Oregon Wine and News

When we went college shopping in Oregon last May, we did some last minute wine shopping at the Made in Oregon store in the Portland Airport.

One of the bottles we picked up was King Estate 2006 Oregon Pinot Gris, which we had with dinner recently. We liked it a lot; it was crisp, with lots of fruit (I’ve gotta get better at writing down descriptions of wines while drinking them instead of waiting a couple of days!).

Sadly, we only bought one bottle. But we should have the opportunity to buy more; we already have planned a trip to take a closer look at Willamette, and now Jeff’s been accepted at the University of Oregon. We’d bought the Willamette tickets before hearing from U of Oregon, so it’d be expensive to change them; I think we just might have to make another trip instead.

Leaving the fold

I remember when my brother first told me that he’d bought a TiVo. It seemed like a silly idea; why would you want to spend hundreds of dollars to record no more than 14 hours of TV when you already had a VCR?

Then I visited my friend Sam, who had one, and who let me play with it a little bit. And then I realized that TiVo, like some other joys of life, needs to be experienced, not just talked about.

Soon, we, too, owned a TiVo. A 30-hour TiVo. With Lifetime Service. And life was good.

For a while. Then we decided to leave the cable company and go to DirecTV. That, of course, meant buying a new TiVo, one which worked with the satellite signal – all digital, from start to finish. I was able to sell my old TiVo for a good price (Lifetime Service was no longer available except via buying an old unit), so life was again good.

But it didn’t take long to fill up the TiVo’s disk. Fortunately, it was easy to add a second disk, courtesy of Weaknees. And life was good.

In 2003, we moved up to HDTV. But we didn’t have TiVo on HD, so we mostly watched standard definition TV except for the few things worth watching in real time (mostly the Superbowl).

Eventually, however, TiVo caught up with our needs, and we bought the wonderful HR10-250 DirecTiVo – HD and TiVo in one terrific box. Sure, I had to replace the disk once, and sure, the HDMI card went out, but it did its job for us.

Until DirecTV and TiVo parted ways. And then DirecTV announced that they were going to move to MPEG-4 for their HD offerings, including a couple of channels that I thought it would be nice to be able to watch in HD (notably SciFi, for the final season of Battlestar Galactica).

I thought about going back to the cable company, but they didn’t offer SciFi in HD. In fact, it wasn’t clear just what they offered in our area — every time I called, I got a different story about the coming “rebuild”. And the phone company doesn’t offer TV here.

So, after much agonizing, I called DirecTV and told them to bring me a new, non-TiVo HD DVR. I originally was going to hold out for the unit which was capable of receiving over-the-air HD and continue to use the antenna on our roof — but then came the New Year’s storms. We no longer have an antenna on our roof.

I decided to take that as a sign and agreed to take the HR-21 – without over-the-air capability. It was installed today.

I haven’t actually used it to watch anything yet — it’s taken me a couple of hours to move it where I should have had it installed in the first place, as well as to convince the Harmony (Logitech) 688 to talk to it. But we’ve successfully recorded a Simpsons (which Jeff has already watched and deleted), so I guess we’re committed.

*sigh*

This just in!

I was wandering through TiVo Community just after compiling this post, and discovered that the AM21 will soon be available, providing over-the-air capability to users of the HR-21. Hmmm….

Charlie Wilson’s War – the book

Back on December 24, I wrote about going to see Charlie Wilson’s War, a movie I enjoyed and highly recommend. Turbo Todd suggested I read the book.

He was right.

The book (unlike the movie) claims to be true — and it makes the movie look tame. Like the movie, it starts out in a hot tub in Las Vegas, and it has Gust Avrakotos telling his division chief to do something anatomically impossible (I try to keep this a family blog, but the precise phrase ends with “You”) — twice. And there’s plenty of sex and drugs (not much rock ‘n’ roll, though), not to mention guns and roses.

It’s hard to believe that the US Government works the way this book claims. Or maybe it’s easy to believe and hard to swallow. Read it and judge for yourself.

The book does have some weaknesses, especially when it’s being repetitious. But I found it hard to put down, and I strongly recommend it.

Fluid Twittering

On Monday, I read a posting on 43 Folders about using Fluid to create site-specific browsers. The author created a browser for I Want Sandy (a tool I plan to check out one of these days), but I thought it would be perfect for Twitter.

