Sunday, December 28, 2003

sorting through my trains...

So tonight I was sorting through my model trains. Man, I've got a lot. Naturally this sparked a renewed interest. I am sorely out of date with the Marklin museum series - I haven't picked up any since 1998. It's gonna cost some serious $$$ to catch up. Hopefully Ebay will help me out here.

While surfing I found the coolest thing. Marklin now makes a Harry Potter Hogwart's Express train. It looks really neat.

I have to catch up...

The iTrip is a piece of crap

Now Melissa and I have iPods. It'd be great to be able to have 40 gigs of tunes available in the car wouldn't it? So I looked around at the solutions and the big thing everyone kept mentioning as being a kick ass solution is this iTrip thing. The Apple store had them so I picked a couple up. It looks really cool. You just pop it on top of the iPod and it looks like it belongs. It emits an FM signal so you just tune your car stereo to the same station you set for the iTrip. Simple enough, eh?

I'm not sure how to proceed in articulating the stupidity of this unit from here. Hmm...

For starters, I couldn't try it out right when I got back to the car. You have to run the CD-ROM and install something or other so you can select the FM frequency. This is somewhat bewildering to me. This thing cost $35 and can't dial a radio frequency on it's own yet I can go get an AM/FM wrist watch with a calculator for 7 bucks. So much for instant gratification, I guess I'll have to wait until I get home to try it out. Brilliant.

So I get home and pop in the CD. It comes up with a %$##$% dialog box that says something lame like "Fatal error, you must have MusicMatch installed." What the heck is MusicMatch? My iPod came with iTunes. Actually, I know what MusicMatch is but I don't have it and it didn't get installed with my iPod. None of the new iPods install MusicMatch and note that the iTrip web site clearly states in bold print that "The New iTrip for the new iPods is NOW SHIPPING." Clearly they didn't test their solution with a new iPod. So I click on the Q&A link thinking they'd have my answer there. Nope, not there. Next, I try the support link and find a link to the updated iTrip manual. Surely this will tell me what to do. Nope. The setup instructions still tell me to pop in my CD and everything will work. A couple more clicks got me to this support article. Holy crap! These folks are smoking something good. There is a 13-step manual installation process for you to copy and paste files from the CD and then manually create a playlist. This is total amateur night.

Now I'm beginning to understand how this thing is going to work. You copy a separate MP3 file over for every radio frequency from 87.7 to 107.9 and the way you "tune" the iTrip is by playing the MP3 file corresponding to the frequency you want to try. Of course, it's not enough to just play the MP3 file, you must also stop playback of the file midway once the iTrip LED starts blinking. If you let the tuning song play all the way through it doesn't work (I found this out the hard way). This is just dorky.

At this point I'm now in the garage in the mini-van trying this out. I can't believe my ears. This thing sounds like crap. It is truly horrible. There is no stereo separation. It is noisy. There are no dynamics to the music at all. I tried multiple channels and two cars. No apparent help. Basically, this device sucks all that is good from the music and disposes of it. Then it spews a hobby-grade AM transistor radio quality signal.

This was discouraging. For the heck of it I tried one of those cassette adapter things. It sounds great. Who'd a thunk it?

Needless to say, the iTrips are going back. I already bought Melissa a cassette adapter for her car. We're all set!

Oh, one more stroke of brilliance from our iTrip friends. They have a program you can download to find free stations. You select a state and city and it gives you a list of available frequencies. I can't believe they actually ship a program down to you to do this. Wouldn't it be better to be a web page? Having an offline copy isn't going to be useful 6 months from now. I can't believe that someone thought this was a good idea.

The iPod Rocketh

Wow, what a cool device! Melissa and I both got the 40GB model for each other for Christmas. This is very fun! Mine is pretty much full. Melissa's will be about half full in a few minutes.

What amazes me is that the iPod has been out for a while now and none of the other MP3 players have caught up. Sure, some have more features or whatever but the iPod is simple, elegant, and does what I want it to do! Too many of those other devices are just too cumbersome and clearly rushed to market based on how their overall package performs. I guess I shouldn't be surprised that Creative Labs doesn't get it - they've always been an "also ran" contender - mediocrity at it's best.

Tuesday, December 23, 2003


My Christmas shopping is done!

I just made my final trip to a shopping center before Christmas (he says with fingers crossed).

Man, our kids are going to have a great Christmas!

