Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Happy Birthday Steve

Today is Steve Jobs birthday. A fact that ironically enough I happened across just today.  
And so I thought this would be a great time to say a few things to him.  
Happy Birthday Steve. 
We hope you get better soon.

Thanks for bringing us Apple, thanks for Pixar, thanks for iTunes.


I've found a few new links that I think are kind of interesting. 

Kosmix  and Who2 (how I found out it was Steve's Birthday)
Two new types of searches (one that brings together everything, and one that is specific for biographies)

also a cool new web search.

Heres a link to a talk I heard years ago.  I knew it was true.  Now it seems downright prophetic

And finally a funny note:

And finally National Pancake Day is February 24th
and that means free pancakes at any IHOP (and yeah I still like their stock)
They give you 3 pancakes with the idea that you can then use your money to support a charity: Children's Miracle Network (or another of your choice)

Wednesday, February 18, 2009


Thanks to the P/H
That is the biggest edible burning ball of gas that I think I've ever seen.
so thanks.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

DTV: the end is coming... maybe.

The end is Coming! The end is coming!...Well, we think it's coming. At least they say it is.And since the end is theoretically closer now than ever before*, I thought I would take this opportunity to share a few more ideas on Digital Television.
(Lucky you)*sidenote: ok it was technically theoretically closer a few weeks ago, before the deadline got changed. Way to be the prez. If you don't like the rules just change um. Don't get me wrong, I'm not a hater, I just think there have been a few "funny" presidential things so far. ü

And since today was going to be the big Digital TV switch, and there are a lot of things that people just don't understand about it, how we got here, and why we're here. What do we have to do and how will things be changing?  I thought I give you one last batch of thoughts about Digital TV 
past, present and future.
There are two basic kinds of signals that can be broadcast Analog (the old ones) and Digital (the new ones).  Analog signals are very large.  Digital ones are a lot smaller.  This means that you can send out more of them, using less energy,  and less space. 

Somebody did a study about this and oddly enough their estimations were pretty accurate.
Allow me to share some of their findings.
  • The space freed by switching to digital could be sold for at least $10 Billion  and perhaps as much as $20 Billion, but most likely $12 - $13 Billion (dead on)
  • The government would need to spend about 3 Billion (of that 12 Billion)(again dead on) to help people make the switch
  • Also the Government would need to spend about $2oo Million to help stations make the transistion.
  • Long story short there would be Billions of dollars of surplus.
 Well the congress of these great United States, got together and decided it was a good idea, and that it would be beneficial to the people as a whole.
But they decided to give the people only about half of the money that the estimates thought it would take (now I'm not pointing any fingers but the ruling party hasn't changed in a few years (meaning they still control the congress)).  So they released enough money for about 30 million converter boxes. 

In october the head of the FCC said. "Hey we're about out of money!" We need that other Billion dollars you promised. 


did nothing.

In december the money really did start to run out (Wooo! Big Surprise, no one thought it would be enough).

Though I might add here that my sister ordered two coupons mid-December and she got hers 
just fine.

And it's not like you can miss the commercials, I mean if you ever watch TV.
maybe it's not like that everywhere, but they play them often in our neck of the woods.

I ordered my coupons just over a year ago. (because that's when they started bombarding us with info about this.  I mean really, this isn't a surprise.

So people should be ready, but we're not, partially because the people are blissfully unaware (that was the nicest way I could say it) and partially because the government messed up.

Point number two: It's $40, I mean it's not like it's all that expensive, sure there are some boxes that cost a little bit more, but basically even without a government coupon this is not a terribly hard thing that we have to do to watch TV.

Still February 17, was creeping up fast and The President said, not that we needed to add more money to the program, but rather that we should postpone the transition for 5 months! 
5 Months? Seriously? Why not just fix the problem? And yes once you get yourself in a pit sometimes it takes a while to get out, but I really think even as inefficient as the government is that they could totally do it in two, maybe three.  (which, as I mentioned, actually saves the TV stations money (because they get to send out the smaller more cost effective signal sooner instead of sending BOTH).

So what happens now?

Well that's a really good question. 
And honestly I think we'll know later in the day, but here's the thing, not everybody is switching. and not everybody is not. Some stations will still keep the original date, others will not.

 The Utah stations made a unanimous decision to move forward with the plan... 
But, one of the stations (run by a mouse with really big ears) told the local guys that they REALLY wanted them to wait until june to do it.   So the rest of the stations got together and decided they'd all wait. 

What this means is not that they won't be broadcasting digitally, rather that they will just be broadcasting both.  Basically this doesn't change anything, because these stations are already sending out BOTH kinds.  Except of course it will cost millions of dollars to continue broadcasting the old signals.

One station played the Maverick: the CW they're going digital (but they're not available everywhere).

So that covers the past and some of the present, and leaves the future.

So if I was going to recommend a Digital Converter Box what kind would I order.
And then how do you set it up? and can you really use a VCR with one? And of course how can I tell if I'm watching the digital signal, or the analog one?

