Wednesday, December 31, 2003

My present this year was an Apple iPod. This is my third MP3 player, and by far the best.

The device has a tiny 20GB hard drive inside, and it has the capacity to store every song from my collection.

First impressions are grand when opening the package. Apple is nothing if not stylish. The packaging makes you think you are truly priviledged to own one of these devices.

The device itself is great. Easy to use, solidly built. Apple's iTunes software is easy to use and flawlessly transfers music to the iPod. I'm running this on a Windows machine, and it works great.
For Christmas, I purchased a new HP digital camera and HP printer for my wife. The idea was to finally upgrade our digital camera, which is about 4 years old, and provide a way for her to easily and quickly print pictures.

Unfortunately, the HP products failed us. The camera was the worst product I've ever experienced. First, it wouldn't turn on. When hitting the power button, the camera would flash momentarily, then turn off. Fresh batteries didn't help. After hitting the power button several times, the camera would finally power up. The camera is designed to plug directly into an HP printer with a supplied cable. When trying this, we only got error messages.

I returned both items, and purchased a new Sony camera. Our old digital camera is a Sony and has worked perfectly for a long time. The new one is smaller, and produces higher resolution pictures.

As for printers, what we wanted was a small printer that would easily print photos. I like the small HP PhotoSmart printer for this. It has a small LCD screen on it. You can simply plug a memory card into it, select the pictures you want to print using the screen, then press the "Print" button. A nice product. I found one that was an "Open Box" item - it was a floor model that didn't include a box or manuals. It was discounted, but it also didn't work. It would never feed the paper in.

Needless to say, at this point, I was pretty disappointed with HP products. Unfortunately, HP dominates this market. No other manufacturer makes a printer like this, that I could find. Sony has one with similar functionality, but at $500 was too expensive for us. I finally settled on another HP printer (new, in the box) and so far, it is working well.

This follows similar HP problems I had when looking for an All-In-One (Printer/Fax/Scanner/Copier) for my home office. I won't go into that, but I went through 3 or 4 printers before finding one that works.
Dreadlock Holiday
Another holiday season is drawing to a close. Again, I was blessed to enjoy family and friends this year.

Giving and receiving gifts was again a truly enjoyable experience this year. Each year, we take several "ornaments" from our church "giving tree." Each ornament represents a gift that an unfortunate person is wishing for. We usually take one orament for each of us, two for children and two for adults. This year, we took a few extra, and for me, nothing is more enjoyable than shopping for these gifts. I don't know the person, and they don't know who gave them these gifts. But I try to buy something a little better than they asked for. This year, one gift was a new wagon for a little girl. We brought the wagon home, and the kids and I assembled it. We included a nice stuffed toy with the wagon. I hope she will get lots of enjoyment out of that wagon.

This year kids loaded up on video games, board games, clothes and various other toys. They of course loved Christmas this year.

My wife's sister's family was able to come to town (they live in Houston), and so we were able to celebrate Christmas with the entire family. We enjoyed Christmas Mass with them.

Tuesday, December 23, 2003

Royals Hot Stove Action
I've been really impressed with the Royals this off season. They've made some great moves, and have signed players that I never thought they would be able to sign. (most notably, Brian Anderson).

There's an indication that players are willing to sacrifice a little for the opportunity to play in KC for Tony Pena. Anderson is from Cleveland, and everybody thought he would return to pitch in his home town. Joe Randa gave up at least a million a year to stay in KC. Curtis Leskanic was going to retire, but decided to come back and play one or two more seasons with the Royals.

I'm looking forward to the 2004 season. Of course, I'm trying not to get my hopes up too high. Being a KC sports fan, it's easy to think something great is about to happen only to have it pulled out from under you. (see the Chiefs, they are currently yanking on the rug).

If the Royals could find one more player, preferable a corner outfielder who has power (Going-Going-Gonzalez), they will enter the season with a formidable line up and as favorites to win the AL Central. Should be fun!
Scoring Update
In football, it's possible to score 6, 3, 2, even 1 point on a play. In basketball, you can score 3, 2, or 1 point on a play. Wouldn't it be interesting if baseball had something similar? (of course, it doesn't. Its simplicity is part of its beauty). But, what if scoring were based on number of bases instead of number of runs. Hit a double, get 2 points. Triples score 3 points. I would be curious to see what percentage of game's outcomes would change using this scoring system.

