Sunday, November 30, 2008

Calibrate your toys, come on!

I've had my HDTV for about 18 months, but until Friday I'd never calibrated it. I read the manual when I bought the TV and made a few adjustments based on feel, but most of the time I left the TV on the "Dynamic" setting. The manual suggested that setting was best for watching sports, and since I watch plenty of sports, it made sense to me. But last year at the Super Bowl party, one of my guests took one look at my TV's picture and said something like "You should calibrate your TV. You're pushing a lot of red. If I'd known I would have brought my calibration disc." I agreed that maybe I needed to make some more adjustments, but since he didn't have this disc with him that was the end of our conversation.

Last Friday, Gizmodo posted an item on how to calibrate your HDTV using the THX Optimizer program that comes with most THX-certified DVDs. I found the THX optimizer on one of my Star Wars DVDs and followed the instructions. I couldn't tell much of a difference on the Star Wars clip the optimizer played after I finished the procedure. But right now I'm watching the Denver-NY Jets game on my HD cable box using the same settings, and I think the picture looks better than it did before the procedure. The color range looks greater, the blacks are a little blacker, and the picture looks brighter overall. Although maybe I just think it looks better. It's hard to tell.

I'm also trying to calibrate the battery in my MacBook Pro. I've had this laptop for less than a year, and already the battery life is about 2/3 of what it was when I bought it. Two different utilities claim that my battery "health" is about 45%, and my battery lasts about two hours instead of three or more. Apple recommends that you not leave the laptop plugged in all the time, a suggestion that I willfully ignored for most of the time since I bought it. They also have a recommended battery recalibration procedure, which requires you to run the battery down completely, leave the computer powered off for five hours, and then recharge it for at least three hours while it's still powered off. The only eight-hour stretches when I don't use this laptop are overnight or the occasional weekend. Since I knew I would be out of the apartment most of the day on Thanksgiving, I ran the battery down to 0%, let the laptop hibernate, and let it sit while I went to eat at my friends' apartment. When I came home about 10 hour later, I plugged the MacBook back in and let it charge without using it. I powered it up on Friday morning, only to find that instead of a more healthy battery, I'd lost a few percentage points. I'm going to follow their recommendations a little more closely from now on, and let the MacBook run on battery power for at least an hour each day. But if the health doesn't improve, I will make use of my expensive three-year warranty and get a new battery. I know laptop batteries are fickle, but I shouldn't have this kind of problem on a nearly-brand-new laptop.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Getting older

This past Saturday night, Kate’s upstairs neighbors hosted a party. They told Kate and her roommates about the party earlier in the day and invited them to join in the fun. Kate and I had plans to meet her friends for a drink before dinner and then we planned to see “Quantum of Solace” before returning later in the evening. While we were at dinner I got a call about a problem at work that I needed to fix, so we skipped the movie and went back to her apartment so I could use her computer to log in and handle the issue. When we got to her building at about 9:30 PM, three girls followed us inside and went upstairs to what sounded like a raging blowout already in progress. I took care of my work problem and we considered our options for the rest of the evening. The noise coming from the apartment upstairs was unbelieveable. They played their music at high volume and sang and danced for hours. It sounded like they were playing basketball up there, from the way the thumping moved from one end of the room to the other.

At midnight, unable to sleep, we decided to watch a movie. We had to turn our volume up to hear the movie over the noise coming from upstairs. One of Kate’s neighbors in the next building came out of his apartment, stood in the courtyard in the back, and shouted at the 3rd floor party to keep it down. I don’t think they heard him. Kate said she’d give them until 2 AM, then she’d go ask them to turn down the music. By 1:45 AM we thought they might have given up for the night since the dancing had subsided, but then the music picked up again. At 2 AM Kate went upstairs. I offered to go with her but she declined, saying she could handle it. She came back a few minutes later and the volume went down. She told me that when she asked the girls to turn the music down, they said “we told your roommates we were having a party,” as if that was an excuse. Kate’s response was “it’s still 2 in the morning, so please turn it down.” By 3 AM we were finished with our movie, they were finished with their party, and everyone passed out.

