Thoughts on Leonardo

We went to The Tech Museum of Innovation today to see Leonardo: 500 Years into the Future, which I highly recommend.

We planned our trip to arrive for the 10:30am guided tour — the group was large, but fortunately the director of special exhibits for the Tech wandered by and took half the group (including us). His original plan was to take us to the paintings downstairs at the Tech proper and then rejoin the group, but he decided just to keep us, and I’m glad he did — he offered a lot of insights into the exhibit, especially how it came together, that I doubt most of the guides could offer.

After the tour (which lasted an hour or so), we wanted lunch. Since there is no re-entry to the exhibit, that meant we had to eat in “Leo’s Cafe”, which had a limited menu of rather overpriced items. If I had known, I would have planned to go to the exhibit for the noon tour and had lunch in Cafe Primavera or out in the Real World instead. But we survived.

We spent another hour or so wandering around the exhibit on our own (definitely not “by ourselves”, the place grew steadily more crowded); I was very glad we’d taken the guided tour first, because the signage wasn’t very good (the director mentioned that he’d gotten that comment from many people during the run of the exhibit), but after our orientation, it was sufficient. I probably could have spent more time in the exhibit, but I was tired.

Much to my amazement, there was a gift shop at the exit; even more to my amazement, it was positioned so that you didn’t actually have to go through it. But we did, escaping without buying anything.

After we left the Tech, we spent a few minutes gazing at the horse outside, which was a full-size production (I can’t call it a “reproduction” because the original was never built — the story was told in the exhibit, of course) of the Sforzo Monument. And then we headed back to the 21st Century and a trip to Magnolia to look at HDTV stands. But that’s another matter.

“It just works” — eventually

I wanted to put my DVR (and, when it arrives, my Blu-Ray player) on the Internet, but I had no wired connection anywhere nearby. So, after a little investigation, I decided that the easiest way to get the job done was to buy an Apple Airport Express and use WDS to extend the house network and take advantage of the Ethernet port on the Airport Express to provide wired connectivity to my devices.

And since I was using all Apple gear (a Time Capsule is my other router), it’d just work.

Except that when I followed Apple’s setup instructions, the Airport Express kept connecting and disconnecting from the mothership with this error message:

Deauthenticating with station [redacted] (reserved 2)

After a bunch of Googling, I found a solution which worked, though I don’t know why:

  1. Turn off all wireless security on the Time Capsule but leave WDS enabled
  2. Restart the Time Capsule
  3. Hard reset the Airport Express
  4. Configure the Airport Express for WDS
  5. Restart the Airport Express
  6. Wait for the green light on the Airport Express and make sure things work
  7. Reconfigure security to normal (WPA/WPA2) on the Time Capsule and restart it
  8. Reconfigure security to normal (WPA/WPA2) on the Airport Express and restart it
  9. It just works!

And now my DirecTV DVR is connected to the Internet and I can finally remove the phone cord that snakes over to the DVR from the kitchen.

Doing our part for the economy

Back in the fall of 2002 and early winter of 2003, I spent months shopping for an HDTV, dragging Diane and Jeff from store to store (well, to Magnolia Hi-Fi, Circuit City, and LaserLand, since those were about the only places with a selection of HDTVs in those bygone days), debating between LCD and DLP (I knew I didn’t want plasma because we watched a lot of 4×3 stuff and I worried about burn-in, and our room wasn’t big enough to support a traditional projection unit).

Eventually, I settled on a Panasonic 52DL52, because DLP technology provided noticeably darker blacks than LCDs of the day. And I got a Good Deal on the unit through my antenna installer, too, including delivery in time for Super Bowl XXXVII so that we could host a commercial-watching party just a week before Jeff’s Bar Mitzvah.

But soon, I realized that this particular piece of DLP technology had issues — and ones which mattered to me, since I’m fairly sensitive to flicker. It also turned out that I could see the rainbow effect, but that never really bothered me — the flicker did. Panasonic replaced some of the circuit boards to reduce the flicker, but it was (and still is) visible at times.

Other than flicker, a bulb replacement, and a ballast replacement, it’s been good to watch, but design decisions are rearing their ugly heads — no HDMI (just one DVI input), no ATSC tuner (what were they thinking?), PC resolution limited to 800×600 (even though it’s a 720p set), and very slow response to the remote, to name a few. And the picture isn’t as clear or bright as the 37″ Vizio we picked up for Diane’s dad, or as last year’s 42″ set that we watched at a friend’s house last night.

In other words, I was ready to upgrade. And prices have been falling off a cliff over the last couple of months, thanks to the recession — but manufacturers are reducing production, so that’s not likely to continue.

Two weeks ago, we stopped at Magnolia just to look, and I was impressed by the Samsung LN52-A650 and the Sony KDL52-XBR6. I liked the Sony a bit better, but the rootkit fiasco still bothered me. And it cost $3150 (though they would throw in a free Blu-Ray player), while the Samsung was “only” $2600 — both more than I wanted to pay.

