Sunday, October 30, 2005

Item Roundup

Alvis really loves the broadband connection now for our internet. She spent 2 hours on the Disney site playing flash-games.

Why the switch? (Besides--I mean--the slow Windows Updates downloads, DAT file updates, security patches, etc...?) Well, we had been on dialup forever, and I really had been hoping for DSL through our local phone company. They have been bombarding us by phone, at the storefront when we pay our bill, etc. trying to get us to sign up. Only problem is that we live too far away (while still located in the middle of the city no less!) from their current DSL system extension. So they keep telling us that it should be extended "soon". That was over a year ago. We gave up. Called our cable provider and got a self-install kit. They gave me everything I needed (except for a 50' cat-v cable--yeah, I didn't feel like running a new coax cable extension). It was up and going in about 30 min as posted. Too bad for them. We didn't even sign up for a traditional "ISP" I just have an IP connection, a master account e-mail address and 4 sub-account e-mail addresses. To be honest, I probably won't use them. G-Mail rocks.

Tech food:
  • EULA Analyzer: this freeware tool lets you cut/paste any "End User Liscense Agreements" you get with software into it and highlights any passages you might want to give attention to. Interesting little application. Here is a link to some of the crazier things some software developers want you to agree to before using their software.
  • EICAR virus test file: this item allows you to safely test the functioning of your anti-virus software. It is a harmless file designed to trigger an anti-virus alert from your software. Just attempt to download the file and your AV program should catch it during the download. That's good. If it doesn't, then you should try seeing if it finds it where you downloaded it during a full AV scan.
  • DFK Threat Simulator: WARNING!!! If seeing how spyware / malware / trojans / keyloggers can thrash your system, stay away. Although the file itself is harmless, it illustrates the war for your pc in a very real way. If you want to know just what is out there waiting to pounce on your unsuspecting pc, at least read the illustrated guide. Scarry stuff. You've been warned!
  • Delta 32 gene: Scientists are using information from the Black Plauge to help understand and combat HIV infections. PBS site.
  • Trojans (as in computer security): I spend time each week cleaning these things off workstations. Ughh. Here is a very basic primer about what they are.
Question of the week: How do you manage your bookmarks?

In playing with the beta build of Flock, I was prompted to set up a del.ici.ous account that keeps any bookmarks I make accessible to me on the web. Good idea. However there is a lot of mixed feelings about and social bookmarking. I haven't set any up. Don't know if I will. There is no security at all are open to viewing. I've been considering making a post on the blog that contains the hyperlinks to my bookmarks/favorites. That will accomplish the same thing, and be accessible to me (and all of you) anywhere on any pc. If you collect a lot of bookmarks/favorites, making sure they are still "live" and haven't changed can be a real pain. I use AM-Deadlink freeware to keep tabs on them. Their most recent version is 2.7 and has lots of good features. It can work with Internet Explorer, Opera, and my favorite, FireFox. Check it out. I learned I have over 550 bookmarks/favorites. Gads!

See you in the skies.

Saturday, October 29, 2005

Got Broadband?

We do (finally)!

Took about 25 minutes to set up myself: 10 min running cables, 10 min troubleshooting lack of connectivity (nic enabled but conflicting with the modem as the default), and 5 minutes setting up the account.

Some tweaking still to go....

Longer post tomorrow. To much fun surfing much faster than dial-up (but still not as fast as my T3 at work......)

Zooming through the skies!

Sunday, October 23, 2005

We Love our Katamari!

Alvis has a Playstation2 (2ndGen). We play Grand Turismo 4 and Kindgom Hearts on it a lot. She has some others, but those two games get the most gameplay. I have seen the little gem called Katamari Damancy for some time, but it wasn't high on the "get" list. Yesterday we finally picked up a copy of it and it's sequel. I don't think we have turned off the PS2 in over 10 hours! It is a really cute game and the music is a jazzy fusion. It can be played in a 1 or 2 player mode. Even Lavie picked the game play up and had a hard time setting it down for the Astro's game. (That's some serious conflict!)

Funny Bits!

Did you know that a guy sunk the Mark Twain riverboat at the DisneyLand opening ceremony? Yep. Read his account!

President Bush to throw out 1st through 120th pitch of World Series game (seen on The Onion).

Inside the hidden gags and jokes of those old Loony Tunes cartoons. Enlightening stuff.

Now to the Tech Stuff!

