Sunday, March 26, 2006

Tech Potporri


Lavie's got the only car (I may get a rental tomorrow) right now. It is a lazy Sunday. Cool. Breezy. Bright. I'm too tired to take a nap. Alvis has decided to re-arrange her bedroom (this is a childhood milestone) so her clothes, gear, stuff, furniture, etc. is strewn across her room and the hallway. But she is making good progress. On top of that, she is 2/3 done with a school project we need to finish up today. I haven't hit the "concerned parent" level yet, but we are getting closer.

One of the very first things I used to do when I got a new system was to slap a firewall on it. Now our systems are sitting behind a hardware router/firewall. But a good firewall doesn't just keep stuff from getting into your computer, it also monitors and limits what gets out. Back when I started, the big test to run on a system was Gibson Research's LeakTest. Still a handy tool. However, the baddies have gotten much more clever at attempting to evade firewalls. A new site I discovered recently is Firewall Leak Tester. This site state's its purpose is to not only provide a multitude of outbound traffic firewall tests, but also to give a comparison between different firewall products. I found it to be very informative. Some user's might not care, but I still find that a firewall is a must, and that outbound monitoring is as important as inbound traffic monitoring. All too often I have caught "legit" applications attempting to "phone-home". How well does your firewall solution stack up?

Another important task when trial-testing software is figuring out where it goes on your system. I wish more vendors would write software that unpacked into a central program folder then used an .ini file for it's settings, instead of heavy registry modifications. Anyway, to find out what a program really does when it installs you need to be able to compare "before and after" lists of what files and registry settings got installed, modified and changed. The program I prefer to use is called Install Watch (from Epsilon Squared). This is a free application that takes a system "snapshot" prior to software installation, then takes another post-installation and shows you the differences. It is wizard based so it is very easy to use. A review here. A second product I have recently seen is What Changed (from Vista Software). It is also free. The interface is very simple and plain but it gets the job done. It is a standalone exe file so no system installation is required. Great to keep handy on a USB stick.

If burning media is your thing, consider adding BurnAtOnce to your bag of tricks. It is free software that supports CD media and (with a little update) DVD media as well. It can even make bootable CD media. Also don't forget the handy Folder2Iso freeware. A standalone .exe file, you arrange a folder (subfolders/contents) and then point this app to it. It will create an ISO format file that you can then burn or use with virtual drive software like Daemon Tools. I find these two applications are very handy when planning out and testing software tool cd's at work. I have saved a ton of $ on bad-cd burns by making test images and testing them virtually.

Lifehacker has a post on how to "Set up a home wireless network." Even though Lavie's laptop has wireless built in, I still am not ready to install a wireless router. This guide does give you a pretty good idea of the steps you will need to take putting one in. Eventually I will probably install one. I have heard good things about this model. Leo Lapore and Steve Gibson gave me the idea of cascading routers on a home network to isolate components. I have my cable modem, next would be the wireless router, and plugged into that would be my current router. That should (theoretically) prevent anyone from accessing the router downstream (were that to happen) but I guess someone could (wirelessly) sniff the traffic from the bottom router coming up the pipes if they cracked the wireless security. Anyway, I like the idea of the convenience of a wireless Internet connection, but still (even with it locked down) I have some concerns. Has anyone actually tried putting home routers in series this way?

It appears a new Ghost in the Shell movie is in production. GITS: Solid State Society.

Additional GIS:SSS linkage from DannyChoo:
GITS:SSS--models and drawings,
GITS:SSS--promotion trailer (video!)

Finally, Lavie is working hard at getting up to speed in her desktop publishing assignment. She is close to getting approval for the purchase of an Adobe design suite. Her employer might also set her up with a second workstation--Apple style! Cool. One of the neat things she uncovered was a site that uses web-magazine publishing software from NXTbook Media. Sample from Slick!

Anyway, Drawn! had a post about a technical drawing illustrator Kevin Hulsey. His site has some awesome work, but as an added bonus, he has a "students page" corner where he shows some l33t graphic arts techniques in technical illustation. The best part is his two-part step-by-step walk through of a cruise ship cutaway illustration.

I hope you also enjoy the new Blogger picture of us in the top-left column. Lavie thought a family "photo" would be nice--so there it is!

See Ya!

McDonald's Premium Roast Coffee: A Review

McDonald's hit the news recently with the introduction of a new Premium Roast Coffee to their menu lineup.

I recently had the opportunity to pick up a Premium Roast model and check out its performance. This review was mentally composed over the span of 6 hours while monitoring a network drive being restored from tape-backup. (It failed--by the way--and we gave up trying to restore it.)

The Case:

For this review I chose the Small Form Factor (SFF) case version, also known as "small." McDonald's also releases their new roast in a Mid-Tower unit (medium) and a Tower unit (large). I really liked the portability of the the SFF model. It was light and very portable. Colorful graphics splashed on the case proclaiming its features reminded me of the "Intel Inside" label days.

The cover lid had a modern, high-tech design. It used a screwless assembly that made removal a snap. Access to the contents was quick and allowed for easy user modifications and hacks. More on that later. To prevent energy leakage, the designers made a handy swing-away port feature. It is a tiny square that covers the primary port, but can be flipped back and snapped into a recess to keep port access unrestricted. I found the snap to be very pleasing, but easy to disengage. Most of McDonald's competitors do not have this port cover feature. I have only seen it used on one other vendor's product.

Case sides were thin but sturdy with no sharp edges or join-seams. They are slightly textured and the grip was comfortable.I was unable to get the case to leak any contents while using no matter what location the portal was oriented on the case. This is important because I have used Starbucks case model many times and found that if the access port is aligned over the case seam, product leakage often occurs with sometimes bad consequences. Ergo-dynamic design allowed me to sample product with confidence and not worry about being choked with too much output, even when hitting a bumpy section of roadway.