I hope Melissa likes her gifts.

Monday, December 22, 2003

Why the retailers are in trouble

On the news I keep hearing that retailers are dreading another slow season. With the holidays upon us naturally I've been doing the same thing as a lot of people. I've been Christmas shopping.

The retailers are right. They aren't having a good season. I've been to several large and popular malls, electronics stores, department stores and specialty shops.

Some of it has been great, I just breeze in and find a parking space no problem.

Then I get in the stores and it's like a big freakin' joke.

The attitude of the folks working in these stores is pathetic. This has been the worst customer service I have ever experienced during the holidays. And that is saying a lot considering I grew up outside of Washington, DC and have seen my share of rude sales people.

Then there's the prices. Who are these people kidding? I go from store to store and they all have the same CRAP and it's WAY over priced. I know for a fact that some stuff I've been looking at was cheaper last month. WTF? Let's see if I understand this strategy. They can't unload the item all year at say 20 bucks. So for the holidays they jack the price up to 25 bucks. Makes sense to me.

So I've turned to Ebay and other online merchants. The selection is better. The information is better. The folks that I've talked to on the phone to order things have been pleasant and efficient (this time of year I don't take chances with a web site's notion of "in stock").

It's funny, the retailers say that online shopping won't take them over because of the customer service that only a local store can provide. Sure, guys. You cling to that thought if that's what you need to get through the day.

Here's my current case study: I've been looking for an item for a while for my wife. Several local retailers have various models available. I go to these stores and get treated like a dog. I'm not being pushy or anything. In fact, I have been exceptionally calm this holiday season because I decided I wasn't going to let anything bother me. At one store, I can't get any service at all and I don't want to interfere with the jovial grab ass that the 4 salesmen are playing in the middle of the store. I left. Another store, they're swamped so I just wait my turn. I can't believe how rude the salespeople are to the other customers. My moment comes and I ask a couple questions and I get the rolling-eyes treatment. Buh-bye. I should point out that the thing I'm interested in is not cheap and is substantially marked up so there should be a nice commission - it's not the Hope diamond but it ain't a pair of ear muffs either. One store I walked into was the worst. The salesman was at the back of the store, I'm wondering around he just stares, doesn't ask if he could help or anything. So I ask him if they have the item and he says there is one in the window but they're sold out. I go look in the window and there it is - exactly what I want. The right features, the right look, etc. I ask if he'll sell me the one in the window and he just says "nah". So I ask if any of their other stores have them in stock - "prolly not". Of course he says this in the crappiest tone he possibly can. That store will never get my business. Ever. Screw them. After a few more unsuccessful stops I decide to bag it and try my luck online. So I spent a while poking around on the web and found several options. Read a few reviews. You know the drill here.

I ended up getting the same model as the the display that jerk wouldn't sell me. By the miracles of overnight shipping it will be here before Christmas. Even after paying overnight shipping, I saved over $150.

Me: Knock, knock.

Retailers: Knock, knock, who?


Retailers: Knock, knock, who?


Retailers: C'mon guys, knock, knock, who?


Retailers: Hey, why are you boarding up my windows?

Thursday, December 18, 2003

So I went to visit Floyd Rose

As it turns out Floyd Rose is a local guy. A little while back buddy of mine had gotten one of the new Speedloader bridges from Floyd and his having Don Grosh build him a guitar.

I've been wanting a guitar with a Speedloader for a while so when the HippieCaster came last week I had the perfect guitar to put it on.

I called Floyd up on Monday to ask him about retrofitting it and he said to just come on down and he'd take a look at it.

Wednesday I dropped by and had him take a look at it. I gotta tell you it was really cool to have Floyd Rose himself pop the bridge off my guitar and see how the Speedloader would fit. Well, it doesn't. The recessed route needs to go back further to accomodate the new bridge. Bummer. The only way to do it would be to route it. He didn't think it'd be a good idea with that finish. I wasn't hip to the idea either. Even if I would have considered it, it would have cost a ton of money to have it routed and have the finish repaired - it just wouldn't be worth it.

So Floyd says "why don't you try one of my guitars ?"


So we walk over to the building where they manufacture the guitars. He also tells me to bring my guitar because JT (one of his luthiers) is a big Jackson fan.