Friday, December 19, 2003

Undaunted Courage
I just finished Undaunted Courage by Stephen Ambrose. This book tells the story of the Lewis and Clark expedition to the west. It's an interesting snapshot of the history of our country. While Lewis and Clark are considered to be the "first" white men to explore the west, actually, French and English traders had already trekked through the country, mostly heading south from Canada.

Lewis and Clark did, however make a great contribution to our history. While they did not succeed in their mission to find an unobstructed water way to the Pacific, they did make many scientific discoveries and convinced several indian nations that the U.S. was friendly (in 1804-05, the U.S. was indian-friendly. Later, the progress of the country changed the indian policy).

Ambrose's book goes into great detail on Lewis' personality. While a great explorer, Lewis suffered from deppression and was hooked on drugs and alcohol. After returning from the expedition, he was appointed governor of the Louisiana territory, but he failed at this job, along with failing to ever get his journals published. He depression eventually led to his suicide in 1809.

The book also provides some interesting history on Thomas Jefferson, the president who most pushed for western expansion.

In all, a very good book which provides great insight into our history. I also have a copy of Nothing Like It in the World, Ambrose's account of the building of the TransContinental Railroad. I plan on reading that next.

Thursday, December 18, 2003

I picked up my Time Warner Cable DVR Box yesterday. This box replaces a digital cable box that we had in our living room. In the first 24 hours of use, I've been very impressed with the box. This is Time Warner's attempt to get in on the TIVO wave. It has its advantages over TIVO. First, you don't have to fork over $300 for the box, and the monthly fee is less than TIVO's $12.95.

Using this box, I may never miss a TV show again (I wanted to watch the President Bush interview the other night, but forgot to tune it in until it was almost over). This box has a hard disc inside, and it records using MPEG video.

Any time you turn it on and watch TV, it is recording the show. That means that if you missed something, you could hit the "instant replay" button, and it will replay the last 30 seconds. Or, hit the pause button to answer the phone, then resume the show when ready. This is a great feature. It's like power windows in cars. Until you had them, you didn't realize how convenient they are.

The box also does standard recording. From the program guide (the same guide that is in the standard digital cable box), you can select any show and press the "record" button. The box will then ask if you want to record just that one episode, or the "entire series." It also offers options for recording all episodes (including reruns), or just the first run episodes. It can also search for the same show on any channel. For example, I asked it to record Seinfeld, and it records the show anywhere it finds it, on any channel, at any time. It's flexible enough to let you specify to only record shows on weekdays, weekends, or a specific day of the week, or a specific time of day.

We've already used it quite a bit. My wife was able to catch Oprah yesterday, I've grabbed 6 episodes of Seinfeld already. There was a segment of the O'Reilly Factor that I missed, so I simply "rewound" it and watched it.

I've been reading a lot of comments on message boards from folks who have been having problems with this DVR box. I'll test it out and see how it works. So far, so good!
Workflow and SharePoint
I just met with a potential client in the LA area. We showed them SharePoint and what it can do for them. They were extremely impressed, however, their main concern revolved around workflow.

I'm looking for a good solution to integrate workflow in a SharePoint solution. I've found some information on MSDN, and I believe there are some third party vendors looking at solutions.

Seems like a perfect fit for SharePoint. Seems perfectly logical for a document library to be able to manage the flow of say, a purchase order.

Monday, December 15, 2003

Cable vs. Satellite

I've been a cable TV viewer for the past 4 or 5 years. Before that, in my old house, I owned a BUD (big ugly dish). My BUD was a big ole 10 foot dish that took up the entire back yard. Back then, the cable in our area was poor, which is why I bought the dish system. In the years that I was watching satellite TV, our local cable system was bought by Time Warner Cable, and the improvements came fast and furious.

Back then, owning a dish meant choosing between some 25 or so programming providers. That level of competition kept prices low. I bought my programming on an annual basis, and the monthly rate averaged about $22.00 per month. That's for a standard package similar to DirecTV's Total Choice package. Shortly after I purchased my big dish, the small dishes started to hit the market.

Every few months, I evaluate my cable package and comparable satellite packages to see if I should switch. So far, I have not found enough reasons to switch to satellite. The biggest reason of all is ease of installation. When I built my house, I ran cable to every room in the house. So now, if I want to watch the Food Network in my den, I simply carry a small TV in there and plug in the cable. Boom! I'm watching Food! The main cable comes into the house, and it is then split to all the rooms. In three rooms, we have a digital cable box. This box allows us to watch HBO, and in two of our rooms, gives us a handful of HDTV channels (I'm watching Monday Night Football in HiDef as I type this).

