Welcome to 2007!
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Yesterday was Christmas. I ended up going to spend the day with my family at their house. It was a great day.
I got there about 9:45AM, and by about 10:30AM we were opening gifts. There were a lot of gifts to open. Every Christmas, there is the eternal battle between the parents and the kids over who opens their gifts first. My parents always insist that the kids (ages 37 and 40) open their gifts first. The 'kids' always insist that the parents open the gifts first. The kids have been winning that battle lately. :)
Mom and dad alternated opening their gifts. There were a few 'misfires' along the way. My dad bought my mom a nice digital camera, but we mistakenly gave her the memory card to open first, so she kind of knew what the next gift was. To make matters worse, I later discovered that the salesman had sold my father the wrong type of memory for the camera. My mom has to go exchange the memory for the right type today. My parents also got various other gifts like music CDs, clothes etc. The last gift I gave them was a big color, networked laser printer. The number of computers in their house is starting to grow. The bro owns two computers and mom & dad share a third. I thought it would be good to get them a networked printer that everyone could use. I later helped them put the printer together and get everything networked properly. Now two of the three computers work perfectly with the printer. The only one I wasn't able to get working (yet) with the printer is the bro's new Mac Mini. I can't seem to get that thing configured properly. I'm going to have to research how to fix that.
Once the parents finished opening their gifts, it was the 'kids' turn. My brother and I alternated opening gifts. He got an iPod Shuffle (2nd generation) from me, some seat covers for his car, a Harmony 676 remote. (I also got one), and a set of noise-canceling headphones from me.
For Christmas, I received a Harmony 676 remote. This is the same one my brother also received. I also received a set of the new Apple earphones from my brother, a DLO HomeDock Deluxe, also from my brother (which was a BIG surprise!), and a copy of 'Bone: One Volume Edition'. What is Bone? It's a 1,300 page comic book! Essentially it's the complete series of an independent comic book that ran for over 100 issues. It's a very well known and award winning series. I had heard about it for years, but never read it so I thought it would be interesting to read. I'll blog my thoughts on my Christmas gifts more, once I've had a chance to play with them (and read them!)...
Once the gifts were all opened and the mess cleaned up, we all went off to play with our new toys. Mom went off to look at her new digital camera, the bro went off to try out his new remote, Dad went off to start cleaning up the desk for the printer, and I settled down to do a little light reading on my 1,300 page comic book. After not too long, I was playing 'Mr. Tech Support' to both my brother and my father at the same time. I was going back and forth between my brother, helping him setup the remote and my father, helping him setup the new printer. We got the printer connected properly and the remote working. That remote is a very confusing thing! I got it to mostly work for the brother, but there are still some flaky things I have to figure out about it. It was good to spend some time helping the brother with the remote since I also got one and I'm going to need to figure that thing out for myself too.
Later, we ate our Christmas dinner (at 3pm!). It was a nice dinner consisting of a Honeybaked Ham, homemade mashed potatoes, vegetables, and biscuits. It was a VERY tasty dinner. Everything was very good.
After that my brother left for a while to visit some friends for Christmas. I stayed and chatted with my parents, watched TV and all around enjoyed spending time with my family. We all had some ice cream for 'desert', and then later in the evening we had a small second helping of food for 'dinner'. I left the house that evening and came home.
I managed to connect the HomeDock pretty easily to my home stereo and get it working. It seems to work well. It has an onscreen display for the music side of the iPod. For the videos on the iPod, it really doesn't have much in the way of onscreen display. It just shows the movie and that's it. However, I must say that the videos off of the iTunes store look quite good on my bigscreen TV. Are they as good as DVDs? No, but they are quite acceptable. These are the newer 640x480 resolution videos. I'm not sure how well a lower resolution video will look. I'll have to try those and see. I still have to rearrange some things in the stereo for that HomeDock, but it seems to be working. My 'poor man's iTV' is up and running! I think this could end up even working out better than the iTV in many ways.
As for the Harmony Remote, that thing was a major pain to setup. I'll go into more details later, but suffice it to say, it took me several hours of installing drivers, updating firmware, installing software, updating software, trying different things, I got it to *mostly* work. I still have some problems with it that I need to straighten out, but it looks like it has potential.
