MCE Experience vs. Comcast DVR Saturday, March 18, 2006

I was reading Wil Shipley’s recent post about his horrible Comcast DVR experience, which has some kind of Microsoft DVR software on it, and it amazed me how lousy it was, compared to my Sony VGX-XL1 Media Center PC.

I know Microsoft is a big company, but it sounds like the DVR division (if, indeed, they provided the software he was using) not only hasn’t talked to the Media Center team, they haven’t even looked at Media Center. Because MCE doesn’t have any of these problems. (Which isn’t to say it’s perfect, but it’s positively shiny in comparison to what Wil describes.)

I’ve been avoiding anything but analog cable because of exactly this kind of issue—I just don’t want to be forced to take Comcast’s lousy box. The Vista version of MCE, with CableCard support, can’t come soon enough.

Unexpected birthday Thursday, March 16, 2006

Well, today—March 16th, 2006—is Ketzl’s 9th birthday.

It’s a milestone I really never thought Ketzl would reach, but I suppose I shouldn’t be so pessimistic: I didn’t think she’d make it through to last spring, nor this calendar year, but she keeps surprising me.

Surprise is one of those things dogs deal with a lot better than we do. Dogs who lose limbs wake from their amputation, try to stand, look mildly surprised and then adjust. Just like that.

When she first got her wheelchair, Ketzl was a little surprised, but delighted that she could walk again, on her own. Seconds later, no surprise at all. It’s just one of those things.

The first time she fell over because her back and front legs were too weak to keep her upright: surprised. Seconds later, she looked at me in a way that clearly said “C’mon, Dave. You saw I was going to fall. Get with it!”

Me, I’m surprised every day I wake and she’s still there with us. But mostly, I’m surprised by how deeply I care.

Get Hustlin’ Sunday, March 12, 2006

I’m usually a bit reluctant to recommend TV Shows, because you never know whether future episodes are going to meet the expectations set up by past ones. But, quite a few in, it really seems like AMC’s Hustle is a winner.

A terrifically fun British import, Hustle tells the story of a team of grifters, and a different con every week. Great cast, direction, writing—lots of fun all around. Check it out!

DM’s Relentless March Saturday, February 18, 2006

More months pass, and I’m happy to say Ketzl’s still with us.

She’s still in good spirits, but slowing down as the disease continues to take its inevitable toll. Her front is weak enough that our walks require me to hold the wheelchair’s “yoke” to relieve pressure on her front; fortunately she’s not having placement issues. But, walks don’t hold the joy for her they once did: they’re hard, but necessary, work.

Her weekly physical therapy swimming, while still fun, is also pretty tiring for her. When once she did 30-40 laps, now she wants to stop after 10-15. And since exhausting a DM sufferer is a bad idea, we push her a little more, but not a lot. She needs the energy.

Despite the decline, Ketzl’s still playful, bright and alert. Games are different than they were before—we play “get the blanket off your head”, “tear up some newspaper”, “catch the popcorn” and the like—but they’re still games, and she’s clearly still enjoying them.

So we continue to watch Degenerative Myleopathy take our dog, bit by bit: an intractable enemy who will win in the end. I’m thankful she doesn’t know, that dogs are so much in the present, that she can’t see the tears well up in my eyes when I watch her struggle to roll sternal from one side or the other, her trademark Berner grin intact as she faces the challenge and (with occasional help from her adopted pack) succeeds.

Upright again. Ready to fight another day.
Grinder Obsessed Sunday, February 05, 2006

Those who know me know that I’m relatively obsessed with coffee… a harmless vice. I always grind my own beans, but over many years I hadn’t found a really great grinder that wasn’t dedicated purely to espresso. Good ones, sure, but nothing great.

I have to admit, when I first saw the Kitchen Aid Pro Line grinder, I didn’t take it seriously. The overly stylized design, combined with the total lack of any historical “corporate” experience with coffee from Kitchen Aid, basically screamed “keep far, far away”! I mean, come on—these guys make stand mixers, and they’re echoing that design in the grinder!

Then I kept seeing it mentioned positively in a lot of different places, including the utterly obsessed Coffee Geek site. I mean, they liked it? Hmm…

I tend to brew “regular coffee” using various “direct infusion” methods: French Press ("Push Pot"), an Eva Solo Cafe Solo (great pot, actually), and a number of different Vacuum pots. All of these have one common element: they need a coarse grind, or the cup ends up muddy.

It’s harder than you might think to get a consistent coarse grind. Many grinders, including my previous Solis Maestro, can be set coarsely, but the coffee they produce isn’t uniform: fine particles are mixed with coarse ones. So, when the Solis decided that it wasn’t going to feed beans without constant prodding from a chopstick even after extensive cleaning (resulting in a delightful “woody” mix of bean and stick), I decided to give the Kitchen Aid a shot.

And I’m glad I did. I still think the design is over the top, but the grinder itself works great. The coffee particles are remarkably consistent, and there’s very little residue left in the cup. The unit is quiet, and the bean hopper/auger setup delivers a consistent flow of beans to the vertical burrs. And the whole thing is relatively static free, too.

Overall, a big thumbs up. If you grind your own coffee, you’ll love this thing. (And it’s $25 off at Amazon right now if you use the coupon code VALENTIN at checkout.)

