Frustration

FiOS TV Leads to HDTV

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As much of a technophile as I am, including being a gadget freak, I am also a reasonably late adopter for many technology breakthroughs. This included being very late to the Compact Disc party, among others.

HDTV was no exception. I have friends who have had HDTV for a few years now, so I know how awesome the picture is compared to regular TV, but still, I wasn’t motivated to get one.

Usually, it’s pure laziness that causes me to adopt late. In fact, many of my most favorite gadgets were gifts. In that regard, I’m easy to get gifts for (albeit very expensive ones!), because I usually don’t rush out to buy the latest thing. I am thankful that my first Blackberry, first Treo, first GPS, etc., were all gifts, or I might never have gotten them, and I love(d) them all. 🙂

In the case of HDTV, it was more of a logistic/tactical reason, rather than pure laziness. In our family room (downstairs), we have a 60″ rear projection Mitsubishi TV that we bought when we first moved in to the house, over 18 years ago. After weeks of nightmarish repair calls 11 months after we bought it (one of the few devices that I ever bought an extended warranty for!), they finally agreed (reluctantly) to replace the motherboard with the newer model (Diamond Vision II). Since then (17+ years), the TV has been flawless. The picture is hardly state-of-the-art (not even close), but it’s big, clear (enough), and has tons of stuff sitting on top of the massive cabinet that it is housed in (in other words, it’s a useful piece of furniture as well as being a functional TV).

It’s (obviously) not HD capable. When we first bought it, we had sliding glass doors to the backyard patio right next to where the TV currently is. Getting this monster in the house wasn’t all that painful. A few years later, we sealed off those doors and they are now just a giant (un-openable) window. The thought of ever replacing that TV is daunting. I have no idea how we’ll get it out, other than completely breaking it up. That would be a shame, as it would make for a fine TV to donate, to the local VFW for example.

In addition to that, I have DirecTV (non-HD version!), and had Cablevision without a cable box, and therefore without HD service either. I could get a new HD capable dish for DirecTV, but then my current DirecTiVo (with 250GB disk in it) would become useless. Painful upgrades, including installing the new dish outside, but still, I’d have to deal with the TV itself. In other words, status quo was the perfect solution. 😉

Upstairs in the bedroom, where we actually watch TV 99% of the time anyway (the downstairs mostly gets watched on Football weekends, by me alone), we had a 27″ regular TV. This TV also showed a nice picture, but it’s as pedestrian a TV as you can find. Only two inputs, coax and red-white-yellow audio/video input (which is called Game mode, for Nintendo-like consoles). The size of the TV was determined by the available shelf space in our wall-to-wall built-in. Given how deep the TV was, and the size of the only opening made for a TV, this was as big as it could get.

Enter FiOS TV a few weeks back. Previous to this, all of our equipment was downstairs. There was a single coax connecting the downstairs to the upstairs TV. Using a remote control extender, I could turn on various devices downstairs, and watch the DirecTV upstairs, etc. If all downstairs devices were off, then the basic cable was automatically passed to the upstairs TV.

With FiOS TV, we had our first cable box in the bedroom, including our first DVR in the bedroom. Of course, it is also an HD box (both DVR and live). After thinking about it for a whopping two weeks, I decided to break down. Yesterday, Lois and I went over to Sam’s Club to buy an HDTV. I don’t know all that much about them, so I spent about 30 minutes doing very light research (difference between Plasma and LCD, etc.).

Given that these sets are flat panels, I knew that I could go bigger than the current 27″, since the TV could be wider than the opening that the current one is in. I figured that I could go as high as 46″, but 42″ was likely optimal. Sam’s carries lots of HDTV’s, in all sizes and capabilities. After browsing for a long time, I narrowed it to a JVC 42″, a Sharp Aquos 42″, and a Magnavox 37″ (that I knew would be much more pleasing to Lois, aesthetically). All were full HDTV, 1080p, 1920×1080 resolution. I was leaning toward the Sharp. The JVC only had a 1200:1 contrast ratio (I have no idea whether that’s good or bad, but some other sets there were 15000:1, yes 15 thousand), so the JVC sounded puny next to that. I think the Sharp was 6000:1.

Well, it turned out that on the shelves under the demo TV’s, there was no Sharp, but there was one JVC, and one Magnavox (the 37″). I grabbed the JVC and ran. 🙂

Amazingly, the TV comes with zero cables, other than the power cord. Clearly, they assume that whatever source you are connecting to the TV, had to come with cables, or you prefer (yeah right) to buy your own. This, on a TV that can accept 5 simultaneous inputs of varying types! (actually more, but who’s counting)

Having not had any experience with HDTV, or even component cabling, and having hooked it all up before bothering to read either the JVC manual (which I eventually read cover-to-cover) or the STB (Set-Top-Box) manual, the only way I was able to get a picture was to use the lower-end red-white-yellow audio/video connection. That doesn’t carry full HD on it. So, while the TV looked very good (very good indeed!), it still wasn’t awesome. So, I got online and ordered an HDMI cable, which will arrive in a week.

