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Leo's Journal

Monday, March 16, 2009


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Thursday, February 19, 2009

4:33PM - Does 3 stars mean I liked it?

I've been using Goodreads to keep track of books I read, and rate/review them, and the following question came up: I use the rating system based on the tooltip information:
* : didn't like it
**: it was ok
***: liked it
****: really liked it
*****: it was amazing

So I've been giving books that I liked, but not really liked 3 stars. But then in a conversation that I had in the car with my wife and sister I found that both of them interpreted my 3 star ratings on the 1-5 star scale as saying the book was meh, average. I tried to explain that if it was meh, I would have given it 2 stars, as per tooltips, but don't think I changed any minds.

What do oh you multitudes of readers of this blog think: Should 3 stars out of 5 mean average, as people seem to expect, or should I actually listen to the rating system as designed and use it to mean "liked it"?

Friday, September 5, 2008

11:28AM - Ending the Google Chrome experiment

I've been playing around with Google Chrome since it was released a few days ago, and now I'm switching back to Firefox. Here's what I found.

I really like some ideas in Chrome. It looks very nice and does give a nice amount of space to the web pages. Javascript does appear to be very fast. And I love the Task Manager that shows you what the various tabs are doing. But...

One of the reasons why I wanted to try it is that with Firefox, when I have a bunch of tabs open for a long time, eventually it seems to take up all the CPU (well 50%, but it's hyperthreaded, so same thing). Closing the correct tab seems to help, but figuring out which one that is isn't easy. I thought with the "each tab its own process" and the process manager, I'd be able to easily identify misbehaving tabs.

And indeed I ran into a very similar problem in Chrome when I started seriously using it. However, opening up the task manager was no help at all - it indicated that the flash plugin - which has just one line in the task manager - is the one that's taking up the CPU. But that doesn't help me at all - any tab could be using the flash. In fact the fact that there's just a single flash plugin indicates exactly the kind of problem that they were trying to fix when doing the whole "one tab one process" thing.

And the fact that Google Chrome doesn't have my Adblock extension means that most websites actually load slower, and often behave much more obnoxiously than they do in Firefox.

For example, a bunch of my daily webcomics which I open in new tabs so that I can go to the new tab and immediately see the comic without waiting for it to load, when they detect that I've actually opened the page they seem  to try to make a connection to some ad site to download some ad and thus cause the page to disappear.

The other annoying thing is that in Firefox I was able to make it so that when I open pages in new tabs, they don't get focus. While the same thing is true of ctrl-clicking links in Chrome, it isn't true when you use "v" from Google Reader or type a new url into the address bar.

On the whole, since it doesn't solve the "bad tab" problem for me, I'm going to Firefox :).

Now I wonder whether there's a fix that will make flash more tractable.

Monday, August 25, 2008

9:01PM - Sharon Music Academy ad

The school where my kids take piano lessons filmed a commercial to be shown on local TV. They also uploaded it to YouTube:

Julia is the last girl who says the shpiel and Gregory can be seen playing piano with her just before her speech.

They even filmed me, but didn't use me for the final cut :).

<Edited to fix the youtube link since the video was modified a little... If they change it again, chances are searching for "Sharon Music Academy" will find it>

Friday, August 22, 2008

12:05PM - GPS gripes

Having posted about my satisfaction with one electronic device, I want to now post to complain about my dissatisfaction with another:

A few years ago I got a Garmin Nuvi GPS. In general I've been very happy with the GPS, but now having seen a Tomtom one that my sister-in-law got, I have severe GPS envy.

1. It takes the GPS awhile to determine where it is after first being turned on. That's fine. I understand that. However, if I ask it how to get somewhere, the least it can do is to show me how to get there, assuming I'm still where I last was.

Let's say that I drove to a hotel using the GPS, and then stayed overnight there. In the morning, I turn on the GPS and say I want to go to a particular address. It says "Acquiring Satellite". Until it finishes acquiring Satellites, it won't tell me anything about how to go anywhere even though it knows perfectly well that I am at the hotel (and in fact is showing my last known location blinking on the screen). Then it will invariably show "awaiting better reception" - where it shows already which street I'm on - so tell me how to drive to where I'm going assuming the location you got is accurate. I don't care that you don't know within 1 meter where exactly I am - you know enough to show me the map, so show me where to go. Then clarify later as you discover where exactly I am.