This was VERY cool. Floyd hands me a guitar that JT had just finished setting up. This guitar was amazing. He plugged it into a very sweet Marshall combo - JT had modded it, it screamed! This first guitar had really hot pair of humbuckers in it. The guitar had sustain forever. It was very light and resonant. The Speedloader felt really good.

Then he hands me another guitar with their classic humbuckers in it. I liked this even better. The pickups were a bit more mellow but still had enough bite. They cleaned real nice too when you back off the volume control.

Some interesting things worth mentioning:

  • The action was sooooo low. I couldn't believe how low JT gets the action with no buzzing.
  • Everything about Floyds guitars are unique in some way. The pickups are custom made (designed by JT), the neck has a unique feel and shape, unique pickguard design, and the Speedloader!
  • These guitars are made in the USA right there in the room I was in!
  • The Speedloader bridges are being made by Schaller.
  • They are making a set neck model - looks sort of like a cross between a Les Paul, Tele, and a PRS. Very nice - I saw the Korina bodies
  • They have a fixed bridge Speedloader in the works - I saw a Gibson SG they had modded for this.
Floyd hung around and chatted for a while. I thought he was very cool and particularly gracious with his time for some unknown guitar player! He got called away but that's when JT and I started talking - he is a super cool guy. He's a big Jackson/Charvel fan, used to work for Gibson, knows a ton about guitars, amps, etc.

As we were talking he mentioned that he had put a Speedloader on one of Steve Vai's guitars. So I asked him if he could put a Speedloader on my JEM7VWH. No problem. So today I brought my JEM to him. I should have it the day after Christmas. While I was there today I got a new bar for the HippieCaster since it was well worn and wasn't secure. Once again, everyone was super cool.

So I think I will seriously be looking into a Floyd Rose guitar for my next purchase...

Tuesday, December 16, 2003

Time to start "vacation"

I have a bunch of "use or lose" vacation built up so I'm basically taking the rest of the year off. Well, except that I've got to come in for sporadic meetings. That's better than nothing though.

The rest of you, get back to work. Slackers.

Ran into a former coworker tonight

While doing a bit of Christmas shopping tonight I ran into a guy that I worked with on Internet Explorer 4.0. It was really cool to run into Sean. He did a bunch of cool work like the enhanced "Save As..." feature. He "retired" after IE 4.0 and has been traveling and slacking. Must be nice!
He's thinking about getting back in the business after 5 years off - it's going to be very hard to get me back to work once I'm done!

Preparing my New Year's resolutions

  1. First and foremost, it's time to get in shape. The belly has got to go!
  2. Record my music. I've fooled around with this for far too long. I will be working on creating a CD.
  3. hmm...what else?

Monday, December 15, 2003

Patience, we don't need no steenkin' patience!

So my dad ordered Melissa something electronical (is that a word?) for Christmas and it arrived the other day. She was really baffled as to what it could be - BTW, the reason she knew it was an electronic gizmo is because it came from some place called JJ's Electronics (or something like that). Thus begins the guessing process. Let's see, what did she guess:

  • DVD player?
  • MP3 player?
  • toaster?
  • cell phone? (uh-oh we're getting warm)
  • computer?
  • etc.
A few minutes into it, Danny and Nicholas joined into the guessing game so naturally they thought it was something for video games. Ha! So Melissa and the boys were asking questions:
  • is it something I would use?
  • is it something you would use?
  • is it something for the whole family?
  • who has one?
  • do we have one?
  • which room in our house? (I'm not telling)
  • which floor in our house? (I'm still not telling)
  • what color?
  • is it black?
  • etc.
This went on for a looooong time. Then she finally got it after being very flustered with my evasive answers.

Thanks for the phones pop. Although, I have to say that I'm not sure that we really need 6 handsets.

Dealing with guitars

So I finally got around to stringing the HippieCaster. I hate stringing guitars - so why'd I become a guitar player? Anyway, as I mentioned before the guitar was filthy and I had to do a serious cleaning on this thing. In fact, I should probably clean it again. The previous owner had it set up with .008 strings which is too light for me. I put on .009s and of course it plays like crap now. Argh, time to get out my Dan Erlewine books, get some alcohol, and set it up. What a pain. I should probably save myself the trouble and take it to Mike Lull.