After reading both manuals, I realized what I had done wrong, and I was able to use the component video plus separate audio cables, and I now have full HD working on the TV. Wow, cool! The HDMI cable should be simpler from a cabling point of view, but I doubt the picture will be materially better (if better at all).

Of course I was right about the aesthetics, as Lois wished (after the fact) that we had gone for the 37″ model. I (of course) am delighted that we went with the 42″ one. 😉

Lois also wished that it came in either white or grey, rather than the stark black (our built-in is cream colored), but there really was no choice at all, especially given that there was exactly one 42″ 1080p in stock. That said, none of the other demo models were really anything other than black or charcoal gray either…

At the moment, we can’t (without a lot of pain) watch the DirecTV upstairs. While I have a pair of video extenders somewhere in the house, an exhaustive search didn’t locate them (it’s been over 10 years since they were used). I ordered a new pair from X10 on Friday, and they too should get here by the end of the week, when the HDMI cable shows up. That should easily let me switch between FiOS and DirecTV. I still won’t have HD from the DirecTV dish, but it should still look awesome on the new JVC.

While it’s still likely off in the distance, we can both already feel more HDTV’s in our future. At some point, I’ll break down and replace the ancient TV downstairs, especially now that the FiOS stuff will immediately work on it. We had also already discussed getting one for the apartment living room. We never watch TV there alone, but it’s a gathering place when we have company in the city, which is reasonably often, so we might break down and do that in the near future. We’ll let this one sink in first though… 😉

Silly DKIM Update

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This is an unnecessary post. I’m mostly doing it because I said I would, but really, because I changed the permalink structure of this blog, and this will be my first post with the new structure (though old posts are available under the new scheme as well). 🙂

It’s been a little more than three months since I started signing all outgoing mail with DKIM. The only smtp servers other than mine that seem to always sign with DKIM are gmail servers. Many Yahoo! users don’t send through their smtp servers.

Like I said, nothing real to report, just that after 3 months, gmail users are the only ones who I reliably see DKIM signatures for.

Bad result in Sunday Big Tourney on 9/2/2007

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No narrative necessary. Here is the log from my notes from today’s tourney, the first one in over a month that I got to play in…

846 entrants, top 90 paid

800 left in 11th
723 left in 35th
677 left in 56th
631 left in 26th
523 left in 13th
399 left in 283rd (I played one hand really badly!!!)
326 left in 269th
255 left in 114th (I got wildly lucky, thankfully!)
216 left in 110th
163 left in 138th (folded one hand I should have played!)
142 left in 133rd (folded another winner…)
134 left in 107th (won an all-in)
128 left in 117th

38 to go to the money, it’s going to be really tight!

118 left in 100th
103 left in 99th

13 left to the money, not looking great…

Had a tough choice, and I asked Lois what do. There were 97
people left (7 to go), and I was extremely low on chips.
Someone went all-in. I had JJ. I knew that I was likely a
slight favorite, but if I lost, I was out of the money. If I
won, I would definitely be able to make the money.

Lois said “Go for it”. I did. He had AQ. An A came on the
flop, and I was out in 96th. Oh well. So close, and yet, so
far!

I misplayed one hand very badly, and then got a little
tentative in two hands that would have won as well. In other
words, I truly didn’t deserve to make the money, even though
I came really close…

Independently, I came third in an Omaha Hi-Lo last night, and third again in the same tourney today, so I’m up for the month (since I won the entry into the big one in August, so there was zero cost to play it in September).

So, in truth, I can’t really complain. 🙂

Verizon FIOS TV

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So, I’ve been using Verizon FIOS for my Internet connection in the house for quite a while now, and I absolutely love it! When they first installed it, the tech said that they would be introducing TV over the same fiber connection, likely within 6 months.

Well, it’s been much longer than 6 months, but it finally became available.

Lois and I have relatively pedestrian TV watching habits, including not owning an HDTV (even though I think they are awesome). I had both a cable connection (just basic, no boxes) and a DirecTV satellite with a large-drive DVR connected to the satellite. Don’t ask why I didn’t get rid of the cable when I got the satellite over 12 years ago…

I also have a pretty screwy (but very reliable) wiring setup to allow the cable or the satellite to be displayed on either of our two TVs (one upstairs, one downstairs). That was (by far) my biggest hesitation in ordering FIOS TV.

I got the announcement of availability in my neighborhood in the mail, and then researched it online. As intrigued as I was, I actually decided to wait a while, just because of the pain. Then a few days later, while at Zope, I got a marketing/sales call from Verizon (almost definitely outsourced), pitching me on taking the FIOS TV package. What convinced me in the end was that they too (like the cable companies) are now offering “Triple Play” (phone, Internet and TV). Well, I already have phone and Internet from them, and adding TV will actually lower my combined bill (Verizon and Cable) by a reasonable amount, while giving me more channels plus a DVR for the FIOS stuff as well.

