Goodbye, DreamHost

I can’t believe that I’m canceling my DreamHost account, just one month shy of my 10 year anniversary with them.

Closing my DreamHost account

I first signed up for my DreamHost account back in January of 2006. For the most part, it’s been a great experience. I originally signed up for the two-year plan for $214.80 ($8.95/month), and added VPS to my account in March 2009, for an additional $18/month.

I was okay spending the extra money in order to have a VPS that I had full control over. DreamHost even tweeted about offering root access with their VPS back in February 2011. It was definitely part of the attraction for many customers.

dreamhost-root-vps-tweet

Then, on November 17, 2015, DreamHost sends out an email informing customers that in two weeks, they would be removing everyone’s sudo (root) access, on November 30.

Wow. Just … wow.

What recourse did we have? Try and sign up for their DreamCompute offering, which is still in public beta, and there’s now a wait-list to even get access to it?

Sell me a product, then take away a key feature but still charge the same price, while suggesting an upsell into a different product offering if I want to get that feature back? That’s called bait-and-switch, and that borders on fraud.

This was the last straw. Several times in the past I’ve wanted to switch away but was too busy to really do it, but this forced my hand: I had to move away, and from the looks of it, I wasn’t the only one.

I ended up moving my stuff over to Amazon AWS. It looks like it’ll cost me around $10-12/month, netting me a savings of close to $15/month compared to the $26.95/month I was spending at DreamHost.

I’m relieved now that I’ve actually gotten around to moving everything off DreamHost. No more wondering if they’re going to change their product offerings again. No more wondering if my sites are going to come back up when they’re down.

Well, DreamHost, it’s been nice knowin’ ya, but I’m officially done. I suppose it was good while it lasted, but like many good things, this too had to come to an end.

Edited to add: And, the account is now fully closed.

dreamhost-account-closed

Who does a boycott really hurt?

The latest social media shitstorm is about Guido Barilla saying, “I would not do a commercial with a homosexual family, not for lack of respect toward homosexuals – who have the right to do whatever they want without disturbing others – but because I don

Capturing analog video on the Mac

Years ago, I purchased a Dazzle Hollywood DV-Bridge to capture DV video over FireWire. It wasn’t great, but it was good enough — okay, fine, it was better than nothing and it was affordable. I wasn’t ready to spend the money on a Canopus ADVC at the time.

Fast forward to today, and there’s a larger variety of affordable products that do analog video capture. Specifically, I’m looking at products that can be used on MacOS X, and a popular one is the Elgato Video Capture device. It looks like a great product, but it only has composite video input, and I need something that can accept component video input, either RGB or YPbPr.

Blackmagic Design Video Recorder

Blackmagic Video Recorder

The Blackmagic Design Video Recorder is an affordable (under $150) USB 2.0-based device that can accept both component and composite video and produces H.264-encoded video, and supports on MacOS X.

What makes me somewhat nervous is that there’s really no good, qualitative reviews of the equipment in comparison to comparable products. The best review I’ve found at all is this one on iLounge from back in 2009, and it’s really just an unboxing of the product, not really a review.

I’ve gone and contacted Blackmagic support and asked them the following questions:

  • Does the Video Recorder do time-base correction (TBC) or will I need to add one between the source video and the Video Recorder device?
  • Also, reviews all state that the device cannot accept 480p as input? Is this still true? Is this something that can/has been fixed with newer firmware?
  • Reviewers also state that the Video Recorder only generates output in 720×480 – is this the only resolution that it can output? If I’m converting PAL video and want to output for PAL DVD, I’d like to capture in 720×576. Can the Video Recorder handle this?

Matrox MXO2

Matrox MXO2 family

Remember how I was talking about cheap and affordable? If money were no object, I’d be seriously looking at the Matrox MXO2 family of products. At the lowest end, the MXO2 Mini starts at bare minimum of $450, but I wouldn’t even bother considering buying it without the Matrox MAX H.264 hardware encoder, which bumps the price up to $850.

Pro’s:

  • Extremely versatile: HDMI, component, composite video.
  • Fast: MAX H.264 provides faster-than-realtime encoding acceleration.

Con’s:

  • Not cheap: You get what you pay for.
  • Strange host connector: PCIe, not USB 2.0 or FireWire 800.

If you have an older MacBook Pro, like me, that still has an ExpressCard/34 slot, Matrox offers a PCIe ExpressCard that you can use to connect to the MXO2 devices. The newest 17″ MacBook Pro still has an ExpressCard slot, but the 13″ and 15″ don’t. Matrox appears to be offering a Thunderbolt adapter for the MXO2, but it’s priced at $299. No, that’s not a typo: just shy of $300 for what is effectively a Thunderbolt-to-PCIe-2.0 adapter. Still, it’s a usable solution.

In the short term, I’ll probably pick up the Blackmagic Video Recorder assuming it actually works as advertised, but if I start getting more video conversion and production work, I’ll definitely be investing in the MXO2 Mini MAX ($849) or MXO2 LE MAX ($1,395), or perhaps even the full MXO2 MAX ($1,995).

