Monday, October 26, 2009

Return to Zen


In my previous post, I talked about the untimely death of my Creative Zen Micro and my plans to replace it. I’d forgotten at the time about EBay!

I’m pleased to report that only one lost auction later, I was the proud owner of a Creative Zen in the exact same color scheme as my old one.


It included everything from the original package plus a new extra battery. So now I have four 12 hour batteries. I can Zen my butt off now for 48 hours straight! And for a fraction of the price of a new player.
It even included the earphones, which I promptly threw in the trash.
As an added bonus, the player was loaded with a very eclectic music collection. Like some kind of digital audio voyeurs, my wife and I actually took the player on our date last Friday and listened to all the weird music in the car and tried to figure out what it told us about the guy who sold it to me.

When I went to plug it into Windows 7, I was bummed that it wouldn’t work. After some searching, I realized that I needed to update the firmware to the version released in 2005 that didn’t need special drivers anymore.
You can only do this process on Windows XP, but the amazing (!!!!) XP Compatibility Mode in Windows 7 came to my rescue and that all worked perfectly.
Apparently I did this before with my old one, but you’ll have to forgive my forgetting, since I did it FOUR YEARS AGO!!!

My new old Zen is now happily dispensing karma in my car and I’m again able to secretly listen to music from Evita and Les Mis – which doesn’t necessarily make me gay – but, I admit, it doesn’t help.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

My moment of Zen…or not

You may recall that back in January, I posted on my very durable music player, a Creative Zen Micro. Sadly, after years of devoted service, it is no more.


After my recent trips to Portland, I’d lost track of it for a couple days and finally found it in one of the gazillion pockets on my laptop bag. Unfortunately, when I turned it on, I was greeted with a mysterious failure screen that looked something like I was booting Linux on my Zen. It suggested I reformat the hard drive, which I did. I let it run for my whole commute home, about 40 minutes. Once I got it into the quiet of the house, I could hear the tell-tale death rattle tick-tick of the hard drive.
Poor little guy…it didn’t have a chance.

So, after exhaustive moments of grief, I did what every red-blooded man would do with something broken…I took it apart. I discovered that the defunct hard drive is just a little Hitachi Compact Flash drive. Of course, it is dead, so fat lotta good that does me. And replacing it would not have been worthwhile anyway. Just for the heck of it, I did stick it in my PC and listened to its hopeless ticking sounds for a few moments.
Although, I do want to point out that even in this dismantled state, if I put the battery in and turn it on, it does start to boot – which is pretty impressive. He just keeps giving.

So now what? Keeping in mind my genuine distaste for a media player that won’t work with Windows Media Player, iPods and Zunes are off the table.
I want something that has at least 8GB of space. 16 gig would be nice, but I’ve gotten along with 6GB all this time and am a notorious cheapskate, so 8GB looks like the place for me.
I couldn’t care less about video on my music player.
I don’t want a converged device. I don’t want an MP3 player on my camera or a phone on my MP3 player. I just want something with great battery life that I can leave in my car.
Unfortunately, there aren’t enough of me and the digital music player market has outright collapsed compared to a few years ago. zenmozaic

Having been so happy with my Zen Micro, I naturally went out to see what Creative had these days. Leaving aside the big glass screened video playing devices, it looks like the uniquely butt ugly Zen Mozaic would be their contender. I just don’t think I can do this to myself.
According to the review I read, the screen sucks but it has a 30 hour battery life. Sadly, no more removable batteries.

So what else is out there?

My wife has a 6GB Sandisk Sansa (below left) that is pretty nice. Unfortunately, they don’t make this one any more. The new Sandisk offering is the Sansa  Fuze (below right). It’s OK, but I don’t like the little square look they’ve got going.


A possibility, but it just doesn’t turn me on.

So that leaves us with the Sony Walkman E-series. Yes, I know, Sony screwed up on their first attempt at digital music players with their own goofy format, etc. But they’ve repented and these new units work great with Windows Media Player and PlaysForSure music.


This little guy has a 30 hour battery life and weighs under two ounces. And it is pretty cheap.
I think this is the one that will go on my Christmas list.

Friday, October 9, 2009

It's official...

I awoke this morning to the bizarre news that President Obama had been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for......."hope". Yes, that's right. So while you can't return an item for "spite", you can now receive awards for "hope".

That's right, not for anything he's done, but for the hope of what he could do. And keep in mind that the nominations closed in February, right after he was inaugurated.

In other, and arguably related news, Chicago is expecting record breaking snowfall this weekend.

That's right, ladies and gentlemen, hell seems to have frozen over.

