Saturday, December 25, 2010

An interesting article about the Stuxnet worm

Articles about computer stuff generally catch my eye.  Because today is a "slow" day, I decided to troll some of the news sites and look for something that was interesting.  I ended up reading this article on Fox New's website found here.  Before I lose anyone (either because I'm reading something from Fox News or because this might end up being technical), if you have any interest in the Iranian enrichment program, you've really got to take a few minutes and read that Fox News article.  It is very interesting.

So, what is the Stuxnet worm?  You'll need to read the Wikipedia link for technical analysis.  (The Wikipedia link can be a bit technical, so be warned.)  Essentially it is a worm that installs itself into programmable logic controllers (PLC) and causes certain industrial equipment (as in nuclear enrichment centrifuges) to malfunction.  It will cause the centrifuges to speed up and then slow down, but masks these variances to the computers controlling the centrifuges.  When diagnostics are run, nothing abnormal shows up.  An added benefit is that the uranium that is being enriched ends up being less than optimal, and so it delays Iran's nuclear program.

According to descriptions in the article the worm is one sophisticated piece of code.  According to the article, the code is also very targeted so that it only attacks certain types of PLC equipment.  The people who wrote this were smart.  Very smart.  They used four Windows zero day exploits (zero day exploits are security holes in the code that no one knows about except for the hackers) on the worm.  They understood how people work.  They got the code where they wanted it and it took off like crazy.  And they were able to clean up after themselves.  The people involved here knew what they were doing.  And they appear to have been highly successful in their attack.

So, what does this mean for the Iranians and their nuclear ambitions?  Stuxnet is a delay and a learning lesson.  It is a delay because they have to clean up the virus and they have to repair their damaged centrifuges.  They also have to re-enrich the uranium that ended up not being as enriched as they wanted it to be.  This is a learning lesson because I am sure they are hardening their networking defenses so they are not susceptible to this kind of attack ever again.  If it does happen again, it means that they still have security and policy issues to deal with.  But I suspect they will be better prepared than they were previously.

To the authors of Stuxnet, all I've got to say is dang, you're good.  Keep up the good work.

Merry Christmas!

Friends, family, folks, and anyone else in between......


The day all my kids have been waiting for and the day I've been dreading has finally come and gone.  And yes, we all survived another Christmas.  Yehaw!  I hope that your Christmas Day was a pleasant one.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The Night Before Christmas (A visit from St. Nicholas)

This is one of my favorite poems.  I think I have it practically memorized.  So here we go:

The Night Before Christmas
(A Visit From St. Nicholas)
by Clement Clarke Moore

'Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse;
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care, 
In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there;
The children were nestled all snug in their beds,
While visions of sugar-plums danced in their heads;
And mamma in her 'kerchief, and I in my cap,
Had just settled down for a long winter's nap,
When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter,
I sprang from the bed to see what was the matter.

Away to the window I flew like a flash,
Tore open the shutters and threw up the sash.
The moon on the brest of the new-fallen snow
Gave the lustre of mid-day to objects below,
When, what to my wondering eyes should appear,
But a miniature sleigh, and eight tiny reindeer,
With a little old driver, so lively and quick,
I knew in a moment it must be St. Nick.
More rapid than eagles his coursers they came,
And he whistled, and shouted, and called them by name;

Now, Dasher! now Dancer!  Now, Prancer and Vixen!
On, Comet!  on Cupid!  On, Donner and Blitzen!
To the top of the porch! to the top of the wall!
Now dash away!  dash away!  dash away all!

As dry leaves that before the wild hurricane fly,
When they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky,
So up to the house-top the coursers they flew,
With the sleigh full of toys, and St. Nicholas too.
And then, in a twinkling, I heard on the roof
The prancing and pawing of each little hoof.
As I drew in my hand, and was turning around,
Down the chimney St. Nicholas came with a bound.

He was dressed all in fur, from his head to his foot,
And his clothes were all tarnished with ashes and soot;
A bundle of toys he had flung on his back,
And he looked like a peddler just opening his pack.
His eyes - - how they twinkled!  His dimples how merry!
His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry!
His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow,
And the beard of his chin was as white as the snow;

The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth,
And the smoke it encircled his head like a wreath;
He had a broad face and a little round belly,
That shook, when he laughed like a bowlful of jelly.
He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf,
And I laughed when I saw him, in spite of myself;
A wink of his eye and a twist of his head,
Soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread;

He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work,
And filled all the stockings; then turned with a jerk,
And laying his finger aside of his nose,
And giving a nod, up the chimney he rose;
He sprang to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle,
And away they all flew like the down of a thistle.
But I heard him exclaim, ere he drove out of sight,
"Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good-night!"

Christmas 2010 - The good, the bad, and the ugly

There are 10 more days (and one more weekend) before Christmas comes.  I have this love/hate relationship with Christmas......   I love to hate it!  (Just kidding.)  Some years I really get into Christmas and other years I don't.  This year is leaning towards one of those Christmases that I'm not liking a whole lot.  Why?  Because of the untimely home face lift described in this blog entry.  It ended up costing us a bunch of money and it essentially wiped us out.  I'm told that's called life and that stuff happens.  Kewel.  My house looks good.  On the bright side, I was able to pay for most of the repairs with cash, so I didn't have to take on too much debt to pay for the fixes.  In all honesty, we have been incredibly blessed this year.  It just stinks when things come and eat into your savings.

Now for "The good".  Drum roll please...

  • Christmas break:  Several companies that I've worked for will shut down during that week.  It is nice to get the time off and away from the stresses of the office.
  • Caroling:  We have a tradition of going caroling to the widows, singles (older singles), and older folks in the neighborhood.  That is a good experience and a good Christmas tradition.  We generally go with a bunch of neighbors and friends.
  • Giving presents:  Watching your children open up your gift(s) and beam with excitement and joy is something words cannot describe. 
  • Food/Chocolate:  English toffee (I love English toffee), peanut brittle, and chocolate.  "Children, get your hands off my Toblerone bar!!  Go eat your own!"
  • Charity:  In years past we have donated goods to a family in need usually anonymously.  That makes you feel good when you go and do that.
  • Kindness:  People seem to be a little bit better during the holidays.  A bit more friendly, helpful, thoughtful.
  • Snow:  This one is new this year because generally I strongly dislike snow, mostly because I have to remove it from my driveway.  I have a 4 wheeler with a plow and now pushing snow is fun!

The bad:

  • Busyness:  With all my kids involved in all their doings, work Christmas parties, church Christmas parties, friend Christmas parties, shopping, visiting, etc.  General stuff that you during this time of the year that you're just tired of being away from your house.
  • Giving presents:  I hate doing the shopping, especially when there is a lack of funds in the Christmas coffers.  This is the least enjoyable part of Christmas.
  • Mobs of people:  I used to like going to the mall.  Now I don't.  Too many people and too much noise.

The Ugly:

  • My checkbook balance:  Self explanatory.
  • January credit card bills:  Self explanatory, although this is improving
  • Returns:  Spending half of your Christmas vacation in lines waiting to return stuff.

GPSes - then and now

Nearly 10 years ago I purchased my first GPS.  I was going on a 4,000 mile round trip road trip (say that 10 times) and I wanted something to tell me where I was at when I was in the middle of no-where.  I also wanted something that had restaurants and so forth.  So I got a Garmin eMap.  Worked great.  Told me where I was at.  Life was good.

About a month ago I took a couple of trips.  One trip was to Los Angeles.  I was dreading the trip because Los Angeles (especially where I stayed) has bad traffic.  My old GPS really wasn't going to help me out.  So I ended up getting a new GPS, one that talks to you.  It has traffic, weather, maps forever (until they decide to end-of-life your GPS unit), Google, and much, much more!  It can even cut through aluminum cans!  (Just kidding.)  I took it to LA and it was absolutely fantastic.  It took me where I wanted to go.  It told me about traffic delays.  When I screwed it, it routed me another way.  I was impressed.  I took it on my next trip and it worked great.

The other day I was going to a place that I haven't been to in a really long time.  The trip was about 75 minutes long.  I was heading up the freeway when it started alerting me about delays on my route.  It finally said there was a faster route than the one that I was on and asked me if I wanted to recalculate my route.  Sure, why not?  So it did.  It continued to receive traffic updates.  Before I got to the problem area, it said that there was a faster route and asked me if I wanted to recalculate.  Sure, why not?  It left me on my original route.  I was listening to the radio and it was telling me all along there were traffic issues.  They said about where those problems were.  There was a wreck that was slowing traffic.  But I approached and passed the area and I didn't see any problems at all.  Then the radio said the problems were gone.  So the GPS was faster on the update than the radio was.

