Archive for November, 2008

Zune Pass just got better!

If you’ve followed my blog at all, then you already know that I dig the Zune Pass subscription model.  I didn’t think I would, but I do.  In fact, I’m really quite sold on it

One of the *biggest* arguments against subscription-based music, however, has always been that “when you stop paying for the service, you lose the music”.  Never mind that “when you stop paying your cable bill, you lose the channels” or “when you stop paying your mortgage, you lose your house”.  We’ve somehow put music outside of this model – perhaps because music couldn’t be rented before – but I really do believe that that model is changing.  I know that people like to own stuff, but that might be a mindset that needs rethinking.

Anyhow, Microsoft surprised me today with a change to their Zune Pass program: you now get 10 free song credits for every month that you subscribe.  In other words, I pay $14.99/month to subscribe to the Zune music service.  I can download as much music as I like, but if my subscription lapses all of that music goes “silent” for me.  Included with my Zune subscription now is the ability to download 10 songs per month (for free) that I get to keep.  If I downloaded my 10 free songs today and then cancelled my subscription, I would still get to keep (and listen to) those 10 free tracks.  Get it?  Got it?  Good.  If there is a downside, well…your credits don’t rollover from month to month.  Use ‘em or lose ‘em.

I have to be honest here: not every bit of music that I grab is a “keeper”, so it’s nice to know that I can choose 10 tracks every month to ‘hold on to’.  I still plan on keeping my subscription going, but it’s a nice bonus and small insurance plan.

Keep it up, Zune Team!

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Meet…..ME (kinda)

Loaded up the NXE (New Xbox Experience) this morning, and was very pleasantly surprised.  What has long been a very tired interface is now fresh, fun-to-use, and nice to look at!  It’s also quite snappy, which is nice.

One of the oft-discussed features of the NXE, of course, is the addition of “avatars” – an online character that represents you.  The character to my left there (<—-) is the avatar that I’ve created!  It’s certainly not a spitting image of me, but I would *totally* wear that outfit, and I really wish that my hair looked that cool.

My overall impression of the NXE is certainly positive, but I need to have some more hands-on time with it.  Ultimately, we spend *most* of our Xbox time simply playing games, which doesn’t involve the interface or dashboard a whole lot.  Now that the interface is more “community-based”, however, that might change.  I can see myself checking out the parties, chatting with friends, playing UNO, and other such nonsense – at least for awhile.  Should be fun!

Now for some other avatars…

          Chumplet                         Barkjon                         Pastor EJO
         (my brother)                      (my son)                    (my good buddy)

See you out there! 🙂

UPDATE: I’m impressed that Microsoft is continually able to “improve” their offerings via software updates.  I know that’s only sensible for a software company to do that, but let’s be honest: most companies improve by throwing new, improved hardware out there, and then they get around to the software.

The Xbox 360 will be 3 years old as of Nov. 22nd, 2008.  In technology years, that is a lifetime.  Still, with this dashboard refresh, Microsoft has made the 360 feel new again – fresh and fun.  I appreciate that the hardware isn’t the focus necessarily.  The is also true for the Zune, which received another refresh recently, and that refresh could be installed even on the ver1 devices.

Pretty amazing.

Not staged.

heatherSleepingWithStuffedAnimal

Dogs are funny creatures, sleeping or not.

I’m always taken aback at God’s creativity in creation, as well as the personalities given to them.  Truly amazing!

The DD-WRT poison pill

At work, we’ve been using Linksys WRT54GL wireless routers running the DD-WRT (v23sp2) firmware for quite some time now.  Not only can you usually get these routers for $49 at NewEgg.com, but they can be loaded up with tons of different 3rd party firmwares – many of which include bumping up the transmit power of the device.  Also, they have removable antennas (antennae?) that can be helpful when you are trying to get your wireless signal further, more directional, a larger spread, or what have you.  Now I recommend the WRT54GL + DD-WRT combo everywhere that I’m asked to help with a wireless setup.  It’s nice to have some consistency!

Anyhow, something has been amiss since I introduced an additional wireless access point in our new suite here at work.  Basically, I was setting up a third wireless unit using the same ssid, but a different channel.  (This allows for fairly seamless wireless “hopping” around the office without having to join every client up to different wireless networks.  Make sense?  Join once, browse all over the place.)  Since adding the new wireless access point, however, folks have been complaining about “being able to join, but then they can’t browse”.  Wacky.  It seems as if people are joining access points that are further away, which results in a very poor signal and interrupted (if not totally unavailable) network access.  Ugh.

In what is generally considered a poor troubleshooting tactic, I decided to upgrade to the new DD-WRT v24sp1 firmware as a “fix”.  Perhaps there is something in the new firmware that handles this type of setup better?  I upgraded two of our three access points, and the update performed flawlessly.

Or so it seemed. 

After the update, I connected to the web interface of both devices, and all seemed well.  The previous configuration ‘persisted’ through the upgrade, which was nice.  Then things got wonky.  Pretty soon I couldn’t connect to either of the upgraded devices, my third (un-upgraded) device was no longer accessible, and folks were reporting strange goings-on with our network – particularly the wireless.  I restarted both of the “upgraded” access points, but no luck.  Finally, I took them both off-line entirely and things got better – minus wireless connectivity, of course.

