Sunday, August 26, 2007

Food for Thought - Going Green isn't Easy

I got this via Groxx (a spin-off of "This Is True", which has readers submit interesting or unusual news stories).

Walking to the shops ‘damages planet more than going by car’ (The Times)

Summary is that the food you eat has the highest Carbon Footprint of whatever you do, so to be green, forget the Prius, forget compact fluorescent light bulbs, buy local / grow your own, eat less beef, etc. Vegan, skinny coach potatoes, sans TV, have the least impact.

Of course, that's just from the Carbon Footprint POV, which doesn't take into air / water pollution, killing of species, etc.

But, it should make us think about what we eat, and how much.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

The Birthday Present - I laughed, I cried, I almost puked!

I went and had my Acrobatic Flight Lesson today.

In a word - Wahoo!

The first thing to do was to make sure I could get into and out of the airplane. Yeah - you laugh. These are not big planes, and putting my 6'4" lumberjack frame into a 2-seater Citabria took a bit of contortion.

Good news is that I didn't break the plane. Before Nava gave me the gift, we had WebbieM and CessnyZ, (who owns the flight school I had my Acrobat Lesson at) over for dinner, and Nava tried to nudge the conversation over to flying in small planes. So I jumped in and told the tales of the small planes that are worse for wear after I was in them.

Now that we know I can get into the airplane, question is can I get back out. Why? Why not just go up, and worry about getting out later? Well, there's a few things to do first - pre-flight checklist, check the gas, put on the parachute... Someone said parachute? Jheez I gotta read the info on these things and not just show up - and lunch may have been a bad idea. First time I've ever put on a parachute. You laughed at me trying to get into the airplane? Took 2 tries to find a seat parachute that would fit me.

So - gas topped off, pre-flight checklist done, seat cushions out of the plane, parachute in. Seat cushions out? Yep - it's a lumberjack rule. The CLAA (Canadian Lumberjack Aviation Authority) says you get either a seat cushion or a parachute. CessnyZ (who'll I'll just call 'Z' from now on) recommends the parachute, so I go with the parachute. :)

But seriously - the plane wasn't big enough for me, the parachute, and the seat cushions. Guess I could have sent the parachute up on the seat cushion and stayed on the ground, but what's the point in that? So - Z carefully arranges my parachute across the seat, so that once I'm in, we can find all the straps and put it on. Climb in - almost gracefully this time (OK- not gracefully, but nothing broke, which is close enough), strap on the parachute and the seat harness (you're doing rolls and loops, so no whimpy seat-belt, but a full 4 point harness), and get ready to go.

Oh - and by this point, I've found out that it's a "Acrobat Flight Lesson", not "Acrobat Flight Tour". What's the difference? Tour means I go along, Lesson means I get to do a bunch of the flying. That Jalapeno Cheeseburger I had for lunch is sounding worse and worse!

Z let's me drive the plane down the taxi way, to get a feel for the rudders. Wow - makes me really appreciate power steering! Every time I fly commercial now, and we taxi forever to / from the gate, I'll laugh at those girly-men who use hydraulics for this, instead of raw muscles. Cause you know that if they actually had to do it by strength, there's no way you'd taxi that long commercially! Ok - I laugh at them, but I almost smacked into 2 buildings so I won't be boasting about my taxi-ing skills either.

Oh - forgot to point out one thing. 2 seater plane - me in front, Z in the back. 2 sticks, 2 sets of rudder pedals. But pretty much 1 set of instruments up front, which my large noggin hides from Z. Now, he's flown these planes so much, I'm sure he can do it by feel / sound, but it is a bit odd to be the one with all the info!

Take-off - I always love take-offs in a small plane. Always more fun than in a big plane, and when you're in the front seat, 1000x more so. Being the only person in the front really makes it impressive, until you remember that it's Z is doing the flying, not your mental telepathy. This little plane doesn't so much take-off as once you get going fast enough, you just stop rolling on the ground and start flying - smooth and fun.

A few seconds later and Z does a turn or two, and shows the difference between doing a turn with only the stick (flaps), and using the rudder as well. And then it's my turn! OK- smooth would not be my first description, but I didn't stall out the plane, anything like that. After a couple of more tries, I was even not total crap!

Now that my head's a bit swollen, and Z can't see anything out the wind-shield, it's time for some more basic physics, and stalls. Nose up until the plane is just about to stall, and starts to shudder, then nose down to recover speed / come out of it. Simple enough - my turn. Doh - you want me to try to make the plane switch from "flying mode" to "falling mode"? OK- didn't seem that bad when Z did it, so I give it a try, being a firm believer in physics and design (if you just start to stall, it shouldn't take too much to come out of it, and if you're flying straight / wings level going up, you should switch to straight / wings level going down).

Wahoo - it works. After a third time, and I'm a firm believer in physics, and giving up my brief thoughts of giving up agnosticism and hoping there was a God that would save me should I screw up.

Next up - the Loop. Z explains that if we have enough speed, instead of stalling, we'll just keep on going right over the top, and back down the other side. And pull ~3Gs on the way. Again, Z does an example. Wah - 3Gs does press you down into the seat hard, but Wahoo it's fun to go over the top.

And yep, I got the chance to do it. Nose down - accelerate to 130, then stick back hard, until the accelerometer shows 3Gs, then back off the stick and let it complete the half circle, and start heading down. Dive until you get to 3Gs, back-off and you're flying level, in the same spot you started off in.

