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September 20, 2004

Airport Express Report

When I read about the Airport Express a few months ago, I was pretty excited about it. In fact, I was so excited by the idea that I almost went out and picked one up right away. Imagine my disappointment when I went to the Apple Store only to be told that they weren't in stock yet.

The intervening months have seen my old n' busted Linksys 802.11b router die (what's up with this stuff only lasting two years or so?) and the acquisition of a Buffalo 802.11g router instead of an Airport Express. This is because, well, it wasn't my choice. That's probably all the information I should give here. Yeah. Let's just leave it at that.

Well, recently, I've needed to extend the range of that Buffalo router, and getting an external antenna, while it helped slightly, didn't resolve the issue completely. So I sucked it up and used this as an excuse to check out the Airport Express. Now, as I've said many times before, I tend to use technology in ways that, let's just say, aren't mainstream.

I imagine that the vast majority of people hook up their Airport Expresses to their stereo, and to a cable modem or DSL modem via the ethernet port, and maybe a printer. I would guess that the majority of AXP's stand alone in a wireless network. Maybe a much smaller minority use their AXP's to connect to an existing Airport Extreme network, anchored by a previously purchased Airport Extreme Base Station. A much smaller minority of *those* people, in turn, may use their AXP to actually extend their Airport network using the WDS (Wireless Distribution System) feature. This is, unfortunately, not a part of the 802.11 spec, so every manufacturer purportedly does it a little differently. Apple seems to have made it a pretty easy process, as long as you're using all Apple base stations... Looking through the Airport Express Setup Assistant, as well as the more robust Airport Admin Utility, it seems they've made it pretty self-explanatory, and they seem to have made it so that the software could discover the necessary settings with minimal user intervention.

However, in my case, which is the extreme (pardon the pun) minority of cases, I was trying to extend an existing non-Apple wireless network. The process was somewhat painful, though I was glad to see that several people had put up helpful websites to help others through the process. Due to being a bit of a stickler on security (yeah, I know, security and wireless just don't really belong in the same sentence, but I try anyway), the process took all night. It got a little better once I found those websites, but for a while I was kind of shooting in the dark, just making some settings changes to the AXP, then the Buffalo, and back and forth, until something almost worked...

In any case, after I got the thing to finally work the way I wanted to, I'm pretty satisfied thus far. The range extension is definitely working well, and though our network is a little less secure (WEP instead of WPA, since WDS doesn't support WPA), I can now print to my LaserJet on multiple machines, Windows and Mac, without having to dedicate a machine to serve it, and of course I now have the power of AirTunes!

This whole AirTunes thing pretty much rocks. The music actually sounds better than if I just hook up my PowerBook or iPod to the analog inputs on my Acurus. I attribute this to the fact that I'm feeding the digital stream into the sweet Burr-Brown DACs in the Acurus. A good DAC makes such a huge difference in the sound. Even though the stream is coming from compressed mp3's or AAC files, and then being transmitted as AAC Lossless, then being decoded and upsampled to the 44.1 kHz PCM, they seem to have done a pretty good job of maintaining stream integrity throughout the process.

My only two complaints are that the price is pretty high for that audio connection kit. I mean, dude... three cables, one of which you'll probably not use, $40? Yeah, yeah, I know, it's the Monster Cable mystique. Whatever. The whole thing would definitely have been worth it for the $129 price tag of just the base station. The fact that three cables cost about a third as much as that base station is... ridiculous at best. Oh well, this is guy that has more than a grand sunk into audio cables over the years... so I probably don't have a right to complain. The other complaint is really directed at the IEEE. I mean, why not make WDS part of the standard? This nonsense with futzing around with the settings all night could have been easily alleviated if the spec had called on manufacturers to standardize. As far as I'm concerned, the lack of WDS inclusion makes the 802.11 spec incomplete.

But overall, a good product, and so far I'm quite satisfied.

PGP Signed Entry

September 16, 2004

The Crux of the Hit

I've thought a little about this whole Hit on Soft 17 thing these past few days, and the more I think about it, the more annoyed I get. I think I've finally pinned down why I think this is a total crock.

