November, 2008:

November 2008 Poker

Send to Kindle

Ugh. That says it all. I played very little this month. I was really busy so it wasn’t a lack of desire. Unfortunately, I got to play in four of the five Sunday tournaments, and lost all four. That alone accounts for 98.56% of my loss this month. It’s a big number, and put a big dent in the account.

Total for the month is a loss of $872.58! Ouch!

Still have enough money to play all of the tourneys that I want, but I’m at a point where I can imagine running out of money in the account, and I’ve already decided that might not be a bad thing. I will most definitely not put money back in, at least not for a long while.

Given that I haven’t put any new money into the account since 2005, I have no complaints. I have enjoyed a long run (that isn’t over yet), full of enjoyment, without having to reach into my pocket in a long time.

Until next month. 🙂

Puppet Masters

Send to Kindle

We’re spending the long weekend in Birmingham, AL with our godson. We picked up a mutual friend of ours (Wes) in Durham on our way down here on Wednesday. Yesterday was one of our godson’s typical on call days, where he is in the hospital for 30+ hours in a row. As sad as we were to miss time with him, the three of us decided to turn lemons into lemonade and create an adventure for ourselves.

We drove to Atlanta mid-morning. We headed straight to a friend’s house and arrived at around 1pm (Atlanta and Birmingham are not in the same time zone). We had an amazing lunch in a local eatery, Ria’s Bluebird. Wes did something I have never seen before, and it was really cool. After the waitress described two incredible specials (the omelet of the day and a chicken special), Wes asked her to surprise him with one of them. I was impressed that she didn’t hem and haw, and just said “OK”.

I ordered the chicken special (stuffed with Gorgonzola cheese and topped with a blackberry sauce!) and Wes ended up with that as well. We both couldn’t stop talking about how good it was, after not being able to stop enjoying it in the moment… As you can see, it looks as good as it tasted!

Rias Bluebird

Rias Bluebird

We then headed over to the main attraction of the day, seeing a Puppet Show! Yes folks, we were really looking forward to it. The show was performed at The Center for Puppetry Arts. It’s called Sam the Lovesick Snowman. Our tickets were waiting for us, as one of the puppeteers is a friend of the person we were visiting in Atanta.

If you are paying too much attention, then you will have noticed that I tagged this post (and categorized it) with Broadway. Obviously, this puppet show wasn’t on Broadway. That said, Broadway signifies the epitome of live performances (or at least they want to convey that), and this show qualifies as an incredible live performance.

Even a normal puppet show is filled with real acting. In this case, in addition to the puppet acting, the two puppeteers had a fair amount of time on stage as themselves. But even when a puppeteer is behind the scenes, they are voice acting (don’t laugh, Angelina Jolie doesn’t get the big bucks for doing a voice in Kung Fu Panda because she’s beautiful!), manipulating the puppets in a manner that is acting in the sense of transporting the audience somewhere, etc. In this show, they sang a bit too (reasonably well), including harmony.

There was a very good-sized audience yesterday. While there were many kids (no, really?), the kids didn’t get themselves there, so there were many adults (probably more than the number of kids. In addition, there were also people like us (four adults) who were there without kids, unabashedly. If you are an adult who isn’t comfortable going without a kid, do your friends or family a favor, and take their kids so that you can enjoy the show. 😉

The best kids entertainment has enough in it to entertain an adult. If it doesn’t, the adults won’t want to take the kids. Sometimes, it’s on a different level, where the kids have no idea why the adults are laughing. Sometimes it’s on the same level that the kids get. Sam the Lovesick Snowman has both. Everything that the kids loved we loved, for the same reasons the kids did. Yet, quite a number of times, there was a line that was just for adults (and no, I don’t mean adult content, but rather adult context for a particularly funny line).

The show is clever, heartwarming, funny, moves along at a good clip, etc. Everything you could want in 45 minutes of entertainment. When the show was over, the two puppeteers (Dolph Amick and Amy Rush) came out and explained how much of the show is performed. They show how some of the puppets work (rod puppets, hand puppets, etc.) and show how they use carts to move around the stage very quickly and be able to spin, etc.

I can only imagine the wonder in the kids’ eyes, because they were in our eyes as well. Not only doesn’t telling us how they did it spoil it in any way, it enhances the experience materially, as your mind boggles at how talented these puppeteers are to choreograph such a dance with so many characters in it, and only two of them working the magic.

If you don’t believe me, you can read an equally glowing review by a professional, in the Atlanta Journal Constitution, written the same day we were enjoying the show! See, I’m not exaggerating about how good the show is. 🙂

Since Amy Rush is our friend’s friend, we were invited to hang around until the theater cleared, and we got a more detailed look at the behind the scenes happenings (Dolph was kind enough to come out and say hi to us as well, and to explain the magic). It’s not that we saw anything much more mysterious than everyone else did, but we got to ask questions, hold a few of the puppets (some are significantly heavier than you would think!), and we got to look at the actual staging from behind.