The Roll - stick hard over (left in this case) until the plane has gone 360deg around left-to-right. That's fun to, and with the Loop under the belt, not as intimidating. But tougher on the stomach. After a couple / three of them, I was getting a bit air-sick.

I didn't take Dramamine or anything like that on the way - I haven't gotten motion sick in over 10 years, and figured no worries - my stomach and take anything. Well, I was wrong about that!
No - I didn't get totally green and loose that Jalapeno Cheeseburger over Z's nice airplane. I told him I was getting a bit queasy, so we just did some flight-seeing for 5-10 minutes, until it had calmed down a bit. Had some cold sweat on the back on my neck, so I knew I wasn't going to get to 100%, but figured we should try the next one.

Which is called the Hammerhead. Starts like a loop - do the ~quarter loop, but keep going straight up until you stop climbing. The plane then pivots over, and heads straight back down. Wah - 3Gs and the queasies! Lots of fun, but definitely green now! Z askes if I want to try, and the short answer from the stomach was "No!" So I let Z know why, and we do a nice lazy turn back to the direction of the airport (RHV), and land ~10 minutes later.

On the 10 point scale for fun - 9. Probably take Dramamine next time though, so that it could be a 10!

Monday, April 30, 2007

Uncommon Logic(tm) #1 - Daylight Savings Exacerbates Global Warming

Thought I'd start this series on truly amazing thinkers.

Some might call it "folk logic", like snapping your fingers to keep the tigers away. No tigers near here, so it must be working.

This is also known as bad logic, or plain old stupidity.

I like to think of it as a Shrubbery, or the type of logic Shrub employs.

"Daylight Exacerbates Warming (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette Northwest Edition, April 16th, 2007)

You may have noticed that March of this year was particularly hot. As a matter of fact, I understand that it was the hottest March since the beginning of the last century. All of the trees were fully leafed out and legions of bugs and snakes were crawling around during a time in Arkansas when, on a normal year, we might see a snowflake or two. This should come as no surprise to any reasonable person. As you know, Daylight Saving Time started almost a month early this year. You would think that members of Congress would have considered the warming effect that an extra hour of daylight would have on our climate. Or did they ? Perhaps this is another plot by a liberal Congress to make us believe that global warming is a real threat. Perhaps next time there should be serious studies performed before Congress passes laws with such far-reaching effects.


Unfortunately, it appears that Mr. Meskimen wrote this tongue-in-cheek (see Snopes write-up). But it is still worth a laugh, and, I hope, a start of a new series.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Meet the Hamsters...

Had a bad day at work last Thursday. Made a big mistake by (a) showing up at the project staff, and (b) forgetting to check my values and mouth at the door.

Started off with the big project manager talking about the project we're re-using a large portion of our design from dropping the ball and not designing their stuff to work in our environment. Wouldn't be an issue, other than our project is dead if their stuff don't work. So I asked the question on when they're going to stop calling saying their designing to meet our needs. Guess that's one reason I'm in engineering and not management - that's one of those questions you're not supposed to ask.

Second thing was when Mr. Central Ops was talking about how things are going front end environment, and things are back to normal. Big manager says that's good, as making the decision to go with backup plan is very painful. So I step in and say "You remember that normal wasn't very good. We could work, but not predictably." Mr. Central Ops whips out the spreadsheet with this factoid, and then his get well plan. All of which don't explain why I hadn't been able to turn-in my changes for over half a week. This degenerated, so I stood up to storm out of the room. Decided against storming out (big mistake - always storm out if you're half way there), so sat back down, realized that (a) nothing had changed by speaking up, (b) if I stayed in the room, I was only going to get angrier because of that, so I then left quietly at the end of that conversation.

Very frustrating being one of the few people left who still speaks up and tries to make a difference to have it beaten out of you.

StinkyJ had the same thing happen to him today. Same basic thing - despite your years of experience, and working directly in that area now, this person in the central group knows better.

So if you come by my office and work and hear some squeaking, it's not me complaining. It's just the ball bearings in my exercise wheel needing oil. Oh - and check my water and food on the way by. Don't want the hamsters to die in their offices. That'd be against policy - you should die on your own time.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Entertained Hamsters for Decades...

Had to run to the bathroom tonight. Day after Nava's birthday - meant to go out to dinner, but Nava was avoiding her singing group, and didn't feel like going out. So I made dinner - and opened some wine. And a 2nd bottle. And then the news game on.

I'm still laughting about it - newscaster said something, at which point Nava said "Hamsters"? Item was "Entertained fans for decades" - Nava heard "Enterained Hamsters for decades."

First time in 5 year in which Nava made a slip in English as funny as some of mine in Hebrew. I laughed, I cryed, I ran for the bathroom to pee.

And then I blogged it.

I can't translate my 10-100 truly hilarious mis-speaks in Hebrew, as they're not funny in English. Ma-heeg Aleek. That's what I saw on Nava's phone one time - should have been something like "Maheg Alecha", which means "Unknown Caller". But, for some reason, "Maheeg Aleek" made Nava pull-over and call her sister.

Anyway - Happy Birthday, Sweetie!

And yes - Don Ho entertained Hamsters for Decades!

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Tomatoes, Conquering and Computers

Haven't posted for 3 weeks.

Would have a good excuse if I said I hadn't been on a computer at home during those 3 weeks. Yep, I'd have a good excuse if that was the case.