Occassionally, when our children need to stay home sick from school, we can simply move a small TV into their bedroom, plug it in, and then they are able to watch Cartoon Network in bed. Easy as pie.

The reason I evaluate my cable package every so often is because my cable is in the neighborhood of $80.00 per month, which makes me cringe a bit everytime I write that check. The HBO package is an additional $10 or $15 per month (I don't remember for sure), and each digital cable box is about $9 per month. Meaning, on top of my standard cable package, I'm paying an additional 30 or 40 bucks.

But, I've not had to go out and purchase any equipment. And, when new, better equipment becomes available, I can just take my old box to the nearby cable store and exchange it for the new-fangled device. For example, I will soon trade in a digital cable box for a DVR. That means I can have TIVO-like capabilities without having to fork over the $400 for the box and the extra $13/month for the service. The DVR adds about 4 dollars to my monthly cable bill.

With satellite, it's not nearly as simple to hook up multiple TV's. The satellite companies are trying by offering "3 room" or "4 room" systems. But in each case, a separate cable needs to be run from the dish all the way to the room where the receiver will sit. Which means instead of simply splitting it out to the house, I have to make sure each cable runs uninterrupted from dish to receiver. And, the dish antennas I have seen are limited to 4 receivers. And, each additional receiver costs an additional $5.00 per month. Granted, digital cable boxes cost twice as much monthly, but the box is not REQUIRED to watch cable.

Everytime I analyze the cost of purchasing the dish and all of the receivers I would need (at least 4, but right now I have 6 TV's hooked to cable), as well as the programming and the additional receiver fees, the total turns out to be very similar to my current monthly cable bill. Not to mention that some technical wizardry and expense is required to hook up more than 4 receivers (that may even require a second dish!).

I've been pretty happy with my cable service. The competition from satellite has forced Time Warner Cable to keep improving their service. I get all of the channels I want, in any room I want (without setting up additional equipment). I can get HiDef channels, and a DVR box is available. All for a price that is similar to the DirecTV monthly price.

Another comment about DirecTV. I recently had the pleasure of purchasing a DirecTV system, and setting up three receivers. At first, I was very excited about the self-service aspect of activating and purchasing my programming on-line at I set up the dish and three receivers, and was able to acquire the signal. I then went to the web site and proceeded to activate the primary receiver. Each receiver has a unique serial number as well as a unique receiver ID number. Then, each receiver requires an access card (looks like an American Express Blue card - smart chip and all) inserted. Each card has a unique ID number. So that's three unique numbers that have to be provided to "turn on" a receiver.

I entered all of the required information, and the activation failed. I eventually called the customer service line and a human activated the first receiver for me (very helpful, no hold time). I then needed to activate two more receivers. I attempted both on the web site, and both failed. In all, I made 4 calls to DirecTV to get the system up and running. Not that I hate talking to people, I just think it's much more convenient when the process can be automated. It's too bad DirecTV's systems aren't quite up to snuff.

I also feel like DirecTV is sort of a "big brother." To purchase the dish and receivers, I had to provide my name and address, as well as a credit card. I also had to sign an agreement that I would activate the system within 30 days or they could charge me an additional $150 per receiver. When making the purchase, the serial numbers and access card numbers are tied to me.

Then, when activating, all of those ID numbers are required. The receivers are "required" to be plugged into a phone line. The whole thing makes me feel very uncomfortable.

Of course, just like the "activation" process for Microsoft Office products, these tactics are the direct result of crooks. People buying DirecTV systems and hacking them to receive programming for free. It's a pain in the ass, but I suppose necessary in today's world.

One last note. Since DirecTV is the only provider of programming for this system, there is no (or very little) competition. I preferred the days when I could choose programming from more than 20 providers. I wonder what the effect of the DirecTV/Dish Network merger would have been?

Monday, December 08, 2003

I think Sonic is probably my favorite fast food restaurant (except for LC's Hamburgers, which is locally owned, not a humongo national chain).

But, I'm really perturbed by Sonic's most recent ad campaign. I'm sorry, but seeing these two a-holes deriding the workers at other restaurants does not make me want to eat at Sonic. "Can we plug our Crock Pot of chili in here?" Please.

Note to Sonic - go back to the happy, Beach Boys feel of your older commercials.
Suprising move. The Royals were able to sign relief pitcher Jason Grimsley. Grims was just quoted in the paper as saying that he didn't think he would be able to reach an agreement with the Royals. Hopefully, in 2004, Grims won't be quite so over-used. In '03, Grimsley was used way too much, and his effectiveness really faded after the All Star Break.

