Beginning of the End

Should you have happened by yesterday and noted a bizarre DNS error, rest assured that it was my fault for being a slacker. I forgot to renew my domain registration so were free for the having for roughly five and a half hours. I did manage to get the situation worked out so you’re stuck with me for at least another year. Neener.

I worked from home yesterday in a sort of unofficial capacity as I’ve been battling against a potential Jury Duty stint in a city which is as far east from my apartment as work is west. Had I gone in yesterday and been told in my 11:00 check in that I needed to be there at noon, it would have been a very long drive.

Instead I set up two laptops at the kitchen table and worked on customer problems and did research via the corporate VPN all day, pausing only to wander through intermittent monsoons to have some lunch with Nik at one of our favorite breakfast/lunch haunts.

Speaking of, it mystifies me that our town is one of those rapid-growth bedroom communities for the Bay Area and while I worked for the City there was a constant sensation of pressure by citizens and administration alike to get as much of the day-to-day necessities which are widely available in the Bay Area transposed over to our humble village. I’m talking about shopping options, services, places to work and restaurants. Especially restaurants.

There are, aside from the bevy of fast food options which I don’t really count because you can find those in Blythe, California (Town Motto: “Kill Us, Please”), perhaps two dozen restaurants in our town. Of those, ten are Mexican or Tex-Mex places. Don’t get me wrong, I like Mexican food just fine, I just wonder how many possible variations there can be on a burrito. Note here that I’m lumping those little Taquerias into the fast food category. If you add them to the sit-down Mexican restaurants, we’re talking about maybe 38% of the City’s real estate consisting of eateries serving some variety of taco/enchilada/tamale as their primary menu item. It’s disturbing.

So if you take the remaining 14 restaurants you have a few franchised staples of varying quality from the poor (Applebee’s, Denny’s, Lyon’s) to the acceptable (IHOP, Chevy’s, Hometown Buffet) to the decent (if unexciting) options (Olive Garden, Mountain Mike’s). Which means that when you get down to it, our fair city of 70,000+ people has to choose between an over-franchised-find-’em-anywhere restraurant, Mexican food, fast food or one of five restaurants that are actually local-only. Of those two are fancy-dining only because the menus are pricey. So pricey that I have yet to try either of them (special occasions around our house are usually spent at one of Nikki’s favorites since “adventurous” dining usually leads to her being “hungry” later). One is possibly the only place I could call a real contender for local favorite, except I’ll never go back to The Great Plate because we got into the Guiness Book of World Records for being the customers that received the World’s Worst Service—and this was after several visits where the service was just bad enough to make us grumble everytime someone wanted to go there. Now we don’t even bring it up. It’s been removed as an option.

The other two? One is a Chinese restaurant (I grant you it is a good one and sadly is probably the best restaurant in town that I’ve visited which is only sad because outside the restaurant-repelling forcefield that surrounds our hometown I’ve had Chinese food that is twice as good) and the other is a sushi bar which I don’t go to because sushi isn’t my favorite thing to eat (my official stance is that it’s “okay”).

That leaves only one place to go if you want a decent, different sit-down meal… and they’re only open from 7:00 am to 2:00 pm, with no dinner at all.

Anyway, that wasn’t what I was talking about.

So I worked from home yesterday and finally they told me I was dismissed so I’m not going to have to worry about dealing with Jury Duty for at least another year. What really struck me was how much I was able to get done from home. I worked from home for about a year a while back after getting laid off around the time people were coming to their senses from the whole dotcom thing so I knew I could do it, but back then I was working on a contract basis where the amount of time I put in was directly proportional to the amount of money I earned. The punishment for slacking or procrastinating or getting distracted was very plain. In this case I’m salaried so if I sit at home and watch TV instead of working, it sort of doesn’t matter—at least in terms of immediate compensation. Eventually I’m sure I’d be in hot water since you can’t hide a complete absence of productivity for long, but I didn’t expect to get almost more done at home than I do at the office.

Curious, that.

The TiVo Trial

So with the new Windows laptop lying around, I figured there were worse things I could do than try to get TiVo2Go working. I mean—hello.

The good news is that getting TV shows from a TiVo to a computer is easy. The bad news, at least in my situation, is that I switched over the wireless network from being handled by the ISP-provided router to the AirPort Express. It was a good move, and worked just shy of flawlessly except that I still have two wired devices: The XBox and the TiVo in the front room. The problem I think is that the wireless devices all see each other just fine but anything on the wired network (which is just a four-port hub in the living room hanging off the router) is invisible. So where I used to be able to transfer shows from one TiVo to another, now they act like they’re on different networks.

The easy (but relatively expensive) solution is to put the TiVo on the wireless connection with a wireless adapter (identical to the one we have in the back room). Barring that, I just have to live with not having both TiVos on the same network, which makes getting shows from the front TiVo into TiVo2Go more or less impossible.

But the whole experiment started because the back TiVo has some shows Nik has been hoarding for quite literally years but is reluctant to get rid of, despite being in need of the space she could free up by dumping them. The solution seemed obvious: Transfer them to the computer with TiVo2Go and burn them to DVD. This is where the cracks start to show.

The problem is that she doesn’t just want a DVD with some random video files on it that are only useful on a computer. She wants a DVD, and rightly so. To me, TiVo’s strategy here is bizarre: You can buy a TiVo box with a built-in DVD burner and burn your saved TV shows to DVD right there on the system. Yet, when you transfer the show to your computer via TiVo2Go, it slaps some silly DRM on there and—this is what I most don’t understand—the TiVo Desktop Software doesn’t come with an option to burn the show to disc. Why not?

