Sony’s Digital Rights Management

If you’ve already read about this story, my take is probably going to be less thorough than what you already know. However, I don’t think everyone has seen the story… certainly not those who don’t read the “Nerd Press,” so here’s the skinny.

Fingers are being pointed at Sony Music because of their latest copy protection scheme.

Back in the days of vinyl disks and reel-to-reel tape recorders it was very difficult to faithfully reproduce someone else’s intellectual property. Sure, you could make a tape from an album, but it was a royal pain and nowhere as convenient as the original.

All of this started to change with the VCR. We could copy someone else’s property and time shift it to suit our needs. It worked, but it was still cumbersome. How often did you/do you VCR television shows?

Now we’re digital. Whereas copying analog material was difficult and degraded the quality, digital copying is easy and every copy is a true clone of the original. If you go to the Lower East Side in New York, where everything is a knockoff, and buy a bootleg CD, it will sound exactly like the original!

Obviously, this easy copying is scary to rights holders, like movie studios, record and computer software companies. They don’t want us copying, and I understand why. It’s killing them&#185.

They have tried, and are continuing to try to do what they can to hold off a flood of copies. There are laws, which so far have been very ineffectual. It’s bad in the US and worse in many other places. There are also software solutions, and those too haven’t been particularly effective.

Last week a small tech website unearthed Sony’s latest salvo in the war against copying. On his blog, Mark Russinovich reported the discovery of DRM (Digital Rights Management) software, installed on his computer without his permission. It was there because he had played a legal Van Zant CD.

This piece of computer code was stealing resources, phoning home and hiding itself. It was installed without permission… without the option to refuse… and without a method of removal!

The story’s on Mark’s website and it’s worth reading (well, it was to me – your mileage may vary). Among the additional charges, this software could allow nefarious hackers a method to hide their intentions in your machine as they do even more sneaky things (use your imagination).

Sony has reacted, but not in the way I expected. They’ve played down the problem and offered software to reveal this hidden code. Reveal is not remove. Removing it is another matter… a complex matter.

When a company is presented with a situation like this and tries to stay the course, even when up against bad publicity (Think back to a math flaw found in early Intel Pentium chips or the Bon Vivant Vichyssoise debacle of 1971.), it always ends up biting them in the tush.

I understand Sony’s desire to protect their property, but this seems a little draconian. Actually, it seems a lot draconian. Having passive protection is one thing. Going into my computer and installing software without my knowledge or permission is quite another.

I suspect this isn’t the last we’re going to hear about this. In fact, I would be surprised if Sony is the first company using this type of code. They’re probably just the first found.

This story will have legs outside geeky publications.

&#185 – I believe this is true, even though I also believe most copies don’t mean a lost sale. Most copies go to people who wouldn’t buy anyway.

Raider Of The Lost Archives

My friend Paul, who I’ve known over 35 years, has been a producer in Los Angeles for a long time. As his career evolved he got involved in repackaging older shows to rerun on cable. When the Smothers Brothers went back to E! or Sonny and Cher’s old shows reran, it was Paul who put together the package.

He is called, “Raider of the Lost Archives!” The title fits.

To make these old shows new and attractive, special extra features get added. This is where Paul is a genius.

For each release there is also the pain of getting clearance and making payments to artists and performers who’d worked on these shows decades earlier. Some are tough to find. Some are impossible to find.

Over the past few years Paul has branched out. Now he repackages old shows into DVDs. The medium is different though his work product is similar.

Every few weeks we’ll be on the phone talking and Paul will tell me about some TV star of twenty or thirty years ago who he will be meeting to get guest commentary for a new DVD collection. Usually, these are people who were big stars, but have now retired… or sadly aged out of the roles they used to play.

All this work pays off, because sometimes it’s the special features, the little extras, that make his DVDs so desirable.

I’m not the only one who’s realized that. Just yesterday he scored the top two of the five “Best DVDs” in an article in the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

Paul lives in Los Angeles where success is often looked upon with envy. Not here. This is my friend and I couldn’t be more proud.

Here are the five best TV series on DVD, based on the legacy of the show and the inclusion of bountiful and substantive extras. They’re sure to take you to another dimension, a journey not only of sight and sound but of mind.

