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Archive for February, 2007

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A New Addition to the Greenberg Family

Wednesday, February 28th, 2007

Well, it’s been about four years since we’ve made this kind of announcement, but here it is: after a great deal of thought, discussion, financial planning, and many months of waiting, we’re expecting a delivery. And as was the case the last couple of times this happened, it’s a Dell!

Specifically, a Dell XPS 410, which frees up the existing PC to make it’s way into Avery’s room in plenty of time for him to start using it for school (and video games and IM and web surfing and…and…and…)

(NOTE: The above is rather cheesy, but only because none of our parents read this blog regularly. If that weren’t the case, it would have been rather cruel.)

Anyway, serious geekticulars to follow. If that’s not your thing, abandon ship now. You have been warned.

Here are the highlights, including running commentary by yours truly:

Intel Core 2 Duo Processor E6600 (2.4GHz,1066FSB) with 4MB cache
CPU clock speed always has an obvious price point for me. The 2.4GHz was a little more expensive than the 2.2GHz, but a lot cheaper than the 2.6GHz – the highest that Dell offers. Plus, the Core 2 Duo has two processors on the chip, so if the mix of applications is right (or if a given application is written to take advantage of it), this thing could theoretically approach speeds close to 4.8GHz. More than likely, though, it’s likely to be about 50% faster than my current 1.9GHz machine.

4GB DDR2 SDRAM at 667MHz
Extravagant choice #1. Microsoft recommends 2GB for an optimized Vista experience. I’ve seen machines running Vista well with 1GB, and even a couple that made due with 512MB (a heavy app load would probably slow these machines down, but the advanced Vista features, like Aero, were still running). In any case, I figured more memory is never a bad thing, especially as the machine inevitably gets loaded up with add-ins, terminate & stay resident programs, hidden processes, etc. My current machine was a screamer when I bought it, but now it takes almost two minutes to open Microsoft Excel. The extra RAM should stave off this kind of degradation for a while.

24 in (24.0 in viewable) 2407FPW Wide Aspect Digital Flat Panel Display
Extravagant Choice #2. For this, I blame John Scalzi, who bought one of these puppies and then bragged about it on his blog. Not only is this puppy 24 inches of widescreen goodness, it rotates to portrait mode, providing oodles of space for web surfing, or for when my wife (or I) are writing long documents in Word.

Of course, now that we bought this, it occurs to me that in our home office, we have a 24″ Hi-Def screen with surround sound (see below), a DVD-player, and a dual-TV tuner. In our den, where we watch most of our TV & DVD’s today, we have a 27″ TV from 1994, when Picture-in-Picture was a really big deal. I’m seriously thinking about putting a couch in the office soon…

Dell WL6000 120V 6.1 Stereo Speakers with Subwoofer
The last machine I bought had surround sound as well (certified by Skywalker Sound, no less), but the speakers all shipped with those (proprietary) Sony plugs, and all the wires were the same length. There was no easy way to put the rear speakers behind me, unless I spliced the wires and installed new plugs, so I’ve been living with 5 speakers spread around my desk (rear ones on the outer edge, surrounding the standard L&R, and then the center speaker under the monitor). This time around, the rear speakers are wireless, so I can go ahead and mount them on the back wall of my office for a true surround sound experience. Anyone know where I can buy a good couch?

256MB NVIDIA GeForce 7900 GS
Nothing but the best, Clark. I’m not a big user of Vista’s celebrated graphics capabilities, but given similar pricing, I went with a high-end graphics card.

Microsoft Windows Vista Ultimate
Extravagant Choice #3. Vista Home Premium would probably have been enough, but I’m anticipating the mystery software package that’s coming in 2009 which only runs on Vista Ultimate. As I discussed here, I want to avoid upgrading/updating the OS once the machine is up and running, so I went for it.

