Sunday, August 27, 2006

Files and Folders Managed.

See previous post.

I finally got my Files and Folders situation managed. It took part of the afternoon, but it looks to be in much better shape that I had hoped.

I ended up using the software category listing on portablefreeware as my model. I kept the major categories and then made additional sub-folders accordingly. I didn't use all they have, but most of them. I also added some more specific breakdowns for my applications that they don't have categories for. Took me a while to make all those folders and sub-folders, but it wasn't as dreadful as I expected.

I placed them all under a master folder called "Standalone Applications." This is to differentiate from those programs that are installed into my system and kept in the "Program Files" folder.

I then went through all the various folders I had scattered the programs into and then transfered them into their new homes.

Finally, I had to deal with all those Windows shortcut links I broke in the process. I took a two-prong attack to address this issue.

First, I just clicked all the shortcuts I could find that I could see were broken. In most cases Windows did its search and was able to quickly locate the file's new location and fixed the link. In a few cases I had to browse for where I had moved the file.

Second, I then had to find all the buried shortcuts that I have long since forgotten. How to do that?

Option One: Run a Windows file search for *.lnk files and then check them all out. Negatory, private! Too much work! Drop and give me 30 for even thinking about this!

Option Two: Use ToniArt's EasyCleaner (freeware). Helpful application that does ton's of Windows system cleaning activities. One of which is to find invalid shortcuts. Except that it seems to be limited to the locations it searches shortcuts for. A good similar application is CCleaner (freeware). (Also in a "portable" flavor.)

Option Three: Use Digital Architects Orphans Remover (freeware). Wowzers! This baby rocks! It will scan just about every location on your system, or custom locations. You can have it scan specific folder locations as well. I ran it and it very quickly located 445 invalid shortcuts on my entire system! I then was able to go through and either let Windows validate the correct locations (some were worth doing) or just delete them individually or en masse. Sweet! This little gem is staying tucked away on my system for sure! It's to "shortcut cleaning" as AM-Deadlink is to "bookmark cleaning".

In no-time flat I had all my shortcuts validated and my pc housecleaning was completed.

Bonus Tool Tips:

Duplicate File Checkers.

I had expected I would need to find where I have duplicate program files, but in the end, I had very few. I had one tool on standby: Double Killer (freeware).

I also ended up locating another beautiful program: DupKiller (freeware) . The website is a little slow loading, and I recommend going for the zip file download (as opossed to the .exe version) but once downloaded and installed, this is a kick-butt gem for finding duplicate files on your system. The GUI interface is very nicely designed and the tools are very logical in placement. It really ripped across my system in almost no-time flat. There are a ton of options and filters you can set. Faithful fans would do well to add this one to their utility list. And yes, you can copy the application's program folder to another location and uninstall it, then run the copy. It doesn't write to the registry (that I could tell by monitoring) and you can save the preference and settings file to anywhere you want.

Registry Monitors

When I install and use a new application I like to see what it is saving on my computer. Two tools that I use to monitor my registry are MJ Registry Watcher (freeware) and WhatChanged (freeware). WhatChanged allows you to take a "snapshot" of your registry, run a program or process, then when you are done, take another snapshot and compare the two for registry differences. Simple. RegWatcher monitors the registry (and other areas as well) and alerts you when items are written and logs them. It has an extensive number of options and configuration settings, but remains very simple to use.

Finally, if you want something with a little more meat and potatoes, check out Epsilon Squared's InstallWatch. The page is way-short of any useful information so this program is really one stumbles upon by word of mouth. Check out Tejas Consulting's review of it from 2003. It seems to be a very balanced review.

If anyone knows of any additional "system snapshot" tools like these, feel free to drop a tip in the comments.

See you in clearing skies,

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Where is Brave Shakespeare?

It was too much to watch last night!

The dreaded Lazuli gang of meerkats found the Whiskers' burrow. Shakespeare was driven deep underground to protect his young charges alone by himself. The Lazuli's leader Big Cy led the final attack against the youngsters. When the dust cleared and the returning Whiskers drove the Lazuli away the tiny kids emerged, looking no worse for wear.

But heroic Shakespeare? He was nowhere to be found! I was hollering and screaming! How could they end it this way?!!!! Where is brave Shakespeare? Did he survive the battle? Is he OK?

So ends the first-season of Animal Planet's Meerkat Manor.


Reason #5

Reason #5 why I should have been a geology major in college.

I could write prose like this:

"All are contact metamorphosed to some degree by post-tectonic granites, the strike direction is again northwest with a vertical cleavage."


"Unusual orbicular granite formed by coronas of reaction rims of oriented hornblende formed around xenolithic inclusions, unfortunately not found in place. Is it pre- or post-tectonic?"

and again,

"That there can be so much dissent about a simple, well exposed granitic pluton of modest dimensions, makes one despair for the future of granitic petrology. One cannot help remark that confusion might be less if people read the original definitions!"

Oh well...

I don't get the lingo, but the pictures on the The Ross Sea Dependency including Victoria-Land Geology page are really spectacular. (Click the pictures to load large-size images.)

I really love this one. (Sled-dogs ahead!)

From the Ross Sea - Antarctica homepage.


File and Folder Management?

At work this was a week from h-e-"double hockey-sticks". Battered and bruised.

Got to finally make a stop in Pearland--first visit there. Almost stopped in at the Busy Bee Cafe but I had worked way through my lunch and didn't have time to spare. Hollered a good karma "Hi There!" thought to blog-master Jim Thompson anyway even if he couldn't hear me.

I've set to brainstorming a way to re-organize my application file storage organization on my drives. I've got a wonderful scattering of program files and folders scattered across them. I have an "archive" partition that I'm keeping old copies on. I have a "downloads" folder where I try to keep recently downloaded files/applications while I am testing their usefulness. Eventually, I move them over into a "Utilities" folder with sub-categorized folders--or delete them if they don't really deliver the goods.

I think this will still work, but I just need to clean house and reorganize the folders.

Another problem is that many of the programs I use can be "installed," then the installation folder copied to another location, then the first copy "uninstalled." Finally, I run the application from the copied location without it being fully hooked onto my system. I then end up creating lots of links all over the place to launch these things.

As it stands now I have a series of desktop located folders filled with shortcuts to the tools and programs I'm using frequently (or don't want to forget that I even have--which I tend to do!).

So I am going to have to commit to using either PStart (portable version) or Launchy (or something similar) to manage the application launching in these specialized folders; this would be used to list ALL of them. I also need to find a good software category listing somewhere to help me come up with practical names for the sub-folders to sort the different applications into logically.

Then I can use RK Launcher as my "most-used" app launcher for the handful of utilities and applications I run regularly.

Why not just leave the apps installed and use the Start menu? Heck if I know, but that's how I like to run my systems....and this is the price!

I'm open to suggestions and techniques any kind Grand Stream Dreams blog readers might use as well on how they organize their file/folder structures. I'm not talking about "eye-candy" like color-coding folders, etc. But the actual folder and program file organization itself. How do you effectively manage what you download and use?

Proud moment of the week: PortableFreeware accepted my submission of RK Launcher for inclusion into their "portable-applications" listing. Got a number of positive feedbacks on it. Nice. That's the 2nd one I've submitted that they have liked enough to add. I have a few more I'm planning on offering, but I don't want to wear out my welcome!