1. “The Dick Van Dyke Show”

Rob and Laura Petrie never had it so good. Each of the five season sets for the classic sitcom includes a giddy wealth of special features, thanks to DVD producer Paul Brownstein’s uncanny ability to dig them up and — more important — secure the rights to use them. Favorites are the cast’s appearance on the game show “Stump the Stars” and Dick Van Dyke and Mary Tyler Moore’s in-character commercials for products such as dish soap and — gasp! — cigarettes (the latter a hidden feature). (Image, $69.99 per season; $249.99 for the entire five-season run.)

2. “The Twilight Zone”

Brownstein strikes again with the “Definitive Edition” re-releases of Rod Serling’s sci-fi anthology series, which has two seasons to go after the new third-season set. Goodies include commentary, isolated scores, archival audio interviews and fun bits such as the Sci Fi Channel’s promo spots for its annual “TZ” marathon. And the first-season set comes with the best program notes ever included with a DVD, the 466-page “The Twilight Zone Companion.” (Image, $119.99 for first season, $99.99 for others.)

Continue reading “Raider Of The Lost Archives”

The Rain Arrives in Los Angeles

Let me set the stage. Los Angeles has had a ridiculously rainy winter. If people haven’t been directly affected, they know someone who has, or are worried they might be the injured party the next time.

I’m not just talking about houses sliding down hills. There are lesser, nagging problems that come out when the winter is very rainy. Roofs leak. Poorly sealed doors and windows let in water. Trees and branches tumble. Drivers panic, because they’re not sure how to handle their cars on wet roads. It’s a mess.

The truth is, Los Angeles is not built for bad weather. Too much is outside. Too much is exposed to the elements.

So today, when the rain returned, you could see everyone clenching their teeth just a little. No one was anxious to repeat the hell of earlier this winter. Only 1/3″ more rain and this would go down as the 2nd rainiest ever!

We thought we’d take it in stride.

We started the morning with breakfast at the hotel. I had an omelet, which was stuffed full, but only OK for taste. On the other hand, the place we ate itself, Breezes, was excellent. It is tastefully underdone and expansive… and expensive. That’s a given here.

We headed out to a Disney’ish upscale, outdoor mall called The Grove. It is adjacent to The Farmer’s Market (which I remember Jack Benny talking about when I was a little kid) and CBS&#185.

The stores at The Grove are similar to those you’d see at a nice mall. While Steffie and Helaine looked around, I headed to Barnes and Noble. This is an especially nice B&N with a large collection of books on all matters show business, plus how-to’s on writing screenplays, teleplays and books.

As the showers continued, the Grove became less of a fun place to be. There’s little cover, so there’s no avoiding getting wet.

We ducked into the Farmer’s Market, where Steffie proceeded to by a t-shirt. The Farmer’s Market is the antithesis of The Grove.

Here all the stores are one of a kind. There are lots of food stands, plus produce and meats, and clothing. It’s an eclectic mix.

We tired of the Farmer’s Market quickly, especially since we had eaten already. Back to the car, we headed to the Beverly Center, not far down Beverly Blvd.

The Beverly Center is a huge mall. The parking is on the lower levels with the mall running on levels 6,7 and 8. The mall seemed too open and cold. Maybe that’s not a fair judgment for a mall. Something was missing.

I found the Sony and Bose stores interesting in that I wondered why things were so expensive? Sony espcially computers that seemingly doubled as works of domestic art. Call me crazy, but I really look at computers as commodities today… even though this blog entry is being written on my Sony laptop.

Dinner tonight was another notable restaurant, Spago, picked by Steffie. She had heard about it, and its appeal. Helaine and I had eaten there a long time ago. Back then, a busboy had spilled a carafe of coffee all over her white suit. No need to go on.

My friend Paul joined us for dinner. I met Paul back when I met Howard, at Emerson College. Paul is a producer, mostly concentrating of DVD compilations right now.

Back when we went the first time, Spago was a 2nd floor walkup, right on Sunset. Now it’s on Can&#245n, near Wilshire, in Beverly Hills.

It’s a large, dark restaurant. At the end of the dining room is the kitchen, behind a large expanse of glass. It is a very busy kitchen.

We all shared a smoked salmon pizza as an appetizer. For dinner I had a lamb dish. The lamb itself was excellent, but the sauce was a bit overwhelming and the potatoes were puny. My chocolate desert was very tasty.