So what kind of box would I recommend?
First the generals - 
  • Analog Pass-through: This is an interesting feature, a feature I like, but not one that I really think is completely necessary.   Analog pass through means you can still watch the old signals or the new ones (but not usually at the same time).  Since most stations will make a transition, this feature will become less and less significant.  Stations in rural areas ARE NOT required to switch, but over time it is still cheaper, so most of them still are going to switch.  
  • Universal Remote: They use this term rather loosely.  Some remotes will turn on the TV. The better boxes/ remotes will actually let you adjust the volume, but of course, some won't do either (lame).
  • Cables / Connections:  There are a variety of cable types and connections available on a converter box. Some of them are fairly standard, and some are a little different.  Ironically, there are some restrictions on what can be on a converter box (if the government is going to help pay for it).   
    • RCA: Some of the slightly more expensive boxes come with these cables, and most of the time they are the better option: better sound, better picture, etc.  Of course you could just buy them if the box you want doesn't have them, but you'd want to know that before you left the store. RCA cables are color coded red and white for audio, yellow for video. So it's very easy to know where they go.

    • Antenna/coax: (also pictured above) This is another easy way to hook up your box. Some older TVs may only have an antenna input.
    • Smart Antenna: Converter boxes can tell how good their signal is, and a few of them have a smart antenna port, to automatically adjust for a better picture... of course, this requires a smart antenna  (the nice thing about a smart antenna is that it can actually fine tune your reception for every station).
    • USB: Not on most converter boxes. various useful features, like updating a box. 
    • Ethernet / modem: ditto also useful, also rare, also probably not really needed, but nice. 
    • S-video: A small round port that only sends a video signal.  Arguably the best video signal (excluding YPbPr, and HDMI), but it's only video so you would still need to connect the audio some other way.
  • Power button: Now this seems fairly simple but I think it's a really good feature... I think any good box should at least have a power button and a way to change the channels... without the remote.
Automatic Shutoff: It is important to note that your converter box may have a power saving feature, that turns off after a certain number of hours  (the box above is blue when it's on and red when it's off).  All this means is that you have to turn on both the box and the TV before you start watching.  

Since the converter box is tuning your channels it is usually best to leave your TV or VCR on the input channel (3 or 4) or on the setting specifically built for external input.

(If you can't get it to work, these are the first two things that I would check)

But wait, did I just say VCR?
Yes, yes I did.  All this hooey about a VCR not working anymore is... well... hooey. As long as you connect it right your VCR, DVD player and TV will all still work.  
At my house we run the converter box into one set of VCR inputs, and the DVD player into the other, then we run the VCR to the TV, but there are other ways to do it.

Now the VCR can record what ever we see on the TV.

This does require a few more cables but some boxes come with enough to run from a box to a VCR to a TV.

Also there is a box that replaces the VCR but I will talk about that and the other boxes that I like, and antennas, in a different post.

So there you have it, it's February 17th, and Tv is still tv.
but in someways a little different.

oh yeah and I love the ski jumping channel.
I don't know why, but I do.

Need a second opinion... CNET does it fairly well

Friday, February 06, 2009

Snapshots: 2

One of the first things you might notice as you enter a typical house in Greece, is the door. From the outside, it looks about like any other door. From inside the residence, it looks about the same, but if you catch it from the side you notice something very different: the dead bolt.
Or perhaps it would be better to say the dead bolts. You see in Greece, they don't have a dead bolt in each door, they have an army of them.
You turn the key, and metal posts shoot out in every direction - usually ten to fifteen of them.
To say the least, these doors are secure.

The doors are secure, but apparently that can not always be said of the apartments.
My apartment had one of these special super doors, but one day when we came home (there were two of us that lived there) we could not get in. We tried the key. We tried to push. We tried everything we could. We decided something must be stopping our progress besides the door. The thought crossed our minds that it could be a joke, but we were pretty certain that it wasn't. When we decided it might be a joke, we pounded on the door, but alas the door did not open.

An interesting side note is that in greece many of the buildings have a mezzanine (a level, somewhere between the ground floor and the first floor). Our building had one of the levels, in fact we lived on that floor. We climbed up a short flight of stairs, and there, from a little balcony, we entered our apartment... usually.

Well after we pounded with our fists, and while our hearts were still pounding, I happened to see something, which in retrospect I now know to be the burglar fleeing the crime. Mostly it was just a quick dash from under the balcony to the door, and it was quick. I saw the door, but the rest was... well, blurry.

At this point it came clear, the burglar had entered through the enclosed courtyard. How he got up to our apartment, I'm not quite sure, but as we checked the courtyard sure enough a small piece of glass in a window in the kitchen was missing.

I had never experienced burglary before, and things have been pretty calm since that time, but it was scary. Actually it was more than scary, I felt real fear.

As we searched the house, we noticed the large suitcases blocking the door, and most of our stuff was still there, at least it seemed to be. We had some cash and it was there (in plain sight no less) and our cameras were still there, and nearly everything was there. Well, everything except our alarm clocks, but who needs an alarm clock when you're too scared to sleep.

Ironically, nearly all that we had before the incident, we still had, and yet we were scared, I guess I can't speak for my friend, but I was still scared.

I can't say that it made me afraid to be in Greece, because really I usually felt quite safe, but I can say that I had a new appreciation for being secure, for knowing that I was doing what I could to keep my things, and to keep myself safe. It may have even been a reason that I worked in home security for a while. And still to this day I think about those things. What can I do to be more secure, and what can I do to keep myself safe.

I don't think I'm paranoid, but I think I'm more cautious, and I think that it's good. Yeah, around these parts things are often quite calm, but I think it is wise to be ready for storms, and I'm glad that I learned it in a sense, the easy way.