I used to be able to play at the same table as my friends who weren't as hard core about gambling as I am. We'd sit down at a $10 table, with either a 6 deck shoe or a 5 deck continous shuffler, and I'd play $25-100 hands while they stuck with $10-25 hands. The rules at the Bellagio and Mirage were stand on soft 17, split to 4 hands, split aces to 4 hands, no draw to split aces, double on any two cards, double after split allowed, late surrender. In the 5 deck game, this amounted to a house edge of 0.19% and in the 6 deck game, 0.25%, assuming you played perfect strategy.

By hitting on soft 17 and all else being equal, you add about 0.22% to the house edge. Any old fool can do this math: you've just doubled the house edge! So those money grubbing corporate fooks basically decided that people were going to be idiots and they could get away with this easily. The sad thing is, from what I can tell, they have.

So now the only place in the Bellagio and the Mirage where you can get stand on soft 17 is if you play at the $25 minimum (and some times of the day, $50 minimum) 6 deck shoe and the 2 deck pitch (pitch only at the Mirage; at the Bellagio the 2 deck game is dealt from the hand, but face up) games. The 6 deck shoe game remains at 0.25% since it is the same game that used to be offered at a $10 minimum. The 2 deck game is stand on soft 17, split to 4 hands, except aces which you can only split to two, no draw to split aces, double on any two cards, double after split allowed, no surrender. This amounts to about 0.19% on the house edge. It's a good game, at a $25 minimum. I don't have any problem with the casino charging more for the two deck game, because it's a higher risk, higher cost game: they have to shuffle more often, so there's less hands played per hour, and because of the threat of counters, they have to employ tighter security measures. Fine, I have no qualms with that whatsoever.

What I do have a problem with is the fact that now I have to choose to play with my friends and endure shitty rules, or play the good rules but alone. It's almost as though those marketing brainiacs got together and decided that most people who gamble at higher stakes do it alone, so they wouldn't risk alienating anyone but making this rules change. I could see it going down in the board room something like this: "yeah, those idiots who play at the $10 tables don't know shit anyway; hell they'll probably think they're getting a better game! And let's not worry about our base of higher stakes gamblers, because most of them don't care to sit at those tables with the riff raff anyway..."

I've always had a problem with marketing for this very reason. Marketing to the masses pretty much means assuming that people are idiots and if you put it in larger print, turn up the volume, and distract them, they'll love it and give you money.

An informed consumer is the bane of marketing in corporate America today. That is why this blog exists. My hope, as far fetched as this may sound, is that people will spread this word and maybe, just maybe, people will start demanding good blackjack in Vegas again. As I've always said, vote with your dollars. In Vegas, this is more true than anywhere else. I am done with blackjack at the MGM Mirage properties (Mirage, Bellagio, MGM Grand, New York New York, and Treasure Island). If I'm going to endure shitty rules just to be with friends, I'd rather go somewhere else on principle. I'm encouraging anybody that comes across this article to do the same.

PGP Signed Entry

September 14, 2004

Better to be Lucky...

Well, sent off MK on his way to blissful matrimony with twenty friends in Vegas. Per the First Rule of Vegas, I shall not discuss any details of the event except to give my usual gambling report.

First of all, I have decided to stop playing blackjack at the MGM Mirage properties. They used to stand on soft 17 for all their tables, and even though a lot of them used the CSM, it was still a good house edge with a low minimum bet (usually $10, a few times even a couple of tables at $5!). The thing about the CSM is that it's no good for card counting, but if you're not counting then it's actually one of the lowest house edges in town. Not anymore, with the rules change. Now, if you're willing to play at least $25-50 per hand (depending on the time of day) you can still get good rules, but out of principle I've decided to boycott the blackjack at the MGM Mirage hotels even though I do play at those levels.