We were told the menu was printed daily, meaning there was no reason to read specials. They were already on the menu.

If you’re reading this in the East, there is a West Coast practice that is somewhat unusual. All restaurants have valet parking – and the pricier the meal, the more expensive the parking. In the case of a meal like this, they’re really nickel and diming you to death!

We had been told not to expect any celebrities at Spago, and we heard right. It looks like an older crowd, mostly expense accounts , not at all Hollywood and splashy – at least not tonight.

We are going to one more LA restaurant Sunday, which does have a celeb reputation and where we’ve seen big time stars in the past.

Tomorrow, we head into the OC to see Cousin Michael and his family in Irvine. Rain is expected. California is much more fun in the sun.

&#185 – The CBS complex is usually identified by these words, “From Television City in Hollywood.” It is not in Hollywood.

Stop the Spin, I Want To Get Off

I watched the debate. I won’t comment on the content or the candidates. This blog is not the place for that&#185.

It held my attention. I’m glad of that. I am anxious to see how many Americans watched it. There seemed to be a lot of buzz beforehand. I don’t speak to too many people after work at 11:35 PM, so I can’t tell now how many actually did watch.

Whether it changes anyone’s mind or not, what a tribute to our way of life that this free and open exchange takes place.

I was curious to see how the debate was received by others, so when I got home I turned the TV on and read a little on the Internet. I’m no babe in the woods here, but I am astounded by all the spin… and astounded that networks and websites depend on it.

If Sony just announced a new line of TVs, I wouldn’t bring on Sony’s sales manager to tell me how they rate. Isn’t that exactly what is being done on TV and in print? Where is the value in partisan’s slavishly praising their boy?

I’m going to use Robert Novak and Paul Begala as examples. This has nothing to do with who does or doesn’t support the president. I just happened to read Novak’s blog on CNN’s website first.

Novak made comments every few moments as the debate progressed and each and every one of them was critical of Kerry. Again, it’s not what Novak is saying that I object to. The question is, where is the benefit in using commentary from someone so intransigent that he only sees one side of the issue?

Didn’t Kerry do anything right? Did Bush do anything wrong? Not to Novak.

Novak’s counterpart, Paul Begala gave George Bush credit for one small point… and everything else went to Kerry. I suppose his giving Bush any ground is a surprise. Still, Begala could have pretty much written this before the debate began.

Being balanced doesn’t mean having two diametrically opposed pundits face off. Balance means using people with open minds who are willing to make observations based on what actually happened, not preconceived positions.

Sometimes your guy is good. sometimes your guy is bad. Hey, that’s life!

I want to read what’s written from your gut, not your doctrine. We’re talking about the presidency. Isn’t this too important for politics as usual?

&#185 – Earlier this evening, a thoughtful reader of this blog posted a comment with his opinion of the debate. I respectfully removed it. This smacks of censorship, because it is. I think it is incredibly important that this site not contain any partisan politics. That decision, right or wrong, is mine alone to make and I hope the commenter understands.

The Sony Laptop

It’s been over five weeks since I brought the Sony laptop in for repair. From the way I’m writing this you can probably sense I don’t have it back.

Today I called the hospital. “We didn’t call you?,” the voice on the phone said. Right.

They have not fixed the laptop and won’t be able to. Five weeks gone.

After seeing them work on it, I’m thinking maybe my friends and I know just as much about laptop repair – maybe more. So, I’ll pick it up tomorrow and try to fix it with help from my friend Kevin.

Five weeks wasted. Sheeesh.

I wonder how much they’ll want to charge me for this?

Vacation Madness Begins

I’m not quite sure why, but I am looking forward to our vacation next week more than I usually do. I have literally been counting the days (as has my daughter – or so I’ve been told by those who see her IM away message).

I mentioned this fond anticipation to someone at work. It’s unusual. I always enjoy vacations but seldom look forward to them quite this much. I really enjoy my job and never mind going to work, so it’s not that. It’s not like I’m lifting boxes in a warehouse for a living.

Certainly, I enjoy Vegas (we’re on a first name basis). We go every summer. This trip will be a little different. Not only will Helaine and I be going, so will Steffie. Our friends John and Cheryl and their daughter Ali will be flying out with us too.

