Sunday, November 20, 2005

The Mounties are Here!

Canada recently opened a consulate here in Houston. This is really cool. I have always admired our Canadian neighbors due North. They have some really beautiful nature and are generally pretty laid back. When Lavie and I got married a TV series was running called "Due South" that follows a displaced Mountie in Chicago. We watched these shows without fail and still miss it being on air. I managed to tape all the episodes on VCR years ago and still have them. While out at the local Best Buy, I found it is now out on DVD. Hadn't yet picked them up but will do so once I am able to knock out a couple anime titles first. I had a ton of "Due South" related bookmarks. Now all but a handful are "page not found." There for a while I was on the search for a Mountie's hat, but eventually gave up that fantasy. Every couple of Halloweens I consider renting a Mountie costume for work, but chicken out....

The photo comes courtesy of the City of Houston. I found a web-page on their site that rotates images of Houston. Some are pretty good. With a little work, they could be morphed into nice desktop images.

Speaking of images. Here are some more image editing applications (freeware) you may want to check out:
  • PhotoFiltre: a complete image retouching program. It allows you to do simple or advanced adjustments to an image and apply a vast range of filters on it.
  • Pixia: a powerful graphics editor with a unique user interface. When learning Pixia, it's easier to discard everything you know about Photoshop or Paintshop, and start from scratch with the tutorials and help files.
  • FastStone Photo Resizer: Just resize me, ma'am! Let's you batch-process a series of image files including naming, cropping, and watermarking all in one pass. Great for bulk-management of images.
  • FastStone Image Viewer: Use this small and fast image browsing tool to, view, edit and convert images. There are a ton of features and special effects you can apply to your images. Manage your desktop wallpapers and run a custom screensaver that pulls pictures from folders of your choice. It is fully packed and simple to use. Check it out!
  • 0X Copy Machine combines your scanner and printer into a copying machine so that you can quickly make copies with just one mouse click without having to deal with scanning and printing as separate steps using disparate applications.
Today is the last race of the NASCAR season. Getting chores done early so I can park on the couch and watch. Barring some horrible crash, I expect Tony Stewart to take the championship cup this season.

I had planned to take the time today to set my blog up with Google Analytics. It is a new free service offered by Google that will provide web-stats of your site. It has some really cool features. When I first checked it out I was at work so I didn't want to set it up. Now when I checked today it is being restricted due to volume exceeding capacity so I have to wait again.

I have finally cancelled our MSN dialup account. It was crazy. The (Indian?) call center guy was working through his boilerplate script trying to sell new services to me. I told him I wanted to cancel my dialup account so he asked the feedback question "Why?" Because I wanted broadband access and DSL wasn't available in my area. Only cable. Not a problem. Later in the script, he asked me if I would be interested in signing up for MSN DSL Broadband.....Sheesh. I told him that would have been nice but I had a different broadband provider since DSL broadband wasn't available in my area. He said not a problem. He would check and confirm that MSN DSL was actually available for me in my area. Ok. Fine. Five minutes later he confirmed for me that MSN DSL was not available in my area at this time, but would I like to keep MSN dial-up and sign up for notification when MSN DSL was available in my area. I politely explained that I had already done that TWO YEARS AGO and DSL still wasn't being extended to my area of the city (yes, I do live in the middle of a city). Geesh. Good news was that I was able to keep my old MSN email address active. Just got converted to Hotmail. So any stray emails that get sent to our old address will still be able to be picked up.

One of the nice things about broadband is being able to fully subscribe to Podcasts. Basically, podcasts are audio files you download and play on your portable music player. I am a big fan of NPR and listen to over 2-3 hours of it daily commuting. So podcasts are kinda like listening to talk radio, but content that is highly focused. Right now I am downloading MuggleCast podcasts (on the world of Harry Potter). Quality runs the range from top notch to "is that the neighbor's kid?" There are lots of ways to get this content. Although you can manually download the files from websites (to play directly on your pc or mp3 player), having a dedicated file manager is a big plus. I use iTunes (or you can try Juice). You don't have to have a iPod to use it. Next find content by either browsing the iTunes Podcast site or use another website focused on podcast media like iPodder or PodNova. It can be a real source of news and entertainment. There are also some real "dogs" out there so it take some trial and error to find just what you are happy with. I'll try to keep you posted.

Mozilla--the folks who bring us Firefox--are really hard at work. They recently released Firefox 1.5 RC3. It still isn't the final release version. The current release version is still 1.0.7 but I have been using 1.5 RC3 for a week and no problems at all. I really love the "in line" update feature. Before you had to completely reinstall the newer version. Now this just updates the components, not the entire thing. Many of the extensions are still not compatable, but more are being updated weekly.

In better news, since MSN uses propriatary email server connections, you are stuck using Outlook Express as you email client. Now that I am with a different provider, I was able to finally switch over to using Thunderbird (from the Mozilla folks again). I am really loving it (1.5 RC1). It took me a little bit to set up and configure, but it is tops. It can also pluck mail out of my GMail accounts as well. It also supports custom themes and extensions like Firefox has. Lavie was a little unsure about switching, but she is very comfortable with it now. Next, I am going to get her to start using Sunbird, their calandaring tool.

Speaking of extensions for Firefox, I have over 30 blogs I monitor almost daily. Checking each site for updates can be a real time-consuming process. I use the Firefox browser extension "SAGE". It lets me check the sites for updates at a glance. If you monitor a lot of sites as well, it can really help with your news/posting aggregation. It is RC 1.5 compatible. It you would prefer a "standalone" RSS aggregator, there are the Abilon and GreatNews RSS news feeders as well.

If you have been following this whole SONY rootkit thing, you know it is over (for now). Sony capitulated and is pulling all their root-kit (DRM protected) CDs from the market and offering replacement cd's to consumers. There was an AP story out about all this and one of the persons interviewed had a good observation:
Phil Leigh, analyst for Inside Digital Media, said the debacle shows just how reluctant the labels are to change their business model to reflect the distribution powers — good and bad — of the Internet. He believes that rather than adopting technological methods to try to stop unauthorized copying of music, record companies need to do more to remove the incentive for piracy.
I completely agree with that. Lavie and I make the few purchases of CD's based on our likes (mostly now J-Pop and anime soundtracks). They are expensive $15-18. I wouldn't dare think about trying to download music from the internet. It isn't right or fair to the companies or artists. Not to mention a fear of the RIAA lawyers going after us like they have been in other cases like children, grandparents, etc... However, if I find a good cd and want to let my bro listen to it, I should be able to hand it over to him to enjoy without fear. We all like music. It is a part of our lives. Apple has started down a solution by offering downloads of individual songs for fair prices. If record companies would make ownership and fair use of music easier and cheaper, maybe we would buy more product.

Oh well, if all else fails, maybe they could contract with the Mounties. After all, they always get their man...

See you in the skies,

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