Blog is back

After a server migration and a couple of life changes, I’ve revived the blog.

Sadly, the comments did not make it through the conversion. I had some great insight from a lot of good friends commented in these posts.  :(

Land of confusion

(stale posting alert: I drafted this back in November 09 and never published it.. so here it is)

Last Thursday I took a bike ride through Brown County State Park. They have the best trail system around! There's nothing like the thrill of flying down a hill, and nothing like the sense of accomplishment after you've busted your butt to get back up. On this trip the experience was more about the scenery. Indiana is known for its colorful fall, and with the trails covered in leaves I was sure to slow my pace down a bit and enjoy the views some more.

After riding down the north tower loop and starting the aynes loop, I stopped at an old cabin foundation along the trail. This sits in the bottom of a ravine with a nice flowing creek alongside. At one time this was a 2-room cabin, with only the foundation and 2 fireplaces remaining today. I don't know if it was a state park building or homestead, but I assume it was the latter given the number of homestead foundations around this area. At any rate, its a popular place to stop and take a break along the trail.

The picture from my phone does not do the scene justice.. It was an early crisp morning, with the sun rising, the ground still wet from rain a day ago, and the trees still had plenty of colorful leaves on them. I sat down with a powerbar, turned my music off, and sat to ponder life for a while. These are the kinds of moments I would make time for as a teenager but somehow life has done nothing but speed up since.

As I readied myself to hit the trail again, I turned my ipod back on and skipped to the next song. It fed me “Land of Confusion” by Genesis. I've always felt that the lyrics and video were quite deep and meaningful (both for its time in the cold war and today) so I sat and listened before hopping back on the bike:

There's too many men, too many people, making too many problems.. and not much love to go around. Can't you see this is a land of confusion

Sadly if we watch the news it seems that Genesis was spot-on, and the pattern of war and hardships does not seem to be going away in my lifetime. But, they remind us that we each have our own circle of influence and ways in which we can make the world better:

This is the world we live in, and these are the hands we're given. Use them and let's start trying.. to make it a place worth living in.

Life is good! We all need to spend a little time in the beauty of the outdoors and appreciate what we have been given. It puts things into perspective. Take a moment in your own life to make this a place worth living in.. peacefully.

Health care, or: "This is not a bill"

THIS IS NOT A BILL

We see these words on a statement from our insurance provider every time we use our health insurance. Now, let me start off by saying that I am thankful we have insurance and do not want to take it for granted, but if we don't pass health reform soon we are all facing a problem of premium costs that are spiraling out of control. No, I'm not equating health reform with government-run insurance. We need regulation.

Premiums are going up everywhere, some people are seeing upwards of a 30% hike in their premiums year over year. This is insane! People are angry over higher taxes (which actually went -down- last year), all the while their premium bills keep rising. Why aren't the tea parties being held on the front steps of the health care insurers and providers?

I consider myself lucky that we did not get hit with a raise in our insurance premiums last year. IU ate the hike in premiums for us ($7 million across the board), but given the economy we did not get a cost of living raise. Could have been worse in my opinion, so I'm content with that.

We have to ask why is insurance so costly? Well, your health care statements (the reports that read “THIS IS NOT A BILL”) might shed some light. Here are some examples:

Our kids both had their yearly checkup. They were taken together and seen together for convenience sake. For Tristen it was time for a hearing test (click when you hear the beep) billed at $34, and a vision test (just a simple “read the bottom line on the chart” exam) billed at $11. For Trevor it was time to fill out a questionnaire about where he is mentally. Questions like “does he recognize and remember the name of a friend?”. They call this a neurological exam. It was $20. The office visit themselves? $110 per kid. There were also a second round of h1n1 shots thrown in. Insane! Now, of course, the insurance company has negotiated “lower” rates to pay than this but in the end the provider earned over $300 from that visit to give an official thumbs-up for 2 healthy kids.

As for me, I have just finished up a 3 week regimen of synvisc injections in my right knee. Each visit breaks down to a $70 office visit, $54 “medical supply” fee (for the sanitizing swap and topical anesthesia spray.. ripoff!), and $118 for a “surgical procedure” since the needle goes under the knee cap. I see the doctor for less than 10 minutes to get this done. This does not count the cost of the injection itself, which is astronomical. Again, the insurance company has negotiated a lower rate and the visit itself comes to about $153. For 10 minutes.

