Blog: June 2014

Most of these posts were originally posted somewhere else and link to the originals. While this blog is not set up for comments, the original locations generally are, and I welcome comments there. Sorry for the inconvenience.


I needed a fairly long ethernet cable to run to the TV room, and we failed at making our own so I decided to just buy one. Amazon has 50' cables for $6-10, but I wanted it today (new TiVo, for which "wireless" on the feature list apparently really meant "wireless-capable, if you get a peripheral", fooey).

I went to Best Buy, where their price was $36. We had roughly the following conversation:

Me: You price-match, right?
Rep 1: Yup.
Me: (shows Amazon listing for exact same cable)
Rep 1: This doesn't ship directly from Amazon; that doesn't count.

Me: I'm prepared to pay a little more to get it locally today, but I can't really bring myself to pay more than three times their price. Is there anything you can do for me?

Rep 1: Nope.
Rep 2: (walking by) Um, let me see what I can do. (I follow Rep 2 to a different desk.)

He gave it to me for $10.

It occurs to me to wonder now if I'm part of the problem for brick-and-mortar stores. On the other hand, if their price had been $15 (a 50% markup) I probably would have just paid it.

Ah, that's better

At my new job I was given a pair of 22" monitors. As at the prior job, I set one up in portrait mode to make it easier to view documents, code, web pages, etc -- you know, the things that have a taller narrower orientation naturally, compared to things like spreadsheets, Outlook, and assorted other things that really want to be wider (landscape). But there's some difference between the old and new setups, because even though I think the monitors were the same size, at the new job the portrait monitor is not quite wide enough. (Maybe I'm using slightly larger fonts. Maybe that's because of lighting, or something in Windows 7 vs XP, or who knows what?) So that was no good.

The "miss" is just small enough that if I could get a monitor with 16:10 aspect ratio instead of 16:9, that would be good enough. We identified a 24" 16:10 monitor (so also slightly bigger, which would help), but it's no longer available. So, my manager asked, would I accept this 30" 16:10 monitor instead? Um, sure. :-) (It's not actually a no-brainer; a coworker is experimenting with a 40" monitor and that's too big for me to see everywhere on it without moving around a lot. He said he has a little trouble with that too, but not as much and he's motivated because look at all the code you can fit on that!)

It arrived today. It turns out that, between the larger size and the 16:10-ness, I can use it in landscape orientation and still see enough code/documentation/web page/etc for that not to be an impediment. (We made sure the one we got could be rotated, just in case.) It's nice to be able to make a browser window wide enough for today's obnoxiously-wide site designs, and while there's a little adjustment (I sometimes have to move a bit for stuff near the edges), I'm really liking this "single larger screen" approach compared to "two smaller ones that individually don't work as well and together are kind of eh".

I've kept one of the others, set up in portrait mode. It sits off to the side to hold random stuff like IM windows, console logs that need to be available but not necessarily read closely, and stuff like that. Yes, I've just relegated a 22" monitor to "random detritus". :-)

HD DVR with FiOS?

I learned a lesson about customer service in the 21st century this week. If you call a place like, say, Verizon to complain about misleading sales practices, they make some token offer like a few months of a movie channel (that you better remember to cancel later). And you'll wait on hold for a long time to get there. If, on the other hand, you tweet about it, you get a helpful response leading to something more significant within minutes. Nice to know.

So I now have HD signal coming in (yay), which my TV understands just fine but I'd like to be able to record in HD too. I currently have an ancient TiVo -- version 1, I think before they had version numbers. Obviously that doesn't speak HD, nor can it act as a tuner (I have to set the channel on the FiOS box). New TiVo boxes are pricy and then you have to add the lifetime subscription fee (up to $500 now!) because that's "lifetime of the box", not "your lifetime" so your old one doesn't transfer. This all suggests that I should be looking for a used TiVo that's newer than mine but older than the current offerings, one that already has a lifetime subscription that the seller can transfer.

It looks like the TiVo Premiere HD DVR was their first HD box and is a few years old at this point (sample offer on eBay, TiVoPedia page). I'm a little confused about FiOS integration; this takes "cable in" but I've read that FiOS or cable + HD + DVR means you need a "cable card" (rented from your service provider). How does that work? And is it user-installable? Or are cards "new" and older DVRs use the cable box?