There’s more! My folks, sister and brother-in-law, two cousins and their young son are also coming along.

With my diet a success (down 26 pounds and holding), I intend on indulging myself… partaking of Las Vegas’ particular form of excess in cuisine. Hey, it’s only a week. I can go back on the diet when we return.

No, I will go back on the diet when we return.

Helaine has started getting organized. Some people pack light for trips – not us. I will not complain or argue. If I did, Helaine would ask (and has asked) if I wanted to get us ready? No, I do not. She can pack as much as she pleases – it’s fine with me. I will carry each and every ounce and smile as I do it.

I have a few little things I’m doing. We needed an audio splitter for a portable DVD player to keep Ali and Steffie entertained on the flight. Got it. A car needs some service. Arranged that today. I also took an old pair of glasses had them updated with my current prescription, so I have a spare.

Batteries have been charged and organized. That’s a real pain. Every piece of electronic equipment from camera to camcorder to computer to DVD player uses a different battery! I might have to pack an extension cord to give me enough outlets to plug everything in!

And then, there’s the Sony laptop.

It’s still in the hospital. It seems like we might know what is wrong – a burned out bulb. This very special tube arrived today, FedEx’ed overnight from California. By the time it hit our front step, it was too late for me to bring it to the hospital, so Helaine drove it to Orange. She said the place was jammed.

If this doesn’t solve the problem, every other possible solution is too expensive to think about. Helaine reminded the ‘doctors’ that I must have the computer by Saturday – but who knows? Meanwhile, I have configured an older backup machine to make the trip, just in case.

Both Helaine and I have become totally dependent on having a PC at the ready. It hasn’t taken that many years for this to go from an interesting lug-a-long to a near necessity. Ditto for cell phones. Except for my folks and young cousin, everyone will be packing a phone.

We arrive in Las Vegas a week too early to try out the new monorail. We are, however, going in time to see the new light show downtown on Fremont Street.

I am looking forward, very much, to playing poker. On-line poker has been good training. I’ve played a lifetime of hands over the last year. How will I do in real brick and mortar casinos with regulars who used to wait all year to pocket my money? I don’t know. I want to win. More importantly, I want to play well.

Even before I had a blog, I filed trip reports while on vacation. This year will be no exception. Hopefully, it will all be good news with neat photos.

Blogger’s note: A neat part of having a blog is the ability to look back at what I wrote earlier. Last year’s Vegas vacation is just a click away.

Laptop Update

I have been so upset about our Sony Vaio PCG-FXA59 laptop that I didn’t want to follow up. But here’s where we stand. It’s been nearly two weeks since it went to the hospital in Orange. Once the tech took the cover off – the computer stopped booting!

I was furious. No one wants to hear about a patient getting killed in the hospital.

We think, now, this model won’t boot unless fully assembled! But, it’s taken a while to come to that conclusion.

It also seems like the dead LCD panel actually does work… sort of. LCD’s are passive in that they don’t emit any light. If you look at a laptop screen or LCD monitor you are looking at the light from a cold cathode tube passing through the LCD array.

If you hold the LCD away from its housing, allow ambient room light to drift in, you can see what’s supposed to be there.

So, it would seem the LCD works but there’s no light. That narrows it down to the inverter (which produces higher voltage than what the battery produces natively) or the cold cathode tube, aka the bulb, itself.

Omar, he’s the tech, tried plugging in another inverter. Nothing. So, it’s most likely the tube – a $10 part!

Of course, with vacation looming on Monday, I’ll need it immediately. So, for the $10 tube, I’m spending nearly $30 for shipping. If the laptop can be recusitated it will be well worth while.

With the thought this machine might have bought the farm, I went looking for a replacement. As it turns out, I had bought a pretty good machine, because even today its specs are excellent – nearly state of the art. What really sets it apart is the 1400×1050 screen. That’s immense!

Tomorrow, when the bulb comes, I’ll bring it to Orange. Maybe it will be case closed – maybe.

Sony Laptop to the Hospital

We have two laptops at home. One is an older Dell which has become mine… and a Sony Vaio PCG-FXA59 which Helaine adopted and used to be mine. When I woke up this morning Helaine gave me the bad news, the Vaio had gone bye-o (I’m sorry – unavoidable).

