Sunday, March 29, 2009

Deep Cut - Scott Gilman “I Can’t Stand the Rain”

I was listening to Scott Gilman doing “I Can’t Stand the Rain” this weekend, and loving it. It’s from an out of print CD "Bo-Town Does Mo-Town" , that you definitely need for your collection.

Gilman is probably best known as “that guy that plays the incredible sax solo on Foreigner’s hit Urgent”. Here's a link to the video, just to give you a taste of his prowess.

His cover of Ann Peebles’ “I Can’t Stand the Rain” is the standout track on the Bo-Town CD. His vocals and sax work, along with Danny Mo’s incredible bass lines, transport me to another place.

The CD, originally released by Fast Track Records in 1990, is great, and well worth tracking down. It also contains cuts by George Leh and his Rockin’ Shoes, Boston Baked Blues, The Motor City Rhythm Kings and Taylor Made.

You need to get it.

That is all.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Apple’s March Madness, the good, the bad, and the meh.

March has been a busy month for Apple. They introduced the new 3rd gen Shuffle, rolled out iTunes 8.1, and unveiled a beta of iPhone OS 3.0. Man, do these guys ever sleep?

As is usually the case, their flurry of activity has been met with joy, anger and plain old indifference in the user community, and as usual, each stance has its valid points.

I’m actually pretty excited about the upcoming release of OS 3, and that’s good, but I’m also a little indifferent because it won’t be released until mid July, and just a tad bit miffed, because most of the cool improvements just unlock features that have been on board all along, like the Bluetooth chip in the 2nd gen Touch, which currently only communicates with the Nike Sensor. I’ve got to admit, it’s pretty savvy marketing to charge me $9.99 to turn on something I’ve already bought. Savvy, but also a little bit sleazy.

I’ll pony up though, because the improvements promise to be dramatic. Stereo streaming via Bluetooth is my favorite; I’m hoping I’ll be able to sync my Touch with my car stereo. Wouldn’t it be the nards to lose the old FM transmitter? And how about transferring contacts and streaming audio to other iPods via Bluetooth? Too cool.

There’s also the long awaited cut and paste, MMS messaging, tethering, encrypted backup, the list goes on and on. Of course, iTunes 8.1 will be needed to take full advantage, so I’ll be sure to download it, after the prescribed incubation period.

So, lots of good stuff is coming, we’ve just got to wait a bit.

The real disappointment here is the new 3rd gen Shuffle. Yes, it’s cute, but come on guys; you couldn’t have added a couple of tiny buttons? Like I’m going to buy a device that can’t be used without a proprietary headset, or a yet to be released accessory. Please.

So, what were they thinking when they came up with this? “Ooh, think of all the accessories we can sell” sounds about right. Wrong time for that line of thought, if you ask me. I’m already sick of seeing the “Charging is not supported with this accessory” message on my 2nd gen Touch when I plug it in to something. If I didn’t still have my 3rd gen Nano, most of the devices I currently have would be useless for their intended purpose. Now, I like accessories as much as the next guy, but I’m not going to keep shelling out good money for things that will be rendered obsolete within a year by the very people who caused me to need the accessory in the first place, and I’m hearing the same sentiment from others.

Speaking of accessories, there is one new thing on the market that’s really cool and has a great price point. The Thumb Tacks Micro Microphone from SwitchEasy. This is a must have if you’ve got a 2nd gen Touch and are interested in using it for VoIP or applications like Shazam or voice memos, and it’s only $13. Check it out.

That is all.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

The Great Flood Of ‘09

Okay, so it’s been one sloppy week here in jooksville. Last Wednesday it warmed up to around 40 degrees, and then it rained all day.

When the day started, we had about 3 or 4 inches of leftover snow patchworked around the yard, plus the rock hard, scummy remains of a few plow banks out front. When it was over, it was all gone, and we had standing water on the lawn, and in the basement.

We’d been having snow storms followed by meltdowns the last couple of weeks, and the ground was totally saturated. My sump pumps were running 24-7, but they were keeping up. Last Wednesday put them to the ultimate test, and one of them failed.

