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The Hitchens Consortium
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12th-Jun-2008 09:55 am - Put my new blog on your friends page
Hey! If you want to see my blog entries from the new Hitchens Consortium on your friends page, just add this syndicated feed to your friends.

hitcon

Thanks to incanus for setting it up! PLZ ADD ME. OMG THX PONIES WTF.
3rd-Jun-2008 10:28 am - Announcement
I've launched my new website, The Hitchens Consortium! It's a bit drab at the moment, but give it some time and I'm sure it'll flesh out. This'll be a great way for me to get more stuff that I like up online for folks to enjoy.

However, it's also going to be my main blog location now. So you won't notice new posts floating up on your friends page anymore. If you're interested in keeping up with me still, then there are some really easy ways to keep apprised of new info from HitCon. If you're a Firefox user, just go to the site, click the RSS icon in the address bar, and subscribe to updates using either LiveBookmarks (Firefox's built in tool) or the RSS reader of your choice. Mac users, I definitely recommend NetNewsWire. It's free and easy to use, and it integrates nicely with OS X. Windows users, there's another feed reader called FeedDemon that's made by the same company.

incanus raises a good point in the comments about adding the feed to your friends page. Give that a shot too.

Both are free and easy to use, and may introduce you to news aggregation, something I've really come to enjoy about the web. I liken it to switching over to TiVo for the first time. Instead of going to all the sites I'd normally check, I just subscribe to what I want to read, and it gets delivered to my news reader. No more "flipping channels" or going to sites to see if there's anything new. Now I just know. You can do it with blogs too, and that's how I'll be keeping up on my current LiveJournal friends. After all, your journals have feeds of their own!

LiveJournal has been great! I can remember signing up in 2001 when you still had to be invited by a current member. I actually had a paid account for a few years. Over time, I've wanted to make a more personalized blog though, and more organized. LiveJournal has a cool theming system, but I'm really keen on taking on another project, and a new site is that and more. I'll still be dropping by and keeping up with everyone's blogs, and I'll still be coming by to comment, but all my new posts will be over at HitCon.

Feel free to meander over to the new site and log in. I've set up OpenID support, meaning you can use your LiveJournal account as your login to The Hitchens Consortium. OpenID will allow you to use your LiveJournal login on my site. Don't worry, it's completely secure. Just go to The Hitchens Consortium, click "Log in with OpenID", and enter yourusername.livejournal.com. The next thing you'll see is a log in screen on LiveJournal. This is OpenID at work. Tell it that you want to trust my site, and then choose a username for The Hitchens Consortium. Mind you, you don't have to do it this way, but it's far cooler to. Let me know if you have any problems with it and I can totally help you out.

Finally, I'd like to broadcast my thanks to LiveJournal. You really helped launch the idea of blogging into the mind of the common web user, and that really made a difference. The ease of use that went along with using the site was a great passtime. LiveJournal has been a great way for me to keep in touch with people, and I'll not soon forget all the important moments of my life that had been captured in these pages.

So there it is! Come on in! Watch your feet. Pardon our dust ;)
30th-May-2008 10:32 am - HD Radio Rant
Recently, I've been doing some research to start my GPS receiver project. I'd written a while ago that I wanted to build a GPS radio receiver from scratch to learn more about electronics and radio, and to give myself a new challenge. After some initial research, I've found that it will, indeed, be quite a challenge, but if I'm patient and take my time, I'm sure I can do it.

Yesterday, I was reading about amplitude modulation (AM) and frequency modulation (FM), and how they're used to "carry" a signal in a sine wave. Fascinating stuff. FM was such a cool leap forward in radio and it paved the way for all kinds of advances, even in television. Eventually I got to thinking about how digital radio would further advance the usage of radio to transmit audio, and inevitably started looking at HD Radio. This isn't the first time I've checked it out, and I've been thoroughly disgruntled at the idea. Here's why.

