Vista Service Pack did not install. Times 2.

One of the two notebooks (dual core, vista home premium pre-installed) I use prompted that Vista SP1 was available as an automatic update. I figured why not, since this is the official release from 2 days ago. Speedy download. Installation goes pretty swiftly. Step 1, step 2 and step 3: 100%. Sweet. Reboot. And then this:

vista service pack did not install

Excuse me? It just did 100% on all three steps, taking its sweet little time overal, and then it says it couldn’t do it? So what exactly happened during all the installation steps? If it checks something that critical at the very end, how about doing that little hardware and software check (or whatever it is) at the very beginning of the update process? And, where can I trace the cause of the problem? I did not see any error information? Nor suggestions?

Fortunately this botched update did not ruin the machine. Everything still looks the same and essential applications work. Small sigh of relief. And, now of course Vista SP1 is ready to be installed again. Funny.

On a second Vista notebook the SP so far refuses to show up. Haven’t tried any other machines yet, but something tells me I will exercise some patience. There are plenty of similar stories on the web already too.

Anyhow, you have to love Microsoft, right?

Update: I am too curious what the failure rate will be so I am already trying it on another machine. This one is a year younger, pretty much ‘stock’ (or factory default) and faster. We’ll see.

Update 2: Absolutely fabulous. 25 minutes into the installation. Step 2 is completed. System reboots. A blue screen of death. My system is unable to start. Windows Startup Repair can’t repair the problem. System restore … attempting …

Update 3: Fortunately I landed back on my desktop after some very long 15 minutes.

My conclusion, with two failures and especially after that Blue Screen Of Death, is that this Service Pack 1 for Vista is not ready for prime time. Two solid and fast machines, less than a year old, from mainstream manufacturers and neither can be updated?

I recommend others to just wait. Maybe once you hear on the web from somebody who has the same machine and updated his/her’s fine; you can be confident it will work. To me it is not worth the 40 min hassle nor risking data and possibly having to reinstall the machine. I have read some reports where it took several hours to both install and revert SP1. I can’t imagine sitting through that worrying if the machine will boot.

8 years in the US. Some reflections.

This weeks marks the 8th anniversary of moving to the US.

It certainly makes you reflect on how fast time flies. I remember living and working in Belgium like it was 3 years ago. How could it be 8 years already?

Rather than writing a long story, I figured I could do a quick Question & Answer round of frequently asked questions:

Happy? Yes.

Any regrets? No. Not really. You hate leaving a void with your closest family and friends, especially when some are going through a hard time. But as a whole, do I regret moving to the US? No.

How are things with you and Carolyn? Things are good. We are very happy together and are both doing well. We are in a good place and good situation.

Is living there how you thought it would be? Yes & No. Yes, because I knew it a little bit from traveling here. At the same time, we are living quite differently than we had originally planned. We have not settled down yet. We have been pretty mobile and plan to stay that way. We live in two places, so there are some practical long distance issues, as you can imagine. Business is different than we had planned, but we are doing good. We will see what the future brings.

Are you a US citizen now? No. Not yet.

Do you miss Belgium? Sometimes. I haven’t been there in several years, so one automatically misses friends & family. From time to time we catch a travel show on TV highlighting Belgium or places we have visited. It brings back memories and makes you want to pop in to say hi and refresh your memory of what it is really like to be there.

When are you coming to Belgium/Europe again? Not in the near future. Have you seen the Euro/Dollar rate lately? 1.55 USD for 1 EURO is a 50% tax for Americans to come to the EU. I can’t imagine paying 50% extra for fuel, hotels, … Maybe you guys can swing this way? It is a bargain at 50% off.

What’s the biggest thing that is different about you now? Doing construction work. I thought I would be doing purely computer stuff and clerical work. I didn’t think I was cut out for construction work, but it turns out I am. And, I owe it all to a little encouragement from Carolyn with the first few little projects. We were unhappy with the cost and results of a couple things we hired done at our first home and I figured I could do a lot better for less cost. Apply some brain power. Analyze it, come up with a strategy and go for it.

And the second thing? Smarter & braver. I can for instance jump in the car and drive anywhere in the US with minimal notice & minor to no preparations. Initially the US it is kind of intimidating because being from Flanders you think small. Drive an hour each way and you are in different country. Years ago I couldn’t understand why Americans would travel across Europe in 7 days. But travel and distance are different here. A few hours driving is nothing. Things are on an entirely different scale. By the way: Americans don’t get much time off from work, so they pack as much as they can in a short vacation.

What haven’t you done enough? Travel & sightseeing. Windsurfing.

Anything that surprised you? Hearing I have a talent for skiing and water skiing.

Are there some things you wish would be different in the US?

