So Long and Thanks for All the Fish

In the course of human events, it is often necessary (or just plain amusing) to make a sharp left.

After more than three years, ThermionicEmissions will be relocating.   Thanks to the extended Lockergnome family and all of the great readers over the years.  It’s been an absolute blast.

When you’re through here, please visit and stay in touch.

leftystrat

mrs. leftystrat

Marshall

Ren

Happy Passover – Let’s Get Out There and Offend Someone

I have long stated that I’m an ex-Jew: I gave it up for Lent.  I am not shrinking from that position at all – just building on it.  I know that every religion has its odd beliefs and behaviors: I thought I’d share some…

Here we are, mid-April; some will refer to it as spring, some Passover, some Easter (and some Drink Up).  I remember Passovers past, before I became an ex-Jew.  For some unknown reason, the holiday always seemed to come out on my birthday, thus denying me a cake.  Anyone who has ever tasted any Passover food can tell you that there is NO kosher substitute for a birthday cake.  The Hebrew calendar is numbered differently than everyone else’s calendar so holidays don’t always show up the same day, yet somehow they managed to keep coming out on my birthday.

The Jews don’t eat leavened bread during Passover.  Instead they eat matzoh.  Matzoh is a special form of torture, according to the Geneva Convention, that is indistinguishable from its container in terms of taste (kinda like Pizza Hut pizza).

Some people actually look forward to matzoh, preparing a dish called fried matzoh.  This is not only against the Geneva Convention, there are several entire continents on which this is forbidden.  Although the American Medical Association has not officially condemned this delicacy, I understand that a resolution is pending.

I will never in a million years understand this, but my wife (the ex-Catholic), is a much better Jew than I could ever have been.  My family loves her and she attends most of the events (solo – I’m sure as hell not going).  She must have a thing for noses (I’ve seen pictures of her old boyfriends).

Tonight is the first night of Passover, as evidenced by my family getting together.  My wife will of course be there, but I told her that I’m not coming if I can’t bring pizza.  So it’s pretty much been decided that I’ll just stay home and amuse myself.  Yes, another night relegated to self-amuse.

Today’s amusement started early at work.  I work with a stellar fellow who also happens to be a pastor.  We learn a lot from each other, although I suspect he’d rather un-learn most of it.  His denomination is Christian but via the Old Testament, so his holidays look Jewish.  Before he left for Passover, he asked if we did foot-washing.  Now I bathe as frequently as the next guy, but I had a feeling that wasn’t what he was asking me.  The blank look on my face must’ve given it away, as he explained to me that his group does this as a gesture of humility.  I understand that Catholics do this too.

So no foot-washing.  But we work with a lot of people who have Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, so there is an awful lot of hand-washing, if that counts.

Meanwhile, a few of the more sensitive members of the staff started cutting out beanies (yamulkuh, head covering) and taping them to their heads.  I have no idea if this was their idea of a gesture of humility or not: I was just glad that it wasn’t me doing all the offending in the department for once.

I feigned indignation when I discovered all of the local sports teams were playing tonight (on Passover!).  The discussion was settled when I was assured that all of the Jews in the NFL and NBA were taking the holiday off (both of them).

And then it occurred to me, like a blinding flash of lightning, with rain soaking me to the skin on gig night…. church and synagogue attendance would go through the roof if they instituted, as a gesture of humility, boob-washing.  It could be completely cross-denominational.  They could even tie it in to breast exams and cancer awareness.  This is a no-lose proposition.

The pastor allowed as to how there might be a few hitches in getting this implemented.  He was going to stick with foot-washing but he thanked me profusely, probably so he could get past me and through the exit.

BOOB-WASHING, you say….

So there I was, an idea in search of an application.  I did what I always do when I need unconditional approval (or grief): I called my wife.   As it turned out, she was most impressed and agreeable to the idea.  I made sure to specify that this was not a part of any existing religion’s practices – it was purely a great idea that needed to be spread.

Since I have no religion or other tax shelter, I decided to start my own.  Welcome, my friends, to the Church of Hendrix.  As I am told, we’re one step to the left of the Unitarian Atheists’ Committee.

Our first tenet is worship of boobs.  No, not George Bush, Simon Cowell, or Barack Obama; real boobies, hence the ritual boob-washing.  Aside from a serious appreciation of Jimi Hendrix (and left-handed guitarists in general), we don’t have much else at the moment.  Okay, there is chocolate too, but that’s it.

Now isn’t that the kind of religion that you need to observe?   No stained glass, no pedophiles, no beanies, no grief, and most of all, no guilt.

The line forms to the left (of course).

 

Happy Whatever, Everybody!

It Was A Dark and Stormy Gig…

It was a dark and stormy night.

No, really, it was a dark and stormy night.  As best I can figure, the constant black cloud over our house had moved two blocks east to cover the bar.  Or it simply expanded to cover a three block area with torrential rain and thunder that shook the entire neighborhood.

You see, the thing about this particular cloud is that it spends all of its time over my house, just watching me and trying to figure out what particular kind of sun-blocking or precipitation it can precipitate upon the family at any one time, with the goal of making me as miserable as cumulously possible.

My wife said it wasn’t raining too hard and it would be a good time to load the gear into the car.  She realized her mistake almost immediately, as the cloud overheard her and tripled its output, drenching both of us on one trip to the car.  In case you always wanted to know why the rain seems to start at the worst possible moment, there is your answer.

It took four trips to get all the gear into the bar, at which point I was both sweaty and drenched from the rain, which had somehow managed to follow us from the house to the bar.

