Sunday, October 31, 2004

Blood, guts, and mexican food

Well, Friday (that's day before yesterday) was the much anticipated LAN party. While not my best performance as far as HL, I'd say that the party as a whole went reasonably well. We started out slow with just me, Jake, Leon, and our new, "special friend," Krys, who was surprisingly deadly. Eric and Stan joined us later in the evening. Sadly, dad did not join us.

As I mentioned before, this wasn't my best night. This is not to say I didn't kick some butt, however it did take a while for me to finally get my game on. The first two or three rounds were very frustrating, Jake taking the lead and holding on to it like Gollum holds on to his precious. By the time everyone was there (between 5:00-6:00), I was making my comeback. This was probably the most evenly matched party we've had here.

The food was good, but the way I understand it, a bit expensive. I think that next time we should go Chinese. Mexican doesn't always agree with me, and you don't run into many people who don't like Chinese. At any rate, it was nice to leave off of the pizza for once.

May your Glouon gun always become mine,
Jeff Wilcox

Thursday, October 28, 2004

A Computer Weekend

I have a lot of computer-related stuff going on.

Tomorrow is the LAN party. It's been far too long since I've seen Jake and the guys (except for the Krys guy, who I haven't met yet) in too long. I also haven't played Half-Life in a while, so I may be a bit rusty. I hope everyone else is rusty too, but I'm not holding out any hope for that.

On Monday, the IT guy came over and traded computers with me. The old one had a bad memory slot, and I wanted more than the 256 MB that can fit in the working slot, so he's sending it in to IBM to fix. He was good enough to swap out the hard drive so that the switch would be (presumably) transparent, except that I'd have 512 MB including the chip that was in the dead slot on the old machine.

This was well and good, until the machine started crashing (which was right away). It would sometimes freeze and sometimes go blue screen on me. After a week of intermittent troubleshooting by me and the IT guy, I think I've narrowed the problem down to a bad stick of memory. The second stick in my old machine seems to have picked up some bad karma from the slot it was in. So, now I'm almost back to normal with the machine, and the old one will be back in a week or two. I'll be gone next week, so it's all good, I say.

The third thing going on is that my brother is building a computer. He finally bought the last few parts last Saturday, and they arrived this afternoon. He was going to come over last night for the build, but the five day 2-day shipping put a stop to that. The only time we have between today and Monday morning when I am leaving for Virginia for a week is Saturday morning, so we'll try to get it done in the ungodly hours of the weekend. I'm excited though. I haven't built a machine from scratch in a long time, and so I've been prepping as well as I can for it.

By the way, sorry for not getting you involved Jake, but you've been busy too lately, and we've had a hard enough time scheduling this with just the two of us (who have also been busy lately).

I've also been backing up data on my hard drive getting it ready for a nuke and load. I've been increasingly disappointed with its performance as of late, and so I'm starting over. If it all goes well and I get happy with everything, then maybe I'll try switching my server over to Apache. Its web server has been unreliable as of late.

With my brother's build, I will have had two brothers get new machines since the start of the school year. We're all getting together over Thanksgiving for some multiplayer action, although it will probably be real-time strategy-centered, rather than frag-based.

Now Is Previous To What's Going To Happen

In case you needed clarification.

Tomorrow is the LAN party.

As anyone up to date on this blog knows already, my server crashed hard last week, and I've been feverishly working to get it back into tip top shape since.

The problem is that I don't have near as much time to repair and prepare the server as it takes, so I've been dedicating time in chunks just large enough to get one task done.

Last night I spent a couple of hours in bed with my Tablet PC remotely accessing DENTSERVER and trying to put permissions back the way they belong.

An interesting footnote-the file permissions remained on some of the folders through this crash, and there were interesting consequences. My music drive, for instance, was full of data, but when I tried to click into the folder, I was told that the operating system was protecting the files inside and I couldn't view them.

Turns out that the previously existing security permissions for those folders were blocking everyone and everything from even looking at the files...including the OS. Once I killed all permissions outright, though, the data suddenly existed again.

I'm still waiting for Acronis to respond to my last post and email. They didn't overnight, and I'm getting the sense that they've written me off as a crazy-person-to-be-ignored. I don't take being ignored well, though, and if they don't remedy my complaint otherwise, I am going to file a dispute with Chase Bank, the issuer of my credit card. Yeah, it's only about $50, but a man's got to take a stand. And that's a pretty big problem that they're trying to tell me isn't a problem.

So the guest list is looking something like this:

Me (Jake)
Krys (I go to school with him)
My dad (Mark, and still maybe)

Is that really all? It doesn't seem right.

Anyway, I've pretty much decided on Mexican food for this party. I'm going to go to Baja Fresh today and order a party pack for tomorrow.

