Archive for September, 2008

Computer TiVo

Tuesday, September 30th, 2008

Yesterday, the software company Nero (best known for their Windows CD-burning application) unveiled LiquidTV, a port of the TiVo interface for the Windows environment. A review is available here. Essentially, for roughly $200 you get a TV tuner, the software, a year subscription to the TiVo service, and a couple of other goodies. So rather than being stuck with a TiVo hardware box, you can run the software on a regular computer, burn DVDs of your recordings, and so on.

Personally, I’m a big fan of MythTV. It provides the same sort of PVR functionality, but also plays downloaded video content, my collection of ripped MP3s, has a photo slideshow, and more. Oh, and it’s completely free (aside from the $15 a year I pay for channel guide data). And the recording and playback are separate, so you can play back the same library of recordings on multiple front ends.

If you’re interested in setting up a home media computer, I would certainly recommend trying out MythTV first. I’m currently running it on an old first generation Pentium 4 that I rescued from the scrap heap at work, so the hardware requirements aren’t that high. And even though it runs on Linux, which scares the bejeesus out of some people, there are a lot of guides and custom distributions on the Internet to help even the most neophyte user get things up and running. You won’t need to do cryptic things on a command line any more. I promise.

One warning, though; it’s amazing how spoiled you get. You’ll never want to watch TV at anyone else’s house again.

Linehan

Monday, September 29th, 2008

Scott Linehan, the head coach of the Rams, has been fired after yesterday’s disappointing performance against the Bills. Apparently Jim Haslett, onetime coach of the Saints and current Rams defensive coordinator, is going to be the interim head coach.

Two thoughts: one, as a head coach with New Orleans, Haslett was a great coordinator. I’m amazed he’s even getting this shot. Two, how long are teams going to keep hiring Al “5000 page playbook” Saunders to run the offense? It was a disaster in KC, and in Washington, and now in St. Louis. An overcomplicated offense just makes your team slow and confused. Favre threw six touchdowns yesterday, and he looks like he’s playing in a backyard pickup game; a Saunders offense hasn’t made the playoffs in years. Give him a Matlock DVD set and send him on his way.

Thoughts on Bills/Rams

Sunday, September 28th, 2008

Wow. The wheels totally came off of that Rams team in the second half. Bills went into halftime down, but ended up winning it 31-14.

  • Ian Eagle and Solomon Wilcots? Again? How many games do the Bills have to win to get a decent team in the booth? I do think this is the first time I’ve heard a commentary team openly mocking the home team.
  • After watching the Jets/Cards game, I wonder which version of the Cardinals we’ll be playing next week. Hopefully, the first half, down 34-0 with 5 turnovers version.
  • Donnie Avery is _fast_. Wow. That running play in the first quarter was unreal; Greer isn’t exactly poky, as you could tell from that interception return, but he wasn’t even close to catching Avery on that touchdown run.
  • I hope they painted something nice on the ceiling of the dome for Trent Green to look at.
  • Speaking of Trent Green, I’m glad that he made it through the whole game without any serious mishaps. I seriously thought, given his history of concussions, that Mitchell or Schoebel were going to put him back in the hospital.
  • Excellent halftime adjustments by the Bills. I imagine that part of the reason that they looked so shaky in the first half was the difficulty of game-planning for an offense with that many roster changes in it.
  • St. Louis has some serious fair-weather fans. They put up a good fight in the first half, and the announcers still made a reference later on to “the fans that are still here”. Come on, you guys won the Super Bowl less than ten years ago; can’t you make it through a couple rough seasons? I forget how unusually hardcore Bills fans are sometimes.

I am now 75% (3/4) on my predictions from the beginning of the season, and the Bills are 4-0. Coming up next week: Bills at Cardinals. Pretty stadium, ugly team.

Lovejoy Ride

Sunday, September 28th, 2008

Since the days are ending earlier and earlier as the year goes on, this week we decided to move the weekly bike rides from Wednesday night to Saturday morning. On Wednesdays, we never really got started until 6:30 or 7:00, by the time everyone got out of work and was ready to go. That was fine when dusk was at 9:00; it was more problematic last week, when we found ourselves riding through a trail system in an unlit field in the dark.

Alex hosted for the first time this week. We rode from his place in Cheektowaga to Union Road, to Old Union, to French, and through Sloan into Lovejoy. Lovejoy, known as “Iron Island” because it is surrounded by train tracks, is in section BL (“Bailey-Lovejoy”) on this map:

I got the map from this page on the University at Buffalo site; there’s a lot of interesting information there on the various neighborhoods here in the Nickel City.

We rode up William St. into Lovejoy, and then up the hill behind the fire museum. Like the vast majority of hills in this area, it looked out over a set of train tracks.

(That’s Kevin trying not to fall into an abyss of litter and hobo furniture next to that retaining wall.)

There’s a trail system up at the top of this hill that rides a crest between the train tracks and the residential portion of the neighborhood. At one point, there’s a picturesque lake that stinks of methane and pollution. I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised that there are no reeds, ducks, or even bugs anywhere nearby.

We rode the trails through the whole neighborhood, crossing a few streets and then climbing back up hills into the trails again. Judging by the submerged, half-rotten timbers on the trail, it looks like we were riding in another old railbed. We eventually came out by North Ogden and Broadway and then cruised back into Cheektowaga.

All in all, it was a nice ride; some roads, some trails, and a whole lot of new scenery. I know I say it all the time, but there is so much in this city that you never have a chance to see in a car.

