Time Marches On 
Tuesday, 28 June, 2011, 19:56
Posted by Administrator
It's the end of June. Time goes by so quickly these days. Mario is now crawling and is able to stand up with the assistance of a nearby piece of furniture; about nine months ago he was stationary and didn't make much noise.

Speaking of the end of June, the Taste of Lombard starts on Thursday. I'm going to put Mario into the baby backpack and head over there with Julie for some delicious, hopefully strange food. One day he, too, will enjoy alligator on a stick.

I snatched up a couple of domain names. This one will become the "fun" site, and I will have a smaller "professional" site ... eventually. I haven't attached a hosting plan to the domains yet because I'd need to rewrite one site from scratch if I do.

Anyway ... gettin' older. Happens to all of us.
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Google Music - Reasonably Quick Takes 
Saturday, 4 June, 2011, 01:18
Posted by Administrator
As you may or may not know, Google Music was released as an invite-only beta not too long ago. Being the nerd that I am I got in line and was invited late last week. You too can get in line by hitting http://music.google.com and signing up using your Google account.

I didnít get around to uploading music until yesterday, though. I accomplished this by installing the simple Google Music app on my computer and dragging & dropping the folders I wished to upload. The app allows you to throttle bandwidth utilization so you donít bring your network down, but the upload speed appears to top out at 7Mbps. It uploads two songs at a time, and took roughly 6 hours to upload 2500 songs to my Google Music library. For the record, the current iteration of the beta allows 20,000 songs per account, so unless you have every single song Billy Corgan and 2Pac have ever written (and continue to write?) in your collection, there should be plenty of space for your tunes.

You can control your tracks and playlists via a web browser, which I found quite useful after I signed in to the account for the first time. Google gives you some ďfreeĒ tracks if you request it and, given my fiery hatred for John Mayer, I immediately deleted any tracks with his name on them. Iím quite used to pointing and clicking with a mouse (Left 4 Dead, anyone?) and a full screen browser-based interface made this extremely simple. You can also play music through your browser; I didnít pay too much attention to how much bandwidth this used.

Regular readers of anything mobile-related that I post will know that I'm an Android fan. I love my HTC Thunderbolt and the 4G network to which it connects. So, as soon as I got that invite, I snagged the Android app and installed it. The app itself is pretty minimalistic. It has separate screens for artists, albums, songs, and playlists. The ďNow playingĒ screen is pretty simple too Ė it shows you the album cover (or a placeholder if one is not present), track title, artist name, album title, a progress bar, and back/play-pause/forward buttons. The progress bar doubles as a buffer indicator and, when the proper mode is selected, can also be used as a slider so you can skip to different parts of a song. The current time is indicated on the left side of the progress bar, and the track length is on the right.

Playback is of pretty good quality, but the MP3s I rip from my CDs are also of pretty good quality so thereís no surprise there. What is surprising is how well the stream performs Ė hitting Next or Back while on the mobile network did not result in obnoxious buffering screens. Iím not sure if this is because Iím on Verizonís 4G network (though Iím probably not on it all the time, as it sometimes steps back down to 3G) or because of the way Google Music is written, but either way, itís pretty sweet.

As a matter of completeness Iíll include the setup I used Ö phone is an HTC Thunderbolt, as mentioned above. Iíve been driving Julieís car for the past two days, so I popped it in a car dock and paired it with a Plantronics K100 hands-free kit, which was broadcasting to the carís stock stereo on 88.3FM. Due to the nature of the car dock, the phone was in its horizontal orientation the whole time; I havenít really messed with the Android app when the phone is oriented vertically.

I do have some annoyances with Google Music, though. First, like Pandora, you get a thumbs-up/thumbs-down type rating system, but this is only useable in the browser-based version of the interface. Given the vast amount of screen real-estate available in the appís horizontal orientation, rating buttons would be greatly appreciated. Second, songs skip every now and then. Itís usually within the first 30 seconds of the song, and it always happens when the track is fully-buffered. Third Ė and this is the most annoying by far Ė songs sometimes play twice. Itís really strange. The song will play all the way through, and the progress indicator will stop all the way on the right, but the timer keeps ticking past the total track length. Once the song plays through a second time, the app proceeds to the next track as youíd expect. This consistently happens with the first song that is played after you press the Next button, or the first song you play when you start the app.

Additionally, some of the UI semantics are screwy. For example, if I open an album from Album view and select the first track, this indicates to me that I want to start on the first track of the album and play each track until the end. However, the app thinks I want to play only the first track, and repeat it. Thatís not cool. Itís a great way to drive users to view all tracks and hit Shuffle, though.

