Sunday, May 31, 2009

Box of Rock

Leave it to a recent disappointing online dating experience to resurrect my interest in a little on-again/off-again project: Messing with Rockbox on my SanDisk Sansa e200 MP3 player.

I got the Sansa back in October last year as a completely impulse purchase. I had no experience with miniature MP3 players, and woot kept selling them. Rockbox is (in simple terms) an open source replacement for the software that runs common MP3 players. I knew that the Sansa e200 could run Rockbox, and figured that I deserved a silly impulse purchase once in a while.

The first question you may be asking is, "Why in the world would I want to change the software that is inside my MP3 player?" That actually is a very good question. The truth is that if all you want to do is simply listen to MP3 files one after another or any of the simple, basic functions of the player then you probably wouldn't want to change. However, the Sansa e200 actually has a dual-core ARM processor, a color 176x220 pixel LCD screen, and a bunch of buttons plus a selector wheel. This little gadget is a fairly powerful computer in a small package. Why limit the thing to only playing MP3 files and other fairly simplistic functions?

Enter Rockbox -- An open source replacement for the Sansa's software. Open source means that the programming for the software is freely available on the Internet and can be modified or fixed as needed by someone experienced with programming. People all over the world have participated in creating and improving Rockbox. Rockbox natively supports a number of audio formats beyond the ones that the native e200 software handles, plus has bunches of "knobs and buttons" to change how audio is played. For example, I like my songs to play like a radio station with the last 2 seconds of the song (as it fades out) mixing with the first 2 seconds of the next song, to produce a steady stream of music with no gaps between. Rockbox can do that. It can also, without any translation, keep a bunch of pictures in JPEG or other common format, and you can view them on the screen. I do believe you can also play movies with Rockbox as well, but I have never done this. In point of fact, Rockbox has so many controls that you can get lost messing around with all of them!

So you're in the waiting room at the DMV or on an airplane and get bored, and are tired of just listening to music. No problem. Rockbox comes with a complete suite of games such as solitaire, blackjack, maze, minesweeper, even pong. These are all included as plugins, that can be expanded as someone writes them. If you're so inclined, you can write your own. The only issue with many of the games is that the resolution of the screen is limited, so you may find yourself doing some squinting at the screen if your close-up vision isn't too good.

What's the catch? Well as I started to use more of Rockbox, I found that (like most software) it wasn't without its bugs. For example, the crossfade feature I described before didn't work as described. It would annoyingly do the 2-second fade-out and fade-in when I manually switched tracks, even if I turned the feature off for that mode. The latest version of the software also had issues in the playback display where the song status bar was plastered half over the top of the time/track display line. So with a few hours of understanding the C language source code, I was able to figure out the cause of the problems with these functions, fixed it, rebuilt the system, and put my fixed version onto the Sansa. Voila, problem solved. Now I need to review my changes and contribute them back to the project, so others can benefit from my work (like I have benefitted from others' work on this project).

So maybe I wasn't lucky enough to find my soulmate on the dating web sites. I could let it bug me and spend time trying to figure out how I messed-up things on that first meeting. Okay, yeah, I did do that. After a few hours I realized that I am who I am, and that I didn't mess things up at all. We just didn't click. While the Sansa e200 and Rockbox are both cool and useful examples of modern technology, I'm not so impressed with dating web sites right now. I know I've said this before, but as time goes by and my experience with these sites increases, I find more often that I have more meaningful contact with people I meet initially in person than on the computer. Even with all the profile questions, pictures, and matching algorithms, getting to the core of a person seems to only work well for me when meeting in person. I have a very unique set of quirks, strengths, weaknesses, interests, likes, and dislikes, that, when pulled together as a whole, makes me a difficult person to match to someone, either in person or online.

So as I wrap up this entry, I return to my Sansa to see what other neat stuff I can do with it. What a cool impulse buy...

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Who's Who Isn't

Today I received an official, fancy letter from Biltmore Who's Who telling me that their selection committee has chosen me -- yes, ME -- to be in their prestigeous publication. All I needed to do was send them a bunch of information about myself, including my profession, phone number, e-mail address, and a bunch of other stuff that the selection committee somehow overlooked. Well, I can smell a scam like a fart in a car (with apologies to Christian Slater in "Pump Up The Volume"), but couldn't resist looking on the Internet to verify my declaration.

