Friday, 28 March 2008
I woke up this morning, put on the coffee to get ready for the first round of conference calls, and then went to switch on the TV to catch up on the news. Both DirecTV satellite receivers in the house indicated they were not receiving a signal. I checked the signal meters on both, and sure enough, zero signal received.

After a reset of the boxes, I looked outside and realized a heavy, wet, slushy snow was falling. I went outside briefly and saw a small amount of wet snow on the dish up on the roof, but it didn't look like much. Without more time to look, I went inside and started making this morning's phone calls.

All morning the signal was out on the boxes. I decided to risk life and limb and climbed out on the roof. I *strongly* suggest you never do this. After my experience of coming "this close" to sliding off (my boot and the broom handle getting wedged in the gutter stopped my slow but steady, gravity-driven slide), I was able to reach over with the broom and clean off the dish and the LNB horn. Then I slid, on my backside, across the roof back to the window with the assistance of the broom handle and the gutters and shutters.

That was a dumb move on my part. I won't be doing that again, it was just plain stupid.

I do have the TV signal back. Interesting that a small amount of slush can kill a signal, yet snow that's not as wet can accumulate in droves and not matter. I think I had this happen once over several years with Dish Network's equipment, and I only recently switched to DirecTV so the equipment on the roof is new. Not sure if bands or frequencies in use are different and that's the effect I was experiencing, or if the unusually slushy snow is the real culprit. Or both.

At any rate, it should go without saying, but I ignored common sense for a few minutes this morning - Please don't crawl out on a snowy roof. :)



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Random Stuff
Friday, 28 March 2008 11:29:22 (Pacific Daylight Time, UTC-07:00)
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 Wednesday, 26 March 2008
Quick post: I just saw Josh Bancroft tweet about Photoshop Express, which you can go and try out here.

Online photo editing, storage,  galleries for sharing - Not a completely unique idea but this is all in your web browser and it uses a clean, well-put-together FLash UI. Pretty cool.



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Tech
Wednesday, 26 March 2008 22:27:01 (Pacific Daylight Time, UTC-07:00)
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 Tuesday, 25 March 2008
I discovered (via iPhone Atlas) a new web app that lets you specify any well-formed RSS feed, which it converts to an iPhone-formatted and friendly list of headlines - sliding animations and all. My site's feed can be seen by clicking here.


You can just click on over and add your feed. It takes seconds. This geeral idea could translate into some pretty cool blog themes if someone wanted to tackle it.


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Apple | Blogging | Mobile | RSS Stuff
Tuesday, 25 March 2008 22:57:45 (Pacific Daylight Time, UTC-07:00)
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A Best Buy automated telephone system just called me about the HD DVD player purchase I made in their store late last year, to let me know they're sending a $50 gift card. The communication from Best Buy after the (unfortunate) death of HD-DVD has been great - That's one email and one phone call from them.

bestbuy1.png

It's already been widely discussed that Best Buy is doing this, but I wanted to point our the smart business sense that someone there seems to have. It's good to see a store, one which I rather enjoy doing business with from time to time, recognizing the opportunity before them: A chance to both do the right thing and further their sales and relationships with customers that fall into the oft-neglected early-adopter category. Those are exactly the word-of-mouth people you want feeling good about your store, especially in the world of electronics and other products that Best Buy sells.



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Tech
Tuesday, 25 March 2008 13:51:09 (Pacific Daylight Time, UTC-07:00)
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 Sunday, 23 March 2008
I saw an interesting post yesterday (with a couple pics) indicating that Mono, the open-source implementation of .NET, has been ported to the iPhone, or at least it's been started. That's pretty interesting, and it makes me wonder two things: First, are .NET apps realistic for the iPhone? And second, WWSHD?

It's certainly interesting to think that all those talented .NET programmers out there could have a chance at programming for the iPhone, and that any of a variety of apps could be ported or even natively run in the future.

A little proof:
# hostinfo
Mach kernel version:
         Darwin Kernel Version 9.0.0d1: Wed Oct 10 00:07:50 PDT 2007; 
root:xnu-933.0.0.204.obj~7/RELEASE_ARM_S5L8900XRB
Kernel configured for a single processor only.
1 processor is physically available.
1 processor is logically available.
Processor type: armv6 (arm v6)
Processor active: 0
Primary memory available: 116.00 megabytes
Default processor set: 26 tasks, 164 threads, 1 processors
Load average: 0.00, Mach factor: 0.98
# export MONO_DISABLE_SHM=1
# ./mono hello.exe
Hello Mono World
#    



