Category: Tech

September

Yeah, I haven't exactly been keeping up my post-a-day habit.

I've been busy -- yes, busier than when I was planning my wedding -- and, well, it's been that kind of month. If I were to pick a single photo to sum up the kind of month I have been having, it would be this one:

Cone of Shame

So I've been busy. And I've also been a little wary of divulging too much about certain comings and goings and details of my life since last month's burglary. I don't think it's likely that the thieves are monitoring my blog, but it's not impossible.

Anyhow, I'm okay. It's been a tough month, but I'm hanging in there.

I turn 31 in a couple days. I admit that the future of this site isn't the biggest thing I'm considering, but it's on my mind.

Don't know if I'll get back to posting daily. But I liked doing it.

Don't know if I'll get back to daily Zappa posts, either -- I liked doing that, too, and I'm confident I could continue to do it for a long damn time, even if I continued to try not to use the same song twice -- but the bastard about looking for things on YouTube is you tend to find the same dozen or so videos repeated over and over again, with stuff you haven't seen buried somewhere around page 30. It kept taking me longer and longer to find something I hadn't posted before.

The site's probably due for a fresh coat of paint, too. I've spent enough hours of my day job fucking around with CSS that I've actually managed to develop an appreciation for rounded rectangles and box shadows. (But not gradients. Never gradients.) Of course, if I were to sell out my minimalist, oldschool street-cred with such eyecandy, I could make some back by getting rid of the red links and going with good old-fashioned blue. Possibly even straight-up #0000FF.

Or not. I'm hoping October's a better month, but so far it's not showing any indication of being less busy.

Still Headachin'

Left work early yesterday, and didn't make it in at all today. Rough week. Starting to feel better; hope that holds.

Not much else to add, I guess. Puttering around the house a bit, continuing to take inventory. Got my broken Wii to work with my broken CRT TV. It would appear that we literally can't have nice things.

Password Restrictions are Stupid

There are few things more infuriating than submitting a randomly-generated password and seeing it rejected based on some stupid asshole's stupid asshole idea of what constitutes a strong password.

Yesterday I encountered a site that rejected K"Nb\:uO`) as weak but accepted P@55w0rd as strong.

And my first day at my current job, we had to take mandatory security tutorials that, among other helpful hints, suggested that we satisfy the requirement for a capital letter and a symbol by putting the capital letter at the beginning of the password and an exclamation point at the end. Which, for those of you who are as bad at basic arithmetic as whatever moron put that suggestion in a security tutorial, defeats the entire purpose of requiring a capital letter and a symbol.

Which is, of course, why requiring capital letters and symbols in the first place is stupid, because "make the first letter a capital and put an exclamation point at the end" is what pretty much everybody does to satisfy that requirement anyway, even without official company-sanctioned security tutorials assuring them that this is okay and totally better than just having an all-lowercase password because math class is tough.

Customer Service Survey

I have no complaints about the representative who I spoke with; he was great. He was knowledgeable, professional, and responsive, and told me that they were aware of the outage and working on it.

HOWEVER, I have some pretty serious complaints about Cox's level of service.

First of all, my Internet outage lasted for over 12 hours.

Second, when I called, there was no recorded message informing me that there was a known outage in my area; I had to wait on hold for an extended period of time just to be told something that could have been handled by a recording as soon as I called in.

And speaking of recordings: you're seriously going to make me listen to the same four commercials, over and over again, on a continuous loop? Hey, kudos for finding a way to make being on hold an even MORE unpleasant experience; I didn't think that was actually possible. But I have to wonder, does Cox hate its employees AND its customers? Because this is just about the best way I've ever seen to ensure that a customer is as angry and frustrated as humanly possible before getting to speak to a support tech.

Put bluntly: Cox's Internet service is poor, rates keep increasing even as services are dropped (thanks so much for discontinuing Usenet support and then jacking up my rates five bucks), and saying that calling technical support is like pulling teeth is an insult to dentists everywhere.

Continuing bluntly: the only reason Cox has managed to keep my business is by virtue of being a local monopoly. The only other option for broadband Internet at my address is CenturyLink at 3.0Mbps, which is even more unacceptable than Cox's poor service, frequent outages, high prices, and legitimately terrible hold experience.

And, what's more, I strongly believe that Cox knows this, that the company is well aware that it has a captive audience and can therefore charge high rates for poor service and there is nothing else its customers can do but sit here and take it, because the broadband market has no competition to speak of.

In the short term, I begrudgingly admit that Cox has my business simply by default, because I have nowhere else to go.

In the long term, the market is going to change, competition is going to increase, and all the customers like myself who have spent the past decade being grossly dissatisfied with Cox's service are going to jump ship at the very first opportunity. A hard rain is going to fall.