The Contents:

Version 2 of McDonald's Coffee has been promoted as a much richer blend then their version 1 model. Color was much darker. The taste change was notable. It was much stronger and heavier a flavor. But the acidity level seemed mild. I would have to say that it was smoother. Temperature was sufficiently hot. After a number of sips, I decided to do so user-hacks. I went for the two-sugar, two creamer hack. Modifications were quick due to the aforementioned lid design. The hacks brought the flavor in line with a heavier General Foods "International Coffees."


When the system cooled off, I performed a quick "reboot" in the microwave. Performance when re-heated was not too bad. Because the contents were not in an insulated case, performance drops quickly. The caffeine content--although not scientifically benchmarked--seemed sufficient to ward off this coffee drinker's mid-morning headache if the regular morning "cup of joe" wasn't taken.


Overall I was very surprised by McDonald's Premium Roast Coffee. I was not expecting to be as satisfied with my trial unit as I was. The container was comfortable, though somewhat flashy. Taste was much bolder and enjoyable, but not at all bitter. It had "thickness of taste" (not to be confused with viscosity). Too many times I have coffee that looked dark but tasted like watered down black-tea.

I must confess that my coffee-house of choice still remains Starbucks. The quality of the coffees, the varieties, the relaxing atmosphere and the cute baristas all make it a destination place. McDonald's just cannot compete with that (neither in atmosphere nor cute baristas). HOWEVER, I don't think their business model is to directly compete--and if so--it is going to work. If I have the family in tow and we are going to pick up a fast breakfast--I will be much more willing and likely to swing by McDonald's now instead of their other fast-food competitors. And in a pinch, if I can't find a Starbucks before I get dug into for a major project, I won't think twice about picking up a cup of morning coffee from McDonald's now.

While McDonald's new Premium Roast Coffee still will not be my primary choice of morning coffees, it has taken a comfortable lead in the number two spot.

Related Coffee Links:

Man Pursues $3.7 Million in Starbucks Ice Coffee Cold-Burn Lawsuit (yes--I get it...)
The "real" Stella's Case on the McDonald's Hot Coffee lawsuit.
Liebeck v. McDonald's Corp. [Wikipedia]
Mandolux Desktops: Coffee & Beans (triptych), Caffeinated Love (dual)

See you in the skies,

And yes...the picture above was captured directly from their Website--I didn't make it up. They are wholly responsible for that copy.

Monday, March 20, 2006


It's too late to rant. I'm too tired.

Long story short, a few blocks away from the office on my way home, I was sitting behind a stop-sign waiting to make my turn. Dude across the street at the facing stop-sign decides to pull out across the intersection (cross traffic has right of way).

Slowly pulls out.


In front of an oncoming car.

And get's t-boned.


Physics at work--momentum (or is it inertia?) causes both cars to spin out into mine.

Parked behind a stop-sign. Did I mention that already?

Woman who hit the non-yielding driver had her airbag deploy. Dude's car is probably toast.

Lots of witnesses behind me--officer has a ton of statements.

My car's front end is worse for the wear, but no pieces seem to have fallen off.

Had to have it towed to the shop.

Lavie and Alvis came by the office to pick me up and take me home.

I'm tired. Nothing I could have done. I was just parked behind the stop-sign. Stopped. Collision carried into mine.

Know how a NASCAR driver feels caught up in "the Big One" no fault of their own. Race over. Skip the pits. To the trailer, buddy.


Got home and tried to pay a bill--store closed. Sighs. Still had grocery's to buy, dinner to cook, clothes to fold. Alvis to tuck in bed.

Tomorrow I have a BIG project at work to execute. Have to borrow Lavie's car tomorrow. I'll worry about a rental on Wed. Sigh.

So, I did everything I was supposed to. I was being a defensive driver. I was responsible. Wrecked.

Did I mention I had just changed the tire on car in the office parking-lot because it was flat? Yep. Five minutes later I was wrecked. Lot of good that did. Sighs.

Topper? OK.

Dude who caused the accident is under-age. A juvenile. No driver's license. No insurance. Nothing.

Guess who gets to pay? Because I'm responsible and have my license and insurance, and everything. Yep. Me. Small claims court you say? Maybe. I will see.


Time for bed.

Wish I was a Time Lord with a Tardis. Just caught the new (to the U.S.) Dr. WHO on Sci-Fi network. It was really good. Could have used one of his sonic screwdriver thingies. Sighs.


And I really feel a deep sense of loss at having to leave my car at the scene getting towed to the body-shop.

I feel like I left a man down in the field of battle.

Stupid huh?

Tomorrow is another day....

PS.--I'm fine, friends and family. No self-body damage. Just my heart. Wrecked. I hate that.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Rebuilding Firefox and the Bitty Browser

During all the interent issues I've been having, somehow one of my Firefox extensions went south and killed some scripts that allowed me to post images to Blogger as well as the Techblog comments.

I made a backup of my Firefox profile and then deleted it using the handy run command: firefox.exe -profilemanager. For good measure I reinstalled Firefox (and the latest Java application). Then set about reinstalling Firefox and all my extensions.

That would sound like a big thing, but for two things: 1) I restored the bookmarks file from my backed up profile and 2) I keep screenshots of how my Firefox browser window is set up along with the list of all the extensions I load. Took me about 20-30 minutes to put it all back together again. Although I find I am still coming across certain "tweaks" that have to be done as I encounter them.

And the extension that I tripped over? I suspect it was Quick Java. I had used it to disable Java/Java Script as an example to show the cable technician something and forgot to re-enable it. When I finally did, that's when things stopped working. I've used it before on my other systems without problems, so I think it was just an alignment of the planets or something....

Anyway....Alvis is playing Zoo Tycoon. She is a real wonder at it. She was so cute teaching me how to play the game. She has all the the elements down. Customer happiness, firing lazy keepers, building enough restrooms and snack machines. It's a really fun game. She has my pants beat at it. I couldn't even keep a pair of black bears happy and she has a giant zoo up and running. Sheesh.