Was sick for a week - spent a lot of time on the computer, but playing Civ IV. Nice thing about Civ IV is it's like TV - you dont' need a brain to do it, and you can set it on an easy setting and conquer the world with a little bit of competition, but nothing to serious.

And then there was getting everything transferred over to the new computer, backed up off the old computer, backed up again, and then "wiping" the old computer. Last thing you want to do is give away all your financial info and passwords.

You could just delete everything, and use a program like Eraser to overwrite it, or your could reformat your hard disk and start from scratch. Or you could be extra cautious - and run a program to like DBAN (Darik's Boot and Nuke). You boot to a floppy / CD, and then shred the data on your hard drive, by writing over it in multiple different ways to not only destroy the data, but all evidence of the data. There's the simple write 0's, write 1's. There's the Canadian Royal Mounted Police of writing "I like horsies" followed by "I'm a Lumberjack, but I'm OK". Guess they tried just having the horses gallop all over the hard drives, but that did a better job of rendering them useless than erasing the data.

Of course, the US Millitary / FBI / CIA and NSA (No Such Agency) have their own standards. All of those are variations of recording "24" onto the hard disk, followed by CSPAN. Why does it need to record CSPAN as well as 24? Turns out that dialogue of Jack Bauer is not truly random, with certain phrases, such as "WHO ARE YOU WORKING FOR" and "Make no mistake, if you do not tell me , I will kill you." Good thing is that while the political BS on CSPAN is even more repetitive, politicians try hard to put their 100 phrase vocabulary together in different ways, so the combination of 24 and CSPAN are particularly effective in erasing all useful electronic data.

But back to my story. What I did - delete all the files, and ran Eraser to remove all evidence of them. Run DBAN to shread everything on the hard disk. Re-format the hard disk. And only then re-install Windows XP and the software the came with the computer / is free.

Just re-install Windows XP. My computer came with the original Windows XP - not even SP1, let alone SP2. So, re-installing goes something like this:

  1. Install Windows XP from original CD
  2. Reboot, activiate, run Updater.
  3. Reboot, click "No" for logging onto .NET, run Updater.
  4. Reboot, click "No" for logging onto .NET, run Updater.
  5. Reboot, click "No" for logging onto .NET, run Updater.
  6. Reboot, click "No" for logging onto .NET, run Updater.
  7. Reboot, click "No" for logging onto .NET, run Updater.
  8. Reboot, click "No" for logging onto .NET, run Updater.
  9. Reboot, click "No" for logging onto .NET, run Updater.

Yep - 9 rounds to get all patches / updates / stuff re-installed. 9 clicks to tell .NET to go f-off. Actually only took a couple of hours. Then it was tracking down good free anti-virus (PCMag recommended AVG, so I went with that), Spyware (Ad-Aware and Spybot Search & Destroy also recommended by PCMag, and I've used them off / on for years), and other freeware (OpenOffice looks pretty cool - free software to replace Word / Excel / PowerPoint).

Get the old computer setup and ready to give away, at which point I realize that it's now about 2-3 times faster than it was "pre-cleanup", since it is no longer gunked up by lots of little software programs running in the background, doesn't have 5 years of accumulated electronic dust causing it be slow. If the house was bigger, I might have kept it as a file / print server someplace. Good thing about having a smaller house is the forced minimization.

Which brings us to spring cleaning - started that yesterday. Me in the garage, Nava in her studio. I filled up half a large garbage bags with junk / old stuff don't really need anymore, and Nava discovered the carpetting she's always detested in her studio. Need to go out and do the other half of the garage in a few minutes.

Got the garden in last weekend, after prepping it the weekend before. Good thing about Sunnybail (it's supposed to be Sunnyvale, but with a bit more global warming, we'll be underwater, so I'm betting on Sunnybail) is the free compost at the recycling center. As much as you want, if you're a resident. Now, the Crudolla, which is over 10 years old now, and not as good looking as it is in the "Cast of Characters" over at CherkyB, can hold 8 five-gallon buckets of compost in the trunk. A couple of hours and 3 trips later, I had 120 gallons of compost on the garden, plus some basic fertilizer and green sand mixed in. There's something about me and 3 - maybe it's a mild case of OCD or something:
  • Number of trips to Sunnybail recycling for compost?
  • Number of times I turn the soil over each spring to mix in the compost / amendments
  • Number of unique ways I erased the data off the old computer
  • Number of tires with hubcaps on the Crudolla
  • Number of jokes CherkyB will add relating 3...

Bad thing about going to the nursery on a Saturday afternoon, on the way back from the recyling center with a load of compost, is Saturday afternoon is when the amateur gardeners go there. You get looked at funny for showing up with gardening cloths, let alone dirty gardening clothes caused you've been gardening. And their mozing around like cows grazing in the pasture - no real purpose or process, and they just stand where they want. And leave their carts blocking the isles. And their idiot kids just stand around and you have to ask them to let you by. Saturday mornings 9am is much better. 7am would be better, but then I'd have to leave a note for Nava to find when she wakes up...

Got some tomatos, and peppers and spices. Planted a couple of handfulls of old sugar pea seeds - figured they were old, so I'd overplant by a bunch and see if anything sprouted. With all the freezes we had over the winter, had to replace the pressure reducer that hooked the dripper system up to the sprinkler controller - it froze and cracked a couple of months back, which explained the mad dash outside @ 5:30am to turn off that sprinkler branch when it came on and was shooting water all over the side of the house and the master bedroom window.

