Sunday, 09 October 2005

Sounds like tomorrow will be the day DirecTV announces their own branded and created PVR/satellite receiver combo unit, thereby leaving TiVo behind as their PVR enabler. Subscribers who already own DirecTiVo devices don't need to worry (they'll keep working), and it sounds like customers of the company may still be able to order TiVo-enabled receivers if they specifically ask for them (TiVo's the only option for recording DirecTV's HD programming, although there's not a whole lot of HD channels available, even nowadays... Can someone bring back VOOM?).

From nytimes.com: "DirecTV's standard DVR, originally set to be released this past June, will be introduced in late October, and another model featuring high-definition service will be introduced in mid-2006. The standard DVR will feature up to 100 hours of recordable space, compared with TiVo's 70 hours."

DirecTV will be spending some $30 million promoting their new PVR. I hope it's better than the crippled DirecTiVo units, but I'm not holding my breath. Mostly I just want one company to give me a really good, solid reason to fire DishNetwork as my service provider.

How to do that? Well here's a start:

  • Receive and record HD programming. Including locals over the satellite. Seriously. I live just outside the range where I can receive OTA locals, and you already provide the standard def signal. Help a guy out, here.
  • Record by program name and subscriptions to record all episodes of a program (like the season pass). Dish promised this on the HD PVR receiver I have, then didn't deliver. Ugh.
  • Longer Live-TV replay/pause buffer (I hear rumor the new DTV receiver will have this feature)
  • Give me native MediaCenter PC compatibility, damn it - I'm sick and tired of these won't-work-together, closed systems. It freakin' sucks dealing with virtual brick walls between all my technology devices, and I don't like it enough to where I won't buy unless you fix this problem.

But I don't want to switch from one inadequate provider to another. You have to convince me for real this time. In this market space, the historically slow-moving development and general mediocrity of it all is rather - uhhh - underwhelming. Someone "wow" me - please...



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Tech
Sunday, 09 October 2005 13:43:39 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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A friend asked me the other day about credit counseling, because she's trying to get her financial life squared away after some hard times. I figured this was a good place to put down some related thoughts, even though it's not tech-related. It's an important topic for many. You have to be very careful these days what you're getting yourself into, especially now that the new federal "Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act" is about to go into effect (November 17th). The act requires participating in some form of credit counseling (no one if sure what that means yet, of course) before one can declare bankruptcy. It also changes who can file which forms of bankruptcy based on median income levels, ability to pay and other factors. It's probably a good thing, but the whole credit counseling requirement is a potentially confusing and fraudulent mess.

The problem is this - While the "consumer credit counseling" industry has many worthwhile players, it is also plagued by a whole slew of useless, harmful and downright fraudulent thieves. Not all companies that offer "credit counseling" are legitimate. When it comes down to brass tacks, if you owe someone money, you owe the money. Negotiating settlements is always a possibility, but you do so at a cost, and unless an organization has a program to work with you to change your financial habits and learn how to budget, it's a big waste of time - and potentially a rip-off in the making.

Chances are very good that any company that promises to "repair" your credit score/record, when the entries that appear in your credit report are accurate and valid, is counting on the possibility that you're a sucker and is trying to take advantage of your emotional situation. Unfortunately, these rip-off businesses charge people who are already in financial straits serious amounts of money for a service and promises that they almost certainly can't deliver on. Don't do it.

Only false information can be reliably removed from a credit report, and even that often takes a bit of effort and a chunk of your time. If you want to "fix" your credit, there's one way to do it: Pay off your debts, pay the bills yourself (firms that offer to make payments for you are notorious for being late, which shows up as a black mark on your credit report), and make all of today's and tomorrow's payments early or on-time. It takes an extended period of time (like as in months or years) for a credit score to improve, and there is no overnight repair possible when you've made bad financial decisions. It sucks to hear that, but it's the truth. Most people who end up in credit hell are also the people who can't stand the thought of putting a few years of effort in to improve their situation. They want results right now, or in the very near future. Sorry, it doesn't work that way. Come to grips with that fact and accept that you can start making a difference today and see some very real long-term results down the road.

Most importantly, don't fall prey to "credit repair" and "credit counseling" companies that want to take your money up front and make promises they can't deliver on. Check out any companies you think you might want to work with in depth and before you engage them. Non-profit organizations are out there to help, but unless you're careful it might be difficult to tell them apart from the sharks. Don't fall prey.

NOTE: The United States Dept. of Justice has a list of approved credit counseling agencies by state. They also have information online about choosing a credit counselor.

 



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Random Stuff
Sunday, 09 October 2005 11:48:16 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Friday, 07 October 2005

My broadband phone service, which is purchased through Vonage, is better than ever after they recently sent me a new Linksys terminal adapter to replace the old Motorola one. Turns out that old device was wreaking havoc on call quality and reliability (big time). It even prevented my non-voice traffic from working reliably. But with the new hardware in place, all is well.

In fact, it's so good I actually completely forgot it was VoIP service for a while. I think that's saying something, really. When you can call and download and everything just works, you know someone's done something right.

So, for now you can chalk me up as one happy guy when it comes to my phone service. And that's better than it used to be, for sure.



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Tech
Friday, 07 October 2005 10:24:20 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Thursday, 06 October 2005

RSS-UsersYahoo! and Ipsos Insight just published a study that shows there are more than six times as many unaware RSS users as there are people who know they're using it. These are some numbers that are worth thinking about.