On to my Linkage pile for the week:

Wallpaper Madness!

Freddie's Wallpaper : Found during a Google search for dual monitor wallpapers. This site has one of the widest collections of the high quality anime/manga desktops I've ever found. There are some other subjects as well. Well worth a look.

Wallpapers Zone : (Warning! Not Safe for Work!) French site. Great desktops and some duals here. One section at the bottom "Erotique" and one at the top "Stars Et Top Models Femmes" might get you some skin. I find foreign wallpaper sites a great source of fresh materials. : KDE is a Linux GUI, but this site has a ton of wallpapers--Linux and not that look spectacular. I usually find Linux wallpaper sites have a lot of custom designed artwork. Very creative stuff.

File Recovery!

When you delete a file (and empty the recycle bin) a file is usually gone for good. Not really. As long as the file hasn't been secure deleted (free), and the section on the hard drive the file was at overwritten with new data, there is a good chance the file can be recovered. My file recovery software of choice is PC Inspector File Recovery (freeware). I have used it many times to recover files off hard-drives that were "fdisked" but not secure wiped. However, a new (free) Open Source offering called PhotoRec looks promising. Don't let the name fool you, it may also recover files from flash memory and hard disk media.


Flow : A beautiful Flash based game where you guide a little organism to eat stuff and grow bigger. [via: downloadsquad]

Ubuntu is a Linux build that is growing in popularity. They also offer a "Live Linux CD" you can boot most systems with . I was reminded by AMCP Tech Blog that Ubuntu offers to ship you free sets of the cd's. Really Free. A long time ago I ordered 10 cd's from them and sure enough, I got a big mail-pack a few weeks later. No charge. So if you can't download a Live Linux CD and still want to try it out, check out Ubuntu ShipIt.

Speaking of Linux, the folks at show How to Run Linux on a USB stick. Handy and pretty easy guide to follow. If your motherboard supports USB system booting, this is even faster than a Live Linux CD.

Got a SATA drive and want to plug it into an USB port? Ever resourceful, Dan's Data has the product you need: USB 2.0 to SATA converter.

Merijn (of the number one, pro-grade, malware removal tool HiJack This) has just released a new version of his StartupList tool. Very nice addition to your malware whooping bag of tricks.

Koma-Code has a freeware app called USB ToolBox 2. It attempts to be an "all in one" solution for applications. Just download and install the file on your USB stick and all your handy apps are in one place. It isn't my cup of tea, but someone might find it useful.


One of my email accounts has been getting a steady accumulation of phishing spam. I've been doing my net-civic duty and reporting these offenders to the respective banks' anti-fraud departments. SANS has a great article about a new technique financial phishers are trying: Get 'em to take a survey!

Windows Defender error 0x80004003. Invalid Pointer: Fix? Try manually setting your scan drives first. More helpful tips and searches in the Microsoft AntiSpyware Forums.

ProBlogger does a review on Performancing's Metrics tool. This is a statistical tool for bloggers similar to GoogleAnalytics and MeasureMap. I actually was able to enroll in this one (unlike those other two...) and am finding it very nice and easy to use!).

TagCloud. Nice and fun little enhancement for bloggers. Publish to your own website.

Weird but Fun:

The Pi-Seach Page. If you are into Pi then you must see this fun site.

Below you should see the Bitty Browser (embedded) in action! Might be handy for some bloggers. I chose the TechBlog for my homage example, but you can configure it to anything you want! Play around with it below. Scroll, browse, etc.... Neat huh?

Another small form factor (SFF) pc decorated in anime images: Pimp my Cube.

For the Japanese fans:

Elegant Obi's for Summer. These are the cloths that Japanese women use to wrap around their kimonos.

And as they say....That's a wrap!

Time Warner RoadRunner -- Gold Star Service


The cable technician arrived at about 10:30 am.

He went right to the cable modem box, unhooked it and did a line test. Looked good. Went back to the van and brought back a brand new--new circuit board fresh smell--cable modem 1/3 the size as the original. He said that the older ones were refurb/recycled and they were starting to fail. I can attest that the old one was VERY warm--I made sure it was stood on it's side to get maximum air flow. Plugged it in and connected the connectors. A quick call to HQ to have the MAC address reset on our account and BAM (Emeril quality) the net was back in blazing glory.

I surprised him by doing my system's IP renewal via command-prompt (DOS). That got us chatting about the impressive dual monitor setup my bro. set me up with. That led to malware discussion and shop talk. I ended up giving him some malware-busting pointers for his own pc and pointed him to some open-source apps he likely needed to try on his system.

Once we got done with our "war-stories" he went out and checked all the cable-splitters and such on the outside of the house. It's a real rat's-nest. Each technician has his own standard and it really showed. We traced out them all, and he pulled the dead ones. Then he replaced all our splitters with shiny new ones and put "weather-proof boots" on all the coax connections. That had the effect of boosting the cable (TV) signal strength as well so the (analog) cable quality is much better (ie. clearer)--bonus!

A few last minute tweaks on his network side and we were ripping. Time of entire service? About 30-40min with an extra 20 min of shop-talk tacked onto that.

Results? A new speed test showed my Kpbs rate on the test maxed at over 13344 Kbps. Yes. That is on the home-level TW Road-runner service--no typos. Average rate appears to be around 5000-8000 Kbps consistently. Sweet.

Also, he says that the RoadRunner IP's are indeed "dynamic" and can be reset by leaving your cable modem unplugged for a while and/or that Time Warner itself recycles the modem periodically to force an IP change. Static IP's are available for business class customers. Good to know.

So I reconnected the router and got everything back and was working fine--and then....I lost IP again. Totally. UHGGG!

