February 2008 Archives

February 25, 2008

Comfort Food: Oatmeal

Lately I have been really craving various comfort foods. Perhaps it is because of stress at home, perhaps it's because Winter is nearing an end, but for what ever reason, I can't seem to get past the need for a good carbohydrate-rich meal. One of my favorites is Oatmeal. Why? Partly because I wrote an entire tragic (in that the main characters always die pointlessly) children's series based on an Elephant named Fibre (yes, spelling is correct), and a porcupine named Oatmill (again, spelling is intentional). Also, oatmeal is a staple of many Scottish homes. I think I like it more for that reason than anything. ^_^

My friend Joseph, recently posted some recipes for instant oatmeal on his blog, and challenged me personally to come up with a recipe with Blueberries and nuts. Always up for a challenge (though not always successful at same), I thought I would give it a go. So, this weekend I talked my wife into letting my purchase 20 ounces of dried blueberries from Costco, some pecans, and some powdered non-dairy creamer. Of course, I didn't get a chance to try the recipe I had planned over the weekend, but this morning I managed to mix up a batch. Here is the recipe that I posted in the comments to Joseph's blog posting:

Blueberry and Pecan Oatmeal:
Oats (probably about 1/2 cup)
chopped pecans (about 1 tbsp)
powdered non-dairy creamer (abt. 1 1/2 tbsp)
dried blueberries (abt. 1 1/2 tbsp)
Sweetener of choice (mine is honey)

I mixed the dry ingredients together, and then covered with hot water. Let it sit for about 5 minutes, mixing occasionally. It ends up being pretty creamy, and once you add the honey (I have a great little bit of wild honey I picked up), it's all the better.

It was good, it was filling, and it was (after the purchase of the blueberries) relatively inexpensive. Of course, it doesn't beat real Porridge oats with fresh fruit and cream, but it does the job. Also, I recommend using honey instead of sugar (unless you have an allergy to it), because the taste melds well with the pecans and oats. But if you do, be sure to add the honey right before you eat. Honey breaks down quicker than sugar, and as such can suffer from over-cooking.

Maybe the next time I go shopping, I'll get some Maple extract and soak the oats/nuts in it. Maple and pecans are a great combination. ^_^

February 22, 2008

Deja Vu: DOSBox, Boxer, and Windows 3.11

I have a soft spot in my heart for all things old. It's in my nature, and perhaps explains why my first degree was in History. So, while I like to check out new software, new hardware, and new computing concepts, I get nostalgic for the old days, and running my DOS apps in a nice, slow environment.

One of the drawbacks I had from going to Mac from Windows was the loss of my windows games. It's not a huge loss, as I don't have a lot of time to play them, but I do miss it from time to time. But what I miss even more are the old DOS games that I grew up with. I miss my Ultima series, Space Quest, and particularly Martian Dreams. With UNIX being a big part of the Mac OS, I lost all the old DOS apps that I loved. What to do?

Well, I started browsing around for applications in general, and came across DOSBox. It's a great program that emulates DOS well enough to run most if not all DOS apps out there. I played with it, but it required a lot of steps to mount the drive that took some getting used to. Also, the key bindings were a little foreign for a Mac user, so some things didn't quite make sense to me.

Well, I kept using it, and in fact managed to install quite a few applications. Then, I started to wonder, what would happen if I installed a DOS-based windowing system, like Windows 3.11? I have at least one program (Sit Meier's Colonization) that has a Windows install, and works best that way. Well, I started checking it out, and found out that someone installed it on Ubuntu, and so I figured it should be just as easy to do so on the Mac.

So why not use VMWare, or Parallels? Because I'm on a PowerPC, and don't have the option of using either of those applications. So this actually is an interesting alternative for me, should I want to use a Windows application. Of course, that's if I can get it to work. ^_^

Well, I started by grabbing an old image of Windows 3.11. I had an old 486 that had 3.11 on it, and as such was able to get a legal copy. ^_^ Once the image was gathered, I moved it into the dosdrive folder I created (this is used as the root directory for DOSBox). Once in there, I was able to boot into DOSBox, mount the drive, and then install Windows 3.11 without a hitch.