So if you're looking at purchasing or upgrading your GPS, I recommend that you do it, especially if you drive a lot.  Get one of those GPSes that will talk to you and gets live traffic updates.  How does it all work?  Well, the GPS has a cell phone chip in it and it talks to the home server and gets the updates wirelessly.  I'm not exactly sure how the server gets all the data, but it is incredibly accurate and timely.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Trial of Brian David Mitchell - Testimony of Elizabeth Smart

I didn't follow the Elizabeth Smart case when it broke several years ago.  When she was found by police nine months after she was abducted was absolutely incredible.  I honestly did not believe they would find her alive.  Fast forward to today to the trial of Brian David Mitchell.  I've read some of the news accounts of her testimony against Mr. Mitchell.  All I can say is, "Wow!  You go girl!"

I cannot imagine the hell that she went through for nine months.  I cannot believe the fortitude that she now has to testify in front of her former captor.  Her story is amazing.  Mr. Mitchell is a disgusting man.  I hope the prosecution can bring a strong enough case that he isn't insane and that the jury sees what kind of a man he really is.

To Ms. Smart:  Be brave, and be strong.  I wish you the very best for you in your life.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

A home facelift, AKA replacing defective vinyl siding

My wife and I have been in our house for just over nine years.  A year or so after we moved into our house, we had problems with our vinyl siding.  We knew the siding we had was defective because we have some neighbors that had the same batch (same color even) installed, they had problems and they got their siding replaced.  However, we opted not to pursue a warranty claim at the time.  The contractor that built our house was not very good to respond.  Our siding issue at the time wasn't very bad (we had a few warped boards) so we decided to not do anything.

A couple of years ago we decided that we wanted to sell our house.  We actually listed our house on the market for six months, but nothing ever happened.  It was at that time that our vinyl siding looked like crap pretty pathetic.  It had warped in some spots and was severely faded.  We talked to a siding installer and he told us that our siding has a lifetime guarantee.  So we decided to pursue a warranty claim and get our known defective siding replaced.

Short story, we got the run around.  The local siding dealers were not very helpful (I'm being very kind here...).  The "limited" lifetime warranty wasn't worth the paper it was printed on.  And, get this, warranty services denied our claims.  We even had a company claims guy come out and look at our house and tell us specific issues that we had with our siding so we could get a claim.  Denied.  Literally, a year's worth of work all for nothing.  Needless to say, we were not happy.  So after trying for a year to get the issue resolved on our own locally, we decided to go talk to a regional manager and plead our case with him.  And the most amazing thing happened......  We called and told them our issue.  The very next day we were approved!  Yeehaw!  The local guys were still jerking us around, but we got it approved.  We order our product and it arrived at the house.

All good.  So we have the guys yank off the old siding.  And while we were at it, we had some brick work that was installed that we wanted redone.  So we asked one of the neighbors to help out.  Well, come to find out we had a bit of a problem with the house.  Check out this photo:

(C) Tom Larsen - 2010

Yep.  You guessed it.  Dry rot.  Our fake "cultured" rock and brick work was not done correctly.  I can't complain too loudly because I'm one of the installers.  The vinyl installers didn't help either.  But we had a bad installation and so we ended up with dry rot in a portion of the wall.  So we ripped out the rock so we can fix the dry rot problem.  In the end, we didn't want to do this ourselves.  So we asked this same neighbor to come and lay brick for us.  By the way, he did an excellent job.  I'll have to upload a photo or two of the finished product.

The brick work finished at 1:30 AM on Friday, November 5th.  The vinyl siding guys have done three of the four walls of my home.  Now that my brick is done, I hope they come back on Monday to do the front of my house.  But then again, the weather is supposed to be crappy on Monday, so that may not happen for a while.

So there you have it.  Our house had a face lift.  Now, where did I leave my drill?  Has anyone seen it?

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Going cold turkey - No more cable TV

Last Friday I called my cable provider and asked them to disconnect me.  I thought they were going to do it yesterday, but they didn't.  Instead, they came by today and disconnected us.

My first reaction was "Finally!"  But then I thought about it a bit and realized that there won't be any "entertainment" on any more.  If I want to watch something, it will have to be from the video collection.  Or I'll have to hook the home PC up to the TV and watch something over the Internet.  Ick!

So we'll see what happens.  I may have it reconnected at the end of the week.  Then again, maybe never!  But right now, it is a relief that I don't have to pay one more thing that I really don't use much or need to have in my house.  One less distraction for me and my family.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Google TV - no more cable TV

A week or two ago I purchased a Logitech Revue.  I bought it Friday night.  Took it home.  It was late, so I didn't even bother to take it out of the box.  I slept on it and the next day I realized that I had made a $300 mistake.  So I took it back to the store the next day for a full refund.  The inner geek wants it.  The realist in me knows that I have no time to waste sitting in front of the TV watching garbage or surfing the Internet.  And we've had some expenses that have taken a toll on our savings account.  I guess I'm just trying to be fiscally responsible this year or something.

I also decided to cancel our cable TV subscription as well.  I called on Friday and they will be shutting it off today.  It is only $15/month, but there is just so much trash on TV that I really don't think we'll miss it.  There is a lot of stuff on the Internet.  If we go through withdrawals, we can sign up again or hook the home PC up to the TV and watch TV via the Internet.  Or I may break down and get that Roku player that I've been thinking of getting....  Naw.  We'll just go without.  We'll be OK.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

High School Haikus

When I was in high school many millennia ago, my English teacher tortured us gave us an assignment to write three haikus.  I think she gave the class one or two days to do the haiku assignment.  This is one of the assignments that I actually liked and had fun with.  When it was explained to me, a haiku consisted of three lines.  The first line had five syllables, the second line had seven syllables, and the third line had five syllables.  And the topic of the haiku had to be about nature.  So with those guidelines I crafted three gems of literary enlightenment.  Yeah, whatever.

First haiku:

Ordinary plant
So simple, yet so complex
There must be a god!

Second haiku (and my personal favorite):

Nature is calling
Right as I get into bed
What do I do now?

And, I don't remember the other haiku.  So you'll only have to put up with only two of my three entries.

Oh, and by the way........  If are a student and you steal my haiku, I hope your teacher finds the haiku online and fails you.  Haikus really aren't that hard.  So go and write your own.

BTW, (c) 1983 and (c) 2010

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Slow Internet

Today as I left work (I work from home), I initiated several large downloads to the work PC.  So I started them and walked away not thinking much of it.  The download speed seemed fair enough to me.

I returned later and noticed that my downloads were chugging along.  But they seemed really slow, which was really weird to me.  So I mess around a bit and then for grins and giggles, I login to my DSL modem.  And check this out:

Normally my "DownStream" connection speed is in the 7,000 kbps range.  This is the first time I've ever experienced it lower than 7,000 kbps.  So it made me wonder what is going on.

So I did a search and found others, mostly Verizon customers, have the same problem.  Slow throughput.  But the thing that was different is their trained up speed was normal, but using speed tests, their actual results varied.

I'll keep an eye on this.  If it doesn't adjust back upwards, I'll turn it off and on again and see what happens.  This kind of stuff ticks me off.  Besides, I need to call the phone company tomorrow about my bill and what they're doing with my DSL fees.

Monday, October 11, 2010

The housing market collapse and foreclosure quagmire

I've been reading the news about various banks (GMAC, Bank of America, JP Morgain Chase, etc.) and the mess their foreclosures are in.  I've got to say is just one word:  Wow.

One of my neighbors got behind on their mortgage because of health related issues.  Their mortgage is with one of the three banks mentioned above.  They will call the bank and ask when they will be foreclosed on.  The bank representative tells them that they need to apply for a loan modification.  They apply and subsequently get denied.  This has happened several times.  Then the bank will call them.  Tell them that they need to pay $10,000 to the bank.  They ask the bank if they pay the $10k if they will get to stay in their house.  The bank says, "This doesn't guarantee that you will be able to keep your house."  The neighbors ask what the money is for and the bank can't/won't tell them them what the $10k is for.  But the bank wants the money.  So out of frustration and disgust, my neighbors are leaving the house.  They know they will be foreclosed on but the bank is unwilling to work with them.  So they are just going to walk away.  So who knows how long that house will sit vacant while the lender goofs around with it.

In order to clean up our housing mess, the country really needs to get these foreclosures done, sold and out of the way.  I personally fear what this foreclosure will do to the property value of my own home, because it will probably end up being sold at about 1/4 to 1/3 less than what is owed on the house.  And that will just kill the value of my house.

