Blogcation

Since other people can go a week without blogging, this shouldn’t be so bad.
Apparently a skin graft is considered minor surgery. I’m getting a full thickness skin graft from my thigh, which means they’ll cut a chunk out, stitch that back together, and then put the chunk on my arm. I’ll be partially anesthetized, will have to fast the day before, and won’t be allowed to drive following. As I mentioned earlier, my left arm will also be out of commission for a week.
On top of that, I have a demo I have to show off in two weeks, and I have at least two weeks of coding to do on it yet. Typing one hand is very difficult, so I’m going to be pulling some late hours next week to make sure my project is in good shape… Which means I likely won’t be blogging much (if at all) until after the demo is done.
I’ll teach Nic to update the photo stream, so you won’t be totally bored checking out the site, but if you want to see how you’re doing, you’re probably gonna have to pick up the phone!
PS: If you’re interested in how my arm looks, pre-skin-graft, click here! Its worse than the last picture cause the foam is gone, so don’t click unless you’re sure you can take it!

Surgery on God's Schedule

So I’m getting a skin graft. They scheduled me in for April 5, and I thought that was fine — until I got back to the office and realised thats the Thursday before Good Friday. Our church is doing no less than 7 Easter Services that weekend, and my arms will be playing a part in making that happen. So I called the secretary back and asked her very nicely if she could get me in the 9th or 10th — the following Monday or Tuesday. From there the conversation went something like this:
“Well I’m afraid the next earliest we have is the 13th. Everything else is booked solid, and we really need get you in earlier than that.”
“I understand… it’s just that I’m helping out at our church’s Easter Services, and I can’t afford to be without my arm.”
“Oh really? What church is that?”
“We go to Northway Church,” I told her — not expecting that to mean anything at all to her.
“NO WAY! So do I!” She exclaimed excitedly.
“Oh cool! Ya, I work production, and I really need to be useful that weekend.” I told her, hoping she’d have more sympathy.
“Well, I might have something I can move around on the 12th.” Her voice suddenly sounding much kinder. “Let me see what I can do, and I’ll call you back.
A day and a half later I hadn’t heard anything back from her, and I had a message to call the hospital where I was getting my surgery done. I assumed that they must be calling to set up my appointment on the 5th, and I mentally steeled myself to tell Dave that I wouldn’t be able to help out over Easter. I called the hospital back, and was confused when the lady on the phone said:
“Oh yes, we were calling to do a pre-screening for your surgery on the 10th?”
“The 10th?” I asked incredulously. “Are you sure thats when I’m getting in?”
“Yep. I have you here for April 10th.”
“…”