Sold!

So, they installed it yesterday. The tech was great, and I only had to explain my screwy wiring once, and he got it right. Cool. But, in order to get the cooler services, they also had to swap the free WiFi Router that they had previously installed for FIOS Internet service with a better one that handled OnDemand TV as well. The old router was a Dlink 624. When first installed, I was apprehensive, because I didn’t think all that highly of Dlink stuff. It has been flawless for over a year, and I customized it to handle all of my special needs (notably VoIP and Slingbox).

The tech replaced it with a gigantic Verizon-branded router. Turns out that it’s an ActionTec model, clearly made for Verizon.

He told me that I really shouldn’t change the defaults. Yeah, right. 😉

Well, by default, it worked correctly (and well) for the Internet, but it didn’t work for my Sling and VoIP, because they were set up to do things in a special way.

The router has a very powerful menu system, which was not intuitive, nor easily discoverable. I struggled to find the right bits to make my changes. When I finally found the right bits, any change I made was “accepted”, but then the router simply stopped working. It would not hand out any DHCP addresses that weren’t the original default. It had no way (that I could find) to marry a MAC address to a DHCP address to “lock” a machine to a particular address.

Oh well, after doing a “Factory Reset” a few times, I gave up, and decided to live with their defaults.

It was extremely painful to make the changes to my Asterisk machine (Red Hat 9), because I can’t easily log in to it, and I couldn’t ssh to it because it was on a different network. 🙁

I had to boot a Rescue CD, enable ssh, ssh in, mount the internal drive, edit the networking startup scripts, and then reboot. Finally, I got all the right bits working, and the machine (and VoIP service) was working again. The Sling was slightly easier, but painful as well.

Anyway, Lois asked if it was worth it to have upgraded, and the answer yesterday was clearly “No”. Now that’s it’s done, I’m feeling less negative, and we’ll see wither the FIOS TV stuff makes up for the hassle…

A very Wicked Sunday :-)

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If you read my last post, you know that the highlight of yesterday was going to see Wicked for our fifth time. In addition to that specific highlight, the day turned out to be spectacular in a number of other ways. Therefore, this post will likely be very long, and I apologize if you’re only tuning in to hear what we thought of the two leads in Wicked. You can either search or skim to find out the $64k answer to that question. 😉

Amazingly enough, I have checked off every single category that I have previously used in this one post. Well, it’s only amazing because there is something about each category in this post. Clearly, I could just check them all off every time if I felt like it. 😉

We debated going in on Saturday night, but that decision ended up being made for us when I won a free entry into the nightly 7pm Omaha Hi-Lo tourney, which I played in the house. Since we’re less than a week away from the monthly poker update, I’ll just say that I came 10th (they paid the top 10 only), so it was a “good” result, but economically, far from first place (first was 15 times larger than the prize I won!). Also, because of Wicked on Sunday, this was going to be the fourth straight week that I would not be around to even try and play in the big Sunday weekly tourney. OK, that accounts for the Poker and Gambling categories being in this one.

When we woke up on Sunday, we both checked email on our Treos, and neither of us turned on our laptops. When we got home, we didn’t turn them on either. That made yesterday one of the only days in recent memory when we were in NY, didn’t have company, and both of use chose not to log on the entire day. Not sure it ever happened before, but if so, it’s a rarity. That also meant that there was no poker played yesterday, which is also unusual for a day in NY without company, but not as rare as not logging on. So, this qualifies as being in the Computers, Poker and Gambling categories.

We drove in on the early side, straight to the apartment. On the way, we listened to the latest CD from Girlyman (previously reviewed here) Joyful Sign, and loved it the entire way in. Shortly after arriving at the apartment, I went on my 8+ mile walk around the city. The weather was nearly perfect. 100% cloud cover (the sun didn’t even peek out for a second), and not too hot or too humid. Ten degrees cooler and it would have been perfect. My typical time (average would be a misnomer here) is 2 hours and 15 minutes. Yesterday it took me only 2 hours and 5 minutes, so the cool weather helped. Of course, I listened to my iPod the entire way, and it didn’t freeze this time, adding to the nice day. This qualifies for adding Music as a category, and of course, the entire post qualifies for Personal.

After a shower, we relaxed and watch Friday night’s episode of Monk (on the DVR). We always love Monk, but this episode was weak in comparison to most. We still enjoyed it, but aside from sharing with you what we did the entire day, it also qualified as one of only two things during the day that also correctly put this post into the Frustration category.

