Monday, November 29, 2004

OK, So I'm a TV Addict

Its official, I'm definitely a TV Addict. Now, I should clarify, I don't watch nearly as much TV as a lot of people, I like to say I watch "Better" TV. I'm one of those TiVo evangelists that can't imagine life before my DVR.

Kimberley and I both get so frustrated watching TV at someone else's house. Every time a commercial comes on, we both reach for the remote to try to fast forward past it... The other telltale sign of a TiVo user is that we don't usually know when anything is actually Aired on TV. Is Law & Order on Thursday nights? What time is Stargate on? Dunno, the TiVo takes care of it. So, we watch just the shows we like, and we never channel surf, or watch commercials.

But I'm defninitely an addict. And here's how I know:

I spent the better part of my Thanksgiving weekend (chunk of Saturday and all of Sunday) running conduit around the outside of my house to bring two new Satellite feeds and a phoneline into the "Media Niche" in the livingroom.

For those who don't know, Satellite requires an individual cable from each decoder box to the multiswitch, you can't split the signal like you can with cable. My house, like most, is pre-wired for Cable, which means a single line of Coax runs from each room back to the distribution point at the side of the house. Our DirecTiVo (a.k.a. "The Direct TV with TiVo Brand DVR") has two tuners built in, meaning that it can record two things at once IF you can feed it with two lines from the Satellite.

In a rare peek into TV programming schedules, I read on the TiVo Community Forum that "Alias" is moving to Wednesday nights, opposite "The West Wing". Well, now that's actually something we care about, since these are two of only a select few shows we watch that are actually in primetime on one of the big networks, which means no re-airings to allow a single-tuner TiVo to sort out the conflicts. (Wherever possible, TiVo will normally sort out conflicting airings of shows by selecting alternate airings. For most cable channels, this is a no-brainer since most shows air 3-4 times in a week, but that's not the case for "Network" stuff.)

So obviously we need to get the 2nd tuner up and running before Alias resumes in January! So that was the motivation. So I spent a day, with 4 trips to Home Depot, running conduit from the SE Corner of the house (Distribution point and Satellite dish) around to the North wall, plumbing it through into the interior wall, and wiring everything up.

The other motivation was that my Media Niche doesn't have a phone line. Currently the standalone TiVo there uses HomePlug bridges to connect to the rest of the LAN, and I'll continue to use those when we swap that TiVo upstairs. For reasons passing understanding, DirecTV hasn't enabled the networking capability of the DirecTiVo, therefore I need an actual phoneline. The current use of the HomePlug bridges prevent using the usual PhoneJack-over-powerline adaptors. But since I was already running two RG6 lines, adding a length of Cat3 phone cable only cost me another $5.94 in cable and a few more minutes of effort to hook it up.

As a career Electrical Engineer, I probably shouldn't be surprised when a newly wired phone jack or cable actually works, but there's always a little sense of elation when it does.

Since I had to pull all the equipment out of the niche to cut the drywall holes, etc., it was also an excellent opportunity to re-wire the rear surround speakers (absent since we installed hardwood floors last year) and rebuilt the wiring harnesses somewhat. (A few changes since the original wiring looms were made 4+ years ago.) I also finally got around to installing the UPS for the TiVo (now I can record right through a power outage, although the real reason is to protect the drive from power spikes and brownouts).

All in all, a VERY satisfying weekend spent on our home media architecture. All so we can watch better TV!

Still to come: The pre-existing (now unneeded) cable run in the media niche will be retasked to distribute signal back upstairs (so we can watch and control the downstairs TiVo output from the bedroom!) and also run an HCNA network! (HPNA over Coax, using some trick adaptors I scored a few months ago.) Read More...

Saturday, November 27, 2004

Happy Thanksgiving!

So, its the obligatory "Happy Thanksgiving" blog entry. Spent Thursday-giving at my inlaw's "Home for Wayward Musicians" (a tradition, at this point), and Friday-giving with my Dad's family.

