I want your soul! I will eat your soul!

Please note that all blog posts before 8 April 2007 were automatically imported from LiveJournal.  To see the comments and any LiveJournal-specific extras such as polls and user icons, please find the source posting at http://brianenigma.livejournal.com/2004/08/

This weekend has been … odd. Normally Friday the Thirteenth is just another day for me, but this one kicked off a strange weekend.

First, there were all the paycheck issues. The old job overnight'ed me the final paycheck (including an offset week and vacation time) on Monday. They sent it to the wrong address. In trying to figure out if I could pick it up or have it sent to the correct address, I made a bunch of phone calls and waited on hold a long while. “Oh sorry, this was sent from Canada. You need to talk to the Fedex international office.” I finally got the delivery address changed (which was scarily easy to do–all I needed was the tracking number) and verbally gave them a waiver to leave it without a signature if they drop it in the mail slot. Friday, it was finally delivered when I checked the tracking number online. Delivered to the old address, according to the site. Another eternity-on-hold later, I am told that it was really delivered to to the updated address and that the tracking number website is incorrect. This did not sit too well with me. Eventually, I get home to find it sitting there and in a karmic offset to all the trouble, it was much higher than I expected.

Also on Friday, Kim and I were supposed to drop in to the party of one of her friends then go to Fez, but we were both out of phase from reality. She missed busses and other such things. I waited around for almost two hours (fortunately, sucked into a book), but had no way to reach her to find out what was taking so long. Eventually, I ended up joining BC and Eric at the Bite of Portland festival, as did Kim. We got to see They Might Be Giants–which was not quite as great as other concerts of theirs, but I think I can attribute that to the fact that many people were not there specifically for TMBG, but simply for the festival in general. They started getting a little zany toward the end. For instance, they did their typical thing of “ladies and gentlemen, Dan [whatever his last name is] on the drums. [Drum solo] Dan [whatever his last name is] on the bass…” etc. They took it a few steps further, though, and went on with “the people of Portland in the audience! [scream] The hippies on the bridge! [scream] That's right. Where they should be. Quarantined.” (The bridge sort of goes over that part of the festival and was a good place to stand and listen without paying the $5 admission.) We eventually ended up at Fez and met up with others, then found our way to Voodoo. Like the paycheck thing, the evening started rather shaky and looking like it was going to fall apart, then ended up really well. I had a lot more fun at Fez this time than last time (even though the music was not as great.) All-in-all, the evening did not work out as planned and threatened to implode, but worked out quite well after all.

After a wonderful leisurely morning, I decide to use Saturday to get some purchases out of the way. This involved some clothing from Sears (yes, I am comfortable enough with my unhipness to confess to buying a good chunk of my clothes there), getting a digital picture frame that Feedle had shown me (much like the überbattery and the 15-minute charge batteries, it seems he is the early adopter and I am the follower), then a pair of Airport Express bricks to help strengthen my slightly-too-weak wireless network signal and get music out and about the house. Clothes: no problem.

Digital picture frame: lots of problems. The instructions are not well written, contain bad English, and have very important key concepts in the equivalent of footnotes. Its operation is not at all straightforward. The combination of awkward features and awkward workarounds give me the impression that the gadget was designed by a first year electrical engineering student. The marketing speak on the outside of the packaging make it sound easy: get your pictures onto a CompactFlash card (the picture frame comes with a USB cable and doubles as a reader/writer), and they appear on the screen. The reality is that using the frame as a card reader locks up your machine (you have to use something else as a reader), the files have to be in a special folder with really restrictive naming conventions, and must not have been edited. The reader thing, I can get around. No big deal. I happen to have a PCMCIA card adaptor that I tend to use anyway for that kind of thing. The filename thing is just bizarre. For instance “The image must be saved as xxxxaaaa.jpg where xxxx stands for 4 letters or numbers and aaaa stands for 4 numbers. No file name should duplicate the numeric portion of another file. For example, if you name one file dogs0002.jpg and another file rock0002.jpg, one or both JPEGs may not display.” It sucks, but I can live with it. That last thing–with the photo editing–was almost a deal-breaker that almost caused me to return the thing. The picture frame has a screen that is landscape (wider than it is high). While you can rotate the stand around to make it a portrait screen (taller than it is wide), it does not really look right because the buttons and logo are all sideways. In multiple places in the instructions, it tells you not to edit the pictures–just pull it out of the camera and put it in the viewer. Ordinarily, I would be okay with this, except for a couple of things. First, when you try to view a picture that was taken with the camera sideways, depending on the camera, it either comes out sideways on the screen or else it gets all contorted so that the picture is squished down flat then stretched out wide to perfectly fit the screen. The former requires you to rotate your head (or the picture frame) for just that one picture. The latter makes everyone look short and fat. So, you sort of have to use an image editor to rotate and crop or add black bars to the left and right so that everything fits. As Feedle said (AFTER I got the picture frame…I could have used some warning of its shortcomings): Photoshop is the kiss of death for your pictures. Jpgs exported or saved from Photoshop will simply not display. Nor would they display if I ran the pictures through some Imagemagick transforms (for instance going from jpeg to xpm, bmp, tiff, or png, then back to jpeg–in hopes this would get rid of whatever metadata or file options Photoshop produces). No luck. The workaround mentioned in the instructions is to load it in MS Paint(!!!), then re-save it as a jpg. Yeah, great–except the MS Paint I have in Win2K under my Virtual PC does not have the option to save a jpg. Some more chatting with Feedle, and it seems that iPhoto will export jpgs that this thing understands. I finally got it working this morning and am quite happy with it–the screen resolution is a lot higher than I expected and once you have the right workarounds for its shortcomings, it behaves quite well.

