Sunday, December 07, 2008

Microsoft and refusal to comply

I have a pretty slow internet connection so I really like blogger's option to email my blog entries and have them automatically posted (instead of having to go to a website, wait for each page to load, and then deal with how blogger *doesn't* play well with my browser of choice Opera). The problem i have is that my main email program is Outlook mainly for its PIM features and my HTC TyTN II plays best with outlook compared to other PIMs. Outlook adds in tons of HTML and "MS HTML" (ie non-W3C approved html code) to its emails, normally this is not a problem for regular emailing but blogger apparently doesn't like it so my blog posts come out all funky looking, quite irritating. This is a something that MS does quite often, that is, taking a standard and modifying it (ostensibly "improving it") in a way that makes other standard-compliant applications have problems. They somehow (my guess is through lobbying) got the their XML based document standard approved over OpenOffice's xml document format which was totally open thus flubbing the process.

Man Manicure & Massage

Ok, so it wasn't a manicure (though i have heard of straight guys getting manicures i am not one of them) it was a shave which to me is perhaps the male equivalent of a manicure. I think i have written about something like this before but i am too lazy to sift through my blog entries. I am working in a not-so-large town in south-central Azerbaijan so make no mistake, there are no amenities here that Azeri's would consider "extravagant" but there seems to be a convenient convergence of two cultural customs here barber shop shaves and therapeutic massages.

I have had a b*tch of a time finding places that do shaves in the US which is ironic to me for two reasons 1) I have heard stories about how back in the 50s (?) men just went to the barber shop in the morning to get a shave and 2) In this day of gyms/spas/manicures etc i would think a nice hot/close shave would be in the mix somewhere... apparently not. Its not just the US though, in places where stubble is en vogue (Italy, a place where my German friend commented, even the national news reporters can have a 5'oclock shadow and be in fashion) or where spindly beards are frowned upon (Thailand) or a place where almost all guys are very well shaved and a haircut costs a pittance (Moldova), its hard to get a shave in all those countries. The exceptions thus far are Afghanistan and now Azerbaijan.

I was a bit surprised at how many places you could get a fairly good shave in Afghanistan but it later started making sense as some ("modern leaning") Afghans think that facial hair is a bit uncouth or just a rural thing and then there are those that want to look like "good Muslims" there but also want to "look good" so a good shave/beard-trim becomes important. I went to a dirty little place near my office that had a very sharply dressed young barber there (and he used disposable razors) I am thinking (this is only "Davidson theory" i am not an anthropologist) that a combination of elements like the one that causes Moldovans to be so clean cut and that causes Afhgan's to consider getting a shave at a barber shop which converged here in Azerbaijan resulting in barbershops that give shaves, good ones too (though i fear it is dying here just as it has in the US, what a pity). The barber i go to has a small little place, i mean really small, about the size of a large walk in closet but he has a steady hand (important!), uses disposable razors (insanely important), uses the good ole brush n lather foam, and finishes up with aftershave and some baby powder type stuff... one comes out feel'n like a million bucks.

I have a friend who is a masseur, charges a kings ransom($50 *minimum*), and last time i checked she was having a hard time of it (and my guess is she is having a harder time now with the economy such as it is). Being a masseur you must charge alot especially if you have one or less clients a day but that pretty much makes it prohibitively expensive for po' folk such as myself... unless you live/work in developing countries! In many of the developing countries massages are a maximum of $20 (that was at a expat place in Cambodia), it was $10 at a Chinese place in Cambodia (which was more for locals and IMHO was at least as good as the expat massage place), in Thailand the little old lady gumby massages were like $4 (I usually tipped an extra $1) and in Moldova it was about $7. Here in Azerbaijan it is 6AZN (1AZN ~1EUR) for 40minutes... not bad at all, even on my pathetic salary.

I don't think the massage thing is a cultural convergence thing really, I have noticed that most Russian trained doctors are trained in how to give therapeutic massages and there are also trained masseurs as well. Azerbaijan is a former Soviet republic and it is not hard to see how that has influenced many aspects of society here but not totally, they are still pretty socially conservative (specially regarding interactions between men and women, i had a hell of a time finding a Russian teacher because most of the teachers [or their husbands] didn't think it would be appropriate to teach a guy...grrrrr). Well i found out in Moldova that even the village doctors gave massages and so i thought i would check out here, and yup, they got em. It was a bit awkward at first because the girl (well 20s) didn't speak English and i only speak mediocre Russian so she put me in a room and i guess told me to undress but i wasn't sure how far was acceptable (the Russian tutor finding thing now makes me nervous about offending locals) so i stripped down to pants/t-shirt and when she came in she gave me what sounded like a "I'm supposed to give you a massage like that?!" spiel, i got it and went to my boxers no problem and got a pretty good massage. There are different nuances every place i go, in Cambodia i don't remember anything in particular but in Thailand the little old ladies would freak out if you took off any more than your shoes (this was at *real* massage places, not the brothels, people don't usually take you seriously if you are a guy and say "I want a massage", they just assume you are referring to its euphemism). The Thai massages usually consisted of an unnaturally strong little old woman (trust me, not brothel material) who would do things like put her foot in your arm pit and pull your arm, pushing the limits of ones ligaments (not to mention physics) and you would come out feeling like gumby reincarnate... didn't really help so much if you had knots in your back but i image would be excellent after a exercise workout.

