Saturday, May 31, 2008

Catching Up

I've finally been able to do a little catching-up on responses I've gotten here and checking out updates on others' blogs.

Congratulations to JC and OH on the purchase of their new home. Your closing went much like most closings go. The HUD-1 form seems to be in transition up until you're there signing the paperwork. Now I'm assuming that Jax is "Jacksonville" and if you're moving there from Miami, that really is quite a trek.

While I'm on JC's blog, I finally got a chance to read the whole thing (really, it isn't all that long). While I thought her comments on some mispronunciations were good, I previously missed her comments on airline travel that should be required reading by every airline passenger. I have a few comments of my own involving people kicking/kneeing the back of my seat (or banging on their laptop keyboard perched on the back of my seat) for an entire 4 hour flight.

Back in September I discovered Sarah's Blog while searching for people who liked The Partridge Family. Sarah kind-of-recently passed along a great piece dripping in sarcasm called Ten Reasons Gay Marriage is Un-American that the idiots from Westboro Baptist Church (WBC) should read (recall my posting about them from back in November). Speaking of the WBC, their web site I mentioned in my posting is back online again spewing a brand of hate that only intolerant assholes like the WBC can produce. I had to look at it for no other reason but to understand that there really is something that can be called a "social disease" (and the disease is not homosexuality).

Walgreens still sucks. I have not been back since I wrote about my negative experiences there back in January. Funny, I don't miss them.

I've had several good responses to things I have written. Rest assured that I read all of them, and appreciate the time you've taken to respond. It has always amazed me how one person's contact with someone, however brief, can produce changes that affect someone's life forever. With that in mind, the Internet is both a wonderful and horrible thing.

I do have some ideas for some upcoming articles...here's a sneak-peek at what's going on in my head:
  • Making sense of the D-Bus inter-process communication facility (IPC) without making your brain explode. Lots of open source software is using this, and it's flourishing despite my objections to its complexity. I'm going to try to make some sense of this from a non-OO-programmer's perspective and pass it along to others. Let's make a new friend.
  • Defining terrorism - My country's government has waged a "war on terrorism" and has used this to justify a lot of actions over the last several years. In the process of this war, lots of people have died and we have had to give-up many of the liberties we once had. What is terrorism? Can we really wage war against it? Will we ever win the war? If so, how will we know? Are we really better off now than we were 7 years ago?
  • Pondering a trip (vacation) with the cat. Is it possible to take a road trip with a cat? What are the pitfalls? Is there a way to work through them (especially if it's just you and the cat)? How does the cat feel (did you ask)?
On that note, time to get away from the computer for a while and rest for a bit.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Spanking the Monkey

What's not music - HD or SD - is Pussycat Dolls. I can't believe I've actually listened to/watched about 10 minutes of this dung...or should I say, "cat turds?" Guess there can't always be something good on MHD.

I shouldn't wonder why this society is so fsck'd up after Pussycat Dolls. They started with a song called, "Loosen Up My Buttons." Pussycat Dolls...Britney Spears....these are the role models we provide for this generation of kids. While Boy George O'Dowd wasn't exactly what I'd call a role model either, at least some of the songs Culture Club did has some meaning deeper then "Loosen Up My Buttons."

Tonight I also saw the movie "Spanking the Monkey" on IFC. The program guide says, "A college student has to spend his summer playing nurse to his bossy bedridden mother (Two and a half stars)." What the movie was really about is a horribly dysfunctional family - a father who is a mediocre salesman at best, strict absentee father, and cheating on his wife. His wife is starved for attention, as you'd expect. Kid has no idea how to act around women, so he ends up emulating his father to some extent. It had an ending that makes you say, "Huh?" The guide said comedy - I say indie drama. Definitely not the worst film I saw (Mr. Magoo) but not something I'd watch again.

