diego's weblog

there and back again

Monthly Archives: July 2007


Recently I wanted to play around with LISP again (as a way to relax!) and naturally I started looking for IDEs. Java has contributed many things to computer science, but surely one of its most important side effects of it has been the insertion into the popular consciousness of advanced IDEs, IntelliJ IDEA being at the front of this, closely followed by Eclipse and Netbeans.

Interestingly enough, even though LISP has deep roots in the academic community and has been around for decades, the best-known IDEs for LISP out there are not only closed-source, but also commercial, with hefty price tags. Some of the best-known are Allegro Common Lisp and LispWorks. Some of them don’t even offer versions that you can download without contacting sales reps! These companies are apparently living in 1994 or thereabouts. Most of them are Crippleware — they work only for a limited amount of time, or expire, or even generate executables that exit after a while. The fact that their websites also look like something out of 1994 is another clue as to the cluelessness of these companies. It was pretty depressing, really. And no, I don’t like Emacs. Sorry. (You may wonder how on earth I can like LISP but not Emacs… well, I guess the Universe is full of mysteries :)).

Then today I found CUSP, a LISP plugin for Eclipse. Awesome! It’s free, maintained. It supports autocompletion and Macros, and works well. Highly recommended. I can now proceed with LISP hacking in peace. πŸ™‚

PS: the reasons for playing with LISP (or even trying to do something serious with it) are many, but they are hard to understand if you’ve never used it before. At a minimum, it’s a great way to exercise the brain. LISP, after FORTRAN, is the second-oldest high-level programming language (dating back to 1958–it will be 50 years old next year!), and there are good reasons for both having such staying power. If you’ve never programmed in LISP, you should give it a try — it will blow you away. πŸ™‚

PPS: I forgot to mention it, but the LISP I use is Steel Bank Common Lisp which seems to be the best out there.

Update: Colm O Mahony just wrote over email to tell me that he tried SBCL 1.0.6 (the latest SBCL version) on top of the older version which comes bundled in CUSP. I tried it as well and it works fine. Thanks Colm!
it seems to work fine.

the four steps to the epiphany

The Four Steps to the Epiphany is, according to Marc, so good that you should “Buy it, read it, keep it under your pillow and absorb it via osmosis.” Enough said.


Leaflets. Cool stuff for your iPhone! [via Russ].

goodbye, comcast. hello, appletv!

A few weeks ago I went down to my local Comcast office and returned my Motorola DVR/cable box. I had been planning on doing it for some time now and finally I found the brief window I needed to make the trip. πŸ™‚ No more cable for me!

Why did I take such a drastic step you ask? The answer is, largely, cost, along with incredibly annoying little things that degraded whatever was left of the “experience” down to continuous suffering. That, and an AppleTV finally providing a good alternative to cable, as I detail below…

Battle of the Media Centers

Let’s start at the beginning. Following the trend of becoming a total mac-head, I got an AppleTV when it came out in February. I had intermittently tried Windows Media Center and the XBox 360 as my “digital hub” to stream music and movies from my digital collection (painstakingly ripped from my CDs and DVDs) and neither worked well enough for me.

Windows Media Center got close, perhaps, but in the end its convoluted support of Live TV (through a TV-In card that is a pain to setup with “premium” channels) and its incredibly bad downloadable content got the better of me. I am not a big fan of most of what’s on TV, as you can tell, or rather, the only thing that I think merits live TV is the news, but there isn’t much on TV that counts as news these days. CNN has become a cesspool of junk, trying to Out-Fox Fox, and Fox is, well, Fox. CNBC, while decent, is boring as hell, and the major networks just talk about random local stuff that I generally find uninteresting.

The Xbox 360, while functional, is truly a disaster in terms of user interface and, more importantly, that horribly loud fan that manages to interfere with whatever it is you’re watching UNLESS IT IS AT FULL VOLUME like, well, Halo or PG3. Try watching a quiet, thoughtful movie on that thing. Good luck. I do have the HD-DVD player for the Xbox but I have seriously considered getting a dedicated HD-DVD player to avoid suffering the noise–although the price has kept my insanity in check.

Back to the AppleTV — Given that I already used iTunes as my PC music player, and owned iPods, the PC side of things was covered. And whatever flaws Apple may have, they know how to make clean UIs. The simplicity of the connectors (Component, HDMI, Toslink), WiFi (so no need for One More Cable), the proper handling of widescreen, 1080i support, and the fact that it’s completely silent made it a no-brainer.

So I got the AppleTV and experimented with it for a while. I slowly started to convert my movies into H.264 MP4. Eventually I tried getting a couple of TV episodes off of iTunes. All was well.

Now was the time to jump off of cable.