On the one hand, I'm glad to have “coverage” for all of this. But, insurance companies are not charity organizations. The money they pay out on claims is made up through the group collective of premiums. In the end, myself and my employer pay those bills. The rise in insurance premiums need to be fixed along with the rise in costs. One can not be fixed without the other. Unchecked, these costs will continue to rise. Because right now, there is nothing to stop them.

Just something to think about..

On a slightly related note, this is a great TED talk tying statistics of global health and wealth together visually. Nothing political, just interesting statistics.

That's comcastic! not.

Ugh.. we've had problems with our internet dropping out 1-3 times a day for a few months now. I finally got fed up with it enough to contact someone about it. I'll leave out the details of using their online support, it was worthless and warranted a phone call. The phone support is worthless as well, and warranted a technician visit.

Well, the technician showed up a few weeks back. And I'll pause here to note that every cable modem carries in it a bunch of diagnostics and log entries. My modem is full of log entries timestamped with every outage that we experience. They meant nothing to the online support. They meant nothing to the phone support. The on-site tech was disinterested (or had no clue about them). Instead he unscrews the cable modem and notices that the compression fitting on the cable feels loose, he put a new fitting on, tested the signal, and left. His comment was “if this does not fix it then you must have a bad cable modem”. The problem reared itself again the next day. 2 weeks later we were billed $50 for the service call (a charge I never knew was coming, nor did I agree to. Dang that's one expensive compression fitting).

Now I have another cable modem to try (thanks Rich) to see if the modem really is the problem. But, I also have a $50 charge I want removed. So I call back tonight. The process of removing the charge mandates another on-site visit from a tech (regardless of what the first one said about trying a new modem, and me being ready for that today). *sigh* I asked: “How do I know that I won't be billed for a second visit?” The answer I got on the phone: “Be sure to tell the technician not to bill you”. HA! this is epic. If I had known he was planning on billing me the first time I would have told him that THEN! heh

But.. In all of my ranting I am distracting from the crux of my frustration: The logs. In my job, if I want to fix a computer issue the first thing I have to do is check the logs. Logs are everything. They may be cryptic but to someone who knows what they mean they point to the problem. Well, in this problem we have logs. Nobody along this chain knows what they mean. I imagine that in order to fix this problem, I will need escalated to someone who will make sense of the logs. I'll probably google them tonight and see what other people say (just for the heck of it, here are some entries)

Wed Jan 27 09:19:26 2010 Critical (3) DCC aborted unable to communicate on new upstream channel
Wed Jan 27 09:19:26 2010 Critical (3) Init RANGING Critical Ranging Request Retries exhausted
Wed Jan 27 09:19:26 2010 Critical (3) No Ranging Response received – T3 time-out
Tue Jan 26 21:32:08 2010 Critical (3) Started Unicast Maintenance Ranging – No Response received – …
Tue Jan 26 14:11:18 2010 Critical (3) No Ranging Response received – T3 time-out

These tech visits and tech support contacts are all a waste of time and money (mine and Comcast's) until someone pays attention to what this means and how to treat these symptoms. But until that time comes, I have another tech visit scheduled for some time between 1-5 on Saturday. Let's hope they credit our account this time.

Eat poop you cat!

Don't let the title fool you, this is awesome.

Yesterday I came across a party game called “Eat poop you cat”. I am probably the last to hear about this one but in case I am not, here it goes:

Everyone sits in a circle, and writes something on a piece of paper. That paper gets passed to the right where the person then draws what was written. The original sentence is then folded over so it can not be seen, and the paper is passed to the next person to guess what the picture represents. This process is then repeated around the table until the paper gets back to the person who started it.

What you get are some pretty funny threads of a visual “telephone” game. You can see pictures of some rounds (along with more game details) at:

http://boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/30618/eat-poop-you-cat

We'll be playing this the next time we have a bunch of guests over to the house!

No, Indycar.. not you too!

So a couple of weeks back I griped about the Pacers signing a deal with Fox Sports Midwest so exclusive that I was unable to buy the season from the NBA directly.

I looked for today's Indycar race on ABC, only to find that it wasn't there. Sure enough, Indycar has signed with the Versus network for 12 races this season, leaving ABC with 5.. Last year ABC carried a majority of them (if I am remembering correctly).

