Random tidbits, thoughts, ideas, reviews, etc.Aaron Goes Yakkity Yak
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Did I Mention the RAV4? And a Macbook Pro? (No More iTunes Skipping...)
Monday, 19 March 2007 10:35 PM MDT
Did I mention I'm now driving a Toyota RAV4?
I'm no longer a Hyundai Sonata driver. It was a great car the three-and-a-half years I drove it. But I missed driving the dusty dirt roads of southwestern Utah.
My old black Chevy Blazer 4x4 that I kept parked in Hurricane at my parents house most recently failed to pass it's safety inspection last year. I knew I could spend more money on it and get it to pass, but it had just a few too many things that annoyed me for me to want to pour any dough into it. I finally sold it to someone willing to take a fixer-upper and resurrect it.
So on President's Day weekend last month, on the Saturday before President's Day, I asked my sister Janna to go test driving new vehicles with me. The first and only vehicle we drove was a white 2007 Toyota RAV4 Limited 3.5 liter V6 4x4. I'd spotted it the evening before and had done some reading on the 'net about it. We drove it, and I knew it was to be mine.
Now my sister drives the Sonata and I drive the new RAV4.
I never knew that I'd enjoy a sun roof. It never crossed my mind. Now I'm glad to have one. In the warm late-winter southern Utah weather, it's been a blast.
My friend and coworker Cassidy recently acquired a sweet black Saab 9-3 Aero in November. (See it here on Cassidy's web site, or read Cassidy's blog entry about it here.) That Saab is a sweet, sweet ride, sunroof, quick acceleration, satellite radio, ready for bluetooth, nice stereo... Maybe it was his purchase that subconsciously inspired me to consider a change in automobiles.
It turns out my new RAV4 is bluetooth enabled. If it hadn't been for Cassidy talking about bluetooth options for his car, I probably wouldn't have even thought about it. Sadly I don't have a bluetooth capable cell phone yet.
And while I'm thinking of bluetooth, that reminds me. Since late November I've been typing on a new 17" Apple MacBook Pro with the Intel Core 2 Duo processor and 2 gigabytes of RAM. It came with bluetooth built in (but again I don't have any bluetooth devices to take advantage of it yet).
I love it! I love my Mac! I still run Windows XP Pro sometimes with Parallels in coherence mode so I can balance my checkbook with MS Money. But other than that, I'm an Apple user now.
On the new MacBook, I no longer have iTunes skipping issues. I don't know if the newer versions of iTunes (I'm running 7.1.1 currently) would have fixed my problem or not on my old Windows XP notebook.
This laptop computer is beautiful. I love Apple's minimalist design. The metallic case is truly a thing of beauty. I love the backlit keyboard too when typing at night (like right now).
And the built-in iSight camera makes Skype videoconferencing fun too. I had to plug in a USB camera on the old Windows notebook.
Okay, I've ranted and raved enough about the toys. Forgive me, please, for the indulgence.
P.S. It's now 11:23 PM and I've had the television on in the background while on the computer. My ears perked up when I heard the words "Technical Maintenance Minute" emanate from the television. I looked up and on the David Letterman show (oh, I mean the Late Show with...) were three ordinary, seriously looking guys talking television tech. geek speak. What was a little shocking and sad is that I understood the terminology they were bandying about. Eeeek! I chuckled at the short skit, and at myself. Man, I'm a geek!
John Williams Still Has It!
Sunday, 11 March 2007 9:31 PM MDT
This evening I listened to a CD that I've owned since the late '80s. It was one of the first CDs I purchased after receiving a boom-box-style CD player (which included the '80s-required built-in dual cassette player) from my parents for High School graduation -- no mean feat, considering they weren't remotely wealthy and CD players were newfangled gadgets -- a gift which totally boggled me out of my mind. That was back in the days when cassette tapes ruled the music world and in small-town Hurricane, Utah CDs were hard to come by.
What's the CD? John Williams and the Boston Pops Orchestra's "By Request... The Best of John Williams", a collection of John Williams' own well-known compositions performed by the Boston Pops Orchestra under the direction of the composer-conductor.