The bar looked different from the last time I was there, which might have been due to the HAPPY BIRTHDAY decorations and signs all over the place.  There were streamers so large they were hypnotizing some of the guests.

The owner made me feel welcome by popping up and mentioning that he didn’t know the party was over at eight, so it would be a good idea to come back later.  In other words, I don’t want you setting up and bothering the guests, so come back in two hours or so.   Of course he didn’t know the party was supposed to go on until we were to start playing – he’s the owner.  Bar owners never know what time events are happening at their own bars…. it’s in the manual.

I dutifully texted the rest of the band to let them know to retard by two hours or so.  I even tactfully managed not to yell (in a text message) that no one bothered to tell me not to arrive two hours early.

Eventually we managed to assemble at my favorite pizza place to fuel up for the gig.  As we pulled up to the bar, the cloud reappeared and proceeded to bestow its rainy goodness down upon us for the second time.  I personally apologized to the band for my cloud.  The keyboardist was most impressed with the sheer volume of the rainy assault and asked if it was like that all the time.  As it turned out, we got four inches.  Even more impressive were the shoes, bits of trash, and smaller houses floating down the street.  There was some old dude loading animals into a boat but don’t ask me why.

The birthday people were most kind to us, offering cake.  This sidelined the keyboard player for a good twenty minutes (well, there were only four slices).

The real fun was only beginning.  A few minutes into setup someone remembered that someone forgot the keyboard stands.  It was decided to dispatch the singer, as he was two days away from hernia sugery and was, in his own words, worthless.  When questioned as to how this was different from normal, he amended his statement to `more worthless than usual.’

Have you ever had to wring out a tube amp to get the rain out?  It was damn near comical to watch me gingerly plug things in.  Everything cooperated until it came time to tune my guitars.  My hat was so rain-soaked that every time I looked down at my tuner, a drop fell on something below me.  I was kinda hoping none of the water would drip into the amp.  Even though I had a spare, I didn’t need the pyrotechnics.

At about this time, manglement started agitating for the band to start.  One would think that manglement would have known that a band needs more than twenty minutes to set up their instruments and a large p.a. system.  Perhaps they forgot in the heat of the moment: I believe in giving people the benefit of the doubt.

Eventually the singer returned.  We were impatiently waiting for him onstage.  He kinda wandered in and asked if I had tuned his guitar.  Unfortunately for both of us, I never graduated Tuning Backwards Guitar School.  That will serve him right for telling people from the stage that I take twice as long to play guitar because I’m left-handed.

Breaking news: the 110-year old Philadelphia Orchestra is in Chapter 11.  How does an orchestra go Chapter 11?

Somehow, after the singer changed his shorts (don’t ask), we got started on our first set.  And the place was full, much to our surprise and that of the cloud, which was parked just above the bar.  They clapped.  They danced.  We sweated.

More news: a plane had to make an emergency landing in Louisiana.  It hit a minivan full of toddlers.  Fortunately no one was hurt.  I really need to stop typing this stuff while watching the news.

We kept the door closed due to the rain, which had the effect of making the stage area like Orlando: 95 degrees with 95% humidity.  I had horrible visions of being carted out of the bar on a stretcher. Fortunately we opened the back door, which helped to keep us cool.  It was like playing to a tsunami.

Meanwhile, the cloud was getting jealous that it couldn’t make us further miserable (yet).  Not to worry, at about that point, the p.a. system started having fits.  Microphones that worked perfectly just a moment ago weren’t working.  The problems kept jumping channels just to keep us flustered and confused trying to deal with them while playing and singing (we’re new – who can afford sound people?).

I suspect the cloud was somehow responsible for the p.a. problems.  There’s just no way to prove it.

It was during a break that I acquired Perspective.  It was one of those golden moments in life where something just clicks into place.  When you’re in a band in your twenties, it’s all about booze, drugs, and chicks.  In your thirties, it’s about booze and chicks.  In your forties, it’s about finding an amplifier that weighs less than you do.  Your drug of choice becomes Tylenol or ibuprofen.  I almost fell over when I saw the buffet of over-the-counter pain relievers and the band members eating them like a bowl of M&M’s (with all the brown ones taken out).

Still, two of our number like the old peace pipe.  I warned them against it because the local police were quite aggressive in their enforcement of laws (any laws).  I had to admit, though, that it would be a hell of a story to miss half of the gig because half of the band got arrested.  What we were making would not cover bail, even if we were inclined to try.

I have been a fan of Joe Cocker for longer than I can remember.  I enjoy doing his songs live, sometimes complete with spastic movements just like old Joe himself.  Unfortunately not everyone has seen Joe live, so certain audience members needed to be reassured that I wasn’t having a seizure onstage.  Audiences must be getting younger – I’m sure as hell not getting older.

The only surreal moment for me was that nothing broke.  Usually something exotic breaks, causing much grief in the middle of a set.  Everything I brought behaved like it never did before.

The next two sets went surprisingly well.  The audience was appreciative, alcohol was being sold, and someone from the bar set up a camera to record us.  That certainly never happened before.  We got everyone pretty excited but apparently they weren’t drunk enough to follow my spur of the moment suggestion that they all take off their clothes.  Numerous smiles confirmed they were at least listening.

When we finished, I felt as though I needed to be wrung out.  I must’ve gone through several gallons of water (I’m the only guitar player in this hemisphere that doesn’t drink), most of which had exited my pores as sweat.