*sigh* At least the Colts will still be on broadcast TV this year, all but one game. I'm sure it is only a matter of time.

And yes, I realize I could break down and get cable or satellite and have Fox Sports and Versus.. At this point I'm happier saving a hundred dollars a month.

-C

PS – Good to see you back in Indycar, Dario Franchitti.. even if I don't get to see you. Congrats on the win.

Radiosport.. what's that?

Find something that a person enjoys and they can turn it into a sport. These days we even consider card games as a sport, one that others can watch on TV even.. There are niche sports for just about everything. One of my coworkers here is in to locksport (competitions involving lockpicking). Who would have thought?

The sport that I am into is one that few have heard of… radiosport. It is an amateur radio activity whose base concept is pretty simple: make as many contacts as you can on a set of frequencies within a given set of time. Give it a scoring structure and compete. Within the amateur radio community it is commonly known as “contesting”.

There are many different contests with different rules in play and usually you can find some kind of contest every weekend of the year. However, there are about half a dozen through the year that are active enough where I'd want to take time away from the family and participate.

To give an example, a contest may run for a set period of 12 hours, where everyone starts and stops at the same time. Any contacts made outside of this set time do not count for points. Each contact is a point on your score, and each new geographical area (state, country) is a multiplier to your score. Some contests are geared towards working domestic states and provinces, while some contests are dedicated to only working countries outside of the US and Canada. Let's say in a domestic contest I make 100 contacts in 35 different states. My total score would be 3500. Since contacts benefit points for both ends of the exchange, it is in everyone's best interest to make them, so they are quick, brief, and made to count. When you hear someone on the air from a state that you haven't contacted yet it becomes urgent to contact that station so you get an extra multiplier. You get the hint.

Contesters compete against other contesters, against friends, as well as against themselves (beating previous year scores). In larger contests, you can work in a team where multiple people work on different frequencies at the same time, making different contacts simultaneously. Software is written that works across a network of logging computers to keep track of your logs together, prevent duplicate contacts, and give you a running tally of your score and any “unique” areas that may help your multiplier score. Some would say that “its kind of a big deal”.

The contests can be dedicated to certain frequencies and vary across the whole spectrum of radio capabilities, but for most contests they operate on HF (High Frequency) radio signals. HF signals propagate in the atmosphere and through the ground, allowing them to travel short distances or around the world. But there is a catch: propagation is a very dynamic beast. Some frequencies work well in the day time when the atmosphere is ionized by the sun's rays, while some frequencies work better at night when that ionization is absent. Sun spots and flares can change the game drastically, for better or for worse. We haven't seen much of that this past year in the solar minimum we are in but hopefully that will change in the coming year and the Sun will become a bit more active. There is a bit of skill involved in getting radio waves to and from a given point. In the last contest I worked (an international contest), we capitalized on the change from day to night to send our signals along the “grayline”. The grayline is that line between night and day, and can sometimes carry radio signals along with it from point A to B better than aiming a straight line from those 2 points. In this instance, we used the grayline to pick up a whole handful of contacts from Japan while the sun was just rising for them. Below is what this line looks like on a map.

You have varying station capabilities as well. Radios can run at different power, you can add signal amplification, and different types of antennas will propagate in different ways. No 2 stations that contact each other are going to have the exact same setup. Some antennas are omnidirectional while some can be aimed in a direction (see the image above of the antenna we have at the Indiana University club). My home antennas are made from some wire I picked up at Lowes, while other stations spend hundreds on an antenna. These all play a part in your capabilities, and give you something to improve on over time. Think of it as an athlete building on his game through practice.

I hope I've given you an idea that there is a bit of skill and experience involved in such a “sport”. It is not just picking up a radio and talking. If you want a high score you have to know your stuff and build a well operating radio station. Some people build entire antenna farms devoted to operating in these contests, spending tens of thousands and pulling in a dozen team members to run a contest. Personally, I like to operate contests at home to see how well I've made my antennas, and I like to operate contests from the IU club (K9IU) for the strong capabilities of that station and the teamwork involved. There is always the thrill of the hunt when a contest comes around. How active will the airwaves be? Will the sun help us out or hinder us? It is a lot like sport fishing, and everyone is out there fishing for each other.

