Saturday, February 25, 2006

All You Can Eat

Not only is it bad enough that iTunes comes out with a new 'update' every few weeks, the brilliant folks at Apple insist on packaging the update along with the entire program. There is absolutely no reason a music player should require a 34MB download. It's a shameless Microsoft-like swindle. They're banking on the fact that more and more people will be dumb enough to associate iTunes with all of their music and probably install QuickTime and use the clunky QuickTime too.
I always thought that Winamp would be the epitome of the streamlined player--small, efficient, yet robust. It still is far superior to iTunes in many ways, but since America Online publishes Winamp, I've noticed that even it's download sizes have gotten fatter over the years. For years a 1 to 3 MB download, then balooning to 8 or 10, then 14, and now 21 MB.
Apart from more updates, the only thing these updates allow me to do is enjoy slower system performance. iTunes installs several icons, tray utilities, and system services that are supposed to 'help' you, though I still can't figure out why it takes a half a minute to open up the damn thing.

A Lesson in Irony

Popular tax firm and tax software maker H&R block recently revised its earnings statements for the past two years after errors in their own accounting, incorrectly reduced their earnings by $32 million.
Good thing I use Intuit's TurboTax.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Rumsfeld on Charlie Rose

U.S. Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld made an even greater fool of himself for a full hour. Rumsfeld tried to railroad Rose on a number of questions by giving standard, "well that's not what I'm saying" kind of answers and saying constantly that he "is not going to be judgmental."
At one point Rumsfeld said that Iraqi's spoke "Iraqi." At another point he said that his relationship with Iran was wonderful. In general, he seemed generally uninformed about any of the issues and ill-equipped at thinking about anything past the first dimension: "[I]'m not smart enough to think I could answer your question and think it is my judgment."
Q: Do you believe the American media in Iraq is doing a bad job? Do you believe that?
A: I'm not going to be judgmental . . . I don't get up in the morning and make it my job to evaluate that. I've got more important things to do.
Rose spent at least fifteen minutes just getting one simple question of his answered, to which Rumsfeld gave thirteen and a half minutes of absolute garbage. How can one person be speaking and give virtually no information in anything he says?
You could tell that Charlie was getting annoyed as time went on. His voice raised and he was more willing to interrupt Rumsfeld as he started on one of this premade talking points. No flimsy Fox News Cheney-style safe harbor here. Work it Charlie!

Friday, February 17, 2006

Online ONLY Banks

HSBC, a bank I once had an account with in NY and was happy with, doesn't have many branches in the bay area. But they have started an online-only bank that features a robust money market account. You can mail payments, transfer funds from other accounts, pay bills online, have an ATM/Debit card, and do all of the rest.
The best part is the HSBC is offering an introductory 4.80% annual percentage yield rate through this April, at which point it'll drop down to 4.25%. Even at the latter rate, this rate is astronomical compared to comparable banks. Citibank--which I currently have--is terrible in this regard. With its pitiful so-called "Super Yield" money market accounts, Citibank offers the following rates:

• Under $9,999: 1.01% APY, 1.00% Interest Rate
• $10,000 to $24,999: 1.50% APY, 1.49% Interest Rate
• $25,000 to $49,999: 1.90% APY, 1.88% Interest Rate
• $50,000 & over: 2.25% APY, 2.23% Interest Rate
Compare these to the rate HSBC offers for a minimum balance of just $1.00. It's pitiful. The drawback with an online only bank is that it's hard to get cash fast if you don't have an HSBC branch or ATM near you. But for the younger generation of purchasers, an online only bank is perfectly fine. Also, there are a number of ways to deal with common issues:
  • Paychecks -- most of us can set up direct deposit, so you never have to go to the bank anyway. Or, if you don't have direct deposit available, you can mail it directly to the HSBC facility.
  • Everyday Purchases -- you can use the included ATM/Debit card OR, and I think this is much better, put everything you buy on a credit card that offers rewards points and just pay the balance at the end of the month. Then all you do is use the 'online bill pay' feature of your bank account and pay off one big bill a month.
  • Monthly Bills -- same as your everyday purchases. Put your cell phone, internet, TV, electricity, insurance, and everything else on your CREDIT CARD, then pay the card's bill off at the end of the month. You'll get free rewards for doing nothing.
  • Cash -- if you don't have an ATM near you, keep a free local checking account or just ask for cashback during a purchase.