See you in rainy skies today,

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

HTML Coding Aids

Just a quick post.

Here are some HTML coding tips I've encountered this week. I had to do some HTML code tweaking in the Microsoft Live Writer blog tool and I needed to understand the differences between the hex code color values and the RGB code values.

Color charts via Doug's Home Page:

RBG Hex Chart
RGB Decimal Chart
Color Definitions

VisiBone Popups: "The HTML Popup is a tall skinny on-screen quick reference showing all HTML tags and attributes in use or universal. It includes color-coded indications of support by Netscape, Microsoft Internet Explorer and W3C, plus style sheet alternatives, and bug and clash icons with details online." Links ot HTML Popup, Hex Color Popup, and Decimal Color Popup. Also allows for desktop installation of these reference tools.

I really find the HTML Popup resources very nice.

Visibone actually publishes a wide range of foldout cards, charts and posters for web designers. They have some quality looking materials here.

Effective Style with em: Post about using em units to scale text for best web-display. Even if you don't do too much web-coding or are just a beginner, this is a good article to read.

Monday by Noon has a number of helpful articles regarding Web standards, semantics, accessibility and design. The articles are generally useful and seem easily approachable by Web design novices. I've been stopping by more frequently. Check out their article list.

Happy Web designing,

Monday, August 21, 2006

Back on the Carafe - Part II

I've generated some nice comments on my earlier post "Back on the Carafe."

One commentator recommended I check out Japanese Green Tea Hibiki-an; a family owned tea leaf farm in Japan. I dropped by their site and they have a beautiful selection of teas, gift boxes, and tea ware. In addition, their site is loaded with information and tips about teas. Their site reflects a desire to simply shipping over here to the States. I was very impressed. I plan to place an order soon and will let you know what I encounter.

Harmon kindly recommended I try using a vacuum pot to brew my coffee and offered some whole-bean choices. I haven't tried using a "larger" style vacuum pot setup. I'll need to look into getting one to try out.

That got me reminiscing and surfing.

My father-in-law gave us a small aluminum style vacuum brewer for espresso. I really enjoyed the small size. It worked great. I'm not sure where it is right now, however. The Coffee Kid wrote a couple of very nice articles regarding vacuum coffee brewing interested folks might want to check out: The VacPot HeyDay and VacBrew Method.

If vacuum brewing your coffee isn't quite your method, I Need Coffee offers Six Coffee Brewing Techniques. Of these, the only ones I haven't tried yet are "Middle Eastern" and "French Press" methods.

I do see they left out what I call the "Cowboy Coffee" method. (Did I read it in a Larry McMurtry novel or see it a Western?) Anyway, my method of "Cowboy Coffee went like this. I was desperate for coffee, I had beans and a grinder, but no filters and didn't feel like dragging the 12-potter out and making do with paper towels. So I filled the kettle up with water, ground down an appropriate amount of beans and dumped them in the pot. I brought the pot to almost a boil, then took it off the burner to sit for about 5 or so minutes. I then got our finest strainer and poured out the coffee through the strainer into a big mug.

It sufficed. Not one of my prouder coffee brewing moments, but it did the job in a pinch. Alvis was intrigued by the whole production and found it quite amusing.

I think a lot of cowboys sufficed on coffee in a similar way. Except I don't think they used a strainer. I want to say I saw one wind-mill it around in a circle a few times to help the grounds settle to the bottom of the pot.

Now this got me thinking about that scene in "City Slickers" where they can't figure out where to plug in their coffee making gear....moving on.....

When I'm not buying and using "cheaper" bulk style coffee like "Folgers" I do keep a bag or two of whole-bean coffee around. I like to have one caff and one de-caff variety. I don't usually get more than one bag of each so I can cycle through them while they remain relatively fresh. That also helps me to keep the variety flowing.

Lavie gifted me a wonderfully classy and lovely Zassenhaus 151DG box hand coffee grinder for our first anniversary. Searching the Web, I discovered that it is now very rare and hard to come by as they don't seem to be producing many (any?) for export right now. It produces a very nice medium-fine grind (on the setting I use) and filling the hopper to just below the lid provides the perfect amount of grinds for my 4-cup drip pot. There is something very satisfying getting up on the weekends and hand-grinding my own beans; feeling the crunch of the beans as they grind up is very neat. EspressoZone has a wonderful page showing many of the other Zassenhaus hand box grinders.

When I first "got into" this coffee thing, I picked up a Braun coffee grinder. You kept the beans in a hopper, set the grind setting from "crouton" to "powder" (not really but pretty close). I used it for quite a while, but eventually got rid of it. It was too loud, too hard to clean, and pretty messy.

Alton Brown (Food Network celebrity chef) is one of my heroes. I love the balance of food science, history and clever commentary and cinematography he mixes together. Anyway, Alton loves a good "multi-tasker" in the kitchen. So I've found the Braun coffee mill a very useful appliance around our house. It is much quieter than the grinder, and I can use it for coffee beans, spices, powdering (dry) oatmeal for soothing baths...the list goes on.

Growing up, my first coffee experiences were with coffee percolators. I really didn't know there were many other ways to make coffee besides these. My parents and both sets of grandparents had a beautiful chrome versions. I think they were Sunbeam models. I would watch fascinated as a child as they assembled all the parts together, added the water and then coffee to the basket. Then lock the lid and wait for the splashes of coffee to appear in the crystal topper. I'm not sure when I was introduced to drip coffee makers. Probably later in high-school or college.

Jitterbuzz has a great look back in time on some coffee paraphernalia. Fun old magazine ads, various hardware and pots, some schematics. I'm getting nostalgic. For more coffee nostalgia, stop in at 1aaa American Green Coffee Beans Coffee Brewers page. The font and page layout needs some serious updating but the pictures are pretty neat to look into.

This Victoria Arduino Athena Classic lever machine for making espresso looks classy and just something Claus would encounter. I love this design style with the brass and copper, the levers and tubes. It looks almost Steampunk. (Steampunk FAQ) More beautiful coffee appliances can be drooled over from the 2003 HOST exhibition in Milan.

Methinks, time to go make another pot.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

20 Free Ways to Pimp Windows XP

1. RocketDock (freeware) - This is a sexy application! It does a really good job of simulating the Apple Dock feature. Mouse over any of the icons and they will smoothly zoom larger for launching. Add your own applications for launching. Customize the skins. Supports multi-monitors, alpha-blended ICO/PNG icons, transparency, auto-hide. It's super-customizable. I just wish that the developers would add a way to lock the horizontal size and allow the displayed list of items to be scrolled.

2. RK Launcher (freeware) - Oh, Baby! Kiss Me! Another very beautifully crafted application that simulates the Apple Dock feature. Here is a nice almost perfect OSX Tiger theme for RKLauncher you can use instead of the standard default one. The really nice feature of RK Launcher is that it unpacks to a folder and is "standalone" meaning it doesn't install into your system. That always gets very high marks from Claus. This could be a very sexy alternative to Windows Quick-Launch bars.

3. Samurize (freeware) - This tool provides extensive desktop enhancements for system monitoring; including meters for CPU utilization, network traffic, disk access, system temperature. In addition to clocks, weather docks, news feeds, and a ton of other widgets. It is very easy to get started. There are a wealth of skins. Once you get used to "programming" it, you can really go crazy.

