September 30, 2005

Fall TV

I've been meaning to write something about this fall's TV lineup, but it always seems like a daunting task. After years of feeling kind of underwhelmed by the offerings on the small screen, with a few notable exceptions, I discovered some old shows I never saw. Then I started paying more attention and I happy to say there's a lot of good stuff going on out there. And on network TV even, I don't have HBO. If I did I would never find time to do anything else.

The good:

Everybody Hates Chris
It's a rather simple show, and it doesn't take on any great issues, but damn is it well written. And it's wholesome too.

The Simpsons
Damn this has been on a long time. I remember being excited, in middle school, when our local independent station (remember those) was joining FOX. We were going to get THE SIMPSONS!!

Lost
I feel like it's started off a bit slow, but that thought occurred to me while watching the second episode immediately after watching the Veronica Mars premier, which was jam-packed.

Veronica Mars
It was cool to read on Rob Thomas's site that the first season of Veronica Mars was based on a YA mystery novel he pitched. I think the second season is off to a great start.

Arrested Development
I can't say enough good things about this show, although the second episode was kind of wacky. Either they're trying new things, or I was thrown off by the change in the intro and expected weirdness.

The promising:

The West Wing
I watched this early on, then forgot about it for years, then caught the last half of last season. It doesn't seem to have changed a whole lot, even if the characters' jobs have changed.

Kitchen Confidential
I only watched the pilot because my girlfriend is in cooking school, and it kind of looked like her life right now. I thought it was decent, though the characters aren't very well defined, and the women all have shitty sexist roles (apparently some critic said the same thing.. I could be a critic!). Then I watched the pilot for How I Met Your Mother (below) and I was reminded how bad TV can be, so KC gets a tentative thumbs-up. When I run out of time and have to cut a show, this might go first.

Bones
One of many shows featuring actors from wonderful former shows. This isn't at the top of my list, but I'll give it a shot.

My Name Is Earl
It feels a lot like a little 22-minute indie movie, and Jason Lee is great. I think it has a lot of potential.

The Office
I thought it was sacrilege to remake the original The Office, and I watched the pilot and was disgusted to see that it was almost exactly the same as the original! So I didn't watch it again until this season's premier and, well, it's good. And it's they're own thing. And Ricky Gervais approves, so it deserves a chance.

The bad:

How I Met Your Mother
Oh man. A laugh track? Haven't we learned our lessons? I guess not, considering all the awards Everybody Loves Raymond just won. The only reasons I watched this were to see folks from Buffy, Freaks and Geeks, and Doogie Howser. They should have stayed at home. They must need the money.

It's exciting to see so many alumni of Buffy and Freaks and Geeks back on TV. I wish them luck!

Posted at September 30, 2005 06:23 PM, Categories: Beardcore

The autumn of my twenties

I'm almost freaking 30! I have no desire to settle down or anything, but on the other hand I'm almost 30 and I still feel like a kid. Maybe that never goes away. My mom recently mentioned that she was walking through a parking lot, caught her reflection in a car window, and wondered, "Who IS that old lady?"

I'm glad I still feel like a kid, don't get me wrong.

Posted at September 30, 2005 05:53 PM, Categories: Beardcore

September 28, 2005

Kitchen Sharpie

If you know me, you know that I'm a big fan of the Sharpie. I keep one in my pocket, along with a ball-point pen, at all times. You never know when you might need to mark something: film canisters, sample printouts, or plastic cups at a party. I even go so far as to buy a specific kind of marker: the Sharpie Industrial. It's fade-resistant, good for temperatures up to 500°F, and most importantly, acid-free.

Anyway, today's tip is: keep a Sharpie next to the pantry or refrigerator. Get in the habit of labeling everything when you first open it. Before long, you'll never have to guess how old something is: you'll know with certainty.

Posted at September 28, 2005 06:38 PM, Categories: Food

September 23, 2005

Prices

Gasoline

It amazes me that already $2.89 seems like a "bargain" for gasoline. I swear gasoline was under $1 when I started driving, but then was almost half my life ago.

It is pretty cool, though, that I've only used 1.603 gallons of gasoline in the last 11 days. That helps me agree with this idea: Why Cheap Gas Is a Bad Habit [newsweek.com].

Groceries

Every once in a while I remember to stop by Edgewater Produce, rather than just blindly trudging into Jewel whenever I need something. Today I went to both, and came back with numbers:

Sweet potato, Edgewater Produce: $0.29
Sweet potato, Jewel: $0.79

Bag of washed spinach, Edgewater Produce: $1.39
Bag of washed spinach, Jewel: $2.75 (on sale!)

Tomatillo salsa, Edgewater Produce: $1.69
Tomatillo salsa, Jewel: $2.49

You'll also be happy to know that the La Costeña green salsa is great, not like that other junk.

Posted at September 23, 2005 01:16 PM, Categories: Beardcore

September 21, 2005

Goya green salsa

You (*) may not know this, but this blog does have a "food" category. I haven't made much use of it, and you can't yet view by categories, but it's there. I'll post my recipe for tuna salad soon.

