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October 31, 2008

Dead Motherboard

My machine has been acting a little funny the last few days and not like the smooth gaming rig it has been since I built it. Last night I set my machine to go to Sleep mode and, when I decided to check email just prior to going to bed, it wouldn't come on. I managed to get it to run the BIOS, but then it died on POST.

Something was wrong with the BIOS.

This morning I read up on how to re-flash my BIOS for this motherboard, downloaded a known good as well as the current BIOS, put them on a USB, and managed to boot the system into the BIOS. I followed the directions, but the flash utility would not downgrade the BIOS to the known good. Since I was slightly afraid the current BIOS might be causing the problem, I wasn't really wanting to try that one, but I did anyway. Sure enough, it failed the flash and now my machine is dead to the world.

Didn't really want to buy a new MB right now, but if I want to get up and running, I must. Without a BIOS, a machine goes nowhere really, really fast.

I'm hopeful that I can go to the place that Andrew showed me the other day and get a replacement today, as I'd like to get up and running. I'm going to double-check my older MB parts to see if any of them can run my current rig, but I'm pretty sure they cannot.

Didn't really need this right now.

Addendum 10/31/08
Called a place that my BIL Andrew recommended. They had virtually the same motherboard in stock, but an upgraded model (a couple of bells and whistles I didn't have on mine). Were willing to sell it to me for $80 CDN. Same board online is selling for between $120 and $140 CDN. Got them to agree to give my money back if the board didn't work, then went home and installed it. I'm up and running and everything seems okay. Will knock wood, but unless this is a bad board, I should be good to go now.

October 30, 2008

Brief Tax Note

I finally got my tax refund (in the full amount, but without the $600 incentive I really should be entitled to) deposited in my account on Friday of last week. So, many months late and without much fanfare, I finally have my taxes done (regardless of the fact I intially sent them to the IRS at the beginning of March!).


Addendum 10/31/08
Checked my account this morning and I had the $600 incentive check deposited in the account. Yay!

October 24, 2008

Selfless Acts

One of my good friends, Matt, has kidney disease and has been on a personal dialysis machine for a while now. Another of my friends, Annemarie, took it upon herself to be checked for compatibility with the first friend and found they are a good match for kidney donation.

Today, they are both in surgery as she gives one of her healthy kidneys to him.

As I type this, they should both be in the middle of surgery.

My thoughts and prayers are with them both for their safety during the procedure and a quick and healthy recovery afterward.

1. 10/24/08 I got an email that both patients are "doing as well as the surgeons could have hoped for" after the surgery. The next few days are important for both as one is recovering and the other is in ICU recovering. Keep sending any spare thoughts and well-wishes to SoCal to aid in their recovery!

2. 10/27/08 Got another note that Annemarie has been released and is doing okay. As of today, Matt should be released as well, and continuing his recovery at home.

3. 10/31/08 Just got word that Matt had a set back; the immune suppression drugs caused him to get a bad infection, so he had to stay in the hospital longer. However, this appears to not be related in any way to the transplant, just the meds. He is scheduled to get out today now, as long as nothing else comes up.

Heroics, Super or Otherwise

Articles are suggesting that the NBC hit show Heroes may be in trouble. It is losing audience and the blog-sphere and comments boards are fairly negative. Warner Brothers recently announced, to almost universally negative reactions from fans, that they plan on taking their comic book movies (and they specifically mentioned Superman) in a darker direction after the success of The Dark Knight.

Here's what the suits at NBC and Warner Bros either don't know or have forgotten: people who like comic books like heroes. While it is true that anti-heroes and bad-assery will show momentary favor, those of us who like super heroes want our heroes to be, ultimately, heroic. We all go through our Punisher and our Wolverine phase. But the way in which those characters have stayed viable throughout the years is by having authors that show the inherent goodness inside the rage and the revenge. I mean, you don't hear much from Lobo these days, because he was too much of a one-note character. He rarely was a hero and that's what audiences ultimately want.

This season, Heroes has turned nearly everyone into a villain of some degree. We no longer have Claire and Peter to rely on to be the "good guys" and Hiro has become such a joke as to be not very funny any more.

