Friday, December 19, 2008

Friday Five

Update: And as luck would have it, my last flight of the year is delayed by at least 1:30 while we await pilots to arrive from Newark.

The Excuse

None needed! W00t!

The Week

I was in Houston this week once again. And once again they got clobbered by cold weather[1], including the requisite freezing rain warnings. It had been my luck in the past that bad weather would show up right after I left (including a nasty ice storm in OK/AR one time). Now it seems to be showing up when I show up. This is not good.

Coming to Houston is still nice. I have the city pretty well figured out (obviously), and I have a friend out here who I get to see for dinner whenever I’m out here. Plus, my favorite sushi joint (713) is out here.

By far the most exciting part of the week was when I was at the bar at Outback when a pickup truck outside caught on fire. I felt bad for the guy who owned the truck. How does that thought process go: “Oh wow – there’s a car fire outside. I feel bad for the loser who owns that car. Wow – that car looks kinda familiar. It looks like my car. HEY! Wait a minute!!!!”

This is the last time I’ll be travelling for business this year. I have to tell you this beer I’m having at the airport bar right now is one of the best – simply because I know it’s the last one I’ll be having in Houston until next year. It’ll also be nice to have time to connect with friends and actually get work done around the house. Maybe even get to use my grill.

It’s certainly been a crazy busy year. I estimate I flew around 135,000 miles this year. It’s hard to say for certain as I wasn’t always on Continental when I flew (and a couple of airlines don’t use miles on their frequent flier programs, just segments), and at least once I only got half miles as I was flying on Delta on the wrong type of fare to get full credit on Continental. Continental says I did 115,000 miles, so I think 135K is a fair number.

I must admit I still struggle at times trying to remember what city I’m in. I had a student who mentioned when he used to travel full time he’d write the name of the city on a piece of paper and stick it on the mirror in the bathroom. I may have to try that. I can usually figure it out in 20 seconds, but it’s still sad that it takes that long to remember what town you’re in.

One last little note – there stands a good chance this will be the last posting of the year. I have a couple of last loose ends to tie up business wise, and once that is done I have full intention of disconnecting from the matrix.

The Restaurant

This is a chain, but I rather enjoy my visits here. The place is called Landry’s. I went in one night just wanting to try the place, sat down at the bar and the bartender introduced himself and asked for my name (which is pretty typical). What impressed me was when I went back the following week he remembered who I was. I appreciate service like that. The food is very good. I love the king crab, and the sea bass they do is outta this world.

The Exercise

Did I mention I’m sick. Yeah, it sounds like a lame excuse to me as well.

The Travel Note

I guess we saved the best for last. Because I’m platinum on Continental I almost always get upgraded. For this trip to San Diego, I’ll be on a 757 – in first class – in a seat with video-on-demand, a power outlet, and a seat that reclines to 156 degrees. I’ll basically be flying home on my La-Z-Boy.

The Five

Since it’s Christmas, 5 things about Christmas

  1. This year in particular it hasn’t really sunk in that it’s the Christmas season. Between work, life and travel I haven’t really had a chance to stop and reflect on the season.
  2. It’s still strange to me to not have snow during Christmas. Outside of the brief snow shower in Houston a couple of weeks ago, I haven’t seen any of the white stuff in my travels.
  3. My favorite Christmas gift this year may just be a chance to relax before starting what’s shaping up to be a hectic 2009.
  4. I really don’t care too much for Christmas carols – I don’t care who’s singing them. And will someone please inform current pop stars that they don’t need to feel compelled to record their own terrible versions?
  5. One of my favorite little things about this time of year is the special Christmas/winter brews. In particular, I love Celebration from Sierra Nevada. Give me a glass of that and Miracle on 34th Street and I’m a happy man.

[1]Cold weather is a relative phrase. I openly admit I’ve become soft since moving to San Diego.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

The Death of Traditional Media

I’ve blogged before about my issues with the state of 24 hour news. Not only is there simply not enough news to fill up 24 hours on the 5+ networks dedicated to this format, the level of sensationalism has reached an all time high as each network competes for viewers and, in turn, advertising dollars. We’ve now reached the point where if one simply wants a traditional news show outside of one of the “big three” networks it’s nowhere to be found. On a personal level, it’s that part that frustrates me the most, as I find television news a convenient way to have the day’s larger headlines broken down into a very easy to consume format.

A sign of the changing landscape in another form of media came this week as it was announced this week that the Detroit Free Press and Detroit News would discontinue home delivery of the newspaper except for the most popular three days of the week (Thursday, Friday and Sunday). As an alternative, the newspapers are moving home subscribers to the online version of the paper. While some may want to spin this as a sign of a troubled economy, that could not be further from the truth. The fact is that the Detroit newspapers are facing the exact same problem as every other newspaper in the nation – competition with the Internet.

Our world and our reality has changed greatly over the last 10 years. Information has become more pervasive than any time before in our history. People have more resources at their disposal than ever. And the Internet acts as a leveler for the playing field, allowing anyone with a computer to share their thoughts for all the world to see (i.e. – this blog). The fact of the matter is, people are turning towards other resources for their news.

All media outlets are businesses and must make money. As competition increases for customers these businesses must find other ways to turn a profit. Television has handled this by (on the whole) casting aside any level of journalistic integrity and sense of neutrality in search of ratings. Newspapers have a limited capability to do that due to the format of that medium. Some newspaper companies are beginning to succumb to the pressures - the parent company for the Chicago Tribune recently declared bankruptcy. Others, like the aforementioned Detroit newspapers, are trying to reshape themselves to Internet based media companies.

