- If you haven’t seen the video of Darth Vader being a jerk, you should. As a co-worker pointed out, it’s random but hilarious.
- I’d like to post a snippet of an email I received from Bosslady:
On the Nintendo DS Lite…I actually bought one. I saw it on TV and thought it was cool. It was the commercial with the Brain Age game. I guess they should hire that marketing firm again, since I have never wanted a video game in my life.
Does this suggest that Nintendo’s plan to expand gaming to non-gamers might be working? As a note, the link to the commercial video is a guess; she didn’t specify anything more descriptive about the ad and that was the best I could find.
- I started working a sort of strange shift at work: They needed someone to help with the early morning coverage while one of our team members is out on personal leave. But I’ve been commuting to work with Nik since she started expanding her hours at her job. So as a compromise I log in from home at 5:00 am and watch the phones, take new tickets and follow up on things until 7:00 when Nik is ready to leave. Then I pack it up and head in to the office like normal only I get off of work sometime around 3:00 pm instead of 5:00. Unfortunately with the two hours of work-time spent doing other things (commuting and lunching) that makes for pretty lengthy days although they’re talking about doing four ten-hour days instead of five eight hour days anyway so maybe I’m just ahead of the game. The weird part is when I’m off at 3:00 Nik still works until 5:00 so I have to figure out a way to fill the time. I’m sure I’ll come up with something.
- If you’re using Netvibes (and you really should be), check out Netvibes Ecosystem. The Sudoku module is really cool.
- If you’ve voted in the poll, you probably noticed that the results looks pretty screwy. Apparently the polling software doesn’t care too much for links in the answers (which is really dumb, by the way). Sorry about that. I could pull the links but it would ruin the effect. Such that it is.
- So the Giants finally snapped their nine-game skid. It’s funny because when baseball season starts I’m in full hockey mode (usually). In a few weeks I’ll be all hyped on football and in a couple of months it will be back to hockey as well. So late July and early August are pretty much the only times I actively follow baseball (I pick it up again in the fall if the Giants or the A’s are in the playoffs). A couple weeks ago I started catching a few Giants games and they beat up on the Padres enough to earn their way to first place in the National League West. Two weeks later they’re in dead last, 3.5 games out. Funny what losing nine games in a row will do to you. I’d suggest that they started losing just because I started watching, but I know that isn’t true. The Giants lose regardless. They lose the way the Red Sox used to lose. Forget the Cubs, the Giants are the new Red Sox. Perpetual losers, revelling in their ability to choke at the last minute, to fall apart right when they need to step it up. Why not? They’re my team, after all.
- A lot of modern pop music is pretty crass, in the way that it is lowest-denominator, self-referential drivel with little redeeming value. But I like pop music in the sense that I like artists who can craft an accessible song provided they can do it in an original way or present within it original ideas. Maybe “original” isn’t even the word since nothing’s original; I can settle for unconventional. If you’re like me, you might want to check out Jem‘s Finally Woken album. It’s good, unconventional pop music and the whole album is solid. I knew it was something worth trying when perpetual death metal advocate HB recommended it to me.
Other than that the only things of note are that Apple finally did the Bluetooth thing with their Mighty Mouse and you should check out this freaky precognitive letter to the editor from an ancient issue of Nintendo Power which foretells the coming of Super Mario Galaxy.
Oh, and in breaking news, Whimsy is apparently en route to the hospital, hopefully to dispel their new daughter from her innards and wean her from her parasitic ways into something that isn’t so easily comparable to a creature from Alien.
I may have spent too much time thinking about scary movies lately. Just a hunch.
The thrust of the two polls I’ve been running over the last few weeks has been to try and subtly feel out whether a simplified intro to the sometimes unintuitive realm of RSS would be useful. It’s hard to say for sure from the polls, but I gathered that there were enough people who either didn’t know about it or didn’t care to try and learn that it might at least be of some value to a couple of people. So here goes.