And the soil still has a good whiff of funkiness to it, so my jokes about dead bodies with the neighbors are keeping up my "nice but a little off" rep in the neighborhood.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

2.5 Days on Vista

The new desktop arrived on Thursday - Velocity Micro Vector GX. VM builds some very nice equipment, using quality components (aka you gonna pay a few dollars more than a Dell, but you'll get more reliable components as well). The new desktop has:

  • Intel Core 2 Duo 6400 (2.13GHz / 2M cache) CPU / 965 Chipset & Motherboard
  • 2G RAM
  • 320GB 300MB/sec 16MB cache SATA hard-disk
  • Lite-Scribe CD/DVD burner (you can laser "etch" a label onto the CD/DVD)
  • nVidia GeForce 7600 GS

Oh - and Windows Vista now has some built in benchmarks to score your system overall, so you can know how well it is for gaming or business info, etc.

ComponentWhat is ratedSubscore
Processor"calcuations per second"5.1
RAMMemory operations per second5.5
GraphicsDesktop performance for Windows Aero4.7
Gaming Graphics3D business and gaming graphic performance4.0
Primary Hard DiskDisk data transfer rate5.4
OverallWindows Experience Index4.0

Basically, I now own a computer that's worth more than my 1996 Corolla.

And it comes with Vista.

So far, so good. Vista looks and feels nice, so no complaints there.

The new "Windows Easy Transfer" software seems more user friendly and controllable than the old "Files and Settings Transfer", but is equally annoying. Well, it's annoying if you don't want to transfer absolutely everything, or have some of your stuff in non-standard places. Problem isn't that it misses stuff, it's that if you want to just transfer your settings and email folders, you can't say that. Besides saying what you want, you also have to go back and say what you don't want. And after 2 tries, where besides saying don't copy "My Pictures" and "My Music", I also had to de-select the folders by explicit paths. Seems that unless everything is in standard places, it doesn't consider "My Pictures" to be "My Pictures". Or, the left hand of windows doesn't know what the right hand of windows is doing, since when I open "My Documents", it shows me "My Pictures", even though they're both not on my C: disk, as that was filling up...

Trying to find a better program on the web, seems like none of them are very popular. In between the 1st and 2nd try of WET, I stopped by Fry's a got a USB Transfer Cable, so the 2 computers can talk @ 480MB/sec, instead of just the 100MB/sec over the network. Belkin one said it came with free Laplink PCSync software - sounded like it might help. Not - it's for *keeping* 2 computers in sync on a set of files / folders, not moving stuff to a new computer. Of course, the details on the Mil Spec plastic package (I sweat plastic packages now-a-days are designed to withstand nuclear detonations within 100ft, but would take even a 10 year old 10 minutes to open) didn't say what PCSync was for. Yes, CherkyB, it didn't say PC Migration. It also didn't say it could withstand a nuclear detonation within 100ft...

But, I'm smarter than your average cockroach (note - "average", not above average, and singular - I bet a small cabal of cockroaches could keep me guessing), so I managed to move Nava's Outlook Express folders, IE favorites and cookies, and get most of the programs we care about install.

Tried to get my Outlook folders over - copying wasn't the problem, new desktop didn't come with Microsoft Office, so no outlook, just Windows Mail (replaces Outlook Express - consider it Outlook Express 7 or so - a bit nicer, but nothing to blog about). Try to read the old Outlook folders into Windows Mail - can't do it. Search the web and find out that it's can do it, but only if you have Outlook installed.

Now, if I had Outlook installed, would I really want to use Windows Mail (aka Outlook Express 7)?

Not to be put-off, I go to, and find a trial download of MS Office that's good for 60 days. Have a brain fart, and click on the "Home and Student" version, so the one I get doesn't have Outlook, just Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote. Not sure who decides that PowerPoint or OneNote are more important than Outlook, but there it is. I'm sure it was listed someplace, but not on the page I was on / downloading from.

Fine - I'll try a different way (this is why I get paid the big bucks. Well, I like to think it's big bucks). So - if Windows Mail will not import from Outlook "natively", but will from Outlook Express, let's try going from Outlook to Outlook Express on the old computer and from there into Windows Mail (since OE to WM worked for Nava's mail). And since Windows Mail appears to be just a big update to Outlook Express, I bet Outlook Express on the old computer can import from Outlook.

Yep - 10 minutes later, I had the files into Outlook Express, copied the Outlook Express hidden storage folder. (hint - C:\Documents and Settings\\Local Settings\Application Data\Identities\{}\Microsoft\Outlook Express) to the new computer (doesn't matter where on the new one, as you "import" from it)

Show Nava how all of her email is now on Vista under Windows Mail - takes her about 10 seconds to spot that while I did specially migrate her contacts, it dropped the mail lists. Contacts can be exported in a CSV file, but it won't include any lists. OK - back to the old computer, find the Outlook Express "Windows Address Book", copy that over as well, and import it into Windows Mail.

All of this should have been handled by Windows Easy Transfer, except the 1st try, after twelve hours, it was still only 2% done (it'll find every file / folder on every attached disk and both evaluate it, which slows it down, and most likely copy it, which slows it down). 2nd try, when I went back and de-selected all the pictures and all the music, and had specifically told it to just do a few folders that should contain the Outlook / Outlook Express / Internet Explorer stuff, after 4 hours, it was still on 1% done, so was also brain dead.

