archive for March, 2005

Canceling Services

I just canceled my Earthlink DSL service. I wrote a while about about trying to get Earthlink to lower my rates. I’d been a customer since June 2001, and I was paying more than they were charging their new customers even after the discount period. Since we have basic cable included at our new place, and we’ve switched to VoIP, cable seems like better option than DSL (we don’t need anything from SBC).

Of course, today when I called to cancel, they offered to lower my bill by $10. If they had offered me that option in November, I’d probably still be a customer. Hopefully they’ve learned, and will be more proactive about keeping their existing customers.

I recently canceled our DirecTV/TiVo service too. Again, since basic cable is included (paid for in my HOA dues), it doesn’t make sense to pay and extra $50 per month for a few more channels and TiVo (plus, it would be hard to get line of sight to the satellite). In contrast with Earthlink, DirecTV has surprisingly good customer service, even when canceling.

When we signed up for DirecTV we committed to a full year of service to get a discount on our receiver. The cancellation fee is $150 if you cancel within that first year. DirecTV has a really nice policy though where they prorate the cancellation fee. Since we’ve been with them for six months our fee would be about $75, but it gets better. If you send your equipment back (at their expense), they’ll wave the fee altogether. This is really the ideal policy. If you’re thinking about trying DirecTV, but you worry about the year commitment, don’t. DirecTV provides great service, and if you get it with TiVo, you’ll never want to go back.

RSS Aggregators

I’ve heard that one of my readers was asking about my RSS feed (sorry it took so long to get this written). Wikipedia has a much better description of RSS than I could give here. Go ahead and check it out. I’ll wait here.

Got it? (For those who didn’t click: RSS is a standard protocol, but you can think of it as a file format for blogs.)

The cool thing about RSS (and Atom) is that there are applications that let you bring a bunch of blogs together so that you can read them all without going to each blog’s individual web site. These readers (or aggregator) will typically periodically check the feeds for new entries, so it’s easy to see what’s new at a glance. Let’s say you read five different blogs, and most of them only post every few days. On any given day, there will be something new for you to read, but instead of going to all 5 sites, you just open up your aggregator and see what’s new.

If you read more than three blogs, it’s time to pick an aggregator. For people new to blogs, picking an aggregator can seem overwhelming because there are so many options. I’ll break down the readers into four different categories: stand-alone, web-based, browser-based, and email-based.

Stand-alone applications are programs that run by themselves. They tend to specialize in doing one thing, and doing it well. The main drawback of going with a stand-alone aggregator is that it’s a whole other application that you’ll have to install and run to use it. I haven’t used it for more than five min., but SharpReader turns up high on Google, so would probably be a good start if you want to use a stand-alone reader.

Bloglines is a good example of a web-based aggregator. Web-based aggregators have servers that go out and periodically collect the latest RSS or ATOM feeds from the blogs that their users read. They can then give each of their users a customized view of the blogs their interested in on a single web page. The really cool thing, especially for popular blogging sites, is that this can really cut down on the load that the blog takes. Instead of 1000 readers all grabbing the latest RSS feed, Bloglines (and other web-based readers) can grab it once and feed it out to all of their users. Not having actually used Bloglines I don’t know what it’s lacking.

Next up, browser-based. These are programs that run inside of your browser. They can offer a little extra functionality over web-based readers because you’re always running your browser. If you’re using Firefox (and I suggest that you do), you may or may not know that it has something called Live-Bookmarks. Live-bookmark are basically a bookmark (or “Favorites” for you IE users) folder that automatically updates with links to the latest blog entries. It’s a pretty cool idea, but in my opinion not a true aggregator. Sage is plugin for Firefox that turns your browser into a stand-alone aggregator. If you use Firefox, I suggest that you try Sage before going with a fully stand-alone aggregator.