Tonight my neighbors across the street had a little get-together in their front yard for anyone on our street who wanted to show-up. It started a little weak with me, one other guy, and the couple who hosted the "party." Several folks trickled-in over the next few hours - in fact most people came after 7pm, which is when the whole shindig was supposed to end. All in all, it was a great time. The hosts provided hot dogs, I brought some breaded onion rings (heated them up, not terribly good I'm afraid) and some lemonade, someone brought some cookies and potato chips, and another neighbor brought some watermelon cubes. I met a few more of my neighbors. Like I said, nothing bad about it. I remember saying in a previous posting that this is a real community, and that is still the case.

I also decided to drive to Palacios, TX on Sunday to get away from everything (round trip was about 380 miles). I got this postcard from a Realtor who was trying to sell property in a future resort community there, and after reading online what a scam this was, I figured I had to see for myself. Really, it was just an excuse to explore some part of Texas that I hadn't seen yet. Palacios is on the Gulf coast, or technically speaking, on Matagorda Bay. While Palacios was not really terribly exciting, some of the places along the way were nice. Lake Texana near Edna, TX was actually peaceful and there is a state park that may require some additional exploration at a later date. Unfortunately, even with the hybrid trips like this are becoming more expensive. With gasoline at $3.79 a gallon, this trip cost me about $30 (45 MPG going, and 48 MPG coming back). In contrast, my old Camry that got about 29 MPG on highway driving would have cost me nearly $50 in gasoline, and would have been a lot less friendly to the environment. All that said, the resort community is, indeed, being built essentially on a swamp, and the whole little town of Palacios is being geared-up to support lots of impractical waterfront vacation/retirement homes...

I also took some time to ask myself some tough relationship questions again. Assuming that the person I'd want to be involved with romantically would be someone I enjoyed being around and who added something to my life, I was trying to figure out how that would happen or if someone already is in that role and I just haven't realized it. The tough answer to that question is that right now there are few people in my life that come close to that, and those that are close are not really available for that kind of relationship (for various reasons). I really have become very accustomed at doing everything by myself, out of necessity. Part of the problem as well is that I'm finding it difficult to share my eccentricities with someone else and have that person enjoy being part of them. A clone? No. An understanding and acceptance of who I am? Yes. Part of that understanding is that at least a few of these weird little things that make me what I am are something I can share with someone else and have that person get at least a little excited about them.

Finally, "Holly Holy" by Neil Diamond was just playing on the Solid Gold Oldies Music Choice channel. A small piece of trivia is that song is the first song I ever recorded from the radio. It was when I was 4 or 5 years old and my parents had gotten me a little reel-to-reel tape recorder for Christmas. It is one of those songs that charges the flux capacitor in my brain and transports me back to a younger - and simpler - time.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Digital TV and Converter Review

As many of you know, and soon all of you will know, is that by February of next year old analog television (NTSC) will begin disappearing from the US airwaves to be replaced by digital television (ATSC).

The US Department of Commerce has a program where you can sign-up and receive a coupon for $40 off the purchase of a converter box that will allow you to use your old analog television set to view the new digital programming. In most larger cities, these new digital channels are being simulcast with the old analog channels so you can begin viewing the new signals immediately. The converter box works similarly to a cable TV converter in how it connects to your TV and functions.

I purchased the Zenith DTT900 converter from Circuit City today. I highly recommend this unit to those who need the converter box. The converter is amazingly small (the picture makes it look big) and will fit nicely into just about any location where one would have a TV. It connects to the TV via RF using coaxial cable (modulated onto channel 3 or 4) or using RCA-style composite video cable and left/right audio. The antenna input is a standard F-style coaxial connector similar to what you see for cable TV. If you're using a "rabbit ears" style antenna right now, it is likely that it will continue to work for digital TV (doesn't hurt to try it). I was able to receive all the digital channels in my area with a simple "whip" antenna, although the PBS affiliate tended to drift in and out (that appears digitally as blockiness in the picture and the sound cutting in and out).

