Thursday, September 28, 2006

this battery recall stuff is getting out of hand

First Dell laptop batteries, then Apple laptop batteries, and now this:

Over 500000 IBM/Lenovo laptop batteries subject to recall

I've been using an IBM/Lenovo T60 ThinkPad for the past four months, and it's on the list. I just checked my battery and it's not subject to the recall. Although this is a laptop from work, so I wouldn't have to handle the recall if it was affected, but it's good to know that my laptop isn't going to explode on me, or worse, on my cats when I'm not home. I'm willing to bet that the TSA issues a blanket ban on all laptop batteries on flights sometime soon, just because they can.

Stupid Sony with their stupid laptop battery screw-ups....

Monday, September 25, 2006

my iPod artwork addiction

Aside from being my newest toy, my iPod has also become a sort of obsession with me lately. I spent last weekend re-ripping some of my CDs to put them on the iPod and re-tagging tracks so I can find them on the iPod. I've spent the past few evenings trying to get all of the album artwork set properly in iTunes so that the CD cover will appear on the iPod while a track is playing. iTunes will automatically supply the artwork for albums if:
  • iTunes sells the album or songs from it in the Store
  • the album is tagged properly so iTunes can recognize it
Nearly all of my rock and pop CDs have the correct album art, but my classical CDs largely do not. At first I tried looking up the albums in the iTunes store and re-tagging my music to match the listing in the Store. This approach failed more times than it worked, so I resigned myself to scanning my CD covers and applying the artwork manually. Then I read a post on an Apple discussion board that suggested using Google to find the album art. Instead of Google, I used to look up CDs, then I copied the CD cover graphic from the web page and pasted it into iTunes. But I have so many CDs without artwork that for each one I add, it seems like I have two more to fix. And when I sit down to fix a few CDs, I end up spending an hour correcting as many as I can. "Just one more," I tell myself, "and then I'll go to bed."

The worst part? When I listen to music on my iPod, I'm not looking at it -- it's always in my bag or on my desk and out of the way. So I don't even see all this album cover art I've gone to such lengths to add to my collection. But the process of adding the artwork has become an addiction. I may need an iPod support group soon.

Sunday afternoon beer tasting

I went to a friend's house out in Queens on Sunday afternoon for a beer tasting & cookout. He's got some friends who are serious beer connoisseurs, and they picked up about 15 or 16 varieties of microbrews, some European and some from North America. Everyone got a brandy snifter glass and about 3 oz. of each kind of beer as we tried them. Since some of the beers had high alcohol content (a few were 10% alcohol) most of us drank a few glasses of water between rounds. Aside from the fact that I had to be at work this morning and couldn't afford a Monday morning hangover, I wouldn't have been able to tell the differences between some of the brews had I not cleansed my palate each time. I don't remember any of the brands now, but there was a strong IPA that made Sierra Nevada Pale Ale taste like dirt (and I love Sierra Nevada), a British barley wine that tasted more like a fine wine than beer, and a champagne-like beer that we drank to start the day. I had to leave around 7:30, so I only got through nine or ten beers. The food was excellent as well: smoked duck quesadillas, tilapia soft tacos, steak tacos, and several different kinds of salsa and guacamole. We even had homemade sorbet and chocolate souffle for dessert (which I ate from a "go cup" as I was leaving). And I got to watch Sunday's NFL games in HD for the first time and talk football with a roomful of addicts. There were even a few fellow fantasy football managers at the party, and we must have seemed like complete geeks to those who don't follow the real game or the fake kind. All in all, it was a great way to spend a Sunday.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Comments change

I've switched the comments setting for my blog to "only registered users may post comments." That means that if you're already a Blogger user, you just log in with your Blogger account and comment away. If you're not a Blogger user, but you've got a Google account, like Gmail, you can use that. If you don't have either one, you can register for an account. I realize this might be a pain in the ass for those few people who just like to send me a quick response, but I've gotten some weird comments lately, and I want to prevent any other comment spam from appearing on the blog. If you've got a problem with this change, post something in the comments.