I got home late that night. I’ve been so busy lately that the rain, and its consequences, had never even entered my thoughts. It took about 20 minutes before I noticed I wasn’t hearing that old familiar water hammer that the pumps make when they’re going full out, so I headed downstairs to check things out, and that’s when the poop hit the fan…

My entire basement (laundry room, burner room, home office and Mantown) was flooded. The water wasn’t deep, only about an inch or two, but it was everywhere. I stood there on the stairs for a few minutes, transfixed by the reflection of the light on the water, and then I blew. I took a Donald Duck, and I’m really glad no one was there to see it.

Once I was moving again, I fumed and sputtered my way through the basement to the pumps, and I found that one of them had stopped working. The float was stuck in the up position due to the water level, so I quickly plunged my hand into the sump and pushed the float down. When I released it, pumping commenced. I wiped the slime off of my hand on my jeans, and then swore my way out the back door. I got the submersible pump and the wet and dry vac out of the shed, and got very busy, and very wet.

By the time my wife got home I had started to calm down, and was beginning to make headway on the standing water, but getting rid of the water is the easy part after a flood. As she quickly pointed out, we needed to move the furniture and rip out the carpeting in the finished areas, and lug everything out that was on the floor in the unfinished areas, before we could really start cleaning up.

Dejected, I shut down the vac, and had another small fit. I had been so focused on my task that I hadn’t really let the whole breadth of the situation into my angry and crowded mind.

And that’s when she said the magic words: “Have you called MetLife yet?”

I hadn’t, and I should know better by now. I trudged upstairs and did a quick wash of my hands while she dug out the policy info and got the phone. A few minutes later I was talking to an agent, who was both calming and knowledgeable. She assured me that I was covered, and that she was dispatching an emergency cleanup crew that would be here within the hour. A dispatcher from Service Master called me about 10 minutes later and said that a truck was on its way. Thank God.

It was late when I called, and even later when the crew arrived, but they were incredible. They shot pictures of the whole mess, told me that they had a lot of work to do and would be here for a while, then gently shooed me away, even taking the full to the brim shop vac off of my hands.

They dragged vacuum hoses in from their truck, moved the furniture, cut out the carpeting, lugged everything wet outside, then wiped down the legs of the furniture and set it up on blocks. Luckily none of the material had gotten wet, as we bought our basement furniture with damp floors in mind.

Next they sprayed all the surfaces with disinfectant, and then brought in blowers and dehumidifiers. They also loaded all the trash into their truck. By the time they were done and I closed up shop it was almost 3am, but what they accomplished in five hours would have taken my wife and I five days to do.

Since then, they’ve come back every day to take moisture readings, disinfect, and move the blowers and dehumidifiers around. Hopefully when they come tomorrow, they’ll be able to remove the equipment and do a final cleanup.

So, we’re on the road to recovery, and life is slowly returning to normal. We didn’t lose much in the way of material goods, because we don’t leave things on the floor in the basement unless they’re in a plastic container or up on legs, so that’s a plus. And although we’re still kind of in shock over this whole thing, my wife is already planning the rebuild. Like the Phoenix, Mantown will rise again from the ashes, or to be more precise, from the puddles.

Anyway, the moral of this story is; don’t skimp when it comes to insurance coverage.

In these tough economic times it’s tempting to cut out the little extras on your home and auto policies to try and bring the cost down, but you shouldn’t. Coverage for floods due to sewer backup or sump pump failure is one of those little extras, and if I hadn’t had it, I would have been up the creek, so to speak. It’s critical to clean up quickly and thoroughly after a flood to prevent mold growth, and most of us don’t have the time or equipment to do it right.

I also want to emphasize again how great both MetLife and Service Master have been. This isn’t the first time they’ve both helped us through an emergency, so I know their quick and courteous response wasn’t just a lucky break for us. It’s what they do, and they do it well.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Once Again, Insomnia Has Broadened My Horizons

The other night I fell asleep on the couch within about a minute of plopping down. I’d had a busy day, and the moment I stopped, I stopped.