At 18-years-old, I heard for the first time "The Cowboys Overture" and was swept away. So tonight I queued up track 2 and gave it a listen.
Wow! John writes good stuff!
It had the same impact, the quick tempo and catchy melodies sweeping me up in the sound. I listened, eagerly awaiting the climax moment (at a little over 7 minutes into the nearly 9 minute song). Would the vivid imagery from those years ago be the same?
There it was, at about 7:15! The mental imagery was there! The song still took me to a high mountain peak on a sunny afternoon with cool, crisp air and a stunning vista spread out below me in panorama!
Perhaps it was Pine Valley Mountain's Signal Peak, a mounain top at over 10,000 ft. in altitude that stands out so well that if you ever fly out of Las Vegas for parts north or east of Las Vegas on a clear day, and if you know where to look, you can't miss it -- it is visible from the air for hundreds of miles. The peak overlooks the surrounding southwestern Utah communities of St. George, Hurricane as well as proffering grand views of the majestic sandstone cliffs of Zion National Park to the east, which cliffs tower above broad mesas that Wile E. Coyote would be right at home chasing Roadrunner around.
That passage in The Cowboys Overture always makes me think of standing atop a peak or tall cliff with majestic vistas spread below in the crisp, clear air.
Quite apropos to think of such Western U.S. landscapes while listening to a piece titled "The Cowboys Overture" I think.
I think I appreciated the middle passages of the song now that I'm older. Just as I've grown to love Holst's Saturn, I've come to love melodies and passages that include a hint or more of melancholy, struggle, sorrow, or pain, especially those that do so without wallowing in it, instead expressing the emotions in context of continuing life and future hope. As a teenager I probably mostly wanted to skip through the slower middle section to get back to the upbeat quick-moving stuff.
(I'd never seen the 1972 John Wayne movie "The Cowboys" that the music was written for nor have I seen it since, so I have no mental association between a movie and the music.)
Thank you John Willliams! You're amazing! I love your music, have from my teens, and will ever love it. You're right up there in my book with Holst, Grieg, Copland, Gershwin, Dvorak, Ravel, Bach, Vivaldi, Beethoven, and all them thar other musical geniuses since the list could go on forever and cover a bazillion musical styles.
(Hmmm, the "them thar" phrase, is that "The Cowboys Overture" infecting me with Western-cliche-style-speak?)
FreeBSD Jail Script
Saturday, 13 January 2007 2:47 PM MST
Back in summer, I wrote a short, short little perl script for setting up a bunch of FreeBSD jail environments using a single base directory from which each jail would access via read-only nullfs mounts within each jail. This web site is running inside just such a jail environment.
I've since used the script on my personal server and at work where it has proved very useful.
Like much of my computer geek stuff, it comes with little-to-no documentation other than the comments in the script itself and also those on the web page I made for it.
The web page is here:
UPDATE: 13 June 2007
Since I originally posted this, I've been converted to
Thanks, Dirk Engling!
O Holy Night - New Orleans Musicians Play It Sweetly
Thursday, 14 December 2006 6:58 PM MST
I don't know how long it will be available, but a sweet brass and woodwind rendition (with what sounds like some synth strings during parts, but I could be wrong) done by New Orleans musicians who have been helped by the Tipitina's Foundation for an NBC television program is currently available from NBC's web site. Right click on the MP3 web link to save the file to your computer. Here's the link to the file on NBC's web site:
I downloaded a copy, then grabbed a screen shot on my computer of the musicians playing (the video is on NBC's web site as well as on YouTube somewhere) to use as album cover art. Then I added the artist information to the MP3 file in iTunes. (Too bad NBC didn't add the metadata to the file before making it available... I'm not complaining! In fact I'm very grateful for freely available quality music.)
