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I Hate Linux

Friday, May 27, 2005

LOST

This week was the season finale of LOST on ABC, and after watching it something occurred to me.

The title LOST... doesn't refer to the survivors of the plane crash and their being stranded on an island. It refers to the viewers, and how they feel at the end of every episode.

Most episodes focus on a single character and show flashbacks of how they got to this point in their life, often relating to what things they are dealing with on the island at that time. Most of the time, there are things that make you just scratch your head and wonder, and at the end of every episode, they might explain one small thing, but open up a few more crazy topics and just keep hinting at them more and more in later episodes... the season finale was no different.

WARNING! The following contains spoilers from the final episodes, if you do not want to know what happens or have a heart condition, do not continue!

Midway through the season, a metal hatch in the ground was found, and a couple of characters spent a great deal of time trying to get in, thinking it was important, all the while the question is in the air... what is in there? At last, in the season finale, they find some dynamite and use it to blow the hatch off... as they look down, the camera pans back down through the tall tunnel revealed, we see a ladder along the wall... and then just bare walls, the ladder is not complete... and the camera keeps going and going and going to show the depth of the new mystery.

In another side story, the raft that was being built through half of the season finds a ship at long last, and at the end of a brief conversation of someone on the boat saying "What are you guys doing here?" and those on the raft saying "We are survivors of a plane crash"... a man on the boat simply says "I'm going to need to take the boy"... which gets repeated a few times, resulting in a small gunfight, the kid being taken and the raft being set fire to and blowing up.

I don't understand why I keep watching... but yet I do, and I now am more LOST than I ever was.

Midco: Bastards, or 'Encrypted Cable, How I Hate Thee'

Years ago you had an option with cable, you could lease or buy a cable box, or plug the cable line right into your cable ready TV or VCR and you'd have easy control of it.

Such is no longer the case.

We've all heard about digital television and how it will be replacing the old analog stuff over time and already that is the case as in many areas you can pick up your local stations over the air, provided you have a decent antenna and a digital television receiver. For some (like me), ones TV has this receiver built in and one just needs to plug in a good antenna or source instead of an expensive box.

You'd think the same would be said for cable.

Over the air digital television channels are broadcast with a modulation method called 8VSB, over the cable lines they use QAM (there are many different versions of QAM and different networks use different version, in the end if your demodulator can handle one QAM it can handle just about all of em) and satellite TV like DirecTV and EchoStar use QPSK. No matter the modulation method in use, they are all sending MPEG2 transport streams, in some cases there are differences with regards to the actual data being sent, specific to the network (especially on satellite).

Where is this going? If you buy a TV today, even one with a built in decoder that supports QAM (like mine), chances are you wont be able to get digital programming

Why is this? You see, many cable operators tend to encrypt all of their digital programming and require you to lease (or buy) a receiver from them that handles the decryption their way, rather than let industry standard equipment do the job.

There is an alternative though, if your TV supports a 'Digital Cable Ready' (DCR) card. The basic concept being that you treat a TV like a satellite receiver, give it a way to communicate with the (potentially) proprietary cable network and still let the cable company control your access to programming in ways never before possible.

Of course, if your TV doesn't support DCR cards... then you are pretty well SOL and are required to use their box.

What does this mean? For the most part, it means that the cable company controls what sorts of accessories you can use. Want to record a digital program off of cable? Better have a box you got from them, otherwise your chances are pretty slim.

For years TV tuner cards have been very popular on the PC. Back in college, my PC was my TV as at the time I didn't even have a low quality TV. One need simply plug their cable line in and it's all set. Shame this will not work for much longer. While the over the air broadcasts are quickly moving all digital, and in a couple of years the old analog signals will be switched off. Not so on the cable lines as the cable companies are not required by the FCC to switch. Of course, it is in their best interest to do so given the larger amount of content they can put down the pipe with digital. When the cable companies get around to their transition, all of those out there with PC tuner cards will be cut off from being able to view cable programming on their PC without having to use some proprietary method, one that as far as I can tell doesn't exist.

All of this (this blog entry) came about when I discovered that Midcontinent Communications (aka Midco), my local cable tv and internet provider turned off its last unencrypted stream. High up there in the 80's, on a single RF channel, one could find the local CBS and UPN stations, along with a small weather channel provided by the CBS affiliate.

But no, that is gone now, and I expect that things are only going to get worse. I for one will miss the days when you could go to your local electronics store, buy a piece of equipment and have it work flawlessly with your cable. Granted, it may not be able to get all of the premium channels, you could still do just about everything else. Now, unless you go through your cable operator, you will not have such a luxury.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Javier Luna, Shameless Spammer

A number of years ago when faced with the prospect of being unemployed for another summer, I decided to engage in a rather unique job hunting approach... real world mass mailing.

No, I didn't send post my resume to any job board I could find, or email every recruiter within my sights... I came up with a list of companies, addresses and a customizable cover letter and resume and in a period of 10 days, I mailed 114 resumes. By mailed, I do of course mean the envelope sized package made of paper (a tree byproduct), complete with a stamp in the corner.