We debated what to do about lunch. Both of us were hungry enough to do a big meal, but after the gorging that we did last weekend, we were both glad to have slowed down this week (amazingly, I lost all of the weight I gained last weekend!). So, we also didn’t want to go too crazy. We finally decided to go to the Palm, across from the theater, but not over do it. Yeah, right. 😉

We got to the theater, picked up our tickets at the Will Call, and crossed the street, only to find out that the Palm doesn’t open for lunch on Sundays. Perhaps they don’t open for dinner either, but a passerby told us they did, so they might. Marginally disappointed, we decided to find another restaurant. I spotted an Applebees 1/2 a block away on Broadway and 50th. We decided to head there. Serendipitously, when we got to the corner, I spotted the other Ruby Foos on the corner of Broadway and 49th. I previously blogged about how great Ruby Foos is, though I’ve only eaten at the uptown one before. Clearly, we both felt that we were meant to eat there. 🙂

The menu is identical to the uptown location, and the decor is as well. The building itself uptown is two floors, so the layout inside is much more opulent, but there’s nothing wrong with this location. We both thoroughly enjoyed our meals. That’s not entirely true. Lois actually didn’t like the filler and sauce for her main dish, but we so enjoyed the calamari appetizer, that eating just the grilled shrimp and scallops off of the top of her dish was good enough. This paragraph qualifies for the Food and Dining categories.

At the end of the meal, our waitress asked us if we were going to see a show. When we told her it was Wicked, she said that she was really interested in seeing it, because whenever her sister comes to visit her in NYC, she goes. Her sister has seen it five times, but our waitress was working each time, and hasn’t gotten to go yet. Omens anyone? I mentioned to the waitress that we were about to catch up to her sister. 🙂

We strolled over to the theater, and were blown away by how good our seats were. It turns out that EE is actually the 4th row, not the 5th, as the AA row is only right and left orchestra. Essentially, the real orchestra is in row AA. 😉

Of course, the omen of EE (5-5) for our fifth time, wasn’t lost on me. 😉

We knew we would love the seats, and the performance, but we were both nervous about the abilities of the stars. I don’t want to turn this into a mystery novel, so I’ll dispense with the suspense. We knew within the first few notes that Glinda (played by Kendra Kassebaum) sang, that she was not going to cut it, by our standards. She has an excellent voice, but she doesn’t put it together for this role. Not even all that close. She’s by no means awful (like the understudy I wrote about), but it was passable, at best. OK, we still had anticipation of how Elphaba would sound.

She comes on in the second song, but doesn’t sing until the third. In the second song, it was obvious that Elphaba (played by Julia Murney) was an excellent actress. We were not disappointed in the acting of any of the previous leads (other than the understudy), but we typically sat much further back, so you don’t really appreciate facial expressions, etc. In fact, everything was far more interesting this close up, and I was painfully aware that it would be easy to get trapped into only wanting to see shows where the seats were this good. Given how much we’ve enjoyed so many other shows, and Wicked in particular, from much worse seats, that would be a real mistake!

Then we got to song #3, the first of many that showcase (or can) Elphaba’s talent and range, “The Wizard and I”. As with Glinda, it was obvious in the first few notes that Julia didn’t have it. She’s not bad either (though I believe that the raw vocal talent between the two lies in Kendra, not Julia). There are two problems with Julia’s voice:

  1. She can’t transition ranges smoothly. She might be able to sing in a particular range (high or low) reasonably well, but when she switches (which this role does frequently), her voice often cracks, or does something else that is less than stellar.
  2. She has no power, and when she pushed the notes that require it, I felt badly for her. Also, she couldn’t hit the highest of notes required by the role.

The last problem, though it was relatively minor, is that each of them brought their own special little styling or phrasing to their solos. None was over the top (as was the case with the oft-mentioned understudy), but it’s annoying nonetheless (I’ll expound momentarily on that theme). That said, one surprising positive note was that there was little fooling around when they sang harmonies together, and for the most part, it was pleasant and reasonably done, but most certainly not spine chilling!

The closest I’ve ever sat before yesterday was 22 rows back (so 18 rows further than yesterday). Lois had a single seat in row L once, when we bought an extra ticket for a surprise visitor from England. I sat with our other two friends in the balcony that day. Even in row L, which was only 12 rows further than yesterday, Lois says she saw so many new things from the close-up seats. That’s not a major statement though, since those of you who know Lois, know she’s essentially legally blind (no, for those of who don’t know Lois, that’s not a joke, or a crack at my wife). So, she was particularly thrilled to see things that I had easily seen before, even from far away. I think it made the performance magical for her, even though she felt the same way (if not even more critical) about the singing of the leads.

Now my exposition on styling and phrasing. Feel free to skip this rant, or the rest of the post, if all you came for was a review on this performance of Wicked. You’ve gotten that already. 😉

I completely understand (but don’t like!) when a musical group that has been around for ages gets tired of playing the hits in exactly the same way each and every day. From my perspective, it’s still incumbent upon them to deliver what their paying audiences expect, but at least I understand it.

In some cases, they have good reasons/excuses. Bruce Hornsby is now teamed with Ricky Skaggs. When they perform, it’s mostly a Bluegrass theme, and it gave Bruce the opportunity to update some of his big hits in a radical way, but perhaps still appreciated by the fans who came to hear Bluegrass!

