Friday, February 27, 2009

The perils of all-in-one devices

Wilson Rothman, one of the editors at Gizmodo, wrote this delightful screed about his experience with a balky Epson printer. He tried to print out 15 pages of black-and-white text, only to have the printer stop and warn him that he was out of several types of color ink. Replacing the ink cartridges didn't help and he was left with a printer that refused to print anything, even though the document didn't require any color ink. Rothman's problem reminds me of my own recalcitrant Canon all-in-one (scanner/copier/printer) inkjet printer. I bought the Canon MP500 all-in-one in August 2006 when I needed a printer in a hurry for a project. I did a little research, read a few favorable reviews, and found the printer at Best Buy for a decent price. It was fine for about 18 months and I especially enjoyed having a scanner at home again. I started the long (and as yet, unfinished) process of scanning my old photos. Someday I will get back to that project and complete it.

Last spring, my printer started having issues with the ink cartridges. For about a year now, the printer refuses to work, claiming that it can't recognize one or two of the color cartridges. The current cartridges are Canon brand, as I've read enough stories about printers having difficulties with third-party cartridges. My cartridges are also nearly brand-new, but the printer claims that they're either empty or unknown. For a while I was able to restart the printer several times and on the third or fourth boot-up it would recognize its own cartridges and start working. Since I moved to Brooklyn, the printer hasn't worked at all. It's become an extra-large paperweight in my bedroom.

The most frustrating aspect of this cartridge problem is that I don't need to print that often, but I do need to use the scanner. However, the printer won't do anything as long as it doesn't recognize the cartridges. There is no logical reason why the scanner can't continue to work when the printer part of the device is out of order. But the printer's startup sequence requires that all parts of the device be fully functional, so I'm left with a hunk of plastic and glass that is entirely unusable in its current condition.

The easy fix would be to buy another set of ink cartridges and hope that my existing set came from a bad batch. And given the cost of ink, that path would make more sense than buying a whole new all-in-one printer. I'm going to order another set of cartridges as soon as I can remember to check the printer to see which ones I need. But I'm going to want to punch someone if I go that route and then find out my printer still doesn't work. Canon, you're on notice.

Monday, February 23, 2009

If there's no Oscar party, did the show actually happen?

I watched last night's Oscars even though my heart wasn't really in it. My friends and I didn't have our usual party this year, so it was just Kate and I at my apartment eating Indian food and frozen yogurt. (We did honor the spirit of the party by sticking to Best Picture nominee-themed food.) I'd only seen two of the five Best Picture nominees and a couple of the other movies. 2008 was a bad year for me for the Oscar contenders. As a result, I didn't have my normal level of investment in the awards ceremony. But when it came time for the show, I couldn't stay away.

I enjoyed Hugh Jackman's attempts to liven up the proceedings. His opening musical number was funny, but I could have done without the salute to movie musicals later in the show. Every year the show's producers throw in a salute to something or other, and unless it's done exceptionally well, it falls flat. The presenters were forgettable, except for Tina Fey and Steve Martin, who I think should host the show next year. They had the best material and have the kind of comic timing that most hosts have to fake. When he wasn't singing, Jackman was invisible. Maybe that was part of the show's format changes, but I like the show better when the host pokes fun at the stars and their reactions.

At first, I liked the way the presented the acting awards, with five former winners each saluting the nominees. Christopher Walken could have brought Joel Grey out in his suit pocket. But by 11:30, I just wanted the show to be over. Instead, we had to sit through tributes to the Best Actor and Best Actress nominees, and the segments dragged. (Plus, I might have been the only one to notice this, but in the Best Actor category, one of the former winners they trotted out was Anthony Hopkins. Another former winner introduced Frank Langella and said something that his performance as Nixon was instantly the best one the movies had ever seen. I checked on IMDB, and my memory was correct: in 1995, Hopkins was nominated for the same award for his performance as Nixon in "Nixon." I wonder if his reaction to the praise for Langella was "yes, that's right, Frank's work was much better than mine in the same role," or if instead he thought "Hey, Oscar writers, I'm right here!")