Wannabe Puppeteers

Wannabe Puppeteers

After that, Amy gave us a personal tour of the puppet museum (which is open to everyone, and well worth visiting). Having a passionate puppeteer give you a tour is an extra special treat, because you can get insight and details that would otherwise escape you. Thanks Amy!

Fraggle Rock Puppets

Fraggle Rock Puppets

We topped off a wonderful day with an amazing meal at Watershed. We’ve heard about Watershed a number of times from our friend, so we were really looking forward to the experience. Not only didn’t it disappoint, it exceeded our expectations! Starting with the drinks, it was obvious that this restaurant doesn’t aim to duplicate any other, but rather looks to blaze its own trail. I had a fig martini (I love figs, but have never seen a fig martini before). The ladies had beet martinis (I took a taste, it was fantastic).

All three appetizers were terrific, but the Shrimp Grits were so heavenly that Lois ordered an extra one to go, and she served it as a side to our godson this afternoon when he came home from a 30+ hour on call shift at the hospital. I was a little nervous as to whether it would taste even 1/2 as good reheated the next day, but he said it was awesome, so we now know the grits travel well! 🙂

We were warned that the Georgia Pecan Tart with Shortbread Crust was indescribably delicious. After getting assurance from Wes that he would share some of his, I ordered the Carrot Cake. We each took 1/4 of the others dessert. The Carrot Cake was very good, but my oh my, the Pecan Tart was indeed indescribably delicious, so I won’t try. 😉

The service at both Ria’s Bluebird and Watershed was exceptional. In fact, everyone we interacted with in Atlanta was very nice and warm. Not to put anyone else down, but it’s possible that our waitress at Watershed is just moonlighting from her normal job, which is likely an Angel! 🙂

After excellent hugs all around, we trekked the 2.5 hours back to Birmingham in the rain the whole way, but the high never wore off. It was a fantastic day, with fantastic people. We are all very thankful (on this weekend in particular) to get to call Amy Rush a friend as well, giving us another reason for getting back to Atlanta sooner rather than later!

Internet Connection Sharing

Send to Kindle

Internet Connection Sharing (ICS) has been around for a long time (formally, and through hack-like methods). I have never had a need for it (slightly amazing) until now. Yesterday I wrote about our current hotel WiFi woes. In that post, I wrote that I wouldn’t need to worry about it today, given that I would only be in the hotel for two waking hours.

After a very early breakfast, I decided to try ICS for the first time, just for yucks. There are a number of ways that I could have set it up, each as easy as the next, but I had one specific scenario in mind.

I set up Lois’ old laptop on the desk in the outer room (we’re in an Embassy Suites, so we have two rooms). I pulled out my small Linksys travel router and plugged it in there as well. I set my laptop up in the bedroom.

On Lois’ machine, I turned on ICS (there is a simple wizard) and told it that the Sprint Broadband Connection (through the USB cable to her Treo) was the real Internet connection. I then told the wizard that the wired port was the shared connection. I then plugged in the Linksys router to the wired port, with the Internet (WAN) port on the Linksys rather than the Ethernet port. So, the Linksys would be getting it’s IP address from the laptop.

Since my laptop is already configured to connect to the travel router, I didn’t need to make any changes to my machine. I went into the bedroom, and poof, I was on the Internet! This time, the Treo had a better connection than the day before, and I was getting 757Kbps downstream and 124Kbps upstream. That’s a faster downstream connection than I had yesterday on the paid WiFi!

I have heard that ICS on a Mac is brain-dead simple, and I have no doubt that it is. I can now confirm that it’s pretty darn simple on Windows too (Lois’ laptop that was serving the connection is Windows XP). You have to pick which network device is the real one, and which is the shared one, but other than that, nothing else to do.

I now don’t need to consider the hotel WiFi dilemma. Once Lois changes to the new laptop, I’ll have to consider getting an Express Card version of the modem, now that I know we can easily share that connection when necessary. It will still end up being an insurance policy, since we almost always have a free wired or WiFi connection wherever we are.

Victory! 🙂

Hotel WiFi

Send to Kindle

This post is inspired by my current hotel WiFi woes. I’ve likely mentioned this gripe before, but since I’m living it at the moment, I’ll repeat it, vigorously. It’s insane that high-end hotels charge for Internet use (WiFi or wired), while their low-end chains (owned by the same company!) give it away for free!

Sure, some people pay for it (including me, last night), so you could argue that it’s smart. It’s not. It’s brain-dead stupid.

We are on a mini-vacation visiting our godson in Birmingham, AL for the long Thanksgiving weekend. We left the office on Tuesday and drove to Durham, NC where we stayed in a Hampton Inn for the night. We picked up a mutual friend the next morning and drove all day to Birmingham, where we are spending five nights in an Embassy Suites (owned by Hilton, which also owns Hampton Inn). We head back north on Monday morning.

Since it’s a vacation, we’re using Hilton HHonors Points to stay for free this trip. We stay in Hampton Inns nearly 100% of the time, both for business and for pleasure. We like them, they provide good value, a predictable experience, and free Internet access.