[UPDATE (August 2008): The above NBC download link has long since stopped working. As of today (19 August 2008), try the link below, hosted on the Tipitina's Foundation's own web site instead:]
[UPDATE (January 2010): The updated link above no longer works. I hope the musicians don't mind if I instead link to the copy I obtained from the above links earlier and to which I added MP3 informational tags including the musicians' names. Here it is:]
O Holy Night.mp3
Check it out before NBC moves the file or removes it or it otherwise goes away.
Thanks, NBC, Troy "Trombone" Andrews (on lead trumpet), Kirk Joseph (sousaphone), Roderick Paulin (saxophone), Frederick Shepherd (saxophone), Stephen Walker (trombone), Mervin "Kid Merv" Campbell (trumpet), Bob French (drums), and anyone else involved, for a Christmas music treat! I hope the Tipitina's Foundation's rebuilding of post-Katrina New Orleans music culture keeps up (especially with sweet sounds like this)!
Voice Mail - Beware of Voice Phishing
Monday, 11 December 2006 3:22 PM MST
The first time it happened, I just thought it a little odd. I checked my voicemail for my home telephone and an elderly gentleman appeared to be asking about a relative who was in the hospital or under some other full-time medical care. I deleted the message, assuming it was one of those random wrong numbers, and speculated that perhaps because my home phone has one of those "Press 1 for X, 2 for Y" style voice prompts that maybe the caller mistakenly assumed he'd correctly dialed an institution of some sort.
This afternoon it happened again. A nice woman with a Latin American accent left a message asking about an insurance approval for her son's. She left a call-back number.
What if she didn't realize that she'd called the wrong number? What if, whatever her insurance issue, it was important that it be handled in a timely manner? What if it was very, very important? These questions worried me.
I called her back and she answered. I let her know she had dialed the wrong number. Afterward, I felt safe to delete her voicemail message.
This can't be a coincidence. Once could be a random misdial, but two medical-related voice mail messages in the past two weeks when I usually get only voice mail that really does belong to me.
So I did some checking. It turns out that if one transposes two of the digits in my number, they get the phone number for Dixie Regional Medical Center. Well, at least one of DRMC's numbers. That explains it.
Now I'm debating whether it would be a good idea to mention that my home number is definitely not the local hospital's number in my automated greeting. If this happens again, I'll be sorely tempted to do so.
The computer security and personal information protection sides of me are hollering loudly that malicious phishers could obtain telephone numbers close to those of a medical institution and illegally obtain personal medical information and exploit it (perhaps insurance fraud). That would be terrible! (And it would increase costs to all of us. We all pay for insurance fraud through higher premiums.)
So please, when calling anywhere, be very, very careful you are dialing the correct number. And don't leave personal information until you have confirmed that you are correctly connected.
iTunes 7 Skipping Problems Are Driving Me Crazy!
Tuesday, 21 November 2006 11:06 PM MST
I love iTunes and have used it for over three years despite some troubles and in spite of an intense dislike of DRM. The latest update, iTunes 7, integrated CoverFlow to let users see their album cover art as they browse their collection. I quite like it.
But iTunes 7 has a major flaw on some systems under Windows XP. It skips. Not entire tracks, just bits and pieces of audio in the middle of a track. I'll be listening to a tune, into the beat, and suddenly it skips 100-250 milliseconds forward and the beat is off. Ug! Not only is it annoying, it makes iTunes 7 absolutely unusable for listening to music or podcasts, or playing video.
When playing video, the audio skips forward but the video remain where it should. For a few seconds or even as long as a minute or two, the audio and video will remain out of sync, then suddenly iTunes decides to correct things by speeding up the video frame rate or stuttering forward.
Fortunately, this skipping issue hasn't affected my Windows XP Media Center Edition workstation that's attached to larger speakers, so I can still enjoy my music that way. Nor does it affect my iPod.
There is no music file corruption since I can play the exact same audio file in my iTunes library using VLC and it plays perfectly.
Unfortunately the oft-suggested fixes found by googling for itunes skipping of checking one's sound driver settings and the QuickTime preferences don't do a thing to solve my problem. I even went so far as to totally remove iTunes and QuickTime from my system, clean out the registry and any left-over files, then reinstalling newly downloaded versions. No good.