The Dark Knight worked as a "darker" movie because Batman is an inherently darker product than Superman. Batman chooses to use fear as his main weapon against criminals and, ultimately, that same fear to keep the average Joes from becoming criminals. For as much as people say the Big Blue Boy Scout's modus operandi (doesn't kill, value system ala the 1950s, etc.) makes for boring stories, we need him to always be the one filled with hope, the one who sees the best in humanity, and the one with all the power who constantly and consistently does the right thing-- especially when we know we wouldn't. He is the Christ figure of comic book products-- the one with absolute power who is not corrupted absolutely. Superman wants his example to lift up humanity and bring out its inherent goodness, while Batman wants to scare humanity into being law-abiding and force it, through fear, to supress its penchant for evil.

Another arena that showed this need for super hero fans to be heroic can be found in one of my favorite games, City of Heroes. COH introduced first an Arena, where heroes could fight each other, and then the expansion called City of Villains wherein you can play the same game from the bad-guy's perspective. Both of these expansions have been financial and fan-based failures; again, the vast majority of people who like super heroes secretly want to be a super hero-- we simply don't want to be villains. From what I've been able to gather from talking on boards with fans, there is about a 4:1 ratio of people playing COH versus COV. And the Arena is nearly always silent and empty.

How would I fix NBC's Heroes? Immediately shift Peter and Claire back to being heroes. Make Hiro expand from being the comic relief and allow him to develop into the hero that the show itself has hinted he becomes. No matter how dark you go, you have to always have a hero. Constantly shifting sides and moral gray areas only work for short periods of time and then the audience wants its heroes to overcome and be even better than before.

How would I make an interesting Superman movie? I would take world events as they are right now and show them through the prism of someone who has the power and desire to change it and the morals and values to know he shouldn't. Can you imagine what it would be like for someone with Superman's value systems and abilities to have lived through September 11? He would probably feel absolutely horrible that he was somewhere else and couldn't save those killed by the terrorists in the first place, a huge amount of revenge toward those who did it, and he would have the ability to literally go over there and do something quite permanent about it. Honestly, how many Americans had the thought, no matter how fleeting it may have been, that we should have turned wherever we found Al Queda into a flat pane of glass about three feet thick with our nuclear arsenal? Now, imagine actually having the power to single-handedly do it. But Superman can't. He knows that it is a very slippery slope and he would quickly become a world despot if he allowed himself to let loose in such a manner with all that power. Add in a super villain of the Metallo, Brainiac, or Darkseid level as, say, the ultimate power behind Al Queda, end it with some sort of hopeful message about using your power to its fullest against the right target (in this case the super villain and not just willynilly against anyone in the middle east), and you have yourself a Superman movie I want to see.

City of Heroes, meanwhile, has already corrected its "mistake;" the company has made both products one game and you can play either side you want. There are a couple of zones you can play hero versus villain in, and they have added an end-game feature that allows the heroes and villains to work together against a common threat. The vast majority of upcoming changes are for the heroes side, or universal, but they aren't doing a lot of work on only the villain side of things.

So, NBC and Warner Bros should take a long, hard look at their properties and ask themselves, does "dark" work for this product? Is the character ultimate heroic? If the answer is no to one or both of those questions, a rewrite of the script is required.

October 21, 2008

Calvin and Hobbes

I find myself missing Calvin and Hobbes. I have not found a comic that spoke so directly to me and my friends like that comic did on such a consistent basis.

While ostensibly about a child and his imaginary friend, Bill Watterson managed to actually speak to all levels on a variety of subjects. Calvin was smart, sassy, crude at times, sly, creative, and surprisingly emotional. Hobbes was just as intelligent, but also more conscientious and equally as emotional. The parents were always smart and seemed warm and caring, even when Calvin was at his worst.

The comic strip managed to hit the right balance between funny for funny's sake and having a message that only the best comics (of any type) can do. The strip touched on religion, war, economics, bigotry and a host of other adult topics as seen through the innocence of this one child's eyes. Many strips since (as well as before) have tried to hit the right balance between message and humor, but few really get it right.

