Weird Dreams…

Last night I had the strangest dream – I sailed away to China…uh, wait, that was a song from the 80s, but I did have a dream about China.

I was being forced (why, I’m not sure) by the People’s Liberation Army to find and kill a witness to a criminal act (no idea what)  committed by a member of the People’s Liberation Army. There were high rise buildings with futuristic elevators and the document with the info on who I was to kill was a clear piece of plastic or glass with a description and a picture.

Of course, having morals that prohibit killing people, I decided to make a run for it and was driving through the lovely city of Tallahassee with reckless abandon with Venita Ballard as my passenger  as members of the PLA chased us. I made a bad decision and turned into a parking lot that was a dead end. I was cornered and about to charge them full speed in my car when I woke up.

Good times, my dreams. I think the fact China owns so much of our debt *may* be getting to me. The upside is maybe I have the beginnings of my first novel!

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July’s Zune Pass Songs

This month’s Zune Pass songs are another bit of mix-n-match. Some 70’s country/folk, some 70’s rock, some modern rock, and a reggae track.

  1. Take Me Home, Country Roads – John Denver
  2. Thank God I’m A Country Boy – John Denver
  3. Rocky Mountain High – John Denver
  4. Grandma’s Feather Bed – John Denver
  5. Sundown – Gordon Lightfoot
  6. Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald – Gordon Lightfoot
  7. Running on Empty – Jackson Brown
  8. Road Trippin’ – Red Hot Chili Peppers
  9. Clocks – Coldplay – From the Rhythms Del Mundo compilation album
  10. Iron Lion Zion – Bob Marley & The Wailers

 

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Life After Getting Rid of Cable TV

So in late February or early March (I don’t remember which) we got rid of cable TV completely. I wanted to share the services we use in lieu of cable TV, the quality of service, the  technology behind what we replaced cable with and our experience with life after cable TV.

The Services Instead of Cable TV

Instead of cable we opted to go with a Roku XD|S. I liked the Roku because it offered Netflix, Amazon Instant Video (pay-per-view as well as purchase) and Hulu Plus, although we only recently subscribed to Hulu Plus. We also use Pandora, which is also included on the Roku. It does have a number of other services, too. Some of these other services are free, such as Crackle which shows movies (they’re uncut/unedited, but they do have commercials) and others require payment. The one thing they don’t have that I would LOVE to see is the ability to subscribe to ESPN’s GamePlan during college football season. Fortunately, since I still have Cox high speed internet I can access ESPN 360. So, as far as services offered with the Roku, we’re happy.

The Overall Experience

As far as the overall experience goes, it’s been pretty good. We’ve found that during peak hours, programs that are offered in HD will usually stream in HD, but not always. This is true whether it’s Netflix, Amazon Instant Video or Hulu Plus. Off hours it’s much more consistent. Occasionally we’ve had something stop in mid-program and  re-buffer, and the quality that sometimes drops to standard definition. The picture is still watchable although occasionally it seems that things not in the focus of the camera appear slightly pixelated, but not bad enough to make us turn it off. It did start  re-buffering  once right in the middle of “Unstoppable” with Denzel Washington and it did take away from the momentum of the scene. I have to admit it was slightly annoying that it cut right in the middle of an action scene, but that is most definitely a first-world problem that I can let go of pretty easily – or at least should be able to. 🙂

There are a few negatives: the first is that not all the shows we like to watch are available online – specifically “Burn Notice”  and “V”, although “V” was cancelled. Fortunately, earlier this year CBS started showing full episodes of “The Big Bang Theory” online so we can watch that. And, as I mentioned, there will be a lot less college football playing on TV this year. Maybe that’s a good thing – I’ll only watch the really important games since I’ll be relegated to using streaming from ESPN 360.

The Technology

As far as technology goes, while we don’t have Cox cable TV, we still have Cox for our high speed internet access. We have the premier tier which is speeds of up to 27 Mbps. I surprisingly got a straight answer from a Cox rep (I would have expected a vague, nebulous answer) that we should consistently get as much  bandwidth during peak hours as  one tier lower than what we’ve subscribed to and closer to the 27 Mbps during non-peak hours. We had a bit of trouble at one point over a period of several weeks, but I called in to complain and they scheduled a tech to come out the next day. The next day I got a call from Cox and they’d  miraculously found an issue in our neighborhood and they asked if I wanted to cancel the tech visit. I said yes, and things have done well since. My thinking is that they just opened the throttle a bit although maybe I’m just a little conspiracy theoryish on that. But as far as our ISP goes, things have been good.

