Category Archives: Technology

Best Money I Ever Spent

They say the best things in life are free. This may be true, but there are some pretty terrific things out there that do cost money. Some things are so good they are life changing. Here are the things that make me happy every time I use them or think about them.

Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion
I could probably fill this article with fantastic books, but Influence stands head and shoulders above the rest. It’s the most powerful non-fiction book I’ve ever read. Not only does it explain how you can be influenced, but it uses social psychology to describe various phenomena like coups and revolutions. As Strongbad might say, it can be used for good or for awesome, so even though it’s on every list of the best marketing/business books, I hesitated to suggest it in public like this. Some of the techniques it describes are the closest thing we have to charm spells, so I didn’t want it falling into the wrong hands. But I’m sure I can trust the fine readers of this blog to only use it for good. Or at least not use it directly against me.

Lasko 5429 Oscillating Ceramic Heater
I occasionally suffer from back strain, AKA a pulled muscle. Sometimes it’s just sore and inconvenient, other times I’m taking Advil and the day off from work. I noticed this occasionally happens when I’m drying off after a shower and decided to figure out why. Well, I learned that pulling/straining a muscle happens when you stretch it beyond the limit, and cold muscles get tight and are more susceptible to straining. I surmised that when you get out of a hot shower into a cold bathroom, your muscles can tighten up pretty quickly and get you in the danger zone. I remedied this by buying the Lasko heater to heat my bathroom up while I’m taking a shower. I don’t know conclusively whether this fixed the problem (I also dry off a little more carefully), but every time I step out of the shower into warm bathroom I think, “This is the best $30 I’ve ever spent.” Note that while it isn’t specifically rated for bathroom use, I’ve done so for 2 years without a problem. Just make sure you keep the bathroom fan off!
$200 (but depends on size of move)
I remember from the movie Moving that moving is the third most stressful life event after death in the family and divorce. I used to compensate for this by getting friends and family to help me out, and reciprocate when it was asked of me. But I’m now getting old enough that when I hear someone is moving, I secretly think, “Please don’t ask me to help.” If they do ask I will help out, but I have to sheepishly explain how I’ve screwed up my knees and back in previous moves, so why don’t I just pick up the pizza and beverages?

Because of that, in my last move, I decided it wasn’t fair for me to ask anyone to help. I’d pack myself, but I was going to pay for real movers. That’s where Moving Help came in. It’s got a great rating/feedback system that makes it easy to find the best movers in your area. I hired a tall, wiry gentleman who brought 20 years of experience, 3 helpers, and all the extra crap U-Haul tries to sell (or rent) you: blankets, dollies, tie downs, etc. He even drove the truck! All said and done it cost me $200 and xcept for the packing, I barely lifted a finger. Note that if you’re extra lazy (and trusting) you can hire people to pack your stuff and clean your home as well.

Dell UltraSharp U2410
$500 (Black Friday deal)

When I traded my desktop for a laptop, I decided to upgrade my monitor as well. My previous monitor was a 21″ Hitachi CRT that I paid $1,100 for in 1997 and served me very well for over a decade. I was putting off going to LCD because of issues with color gamut and viewing angles, but the U2410 solves all of this. It features “PremierColor”, which has 110% color is gamut capable of producing over a billion colors (way beyond the traditional 16M colors of 24bit hardware). It is also factory calibrated and comes with a printout in the box that proves the color quality of that individual monitor. Right after connecting it, I was seeing detail in images that I never noticed before. I also love the matte finish, which is very forgiving of random light sources. It’s perfect for photography or graphic design.

There’s more. It has just about every connector you’d need: HDMI, DisplayPort, DVI, and VGA. It even routes audio from HDMI or DisplayPort to an 1/8″ mini-jack so I can use it to feed my computer speakers. Since this monitor does double duty as a TV, this works out perfectly. I’ve got an HDMI switch that handles both my laptop and my DVR, and changing the source automatically switches both video and sound. It also functions as a USB hub so I can connect the Tivo to it to download listings and software updates. It’s overkill as a television, of course, but I’m not complaining. Unless, of course, my eyes stray to my HP laptop display that I use as a red-headed step-monitor. Ugh, what a dog.

So, tell me, what’s the best money you’ve ever spent?