I also need to talk to my dad about possibly running a cable to the great room in the middle of the house and putting a router in there so that we can play from couches. There may be concerns about the equipment damaging the furniture, though. There's no telling what will come.

Oh, the game of the day will be Half-Life. For sure. Enough of us seem to be fond enough of the regular old multi-player slash and dash style setup that I really don't see a reason to change.

And Half-Life updates will be available on-site from the server.

We were all sick of Half-Life for a while there, but we've all had a break now, and I think we're ready for another sickening round of gore.

Halloween-y movies are definitely an option if the group (or a splinter group) wants to.

Also, there will be time for eating set aside this time. I want to eat with everyone and get face time. It's nice to socialize a little between the simulated bloodbaths.

So here's my task list:

1. Get Leon over to test server settings and close gaps.
2. Order food. We may have to send someone for it tomorrow.
3. Tell everyone to bring $7 to cover food and such.
4. Clean my living area.
5. Try to get clearance for network and computer stuff in great room.
6. Set up play areas, either in great room or downstairs.
7. Get soda. Anyone willing to bring some? Please? Dr. Pepper (in 12-packs) is popular.
8. Do a HL test run on my PC.
9. Double-check that the area of the server with HL updates will be open.
10. Make sure everyone knows how to get to my house. For my address, see below.
11. Maybe I'd better get some chips.
12. Dig out some holiday-appropriate movies to have ready should the need strike.
13. Arrange pickup of food. I may have to offer Julianne free dinner.

There is almost certainly more that I'm forgetting.

The party will be at the following address: 2770 N. 1775 E. Layton.

And here are about 3,000 other people offering their home addresses to the world.

My digits: 940-1506. If you don't know the area code, you probably shouldn't call.

Wednesday, October 27, 2004

Spirited (Non-Political) Debate

Ok, this is a good sign.
Ivan, a support rep with Acronis, emailed me early this morning (about 4:30 am my time), and also posted an anonymous comment to my post titled "Splinter Of My Discontent." The comment is actually a tad more detailed than the email I received, probably because he had some time to edit it in the half hour or so gap between the sending of the email and the posting of the comment.
I sincerely appreciate Ivan's (and by extension Acronis's) courage in replying to me in a public forum. I don't want his comment to be lost should we change the layout of Phischkneght again, so I'll copy it here:

This problem is related to the functionality of Windows that can't boot if the letter of system partition is changed. Acronis Disk Director Sute did its work perfect. It did change the letters of the partition and then Windows 2003 Server wasn't able to boot properly. I would like to emphasize that this problem is not related to Acronis software, but rather to the way how Windows OS operates and to the limitations of assigning the letter to the system partition.

Acronis Support Team.
Thanks again for the quick reply, Ivan and Acronis. Unfortunately, your defense is really feeble.
First, Disk Director did not work perfectly. If it had, my server would still allow me to log on (and stay logged on). Who on earth would consider this perfect functionality?
Second, blaming the problem on Windows just isn't enough. The reason I buy third-party software is to add functionality to Windows, not to have its shortcomings amplified.
Suppose I had bought a software firewall from you, run it on my system and got infected by a worm through a port that was supposed to be closed by your firewall. Would you tell me that it's the fault of Windows for having so many ports?
You obviously knew about the problem already, because you replied so quickly. In my mind, it's not good that you know about this problem, but you haven't done anything about it.
Here's what I think you should have done already:
1. Make Disk Director smarter than the user. If I'm performing an operation that will kill Windows, have the program forbid the operation and stop me from doing any real damage.
2. Make Disk Director smarter than me but still respectful of my intelligence. Pop up a warning saying something to the effect of "ARE YOU SURE?? THIS OPERATION WILL BREAK WINDOWS!! Proceed with operation? OK/Cancel." See how easy that is?
3. Simply fix your software so that it knows what to do when changing a bootable Windows drive letter. It's obviously possible, you just need to change all the settings in all the right places. Partition Magic does this sort of thing really well.
So up to this point, I've been grading you on a test you've already failed. Here's how you can patch things up with me:
1. Promise to implement one of the above recommendations and make a peace offering. A free software license for True Image, for example, would be nice, and it wouldn't cost you anything.
2. Offer me a full refund and respectfully observe that we disagree on how software should be produced.
That's about it. If you make me go to my credit card company with a broken product dispute, I won't be happy with your service, and you won't be happy that I made you look bad by disputing a charge. If you take good care of me and admit that there's a problem in the software, you might get me back on board liking your company again, and you'll look good in this public forum.
The choice is yours.
Jake Wilcox.

Tuesday, October 26, 2004

Splinter Of My Discontent

(Order and credit card details withheld in post.)