I strongly suggest that Cox study the lessons of companies like Microsoft -- or, more dramatically, Blockbuster Video. Both of these are examples of companies that had a virtual monopoly in their respective industries. This monoculture allowed them to become bloated and unresponsive, and keep collecting money from their captive customers -- because where else were they going to go?

It didn't last. Technology changed. The markets changed. Blockbuster went bankrupt and, while Microsoft has held on to its majority share in the desktop/laptop OS and office suite markets, it has utterly failed to gain a foothold in emerging markets like phones and tablets, its browser market share has plummeted, and even companies that are using the latest version of Microsoft Office are likelier to use Google Docs for online collaboration.

Did this happen because Blockbuster didn't offer comparable, competetive services to Netflix and Redbox? Did it happen because Windows Phone is a poor operating system, or because Internet Explorer is an inferior browser?

No. Blockbuster offered very competetive prices to Netflix (no, it didn't offer streaming, but Blockbuster went bankrupt before streaming became Netflix's dominant distribution model). Windows Phone has received positive reviews, and Internet Explorer now performs comparably to other standards-compliant browsers.

So why did customers eagerly drop Blockbuster and Microsoft the first chance a viable alternative appeared?

Because that's what happens when you spend a decade taking your customers for granted, charging them a ridiculous rate for a barely-functional product or service, and generally treating them like livestock.

Yes, Blockbuster and Microsoft improved the quality of their products and services once competition started to pressure them into doing it. By then it was too late.

I know Cox is a monopoly in my area. I know there's no short-term incentive for it to improve its service or decrease its cost, because it doesn't have to in order to keep my business.

But if I were running Cox, I would think long and hard about the future. Someday, you ARE going to have a viable competitor. If you want to keep your existing customers' business when that day comes, you should probably start treating them better, right now.

The first thing you should do is stop making your customers listen to commercials when they're on hold.

Cox, Suckers

My internet connection has been down for about 12 hours. I'm posting this from my phone in glorious 3G, which Swype keeps "correcting" as.. well, when I type the thing it was correcting it to, it corrects THAT to something else entirely.

I should damn well have internet access for a better update tomorrow.

Duke in '99

North Sea Jazz Festival. Uploaded by Radio6NL.

A bit about Frank, and some interesting talk about the difference between a piano and a synthesizer, and '80's-vintage synth and how far it had come by 1999.

TANSTAAFTV

Stumbled across an old CRT TV today. Looks good -- 20", flat screen, surprisingly lightweight, even has component inputs, which I've never actually seen on a tube TV before.

It'd be the perfect TV for retro gaming, if not for the pinch at the top of the screen. Looks like it had a run-in with a magnet.

Seems like it should be modern enough to degauss itself, so I'm doing the thing of turning it on for a minute and then unplugging it for a half-hour and seeing if that'll eventually fix it. But I'm guessing the previous owner probably already tried that. In the meantime, I can't tell if it even reads the A/V jacks, because I can't read the channel number in the corner of the screen as that's right where the picture pinches down to nothing.

I think it'll probably end up at Goodwill and become Somebody Else's Problem and I'll just stick with the inferior-but-actually-working 20" CRT I've already got. Debating, in the meantime, whether I should throw $10 down to get a degaussing coil on eBay, or just try and use a refrigerator magnet. They say using a fridge magnet will almost certainly just make things worse -- but what the hell, the set's already not in working condition; it's not like "worse" is a meaningful distinction at this point.

Sure seems to be spitting out one hell of a static charge, though. I had it on next to my chair for a minute and I can still feel the pressure on my ears.

I'm the darkness, you're the starlight, and I'm burnin' up in here

So here's what I've been listening to:

That's Balance and Ruin, a 5-disc collection of Final Fantasy 6 cover songs from OCRemix.

Now, I think it's still fair to say that Final Fantasy 6 is one of my two favorite games, though I suppose it probably needs an asterisk at this point.

Digression: While FF6 is a great game, it hasn't aged as well as some of its 16-bit contemporaries. Super Mario World, Mega Man X, and Super Metroid, for example, still stand as the pinnacles of their respective series and respective niches of the side-scrolling platformer genre; they're as close to perfection as a game's ever gotten, and, as years of remakes, sequels, and knockoffs have shown, are pretty damn difficult to improve on and shockingly easy to fuck up. In the Square family, I've always preferred FF6 to Chrono Trigger, but I think it's undeniable that CT's graphics and gameplay hold up better even if it's a shorter game with less-developed characters. And as for A Link to the Past -- well, that would be the other of my two favorite games, and it needs no asterisk.

