October 2007


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Archive for October, 2007

Ye Gods, I’m a geek

Posted in Geekery on October 27th, 2007

Posted by mobile phone:
So I finally joined the ranks of the truly geeky. You used to be able to spot us by the pocket protector or the physics book in our hand, but nowdays it’s all about the cellphone you carry – and I am now the proud owner of a T-Mobile Wing.

My pocket protector is truly big now, as I am writing this from my phone. This was made possible by the WordPress Mobile Plugin from Andy Moore, which not only makes your blog readable on a tiny phone screen, it makes it possible to blog from anywhere.

I told you I was geeky.

Okay, while that was fun and all, I type even slower by thumbnail than I do on a regular keyboard, so I’m going to finish this post from the laptop. Sure, it’s a cool feature to have for when I get really bored out in the world, but really. Back to talking about the phone.

For those of you who just gotta know, specs can be had here.

I have to say, I’m pretty happy with it so far, which is good considering how many clams I had to shuck out to buy it. I love T-Mobile’s plan pricing, but their phone selection could really use some help. There are one or two phones out there I may have liked better, but I wasn’t about to try and sever my contract and go through all of that hassle just to get a slightly shinier toy.

The Wing has a slide-out QWERTY keyboard, so they can fit a nice big screen on the front, which was the main selling point for the device. The only other models on the T-Mo lineup with that feature are the SideKicks, which really feel flimsy to me due to the way the screen rotates out of the way. the last thing I want to do is slide that screen off every couple of months.

The phone runs Windows Mobile (PocketPC) 6, which means the Exchange server at work can talk to it directly to push out my work emails. In practice, I get an echo when I’m working at my desk since both the phone and the laptop have the same email notifier, and the phone gets the email about a second behind the laptop. (I will probably turn off that notifier on the phone.)

Another cool feature is the fact that for the first time, I can actually get my computer to talk directly to my phone for transferring files and such, instead of only being able to download ringtones from my provider’s website – no more of this $2.50 for a 20-second crappy segment of a song! So now, if you’re ever out and about and you hear machine-gun fire super-imposed on tinny Muzak, you know I’m close by and just got a call :) (24 Hours Open, from the Cowboy Bebop: Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door Soundtrack.)

Other things I like about it: easy customization (just about everything is configurable since it is running a Windows variant) and easy software installation. Just copy over the .cab file and click it in most cases. Multiple email accounts, with the above-mentioned Exchange integration. Built-in WiFi access that has worked every time I try it (Yay!), and a 1.3 megapixel camera that beats the hell out of the one on the last phone.

While the Wing has alot of cool features, no device is ever perfect. The big bummer for me right out of the gate is that it only comes in that damn blue color, so I can’t stick to my black-or-silver forever motif. I make up for that by keeping it in a black leather holster on my belt.

The biggest headache, however, is the fact that the phone is already short on resources. It comes with only 128MB of internal RAM, and about 1/3 of that is being sucked up by the OS. The OS then assigns the rest of that memory to storage and running applications at about 50/50. Sure, you can get an expansion card for it (I got a 2GB card) for file storage, but there are a number of folders that can’t be re-directed to the card without doing a registry hack. That scares me a bit, so I won’t be messing with that.

What this all means is that after poking around on it for a couple hours, I had to reboot the phone to get the camera to work due to lack of program memory available. It also means that if you want to install any additional software on the phone, you will need to install it to the storage card instead of system memory so it can actually run. Annoying to be sure, and something I will probably just have to get used to.

the last bummer, and one that kind of surprised me, is that it only comes with two games, and one of them is Solitaire. That will have to change! Other than that though, I am happy with the phone and would recommend it to anyone else on T-Mo looking for an upgrade. You might want to hit a couple auction sites though, to see if you can get it cheaper than retail.

“Cabaret” at the Armory

Posted in Reviews on October 20th, 2007

Tolerant and I decided to get some culture into our mundane lives, so we went out last Friday to see the Portland Center Stage’s rendition of Cabaret, starring Storm Large as Sally Bowles and Wade McCollum as the EMcee.

Cabaret is set in Berlin during the rise of the Third Reich, a time when Berlin had become home to the strange and eccentric. Life outright sucked in the late 20’s for your average Berliner, and entertainment had to be suitably exotic to take your mind off your woes. As the program they handed us mentions, “if we actually put on stage tonight what was happening in those clubs in Berlin – we’d be shut down.” Thus we enter the Kit Kat Klub, one of the more notorious nightspots Berlin had to offer.

Clifford Bradshaw is a young American writer who has been traipsing around Europe and England living the Bohemian lifestyle and trying to find himself as much as anything. On his way to Berlin, he meets Ernst, an German businessman who introduces him to his favorite nightspot, the Kit Kat Klub. There Clifford meets Sally Bowles, a singer from England living life as much as she can in the Dionysian extravaganza that is Berlin. The two get wound up in the middle of this craziness just before things truly start to fall apart.

Based on the play by John Van Druten (itself based on the stories of Christopher Isherwood) Cabaret is probably familiar to many of you, and from what I can gather, this performance holds much in common with the original Broadway production starring Liza Minelli – but not so much in common with the movie of the same name. With a good script, all you need is a group of performers that don’t suck to pull it off. In this case, they had a great script – the author set out with the purpose of knocking your worldview just slightly out of whack, and he keeps it there throughout.

For this production, this excellent script had the benefit of a very talented cast of performers to staff the Klub, and the whole thing went off extremely well. All of the Players in the troupe gave the show their best, and they work very well together. Cabaret is a whole string of ups-and-downs, and the cast are very adept at riding that roller-coaster. I would be very hard-pressed to pick out a favorite, despite my being a big fan of Storm Large’s singing.