  • Have you heard about Flock yet? It is (basically) a re-package of Firefox 1.5 (Beta) designed for power bloggers and bookmarkers. Some of the features it uses are kinda different (making "stars" instead of bookmarks) but it does have some redeeming values. I loaded in my XP system with no problems and it seems to run well. I created a account. (more here.) Played with it for a while. I haven't tried the blogging feature yet. Blogger Paul Stamatiou gives a really good rundown on it with helpful screen captures. It is still in Beta and reports are that it is kinda crashy still. So just beware and consider it testing still with some planned features not yet implemented in this build. I'm sticking with my FireFox builds (1.0.7 and 1.5 RC2) for blogging still--but I will be keeping an eye on this one....
  • has released version 2.o (Final) of Open Office. It is on opensource (freeware) build of a full featured office suite. Check it out.
  • In the get it before it's gone category--check out ShrinkTo5. It is a DVD backup program. Now--to confess--I don't have a DVD burner yet. That is on my "purchase soon" list. I only have a 16x CD burner and it is killing me now. I use a 52x (cd-writer) at work for my image building projects. Prices on DVD burners keep marching downward and I even saw a 16x dual layer burner reviewed the other day. So, I can't comment on this software yet, but it is open-source.
  • DeepBurner is another similar application. It has a Pro ($) and Free version. Also neat is a Portable offering that you can store/run off your USB drive. Cool!
  • Moving on, we discover that VMware has released a freeware "virtual machine" player. Virtual machines are basically a virtual computer running on your real computer. It is a good way to isolate operations on a "pretend" computer so you don't mess yours up. We like to run virtual machines when we examine suspicious files, malware, viruses, etc. That way if the software croaks the system, it is just the virutal one and not your real pc. Neat! Microsoft has a version called Virtual PC. Note to self: see if the bosses can get a copy or two of this for work.
  • A while back I mentioned that Microsoft has an XP PowerToy called Virtual Desktop Manager. I had been using it on my laptop, but eventually decided that while it was cool, it just didn't really give me any enhancements besides being able to switch between four different desktops. So I uninstalled it. And soon was presented with lots of Blue Screens of Death. Not cool. Bad. Very Bad. Especially if you are a SysAdmin. And it's your own pc. Bad. So I eventually resolved the issues by reinstalling my video drivers. Lesson: if you decide to install the virtual desktop manager powertoy and then pull it off, go ahead and reinstall your video drivers just to be safe. It does make sense that the app would plug into the video display files, but why it would corrupt the settings is beyond me. Consider yourself warned.
  • Crimson Fields--it's a strategy game like the old war-game board-games I used to play as a kid. Freeware. Screenshots.
  • FileCommander--a freeware Windows Explorer replacement tool. I haven't tried this one yet. I prefer FreeCommander myself and use it heavily instead of Windows Explorer. But this take has 4-pane view if that is your style.
And for my gem-find of the week: Notepad2. It is well worth replacing your Windows Notepad application with this thing. Freeware and Awesome!

Next post, a review of the anime movie Kumo no Mukou, Yakusoku no Basho (The Place Promised in our Early Days). I finished watching my DVD last night. Very poetic. Very sentimental. Very beautiful. Very deep.

Now on to the laundry....

See you in the skies!

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Saying "goodbye" yet again...

It's been a busy week since the last post. On Monday I worked a full day then jet-setted out of Hobby Airport to St. Louis with my brother leading the way. He's a little younger than I am, but much more "outgoing" then I am. As a first-born, I tend to be much more conservative. I don't fully buy into this birth-order stuff, (one more look) but we do seem to follow some general patterns it espouses. It had been over 10 years since I last flew. I wasn't nervous at all about flying--I had flirted with attending the US Air Force Academy after high-school. No, it was my concern about navigating successfully through all the check-points and gates and being were I was supposed to be and not create problems for anyone else by being late or doing something stupid and creating a social/traveling blunder. My bro was a great guide and got us through it all wonderfully. What a dude!

