I came across an article today in the News about a new Dallas office tower was sold in one of the many cryptic and odd commercial real estate transactions that take place in the city every day. That wasn’t what interested me, though. The picture you see here (from the mentioned DMN article) is what that particular building, overlooking the Arts District, looks like at night.
In keeping with the downtown trend of flashy lighting, the KPMG Tower has even more of the hyper-bright multi-colored rods that also grace the BoA Plaza, the Omni, Reunion Tower, Hunt Oil…I could probably name a few more upon reflection. These last few years have brought the magic of the LED light to the masses with a massive decrease in cost. It’s allowed for a revival of the glitzy lighting trend of the 1980s in downtown Dallas. However, now, LEDs allow for the change of colors easily and with little to no maintenance. Lights placed in a certain fashion and programmed can display images like the Omni.
It’s starting to look a bit like our not-too-distant Blade Runner future. The skyline of Dallas has certainly benefited from LEDs, and at better efficiency, to boot. Plus, there really isn’t a height limit on building signage, so maybe we’ll actually get a Coca-Cola ad like in the movie? Hmmm…
Anyway, to me this new Dallas skyline we’ve been given pulls off a kind of flashiness that has somehow shirked the kitsch of Vegas lights. If you want to get all film-studenty about it, what about saying it conveys a “reserved confidence” or something? I dunno, maybe it’s just a way for this spunky town founded next to a muddy ditch because everybody was tired to stand out somewhat in this globalized culture of all kinds of bright metro areas.
My Xbox One had wronged me for the last time. A few months ago, I needed to change my credit card info in order to renew Xbox Live. No biggie, right? Well, the new credit card info would never accept and every week or so I received an e-mail from Microsoft about how they couldn’t take my money from me, no matter how much I tried to hand it to them. So, I traded it in for Steam gift cards. All was well with the world. Except…
The one thing I enjoyed about the Xbone was its TV capabilities. With my humble Winegard OTA antenna, I had an on-screen guide, pause capabilities, etc that many people pay a shitton for if they have a cable box. Now I didn’t have that, so I began thinking about getting back into the HTPC game. I had made one in my spare time many years ago with limited success, but the scene has changed significantly. For the most part, HTPCs are easier to set up than before and the community is getting stronger.
I cobbled my most recent attempt out of a few spare parts combined with a new mobo, budget Pentium processor and a new case that looked nice by my TV. I first installed Ubuntu for the OS but soon discovered that the TV tuner card I was using (Hauppauge HTV-1265, I think) did not work under Linux. However, the USB dongle I used on the Xbone worked fine. Odd. Either way, Ubuntu eventually didn’t work out so I ended up with Windows 7.
For the actual HTPC software, I went with Kodi, formerly known as XBMC. It’s always been a great system, and it’s pretty great today. It melds with my PVR software well, it gathers metadata for my media on my NFS share almost flawlessly, and looks good, too. However, it does occasionally hiccup in places causing the app to completely freeze, which in turn causes frantic Ctrl+Alt+Deleting and/or Alt+Tabbing to bring it back to life. This tends to occur when Kodi is trying to change a channel in order to record a program, which may be able to be blamed on the PVR software.
Now, I have a fairly reliable HTPC with great video quality, plus a full PC experience if I want. Also, I can plug in my Steam controller and play all those games I’ve bought on Steam with those gift cards. 🙂
I read a recent article in The Guardian about Amazon Echo, the nondescript black obelisk that sits in your home and caters to your every whim and question and pushes you further into the Amazon cult. I thought I’d give a quick opinion on my former relationship with Alexa, the female voice that embodies Echo.
Full disclosure: I am in love with Amazon. I order stuff from them at least once a week. I got the Echo at a deeply discounted rate as an early-adopting Prime member. It was great. You talk to Alexa in casual language and she answered most queries accurately. Much better than the absolutely horrendous Siri. All was well and good. I had her play NPR’s national top-of-the-hour news when I was getting ready for work and she played music too.
