Monday, June 28, 2004

A Modern Concern

Time for an update.

I'm coming to terms with it. I am a modder, and the instinct to change everything I lay my hands on permeates every part of me.

This, for some reason, has been terribly difficult for me to finally admit to myself, but there it is. And it's completely true.

The other day I bought a new external USB 2.0 CD-RW drive for my Tablet PC. Before I even got the darned thing home, I had hatched a plan to take it apart and put my DVD-RW drive into it. I mean, how did this thing become so automatic?

I was taking things apart all the time when I was a kid, and sometimes I even got them back together and working. I'm guessing that at some point I accidentally made something better than it was before I got to it, and a modder was born. I modify everything.

Here are some of the things that I own that I've put various modifications into:

My Archos Jukebox FM Recorder (60 GB hard drive, high capacity battery, open source firmware)
Two of my UPSs (new batteries, case mod to make one fit)
My Antec Sonata PC case (modded in a switch to control the bright blue LEDs)
My USB 2.0 and Firewire External Hard Drive (Several different drives have been in there)
My Dell Inspiron 8200 (Please don't ask)
My Toshiba Portege 3500 Tablet PC (All kinds of hardware swaps)
My AirSoft pistols (higher-tension springs for more muzzle fps, clip mods for more rounds)
My 2003 Honda Accord (wired-in FM modulator, xenon-ish headlights, some other stuff)
My Casio EM-500 PocketPC (Overclocked from 150Mhz to 200Mhz {this was a while ago})

Those are just a few of many and the evidence is overwhelming. I'm always thinking about how my gear could be better, and when I think I can do something about it, I do. I know the risks when it comes to warranties and such, and once or twice, I've broken the object I was working on beyond repair. But I do it anyway.

I'm a tinkerer. Thank the heavens for a (mostly) understanding wife.

Comcast has been lying to Eric some more, and the forecast gives an 80% chance of more lies to come. He really didn't fall off of the earth, he's just out of touch. And still, I might point out, a newlywed. So, you know what he and his new wife must be up to...writing thank-you cards. Don't look at me like that.

Tuesday, June 22, 2004

Stop everything.

Yes I have been taking a break and enjoying what life has to offer me. But one thing that I did not enjoy recently is what the “bank did for me”. A little while ago I went in to my bank and requested a new debit card to replace the one I had, which was cracking. So I went home thinking that everything was going to be great and that I would have new cards in a few days. Well I went on a few dates still using my old card and the day after my last one my new cards came they even had a pretty back ground on them. Well the first time I try to use one it dose not work. And yes I did activate it. So I thought ok maybe things are slow so ill try tomorrow. The next day it still did not work .now my anger is getting to me. So I go back to my bank and ask them what is going on. I was nice to the guy I talked to because it was not his fault and people seem to forget that sometimes. And because I was so kind he did some checks and found out that my card had been reported as stolen. That urge to yell washed over me again but I let it pass and asked him who had done that and he told me that it was either me my or my father. Since I knew it was not me and I immediately called my dad and asked him and he said it was not him. So we did more checking and it came to another branch somewhere that had called it in. I and the guy at the bank think that some moron at this branch mis-keyed a account number and changed it to my account number so my stuff was reported as stolen not the person who actually had theirs stolen. Well a few days later I had a new set of cards and a new pin number and a couple of letters saying that I had used my card on such and such days conveniently the day I was out with a date and showed the sums for dinner and the other activities. They were so close to rejecting my card on those days luckily I got by. Now all is working again. And every now and again I wonder if they ever fixed the problem for the other guy who actually lost his cards.

Taking A Break

Leon hasn't posted in a while. Maybe he's forgotten.

He'll get some time to post this week, though, as his current dating interest will be in New York on vacation.

I'm sitting in my Microbiology class right now, waiting for it to start. The professor is pretty cool.

My English class and my Micro class are separated by only 15 minutes, so I must budget my time wisely.

This morning I hadn't yet read today's required reading for English, and I had to use the ten minutes I had before class to sit at a table upstairs and get some reading done. I'm sorry that I didn't do the reading previously, as I really enjoyed the story.