Health insurance. The cost goes through the roof. Large sections of the population can’t afford insurance. Other sections of the population have insurance but are denied treatment. Any reason is good enough to deny coverage. Way too much time and money is wasted on paperwork, applications, pre-approval processes, reviewers, … and not enough care given. The administration just drives up the cost of providing care and insurance itself. A never ending spiral.

Commercials on TV. Most channels are like Eurosport. Commercial break every five minutes. It just makes we want to turn the TV off.

Political campaigning. The amount of money spent on campaigning and the amount of coverage in every news cast on every channel, day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year is just … insane. It just doesn’t stop. What is next? Strapping a camera to the candidate’s head and following every word & move 24/7?

Driving. In a way driving in the US is relaxed because of the lower speed limits, but quite a lot of people have totally unsafe driving habits: no safe driving distance, aggressive driving, not stopping at stop signs, running red lights, slow traffic staying in the left lane,text-ing behind the wheel, etc. And all the police seem to focus on is speeding. Maybe if everybody would drive safer, we could get some higher speed limits on the interstate that are more in keeping with our rushed lives and save a little time on long distance hauls. It doesn’t have to be 65-70mph on many quiet stretches of interstate, but it is not likely to change.

What car do you drive? A Chrysler minivan. No convertible yet. Right now I’m more thinking about a pick-up truck with a snow plow.

Are you still into computers & electronics? Of course! I have scaled back some, but yeah, I’m still quite ahead of the curve.

Any cool hardware recently? I still think the Nokia N800/810 & OQO o2 are marvelous pieces of technology.

iPhone? Not enough features yet and tied to AT&T, so no.

Mac or PC? Both. I indeed switch to Apple in 2002, but Apple isn’t all it could be and should be so, I found my way back to using pc systems because Apple’s product line is too limited in some respects and under featured.

Linux? Some. Not enough time to delve into it. I have enough to catch up with as it is.

When will the site be updated? Soon, I hope. I am waiting on an iBlog export function to centralize things without having to edit every single entry and have been distracted with a few other projects.

The geotag icon is born

http://www.geotagicons.com launched today.

Geotag Icon website screengrab
In large part due to google maps & google earth and a variety of other initiatives; as well as people having easier access to GPS devices; photos and information in general are more and more being published with their geographical coordinates. So, it was only time that somebody would think about a standardized visual reference for that information.

Bruce McKenzie announced the idea on his blog last week. What started with a white push pin silhouette icon on an earth tone background, quickly evolved based on feedback from around the world. Inclusion of a representation of the globe, more red for better contrast, bigger pin, 45 degree angle, etc. Of course while keeping the button style of the RSS icons and others. I am very satisfied by the result which truly is a mix of ideas from different people and technical restrictions.

There are two main reasons for the icon’s simple form. It has to be iconic for easy recognition and it has scale properly to different sizes. Fancy designs are great, but at the smallest scale of 16 by 16 pixels there is no room for any of the details you drew at 256 by 256 or 512 by 512 pixels. Many great ideas, shapes, sizes and colors were rejected simply due to their representation at 16 x 16 pixels.

Again, I am pleased with the outcome and very happy to have been part of the process. It was interesting, busy and fun.

Icerabbit for your ears via finetune

As a teen I loved to listen to music and make mix tapes for personal use in the Walkman, car, etc. I really don’t know what I would have done or what would have become of me if I had a computer and mp3s back then! I did not become a DJ and life went on.

Since starting a homepage, back in ’96, I have thought it would be neat to have a little radio section on the website. Of course bandwith was a huge obstacle back then. Nowadays, regardless of the mechanism, with an occasional click through, bandwith use would be relatively limited. But, then there are the DCMA and copyright royalties, which dampen your enthusiasm pretty quickly, if you want to keep it legal.

Enter finetune.com

finetune screen grab

C told me about it several months ago and I thought it would be the ideal solution to share a music and playlists through the website / blog. No cost, no DCMA, no royalties, … Select a minimum of 45 songs, maximum 3 per artist (to comply with internet radio restrictions and avoid on demand listening) and you’re ready to share your playlist with friends and family.

So, here is my first finetune playlist which can also be found on my user page icerabbit on finetune. (I did embed the player here, but wordpress.com strips it out)

It is a broad mix of songs and instrumental work that energizes, inspires or relaxes me, with a few odd ones thrown in for fun. With some extra time I will split it up into three mixes and feature them permanently in the sidebar of the redesigned blog.

Enjoy :)

2 days 60F difference

The good thing about going to Florida for two weeks mid-winter is that you get to spend some time in a warmer climate, relax, sun & surf.

The bad thing about going to Florida for two weeks mid-winter is that you can come back to 15F with 25mph winds (think 0F wind chill) and more than a foot of snow & ice covering everything. Reality can be cold and white.

Scared by the DTV 2009 switch ad?

