Watch it now. Funniest thing you've seen all week or your money back.
As some of you may know, I work in a large corporation and get to make some of the decisions. People that sell things to us, know this and try to curry favor. Typically, this is done with gifts.
In some businesses and in politics, this gift giving is taken to extremes. As you might expect, this gift giving does affect how people make decisions. People that say that it doesn't effect their decision making are lying.
My company limits gifts to $75 and no more. Personally, I think this a great idea. I get to make decisions that spend hundreds of thousands of dollars and sometimes millions. Being a normal person, if someone gave me a big gift like a laptop or other expensive item, I would feel indebted in some way.
In the entertainment field this gift giving gets a little crazy at places where there are no company limites. I've heard of watches, iPods, and other costly items being doled out like candy to even minor players in Hollywood. The vendors that deal with us know the limits and try to stay within it. If it goes above $75, I have to turn it in to the company.
Each year I get a number of gifts at Christmas. Here's this years list:
Two bottles of red wine (split with my assistant)
Zagat 2006 Guide (gave to Michele)
Basket of Muffins (put out for co-workers to eat)
Box of Godiva Chocolates (eaten by guests watching football)
Frosted cookies (put out for co-workers to eat)
Ms. Beasley teacakes (fed to family at Christmas - my personal favorite)
Pair for good earbud headphones (gave to Michele)
If vendors really wanted to curry favor with execs, they would focus more on the assistants and second-in-commands with gifts as well. These people protect and control access to decision makers. They are often not given the respect they deserve. Without these support people modern business would grind to halt and no deals would get done.
Rob at work pointed me at this Guide to iPod Video Formats and Display Resolutions. Good clear information on what the iPod can display and the differences between H.264 and MPEG4.
Tasty stuff for video geeks.
I read this book on during a business trip to Orlando a week or so ago, but since I am lazy, I am only writing the review now.
Woken Furies is the third Takeshi Kovacs novel from Richard Morgan. I've reviewed the first and second books previously. Takeshi is the sci-fi equivalent of a film noir detective. Set in the far flung future, Takeshi is an ex-government operative with training and skills that give him a decided edge over the bad guys, kind of like a cybernetic Jason Bourne.
In this novel, Takeshi is once again drawn into a sticky situation and get up against powerful foes quickly. I did enjoy 'on-the-lam' portion of the book and like Morgan's way of showing you the cool interesting side-story but not letting it take over the main thrust of the book.
Later in the book, once you are fully rooting for Takeshi, you are shown the dark side of our 'hero' and given a bit of an alternate view on his actions. Morgan obviously makes his a disgust of fundamentalist thinking a key point of this story. This theme is a key element of his writing in previous novels as well. Taking a departure from previous writing, in this novel he tries to point out that taking the fight to extremes makes you no better than those you are fighting. There aren't a lot on consequences for Takeshi as a result of his 'bad' actions, but it is acknowledged.
The wrap up of the story is fairly good, straying a bit into the Deus ex machina zone, but considering that you are reading a novel where characters can download their consciousness into different bodies regularly, you have to accept mysterious technology playing a role in the story.
Overall, a good read. Too bad I finished it in two days. Next time I won't start a book on a five hour plane ride.
I was out shopping yesterday at REI. (Yes, I got off my ass and bought something not online for once.) At REI, I saw an LED replacement kit for mini-Maglites. I had read about these before, where you swap out the halogen bulb in a Maglite flashlight and install an LED bulb into it.
The kit was $8 so I decided to give it a try. I knew it wasn't going to be the same as the new trend of seriously hardcore flashlights, but it could be neat anyways. I had already burned out one halogen bulb and was on the spare. Replacement halogen bulbs are $3-4 per pair.
This version consisted of 3 LEDs to replace the single halogen bulb. It took longer to hack through the plastic packaging than it did to do the actual bulb swap. I really hate the trend toward this fortress-like packaging these days.
Here you can see the old bulb and reflector about the flashight before I put it all back together.
The light color is more white and not yellowish at all.
Longer battery life
All the cool kids are doing it
You lose the focusing control of the Maglite.
Not noticeably brighter
My wife thinks it's 'another stupid blog thing, right?'
Tonight I'll take it outside and look for possums with the dog...
Mira was given the camera to take pictures of the newly installed Christmas Tree.
