Cord Cutting, or Why I Don’t Know What’s Happening in the World

Over a year or so I cut the cord, which is cool internet guy speak for stopped paying for cable and just used web services, like Netflix, instead.  The transition wasn’t near as painful as the person from Comcast customer support told me when I cancelled my subscription.  They told me pretty lies about how they could get me a deals for more channels I don’t want to watch, and that if I didn’t take their wonderful offer I would be cowering in the corner with no touchstone to popular culture.

Even when I was on the phone with them, I couldn’t have told you when the last time I watched broadcast television.  (Actually, I tell a lie.  It was at my parents house.  Nothing else to do over the holidays.)  I don’t miss the ads and any show I really want to watch I can steam for free or a small price, and while I do cower in many a corner it’s for entirely different reasons.

Read: spiders.

There is one thing that I do miss: movie trailers.  When you cut the cord the one thing you are gleefully giving up is commercials.  “Why the hell do I have to watch ads on something I’m paying for,” you say to yourself.  Or to that prick from Comcast when they start with the hard sell.

But you are also going to lose movie trailers.  I have always loved trailers.  They are the one thing that I look forward to the most when I go to the theater.  Even when I know I’m going to a movie I’m probably not going to like I can always that solace in the fact that at least the three minute min-movies in the beginning will be good.

However, I don’t go to the movies much any more.  Partly, this is because their aren’t a lot of movies that appeal to me.  Partly, this is because I have important things to do on a friday night like stream television and cower in the corner.  But mainly, this is because I just don’t know when the god damn things are playing any more because I’m not having TV trailers drilled into the head every five to eight minutes.

Thor 2 is coming out this week and I had no idea until about two days ago.  Of course, I knew they were making it and I knew it was going to come out at the end of the year, but I didn’t know it was going to be the end of this week.

That’s the price you pay when you stop watching TV.  You get disconnected from the pop culture hose telling you where you are going to be every friday night.  If I didn’t read a bunch of comic websites the second coming of Thor would have passed me completely by.  At least in the theaters.  I probably would have wound up streaming it.

Raspberry Pi first impressions

Raspberry Pi
Raspberry Pi (Photo credit: tkramm)

So it was my birthday last week, and after crawling out alcohol induced coma, I was a year older and found that my girlfriend, in her infinite generosity, had given me a Raspberry Pi. For those of you that don’t know, the Raspberry Pi is a credit card size computer that runs Linux.  It was designed to be a cheap hackable computer that kids could mess around with to learn how computers work.

I had been following the device ever since it made a huge splash in the tech world last year, and while I’d seen hundreds of pictures of the thing, nothing can really prepare you for how small the thing really is.  Looking at a Raspberry Pi is akin to staring an optical illusion because you know what you’re looking at is impossible, yet there it is right in front of you.

It took me a few days to collect all of the other pieces of equipment that you need to actually run the thing.  You get nothing out of the box other than the board itself.  They ship it naked without even a case, the way they used to with electronics back in my day.  (Now I feel really old.)

The first thing that you notice when you start plugin in the USB, SD card, and power plug is that you have to press them in a little harder than you should.  This gives the impression that you might break the thing at any second, but I’m sure it’s more durable than I think.

Setting up the SD card with the Raspberry Pi OS was a very quick and painless task that didn’t take any time at all.  Neither did the inital set up that I had to do on the first boot up.  Everything on the Pi is painless.  The thing wants to be hacked on.  It wants you to mess with it fearlessly.  It’s 35 dollar price tag really adds to this because if you do wind up bricking the thing, you’re not out much and you’ve gained some more “what not to do” knowledge.

After booting into the Desktop Environment -which is LXDE– the first thing I noticed was that the Pi was not outputting to the 1080p that I knew it could.  It took me about two hours to realize that there was no simple utility to change the resolution, and that I would have to use the command line to go in and change the configuration file.  At no point in this process did I feel frustrated.  As I said, the thing wants to be hacked, so I’m actually glad there wasn’t an easy to find utility in the GUI that could change the resolution.

