True Geek ‘cred

Filed under: @ 10:04 am

Our bee-tocks photo just made Cute Overload as part of a Bonnie Raitt salute to the closing of ‘toctober 2008!

Andrew and I are thrilled. We are such geeks. 🙂


A Wonderful Piece Of Video

Uncle AndrewUncle Andrew
Filed under: @ 10:30 am

This comes from one of my very favorite lefty commentators (and the lesbian I would currently have a crush on if it weren’t for the whole “living a fulfilled and happy life with my wife of ten years” thing), Rachel Maddow. She tried out her very first sports analogy on her program on MSNBC, using the Obama/McCain race as the subject, and I think it turned out great. Have a looksee:


Something To Tide You Over

Uncle AndrewUncle Andrew
Filed under: @ 8:59 am

Seeing as how I’m apparently physically incapable of coming up with anything useful to say at the moment, please enjoy this clip of Dirty Jobs‘ Mike Rowe on Sesame Street:

Muchas Mahalos to Margaret for sending this my way. 🙂


Pumpkin Pogrom 2008

Uncle AndrewUncle Andrew
Filed under: @ 2:12 pm

Thanks to everyone who stopped by to make Pumpkin Pogrom 2008 a success!

Click on the picture for a high-res version, should you be so inclined.


All In Favor Say “Eye”

Uncle AndrewUncle Andrew
Filed under: @ 10:40 pm

I thought I’d take a moment to provide an update to a long-previous post regarding my home surveillance system. I’ve completely discarded any remaining proletarian filaments that may still have clung to my coattails and have become an official Entrenched Suburban White Guy. Would someone pass me a handgun and an American flag lapel pin, please…?

Actually, I’m writing this post for the sole purpose of recommending a piece of software to those who may be in the market for surveillance software: CamUniversal, by CrazyPixels Software.

CamUniversal is a Windows application which can control a theoretically unlimited number of cameras (your processor speed and RAM are the limiting factors), record continuously or capture motion off of any or all of them in just about any combination, and store the resulting captures in a variety of formats. It can pull images and video from a massive variety of devices: USB Web cams, IP-based network cams, DV camcorders or analog video cameras connected to a piece of video-digitizing hardware. Really, the wealth of options is almost daunting. I certainly don’t use the product’s feature set to its greatest effect, but all in all, I’d prefer that I not be the only thing in this house not performing up to its full potential.

Setting up your camera(s) to work with CamUniversal requires some knowledge of how your particular camera(s) work: how they encode video, how they transmit it, and how/where to get to it. Take my case, for instance: I currently run a network of six IP cameras. I decided to go the IP camera route because my focus was on being able to set cameras up wherever I wanted them with a minimum of fuss. Picture quality took a back seat, mostly because my intent was to capture pictures of potential thieves peering into our windows. At that range image quality is not an issue; it’s not like I want to be able to count their zits or something. Basic VGA-quality IP cameras cost damn near nothing these days, and  IP cams with built in WiFi radios and infrared LEDs for night viewing can be had for as little as a hundred and fifty bucks. By contrast, high quality day/night analog bullet cameras with Sony CCDs run as little as a third of that, but each one of them requires a cable to hook it to your computer, DVR or other surveillance hardware. Unless you go wireless, which puts you right back in the same price range or higher.

Most of my IP cameras require an annoying proprietary—and in some cases platform-specific—ActiveX control or Javascript in order to watch streaming video via a Web browser, though a couple can also push out a simple Motion JPEG (MJPEG) image as well. All of them, however, also take still pictures, and store them in a directory on the camera (as far as I can tell, every single IP camera currently on the market does this). So instead of having to use, say, Internet Explorer 6 or later on a Windows PC just to look at my own damn camera, with a little finagling I can figure out where those still images are stored, and go look at those instead.

CamUniversal uses this same function to capture footage from the cameras you point it at, either single frames or full-motion video (which is, after all, just a stack of single frames). When setting up a camera, you tell CamUniversal where to look for the camera, the directory the still images live in, the user name and password (if any) for the camera, and let ‘er rip. There are similar configuration options for IP cameras that use MJPEG and MPEG-4 for streaming video, and a separate configuration window for cameras that connect to your computer via USB or a video-capture card. It’s all a little daunting for a complete neophyte, but if you’ve gotten a Web cam or TV tuner hooked to your computer on your own, you can probably puzzle it out. A fairly robust online help section, complete with examples, does a lot to ease the pain as well. All in all, I can’t imagine that a hardware-based DVR and analog camera combo would be a lot less trouble to install and configure….unless you got someone else to set it up for you.

