Monday, April 18, 2005

Typhoid Mary strikes again

This weekend, I went down to my in-laws’ to install a wireless network. While installing a USB wireless adapter to a PC, I noticed that it was running slowly and had a lot of extra programs on it. There was a particularly suspicious registry run entry that had a lot of random looking consonants. After I deleted the entry, it came right back. So, with the wireless card fully installed, I set out trying to clean it up.

First, I ran an anti-spyware program (Ad Aware), which identified 706 objects (probably mostly cookies, you know how AdAware is), but stopped running while trying to delete the items it found. So, I installed and ran AVG anti-virus, which was partway through its scan (it found at least 19 viruses) when the computer crashed. It gave an error to the effect of “Unable to read from disk”. When I tried to reboot, it was unable to read anything from the hard drive.

The good news is that the viruses and spyware are gone, and instead of having hundreds of problems, her system has just one. The bad news is that her hard drive, including all of its data, is gone. We have plans to replace it and upgrade from Win98 to WinXP. This time, I’ll make sure that she has some better virus protection during the OS installation, as well as more secure browsers and such, so that she won’t be as likely to be infected again.

By the way, I usually don’t do nuke-n-loads by frying the harddrive.

Good Thing It Wasn't 10 Million More...

Re This:

Buyout mania continues: GameStop snaps up Electronics Boutique

By (Eric Bangeman)

It must be something in the air, as the second major acquisition of the day is announced. GameStop will acquire Electronics Boutique in a US$1.44 billion cash and stock deal. What does this mean for gamers?

I'll tell you what it means. It means that the money will just barely fit on a cash floppy disk.

I know, such a bad joke.

Sunday, April 17, 2005

Long Time, No Post (And Some Product Reviews)

Too long. I'm not very happy when I don't write. And I don't write when I'm not very happy.

I'm on yet another experimental drug regimen. Is it helping? I dunno, you tell me. No, I really mean that...would someone please tell me?

So a very dear friend of mine, Diane in (near) Milwaukee, called me last night. I wasn't able to answer the call at the time, so we got in touch today.

Diane is only semi-digital, so at times she has an email address, and at times she doesn't. Well, now she has one again and I'm thrilled because that's just about the only way I can bring myself to communicate with someone on a regular basis nowadays (and it's cheaper than long-distance calling). Diane, it was wonderful talking to you today. I hope that you and I will know one another again as well as we used to.

Jeff and I have been going to Leon's to play billiards on the weekends. Last time we went, it was decided that Leon was getting too tired and needed a Slurpee. So we went, and as Jeff and Leon both owe me Slurpees, they decided amongst the two of themselves that Leon was buying.

We got there, acquired the desired Slurpees and went to pay. As we were standing in line, I glanced at the magazine rack, and out of the corner of my eye, saw something looking like money. When I looked directly at it, there was a five dollar bill tucked neatly in front of one of the magazines.

I picked it up, showed it to Leon, and tucked it away. Leon presented his debit card to pay for the drinks, but the lady ran the card wrong, so it declined. He was taking a while to get the card back out of his wallet again, so I quickly presented the found $5 bill.

I still think it's amazing and incredibly unlikely that we just found three Slurpees and some change sitting in a magazine rack like that.

I just finished reading "How To Find The Work You Love," by Laurence G. Boldt. It was an utter waste of paper and ink, because the title of the book and the description on the back cover are simply incorrect. A more appropriate title would be something to the effect of: "A Collection Of Quotes Meant To Inspire You, That Unintentionally Come Off As Cheesy, And Some Thoughts On Ignoring The Discouraging Voices In Your Head So That You Can Pursue What You Really Love, But That You Would Already Have Heard From Your High School Career Counselor, Had You Been Listening."

Fortunately, I paid a dollar for the book on clearance in the university book store. And now I see why.

I recently found a Canon PowerShot SD100 Digital Elph refurbished for about $160. The review linked to lists it for its original retail price, $499. So yeah, $160 is a screamin' deal, and I buy refurbished electronics all the time with good results overall.

Aside: Here's my theory on refurbished goods. I don't understand why they cost less, but I like it. I've got oodles of experience in buying electronics, and the refurbished items I've bought don't break more than the new ones do, they break less. No, really, it's true. I figure that any item that's been through quality control twice instead of once is likely to be in pretty good shape. And that's why I don't shy away when the words "refurbished" or "factory reconditioned" are thrown around. I dig the concept.

At any rate, the refurbished version comes with everything but a memory card, and it's actually a good thing, because the card that's included with a new one is only 16MB. Well, I burn through 16MB in about 14 seconds, so I was going to have to buy a new card anyway. I found a cheap Kingston 512MB card and bought it (of all places, from Dell. Who knew they had such good prices on items other than embarrassingly underpowered PCs? But I'm still testing the ice with them.).

Anyway, I got the camera and LOVED it. Excellent feel, excellent interface, superb picture quality, and a price that made me feel like the cops will be here any minute. Loved it. And then it broke.