I'd like to be able to record, in HD, and be able to program (time and channel) the DVR directly (not set the channel on a different device). I don't need to be able to record two different shows at once, or record one and watch another, or anything fancy like that. I don't need a huge hard drive. I want to keep costs down but want something that works pretty much out of the box, not "get a spare PC and...". I prefer to minimize ongoing fees (subscriptions) in favor of up-front purchases.

Please guide me, oh LJ brain trust. Most of you are way ahead of me on TV tech.

Commenters explained the cable card.

I later added:

Now that I've gotten a new(er) TiVo via eBay I see the source of my confusion: I thought the cable feed plugged into the card (which plugs into the box), but that made the "cable in" connection totally mysterious. But they're separate operations, or so it appears (I don't have the card yet) -- cable in, and also plug in a card, and the TiVo takes the data from the former and the decryption key from the latter and makes signal come out.

Random bits

FiOS has finally come to my neighborhood, years after many others in the city. The installer is here now. It sounds like a big production; I hope there aren't too many surprises. One surprise already: my "HD" TV package won't actually deliver HD signal unless I pay to rent a fancier box. This was not disclosed. The guy I called about it today offered me three months of movie channels but I'd have to remember to call and cancel that or they'll start charging me; not interested in that. I only got the bundle with TV because (for the next two years) it's cheaper than just getting phone and internet, so in that sense it hasn't particularly harmed me, but it still leaves a bad taste.

If you've been caught up in the "AOL/Yahoo email addresses not playing well with mailing lists" problem, or if you haven't but you've heard something about it, you might want to read this summary of the problem. I guess some people assumed that mailing lists don't matter any more and everybody does web fora, or something.

Last week was Shavuot. There's a tradition of staying up all night studying torah; we have a community-wide study that runs for three hours (from 10PM to 1AM) and then several local synagogues take it from there, for those who want. The community one has 6-8 classes in each 50-minute slot, so there are choices. There seems to be a tradition of giving them not-very-informative names; I went to one called "speed torah" just to find out what it meant, and it turned out the rabbi leading it had prepared several very short texts to look at in small study groups (ideally pairs, but people seemed to want to do trios), moving groups every 3-4 minutes and moving on to the next text. So "speed torah" in the "speed dating" sense, but without the scorecards to keep track of who you'd like to meet again. Cute. There was also one on social media, which the rabbi had expected to be populated primarily by teenagers. He did get some teens, but mostly us older folks. He did a credible job of adjusting his plans on the fly.

I started a new job a couple weeks ago. It's a good group of people; I'm looking forward to getting past the administrivia and initial-learning phases and doing work that really contributes. My manager (who's not local) spent a day with me here, during which he observed that I needed a better monitor or two (because of vision) and no of course he understands about things like Shabbat and Jewish holidays. (Pro tip: if you observe Shabbat, try to never start a job in Standard Time -- let them see that you're good before you start disappearing early on Fridays. But we were talking about Shavuot and why I needed to take a day off so soon after starting.) This week I got email from him: the 24" monitor I wanted (key features: 16:10 aspect ratio, can rotate) wasn't available, so would I accept the same monitor in 30"? Yeah, that should work... (Getting one now, and after checking it out we'll decide what to do about the second one.)

I recently read the first two of Rick Cook's "Wiz" books (Wizard's Bane and Wizardry Compiled). They're great fun, even if they feel a little like geek-flavored "Mary Sue". A programmer from our world is whisked away into a world that has magic -- for reasons unknown, and the guy who summoned him is now dead. While there he figures out that magic spells can be implemented in a way akin to programming; he doesn't understand magic, but he understands programming. So... The books have some nods to programmers that others might not pick up on, but they don't seem like they'd get in the way for those who aren't. They're quick reads, and I was looking forward to continuing on with the third one, until... brick wall! Baen published the first two as ebooks and has published the rest as ebooks but not currently, and they're not to be found in ebook format now as best I can tell. (If you know otherwise, please help.) I don't expect free (I happily paid for one of these); I do want to read them on my Kindle -- because yes I read paper books and ebooks, but I'm finicky about keeping sets together. (I don't even like mixing hardbacks and paperbacks in a series because it messes up the shelving.) There's not even an explanation on Baen's site; just "not currently available" where the "buy" button should be. Drat.