Still have ~30GB of pictures and music to copy, but at 100MB/s, that should only take 300 seconds. De-rate by another factor of 20x for slower disk / computer, 6000 seconds. That's 100 minutes. Less than 2hours.

That means the Windows Easy Transfer could have copied all of the music, pictures and video 6 times overnight the first night, but only got 2% done. Let's see - 2% in 12 hours is 4% per day, or 25 days to migrate from an old computer to a new computer. Ridiculous. Even if it's not "linear", and the 25 days would have sped up at some point, and been only 5 days, still ridiculous. Or with the

But, I like the new machine. I don't mind doing stuff by hand - it's kind of fun, and you can learn some stuff while doing it. And this way, I don't have to worry about Windows, or some other program, copying programs or Windows Registry settings, or other stuff that might pollute or otherwise slow down the new machine.

Cause it is much, much faster!

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

10 Days Without the Little Monster...

Quit smoking 10 days ago (Sunday, Feb 11th, 9am Grenada time), after smoking for most of the last 20 years.

Funny thing is, it wasn't that tough! After years and years of never buying cartons of cigarettes, hoping I would quit soon, and knowing that any impetus to quit would run into the road block of having 5 packs of cigarettes left. So let's just say quiting has been in the back of my mind for 15 years or so.

Browsing through Amazon about a month ago, I found a book called "The Easy Way to Stop Smoking", and using Amazon's "Look Inside" (nifty feature), read one page where it said that smoking isn't a habit, it's an addiction, and to stop, you need to deal somewhat with the physical withdrawal, but mostly undoing the brainwashing, cultural and autonomic.
Looked interesting / different enough to pay the $12 for it (less than 3 packs of smokes), and let it sit on the night-stand for a few weeks. I like to think that it was because I was busy, and / or was into the book(s) I was currently reading. But, brought it to Grenada with us on vacation. Delayed not reading it on vacation for about a week, but finally cracked it open and started to read.

Good book - somewhat repetitive, with lots of little examples / discussions on the all the arguments you might have on a given statement or so. Interestingly, it tells you to *not* stop smoking / cut down while reading the book. Mostly because it wants you to finish the book, and think through everything it wants you to think through, before you quit. Logic is if you think you're ready half-way through and quit, and it doesn't work, you're not as likely to go back and read the whole book, thinking it didn't work. So, I read the whole book - usually an hour at a time, smoking a cig or two while reading it.

One of the big fallacies it exposed for me was the "smoking helps me relax". This is part of the cultural brainwashing, and the autonomic - my brain tells me smoking helps me relax. In truth, (a) smoking is a physical addiction, and (b) a short time after you stop smoking, you start going through some withdrawal pains - usually within 30 minutes or so. That "relaxing" feel you get is from feeding the addiction (the little monster) - you were OK, you started going through withdrawal, and you gave your body the drug it was missing, which feels a lot like relaxing. Except that the "relaxed" state you get is how relaxed you'd be if you never smoked - you're not any more relaxed than a non-smoker in that situation, just more relaxed than a junkie who needs a fix.

That worked for me. 10 days w/o a smoke - only had 4 or 5 urges for a smoke, and they only lasted a few seconds before my brain reminded me about all the BS (no, it doesn't taste good, you think it does cause it feeds the little monster; no, it doesn't relax you, you think it does cause it feeds the little monster; no, you can have a break without having to feed the little monster).

Cross your fingers, but pretty soon, I expect to have the epiphany where I say to myself, "Self, you're not a smoker anymore". (with credits to CherkyB for 'say to myself, "Self'...)

Saturday, February 17, 2007

I'll get around to it...

New laptop is working fine. And I've changed my backup strategy, which was to do a backup, but leave the backup on the laptop itself, and write to a CD every month or so, when I got around to it.

That worked for a while (once or twice), but it'd been over 10 months since I'd dumped the backup off the old laptop when it died, so the "I'll get around to it" strategy wasn't very good for me.

Got an 300GB external/USB harddrive (300GB Seagate PushButton), but the backup software that came with it was bizarre.

There's software that's written by engineers, and does the job, but may not have the most user friendly interface, then there's software that's designed by human interface engineers, like Apple's, and it's really easy to use, and useful.

Then there's the BounceBack Express software, that got bundled with the Seagate hard drive. It's neither logic or elegant or useful. It tries to be easy to use, but is unintuitive. Want to create a backup? Sure - you can say everything, or pick the data yourself. If you pick the data yourself, for every data source you pick, you have to pick a backup destination as well. If I wanted to backup folder XYZ in one job, and folder 123 in another, I'd make seperate jobs. Why do I need to specify a target for each folder I want to backup? I want a backup. Why can't there be something in between everything in 1 file, and what you want, but seperate backup files per folder, and you have to keep selecting what / where / etc.

And the UI - they didn't go for the engineer "utilitarian" view, or the Windows XP "we're trying to be Apple", but came up with something new, and honestly, crappy.

BUT, the thing that really blew my mind was it was butt slow. Think of my Corolla, going uphill, with 4 Benoits (or the usual lunch crew) in it. That's faster than this software will ever be.

So I went out, scoured the reviews, read some reports, and ended up getting a highly rated one, which was also what Scooter told me he used, Acronis True Image.

Really paranoid? You can make an exact clone of your drive, and if something bad happens, your just a few clicks away either booting from the backup, or just re-writing everything the way it was.

