no longer an iTunes Store virgin

iTunes and I have had a relationship in the past that is occasionally marked by hesitation and misunderstanding. I didn’t want an iPod at first. I had a bad experience with RealJukebox back in the late 90’s, and that kind of soured me on the idea of ripping CDs. So it wasn’t until Mrs. Geek absolutely, positively believed that I should have an iPod that I gave iTunes a try for loading and organizing my music… and fell in love.

Still, the love was not all encompassing. I am hesitant to buy music from the iTunes music store. I’m more into good albums than just singles, and the whole DRM thing bothers me. I still buy CDs, because I know that, no matter what, I’ll be able to rip that and share the music (occasionally) if I want.

And ok, ok… I bought the Star Trek The Original Series Remastered season pass… but I wanted to see uncut versions of the episodes instead of the chopped versions on TV.

So that little drunken, lost weekend indiscretion aside, I’ve been an iTunes music store virgin… up until today. For some reason, an urge came over me to listen to the “Elvis vs. JXL” version of A Little Less Conversation. Perhaps it was the absence of the song on the Las Vegas DVDs we got the other week. Perhaps it was something else… I don’t know. In any case, I’d found a free version of the MP3 on the Net last night… but the iTunes version was sonically superior… and I couldn’t resist the 99 cent price.

There, I did it. Being of Catholic upbringing, I feel the need to confess my sins. That will be two Hail Marys and an Our Father.

Though, you know what? If iTunes had the Art of Noise/Tom Jones version of Kiss, I would have bought that too.

Leave it to the English and Nike to decide that Elvis and a modern techno mashup would go together well with a World Cup television commercial. Still, I thought it was a great idea to take a lesser known track by the King and tune it up. Both old and new at the same time. Has anyone updated an old Little Richard tune yet?

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the workout is real

I try to weight train three times a week. I follow the Bill Phillips Body For Life method when it comes to planning sets. This involves an A-B-C-D-A-E pattern. A, B, C, D are the same exercise in sets of 12, 10, 8, and 6, with weight increasing in 5 or 10 lb increments as the numbers of reps decrease. E is a different exercise that works the same group. The goal is to both shock and tone muscle groups to maximize the effect of the workout.

At the gym where I work out, there are different weights that I can use with the bench press bar. These are: 5, 10, 25, 35, and 45 pound weights. When I first started working out many years ago I usually loaded the bar up with 25lb weights on each side, and called it a day. More recently, I’ve been starting with 35 pound weights. But here’s the thing: the most I’ve ever been able to start with is a 45 pound weight on each side of the bar. The last time I was able to do this, I got ill (with a bad cold), and then got lazy… and then got fat because I didn’t work out for a long time.

My point is: when I am able to bench press that A set with a 45 pound weight on each end of the bar, I know the work out is real.

I just increased weight this morning and I used a pair of 45 pound weights. The workout is real. I can’t get lazy. I’ve got to keep with it. I’ve got to go further than I have before.

a slow day punctuated with excitement

It was a slow day around here for me. I had to stay home to do two things: meet with a moving company rep to get an estimate for our upcoming move, and to do a phone interview for a job. The appointment with the moving company took about 15 minutes. We should have an estimate by tomorrow. The job interview… well, I’m not sure how that went, but that usually means that it didn’t go so well. I’m looking for alternate work as a way to possibly increase my salary… keep those fingers crossed.

I’ve been trying to think about why this inability to get a job offer bothers me so much. I realize that I associate confidence with the ability to make choices. If you can make choices, you have options. If you have options, even if it is merely the ability to refuse something, then you have some power over your life.

All babbling aside, we also got the news that the former owners of our house have found another place to live… and will be out of the house in the next 48 hours. We will take possession of our home a week early! *sigh* Time to start buying those lawn care implements, I guess.

an old wound, poked and prodded

Thanks to everyone for words of wisdom and understanding about dieting. Any weight loss that I experience seems to be quite uneven. One week, my weight will hold steady. Another, I lost half a pound. As long as it eventually keeps going in a lighter direction, I don’t care quite exactly how the magic works.

I got written word this weekend that the injury claim filed 18 months ago resulting from an auto accident I caused has been settled. My feelings upon reading this news were very mixed. On the one hand, I am relieved that this matter is now officially settled. This is the first communication from my insurance company about this matter in a year and a half. I had more or less written the whole thing off after a year… so this also came as something of a surprise. I also find myself wondering what took so long to settle.

In all, I feel like I’ve been poked in the area of an old wound, one that had not correctly or completely healed. There was a sudden, unexpected tenderness that made me wince a bit. Perhaps it can heal now. Two more years of bad insurance rates to go.

nightmares and diets

For the second time in about as many weeks, I’ve had a nightmare where I cause an auto accident. Each time that I awake from one of these dreams, I think “oh good, it was a dream… I didn’t wreck the car” and then drift off back to sleep.I’m not sure what to make of this.

I’ve been attending a trade conference this week, and trying to watch what I eat. This is proving to be hard, because not only is the sponsor of the conference catering the affair, it’s much better than the usual rubber chicken you often see at these events. Heck, there’s even some decent microbrewed beer to drink… and I haven’t had more than a beer or two beer since July. Alas, tonight I couldn’t stay away from the vegetarian potstickers and ate a few too many…

You see, I’m on a diet and trying to lose some weight. I’ve been moderating my portion sizes, and making sure to exercise 5-6 times a week, almost religiously. It’s been working. I won’t say how much weight I’ve lost for fear of jinxing it. Let’s just say that my pants rather pleasantly fit a bit better around my waist than they did say, 6 weeks ago.

