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A blurry, dark, high res cruise photo

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I have my wallpaper set to rotate every 30 minutes to a random picture from my most recent cruise (yeah, long overdue post on the way) but I just came across this and it looked awesome. The quality is horrible but that’s kind-of what I think makes it cool. Don’t know if anyone will share my opinion but boy do I love sharing it!

Pay TV: Too much for too much?

channels 

In the beginning, there were really only three major television networks: ABC, CBS, and NBC. If what you wanted to watch was not airing at the time you wanted to watch it, you were quite frankly outta luck. These “big three” networks provided all the sports, entertainment, and news that people saw on TV, and they had to do it all since they were the only networks anyone watched (not counting local stations). This was all due to technical limitations and the fact that infrastructure wasn’t very well developed yet. Manufacturers of TVs set them up to receive a fixed amount of channels, having a single channel knob on the cabinet that would turn the TV off if set low enough.

As time went on, improvements in broadcasting technology allowed for more channels to be broadcast at once than through over-the-air (OTA) TV, and thus cable and satellite TV were born. These new variants used large networks of cables and satellite dishes to provide better reception, quality, and a larger coverage area than traditional OTA TV. To use these new technologies, many TVs needed to be fitted with a set-top box that contained a TV tuner; a device that would unscramble and translate the cable and satellite signals to a language the TV could understand. Now users weren’t limited to only 11 channels, and 60-70 was the norm. Instead of having 3 or 4 channels that provided a wide range of content for all audiences, many new channels employed the use of narrowcasting; only broadcasting certain types of shows for specific audiences. As technology continued to get better, more and more channels were able to be crammed into cable and satellite transmissions, and in the early 2000s companies such as Comcast and DirecTV started offering monthly deals for HUGE amounts of channels, well over 900 of them, which leads me to my ultimate question: how many channels do we need?

Looking through the TV Guide menus on my set-top box, I know that I’m missing out on a lot. You can only watch one TV show at a time, and at any one time there are 900+ channels going with whatever happens to be on. It seems like a real waste to me, as the only channels I really watch have numbers less than 70, and even at that I never have any need to visit any channel from 10-30, as nothing that appeals to me ever is playing. Smart money would say I should downgrade to a package which only has 70 channels instead of the full 900, but there are some pretty awesome channels above 70 that I like visiting that require me to pay for all of them.

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If I watch 5 channels each week, and 2 of them are in the premium tier, wouldn’t it be better for me to pay for only those five instead of all the ones I’m not watching? $80 per month is an expensive proposition for 5 channels, wouldn’t you say? Here’s what I propose instead: what if we paid each month a flat rate for the set-top box rental fee and a reasonable fee for the basic tier content, but then we’d have a choice: either the classic premium tier 900 channel deal or a new one in which you first select the premium channels you know you want to watch and you pay for unlimited viewing for the entire month for those channels. The TV listings for every channel will still show up in your guide though, and if you go to a channel you haven’t subscribed to and want to watch, you can either set up an unlimited subscription to it right from your remote, or you can buy 24 hours of viewing for a few cents. If you only watched 5 channels, you’d pay in proportion to what you use. In my opinion, this would be a big win for consumers, but I don’t know whether or not it’s feasible from a business standpoint.

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With the advent of narrowcasting, it doesn’t seem right that providers still make us pay for the broadest selections of channels. To conclude, I hope that someday a change will be brought about in this flawed system.

Let’s Play A Blurred Line Part 03

Our hero keeps on keepin’ on, and advances in his story as he travels to the top of the staircase in the next thrilling episode of Let’s Play A Blurred Line! I’m going to be doing a video every two days until the 4th when I’m gone for a week, but I think I’ll be resuming soon after. This is a LONG game, everyone, and it might take 10 parts or so to finish it all. Let’s hope so so that my 2-digit part numbers actually make sense. Until Thursday, friends!

Argggg… COMCAST!!!!!!!!

