Monday, February 2, 2015

Netflix Streaming Suggestion: 13 Assassins

If "13 Assassins" (Japanese; English subtitles) doesn't make you want to be a samurai, I don't know what will!

The beginning is dark and slow, but the climax is exhilarating.

Streaming on Netflix

My movie ratings on Jinni

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Hot Sausage Dip recipe

Thanks Dad!

2 lbs hot & spicy sausage
1 (16oz) can stewed tomatoes
1 (16oz) tub sour cream
1 (8oz) pkg cream cheese
2 green peppers
2 small cans green chiles
1/2 onion

brown sausage in frying pan
drain & transfer to crockpot
dice green peppers & onion & add to crock pot
add all other ingredients to crock pot
slow cook on medium for about an hour
serve with nacho chips or crackers of choice


Wednesday, August 21, 2013

My new toy & step into the Android world - PC-on-a-stick

We've been using a Roku HD player for two and a half years now and cut the cord in January 2012. The Roku is great but some of the new channels & features are no longer being rolled out to our version. So I started looking at upgrading the Roku, maybe even to one of their streaming sticks. However, I was intrigued by the PC-on-a-stick idea. I started watching it a bit, setting up a Google Alert on the term. I always meant to dig in and find out more. But the Roku was fine and I didn't really want to spend any money on replacing what already worked. However, we tried watching The Dark Knight Rises on Vudu, which was advertised as a channel on the Roku. Unfortunately, it wasn't available to install on our version. That, the media center capabilities, and lack of a web browser really started me thinking a Roku replacement was sooner rather than later. The Roku is a solid, stable product so I definitely recommend it and a bit more user-friendly than the TV stick from our experience.

Back to the TV stick. I half-jokingly put a gift request on my Christmas list, not expecting my parents to buy what they maybe didn't understand. To my pleasant surprise, they purchased a SainSmart SS808 PC-On-A-Stick for me, currently $40 on Amazon. As excited as I was to get it, I was actually a bit nervous it wouldn't live up to expectations. As soon as I could, I started setting it up. No problems getting connected to wireless router. I had to use a wired mouse to navigate the Google Play store and download Netflix, Crackle, Skype, WatchESPN, among others, and pay for Instapaper. My first impression of Android and the Play store was it was very similar to Apple iOS. Since install and initial setup, by far I've spent the most time in xbmc. I actually installed the off-shoot XBMC for Android apk. However, most of the time is spent searching the add-ons for content to watch. Also, you have a different favorite add-on each week since they can be plagued with script errors. Skype is greatness on the big screen TV but we've had some stability and quality issues with it. I've actually been spending a bit of time in Instapaper lately, which isn't bad after cranking up the font size. I didn't think I'd like reading on it but I've had to get creative while watching our 9 week-old! Recently installed Al Jazeera but uninstalled after they killed their live streams.

video is pixel-y
Not all Google Play apps are compatible
No Amazon app on Android (at all)
advertised "Dual WIFI Module On Board" but I have not been able to connect to my 5GHz wireless network (only 2.4GHz)
Made in China and comes with some pre-installed apps
Typically have a wired mouse connected in case the air mouse runs out of juice
Not user friendly in terms of navigation (although my air mouse choice could be the culprit here)

Additional purchases:
     Measy Wireless 2.4G Bidirectional Voice Air Mouse Keyboard and Remote Control RC13
     Logitech HD Webcam C525, Portable HD 720p Video Calling with Autofocus
You'll also probably want a USB hub for a wired mouse, wireless mouse charger, external hard-drive, etc.

Some items to check out or keep an eye on in the TV stick space:
Dell Project Ophelia Android TV allegedly coming out summer 2013 soon
Microsoft Xbox One was announced on May 21st, 2013 for release later this year
Roku has solid array of user-friendly devices. But looks like the streaming stick requires a "Roku-ready TV"

Resources to follow:

Some interesting posts:
Scott Burns TV is dead, long live TV
Scott Adams Chromecast review
Doc Searls Earth to Cable

We'll keep our set up for now and continue to use the Roku for Netflix and Amazon. I don't see us subscribing to more than one service (Netflix). We'll continue to use the Android for Skype, Instapaper, and (rare) web browsing. I'm getting close to giving up on xbmc and just using Amazon since it is so much easier, although the choices on Amazon can be limited. I'm hoping more options keep coming available for cord cutters, although the Al Jazeera development was not a good sign. I like having both options and occasionally fighting the Android, but would recommend the Roku for most folks.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Plain technology

"What if this is as good as it gets?"

