Tuesday, December 27, 2005
Not that I'm going there myself, but there is more than one way to skin the Sudoku, as Wikipedia illustrates. And for a look at the mathematical implications of Sudoku, try American Scientist Online, which also includes some history on the puzzle, and how it was probably invented by an American way before it became a nationwide obsession in both Japan and the U.K.
If I was better at these kinds of puzzles, I would probably be a mathematician, theoretical physicist, or, at the least, grooming-challenged eccentric.
To check the New York Times Crossword Puzzle here at the Daily News, I have to figure out at least two clues to make sure the grid matches the clues, and let me tell you, that's sometimes pretty difficult.
We also run the poker column by Chicago Tribune writer Steve Rosenbloom. I can pretty much figure out what's going on, but poker is so jargon-heavy, I think you have to watch about 20 hours of it on TV before you can speak the language (and no, I haven't done that and furthermore won't do it).
Do you have Firefox? It's rapidly becoming a must. On the Mac, the Blogger is one of the sites that works somewhat with Internet Explorer 5, a bit better with Safari but only functions fully with Firefox.
The move away from IE and toward Firefox, especially for Mac, is being hastened by Microsoft's announcement that it will no longer support IE for Mac, with the reasoning being that they're unwilling to put any resources into it now that all Apple computers ship with Safari.
And for those still using OS 9 on the Mac, there's NO Firefox or Safari (both are available for OS X only). You have to stick with the aging IE 5, or possibly Netscape. It's getting to the point where pre-OS X Mac users can't really use the Web properly, since many developers are assuming that you have Firefox or IE 7 (which will never make it to Mac).
I like Firefox and all the things you can do on Blogger with it, like WYSIWYG for photos, bolding and italic, block quotes and more. But Safari is still faster for the Mac, and I can only hope that Blogger's promise to fully support the Apple program comes through eventually. And if Firefox gets even more stable, I might be able to live with the slowness at startup.
Speed and stability are my No. 1 and other No. 1 criteria for a Web browser -- quickness is everything, and I don't want it to ever crash. And for Mac, Safari beats Firefox on this count.
Meanwhile, Firefox seemingly went from nowhere to a major player, and I have no idea how Microsoft is going to counter it.
For Mac users, I hope Apple doesn't give up on Safari. And at least ONE of these developers should take pity on users of pre-OS X Macs and offer an updated browser.
Does Microsoft's abandonment of IE for Mac mean it will do the same for the Office software package? Since Apple is already in that space, too, with its iWork bundle, it could happen. It would be a bad move for Microsoft, but getting out of the Mac browser business -- when surfing the Web is what many computer users do about 99 percent of the time -- seems just as bad.
Friday, December 23, 2005
Mack Reed of L.A Voice has DSL problems of his own, and he took notice of my broadband journey, which is thankfully complete. I did a speed test last night, after DSL Extreme bumped the line back to 1500 bps, and everything is running better than ever. We can use the Internet and make phone calls at the same time in perfect digital harmony.
For those having trouble with DSL, here are some resources:
For no apparent reason, a picture
of the Fonz on the phone.
For speed tests and techies, disgruntled and not, discussing the fine points of broadband, go to DSL Reports and start digging in.
If you suspect a problem with your inside wiring, want to upgrade your telephone setup or even add a heavy-duty DSL filter that will eliminate your need for those little ones on each line, go to the Phone Man's Home Phone Wiring Advice Page.
And, of course, there's always DSL Extreme, which will provide you with broadband service in areas wired by both SBC and Verizon.
Thursday, December 22, 2005
He calls back 5 minutes later. I pick up the phone, "Hi, it's me," he says. Yes, Dan became a "me" in my life. But now that all is flowing fine on the DSL line (I'll check the speed tonight just to make sure), I expect my relationship with the tech support staff at DSL Extreme will become a more distant one. One can only hope.
Wednesday, December 21, 2005
It's been three months or so, but we FINALLY got the DSL working right. I converted our DSL Extreme dialup account to DSL (at $14.95 a month vs. $12.95 for dialup, resistance is futile) At first, we couldn't get a signal at all. I'm not sure what happened, but we did get up and running. But the signal would cut out whenever we picked up a telephone to make or receive a call.