We were grateful to notice that the rain had finally stopped, which would make loading out much easier on our poor old bodies (and hernias).  By the time we packed up and headed for the door, the cloud noticed we were loading the cars and once again poured torrential rain down upon our antedeluvian bodies.  It was but ten minutes from when we were grateful for the lack of rain.

The cloud knows.

Final Word and Bad Xoom News

I have had custody of a Xoom tablet for about a week now.  We are evaluating several tablets at work for deployment in the field.  Quite honestly, I think that quite a few of my coworkers should be deployed in the field and left there but as you might understand, no one asks me to make these kinds of decisions.  Go figure.

My boss is enjoying the hell out of a Samsung Galaxy.  As usual, I don’t see the utility of that particular device.  I played around with it for a few hours and it seemed like my Droid phone with a thyroid issue.  Granted, they’re both Android devices.  I just felt that the Galaxy was a bit small, especially if you want to type.

My boss got frustrated with the Xoom so I was given the opportunity to test drive it.  It was nice to give him the raspberry when I got it working.

The consensus of many reviewers seemed to be that the device was not ready for prime time.  Given that the 4G and SD capabilities would be activated later by software, I’d have to partially agree.  There are no existing apps for using it as a phone or sms (you have to root it first).  It’s also a bit heavy.

It is, however, not lacking in processor.  The dual core cpu really makes performance something to blog about.  Battery life feels quite good regardless of whether or not I’m using it much.  Wifi and 3G performance are flawless.  Screen size is great for remotely accessing computers (or most anything else).

SOFTWARE

Anybody who has used an Android device should have no trouble with this.  The Marketplace was familiar, although I couldn’t figure out how to display new apps only.  Installs and updates were simple.  For some reason, perhaps developer or Motorola confusion, there were not nearly as many apps available.  I had hoped I could find everything I loved on my Droid phone for the Xoom but was disappointed to find some missing.

There is an application to deal with Microsoft Office documents included.  Unfortunately it’s just a demo.  To do anything productive, you have to pay for it ($14.95 fyi).  There is another (view-only) suite available.

The Xoom got rave reviews from my wife and assorted inner and outer children.  Angry Birds kept everybody riveted to the screen for hours.

You can encrypt the entire device, which I did.  I appreciate this feature as a security guy.

OVERALL

I would have to agree with the other bloggers, in that this device is not ready for prime time.  In terms of putting it to work, it is also not ready.  While it does have some VPN capability, it could use built-in Office compatibility (and I hate Office).  After paying $600 or more, you should get software.

OOPS!

All of this wonderful information is about to become moot because the Xoom is about to be discontinued.  We spoke to one of our vendors today, who passed on this tidbit.  It seems that the larger consensus is that the device is not ready for prime-time (where did I hear that before?).  Manufacturers are apparently in a mad rush to compete with the other overpriced tablet.

SUGGESTIONS

As I mentioned, I’m not exactly the target market, because these things don’t really excite me.  I figure if you’re going to do it, do it right and just use a laptop or netbook.  If the universe somehow turned itself inside out and the manufacturer asked me how to improve the Xoom, here is what I’d suggest:

  • one word: lighter
  • make the screen bigger (and smudgeproof)
  • include a case and `kickstand’
  • include some decent business apps if that’s the target market
  • have it sense and jam any iDevice within range
  • keep it wide open in terms of format
  • make it affordable and you’ll own the market

Oh well, it was nice while it lasted.  While it’s not a barn-burner for $600, it sure is a nice toy at a considerably lower price point.  I enjoyed having it handy when a laptop or desktop would have been too heavy.

 

Perspective: What Does Your Government Think of You?

ONE

Just a day ago, the TSA again made news, this time by frisking a six year old girl.  Her parents were not thrilled.  Although the TSA predictably stated that they were just following rules (orders?), it appears as though this might result in some actual change.

I saw the picture and it horrified me.  It truly drove home what a nation of dimwits we are and how we have been hoodwinked.  There is simply no reason to perform the officially-sanctioned version of bad touch on a little girl.   In fact, there is no reason to perform bad touch on anybody.

But the picture of the poor little girl will be held up as a lesson to the rest of us: comply.  Expect to have your belongings and your person violated, all in the name of some nebulous concept of Homeland Security.

UPDATE: not completely satisfied with a six year old, TSA goes after a Pennsylvania three year old.

TWO

Senator James Inhofe (76), landed his private plane on a closed runway in Texas, `scaring the crap out of airport workers.’  He simply chose to ignore the big yellow X, indicating a closed runway; hit the ground, then pulled back up, nearly hitting construction workers and equipment, before landing further down the closed runway.

The construction supervisor said that Inhofe showed little contrition following the close call. “He come over here and started being like, ‘What the hell is this? I was supposed to have unlimited airspace.’”

Theairport manager stated, “I’ve got over 50 years flying, three tours of Vietnam and I can assure you I have never seen such a reckless disregard for human life in my life.”  This was apparently not the first time Inhofe ran (flew?) afoul of the FAA.

Inhofe agreed to “complete a program of remedial training” and considers the matter closed.

THREE

The president who vowed to make his administration the most transparent ever seems to have an issue with the correctness of White House visitor logs.  Bob Dylan played there in February but his name does not show up on the logs.  Given the media coverage, it’s pretty difficult to deny he was there.

  • There are people in the logs who never showed up at the White House.
  • More than 205,000 visits are missing the `event’ tag.
  • Less than 1 percent of the estimated 500,000 visits to the White House in Obama’s first eight months have been disclosed.