All in all, it was a great Christmas. I had a good time with my family and I hope they did too.
I read a lot of books. Whether they be computer related books, novels, comic books or whatever, I read them. My entire house is filled with books. Everywhere you look in my house there are books and/or magazines. For a few years now, I've been walking around with a Palm Tungsten E PDA. In my PDA, I have a 1GB Secure Digital card filled with various books. Whenever I have a few minutes to kill, I pull it out and start reading. It's a great way to carry books around without taking up much space. However, I've been finding it inconvenient to use lately. Most books these days are in PDF format, and the relatively low resolution of the Palm PDA doesn't make reading PDF files very practical.
I discovered the Sony Reader some time ago. It's a very nice little electronic book reader. It has an 800x600 pixel resolution, monochrome screen. It works with PDF files, RTF files, text files and even MP3 files. It also uses a fascinating new technology called eInk. This basically is a way of displaying text on a screen using essentially NO power! Once the picture is drawn on the screen, it uses no power to maintain the image on the screen. The only power used is to initially redraw the screen. This means that the Sony Reader can literally last thousands of pages without a recharge. Most of the time you are just reading the page, so it uses no power during this time. It comes with some internal memory, allowing you to store a number of books in it's memory. You can also put a Secure Digital memory card into it to store even more books on it. I have a Secure Digital card full of books already. This sounds like the perfect upgrade to my homemade PDA book reader. Unfortunately, it has some deficiencies that I think make it 'not quite there' for me.
First of all, this thing is expensive! It costs $350. That's one expensive book! My Palm PDA only costs about $200 and it does a lot more than just read books. If this thing were about $200, I'd be more inclined to buy it.
Next, it's slow! Page turns on this thing are very sluggish. It can take a couple seconds for a new page to be displayed. That's unacceptable.
Next, is the way is switches pages. It's rather annoying. Whenever you flip pages, the entire screen flashes black for a second, then the text appears. This black flash on every page turn is very disorienting. I would think that the entire screen would go blank between page turns, rather than going entirely black! It would feel more natural that way and I would guess more power efficient too. It must take power to draw the entire screen black before redrawing it with just the text.
Next, is the UI. If you are just reading a book, the UI is obvious enough. It's just the book page. There is a 'next page' button and a 'previous page' button to flip pages. That's about where the UI falls apart. Besides the two page flip buttons, there is a small 'joystick' in the lower right hand corner used for flipping through the menus. You move the joystick up, down, left and right to choose menu items and press the center of the joystick to select things. It's an odd arrangement. If you don't press that joystick just right, you end up pushing it in one of the 4 directions, instead of down. This causes your menu selection to change to the wrong item! There is also an odd little button built into the lower right hand corner of this joystick that is used for some selections. It's all very non-intuitive.
Next, is the screen itself. While I don't mind that it's monochrome (how often do you really need color while reading a book?), it isn't quite right. The resolution is nice and for the most part the text displays quite clearly. The problem is that if text is fairly small, it tends to fade from black to almost a dull gray. This dull grey on the very light grey background is kind of hard to read. You would almost need to read the entire book in a bold font in order to get around this problem.
It's a shame. I really wanted to like this device. It was so close to what I wanted in an ebook reader. If a few small things could get fixed on this device, I could see myself buying one. Unfortunately, it's not quite there yet. Maybe Version 2.0 of this thing will solve these problems, assuming they even make a newer version. Sony just doesn't seem to be doing a very good job with their products lately.
If you want to go to Google Mail, but want the entire connection to be secure, just go to https://mail.google.com. The entire time you are on Google Mail, including your login and reading ALL your email will be secure.
Hmm, I'm looking at my site logs and for the last 3 days, I've noticed that the number of hits to my site has over tripled! I wonder what caused this? Was this my changing of the Spiderman 3 images to include my website URL in a watermark? Is it an increase in spammer activity? I do notice that a large number of hits are coming from blacklisted referers (i.e. spammers), but even discounting those, the traffic is up significantly. Maybe it's because I've been blogging more lately. Who knows?
*sigh* Life with a cat...
