Archive for December, 2006

Wii

Tuesday, December 19th, 2006

I played Amazon’s little customer vote game and “won” the ability to buy a Wii today.

So I did.

It strikes me that Nintendo is the Apple of the video game world.

Both Sony and Microsoft are in an arms race. Both companies produce incredibly powerful (and power hungry) super computing based consoles that are incredibly expensive to make. Sony is losing loads of $$$ per PS3 sold. I have no idea of MSFT is breaking even on 360s yet.

Nintendo pulled an iPod style introduction with the Wii. Instead of trying to compete on raw power or a laundry list of features, Nintendo optimized around an innovative user experience. By “user experience”, I mean that Nintendo actually focused their development effort on “making something that is new and damned fun” instead of “make FPS games more realistic” (*yawn*).

In the process, Nintendo also produced a hardware platform that is cheap to manufacturer while still hitting the market at a price point way below Sony or Microsoft. And they are making money hand over fist, as a result.

Funny, developing for the Wii is apparently considerably cheaper, too. A Wii title costs 1/4 to 1/3 as much to develop as a PS3 or 360 title, from what I have read.

I’m looking forward to seeing new titles for the Wii and how third parties take advantage of the unique control system.

Network Solutions: The Conclusion

Tuesday, December 19th, 2006

Update #3: Last Update. I swear. Network Solutions just sent me a “How did we do?” customer service rating survey. “Pleasantly incompetent, but eventually succeeded”.

Update #2: Oh. My. God. Will this ever end? Update #1 is the strikethru text below. #2 is that I just now received a “transfer cancelled” notification from joker.com’s bot. However, the domain still shows up in my list of domains at Joker. I think (hope, pray) that the cancellation notice was Joker’s way of letting me know that the transfer initiated by Joker was terminated because the domain no longer resides at Network Solutions (as they manually transferred it to Joker).

If I wasn’t in the middle of a food coma from the giganormus Kobe Beef burger with Brie Cheese melted on top, I’d be running around the halls foaming at the mouth…


The domain has been moved successfully (bumgarner.com, btw) and the conclusion is just screwed up enough to warrant its own post.

Background: Go read this post for the Exciting! adventure that led to this post.

That the domain has been successfully transferred makes me happy. Happier still am I as an ex-Network Solutions customer.

The last conversation with customer service indicated that I had to click an URL in some email message to authorize the transfer. Since I never received the email, customer service’s theory was that “email is weird, can we use a different email address”. So, the email address was switched.

And the transfer worked. But I never received an email with an authorization URL. So, apparently, it really required Network Solutions’ Customer Service to go diddle my account to “unstick” the domain. There was no real action required on my part outside of wading through NetSol’s customer support voice menu hell and frontline support folk several times. I did receive an email at the new address that looked just like the rejection email, but was a success notice instead. No URL. Nope, actually, that wasn’t what happened either! Apparently, the SECOND email I sent — the snarky one — eventually wound its way into the queue earlier today and triggered Network Solutions to manually transfer the domain to the new registrar. While the email notification of this showed up nearly 6 hours later at the new address, I have no idea if .mac’s spam filters were at fault or if NetSol’s customer service person touching my account would have been the magic sauce. You’d think that they would deliver the “we manually diddled your domain” message at the same time they actually diddled the domain manually. Nope.

Joker.com has received the domain, charged my account $12, and automatically turned on the domain lock. The registration goes through to 1 year after the expiration date that Network Solutions held. Nice!

So, in conclusion, some pros/cons of Network Solutions:

Pros:

  • Their customer service folks are very nice. Polite. Patient. Seemingly want to help, even if they really don’t have much of a clue.

Uh, that’s all I got… anyone have any suggestions? Bueller?