For a different perspective, I always love to listen to the live version of Mr. Bojangles by David Bromberg. The song was written by Jerry Jeff Walker. As an aside, Lois and I attended a benefit in Austin, TX in May 2006, with a lot of famous people presenting and/or performing. One was Jerry Jeff, who sang Mr. Bojangles (wonderfully!), and we were about 15 feet away from him! David tells (in the middle of the song) how he and Jerry Jeff used to play the song together live every night (forever), and how he (David) never tired of it. On the other hand, Jerry Jeff did, and after they would perform it for the audience, they’d play it for themselves, and “do horrible things to it“, so I really do understand.

The other excuse/reason to muck with a song would be if you were playing it to the same audience frequently, and you might expect that they would appreciate hearing it differently.

Unfortunately, none of those situations applies to a Broadway play. The overwhelming majority of theater goers are seeing any given show for the first time (and likely only time for that show). Second, the cast didn’t write the songs, and rarely have been in a given role for that long, and shouldn’t have the need for artistic freedom with the piece. Not to mention that there is (or should be!) a director involved, ensuring the quality.

Theater goers should easily fall into one of three categories:

  1. Never seen or heard the show/music before. While you can argue that they might like the stylized version, or least not know or care about the difference, I doubt you could argue that they would like the original (often Tony-winning!) version any less.
  2. Been to the show. Well, they’re coming back for more. 😉 Unless they saw this specific cast, doing this specific stylized version, odds are that this group will be at least somewhat disappointed.
  3. Never been to the show, but listen to the CD. This might be the largest group, but certainly is second behind #1 if not. This group only knows the gold standard for how the music is meant to be sung. If they’ve listened to the CD more than once (or, in my case, over 1000 times, no exaggeration), they have no choice but to be disappointed. The correct version is imprinted on their brains. 😉

There must be thousands, if not 10’s of thousands of ultra-talented actors/singers out there who would kill for an opportunity to star in Wicked. Here’s why I simply can’t comprehend the way the show is being performed (and I’m sure there has to be something wrong with me, or my thought process):

For the auditions, tell people that they have to listen to the Original Cast CD 1000 times, and come back when they can sing it note for note. Only then, do you audition for the acting part of the role.

What could be simpler? No styling, no phrasing, no ad-libing of any kind. You can either nail the songs or you can’t. If not, then Next!

But, for some reason, perhaps that the Director is bored hearing the same show every day, they allow the improvisations to continue, and they continue to recruit sub-par singers…

OK, it’s finally off my chest (sort of). Both Lois and I are decidedly against seeing it again with these two ladies in the lead. Here’s hoping they get swapped out sooner rather than later. That said, both of us thoroughly enjoyed the experience yesterday, and got to concentrate on other aspects of the show, which were delightful from our up-front perspective. I’m still laughing at the woman who reviewed the story as weak, the sets as weak, and the singing as fantastic. Oh well, that’s what makes the world interesting. 🙂

So, is there a lesson learned here? Yes, trust YouTube! Seriously, it was obvious even from the really poor quality of the cell-phone made YouTube videos of both leads that this was not a role they could handle. The seats were too good, and everything else about the opportunity as it unfolded was awesome, that we really couldn’t pass it up. But, I know to trust my instincts in the future, and go with the force, Luke…

Both Fiyero and The Wizard were played by actors new to us in their respective roles. The Wizard is a character actor whom we’ve seen on TV hundreds of times! Both were outstanding, and added thoroughly to our enjoyment of the show.

The above obviously qualifies for both the Broadway and Music categories, thus rounding out all of my previous categories (with one exception, which I’ll get to next). Hopefully, it was obvious to you that the performances of the two leads was the second reason that this post qualified for the Frustration category…

If you needed any proof of why Lois and I are together after so many years, I’ll share an honest-to-goodness story from yesterday, which is not as uncommon as you might think. During the performance, I was thinking that if I were Bill Gates, I would rent out the theater on a Monday when it was dark, pay Kristin Chenoweth and Idina Menzel (the two original leads, and both are on the Original Cast CD) to join the remainder of the current cast and chorus (or, if I really was Bill Gates, probably bring back the entire original cast for the night), and invite 2000 of my closest friends, to enjoy a once-in-a-lifetime good time.

At intermission, Lois turns to me and says: “Wouldn’t it be great if we were rich, and we could pay Stephen Schwartz (the creator of the Wicked Musical) to get Kristin and/or Katie Kate Reinders back together with Idina or Eden Mendoza Espinosa (thanks very much to Steph for correcting my hurried mistakes in the comment below!), for just one night, and invite all of our friends?”