There are a few nice features about the Zenith DTT900 converter to note:
  1. The initial set-up on power-on is as simple as you can get for a consumer appliance
  2. If your TV is a wide-screen TV, or has an enhanced 16:9 mode, the converter can be made aware of this and will adjust the picture accordingly
  3. If your TV is NOT a wide-screen TV, there are the myriad picture "stretch" options on the remote control that will let you view old-school (normal, 4:3) properly without everything looking letterboxed with black bars on the left and right side of the screen.
  4. The remote control, while a bit small and cheapish, actually has buttons for all the common functions like turning captioning on/off, displaying status, and bringing-up the built-in guide, in addition to just changing channels and the like.
  5. There is a program guide built-in that, provided the TV station transmits the information, gives you the name/description of the current program and the one coming-up next.
  6. The on-screen displays are easy to read and understand
Some information about digital TV that is worth noting: If you subscribe to cable or satellite TV where they provide a converter box, you do not need this converter (in fact, it won't really do anything on a cable TV system). However, it may be a good idea to get a coupon and purchase a converter box anyway, since you never know when the cable or satellite system will fail, and the converter will allow you to use your TV for over-the-air broadcasts yet. Since the government coupon program is limited and won't last for much longer, this is the one time you have to purchase a converter for $20 rather than $60 (although they will likely drop in price at one point...).

Another point about digital TV that is worth noting is that while the converter won't give you high definition on your low-definition TV set, it will generally look substantially better than the equivalent analog TV signal would look on your TV.

There is another option for those who watch very little TV and have an old clunker hanging around that isn't worth hooking to a converter box: If you have a relatively modern computer (desktop or laptop) there are USB adapters that allow you to watch TV on your computer. Be sure to purchase one that supports the ATSC digital TV standard (some older ones only support analog TV). This option will cost more than the converter box (and can't be purchased with the government coupon) but will take up less space and will even allow you to receive TV on-the-go if you use it with a laptop. There are also software packages that will allow you to use your computer as a video recorder (like TiVo or a VCR), but keep in mind that this will require you to keep your computer running all the time if you want to use the timer features. I've gotten one of these USB adapters to work under Linux with slightly mixed results (my computers are a little too slow to handle the decoding of the digital video, particularly high-definition video).

I'm sure that for some people, the idea of going to digital TV is a little overwhelming, and even a little annoying to people who purchased a TV within the last few years with only an analog tuner. However, digital TV is truly an improvement - it's really worth the annoyances, and needs to happen sometime.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Stinkier Than The Cat Box

Well, just when you thought it was safe to volunteer at the Austin Humane Society...

Today I discovered that all the hand sanitizers were replaced with new ones that used a different brand of cleaning gel. Like all the other cleaning crap I've encountered lately, this too has a strong perfume in it. The perfume is still present on my skin several hours later - even after washing my hands with my own soap and soaking them in vinegar.

Folks, this is ridiculous. I actually can say that the smells coming from the animals is more appealing than the perfume in this hand sanitizer. Why in the world is a strong perfume necessary? Why does it need to persist on the skin?

I am now forced to pay for my own hand sanitizer without the harsh fragrances in it, hoping that they allow me to use this (that it disinfects well enough to prevent the transfer of disease between cats) instead of the stuff being provided.

When is it going to end? What is the next thing that people will find it necessary to add persistent chemical fragrances to?

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Connections

Part I - Prius-To-Linux Connections

At long last, I finally achieved what I was beginning to think was impossible. I finally got my Toyota Prius to connect to my Linux-based laptop via Bluetooth. I've been trying for over a year to find a way to transfer a computer-generated phone book to the car so that I could synchronize my car's phone book with essentially what's in my phone. The problem has always been that my phone can only transfer one phone book entry at a time, and the steps needed to get the Prius to receive a single OBEX (object exchange, like a file transfer) push is close to ridiculous. As I figured, all that was needed was to create a single .vcf file with a cluster of VCARD objects and get that pushed out to the car. The bad news is that the steps necessary to coerce the car to accept a connection from the Linux laptop borders on the insane. However, manually entering all the phone book entries to the car isn't just bordering on insane -- it is insane. Oh, did I mention that the Prius has no way of backing-up those phone book entries (up to 1,000) to some kind of media in case the 12V battery needs to be replaced?