High Miling

I got an extra 140 km (87 miles, for you Americans) out of my last tank of gas. Let me tell you how…
images.jpgA couple weeks ago, I read an article about these guys, they call themselves “High Milers” or something like that, and they’ve made a sport out of increasing their gas mileage. One guy went 900 miles on a 17 gallon tank of gas (1450km on 65 liters)! They meet every year and have contests to see who can go the farthest — one competitor drove for 9 hours with the fuel gauge on “E!”
Now these guys take it to the extreme: shutting their car off when coasting, slip-streaming transport trucks, and other crazy stuff like that. But some of their, less dangerous, tips when applied in moderation, can have some pretty amazing impact on your mileage — and your gas budget. Here’s a couple principles I’ve extracted from their experiments…
Don’t Use The Gas
We tend to think of going and stopping as a binary operation: your foot is either on the gas pedal to make you go, or the brake pedal to make you stop. We frequently forget what we all knew when we were kids riding bikes through the neighbourhood — you don’t need to pedal all the time, nor do you need to use the gas pedal all the time. In fact, once you start thinking this way, you feel kind of silly about how much you press down on the pedal. Going down hills, getting off the highway, coming up to a stop sign, rolling into a parking spot — you don’t need the gas pedal for any of these things. You’d be really surprised at how far, and how fast, your momentum will take you. Slide the car into neutral (or put the clutch all the way on) to make sure you’re really coasting.
Don’t Use the Brake
Once you get used to employing your momentum as much as you can, you start to realise how tragic it is to throw that momentum away by using the brake pedal. The goal here is to time your release of the gas pedal such that your momentum carries you exactly to the place you want to stop. Then you haven’t thrown away any fuel.
One example on my trip home is the road that we live off of. When you round the corner, there’s a curvy stretch leading up to our driveway. I’ve found that if I get to the speed limit by the time the curves start, I can put the car in neutral, maintaining a decent speed all the way to our driveway, make the turn into our apartment complex, and coast right into my parking spot, with still a little bit of momentum left. It’s a little under 2 miles where I have no need for the gas or the brake — I don’t waste any gas at all for that stretch.
Use the Brake
This might seem contradictory, but if you drive a vehicle with a standard transmission, as Nicole and I both do, you’ve probably gotten use to gear braking. While there are certain benefits to this technique, fuel conservation is not one of them. If the circumstances don’t allow you to coast to a stop, use the brake — you’re still throwing away momentum, but at least you’re not consuming fuel to do it.
Don’t Drive in the Grooves
I estimate that this strategy alone probably got me an additional 25-35 km on this last tank of gas.
In any given lane on a highway, there are a set of grooves, roughly in the center of the lane, in which the majority of the traffic travels. In the winter its good to be able to find those. The rest of the year, they waste gas. Dirt, water, oil and other debris all settle into these grooves and create drag that imperceptibly, but significantly, impacts your momentum. Drive to either side of the grooves to avoid this waste of fuel.
Tire Pressure and Other Maintenance
This is one I haven’t done yet, but I really should. Having the right tire pressure makes a real difference to your mileage. A clean air filter is another cheap and easy way to get a few extra miles out of your gas tank.
Normally, in exclusively highway driving, I can eek 600km out of a tank of gas. With mixed city and highway driving, which I do on my typical work week, I’m usually lucky if I break 500km.
This past week and a half was the latter kind of driving, and I got 640km out of my tank — and I could probably get a little bit further. My ultimate goal for this project is to get 700km to a tank of gas… I’m pretty sure I can do it.

My Hands Are Small I Know…

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Benjamin has hit a major developmental milestone: he’s discovered his hands!
Previously his hands were just things that flopped around, and sometimes ended up in his mouth — or scratching his face. They didn’t really get any more interesting to him until he figured out that he could actually control when they went in his mouth. And for awhile, that was pretty satisfying. Anytime there was no pacifier available (and sometimes even when the pacifier was already in his mouth) he could shove his little fist in there and drool all over it.
But some time yesterday, as he was chillin in his chair, he realised that he could use his hands to pull other things into his mouth! He’s still a little shaky with this new skill — sometimes he’s as surprised as we are that he’s suddenly holding on to something — but still, he can do it, so us worried parents can breathe yet another sigh of relief in the knowledge that, so far, our kid is pretty normal — and unusually good looking and adorable.

Skin Graft

And I went to the doctor, and the doctor said…
“Your wound is probably going to take about 4 months to heal without a skin graft.”
So I guess I’m getting a skin graft. They’re going to cut a hunk of skin out of my leg, and sew it onto my arm, and then I’m not going to be able to use that arm for a week, and at the end of that, it should look a lot better.
I have some concerns though.
First of all, do a Google images search for “skin graft.” The images are all very disturbing.
Secondly, I have very hairy legs. Does this mean I’m going to have a hairy spot on my arm now?
Over all, I’d have to say this sucks donkey butt…

