New Glasses

A couple of weeks ago, I tried out a new optometrist at the recommendation of my Uncle Mike. My Uncle Mike is an optometrist in Niles, MI, and he had worked with a fellow that had moved to the Indianapolis area to start a practice. On his advice, I payed Dr. Hopkins a call at Progressive Vision Group. It had been over a year since my last checkup, I was out of contacts, and I was thinking about getting a new pair of glasses and frames.

I was really impressed with the practice. Dr. Hopkins practices with three other doctors at their location. They had some very interesting technology in place to test my eyes. Gone was the little puff of gas, and the fluid to dilate my eyes. Instead, they had a machine that could do the equivalent of both. They measured my current prescription, and also performed a scan of my retina. This was really cool. I had never seen what the backside of my eyeball looked like. The images looked like some deep space photo from the Hubble. They noticed that there was a bit of seperation of the inside wall of my eye on one eye, but that it was probably nothing to worry about. The doctor said that it could have been like that for quite some time and I just never knew about it.

After my exam, Jenn helped me to pick out a set of frames. The current style is for very small frames. I have a large skull. Small glasses just make my head look even bigger. It was really hard to find a pair that set well on my face, but we found a pretty cool pair of Nike / Flexon frames in an old gold color that we liked. They were bigger than some of the ultra tiny frames, but still smaller than my current pair. My current pair are a dark brown or black color, and the frames are pretty big. They didn't really flatter me anymore. My eyebrows are out of control, but I'm a man, and refuse to pluck or wax them. The frames kind of blended that all together to give me that sexy uni-brow effect. I was hoping that new frames would eliminate that. Also, my prescription is so thick that I end up with a lot of internal reflections, and it really bugs me. Anti-reflective coating on a new set of lenses would likely help that out a lot.

Once I had settled on the frames, the assistant who was helping us asked if I would like to try some clip on tinted lenses as well. I hadn't even considered this, and had already said no when Jenn convinced me to try them. I don't usually wear sunglasses, largely because I don't have a prescription pair, and I wear my glasses more often than my contacts. I've been accustomed to just squinting in the sun. Jenn brought up a good point though, that all that squinting would eventually lead to wrinkles and droopy skin, so I tried on a set. They were really convenient, and definitely helped out in the sun. The polarized lenses helped to take care of the glare as well. So I decided to go ahead and order a set of vermilion colored clip ons.

My glasses arrived today, a full week earlier than I was expecting to get them, and I'm really happy with them. They do a great job of eliminating my uni-brow, and the reflections are all but gone. They are also much lighter than my previous pair, and I don't feel them as much on my ears or on my nose. The ear piece goes straight back, rather than curving around, which is very comfortable. I'm still getting used to using the clip ons, but they do a good job of making it easier to see in the sun. I suppose that was the point. Overall, I'm very happy with my new set of glasses!

Obsolete Technology

It's amazing how fast cutting edge technology can become obsolete. Take, for instance, the Iomega HipZip MP3 player that Jenn got me for Christmas two years ago. At the time, it was one of the better rated MP3 players. It used a propietary disk technology called Clik! that only Iomega manufactured. The discs, which were about the size of a 50 cent piece, could store up to 40MB of music. The average player on the market had between 32-64MB of storage. The benefit of the HipZip was that the storage was removeable, so you could expand your music collection well beyond a single disk.

Today, the HipZip is a relic. Iomega no longer produces the disks or the device. The ample 40MB that it provided is now dwarfed by the storage of an iPod Mini, which provides several Gigabytes of storage (1 Gigabyte = 1024 Megabytes). The iPod Mini is also smaller and lighter.

I bring this up because I was in the basement the other day and I spotted my HipZip. It was setting on the shelf, collecting dust. I had used it quite a bit when I was in the habit of jogging, but it has since fallen out of favor. It takes a bit too much effort to load music onto the device, and it was a little bulky to carry while jogging. I tried clipping it on one time, but it banged around so much I ended up with a sore. When I tried using it yesterday, the battery would no longer hold a charge. I went on eBay to see if the disks themselves had any value, and I could probably get a few bucks for each of the disks I have. That's not quite worth my effort to take them to the post office though.

So what was new, cutting edge technology just two years ago is now obsolete. Maybe I can find some interesting new use for my HipZip player. Perhaps I can rig it to play video games?

Equipment Malfunction

I had a couple of unexpected cases of equipment malfunction over the weekend. The first was with the coffee maker. Ordinarily, this would have been a crisis, but fortunately we had a spare coffee maker in the basement. We received two very nice coffee makers for our wedding. I had been using the coffee / cappuccino maker since we married, but I hardly ever used the espresso maker side of the machine. The machine made great coffee, but the pot was very difficult to pour from, often resulting in coffee spilled all over the counter. So when I saw that the filter wasn't passing any water through, it didn't really break my heart to start using another coffee maker.