The Tomtom shows the directions right away, but in gray so you know that it doesn't know for sure I'm where I am - so if I'm really not there, I can ignore the directions, but if I am where I last was (95% case), I'll at least know which direction to head.

2. It tells me what time I'm going to get where I'm going, but not what time it is right now. OK, so I do have a watch and my car has a clock, but it is just frustrating that it won't tell me what time it is right there.

3. When I travel somewhere with it, it should adjust the time zone automatically (or at least give me an option to make it adjust the time zone automatically). It obviously knows that I'm in Las Vegas or whatever - it's GPS. Why can't it also know what time zone to set it to. I wouldn't complain so much about this except that finding the time zone adjustment settings requires going through the menus to a completely unexpected place - it's not in the settings anywhere, but instead you have to go to the travel toolkit / world clock. I don't know whether Tomtom does this better

4. It's lately been complaining that my maps are out of date and I should buy new ones. Yes buy. They want me to pay $70 for new maps. I think this is entirely unreasonable considering the availability of free maps on the internet and that I've already paid for their maps once. Tomtom appears to have a database online where you can submit map changes and download other people's submissions.

Obviously this is in part a "grass is greener on the other side" post - I'm sure there are annoyances with Tomtom as well that I don't know because I haven't really used it. But the above are what's annoying me about mine right now :).

12:01PM - Good Devices

I posted earlier about Logitech Harmony support - and recently I had another amazing experience.

After playing around with my settings on the remote, I found that it wasn't controlling my DVR properly any more - the DVR was reacting to commands to often. After looking for the solution, and finding that the proposed troubleshooting step didn't work, I called support.

The wait times were pretty high, but once I got through the support was very helpful. They tried to fix a few things, and then said that it looks like a problem on their end that would likely be fixed in a few days (in fact it did get fixed in a few days).

Meanwhile, I mentioned a problem I'd been having for awhile with the cradle for the remote - the contacts didn't line up quite right and I had to use a rubber band to hold it down so it would charge. The guy was immediately apologetic and mentioned that they released a cradle that fixed the problem and that he'd file a warranty request for me.

A few days later I got an email from the warranty department, notifying me that my remote was out of warranty (makes sense, I got it a few years back), but they chose to honor my warranty claim anyway.

A few days later I got a brand new remote with a cradle for free.

Now that's what I call customer service.

11:56AM - GoodReads

I stopped posting book reviews on here because I started instead keeping track of books I read in GoodReads (www.goodreads.com).

Monday, March 31, 2008

4:35PM - books

more books:
Infected by Scott Sigler
I read it because of the post on the Whatever (http://scalzi.com/whatever/?p=555)... I'm definitely not a fan of horror - it's probably the first solidly horror book that I've read. Given that I don't particularly like the genre, I actually liked the book quite a bit. It was gripping and kept me going throughout.

The Outlaw Demon Wails by Kim Harrison
Another Hollows book. I've read the whole series and really enjoy them. I liked this one better than the last one - very exciting developments. Can't wait to read the next book (which is clearly coming - no clean ending here, just like there wasn't a clean ending to any of the others as far as I remember :) ).

I went on another SFBC buying spree since they had a nice sale again. And of course they sent me an email soon after with the same deal (buy 2 get 1 free), except also take 10% off the whole offer. But now I've cleared my wishlist. Oh well. The new Kim Harrison book was the first from that spree, awaiting 5 books by Elizabeth Moon, the remaining Edgar Rice Burroughs Barsoom books and the Galactic Empires anthology edited by Gardner Dozois.

Will probably take awhile to read all that :).

Thursday, March 20, 2008

4:14PM - harmony remote grumble

Forgot to mention in my earlier glowing post - one thing that I do absolutely hate about the Logitech remote software is the following:

When it starts up, it displays a dialog box with the following information and three choices (reproduced from memory):
Would you like to check for updates:
-- Yes and don't prompt me next time
-- Yes and do prompt me next time
-- No and the software will close

What the heck! Why can't I just skip the check and still open the software? That's really obnoxious. Of course I'm the kind of person who likes to know what his software is doing, so I always masochistically select the "yes and do prompt me next time" just so as to be annoyed with it again the next time.