Once you have the cameras in place, you can make a host of decisions about how CamUniversal deals with the resulting images. It contains a full-featured motion capture section, allowing you to select the area of the picture to look for changes, the frequency of sampling, percentage of change in the image required to initiate a motion capture, the quality of the image captured, and what to do with the image(s) after it’s got them. CamUniversal can store images in a local folder, send them via email or upload them to a remote server via FTP, give off an audible or visual alarm, run a program or batch file….once again, the cornucopia of options is more than I’ll ever get around to implementing. I set it to store my pictures to a local drive with an offsite FTP backup.

CamUniversal can also generate a floating window of live previews from your cameras, either separate or all glommed together. This feature was an absolute must-have for me. Since my office is in our basement, I feel kind of disconnected from what’s going on in and around the house. I hooked a second monitor to my camera server and run all six preview windows in it full-time while I’m working. Not only can I see who’s at the door, I can watch the birds on our backyard feeder (our sharpshin hawk was back again today). I even took a spare cam I had lying around and set it up so I can see if the cats are up on the kitchen counter and bellow, “DOWN!” up the stairs at them. I’ve got them thinking that I’m damn-near omniscient. 🙂

In addition to all of the options for cameras and image capture and storage, CamUniversal offers a rudimentary Web server for accessing your cameras over a network, and a software-to-software video server for connecting two or more computers running copies of CamUniversal to each other. Frankly, neither of these functions did much to scroll my nerd. The Web server allows you to access single images from your cameras, and, if so configured, to make basic changes to their settings. Just about anyone with the ability to build basic Web pages could cobble together a little Javascript-enabled page that would continuously fetch new images from any or all of your cameras from a single browser window….and frankly, if you don’t already have that much technical knowhow under your belt, you probably aren’t the type to try to use the built-in Web server feature anyway. The Video Server feature is a bit more “Plug-N-Play” than the Web server, but not a ton more useful, and requires purchasing an extra copy of CamUniversal for every machine from which you want to view the cameras. Both of these functions are kind of throwaways, in my opinion. But cripes: for only $54.95, this program is an absolute bargain without ’em.

CamUniversal is built around the DotNet 2.0 framework, and is pretty forgiving as far as CPU and memory goes. I’m running the software on a 2GHz Core2 Duo with 4 gigs of RAM, along with firewall software, anti-spam software, a syslog viewer and an Unreal Tournament server. On this system, under Windows XP pro, my six-camera motion-capture setup takes just around 30% of my CPU cycles and 130 megs of RAM; plenty of extra thinks to go around.

The software also comes with excellent technical support from author Marc Schneider, who is answering his email and checking the forum on pretty much a daily basis. He is quick to offer help, and has gotten me out of a jam on a couple of occasions (including one serious case of PEBKAC error).

If you have to go the Mac route for your surveillance software, I highly recommend the excellent and full-featured SecuritySpy. However, SecuritySpy is much more expensive, and the demands on the hardware seem notably higher than with CamUniversal on the PC. This may very well have changed, since the last time I tried SecuritySpy out was on a PowerPC Mac rather than the newer Intel machines. But still: for the cost of an eight-camera license of SecuritySpy alone, I would be halfway to the cost of a complete budget PC upon which to run a 55-dollar copy of CamUniversal….with unlimited cameras.

Anyway, for affluent, paranoid technocrats or anyone interested in the exciting field of staring at flickering pixels out of the corner of your eye all day, I highly recommend CamUniversal.


LA Story

Uncle AndrewUncle Andrew
Filed under: @ 11:02 pm

My trip to Los Angeles was quite informative and productive from a work standpoint, but as a cultural or travel adventure, it really wasn’t. No big deal, really: I was down there to work, and that’s what I did. It would have been nice to spend more time touring the wide and wily wilds of the City of Angels, but frankly, I was happier to get home.

I met up with the owner of our printer—an energetic, avuncular fellow named Mark—at LAX, and from that moment on he treated me like an honored guest. As you may or may not recall this trip was necessitated by the fact that the special paper we had ordered for our upcoming Fall catalog had not made it up to Oregon on time, through no fault of the printer. Mark pulled some strings with a company he works with from time to time down in the Los Angeles area, and arranged to have our press run done on their machines. He then flew me down at the company’s expense to oversee the press check.