I've been spending a lot of time lately converting all of my audio books to mp3. I'm a huge mp3 junkie, even though I know it's not the best format in existence.

It's the most accessible format. Everything plays it, and it's shareable.

I don't care that AAC has higher quality at a lower bit rate. It also has DRM, and that bugs me. Ditto for WMA.

Well, class is starting.

Monday, June 21, 2004

Course Correction

How about we talk about angst? Yes?

Oh, good. First off, I'm so sorry for those two last posts. What the hell was I thinking? I don't know. Sorry again.

So anyway, I got way off course, and now I intend to find the course once more and proceed with renewed vigor. Ok?

And yes, I am on new drugs. These ones seem to be working, unlike the amphetamines that my doctor prescribed. Once again, just for posterity, I'll restate that I DO NOT enjoy amphetamines. My body mostly shrugs them off.

Well, we re-arranged my house the other day. Leon came over and we worked and worked and moved crap around until he was nearly too tired to drive home. The new arrangement is meant to take advantage of my new KVM switch, which negates the need for huge amounts of more computer gear next to my computer desk. Nice.

I work on computers frequently, and usually the best place to work on them is right next to the computer that I usually use. So I used to keep a monitor, mouse, keyboard, extra desk, and so forth to the side of my main desktop PC. Thankfully, those days are over, and now we have a much better living arrangement.

My new KVM is now stationed as part of my desktop PC, and any computer that needs that kind of work can be set down next to the desktop and share its keyboard, mouse, speakers, and one if its gloriously huge monitors. I love my computer. This is gonna make my life easier.

Wanna see something cool? This guy ( teaches Cisco networking and was sick of students having to pay Cisco hundreds of dollars for textbooks, so he wrote his own and you can download it for free. It's a huge (5MB) Doc file. I'll Pdf it and offer it to him. Maybe he doesn't have Acrobat.

Eric called the other day and claimed that he'll soon have net access at home. He also alleged that at such time he will resume posting in this forum. That'll be a good thing, in case you were wondering. It is a little flattering, though, that he's posted here more recently that he has at his own Garden of the Blind.

I'm supposed to do homework right now. I've got a math test tomorrow and a Microbiology test on Thursday. And an English test...well, sometime. I'll have to read the syllabus at some point.

Every day my urge to go out and light some dazzling fireworks gets stronger. Random neighbors have been setting off bottle rockets and firecrackers at odd times. They've got the bug too. I don't know what I'll do, but I don't think I can hold out that much longer. Fate knows me far too well.

Friday, June 11, 2004

Holding Out For A Hero

Ray Charles died today, and I'm in a funk of the worst kind.

I've just been listening to his version of "America The Beautiful" over and over again tonight.

I liked Ronald Reagan, but I didn't cry when he died. I haven't yet for Ray Charles either, but I won't rule out the possibility. I've got many musical heroes, but not many of them rank as high as Ray.

Thank you, Ray, for the music you gave us. Thanks for "I've Got A Woman." Thanks very much for "Old Man River" and the irreverent "What I'd Say." Thanks for all of it. Good fortune to you in the next life, and I hope to see you there.

Wednesday, June 09, 2004


I fear inanity.

Inanity is what can make any and every piece of work a writer writes completely irrelevant.

Such as this: There's a guy about twelve feet from me whose nose is only about eight inches from the LCD monitor of the university workstation he's at.

See? That was flavorless. But how about this?

Not only that, He's got a goofy non-hairdo, frizzy curls in the front--clearly unintentional, and flat in back, also unintentional, glasses, a hilarious black-and-white floral print shirt, and every couple of minutes he does a chicken-like head bob.

Now, that's better, isn't it?

I just savagely made fun of an unknown colleague. Well, Jesus didn't have a blog.

Today my mp3 player absolutely burned the hell out of my finger when I touched it after somehow having shorted out the battery. I quickly yanked the small machine open and relieved it of its shortness.

If I flip you off, you'll see the blister. But since I don't normally make obscene hand gestures, you probably won't get to view the damage that easily. Or at least not by pissing me off.