First place I went was to the router and changed the setting from "static" that it still was set on, to "dynamic" using the little nugget of wisdom I had gained. Yep--that did it. Only how come my router let me though using the (old) static IP of the previous modem for a couple of minutes before? I guess it took it a while to figure out things had changed.

Anyway....back up and Blazing fast.

Just in time too, DannyChoo opened up a new website Figure FM where mecha/anime/figurine fans can post their collection items.

Give Time Warner a Gold Star for their (residential) Road Runner service.

Sweet! At least one more post to come some linkage backlog to clear.

Repairs done, back into the sky,

PS. (I''ll post the picture proof of the speed test once Blogger sorts itself out again...)

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Road Runner Cable Stalling

Ok. If you don't see another post for a little while, our Road Runner cable Internet connection is almost dead.

In my March 8th post, I mentioned that I was noticing some page-load stalls. I could still get RocketBoom, but it kept freezing up on the downloads. Downloads of, well....downloads....also would get partially done, then stall out--regardless of website or type of download. Then after a couple of minutes, they would pick up again.

I called the Time Warner help desk and after convincing them I was a real-life sysadmin and did know what I was talking about, got them to run a set of tests on their end to the cable modem. The rep. reported the highly technical report analysis findings as being "all lights are green," but a little low, however not enough to be concerned about.

By the way, how can network quality lights be low but still green? Do they mean dim? I don't really approve of using a color gradient to describe network issues. I prefer technical details like packet-loss rates and Time to Live and Time data. But if colors are what Time Warner prefers, maybe they could switch to a Crayola Crayon Method: (Brick Red=bad, Mountain Meadow=good, Neon Carrot=we better monitor this.)

Anyway...I was asked to call back when I saw the problem "really bad". OK, fair enough--I'll get my daughter's box of crayons out and call back when my Internet network quality hits "Razzmatazz."

Today it is REALLY bad. Above, you can see the speed test I was running on their own site. I had a 11Kbps rate. I don't think that number is even listed on their little cool color chart. It is like, sub dial-up quality.

I did all the usual tests before calling. I checked Alvis's Linux system, Lavie's Laptop, and our XP system. All poor. Then I tried shutting down the ZoneAlarm firewall and even our anti-virus app (since I was still sitting safely behind our physical router/firewall). Same problem. Then I shut down the router and piped the signal directly from the cable modem to the XP pc. Same thing--really bad quality. Finally, I grabbed one of my Linux Live CD's and booted my XP box directly into Linux, bypassing the XP OS entirely. Same thing.

Soooo, by this point my l33t sysadmin skillz were telling me that I don't think it was my hardware or my software that had the issue. Back on the phone to TimeWarner. Got a tech pretty quickly and again went over my troubleshooting steps. Asked him to run a test down to their cable modem box. Guess what he saw....?

Yep. Packet loss. LOTS of packet loss. Way so much packet loss that they transferred me to a local office and I (hopefully) have a technician coming out tomorrow to 1) test their lines out here, 2) test their modem out here, or 3) replace the lines and/or the modem. We will see....and I will keep you posted!

Here are some "third-party" cable/dsl/network speed test links off their website:

I'm not griping. Really. The technicians got on the line both times very quickly with me and didn't waste my or their time when I explained all that I had done in troubleshooting before. They scheduled me for a next-day technician's visit (on a Sunday) and we have been very happy with our experience with Time Warner's Road Runner network service. I just hope it turns out well tomorrow. To put it in lingo I used to use in a prior life..."Time Warner now has an opportunity for customer service excellence achievement."

In other news.....Full Metal style,

I know that the TV cable signal has nothing to do with the digital Internet signal. I just am in a nervous state that the TV cable will go out tonight. It's the final episode (51) of Full Metal Alchemist on Cartoon Network tonight. It looks to be a real doozie.

So, if you missed it because your cable went is a link to an episode summary of the show....spoilers are ahead if you click...just don't blame me.

See you soon,

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Starship Dimensions

The other day while trolling around the's other citizen bloggers, I came across this fascinating link offered by Ree-C Murphey: Jeff Russell's Starship Dimensions.

Fair warning...this is a graphics intensive site. Be sure you have a good broadband connection!

Jeff has collected a vast number of sci-fi ships (and some historical ones as well) and offered them to scale for comparisons. Want to know how big the Death Star is compared to the BORG ship? This place has got you covered.

Use the tabs on the top to pick your scale. Some vessels appear on multiple tabs and some just on one so check them all out and use your scroll bars to take it all in. Wowzers!

For some scale, some earth buildings are included along with Godzilla and the Stay-Puff Marshmallow man.

If you use Internet Explorer, you can even drag and drop them to compare side by side!


Too bad they don't have any on the Last Exile vanships...oh well.

Busy skies!

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Computer Forensics and other Linkage

Back on track now.

Turned the compost and found a major-big red fire-ant nest in there. I was really conflicted. If I apply ant-killer pesticides I might harm the good earthworms and other creepy-crawlies. If I don't, The nest will get bigger and they will spread into the lawn. So I skipped that area, and turned the rest of the compost. After an hour (to let them settle down) I went back and treated the mound. I also found the starts of 5 more mini-nests throughout the backyard. I guess it begins...

Lavie makes fun of me because generally, I will try to capture spiders and crane-flies and then toss them outside. (In fact--Lavie thinks this Kleenex video is me in action!) She doesn't approve of this method of disposal. She likes the SMASH-SQUISH-WIPE-FLUSH method of insect removal from inside the home. I just have an empathic feeling for the little guys...except fire-ants and roaches. Those two groups of creepy-crawlies get the BLACK ops technique: Search and Destroy with Extreme Prejudice.

Digital Forensics Department:

I don't know if Computer Forensics is your cup of tea. Grandpa was an FBI man so I always found this sort of thing fascinating from a technical point of view. I don't get to do "forensics" work on any of our systems...we have an Office of the Inspector General for that sort of work. We just recover the drives and duplicate them for the OIG team if requested. However, if you are interested in this sort of thing here is some linkage.