Sunday, December 07, 2003

Loss 2
The Chiefs suffered the second loss of the season this year. Several years ago, I was a die-hard Chiefs fan. In college, I lived and died with the Chiefs (back then, mosty died). In 1989, I graduated from college, and landed my first full-time job. My first major purchase was season tickets to the Chiefs. That was the same year that Lamar Hunt finally got tired of losing and hire Carl Peterson to lead the team. Peterson brought Marty Schottenheimer to KC, and the Chiefs began a reign of NFL success. My girlfriend and then wife accompanied me to many tailgate parties and games through the years.

Over the last couple of years, however, I've grown tired of the Arrowhead experience. I still fork over the cash for season tickets each year, and I attend at least half of the games, but I just can't seem to enjoy it like I used to. I think it is the effect of growing old(er). I just don't enjoy fighting the crowds there. Since 9/11, getting in the gates is a tedious task involving bag searches and pat-downs. I've gotten to the point where I'd much rather sit in my comfortable living room and enjoy the game. This could be a result of spending so much time at Kauffman Stadium over the last few years. I've come to a point in my life where the slower, more relaxed feel of baseball is much more desireous. Of course, that being said, I did just recently send in my check for playoff tickets. There's hope in me that I can enjoy a successful post-season. Perhaps if the team can reach the Super Bowl (oh wait, I'm not a license holder - the Championship Game in Houston) I can then pass my fandome on to others.

Thursday, December 04, 2003

Free agents
The Royals had a good day last week. Though Raul Ibanez slipped away to Seattle, the R's managed to sign Joe Randa (3B), Brian Anderson (SP), and Curtis Leskanic (RP).

I like Joe Randa, but was rather indifferent about resigning him. He had a great year in 2003, but at his age, the decline could come quickly. He is a Kansas City guy (lives here year 'round), so the hometown guy is always well liked. Since the R's had nobody to take over at third, it is a good signing.

Leskanic is a great signing. The R's traded for him mid-season and he was a solidifying factor in the bullpen. A great set up man who could close if needed.

The big one here is Anderson. He's a guy who should have been a much-coveted free agent. A left hander who has learned to pitch with finesse and eats up innings. He could be a 2 or 3 starter on just about any team. For the R's he'll probably be the 2 guy with May getting the number 1 spot coming out of Spring Training.

There are rumors that the R's are looking at signing Benito Santiago, Matt Stairs and Raul Mondesi. They definitely need a catcher - I'll be glad to see the human automatic out (Mayne) gone. Benito is older than dirt, but he's durable, and can hit some. Joe Posnanski of the Kansas City Star says:
"They would like very much to sign Benito Santiago, which would be great because it would mean the Royals would have two of the three National League All-Star catchers from 1989. OK, one of them is Tony Pena. No matter. Santiago even at age 87 is the best catcher available at the Royals' price."

Stairs would be a good signing. He can play left, and 1B. After losing Ibanez, and with Sweeney's health issuse, Stairs could be a great addition.

I'm not too keen on Mondesi. I'm not real familiar with him, but I have the impression that he wouldn't be a good club-house guy. Plus, he's never realized his potential. Great talent, but has never put up the numbers.

Tuesday, December 02, 2003


Interesting article on how baseball has finally hit a lull in new stadium construction.

This was a big topic in KC a couple of years ago. There was an effort to put a tax on the ballot for stadium renovations (to both Kauffman and Arrowhead). This, of course, fired up the debate on whether these 30 year old stadiums should be spruced up, or new ones built.

For years, KC has struggled with a deteriorating downtown area. It seems that once 5:00 hits, everybody heads for the 'burbs and downtown is dead. Some wanted a new stadium built in the downtown area, saying that would spur development in the area and revive the city. At the time, I was in agreement. I thought having a ballpark downtown was a great idea.

This past summer, I spent a lot of time at Kauffman stadium. I've now decided that the Royals should play there as long as possible. It's just a great stadium. And I still love the idea of having the two stadiums (Arrowhead and Kauffman) right next to each other.

The stadiums could use some upgrades. Both have concourses that are too narrow, making it difficult to walk around the stadium. Arrowhead is in desperate need of more women's bathrooms. And both would benefit from increased and enhanced luxury suites.

The stadium refurbishment tax never made it to the ballot, but I'm sure the backers will try again soon. It will get my vote.