The new one is a caraffe coffee maker. It is much smaller than the old one, but it brews a bigger pot that is much nicer to pour from. Additionally, the caraffe acts as a thermos, so if I make a pot at the beginning of the day, the coffee will stay good and warm all day long. No more spills, no more one cup pots, and lots of room left on the counter. Bonus!

The second issue was a damaged power cable for my school laptop. This was really frustrating for me. First, it was frustrating because I know that it was my own fault that the cable was damaged. I didn't take good enough care of it and left it dangling on the couch. One swipe of the recliner managed to nearly cut through the cord. Lucky for us, it didn't throw any sparks or start a fire. A new cable will run between $20 - $50, but I figured I could probably repair the cord. It was damaged on the DC side of the converter, and my only worry was that it would be like a Dell power brick that has a data line. Fortunately, it wasn't. After about an hour of frustrating work with a wire stripper, crimper, and electrical tape, I had a working fix. It is not ideal, but it will work well enough to charge the battery on the laptop, which is all I really need I suppose.

Movie Review : Paycheck

Saturday night, Jenn and I watched the movie Paycheck, which stars Ben Affleck and Uma Thurman. The movie centers around Michael Jennings (Affleck), who makes his living by reverse engineering products for competing companies, and building better products based on the technology. In order to prevent Affleck from using that technology again, his customers erase his memory of his inventions. Jennings is approached by a long time customer with a big offer. Three years of his life for big, one time check.

In what is a blink of an eye, the job is over for Jennings. He has no memory of what he has been up to for the last three years. But he quickly finds that not everything went as planned. Just a few short weeks prior to the end of his contract, he forfeited his paycheck, and left himself with 20 essentially useless knick-knacks. The movie follows along as he tries to determine why he forfeited such a huge payday, and why so many people seem bent to end his life.

I had been looking forward to this movie since I read a preview for it in Wired magazine. The plot comes from a short story Philip K. Dick, who also penned Minority Report. It is an interesting action movie, that goes against most other action films by giving you something to think about why you watch bullets fly. What if you could erase chunks of your memory? Would you erase any horrible accidents so you no longer had nightmares about them? Would you whittle down your memories to only the good ones? The film presents more interesting questions as well, but I won't spoil the plot for you here.

If you are a Sci-Fi fan, or enjoyed Minority Report, I think there is a good chance that you might like Paycheck.

Stupid Sports

Sometimes, an extreme sport is just stupid. At least in my mind. Take, for instance, competitive free diving. In this sport, a person takes a deep breath at the surface, and then sees how far down they can go. I'm thinking that there are only two, maybe three outcomes here.

  1. Make the depth (Yeah)
  2. Turn back early (sigh)
  3. Drown (yikes!)

Maybe I'm conservative, but count me out for any sport where my options are succeed or drown. In the "no limit" version of the sport, competitors hang on to a heavy weight on a cable that will pull them to a depth much faster than they could swim to it. Then, when they hit bottom, they inflate a baloon that will (hopefully) haul them to the surface. Recently, a competitive free diver attempting to set a record drowned during her attempt. There were a couple of mechanical issues: The weight did not pull her down fast enough, and the air bag leaked, slowing her ascent as well. It was a very unfortunate "accident", but in my mind this was suicide.

Now, I have to admit, I might be a hypocrite here. I say that because I've been sky diving and I've bungie jumped. I think these are a little different. Sure, an equipment malfunction will result in death, just like the free divers. However, if the equipment works perfectly, I should have no problems. With free diving, even if the equipment works, there is always the chance that you might black out, or have medical trauma. And once that happens, you're hosed. Count me out of the free diving game.

Book Review : Unleashing the Killer App

For my business information systems class, we were assigned to read the book "Unleashing the Killer App : Digital Strategies for Market Dominance" by Larry Downes & Chunka Mui. I thought it was an outstanding book covering the changes that any Killer App technology can have on a firm, and how best to enable your firm to not only cultivate a Killer App, but to know how to deal with the result of unleashing one.

The book is primarily focused on a discussion of the 12 critical tenets to unleashing a killer app:

  1. Outsource to the customer
  2. Cannabalize your markets
  3. Treat each customer as a market segment of one
  4. Create communities of value
  5. Replace rude interfaces with learning interfaces
  6. Ensure continuity for the customer, not yourself
  7. Give away as much information as you can
  8. Structure every transaction as a joint venture
  9. Treat your assets as liabilities
  10. Destroy your value chain
  11. Manage innovation as a portfolio of options
  12. Hire the children

I found the book very easy to read and easy to pick up on the concepts that the authors were trying to get across. This is a book that you can sit down and read in a single sitting, and come away with ideas of how to make your business better, and how to be Killer App friendly. You can either purchase a hard copy from Amazon, or read the entire book online.