Last, but not least, is email-based. This is what I use, and it’s what I recommend if you want to get serious about reading blogs. I’ll talk about Mozilla Thunderbird because it’s what I use, and I really like it. I’m sure that their are plugins to turn Microsoft Outlook into a blog reader, but I haven’t tried them. I’m pretty sure Outlook doesn’t have it as a built in feature. Thunderbird works by creating what looks like another email account for “News & Blogs”. The only difference is that instead of having a bunch of email folders in it, you’ll have one folder for each blog you read. The name of the blog will turn bold when there is something new to read, and it’s easy to click and see what’s new. It’s also nice because it keeps a copy of every blog entry that it downloads (unless you delete it), and makes it really easy to search through your archives. Most people check their email every time they go on-line, so using an email-based reader makes it easy to check your favorite blogs at the same time.

For those of you who already use an aggregator, what do you use? What do you like about it? What else have you tried? What do you recommend?

Yahoo! Creative Commons Search

Yahoo has launched a Creative Commons search tool. All I can say is: it’s about someone did. Yahoo has been making a lot of interesting changes lately (360, Flickr, and now this). People are saying that the strong competition from Google is making good things happen at Yahoo, and I couldn’t agree more. I think Yahoo still has a ways to go in the pure search arena, but as far as a total suite of services, they’re doing a really good job.

I’ve mentioned the Creative Commons (CC) before, but now is as good of time as any for a recap. The CC is a set of licenses that let creators of books, music, art, whatever release their work with only “some rights reserved”. For example, you might want to put some pictures up on the web and share them with anyone as long as they give you credit, and aren’t using them for commercial purposes.

Why would you want to do this? Well, for most people they aren’t going to make any money on the work they’ve done. They just do it for their own personal enjoyment. By licensing something under a CC license, you’re allowing other people to get value from your work. In a way, this increases the value of your work, and the total value of the economy as a whole.

Ground School: Week 5

I’m going to keep this short because I’m pretty sleepy and just want to get to bed. I’m getting a little behind in my reading, but I spent some time this morning trying to catch up on my FARs. I should be able to fully catch up by next week, things have just been crazy around here.

In class, we watched some more of the video — mostly on right-of-way, and airport lighting and signage. The rest of class was spent reviewing material from the book, talking about stall speed, flaps, etc… Good stuff.

Update:
I forgot to mention one of the most, um, interesting things the instructor talked about in class last night: spreading human ashes. He was saying that you are allowed to drop things out of the plane as long as they aren’t a danger to anyone. He suggested that if you ever get a job to spread someones remains that you do prepare them first. He likes to buy a blender from a thrift store, and grind up the remains to make sure there aren’t any large chunks of bone left. Then, he said, to roll up the ashes in a long cloth of some sort so that when you release them, the cloth will unravel, and the ashes will be released behind the plane, not right next to it where they can be blown back in.

Link Roundup: Mar. 22, 2005

We’re finally moved in, have Internet, and just able settled. Blogging frequency should slowly return to normal.

13 things that do not make sense
New Scientist does a good job summarizing the mysteries that still confront scientists. For those who’d like to say “See, scientists don’t know everything.” Take a look at how far from normal experience these 13 mysteries are. It’s not like we’re still trying to figure out what causes the tides.

50 people see…
These photos were created by mashing together 50 other photos. I really like the Eiffel Tower, and the candle.

Yahoo! acquires Flickr
I have no idea if this is good or bad. My guess is that it’ll be a mix. We’ll see lower prices, and poorer service. I think I’ll wait to buy that Pro account until I see what’s going to change.

NBC: The Office
Jesse and I loved watching the BBC version on DVD. I’m going to try to watch the NBC version (starting March 24th) to see if it’s anywhere near as funny. It looks like Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant (original creators) will be involved, so it shouldn’t totally suck.

Ground School: Week 4

Tonight’s class started with about 15 min. of video. I’m not even sure it was that much actually, but it seemed to be wrapping up the aerodynamics chapter.

The real bulk of the class was spent with Mike Evangelista, the Santa Monica Tower manager talking about what they do in the tower. It was a really interesting guest lecture. It wasn’t so much about the technical aspects of how it works, but more about the personalities and what it’s like working in the tower. He also told us about the monthly safety meetings at SMO. There should be one next Wednesday. If I have time, I think I’ll try to go.