There is a Hampton Inn not too far from our godson’s apartment in Birmingham, but there is an Embassy Suites closer, and we’re having Thanksgiving Dinner at the Ruth’s Chris in that Embassy Suites tonight (getting closer, the mouth is already watering…), and, most importantly, it was the same exact number of points to stay there as to stay at the Hampton Inn.

So, I got on to the site, and thought I saw that the Internet Access was free. I was wrong… When I logged on last night, I paid the $9.95 for the 24 hour period. I was annoyed. No, I’m not cheap, but yes, I’m value oriented. Lois has a laptop too, so are we expected to pay $20/day for access? Yes. Never mind connection sharing strategies (which I can employ, but most people can’t).

I actually could go into great detail about that, and intended to, but I’ll pass and spare the poor readers. Our new laptops use Vista x64, and as I’ve noted in other posts, the only thing I don’t have working is the USB connection to our Treo phones (in fact, I can pair with Bluetooth, but I can’t get BT to work for syncing or phone-as-modem either).

So, I can’t use my Treo as a modem to connect to avoid the WiFi fees, which is what I would have done in the past. But, Lois hasn’t switched yet (another very long story), so I did whip out her Treo, and connected her laptop instantly via Sprint. That’s why I didn’t need to hassle with connection sharing. She was fine immediately.

Since I couldn’t use my Treo, I paid. But, whereas the average Hampton Inn gives me a 1.5Mbps connection, upload and download speed, this for pay connection was 537Kbps download and 236Kbps upload. Wow. Charge me, and give me an inferior connection. Real smart. Just for comparison, Lois had a bad connection (perhaps because we’re on the eighth floor), and she was getting 236Kbps download and 126Kbps upload (not much worse than my crappy WiFi connection!).

But, I paid (you say), so they are smart. Wrong. First, if I had realized that they charged, I would not have stayed there (forget that I’m using points, the same would have applied if I were paying with cash). If it wasn’t points, that could have put me in another chain as well, not necessarily a Hilton. Second, they are ensuring that my stay isn’t as pleasant as it might otherwise be. Tomorrow, I will only be in the room for two waking hours. No way I will pay, so I will be using only my Treo for email, and I will blame Hilton.

Next, while I made this mistake this time, I’m not likely to make it ever again. So, Embassy Suites has likely lost all future business that they might have gotten from me. Considering that I’m a Diamond VIP HHonors member, that loss might not be insignificant!

To be clear, everything else about our stay is very nice. The people are delightful. The breakfast was wonderful, The room is gorgeous. And yet, instead of making me want to pay up a little in the future (over a Hampton Inn), they are guaranteeing that I will be running back to Hampton Inn (at least they have won my business for their other chain) rather than spending more for an Embassy Suites stay. That’s why it’s dumb.

Aside from the above, there is a business center downstairs, and also two Internet Kiosks. I didn’t check, but it wouldn’t surprise me to find out that the Business Center offers free Internet usage (for browsing on their machines). If that’s true, it makes it even more stupid to charge for the use in the rooms.

In this hotel, and others, there are other opportunities for the hotel to charge money (typically food, via restaurants or room service). If you encourage me to stay in the room, then I’m likely to use hotel amenities. If I feel ripped off, I’m likely to avoid anything that’s in that specific hotel. Free WiFi will tend to keep people engaged in their room, and therefore hanging around in the hotel.

Anyway, once this trip is over, and definitely once Lois switches to her new machine, I’ll be canceling the phone-as-modem options on both of our Treos. That will be a big loss for Sprint. We pay a huge premium (yes, it’s purely insurance, since we rarely use them in this mode). Since we rarely use the service, this is essentially free money to Sprint. But, since they haven’t pressured Palm to support Vista x64, and haven’t done anything about it themselves, they will lose this revenue.

Second, since the phone will no longer be a multi-purpose device, it will be slightly less useful to me. Also, since it doesn’t sync with my laptop any longer, it will be even less useful. That means that in the next few months, I’ll be in the market for a new phone, even though I like my Treo 755p a lot, and I am perhaps the only happy Sprint customer, and I pay them a small fortune every month, and I use next to zero services.

Yes, I’m an idiot, but I’m a happy idiot, and they are driving me away! More stupidity, but this time, not by a hotel chain… I believe that my next phone will likely be an Android-based one, on Verizon. I might have to wait six months to see a model I’ll be happy with, but once it exists, I’ll be switching.

I’m reluctant to go the extra step and get an express card data modem (or USB one), because I now know from experience that I will use it 3-4 days a year. It’s just a stupid premium to pay for that small amount of usage, but that too could still happen…

Wake up people, in this economy, these kinds of customer alienations will be even more damaging than they otherwise might be…

New PrimePress Theme Installed

Send to Kindle

I have been wanting to change the theme on this site for a while. I am not all that sure why, perhaps, just because it’s so easy to do with WordPress. I liked the theme that I had for the most part, but I wanted an even cleaner, simpler, sharper look.

For a while, I toyed with putting in one of the newer, more complicated (as in flexible) theme frameworks, specifically, Hybrid or Carrington, and really tweak them to my liking. While I might still do that, I know I don’t have that much time at the moment. While looking around, I stumbled on the following theme: PrimePress. I liked it a lot.