Interesting to see where we go with this.  Probably more bailouts.  Or a double-dip or triple dip recession.  Bleh.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

The perfect time - 10:10:10AM on October 10, 2010

Today it October 10, 2010, or as dates goes 10/10/10.  Being the nerd that I am, I waited until 10:10AM and 10 seconds.  Even more nerdy, I actually took a photo of the event.  The "perfect" moment in time.  All 10s.  So here is the photo from my clock, from just a few minutes ago:

Now, as you look at the clock, you just see 10:10, but the second hand is superimposed on top of the minute hand, so it was indeed 10:10:10 when I snapped the photo.  I also have a photo at 10:10:00, but that isn't as spectacular as 10:10:10AM. 

OK, enough useless drivel for the day. 

Saturday, October 9, 2010

The squirrel mug

A couple of years ago I went to my sister's house for summer vacation.  She lives relatively close to Yellowstone National Park.  So we used her house as home base while we were there.

My sister is a party animal.  She always likes to invite people over and have some fun.  So they decided to do a white elephant gift exchange from all the junk neat stuff that she and her friends had collected over the years.  One such piece of junk treasure was a set of squirrel mugs.  I even have a photo to show you.  Check this out:

The mugs ended up in my family's possession for some odd reason.  So, I have another sister that showed up at the same time we were there.  Their luggage was downstairs, so we took the set of mugs and put them into one of their suitcases.  And the mugs silently disappeared.  We didn't even hear anything of any kind come back about them whatsoever.  In the end, I think we ended up with one of these mugs at our house because we failed to get rid of all the mugs.  We packed it into some unsuspecting family member's car.  And we forgot about it.

Last weekend both of my sisters were in town.  After they left my wife went outside to turn on the water or move the water hose.  When she did, she discovered the above treasure.  I thought that my older sister was the culprit, so I sent her the following email with a photo of the junk coveted mug:

"Did you forget something?  [My wife] found this outside by our water valve today.  It might find a home with [your son] when he gets married."

Here is what I got back from her:
Actually, [your sister] had it in her car since July. HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA" 

So now I know who the culprit is.  Unfortunately none of her kids are getting married any time soon.  So we now have the coveted squirrel mug in our possession.  I wonder who will get the mug next?  Does anyone here want it?

Is this the future of TV?

I have a very basic cable TV subscription.  I pay $15 a month for about 13 channels.  So what do I get for $15 a month?  The major networks (ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox, CNN), PBS (KBYU and KUED), BYUTV, and a few others that make me go "Huh?".  And I've been fairly disappointed in the content.  I turn it on and think, "This stuff just sucks."  I've even contemplated dropping my cable TV subscription altogether.

In the past I've looked at a Roku player.  If you're not familiar with Roku, go and visit their site.  Their latest line of players is very compelling.  I've looked at a few other media players and Roku appears to have some fairly descent media content alternatives and is the cheapest media player out there.  For $100, you can stream HD content.  A hundred bucks is fairly cheap.

I was going to dive in head first and get a Roku when I decided to email a friend and co-worker of mine and see what he uses.  BIG MISTAKE.  (Note to self:  Geeks shouldn't email other geeks to find out what they use for high tech stuff because it will only wreck your plans.)  He told me about Google TV.  Currently the Logitech Revue is the only stand-alone Google TV appliance that will be available soon on the market.  Best I can tell, the Revue runs an Intel CPU, and I assume it is probably an Intel Atom based device.  For those of you who are not in the know, the Intel Atom CPU is the brains of most NetBook PCs, the small cutesy little $300 laptops with minuscule little screens.  (I've been tempted to get a netbook, but for a few hundred more bucks, you can get a real laptop, not some neutered, half-pint PC.)  So I think this Revue is a netbook minus the screen.  But the bad thing about the Revue is that it is $300.  Dang.  And it isn't available yet, but will be soon.

So the cheap person that I've become (out of necessity) tells me to get the Roku and to quit fretting about this.  But the inner geek in me says that the Revue will be so much more versatile (it actually has a web browser with Adobe Flash support, along with most/all the features that the Roku has).  My biggest concern is this:  Do I really want a wide open web browser (or PC) attached to my 46" TV screen???  And do I really want to spend $300 for the device?  That's my heartburn of the day.

I've asked some friends and looked at opinions about the Google TV appliance.  Some of my tech friends discount the idea.  Tech opinions (from other geeks, mind you) speak highly of the device.  My gut instinct tells me that this will be a big thing, similar in nature to the iPhone.  An industry game changer.  Never in my life have I pre-ordered a device.  This is the only thing I might consider pre-ordering.  But procrastination in the tech world generally is a good thing, and the procrastinator in me may wait until the Revue is actually released and setup at a Best Buy so I can go and look at it before committing my hard earned money to the stupid thing.  Like I said, it may be a hot item and I won't get to see it until next year.  Oh well, so be it.

Monday, September 13, 2010

NYC Mosque

This whole thing over the NYC mosque is being blown out of proportion.  All this media coverage is just ridiculous.  The bottom line is that the Muslims have the constitutional right to place that mosque there.  Period.  End of story.  However, given that the hijackers of the airplanes that crashed into the twin towers were Muslim, there are some bad feelings toward Muslims.  Although Muslims have the constitutional right to place a mosque where they want to place it, I think they should be sensitive to the locals and probably move the mosque to a location that isn't so close to the site of the twin towers.  Having some sensitivity to the placement of that mosque will probably go a long way to healing the wounds that have been created.  Like I said, they do have the right to place the mosque there, but they should probably move it to a different location.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

o dark 30 - early morning 4-wheeler ride

My oldest son had to go to work today.  Early.  Really early.  He got up around 4:30AM.  He had to be to his bosses house at 4:45AM.  Normally I would have let him take my 4-wheeler, but I wanted it.  I wanted to go for a ride and take some photos of the sunrise.  And I had to be back home by 8AM so my daughter could go and mow a lawn.  So I had to hustle.

As soon as he left, I loaded the 4-wheeler on the ATV trailer and took off.  I got to my destination in about 15 minutes and I unloaded my rig and proceeded up the mountain.  And I was flying up the mountain.  I startled some animals (rabbits).  I even came across a doe and her fawn.  Twice.  The first time one of the animals was on my left and the other was on my right.  I went around a corner and they were both there - again.  Funny thing is that they started running down the road and I was riding behind them.  I was trying to catch up to them (I was doing about 15 or 20+ MPH) but each time I started to gain ground, I had to slow down because the road started getting rough.  So they would always gain some more ground.  They finally exited the road and I continued on my trek up to the top of the mountain.

I got up top (actually, near the top - the place I wanted to be) with about 10 or so minutes to spare.  So I got off the 4-wheeler and setup the camera and started taking some photos.  None of them are award winners, but sometimes you've just got to try.  The photo below, I had to underexpose it by two or three stops, maybe more.  I don't remember.  I had to underexpose it so I could get some color out of the sun without it being totally washed out.

Here is another favorite I took this morning:

You might be thinking, "Tom, your shadow is in the photo.  That was stupid!"  Ah, my friends, that was on purpose.  I have other photos where it is just my machine.  But I wanted to capture the rider of the machine in the photo itself.  I thought it was kind of cool.

Here is another one that I liked from this morning's shoot.  I just noticed that I have a big dust bunny on my sensor.  Hmmmmm...   How did that get there?  See if you can spot it...

I really hate it when the sensor gets dirty.  The camera is supposed to shake that off, but I may have to carefully clean this one off some how.  (NOTE:  I just took some test photos and the dust bunny is gone.)  I was also wondering why the sun has all that crappy stuff around it.  All my lenses have filters on them, but I rarely clean the glass.  I looked at the glass and it was hideous, like someone spit on it and it had a bunch of little dots on it.  So I sprayed some cleaner on the filter and now it is crystal clear.  I may try another sunrise shot later this week.  If I get something a little better, I'll post the results.

I looked at my photos again and I found anouther one that I liked...

It is cool to see the shadows in the valley because of the mountains.

So, did I get home by 8?  You bet.  I got home with a few minutes to spare.  That ride totally made my day today.  Working from home really takes a toll on you.  I find that I often need to get out and away from the house.  So I end up going for a ride somewhere.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Family reunion

Last week we had a cousins reunion from my Mom's side of the family.  Here is a photo from the outing:

See if you can find Waldo (or in this case Tom).  And yes, I took this picture.  Thank goodness for tripods and remotes.

The death of a toilet

When you buy a cookie cutter home, you usually end up with low end everything in your house, unless you take the allowance and spend it on something decent.  About four or five years ago the garbage disposal died.  I ended up yanking out the sink, garbage disposal, and the faucet and putting in something nice.

