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The Crank File

Saturday, January 24, 2009

3:59PM - AP ANALYSIS: Media, Experts fellate 44th President: Nation hails break from 'disasterous' Bush years

OK, the headline is not actually from the Onion, but James Taranto writing in the Wall Street Journal OpinionJournal's "Best of the Web" column regularly runs a feature he called "Life Imitates the Onion."

Reading through this AP "analysis," the headline could easily be changed to my suggestion.

I can't really blame the media, embodied here as straight news story, naturally, as lately I've found myself slipping during prayers to God. Subconsciously -- I guess -- I see the comforting and post-partisan face of our 44th President when I should be trying to focus on God.

"Save us Barrack Obama, you're the only one who can help."

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

10:17PM - P.S. Go sharks!

That is all.

10:10PM - I, for one...

...welcome our new socialist overlords.

One silver lining, as I wrote 4 years ago thinking about a Kerry victory, was that maybe the Daily Show will be watchable by righties.

At this point, if we can keep Al Franken out of the Senate, I'll feel quite happy.

I am also beyond relieved that this election is OVER. I was seriously losing my mind watching wall-to-wall campaign ads for the last 6 weeks on television.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

11:09PM - Ramones onesie

So bought the sprog a Ramones onesie. For $20. Yay!

9:47PM - Windows Home Server

Have you heard about Windows Home Server? It's a stripped down Windows 2003 Server for the home. Why would you want a server in your house? How about automatic nightly backups? How about bare-metal restore capabilities? Dead simple remote access to any client from the Interwebs? How about automatic RAID configuration and hardware problem alerting? WHS can also share all of the digital media you load on it to an Xbox 360 or Windows XP Media Center PC.

Backups are one of those things that very few home networks implement, but almost all of them want sooner or later, whether they lose data/files because of hardware failure, theft, user error, or some kind of disaster (fire, earthquake, tornado, Republican National Convention, hurricane, etc.) Home Server makes it dead simple to configure backups in a home network of desktop systems.

The Home Server itself can be backed up offsite through a number of inexpensive network backup services or you can plug in a USB 2.0 hard drive and configure backups of the server there. And there are a bunch of commercial and "community" developed Home Server "Add-Ins" which extend the server's capabilities.

When Home Server was first released last November, there was a problem with multiple-disk configurations and data corruption. But since Power Pack 1 was released a week or two ago, that problem's been fixed. The other big barrier to putting a Home Server in my home was no x64 Vista support. Power Pack 1 also included a "beta quality" connector for x64 Vista. I have it running on 2 XP Pro SP3, 1 Vista Home Premium (x32), and 1 XP Home SP3 systems. I am also slowly migrating the home directory files from my 2 OS X systems (1 iMac G5, 1 Mac Book Pro) onto the fileshares of the Home Server box.

So what makes Home Server better than a NAS or a cheap Linux server running Samba? Well, block level NTFS backup for one - the backup job only saves the changed disk sectors from the last backup. That makes backup storage on the server and network backup speed very quick - and a lot more reliable than trying to fight with Samba and Windows clients for mount points and scripted backup jobs from the notoriously unreliable Windows Task Scheduler.

I bought the following rig for Windows Home Server from NewEgg for about $430.

  • MSI barebones (incl. case, PS, motherboard)
  • 1.5GB DDR2 RAM
  • 2 x 500GB Samsung SATA disks (in RAID 1)
  • AMD Athlon 64+ 4000
  • Windows Home Server OEM kit
If you're not a "do it yourself" kinda gal or guy, HP sells a pre-built Home Server for $400 or $600 depending on if you want 1 disk or 2.

What do I wish Home Server had that it doesn't include yet? I wish it had some limited Active Directory capabilities - I would love to have single sign on and roaming desktop profiles, so I get the same desktop when I login at my desktop system as from my dual boot Mac Book Pro. I wish it had some limited Group Policy ability too. That would be especially handy for the day when I need to start locking down our PCs with parental controls.

Even so, I'm sure that Home Server will get a refresh to Windows 2008 core technologies sometime - maybe in 2009 - and when it does, maybe some of these features will be included then.

9:38PM - Free power saving software for your PC

Computer power management software company Verdiem is offering a copy of "Edison" -- a consumer version of its industrial data center strength power management software -- for free download.