So if you're someone that's just looking to make a little more interest on your savings, or you're not sure about investing in the market, an FDIC insured money market account can help generate maybe few hundred dollars each month, which might actually take care of your cell phone, TV, and other bills.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Monday, February 13, 2006

Inside the Actor's Studio: Debacle

So I caught Dave Chappelle on James Lipton's "Inside the Actor's Studio" on BRAVO last night. Lipton's generally full-of-shit personality and austere interviewing style really brought the show down.
As always, Lipton tried to make it seem like his questions were so serious, literally reading them off of a list as opposed to having a conversation. And his questions sucked too. Compare this with the semi-meandering nature of Charlie Rose, who can not only ask the questions he wants to ask, but also allows a conversation to develop between him and the guest (as opposed to a bland question and answer session).
Even Lipton's standing up and dancing during the interview didn't rid me of his pompousness. Meanwhile, Chappelle kept the show going, not exactly offering advice, but giving us insight into his development as a comedian, his style of comedy, and his inspirations. And as always, that devious Chappelle smile won me over. Although, even when Chappelle tried to relay his stories and jokes in a very simple and unglorified way, Lipton would muck it up by injecting a kind of seriousness into the matter.
The other thing that bothered me was that Lipton tried to 'black' it up a notch, referring to himself and other white people as honkeys and commending Chappelle on how he has given America access to "the Black mind."
I can't stand it when interviewers make an effort to change who they are when they interview different people. People aren't just tuning in to hear Chappelle speak, but to see how he interacts with someone who they are familiar with. A good interviewer is a reference point by which we can locate the people he or she is interviewing. With an interviewer I can no longer trust, the effectiveness--and credibility--of the entire interview is compromised.
What a shame. A great guest, but a wasted opportunity.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

The Leader Board

Is it wrong of me to be happy when I see no Americans on the leader boards of various Olympic events?

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Arrested Development: Preliminary Impressions

I don't want to judge too quickly, but I'm through five episodes of the first season of the recently-axed comedy Arrested Development and it really isn't as funny as my friends made it out to be. It has a peculiar feel to it; an odd mix of Royal Tenenbaums and that vintage Malcolm in the Middle-over the top FOX network feel to it.
But to be quite honest, the show is missing a spark. I don't really care about any of the characters. I'll finish up the season before I go any further.
I suppose several of my friends over the past two semesters imploring me to watch the show and telling me it was quite possibly the funniest thing they had ever seen on television really did ruin it for me. Am I missing something?

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Functional Design?

Original Image from:

Virtually all of the escalators I've ridden in the United States feature stiff bristles on the sides of the escalator. In the picture above they are look like a dark strip running the entire length of the machine. Are these bristles for cleaning your shoes? I asked this to my friend Mark as we rode on an escalator at a recent Golden State Warriors game we attended, and sadly I was rebuked by him.
It's not that I've ever used the bristles, because I have no idea if the person in front of me stepped in shit. I don't want that in my shoe.
My other theory is that the bristles have some kind of lubrication that is vital for the escalator's stairs to operate.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Build an Entertainment Powerhouse for $59.99

I. The Premise

So I was thinking about getting a DVR/PVR for myself. I looked into DirecTV's packages. Not only have they recently increased their monthly prices, but getting their DVR adds another five dollars a month to the price. Also, they rope you into a 2-year (might be 1 according to some sources) contract. Well I plan on moving out of my apartment in a few months and who knows if I'll have DirecTV wherever I land next. Why be tied to a long-term contract and then have to pay a penalty? Why be tied to their hardware, which is useless if I get cable?

II. The Hardware

I have had a TV-tuner card on my computer for as long as I can remember. I had the original WinTV card in high school, and then a WinTV PVR PCI card in college. The WinTV PVR 150 went on sale a few days ago at CompUSA and was only 59 bucks! It comes complete with a remote control, an internal card with a hardware MPEG decoder, a slim but respectable software bundle, and a few other cables and accessories.

WinTV is made by Hauppauge, a leader in TV tuner technology. With the PVR 150, I can watch TV on my computer (on either screen and at any size), pause live TV, rewind live TV, record files, burn them in VCD or DVD format, convert them to play on a video iPod (that is, if I ever bought one -- not likely), and more.

III. The Accessories

What is very impressive is that the tuner is compatible with TitanTV, which is a EPG (electronic program guide) a lot like TV Guide. It is a website that has listings of your channels. I was skeptical that it would carry DirecTV's listings, but it does. It also has my local channels listed. Just like any website, it has your TV listings in grid format, but the best part is that it has small "Record" and "Watch Now" buttons that you can click. If you click "Record" it will automatically schedule your PVR to record the show at whatever time you choose. Obviously, the "Watch Now" does what it says too.

TitanTV also has another button that says, "Remote Schedule," whcih theoretically lets you log on to any web browser, log in to their site, and schedule your computer at home to automatically record a program. This comes in handy if you know you're going to be late home, or if a meeting comes up or if someone just tells you to watch something you'd otherwise miss. Alas, I'm still trying to get this feature to work. TitanTV has minimal documentation on their site about this feature and I'm unsure how TitanTV sends a signal to my home computer. I have not gotten it to work yet, but I know plenty of sites that say it is possible.

