For those who don’t read the site regularly, I just posted a new bit over at Doing it Ourselves, describing my effort yesterday venting our clothes dryer. It’s a project I’ve been meaning to do for over a month now, and while I’m not sure I’ve ever been dirtier than I was by the end of yesterday, it feels great to finally have it done!

My favorite weblog du jour: Free Floyd Landis. I’m incredibly hopeful that this is yet another example of the interface between bad lab testing and overzealous enforcement of rules that only have the most tangential relationship to actual doping.

As if people needed another reason to hate the monopolistic practices of cable companies, Matt Haughey has been kind enough to point in the direction of Time Warner Cable’s attempt to decree that it won’t provide CableCards to customers who use the upcoming Series 3 TiVos. (For those who don’t know, CableCards are cable tuners that are reduced to the size of small PC cards, and which slide into slots in other pieces of equipment that can control them and provide additional services. Quite a few HDTVs sold today have CableCard slots on them; the goal would then be that you could get a CableCard from your cable company, install it directly into your TV, and not need an additional cable box.) Obviously, TiVos and other digital video recorders compete with the DVRs that Time Warner sells rents to its customers, and the company’s argument is that it doesn’t have to provide equipment that then can be used in a way which takes (potential) money out of its pockets. Fortunately, it appears that rather than a dead-end, this represents more of an idiotic obstacle; Federal law actually dictates that TWC has to provide the cards to customers with any CableCard-certified equipment, and the Series 3 TiVos achieved that certification.

Continuing with what’s slowly becoming an obsession for me, the task of finding a video chat solution that actually works worth a damn between Macs and PCs, it appears that the folks at SightSpeed are releasing their newest version tonight. Why do I care? Because rumor has it that version 5.0 brings with it a huge improvement in the quality of the video, an improvement that might hold cross-platform promise. (That PC Magazine review is a bit over the top, though, with comments like “No other services, not even those from the big guys (AOL, Microsoft, Skype, and Yahoo!, among others), have developed their video codecs to the degree that SightSpeed has” — the author’s prior experience is clearly limited to PC-only apps, and has neglected to see the remarkable quality and performance that comes from an iSight-to-iSight conversation over AIM.) As before, as soon as I can get my hands on SightSpeed 5.0 (and a little chunk of time), I’ll give it a test and report back.

Fabulous: researchers reported this month that increasing obesity in America has caused a doubling in the number of radiologic studies that gave limited results. The limitations were most-often seen in ultrasound studies, which depend on a sound wave that has to penetrate through the skin and soft tissue and then bounce back to a detector; other times, the problem was something as simple as patients being unable to fit inside the CT or MRI scanner. The numbers are small — the increase is around a hundredth of a percent per year — but given the fact that we know obesity’s increasing at amazing rates, it’s a sign of the difficulties doctors and patients are going to face over the coming decades. (Nevermind the fact that you know a trend’s probably real when the biomedical marketers jump onto it…)

Hallelujah — Skype has finally released a beta “preview” version of its Mac chat client that includes video support. I’ve complained in the past about the shameful state of online video chat between Macs and PCs, and wondered whether Skype’s eventual entry into the world of Mac video support might provide a decent alternative to the crap that’s currently out there; I’ll be sure to report back once I get a chance to test this out. (My most trusted tech-savvy video chatter is currently vacationing in Germany!)

Update: OK, without my trusty buddy with his PC and webcam, Matt and I gave the Skype preview a shot between two Macs, and I gotta say I’m not all that impressed — his words were that it feels like iChat 1.0, and my observation was that the video was choppy and stutter-prone, and the audio had a lot more echo than I’d think would be tolerable for long. The big caveat is that I’d have to imagine there’s a lot of debug code (and lack of optimization) in this preview release, so we’ll see where things head.

I can’t believe I’ve neglected to mention here that Martin Dugard is back with his amazingly well-written Tour de France weblog this year. Last year, I found that his coverage of the Tour was, by far, the best cycling writing I’d ever read, and was pretty sad when he wrapped up his weblog at the end of the race. I seemed to recall Dugard making noise like he wasn’t going to cover this year’s Tour, so when my brother dropped me a message last week with a pointer to the 2006 weblog, I was pretty excited. Even if you couldn’t care less about cycling, his writing is well worth a read, and once again I’ll be bummed when things come to a close in a few days.

An online article that’s making the rounds right now is Aalaap Ghag’s “Guide to Useless Services”, which purports to be a list of the services running under Windows XP that exist only to slow you down (and thus can be shut off without a problem). After giving it a read, though, it seems that Mr. Ghag doesn’t have the slightest clue about the subject, and I’d honestly hate to be in the position of supporting any computer that has the misfortune of having his advice applied to it. Let’s demonstrate with a few examples.

His first entry, for the Computer Browser service, reads as follows: “Contrary to what it may sound like, disabling this service still allows you to browse a network in your office. And of course, you don’t need this at home. Disable it.” Alas, if you (like many homes these days) have more than one computer and expect to be able to share files or printers across them, then you’re screwing yourself; the Browser service is what allows you to use your Network Neighborhood by maintaining the master list of shareable resources on a network and letting computers find those resources. In fact, when he says “disabling this service still allows you to browse a network in your office,” this is only because another computer somewhere in the office is successfully running the Browser service.

