TV Or Not TV – Is That Even A Question?

When I left you early this morning, I had just discovered the TV was a goner. And then the realization that TVs are now shaped differently – 16:9 rather than the old 4:3. That little change is a huge difference because our wall unit was built to accommodate a 4:3 TV.

We headed out to Circuit City to survey the candidates. The first thing we realized was, with the new aspect ratio anything that would fit in the space would have a smaller screen! Sure, we might be able to find a set as wide as the old one, but with 16:9 it wouldn’t be anywhere near as tall.

We searched and searched. Some models were too tall. Some models were to wide. Others were too big in both directions. We weren’t panic stricken, but we were concerned.

Next we headed to Target. I had been to the new Target in North Haven once and remembered it had an electronics section. They did – but no big TVs.

Steffie needed something small, so as she and Helaine checked out, I stood in front of the store watching seagulls fly into today’s howling wind. They weren’t very successful.

My pocket began to vibrate.

There was a call from an unknown number in an unknown location. I answered. It was the central monitoring station. Our burglar alarm had gone off. The police were on their way.

I rounded up Helaine and Stef and headed home. We got there 10-15 minutes later, with the alarm still yelping away. A window in Steffie’s room hadn’t been properly latched. In today’s wind it shifted enough to register a fault.

The police had come, but seeing everything locked up and in good shape, they left. Thank heavens there wasn’t a door ajar. They would have gone upstairs, seen Steffie’s room and called for reinforcements thinking the house had been ransacked!

As it is, I understand we’ll get a warning on the alarm. That means if it happens again, we’ll be fined for calling the police.

We re-measured the TV space and had out again. This time we went to BJ’s.

They don’t have a particularly large collection of big TVs, but unbelievably they had one that fit the bill. It was a Daewoo with a 47″ screen. I think it will fit in the space with less than an inch to spare on top. Even then it will have to be turned sideways and cajoled before it will fit in.

BJ’s doesn’t deliver.

I went to the car only to find the inevitable. It was bigger than the cargo space in the SUV! I couldn’t think of anyone with a pickup, which was what we needed.

I called my friend Kevin. He is truly the solver of all problems. Not this time. He had no access to anything large enough to haul a big TV.

Within the same strip mall as BJ’s is a Home Depot. They have a truck they rent out by the hour. Unfortunately, as I found out, they only rent it if you’re hauling goods of theirs.

Back to the drawing board.

We drove around and pondered. Finally, Helaine came up with a friend we though might have access to a pickup through her business. We called… and then, we hit paydirt.

Tomorrow morning… Mother’s Day morning… Rena and Albert and the kids will come over with their trailer and we’ll all go to BJ’s to get the TV.

Yes, this will leave me with the old one to dispose of. I can deal with that. On the other hand, if I’ve miscalculated… if there isn’t that fraction of an inch to spare… I might go “pfffft” just like the first TV.

Loose Ends

As vacation approaches there are always loose ends that need to be tied up. Stef got her hair cut. Helaine had errands to run. I went to see why we were getting a tax bill for a car that we got rid of in late 2003.

First a word to the out-of-staters reading this. Connecticut is unusual in what gets taxed and how. When I moved here in 1984, there was no income tax. Connecticut was a tax haven. Trust me – no more.

Along with the normal property taxes a homeowner pays, Connecticut goes one step further. You pay property tax on your car. Like real property taxes, it’s assessed at a ‘fair market value’ and then a percentage is lopped off that.

Why? I don’t know. It’s ridiculous because the next step is to apply the ‘mill rate’, making any adjustments somewhat arbitrary.

Here’s what I learned today. The Assessor’s Office is different that the Tax Collector’s Office. They’re both involved in the process, but sort of like opposite arms on a dysfunctional body.

This is not to say the people in both offices weren’t very nice. They were. Nor am I implying they weren’t very helpful. They were. It’s the system that’s somewhat out of whack.

It took a nice man in the Assessor’s Office the better part of twenty minutes to explain what this bill was about. Then we went through it step by step with a calculator. It was correct. It just didn’t make sense the first ten times he explained it, and I was really trying to understand.

You may ask, as I did (to myself, under my breath) why these calculations weren’t spelled out on the bill? How come an explicit explanation of what was being billed wasn’t included? Why did the bill imply it was all about a car I don’t have, when that’s a very small part of the whole story.

It’s not like my time with these town officers was free. Every moment I spend with them is time they can’t do something more important.

Anyway, tax bill under control. Check in the mail.

Back home we’re nearly ready for tomorrow’s getaway. The suitcases, each weighed for maximum stuffosity, line the upstairs hallway. If I can borrow one of those harnesses all the folks at Home Depot wear, I’ll run them down the stairs and into Helaine’s car for the trip to the airport.

I still have to take a quiz for my Thermodynamics class (I am doing anything I can to put this off… like writing this blog entry) and pack my electronics.

By the time my carry-on bag goes through security, the x-rays will imply I’m someone who just pulled off a huge heist at Circuit City. Taking off my shoes will be the least of my problems.

Current Connecticut temperature: 33&#176

Current Los Angeles temperature: 63&#176

Just Killing Time

It was a slow night for me at work. The skies were speckled with clouds from the west. Temperatures had leveled off after a brutal, record breaking start this morning.

