ALA anyone?

I’m curious – who is (or isn’t) going to ALA in New Orleans this summer?

I’ve found some deals that put attending for a few days into the realm of possibility for me, and am curious to hear other perspectives.

I need to decide by March 3rd to get the discounted registration rate, and knowing I’d have acquaintances to meet up with would be a big plus.

Review: The Big Over Easy

The Big Over Easy : A Nursery Crime

Rating: 2 out of 5

Author: Jasper Fforde

Year: 2005

Publisher: Viking Adult

ISBN: 0670034231

The Big Over Easy is Fforde’s first novel outside of his Thursday Next series, which I loved. I had high hopes going into Over Easy, but it just doesn’t measure up.

This book follows investigator Jack Spratt, who specializes in crimes involving nursery rhyme characters. In this version of England, regular people live side by side with the storybook counterparts. In particular, Spratt has to solve the murder of Humpty Dumpty.

I’m going to stop right there and not describe the plot any further. Because I’ve already hit on the biggest weakness of the book – there is almost no world-building. Why do nursery rhyme characters exist in our world? Why are they all in England? Does each rhyme’s story only play itself out once in our world? Then why haven’t the stories run out long ago? None of these questions are answered.

Meanwhile, “The Jellyman” seems to be some sort of religious figure whom everybody loves. He even appears towards the end, but there’s never any explination of who he is. Similarly, the “Sacred Gonga” is a revered artifact, but Fforde makes a joke out of never actually describing that either.

There was enough tongue in cheek humor to keep me reading, hoping for details. But sadly, almost none were provided. Granted, the main plot of Thursday Next was absurd as well – The titular hero worked for an agency whose job it was to enter books and keep their plots and characters in line. But there Fforde sold the world with tons of details and internal consistency. The Big Over Easy has almost none of either.

I was very disappointed, and can only hope the series improves from here.

Review: Xbox Media Center

As I mentioned recently, this weekend I built myself an Xbox Media Center to add to my home theater system (know that I use that phrase very loosely).

While the guide I used provides much more detail, essentially there is a weakness in certain Xbox games that allows users to execute their own code. Naturally, a bunch of geeks quickly ported a tiny version of Linux to run on the system. Using Linux, you gain FTP access to your Xbox’s hard drive. From there, you can load in any number of open source interfaces.

I went with the Xbox Media Center, and couldn’t be happier.

What it can do:

  • Stream almost any video/audio/image file from my PC over my network and onto my TV
  • Listen to streaming radio
  • Read and play my iTunes playlists
  • Play DVDs
  • Read daily comic strips
  • Subscribe to any RSS feed, including podcasts
  • Read my Bloglines account
  • Pretty much anything a script written in Python can do.

Of course, there are limitations. What it can’t do:

  • Play DRM-encoded media files
  • Moving backwards in DVD movies doesn’t work very well
  • Record TV
  • Play HD video smoothly (the processor just isn’t fast enough)
  • Play Xbox games on Microsoft’s Live online service

There are a number of less legal add-ons too, mainly focused on pirating games. But I’m honestly not interested in that. If I wanted to, I could even install emulators that let me play older systems’ games. And notably the XBMC system I have installed, even without the illegal add-ons, already out-functions Microsoft’s own version available for the Xbox. For example: Other than Realplayer files, I have yet to find a video format that XBMC will not play. And believe me, I’ve thrown it some oddball examples. Microsoft’s version is limited to a select few.

I am utterly amazed at how well this all works. The net cost to me was about $150 for a used Xbox and assorted other materials (outlined in detail at the guide linked above). For that small price, I’ve moved my consumption of digital material off of my small laptop screen and into my living room.

I highly recommend building an XBMC, and would be happy to answer any questions about it that I can.

Netflix in Huntsville

This is the post I wish I could have found when debating whether or not to sign up for Netflix.

Most movies ship from Birmingham (roughly 100 miles away), and are here the next day (once in a while that slips to two days). Returning a movie almost always takes two days. So: If I mail a movie back on Monday, Netflix will receive it on Wednesday. A new movie ships that same day, and I have it on Thursday. Three day turnaround time, which is much better than I expected. Huntsville is, after all, not exactly a major metropolis.

Before signing up for Netflix, I tried Blockbuster’s rental by mail service. I was not impressed at all. Movies shipped all the way from Louisville, which is 300 miles and two states away! Mailing time was routinely 3-4 days on each side of the trip. It could take a full week to get a new DVD after sending one back. The monthly coupons for free in-store rentals were nice, but not enough to win me over.