Part I: What is RSS?
RSS stands for “Really Simply Syndication.” Yes, it’s kind of a stupid acronym. Then again, most acronyms in the computer industry are pretty stupid. But ignoring what the letters stand for, what RSS really covers is a series of related technologies that allow the content of a site to be broadcast in a way that can be easily read and reformatted by other entities.
The technical mumbo jumbo isn’t really important, what is important is that RSS allows any site that has a Feed—which is a little broadcastable file that contains the content of a site—to interact with a Feed Reader. A Feed Reader can be one of many different things: A small snippet of code attached to something else like another website (see my Netflix and Last.fm lists in the right hand column of ironSoap.org for examples) or an email program or it can be a standalone application that does nothing else but read Feeds.
You will note that most people use RSS the way they use the phrase Kleenex: What they mean is any of several technologies, products and services that work to create, detect, read and deliver Feeds. RSS itself is just one type of Feed, specifically a specification for a Feed format. There are a couple of different versions of the RSS specification as well so you might see something like RSS 2.0 or RSS 1. Another common specification for Feeds is Atom. Generally speaking they are interchangeable and most Feed Readers treat them equally; their only differences lie in the nitty-griity technical details that you don’t need to bother with.
Part II: Why Should I Care About RSS?
RSS is cool, and I can prove it. How many web sites do you visit? 5? 20? 500? 2,000? Let’s say you’re a fairly typical casual web surfer and you check out 25 sites on a semi-regular basis. Some you check maybe once a week or less because they don’t update that much. Others update really sporadically but sometimes there will be a lot of new stuff in a short span of time (like, say, ironSoap.org). A few update all the time (daily) but at different times during the day and one or two update many times per day, every day.
How long does it take you to check 25 sites like that? If you went through all 25 and read the latest stuff, it could take you hours. What if there was a way to check only the sites that had new content? Maybe you could cut the time in half since only maybe 10 of the sites update regularly anyway. What if you could preview the new updates before you ever even went to the site? If several of the sites weren’t devoted to a particular topic and you didn’t always like what they posted, maybe you could save yourself another hour of wasted time.
This is why you should care about RSS: Because surfing the Web is fun but it is also a huge time sink. Anything that lets you surf without wasting time is a very Good Thing. RSS lets you know when the sites you like have something new to read. It lets you preview the new content and decide if you want to go ahead and visit the site. Some RSS Feeds and/or Feed Readers let you view the entire content without having to actually load the site. Mostly RSS gives you the chance to avoid wasting time checking on or loading sites that don’t have anything to say that you haven’t already heard.
Part III: How Do I Get Started?
The first thing you’ll need is a few Feeds. If you use a modern browser like Firefox, Safari or Internet Explorer 7 (which is still in Beta mode, by the way), there is typically a notification method whenever you visit a site that offers a Feed. In Firefox it looks something like this: An orange square with a “broadcasting” dot. The Safari icon is simply a blue rectangle with the letters RSS. IE7 is reported to use the Firefox icon, but I can’t be sure because IE7 Beta requires XP Service Pack 2 and I only have SP1. (It looks from this Microsoft article that the IE7 icon is a minor variation on the Firefox broadcasting dot icon.)
If you’re still using IE6, you may need to do a little looking. There are plugins available for IE (such as Pluck) which allow it to mimic the features of Firefox and Safari, but it doesn’t hurt to be able to locate RSS feeds on your own.
The easiest way to do this is to look for an RSS icon on a site. Most sites use either an icon that looks like the Firefox RSS icon or an orange XML button. Before you start getting confused, you can safely assume that in this case XML is completely synonymous with RSS; in fact RSS is a specific type of XML if you want to be technical. Usually clicking these icons will either bring you to a page that lists the various different Feeds the site offers or they will open the feed itself.