Cons:

  • Network Solutions security is lame. Non-existent, really. Too change the email address for the various contacts on the domain required the domain name (duh!), the name on the domain, and an answer to a “security question” which was just my place of birth. Not hard to social engineer or otherwise hack. Given the difficulty of fixing bogus transfers, this is a bit disturbing.
  • NetSol is overpriced. 1 Year of domain registration services is $35. You can only [sort of] get discounts by committing to many years (up to 100) or by lumping on other services into packages.
  • Want a better price? Whine. NetSol is all about rewarding whiners with better pricing. Nothing is straightforward. I was offered $8.95/year domain registrations if I stayed with NetSol. If I were to return to NetSol, I could ask for the “domain services consolidation pricing” and get the same rate for all my domains. No thanks. I prefer to do business with a company that is up front about their products and pricing.
  • Net Sol sells products that are, at best, misleading. And they push these products throughout much of the normal customer interaction with their site in an annoying fashion. For example, the “Search Engine Visibility” product explicitly mentions improving your ranking on Google. But Google doesn’t sell pay-for-ranking products! So for $115/first, $35/month after, you get a tag generator, keyword suggester, 60 minutes of “personalized optimization tips”, and — of course — the useless submission to search engines crap.
  • While the customer service people were very nice to chat with, they had no clue how the actual domain transfer process worked. Of the four reps I talked with, three gave me completely wrong information — all three claiming that the transfer cancellation could not possibly have come from Network Solutions. When I finally got it through their heads that I did, in fact, possess an email claiming otherwise, all three were baffled and indicating that I should try again with actually changing anything. The fourth tech actually knew where the blocking problem was but clearly also lacked an understanding of the process given that the transfer happened without my having to respond to an email by clicking on a URL.

So, Network Solutions is a fine company as long as you don’t ever have to interact with them beyond the services on their web site. And as long as no one tries to bypass their “security” to spoof a domain transfer.

Toon Heads

Monday, December 18th, 2006

Update: Ryan commented that Peace on Earth is on YouTube. Don’t know how long that will last, but the copyright is 1939. Maybe, just maybe, this bit of brilliance is in the public domain? If anyone knows a DVD collection that includes this cartoon, please let me know!

I’m a huge fan of cartoons. I grew up on Bugs Bunny (and the associated classics from about 1930 onward) and continue to enjoy them to this day.

Most modern cartoons suck. Of course, most cartoons “back in the day” likely sucked, too, but the good ones survived. There are some real gems these days. Foster’s Home immediately comes to mind (kgghghhhhhhh…… ok).

For classic cartoons, nothing beats Boomerang. It is a commercial free spinoff of Cartoon Network that plays nothing but cartoons, mostly old and occasionally new. It includes both the classic cartoons and the older totally sucky cartoons. (Kind of like Gilligan’s Island, the sucky cartoons are often things that I used to like. When I was 8.)

In particular, Boomerang carries Toon Heads. Each episode is a 30 minute (or 1 hour) collection of 3 or more cartoons that are historically related. Each episode may focus on one particular director, a subject, recurring themes, the evolution of particular characters, or the like. Each episode narrates what is special or interesting about the cartoons to be shown and then shows the cartoons in their entirety.

Brilliant stuff. Very interesting.

Tonight’s episode featured Christmas related cartoons. The one that stood out was Peace on Earth. This was a 1939 MGM released cartoon where Grandpa Mouse narrates the story of the last man on earth and the peace brought to the animals upon his death. All of men died fighting wars. The cartoon was produced prior to World War II and released during the beginning of the European part of the war.

Very dark. Poignant. Great stuff. Unfortunately apropos to these modern times.

Oh, and any fan of cartoons should be reading John K.’s weblog.

Network Solutions: How not to maintain a monopoly.

Saturday, December 16th, 2006

Update #3: And, not surprisingly, Network Solutions canceled the transfer again. Damnit. I really need to write down the bloody voice menu hell selections.

OK– so, finally, I got through to a Network Solutions Customer Service person that might have a clue about what is really going on. She says that the problem is the “authorization email”. Apparently, there is some authorization email that should be sent that I’m never receiving. It contains an URL that I must click within X hours of the mail being sent for the transaction to succeed.

It would be pretty funny if this ends up being overzealous spam filtering on the part of .mac. Bugs will be filed, if that is the case.

The Nice Customer Support person is updating the email address on my account to point to a different email address.

Hopefully, update #4 will be the last.

Update #2: Got enough coffee in me to call NetSol customer service back (after the 4th denied transfer now). The Nice Guy in customer service transferred me to the Nice Girl in the Customer Care & Retention Center (whatever it is called).

The first thing she did was reassure me that she & Network Solutions could help me with whatever problems I was having but, first, wouldn’t it be easier to stick with NetSol for the low, low price of $8.95/year? It was a price only available through the Customer Care Center.