I ebayed an Archos Multimedia 20 a bit ago. It's supposed to be essentially the same thing as my current Archos, but with the added functionqality of being able to play .avi movies, .jpg photos, and .wav sound files. Plus it has a color LCD instead of the monochrome, green-backlit unit that I'm used to.

In short, I don't much like the user experience on the Multimedia version. I use open source firmware on the Jukebox called Rockbox, and it suits me well. Rockbox isn't available for Archos' Multimedia models, and that's a shame, plain and simple.

So I'm not keeping the Multimedia. I'm not. Yeah, it's nice, but usability is a big deal to me. I was going to sell the Jukebox, but no more.

Oh, and I fixed the battery short. Man, I hate that kind of crap. I was just changing out a hard drive.

Speaking of which, when are mp3 players going to become standard and mainstream enough that a technically oriented person can just pop it open and change out the hard drive or battery?

Honestly, I've got a Toshiba Tablet PC. Let me tell you, that thing is masterfully designed. It's super compact, and yet getting the hard drive out is a piece of cake. Need to get to the RAM or wireless card? Fine, you'll have to get under the keyboard, but for a sufficiently advanced technician, that's no problem. And the whole machine is sturdier than cheap toilet paper.

Archos, on the other hand, designs their products with an eye toward fragility and complexity. Change out the hard drive? No problem, you've got two choices: 1). Unsolder the whole damned unit open and simply unplug the drive and plug the new one in. This method gets old really quickly. 2). Bend the upper portion of the unit's chassis to allow clearance for the drive to slide out. Hang on...those are the options? Solder it open or bend the chassis? There weren't any better ideas?

I just can't believe that none of the Archos engineers said in a meeting 'Hey, what if we found a way to access the hard drive without compromising the structural integrity of the whole device? Think it's worth spending ten minutes of design time on?'

I'm good personal friends with an engineer, and I don't buy the ages-old argument that all engineers are born and raised in Satan's left nostril and fall out only to begin their careers.

I think the poor design decisions in this case are the fault of a pointy-haired-boss type.

At any rate, were I a powerful person at NEC, Toshiba, Sony, Dell, Compaq, or Palm, I would get some people right to work on a friendlier hard drive based mp3 player.

Batteries, even rechargeable ones, need to be easy to replace and almost short proof. Hard drives need to be accessible to advanced users who are going to tinker whether it's easy or hard to do.

If for no other reason, these things should be implemented to make in-house RMA repairs faster and more cost efficient. Hard drives will head crash, you know.

Anyway, I gotta go.

Oh, anyone wondering about Eric's dearth of posts will be pointed to the fact that Comcast has been lying to him. They keep pushing back the availability date of digital cable in his neighborhood.

Wednesday, June 02, 2004

Oh, Like You Post On A Regular Basis...

Save the accusations, because it's agitated guilty conscience day and there is no need for them.

But other than that...well, some things are up, some down. You know?

For one thing, the weather around these parts has just been lovely and summer is definitely rising in the East. On a related note, my birthday is one month from today. Eric, Leon, Crystal, everyone else, you all know what that means...FIREWORKS!

Please, no fireworks as gifts this year. I've still got a lot of fireworks with questionable legality from previous years. I keep looking for opportunities to use them, but since the neighbor got a fireworks ticket last year (that was at least partly and probably mostly my fault) I've been iffy on the whole idea.

The other night I dreamt that you can buy bags of cherry bombs in the sporting goods department at Wal*Mart. That was a pretty good dream. I didn't buy any (because I've already got lots of fireworks. Funny how stupid real-life details leak into clearly unreal dreams) but I did suggest to my brother that he buy some. Seemed a little more age-appropriate. He's ten years younger than I.

There was a while there I was going to use this blog to publicly make fun of my math instructor. I'll still mention him, but I'm beginning to respect him, and the making-fun-of part won't work the way I originally intended.

So his name is Mr. R. Yes, that's the real first letter of his real last name.

You know what? Once again, I can't make Mr. R entertaining to write about. So instead I'll write the story of the above-mentioned firework ticket. Ok?