Helix, "Incident Response, Electronic Discovery and Computer Forensics" is a Live Linux Boot CD that has just released version 1.7 last week. It is really packed with goodies. It also has an auto-run menu of software for the Windows side. But it's real power is on the Linux boot. Check it out.

Penguin Sleuth Bootable CD was one of the first Linux Live Boot CD's I came across. It hasn't been updated in quite a while, but is still useful.

Other Linux Live CD's that are targeted for Forensics and Data Recover that I am aware of: Plan-B, FIRE, Portable Linux Auditing CD (48MB), and FCCU GNU/Linux Forensic Boot CD.

So where do you figure out how to use this stuff and hone your l33t forensics skilz? Two favorite places:

My first is the team over at LiveAmmo Security News. Their blog has quite a few good items of note. The real goodies are their podcasts on Digital Forensics and Hacking Investigations. Go get some!

My second favorite hangout is over at SecurityFocus. They have extensive white papers on security and forensics. Really a great place to learn and do research using case studies.

Not quite forensics related--but informative and fun: Security Now Podcast with Steve Gibson and Leo Laporte. (I think I've already mentioned this one recently.)

Have fun! Now onto the Linkage Backlog:

Anime and Manga Department:

R.O.D.-The TV is now out as a boxed set. Kinda pricey though....I will have to eventually pick it up.

R.O.D.-The Manga is now being re-released Stateside. One more series to get hooked on here. ( Howls, Spirited, Kiki, Totoro...) News and Production website.

Software and Hardware Department:

In other news...Damn Small Linux released its Live Linux CD now at V 2.3 RC1. I REALLY like this build. It has one of the fastest boot-times for a Linux Live CD I have ever come across. Even running in QEMU virtual session. Nice work. And it still is just under 50MB in total. Sweet.

Big List of Useful Windows Software, nicely categorized by the SH/SC Wiki team.

101 Free Windows Games, arcade level quality over at the site.

Also fun, Retrospec designs and creates awesome Retro-inspired versions of games. For starters, check out Head over Heels. Great screenshots!

Ever wanted to put Internet radio songs on your iPod? Use StationRipper [via downloadsquad].

Mark Rusonovich of Sysinternals shows us how to use his powerfully awesome Process Explorer application to run just about any application in a protected-mode wrapper. This is well worth the read.

The ISC-SANS teams gives us some good security thoughts on the risks of using a personalized website portal as your start-page. Also worth the time to read.

TweakHound shares Windows XP Backup Strategies for Home Users.

Tips on managing your Outlook email Inbox from ComputerZEN master Scott Hanselman.

Quake3 on 24 LCD monitors (thats 10240x3072 resolution!). Wicked!

Science Department:

Emilio Gonzalez discovers two more asteroid impact craters. Much to the amazement of geologists...he did it using Google Earth!

Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter appears to have successfully inserted itself into Mars orbit.

KV 63: A Look at the New Tomb. All about the newest find in Egypt's Valley of the Kings.

Blog Enhancement Department:

28 Things to put in your Blog's Sidebar: [via]

The Performancing Team is developing a blogging statistics service. Looks promising.

Other Department:

Steve Rubel over at Micro Persuasion reports that ABC will be offering ad-supported versions of some of their ABC television shows for free. I could support that. Save me the trouble of VCR'ing LOST when I'm too busy.

Ok, enough fun for now.

A BLACK Friday

I did something pretty brainless Friday night....let me explain.

I picked up the PS2 game BLACK a few weeks ago. The first mission, Veblensk City Streens was pretty easy, the second, Border Crossing was pretty challenging and took me three or so days to play through. I got through missions three and four (Naszran Town and Naszran Foundry) very quickly.

I was feeling pretty cocky Friday night so I decided to head into mission five, Tivliz Asylum around 10:00pm. BIG mistake. I finally cleared the mission level around 3:00am. My head hurts. The screenshot above is from the last section of that mission. There were six "mission objectives" to get through and with a little help from my game-maps I got through the first three in less than an hour. The last three take place in a single room. Do the math on how many hours I spent gunning in that room.

My "noobie" FPS technique is generally to advance, crouch and pick of the targets at a mid-distance. Pick up ammo and health packs and advance. If you are patient (and I am) you can eventually pick off all the baddies and then advance on without being attacked. Unfortunately two issues brought that technique to a grinding halt: the Shield Troopers and the game designers. The Shield Troopers crouch behind riot shields that are pretty much bulletproof and grenade proof. To get them you have to flank all around them--but they shift position to face you. So you kinda have to dash around them, taking their submachine gun fire and then blast them from the rear. Takes a lot of lives to get past this technique. The second issue is that even though I had cleared out the primary targets in the main asylum room, they kept spilling out of windows. Around 2:30am I decided enough was enough. If I quit I would loose my progress point (one glaring weakness of the game is the wide distance between save points). So I tossed caution and patience to the wind. I just blasted my way through the troops, ignored the two Shield Troopers who kept blistering me with fire and lobbed four grenades in succession at the machine gun nest to blow it--taking heavy health point losses the whole time. It worked. The final "objective" after destroying a fortified machine gun nest is to...walk out the door! (Now is that lame or what?)

Mission over. Bed.

Oh my head hurts from lack of sleep. (Alvis woke up about an hour after I went to bed with a migraine.) I don't know if I'm up to any self punishment today. Lavie is going to eat my lunch when she reads this...I hope she doesn't ground me or take away my PS2 privileges for the weekend.

But then, mission six looks sooooo cool! The Vratska Dockyard. Boats, docks, heavy cranes...lots of "destruction objective" targets.

Maybe I'll just go turn our compost pile over to exercise, and watch the new My Neighbor, Totoro on DVD first.

In related news, Mandolux has a nice, earthy dual-screen homage to My Neighbor, Totoro I put on the pc today. Although it reminds me of those Dixon Ticonderoga yellow pencils for some strange reason.