HD Radio is a method of transmitting a digital signal through the air, which admittedly, is nothing too new. The digital audio from the radio station is encoded and converted to digital, then carried on the radio wave. Your HD Radio then converts it to a digital bitstream, then decodes, decrypts, and plays back the original audio. Having a digital stream opens up great possibilities for lossless operations, like compression, multiplexing (fitting multiple streams into one signal), adding text, metadata, etc. As with any new application of an existing technology, it's no surprise that there are a lot of different ideas on just how to apply it, giving rise to several competing standards for digital radio technology. Europe has had digital radio stations for quite a while now. Now that the US is starting to enter the digital radio scene, there's bound to be some interesting times ahead.

However, at the moment, things are looking pretty stagnant. See, the whole reason I can build my own GPS receiver is because the standard on which the GPS system is built is public knowledge. The radio signals emitted by the 32 satellites in orbit are specifically documented, so that if I wanted to, I could design a great product that makes use of them and sell it. This proved very useful, in fact, when GPS was young. Because demand for GPS units in the Gulf War (1990's) was so high in the theater of war, soldiers without military supplied units (the more accurate units at the time) were getting commercially made units sent by their families so they could benefit from it as well. They sort of had to, since the Republican Guard was supplied better than we were at first ;)

So now let's look at conventional radio stations and their business model. A radio station has facilities to record and transmit audio, licensing fees for the music that they play, and staff. Their income comes almost solely from advertisements that they air between songs (which is pretty damn frequent these days), so the listener pays for radio by putting up with ads. Recently, satellite radio came along and lets you skip the ads for a monthly fee. That's pretty groovy.

So what is it that HD Radio does? Well, it's radio with ads, but it's higher audio quality and it's static immune. Nice. As you'd expect there's no monthly fee because of the ads, and as you'd also expect, you have to buy new equipment to get it. Not a bad trade.

Here's the rub. If I want to build a better, cheaper HD Radio, I can't. That's because the company that makes HD Radio uses proprietary techniques for encoding the audio, meaning I can tune it in, but it would sound like gibberish or static without their handy-dandy magic box.

This annoys me to no end, particularly because of the role that broadcast information plays in our daily lives. If I'm in my car and, God forbid, something terrible happens (weather, some sort of catastrophe, etc) I need to be able to hear that on the broadcast radio and television that the government leased to the broadcasters. Naturally, if I have an HD Radio, I'll get it (and even if I don't, it'll still come across on analog). That piece of equipment, however, is only as good as it was manufactured. In a market economy, product quality increases as competition increases, and if only one company makes the radio, does it behoove them to build it to be the best it can be? Or would they cut corners to save cash and then just have the consumer buy another one when it breaks? It's not like I can take it somewhere else to fix it, or try to fix it myself. It's proprietary. It's either get them to fix it or buy a new one.

I suppose it comes down to introducing a new standard for broadcast transmission. If you wanted to compare it to another recent advance, you could easily hold it side by side with the development of ATSC, the over-the-air broadcast standard for digital television transmission. There's nothing clandestine about ATSC or its implementation. I currently own two products that can tune ATSC signals for my computers. Because it's open, those companies that made the hardware didn't have to rely on any other corporations or suppliers to make their products a success. They would rise or fall based on the quality they strove to achieve and the price they decided to charge. As it happens, I've been happy with both of them. If there were some third company that made "ATSC Decoders" that would have had to be integrated into those things, the price would certainly have gone up, and it could have limited the quality of the end product.

I guess my point is this. I can see no reason to proceed with radio differently than the way we have with television. If HD Radio gains enough traction, it's possible we'll be stuck with it for a long time unless the FCC steps in and does something about it.

Maybe I need to work for the FCC.
28th-May-2008 09:27 am - Stuff!
Hi!

Tianna and I are doing great!

I just got back from vacation in Spain, and I loved it!

I just finished The Count of Monte Cristo. Now one of my favorite books of all time.

I just bought an XBox 360. Gamertag is Palshife. GTA IV is awesome.