In the report, "RSS - Crossing into the Mainstream," here's what we find out:

  • 12% of users are aware of RSS.
  • 4% of users have knowingly used RSS.
  • There's some interesting information hidden in the demographics of different RSS users (aware, unaware, podcast consumers, etc.).
  • One figure that stands WAY out: Of "unaware" RSS users, 72% get their RSS through My Yahoo! and 41% through My MSN.
  • "Aware" RSS users subscribe to an average of 6.6 feeds each. Ummmm, more proof that I'm an addict I guess???
  • and lots more...

It's clear that when you have an app that by its very nature makes it easy to consume RSS content, it no longer matters to the end user that RSS is the delivery vehicle. Many of the people benefiting from RSS don't even know what RSS is. All that matters to those kinds of people is the content. And believe it or not, we're not all uber-geeks.

So, it's a very good thing(TM) that IE7, Safari, Firefox and even the new versions of the operating systems we all use will support RSS natively (or already do). And with more browsers right around the corner, the line between app and content is getting blurrier all the time.

Read the full 12-page report here, or the one-page brief synopsis here (both links are PDF docs).



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RSS Stuff | Tech
Thursday, 06 October 2005 19:51:24 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Wednesday, 05 October 2005

And you thought GMail was a good deal...

1TerabyteMailDetailMailNation is offering ad-free email accounts, ONE TERABYTE in size. That's 1,000 GIGABYTES. GMail's accounts are like 1/400th the size of that. And you don't need an invitation. Uh, wow. I just signed up for mine.

Web mail, POP3, IMAP - you choose. Sign up here.

1TerabyteMail
(click to enlarge)

Here's the feature list from the MailNation site:

  • FREE 1000GB Email (POP3/IMAP Access)
  • 10MB attachment limit!
  • Address Book/Notes/Tasks Spam Preventing Features For Your Protection
  • WAP Access - Mobile Device (http://www.mailnation.net:90/mail/wap)
  • Auto Message Responders & Auto Forwarders
  • Multiple Web-Interface Styles & Multiple Languages Supported
  • Always Count On Our Highly Ranked Email System & Server Reliability
  • Sophisticated Search For Email Messages
  • Never Have To Delete Again (Large Email Box)
  • HelpDesk Ticket System For User Help, Comments, And Updates
  • All emails (outgoing/incoming) are protected by TrendMicro Server Protect and Avast! AntiVirus (Dual Protection)
  • Support Hotline

(via TechBlog)



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Random Stuff | Tech
Wednesday, 05 October 2005 19:44:30 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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Arcs of Fire - Tablet PC GameGot a Tablet PC and wondering about games on the platform? Yeah, me too. Recently I've been thinking about the Tablet PC platform in general (I have had four different models in the past few years) and what could make a difference in terms of more real reasons to need one (as opposed to want one, but hey - I suppose 'want' counts for something, too).

Some games have incidental (as opposed to direct and intentional) support for the Tablet PC, but what games are out there that are designed specifically for the Tablet? I know it's hard to design and build expensive games for an audience that won't let you recover your dev costs, but someone has to start somewhere. Microsoft should really push this envelope harder.

I did some searching around, and discovered one that I missed before. It's called Arcs of Fire - and appears to be written in C#. It's made up of a game engine, the Tablet Game SDK, and the Tablet PC SDK. Tied together, the combined platform makes for a game environment that lets you leverage all kinds of features of the Tablet PC - like pen pointing, ink and drawing, and screen rotation. On the web site, there are whitepapers, video tutorials and overviews (see the documentation section), and a whole slew of other technical information about the game.

Heck, the Arcs of Fire web site is cool in and of itself - when I go to provide my info to download the game package (which weighs in at 50MB), I am presented with text input boxes that sense my Tablet pen input device. I write in ink, and the web site code leverages the Tablet bits (the TIP, I imagine?) to convert my ink to text by default - very cool.

The site's ink-enabled forums allow you to write handwritten forum posts. It's a bit hard (read: impossible) to index those in search engines (including the forum search), but the concept and execution are quite well done. The ASP.NET source for the ink forums is also available for download.

Granted, you have to use IE to do these fancy things, but hey - someone should be able to fix that problem...

The Game

Oh, that's right - there's a game on this site... The source code for the game is available on the download page for anyone who wants to tackle that. After downloading and running the MSI installer, which includes a distribution of the required DirectX 9, you're presented with a rather nifty game. It's simple, to be sure, and it takes some getting used to. But for a tank-vs-tank battle, it's an interesting gameplay experience.

It's not much more than what you're used to in shoot-the-other-tank games with third-person, cross-section view. The difference here is that you use the pen to fire your ammo at the other side. Pressure, speed and inking gestures all make a difference in how your rounds get fired at your enemy. Background music and sounds effects make it more fun.

I'd say this is a good start to something bigger and better, for sure. I was mostly (and pleasantly) surprised to find a site and game that are geared directly at the Tablet PC user. Makes me wonder what other games would lend themselves well to Tablet PC deployment. Maybe use the pen to draw your strategy plan for the Terrans to annihilate the Zergs? Or maybe draw your next play from the virtual huddle?

Check it out at http://www.arcsoffire.com/

Choose your player screen
Choose your player name (click to enlarge)

Game screen
Game screen (click to enlarge)



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Tablet PC | Tech
Wednesday, 05 October 2005 16:00:47 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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