Given that itís pretty much the initial beta these annoyances are excusable, though. With that said Iíll be keeping a close eye on the updates, and will report back periodically.

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Somewhere, a ravenous addict died today 
Friday, 27 May, 2011, 11:49
Posted by Administrator
Wow, that subject line sounds almost a bit too touchy-feely, didn't it? But no, I'm not talking about a drug addict dying in the streets or anything along those lines. No, a little over an hour ago my World of Warcraft subscription expired, and my account can no longer be used to access the game. So, that little crack fiend that runs around my brain has now been deprived of the one thing that has kept him going, and he dropped dead.

To be honest, I don't think it'll take me any time to get used to not logging in for the daily grind. It's not like I logged in every day anyway.

As I had mentioned in my previous post I think I will reestablish my membership when the next expansion is released, so maybe the ravenous addict didn't die ... perhaps he just became a well-adjusted, functioning member of society who has surrounded himself with people who are not addicted to horrible, habit-forming objects.
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The cycle continues 
Monday, 25 April, 2011, 20:17
Posted by Administrator
You may be aware that I am a fan of World of Warcraft. If not ... well, now you are. So it should come as no surprise to you that when the latest expansion was released, I renewed my account and started working on my characters. I now have three at level 85 (the maximum), one at level 62, and three at 45.

Of course, after a while, the grind gets to be a bit tedious. This is why I'm glad I only renewed my account for 6 months, and didn't configure auto-renewal: I cancelled my account again this afternoon. Thus, the cycle of "level, get bored, cancel, wait for next expansion" continues.

My problem with WoW-style games is that there's a limit to how rich the experience can get for the casual player. For example, if you start a new character, you get 20-25 levels out of your starting zones and then the quest lines converge with the rest of your faction. The only major differences occur between factions (e.g. Alliance vs. Horde storylines) and after expansions, hence the cycle.

Incidentally, this is the one thing that bothered me about Borderlands. When I first read about it in GameInformer, it seemed like an excellent idea. The implementation of that idea is pretty good, to be honest. However, there are really only minor differences between character types in Borderlands -- a weapon specialization here, a special ability there -- so gameplay gets repetitive.

With all of this said, I will indeed get back to WoW when (if?) the next expansion is released. My current subscription has about a month left on it, during which time I will try to get my level 62 character up to 85. If I can't ... oh well.
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When Dust Attacks 
Thursday, 21 April, 2011, 01:57
Posted by Administrator
This is a technical post. If you don't understand it, that's okay.

I've seen a lot of strange computer issues. That should come as no surprise, really, since I've worked with these things for more than half my life now.

For example, I ran into an issue with one of the servers at work at the end of last week. It's a mid-range Dell PowerEdge R200 that's coming up on 3 years old now. I got to the office last Friday and the thing wasn't working. Apparently it rebooted itself overnight and didn't feel like getting past the IPMI initialization step. After a quick bit of troubleshooting I determined that the PCI-X/PCIe riser card was the culprit and gave Dell a call. They sent a technician to replace it (which was somewhat annoying, given that I have no problem working in the R200 myself), but he came with the wrong riser -- the one he had was equipped with two PCIe x4 slots. Problem is, the DRAC is PCI, so we kind of needed the PCI-X slot. At any rate, the dual-PCIe riser worked just fine so I figured the original one that shipped with the system was bad. They sent a new one the next day and that was doing the same thing as the original ... so it turned out the motherboard was the problem.

This is the strange thing. The system works without the riser, and it works with one particular type of riser, but not the other. Bit odd.

Today I saw dust kill a system in a way that I haven't seen in quite some time, which is why I was caught off-guard by it. Normally I see a thick layer of dust gather between the fins of a heatsink, which ends up resulting in the CPU overheating and shutting down the system. This was the case in this particular system to an extent; the dust wasn't packed in enough to completely stop the airflow, but the CPU was getting somewhat hot. The machine has two RAM modules in it and, after running a memory test, I initially determined that one of the modules had gone bad. So, per standard procedure, I pulled one of the modules and ran the test on each one individually. The odd thing here was that both passed when they were in the system alone, but when they were in together, the system flat-out didn't work.

What fixed it? Compressed air. I blew some compressed air in the RAM slots and, for good measure, dusted off the modules themselves. After that, the system worked just fine.

So ... yeah. Not a particularly meaningful post, but it seems that odd things have a habit of catching me off guard lately.
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