Archive for September, 2008

Pork Brains in Milk Gravy

Mmmm….pork brains.

Mmmm….1170% of your daily cholesterol.

“Satisfaction Guaranteed”.  Really?

(thanks for the link, Bill!)


Vista “Chump” Behavior

It’s obnoxious to me when any product nags me “post install” to provide additional information, join a survey, download a silly app, install something I don’t care about, and so forth.  Some companies seem to be worse than others.  In fact, fewer companies “nag” more than Adobe, but I digress.  I’m complaining about a Vista thing here….

You see, Vista would like you to participate in their “Windows Customer Experience Improvement Program”.  Whatever.  I don’t like being “nagged” with silly stuff like that, but I *really* don’t like it when “opting out” is made more difficult than it ought to be!  Someone from the Vista team thought it’d be cute to make it so that you can’t opt out until you select the option to opt in!  How clever.

Here’s how it works:

An icon in the systray says “Click me!  I’m fun!!”.  Well, kinda.  It doesn’t say that exactly.  When you click on it, however, you receive a box similar to the one below (red circle is mine).

You’ll notice that the “I don’t want to join…” option is selected by default.  Nice!  Except that the “OK” button to choose that option is grayed out and cannot be selected.  Only “Cancel”.  What’s a person to do?  What would your Mom do in this case?  How about Grandma?  They’d probably click “Cancel” for now, get pestered again, and eventually join the friggin’ thing just so it’d go away!

Microsoft wins.

However, if you select the option to “Join the Windows…Program”, guess what?  You can finally click the “OK” button!  What’d’ya know?!?!  You then have to select the “Join” option to unlock the “OK” button so that you can re-select the “I don’t want to join…” option and finally click “OK” again.

That’s chump behavior that really needs to stop.

Are you listening, Microsoft?

Welcome to the family.

Following in my tire tracks, if you will, my brother just purchased an older Saab similar to what I drive!  Very cool.  We’re going to have a “car maintenance afternoon” following church and lunch this Sunday!!

For whatever reason, I dig that.

Crazy looking cars, I know, but they’re fun!

Then I saw her face, now I’m a subscriber….

Sadly, that title was supposed to be clever, but it just came across as really creepy.  Sorry for that.

Anyhooo…… I’ve mentioned previously that I’ve been interested in the Zune Pass “subscription” model.  Others have offered similar services for a while now — Rhapsody, Yahoo! Music (now owned by Rhapsody), eMusic, Napster, and so forth.  Essentially, you pay a monthly fee and have access to nearly all of the music that the Zune marketplace offers!  I say “nearly all”, because there are the occasional albums, though rare, that aren’t available via that method.  This is usually decided by the label, not the music provider.  But I digress…

The real “gotcha” in the the subscription model, of course, is that you don’t own any of the music that you download.  If you stop paying the monthly fee, you lose the music.  In essence, you are “renting” the music, which was a big turn off to me for a long time.  On the plus side, however, is that for only $14.99/month — about the cost of a single CD — I have access to literally millions of songs and can download as many as I like.  Wanna grab the entire discography for Love & Rockets?  Do it.  Grab ’em all.  Want the latest from your favorite band? Click, download, and love it.  It’s really easy, and seriously opens up a whole new world of music.

After some thoughtful pondering *and* a good conversation with my buddy Ken (thanks, Ken!), I decided to take the plunge.  I plunked down my card and paid for 3-months of the Zune Pass.  Within the first few hours, I had downloaded 10 or more full-length albums and slapped them onto my Zune player.  Not only that, but my son — with his Zune 30 — has access to all of the same music for no additional money!  That’s pretty cool.  I’ve also been able to download “deluxe” versions of albums — such as The Cure “The Top” (remastered) — that would’ve really hacked me off to have to repurchase, since I already own the original version on CD.  I’m also pretty stingy about purchasing new albums, so I’ve really found myself *not* buying new music most of the time.  Unless you have access to free iTunes dollars or something *cough* Marcus *cough*, buying new albums all the time can cost a pretty penny.

Without belaboring the point, I’ve been really happy with this choice so far.  Will I be happy in a year when I’m (perhaps) considering “dropping” the subscription method?  Who knows.  Maybe it’ll never come to that.  In the meantime, I’m checking out a lot of new bands and albums, and enjoying every minute of it.

