Archive for October 2008

End of The Office?

Published on October 31, 2008

I’m not sure how many of you here follow the television series The Office, but it seems to be headed downhill. Last night’s episode, Employee Transfer, was the first to be directed by Stephen Merchant, one of the original minds behind the British version of the show. I recently had the opportunity to watch all of the episodes of the British version, and I really liked it. Some episodes were full of uncomfortable situations and were painful to watch (a testament to the actors’ strength), but sadly, the characters were more one-dimensional than their American counterparts. Mr. Merchant’s involvement in last night’s episode had me looking forward to it; perhaps it would recall some of the extremely awkward and uncomfortable situations that made the British version so fun (and difficult) to watch.

Frankly, I was disappointed. Last night’s episode was the second misstep in a row, following the previous Crime Aid episode, which was just as weak. Laughs were few and far between, and the episode simply seemed as a vehicle of (presumably) writing Michael’s latest love interest off of the show. Not only is this disappointing from a character development standpoint (Michael has been maturing rather well this season), but it’s a shame to lose such a great actress in Amy Ryan. She played so well with Steve Carell, which was a nice return to form, seeing as we’ve seemingly lost Dwight to this ridiculous Angela/Andy marriage business.

I’m a giant fan of the show, and I’ll definitely keep watching (especially now that I can watch it in HD). But I’m afraid that the show has peaked, and the best times are now behind us. Perhaps the writers will prove us wrong; I certainly hope they do. Do you watch the show? If so, what do you think?

Now if only more people would start watching Pushing Daisies

We Miss You, Mister Rogers

Published on October 29, 2008

In six minutes of testimony before the Senate Subcommittee on Communications, Fred Rogers was able to persuade John O. Pastore, head of the subcommittee and a man known for his impatience, to increase funding for public television by $20 million. This short video is a recording of those proceedings, and illustrate just what a great man Mr. Rogers was. The song he recites at the end of this video is particularly compelling.

Damon Weaver: Reporting Superstar

Published on October 26, 2008

Regardless of your political leanings, you’re bound to like this video of 5th grader Damon Weaver interviewing Senator Joe Biden. Damon is funny, adorable, and does an excellent job of interviewing the people he meets. It’s great to see kids like this doing something positive.

What’s the Deal With Touch Screens?

Published on October 26, 2008

It’s becoming more prevalent that computer manufacturers, along with hand held device companies, are turning to touch screen technology. The Apple iPhone is one prime example, and now HP is offering their TouchSmart PC (Flash warning). Does anyone really need such a thing? What’s wrong with the keyboard and mouse? I can see touch-screen technology used at kiosks in stores or museums, but I’m not exactly sure I understand the appeal of it at home. At the very least, I don’t want fingerprints all over my screen (which is exactly what I’d get). Does anyone have any idea who would want such a setup? Maybe the target market is older people who aren’t familiar with the mouse and keyboard paradigm.

Desktop Wallpaper Wonderland

Published on October 24, 2008

I’m a sucker for desktop wallpaper (I change the background of my laptop and desktop daily). So I was surprised to stumble upon a web resource I’ve never seen before: InterfaceLift.com. There are tons of great images there, available in all kinds of resolutions. I’m looking forward to perusing their database to find new ways of dressing up my computer screen.

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Queue Sidebar Updates and a Fix

Published on October 22, 2008

I’ve updated the Netflix queue listing here at the site to show what I’m currently watching. The handy Wordpress Netflix Plugin made the change very easy, and I again recommend it.

I’ve also fixed a validation problem here at the site. My last post included the first YouTube video ever embedded at Year of the Code Monkey. It turns out that XHTML strict, which happens to be the doctype I use, doesn’t like the embed element. YouTube gave me this:

<object width="425" height="344">
  <param name="movie"
    value="http://www.youtube.com/v/Y_P6yBJEW38&hl=en&fs=1"></param>
  <param name="allowFullScreen" value="true"></param>
  <embed src="http://www.youtube.com/v/Y_P6yBJEW38&hl=en&fs=1"
    type="application/x-shockwave-flash" allowfullscreen="true"
    width="425" height="344"></embed>
</object>

And I had to change it to this:

<object width="425" height="344"
  data="http://www.youtube.com/v/Y_P6yBJEW38&hl=en&fs=1">
  <param name="movie" value="http://www.youtube.com/v/Y_P6yBJEW38&hl=en&fs=1" />
  <param name="allowFullScreen" value="true" />
</object>

Not only is it now compliant, it looks better too. I’ll just have to remember to make this kind of change each time I post a video.

Sign Twirling

Published on October 18, 2008

I was doing some furniture shopping this afternoon, and on my way back from the store, noticed two guys twirling signs out on the highway. Kinda like this guy:

So I got to thinking, how horrible a job must this be? You stand out on the street for who knows how long, looking like an idiot. No one can read the sign because it’s spinning around so fast, and even worse, no one knows in which direction to go if they could read it (again, because it’s spinning around). Talk about your dead-end jobs. I can’t imagine there’s much of a career opportunity in this line of work.

Has anyone ever done this? If so, what did you think? Were you as embarrassed and lonely as I suspect?

Netflix Queue Plugin

Published on October 13, 2008

I signed up for Netflix today, and I’m starting to populate my queue with stuff I’ve been meaning to either see for the first time, or rewatch becaues it’s been such a long time. Thanks to the very handy Wordpress Netflix Plugin, I’m able to share my latest queue picks here on this site. Over in the sidebar are the cover images for the next 6 titles in my queue. Each one is a link to the movie listing, and if you hover over the image, you’ll see the movie title. I’m really looking forward to catching up on all the stuff I’ve missed over the years. So long cable TV!

