Hacked…

This site was hacked twice in the past couple weeks (or just once and I never fully cleaned up the mess the first time). Either way, it’s my fault for using the same ancient version of wordpress for years. Fortunately the hacker seemed to be only using this domain to send Halloween themed Viagra spam. Heh.

So I’ve rushed an upgrade and will stay at the default WordPress 3 theme… for now.

I hate chain email, but this takes the cake

I normally don’t talk politics, but an email I just received is utterly horrible and completely unacceptable. You can find the text of that email at this blog.

There have been way more than 13 tragic events in the past 50 years, and cleverly editing the list to be exclusively Islamic and male does not mean jack.

You could just as easily list 10 headlining white male serial killers from the past 50 years. Does that mean that all middle aged white men are a threat to society! Certainly not.

Furthermore, remember what our country was founded upon.

We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

How it is equal to point your finger across the security line in an airport and say that that man is dangerous because the way he looks? Was not America the place that accepted people across the world with open arms? Was it not the place where you could, “Pull yourself up by your own bootstraps”? Is it not now the place where you can establish yourself by your own hard work instead by your name, accent, or color?

This is exactly what the goal of Terrorism is. To instill fear. To terrorize. If we give in to that fear we are raising a white flag and turning our backs on our Founding Fathers.

Please live your own life. Don’t let others rule it by fear.

Massachusetts Comcast channels

Comcast certainly doesn’t make it very easy to figure out what service you need to get the channels you want, so I took some time today to figure that out. After a bit of screen-scraping, shell scripting, and a phone call here is all the info. Note that these packages are cumulative so buying a more expensive plan gets you all of the above channels. Also you might be able to get a better deal if you sign up for these packages as a new customer.

Hope this helps someone else!

Digital Starter Channels

2, WGBH-2 (PBS)
3, CN8
3, BAT (Brookline only)
4, WBZ-4 (CBS)
5, WCVB-5 (ABC)
6, WSBK-38 (IND)
7, WHDH-7 (NBC)
8, TV Guide Network
9, CN8 (Brookline only)/BNN TV
10, WLVI-56 (CW)
11, WENH-11 (PBS)
12, Comm. Programming/RAI/SmarTraveler TV
13, NESN
14, New England Cable News
15, ESPN
16, Lifetime
17, CNN
18, WZMY-50 (MyTV)
19, WBPX-68 (ION)
20, C-SPAN
22, The Municipal Channel
23, Community Access/Health Channel-Senior Reading (Brookline only)
24, The Educational Channel/BAT (Brookline only)
25, WFXT-25 (FOX)
26, Cuencavision
27, WUNI-27 (UNI)
28, BET
29, USA Network
30, TBS
31, The Learning Channel
32, TNT
33, Spike TV/EWTN
34, Fox News Channel
36, ABC Family Channel
37, MSNBC
38, CNBC
39, The Weather Channel
40, MTV
41, CNN Headline News
42, E! Entertainment
43, VH-1
44, WGBX-44 (PBS)
45, Boston Catholic TV
46, WWDP-46 (Shop NBC)
47, QVC
48, Comcast SportsNet
49, WYDN-48 (Daystar)
50, WUTF-66 (Telefutura)
51, Swap & Shop/Access
52, WMFP-62 (IND)
53, WNEU-60 (Telemundo)
54, Nickelodeon
55, Trinity Broadcasting/EWTN/RAI
56, TV Land
57, Animal Planet
58, Leased Access
59, Country Music TV
60, Travel Channel
61, HSN
62, VERSUS
63, Food Network
64, The Golf Channel
65, ESPN2
66, Home & Garden TV
67, TruTV
68, Cartoon Network
69, A&E
70, Discovery Channel
71, Disney Channel
72, History
74, FX
75, TVOne
76, Comedy Central
77, Sci-Fi Channel
78, AMC
79, Bravo
80, Spike TV
200, MoviePlex
209, WGBH World ²
217, WGBH Kids ²
237, WGBH Create ²
247, CSPAN 2
267, GSN
268, BCTV
297, WHDH Weather Plus ²

Added in the Digital Classic package ($10.95 extra)