This picture captures the feel of Cruft Manor during the holidays, the Quilting Table on the left, football on TV, a laptop, stockings hung with care, and the Tree itself.
On a recent trip to my beloved 7-Eleven store, I spied yet another version of the classic Sno-Balls confectionary. Thsi time the Sno-Balls were actually snow colored - white! Of course, I snatched up a package for further investigation. Previously I have examined the green Lucky Puffs and orange Glo-Balls versions.
I think Hostess is catching onto my investigations and they have made very few claims on the packaging for me to investigate.
After staring at the package for a bit I came to the conclusion that Hostess is actually pursuing a crypto-Catholic agenda. I mean it's obvious once you look at it.
As you can see, Frosty the Snowman on the package represents the Christmas holiday. The Sno-Balls are clearly meant to represent portions of his own body. You are expected to celebrate the Christmas holiday by eating the body of Frosty! Sound anything like the a familiar religious ritual?
Christmas = Christ's Mass. What happens at Mass? For you non-Catholics out there, at Mass, wine and bread wafers are consecrated for communion and by transubstantiation converted to the actual blood and body of Jesus Christ.
So, I think we can clearly see that Hostess is trying to get unsuspecting Sno-Balls lovers to join the Catholic faith!
Back to the actual Sno-Balls themselves, they appear to be frighteningly dull. I mean would it have been so much trouble to have red or green filling on the inside of the Sno-Balls as a treat? Perhaps they felt with a red filling their secret Catholic agenda would be revealed.
On a related Sno-Balls note, do take the time to check out the pictures of a highly mobile package of pink Sno-Balls.
I don't like dealing with bills, so where ever possible I set up automatic payments through my bank to pay my bills. As an example I roughly know how much my phone bills will be monthly, so I set up payments that pay the roughly correct amount and I adjust as needed every couple of months. Usually I end up with a little credit on accounts after a while but that's OK since I get the warm and cozy feeling that the bills are all paid.
One of the newspapers we get every morning is the Pasadena Star News. When we subscribed, I estimated the monthly amount and set up a monthly automatic payment and didn't worry about the bill any more. Since we are paid up, I don't get a bill from the newspaper, so I don't check the balance.
Yesterday I received a message from Jackie at the Pasadena Star News. I called back today and conversation went something like this:
Jackie: Mr. Pusateri, do you use a bill pay system?
Me: Yes, have the payments not been arriving.
Jackie: No, to the contrary, you are a very regular payer. The opposite of most of the problems we have.
Me: And so...
Jackie: And so since you have been paying us so regularly, you are paid up until well into 2009.
Me: ... um ... wow ...
Jackie: Yes, so Mr. Pusateri you need to stop paying us for four years, you are maxing out our billing systems.
Me: OK, I'll cancel the payment. So when I use up my credit, you'll send me a bill?
Jackie: Yes, your next bill will be in four years.
Me: Right. Talk to you in four years.
I'm not sure what happened, whether they lowered their prices or I calculated wrong, but I am Paid in Advance!
Last night Piper the dog goes outside to wander around the backyard a bit. I refer to this as patrolling. This time was a bit special though. On her patrol, Piper starts barking up a storm, which is normal, and running around in circles, which is normal. Then she did her low growl, which is not normal.
I walked outside to see what the matter was and it was a large possum that Piper had cornered. Piper wasn't sure what to do next.
Of course, since I am always thinking of you, the Loyal Cruft Reader, I ran inside to get a flashlight and a camera. I snapped this nice photo of the dog confronting the intruder.
The possum just sat there hissing no matter how much I loudly explained that it should be on it's way. At Michele's suggestion, I sprayed the possum with the hose and it ran up a tree.
I wonder what smoked possum tastes like?
Last night, I flipped a cookie to the dog, Piper. Michele and Mira complained to me about this and then Mira handed me this note:
This morning the dog woke up, walked past me, and out to the back porch where she proceeded to throw up.
So you dog owners out there, take heed to the 7 year old's advice.
I was cleaning out the garage and found the pile of VCR tapes I had placed there over a year ago. In over the year, the girls had not watched any of these movies, making a complete switch to Tivo & DVDs.
We decided it was time for them to go and give me back some space in the garage of other crap. The girls helped set up a sales table and made some nice signs.
They were selling the old VHS tapes for $1 each. What a deal, you say? They'll be gone instantly right, I mean it's only a dollar?