4. Folder Marker (freeware) - With this freeware application for Windows, you can quickly apply custom colors to your folder icons, select up to 10 additional custom icons to apply to folders, and apply categories and sub-menus to your folder icon choices.

5. UberIcon (freeware) - from the makers of RocketDock, this application adds some more fun "effects" to your icons when you launch them, including iZoom, iBounce and FlatOut effects. All fun aside, the iZoom feature might be useful to some "older" users who might have trouble visualizing the icons on the desktop but don't want to crank up the icon size setting in Windows.

6. PlacesBar Editor (freeware) - Tired of being forced by Microsoft to use those "handy" commonly used locations when you are opening/saving a file? Mine were "My Recent Documents, Desktop, My Documents, My Computer, My Network Places." Only I don't use two of those, ever. Now I have Desktop, My Computer, My Documents, Downloads, and Claus Utilities! This mini-app allows you to select ANY folder and exchange it for ANY of those listed (although you must have just five). Nice!

7. Yahoo! Widgets (freeware) - Formerly known as Konfabulator. This application provides the user a choice from over a thousand specialized applications that can reside on the desktop. Most are very pretty, many are actually very useful. A (very) small sample include games, news feeds, picture frames that feed images to your desktop, calculators, notepads, web-mail checkers...the list could go on forever. Really polished widgets here.

8. BB4Win (BlackBox for Windows) (freeware) - If you like a lean and mean desktop "windows" manager, then you will likely love BB4Win. It is heavily reminiscent of FluxBox or BlackBox for Linux systems. Fully customizable. Light and fast. I've been able to run successfully on both Windows 2000 and XP systems. Also: bbLean (freeware). This one can run off a USB stick for portable usage--or use it on your system proper. UPDATE: Harmon kindly pointed out in the comments that BB4Win is no longer being supported. Somehow I missed that fine detail when I checked into the link. Try using bbLean and you should be just as happy. Comparisons to bbLean and the Linux ones noted still apply closely.

9. Glass2k (freeware) - make any window transparent. Simple? Yes. Cool? Oh yeah! Really handy if you run dual monitors and have multiple applications open, but you don't want to hide that wicked-pretty desktop wallpaper.

10. TweakUI (Microsoft freeware) - I know that probably most every XP/Windows2K user who has started customizing their desktop already has this Microsoft application already. Right? Nope? Oh my gosh! Go get it now! It is really almost a mandatory MS PowerToy enhancement that allows you easy access to desktop and system tweaks that would normally only be possible through registry hacks. Similar tool: XPredit.

11. Change XP Log On Screen Colors (registry hack) - Tired of that same baby-blue color on your XP login screen? Need something different? Did you know Microsoft actually has three default "shell styles" for XP Luna? Homestead, metallic, and NormalColor? It does!

12. Change your XP user account image (system tweak) - Don't feel a duck, frog, or chess piece really represents the true l33t skillz you have as a computer user? Don't settle for the pictures Microsoft gives you, make and set your own! Simply and quickly!

13. (hacks, software and tips) - Tons of useful registry hacks, user tips, and software leads. For starters, since we are on the subject, start out with the User Interface Tweaks page. Explore the additional categories at your leisure.

14. Toss out the Start-Run method of launching your applications. Yes. I've put RocketDock at the top, but there are a slew of additional ones. Scott "Computer Zen" Hanselman guides you through the best.

15. Google Desktop (freeware) - Can't mess with Windows and not mention something from Google. Gadgets, clocks, meters, media player launcher, birthday reminder, sidebars, search enhancements, Google integrations. Whew! Do these guys ever sleep?

16. FlyakiteOSX v.3.5 (freeware) - I haven't tried this one yet, but it sounds pimp-a-licious cool!. When you click in, don't let the login screen fool you. Just enter any username you want and "log in". You will be treated to a gorgeous Flash environment. Use the menu bar at the top to select the page items to preview. This is amazing stuff! Note: This does some MAJOR system changes to transform you XP system to a truly complete OSX style. Only use if you are very brave! From the developer: "FlyakiteOSX is a transformation pack. It will transform the look of an ordinary Windows XP+ system to resemble the look of Mac OS X. The installer simply automates the process of replacing critical system files, setting registry tweaks, and installing extras such as cursors, sounds, visual styles, etc. In case you are not happy with the results of FlyakiteOSX, everything is completely removable. Just run the uninstaller from the Start Menu or from Add/Remove Programs."

17. Mod your XP Theme (freeware) - Some good sites are ThemeWorld, DOWThemes, and ThemeXP. Note: Some theme packs may require supporting theme manager downloads that may be free or $.

18. Change your XP Boot Screen (freeware / hack) - (DANGER! Will Robinson! DANGER!) Don't mess with this unless you are just really a l33t system haxor. Back up you system. You can also try the freeware "Boot Editor" program. Read the tutorial. More here. See also LogonLoader (freeware).

19. Replace those Icons (free) - Get the best selections of quality icons from InterfaceLIFT, PixelGirl Presents, and the fine folks at the IconFactory.

20. Replace those wallpapers (free). Get your quality wallpapers from InterfaceLift, Wallpapers Zone (NSFW),, WallpaperStock, MyDesk Display, deviantART (dual/multi-display desktops!), Freddie's Wallpaper (Anime), AnimeWallpapers (Anime), PixelGirl Presents, and Digital Blasphemy.

Yes, I know I've left out sounds and cursor mods. Those aren't really my things to pimp in XP. I have some "custom" sound events set for startup, new mail, and shutdown sounds on my machines, but that's it. And I've cleaned way too many pc's at work off that had unauthorized versions of CometCursors. The standard Microsoft cursor offerings are just fine with me.

Have fun, just pimp with caution!


Saturday, August 19, 2006

Successful Shuttle Upgrade


Ran by the local BigBox electronic store. Picked up two 512MB sticks of Kingston DCC PC3200 memory. Before I left I checked online and they also had a Sony (52x32x52) Internal CD-RW Drive (Model: CRX230AE) for about $50.00. Last one on the shelf. I use both TDK and Sony burners in my desktop machines at work and have been very pleased with them. The selling point on this one for me was actually that it was a "short-form-factor" drive. Which means that it is about 1-1/2" shorter in length than standard CD-R units. I didn't get a DVD/CD burner combo as I only sometimes watch DVD's on the desktop unit and Lavie's laptop handles dual-layer burning just fine. I just couldn't stand burning data/backup disks on the Shuttle at 10x speed. Ughh!

The NerdUnit (from whom I had to get my memory in the store) helpfully asked if I wanted them to install it for me as it was a "pretty technical process". I politely told them (without even smirking) that I did system and desktop support and thought I could handle it. He grinned and asked if I was interested in joining them. Thanks, no. (I prefer a more corporate/enterprise working environment.) Nor was I very impressed with the hard security-software sell they were laying on the nice woman who was trying to get her pc checked into. She seemed to be resisting NerdUnit extra-service assimilation pretty well, though.

Note to self: Make up some GrandStreamDreams business cards to hand out...

Anyway. I got home just as Lavie and Alvis were leaving (Lavie doesn't like to be in the house for some reason when I am upgrading hardware components on the pc.) I've mellowed out considerably now that I have both her laptop AND Alvis's Linux box to use as backups in case something goes wrong.