Toshiro Mifune Gets His Organize On! Monday, January 23, 2006

Looks like the fine folks at Bare Bones Software have released Yojimbo, an great new take on the organizer-cum-database that many have tried, and failed, to do well…

The Yojimbo team has done a great job, addressing many of the classic missteps directly, with:

  • A good first cut at a smart “Quick Input” panel that analyzes what’s on the clipboard and pre-fills as much as possible
  • Rapid, global search capabilities that make it easy to locate things—including Spotlight support
  • A useful set of built-in datatypes
  • Easy “sub” organization using groups and tags
  • Full support for “archived” web pages, PDFs and the like
  • Item-by-item encryption
  • And, best of all, transparent, multi-machine synchronization through SyncServices and .mac
They’ve leveraged the great new features of Tiger like CoreData, SyncServices and—hey!—it’s even a Cocoa app!

The price is a very reasonable $39 for a single user on any number of (automatically synchronized) computers, with family pack and educational pricing, too.

To top it off, there’s a free, 30-day demo. There’s no excuse not to check it out—go to it!

Obligatory New Year Post Saturday, December 31, 2005

It’s hard to believe another year is gone, but belief has nothing to do with it. A few hours and *poof*—goodbye, 2005.

It’s been a big year for Shirt Pocket, with a number of product releases, none bigger than v2.0 of SuperDuper!—something Bruce and I had been working on since the year before. And our customers seem to love it, which is gratifying indeed.

We were honored to receive another Eddy, this year for SuperDuper! 1.5—our second in a row, after 2004’s Eddy for netTunes. Incredibly cool to get that kind of recognition.

On a more personal level, I started blogging this year, about 5 years late to the party, but at least I’m here and enjoying it.

Zabeth is deep into her third year of Veterinary School, and transitioning to clinical studies early in 2006, which might mean I need to call her “Dr.” soon.

And Ketzl is still with us: happy, healthy (apart from the progressing DM), and the source of much joy and sadness.

No doubt next year will bring more changes, more releases, more joy, more sorrow.

Thanks to all of you for your support, encouragement, criticism and for spreading the word about Shirt Pocket and our products. Without you, the year would have been a lesser one: I’m sure I’ll be talking to more of you on the forums, through the support lines, and on the blog.

I’m looking forward to it. A toast: to the end of 2005, and to you!

Our Christmas Gift: the Past Year with Ketzl Sunday, December 25, 2005

I know it’s more of a Thanksgiving kind of post, but the best gift we got this year—even though most of it happened before Christmas—was another year with Ketzl.

A year ago, we were well post-DM-diagnosis. Ketzl had already lost the use of one leg, and was weakening on the other. We’d started her Physical Therapy, and she was doing her water treadmill, and a few months later, as she lost use of the other leg, we got her a dog wheelchair.

The time since has been challenging but rewarding. Ketzl has done well, and while the progression to her inevitable demise continues—as it does for all of us—she’s done better than we ever expected. Working with her is time consuming, exhausting but very rewarding.

And while we don’t know how much more time we’ll have together, or whether she’ll get to her 9th birthday in March, we’re thankful for this past year… an unexpected, and priceless, gift.

Thanks, Ketzl.

Music subscription services don’t always suck Friday, December 23, 2005

Let’s talk, for a moment, about acquiring music.

As you might guess from netTunes, I’m a bit of a music fanatic. I’ve bought a lot of music in my day, and expect to buy a lot more. But, I rarely listen to “music radio”, and rely on friends, happenstance, and sometimes NPR to point me to new stuff.

But it’s not always easy to tell from brief exposure whether a new album is worth buying. Sometimes you need ten, fifteen, twenty plays to decide whether it’s something to add to the “owned” pile. 30 second snippets just won’t do it.

Now, sure, I could follow The Path of the Torrent, but I really don’t like doing that, regardless of whether or not I agree with the RIAA and their positions. And I hate shelling out $15 for something that I end up never playing.

So, what to do?

What I do is pretty simple: I use Rhapsody. Yes, it costs me $10 a month, and is extremely tied to the computer. (And I do want to own the music I love, and do whatever I want with it, especially with regard to device shifting.) But that doesn’t matter, because I use it to sample things. If I find it’s music I want to keep, I buy the CD and pop it into the library. And, if not, it saved me more than the cost of the CD, and the storage for the physical media, too. So I’m finding more music I like, and buying less music I don’t.

And now they’ve got a version for the Mac that—while not full featured—works well for exactly this purpose. You might want to check it out—I’m glad I did.

Sony VGX-XL1 Quick Tip Thursday, December 22, 2005

Egad, could it be another post about the Sony Media Center? I believe so!

I ran into a rather unusual problem with the VGX-XL1’s changer that I wanted to document here, in case someone else hits it in the future.

What I noticed was that, after playing a movie or DVD or… well… pretty much anything, the VGX-XL1B changer would stop working properly. It’d load up discs, but the discs themselves would be unreadable. The only way to fix the problem was to power cycle the changer: even a reboot wouldn’t work.

After days (literally) of off-and-on attempts to figure the problem out, I finally determined the cause.

Basically, in the Power Management settings for the computer, there’s an option that spins down unused drives after a set period of time. I had set this to 15 minutes to save wear and tear on the internal hard disk during times of light or no use.

Turns out that the changer must get some kind of ACPI notification after 15 minutes or so, and powers something down that it never powers back up again. Setting the disk spin-down to “Never” resolved the problem.

Considering that it’s not a hard disk, and that it still responded to load commands, it’s pretty clear that there’s some weird bug going on here. But, if you hit it, the fix is easy enough.

Ah, Windows. hmmm

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