Looking at a Feed in a Web Browser that doesn’t actively support Feeds (like IE6) will result in something that looks like some sort of bizarre code. That’s okay, you don’t need to worry about what’s in the Feed, you just need to know how to get there. If you do see something like the code, you’ve located the Feed so now you just want the Feed’s address. The address is the same as a site address (http://www.somesite.com/somefile…); this is what you’ll want to provide to your Feed Reader so it knows where to go look for the updates to the Feeds.
Other sites use a variety of different methods of describing their Feeds: They may have a variety of different icons, logos, textual links or in some cases, no indication at all that they offer Feeds. We’ll deal with those particularly insidious sites in a moment, but in the meantime the best thing to do is search over a site (especially in the fine print areas since Feeds are typically considered to be extraneous once you’re actually on the site) and see if you can find something that looks like it has something to do with RSS, Atom, XML, Syndication or Feeds. If you can locate the Feed and copy it’s address, you’re halfway there. If you can’t find it, your best bet is probably to email the site’s Webmaster and ask if they have a Feed and if not, what their problem is! Sites without Feeds are pretty rare these days, especially if the site has any kind of updating content. Also keep in mind that some sites have Feeds that are only for specific parts of the site and you may need to navigate to those sections before you can find any Feed links.
Part IV: So, Uh, What Do I Do With This Silly Feed Address?
So you have a Feed. You’re halfway there! Of course, having a Feed address is pretty useless unless you can provide it to a Feed Reader and have that do the heavy lifting for you. That’s what this is all about anyway, having software check your favorite sites for you.
Feed Readers these days are a dime a dozen. We’ll take a look at just three, but the basics will be regardless of which program you decide to go with. The three we’ll check out are Thunderbird (it is to Outlook Express what Firefox is to Internet Explorer and made by the same people), Firefox and RSS Bandit. This should show the three most common types of Feed Readers: Email client-style, browser-style and standalone.
Thunderbird looks a lot like the familiar Outlook Express. For our purposes we’ll want to Create A New Account in Thunderbird. When the Account Wizard comes up, select “RSS News & Blogs” and click Next. Name the account and click Next again, then click Finish. Now there should be a new item in your left hand pane that looks somewhat like a new Mailbox. If you right-click on the new account name and choose Manage Subscriptions… from the menu, a RSS Subscriptions box will appear. From here, click Add and when it asks for the Feed URL, paste in the Feed address you found from your favorite site (see Part III). Once you click OK, Thunderbird will verify the Feed and load the most recent content. If you close the RSS Subscriptions box and go back to your new RSS News & Blogs account, you should see a new item under there for the site you just added. It should have a number after the name in parentheses.
You should get used to seeing this parenthetical number when dealing with Feeds: They represent the number of new articles/entries for the site since the last time you checked on the Feed. In this case the Feed is new so you’ll see a fairly high number. If you open that site’s entry you should see the site updates listed like new emails. As you click through them, the headlines (subjects) will un-bold just like a read email and the content of the update will appear in the lower pane. Once you read or click on all the articles you should see the parenthetical number disappear. Next time the site updates and you check your Thunderbird, you will see a new (1) after the site name, indicating that there is new content for you to read. Sweet!
RSS Bandit is kind of like an email program, too, except that it is strictly dedicated to Feeds. RSS Bandit comes with some feeds pre-installed. You can click through and see RSS Bandit check the status of these feeds and return the most recent updates to those sites. To add your own feed (that you located and carefully copied the address for in Part III), click the New… button in the upper left. The Add Subscription Wizard will appear and you can click Next. The Wizard then asks you for a URL (address) for a feed. But that’s way too easy… you could just paste the address you have.
Instead let’s try Auto Discovery. Check the Autodiscover and Verifty Feed box (if it isn’t already) and instead of pasting in the Feed you found (you can do that later), type in http://puckupdate.com/. PuckUpdate is a pretty cool hockey blog which up until recently didn’t have a clear way to locate the site Feed. Now hit Next. RSS Bandit does what a lot of the newer and more feature-rich Feed Readers does which is search an entire site for Feeds for you. After a progress bar indicating that the search is underway RSS Bandit will locate PuckUpdate’s Feed and ask you if you want to change the title or re-categorize the Feed. Click Next when you’re done and you’ll be presented with a login option.