Both meals were a treat, although completely different. (Kim's parents eschew almost all meat; except fowl, conveniently.) My Dad's spread was a meatlover's bonanza with a Rib-Roast, a Tenderloin, Ham, and, oh yeah, a small turkey. Kim looks forward to my step-mother's spaetzle all year long.

Lots to give thanks for this year, not the least of which is the safe delivery of my niece Megan.

(I still need to post an updated pic of her, don't I?)

Monday, November 22, 2004

All good things...

Well, we're back home. Saturday we spent the whole day hanging with my Uncle and his family in Phoenix. Usually the only times we see them are when they come to CA, so it was nice to get to see them in their world for a while. My cousins are growing up fast, and they're three great kids, so it was a lot of fun getting caught up on their lives.

Sunday was the uneventful but pallatable drive back home.

My recommendation for anyone looking down the barrel of a long roadtrip: Books on Tape/CD.

This is the absolute best way to dispense with dozens of hours on the road. Even if its a book you've already read, or a movie you've already seen, just having a narrative you can pay a little attention to makes the drive so much easier. Its less troublesome than trying to find (and keep) a talk radio station, and lasts a lot longer. We first figured this out after buying an abridged recording of Jurassic Park coming back from Vegas one time. Despite the crushing holiday traffic, the drive just seemed easier somehow. Now we never take long roadtrips without something in the arsenal.

This trip was Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix which was selected as much for its great length (21 CDs) as for our love of the books. Jim Dale has read all of the Potter books thus far and he has a real talent. Its also a real joy to have the continuity of presentation from book to book. Cars put Kimberley to sleep, she normally can't even make a 2 1/2 hour drive to L.A. without dozing, but with the book she stayed with me through the 9+ hours to the Grand Canyon, the short hops in between, and the 7 or so hours from Phoenix back home!

I also highly recommend Tom Clancy's The Cardinal of the Kremlin as read by David Ogden Stiers. Its amazing how a book can come alive when read by a really talented actor. Clancy can be a little dry in the first third of any book as he sets up the characters and plotlines, but Stiers ability as an actor really translates to helping you establish characters in your mind. Cardinal is one of only two Jack Ryan-universe books that I haven't actually read in book form, and I may not read it myself, as I'm sure that experience would not eclipse Stiers' performance of it.

Back to the real world now!

Cheers.

Thursday, November 18, 2004

Just the Two of Us...

Wow, what a day. The week before Thanksgiving is definitely the time to come to a place like this. We've suspected most of the week, but now we're sure: We're the only guests in the villas right now. Whole place all to ourselves. Pretty amazing. Not only that, but we had the Pink Jeep tour all to ourselves too. It was nice, I must say, since Kimberley got to ride shotgun (and thus avoid any motion sickness) and asked a million questions. The "Ancient Ruins" tour is really worthwhile. As a child I visited the various ruins at Tuzigoot, Montezuma's Castle, etc. and got very comfortable with the idea that they must be viewed from afar lest they be damaged. Well, imagine my surprise when this tour walks you right up to the ruins. Close enough to get some fabulous pictures of the petroglyphs, the construction, the whole mess.

 I thought I knew a lot about the history of the area, but we learned quite a bit, especially about the differences between the time period of this particular dwelling versus some of the later ones seen elsewhere. Its thought this dwelling was home to the Ancestral Hopi from ~1100AD to ~1380AD, before the majority of them moved further north to join the other Hopi people. Their lifestyle was quite different than the Yavapai who followed, which makes for an interesting contrast.

   In any case, it was a blast. Our guide was great and we really got the royal treatment since it was just the two of us. 