Review: Samsung Captivate on at&t

Samsung Captivate on at&t

Despite the news that RIM was going to finally launch a new touch screen slider phone “any day now,” which did finally launch as the BlackBerry Torch 9800, I decided to give an Android phone a serious look.

After looking at the various options that at&t offers, I decided to give the Samsung Galaxy S-based Captivate (details: Samsung, at&t) a try. I ordered three new phones–one for me, one for my wife, and one for my Dad–at the start of August, and by the 6th, we had our phones in hand.

Right off the bat, I’ll have to admit that I went into this with extremely high expectations. I know, big mistake. To be honest, after dealing with BlackBerry phones for the last two-plus years, I was excited at the prospect of finally getting on a modern platform that didn’t involve using that crappy iPhone OS.

On the surface, it sounds really promising: a fancy 4-inch Super AMOLED display; lightweight at 4.5 ounces; 5MP camera; 512MB of RAM and 16GB internal SDHC; Samsung’s 1GHz ARM Cortex-A8 Hummingbird CPU. With these specs, there’s a whole lot of potential to build something really incredible.

My first disappointment was the “Email” app that ships with Android 2.1 on this phone. Apparently, I’m not alone, so much so that folks have forked the code and released their changes called K-9. However, K-9 still has its warts: I can’t figure out how to copy-and-paste text from an email message, without “replying” to it and copying from the quoted text area, then discarding the reply. Perhaps I’ll “fix” this and submit a patch.

Next, the lack of out-of-the-box wi-fi tethering was disappointing. I went and rooted my Captivate and then installed Android Wi-Fi Tether on it. Having a free, open source “solution” is a great thing, but certainly not for the average, non-technical consumer.

The Calendar app. isn’t too bad, but I sadly discovered a shortcoming in it: there’s no way to duplicate an event. I’m not talking about creating a recurring event, but taking an event and duplicating it. Suppose you have an event, like a doctor’s appointment. You go to your appointment, and at the end, you schedule your follow-up appointment. It’d be really convenient to be able to just copy your current appointment, and paste it on the new date and maybe adjust the time. Can’t do that with the stock Calendar app on the Captivate. You have to just add a new event and enter in all the data. Annoying, to say the least.

Battery life also seems disappointing. The specs claim over 300 hours (over 12 days) of standby time, and over 5 hours of talk time. Given the amount of email and Twitter and Facebook I get, even at an hour interval for refreshes and K-9 mail set up to do IMAP “push,” my battery seems to last around 4 hours before needing a charge. I suspect the 3G data use of the cellular radio uses more juice than voice “talk” time … and the notion of “standby” time is a bit misleading, since when the phone is doing background data tasks, it’s really not “in standby” as its actively using the radio.

Another huge problem is the fact that GPS on the Captivate appears to be totally broken. The TeleNav GPS navigation application is pretty much unusable, with it not being able to track your location properly, which causes it to constantly reroute as it tries to figure out where you are. Supposedly there’s a workaround, where you can manually reconfigure the phone to use Google’s Location Server, which I’ll try soon, but again, this is just poor out-of-the-box experience and “fixing it yourself” isn’t really a satisfactory solution for a non-technical consumer.

On one hand, I wonder if I should have bothered making the switch from BlackBerry to Android, yet. Despite my complaints with RIM and BlackBerry products, the few things they could do, they did reasonably well. But, I’m tired of waiting for RIM to catch up. Maybe the next generation of touch-plus-slider devices following the Torch 9800 could be an option, but for now, I’m going to stick it out with the Captivate, hoping that Android 2.2 brings some fixes, along with community-developed Android functionality closes the gap between “sucks badly” and “usable on a day-to-day basis.”

Sex toy or video game controller?

Sony, in the tradition of missing the boat, again, after the success of Nintendo’s Wii and its Wiimote, is still trying to catch up after four long years. Sony has finally unveiled … the PlayStation Move!

Hitachi Magic Wand

Waaaaaaaait a second. That looks awfully familiar … oh, that’s not the Move, that’s the Hitachi Magic Wand! Here’s the PlayStation Move:

PlayStation Move

I’m sure you can see where the confusion came from. Oops! 😉

Nice job, Sony. If you’re still in the game console business in four more years, maybe you’ll actually build something interesting other than a Blu-Ray player with a sleek looking vibrator.

Using a Cisco/Linksys WUSB600N on MacOS X 10.6

After getting totally fed up with the poor Wi-Fi range on my MacBook Pro, I picked up an external Cisco/Linksys WUSB600N. Of course, Linksys doesn’t provide Mac drivers for this product, but it’s a Ralink 2870 and Ralink provides drivers for MacOS X in their support section. I downloaded the RTUSB D2870-2.0.0.0 UI-2.0.0.0_2009_10_02.dmg driver (5.2 MB).

There is a driver inside USBWireless-10.6 for Snow Leopard, and it will complain during installation that the RT2870USBWirelessDriver.kext failed to install. This is expected, just ignore it, the installation will complete successfully.

