Monthly Archives: December 2005

Sudoku

Ilene is better at the Sudoku puzzle than I am. I file Sudoku under “too hard, head hurts,” for the most part. By following the puzzle’s rules, it is possible, by process of elimination, to figure out where one missing number goes, then another, and so on, until the puzzle is complete. That works for the easy ones. But in the harder puzzles, you reach an impass very quickly, and that technique no longer works. You can’t find a single 3×3 grid in which there aren’t multiple possibilities for every missing number. So what do you do? Guess? Or is there another technique?

Not that I’m going there myself, but there is more than one way to skin the Sudoku, as Wikipedia illustrates. And for a look at the mathematical implications of Sudoku, try American Scientist Online, which also includes some history on the puzzle, and how it was probably invented by an American way before it became a nationwide obsession in both Japan and the U.K.

If I was better at these kinds of puzzles, I would probably be a mathematician, theoretical physicist, or, at the least, grooming-challenged eccentric.

To check the New York Times Crossword Puzzle here at the Daily News, I have to figure out at least two clues to make sure the grid matches the clues, and let me tell you, that’s sometimes pretty difficult.

We also run the poker column by Chicago Tribune writer Steve Rosenbloom. I can pretty much figure out what’s going on, but poker is so jargon-heavy, I think you have to watch about 20 hours of it on TV before you can speak the language (and no, I haven’t done that and furthermore won’t do it).

Out-Firefoxed

Update: More Boing Boing readers use Firefox than IE.

Do you have Firefox? It’s rapidly becoming a must. On the Mac, the Blogger is one of the sites that works somewhat with Internet Explorer 5, a bit better with Safari but only functions fully with Firefox.

The move away from IE and toward Firefox, especially for Mac, is being hastened by Microsoft’s announcement that it will no longer support IE for Mac, with the reasoning being that they’re unwilling to put any resources into it now that all Apple computers ship with Safari.

And for those still using OS 9 on the Mac, there’s NO Firefox or Safari (both are available for OS X only). You have to stick with the aging IE 5, or possibly Netscape. It’s getting to the point where pre-OS X Mac users can’t really use the Web properly, since many developers are assuming that you have Firefox or IE 7 (which will never make it to Mac).

I like Firefox and all the things you can do on Blogger with it, like WYSIWYG for photos, bolding and italic, block quotes and more. But Safari is still faster for the Mac, and I can only hope that Blogger’s promise to fully support the Apple program comes through eventually. And if Firefox gets even more stable, I might be able to live with the slowness at startup.

Speed and stability are my No. 1 and other No. 1 criteria for a Web browser — quickness is everything, and I don’t want it to ever crash. And for Mac, Safari beats Firefox on this count.

Meanwhile, Firefox seemingly went from nowhere to a major player, and I have no idea how Microsoft is going to counter it.

For Mac users, I hope Apple doesn’t give up on Safari. And at least ONE of these developers should take pity on users of pre-OS X Macs and offer an updated browser.

Does Microsoft’s abandonment of IE for Mac mean it will do the same for the Office software package? Since Apple is already in that space, too, with its iWork bundle, it could happen. It would be a bad move for Microsoft, but getting out of the Mac browser business — when surfing the Web is what many computer users do about 99 percent of the time — seems just as bad.

LAvoice.org has it much worse


Mack Reed of L.A Voice has DSL problems of his own, and he took notice of my broadband journey, which is thankfully complete. I did a speed test last night, after DSL Extreme bumped the line back to 1500 bps, and everything is running better than ever. We can use the Internet and make phone calls at the same time in perfect digital harmony.

For those having trouble with DSL, here are some resources:


For no apparent reason, a picture

of the Fonz on the phone.

For speed tests and techies, disgruntled and not, discussing the fine points of broadband, go to DSL Reports and start digging in.

If you suspect a problem with your inside wiring, want to upgrade your telephone setup or even add a heavy-duty DSL filter that will eliminate your need for those little ones on each line, go to the Phone Man’s Home Phone Wiring Advice Page.

And, of course, there’s always DSL Extreme, which will provide you with broadband service in areas wired by both SBC and Verizon.