320GB Serial ATA 2 Hard Drive (7200RPM)
500 GB 7200 RPM LAN USB 2.0 LinkStation Pro Shared Network Storage

The presence of two machines in the house means I can start using my wireless router for more than just accessing my work laptop throughout the house, which in turn, means shared network storage. The 500GB drive is a Buffalo drive, which can plug directly into the router, allowing access to files even in the rare event where my desktop PC is off. My current plan is to install my software on each machine, but have it all point to the Buffalo drive as the main shared drive in the house. The 320GB hard drive (the smallest Dell offers these days), will serve as a backup drive. I’m still investigating backup software solutions, so if anyone has any suggestions, please drop them in the comments. Thanks!

3 Year Limited Warranty
Dell Hardware Warranty PlusOnsite Service, Initial Year
Dell Hardware Warranty PlusOnsite Service, Extended Year
Type 15- 3rd Party At Home Service w/ Nights and Week ends, 24×7 Technical Support, Initial Year
Type 15- 3rd Party At Home Service w/ Nights and Week ends, 24×7 Technical Support, 2 Year Extended
Warranty Support,Initial Year
Warranty Support,2 Year Extended
CompleteCare Accidental DamageProtection, Dimension, 3 Year
Dell On Call, 30 Days, Getting Started Assistance, Unlimited Incidents

Yeah, I know – that’s a lot of help for a desktop PC, right? I’m not a big believer in extended warranties for PC’s because typically, a machine either craps out in the first few months or lasts forever with little or no problems. In this case, adding all these packages brought me up to the next “bundle,” which actually lowered the total cost of the PC. Basically, I just did it for the money

Dell USB Enhanced Multimedia Keyboard with USB Hub
Dell 13 in 1 Media Card Reader
Dual TV Tuner with Remote Control

Silly stuff, but what the heck. I don’t have a separate Cable TV feed running into the PC, but one day I might. Also, the media card reader might come in handy with my digital camera, and the volume knob & DVD controls on the keyboard are just convenient…

There’s more, but that’s the gist. As for price, the whole thing came in just under $3,000 (that includes Dell’s discounts du jour, as well as a corporate discount my employer has negotiated with Dell). The ironic thing is, the last three computers I’ve purchased, over a period of six or seven years, have all cost roughly $2,500 (give or take a few hundred dollars). The capacity of those machines, though, has grown exponentially (the first of the three had roughly the processing power and storage of my current iPod). So yes, technology has become cheaper, but practically speaking, it’s more accurate to say it’s become better.

Now, the setup begins. Watch this space for ISBS reviews of Vista, thoughts on setting up wireless networking, home network filesharing, and much, much more!

Categories: Tech Talk | No Comments »

Presto! E-mail without a Computer!

Wednesday, February 28th, 2007

This product has been around for a while, but I just heard an ad for it on the car radio, and was intrigued enough to jot it down at the next red light and then look at the website when I got home.

It’s called Presto by Hewlett-Packard, and technically speaking, it’s just a high-end fax machine and an e-mail forwarding service. But it’s got a great marketing spin:

Do you want to send e-mail to Grandma, but can’t because she doesn’t know how to use a computer and doesn’t want to learn? No problem!

Buy her this box and plug it into a regular phoneline. Then, go to our website and select an e-mail address for her (e.g., grandma@presto.com). Don’t worry – she doesn’t even need to know about the address. Once you’ve registered, you send e-mail to grandma@presto.com, and we queue it up, format it nicely, and send it via full-color fax to Grandma’s machine every night at 2AM.

When she wakes up in the morning, her “e-mail” will be sitting in the machine’s output tray – pictures of the grandkids, the latest family gossip, birthday wishes, etc. We’ll even provide third party content, so you can sign Grandma up to receive a weekly newsletter from her favorite newspaper or magazine.

No matter what you send, the process is the same: Grandma wakes up every morning and checks the Presto machine, just like she checks her regular mailbox. Couldn’t be more simple, no?