I understand why Watterson stopped when he did; he felt that he had taken it as far as he could and that he needed a break. He did not want to compromise the integrity of the strip or the stories being told. It is also special to note that, even during the 10 years that Calvin and Hobbes reigned supreme, Watterson did not commercialize his strip beyond the book collections; nearly any Calvin and Hobbes related item, decal, poster or any other item that is not a collection of the strips is a knockoff product.

Watterson wrote the following to the newspapers that carried the strip:
I will be stopping Calvin and Hobbes at the end of the year. This was not a recent or an easy decision, and I leave with some sadness. My interests have shifted however, and I believe I've done what I can do within the constraints of daily deadlines and small panels. I am eager to work at a more thoughtful pace, with fewer artistic compromises. I have not yet decided on future projects, but my relationship with Universal Press Syndicate will continue. That so many newspapers would carry Calvin and Hobbes is an honor I'll long be proud of, and I've greatly appreciated your support and indulgence over the last decade. Drawing this comic strip has been a privilege and a pleasure, and I thank you for giving me the opportunity.
So few people go out on top and even fewer stick with the decision. I think it says something about Watterson that he went out at the height of the strip's popularity and left us with a finite amount of high-quality product to look back on fondly.

But this doesn't stop me from missing it.

October 20, 2008

They Don't Build 'Em Like THAT Any More

M was home today, so we ran some errands. One of those errands was finding and purchasing some book shelves at Home Depot. These shelves had the color that M likes, were five shelves high (6'), and they had a few of them on hand, so we could get two that matched. And the price was fairly right at $65; we wanted them for the basement and didn't mind having lower-quality particle board and veneer down there, or that they wouldn't match with the other book shelf we already owned. Win-win, or so we thought.

We finished our errands, carried the shelves inside, and I set to work building the first one fairly soon after. These shelves were of the IKEA style, put-it-together-yourself variety. As it was using the same style of attachments as my computer desk, I didn't worry about it-- I knew how strongly those fasteners could hold.

Nearly immediately I recognized I was going to need assistance, so I called M down to the basement and we set to work. She kept me honest with the directions (which I was struggling with) and lent a hand with the picking up and holding of things as we attached them to each other.

We got through the main steps, had only the backer board left to attach, and decided it would be best to stand it up to nail that on. We very carefully stood it up and immediately every single screw came ripping out of every single screw hole. Large chunks of the press board came off around each screw. The thing was so wobbly with the screws barely attached to anything and the large chunks of missing press board that, and I kid you not nor do I use hyperbole when I say, when M set the single sheet of paper on which the instructions were printed on the "permanent" shelf, it came completely unattached from the side boards and fell with a crash and took the bottom shelf/brace, which was barely holding on, out with it. As M said, "That was just like a cartoon or a comedy show-- no one will ever believe us!"

Lest you think we're completely inept, both M and I have separately and as a couple put together a variety of similar "Sauder-style"/IKEA-type furniture. We have experienced various of the more common issues with this type of furniture purchase, including missing parts, extra parts, ill-fitting joints, and the occasional particle board issue. However, neither of us has seen every single screw rip out of the particle board in every single attachment location all at the same time. It was like the particle board was intensely dry and powdery and the small amount of screw threads that were used were not enough to really get into the meat of the board and hold fast.

Needless to say, we packed it all back into the box, decided not to even try putting together the second book case we purchased, and immediately headed back to Home Depot to return them both. Luckily, Home Depot has virtually a no-questions-asked return policy, so returning the two were easy. However, now we are still without book shelves for our copious quantities of books. Oh well, we'll start looking for some new ones tomorrow.

And we got a full refund on the purchase, even though we bought a third item (a new smoke alarm). The girl didn't pay close attention and just refunded the full amount to us. So, bonus.

October 9, 2008

The Rise and Fall

Every fall I like to tell my TiVo to catch quite a few of the new shows. I watch a few episodes of each and then decide if I'm going to make it a regular program or delete the season pass. While I do this with the new shows, I also evaluate my enjoyment level of existing season passes and eliminate any that have tanked.

So far this early fall TV season, I have removed Two and a Half Men and CSI:Miami from my existing season passes. 2.5 Men seems to have seriously gone off the end and is completely one-note now (which is saying something, because it was only a 2 note show to begin with).You know it is time to stop watching when you find you are looking forward to reading the cue cards at the end credits than the show itself. CSI:Miami has been getting more ridiculous every season but, like a train wreck, I kept watching. The first two shows of this season were so predictable, poorly acted, and over the top that I just tuned out. And, dammit, why can't David Caruso frame himself straight on to the camera and/or lift his damn head up?

