Archive for October, 2010

Fail again

October 27th, 2010

I’ve had this idea for a recurring blogging feature/angle ever since I knew that we were repatriating and my “expat observations” would be soon drying up. Which means, I’ve been considering it for roughly 18 months now.

The concept was fairly simple: An essay about each place that I’ve become familiar with on our travels, aimed at describing “my perfect day” in each locale. After all, I have favorite vistas, corners, sights, restaurants, etc, everywhere I’ve been to, and thinking about them always brings back good memories. And I noticed long ago that I only enjoy writing about things that I find enjoyable.

I was procrastinating with starting the series, I had other projects, then I got busy with the newborn, then I got extra busy at work, then I resumed coming to office most of the days of the week (which eats up a fair portion of my day)… But I did form in my head several outlines of the essays about most obvious targets – Prague, Paris, Venice, London.

The last couple of days the work let up a little bit, and I figured I could attempt the first post in the series.

… and miserably failed.

I know all of the places that I want to talk about. I know why I want to talk about them. I have a pretty good idea of what sequence to put them in. I’ve got some interesting – at least, I think they are – observations and occurrences that I can spice up the proceedings with.

And yet, it does not come together for me. I labor over passages, I struggle with varying my delighted adjectives, I can’t achieve any depth of exposure. My penmanship makes the stuff that I should always be excited about into boring drivel.

I suspect my writer gene is completely dead, if I ever had one. A bit disheartening, really, even if I never had any designs on being a writer.


No reason to watch

October 24th, 2010
Comments Off on No reason to watch

OK, instead of Phillies vs Yankees World Series, it’s Giants vs Rangers. As disappointing as that is, at least I am not missing anything I care about due to the Cablevision/FOX dispute. I suspect World Series ratings will take a big hit in markets other than Northern Cal and Dallas-Ft Worth area. Which may temper FOX’s demands a bit. Or not.


Baby pictures

October 22nd, 2010

A couple of recent pictures of the little’un, in lieu of any other entertaining content herein.

First, a cutie in pink.


Second, a hedgehog attack. (Have I mentioned before that Emily is known in the household as “the hedgehog”, on account of her customary hairstyle?)


Children, Photography

Age-driven thought of the day

October 18th, 2010

It is a bit disorienting when one day your youngest child is 3 months old, and then a few days later, your eldest hits 16 years! I feel old and young at the same time.


No FOX 5

October 17th, 2010

For the third time in about a year, Cablevision is in a dispute with a content provider that prevents us from watching channels that we like. First, it was HGTV and The Food Channel (no big problem for me, much bigger problem for Natasha) – “blackout” lasted for about a month and was eventually lifted. Then, ABC (I rarely watch it, but Becky happens to like Wheel of Fortune) – the channel was off for only a couple of days, and came back on just as the first Oscar was awarded.

Now, it’s FOX. I can probably survive without NFL broadcasts (after all, NY Jets are mostly on CBS, and the games are spread across several channels), but the World Series, starting in a week, are exclusively on FOX. Somewhere in the back of my mind, I expect the dispute to be resolved just in time for the first pitch, but if the Yankees make it and the blackout is still on, I need to get me an air antenna.

More annoyingly, most of our current TV show favorites – House, Bones, Lie to Me, etc, – are FOX 5 shows. Our current schedule does not allow us watch them when they are first broadcast. We record them to DVR and watch them when time permits. I no longer own a VCR to record TV from an antenna.

In fact, all of the FOX shows are available online for free a week after they first air. So, in truth, we can figure out a way to stay current on our favorite series. (Whether we will without the aid of the DVR “recorded list” is another question.)

And this is what bugs me. At the heart of the dispute, apparently, are News Corp’s demands for increase in fees Cablevision would pay for the privilege of carrying the channel. Why are there fees to start with? The content is freely available over air and then online. Why are cable companies – and their customers, who obviously are being passed the cost onto, – required to pay separate fees for the content of a broadcast company?

Kinda makes me appreciate the TV license concept. Main broadcast channels cannot be off air…


Electric wires as part of the home network

October 11th, 2010

I’ve been having internet connectivity problems with my main home PC ever since we moved into our house over a year ago.

The house configuration and the locations of various computers in the house are such that it only made sense to place the cable modem and the wireless router in the upstairs office, shared by Natasha and Becky. That office sits partially above the garage.

My office is in the basement, almost directly two levels underneath the upper one, with both the reinforced concrete floor of the garage and various piping above the office ceiling getting directly in the way of the wireless signal. Our Wii system, whose home is the family room in the basement, has no problem with streaming Netflix movies, as there is definitely less interference from the building materials in that direction. My work laptop, positioned at my office desk, would get a very low signal wireless signal but manage to stay connected with fairly rare hiccups, probably due to a pretty good wireless capabilities built into a corporate device.