Once it was installed, I was able to install my windows 3.11 application without any trouble. It works great, and even identifies a basic sound card. What it doesn't do (at least that I can see), is recognize a network device. As such, I'm not able to access the network from Windows 3.11. This would be handy to have, should I ever be forced to use Internet Explorer to access a website.

Now, once I got through all this, I started to get a little annoyed at the need to mount the drive all the time. Someone mentioned that all you have to do is find the dosbox.conf file and edit it to automount the drive, but I haven't been able to find it. Luckily, while reading the forum postings, I found a wonderful project: Boxer. It's just an Applescript wrapped around DOSBox, but it's great for what I want. It let me set an automatic folder as my root DOS directory, and as such saves me a little bit of time.

So, the long and the short of this program is: I like DOSBox! It's a great environment that works for all the old DOS games, and even a DOS version of Word (Word 6.0). The only thing I would want more out of it is a networking component that WIndows can see/install without any trouble, and allow for internet/email usage. Why? Because then the only reasons I would need VMWare or Parallels would be taken care of by DOSBox, and some pretty slick WIndows 3.11/95 applications. ^_^

February 21, 2008

Open Letter to the BBC: Bring Programming to US iTunes

On Tuesday, the BBC announced that it would start providing their TV content on iTunes: In the UK. This is a landmark decision, because quite frankly the BBC has some great shows, some of which don't translate well to the general US market. Unfortunately, for those few of us that follow the cult classics (Jonathan Creek, Rosemary and Thyme, etc.), we are left out in the cold. Sure, we can wait for years until the episodes come to DVD, but wouldn't it be smarter to provide downloads that are compatible with various formats (or at least iTunes for me)?

So, in my quest to get quality television (and no, I don't think American Idol is quality television), I have written an open letter to both the BBC and BBC America. The letter is limited by characters (due to the limitations for their email contact us form):

Recently, BBC Worldwide made (in my opinion) a landmark decision to provide BBC TV shows on iTunes in the UK for download. This is monumental in that quality BBC programming can be delivered directly to those that are more likely to purchase, and the delivery and distribution model is quite simple.

Has the BBC, or BBC America, considered doing the same here in the US? Now that the Apple TV has been designed more appropriately, it would most likely be in the BBC's best interest to consider providing content on iTunes. Popular cult classics like Rosemary and Thyme, or Jonathan Creek can reach a more targeted audience, shipping time will be almost immediate, and your loyal fans (guilty as charged!) will be forever in your debt.

I hope that the BBC will make the decision to provide their material on iTunes, as BBC Worldwide made in the UK. It would be a benefit to those of us who wish to be truly entertained with real, quality television that has not been "americanized".


I hope that the BBC understands that iTunes and similar distribution methods are ideal for targeting those that love the cult classics, lesser known shows, and those shows that have a limited target audience.

February 20, 2008

Apple TV Take 2: A Review

The Apple TV update has been released within the last week, and I have finally had plenty of time to play with it, so here is my review.

Declaration of Bias
First off, I want to let you know my bias with regard to all things Apple. Yes, I love Apple products, but not because they are from Apple. It's because I like the functionality that they give, the simplicity in their setup, and the power of UNIX at the core. So, now that you know my bias, on with the review!

The Interface
I've heard a lot of complaints about the interface, some from a "design" aspect, some in regard to the blatant iTunes marketing. But to tell you the truth, it's just plain easy to use. It's not fluid, but because of the new features they offer in the upgrade it doesn't seem possible to make it fluid.

The only real difference from the UI in Take 2 from the original is the box that shows up. I actually prefer the two column box because menu options come up while your music plays, and doesn't stop it like before. So in that aspect, it's a better interface.