Weapons of mass destruction

So if we go with the assumption that Sadam did in fact possess weapons of mass destruction at the time Bush started this, then the real concern should be where the hell are they? If they existed at that point in time, I believe that for the most part they still exist. I don't care if they're in Iraq or not - wherever they are, they are not in good hands. If you believe we were in eminent danger before this war because of parties hostile to us possessing weapons of mass destruction, nothing has changed.

Thinking about a Speedloader

I'm seriously thinking about putting a Floyd Rose Speedloader bridge on the HippieCaster. I tried a few of Floyd's guitars out and a couple BC Rich's with the bridge on it and I really like the system. The idea of changing strings in seconds is REALLY appealing. I think I'll take the guitar with me tomorrow and run down to Floyd's place - fortunately from me he is 15 minutes from my office!

Friday, December 12, 2003

No sleep last night

First, the kids were having a hard time going to sleep. Then we packed up the goodies for the folks back home (sorry nothing for Pop because of the sugar). Then we had to watch the new episode of ER.

Melissa was tired and crashed. She was smart.

I stayed up because I really wanted to polish up the tie-dye guitar. So I popped in the latest Steve Vai DVD - Live in Astoria. I figured I could watch a couple songs while I cleaned up the guitar. The guitar was gross! It took me over 2 hours to clean that thing. I got to watch the whole DVD. The DVD kicks butt. Steve Vai is amazing. His playing was out of this world and as usual he was very gracious with his band members and the audience. World class guy.

Just when a rational person would go to bed, I started watching "The Negotiator" with Samuel Jackson and Kevin Spacey. Naturally I fell asleep in an uncomfortable position on the couch.

Of course I would have to have a meeting at 9am today. Geez, after all these years you would have thought that folks would stop having meetings with software developers that early in the morning. It is not natural for us.

Jeff was here

One of our good friends from back in VA was here on business last week and managed to drop in for an evening. It was great to see him - hopefully we'll see him over the holidays with his cool Mustang.

Jeff has an iPod - I am jealous.

XBox Music Mixer

This is one of those things that is so close, yet so far. It is basically Karaoke for the XBox with some half-baked features thrown on top.

The kids really liked just yacking into a microphone while their CD's played. They weren't familiar with any of the built-in songs - neither was I for that matter. The cool thing about the program is that it will record what you're singing and you can play it back later - the kids really thought that was cool. The problem is that it wouldn't do that if the song came from your own CD. Lame.

The visualizations are cool. All in all this is a fun title for the kids that could have been a lot better. I am glad it only cost me 20 bucks.

There is a way to connect it to your PC to download music and photos. This feature is implemented very poorly. I never got it to work because I got sidetracked after 5 minutes - it didn't look like it was going to be particularly useful anyhow. It also has this Rave mode that we didn't try yet.

XBox Music Mixer

You've Got Music! (or The Saga of the Audiotron)

So I've had this Audiotron gizmo for a while now. In a nutshell, it is a device that plugs into your stereo system that will play music from your PC over your home network. When I first got it I hooked it up over my wireless network and all was well. However, then came XBox Live! for online gaming and I hooked up the Xbox to the wireless ethernet bridge that the Audiotron was using. Along the way I picked up another wireless bridge but never got around to hooking it up. So the Audiotron had not been turned on in many, many months.

Fast forward to my father's trip over Thanksgiving. We were at Fry's and I decided to get some speakers so we could have tunes upstairs (I already had a spare receiver). Pop generously bought my Christmas present early and I got some nice new speakers.

Note: since the last time the Audiotron was on, I had changed my wireless router and cable modem.

So I hook the Audiotron back up to my spare receiver and the new speakers. Everything seemed to work. Then it hung. I reset the thing. Fine for a while again. Then it hung. Lather. Rinse. Repeat. Of course, this was happening just as Melissa was getting into the thing!

Well after updating the firmware in EVERY stinking device it all works great. What a pain but worth it. It is totally cool to have 11,000 songs at your fingertips. The Audiotron has a fairly primitive user interface but it is flexible enough to where you don't mind. Some of the newer devices are looking very cool like the Prismiq.

Pop was here

My father was here for a few weeks. He came just before Thanksgiving and stayed through for Nicholas's birthday. The kids really enjoyed having "opa" here. He wanted to spoil them (of course). I think he got his fill of playing "Go Fish" and checkers for a while :)

It was nice having my dad out here. We caught up on our movie watching, shopped for electronics, ate some good meals, etc. Melissa made sure my father was comfortable the whole time - that's no small feat :)

No sleep last night

First, the kids were having a hard time going to sleep. Then we packed up the goodies for the folks back home (sorry nothing for Pop because of the sugar ). Then we had to watch the new episode of ER.