The place down in Los Angeles does massive amounts of printing for customers nationwide, and their facility was just to die for. The press floor is absolutely gargantuan, running everything from DVD jackets to hundred-foot vinyl banners 24/7. Even their prepress department is open around the clock. I was suitably impressed with their facilities, and the quality of the output was equal to or better than anything I’ve yet seen. I was particularly enamored of the self-correcting registration system, which kept even the tiny slips that often happen on older presses from occurring in the first place. Our catalog looked great.

Mark took it upon himself to ferry me about, saving my employer the cost of a rental car, and my insurance company the cost of my cardiac bypass after trying to navigate my way around LA streets in a—swarm? horde? murder?—of LA drivers. He not only shuttled me to and from the press checks every twelve or so hours, but gave me the condensed Lost Angeles newbie tour: down the Pacific Coast Highway, up Sunset Boulevard, up around Bel Air and into Hollywood. We stopped for a pleasant dinner at some little bistro at the foot of the Hollywood Hills, then headed on back to the hotel.

(This for my brother-in-law YakBoy: during our dinner Mark and I chatted on a variety of topics. At one point he was discussing his business philosophy, describing the need to trim jobs at certain operations he had consolidated. He made a good case for eliminating a small percentage of his total workforce in order to secure the jobs of the remaining. At one point he said something to the effect of, “If my back is against the wall and I know I have to get rid of some people in order to save everyone else, well, I’m like those guys that got stranded when their plane crashed in the mountains. If some folks have to be eaten to save the majority, then I’ll do it.” Amused, I then brought up my brother-in-law, who has a theory that any conversation that is allowed to go on long enough will eventually turn to the subject of cannibalism. Both Mark and I marveled at this serendipitous, real-world example of his hypothesis in action.)

As Mark drove me around describing the sights as we went, I got the strangest feeling of deja vu. I would see an instersection of two winding, hilly streets, or a certain storefront, or a particular sculpture nestled in an alcove in the face of a building, and I would think to myself, “I’ve seen these before, I know I’ve seen these before.” It took a while before it hit me: I had seen these places playing Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. I had always suspected that Rockstar’s designers had put a lot of on-site work into the look and feel of the game, but the similarities were absolutely uncanny. For some reason this made me feel like a total choad, but Mark got a kick out of it.

I was originally supposed to stay through Wednesday evening, the assumption being that the entire press run would take about sixty hours. However, the company had a spare press available the morning of the first run, so they ran two forms at once, which knocked one press check off the total. It appeared that we would be done no later than two o’clock Tuesday, so I called the airline and knocked my flight back a day. Even at the usurious rate of 125 bucks to transfer my reservation, it was a damn sight cheaper than staying over an extra day. Hotels in LA—decent ones, at least—are expensive.

As it turns out I could have used the extra day. The printer was having a little trouble working with our paper, having never printed on it before, and our press run was going a little slow. The press check that should have happened around midnight Monday took place seven o’clock Tuesday. With the final one set to happen sometime that evening, I wasn’t going to be able to make it unless I changed my flight again. I  really didn’t want to do that, so I left the final check up to the print manager. After the first press check they lock down the color and subsequent checks are pretty much a formality. Of course something bad can always happen, but I had always trusted this company to do a good job in the past—I normally only stayed for the first press check when the job was printed in Oregon—and rather than incur another few hundred bucks in reservation transfer and hotel fees, I decided to let it slide.

I topped off my whirlwind LA tour Tuesday with a quick visit to Manhattan Beach with Tim, one of Mark’s partners (in his BMW convertible no less; how more California can you get?) and—at my suggestion—lunch at In ‘N Out Burger, which believe it or not was also on my list of California landmarks to visit. In ‘N Out is a fast food joint that is family-owned, refuses to follow the franchise model (which means they are actually in the business of selling food, unlike franchise restaurants which draw the vast bulk of their revenue from the rent they charge their franchisees), consistently wins awards for the quality of the food, and is known for giving all of its employees a living wage plus full medical benefits. They also make a really decent burger, an almost perfect compromise between a fussy upscale gourmet concoction and a good ol’ roadside rotgut. They also slice the potatoes for their fries right on the premises. The local equivalent ’round these parts would be Dick’s….though to be honest I think the In ‘N Out’s got a better tasting cowwich.