Folks at Acronis-

I bought DiskDirector Suite for my in-house media server running Windows Server 2003. Your website claims that DiskDirector is compatible with 2003, and my license for Partition Magic won't run on Server 2003...they want me to buy a Server Magic license.

I installed DiskDirector on my server with a fully stable configuration, and changed the c: drive's drive letter to d: and vice-versa. Essentially, I switched the drive letters of c: and d:.

The program rebooted the system twice, and then I was given the "Press Ctl-Alt-Del to log on screen. I logged on, and just as the server was logging me on, it logged me back off in the same operation. This happened on both my user accounts and on all administrator accounts, and it also happened when the server was remotely accessed. It allows log on, and then immediately logs the user back off, so the user never even sees a desktop.

This is unacceptable. I'll have to do a fresh install of Windows Server 2003 and re-configure all shares and user accounts. More details of the trouble I've gone to with this problem can be found at my blog, here:

Please process a refund for my purchase of DiskDirector. If you do not reply and process the refund in a timely manner, I'll simply dispute the charge (received product broken) for DiskDirector with my credit card company.

Jake Wilcox.

Monday, October 25, 2004

I Am **So** Sore

Ya see, I spent the weekend squirting (in a bad way) and vomiting.

My wife has astutely observed that I don't barf casually...I hurl with religious fervor. Over and over, until I'm too exhausted to even leave the bathroom. And this is why I can never be bulimic. I would simply spew myself to death far more quickly than most of the other bulimics, leading to me being viciously mocked and not around to defend my over-barfing self.

And nobody likes that.

Today I'm well but sore, especially in the shoulders and gut area.

Stupid, stupid me, I couldn't leave well enough alone, and I crashed my server this weekend, right before the already mentioned sick-fest.

Acronis Disk Director, which claims to be compatible with WinServ 2k3, utterly failed at switching the drive letters of C: and D:, or rather, it succeeded in switching the letters, but failed in making them usable. After the change, the server booted and allowed me to log on, but then immediately logged me off. I never even got to see a desktop. Yes, even in safe mode. Yes, even with the administrator account (which No, I don't use all the time).

I had to do a repair install of WinServ 2k3, which left my server in a sort of zombified state. It boots and allows me to log on. It also remembers shared folders and permissions. Everything else is broken. Firefox, AVG, Disk Director (big loss, that one)...all broken.

Leon and I did some research on the problem today. It looks like the current plan is to do a fresh install of the OS and start all over. For the third damned time.

And this is what I look like when I'm frustrated.

Oh, and Acronis? Be watching for my request for a refund. This sort of thing shouldn't happen.

Saturday, October 23, 2004

Life the good and the bad.

Well I started another post about two weeks ago but never posted it. Why? Because I felt like I was bragging the whole time in trying to introduce myself. If you really want to know what I am like your just going to have to come to the LAN party and find out.

Well other than that the last few days have been a nightmare. At work I am the first one in the door in the morning so when I get sick there is no one to call into and if I don’t show up it can set back half the store for five to six hours. So Friday I went to work feeling like the living dead and in no mood to be there. Ill spare you the details of how sick and how often because I think you just would not care. Needless to say I am still sick on this beautiful Saturday, but on the bright side I have plenty of time to create a post.

Now for school for the last few weeks I have been hearing that the number of people attending collage has dropped. Personally I am not surprised also during those last few weeks I have been trying to get an appointment to get myself registered for school but every time I call all I get is “they are not in right now” or “they are out recruiting”. To them I say you are not going to get my money until I have classes to pay for. And until you put effort into getting people signed up you are not going to get their money either.

Maybe I should stop complaining or no one will read my posts.

My new tablet, I love it I took it to church to take notes on (I am a secretary) and it made life much nicer. No rustling of paper no rummaging through notebooks no extra scripture bag just one small computer and me, very nice.

I was seriously considering taking my tablet to the LAN party to play on but now I think I wont because in playing my games I has a bad habit of dropping frames when I am moving quick and that is just not expectable in a multi-player situation. I love using it for single player stuff while relaxing on my bed. That is how I keep my stress level low. I may bring it for a just in case but ill be kicking trash on my big system.

As to food have we committed to what we are going to be eating for dinner? Mexican or Chinese? I really would not mind taking an hour off to enjoy the food. Please no pizza, I think that my stomach dislikes it even though my mouth still dose.

The next adventure I hope will be setting up wireless in the house, if all goes according to plan.

Friday, October 22, 2004

Well, I know I've kinda been silent Bob on this blog lately, but let's face it. My life hasn't exactly taken an exciting turn lately and there's probably nothing about school that I could mention here that hasn't either been mentioned or you all don't know.