So it was about July, and just a gorgeous evening. It had rained a little the day before, so things weren't too terribly dry, and I dragged the wife out to light a few fireworks. Seems like it was either the 4th or the 24th, because there were houses all over the valley with fireworks going off that were at least almost as illegal as mine.

A while back I went to Evanston (WY) and bought some pretty big rockets. They're on sticks about three feet long and the rocket engines are a good couple of inches around. Also, I'm a big fan of floral mortar shells. I found some particularly large versions of these in Evanston also, and they're great.

So Crystal and I went out to light a couple of rockets and a couple of shells. We went outside and I set up a shell and launched it. FOOMP!, the shell said as it left the tube. BOOM-CRACKLE it said at apex. Beautiful.

The neighbor to our East paused lighting his dinky bottle rockets (also illegal...that's gonna be important in a minute here) to gape in awe.

So now the neighbors were enjoying the show, and joined in with whatever they had. He lit a salute roll (it's a bunch of tubes with flying firecrackers), and I lit a couple of my big rockets.

Just as I dropped another floral shell into my mortar tube, the wind started to blow a little. I lit the shell, and we could see it get blown around as it traveled upward and then burst.

I turned to my wife and said we'd better go in, even though I had intended to light more of the same. I picked up my tube and the remaining fireworks on the driveway, and just as I crossed the sidewalk on my way to the house, I noticed a police officer walking briskly toward me, about twenty feet away.

I continued on my course into the house, and he continued on his, past my house, and straight to the neighbor, still lighting the little stuff. I came back out of the house and quietly found a dark place to hear and watch the goings on with my neighbor and the cop.

The cop explained that he had been out on the highway and had seen our big fireworks and had followed them right to us. Then he asked the neighbor for ID and ticketed him for lighting illegal fireworks, which the neighbor admitted to doing.

The two talked about how the big ones were being launched at my house, not his, but apparently, the cop didn't catch me red-handed, had to assume that they were all coming from the one guy he caught, and couldn't do anything about me. Whew!

So I literally dodged a $50 firework ticket by about five seconds last summer. I'm a crazy guy, but I'm not interested in trouble with the cops, so I need to find a better outlet for my firework bug.

And that's my Almost-Got-A-Fireworks-Ticket story. Instead of my math instructor. Believe me, it's better this way.

Tuesday, June 01, 2004

Bring em on.

Well things have been going so well with my dad’s two desktop computers since they were cleaned up that he decided to have me do his laptop as well. Of course I had to complain it makes it seem like they are getting more that they asked for when you are done witch makes their appreciation about equal to the effort you put into the job.

Well this job started Friday night I thought I would just do a ghost back up and then hit all the hard stuff tomorrow. Well the backup process crashed about half way through and I don’t work well when I am tired so I just let it go until morning. So I woke up at 8:00 am after sleeping in for four hours. Had breakfast and jumped right back into the battle with this machine. This time I got rid of all the unnecessary file and programs ran the virus checker and reg-cleaner and ad-aware. Then I did the scan disk and defragmenter, and this time the ghost back up worked flawlessly. When I looked at the clock I realized that wow it’s lunchtime already. So I took a break for a half hour and then I got right back at it. This time it was partition magic’s turn and I found that there was half a gig in a partition that was not even formatted to be used, just one more thing that I fixed. Then came the exciting part of installing Windows ME, and all the drivers for the hardware and all the extra software that he wanted on the unit. Of course it had to be limited a bit because I had another ghost to do later and I did not want to have a lot crap that he did not need on it. Well once all the software was installed I ran the virus checker, reg-cleaner, and ad-aware once more to clean things up. Then with a finial scan disk and defrag it was ready for the final ghost. Jake has made me a firm believer in a fresh install back up. Its great because if anything goes horribly wrong you can be right back to the beginning with minimal effort. Finally I cleaned the case screen and key board to make it look good again and now I am done again and it is 5:00 pm on Saturday.

Hopefully this will be it for a while since all my parents’ computers have done. And I refuse to do the ones at their work; they have people who are paid to do that. I was thinking that I could get out of doing dishes and chores for a month as payment but we will see how that goes.

next time "the credit card".