Is it possible we've hit a technology plateau? Kind of like the airline industry where the flying experience today is pretty much the same as the industry early days. Or the Model T is the template for all automobiles moving forward. It's odd we seem to be moving and changing so fast but not getting very far.

Why is that? The only explanation I can think of is at the end of the day, it's just data - text, audio, and video. And physical limitations of travel. Delivery mechanisms might change, technology might become easier but we're still simply reading, watching, & listening. And trying to squeeze more efficiency & productivity.

Some caveats:
As soon as I post this, a technological breakthrough will happen, say carbon nanotubes or something. But isn't that just making it faster?

I'm not a video gamer but some of the Kinect stuff does look cool. Possibly Kinect is a different way of interacting with technology. I'd buy that.

I'm still not sure I'd buy a driverless car. Humans seem to want to be in control. In good & bad ways.

See also Why We Can't Solve Big Problems. We delivered a man on the moon in 1969. We dropped a rover on Mars in 2012. Lots of differences in technology, delivery mechanisms, speed, etc., but maybe the same thing, a bit further, a bit more elegant solution...? Understandable that we discarded the human payload as well - since there are "more useful things to do on Earth."

Google Project Glass will be interesting but I suspect people, at least initially, will not want to wear technology.

Tesla Model S seems built up as a large step forward in the evolution of automobiles, but I suspect it drives pretty much the same.

There's no doubt in my mind technology trickles down and even poor, poor pitiful me can have seat warmers in my vehicle. But it will be a long, long time before I own Google Glasses or a self-driving car.

Being able to view and control our home environment will be nice but it will take a while to re-wire or build the infrastructure. I suspect people prefer to leave their thermostat/refrigerator/freezer at a comfortable setting and forget about it. See Scott Adams' Machine Love.

Time seems to be a major factor. Social media is not technology but it takes a lot of time to read mostly mundane, 140 character one-liners, and pics of our dinner plate. We can rationalize this time by saying we get news or keep up on distant family or friends. It'd be much better to actually interact with our family & friends or physically feel a new experience than to read, watch, or listen to it on a monitor or multiple screens (while watching the latest reality show, drama, or athletic event). Would we be able to solve bigger problems if we pooled all our social media & television time together?

Technology was supposed to save time and make things simpler. But it doesn't always feel like we execute that way. I'll re-evaluate this post when the computer mouse dies. Or when I see the poll that tells me how many people actually schedule their coffee maker.

What do you think? Do you have any examples of technology not evolving much once it's been invented? Am I missing any giant leaps?

Thursday, July 5, 2012

America The Beautiful

We sang this song at church the other day and just wanted to post the lyrics. Happy Independence Day!

America The Beautiful

O beautiful for spacious skies,
For amber waves of grain,
For purple mountain majesties
Above the fruited plain!

America! America!
God shed His grace on thee,
And crown thy good with brotherhood
From sea to shining sea!

O beautiful for pilgrim feet
Whose stern impassion'd stress
A thoroughfare for freedom beat
Across the wilderness

America! America!
God mend thine ev'ry flaw,
Confirm thy soul in self-control,
Thy liberty in law.

O beautiful for heroes prov'd
In liberating strife,
Who more than self their country lov'd,
And mercy more than life.

America! America!
May God thy gold refine
Till all success be nobleness,
And ev'ry gain divine.

O beautiful for patriot dream
That sees beyond the years
Thine alabaster cities gleam
Undimmed by human tears.

America! America!
God shed His grace on thee,
And crown thy good with brotherhood
From sea to shining sea.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Going minimal?

I'm experimenting and going somewhat minimal - only "important" notifications on my iPhone (Messages, Google Voice, HeyTell, etc.). Turning off my email notifications a while ago was a great thing. Of course, I still need to quit obsessively checking my email.

Notifications are evil

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Wherein I discuss my resignation

Nobody's asked about it (just kidding), so I thought I'd write it down to get my brain around it. I worked at my job for thirteen years, from October 1998 to December 2011. Thirteen years. Through the dot-com bubble, through 9/11, through an acquisition, through the housing run-up (I bought in 2004), and through the housing & financial collapse of 2008 that persists today.

My job really hadn't changed much - enterprise software for the life insurance industry. Sure, we went from Smalltalk GUI to Java browser but pretty much the same - gather requirements, build, deploy, gather missed requirements, new version of the base product, repeat.