Well, people would stop by to see what was for sale and invariably be upset that there were no DVDs. Who wants tapes these days they would say. In the end, the girls sold about $20 worth of movies. I gave the rest to Goodwill to end up in their old movies bin.
Mark this lesson as to the value of old media. The same movie would have been worth 10 times more if it had been on DVD. Same exact movie, different playback format.
What is the fate of DVD movies once electronic movies take root? Will the Blu-Ray & HD-9 next generation discs get traction in the marketplace? Who can tell?
Looking at the piles of worthless eight-track tapes and video cassettes across America, it's hard to imagine the cycle not continuing over and over.
This weekend I borrowed the Xbox 360 we have at work to bring home and check out in the 'familiy environment'.
In general, the experience has been positive. Easy hook up and smooth start-up had the girls playing within minutes. They have been playing Project Gotham Racing and Kameo. They love the co-op mode of Kameo.
In HD, the Xbox 360 truly shines. The images are spectacular to even non-gamers. The general interface is responsive and easy to navigate. Overall, I am impressed with how good the complete package is.
The one drawback is the controller. After the girls went to bed, I played Call of Duty 2. I have the game on PC and am a generally competitive player of FPS games. Trying to learn the controls was difficult but eventually I began to start racking up the kills.
That said, I think that the fact that Microsfot does not allow a keyboard and mouse for FPS games is a crime. Even if I 'mastered' the controller, it would still not come close to the precision and responsiveness of keyboard & mouse.
The Xbox 360 is a highly specialized PC and there are no technical issues in allowing keyboard/mouse control. The issue is termed 'the level playing field'. Evidently it is recognized that keyboard/mouse control in FPS is better than controllers and that to make sure there is a level playing field, they refuse to allow keyboards and mice.
That, IMHO, is a silly plan. Saying 'We know our controller sucks, but we insist you all suck equally at the lowest common denominator'. I mean really. After a few months of release, a third party vendor made a keyboard/mouse adapter for the original Xbox. Why can't Microsoft simply enable keyboard & mouse and save all the pain.
I visited their site later and saw the impressive Salami Fighting video. You MUST watch it.
Disclaimer: I work for Disney and heard about this product at work.
Zoe and Mira, my daughters, had been talking about wanting iPods for a bit now. I really didn't want to do that. Mainly because of the issue that they'd need to run iTunes to manage feeding music into the iPods and dealing the syncing and other iTunes specific issues.
At work I saw a demo for Disney Mix Sticks, a new MP3 & WMA player that is hitting the shelves now. It's a basic mobile MP3 player with a few neat features.
Last weekend the girls and I picked up a pair at Target and they have been a big hit.
Like a Shuffle the Mix Sticks don't have a screen. The buttons are in a familiar Mickey shape and the headphone plug is on the bottom. The girls picked up on how to operate them quickly without any instruction from me.
They come with headphones and matching lanyards. Since they are Disney products the lanyards are special child-safe ones that break away to avoid the possibility of injury. Someone has got to think about these things...
The bottom cap comes off and you can see the USB connector. To charge the battery and transfer files, the Mix Stick simply plugs into a USB port. The Mix Stick appears as a standard disc drive. Open up the directory and drag in the files you want. There's some software that came with it, but I didn't even load that up. Simplicity is best.
I can plug these into any computer at home, open up the media share and drag in what ever music the girls want. No software, no syncing, no restrictions.
The innovative feature is the ability for the Mix Stick to take a SD or MMC flash memory card to expand up to 1 GB of storage. Disney is selling albums on MMC cards in DRMed WMA format for kids that want Disney music without having to rip CDs.
I took a spare MMC card I had and loaded a few MP3 files onto it and inserted it in the Mix Sticks. The songs played fine and the memory was expanded.
I did the math and was a little suprised. The Mix Sticks sell for $50 with 128MB of memory. A 512MB SD card costs between $25-$35.
Disney Mix Stick expanded to 640 MB = $75-$85 ($50 + ($25-$35) )
Apple iPod Shuffle 512MB = $99
So you get more memory for less money with the Mix Sticks. Who woulda thunk? Not to mention the idea that you could keep several flash memory cards and swap them in and out of the player as needed.
I don't have a Shuffle to compare size with, but here's how they compare to the new iPod.