Is there anything that I don't like about the interface? Just entering text. It's awkward using the Apple remote to enter text, and as such takes too long to do any real searching. Would I want a bigger and more cumbersome remote with a built in keyboard? Absolutely not! It would then be too difficult to use, and too confusing for new users. And I know what you are thinking: if they don't want to learn how to do it, why should you cater to them? Because those people have money to buy the product. Simplicity is what makes the Apple TV a joy to use.

Movies
One thing that I don't think people understand about the potential of iTunes is the potential to cater to the cult classics that you can't get anywhere else. Want to watch "Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine"? It's there. It's all about the rare, and getting that rare to those that would buy it.

With that in mind, let's look at rental. It's a great idea, and I really like it. There are a lot of movies that we purchase and only watch once or twice... That's $30 down the drain, when instead we can rent it from iTunes and watch it to our hearts content (once or twice within a 24 hour period), and only pay $2.99 to $3.99. Do I care about HD? Not really, because I only have an Standard Definition TV. I've heard reviews and seen screen shots that compare the quality of the Apple TV to HD Cable shows, and it's been favorable with the Apple TV. But again, it's dependent on services and the TV you are using.

Browsing shared movies is similar to the original Apple TV, if only vaguely. It's actually easier, because you can browse to them from the Movies menu instead of having to go to Sources to find the source. In fact the navigation let's you get to other sources easier than before.

Renting is simple, though there isn't a lot out there to rent. But what is there is a fairly diverse genre spread that would make most people interested at least. If you download a movie, it will sync automatically with your main source machine. If you don't have a main source machine, it stays on your Apple TV. ^_^ That I really like. Once you are done renting (i.e., 1 month of not watching, or within 24 hours of when you started to watch the movie), it automatically deletes itself from your Apple TV/iTunes.

TV Shows
This was the only annoyance I had with the update. By default, it displays your TV shows by show, time stamp, and then alphabetically. There looked to be a way to organize the display, but no simple way to be seen to organize it. I was doomed to deal with my TV shows out of order, until I tried to just hit the right skip button on the remote. It then organized the TV shows by show, which was what I had before the upgrade.

One welcome addition to this view was the division by season, and then give the numbers of each episode. It makes it easier to see if you have all the episodes, and make sure they are in order. Needless to say, the one major complaint I had against the Take 2 upgrade was resolved.

Music
I don't listen to a lot of music, but my wife does. One thing that is a great improvement is the Air Tunes option, where someone can play their music from their mac on the Apple TV. I like it, because I can leave the TV off to get to the music, and it gives more space on the Apple TV for movies and TV shows (soon to no longer be an issue, if I can talk my wife into the hard drive upgrade for the Apple TV).

Other than that, it's pretty much like movies or TV shows, with sharing very easy to navigate, and a huge emphasis on iTunes.

Podcasts
I love podcasts. I listen to several, mostly from NPR. The search isn't the best (see complaint about entering text), but sharing is great and easy to navigate. One great thing is the video podcasts for movie trailers. Because our wireless broadband network is, well, rather unreliable at times (anytime UTOPIA becomes ready, I'm dumping it), downloading to the Apple TV to watch a preview can take quite a bit of time. So, I would rather download the podcasts for the movies at work, and then bring them home to watch.

Photos
Photos are not often used on our machine, other than as a screensaver, but the Apple TV does allow for connecting to Flickr and the .Mac repository that my wife would have had access to (but never used, thank goodness for trial accounts!). They are easy to set up, the settings are in the same menu (no more hunting), and you can also view shared photos from machines. WIll it be a good move? Well, only if I find a use for browsing through Flickr files on a regular basis. Until then, it's really a non-issue for me.

YouTube
I just recently got my wife interested in YouTube, and created an account for us to use on YouTube. Now I connect at work, find interesting movies, and I can bring them home and have my wife watch them on the main TV. The only drawback is the broadband network we are on, and the problems we seem to have with bandwidth. Ah, well, perhaps one day it will be a good tool to use. In any case, other than search, the Apple TV is a really good tool to watch YouTube on a big screen.