(NOTE: The above is not a quote; I wrote it myself. But it basically summarizes the way they are selling the product)

This strikes me as sheer genius – circa 1996.

It’s been a well-documented trend for several years now that older people are a big presence online. So the odds are that Grandma not only owns a computer, but is also fully versed in e-mail and surfs the web regularly. If not, she probably knows quite a few people of her generation that do, and would probably prefer to learn, as opposed to doing an end-run around the process with a device like this.

Of course, there are exceptions: if Grandma has physical ailments that prevent her from reading the screen or typing very well, then this might be a good subsitute. Also, cost works in Presto’s favor. the machine is $150, and the service is $9.99/month. Even a cheap computer is going to run $500 or more, and the monthly fee for internet/e-mail access is probably going to break the ten dollar mark too. So if Social Security isn’t going as far as it should, Presto might be a cheap alternative to actual e-mail.

So I think there’s a market for this, although it’s probably small and shrinking. The world is becoming more tech-savvy, not less, so in time, one would expect Presto! to go Poof!

Categories: Tech Talk | 2 Comments »

DST2K7 – Y2K’s forgotten stepchild

Friday, February 23rd, 2007

I blogged about a month ago about the new Daylight Savings Time rules, and their impact on corporate IT environments. Since then, there has been a lot of time and effort dedicated to patching and testing various systems and environments to make sure that everything continues to run smoothly after 2AM on March 11, 2007.

Here, for example, is the Security Industry Association (SIA)’s Business Continuity Page regarding Daylight Savings Time. It has links to more than thirty technology vendors, each of which have specific recommended procedures for testing and verifying their products. The page also includes a log of commentary by SIA members which also gives a good sense of how seriously this is all being taken.

I still remain mystified about why this hasn’t gotten the same kind of hysterical press coverage that Y2K did. Don’t get me wrong – I prefer it this way. I’m just surprised the media hasn’t taken the opportunity to news catalog this with the Y2K story and sell some papers leading up to 3/11/07.

I guess what I said before still applies:

The implications of the world’s computers being one hour off are relatively minor, whereas having them be 1,000 years off requires the building of underground bunkers, the purchasing of copious amounts of duct tape, and a deep introspection about our society’s dependency on technology.

Categories: News and/or Media, Tech Talk | No Comments »


Thursday, February 22nd, 2007

Wil Wheaton points us to a very cool blog, which I plan to check out semi-regularly. It’s called Indexed, and it consists of graphs & charts drawn on index cards in order to comment on social issues, pop culture, or life in general. Here’s the one that Wil chose to highlight.

He’s right – it’s one of the best, but the others are very cool too. Check it out…

Categories: Blogging about Blogs | No Comments »

Billy Joel – All My Life lyrics

Thursday, February 22nd, 2007

My trusty Google Analytics stats tell me that many folks have come to this blog looking for the lyrics to Billy Joel’s new single, All My Life, only to find my review of the song, but no lyrics.

I Googled around myself, but had difficulty finding them as well, particularly because of his 1978 hit, My Life, which is gumming up the search results. Hopefully, this will help matters:

All My Life
by Billy Joel

All My Life
I’ve searched this whole world through.
Try as I might
to find someone like you.

Years drifted by
but it was always on my mind.
I didn’t know just how long I’d go
until I ran out of time.

All My Life
I’ve hurt the ones who cared.
One by one
no loving heart was spared.

I’ve been a wild and restless man
but still a man who needs a wife.
That was my dream and now it seems
you’ve taken All My Life.

For as long as I could
my intentions were good.
I assumed my affairs
would be fine.

But I know very well
there’s a long road to hell
that’s been paved with
intentions like mine.

All My Life
I’ve paid for my mistakes.
After a while
the strongest spirit breaks.

I’ve had heartache and pain
that cut me deeper than a knife.
Ah, but those days are done
’cause you’re the one
I’ve wanted All My Life

And I know very well
there’s a long road to hell
that’s been paved with
intentions like mine.