James Cameron, TV Guardian of the Universe

I procrastinated writing an article on using a cool little device called the  TV Guardian  which allows you to watch TV and DVD with the foul language muted.  You can read more about it here but in short:  it scans the Close-Caption (CC) signal and everytime it detects a “bad word” it mutes the sound and presents a “cleaned-up” version of the dialogue in the close captions area (eg: Let’s have sex !!  became Let’s have hugs.1)

Unfortunately, my delay has cost me dearly.  In the years since I tried out this fantastic new technology, most studios have disabled the Close-Captioning signal opting instead for built-in subtitles.  So TV Guardian has in effect stopped working for 50% of the movies on DVD and all movies on Blu-Ray, which does not carry the CC signal.

Enter James Cameron, my hero.

He is releasing a 3-disc collector’s edition of Avatar,  featuring a family-friendly language track.  In this New York Times article,  he mentions that he was motivated to do this by watching his kids picking up foul language from watching the original movie soundtrack.  He reasons that the clean language track will be made available for airline and network showing, so why not include it now in the Collector’s Edition release.

Continue reading James Cameron, TV Guardian of the Universe

  1. Exclamation points deleted, because nobody gets excited about a hug []

Java 4-ever

If you are a Java or .NET developer, or just lived through the Sun-Microsoft war, you should find this very amusing. Lots of little touches. There are a few seconds that will not be work appropriate, but overall it’s safe. It’s also in HD, although the embedded player may not show that.

Update: As pointed out in the comments, the original video went private, so here is another in HD. However, the few naughty seconds (no nudity) require you to sign in.

Attention Stupid People… please leave.

I subscribe to several different woodworking periodicals and I also read several woodworking blogs and view several woodworking pod casts.  Never before have I been so angry at the stupidity of a fellow woodworker.  A couple of months ago a man in Boston was awarded $1.5 Million dollars by a jury (even though he was only seeking $250,000) for nearly chopping off a few fingers while using a table saw.  Does anyone remember when someone won a law suit against McDonald’s for spilling hot coffee in their lap?  Did anyone else get angry about that one?  Well, that’s how I feel about this.

Continue reading Attention Stupid People… please leave.

The world is too advanced for it’s own good.

I am a tech junkie. I have seven computers (despite the fact that there’s only four of us living here). There’s six TVs, three satellite radio receivers, four DVD players, and we each have our own Nintendo DSi. Two PSPs as well.

I am sure this impresses no one on the Crack Team, and may even be laughable to some. The Crack Team contains many savvy enthusiasts that most would find to be eccentric. I disagree with this assertion. I’d like to think we are NORMAL while everyone else falls below the mark as far as tech goes.