Many good things happened both personally and career-wise. I had a manager who gave me the reins and I feel I developed a knack for managing technical projects, within the context of my industry and organization.  He pushed me to think critically, look at every angle, stay one step ahead, if not three, and never forget that we're dealing with people. Travel. I remember impressing a new girlfriend (my future wife) with a last minute flight to Canada for a project that was in trouble. They were all in trouble. Crisis management. I enjoyed it. I had great cities to travel to as well - Philadelphia, Toronto, Chicago. Even during the worst of it (see below), I had a five month stint on the international branch of our client, which included two weeks in Paris (my future wife was able to join us for a week). And I have to mention all the filet mignons and garlic mashed potatoes I'm still trying to remove from my body. Ah yes, the good old days! 

[Aside: I got so "busy" with my work-life balance, I missed Web 2.0. I'll never forget reading Paul Graham's essay Web 2.0 from November 2005. I read it in January 2011. Five years late. I'm pretty sure I spent half the night reading his other essays, just in case I missed any other large computer trends.]

But then life changed - the economy collapsed in 2008.

My company had gotten in bed with a large insurer around the beginning of 2007 - we sold them a suite of five or so, large enterprise software products. Of course, we sold it as a platform of integrated systems. They weren't. And now they were our only customers. Not really, but it sure felt like it. The client owned us. Knew we couldn't go anywhere (again, for lots of reasons). They jumped all over us and took advantage of every mistake. The consumerization of IT was bad timing for us as well, especially for a mainframe-owning, legacy systems-oriented IT provider in the middle of distributed computing expansion. Maybe I wasn't the only one who missed Web 2.0! The client treated us like warm bodies, instead of the consultants we prided ourselves. So the growth we envisioned for our product, company, & careers, dissipated - sucked into the abyss of management layers, empty performance reviews, non-existent salary increases, rather, pay cuts to "take it for the team", & musical chair layoffs. When our best technical resource was laid off at the end of a project, I knew in my head this was "no bueno". But I held on, like many others, in survival mode. I held on through the corporate initiative to reduce liabilities and expenses. People lost vacation (but our employer offered to buy it back for fifty cents on the dollar), 5% salary cuts, and we had to start paying half of our mobile phone bills. They took away (I believe) all benefits of work-at-home agreements - no more paying for Internet access, phone bills, fax machines, etc. I didn't have an agreement, so my working from home was unaffected.

We got married in April 2010, and our daughter arrived in May of 2011. So I have some decent excuses for ignoring my career situation for a bit. But by that time, I'd been on the same customer & client engagement for 4 years. I was tired & burned out for a few years, and more than ready for something different. I asked myself often - "what do you really want to do"?

[Aside: I'd become a "sharebro" in Google Reader, a product of mass consumption that I had successfully dismissed for numerous years. But then I lapped it up - followed as many people as I could since they were sharing articles I wanted to read. They took away some of the features I loved in Google Reader, so I had to find a new solution. I read and read and read as much as I could. And of course, tried as many Web 2.0 products as I could.]

Anyway, by the time paternity leave was over, so was my ambition at work. Of course, there was still time to save it. New projects were popping up (I had requested a new project in October 2010). My excellent performance review in spring of 2011 warranted a raise & promotion. My boss even acknowledged the recommendation in an email. Then they decided to take away my cube at the office, only informing me by asking me if I still wanted my extension. Yes, I wanted my extension - my plan was to go back to the office once our daughter arrived. It was a major pain to even get a cube again (they took it away again in November 2011). But I was unsuccessful getting a flat screen monitor. I mean, the 21" monitor weighing 50 pounds from 2001 still works right? Oh well. By the time the new project rolled around in October 2011, I was done. I finally resigned December 16, 2011, with my final day being December 30, 2011.

But I received a surprising phone call from my boss's boss the Monday after resigning. He seemed interested in why I was thinking of leaving. We spoke for about a half hour and it felt good that he listened. He asked if there was anything they could do to keep me. I told him I'd listen to any offers but that my gut told me it was time to leave. Less than a week after resigning, prior to the long Christmas weekend, my boss called with a package to keep me: a 20% increase, promotion, bonus plan, and basically an option to define a position for myself. I was confused. The same company that gave me a 1% raise, and admitted I wasn't even put in for a promotion the past summer, was now offering a 20% bump, plus bonus (albeit, not a great project-based bonus plan), and a promotion. Ultimately I came to the conclusion that it's never a good idea to take that sort of offer. So at the end of 2011, I quietly returned my laptop, phone, & badge to an empty office (due to the New Year holiday).

I went back through my Instapaper/Twitter/Tumblr shares and listed numerous articles below that are good references. The psychology of the American workforce is an interesting study!

Top Ten Reasons Why Large Companies Fail To Keep Their Best Talent - Forbes

Everything that’s wrong with performance reviews

Apple, America and a Squeezed Middle Class -