Settings
The settings were pretty much the same, though they had an added option to add your iTunes account to the Apple TV directly. It's time consuming, but keeps it on file and not in RAM. Good thing, because occasionally my son likes to play with the power strip into witch it is plugged. Other than that, it's pretty much the same.

Final Thoughts
The main drawback to the Apple TV is the hard drive size. The good news is that it's fairly easy to upgrade the hard drive (out of warranty, of course), and will cost just a little more to upgrade an Apple TV 40 GB to 250 GB than buying an Apple TV 160 GB.

Also, there are a number of hacks that can be loaded to the Apple TV, one of which is the Safari HD plugin, allowing someone to use Safari on the Apple TV without having to install a full version of OS X. They have a version for the new Take 2 update, so once I can talk my wife into letting me upgrade the hard drive, I'm going to look into it. You can also enable SSH, which makes upgrading the Apple TV that much easier.

So, is the Apple TV worth it? With the hacks, most definitely. Without the hacks, it is very usable, simple in it's navigation, and therefore a definite keeper. Can you build and configure a more expandable device? Sure, if you want to go through all the work, time, effort, etc. Frankly, I like the fact that the Apple TV is just so simple to use. I can rip my DVD's with Handbrake, add them to iTunes, and as such they are viewable on the Apple TV.

And finally, of course, it saves my DVD's from my son's fingers, and the fingers of his cousins.

February 14, 2008

Wanted: Flexible Linux Instructor

Summer semester is a very difficult time for a lot of CS students. Many of the programs that are run through the other semesters are put on hold as their professors go on nice long sabbaticals, and as such they can't progress through their degrees as quickly as they might want. As such, they have lots of good opportunities to take additional electives, such as Linux classes.

Unfortunately, the instructor we had in line for the Linux 103 and 104 (Guru Labs 275 and 314 classes) also decided to take the summer off for a nice long vacation. This means that while we have an instructor for the first half of the semester (120 and 250 courses), there isn't anyone to teach the second half of the semester.

So, I thought I would make a quick post to see if there is an instructor willing to contract with the University of Utah to teach these classes. They would be teaching from June 19th to July 30th from 8:30 AM to 12:30 PM, on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Ideally they would need to have knowledge of the material, and know how to teach.

Of there os anyone that interested, please contact Inita Lyon at 801-581-6061 for more information and to schedule an interview.

February 8, 2008

Cock-a-Leeky with a Twist

For those few that have been regular followers of my blog, you know that I love my ancestry, and the peasant foods that come with it. As such, I like to make the foods when I know that my wife cannot object. Such was the case yesterday when I was home with my sick son.

Cock-a-leeky is a great soup for sickness, because it's almost entirely a broth with very little other solids in it. Therefore, for someone with a rather queasy stomach, it goes down light and nourishes. It's also very sweet, brought on by the rehydrating prunes added at the end. All in all, it's my favorite chicken soup.

Now, normally you would add ox tail soup bones to the pan, along with a whole chicken, let it roast, and then start the soup. The reason being is that you want a full, hearty soup that tastes great and has as much nourishment in it as possible. Of course, I didn't have the time or inclination to make a full batch (and the store didn't have soup bones), so I had to compromise. I purchased three small lamb chops, and use them instead (which is my twist). ^_^

Here are the ingredients for my soup:

3 small lamb chops
6 pieces of chicken breast (equaling perhaps two full chicken breasts)
2 cans chicken broth
6 leeks - chopped
parsley flakes to taste
4 prunes cut in half

I started by pulling out a non-coated pan, because the initial part of this soup requires some brazing. I then coated the bottom of the pan with olive oil, and set in my chops. After browning each side, I added the chicken broth and the chicken. Normally at this point I would add whole chicken pieces with bones and water, but this was a short-cut. Then I added half the leeks.

I let this cook for about an hour, simmering and reducing down for a nice strong flavor. Then, I removed the lamb (and ate it on the side). I then removed the chicken, and cut it into smaller pieces, then placed it back in. I seasoned with the parsley, added the rest of the leeks. I added more water, then added the prunes.