Now I had already dragged the modem, telephone and cables outside to the NID (that's network interface device), unplugged the house's wiring at the test jack and plugged in everything there to eliminate any influence of the household wiring (which the DSL Extreme techs were CONSTANTLY blaming all my problems on, even though I was outside bypassing it entirely). Glad I didn't spend five hours under the house rewiring the phone jacks (all two of 'em) because being under the house is a special thing that should only be done once every two years, and I'd already been under when we had termites last year.
Don't get me wrong, the Billing and Technical Support staff at DSL Extreme (both of which I've had to deal with) are extremely helpful and responsive. But they are loathe to get SBC involved. See, even though DSL Extreme sells the service and has the routers and other techie equipment at their Winnetka, Calif., headquarters, the lines themselves are still the responsibility of SBC (and yes, I could've ordered the DSL through them,.but I liked the DSL Extreme deal and terms better, and I already had an open account with them for the dialup, which was way more rock-solid than any other dialup service we had, including AOL and AT&T). And e-mailing Tech Support with my signal problem was not enough. I had to call them from home and be ready to do wiring and modem gymnastics in order for them to get "a ticket started" with SBC.
"NID," "a ticket started," it's a whole new language.
Finally I bit the bullet on Sunday and called them. First they lowered the speed of the line from 1500 bps to 768, and the line supposedly got more "stable." They figured I was too far from the phone company office. I told them, "Van Nuys is the center of the entire fucking universe, and if we are not close enough to the central office, nobody is.'' Stability be damned, the speed reduction didn't work. We still lost DSL signal when using the phone.
So finally, they agreed to open a ticket with SBC, telling me that there could be a $125 charge if the problem was with my inside wiring. Since I was 100 percent confident that this was not the case, we proceeded to set up an appointment. SBC came a day early, the guy right away went to the phone box (or NID, for those who have been paying attention), got into the "phone company only" part and removed an MPU, which is some kind of electronic circuit that's either supposed to remove interference or alert the phone company when there's a problem on the line. The SBC guy told Ilene that these now-ancient circuits are a real pain in the ass.
Now everything works great. We can talk on the phone and use the Internet simultaneously -- and hopefully DSL Extreme will soon see fit to bump the speed of the line back up to 1500 bps. DSL Extreme offers a speed test on their support page, and it's easy to check up on how fast it's going.
With a little more dogged determination, I could've gotten this all resolved in the first month (I still have to caulk the bottom of the toilet, and we all know how long THAT's been going on -- and I do have all the things I need to complete THAT job), but the thought of having to spend an afternoon on the phone with DSL Extreme wasn't high on my personal list of ways to spend said afternoon, so I delayed.
Still, the tech support from DSL Extreme is pretty good. I've only had to wait on hold once when calling -- there's usually someone on the line to help right away, and for $14.95 per month, it really is a whole new world for those of us who have been stuck with dialup.
So problems notwithstanding, I would recommend DSL Extreme. But the whole process of getting a working line should be easier for those with nary a computer-nerd bone in their bodies. Both SBC and DSL Extreme are praying, when they start a new customer on the service, that everything in the physical setup -- from the telephone pole to the wiring down to the house, the DSL filters, the house wiring, the home computers -- is working fine so they can send a "self-install" kit and not have to physically show up. For newer dwellings and newer computers, this probably works a whole lot better "out of the box," literally and figuratively.
I think when we get to the next generation of broadband, whether through an upgraded fiberoptic network or via wireless, this will all be easier. I suspect that ease already extends to cable Internet service, but I promise you nothing.
Monday, December 19, 2005
What left me thinking "huh?" in Sunday's L.A. Times piece was all the talk about excessive pampering for Tom Cruise and Scientology leader/Cruise buddy David Miscavige. So what if the leader of a large, profitable religion and its most well-known adherent get a lot of special treatment? And it's no news that the worker bees of Scientology do a whole lot for a little, all the while signing "billion-year contracts." It's also no news that the advanced teachings of Scientology are wacky.
What I want to know about is the money, what happens to the lives of the regular Scientology people, how the lower-level Scientology "celebrities" are treated, and what kind of proselytizing is done in the many Scientology splinter organizations (which, like Narconon, often don't mention Scientology in their names) that are concered with drug abuse, education and especially the organization's fight against psychiatry.