It runs on Windows XP SP2 (or later), and Windows Vista. (I don't know if x64 is supported or not.) According to the story in the Mercury News, it can cut carbon emissions, but for the more money-motivated among us (*cough* get away from me, you dirty hippie), it helps you save on your monthly power bills.

I guess if you have a Mac, you can continue to guzzle the electrons. No soup for you! Back of the bus, you Jobs-worshipping freaks.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

3:22PM - Official "Regisitered" iPhone application developer

I finally got an email from Apple last night offering me the activation code to get a digital certificate to develop iPhone applications.

I have a ton of different ideas for apps I'd like to write but the two I wanted to share today are:

  • Dice roller
    "I have dice."
    In the undying words of everyone's favorite D&D'er - and I'm sure much to the shuddering horror of forkmonkey, I'm planning to learn how to write iPhone apps by writing an application that'll roll dice and calculate the result of the dice rolls.

    It's a simple idea, but it could be made more complex and interesting by letting users assign "contexts" to the dice rolls. For example, you could create an add-on that allows a user to define various dice rolls for 4th edition Dungeons and Dragons (which I just started reading).

  • Baseball scoring
    I've long wanted a computerized and convenient way to score baseball games I'm watching at home or in person. The Big Idea is that every half inning your scoring summary would be posted on the web (if you wanted) in RSS and Retrosheet format. The phone app would keep up-to-date stats on offense, pitching and defensive play and could download current-stats, players and recent batting lineups from the Interwebs.
I'm pretty excited about it.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

7:50PM - Pork ribs

Nom nom nom

I smoked 10 pounds of pork spare ribs for about 6 hours tonight. Yummah. There's plenty of leftovers too. Too bad none of you schmucks live anywhere near me.

Monday, June 16, 2008

12:43AM - The Decline and Fall of Battlestar Galactica

After Razor I had high hopes for the conclusion of this television series, which in the first season was arguably one of the best episodic dramas in television history. I started having some serious twinges of doubt where season 4 was headed from the first "regular" episode of season 4.

Some spoilers coming up after the cut.
Read more...Collapse )

Sunday, April 27, 2008

10:19PM - Attention San Jose Sharks

I've already seen this playoff series before. Last year.

Try not to suck so much in Dallas.

Love,

Mark

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

2:48PM - Successfully participated in content strike

Take that evil corporate overlords!

Just to prove I'm serious this time, I won't be posting or reading LJ again for six months.

You bastards won't even know what hit you.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

1:34PM - Happy birthday to my lovely wife

She's celebrating her 29th birthday today.

Send her greetz at mrsshoelover -at- livejournal -dot- com

Thanks!

Sunday, January 27, 2008

7:59PM - Cruise report: Persons with diapers not permitted in pools

[[ We just returned from 7 days on the Crown Princess. This is the text I submitted to cruisecritic.com about our trip. I have come up with a general theory of cruises: anything which costs additional to the cruise room-fare itself no one wants to do. Photos to follow soon. ]]

My wife and I have never cruised before, and it is not terribly likely that we'll cruise again soon. This method of travel was mostly irksome to both of us - we vastly prefer to get away from "touristy crap" and on Princess it seems like it's a nearly perfected marketing machine from start to finish chock-a-block full of touristy crap from the charmingly cheese-tastic to the horribly tacky.

I should mention too that this cruise was paid for by my parents - it was a cruise for our whole family (there were 6 of us in all - mom, dad, sister, her boyfriend, me and my wife), which is an awesome idea and something we've often talked about doing, but never really tried to do before now. My mother especially is in love with the Crown Princess - I don't think there's any good rational reason for her affection except for a cunning sales job by her travel agent - I suspect there's got to be some kind of booking kickback and no doubt she made a mint from this booking for the 6 of us.

If it hadn't been for my parents making all the arrangements (yes, they paid, they make the rules. That's how it works, usually. :-) my wife and I would have definitely given serious consideration to booking everything on our own from flight arrangements to and from Puerto Rico as well as the shore excursions and tours.

All of that aside - and not wanting to look a somewhat extravagant gift horse in the mouth - I'd like to start with all of the positives that we enjoyed during this cruise.