Ok, lets get this straight. I never thought the server was down. In fact, I knew it was up because I still had net access. The big problem was that Windows Explorer was telling me that I didn't have permission to see the entire network. other than that, Jake has his facts straight.

Oh, quick update on the Linux box. It's up and running, though I haven't used it much of late. One of the biggest problems with switching from one OS to another is that no matter what you learn to do on the new system, you can usually do it infinitely faster and more efficiently on the old one. For example, I am big into gaming. I like to think I have a reasonable collection of games on my computer. However, although I could probably find game programs for Linux that I have on XP, if I want to play the game now, I don't want to spend an hour finding the program, learning how to install it, and figuring out how to make my freakin controller work in Linux.

I found a while back that Jake has had a similar problem with Firefox, which I then offered my services to help. He couldn't install Firefox, and I had spent about twenty minutes fishing around in read me-s and help docs, only to find that I needed to execute a simple shell command. Anyway, Jake was too busy to see about it just then, and if he still wants my help I'm waiting for him to say so.

Yet another quick aside, although I do have my moments sometimes, I still consider myself a novice compared to Jake. He works on and studies computers about five million times more than me.

Only a week till LAN party time. This time, maybe Jake won't be the only one with a color commentary....

Various ThisNThats

Things are patched up with my mom and dad now, regarding the network.

I helped my dad recover his stock market program and then I helped my mom turn off the welcome screen after every screen saver. She only wants to log in once.

That same night, Jeff told me that the server may be down, because he couldn’t see it at all. I went over the common troubleshooting tips with him, and he had me convinced enough to Remote Desktop to the server from my PC, just to make sure everything was ok.

Everything was indeed ok, Jeff just forgot that a backslash looks like this (\) and not this (/). So when I kept telling him to type \\dentserver, he kept typing //dentserver, and there’s a big difference. Once we cleared that up, the server suddenly existed again.

Then it was Julianne’s turn. Her new computer’s video card didn’t like the combination of a really old monitor and Windows XP. So now she’s running a POS PCI vid card from 1994 or so at (full!) VGA until she buys herself a new monitor. She hates it, because VGA, as we all know, is crap. Maybe we didn’t know that back in 1994, but that’s not the point.

My across-the-street neighbor asked me if I’d take a look at his PC last week. He said he didn’t know what the problem was, but he suspected that the motherboard was bad.

I went over for a gander, and sure enough, I saw my second case of exploding capacitors in a month or so. They hadn’t blown as spectacularly as Sandy’s had, but it was clear from the bulged cans and oozing electrolyte that the motherboard was definitely sick.

It was tricky, though, because he had really specific motherboard requirements. It had to be Mini-ATX, support DDR 400, have both USB 2 and Firewire, and have AGP 8x. That shouldn’t be such a tall order to fill, but it took thirty minutes or so of searching before I found an Asus model that fit the bill just right. Oh yeah, except for the firewire. But we found a PCI card for that.

Wonder of wonders, when the board finally did come, it had almost the same chipset on it as the original board had. But better capacitors. I guess SIS is the only chipset manufacturer currently running that particular feature set.

When I pulled the heatsink off of the board, it brought the processor right along with it. The chip was so well stuck to the heatsink that I had to use my knife in a gentle prying motion to get it to violently pop off of and then fly away from the heatsink. What really worried me was that the processor chip flexed as it came free. And it didn’t just flex a little. It looked bad.

But I had prepared my neighbor with the information that the bad capacitors might also have ruined the chip, and so even if it ended up bad, he’d be ok.

The board I ordered came and I had to cut the Pentium 4 processor frame off of it and re-attach the original one because of a special heatsink configuration. I used a goodly amount of thermal grease on the chip, finished putting the machine back together and tried booting.

Success! The processor was fine. I still can’t believe it.

My neighbor is from Germany, and so he wanted his copy of Windows to be localized to German. On my first couple of tries, I could only get the computer to speak German about half of the time.

That sucked, so I went back to his house and borrowed his German factory XP install CD. It’s a good thing I know the Windows setup process so well, because I don’t know German, and it was all gobbledygook to me. I managed to mash the right buttons at the right times, and now he’s a happy camper.

And that brings us just about current. I’m going to try to make whatever preparations possible for next week’s LAN party this weekend, and of course I’ll need to do some resting also.

Hmmm, Leon, how about we finish that Mario 3 game?

Monday, October 18, 2004

Tool Rant

First of all, I have a minor gripe about my new Leatherman multi-tool.