Actually, what she saw was the screen blink a few times and then nothing but black. For the past few months the laptop had exhibited a reddish tint on its screen when starting up – that now seems to have been a symptom of the impending doom.

I brought the machine upstairs and plugged a monitor into its external VGA port. It worked. So, the laptop is alive, the screen just won’t fire.

I could have sent the laptop to Sony, which meant shipping it to San Diego. Their repairs are flatrate, with LCD repairs costing $600. That seemed too pricey. Instead I went to a place I’d seen advertised on TV, PCW Computers in Orange. They charge $30 to do a diagnosis and then separately for the repair.

The funny thing is, in their ad they reference their location by saying, “across the street from CompUSA.”

I walked in and it was unlike anything I had ever seen. People were carrying in towers mostly. And there were plenty of them. Behind the counter were a number of workstations, with monitors. There is no shortage of computers to be fixed, I suppose.

My hope is the problem will be the inverter (which creates the voltage to light the bulbs that illuminate the LCD) or the Cold Cathode lights themselves. Neither are incredibly expensive (though I’ll assume the total cost of repair will be at least $200). If the actual LCD went, this laptop is toast – and not worth fixing.

In the meantime, Helaine has adopted the Dell.

Festival of Lights

At 4:45PM, as I was typing a now erased entry to this blog, the power went off. Interestingly, and I’ve noticed this over time, the outage didn’t happen in an instant as happens when you flip a switch. The power flickered and fluttered and – poof – it was gone.

So, with the snow flying, and outside temperatures in the 20’s, we were plunged into darkness.

The first thing I noticed was our alarm system showed a fault. Since the alarm has battery backup, I just reset it and it was fine. Second, an older cordless phone in our spare bedroom started chirping every 20-30 seconds. It was complaining that it could no longer hear its base station. I’m sure this was a great idea when it was designed into the phone, but it’s a royal pain whenever the power goes out.

Helaine had been online, playing poker. Judging by the fact that I haven’t received any email, her hand must have been folded and folded and folded and she finally ‘blinded out.’

Steffie started rounding up candles. By the time she was done, there were nine of them, sitting on the coffee table, providing enough light to study by. In the photo on the left, the little post-it note sign says, “Festival of Lights.”

I called the power company and listened to their recorded message. There had been another, earlier outage, in the area around my house. Dispatching crews was treacherous in this weather. After being on hold for over 15 minutes, a new message was added, acknowledging the new problem that included my house. I hung up the phone.

Upstairs, I found an old Sony Watchman battery operated TV. The batteries still had a full charge, though I can’t remember the last time it was used.

This is the kind of thing authorities tell you you’re supposed to have in just this situation so you can receive emergency information. Helaine used it to watch the Cowboys and Redskins.

The reception was awful After a while she gave up on watching and listened instead.

Our heating system is based on hot water bringing warmth to air handlers in the basement and attic. In a situation like this, I worry about the system freezing and the pipes bursting. Luckily, we were back in business with the power on in around an hour.

It’s possible I’ll hear what caused the outage tomorrow. Judging by the weather, car vs. pole is always the most likely scenario.

New York City Trip Report – Day 3

Click here, or on any photo to see my album of photos from this trip.

Lots to talk about as we finish our three days in New York. But, before we get to the day, a little housekeeping.

First, there’s the question of Internet access. The Millennium Broadway doesn’t have high speed access. In this day and age, that’s inexcusable. I knew it coming in. The location was our most pressing concern. Still…

The first night, I used dial up and got a fairly decent speed. I haven’t used dial up regularly in a long time. I don’t want to get used to it again.

The Sony Vaio laptop I brought along had a WiFi 802.11b card in the PCMCIA slot, so I tried to see if it would find anything. Zip from the desk. I moved the laptop to my lap and sat by the window. With all the buildings surrounding our hotel you’d think there would be some activity… and there was.

Using Netstumbler, I started looking at what I was hearing. First, most of the activity is concentrated on channel 6, which is in the middle of the band and probably the default for most access points. It was for mine (though I’ve since moved it).

Much of the traffic is WEP encrypted. That’s smart. There was a cluster of encrypted AP’s, all with ID’s that made me think they were owned by Bertelsmann Music Group. There were other encrypted transmitters and, a few that were open and in the clear. They just weren’t very strong.

