Nostalgic Rumblings
The Ramblings of an Old Man

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September 2010
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Why I’m Annoyed with Western Digital and Others

Filed under: General — Charlie Summers @ 2:05 pm

As some of you know, I used to be the proud owner of the Western Digital TV set-top box (wonder why we still call ‘em “set-top” when nothing can sit on top of a flatscreen television?), but after my owning the device for less than a year, and Western Digital actually selling the device for less than two years, they “end-of-life’d” the first-generation WDTV. I was, understandably, unhappy.

So let me spend a moment talking about rapid EOL cycles, and why they are a bad idea. I strongly believe companies should support their devices for the expected life of the hardware, not whatever happens to be financially convenient for them. Understand, I am not suggesting perpetual feature improvements, although if early in the life-cycle of the product a company wanted to add something I wouldn’t be adverse. But I’m solely talking about bug-fixes here, repairs to problems in the software (usually called “firmware”) that operates the machine caused by the programmers making a mistake. Mistakes happen, of course, but we are all getting way too comfortable with software not working properly.

Why? Well, let’s take the first-generation WD player as an example. Among the many bugs in the machine is the well-publicized Matroska compressed header bug; basically, for years the MKV specifications included support for “compressed headers;” the ability to include information repeated in each frame to be placed within the header once, theoretically saving space within the file. This wasn’t actually used until relatively recently, when the mkvmerge application defaulted to it. If this is used in the audio track, the audio will not play in the WDTV (although it does in computer-based players like VLC), and if the compression is in the video track the WDTV will literally lose its mind trying to play the file as an audio file, failing, and refusing to play anything else until you perform a hard-reset on the device, resetting all of your options to default values.

Western Digital sold the device on its ability to play Matroska files, and it can’t. This isn’t a change to the Matroska specifications, it’s been there for years. Therefore, there is an obvious bug in the playback software that should be fixed.

And this isn’t expensive; there are a couple of programmers who maintain the entire line. Any fixes applied to later players could relatively easily be back-ported to the first-gen machines. And once again, I am not asking for anything Western Digital didn’t promise before I bought the device! I am merely expecting them to fix the obvious bugs in their device. And there are other documented issues with these devices…MP4 sync issues, etc., etc. - check out WD’s own forums to see the number of reproducible problems with the first-gen WDTVs.

It all comes down to, “Hey, we’ll fix the new player, and the customers can shell out for a new one.” This is, to me, an unacceptable attitude to have. And since the only way consumers have any power is how we spend our money, I have no intention of purchasing another WDTV again…ever. And I’m unlikely to purchase a Western Digital hard drive, either, since I don’t trust the company to stand behind anything they manufacture. I realize some of you find this harsh, but perhaps if we stop purchasing from companies who refuse to fix problems with their equipment, the whole EOL-as-quickly-as-possible mentality will disappear. Well, hey, one can hope, anyway.

Stick around, though…to replace the bug-riddled and never-to-be-fixed WDTV, I’ve purchased a Patriot Box Office, and will be writing a comprehensive review of this machine as soon as I can.

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Code Known as Flash Cookies Raises Privacy Concerns

Filed under: General — Charlie Summers @ 8:12 am

From The New York Times: Code Known as Flash Cookies Raises Privacy Concerns

From the article: “The technology, so-called Flash cookies, is bringing an increasing number of federal lawsuits against media and technology companies and growing criticism from some privacy advocates who say the software may also allow the companies to create detailed profiles of consumers without their knowledge.”

Nice to see the Times is getting around to noticing flash cookies after all this time; depressing, though, how behind mainstream media seems to be about privacy issues in the Internet.

And so you know, if you’re using the Firefox browser you can easily track the addition of Flash cookies and delete them at will by the use of the Better Privacy plugin…search for it in the “Tools->Add-Ons” box. Adding this to an arsenal of turning off javascript, not loading flash by default, and avoiding privacy-invading websites like Google will at least help control the information advertisers can use to violate your privacy.

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Japan’s Strawberry-flavored Cheetos and other odd snacks

Filed under: General — Charlie Summers @ 11:53 pm
As tweeted earlier, I’d love to get ahold of a pack of Japan’s Strawberry-flavored Cheetos, if anyone in the United States is importing them. I’m desperate to buy a pack for my daughter the strawberry lover…

And this goes right along with the eighty-one variations of KitKat bars available there, including the Veggie variety (apple-carrot flavored sap squashed between chocolate covered wafers) and Yubari Melon KitKat, a confectionery made of sticky melon pulp. Search around the Weird Asia News website to find the cucumber-flavored Pepsi and other delightful-sounding treats.

And before you get snobbish, like my daughter, and think the Japanese have odd food tastes, remember that here in the United States we have a chicken sandwich with a roll made up of two deep-fried pieces of chicken. Not to mention deep-fried Oreos. So don’t get too smug…

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Still searching for simple mobile java Twitter app…

Filed under: General — Charlie Summers @ 3:24 pm

It’s been really pretty frustrating; when Twitter decided to switch to oAuth/xAuth from Basic Authentication (username/password), my favorite mobile java application, TinyTwitter, bought the big one and stopped working. (FWIW, so did my Twitpress plugin for this blog, but I worked around that quickly and easily by using the basic auth proxy I figured finding something simple, something that would allow me to quickly and easily update my Twitter status without downloading my complete timeline (I do not have a data plan, and so pay by the kilobyte) would be trivial. Man, was I ever wrong!