Gotta go!
25th-Apr-2008 02:41 pm - Appropriate Pop Culture Reference
My new obsession. efw.
15th-Apr-2008 02:16 pm - Shameless Law Porn
http://www.audioholics.com/news/industry-news/blue-jeans-strikes-back

It's a long read, but it's totally worth it for the last few paragraphs. jhaenche and bafmodads, my advice is to find this man, lay your sword at his feet, exclaim "Blood of my blood," and work for him until he dies.
14th-Apr-2008 10:58 am - Well, I did it!
The MS150 has come and gone. 180 miles in two days, and I finished!

It was a tough ride! It wasn't necessarily harder than I was expecting or anything, but I had every reason to be as nervous as I was. If I didn't train I would never have made it. I'm very very thankful for my bike, which I now have a newfound respect for. It performed admirably in every situation. I didn't have single flat, the chain never came off, and it ran smooth, even at very high speeds. A great investment which I'm sure will get plenty of future use :)

There are a few things about the ride that I'm particularly proud of. Most of the ride had a pretty hefty headwind, about 15 MPH, which made the whole ride much more grueling and slow, but I managed to keep it together. Most people I talked to said it was easily one of the hardest MS150's they'd done, specifically because of the wind. I also told myself that I wasn't going to walk up a single hill, even if I had to go up on the lowest gear on the bike. There were definitely times where I considered walking (more on that later) but I didn't. I just pulled in whatever strength I had and found the ability to go on.

I think my biggest achievement was choosing the Challenge Course through Buescher State Park near Bastrop. It's a very nice pine forest with a really cool trail running through which is awesome for bike riding. The trail is really challenging though. The hills are very steep, and they climb forever. One hill I was literally walking on the pedals up near the top just inching my way higher and higher. I got to the top and pulled over for a drink and just stayed there for about five minutes. Nuts. The best part of the park is the downhills. My bike computer wasn't working, but I'm pretty sure I was going upwards of 40 miles an hour through some of those hills. On a bike, that's pretty terrifying!

One thing I really liked about the ride were the people that would come out of their houses and cheer on the riders. They may not know, but that's how I managed to keep going some of those stretches. There are some really interesting characters that come out, too. There was an old man with a fiddle that played on the side of the road, there was a guy with a white van and some speakers (both days) that just hangs out and blasts music for you. My favorite though was the guy playing the bagpipes at the top of a particularly challenging hill. Gave it a very epic feel :) Was sure to thank him for coming out.

Now very sore, but again, very glad to have done it. I'm going to do it every year now. It's just a great experience. Many many thanks to everyone who donated too! I talk a lot about the ride itself, but the end that it serves is so awesome. So far about $10 million has been raised, and this is just one ride! There are tons of MS bike rides now, maybe even one near you. Anyway, my donors be checking your mail for something special once I get my pictures all developed and organized. If you're still interested in donating and you haven't yet, then good news! The donations aren't due until mid-May, so feel free! The link to the donation site is a couple of posts down.
10th-Apr-2008 02:21 pm - MS150 Bags Packed
Just dropped off my bags for the MS150. On Saturday morning I'll be heading out to Tully Stadium for a 7:00 start on my way to La Grange, then on to Austin the next day! Woohoo!
4th-Apr-2008 11:12 am - New House!
Well, it sure looks new. I've been making some organizational changes around the house. I have some new furniture and have moved around some of the old stuff.

The main thing that started the whole thing was moving from using a desktop on a regular basis to using my MacBook Pro exclusively. Since I bought it a year ago I used my desktop a grand total of zero times. Huge transition for me, since one of the things I've always done is build an area of my living space to accommodate my computers. In this case, that meant a gigantic 5' by 5' L shaped desk I've had since college. Now that my old desktops live in a closet, turned off until I know what to do with them, I've disassembled the desk and shoved it in that same closet, leaving me with a gigantic void space in my second bedroom, once my office.

