Monthly Archives: December 2000

Watching Iron Chef, how else?

We’ve been too busy for the past few days to flip the page — last year (1999) when we bought our DVD player, we got a book of free rentals at Blockbuster, which expired today. So we’ve spent the last few days watching a lot of movies — and wishing Blockbuster had a better selection.

Tonight, we have some friends over, and we’ve been watching Iron Chef on Food Network. They’ll be showing it until midnight Eastern time tomorrow, non-stop. But as a change of pace, let me recommend Lego Chef.

More next millennium….have a good one!

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There's an old joke…

…in which a student is asked how to find out the height of a building with a barometer. The teacher, of course, expects the student to measure the air pressure at the top and bottom and do some calculations to come up with the height, but the student takes a more direct route and offers the barometer to the superintendent if he’ll tell him how tall the building is.

I was trying to find out the frequency of Jeffrey’s watch radio, and I was just about to send a note to the ARRL Technical Information Service to ask for advice on how to do it, when I decided to try a more direct approach. I called the manufacturer’s toll free Customer Service line; someone picked up the phone on the second ring and answered my question immediately: the radios are on 49MHz (which is the same band as baby monitors and old cordless phones use). This explains why there’s so much interference and why we weren’t able to interoperate with FRS radios — I guess the reference to “FRS Technology” means that they use FM. Kudos to
DSI Toys for being responsive, but I wouldn’t recommend the radios for use farther than you can shout — but they certainly look cool. I’m considering wearing one of them to work and seeing if Security says anything about my having an antenna on my wrist.

Memory revisited

I had to print another sheet of pictures tonight, so I made the measurements that Jeremy and I had been discussing last week.

Memory Usage: Note the huge swing in memory when the image gets loaded or unloaded.  Paint Shop Pro shows the image size as 95MB, and the size on disk is 115MB -- not bad for a 5.6MB scanned JPEG.The big jumps in “unused physical memory” correspond to images being loaded and unloaded, and the brief heavy CPU usage is an image being loaded. Interestingly, the swapfile-in-use doesn’t change much, though the swapfile size gets increased substantially when the image is loaded.

It sure looks as though Thumbs Plus Pro expands the image from the 5.6 MB JPEG on disk (as scanned originally at 600×600) to something on the order of 96MB in memory — and that, plus the usual Windows overhead, forces significant swapping, even with 192MB in the box.

The next machine will have at least 256MB — but I’m still in no hurry; today’s Merc suggested that prices may drop further early next year. And if it takes me ten minutes to print a sheet of pictures twice a year, well, I can probably cope.

Besides, I visited the local Ham Radio Outlet today and some of the ham gear looks awfully interesting, if I could just figure out what to do about an antenna.

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Movies, Movies, Movies….

Then after we got home, Jeffrey dug out an MST3K classic, Space Mutiny. Miss it if you can.

And finally, we watched the end of The Towering Inferno after dinner. I want to find the Second City parody and watch it — I think the acting was better!

FRS Technology, eh?

The wrist radios I got Jeffrey for Hanukkah claim to use “FRS Technology”. Our friends had bought their daughters two FRS handy-talkies for Christmas, so when we got together last night, we tried to make the wrist radio talk to the handy-talkies — no dice. I tried all 14 FRS channels, and the two units couldn’t hear one another (that’s not strictly true — the wrist radio detected but couldn’t make any sense of the FRS radio; the FRS radio couldn’t tell that the wrist radio was in the room). I’m going to have to find some way of telling what frequency the wrist radio actually uses. I did find some Web ads for the radio, claiming a 100-foot range — as I said yesterday, about as far as we could yell!

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Dick Tracy, your heart is safe…

The weather is beautiful today (partly cloudy, mid-60s), so we took a little walk before lunch. Jeffrey put on his Rollerblades and zipped ahead of us (as usual), and we used his wrist radios to stay in touch. Or at least we tried — I think we could actually yell over more distance than the radios would cover. But it was fun to play with the radios anyway, and we got some interesting comments from neighbors as we passed.

Time to go watch The Towering Inferno before visiting friends for dinner.

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Dick Tracy, eat your heart out!

While I was in Cambridge last month, I happened to find a store called “All Wound Up” which mostly sells moving toys (battery-powered for the most part, despite the name). But they also had something I couldn’t resist getting for Jeffrey — a pair of wristwatches which are also wrist radios (operating in the Family Radio Service). As you can tell from the picture, the watch is a bit larger than the one Dick Tracy wore in the comics, but I think it’s an amazing combination anyhow.