I’ll explain with an example.
My wife is the head Veterinary Technician at a 24 hour animal emergency hospital. She knows things about medicine I will never know, and she is definitely smarter than any other woman I’ve been with.
That said, she is a complete fucking idiot when it comes to tech. Although she has come a long way since she’s been with me, she will never get to our level.
True story – When I met her, she thought that the computers main ‘body’ or case was called the “modem.” It took a long time for her to stop calling it that. Whenever she had a problem, she would confuse the hell out of me by saying that she turned the modem on, but saw nothing on the screen.
This is just one example of many.
Just the other week, I had to show her where the “search” function was on her Rhapsody account. It’s not as if they hide these things on purpose. If anything they WANT you to easily search through their catalog. Boom, there it is right on top. You scrolled down too quickly.
This kind of stuff happens frequently and not just with Rhapsody. She’ll download something, but can’t find where it went even though she CHOSE it’s download location.
I can tell when it’s time to help her before she even asks. She’ll be at her laptop, then she’ll start huffing and shaking her head. Finally she’ll say something like “I hate computers.”
and I think I know why.
Two reasons:
One: The majority of tech software and hardware is designed FOR tech people. This is why the few tech companies that CATER to the lesser-savvy majority, are so successful. It’s true! Companies with great products are far more successful when they dumb-down their interface.
Take Google for example. The king of online search. Why is this so? They aren’t the oldest.
Lets look at their main page. (Do not sign in)
Note how basic it is! Sure it’s not flashy, but as far as functionality goes, 99.9% of users can use this page without instruction.
Now let’s look at Yahoo, a veteran search provider. I admit I use Yahoo frequently despite Google’s popularity. However it’s easy to see why most don’t. It’s interface is complicated when placed next to Google’s. There are many viewing options, and even if you want the most basic layout, you must go through some steps to get there and have your setting saved, which of coarse is only available if you remain signed in on your own computer.
It’s this simple: Users and customers don’t like to think. They don’t have time! They want something basic that works with no effort and there’s plenty of companies who thrive off of this.
Apple understands this all too well.
The iPod is not the first disk-free player, yet they capitalize on design and interface so well, that many of Apple’s sheep THINK they invented the mobile media device.
The same goes for the iPhone.
My first PDA-phone was the Samsung SCH-i700 I got back in 2003 (which was nowhere near the first PDA-phone hybrid).
Utilizing a mobile version of Windows, it was amazing. It had a swiveling camera, memory card slot, 3.5 inch touch screen, played MP3s and movies, and connected to my computer for file transfers and backup. It even had a true 3D pool game that I played for hours a day. I was so happy with this device, that I showed it off to everyone I knew.
Fast forward to 2007. I’ve been through two more PDA-phones by this point, my favorite being the HTC 6700 which came with a built-in joystick which was GREAT for gaming, but still a serious PDA to it’s core.
Suddenly people are coming up to me and showing off their new iPhone with the “first ever touch screen” with camera and music player built in.
Excuse me? Did I miss something here? What’s new about this? The CAPACITIVE touchscreen is new, although most had no idea what that even meant.
I grabbed their iPhone and was less than impressed. Although I can see why teens would like this device. It was fun, easy to use… but a little “basic” for me. It was like holding a cartoon in my hand. As opposed to my PDA-phones which were like holding a mini-computer. And even today I still prefer resistive touchscreens for the precision you only get with a stylus, plus the ability to use anything to manipulate the screen. IE fingers, pens, toothpicks, whatever.
Not to mention how HORRIBLY slow the internet was on the iPhone with AT&T. All I wanted to do was show someone what a Bird-of-Paradise flower looked like. I’m not exaggerating when I say it took 30 minutes to accomplish. Pages loaded so slowly, that I would have to put the phone down, do something else, and come back to check the progress. I’m reminded of those Commodore 64 days where you’d have to load a program with the tape player by pressing PLAY and then go outside to skate for a while before checking back to see if we could play Joust yet. Also the iPhone had a tendency to disconnect from it’s data service, which means you had to reconnect and start browsing online from scratch, NOT from where you left off.
The experience was FAR from what the commercials showed, although I’m sure the latest generation iPhone is far better even though it took years for the device to live up to the original hype.
But again, Apple did it right. Commercials, commercials, commercials, and a simple interface designed for the masses.
I am NOT in any way ridiculing anyone on the team if they happen to own an iPhone. If I had extra money, I might own one too. It’s a fun device with many uses. However I am turned off by the lack of customization when compared to a windows based device.
As with any PDA, to get some interesting hacks out of the iPhone you must unlock the firmware. However on the iPhone, if you “jailbreak” the device for expanded uses, you run the risk of being banned from the app community and other Apple services.
HTC on the other hand could give a rats ass what you do with their phones. It’s at your own risk. Play all you want.
Back at the end of 2007, I had a HTC 6800 which had a hidden GPS chip installed for future research. It was not meant for public use, but thanks to the underground/mod community, users were able to reflash the stock ROM with a GPS enabled one. So basically, I had a PDA-Phone with true GPS (actual satellite link) WAY before this was even marketed as a standard feature in other phones. In fact, the iPhone didn’t get true GPS until 2009.
Why is this? Simple. The GPS feature in my 6800 back in 2007 was not without flaws. The device took about 2 minutes to get a solid position lock, and it would only update your position once every ten seconds, which is an eternity when you are driving.
It took about a month of further tweaking to get the GPS to a solid usable state.
So you see why these kind of features take so long to reach the community. Customers want things to work flawlessly, straight out of the box. Which is great, but the downfall for such reliability is that once these kinds of features are released, they are far from cutting-edge anymore.
Now back to my point. Companies that commercialize well, and distribute a product or feature with 3rd grade usability, will be successful.

And now the second reason why the majority are not tech-junkies:
They aren’t given enough time.
Technology upgrades far faster than it needs to.
Unfortunately, consumers demand products to be faster, smaller, and more eco-friendly without knowing why. The only real gain for them is to SAY they own the fastest, smallest, and cleanest product, when the reality is; they haven’t gotten full use out of the existing product yet.
What there needs to be is a final exam. Most don’t enter 4th grade without graduating 3rd. So why buy iKewl 2.0 when you barely understand the functions of iKewl 1.0? It’s because they aren’t given much choice. Suddenly you can’t find iKewl 1.0 anymore. Commercials brainwash you to the point where you feel you can’t exist without iKewl 2.0, and anyone still using iKewl 1.0 is a fucking loser.