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It’s easy to see why one of the world’s most hated companies is changing its name to Xfinity… yeah, that’ll totally work. Put on a fake mustache, big nose and glasses and nobody will recognize you. I really hate Comcast’s converter boxes; not so much for the fact that my analog cable was perfectly fine before the transition, nor for the fact that they’ve taken away a bunch of channels if you don’t use the box (though I do dislike these facts) but rather for the simple reason that the boxes DON’T WORK most of the time, and that we now need to pay an extra fee for something we could use without a fee before. Seriously, watching TV on this Comcast box has become a chore, as every time I turn on my TV the channel defaults to channel 8, just like with a hotel TV. Channel 8 is all in Japanese. All I can ask, Comcast, is WHY? Why is it that I can’t leave your box on channel 2 when I turn off my TV? Why is my TV’s remote not good enough on its own anymore, and why must I have two volume controls? Can’t your box just output at full volume the entire time and let me use my TV’s volume controls instead of finding a balance between the two?

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I know that there are other remotes one can use that will control any device, and I know that Comcast’s remote can be programmed to turn on your TV, but what if I want to switch input or use some of the cool built in features on my TV? On my big Comcast dual tuner non-DVR (no HDD) box why can’t I use Picture-in-Picture? I was able to get HD channels on the HD TV before I got Comcast’s tiny box (of which my service is interrupted all the time as seen in the first picture) and now I’m not able to. Sometimes the box just freezes up and I’m completely out of luck, unable to change the channel or anything until I unplug it for a long time, then fight with the remote to get it to respond to anything. Everything used to be so simple, but now Comcast’s messing it up. (It’s not just Comcast, I know, but they’re just about the only provider of cable where I live.)

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Above: what I deal with every other day it seems like. If you’re going to charge extra for this device and make it so I can’t watch the same channels I already pay for without it, at least give me something reliable.

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Above: the dreaded box itself. I’ve talked to others who share my hatred of this horrible device (this blog is biased in case you didn’t know) and they have similar stories of it crashing and burning when they’re trying to watch TV. I feel it isn’t just me when I say people despise needing to use two remotes on their TV’s, and without the IR receiver this box would be completely unbearable, as I’d need to keep it on top of my TV stand instead of in the cupboard where it belongs. After needing to replace these boxes twice in the last year because they stopped working on me. Bottomline: I’m disappointed.

Let’s Play A Blurred Line Part 01

Oh boy… this is going to be fun, isn’t it… I’ve started on my very first Let’s Play video, and quite possibly the last. It’s completely unedited and I have completely no idea what I’m doing. That said, you all should play this game! I know that most of the people I’ve recommended it to have not played it since it was too long and they didn’t understand it, but it’s an amazing game if you give it a chance. I could easily see a good movie made about it if they gave the plot a bit more focus and sped up the pace.

Comments? I know I’m pretty bad at this, but anything I can do to improve it would be greatly appreciated!

Back in action!

With the release of WordPress 3.0, I’ve decided to unify all of my various projects in one central location: here. Perhaps it was the clean new design that enticed me to use my homepage for something, perhaps it’s the fact that I’m a sucker for version numbers (OOH! 3.0?! Gotta try that!) but either way, I hope this whole production won’t blogfade.

Categorized Posts, Categorized Life

desktop

(Yes, I’m not the first to use that wallpaper.) Organizing my computer is a perpetual chore that I believe I’ll never master. Just look at my desktop: I got 4 image folders! Organizing this blog is going to be just as hard, I fear, but with some magic plug-ins and some categories, I think I’ll be able to do it. The biggest side project I have by far is porting the entirety of my School RPG story to this blog (and then making it good). It’s not a brilliant story, but it never ends!

What about the articles?

I’m planning to post more stuff about my life here as I’ve never really kept a journal, but you can certainly expect more articles (well, more focused posts about stuff that matters more than what I had for breakfast) coming real soon. I just need to think of some stuff to write about!

In conclusion, I’m super excited about this new site, and hope it’ll last longer than the old site… or its predecessor… or its predecessor.