The other thing that needs no asterisk? Final Fantasy 6 has my favorite video game soundtrack. Its depth and breadth are stunning; it's Uematsu at the top of his chiptune game. It's the only video game soundtrack I've ever bought, and if you name any of the 12 primary playable characters, Kefka or Gestahl, either of the airships, or for that matter most of the locations in the game, I could hum the tune off the top of my head. (And I could probably get either Gogo or Umaro, too, but I admit I might not be able to come up with both of them right away.)

Now, I love what OCRemix is but the truth is that in the past I've found their work hit-or-miss-but-mostly-miss for my tastes. The artists there, understandably, lean toward the techno/electronica style, and that's not my cuppa -- which I guess may be ironic coming from somebody who's checking out cover tunes of old video game songs in the first place.

Anyway, there's a good bit of that stuff on Balance and Ruin, but there's a whole lot else, too. There are plenty of orchestral arrangements here, and the soundtrack runs the gamut from faithful homage -- A Fistful of Nickels, by zircon, XPRTNovice, Jillian Aversa, and Jeff Ball, takes Shadow's Ennio Morricone influence to its logical conclusion with whistling, vocals, harmonica, violin, guitar, trumpet, and Jew's harp -- to riotous reinvention -- The Impresario, by Jake Kaufman and Tommy Pedrini, reimagines the Opera scene by way of Bohemian Rhapsody with a quick stop at West Side Story on the way -- to impressively effective minimalism -- Shnabubula and Gabe Terracciano cover the entire Ending Suite with nothing but a piano and violin.

At any rate, it's delightful, and the whole thing's a free download. Go to ff6.ocremix.org and you can grab a nice legal free torrent of the entire album in FLAC -- or MP3, if all this talk about SNES games has left you nostalgic for inferior 1990's technology.

You know what it makes me wanna do? Replay FF6. Random encounters and all.

But which version? The new Woolsey Uncensored Edition looks promising. On the other hand, I liked Slattery's translation quite a bit too; maybe I'll give FF6 Advance another shot. With the music patch, of course.

I should probably finish Last Story first. You know, the soundtrack's no FF6, but Uematsu's still got it.

Image Goes DRM-Free

Yesterday Image Comics announced that it's going to start selling digital comics from its own site, independent of third-party distributors, in standard formats and DRM-free.

There are a lot of reasons for Image to pursue a DRM-free option. Chief is that DRM doesn't fucking work and anyone who wants to get the latest issue of The Walking Dead illegally can get it whether Comixology's version has DRM or not. Second is that this rampant piracy of The Walking Dead has somehow failed to prevent it from being a sprawling multimedia bestseller.

But I think what really precipitated this decision isn't The Walking Dead at all -- it's Saga.

More specifically, Saga #12 and its asinine, albeit temporary, ban from the iOS version of Comixology.

I wrote about the story back in April. Gist is this: Saga #12 was an arguably-slightly-dirtier comic in an inarguably-already-pretty-dirty series; Comixology decided not to sell it in the iOS version of their app out of a reasonable but, it turns out, false presumption that it would run afoul of Apple's vague, capricious, and arbitrary content guidelines.

In a nutshell, it was an object lesson in the one thing DRM actually is good for: locking publishers into a single distributor who may not always have their best interests at heart.

You know, for those who needed an object lesson because they were too busy scratching their balls to notice how this exact thing caused a problem for the music industry and then later for the book industry.

But hey, it may have taken Image awhile, but this still puts them way the fuck ahead of all the other major publishers, and they absolutely deserve praise and encouragement for doing the right thing. And they deserve your business for it.

Only problem is, it's still early days and the Digital Comics section is looking a little sparse. I'll plan on coming back with links when my favorite Image books are available -- those'd be the aforementioned Walking Dead and Saga, plus Chew and Prophet, off the top of my head.

This is good news, and I hope and expect it will be just the first step in the comics industry realizing what the music industry already has and the book industry is starting to: that standards-compliant, DRM-free formats aren't just better for consumers, they're better for publishers, too.

Summer

Well, it's officially summer now. As opposed to three weeks ago when it wasn't summer, just a 113-degree spring.

Mostly indoors in the air conditioning lately, and catching up on TV and video games. Didn't realize I was so close to finishing Mario Galaxy when I quit playing it like 5 years ago.

Course, if it weren't for the backlog and money being a little tight at the moment, I'd be perusing the various Internet game sales on right now. GOG's got a big one, Steam has plenty of deals, the Humble Bundle has both a weekly bundle and an Android-themed bundle going right now, and Amazon has a bunch of stuff for cheap too. (That last one's an affiliate link; if you buy something through it I get a small kickback.)

I don't have the time to play the games I already have. But I picked up the free download of Torchlight and maybe I'll get to it one of these days. And I've had al little more time this past week, anyway.