So is this a Conexant HD audio driver problem on my HP notebook, or a Windows XP quirk, or perhaps is it some strange multi-CPU issue? I doubt it, since other software plays back the exact same music files flawlessly on the same hardware with the same drivers. Also, iTunes 5 (the version I was using before) worked flawlessly.
Help, Apple! Please, fix this problem. I want my iTunes back!
Update: 11 December 2006
The probem remains on my laptop. Fortunately for me, I'm swapping my Windows XP notebook for an Apple Macbook, so I won't care about the issue so much unless I encounter it on the Mac as well.
I've had two others contact me with the identical problem. I've included their questions/comments below. I wish I had a positive response, but I don't.
Sami 10 December 2006
Hey Aaron, I am having the same problem as you with the new iTunes running on my laptop with Conexant. Did you resolve this problem?Chris 10 December 2006
Just wondering if you ever got a fix for "iTunes 7 Skipping Problems"; I'm having exactly the same issues, have tried all the same fixes and am stuck. Thanks!
Convenience Fees? Hah!
Monday, 06 November 2006 6:42 PM MST
Isn't it wonderful that utility companies (say Questar Gas) and municipalities (say the City of St. George, Utah) love to charge "convenience fees" if you choose to pay your bill online on their web sites using a credit card? (For the sarcasm impaired, quit reading now.)
From the movie Support Your Local Sheriff!:
Sheriff: "Hey Jake! How do ya think we oughtta split whatever we find? Sixty-forty?"Now I ask: "Convenient for whom? You mean convenient for you and costly for me!"
Jake: "Sixty for for who, and forty for who?"
Sheriff: "There you see? See what gold does to men? We haven't even found anything, and already we're arguing about it!"
Jake: "Sixty for for who, and forty for who?"
Sheriff: "I just wish you could see the greed in your face."
Jake: "What you mean is sixty for you, and forty for me!"
Sheriff: "Well, thank ya, Jake. That's very generous of ya."
There's absolutely nothing convenient about paying more money just for the privilege of paying a bill. Nothing at all.
Yes, I understand that accepting credit card payments does mean the credit card company takes a small bite out of the paid amount. If that was a valid excuse, big retailers would charge a "convenience fee" for swiping a credit card at the cash register. Instead any cost overhead is built into the overall cost infrastructure. Why can't municipalities and utility companies do the same?
In fact, it may be argued that processing of traditional pay-by-mail or drive-up paper-check payments may be more expensive in time (human resources) and thus money than a quick electronic transaction, even with transaction fee overheads.
Since St. George and Questar both want to charge me extra for me making things simpler (no manual check processing), I'll stick with using my bank's free online bill pay system. That means that unless each company has set up an electronic bill-pay acceptance system with whatever processing or clearinghouse my bank uses, they'll keep getting a paper check in the mail printed out by my bank.
Why did I want to use a credit card in the first place? Well I like to earn "cash back" by using a card to pay for everything then paying the entire new balance off each month to avoid any fees or interest. All while my paycheck sits accumulating interest in a savings account until it's time to make that monthly credit card payment.
Yup, I'm cheap that way. I love to save and earn an extra buck.
I love cash back. I even went for the Costco Executive Membership just to get the annual 2% reward, and now the membership more than pays for itself every year. Sweet!
Bottom line? I hate "convenience fees" of any sort. They're not convenient. Especially when electronic payments make things more convenient for the organization doing the charging.
Tell you what, Questar and St. George, how about I send you a bill. The line-item will be an "annoyance fee" I charge all billers who want to charge me for the privilege of paying them. I'd go for it if you'd pay up!
Saturday, 07 October 2006 10:32 AM MDT
I've been impressed this past year with all the excellent things I hear about the Opera web browser. I'm a die-hard Firefox browser user myself, but I nevertheless appreciate the work being done on other web browsers.
