On FaceTime

Hey, some non-bike content! Adapt!
Even if you’re not an Apple fanboi, you’ve probably heard that Apple announced the next-generation iPhone this week. Among many other magical new features, El Jobso brings us FaceTime, a video chat system. In fact, the new iPhone has a forward-facing camera for just this purpose.
Now, I’m not a video chat curmudgeon. I love video chat on desktops and laptops. In fact, I strongly suspect that the ultimate purpose of Internet technology is to enable grandparents to video chat with their grandkids (we should do that more often, grandparents). That, and ChatRoulette. Not that I’ve ever tried it. However, I have two big problems with mobile video chat.
The first problem is closely akin to the Gorilla Arm syndrome with vertical touch-screens. You’re not going to be able to hold that phone out in front of your face for any length of time. No, you’re going to want to rest it in your lap after the first deltoid-frying minute or so. Then what do you get? Nostrils and chins, folks, nothing but nostrils and chins. Even with people you love, I don’t think that’s what you’re going to want to gaze upon.
The second problem – which Apple has, perhaps inadvertently, addressed by making FaceTime WiFi only for now – is the distraction factor. You think texting while driving is dangerous? Try video chat. FaceTime will rapidly morph into FaceThroughWindshieldTime. Yes, I know the there are probably as many as five people in the world who have 3G mobile video chat capability right this very minute, but fortunately they spend all their money on gadgets and can’t afford cars. If or when the nineteen gazillion iPhone users get the capability, well, look out.
It’s not all bad. I’m sure someone will figure out how to multi-cast FaceTime sessions, at which point we’ll have live video coverage (desired or not) of all kinds of events. And I suppose there might come a time when I’ll need the ability to get somebody’s attention from beyond visual range and say “hey, look at this.” But for now, I don’t think we’re going to find FaceTime as compelling as Apple would like us to.

Catalyst 8.11? On *my* Radeon HD 3850 AGP?

It could happen to you!
The backstory is that my 3-year-old (which is about 923 in PC years) Radeon 9800 Pro quit on me a few weeks ago. Well, at least its cooling fan quit, leading to system lockups. I didn’t see an obvious way to replace the fan so I opted for replacing the card. PC is at least one generation behind in terms of graphics card interfaces, which limited my choices somewhat, but I settled rather quickly on the Sapphire Radeon HD 3850 in AGP flavor.
The card shipped with Catalyst 8.4 drivers, which are probably fine except for a known issue with Firefox displaying all default-styled hyperlinks as red. Sidebar: every time I think about how a video driver might have such a specific interaction with a single application, I get the cold sweats. Anyway, that sort of novelty doesn’t sit well with me. I like my hyperlinks blue and my gifs non-animated, please.
So, just update the drivers, right? Not so easy. The current version of Catalyst (8.11) failed to recognize my HD 3850 as compatible. A little bit of forums surfing turned up this thread on the Catalyst support forum, which provided some useful (if nearly incoherent) advice.
Translated a bit, here’s how to get Catalyst 8.11 to recognize your Sapphire HD 3850 AGP:
1. Download and unzip the Catalyst 8.11 package
2. Fire up regedt32 and go to HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SYSTEM\CurrentControlSet\Enum\PCI
3. Find the key that starts with VEN1002. Mine is HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SYSTEM\CurrentControlSet\Enum\PCI\VEN_1002&DEV_9596&SUBSYS_00281787&REV_00
4. Copy the key name to a text editor
5. In another text editor window, go to the directory where you unzipped the Catalyst package and open driver\install.ini. Search for 0x9505:0x25421002 and replace it with the numbers in the DEV and SUBSYS sections of the reg key. Following my example above, I use 0x9596:0x00281787
6. Open driver\CX_70266.ini and perform the same operation (find 0x9505:0x25421002 and replace it with 0x9596:0x00281787, or whatever values you found in your registry).
Save the config files and execute setup.exe. Now the driver install should recognize your card.
I suppose you can just download Catalyst 8.10 and the AGP Hotfix for that version. But clearly, that’s cheating, so it would make you a cheater. And you’re not a cheater, are ya?