Real Estate Busyness: Nearing the End

As I mentioned over a month ago, Jesse and I have been busy buying a condo. We close tomorrow, and move this weekend. By early next week I should be back to blogging as normal. Thanks for sticking with me through this dry spell.

Vonage

I just ordered Vonage. It’s a VoIP service that we’re planning on using as a replacement for our plain old telephone service. Best Buy has a pretty good deal going right now. We picked up the Linksys Wi-Fi router with Vonage Support for $30 ($130 – $100 in rebates). Our Vonage service will run about $15 per month, and that includes 500 min. and every service we want (Voicemail, Caller Id, Call Waiting, etc…)

I haven’t actually tried it out yet, but I’ll be sure to let everyone know what I think about it once we’ve used it for a while. Oh, one last thing. Vonage has a referral program with some nice incentives (both for me, and possibly you). I don’t want to spam everyone I know, so if you’re interested, email me and I’ll send you the information.

Ground School: Week 3

Wow. A full week without blogging. It has been a busy, busy, week. Anyway, hopefully I’ll be able to catch everyone up on what’s been going on once things have settled down again.

Back to ground school. The drive was long than expected again. Caltrans (or whoever) has closed PCH down to one lane in each direction. Of course, people don’t know how to merge, so most of the drive in was at about 5 mph. Once we were down to one lane it was up to 40. Based on the throughput, I’d expect the two lane traffic to be going about 20. It never works out like that though, so we ended up getting to class about 15 min. late.

The Santa Monica College extension building was closed today, so the instructor arranged for us to have our class at American Flyers, a local flight school. It was pretty cool because we got to take a tour and check out a Cessna 172.

One of the weird things is that they have a simulator setup for their students to use for practicing. The simulator runs Microsoft Flight Simulator, the same software I have on my home computer, but their simulator has fancy, realistic, controls. I’m sure it’s useful, but I think they said that they charge $45/hr. I only paid $30 for my home edition. I have a hard time believing that their simulator is really worth that much more. I think I’ll stick to playing with my simulator at home and save my money for real time in the air.

In class we covered Chapter 3 on how planes fly. It starts with the basic four forces, gets into stalls and spins, then covers basic maneuvers. I’d really like to have a college level text on aerodynamics to add some depth to the reading.

Ground School: Week 2

Today my friend/co-worker and I got to the airport a little early and found the observation deck. It’s a nice little patio where you can sit out watching the planes take off and land, and listen to the tower talk to everyone. I still don’t understand 90% of what’s going on, but it’s fun to catch a phrase or two that I really do get. I think we’ll have time most weeks to spend at least a few minutes watching the planes, so that should be fun.

Once again, class started with a video. We finished up chapter two of the Jeppesen material and started on chapter three. I think we may have fast forwarded a little bit farther through chapter two than where we left off last week, but there doesn’t seem to be anything in the videos that isn’t covered in more detail in the book. The videos are nice though because you can see everything moving which makes it easier to understand how it really works.

Right after the video, Joe Justice of Justice Aviation stopped by to talk about what his business offers. At this point the most important thing for me is the flight school. They also offer aircraft rental which is nice if I ever want to fly anywhere after becoming a real pilot. The prices were a bit higher than I expected. One great idea he suggested is to ride in the back seat while your friends are taking their lessons. It doesn’t count as flight time of course, but you can learn a lot by sitting back and watching. It was really nice of him to drop by and answer so many questions that weren’t directly related to his business. Thanks Joe!

For the rest of class we just reviewed the material from the book: classifications of aircraft; effects of flying on the human body; parts of the airplane; power, electrical, fuel systems; and instruments. Somehow JFK Jr. got mentioned and continued to popup all evening. I just don’t understand why people are so fixated on that one crash.

One of the shops at SMO is going out of business, so the instructor was helping the owner clear out some merchandise. I picked up a cheap flight computer for $7. I don’t know how long it’ll last, but I’ll be happy if it makes it through the rest of ground school.