Anyway, the reason for the sudden trip to St. Louis was that my paternal grandfather passed away and we wanted to support our dad and grandmother. My paternal grandparents live in Jefferson City, MO. It had to have been over 20 years since I last visited their city and home. Driving it to Jefferson City was very strange. I have grown up down here in the Houston area my whole life. This is my home. But driving through the city, going to the funeral mass, visiting with the was like being home. I don't really believe that places can imprint on our genes, but it was very wierd. My paternal family has always lived and grown up in that area. I am a 7th-generation German-American. My ancestors lived and died up in Missouri. The reason I ended up down here in Texas was that dad took a job with an oil-company after he got out of college and the service. The memories I have of Grand-dad are of his basement filled with very old issues of Popular Science and Popular Mechanics, a giant HAM radio (he was an accomplished ham HAM radio operator all his life), and his deep voice. I am still getting to know the man he was through my conversations with his son, my father. I learn more with each conversation, and more about my dad as well.

So we are driving the streets and the whole place feels like home. The style of the houses and buildings, being in the Catholic church mass (I'm Protestant now...and by the way...their mass didn't include the Apostle's Creed. Is that left out now? I was amazed at how much of the mass I remembered! It all came flooding back in a warm way.)

Then there was the pace and look and feel of the city. It was weird. I met up with all of my cousins who I haven't seen or spoken to for so long. The whole experience has left me very reflective. We always felt relaxed and comfortable going out to Kerrville, TX to visit my mom and maternal grandparents, but it really wasn't the same feeling. I guess I can explain it like this, out there with them, I always felt the deepest connection with the people--not so much the place. They were always moving so it wasn't where I was at with them that mattered. Just that I was with them. With my dad's parents, they almost never moved (at least as long as I knew them). Grandma's house had gotten smaller (I had gotten bigger) but the place didn't seem to have changed much in all those year. I don't know. It's just weird knowing that you have a whole "other side of the family" and home that I don't experience much. I really need to do better. I guess it's an "Ohana" thing.

So now I need to add Missouri (Jefferson City) to my short-list of places to relocate to if ever Lavie and I decide to do a major relocation in our lives away from Texas. The current list (mine-not Lavie's!) stands as follows: Hokkaido-Japan, Alaska, Idaho, and now Missouri. Go figure.

Technology bytes....
  • So I owe my bro an apology...while waiting for our flight back home Tues night, he was wondering what Apple's big announcement that week was going to be. I told him I doubted it would be a video-iPod. Wrong. It was. Some links: Apple iPod video, discussions on the subject, how to put your own DVD/video on the video iPod (for MAC users, for Windows users)--I'm sure more guides will follow.
  • Topic two we discussed--what does the alliance between SUN and Google mean? Sun is vague with their annoucement. Slashot comments. Something of a merge between the word-wide access of Google portals and a blend of Sun's Looking-Glass project and OpenOffice on the fly? From any pc--anywhere in the world? Right now, it's just a Google toolbar with Java technologies. Tommorrow?
  • If you run Windows and have patched your system with the latest critical updates that were released last week, you might want to be aware that one of the updates could break your pc. We are focusing on MS05-051 as the culprit. SANS has some info here, or go direct to the source at Microsoft.
  • Mark Russinovich over at SYSinternals (home of some awesome freeware power-tools for your pc) has a very good blog. His latest posts discuss the Windows registry as well as using some of his tools to troubleshoot Windows Explorer lockups. Neat learning material for all you System Administrators out there.
  • Another neat freeware tool for doing CD/DVD images that I came across: LC ISO creator. It lets you create an ISO image from a CD/DVD-ROM.
Harry Potter Notes:
Today's Still-To-Do List:
See you in the skies.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Stung, then stung again...darn it!

Saturday, Lavie, Alvis and I went up to Lavie's parent's home to help them clean up their backyard from the damage Rita did a few weeks ago. I was able to get the big oak limbs off the wellhouse roof. A branch knocked a small hole in the roof of it, as well as broke a few rafters loose, but patchwork should be quick and easy. After much work, Lavie's dad got the John Deere tractor working and we were able to haul off about 8 very large oak-tree branches that came down.

Alvis rode around on the riding lawnmower--hauling a trailer of smaller twigs and branches to the dump-pile.

On the last oak-branch pull I was walking back across the back yard and felt a tickle in my glove by my wrist. I looked down and saw a yellow-jacket crawling around inside it.

It's funny how the brain works for different people in certain situations. Very clinically I looked at it crawling around in there and thought, "Gee, it sure is pretty, but shouldn't be there." I flicked it out and it swung back and landed on the back of my leather work-gloved left hand and began to sting it. One part of my mind is thinking "I don't feel any stings inside the glove where it was." The other part was thinking, "it can't sting through the leather--isn't it neat watching it try, but I better get it off". So I pulled it off with my free hand (still gloved) and flicked it to the ground.