And it took the Times about 40 inches of copy before they mentioned a few other celebrity Scientologists in the context of the religion's recruitment efforts among actors and musicians. In the case of singer Beck, his parents were/are Scientologists, as are/were the parents of current Scientology celebrities Juliette Lewis, Danny and Christopher Masterson, Giovanni Ribisi and Erika Christensen. Would be nice to hear about how celebrities present and hopeful, are treated. Some say that you can get a leg up in Hollywood by joining Scientology and networking through the Celebrity Centre in Hollywood.
Still, kudos to the Times for covering the subject at all, even though I got all I needed from Radar a couple of months ago.
Friday, December 16, 2005
The silence about public radio salaries either means they're abysmally low or unashamedly high. Are these seemingly dedicated people filling the commercial-free air and shilling for pledge dollars only to live like paupers themselves?
Well, here's something: Laist reveals that KPCC's Larry Mantle, host of "Air Talk," makes $115,000 per year, and Nic Harcourt, keeper of the "rare, live import demo remixes" * for KCRW's "Morning Becomes Eclectic" makes "a little over $100,000, all this information presumably gleaned from the stations' annual reports.
Now I don't know about you, but I find $100,000 to be a lot of money, but I don't begrudge it to these guys one bit -- especially Larry Mantle, who I admire very much and who works very hard for that money.
We all know the kind of money Howard Stern and Katie Couric are making. When you're in a certain stratosphere, it's national news. And we all look at and judge the salaries of others through the prism of how much we, ourselves, have earned.
Still, I don't think people knowing that the top public radio on-air talent drags in $100,000 a year will be much of a help to the stations' pledge-drive efforts. And it begs the question: Do these people's salaries have a direct link to their ability to pull in donations, both individual and corporate?
*Neither a direct, nor indirect quote. Just my summation of Nic Harcourt. Have a live, cassette-only B-side remix demo -- on the house!.
Thursday, December 15, 2005
I hoofed it out of the Daily News about five minutes after 6 o'clock and got to the "transit hub" across from the Promenade mall on Owensmouth Avenue at about 6:15. The bus was idling about 30 yards from the stop, and the lighted signs said it would leave at 6:22 p.m. I bought my ticket from the fancy electronic kiosk with an MTA token, and the bus pulled up right on schedule.
Suprisingly, I was joined by about 20 other people (this is NOT the portion of the day when buses arrive every 5 minutes, but it damn well should be). More people got on with every stop, and it was soon standing room only. And hot. They had the heat cranked up to 79 degrees.
Yes, I carry a thermometer with me at all times. What's it to you?
I couldn't see much -- it was dark outside, and the lights inside the bus make it hard to see out. I sat in one of the "high" seats, about 10 feet ahead of the "bend" in the accordion-style bus. If I looked at the moving floor too long, I started to get bus-sick. So obviously no reading or looking at the floor for me on the Orange Line.
The trip was uneventful. As said before, the driver did call out the stops -- essential at night, because you really can't see much, and the busway is at many points off the beaten (or auto-driven) path.
We arrived at the Van Nuys stop about 6:50 p.m. Not bad, but I wish I could have caught an earlier bus. There were transit cops at the station checking tickets, so anybody who thinks they can get away with not paying, think again.
Then came the choice, should I wait for a bus on Van Nuys, or walk the rest of the way? I hadn't bought a transfer but still had another token. I chose walking, and a good thing, too, because three buses passed me going the wrong way -- and none going the right way. You get to see the neighborhood, too. I witnessed one guy yelling at somebody on a cell phone outside a stretch of storefronts and couldn't help noticing the strong marijuana smell coming from an apartment building.
So I got a brisk walk in on both ends and arrived home about 7 p.m., just in time to feed the kid her nighttime snacks and read her the customary eight books before bed.
Back to the bus: I couldn't figure out where the supposed on-bus bike racks were, and it was so crowded, I wouldn't recommend traveling with a bike anyway.
After dinner, I went to Auto Zone, bought a gas can, filled it up across the street, came home, walked the gas to my car, figured out how the gas can worked and poured the 2 gallons into the Focus. It started, and I drove to the gas station to fill up the rest of the way. Back in the solo-driving business.
Will I ride the Orange Line again. Probably will. Check back with me.
