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Archive for August, 2006

Yes, I know I look like something the cat left on the stoop. I am in sweats and a loose-fitting blouse and flip flops. It’s summer, I’m recovering from some painful surgery and pick another excuse.

You, on the other hand took the time to dress yourself in nice hiphugger jeans and a cute baby pink midriff-baring t-shirt with a cartoon character on it. Your shiny blond hair was pulled back nicely in a perky little ponytail. Your keds and baby pink anklets were also a nice touch that pulled the ensemble together well.

But, honey, YOU ARE AT LEAST 40. The clothes you had on were ideal for a sorority girl from Vandy. On her mother they look ridiculous.

I’m well aware of the stupidity slash irony for me to criticise your clothes when mine were a jumbled mess. But I just wanted to let you know my rule of thumb. If your pants show off your c-section scar, choose another pair.

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Sounds Like…

I collect acoustic anomalies. I think they happen to be one of the coolest things ever discovered by man.

I fell enthralled with the idea when we went to the U.S. Capitol building in Washington D.C. There are two specific spots under the rotunda where a whisper on one side of the room sounds can be heard on the other, just as clearly as if the whisperer was bending toward your ear. The story is that at one point when the legislature met in that room one delegate used the eavesdropping to his advantage, consistantly scooping the party on the other side of the aisle. While that is nefarious as all heck, it’s still a cool thing.

A few years ago I was tickled to find that we have a miniature version of that right here in Nashville. The round room at the back of the Green Hills Starbucks has the same effect. If you sit in chairs against the wall, you will perfectly hear a conversation being held by the people in chairs across the room. I found this out by accident when I was trying to read. I kept wondering why a stranger was talking whispering in my ear about her boyfriend leaving her. It annoyed me until I snapped to and realised what was happening.

Last Saturday I discovered yet another acoustic parlour trick and was thrilled beyond belief. Because it’s at the Hermitage Library. If ever there was a place you didn’t want sound to travel…. Fortunately, this one is outside. There is a covered walkway leading from the library to the parking lot, which is shared with a small public park. There’s a pavillion in the park, at least 100 yards from the library. But the acoustics are such that you can clearly hear the activities in the pavilion while standing in the library’s walkway. Hubby and I initially thought there had been loudspeakers installed along the library beams. I think this may be called “reflected sound.” I just think it’s cool.

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Boy, that last post was a whole lot of stuff that didn’t say anything, huh?

I did want to have something “on record” about the difference between TiVo and OnDemand. And there you have it. But the dirty secret was also that I was really ticked off about something else and didn’t even want to go there so I wrote about another, dryer topic.

What am I ticked off about? Well, in another setting I happen to belong to a small group of people. There are other groups in this same setting that are much larger in size. But as is typical with gatherings of people, we’ve divided along several natural fault lines and those in my smaller bunch tend to be shyer and more comfortable with those they know. And I’d just received word that several key people–group sponsors–are toying with leaving the group, in part because it’s too small. There is even talk of disbanding the group.

That’s what makes me mad. Granted, there are only six to eight regular attenders in our group, while the next one over can boast twice that number. Should that matter? None of us are paid, so the group leaders aren’t missing some type of reimbursement by facilitating a smaller bunch. There is no extra rent charged, so the existence of our smaller unit doesn’t cost extra. There is another group, equally small, that is not only supported eagerly but encouraged–despite its size. Yet that group is set up to appeal to a more select demographic. Probably why no one has talked about cutting them loose.

But my bunch is the quiet group of wierdo thinkers. For various reasons–one of them being the fact that few in our group has kids–we’re sort of the odd men out. I think that none of us mind that. Except apparently the leaders. Who no longer want to lead, and wonder if we should be a group at all. And that makes me feel both even more left out and abandoned.

Oh well. This is ever the problem in groups like this. This constant attempt to establish “worth”. And right now I feel distinctly unworthy. Not a good thing. Here’s the thing, people of America.

What you do for a living isn’t who you are. Making more money than another person doesn’t make you automatically better than the other person. If you live in a big house, good for you. If you drive a big car, good for you. I’m glad for your success. But the fact that something isn’t large or expensive or flashy doesn’t mean that it isn’t important.

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I’ve been a TiVo junkie for awhile now. TiVo’s been the best thing to happen to television since colour.

But I must say that Comcast OnDemand has lately been giving my TiVo a run for its money.

Let us analyse both services by their various aspects.

1. Interface

TiVo has a much more user-friendly interface. Within the Tivo universe there are several ways to locate a program, which gives the viewer a more direct way to select her viewing. This is preferable when the viewer knows exactly what she wants to see. Want an episode of Friends? Search aphabetically. Want a Harrison Ford movie? Search by Actor Wishlist, subcatagory Movies. Want a Comedy? Search by Genre.

By contrast, the OnDemand service is more akin to an onion. The intro screen opens with the broadest categories (Free Movies; Pay-Per-View Movies; Premium Channels; etc.), forcing the viewer to drill down to her ultimate choice.