But before I begin my gripe, I'll say this: Niiiiice! Seriously, the Leatherman design team must be raking in some serious whuffie over this one. Here is a list of my favorite NEW features:

1. The cutting hook. Oh yeah. Doubles as a great letter opener.
2. The belt clip. (Repeat) THE FRIGGIN' BELT CLIP. Excellent call.
3. The new lock release buttons--a serious step up from the crappy locks on the Pulse.
4. Interchangeable bits! And it even comes with Torx.

I love this knife. There are other new features that I like, and I just wanted to highlight my favorites above.

Now the bad. It all boils down to trusting your customers, Leatherman. You know?

The belt clip is an excellent idea. Overdue, but excellent. The lanyard ring is also very good. Why must I choose between them?

The knife has a locking area on each side into which an accessory like the lanyard ring or the belt clip could fit...if Leatherman didn't plug one of them up.

There's a blank...a chunk of metal in one of the locking areas, that prohibits using the second one. So, you must choose. Belt clip or lanyard ring. Not both.

I wasn't having that. I got out my Leatherman Wave (the older premium Leatherman tool) and tore that little metal part out. My new Leatherman XTI now sports both the belt clip and the lanyard ring.

Leatherman, I'm the customer. If I want them both there, I'm going to put them both there. Trying to prevent me from doing so is just stupid.

But nice tool. You tools.

Friday, October 15, 2004

Shameless Proxy Plug

The net is ablaze with mentions to Google's new desktop search tool.

There's another non-free tool called X1 I'd like to try, and If I'm one of the first hundred to link to this post , I'll get a free license for it.

So here we go!

Tuesday, October 12, 2004

Five Alarms down at the Old Wilcox Place

If you can conjure in your mind an image of island native people irked to the point of lobbing spears, then you've got a pretty good idea of my parents' current position on user names and passwords and on our in-house network in general.

They're talking secession or mutiny from the network at large, depending on your historical bent. It honest-to-gosh really is THAT bad.

And I'm learning that burning bridges are best not peed on. I'm using whatever fire retardant materials I can get my hands on.

I've been spending time uttering repetitive apologies to them, and promises that we'll all put our heads together and make it better, so please, PLEASE, PLEASE stop saying that you just don't want to play anymore.

And that's about all I can do, isn't it?

I'm going to pitch an idea to them...I won't describe it here yet, because it's got to be done just right. If they heard the wrong thing before the right time, this whole damn structure could implode.

Eric, you'd be proud of me...I have a math tutor now, and some of this stuff is actually making a little sense!

And yes, I know we don't divulge personal information, but really, anyone sufficiently motivated will be able to find at least my whole name online, and I'm prepared for whatever that brings.

Besides, good things can come of that. Google Robert Scoble, for goodness sake. I read a post on his blog a while ago extolling the virtues of putting your cell phone number online in a public place. I'm not ready to go that far yet.

Monday, October 11, 2004

The lights are on...

A week ago, my wife and I went to visit her grandparents. It was all a pretense to get me over there to look at their computer, which had been running very slowly lately.

Going in, I knew that the machine had slowed significantly when they installed Norton Anti-virus a few months ago. While booting up, I noticed several other factors that slowed the machine down:

1) It runs Windows ME

2) It had 32 MB of RAM

3) Did I mention the bogus OS?

I went through and made sure that there weren’t any extra things loading up on startup (as well as I could, because the OS wasn’t being helpful) and got them started downloading the Windows Updates that they needed. I made a note that they have 2 SIMM slots and 2 DIMM slots, and this week, I tracked down some memory to help them upgrade.

Today, I finally went back to install the new RAM. The first stick I put in didn’t change the total memory available. The second wouldn’t work either, until I pulled out the original 32 MB stick. It seems that the original stick is now fried, but at least the new stick is bigger (64 MB) than their old one. I also threw in 32 MB of DRAM.

The problem is that the machine would not boot. When no good RAM was in, the machine wouldn’t POST. When good RAM was in, it would POST, and then die as soon as it went to boot. No combination of RAM changed this behavior.

I eventually gave up, because nothing was happening and I was getting frustrated. The awful thing is that they could replace the machine (from a surplus reseller) for almost less than the RAM I just installed in it (which I got from a surplus dealer).