Interested? Find an amateur radio club near you via this link, or drop me a line. One of the most popular contest-like activities is Field Day, where contacts are made from temporary stations built outdoors all across the country (see pic above, one of the many stations we had set up in Karst Farm Park here in Bloomington). This happens the fourth full weekend in July, and most clubs welcome visitors to this event to see how things run. Visit this link for more info on Field Day, or check out the photo gallery from our participation in field day last year. I'll post some more links below.

(and no.. morse code is NOT required)

Cheers,
-Corey (KB9JHU)

http://www.radio-sport.net/ ham radio contest news

http://www.indiana.edu/~k9iu/?q=node/10 K9IU – Indiana University amateur radio club contest scores

http://www.hornucopia.com/contestcal/ Upcoming contest calendar

http://www.chrisellerphotography.com/ Chris Eller took the first picture in this post of the K9IU HF and 2m antennas.

My plan for the Pacers

(I have written a lot of blog posts that end up living as unpublished drafts, I won't let this be one of them)

We're not the biggest Pacers fans in the world, but we have enjoyed our share of games. Nicole even shed a tear when Reggie Miller stepped off the court for the last time in 2005 (though she won't admit that, and kudos to Larry Brown for taking that extra time out to give Reggie his moment). One thing I was looking forward to in coming back to Indiana is catching more of the Pacers games.

To give a bit of background for those of you who don't follow, the Pacers were playing some of the best ball and were set for a good playoff run in the 2005 season. There was a brawl during a game in Detroit that should have been avoided but led to a bunch of suspensions and subsequently a loss of momentum with the team. They lost in the playoffs, and have been trying to get back on their feet ever since. Understandably between the souring reputation and the poor standings, the Pacers fan base has dwindled. (shame on you fair weather fans!)

Fast forward to today, there is a fresh new team with a lot of potential for the coming years. They are focusing a lot on rebuilding the pride and passion that the team once held. This is a good thing. Start with a clean slate and build up.

I went to the home opener against the Celtics this season with my old college roommate Greg. The mood in the stands was totally different than the way it was when I had last seen them in 2005 before we left Indiana. Fans weren't wearing team shirts, did not seem excited, and there were too many empty seats. We won that game (a pleasant surprise) but it was obvious there is work to do moving forward.

I also went to the game against the Spurs on Friday night. It seemed there was a louder Spurs crowd than Pacers crowd. This trend has got to be reversed. We lost that game (as I expected) but we did see a pretty good comeback rally in the 4th quarter that had me on my feet quite a bit. For such a young team this was a promising sign.

To help things along, here are some of my unsolicited, opinionated thoughts for the pacers:

Viewership

I was excited to be back in Indiana to catch the Pacers on the air from WTTV (channel 4). Come to find out, they have not aired games in a couple of years. I can understand a loss of revenue here between the declining fan base and what I would assume is fewer commercial offers from Conseco. I can accept this. The Pacers had also signed an exclusive agreement with Fox Sports Midwest to carry the games. I am not in the position to get cable or satellite to catch the games. I did, however, look into the NBA League Pass online. I seriously considered the $80 subscription for the season. I signed up for the free trial only to find that all of the Pacers games were blacked out for me. What? Why pay for a service from the NBA directly when you can't see the games you want? I still get promotional emails from them, to which I always reply that I will happily sign up when I can watch the games I want.

However, my point goes beyond this.. People are ditching cable and satellite left and right in this economy and fewer people will have FSM anyway. If you want to rebuild your fan base, make it EASY for them to watch the team. Get back on the air with WTTV4 and blanket the central Indiana market with the games.

Tickets

In the past few weeks, tickets for the Pacers have been dirt cheap, and in some cases literally given away. I have found awesome deals in travelzoo discount tickets, twitter giveaways, and a donatos giveaway deal where I got 2 tickets in the LOWER LEVEL for the cost of ticketmaster fees ($5) for this Wednesday's game against the Raptors. There have been club level seat deals for $20 each, and I grabbed balcony tickets for the whole family at $5/ea (plus fees). Nicole and Trevor missed the game with Trevor getting sick at the last minute, but Tristen had an absolute blast! We have a future fan there, and I would have had a hard time justifying tickets for the kids at the original cost of balcony seats.