All My Life
my stars were surely crossed.
Now and then
I missed the love I lost.

But all that changed
the day you said you’d be my wife.
Who could have known
that finding you would only take me
All My Life.

Categories: Words about Music | 3 Comments »

ISBS Review: The New Blogger

Wednesday, February 21st, 2007

Like many Blogger users, I’ve been wary about switching to the new Blogger tool, primarily because the old tool did just about everything I wanted it to do. But I also read this Instapundit post which pointed to a string of problems Ann Althouse was having with the new Blogger, which in turn pointed to some problems reported by her commenters. Now granted, it’s not a random sample (complaints always seem to draw other complaints), but given the lack of a burning platform, a couple of bad reviews was enough to keep me from switching.

Then, last weekend, I was doing some blog maintenance on a friend’s computer. I went to Blogger.com and got the usual “Click here to switch” message. Except this time, the option to proceed with the Old Blogger tool wasn’t there anymore, so I was forced to switch immediately.

This was a little disconcerting, since I was in the middle of a nice weekend with friends, and really didn’t have a lot of time to mess around with Blogger if things didn’t work well. I understand the desire to move everyone to the new platform and all, but a warning would have been nice. You know, something along the lines of
WARNING: After February XX, the Old Blogger tool will no longer be available.” Then I’d have been able to switch on my own terms.

At any rate, I’m happy to report that my switch went flawlessly. The fact that my blog only has ~350 entries (as opposed to Ann Althouse’s 7,000) might have had something to do with it, as might the fact that I waited until the big bugs were flushed out. Either way, (potential) disaster avoided, so that’s a good thing.

So, what do I think of the new tool? Not bad, but no great shakes.

The ability to categorize posts is nice, and the interface for updating categories on old posts seems very straightforward. I could probably categorize all ~350 of my posts in under an hour, assuming it took less than that long to figure out what categories I wanted to use. The thing is, in my years of reading blogs, I’ve never once clicked on a category link to view only a portion of the entries, so I’m not particularly motivated to categorize mine. Maybe if I had thousands of entries and thousands of new readers every day, it would make sense to organize the data that way, but at my current pace and readership, it’s probably a waste of time.

(NOTE: If anyone disagrees strongly, let me know.
I’m happy to bow to popular demand if such a thing exists).

Other improvements:

The main page allows you to go directly to the post management, settings management, or template management pages. Nice touch, but it only really saves me one click.

The Manage Posts page, in addition to adding categorizing features, now provides links to comments for each post, so I can scan the list to find the posts with comments. This is only useful if I’m perusing the blog at work, and don’t have access to my home e-mail, which notifies me whenever a comment comes in. Again – nice touch, but not revolutionary.

The post editor has a “View Rich Text” feature that may or may not have been there before (I’m honestly not sure). Either way, it’s pretty useful when you’re dealing with a lot of HTML (example: the first paragraph of this post – the one with all the links – was much easier to edit in Rich Text mode than in HTML mode).

There’s supposedly an ability to have multiple authors post to the same blog, but I haven’t seen evidence of that yet, nor have I looked real hard. Again, I don’t need the feature, so it’s a low priority investigation for me.

I’m also told that publishing has been streamlined, although this is the first post I’ve done in the new tool, so I’m about to find out. Hold on a sec…

OK, I’m back. The process is different, but I can’t say it’s noticeably faster. It used to show you a % Complete meter, and then give you a Your Post Has Been
Successfully Published message. Now, you get a spinning icon (no more percent meter), but then you get a report that details exactly what files were FTP’ed to your server (in my case: the blog post itself, the RSS feed, the Atom.xml file, the blog’s main page, and the current monthly index). As above, a small and rather insignificant change.

In summary: They’ve added a few new features, but nothing miraculous. I’d have been happy to stay with the old tool, and I’m still a little miffed about being forced to switch without warning, but I’m just as happy using this new tool as I was before. So no harm, no foul.