Worst. Neighbors. Ever.

Friday, September 26th, 2008

For those who don’t live here, the East Side of the city is one of the higher crime areas, especially the Fillmore district. Perhaps that has to do with the incompetent criminals living there.

According to this story in this morning’s Buffalo News, a lower apartment on Wick St. was broken into and looted of televisions, other electronics, and even the food from the freezer. Fortunately, it was a relatively quick investigation. All of the stolen goods were in the upper apartment.

Just another example of how, while movies may portray criminal masterminds with brilliant, devious, and unassailable plans, the average criminal is actually just someone too stupid and lazy to hold down a job at a McDonald’s.

Fight Club

Thursday, September 25th, 2008

Interesting discussion of the movie Fight Club going on at the AV Club web site. I actually saw it in the theatre when it came out, and appreciated it as a bloody, nasty action movie. I watched it again a few months ago, and found it a lot easier to relate to the frustrated, neutered cubicle dweller. Gee, I wonder why.

Sport Poll

Wednesday, September 24th, 2008

I added a new poll, which you can see to the right. If you vote, feel free to justify your answer here.

Polling

Wednesday, September 24th, 2008

As you can see over on the right side of the main page, I’ve installed a polling module for this blog software. Mostly so that I could figure out how to install additional modules; I don’t really have anything I’m planning on polling about. But hey, if anyone has any ideas, send ’em along.

Iron City is Half Right

Wednesday, September 24th, 2008

This is awesome.

From now on, teachers in the Pittsburgh school district can not record grades lower than a 50% for any assignment by any student. Even if a student scores a 20%, or a 0, on a test, the gradebook has to record a 50. The reasoning is that it gives the student more incentive to catch up. After all, if the precious little snowflake got a 20% in the first marking period, he’d need a 100% in the second to pass the semester.

Completely ignored by this policy is the fact that, if the kid got a 20 in the first marking period, he probably deserves to fail the semester. That’s okay, though, nobody should ever fail at anything. And heavens forfend that the kid repeat a grade; just keep on shuffling him through.

I can’t even fathom what a terrible generation of oversensitive pansies we must be raising right now. The only difference between the spoiled, indolent Romans of the Empire and the spoiled, indolent Americans of the Empire is leaded wine.

Sallie Mae

Tuesday, September 23rd, 2008

“Sallie Mae sounds like a naive and barefoot hillbilly girl but in fact they are a ruthless and aggressive conglomeration of bullies located in a tall brick building somewhere in Kansas. I picture it to be the tallest building in that state and I have decided they hire their employees straight out of prison. It scares me.”
-David Sedaris, “The Santaland Diaries”

Like most of the adult population of these United States, I graduated from college in hock up to my ass to Sallie Mae. Sallie Mae, more formally known as the SLM Corporation, is a government-backed loan entity that handles the student loans for about ten million people, including li’l old me.

I got out of Canisius in 1999 with about seventeen thousand dollars in debt. I know that might not sound like a whole lot, but considering I had nothing to show for it but a BA in English, that was pretty terrifying. I can’t imagine what it’s like for the students coming in now; Canisius tuition is now up over $25k a year, so they’re looking at a gross six figures for a four year hitch. Ouch.

Anyway, I’ve been slowly whittling away at my debt ever since, although it’s periodically in and out of deferment depending on how many classes I’m taking in a given semester. And through address changes, and job changes, and everything else, I’ve been sending in my checks. And I’ve never had a problem, until this week.

Since my loan payment is due on the fifth of every month, I generally send it in at the end of the preceding month. For example, my payment was due on June 5, and they received it on May 21. No problem. Well, they receive the payment for this month, which was due on September 5, on August 11. Apparently this was much too early for their software to properly handle; they ignored the payment coupon in the envelope and credited it as an additional, unsolicited principal payment. Then, on Sunday, they hit me with a late fee for “skipping” my September payment.

Now, I’d already figured out that they miscredited the payment. I was even willing to make a double payment in October; what the hell, I’m hoping to send them a big check in the next couple of months to get this loan paid off before the kid arrives, a little extra next month ain’t going to hurt me. But I’ll be damned if I’m paying a late fee for their mistake.

Yesterday, I called the 888 number and navigated the shaky, shaky branches of a poorly configured phone tree. I eventually managed to get an operator, “Phillip”, with a serious Southwest Asian accent.

I explained the situation. Phillip put me on hold for a while, and then blind transferred me to another agent.

Now I spoke to “Alec”, and got to endure some serious “Who’s-On-First?” action.

Me: You guys didn’t credit the payment properly.

Alec: Well, we didn’t receive a payment for you in September. That’s why it’s late.

Me: No, the September payment was sent to you in August. That’s why you didn’t credit it right.

Alec: No, there’s only one payment in here for August.

Me: I know, I sent you the one that was due in August at the end of July.

Alec: No, there’s only one for July. I think you’re missing a payment in here somewhere.

Me: Is there any way I can stab you in the face through the phone?

Eventually, I managed to get Alec to understand the problem. He even transferred me to a supervisor, who was “looking at my records right now”. By which he apparently meant the voicemail box for a supervisor, who still hasn’t called me back fifteen hours later.

So, this morning, I called them back and swung through the branches of the phone tree again. (Incidentally, it’s called “brachiation”. Look it up.) This time I spoke to “Jack”, who sounded like Vlad the Impaler but immediately grasped what I was saying and took care of the problem.

I guess it goes to show; if you want to get things done, talk to a scary Romanian.