8 months with Windows 7

windows-7-logo

I’ve been meaning to do a Windows 7 review for quite some time, but have always been stopped by the fact that I hadn’t used it for long enough to say I’ve been through the good as well as the bad. Now that I’ve used it for a while, though, I’m ready to critique it, and for the most part, I’m impressed. Let’s begin this review from the beginning: the installer.

Installation

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Unless you’ve bought a new computer lately, the first experience you’ll have with Windows 7 is the installer. Microsoft has made the installation process fairly painless this time around, handling all of the pre-installation tasks in one fell swoop. A major improvement over XP’s 3 interfaces (MS-DOS style prompts, wait a while, dinosaur GUI, more prompts, wait a while, OOBE, wait a while, etc)

One thing that annoys me about the installer, however, is that you are required to create a 100mb partition for the Windows Boot Manager, which messes up whatever you had previously. I find it difficult to install Windows 7 after installing Linux, as the Linux installer seems to know how to handle Windows, but not the other way around. I’ve also had some problems installing on Bootcamp on OS X 10.5, and while I realize 10.6 has a new Bootcamp update that fixes a lot of problems, I couldn’t even get the 64-bit DVD to boot on my 64-bit Mac. Oh well, I’m not ready for 64 bits anyways.

As far as clean installs go, the Windows 7 installer couldn’t be easier. Just wipe your drive, set your settings, and go (considering you can get the installer to boot.) For upgrading, I didn’t have a lot of compatibility problems, but it took considerably longer to do, and I really don’t recommend it. Always clean install, folks.

Hardware

Upon my first boot of Windows 7, I had all my CDs ready to go, expecting to install a lot of drivers before I could get on the net, display with hardware acceleration, print, or use the hotkeys on my keyboard. I was pleasantly surprised to find out that my wireless card, a Linksys WUSB54GC, was detected right out of the box, and I was online downloading updated drivers for everything else before I knew it. Most of my devices, including my controllers, microphone, and graphics were detected as well, and I only needed drivers for my keyboard’s hotkeys and my mouse’s extra buttons. None of my hardware is incompatible with Windows 7 thus far, even old floppy drives are able to be detected and installed. Old device drivers seem to work with Windows 7 too. How’s that for “just works,” Mac fans?

Interface

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Yeah, I’m one of those weird people who puts their taskbar on a different side of the screen. I also auto-hide it. Windows 7 makes it a lot more fashionable to do this, too, since with the hiding of app labels all the icons can just fit into a slot no matter which way the taskbar is oriented. Also, when auto-hide is on, there is no ugly bar on top of the taskbar like there was on XP.

As with Vista, you can choose any interface color you want for the stunning Aero theme. Unlike Vista, however, Aero frames don’t dim themselves when maximized, letting you have bright interface colors all the time if you choose. Aero feels a lot more polished in this release, and the dedicated “show desktop” button is something I use all the time.  Pinning icons to the taskbar is a lot more convenient than the Quick Launch ever was.

settings

controlpanel

The Windows 7 Control Panel isn’t all that different than Vista’s, and as long as they keep a “classic” view of some sort around, I won’t take much of an issue with them. Category view stinks when you know what you want to do, but the control panel search is amazingly accurate at finding the right settings.

Bundled Programs

This isn’t an all-inclusive list of programs, but instead ones that I’ve actually used or attempted to use in the last 8 months. Some programs like IE8 or Windows Media Center I simply haven’t ever used, and thus it would be of no value to anyone for me to review them.

Snipping tool

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A nice little utility that can capture sections of your screen and annotate them, highlight important elements, and save / send the images to others. Surprisingly useful, but if you do a lot of capturing I recommend Snagit or Jing by Techsmith.

paint

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Call me old school, but I’m not a big fan of the ribbon. Microsoft obviously tried to make Paint better, but it’s good just the way it was. One cool improvement is that when you draw shapes, you can adjust them after drawing them to make sure they’re good before setting them in stone, but once you click away from the shape, you can’t go back and change it’s size without it getting all pixelated. Also, none of the shapes are anti-aliased, giving everything that look that only Paint gives. If they seriously wanted to improve Paint, they’d add anti-aliasing. The way it is is now, they’d have done better to leave it alone.