Wednesday, December 14, 2005
Never mind all that. My car is dead. Whenever I go under 1/8 of a tank, it won't run on a cold morning, so it's parked a block away from home awaiting gas. Me, I've got plenty, but nothing that can run an automobile. Ilene gave me a ride this morning, but it's me and the MTA on the way home. Even though I'm hot-blooded (check it and see), Ilene wisely insisted I take a jacket, a garment I've pretty much dispensed with over the last few years (that along with anything long-sleeved, since the Daily News' windowless megabox in Woodland Hills maintains a constant 73 degrees year-round).
After the original hoopla died down, I knew it would take auto-related desperation to get me on the bus. Newly minted daily Orange Line rider and Daily News cops reporter Josh Kleinbaum is NOT riding the bus today, so I will be representing, as it were.
Notice how you can deflect the absurdity of a white guy using rap phraseology by following it with as it were? Trust me, you can. Peace out, as it were.
Tuesday, December 06, 2005
Whatever the reason, when it comes to strolling the neighborhood, there's a lot more stopping, chatting, dog-petting, ball playing, flower picking and baked-goods-exchanging going on lately.
Now I've owned two Honda Civics over the years. The first being a 1979, which looked much like the one pictured above. That Civic and today's model bear little resemblance. Cars back then were much smaller. Over the past 20 years, the size of small cars has gotten bigger and bigger -- just look at what's happened to Hondas and Toyotas over that time.
This Civic was small. It was dwarfed by whatever car was parked next to it. Being so tiny, it was easy to lose in a parking lot between two normal-sized cars.
It took unleaded or regular gas, although the cheaper leaded variety tended to gum up the carbuerator. Said carbuerator also cut off the flow of fuel on sharp turns, stalling the vehicle as it swung around the corner into the California State University Northridge "A" lot. The tape deck duitifully included an alternator whine that went up and down with engine RPMs. And above 60 MPH, the whole thing would shake uncontrollably.
Then there was the time I removed the back seats and the passenger seat, built a wooden platform and slept in the damn thing for awhile. What a car.
It eventually met an untimely (or was it timely) end on the 110 Freeway downtown.
In between I got a sweet 1978 VW Bus, another untimely end there, too, but after that I got a 1983 Honda Civic Wagon with 80,000 miles on it. It was the last model of that Civic redesign phase, and was just a great car, running until about 160,000. It needed a new engine and some bodywork, and wouldn't come anywhere near passing the smog test. At that time, the state was buying back "gross polluters," so I got the paperwork done, took it to a wrecking yard in Sun Valley, and they gave me about $500, which I put toward my current car, a 2001 Ford Focus, which, on the surface seems like a better car than the Civic (except for gas mileage, which is a bit low at 21-24 MPG).
You see, round about the 1990s, the Civic (and Hondas in general) got pretty boring. And the domestics started beating them in price and just about matching them in quality. Reputation aside, a Honda is just a car. I went through my share of water pumps, clutches, transmissions, thermoswitches, alternators, even radio antennas, and more -- like any car.
The 2006 Civic looks a lot better (and is available as a hybrid), and Honda has that cool/quirky Element, so all is not lost. Maybe Honda can get back some of that '80s mojo. I haven't checked the prices. It'll be 10 more years and 150,000 or so total miles, auto gods willing, before I need or want a new car.
According to L.A. Observed (via password-protected L.A. Business Journal):
Weekday circulation at the Daily News fell 5.1% to 169,379.
L.A. Times down to 843,432 (or 869,819, depending on who you ask), a drop of about 3.6% to 3.7%.
As an employee of one of these publications, I think what these newspapers do is often vital and entertaining, comprehensive in a way that television news is not -- and simply the vital trunk from which blogs like these form the weaker, more annoying branches.
Ah, the convenience of taking the newspaper with you to the breakfast table, the local Starbucks, even the bathroom -- surely a place no laptop need venture.
And newspapers are changing. They want to be relevant, and nobody has their head in the sand. Nobody's talking about the magazine business closing up shop because people like to read things on the Web for free. All print media, newspapers and magazines alike, is experimenting with the right mix of paper, traditional Web pages, blogs, e-mail, even cell-phone-delivered news, to figure out the best way to grow their news business.
I will say one thing. You will be smarter if you read a newspaper daily. At least you will seem smarter, and that's what counts, isn't it?