But since I was at work and mostly busy when I read the posting, I contented myself with posting it to del.icio.us for “later”.

That evening, though, I was on Twitter and noticed that Firefox was suffering from Spinning Beachball Syndrome — it didn’t die on me, but it spent a lot of time gazing at its own navel. Restarting it helped, but only for a short while. Then someone mentioned Flock, which I’d tried early in its life but hadn’t looked at since (I even managed to pass by their booth at Macworld, though it wasn’t intentional on my part). I didn’t really want to install Yet Another Browser, but the conversation made me think of Fluid.

I downloaded it and fired it up; less than a minute later, I had a Twitter-specific browser on my system. Since it’s Webkit-based, it doesn’t have the extensions and add-ons that I’ve laden Firefox with — and it’s fast. And since it’s an independent browser, it survives when I forget myself and close Firefox (or when it closes itself).

I just wish I could figure out how to make F5 the refresh key; instead, I have to remember to use Cmd-R. Which doesn’t work in Firefox.

Highly recommended, and the price is right: free (as in beer). That’s http://fluidapp.com — check it out!

Flow

Today was an interesting day. I started with a torture session at the JCC (my trainer calls the worst part “Fun with Foam” and promises it will get better some day). I had a call soon enough afterwards that I didn’t have time to drive to work, so I went home instead, took the call, and only then went to the office.

The afternoon started with another call, then my annual review (I live to fight another year!).

And then I got to have some fun. One of the projects I’m working on needs to gather some data from Lotus Notes calendars, and there was a group who had someone working on a tool to get that data. But they were having problems of various sorts, and they were stuck. Fortunately, one of my hobby projects for the last few years has taught me a lot about accessing Lotus Notes calendars from Python code, so I contacted the developer and offered to see if I had anything in my archives which might be helpful.

I didn’t – somehow, I’d not copied the relevant directory to my new Windows system (and this particular technique, using the COM bindings to Notes, only works on Windows). But I did have other Python/Notes code in hand, enough to remember how to start, and her Java code showed me what she was trying to do.

The next time I looked up, two hours had passed. And I had a working program (at least it worked in my environment!) to send her.

It’s been a while since I really dropped into flow on a technical project — it’s fun!

The final word on Macworld

Trying to do all of Macworld Expo in one day was probably a mistake — I didn’t have a chance to go back to interesting booths (especially those in the West Hall), and I was rather tired by the time I left But I had a hard enough time clearing one day from my calendar; two would have been impossible.

After a night’s sleep and sorting through my bag-o-crap, here’s what still clings to my memory.

I am still amazed at how much of the floor was devoted to iPod and iPhone accessories, as well as wraps and briefcases for MacBooks. If I’d wanted to personalize my iPhone or my MacBookPro, the options were endless. Ditto speakers, chargers, and FM transmitters for my iPod — and I probably could use them, but with so many choices, I decided to wait. Replacement headphones were also a Big Deal; I spent time at the Shure, Creative, and Etymotics booths, but wasn’t ready to replace my Frankenbuds yet (I’ll wait till they break).

If I used a desktop Mac as my primary machine, the MacBook Air would be the ideal travelling companion. It’s light, sexy, and functional — the Remote Disk is a cute workaround for the lack of an optical drive (but I wind up installing almost all my software via web downloads, anyway), and I like the multitouch gestures on the trackpad (it would be nice to get those through a software update on the MBP — I would think it could handle the zoom gesture, since it can already tell the difference between one and two fingers). But my primary machine is already a MacBook Pro, so the Air would be superfluous; the extra few pounds aren’t significant given my normal travels.

Bento looked interesting and I’ll probably install the demo when I have some time to play with it (December?). I also walked away with demo disks that I may actually try for The Personal Brain, VMWare Fusion, Nisus Writer, as well as a few that were handed to me which will be as handy as the AOL CDs that used to arrive in the mail.

Intuit was pushing Quicken and their other products. They were showing a demo of their Quicken replacement, due this year, which looks to be a Web 2.0 version of Quicken (in much the same way as Quicken became Web 1.0-like a few years ago). They promised a migration path from Quicken/PC to the new product. We’ll see, but frankly, I’d be happy finding somewhere else to go entirely, as long as I can give my tax accountant the data he needs.