Apparently it’s perfectly legal and morally correct to simply refuse to present an accurate picture of who is visiting and for what.  There’s transparency (and change) for you.

 

WELL???

I have presented three events from today’s news, all involving our government.  It is apparent to me how they feel about us.

Is it apparent to you?

But the Damn Laptop is Brand New…

Recently I upgraded laptops.  Everybody in my department at work got the same model MSI laptop a few months back.  Or so I thought.

I kept noticing that whatever I did on the MSI made the cpu meter go through the roof and stay there a while.  After a month of this, I asked my coworkers about their experiences.  This produced no end of hysterical laughter, with the little darlings wanting to know what sorts of industrial strength processing I was doing on the laptop that would prompt speed complaints (and of course the mandatory `you don’t need a quad-core processor to watch porn‘ comments).

I wondered if perhaps the MSI didn’t like linux, which I installed immediately to get rid of the Windows 7 stench.  It seemed to play quite nicely with linux except for the (%*$ing touchpad, which almost drove me to drink.  I have had good luck with linux on every laptop and desktop I’ve had over the years.  In fact, I’m typing this entry on a very old Dell Latitude, which has been a faithful companion for years.  It has survived my dog’s frantic attempts to leap into my lap, which resulted in him tearing off several keys (that I never got around to replacing).  What didn’t survive was the first hard drive.  It went rather suddenly, and of course, before I had backed it up.  The next laptop, also a Dell, also blew a drive.  I seem to have some sort of otherworldly super-power that ends the lives of laptop hard drives.  [Trivia Time: victims of childhood abuse sometimes have a destructive effect on electronic gadgets, including hard drives, cell phones, and light bulbs.  But that’s not my excuse.]

After being teased one time too many that four cores should be enough for any team member at this point, I did some testing, only to discover that I either had a relatively anemic single core processor or I had somehow managed to kill three of the four cores.  Since the testing software indicated one core, it was decided to stop picking on me (momentarily) and get me a real laptop.  Or at least a cheap quad-core.  I had given up on MSI in hopes of regaining the use of my touchpad so I finally found a decent HP with an AMD processor.  Work has jettisoned Dell in favor of HP, so I figured why not. [subliminal message: Avoid Dell at all costs.]

So up popped my new HP, on went linux (it’s 2011, offer linux, please), and POOF – away went the touchpad.  I was beginning to suspect that my hard drive killing super-power was going to be dwarfed by my touchpad-killing potential super-power.

After extensive searching, I got the little bastard to cooperate (just a bit) via Synaptics and flSynclient.  It was still a bit frustratingly misbehaved but operable.  Two days ago I heard a heart-wrenching clacking.

I remembered I had booted with a cd in the drive for the first time, so I figured it came loose.  Or at least I blindly hoped it was the cd, so I removed it and rebooted.  To no avail.  Yes, folks, I had, without my knowledge, put on my cape and allowed my super-power to work its magic, destroying a two month old hard drive.  I couldn’t tell you how I did this if I tried.  From my posts as the Anti-Sports, you know I don’t play basketball with the laptop.  In fact, my laptops and my glasses are both handled very gingerly and don’t even get scratched.

With all the bravado (and all of the pleading) I could muster, I rebooted again.  Believe it or not, it came right up; no noise, no fuss.  Believe it or not, I had run a backup the day before.  Unfortunately it refused to further back up as the software was probably on an affected part of the hard drive.  No matter, I got out a large drive and started copying everything I could to it, just in case.

Keep in mind that at no time did the operating system complain or even perform a fsck (the linux analog of chkdsk) until two restarts later.  The only obvious issue is that some of the data is corrupt.

MEANWHILE…

The good news is that I purchased the HP laptop with an extended warranty.  The bad news is that I purchased it via Newegg.  I actually love Newegg for the prices and service, but if something breaks after thirty days, you have to deal with the manufacturer.  The most I can possibly get out of this is a new empty hard drive anyway, which might involved sending the laptop out or protracted dealings with the manufacturer, so a command decision was made to just purchase a damn new drive.

A bit of research suggested a hybrid SSD/hard drive, which is OS-agnostic and `learns’ your computing habits to optimize the way it works.  Even if the SSD part didn’t help, I’d still be getting a large, fast hard drive.  I should have it in short order so I will report on it then.

In the meantime, I’m left with the vagaries of trying to figure out what to copy to the external drive.  Out of sight, out of mind is a particular familiar and descriptive phrase for me.  Once I forgot to copy all of my hidden config files because they were (get ready…..)  ….hidden.

I’m relatively sure I’m supposed to be doing something relatively important tonight.  Oh yeah, getting my gear in shape for a show the band is doing this weekend.  Guess that isn’t getting done tonight.  Or tomorrow, if I get the new hard drive.

It’s ok, I’ll just play with dirty strings and tubes leaping out of their sockets.

Maybe some day I’ll figure out the cause of my super-powers.  Until then, I hope that my destruction is your amusement.

 

How Much Does Design Count?

I was reading an interesting article over at Linux Journal about some unfortunately closed-source commercial linux software.  Harrison has a compelling audio recorder.  Before I got too far into the article, I thought it was another open source effort, which is pretty much the only linux software I run.  While I was disappointed to discover this was closed source, it got me to thinkin’….

The software is called Mixbus and is a version of Ardour2, a digital audio workstation.  I am going to start with this product and use my powers of digression to wander over to other related concerns.

I have installed and previewed a large portion of the available audio recording software, so I have the tiniest bit of familiarity with what’s around.  What I haven’t had is a ton of experience…. I’m an old analog guy who came from a half-inch Tascam eight track reel to reel that I literally wore out.