My problem with Saturday night’s events is that I’m not used to being “that guy” who tells the neighbors to keep the noise down. I used to be a party guy. A few years ago, if my neighbors had told me they were having a party, I would have stopped by for a drink or two. I know I’m older and more mature, but I didn’t realize I’d also outgrown the loud and crazy parties of my youth. One of the reasons I didn’t mind moving to Park Slope was that I was tired of living above a noisy bar on the Upper East Side. For the first few years I lived there, the bar was a reminder that people were out having fun on a weekend night while I was at home watching TV. Then I found myself hanging out at that bar on weekend evenings and I realized that it wasn’t so much fun if I didn’t know anyone there. As I grew tired of the bar scene, I also became more comfortable staying home alone, and I didn’t want to hear the music or the loud conversations of the smokers outside at 2 AM. My apartment in Park Slope is on the first floor next to the building’s entrance, so I get a fair amount of noise from the hallway, but I don’t get the crowd noise from a constant weekend party. And if I decided to throw a massive housewarming blowout in my new apartment, I’d get shut down by my neighbors (many of whom have small children) in about 10 minutes. Now, a party is a few friends, a good meal, a bottle of wine, and we're all home by midnight. And I don't mind. Maybe there's an upside to growing older.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

PC Magazine is no longer (in print)

Ziff Davis announced yesterday that they will end the print version of PC Magazine and make the title online-only. I have been a subscriber to PC Magazine off and on since college, at home or at work. My father, or one of his co-workers, used to get the magazine at his office when I was in high school and college, so I would read his copy and get the reviews of new hardware, software, and gadgets. For example, I remember first reading about Windows NT in a copy of PC Magazine when I was still in high school. Back then, of course, print was the only way to get this kind of technology news.

As I've become an avid online reader of all thing technological, I saw less need for a print version of the same information, especially when the printed news was several weeks old by the time I got it. But I would still read PC Magazine when I found it on a colleague's desk at work. I hadn't planned to become a subscriber again, but then I went to a trade show at the Javits Center and an attractive saleswoman from Ziff Davis talked me into a four-year subscription. What can I say? She was hot, and I couldn't resist. As Krusty the Klown said, "I'm not made of stone!" Also, at $10 a year for four years, it wasn't a bad deal.

But as I read each issue of the magazine, I thought about how much easier it would be for me to read the same information online, updated, with search capability and windowing. So when my subscription lapsed a few years ago, I ignored the renewal letters begging me to stay with them. I suppose you could blame me for the failure of the print edition, or lump me in with the rest of the subscriber base that abandoned the dying medium for the online version. But digital media is the present and future, so this was an inevitable step for Ziff Davis. Dropping the print edition is the right decision.

Now if only they'd streamline their web site. There's a lot of things going on there.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

The new Guitar Hero game

A few weeks ago I picked up the latest edition of Guitar Hero, complete with new guitar controller. For the record, this makes three guitar controllers in my collection, and I live alone and can only use one at at time. Guitar Hero: World Tour has a few of my favorite songs in it, like "Livin' On A Prayer," "Ramblin' Man," "Stranglehold" and "Pull Me Under." However, the majority of the songs are ones that I've never heard before. Some are new songs by unfamiliar bands like Airbourne, The Enemy, Kent, and Radio Futura. Others are songs I should know by bands like The Cult and 311. (The entire song list is here.) Previous games would mix in new music with classic guitar hits in the same set. Most of the sets in World Tour consist of only new songs, with familiar hits appearing every six or seven songs. For example, I played the game for about 90 minutes on Tuesday night, and of the approximately ten songs I played, the only one I knew right away was "Hollywood Nights" by Bob Seger. The rest of the songs were completely new to me. I got through all of them without much trouble, which was refreshing. My biggest problem with the previous game in the series was that some of the song were too difficult for me even on the "Hard" setting. In Guitar Hero II I was able to play most of the songs on "Expert" and get through them. World Tour has made all the song easier overall, so that when I finish the game on Hard I shouldn't have much trouble replaying it on Expert and boosting my confidence.

I like the new guitar controller that came with this game. In addition to the usual fret buttons and strum bar, they've added a touchpad further down the neck that can be used as a tap zone or for sliding on certain notes. It adds variety and makes it easier to play some faster solos. I'm still learning how best to use it. And they've added a button near the strum bar that you can press with your hand to activate "Star Power" if that's easier than tilting the entire guitar.