Now, onto the Error Reporting Service, which Mr. Ghag addresses as such: “I.e. ‘Send system information to Microsoft.’ No thanks. Disable it.” Sure, that’s a great idea, if you want to cut off your nose to spite your face. When an application crashes under Windows, the ERS allows your computer to send information about the crash back to Microsoft, both to collect data about what caused it and to see if there’s a fix for it. (For example, if a display driver causes a crash, and the manufacturer has released a version that specifically fixes the bug, then you’ll get a link to download the new driver.) This has helped me immensely on more than one occasion, and in any event, if you’ve ever bitched about MS having buggy software, then you shouldn’t turn around and cut off one avenue the company has opened towards eradicating those bugs.

As for the Indexing Service, the advice given is: “Use AvaFind and/or Google Desktop Search instead. Just disable it - no questions asked.” Huh?!? The Indexing Service does a great job of setting your computer up for much easier file searches from right there within the operating system; saying that people should shut it off and use third-party apps doesn’t make any sense to me.

Finally, the kicker is this gem about the System Restore Service: “I prefer trying to manually troubleshoot and fix, or reinstalling Windows in case of a fatal problem. I’ve never felt comfortable with using System Restore to ‘restore old versions of files’ and all that, so I keep it disabled. It frees up memory and a good amount of disk space as well.” Literally, this is like saying, “When I have a flat tire, I prefer to lift my car off the roadway with a series of rocks found in the bushes, and then fashion a new tire by felling a nearby tree and whittling it down to size. It frees up all that space in my trunk that a spare and jack would have taken up!” The System Restore Service is honestly one of the best ways to back out of a system change that’s left you totally horked, and in my experience, the only good that can come out of disabling it is that you’ll become a lot more familiar with the whole system reinstallation process.

I guess my perspective is that if you know enough about how each of these services works, sure, there are probably a million scenarios for where shutting a handful of them off might serve a given user well. But don’t mistake this article for adequate information about any of them, and certainly don’t follow its advice unless you either know what you’re doing or don’t care if your computer becomes significantly less functional.

Apparently tired of having parts from their bikes stolen all the time in New York City, Casey and Van Neistat set out to document how easy it is to actually steal a bike in the Big Apple. The result is a five-minute video during which Van steals a bike four different times, in front of dozens to hundreds of people (and even a NYPD van!), and isn’t told to stop once. (He is approached one time, but I don’t want to spoil what happens.) One time, he elects to use a hacksaw which takes eight minutes to cut through the chain — and the whole time, people walk right by without a care in the world. It’s worth a watch, especially if you’re a New Yorker who values your bike. (via Gothamist)

Another great thing about the move to Washington, DC: we now have an indoor pool a mere three blocks from our front door, with lanes set aside at various times for adult lap swimming, and it’s completely free for use by DC residents. We made our first trip there this evening, and after having taken a month off of swimming, I put in a mile’s effort. It was a little weirder than normal, though, since during the evening the pool is laid out so that the lanes are 20 yards long — which meant that I was doing math pretty much the entire time I was in the water, figuring out the difference in distance between my normal routine and what I was doing in the mini-lanes. And at 20 lanes, my breathing pattern gets totally thrown off, something I’ll have to figure out over time (or avoid by going in the mornings, when the lanes are oriented in the 25-yard direction).

It’s nice to settle into my routine in DC… it definitely rounds out the feeling of being at home here.

Twilight Tattoo at the Marine Barracks

Shannon and I headed out for an evening walk around the new ‘hood tonight, and in one of the cooler bits of fate, ended up sitting inside the parade grounds of the Marine Barracks watching the weekly parade. We’d heard about the parade — called the Twilight Tattoo by our buddy in the Marines — but didn’t know a thing about how to get into the barracks to watch. As we walked by tonight we could hear the band starting up, and one of the gate guards noticed our curiosity and motioned us over. Upon learning that we were new to Capitol Hill, he invited us in, asked a cadet to run a metal-detecting wand over us, and got us seated in the bleachers at the end of the parade grounds. It was pretty damn cool, and definitelty a good introduction to living in the nation’s capitol capital.

One casualty of the move has been having time to keep up with the folks whose sites I read. The result of this is that right now, I have 2,846 new items in my syndication aggregator — pretty damn daunting. I guess it’s time to start paring that down…

We’ve moved to Washington, DC, hence the quiet here — it’s hard to post when you’re buried under piles of dishware and linen that doesn’t yet have a home. But we’re getting there, with all our new furniture built and in place, most of our clothes unpacked, a good bit of our kitchen set up, and a general sense of what’s in each of the remaining boxes. (Well, I might be stretching the truth on that last one a bit; we’re still not too sure where a lampshade or two was packed, it took eons to find the phones, and we haven’t even started hunting for the desktop computer stuff.)

I’ll post a bit more as we get settled — and once our television service gets set up (tomorrow!), we’ll also be able to lapse into our habit of writing for the web while relaxing in front of summer series.