Monday, April 26, 2010

The End

This entry is to officially announce the end of life for this blog.  I've been thinking about this for a while, and felt it was time.  There are a few reasons for this...

When I originally started writing here, my intent was to share something different - a different perspective on ordinary things, or to talk about things that had meaning to me but that others could learn from.  That isn't happening anymore.  I'm finding more and more that this has become an outlet for my own frustrations in dealing with the everyday nonsense that I see around me every day.  Sometimes this is a good thing, but I'm not always so sure that it isn't indirectly giving credibility to things that shouldn't get it.  Moreover, while I'm sure there are some people who are interested in what I write about, in general nobody really wants to read someone's constant rants.

Sadly, the frustration is indicative of how many things have been going lately.  If I thought writing about it here would make it better, I would continue to do that.  It isn't.

As far as being original is concerned:  There are too many other people out there doing exactly what I'm doing -- many times with the same basic opinions.  Some of these blogs articulate those opinions much better than I can.  Some of what I've said is original, but unfortunately there are many people who are just echoing the same frustrations about the same things.

One person ("JC") who I felt did do a better job of articulating many of those feelings has disappeared off the face of the earth.  I know through some digital bread crumbs she left around the Internet that she went through some of her own difficulties and has since resolved them and moved on (I think) to better things.  I suspect that she, too, came to essentially the same conclusion I did.  "Mental Shrapnel" has been dormant for 8 months.

I also looked forward to Tristin's ("speck") writings as well, and she too has become too busy with other things to write regularly (the last thing was a month ago).  In fact, I feel that the writings here has partially damaged the in-person friendship I had with her -- namely that I found myself saying, "It's in the blog," way too often.  Additionally, due to some over-sensitivity to some things she's said in person, I've found myself (in person) trying to skate around technical discussions in an attempt to not make her feel left out of a conversation, and that has simply become more rude than helpful.  So to Tristin:  sorry 'bout that...

Aside from the rants that have been published here, there are also many that are not published.  Some are things I wrote, but never published.  Some I actually published, then removed shortly after.  Even others I thought about writing but never did.  This is because the subjects have been getting more and more controversial.  These topics are ones that, no matter how rationally I try to discuss them, they end up offending someone or making me look mean-spirited (I'm really not).  Don't get me wrong -- there are some people I don't really mind offending.  I think that the cable and phone companies deserve a good flogging for sure.  There are some people who don't mind sharing their opinions about life with me, to the point of getting in my face about it (or restricting my rights).  I don't really care if I offend these people either.  As I said above, though, writing it down is neither therapeutic to me nor does it really effect the change in the actions I find offensive.  Over the last couple of years I have been surprised by and felt happy that others have shared my opinion.  For example, when I wrote about problems with perfumes and forced smells, someone pointed me to a web site with others who have similar problems.  Unfortunately these experiences are few, and as I find having to censor myself more and more, writing here becomes less and less enjoyable.

Finally, there's a matter of time.  Because I need to think carefully before I write, putting these entries together takes a great deal of time.  Sometimes several hours.  After two hours of writing about a topic it becomes difficult to remember all the points I wanted to make.  For example, in my most recent entry about The Invention of Lying, I never did discuss the fact that its description of religion was not just not offensive, but even further, it demonstrated how religion can be comforting in times of grief.  I was so consumed with rage over the people who trashed the movie because it offended their faith that I failed to remember this important point after two hours of writing.  That makes me just as bad as they are in some ways.  The thing that went through my mind as I wrote that was the comments made by the various coalitions for "family values" and so forth who ripped into South Park and tried to get it removed, and how they've trashed homosexual marriage, and how they've trashed anything even remotely pornographic (but violence is okay).  Yeah, I know, enough already.  I've made my point.  Again.  That's what I mean: It's the written form of, "Don't get me started."

There are technical topics I would like to discuss here too.  Unfortunately, while Blogger is great for writing paragraphs and text and lists, it is horrible for editing tables and things like that.  I have tried importing HTML created off-line, but this usually becomes unmanageable very quickly (if it even works at all).  When one talks about technical topics, presenting information in tabular form is a must.  Again, there is also the issue of time.

So to those who have found this helpful in some way, I am happy that it did, and hope you can appreciate where I am at this point.  I'm considering starting a new project of sorts that will be done on my own (personal) web site that will be more like what I wanted to do here for technical information.  Please leave feedback here if you're interested in that project.  As far as my opinions go...  Well, I'll probably leave 'em here for a while, but they're probably going to be removed by me at some point and archived away somewhere.  What is here is the result of a lot of work.  I really appreciated meeting the people who I did meet here, and I'm glad that my friends who I know in-person got a little better insight about what I'm thinking (as ugly as that has become as of late).