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Apple | Mobile | Tech
Sunday, 23 March 2008 23:18:01 (Pacific Daylight Time, UTC-07:00)
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 Saturday, 22 March 2008
I'm noticing a not-so-subtle change in the force. I spent the better part of the week listening to Barack Obama, and I'm a moderate-to-conservative guy. Policies aside, he's a persuasive man. Anyhow - I'm also a Windows guy for the most part, but have been known to ride (and occasionally cross over) that fence, as well. Recently, a new business/work venture has me experiencing the need to be ultra-portable from time to time, meeting and working potentially from who-knows-where. So, given the current tax situation and the "workability" needs, I broke down and dropped by the Apple Store last night and - after having visited the store four times and carefully considering the available options - I bought a MacBook Air. My friend Matt patiently watched while I substantially delayed our arrival at the movie theater. Good sport, that Matt.

In case anyone's keeping track, the current game score in the Hughes household Windows vs. Apple system showdown is: Windows 2 (technically 3 if you count the roomie's machine), Apple 2 (or 3 if you count the iPhone). I'm not a Switcher, but I am an Adder.

VMWare Fusion, a very cool app that will let me run Windows apps on the Mac, is coming soon. I will write up my experiences at some point with that process, with a focus on how it works from the perspective of an IT guy. There are - plain and simple - certain apps that are only available on Windows that I need to use, so it will provide me with both worlds, at the same time. You can learn about Fusion here.

Everyone and their brother have already posted reviews and articles about the MacBook Air, so no point in me rehashing the obvious. Here are my initial highlights:
  • Keyboard - Backlit, brightness auto-adjusts, nice keys, quiet typing.
  • Screen - Excellent backlight, also auto-adjusts, bright and contrasty.
  • Thin - Well, duh. And light, too. That was what got me to look in the first place.
  • Battery - Not going to get the advertised 5 hours, but I have pounded it pretty hard for about 2.5 and its still advertising an hour left on the battery (first charge)
  • Close-lid-sleep-wake-up drill - Nice and quick. I like that.
Also, I picked up the "incase" brand neoprene sleeve case they had at the Apple store, which is really very nice. I am already liking it. Great protection and hey, it's all black. :)

I got home, opened it up despite being very tired, ran through the setup (nice, easy and cool), eventually climbed into bed and watched this past week's episode of Lost in HD on the 'net. The Air is a great computer for that, too. I like.



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Apple | Mobile | Tech
Saturday, 22 March 2008 12:35:52 (Pacific Daylight Time, UTC-07:00)
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 Friday, 21 March 2008

Got iTunes, or anything else Apple on your Windows computer? If so, when the Apple software checks for updates, you'll probably AppleUpdateSafari1see an option (which is enabled by default) to install Safari - even if you don't already have it installed  on your computer. Safari is Apple's default web browser (and actually not a bad one at that). But since people are used to seeing - well - updates when the software checks for updates, you might not realize you're installing new software.

Just making sure you're paying attention here, is all.

Sure enough, when I check for updates on my Windows machine, where Safari has never been installed, I'm presented with the option to install it...

AppleUpdateSafari2

As Tom Krazit tells us... Just un-check the box if you don't want to install Safari. Simple as that.

"It seems that at some point people became conditioned to downloading anything that shows up from an official source, like Microsoft, Apple, AOL, Yahoo, or whoever. Remember, it's your PC; spend your installation capital wisely." (link)

It's always important to pay attention to what you're clicking on. Fact is, Apple's probably counting on the fact that a significant number of people will just click without thinking - And that's indicative of a whole slew of problems, with users, companies, you name it.

For my part, I made the educated decision to install it. I actually kind of like Safari on the Mac, so I'm interested din trying it on Windows.



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Apple | IT Security | Tech | Things that Suck
Friday, 21 March 2008 13:47:04 (Pacific Daylight Time, UTC-07:00)
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A quick non-techie post for all my carbon-focused brethren scattered around the world. Yesterday "it" couldn't decide whether to rain or shine, and this morning "it" couldn't decide whether to rain or snow. Yes, there is a common denominator there, but hey - It is Oregon.

(I'm not saying Oregon is "it," just that it is Oregon, after all. You decide.)

A couple pics... Yesterday afternoon and this morning. Originals linked - note that they are quite large.

Thursday Rainbow  Friday Spring Snow



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Photography | Random Stuff
Friday, 21 March 2008 12:46:03 (Pacific Daylight Time, UTC-07:00)
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 Thursday, 20 March 2008

We recently conducted an interview with Michael Manos, Senior Director of Data Center Services at Microsoft, on RunAs Radio. Microsoft's been working on a substantial set of data center build-outs, and so Richard and I figured there's a lot we can all learn from someone like Michael. Not many people have to think as carefully or in such a large scale about how to best tackle the data center design and build issues.