wordpad

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The poor man’s Microsoft Word never looked so good in Windows 7, but there’s one thing that keeps me from using it. In the past, Wordpad selected a whole word when you tried to select a tiny part of it, which was annoying, but it also let you turn that “feature” off. In Windows 7’s Wordpad, that option is no longer available, and now I’m unable to select parts of words, making working with code impossible in Wordpad. Why would I want to work with code in Wordpad, you might wonder? If you’re opening files formatted with a different line-break format, Wordpad picks up on this, while Notepad scratches its head. It was incredibly useful for configuration files, but now I need to boot up Comodo or Dreamweaver to change some simple thing. My recommendation: XP Wordpad had it right.

stic
ky notes

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A simple application with a simple purpose. The notes open again after a reboot, and live on the desktop instead of on a sidebar. Not much to say except that these are incredibly useful.

Windows Journal

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I don’t have a tablet PC, but this app makes me want one. The handwriting recognition is surprisingly accurate, and would be ideal for scribbling down notes during lectures, but the program doesn’t simultaneously record audio as Livescribe’s Pulse Smartpen does. It’s free, however, so what can you expect. It’s a cool app, and I’d like to try it on a real tablet.

games

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Same stuff as Vista, though I think the Mahjong game is new, and I know Inkball is gone. My recommendation is to add all the default games to Steam instead of using the Game Manager if you have an account with them, as the information they give on the right pane isn’t all that useful.

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Girl Talk is an awesome artist... I got all of his albums the other day, and I'd recommend you check 'em out!

Microsoft has really outdone itself with the latest WMP. The interface pictured above isn’t the one you’ll see when you open a file, instead you’ll simply see the cover art in a tiny window and some basic controls. Everything feels lightweight, and lightweight in this case is good. iTunes takes forever to do the most basic of tasks (for my old comp, at least) and WMP does everything in a snap. I still prefer iTunes for organization, however.

DVD maker

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After using Windows DVD maker one time, I was ready to throw iDVD to the fire and flames. It’s dead simple to create DVDs with this tool, and it even creates chapter select menus with thumbnails automatically! Not to mention there’s no stupid Apple watermarks all over the finished product. Seriously something everyone who needs to burn DVDs should look at.

Backwards Compatibility

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Ay, here’s the rub: for in this new Windows what old programs may come across when we have shuffled into the past must give us pause, or in the case of some apps, a complete system failure. A lot of old games such as Starcraft and Worms have messed up colors when Explorer is running, and the only way to fix it is to close Explorer if you want to run anything at all.

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Running full-screen MS-DOS apps is a no-go, just like in Vista, and once again this is annoying. In 64-bit Windows 7, 16-bit apps can’t run, and a lot of apps designed for older systems just don’t work or cause the system to lock up. Now, how about XP mode? Not for graphic intensive stuff, no way. Besides, home premium users don’t even get to use XP mode, and since I’m on home premium I can’t test it, but it’s clearly designed for business use.

Conclusion

After using Windows 7 since release day in October, I really like it. Some of the bundled applications are worth the upgrade, others make me yearn for XP back. The interface is nice and polished, and hardware detection / compatibility is excellent, but program compatibility has some serious issues at times. I’ve ran a netbook with XP home for about the same time I’ve had Windows 7, and I haven’t particularly felt like I need any of the features Windows 7 offers over XP, and if I was forced to use XP I’d have no problem with it. I couldn’t, however, live with Windows 2000 or earlier on a day-to-day basis, as it is just not advanced enough to keep up with today’s tech. Once XP gets to that point, I would recommend an upgrade more strongly, but for now, 7 is basically Vista the way Vista should have been from the beginning.