Well, this year I had a few extra bucks.  And the toilets in my house have really been getting on my nerves.  When you're clogging the toilet practically every time you have a movement, it is time to replace.  So replace we did.  We only did two of the three toilets in the house, but that is sufficient for now.

So, what do you do with a poor flushing toilet?  You can throw it in the garbage can.  Or you can take it to the dump.  Or you can destroy it.  The 14 year old boy in me likes the last idea.  Toilet meets bullet.  Toilet shatters spectacularly.  Toilet pieces are collected and then disposed of in the garbage can.  Nice.

So here is a photo of the weapon (not the actual weapon, but a representation of what was used in the mercy killing destruction of the toilets).

So here is the line up:

Here is what happens when a .223 meets a toilet:

This isn't the final photo from the outing, but it is a good representation of what does happen when bullet meets lousy flushing toilet.  As you can see, the gun and the bullets win!  I collected the bigger pieces, the toilet seats and internal components and took them home and threw them in the garbage.  Maybe I ought to get Kels Goodman, the guy that does the viral videos for Blendtec, and see if he can blend a toilet in a Will It Blend segment.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Tom - The Good Samaritan

In my last post, I let the cat out of the bag.  What I find funny is that no one must read my blog because none of my neighbors knew I bought a new four wheeler.  I've enjoyed my four wheeler so much that I put about 100 miles on the thing in about 10 days.  Because of that I had to take it in for service.  (The first service is done at 20 engine hours or 100 miles, which ever comes first.)  That was Wednesday morning.  I got it back Friday.  Yeah, the dealer was busy and I wanted my four wheeler home for the weekend.  I wanted to go on a ride today, but I got side tracked.

You see, yesterday as I was driving home from the dealer with four wheeler in tow, the passenger side tire on the trailer blew out, and I got stranded on the side of the road with a blown out tire (and no spare) and my brand new, shiney four wheeler in the back of the rig.  Oh, and I have 8 minutes of time left on my Tracfone.  Sweet!  Long story short, we ended up retrieving the four wheeler and my Suburban, but we left the trailer, sans blown out tire, on the side of the road.  Today I went and got a replacement tire for the trailer and saved the trailer.  Took all of about 10 minutes to replace the tire and attach it on to the Suburban.

So, I take off.  I'm going home and I'm about half way home and out of the corner of my eye to the left of me I catch a light green station wagon with a bunch of people out of the car standing and sitting around.  "News alert!  Stranded/broken down car."  I look over at my oldest son and say to him, "Son, we won't be home in a while.  We've got to go check on those people."  We go up the road a couple more miles, turn around and head back.  We get up to the people, slow down, pull over and stop.

We get out.  This is the McLaren family and they live in Belgium (Americans living abroad, something I'm somewhat familiar with) and they are visting family for the summer.  The father is on a plane flying back to Belgium.  The wife with her five children in tow are on their way to California.  As I pull up, the daughter's cell phone dies.  I talk to the mother and I offer my cell phone.  She thinks she has a AAA membership, and about 15 minutes later, we realize that they don't have one.  So I call my wife and get the phone number of a towing company.  We call them.  They'll be there in 20 minutes.  The mother asks, "So, why did you stop?"  And I said, "Because when the tire blew on my trailer, no one stopped to help me.  So I didn't want that to happen to you."

We sat there and waited.  She called her local son (she has seven kids; five with her, one in Cali and one local) and he was on his way to rescue her and her family.  One of her daughters that is about a year younger than my son talked to him the whole time.  :-)  I waited for her son to show up and I waited for the tow truck to come.  Once they did and they were taken care of, I left the scene.

So what happened to their car?  Quite simply, the car blew a hose and all the coolant leaked out.  The car overheated and essentially died.  The tow truck operator tried to start the car, but it was dead.  The head probably got warped because of the heat, so the engine is toast.  New car or new motor or new something.  It wasn't going to be cheap.

Honestly, this experience was the highlight of my day.  Why?  Because I got to help someone out.  I know what it is like to be stranded on the side of the highway and have trucks and cars pass by going really fast.  That happened to me just yesterday.  And all I can say is that it sucked.  Hard.  And I didn't want that lady and her family to be up a creek without a paddle.

Funny thing is....  I doubt this lady will remember my name or anything.  Crap, I don't remember her first name.  But she'll always remember that time someone stopped to help her and her kids.  I'd like to know how the story ends, but that will probably never happen.  Unless they happen to stumble across my blog.  In which case, if the McLarens that live in Belgium ever read this, please kindly post what happened.  I'm curious to find out.

So the next time someone is sitting on the side of the road broken down, take a moment to go and help out.  Even if they don't accept your offer, at least you tried to help.  And in this case, I was an example to my son that we need to be our brother's keeper.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Letting the cat out of the bag


My wife and I have been concerned about the kids.  We have some pretty cool stuff for the kids (one iPod Shuffle, one rather large TV, BluRay player, tons of movies, one serious gaming computer, game console, trampoline, motorcycle, bicycles, books, etc.), but we have limits on what our kids can do with said fun stuff.  We don't want the kids to turn into couch potatoes and play video games and watch TV all day.  So the missus and I were talking.  And we were grousing about how we feel our kids go to friends' houses and do things that we don't allow them to do whenever they want at our house.  The electronics are permitted on Friday afternoons after chores are completed and sometime Saturday, depending on what we've got going on.

So Saturday we decided to do something unusual.  I called around and found a pretty good deal on a new Honda 4-wheeler.  So we went.  We drove.  And we purchased.  Like the sales guy said, "I'm sorry to inform you, but you're the owner of a new 4 wheeler..."  Funny guy.

Saturday I put an hour of time on it and 8 miles.  Today I rode it before and put another hour of time on it and rode 9 miles.  I had to break in the motor.  Break-in time is the first 15 miles, so I had to make sure it was broken-in correctly.  Needless to say, I had one heck of a time on it.  I just hope I feel the same way over the next xx years as I pay it off.

Now we've just added to our debt, but I feel like this is something that we can do as a family (sort of).  I've got an old XR200R dirt bike and it runs pretty good.  With the 4-wheeler, we can now do doubles or even have two people ride on the 4-wheeler and one person on the bike.  So it is something I can do with my older kids and some of my younger kids too.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

The era of wastefulness

It is early on a Saturday morning.  I went to bed around midnight and the earth alarm (the sun) woke me up around 5:30AM.  That's the story of my life.  If I can't sleep because of work, I can't sleep because the sun got up too early.

Anyway, in this half stupor, I was thinking about the BP oil spill.  I was alive and remember quite vividly of the Ixtoc 1 oil spill in the late 1970s, where oil drained into the Gulf for about nine months before being capped.  I lived in Texas and I remember walking on the beach with tar balls.  Nasty, but hey, such is life.  Anyway, I am digressing...

So I was thinking about the world's use of petroleum products.  How we are wasting oil like we have an eternal supply of the stuff.  Then that got me thinking about other things.  Computers.  Cameras.  Furniture.  Cars.  Toaster.  Dead portable DVD player.  What do we do with all this stuff when it wears out?  You got it.  It gets tossed into the garbage can.  If it doesn't work or is outdated, it goes out the door and into the land fill.

As I thought about the prospects of what that means, I realized that in 100 or 200 or 500 years, we will be labeled "The era of wastefulness".  And that will probably be a kind label.  We could also be labeled, "A generation too stupid to realize what they were doing".  I think the era of wastefulness will really be what it is all about.  We are wasting and squandering our natural resources.  We make stuff that is way freaking toxic.  We use resources that are dirty.  We are selfish and we don't think about the future.  In 500 years when all the oil is gone, what will humans use to power their (insert some cool sounding name for futuristic item here)?

I'm not a big fan of electric cars and such.  Why?  Because it doesn't solve the energy problem.  You have to get your electricity some how.  And in the US, a lot of that energy comes from burning coal, another depleting natural resource.  So you shift the pollution to where the electricity is being made.  What about nuclear?  Too dirty.  Still have to clean up after it when the fuel is spent.  To be buried by Energy Solutions out in the Utah west desert.  "Welcome to Utah.  The nation's nuclear dumping ground."  About the only "clean" alternative that I can think about that can realistically give us some needed power is geothermal.  It is clean.  It is efficient.  It is renewable, as long as the ground stays hot.  If the thing breaks, what happens?  You've got some water in the ground.  Wow.  Now that's toxic.  Geothermal is probably the cleanest way to generate power.  I wish we would get more geothermal plants up and running.