How well do you know YOUR DSL support tech

DSL Extreme has been calling for the last day or so, and I finally caught one of their calls at 8 this morning. Seems my friend Dan wanted to check on how the service was working. I said great, because that’s how it is, and he inquired about my Xmas preparations. Sure my name is Rosenberg, but since Christmas and Hanukkah coincide, I’m giving everybody a free pass. Thank you, Jesus and the Maccabees. I inquired about HIS Christmas shopping — he still has to get something for “the wife.” Well, since everything was working, I asked him to bump up our speed from 768 bps to 1500 bps. He checked the line, and since it was working fine, said he would do it.

He calls back 5 minutes later. I pick up the phone, “Hi, it’s me,” he says. Yes, Dan became a “me” in my life. But now that all is flowing fine on the DSL line (I’ll check the speed tonight just to make sure), I expect my relationship with the tech support staff at DSL Extreme will become a more distant one. One can only hope.

DSL, you complete me


It’s been three months or so, but we FINALLY got the DSL working right. I converted our DSL Extreme dialup account to DSL (at $14.95 a month vs. $12.95 for dialup, resistance is futile) At first, we couldn’t get a signal at all. I’m not sure what happened, but we did get up and running. But the signal would cut out whenever we picked up a telephone to make or receive a call.

Now I had already dragged the modem, telephone and cables outside to the NID (that’s network interface device), unplugged the house’s wiring at the test jack and plugged in everything there to eliminate any influence of the household wiring (which the DSL Extreme techs were CONSTANTLY blaming all my problems on, even though I was outside bypassing it entirely). Glad I didn’t spend five hours under the house rewiring the phone jacks (all two of ‘em) because being under the house is a special thing that should only be done once every two years, and I’d already been under when we had termites last year.

Don’t get me wrong, the Billing and Technical Support staff at DSL Extreme (both of which I’ve had to deal with) are extremely helpful and responsive. But they are loathe to get SBC involved. See, even though DSL Extreme sells the service and has the routers and other techie equipment at their Winnetka, Calif., headquarters, the lines themselves are still the responsibility of SBC (and yes, I could’ve ordered the DSL through them,.but I liked the DSL Extreme deal and terms better, and I already had an open account with them for the dialup, which was way more rock-solid than any other dialup service we had, including AOL and AT&T). And e-mailing Tech Support with my signal problem was not enough. I had to call them from home and be ready to do wiring and modem gymnastics in order for them to get “a ticket started” with SBC.

“NID,” “a ticket started,” it’s a whole new language.

Finally I bit the bullet on Sunday and called them. First they lowered the speed of the line from 1500 bps to 768, and the line supposedly got more “stable.” They figured I was too far from the phone company office. I told them, “Van Nuys is the center of the entire fucking universe, and if we are not close enough to the central office, nobody is.’‘ Stability be damned, the speed reduction didn’t work. We still lost DSL signal when using the phone.

So finally, they agreed to open a ticket with SBC, telling me that there could be a $125 charge if the problem was with my inside wiring. Since I was 100 percent confident that this was not the case, we proceeded to set up an appointment. SBC came a day early, the guy right away went to the phone box (or NID, for those who have been paying attention), got into the “phone company only” part and removed an MPU, which is some kind of electronic circuit that’s either supposed to remove interference or alert the phone company when there’s a problem on the line. The SBC guy told Ilene that these now-ancient circuits are a real pain in the ass.

Now everything works great. We can talk on the phone and use the Internet simultaneously — and hopefully DSL Extreme will soon see fit to bump the speed of the line back up to 1500 bps. DSL Extreme offers a speed test on their support page, and it’s easy to check up on how fast it’s going.

With a little more dogged determination, I could’ve gotten this all resolved in the first month (I still have to caulk the bottom of the toilet, and we all know how long THAT’s been going on — and I do have all the things I need to complete THAT job), but the thought of having to spend an afternoon on the phone with DSL Extreme wasn’t high on my personal list of ways to spend said afternoon, so I delayed.