U.K.'s prudent savers feel punished... its not just the UK

I was listening to American Public Media's "Market Place" and they had a piece about how some prudent savers in the Uk are feeling punished and ya know what, its not just them! Times like this when people and businesses are getting bailed out because they were frivolous, not cautious enough, greedy, or just plain stupid makes me feel like all my frugality has been for naught. It is a freerider delima of sorts, i talked with a Spanish colleague regarding the Spanish social system and job hunting also came up, she wasn't worried about it because after she finishes a job she just collects unemployment salary from the government for a few months (something like 80% of what her previous salary was) then looks for a job later... she also confessed that her brother, who owns his own business pays very high taxes (higher than she does) and how he effectively pays for her to sit around (I am wording it more harshly than she did). I have had a harder-time-than-most with job hunting so this blasé attitude is just insanely frustrating. While i was working in DC i lived in an "up and coming neighborhood", which is a euphemism for a ghetto place that has potential, sometime when i would take off early I would see guys just mulling around in the middle of the day and wonder "well maybe they have night jobs", well that was naive, they just collect unemployment (much less than what one would get in most western European countries) and enjoy mulling around... no shame.

Society's inability to hold *all* these people and businesses accountable is... frustrating.

Getting closer to "Media Jukebox" Nirvana

By non-geek/media-phile standards i have alot of... media. In some ways i am a bit of a junkie (i constantly max out my measly little internet connection trying to download podcasts [fuh-get-bout video podcasts]) with lots of music videos, movies, music, and misc videos. The advent of MP3s and DivX was a blessing and media related improvements such as FLAC and x264 along with things like 1.5terabyte hard drives its all quite mind boggling (my *first* foray into this kinda of stuff was a groundbreaking attempt [well for me, hey this was 1995] to record a white zombie song to my hard drive which resulted in a 40mb wav file that took up more than half of my 60mb hard drive).

In some cases i find myself behind the tech curve (i still don't get things like face book) but in other respects i find myself ahead of the tech curve (well ahead of the masses, there are still plenty of media gurus light years ahead of me), a "Media Jukebox" is one of those things I consider myself to be ahead of the masses on but a bit behind the tech-crowd. In my "old" age i have become less interested in tinkering (which is a bit depressing) and just want the stuff to work, my way; a media jukebox is a good example. I am not interested in recording from the TV onto my computer (ah la TiVo) i will rely on bittorrent for that i just want something that i can browse through my collection, or let others browse through my collection easily, i mean really easily. While (IMHO) there is no substitute for winamp for music it is not something that you can operate easily without a mouse not to mention sitting on your couch while looking at the TV. For me the all-most-there solution is a media jukebox that i can control with a RF (ie WiFi) tablet pc like remote. Yes yes there are tablet pc like remotes out there but these setups usually cost thousands of dollars and are totally proprietary, not what i am looking for.

I had been looking over many many different "media jukebox" (commonly called "media center" but i like "media jukebox" better) software packages starting with the one that comes with windows (which will certainly help popularize the concept). Unfortunately most of the reviews etc that i have found focus on PVR/DVR features and not on compatibility etc (i find that usability of most of them is pretty straight forward, but after using in depth features of programs like winamp i guess i would). I have recently re-tried Media Portal, i had tried this once before but for some reason (which i don't remember) it didn't hook me (my guess is stability or too much tinkering since it is still in RC phase). Then there was Xbox Media Center (XBMC) which *looked* great but at the time it was only for, xboxes (and i have to admit that it is an ingenious way to use an old xbox albeit takes more tinkering than i want to bother with plus i am not a game console kinda guy so i don't have an old xbox lying around to hack). Now Media Portal seems more stable and XBMC has been ported to windows (and Linux!). Some of the nice features of these programs is that they can read the album art and ID3 info from the music files (you can embed pictures in music files, called album art) and they can parse file names (like from movies and music videos) and automatically download information about the videos by web scraping places like IMDB and Mtv; all very nice features when you have hundreds (or thousands) of files!

Another note, Opera v10 (alpha) just came house (yeah!!!!!!) and it now has a feature that firefox along with some other programs have had, auto-update, and i don't mean just checking to see if there is a update downloading that file and then making you install-update it, i mean something that just downloads the little updated bits and then updates the program and then lets you keep going (maybe with a program restart in there somewhere). Something like this is really missed in media portal which isn't totally stable yet. Something like an auto-update feature and super efficient (ie can run on minimal hardware) would be about what i need for my folks (hi Mom hi Dad), to be able to put all their music/movies/etc in an easy to use interface that they could control with nothing more than a remote while looking at their TV would be... ideal.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Stocks Are Less of Your Net Worth Than You Think... if you will be getting SS...

I just finished reading an article in the WSJ that i thought would make me feel better about my portfolio unfortunately that didn't happen since it's optimism is based on social security, something that i still have limited faith i will see when i get to SS-collection age.

I know that even taking into account all the financial catastrophes the US has had (ever, even with "bumps" like the great depression) the stock market survives and ultimately you end up making money but listening to the doom and gloom on the news doesn't help.

It does make me wonder how all these financial pundits get to be where they are, i remember during the internet boom everyone talking about the "new economy" and then it crashed spectacularly (or for me it did) then this housing bubble which was only a surprise in how big it busted (I remember hearing speculation about the housing bubble years ago).

The trick it to keep reminding ones self that time and diciplne should prevail... but its a hard thing to keep in mind.