Thursday evening, I was able to send and receive my mail using an AP that identified itself as Apple and then a cryptic series of digits. Probably an Apple AirPort. I sent myself an email through that AP to see the actual IP address. It was routed using road Runner, which is the time Warner cable modem service.

When the weather turned rainy on Friday, I was no longer able to connect to Apple or any other in the clear AP’s.

Over time, we grew to dislike our little room. It never really seemed clean and had some stains in strange places that weren’t right. The bathroom floor always seemed dull, even after the maid had visited.

I still don’t know how a hotel becomes 4-star. Is it self assigned?

Finally, I made an interesting discovery, looking at our window on that rainy Friday morning. There were weeds and moss growing on the top of an air conditioner unit. I am unsure if this unit is associated with the hotel or an adjacent building.

Now, with all this said, it’s on to Friday. It was a rainy day – the antithesis of Thanksgiving. Thank heavens the parade was yesterday!

Helaine and Steffie wanted to do some shopping and go to lunch before we headed back to Connecticut. We left the hotel and headed toward Macy’s. Being a good weather oriented family, we were prepared with the proper outerwear.

Macy’s isn’t too long of a walk, so we headed out to Broadway and then downtown, toward 34th Street. As you leave Times Square, Broadway is a monotonous series of cereal box office buildings with first floor storefronts. It is an area without much charm.

Macy’s is located in Herald Square. I’m not sure how it got its name. It might be a similar story to Times Square, in that there was a New York Herald (which, by the time I was growing up was the Herald Tribune, and whose Sunday supplement was New York Magazine).

Macy’s is probably unlike any other store you’ve ever seen. Its two buildings cover a full city block with 10 stories and over 1,000,000 square feet. Above the 4th floor, the metal escalators give way to wooden ones that must be fifty years old. The store is beautifully decorated for Christmas.

Since Macy’s attracts so many shoppers, it also attracts its fair share of everything else. By the time we got there, there was already a TV crew with a microwave truck from one of the local stations. I also saw a reporter/photographer team from a Spanish newspaper and a long photographer from Women’s Wear Daily.

There were also protesters. I’m sure this isn’t isolated. Macy’s was being picketed by animal rights activists, who themselves were corralled into a small pen, shouting about animals being killed to make fur coats. Outside the front entrance, a lone woman railed on about Macy’s policy of racial profiling and how they had a prison in the basement. If she was changing hearts, it was impossible to see. No one seemed to pay her any mind.

As Helaine and Steffie went shopping, I walked through the area. It’s not a really thriving shopping district, though there is a lot going on. The area holds Penn Station, Madison Square Garden, and The Empire State Building.

Across from Macy’s, in a microscopic triangular shaped park, Yahoo had set up four laptops with wireless Internet access and was extolling their shopping site. Everyone I saw who entered their little promotion won a hat… except me.

I met the girls at the base of the down escalator, and we left the store and hopped on the subway. We were heading to Greenwich Village to Jekyll and Hyde – a theme restaurant with a SciFi/Horror bent.

Getting off the subway at Christopher Street, we headed into Sheridan Square. Up ahead was a theater that has been the home to the long running “Naked Boys Singing”. Hey, it’s Greenwich Village – don’t be surprised.

I had actually been at either Jekyll and Hyde or the restaurant next door back in the mid-60’s when Bob Weiss’ family took Bob and me to see Jean Shepard do his live Saturday night broadcast on WOR. For a kid who idolized Shep, that was an incredible experience. I wonder what happened to bob. I probably haven’t spoken to him since 1966 or ’67.

Maybe I was a little tired, and ready to go home, but Jekyll and Hyde was not that great for me. I had a pretty good turkey club tortilla wrap, while around us, figures mounted on the walls came to life. At the same time, some jerk at an adjacent table made loud cell phone calls. Across the way, a little girl was celebrating her 4th birthday. I wonder if Jekyll and Hyde would cause her nightmares to help remember the day?

We hopped the subway and headed back north. While I looked at the “Rodenticide” sign, Steffie had a ‘wildlife’ spotting on the tracks. Obviously Rodenticide only works so long.