Granted, TiVo isn’t exactly the most productive creator of software. Their software (on the TiVo boxes) is pretty remarkable, but their development time is dog-slow (still waiting on that OS X version of TiVo2Go) so I guess trying to compete with Nero or whatever is a little counter-productive. But I’m thinking, “Why not form some sort of strategic partnership with Nero or whomever is already doing DVD authoring/burning software and bundle parts of their suite into the TiVo Desktop so I don’t have to jump through hoops to get what I could have from TiVo themselves if I didn’t use their wonderful special TiVo2Go feature?”

Regardless, it took me a long while before I stumbled across VideoReDo, which isn’t freeware (man how I loathe Windows and it’s pay-for-standard-features model: OS X comes with the ability to burn DVDs at the system level by default and it works like a charm; most new Mac purchases also come with the iDVD and DVD Player software… what’s wrong with Microsoft? I mean, seriously) but at least gives the option to clumsily remove ads and strip off the DRM so I can get a plain MPEG that I could burn to DVD… if I had authoring software.

I tried several versions of Nero, but those didn’t work. I tried a couple of other suites but I got sick of downloading useless piles of trash again and again so eventually I came on the idea to copy the stripped MPEG over to the Mac mini and try using iDVD. It might have worked too, but it took 419 minutes to transfer a 40-minute show from one machine to the other over the network. So I still haven’t tried this experiment, but if it doesn’t work I’m not sure what my other options are: I only have a few days on the VideoReDo software trial and I certainly am not willing to fork over $50 for that and another $50 for some cheesy Windows authoring trash. Grumble.

So Long, Farewell

What I really meant to talk about today was the Sharks. I got a little distracted, it seems. Anyway: I think the Sharks are deluding themselves if they think they have a legitimate shot at the playoffs. I read an article today in which coach Ron Wilson was quoted as saying, “There’s still plenty of time left.” I laughed, out loud.

Plenty of time, huh? That might be true if the Sharks were playing well, but they’re not. They’re playing sorta okay at best. Things have cooled way off from the blistering post-Thornton trade era in December. Here’s some things I’ve noticed (I haven’t seen last night’s game so this is based only on watching other games since the Olympic break and to an extent just before):

  • They don’t play hard. Remember a month ago or whenever when I said the Sharks looked like a possible contender? I knew as I wrote that I was jinxing them, but sure enough ever since they’ve skated like they had concrete in their boots and they’ve hit like the opposing fowards have a contagious rash or something. Once in a while during the stretch they’ve kicked it up temporarily, but they haven’t played a 60 minute game since late January. It shows in the standings.
  • Their special teams are pathetic. They haven’t been too hip all year, despite kind of turning it around during their brief hot streak, but even then I’ve seen them have more 5-on-3 chances than I can remember in the previous three seasons combined. They haven’t scored on a lot of those (as an aside, if anyone can actually find some solid numbers on how many 2-man advantages they’ve had this season compared with previous years and what their production has been when they’re up by two men, I’d love to see them).
  • They’re still relying on a handful of guys to get it done. Remember the last season they played? They had five guys with 20 goals plus Korolyuk who had 19. This year they have two 20-goal scorers and they have two others who might squeak out five more goals before the end of the year and hit the mark.
  • They keep getting stumped by goalies. It seems like they either score 0-1 goals in a game after peppering a goalie (and this isn’t just against great goalies, this happens against people you go “who?” when they’re called) with dozens of shots or they score like six goals. I don’t know what Ekman’s problem is but that guy seems to get the best chances of anyone in the universe and he can’t bury the easy ones. It jumps over his stick, he doesn’t get good wood on it, he hits the post… whatever. It’s like he hates San Jose fans or something.
  • Have these D-men ever actually held a blue line? Ever? Anyone?

So unless some dramatic last-minute push comes together for the Sharks and the Oilers have a meltdown of historic proportions, I don’t see the Sharks making the playoffs. So let’s talk next year.

We know Cheechoo and Nabby will be around. Marleau is here for a while and I’d be shocked if they dealt Thornton so soon. Who’s left?

Of the old guard I think you have to give Ekman at least one more year: The guy can be exciting if nothing else but I’d have him on a short leash. He’s there to score goals and if he’s not pushing 20 by mid-season, he can fetch a decent price on the market. Alyn McCauley, Mark Smith, Scott Hannan and Kyle McLaren ought to hang around if the management knows what’s what. But I’d be looking to deal Scott Thornton right away, maybe even this season (has the trade deadline passed already? I forget). I mean, the guy doesn’t even have twenty points yet. He’s a non-presence on the ice and that’s useless.

The newbies: There are a lot of these younger guys, but then again the Sharks are a young team. The key is to weed out the ones that have potential and let someone else deal with the ones that just aren’t going to make it. I say hang onto Milan Michalek, Grant Stevenson and Steve Bernier. They show a lot of promise, or in the case of Michalek, they’re already doing quite well for young guys. Doug Murray is a great hitter and a pretty effective defenseman.. I haven’t seen anything offensive from him but sometimes you just gotta have those guys that no one gets past. Jorges looks pretty good most of the time, too, although I suspect he (and some of the other younger players) could stand to have a really talented grizzled vet around to sharpen some of the edges on their games that coaches can’t always reach.

My primary trade bait would be Toskala (aka “The Flopper”), Scott Thornton, Ryane Clowe and Niko Dimitrakos. Clowe is just going to be one of those guys who has potential that is never quite realized and Dimitrakos… well, I thought for a while he might be another Marleau who was too streaky to be really great until he figured out the nuances, but now I just think he sucks. Toskala is a decent goalie but with the Sharks giving Nabby the long contract nod, I’d rather see Schaefer get the backup role and take what we could get for Toskala. There are a lot of teams out there with much worse goalie situations than the Sharks have and maybe they can spare an offensive-minded defender or a veteran third line winger.

Sigh. See you next year.

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