I’d say that TiVo wins this round.

2. Response Time

The TiVo responds automatically to remote control inputs in most cases. Drag time is very rare.

The same can not be said for OnDemand. Drag is a huge problem with this service. Fifteen- and twenty- second waits are not uncommon. This is frustrating when the viewer is in the mood to simply relax in front of the television.

TiVo also wins this round.

3. Program Selection

In this area it is somewhat akin to comparing apples to apple pie. A TiVo will allow you to select any program available to you via broadcast at the time the program is broadcast, provided you would normally receive the channel. Let’s use my new favourite show, The Wire as an example.

I can program my TiVo to record episodes of The Wire automatically. Whenever HBO broadcasts an episode, my TiVo will grab it. I can then save this episode for as long as I want. If I want to keep all episodes of The Wire indefinitely, that’s my perogative for as long as I have the hard disk space.

With OnDemand, I can watch all of the available episodes of The Wire whenever I want, as long as HBO has them up. They had been rebroadcasting Season Three at the rate of one per week. But they had the entire season available as a block on OnDemand. However, they will rotate their stock of programs. If you want to see Season Three of The Wire, you had better do so before mid-September when it rotates out of availability.

I’d call this a draw. There are ups and downs to both methods of program selection. This is definitely one of those areas where it pays to have access to both technologies.

4. Program Quality

Everything on OnDemand is at the highest possible digital quality, with HD selections now on the way.

TiVo, on the other hand, records at variable qualities, with better-quality recordings eating vastly more hard disk space. We currently have an 80-hour TiVo…if we record everything at low quality. While this makes me nostalgic for the antenna-fuzzed programming of my childhood it doesn’t always add to the viewing experience. It is possible to record everything at Best Quality. That, however, will pare down my recording capacity to about 20 hours. Again, the only limitation is hard disk space. Expand the hard disk and expand your quality options. But that value-added expansion is also a dollars-added option. Not cool.

I’d have to say that OnDemand wins this round.

5. Advertisements

This is the BIGGIE. Both systems feature onboard advertisements…or they did until a few days ago.

TiVo’s ads have generally been the “gold star items”. They are listed unobtrusively on the main screen, and you can select to view them if you wish. Because all Gold Star items tend to have a bit of cache (movie trailers, high-budget concept ads, etc.) they draw viewers.

But the OnDemand advertising….Dear Lord, what can I say? A never-changing video with an obnoxious and infectious soundtrack ran in the upper right hand corner during all the menus, save the final program info box. Given the Onion style of menu browsing, this meant exposure of several minutes in many cases. It was horrible, intrusive and ate bandwidth. This had the twin drawbacks of being horribly irritating and slowing the navigation process even further. Yet for some reason (common sense?) this doohicky went away a few days ago. Hopefully it will never return.

For right now, both services are tied in this area. But if OnDemand brings back that stupid video you can bet they’ll lose.

6. Recording

Both services allow you to record broadcast programming as it is being broadcast. However, given the interface difficulties with OnDemand, I’ve never been able to get this to work properly. For instance, hitting “record” means that the program will start recording…in about 30 seconds to a minute. No such foolishness happens with TiVo. And I’m not quite sure how long the “saved programs” are kept in the OnDemand Queue. I believe it’s only a few hours.

With TiVo your recording starts right away, and in some cases it can start in the past. If you have been watching a channel for up to thirty minutes and decide that you want to record the program you’re currently viewing, selecting “best quality record” will actually store from the thirty-minute buffer, not just from the record-request point. And you can save programs for as long as you like.

TiVo wins this round handily.

So in summary I’m definitely still preferring TiVo, but I’m quite glad to have both options available. If I had to give one up right now I’d say farewell to OnDemand. Yet I don’t, so I’m keeping both. They work well together.

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Meme me me

Connie, the blogosphere’s own Mary Tyler Moore–she lives in Minnesota–has tagged me for a meme. I haven’t done a meme in ages! I love memes. And this one promises to be a good one. Here goes the Geneology Meme.

1. Which famous person would you most like to learn that you are descended from?

Without a doubt, Thomas Jefferson. The man was completely and utterly brilliant. To have even a watered-down version of his genes would be a remarkable thing.

2. Which famous person would you hate to learn that you are descended from?

This is a hard one, because there a quite a few despicable humans who’ve walked the planet. But I’d probably go with Josef Stalin.

3. If you could be ancestor to any living famous person, who would it be?

No thank you. I’ll pass on this one. I’m a creature of my time, and far too entertwined with the here and now to want to be anywhere else. Being the parentage of a now-famous person would exile me to another era.

4. Which of your ancestors would you most like to meet?

My genetic grandmother on my father’s side. I was never able to meet her, and I’d like to have a bit of sense about her contribution to the sauce of my goose.

5. Tag five people

Ivy (for her Parents Connect blog. It’s about parenting…), Huck, cause I want to see what he’ll say…Sarcastro, because I REALLY want to see what he’ll say, especially now that he’s a new stepparent. And anybody else who will play along. Usually no one responds to my tags. I’m the deadhead of memes.