Injustice

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In some countries people are punished for exercising the free expression of ideas, but over here in America we’ve always prided ourselves on the fact that we are able to say whatever we want. It is sickening, but people with very extreme ideas can in fact get their message out without going to jail. What happened a few days ago, however, makes me wonder if there’s any hope for us to progress as a nation. On el cinco de mayo, a group of students at Live Oak High School, in Morgan Hill, California were celebrating the day by wearing shirts with Mexican flags. Good for them! What a fine expression of free speech. Some other students decided to wear their own shirts that had American flags on them, once again an excellent display of patriotism (this is America, you know) and of their right to free speech. The school was concerned when it saw these two opposing groups, and made the American flag-wearing students an offer they couldn’t refuse: turn the shirts inside out, or go home with an unexcused absence. Well, the brave young students refused, and were sent home.

Excuse me?

As they were leaving campus, I wouldn’t have been surprised if the students had looked out the back window to make sure that there was an American flag on the school’s flagpole. What is this madness? American citizens not being able to wear the American flag? What happened to our first amendment rights? I worry about our country if it’s gotten to the point where simply showing patriotism for our homeland is a punishable offence.

buy

In my English class, we’re studying 1984 and they’re making some interesting tie-ins to how the telescreens and the Ministry of Truth (ahem… minitrue) are characteristic of the advertising that big corporations are throwing our way night and day, and the massive amounts of data that corporations have on each and every one of us. If any of you are surprised that stuff that you post on the Internet is publically available for the entire world to archive and use, you should lose your internet privileges. Seriously, what do you expect? All those social networking profiles and online surveys you’ve filled out aren’t asking so much about you for nothing. Corporations want to make a profit, and will target those who are most likely to buy said product. If I’m selling stuffed animals, I don’t want to send advertisements to those with zoophobia! You know what’ll happen if I do send them ads, though? I won’t manipulate their mind through some unorthodox back-alley method, instead they’ll probably just say “no” and refuse to buy the product I am trying to purvey.

buy2 When corporations are involved, you never need to buy from them. Heck, you can even live without electricity, gas, water, or shelter. Living in America doesn’t guarantee you success, it guarantees you the opportunity of success. There is no ceiling on how successful you can be, but there’s no floor either. Tread carefully, friends.

When the government is involved, however, things can get dicey. While all the corporations can do is whine if you don’t buy from them, the government controls the army, the navy, the air force, and all the other institutions that can cause trouble for you if you don’t do what they say, so when the government sells you something (or more specifically, when the government requires you to own something), you’re much more likely to buy it whether you think you need it or not.

control

How much does the government already control in our day-to-day lives? They have significant influence over a car manufacturer and many banks, and are looking to provide power and even internet access for us in the future. If they provide it, they can control it even more so than they do today. The government is a money losing operation at present, with ridiculous national debt and a seeming passion to waste as much money as possible as quickly as possible. If the government was a corporation itself, it would never survive, but more and more the government is trying to provide services that corporations currently supply. I don’t know about you, but I don’t trust Washington enough to spend taxpayer money to efficiently pay for all these “free” services. Just take a look at what’s happening in Greece. Their socialist government makes promises it can’t keep, and then when it can’t keep them the people are all upset. With nearly $12 trillion debt, the United States is in no position to spend any more money, and other countries are noticing. If the US government’s credit rating goes down, there is a chance that we will be utterly screwed. The government should stick to keeping us safe.

Something to consider…

2-14-2010 11-13-34 PM

Over the past few weeks, I’ve seen a lot of Facebook names and faces pop up on the news feed. Now, tell me… what does the word “profile picture” mean to you? Wouldn’t you agree that someone’s profile picture should probably be of a recognizable picture of themselves? A picture that, scaled to pretty much any practical resolution, will make people go “oh yeah! I know them!”

It would appear that a lot of the people on Facebook forget this fact. Take a look at the picture above. Our friend Arthur here is the one making the other two look like rabbits, and he’s pretty easy to spot since you have a decent sized thumbnail. However, if you scale the resolution back a bit, say, to newsfeed size, things get a bit ambiguous:

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At this point, unless you’ve seen the full-size picture or the thumbnail, it’s hard to tell who’s in the picture at all. But wait! All of my best pictures contain my friends! you say? Facebook understands this, and that’s why they have a second step when choosing a profile picture that crops the image and prepares a thumbnail image that will contain only your face.

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In other words, there’s no excuse for using bad quality thumbnails as your profile picture.