“No, thanks” is what I said. What I thought was: “No, thanks, this is exactly the kind of marketing that is contributing to my decision to no longer do business with Network Solutions.”.

She also mentioned that said pricing is available to customers who wish to consolidate their inventory of domains with Network Solutions. In other words, if you do business with NetSol you can likely obtain a whiner’s discount.

Unsurprisingly, nothing has actually been resolved and it is abundantly clear that the data provided to the customer center folk is rather lacking in detail. Nice bunch of people, though — as much as I’m frustrated by the company, the customer support folks have been pleasant and patient.

Anyway, the overall customer support experience is maddeningly stupid.

Their claim is now that a domain lock takes up to 24 hours to propagate and, thus, any transfers initiated in that period would likely fail.

Fine, but I have record of four transfer attempts in four days all failing for the same reason.

Network Solutions is further claiming that, not only do they not have the au-thor-i-TIE to block the transfer, but that Joker.com has never initiated a transfer request. That the failed transfers are a figment of my imagination, apparently.

That I have four separate, identical, emails spread across four days that all tell me that Network Solutions has cancelled the transfer and that I should contact customer service is completely baffling to the customer service people I’m instructed to contact!

Their conclusion? Try the transfer again. There is no reason why it shouldn’t work!

OK. I’ll do that. One more time. If it succeeds, happy day and No More Network Solutions In My Life! If it fails, I’m going to have to try and convince Network Solution’s customer support that, in fact, they really are denying the transfer. That should be fun.

Update #1: And, of course, the transfer was again cancelled by Network Solutions, even though they supposedly “do not have the authority” (best cartman voice) to do so.

I suspect this’ll be the first in many updates. I don’t have the energy to argue with their “customer support” about how “weird” the email is right now.


You’d think that transferring a domain would be straightforward. I just want to transfer the last damned domain from NetSol to Joker. Should be easy.

But, no, it isn’t easy. And it makes me feel like I need to wash my hands after every time I interact with Network Solutions.

First sign of trouble was the first login. NetSol requires me to update my contact info. No way to cancel without logging out. I don’t need to update my contact information and I really don’t appreciate getting faced with my entire set of personal information when I logged in. And I am seriously irritated that NetSol won’t let me cancel out of the process.

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Successfully Porky Excess!

Tuesday, December 12th, 2006
Big Board Covered in Smoked Pulled Pork Butt

The 35 lbs of boston button turned out near perfect! Juicy, smoky, and delicious. Accompanied by a wonderful homemade bbq sauce, some excellent microbrew, homemade biscuits and an amazing coleslaw with peanuts in it made for an ideal birthday meal!

Smokin' Pork Butts

My hacked up riser grill worked great.

Not surprisingly, the butts on the bottom level cooked a little bit faster than the ones on the top. I wouldn’t say they were overcooked, but they were not quite as moist as the ones on the upper level.

Interesting, too, given that I pulled the bottom butts out a few hours before the top. So, either sitting in tightly wrapped foil dried them out a bit or the top butts simply cooked at a slower, more appropriate, rate.

Smoked Pork Butt After 20 Hours

However, all four boston butts were absolutely delicious. They were hard to pull from the grill as they really wanted to simply fall apart. Incredibly juicy and yummy.

What looks like a hard crust in the photo at the left is actually very tender. Poking at it with a finger causes pork fat juices to ooze from the meat.

The next time I do this, I’m going to figure out some way to ensure that all the butts are cooked via indirect heat. I’m thinking of taking another grilling grid and cutting a pizza stone to cover most of it.

Does 35 lbs of Boston Butt fit on a BGE??

Sunday, December 10th, 2006

Tomorrow is my birthday. 37 years. 37 raises an obvious question. Does 37 lbs of boston butt fit on the Big Green Egg? Or, because that was all they had, does 35 lbs of boston butt fit on my large BGE? I know I can do a single butt well. Can I do 4 well?

Bi Level Grill Hack in the BGE;  35 lbs of Boston Butt

The answer is: YES! But not without a bit of egg-gineering in the process.

I picked up an 18.5″ cooking grid from Home Depot, along with 3 foot long, 3/8″ threaded rods and a handful of nuts and washers. I chopped the foot long rods down to 8″ and bolted ’em to the grid in tripod position.