Or you could e-mail me instead.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

first impressions of the iPod

I got my iPod yesterday afternoon at work, and though I was busy doing my actual job, I found some time to play around with it and put my music on it. The music on it sounds excellent -- I'd forgotten how good MP3s can sound on a player with a functioning headphone jack. And it really is a triumph of design. I knew iPods were beautiful devices, but it wasn't until I held mine in my hand and used the click-wheel that I realized just how cool they are. One of the first things I did was install Rockbox on the iPod. I have music in a few non-MP3 formats that the iPod won't play natively, and I've been using Rockbox on my iRiver player for about 18 months, so I thought I'd want it on the iPod as well. Unfortunately, Rockbox for the iPod isn't as prime-time ready as it is for the iRiver, and it crashed the iPod a few times last night. It was fine today as I was walking around my neighborhood, but it's nearly impossible to read the display and the OS prevents me from doing cool things like show off my photos and automatically sync podcasts with iTunes. So this afternoon and evening I converted or re-ripped to MP3 my CDs that were in alternate formats on my computer. Now I'm importing all of my music into iTunes and I'm preparing to become a full-fledged iPod/iTunes user.

Maybe my only complaint about the iPod is that Apple doesn't ship it with any kind of protective case. There's a little faux velvet sleeve in the box that keeps the iPod from getting scratched, but in the event of a drop or a fall (like when my cats inevitably knock it off my desk) the sleeve isn't going to be of much help. So on Saturday evening iPod and I went to the Apple store in midtown and I bought it a proper $30 plastic and rubber case. The Apple store itself is a weird place to hang out. It's open 24 hours, which makes me wonder who is in there at 4 AM on a Tuesday. It was crowded with people checking their e-mail and surfing on MacBooks and iMacs, some of them tourists and some locals. And there are iPods everywhere of all makes and models. As much as I like my iPod, the new nano with the curved, brushed metal exterior (like the old iPod Mini) was tempting. All the iPods have music and videos on them, so there's a veritable cacophony of sound. All they need to do is serve alcohol and it would be one of the hippest bars in Manhattan.

Friday, September 15, 2006

the home PC is back... but for how long?

I got my replacement hard drive for my Dell home PC this afternoon, and I installed it this evening after orchestra rehearsal. After an aborted first install (somehow I put Windows on H: instead of C:) I've got my PC up and running again. The funny part of the whole ordeal was that the Dell tech appeared at my office with the replacement hard drive. I had no idea what was going on when the lobby receptionist called me to say "Dell is here to see you." I explained to the tech that the PC in need of repair was at home, and the woman was happy to give me the new hard drive and an RMA label for the old one so I could ship it back to Dell. And I was afraid I'd have to argue, cajole, or otherwise browbeat this person into letting me have my replacement drive. Now I just have to leave the PC on for a while and see if it crashes again.

Tonight was my second orchestra rehearsal, and it seems that my week of practice paid off, for the most part. I still made a few mistakes, but I was far more comfortable with the music than I was last week. It looks like I'm going to be sticking around with this group, so I'll keep updating you, my faithful readers, as the first concert approaches next month. At least one of you had better come out to support me. God knows I've gone to enough plays and concerts for my friends. You all owe me, damn it!

By the way, it's the New York Repertory Orchestra.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

because a fool and his money are soon parted...

... I just became an iPod owner. Well, not quite "just." I ordered a refurbished 60GB black iPod from the Apple store this afternoon. I should have it next week. But I feel dirty. I'll try to justify this purchase, for my benefit and for my friends, who have heard me say in the past "I don't want an iPod. I'm happy with my iRiver MP3 player [a Korean iPod knockoff with more features]."

The iRiver player is two years old, and for the past year the headphone jack has been funky. I have to wiggle and pull on it to get my music to sound right. Otherwise it "crackles" and sounds muffled. I've done some Googling and it's possible to open the player and re-solder the headphone jack. But I'm not an electronics expert and I don't own a soldering iron. I don't even own the proper tool to open the case. There's no guarantee this surgical procedure would work or that I'd be able to get the player back together again. And I'd have to do this at work, because my cats get all excited anytime I do any work on my desk at home and get in my way. So the iRiver player is probably going to end up on eBay, where I hope some music lover with expertise in repairs will pick it up.

