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Entries From November 2006

November 27, 2006

Best Sports Week Ever

Filed under Sports

Wow! It can't get much better than this!

All of my teams are kicking arse!

First, my Aggies beat t.u. 12-7 for the first time in six years. We beat t.u. at home. We ran for 244 yards against the nation's best run defense that averaged only 42 yards/game. We held t.u. to a single score. We stopped t.u. on fourth and goal. We knocked t.u. out of the Big 12 championship. We intercepted t.u. 4 times. We knocked t.u.'s QB out of the game. The latest AP poll has A&M at #22 and t.u. dropping to #17. A&M finishes the season at 9-3, the same as t.u.

Next up...the Dallas Mavericks. After an 8 game losing streak dating back to the NBA Finals, the Mavs are now on a 9 game winning streak, the best in the NBA. The Mavs beat our biggest rivals, the San Antonio Spurs 95-92 to even the series to 1-1. The Mavs are currently 1.5 games behind the Spurs for the Southwest division lead.

How 'bout them Cowboys? I went to the Cowboys/Colts game where Dallas ruined the Colts perfect season, 21-14. The Cowboys then beat Tampa Bay 38-10 on Thanksgiving with 5 TD passes by new Dallas QB Tony Romo, tying a Cowboys record. After a shaky start, the switch at QB has been huge for Dallas. Not only is Dallas winning, but the rest of our conference is falling apart...the Giants (our next victim) lost 3 in a row and the Eagles have lost their last two, placing Dallas with a 1 game lead over the Giants in the NFC East.

And finally, my Aggie basketball team is unbelievable. They are 5-0 currently and ranked #11 in the week 3 AP top 25. I don't *ever* remember A&M being ranked in a top 25 poll. With 5 of the teams above them losing, there is a good chance A&M will move up again in the polls.

This is fun!

November 26, 2006


Filed under Gadgets, Reviews

I *hate* running. I gave up running over 10 years ago. Instead I've played basketball or rode my bike for exercise.

I'm giving running another try because I've hit my weight limit and I found a very cool running trail. The trail starts at the American Airlines Center, which is just down the street from me. It is called The Katy Trail. It is 3.5 miles in length from the AAC to Mockingbird Station. Here is a map of the trail I made with Microsoft Live.

I tried walking it yesterday and used my Motorola Q phone as a music player...and that sucked! Even with max volume, I could barely hear the music. I needed something else to keep me entertained while I was running. I decided to pick up an Apple Ipod Shuffle because they are really light, fairly cheap, get good reviews, and have a really cool commercial...

I went running this afternoon...and it wasn't pretty. I couldn't run a quarter of a mile without stopping. I ran/walked (mostly walked) 3 miles. I have a lot of work to do. I plan on running minimum twice a week.

As for the Shuffle...I really like it. Since I'm running, I don't care that it doesn't have a display. I loaded it up with high energy music and it sounded great. I had it clipped to my shorts and I never noticed it while I was running.

There are a few changes I wish Apple would make to the Shuffle...

  1. I wish we had a single standard for music so I didn't have to use multiple music managers. I currently use iTunes for my Shuffle, Phatnoise Music Manager for my PhatBox, Media Player as my default player, and Rhapsody for online music.
  2. I wish the Shuffle had a built-in USB connection (instead of a USB dock) so I could charge it anywhere and use it as a USB memory key.
  3. I wish I could just drag music onto the Shuffle using Explorer. I *can* do this, but the music is then considered "data" and the shuffle will not play "data." You have to use iTunes to put music on the Shuffle.

Xbox Live Video Marketplace

Filed under HDTV, Reviews, Xbox 360

The Xbox Live Video Marketplace went live on November 22, 2006...one year after the Xbox 360 launched. Here's another review with some nice pics.

The video marketplace lets you rent/buy movies and TV shows. The biggest news is that some of the content is offered in HD...and I'm all about HD now. For more details on the video marketplace see the FAQ (part 1 and part 2).