The only new show that has been removed from the season pass list so far is Knight Rider. This show started decently with an okay two-hour premier, however, the first two episodes of the series were so awful that M and I were laughing our way through it. The special effects were anything but special, the CGI was so blatantly obvious as to ruin the immersion, and the final straw was when KITT transformed into a truck.

Heroes is moving closer to the line, too. Never thought I would say that about a serious show presenting a realistic look at super powered individuals. However, while it is true that this season is superior to most of season 2, I just don't buy what they are doing. It feels totally obvious and ruins my immersion to have so many characters completely change their personalities seemingly overnight. People laugh a bit at Superman, but there is a reason why the character has existed successfully for 70 years now-- his consistency of character. Yes, he may be a "big blue boy scout" but it is that moral fiber and constant... well, goodness... that is what makes him the character that everyone knows and loves.

Heroes has taken its main protagonist, Peter, and turned him dark, sullen, and stupid. Claire (whose name means 'light' in French) has turned all bad and uncaring, Hiro has become a ridiculous caricature of his more light-hearted character (and what happened to the promise of seeing him slowly morph into the bad-ass sword wielder we glimpse in season 1? Has that been thrown out the window?), Sylar is suddenly a good guy, HRG actually changed last season from a scary know-it-all bad guy (ala Cigarette Man from X-Files) to a warm, caring, sensitive good guy with a name and a family. Plus, why does it always have to be about the world in jeapardy? Why can't the season-long backstory be about one of the characters, or an intrigue, or countries using the super-powered for evil, or something that doesn't involve the destruction of the earth or society? I mean, we saved the damn cheerleader, so the world is saved, right? Move on.

I'm also unsure of how long I will remain interested in Fringe. The show started strongly and I enjoyed the main female lead and the interplay between Joshua Jackson and John Noble. However, the last episode was way too X-Files for me and I'm simply not that interested in aliens. I also find it very hard to believe that damn near everything the team stumbles across just happens to be related to some experiment that Walter Bishop was working on in the 70s. I'll give this one another episode or two before deciding, but it is not looking good.

I'm pleased that Life has remained the quality show that I remember from last season. The main two characters are strong and interesting. I am not caring for the addition of Donal Logue, whom I normally enjoy, but I think he'll grow on me. And I did not care for the CGI/wax figure of the liquid nitrogen doctor, though. I thought that was over the top and didn't fit with the feel or tone of the show.

Chuck has come back strong, with little to no drop off from its first season. The characters and the quality of the show is running on a good tact.

I am hopeful that Chritian Slater's new show will be interesting. I've always been a fan of Slater's and I think it is sad that we have seen so little of him on the screen (and too much of him in the gossip columns). However, I will admit that my incredulity is already stretched by the premise. It better be good to keep me more than a couple of episodes.

House is doing what I vocally claimed might be the death of the show as early as season one. Procedurals tend to start strong and can make it about 2-3 seasons on average before moving away from the procedures being the focus and to the characters being the focus. House used to primarily be about this cantankerous doctor who always bit the hand that fed him and how he got results with these extreme cases (primarily because he went against the grain). These days, the procedural portion is being shunted to the background and we are learning more and more about the interns, House's life and "friends," and stories that show that House really isn't "that bad" deep down inside. Sorry, but that is not why I tuned it originally, nor why I continue to watch the show. And, like with ER and a host of other shows, if it continues down this path I will tune out.

One surprise I've found so far in this young season is Smallville. It really seems to be moving forward at a decent clip. While I miss Michael Rosenbaum, the rest of the cast and the new editions have stepped it up a bit. However, I expect that to grind to a halt when Kristin Kreuk comes back for her story arc. I guess the writers found some moxy and mojo knowing this is the final season of the show. Of course, there are also some rumors that, because the show is doing well (highest-rated show on the CW right now), that there may be a season 9. I hope not.

