Archive for April, 2008

Introducing DOCSIS 3.0

Wednesday, April 30th, 2008

Most of you have no idea what DOCSIS is, or why you should care. I do because, well, I’m weird that way. For the lay person, DOCSIS is essentially the communications standard for cable television data services (technically: Data Over Cable System Interface Specification, rolls off the tongue, right?). Comcast, our local monopolist, has recently launched 50Mbps down and 5 Mbps upstream service in Minneapolis. Pricing is expensive, $150/month, but it should lead to some interesting competition for real high-speed data services once it gets rolling.


Wednesday, April 30th, 2008

Alright, so Samsung means well with their disc players, but after 48 hours of trying to update the firmware on my BD-P1200 Blu Ray player, I gave up. I was lucky in that I did not “brick” the thing (which often happens in these situations), but I’m not giving it a second chance. So what to replace it with? A PS3, naturally. If you want to know why Blu Ray beat HD-DVD, look no further than the PS3. The promise of gamers buying Blu Ray Discs (BD) led to the majority of major movie studios to support the Blu format initially, and when those sales materialized, the end for HD-DVD was inevitable. The irony is that the PS3 was universally criticized for a lackluster game selection for most of the last year, which led many gamers to buy Blu titles to get some use out of their hardware. So, bad game selection equals more movies equals Blu Ray being what will probably be the last physical delivery media for high-quality movies (more on that later). I have little interest in games, either, so it will be interesting to give this thing a workout on all of its other features (Blu Ray player, media hub, etc.)

Bill’s itty-bitty knee adventure

Tuesday, April 29th, 2008

Almost ten months ago, I received this email from Bill:

From: Bill
To: Bob
Date: 7/12/2007
Subject: Namaste!

…should have nama-stood, though. I ganked my knee doing that silly stretcher-cize stuff. Ouchie!


After months of anti-inflammatories, trying to take it easy, and hoping the knee would heal on its own, Bill got an appointment with a Harvard-trained orthopedist over at Baylor. The doctor confirmed that the “pop” Bill heard was his meniscus tearing, and he would need surgery to mitigate the damage.

So this morning, we got up very, very early to go to Methodist Hospital, and Bill had his knee ‘scoped.
Bill before knee scopeBill at hospitalBob wearing Bill's jaunty chapeauBill after knee scope
Bill let me wear his jaunty chapeau!

Afterwards, the doctor said the arthroscopy went well:
Bill's meniscus
The doctor tidied up the meniscus with very tiny “biters”

Bill's bone
But there’s “arthritis” in another spot, meaning that the cartilage is worn clear away exposing the bone

We’re home now, but we’ve had a (yawn) LONG day. They sent Bill home with a PolarCare300 knee chiller, crutches, and a prescription for hydrocodone. He’s comfortably ensconced on the couch with his laptop and a remote, and he’s in good spirits. Please send thoughts of speedy healing Bill’s way!

Delaying the departure of dorset…

Monday, April 28th, 2008

Bob's favorite cerealLast fall, Amy introduced me to a great new cereal she first encountered in Barbados. It’s from the UK and it’s called dorset cereals.

I especially love their “simply delicious muesli”. It’s made entirely from whole grains, seeds, nuts, and dried fruit, including: oat flakes, wheat flakes, barley flakes, sultanas, raisins, chilean flame raisins, toasted and malted wheat flakes, sunflower seeds, dates, brazil nuts, and whole roasted hazelnuts. That’s all. There’s no flour and no added oil. It’s great with milk and absolutely fantastic mixed with plain yogurt. So yummy!!!

But when I went to Whole Foods this afternoon to buy more, my dorset was gone. It wasn’t just out of stock; the shelf space had been reallocated. I talked to a grocery manager who says it just didn’t sell well in this region, and they won’t be getting any more.

Back in business school, we learned in marketing class that grocery stores see on the order of 30,000 new products or line extensions each year. Since grocery shelf space doesn’t grow similarly, that means lots of other products go away. While I understand this intellectually, I don’t have to like it!

In the short run, I’ll compensate by hoarding. I just drove out to the Woodway store and bought 6 of the last 8 boxes in the city. (I felt bad about buying all of them because there must be at least one more person like me who will want more.) But in the long run, I’ll have to ask my husband to start doing our grocery shopping in New York.

I just love our neighborhood…

Saturday, April 26th, 2008

Bill and I were just sitting here on the couch, when we heard our neighbors shout, “Tequila!” It’s Saturday night and they apparently have a mariachi band in their back yard. Before that, it was the dulcet strains of “La Bamba.” I suppose one could be annoyed that their party is loud enough to hear inside our home, but instead it cracks me up. I might feel different if it were gangsta rap… or opera. But it doesn’t happen often (in fact, I don’t remember mariachi happening ever), and somehow, on our block of old bungalows, it just adds to the character.