Some advanced Feeds for sites with subscription content have enabled login routines to access their Feeds. This allows them to offer Feeds of their premium content without having to let non-subscribers read their for-pay stuff. In this case the PuckUpdate Feed (like most) is free, so you can click Next. RSS Bandit has several advanced features specific to the fact that it is dedicated to delivering Feed content. You can safely ignore most of the next screen but you may want to note the “Update frequency” option.
Feed Readers work by periodically checking on the status of the Feed(s) they are subscribed to. They can compare the copy they have most recently accessed to the version currently resting on the server and that’s how they determine if the site has been updated or not. You could set the update frequency to something very small like one minute. But that’s sort of like loading a web page and hitting the Refresh button on your browser once per minute. If enough people did this the site would probably crash! Most Feed Readers default to about once per hour, which is fairly reasonable. But you can customize this based on the site itself. For example, Slashdot.org updates probably three times per hour. If you wanted to know fairly soon after an update hit that site, you might change the update frequency to 15 minutes. On the other hand, a site that updates weekly (but irregularly) might be set to check in once every 24 hours. And of course you can always change the update frequency after the fact.
The next screen talks about formatters: One of the key features of newer Feeds is that they contain much or all of the content of the site updates. This means that technically, you never have to visit the site in question in person; you just get the information/content and read it in your Feed Reader. Because of this you could also re-format that content however you want. In this case we won’t bother, so just click Next and then click Finish.
Now if you check under the Blogs folder in the Feeds pane on the main RSS Bandit window, you’ll see PuckUpdate listed there with all the latest hockey news. Aren’t you lucky?
So now you know how to successfully add a regular Feed to a Reader, you can do autodiscovery… what else is there?
Well if you use a browser like Firefox you can get “smart” bookmarks that will give you quick and easy links to new content on your favorite bookmarked sites. Of course, it accomplishes this through Feeds. In Firefox it couldn’t be easier: When you browse to a site that offers a Feed, the icon will appear in the right side of the Address Bar. If you click that icon, you’ll get an Add Live Bookmark dialog box. The Feed address is already filled in for you, all you need to do is give it a name and choose a location. If you choose Bookmarks Toolbar Folder the bookmark along with the Feed icon will appear below the Address Bar; clicking the title will show a dropdown list of recent article headlines and clicking one will bring you to the content in question.
If you need to know what the Feed address is for that particular Live Bookmark, right-click the bookmark and choose Properties… and the address is found under Feed Location. You can copy this and paste it into RSS Bandit, Thunderbird or any other Feed Reader that happens to strike your fancy.
Part V: Now What?
At this point you should be able to locate and use basic Feeds. Of course there is a lot more you can do from there, including adding Feeds to your own site or using Feeds on sites you may have set as your home page (like Netvibes or My Yahoo!). There are also sites like Feedburner that act as a buffer between Feeds and the sites they represent in order to provide site owners with detailed statistics about who is using their Feeds and how. Most of this is comparatively advanced but once you get comfortable with the idea of Feeds in general, you may never use the Web the same way again.
Questions, comments or requests for clarification are welcome. Please leave a comment or email the author.
Two short links, one short announcement:
- Next Gen has an interesting article about Nintendo’s role in the video game market. I don’t necessarily agree with their positions, but it’s good food for thought anyway.
- Opera-based browser for the DS, anyone? Interesting as a novelty, but I’m not sure how much use I’d really get out of it… especially not when they’re charging as much for it as they would a regular game.
- You may now access any/all Game topic entries from http://games.ironsoap.org/. By popular request. Yeah.
