Monthly Archives: October 2006

Another try at Wi-Fi

I usually post about my Wi-Fi troubles at This Old PC, but the focus of my tests of late have been the iBook G4, which is actually getting almost to the age at which it could be considered “old.”

Bottom line, I’d like the wireless router to be able to hit both the iBook and This Old PC, which is in The Back Room, about 50 to 60 feet away. Sounds easy? But it’s not. I think that This Old House’s lath-and-plaster walls are made with some kind of metal grating that acts as a Faraday shield of sorts, keeping RF from getting into the house if it’s too weak. At least that’s the case with TV channels 2 and 4, which we have a hell of a time getting (no, we don’t have cable).

And I don’t want to have a wireless router kicking out 2.4 GHz RF, even at a tenth of a watt, a foot from my head all night. It just doesn’t sound like a good idea. So there’s one phone jack near the aforementioned head, another in the kitchen at the “telephone table” (this is a late-’40s house where the idea of a telephone nook must’ve been fashionable.) Well, even though it is only about 20 feet from the iBook, the signal was intermittent. And This Old PC couldn’t get it at all.

So after a few months off of trying, I plugged in the router near the front door, probably 5 to 10 feet farther from the iBook, and the signal is virtually perfect. I checked in The Back Room, and This Old PC gets it pretty well (but the Wi-Fi card back there is more forgiving that the Airport Extreme in the iBook, so a weaker signal does better out there — and since we use the iBook about 20 times as much, it has to be solid in This Old House).

I took it a step further, and now the router is in the coat closet near the front door. The perfect place for it to rest. If only there was a phone line and electrical plug in the closet. Not the kind of thing that 1940s houses are famous for.

But there’s a light on the ceiling. It doesn’t work — I think the pull cord broke the first year we lived here. I’ve got a couple of spares somewhere in my shed (don’t know why, but I’ve got them). And there are those thingies you can screw into a light socket to turn it into a two-pronged electrical socket. Almost none of this house is wired with three-prong electrical sockets anyway, so I’m used to not having them.

Anyway, if the light-socket-to-electrical-socket thing works, I can bring a phone line in through the floor and move the router and DSL modem in there permanently — and the Wi-Fi that comes in to the bedroom will be super solid in the living room/dining room — about 10 feet from the router.

I still have to check The Back Room to see how the signal is doing back there. I’m hopeful that it’s good. Next would be a full test — actually getting the modem itself up there (120V currently being supplied by a long extension cord) to do a couple of speed tests to make sure the connection is good.

And if that pans out, I’m gonna go wild and spend $19.99 on a refurbished Netgear 802.11g router (to replace the free 802.11b I’m running the tests with). Man, that’s livin’.

Before anything more gets done, time to paint the house.

Marc Sabatella to the rescue

One of the smartest people I’ve come in contact with on the Internet when it comes to jazz — and playing music in general — is Marc Sabatella.

Case in point, a rec.music.makers.guitar.jazz discussion on bebop heds and the David Baker bebop books:

For one thing, it’s not like these guys were “using” the bebop scale in
the way we might think about it today. They were using the major and
minors scale, and tossing in some passing tones when it felt necessary.
Baker just codified this practice by putting names on particular
combinations of major and minor scales with passing tones. So one
shouldn’t expect to see anything that looks quite as pat as Baker makes
it sound. Sure, beboppers used passing tones all the time, but in a way
MUCH more varied than would appear from learning a small set of fixed
“bebop scales”.

Second, I think you’ll find more use of this particular devices in
*solos* than in heads, simply because the heads don’t tend to have quite
the same types of long streams of eighth notes in which these passing
tones are most effective. Heads are still great to learn to get a
general feel for the language in terms of phrasing and so forth, but if
you really need to see a lot of examples of people using passing tones
in the way Baker describes, look at the solos in the Omnibook (or
transcribe a few yourself). Personally, I don’t feel the concept of
adding passing tones to one’s lines is so hard to grasp that it really
requires examples in order to be able to do so oneself. Sure you might
come up with something slightly *different* from the ways Bird et all
used passing tones. As far as I am concerned, that’s a *good* thing.

Here’s Marc’s whole post. The entire thread.

What’s funny, also, is that Marc is a pianist, not a guitarist, but he hangs out on RMMGJ because it’s got about 20 times the activity of rec.music.makers.jazz. I highly recommend Marc’s book, “The Harmonic Language of Jazz Standards,” which offers a new way of understanding harmony in the context of playing the standards in a jazz context. Now it’s all based on standard Western-style harmonic analysis, but with lots of creative ways to look at and understand that harmony, with the goal being the ability to play a standard tune from musical memory, on the spot, in any key, without ever having seen the lead sheet. It’s a lofty goal that I’m pretty sure I’ll never reach, but there’s plenty to learn from the book nonetheless. And it applies equally to guitar and piano, if you’re wondering.