The thing about this rules change is that the effect seems to have been infectious. That is, even though other casinos had worse rules before, they're now even worse, with 8 deck games rampant, and single deck blackjack pays 6:5 even more. Ridiculous. And of course people just bend over and take it because they don't know any better, or worse, think they're getting a better game out of idiocy.

Now the irony of all this is that the only times that I walked away from a blackjack table up this weekend was at games with bad rules, when I was betting small and just hanging out with friends.

Poker was good to me, and I've put some of the fundamentals to good use. I ended up about $300 in mostly 3-6 limit games. Made most of it with judicious play, but there was one play that I made out with a $120 pot that was pretty much luck. I was holding QQ in position 6 (9 person table), and re-raised position 3 pre-flop. Position 3 re-raised and I called. I think 3 or 4 players paid to see the flop, which came down AQT (I think). Guy in position 3 bets and I call. One other person might have called. The turn comes down, low card no help. Position 3 bets, I call, and we're heads up at this point. The river is the 4th Q, the guy bets, and of course I raise. After 4 re-raises (unlimited re-raises when heads up at the Mirage) he's all in on his stack, so that's it. He had rockets. Poor guy, getting rockets cracked by ladies with aces full of queens. Now, the best part about this is how I used the power and mystique of those four queens to bluff and buy my way into a few good pots later on...

There were no legends this time around in craps, except maybe what we'll call the anti-Legend. Vince hit one point the whole weekend. It was brutal. So on the last day, I was down $275 on a $300 bankroll at a certain craps table, and I said to hell with it, I'm done with this shit. So I walked over to a roulette wheel and put my quarter down on 17 black. A minute later, I was walking back to the craps table with $900.

Which just goes to show... when it comes to gambling, it's better to be lucky than good.

PGP Signed Entry

September 8, 2004

Volleyball and Sand

There is just something absolutely satisfying about playing a good day's worth of beach volleyball. Before last month, it had been a good year since I'd played volleyball period, and many years actually since I'd played on the beach. So it is with some pride and satisfaction that I've watched the progress my new partner, Goosh, and I, have made in these last few weeks.

Goosh hasn't really ever played organized volleyball, and while I wouldn't call what we're doing at the beach "organized" it is a far cry from the casual backyard game. We are still in the phase where mistakes are being made, but also being learned from quickly. We've gone from just barely being able to bump, set, and spike consistently to actually working out some net/defensive strategy and we're coming along with the hitting.

What kind of annoys me is that my passing has really suffered from the time off. I wasn't ultra-consistent before, but I was certainly able to do a better job of it than I have been the last few weeks. It's probably the most lacking part of my game right now, which is a shame, because I know it's costing us points. It's the details that count, and passing is probably the least "glamorous" but most important aspect of the game. Without a good pass, forget about a good set and spike.

The concern going into Autumn is that the weather is going to prevent us from playing regularly. This is pretty unfortunate, as I feel like we're just getting into a rhythm. I'm going to look into playing in a recreational indoor league, because it would be a shame for another half year to go by to lose all that we've gained in the last few weeks. Of course, we'll have to find other players and pay a fee, but it's worth it.

As Goosh said this weekend, the best part about playing at the beach is that it's free. I mean, what better way is there to meet people, hang out, have a great time, get in shape, be active, and (at least try to) look good? Plus, I've found that volleyball tears up my body way less than soccer. Not that I'll ever give up soccer, but there's a huge difference in how I feel the next day.

Anyway, all this is great, but there's nothing like watching the professionals, so this weekend while I'm in Vegas, I'm going to swing by the Hard Rock and check out the AVP tour. It's been years since the last time I was at an AVP event, but with all the hype from the Olympics it should be a good one.

PGP Signed Entry

September 7, 2004

Three Day Weekends

You know, this whole work four days and rest three thing should be standard.

PGP Signed Entry

September 3, 2004


I woke up this morning to the desperate wailing of a man whose son was illegally imprisoned in New York City during the Republican National Convention.

I didn't listen to every minute of the convention, but what news reports and quotations I've heard and seen, both in mainstream and independent media, have pointed toward one inevitable conclusion: the Republican Party represents contempt.