Another reason I decided to get the iPod is that it's got 60 GB of space, instead of my current 40 GB. I'm actually running out of room on my player, and rather than delete something, I thought I'd just get a larger player. And I can hack the iPod firmware to customize it the same way I've hacked the iRiver, so I don't have to use iTunes. And I can finally be one of the "cool" kids with the iPod. Which means it'll probably get stolen on the subway in the first week. The tipping point for the iPod buy was yesterday, when Apple announced the new iPods. They slashed prices on the old 60 GB refurbs, so I can get one for 2/3 of what I paid for the iRiver when it was new. So if I turn the iPod into a paperweight in the first ten minutes with a hack, at least I won't be out the full purchase price.

In other tech news, I finally got Dell to replace the bad hard drive in my home PC. However, instead of just shipping me the replacement drive, apparently they're going to send someone to my house to install it. I wonder how long I'll have to wait for that service call?

Sunday, September 10, 2006

2006 NYC Century riding diary

Instead of my usual multiple-paragraph recap of the NYC Century, I thought this year I'd write it a little differently. Some of the times are approximate, as I didn't check my watch or take all of these notes while I was riding.

4:45 AM: I got about four or five hours' sleep on Saturday night, but when the alarm goes off, it's still too early. I get up right away and turn on some lights and start getting ready.

5:30 AM: I roll out onto 1st Ave, notice the two bartenders at The Gaf are still awake and sitting at the far end of the bar, and I ride over to Central Park. I check in at the marshals table, get my orange vest and supplies, and wait to be "pulsed" with the rest of the riders.

6:10 AM: I leave the Park at the tail end of a large group of riders. Like last year, we meander around upper Manhattan over to Riverside Drive, then we take Ninth Avenue to the Village, then down Broadway to the Brooklyn Bridge. My favorite part of the day: riding across the Brooklyn Bridge with the sun coming up on my left.

7:30 AM: I arrive at Prospect Park for the first rest stop. So far, so good. I get some food, stretch, and roll out about 20 minutes later.

8:30 AM: I get to the Shore Parkway bike path, which has been recently paved and rehabbed. I kick the bike into high gear and start dropping riders behind me. I love moments like this one. I also notice my quads are already starting to ache, and I've just ridden 30 miles so far. It's going to be a long day.

9:30 AM: I arrive at Canarsie Pier, the second rest stop. I take a little more time to rest and eat, but I'm still on a good pace for the day. I leave the rest stop just before 10.

10:15 AM: I stop to help another rider with a flat. I get the inner tube changed, but I can't get any air into the tire with her pump. Her friend rides back to meet us and he doesn't get too far with the pump either. I tell them to look for a gas station and see if they can use a compressor to inflate the tire. It turns out there are two or three gas stations less than half a mile from where we were.

11 AM: I see another rider on a red and gold Trek 7500FX (the same bike as mine), so I slow down to chat with her. She bought hers used about 18 months back, and added a rear rack and bag. She and her husband are making their own route, starting from Prospect Park and cutting out the Bronx. That's fine with me; they paid for the ride, so they can go where they want. I leave them behind in Corona Park, but they catch up to me after I make a few wrong turns. I see them again after I take my lap around the Kissena Park velodrome, and I wonder if she's going to take her bike for a lap. It doesn't look like she will.

12 PM: I get to the rest stop in Kissena Park. I don't like the food selection here (no PB & J sandwiches) so I get out some of the food I packed. I've been carrying it long enough, I might as well eat some of it. I take another 20 minutes or so to rest up, then I hit the road again.

12:45 PM: I miss a badly-marked turn a few miles later and ride about a mile out of my way before I see another group of riders who look as confused as I do. I can't figure out where we're supposed to go on the map, so we all decide to backtrack and see if we can find our way. About a mile later, we see the missed turn and get back on the route. It would be the worst road marking I'd see all day, which is a good sign.

1:40 PM: I'm in the middle of a conversation with another rider about his musical tastes (he had his iPod strapped to his handlebars along with some speakers) when I hear someone calling for a marshal. It's another rider with a flat. Again, I manage to get the tube changed, using one of my spare tubes, but again we can't get the tire inflated with my pump or his. Another marshal stops and tries a CO2 cartridge, but we end up wasting most of it. Another pair of riders stop with a decent bike pump, but the rider whose bike we're working on doesn't seem happy with the amount of air we're able to put in the tire. After 15 minutes, I make the same suggestion to him about finding a gas station, and I leave the three of them there.