Beware of idle husbands…

Saturday, April 26th, 2008

As you know, Bill works “half” time in New York. However, he’s been in crunch mode the last four weeks, which means that he has been leaving early on Monday and returning late Friday night, every week for four weeks. I was expecting more of the same this week, until Monday morning, when Bill unexpectedly said, “Guess what? I’m not going to New York this week after all.” Whee! I was delighted to have my husband at home!

Bill disassembles home theaterHowever, I forgot that home-based husbands can be dangerous husbands, especially when one’s husband is a self-professed videophile.

Don’t get me wrong. I enjoy a big, bright picture as much as the next gal. But mostly, I enjoy digital eye candy as a way to unwind at the end of a long day or long week. I just want it to work reliably. However, I returned home Friday afternoon to find our living room in shambles. Cables on the floor… electronics of the couch… no signal to the TV… and the husband hard at work.

Apparently, being at home for five days was an adequate excuse to receive three new pieces of equipment and send two others away. That means Bill completely disassembled and reconfigured our entire home theater setup in the last 24 hours.

Fortunately, the Kitty enjoys boxes.

Bill and his new stackAnd actually, Bill did a really nice job of streamlining the cabling, so the new stack is much tidier than the old stack. But most importantly, the TV is working again.
Tibbs likes boxes

Rush revisited

Sunday, April 20th, 2008

Bob and Chris after the Rush showMy brother and I spent Saturday night enjoying a three-hour Rush concert at the Woodlands Pavilion. 2008 marks twenty years that Chris and I have attended Rush shows together. Our first was in Jan 1988 during the Hold Your Fire tour at The Summit, before it became a 40,000 member mega-church. I was a junior in high school and he was in just 7th grade. (The red concert t-shirt he bought then seems so tiny to me now!). I never imagined then that we would still be doing this when he had children (honestly, I doubt I imagined him having children then!), but I do hope now that we will keep doing this for many years to come!

Have I mentioned that these guys — Geddy, Alex, and Neil — put on one heck of a live performance?!? Or that the view from our seats was phenomenal, and by “phenomenal”, I mean better than high-def? Check out these photos from my brother’s phone:
Geddy’s mic was maybe 8 feet in front of my chair

Alex was mostly stage right but wandered our way, too

Neil during drum solo
Objects [Neil] in photo were considerably closer than they appear

Neil and Geddy
Drunk people between us and the stage were the only downside

big crowd
The crowd was huge despite rescheduling, but mostly behind us.

As I mentioned, these photos came from a phone. As a photographer, I spent a lot of time thinking, “if only I had my camera here!” because I could have snapped some truly great shots. But alas, the concert promoters only want us to see and listen. And really, I can think of much worse ways to spend a Saturday night!

Let this be a lesson to me…

Friday, April 18th, 2008

As you have undoubtedly noticed by now, I am a great big fan of the legendary rock band, Rush. They will perform in Houston this weekend and you can imagine how excited I am!
tickets to Rush show
What you cannot imagine is how downright goofy I got the week tickets went on sale in February. I decided early on that I was willing this time — Rush is old! They may never tour again! — to pay big bucks for good seats. But I failed to decide which channel I would go through to secure them.

First, there was the fan presale through the band’s website. I only managed to find 27th row floor seats, and decided to buy them just in case I could not find better seats later. This is where I would shortly get into trouble: nonchalantly assuming that I would be able to sell concert seats I subsequently decided I didn’t want.

Three days later, there was the regular TicketMaster sale. I only managed to find 29th row floor seats — not an improvement — and decided to buy them… just so I could get a $15 reserved parking pass for the Woodlands garage that I couldn’t figure out (at the time) how to buy individually. This was getting out of hand.

Three days after that, I found the tickets I wanted — 4th row pit — through TicketMaster’s online auction and bought them. At this point I had four extra tickets to the show. As Bill observed, “I don’t care how big a Rush fan you are, Bob, your butt can only sit in one seat at a time.” I needed a way to sell the extra tickets — and pay off my AmEx bill — fast.

Bill observed helpfully that there were undoubtedly other Rush fans still looking for tickets, and that I might try finding them online. So I did, and found four separate fan bulletin boards. Five hours later I had managed to:

  • locate the relevant “have a ticket/need a ticket” threads,
  • create a user ID for each fan forum and post my tickets for sale,
  • come across a fascinating account by Richard Foster (who penned the 1973 Road & Track short story “A Nice Morning Drive” which inspired Neil Peart to write the song “Red Barchetta”) of his day riding BMW motorcycles with Neil Peart last summer, and
  • feel secure knowing that my enjoyment of this music is not contingent on reminiscing online about old shows, speculating about what will change on the setlist this time, or creating a clever/dorky user name like “robin_yyz” to do so.