I stumbled upon a site called Bookkeeping Basics that had a discussion about this letter. In the discussion forum, there were testimonials from people who were actually duped by the scam. It seems once you give them your information they call you on the phone trying to sell you the book. The cost? $700 plus what appears to be some kind of handling fee. Now while I do feel some amount of sympathy for those who were scammed, I think, perhaps, it may have been worth $700 to these folks for the life lesson that you don't give your credit card number to anyone who would charge you this kind of money to get yourself in a book. Think about it - how many times have you looked for someone in a who's who book? Me? I use the Internet. When you have a legitimate site like linkedin.com that truly does bring professionals together for free (mostly), someone sending an unsolicited mailing with a nomination without knowing the first thing about your credentials just screams SCAM to me. The only thing that wasn't a scam in their letter was the fine print saying that they weren't affiliated with the real Who's Who (who I still wouldn't send my money to).

To assure that the nominating committee would have no other choice but to withdraw my selection, I took the letter with the information queries and a crayon, used the hand I can't write with, crossed out "yes" and wrote "NO - Stop Sending" in my best first grade writing style. I then put the letter and the envelope it came in into the business reply envelope (postage will be paid by addressee!) and sent it straight back from where it came.

So where did it come from? The reply envelope is addressed to 4401 NW 124 Ave, Coral Springs, FL. I looked this up on Google Maps, and the business at that location is Nordis Direct, a direct marketing firm. This is important since I did request to the DMA that I did not wish to receive junk mail. So if Nordis Direct was a legitimate direct marketing firm, they would have respected my wishes not to receive their crap. If they are legitimate (meaning, the junk came from somewhere else) then they should be a bit more discriminating about the kind of people with whom they do business.

I can't decide who to give the "Blatant Stupidity" label on this one. I'll let y'all decide.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Withdrawn

I think for the second time since I started writing here, I have withdrawn one of my writings. Some of you had the opportunity to read, "No More Mister Nice Guy." A comment I received from one friend on the phone was, "I thought you had finally gone off the deep end." Another friend said, "You didn't actually write that, did you?" The piece was supposed to be about my disgust with the whole "dating game" and the latest psychobabble from people who rip on so-called nice guys. It was satirical in nature, but after reading it again, I realized it went beyond satire, and would very likely be misinterpreted by someone.

For those who did read it: I say again, it was not meant to reflect my feelings, it was meant to take the anti-nice-guy sentiment to its logical next step. I couldn't live with myself if I actually felt those things.

What isn't withdrawn is my frustration and disappointment with what romance seems to have become. Reading what both men and women wrote about their idea of attraction and what they were looking for in a mate was deflating. Imagine someone telling you that if you continue to be yourself that the most attractive you'll ever be to someone else is to be their friend. I don't mean to devalue the meaning of friend, but let's face it, most of us hope to find a life-long relationship with a single person we are attracted to in a deeper way (if that hasn't already happened). So what I take away from the words I've been reading lately about what fosters attraction is that this will never happen for someone else with me. That's heavy stuff. What's equally disappointing is that I spoke with several single women friends recently who lamented about how all the guys in their 40s were seeking the gal with the "perfect body" that they felt they could never achieve. While I admit that appearance is part of my attraction to someone, my idea of attractive takes many different factors into account, and none of those include the "skinny little twenty-somethings" that my friends were saying all the guys in their 40s are looking for. What happened to the things that really count, like honesty, dependability, sense of humor, complementary interests, and ability to relate to each other on a more intimate level (not just sexually-speaking, but intellectually-speaking as well)?

This isn't as witty as the previous piece I wrote, but I think it expresses the same level of frustration.

I leave with a quote from an episode of The Outer Limits (the newer series) called "The Refuge." It is from the beginning and end of the episode:
A safe place, warm and quiet, a place to rest and recover. When all is said and done, isn't that what we all want? A safe place in someone's home ... or in someone's heart.

[...]

A poet once wrote, "In dreams begins responsibility." So too, perhaps, with love. Without dreams, without the hope of a better life, a brighter future, it is difficult for love to fluorish. And without love, there are no dreams.

A postscript: After typing the above quote that I actually copied down back in February, 1997, I googled a part of it, and discovered a reference to this episode in Wikipedia.