Archive for January, 2009

David Cook’s new album rocks

Monday, January 19th, 2009

david cook albumWhen David Cook won American Idol back in May, I could hardly wait for him to release an actual album. I also wondered what it would sound like, given the amazing range of styles he navigated during the season.

The album came out in November and the answer is definitive: guitar rock. Lots and lots of solid guitar rock.

David Cook in studioCook worked with the folks who brought us Green Day, Soundgarden, and Our Lady Peace to craft more than a dozen rockin’ guitar anthems. I’ve listened through the album twice now and it reminds me of Fuel or Nickelback, but with better lyrics and vocals. Every tune is listenable and most outright rock. Good stuff! Now, to rip it for my iPod…

Remembering Shane

Sunday, January 18th, 2009

In the chaotic weeks after Hurricane Ike, when I first learned that my brother’s friend Shane and his family were missing, I was alarmed. I asked the Universe to let them be safe somewhere and simply out of communication. I also asked that if they were not safe, then at least let them be found, so their loved ones might have closure.

Sadly, Shane’s body was found the first week of October on Goat Island, across the Intracoastal Waterway, 10 miles west of where his car was found at Rollover Pass. The search continued for his mom and grandmother, but they were never located it would be May 2009 before their remains were identified.

On Saturday, my brother’s family and friends joined surviving members of Shane’s family in Garland, Texas to remember the dead and celebrate their memories. I did not join them for the trip, but my heart was with them. Afterward, Chris shared moving photos from the day:

Chris drives Shane to rest
Chris and his family were honored to cradle Shane’s remains from the church to the grave site: “one last trip together, old friend”

Sierra placing flowers
Sierra and others placed flowers in the turned earth

Chris at Shane's grave

My wish now is that they may find peace, and more joy than sadness in their remembrances.

Cat Fun, part 2 (aka Are you the slowest Wildebeest?)

Sunday, January 18th, 2009

Is your Tabby a little too tame? Do you wish your cat had better stalking, herding and other predatory instincts? Do you hate your plants? Have you run out of things on which to spend money? Well, a Bengal Cat could be right for you.

Imagine, your house pet could be only four generations removed from something that brought down antelope on the open veldt. What fun, what games, what absolute hilarity that might open up for you in your life! All in this easy-to-carry form factor.
Kinda small, ain't it?

The old saying that “curiosity killed the cat” did not mention the fate of the ficus, poinsettia, fern or other flora that happens to share your home. How cute would it be having a trio of these portable cuisinarts wandering around looking for things to turn into paste. How adorable!
One should eat what one kills...

While all of this may seem like too much for one household, you are just not expanding your mind enough. Given the COMPLETELY latent predatory nature of the cats and the rock-solid science and genetic engineering backgrounds of the breeders, there is absolutely no way that when Cuddles is laying on your stomach, with his head near your throat, that this image is going to pop into his sweet little 30 pound mind.

Is this what YOU see in the mirror?

No way.

Edit: Note that we did not take any of the above photos. We do not know anyone who owns a Bengal cat, or if we do, they aren’t terribly proud of paying >>$1,000 for a cat. That, or they are too busy working overtime to pay off the loan needed to buy the cat to let us know. Hope this clarifies the “Bengal Cat Confusion”.

Furminator demonstration video!

Saturday, January 17th, 2009

In case you’re wondering whether the Furminator is right for you, Tibbs agreed to participate in a demonstration:

The Kitty will tolerate most anything to stay in the Daddy Lap. :-)

However, the real point of this post was to figure out how to include video in our blog. I know several of our readers (who have grandparents to satisfy) are already adept at blog video, but it’s new to us.

Rather than uploading and linking to our content at a third-party site like You Tube or Vimeo, we decided to play with our webhost’s native tools. DreamHost supports a flash media player by Jeroen Wijering and we’re giving it a go.

The FLV filesize is a tiny 4 mb compared to the original 53 mb MOV file, and conversion was easy. And the player seems to run seamlessly here in Firefox. My only complaint is that it displays a black box until you hit play, rather than a still of the first image. Other than that, it seems ok.

Now we’re interested in how it works at your end. Does it play in your browser (e.g. IE, Safari)? Does it play instantaneously? Does it stream fluidly without interruptions? Is this size big enough or should we go bigger? Please let us know what you think.

Also, if you have a favorite application for editing digital video, ideally one that’s low-cost or free, we’d love to hear about that, too. Thanks!

Meditation of the day: Courage

Thursday, January 15th, 2009

My friend Amy gifted me with a daily calendar of meditations for “women who do too much”. Today’s page includes a quote from Anais Nin followed by a provoking question:

“Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage”
Anais Nin

We have the courage to make tough decisions. We have the courage to stand up for others. Do we have the courage to say “I’m tired” “I need time off” “I don’t want to do that”?

I don’t know about you, but I need to work on this. Starting about this time last year, I have worked hard to pay attention, learn to recognize my limitations, and try to work within them. I am assuredly a happier, less stressed-out person as a result. But I still have a long way to go.

Cat Fun, part 1 (aka In Praise of The Furminator!)

Sunday, January 11th, 2009

Save money at Amazon
Our cat sheds. A lot. We’ve tried multiple combs and brushes over the years, but we discovered a new product to try while cat-sitting for Robin’s friend Sandra. It seems that Sandra’s cat, Oliver, enjoyed being “furminated” to the point where one did not get any stray fur when one pet him. Hmmm, I said. We need one and need one of these ASAP. So, off to the friendly pet supermart I went, where $40 later, we had a small Furminator and a bottle of goo that I have no use for (it was a combo pack).