   After that and a quick lunch, we headed to the former Ghost-Town turned artist's community of Jerome. Toured quite a few more galleries, saw a lot of nice stuff, and even got to watch a glassblower work for a little while. At the last gallery we hit on our way out, we found a beautiful etching done by a local artist. The piece is printed by first etching the design onto a steel plate, then the plate is inked and then paper is rolled onto it. Each time through the process results in a slightly different piece, since the inking, etc. are all done by hand. In any case, its a beautiful piece. The artist is Robin Anderson and his style is right in between Leonardo DaVinci and Picasso's pen/ink drawings. Fun! Here's another piece that's similar. Its funny, Kimberley and I have such different tastes in art, but actually buying art is really easy because for some reason we always seem to both immediately latch on to some pieces, and that's how we know the piece is right for us. Neither of us is sure why, because one or the other of us will pass on lots of similar pieces, but there's almost always that "one piece". We capped the evening off with a private dinner for two by Chef Michael. My main course was the Duck with Armangac and Figs, and Kimberley had the Shrimp and Asparagus Risotto. Michael used to own two restaurants in the Big Easy, and sold them both to come out to Sedona and open this place. Top notch food, to be sure, and he'll have a cookbook out sometime next year. Very cool. Needless to say, we'll be sad to be leaving on Friday. The Adobe Grand Villas are fantastic, even if we hadn't had the whole place to ourselves! What a romantic trip! Cheers!

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

Things Beautiful...

Well, Sedona is everything they say it is. Beautiful scenery, art, the works. The villa I'd booked was a huge success, Kimberley was blown away. A fitting place to celebrate 10 years together. Rather than try to take my own pictures, I'll just refer you to those provided by the management. Trust me, they're accurate. The Tuscany Villa. There's fresh bread in the bread machine every afternoon, and the executive chef Michael is amazing. Breakfasts here are a thing to remember. Falling asleep by the glow of the firelight is romance at its finest! Spent most of our first full day shopping/gallery hopping. Found some really beautiful ceramics, glass work, and more. Got a little of the christmas shopping out of the way, at least. The local artsy mall "Tlaquepaque" is supposedly a reproduction of a shopping village in Mexico, but it also seems to be the front for some really aggressive timeshare salespeople. Not once but twice I got suckered into a conversation before I realized that I was in the middle of a pitch about all the free stuff we'd get if we'd just attend their little "presentation". Ugh. What's amazing about this town is that even the more mundane places are surrounded by vistas that would command attention anywhere in the world. Here's a shot Kimberley took from the back parking lot of one of the art malls...

   Thursday morning we're taking one of the famous "Pink Jeep Tours" to a set of Ancient Ruins, that should be a ton of fun too. We've also decided to splurge and have dinner made for us by Chef Michael. We're really excited, the menu we selected from looked amazing. Anyhow, somewhere along this way this turned into a moment by moment narrative, which was never really how I envisioned this blog happening, but what the hell, I'm on vacation. Wish we could stay here forever, its really beautiful. All of it. Except maybe for the timeshare people....

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Things Grand...

OK, the cafe with the free wireless hotspot didn't materialize, so I'm sitting in a Starbucks-Analog in the village, writing this for the next time I get internet access. The drive from San Diego to the Grand Canyon (Tusayan Village, actually), was a long one, but relatively uneventful. The directions were fairly simple so we skipped the GPS in favor of printed directions, but I was glad to have set up the Valentine 1, as we had one or two moments with the California and Arizona Highway Patrols. I'd been worried about our first hotel, ambitiously named "The Grand Hotel", after reading some last minute bad reviews on Expedia or some other travel site... Turns out to have been unfounded. While far from "Grand", everything was clean and the food in the hotel restaurant wasn't bad. If you're ever in the area I recommend the Tenderloins of Elk in a Cherry Madeira Reduction with Shitake Potato Hash. The Grand Canyon the following morning was suitably beautiful and of course more aptly named, especially so in the chilly November morning. I'm not sure if it was the early-ish hour (9am?) or the turning of the cold season, but we enjoyed a very quiet morning at the South Rim. We started with one of the basic vista points, which impressed Kimberley quite a bit, took a bunch of pictures, and started to head out on our way when she spotted a small herd of Elk grazing on the side of the road. Yep, Elk. One male and two females, by my count. They hardly noticed the group shooting photos, only the male took any notice of Kimberley when she stood on a small rock to get a slightly better photo... After that we bounced west along the south rim, stopping at a few places to look and take pictures. We stopped in at the village post office to send a couple of postcards and had another reminder of how tech-centric we've become. Kimberley had forgotton her parent's mailing address, and there was no cell phone coverage, so we attempted what was, for both of us, the first pay-phone call in many years. Apparently you can't call California from Arizona from a payphone with coins anymore. We actually had to get a long distance operator and use a credit card to make the call. I guess there's still a place for calling cards these days, but I haven't used one in years since its always cheaper/easier on a cellphone... After that minor adventure we ended up at the rim lodges. We started out on the hiking trail that follows the rim. It was a beautiful walk, but I figure we only got 2 or 3 miles before the altitude and the climb (quite a bit of elevation change) got to Kimberley and we started taking the rim loop shuttle. If you're not up for a long walk, this is definitely the only way to fly. You can get off at any of a number of vistas, see the views, then get back on the next shuttle. The loop ends at Hermit's Rest, where the views are even more amazing. 