Review: Dyson DC25 Vacuum Cleaner

Published on October 9, 2008
Dyson DC25 Vacuum Cleaner

Here’s another home related product review. Before I jump into it, however, let me tell you a story.

Several years ago, my mom wanted to get a new vacuum cleaner. Her current one had served her well for a number of years, but was nearing the end of its life. My dad, sister, and I decided to get her a Dyson Animal for Christmas (we got her one of the older models; the one linked to is a newer one). It was quite expensive (~$400 if I remember correctly), but we wanted to splurge and get my mom something nice, so we did. On Christmas eve, my mom vacuumed the living room with her old vacuum, and everyone went to bed. The next morning, we got up and opened our presents. After all of our packages were opened, my mom wanted to try out the new vacuum, and did so on the freshly vacuumed floor from the previous night. To our surprise, one pass of the Dyson over the carpet actually made it look cleaner. She continued to vacuum the whole room, and in the end, the canister was completely full of cat hair, dust, and dirt! Needless to say, we were sold on the Dyson line of vacuums.

The Dyson line has improved since those early days, and the new Dyson DC25 uses a ball to handle steering. After reading a bunch of reviews for it and its smaller brother (the DC24), I decided to go with the DC25. Every review I read was highly positive, so I broke down and bought one.

Just after I moved in, I had the carpets professionally dry-cleaned (the former owners had several pets). The guy did a great job, and the carpet looked much better once he was done. Remembering my mother’s experience with the Animal, however, I decided to give the carpets another cleaning with the DC25. I ended up emptying the canister twice! I was shocked at how much pet hair and dirt the professional cleaning left behind. Not only did my carpets look better at the house, the whole house smelled better! The ball really is amazing to use (a flick of the wrist is all that’s needed to steer the vacuum), and it’s much lighter than my mom’s older Animal. Setup was very easy: a total of 4 clicks was all that was needed to get things going. And cleanup is a cinch; one button allows you to disconnect the canister from the vacuum, while another allows you to dump the contents into the trash, all with one hand!

This vacuum has a few drawbacks, however. First of all, it’s very expensive, much more so than its competition. I personally think the cost is worth it, considering how well my experience with this line has been in the past. But it may be a little off-putting for most people. Second, the documentation that comes with the vacuum is sorely lacking. I was really disappointed with the poor quality, and was hoping for something a little more substantial. Next, the packaging ends up being a mountain of cardboard. It’s all recyclable, of course, but the amount of cardboard that came in the box was pretty crazy. Finally, the cord feels a little shorter than the one on my mom’s Animal. This isn’t a big problem, but a few extra feet would have been appreciated.

All in all, I’m quite happy with my purchase. I was pleasantly surprised at how much dirt and debris the vacuum picked up, and I’m glad I gave my house another once-over with it. If you’re willing to pay the high price, you won’t be disappointed with the Dyson DC25. It gets a solid A+ from me.

Electronics Shopping

Published on October 5, 2008

I’m currently in the market for a new television and a DVD player, and I still have absolutely no idea which way to go. There’s plenty of educational material on the web, and I’ve read a fair amount of it. The classic LCD vs. plasma debate is the topic of conversation everywhere, and everyone seems to say the same thing: it all depends on what you want. Plasma has some great pros: deeper black levels, a better viewing angle, and (according to some sources) cheaper per inch than an LCD. One of the major drawbacks for me is that plasma screens are highly reflective. I’ve got four windows that allow in the bright afternoon sun, and they’re directly opposite where the TV will ultimately be placed. I’ve got blinds, but they only do so much for the light. However, I primarily watch television at night, so it’s not a major issue (though it might become one in the summer, when it’s lighter later).

My current TV of choice is the Panasonic Viera TH-42PX80U (which seems to be offered by a different 3rd party outfit every day). I’ve read that at under 50 inches, going to 1080p isn’t really worth it, unless you plan on using the screen as a computer monitor. I’m not planning on doing that, so the cost savings is worth it to me.

As far as DVD players go, I’m not sure what to do. Lots of players do upconversion these days, but I’ve read some strange reports of problems with this feature. Some players upconvert to 16:9 only, forcing you to stretch older DVDs (e.g. older television shows) to fit the screen. Other players have reports of defaulting to 1080p, causing display issues on 720p sets.

What kinds of TVs and DVD players do you folks use? Any tips on what I should buy or avoid?

Going to Netflix

Published on October 4, 2008

One of the decisions I made before I moved into my new house was to not sign up for cable television (though RoadRunner was a requirement). Instead, I’ve decided to watch television over the air. This will fulfill nearly all of my television watching needs: The Simpsons, The Office, Pushing Daisies, the news, PBS, etc. Right now, I’ve got an old, tiny CRT television hooked up to some rabbit ears. The reception is shoddy, the picture blurry, and things are generally bad. Hopefully, switching to digital television will fix this (more on this in an upcoming post).

Instead of cable television, I’m going to try out Netflix. I’ve heard great things about it from various people, and it’s way cheaper than paying Time-Warner (in the neighborhood of $40 or $50 cheaper a month). And interestingly enough, I see reports of people dropping cable for Netflix around the web (in a number of product reviews at Amazon, for example). There are a literal ton of movies that I’ve never seen, and it’s high time to catch up. Plus, I’m eager to catch up on some old television shows that I enjoy (M*A*S*H, Cheers, and Frasier to name a few). Just as soon as I can pick up a DVD player (and possibly a new television), I’ll sign up.

Do you use Netflix? If so, what do you think?

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