3:44PM - Harmony Remote surprise

I really like my Logitech Harmony 880 Universal Remote. It is easy to use, easy to program and controls all my devices really nicely. And I got a very pleasant surprise yesterday.

I've been running into a problem with the remote not switching inputs on my new TV correctly. The TV switches inputs using the original remote as follows: There is a single "INPUT" button. When pushed the first time, the button displays a menu of inputs and then pushing it rapidly you move through the menu of inputs to select the one you want. I have 6 inputs hooked up to the TV.

I told the remote about this - the programming software (you hook up the remote to your computer via USB to program it) has 4 options for how inputs are controlled - I picked the closest one, which was: "you push one button on your remote to open up an inputs menu, another button to select from it and a third to close the menu and confirm selections". Then I told it that for both opening up the menu and selecting from it I want to use the "InputNext" command, and I don't want any command to confirm.

At first, this didn't work at all - the input menu would come up, disappear, then come up, then disappear again. I figured that what was happening was that the delay between successive "InputNext" commands was too long and so the menu disappeared before they were registered. So I fiddled with delays a bunch but I could never get it to work right.

Finally I called up the tech support yesterday and they were really amazing:
a. they were not flustered by the fact that when asked what the problem was I spouted the whole story about my setup and delays etc etc and immediately went straight to the point and
b. reprogrammed the remote so that the inputs are using a different method: basically it turns out that the remote actually knew exactly how to go straight to the correct input. There is another option for how you select inputs: "your remote has a separate button for each individual input source - pushing the button goes straight to the source". Apparently my tv actually has a remote command to go straight to each source. And the Harmony remote can just send that command.

This is really amazing to me - the remote actually works for this significantly better than the original tv remote did. In the original, if I want to go from my cable box to my ps3, I have to hit the input button and then hit it again 5 times. With the universal remote, I can just push the one button and it goes straight to the correct input.


3:06PM - recently read

Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain
The book came highly recommended by our foodie friends and it disappointed me a bit - always dangerous to come into a book or a movie with high expectations.

It was OK I guess, but nothing particularly exciting / memorable for me. I felt more like it was a disconnected sequence of essays and less like a story with actual character growth.

Spin by Robert Charles Wilson
(downloaded for free via the Tor promotion)
I had high expectations for this one too, since it won a Hugo for Best Novel. This one did mostly meet the expectations however. I enjoyed it quite a bit - it's a very fun take on the future. I'll try to keep this spoilerfree - but it will be a bit of a challenge. In the book, our planet is transformed in a rather fundamental way, and I particularly enjoyed a clever idea that a character came up with to utilize one of the basic features of the transformation to come up with a creative way to solve the problems. If I had thought about it I might have been able to figure out this idea, but I didn't and it was so obvious in retrospect. (The idea had to do with Mars :) ).

Thursday, February 21, 2008


Haven't been reading for a while (or just not posting about it? no, I think really not reading much fiction), having worked my way through the latest SFBC shipment.  But just read two books inspired by Scalzi's blog:
Singularity's Ring by Paul Melko
Overall I quite liked it. I had read the short story that forms a small part of this book in some collection earlier and quite liked that too - it's nice to learn more about the characters.

There were some things about the book that I really enjoyed a lot - the world is very interesting and the characters are quite affecting and interesting. The plot drive was quite strong (I stayed up till 2:30 last night being unable to put it down :) ). Very thought-provoking future and various highly nifty things (the key one is probably that the protagonist of the book is composed of 5 humans who function as a single unit).

I did have a few problems with the book - some places I felt could have been edited a bit better (particularly a too-long-for-my-taste description of a certain incident in space - just a few too many claws and cables in it).  The ending was very strong too.

by Connie Willis
Highly enjoyable. I have read a bunch of Heinlein's YA and this one is a direct and unashamed homage. A lot of fun, the story flies off the page straight into the brain. The story and the twist is really quite simple and predictable but that's really not the point, it's just fun to read.

My only problem with the book is that it's *very* short - it's all of 70 pages. It's exactly the kind of story that would nicely belong in one of my SFBC collections, like Strahan's short novella collection. And in fact I now looked and it was published in a collection like that originally.
I bought this as a special deal from Subterranean for half-price, but it was still a bit expensive for what I got, but I can't begrudge Connie Willis anything as I really love her writing.

