Friday, October 30, 2009

Happy Almost Halloween

US Capitol, just before sunrise.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Got My Windows 7: First Impressions

Of course, this was built in a virtual machine, so I didn't bother with sound on the first install. I'm more interested in the desktop. Further, this is Home Premium, so many features are missing.

Screen Resolution: Yes! We are one click away from the change resolution screen. Wonderful. Even better than XP.
Taskbar: Still have the stupid clock, but at least they've included the date. Whoa! You can turnoff the clock! Fianlly... after a more than a decade.
The name of minimized windows is hidden; only the icon shows on the taskbar. Its configurable.
We can not change the "Stop" function. In Vista, a laptop could only suspend directly from the desktop (even though it indicated it was an "OFF" feature.) Now we can customize it.
Control Panel: Where's my classic view? Gone. Sad.
Of course everything has moved, so it will take a year to figure out how to change anything.
Networking: What's a homegroup? Or a library?
Six clicks to get to the screen o set a static IP: Its eight in Vista.
Gadgets: Gadgets can GoGo anywhere on the desktop. Better, but they still suck.
Accessories: Dramatically improved Paint.
Better WordPad-- very Office-ish, but no spell check. :(
Windows PowerShell (finally, ls works. How very Unix of them.)

All in all, I have to say... Very good.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Free Companion Certificate

For years, I've gotten inserts, ads, and e-mails from American Express and its partners touting "Try our service, and we'll give you a voucher good for a free companion airline certificate." I've always wondered whether it was a scam. I finally took the leap, jumped through the hoops, got my voucher, and can now report:

Yes, it is a scam.

First, let me point out that this is regarding companion airline certificates for things like buying a magazine subscription. I don't know if this is the same thing Amex offers with their Delta Skymiles card, because I will never again willingly fly on Delta. Delta sucks, so I refuse to degrade myself to research the point. Amex offers other similar services, but I have never used those services, so again, I can not speak for them.

Here's how the companion ticket for magazine subscription deal works. They divide the country into zones, and charge a flat fee for travel between zones. Thus, Baltimore to San Francisco is Zone 1 to Zone 6. The website says the flat rate for you and your companion is $675. The question now is whether that is better than buying two tickets.

Okay... Reality check: The assumption is that we'll fly two for one, but if we save 10%, don't we still come out ahead? Of course! So, will we be satisfied with just saving money, or do we demand two for one? You and me... we're reasonable people-- if we save $50, we'll be happy.

I checked against two airlines, Southwest and US Airways, whose cheapest flights were one dollar apart. Let's just say they were $370 each. For you and your companion, that's $740... So we save money, right?

Not so fast: There are $80 in taxes and fees: that's $755. Hey: That's more!

But wait: They'll kick in $350 in savings if we'll accept their itinerary. At $405, we win. Yeah!

What? There's another catch? Yes. We can't actually go where we want. In order to save money, we have to go where they say:
In other words, we have to leave from our home airport, fly to a different destination, leave from somewhere other than where we went, and return to somewhere we don't live. Maybe there just aren't any round trip flights from Baltimore to San Francisco.
Okay, so maybe there are.

You, know... It's almost as if they don't want you to use these tickets.

Friday, October 02, 2009

FlashForward Fubar

It's kind of a bummer when a TV show's plot is so complex that the writers confuse themselves by the second episode.

The premise of the show is that everyone on the planet blacks-out, and has a shared two minute vision of the future. This means that in one character's vision, he is in a meeting in London with a known co-worker. The co-worker's vision is that the other guy is in London, and they are in a meeting. In other words, the visions correlate.

Ok... So lets take two families of characters:
Family 1
Dad = Mark
Mother = Olivia
Daughter = Charlie
Family 2
Dad = Greg
Son = Brandon
Mother = dead

Mark's vision is that he's at work. Olivia's vision is that she is in her home, with a man other than Mark. It seems that the visions can carry feelings back from the future, so she feels that she loves the other man. Mark feels fear. The important thing is that Olivia gets a look at the man's face, but he does not see her.

Shortly after the blackout and the vision, a child, Brandon, arrives at Olivia's hospital. She tells the child he'll be fine, and he says: "I know, Olivia." This means that in Brandon's vision, he knows Olivia... yet he is not in Olivia's vision. No correlation. Brandon's father, Greg, arrives at the hospital, but does not recognize Olivia. That correlates, since Olivia doesn't think the man saw her.

Then there's the daughter: Charlie. She visits the hospital, and recognizes Brandon. This would be okay if she and Brandon are together in the future.

Here's the problem. Brandon "knows" Olivia, but Olivia does not know Brandon. Olivia "knows" Greg, but Greg does not know Olivia. Charlie "knows" Brandon, but Brandon does not seem to know Charlie (but he hasn't seen her yet, so there maybe some flexibility on this one.)

Charlie, who is holding out on information, also knows a potential bad guy named DGibbons. Let's imagine that Charlie and Brandon were kidnapped by DGibbons. Lets say that DGibbons holds up a picture of Olivia and announces "Brandon, do you know this woman?" At this point, Charlie says, "That's my mother, Olivia." This works.

Except... Why isn't Brandon concerned with DGibbons, like Charlie? Why isn't Olivia concerned about her daughter? Did she send her-- and Brandon-- off to a sleep-over so she could bonk Greg? And why would DGibbon kidnap the children and then interrogate Brandon about Olivia? He already knows who they are because Mark is chasing him.

The writter's are stuck on a Mobius strip and are depending on you to forget these details. The good news is that ABC will cancel the show in a few episodes. Their executives have less of an attention span then you do.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

SAGE is "On Guard!"

I had need to research some historical information about IBM's SAGE system and stumbled on the video. Mundo retro! Unfortunately, I remember taking stuff like this out of service.