There were lots of people selling storage solutions. I didn’t look at them very closely. I am, however, ashamed to admit that I couldn’t crack the code at the Western Digital booth without giving it some serious thought. Maybe I should get on the air sometime.

I spent some time at the Fujitsu booth ogling the ScanSnap S510M (as mentioned on 43 Folders a few weeks ago). I would have been happy to win one in their drawing, but I didn’t. I did take home a discount coupon, but I’m not really sure that turning paper into PDFs is really a step in the right direction for me; what I need is to make stuff Go Away Entirely.

I also looked at the various printer and camera vendors, but not seriously. I would like a color laser all-in-one to reduce the clutter at home, but the prices are still too high. Even mono laser all-in-ones are expensive and big.

I did buy the Goldtouch for Mac keyboard. I haven’t unboxed it yet, though — it’s for home, to replace the Apple Keyboard I bought for the Mini a while ago. That’ll go to the XO laptop so I can play with it more easily.

I’m glad I went to the show; I’ll probably do it again, schedule willing, next year, but my expectations will be more realistic. And I’ll wear socks with more padding. And maybe even take advantage of the onsite nap service so I can make it through the entire day.

More Macworld!

I’m beginning to burn out, but I think I’ve seen just about everything.

I think there are more ways to dress one’s iPod, iPhone, or MacBook here than there are ways to dress oneself at Bloomingdale’s (which I walked through on my way to lunch — I am not crazy enough to eat at Moscone itself). But I’m not terribly interested in any of them.

There are also a ton of iPod car accessories, some of which are on sale at attractive prices — but not attractive enough for me to buy without the prospect of returning if they don’t work.

Google’s got a huge booth and is giving away swag. Odd swag, like Google socks and flip-flops. I may resist.

And, as expected, there’s a ton of software (some specially priced). Lots of disk enclosures, too. And keyboards — including the Goldtouch keyboard, which I really liked once upon a time. They’ve even finally updated it to have real F11/F12 keys!

I did get to play with the MacBook Air briefly. It is incredibly light and sexy, but I still don’t think I need one. And, unlike the iPhone, I think I really mean it this time.

And I even found the IBM booth. It’s at the very back of the tiny-booth area in Moscone West, and is there to show the flag for the Mac port of Informix. Lotusphere is next week, and so if we have anything to announce (and, according to the press, we do), I’d expect it to be there. But next year, Macworld is at the very beginning of January, before Lotusphere (and, I suspect, before CES), so maybe things will be different then.

Macworld Expo interim report

I’m taking a couple of minutes from wandering the show floor – thanks to Microsoft for the blogger lounge!

The biggest thing I’ve seen so far is iPod/iPhone accessories – in fact, I invested $8 in a earbud Jack from WhatIf Widgets in hopes of being able to carry my Frankenbuds again. Cases are also a Big Deal here.

But I’ve just barely begun to prowl the main show floor; more to come.

I think my wallet is mostly safe

Maybe I’m too far from Moscone to be affected by the Reality Distortion Field, but there wasn’t much in today’s Macworld keynote which really interested me. Yes, the 1.1.3 level of iPhone software has some welcome improvements (and I’ve downloaded and installed it already), but I’m not sure I would have paid even $20 for it.

TimeCapsule is of some interest, especially if I can use it to back up the Windows box at home as well as the Macs — it’d be of even more interest if it could seamlessly and automatically do offsite backups as well.

The AppleTV and iTunes rentals leave me cold; we have more media in hand and unwatched than I can put in one shelf — I don’t need any more.

And the MacBook Air, while interesting, doesn’t meet any immediate need (though I look forward to playing with one sometime). I already have a very lightweight laptop, anyway.

I still plan to go up to Moscone tomorrow to look around on the show floor, though.

Apologies and Thanks

One of the key points that Marshall Goldsmith makes in What Got You Here Won’t Get You There is the importance of apologizing to people when you’ve made a mistake and thanking them when they’ve made a contribution (or even an observation).

So, in that spirit, I have to apologize to people who’ve made (or tried to make) comments on this site for the past few months; I discovered last night that I’d done something to my WordPress configuration which was sending comment notifications into the ether (actually they were probably spamming some unknown user sharing the same hosting provider), and therefore, any comments from “new” people were stuck waiting for approval, and I wasn’t seeing comments from “old” people, either.