Microsoft has been doubling their data center capacity each year, and they have to think about maximizing efficiencies, "greening" the data center, locations, power - you name it.

If you're in any way associated with data center design, architecture or operations this show's for you.



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RunAs Radio | Tech
Thursday, 20 March 2008 15:06:13 (Pacific Daylight Time, UTC-07:00)
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Stories at CNN, Ars Technica and CNET are covering the fact that Apple is working on a plan that would allow unlimited "free" access to the iTunes music library - if users paid more up-front for their iPod devices.

This sounds interesting, but it seems like an up-front charge (when you buy the device, as a one-time fee) might have some legal (not to mention business viability) challenges associated with it. Now, if they were to go with a Zune-like monthly subscription model, that would be a whole different story. It would actually make a lot of sense.

Group-think/conventional wisdom seems to be that since the average iPod/Phone user spends about $20 total on music through the iTunes store, it would make sense to charge everyone that much up front. Others say something more like $80 is more reasonable. I think they're all wrong: Charge me $20 up front, and I will do everything I can to maximize - in a big way - that mandatory investment. People only spend an average of $20 because they have to keep paying. Charge that up front and grant them unlimited access, and they'll download more music than you can possibly imagine.

That's where the Zune Pass idea is a better one. Recurring monthly revenue of a predictable, fixed amount (which is great from a business standpoint) and a happy customer base. I just don't see a one-time fixed fee model holding water for very long. But then again, if your intent (hypothetically) is to launch a firestorm campaign to (further) monopolize the market and then dump it as unviable... Well, you might actually succeed at one goal by failing at another. Just an thought. :)



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Apple | Mobile | Tech
Thursday, 20 March 2008 14:53:38 (Pacific Daylight Time, UTC-07:00)
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Guy Kawasaki and a couple of his friends recently fired up a site/service called Alltop, which displays a variety of popular topical areas in which various popular blog/news feeds are aggregated. Think of each of the topical sites as a one-stop-information-shop. High-level topics include the categories of Work, Living, People, Interests, Culture, Geekery, Good and News. On his blog Guy describes it as:

Alltop... a news aggregation site that provides “all the top” stories for forty of the most popular topics on the Web. The headlines and first paragraph of the five most recent stories from forty to eighty sources for each topic are displayed. Alltop stories are refreshed approximately every ten minutes.

The interface is clean and easy to read - lots of information on alltop-windowsthe page. Mouse over a headline and see the first few sentences of the article. Click the headline to go to the original site and read the full article or post.

I'm privileged to be among the bloggers whose sites are listed on the Windows Alltop news site (at http://windows.alltop.com/), along with a list of information sites and authors which - truth be told - I am amazed to be paired with. I mean, glancing at the site right now, I'm on the page between Ed Bott and the IEBlog. If I work hard enough at it, I can only hope to provide the types and quality of information you get from the other sites in the list.

Check out Alltop. Lots of good stuff there.



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Blogging | Tech
Thursday, 20 March 2008 12:55:06 (Pacific Daylight Time, UTC-07:00)
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Vista SP1 is available (details in the document available at this link and Ed Bott did a great what-to-expect write-up and FAQ), so it's time to head on over to Windows Update (it's in your start menu) and grab it. Assuming it shows up in the available-updates list, of course. Apparently there are certain drivers and configurations which, if present on your system, will prevent the service pack from being offered. A Microsoft Knowledge Base article - KB948343 - details the possible causes and solutions.

I upgraded on my 64-bit Vista Ultimate machine a little less than a month ago and have been happy with the performance improvements. If nothing else, just the speed of file copies over the network made it completely worthwhile. Add in other improvements and fixes and it's an important one in my book.



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Tech
Thursday, 20 March 2008 12:20:35 (Pacific Daylight Time, UTC-07:00)
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Yesterday I mentioned some new C# screencasts by my friend Stuart that are being published over at Channel 9. Another screencast-format resource for learning about .NET programming and the .NET framework is a new site that Dmitry Lyalin put together recently, called "Better Know a Framework." Dmitry recently joined Microsoft on the East Coast and is passionate about helping people understand the technology. So, if you're a .NET programmer (or want to be), you should check it out, as well. The screencasts so far are well-produced and quite usable.

A short introduction...

The Concept. The concept behind Better Know a Framework is directly inspired by a segment on the .NET Rocks podcast. In this segment the host (Carl) regularly discusses a class or a part of the .NET Framework as a way to expand peoples knowledge. My inspiration is to take this to the next level and bring screencast content to the development community in a similar fashion, a small segment at a time.