So imagine my chagrin when, after installing Opera verison 9 on my computer, I discover that I can't log on to a family web site that I and members of my family use regularly to communicate with one another. Firefox works just fine on the site, but Opera, which has superior CSS rendering, is smaller, and is faster than Firefox, chokes.
It was totally a surprise.
To diagnose the problem, I had to whip out the Ethereal [EDIT: Since originally published, Ethereal was renamed Wireshark] network sniffer/analyzer and watch the raw HTTP traffic between Opera and the web server. I was further surprised to see that the problem was Opera's fault, and not the web site's problem (which at first I had suspected).
It seems that Opera has a problem consistently sending cookies back to a web site that sets them. Further, it seems that this only happens when Opera has the "Accept only cookies from the site I visit" configuration option set. (And indeed, this is how I had my Opera browser configured, because I prefer to only accept cookies directly from web sites I visit.)
I've created a pair of browser bug demonstration pages. Check them out here: http://www.adg.us/operabug.html
A little googling around, and I see that Opera 9 has had some odd cookie problems for quite a while, even during beta. Why the excellent Opera programmers (who have a browser that passes the stressful Acid 2 Test while Firefox still has troubles) haven't fixed this yet astonishes me.
So please, if you're an Opera programmer, please, please, PLEASE fix this bug! (Thanks in advance!)
Update: April 2007 - Version 9.10 of Opera under Mac OS X and also under Windows XP do not have this bug. Thanks, Opera programmers!
Pirates II: Electric Boogaloo
Friday, 28 July 2006 8:47 AM MDT
Last week I finally got around to seeing Pirates of the Caribbean II: Electric Boogaloo—Er, no, um—I mean Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest.
What a blast! I loved it! It was every bit as much fun as the first movie.
I particularly liked the slapstick humor of the first big adventure chase as the heros attempted to escape from the cannibals. I was cracking up all through it. The other big chase after the chest later in the movie was great too.
While I was watching the movie, little did I know that Captain Jack Sparrow apparently likes the Caribbean so much that he spent some of his loot and bought himself his own private 35- or 45-acre Caribbean island, Little Hall's Pond Cay in the Bahamas.
I discovered this fact sometime this week—I don't recall how. But once I'd heard that Johnny Depp had his own private island, I was curious where exactly it was. Unfortunately, googling for information didn't reveal any GPS coordinates.
One web site did mention the name of the island: Little Hall's Pond Cay. It said it was out in the Out Islands (the Northern Exumas) of the Bahamas. (I'd never heard of the Exumas before.)
With a little searching, I learned that there was an island called Hall's Pond Cay that is part of the Exuma Cays Land and Sea Park. Once I knew this, a little more googling found a web site with a map of the Exumas with Hall's Pond Cay clearly labelled. With that map in one window, and Google Maps in another, it was easy to scan the satellite photos of the Caribbean in the area of the Bahamas and quickly find the island in question. Little Hall's Pond Cay had to be nearby.
Another search turned up a picture or two of Little Hall's Pond Cay. Using that photo as a reference, I compared the island outline against Google's imagery and was able to conclusively pinpoint Little Hall's Pond Cay as a smaller island immediately adjacent, south-by-southeast of Hall's Pond Cay.
If anyone's wondering what the GPS coordinates are, according to Google Maps, the coordinates are:
Here's a Google Earth .kmz file marker with both islands labelled.
I'm 100% sure I've got the two islands correctly identified and located. I found an ariel photo of Hall's Pond Cay (the larger non-Depp-owned island) here: http://windom.cybox.com/photos/exumas_aerial/halls_pond.jpg
For more information on the Exuma Cays Land & Sea Park, check out this web site: http://www.nature.org/wherewework/caribbean/bahamas/wherewework/art8287.html
Having completed my Bahamas cay digression, let me finish on-topic: I eagerly await next year's release of Pirates III: Electric Beaglee. (Arr! Curses! That just doesn't work.)