183, Jewelry TV
202, Flix
203, Encore Action
204, Encore Love
205, Encore Mystery
207, Encore Westerns
208, Hallmark Channel
210, National Geographic Channel
211, style.
212, Independent Film Channel
214, TV One
215, Women’s Entertainment
218, PBS Kids Sprout
219, G4
220, NickToons
221, Discovery Kids
222, Toon Disney
223, Noggin
224, The N
226, Discovery Health
227, Science Channel
229, Trinity Broadcast Network
232, Fox Reality
234, Jewelry TV by ACN
235, Gospel Music Channel
236, The Word Network
238, EWTN
241, BBC America
244, Soapnet
245, Weatherscan Local
246, Bloomberg
248, ESPNews
249, CSPAN 3
254, Current TV
258, ESPN Classic
271, fuse
272, Urge TV
273, MTV2
275, VH-1 Soul
277, VH-1 Classic
280, MTV Jams
282, CMT
283, Fox Business
326, Encore
705, mun2
711, MTV Tr3s

Added by the Digital Preferred package ($12.95 extra)

201, Sundance
206, Indieplex
216, Oxygen
225, Retroplex
228, Nick TOO
230, FitTV
231, i-Lifetv
233, Planet Green
239, Fine Living Channel
240, Do It Yourself Network
242, History International
243, Biography Channel
252, Investigation Discovery (I.D.)
253, Military Channel
260, TV Games
270, Lifetime Movie Network
276, CMT Pure Country
279, Great American Country
281, Logo

Does not include 705, mun2 from before.

Added by the Digital Preferred with HBO package ($28.45 extra)

301, HBO
302, HBO2
303, HBO Signature
304, HBO Family
305, HBO Comedy
306, HBO Zone
307, HBO Latino
321, STARZ!
322, STARZ! Edge
323, STARZ! in Black
324, STARZ! Kids & Family
325, STARZ! Cinema
327, STARZ! Comedy
870, HBO HD
875, STARZ! HD

Added by the Digital Premier package ($53.45 extra)

341, Cinemax
342, MoreMAX
343, ActionMAX
344, ThrillerMAX
361, Showtime
362, Showtime Too
363, Showtime Showcase
364, Showtime Extreme
365, Showtime Beyond
366, Flix
381, The Movie Channel
382, TMC Xtra
868, Cinemax HD
877, Showtime HD

Does not include 875, STARZ! HD from before.

Added by the Digital Premier with Sports package ($57.45 extra)

213, Turner Classic Movies
250, The Speed Channel
255, Outdoor Channel
256, FOX Soccer Channel
257, NBA TV
259, NHL Network
261, CBS College Sports Network
262, FCS Atlantic
263, FCS Central
264, FCS Pacific
265, NFL Network
266, Tennis Channel
274, BET on Jazz
599, NBA TV
680, TV Globo
714, Gol TV
715, NFL Network
875, STARZ! HD

The engagement story…

A look back at our very (very!) memorable engagement weekend. It’s long, so if you are lazy you can go directly to the summary and pictures.

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We started our Memorial Weekend hiking trip bright and early Saturday morning. After a quick stop at the information center, we parked, packed up our things and got out on the trail (around 9:30am). A few minutes in I realized I forgot my camera, so I ran back to the parking lot to grab it. I tried to run back up the trail, but that was a bad idea. Starting the hike completely winded wasn’t helpful, especially because we were on the wrong trail1! We kept on wondering why the trail was so steep, and why the lake below was in the wrong place. After pouring over our map (thank you AMC guidebook!) we realized our error, but fortunately we were still going to the right destination (Cannon Mt).

So no biggie, we can handle 2000 ft of vertical in 2 miles, right? That was until we starting seeing snow. At first it was just little patches here and there, but eventually it covered the entire trail2. I was getting worried. The trail is kicking our butts, it’s cold, and we’re trudging through snow (let me tell you, Cindy is not a fan of snow). I started second guessing whether I was going to do this or not.

Eventually we reached the summit. Well, it wasn’t exactly the summit, but it was darn close and had a great view. We took a break, soaked in the surroundings, snapped some pictures, and snacked a bit (anything I could use to stall and wait for the other couple up there to leave). When we were finally by ourselves I started getting really nervous. Cindy asked me if I was ready to get moving again (because she was probably freezing her butt off!), but convinced her to stay just a little bit longer.

So it was now or never. I built up my courage, took her hand, got down on one knee, and started my spiel (sorry, those words are for Cindy only). My heart was racing, but fortunately I had rehearsed it enough that (I think) I didn’t make a complete fool of myself. I had hidden the ring inside the breast pocket of my jacket wrapped in tissues and my glove liners. After what seemed like an eternity of unpacking, I offered her the ring and said, “Will you marry me?” I can’t remember the next minute very well, I think I was too wrapped up in my own excitement to even hear her response. I had to double check with her to make sure she said yes :)

After taking some time to celebrate, we got back on to the trail. It was only a short trip to the true summit, though we skipped the observation tower. We took a different route back down, which was the route that we were supposed to start out on. It was easier than before, but our legs were too wobbly to appreciate it. There was still some snow, but since we were coming down the other face of the mountain there were more puddles pools made from recently melted snow rather than the cold kind.