I still hadn't moved yet. I was standing still, facinated with these beautiful insects. Then my exposed calf caught fire.

I looked down and there was another one. This one had gotten a good sting into the flesh of my calf muscle. So it is burning and I reach down and flick it off. Now I begin to walk back to Lavie's dad on the tractor--so I can warn him. I get about half-way to the tractor and feel a slight prick just above the high-top work-boots. There is a third yell0w-jacket attempting to sting me through my bunched up sock. He gets pulled off and flicked away. So now both my legs are on fire.

I hobble inside the house and Lavie's dad puts a poultice of snuff on both the bites. They are like hot pokers. Lavie looks at me and asks if I am alergic to insect stings. Good question. I wrack my brain and eventually remember getting stung by a wasp as a kid several times when I was playing inside some stacked concrete drainage pipes awaiting burial in our neighborhood. "Nope!" I say with reasonable confidence.

Luckily I have a pretty high tolerance for pain so in another 15 minutes I was bummed, but otherwise ok. Later than night I found a third sting on my bum--so I guess I really was bummed! These appear to be the same ones that stung the dog during "Rita Watch--Day 7". Lavie's dad vows to get-em!

Hornet resources:
Shortbreak tech cookies:
My gasoline bill was up an extra $100 last month. Bummer. Stung yet again! No more anime/manga for the month--darn it!

See you in the skies.

Saturday, October 08, 2005

From Parrot Icons to Space: 1999

So I'm tripping the rift and in my wanderings check in over at my occasional desktop haunt of Pixelgirl. They mention icon design contest winners, so I take a peek at the offerings. In the submissions (mostly for Mac) is a set of cute Parrot Icons.

That reminds me that I haven't dropped in at the gang at The Iconfactory for a while. While looking in their icon showroom, I see a new set from the TV series Space: 1999.

I was much younger when Space: 1999 aired on TV. Kind of a post- Star Trek thing. It had really cool minature-model work for the special effects. One episode (Dragon's Domain--I think) had some kind of alien life-form living that would grab the poor human victims, eat them, then spit out their bones as a skeleton all folded up into a carry-on-luggage sized package. To an impressionable young kid, these were images of the way-disturbing kind. Cool! And that whole Eagle Transporter ship they flew around in. Neato!

Some sites are up (in various degrees of maintenance) for this series:
See you in the skies.

Monday, October 03, 2005

Credit where credit is due....

In my post for Saturday 10/01/05 "It's all about Appearances..." I displayed a screenshot image. The screen capture image I posted came from work done by captain on his post. In it he (?) isn't able to give a link to the desktop image he used. Don't know if this is the exact same one, but after a little Google-work found a German site "Die Raven" that had that file used in a Linux screenshot, with a link provided to the image file itself.

The actual historic image that inspired it was by Katsushika Hokusai (1760-1849). It is known as The Great Wave Off Kanagawa (Fugaku sanjurokkei: Kanagawaoki namiura).

Alvis says that it is one of her favorite ones. Mine too.

See you in the skies,

Sunday, October 02, 2005

The Diogenes Club
"There are many men in London, you know, who, some from shyness, some from misanthropy, have no wish for the company of their fellows. Yet they are not averse to comfortable chairs and the latest periodicals. It is for the convenience of these that the Diogenes Club was started, and it now contains the most unsociable and unclubable men in town. No member is permitted to take the least notice of any other one. Save in the Stranger's Room, no talking is, under any circumstances, allowed, and three offences, if brought to the notice of the committee, render the talker liable to expulsion."
from the story "The Greek Interpreter"
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes

A place to hide. A place to nest. A place to retreat. This is something we all long for. A little zone of peace in a mad world. Just like those abandoned in place spots, places like these--or at least the idea of places like these--attract me. When I was attending classes at UH-Park campus, the upper floors of the library had some really secluded desks and tables. It was the perfect place to settle down to study. Almost nobody got up there.

When the little town I live in just outside of Houston finally got it's own Starbucks I thought Lavie and I had found it. I imagined quiet sit-downs sipping coffee and making notes for a novel--ala JKR. Unfortunately, it is across town--so much for unplanned visits--and 3/4 of the town also had the same thought. Some new enterprising individuals are coming up with alternatives for the former Starbucks crowd. Check out these new hangouts: theOffice and Paragraph. Are these cool or what? (Thanks to TinyApps blog for the links for the quote and sites.)