Watched the Lost season finale last night. Compared with the ending of Alias we’re talking about the difference between six weeks’ all-expense paid vacation in a tropical paradise with a supermodel of your choice versus getting kicked in the crotch and shot in the kneecap. Or, put another way, there is no comparison.
Caution: Spoilers may follow.
The return of Desmond was no great surprise, but the faith/doubt rollercoaster that Locke had been on all season was neatly tied by bringing back the catalyst (so to speak) and having them work it out. I agree with some of the rumblings on the webs that Desmond might have mentioned to Locke that he had almost let the Bad Thing happen by not pressing the button a couple of months earlier and could pretty much verify that it was not a hoax and you didn’t want that to happen. I could see him being upset after having perhaps seen the Pearl orientation video, but just hearing about it doesn’t seem like it would have made him just kind of go along with whatever Locke wanted.
The open-ended fate of Locke and Eko was mildly alarming, although I’m willing to bet that the writers/producers felt they had met their Shocking Character DeathTM quota for the season and Locke and Eko seem too integral/symbolic to the direction of the show to be cast aside without much fanfare. As much as I liked the Desmond character and was glad to see him back, I’m hoping they don’t try to say he survived the explosion/magnetic discharge/key turning and bring him back. I sort of liked the concept of the hatch and the button, but I’m certainly not sorry they didn’t drag it on forever… a glimmer of hope there that they know better than to draw from the same well too often.
My biggest eyebrow-raising moment was when the rest of the Others seemed to kind of defer to Henry Gale as a leader of sorts, this has made for rampant speculation that Gale actually is the “Him” he whimpered about during his incarceration in the hatch. I’m not a fan of this theory as it seems to suggest that he would have orchestrated his own capture (that or he is especially careless, which does not bode well for someone we have been thus far lead to believe is rather feaed). If he is “Him,” that seems like a very risky move to make, considering how hostile and frightened of his group the Losties were at that point. Heck, even Rousseau—who ostensibly did the original capturing—would have had a pretty compelling reason to just flat out kill him (They did, after all, kidnap her daughter). That he managed to make it out alive can only be attributed to fortune (no one could have successfully orchestrated that series of near-deaths) which means that either Gale isn’t “Him,” or that he is in which case I would say that’s pretty disappointing since “He” is sort of a lucky dweeb and not some legendary Kaiser Soze-style uber-villain.
Some people grumbled that Claire’s kissing Charlie was out of character for her, but I think they set the stage for that already with the hand grab during the funeral in a previous episode. Still, I’d agree that her wishy-washy attitude toward him wasn’t handled quite as well as it maybe should have been (for all she knew he really did try to drown Aaron less than two weeks ago), unless they plan to set the stage for a plotline where Claire is a very poor judge of character/doesn’t learn from past mistakes very well. I hope with most of the key characters otherwise occupied in various high drama situations that we actually get some real storylines with Claire and/or Charlie next season.
I’m essentially opinionless about the cliffhanger ending since it involved plot elements that are nearly 100% new at this point in the show. Nice touch, though.
A Brief Meta Comment
If you stopped by the site sometime after about 11:00 pm PDT until around 9:00 am PDT you may have seen the site lookin’ all busted. I think I’ve fixed the Netflix feeds so they won’t break the site when they don’t work now but if you see the site acting goofy like that I wouldn’t mind a quick email letting me know. I suppose that goes for general site weirdness evident since the server switch.
Giggiddy Game Weekend
Tomorrow we head out for Kublacon. I had grand intentions of getting a bunch of my painting projects done but instead I fell into a spiral of video game resurgence, Netflix queue burning, lazy TV watching and irregular work hours. As such, my wonderful armies will not see the honor of battle this con. It’s really not a huge deal since there will be a slew of other stuff to do and more than enough games to play. I am still going to run a short Shadowrun 4th Edition adventure tomorrow night so at least I don’t feel like I did nothing to prepare for this anticipated event, but I had grand schemes of Warmaster battles that will have to wait for some arbitrary weekend in the future.