   After that, we had a beautiful lunch at the El Tovar hotel, and then on our way to Sedona. I'll just say that the drive and the vistas were exceptional. More photos to come when I've got more time. Cheers... Read More...

Friday, November 12, 2004

Phone Blogging...

Phone Blogging ... What a trip, seems like my world keeps getting smaller.
Finally off work. Nothing seems to take as long as the last workday before a vacation...

Phone blogging needs to be short, so I guess I'll write more later. As small as my P1000 keyboard is, it's huge compared to this...

cheers

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

New Laptop...

Forgot to mention, here's the laptop I just ordered:

Fujitsu Lifebook P1120

My original Pentium 133 Lifebook worked so well, for so long, that I really wanted to give Fujitsu a look when I was shopping for a new sub-notebook. When I found out about the P1000 series, it was love at first sight.

I wanted the smallest true-PC I could get my hands on. (i.e. it has to be able to run regular Windows software, not bastardized HPC or Palmtop stuff). The P1120 is 2.2 lbs, and roughly the size of a VHS tape. The keyboard is slightly smaller than other subnotebooks, but the genious of this machine is that the "Quickpoint" interface (the little Eraser-head pointer stick that everyone hates) is supplemented by the fact that the entire display is a touchscreen! Yep, with a stylus or your finger you can interact directly with the screen. I messed around with it for a few minutes at Frys before deciding that this was pretty friggen cool.

Due to previous experience with Frys, I'd never buy anything else from them, though. I was ready to purchase directly from Fujitsu when I found a forum dedicated to the P-series machines and found a bloke selling exactly what I wanted for several hundred less. The unit is still under factory warranty, and has two batteries, and all the fixin's.

The escrow transaction is in-process and it should be here in a couple of days! More info when it arrives! Read More...

Going on Vacation!

Yep, finally some time off! Although Kimberley and I have only been married for a bit more than four years, this November we'll be celebrating 10 years together.

To make it special, I've planned a wonderful trip through Arizona, seeing all of the sights that Kimberley has never seen, and that I haven't seen since a child. We'll spend one night at the Grand Canyon, three nights in Sedona, and two nights in Phoenix visiting family.

Should be a fun and romantic trip, and I'm especially excited about the B&B I've booked for Sedona. We'll be in the "Tuscany Villa" at the Adobe Village Villas (

Is it just me or is "Adobe Village Villas" redundant? :)

Anyhow, I've ordered a new supersmall laptop to replace my ancient Fujitsu P133 Lifebook that I've had since college. I've long since learned the value of having really good maps on hand at all times, and the GPS tracking and route adjusting makes it all the better, especially since map-reading is not one of Kimberley's stronger skills.

Begin Rant...
Parents: Teach your kids how to read maps. Teach them how to compass orient a paper map, how to sight landmarks, and keep track of where they are. This is one of the GOOD things I learned in the Scouts before I realized they were a group of passive Gay-Bashers. The other thing I learned in this context was that Navy people (my ScoutMasters at the time) insist that "orientate" is a real word. As in: "This is how you orientate a map with a compass." Ugh.
...End Rant

The point I was going to make before I got distracted was that I'm going to try to Blog the whole journey, and post some pictures, if I can. Although that depends largely on how much success I have dialing in to an ISP and how frustrated I get at Dialup speeds. I haven't used anything but a Broadband connection to the Internet in more than 6 years...

Wish us luck, it should be a blast!