We added one other piece of hardware in addition to the Roku: a new D-Link DIR 815 dual-band, wireless N router. The only thing connected to the 5GHz router is the Roku. All our other devices (two iPads, one iPod touch, two laptops, our home desktop and cell phones) use the 2.4GHz conection. I’ve also disabled the N on the 2.4GHz band, giving the 5GHz exclusive use of the N protocol. It’s served us pretty well – it’s required a few reboots but it’s pretty solid. My old router was the Linksys WRT54G which was rock solid for years except for the period of time where I had upgraded the firmware which was a complete disaster. This seems almost as solid, but we haven’t had it as long either.

Life Without Cable

So how is life without cable? I think it’s fantastic. Since we got rid of the cable, I’ve been working more on a side software development project (the game of Craps) that I’ve toyed around with for years. I’ve also been blogging more lately. I’ve been reading books more, too, although I’ve always read plenty. I know I definitely am watching less TV than I did before. I think my wife and step-daughter are watching less, too, but I am guessing they watch more than I do.

I think the best thing about it is the fact that we are more intentional about what we watch. It’s hard to sit down and get pulled into whatever marathon is on TNT, USA Network, etc. so you feel like you’re not just vegging and wasting your day in front of the TV, or if you are, it’s by choice. It really is insidious how they start the next episode with the credits still rolling from the previous episode; it pulls you in into another hour of just sitting there.

In short, if you’re thinking about ditching cable, I think it’s a great move. You need to consider what you watch and ask yourself “Can I find it in an alternative venue or can I live without seeing it?” It takes some being honest with yourself, but I bet you’d be surprised at how much of the TV you watch you can do just fine without. Who knows, you might rediscover your spouse, your children, a hobby (or a new one), and a whole new life outside of TV!

 

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Thank you to Mike Portnoy

Dear Mike,

I’ve been wanting to write this for about a long while now. I wasn’t sure where to send it – I briefly looked and couldn’t find and address although honestly I didn’t look too hard. So on Saturday May 28th as I was driving to California from Phoenix to see the Neal Morse Testimony 2 show with you playing drums, it occurred to me I could write an open letter.

Although it’s been a few years, I wanted to say I’m sorry for the loss of your dad. I know the hurt and pain of losing your father.

I wanted to write a thank you for the song “The Best of Times”. I know that the song was written for your dad before he died and it had a huge impact on me and I wanted to share that with you. I hope you don’t find this “letter” disrespectful in any way – it is meant with full sincerity and thanks.

I wanted to let you know a bit about my story with my dad first. In December of 2008, I got a call that my father had found a lump along his jawline while shaving one day. He mentioned it to my step-mother and they made an appointment to see the doctor. It turned out to be cancerous but the doctor was fairly confident that once removed and with radiation treatment the cancer would be gone. We knew it would be an uphill battle, but we were all optimistic. It was removed and Dad was going to start radiation treatment.

I made it home to Florida for Christmas that year, not knowing if it would be my last with my Dad. God bless my wife for being so supportive and encouraging me to go. Her daughters – my step-daughters – were going to be at their Dad’s for Christmas so it left her alone on Christmas which I know wasn’t easy for her. She knew, though, how important it was for me to be with my Dad that Christmas. We still hoped for recovery and that we’d have more Christmases together but we didn’t know for sure, and I just needed to see my Dad.

In January before starting his radiation treatment, my dad found another lump on his side. The doctors were very worried and did a PET scan and discovered tumors throughout his body. We were told 4-6 months was all he had. The doctors were right. On June 1, 2009, my father passed away peacefully in hospice.

There are two reasons I wanted to say thank you for the amazing song that you wrote. First, it gave me comfort to know that I wasn’t the only person to have gone through something like this. From what I know, based solely on the lyrics of “The Best of Times”, it sounds as if there were some similarities in what happened. The lyrics said “the two score and the year we had”; I assume you were 41 when you lost your dad, I was 40 when I lost my dad. I know all too well what the lyrics “…but then came the call, our lives changed forevermore, you can pray for a change, but prepare for the end” mean. I’ve known other people in the same situation but there’s something about hearing it in a song, even though I’ve never met you, that just really resonated in me. I felt empathy for you and what you must have gone through when you got that call. I know for me there was a lot of tears and an emptiness I felt deep in my stomach even though Dad was still here.  I guess that’s part of the power of music – it allows us fans to connect with the artist in some way.