We had a happy trip down, though I still hadn’t relieved myself of all my worry yet. For a long while I couldn’t stop apologizing. I said I was sorry for the snow, sorry for the cold, sorry taking so long to propose at the summit, etc. It was supposed to be perfect! It took a little while, but she eventually knocked some sense in to me. None of that mattered. All that mattered was that we were now happily engaged! (And little did I know how many more “imperfections” were to come!)

When we reached the bottom of the mountain, we took another well deserved break. Refreshed by some more food and gatorade we set out on the flat and (supposedly) simple trail to go from where we should have parked to where we actually parked. It started off easily enough, but then the trail stopped. The map showed the trail following the left edge of a lake, but all we could see were the remnants of a few small bridges… which were inconveniently floating in the middle of the lake. No biggie, there was a bike road we intersected with a few minutes back, we’ll just follow that back to the parking lot instead of the trail.

Full of pride from our showing of dexterity on the earlier pools of melted snow, I figured we could shortcut things by crossing a creek and plowing through a bit of forest — instead of walking a few minutes. That wasn’t a good idea3. I was looking very fleet and nimble, until I lost my footing on a rock. I only ended up soaking one foot (I’d say a pretty good recovery), but we still had about another mile to go. Squish. Squish.

Wearily we made it back to the car (and a got to finally take those wet socks off!). Earlier I had let Cindy in on another secret I had for the weekend. Instead of camping Saturday night, we had a room at the Woodstock Inn Station & Brewery. And it was no simple room either. We had a King bed, sofa, whirlpool jacuzzi, fireplace, and a refridgerator to cool the champagne I bought. So we had so time to relax (aka nap), sip champagne, and sooth our muscles before dinner.

We ate at the Clement Room Grille and boy, what a meal. I had a filet with scallops, crabmeat, and hollandaise sauce and Cindy had smoke grilled salmon glazed with butter and New Hampshire maple syrup. Fantastic. We topped it off with Mouse Tracks pie for desert which was also excellent, but stuffed ourselves so much that we couldn’t stop by the bar afterward and try our their microbrew. Bummer, we’ll have to go back someday :).

When I woke up in the morning, I had completely forgotten to dry my hiking boots out. So as we were getting ready and using the last of the champagne for mimosa, I stuffed the shoes with paper towels and set up an apparatus with the shoes and a clothes hanger to keep them nice and close to the fire. We headed off to breakfast, casting a wary glance at the fireplace, but pretty confident that leaving the fire on for a hour or so would be fine (it was a gas fireplace after all). But when we got back from yummy waffles and french toast, something was definitely wrong. The room smelled awful and it didn’t take long to notice the malformed shoes by the fire4.

This was a problem. I was up for attempting to wear the something-boot-esqe things, but Cindy would have none of it (she was definitely right). When we checked out, we got directions to a few local places where we might find hiking shoes. Thankfully, a ski shop nearby did the trick. The boots were a bit expensive, but they fit.

There it was!

We eventually got to the trail head around 10:30am. We were a bit frazzled, but confident that our weekend was back on track. This time we were doing the Franconia Ridge Loop, which leads you over two 4000 footers (Lincoln and Lafayette ). This hike wasn’t quite as exciting as the previous one (you can only propose once, I guess) , but it had some absolutely stunning views from the ridge. It was such a beautiful, clear day! We even had a great view of the cliff I proposed from. Cindy is pointing at it in the picture :).

The hike up to, and across the ridge was a good workout, but not too bad. The way down was another story. There was more snow. Lots more snow. We thought treking up a steep snowy incline was hard — going down is much harder! We spent 45 minutes attempting to walk sliding down from the top of the Falling Waters trail. Next time we’ll bring hiking poles5 — boy would they have helped (instead of trying to make our own).

It wasn’t just the snow. The Falling Waters trail has that name for a reason, and not from the snow we slipped and fell on. The name comes from the several creeks and waterfalls that criss-cross the trail. As you know, I already had some trouble fording a creek the day before, but this time it was Cindy’s turn. She did it in grand style, practically face-planting into the water. For better or worse, a couple rocks prevented her from getting soaked — though they gave her some pretty good bruises3. That last leg of the loop did us in (definitely harder than yesterday), but we made it down and it was so worth it!

We were worried about it getting cold, but decided camp for the night anyway. After some McGyver problem solving6, fun with fire, yummy campfire food, and Cindy’s bout with the wet wipes7 we called it a night. The next morning we heading back to town, leaving NH with some great memories8 and looking forward to spending the rest of our lives together :).