So, I just made it live on the site. I made two changes:

  1. I removed the rotating headers (I actually liked them a lot, but it’s a waste of space on this blog from my perspective)
  2. I substituted my name for the Copyright holder rather than the title of the blog

For now, that’s it, though I might tweak it a bit in the coming days (probably not). I’ll take a look again in a few weeks when WordPress 2.7 is released, and see if there are any themes around that take full advantage of that, but still look this clean. If so, I might switch again.

For now, welcome PrimePress! 🙂

Rhonda Vincent at Birchmere

Send to Kindle

Last night we saw Rhonda Vincent and The Rage perform at Birchmere. We’ve seen them once before at Joe’s Pub, and I wrote about it here. I concluded that post with the following paragraph:

We had a great time, and would definitely see her again given the chance. We’d also go back to the 9:30 show if the right performer was there, but we’d be gnashing our teeth all the way. I am grateful that the majority of the shows we have been interested in are the 7-7:30 ones, and I hope that it will continue to be the case.

Well, we did see one more Joe’s Pub 9:30 show since, but that was Girlyman, and we would go see them at 2am if that was the only choice. 😉

More important, we also got to fulfill our desire to see Rhonda Vincent and The Rage again. They’re simply wonderful. Last night the regular banjo player, Kenny Ingram was back, so we got to enjoy his amazing playing. He’s one of the fastest (and cleanest) banjo players we’ve seen. That said, he outran the rest of the band a couple of times (and they are super fast too), so it wasn’t a flawless performance in my opinion.

Rhonda’s microphone wasn’t right at Joe’s, but last night the sound was perfect. She has an exceptional voice and exceptional energy on stage. To repeat what I said in my last post, she’s also beautiful, and looks half her actual age.

Rhonda Vincent

Rhonda Vincent

Left to right on the stage:

Kenny Ingram playing banjo. I already mentioned how terrific he is. In addition to playing banjo all night, he played the guitar on one number, and sang only once, in a four-person a capella number.

Kenny Ingram

Kenny Ingram

Hunter Berry played the fiddle all night and he’s the only one that never sings (though Kenny comes close). He does chat up the crowd and banters with Rhonda a bunch, so you get a good feel for his personality and sense of humor.

I mentioned in my last post that he’s an incredible fiddle player. Last night only brought that to the forefront even more. He’s definitely up there with my all-time favorites, having seen him twice now. At Joe’s, he had to sit all night, coming off an injury. Last night he (and the rest of them) stood the entire night.

Hunter Berry

Hunter Berry

Mickey Harris played the upright bass. He’s an excellent upright bass player, with a terrific voice as well. He harmonizes with Rhonda on most songs, but also sang lead on a few numbers from his new CD. He’s also a new father, so he had a grin plastered on his face all night that was infectious. On one number he played the mandolin (quite well) accompanying Rhonda without the others.

Mickey Harris

Mickey Harris

Darrell Webb played the guitar. He’s a classic bluegrass flat picker. He’s fast and clean. He too (like Mickey) has an excellent voice, and he harmonizes with Rhonda and Mickey on most numbers creating a very nice sound. He too sang lead on a few numbers, which the crowd loved. On two numbers he played the mandolin, one of which highlighted a superb lead mandolin.

Darrell Webb

Darrell Webb

In between them all, center stage, was Rhonda. I’ve already heaped superlatives on her, all deserved. In addition to her signature mandolin playing (on most songs), she played guitar on a few numbers (at Joe’s, she only played the guitar during the encore). She also played the fiddle at least twice. She’s really good on the fiddle, but just like the mandolin, she chooses to take a huge back seat to her incredible band, rarely taking a lead. When she does, she nails it, so it would be nice to hear her let loose a bit more often.

I mentioned above that Kenny participated in a four-person a capella number. It was gorgeous. People mailed in requests before the show, and that number was one of them. The four of them (Rhonda, Mickey, Kenny and Darrell) shared one microphone, center stage, and nailed the song.

A Capella

A Capella

They were on stage for exactly 90 minutes, then said goodnight. After a standing ovation, they played one more song (never leaving the stage). They walked off to another standing ovation.

We knew we would love the show, but I was particularly grateful that the sound system was perfect and that we ended up with a pretty good table (given that we were 24th on line (it’s first come first served). We went with five folks from Zope Corporation, so there were seven of us. I suspect we were introducing the other five to their first bluegrass experience, so I can only hope that they enjoyed it 1/2 as much as I did.

The food at Birchmere is always good (classic southern comfort food), and my pulled pork sandwich was as good as it gets! Given that today is a work day, it was very nice to not have an opening act, and for the show to start exactly on time (7:30pm). We were back in the hotel room a few minutes after 10pm. Not too bad!

Welcome Vista x64

Send to Kindle

I wrote quite a while ago that I had ordered two new laptops for Lois and me, with Vista x64 on them. They took a lot longer to arrive than anyone thought (including the vendor, PowerNotebooks), due to delays in getting the LCD’s from China.