Other pencil links: The Pencil Pages , and the Dixon Ticonderoga web site. I remember reading The Pencil, A History of Design and Circumstance in high-school (for fun-I was a weird reader growing up). It was really fascinating just how much history and design work goes into making a product we don't even think about when we use it.

My secret habit is collecting ink pens. Not necessarily the fancy or unusual ones, though I have a couple. No, I have a burning intensity to buy office pens--most notably gel-ink roller ball and porous point styles. Lavie has learned not to let me wander unattended in the pen section of major office-supply stores. (Has anyone noticed a tendency for the clips on these pens to break off more quickly?) I also like drafting/art grade drawing pens--all colors welcome. I have a giant box full of them. Alvis loves to try to dig into it and I get kinda possessive if anyone tries to snatch one. I guess it comes from a desire to be a Writer that I've had ever since high-school. They are fun and neat, but honestly I think I collect them out of a sub-conscious desire to write. I mean really short stories and novels and the such. Now if I can just break out of that fear-factor and do it.

My favorite J.K.Rowling quote: "You will meet, we've all met, a hell of a lot of people who stand in bars and discuss the novels they are writing. If they were writing they'd be at home actually writing it." From transcript of interview with JKR, Herself.

Ouch-Oh! That one both hurts and encourages me at the same time. I keep it close. What can I say? I'm a glutton for self-punishment....

Hoping you have clear skies.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo

Each year our family joins with the family of a co-worker of Lavie to make the pilgrimage to the Event known as the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo--or in these parts--just "The Rodeo". A month-long festival celebrating all that is Texas and Good.

Parking is generally off site. Attendees need to select one of many Metro Park-and-Ride lots around the city and are bussed in on public buses. Or you can park kinda close and hike it several long blocks. Fortunately (or rather unfortunately) due to Lavie's disability, we are able to park a good softball toss from the main gates in the handicapped parking.

It was a beautiful Saturday. The wind held a light breeze that worked well to convey the smoke from the barbecue pits across the entire grounds. I ended up getting a free mild sunburn. It was cool, but not cold.

The first sight that greeted us was the Reliant Stadium. This is the replacement to the Houston Astrodome. The Astros (our MLB NL baseball team) now plays in their own baseball stadium downtown. The Houston Texans (I still hate that name) NFL football team plays here. This is also where the main Rodeo events are held along with the concerts. It is massive and dwarfs the hard as that is to believe.

Upon reaching the main gate, we were presented with this massive yellow semi. It was the Build-A-Bear workshop on 18-wheels. Alvis had to check it out. I find it interesting that last year this prime piece of Rodeo event real estate was held by the Army recruiting team. What a change a year makes--or maybe the bubbly Build-A-Bear sales girls were really black ops Army commandos recruiting the next generation of elite that I think about it, there were some cammo outfits for the bears in there...

I think we spent most of the time shopping in the multitude of booths. The girls scored some crop-top denim jackets. There were lots of Tacky-Texas goods, lots of specialty/gourmet foods, loads of western wear from jackets to jeans to leathers to boots. Lots of handmade goods and a number of art exhibits. Quilts were on display. There were also some oddities such as a booth for hot-tubs, along with a boot for a new steam-iron, insole inserts, magic rubs (as in Dasterdly Dan's Magic Do Everything Snake Oil Special--guaranteed to cure every ailment). Ford (being a sponsor) had a number of vehicle exhibits: the coolest were the heavy trucks but they had cars there as well. Lots of farm implement dealers and tractors. Oh yeah, they also had some animals on exhibit. Goats, rabbits, cows, pigs, bees, chickens, etc....but who wants to see pictures of those things. Boring.

Ok, I do have to show this livestock related item. I guess it is a good thing chickens can't read or the Build-A-Bear special ops commando unit would be kickin into high gear. This was taken in the "kids educational center" and shows adult chickens eating from their feeder. Behind them is the helpful cartoon illustration teaching the kids (and the chickens) what awaits these cute and lovable cluckers the kiddies were all trying to pet. Notice the stages of chicken processing: Sedation, Picker, Eviscerator, Ice Bath, Packaging, Weighing, and Cold Storage. Damn, being a chicken really sucks. Rub it in Rodeo organizers--good thing the kiddies can read about as well as the chickens at this point.

Outside the exhibit hall is a series of tents where the more "bourgeois" eat. Here you will find the fancier smoked meats, mexican foods, and barbecues. And beer. Lots of beer. It's Texas, The Rodeo and Houston. What do you expect?

Beyond these tents are the Fairgrounds and Carnival, proper. Here is the real food. Just about everything is fried. Alvis had a fried Twinkie. I wasn't impressed but she thought it was awesome. Take a Twinkie, cram a stick into it, dunk it in corn batter, fry, eat. Yummm. The fresh-squeezed lemon aid was great (although Lavie and I would have preferred limes) and the roasted corn-on-the cob was to die for. Oh so good.

Alvis and I took a ride on the mid-sized ferris wheel. While airborne, I chanced a shot over my shoulder across the parking lot. In the distance you can see where the AstroWorld amusement park used to be. The only ride still visible is the old wooden roller coaster the Texas Cyclone. Previously, this view would have contained a large number of the steel frame coasters high into the air along with a dungeon-drop tower, the cable-car gondolas and the like. They have all now been auctioned off and dismantled. I had heard that the Texas Cyclone was too old to resell (in entirety) so it will never be ridden again. The other rides will be repackaged at other theme parks across the state and country. This is really sad. Alvis, Lavie and I had a lot of great family memories there. The land is worth too much against the value of the park income.