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Geek Out | Tech
Thursday, 20 March 2008 09:43:47 (Pacific Daylight Time, UTC-07:00)
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One of my colleagues and past co-worker when I was at Corillian/CheckFree, Stuart Celarier, has teamed up with Microsoft's Bruce Kyle and made a whole slew of what they're calling "Whirlwinds" that are being published at the Channel 9 community site at MSDN. By the time they've all been published, Stuart tells me he will have visually covered every new feature in C# v2. Wow, cool information! Stuart, correct me here if I am somehow exaggerating. :)

You can start anywhere you like as these screencasts are published, but for reference, here's a link to the first one, and some information about the project:

Bruce Kyle of Microsoft and Stuart Celarier of CheckFree explore the new languages features in C#. It's a whirlwind tour of the important language features since C# 1. Stuart describes the feature and why it is useful. But doesn't get into best practices nor suggested usages. Just the facts about the feature.

Whirlwinds are bite-sized webcasts, each is shorter than 15 minutes. You can start anywhere in the series to learn about the parts you're most interested in.

In Part 1 about generics, Stuart describes:

  • What generics are.
  • How generics compare with collections.
  • How the compiler treats generics.
  • He also describes how generics increase performance and save memory.

This feature is part of C# 2 in .NET 2.0.

Also available is "Whirlwind 2: What's new in C# 2 - Iterators," with lots more to come. Cool idea, well-executed - Congrats, Stuart! If you're a C# person (or would like to be), be sure to check it out.



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Geek Out | Tech
Thursday, 20 March 2008 00:12:08 (Pacific Daylight Time, UTC-07:00)
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 Thursday, 13 March 2008

When I record my audio for the RunAs Radio show, I'm typically sitting in my home office at my desk and using Audacity along with my Samson 01U USB microphone plugged into my Vista laptop. Audacity is an open-source program for all sorts of fancy audio recording, processing and editing. It's really pretty amazing.

Until fairly recently, Audacity was also pretty reliable. But about a month ago I started experiencing occasional crashes when trying to save and export the audio from my recording sessions. Now, if you think about for more than a couple seconds you'll quickly understand that crashes that occur after the interview is over, but before the file is saved, are extremely frustrating - and not just for me. A recording session do-over with three or more people involved in a 30- to 45-minute interview is really not a nice thing to have to ask for.

This morning Richard and I completed an interview with a guest. When I went to save the file, Audacity crashed. My heart sank, and my brain went into oh-crap-overdrive mode. I really did not want to be in the position of having to ask a busy guest to schedule more time to record an interview that had been quite good in the original session. I needed some magic.

I started thinking about temp files. The hard drive is always flashing away as I record the interviews, so something must be saved somewhere, right?

Sure enough, a quick search for *.au files on the hard drive uncovered nearly 400 files in a "_data" folder off the Audacity project's location. The date and time stamps on them made me feel a lot better - Phew! Each file appeared to contain 10 seconds of audio. The first one was stamped with the exact time we started recording the interview, and the last one with the time we stopped.

I imported all the .au files into Audacity, thinking I could just do that and I'd be good to go. But it turns out Audacity doesn't import files one-after-the-other on the timeline. Instead, it imports them as if they were almost 400 individual tracks in a single 10-second audio project. I started the click-cut-end-paste process, and quickly realized it was going to take literally hours to fix this problem manually.

(Also, just for fun I decided to see if the program would actually play a 10-second project session with 400 tracks in it. No dice.)

I quickly gave up on the cut-paste option in search of something better. What I found was the aptly-named Audacity Recovery Utility. Apparently I'm not the only one who's needed to recover recorded audio seemingly lost during application crashes. It's a Python app and can be used on Windows, Mac and Linux.

The program is simple in its execution. You point it at a folder and it looks for audio files, tries to determine if they are all one block/set, or if they're more than one, and then attempts to put them together into a single .WAV file that you can then import back into Audacity (or anywhere else for that matter) for editing and processing.

image

The app will confirm what it finds and give you a chance to stop it from proceeding.

image

Tell it "Yes" and the program starts processing the temp files.

image

Out the other end, you'll eventually get a .WAV file that you can use.

Sure saved my backside today. Thanks to the author! By the way, supposedly Audacity 1.3.2 and newer (which is a beta release right now, not the stable version) have crash recovery built in. I'll probably have to check that out, as well.



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AudioBlogging | RunAs Radio | Tech
Thursday, 13 March 2008 14:43:13 (Pacific Daylight Time, UTC-07:00)
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