What worries me about all of this is the impact it will have on the general population. This is an age when someone can have a respected news site despite only scooping one more story in its history than I have (Matt Drudge), or another that has a very obvious agenda can be given credence in the main stream media (The Huffington Post). We seem to be losing all sight of journalism and neutrality, and the general populous seems to be losing its ability (if it ever had one to begin with) to filter out this bias., a non-partisan organization dedicated to fishing out falsehoods in political ads and spin, posted an article recently about the electorate’s level of misinformation. As it turns out, about half of the population believed two falsehoods told about the two major candidates in the election (McCain making cuts to Medicare and Obama taxing small business owners). Clearly, the truth doesn’t appear to be getting out there in a fashion consumable by a sizeable chunk of the population.

Our population is receiving their information from talking heads on television and the Internet in blogs who are concerned more about their own opinions and advertising than anything resembling journalism. And as is human nature, when something’s in print or on television, our instinct is to give it some level of credence even when none is deserved.

I wonder if we will continue down this path, or if at some point there will be a societal correction as more people demand unbiased truth from media outlets.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Windows Home Server

This may be of little interest to anyone, but the tech item I want to talk about today has been one of the best investments I have ever made.

About a year ago, Microsoft released a new operating system called Windows Home Server. They did so with little fanfare, which is really a shame, as it’s one of the best products they’ve ever released.

Windows Home Server (WHS) is designed to sit in a closet (although we have it in our office) and be a central location for your files, just like a normal server. But it offers many more features that are extremely helpful to the household with multiple computers or connected devices (such as a TiVo or XBox 360).

By far the best feature is the ability to automatically backup the systems in your house. When you install the client onto your other computers, it will prompt you to set up a schedule for backups. At night it will then backup any changes made to each system that day. The backups are bit-level, and are accessible through the server. It automatically keeps 3 daily backups, as well as 3 weekly and three monthly backups. I can easily restore individual files, or in the case of a complete meltdown, there’s a recovery disc I can use to connect to the server and restore the entire system from scratch.

WHS will also monitor the “health” of the systems on your network. If one hasn’t been backed up recently, or has a security configuration issue (no firewall turned on, hasn’t been updated with patches in a couple months, etc.) it will alert you – either through a client, or in the case of my server a little red light.

WHS also allows for remote connections. For me this is extremely valuable, as I often have need to retrieve data I have on the home server while on the road.

Another great use is the ability to have TiVo or an XBox 360 to connect to it. It’s nice to have one central store for my movies and music, as well as a central repository for all recorded TV shows.

The particular WHS that I have is the MediaSmart Home Server from HP. While it’s lacking in RAM (although that’s not a huge issue), it’s plug and play setup is a breeze. Plug in the server to a power outlet and then to your network. Install the software from the CD, which will detect the WHS and walk you through the configuration. Repeat the installation on the other systems on your network and you’re done. What’s also great about this little box is the hard drive bays are little drawers that you pull out to put the new drive in to – which you can do while the system is up and running.

It is a bit of an investment, but for the features and functionality it’s perfect for the person who has multiple PC’s on their network. And just as this video explains, some servers get to stay home and do fun stuff – which is what mine does.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Friday Five

The Excuse

Ok – I’m back. With the holidays and the last couple of weeks being stressful I’ve been rather disconnected from the world. I’m back now.

The Week[s]

Let’s see. Where did we leave off here? Last time I checked in, I was leaving NYC for Washington, DC (Bethesda, actually) for a 3 day class. As Abram lives in DC, I took the extra couple of days out there to spend some time with him. Didn’t do any real touristy stuff, but we did do a great pub crawl on Thursday. It was really just a chance for the two of us to hang out together.

That weekend saw the annual Strong Ale Festival, where there was 70+ ales, all 8% alcohol or higher. By far the best beer was a stout by a local brewery called Green Flash that was aged in a bourbon barrel. Two great things that are great together.

This past week brought me back to Houston for a 3 day class and an adventure with the weather. It snowed in Houston. Yes – you read that right – it snowed.

The Exercise

I knew it wasn’t going to happen these past couple of weeks with the holidays and my work schedule, and now that I’m ready to get back to work I have a sinus thing that will not leave me alone. But I need to get back in the groove.

The Travel Note

As I mentioned above it snowed in Houston – on the day that I was leaving. I knew this was going to cause a problem at some point, but I didn’t realize how it would actually go down.

After boarding the plane, we pushed back and hung out for a few minutes. Then the pilot announces that we’re going to taxi down to the end of the runway and deice. Yes – deice. In Houston.

Anyone who’s flown from a cold weather city likely knows the drill – they spray chemicals on the plane, and 15 minutes later you’re off and running. Of course, this isn’t a cold weather city. And they weren’t prepared.

Now they did have equipment (which surprised me as well.) What they didn’t have, though, was a plan to set up a barrier to prevent the chemicals from going into the grass. That process took about an hour and a half. And then finally we were able to get deiced and take off. The one saving grace was that I did have an upgrade, which made the time go by much easier. All told we took off 2.5 hours late.

The Five

Some odds and ends:

  1. The biggest key to an enjoyable flight is preparation. Bring good boredom relievers – I like TV shows. Bring water and snacks (I like trail mix). You never know when you’re going to be stuck on a plane for an extra 2.5 hours.
  2. I can’t get over the lack of quality in newspaper comics. Not only do almost all new strips lack humor, they also look like they were drawn in a 3rd grade class project.
  3. Not that I drink soda very often, but there are few pleasures in life like that of a cold can of Mountain Dew.
  4. If my team is going to lose, I’ll always take a blowout over a close game. If it’s a blowout it’s easier to get over. If it’s a close game, you wind up with heartache for days.
  5. The only time I miss snow is for Christmas, New Year’s and my birthday. If we could get snow for just those couple of times and that’s it I’d be just fine with it.