For the last week or so, a work crew has been tearing up the road outside my house. It turns out that this was Central Hudson Gas and Electric, installing a new natural gas line. This project showed me that CHG&E’s management has no clue when it comes to treating customers right.

Rudely awakened, dropped by voicemail, made to wait at CHG&E’s contractor’s whim for most of a day, a garden trampled and dug up, a ruined lawn, all because of what seems to be an institutional lack of common courtesy and decency aforethought.

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Kingston Fireworks

On June 27, 2011, in Personal, by Rob Levandowski

Last night, Kingston held its annual Fourth of July fireworks show… a week early, as usual. Due to budget cuts, the show wasn’t as good as it has been in past years.  On the other hand, because there was no budget for a weekend-long festival in the Rondout District this year, the crowds weren’t as obnoxious and there weren’t lines of brightly-lit, diesel-belching busses blocking the view, so that’s a plus.

I got some pretty good pics with my new Nikon ultracompact.  It’s nowhere near DSLR quality—I’m a bit disappointed in the image detail under normal use—but for a stick-it-in-your-pocket camera, it does pretty well.  It certainly did better than I expected with the fireworks show!  I’ve posted the pictures to Flickr.


Thoughts on the Time Capsule

On February 22, 2011, in Recommendations, Technology Horror Stories, by Rob Levandowski

A few years back, I bought an Apple Time Capsule.  I had just purchased a new iMac to replace my Power Macintosh G5.  The G5 had two internal drives, allowing me to use Time Machine (Apple’s automatic incremental backup/snapshot system) on the second drive.  As the iMac has no provision for a second internal drive, my choices were to attach an external drive, or go for the Time Capsule.  I bought the Time Capsule, thinking it would be more useful: it could also back up a few other Macs in the house.

I just bought a newer iMac, and I bought a FireWire external disk for it and migrated my backups.  It’s time to bury the Time Capsule.

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The Future Should Be Now

On December 21, 2010, in Consumer Advocacy, Personal, by Rob Levandowski

As I sit here, I’m listening to Christmas music piped from my Mac to my home stereo over my home’s Ethernet network, under the wireless remote control of my iPad. To most people, this sounds like an incredibly geeky accomplishment—perhaps even science fiction brought to life.

The thing is, despite this feat of digital integration, I know there’s so much more that my house should be able to do, but can’t… and most of it is due to legal or policy restrictions that do little except inhibit innovation and preserve outmoded business models.

For instance, both my TiVo and my Blu-ray player have network connections. Neither, however, can play videos that I purchased from iTunes. Everything with a video output seems to support Netflix nowadays; where’s the AirPlay support? For that matter, why can’t the entire industry agree on a standard for sending high-def video locally over TCP/IP, and implement it everywhere?

My TiVo used to be able to record shows that it thought I’d like to watch. Since Time Warner implemented switched digital video, forcing me to accept a buggy “tuning adapter,” that function works rarely if ever, and almost never manages to find the high-def channels. Of course, it’s a bit of a crapshoot if some of those high-def channels will tune, or if the tuning adapter will punt on them. The sad thing is that the tuning adapter is little more than a customized cable modem, and I already have one of those in the house. There’s no technological reason why the TiVo can’t send its tuning requests to Time Warner via TCP/IP. My opinion is that Time Warner will take any action it can get away with that makes TiVo ownership painful, in hopes of renting its own substandard DVRs to customers instead.

TVs now come with Ethernet support to retrieve movies from Netflix and YouTube. Imagine if you could also use this capability to send video signals within the house: Networked televisions could all draw on the same feed from your TiVo to let you watch a show as you wander from living room to kitchen to laundry room without them being out of sync, and without huge investments in video distribution infrastructure.

Gigabit Ethernet switches are cheap. HDMI splitters are not.

I bought the VGA cable for my iPad. I could use it to put presentations on my TV, or YouTube videos, but not movies I bought from iTunes; apparently I’m not allowed to watch anything at resolutions above 480p in analog form any more, as I might bootleg videos that way. (Of course, if I’m technically competent enough to use an iPad and a VGA adapter with my television, I could probably find a way to copy that video in digital form if I were truly so inclined.)