Earlier this week, I stopped at Circuit City, and noticed that they had the Sony for $2300 (with the free Blu-Ray) and the Samsung was $2200. This was more like it, but my faith in Circuit City is limited these days.

So today, we braved the crowds near Valley Fair and visited Magnolia, whose price for the Sony had dropped to $2500. But they were happy to match Circuit City’s price, including the free player (it helped that I’d saved last Sunday’s Circuit City ad). We had not been alone in finding the lower prices irresistable, though, and delivery won’t happen until mid-January, but that should still be in time for the Superbowl.

We’re not finished stimulating the economy, though, since we also need to buy something to put the new TV on (and to hold other electronics) — that was another problem with the old TV; it needed a custom stand because it had a funny shape.

Anyone interested in a lightly-used DLP HDTV? With a custom stand?

Benjamin Button and Christmas Rain, not in that order

For the past dozen or so years, including this one, we’ve been invited to Christmas dinner at the house of some friends (writing without names is awkward, for which my apologies). And we’ll be leaving for there in a few minutes.

But yesterday, another friend called and suggested we go see a movie before dinner, which seemed like a good idea. Her sons wanted to go see The Spirit, but she didn’t; she suggested The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, which sounded like a better bet to Diane and me. Much to my surprise, Jeff decided on Button instead of Spirit, letting MetaCritic be his guide.

The timing wasn’t ideal, though — Benjamin Button is a long movie (nearly 3 hours), making it difficult to squeeze in a show between lunch and dinner. But I thought we could manage, so we made arrangements to meet at the theater. And we would have had no problems, had we not decided to go out for a pre-lunch walk.

It had rained earlier in the day, but the sky was bright and clear when we left. And it was still pretty clear when we reached a decision point — did we want to go home, or walk another mile or so. We went for the additional walk, and it was still only mostly cloudy when we hit our turnaround, and it didn’t start raining in earnest until we were half-way home. Fortunately, the liquor store in Downing Center was open, and we waited out some of the worst there — which meant that when we got home, not only were we drenched, but we no longer had time for lunch before we had to leave for the theater, which was in a fine local shopping center.

Parking was, of course, easy (for the only time this month, I’ll bet). And the lines weren’t too long at the concession stand, so we scored our lunch (popcorn) quickly, but didn’t do as well at getting seats — there weren’t four together in the stadium part of the theater, so we had to sit closer to the screen than I like, which made the lack of sharp focus all too evident (I guess they save the good projectionists for the full-priced shows).

The movie was very well done (and maybe some of it was deliberately shot in soft focus!), and I recommend it. I played “guess where in New Orleans they were” as well as enjoying the story and the acting; I thought they did a very good job of making Brad Pitt’s aging backwards come to life, and found myself very much drawn into the film, not even noticing that it was nearly 3 hours long. I plan to read the story later.

And The Spirit? Our friends’ sons said it wasn’t as bad as they expected; one even said it was funny. I don’t think “funny” was the original goal, though.

Frost/Nixon – go see it!

We watch The Daily Show regularly — more regularly when Jeff’s home than otherwise, to be sure, but more than any other program (well, except for The Colbert Report). Back in November, Jon had David Frost on as a guest, and then a few weeks later, Ron Howard was on. Of course, what they had in common was simple: Richard Nixon.

I spent the summer of 1974 working at The Computer Company, an APL timesharing house. One of my projects that year was a bulletin board system (written, of course, in APL), and for my testing, I decided the best thing to do was to post news and weather items as I heard them on the radio. I don’t remember most of what I posted, but in early August, most of my items had two words in common: Richard Nixon. And one of the last “test” items I posted was the news of his resignation; after that, I decided the system was ready to go into production.

We decided today would be a good day to go see a movie, and the obvious choice was Frost/Nixon. The downside of that choice was having to go to a theater owned by Cinemark, which donated towards Prop 8 (we still have our “No on 8” sign in our front yard) — and almost as bad, having to brave the Valley Fair/Santana Row axis of shopping three days before Christmas. But there weren’t any other movies we really wanted to see, and that theater was the only one showing the movie in the South Bay, so we gritted our teeth and sallied forth.

Parking was, as expected, no fun at all. In fact, I gave up at both Valley Fair and Santana Row; instead, we had lunch at a restaurant in a nearby strip mall and left our car parked there (shhh, don’t tell anyone…especially the other folks we saw doing the same thing — in previous years, that lot had had a guard during the peak of the season to ensure that people parking at least visited a store in the strip mall, but not this year) afterwards and went to the movie.

It was excellent. Frank Langella nailed Nixon, and, even though I knew how the story was going to end, the movie kept me glued to my seat. My only objection was that it was rated “R”, for a few profanities, and maybe because of the smoking — this is a movie that anyone interested in politics, even a young teenager, should see (and I’ll give you a hint — they’ve heard the F-word already). The movie goes into broad release on Thursday, so it might even be possible to see it in this area without supporting Cinemark.

After the movie, we went to Borders in hopes of finding the original Frost/Nixon interviews. They didn’t have them in stock, but Amazon does, and I’ve ordered a copy, which is supposed to arrive Friday — that should cover another night of Hanukkah!