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Journal Journal: Rental DVD Quality 1

Around this time of year I hit the local video rental store hard to catch up on all of the movies and TV shows I missed during the previous year. Several years ago I switched to only DVD because the video quality is much higher, they can contain bonus features, and I can play them on multiple devices. I remembered running into issues the last couple of years but I didn't make note of them. This year, 3 of the last 6 DVDs I've rented have had quality issues severe enough to interfere with the overall enjoyment of the video experience. The quality issues I am speaking of range from stuttering all the way to unable to read disc errors. They all appear to stem from damage done to the surface of the DVD itself such as a gouge or scratch. I was interested to find that the damaged disc had various levels of success when playing through the problem areas on the disc on different DVD players. The PlayStation was the worst. The iMac G5 and Dell P5 were a toss up as to whether or not the disc could play through.

I informed the rental store when I encountered an issue so someone else might not encounter the same problem. They did flag the discs and gave me in-store credit but I'd rather have a non-damaged disc.

I know the obvious solution is verify the quality of the DVD before renting it but some of these rentals had only one copy. Another solution would be to rent from a store with higher quality DVDs. That isn't very practical because of geography constraints. NetFlix and Blockbuster are certainly options but could have the same issues with less opportunity for immediate recourse.

Is this a provincial issue or have other people encountered an increased number of damaged discs from rental stores?


Journal Journal: What's in the box?!

I had a friend back in middle school that was an edgy risk taker. You know the friend, the one you were with when you tried a cigarette or liquor for the first time. They were probably the ones egging you on. Well, this friend devolved into a neurotic kleptomaniac by high school. After stealing stuff from most his friends we stopped hanging out. You grow up, stupid kid shit no longer seems important. Truthfully, I had forgotten about him. He was back in town 5 years ago and somehow got in touch with me. We had dinner and got caught up. He's married with kids working in software development for a Fortune 500 company. Blah blah blah. It was your typical year 2000 20something $200 sushi dotcom dinner bragfest.

Fast forward 5 years. I get this email from out of nowhere from him to my company email account which freaked me out. Then I remembered I probably gave him my business card in some sloppy meishi desu ceremony before the raw fish. Damn. However he got it, here's what he wrote:

I know this is going to sound weird but could you send me your mailing address? I have a package to snail mail to you.

I sat on it for a couple days. I really didn't want this person to have my address. I couldn't think of any possible reason that he might want to send me anything. What could he want to send me? My first thought was the awesome diving knife he stole that my now deceased grandfather gave me as child. That would be so awesome if he kept it for the last 15+ years and decided to give it back. Or perhaps it could be any of the other numerous things he pilfered.

I wrote to a mutual friend from back in the day who was surprised. I asked if my friend had gotten a similar letter. He said no, but wished he had because he too would like back some of things the thief stole. My friend suggested at best it was something valuable he stole back in the day or at worst a big box of bird flu.

Curiosity got the best of me so I emailed him my address. A week goes by. Then another week. I forgot all about it. Then one day there's a small package in my mailbox. Too small to be a bomb but certainly large enough to contain the diving knife! I opened it with glee. What slid out was a small black bible and a note. :|

It has been a long time. A lot has changed. A lot has stayed the same. Recently I have been looking over my life (call it an early mid life crisis) and I have found a few things that I want to address.

We were friends for a long time. I still am not sure what happened, all I know is that I was afraid of and mad at you for a long time. I want to apologize for that.

Not sure what happened? How about you stole shamelessly from your friends. Mad at me? For what, wanting my stuff back? The nerve of me.

I also am ashamed to admit that I stole from you. You had a few smoke grenades in your basement. I took a couple of them. It was foolish to do and there is no excuse. I apologize and ask for your forgiveness.

What!? Forget the 'nades, I want my damn knife back.

I have been thinking a lot about forgiveness lately. In this package is a Bible. This is the original book about forgiveness and redemption. It tells of God's...

Blah blah blah it goes on for a whole long paragraph of typical formulaic christian evangelism including the classic John 3:16. Use your imagination for the rest.

Sigh. He must have done some bad things in his life to think I would care enough to read this crap. Maybe he cheated on his wife and got caught, found god, then part of his path to forgiveness was a formula letter that he had to send out to 10 people to "save". Wait, how the hell would he know whether I hadn't already found god myself? How arrogant. I told our mutual friend all about the package. His reaction was something like "oh great, you've got yourself a jesus freak stalker now. Don't give him my address."