Update: This article was edited to make corrections to the G.P.S. coordinates and to make clear that there are two islands sharing the name "Hall's Pond Cay", the one belonging to Depp prefixed with "Little" -- Thanks to those who let me know I had initially mistakenly marked the larger Hall's Pond Cay as Depp's private island, having assumed that there was only one island.
What If? (From Southwest.com to Washington D.C.)
Saturday, 15 April 2006 1:41 AM MDT
Do you ever reminisce and wonder what would have happened if you'd done just done one tiny little thing differently?
Back in 1994, back when the Internet and the web was just beginning to really take off, and back when domain names (you know, those things that often end in .com) were free to anyone who wanted to register one, I registered southwest.com.
I live in the desert southwest of the United States, and in the southwestern corner of Utah. I thought the domain name sounded cool, and could be used to start an Internet company, perhaps named "Southwest Internet Services" or something.
I also registered lds.net, in part because I happen to be LDS, and uv.com because it was a two-letter domain and it was the very last two-letter .com domain available at the time (excluding domain names with digits in them).
Then in 1995 the InterNIC was authorized to start charging money for domain registrations. That put a crimp in my style, as I was but a poor college student. I decided to let my registration of lds.net and uv.com expire.
But southwest.com was just a cool domain, so I scrounged up $50 and hung on to it.
Here's a copy of my (rather ugly) and useless web site looked like back in 1996 and 1997:www.iflysw.com as their domain name). I sold it for a few thousand dollars in cash and some airline tickets, a package worth significantly less than $10,000.00 US in total value. At the time, I thought it was a pretty good deal.
Looking back now, I should have hung on to the domain for another ten years and put the domain into use as I'd originally intended. What if I had? I suspect I'd have had offers to buy the domain for amounts far greater, likely in the hundreds-of-thousands at least. Perhaps I'd even be a millionaire.
As for uv.com, who knows who registered it after I let my registration lapse. I wish I'd kept it so I could have a 2-letter .com domain. As it is, I later registered eq.net and formed a Utah LLC that uses it today.
Not too long after the lds.net registration lapsed, Burgoyne Computers in Salt Lake City, Utah registered that domain. The Internet Archive has some archived copies of some of their older web pages. It looks like today they still own it and use it for web mail services. Burgoyne Internet Services, L.L.C. is listed as the current owner.
I don't look back with regret at all for having missed out on better capitalizing on the southwest.com domain. I couldn't see the future. A few thousand dollars cash was a lot of money to a single guy in his mid 20s. And the plane tickets were a blast.
With the plane tickets, I flew out to Washington D.C. and stayed a week with my friend who was working at the time as an intern for Idaho Senator Larry Craig. I met the senator and many of his staff. My friend also gave me an insiders tour of the U.S. Capitol building, taking me out onto the floor of the Senate chambers.
During the day while he worked, I wandered around all over the mall, loving the D.C. Metro, enjoying exploring the Capitol and office buildings of the Senate and House on my own, and the mini-subway that connected them to the Capitol building. (Remember, this was all pre-9/11. I wonder today if perhaps some random person were wandering around much like I did then, if security would pick them up for questioning.)
I also did other D.C. tourist things, like take the tour of the White House (and since it was around Christmas time, the tour guides passed out little Christmas cards from the Clintons to all tour members), ride the elevator to the top of the Washington Monument, visit the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum (which I remembered and loved from when I visited it as a teenager while on a high school band trip), visit the Lincoln Memorial, the Jefferson Memorial, the National Archives, take the tour at the Bureau of Engraving and Printing (where they print money), tour the U.S. Treasury Building right next to the White House, visit the Holocaust Museum, as well as many other things.
Although I was there an entire week, I still just scrached the surface, not having explored the other Smithsonian offerings, not explored Georgetown, not having visited the Arlington National Cemetery, nor the many, many, many other places in and around D.C.
So as you can see, it doesn't bother me to have missed out on the profit potential that the southwest.com domain might have had, had I kept it. I sold it. I had a blast with the proceeds. The enjoyable experiences in my memories are priceless.
But it is fun to imagine sometimes, "What if?"
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