Contempt for Freedom. In the upcoming election, I hope you judge the merits of all the candidates and the parties not by what they say, not by what their opponents say, but by what they do, and what their opponents do. During this convention, while spouting about the virtues of freedom and what they've done to bring it to the world, the Republicans held the City of New York under undeclared martial law. Protesters in nonviolent, non-disruptive demonstrations were rounded up en masse without being given a chance to disperse. People who were just sitting or standing with a group were summarily charged with ludicrous accusations, including assault, inciting a riot, and disorderly conduct. Nearly three times as many people were arrested in NYC during this convention as people arrested in 1968 at the infamous DNC in Chicago. Why were these people arrested and held without due process? The answer is really very simple: the action removed voices from the streets, and from the national dialogue. This action was censorship, and those people imprisoned are political prisoners. This is no different than Castro silencing his critics, people. See through the rhetoric and see these people for who they are, not who they say they are. Incidentally, the story of that guy featured in the second article is a microcosm of what is happening in the world: as this government wrongs innocent people, those innocent people become more likely to take it upon themselves to right that wrong. In the case of the bystander, he says he's going to become a protester. In other parts of the world, we're not making protesters with our heavy-handed stupidity, we're breeding terrorists.

Contempt for the Law. Like the extra-judicial detentions going on at Guantanamo, the Republicans illegally imprisoned American citizens in New York jails this week just because they came out against the tyranny this government represents. Just for speaking their mind. The city was declared in contempt of the law for these actions. It's clear to me that when Bush and company talk about freedom and democracy, they mean freedom and democracy as long as you agree with Bush, otherwise, you're a terrorist. That's not what this country was built on, and it's an extremely dangerous attitude to have in the small world we live in.

Contempt for the World. The ultimate danger is that these are the same people who have their finger on the button. Now I'm not saying that we're gonna launch nukes any time soon, but I'm talking about the "war button," as in the "we're gonna smoke 'em out" kind of attitude. Earlier this week, President Bush said the most truthful thing I've ever heard him say. He said, "I don't think you can win it," referring to the war on terror. This is absolutely true. It is also by design. With a neverending war on terror, this administration has limitless power. Power to destroy other nations, power to quash dissenting voices at home and abroad. These people NEED ENEMIES. We were on the cusp of peace, having worn out the Soviets through our artificially inspired Cold War (folks, they never wanted to destroy us, as much as the military-industrial establishment wants you to believe). Suddenly, there were no more enemies and the power that these people had was beginning to wane. Truly peaceful technologies and companies were coming into the fore, biotech, computing, and communications technologies leading the way. Companies and people who wanted to make the world a better, peaceful, more well-informed and closer place were gaining power and prominence. The establishment's power was threatened, so they needed a new enemy. Instead of embracing, or at least respecting, the differences between us, they incited hatred and made moves to take over the development of these technologies and the conduits by which people receive their information. It's an ongoing fight. By having a neverending war, these people have made it so much easier to consolidate their power and reverse a decentralization trend that has been ongoing for centuries. They are truly the new oligarchs, and we their unwitting subjects.

Contempt for Fact. This is just ridiculous. If you're not convinced by now that this administration lies through their teeth, you're blind and deaf. I'm sorry, we went to war over lies. War. That word has no meaning anymore, because it's used so casually. WAR. We're killing people, destroying lives, and breeding hatred. That is war. It's not the smart bombs, it's not the hummers and the mortar shells, it's not even hijacked planes. The true consequences of war can't be measured in dollars. Blood. Blood today, and blood tomorrow. Every day we spend in Iraq we're breeding more and more hatred and in the end, terrorists. Even Arnold couldn't help but lie. Sheesh.