Just want to do data? There's a 1 button setting for that, or you can select the files and folders you want, and it'll do just them. Incremental or differential. First full backup of 40-50G took just an hour or two (vs. over 12hrs w/ the BounceBack crap), and the nitely incrementals are in the 15-30 minute range. And none of this you need to specify a different destination for every folder you select.

Acronis gave me a 20% off coupon for anything else I, or my friends / family want for the next few weeks, so if anyone is looking for backup software, and is interested in Acronis, try this link to see if you can still save 20%.

Unfortunately, Acronis is a "1 license per machine" type of software, so the new laptop is using WinBackup - something we had on the previous laptop, and was "good enough". It now writes directly to the USB drive hooked up to the desktop as well, so that the backup isn't on the same machine as the original data. Doh.

And, both machines have Mozy - an online backup solution. Mozy will give you 2GB of free online backup space (plus 250MB for you and every friend you refer when they do their first backup).

Why would anyone give you 2GB of free space? Simple - 2GB isn't that much backup space, and costs the company just pennies. Unless you're backing up just critical files (maybe your mailbox, and quicken/turbotax files), you probably won't fit into 2GB, so , they hope, you'll go for the $5/month unlimited space backup. Not a bad deal - for the $150 for the hard drive and $50 for the Acronis backup software, I could have had 20 months of unlimited backups for both the desktop and laptop. Mozy also probably figures those folks that'll manage in the ~2GB of space are more likely to be better than average users, who would recommend Mozy to their less computer savvy friends also, so it's still cheap, targetted, personal advertizing.

I'm happy w/ my harddrive / Mozy combo - I've got 300GB of on-site backup, and 2+GB for critical files off-site. I'm willing to (actually, I enjoy it) set up the software for both, making sure they're all working, and picking what I do and don't want to backup when / where / how. But, for $5 a month, someone who's not computer savy, and has a broadband internet connection, Mozy Unlimited is probably a good choice.

Best of all, you can get 2GB (+250MB extra for you, and for me, if you use the referral) for free, and either "try it out", or just backup those critical files. So that's 2.25GB for you now, and +250MB for me. Here's the Mozy Referral.

Thursday, January 25, 2007


It's time to catch-up on what's been going on -

New laptop arrived (see here), works great, just could accept the old laptops hard disk (new laptop is setup for SATA, old one was ATA, converters don't fit into laptop bay, and not sure what they'd do for a hard disk locked one anyway).

So - sent the hard disk off to to get them to unlock it, so I could recover the data. They were able to - sent it back, slipped it into the USB case, plugged it into the desktop - nada. Didn't panic, unplugged it, and plugged it into the new laptop - voila. Recovered Nava and my documents folders, then the Outlook files, which are always nicely hidden, and then the Quicken files, which Quicken likes to store it it's program directory.

Dell wants the old dead laptop back (some might call it evidence) with the hard drive, so I've deleted all of the personal stuff, and am now "shredding" it (running a program to remove all traces of deleted files, and on top of that, write different patterns of data, so even then, it's damned tough to find anything).

On the monitor saga, finally dragged my laptop docking-station home from work, which has DVI output. Plugged it in, couldn't get 1600x1200 (while I can get ~2048x1600 at work, so it's not the laptop/docking-station). Called Samsung back, to which they couldn't argue, and are, hopefully, sending out replacement #3. Last time this happened, talked on a Monday, it was shipped on Tuesday and arrived on Thursday. This time, no sign of it even shipping yet.

In the meantime, one of the armchairs in the living room decided to break both springs that help it stay "closed" when the leg rest is down. No worries - we'll just swing by the store (The Leather Factory) on Saturday. Oops - where did they go? Out of business. Somewhat annoying for us, but at least we didn't have something on order, and bye-bye deposit. Tried to find the name of who made the mechanical system for it, found some patent numbers, but that hasn't helped yet. Did a temporary fix tonight, by swaging on a loop (the spring itself didn't break, just the hook on it's end that connects the extendable leg rest part to the frame) of wire instead. Took 3 prototype attempts to figure out how to swage the loop and then swage the loop onto the spring. Might even last long enough to forget about finding some new springs - or at least give me more time to see if I can salvage some off of a Goodwill chair or so!

And then yesterday, driving home, my left headlight just dies. Worked when I pulled out (could see 2 dots reflecting), didn't when I got home. Went to Pep Boys to get a replacement - got a pair (decided to replace them both). Of course, the dead one is crammed in between the battery and the frame, so you have to crane your neck around even to see the plug, and once you get your hand in there, it's all by feel. But - only took an extra couple of minutes, so it wasn't so bad.

So that's the what's up blog, to catch-up. Which sounds like Ketchup. Which is pretty much what this post is - squashed tomatoes and some sugar. Good with fries. Better than mayo, unless it's a nice garlic aioli.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

I think technology is making me bipolar...

Received the replacement for the previous laptop that died - it was a 500m, which was a ~4yr old design. They said they didn't have that model around anymore, so would give me something somewhat newer. The replacement is a Dell e1405 - a very good, middle-of-the-road laptop:

  • Intel® Core™ Duo T2050 (1.60GHz, 2MB L2 Cache, 533 MHz FSB), 100G,
  • 1G of RAM
  • 14" WXGA+
  • 7200RPM hard disk
  • 8X CD/DVD dual-layer burner
  • 802.11 b/g
  • Bluetooth

A very nice system overall. Processor is 1 generation behind what I was going to buy, and I'd like a discrete graphics card, and WSXGA, instead of WXGA+. But hey - it's a ~$1200 system I got for free.