Dick Tracy's Wristwatch: Just remember, the nation that controls magnetism controls the Universe!I suspect Dick Tracy’s watchradio worked better than this one, but Jeffrey’s having fun playing with it anyway (and will probably have more fun tomorrow when we visit friends his age). As for me, I think I’ll stick with Amateur Radio.

We saw Miss Congeniality today. We were using up some Customer Service Passes from AMC Theatres which were going to expire in a week; I don’t think we’d’ve necessarily gone out of our way for this movie otherwise (I wanted to see Charlie’s Angels but was outvoted), but we all enjoyed it, and I’d recommend it if you don’t have to pay too much.

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Legomania

Jeffrey and I worked on the Droid Discovery Kit this evening; we’re part-way through building L-3GO (their basic droid). Even though it was my present, he’s doing most of the building (though I’m helping when required).

Other than that, it’s been a quiet day; we avoided going anywhere near a shopping center (though Diane did brave the grocery store, and apparently it was quite an ordeal). Jeffrey wants to go out tomorrow and spend some of his Hanukkah gelt on some Game Boy games, but I have a feeling it’ll be better to wait another few days. Online prices are no bargain, at least not yet.

And I get to brave the returns line at Home Depot sometime; the fluorescent light requires grounding to work, and there doesn’t appear to be a ground wire in the box (the perils of owning a 40-year-old house).

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Well, it *is* the Festival of Lights…

So I celebrated it by taking advantage of Home Depot’s 10% off sale and
buying a pile of halogen bulbs, two nightlights, and a replacement
fluorescent fixture for the hallway. Oh, yeah, and a small ratchet-drive
screwdriver, though I guess that doesn’t fit the theme.

Later this evening, we go to Shir
Hadash
for the monthly family service; we’re on the Oneg committee
and will help set up munchies for after services. The Hanukkah service
is always popular (and there are two Banot Mitzvah tomorrow, to boot), so
we’ll be busy, but at least we’ll be getting there early enough to be
able to get a parking place!

Sweatin’ it off

Every year, the YMCA runs a special December promotion to encourage
people to come in and exercise — if you come in twelve times during the
month, you get a little tchotke and are entered into a drawing for a
more substantial prize. Today was my 12th visit for the month and I got
a combined keychain/tape measure; maybe next year will be more exciting.

I also reached the 15,000 point plateau for
FitLinxx points, which is the “White Award” level. I wonder what a White Award might be; I have the sneaking
suspicion that there’s another T-shirt in my future.

More memory?

Jeremy suggested that I might be able to solve my photo editing problems by putting more memory in my old machine. I’ve already got 192MB in it, which should be enough for almost any application, but he certainly diagnosed one of the symptoms — the disk-in-use light was on solidly while I was waiting for the programs, and that usually does indicate a memory shortage.

I made a mistake when I originally configured the machine; I bought a motherboard (ASUS PL97-S) with an integrated SCSI controller. It’s been a good motherboard, but I can’t put a 2x or 4x AGP video card into it (and I’d like to upgrade my video), and it only supports PC66 memory, so I can’t do much in the way of upgrading without replacing the motherboard. And that would require either trashing the SCSI disk, CD-ROM, and CD-RW, or buying another SCSI controller, neither of which appeals to me. And I have idle dreams of being able to use my computer to edit video so that I could liberate the few good minutes on my camcorder tapes, and that really would need a faster machine.

I still haven’t decided what to do — fortunately, I don’t have to do anything at all for a while. Maybe I’ll play with it some more this weekend and do some semi-controlled experiments to see where the problems really lie.

Shabbat Shalom and Chag Sameach!

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The "e" in "e-commerce" does NOT mean "easy"!

As usual, we’d left some of our gift shopping to the last minute, but I
wasn’t worried — I thought amazon.com gift certificates would be the
Very Thing, and I knew they were easy to buy on the Web. There wasn’t
enough time to order paper certificates, but Amazon’s site showed
this very attractive
e-mailed gift certificate
which would be ideal — I’d have it e-mailed to me, then print it and
enclose it in a card. Easy…so I ordered one (the site says “Delivered immediately; will arrive within hours”)
and
waited for it to be delivered.