So on the 22nd, I found an HD movie to test out, "V for Vendetta".  I rented it for 480 Microsoft Points or $6 (80 MP = $1). I started the download before I went to work. The movie was a 6 GB download. In 30 minutes I had about 7% downloaded. I went to work and figured the whole movie would be finished by the time I got home.

Wrong! When I got home, the download was at 36% complete. I let it run for the rest of the night and I only got to 40% before the download ended in an error message. I was charged for the movie even though I never finished downloading it. 

I tried to download the movie again before I left for Thanksgiving. I was charged a second time for the download. When I came back, the movie was downloaded. Since I was gone for a few days, I have no idea how long it took to download.

Apparently Microsoft was having some growing pains with the video marketplace. Many people were reporting slow and failed downloads. Microsoft's Major Nelson acknowledged the problem and gave a number to call (800-4MYXBOX) to get credit for failed downloads.

I finished watching the movie this morning. The video quality was beautiful. However, I did notice a jerkiness during scenes with motion, like when the credits moved up the screen. I saw a similar issue when I first watched a DVD on my 360, but it was cleared up with a patch...hopefully this issue will be fixed as well.

The controls are fairly limited. The remote control works much better than using the 360 controller since you can access functions directly without having to go to an on screen menu. There are not a lot of control options:

  • Play/pause
  • Fast forward/Rewind (2x, 4x, 8x). At the fastest speed, it takes ~7 seconds to skip a minute. This makes skipping to a particular part of a movie *very* frustrating.
  • Chapter Skip. Normally a chapter skip moves to the beginning of scenes in a movie. This *could* work that way, but in this movie it did not. The movie was divided into "chapters" by creating a chapter every 8 seconds. The chapter skip will move you to the next or previous chapter. This is pretty useless without some logic behind the chapter locations.
  • Info. This shows the time elapsed and a countdown to the end of the movie.
  • Format. You can switch from the default view (which looks good) to a "letterbox" view which adds black bars to the left and right as well as top and bottom...effectively turning your HDTV into a SD TV. I guess you might use this feature if you are watching HD content on a SD TV.

The video is 720p, which looks great. The sound is in Dolby Digital 5.1.

What is missing? You don't get the chapter search that you get with a DVD. Also, there is no visual scene selection like most DVD's have. There is no way to do slow motion. There are no DVD extras, like director's commentaries or behind the scenes features. There is no support for subtitles, which I use a lot when I have trouble understanding what an actor says.

I called 800-4MYXBOX to fix the issue with the double charge on the one movie I downloaded. I spent at least 10 minutes on hold until I got to talk to somebody. The person I talked to would ask me a question and then would interrupt me every time I tried to answer her which meant she would have to ask me for the information again...it almost made me wish Microsoft would outsource their call center. After 30+ minutes on the phone, I finally got my credit...but I don't think I should have ever had to call. Microsoft knew there was a problem. They know what I've downloaded and when I've watched it. I would have expected them to correct the issue without any need for me to call in. Oh well.

You have 24 hours to finish watching a rental from when you start watching. When you look at the movie in your downloaded movie area, it indicates how much time is left in the 24 hour window. After my 24 hour window expired, I wondered what would happen if I tried to play the movie again. I just tried it and the movie started playing...no "Do you want to rent this movie again?" dialog. It doesn't look like I was charged for it, but after all the troubles they are having and since they have given me a credit for multiple charges on "V for Vendetta", who knows if this is the normal behavior.

I'm excited about the future of Xbox Live Video Marketplace. If I have the choice between watching an HD-DVD (my player is shipping this week!) or an HD video from the marketplace, I'd choose the HD-DVD every time. But, I do see utility in the Video Marketplace. Video Marketplace will eventually allow me to watch TV shows that I may have missed that are not yet available on DVD or HD movies that are not yet available on HD-DVD (or are instead on Blu-ray). I hope more and more content providers jump on the Video Marketplace.