Animal Crackers:
  • freeCommander--the best windows file manager tool (along with A43) has a major update released. This is a really good one. It is faster and the icons/buttons have been upgraded.)
  • Awesome file security application/wipe tool Blowfish Advanced CS. We use this to encrypt financial data stored on our drive. (Note: the main download site is down but you can find it on C|net.) How to guide.
  • Article about the cat and mouse battle between rootkits and their detectors.
  • Article about the resurgence of rootkits.
  • While hiding out at the Diogenes Club, going to do work for my full-time, part-time-job with these guys. Ever since they hired me, they refuse to tell me where to report to work or where their office is!
  • animefringe is closing down after December. I have enjoyed their site. Simple but thoughtful anime and manga reviews. Good luck guys and gals!
--UPDATE TO YESTERDAY'S POST--Lavie's parents now have power & a/c!!!! The well pump needs some additional assistance, but should be pressured back up by the end of the day! Thank goodness! I wonder if they would be willing to consider a solar-powered water-well setup? Link#1, Link#2, Google Search Link.

See you in the skies!

Saturday, October 01, 2005

It's all about Appearances....

It's been on the record for some time that I like icons, desktops, and other neat eye-candy for the pc. I haven't gone to dual monitors yet, but that's just due to desk-space limitations, I've got the hardware ready. However, sometimes too much can be distracting. When I get XP on a new machine, I like to strip it down to more of a modified W2K/Classic setup. I keep a handful of icons on the desktop, and quite a few more down in some custom quick-launch bars in the task-bar. That's it. In Linux, I generally prefer Fluxbox/BlackBox desktop interfaces rather than the gorgeous KDE. It is almost too beautiful. I'm more of a ZEN type of guy. Simple, functional, inspirational--in perfect ballance.

Now, I generally use Linux at work only for data-rescue circumstances. Imagine my surprise the other day when I ran across a Windows shell tool that re-creates the BlackBox desktop experience on a Windows pc! It is called bblean. It doesn't need to be "installed"--just unzip, add some extra modules if desired and click-to-go. If you really like it--set it to run at startup. If you get tired, quit it and your Windows GUI returns. NEAT! The Wikipedia has an entry for it with some good links for more modules and stuff. You can really get out-of-hand if you aren't careful--thus loosing the "simplicity" of it all.

I've been playing with the Microsoft XP Virtual Desktop Manager Power Toy on my laptop. It is pretty cool, but the more I use it, the more I'm just not sure. I will keep it going for a while to see what I think. You get 4 "virutal" desktops you can select. Keep Internet apps on one, network apps on the other, etc. Even have a different desktop on each one. Seems mainly for people who use too many windows open at the same time and don't like overlap, or those who can't decide which desktop image to use.

As previously blogged, I've been playing with Firefox 1.5 Beta 1 (a.k.a. Deer Park) for some time. I really am impressed with this build. If it works this well now, I can't wait for the final delivery version. However, I was chicken to install it over my 1.0.7 version and sometimes it doesn't play well installed in two locations. John Haller has made a "portable" version of it (and some other cool things too). Use this one to avoid conflicts...and if you copy for 1.0.7's profile folder (just follow the instructions on his page) into it, you can preserve all your bookmarks. Neat. Thanks John!

Dad has been talking about getting a new digital SLR (DSLR) camera body so he can use his SLR lenses. Dan's Data has an awesomely deep and headache inducing DSLR camera primer about why one should (or should not) get a DSLR camera and blows away some false expectations about them. It might be good to review for those coming from the SLR world into the DSLR camera world. This guy is awesome and witty (Aussie). I might just add his banner to the list.

Spybot S&D Updates are failing pretty hard right now. If your do as well, just keep trying. After a couple of days trying (both at work and at home), I finally got one of the european servers to deliver a good set of updates. Maybe they are facing a DoS style attack. If that still doesn't work, go to the main download site and download the detection update pack manually from there.

Shortbread cookies:
Lavie's parents in Liberty County still don't have power. It has been--what a week?--since it went out. It has been hot and breezeless. I hope they get power soon. Good people, them. Us? We're a/c, no power, no running water...time to move.

So, after riding out Rita, just what would to take to design and build a hurricane resistant house?
Chores calling--need to finish pickup and recovery from return from evacuation....

See you in the Skies!