Thankfully, this is where we fit in. As anyone who reads Dilbert knows, just as there’s a few people who easily understand advanced math, and others who can quickly pick up a foreign language, there are some people who just get technology. I don’t believe it’s something that can be taught. either you have it or you don’t.
I took three years of Spanish in high-school, yet still, I barely understand anything past the Taco Bell menu. Although I could learn the language, it would require a lot of time and energy that I don’t have. My brain is just not wired to pick this stuff up as easily as others do.
But when it comes to electronics….
This is embarrassing, but I’m going to tell you this anyway in hopes that someone else may feel the same way or at least get a laugh out of this. (Comedy comes before pride):
When I open a new box to something electrical for the first time…. like a new laptop for example. I am much like an animal with a fresh kill. I don’t want to be crowded. GET AWAY! grrrr. I’ll show you later, after I’m done looking it over.
I even smell the item. I’m serious. New electronics have a certain smell, much like the new-car-smell which doesn’t last long, but fills me with a sense of – “oooh good things are going to happen!”
In my house the rule is, it doesn’t matter what the item is or who it’s for. If it has a power button,… I am the first to open it. I don’t care if it’s a freaking vacuum cleaner, my wife ordered. I must be the one to open it, play with all the accessories,…. and of coarse smell it.
Before you laugh, you must consider it from my viewpoint. Chances are, I am the one who needs to put it together anyway, teach others how to use it correctly, not to mention the one who must deal with it if it breaks or has missing parts. It’s best for me to “test drive” the item first to insure the user can’t blame anything on factory defects.

So back to the point. Soon The crack Team will get their hands on a portable teleportation device. It will be great. We can just appear on the East Coast for a nice dinner in New York, then (swoosh) right back to California! Practically for free! (The machine will use no more power than a fridge).
But of coarse, two years after that, the Apple iZoom will come out. It will only have a range of 100 miles, and teleport sites must be Apple approved or it wont work. BUT it will come in many nifty colors with an incredibility easy to operate, one-button interface.

Zoom away!

Guitar Heroine

My sister bought me Rock Band 2 for Christmas. I’m a little late to the rhythm beat-style game phenomenon, but I was instantly hooked and so was my wife and kids. So much so, that I went driving all around the next weekend looking for a second guitar since there’s four of us in the house, but the game ‘only’ comes with one guitar, a microphone and a drum set. The following weekend, I got the cymbal attachments for my drum-set. “I call drums!”
We now have a room pretty much devoted to this game.
Last Saturday (with a little alcohol) we played the game from 8pm until 3am. Kids too.
I’m telling ya…, hooked up to a nice tv with a good sound setup, you easily feel as if you are really playing that shit.
Which brings me to my point.
I FEEL as though I am playing but I KNOW I am not.
I have no delusions that I am actually a rock star despite my hours of fake drumming. None at all. Yes I feel that MAYBE I have a better sense of timing. Yes MAYBE I have a better understanding of using both hands and feet while following a beat. BUT I AM NO ROCK STAR. I CAN NOT PLAY DRUMS.
I am so sick of hearing mediocre musicians (and the media) criticize people who play the game.
They make blanket statements like this: “Guitar Hero punks who think they can really play guitar.”
Lets get something straight. NO ONE WHO PLAYS THESE GAMES, BELIEVES THEY CAN REALLY PLAY AN INSTRUMENT BECAUSE OF IT. NO ONE. Please show me ONE person, just one, who truly thinks this way because I have yet to see it.
As soon as I put the band controllers down, I return to my no-music-talent world of dullness, and I am fully aware of it.
Why all the hate over these music games?
You never hear NASA criticize people for playing Mass Effect. “So what, you think your some kind of astronaut now?”
Nor does the NFL come down on anyone. “Look at him playing Madden 09,… he thinks he’s a real football player!”

Hell, even those people who do that role playing with costumes don’t get as much flak. And they are throwing tennis balls in place of Magic Missiles! However, when the costume comes off, the player doesn’t continue to believe they are really wizards.

I will admit that one time while mixing prescription meds and playing Nintendo, I was pretty sure I was Mario. I did a lot of damage to my house with a hammer that day…

Anyway, to all the insecure musicians out there…
Look, I’m sorry that when I press four buttons on a guitar shaped joystick, that it somehow attacks your thrashing credibility.
Maybe if you stopped worrying about what I do in my living room and started practicing more, you’d actually get laid. and believe me, once you get laid for the first time, you will forget all about Guitar Hero.
Let me know how it works out.