So the next time you're out doing something fun, just think for a minute what kind of a label those that come after us will give us...  I bet it won't be pretty.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Windows 7 experience

My home computer, up until a couple of weeks ago, ran Windows XP.  I have an ATI Radeon 5770 based graphics card in my computer.  I had downloaded an updated video driver for the card and decided to install it.  So I did.  BLAM!!!  The upgrade didn't go so well.  My system blue screened.  The driver refused to work.  I tried, and I tried, and I tried.  Uninstall.  Reinstall.  Install the old driver.  Nothing worked.  Still problems.  So I reinstalled Windows XP and got things back up and running, at least momentarily.

So I was doing this whole cost/benefit analysis in my head...  Let's see...  I've got Windows XP installed.  I'll need to copy all my files over to it.  Install all my apps.  Get everything back to where it was before.  And then, sometime in the future I'll have to do that all over again if and when I go to Windows 7.  And XP is like nine years old and is two versions off from the most current version.  And there is the potential for another botched upgrade.  And since this is XP and not Vista or Windows 7, ATI system test probably isn't spending a whole lot of time testing and vetting the drivers.

So I made the sales pitch to the appropriations committee (my wife) and laid out my reasoning.  To my shock and surprise, I got the green light.  I've learned that when you get the green light to spend money, you go NOW and do it before the appropriations committee (my wife) revokes my spending authority.  So I did.  I came home with Windows 7 64-bit and an extra 4 GB of RAM, bringing the whole system up to 8GB of RAM.  (I remember when 1GB hard drives were $500.)

I brought it home and installed.  The installation was incredibly quick and painless.  I think 20 minutes was the total amount of time it took to do the Windows 7 install.  And the system is FAST.

After getting all my drivers installed, Windows has this user experience index.  I ran the test and my machine came in with flying colors.  Check out the screen shot below:

The reason why my system scored a 5.9 is due to my hard drive.  Everything else is in the low to mid 7s.  I found out that the index max is 7.9, so I was pretty happy.  (You'll notice the machine name is Hercules.  I believe that is an appropriate name for the beast.)

Bottom line, I'm hooked.  And I'm wondering why it took me so long to jump on the bandwagon.  We'll see how it works in the months and years ahead.  At least I skipped the Windows Vista experience.  Vista was a pig.  Windows 7 seems to be a lot faster.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Windows 7 - The inevitable upgrade

Several months ago I updated the graphics card in my home PC, among other things.  On Sunday, I stayed home from Church because a couple of my kids were sick.  So I upgraded my ATI 5770 based graphics card with the latest version (Catalyst 10.5 drivers) of video card drivers......  Well, let's just say the upgrade didn't go very smoothly...

So I reinstalled Windows XP.  And I was looking at the task of reinstalling everything.  And I was not happy.  Because I knew sooner or later, I'd have to do the exact same thing when I upgraded to Windows 7.  I even installed Novell's OpenSuSE 11.2 64-bit and just wasn't impressed...

So Tuesday I asked for permission to do the Windows 7 upgrade.  The appropriations committee (my wife) green lighted the upgrade and I immediately purchased before the spending authority got revoked.  I also bought another 4GB of RAM for the system, which brings my quad core Q9550 CPU based motherboard to a total of 8GB of RAM, the absolute maximum amount of RAM the motherboard can handle.  32-bit systems really can only use 3GB of RAM, so even though I had 4GB installed, XP was only using 75% of the installed memory.

So I went to the local computer store and purchased an OEM version of Windows 7 64-bit (and accompanying 4GB of RAM) and installed.  One word explains the process:  WOW.  The install took place in about 20 minutes.  And within a few more minutes, I had installed many other programs, drivers and such.  The whole system seems faster.  It boots up faster.  It isn't a dog when after you logon to Windows and everything, including the kitchen sink gets loaded.  I've used Vista and been unimpressed with it.  Windows 7 is a different animal.

The system has been operational for only a few days so we'll see how it goes.  But so far, so good.  I'm sure over time performance will degrade, or I'll get used to the performance and I'll want something faster.  That always happens in tech.  But for the time being, I'm pleasantly surprised and impressed.

NOTE:  I don't work for Microsoft and this isn't any kind of paid endorsement.  And quite frankly, to make Windows 7 haul, you have to put in speedy hard drives, speedy graphics card, and fast CPU, and install LOTS and LOTS of memory.  Or at least that's my opinion.  If the whole system wasn't already fairly beefy, I think I could have had a totally different experience.  So when you upgrade, you need to seriously think about upgrade.  RAM is crucial for these kinds of upgrades and so is your hard drive and video card.  Any one of those three components can have a serious drag on system performance.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Credit card debt cut in half

Nearly two years ago my wife and daughter were involved in a slight fender bender which resulted in the totaling of our 2003 Toyota Corolla (something that I'm still lamenting to this day, even though I drive a newer Camry...).  Last week we finally settled with our insurance company and we got a pretty good chunk of change back.  We've got one card that has a pretty good interest rate, but the payment is a fairly substantial in size and it makes things hard to live on.  The card would be paid off in 21 months, but today, I wrote a check and mailed it off to a certain bank of bailout proportions that will remove that payment from my monthly budget.  Whew.  Nice.  We have some more credit card debt, but we can probably get that paid off in about the same amount of time as what we just paid off.  But we have some more flexibility because I don't have to 100% commit to making that huge payment every month.

I really wish I would have known what I know today back when I got married nearly 20 years ago.  And that is, credit cards can be harmful to your financial health and well-being.  If we would have been smart and saved and paid as we went, we would be in a lot better position than we are right now.  But then again, we wouldn't have as much crap in our house as we do right now.  Which, in all reality, probably wouldn't be a bad thing.

We've been incredibly blessed financially.  We are getting close to being out of the consumer debt arena.  After that, need to work on the cars and then finally the house.  I'd like to have the house paid off in 15 years.  That would be sweet.

Monday, May 10, 2010

21 merit badges done - 1 Eagle project to go...

My son is 16 and he has been a Life scout for who knows how long.  Last Friday my son had 20 merit badges.  On Saturday he earned his 21st merit badge, the required minimum for him to obtain his Eagle Scout award.  Yahoo!!!

Last week he also presented to the board his proposed Eagle project.  They verbally approved his project, but he has to rewrite the project, give more details as to what he wants to do, clean it up (type it up) and then resubmit it for official approval.  Hopefully we can get him to complete this assignment this week so he can get his project done this summer.

I sure hope that he makes it to Eagle.  I'd still love him even if he didn't make it.  And regardless of where he is at, he is really a good, solid kid.  But in today's world, when he has to compete against the best of the best, it looks really good to have Eagle scout as one of his list of accomplishments.  And for his sake, I really hope that he pulls through and gets the Eagle ranking.

I have a breather from boys and then I've got three boys in a row.  I'm glad my oldest is a boy so that we can figure out this whole scouting thing.  I personally never made it to even Tenderfoot.  Oh well.  We've figured out that we need to get the other boys to 1st or 2nd Class by the time they hit 12, or something like that.  And then make sure those boys are Eagle scouts by the time they are 14ish.  That way they can move on and not have this scouting thing hanging over their heads.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

A fine spring day (or, why my body hurts like h*ll)

Several years ago (probably around 1994) my wealthy older sister picked up a pair of dirt bikes.  One motorcycle was an XR125 and the other was/is an XR200R.  I say 1994 because that is the model year of the XR200R.  One bike (the 125) ended up at my parents house.  The 200 ended up at my brother's house in Colorado.

Several years ago (3 or 4 years ago??) my brother brought the bike to me because all his kids that rode the bike were grown and gone.  And he was sick of the bike taking up room in his garage.  He called me one day and asked me if I wanted it.  "Sure!!  Bring it over."  So he did.  So long story short, I ended up with this fairly decent motorbike.  It had been thrashed by his kids and my brother isn't known for taking care of his stuff.  I eventually got the bike running and last fall I got the clutch replaced.

So a week or so ago I pulled the bike out, dumped the old gas out and changed the oil.  I put new gas in and oil and dang, that thing just runs like the champ.  So one of my neighbors also has a bike.  I think he's got a 450 or something like that.  So we talk.  There is this mountain close by called West Mountain.  BYU has their West Mountain Observatory.  I tell him about the observatory and some radio antennas on top of the mountain.  I tell him about my failed attempt to reach the summit several months ago.  He's always ready for some fun and adventure.  So we decide that today is the day we'll  make our climb up.

I haven't ridden much since I was a kid.  Last year I didn't ride much because the clutch on the bike was marginal and my oldest son toasted it.  But we repaired the clutch and now it runs well.