Of my 114 resumes, I got about 25-30 responses, most of which were "thanks for your resume... we'll keep you in mind" or "thanks for the interest but ___". I ended up with 4 phone calls, 2 interviews and one job offer (which I accepted). Today, I am still working for the same company that extended that offer to me for a summer internship, which grew into a quasi fulltime position, and finally later, employee status.

No, I couldn't taste anything for a period of about 2 weeks due to all of the licking I was doing. Yes, I should have looked into a sponge or other method that did not involve saliva.

What does all of this have to do with the title of this post? When I was looking for a job, I acted intelligently and targeted my resumes, unlike a Mr. Javier Luna, a shameless spammer who today sent his 4th message to me with a bit about himself, his resume and what he is looking for in a job.

I have no problem with people using e-mail to try to find a job, but one should not be sending such things to every address they can find, let alone multiple times.

Being the (at times) nice and sympathetic guy I am/can be, I can relate with those who have a difficult time finding work, as I have had my own difficulties in past. There are limits though, and cramming countless mail boxes full of such crap does not get one many points. I am guessing that the vast majority of those persons he is spamming are not someone who is in any position to hire, or care much about applicants for that matter. It does nothing to make me feel sorry for the guy, or think "Do I know of any jobs he could do?" No, simply enough dislike enough to type this blog entry and hit delete on this latest message.

Odd my spam filter didn't stop this one from reaching my inbox.

On a closing note, Attention Mr. Javier Luna: You are a spammer, no one likes spammers. If you want a job, I would suggest you stop it. Furthermore, a person such as yourself who touts his knowledge of Oracle and other databases surely knows something about data cleansing... may I suggest that you fix your e-mail list so as to leave out all private accounts of persons like me and only target recruiters?

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Outlook Errors Will Inform Vikings

I am pleased to announce that this morning I passed Microsoft Exam 70-316, "Developing and Implementing Windows-based Applications with Microsoft Visual C# .NET and Microsoft Visual Studio .NET", putting me just two tests away from an MCAD (by just using C# tests) and one away if using VB.NET tests.

The reason for the title, is that that is the mnemonic I came up with last year when studying for 70-306 for remembering the order and values of Trace levels (Off, Error, Warning, Information and Verbose) and is a topic that came to mind last night when taking a final practice exam from the back of a study book.

It quickly occurred to me that the sample exam was testing areas more in-depth than the previous tests had, and almost completely ignoring others. Being suspicious, I hunted out a few more sample tests online and they confirmed my suspicions... 70-316 samples seemed to be focusing on security and deployment far more than 70-306 samples in my view. On the other side, connection string knowledge was covered far more in 70-306 samples.

After taking the test today, I am even more confident in my suspicions.

If I had to guess, the logic is as follows:

Despite VB.NET and C# being equally capable of building the exact same applications, historically, VB and now VB.NET have been used for more data access programs while C and C++ (in many cases being replaced by C#) have been used for more functional and in-depth programs (ie non data centric).

Of course... officially confirming this theory is difficult as a look at the preparation guides for 70-306 and 70-316 on Microsoft.com seem to indicate that topics are equal between the two tests (other than the language of course).

Still puzzling none the less.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

LOST: Crossovers

Like a few, I have been watching the ABC show Lost for a couple of months now (and thanks to friends recordings was able to catch up on the show from episode 1).

It started out seeming like a good 'Man vs. Nature' show to me... but it quickly becomes apparent that there is plenty of food and safety, so it seemed to go into more of a 'Man vs. Man' style show... but even that wasn't fitting in my mind... ultimately I settled on 'Man vs. WTF?' because of the strange directions it has gone.

While talking with my friend Dan (aka 'The Experience') we've joked about different plot ideas, one, suggested in part by his brother and I propose:

Upon finally opening the hatch, the survivors find a young Predator hiding out who quickly escapes and begins slowly killing those on the island. It is of course not until the first Predator episode that we learn the reason for his blood lust... the only time is father ever smiled at him was when he killed someone, and now he tries to desperately reclaim that feeling to no avail.


In a later Predator episode:

We discover the reason for his being in the hatch. He disappointed his father horribly. Being sent out to kill a group of humans, he failed, and to punish himself, locked himself in a box to show his worthiness to his father.


Pretty much in line with the general with the general level of sanity on Lost, right?

A new idea I proposed this evening... is a crossover between LOST and 24:

Jack Bauer is found inside of the hatch and he too goes on an (unsuccessful) interrogation (ie torturing) spree. Why is he in the hatch? Simple, CTU recognized that he is a useful asset in times of emergency, but not in day to date life... so they put him on ice as it were in a remote location until needed again.


I know, I know that sounds not unlike the Predator idea... sadly though, this season of 24 hasn't given much in the way of options. Dan pointed out an interesting pattern this season, whenever Jack is sent to apprehend or interrogate someone, they either end up dead or getting away. You can easily predict which will be the next to happen based on the previous event as they alternate back and forth.