Keeping the Gremlins (and all other AMC Models) Out

Leon and I spent an admirable chunk of this weekend working on the new, improved DENTSERVER. Permissions can be a real bugger.
He and I sat side by side at my desk, he on his Tablet, logging on and off of the server and testing the permissions I was creating, and I on my main system, on a remote desktop to the server on one of my monitors and in a local Windows Explorer on the other.
It's a tedious job, because you must test that both the users that are meant to be restricted actually are, and the users that are meant to be permitted actually are. And then there are the varying degrees between restriction and permission. Frustrating? Oh my, yes.
The really sticky part of this is the Personal Folders area. Each user has a folder with his/her name on it, and then a folder below that one that is private. The first folder is fully-accessible to everyone on the network, but the second is only accessible to the user who owns it.  It's a nightmare that won't go away until inherited permissions are killed for each Personal Folder and then special permissions are set for each private folder.
I've added to that a new stress...mandatory server authentication. No one sees data on the server if they're not logged on, and my parents (yes, even my own mother) hate me for it.
I suppose this is the classic quandary of the sys/netadmin: user-friendly means insecure, and secure means user-unfriendly. Or, the principle of "You can please all the hackers all the time, or all the users all the time, but you can't please both all the time." Hmm. That one needs work.
Like I said, my parents hate me for the changes, but I've established enough good rapport with them that they went along anyway. The two of them have a sort of loathing for the represents everything about computers that is hard for them. It is every task some young computer-savvy person has told them is easy as making toast, and then ends up being completely inscrutable. The server is what brought on the requirement that they use a strong format password to log on to their own computers, and they hate it (and me) for that.
"And what the hell is 'strong format', anyway?", they wonder. Calmly explaining that it's simply a password that is at least eight characters in length, contains both letters and numbers, and has either special characters like punctuation marks or both upper and lower-case letters is of no avail. I get a look from them that is the parental equivalent of "WTF."
The problem is compounded by the fact that there haven't been any real security breaches on our network. During my administration of DENTNET, I've implemented various security measures, and usually when I say that a particular measure is for the purpose of keeping hackers and worms out, they go along with no argument.
But the paradox is that I've been really successful at keeping hackers and worms out, so my family thinks that when I talk about hackers and worms, I'm just trying to scare them into doing whatever I want. Do I need some nasty to come through and trash the network for my network users to take me seriously?
But I don't want my nice network trashed. I just want everyone to be happy.
Alas and alack, I won't trash my own network just to make having the network trashed a reality instead of a bogeyman. But I will throw people off of the server for not playing by the rules, and I suspect that no one wants that. So they grumble when they think I'm not listening.
Leon understands my motivations, though, and Crystal does her best to understand, and that is enough. Jeff wants to understand and is getting better all the time.
This is probably the right time and place to thank Jeff for all his help. He does a lot of my physical running around, updating, and troubleshooting in the upper levels of the house. He sort of sub-administrates the four (five?) computers up there, and he does a very nice job of it...when he gets around to it. Thanks Jeff.
Soon Jeff will have a network printer to deal with up there. That'll be fun. Printers are a hairy lot.
I'm calling this good for now.

Sunday, October 10, 2004

The Saga of the GPS

A GPS has been on my wish list of toys for a long time. When I finally wrote down a list, it appeared just under the more practical essentials of computers and a car (none of which I’ve done justice to, but that’s another story). My interest in having a GPS increased after traveling to Florida with a coworker and doing some geocaching. My wife remained unconvinced, and without her blessing, I’d be hard pressed to justify the expense.

Still, the seed was planted, and the GPS had moved up on my list.

Finally, a week before our birthday, we went hiking with some friends in Logan. Before I went, my coworker looked up the location of some geocaches. I mentioned this to my friends, and they found a neighbor of theirs who had a GPS to go on the hike with us. Along the trail, we found two caches, and the world of geocaching had found six new converts. Among these was my wife.

Neither of us knew what to get the other for our birthday, so she (yes she) came up with the idea of us getting a GPS together. I was all for it (except that I feel bad about “sharing” something that I’ll probably have far more interest in). After shopping around for several days and picking a model, we went and ordered it from a dealer that we had heard good things about, who happened to have the lowest price on Froogle. I was upset that they only had one shipping option, which was 2nd day air at $15, but even with that, they beat the next best price (and had faster shipping, so bonus). Thursday, two days before our birthday, we placed the order.

The following Tuesday, after having heard nothing from them, not even an automated email response saying that they had received our order, I started checking into it. Their customer service line said that they would be out for a week on vacation, and their online order summary merely stated that our order was in a queue waiting to be processed. We cancelled that order, and went with the next vendor.

Now, a week after our birthday, our GPS is in a UPS facility on the outskirts of Chicago, presumably waiting for trucks to start moving again on Monday. If we’re lucky, we’ll have our unit on Thursday, two weeks after we placed our first order, and just days short of two weeks after our birthday. If we’re unlucky, the package will fall behind something and spend a couple days on an almost scenic tour of the Salt Lake valley, as some RAM I purchased once did.

Anyway, once it arrives, let us know and we’ll take you geocaching. It’s great.

Next week: An Entry that Doesn't Ramble as Badly, or Concise Advice

Friday, October 08, 2004

All Sushi'd Out

Hard to believe, but it's a fact.

