rights were sold today to a regular cable channel, A&E.

And not just because they had been rumored to be up for sale last month.

It was actually because I remember reading an article (maybe in Newsweek?) long ago, in between the first and the second season that talked about how they were carefully shooting two versions of every episode. One that was the full HBO version, and one that was designed for syndication with less profane dialog, less violence, and no nudity.

Apparently the creator had been trying to sell the show to a regular network, but ended up at HBO when no one else wanted the show. So even though they didn't have any broadcast standards to meet, he planned ahead for eventual syndication.

So the possibility exists the syndicated shows won't be a butchered embarrassment. I'm not saying they won't be, just that the possibility is there.

The episodes were sold for 2.5 million an episode, which is a record for a syndicated drama series. On one hand that seems like a lot for a show that will (most likely) be barely broadcast-able on regular cable. Especially a series they don't actually get to air until fall 2006, at which time the first season is going to be 6-7 years old.

On the other hand, there are only 13 shows per episode in an HBO season, and only 10 shows in the 6th season. That puts the total price tag at 187.5 million for the series. In TV terms, that doesn't seem like that much.

I think NBC was paying each of the Friends 1 million per episode for their final season. At, at least 6 million an episode for 23 episodes (one season of regular TV), that is 138 million just for that season. In Jack: Straight from the Gut, Jack Welch talks about trying to convince Jerry Seinfeld to do one more season, and offering him 100 million in GE stock.

So compared to that, 187.5 million for the whole series of The Sopranos doesn't seem all that outrageous.

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Sure, We Have Rights to That Picture...Honest

I was amused today by the story on CNN about the guy whose picture was used on the Taster's Choice coffee can for years.

Turns out he was a model they had hired for a photo shoot, but neglected to buy the rights to any of the photos taken there. Except then they decided to use one on the can. And never paid him for it. Whoops.

When he found out and contacted them, they made the lowball offer of $100,000. He asked for $8.5 million.

Last week he was awarded 15.6 million, or 5% of the profit from sales of Taster's Choice from 1997-2003.

Heh, I guess they should have bought him out for 8.5 million.

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