Because of all of the delays, I had to keep updating my shipping address (we’re nomads). Unfortunately, while I communicated the correct address by the time the machine actually shipped, due to human error (which originated at the vendor, but then was replicated at UPS), they shipped to the apartment, even though we were at the house. They arrived at the apartment at 7:45pm last Thursday. Once I verified with the doorman that they were there, Lois and I drove the 2-hour round-trip in the rain to bring them back to the house.

I didn’t boot mine until the morning, knowing that if I turned it on at 10pm, I would have stayed up all night. 😉

I wanted to blog about my first impressions on Saturday, but I’ve been wildly busy (largely with the new toys, but with a number of other things as well) that by now, it’s no longer fair to call it a first impression, since I’ve been using the machine full time for five days now.

First the bottom line, for those who don’t care about details (and are annoyed to have read through the intro already!): I love Windows Vista x64, and I love this particular laptop even more!

OK, on to the details, for those who care.

First, the machine, because it’s the most awesome laptop I’ve ever used. There’s only one thing I am not crazy about on it, and I’ll definitely get used to it (thankfully, I always do!).

Here’s a link to the base model of my machine. I upgraded a number of the features, notably:

4GB low-latency RAM
1920×1200 screen res
Intel P9500 low wattage CPU
4GB Turbo Memory
320GB SATA 7200RPM Disk
Windows Vista Ultimate 64 bit

Most of my friends have Macs, and they swear by them. I made a career on Wall Street deploying NeXT machines, so I full well understand the power of the Mac. There are many reasons why I haven’t been tempted to buy one, but near the top of the list is the fact that you are locked in to their hardware, and you pay a premium for the privilege, in every respect!

This machine is customized and tuned to my exact needs. And even with the above tweaks, it’s cheaper than a high-end MacBook Pro (yes, yes, I know that they look cooler, ooh…).

This machine is a screamer. I simply can’t believe how fast things load, and how fast they run. One example (of many!) is iTunes. On my pretty damn fast Windows XP machine (it had a Desktop Pentium IV running at 3.4GHz!) iTunes took forever to load before even showing the Loading Library message. On this laptop, you better not blink. You never see the Loading Library message, as iTunes is already open a second after you double click the icon. Wow.

But, the additional 4GB of Turbo Memory (the equivalent of built-in Windows Boost) is amazing. I recently wrote about my new favorite program, Digsby. While Digsby runs fast enough (even on the old machine), it actually loads quite slowly. While acceptable on the new machine, it was one of the few apps that wasn’t screaming. I config’ed it to run from the Turbo Memory, and it’s now a screamer too. Other programs that ran nearly instananeously anyway, are now truly instantaneous. Awesome!

One final word on the machine, it’s cool! No, I don’t mean cool, as in design cool like a Mac. I mean it runs cool. After it’s on for 12 straight hours, you can touch the bottom of the machine, and it’s not even warm! Practically every laptop I’ve touched in the past five years (this wasn’t the case 10 years ago!) runs hotter than an oven. You can’t put them on your lap, ever. This one feels like it wasn’t even turned on.

There are two reason why I chose the low-wattage version of the Intel CPU (25 Watts instead of 35). The first was so that it wouldn’t run so hot (man, this was a bigger win than I expected). The second is related, and that is that if it doesn’t run so hot, it would be quieter (Lois’ last machine was louder than a Jet Engine!), because the fans wouldn’t have to work overtime. This machine is whisper quiet, all day, every day!

Now the one thing I don’t like about the machine. The keyboard layout is different enough from my last machine that I keep having to look to hit certain keys (notably, the arrow keys, which are too tightly placed, and the delete key). Also, while there is a full-size shift key on the left, the right hand shift key is chiclet-sized. The enter key is a little small too. The tactile feel is OK, but pressing keys makes a louder noise than I care for, making me self-conscious when I type while Lois is asleep (happens more often than you’d think). I always get used to new keyboards, so this too shall pass, but at the moment, it’s the only annoyance I have with the machine…

I agonized for months about which OS to run on my (eventual) new laptop. I really wanted it to be Linux. I was tired of the Microsoft treadmill. I like Linux, so that wasn’t going to be a problem (I really like administering my own server). However, I knew that I would have to run Windows (any flavor) in a Virtual Machine (VM), for a number of applications that I really don’t want to live without (yes, I can easily live without them). The more I thought about it, the more I realized that I was just copping out to not just recommit to another round of Windows on the new laptop.

So, with that, I had to decide whether to stick with XP, which I basically like (I certainly don’t love it), or give Vista a shot, or wait until Windows 7, etc. After helping a friend with a new Vista laptop, I was an instant hater of Vista, and quite vocal about it. I blogged about how stupid Microsoft was for forcing people to take Vista instead of extending the life of XP (which they ended up doing at least twice!). So, I’m not coming at this from a fanboy perspective.

Then I heard from a few friends that after installing Vista SP1 (Service Pack 1), their machines became rock solid. When my friend’s machine was overtaken by spyware, I agreed to clean it for her. It was as painful dealing with it as it was the first time. But, after fighting it for a few hours, I was finally able to force SP1 to install (from a USB key, which I downloaded SP1 onto from my XP laptop!). Once SP1 was on the machine, it became completely stable.