Lessons Learned

  1. Make sure to start on the right trail. A map might help figure out your bearings, but it won’t help you with the more more difficult trail you are already halfway though.
  2. Hiking in May means snow. Not just little patches of snow but three-feet-packed-hope-your-leg-doesn’t-fall-through kind of snow.
  3. Little creeks and waterfalls should not be under-estimated. The can easily soak and bruise you.
  4. Fireplaces make excellent hiking-boot-dryers. They also make even better hiking-boot-melters. One makes nice toasty dry shoes and the other makes noxious fumes and ruined shoes. You do the math.
  5. I used to think hikers with those wussy poles were, well, wussy. NO. They are smart. See lesson #2 above.
  6. Don’t forget the rain tarp for the tent. Duct tape and a $3.99 clear tarp will make do… but boy, will you look funny.
  7. Be careful with wet wipe dispensers. They make an excellent (and painful) Chinese finger trap.
  8. And lastly and most importantly, the proposal doesn’t have to be perfect. As you can see I had my fair share of blunders, but I know both Cindy and I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way. We will certainly have memories of this for a long time!

The first weekend of our Europe trip

Since I’m heading out on a trip to Puerto Rico tomorrow, its a good time to actually blog this forever in progress post. It only details the first weekend of our Europe trip, but at least its something.

In the beginning of October, Cindy and I flew across the Atlantic to soak in the sights of middle/eastern Europe (and satisfy Cindy’s annual “I must leave the country” requirement). I wasn’t super keen on the idea originally, but she warmed me up to it and I figured I’d give this traveling thing a try.

We first landed in Vienna and met up with Oggie, Cindy’s friend/our travel guide/beer drinker extraordinaire. After a brief night tour of Vienna we got some sleep to prepare ourselves for the weekend… and what a whirlwind weekend it was.

Oggie had already picked up our rental car so we hit the road toward Munich on Saturday morning. We stopped along the way at a few small towns (Durnstein, Krems, Melk, Salzburg, Friesing … no pics up yet of those). The towns were nice, Krems had some kind of political festival going on where people were carrying around colored balloons representing their favored candidate (Bush probably would be yellow, right?). Salzburg had some nice views and a human-sized chess board (that people were actually playing). We also swung by the oldest brewery in the world (11th century!)… they even had a Weihenstephaner das boot.

We got to Munich in the evening and parked in a garage outside the gates of Oktoberfest. It didn’t take long for us see where the party was going on since there were thousands of people out and having a good time. It seemed like most of them had been partying all day long, but fortunately not too many people were doing stupid things :)

All of the beer tents (and by tent I mean 5000 person wooden structure) were packed to the gills, but we got lucky and squeezed ourselves into the Löwenbräu beer hall (pic). There is no doubt, we were the only sober people in there. The inside was lined with people standing on tables, singing and dancing (and drinking) their hearts out. The funny thing (if thousands of drunken dancing people isn’t funny enough) was that Löwenbräu was the “rock” beer tent — meaning that pretty much all the music was english and stuff we could sing along to. Unfortunately I can’t remember the exact songs, but I do know there was some good ol’ John Bovi (I’ve given in to my incessant mumbling of his name). Unfortunately we were only starting to really get into full swing (after two liters of beer) when the hall started to close at 11:30. Bummer.

The carnival atmosphere continued to live on after the tents closed. Particularly we were drawn to the a mob of guys staring into the fun house. We learned that Drunken men + women in Bavarian dresses + an unexpected floor updraft in the funhouse = a really enjoyable 15 mins.

Design is the art of balancing

I’ve seen many people link to Edward Tufte’s video on the iphone interface so I followed suit. Yes, he does a good job articulating some of the great design choices made by Apple and throws in some good suggestions, but he seems to make the assumption that the single point of interface design is to increase information density/resolution.

I disagree with his assessments on the stock and weather widgets. Yes, you could change them to present more data on the screen. But that has several consequences. The biggest thing is that more information requires more cognitive load. More is complex. More is slower. Wouldn’t you be pissed if you just wanted to know what the temperature is tomorrow — but you had to move the iphone close to you and squint to see it?

Please, let’s not teach people to optimize interfaces by one single metric. Design is the art of balancing. You are not designing if you ignore the other end of the see-saw.

ps: If you are into this stuff I highly recommend reading and listing to Aza Raskin. IMHO, he’d win the “Sharpest, yet still practical” designer award. I was really wowed when I heard him say “the content is the interface” at the AJAX Experience. Watch and learn.