Monday, January 28, 2008


We got a new TV last week and I was hoping to be able to watch HD TV - unfortunately my plans have hit a slight snag, and its name is DirecTV :).

I've actually been pretty happy with DirecTV over the last 2 years - it's been working fine for me - the last and only outage we had was when a bunch of snow collected on the dish a few weeks ago and we didn't have any reception for a day. Back when we had cable we also had some outages, so it's not really a factor.

So anyhow - I schedule an appointment for Saturday noon-four for the directv installer to come, upgrade our satellite dish to the 5-satellite dish you need to receive HD and install a new HD DVR to replace our existing non-HD one.

On Saturday, I wait with bated breath, unable to leave the house. At 4pm, the installer shows up and says that he can't do the installation today because his drill doesn't work (!). After a bit of a discussion where I was saying that I don't really see how it's my problem that he shows up without a working drill, he says that he'll go see if he can track down someone who can give him a battery that would work with his drill.

About an hour later, he shows up and says that because there's snow on the lower roof (we have a split roof - a lower roof and a higher roof), he won't be able to send the cable down the way the current cable is going (because it's too dangerous for him to climb on the lower roof) and will need to send it down the front of the house and whether that's ok. So I discuss it with Karen and we decide that the front of the house is fine, at which point (I guess I actually knew it earlier, not sure exact sequence of events on this point) we figure out that actually he still doesn't have a battery anyway. So he leaves.

I spend a while bouncing on the phone between different people and eventually manage to get approval to have another installer come out on Sunday 8-noon.

On Sunday, I was a bit nervous because it was snowing some, and I was worried they wouldn't be able to work on the dish in the snow. The installer showed up and told me that we didn't have line-of-sight to all the 5 satellites that the dish needs to be able to see and so he won't be able to install it. Within the next 72 hours a supervisor would drive by and then let us know whether he agrees that we have a line-of-sight issue and then we'd be discussing putting a pole with a dish.

After he left I got to thinking and realized that it really didn't sound like it was going to happen in time for the SuperBowl next Sunday and that I'd really like to just have HD TV already. So I called up Comcast to see how good a deal they could get me - and they got me a sufficiently good deal that I scheduled an installation.

I'll also be trying out the DVR with Tivo thing that they are offering since I'm not really happy with what I've seen of their own DVR interface.

We'll see what happens.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008


Happy New Year everyone!

Holiday Newsletter
if anyone is interested.

Monday, December 17, 2007


Just finished: Under the Moons of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs, a SFBC omnibus collecting "A Princess of Mars", "The Gods of Mars" and "The Warlord of Mars".

It was sort of funny to read the books - they are filled with cliches, but of course they weren't cliches when they were written (1912-1914) (by the way, how could there not be a copyright notation in the book to let me know when the subbooks were published? I had to dig into the introduction to figure out the dates).

There are a lot of clever fantastic ideas in the books and the pacing is very smooth. There is a rollicking adventure following rollicking adventure. It's actually sort of funny how much the books reminded me of "Eye of Argon", except not written so badly. The characters are quite two-dimensional - you always know where you stand with them. This is not wholly a good thing :).

Anyhow - definitely a fun read, and good to see where the fantasy genre originated from.

Friday, December 14, 2007


I've been lax in posting about books I've read recently - I blame it on vacation. I'll just quickly sum up.

SFBC omnibus "Timelike Diplomacy" (containing "Singularity Sky" and "Iron Sunrise") by Charles Stross. Also, "Halting State" by Charles Stross.

I really enjoyed all three - great fun, heartily recommended.

The Year's Best Science Fiction: Twenty-Fourth Annual Collection (Year's Best Science Fiction) by Gardner Dozois (Editor)

A fantastic collection. I really enjoyed pretty much all the stories in it. I thought it was stronger than some of the previous years' collections (though I always enjoy those). I'm really glad I bought it even though it overlapped with some other collections I bought/read this year.

"The Number of the Beast" by Robert Heinlein
fun. Not my favorite Heinlein, but quite enjoyable. It has an absolutely amazing number of references back to various other books, a lot of which I haven't read. I am now in the midst of reading the first books of the Edgar Rice Burroughs' "Mars" series and I really should have read these first since there are lots of references to them in the Heinlein.