I got to the airport around one o’clock for my five-thirty flight, but was able to land a standby seat on the two thirty to Seattle. Good thing, too: for all that it is one of the busiest airports in North America, LAX is a bloody ghost town, with almost nothing in the way of entertainment for the waylaid traveler. Seattle-Tacoma International has a ton of restaurants, shops, art installations….LAX had, like, a coffee stand and a Hudson News. Had I been forced to stay there the whole four-and-a-half hours, I would probably have gnawed my own leg off just to relieve the boredom. (Just kidding about the leg; no way am I that flexible.)

All in all Mark and his associates did everything conceivable to make this a pleasant and rewarding trip, and I really did appreciate the efforts of all involved. The journey was a bit exhausting but extremely productive. I certainly wouldn’t mind maybe going back some day. But Man oh Man, am I—and Margaret, and the cats—glad I am home.


Kinda Busy Right Now….

Uncle AndrewUncle Andrew
Filed under: @ 4:54 pm

I’m taking my free time pretty seriously at the moment, because after I get back from my LA Adventure I’m gonna be running balls-out to get everything ready for the new catalog mailing. This is my (current) feeble excuse for not posting more.

However, my father forwarded me something from my nephew that I just had to pass along:

Thanks Dad!


Californy Bound

Uncle AndrewUncle Andrew
Filed under: @ 10:40 pm

Due to a series of events of the SNAFUesque variety with our upcoming fall catalog, I will be spending three glorious days and two nights in an industrial suburb of beautiful Los Angeles, starting next Monday.

This is a real yawner of a news flash for many of my readers; trips to various parts of the country—or world—are standard fare for a great number of you. But for myself, a person who considers it a serious adventure to hop in the car and drive three hours straight down Interstate 5 to Portland, this is a trek tantamount to leading an expedition canoeing down the Congo River in search of diamond deposits. I know jack-over-shit about LA, having gleaned the entirety of my lore from episodes of The Shield and from playing Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. So based on that, I imagine that I can reasonably expect to be shot to death by an insane crackhead during a botched carjacking while trying to stop a corrupt cop from beating a prostitute to death—or something like that.

On the other hand, if common lore is to be believed, top-grade sushi just rains down from the sky every afternoon around three in the City of Angels. And if at all possible I’m dying to go to Pink’s. Maybe I’ll see Harlan Ellison there, discussing Dostoyevsky with the grill man (don’t bother trying to understand the reference; you’ve either read “Prince Myshkin, And Hold The Relish” or you haven’t).

In reality, I’m not at all worried about going to SoCal; just irritated. This is going to take a sizable bite out of my work time, which I really can’t afford right now. Not only do I need to get everything in the new catalog ready to be rolled out on our Web site, but I also have to establish a support infrastructure for our new server environment at work. There are also print advertisements to be created, instruction booklets to update, and the whole upcoming Xmas season to start girding ourselves for. Oh, and an armpit-high stack of images that I need to convert to PowerPoint slides for the boss. Really, I need the distraction of a business trip like I need….well, like I need to spend five collective hours crammed in a metal cigar tube full of recycled air in the company of a hundred other business commuters with a bad case of the Mondays.

Hurricane Ike is the reason for my trip. We have our catalog printed by a company called Northwest Web. They’re a pretty big operation, with presses up and down the coast. Our catalog normally gets printed in Eugene, Oregon, and I go down there for the press check (see my previous report on the thriving fleabag hotel industry in Eugene). This year’s press check was going to be even closer to home: Forest Grove, Oregon, only a bit south of Portland. Then Ike took a big ol’ gusty shit on the greater Texas coastline. Our load of custom-ordered, 100% recycled, 85% post-consumer-waste, FSC-certified paper from Germany got stalled in a 30-barge backup at the port of Houston, and it only got off the boat about two days ago, some three days after we planned to have the first of the catalogs already out the door and clogging people’s mailboxes.

As weather-related human tragedies go, this ain’t one, to be sure. But it certainly put a hitch in our getalong.

Our contact at Northwest Web had a—well, what’s the opposite of a brain fart? Brain sonnet? Brain potpourri? Brain coquettishly-covered sneeze? One of those, anyway—and had the truck dump our paper at a subsidiary of theirs in Los Angeles instead of hoofing it all the way up to Oregon. They then offered to pay my air fare and hotel to come down and do the press check there. Mighty clever of them, I have to say, and quite civil as well.