I just had to warn you away from Goya Medium Green Salsa. When it comes to salsas, "medium" is usually at the upper limit of my scale of acceptable spiciness, but this salsa is lame! It's not hot at all and it doesn't have much flavor. It's kind of just cold and wet. Hardly a worthy complement to the wonderful El Ranchero chips.

(*) I have no idea how many people, if any, are reading this. I'll have to have a peek at the stats one of these days.

Posted at September 21, 2005 03:53 PM, Categories: Food

September 18, 2005

Sleep schedule, easy access to entertainment

So, it's 5:55 AM on a Sunday morning and I'm awake. This is an early morning, but not entirely out of the ordinary. I started shifting my sleep schedule toward early-to-rise so I could be "up and at'em" for 9 AM appointments, but this is getting ridiculous. I didn't even go to bed very early last night, but sometimes six hours of sleep is enough for me.

In Now Playing news, I finally got back into Neal Stephenson's Quicksilver, and it took this time (I started this book and got overwhelmed twice before. Now I've taken some notes on who's where and when, but soon gave up obsessing over details and have fallen back on the usual "reading along knowing I'm forgetting some of the smaller facts" mode), so I have another 800 pages to look forward to, plus the two subsequent books he's already finished. This is better than my discovery of the Northern Exposure DVDs, which abruptly end after Season 3. I've gotten so accustomed to being able to get whatever I want, free online or on DVD. In this day and age, it's a surprise when something is simply not available for purchase.

Posted at September 18, 2005 06:16 AM, Categories: Beardcore

September 16, 2005

Keyboards

So I needed another full-size keyboard. I have an old iMac-style keyboard that I use with my laptop in my office, but it's Page Up and Page Down keys are in the wrong spot, there's no numeric keypad, and I think there are no Home and End keys either. It's fine for small things, but if and when I want to do some programming at work it's a real pain.

So, I thought, I'll get a new Apple Keyboard and all will be well. Except I couldn't let it be that simple. The current Apple keyboards, wireless or wired, have a fix incline. It may be ergonomically irresponsible, but I prefer my keyboard to be flat or even lower at the back. As long as my hands are level with, or below my elbows, this feels much more natural than having the back of the keyboard higher than the front.

So I went hunting for an Apple Pro USB Keyboard. M7803. That's what I've been using with my PowerMac and it's been like home. When I got to eBay, though, I found that these were like prized possessions, carefully guarded and fetching prices higher than new, store-bought Apple keyboards (M9034). The masses apparently agree that this older keyboard is superior, so I hunted for a good deal. These days, that means keeping a close eye on the often-ridiculous shipping prices.

Finally I found my 'board. The price was good.. The shipping was reasonable. Then they said "oh, we need to charge you $2.50 more for shipping.. sorry." I should have known right there I was in for trouble. They keyboard arrived in one piece, but the left shift key was sticky. I emailed them an asked "what the heck?" and proceeded to clean the key. Then I noticed that the CTRL key was wonky. It was rubbing against the side of the case and wouldn't always return up. Usually didn't, in fact. I don't know what someone did to this thing, but it's not in good shape! They finally wrote back to offer to return my money in exchange for the keyboard, and I think I'm going to take them up on it.

Bad keys aside, there's another serious downside to a used keyboard: it's nasty. Really dirty. Take a look at your keyboard. Isn't it gross? If you don't think so, and it's not new, turn on another light and lean in closer. Maybe tilt it a bit. Disgusting. Still don't agree? Try to imagine for a moment that someone at work just gave you this keyboard to replace yours. They used it, you're not so sure of their hygiene practices, and now you're going to type on it for many hours each day. Observe closely the dirt and how it bounces as you slap the spacebar, and think of the fingers and lunches that left the debris. How many times did they sneeze on the number keys? Whose hair is that?

I apologize for ruining your appetite. The lesson is: settling for a pre-owned keyboard isn't worth the savings. The keyboard is probably your most-used interface to anything you use, except maybe your car steering wheel. It ought to be new and clean and comfortable. Keyboard feel is a supreme concern, and I've always been very pleased with Apple's keyboards. Even their laptops, since the Wallstreet models introduced the scissor switches, are a joy to type on.

So, I'm not going to waste any more money on mediocre keyboards. I'm going to find a really good one and spare no expense. Since I decided to start buying only quality shoes, I haven't had to replace one worn-out pair. Good shoes last longer, and I believe a quality keyboard will be worth the price. And they are complex! We'll happily pay $60 for a simple optical mouse with few moving parts, but take a look at what it takes to clean a keyboard. By all rights they should cost three times as much as a mouse. Er, I mean, computer mice should be cheaper.

So they hunt begins. The Matias Tactile Pro USB Keyboard looks promising, though the keyboard shortcut issue mentioned in this review seems like a deal breaker for me. Sigh.

Posted at September 16, 2005 09:18 AM, Categories: Computing

September 15, 2005

A few new POTDs

Added a few new items to Picture of the Day 2005.