However, that’s when the coolness ended. Sound quality, although decent, wasn’t anything compared to my Sonos Play:5. On top of that, you soon realize that Echo listens to everything. Sure, Alexa is only supposed to really listen and respond when you say her name, but can we really be certain? Echo’s code is closed-source, and Amazon, as great as they are when buying random crap late at night, have one goal in mind: to be the only place where you buy things. To do that, they want to know what you think about buying, what you discuss buying, et cetera. It was this reason, along with it’s redundancy in my home audio system, that caused me to sell Echo on eBay at a huge profit.
Yeah, Echo is a cool tool that has had many other features added to it, like IFTTT and smart home features, but at it’s core, it’s a salesperson. I don’t like salespeople coming into my home.
Guess you could call this a really late thanksgiving post, but I felt like it should be more of a retrospective of the past year.
2015 has been both a fantastically satisfying year as well as a fantastically sad one. Personally the year has been one of great fulfillment. Late last year I was finally able to come to terms with a lifelong anxiety issue that wreaked havoc on my life since childhood. This year has been the first year where I can actually say I was a comfortable person. That’s been a huge win. I’ve also moved into a new job where I have been able to actually use my degree and utilize some of my creativity. Another big win.
Also this year has been one of profound loss. Three of my uncles passed away this year, all of cancer. All were hard workers in the construction industry and were well loved by their family, friends and co-workers. I feel that these three men each had small roles in the man I became, and I’m extremely thankful for that.
In the realm of smaller potatoes in my life, my classes for my master’s degree have gone well, and I’m ever closer to being a first-generation graduate degree holder in my family, which is cool.
Hopefully 2016 holds as many or more successes that this year held without as many tragedies. Either way, we’ll hopefully all get through it. It’ll be tough, with it being an election year and all.
I got an iPad earlier this year. An Air 2. A somewhat frivolous purchase on my part, as I tend to make occasionally. It was to be used as an easier, lighter option to take notes and such during my classes and to watch TV and such where an actual TV couldn’t be found. It served this purpose very well for several months.
For note-taking, I have recently become addicted to online note management tools like Evernote, so I got a Wacom Bamboo Stylus Fineline pen to use with the iPad. the relationship between me, my iPad, and the pen became tempestuous, at best. The pen had to be charged frequently, the lack of a digitizer on the iPad made for shitty handwriting, and no app seemed to have palm rejection that worked in any way shape or form. The best app I came across was Noteshelf, which made the best of the capabilities of the pen and was super easy to use, so that would be the choice if you’re an iPad note taker.
So eventually the iPad wasn’t taking care of what I had coughed up a huge chunk of money for it to do. I started looking for a replacement while the resale value of the iPad was still somewhat high. The fact that the entry-level Surface 3 had a digitizer along with an optional pen had me intrigued, and the price was certainly right at much less than my iPad along with an educational discount. Luckily I have a Microsoft store near me, so the purchase was quick and easy. MS stores seem to be a lot more laid back than Apple stores, since they have demo stations that have lots of tools and such to play with and actually include chairs so you can sit and try things out. Major kudos to Microsoft on that.
I got the base model Surface 3, sans LTE, 16GB SSD and 2GB RAM. It runs on an Atom processor with the new Cherry Trail architecture. The storage may seem puny, but the Surface 3 includes a microSD card reader, so a quick trip to Amazon will resolve any space issues you may have. The screen is 1080p, and looks fantastic, although sometimes certain programs don’t scale too well and appear slightly blurry. It’s got the now prerequisite dual webcams as well. The type keyboard and the Microsoft pen were extra purchases. I can understand the pen being extra, but Microsoft should really bundle the keyboard. It’s stupid not to.
The keyboard – for being a thin snap-on cover – is excellent. Despite the keys being slightly scaled down to fit, they don’t feel too small. It’s very comfortable and buttons haven’t been moved to weird locations (looking at you, every Android tablet keyboard I’ve ever used) so my typing speed hasn’t been negatively affected at all.
The pen is what really makes the Surface an incredible device. Writing is accurate and pretty much perfectly replicates my handwriting as it would look on paper. Palm recognition isn’t perfect, but works much better than on my iPad apps.