That gave me at least the courage to consider Vista. I started reading as many blogs as I could about people’s actual experiences with it. The more I read, the less nervous I was. People were also raving about Vista x64. I wanted the benefits of extra memory, the Turbo Memory, etc., but I was worried about compatibility. Most people said it simply wasn’t an issue. So, nervously, I chose the x64 flavor.

I am very glad I did. I can’t believe how well the 32-bit emulation/virtualization works. It’s invisible. Everything installs normally (no warnings, just into a separate “Programs (x86)” directory. You can’t feel any difference in the speed (at least not on this class of machine). Programs that I was really afraid would give me a hassle just worked, perfectly, the first time.

In addittion, quite a number of programs are available in native 64 bit versions, including iTunes!

So far, there is a single program that I have that doesn’t fully support Vista x64. Palm Desktop. Even that runs in 32-bit mode, correctly (even though their page doesn’t even make that claim, simply stating that the application isn’t supported on 64 bit operating systems, implying it won’t even install!). The only thing that doesn’t work (and it’s a biggie!) is that they don’t support Hot Syncing over a USB cable (which I really need, regardless of the fact that I have built-in Bluetooth support on the machine and on my Treo 755p).

So, they were too lazy to get a 64-bit USB driver coded? Seriously, that’s all that’s missing. And people wonder why Palm is going out of business as fast they possibly can. Mac is going 64 bit, Vista is, the world is (eventually), but Palm can pretend that it just doesn’t matter to them…

Am I annoyed? A drop, but it will simply accelerate my switch to a non-Palm phone, even though I’m reasonably happy with my Treo (I started with the 650, upgraded to a 700 and then to a 755, so they will be losing a very loyal customer), I will likely get a Google Android phone, whenever the right model becomes available on Verizon (I’m currently a happy Sprint customer, yes, the only one perhaps, but they too will be losing me over issues like this…).

So, that leaves 32 vs 64 bit decisions. For example, there are versions of Firefox (my default browser) that are 64 bit (code name Minefield). After thinking about it a lot, and reading a lot, I decided that I’d rather go for the latest build, supported by Mozilla, with the latest security patches. So, I have gone with 32 bit versions whenever the 64 bit version isn’t natively supported by the vendor. I have had zero regrets. Firefox screams, Thunderbird screams, Google Chrome screams, etc.

I was a tad worried that apps like Sling Box wouldn’t work well. Wrong. Not only is it running nicely, it’s the latest version (which was an upgrade for me) 2.x. It even correctly updated the firmware on my Sling Box at home (300 miles away at the time I did it) over my Verizon FiOS link (which is fast enough for me not to have worried about doing it remotely!). Of course, my Poker software runs too, whew! 😉

So, other than Palm being stupid and lazy, I haven’t found anything that didn’t just work. Any compatibility issues between my favorite XP apps and Vista were theoretical, thankfully. I am not giving Vista the credit for the speed improvements, as I bet that this laptop would have run XP way faster than my old one did, but still, Vista hasn’t slowed me down, or gotten in my way.

Since the machine is fast, I have all of the animations (Aero stuff) turned on. They’re cool, and since they aren’t even slowing me down even slightly, I’ll keep the eye candy on! (They’re off on Lois’ machine, because the motion makes her sick, literally, so it’s not a speed issue there either.)

Finally, one of my favorite features of Vista (it’s also available to be downloaded and installed in XP) is Windows Desktop Search (WDS). I have been a long-time user of X1 (I started when they had a deal with Yahoo!, calling the download Yahoo! Desktop Search). To me, it killed Google Desktop Search (though GDS has had a number of version upgrades, so I’m comparing old versions). X1 indexes everything, including my Thunderbird mail, and I find things instantly.

In addition, I also ran Launchy for keyboard launch services (very happily, it’s a great program). Neither is necessary any longer. WDS is fantastic, and instantaneous as well. There are a number of ways to get at it, but the simplest is to press the Win key (or click the Windows Icon, previously known as the Start Menu). Then just start typing.

I use it to launch programs (rarely do I have to type more than the first two characters, then hit Enter). I use it to search for text in documents, contact info, etc. The only problem for me at the moment is that it doesn’t natively index Thuderbird email (it does a wonderful job of Outlook mail, obviously). There is a years-old plugin for Thunderbird 1.x, and I don’t want to install it. I can index Thuderbird files as if they were just plain text files, but I’ve chose not to as yet.

I’m waiting (patiently) for Thunderbird 3.0, a few more months only (I hope), because it has a plugin for WDS to enable native search. That will be the final icing on this wonderful cake. Not to start a flame war (seroiusly), but I’ve looked over the shoulder of Mac users when they used Spotlight, and it’s a funny joke to me that anyone would consider it usable…

So, from a true hater of Vista, to a true fanboy, in about six months. And, of course, a major fanboy of PowerNotebooks as well.