Yep. The darn thing broke. I suspect that it simply did again what caused it to be returned in the first place. The lens mechanism jammed open while powering it off. The first couple of times, I cycled the power over and over, and the camera figured out the problem and fixed itself. But the third time, no amount of power cycling fixed it. Ah well. At least it jammed permanently while still in warranty. I was grateful.

So, I returned the SD100 and found a new, not refurbished, SD110 at Amazon for only $10 more. The next model up, new, for just ten bucks more. And at Amazon too, so free shipping.

So now I'll have a 16MB SD card and nothing at all useful for it to do. It's too small to use as a bookmark. Too fragile to pin up on the wall with a thumbtack. Not recognized by the US Postal Service as actual postage, even though the makers of such cards compare their size to postage stamps, so I can't mail a letter with it. Not even with tape. Hmph. I guess it'll go into my drawer with electronic odds and ends. Can't Amazon just keep it and discount me the $10? I suppose not, as it's already at the local UPS office and will be delivered tomorrow, along with the camera that I hunger for. Grrrrrrrrr...

So, you ask, why no posts for so long? I'm choosing not to say for now. But I think things will be better for a while now.

Friday, April 15, 2005

I can see clearly now, the grain is gone...

We just bought a new 17” LCD monitor. It’s probably a low-end one (we got it on sale for half off at $150), but it was immediately obvious just how much better it is than my old monitor. It’s embarrassing to use them in a dual monitor configuration. I don’t think we’ll ever go back to CRT.

Setec Astronomy

It has probably been about 3 months since I first stared looking at PGP. I downloaded a PGP client (note: I downloaded a free version from the PGP Corporation website that I cannot find again today, so this is the MIT site that my wife downloaded from, and our versions look identical and are compatible), tried to find a plugin for my mail client (note: a plugin now exists, called EnigMail, although it looks like it may be buggy), and tried (halfheartedly) to get a few friends to try it too so that we could exchange encrypted messages. Nothing happened. I didn’t even install any software.

Then yesterday my wife told me about a project she was doing for a class where she had to use PGP to encrypt a message and send it to her teacher. So, I finally downloaded it and used it to exchange a message with her. I don’t think that PGP will catch on between us for several reasons. First, it’s difficult for us to do, since I have only been able to encrypt files, rather than email messages (if the email extension works, then that might remove this issue, making it feasible to use). Second, we hardly ever communicate via digital writing or files. Third, we don’t anticipate that any person or organization will try to snoop on our messages.

I’d still like to try PGP exchanges with fellow Phischkneght members. If EnigMail works, then maybe I’ll push for it again, but harder this time.

Saturday, April 09, 2005

Cosmetic Update

Since Phischkneght changed its face some time ago, I've been disappointed that the links on the right hand side didn't survive the change. Well, tonight, I've finally got around to fixing that. I've added links for every blog (that I know of) that's written by Pnet contributors. Conspicuously absent is Jeff's blog/commercial site that seems to be missing.

If anyone sees anything that should be added, let me know.

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Factor away your troubles!

Saturday night, I was sitting in a dark room listening to some speakers. While they were fairly interesting (one guy started out telling about a drug bust that almost went bad), I found myself getting very bored. I always do when I’m just listening to people talking, so this came as no surprise, but this time I had nothing that I could really do. I had no useable electronics on hand, and it was too dark to use something that didn’t have backlighting. So, I remembered a problem that I had been working on a few days before:

r is a root of x^4-x^3+x^2-x+1=0. Evaluate r^40-r^30+r^20-r^10+1. (The original problem stated that the latter equation was equal to 0, but that was incorrect.)

I had tried a thing or two on paper before, and fallen asleep before making any headway when trying to work it out in my head. While we still had a bit of light from the dusk, I tried out a few more things on paper, but I soon found myself working entirely in my head in the darkness.

Quickly I could eliminate -1, 0, and 1 as possible roots. I did realize though that the product of the four roots is 1, and that their sum is -1. From this, I assumed that all four roots had magnitude 1 in the complex domain. If a root is complex, then the conjugates must cancel. From this, I assumed that the imaginary part of the x^4 term corresponded to the imaginary part of the x term. I let r=e^it where e is Euler’s number, i is the imaginary number, and t is an angle (in radians). If -(e^it)+(e^4it) is real, then pi+t=2*pi-4t. This gives 5t=pi (actually, 5t=pi+2k*pi, where k=0, 1, 3, or 4), and so r=e^i*pi/5, or (back in degrees), r=cos 72+i*sin 72. This means that r^10=1, and the desired solution is 1-1+1-1+1=1.

The cool thing about this is that I correctly factored a quartic function with complex roots in my head, and it took less than an hour, leaving me free to learn about the evils of poker later in the meeting, comforted by the fact that r^40-r^30+r^20-r^10+1=1<>0.