Do poll numbers really matter when you never have to face re-election again? President Bush's overall approval rating is down to 37 percent, according to
- last month's
Love him or hate him, it's not looking good. And reports are that Bush's inner circle continues to isolate him from dissenting voices. He also hasn't spoken out about the Rove/Libby Plamegate situation, nor has he cleaned house. This is the kind of disaffected, remote president that can be used as fodder for Democratic gains in the 2006 elections. The GOP needs a clear, emphatic and engaged leader to convince voters to stick with them through to 2008. The Democrats need that too (and no, Howard Dean does not qualify).
So whichever party nails down a clear, consistent philosophy and plan for where they want to take the country -- AND gets a viable presidential candidate out front to articulate that vision -- stands a good chance of dominating Washington beginning in 2008.
Who knows what evil lurks beneath your plumbing. Adee-do. And I do, too.
Licensed tradesmen are not in the budget, so we take care of the plumbing ourselves, and the toilet has been leaking out of the base -- between the toilet and the drain pipe.
I'm no virgin in this department. Upon moving in 10 years ago, Ilene and I, after first flush with the supplied water closet (that's what it's called "across the pond," as it were) immediately hoofed it to Home Depot and picked out a new American Standard (which is, as I learned Sunday upon examining its underbelly, was made in Costa Rica), got a wax ring (which up to that point I'd never heard of), picked up the old bowl, dropped the new one in, assembled the tank and lived happily ever after ... until recently that is.
Yes, Ilene told me that something suspicious was happening down there, and yes, I initially wrote it off to "condensation" (we're living in CALIFORNIA -- THERE IS NO CONDENSATION), but it did get me to keep an eye on it, and I saw the error of my ways.
This time I planned. I got all the parts I'd need -- new wax ring, new "johnny bolts" (attaches toilet to floor), new seals and bolts for tank, plus adhesive grout with which to replace tiles (two pieces of concrete "wonderboard," upon which the tile sits, meet there, and it has cracked all the way across).
Disclaimer: When we had the tile put in by A LOUSY INSTALLER WHO SHALL REMAIN NAMELESS (principally because I forgot his name), he had to remove the toilet and re-attach it to do the job, so I blame this all on him.
I figured I would knock out the bad tiles that were half-under the toilet while I had the bowl and tank in pieces on the floor, then wait for the tiles to dry an hour or so and then replace the bowl.
Now in plumbing, as in all home repairs, there's a lot that can go wrong (remember the sink trap I tried to remove but which disintegrated as soon as I turned the nut?).
First I turned the water off outside (the little shutoff to the toilet stopped working long ago -- those things REALLY don't work), then flushed all the water out and unbolted the tank. Then I removed the nuts from what are called the "Johnny bolts," which attach the toilet to the floor and the flange around the waste line.
I had towels ready and laid the bowl on its side next to the tank (I eventually took both outside -- it gets mighty crowded with toilet parts everywhere).
Yeah, it was a little leaky, all right. I spent a long time cleaning up, wearing one of many pairs of latex gloves and using ample bleach. The subfloor appeared to be in good shape, the tiles, though cracked, were still stuck down pretty good, so I decided NOT to chisel them out and replace, mostly because I'd have to cut the new tiles in order to fit them around the toilet flange. And in a one-bathroom house, you've don't have the luxury of leaving the toilet unassembled -- A household of three needs somewhere to, shall we say, conduct business, if you get my meaning. If you don't, you probably have more than one bathroom.
I had all new hardware, Johnny bolts and tank bolts and washers, plus a new wax ring -- which attaches between the bowl and the toilet flange to keep things water-tight. Now these wax rings last about 10 years, the package says, so I guess it was time. But it's probably sufficient to watch for leaks at the base of the toilet and around the Johnny bolts (that was our first clue), and for those as fanatical as myself, to get under the house (provided you have a raised foundation) at least once a year to check all your drains and pipes for leaks. It's great exercise crawling under a house, believe me.
So I got the wax ring on, firmly attached the bowl to the flange, squished the wax around as instructed, then put the nuts on the Johnny bolts, taking care to tighten them -- but not so tight that I broke the bowl (a disaster that can only be remedied with a trip to Home Depot for a new toilet). Then I bolted the tank to the bowl, reattached the water line, turned the water back on and FLUSHED, checking for leaks between tank and bowl, and bowl and floor.