Categories: ISBS Reviews, Tech Talk | No Comments »

Valentine’s Day Trivia

Thursday, February 15th, 2007

Question: How long do you have to be married before an acceptable Valentine’s Day gift can be cobbled together at FYE Music Store, Duane Reade Drug Store, and Penn Station New York between the hours of 5:30pm and 6:00pm on February 14th?

Answer: 12 years, 7 months.

(Obligatory note to horrified females married less than 12 yrs, 7 mos: her gift to me was purchased entirely at Hallmark, and I’m absolutely fine with that.)

Categories: Family Matters | No Comments »

Partying Like With a Rockstar

Monday, February 12th, 2007

Well, I had an exciting weekend…

The University of Pennsylvania Band, an organization known for its long-standing traditions, as well as its strong musicianship and fun-loving culture, tempted fate by violating what has become one of Penn’s many sacred, musical traditions.

All Right Now, a hit song from the mid-70′s by the band Free, used to be played near the end of a game, whenever the football/basketball team had the game well in hand. After a fateful day at the Yale Bowl in the late 80′s, when Penn lost the game due to a fumbled snap while the band blared the song, the tradition morphed into what it is today: All Right Now is not to be played, or even mentioned in the stands, until after the game is over. Yogi Berra would be proud.

Anyway, last Saturday night, the Band played host to a special guest – Simon Kirke, the legendary drummer from Free and Bad Company. At halftime of the Penn/Harvard basketball game on Saturday, Simon took center court, surrounded by the Band, and rocked out his Bad Company hit, Can’t Get Enough, followed by a cover of Santana’s Everybody’s Everything. And then, with Penn leading by just a scant six points and twenty minutes of basketball left to play, Simon and the Band put forth a killer version of All Right Now! When it was over, the Band stood under a giant ladder and broke mirrors over a group of passing black cats. OK, I’m kidding about the last part, but you get the idea…

Anyway, Simon was fantastic, the Band sounded great, and I’m very relieved to report that Penn went on to win the game, 67-53. After the final buzzer sounded, in what could be a historical first, the band played All Right Now for the second time in the same night.

Pictures are here. Video is coming soon…

Categories: University of Pennsylvania, Words about Music | No Comments »

New from Google: WebMaster Tools

Thursday, February 8th, 2007

As long as I’m blogging about Billy Joel and technology, check out this new service from Google – Webmaster Tools.

First of all, I didn’t realize that the “link:” parameter in Google returned only “a sub-sampled list of backlinks.” According to the linked article, this is done intentionally to prevent search engine manipulation. I can only assume this means they don’t want spammers using the information to target specific sites, or other search engines to reverse engineer their search algorithms and compete with them more effectively.

At any rate, this new tool gives you a much larger list of sites that link to pages on your own site. Sign-up is easy: you have to verify you are the site owner in one of two ways: FTP’ing an HTML file to your site’s domain (they give you a convoluted name to use), or putting a harmless META tag in your site’s index file. The thought here is that if you have permission to upload files and/or edit files in the domain, then you must be the site owner.

Once you’re past sign-up, the tool is very rudimentary. This actually surprised me, since most of Google’s tools are very slick looking and extremely user friendly. This one is a simple tab & menu interface, the lists it returns only allow viewing of (max) 100 items at a time, and each page comes up with a “Do you want to display secure and non-secure items on this page?” message every time I click a link (yes, I know I can turn this off, but I shouldn’t have to adjust browser settings to use one of their tools!). There is a spreadsheet download option, though, which puts all the data into Excel for easy manipulation, so if the interface really bugs you, at least there’s a workaround.

All of that said, the information is very interesting, both in terms of what sites are linking to mine and also the most popular search terms that bring back pages from my site (including their average position in the result set).

