Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Got my flu shot...have you?

I actually didn't get flu shots for quite a few years. When I was in college, I got my flu shot one year, and got really sick anyway. That experience gave me a ready excuse to avoid the slight inconvenience of going out of my way for the flu shot. And guess what, I got sick in some of the years that I didn't get the shot, too. When I thought about it logically, avoiding the shot made no sense.

Last year, you might have heard how the flu vaccine was less effective than usual. That's because the creation of the vaccine is basically a guessing game - experts pick a few varieties to include in the vaccine, a bunch of that vaccine is produced, and we all hope that the flu varieties which actually show up in the wild match the vaccine. Sometimes the guesses are good, and sometimes they're not.

But none of that means getting a flu shot is a bad idea. Even if the guess isn't very good, the vaccine can still provide some protection. And if the guess is good, having the protection can mean a much lower chance of the misery that comes with having the flu.

It's very easy to get the vaccine, too. There's the doctor's office, of course, but that's not your only option. Some employers bring the flu shot to you. A lot of corner pharmacies offer the shot in their stores. Almost every health insurance plan covers the cost of the flu shot (though you'll want to make sure you check your plan for approved providers beforehand), but even if yours doesn't, the shot itself is usually around $30. Probably a lot less than you'd spend on medicine if you get sick!

So now, I get the shot every year. Some years I get sick, some I don't...but I'm convinced that I'm avoiding at least some instances of being miserably sick. And that's worth a little pin-prick once a year.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Have you seen...Night Raid 1931?

Night Raid 1931 is a good example of a combination of many genres: historical fiction, action-adventure, mystery...a lot to cram into 13 short episodes!

The setting for Night Raid 1931 is 1930s China, a tumultuous period when the Imperial Japanese army was occupying parts of mainland China. The story follows a small group of Japanese in Shanghai, ostensibly civilians, but in reality an independent group of spies working for the Japanese government. They take on some of the shadowy activities that official government operatives can't be involved in.

And these aren't just any spies, but spies with superpowers: teleportation, psionics, speed. The exact source of the powers isn't really specified. I got the impression that they came either from mutations or mystical spirits, but it doesn't really matter. The powers are important, but they aren't the central focus of the story...more of a supporting role.

The characters themselves are a big part of what makes Night Raid 1931 work so well. Each character is well defined and has their own motivations. The telepathic girl hunting for her missing older brother. The tight-laced young military man unsure of which side is in the right. The older man in charge of the team's missions, using his mysterious contacts to set up their activities. I found myself wishing the series was a bit longer to explore their backgrounds a bit more, and find out what happens to some of them in the future.

The historical setting is very much in the center of the storyline. Freedom for Asian countries from the colonial powers is a major theme. The Manchurian Incident is a major turning point. The distrust and strife between Japanese and Chinese during this period is made very clear in several instances. I ended up doing some reading up on the period when the show made a reference to something I wasn't familiar with, and what I found fit very nicely into how the story was progressing. The writers clearly know the period and did their best to make things fit.

That's not to say that this is a historical drama. Beside the obvious difference of people with superpowers, the entire plot revolves around a secret organization that isn't in the historical record, and their efforts to change the course of history. By the end, it isn't clear whether the story is meant to take place in our own history, showing us secret events that have been forgotten; or if it's all in a parallel reality, that has its own future that may not be like our own. It didn't really matter to me which it was, because either way it was a well-executed story that kept me interested all the way through.

In the end, my only complaint about Night Raid 1931 is that there wasn't enough of it. For anyone who enjoys a bit of a mystery, set in an interesting historical period that isn't commonly used, and doesn't mind suspending disbelief in the occasional use of superpowers - highly recommended!

Sunday, October 11, 2015

It's time for MLB to protect the pivot man

There are times when playing a game requires you to put your body in harm's way. Standing a few inches from a hard round object coming in at 90+ mph. Clearing a puck, then taking a check into the boards. Going up for a header against an onrushing opponent. Carrying a football right up the middle where those 300-lb guys are waiting.

For a long time now, being the pivot man at second base has been one of those times, when a runner comes in with a hard slide to keep you from turning the double play. Last night, Ruben Tejada paid the price, getting his leg broken when Chase Utley slid into him. Utley's slide was very late (didn't even start until he was practically even with the bag), and while he could reach the bag with his arm, his body wasn't near it. Earlier this season, something similar happened to Jung Ho Kang of the Pittsburgh Pirates, and you hear about similar injuries almost every year.

The umpires decided that what Utley did was legal. The rules say you can't go outside the baseline to interfere with a fielder. I can see how the umpires made their decision, but I don't agree with it. When a player's slide is taking him away from the base, and starts that late, it's pretty clear that he's interfering. And the baseline shouldn't extend well past second base, where Utley's slide ended. On top of that, Utley was actually called safe on the play since Tejada missed second base by a few inches. There is a rule for that, known as the "neighborhood play", meant to protect fielders. But the umpires chose not to use it. (One explanation for that being that the rule is narrowly defined for specifically protecting fielders in the process of turning double plays, and Tejada was never able to actually throw the ball).

But whether this particular play was within the rules isn't really the point. The larger issue is that MLB needs to change the rules to protect their players, much like they've already done with collisions at home plate. Clearly the "neighborhood play" rule isn't enough. At the very least, runners need to be required to slide over the bag, and not just have an arm or foot barely able to reach it. It won't stop every collision, but it would keep fielders safe if they are moving away from the base. And failure to comply needs to include not only being called out on the field, but fines and suspensions as well.