On Wednesday, Dave and I were hungry after driving the young men home, so we went for Japanese. I for sushi, he for teriyaki chicken. I had three rolls to myself and they were quite good.

I shared some pieces of sushi with Dave, and he decided that they at least weren't bad.

Then yesterday I took Leon to a late lunch at Happy Sumo. We had five rolls between us. As previously stated, this one was my turn. Leon got the Priesthood Session one.

The tab was $70, and well worth it. Totally yum.

But I overdid it a bit at the Happy Sumo yesterday, and I'm good on sushi for maybe a week or two.

I may--or may not--take my family to Lagoon today. We'll see.

Thursday, October 07, 2004

The Problem of Polyominoes

Have you ever started a project and found it take over your life, and have you ever started working on something only to have it lose sight of its goal and take off in unexpected directions?

A couple of weeks ago, I was sitting in a meeting feeling bored, so I started entertaining myself by trying to find the 12 pentominoes (distinct arrangements of five rook wise connected squares that are unique with respect to reflections and rotations). I knew how many there were before I started, but I wasn’t able to come up with all 12 in my head. I quickly did it on paper, but then I wondered how many hexominoes there are. This problem I tackled on paper.

The next chance I got, I started writing a program in Matlab to find all of the polyominoes of a given order. After some fiddling, I got it working for N from 1 to 6. It would drop 18 of the heptominoes.

I decided that the Matlab code was too slow, and reworked it in C++. My initial efforts were thwarted by efforts to be clever and to organize the memory in useful ways. This ended up just confusing me, and since I had found a work-around to my initial indexing and allocation problem (which may have led to the program running faster), I went back to an algorithm that was fundamentally similar to the one I used in Matlab. Sure enough, it told me that there were 90 heptominoes, rather than the correct number of 108.

A quick comparison with a published list of heptominoes indicated that I had a parameter that was too restrictive (a looser parameter would have been more robust, but would have increased run time approximately 128 fold). Upon correcting it, both C++ and Matlab correctly identified 108 heptominoes.

I then turned to optimizing my algorithm for speed. This rose out of a number of issues, primarily that I wanted to find the number of 16-ominoes and also out of a desire to be “hackish” because of my recent discovery of the Jargon File. After a day or so of intermittent tweaking, I got the 10-omino runtime down from about 2 hours to 36 seconds (it obstinately refuses to go below that). It still takes about 20 minutes for the 11-omino level to run (compared with about 14 or more hours originally), and I have yet to generate a collection of 12-ominoes (although that may change soon). My goal is to generate the 16-ominoes, but that may be beyond anything I can do.

In the meantime, I’ve been obsessed.

Also, I want to wish a happy birthday to my cousin Tami (it’s today), and a belated birthday to Gary, Pet, Karinka, Melodie, and Charlie Brown, all of whom celebrated anniversaries on the 2nd, but I was too busy and self-absorbed to remember it at the time.

Tuesday, October 05, 2004


There's something wonky about both mediums of Dave's email. I sent him a total of three Blogger invites, and none of them would work. Then again, Weber's email system is crap, and MSN can't be that much better.

So I proposed that we send an invitation to me, and then create his account and fix the email address from there.

The first time, I was stupid and forgot to log off of Blogger before I opened the invitation link. So I blew the link.

The second time, I logged off AND opened the link in IE instead of FireFox. It worked. We should be seeing posts from Dave any time now.

So those of you who think that Dave is like the Loch Ness Monster and doesn't really exist...or have been observing that Dave and I never seem to be in the same place at the same time--the joke's on you.

Welcome, Dave. I hope you find interaction here worthwhile.

Hello good fellos!

My name is David and I feel honored to be apart of a time proven, professionally operated system of computer communication.
About myself- I'm married to Chalae from Kaysville, I have a one-year-old daughter named Elyzabeth, and I'm a Junior at Weber State University, Microbiology Major, hoping to become a P.A.
I know very little about computers and hope to be educated.

(Dave- I nixed your last name and your wife's former last name...anyone online can see this stuff and we want to be safe. -Jake)

Monday, October 04, 2004

This man needs sushi...STAT!

Jeez, I'm starvin'. I ate some Doritos at five, but now it's almost ten, and I've been thinking about sushi.
On Saturday night, Leon and I went to the Priesthood Session at my Stake Center, and then we went to Tepanyaki for sushi. We tried a few things we hadn't had before, and we ended up sending five rolls to sushi heaven.
We were seated at one of the griddle tables, where the chefs prepare all the ordinary meals as entertainment. Leon and I just sat there and watched while we waited for our sushi.
It didn't take too long to come, and we were eating about when everyone else at the table was. We ordered a second round of sushi and that didn't come until everyone had left, though.
The waitress was very nice. The chef was fun to watch, and he tossed a shrimp into my mouth. The sushi was superb. The sushi chefs there clearly know what they're doing.
It was also very reasonably priced, averaging around $4 less per roll than Happy Sumo.
Leon caught the check, so next time it's my turn. I won't mind at all.
Oh yeah, and General Conference was really good this year, too. But I'm hungry.
Happy birthday, Eric and Becks. Many more to you both.
Oh, did you notice when I changed our template we lost all our comments? Yeah. Gone. Nothing critically important there anyway.
Eric, can you make the 29th?