November 16, 2006

1080p vs. 1080i

Filed under HDTV, Xbox 360

For movie and TV content, there is no difference between 1080p or 1080i for a progressive TV (LCD, plasma, DLP, LCoS, but not typically a CRT).

Just six months ago I would have argued with this statement. 1080i has half the lines of resolution as 1080p, right?

Wrong! This article does a nice job of explaining how 1080i content can be converted to 1080p perfectly.

Even though film/TV content received at 1080i can be converted back to the original 1080p content, it is contingent on your TV doing reverse 3:2 pulldown correctly. If you drop 1080i and use 1080p throughout the journey from source material to your TV set, then you don't have to worry if your TV is converting 1080i correctly. 1080p removes one level of complexity from an already convoluted process.

According to a recent test of sixty-one 2006 model year sets, more than half did *not* recover 1080p from 1080i correctly. My TV (Sony 46" XBR3) was one of the sets that failed. However, changing Sony's terrible default settings (why would they do that?) fixes the problem.

Another reason you want 1080p...when we start receiving 1080 content at frame rates higher than 30fps. Both the Xbox 360 and the PlayStation 3 are capable of 1080p content at higher frame rates than film or TV use. For these HD sources running games at 1080p 60fps, converting 1080i to 1080p will result in loss of image data. Most 360 games are designed for 720p because of the performance hit of moving to 1080p. I suspect the same will be true for the PS3. I have no doubt games will move to 1080p eventually, but currently we are not there.

I have my Xbox 360 hooked up as 1080i. Microsoft added a patch recently that gives the Xbox 360 1080p support. Unfortunately, it does not work with my TV due to a bug in their update, which Microsoft is going fix.

I am going to pickup the $200 HD DVD player for the Xbox 360. There is a lot of chatter on the internets about how Microsoft has to get the 1080p output working for the HD DVD player to compare to Sony's PS3/Blu-ray player. However, it really doesn't matter. Film is at 24 fps, and my set does 3:2 pulldown correctly now. So I will get the same 1080p output that the PS3 does, even if I am doing it via 1080i.

Who's Winning?

Filed under Gadgets, HDTV, Xbox 360

You can argue and speculate all you want, but why not check the facts? This website uses data from amazon.com to figure out who has the most popular video game console, next generation DVD format, and satellite radio service. Very cool!

November 10, 2006

Windows Vista: Kills Viruses Dead.

Filed under Computers, Software

According to this article, Microsoft co-president Jim Allchin told a reporter that Vista's...

"new lockdown features are so capable and thorough that he was comfortable with his own seven-year-old son using Vista without antivirus software installed."

That is a pretty bold statement! At first I thought it was crazy, but now that I know about the "lockdown features," I'm very impressed with how Vista deals with viruses.

When you hear about security issues, more often than not the issue is related to a buffer overflow exploit. Basically, this means that software was designed to handle a maximum number of characters, but the exploit sends more than the expected. Once the character buffer is filled, the extra characters start to overwrite areas of memory that were not meant to change. The trick to this exploit is to tell the running program to start executing the data in the newly compromised areas of memory. This is how a malicious web page can take control of your system.

This article explains how to use the exploit. I would recommend that anybody doing software development read this to better understand the problem. I find that most people really don't understand how this works, and just continue making software that can be exploited. This problem is *everywhere*...hence the reason we have security updates on such a regular basis.

Vista has a new feature that could very well eliminate buffer overflow attacks. Using a technique called "Address Space Layout Randomization" (ASLR), Vista shuffles how software is loaded in memory. The Buffer Overflow exploit depends on specific software loaded at a specific location, so that it can jump to an area of memory that gives it the ability run other programs or commands. With ASLR, it is highly unlikely that an exploit will be able to find these locations.