The whole show felt forced, like those of us watching at home were all going to have a good time no matter how miserable we all might be. Next year my friends and I will have to bring back the party. While I enjoyed relaxing at home without a crowd and the corresponding mess, we always have fun when we watch the Oscars as a group. And it would be better for my eating habits. I'm still full from last night's chicken curry.

Friday, February 20, 2009

These places may be cheap, but no one wants to live there

The NAHB released its list of the top 10 most and least affordable cities in the US. At first I was going to kick myself for living in the #1 most expensive city in the country, according to their findings. Then I looked at the cities on the most affordable side. Detroit? Grand Rapids? Akron? Syracuse? If you were compiling a list of the places in this country that I would never live without being forced at the point of a gun, those places would be on the list. They might be affordable, but there's not much reason to move to any of them. I have a friend who lives in Detroit, and she's looking at her options to move elsewhere because the outlook there is so bleak. Jobs are scarce, homes are being foreclosed, and crime is on the rise.

And the smaller cities (population under 500,000) list is even worse. The only thing I know about Battle Creek, MI is that Kellogg's is there, and I'd bet they've laid off people recently. I think Cedar Point is in Sandusky, OH, and I can think of nothing redeeming about East Lansing.

I may not ever be able to afford to buy a house or even an apartment in New York, but I'd much rather live here and pay exorbitantly for rent and food than move to one of those places and have to watch my back every day.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Spending money I didn't really need to spend

I bought iLife '09 on my way home from work last night. I was underwhelmed by the iLife '09 demo at MacWorld last month and at that time had determined that I could live without the new enhancements to iPhoto, iMovie, and the other programs in the suite. But after I ran the first draft of my tax returns and saw that I should get a decent sum back from the federales, I changed my mind. Late last night I installed the upgrades and set about place- and face-tagging my photos. The advantages of place-tagging and face-tagging are that once you've tagged all your photos, you can search for photos by person or location. Since I organize my photos by date, time, and then location, searching by place and/or person could be useful. For the $80 I spent on the software, I certainly hope it's useful.

The place-tagging didn't take that long, but it took me a while to figure out how to get specific with my pushpins. I didn't want to tag every photo taken in the five boroughs as "New York," when some of them are specifically in Central Park, or at a particular location in Brooklyn like Floyd Bennett Field. After making a few adjustments I finished the process about an hour later.

By that time iPhoto had completed its face-scanning process, so I set about face-tagging some of my recent photo sets. I am not too impressed with the facial recognition so far. It has trouble with people wearing glasses or sunglasses, or with heads tilted slightly. I have had to correct or add face tags to most of the photos I've adjusted up to this point. But it is fun to go back through some of these photos and see who iPhoto knows and who it doesn't know. Also, it helps me to remember the names of all the people I met at the various weddings I attended last year. I know that I don't need to tag everyone; it's unlikely that I'll want to search for friends of friends that I met one time in my photo collection. But if I tag the major friends, it will make a difference for future searches.

As for the rest of the product suite, I spent a few minutes in iMovie this morning just poking around, and I haven't tried the updated version of GarageBand or iWeb yet. I don't own a guitar or a piano, so I don't think the celebrity lessons feature of GarageBand will be of much use to me. And this blog is the only web site I maintain at the moment so iWeb might not get much use either. But I couldn't pick and choose which applications I wanted to buy so I got the whole suite. I just hope Apple doesn't release a super-updated version next year, because I'll have to buy that too.

Friday, February 13, 2009

I hate calling tech support

Not only does it mean that I can't listen to my music while I work, I have to listen to the vendor's horrible soft jazz while they keep me on hold. It must be Friday the 13th.

NYRO made the Times!

This weekend's concert featuring the music of Messiaen, Stravinsky, and Lalo received a notice in the NY Times' Classical Music listings. The concert is going to be exceptional, if last night's dress rehearsal is any indication.