My focus here is on how the design of the software impacts its usability and grok-ability (yes, I made that up, but it sure sounds technical-like and makes a powerful point, etc.).  It would seem the majority of software, including some made for Windows (yikes!) makes its own euphemisms for recording gear.  Upon seeing Mixbus, it occurred to me that perhaps this is the way to go to help a certain set of music-minded (potential) recordists succeed: don’t create analogs for recording gear: put the damn recording gear right on the screen and let the gearheads hook it up just like they’d be doing with their ancient analog gear in their antedeluvian home studios.

In other words, make the mixer look like an actual mixer, just like the folks at Harrison did with Mixbus.  FYI, Ardour is the open source non-commercial version of Mixbus and benefits from each purchase. Ardour does make use of this method also.

I’m not saying that every user of this software will benefit from this method but some certainly will.  It might explain why I sometimes fail to grok certain audio software.  I’m too much of a damn geek! Stop simplifying it and just give it to me straight, please.

———-

Here is where I start to wander a bit….

What form of lunacy invades the brains of software designers that causes their software, especially during install, to take up the entire ($*#ing screen?  Perhaps I’m multitasking, doing something else while your beknighted software is attempting to take up all of my screen real estate.  This is a territorial acquisition game, kind of like football, and your software’s default screen-grabbing is making me angry.

What’s worse is if there are multiple screens involved.  Have you ever seen an install screen splayed across two twenty-four inch screens?  It’s not pretty, folks.  It’s also not necessary.

While I’m wandering down the old screen real estate road, why is it that when I open anything at all in linux with a dual-montior system, everything opens up right smack in the middle of the two screens?  I have tried several remedies, believe me, but I’m always left going semi-blind, looking at some text input box with two monitor frames right down the middle of it.

———-

And lastly, having absolutely nothing to do with the above, why is it that I can sometimes click with my touchpad and have absolutely nothing happen, yet when I sneeze, I have inadvertently selected half the text of an unsaved blog entry and jettisoned it into the old bit bucket in the sky…???

 

Blow Up an Oil Rig, Get a Safety Bonus

Transocean, the folks responsible for the horrible explosion and resulting oil leak in the Gulf, has given its executives safety bonuses.  Yes, that’s right, safety bonuses.

I want to make sure I quote them exactly, so you don’t think I’m making this up:

for achieving the “best year in safety performance in our company’s history.”

I suppose we have no choice but to wonder what prior years were like at Transocean.  A quick check of the history books turns up nothing about sinking entire continents, blowing up individual states, or nuking any specific bodies of land, so I am disinclined to believe their claim.

A presidential commission stated that the Gulf explosion was caused by a series of time and money-saving decisions by Transocean, BP and oil services company Halliburton Inc.  Remember: wherever there’s Halliburton, there’s Cheney.

With that kind of presidential fact-finding, it’s no wonder Transocean gave out safety bonuses.   Perhaps they were simply elated that they hadn’t somehow managed to blow apart large chunks of the planet, sending Earth into an orbit around Pluto (whether or not it’s a planet).  Based upon this tremendous record of safety, we will have no choice but to continue to allow them to operate.

For the curious, Transocean rents floating drill rigs to oil and gas companies at a daily rate of roughly $282.700.  And with rental rates like that (and safety rates like this) you begin to understand why we use them and why there is a need to lavish their executives with obscene bonuses.

In order to keep the company lean and mean so they can pay out these bonuses, Transocean moved to Switzerland, where it enjoys a sixteen percent tax rate (down from thirty five percent when the company was headquartered in the US).  Just so you know this is not a tax-dodge, the Switzerland office maintains a full staff.  Of twelve.

For more on the Gulf oil explosion, read this.

Xoom Testing – Hold On To Your Pants!

This was originally going to be a Samsung Galaxy test.

Funny story: my boss ordered a Galaxy and a Xoom for testing for deployment to the field.  He really liked the Galaxy, which I didn’t, due to size.  The Xoom came in yesterday (it was backordered) and my boss got so frustrated, he said the Xoom was `all you, baby.’

Auspicious beginnings, to be sure.

I like the Xoom, if for no reason other than it’s larger and I’m hoping to hear less about certain iDevices (ok, all iDevices).  I also don’t see much utility in tablets, so you’re getting a skewed view.  And let’s face it, if you’re reading this blog, you’re getting a skewed view already and you appreciate it.

Oddly enough, the screen, while larger than the Galaxy, is still a bit small, even when compared to Certain iDevices.

It’s heavy.  It’s much heavier than one would expect.  This does not bother me but it might bother some.  It does not come with a case, which the Galaxy did.  The really fun part of this is that when shopping online for accessories, some aren’t even out yet, so there’s precious little instant gratification.  I finally located a case with a `kickstand’, so it will sit up a bit, but it will still take forever to ship.  The kickstand should have been included for each side.

The device runs Android, making operation somewhat similar to my original Droid phone, which I use currently.   Xoom runs Honeycomb and the phone runs Froyo.  As one would expect, every single security-busting, privacy-eating service and function is enabled, such as geolocation and auto-sync.

In the portrait mode, the onscreen keyboard is a real winner.  Anyone who has ever used a mobile device will find this greatly improved, if for no other reason than size.  Unfortunately it covers half the screen but I guess that’s the price we pay for a large keyboard.  I’m sure there are or will be aftermarket keyboards.   In landscape, it is also decent but nowhere near as nice.  You will need a screen protector.  Smudges are very visible.