If only it didn’t require me to get up at four in the morning to make a 6am flight, brave a total four trips through a post-9/11 airport security system, two two-and-a-half-hour sojourns via a mode of conveyance whose reputation for customer service has come to be synonymous with that of a Khmer Rouge reeducation camp, and the serious likelihood of navigating an unfamiliar vehicle on the streets of a wholly alien city, surrounded by drivers whose aggression and maniacal predilections are legion the nation over.

No, really, I’ll be fine. I’ll buck up and hold my head high. Travel helps to round out the individual, and adventure is where you make it. There are new sights to see, people to meet, and (hopefully) hot dogs to chew. So I will greet this little side-trip with a smile on my face and a song in my heart.

Besides, rumor has it that Angelinos can smell fear. 😯


I Am The Pump Man

Uncle AndrewUncle Andrew
Filed under: @ 6:44 pm

Goo goo ga joob. 😛

My new insulin pump has been sitting around the house for a couple of weeks now, waiting for my factory-certified trainer to get hold of me and set up a time for a consultation. That finally happened on Tuesday, and I am now the proud bearer of yet another expensive electronic device clipped to my belt.

This thing is actually pretty cool: a pager-sized chunk of plastic that holds around 300 units of fast-acting insulin. A wire-thin catheter runs from the pump to a neat little two-part, detachable interface that is secured by some medical-grade adhesive flaps to a spot on my midsection. A 5 millimeter length of tubing feeds out of the back of the interface and pierces my skin, providing a pathway for the insulin to travel from pump to person. The tubing and injection site have to be replaced every three to four days. This feels kind of wasteful, but certainly not noticeably more wasteful than disposable syringes, which I no longer use.

The company that puts this thing together has done pretty much everything to make the operation as simple as possible. It even comes with a glucometer that transmits my glood glucose levels wirelessly to the pump. I just take a reading, enter in the amount of carbohydrates I plan on eating, and the pump dumps the appropriate amount of insulin into my system. If you have the scratch—or if your insurance is particularly generous—you can even get a separate blood glucose sensor that attaches to your body. It continuously samples your levels and sends it to the pump, which adjusts your insulin accordingly. It’s the closest thing going to an actual electronic pancreas.

My trainer did some calculations to determine both the ideal rate for the basal (long-term) drip and for the bolus (short-acting) infusion, making some educated guesses as to my insulin sensitivity and my reaction to carbohydrates, and I was more or less good to go. In addition to handling sugar control for meals, the pump also pushes a steady trickle of insulin into my system for regular blood-sugar maintenance. This ought to significantly reduce the peaks and troughs in my blood glucose levels that are likely responsible for the minor kidney damage that I have already incurred, and prevent it from getting any worse.

One of the aspects of using the pump that I thought would be a pain in the ass has turned out to be no biggie: sleeping with it. Since the thing is designed to constantly juice me with insulin, I have to be hooked up to it 24/7, except when bathing, swimming or soaking in the hot tub. Most pump users I spoke to just stuff the thing under their pillows, but I spend all night switching from side to side (I don’t sleep on my stomach because it’s not comfortable for some reason, and I can’t sleep on my back because Margaret will smother me with a pillow; she claims I snore, but I’ve never heard it), and I’m afraid I might garrote myself with the tubing. So instead I clip the pump to my jammies and it takes my nightly roller coaster ride with me.

There’s going to be an adjustment period, in which I and my new belt-buddy get used to each other. I have (hopefully only) one more meeting with the trainer as a follow-up and final tuning. Then I’m released into the wild.

In case anyone who is considering the pump as an option stumbles across this entry, I would urge you to pursue it. At first the prospect of hooking yourself to a little chunk of machinery via a creepy tubey thing, swapping out the whole mess every few days, for the rest of your life seems daunting. But really, compared to injecting oneself three to six times a day, it’s a piece of no-sugar-added dietary low-carb cake. I and my doctor are quite optimistic that this will stave off further damage to my insides, but even if that weren’t a factor, I would take this option were it offered me. It’s easier, it’s safer….and it gives me another computerized doohinkle to futz around with. So what’s not to like?

All portions of this site are © Andrew Lenzer, all rights reserved, unless otherwise noted.