Still, the tech support from DSL Extreme is pretty good. I’ve only had to wait on hold once when calling — there’s usually someone on the line to help right away, and for $14.95 per month, it really is a whole new world for those of us who have been stuck with dialup.

So problems notwithstanding, I would recommend DSL Extreme. But the whole process of getting a working line should be easier for those with nary a computer-nerd bone in their bodies. Both SBC and DSL Extreme are praying, when they start a new customer on the service, that everything in the physical setup — from the telephone pole to the wiring down to the house, the DSL filters, the house wiring, the home computers — is working fine so they can send a “self-install” kit and not have to physically show up. For newer dwellings and newer computers, this probably works a whole lot better “out of the box,” literally and figuratively.

I think when we get to the next generation of broadband, whether through an upgraded fiberoptic network or via wireless, this will all be easier. I suspect that ease already extends to cable Internet service, but I promise you nothing.

L.A. Times does Tom Cruise

The L.A. Times ran a large Tom Cruise/Scientology story Sunday, but the whole affair is just a rehash of pieces that appeared in Radar magazine and on Salon.com

What left me thinking “huh?” in Sunday’s L.A. Times piece was all the talk about excessive pampering for Tom Cruise and Scientology leader/Cruise buddy David Miscavige. So what if the leader of a large, profitable religion and its most well-known adherent get a lot of special treatment? And it’s no news that the worker bees of Scientology do a whole lot for a little, all the while signing “billion-year contracts.” It’s also no news that the advanced teachings of Scientology are wacky.

What I want to know about is the money, what happens to the lives of the regular Scientology people, how the lower-level Scientology “celebrities” are treated, and what kind of proselytizing is done in the many Scientology splinter organizations (which, like Narconon, often don’t mention Scientology in their names) that are concered with drug abuse, education and especially the organization’s fight against psychiatry.

And it took the Times about 40 inches of copy before they mentioned a few other celebrity Scientologists in the context of the religion’s recruitment efforts among actors and musicians. In the case of singer Beck, his parents were/are Scientologists, as are/were the parents of current Scientology celebrities Juliette Lewis, Danny and Christopher Masterson, Giovanni Ribisi and Erika Christensen. Would be nice to hear about how celebrities present and hopeful, are treated. Some say that you can get a leg up in Hollywood by joining Scientology and networking through the Celebrity Centre in Hollywood.

Still, kudos to the Times for covering the subject at all, even though I got all I needed from Radar a couple of months ago.

Public radio pays


The silence about public radio salaries either means they’re abysmally low or unashamedly high. Are these seemingly dedicated people filling the commercial-free air and shilling for pledge dollars only to live like paupers themselves?

Well, here’s something: Laist reveals that KPCC’s Larry Mantle, host of “Air Talk,” makes $115,000 per year, and Nic Harcourt, keeper of the “rare, live import demo remixes” * for KCRW’s “Morning Becomes Eclectic” makes “a little over $100,000, all this information presumably gleaned from the stations’ annual reports.

Now I don’t know about you, but I find $100,000 to be a lot of money, but I don’t begrudge it to these guys one bit — especially Larry Mantle, who I admire very much and who works very hard for that money.

We all know the kind of money Howard Stern and Katie Couric are making. When you’re in a certain stratosphere, it’s national news. And we all look at and judge the salaries of others through the prism of how much we, ourselves, have earned.

Still, I don’t think people knowing that the top public radio on-air talent drags in $100,000 a year will be much of a help to the stations’ pledge-drive efforts. And it begs the question: Do these people’s salaries have a direct link to their ability to pull in donations, both individual and corporate?

*Neither a direct, nor indirect quote. Just my summation of Nic Harcourt. Have a live, cassette-only B-side remix demo — on the house!.

Another one rides the bus

It wasn’t that big a deal, since I’ve ridden MTA (and formerly RTD) buses plenty of times in the past, but I did make my maiden Orange Line journey last night. The bus neither struck nor was stricken (is that proper verb conjugation?) by other vehicles, and our driver, whose voice announcing the stops could’ve been way louder, duitifully slowed down at all intersections.