Several things learned here though:
  1. It is possible for Linux to talk to a Prius over Bluetooth, and here is at least one practical application for doing so.
  2. The Linux Bluez libraries are a pain in the ass to use, and there's little to no documentation for them. Bluez is written to use "dbus" which is a god-awful twisted object-oriented contortion that was designed by a group of people who forgot the old K.I.S.S abbreviation (keep it simple stupid).
  3. The Prius user interface has a lot of good points, but the way that the telephone control is implemented needs some work. Frankly it was almost like someone made it difficult for the Prius' Bluetooth subsystem to communicate with anything other than a real, honest-to-goodness mobile phone. It didn't need to be that hard.
  4. The Prius would benefit greatly from a USB port where a memory stick could be plugged-in and settings could be downloaded from and/or backed-up onto it. If that existed and the phone book was in some open format, it would be unnecessary to do what I did.
In any case, the secret to getting this to work is in the bonding sequence. I had to write a small C program to emulate the command exchange that my cell phone would normally do. The timing and how the responses are sent is critical. Once that was working, and I convinced the car it was talking to a cell phone, I then went to the menu selection that allowed phone book entries to be downloaded. I then stopped my cell phone emulator, and did an OBEX to channel 1 (yes, the channel that is supposed to only be for the DUN commands, but I digress) with my .vcf file, and voila -- my car's phone book was, indeed, populated as expected.

Part II - Sexual Connections

At the suggestion of a friend (for informational purposes only), I read the book "Squirms, Screams, and Squirts: Going from Great Sex to Extraordinary Sex" by Robert J. Rubel, PhD. In truth, let me say I "sort of" read it, because there were a couple of parts I simply didn't bother reading as it was kind of inapplicable as far as I was concerned. I didn't really like the book much. While I did find some of it interesting (if not educational), and some a small amount entertaining, in general I found the book depressing. In my opinion, it had a tone about it like, "if you want great sex from a woman, here are the things you need to do to assure that it happens." The atmospheric preparations (aka "getting her in the mood" part) seemed written more for the friends-with-benefits crowd. If this is what is necessary to make women happy (or, happy enough for sex), then it's no wonder that I'm failing miserably (and I don't see myself changing anytime soon, either).

Personally, I'm a big fan of the "innocent exploration and empathy" method myself. That is, forget what you read about in these books -- you and your partner agree that you're allowed to explore each other's body and communicate your desires without criticism. If something you're thinking isn't appealing (maybe appalling?) to the other person, or if the timing isn't right, than that person kindly indicates that it isn't something that they're comfortable with (right now), and move-on. Think about how you'd feel if you were in your partner's place. This allows two people to connect on a deeper emotional level rather than just put-on a performance with the final act being "squirms, screams, and squirts." Good grief. (PS: Yes, I know that the book indicates that the idea is to please your woman, but I personally see its method as contrived. Sorry.)

I'm sure that my faithful readers are now having an embarrassing giggle at my expense. It is funny, in a way. What's even more funny is that I keep saying I don't do much reading outside of technical information. So there you go...

Part III - Science Connection

Remaining on the male-female relationship topic for a moment more, I want to thank another friend for suggesting the "dating site" called Science Connection (www.sciconnect.com). It is essentially a matchmaking site like many of the others out there, but the difference is that this one is geared toward the scientific types, is not free, and lacks the anonymity of the usual dating sites. After everything else I've seen before, I was refreshed to see that much of what I saw on this site (there's a wealth of useful information in their Member Polylogue section) helped counteract a lot of the relationship nonsense I've experienced lately that has only served to discourage, confuse, and frustrate me. It's worth checking out but I'm still not sure if I'm going to join (I'm getting over a weird woman and a depressing book yet). This information came, of all places, from an ad in Scientific American magazine.