1) Our room steward was awesome. Pol was his name; he's from the Phillipines. He said he was going to rotate onto a Scandanavian cruise ship in a few months, so you may miss out if you book on Crown Princess after March 08. My parent's room was 5 cabins down from ours, so Pol was their steward too; they loved him. My sister's steward was not as good, she told me, but I don't know his name.

2) Both my wife and I very much enjoyed having a balcony. We often had morning coffee and a roll before starting our day. This was pretty nice.

3) We both purchased the "unlimited soda" plan for $27/each which covers unlimited soft drinks from bar service. Cans and bottled water are NOT included.

4) The Crown Grill was the best dining experience on the entire ship. It was certainly by far the best dinner we ate on board the ship. (More about the food later). Suffice to say that the $25 cover is worth it. Service in the Grill was also *outstanding* - just excellent. Certainly in line with the best restaurants we've eaten at. (More about the wait staff later as well... sadly, most of it is very negative.)

5) All of the musicians I heard on board from the jazz trio playing the Wheelhouse Bar to the string quartet in the Piazza were quite talented. I also enjoyed the Big Band "Princess Orchestra" but I know that's kind of an anachronism for someone who's 33. My parents, my wife and I were in Club Fusion for kareoke and the crowd was pretty young. As soon as it was over, the big band started up and the young crowd cleared out and the silver hair set came in, fresh from the first dinner seating. I love how old people all seem to know how to ballroom dance. Some of them were quite good, fun to watch, actually.

6) I liked the pain aux chocolat, but most of the other pastry was grocery store quality.

7) The "adult only" areas are *definitely* the way to go - most of the other areas were too loud, too crowded and just plain not relaxing. I suppose there's only so many sunburned fat old men in speedos that you can tolerate before you really want to find a good alternative.

We discovered The Sanctuary on Day 4 of our 7 day cruise. We spent our entire "at-sea" day there. It's marvelous - highly recommended. Really, the only way the area could be better was if it contained its own private pool and hot tub. Also, the Terrace Pool was at the aft end of the passageway on our cabin deck, it was also adult only and had a 24 hour bar - we spent a lot of time there. I especially enjoyed going for a swim just before sunset and watching the sun go down over a cocktail. The only disturbing truly thing about the pools were several signs which contained the sentence this review is headlined with. Apparently there is a serious issue with diapered people (not babies either!!) using the pools.

Now on to the negatives:

I didn't know anything about cruising before we went on this voyage. I didn't even think to check the Internet for a cruise rating website like this one until we were already on board the ship. I'm sort of glad I didn't, or I may have been even more disappointed. Just browsing through the reviews of this ship and our itinerary, some are very high and some are focused on a specific deficiency in service or dining. I think now that cruising as a vacation just really isn't for my wife and I. Next time we go to the Carribean, I think it's much more likely we will choose a single island, a place to stay (like St. Kitts' Rawlins Plantation Inn) and that will be that.

I guess overall, I'd say we were both disappointed with many of the ship's food experiences. The dining rooms have the trappings of fine dining, but the most charitable and accurate way to characterize the cuisine is to say that the menu promises much more than is delivered. Perhaps it is just that my wife and I are spoiled by too many authentic fine dining restaurant meals - and I should mention too that my sister's boyfriend is a sous chef at an Italian restaurant in Kansas City - none of us were terribly impressed with many of the entrees - many were cold, too salty, overcooked, not seasoned properly, etc. The starters/small plates by and large were fairly good. The rolls and breads were good. The butter on the ship is French and quite good. Dessert was also sadly disappointing in many cases. It was obvious that much of the ship-board food had been pre-made and reheated, or frozen and thawed. One dessert my wife ordered with great anticipation was the "semi-frozen cookies and cream" which actually tasted freezer burnt (just like ice cream that has been in and out of the freezer too much -- crystalline, icy and unpleasant tasting.) Overall, I'd say the seafood entrees were the the least offensive and best prepared, at least from the entrees that were sampled at our dinner table.