Once the BGE was up to temperature, I put two boston butts on the original cooking grid and placed the second cooking grid, with two more boston butts, over the top. From there, it is just a matter of wiring everything into the Stoker and not messing with the damned thing again.

The lid just barely closes.

Click on through for the full details….

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The Stoker in Detail

Saturday, December 9th, 2006

The Stoker is a really well engineered device. Any BBQ’ing hacker type will appreciate the implementation.

My setup is as follows:

– Egg with one Grid Probe to monitor cooking temperature (probe wire wrapped in aluminum to prevent heat damage in case of flare up)

– One or two meat probes (or three, if needed) to monitor internal temperature(s) of food item

– One 5 CFM fan controlled by the Stoker

– Ethernet cable between an AirPort Express and the Stoker. While the Stoker has a fairly easy to use menuing system, it has a built in web server that offers up a much better GUI for monitoring and adjusting the cook.

Now, that sounds like a lot of potential “get the right wire in the right hole” problems. It isn’t. The Stoker uses a single wire serial network to connect to each external device. As such, it has 5 1/4″ stereo plugs on the unit and you can plug any device into any plug. Each device has a unique identifier and the Stoker will recognize any device no matter where it is plugged in.

This has a number of advantages:

(1) Obviously, you don’t have to worry about connecting things incorrectly.

(2) The “network” is stupid simple. To build an extender or to connect more devices is just a matter of adding more 1/4″ stereo plugs in parallel. Soon, my Stoker will be hidden away in a utility closet with a few feet of cheap cable leading to a breakout box of 1/4″ jacks.

(3) Expansion is trivial; just add more plugs. I think the Stoker can handle up to 32 devices. In other words, I can control more than one grilling device with a single stoker.

(4) The Stoker pushes data from analog to digital very quickly. Data tends to be more accurate because there is less analog stuff to get out of whack. Likewise, this increases flexibility.

The serial bus, the ethernet port, the menuing system, and the web GUI implies that the Stoker is not just a simple analog controller. And it isn’t.

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Slow Cooked Boston Butt (Pulled Pork)

Tuesday, December 5th, 2006

As I had previously mentioned, I picked up a Stoker BBQ Controller from Rock’s BBQ.

Pulled Pork

Yesterday (Saturday), I grabbed an 8.5 pound boston butt (pork shoulder), with a goal of cooking my first pulled pork.

Nailed it. Right out of the park. Going to make this again and again. Was absolutely delicious. Two mistakes: I futzed too much causing myself undue stress and I only made one. There was a couple of points where I thought a fisticuffs might break out over that plate of pork.

First, I rubbed it down with something close to Alton Brown’s rib rub. I figured I would start with a known good quantity and go from there, letting the pork marinate in a sealed freezer bag in the fridge for at least 5 or 6 hours before cooking.

I originally used this rub to make some incredibly yummy smoked pork ribs. When doing the ribs, I wrote:

Hence my fear. Here is a food for which no amount of temperature probes or timers is going to help. Beyond controlling the cooking temperature, there are very few variables beyond initial preparation. Since cooking with the BGE is all about not peeking or opening the egg, there is the potential for many hours of imagining all the ways this could go wrong.

Now, a boston butt is, quite possibly, even more nerve racking. First, a good, pork pulling quality, butt requires somewhere beyond 15 hours of cook time. And the temperature needs to be a relatively low 210 degrees or so and it needs to be stable. Unlike ribs, there is a sizable chunk of meat on the pork shoulder and the internal temperature really does matter.

Enter the Stoker. With the stoker, I can sleep through the overnight portion of the cook with confidence that the Egg will maintain whatever temperature I desire. Since the Egg is an extremely efficient consumer of fuel, it won’t need to be reloaded during the cook.

Late Saturday afternoon, I preheated the Big Green Egg to about 225 degrees using lump charcoal and big chunks of maple as fuel. Once the temperature stabilized, I dropped the boston butt in an aluminum pan (to keep the drippings off the coals), inserted a probe and shoved it in the Egg.

The Stoker was set to maintain a target temperature of 215 degrees. I would like to say that I left well enough alone and didn’t mess with the temperature after that. But I didn’t. I fretted and worried, getting up several times in the night to screw with the temperature — typically thinking I should set it a little lower because I wasn’t truly using indirect cooking.