So we go.  And we go.  And we go.  And we climb.  And we climb.  And we climb.  And we get near to the top of the towers.  Check out some of the photos that I took below:

The picture above is near the top and I'm looking towards the east across the valley.

In the photo above, I'm looking towards the northeast with Provo in the distance.  You can see the southern end of Utah lake.

These are my riding buddies.  Jon was on a Yamaha 4 wheeler.  Brian is on his 450.  The towers (our destination for the day) is in the background.

This is BYU's observatory.  Note:  This is on the west side of the mountain, somewhat behind the mountain.  I assume this location was selected because it is the "dark(er) side" of the mountain.

This is another shot of the valley, this time from the top where all the towers are and looking towards the south east.

I was wearing polarized sunglasses and some of these shots were taken far, far away from my eye (I have a DSLR camera).  I really need to invest in a polarizing filter for my lens.

The total trip time from my house was about 3 to 4 hours.  When I got home, dang, I was sore and stiff.  But it was one heck of a ride It was a total blast.  And I really needed that ride.  I've toyed with the idea of buying another motorcycle or ATV and today cemented the idea.  If all goes well, I'll end up with a Honda FourTrax Rancher 4x4 ATV.  As much as I'd like to go out tomorrow and buy one, that really won't happen any time soon.  So I need to save my spare change and buy one outright or finance a small portion of it and pay cash for the majority of it.  I would actually like to get another bike, but an ATV is more "practical".  I can put a snow plow on the front of it and push snow for people.  And the kids could use it to drag their lawn mowing stuff around from job to job.

I'm hooked.  I'm already planning my next trip up to the towers.

Well, it is late and I'm tired and I'm going to bed.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Welcome to middle age!

I've been telling everyone I see that yesterday I "officially" became middle aged.  So what do I mean by that?  And what set off that comment?

A couple of weeks ago I went to the optometrist to have my eyes examined.  He said that I could probably get away without the use of bifocals for another couple of years.  But I've had problems seeing small print, so I ordered progressives and a pair of sun glasses with a prescription in them.  Yesterday I picked up my new eyes.  Wow.  It is amazing to "see" yet again.  I just hate the period of time needed for your eyes to adjust to a new prescription and so that I can learn to use progressives.

I remember when I was a kid, "old people" had bifocals.  Does that now mean that I'm old?  Compared to someone younger than a teenager, probably so.  Compared to retired people, I'm still young.  Hence, I'm middle aged.  Nice.  I feel like I'm a teenager again without all the goofy hormonal and pubescent changes that occur.

One of the things that I've found is that things that I like doing, I really like doing when I have time to do them.  I have an old Honda dirt bike courtesy of my wealthy sister.  A couple of friends and I are going on a bike/ATV ride up to some radio antennas at the top of a mountain tomorrow.  I'd love to do the journey on my own, but I feel that it would be a lot safer to ride up there with at least one other person.  I haven't spent much time in the seat of a dirt bike lately (I rode an XR75 a lot when I was young), so the companionship is welcome.  I've even looked at possibly picking up another bike or an ATV.  But those machines are expensive and I'm still paying off the excesses of my 20s and 30s.  For now, I'll enjoy what I've got.  Even though I am now, officially "middle-aged".

Monday, April 26, 2010

Seeing into your eyes you see your whole body

It has probably been a good five years since I've had my eyes examined.  I keep getting these "things" (I do not wish to describe what I'm seeing) which are not floaters, so I decide to go to the eye doctor to figure out what's going on.

So last Friday I go in and find out that I'm FAR sighted instead of being near sighted all along.  I don't necessarily have to get bi-focals just quite yet, but I figure, what the heck.  One more thing to whine and complain about.  And the bill for a couple of pairs of glasses made my car mechanic green with envy.

While I was there the optometrist dilated my eyes so that he could blind me and photograph each eye and accompanying retina.  Afterwards he explained that he saw a soft drusen in one of my eyes.  That didn't sound good and his description (it is a piece of cholesterol trapped between the layers of the eye) didn't comfort me either.  I had him write it down (I'm over 40, so I forget things) on a piece of paper and then I ignored it until today.  I'm glad I ignored it over the weekend because it probably would have ruined my weekend.  Here is one of the links that I found about soft drusen:

Yep.  Soft drusen is a precursor to macular degeneration.  Great.  I'm an IT dude.  I write technical documents.  I depend on my eyes.  What will I do if I go blind?  I can't let this happen to me.

The last 10 year or so, I have not done good things to my body.  Instead of diet and exercise, I've instead parked my butt and eaten.  I'm up to a weight that I am not comfortable admitting.  I hate looking like a near full-term pregnant woman.  My primary care physician told me that your eyes are an indication, the canary in the cage so to speak, of what else is happening in your body.  Great.  I have this piece of cholesterol in my eye.  Where else is this cholesterol parked?  I know that my gall bladder was full of it when it was removed.  Is it in my heart?  Is it in my brain?  Am I going to go blind and then stroke out for the rest of my life and end up dead because of cardiac arrest?  OK, OK, OK......   I'm dooms day, but when stuff comes back that doesn't sound good, then there's a good indication that something's probably up.

Why does a man have to go blind (I'm speaking figuratively here) in order to see?

On New Year's day I thought I was having a heart attack.  Subsequent testing showed that it was my gall bladder.  But one of the things the doctor told me is that I needed to loose 50 pounds.  50 freaking pounds.  Dang, that's a lot of weight.  I've probably lost 5 pounds.  The other 45 will take some time to get rid of.  But I will need to get active and loose the weight.  Or else I may end up blind and dead.

Saturday I bought some salmon at Sam's Club.  I cooked a piece on Saturday and liked it.  Today when I read that link, I had another piece of salmon for lunch.  I'm going to eat healthy from here on out.  50 pounds, here I come!

Monday, April 19, 2010

Home PC upgrade - Part 3

I did not know/realize this would take as long as this has, but I'm nearly complete.  Here is what I've done so far:

I picked up a pair of 1TB (yes, that is one TERABYTE) hard drives and put them into the home PC.  This is a pair of Western Digital Black Caviar drives.  This brings the total disk storage in my PC from 2.75TB to 4TB.  Yes, I have four, 1TB drives in my home PC.  Why so much?  I take photos.  Lots of photos.  Lots of photos in DNG format (which is Adobe's digital negative format, or camera raw).

The most interesting thing about my purchase is the fact that one of the hard drives came with 64MB of cache on the drive itself, instead of the normal 32 MB.  Does it make a difference in speed?  Does the sun rise in the east?  While it does not have a profound effect on performance, it does help increase performance somewhat.  I just wish I would have known that there were two different models in the boxes.  I would have looked for another drive with 64 MB of RAM in it.  (NOTE:  I just looked at the boxes and they only show 32MB of HDD cache installed on the boxes.  However, they have significantly different serial numbers and one is a product of Thailand and the other is a product of Malaysia.)

So, what's next on the upgrade path?

* 4 GB more of RAM.  This will bring the overall system to 8 GB of RAM
* Windows 7 Professional, the 64-bit version

The RAM and OS purchase will probably happen around the same time as I cannot use the extra RAM in Windows XP Professional 32-bit.  The current estimated price will be around $300 total.  Hopefully I can get this all done by June or July.  I plan on keeping my current 1GB drive with XP on it as my backup in case the upgrade goes horribly awry.  I plan on using one of my new 1TB drives that I picked up as my new C:\ drive.  In fact, I'll probably end up using the 1TB drive that has 64 MB of disk cache on it.

So part 4 should be the final upgrade to Windows 7 Professional, 64-bit.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Nexflix streaming for the Nintendo Wii

Around Christmas 2009 I was contemplating the purchase of another console gaming system.  I came close to pulling the trigger a couple of times, but I never did it.  I was leaning heavily towards the Sony PS3.  Why?  Because it has built-in wireless, a fairly decent sized hard drive and because it has a Blu-Ray player built-in.  In a moment of weakness, I almost purchased an Xbox.  But I didn't do it because no Blu-Ray and, more importantly, no built-in wireless networking.  I could probably handle the lack of Blu-Ray, but the lack of wireless (the add-on adapter was in the $70) pushed me completely away from the platform.  The thing that kept me away from the Sony was the game content.  The PS3 games are mostly adult-only games.  And I really didn't want my kids playing games targeted for adults.  The main reason why I wanted a new console so I could stream Netflix content without the need of having a computer hooked up.  Because I didn't like my options, I opted to just stay with what I have, a Nintendo Wii.