Part IV - Zombies

A fair amount of my work last week was in the prevention of zombies ... zombie processes that is. Zombie processes on a UNIX-like system is a process (a "child process") that has terminated for some reason, but the parent process (the one that started it) has not yet acknowledged that the process has ended. The acknowledgment is necessary so the parent process can determine why the child process terminated (even if the software running as the parent doesn't really care). Zombie processes take up process slots, are annoying, and persistent ones are the result of a software bug. Think of it as a connection between a parent and child process that can only be severed once the parent process has gotten closure.

The new version of Asterisk (the open source phone system software we're using) had such a bug in it that prevented the proper checking of child process termination states, and created a load of zombies. I discovered the problem, reported it as a bug, collaborated with someone on a fix, but the fix they proposed didn't entirely fix the problem for us. After a fair amount of work, I finally came up with a not-so-elegant solution that appears to fix the trouble.

In any case, I thought it was interesting to indicate that last week I killed a lot of zombies. Kind of sounds like I've become a Ghostbuster (I ain't afraid of no zombie).

On that note, I conclude all the connections for tonight.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Insight

Well, today I got some further insight on relationships from someone who knows what they're talking about. Sometimes it takes someone stating things that almost sound obvious to bring things back into perspective.

So what kind of person is the "right person" for me in a good relationship? She is someone who adds to my life, who makes me feel better when I'm around her, and who I look forward to seeing. As corny as this may sound, it actually explains a lot of things as far as what I am looking for in a relationship.

Clearly the person I am looking for is not a clone of myself as "A" implied I was looking for. However, there needs to be a solid foundation of some common interests and direction. Compatible differences will be ones that help each other to grow in some way (what "adds" to our lives). I fully expect that one thing I bring to the relationship will probably be the ability to fix electrical and mechanical things (it just seems to be that way a lot!). "A"'s comment that relationships are primarily doing things that you don't like for another person because you care about them is clearly the wrong direction. That doesn't make either person feel better nor safe. There will be things that we need to do that we'd rather not, but they shouldn't be frequent and plentiful.

I'm not sure this actually is a clear definition of what I'm looking for in a relationship, but I think what I have in my match.com profile is pretty close to being on-target.

New Update On Old Baggage

Some of you may remember my posting back in September, 2007 called "Baggage - Part 1" where I introduced Marianne - my girlfriend from 20 years ago. By chance I stumbled across her profile on match.com. Looking at her profile, two things became immediately apparent: First is that she hadn't changed her views much in 20 years, for sure. Second is that the things she's doing aren't getting her into a long-term relationship either. I read what she wrote about herself then read what I wrote about her back in September. While I still have a place in my heart for the good times we had together, I am now convinced beyond any shadow of a doubt that we would never have worked out together ("complete disaster" comes to mind). She's still saying she's not getting married, and she's still staying close by her parents. Over the years, she has become more and more like her mother, both in appearance and interests/attitude.

Here's a perfect example of a situation where we had some common interests, but that too wasn't enough. Hell, I'm not sure if I'll ever find another woman who agrees with me that The Partridge Family is actually good music. I just can't bear the thought of having my life under the control of someone else's parents. What she now states as her passion - being a sports fan - is so far from my passion (and what I imagined her's was) that I couldn't imagine what life would be like with her now. I wish Marianne the best in her quest to find someone. I know now why I wasn't that someone, and I suspect her quest is going to be as hard as mine (if not harder).

Some Final Thoughts

I believe I'm on the edge of finding the right person. I think Marianne and "A" needed to happen, as painful as they were. I can only hope now that the lessons learned will prevent me from making the same mistakes again. I've heard from at least three women friends that they can't figure out why I haven't found anyone yet. Strangely, for the ones who are single, I can't figure out why they haven't either. In any case, I still think that The Partridge Family is great music, I should listen to my cat when it comes to choosing girlfriends, and that right person needs to come out of hiding already.

PS: "Complete disaster" comes from the lyrics to a song... Hint: It is part of "bad animals"...