Not once did I need to add salt (plenty in the broth). Once it simmered down again (after about a half an hour), it was done. The flavor was perfect, with a slight bold, strong flavor from the lamb. This is perhaps the best version of cock-a-leeky I have ever made, even if I do say so myself. ^_^

February 6, 2008

The Media: The Real Winners of Super Tuesday

Yesterday morning I was listing to NPR, and they had a little clip on the impact on such a volatile race has had on the major news outlets. More people tuned into the political debates than watch football. It's unprecedented, it's unbelievable, it's.... exactly what the major networks have needed since the Writer's Guild strikes started this winter.

This is reality TV that people just can't buy, make-up, or create no matter how hard they try. The big worry was that with the completion of Super Tuesday a final delegate would be selected on either side, and the news would go back to partisan bickering over "Us vs. Them". How were they going to keep the momentum going until November?

Luckily for the media and the networks, that didn't happen. Even if a Republican nominee comes out after the final count in California, the Democrats are still up for grabs. And quite frankly, the media has been more interested in that race than any other (you can call it bias, you can call it "firsts", either way, it's been their big focus).

What does this mean for us? Well, for those of us that have already had our primary, we will be clear of the TV ads until November (unless you are in Utah, where national Democrats don't seem to bother). For you poor souls in states that haven't had their caucuses or primaries yet, you are now the new battleground states. And the media and networks will be there with you, reporting every poll, every projection, every little sneeze you may have that indicates a position on the primary.

It's good to know that the political process has so many people interested, because we need people engaged in the debate, focused on the issues, and making educated decisions. But please, if you are going to get involved, become familiar with your positions and take the time to get to know all the candidates. Don't leave your research to the media, who may have their own biases. Your biases are just as important. ^_^

February 2, 2008

Turtle Airships: Great Ideas, All Possible

I received a comment to my last entry on Airships (wow! Someone read my blog! ^_^), pointing out an airship currently in development: The Turtle airship.

The designer has some excellent ideas, particularly making a solid hulled craft (and hence increasing it's strength), changing the design for better aerodynamics (increasing lift without ballast), and making the whole thing solar powered. Is it possible? Certainly!

The first problem would be solar panels on the hull. Big problem, because the current weight of solar panels is such that the airship would quickly become top-heavy. Is there a way around this? Yes. Ascent Solar has been developing a photovoltaics that are thin and as such quite useful in making a solid hulled airship. Because it can envelope the entire hull (at least the top half), no matter where you are the sunlight can be used to generate power.

Next, the lift. Helium is the number one lifting gas, since the Hindenburg disaster and the death off Hydrogen airships. But is hydrogen really dead? I don't think so. Perhaps, if an airship were to have a series of chambers, with helium closest to the cabin, with a central hydrogen bag, you would be back in business. Remember, hydrogen will not burst into flames without being in the presence of oxygen and a catalyst. Surround it with Helium, and Hydrogen remains quite inert.

Suppose, for instance, your buoyancy is still heavier than air with the outer chambers filled with helium. This allows for the loading and unloading of the ship without worrying about ballast. Then, when you are ready to take off, you fill the center chamber with compressed hydrogen. Your lift is increased (because uncompressed hydrogen is lighter than compressed hydrogen), and as such you are now lighter than air. This dynamic buoyancy would make it possible to fly everywhere, and not require water as your ballast (though I do think it's a great idea! ^_^).

Finally, the solid hull. This is the one thing that I have little experience in, as I'm not an engineer (wasted my time with History, I'm afraid). But I had guessed that carbon fiber and graphite would make a strong, rigid hull that would withstand the elements quite well. Add on the Ascent Solar panels, and you have an airship that would have enough strength to withstand some pretty decent storms, I would imagine. Anyone correct me if I'm wrong.

So, needless to say, I'm quite impressed with the ideas behind the Turtle airship. I'm looking forward to the first flight, to see whether or not the golden age of airships can truly come to fruition.
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