Anyone else have any friends from their past that found a god and decided you needed to find one too?


Journal Journal: Top 10 Misperceptions About Hybrid Vehicles -- From Ford 7

From Car Buyer's Notebook...
  1. All hybrids are the same: There is a "full" hybrid system that gets best fuel mileage in city driving, and a "mild" hybrid system that gets best mileage on the open road. [Ed. -- Ford vehicles have a full hybrid system.]
  2. Gas savings will quickly neutralize the premium hybrid sticker cost: Even cab and other prolific drivers won't break even the first year -- and it could take a small town farmer a decade to break even.
  3. The hybrid model's EPA sticker is the mileage you'll get: The mileage depends on how you drive. A group of Ford engineers achieved 38 MPG in Manhattan -- 5 MPG higher than the EPA estimate.
  4. Hybrids have a limited driving range: A tank of gas in the Ford Escape or Mercury Mariners hybrids will take you about 500 miles in a combination of city and highway driving under normal conditions.
  5. Hybrids are the future: Hybrids are only part of the future. Other mileage and emissions breakthroughs are coming, including hydrogen-powered vehicles.
  6. You have to plug them in: No, the gas engine and the brakes recharge the electric battery.
  7. Hybrids are less powerful: The electric engine in the Escape and Mariner hybrids provide more torque at low speeds than their gas-only versions.
  8. Everybody is buying hybrids: Although 29.4% of new-vehicle shoppers will consider a hybrid, they only account for less than 1% of current new-vehicle sales.
  9. Replacement batteries will cost a fortune: The battery warranties on hybrids are extensive. The Escape and Mariner hybrids both have eight-year, 100,000-mile warranties.
  10. The [USA] federal government is increasing the full hybrid tax credit for all hybrid buyers next year: The new energy bill taking effect January 1, 2006 will increase the tax break, but the full credit only applies to the first 60,000 hybrids sold from each manufacturer.

Journal Journal: mobile phone data cable from RPI Wireless good times

I have a LG VX 6000 mobile phone with Verizon. All I have is minimum minutes package and voicemail -- no other features. The LG VX 6000 came free with renewing my contract. It is a camera phone which at first I thought to be completely useless. After a year I found that I had taken some pictures with it to set as my background wallpaper on the phone itself. I've come to like the images so much that I want to get them off the phone before it dies. The picture mail service was like $5/month which doesn't seem all that bad except there were only 3 pictures I wanted off the phone. I could sign up for the service, mail the pictures to myself, then cancel the service but it seemed like a hassle and would only been good for one shot. If I took any pictures later I would have to do it again at another $5. Another alternative was the data sync USB cable. My preliminary searches found it for like $80. Then I read in a Verizon newsgroup about RPI Wireless which had one for $25. The cable's documentation assured me it would be able to get pictures off the phone as well as put ones on. I could also get my contacts, calendar, ringtones, etc. Plus the USB cable charges the phone without a power adapter and can also be used to make the phone into a modem. What a deal!

So I go to RPI's website and order the phone. I knew something was fishy when they redirected me to a separate online billing site. Their certificate checked out and I've heard of smaller businesses contracting out online billing so I went ahead. Besides, it was only $25. So what if I got ripped off. I get a confirmation email with my order number and everything looks cool. Shipping was like 3 to 5 days but I was in no rush. A week goes by. I send an email to RPI's customer service. Two more days go by with no response. I get distracted with other crap and the next thing I know two weeks have gone by and I still don't have the cable much less a shipping #. I try calling their 800 customer service number and get put on hold for one minute before it hangs up on me. Email doesn't work, phone doesn't work, my last resort is their web-based online chat support desk. Below is the transcript from my chat session.

Spoony: I placed an order two weeks ago Tuesday and I have not received any confirmation of order processing or shipping. What is the status of my order #XXXX?
*** Welcome Spoony! Please hold while we contact a representative. If a representative does not respond in a few seconds, then he/she is not available at this time.
*** You are now speaking with Robert of SALES.
Robert: hi, how can we help today
Spoony: hi
Spoony: I placed an order two weeks ago Tuesday and I have not received any confirmation of order processing or shipping. What is the status of my order #XXXX?
Robert: let me check on that for you.
Robert: i am transfering you to jason in shipping, one second please.
*** Please hold while being transferred to Jason Nelson of SALES.
*** You are now speaking with Jason Nelson of SALES.
Jason Nelson: hello sir
Jason Nelson: how my i help you
Spoony: hi
Spoony: I placed an order two weeks ago Tuesday and I have not received any confirmation of order processing or shipping. What is the status of my order #XXXX?
Jason Nelson: one sec
Jason Nelson: i will check your status
Jason Nelson: they are shipping it as we speak
Jason Nelson: here is your tracking #
Spoony: has it left for shipment? USPS has no record of that tracking number
Jason Nelson: no sir
Jason Nelson: Packages go to post office at 4:30pm EST
Jason Nelson: it should hit the system by 01:00am EST
Spoony: right, I guess I'll try again tomorrow, thanks for your time
Jason Nelson: it will show up on there site
Jason Nelson: Welcome sir
Jason Nelson: I am sorry about the delay
*** Your party has left this session.