Observations of a Lab Aide

I work in the Davis Camus Information Commons. It's more commonly known as the computer lab.

Here are a few things I've observed:

1. The old "Which key is 'any' key" joke isn't just a joke among really happens.

2. Mac users don't know how to log off.

3. Neither do PC users. But they're better at logging off than Mac users are.

4. If you left your floppy disk in a machine and left, odds are about 50/50 that you'll ever see it again, IF you come back for it. Most lost floppies never get claimed, and I get to destroy old ones periodically.

5. If you left your Zip disk in a machine and left, kiss it goodbye. They don't get turned in. They just walk away.

6. If you left a textbook in the lab, it's surprisingly likely you'll get it back.

7. Nobody claims pirated music CDs from the lab's lost and found.

8. Almost no one knows how to push in a chair, even when all the chairs have wheels on them.

9. If the printer makes you wait more than a few seconds, press "Print" a few more times. Especially if there's a line at the printer.

10. When a floppy disk suddenly dies, it will take the user completely by surprise. And it's probably missing its little sliding door.

11. If you've stupidly lost your document because you didn't save it, yell at the lab aide. That will definitely help. And lab aides don't hold grudges.

12. If you're using a school PC to look at porn, don't bother switching windows when I walk by so I don't see...I already know.

13. Ditto for warez sites.

14. Don't bother being sneaky about copying pages from your textbook on the copier...I don't care.

15. The lab charges $1.00 for a floppy disk or a blank CD. It's a tax on people who are bad at remembering storage media. Put some discs in your bag so that when you need one, you'll have one.

16. Better yet, get a flash drive. They cost a little more, but they're well worth the extra money.

17. Nobody in the lab knows what a blog is.

18. About 40% of lab cell phone talkers don't understand what the sign that says "Please Go Outside To Talk On Your Cell Phone!!!!!" means.

19. But when I ask cell phone talkers to leave, they're usually pretty cool about it.

Funny...right after I wrote those last two, I asked a guy to take his call outside the lab. He was an asshat about it. Ah, well.

Saturday, October 02, 2004

Happy Birthday to Us

Today is birthday for both me and my wife. People, when hearing that we share a birthday, think that now I won’t forget her birthday. This year they were almost right. I got her a present a month ago, but this morning, it took an hour or so for me to remember that it was her birthday, or mine too. She had forgotten all together.

We’re getting a present together for us to share. We’re getting a GPS. It’s something from my long-time wish list, but after a recent hiking excursion in Logan Canyon, aided by GPS and with geocaching sidetrips, she became converted. Alas, we procrastinated ordering, so we probably won’t have it for a week or more.

There's a lot going on this weekend, all centering around our birthdays and the semiannual broadcast of General Conference. I wish that I could have a quieter birthday, but this is probably symptomatic of the increasing level of business in my life that has come with age and (presumably) maturity.

Anyway, Happy Birthday, me ducky.

Friday, October 01, 2004

Are You Lost?

I'll bet you double-checked your address bar when the page loaded.

Eric pointed out that new templates are available, so I loaded one. Now I'm going to have to re-construct the link bar.

Oh just knew I couldn't have a nice, new, shiny m205 for long without getting invasive all over it. Last night I ripped the anti-glare coating/sticker right off the screen.

I'd seen other m20x owners talk about the coating in Tablet forums, but I had forgot about it for a while. Yesterday I noticed that I could peel back the coating, and when I got home I went ahead and ripped it off. I had to spend a while with my bottle of lighter fluid and a towel removing adhesive junk, but now it's all good.

This screen is gorgeous. The anti-glare sticker they had on there was damned near opaque, and the pure, glowing, shiny-ness of the LCD has me ecstatic. It's beautiful.

Leon's Tablet has been sitting in a box for nearly a week now. I got an RMA on it, and UPS brought out a box. I packed it up and sent it to work with Crystal. They have UPS visit just about every day, so when I need something to go out, I just have them send it. Well, UPS hasn't been there this week.

So today, I'm hedging my bet. I called UPS and scheduled a pick up at the Clinic so that whatever happens, the box will go out today. Sorry, Leon.