Folks, I’m not kidding. We’re too alike for our own good. The difference between us is that Lois only wished to be rich enough to pull it off. I wished to have the kind of money Bill Gates has, so that pulling it off wouldn’t make a dent, or seem even a little unusual for me to do. 😉

I’m telling this next part out of order, because it is 100% inconsequential, other than it is a perfectly valid reason to tag this post with the final category, VoIP. 🙂 While I was out walking, Lois called my cell phone, something she rarely does. She let me know that she couldn’t dial out normally from the apartment, but had to add a prefix of “9”, which routes through our external VoIP provider (see, a legitimate use of the VoIP category). Turns out that calls routed through our house line (which is our default) were failing because the house router got a new dynamic address from Verizon FIOS that was not in the previous ranges, and the firewall at the apartment didn’t like the new address. Problem solved easily this morning…

So, you think you’re done reading? I beg to differ. Our day was not over yet, as this was about Sunday, not just Wicked. 😉

We went back to the apartment, packed up, and headed back to the house. On the way home, we listened to another Girlyman CD (Remember Who I am), and it too is excellent! Just as we were pulling in to our cul-de-sac, a car pulled in behind us. Our neighbors two doors down were coming home from the movies. We’re nuts about both of them (and their daughter), and even though we live 200 feet apart, we rarely get to spend quality time with them given each of our schedules.

So, after 10 seconds of schmoozing in the cul-de-sac, we unpacked our car and walked over to their house. We hung out for nearly 2 hours, and then got home and collapsed, watching two 1/2 hour comedies to unwind (both were hysterical), and then dropped off on the early side.

Finally, something not really related to Sunday. Aside from Wicked yesterday, which was a last minute thought, I have been unable to play in any of the weekly Sunday big tourneys in August so far. This has been marginally disappointing, given my excellent (if lucky) results in July. I did play in a number of qualifiers during the month, even knowing I couldn’t play that week, because you are permitted to unregister a seat, and get Tournament Dollars (TDs) which you can use to register into a future tournament. That said, since I knew I couldn’t play, I didn’t enter many qualifiers. I didn’t win the seat in any of them…

Today, while writing this blog, I decided to try my hand at a qualifier, given that I’m likely to be free (for the first time in a month!) this coming Sunday. I put up $15.50, and top three players out of 40 would win an entry. I came third, and won the seat! So, in the first try to win a seat in the first tournament that I can actually play in, for the least amount I could realistically spend to get in, I got the seat. Woo Hoo. Happy endings all around. 🙂

P.S. Even though this post is incredibly long, somehow, I feel that I’ve left out something important from yesterday. Oh well, I should have logged on last night after all. 😉

Change of plans today…

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On a nice day today, our power up at the house went out about at about 11:50am. If it was going to happen, the timing turned out to be not so bad.

I was playing a little poker a little earlier, and was the short stack with 7 people left in a 1-table SnG. I was dealt a pair of 7’s and pushed all 415 of my chips in the middle. The button called, and the blinds both folded. The button had K8 of spades. Basically, a really stupid call on his part, but he definitely had the chips to afford it, so he did it.

He caught an 8 on the river, of course, and I was out. The power went out 2 minutes later. So, had I hit the hand, and had 920 chips, I would have been much more annoyed at losing by being cut off, than by losing to bad luck, seriously.

After checking with a neighbor, whose power was out too, I called ConEd. After reporting the problem, I received an automated call that the power would be back on by 4pm. What to do without any Internet connectivity? 😉

We both started reading for a while (how quaint). But, given that we’re both always exhausted, we both ended up napping for a while. I never do that (even when I know I will enjoy it), but Lois often can’t keep her head up on weekends, since she sleeps even more poorly than I do.

The power came on at 3:50pm, 10 minutes before predicted, and exactly 4 hours after it went off…

I have two 18-year-old APC UPS devices. They each weigh something like 3 tons (OK, not quite that much, but you wouldn’t want to lift either one). One of them barely holds a charge when the power goes out, but nothing critical is connected to it. The other one still works well, this many years later. I have my Asterisk machine connected to it. Basically, most of our power outages last a few minutes at most, and I don’t want the machine to reboot unnecessarily.

Here’s the part that I can’t explain. The machine stayed up the entire 4 hours. However, after the power came back up, and I was able to make a call (so the machine was in a good state!), it somehow lost it’s mind. It was still up, but no longer serving up anything (not even pingable). It rebooted cleanly, and is working perfectly again, but I can’t explain the behavior. I run it headless, so I couldn’t easily see any error messages, and didn’t care enough to connect a monitor, etc.

Anyway, we’re back to normal, and thankful for the little things, like a fan and a microwave. 🙂

So close, and yet, so far…

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Well, the semi-final started at 8pm. 1931 entrants, top 100 move on to the final, so roughly 5% make it…

When there were 184 left, I was in 82nd, so it was looking possible, if not probable. Then I went card dead. When there were 113 left, I was in 113th.

Still, I got A3 offsuit (a horrible hand, but better than nothing), and shoved all my chips in. Everyone folded except the big blind, who had to call, because it was only 400 more chips for him (which is the problem with having a very short stack). Anyway, he had J8 offsuit. The first card off the deck was an A, so I was looking great. No J and no 8 on the flop, yippee! Unfortunately, both the turn and the river were 8’s (what a joke), and I was out in 113th.