Wifi set up as expected and 3G obviously works out of the box.

Email was a bit hairy, as it didn’t seem to like one of my addresses.  Exchange was also weird but that might have had more to do with a security feature of the server than the tablet.  As one would expect, Gmail accounts set up very quickly :)

Logging in to the Xoom happens via a locking/unlocking pattern.  Once I got the correct pattern from my boss(!), it worked flawlessly.  I would suggest to Motorola that they move the pattern each time you log in so you don’t produce handprints that give away the pattern.

It will not simply plug into your computer (I tried with linux).  I was informed that you need special drivers.  Hopefully there’s a linux driver.  I hope there’s a good reason for this, as I believe these devices should simply plug in and appear as a storage device.

The unit’s response is quite snappy, which I really enjoy.

 

 

BUTTONS – WHERE ARE THE BUTTONS?

There are no buttons, like on the Droid.  These are incredibly handy little tools to get where you want to go faster.   There are a few soft buttons but they don’t seem to have the utility of the other ones.

More as I test the unit out….

Happy Anniversary Obamacare

Believe it or not, we have just passed the one year anniversary of President Giveaway’s miracle healthcare plan.  Are you feeling better yet?  Are you better off than you were last year at this time?  Has everything been fixed in our completely broken healthcare system?

The answer, of course, is None of the Above.

ONE CHRONICALLY ILL, ONE NOT

I dunno about you but my taxes were filed earlier this year and we have already received our refund.  Without getting terribly specific, my healthcare deductions were north of $20k.  Some of the people I work with barely make that amount.

Don’t get me wrong – I am thankful that I am able to earn enough to pay the bills – and we’re riding the rails.  I have decent health insurance in terms of coverage, but the copays are ridiculous.

My wife is on disability and receives Medicare.  Unfortunately, Medicare doesn’t pay for medicine.  The Medicare alternative plans that our dear friends in D.C. allowed to go through have huge holes in coverage, even if they pay for some medications.  So I have no choice but to pay for my wife and myself to be covered under my work plan.

Here’s what we’re looking at:

  • $40 every time we see a doctor – and my wife sees a lot of doctors
  • $15-50 for every prescription – and there are many
  • $100 if we go to the emergency room
  • $40 for blood work

The coverage gets worse and/or the copays go up every single year.  In fact, in ten years with my current employer, healthcare costs have gone up between six and thirteen percent every year.  Granted, I work with crack addicts or some other seriously ill population, which drives things up further.

The Patient Protection and Affordable Healthcare Act is what we refer to as Obamacare.  Note, in true government fashion, that the name implies something wonderful, while the reality is anything but.  Remember the Patriot Act that took away rights and appeared most unpatriotic?  Note that what comes out of D.C. is named for precisely the opposite of its intended effect.

NOT THEIR JOB

I’m going to get a lot of crap for this, but I don’t believe it’s the government’s job to interfere in healthcare.  Must be my libertarian side showing.  But one does not need to vote for Ron Paul to recognize that the government screws up everything it touches.  Do you really want the people who brought you Medicare, Social Security, and the federal deficit to run your healthcare too?  What good could possibly come of this?

It didn’t start out this way, you know.  Health insurance was a rarity at one time.  It was really used for hospitalization.  Doctors were paid out of pocket and charged accordingly.  Remember this when your insurance says your copay for a doctor’s visit is forty or fifty dollars.  It’s actually cheaper to pay my chiropractor cash than try to get the bill paid through my HMO.  My insurance doesn’t believe in chiropractic.  Perhaps I should tell them I don’t believe in insurance premiums.

Clearly something needs to be done.  Clearly, with all the exceptions and political wrangling, we are not going to get much relief.

I will tell you this:  I pay an obscene amount of money for insurance coverage.  Then I pay further obscene amounts on copays.  All of this obscenity is going somewhere.

Follow the money.

It’s the Budget, Stupid [Fiat Currency]

Your government is ripping you off.

This shouldn’t be news to you, me, or any generic Facebook account owner.  It’s only starting to really hit the fan because of the news about the upcoming government shutdown (how will we know?).

I find it interesting to note that there was absolutely no talk of cutting billions from the federal budget until long after New Jersey governor Chris Christie made all of the painful cuts in his state.  You can call it a coincidence if you like; I won’t.

FIAT CURRENCY

What is fiat currency?  Short answer: printing money whenever, with no backing.  Almost short answer: money that has no value, printed by law or regulation.  This is the system we have now.  Need some money?  Print it – POOF.

YOUR HOUSE AND MINE

We are your average citizens, you and me.  We live in a house or apartment and pay rent or a mortgage.  Every month, my sainted wife goes over the bills and figures out how to pay them, based upon our income(s).

Now here’s the rub: if our debt exceeds our income, we’re screwed.  Therefore, we cannot print more money or borrow from thin air; we have to deal with reality.

Your government, on the other hand, has no such boundaries.  They are not held accountable for their spending.  They simply spend more and borrow/print more.  Because there is no accountability, there is no responsibility.  It’s politics at its finest.

In March, the Fed spent more than eight times its monthly revenue.  That’s one month, folks.   And they didn’t even offer to take you to dinner before doing it to you.  The largest laugh here is that you elected them.

NOW IS THE TIME

Yes, that is the rumbling from the Fed.  All of the sudden it’s time to start slashing the budget by billions.  This rush of bravery seems to have come out of nowhere.   And if they’re offering to slash billions, we know there are trillions that could (and should) be slashed.