All looked good. We had a toilet, if not an uncracked tile floor. I also reattached the toilet seat better -- it doesn't wobble so much now.
Sitting on the toilet, however, I did hear a "clop." I'd hoped to avoid caulking around the base, but it turns out the floor is not exactly level, and the toilet was rocking slightly, so I stuck a few folded-up magazine-subscription cards (1,001 uses for those) into the gap to level it out. And I will caulk the base, then remove the cards and caulk where they were, but I'm just so glad to have a non-leaking toilet ...
I will finish the job, I promise. But after rebuilding the shower valves, snaking the bathroom sink (a hair-clog magnet) and figuring out how to hook up our portable dishwasher (thanks, Mom!), all I have to do is fix the leaky kitchen faucet (a Dishmaster ... now that's another rant for another time), I'm taking a break from amateur plumbing. Nothing's leaking TOO much, after all.
Thursday, December 01, 2005
In today's entry, the wonderful Valerie Kuklenski challenges readers to guess who the anonymous torsos are in the new Oscar posters. We'd all love to know.
Anyway, the Daily News blog is called Red Carpet, presumably to compete with the L.A. Times' much-hyped The Envelope, which, among its "stable" of writers includes recently-ex Daily News Tinseltown Spywitness correspondent Elizabeth Snead. She bequeathed the Daily News column to her husband, Joel Stratte-McClure, but they supposedly troll (or is it trawl?) the beat together. Sounds like a sitcom pitch, no?
Elizabeth wrote a great story for us on her double hip replacement. She's 52, but sure doesn't look it (no pictures with the story online, unfortunately). She had a new, minimally invasive form of the surgery that they don't offer at Cedars-Sinai. Her recovery was swift, to be sure:
Even with an attentive husband/nurse, the first week home was challenging. But I did twice-daily neighborhood walks, tossed one crutch at day five and the other at day nine. At week three, I was swimming with a kickboard in the West Hollywood pool and seeing personal trainer/therapist Paul Drew. He'd long treated traditional hip replacement surgery patients and observed traditional HRS but devised a new drill for me, his first anterior client.
"The anterior surgery lets you rotate your hips at all angles with no fear of dislocation," Drew told me. "Using fitness balls and bands, you'll be able to restore your balance, strength and flexibility much faster."
I got back on track - weights, yoga and spin classes - fast. And at six weeks, I hiked the French Riviera, climbed the Maui volcano and snorkeled the Molokini Crater.
Mannnn. That's the jet-setting life all right. Double hip replacement, then traveling around the world. Such is the life of a high-powered gossip columnist.
Anyway, nice to see you. Do stay for a spell.
I knew something was up when the helicopters were hovering over Van Nuys and Robert Blake wasn't on trial for anything.
An Orange Line bus and a pickup truck collided at Kester Avenue at 6:30 a.m. today. Here's the full story from Channel 4:
LOS ANGELES -- A Metro Orange Line bus and a pickup truck collided Thursday on a busway in Van Nuys, and two ambulances were sent to the scene, authorities said. Following the collision, aerial video showed that the bus ended up with its front end up against a building.
The ambulances were sent to Oxnard Street and Kester Avenue at 6:30 a.m., said Ron Myers of the Los Angeles Fire Department.
The circumstances of the crash were under investigation. The collision is the latest involving the reticulated buses, which recently went into service along a limited-access roadway.
Channel 4 even has this image gallery.
- Three injuries.
Can't remember if I've blogged on this street before, but Kester Avenue between Victory Boulevard and Oxnard Street (the bus crosses just north of Oxnard) is one of the busiest, most unpredictible and dangerous stretches of roadway in the entire Valley. You have to drive it every day, know it and respect its capricious nature to avoid an accident. The area is at once heavily populated, crowded with auto repair shops, and a major crossing for trucks, cars, bicycles, strollers, darting children, and now giant buses.
We've called it the Valley's own "Paper Boy" game, for those familiar with the video-game equivalent.
You have to really watch out, drive cautiously and know anything can happen.
Still, the TRAFFIC LIGHT at the busway, which is clearly marked with a sign that says "Busway," makes it plain that YOU NEED TO STOP WHEN THE BUS IS COMING AND THE LIGHT IS RED.