I think I fixed everything up, but for those of you who may wonder what’s been of interest to my readership recently, I’ll call out the “lost” commentors and comments here:

Summarizing all those comments was a lot of work, but fun — maybe I’ll do it again some day.

XO, XO, it’s blogging now I go

I got my XO from the One Laptop Per Child project yesterday. It is incredibly cute, but the keyboard is going to drive me crazy fairly soon. It’s too small to touch-type on for me, so I am using two fingers, a technique I thought I’d abandoned years ago.

I’m really impressed with its WiFi – it sees (and connects to) networks that my other computers don’t show at all. I need to upgrade the OS so it will automatically connect to my home network – I’ve been using an open network with a cryptic name, probably not the smartest idea for the long run.

The only real problem I’ve had with it is using Twitter; when i type into the posting box, the display lags many seconds behind. I guess it’s due to the keystroke-deriven Javascript, but that’s just a guess. I’m certainly not seeing any delay typing this posting into WordPress’s browser interface.

I can see how a box like this can make a difference in a child’s life. I’m glad I signed up; I’m not quite sure what I’m gonna do with this one in the long run, though.

Distraction

While “Distraction” describes large parts of my life, this time around, I’m writing about Bruce Sterling’s book of the same name.

I’d picked up several of Bruce’s books at Computers, Freedom, and Privacy 2002. Too many, in fact, and so after reading Heavy Weather, I put the others away for “later”.

Last week, I wanted to grab a book for the trip to Tucson, and Distraction was near at hand. And the back cover blurb was intriguing: “It’s November 2044, an election year, and the state of the Union is a farce….” — especially since I knew the Iowa caucuses were going to be a significant event during the trip. And 544 pages promised enough reading matter to get me through the trip, which was another point in the book’s favor. So I took it along with me — and spent the outbound flights doing crossword puzzles.

But eventually, I actually opened the book and was hooked almost immediately, as the not-quite-human protagonist, Oscar Valparaiso, reviews video of the Worchester May Day Riot of ’42 (which isn’t a riot) on the campaign bus (which is actually taking Oscar and his krewe on a post-election “vacation”), which is stopped by a roadblock where the US Air Force is shaking down motorists for money to keep an air base open.

And then things got strange.

It’s definitely a political story, with a new Huey, Governor of Louisiana, in rebellion against the Federal Government (or what remains of it); it’s also a love story, with Oscar and Greta a most mismatched pair; and it’s a science story, with plausible pseudo-science rather than pure bafflegab. It doesn’t all hang together completely, but it’s doable. And worth the read.

It’s good to have the two of them back

We just finished watching the first strike editions of A Daily Show and The Colbert Report. It was good to have Jon and Stephen back, and I was very glad that Stephen had a non-strike-related guest. I’m already tired of the strike jokes and strike analysis — give me some real politics!

Better yet, settle the damn strike.

Home again

I guess we picked a good long weekend to be in Tucson instead of here — we missed the winds, rain, thunder, power outages, and general havoc. Instead, we had temperatures in the 60s and low 70s, gentle rain one evening, and way too much food.

We also had a steady stream of messages from our house sitter telling us what we were missing, including photos of our late TV antenna. We’re supposed to have DirecTV come out next week and install a new dish; I was going to try very hard to get them to bring out a receiver with OTA capability (and still might) but it’ll need a new antenna, too. This one is beyond repair.

The high point of our touristing in Tucson was the afternoon we spent at the Pima County Air and Space Museum — we were lucky enough to get onto a Boneyard tour as soon as we arrived, and afterwards, wandered around the museum proper for several hours. Photos are on Flickr.

But most of the time was spent with Diane’s relatives, talking and enjoying their company.

Restaurants worth mentioning:

  • El Charro Cafe (on Broadway) — as always, tasty authentic Mexican food
  • The Good Egg — as always, good, filling, reasonably-priced breakfasts in a pleasant environment
  • Viro’s Italian Bakery — an Italian deli with decent food, decent gelato, and very reasonable prices
  • New Delhi Palace Cuisine India — they make a good Chicken Tikka, and their “Karhai” (wokked) vegetables were a nice change compared to normal Indian restaurant fare

But despite the good food and company, it’s good to be home again!