When I signed into my Dell account, to register it and link it to my account, I found out that it comes with a 3yr "Complete Care" warranty. Yep - old laptop died ~1.5yrs out of warranty, and the replacement, thank you very much Dell for just giving us a replacement, the replacement has a 3 year "Complete Care" warranty, which covers:

  • Liquid spilled
  • Dropped
  • Electric surge
  • Broken LCD
  • Accidental breakage

Doesn't cover damage in fire, theft, intentional damage (they even mention hammer marks), or normal wear.

PFA. The ~$1200 replacement has a $300 warranty.

So - that was the highlight of the week.

On the same day the laptop arrived, also got the replacement monitor. 2nd replacement, as the first one was "torqued". New one looks great, sits almost perfect level. Very happy. Not. After resolving the initial display issues of hooking up the monitor while the computer is running, the display mostly behaves nicely. Except it's a 20" monitor that should have 1600x1200 resolution, and we can't get it w/ the DVI input.

Call Samsung tech support - they walk me through a couple of things, and then pass me on to Level2 support. They walk me through a few more, and then decide it's the ATI Radeon 9550 video card I have, as the monitor will display 1600x1200 with the analog video cable, just not with the DVI capable.

I'll buy that. Update the ATI driver / software, re-boot. No luck. Re-install the Samsung monitor driver. No luck. Maybe it's a software problem, and I need to do the Microsoft Windows trick of rebooting, and while the machine is booting, crawling into the room, naked, begging for pity from the software gods. No luck.

Open up the desktop, remove the ATI card, and put back in the old Nvidia one (no DVI). Analog 1600x1200 resolution w/ out any problems (no duh). Remove all ATI software. Remove all evidence there was any ATI software (regedit, remove Programs/ATI*). Download the latest ATI software. Find out it wants Microsoft .Net Framework 2.0. Download and install that. Download security updates for .Net. OK - all set to re-install, so turn desktop off, swap cards, make sure monitor is off, turn desktop on.

Go outside for a smoke, with the computer booting, but the monitor connected by DVI, but not turned on. Come back in, power the monitor on, trying to make sure that ATI card sees the Samsung Monitor as a new monitor, and tries to set itself up for it. OK - resolution defaults to 800x640. Go to resize - hey, instead of having 20 random sizes above 1280x1024, now there's only two - 1440x1080 and 1600x1200. That's promising. Try 1600x1200. Same damn problem - you see 1280x1024, and can "pan" left/right or up/down to the see the remainder of the screen. Check ATI software, and it's sure that the Samsung can only display 1280x1024 natively.

Which is exactly what it said 2hrs before I started the whole "re-install" process. But, at least when I talk to the ATI tech support folks on Monday (no weekend phone support), I can say "yes, I updated all the drivers and software", and "yes, I then did it again, after removing all previous versions", and "yes, I did crawl into the room naked and groveling", so maybe that'll speed-up the process of them giving me to someone who may be able to help.

New laptop working fine - I wanted to remove the free McAfee security tools, and install Norton. I've used Norton for years, and they've got this hook into me - every time I need to re-subscribe, I can pay something like $15 more and just update to the latest / greatest security and utility suite. And you can use it on 3 computers. And I like to have all the computers in the house running the same basic software (OS, security, office tools), so that it's easier to support and network them, and if I screw something up on one, I know how to make the same mistake on the others ones.

Amazingly, McAfee pissed Nava up more than Norton did, so she demanded I remove it. I was pretty sure she would go with the "change as little as possible" on the new laptop, given the recent tech problems we've had. Which would be a shame, as futzing with electronics is one of the things I really enjoy. Nothing like getting into the guts of hardware or software, finding the little ways of make it do things slightly better (OK, slightly different, but to me it seems better). Having another screw or widget to add to the box of "wonder where that came from" parts.

But, since the monitor / video card didn't agree to play nice together within ~4hrs of labor, fun hobby turned into a chore.

Now you know why I don't fix my own car. If the computer crashes, odds are it won't kill anyone. OK - Nava may kill me, but no civilians. (Statistics say if you are killed, it'll likely be by a loved one.)

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Just When You Thought It Was Safe To...

Hate Dell.

Had 2 problems on Saturday, as LavaN describes here
- the "back-light" in our Samsung Syncmaster 204T, after a bit of vigorous dusting. Well - average dusty, and then vigorous pulling to try to get it to raise back to the right height.

Good news - it's under warranty, and Samsung offers a replacement program (same or better monitor, you get the new one and send back the old one, which they fix and pass on to the next person).

Then there was the home laptop - Dell Inspiron 500m. The damn "loose" power cord finally caused it to die. Nope - not the AC Adapter, but the DC Jack it plugs into (little metal cube at about 1 o'clock from the fan). Damn Dell "advanced" power-supply, that guarentees you can't use someone elses, as there's a chip in the AC Adapter that talks w/ the laptop, and won't recharge the battery unless they say Howdy to each other. Unlike most AC Adapters, that slip onto a metal pin, since the Dell needs 3 connections (power, ground and signal), the metal pin is replaced by a plastic protrusion, which has connections on inside and outside. Kind of like a cross between a coax and a power plug.