What I know about FiOS…

…will fit in this post.
If FiOS is available in your neighborhood, Verizon has already installed the fiber infrastructure and run fiber to a junction box. The home install involves a tech running the fiber from a nearby telephone pole into your house, installing the terminal that converts the optical signal to coax, POTS and (maybe) Ethernet, and setting up your cable box and router. This will take somewhere between three hours and forever. My install was closer to three hours, though (of course) I handled the router setup myself.
You may have seen some forum complaints about having to dig up the yard; that’s probably not applicable anywhere in MA since our old neighborhoods all have phone service coming off poles rather than buried lines. The customer premises equipment includes the fiber terminal, a backup battery and A/C power supply. The tech will want to locate all of that close to where the fiber enters the house, which is presumably also near where the cable TV coax comes in. The terminal will need to be close to a power outlet and your main phone junction box. We installed ours in the basement next to the breaker box. I was worried that I’d have to fish twisted pair through the wall to get the network signal to an upstairs router, but the coax output allowed me to use the existing cable TV wiring. The provided router has a coax input as well as a built-in 4 port 10/100 hub and 802.11g access point so you don’t have to go through any abnormal gyrations to get your computers hooked up.
I’ve had two complaints in the last 18 months: the install tech forgot to put the backup battery in during the initial install, so we had a beep in the basement for 24 hours or so until someone could come out and install it. Then, a couple months ago, my router flaked out and Verizon overnighted a replacement. No service outages or DNS hiccups, as far as I can recall. I also have a minor gripe in that Verizon redirects failed DNS lookups to their own search engine, which is kinda uncool. The wireless may or may not be a bit flaky. I have a running issue with my Chumby’s clock losing time and not updating via NTP, which I can fix temporarily by rebooting the router. Still haven’t figured that one out yet, but there it is. Our laptop and other wireless devices work just fine.
As for phone service, the phone does ride the light wave into the house, but it’s not really VOIP; 911 works normally and there’s an LED labeled POTS to represent phone status on the terminal box. The backup battery provides phone service for up to 4 hours (as I recall) in case of a power outage.
Definitely count me as a happy customer; it’s faster and more consistent than the Comcast cable we had in the old house, and the phone, cable and Internet all come on one bill without having to go VOIP.

Cell phone obsession II: The contract goes to…

After a little more research and hand-wringing, we popped over to the Apple store this weekend and walked away with an iPhone. I was leaning towards the BlackBerry Bold until I figured out that I’d have to pay the business data rate to have access to my business email, which would have negated much of the savings that motivated me to move to AT&T in the first place. I think the centralized administration and big-brotherly nature of the BlackBerry architecture provides an advantage for businesses that need to manage a herd of devices, but for little ol’ me, that stuff sounded like a pain in the butt.
After a couple days in my pocket, I think I like it well enough. Phone-feature-wise it’s probably not as good as some others, though I must say the voice quality is a big step up from my Q. That may just be GSM vs CDMA, though. The web browsing, however, blows just about everything else away, and having an iPod in there as well sure is nice. Apple clearly traded off features for a “humane” interface, and I find myself forgiving some gaps in functionality because it’s just so much fun to look at. I’m getting used to the keyboard, and I think after a few more days I’ll be as fast as I was on my old phone.
The thing is about as grippy as a wet pumpkin seed, though. I actually like it better in the case.