Contempt for You. The sheer number of protesters to this convention speaks volumes about what the Republican Party has done to divide the nation during the past four years. Prior to 2000, I wasn't really interested in this stuff. I certainly wouldn't have given it much mention in a forum like this. But in the last four years, whether you agree with Bush or not, you can't deny that he has driven the country apart instead of together. His agenda is so extremist that people who were previously moderate are being forced to the left or right, polarizing the country. At the core, I don't believe in political parties. I think they're platforms for people who can't think independently to ride on. But there's no room for independent thinking in this election. You better get on board or get on the opposing team's wagon, cuz if you don't you're gonna be run over. This polarization breeds, like so many other things this administration has done, passion and, ultimately, hate. Not compassion, I might add. The demonstrators and counterdemonstrators clashed over this all week. These are regular folks who were motivated to extremes by the policies of this administration. It all came to a head last night. Watch the video on that link entitled "Video: Protestors Hit Garden Floor, One Kicked by Delegate" and you'll see the ugly face of what the Bush Administration has done to our country. They hate me. If you've read this far, they probably hate you too.

That's what this convention has shown me. These people are extremists. They have no respect for peace, law, freedom, or individual thought. In short, they must be stopped. The only way to win the war on terror is to stop calling it a war, and conduct ourselves like the stewards of freedom we claim to be. Freedom doesn't mean agreeing with Bush. What happens in our country is reflected on the world entire. If Bush can stir people like me into political action, I fear what his brash actions are stirring in people who have less to lose. We must defeat Bush in November. The world depends on it.

PGP Signed Entry

September 2, 2004

The Olympic Wrap

It's been great fun these past couple of weeks watching the Olympics on television. Sports events like the Olympics are one of the few programs that I would get a TV for. Some of the highlights for me this time around involved my recent return to outdoor volleyball. The US Men were somewhat disappointing, with Blanton and Nygaard failing to win a single match. The women, on the other hand, proved dominant. I was cheering for Misty May and Holly McPeak last time around, and this time it was no different, only they were on different teams. What a dominant performance by May and Kerri Walsh, though... didn't drop a single game during the whole tournament.

Speaking of dominance, I was disappointed that the softball team allowed a run in the gold medal match. Still, I guess allowing one run in an entire olympics is pretty darn dominant. Heh.

On the flipside, let me just say how satisfying it was to watch the Dream Team lose. Those cocky sunsabitches had it comin' man. In the last decade the rest of the world has caught up and USA Basketball has sat on their asses. The same thing was happening in the decade prior to the first Dream Team, and so they went for the quick and dirty solution and got NBA stars. Well, looks like the kludge has outlived its usefulness. It was so strange rooting for them to lose. I mean, it was so much more satisfying to see them go down, patriotism aside. I think it was the same part of me that rooted for the Iraqi soccer team.

On to gymnastics, which I do enjoy, to a certain extent. And that extent is defined by the end of the competition. I can't tell you how annoyed I was at the amount of coverage the "controversy" with Paul Hamm's medal was getting. And then, to add insult, NBC found it necessary to use more than an hour's worth of coverage in prime time on the "champions gala," which was the medalists performing toned down easy versions of their routines just for the crowd. I have no problem with the gala itself, but I think it's ridiculous that NBC spent that much time on it at the expense of so many other sports which deserve that time in the limelight.

What NBC did get right this time around was the near round-the-clock coverage spread over their various networks. With a TiVo, one could easily get the full coverage of their favorite event (as long as it involved a US team, I suppose). That is, except for the most important match of the entire Olympics. as far as I was concerned.

Yes, I'm talking about the gold medal match in women's soccer. Because it went into overtime, I had to end up looking up the result online instead of being able to agonize over it on the TiVo. Oh well. What a way to end a run. Mia Hamm got to go out on top instead of the disappointing finish in the semis of last year's World Cup. Now that was satisfying. Sure, a lot of luck was on their side in that final, but it was almost as though that was the way it had to be. That and the glimpse of hope that the next generation of stars like Abby Wambach will be able to carry on the legacy.

Anyhow, now that it's over the world can go back to the usual pedantic squabbles between politics and countries for their news. I think that's what makes the Olympics so great... for just a few moments the world is distracted from all the other nonsense out there.

PGP Signed Entry