I'm a fuddy-duddy when it comes to the carnival games. I never found much pleasure in playing the carny games. They just seem rigged to me. I'd rather just hand the guy my money and walk away. That would be more entertaining. However it's hard to tell your kid/loved one "pass" with the colorful displays, the barking game operators, the smells of smoking meats and fried foods. How can you pass this stuff up. The past few years the carnies have kinda taken the edge of things. In most of the games, if you blow it bad, you still get to give the kiddies a "consolation prize". This being a tiny, small-scale toy/plushie. Oh well. Makes forking over that $5 spot a little more palatable.

The Rodeo proper kicks off around 4:45 each day. We filed into the Reliant Stadium with the other thousands of Rodeo/Concert goers. We watched: Bronco (horse) riding, Bull Riding, Chuck Wagon races, Barrel Racing (where the female rider races around three barrels in a timed event), Calf Roping, the ever delightful Calf Scramble, where kids get to chase calves all over the area floor and drag them into the center. If they succeed (more kids than calves) they get a scholarship to raise a cow for the next Rodeo and a chance to win a big time scholarship if it makes the grade and gets auctioned. The concert followed around 7pm'ish. Martina McBride was the artist. We lasted through two or three songs and decided to make a break for it. It had been a long day.

On the way out I snapped this picture at dusk of the mega-ferris wheel. It turned out pretty good. I think it was my favorite of the bunch.

I shot all the photos with our Canon Powershot S200 Digital Elph camera. Lavie has an older Pentax with tons of lenses. I have a Canon Rebel SLR I got shortly after we wedded. Both haven't been pulled out of their cases in years. I really am considering investing in a digital SLR. The pictures turned out pretty well, but are really just snapshot quality. I used to take much better photos but I just don't get the immediate satisfaction of film photography anymore. Besides, developing is still moderately expensive and you can't check then on the fly like you can with digital photography....I don't know. Just seems sad to have those nice cameras and know Lavie and I probably won't be using them much (if any) anymore.

Cowboy/Cowgirl Up!

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Media Overload

Just a quick post. Still here.

Survived the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo last Saturday. Took some pictures. I will post them soon, promise.

I've been down on the Island for the past two days working on some network issues. I was finally able to track down the source of our headache. It felt really good to resolve this particular issue. I was starting to take it very personal. I get done and start the drive back into Houston. Fog was thick on the Galveston Causeway and it took me almost an hour to get down the backside of Harborside and across the Causeway, then another hour to make it home. Yuck.

On the way home I had a very important stop to make. Yesterday, was the tri-release on DVD of Hayao Miyazaki's three features: Howl's Moving Castle, My Neighbor, Totoro, and Whisper of the Heart. I was SO excited that these were finally out. I've been waiting since January for them. I didn't have any trouble getting Howl's but it took me some time finding the only copies of the other two the store had in stock. They seemed to have been misstocked. But succeed I did. I also grabbed the widescreen release of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.

I was stoked. Network problems solved, THREE Miyazaki movies and HP:GOF. (Sighs) Couldn't last. When I got home and we had opened all them up, turns out I had grabbed the single disk version of HP:GOF, not the DUAL DVD release version. Alvis has been reminding me of this shortcoming for the past two days now....I guess I'll be getting that one soon... (Jim Thompson refers to the HP:GOF release at his place as the "Zero Day Exploit." I can relate, Jim!

While shopping I also picked up a player's guide to BLACK, that PS2 game I picked up. I really wanted it for the maps. I've been spending too much time lost in a forest. I'm picking the game-play up pretty fast now. The first mission had several stages. (Public notice: I admit I'm playing on the easy level right now.) I got past the first one (pre-guide) on the first day. It took me three days to get past the second stage. I got past the rest in about two hours. I cleared the entire second mission in three hours. There are a total of eight missions (I think). Once I clear these I'm going to replay on the normal level. If you clear all the missions on each higher difficulty level, you get to unlock some bonus treats with "silver-grade" weaponage (ammo never runs out). Clear all of them and you apparently get some super-awesome, mega destructive assault rifle--with unlimited ammo. For massive destruction. Well worth playing them all for. There are lots of strategy tips in the guide, but I really find it most useful (like I said) for the maps since there is a lot of territory to cover and it can get really confusing in all the trenches, pipes, and buildings after a while. Most hard-core gamers would laugh at me, but this isn't really my normal gaming fare. I'm having a real blast. Even Lavie seems to enjoy looking over my shoulder pointing out things for me to take out and collect! It's really funny. It's too brutal for Alvis and she is sulking about that.

We are watching Harry Potter Goblet of Fire right now. I really love the set designs and cinematography but I have to confess the writing and acting is kinda getting on my nerves in this release. It is way too serious--and comes off being almost over the top. We also are heavy readers of the series and this one takes some liberties with the plot and characters (missing in action in the movie). So although we are enjoying it, it is leaving a bit to be desired.

Been noticing some issues with my Roadrunner Cable broadband service. For the past couple of weeks downloads have been petering out halfway through. I am also having trouble loading large media files (ala Rocketboom). I've reset both my router and my cable router. No difference. Page loads seem ok, but it is just the larger downloads that seem to stall out. Happens on both Lavie's laptop and our desktop pc's. I've been too busy with my workplace networking issues to take the time to call TimeWarner, but this weekend I'm going to work the phone system there and get them to run some diagnostics.

Anyone else run into this problem with them?

See you in the skies...

Thursday, March 02, 2006

The Odd Day Off

Ok, today I get a day off. It's Texas Independence Day. Even if it is a mid-week break, I'll take it. I checked and found I have accumulated a garmoungous pile of linkage for blogging--so I need to clean house. This may get long, but you might be able to find some gems in here.

Last post I mentioned that Lavie got a new laptop. It (and she) are humming along nicely, thank you very much. What I didn't mention is that a day later Claus had to get himself a new toy as well. See, our 14 year old VCR began to give up the ghost. It still worked, but replay of tapes were starting to show a funky split-screen view on playback. Sometimes I could fix it by popping in a commercial tape from our vast Disney VHS tape collection, but this trick was working less and less. So I went to get a new one.