Digg Storm

Well I think the excitement has mostly died down now. That’s the thing about Digg storms — they’re furious, but they’re brief!
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I posted my article about my little AppleScript hack to make my Mini look like an AppleTV, and I guess people liked it! I got 1250 hits inside an hour, so we moved the file to my friend Jon Bates’ server and he got 950 hits within 30 minutes! He burned through his 1GB bandwidth quota pretty quick, and is currently sitting at around 2.5GB! I clocked in at over 7000 hits this evening, Bates got over 1200. I have no idea what my bandwidth usage is — I’m just using our residential cable Internet going to a little Dell server in my bedroom closet. Hopefully Time Warner won’t notice and we won’t see a bill for it!
I was just sitting around minding my own business, when I noticed that websites were loading slowly, so I checked and my poor $30 server was practically smoking!!
Ah well, everyone gets their 15 minutes of fame. I’ve actually had two. A couple years ago I made the front page of Slashdot, because of a Wired article I was interviewed for about the Apple Newton — I forgot to include my website that time, so I only got Google traffic — and it still nearly squashed me!
Anyway, if any of you Diggers are still around, thanks for the poop storm of traffic! Hope you’re enjoying your Mac hacking! The more people working on this, the more functionality we’ll be able to get for free! Stop by any time 😉
Update: Looks like I got honorable mention on Wired and ZDNet too! Hello world, please keep in mind this is just a little script. Of all the hacks out there, this is by far the least elite. Check out the work other people are doing at the links above!

Cutting the Co-ax Part 2

OK, so we think we have it figured out! We’re gonna do this in 2 phases, starting next pay day.
Phase 1 is a minimum initial investment. Most of the costs go to change fees charged by the evil cable company. The sunk costs will be $118, for a year of Skype, and fees to disconnect our HD digital cable, and upgrade our Internet connection to the ‘turbo’ version — which should guarantee good telephony connections and IPTV download rates. We’ll recover these costs in less than 2 months of monthly fees, which will look something like this:
Basic Cable – $12 (max)
Internet – $55
IPTV purchases – $10
Blank DVDs – $10
This allows us to record a wide range of normal, time-filling television, plus purchase a couple good shows that we want to both time and place shift. During Phase 1 we’ll be able to watch recorded content in the living room or the bedroom, but downloaded content only in the bedroom or on the iPod. Its not as elegant as the PVR — the DVD Recorder is kinda user abusive — but elegance comes in Phase 2. The total monthly costs will be $87 max, saving us $63 a month — enough for a Gym Membership (with pool) which was our original goal.
Note: this also means we won’t have a home phone number any more. We can call out, but if you want to get in touch with us, call our cell phones and we’ll call you back. Or, you can install Skype yourself and we can talk for free!
apple_tv_intro_graphic.jpgPhase 2 we’ll do when we get our income tax back. Having Benjmain before the new year turned out to be quite the blessing because the estimator says we’ll be getting a nice chunk back. At this point we’ll invest in some media connecting hardware. I took a look at the AppleTV tonite and I was very impressed by the elegance of the UI, but disappointed by the quality of the video — although there are rumors that HD will be added later. The XBox 360 route offers HDTV now, which makes it slightly more appealing. The homebrew solution offers no method of obtain HD content (save for a CableCard approach, which would save us no money).
Once Phase 2 rolls out, we’ll probably slightly increase our monthly expenditure — maybe by another $5 – $10, but we’ll have a sizeable library of our own digital content, plus the stuff the torrents supply me, plus whatever is available in whatever content provider we decide on. This phase is a hardware investment only — a purely sunk cost, but I think it’ll be worth it. We may be among the first to go this route, but I have a feeling this concept is going to take off and there’ll be a lot of content out there pretty soon…

Things I learned on my "vacation" week…

  • Our son is pretty much the cutest thing ever invented. Ever.
  • When the Doctor is too behind to see you today, reschedule — don’t settle for the Physicians Assistant!
  • I’m actually pretty darn good at my job, and when I take some pride in it, and a little bit of ownership of my work life, it’s actually still kinda fun.
  • The Vertical Production Team rocks! Course I knew that already, but I was still pretty impressed that they had it under control this week.
  • Northway has a LOT of volunteers. And it was a lot of fun hanging out with them.
  • As cool as it is running things in the media booth, it’s pretty great being able sing with the rest of the congregation every once in awhile too!
  • I do too much. Not a lot too much, but I need to shave about 5 hours off my work week. Which means something’s gotta go… I’m just not sure what!
  • God is bigger than me. Way bigger. I gotta let Him do his work, and stop assuming He needs me to run to the show.