By the time we returned to the hotel to pick up the Explorer and head home, it was nearly four. I reached for the claim check… but it wasn’t there! We did find it, in my coat which had been left in storage with the bellmen.

The trip home was pretty easy. The day after Thanksgiving may be busy at the stores, but it’s less than pedestrian on the Connecticut Turnpike. Manhattan to our house took a little less than two hours.

During our stay in New York, I took nearly 500 photos. On Thanksgiving alone, I snapped nearly 1 GB worth of images. We all had a great time. Our anniversary will go in the books as a happy one. The Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade will be a lifetime memory.

As I type this, early Monday morning, Priceline has just sent me a survey, asking about my hotel. I told all.

Click here, or on any photo to see my album of photos from this trip.

My new LCD monitor

What could be cooler than an LCD monitor? They really look sharp sitting on a desk. For years I have been using a 17″ CTX CRT at 1280×1024 resolution.

Anyone who comes into my office asks how I can stand it. The text is really tiny. But, I appreciate having all that real estate, because I often have multiple windows open.

So, why didn’t I have an LCD monitor?

Money. They were just too damned expensive and the 15″ monitors, pretty much the desktop standard, only provided 1024×768 resolution. That meant things would really be squeezed.

Why spend the money and trade down?

This past weekend, Staples put a Pixo AT700S, 17″ LCD monitor on sale for $380, minus an $80 rebate. Fat Wallet had a link to a Staples coupon which saved me another $30.

The specs show this to be somewhat below top of the line. The contrast numbers are below some I’ve seen and is the lag time. However, a recent article in one of my computer magazines said most of the published LCD monitor specs were wrong… often in the consumer’s favor!

It didn’t make much difference. I’m not quite sure what all the specs are anyway.

I bought the monitor home, hooked it up, turned on my PC and… nothing… white screen. The low res text booting screens were there, but as Windows got ready to deliver, the screen went white. Not only that, I couldn’t get the on-screen controls to work.

I knew my computer sometimes started in a weird video mode where the Windows desktop was larger than my CRT, forcing me to scroll around until I could reset it. That seemed to be the case here. So, I hooked up the old monitor and reset the video… and created a hot key to easily reset it if this problem arises again.

The first thing I noticed was the brightness. This monitor is much whiter than any CRT I’ve used. Pictures were spectacular. Actually, maybe they were too good. I started noticing the artifacts of compression on images; something I hadn’t seen before. As bright as the whites were, the darks were deeper than the old CRT.

But, there were problems as well. Text looked ragged. This was especially true with what looks to be single pixel type, most often used for utility and menu purposes. Some letters looked thicker than others too and some straight lines weren’t quite vertical.

I opened the manual… actually a manualette and read. There were less answers than an Arnold Schwarzenegger news conference (OK – shoot me, I like the line).

What do phase and pitch do? Other commands seemed fairly straightforward, but these two, who knows? And, many of the commands seemed to be intertwined, in that doing one affected another.

PassMark has developed shareware monitor testing software. I downloaded it and fired it up. I’m not sure how you get a monitor to look good, but I do know what looks good. I started to play.

Pitch seemed to be very critical. It was the only control that caused visible screen pulses as it was adjusted. But, it was able to eliminate some thickness that letters only had on parts of the screen.

Does that make sense? It makes no sense to me either, but I’m not sure how else to say it.

Anyway, long story short, using the test screens I was able to tweak the monitor much better than I would have ever been able to just using my eyes. Yes, some very tiny type is ‘too sharp’ and displeasing to look at. But, by and large, everything is very sharp. Graphics are spectacular. There doesn’t seem to be any lag or problem when I use my TV tuner in the computer.

This 17″ LCD is much larger than my 17″ CRT (they are measured differently), meaning that at the same resolution, things are larger and more easily seen with this monitor.

There’s a 14 day return policy at Staples, with no restocking fee. I haven’t yet cut off the UPC for the rebate, but after some indecision, I think I’m going to keep it.

What I don’t understand is why these monitors are limited to 1280×1024? My 15″ laptop screen is 1400×1050 and it’s a thing of beauty. If Sony put one of those on the desktop… well, no, I probably wouldn’t spring for Sony’s prices. But, if Pixo put one out, I’d absolutely consider buying it.