Oh yeah - also read "Empire of Ivory" by Naomi Novik - the fourth Temeraire book. I didn't enjoy it as much as the previous ones - I felt like a lot of the emotional impact that the previous stories had was missing here. I did really enjoy the final subplot (the one involving travel to France). That was awesome. But everything in Africa I thought was pretty blah. Still good but not as good as the previous books. And Temeraire really didn't get to use his special abilities enough.

I think that's all that I was missing.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

12:07PM - Google Maps Fixing Addresses

Google Maps just added an awesome new feature
Basically, now when a Google Search for an address returns the wrong place, you can fix it. For example, my own address was always coming back as if we were at the very beginning of our street where really we are more like halfway down. But now I've fixed it - if you are logged in with your Google Account, you can just click Edit and move the marker to where the address really is. I've fixed my work too.

What a fantastic idea - let all the people out there fix the map information :).

Monday, November 19, 2007

2:25PM - The Time Quartet by Madeleine L'Engle

Just finished reading the omnibus version of the Time Quartet from Madeleine L'Engle: A Wrinkle in Time, A Wind in the Door, A Swiftly Tilting Planet, Many Waters.

I love these many-in-one editions from SFBC. It's so much nicer to have little books like that packaged together than having to get them all separately.

I have mixed feelings about the books - They *were* sort of fun to read, on the other hand I felt like the characters were a bit two-dimensional. I kept wanting more character development. Having slightly more interesting "bad guys" would have been better too (for books which have bad guys).

I also did read "The Sagan Diaries" online. I was a bit disappointed (though I somewhat expected to be, given what I knew beforehand about the book). There was not enough action for me *shrug* - to each his own. Possibly the experience of reading it online also made it easier to skim parts instead of reading them more carefully. I'm a huge fan of Scalzi's, but this one left me quite cold.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

11:40PM - Guitar Hero III on Medium

Just finished Guitar Hero III career mode on medium. some thoughts.

I thought the song selection was a little weak. As usual, there were a few songs I really enjoyed, but most of the songs I didn't know and a lot didn't like that much.

I like the new interface. The new Tutorials are better than the old ones (I always go through the tutorials in the hopes of learning something new :) ). I like the new easier Hammer-ons and Pull-offs, I'm finally getting them now.  I enjoy the battle mode, it's cute.

However, what really makes the game is the ending. That was just fantastic - such a rush. It was really challenging on Medium, I can't believe what it will be like on Hard or Expert. And the final song in the credits is amazing too. I just can't get over how cool that ending was. Part of it is that I actually know and like that song, but it's just so awesome.

I guess I'll start over on Hard now that all the songs are unlocked for quickplay :).

Saturday, November 10, 2007

8:15PM - The Backwash Squeeze

Just finished "The Backwash Squeeze & Other Improbable Feats. A Newcomer's Journey into the World of Bridge" by Edward McPherson.

Karen saw it on a shelf in the library and picked it up for me. Overall I guess I liked it - there wasn't enough bridge for my tastes, but it wasn't really supposed to have that much. The book is mostly about the author's travels through the world of bridge. It contains a nice overview of the different games available and the author interviews a lot of people. It's quite interesting to read his interviews with bridge luminaries and by the time he goes on to discuss his experience at the Chicago NABC 2006, I was getting into it.

The main problem I have with the book is that it overwhelmingly portrays bridge players as grumps. In my experience, most players are very nice. I've seen a few grumps around, but they are by far the exception rather than the rule.

For example, today I played in the Mansfield Regional tournament - just played in the side game event. We played 8 rounds and made the boards with the 9th pair. Of all 9 pairs, I'd say that there was only one that was a bit rude (and mostly to each other). That was actually pretty funny - the woman made a critical mistake at trick 12 - this is where she had just two cards in her hand, was on lead and if she leads the right card, she sets my contract, instead she led the wrong card and I made it. As soon as I made it, she started screaming at her partner for making a bad opening lead. I guess she was steaming the entire hand once she realized he led from a doubleton not a singleton and thereafter wasn't paying enough attention. Anyhow everyone else were all very nice.

Anyhow - fun read.

Now where are my SFBC books?

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