Which it did; Expectedly.

I opened up the case, took it outside and blew the dust off (minimal this time).

I pulled out the two 256MB old memory RAM sticks and placed in the new 512MB sticks.

Removed the dial-up PCI modem card. Didn't seem needed at the time any longer. Might put an extra USB expansion PCI card in there eventually....

Modded the case (put a strip of tape across the open slot as I couldn't find the original steel blank plate and didn't want to impact the airflow in the tiny case with that big open slot in the back).

I pulled out the long and heavy CD-R/RW unit and dropped in the short and light new one.

Plugged it all back up boot.

I had expected this. Really.

First thing was to swap the old memory back. Nope. Nada. Swapped the new sticks back in.

Then I yanked the power off the CDR (this Shuttle model only uses a 200W PSU). Maybe this new one took more juice.

No boot and no post.


Pulled all the system-board connectors and resnapped, just in case something was pulled loose.

No boot and no post.

I could see a friendly green LED light lit on the systemboard so I knew it was getting power.

Finally I just started mashing the powerbutton and after a minute--bam. It sprang to life and did a good boot.

Since I upgraded the RAM, CD-drive and yanked the pci-modem card, Windows XP required me to "re-activate" my copy. I did and it took with no problems.

I had to uninstall the old HP DLA (drive letter access) software and the old Nero version before I could install the new Nero and DLA software. Rebooted with no issues.

It is running fine. I can't say for certain that I am noticing any performance gains just yet. I work hard to keep the system apps and processes only to the bare essentials so it was pretty quick before. Probably when I move to more multi-window work will I begin to see a difference.

And why my ongoing issue with this Shuttle not always booting?

Only thing I can figure is that there is a leaky capacitor somewhere on the systemboard. I had to RMA my first Shuttle unit after a month because it never would end up posting/booting. I'm not an electronic component guy so I can't say for certain, but an "older" team-member in my group who is suggested that. That makes sense as to why sometimes when it acts up I can get it booting again my leaving the power button held in. It finally builds up enough charge to kick off.

Most days I don't have any issues, but sometimes I do.

Like I said...I've come to expect this behavior now and can cope.

I would replace the PSU but it is a special-slim model and I don't know if hanging a standard PSU unit outside the Shuttle's micro case would be that safe--or even if that is the problem.

Oh well. It's running fine now. Upgrades succeeded. Lavie can come back into the house with confidence.


Saturday Duties

Alvis survived her first week of 7th grade. She seems to be fully confident now with the Jr. High stuff.

Her new desk is working out well and she is lovin' her flatscreen monitor and PCLinuxOS system.

I can't say the same thing for our entry-hall. It has become a dumping ground for her school books, jackets, etc. So Lavie and I will be off to Target or Pier1 to find some large baskets/totes to place under our hallway table to collect the items as they come in. We don't really mind her placing her stuff there, it is a handy place, it is just that it seems to, well, sprawl out across the floor and if we can succeed in containing it to neatly under the entry-table, we all will be happy.

I've also finally decided to try to upgrade my Shuttle SK41G system's memory to 1GB. I've been running it at 512MB since I built it and it has been fine--not slow or anything. However, it is very picky on the memory requirements and I've been watching the memory for it get harder and harder to find. So I think I will bite the bullet and get two 512MB sticks. I don't need more than 1GB RAM (nor do I think it can handle more than that). When we build my brother's Shuttle system, we didn't check the certified memory list and what we got (Mushkin?) ended up causing the system to not even post. A quick trip over to MicroCache with the "approved" memory list for his Shuttle model and we were back to building. Dropped the "approved" memory in the system and good boot and rocking and rolling ever since.

Overall I've been really happy with the Shuttle. I love it's small form factor size. It runs quietly. Expansion sucks. I have room for one HDD, one optical drive, and one floppy bay. I have a very slow HP CD-R/RW drive in it. I have a DVD player as well in an external drive case, but that's hooked to it via USB. And I wish the power-supply was just a little beefier. I don't know if I will go this way again on the next system I build. I will probably go with a mini/micro-tower case instead. That will give me a little more internal expansion room and a more "normal" powersupply selection, but will still keep me in the smaller case size range I prefer for a desktop unit. And I just don't trust the current trend to power some of these SFF pc's using a power "brick" like is used on laptops when powering off an electrical plug. I want a full PSU. But for now, the Shuttle is humming along fine and Lavie still isn't ready to put up with me building a new system. So it will just be a memory upgrade...of course, if I'm going to the trouble of opening up the case...maybe I need to consider upgrading the burner unit as well...hmm..

Oh yeah. I decided I like Microsoft's Live Writer blogging tool so much (even though it is still beta) that I actually uninstalled my Performancing extension for Firefox. How about that?

See you in the skies.


Friday, August 18, 2006

Back on the Carafe

Confession time. A few weeks ago I bought a coffee pot.

See, we have this big 12-cup coffee maker. I used it for a long time, but as I am the only coffee drinker in the house (unless Lavie's dad is visiting) it was overkill to make my morning two cups in the thing. So I shelved it and switched to instant. (When I'm not picking up "real" coffee at Starbucks or McD's or Dunkin Donuts.)

I've been drinking the instant stuff for a long time. It isn't the same as fresh-brewed, but it was fast and easy. I also keep some of those "Folger's Singles" around. Kinda like coffee tea-bags.

So the other day I saw an ad on TV for Folger's Simply Smooth coffee. Supposed to be easier on your tummy (lower acids or something). Only it didn't come in instant. But I didn't want to drag out that 12-cup monster again. So I found a tiny 4-cup pot.

It's just the right size, light on the counter space takeup. and works great.

Lavie found the coffee and it is pleasantly lower acid. The taste is mild, and I perfer a darker, stronger roast, but it's fine for a first morning cup.

Only I ran out the other day and being too lazy to go grocery shopping, used up all my instant. That forced me to go back to the store today and get a new canister of Folgers.

And then I picked up another "gormet" roast while I was in the coffee section, in addition to the "mild" stuff I went to get.

Now I'm back on the coffee carafe again. It's just a matter of time before I go and start buying the whole-bean bags from Starbucks again. I could easily pass them up when I didn't have the 4-potter, now...not so easy.


The only good thing is that we don't have any coffee shops like this one nearby. Coffee House Rouen. Check out the pictures for larger views. It would be the perfect "pub-like" atmosphere for a guy like me to hang out in and get lost in meaningful conversations at. I love hanging at Starbucks, but I don't think it would be quite the same vibe. I could only imagine.

I'd have to move in and Lavie would never see me again. Alvis might visit, though. I'm pretty sure Lavie's dad would hang out here with me. He seems to be the "pub" sort.


Would I like?

When I tried to log into my Blogger account this morning it refused to accept my login credentials.

I use hyper-strong passwords on all my web accounts. You know up to 64 character, randomly generated stuff. To keep them all managed because there is no way in Hades that I can remember them all, I use KeePass to manage my passwords. So I knew that it wasn't a password issue. The login bar at the top for Blogger has a request to log in with either your Blogger credentials or Google credentials, so I tried my Google info. Surprise! It took. I was then offered the chance to switch to the new Blogger (Beta) service. I'm brave (even though it worryingly tells you clearly that you can't switch back). So I entered my Blogger credentials as requested and....rejected.