Thanks, as always, to the kind people at Google for keeping Blogger alive and ad-free.  This resource is a great service to the 'net at large, and there are countless people who have and still do use this for great things.  Thanks to all of you for reading and for your continued support.  Thank goodness this is done...

Saturday, April 24, 2010

The Invention of Lying

I'll get to the movie in a moment...but first...

Christians Gone Wild

When I read the reviews on Netflix for the movie The Invention of Lying, I read several reviews from angry Christians who felt that the movie insulted them and their religion.  Yes, the movie does cast religion in a humorous light, and yes, it had strong parallels to Christianity.  The movie was a comedy - it was meant to be humorous.  My favorite comment among the reviews though was one that went along the lines of:
Why is it that people/movies are always bashing Christianity and not any other religion?
Uhhhh...'scuse me?  I have some answers to that question and you're not going to like any of them:
  1. The premise in the question itself is absolutely wrong -  I believe that if you opened your eyes a bit, you'd see that other religions are made fun of on a regular basis.  Several examples:  You'll see Jewish people almost always associated with their stereotype.  It is rare that their principles are ever shown in anything less than humor, except when discussing the holocaust (and that should be taken seriously).  Same thing goes for any of the Eastern religions and for the Muslim religion (they're all "terrorists," right?).  The Jewish people in particular are comfortable enough in their faith that they see no real "threat" to having a laugh at their own expense.  Apparently that cannot be said for Christianity.
  2. It is because you shove your religion down everyone's throat - I hear and see in my daily life how my rights and privileges are threatened because you feel that everyone in the USA should believe as you do.  You go from door-to-door and from country-to-country trying to convince people that your belief is the only way to believe, and non-believers will burn in hell.  You have television stations and programs that do nothing but pound into the head of your followers that they should live their entire life in the name of Jesus, and preach that those who stray from that belief will also burn in hell.  You take your message into government and try to force me to believe as you do, maybe not in the absolute sense but in taking away things that I may find pleasurable or important because you feel it doesn't fit your religion's sense of morality.  You have gone to the point of declaring that the USA is a "Christian nation," and it isn't.  You should be surprised that you aren't laughed-at more often than you are.
  3. You're not the subject of humor even more because people are afraid - So maybe you've noticed yourself as the subject of humor more often than you'd like these days.  That's actually progress because people are generally so afraid of pissing you people off that they often will skate-around any kind of humor associated with Christianity.  You've shown us that you're not afraid of exerting influence in law to force people you don't like (like homosexuals) to have less rights than you do.  The more extreme ("fundamentalist") Christians have had no problems using violence and other terrorist tactics to prevent people from doing what they don't want us to do, even when it is lawful.  Your religion is based in fear so that shouldn't be surprising.  Instead of leading by example, you lead by force and fear.
Now I know there are Christians out there who are not like this, and I apologize for not having a word to lump the humor-impaired faction of your religion into a special category.  My point here is that the movie The Invention of Lying does make us question our belief system, regardless of what it is.  While their example was undeniably based in Christianity, the message was that we should always be questioning what we believe, and that sometimes what we believe and what is morally right can be in conflict.  It is when people live in the world of "faith" blindly following an arbitrary belief system and not in the real world is when they get into trouble.

The Movie

I liked The Invention of Lying.  It isn't among my favorites, and the outcome was kind of predictable, but it was still funny and enjoyable.  If you're looking for roaring laughter every second, then this is not the movie for you.  It was a more subtle kind of humor (some people have said "dry," and I'm not sure I agree).  Just like a sci-fi movie, you have to remember that this is not a documentary - it is fiction.  The movie does a great job of making you feel like you're in a world where everyone tells the truth.  So just as you shouldn't be expecting that space ship in a sci-fi flick to be 100% technically correct (otherwise we'd be flying space ships between galaxies already), don't expect the situations in this movie to be 100% technically correct either.  It does have a message, as I have explained above.  The movie isn't preachy, really.  It does, however, leave you with a lot of thoughts after you're done watching.  I actually sat quiet for several minutes thinking about some of the things I believe and how I make some of the decisions I do.  In an attempt to avoid spoiling the movie for you, I'll simply say that the story presents an interesting hypothesis about how religions are born, and I happen to believe that hypothesis.

The best part of the movie is that it's one of those stories where you're in the head of the underdog, and you're constantly rooting for him to win.  Everyone knows people like some of the asses in the movie, and you're just waiting for them to get their just dessert.  It is a romantic comedy, and the focus is around the romance, but there is so little of the kind of romance you see in most films of that genre that there is a refreshing feeling about this one.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

TiVo Premere

Last night my TiVo HD told me I needed to check out the new TiVo Premere, the new DVR device from TiVo. Intrigued, I followed the "link" on my TiVo, which only really gave me the opportunity to buy it. That was odd, I figured TiVo would have some kind of video highlighting the new great device they wanted me to buy. Nope.