And now for the knockout punch. The Surface 3 runs full-on Windows 10. It can run most all Windows programs within its strength. I’ve ended up using mine for fun, as well as hardcore work activities. The little Atom processor, which doesn’t even require a fan, encoded a 1.5 hour GoToWebinar recording to MP4 in about 30 minutes. Much better than I expected from a tablet running on a SoC. The only times I’ve had the Surface 3 struggle was with a lot of Firefox tabs open (which can even bring my “big hoss” work iMac to its knees) and if I have several programs open and running operations at once.
If the recently-released iPad Pro would have included OS X instead of iOS, the Surface would have actually had a reasonable contender from Apple. But it didn’t, so that’s the end of that. In terms of bang for your buck, the Surface line kicks ass in most regards.
It’s got a kickstand, too.
When I was a wee little twerp, my mom and dad thought it would be a good idea for me to try a sport. That sport was soccer, and I was enrolled in my county’s youth soccer league.
Needless to say, I was terrible. I mean awful. I remember just standing on the field zoned out wondering when the game would end so I could go home. I’m pretty certain it was quite embarrassing for my parents to see their little twerp looking up at the clouds instead of at the game. Either way, we all came to the realization that sports wasn’t my thing and that was that. I’m sure my parents still have my “everyone gets a trophy” trophies from that time in my life.
Anyway, as the years wore on I never gave soccer much thought until my undergrad years, when I would quizzically look at folks walk into class who I knew weren’t from European countries but wearing football jerseys from places like Madrid, Milan, Tottenham, and others. Why are they wearing that jersey if I know they grew up in Arlington? Are they wearing it ironically? Got it at the goodwill? I was a confused young man. It wasn’t until the 2010 Word Cup when I got a taste of that level of soccer. The excitement in the fans and the vuvuzelas spoke to me. After the Cup was won, cableless me went without soccer again for another four years.
Then, the 2014 World Cup in Rio came along. I actually went into this one wanting to learn more about the game. Still cableless me went to my apartment complex’s bar (pretty fucking sweet, I know) to watch the games. People surrounded the bar in those foreign jerseys and cheered. The thing was, though, that the jerseys didn’t match who they were cheering for on TV. I then came to a realization that was pretty cool. Sure, there were a few folks who were die-hard for their team and would act like a pissy Green Bay fan, but for the most part people were cheering for the game, not just their team. A well-played game was met with applause by all involved. That’s cool, I thought, and then went without soccer again.
Now, I want to get into soccer without having to rely on the World Cup, especially with all the bullshit FIFA does. So, I picked up a copy of PES2016, which I really stink at so far but I’m learning well. Also, I’m looking into the unbelievably confusing world of online streaming of international games. What fun! Spyware and pop-up riddled underground streaming sites are far from successful, NBC and Fox have their expensive proprietary streaming options, and BitTorrent doesn’t have much until after the game has been played. And cableless me really doesn’t want to cough up a shitton on cash on a cable package I won’t watch. Sling has good options but I’ll have to see what my soccer-loving friends use themselves. FC Dallas is doing pretty good this season, too, and their home games are on OTA TV, so that’ll work for a bit. I’m excited to get into things, so if you have any ideas, let me know.
The Lakewood is a beautiful art-deco-ish theatre that has been a staple of the community for generations. It’s hosted everything from movie premieres during the golden age of Hollywood to local burlesque shows and Rocky Horror viewings. This past week, many folks passed by the theater to witness the very old (and probably toxic) chairs being thrown out of the side door of the theater. Some folks have reported that no building permits are posted in the required places as mandated my Our Fair World-Class City™. So, what was the excuse the owner of the building had? “Asbestos remediation” according to Robert Wilonsky of the Morning Snooze. (EDITORS NOTE: No offense, Robert. I come from a Times-Herald family.) So, if it is indeed asbestos remediation, where’s the hazmat-style plastic coverings and ventilation shit all over the place that usually constitutes such a remediation? Interesting.