I didn't buy the version of World Tour that includes the drum kit. I thought that would be overly ridiculous for my apartment. But I am considering buying the microphone controller that comes with the full band kit. Should my friends ever want to sing along, then we'd have the microphone and, with the extra guitars I already own, we'd have a little band ready to go. If that ever happens, expect photos.

Monday, November 10, 2008

seen on the subway this morning

This morning's commute included the first Christmas carol of the season, courtesy of a man playing the guitar and singing in Spanish. He played one unfamiliar non-holiday song from Pacific Street to DeKalb Avenue, then he played "Feliz Navidad" from DeKalb to Lawrence Street. I hate "Feliz Navidad." It's repetitive, simplistic, and worst of all, it gets stuck in my head for hours. When he started playing it I nearly pulled a muscle reaching for the volume on my iPod to drown him out. Even now there's still a hint of it floating around in my head.

This second item has been bothering me for a few days. Bank of America has a new subway ad campaign touting a reward program in which they give you $10 back for every $100 you spend on transit on their credit card. All the ads show "typical" New Yorkers with quotes like "Ten bucks back for every hundred spent on transit? Great. What about a solution for gridlock?" Or "Fantastic. What can you do about my neighbor's tap dancing?" The photos accompanying the quotes show people who are not smiling and happy about the reward. Their lips are pursed, making them look impatient and annoyed. The ads come across as arrogant. Instead of seeing the program as a benefit, the ads show a false sense of entitlement. They say New Yorkers are smug jerks who, when presented with a good deal, say (with a highly sarcastic tone) "Thanks. Now double it, get me another latte, and I'll think about it. And shut up."

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

I am excited

I was excited in 1992 when Bill Clinton won, but even that victory doesn't feel like this one. Back then, it didn't feel like the country was on as bad a path as it is now. Barack Obama's victory feels like a much bigger win for the Democratic Party and for the nation than Clinton/Gore. I'm looking forward to the transition and the first 100 days. I know that Obama will have a tough time getting anything done with the mess that Bush and Cheney have left him, but I'm thrilled at the prospect that we finally have a competent leader at the helm. Even if it's a difficult road, I'm elated at what the future holds. This has been an incredible night.

Time to sober up and go to bed. I still have to work in the morning.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Voting this morning

I sprang out of bed at 6 AM and was out the door ten minutes later. The line at PS 282 in Park Slope at 6:15 was out the school door, down the block, and ended around the corner. I waited about 20 minutes outside, then once I got inside someone told me I could skip the long line and go into the gym if I knew my election district. I had my voter registration confirmation with me so I went inside and got in line for my district. Just like four years ago on the Upper East Side, the gym was packed with people in a maze of lines for different districts. I waited about 45 minutes in line for my district. People were joking about the old machines and the lack of lines for some districts. One woman said "there's no line for 57" and I said "yeah, but you don't want to live there." (I have no idea where district 57 is in Brooklyn.) The best thing about the experience was that everyone seemed to be in a good mood. I heard only a handful of complaints. Everyone I talked to was happy to be there and not at all surprised to see the turnout. I voted at 7:15 and was on my way to the gym a few minutes later. The line outside the school was still down the block. On the way home I passed another school on 5th Avenue with a long line of its own.

Now we wait.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Why I shouldn't be nervous

All I can do tomorrow is go to the polls and vote. It's too late for me to have any other effect on the outcome of the election, and worrying about the results will do me no good. I have to get through the day. I'm getting up at 6 AM and going to the polls first thing, so I hope the lines will be short. Even in blue Park Slope, I expect long lines early in the morning.

I'm excited about watching the returns come in tomorrow evening. I haven't decided for certain what I'm doing, but I suspect I'll end up at home by myself with my laptop and the HDTV and full control of my election night environment. For some reason, I keep thinking about the 1992 election and how I watched the returns come in that night. I was a freshman at Georgetown, living in Darnall Hall, and it was my first presidential election as a voter. I watched the returns in the dorm lounge with the rest of my floormates, with the occasional stop by my friend Jeremy's room, where he had his computer dialed into Prodigy and was getting state-by-state results online. He and a few friends broke out a bottle of champagne early when Prodigy called the election for Clinton, about 20 minutes before the networks did. I smile when I think of how it was so high-tech at the time to monitor election results online.

Tomorrow night I'll have more than a few tabs open to different news sites, and maybe a bottle of something to drink to celebrate, or to drown my sorrows if things go the other way.