Cell phone obsession

My contract with Verizon ends this week, and the battery on my Moto Q is about to go to its little Li-Ion reward, so I’m in the throes of my biennial obsession with cell phones. I’ve been a Verizon customer for about six years (three phones) and I don’t have any particular complaints…except that we pay two cell phone bills. Elise is stuck with ATT; they were nice enough to plop a microcell in the basement of her hospital so her phone works in the ORs. If I switched to AT&T, we can go to a family plan and I’d probably save enough in the first year to pay for the phone I’d have to buy. That’s a pretty compelling argument. If it wasn’t for the whole

thing, I’d be set.
So while I agonize about that, anybody got any smartphone recommendations? Due to some changes at work I’m no longer feeling the need to stick with Windows Mobile for the sake of political correctness. However, I gotta have Exchange integration. I admit that I’m now addicted to the whole email-in-the-pocket thing. I use that quite a bit, and I tend to do a fair bit of web browsing (mostly Google Reader) on the train. My major functional gripe with the Q is the lack of multiple vibrate alerts, or some way to differentiate text message alerts and calendar reminders from incoming email.
I downloaded the BlackBerry simulators for two new models (the Storm on Verizon, and the Bold on ATT) and they look pretty slick. The Storm in particular looks sexy, but I’m not sure it’s sexy enough to justify the extra recurring expense.
So besides the BlackBerrys, and what’s-it-called from that company in Cupertino, anything else I should consider?

Lightroom 1.4.1 upgrade problem – solved

For the last few days I’ve been trying to upgrade my Adobe Lightroom install to 1.4.1, but was met with a dialog box proclaiming that Adobe_Lightroom.msi could not be found, and prompting for a new file path. The default path in the picker was a path into Documents and Settings\{username}\Application Data that didn’t exist.
Tonight I found this thread on the Adobe support forums that pointed me at a Microsoft Support Article that provided a download of the Windows Installer CleanUp Utility. I ran that, cleaned up the original Lightroom install, and was able to upgrade to 1.4.1. Problem solved.
This stuff is getting way too complex.

Franklin Templeton: Security Through Inaccessibility

I knew I was in for it when I tried to get to my account on franklintempleton.com last Saturday afternoon, and the main page was replaced with a notice that the site would be down for scheduled maintenance “until 2am on Saturday.” By Sunday afternoon, the main page was back. But I still couldn’t log in; evidently part of the “scheduled maintenance” was a new security scheme that required me to specify a user ID other than a certain personally identifying number (good) and provide answers to a bunch of challenge questions that would be used during the login process (bad, as it turns out). No matter how I filled out that form, it would not validate, insisting that I hadn’t provided answers to some of the questions. I tried in both IE7 and Firefox 2, to no avail. Eventually I forgot about it. I meant to screenshot the security form, but I guess I didn’t.
I took another look tonight, and saw this pleasant little notice (which I did screenshot):
Given how I make my living, I have some sympathy for this. Wait, no I don’t. It takes real effort to make something that will work in IE6 but not IE7. If I let something like that get into production, I’d at least get yelled at, and I might just get fired. I’d deserve whatever I got, especially if I left it up for a week. Fer cry yi yi, it’s the intertubes…one of the benefits is that it’s easy to update rapidly and fix your mistakes.
I sure am glad I didn’t need to get to my account this week.

Intellitxt blocking update

The entry I wrote back in 2004 about blocking Intellitxt-style context ads consistently gets the most search engine hits of any page on my website. Naturally, it’s a little out-of-date. Other providers have sprung up, and Intellitxt now uses a unique hostname for each site using the service. Because of that, using the hosts file to redirect certain domains doesn’t work so well anymore (you’d have to add an entry for every site whose ads you want to block). So here’s what I know now:

Continue reading

Blog changes

For those of you reading via RSS (and I think that there’s at least one of you out there, in addition to the spiders), I’ve changed the layout over to three columns. The left sidebar now features my Google Reader shared items and my del.icio.us bookmarks. Both are also available via RSS:
del.icio.us RSS
Google Reader shared items RSS
And if my calculations are correct, I should get an automatic blog entry in about an hour with the bookmarks I added to del.icio.us today.
If you’ve got similar setups, please let me know…I’m curious to see what my friends are reading.