It wasn't clear to me exactly why, but I suspect it was because I also have accounts enabled for Alvis and Lavie to post to my blog under their own identities--something called "Team" blogging. Oh dear.

Of all the features that the new Blogger (Beta) service is hyping, the one that I am most looking forward to is the ability to set categories to the posts from within Blogger. There are some third-party services that do the same thing, but I would prefer to have it native to Blogger.

I must wait.

I'm still using the Windows Live Writer (beta) application and really enjoying it. I can't say that it has improved my blogging beyond using my Firefox Performancing extension, but I do like the interface and I haven't had any posting issues yet (well, besides not posting pics directly). I just really wish they would allow the spell-check to work "in-line" as I type instead of having to run on demand. I also would like to see them add the ability to re-apply font coloring by clicking the button once. As it is right now, you have to click the font-color button, select the font color from a pop-up window, then select ok. If you do a bit of specialized font color formatting like I do, it would be better to just click the toolbar button and have it provide a drop-down color slate (like Bloggers WYSIWYG post editor) or if you click it twice, it will apply the last-used color instantly.

Paul Stamatiou gives it a well written review here.

I suggested LiquidIcon XP be added to the Portable Freeware collection. I pull a lot of my utilities and suggestions from this site. I've been wanting to contribute and give something back for all I get. Portable Freeware liked my suggestion and added it. Woot!

Miscellaneous Landings:

Periodic Table (freeware) - provides detailed info on elements, images, electron shell pictures, atomic diagrams, historical info. Really cool and nice application. Alvis is really looking forward to using this with her science homework.

I've posted before about the tiny house concept. I really find this whole thing fascinating. Now comes a new design: m-ch: micro compact home. It's kinda cute, but probably not really conducive for daily/family living.

Anti-spyware/malware killer Spybot - Search and Destroy now comes in "SB-S&D - Windows Mobile" flavor. I don't use Windows Mobile, but it is nice to see their product line expanding.

Windows Folder Customizations:

I've recently blogged about customizing your Windows folders (and the pains that can go with it). I'm using the PlacesBar Editor on my home pc and Lavie's laptop and am really digging it. It is dead-useful to a power-user like myself. However, I still find customizing the folder icons to be a little tedious. Enter the freeware application Folder Marker. With this freeware application for Windows, you can quickly apply colors to your folder icons, select up to 10 custom icons to apply to folders, and apply categories and sub-menus to your folder icon choices. My only word of advice is to be sure when you are picking custom user icons for your folders, to use icons that have folders as part of the image. Otherwise you might mistake the folder for a file.

I was able to finally get Avis's iPod Shuffle to work on her Linux machine. I used and ended up finding the right iPod device USB libraries so Linux would pick it up when plugged in. It is using gtkpod and I also had to install WMMX for the song-playback. Alvis is happy as a clam as she can do her homework, surf the web, and listen to her iPod from her Linux box all the while doing her homework! More helpful info: Using an iPod in Linux, and iPod Exodus: Mac to Linux.

Art Stuff:

Alvis is in the 7th grade, but her art-teacher placed her into his 8th grade advanced art class. She is very excited about this "upgrade." I'm not aware of any other 7th graders in the 8th grade art classes.

Artist and illustrator Gez Fry's website is very cool. He has some incredible artwork in his gallery.

Cute Cosplay:

I'm not really into cosplay (the act of making and wearing a costume like your favorite anime/manga character). However the work some of these fans do is really spectacular. One recent anime series is "The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya."

Kirinon has posted some MOST EXCELLENT photos of a cute cosplayer in a Haruhi costume. She is too cute and the costume is very well done. As soon as I get done posting, I'm adding her to the Fan Service honor roll.

More cosplay fans in action at this Kirinon blog post.

See you in the skies,


Sunday, August 13, 2006

Weird XP Folder Issue--Solved!

This isn't what I was planning to post, but it was really fascinating troubleshooting adventure.

A few days ago I posted a reference to a little "tweaking" application that lets you modify the standard "commonly used" icon list that pops up when you are selecting a folder to browse or save to: PlacesBar Editor It's a handy little tool and is very clever.

So there I am, tweaking my list using the application. Everything was working fine. I decided I didn't like the plain-vanilla folder icons on the two folders I'm adding (Downloads and Claus's Stuff). So I changed the folder icons to display a little snazzier icon selection. Fine so far.

Then I save the changes, only the icon for the "Claus's Stuff" folder didn't show changed after all. Hmmm. OK. So I go into Windows Explorer to change the icon for the folder again, but now I don't have the option to change it!

And, XP is showing me two "General" tabs for the folder properties! Weird! I try several times to change it, but the system refuses to let me modify it.

Also, instead of reporting the folder as a "File Folder" XP is telling me that it is a "Folder" while viewing the contents list in Windows Explorer detail/list view.

Next, I created a new "Claus's Stuff New" folder and copied the "Claus's Stuff" folder contents into it, and then tried to delete the original "Claus's Stuff" folder. It wouldn't let me, even under command-line.

So XP was clearly treating this "Claus's Stuff" folder as a special System folder of some kind.

Looking under the two "General" tabs again, it clearly was treating it as a "My Documents" folder, even though it wasn't. How about that! But my "My Documents" folder was just fine (the "Claus's Stuff" folder being just a sub-folder of that folder).


OK. I rebooted into Safe Mode to delete that corrupted folder now that I have a safe copy of it.

Only I have a USB keyboard and I just now learned that my BIOS doesn't pick it up until AFTER the OS boots. Bummer. I tried my Bart's PE CD but same problem, I have it set to request a key press to boot the CD and if the keyboard doesn't work.....Luckily I had a PS2 keyboard I could dig out of the closet. Handy Tip: Keep a PS2 keyboard (or USB to PS2 adapter) on standby just in case if you use USB keyboards!

Once "safely" in Safe Mode, I logged in as Administrator, deleted the weird folder "Claus's Stuff" folder and renamed the copy I made from "Claus's Stuff New" back to "Claus's Stuff". I rebooted and swapped PS2 and USB keyboards back.

OK! Success! The new "Claus's Stuff" folder was now listed as a "File Folder" again under Windows Explorer! Hurray!

I went in to check the properties, yep, the tabs were back to normal and the second "General" tab was gone!

I hit the F5 to refresh and....

Bam! XP's Windows Explorer again reported the "Claus's Stuff" folder as being listed as a "Folder" and a quick check of the properties found the two "General" tabs back.

Hmmm. OK. Time to analyze the folder...

The folder originated from when I copied my "My Documents" folder over from my Win98 system. Instead of just copying the contents, I just copied the folder and then renamed it "Claus's Stuff" as a subfolder of my XP profile's "My Documents" folder. Maybe that had something to do with it.

But in my first steps, I had created an entirely new folder and just copied the contents. Was my registry messed up? Why did it keep associating this folder as being a "My Documents" system folder? Hmmm. Think.

The folder name might have something to do with it, but I didn't really think so.

Then it hit me!

Could that stupid desktop.ini file in the folder have something to do with it? I've had funky things happen at work when that file gets corruped. I checked for the file in "Claus's Stuff" folder and found it filled with custom items and settings. Hmmm. I wonder....

I renamed the file "olddesktop.ini" and then refreshed the folder. A quick check of the folder properties showed it went back to "File Folder" status and back to one "General" tab!