The odds of a shutdown have gone up after President Obama’s rejection of a republican proposal to push back the deadline by one week.  Of course we all know that this is showboating on both sides.

There is no need to push the deadline at all: balance the budget, stupid(s).

For your information, the Air Force is spending $4 million per day on Libya.  We were over $600 million in the first week.  We need this drain why?  I can’t even locate an accounting of Afghanistan or Iraq.  If they people truly knew, there would be rioting in the streets.  Fortunately Americans Idle is back on television.

DON’T WORRY, BE HAPPY

Just to show you that this perfidy is universal, the Japanese government has apologized for the unfortunate release of radiation from the crippled reactor.

FINALLY…

Welcome to the new look(?) of ThermionicEmissions and Lockergnome in general.  Don’t congratulate me; I knew nothing of it until a few days ago.  I was kinda hoping to get the old look and functionality back but that is not to be.   Not to worry – as Robert Plant so quaintly phrased it, “The Content Remains the Same“.

And Then You Put the Shrimp Down Your Pants…

A central Pennsylvania man is in trouble with the law after stuffing shrimp down his trousers and assaulting the store’s security guard.

What I want to know is are the man’s two actions related?  Was it necessary to stuff the shrimp down his shorts in order to assault the guard or were these independent of each other.  Do you suppose he set out to do one or the other first?  And lastly, what is the name of the fetish that involves frozen seafood in your shorts?  Does it apply to all seafood or just shrimp?

Regardless, the man is being held on $10,000 bail. 

Keep the fish f*$#er, I say.

Firefox 4 on Android

I was excited to discover that Firefox 4 was released for the Android platform.  I use Firefox as my default browser on desktops for a few reasons, mainly the extensions.

My Droid (the original Droid) was less that excited.  It has grown tired of installing large Firefox packages that crawl like frozen syrup, lock up, and sometimes reboot the phone.  It begged me not to try again, but I don’t even listen to my wife – why should I listen to my phone?

Firefox is available from the Android Market, so I downloaded it.  Upon first run, it told me that my device was incompatible and I may experience trouble running the program.

It is at times like these that I play along at first.  I figure why not give them the benefit of doubt.  Sure I have an android device, sure I downloaded it from an official source, sure I downloaded the correct program… why should it work?

The browser did come up, in spite of the warning.  I asked it to download an extension (Adblock Plus), which it did, telling me to reboot to complete, which I did.  I went to subscribe to a list, per suggestion, which it gave me no way to do.  When I backed out, I was at my home screen and the phone was almost frozen.

This is not a good omen.

I got tired of waiting so I shut the phone down and restarted.  Even shutting down was difficult, as the phone appeared to have better things to do with its CPU than what I had asked it to do.

Firefox does not load quickly, via a comment in the market and my own experience.  I decided to try Options.  SECURITY WARNING: by default the browser saves passwords.  Clearing the cache took considerably longer than I consider reasonable.

As the other settings were taking their time also, I again gave up.  In short order, I got a message stating that activity in Firefox wasn’t happening.

Bye bye.

_____________________________

Firefox in a word:  Don’t.

TSA Exempt from First Amendment

As if we needed yet another reason to have the TSA removed from our airports (and lives), the Transportation Security Agency just fired a woman because of her religion.  Of course they were just sloppy enough to throw in some other claims, but it boils down to religion.

Carole A. Smith is a wiccan, otherwise known as a witch, who was classified by her employer as satisfactory.  She was among the top ten in catching weapons via x-ray.  Unfortunately her former trainer claimed she was afraid of Smith’s religion and that Smith put a spell on her car, causing the heater not to work.

I have seen some pretty horrid examples of what the TSA calls an employee; some of them used to be low-wage airport security.  But this agency needs to take a serious look at its hiring policies.  I don’t know about you but I’d be horrified to have an employee who was afraid of someone else’s religion and accused them of placing a spell on their car.  The ignorance is staggering.

Let’s take a trip to If Land, where we can run a what-if scenario.

What if you went to your human resources department and complained that you are afraid of your next door neighbor’s Catholicism.  Furthermore, she prayed for your house to fall over.

How far would you get?  Would your neighbor get fired?  Somehow I doubt it, yet this is apparently OK for the TSA.  Yes, they trumped up some silly charges, but this is about religion.  An Equal Opportunity complaint was filed but Smith didn’t retain a lawyer, which she will for the next complaint.

What kind of country has this become?

Plug This Guitar Into That Computer, OK?

For a tuned in tech and long-time guitar player, I’m woefully behind in combining the two.  A long time ago I made an adapter to see if I could get guitar into a computer via the sound card.  It worked to a limited extent but wasn’t exactly a satisfying experiment.  Let’s face it – a guitar isn’t made to be plugged into a standard computer soundcard.

Guitars want to see a high impedance input, which a soundcard has not.  In addition, soundcards have mic and line inputs, neither of which is suitable for guitars.

Fast forward a few years.  There are interesting new ways to get sound into your computer, some made especially for guitars.  Line 6 has a few guitar-specific models but I chose to go with a product that was not focused entirely on guitar.  I concentrated on lower cost guitar/mic to USB interfaces, preferably two channels so I could use a mic at the same time if necessary.

My trip started and ended at Guitar Center, largely as it was close and some of the staff amuse me.  I tend to be a real pro at stopping a conversation: last week I cleared a lunch table of twelve after a joke.  My usual technique when guitar shopping is to allow the salesman to get excited then tell him I want one left-handed.  That usually inserts a rather pregnant pause.  Today was a new and exciting experience: when the guy asked me “Windows or Mac,” I looked him straight in the eye and said Linux.