Cutting The Co-Ax

In 2004 Nic and I became “cord cutters” — a term that was briefly popular in the tech world, describing people who canceled their home phone service, and went cell-only. When VoIP was a nascent consumer technology we used that, eventually back-peddling a little when we moved to the States to use a VoIP home phone service to emulate a classic land-line so that we could get cheap long distance in our calls home to Canada. These days “cord cutting” is so common as to not need a buzz-word any more — we know lots of people who only use cell phones.
But I wonder if consumers are on the verge of cutting another kind of cord: cable.
TV sucks these days. While there has been something of a resurgence of decent content lately, absurdly biased network news, and raucous, loud and intrusive commercials that seem to grow longer and longer in duration, are beginning to make the old idiot box look rather weak — even in comparison to the home grown content you can find online. A recent study showed that the average teenager spends more time online than in front of the TV.
Right now, Nic and I are trying to weigh the pros and cons of canceling our cable TV service and replacing it with an IPTV solution of some kind. Really the only thing we’d miss is our DVR, but on-demand content could eliminate the need for a device like that. The question is, would something like the AppleTV or an XBox360 provide sufficient content that we wouldn’t miss having our digital TV connection?
apple-tv.jpgI don’t know that I could do justice to an article comparing the two devices — having used neither. They probably each have their own strengths and weaknesses. AppleTV links to the iTunes Music Store through your already existing media library in iTunes and provides an elegant and intuitive interface. The 360 has its own nascent media library, including HD content, and if you want to buy a special version of Microsoft’s Operating System for your PC, you can consume your own content. Plus it plays games. Either way I’d have to convert all my digital video into a different format (QuickTime for AppleTV, WMV for the 360). The prices are close enough that its really a decision about whether or not I want to play games.
What I’d rather do is try to wrap my head around the costs and benefits of cable TV and understand if there’s anything compelling keeping me attached to this ancient medium.
There’s the obvious cost/convenience issue. We pay for a TV/Digital Phone/Internet package, roughly $150 monthly. Going VoIP (Skype) and IPTV and still keeping basic cable, our monthly costs would be down to about $50. That means we can spend up to $100 a month on media and telephony without spending more than we currently put out now. At our usual rate of calling home, and assuming throughput is good enough, we could easily make the switch to Skype for well under $10 monthly. So can we get our entertainment for the month for less than $90?
A TV show costs $2 on iTunes. Assuming there’s 6 shows we watch weekly (which is probably the max) — not including syndicated content, which honestly, I’d probably get from the torrents — and assuming there’s a new show every week, that means we’re spending $12 a week, or $48 a month. We’re still $40 ahead of where we were chained to the cable box.
We do lose our DVR, which provides a wonderful channel guide, as well as time shifting — which is awesome. The value of this device is difficult to quantify. We can make up some of that functionality with purchased shows, which are essentially On-Demand (minus a short download delay), cover some of it with our DVD Recorder — costing, say $10 a month on recordable media. Now we’re $30 ahead of where we were before… only loosing HD content from the cable company.
But then there’s the investment cost of switching platforms. My modded XBox died recently, so we’d have to get something to replace the cable box — the XBox never would have played purchased content anyway, so while I’m sad to see it go, it’s a casualty of progress. This leaves me with 3 options to connect our “old world” TV set to the new world of digital media:
– AppleTV
– XBox 360
– Home grown PC
Each of these options would cost around $300 to purchase and implement. At a monthly savings of $30 it would take us 10 months to get a return on our hardware investment — and we still wouldn’t have the full flexibility of a cable box… But we would be trying a new kind of cord cutting, and eventually reducing our monthly expenses (going off the grid, and creating our own hydro is the next big challenge ;o)…
So has anyone else tried this? I know there are hybrid solutions (I had one with my XBox) but we’re talking about a hard switch over here. Any feedback/thoughts/advice would be appreciated…