And I waited — apparently Amazon’s definition of “immediate” didn’t
match mine (though they did confirm the order in less than a minute).
But an hour or so later, I got the gift certificate in my inbox…and it
was plain ASCII text, not at all what I’d expected, and not really
suitable for printing. So I redeposited the certificate in my account
and went to bed, planning to visit CompUSA the next day and buy a gift
card there.

But it turns out that CompUSA only sells gift cards in particular
denominations, none of which matched what we wanted to give. What to
do? Then inspiration struck: I’d make my own gift certificates –
after all, I had the artwork on the Amazon site to work from!

Of course, it wasn’t as easy as all that — the sample gift certificate
isn’t one GIF, it’s two GIFs and a bunch of text. And I don’t have very
good image editing tools.
But this seemed like the
best idea I was going to have, so I went back to the Amazon site,
ordered the gift certificates, and waited.

This time, the order got stuck in “being authorized by the bank” status
for over an hour — I was ready to call Amazon and find out what was
wrong, but they had cleverly removed their phone number from all of
their “Help” and
“Contact Us” pages in anticipation of the holiday rush. Eventually, I
thought of checking the online
tollfree directory
and found their number (800-201-7575), but just
before I picked up the phone, the gift certificates started arriving in
my e-mail. Two were plain text and two were graphical (which made no
sense), but none of them looked like the sample, so I set to work.

First, I tried using Windows Paint — it seemed like a simple tool for a
simple task. But its text capabilities are very limited — in fact, I
couldn’t put part of a paragraph in bold. So I moved on. Microsoft
Word disappointed me — I couldn’t figure out how to make the whole gift
certificate have a colored background (setting a background seemed to
work, but when I did a Print Preview, the text all showed up on a white
background). So I finally used PowerPoint, and after a few false starts
where parts of the page printed behind the background (in other words,
they were invisible), I had my four nicely printed and personalized gift
certificates. Whew!

Maybe I do need a faster computer after all

I’ve been looking at getting a new computer to replace my three-year-old
266MHz box, but yesterday morning, I had a heretical thought:
“Would I get any benefit out of a faster computer?” After all, I
mostly use it for e-mail and web surfing, and both of those are mostly
gated by my connectivity, not the processor speed. I don’t play games
on the computer much, so that’s not a reason. So why bother?

Then as we sat down to do our cards last night, I found a reason. As
usual, we wanted to send a copy of Jeffrey’s school picture along with
the cards, so we’d ordered plenty of copies back in October. And as
usual, we hadn’t worried about it since. But this year, the
photographers had screwed up, and we were short several sheets of
wallet-sized photos. We were all set to send out many of the cards
without photos, when I had an inspiration: use the scanner and printer
to make copies.

A quick trip to Office Depot later, I had a package of Kodak Premium
Photo Paper (I didn’t think plain white bond would do a good job) and
was all set to scan in a picture.

I thought the easiest thing to do would be to scan in a 5×7 and save it,
then write a Web page to put two copies of it together and print that.
Nope — what got printed was two very small sections of the picture; I
didn’t realize that, although I’d scanned
the photo at 600 dpi, the browser would treat it as 72 dpi and would
therefore assume that the picture was four feet wide!

Plan B: Use Thumbs Plus to duplicate the scanned image. That didn’t
work; Thumbs Plus is a fine program, but it’s designed to cut pieces out
of images, not add to them.

Plan C: Open some of the envelopes that already had pictures in them
and put several photos on the scanner at once, thereby getting me out of
the editing game. This worked, but then I discovered that Thumbs Plus
couldn’t print the pictures — all I got was empty pages! Now I was
starting to worry.

But then I took a close look at the software on my machine and found an
old evaluation copy of Paint Shop Pro 5 which I’d launched once and
never used again. Fortunately, Jasc
Software
is very generous, and even though I was two years into my
30-day evaluation period, the program was willing to run and I was able
to print photos. I have no idea what else the program was capable of –
there were lots of menus and options, none of which I had time to figure
out (that’s why I’d only used the program once in the first place) –
but I didn’t care; it printed and I was happy.

So if you wonder why you got an inkjet photo instead of a “real” photo
from us this year, now you know. And next year, I’ll check the package
earlier — I did call customer service to complain and ask for a refund
on the sheets we didn’t get (they offered to send us more photos, but
it’d take six weeks, which didn’t seem too useful at this point).