Not 10 seconds after the chat session ends I get a shipping confirmation email from RPI. Too much of a coincidence for me. I don't trust any of it. Robert and Jason are probably the same damn person in south India. USPS doesn't show the tracking number provided as being real for another 3 business days. On the 4th day the cable arrives at my house. I install all the weird drivers and sync up with the phone and get my pictures to my desktop machine. Whew, mission accomplished. A week later I get another package from RPI Wireless with the same USB cable for my phone. Panicking, I check my credit card statement online but I was only charged for one. Idiots.

All you need to know: RPI Wireless is a bit flaky -- not recommended.


Journal Journal: SnakeOil Labs Top 10 Windows Freeware tools for 2005

From SnakeOil Labs Top 10 Windows Freeware tools for 2005...
  • Winamp - love it
  • CoolMon - never used it, have used CPU-Z and liked it, I don't overclockz0rs so not important
  • Process Explorer - never used it, still use taskmgr and filemon, will give it a try
  • Foxit PDF Reader - Adobe Acrobat isn't that annoying to me so I don't bother trying anything else, pdf995 is good for creating pdfs
  • VLC - is teh bombshiznite for playing f'ed up video files and trying to save them
  • K-Lite Codec Pack - nice idea but I'd rather only get the codecs I need, for this reason I use GSpot to find what I need then get it
  • MusicBrainz Tagger - I'll have to try it, I've been doing it manually with winamp but it hasn't been too painful
  • SimpLite - ok, this is starting to read more like "Top 10 Windows Freeware tools for College Students and Japanese Teenagers", what Cindy is wearing to the pr0m and A/S/L/pic is not encryption worthy sorry
  • Konfabulator - heard about it, saw it bring a OSX box to its knees, I hate eye candy but I'll check it out on my beefy Windows box
  • TOR - The Onion Router - can't use it at work, can't even get to it from work, running anonymous sounds like red flagging yourself for more attention, will check it out anyway

Journal Journal: end of summer quickie updates 1

  • Two weeks ago I started a new position at my job. I'm now doing some java related stuff. It feels like 1998 again.
  • Last weekend my dad and I canoed from Lake Au Sable in northeastern Michigan to Lake Huron. It took 2.5 days and cover many miles of beautiful waterways. Pictures for the interested.
  • Last weekend my brother and his wife had their second child -- a healthy happy son to carry on the family name. We're all extremely proud.
  • Yesterday my step-dad and I came in first place in our first golf league experience. It was a total surprise because I'm really not that good of a golfer. I guess the key is that I got a lot better over the summer so my handicap became deadly. I enjoy the simplicity of this game. Bring me your finest meats and cheeses.
  • Next weekend is my friend's bachelor party in Las Vegas. I'm the best man and it was a lot of fun to coordinate attendees from two states and two countries. Suggestions beyond casinos?
Media (Apple)

Journal Journal: Portable USB Programs List

Portable USB Programs List is an excellent (albeit highly Windows centric) listing of links to installerless executable programs to use on USB drives. Many of the apps you may already know (putty, firefox, vlc, hijackthis) but it also includes others that you may not know like procexp (interesting task manager) and virtualdub (video editor).

Journal Journal: quickie update: neighbor problem, yard sale, burned finger 3

Alright, we have a lot to discuss and typing currently hurts a little bit so bare with me.