Yesterday, I happened to walk into my bedroom to see my cat Tiger running around excitedly and meowing loudly. He seemed to be really interested in my dresser, for some reason.
I came in to investigate and found my other cat Jewel, hanging behind the dresser, seemingly holding on for dear life. Now, she has a habit of going back there and sitting behind the dresser. I had noticed she was back there earlier and didn't think much of it. This time though, she wasn't sitting on the floor, she was hanging in the air behind the dresser. She seemed to be in trouble. That's when I noticed that she kept yanking one of her paws. It seemed to be stuck on something. I noticed that her claws had got caught in the vents of the fan on the back of the Tivo player that I have sitting on the filing cabinet next to my dresser. No doubt she had tried to climb up and gotten her claw caught in there.
After seeing this, I knew she was in big trouble. so I shoved all the stuff around the dresser out of the way (almost running over Tiger in the process). I reached back and pulled her up from behind the dresser. I tried to free her claw without much luck. It was stuck in that fan vent really well. Plus, the spinning fan inside was no doubt making it more difficult. So, I unplugged the Tivo to stop the fan. That helped a little but she was still trapped. I ended up having to get a pair of nail clippers and cutting her claws in order to free her. She wasn't happy about it, but I got her out. I examined her paw and it appeared to be ok, thankfully. This makes at least twice I've had to save this stupid little cat from doing something dangerous to her health.The moral of the story: Keep them claws trimmed!!!
On Thanksgiving Day I looked over the Black Friday ads. There was nothing much worth talking about in the ads. A few cheapo DVDs and that's about it. I'm not crazy enough to get up early to fight the crowds for a couple DVDs.
So on Black Friday, I slept in, woke up around 9:30AM and by 10:30AM or so, I decided to go out and watch the insanity. I got to CompUSA, looked around a bit, found a couple small things to buy and went to get in line. Of course I went in the shortest line I could find. Mistake! I was the 3rd person in line but I must have been in line for a half hour! The people in front of me were slow as hell. They kept fighting over prices listed in the ad. Granted, they were right to insist they get charged what the ad said, but it was still holding up the line and irritating me and the people behind me. Finally they put their order on hold and allowed me to buy my 2 small items and I was out the door.
From there I walked down to Circuit City and looked around. They had some good, cheapo DVDs but the traffic was nuts and I didn't want to deal with it, so I left. I then checked out Best Buy and of course that parking lot was the most nuts of all. I knew better than to attempt to drive to the different stores. They were all within a couple blocks of each other so I just found a parking space and STAYED there. After looking in Best Buy (nothing worth getting), I left.
I braved driving my car to Sawgrass and found a parking space pretty easily in the Wal-Mart parking lot. From there I looked around a bit in WalMart (again nothing) and then walked over to the mall. By this time, it was around 3pm in the afternoon. The mall was STILL insane, even that late in the day! Usually things die down by about noon, which is when all the big sales usually end, but this time, it was just as nuts late in the afternoon. There were lines going into the mall, cars parked on the medians everywhere and all in all general insanity. The inside of the mall was so packed you could barely move. It drives me nuts trying to walk in a packed mall like that. Everyone in front of you insists on strolling along very slowly and taking up ALL the space in front of you so you can't get by. Grr...
After fighting my way through the crowds I hit Brandsmart. They were literally so packed with people that they had to STOP people from going in, due to fire code violations! It's nuts! Since there was a big line at Brandsmart, I skipped them and went to Target. After looking around in Target (not too busy), I bought a couple DVDs and cheapo iPod clock radio. On the way out of Target I noticed that the line was moving to get into Brandsmart so I snuck in. I wasn't in there 5 minutes before I noticed the line snaking completely around the entire inside of the store, leading to the cash registers. One look at that insane line and I decided there was nothing I needed that bad, so I left.
So, when all was said and done, I ended my Black Friday with a cheap iPod clock radio and a handful of DVDs. No killer deals. Even Apple's online store didn't have much worth talking about. Yawn.
I spent Thanksgiving this year at my parents house, as usual. It was a nice day and a good meal. Thankfully, the oven worked perfectly this year. Last year it broke down in the middle of cooking the turkey. This time the turkey came out perfectly. One interesting difference this year though...