NCIS is Number 1

Send to Kindle

Today, The NY Times had an article about NCIS surging to be the clear number one show on broadcast TV. One of the points of the article is to highlight that this seems to be a big surprise for lots of people.

It’s no surprise to us. NCIS is probably Lois’ favorite TV show. I love it too, but it’s definitely not my favorite.

The reason it’s a great show is pretty simple. The stories are rich, complex, yet not ridiculous, as they often are in other complex shows. In other words, the writers are extremely creative, while remaining grounded in story lines that are at least believable, even if they would be hard to occur in reality.

Our one complaint about the show early on, which nearly got us to stop watching a number of times, is the completely unprofessional banter between the male and female characters (the regulars). It is beyond sexual harrassment, and I find it really hard to believe that it would be tolerated even 10% of what they portray, in a real NCIS office.

That said, they’ve toned it down a bit (I emphasize a bit), and we’re so used to it now, that we wouldn’t stop watching because of it. Still, it could be toned down even more, as it is completely unnecessary. The stories themselves are good enough to carry the show.

Anyway, I’m glad that many other people are catching on to how great this show has been all along. The part in the article that highlights what a winner the repeats are on USA is no surprise to us either. We too watch repeats on USA, even though we haven’t missed a single episode in all six seasons. Yes, it’s that good a show! 🙂

Digging Digsby

Send to Kindle

I’ve been a very long-time user of Pidgin (previously called Gaim). I’ve also been a very happy user with no particular impetus to look into other IM clients.

In addition to IM, I have accounts with a number of social networking sites. I am not particularly active on any of them (with the exception of Twitter), but I do log on when I get email alerts from any of them. Recently, I’ve been logging on at least daily to Facebook (I used to go weeks between logins).

I was recently friended by someone I went to High School with. Shortly after accepting the invitation, I received a chat invitation from her on the Facebook page. We chatted for a while, through the browser interface. It wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t great either, and more importantly, it meant that I had to have the Facebook page in focus in order to chat.

Yesterday I stumbled upon an article that mentioned IM clients that could connect to the Facebook chat system. I searched for “Pidgin Facebook Chat”, and indeed, there was a plugin available that supported this. Cool! However, in the Google search results page, I noticed an article on LifeHacker was in the list. I don’t visit that site often enough, but whenever I do, I find their recommendations spot on.

I clicked through and saw that they (and their readers, via the comments) were in love with an IM client called Digsby. What distinguished Digsby from other IM clients was that in addition to being a multi-protocol IM client (AIM, ICQ, MSN, Yahoo!, Jabber, etc.), it also connected directly to Social Networking sites (currently four, more planned) and email accounts (web-based, like Hotmail, Yahoo!, Gmail, as well as POP and IMAP servers).

It sounded very cool, but from reading the comments, it was clear the Digsby users really loved the program. It started out as Windows only, but has since expanded to have Mac and Linux versions as well. I run Windows, so that’s the version I installed.

I’ve been using it for just under one day now, but I am definitely not going back. That’s not a knock on Pidgin, which is excellent as a multi-protocol IM client. It’s just that Digsby is that too, and a whole lot more!

I have Digsby connected to all four social networks that it supports: Facebook, MySpace, Twitter and LinkedIn. I have it connected to my Gmail account, and to my main Jabber account (and through that, to my AIM and ICQ accounts). In addition to connecting to Facebook for the feed, I separately have it connected to the Facebook chat system as another IM protocol.

It all works flawlessly, is extremely attractive in the default skin (though there are more to choose from, that I haven’t bothered looking at). I tested the Facebook chat with a friend of mine who has complained about the Facebook chat system. I told him that from my side (the Digsby side), it was no different that any other chat. I believe he will be installing Digsby today. 😉

It means that I am now available to any of my Facebook friends for a chat, whenever I am logged on to my computer, even if I haven’t opened the Facebook web page. It also means that as my friends update their status on any of the four social networks, I see a popup letting me know that instantly.

In addition to that, I can hover my mouse over any of the social network icons, and get a wonderful time-line summary of the news feeds from each site. It’s an instantaneous way to see what you missed and what people are up to. Clicking on any link takes you directly to the correct page (a person’s profile, for example) from that summary, so even logging on to each network is now a click away.

Even the IM client has some nice touches (I want to say innovations, but for all I know, this exists in other multi-protocol clients). One of my favorites is collapsing multiple instances of the same contact from different networks into one icon. Here’s a specific example.

I have three separate contacts for Rob Page, the CEO of Zope Corporation. My primary connection with him is through my own Jabber server. We use an encrypted channel, on a private server, so that all of our jokes are top secret. 😉

We are also connected via AIM and ICQ. Now that Rob has a shiny new iPhone, his AIM account is also linked via SMS to his iPhone, so that he appears available at all times.

In Pidgin, all three took separate rows in the client. I never expected it to be different, so it didn’t bother me, but it made for long contact lists, since whenever Rob was logged on, all three were available. It also meant that I could accidentally IM him on ICQ when I meant to use Jabber.