Because I had copied the contents of a former "My Documents" folder, I had picked up that desktop.ini file as well. The custom settings in that file caused it to identify the folder as a "My Documents" System folder, even though it clearly wasn't. That's why changing the folder itself and it's name didn't end up having any effect. I was still copying the file causing the mess along with the good stuff!

The contents of that desktop.ini file were as follows:

InfoTip=Stores your documents, graphics, and other files.


A quick Google turned up this interesting page on Microsoft's website:

Customizing Folders with Desktop.ini

"File system folders are commonly displayed with a standard icon and set of properties, which specify, for instance, whether or not the folder is shared. You can customize the appearance and behavior of an individual folder in two ways: Create a Desktop.ini file for the folder, or Create a Folder.htt template for the folder."

Lessons learned?

1) Keep a PS2 keyboard handy if you have a USB keyboard and when copying folders.

2) Make sure you don't copy the desktop.ini file over unless you just really want to!

Hope this helps someone!


Saturday, August 12, 2006

The Doppelganger Knocks

I'm kinda freaked out.

As Lavie and I were running around town yesterday she recounted the following story:

At work, one of her electrical design co-workers came over and confirmed where she had previously told him I am working. He spelled our (real) last name, and she said said yes. He asked what first name I went by and she told him.

He then told her that his wife works on the other side of Houston and once a week, a vendor comes into their office and has my same name. That's not something that you just easily pull out of a hat. Supposedly, this Doppelganger is even in my same age-range and physical build.

Lavie jokingly asked me if I had any thing to confess. She told me the company the Doppelganger works for as a vendor, and it definitely wasn't me.

We kinda laughed it off as just a probable mistake in pronunciation/spelling.

Now it gets weird.

So last night I had some free time so I used TorPark to run some non-search-page-cached web-searches on my name. (After that AOL fiasco, I don't plan on using Google or anything else like that directly to do a name search.)

It took me quite a lot of digging, but finally the 6-degrees of separation factor began to kick in.

I actually found an individual VERY close to my given name who had performed two acts of heroism a younger child and again later in college.

A little more digging found what appeared to be the high school this same person went to. In some incredible act of Internet bravery, he listed not only a physical address but a local area phone number and email address (which is just a couple letters off from my own).

This was getting kind of strange.

So I pulled out our family's genealogy history which goes way-back to our original relative who immigrated to the US from Germanic Prussia back in the mid 1800's.

I searched through all the names of family members in our approximate age range but couldn't find any matches. It is possible that someone got missed, but the family tree was painstakingly researched by my Great-Great-Aunt and I seriously doubt it.

However, in the paper, we have a copy of a letter from someone who is likely off one of the other male son's of that original ancestor. In it, he writes about visiting a particular state where his branch of our family had had a long history of settlement. It is the same state, area that this person comes from. So there is a very good chance this person is indeed from a different branch of our same family--far distant.

So what's the next move? Lavie can't wait for Monday to come so she can ask her co-worker to ask his wife to ask this person if he is the same person I found.

I'm not sure I'm comfortable sending the person a cold-call email. I'd be kinda suspicious about this, especially with the very close similarity in names and all. "Hey dude, you'll never believe this, but we got the same names and are likely from the same descendant back in the mid 1800's. Isn't that spiffy?"

We've grown up being pretty much the only kids in Texas with our last name, and now the world just got very small, very fast. I mean, it's so unusual that Lavie's co-worker's wife remembered how different it is and instantly picked up this Doppelganger's name as being the same as my own and was curious if we were one and the same.

For the very reason of the family name's relative rarity (no pun intended), I've maintained Valca as my "nom de plume" and had to pass up what would have been a pretty neat higher-profile blogging offer just because I knew I would be instantly picked out, and as a public servant, keeping a low public profile is a Good Thing.

Lavie isn't willing to take on "Valca" on a more permanent basis, so I guess I'll just have to learn to live with it.

How weird is that?

Wikipedia: Doppelganger

Friday, August 11, 2006

Friday's Finds


Just got done with some last-minute back to school projects.

1) Got Alvis a new cell phone. School district policy allows the students to carry a cell phone on campus. It must be turned off during school hours and cannot be a camera-phone. Alvis said most of the kids carried a camera-phone anyway and the teachers really didn't care as long as it was turned off. Being responsible parents, we decided to nix the plan to get the Pantech C300 phone (with camera) and got a Sony Ericsson Z300a phone (without camera) instead. She was seriously bummed out as the Sony is about 2x as large as the Pantec, but it came with jewel-stickers and that brightened her up quite a bit. By the end of the day it was the best phone in the whole world. (Sigh...)

2) Found a new desk for her. It is about 2x as big as her old one, and it has a credenza unit as well. "Christopher Lowell Shore Workcenter." It looks kinda French-country style if you ask me. However, once I finished spending 1/2 the day assembling the crazy thing, it actually looks better in her room than the smaller one she had before. Picked up a new desk-chair for her as well. Neon-blue fuzzy fabric. Purrr-fect!

3) While cruising the office supply store where we got the desk, we got a florescent lamp. I didn't realize it but it comes with a 4-port USB hub and a Cat-V jack as well. Handy for desktop access I guess.

4) I finally bit the bullet and bought Alvis a flat-panel LCD display. Lavie has been trying hard to get me to get one. The local Big Box electronics store was running a sale on a Westinghouse 19" for a price of $159 after instant $80 rebate. While digging the boxes I noticed they also had some 17" models as well but there wasn't any floor display/price to be found. I couldn't find a salesperson for over 20 min even after Lavie asked a manager...I gave up and took both sizes to checkout. Ended up getting the Westinghouse LCM-17v2 17" for just $129. The picture quality looks great on her Linux pc. It has two speakers that sound acceptable for a pre-teen's pc. No USB ports on the monitor, however.

5) Reinstalled Alvis's PCLinuxOS (Wizard's Kid-Safe) system. The installed Linux system couldn't pick up the new LCD flat-panel at the correct refresh rate. I knew it could handle it as the LiveCD worked fine. So I spend some time Googling but never could get a clear answer on how to get into the boot settings to rescan for video devices...I'm a lightweight Linux head. So I just reinstalled and let it pick up the settings for the new LCD monitor (which it correctly did!).

Friday Tech Finds:

eEye Digital Security offers a slew of free network security tools. They have some really neat "toys" here. Worth checking out if you are in charge of network administration.

Foundstone (division of McAfee) also offers a slew of free security tools. Quite a lot for assessment, forensics, intrusion detection, network scanning, and stress testing. Don't use these tools on your own network unless you are the administrator. Heavy duty things here.

OpenDNS. Tired of running into DNS (Domain Name Server) issues? When I was with MSN dial-up I was having horrible DNS resolution timing problems and they REFUSED to provide me with some of their DNS addresses so I could manually put the values in. I got them anyway ;) Roadrunner isn't giving me any issues, but if you want a 3rd party DNS service (for free), this might be the way to go. DNS servers take the and translate it into the actual IP numbers that computers use to find each other and the websites to go to. Of course, you have to trust that the DNS servers don't get "hacked" and end up routing you to a baddie site (the old DNS poisoning trick), but this might be a good thing if your ISP's DNS service is slow or picky. Worth keeping a bookmark to at least. via PaulStamatiou

Submachine 3: The Loop - fun free java based game. Really neat and clever. via Lifehacker. Ever get into one of those discussions with your significant-other, child, co-worker, etc. about what the title and artist of that last song you heard played on the radio? provides up to the minute play-list information on a vast number of radio stations across the country. They also provide top-played lists and other information as well. Very nice Web 2.0 stuff here.