And the AC adapter part slides onto it, connecting on the outside of the ring, inside of the ring, and the pin in the middle. Well - that's what it's supposed to do. Only has 3 problems:

  1. The AC Adapter plugs "straight" into the back of the laptop, instead of using an angled plug that's less prone to wearing out. Don't know why the Dell ones fail for me, while the IBM ones I use at work don't, but they do. See Exhibit #2.

  2. Don't know why, but the either the adapter plug expands, or the DC Jack end contracts, cause the combo loosened up after the 1st year. Power cord kept falling out on it's own - you'd get the low battery alarm, and then notice that the power plug was just sitting on your leg instead of powering the laptop.
  3. Plastic - somewhere between styrofoam and balsa wood for strength. Didn't last. Broke off. Caused short. Caused fire / melting components. Caused laptop to no longer get power. Caused laptop to break.

Since the laptop was >1 year out of warranty, I figured I'd take it apart and see how bad the damage was, and if I could potentially fix it. Motherboard looked fine, but the DC Jack was deformed, and clearly smelled of burning.

So - I took the hard drive out, opened up the desk top, slapped on a 2.5" IDE to 3.5" IDE converter, and booted up the desktop to recover the data. Now we run into problem #4 - if you use the "HDD Password" (aka Hard Disk Drive Password) to prevent thieves (or at least hinder non hacker types) from being able to use your laptop if it's stolen, it also makes the hard drive non-readable in any other system, until you disable the password.

Google it - find out there's a few DOS utilities for helping do this. Go try them out - they say I have the right HDD Password, but can't disable it. I take a guess and figure maybe if I get the "Master" (instead of my User password), I'd be able to overcome this, so I fire off a note to Dell support.

Get a reply the next day from Dell support, which said

  1. The laptop is out of warranty

  2. But, because they give excellent support, if I want to send it in, they'll gladly take a look at it , and let me know how much to fix it.

Now, I know the answer to #2, unless I get lucky and get a service technician who's hands don't drag on the ground. Default answer is the mother board is bad, and it'll need to be replaced. $435 plus labor.

Don't want that - I want the $20 DC Jack replaced. If it works, great. If it doesn't, frack the machine, I'll get a new one. But this isn't what my email to support was about. All I wanted to know was did Dell ever set the Master HDD Password, and if so, what was it, so I could disabled the User HDD Password.

So I reply to their reply saying:

  1. Previous reply unacceptable
  2. I don't want a fix or even a diagnosis
  3. All I want is to get in touch with someone who's heard of HDD Passwords before, and can find out if they did set a Master HDD password, and if so, what is it.

Get a reply late today that best thing would be to call and talk to a technical support person directly, so it doesn't take a long series of email exchanges to resolve. But, I can try email again if I really want / need to.

Call up Dell tonight, and while I'm waiting, take the HDD out of my work laptop, and slip the HDD I'm trying to "unlock" into the work laptop. Boot, get the password prompt, type in the password and it goes through - aka the password storage wasn't scrambled, so maybe the HDD is fine. Since my home laptop HDD is for a very different system, the work laptop BIOS nicely informs me I'm crazy, and asks me if I'd like to go into BIOS Setup instead of trying to boot. Exactly what I want. Try to disable the User HDD Password, and the IBM BIOS Setup Utility tells me I can't do that without first entering / unlocking with the Master HDD Password. Try every password I can imagine I could have set the Master HDD Password to, to no avail.

By this time, I've gotten thru to the first level of Dell support, and have been basically told to GFY. Push back and the support tech says he shouldn't even be talking to me, as he's just a "home / home business rep", and can't see my records, as I purchased it through their Business group. Cool - this laptop was part of a "home PC program" thru my work. Cool part is the Business techs tend to be a bit more savy.

Get thru to Business support group, explain my problem to the guy, going back to the home laptop being totally dead, due to a melt down in the power system, and explain to him that all I'm trying to get from Dell support is if they ever set a Master HDD Password on these machines, and if so, what the heck is it. This was a fun process, as the Business support tech wasn't just a script reader, like the first two I dealt with on this issue, but knew less about these things then I did. So I walked him through how what a HDD Password was for, how it's setup. How I should be able to disable it, but it's not working, and the BIOS utility is telling me I need the Master HDD Password.

This process takes about 30 minutes, as the tech support guy chats with me for 2-3 minutes, taking notes, and then going off to talk with some more senior one, and coming back with either more questions, or things to try that I tried 3 days ago.

After the 3rd or 4th round of this, the tech comes back and says "the whole reason you're doing this is because of the laptop not working. Tell me again how it's not working." So I go into the story, in more details, including my wife using it at the time, low battery beep, plugging in the cord, no joy, then burning smell and scream from the Mrs. (LavaN that is). Tell him what I tried to get after that, and how it always comes back as the laptop ain't getting no juice. Which is why I opened it up, and am trying to download the data onto the desktop.

Off again to chat, back online, making sure that no one was hurt, there was no fire or anything. Says they have an unusual response.

  1. They never set Master HDD Passwords, so don't know what it is, so from here forward, there's nothing they can do to help me with that.

  2. But, they are concerned that the laptop failed in this way, and if I'm willing to accept that they might not be able to give me an identical system, they would like to send me out a replacement, and one that I should be able to plug the existing hard drive into and boot and have all my data.

The replacement may take 2-3 weeks to get here, as Inspiron 500m / 600m / 700m systems haven't been built for a while, but he thinks they should be able to find one and get it out to me pretty quick. No cost to me. Sorry for the problems.

So - just when I thought it was safe to really start hating Dell, they do this.