Zune 3.0 “software” mini-review

For those who care, the Zune 3.0 update was released earlier this week…. on my birthday, in fact!  It turned out to be a very nice extra birthday present, though it had the potential of *seriously* ruining my day, had the update bricked my Zune or deleted my entire library!  That didn’t happen, thankfully.  🙂

Here’s a quick review of the Zune 3.0 update and what I like/dislike so far…

You would expect that upon launching the Zune software, it would notify you that a “new update is available” and proceed from there.  I honestly don’t remember if that was the case or not at home, but on my work computer this morning I was not prompted to update.  Instead, I clicked on Settings > General and manually “Checked for updates”.  The update was found and I began the upgrade process.  Total time was about 10 minutes to upgrade.  My settings/options were preserved on both my home and work computers, with no “rediscovering” of my library or Zune devices necessary.  It was honestly quite seamless, though my home computer did require a reboot.  Most likely because of the multiple logins that we run at home.

Upon connecting my Zune device while the Zune software was running, I was informed that my device firmware needed to be updated.  The device itself restarts two times, I believe, and also takes approximately 10 minutes.  Both our Zune80 and Zune30 devices updated just fine.  No bricks here!

The Zune software doesn’t look that different, as you might expect, though I could tell that there was more going on.  The default background has a “digital/pixel” feel, which is cool, I guess.  I also noticed a type of ‘graphic eq visualization’ on the bottom of the Zune window — while music is playing, of course — that is pretty cool.  Not bars or waves, but rather a ‘glowing’ that swells with the music.  Nice!  Most noticeably, though, is that the software feels “faster” and more responsive.  Others have noted this as well, so I’m guessing that some effort was put into streamlining the Zune 3.0 software

One of the new “views” in the desktop software is called MixView, and it’s pretty cool.  Click on a friend, album, artist, or whatever, and you can choose the MixView option.  MixView creates a graphical display around the item you selected and shows related artists, friends, and albums.  It’s pretty cool, actually, and fun to look at.  I’d like to see how MixView grows in the future, as the current information is somewhat limited.

A new item on the marketplace menu is called Picks.  Basically, it gives you a display of albums, songs, artists and friends based upon your musical tastes — presumably derived from your music collection.  Nice to glance over from time to time, and a welcome addition.

(By the way, I’m not sure why “Barenaked Ladies” or “Metro Station” were recommended to me.)

How does one describe the “channels” feature?  How about “dynamic playlists that you subscribe to”?!  That pretty much sums it up.  Like KEXP?  Then subscribe to their channel where a list of 20 songs is chosen by them and changed out weekly, I presume.  Haven’t used channels yet, but I’d like to check it out.

The 3.0 version of the Zune software is a nice, evolutionary upgrade.  “Not ‘revolutionary'”, you ask?  No, and that’s just fine.  The Zune community has already gone through a major software upgrade with the jump from the 1.0 to the 2.0 version last year, but this is building upon the 2.0 foundation that was already laid.  Quite honestly, the Zune software feels powerful, snappy, stable, and is fun to use.  Moreover, the Zune Pass “subscription” model really makes the ‘Welcome To The Social’ moniker feel like a real thing.

I’ll follow up with my thoughts on the Zune 3.0 “device” update soon…

Happy Monday!

Came into work this morning, wiggled my mouse, and waited for the login screen to appear.

Nope.  Nadda.

After a few more attempts, I finally decided that my computer was “hung”, as they say, which would be extremely rare for my work machine.  Those things happen, I guess. Except that’s not what happened.  I held in the power button for about 4 seconds to force it off, but that didn’t work.  I eventually unplugged and re-plugged, but my PC would no longer boot.  Awesome!  And what a fun way to start a new week.

Anyhoo…. I unplugged the system, moved it over to my work bench, and started to “diagnose” as best I could.  I was getting NO power whatsoever, so I started with the power supply.  I had a similarly-spec’ed Lenovo box next to me, so I quickly yanked the power supply, plugged in just the *must have* power connectors on my desktop system, and attempted a power-up.  Nope.  It’s not that.

