Sunday, March 02, 2008

WildBlue has googlified me!

As with many ISPs, WildBlue provides email, Usenet, and basic web hosting as part of its accounts. However, with no choice given, they have recently suspended all three services and replaced them with only the Google Apps free equivalents.

Gmail is a fair email service and I didn't have to change address (not that that would matter since I go through a front end address anyway), and it does offer POP3/SMTP support (though only through SSL; fortunately Agent's SSL support is solid). However, its spam filtering cannot be turned off. Inexplicable; how hard could it be to add a simple toggle to the settings? Agent's spam filtering is far more robust, with automatic whitelisting tied into my address book and a smarter content analysis. But with Google filtering mail before it even gets to Agent, it means false positives all over the place, plus a decrease in the ability of Agent to train up its corpus effectively. The only solution so far is to periodically go to the website and manually mark all the spam as not-spam, and unfortunately while Google claims this is training the spam filter, it never seems to make a difference. Such a great tool so entirely crippled by one poorly thought out function.

So far the web hosting hasn't changed over yet, but we were warned to back up our website completely and that we would have to rebuild it "with Google's tools". I already have perfectly good HTML; I am not looking forward to trying to coax some web-based GUI into looking like what I already like, or to wasting time doing it.

And Usenet? "If you participate in newsgroups, your new tool will be Google Groups." In other words, WildBlue just removed a significant service from their offerings flat-out and offer no real replacement. What do you think the odds are they'll reduce my subscription fee in recompense for reducing what I'm getting for my money? Though Usenet is nowhere near as important to me as it once was, I'm still profoundly disappointed that this is all they can be arsed to offer.

I suppose these days fewer and fewer ISPs are still offering any Usenet, though. Still, absolutely the only reason I still use WildBlue is the same as why everyone else does: we have no alternative, really. Why should they bother to care about service levels? The minute wireless, DSL, or cable modems get here, I'm gone. Soon, I pray! Save us, FairPoint; you're our only hope!

Saturday, March 01, 2008

TLA Bands

How many rock and pop bands can you think of whose name either is a TLA, or is commonly abbreviated as one? Note that it's not enough just that it could be abbreviated that way; no one calls the Marshall Tucker Band "MTB", but Bachman-Turner Overdrive is very commonly called "BTO", so they count.

So far I have these:
  • XTC (doesn't actually stand for anything!)
  • REM (stands for something but the band doesn't use that)
  • ELO (Electric Light Orchestra)
  • OMD (Orchestral Manoevres in the Dark)
  • ELP (Emerson, Lake, & Palmer)
  • CCR (Credence Clearwater Revival)
  • BOC (Blue Öyster Cult)
  • BTO (Bachman-Turner Overdrive)
I was also informed of one called TLC, but I don't list it because I've never heard of them myself. There was also mention of a punk band called something like AFI, but we weren't even sure what the right letters are.

Doesn't it seem like there should be a lot more?

(Extra credit: how about FLAs -- four letter acronyms? All I came up with is AC/DC and TMBG.)

Falling behind and catching up

Life's been too busy to blog about it, and there's not really anyone reading the blog who doesn't know everything going on already, so I'll be very brief in catching up.

Recovery from the surgery has been going pretty much perfectly. Last night we made our first venture into Stage 3 (foods that can be mashed with a fork), and it was also my first time losing a meal, but that was due to an egregious tactical blunder. I was scheduled to try fish, and we ended up with the wrong kind of fish; I didn't hate it but I didn't especially like it either. The fallback was just mac-and-cheese, and therein lies the problem. I'm sure I could handle mac-and-cheese, but not without some protein first. The fallback should have been something else, even if only some canned chicken or tuna, with mac-and-cheese on the side. Today's experiment will be ground buffalo (very lean) enchiladas -- just the lean meat, some beans, some chiles, and a bit of Cabot's exceptionally good 75%-fat-free cheddar (it's amazing how much like regular cheddar it tastes), in soft corn tortillas, with a bit of enchilada sauce. My weight's down to 392.6, from a high of 487 last May and 420 at the surgery. My blood glucose is doing good but it's hard to tell if it's changed much because the strict diet-and-exercise regimen I was on before the surgery also had it in about the same place. And goodness knows my diet is restrictive right now; but my exercise is minimal and I'm off metformin.

My father-in-law is in palliative care, or to put it more bluntly, on his deathbed, and is likely to pass within the next few days. He's no longer conscious or aware, and for all intents and purposes in a coma. Fortunately we were able to get clear input from him about his wishes in a situation like this, and this makes it a lot easier to be at peace with this as a conclusion of a life, not merely as a loss of a life. This is both an increase in stress for us, and a promise of a reduction, and we're definitely in a phase of life where we need to reduce stresses.

And on that subject, the roommates we have had the last three months are moving out today, and that is another stress reduction, not because they're bad roommates but because we're just not made to have roommates, and three months is about all we can take. One can't help feeling bad for not being able to help them more by having them stay longer, but it's the same feeling as feeling bad that, even if you give to charities generously, there's always more needed; even if you take in a few stray cats, there are always more cats needing homes. You can't drive yourself crazy agonizing over what you can't or don't do; you just have to do your part, and be comfortable knowing it's enough -- it's more than most people do, right?

I've been more active in SecondLife again recently, and one of the things I've gotten involved in is a tiny little game called TinyEmpires. It's sort of a game-within-a-game (even though SecondLife isn't really a game) because you play it not by going to places in SecondLife and doing things, but rather, in a tiny little pop-up window on your HUD (heads-up display) which is there in the corner of the screen all the time, while you're doing other SecondLife things like chatting, dancing, shopping, etc. In TinyEmpires you are a feudal lord trying to advance in ranks by gaining acres and subjects; every three minutes is a game-month in which you earn income from your acres, receive homage from your subjects, pay homage to your liege (all of these happen automatically), and usually get one or more "offers" which are how to actually play the game. Offers are things like buying or selling land, recruiting new subjects, chances to change liege, puzzles to solve for reward gold, and other things. This is what keeps the game so simple: you can't actually do anything until an offer shows up, so all you really do is, every few minutes, click Yes or No on a couple of things. It's completely unintrusive and undemanding but fun, and it also leads to socialization opportunities since you get to meet and talk to the other people in your kingdom.

While we were in North Carolina, the Blu-Ray vs HD-DVD war finally ended. Two years ago when we bought the HDTV and associated accessories, we didn't have enough earmarked to cover the cost of both HD-DVD and Blu-Ray, so I went with just HD-DVD because all the movies available on HD that I wanted were on HD-DVD. But I knew I would eventually need Blu-Ray, so I started putting a few dollars a week aside for it. (Slow going, but it's been very hard to save any money lately. But it's a sensible fiscal policy to always have a few dollars going to the Fun Stuff Fund: it helps you get those things you really want as part of a planned budget, purchased at a sensible opportunity, rather than on a whim at a bad price when you can't really afford it. It's just not practical to pretend you can't ever buy fun things; temptation always wins, so it's best to make it a budget item.) After two years of savings we had enough for a PS3 (only about $30 more than a comparable Blu-Ray player, so even though we're not console gamers, why not?) and a bundle of Blu-Ray DVDs. But we're so far behind on TV after our two weeks away we haven't had time to watch any of them yet!