Then a month or two ago I read on Netflix's web site that they were developing a streaming option for the Nintendo Wii.  I got all excited and signed up for my free streaming disk.  (If you aren't familiar with Netflix, they have an option where you can stream some of their content directly to a computer, game console, or supported multi-media or Blu-Ray player.  So you don't have to mail in DVDs and the like to get your movie fix.)  Well, my disk came last week and I just had to try it out.

So I got the disk.  Put it in.  There is an activation number of some sort where you have to tie the number to your account, so you need to get onto your computer, log into Netflix, put the code in and you're done.  This is the most cumbersome part of the whole process.  As soon as your account is setup with that activation number, the Wii automatically refreshes itself and allows you in browse for movies or review your instant queue.  Once I got the Wii activated, I was watching a movie within minutes.  Sweet!!!

The picture quality is good.  The Wii can only do 480p, so you don't get a high def picture.  But the fact that you can browse and stream a video and watch it instantly for a monthly price, that is just incredibly cool and makes up for the fact you can't stream in high def.

My only complaint about Netflix is that not all their movies are available for streaming.  Some moves are DVD or Blu-Ray only and not available for streaming.  That can be annoying.  But they've got like 20,000 movies that are available for streaming, so usually you can find something to watch.  In fact the other day I watched the movie Look who's coming to dinner with my kids.  They thought it was great.  Spencer Tracey gave a great performance at the end with his monologue.  Interesting movie.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Sudden death

I don't know what's going on with items in the Tom household lately, but things have been breaking with an intensity not seen in a long time.  Here is a list (possibly partial list) of things that have died in the last little bit.

  • A D-Link DSL modem.  This piece of hardware abruptly died Monday this week.  The modem has been in use between one and two years.  I'm renting a DSL moden from the phone company that I haven't sent back yet.  And boy, I'm glad I still had it.  Because when the D-Link DSL modem croaked, I was back up because I had a spare.  I bought a replacement DSL modem, but I need a back-up/spare before I can send the Actiontec modem back to the phone company.  That may be a while.  In the mean time, the rent is cheaper than the cost of the potential down time.
  • A D-Link eight port gigabit switch.  I've had this one for a while and I was surprised that it died.  One day I heard a pop noise, but I didn't realize where it came from.  Everything seemed to work just fine.  Then a day or two later the switch just died.  When I felt the power supply, it was really hot.  So I unplugged it.  I suspect the popping noise came from the power supply and it probably toasted my switch.  I had a port die on the switch several months before it completely died, so it was probably on its last legs.  I suspect I've had this for five or six years.  I had a spare, but since I'm now using my spare, I don't have a backup.  So I need to eventually replace this before I actually need it.
  • A Panasonic over the range microwave oven.  Manufactured sometime in 2004.  I think the magnetron (the piece that makes the microwaves) is going out on it.  Sometimes it works.  Sometimes it doesn't.  The symptoms for nonfunctioning is the oven will run for about 3 seconds and then abruptly stop.  I never loose power.  (I had the loose power problem just over a year with this microwave.  That was an undersized fuse in the thing going out which was replaced for $100.00....)  It will run and stop after just a few seconds.  Bleh!
  • An Asus A7V266-E motherboard.  This motherboard was purchased around the time of September 11, 2001 to replace my ancient Pentium (yes, plain Pentium) based system that I put together several years earlier.  This is the first motherboard of my first system that I've ever build.  And since then, I've built all the rest of my computers.  This particular motherboard uses an old 486 style CPU fan to cool the VIA northbridge.  The fan on the northbridge finally puked on me.  I looked for a replacement CPU fan from that fan manufacturer, but because it is so old, they no longer make the CPU fan.....  While this isn't a recent failure, it is a failure nontheless.  And while I'm moaning about failures, I might as well add this one in here.  Yeah, the system is ancient, nearly 9 years old.  But you know what?  It still worked and ran.  And when you are using old hardware for a home PC lab, you'll take just about anything.  Like watching an old friend on life support die.  Painful.  But sometimes you have to literally pull the plug.
  • OfficeMax chair.  What the heck?  Why are you adding a chair?  That's not electronic.  Because the chair lasted about a year before giving me problems.  I suffered with it for about four to six months and finally, I had it.  So I went and bought another chair.  This new chair is OK, but it makes my tailbone hurt.  You never win, do you?
  • Bosch dish washer:  The motor/pump on this thing went out.  Less than one year old.  And it started acting up six to eight months after we bought it.  The freakin' pump went out!!  What the heck?!?  Thank goodness the unit was still under warranty and we got the pump replaced for free.  But why did that go out after such a short amount of time?
I'm sure I've got more stuff that's died on me, but this is what I can remember.  The thing that ticks me off is that you pay good money for stuff and then it breaks on you.  For example, the microwave.  I think I paid something around $400 for that fine piece of electronicness.  And all I get is six years of service out of it?  And the dishwasher?  Not even a year and the motor/pump goes out.  What's up with that, eh?

The fan on the motherboard.  I see that happening.  I just wish Asus would have used a different method to cool the northbridge than using an electric fan.

The chair.  OK, maybe that's a hint that I'm fat and I should go on a diet.  But the chair should have lasted longer.

The switch and the DSL modem:  Can you say, "No moving parts"?  How this stuff died is beyond my comprehension.  Other than the fact that D-Link used crap parts when they made their equipment; parts that are cheap to keep costs low.  When you make stuff using low end components, you're asking for trouble.  I'm sure D-Link engineers their stuff to get it through the warranty period, but who knows how long beyond that period of time?  I once heard that hard drives are engineered to last three or maybe five years.  After that, they fail.  So make backups of that important information before it is lost.

So what's next?  Well, I suppose that my hot water heater is the next item on the watch list.  My current hot water heater is 9 years old.  I had the thermostat on it replaced on it two years ago because it was leaking gas.  I've been told if you get more than six years out of your hot water heater, you're doing good.  So this one should die any time.

So what caused all this failure?  Was it all just crappy design?  Or was it sun spots?  Or is it the radon gas in my basement?  Who knows what is causing the failures in my house.  Stuff just happens.  Nothing lasts forever.  And it is disappointing to pay good money to have things wear out and die after just a few short years.

When is 50 gallons of hot water not enough?

When you have a teenage son.  I told my son to take a short shower.  To me a short shower is about 10 or 15 minutes.  45 minutes later he wandered out of the shower with the water coming out of the tap luke warm.

Crap.  I've got five other kids that need to get in there and have showers or baths.  And my son sucks every last ounce of hot water out of the system.  Great.

Next time, he may get the water cut off at the five minute mark.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Home PC upgrade - part 2

The home PC upgrade is making progress.  The next item on the shopping list after the CPU and power supply upgrades consisted of a video card upgrade.  I accomplished that two weeks ago.  I put in an ATI based 5770 graphics card with 1GB of RAM on board.  I wanted a 5830 based card, but the graphics chip for that card is relatively new and cards are hard to come by.  So I went with the older 5770.  It isn't too bad.  It is significantly more powerful than the GeForce 7600GT that it replaced.

So have I noticed any differences?  Yes.  My son and I play flight simulator.  We have Microsoft's FSX and also X-plane 9.  With both games, we can crank up the complexity and the video card eats it like a goat will eat grass.

So what's next on the list?  I need the following:

  • More RAM
  • Two 1TB hard drives to replace the 250GB and 500GB drives in the system
  • Windows 7
The drives will probably come next.  The RAM and Windows 7 purchase will be made at approximately the same time.  The computer currently has 4GB of RAM.  I'm going to max it out with 8GB and then get Windows 7 64-bit installed.  Windows XP can't use the addtional 4GB of RAM, but I can use the extra 2TB of disk space.  Eventually one of the new hard drives will be used as the master hard drive for Windows 7.  Western Digital makes a 2TB drive, but that drive is still expensive.  If it drops in price, I'd like that drive to be my main drive.  So I may end up with a 2TB and 1TB drive instead of two 1TB drives.  I currently have two 1TB drives in the system and I love it.  You can never have enough disk space.  And when you do, you just end up using it.

Last night I was thinking to myself, why am I spending so much money on an upgrade?  I was at Wal-Mart the other day and I saw a pretty decent eMachines computer for just under $400.......  It had a multi-core CPU, 6GB of RAM and a 750GB hard drive.....  Hmmm....  Why am I doing this?  I guess I like building stuff.  I don't know.  A frustrated Lego builder?  I haven't purchased an assembled computer in probably a dozen years.  All the other computers that I have, I have pieced together myself.  Yup.  I'm a geek.  Pure and simple.