My main desktop would get the same very low signal. It would connect to the network, briskly load a few online pages and then get stuck loading something. If there was no browser activity for a few minutes, it would get stuck on the very first URL request after a period of idleness. Short of pulling out the wireless USB adapter and putting it back after a few seconds in order to reconnect to the network, nothing would work once it got stuck. On some days, I would perform a dozen such re-connects during a couple of hours I needed to spend on my home PC.

I tried a number of things. Changed the router. Changed the adapter. Got rid of one anti-virus software and replaced it with another one (on the unproven theory that behind-the-scenes workings of the software may have been overloading the narrow channel I was getting from the router). Bought a USB extension cord and placed the adapter as far in the corner of the office as I could to get the possibly less obstructed directional flow from the router to the adapter. Some of those things seemingly improved matters at first but quickly deteriorated afterwards back to the same problem.

My next grand idea was to buy a powerful directional antenna to see if it can get and retain stronger signal. I scouted some of those online, but decided to venture into a nearby Best Buy to see what was available over the counter. It turned out that nothing of the kind was. Instead, I came across a couple of power-line adapter kits.

To be fair, my friend and colleague Brian clued me in on this device quite some time ago. I can only chalk it up to my obtuseness that I never quite figured out what exactly he was trying to explain to me when he described a rectangular box that plugs into an electrical outlet and connects via an ethernet cable to a computer, acting as a wired network adapter. If I recall correctly, when I went to get that after he had suggested it, I instead bought a wireless range expander which spectacularly failed to install on my home network and was returned to the store.

Today, searching for that non-existent directional antenna, I accidentally noticed boxes labeled as power-line adapters. After reading through descriptions on the boxes and consulting with a sales assistant – admittedly, considerably less research than I normally prefer to perform before spending more than a few bucks – I took a risk of choosing one and bringing it home. The box contained two identical pieces of hardware. One went into an electrical outlet next to the router upstairs (connected to one of the router ports). The other got plugged into an outlet next to my desktop and connected to the ethernet port in the back of my PC. I did not press any buttons or run any installation. The three lights on each device lit up and just like that I was on my home network without any wireless adapters present.

Given my earlier experience described a few paragraphs above, it may be premature to declare victory here after just an hour or so. But I certainly no longer rely on wireless signal for the connection – I even went to the trouble of removing wireless adapter software from the PC. The important thing is in that last hour, I have seen not a single hint of losing online connectivity. If I start having problems, they will be of a different kind. Which I’ll take, at this juncture. Fingers crossed anyway.

Hooray for technical progress, I say!


Kindle, too

October 7th, 2010

I’ve become such a true convert to electronic book reading since I bought my Sony reader at the start of the year, that I for once managed to come up all on my own with a gift idea for my wife on her birthday. (Never mind that her birthday is more than a month away, useful gifts don’t have to wait until specific dates, IMHO.)

Although I am mostly happy with my PRS-505, the fact that it’s been discontinued by Sony quite some time ago makes the price for a new unit available somewhere on eBay entirely outlandish. The new Kindle 3, conversely, is priced within my range of “inexpensive enough to no longer count as a fancy purchase”. Plus, it has native support for non-Latin documents (which did not exist on older versions of either Kindle or Sony). Kindle was a hands-down obvious choice to get for Natasha.

I played with it for a while myself – to better set myself up as a support-desk contact for when my lovely wife runs into tech problems. In short, I like it well enough. I might have gone for it instead of my Sony if the Cyrillic support existed natively before.

Its body is slightly bigger than that of PRS-505, but it is a bit lighter and thinner. I am not too crazy about the interface, but I happen to find faults with Sony’s as well. I doubt Natasha will ever truly need the Wi-Fi capability, so even though I had a bit of problem connecting the device to my home network, I find it hard to care about that. The screen looks crisp, the page-flip buttons are located fairly conveniently, the reading experience seems pleasant enough.

The only true problem I found so far is in its handling of PDF files. On my Sony, if I want to increase the font size while reading a PDF, the file gets reformatted so that I get multiple pages for each one page of the PDF. I end up flipping three of four pages for each one in the original PDF, but it remains a book-reading experience – the only hint that I am still reading the same page is the page counter on the bottom which stays the same with most page flips. On the Kindle, when I want to increase the size of the font of the same exact file, it performs a zoom-in action, displaying a portion of the page on the screen while having me use scroll bars to get to the other parts of the page. Reading consecutive lines while scrolling right and left is entirely impractical.

Good thing one can always convert files between formats – so Natasha will simply avoid PDFs.

Overall, I have no doubt she’ll enjoy her new gadget just as I have been enjoying mine.

Kimmy, by the way, is asking for one as well. Becky is the only reading-able member of the family who maintains her resistance. Something about being able to easily flip a few pages back to check on a specific passage that occurred earlier in the book…


Learning to converse

October 2nd, 2010

I am re-learning a well-forgotten language nowadays. It manages to convey a vast range of thoughts and emotions via usage of just a few syllables – “aye”, “goo”, “uhm” and the like – with facial expressions playing a critical role in differentiating between homonyms. I am very busy trying to regain my fluency in it.