Next, I disconnected all non-essential devices and attempted to power-up once again.  In my case, this meant removing the add-on video card and disconnecting the (2) hard drives and DVD drive.  Attempt to power-up again, and….. VOILA!  Power.  Sweet power.

Since I’ve established that the PC is functional, it’s time to find the culprit here.  I put everything back in — in case this whole thing has been a fluke — and find that the system doesn’t boot again.  Then I remove devices one by one to see where it chokes.  Upon further troubleshooting, it seems that my system no longer appreciates the company of my PCI-Express video card.  I look more closely at the video card, and what do I find? …

(sorry for the blurry picture there)

I find three capacitors on my video card popped and blown like a Jiffy Pop pan!  Clearly, that won’t due.  So, I wait until I can replace that card with a new one.  In the meantime, I’m back to a single display at work — no extended desktop! — which is a real bummer.

All that said, I’m happy to have this mystery behind me.

[INSERT GAME] Xbox 360 “PURE” Demo Review

I’ll admit that I’m a sucker for driving games.  Not just any driving games, though.  I like the ones where you’re pretty much riding the throttle the whole way thru!  Insanely fast (virtual) speeds, pretty visuals, crashes, and stunts, where applicable.  You know: totally unrealistic driving at its best!  That’s what I like.  🙂

A new game coming onto the scene is right up my alley.  “PURE“, from Disney Interactive Studios, is an ATV-based/quadrunner racing game that is all about speed, tricks, and having fun!  It really is.  If you remember games like Motocross Madness or the Rallisport Challenge series, then you’ll probably enjoy PURE.  It’s easy to learn, fun to look at, and very entertaining to perform the various stunts.

The Xbox 360 demo of PURE is about 1.1gigs, so a fairly meaty download.  Once downloaded, though, the fun begins.  The demo starts with a quick, throw-you-into-the-action tutorial where you learn basic driving — though they don’t tell you how to accelerate (use the right-trigger), which is strange — pre-loading before jumps, basic A-button stunts, boosting, and finally putting them all together.  The tutorial ends when you’re able to complete a lap of the tutorial track in 27 seconds or less, which will require atleast one stunt and the corresponding “boost”.  A lot of games use similar tutorials where you are learning the game by playing the game.  I like that method.

Once you’ve completed the tutorial, you have access to a full level that is set in Italy somewhere, and the visuals a bee-ooo-ti-full.  Let me re-emphasize how great they look.  They really do!  And what does one do with a nice looking Italian countryside?  Beat the heck out of it with 16 ATVs + riders, naturally.  What’s nice about this track, however, is that it provides plenty of opportunities for driving fast, lots of jumps, multiple paths to accomplish the same result, and, of course, a few insanely ridiculous jumps!  As you successfully perfrom stunts (and land them), you start building “boost”.  You can either use the boost to go faster — which may be necessary if you’re far behind — or you can allow the boost to accumulate, which grants you access to better, more complicated stunts.  Initially you use the A button for stunts, but with enough boost accumulate, you have access to the B button range of stunts, then the Y button, and finally the ‘super’ stunts — using the bumper buttons — and those are hilarious.  Honestly.  I found myself laughing out loud at how silly they were, but they’re also a lot of fun.  Is it absolutely critical to perform stunts to win the race?  No, actually, as my son was able to come in 1st without any stunts at all, but it’s not as much fun.  I’m also guessing that the full game will feature levels requiring “boost” to complete it, and also a scoring system that places a premium on pulling off increasingly more difficult stunts.  It’s all in good fun.

My verdict?  This game is a winner if the genre appeals to you at all.  It most definitely accomplishes what it sets out to do, and I’m guessing that the full version — complete with 48 tracks, online multi-player, and 80 different stunts — is even more fun.

Go here for more info.


Looking forward to… the Zune Fall ’08 update!

This coming Tuesday, September 16th, is notable for a couple of reasons: First of all, it’s my birthday (wha?  24-years-old again??), and secondly, it is the launch date for the Zune 3.0 “Fall Refresh”.  Rather than re-invent the wheel, here’s a link to a good write-up from the Zune Insider site.

It’s interesting because the upcoming Zune hardware is more-or-less indistinguishable from the previous generation.  One of the flash-based Zunes is releasing in blue, and the 80gig Zune is being followed up with a 120gig model.  Microsoft is really a “software” company, though, and that’s where the changes are really being made here.