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I think these posts are my equivalent of those classified ads in honour of various saints. Do people still do those? I don’t read the classifieds anymore, but I used to love those tidbits. “In honour of St. Jude. Found Wedding Ring.” Those saint messages are often the greatest short stories. Somewhere recently (if it was your blog, I’m sorry for not remembering) I was reminded of Hemingway’s great piece of flash fiction:

For Sale. Baby Shoes. Never Worn.

Saint classifieds are kind of like that.

When you feel like God has done something good for you–no matter how trivial it seems to the outside world–you want to tell people about it. Since I have a blog, this is where I tell people. Especially the people who’ve patiently waded through the bad bits.

So here’s today’s silver lining. It begins with my wanting a salad. A specific salad that is only sold at Panera. Not a bit of lettuce with croutons and ranch dressing, but a sublime mix of specially-marinated, grilled chicken, dried apples, gorgonzola, roma tomatoes…ahhhh. I’m hungry just thinking about it. My love, the Fuji Apple Chicken Salad. Lucky for me the Panera is a bit over a mile away and easy to get to. So Tim and I jaunted over, only to see a little sign on the door that says they were closing early. I missed my beloved dinner by 17 minutes.

Never fear! There’s a new Panera open in Mt. Juliet. Granted, that’s a 15 minute drive from the Hermitage Panera, but it was a nice evening and we both work out of the house so a bit of a scenery change was not necessarily a bad thing. Funnily enough, the Mt. Juliet Panera was also closed. I knew it was bad news when the manager met us outside. He was handing out bags of free bread and apologising to the 5 carloads of people in quest for a late supper. I was one of those people. I was also the one who politely but frustratedly said they should coordinate with the Hermitage store to not be closed on the same night, as we had driven all the way from Hermitage. He was surprised at both the fact the other store was closed and that some person was crazy enough to want Panera food that badly. So he gave us a bunch of coupons.

No, I didn’t get my salad. But the silver lining–the little gift from God (and the manager of the Mt. Juliet Panera)–was two free loaves of bread, three coupons for free loaves of bread, three coupons for free Panera pizzas and three coupons for $2.00 off any salad.

Now sure, this is no big deal but in my world where I just praised God for miracles, getting free loaves of bread (and a total of five loaves at that!) seems like a bit of a shout-out from the Lord.

If someone gives me two free fish tomorrow, I’m gonna have a heart attack! ;-p

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Saturday I ate lunch with some very nice people in a semi-spontaneous gathering. One part of the lunch was spent on me complaining (non redhat readers substitute more appropriate “b” word here…) about the general unfairness of life. How it always seems like those who work hard get stuck digging for change in the Blazer’s ashtray while those who sit back and idle their way through life keep having society hand them blank checks.

The always-wise John H. summed it up nicely, thusly. “You’re basically talking about Ecclesiastes.”

I suppose he’s hit the nail on the head. Although in truth I’m always less of a Solomon and more of a Peter. Not the good post-Quo-Vadis Peter, either. I’m the namby-pamby Peter who is constantly whining at Jesus, demanding proof and missing the general point of it all. Granted, I do have a lot to whine about these days. I won’t list everything out again because I live in Nashville and everyone else has already cornered the market on writing country songs. Which is what my life has become this summer. (On a tangent, did you know that many of the greatest love songs are actually about the death of a dog? Case in point: “Don’t It Make My Brown Eyes Blue?”)

So the other night early morning I’m lying in bed bawling my eyes out over the general craptasticness of it all when I “hear” this voice. For those of you of the athiest persuasion, I’m not hearing voices. But I promise you that if you are in dialogue with the Holy Spirit you can tell when your being “talked” to. It’s a thought you hear in the deepest part of your soul. That’s the only way I can describe it.

“Don’t look at the water.”

And that’s when it hit me, early Sunday morning. That all of this–my dog’s health, stretching a budget that’s been motheaten by unexpected emergencies, continuing pain and all the rest–is the water. Logic says you that you won’t make it and that you’ll drown. But faith says that you’ve seen Jesus do it and you are compelled to do it, too. To run childlike across the whitecaps to embrace the Lord.

But if you’re anything like me at 4:30 in the morning all you can see is the sea. And I was up to my eyeballs in the green froth of Galilee. The idea of NOT looking seems both impossible and utterly freeing. I’ve been trying my best to lock eyes on God’s goodness.

This is what I’ve seen since:

–An unexpected meal cooked for us by a woman from our church.
–An unexpected check that will cover a large portion of the dog’s vet bill for this week
–Several nice encounters with good people who have cheering words, good jokes and warm hearts

And that’s just in one day. I keep telling myself that the grievous circumstances of right now are impossible to live through. And I’m probably correct. But it’s also impossible to walk on the sea. But that’s been done. All we have to do is keep our eyes on God and not look at the water.

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