There’s a vast market for “universal remote controls.” The technology in all my entertainment-center remotes is identical; why do I need to spend even more money on integration? Why can’t vendors sit down and create a universal standard for commands, the way that USB has a universal standard for keyboards and Bluetooth has a universal standard for headsets? For that matter, HDMI was supposed to enable this, by letting components talk to each other and share command information: insert a disc in a HDMI-equipped Blu-ray player, and it could tell your audio receiver and your TV to make appropriate settings changes, and the TV could pass back remote-control commands it receives from its remote. In practice, this technology only works if all your components come from one vendor, and even then it’s often half-baked.

There’s so much that could be done with our existing technology, if only we could keep scared businessmen from prohibiting it.

I’m not a rabid open-source advocate of the Stallman camp, the type who believes that all software must be free of charge and free of restrictions. Open-source software has its uses, and there are places where proprietary software is necessary to ensure growth of the ecosystem. Whether the software is free or not, though, the protocols need to be free and unencumbered. Proprietary devices are more useful, and thus more likely to be profitable, if purchasers can use them in novel and unanticipated ways. In the modern world, what your widget does isn’t as important as how it plays with others.

I only wish that consumer-electronics manufacturers would realize this.


Being the first of several reviews of grocery stores in the Kingston, New York area.

Adams Fairacre Farms is a three-store chain in the Hudson Valley of New York.  It’s really more of a “Super Farm Market,” as they advertise themselves, than a grocery store.

The good

When you walk into Adams, you walk into the store’s best department:  the fruits and vegetables.  Adams works with local farms to stock as much local produce as possible.  In general, they have higher-quality produce than any of the chain stores at any given time of year, even if it isn’t local.  If you care about quality veg, one trip to Adams will convince you to make it a regular weekly stop.

Adams’ meat department is no comparison to the local competition; it rivals any dedicated butcher shop for variety and quality.  They stock both quality “store brand” meat—typically better than the premium national brands found at other stores—and high-end brands like Bell and Evans.  They typically stock a selection of USDA Prime beef, as well as local beef.  The meat department is well-staffed, and they will gladly handle special requests.  There’s also a full-service seafood department.

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Have some soup.

On August 3, 2010, in Personal, by Rob Levandowski

I’ve published my quick and easy chicken soup recipe elsewhere on the website.

Now’s a good time to freeze up a batch before the fall cold season starts.

Tagged with: refresh completed!

On July 24, 2010, in Administrative, by Rob Levandowski

The refresh of is complete!

Don’t worry about your old links. Most of the content has been moved to the new content-management system; there are redirects in place to make sure that you get to the latest version of those pages.  Anything that hasn’t been updated will continue to exist at its old location for the foreseeable future.

Link permanence: an important part of the customer experience for your website.


Two birds with one $143 stone

On July 23, 2010, in Automotive, Personal, by Rob Levandowski

A few months ago, I finally got around to sending my Saab 9-5’s Information Display off to be repaired.  (That story would make a good blog post itself…)  Soon after it came back, now with 100% working pixels, my Saab wanted to test it out.  It did so by telling me: BRAKE LIGHT FAILURE.

Okay, no big deal; you can replace the brake light on a SportWagon with the provided screwdriver and about three minutes’ time.  (The only trick is realizing that you have to sort of rip the thing back and to the side after undoing the two screws, as the front edge of the light assembly is held in place by two friction-fit pop-in pins.)

I have my girlfriend Kim go around back while I step on the brake, so we can identify which light has failed.

They’re all working.

So this happens sometimes; you get a bulb with a loose filament that gets intermittent.  I push CLEAR on the SID.  A day or two later: BRAKE LIGHT FAILURE.

But they still all work.

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In the past I’ve written about my esteem for Cook’s Illustrated. They make it easy to be a great cook.

Tonight, however, Cook’s has lowered their reputation with me considerably, by trying to scam me out of my money.

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Reading Books on the iPad

On June 11, 2010, in Recommendations, by Rob Levandowski

Before I got my iPad, I didn’t think I’d use it much for reading books.  I love books.  The house is full of books. I’m proud that I am perennially short of bookshelves.

Now, I find myself leaning toward buying books via the iPad more than going to the bookstore.

The thing is, I usually have my iPad with me.  It’s easy to carry. That means I can read nearly anywhere, and as a result I can read more often. I’m already a devout reader, so this just feeds the addiction.

Of the available readers, Apple’s iBooks is my favorite.  By no means is it perfect, but it’s good enough.  With the right font, and the right type size, I don’t find the iPad’s LCD objectionable.  It certainly gets dim enough to read comfortably in bed. (It lights up the room considerably less than the LED miner’s lamp I use for reading physical books in bed.)

Where iBooks falls down is in the texts themselves.

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