Silly me. I set the temperature too low before going to sleep at 1am. At 7am, the temperature was crashing and I actually had to use the electric charcoal starter to heat things up. The temperature never got below 140 and the internal temp of the meat stayed above 150 the entire time. At that point, I set the temperature to 210 and forced myself to go do something else.

Now, an aside: Pulled pork isn’t carved. It is quite literally pulled apart with a couple of forks. It is that tender when done right. The cut of meat — the boston butt (a map of all cuts) — is from the front shoulder(s) of the pig and contains lots of connective tissues. And that tissue is the key. Once the internal temperature of the pork reaches around 160 to 170 degrees, the connective tissue breaks down, turning into a gelatin like substance.

It may take a few hours for the tissue to fully break down, during which the internal temperature will rise very slowly (and seem pretty much completely stable when using an inaccurate thermometer — the Stoker shows tenths of a degree, so I could watch the slow climb). As soon as the temperature rises quickly past the 180s, the pork is done.

If you cook it in too hot of a fire, the moisture produced by the breakdown of the connective tissue will boil off and the result will be dry meat (or, at least, a layer of dry meat). Hence, the need to cook slowly over a low fire, possibly even indirectly if dryness is a worry.

Fortunately, the BGE does a wonderful job of keeping moisture in the cooking environment and in the meat. While I worried like hell that not cooking over a pan of water would be a problem, I needn’t have worried and further research indicates that the pan of water does little for moisture and seems to mostly benefit a stable cooking temperature.

In the Egg, I have no problem maintaining a stable temperature manually — it is extremely good at maintaining a temperature — and the Stoker means that it’ll definitely remain stable, even while I sleep or leave the house and regardless of whether the coals shift during the cook, a primary cause in temperature changes.

Pulled Pork

At about 1:30pm the internal temperature had hit about 190 degrees. So, I removed the pork from the egg and immediately wrapped it tightly in foil, then in a beach tall, and then dropped the whole thing in a cooler to keep until dinner (at about 4pm). As long as the internal temperature doesn’t fall below about 140 degrees, the meat will stay in prime shape. Supposedly, this kind of wrap will keep it warm for many hours. Keeping it whole until serving time is much better than pulling it and letting the meat potentially dry out.

Yes — that picture on the right is a boston butt that has been hot smoked for over 19 hours. Though it looks like it might be dry, it wasn’t and I knew — at the least — it was quite thoroughly edible upon removal from the drip pan. Why? Because I had a damned hard time pulling it out in one piece! Fortunately, a couple of hunks stuck to the bottom of the pan for me to sample. And they were delicious!!

The rest of the butt was divine. Near perfect. It had a deep smoke ring with a nice crust of slightly salty and very smoky meat surrounding incredibly tender, juicy, meat in the center.

Near perfect? Yes. I can do better. First, I can not stress so much through the cook. The Stoker and Egg will take care of maintaining a rock solid cooking temperature (configured correctly, the temperature will shift only a few degrees away from the target temp throughout the cook) and there is a rather large window of the internal temp being Just Right.

Secondly, I’m going to do the next Butt for slightly longer. This will drive the smoke ring deeper and — even at 19 hours — the internal tissue could have spent a little longer at the breakdown temperature.

Finally, I’ll do no less than three butts in the future! Gotta avoid the fights! Fortunately, boston butts are cheap. I cooked about an 8 or 9 pound all natural boston butt and it cost only about $8.50. And you really don’t need an egg to cook a boston butt. I could be done perfectly well in an oven. Or you could use a cardboard box and an electric hot plate!

Long Horses

Saturday, December 2nd, 2006

Oh, my. BoingBoing has a story on pictures of long horses.

Go check it out. Damned funny stuff. Well executed. Had me checking the calendar to see if this was the most useless day on the ‘net.

The best is if you click through to the gallery.

My favorite, for title alone, is Too Many Puppies. Not because it is the best of the photos, but because it is the title of one of my favorite and all to unfortunately apropos Primus songs.

From a purely artistic perspective, I’m digging the stretch german shepherd.

These forum posts reveal some of the original photo sources.

Speaking of original photos, has anyone found the original stock photo series that Microsoft used for the rather odd Zunegasm screen shot?