To top it off, the Gerding Theater at the Armory is an excellent place to put forth this production. The theater lends itself very well to a period play such as this, as there is a preponderance of exposed brickwork for the crew to work around, really giving you the feel of being in a run-down portion of the city. While the acoustics of the auditorium are very good on their own, the cast had the benefit of portable microphones the size of a Q-Tip, so their speaking voices didn’t have to have the usual “I’m yelling so the folks in the cheap seats can hear me but really I’m whispering” effect and they didn’t have much in the way of visible technology ruining the ambiance. Wade put this tool to excellent use throughout the play.

The only thing that I think would have improved it would have been to run the show as dinner theater, so you would really get the feeling of being in the Kit Kat Klub. That would limit seating down to about 50 persons though, so I can understand why they wouldn’t want to go that route.

While tickets might be a bit spendy for your budget, I would still recommend seeing this show. I give it 4 out of 5 Paws.

Why we should un-bundle Windows

Posted in Geekery, Politics on October 8th, 2007

Con Zymaris posts a pretty well-reasoned treatise on why we need to take regulatory action and force manufacturers to stop bundling Windows with new computers.

For the most part, I heartily agree with him. Where I disagree, is his closing statement:

Question: How is it possible to provide for both consumers who demand Windows and also ensure a fair and open marketplace for competing platforms?

Answer:That’s the $64 billion question, isn’t it? Here’s how it can be done.

All hardware manufacturers should ship personal computers with no pre-installed operating system. They should include within the packaging of the computer a media copy of the then current Microsoft Windows recovery CD. They should also include a copy of one of the main Linux distributions which are freely-redistributable at no charge.

Upon unpacking the computer, the consumer must then make a choice of either:

1. loading Windows from the Windows recovery media, then using the brochure included with the recovery media to contact Microsoft and through some form of financial transaction, acquire a licence to use Windows, or

2. load the Linux operating system from the CD/DVD included, and use it as their computer operating system.

(Legal bits:Permission is granted to make and distribute verbatim copies of this document, provided this permission notice is preserved on all copies.)

I have two major problems with this statement:

1) The average computer user is not skilled enough to install an operating system. You’d like to think that they are, but having worked in both retail and corporate computer support, I can tell you truthfully that John and Jane Doe are clueless about the procedure, and more importantly don’t want to learn.

They can barely get through unpacking it and plugging all of the color-coded connectors in the right place. Once they’ve gotten that far they just want to be able to turn the thing on and have it work. Shit, have you ever looked at the installation manual for a Dell computer? It’s a glossy color poster with pictograms on it because that’s all the average user can manage.

2) Mr. Zymaris keeps referring to a Windows “restore CD”. A restore cd is typically a digital image of a hard drive that has had Windows installed on it and configured for a fresh user, then packaged into a nicely useful two- or three-click install procedure. And those three clicks are usually “Are you sure?” A Linux install CD, however, is packed with options and choices that John and Jane Doe won’t know the answers to.

If you really want to level the playing field, give them a restore CD for Windows and another one in a popular Linux flavor that has had equal care given to the configuration. Better yet, do what Dell has (grudgingly) done and offer either OS pre-installed. There is no reason the user should be forced to do the final install. Have you ever seen a car dealer that would sell you an upgraded stereo option – and then make you install it yourself?

On top of that, the manufacturer should provide the same level of support for both OSes. J&J D might be willing to give Linux a try if they knew they could call someone for help – and it needs to be real help too, not the typical “oh, you have installed unsupported software on your system so now I can’t help you” bullshit.

So what I would like to see is three options for configuring a computer on the manufacturer’s website: No OS, Windows, or Linux. That way you have the choice of rolling your own, taking the safe road, or taking the scenic route and seeing something new.

We will likely never see this happen though. At the retailer level such as Best Buy or CompUSA, it means they have to devote more shelf space to each individual product to showcase both factory-supported options, which will cause some griping and foot-dragging. At the manufacturer level, the same grumping will happen due to the increased training and staffing required to fully support a second option. Combine these two, and you have a lot of lobbying dollars going toward backing up Microsoft and maintaining the status quo.

If the un-bundling were to happen, you would not see a reduction in price for probably a couple of years as the manufacturers and retailers paid for the extra training and shelf space.

Just my two cents.

Kill the labels please.

Posted in Media, Politics on October 7th, 2007

This shit has gone too far. In the UK, the Performing Rights Society (which collects royalties for songwriters and performers) is suing a chain of auto shops for allowing their employees to play their radios loud enough that everyone around them can hear. They say this amounts to “public performance”, and is therefore a violation of copyright. The PRS is seeking £200,000 in damages.


Okay, now if we combine that with the RIAA’s claim that “making downloads available” (I.E., having music in a shared folder accessible by a P2P client) is just as bad as actively uploading / downloading music, then there is only one possible next step: the music labels will be banding together to sue anyone who owns a radio capable of outputting a signal to anything larger than a pair of earbud headphones.

Because, obviously, having speakers larger than earbud ‘phones means they could conceivably be turned up load enough for the neighbors or passers-by to hear, which is the equivalent of “making available”, so those people have “made available” their music for public performance. The same would go double for car-stereo owners equipped with amplifiers powerful enough to make the music heard beyond the confines of the car.

I hereby urge all musicians to use whatever means necessary to extricate yourself from any recording contracts you may have and use the technology available in the marketplace today to self-publish, because obviously the major labels are bent on completely alienating your entire fanbase. In years past, having a contract with a label was the only way to be heard; in this day and age, there’s no reason you couldn’t self-publish or deal directly with iTunes and other distribution points.

Ye. Fucking. Gods.