Oh, and about the need for the faster computer? Well, during some of my
attempts to duplicate the photo, I had to wait several minutes while the
computer was busy copying the multi-megabyte image to the clipboard, or
rotate it, or whatever else I was trying to do. Clearly, that’s
unacceptable, even if it does only happen once every few years. And I’m
sure I’d find some other good use for a faster machine….

Happy Chanukah!

A timely joke, courtesy of my Mom:

It was Chanukah and the Tiny Village was in fear of not having any
latkes because they had run out of flour. Rudi, the Rabbi, was called
upon to help solve the problem.

He said, “Don’t worry. You can substitute matzo meal for the flour and
the latkes will be just as delicious!”

Sheila looks to her husband and says, “Morty… you think it’ll work?”

“Of course! As everybody knows…

Rudolph, the Reb, knows grain, dear!”

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Back to normality

Ah, it feels better to be able to edit directly again! When I use a plain text editor to update my page, I feel in control and know what’s going to happen (even though I do have to type tags by hand in some cases). When using Radio Userland, I felt very frustrated because what I wanted to do wasn’t what what the system made easy — and once I had started yesterday’s page with Radio Userland, there was no way out. Even after convincing Radio Userland to hand me my page as HTML, I couldn’t get Manila to accept it — it demanded OPML.

I got a very nice Hanukkah gift last night (yes, I know Hanukkah hasn’t started yet, but the giver specifically asked me to open it) — a Lego Droid Construction Set. It should be fun to play with, and I know Jeffrey is looking forward to helping me — his eyes really lit up when he saw it!

The weather is boring here, thanks

John is talking about the blizzard conditions in Iowa and says “We’re always talking about the weather. You might think this is boring if you live in San Jose. But in this case, the weather could kill you.”

By coincidence, today’s Merky Nooz had Jan Null’s weekly column on meteorology, in which he explains his Camelot Climate Index, on which San Jose scores very high (but slightly below San Diego). Iowa doesn’t even come close.

Need a CPLD?

When we went to see 102 Dalmations on Sunday, we got there early enough to see the slide-show ads before the movie. There were the usual Coke ads that appear everywhere, but some of the ads were, I suspect, uniquely Silly Valley in nature. Lots of companies were hiring, of course, but the ad which really got my attention was from Xilinx, touting their CPLDs. If I had had any clue what a CPLD was, I might’ve even been interested. I guessed that the “PLD” part was
“Programmable Logic Device”, but I still don’t know what the
“C” is. CMOS? Complex? Chocolate?

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An entertaining weekend

We had an entertainment-packed weekend — so packed, in fact, that I never got around to editing my page. Herewith, a brief review.

Enter the Guardsman (San Jose Rep) 

Every year, San Jose Rep has a “fun” play for the holidays. They’ve done The 1940′s Radio Hour three times; last year’s play was The Matchmaker. They try to entertain but not challenge the audience, and I think they usually succeed.

This year’s holiday play is Enter the Guardsman. It’s not deep (though it is recursive); I didn’t come out singing the songs, but I enjoyed the play anyway.

Quest of the Delta Knights (MST3K) 

Jeffrey really enjoys watching Mystery Science Theatre 3000′s combination of bad movies with funny commentary, and usually, I do too. But this movie was so bad that I had to leave the room about ten minutes along, and I never returned. Miss it if you can.

102 Dalmations 

At our last Havurah event, we decided we’d go see a movie, and this seemed to be the best bet at the time, considering how many young children we have. And it probably was the best movie playing at the AMC Saratoga 14, which says something about the state of movies this year.

I actually enjoyed the movie more than I’d expected to; the first half-hour was very slow, but then things picked up a bit. The dogs were clearly more intelligent than the people. And the kids all liked it, so I guess it was a good choice after all.

The Blob 

Despite being a long-time science fiction fan, I’d never seen The Blob until last night. Now I have.

Caution: New tools being tested!

Playing Radio 

I’m editing today’s entry with Radio Userland and I’m having “a learning experience”. I’m finding it far from a natural process; I don’t find the structure forced on me by using an outliner helps me, at least not for something as simple as my weblog. Unfortunately, I can’t go back to manual editing for today’s entry, because the Edit this Page button gives me the OPML for the page, which is not very well-suited to manual editing. Tomorrow, it’ll be back to the standard tools.

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