archive for January, 2007

Sister Bernadette's Barking Dog

I just finished reading Sister Bernadette’s Barking Dog: The Quirky History and Lost Art of Diagramming Sentences, a book about sentence diagramming. By “art” she refers to beauty and not a system of principles and methods, and by “about” I mean surrounding not on the subject of.  The book is rather short and recalls the author’s happy childhood, gladly diagramming sentences in front of class.  She talks about its history, its future, its admirers, its uses, and its failings.  The one thing missing from the book, the one thing that I was really hoping for, is a good tutorial on how to diagram sentences.  Oh well, I guess that’s why we have the Internet.

Eragon

I just finished reading Eragon.  It turned out to be better than I thought.  The writing is a bit cheesy, and the story feels a little too familiar, but it’s still a fun read.  It turned out to be a lot longer than I thought it was, and the pacing got less choppy as it went on.  If you can make it through the first 100 pages, then you should enjoy the next 400.  I’m sure I’ll read the second book in the series, once it comes out in paperback.

Netflix Online Viewing: First Impressions

I can now access the new Netflix “Watch Now” features.  This program lets you watch movies on your computer without having to wait for them in the mail.  The standard plan is limited to 18 hours of movies per month.  You can watch parts of movies, and as many movies as you want, as long as you don’t go over the time allowed.  I’ve played around with the service for a few minutes, and watched about an hour of video so far.  The short review: it works, but has plenty of room for improvement.

On my broadband connection (which appears to run a little faster than 768 Kbps), I can only access the “basic” quality video.  It doesn’t look bad, but it’s certainly not DVD quality.  As you’d expect, you can skip to any point in the movie easily and pause at will.  It currently only runs in IE (grrr), but hopefully they’ll fix that soon.  Their selection is pretty bad.  I haven’t browsed all of the movies, but from what I’ve seen, there are only a handful that I’m actually interested in watching.

All in all, it’s hard to complain when I’m getting extra features for the same price that I’ve been paying.  The service is pretty immature at this point, but I think it shows a lot of potential.  Selection is probably the biggest problem and will be the hardest to improve because it’ll require the cooperation of the studios.  After that, there needs to be a way to watch the movies on your TV in at least DVD quality if they want to attract the mainstream.  A deal with Tivo and other DVR manufactures would be huge.  Even without a 5 Mbps connection, you should be able to download movies overnight and watch them the next day.  I’m curious to see how this will turn out.  Will it flop, or become a huge success?

TripAdvisor

I’m planning a trip up the coast for next month.  It’s always time consuming to try to find and evaluate potential hotels.  I used to search the web sites of the bigger chains (BestWestern, Choice Hotels, Marriott, etc…), or a couple travel sites (Expedia, Hotels.com, Travelocity).  Both processes work, but they can be time consuming and I was never sure about the reviews.

I’ve found something better: TripAdvisor.com.  It searches the other travel sites and creates a nice overview of availability and prices.  The best part is the reviews written by real people.  It gives you a great impression of the actual hotel experience — the good, and the bad.  They also have info on flights, attractions, dining, and more.  Next time you’re planning a trip, start with TripAdvisor.

Computer Geeks.com

John turned me on to Geeks.com, an online store for computer parts, gadgets, digital cameras, MP3 players, etc….  I ordered two items on Thursday morning, went with the cheapest shipping available (FedEx Ground for $7), and they both arrived the next day!  I don’t know how typical this is, but it I love it and will probably use them again.

There were a few annoying bits on their website.  Especially their validation code for the order form (when will developers learn that both client and server side validation is best?).  Other than that, they seem to have great prices and I couldn’t be happier with their service.

Mini-Posts

Today I was thinking that I would probably blog a lot more if I didn’t have this big text box to fill. It would be easier if I just had a bunch of little forms for posting about different things: what I’m reading, what sites I’ve found, where I’ve been, etc… Instead of trying to build such a system, I’m just going to dump a bunch of mini-posts right here.

* I’m currently reading Eragon, which I’m borrowing from a friend at work. I’m at page 107, and it’s starting not not suck too much. The first few chapters were really a pain. I don’t care for the writing style, and the story isn’t exactly what you’d call amazing. Still, no major problems, and I’m sure I’ll finish before too long.

* Other books I’ve read recently (thanks to Bookmooch): The Diamond Age, and The Subtle Knife. Both of which were very good.

* I’m looking forward to reading: The Amber Spyglass, and Sister Bernadette’s Barking Dog: The Quirky History and Lost Art of Diagramming Sentences.
We saw Children of Men last weekend. I really liked it. It’s easily 4/5 stars. However, I think it might have been a little over-hyped by the critics.

* Netflix announced today that they are starting to roll out a streaming movie service that will be available for free to their customers. It will start out with only 1,000 titles and will probably only work in Microsoft’s world (Windows XP + Internet Explorer). The plan is to eventually roll out to more devices than just the PC. Hopefully it won’t be long before I’ll be able to watch from my Tivo. Once it’s available, the three-movies-out-at-a-time plan will come with 18 hours of downloaded movies. That’s a lot of movies. Hopefully there’s something worth watching.

* I’ve gotten back into running. I stopped when I went on vacation over Thanksgiving, and had a hard time starting back up with it being so cold outside. I bought new running shoes and a Polar F6 heart rate monitor to help me train at the proper level. Here are a couple good sites for runners: Gmaps Pedometer, Runner’s World Magazine. I’m currently up to 2.3 miles, and I’m seriously thinking about doing the 5K run in Agoura.

* One of my pictures from Hawaii got published in a Spanish science magazine (Física y Sociedad número: 17). I wasn’t paid or anything, but it’s still cool.

* And now for some links:
Cooking for Engineers – Not enough content, but I love the presentation.
Satellite Sighting Information – NASA’s page for finding out when and where to see things in space. Jesse and I used it to watch the Space Shuttle and International Space Station go by. All I can say is that it was amazing. Check it out.
Nifty Corners Cube – For web developers only. A nice little library for creating rounded corners with JavaScript and CSS.
DailyLit – Read books and literature by email. The works a broken up into nice size chunks and sent to you each day. The catalog currently only contains works in the public domain, so it’s a bit limited. Hopefully they’ll start adding Creative Commons licensed works and more. For now, I’m using it to read The Federalist Papers – something I’ve wanted to read for a long time, but never got around to.