The second reason I want to say thank you is the song helped me grieve. “Black Clouds and Silver Linings” was released on June 23, 2009, and I was almost scared to buy it. I have always loved Dream Theater’s music but I was afraid that I would always associate it with my father’s passing since they were so close together on the calendar. But once I heard “The Best of Times” and learned what it was about, it became a part of my grieving process. I know the song is about your father, but as I listened and I heard you list all the great memories of your dad, it got me to think about all the wonderful memories and great times I had with my dad. It truly helped me focus on the best of times and work through my loss. “My heart is bleeding bad, but I’ll be OK” was comforting to me every time I listened to the song those days in the summer of 2009. There were many days I’d drive to work with “The Best of Times” playing and I’m sure people wondered “Why is that man crying?”

In the spirit of “Black Clouds & Silver Linings”, if there was a silver lining to my father’s illness and passing it was that he was in the middle stages of Alzheimer’s. I remember a conversation where we were talking about a doctor’s appointment he’d had earlier that day. Either my sister or I mentioned “cancer” in the conversation and his response was “Cancer? I don’t have cancer.” In some ways, what a blessing, not knowing the end is near because you can enjoy each day. In other ways, what a horror having to discover again (when it can’t be avoided in conversation or situations) that you have cancer. I know it also spared him (and us, and I hope that doesn’t sound too selfish) going through the terrible, terrible end stages of Alzheimer’s.

If I remember correctly, I heard in an interview (or read, don’t remember which) that you got to play the song for your dad before he passed. What an awesome gift to be able to give him. He had to be so proud of you for all you’ve accomplished but more importantly for the gift of a song written just for him celebrating your days together.

I don’t know you and I don’t know your dad but I think I have a sense of who he was – at least in the ways that really count. “All the unconditional love, that carried me for miles, it carried me for miles.” If there’s anything a father should be, it’s someone who loves his children unconditionally. Like you, I had a father who loved me unconditionally. Your dad’s unconditional love has carried you for miles, just as my dad’s has carried me. And since we learn to be parents by watching our parents, I’m sure your dad’s legacy lives on in your relationship with your children. I am trying my best to show the same unconditional love to my step-daughters as my Dad showed me. I often tell my wife “All the good things about me as a husband and a father I learned from my dad. All the bad stuff is purely me.”

I just wanted to say thank you for an amazing song that helped me deal with the death of my own father. I hope you aren’t offended; I know the song was about your dad and your experiences with him and I’m not in any  way trying to make it my own or about me and my dad. It connected in that unique way that only music can, helped me reflect on my relationship with my dad,  brought me comfort and was a part of my healing process.

Thank you,

Jeff Ballard

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June’s Zune Pass Songs

I got a Zune Pass a few months ago. For $14.99/month, it allows you to stream music from the Zune service. (As an aside, shhhh…don’t tell the Apple people that Microsoft has had a music streaming service long before they did – it doesn’t fit the meme that Microsoft doesn’t innovate. They innovate – they just suck at marketing. Oh, and if I understand the Apple iCloud offering, you can only listen to music you’ve bought, not any song you want.)

One of the nice benefits of the Zune Pass is that with your subscription you get to download and keep 10 DRM free songs each month. So, basically, for $14.99 ($5.00 more than your average album) you get 10 songs to keep forever and all the streaming music you want. Not a bad deal if you ask me. Plus in the future when I get my Windows Phone 7 (I’m holding out for something better on Verizon than the HTC Trophy), I can use the Zune software on it as well.

This month’s Zune Pass purchases are all over the map style/genre wise. In no particular order, here they are:

  1. Uptight (Everything’s Alright) – Stevie Wonder
  2. Sir Duke – Stevie Wonder
  3. Are You Gonna Go My Way – Lenny Kravitz
  4. Born To Be Wild – Steppenwolf
  5. Disco Inferno – The Trammps
  6. Flirtin’ With Disaster – Molly Hatchet
  7. Free For All – Ted Nugent
  8. Get Down Tonight – KC & The Sunshine Band
  9. I Want You Back – The Jackson 5 (On principle (thanks to Scott Y.) I won’t listen to or buy any Michael Jackson music due to the allegations against him. I made an exception for his music when he was a child.)
  10. Mississippi Queen – Mountain
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Ten Thoughts While Driving to California

This weekend I went to California to see Neal Morse in concert. It was an amazing show – if you’ve never seen Neal live and you like progressive rock music, it’s highly recommended.