The only bad thing about the con is that in order to get a decent room and have a chance to get settled in and play a few pick up games before the festivities kick into full gear I need to get off work earlier than usual which naturally means getting to work earlier than usual. I’m still not exactly sure how that’s even going to work but considering that Friday nights at a con are historically rather sleep deprived, that strongly suggests that tomorrow may be in the running for Longest Day Ever.
Enjoy your lengthy weekend, Internet.
I use the phrase “in terms of…” way too much. I think when you get right down to it I have a handful of phrases that I just destroy with overuse.
See? Right there I originally typed that as “…that I just destroy in terms of usage.”
What’s wrong with me?
I think I’ve gotten most of the bugs ironed out here. An unexpected bonus: I saved the archives! Anyway, it’s not the prettiest site on the net (like it ever was), but it’ll get the job done. Hopefully I’ll get some improvements made over the weekend and we’ll be all shiny and new come Monday.
If you see anything truly wonky happening, drop me a line, but use my alternate email address because I think firstname.lastname@example.org is still non-functional.
Just a quick note to say that we’re about to have some changes ’round here. After years of being hosted by the kind folks at eggsites, we’re moving on. This means I need to switch webhosts and I’ve selected (with a quality recommendation from Ryan) Dreamhost.
Here’s what this means:
- I’ll probably be upgrading WordPress to 2.x, which means (if you recall last year’s switch from self-hosting to managed hosting via 888.net) probably some growing pains and/or archive loss. To me, losing the archives isn’t that big of a deal but some people have griped about the loss of previous entries so I’ll do what I can. And I do retain all the old data, even if it isn’t really accessible and I have Big Plans for that data down the road which I’m sure I’ll talk about later on.
- There may be, as part of the growing pains, some outages. I like to pretend I know what I’m doing when it comes to managing websites, but the truth is I’m pretty clueless so if you come to ironSoap one day and it is gone, rest assured it will be back at some juncture as soon as I figure out how to cover up my stupid blundering.
- When I come back online we’ll probably be using a new site design, probably something similar to this.
- I have the following domains registered: ironsoap.org, ironsoap.com, ironsoap.net, irnsoap.info and ironsoap.info. They will all work even after the move, but they should all redirect to ironsoap.org (which is the one I prefer) so you’ll no longer see the others in your address bar, no matter what you type in or have bookmarked.
- There are two other sites that are inexorably linked to ironSoap: eFaithFarm.com (my brother’s site) and Anthrocide.com (my dad’s site). Those will be moving with me, so if you’re a fan of those sites (and why wouldn’t you be?) they may be experiencing some weirdness as well. Most of what applies above for ironSoap probably applies in turn for those sites except I don’t think eFF will be upgrading its WordPress so it should look and work identically and lose no archived content.
- Speaking of Anthrocide.com, once the moves have been made you should be seeing new content on that site (I’ve been sitting on it for way too long being a general slacker) including a couple of new books.
- I use the word “probably” too much.
I got a chance to work from home today in an effort to figure out how to get our car back. It was cool because while I’ve sorta-kinda worked while not actually being in the office before, this was the first time it actually counted as a day of work. That my boss was cool enough to let me do this already (I mean, I’ve only been working this job for about four months) either means he’s got a lot of faith in me or he has no idea how clueless I am.
At least in this case I’ve done the self-motivation thing before so I’m not concerned about my own performance in that regard, it’s more of an issue where I really would like for this to be something I can continue to do on a semi-regular basis. In order for that to happen I need to show that not only will working from home not be problematic but also that my overall skill in my job is continuing to improve despite being away from the office on occasion.
Of course in terms of the car situation, there was some miscommunication with the insurance company and I’m still not completely clear how we’re supposed to get it back in our possession (I thought I would need to go with Nik to the tow yard it’s being stored in so one of us could drive it home). So in the end my working from home was not strictly vital but it turned out to be a good thing that I was here to help Nik sort out the confusion with AAA.