Frustrated, I went to TiVo's web site. Which made me more frustrated...

Following the link on the web site brought me (yet again) to a link asking me if I wanted to buy the darn thing. Here's what they said the new product could do (and it's just about all the info they have about it without digging) (italics are mine to differentiate TiVo's info vs. my comments):
  • "Reinvented HD user interface" - Uhh...I kind of liked the old interface really. I don't need lots of pictures floating around the screen. It's why I haven't yet activated the new TiVo search (in addition to privacy concerns)
  • "Up to 45 hours of HD recording" - So they put a bigger hard drive in it. WeaKnees or even an external drive could breathe some new life into my existing TiVo HD with 20 hours of HD recording (which I haven't yet had a problem exceeding).
  • "Replaces your cable box*" - So does my TiVo HD (see below for more frustration...)
  • "The world's largest VOD store" - In comparison to...what? I mean, yeah, I like having access to Netflix and YouTube on my TiVo. It doesn't look like this is any better, except that they've given-into the dark side and are integrating a Flash client (which seems like a bad idea given Adobe's reputation with Flash).
  • "Online & Mobile Scheduling" - Same as my TiVo HD...and still missing a way to actually manipulate my DVR directly.
The big question in my mind, and probably many other people's minds, is, "Does it implement two-way capability with CableCARD?" This would permit the TiVo to access VOD services from the cable company and eliminate the need for the tuning adapter for switched digital video (SDV) channels. I looked high and low for this in the FAQ, because I knew it would be a frequently asked question. The only thing I was able to find is that the TiVo Premere could only use the multi-stream CableCARD (better known as a M-Card). While this is less functionality than the TiVo HD, it really is better from an engineering point-of-view (single stream CableCARDs were meant for TVs, not DVRs).

As far as I can tell, because I don't see anything to the contrary, is that the TiVo Premere still requires the tuning adapter (or tuning resolver, depending on who's talking about it) in order to view switched channels, and the cable company's VOD services are still not available.

So I sit here asking myself, "Why would I want to dump my old TiVo HD for a new unit and plunk down $240 for the privilege? (TiVo HD owners can get it for 20% off)" Answer: I wouldn't.

Now don't get me wrong, TiVo has delivered a pretty decent product in the past, and I'm sure that people will like the TiVo Premere. Honestly, though, I'm a big fan of a user interface that's fast and uncluttered. TiVo increased the processor speed and number of cores, and in my opinion, just used that to support their more "rich user interface." If I still had cable, I really would have liked the ability for the TiVo to communicate to the cable head-end without the need for an additional box from the cable company (which was pretty clunky when all was said and done).

There are a few good features of the TiVo Premere, and to be fair, I should mention them:
  1. Picture-in-picture capability when in menus - Yes, the one (and probably only) good feature of the Scientific Atlanta DVR is finally in the TiVo: While you're navigating menus, there is a miniature of the current channel that appears as a box in the upper-right hand part of the screen. Cool.
  2. Disk Space Meter - Shows how much disk space is available for recordings. This is something that should be in the existing TiVo DVR, and I don't see any reason why they haven't done it yet. It definitely shouldn't require a dual-core 400 MHz CPU to tell me how much disk space I have available...
  3. Lower power consumption - They don't really go into detail much about what they did to decrease power consumption, but I'll take their word for it and assert that this is a good feature.
These are really the things that caught my attention as being interesting. Everything else just seemed like a lot of fluff.

I should also mention one thing about multi-room viewing that TiVo doesn't talk about, and probably doesn't want you to know. If you are on Time Warner Cable (and probably on other cable companies too) every cable broadcast is tagged as being copy-protected. This tag doesn't differentiate between copying for multi-room viewing, copying for watching on your computer or mobile device, or copying to upload to your favorite bittorrent site. So in effect, you cannot use multi-room viewing (or any feature that would send that broadcast to another device) with your TiVo for any cable TV programming.

The price of the TiVo Premere is the same as the old TiVo HD, and is clearly meant to be a new version of the same old DVR, with a "fresh new interface" that is sure to please some and annoy others. I want my DVR to be fast, reliable, and just function properly. I don't want to buy a new TiVo every two years (seriously, it hasn't even been two years for me!). I don't want the interface to be crowded with lots of superfluous stuff.

Finally, as I walk up on my soap box, if TiVo starts getting into bed and getting it on with Adobe and their Flash crap...I'm probably going to find a buyer for my TiVo HD on eBay when the yearly service expires. Here's the one company -- TiVo -- that could put some pressure on Adobe to open source the Flash player and make Flash a standard rather than a technology that Adobe controls. TiVo makes use of a lot of open source software, including the operating system that actually drives the TiVo. TiVo, it's time to pay the piper and actually give back to the community that helped build the business you've created. Here's a chance to show that you're not a sell-out...

Down off my soap box and off to not watch any TV for a while...