Toyota recall - Part 3

So last week I took the Camry in for a 15,000 mile service.  They had a couple of recalls on the gas pedal thing.  They put the reinforced shims on the gas pedal, they shortened the gas pedal arm (?) about 1/2 an inch, and then they reprogrammed the computer.  The computer reprogram was the brake over-ride so if I have gas and brakes both depressed, the engine would reduce power.

So, any differences after the changes?  The gas pedal still feels the same.  The shortening of the pedal is unnoticeable.  The gas pedal seems a little bit more on the sensitive side.  The car seems a little more peppy to me on the lower end of the RPM scale.  That could be the affects of the shortening of the pedal itself, but that's my perception.  For the brake override, that seems to work.  Before the recall, I put on the gas and the brakes the the engine was still pushing hard.  After the computer reprogram, the engine power will decrease.  Once you release the brake pedal, normal power resumes.  Kinda cool.

Is there a problem with Toyotas?  Honestly, I really don't know.  The runaway Prius story in California makes me wonder what is going on.  And I will be very interested to read about the results of the engineering team's testing.  Newer cars have a black box similar in nature to black boxes in airplanes.  I'm sure that the engineers will extensively review the data from that black box.  I hope that Toyota does the right thing for this guy and fixes his car - brakes and all - for free.  If anything, they should fix it for free for PR reasons.

I'm on my second Toyota.  The cars have been built solidly.  The first car I had was a 2003 Corolla and it was a magnificent car.  My 2009 Camry is a lot like my Corolla was like, except even better. 

With the runaway car issue, I'm mostly concerned about my son and his reaction to a sudden acceleration problem.  My Camry has a five speed manual transmission, something that is extremely rare in a Camry.  We've told him that if he has that problem, to simply put the car into neutral, pull over and turn off the car.  And with the brake override, he could use the brakes to slow things down.  But the Prius should also have a brake override system and it didn't work in the California Prius incident, so who knows.  Best bet, put in the clutch, put it into neutral, pull over and turn off the car.

Will I buy another Toyota?  Probably.  I think the overall quality of Toyota cars is better than the American cars.  And I think Toyota will figure out the root cause of the problem and take care of their customers.  Many of these problems, especially intermittent or rare computer related problems, are quite difficult to troubleshoot and diagnose.  I know because I've worked in tech support for over a decade.  The "easy" problems to solve are the readily duplicate-able problems.  The harder ones to solve are those that are rare and random.  This issue seems to appear in the latter case - rare and random.  Hopefully the Prius in the California incident will provide Toyota the details that they need to fully understand the root cause of the problem.

Gall bladder surgery - 22 days and counting

It has been three weeks since I had my gall bladder removed.  And how am I doing?  My answer is, "Why didn't I do this sooner?"  :-)  Seriously, though, it hasn't been all that bad.  The worst part was the first week.  I wasn't in pain, but I wasn't comfortable.  The second week I felt quite a bit better and this week I'm even better.

So any side effects?  Some.  The bowels can get a little loose at times.  But it hasn't been too bad.  I'm still taking it somewhat easy on the food that I eat.  I've been trying to eat lots of greens (salads and the like) and I've been venturing into some other foods.  So we'll see what happens.

This week I also started to exercise.  I got on the treadmill and went slow.  It was good.  It is amazing how much better you feel once you exercise.  And this is no different.  So life is getting back to "normal".

Sunday, February 21, 2010

No more gall bladder!!!

For those of you who want to know, or even care, I had a successful removal of my gall bladder.  I'm somewhat sore, but not nearly as sore as I was when I had my hernia surgery several years ago.  They made four incisions...  One in or around my belly button (that one hurts pretty good), one just under and to the right of my sternum (that incision hurts the least), and then two small ones on the right side below my right ribs.  The ones on the right are annoying as heck because I can't sleep on my right side, which is my favorite side to sleep on and they are pretty sore.

As far as drugs are concerned, I had some morphine in the hospital, a Lortab type thing, and a couple of Percocets, but that's it.  The rest of the time I've had Tylenol.  I may revert to the Percocets tonight to see if I can get some sleep.  I'm sleeping, just not as good as I would like to sleep.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Toyota - Part 2

I don't really understand all the buzz about Toyota.  I've got a 2009 Camry and it has been a fine car.  Today I scheduled an appointment with the dealership to get it serviced.  They looked up my car and said it was subject to two recalls.  They are going to put the brackets on the throttle and reprogram the computer (so if the brakes are on, the accelerator will be cut) for the first recall, and then they are going to shorten the accelerator pedal by 1/2 an inch.  I think the reprogramming is a smart thing to do and should have been done long ago.

I know that Toyota is getting hammered, but give me a break.  All car companies have issues.  The Congressmen that want the president of Toyota to testify is just overkill.  They are doing it for political points and to bash and humiliate Toyota.  What will it accomplish?  Will it fix the problem any faster?  Will it make Toyota be more careful in their designs?  Will it bring back the lives of those who died in Toyota vehicles that had issues?  I really don't think it will solve any of these problems.  Toyota has learned a hard and valuable lesson.  They will be better in the future.  And if all the other Toyotas are like the dealership I have to deal with, customers will be taken care of.

Like I said, all this frenzy about the "quality" problem and customers leaving the brand are just the press in hyper-drive.  Once the recalls stop and the press quiets down and some other big topic of the day comes up, people will forget about the problems.  Haiti attention has dropped off the map as the press moves on with other "hot" stories.

So I'll keep my Toyota.  My only regret is that I don't have money to go and buy another Toyota vehicle, as I'm sure there are some pretty good discounts on the cars these days.

Surgery tomorrow

I've been suffering with a poorly functioning gall bladder for quite some time.  I got a diagnosis that it has to come out (it has a 9% ejection fraction, meaning it is barely working) back in January.  With work and everything, I'm finally able to get it taken out.  I have a few sniffles (I think the onset of a cold may be trying to derail my surgery), but the surgeon and hospital told me to still come.  They'll make the call tomorrow if I'm fit or not.

For those that want to know, I have to be at the hospital tomorrow morning at 6:30 AM.  I'm the first person getting worked on, I think.  I asked for the first time slot and it looks like I've got it.  Which is fine.  It means I have to get up early, but it also means that I will hopefully get to come home some time in the afternoon.

If by some strange and weird chance I don't make it back (gall bladder surgery is very routine and low risk), its been good knowing you.  Take care of the wife and kidlins.

I'll post something once I'm home and all is well.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Fantastic Mr. Fox - Did I really see that movie?

Yesterday I had the day off work and the kids were out of school.  So we decided to go to the dollar movie and take in a cheap movie.  The 12:45 showing of the Fantastic Mr. Fox was sold out, so we went to the 2:45 movie.  We had lunch at one of the local fast food joints before going in.

Frankly, I was quite underwhelmed by the movie.  My oldest daughter said, "That was the stupidest movie I've ever seen.  It was even dumber than Napoleon Dynamite!"  The humor was Sahara Desert dry.  It really was not what I was expecting.  It is stop action animation, kind of like Chicken Run.  I thoroughly enjoyed Chicken Run, but I didn't care much for the Fantastic Mr. Fox.  I suppose that Mr. Fox is one of those movies that may or could grow on you.  But if I ever show that movie again in my house, I'm sure I'd be lynched, quartered and then burned before an improper burial.  Like I said, I'm glad we saw this at the dollar movie.  It cost me all of $6 to go to the movie.  I guess that's more expensive than a DVD rental, but we got out of the house for a few hours.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

The Blind Side - Who blind sided me?

My wife and I had an early Valentine's date on Friday.  We found a theater that was still showing The Blind Side about Michael Oher.  We have tried to see it once or twice before, but it was always sold out.  We have heard that it was a great movie, but I left my expectations at the door.  I have had high expectations for movies in the past and those expectations have been crushed as the movie never reached my expectations.  So I just wanted to go, sit back and relax and take in the movie.

The movie is simply awesome.  Probably one of the best movies that I have seen in a really, really, really long time.  And Sandra Bullock.....  What a performance.  I wish she could play parts like that all the time.  She gave a fantastic performance in the movie, probably the best performance I have ever seen her do in any of her movies.  The movie is up for best picture and Ms. Bullock is up for Best Performance for an Actress in a leading role.  I hope they both win Oscars.  It has been a long time since a movie like this has won an academy award for best picture.  I have not seen Avatar, but I would not be surprised if the blue creature movie gets best picture.

Thinking about the movie some more, I want to thank the Tuohy family for sharing their story.  The world needs more people like the Tuohy's who are willing to open their home to those less fortunate.  The story makes me want to be a better person and help those who are in need.

Anyway, if you want a good movie to see, look for The Blind Side.  It will not disappoint.