We had some of the surliest waiters I've ever encountered. One was Romanian - he rolled his eyes at our table three times during dinner when asked simple and unoffensive questions. I had to basically talk my sister into rejoining us for table service dinner for the rest of the cruise. It was appalling - I think this "automatic tipping" really hurts the service quality overall. Think about the pool of tips that are available. There were 3100 passengers, each paying 10.50 per day per person. That's over $220,000 per cruise in the "tip pool" and there are 1200 crew (not all of whom share in the pool) which averages to $27 in tips per day per crew member whether they generally deserve it or not. In my opinion, there were a couple of waiters who would've not only NOT been tipped had been in a real restaurant I would've made sure the manager knew how horrible our service was. As it was, the head waiter didn't seem to care too much. Even complaining at the purser's desk was next-to-ineffective. This is BY FAR the most unforgivable experience throughout the week - during our "passenger survey" we made sure to elaborate on how poor the service given had been. My advice: remove the "discretionary" hotel charge from your bills and pay the waiters in cash directly as you find good ones. Then try to request them in the future.

I'm really into "slow food" and "eating local ingredients" so I was really disappointed that the cruise line couldn't be bothered enough to feature fresh local ingredients from each of our stops. I realized a bit later that most cruisers probably *don't* want this experience - they want to eat cheeseburgers and fries - leave all the "scary unknown" food to those poor islanders. Lunch ashore was usually a hundred times more interesting and a thousand times more enjoyable.

Outside of dinner time, we sometimes went to table service for breakfast and lunch, but after a couple of inedible breakfasts (including one of the most disgusting eggs benedicts I've ever tasted in my life - I don't know what kind of sauce was on this plate, but it was not hollandaise!) we started grabbing fresh fruit, a couple slices of toast and fruit juice at the buffet in the mornings, eating lunch ashore, or grabbing pizza (which I liked - the crust was gotham-style thin and I thought quite tasty - but my wife didn't care for the tomato sauce at all - she would have hot dogs from the pool side grill.)

Shore excursions are very very expensive if you book them through the cruise desk. In general they're at least twice as expensive if you book them yourself or go ashore and make your own arrangements. In Grenada, for example, my wife and I hired a taxi for a private tour around the island at $15 a head - $30 in total. We proceeded to spend the next 5 hours seeing most of the southern part of the island at our pace and with our extremely entertaining and knowledgable tour guide/driver Eustace.

Another example. In Aruba, I booked the "Harleys in Paradise" bike rental/guided tour for $349. There's a Harley dealership on Aruba that books full-day rentals for $163 which includes a half-day guided tour, half-day on your own. (In Aruba, by the way, traffic obeys U.S. traffic laws by and large. This was a good thing; I didn't want to try and learn how to properly brake and shift with UK motorcycle controls.)

Additionally, we were told that due to "Port Congestion" our scheduled call to Bonaire had been cancelled and replaced with a trip to Isla Margarita, Venezuela. I think nearly everyone on board was disappointed by this change - it was really the only shore excursion my wife and I had planned to do together. Perhaps in the future, we will have the chance to visit this island.

In conclusion, it was wonderful to spend a lot of time with my family members and I loved many of the islands we visited. I just wish the food was better, the service staff was significantly better and that the marketing efforts to sell you stuff on the ship weren't so over-the-top pervasive.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

1:41PM - Need a job

I am in sudden need of a new job.

My current resume is at http://markallen.emurse.com

LinkedIn: http://www.linkedin.com/in/markrallen

Mostly looking for perl, PHP or something LAMP-ish - will develop, manage, architect, etc.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

11:39PM - This is for multiplexer

Retro soda pop has been In Vogue now for a while -- which makes me think about how PBR was Shit Beer(tm) and then Hipster(tm) and then marginally respectable -- I presume the current fad of retro soda will follow a similar trajectory.

So for example Faygo - a brand mostly notable for its profound availability in MEGA 3 liter sized tubs'o'high fructose corn syrup is now being sold in glass bottles for one dollar a bottle. Used to be you could get 2 3-liter bottles for a dollar. Eventually at some point in the future, Faygo will be back in its uncool 3 liter bottle packaging, but whoever owns the trademark rights should enjoy his windfall while it lasts.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

2:31AM - Ever notice...

...that the more caught up on blogs you are, the less "real" work you do?

I'm just sayin'.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

10:24PM - Chompcast #3: Free Agency Shuffle

We will be talking about the San Jose Sharks during the first few weeks of free agency, Monday July 23rd, 2007 at 10:00 pm Central, 8pm Pacific

You can join the recording live, if you like. Check it out here:

http://www.talkshoe.com/talkshoe/web/talkCast.jsp?masterId=29845&cmd=tc

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