Melissa was tired and crashed. She was smart.

I stayed up because I really wanted to polish up the tie-dye guitar. So I popped in the latest Steve Vai DVD - Live in Astoria. I figured I could watch a couple songs while I cleaned up the guitar. The guitar was gross! It took me over 2 hours to clean that thing. I got to watch the whole DVD . The DVD kicks butt. Steve Vai is amazing. His playing was out of this world and as usual he was very gracious with his band members and the audience. World class guy.

Just when a rational person would go to bed, I started watching "The Negotiator" with Samuel Jackson and Kevin Spacey. Naturally I fell asleep in an uncomfortable position on the couch.

Of course I would have to have a meeting at 9am today. Geez, after all these years you would have thought that folks would stop having meetings with software developers that early in the morning. It is not natural for us.

G3 in Seattle, WA on October 15, 2003

Yngwie was pretty much acting like an a** (surprise, surprise). He flung his guitar round and round, pouted and posed like a "real" rocker, flung his hair about like a Clairol model, and made "mean face" at the appropriate times. During his set I kept waiting for the 18" Stonehendge to come down with the little dwarfs. I've seen him a number of times and this was by far the worst I'd seen. Having said all that, he still rips. The guy can play! So it was still cool to see a shredding relic unleash the fury. Also, when he actually settled in and listened to his bandmates (rather than snarl at them) and played some Hendrix he was really good.

On the other hand, Steve Vai was magical. There is no other way to say it. That was the single most inspired performance I have ever seen of any kind. He was "on" that night in a way I have never seen before by anyone. It wasn't just flurries of notes (although there were plenty of them). He was fired up. The note choices, the articulation, the creativity, and the passion were all there. He really gets into his playing (or as my buddy said "he contorts himself into every note"). He was gracious to the audience and his band. We were treated to new songs which was totally cool. This was simply an unbelievable performance.

Satch came out and kicked butt. He played a bunch of his crowd pleasers. He pulled out a previously unreleased tune that was really cool with a really nifty hammer-on part that is sort of hard to describe that sounded really cool. He too was a gracious performer. Joe is always cool - and why not, he kicks butt and has fun doing it.

Then came the big finale. Satch sang "Keep on rockin' in the free world", Steve sang "Little Wing", Yngwie sang "Voodoo Chile", and Billy Sheehan (who was playing bass for Vai) came out at the very end and sang "La Grange". Joe and Steve play great together and obviously have a lot of mutual respect for each other. On the other hand, Yngwie definitely does not play nice with others. He played over Joe and Steve while they were singing and during their solo breaks. It was two pros and a clown. Yngwie flipped his guitar around and nearly hit Billy Sheehan. I wanted to see Billy kick his butt, instead Billy started mocking Yngwie by swinging his bass around like a maniac.

There is supposedly a DVD in the works for the tour - that will be a must.

It's Christmas time

As I mentioned before, the tree is up.

Melissa has been baking like crazy for last few days to ship back goodies for friends and family back east. We packed a bunch of boxes tonight to ship out tomorrow.

I just realized that I am running out of time to get presents for my folks because they need to be shipped.

The kids get to find a piece of chocolate on the tree each morning. I'm not sure how this tradition got started.

The day after Thanksgiving Melissa and I went shopping for toys to donate. We ended up in 4 or 5 major shopping areas/stores and really loaded up. Melissa and Danny took the toys to the Toys for Tots drop off location. Hopefully the kids will continue the tradition when they're older.

Thursday, December 11, 2003

New Guitars

I've been playing guitar off and on for about 25 years now. I've bought and sold more than I can remember. Here are my two latest acquisitions. First up is a USA Charvel San Dimas Standard that arrived on Tuesday. Very nice deep purple finish. The day before that I received a Jackson USA Select Soloist - the HippieCaster!

First Blog

So this is my first entry. I wish I had something profound to say but I don't. It's just Thursday and I figure I should get this started.

Our Christmas tree is up. My wife did the lights. She always does the lights - I am really bad at it. The kids put most of the ornaments on it so far. In particular, they like putting on the "delicate" ones . Nothing got broken. They did an awesome job. Now the kids have a place to find chocolate in the mornings.