Christmas gift awesomeness

* The “Kindle”:amazon is awesome. The awesomeness is due to the wireless delivery of books. And the fact that I can browse Amazon at my PC and direct books to my Kindle with one click. (Similarly, the Unbox/Tivo integration is awesome for the same reason — Amazon is silently building a great asset here). The book selection is soooo much broader than that for the Sony Reader.
* Call of Duty 4 is awesome. the ranking/challenge system keeps you engaged. Haven’t cracked the UT box yet, so entranced with COD4 — must get to 5-star general.
* Stupid little RC helicopters that we got are fun. Available from lots of vendors. Pretty uncontrollable, watch out lamps!

Everything else is awesome too! I will blog it all in the fullness of time.

Recent Books

My book reading has slowed to a crawl the second half of this year. Work, Family, Halloween, BioShock, all conspired to limit my time.

* “Tree of Smoke”:amazon by Denis Johnson. All kinds of acolades but I gave up, it was just boring. No hook, nothing intriguing about any of the characters. Nothing compelling about the setting or milieu. I gave it 100 pages. I’ll never know what happens to the characters and I really don’t care.
* “The Rise of Silas Lapham”:amazon by William Dean Howells. An interesting title as the story generally is about the economic and societal fall of Silas Lapham. At a deeper level it is a morality play about the temptations faced by Lapham, and how he tries to do the right thing despite the costs. At the end of the day he is at peace albeit greatly reduced in lifestyle. Shouldn’t we all aspire to this?
* “Spin”:amazon by Robert Charles Wilson. Very entertaining tale centered around 3 childhood friends and their adult lives as the earth goes through wrenching changes imposed by unknown outside agencies. Some hard science but a lot of character drama as well.
* “Counterinsurgency Lessons from Malaya and Vietnam”:amazon by John Nagl. Great analysis comparing British army culture and success vs US army culture and success. The core point — the British army is a leveraged tool of broader political goals, whereas the US army is designed for all or nothing wars when politics have failed. I also loved the succinct priorities established by Templer in Malaya when he took over the British military mission:

# get the priorities right
# get the instructions right
# get the organization right
# get the right people into the org
# get the right spirit into the people
# leave them to get in to it.

Distance Learning — graduate engineering

Been tough to keep up with my coursework at UW this year — they just don’t have a deep distance learning curriculum, particularly in materials science, my interest area. Scanning the web for new options:

* Master of Science in Materials Science and Engineering — Florida seems to have a prominent program but sigh, the gators.
* Auburn as well
* Purdue
* Texas A&M

Of course if I want to go self-paced and just learn material without worrying about a degree there is always MIT Open Courseware though at a graduate level the materials are often very thin — someones lecture notes.

Stuff I Want But Do Not Need — Photo edition

* delkin 16gb udma cf card — 16G!! After blowing through a 4G card in a single basketball half (RAW and high-speed continuous shooting will do that), I can see the value of 16G.
* Tourist Remover — not sure that this would really work that well for me but a cool idea
* Phil points towards some content-aware resizers — another awesome idea in photo manipulation
* Not really a product to buy but a project plan for wildlife photog
* Bob on tripods

Cablecard install getting better

The last time I tried to get a cablecard installed was a disaster — A Little Ludwig Goes A Long Way: Comcast Cablecard Install. Things have gotten a lot better. I recently installed two cablecards from Comcast in two different Tivo3s and while it was crazy arcane, it could all be done over the phone and it worked. You have to record all kinds of goofy numbers and tell them to a Comcast rep over the phone, and then wait while they do some mysterious network authentication task, but then things work. Finally got rid of that disaster Microsoft TV box.

Apparently I am not the only person rediscovering the cablecard. And as noted, the cool thing about current cablecards is the multistream capability so that I can record two channels at once. You can’t get Comcast PPV/Ondemand content, but you can get Amazon Unbox.