In Digsby, I drag the AIM and ICQ contacts and drop them on the Jabber one (my default). Now I only see one Rob contact (I can call it whatever I want). If he’s logged on to any of the three services, I see a green icon, indicating that Rob is available. If I double-click to send him an IM, it will go to the first available service. So, if he’s logged in to Jabber (my first choice), the IM will always go there. If he’s not, it will go to the next one that is available. Since he’s always available via SMS (through AIM) to his iPhone, I always see a green icon for Rob.

Still, it only takes one row in my contact list, and I can’t ever send an IM to a secondary service (by accident) if he’s logged in to Jabber. By hovering on his icon, I can select any of the specific services that he’s logged in to, so I haven’t lost the ability to target a specific service, I’ve just gained space, and an automated priority hierarchy. Simple awesome!

Anyway, if you are interested in other features of Digsby, there are many places to learn more about it than I have articulated above. The point of this article is just to declare myself to be their newest fan, and very vocal one at that! 🙂

Sweet Bitters at Googies

Send to Kindle

Last night we saw Sweet Bitters perform at Googies. We’ve seen Sweet Bitters once before, at Pete’s Candy Store in Brooklyn, and I shared my thoughts about that show in this post.

Sweet Bitter

Sweet Bitters

Last night was not just a normal show, but rather a fund-raiser, to help Sweet Bitters put together enough money to put out a professional CD. They have more than enough material do so, but money is always a hard thing to come up with.

We really like their music. We also really like Sharon Goldman and Nina Schmir as people. So, in addition to looking forward to another opportunity to see them perform, we wanted to support their fund-raising effort.

There will be 13 songs on the new CD (which they have already begun recording). Last night they performed all 13 songs, as well as one request which was shouted out from the crowd. Lois commented to me after the show that the requested song, Rich Little Poor Girl, should be on the CD too. 🙂

Of course, they were wonderful, as they were at Pete’s. Like Pete’s (which can seat roughly 24 people), Googies is small. It’s a lounge, upstairs from The Living Room (which is a bar and music club, and much larger than Googies itself). Googies can probably seat 40, and can squeeze another 20 (I’m guessing) standing in the back. To repeat, it’s really a lounge, where people are meant to drink and socialize while a piano player serenades them softly in the background.

That makes for an incredibly intimate experience, which last night definitely was. Sharon plays guitar (very well) and sings (beautifully). She also writes wonderful songs. Nina plays guitar (very well), sings (beautifully) and plays keyboards (extremely well). She also writes wonderful songs.

At Pete’s, Nina played electronic keyboards. Last night, she played on the real grand piano that is a permanent fixture at Googies (it is, after all, a lounge). It’s likely that with my eyes closed I couldn’t really tell the difference between a good electronic keyboard (played through a good sound system) and a real grand piano. Even so, I thoroughly enjoyed hearing Nina play on the real grand piano. 🙂

Googies Grand Piano

Googies Grand Piano

At Pete’s, the women were alone on the stage. Last night, they brought along Andrew Frawley to accompany them on the drums. He’s an exceptional drummer in general, but last night, he was the perfect complement to Sweet Bitters. In a room that size, with that sound system, and with the mostly folk genre of their music, most drummers would have overwhelmed them. Andrew was masterful with the brushes (no sticks last night) and not only accompanied them, but he was interesting to listen to just for the beats that he created.

This bodes well for the new CD, as Andrew is playing drums on that as well. He is also the principal engineer on the new CD, and it’s being recorded in his studio!

Sharon mentioned that they haven’t settled on a name for the new CD. Lois told her that she favors Falling Into Place (which just happens to be the title to a gorgeous song of Sharon’s), for many reasons. The minute Lois mentioned it to me I agreed wholeheartedly.

If I had to take Sweet Bitters to task it would be on one issue. They have been together long enough, and perform together very well, yet still make it apparent that a song is either Sharon’s or Nina’s. Don’t get me wrong, we like knowing who wrote a song. But, the way they do it, makes it feel like they are individual performers, sharing a stage, rather than a duo where the individuals happen to write songs separately.

Aside from the banter (“You do a couple”), it’s apparent in a different way. Each sings their own songs start-to-finish (with harmonies by the other, but no verses led by the other). In every one of Nina’s songs, Sharon sings harmony, but always puts down her guitar, even when Nina is playing keyboards. In other words, they don’t arrange the songs to use both of their talents together. Not a huge deal, but I think worth noting (and fixing).

In addition to hearing terrific music last night, we had a great time with a wonderful bunch of people who were there to support Sweet Bitters. There was a raffle (we lost), and some very nice items available via a silent auction. The ladies handed out very nice goody bags to all the attendees. The atmosphere was warm and inviting and we enjoyed every minute of the evening.

As a bonus, we also discovered the larger venue downstairs (The Living Room), which has now officially been added to my NYC concert radar. The night before, one of our favorite performers was there, Chris Thile. Unfortunately, I wasn’t aware of it until the day after.

So, if you like the music you hear on their MySpace page (linked at the top of this post), then be bold, and send them a check to help them complete the new CD. You’ll end up having at least nine additional songs to enjoy from this very talented duo! 🙂