Anywhoo, my real point is that eventually, the Lakewood is eventually going to be revamped into something new. The owner says he wants to keep it a theater, but he also seems all too eager to switch to the backup option of splitting up the building into what would basically be a strip mall. If that plan does go into action, it’s just yet another step in the constant fucking-up of Lakewood.
Lakewood has had a long history of being a kind of crown-jewel of East Dallas, for good reason. It’s quiet, the people have been nice, it’s close to the lake, and it has avoided the urban-sprawl kind of shitty chain stores that are in the rest of town. Now, however, things are changing a bit. Home values have skyrocketed to absurd heights. Folks that can’t afford to live in Highland Park but want to be just as snooty as people who can, have moved in. They naturally want their chain boutique pet shops, so now there are two of them in close proximity. The liquor store was too unseemly for the neighborhood, so in moved a bank. The Gingerman opened a half-assed Lakewood outpost where a family-owned Italian restaurant had been for decades. Parking is a disaster since the pseudo-Parkies love driving their exceedingly large luxury SUVs/crossovers/it’s-not-a-station-wagons the quarter mile to the Starbucks. The pseudo-Parkies begin to expect even more of their already over-inflated occupied territory.
Lakewood is turning into Diet Highland Park at a quickening rate. The Lakewood theater could easily remain a theater, possibly even an Alamo Drafthouse. Sure, Alamo is a chain, but a small, Texas-based chain that actually gives a fuck about their customers and the enjoyment of film. But if it just gets broken up into more places to hold small chain boutiques for stretchy pants, cold-pressed juices and “fusion-inspired salad concepts” it’s going to be even more of a cookie-cutter Lincoln Property Co.-inspired shitshow like the majority of East Dallas is becoming. C’mon, Lakewood. At least fucking try.
I recently upgraded my home desktop to Windows 10 from the abomination that was Windows 8.1. In my almost two weeks-ish with the new OS, I’ve had a few thoughts.
Number one, it’s been a fantastic improvement over 8 & 8.1. The start menu is, as you’ve probably heard, restored to it’s rightful locale, but it’s not the same greatest-hits version we loved in Windows 7. At least it’s not 8.1’s cop-out of a “start button” that just sent you to the acid-trip of a start screen.
Compatibility has been fine, with only my CPU cooler’s LED light software not working after the upgrade. This isn’t a big deal, since who the fuck cares that much about LED lights. Personally, I wish there was a simple OFF setting. In terms of actually useful software, I’ve had zero issues with any of it. Even the perpetually bitchy Cisco AnyConnect VPN client seems to be working with very little of it’s usual kinks.
So what is there to hate about Windows 10? Really very little. However, what little there is to hate is fairly important, at least to me. Windows 10 is Microsoft’s first foray into “Windows as a Service.” An all-encompassing platform—most likely for very low cost or free later in it’s maturation—from which desktop, laptop, tablet, and mobile devices can run from…and consume content.
That’s the thing. In Windows 8, you see a teeny-tiny inkling of this new direction in the “Windows Store” and its hedged garden of apps. Now, in Windows 10, we’re seeing this garden has had a bit more acreage tilled into it. The taskbar search now includes Bing results, along with saving and reporting searches to Microsoft for better targeting while muddling your local file and application searches. Cortana, the new voice-controlled Siri-like personal assistant named after Master Chief’s sidekick in the Halo series, caters to your whims while directing you to the hedged garden and whispering sweet nothings about your searches in Microsoft’s ear. The new web browser, Microsoft Edge, is leaps and bounds better than the outgoing Internet Explorer. However, it’s profound lack of plugin and settings import features make it feel very much like a browser on training wheels.
In other words, although the new Windows platform appears to so far be rock solid, it’s becoming apparent that Microsoft wants Windows to go beyond a simple operating system into the realm of a sales platform. And with their new free upgrade model, who could blame them? They’re a corporation that reports to shareholders. Shareholders need teh munnehs. For things that require Windows, I’m more than happy to use Windows 10. For anything else, I’ll stick to Debian on my trusty old Lappy.