Performancing 1.3 released: The fine folks at Performancing have released a new version of the Performancing extension for Firefox. It now supports plug-ins, themes and other handy elements. It remains my blogging tool of choice.

Ready for vacation time? Visit Far and Wide: The Golden Age of Travel Posters. Vintage and Art Deco style travel posters. With a little work, I bet one could make some really enjoyable desktop wallpapers.

See you in the skies,

DIY: Laptop Cooling Stand

The other night I was running a particularly long laptop session on our dining room table.

The laptop was getting pretty warm to the touch.

At work we utilize cool (and expensive) laptop cooling stands, but I didn't have one handy. What to do?

While raiding the fridge for a beverage, my eyes landed on some cookie-dough and inspiration hit.

I dug out our Pampered Chef baker's cooling rack. Our is rectangular and has collapsible stands with little rubber anti-skid feet, but even the no-stand kind would work. Just like Alton Brown, I also love a good multi-tasker!

I tossed it on the table, and placed the laptop on top (with the leg-stands collapsed). Perfect fit, stable surface and just enough clearance to let air-flow circulate better, yet not high enough to prevent comfortable use of the keyboard. The temperature began to drop pretty fast.

Cost--free--since we already had one! Would have been way cheaper than anything "custom" laptop cooling solution offered in the electronics stores.

Just make sure you take your cookies off before using!

See you in the skies,

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Boot and Rescue CD's


Your Windows system (or a friend/relative's) just took a flaming nose-dive. It has been shot out of the skies and kissed the ground horribly.

Really bad. Kick a small dinosaur bad. You know what I mean. Blue screen of death. Have I reminded you there hasn't been a backup on this system for many many years?

What are you to do?

First, resist the urge to pop in your "system restore" disk. There is a good chance it will restore your system to brand-new status--and just as good a chance it will overwrite all your data and files to the land of "you're not getting that stuff back."

Assuming the hardware is fine, you have a couple of choices:

Option 1: If you have a 2nd system handy, you can pull the hard-drive out of your current system and place it into the second system as a slave drive. That should let you recover the files off the drive and save them. However, if you aren't used to dealing with jumper settings, master/slave drive numbers, BIOS configuration and opening up your pc case, this might be to scary, even though it isn't as bad as it sounds.

Option 2: Use a Boot and Rescue CD.

My early experiences were using Linux "live cd" versions to recover data from OS damaged systems. There are tons of these things nowdays and are all pretty easy to use. A benefit of Linux is that most Linux systems can read NTFS drives of Windows machines (though writing to them is improving, it is not as easy a process). Some Linux distributions support older hardware better than others. You download the ISO file, then burn the ISO file to a CD. Set your boot order to boot from CD before HDD and you are good to go.

My favorite Linux tool for this was the Helix CD. As an added bonus, if you place the cd in your system while Windows is running, it launches a Windows auto-run menu/tools launcher that has a number of useful tools for light forensics work, while the Linux side has heavy-duty forensics tools.

Nowdays, I live by the wonderful Bart's Preinstalled Environment (BartPE) bootable live windows CD/DVD. If you have a Windows XP system, you really need to make a copy of this and keep it handy. This allows you to create an XP PE bootable CD or DVD that will give you an XP environment to use for file recovery and troubleshooting, without booting off your hard-drive. This is worth a million-dollars! It takes some time getting the hang of building this (Bart doesn't offer "pre-rolled" ISO's) so you have to do it yourself, but it is a great learning experience. And once you get the hang of making them, you can really customize the heck out of them.

Microsoft has some more information as well about this whole "Windows PE" thing Bart has based his work on.

More system rescue tools worth looking into:

RescueME CD/floppy Ultra-portable

Ultimate Boot CD for Windows Based on Bart's PE system. Described by the developer as "UBCD4Win is a bootable CD which contains software that allows you to repair/restore/diagnose almost any computer problem. All software included in UBCD4Win are freeware utilities for Windows."

Anti-virus vendor Avast! offers their Avast! BartPE specialized build. Not free, but pre-packaged, packed with Avast! AV, a registry cleaner, junk file remover, a disk checker, a secure-data shredder, a registry editor, event viewer, service/driver manager, command-line tool, a file manager, and text editor. This might be a great alternative if making your own boot and rescue cd sounds to technically challenging, but you like the idea.

If you work in a corporate/Enterprise environment and the IT Tech budget has some need for spending, seriously consider purchasing Winternals Corporate Solutions ERD Commander. Now a Microsoft product, the products aren't cheap, but are really geared for recovering critical systems from OS failures. If you can't rescue the OS with these tools, there is a very strong chance you can at least rescue the data I still carry a Winternal Emergency Rescue CD, even though Bart's PE and a few Linux disks are all the coverage I ever need. I just feel extra confident knowing I have it available.

Trinity Rescue Kit is another Linux boot/rescue cd. It can handle lots of specialized sysadmin situations. And if you are like me and like to make CD labels to match the disks, their logo looks pretty bad-assed (even it really is just a 45-LP spacer disk). Pull this baby out and your users will think you are pretty cool, whether or not you really know what you are doing!

911 Rescue CD - A number of Rescue and Boot media offerings can be found here: Per the developer's site: "The 911 Rescue CD is the Admin's Swiss Army knife it is an integrated set of software designed for the emergency situations when the system doesn't function properly or when assembling a new PC and no pre-installed operating systems or software is found. The 911 Boot Disks are a set of startup disks based on the ModBoot framework, they have mouse-driven user interface and greatly simplify the process of setting up and recovering failed systems, and allow the user to diagnose problems and assist in the fixing steps." Give them a closer look.


There's a great listing of Boot Disks and Utilities over at Spyware Warrior.

Good luck!

Learning to Shift Gears

A few days ago, Alvis and I were hanging out in my Saturn in the family doctor's parking lot. We had arrived very early and didn't feel like sitting in the cramped waiting-room area just yet.

So we hung out together, finishing up a Sonic chocolate-pie shake, watching the fluffy-white clouds against the blue sky, and listening to the radio.

While we were hanging out, she asked about the shifter. (My Saturn has a 5-speed manual transmission.)

I showed her how the gears are arranged, explained about why there are multi-gears, and then let her shift through the gears. She found it all really fascinating. Lavie can drive a standard-transmission also, and I find that a wonderfully attractive quality in a woman for some reason.

Manual transmissions are really not that practical in the Houston area for daily driving. Nothing as fun as having to ride the clutch in stop-and-go traffic for an hour in a Houston traffic jam. But then racing up and down the gears when the road is clear is still just a wonderful feeling. There is something delightfully tactile to me about the experience. Hitting the shift points, tossing into the next gear, feeling the clutch firmly grab the clutch-plate. Wonderful!