Network? Yeah, Right
For someone who is ostensibly a computer geek and who makes a living solving computer-related issues, there are few things more frustrating than running into a stumper which negatively impacts someone I care about. Last night Nik and I went to HB and Gin‘s place for some barbecued steak to celebrate the first reasonable weather day in what feels like forever. The food was good, the company was excellent (as always) but after dinner Gin suggested that I give her new Sony Viao laptop a look to see if I could get her on their wireless network.
Troubleshooting network issues, especially wireless network issues, is not exactly my forte. It’s also not exactly my idea of a fun evening, but HB and Gin are exceptions to the rule because a) they seem to have mostly converted to Mac folk which I certainly respect and admire and b) they’re good people who had just fed me a marvelous dinner. What was I going to say, “Yeah, thanks for the steak but I’m not interested”? Hardly.
It became pretty clear off the bat that the Belkin PCMCIA wireless adapter Gin had and its associated software was designed by feral orangutans so it wasn’t going to be easy. But I forged ahead, fiddling with the connection settings, SSID keys and whatnot until I got to the point where it should have been online and working but I could get no traffic coming in from the Internets. Puzzled, I tried to transfer some of the settings I found on their AirPort Express configuration over to the laptop for a while and while I was doing that HB decided to show Nik a website he had found.
As he fired up Safari, it said there was no connection to the Internet there, either. So switching gears to troubleshoot the Mac, I started investigating. It was possibly the weirdest network issue I’ve ever seen: Everything was fine. The internal network worked just dandy, with the APE receiving the signal from iTunes to play over the stereo and the AirPort status was listed as on, active and connected to the Internet. Yet there was no signal coming from the outside world. Gin even kindly called Comcast to see if there was some freaky, coincidental outage at that moment but, alas, no.
What really baked my noodle was that I hadn’t touched a single thing on the Mac. Other than opening the configuration panels for the APE to look at the settings, none of them had been messed with. It made no sense. After an hour or more of frustrating trial-and-error, I was pretty grouchy, Gin seemed to be concerned for my sanity, HB was asleep on the couch and Nik was gently urging me to give up so she could head home. Somehow leaving their network in worse shape than I had found it when they had merely requested some help seemed very rude.
Eventually, on the verge of doing what inevitably leads to nightmarish support calls and wiping everything clean and starting from scratch, Nik and Gin finally talked me in off the proverbial ledge and promised that it wasn’t a big deal. After all, they reasoned, I was coming back on Friday to watch the playoff game so I could maybe sleep on it, get some inspiration or look up some online help guides and get it all back to normal in a jiffy. Unconvinced but now thinking clearly enough to not desire any kind of major catastrophe wrought by frustration, I conceded.
The funny thing about being a geek with a certain sense of pride in the moniker, I didn’t sleep well last night as my dreams were plagued by uncooperative network adapters who, for whatever reason, were semi-sentient and acted vaguely like domestic chickens.
CALIFORNIA—Law enforcement officals noted today that a stolen 1997 Saturn SC2 was found only a few miles from the scene of the crime, parked near an elementary school. It is reportedly in rather good condition, parked with the doors locked. It has been towed to an undisclosed location for review by the owners’ insurance adjuster.
Short Attention Span Theat—Hey, Who Has Some Gum?
- So I caught the Sharks game on Saturday with HB, which was a lot of fun. Afterward we convinced Nik and Gin to drive out and meet us at Lister and Whimsy’s pad with a cameo by RR for a fairly raucous but tasty trip to a local steakhouse.
- So, Saturday was the second game I managed to attend this year. Jonathan Cheechoo scored a hat trick at the game I went to see for my birthday back in January. Cheechoo scored a hat trick on Saturday, too. I’m only saying.