Now I can tell people that I play in NYRO and that "we're kind of a big deal. We were in the NY Times."

Monday, February 09, 2009

Why you should keep your backups separate from your computers

William Wiley was a passenger on US Airways Flight 1549 that landed in the Hudson River last month. He had a laptop with him with about $30000 of data on it. He had a backup of this data on another laptop. However, he had this backup laptop with him on the flight. Both laptops are now in storage, awaiting data recovery which will take about eight weeks.

Backups are a great idea. But you don't want to have your only backup copy of your data stored with your primary data device. You want to keep at least one backup in a different location. I have two backups of the data on my Macbook Pro: a Time Machine disk at the office that backs up the computer every weekday, and a SuperDuper backup at home that holds a recent image of my laptop (at the moment this image is about a month old). I also back up my photos and music on my iPod. I wasn't always this conscientious about my backups. But I lost all the data on my PC a few times when the drive crashed, which cost me about two years' worth of old e-mail and old documents. Now I'm paranoid about backups because you never know what's going to happen.

Monday, February 02, 2009

Quick newspaper analysis

On my way in to the office this morning, I bought copies of the New York Post, the NY Daily News, and USA Today. I didn't want the newspapers for the writing; I just wanted the back page photos for possible "posterization" in my apartment or my cubicle at work. But I read and skimmed a few articles in each of the papers just to see what the NY writers had to say. I've already seen some other national coverage today, so sentiment is running high that this was the best Super Bowl ever, even though last year's was an incredible game, as were the Rams-Patriots, Rams-Titans, and a few others earlier this decade. The NY writers all have similar opinions on the game, which makes me think everyone on press row at the Super Bowl had the same idea.

But the one column that sticks out in the Daily News is Gary Myers' column looking forward to the 2009 season and Super Bowl XLIV in Miami. He goes out on a limb and predicts Giants-Patriots II for next February. Aside from this being a ridiculously obvious hometown prediction, it's also ridiculously idiotic. Predicting sports is as much guesswork as it is analysis. Yes, the Giants were the best team in the NFL until Plaxico Burress shot himself in the leg and hurt his team. The Patriots were the favorite coming into the season, and then Tom Brady's knee injury gave way to Matt Cassel and an 11-5 finish out of the playoffs. No one can plan for injuries, freak accidents, or the abject stupidity of some highly paid athletes. The Steelers looked like a solid bet to repeat in 2006, until Ben Roethlisberger decided to ride his motorcycle without a helmet and ran into a car, nearly getting himself killed. The point is that while these are two great teams going into 2009, it is far too early to make any kind of guess as to who will make it to next year's Super Bowl. I know newspaper columnists need to file stories, but it's drivel like this article that makes me want to stay away from newspapers in general. Gary Myers might as well have written about who will win the 2020 Super Bowl for as much foreknowledge as he has of how the next NFL season will play out.


I'm just glad that game is over. I couldn't take any more. If the Cardinals had scored again at the end to win the game, I wouldn't have had the energy to be too upset. That was a hell of a football game. I've got to give the Cardinals credit. They played their hearts out and deserved that game as much as the Steelers did. They definitely gave me the most stress I've ever had while watching a football game. (That's a sign I need to take it easy while watching games, but that's another matter.) Anyway, the game is over, the Steelers won, and I can relax. I can't really think about it right now.

I will say that James did a fantastic job with the centerpiece of our Super Bowl feast, our own version of the Primanti Brothers sandwich. We made our own cole slaw and James handled the French fries and grilling the meat for the sandwich. At one point we thought we might all have heart attacks either from the game or from the sandwiches, and I thought it would be best to let the cardiologist work out those details. I made chile con queso and salsa (both of which got great reviews) but the sandwiches were the highlight, and James deserves all the credit for that. I was skittish about trying to make a Primanti Brothers sandwich. I thought we were toying with forces we didn't fully understand. But James talked me into it, and it was the right call.

And one more thing: six is more than five!