I hoofed it out of the Daily News about five minutes after 6 o’clock and got to the “transit hub” across from the Promenade mall on Owensmouth Avenue at about 6:15. The bus was idling about 30 yards from the stop, and the lighted signs said it would leave at 6:22 p.m. I bought my ticket from the fancy electronic kiosk with an MTA token, and the bus pulled up right on schedule.

Suprisingly, I was joined by about 20 other people (this is NOT the portion of the day when buses arrive every 5 minutes, but it damn well should be). More people got on with every stop, and it was soon standing room only. And hot. They had the heat cranked up to 79 degrees.

Yes, I carry a thermometer with me at all times. What’s it to you?

I couldn’t see much — it was dark outside, and the lights inside the bus make it hard to see out. I sat in one of the “high” seats, about 10 feet ahead of the “bend” in the accordion-style bus. If I looked at the moving floor too long, I started to get bus-sick. So obviously no reading or looking at the floor for me on the Orange Line.

The trip was uneventful. As said before, the driver did call out the stops — essential at night, because you really can’t see much, and the busway is at many points off the beaten (or auto-driven) path.

We arrived at the Van Nuys stop about 6:50 p.m. Not bad, but I wish I could have caught an earlier bus. There were transit cops at the station checking tickets, so anybody who thinks they can get away with not paying, think again.

Then came the choice, should I wait for a bus on Van Nuys, or walk the rest of the way? I hadn’t bought a transfer but still had another token. I chose walking, and a good thing, too, because three buses passed me going the wrong way — and none going the right way. You get to see the neighborhood, too. I witnessed one guy yelling at somebody on a cell phone outside a stretch of storefronts and couldn’t help noticing the strong marijuana smell coming from an apartment building.

So I got a brisk walk in on both ends and arrived home about 7 p.m., just in time to feed the kid her nighttime snacks and read her the customary eight books before bed.

Back to the bus: I couldn’t figure out where the supposed on-bus bike racks were, and it was so crowded, I wouldn’t recommend traveling with a bike anyway.

After dinner, I went to Auto Zone, bought a gas can, filled it up across the street, came home, walked the gas to my car, figured out how the gas can worked and poured the 2 gallons into the Focus. It started, and I drove to the gas station to fill up the rest of the way. Back in the solo-driving business.

Will I ride the Orange Line again. Probably will. Check back with me.

Orange Line virgin

Sorry to be late to the party. I missed at least two Orange Line accidents, including one on The Worst Stretch of Road in the Entire East Valley, which is today’s pet name for Kester Avenue between Victory Boulevard and Oxnard St. I swear I saw a llama crossing the other day, along with various and sundry produce trucks, bicycles, pedestrians AND Orange Line buses.

Never mind all that. My car is dead. Whenever I go under 1/8 of a tank, it won’t run on a cold morning, so it’s parked a block away from home awaiting gas. Me, I’ve got plenty, but nothing that can run an automobile. Ilene gave me a ride this morning, but it’s me and the MTA on the way home. Even though I’m hot-blooded (check it and see), Ilene wisely insisted I take a jacket, a garment I’ve pretty much dispensed with over the last few years (that along with anything long-sleeved, since the Daily News’ windowless megabox in Woodland Hills maintains a constant 73 degrees year-round).

After the original hoopla died down, I knew it would take auto-related desperation to get me on the bus. Newly minted daily Orange Line rider and Daily News cops reporter Josh Kleinbaum is NOT riding the bus today, so I will be representing, as it were.

Notice how you can deflect the absurdity of a white guy using rap phraseology by following it with as it were? Trust me, you can. Peace out, as it were.

Meeting the neighbors

Ilene has a great post on how we’re meeting the neighbors. It’s definitely been getting more Mayberry-like in our corner of Van Nuys, partially because our kid is so darned cute … also because of the rash of daytime robberies. This led to a Neighborhood Watch meeting with somewhere between 70 and 100 attendees who listened to our senior lead officer talk about what the LAPD is doing to stop the robberies and who/what to look out for.

Whatever the reason, when it comes to strolling the neighborhood, there’s a lot more stopping, chatting, dog-petting, ball playing, flower picking and baked-goods-exchanging going on lately.