So I guess he really did stop global warming after all.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

My Brother...continued

Here it is the night before my brother's funeral.
Preparations are relatively in-hand. In as much as they ever could be.
My oldest brother and I had the difficult privilege of dressing Bill for his funeral today. For members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, this is considered to be a final act of service and honor for the deceased. While it is not a doctrinal point, it is certainly the normal practice and tradition for family members or close associates in the church to perform this duty rather than leaving it to the professionals.
We were accompanied in this by Bill's wonderful bishop and two close friends from his local ward.
I'd never done this before and was very nervous about being go through with it. I'm not a wilting violet and I've been around, but this was, after all, my dear brother.
I was most impressed with the sense of calm and the feeling that it truly was a charitable act that pervaded the experience. I consider this truly a blessing.
Anyway, I'm not going to go into details, but I am glad to have been able to do this part of the preparation. We've been so focused on serving Bill's family, which is certainly appropriate, that it was nice to do one last thing for him amidst all else going on.
He was a super guy and I already miss him greatly.

Finally, if I could just give a plug for preparation. Please consider doing the following, none of them cost anything:
  • Round up your important papers. If you are a veteran, PLEASE dig out your original DD214. This is the key for your family to access veteran's benefits. Some of these, such as burial at a national cemetary, wouldn't be able to wait the 4-6 weeks it would take for your family to order a copy from the archives.
  • Write down information about your bank, brokerage, and other accounts. Include passwords for web sites. Keep this in a safe place, of course, but do it.
  • Think about your desires for your funeral services. Do you have particular hymns or music you like? Who would you like to give your eulogy? Any preferences for location, flower types, charities, etc.? Talk to your loved ones and then write this down. It is too hard to remember clearly when the time comes.
  • If you have benefits from your work, like life insurance, how will your family access that? What is the point of contact? What's the process? Find out and write this stuff down too. As it turns out, this is pretty hard for your family to figure out.
  • Create a checklist to see your loved ones through the final steps after you are gone.
  • If you are able, set aside some amount of money to provide for needs until the life insurance finalizes. Something like $5000-$10,000 that your survivors can access quickly and easily.

I mentioned to my wife that, while I'm certainly a proud veteran, I wouldn't feel worthy of including military honors in my funeral. I think many veterans would probably agree.
Well, the diva of the castle doesn't and says she will do what she thinks is right - and that includes the honor guard and flag. So not much I can do in the face of that kind of determination. :-)

But I do try to write down as much of this other stuff as I can, and I've learned that there is more to do. Yes, the ultimate in pre-planning is to have your funeral paid for in advance and your casket purchased, etc., but there is much that can be done for free.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

One of my brothers passed away


Very unexpectedly got word tonight that one of my older brothers passed away tonight. He collapsed from a massive heart attack at home and never regained consciousness despite the efforts of the paramedics.

He was a good man and leaves behind a wife and four children. Since they live in the Portland, OR area, we’ve always spent more time with them than my other brother, who lives in California. Whenever we’ve lived in Washington, we’ve always gone down to their house the day after Christmas to celebrate Christmas and his wife’s birthday.

I count myself lucky enough to have just spoken to him on the phone tonight for about 45 minutes. We were planning to have them up for Thanksgiving and he was just going to send an email to his boss to make sure he got it off. (He was a maintenance guy for luggage scanners at the Portland airport.)

He was always interested in talking about the Gospel and was a Sunday School teacher in his ward. He has touched the lives of many and will be sorely missed. Just tonight we were talking about some gospel matters related to the Fall and Redemption. Even now he probably has learned (or remembered) the answers to many of the questions we were talking about.

Some things you might not know about Bill:

  • He could cook amazingly good Japanese food. Usually while spouting wise or clever Japanese idioms – in Japanese.
  • He was in a Beach Boys cover band when he was in high school and used to play a killer saxophone.
  • He made a pet out of a very mean feral house cat – named “Cat” of course.
  • When I was little, like 12-ish, he took me to the movies a lot. Seems like every time a war movie comes on TV, I say, “Hey, Bill took me to see this when I was little.” A Bridge Too Far, The Eagle Has Landed, and more. He also took me to that awful first Star Trek movie.
  • He liked to play Risk.
  • He had our dad’s gift of being agreeable with just about everyone – even people he knew were complete idiots. :-)
  • He was known to sometimes <ahem> “go commando” in his younger years.
  • Right before he left on his mission he bought a red Trans-Am.
  • He used to be a welder, a sod carrier, a builder of mobile homes, an auto mechanic, a soldier, a silicon fab worker, and an electronics technician. Some of those jobs he liked, some he hated, but he always knew how to provide for himself and his family.
  • He was the keeper of the family history – both the genealogy and the stories.
  • Every time the family was together he’d find a way to work in the story of how my mom was driving him around on a paper route when he was a kid and (allegedly) laughed when a dog chased him. (Note that my mom does NOT deny this.<g>)
  • When he was going to be married, he drove me from Utah, where we lived, to California where his wife-to-be lived so I could stay at my other brother’s house until our parents came for the wedding. When we stopped at a gas station in Sacramento after driving all night, he got out his toothbrushing stuff. I wanted to get mine and he said, “Hey, you aren’t going to be kissing anybody, just wait in the car.”

Thanks, Bill. You were are always a good brother. See ya later.