- Sadly after Saturday’s winning performance and eighth victory in a row, they basically rolled over on Monday for the Kings whom they most certainly could have beaten. Yeah, the game didn’t matter for much and no one wants to go out with an injury in a “pointless” game (anyone else get kind of jittery when Cheechoo went down from that collision?) but getting shut out? Not a good note to start the postseason on, I’m afraid.
- So Thornton and Cheechoo managed, despite getting blanked by the Kings, to take home some league hardware for points and goals scored, respectively. Congrats to them both as I think they very much deserved to win. I doubt Thornton will be able to shine bright enough for the east coasters to have a legitimate shot at the Hart trophy for league MVP, but we can all rest assured that he is the most valuable player, trophy or no.
- You know, ever since I saw Waking Life I’ve thought that animation-over-film is a very nifty effect. Check out the trailer for the upcoming film A Scanner Darkly and tell me that doesn’t look super rad.
- I rented Tomb Raider: Legend over the weekend. Of course by weekend I mean “Monday I took off because I couldn’t stomach the thought of working another five days in a row,” but whatever. I beat the game in a day which suggests that the game is way too short (which it is) but does not suggest much about the quality of that brief experience. Overall I’d say Lara has her mojo back, although the combat needed more slow-mo effects than the one or two moves that provided it because those involved getting all up in some thug’s face (putting one scantily-clad adventurer in rather perilous circumstances). The story was a bit hard to follow since I haven’t completed a Tomb Raider game… uh… ever, I think. And I haven’t even picked one up since the Sega Dreamcast days so, you know, it’s been a couple of weeks. The fun factor of the puzzles and the visuals are quite nice but I really feel sorry for anyone who actually dropped the coin on the game. Ten hours. At most.
- Beating TRL so quickly got me thinking about the sweet spot for game purchases. Basically it’s like this: Either you buy a game hoping you’ll play it for months and months and never really bother trading it in (lots of sports games fall into this category, as do really good multiplayer games like Counter-Strike and Halo 2) or you hope that you buy a popular game and manage to push through it in a reasonably short amount of time—but not so short that you would have been better served just renting it. For example, a $50 game will, within about a month of release, get you maybe $35 in trade-in value. Which means you take a $15 hit from buying the game. If you can make up that amount of gameplay in a shorter amount of time than it would take you to rack up $15 in rental fees, you come out on top. Since most rentals are about $1 per day, you’re looking at games that can be finished (without getting too stuck in one spot) in roughly 30 hours.
- Finding 30 hours in a few weeks to devote to a video game… you’re on your own there.
- The one bad thing about the car being found (okay, not bad per se, but sort of sad) is that the rental car we got from the insurance company, despite being a crummy Ford, is much nicer than the Saturn. It even has a CD player that understands MP3 discs. Mmmm…. 700MB commute goodness…
- Public Service Annoucement: Roast Beef + Beano’s Horseradish Sauce = teh yum.
- Also tasty: Woebler’s Spicy Mustard. Semi-related lameness: Woebler’s does not have a web presence to speak of.
- Finally, Ryan points out that last week was the first time, at least since switching to the 888.net server, that I’ve updated five days in a row. Nice eye, Ryan. In other news, my buddy Ryan has no life. Film at 11.
You’ll have to forgive me if you attempted any 21st century-style correspondence with me over the weekend: My DSL router went the way of the dodo. Therefore we were competely lacking in Internet connection from about noon on Saturday forward.
Anyway, the whole story is sort of long and really not that interesting but the bottom line is that we might be switching to a different ISP this evening but if we don’t it won’t be until Thursday that we get back online.
This means that my access to email is limited to breaks and such at work and my access to this site is limited to… well I really shouldn’t be posting from work so if you forgive this particular exception you might not hear from me until late this week, at which time I’ll be preoccupied taking care of Nik during her recovery from back surgery which is scheduled for Friday.
Bottom line, I might be away for a couple of weeks until this all settles down.
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 ironSoap.org/.com/.net 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.
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.