Why ditching cable made sense

First up is cost — Let’s consider what I do watch on TV. The Daily Show. House M.D.. The Shield. The Sopranos. And maybe a couple of other series. Let’s say you actually go and purchase season passes for all these things in iTunes. The Daily Show will set you back $16 a month. Series run typically for $40 a season, with one season a year, that’s about $3.50 a month. Let’s say you watch 5 series (you have a lot of free time on your hands at that point :)). Round that up to $20 a month. Plus a couple of other random episodes of things, that’s a total of $40.

The typical Comcast cable subscription, with DVR, and HBO, will run at least to $80 a month. If you add a couple of other channels, it goes higher, fast. Let’s say you like Dexter. That’s Showtime. Another $20 a month. And so on. Before you know it, you’re paying $100 a month for a lot of content that you don’t really watch. The DVR is good, but there are two problems — the limited disk space becomes an issue if you start running behind, or if you want to “save” something for seeing it again. With the AppleTV, you just use whatever PC storage you have, which is both cheap and easy to upgrade.

The one downside of going all-AppleTV is that iTunes content is 480p, and you can definitely see the difference when comparing it to HDTV. But is that worth $60 or more?

The second argument for not using cable anymore was a number of little and big annoyances. For example, Comcast started running ads on their On-Screen TV Guide about two months ago. Ads! Unbelievable. Apparently it’s not enough to be paying through the nose. The ads are not only visually annoying (taking up a one-fifth of the screen) but also get in the way of navigation through the menus.

Then there’s the weird HDMI content protection errors. More than once I had movies stop in the middle of playing because “You do not have the rights to view this content”. Say what? This was a movie streamed direct through cable, into the DVR, direct through HDMI to the TV. Apparently something in there is illegal. Sometimes. (I think the issue is that HDMI is very sensitive to signal strength fluctuations, assuming that you’re trying to “steal the signal”, and killing the stream when that happens).

Finally, there’s the problem that, while HDTV content looks fantastic, Basic cable is a complete and utter disaster in terms of resolution (sometimes I doubt it’s even 480i :)). If you have a big screen, it’s terrible to watch. So at that point the 480p of iTunes content started to look pretty good.

The AppleTV solution

Now, all I’ve got for TV is the aTV, and I’ve been pretty happy with it. iTunes streams subscriptions and syncs them automatically to the aTV (even that isn’t totally necessary, since you can just as well stream anything you want from the PC, something that works perfectly well over WiFi, both 802.11g as well as –not surprisingly– 802.11n).

I’ve got access to all my digital content (music, photos, movies, TV shows) and I can keep as much as my PC-based disk space allows, which is really great. No more deleting stuff I’d like to keep.

A couple of gripes about the AppleTV though.

  • First, having to sync photos to view them is a pain. You can stream movies but not photos? Come on.
  • Second, the thing keeps turning on by itself. Even after I suspend it, I come back home and find it on, happily displaying the screensaver to /dev/null (given that the TV is off). I think this is because it’s trying to sync stuff regularly, but I’d prefer it if it would turn off after trying to sync. Not that it causes any problems, but it seems wasteful. πŸ™‚
  • Third, sometimes the “sync connection” to a PC seems wonky, and I’ve had to “reauthorize” the aTV with the PC a couple of times after switching which PC was syncing to it. In some level it makes sense to invalidate the whole connection, but it’s a pain. Then again, I’ve only have to do this a couple of times, so it’s not a big deal really, but still something that could be improved.

Overall, a good experience so far. If you’re looking to ditch cable and go all-digital, and are thinking of media centers, this is something I’d definitely recommend looking at.

more javascript

A Reintroduction to Javascript. Nice refresher for a Sunday night. πŸ™‚


How Gullible Are We? [via Erik].

breaking, indeed.

Breaking News: All Online Data Lost after Internet Crash. LOL!

important tip of the day

Study: Alligators Dangerous No Matter How Drunk You Are.

new ning release!

A new release of the Ning Social Network is out. This time it’s all about Network Badges and new Widgets. Weee!

book of the week: managing humans

A book that came out a week or so ago was Managing Humans: Biting and Humurous Tales of a Software Engineering Manager, written by Michael Lopp, aka Rands. Here’s Rands’ entry announcing on the book.

I’ve met Michael and read Rands, and they’re both wonderful people :). I ordered the book as soon as it came out. I will confess that my schedule this week has prevented me from reading more than a couple of chapters but I know what’s in there, and it’s great (a lot of the book is based on entries from Rands in Repose). This one’s a must-read, especially if you share with us that strange, high-speed, high-adrenaline, manic, fun space otherwise known as the internet/software industry.

One thing that is not in the book is the world renowned πŸ™‚ Rands Vegas System. So, that, you’ll have to read on the weblog, and you should, because it’s a riot.

Anyway, back to the book: go get it!

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