As I was driving to California, I had several thoughts.

  1. As I passed through the  San Gorgonio Pass Wind Farm, I thought it would be fun to see a cage death match between the animal rights activists and the alternative energy activists. Who would win – the supporters of the animals, particularly birds, or the supporters of the wind farm & wind turbines (or “the whirling blades of bird murder” as I call them)?
  2. California’s roads suck. When I have to push my GPS unit back up on my dash every two minutes to keep it from falling because the road is so bumpy, the road in question needs repair. Yes, CA-60, I’m talking about you. I know California is broke, but I’m willing to bet they have some ridiculous program that could be cut to fix a road or two. Roads are something I expect from government; studies on the mating habits of the brown-and-blue speckled schnozzbird, not so much.
  3. I think Arizona can do better things with some of the money they spend on road signs. For example, the large yellow signs on I-10 that say “Blowing Dust Area” are a complete waste of time. There are several clues to anyone with a working brain that it’s windy and there’s a possibility of dust:
    • The shrubs on the side of the road leaning sideways
    • The large, monolithic brown cloud and tumbleweeds rolling frantically across the highway
    • The dust devils spinning through the desert on either side of the highway
    • The fact you’re driving through A DESERT!
  4. I prefer the drive to L.A. much more than the one to Vegas. Vegas has too many mountains and two-lane roads for me. My wife says the flat road is too boring. While I agree it’s more sedate, that’s what I like. I hate feeling like I’m one blown tire from flying off the edge of a mountain and unintentionally doing my best “Thelma & Louise” impression.
  5. James Brown’s “I Feel Good” is amazing to drive to. Surprisingly, so is “Let the Music Play” and “You’re the First, the Last, My Everything” by Barry White. Not gonna’ lie, listening to Barry White in your car while driving by yourself is dangerous: you never know when you may suddenly really need to see your wife, if you know what I mean.
  6. If you’re going to drive to L.A. with the top down, stopping about halfway to reapply sunscreen is a good idea, which is something I did do.  I will say, however, that either someone needs to invent hair gel with sunscreen or I need to remember a hat. Or, I suppose I could just lather my head with sunscreen. Regardless of the solution, a burnt scalp is not fun.
  7. Having the top down is a good way to stay awake. Didn’t get sleepy at all.
  8. If you drive fast enough with the top down and it starts raining lightly, you don’t get wet. Probably something to do with the wind flowing up the windshield and sweeping rain away. Regardless of the cause, I appreciate the fact I didn’t get wet.
  9. I can never seem to remember it gets chilly in California and bring a light jacket.
  10. If I ever get another convertible, it’ll be a hard top retractable. Hard tops don’t develop holes and provide a quieter ride when you want one.
  11. Sure, the is number 11 on a list of 10, but call it a bonus: it’s always nice to get back home!
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Why I Love CrossFit

After posting a comment on Facebook about a recent CrossFit workout at North Scottsdale CrossFit, I had a friend ask me what I thought about CrossFit.   It had been on my mind for a while to post about why I love CrossFit, so here goes.

  1. It works – I’ve gained muscle, lost fat, my cardio ability has improved, I have more energy and in general I just feel better. I also think my balance and stability have improved, too.   When my wife told me she could see a difference it felt great to hear her say that.   When my massage therapist asked me “How many times a week did you say you were working out?   I can feel a difference.”, it felt great.   So it’s definitely working and noticeable by others.   Sure, you should probably be working out just for your own health, but it is nice to know others see a change.
  2. It’s a great workout. Regardless of what the workout of the day (WOD) is, I know I’m going to get a good workout and I will be tired, but also feel better for having worked out.   There’s a reason it’s a workout and not a funout.
  3. It’s scheduled – I know when the classes are and how long they will last (an hour unless you’re doing an express class, which is 30 minutes).   You can’t put it off and say “I’ll go later” – you have to go when there’s a class.   Let’s face it – if your gym is open 24 hours, you’ll always think “I can go later” but most of us will rarely, if ever, actually go later.   It’s so much easier to know when the classes are and put it on your schedule.
  4. You get personal attention every workout.   The classes aren’t huge and I know that my coaches Kevin and Jason are paying attention and they give me feedback on my technique on the various movements as well as encouragement.   Good luck trying to find that in your local gym.
  5. There’s a great sense of community with your fellow CrossFitters.   I’ve met some great people and they’re all nothing but friendly, helpful and encouraging.   I seem to be a bit slower finishing some days and everyone that has already finished is still there encouraging me to press on towards the end.   They could leave, but they stay to encourage me.   How awesome is that?