We now have two live teases in the 7 and 8 o’clock hours, so I can’t go far, but I did feel like getting out. I hopped in my car and headed north on I-91 toward North Haven. My final destination was Barnes and Noble.

I’m not sure why, but I could probably spend the entire day in a bookstore and never want for more.

The Barnes and Noble in North Haven is in a small strip shopping center in a busy commercial area. It’s across the street from BJ’s and Home Depot. Its parking lot is shared with Office Max. Down the block are Target, Circuit City and a few more large stores.

My first stop is always the computer section. The amount of room devoted to computers has gone down over the past few years. It’s probably because computers are mature and not just the province of hobbyists. The thickness, price and relatively short shelf life of computer books is mind boggling.

I took a look at a few books on digital photography – especially the concept of ‘work flow.’ There were a few books related to cameras and Photoshop, but I just couldn’t pull the trigger to buy.

There was also a section of $9.95 books on somewhat more arcane computer topics. I thumbed through a book on PHP and though I would have enjoyed having it, I wasn’t sure I’d ever use it (though I’d like to… right after I become organized).

After the computer books it was off to the magazine racks. I believe this B&N has four free standing two sided racks – each jam packed with titles on just about every subject you can think of. My favorites here are a series of British computer how-to magazines. They are oversized with lots of how to articles and a CD or two taped to the front cover. At $15 or so each, they’re the priciest magazines I look at.

I browsed for twenty minutes, looked at my watch and called it quits. My book store itch has not yet been scratched. I’ll be back.

You Make the Call!

The snow is coming down. If it’s going to change to a liquid form, it’s certainly taking its sweet time. My thermometer reads 24.6&#186.

Down to our south, at La Guardia Airport in NYC, the temperature has risen 4&#186 in two hours; at Kennedy Airport 5&#186 over the same period. At Kennedy, the snow has turned to rain.

I would guess we have 4-5″ on the ground already. Though currently in a lull, there’s more where this came from!

With all this in mind, two photos from today. The first was taken out my front door, looking across the street at a neighbor’s house, beautifully decorated for Christmas. The second, taken by my friend Peter Mokover (who somehow manages 5 weeks every winter in Hawaii) is of the Home Depot on Maui.

Where would I rather be? You make the call!

The End of the Hobby Era In Computing?

The lead story on Extreme Tech is all about building a computer. Build It: A Speedy PC For $800

I’m certainly not adverse to building a computer. The PC this is being typed on was assembled right here on my office floor from parts I specified. It does everything I designed it to do (though it has incredibly noisy fans to remove its internal heat, and I wish I would have designed that out). And, as a bonus, it actually worked when I plugged it in!

The question is why build… and even if you want to, how much longer will that be possible?

My computer was built to edit video. To that end, I threw in the ATI All-In-Wonder 8500DV video card (on which the DV “Firewire” connection never did work) and a Soyo motherboard with built-in RAID (two disk drives act as one for the faster service necessary for video). The on-board audio conflicts with the video card, meaning I then had to go get another audio card.

It was a great learning experience, but today you can buy machines off the shelf that do the same thing. And, increases in processor speed cover a variety of sins. So a machine not totally optimized for video will still do fine because everything else is so much faster and the disk drives are so much larger.

As I was passing by Home Shopping Network earlier today, they were selling a Gateway PC (I am not a fan of any particular brand. All major computer manufactures are just putting together other people’s parts.) with 17″ monitor and printer for under $1200. The CPU on their machine is better than twice as fast as mine! If you’re interested, here are the specs.

It’s tough to build when a speedy machine, pre-assembled, sells for a price like that.

For hobbyists, like me, there will always be the allure of building the ‘perfect’ screaming machine. But, I suspect within the next few years that won’t be possible either.

I remember in high school, a friend of mine bough a Model “A” Ford and restored it to running condition by hand. What he couldn’t get, he modified. Now, there’s hardly anything on a car you can fix or modify on your own.

Computers are going in that same direction. There are a number of reasons, but the most significant seems to be intellectual property rights. My computer is capable of copying DVDs… even copy protected DVDs. I can do all sorts of other things that upsets other rights holders too!

Just as printer manufacturers have added chips to try and thwart aftermarket ink cartridge manufacturers, PCs will be ‘smarter’ (really more restrictive) in what they let you do. The quaint concept of ‘fair use’ will go out the window, because manufacturers now understand how easily their hard work is ripped off.

Will future versions of Windows be built so it only works with ‘trusted’ hardware and software that can be more closely controlled? My opinion is, yes. Sure, a computer could be run on Linux or some yet-to-be-designed operating system, but that would deprive you of much of what’s available today.

I’m not sure where the ‘sweet spot’ is, balancing the rights of those who produce with the rights of those who use. I suspect that PC’s wouldn’t be where they are today… capable of doing what they do… if the restrictions to come had existed earlier.

Continue reading “The End of the Hobby Era In Computing?”

Unintended Consequences

Helaine points out, Home Depot is currently running a TV ad for a “Fall Sale.” While they advertise a ladder, the text at the bottom of the screen invites you to click on

Does anyone else feel that ‘fall’ is the wrong word to associate with a ladder?