At the time of this writing, the WUSB600N v2 isn’t included in the Info.plist for the kext, so I had to edit /System/Library/Extensions/RT2870USBWirelessDriver.kext/Contents/Info.plist in a text editor and add the appropriate bits. Search for “Linksys – RT2870 – 2” and duplicate the <key> and <dict> elements, renaming the key to “Linksys – RT2870 – 3” and the idProduct integer from “113” to “121”. Here’s what it should look like after the changes:

        <key>Linksys - RT2870 - 3</key>
        <dict>
            <key>CFBundleIdentifier</key>
            <string>com.Ralink.driver.RT2870USBWirelessDriver</string>
            <key>IOClass</key>
            <string>RT2870USBWirelessDriver</string>
            <key>IOProviderClass</key>
            <string>IOUSBDevice</string>
            <key>idProduct</key>
            <integer>121</integer>
            <key>idVendor</key>
            <integer>5943</integer>
        </dict>

After making this change, unload/reload the kext or reboot your machine, and then plug in your WUSB600N and you should get a window popping up telling you that a new network device has been detected.

I hope this helps someone, as I was totally disappointed when I learned that Linksys wasn’t supporting this device on Mac “out of the box.”

Optimum WiFi at ETD in Kinnelon NJ

As I try to get some work done waiting for car repairs, I discovered that the ETD on Route 23 in Kinnelon, NJ, has Optimum WiFi within range. Being a Optimum Online customer, I get free access to it.

My initial opinion of this particular hotspot is really unpredictable latency and packet loss. Speedtest.net results:

Optimum WiFi speed test at Speedtest.net

It’s not bad – I’m posting this blog entry from the connection – but the latency and packet loss makes interactive sessions like SSH really painful. Still, it’s usable to get some work done – email, web browsing, etc.

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Tie-dye glasses, I will have them!

After a bit of drama with my old pair of glasses, I went out and got myself an eye exam to update my prescription and have ordered myself a pair of tie-dye frames from Zenni Optical for $40! They are made of so much win and awesome:

I know you’re jealous. Don’t feel bad, it’s okay, you should be. These frames even come with 581% more cowbell.

For my own notes, my prescription is now -5.50 OD/OS sph, DS (SPH) cyl, and PD 32/33 (65).

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I fail at retail therapy

If someone handed you $100 right now, could you spend it? How long would it take you to decide what to buy?

Not long at all, right?

Well, I seriously fail at retail therapy. I was given a $100 Visa gift card as a Giftmas 2008 present, and I can’t think of a single thing I want to buy with it. Is that pathetic, or what?

I thought about picking up a video game or two, but I really don’t have the time nor motivation to play them. Modern video games totally lack the necessary charm and appeal of older games. They use advanced graphics and cinematic sequences to “wow” people, but the gameplay is empty. You can’t compensate for a boring game with eye candy alone, at least for me.

I thought about movies or music, but there hasn’t been music released in the last 5 years that I thought was good enough to own except for a few songs which I picked up on iTunes or through Amazon MP3. Same goes for movies — the ones I care to watch, I’ve already seen and I haven’t seen a movie in years that was good enough to be worth watching twice.

Ah, what about books? Goodness, there’s that free time issue again! I still have books sitting on my shelf that I want to read that I haven’t read yet. Buying more just seems wasteful, at this point.

Surprisingly, as a technology geek, I’m not a big gadget junkie. I went through the phase of collecting shiny doo-dads and frankly, I got tired of throwing them out when they lost their shine. Is there really such a thing as a must-have item? I haven’t found one, yet.

About the only thing that I still really like is food. I love to eat! I guess the best way to spend this money is to take the family out and enjoy a nice meal. Oh, but then the dilemma of deciding where to go sets in …

I guess there are worse problems to have than not knowing how to spend $100, but it really bothers me that I don’t have a go-to list of reasonably inexpensive things that I’d want to buy. This is why I’m such a hard person to buy gifts for: I truly don’t want anything. I don’t mean this in the polite “oh, it’s okay, don’t worry” sort of way, but in the “oh, please, not another thing that I have to find a place for and hold onto until I get tired of it and throw it out” kind of way.

Maybe I’m truly able to find happiness with what I already have. But, a part of me — probably conditioned and programmed through advertising as I was growing up — feels like I’m “incomplete” without more material possessions. Part of me asks “what’s wrong with me?” because I don’t already know what I’d go out and buy with this money. Do you know what I’m talking about?

What would you go and buy with $100 right now? Or, are you like me, without any clue what you’d do with it?

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SAA’s in-flight entertainment runs on Linux, apparently

Apparently, South African Airways runs some kind of Linux for their in-flight entertainment system.

In-flight entertainment FAIL

Of course, on the leg of the trip from New York to Senegal, the flight staff kept rebooting the system trying to get it to work, with very little luck. Most of the time we just stared at the Linux boot process hanging, trying to talk to the NFS server. Fortunately, they got it working for the Senegal to South Africa leg of the trip.

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