Total silence.

I have no idea why this amuses me but it does.  I guess it’s better to be amused than repeatedly disappointed (plus it makes a better blog entry).

The majority of devices came with software.  Since none come with software for Linux, I preferred to look into units that concentrated more on hardware and less on software.

ART, the company that makes those really cool, cheap tube preamps, was the price leader at $79 for a two channel converter that supported both XLR (mic) and 1/4″ (guitar/line) inputs.  But here is where reading carefully is important: the 1/4″ input was specified for TRS (tip-ring-sleeve) low impedance inputs (which means no guitars).

M-Audio makes a bunch of converters, starting with a one channel unit.  Most come with software (Pro Tools is a favorite).  Tascam also has at least two.  A Mackie unit came highly recommended but they can’t keep them on the shelves.

I finally wound up with an Alesis i02 Express ($99).  It has two channels, either of which will accept an XLR or 1/4″ input (high or  low impedance switchable).  You can monitor through the headphone jack.  It has phantom power for mics, a mono/stereo switch, and you can select between input and USB to monitor.  It comes with CubaseLE software (Windows).  It also has MIDI in and out and main left and right outs.

Interestingly enough, there is a cheaper way to go, via the Alesis guitarlink.  It is a cord with a 1/4″ plug for your guitar and a USB plug for the computer – that’s all, folks.  I didn’t see this at GC but it goes for about $49.  I would not have purchased it anyway, as I wanted to be able to use a mic also.

The instructions come in five languages, bless their pointy little heads.  The fun part is that all they think you need to know comes printed on two pages (in five languages).  Oddly enough, there is no mention of what the MIDI jacks are for or do; only that they exist.  There are suggestions for Windows and Mac use.

I didn’t pay close attention to the product so I didn’t realize until I got home that the model number starts with a lower case ‘i,’ which means I might have to return it.  I wouldn’t want anyone to think I was purchasing an i-device or anything.  Dear Alesis: can’t you just rename it 02?  How about X02?

LINUX

I started out by plugging the i02 into my HP4525 laptop, running Xubuntu 10.10.  One of my Linux buddies runs Rakarrack, which is a free, open source program that emulates an effects rack or floorboard.  It looks really cool so I installed it.  It came with JACK, which Linux uses to connect inputs and outputs.

I was overjoyed to see that the system recognized the i02, especially as I have never seen Rakarrack and haven’t had a ton of luck with JACK.  I brought everything up and hit the strings, noticing that there was absolutely no indication of signal anywhere in the chain.  I looked at Rakarrack in case there were any obvious switches that needed to be thrown but there weren’t any.  I took a look at JACK, which drove home the fact that I have no idea what I’m doing.

WINDOWS

I have the attention span of a gnat and even less patience.  My need for immediate gratification spoke rather loudly so I decided to try plugging the i02 into an old Windows XP machine.  Much like Linux, Windows recognized the box.  Much like Linux, there was absolutely no sound or indication of it.

I brought up Guitar Rig 4 and noticed there was some movement in the meters but no sound.  In the control panel is Audio, which I brought up to examine.  Everything appeared to be in place.  Testing indicated something odd with the soundcard, so I updated the driver first (just for fun).  That helped a little, but still no sound.

I use the asio4all driver, which is a popular, free low-latency driver.  Latency is the measurement of delay.  Suffice it to say that because your system has to process the sound, it takes a certain (short) amount of time to do this.  You need to keep this to an absolute minimum or you will wind up having to play in front of what you want to hear.

Asio4all comes with a control panel, with which you should familiarize yourself. You have to make sure your signal is routed correctly or there will be no sound.  It took a while but I finally figured it out.  Remember that your input is the converter and that your output is the sound card – this will probably be an issue as these things don’t seem to set themselves correctly.

NOW WHAT?

So now I had sound into the computer, which was the point of the exercise.  Now I could record or play with sound processors.  Guitar Rig is a killer way to waste a few hours, which is apparently what I did :)  It emulates a bunch of really popular amplifiers, along with tons of effects.  I spent my time just going through the presets (of which there are many) and attempting to play something in the style of the patch.

Due no doubt to rights issues, the amp models are not accurately named.  Instead of Marshall, you might see Plexi or 800.  The Rat stompbox is the Cat.  Orange amps are Citrus, and so on….

I have to hand it to Native Instruments – they did a hell of a job.  We dumb guitarists never knew we’d have the horsepower to emulate our favorite setups accurately.  They’re not 100% exact but they sure sound good.  I would recommend GR4 for any kind of practice and some recording.  I’m still a purist and would die before I gave up my vintage Fenders and Marshall but I can see where this would be handy in certain circumstances (especially after midnight when laying guitar tracks in your bedroom).

As we know, presets are generally over the top, so I can’t wait to spend some time composing my own patches.  It is traditionally very difficult to get a semi-dirty tone that cleans up well, like a Stevie Ray Vaughan tone, so that will be an interesting task.  There is a free demo version for Win or Mac.

LINUX AGAIN

Now I need to dig into the manuals and figure out how to get this going under Linux.  No operating system is perfect and this chain has so many separate links that I need to figure out which one is passing sound and which isn’t.  Once that gets solved, there is no shortage of free, open source software to record and modify the guitar’s tone.  There are even ways to run Windows software under WINE, so things should get interesting rather quickly.

Then I’ll have to learn how to program the bleedin’ drums.