Like I said in the title, so close and yet so far.

Still, I played for free for 8 hours in total, and had a blast.

One hand worth mentioning, just for fun. Early on, I had roughly 1700 chips. I had JT of hearts. The flop came 9h Jc Qh, so I flopped an open-ended straight flush. One guy bets 200, and I call, and one other calls too. The turn is the 8h, so I make the straight flush. Now I’m praying someone has the A high flush, and the other has a straight. 😉

First guy bets 200 again, I call, third guy calls again.

River is a another Q. First guy checks, I bet, third guy raises, first guy folds, I re-raise all-in, and he calls. I assume he has a flush, or possibly even a full-house, or at the very least, a straight. Nope, he has three Q’s. Go figure. Anyway, I had over 4000 chips after that hand, and was able to sustain that through another 1200 people, before finally busting out. Nice hand, bad overall result…

Sometimes technology lets you down :-(

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I forced myself to take my long walk today. As usual, I am extremely glad that I did, but for one thing. I walk with an iPod, with a Logitech Bluetooth headset. For the first leg of my walk, I was listening to Wicked (I know, huge surprise) 😉 but in the middle of “Wonderful”, it stopped playing.

It could have been any of the three devices running out of their battery charge (the iPod, the BT transmitter, and the headset/receiver). A quick check revealed that all were charged up.

Turns out the iPod was simply on the fritz. This happened once before, nearly a year ago, so it’s probably not something I need to worry about.

I forgot how do the reset. I could have called Lois, and had her Google it, but I didn’t care enough. I walked the rest of the way (another 80 minutes) in a more “walking meditation” state, which was fine too.

I don’t know why I didn’t remember the iPod reset dance:

  1. Slide the hold switch so that it’s on hold.
  2. Slide the hold switch so that it’s off.
  3. Press the Menu and Center buttons simultaneously for 10 seconds.
  4. Wait for the Apple logo.

If you see the logo, you’re done, it’s rebooting. If not, there are deeper tricks to try. Mine worked, and it’s charging back up now, since it continued to drain the battery the entire way home, even though it wouldn’t play a single song…

Twitter

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In early March, I discovered Twitter by reading this post on Jamie’s blog. I immediately signed up for an account. Even though Jamie’s blog claimed that he didn’t see an immediate application for it, I did.

Lois and I follow the lives of our godchildren via their away messages. 🙂 That’s useful, but not ideal. First, since both have laptops as their only computers, if they leave them on 24×7 in order to keep us old-folk up-to-date, they are abusing the computers. If they log off, we are blind…

Twitter solves that problem in a number of ways. Not only doesn’t their computer have to be on, they don’t even need to own a computer! You can update Twitter, and get updates, entirely through SMS on your phone. Now, you can also use a phone web browser with a stripped down web interface. For me, the fact that you can receive (and send) updates via IM was the nicest touch, especially that they supported Jabber, my preferred IM client/server. Also, you see the history of all the messages, which is nicer than “missing” an away message state change.

So, it’s already late May, what took me two months to write about Twitter? After a day or two of liking it, I hit a bunch of technical problems. Jamie thought that it was just wild growth on their part, with the inevitable hiccups that come with that. Perhaps, but they didn’t respond to support tickets either, and then closed them out without a response or a fix. Not nice.

Anyway, I still find it to be highly quirky in terms of availability or stability, but there’s something about it that I still like, so I’m likely to continue using it for a bit… I still haven’t introduced my godchildren to it, because I don’t want to waste their time if Twitter is going to implode on itself…

New Machine

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On April 23rd I announced the christening of my new server. At the time, I put the percentage of services that had been ported over at 95. It’s been at least 5 days since I’ve been at 100%, so the new machine is definitely “official”. Everything has been updated to point to the new machine, and all but one thing are running as expected.

The only problem I have is with one VoIP provider. I can’t get any audio to work between us, and the problem is definitely on my end, which is the main reason for not naming the provider. I can still connect reliably to them from my old server, from a different server that I control, and from a softphone as well, so something is broken on my new server in the config for them. That said, all other providers work, including identically configured ones, so it’s not a firewall problem, nor generically a broken Asterisk install. I’m not happy with this, because I can’t think of anything more to test. I’ve written twice to the Asterisk mailing lists, with no useful suggestions left to try. 🙁

I could probably write for hours on the experience of building the new machine. Very few people would maintain interest in that, I’m sure. I also don’t need it for a cathartic release, because I took very copious notes on the whole thing in a Google Notebook.

So, I’ll try to boil the essence down here, with the hope of not losing your interest too quickly. 🙂

The purpose of the change was to upgrade the OS from Red Hat 9 to CentOS 5.0. That worked well. I actually installed CentOS 5.0 Beta first, and then did an upgrade through yum, which worked fine!