2:40 PM: I arrive at the Astoria Park rest stop, about 65 miles into the ride. With all my delays, and 35 miles remaining, I'm now wondering if I can get to the finish at Central Park by 6 PM, when they close it down. I know the marshal check-in table will be open late, but I want to get there by 6 if I can manage it. I try to cram 30 minutes of rest into 20 minutes of actual time and I leave Astoria Park around 3 PM.

3:20 PM: I finally get off the Triboro Bridge, on Ward's Island. If riding across the Brooklyn Bridge at sunrise is the yearly high point of the Century, riding across the Triboro Bridge in its crappy, tiny bike lane is the annual nadir. It's a necessary evil, and I appreciate that the path is there, but it just sucks. We all have to walk our bikes up the stairs, and most of us are confused by the bike ramps (little narrow-channeled metal rails that let you roll the bike up the stairs) mounted to the stairs. They're mounted on the left side of the stairs, but most people walk with their bikes on the right so they don't get chain grease on their legs. Putting the bike ramps on the left side means bikers have to walk with the bike on the wrong side. Most of the riders today carry their bikes instead.

4 PM-4:30 PM: The Bronx. I am repeatedly asked how many miles are left, and I give a different, incorrect answer each time. The truth is that my bike computer has one mileage count and the cue sheet has another, so I'm left guessing how many actual miles remain. I try to make them happy by telling them that it's only a few miles to the next rest stop.

4:53 PM: Van Cortlandt Park rest stop. 90 miles complete, and the cue sheet says it's 104 total miles this year from start to finish. I'm now in serious danger of getting back after 6. I grab some food, stretch, say hi to a rider I met on one of my training rides, and I get out of there about 5:10 PM.

5:30 PM: I'm in a group of 10-20 riders. There are no Riverdale hills this year, so we're cruising on level streets through the South Bronx to the Broadway Bridge and Manhattan. A few people in the group have never been in this part of Manhattan before, but I assure them that I've been here many times and I know the way we're going. We weave through traffic on Dyckman and get onto the Harlem River Greenway. I put the bike back into high gear, finding reserves of energy I didn't know I had, and I get the bike up to 20 MPH. A trio of riders speeds past me on my left, and I wonder what combination of lightweight bikes, age, and physical shape allows them to pass me at will that late in the ride. One of them has knobby tires on his bike, which makes me feel even worse.

5:45 PM: It's nearly the home stretch. There are about half a dozen riders ahead of me, including the ones that passed me before, and they all miss a turn. I shout "RIGHT TURN!!" at them and slow down to make the turn. They fall in well behind me. I would have slowed down for them, but since they'd all passed me on the Greenway, I'm not doing them any favors now.

5:55 PM: I ride into Central Park and find the reception committee is still hard at work. I check back in at the marshal table, collect my t-shirt and water bottle. My day is officially over. Total mileage for the century: my computer says roughly 103 miles. I was ahead of the cue sheet for most of the ride, so I'm not sure how I caught up.

6:15 PM: I decide to stick around for a while and help clean up. There is word that a truck will soon arrive onto which we can load all of the leftover shirts, bottles, and office supplies. I give the truck until 7 PM to show up, then I'm leaving. In the meantime, I help break down tables, move some boxes around, and chat with various people also hanging around the finish area.

6:45 PM: No sign of the truck. I keep stretching and walking around, trying to keep my circulation up. I know that if I sit down, I'm not getting up for a while.

6:59 PM: The truck arrives. There are about 15 people helping to load the truck.

7:10 PM: A trio of homeless women come over and get into an argument with the TA staff about getting free water bottles and the large pile of leftover fruit and bread near the park entrance. Many profanities are uttered, as far as I could tell all coming from the homeless women.

7:20 PM: The truck is moved near the pile of materials near the park entrance. Another homeless man walks over and keeps pestering us for a piece of bread. The food is all going on another truck that will take it to the Bowery Mission, so we're not supposed to give it out. Eventually, the homeless man wanders off. I feel bad, but policy is policy.