For starters, the upcoming firmware “refresh” is available to all previous Zunes — even the original launch 30gig Zunes!  Let me tell you how awesome that is.  Most “previous gen” media devices are left in the dust when the next version comes out, but the Zune team has done a remarkable job of keeping everyone on the same page.  It’s really pretty cool, and a model that others should follow, in my opinion.

Secondly, the 3.0 firmware brings a strong focus on “community” — both on the devices themselves, and in the desktop software.  The initial Zune mantra was ‘Welcome to the Social’, and that appears to really be happening, though a bit later than intended.  Although Microsoft was clearly aiming at the share-your-songs-over-wireless angle from the get go, that has had a lot of water doused upon it as the Zunes aren’t nearly as prevalent as some other players out there.  It’s really a chicken-and-the-egg conundrum.  That said, the wireless song sharing is really great, and I enjoy using that with other Zune owners that I know.  In fact, I’ve been frustrated at times when a friend of mine will have a song I like on their iPod, but I can’t get it from them in any way.  Not the end of the world, of course, but I like having the ability to swap songs with fellow Zune-ers…. and I *actually* do know quite a few of them, believe it or not!

The new refresh allows for subscribing to “Channels”, which is pretty cool.  Think of them as dynamic, third party playlists that you subscribe to.  You can also “tag” songs for download while listening to the FM radio on your Zune.  I listen to the radio more these days than I used to, so that might come in pretty handy from time to time!

Thirdly, the Zune is set to finally feature some games.  At launch time, the Zune Marketplace will have ‘Hexic’ and ‘Texas Hold ‘Em’ for free, with more to follow, I’m sure.  Not enough to turn the tide, I’m sure, but nice nonetheless.

Check out these great videos from the Zune team!


A bit of the new Zune functionality relies upon wi-fi connections, which are nice and fast, of course, but somewhat less handy than a 3G or GPRS network.  I typically don’t have wi-fi in my car, for instance, or out at the park, and thus I cannot access some of the “community” features that I might like to have.

Although the fact that the newest Zune firmware will function on all previous models, it would’ve been nice to see some additional hardware updates: touchscreen, improved battery life, etc..  Perhaps next time?


The Zune “Fall Refresh” is a nice, evolutionary step forward for this platform.  Clearly the Zune team has some vision here, and it very much revolves around “music enthusiasts” and a that community.  It’s a different approach, to be perfectly honest, and is somewhat of a gamble, as so much focus has been placed upon discovering new music, sharing your preferences, and actually having an audience that cares.

All of these features are playing to a particular Zune strength, however, and that is the Zune Pass.  Sharing music, tagging songs from FM, and so forth all work just fine with the pay-as-you-go method, but they are really inviting when you subscribe to the Zune Marketplace via the Zune Pass.  For $14.99/month, you have access to all of the music that Zune has to offer, and there is a lot to be had.

This is a first for me, but I believe that I will be moving that direction.  In our home, we are already big proponents of the “streamable movie”, with very little care that we don’t ‘own’ them like the days of yor.  You can thank Netflix for that transition.  It’s really only natural that I would consider going the same route with my music.  Why?  Because there is a LOT of great music out there, and I’d love to have access to it.  I don’t ‘own’ the music, of course — I’m really just ‘leasing’ it, but I’m not sure that it’s that big of a deal for me any longer.  I am buying musically digitally more and more, and the physical CDs that I purchase get ripped to my collection, and then put away — sometimes for good.  For the cost of about 1 CD/month, I can download 20 albums/day, if I want to.  That’s pretty awesome.  If I stop paying for my Zune Pass, of course, then that music is “locked” and I can’t play it any longer.  That said, I can always use another service *or* purchase those albums that I just have to have.  I’m thinking that “renting” your music is the way things are going, though.

Lastly, the Zune Pass is a trick that Apple doesn’t have yet.  I want to support it if only to stick-it-to-Steve-Jobs.


Oof. So bad.

If you’re not already convinced that “Jesus is your friend”, then perhaps this awesome throwback video from the super-group Sonseed will convince you.

Is that Bob Saget?