My first real disappointment was attempting to build OpenPKG on the new box. The concept sounded really cool to me. The biggest reason for moving from RH9 to CentOS5 was that newer RPMs were harder and harder to find for RH9. OpenPKG held out the promise that one wouldn’t have to worry about this in the future, with the added benefit that you would never accidentally step on the operating system’s packages.

Unfortunately, I ended up wasting a ton of time on it, and it eventually failed to install itself, claiming that gcc couldn’t create executables on the system. Of course it could, as I built quite a number of packages from source… So, great concept, just not right for me at this time…

Had a minor glitch with SELinux (first time I’ve been on a system that was running it). Had to temporarily disable some of the checks to get a package installed and running, but was able to turn it back on afterwards, and haven’t had a problem since.

I have been a very happy user of Courier-IMAP for years, and felt guilty about even considering an alternative (just a loyalty thing). But, I’d read a number of nice things about Dovecot, and it just went official 1.0 a few days before, so I decided to try it. I’m really happy with it. It worked correctly the first time, and configuration was as straightforward as I was led to believe. On the other hand, it wasn’t a quick config, because there are so many things that you can (and sometimes should) set. The single config file (which I like!) is huge, because it’s so well documented, that the choices are relatively simple. You just have to read all those darn docs… 😉

Also installed the latest Postfix 2.4.0. I’ve been really happy with Postfix for years, and had little intention of switching that.

One minor nit about Linux in general. It’s a little annoying that dependencies can get out of whack quite easily. Some system thing depends on openssl-0.9.7 (for example), and you know that 0.9.8e fixes some bugs, and perhaps some new software you’re installing wants that. So, now it needs to go in it’s own directory (’cause you can’t mess with the system one), and then every package has to be told where to find the new one, etc. It all works, but it’s still a PITA.

Installed the latest WordPress (which of course meant MySQL and PHP, etc.). This time, the email config problem that I had on the old machine just disappeared (hooray!). I didn’t config it any differently, so who knows what was wrong before…

Installed the latest Zope (2.10.3, not Zope 3), and had remarkably few problems slurping up my old Data.fs file from a Zope 2.6.x installation. Very cool.

Switched from one webmail client to another, even though I had been happy with the former for years. The latter does more, of which I’m sure I won’t partake of the additional functionality anyway. It works, so that’s all I care about. I rarely use webmail, but when it’s necessary, it’s also ultra convenient (and, as stated, necessary). 😉

One of the bigger odysseys was the installation of a Jabber server. This should probably be its own post, but if it was, I would never condense it, so I’ll do my best not to go on too much here. On the old machine, I was running jabberd-1.4.3 for years. Jabberd2 was just out at the time that I first installed 1.4.3 (they are not the same project). I was able to get jabberd2 to work at the time, but I could not get the AIM and ICQ transports to work, so I reverted to 1.4.3.

The jabberd14 project is still alive and kicking, and I could have saved a lot of headaches if I had stuck with it. But, for a while, I wanted to try ejabberd. It is the official server of jabber.org since February 2007, which seemed impressive to me. 😉

Ejabberd is written in Erlang, and is supposed to scale like crazy (not that I have the slightest need for scale). The concept intrigued me. I’ll spare you all of the insane problems I had getting it to work right. Suffice it to say that it was not my fault, which is rare in these situations. 😉

When I finally got it to work stably, I installed the Python-based AIM and ICQ transports (PyICQ-t and PyAIM-t). The AIM transport worked correctly, and the ICQ one was flaky (solution later on).

Then Rob Page asked me to take a look at Openfire (previously called Wildfire). It sounded cool, and since I was having a problem with the ICQ transport, I figured I’d give it a shot. Man, it installed so easily from RPM, didn’t touch a single file on the system, could be uninstalled trivially, etc. In summary, I liked it instantly. I wasn’t crazy about running a JVM on the system full time, but the load would be negligible, so I decided to switch to it. Of course, while it worked well, and the administration was wonderful, the ICQ plugin was experimental (the AIM one is production), and it behaved like an experimental plugin, which put me where the other one did. There were a few other small annoyances in Openfire as well.

That made me decide to go back and beat my head on the ejabberd server and transports. Long story short, after investigating my setup on the old machine (prompted by Z_God in the Python Transports conference room), I noticed that I didn’t understand how transports speak to the main server. I had them both speaking on the same port (which the sample config file showed!), but on the working server, each transport spoke to the server on its own port! I switched ICQ and AIM to speak to ejabberd on separate ports, and voila, it has been rock solid ever since. I have retired Openfire, and am a very happy ejabberd and python-transports customer! 🙂

That’s pretty much it (at least at a high level). I’m happy with the machine. As usual, more twists and turns than one hopes for, but also more learning experiences than I expected, and interesting ones at that, mostly ending in success. Now if I can only figure out that one SIP provider audio problem, I could get back to some serious poker playing. 😉