For this particular play, Joe Torre is going to review what happened, in his capacity as baseball's chief baseball officer. I hope he thinks long and hard about not only this particular play, but what can be done to avoid this situation in the future.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

My media center using Amazon Fire TV

I've had an Amazon Fire TV for about a year now. Recently I did a full factory reset, in large part because I needed to upgrade several of my apps anyway. Seemed like a good time to document what I'm using, both for my own use the next time I need to do this, and in case anyone else is doing something similar.

Back to Factory Defaults

The factory reset is easily accessible from the Fire TV Settings, under System. Be careful! There's one "are you sure" dialog, and then it happens...no additional prompts! So be sure you're ready to reset.

It's best to use the original Fire TV remote when you're going through the setup. I don't use it normally (see below about the Harmony remote) but I needed the original to get through the initial setup steps, before activating the other remote. You also should remove any USB devices...my FLIRC kept the remote from working properly during the initial setup, and other devices may do the same.

The actual setup steps are nothing more than connecting to your network (if necessary...mine needed no configuration) and entering your Amazon.com account info. Then you'll see a intro video (feel free to skip through that) and get back to the home screen with nothing but the default content installed. At this point, accessing Amazon Music and Video works, and very little else.

Preparing to Add Apps

In the Settings, under System:

  • You may need to update the time zone. Mine defaulted to Pacific time, so I had to change it to Eastern.
  • Under Developer Options, enable both "ADB Debugging" and "Apps from Unknown Sources". These will be needed to load up non-Amazon-store apps, like Kodi.
On your PC/Mac/Linux box, install ADBFire. It's the simplest way I've found to work with sideloading apps that aren't on the Amazon app store, and it's especially useful with Kodi. Once you've installed it, open it up and set up the connection to your Fire TV. If you run into any issues, go to Help->Help in ADBFire and select Connection Tips for help. Once you're connected, installing apps is as simple as clicking "Install APK" and selecting the APK file for the app.



Firestarter is an app launcher, an extremely useful thing to have since Amazon's default home screen won't let you directly launch non-Amazon-store apps. Once you've downloaded the APK, install it via ADBFire. You'll need to launch it once by going to Settings->Applications->Manage Installed Applications, selecting Firestarter from the list, then select Launch Application. Now you'll see the Firestarter screen whenever the Fire TV starts up or you press the home button, and it lists all installed apps (not just the Amazon-approved ones). There's plenty of other things Firestarter can do, such as launching apps automatically on restart, but I only use it as a launcher.


I use Kodi as my front-end for watching over-the-air TV, my local video files, and music. Download the Android ARM version and install it with ADBFire. Kodi can do a ton of things and I won't list it all here, as there's plenty of info out on the Interwebs for that. I mostly use it for connecting to my MythTV system (which I use to record over-the-air TV), as described on the Kodi wiki.

Streaming Media

Just about everyone uses some kind of streaming service these days, and I use more than most since I'm not a cable TV subscriber. My current list, and where to get each:

  • YouTube (web videos): Amazon App Store
  • Crunchyroll (anime streaming): Search for Crunchyroll on Google Play. Note that you'll need APK Downloader, which is also available on Google Play, installed in your browser in order to download the Crunchyroll APK.
  • Sling TV (ESPN, TNT, TBS, etc live TV streams): Sling website
  • Netflix (streaming video): Amazon App Store
There are others, of course, this is just the list that I use most.


You can get by fine with just the original Fire TV remote, augmented with either a USB keyboard or something like the Amazon Fire TV Remote App (available on the Amazon App Store) to make keyboard entry easier. I like a bit more flexibility, though, so I added a couple of extras.

Harmony Hub and Remote

Logitech's Harmony remotes are excellent universal remotes. I have the Harmony Companion model, so I can use either the remote or an app on my Android tablet (which has a keyboard function). It controls my TV, sound system, DVD/Blue-Ray player, and the Fire TV. It does take a bit of initial setup, but it was pretty straightforward and didn't take too long. I especially like the one-button selection of configurations, so I can easily switch from the Fire TV to the DVD player to my PC as input sources, without having to modify the TV and sound inputs every time.


I use a FLIRC dongle to add a bit more flexibility to the Harmony remote configuration. You can do a lot of things with the Harmony setup alone, but the FLIRC adds a ton of additional options, especially when it comes to controlling Kodi.

Friday, October 9, 2015

October is sport fan heaven

Every October, I'm struck by how much sports action we Americans manage to cram into a single month on the calendar. All of the big four sports are in action:

Baseball - End of the regular season, and playoff time! With three division winners and two wild cards in each league, the end of the regular season can often be almost as exciting as the playoffs themselves. There's the one-game wild-card playoffs, of course, and then the division and league series. Even the World Series might be played entirely in October...though I hope not, since games 5-7 are scheduled in early November. Games 6 and 7 are the best part!

Football - The NFL regular season is underway, and every weekend has college football action. The biggest regular-season games are still a month or two away, but since football has a small number of total games to play, even these early season contests are important and dramatic. Especially when highly ranked college teams meet early on.

Hockey - The NHL regular season begins! With a fight, this year, but eventually they actually play the game. It's a long season, so the other sports tend to overshadow the opening weeks, but it's there.

Basketball - Most of the month is pre-season for the NBA, but the regular season starts just before Halloween. The WNBA finals are going on, too, though that league still mostly flies under the radar.

Plus, we have MLS soccer still running (and kicking) through October. The end of the regular season, and the start of the playoffs at the end of the month.

October isn't quite as crowded outside the USA, but there's still action. There's the Champions League, and this year the Rugby World Cup is going on. In any other month, I'd be following the rugby action over in England with more attention, but it's hard to focus with everything else going on!

Fall is a great time to be a sports fan. As long as you don't try to watch it all, anyway!