My first experience behind the wheel as a child was with my grandfather. I was probably about eight or nine and spending the summer with them on the road. We were at an Airstream rally and he was helping one of his buddies jump another car. They were both busy getting the cables arranged, and Grandpa felt I needed to keep the engine revs. up for them. So I was placed behind the wheel and told to keep the revs up. I mashed the accelerator down and the truck's engine roared and both their heads popped out from behind the massive truck hood! "Hadn't I ever driven before?" Grandpa's friend asked me in all seriousness. My heart racing, I manged to nod "No!" Grandpa patiently gave me some pointers and stepping down on the accelerator like it had a bag of cotton-balls on it, watching the newly understood dial on the dash called a "tachometer" I proudly held the revs at 1500 RPM. Nice!

I remember discussing with Dad why his blue Pinto had three petals and mom's Buick had only two. (Did Dad need another brake?) Oh! The clutch! Never got to shift the gears on the Pinto, though.

The very first time I got to actually "drive" was courtesy of our back-yard neighbors. They were a really cool "Cajun" family. We were running around with them (I must have been 14ish) in their really cool Jeep and 4-wheeling in a big field sometimes used for neighborhood baseball games, other times used as a runoff-retention area. Mom-Cajun asked me if I wanted to drive the jeep. Ummm. Not really. Upon learning that my declination was based on a mixture of fear and lack-of-experience I was encouraged into the driver's seat and coached in clutch operation and shifting. I think I lasted for about five minutes, never getting higher than 2nd gear--but it was neat and exciting--especially since it was in an open-top Jeep.

Dad ended up teaching me how to "really-drive" and handle a manual transmission. We had built a MG-TD roadster replica (based on a VW chassis) as our father-son bonding project. I think it was a 4-speed. Anyway, he had to teach me how to work the clutch, shift and accelerator. We practiced in the parking-lot of the neighborhood elementary school. I had been driving automatics with my newly acquired permit for some time, but this clutch-thing was a new experience.

I shut down the engine more times than I'd like to admit the first few days of practice, dropping the clutch too fast, but gradually I got the hang of it. Before long I'd figured out the magic dance of the pedals. And within a few months had even gotten the whole "down shifting into turns is WAY better than breaking" thing. Especially in a sporty MG-TD convertible replica.

I've never looked back.

Almost all my vehicles since have been standard-transmissions. I went for years in my last vehicle (before the Saturn) in an automatic and wanted to get one back. Luckily the Saturn dealership had a 5-speed. I was nervous in getting behind the stick again, as it had been over seven years since I last drove a manual--and it came back in an instant! Delight.

Although I'm not looking forward to Alvis being old enough to drive, I am looking forward to teaching her the joys of driving a stick-shift transmission. And she can't wait.

See you in the skies,

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Tiny Tools for Techies

Don't I have anything better to do with my time than keep feeding the animals?

Yep. (Alvis and I are playing Zoo Tycoon together today...)

Here are some tiny tech tools that just might make your pc life a little bit easier and more productive.

Replacing Start Run - The Quest Continues via Scott "Computer Zen" Hanselman.

These applications he shares are alternatives for digging into that Windows Start Menu button system; including such gems as Slickrun, Colibri, Find and Run Robot, and my favorite, Launchy.

Check out Pegtop's PStart as well. I've recently switched to Pstart from Remora USB Quick Launch as my USB file launcher of choice. If you're just a little bit clever, you can also use PStart to auto-launch CD-R contents on auto-play.

Do you do a lot of copy/pasting of file/folder path-names? I do. Enter Suresh Online's Clip Path. This is a handy little Shell Extension program that allows you to capture the entire path to clipboard simply by right-clicking on a target file or folder. Nice! Just download the zip, unpack it and right-click the .inf file and select "install." Then it's good to go. Via Lifehacker.

I found this cool little Microsoft toy the other day: Microsoft Exchange Server Error Code Look-up

"Use the Error Code Lookup tool to determine error values from decimal and hexadecimal error codes in Microsoft Windows operating systems. The tool can look up one or more values at a time. All values on the command line will be looked up in Exchange's internal tables and presented to you. If available, informational data associated with the value or values will also be shown."

What that means is that if you have this tool, and come across some strange hex-code error hash in a Microsoft app, just feed it into this app via command-line and it will spit out some (hopefully) more useful error code description. The title and Supported OS say it is for Exchange and Windows 2000, but I've found it works just fine for XP as well. More examples of usage here on Valery's Blog and over at The Tech Republic.

PlacesBar Editor. Mad Dog Sofware (freeware). Tired of being forced by Microsoft to use those "handy" commonly used locations when you are opening/saving a file? Mine are "My Recent Documents, Desktop, My Documents, My Computer, My Network Places." Only I don't use two of those, ever. This mini-app allows you to select ANY folder and exchange it for ANY of those listed (must have five). Nice!

Got a big text (.txt) file (say.....AOL data?) and your notepad app is choking on it trying to open it because it is just so big? You need to look into JR Split File. Handy tool to chop up those houmongal .txt files into custom-sized pieces.

And how does one handle renaming the pieces into a better format? Pick any of these clever file renamer tools. Many can handle batch processing of files as well.

Rename Master
Ant Renamer
Oscar's File Renamer

And if you need a renamer application more geared for image files, check out FastStone's Photo Resizer

My two favorite file management utility programs (I almost never use Windows Explorer any more) got updated recently: A43 and FreeCommander. Check them out.

OK, now let's leave the tools and check out some games.

Like space adventure/campaign games? Check out Vega Strike. Think retro-quest adventures like you played on your Commodore are still cool? Then you want the King's Quest games. More of a side-scroller? Sound's like Atomic Butcher [Das Humankapital] is the game for you. More? Boats, Submarine Warfare, Mutant Camels, and tossing paper wads.

That should keep you pretty productive.

See you in the skies,

Monday, August 07, 2006

AOL's Pandora Project - Part II

OK. I took a look, a glance, a mere peek into the AOL user data. The data contents are massive.

And scary.

After just taking a few random shots around the data, here was my response....

I secure-wiped the files from my drives.
I shredded the CD-R media I had used to transfer the files from the desktop.
I think I need to go visit the confessional tomorrow.

Wow. Got some messed up stuff in 'dere. Poor folks.

Now, granted, it wasn't all muck and stuff. There were quite a lot of "normal" search pattern queries. What was really freaky was how a user would be in the middle of a "normal" search run and suddenly go completely off into la-la land, then come back on track.

And how the subject matter under a single (anonymized) account would show one type of search pattern at one time of day, and an entirely different one at another. Different users under the same login-name, perhaps?

Address. Names. Locations. Subjects and particular activities. Sure hope all those things weren't related. I'd be worried if my name showed up in there. That's for sure.

Some really freaky stuff, man.

I really hope that some of the searches out there were just innocent queries by "aspiring" authors doing research for crime novels...God help us if they weren't.

I am also beginning to wonder if the reason why Google didn't want to release its data to the DOJ wasn't so much as to protect search engine trade secrets and the like, but more to prevent fear, panic and the end of modern civilization and trust in the Internet as we know it if it ever got out.

Bury the stuff deep within Yucca Mountain.

That's what I say.

Let the DOJ and other investigators do their jobs with the data--under a legally obtained warrant--and God Bless them for it.

Feel like Captain Willard (Martin Sheen) coming back from dealing with Colonel Kurtz (Brando) in Apocalypse Now.

Heart of Darkness stuff here. You've been warned.

Don't think I'll talk about this subject again.