Links to my site were mostly from Jeff Porten’s blog, The Vast Jeff Wing Conspiracy or from Jason Bennion’s blog, Simple Tricks and Nonsense, or from a comment thread on John Scalzi’s blog, The Whatever (note that most blogs make your name in a comment entry a link back to your site – lest you think I spent all of my time self-pimping my blog in Scalzi’s comment threads). There are a couple of other sites that link back to me, and I knew about most of them through Technorati searches, through comments on my blog by the site’s author, or just through word of mouth. The only one that was truly new to me was this review of a Billy Joel concert in Johannesburg, which quotes (and links to) my review of his Madison Square Garden concert, calling it a “good well informed review.” So hey, that’s cool – a positive review of a review inside of someone else’s positive review. You don’t see that everyday.

On the search term side, Google Analytics provides a ton of great data on the search terms people used to get to my site, but this is a little bit different: this list includes search terms that return pages from my site, even if no one has clicked on my page as a result. The results are somewhat illuminating. Here are some samples:

brian greenberg (average rank in results: 6)
tables in blogger (average rank: 1)
i should be sleeping instead of dreaming about you lyrics (avg. rank: 8)
how to get hair like emmy rossum (avg. rank: 9)
lee teabing da vinci (avg. rank: 18)
“550 permission” blogger (avg. rank: 1)
country song “i should be sleeping” (avg. rank: 3)
“sleeping positions” “what they mean” (avg. rank: 7)
aladdin and jasmin (avg. rank: 12)

There’s also a Page Analysis tab, which tells you the keywords Google has indexed in your domain, as well as the keywords most often used in links to your site (which Google also indexes, improving it’s search results).

All in all, a nice tool for the toolbox. Check it out yourself, why don’tcha?

Categories: Blogging about Blogs, Tech Talk | No Comments »

ISBS Review: “All My Life” by Billy Joel

Wednesday, February 7th, 2007

Billy Joel’s new single was released today on People.com of all places. The site allows you to send it someone as a Valentine’s Day card.

So much to say here. First, let’s start with a review:

This is a classic ballad. And by classic, I mean straight out of the 1940′s. The artist that came to mind immediately was Tony Bennett. If you like “I Left My Heart in San Francisco,” you’ll love “All My Life.” Joel’s voice sounds incredible – a truly amazing tone, given his age and his recent health problems. The lyrics are a little sappy in places, but I don’t think that will matter. In the end, it’s going to be a hit on the soft rock charts, and probably on the pop charts too, but only because it’s Billy Joel and he hasn’t released anything in more than 13 years. One thing’s for certain – it’s going to be one of the most popular “first dance at our wedding” songs in a lot of years. It has exactly the right feel for that sort of thing.

In the end, my fervent hope is that it brings him tremendous success, and that the success gives him the “bug” to get back into the studio and record more popular music. It’s been too long since we’ve heard anything new from Billy Joel, and this song made me realize I’ve missed that. So come on, Billy, how about an entire album? Whaddaya say?!?

One other thought: this one on the geekier, more technical side:

The People.com link is the entire song, not just a clip. And it provides functionality to send it to someone else. That means I’m about 6 clicks away from making a perfect digital copy of the song & dropping it on my iPod for free.

That said, two weeks from now, the song will be available for sale on iTunes Music Store, assumedly for 99 cents. Unless I find myself inspired and with some free time on my hands in the next two weeks, I’ll probably just kick in the 99 cents and buy it on the 20th.

My, how far we’ve come. If this song sells well on iTunes, or at Amazon, or wherever else they’re planning on offering it, I think it will be conclusive proof that the horror stories the RIAA has been telling us about music pirating are officially bullshit. This is a new recording from one of the most successful artists of all time, available for free to anyone who wants it, and yet people are poised to pay money for it for the convenience of not having to deal with audio-ripping software. How far we’ve come, indeed…

UPDATE: For those looking for the lyrics to the song, they’re here.

Categories: ISBS Reviews, Tech Talk, Words about Music | 1 Comment »

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