Neighbor Problem... Solved

So this asshole cottage neighbor up north has been dumping his yard trash behind my property for a long time. So much so he has worn a path through my property to get there. This is illegal and and a very asshole thing to do. No one else up there likes him because he's a jerk to everyone. All my other neighbors suspected it was him dumping trash but no one had any proof because he did it during the weekdays when no one was around. A couple weekends ago he got careless and did it front of two neighbors and myself. Before I could confront him he took off. Upset, I did the only mature thing I could think of.. I hauled his trash back to his property and piled it on his front doorstep. Fast forward two days, he finds the trash on his doorstep and confronts another neighbor about it (I'm not there) and the asshole neighbor is told to stop trespassing and dumping trash on other people's property. With witnesses, the asshole neighbor gets really red face mad and decides to take his trash back to my property and dump it again. He sees my "No Dumping" sign and breaks it up into small pieces. He goes back to the nice neighbor and yells some more, another nice neighbor comes over to break it up and suggests they call the police. Asshole neighbor freaks out, jumps into his car and speeds away. Minutes after he arrives at his home an hour away he has a heart attack and dies. The property is now up for sale.

Yard Sale

I had a yard sale last Saturday I can't believe no one wanted to buy my crap. The highlight was another geek who bought $500 worth of computer parts for about $100. This money is going towards an iBook. I tried to talk my partner into marking their stuff down but didn't do it. $75 for a broken coffee table? Idiot. Plus they took out an one day ad in the paper for $33! Man, I should have done all this myself. Ended up with a $13 profit from the whole day. :(

Burned Finger

So I'm mowing my lawn and it looks great. I then fire up the gas powered weed whacker thing and clean up the rough edges, looks great. I put the whacker back in the shed and it slips. I go to grab it by the underside, the burning hot engine underside, and fry the tip of my left index finger -- OUCH! I ran cussing to the hose and kept it in cold water for the next 3 hours. It hurt like a bitch whenever I took it out. I'm such an idiot. Two blisters now. Burned finger tips and computer programmers do not mix. This JE has been difficult to type.

Back to work!

GNU is Not Unix

Journal Journal: Directory of Open Source Software for Windows

Here's an excellent directory of Open Source Software for Windows operating systems. While the list does not go into detail on any specific piece of software (other than the type of licenses) it is organized into logical categories and appears to be very thorough.

P.S. does anyone find it interesting that there is no "Open Source" topic icon on Slashdot?


Journal Journal: Windows DLL with system icons, lock workstation shortcut 2

I can never remember which Windows DLL has all the system icons. It is shell32.dll probably found in the system32 folder. I needed it so create a "lock workstation" shortcut with a fitting padlock icon on a Windows 2000 workstation used for work. In case you're wondering, you can create this shortcut on win2k/xp/etc by creating a new shortcut and enter this for the target: rundll32.exe user32.dll,LockWorkStation

Journal Journal: Firefox complaints

  • cannot install Firefox into same directory as existing installation yet that's exactly what it defaults to do (Windows)
  • Firefox installer does not give you the option to uninstall previous Firefox versions (Windows)
  • Firefox installer's interface for installing into a newly created folder is annoyingly clunky
  • having to reinstall some extensions like SpellBound (kickass form spell checker) after each reinstallation of Firefox - may be a SpellBound issue but still annoying
  • Firefox unable to update itself without reinstalling the whole package again (I understand this is to be resolved in 1.1)

Pollyanna disclaimer: Firefox on it worst day is still billions of times better than IE on it's best day.

The Internet

Journal Journal: Comcast DNS is pissing me off 6

The Comcast DNS servers have been flaking out all night. This isn't good for my internet addiction. I've been forced to squeeze in google searches whenever I can. This JE might or might not get posted. I'm listening to a saved mp3 rather than streamed. I played a game that isn't networked. I read up on hotels in Rome (not much left) in a guidebook. I moved the bookmark in my new JSP book. Also, it's made me start working on my Mexico journal again. I'm approaching productivity. Damn you Comcast!!!!111elevenoneone/b>

Journal Journal: no more official Firefox/Thunderbird zip builds 2

If you haven't noticed, the mozilla group decided to stop distributing official zip builds of Firefox and Thunderbird starting with the 1.0.2 releases. You could go vote on the bug related to the discontinuation of the zip builds but the moderators deemed it dupe multiple times then wontfix. Their recommendation is to use one of the nightly build zips. The exercise of determining which one matches up with the official release is left up to the user. Best of luck. Either way, they have no interest in fixing the problem that caused them to decide to stop distributing the zip builds.

I used the zip build at work where I have to use a Microsoft Windows OS but cannot install software. I refuse to browse the public Internet (job related) using IE because I don't want to get totally owned. I also used it on my USB flash drive to help people get de-owned.


I'm giving Portable Firefox a try. We'll see how it goes.

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