QuickTime is slow on a PC

I needed to download QuickTime for the PC the other day to watch a video, and while video on it looks great, somehow Quicktime became my default program for listening to MP3s when I clicked on .mp3 links on Web pages. The slowness was killing me … and while the MP3s on my hard drive were still coming up in Windows Media Player, I couldn’t get the clickable links to come up that way.

While trying to make Quicktime behave, I opened it up. Every click was torture. Slow … like you wouldn’t believe. And this is a new Dell with Windows XP.

We don’t have full access at the Daily News to all settings, so I had to do what I could in the applications without access to the Windows Control Panel.

Anyway, I just deleted QuickTime. Even that took a long time — it’s a bloated program. As I said previously, I even prefer Windows Media Player for casual MP3 listening — it’s easier to deal with than the iTunes. And QuickTime? Fuggetaboutit.

Getting comfortable with Windows XP

It’s been about a year, I figure, since the Daily News junked its 400 MHz Celerons running Windows 98 for new Dell Optiplex GX520s with Windows XP, and I must say that I’ve gotten quite used to the operating system.

It’s pretty solid — crashes are rare. And it’s so easy to grab photos and files of all kinds and put them where I want them. Easer than Mac OS X, which always seems to want me to save to the desktop, which I don’t ever want to do because the reason I have folders created is to keep unorganized crap off of that very desktop. Now my real desk, and its top, for that matter, is another story entirely, but I like to keep some order on the virtual one.

I really appreciate the way the My Documents, My Pictures and My Music folders work in XP. I’m no expert, but I suspect that they’re account-specific, and that if my PC was set up for different users with separate logins, each would have their own versions of these folders. I only suspect this — I don’t know enough.

From reading the great OS X book in the “Missing Manual” series by David Pogue, I leaned that much of the OS X world is acocunt specific. For instance, Safari bookmarks and settings, Mail configurations, even many folders, the desktop itself and other settings change with the different accounts. Now since probably 99 percent of all laptops, and almost as many desktops, are used by one person only, the whole idea of separate login accounts (in the Unix sense) is probably moot, but it’s nice to know the power is there, especially for a multi-person household or workplace.

Me, I’ve written before that I’m loath to use a mail program of any sort, be it Mail on OS X, Outlook on PC, Eudora or any other, because I don’t want my mail to be stuck on a single hard drive on a single PC when I’m doing computing in so many different places. Now for the sake of archiving it, that might be attractive, but for now I’m trusting Yahoo! Mail, and in the case of the Daily News, not really caring what happens to my e-mail.

But back to XP. I really love all you can do with right-clicking, and the aforementioned ease with using the My Pictures and other specialty folders. I do it so seldomly that I forget exactly how to put applications either in the Start menu or on the desktop, but it only takes me 5 minutes to figure it out (gotta get “Windows XP — The Missing Manual” — there are probably hundreds of tricks that I don’t know).

I actually appreciate the ease of using the Windows Media Player. I’ve since downlaoded Quicktime for work purposes, and it somehow took over my playing of MP3s — I’ll have to deal with that at some point. But the My Music folder, though it’s no iTunes, for me is refreshingly easy to deal with, just as the My Pictures folder is more straightforward than iPhoto (albeit without all the capabilities).

The bottom line for me is that I’m in the PC environment way more than I’m on the Mac, so it’s perfectly logical that I’d be more comfortable on the former. And even though This Old PC just doesn’t have the goods to run XP (Windows 2000 is pretty much the end of the line OS-wise for it), I’m giving very good marks to XP for its plain old workhorse ability.

A case in point, today I clicked on a Telnet link on a Web page, and a terminal window opened right up out of Explorer, and I began my Telnet session. The same session didn’t go as smoothly on the Mac, but that might’ve had more to do with my ISP and setup at home on the iBook than it did anything else. Still, XP handled it well. And I’ve been using GIMP on a regular basis for my image-manipulating needs — runs pretty fast on the Dell.

Making the leap, IE 5.0 to IE 6.0

I did it. If This Old PC can run Firefox, it certainly
can run IE 6.0. That and I couldn’t find IE 5.5 as a
stepping stone.

Looks like I didn’t need it, as IE 6.0 starts up fine,
runs fine, too.

Since this computer will function as a backup for my
posting to the Daily News Web site, I also removed
Yahoo! Toolbar, as it renders IE 6 incompatible with
the MediaNews Group Web-posting software.

While I was in there, I also did a Windows Update. All
is well at this point.

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