November 21, 2005

Evite go BOOM

Sorry, Evite, all I did was click a "View Evite" link and BOOM, the mother of all Java system errors appeared on my screen:

I love the line in black towards the bottom... after a gazillion red lines of Java error spewage, it says, "We're sorry, but we were unable to complete your request...."

I'd love to know if a small mushroom cloud appeared on this server just as the error condition occurred...

Posted by brian at 10:39 PM | Comments (0)

November 19, 2005

Going HD, or, If Only There Were An Earth Channel

Ten years ago my wife and I splurged and bought the biggest, baddest (and heaviest) television we could find: a 60-inch Mitsubishi Diamondscan. We figured it'd last ten years, and by then HDTV would be out and we could get rid of the Mitsubishi and get something better.

Fast forward to 2005.

After seeing an HDTV setup at house party a while back, I thought, that is the way to go. So I spent a few months investigating home television technology. LCD wall displays: too expensive, too small. Plasma wall televisions: too expensive, too small! HDTV projectors. Now, that's an idea. So I investigated all of the HDTV projectors, and came across the Panasonic AE-700U. Cost, about $1900 after rebate. Didn't do full HDTV, but did the 720 lines and emulated 1080.

Then I investigated screens. If you go the projector route, you have to get a screen. I figured if you're going to go the projector route, you have to get as BIG A SCREEN AS POSSIBLE. As in, not measured in "inches" -- ha! -- but in FEET! Gotta think big, as in movie-theatre! I came across a vendor, Carada, who make home theater screens. Ordered a 2.05:1 aspect ratio, 12-foot diagonal screen (alas, it was the largest they made).

Rest of system: Denon AV Receiver 3805. Denon DVD player. And for speakers, rather than it being a very expensive "speakers as furniture" ordeal like I expected it would be, it turns out five of these tiny Mirage Omnisats at $168 each, plus a $450 subwoofer, did the trick for far less.

The result:

An awesome home theatre experience (link goes to another photo I put on Flickr). A LOT, LOT cheaper than it would have been had I listened to the consumer electronics stores, or followed what the magazines suggested. Instead I went the projection route, and I'm never going back, that is for sure.

The Earth Channel
If only NASA TV were broadcast in HDTV. . . . . Even better -- here is a service I would pay a monthly fee for -- The Earth Channel. Live, continuous HD video coverage of the planet, from 23,000 miles out. No commercials, no voice-overs, no music --- just a LIVE feed of Planet Earth, day and night, 24/7/365. DirecTV are you listening? Next time you put a satellite up, add a nice HD camera to it first. Aim the camera at Earth. Charge $5/month for the feed. Presto. Earth Channel. You'll get a few million subscribers easy, and it'll pay for the satellite in no time.

Posted by brian at 03:42 PM | Comments (2)

November 10, 2005

106 Miles

I gave a talk last night at the 106 Miles group in Menlo Park. It was a lot of fun!

Here's the title page of the presentation slides:

I will be posting the entire talk in a day or so -- it's a lot of slides and will take a bit of work but should have it by the end of the weekend, so stay tuned.

Posted by brian at 09:11 AM | Comments (2)

November 06, 2005

Voting in San Diego

They gave me a sticker at the end but there was something strange about today's voting experience at the Registrar of Voters in San Diego.

The media were there, and when I pulled up, they the TV people were interviewing someone.

There was a line of citizens, many holding clipboards, filling out attached forms. It was not clear how or where one got the clipboards or what they were exactly. There was a tent covering with some chairs at the front of the line. It seemed you filled out some papers, then took a seat until your group was called into the building.

A volunteer came by with some clipboards. There were two forms attached; a small blue sheet of paper and underneath a white 8 1/2 x 11 inch sheet. The couple ahead of me in line asked the volunteer, "Do we fill out both forms?"

"The top form is for voting," he said, "and the bottom form is for if you want to be a poll worker."

"I'm already a pole worker," the man told the volunteer. "I work for the telephone company."

The volunteer didn't get the pun.

I took a look at the form. First, Middle Last Name. Home Address. Zip. And then the strange part.

"I will be unable to go to the polls because of conditions resulting in my absence from the precinct on Election Day," the form read. "I hereby authorize ____________________________________ to pick up my ballot for me."

Who? I wondered.

I asked a lady walking by who seemed to be a poll worker. "Who fills out this line?" I pointed to the authorization text.

"Oh, don't worry about that. Just fill out the rest and sign," she said.

I signed the document and handed it to another poll worker then sat down in the tented area next to a little old lady.

Eventually we were asked to enter the building. The newswoman and cameraman who'd been out front were now hastily setting up inside the doorway I was about to enter. The camera was rolling as I walked by. I took a couple of photos of the camera. The cameraman frowned.

At this point people were asked to sit on benches in front of a very long counter, and wait for their name to be called. So much for privacy. Poll workers would come to the front counter and yell out voters' names for all to hear. The voter would walk up, and be given a ballot and instructions on how to fill it out.

The cameraman and newsreporter rushed by.

Quickly they set up and aimed the cameras at the voting stations.

"BRIAN DEAR! BRIAN DEAR!" a woman shouted, as I got up to take my ballot. So much for some voter privacy, sheesh.

I got the ballot and an envelope. I walked by the cameraman and newswoman and found an open voting station. Flimsy carboard stands, basically; cheap and functional.

The ballot was the mark-sense reader type. No doubt a Diebold machine was going to process this.

As I read the ballot, I could hear the motor of the television news camera whirring a few feet away. NEWS 7/39 was filming me voting. Great.

The choices for Mayor were

( ) __________________

I took the ballpoint pen and filled in the hole for ... the candidate of my choice. :-)

Then there were the Propositions. My general rule: Just Say No...

I tore off the little tab at the top of the ballot, stuffed the ballot in the envelope, signed it, and marched off to the final table where two confused-looking ladies were busy laying neat little rows of "I VOTED" stickers on their table. I handed the lady my envelope. She took it. I have no idea what she did with it.

As I walked out to my car in the parking lot, I saw the NEWS 7/39 van was in full flower, its microwave antenna extended to an impossibly high distance above the vehicle. The newsreporter lady was saying goodbye to the cameraman, who was loading things into the van. The red, green, blue color bars of video monitors glowed brightly from within the van. Gotta get that video back to the station ASAP, I reckon.

I kept wondering about two questions.

1) Did I vote today? Does one really vote anymore? Put another way, does one's vote really count? Get counted? Can you say with certainty it does or doesn't? Given the history of recent elections, including those in San Diego, I just don't know anymore.

2) What's up with no ID? No authentication? I could have come down here and voted and come back the next day and used someone else's name and voted again and come back the next day and voted and once more used someone else's name. Who would know? They never ask for any ID. I was astounded. No driver's license? How do they know I'm me? What happens if some political operative came down here and stood in line and used my name and went in and voted for a candidate I didn't want, or voted for propositions in a way I didn't want? Who's gonna know? How do we know it's not happening?

Call me paranoid. I just think it's awful odd that there's no proof of ID required to vote in San Diego during the absentee voting days.

Posted by brian at 11:15 PM | Comments (3)

November 04, 2005

Ok, This is Cool


Live, free, information on every flight everywhere in the US.

Posted by brian at 08:04 PM | Comments (1)

November 01, 2005

Windows Live or Let Die

Um, this is exactly the web page that I see (using Safari on Mac OS X) when I go to (here's the cnet story):

When I try to type something in the search box, or click the Search button, nothing happens.

Um. Ok.

Posted by brian at 06:15 PM | Comments (4)
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