    Additionally, there’s no judgment from anyone about where you’re at physically.   No one looks down at you because you don’t lift as much as they do, you don’t finish as many reps or don’t finish as fast.   I’ve always felt intimidated in gyms but I don’t feel that way at all in CrossFit.

    Lastly, as far as community goes, there are often great team or partner workouts which are a lot of fun.

  6. I’ve learned a lot of exercises and movements I never thought I could.   Olympic lifts such as the clean & jerk and the snatch, thrusters, and back squats always seemed like a mystery and something I could never do but I learned them during the On Ramp (beginner’s) class.   I’m no expert yet but I can do them safely and with the coaches help I’m constantly improving my technique and form.

    Don’t think all the exercises are hard to learn – many of the movements are super-easy to learn.   Let’s face it – a box jump is a box jump, a squat is a squat, so even if you have to learn some new exercises, you can still do many right off the bat.

  7. The workouts are varied – you don’t do the same thing every day.   The exercises are functional so they will help you when you do things you actually do in real life.   Things like lifting boxes, playing organized sports, etc.
  8. This may vary from studio to studio, but Kevin posts a lot of great articles related to all aspects of health which serve as a great starting point to learning about various subjects related to health such as diet, proper rest, exercises, etc.

I think those summarize the main reasons I love CrossFit.   If I think of more, I’ll add them later.   Now get out there and get going on CrossFit!

Posted in CrossFit, Exercise, Personal | 2 Comments

Doors & Manners

When I’m opening a door, how far behind me does someone have to be before I am not obligated to hold the door open for them?   Two, four, ten, twelve steps?   Honestly, this sort of thing causes me a lot of anxiety.   Because inevitably, due to my bad judgement, I’ll hold the door when someone is too far away and they will then feel compelled to run to get to the door as they don’t want to be seen as taking advantage of my kindness.   And I didn’t want that, I just wanted to be nice and hold the door open for them.   When people do run, I usually say “no hurry.”   And I mean it.   Of course, the flip side is that I don’t hold the door and they now think I’m that guy who has no common courtesy.   And it makes me sad to even think I could be “that guy”.

I’m hosed either way.   Maybe I should just start slamming doors in people’s faces.   Of course, that would bring lawsuits.   I don’t want those, either.

Posted in Personal, Random, Rants | 3 Comments

‘Unable to Cast COM Object’ Error With SQL Server 2008

I have encountered an error that was driving me nuts:

Unable to cast COM object of type ‘System.__ComObject’ to interface type ‘Microsoft.VisualStudio.OLE.Interop.IServiceProvider’. This operation failed because the QueryInterface call on the COM component for the interface with IID ‘{6D5140C1-7436-11CE-8034-00AA006009FA}’ failed due to the following error: No such interface supported (Exception from HRESULT: 0x80004002 (E_NOINTERFACE)). (Microsoft.VisualStudio.OLE.Interop)

Googling and Binging revealed I’m not the only one to have this issue.   I even tried the fixes here:

http://social.msdn.microsoft.com/Forums/en-US/sqltools/thread/6d0f23e5-14fd-4a32-b37d-33458c339b14

with no luck.   This is the second machine (same machine actually, just reinstalled Windows 7 RTM) and had the same error occur.   I got lucky this time, though, in that I noticed it started happening immediately after I installed Source Gear Vault version 3.1.5. Figuring that Vault was the most recent installed item, I tried uninstalling it and voila, the problem was gone.

I know that’s not a solution for most people – I’m lucky in that I only need Vault for a little bit as we’re moving to another source control provider.   I also suspect it’s not an issue for most folks as 3.1.5 is a really old version of Vault.   But at least I finally know what was causing the error.

Posted in Code/Development, Technology | 1 Comment

Date Without Time When Serializing

I’m serializing a class in .NET and have a DateTime field.   It’s getting serialized as:

2009-11-01T00:00:00

When what I really want is something without the time like this:

2009-11-01

Brad Abrams has a great post that has how to do this (plus a lot more).   Simply add this attribute to the property:

[XmlElementAttribute(DataType=”date”)]

This is probably basic to some, but was helpful to me.

Posted in Code/Development, Technology | Leave a comment