Another plus Netflix has over Blockbuster is the friends page. I can see what my friends have checked out, how they’ve rated movies, and even suggest movies to them! If you’d like to add me to yours, my e-mail address is: Chad.Haefele at gmail.

Interactive Subject Guides

I recently used this ProductWiki guide to turn an Xbox into a full-fledged media center (more on that in an upcoming post). As with anything this technical, there are bound to be ambiguities in the text – not everything went quite as it was outlined in the document for me.

Here’s the great part – the author of the guide stuck around! There is a 127 post (and growing) discussion of the guide here. The original article has been updated along the way as new points come up and clarification emerges. All in just over three days!

Imagine if a library subject guide worked this way! Students or patrons could discuss a guide amongst themselves, with a librarian popping in to assist and update the guide on the fly. I’ve heard some buzz recently about certain libraries trying out wiki-based guides, and can’t wait to see where they end up.

How to Fix an Xbox Demo Disc, With Cooking Instructions

Today I finally broke down and preordered Black, an upcoming shooter for the Xbox (and other systems). While there at Electronics Botique, I got talking with an employee about the game – in particular the demo, which I hadn’t had a chance to try.

EB just happened to have an extra copy of the Official Xbox Magazine, with the aforementioned disc included, on hand. The very nice employee threw it into the deal, free of charge.

Only one problem: my Xbox refused to recognize the disc as a game! Not having a receipt for the magazine, I couldn’t take it back and swap for another. Naturally, I turned to Google.

Poking around various gaming forums showed that I was not alone in my problem. Nobody seems to know why, but the OXM demo discs run into this pretty frequently. Luckily, there is a solution: Boil the disc.

Yes, I said boil it. Again nobody seems to know where this advice comes from, but countless forum posters swear by it for fixing demo discs. The running theory is that it removes some sort of finishing layer off of the DVD, allowing the Xbox drive to more clearly read it.

Figuring I had nothing to lose, I set a pot on the stove. I brought some water to a boil, tossed in the disc, and then immediately took the pot off the burner. I let the water cool enough to remove the disc by hand. Patted it dry, and voila! It works!

You may wish to add salt to taste. 🙂

Oh, and the demo is a whole lot of fun. Stunning graphics, especially considering that this is not an Xbox 360 game. Glad I made the purchase, and can’t wait for the full version.

When Movies and Games Meet

James Cameron recently announced plans for the gaming tie-in to his next big sci-fi movie.

In the weeks leading up to the movie’s release a Massively Multiplayer Onling Game will be available, set in the movie’s world.

I know absolutely nothing about the movie (‘Project 880’ for now) itself, but this idea excites me. What better way to get movie-goers involved than to let them be characters?

There’s another brilliant crossover idea in the article, involving a reality show and an online game, but you might as well read the source rather than have me repeat it.

Addition of Tags, and a Question

You might notice that I’ve added tags to each post, courtesy of the Ultimate Tag Warrior plugin.

If you’re not familiar with the concept: Just click on a tag (after ‘Filed Under:’ above), and a page will load with every post I’ve written that has the same tag assigned.

At the very bottom of the page you can find a nifty tag cloud, where the size of a tag represents how often I’ve used it. I may move this elsewhere on the site soon.

One tagging question: Is there an easier way with this plugin to go back and assign tags to my older posts than doing each one individually? I’d love to be able to do it all on one page, because doing each post separately will take literally forever.

Structured Blogging Annoyance

In the past, I’ve loved using the WordPress Structured Blogging plugin. It adds a nice review form to my posting page. I fill in how many stars, a picture, etc, and it makes sure all my reviews are consistently formatted.

As part of today’s upgrade to WordPress 2.0.1, I also upgraded the Structured Blogging plugin. Now, I can’t edit my posts created with earlier versions!

This fact is noted on the official wiki, but of course I didn’t think to check there first.

So after an hour of playing with Ultimate Tag Warrior, and finally getting it working, I can’t add any tags to any review I’ve ever written with the plugin. I suppose I could go directly into the database and insert them manually, but I really don’t want to do that.

One of the main reasons I added tags was so I could group posts better. For example, giving everything from the Gaming in Libraries conference one tag. But because I wrote those session summaries in the Structured Blogging plugin’s form, no can do.

I am not happy.