Addendum -- 10/20/08
Life on Mars bit the big one after only an episode and about 20 minutes. There are too many other, good shows to waste time with one about which we are, at best, luke-warm. So another one bites the dust.

October 7, 2008

And Happiness Ensued

The final piece of our Tivo-DirecTV puzzle was the fact we had to use an IR blaster in order for the Tivos to change the channels on the DirecTV receivers. IR blasters are notoriously unreliable and we found this truism to be doubly true. Occasionally we would record an hour of black screen, sometimes we would record the wrong channel-- it all depended on how the IR blaster was working, if there was interference, and/or if there were two copies of the channel.

M and I looked high and low for a solution, but were unable to come up with anything. However, about two weeks ago, I was on the boards for one or the other of these systems and, about 20 posts down, saw a link someone had posted to an article about channel changing and Tivo/DirecTV. I read the article, which was about 2 years old and about a company on that was creating a device that would allow users to take advantage of the USB port on the back of the DirecTV tuner and the serial port connection on the Tivo and have it change channels.

I followed the link there and found a company called Paterson Technology , in WA. When I searched the site, I discovered the product in question was available for purchase, read some reviews of it by happy customers, and then perused the online documentation for it. It sure seemed like exactly what we needed to solve our problem. Our Tivo units and the two different types of DirecTV tuners were both listed on the list of supported hardware. Even better, they had put a chip into the device with some firmware that would allow you to program a "pass through" code that would take the Tivo channel request and change it to something else so that the DirecTV would go to the correct channel. This was, apparently, because they found their customers were annoyed by having two copies of the same channel, one in SD and one in HD, and the DirecTV tuner never seemed to default to the correct one. Gee, that sounded familiar!

I excitedly forwarded the information to M to review (she was out of town at a conference at the time) and she agreed it sounded like a good purchase and exactly what we needed. We agreed to just bite the bullet and order two, one for the bedroom and one for the living room, assuming we could return them if they didn't work.

The devices arrived yesterday and today I installed them.

*queue heavenly choir voices and ray of light shining down on the two entertainment systems*

The bedroom was the simpler install. I simply found the serial cable for the Tivo, plugged it in, plugged the serial connector side into the serial connector side of the new device, and then the USB side of the new device into the DirecTV receiver, uninstalled the IR blaster, and reset the Tivo to use the serial connection instead of the IR blaster, and we had instant success. Not only does it change channels faster, but there should be virtually zero chance of it changing to the wrong satellite channel because it is now all "hardwired."

The living room setup was trickier. On this setup, we have the HD/SD channel issue , which required me to use the firmware on the device to tell it how to change channels in order for us to receive the correct, SD version of each of the satellite channels. When I was finished going through it and programming it, we only had six channels not functioning correctly, but I was able to read the help files and figure out a secondary way to update those six and, when I last tested it, all of our dual channels were changing to the SD version we require.

This product is simple, does only and exactly what it says it should, was easy to install and update, and appears, as of right now, to work beautifully. I am very impressed with Paterson Technology's product and feel it was well-worth the $42 (each) the cable device costs. If you are having a similar issue with your Tivo and DirecTV system (either the IR blaster not working all the time or with HD/SD channel issues), I am highly recommending this device.

October 2, 2008


I was very disappointed a week or so ago when I went to turn on and use my TomTom and nothing happened. And I mean nothing. The only thing that happened was the little green "charging" light came on when I plugged it in. Other than that, nada. I tried the reset on it (which, for my device, involves simply holding the On/Off switch down for around 20-25 seconds), but still no go.

I called the TomTom support number and he had me walk through some very limited testing (which mostly involved me holding down the on switch while he was on the phone). He agreed it was not working and that I would have to send it in. Luckily, it is still under warranty (only got it a couple months ago), and I sent it into a Canadian depot that would "fix it or send you a new/refurbished one that is known to work." He said the RMA I got was only good for a month and that, once they received it, it could be upwards of three weeks to get it back.

Well, yesterday it returned; much faster than anticipated. It very definitely a different device, as it has totally different serial numbers on it.

I just finished re-installing my updates and standard programs on it off of TomTom's online updater. M and I are heading to Augusta tomorrow for her work, so it will be nice to have the device (even if M knows the way). Hopefully I won't have any more trouble with it.