Thing is, I fear that I’m falling back into bad habits. My weight loss has stalled temporarily… and I wonder if it is because I am letting my portion sizes grow again. I had an objective sense of how much was enough when I started all this… and that seems to be gone for the moment. I had a good “weigh in” at the gym this morning with a lower weight… but who knows… we’ll have to see what the evil vegetarian potstickers do to the scale tomorrow morning.

people keep saying I should be thrilled


We closed on the house on Friday. Mrs. Geek and I are now officially landowners. Everyone is asking “Are you thrilled?” as if being thrilled is a clause in the sale contract.

Yes, I am happy about the idea of owning a home… and I am happy about the idea of owning this particular home. Yet, this house is a voyage into the unknown, out of my comfort zone. With the question of housing settled, the question of children will be raised soon. That means the possibility for great joy and love if all goes well… and something we both want… but it also means the high cost of childcare. That will stretch our budget to the limit, and while that is only money… I don’t like the person those stresses might cause me to become.

So, am I thrilled?

I am uncertain. I’ve had a pretty comfortable life these last few years, and that chapter is closing. Certain parts of the immediate future are opaque to me. I am not someone who plans his life five years into the future, with an exact schedule… or even much detail. Yet, I do like having a some idea of where my feet will be landing before making the next jump. The ground looks far away, and the features somewhat out of focus.

If not being sure about whether you will like who and where you are a year from now is being thrilled, yes, I’m thrilled to death.

a very good question about data backup

(Second entry in less that twenty-four hours! woohoo!)

In a comment to one of recent entries, Elgan asked a very good question:

You are the person to ask about this dilemma we are having at my house. My husband and I have decided that it would be a very good idea to back up our data in some fashion. He wants to buy an external hard drive to store it on. Another computer-nerd friend of mine says not to do that, as external hard drives have moving parts and eventually wear out. He says to back up the data on DVDs and keep them in a safe place away from temperature extremes and sunlight, and they should last for a very long time. What do you say?

Curiously enough, this is a question that people in the computer industry have been asking themselves for the last ten years or so. I recall attending a storage conference shortly before I finished my Ph.D in 2000 where this very question was discussed. An IBM researcher got up to discuss the latest advances in tape storage technology and a colleague of mine got up to ask “why use tape? why not just use a few disk drives?” during the Q&A that followed. That is essentially the same question that is now being asked here.

The really short answer is that it doesn’t matter. The most important thing is that you need to have more than one copy of your data stored on two different kinds or pieces of media that can be physically separated. So that way, if a meteorite strikes one corner of your office, you can have a copy of that symphony, sermon, ground-breaking graphic novel draft, or soon-to-be earth-shaking dissertation draft in another corner, ready to go. With computer hard drives sized in the gigabytes these days (and computers being sold with little in the way of re-installation media), data backups are tremendously important no matter what method is used.

The more long-winded answer is that each method has its pluses and minuses and you need to do what makes the most sense for you. Let me lay out my thoughts on each type of media. You can decide what you want to do.

The biggest advantage of CD and DVD media is that they are potentially quite stable (like the aforementioned tape media above). I haven’t looked at the estimates of how long they last recently, but you’re very probably safe for at least 3-5 years if you keep them in a dark, cool, dry place. Why not longer? Unlike the mass-manufactured CDs and DVDs you buy for entertainment purposes, the ones you burn at home are thin sheets of metal, covered with light sensitive dye, and sandwiched between two pieces of plastic. That dye is pretty crisp when you first burn the disc, but it can potentially spread out, and no one is entirely sure how long it’s going to take before the discs become unreadable.

The other disadvantage of CDs and DVDs is size. As recently as the late 1990’s, hard drive size and CD/DVD media size enjoyed relative parity. I remember getting a 300MB hard drive in my computer in the mid-90’s and that is half the amount of data that can be held on a single CD. Even as recently as 2002, you could fit most PC hard drives onto a few (less than 5) burned DVDs. I upgraded the hard drive in the machine that melted down over the weekend with a 160GB SATA hard drive that was only about $70. That is potentially what… 30-40 DVDs worth of information? That’s a lot of discs to label and keep track of.

The big disadvantage of hard drives is, as Elgan’s geek friend pointed out, that hard drives have moving parts. Moving parts can fail. Disk densities are also so huge now (lots of information on little bitty platters means the data stored is stored as tiny tiny dots) that manufacturing defects can cause data corruption the first time you try to lay down data on a part of the disk. So hard disks would seem to be the less stable medium for long term backups. Except that isn’t quite true. Modern external hard drives can be turned off, and left off most of the time. Parts don’t wear when they’re not moving.

The biggest advantages of hard drive storage are size and flexibility. You can copy all the contents of one hard drive onto another hard drive. If you make a sufficiently faithful copy of your whole system, you can even start your system from the copy. You can also re-write data on the hard drive to your heart’s content — something you can’t always do with disc media.

Me, I think that hard drives have the backup edge at the moment. That’s what Mrs. Geek and I use for whole-system backups at home. Drives are relatively cheap and backups are fairly easy to do with the right software. Whole-system backups are what we do… just because the added security of knowing that our applications as well as our data are all safe.

So Elgan, I think the answer to your question revolves around what you want to do. If you just want to save a few documents or data files, make a few CDs or DVDs (more than one copy of all your data, please). If you are interested in doing a backup of your whole system (data and applications), then an external hard drive is the way to go.

And if you do want to do a backup of an OS X system, please get an external drive with a Firewire interface (not USB 2.0 — OS X likes Firewire much better, and Firewire is often faster than USB 2.0). Try to make sure that the hard drive is by a decent manufacturer, if you can. I generally prefer drives from Seagate or Hitachi. I have a well known bias against drives by Western Digital. I can recommend a program called SuperDuper. It’s fairly cheap and seems to do the job.