I had a sneaking suspicion that my upgraded devices had “reset to defaults” somehow.  It was just a hunch.  I grabbed a laptop, connected directly to one of the upgraded access points, and hit the default IP address of 192.168.1.1 in the browser.  There it is!  The DD-WRT status screen was prompting me to change my username and password.  It had, in fact, reset to the defaults, which means that it’s trying to hand out IP addresses in the 192.168.1.x range on our 10.1.1.x network.  Having two rogue DHCP servers handing out bad addresses is a poison pill in your network.  Not good.  Trust me.

Anyhoo…both access points were easy enough to fix, but it’s still odd that they reset themselves after a successful upgrade where I was able to verify that their previous settings had carried over.  Very odd indeed.  As a test, I upgraded the third access point as well.  Same results.  It upgrades successfully, appears to be fine, and then tanks – resetting itself to defaults.

All that said, I still stand behind DD-WRT as a reliable firmware option for the WRT54GL devices – but watch what you’re doing, and “reset to defaults” with each upgrade.  If not, I guess it’ll do it for you!  Also, I’ve found that spreading my access points across further channel frequencies is a good thing.  We’re currently running on channels 1, 6, and 11.  Seems to be working well, and was perhaps the entire issue all along….

Schwanky, New Digs

After several months of planning, and several more months of remodel work, about 1/2 of our company moved into our schwanky, new digs this week!  I was initially a “maybe” for moving over, but I finally got the green light 🙂

Here’s my work area:

digs01

These are Herman Miller “pods” (aka “cubes”) that are quite configurable and really well thought out.  The chairs are Herman Miller as well, and are surprisingly comfortable.  As could be expected, the work area itself seems rather small, but is more smartly designed, so I end up having more workspace than before.  Nice!  Now… to actually get my work area configured…

digs02

(Heather comes into work with me on Fridays!  Good dog…)

digs03

(Reverse view from my desk.  Some currently empty cubes there, with the kitchen area in the background.  Off to the right is a 12’ x 10’ rear projection screen that shows our company logo in the reception area)

digs04

(Another view away from my desk, but westward toward the windows.  The small circles on the ceiling help prevent bouncing acoustics.  Along the window is a 30’ “coffee bar” area for a change of pace)

Now.  Back to work! 😀

Does anyone use “Flip 3D”?

If you’ve read my blog for long enough, you’ll know that I’m a happy Windows user.  That doesn’t mean that everything is roses, though, or that I’m content with every aspect of Windows.  I *do* prefer Vista to XP, and I *am* looking forward to the next release, Windows 7.  I wonder, though, if they’re going to re-think the Flip 3D feature.  Does anyone use it?  Honestly?

filp3D

I suppose it looks kinda neat, but I don’t find any real reason to use it in my work/home computer use.  It seems to me that it was an answer to the much-loved “Expose” feature of OSX.  I could be wrong on that.  If it is an answer to “Expose”, however, then it’s a pretty poor one.

Just my $.02.

On that note, a buddy of mine who straddles the Windows and OSX worlds has sparred back and forth with me over the “Expose” feature.  He likes it and wishes that Windows had that feature. I argue that it was really an answer to an issue that Windows has not had:  a good view of your currently-running applications.  The taskbar in Windows has for years shown you at-a-glance what programs you have running, and given you the ability to quickly select one of them.  Alt+tab (or Windows+tab, for Flip 3D) gives you a quick way to switch between them as well.  The Mac-based “finder” was not graceful or productive, and thus “Expose” was born.  Windows, on the other hand, has made that information – your currently running programs — easily accessible since Windows 95.

I’m just saying.

Can we stop already?

I was browsing Cnet today, as I usually do, and came across an article regarding the new desktop that will ship with Windows 7 next year.  Part of the Windows 7 redesign is something touted as the “superbar”, that acts as the evolutionary upgrade to the taskbar that Windows has had for so long.  The Cnet video bit on this is quite informative, actually, if you can handle the poor audio.  I found it very interesting.

image

But that’s not the problem.  The problem is the feedback after the article.

I gave up browsing to Cnet for a time primarily because the feedback would get me so riled up.  Eventually, I went back to Cnet for the worthwhile tech news, but avoided the comments altogether.  I should’ve kept doing that.  Why?  Because the fan-boy-ism gets out of control. 

Here we have a relatively lightweight look at the new taskbar (“superbar”) in Windows 7, and folks have to bust out the “Micro$oft copies Apple”, “looks like the OSX dock”, “blah, blah, blah” comments, that really accomplish nothing.  Even more aggravating are the totally unfounded and untrue statements.

Can we get something straight here?  Large icons that launch programs were not invented by Microsoft, Apple, or anyone else that I can point to.  Interactive “docks” or “launch bars” don’t belong to either of these organizations either.  If anything, the “docks” that are so prevalent these days remind me of my time using Litestep back in the late 90s – before the Mac or Windows were using them!  Perhaps they even carried over from some Linux variants.

It doesn’t matter.

The “superbar” is not the OSX dock – they really handle things quite differently.  Better?  Worse?  Heck, you decide – but enough of the useless fanboy comments.  They’ve grown extremely tiresome.

If you care for some well-written coverage of Windows 7, check out the iStartedSomething site.  Good stuff!