Of course, once I did change the resolution, I realized that it made the text way to small to read, but it didn’t slow down the desktop.

Currently, I’m going through the lessons at LinuxCommand.org to get really familiar with the command line before I turn the thing into a web server.

So my recommendation would be to pick one up if you have any interest at all in learning how a computer works.  It’s a great rough and tumble environment to experiment without fear of causing any real damage because you can always get another or four.

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The Beast and I: Living With a Very Old Computer.

I’m writing this on the Beast, a computer that has been my daily-driver for nine and half years.  We all have those computers that we keep for a little too long and tell ourselves that “one day soon” we will replace it with a shiny new system.  I just never got around to the last part.  Aside from a house and a car, a computer can be the most expensive thing that most of us will ever buy.  While I haven’t been that poor for that long, I just haven’t laid hands on enough cash to feel justified in a major purchase like that.

Not when my current rig worked as well as it did.

For those of you not good at math, I build the Beast in October of 2003.  While I did want a new computer, I built it as a way of dealing with a hard break up.  (Your first long-term girlfriend is always the hardest.)  It was the first computer that I’d ever bought with my own money and the first one that I’d ever built from scratch.  I’d had two other computers before that.  Both laptops.  This was to be my first desktop.

While it would have been easy to have talked my parents into giving me the cash to buy the parts, I wanted to work for the money to get over the pain I was feeling, so I went to work for my father installing fire alarms.  That was 10-16 hour days, 5-7 days a week of physical labor for a kid that’s only a buck seven soaking wet.  You get over any mental “pain” pretty fucking quick.

And at the end of the summer, I had the cash to build the Beast.

I should probably explain the name.  I call it that because the rig is in a black server case that comes up pass my knees and is as wide across as two of me.  It has the obligatory plastic window on the side that belches blue light into the room, and the huge fans in it sound like an air port.  I have a habbit for leaving it on all night, so I don’t how I’m ever going to get to sleep without it’s white nose if I ever to get up the balls to get rid of thing.

I’m sure some reading this would like to know its specs, but it’s been so long I’ve forgotten them, and I’m too lazy to look them up.  I do know it has Athlon’s first 64 bit processor (single core), and three gigs of DDR 1 ram.  After that I couldn’t tell you.

Using the same computer for almost ten years might seem strange for some of you, given that I post a lot about technology on this blog, but I think that keeping a system running every day for a decade can teach you a lot about computers.  For about eight and a half of those years it’s been an exclusive Windows XP box.  I’ve had to learn how to keep my system clear of almost every piece of spy and malware on the Internet.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to use winconfig to close out all of the stupid programs that wanted to run on boot-up.

I never did get around to doing a reinstall, so my OS has a lot of personality.  I’ve also had an old wireless card in the thing that would make it crash every so often.  The only way that got fixed was be moving the router closer to my system and connecting it directly.

A little less than a year ago, I got tired of seeing that same interface for years, and switched to a dual boot with Ubuntu Linux.  Everything that everybody says about linux being fast is true.  I was running 12.04, which was the latest version at the time, and it gave my system new life because for the first time in year, I was running a modern operating system with all of the new design ideas of the last few years applied.  I have a powerful dock and a really slick interface.  Granted, I could only use the 2D mode of Unity, so I didn’t get all of the flashy transitions, but it was still good for me.

My advice to anyone who’s using old hardware would be to throw Linux on, because it can bring your box back from the dead.

That said, I did finally have to kill my partition because it started to act really strange.  (Locking up on back ups and such.)  This was because despite all my best efforts, my hardware has almost gone through three full presidential terms.  It’s really showing it’s age as a daily use computer, and in the next few weeks I’m going to replace it.

More on that later, but I expect when I do finally retire the beast to be a very emotional affair.