(So far as I can tell, oAuth is used for external services to access your timeline, where xAuth is used for a one-time username/password session. Corrections would be appreciated.)

I have tested a series of mobile java apps, with almost universal failures:

  • Twim: Attempts to use xAuth, fails with “Could not authenticate you.”
  • meTwit: Works using oAuth, but forces a bandwidth-intensive download of entire timeline.
  • Twibble: Attempts to use xAuth, fails with “Unauthorized” and for some reason refuses to save the password.
  • uTweetMe: Attempts to use xAuth, fails with “Unauthorized.”
  • jibjib: Attempts to, I think, use xAuth (although there are setup items to receive an oAuth token, it consistantly fails with a java error), response “401 Unauthorized”
  • PavoMe: Works using oAuth, but forces a bandwidth-intensive download of entire timeline. Also doesn’t use the phone’s own touchscreen input routines, instead presenting its own inferior QWERTY keyboard.
  • Snaptu: Using oAuth forces a bandwidth-intensive download of entire timeline, but I couldn’t find a simple “Update Status” menu item!

So here I am, noting a pattern that anything that uses an oAuth gateway appears to work perfectly but universally require a timeline update I don’t want to pay for, while anything attempting to use xAuth fails miserably with a “Not Authorized” error.

Would be delighted to receive additional suggestions for mobile java apps that will let me update my Twitter stream without downloading the timeline…

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Mercury Theatre Alum Arthur Anderson with Bob Edwards

Filed under: Old-Time Radio, Radio Today — Charlie Summers @ 4:06 pm


The previously-postponed conversation between Bob Edwards and Arthur Anderson, alum of Orson Welles’ Mercury Theatre, long-time castmember of Let’s Pretend, and one of the greatest Friends of Old-Time Radio has been re-scheduled for Thursday, September 23rd on XM Satellite Radio. As mentioned, if you aren’t a subscriber to XM Satellite Radio or Sirius Satellite Radio with the “Best of XM Package,” you can listen on-line by signing up for a free trial.

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Still testing out the proxy…

Filed under: General — Charlie Summers @ 1:11 pm

Sorry, the only purpose of this post is to check out the proxy to oAuth. If that sounds like a bunch of gibberish, well, it kinda is. Twitter changed the way it accepts updates, requiring applications to use a system called oAuth which prevents having to give Twitter credentials to anyone else (I always wondered why people were so willing to give their Twitter password to anyone who asked).

That’s great, but the system I use here on the blog doesn’t support oAuth, and I don’t want to spend a lot of time working on this when so much else needs to be fixed on the server, so I’m testing out a cool proxy at that allows you to connect to their servers (with a different password than you use at Twitter) through the former Basic Auth system, and it connects to Twitter’s servers via oAuth.

Of course, if I messed something up in the setup, I’ll be reposting this again later… ;)

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Obituary: Harold Gould dies at 86; veteran character actor

Filed under: Television, News — Charlie Summers @ 10:24 am

From the Los Angeles Times: Obituary: Harold Gould dies at 86; veteran character actor

Mr. Gould has been a guest of the Friends of Old-Time Radio Convention.

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Video game piracy: Is it good for business?

Filed under: News — Charlie Summers @ 8:50 am

From CNN: Video game piracy: Is it good for business?

This is an interesting if non-intuitive look at video game piracy and how to prevent it from disrupting the economics of video games. The opinion article suggests piracy, when actually controlled by the game publisher, might be a good thing.

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I’m Looking for a New Set-Top Media Player…

Filed under: General, Television — Charlie Summers @ 12:09 pm

If anyone has suggestions for a new high-definition media player, I’d really appreciate a post in the comments section. I’ve been using a WDTV player, but after barely two years Western Digital has decided to end-of-life the first-generation player (that means they’ve arbitrarily decided they will not release additional firmware updates). This constitutes a refusal to fix all of the bugs and problems the unit has, and obviously doesn’t bode well for the later versions of the device - I mean, if this company thinks I’m going to spend a hundred or two every two years just to get a more modern bug-riddled device (the current top-of-the-line WDTV Live has pretty severe problems detailed on WD’s “support” forums), they have another think coming.

Indeed, it’s unlikely I’ll ever purchase one of their hard drives either, I am so disgusted with such a short product “retirement…” it might be different if I was expecting additional features, but I’m not; I only want the bugs in the programming fixed so the device finally functions as they promised when I purchased the thing.

Ah, well…if anyone knows another device that can play back HD videos in various formats, and is backed by a company who supports the product longer than literally mere months after discontinuing the product from sales, please let me know.

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Arthur Anderson was Bumped from Bob Edwards Show

Filed under: Old-Time Radio — Charlie Summers @ 8:23 am

Arthur got bumped this morning for a timely interview about the end of combat forces in Iraq. I’ll let you know as soon as I hear anything about the reschedule of this interview.

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