So, I decided that the best thing to do would be to make a new space that could fill two needs. One; a proper guest room with television and maybe stereo, and two; a place to read, write and relax away from the big screen and the downstairs in general. Since I still had my old TV this seemed like a good plan, but I had nothing to put it on, so I decided to move ahead on a purchase I was planning for a while. I ordered a new TV stand for my LCD TV that includes a mount so that the screen floats above the top shelf. I'm a huge fan of this kind of setup, since you can fit more components in a small amount of space, and it doesn't seem too cluttered. It also does a much better job of hiding my wires than my old setup did. I've got that all assembled and set up now, and it looks very nice. So I took the current TV stand and moved it upstairs. Done.

Oh no. Not done. Not even close.

The logical place where the TV would go had a bookcase in its place, and the logical place the bookcase would move had a piano in it's place. The piano would be moving to the place where the desk was, then the bookshelf moves, then the TV stand is placed. Done.

Oh no, not yet.

The TV stand doesn't match the shelves on either side of it, and it's meant to be space saving, so the shelves on either side of the TV that once held the A/V equipment were no longer needed for that purpose. I decided to reconfigure them (thanks Ikea) and move them to the back of the living room. This is actually quite nice, since now the home theater equipment has a much smaller footprint, and the entire system is more compact. Not sure what effect that'll have on sound yet, but I'm not too worried. This also makes the dining area bigger, so that's more comfortable for guests and gamers. One surprising side effect is that I now have this little space at the back door to store little odds and ends, and a browsing space for the shelves that hold all my movies and music. It's a nice little segregation that I think makes a lot of sense.

So!

My house (except for my bedroom) has been completely reconfigured. I'm very pleased with the result! Many many thanks to Shawn and Alan for their help moving some of the big stuff. Today I'm picking up my new coffee table (which doubles as an ottoman, score) and that'll make even more newness. I hope I can find my way around.
1st-Apr-2008 10:17 am - I love Deep Space Nine
People on my friends list, this is important. I have to tell you something.

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine is a ridiculously good show.

It's not news to everyone out there. I've certainly not masked my love for Star Trek in the past. I've been trekkin' ever since seeing Star Trek 4: The Voyage Home (the one with the mom from 7th Heaven and the whales) for the first time in the theater. With the advent of The Next Generation soon after, I was hooked. I was never huge into the original series, and I've been chastised for that, but I've seen every episode of The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine and Voyager (yes, I liked Voyager). Hell, I even watched some Enterprise before it jumped the tachyon shark. So yeah, I'd call myself a fan.

So I'm obviously biased, and my love for trek is probably not going to translate immediately into your personal desire to partake, but stick with me a moment here.

Deep Space Nine was different from the other shows. Not at first, mind you. Like any trek, it took a few seasons to really get moving. The first two seasons have their moments, but they're largely filler until some of the larger plot arcs get started, the biggest of which really begins with episode one and ends in the series finale. This is DS9's greatest strength. Long plot arcs. Unlike pretty much every other trek show, the episode almost never ended on a return to the status quo. While the main conflict of the episode often got resolved, questions always remained, and ethically questionable solutions to problems often came back to bite those that made them. It felt like the show kept the characters honest almost, kept them accountable, and that made them more real.

I say that because I believe that, when it came down to it, the thing that made DS9 unique were the characters. There wasn't a single named character on that show that could be described as one-dimensional. All of them had deep held beliefs, old vendettas, prejudices, weaknesses, hopes and dreams. It made it easy to see them interact because you felt intrigued when one would stray from their safety zone and you had the opportunity to learn more about them. Even better, the same applied to the enemies, which were almost never just cut-and-dry evil. The main villain in the entire series is as much a victim of circumstance as anything, even though his actions bend toward the insane and amoral. He means well, and the audience's appreciation of that makes you almost feel sorry for him more than once.

If you're a sci-fi fan and you haven't yet seen DS9, I personally endorse the series as a whole and recommend that you watch the entire series. If at some point in seasons 1 or 2 you feel like giving up, don't! Hold on until season 3 starts and I promise you that you won't ever turn back. If you're not a sci-fi fan, I can see how DS9 would be somewhat inaccessible, but I should emphasize that the show is not about the technology or space primarily. It's about the people, and I believe that the themes are universal, even if the setting isn't.
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