I also learned that one of the groups is hosting an official “fan meet up” the night before the concert… at a bowling alley in Humble. Their goal is to get “fired up” for the big show. I bet they’ll have an interesting time…

Another week went by. While my ticket offers each got viewed a couple dozen times, no takers emerged. This was not good.

The following week I tried another option: Craig’s List. After investing another few hours I had created an account and a sale posting. A week later I lowered my asking price and posted again, but this option didn’t surface any takers either.

As the weeks ticked by I became more anxious about my prospects for selling the tickets. By this past Monday — with the concert coming up this Sunday — I was worried. (But I was working on our tax return so I didn’t do much about it.) I told Bill that I was concerned about not being able to sell the extra tickets. He told me — in the words of little Robert emulating Eeyore — “That would not be a good thing.”

Then Wednesday I heard something that would ultimately lead to my rescue. A fan from New Orleans wrote to say he might be interested in my tickets if the New Orleans show Saturday got bumped by the Hornets’ soon-to-be-announced NBA playoff schedule. Here it was: a potential captive audience! I got ready to try to sell my tickets Thursday morning, if they announced the New Orleans show was canceled. This was my best shot to recoup my silly outlay!

But in the end, I got an unprecedented reprieve. Rather than canceling the New Orleans show, Rush decided to switch the New Orleans and Houston dates. I received emails from both MusicToday and TicketMaster advising me that they would honor my tickets on the alternate date, or — if I could not use them on the new date — let me return them for a face value refund. Woo-hoo! I definitely cannot use these tickets Saturday, so today I packed them up and mailed them back.

It was an expensive lesson — I’m still out $27.55 to express them back, plus ~$88 for the shipping and handling to receive them in the first place — but I can be taught. I will not buy expensive tickets I don’t need… I will not buy expensive tickets I don’t need… I will not buy expensive tickets I don’t need…

And now I can finally relax and do what I should have been able to do all along: get “fired up” for tomorrow night’s concert!
tickets to Rush show

I love the pointy part of my week!

Wednesday, April 16th, 2008

It occurs to me that the expression, “waiting on pins and needles,” is vaguely ironic. It’s meant to convey anxiousness and even agitation. What’s funny to me is that I feel anxious and agitated a LOT of the time. But needles, at least acupuncture needles, are a sure way to get me unwound.

pointy bobFor four months now, I’ve been going to Eastern Harmony Acupuncture and Herbal Clinic for weekly acupuncture sessions. I go for stress reduction, and I went today. Between my Gran’mom’s worsening dementia, Bill’s previous employer messing up his W2, and a whole host of work tasks, this week has felt pretty chaotic and hellish… until now.

After 30 minutes of deep breathing in a dimly-lit room, listening to soft new age music, with about two dozen needles stuck in key points on my body, I am like a new woman, refreshed and focused. I am always impressed by how different I feel afterwards. The stress reduction is expected to help our long-thwarted baby-making efforts, but in the meantime, it’s just nice to be able to chill the heck out.

Ironic clutter… can you help make it stop?

Sunday, April 13th, 2008

When my friend Elizabeth blogged recently about the vagaries of growing up, she got me thinking about some of the traits I aspire to outgrow. The one that annoys me more than any other is cluttering:
ironic clutter
You may not believe me, but this photo was not staged. I actually have a pile of papers… on the floor of our home office… with an article on top titled “Clear the clutter”. Ironic, yes? And it has been there for at least six weeks. Ugh!

Most every object in our home has a “home” and stays there. Dishware, books, office supplies, tools, DVDs, etc… all get used and put away promptly. But paper is another story. (Clothing is too, but that’s beyond the scope of this post.) When it comes to paper, we do lots of things right:

  • We sign up for all of the “do not mail” lists,
  • We contact vendors to get off of their catalog lists,
  • We sign up for electronic account statements,
  • We no longer subscribe to any newspapers or magazines, and
  • We use attractive, easy-to-read folders and labels in well-made file cabinets.

But despite all of these clever tactics, paper remains a problem for me. Between the mailbox and the meetings I attend, more paper comes into this house than I can handle. Admittedly, I’m beginning to feel like any paper is more than I can handle.

I think my principal challenge is distinguishing whether I will “need” particular information in the future. With objects, I’ve gotten pretty good:

  • I do not need a stand mixer because I almost never bake;
  • I do not need a second TV; and
  • I do not need old software.

But as a knowledge worker who traffics in information, I have a much harder time assessing whether this article/meeting summary/flyer will be useful to me in the future. I am very prone to think, “ooh — I might need this information, so I better keep it”, about a wide array of information. But with an inadequate ability to file, my odds of finding it again are not high. I want something to change, but I’m really torn. Which would be worse: having to file all the random papers I’ve held on to, or having to part with them and risk that I “need” them in the future and no longer have them. Ugh!

So… several of you are much better at this than I am. Any suggestions?