I soon discovered that VCR's are hard to find. Oh, I had no trouble finding a VCR embedded in a TV unit, and there were LOTS of VCR/DVD combos, but I already had both a TV and DVD so I didn't need one more of either. I finally checked a local big-box electronics store and they had two (JUST TWO!) VCR models. I grabbed the Sony SLV-N750 model. At first I thought I was settling, but soon found it had a ton of features. It does some wicked-fast high-speed tape winding. It has some auto-search/skip features and to my surprise, it is even able to decode some carrier signals to display program names and times--kinda like basic TiVO. Neat! I'm not against DVR's like TiVO, in fact, I'd really like to try building my own some day. But we have that vast collection of Disney VHS tapes I just can't let go of, and it's hard enough to watch the few shows we VCR anyway. Overall, I'm very pleased with it. My first experience with VCR's was when my parents got a Betamax unit--although I can't remember if it was a Sony or Zenith. It was great. The tapes were small and the quality of replay high. The very first movie we rented for it was STRIPES. I really loved that movie. Bill Murray still rocks. He should have got an Oscar for his work in Lost in Translation. He was robbed!

On to the pile....

Update Headaches:
My iTunes (v6.0.1.3) reported (internally) that the new update version from Apple was 6.0.3. Time for an Quicktime Player iTunes update, right? Well, not so fast there partner. A little more checking found that the newest version was 6.0.4. So I downloaded directly from Apple and ended up getting version

Next I checked ZoneAlarm. My current version was 6.1.737.000 and an internal check for updates found none available. Yet ZoneLabs has v6.1.744.000 now available for download--which I did. What gives?

So, dearest readers, what's Claus's tip for knowing the latest versions--even when the applications don't seem to know? I RSS feed a handy site called Go check it out and add it to your feeds. Now you will never be behind the software times any more!

Unlike my brother, I don't usually go for FPS's. I tend more to circuit racing games, puzzle games, some fantasy quests. But I am going to go get Black for our PS2 next visit to my software dealer. Matt Brett gives a good review that is in line with most others I've read. Mowing down baddies full-auto looks to be a good stress reliever after beating my head against IPX frustrations.
If your tastes run to the more peaceful side, Stuff offers a freeware UNO cardcame simulator. We have about 10 different versions of this game in our house and it never stops being fun to play.
Neave Games offers some fun on-line (Java?) retro-arcade games including Asteroids, Space Invaders, Simon, Snake, Tetris, and Frogger is coming soon.
Sudoku on-line at the [via]
KatamariDamacy wallpapers galore.

Graphic Arts:
GLASHAUS - The Portfolio of Peter Hoffman. Beautifully Modern/Modernly Beautiful.
Mom had a couple Da Vinci sketches beautifully frames. So when I came across The Da Vinci Lode [via Drawn] I just had to share.
Tutorial - how to clone people (in Photoshop) [via energyface] - an incredible freeware app started by Washington State University and mentored by Microsoft. It has some very "Photoshop-like" tools, layers, etc. But is great for users who don't want to RTFM. (Note requires MS's .Net software.)
WetPaint - contains some very nice tutorials to show you some basics in using Worth a look. I hope to see more in the near future!
More OpenSource graphic applications (I've mentioned many before): GIMP (image editor/manipulator), Blender (3d modeler), Inkscape (vectors), Scribus (desktop publishing/layout), Xara (vectors/rendering). [via Libre Graphics Meeting in Lyon, France]
TypeNow - Free tv/movie themed font sets. (Like you don't have enough fonts already...)

Software Goodies: - A giant list of categorized freeware. Great reference link.
Partition Saving -- DOS level partition copy program. [via downloadsquad]
EarthView - dynamic desktop wallpaper/screen-saver. Shows earth with the solar terminator. Neato.
Clack Graphical Router Project on-line tutorial (JAVA) on how Internet hardware and protocols work. Kinda cool and geeky fun. Nice way to teach the in-laws.

Firefox Extension Development Tutorial -- Tired of using other's extensions for Firefox? Learn how to make your own!
gMail adds smart replying feature [via Lifehacker] Could be handy.
Tutorial - gMail guide for Webmasters (With more than one Email Address)
Google Page Creator [via Google Blogoscoped] (new accounts currently on hold due to popular demand--of course.)
Create your own favicon for your website. [] I'll be adding this to my blog later today--now, what picture to use.....
Take a peek into the facility at Google Japan! love those Japanese vending machines! -- another free online file storage site. I signed up for this one. Paul Satamatiou gives a fantastic review of this service. It seems that bloggers could use this service to share files (keep it legal!) with readers. Use my referral link to sign yourself up for a account and maybe I can get an upgrade! I'll let you know what I experience with it.

New Ghost in the Shell related anime announcement. [via Anime News Network]
Sudio Ghibli annouces reopening of Totoro House.
Tenchi Muyo-Ryo Okhi volumes two and three coming in Fall '06 (FINALLY!)
Fred Gallagher (MegaTokyo) annouces DC Comics will publish Volume 4. Great interview and picture of the Volume 4 cover over at PULSE

PodCasts-IT Security:
LiveAmmo Security News Blog has Part 2 of a Podcast on Digital Forensics and Hacking Investigations up. Not for everyone, but some sysadmins may find it interesting.
Security Now podcasts Wonderfully informative content provided by Steve Gibson (GRC) and Leo Laporte (former TechTV host). Great stuff for everyone, not just sysadmins.

Odds at the End:
Ryugyong Hotel - Pyongyang, North Korea [via GoogleSightseeing] more info here. Kinda creepy.
Benjamin Franklin's Virtue Chart: More Info here.

Parting Thought:
NewYork City Union Square Pillow Fight. [via Rocketboom] Now if we could just work our our world-differences this way instead of spending bazillions in defense spending and wars......

See you in the skies,