Primary Twittering

We didn’t realize how quickly caucus results were going to start coming in, so we were in a restaurant when we should have been in front of the TV. Fortunately, I had my iPhone with me (gee, what a surprise!), and I thought to check on @podcastmama’s updates, since I knew she was actually running a caucus.

Caucuses have different rules than elections, clearly, because she was giving live updates via Twitter. And then I noticed that @LenEdgerly was channeling CNN — and that was just what we needed in our isolation. (Well, we were having a tasty meal in a restaurant which was getting steadily busier, but in terms of current events, we were isolated.)

So I turned on SMS notification for updates from @podcastmama and @LenEdgerly. Every few minutes, the phone would beep, we’d read the update, and then go back to dinner. In fact, it worked so well that we drove over to a gelato place before going back to our hotel, where we turned on CNN and the laptop — and then I was able to add my share of tweets (typing on the iPhone is challenging and slow).

It was great fun to be able to chat with friends all over the continent (at least) as events were coming in — I’m looking forward to doing it again next Tuesday for New Hampshire. But I think we’ll have dinner at home that night.

Some thoughts on Twitter

I started to play with Twitter in late July. My first few posts were answers to the Twitter question (“what are you doing?”) and they were incredibly dull. It didn’t take me long to give up on Twitter — I hadn’t found the secret sauce.

But I didn’t quite give up (probably because I had a bookmark on my iPhone, and I kept seeing the site when I hit that browser window). I started playing with Facebook, too, and saw some of my friends there add a Twitter app to their pages. I even sent a couple of @replies to friends, but it was all one-way broadcasting on my part.

And there was one other use I had for Twitter: Remember the Milk, an online to-do list which I’ve also been toying with as part of my Getting Things Done efforts. RTM featured a Twitter interface, so I could easily add a task to my list by sending it a direct message from my phone — and since I had 200 messages a month, whether I needed them or not, it seemed like a win to me.

Early in December, I started noticing (and following) more and more IBM friends on Twitter, and then I had a conversation with Sacha Chua, one of the people I mentor at work. She convinced me to give Twitter a more serious try, so one evening, I started looking at replies to people I was following and inserted myself into a conversation or two.

It didn’t hurt a bit. And I found myself conversing with Industry Names like Ed Yourdon and pundits like Michael Krigsman. Not necessarily about industry topics, either. It’s amazing how much can fit into 140 characters — the sidebands are amazing!

And then on Boxing Day night, I was stuck in a crafts store while Diane was shopping, so I sat down with my iPhone and turned to Twitter. There was a discussion of painkillers happening, and somehow it swam into my ken (probably indirected through Robert Scoble). I didn’t actually have anything to add, but it did remind me that I had a big bottle of expired aspirin to dispose of, so I tweeted a question. And I got an answer (which I still haven’t acted on).

But I also got drawn into the general conversation (hey, I was bored!), and by the time Diane was finished (and it wasn’t that long), I was following a bunch of people I hadn’t known existed 30 minutes before. And they were discussing serious topics like Susan Reynolds‘s cancer (hence the painkillers) and silly topics (too numerous to mention).

And I’ve been wandering around those discussions and increasing my circle of contacts for the last week.

Is Twitter a substitute for face-to-face contact? No, definitely not (especially when the avatars change for special events like Frozen Pea Friday, or @newmediajim’s birthday), but it’s a good way to meet people you wouldn’t encounter in a more focused environment. And if you happen to find you have something in common, you can chat with them and even choose to follow one another’s tweets. (And there’s the secret sauce!)

I wouldn’t use Twitter for mission-critical communications — there are clearly scaling limits, both technological and human — but it’s a useful tool to have in the toolkit, and it’s fun! And if it weren’t fun, it’d be a lot less useful. What could be more boring than reading streams of 140-character messages from total strangers?

Welcome to 2008

So here it is, the morning of the first day of the rest of my life (not to mention the first day of 2008).

Tradition calls for New Year’s Resolutions, but I don’t have any — at least none which call for radical changes. Instead, I resolve and plan to do more of the things I already do which make life better which make life better and less of those things which don’t.

In the first group, in no particular order, I put exercise, reading, blogging, Twittering, eating well, mentoring, chocolate, enjoying wine, and travel.

In the second group, in no particular order, I put travel, blogging, Twittering, not paying attention, eating on autopilot, and feeling guilty.

The observant among you may notice overlap between the two lists. That’s what makes life a challenge.