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.