The National Association of Broadcasters’ (NAB) video spot about the switch to DTV on February 19, 2009 is big on scare “Your TVs may go dark” & “You may need an upgrade” but short on info.It certainly made me pause. We don’t have digital cable and have several TVs that predate the mandated digital tuner generation (which started less than a year ago). So, that could mean increasing our cable subscription services and adding extra boxes ($$$). Or digital-to-analog converter boxes ($$) with the added box & controller inconvenience. Or going satellite, which also has its boxes.What service(s) does DTV affect?The little known detail among consumers is that the DTV switch ONLY affects Over The Air television reception a.k.a. OTA.http://dtvanswers.com/dtv_what.html — ” Digital television (DTV) is an innovative new type of over-the-air broadcasting technology http://dtv.gov/whatisdtv.html — Analog TVs ” will require a converter box after February 17, 2009, to receive over-the-air broadcasts with an antenna because of the Nation’s transition to digital broadcasting. Analog-only TVs should continue to work as before with cable and satellite TV services “Why couldn’t the NAB ad just point that out the antenna part?If you have rabbit ears ;) or antenna, please pay attention. All others, relax. The analog cable signal is not changing.Don’t paint a broad picture about “digital tv” that confuses people with “digital tv subscriptions” and scares a whole generation of older people that they’re going to have to shell out a lot of money for new televisions and subscribe to cable or satellite. Maybe that is actually the hidden plot behind the scene? Scare people into a paid service, sell bunches of new gear and sell the analog spectrum. Win-win-win.A call to our local cable provider (Time Warner, formerly Adelphia) confirmed that there will no change in analog cable service due to the DTV switch.Converter box coupon. If your TV does not have a digital tuner and you have any type of analog antenna on your roof or TV set, you can convert the analog signal to digital and the government is subsidizing the converters.There is an application form at https://www.dtv2009.gov/ to subsidize up to two analog to digital cable converter boxes per family.Note that the coupons have an expiration date. They are only valid for three months, so you may want to wait a little bit.They have a pretty detailed FAQ at https://www.dtv2009.gov/FAQ.aspxI will personally wait till more products with more features are on the market and they start to compete price-wise and feature wise. ( I will get one converter for emergency broadcast reception when cable and power is out. )Which DTV / HDTV antenna can I use? What signal can I get over the air?You may only need a very compact indoor antenna to receive a couple signal in an urban setting. But if rabbit ears don’t work now, I doubt a digital capable equivalent will yield any results. How can you know what is out there before buying an antenna?Should you or a family member use some type of antenna now or maybe consider it for the future instead of paying for cable, there is a great online resource to check what signals are available in your area and what antenna you should use: antennaweb.org from the Consumer Electronics Organization.I have used antennaweb.org to check signal availability in a few areas and determined an antenna is simply not going to work (or worth the investment I should say) for two remote areas due to distance from towers & hills; but that with a dozen stations in two urban areas, an antenna is certainly a viable option.Antennaweb homepageOn their homepage, click on the choose an antenna button. No need to fill out all your personal information. You can just fill out your ZIP code, confirm your housing type and if there are any tall obstacles. It will then show you a map of your area. Use the controls and click to put the star roughly where your house is.Antennaweb sample mapClick continue and it will show you a list of stations in your area and make recommendations on what antenna type you could use to receive them.Antennaweb sample resultsAs you can see there is not much out there for people in the 04330 area. Add big obstacles, hills and the metropolitan areas being in two different directions and it would not be easy to get a good result. Even satellite is very low on the horizon here.Clicking through on the antenna color will give you some guidelines about the antenna type to use * and armed with that information you can go shopping.* Note that some stations will switch bands from VHF to UHFOnline shopping for a DTV HDTV antennaI have done a little bit of comparison shopping in the past and have been impressed with the guys behind solidsignal.com – no affiliation.I contacted them last year about a difficult location (which turned out to be unsuitable for antenna reception) and they were accurate with their evaluation and quick to respond. I am in touch with them now to order an antenna for a family member.They have a red antennahelp link in the upper right.Solid signal siteYou fill out a form and they respond with a recommendation in a few hours, after evaluating your location and answers you filled out.Their prices seem reasonable and I would not hesitate to order from them, but of course you can use their recommendations & pricing to shop around, as any smart web shopper would do.Other thoughts on the DTV switch I really do not think that the DTV switch is a good thing.I fear tons of electronic waste will go to the landfill.Handheld emergency TVs are now obsolete. Our little handheld Casio running on 4 AA batteries has been great during hurricane outages to tune into continuous hurricane coverage and stay informed about local weather conditions. Maybe one could rig an antenna to a converter box and then wire to the antenna? Still, you will need power for that converter box and the thing won’t be very portable.I am taking the DTV quality claims with a grain of salt. They’re supposed to be free of ghosts and snow. But DTV does not equal HD and it probably will suffer the same issues. Digital TV channels on cable and HDTV should be the nec plus ultra. Except that they suffer from pixelization due to upscaling / upsampling and / or over compression. HDTV channels are only broadcast at half the recommended bandwith at to ensure a continuous crisp picture that doesn’t take
a few seconds to catch up to scene change. It is especially bad through transitions, high detail scenes, fast action, … The only exception I have seen has been hdnet.Update February 11: I have installed one DTV set at a family member’s place and hooked it up to the existing and slightly ‘antique’ long directional antenna. I am not easily impressed but I am honestly very impressed with the image quality of DTV. So much so that I found myself watching TV I wouldn’t ordinarily watch, just to check their clarity. At certain times there were a few stations that we experienced digital artifacts (blocks of static / noise) in the signal, but I think that was due to the range and maybe inclement weather 60+ miles away. All in all, I give the DTV signal two thumbs up. It is way better than what we had less than two years ago on HD Cable with Time Warner / Comcast; and not to mention free.The additional weather channels on local stations are a real plus as well. Just tune to channel 8-2 or so to get the plus channel of your local station and get real time radar images and weather updates. When severe weather is in the area you can now track it live on tv, without needing the weather channel on cable. Update March 15: I noticed the NAB has started to air a new clip which specifically mentions that it is TV antenna users who may need to upgrade.I don’t know if my letter to them had anything to do with it (did not get a response) but at least they are no longer making it sound as if everybody might lose their signal and need to run out to buy new TVs or converter boxes.