Obviously we could have saved a few shekels if I had not have wanted it Right Then!, but then fur waits for no man. But it does stick around when you don’t want it to do so. So we started Furminating Tibbs:

And when I got tired, we handed it off to Bob:

WARNING!! It seems that there may be some sort of massive side effects with the Furminator that may cause your cats to vaporize. No word if this is linked specifically to how “fluffy” your Fluffy is. (Tip of the hat to Chris for the heads-up!)

We had something similar happen to us, but fortunately, it was contained in our Furminator Disposal Unit (FDU), seen to Bob’s right. Tibbs was very curious to smell the residue:

Careful! That could still be dangerous!

Why I do not yet love Blu Ray…

Friday, January 9th, 2009

Yesterday, Bill wrote:

My wife is not a fan of Blu-ray, for many good reasons.

Many of you know that Bill is a videophile, and that our household has a well-equipped home theater. Since Bill’s comment might cause you to reconsider whether Blu Ray is right for you, I feel that I ought to explain.

Blu Ray logoIf you really enjoy watching movies, and you have a high-definition (HD) television or projector, then a digital storage medium that delivers “the ultimate hi-definition experience” with “perfect picture, purest sound” is a helpful thing to have. A Blu Ray player will deliver a far superior movie watching experience than a DVD player. It’s the option of choice today. Go for it.

What irks me — and why Bill says I’m not a “fan” — is how we ended up with Blu Ray being the “ultimate” option available. Because this time last year, there were two digital storage options. And I still believe the other one was superior.

HD DVD logoIn April 2006, Toshiba launched the first HD DVD players in the US, and Bill bought one that summer. They promised “the look and sound of perfect.” The first movie we watched was Joss Whedon’s Serenity and it was absolutely gorgeous. I liked it! And the HD DVD player functioned exactly like a DVD player, just with way more content. Very nice!

Blu Ray players hit the market a few months later, and because Bill is an early adopter and tech reviewer, we got one of them, too. There were problems with the hardware: our first player overheated and seized up. There were also problems with the software: the disc menus were always clunky and slow. One — Pirates of the Caribbean — was so badly coded that it wouldn’t make it off the splash menu, and another disc of Pixar shorts wouldn’t play at all. Not very impressive.

Over the next 18 months, a format war — think VHS vs Betamax in the 1970s — ensued, and we had ringside seats. It seemed clear to me that the HD DVD technology was superior. And most importantly, more of the movies I wanted to watch were available on HD DVD. I naively expected them to win, believing competition would give the world the best technology.

Wall-E on Blu Ray, Serenity on HD DVD

But instead, the outcome was decided by business prowess, and two efforts seemed key. First, by including Blu Ray players in every PlayStation 3 game console, Sony created more than 6 million customers, versus Toshiba’s 1 million, in the same time frame. Second, Sony threw hundreds of millions of dollars at movie studios, culminating in Jan 2008 when Warner Brothers announced they would no longer release movies in HD DVD. By Feb 2008, the war was over:

Blaming the loss of support from a key movie studio, Toshiba Corp. said it is pulling out of the HD DVD business, handing victory to Sony Corp.’s Blu-ray technology in the fierce format war over high-definition DVDs

Toshiba said Tuesday that it would cease production of its HD DVD players and recorders immediately and close out the business by the end of March.

Source: Wall Street Journal

All of this concluded a month before we launched our blog, which is why you didn’t hear me groan then. Skip forward a year and the issue should be moot. All new content should be released in Blu Ray, and consumers who care should be satisfied. But I’m not.

It turns out that there’s a scarcity of Blu Ray production capacity. And because Sony uses the discs to drive PlayStations, an awful lot of that production capacity goes to games instead of movies or TV. A lot of content remains unavailable, for example:

  • The Lord of the Rings trilogy, which grossed nearly $3 trillion worldwide, remains available only on DVD
  • Early seasons of the Emmy-winning Battlestar Gallactica shipped on HD DVD, but later seasons are not yet available on Blu Ray
  • Bones broadcasts in HD but only ships on regular DVD
  • The Rush R30 concert feature airs in HD but isn’t available either

So Blu Ray may look pretty and sound nice, but that doesn’t matter if the content you want isn’t available in the format. I especially miss the last one because a $30 concert disc would be a LOT cheaper than an up-close seat at the show.

And that’s why Bill was so smug yesterday: on Monday, Amazon will bring me the newest Rush concert feature on Blu Ray. Whee! I still don’t love Blu Ray, but I do love Rush. Viewing party, anyone?

Bob eats crow…

Thursday, January 8th, 2009

My wife is not a fan of Blu-ray, for many good reasons. However, today I found something that made her say “Oh!” for about three minutes (Jason – Family blog. Remember, family blog.).

Rush - in high-def!

Looks like I can delete R30 from the TiVo now… Or not.

A great day for just about anything!

Thursday, January 8th, 2009

sunny and 74Today’s Houston forecast called for “abundant sunshine” and 0% chance of precipitation. In Bob’s world view, that’s practically perfect! I took the opportunity to don my sneakers and iPod and walked around North Montrose for a good 50-minute workout. Whee!

If any of you northerners decide you need a short break from the cold and wet, Casa de Bob y Bill has a spare futon and abundant internet! Y’all come!

Wintry mix!

Tuesday, January 6th, 2009

Do you know what this is?

wintry weather in NYC

It’s the sign of a Husband who gets to stay home in Houston for another 12 hours. The NYC forecast calls for “a mix of freezing rain and sleet this evening” and… the corresponding spate of air travel delays. So Bill can head to the airport in a few hours and likely become one of the “stranded travelers” you hear about on the Weather Channel, or he can rebook his flight to tomorrow morning. Bill chose the latter. Yay!

In the meantime, I hope you northeasterners stay warm, dry, and off the streets. And thanks to Bill’s boss for alerting him!