So next week... we will have the season finales of both LOST and 24... I do not expect either to be very logical or make much sense compared to those episodes of its preceding season.

I600 Smartphone Experience

As some may know, I've been having issues with my wireless carrier for a time now. The phone I purchased back in August has developed some serious issues. Often when I speak with someone on it, both sides hear a horrible amount of static, often requiring nearly screaming in order to be heard. To give you an idea of how bad this is... when I dial someone, 9 times out of 10, I hear this static while it is ringing, even with 4 full bars of signal.

For reasons that I will not go into, simply replacing the phone with one of the same make and model is not an option.

After some talk with my carrier, we came to an agreement for me to upgrade to a Samsung I600 phone (yes, the Smartphone). It arrived Friday and I was quite excited by the possibilities of it.

Not long after activating the phone while playing around with it, I decided to try my hand at programming for it. Minutes later with the Smartphone 2003 SDK installed, I had a quick and simple application that I built with C# loaded onto the phone and working fine.

Things began to be less friendly when I noticed the signal strength I had was not too stellar, often showing a single pixel of strength (the first 'bar', and so small it didn't look much like a bar) and during the few phone calls I made and received that night, the other party often couldn't hear me.

Later, I decided to call my carrier and see if they could identify any problems remotely. They couldn't. As far as they could tell, the phone was performing just as it should. Having a suspicion though, woman I was speaking to put me on hold for 10 min while she talked to some official techs.

During this on hold time, I pulled out my last two phones from this carrier and put them on a window sill, side by side along with the new I600 and compared signal strength. 4 full bars on the 3 year old (to me) phone that I'm back to using now, 4 full bars on the 9 month old (to me) phone with the static issues, and 2 very small bars on the I600.

When she returned, she told me they had found what was wrong. Where I was at the time was within the coverage of at least two towers, and I was on the outer edges of one of them. Rather than be intelligent and do what it is (presumably) designed to do and use the stronger signal, the phone was using the weaker signal.

The solution suggested by the techs? Manually specifying the tower that I am using.

Being puzzled, and shocked, I asked how often I would have to change that setting and was told that that I would have to change it whenever I moved out of the coverage area of the previously specified tower.

Shame I commute ~50 miles to work each day. Changing the tower at least twice a day is not an option. I informed her of this and told her I would be sending the phone back and reactivating the 3 year old phone that I brought out of mothballs due to the issues with the 9 month old one.

I was rather looking forward to having my own version of the Scoblephone, shame my carrier uses only CDMA and the bigger TDMA/GSM carriers do not officially have services out here in South Dakota.

Friday, May 06, 2005

More of 'Whats Wrong With It'

I think this latest one is pretty clear, to quote the listing:

This has been a business as well as living quarters for families for years - It is a funeral chapel as well as a home - the business is not being sold - only the real estate -- a charming old home with a lot of character -- beautiful open staircase wonderful huge rooms a fantastic 3 season room off the kitchen and family room an oversized 2 car garage and sits on a gorgeous corner lot just a block from downtown. This is a wonderful opportunity to buy a great property at a fantastic price.


From the sounds of it... the lucky owner of this house will have a nice home, but also have dead persons stored and shown off in their home. Quite a pleasant thought... seems to explain the price, well, that and the location.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Runaway Bride

I'm sure we've all heard about the 'runaway bride, where Jennifer Wilbanks ran off a few days before her 600 guest wedding and claimed she was kidnapped, and later when she turned herself in, came clean and admitted that she made it all up.

At first, I expected her to be charged appropriately (making a false statement to police, etc), get convicted, be given some jail time and have to repay a good chunk of the cost of the search for her.

During the trial, I expected that the defense attorney would try to portray her as an innocent person and claim “You can't send someone to jail just for having cold feet”. To make matter worse, the media circus would begin to speculate that her husband to be was an abusive man and drove her away.

Pretty bad eh? It seems that it's already much much worse.

As yet, no charges have been filed, and her husband seems to be a loving man, however the public trial seems to have begun.

Over on FoxNews, they've got a quote from the brides lawyer, a Lydia J. Sartain who is a former district attorney in Georgia, she says:

She had been under a tremendous amount of stress.... She had to take action, just get away and get out from under the pressure.


That is a nice sentiment, I'd love to hear her theories on how far that could be taken. if a person is under stress... what other things can they get away with in order to get away from it? Steal a car? Cause property damage? Cause serious injury or death to another person?

While I do have something resembling sympathy for the bride to be and the stress she was under, like any issue people have in life, one needs to handle it healthily and appropriately, otherwise the result can and often will be worse than the initial problem.

Despite the claims of the groom to be, I would think that it would be advisable for him to back down on his desire to marry her. In most relationships, including marriage, one needs to be able to be open and honest with their significant other, and if this bride cannot talk to her husband to be... one wonders what else could be wrong in their relationship.

But then... that's only my take on it.