I think this is an amazingly clever solution to a *really* bad problem. I don't have any real world data on how effective it is, but the theory is sound. If ALSR works as advertised, it won't eliminate all security issues, but it will significantly reduce the number we deal with today.

I still believe *ALL* computers should run anti-virus software, even if they have ASLR. How else will you know if your system is under attack unless it is checked against a continuously updated list.

I am planning on moving to Vista as soon as it is released (Jan 30th). There is a lot to like in this new release. Vista's ASLR alone may be worth the price of admission.

An interesting side note: Microsoft is constantly bashed for the security of their operating systems. As of this writing, Apple Macintosh and mainstream Linux distributions do not include ASLR. This means that Vista is more secure against buffer overflow exploits than OS X or Linux.

November 7, 2006

More Halloween Pics

Filed under Photos

DFW Exposed has started posting photos from their "Heaven and Helloween VI" party. All three of my submitted photos were posted. I found the photo to the left, which is not from my camera, in the photo gallery.

Some of the pictures are a bit racy or tasteless, so you probably should not look at these at work.

November 3, 2006

Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan

Filed under Movies, Reviews

I saw Borat today. I laughed out loud more for this movie than any I can remember. Very funny stuff.

I know this is not for everyone. In fact, a very infamous naked man wrestling scene (responsible for the "graphic nudity" in its "R" rating) made one older woman run out of the theater in disgust...which just means this is a *great* film.

I will probably see this one again in the theaters...which I rarely do. I only buy DVD's that have high replay value, and this one certainly falls into that category...so I'll pick this one up when it inevitably comes out on DVD. 

Two thumbs way up! High Five!

Halloween 2006

Filed under Photos

This year I decided to go as Borat. If you have not seen Borat, check out this clip of Borat using a dating service.

Here are photos from Halloween.

I got a fake mustache, spirit gum, and remover from Norcostco (great place to get stuff for Halloween and the staff is very helpful). They recommended I try a place called "Gratitude" for the signature gray suit.

Gratitude is a *very* odd place. It doesn't have a web presence, so here are its vitals: 3714 Fairmount, Dallas, TX 75219; 214-522-2921. It is an old house *stuffed* with old clothing and accessories. I told them I called earlier about a gray suit. The guy said he had a few to show me. He said to follow him and he lost me in a matter of foot steps...the room I was in was sooo packed with clothing that you could not find any doors. I had to yell for help to try to find out which way my guide went.

I found the perfect gray suit there. I also picked up a wig, an American Flag lapel pin, sunglasses, and a shirt for $80. I ended up not using to the wig because it was just too big.

I bought a gold tie previously.

That gave me the costume, but I wanted one more accessory: photos of my wife (see 4:40 in this video). I used Google images to find pictures of my wife.

The first party I went to was hosted by my buddy Matt. It got interesting when a bisexual girl started making out with another guy's girlfriend. The boyfriend got upset and the party started to feel a bit like a Jerry Springer show. I was looking for the right moment to jet to my next party, so I slipped out in the middle of the confrontation of the boyfriend with his now lesbian girlfriend.

The next party I went to was "Heaven and Helloween VI" hosted by DFW Exposed. I went last year and had a blast. The place was packed with at least a thousand people and most people dressed up. It cost $40 to get in, but it had an open bar.

Going as Borat was great. I used a lot of his tendencies...

  • I would say, "I like you" to almost every girl that walked by.
  • I got to kiss a bunch of girls, because that is how we greet people in Kazakhstan
  • I was giving High-Five's all night
  • When people asked me about my wife, I would show them the photos. Most people thought they were hilarious, but one girl got really offended.
  • When girls recognized me as Borat, I would try to guess their costume. In every case, I would guess "Prostitute?" Most girls thought that was funny, but I did get slapped pretty hard in the face once.


About November 2006

This page contains all entries posted to David's Blog in November 2006. They are listed from oldest to newest.

October 2006 is the previous archive.

December 2006 is the next archive.

Many more can be found on the main index page or by looking through the archives.

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