I mentioned earlier that the tuner has a hardware MPEG decoder. This makes a huge difference in the quality of the recordings I get. I can record in spectacular clarity and the sound quality is fantastic too. I have noticed that the sound does get out of sync as you near file sizes over 1.5GB. WinTV offers a variety of recording formats, but no matter what, you'll need a decent portion of your hard drive free for optimal usage (I'd recommend around 20 gigs as a bare minimum and that is only if you plan on watching and deleting your scheduled shows within a day or two).

Recording, pausing, rewinding, and watching TV hardly puts a dent in my system's resources. I am free to play music, surf the web, chat, and do anything else I want while it I am recording a show. The video is smooth, though a bit dark at times and is grainy once in awhile. I have a feeling that some of the graininess comes from the interference that all of the other components and wires my computer has connected to it. Nevertheless, I really couldn't be happier with the quality of the video and audio.

WinTV PVR 150 comes with a remote control. I don't think it's really that important a feature, especially since people sit in front of their computers. Unless you have a Media Center PC with a huge screen, the remote is likely to not be used much. HOWEVER, the remote comes with something called an IR Blaster, which is a wire that you run to your cable/satellite box and literally stick in front of it (on top of the box's IR sensor). After you set the IR blaster up (which is relatively easy though a setup Wizard), your computer sends an IR signal to your set top box so that you can change the channel. This is a great feature because if you have a satellite feed, you MUST get your video from the set top box and not directly from the cable. If you have cable, however, you can plug the wire straight into your computer and change channels with ease.

IV. Going Further

The great advantage of a PC-based PVR is that your computer is usually hooked up to a high speed network. Enter Orb.

Orb [] is a free service that lets you stream content from your home computer to any web enabled computer. Therefore, I can 'share' my movies, taped shows, music videos, mp3s, and photos. So, now I can watch my taped shows in the library at school or when I'm visiting home from any web enabled computer or PDA.

The way Orb works is that it installs a small utility in my tasktray which is always running. All I do then is go onto any other computer and go to and log in using my username and password. From there I can pick whatever media I want. The videos will stream on whatever streaming player is installed on your computer (like Windows Media Player). As of the last week, I have noticed no dip in system performance because of this utility. The video quality is decent for streaming media and the audio is superb.

Theoretically, Orb also allows you to watch LIVE television streamed off of your computer. I only got this to work once and it crashed my computer right afterwards. Obviously there are a lot of kinks to work out, but I've had a taste of what is possible. And the best part is that you get all of this for an initial $59 investment and no additional monthly fee.

"Sophisticated" is the new "Civilized"

From savages and brutes emerged tablas rasas. From primitive emerged native. From nomadic emerged colonized. From infidel emerged ritualistic. From backward, emerged unmodern. From historic emerged timeless. From uneducated emerged unenlightenmened. From Mahometan emerged Terrorist. From unscientific emerged unindustrial. From undemocratic emerged developing. From agrarian emerged inefficient.
And now, we've added a new word: SOPHISTICATED.
I remember one of my favourite history professors at Syracuse during my undergrad. During freshman year, my Professor invited me to his home one night to have dinner with him and his wife. I had earlier mentioned that I was Muslim and that sparked a conversation because his son had married a Muslim girl, which of course led to a conversation about the challenges of inter-religious and inter-racial union. Well to make a long story short, I went to his home and found that he had prepared a non-halal dinner, which I sort of assumed he would understand knowing his familiarity with Islamic dietary restrictions. He also offered me wine and beer, which I don't drink either. When he realized what was going on, he said, "I'm sorry I didn't realize because [my daughter-in-law] and my son don't maintain those dietary restrictions; they're pretty sophisticated."
In my classes at Boalt, we use the word to describe corporations who have in-depth knowledge and legal expertise, as compared to the common-folk. We use it to nonchalantly describe people who are poor and/or uneducated. We use it to describe people in other countries who have "developing" or virtually broken legal systems. It's clearly used as a way to distinguish politics, power, class, education and status of several kinds.
How many times are we going to keep changing our vocabulary without learning some kind of a lesson? Are we really this stupid to not understand what we mean when we say sophisticated? This is not a lesson in political correctness--that is--my point is not necessarily that "sophisticated" offends people and should never be used. It's to say that political-correctness makes no sense if all people do is bury the same feelings into another, harder to detect, vocabulary. It's not the word, it's the idea behind it.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Three Reasons the Halftime Show Sucked

  1. Because Mick doesn't care if he knows the lyrics.
  2. Because no titty malfunctions.
  3. Because the band suffers from ostoperoisis.