This year I did part of the cooking. God help us, Rick is cooking now! :) I told the parents that I would be providing the mashed potatoes. These would be fully organic potatoes and organic butter. About the healthiest damn mashed potatoes you can get. Of course seeing as how I've never made mashed potatoes before, I was paranoid about screwing them up. I managed to make them fine on the first attempt (10 pounds worth!) Why did I buy ten pounds of potatoes for 4 people? I didn't. I had originally planned to cook them for the company Thanksgiving party, (much more than 4 people) but someone else beat me to it, so had them left over. I brought them and they went over well. Of course I had A LOT of leftovers considering how much I made.
I also helped the bro with a problem with his iTunes. He was complaining that he couldn't play any music in the music library and that he didn't see any songs listed when he plugged in the iPod. I checked various things and couldn't figure out what the problem was, so I had him uninstall and reinstall iTunes. That didn't help. Same problems. Finally I figured out that his iTunes library was pointing to the wrong place. That's why it wouldn't play the songs from his library... It couldn't find them! So I had him empty the library and readd the files. That fixed the library problem. The problem with not seeing the music when he connected the iPod was a stupid problem that I should have known earlier. It was a simple GUI error. The new version of iTunes organizes things differently than it used to. Now, when you connect the iPod, it shows the iPod in the 'Sources' list on the left, but it shows it in a kind of tree structure. Apparently the iPod was coming up with the iPod 'tree' collapsed and that's why it wasn't showing the songs. All you had to do was click the little triangle to the left of the iPod's name, and it shows all the songs. Simple solution that I should have noticed earlier! You could argue that this was a poor design decision by Apple since it used the Macintosh style of tree controls (triangles instead of plus/minus signs) on a PC, but I should still have know this!
After the usual after dinner lying on the couch trying not to fall asleep and watching some football, I left. All in all a nice Thanksgiving.
Whew! That was close!
A couple weekends ago, I took my older cat, Tiger, in to the vet for his yearly checkup and shots. He behaved himself well at the vet and got his shots no problem. Last year he tried to jump off the table with a needle still stuck in him! Anyway, the doctor said he was in good health. I told the doctor that the only problem I noticed with him was that for the last few months he had bad breath. She checked him out and determined that he needed to have his teeth cleaned.
In order to clean a cat's teeth, it's necessary to anesthetize them. This means that I drop him off in the morning, they put him to sleep, clean his teeth, and then he wakes up and recovers afterwards. I would then pick him up in the evening after work. No problem there. But before I could do this, the doctor said it was necessary to take some blood and run some tests to make sure he's healthy enough to handle the anesthesia. I agreed and they took the blood. This means that the whole teeth cleaning would have to be delayed by a few days. I took him home and waited for the results of the blood work. A few days later they called me and told me that his blood work came out fine. This meant (I thought) that I could bring him in anytime for the teeth cleaning. Of course being the procrastinator that I am, it took me a week before I made the appointment. I had made the appointment for this past Monday to bring him in for the cleaning. That weekend prior to Monday I get a call from the doctor's office saying that his blood work had come up positive for heartworm antibodies. This means he *might* have heartworm (not a good thing!) Of course I was confused because one message says he was fine and the next said he was possibly very sick. I called the doctor back and she said that all the heartwork antibodies test shows is that he was *exposed* to heartworm at some point in the past. It doesn't necessarily mean he has them. Of course, when he was exposed is unknown. It could have been when he was a kitten before I even got him. They needed to bring him in for some more blood for a second test to confirm the existence of the heartworm.
I brought him back in so they could take the blood for the second test. They took the blood and I brought him home. On Friday of this week, they got the results of the second test and he turned up negative for heartworm! Whew! According to the doctor, this means either he doesn't have heartworm, or he has such a small amount that it doesn't show up in the test. Cats are a 'deadend life cycle' host for heartworms anyway, unlike dogs. This means that the heartworm cannot complete it's full lifecycle in a cat like it can in a dog. This means heartworms are less of a danger to cats than dogs, but they are dangerous. It was a huge relief to hear that he was healthy after all.
He now has an appointment for tomorrow to get his teeth cleaned...