Resolutions 2008

Live from the gym, it’s the icerabbit’s New Year’s resolutions. While I’m burning some extra calories at 3 mph on the treadmill and checking some news; why not go online and share some of my resolutions.- Focus. Work harder. Play better. It is easy to get distracted with many different things going on and often times being weather dependent. Can’t fit in a bigger project, how about a couple smaller things? Throw some of those time management and planning skills into the remodeling of the house. Update that old to do list. Remove the finished half with a smile, add new ideas and draft a plan and schedule with the new stuff.

– Keep working out. I did good last year for the first few months till construction work picked up and skipping a week turned into a month etc. This year both have to run side by side. Even if it is just a little some days or weeks due to remodeling work. Make some time and do the minimum. One thing that should help us both is cable and internet access. Time literally flies when your mind is busy because you mix in something you like. I’m usually bored by television. With the internet, I read what I like. And, can actually blog.

– Eat more conservative. No, no diet. Just eating smarter. Many days I need plenty of fuel and burn it off too. But, being older and more sedentary than I used to be, spending more time in car, enjoying a great cook at home and snacking often times with movie or while on the go … a few pounds are quickly gained. So I’ll eat a little less and smarter. Learn to look at those labels on the boxes a bit more. Oh, and cut the soda at least in half.

– Mission organization. Add 1 part ADD and 1 part bad habit of not putting things away at the end of the work day or night and/or simply working/playing around till it is literally time to quit or even go to bed … and soon you drown in stuff. My primary workbench is covered in materials, supplies, tools and documentation. My desk has a dozen different things on it. You know: papers, bills, peripherals, computer parts, documentation. Some shelves are full with just too many computer parts, cameras, lenses, misc. electronics … Time to sort that out. Donate some and maybe sell some things on Ebay.

– Mail reduction. Bulk is a problem for most American families. We successfully curbed the majority of it last year, but we can do better. Next step: less magazines, less professional mail, less regular mail & less email. Opt out.

– Fix annoyances. Little things can make a big difference and may be very easy to implement. Last year I wired gigabit ethernet because I was tired of the fast ethernet bottlenecks. 2008. Better phone system. Out with the three separate digital 5.8 systems, each of which covered roughly half. In with the integrated DECT 6 digital wireless phone system where every phone has a name (so you know which phone goes where), gets better coverage and can talk to any base. Better cable TV. The signal wasn’t as good as it should be throughout the house. Part old install and part new install from the cable company when we moved in. I debated a couple times if it was the signal coming into the house, but I really figured it was some of those standard wires running in close proximity to electrical lines. So out with the old cables and in with a high quality splitter and a big box of quality shielded cable, connectors and some elbow grease. What a difference on two of the lines! No more electrical interference. Noise free. Should have done this way sooner …

I think that adds up to a pretty realistic list of things to do. Nothing extravagant or extra ordinary. Just building for a better self & family :)

5 4 3 2 1 Happy New year 2008

And the ball is dropping in Times Square. Happy New year.

Best wishes and good health to everybody. May 2008 be better than 2007 and inspire us all to live better, eat healthier, work out more, …

Have you made your new year’s resolutions yet? ;)

Don’t worry. Share a toast first :)

Merry Christmas

We wish our family and friends all around the world a Merry Christmas.

Fortunately not everything melted away the past few days, so we still have snow on the ground. We try to decorate a little different every year and this is our front garden display.

Winter scene