I woke with a start, mid snork, about three hours later, and had to will myself off of the couch. I turned off the tube and the lights; trudged upstairs, stripped down and slid into bed... only to lay there wide awake.

I hate when that happens.

Resigned to my fate, I popped on the TV just in time to catch the start of Last Call with Carson Daly. Although I’m not a fan of the show, I’ve seen it enough to know right away that it wasn’t his usual intro. I had happened on a special “On Location” edition, and that night they were broadcasting from The Hotel Café in Hollywood, as they were doing a piece on a young musician named Robert Francis.

I was a little leery at first, one of the reasons I’m not a Last Call fan is that I’m usually left cold by their choice of musical acts, but this night was different. I was totally floored by this young guy. He writes and produces his own stuff, and performs it with a depth of feeling that you don’t usually see in someone of his years. The first tune he did was “One By One”, the title track of his first album, and my personal favorite.

The next morning I did a little googling, and found that I’ve heard this guy before, and you probably have too. He does the soundtrack for a popular Zales ad, “Love Rocks”.

I’ve embedded the show below because you need to see this guy performing to fully appreciate his intensity. Check it out; maybe my insomnia will broaden your horizons too...

Robert Francis on Last Call with Carson Daly (3/5/2009)

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Windows Autorun/Autoplay Problems

I recently did some major scrubbing and upgrading of my system, and as is often the case, broke something in the process.

My PC had gotten sluggish; it needed a good cleaning and more memory. Norton had flagged a couple of downloaders and a Trojan Webkit that it couldn’t remove, or quarantine, so I decided just to nuke it and start over.

Confident that I had a good backup, I popped the hood and added another 2 gig of RAM, then reloaded Windows. Next I spent about 2 hours researching and removing all of the useless crap that comes bundled on the reload disks. Once I was happy with it, I plugged in the network cable and began downloading and applying all of the security patches and updates that had come out for service pack 2, culminating in the application of service pack 3. Done, or so I thought

The computer was running great. It was clean as a whistle and fast as lightning, and I was a happy man. That is, until the first time I popped a CD into one of the drives.., and nothing happened.

Normally the Autoplay wizard fires up when you insert or connect any media or media devices into your PC. It’s the little wizard that pops up and asks you what you’d like to do with said media. Insert a CD, DVD, USB drive or connect a camera or MP3 player, and it asks you to choose a program to open, play or import data with. It’s not a necessity to have, but it sure makes life easy.

If I opened up My Computer, I could see the media mounted in the drive, so I could use it, but something was blocking Autoplay from starting. I checked all of my settings, and found the process was enabled on all of the drives, so I began searching the Interwebs for an answer.

First I found this document on the Microsoft Help and Support site. It described the problem to a T, and came to the conclusion that the problem was caused by having certain versions of Easy CD Creator loaded on the machine. The fix was to remove the software, and then make some registry changes to re-enable Autoplay. Not having this program, I continued to search for an answer more appropriate for my situation.

Then I found this link to an Autoplay Repair Wizard available from the Microsoft Download Center. After verifying the authenticity of my copy of Windows, Microsoft allowed me to download and run the wizard, which indeed found a problem, fixed it, and wrote the changes and results to a log file. The wizard requires you to log out and then log back in to complete the fix, and once I did, the system immediately recognized the CD I had in one of the drives and fired up the Autoplay feature. Sweet.

Just to be certain I had the problem licked, I switched the CD to the secondary drive. I’m glad I did, because I found that I wasn’t done. I ended up having to run the wizard on all of my drives and ports, one at a time, with a logout in between each. For the USB drives, I had to insert a thumb drive to get them to show up in the wizard’s device repair list, but once I fixed the first one, they all began to work again. It was a bit tedious, but it looks like my system is finally back to normal.

This must be a fairly common problem, as Microsoft has come up with a repair wizard for it. The last puzzler I had like this was the Media Center black screen problem, which they also had a wizard to fix. My post on that problem, and repair, has been the top visited post via keyword search on my blog for over 6 months now, so I hope this one proves to be just as helpful.