7:30 PM: The truck is now almost full. Earlier, the TA staff had asked if any of us remaining marshals wanted to come down to the TA office on 27th St. to unload the truck, offering free beer as an incentive. If I lived downtown, I might have considered it, but I'm really tired and hungry now, and the prospect of riding 60 blocks home in the dark (or taking the subway) isn't a welcome one. And I have things to do at home tonight. I say goodbye to the staff, thank them again for organizing another great ride, and head out. On the way out, I see a woman that I met on one of my training rides. She and a friend just finished the Century a few minutes ago, which reminds me of my "Century from Hell" in 2002, when I bonked in the Bronx and needed serious encouragement from James just to finish. I talk with them for a few minutes, but my stomach is rumbling and my muscles are screaming for relief, so it's time for me to go home.

7:45 PM: I wait in line at Luigi's for my reward, a stromboli filled with pepperoni, sausage, ham and cheese. I'm still wearing my bike clothes. I probably smell terrible, but I don't care.

8 PM: I've showered, I'm eating my dinner, watching TV, and resting my sore ass on the couch. I foresee an early bedtime tonight.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Thursday was quite a night

Tonight was my first orchestra rehearsal in this century. The last time I played in an orchestra, I was in college and I was the principal violist and unofficial assistant conductor. Now, I'm a regular guy in the back of the section, just happy to be there. I thought I played fairly well for having taken so much time off. It helped that I was sight-reading the music along with the rest of the orchestra. Next week is a strings-only rehearsal, and I've got some work to do on the music before then.

When I got home, I put on the Steelers-Dolphins game, and I started screaming at the TV like it was the Super Bowl all over again. I need to tone it down just a bit for the regular season, or else I'll have a heart attack for certain. But Pittsburgh pulled out the win, so everything turned out OK. From what I saw, it doesn't look like this team has lost anything from last season. After the game, I watched the pre-game show, and seeing the ceremony where they unveiled the banners for each championship team made me all kinds of happy. By the way, the John Williams theme for NBC's football coverage makes it sound like the Imperial stormtroopers are marching into the Rebel base. I keep expecting to see Darth Vader on the field. I'll have to wait for a Raiders game to see that.

And I rode 20 miles in Central Park early this morning in my final tune-up for Sunday's NYC Century. I'm at 775 miles for the year, and after this weekend I'll be close to 900. I think my goal of 1000 miles is within reach, even with me taking half the summer off from the bike. Next summer I'll have to set the bar even higher.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

orchestra update

At my audition last Tuesday, I played better than I expected I would, considering I hadn't played for anything significant like that in about 15 years. Yes, the last time I auditioned for something of importance I was in high school. Anyway, I didn't hear from the orchestra after the audition so I took that to mean that I didn't get in. I'm OK with that, because I played to the best of my ability and if it wasn't what they were looking for, so be it.

I contacted two other Manhattan-based community orchestras and I've got tryouts with them in the coming weeks. So I will be playing somewhere, at least for a few weeks. In the meantime I'm still practicing almost every night, probably driving my neighbors crazy with the Telemann concerto and the viola parts to various symphonies. I think I'm rounding back into the form I had when I was in high school, which, to be honest, was when I was at the peak of my talents. I hardly ever had time to practice in college, so I learned the orchestral music in rehearsals instead of on my own. I'm trying things differently this time around. We'll see how long I can keep up the regular practicing.

Friday, September 01, 2006

yes, I am ready for some football

My fantasy football draft is tomorrow evening, and I've done no research. I have several recent issues of Sports Illustrated and whatever information I find online tonight or tomorrow. This year my brother is in the league with me, along with my old college friends and some other people we've picked up. Also, I'm in a "suicide" pool at work, where you pick the winner of one game each week, and you're eliminated when you get your pick wrong. And I'm in another pick'em league with a friend I saw at my college reunion last June. So it will be a busy football season for me online.

Speaking of pro football, the Steelers went 0-4 in the preseason, and while I'm not worried, I am trying to temper my expectations for this year. I'll be happy if they make the playoffs -- in their conference, anything more than that is gravy.

I watched Mississippi State get crushed by South Carolina last night. The score may have been just 15-0, but MSU looked awful. It should have been 35-0 given how they played. It's going to be a long season in Starkville. Penn State plays Akron tomorrow, and that should be an easy win for them. Like with Pittsburgh, I'll be happy if Penn State has a winning record and goes to a New Year's Day bowl game. They lost a lot of good players from last year's team, so I doubt they'll match last year's record, but a winning season isn't too much to ask. Otherwise, fans will be calling for Joe Paterno's head once again.