Posted at September 15, 2005 08:53 AM, Categories: Photography

Another software plug: Tofu

Tofu is a program I usually forget about, but occasionally, while reading an online article, I reach my limit for tolerating bad layout or flashing ads. That's when i remember Tofu. Select the text of the article, then pick "View in Tofu" from the browser's Services menu. Nice columns, no graphics, a decent font and a full-screen mode make reading a pleasure. Mac OS X 10.2 or later.

Posted at September 15, 2005 08:51 AM, Categories: Computing

September 13, 2005

Carbon Copy Cloner to the rescue.. again

Just when I thought I'd said all the good things I could say about Alsoft's DiskWarrior, I ran across a problem it couldn't fix. After a dozen emails and a phone call or two with their tech support, I decided to reformat the drive. Maybe I should back up a bit.

Everything was working fine, but trying to verify/repair my main boot disk always resulted in an "invalid extent entry" error. I'm not sure exactly what that means, but it's something like "we lost track of one of your files and can't fix it." Among other things, Alsoft had me run Apple's Hardware Test CD which failed first on my Firewire bus. A little googling revealed that my Firewire/USB PCI card always causes a failure on this test, so I removed it. Then the test started failing on my computer's memory. It seems I may have had a bad RAM SIMM in my machine, though Apple's startup memory tests never said boo. Rember thought all was well too, but after numerous AHTCD runs I could only conclude that that the middle SIMM was bad. Other World Computing offered to replace it without a moment's hesitation. Lately I've been pondering buying a cheap PC for my next computer. I mean, they're SO CHEAP. But, like with shoes, you get what you pay for. Apple computer may be relatively expensive, but that's because they're of relatively better quality.

After much debugging work with Alsoft, their tech agreed that even if DiskWarrior can get the directory repaired, I might not want to use that repaired directory. Memory problems can reek havoc on a file system, and on DiskWarrior, so it's on to plan B.

Plan B is to copy everything off of the hard drive, reformat it, install OS X 10.4 from scratch (I've been upgrading since around 10.2), then reinstall all of my files and programs. Hardly a picnic.

Plan C, however, is to use the wonderful Carbon Copy Cloner to copy my whole startup disk to a disk image on another drive. Then reformat the drive and copy everything back. If any files were hosed beyond recognition, they simply wouldn't make the transfer and I would deal with that later. I wasn't sure this was going to work, but after copying everything to the disk image and checking it's integrity, things were looking fine. Besides, my home directory is backed up nightly so at worst I would have to reinstall the OS and all my apps (plan B above).

After a bit of hesitation over the "OK" button I reformatted the drive and started copying all 600,000 files back, again with Carbon Copy Cloner. Checked the disk, repaired permissions, rebooted and... it worked! I'd heard CCC could pull such things off but I wasn't entirely sure it would work. Everything seemed to be working fine, the directory is in good shape, and it's basically like the machine never missed a beat. I didn't get the potential speed gain that a fresh install might have yielded, but I also saved a day of popping CD-ROMs in the drive.

One potential boneheaded move, which I've confronted before, is that nightly home directory backup. Sure, that's great if I delete something by accident, but since there's only one backup I have to catch the problem within 24 hours. While I slept last night, having just copied everything back to my main disk, this backup occurred. My safety net was overwritten with the supposedly restored data. I guess I need more space to have 7 rotating nightly backups?

Having a small business that depends on digital data has made me confront the realities of backups. I have a pretty decent system in place, but it's still not foolproof (or Randy-proof) nor is it 100% robust. Storage space is cheap these days, but when one copy of your work data consists of about 200GB, and that's just 14 months of work, it starts to look expensive again.

Posted at September 13, 2005 10:17 AM, Categories: Computing

September 04, 2005

News photo blog

Damn, I totally had this idea. Of course, as usual, I'm about a year too late with the great ideas that I have, but I did think of it before I knew it existed. Posted at September 4, 2005 09:12 AM, Categories: Photography

Walgreens prints: online order and in-store pickup

Walgreens has finally introduced a service I'd been hoping for: upload your digital images and pick up the prints at your local store. The nearest Walgreens location replaced their digital photo printer with a Fuji Frontier about a year ago, allowing me to get good, cheap 4x6 prints made without having to pay shipping. Still, I had to burn a CD-R, go to the store, upload the pictures with their machine, wait in line to hand over the little paper slip and confirm that yes, I did indeed wish to have them back in an hour. Then I obviously had to go back in an hour. I can be a lazy man, and two trips to the store is... Well, you get the idea.

If you're a cheapskate and lazy, give it a try. Not all Walgreens use Fuji Frontier's, and Dry Creek Photo has few Walgreens profiles, but we're making progress.

Posted at September 4, 2005 08:46 AM, Categories: Photography
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Fall TV (Sep 30)
The autumn of my twenties (Sep 30)
Kitchen Sharpie (Sep 28)
Prices (Sep 23)
Goya green salsa (Sep 21)
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