These deals are great.. Now, it is the end of the season, ticket sales are doing about as poorly as the team is, and I'm sure there is a bit of politics involved in trying to bring people downtown while the Pacers and Colts argue for funding from the Capitol Improvement Board. When next season comes around these deals need to continue. Drop the ticket prices to bring more people in. These are hard times for wallets and hard times for the team. Make it possible for fans to attend.

Team

I haven't followed many games (see the first point above) but from what I have seen, everything looks good for the coming years. We've gotten rid of the bad apples. We have a number of players with very promising talents. This is all being done right. The team looks to be in repair, but the fan base needs the same kind of fixing. If you don't fix the two points above there won't be much point to fixing the team.

So?

Sadly, the Pacers fan base is in dire straits. I've passed links for ticket deals (and free tickets) around the office, and it turns in to a joke. I'm sure the sentiment would be different if we had the top team in the league, but we don't. As I have pointed out, to be a fan of this team is an expensive thing, between TV subscriptions and tickets. Make it cheap for the fans, and you'll get more of them through the thick and thin.

Make Television

Yes, long time no blog.. Amidst microblogging and Facebook I haven't had much to say here, but that isn't to say I have given up.. On the contrary, I have about 5 draft blog posts that will probably never see publication. Be it too personal or too ranting, I'll get through it and decide it just isn't right.

In the past few years, a new trend has started amongst people who like the tinker, make things, and void the warranty on personal belongings by tearing them apart and modifying them. OReilly publishing caught on to this and created Make Magazine. I remember when this was launched at OSCON long ago, it was met with great fanfare. Make Magazine is a quarterly that features people making things, and how to do it yourself. From this spun a series of events they call Maker Faire where people can show off what they have done. It is like a mix between a science fair and craft show, with a dash of Burning Man thrown in.

Now, they have taken the next step..

That's right, Make Television. They have had video podcasts for quite some time which I have been a big fan of, but the podcast and quarterly magazines still seem to feed an underground crowd. The television series is designed to reach anyone and everyone. They will air on PBS stations across the country this year (some of them have already started airing). Click here to find where and when at your location. Yet, the really cool thing is that the shows themselves carry a Creative Commons license. This means that you are free to copy and share by any means (with some of the creator's rights reserved). You will find every episode (3 so far) on BitTorrent (click here), and they put it there themselves, legally! Not familiar with BitTorrent? You can find it on iTunes. Don't have iTunes? I recommend downloading Miro and watching it on there. (you will find a whole lot of other great, free, video content on Miro as well! Ditch your cable bill!)

Our culture needs more of this mentality, more tinkering. The Make series helps us all to learn how things work, and by learning how things work we can all come up with newer and better gizmos. When the day comes that my kids want to dive into an alarm clock to see what is inside making the numbers, I will be right there with them eagerly holding a screwdriver!

Tune in, download it, check it out, and tell your friends! The more popular this TV series becomes, the longer it will last!

-C

Conversations with a 4-year old

From 2008
(Tristen and I at the Indy Zoo)

We were all at the mall last week.. Nicole was getting her hair fixed, and I was walking around with Tristen and Trevor doing anything to kill the time. Thinking of making the most of our window shopping opportunity, I striked up a conversation with Tristen:

“Christmas is coming up.. What do you think we should get for mommy?”

Tristen: (thinks…) “I know! Flowers!”

I don't know what kind of response I was expecting from a 4 year old, its not like he was going to suggest a new blouse. So I continued to see how far this would go:

“What kind of flowers?”

Tristen: “Purple petunias, they are mommy's favorite!”

(and all these years I've been buying ROSES. the kid is showing me up!)

“Well, flowers like that might be hard to find at Christmas time. What else could we get her?”

Tristen: “I could give her a hug!”

“Good idea! She would love that.. Anything else?”

Tristen: “Let me think..” (which he does, for a few minutes) “I know! a CAKE!”

At this point I realize that Christmas for Nicole is going to be comprised of standard birthday fare. We went on talking about what present mommy would like to have based on what she she likes to do every day, which pulled out answers like “laundry”, “dishes”, and “vacuuming”, all things that I'm sure Nicole would whole heartedly agree she does for fun. hehe

.. I think we might just have to go with the flowers, hug, and cake.