There were similar issues with the Airport Expresses. Before even getting them home, there were problems. It seems that my paycheck came from Canada and takes a bit more time to clear, so my card was declined. Talk about embarrassment! I had to locate an ATM and pull some money from savings to cover things until the check clears. Like the picture frame, I finally got them working this morning. Every set of instructions basically tells you to use the “Airport Express Assistant” to set up WDS (a Wireless Distribution System). This was not really an option in my case since my network is a little more complex than the assistant was expecting. For instance, my network has a pair of firewalls (I only wanted one, but Quest seems to think I need the other), a DHCP server than hands out static-ish addresses based on MAC, etc. The Assistant assumed the wireless base station was the gateway to the internet and would not let me get past a certain section because it did not have DHCP enabled. The other option was the Airport Admin Utility. This lets you configure whatever you want. It also lets you happily shoot yourself in both feet without any sort of complaint or warning. The “technical” instructions included on the CD were not very helpful. Just now, after reading a Knowledge Base article, was I able to get it working. Several things: first, the remote base stations have to use the same channel as the base station for redistributing/extending the network–which goes completely against what I know of analog radio signals, but they fail to tell you anything like this in the included documentation. Second, while the administration screens make it appear that they talk to the main base station on one channel/network-name, then rebroadcast on another, they can all have the same network name and your laptop will automatically negotiate which is closest. Third, if you accidentally leave the MAC address of the WDS remote station in the main base station, then try to change the remote to be a simple client, it fails to connect (probably because the base station is still expecting to see it as a WDS remote.) Anyway, it is all working well now.

In other weirdness, after being a consumer whore (“and how!”), I stopped by the Red and Black for a TLT (Tempe, Lettuce, and Tomato) and to read a bit of the O'Reilly embedded Linux book. The first half of the book I could skim because it was all like “this is Linux, this is a cross-compiling toolchain, blah, blah, blabbidy blah.” The second half was good because it had a lot of information that is obtainable online, but nice to have in one concise volume (for instance, embedded filesystem differences, pros, cons, etc.) While I was doing this, someone involved with Personal Telco approached me. We chatted briefly about the Linksys router that has embedded Linux in it and the PTP modified Linux for it (EWRT.) Maybe I can help out with that project, maybe not. Also, while at Red and Black it seemed several SciFi geeks were chatting in the corner. Then more showed up. Then more showed up. Then even more showed up. I think I recognized a few people from their LJ user pictures. Later, it hit me that it was probably a Meetup.com thing for Buffy, Angel, and/or Firefly. I subscribed to a number of LJ communities when I first moved up here, hoping to branch out and find friends–likely how/where I recognized pictures from–but have long since stopped reading the community stuff. I have a hard enough time keeping track of the journals of people I know without adding in giant communities. I never got around to going to one of the meetups–more important/fun/whatever stuff always popped up or I simply forgot. Also, while I enjoy the above-mentioned shows on DVD, really would not consider myself enough of a fan to go to meetings about them, or even order cable so I can see the not-yet-on-DVD stuff. Overhearing snippets of conversations sort of confirmed this thought.

Anyway, after a late start in the evening (mainly because of my issues with gadgets not working and the associated aggrivation), Kim and I went shopping and we made some really tasty burritos. By “we,” I really mean Kim took over in the kitchen and made some really fancy, high-quality, gourmet burritos while I grated and ate cheese and attempted to unplug the toilet without the luxury of a plunger.

I just realized that I wrote a small novel. I went back and hid some of the technology gripes behind an lj-cut, so that might trim it down a bit. Anyway, before movies and popcorn tonight, I need to start cleaning the house a bit more. I cannot believe that I have been in this new house for nearly a month and still have a handful of boxes that sit out in the middle of the floor.

Posted in: Dear Diary Work

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