Don't let the title fool you, this is not a how to manual on creating killer app technology. Instead, it is a primer on how killer apps and new technology fundamentally effect the economic and business environment. Heavily based on the economic research of Coase, and Moore's and Metcalfe's laws, the authors put forth sound reasoning on how new technologies will continue to change businesses. The book was originally released in 1996, and some of the examples may seem a bit dated, but the information and guidance the book provides is timeless. For anyone desiring to succeed in business today, the topics shouldn't be new to you, but it should be a reminder of the pitfalls that some business succumb to.

After reading this book, I immediately came away with ideas of how to change our business for the better. We are a services company, and although we don't have a specific product, our services are our killer app. In order to enhance that killer app status, we can utilize some of basic principals enumerated in the chapters to continuously improve our business.

The Tie Project

My tie wearing experiment continues. I really didn't expect to get the kind of negative reaction I've received from wearing a tie. Evidently, it is not socially acceptable to wear ties any longer. A couple of folks have asked if I've been looking for a job. Some have assumed that I had a presentation to give for that nights' class. This is really interesting to me. I'm not sure what it is about my wearing a tie, but it really puts people off. Our friend Jenn came in the office today and saw that I was wearing a tie, and could hardly hide her disgust for it. In any case, the response I've received has been almost universally negative and unsupportive. What is it about ties that makes people so uneasy?

And it's not like I'm pushing the tie thing on anyone else either. I've not asked anyone else to wear a tie. I've not suggested that we should all wear ties. It has been a 100% personal decision. Yet, people seem to feel very threatened. It is as if, when I start wearing a tie, it's going to wash over like a rapidly spreading disease and then everyone will have to wear ties. That's not my goal. It is a very interesting response though.

In fairness, some folks are just giving me a hard time. That's fine, I sort of expect that. Anytime something changes, especially with your look, people are going to react to the change. I'm sure if I shaved my head bald I'd get some ribbing too.

So why am I wearing a tie? I look good in a tie. I'm not trying to be self-centered, vain, or go on a big ego trip or anything. I do look nice wearing a dress shirt and tie though. It isn't horribly uncomfortable either. In fact, it's no worse than any other clothes that I wear. Putting the tie on takes fractionally longer than putting on my "normal" clothes, and it is kind of fun to tie the knot each morning. I like that I look professional. I also like the way Jenn looks at me when I'm dressed nicely. She gives me compliments about it, and thinks I look good. That makes it all worthwhile.


Spike!Tonight was volleyball night. Sixteen people ignored the stormy weather, pacer game, and sticky heat of the gym to come out and play. I finally remembered to bring my camera with me to get some pictures of the action. You can see them at the group site that I put together. If you are in the area, feel free to drop in some Tuesday night for a fun evening of volleyball. We have a pretty regular core group that comes in to play, and we are always excited to see new players.

Rat Bastards

I'm not sure why, but this website cracked me up. The rat hunter has a serious rodent problem.

Movie Review : Big Fish

Jenn and I just finished watching Tim Burton's latest film, Big Fish. Tim Burton is pretty well known for releasing weird movies (Edward Scissorhands, The Nightmare before Christmas, Ed Wood, etc.) Big Fish fits in with that line. It follows the story of William Bloom, a man who has lived his life listening to his father, Ed, tell whoppers of stories. The stories tell the tale of his father's life, but are so outlandish as to be unbelievable. The movie follows the recounting of those stories as his father nears death. Will is desperate to determine who his father really is, and to finally know his father for more than the stories.

I don't really know how to describe this movie. I liked it, and Jenn liked it too. It's sort of a fairy tale. It isn't over the top, like some of Burton's films, but it still has the whimsical characters, sets, and all around kookiness that is his trademark. Overall, I thought it was a fun movie to watch. I'd recommend it, but with a word of warning : it is still a Tim Burton film. That being said, if you find yourself in the video store trying to decide on a movie to watch, try this one.

Opinion : American Occupation of Iraq

The American Occupation of Iraq has been a pretty hot topic in the news lately, and with the election coming up I'm sure we'll be hearing a lot more. The latest scandal deals with the torture of prisoners at the Abu Ghraib prison, and the beheading of American Nicholas Berg.

Regarding the abuse of the prisoners in Iraq, I'm pretty apalled. Yes, war is hell. Yes, I might have a different mindset if I were a soldier in Iraq working prison detail. I'm still a human being though. To call some of the photos of the abuse at the prison "disturbing" is a gross understandment. The Sue vs. Richard incident in Survivor was disturbing. The torture of prisoners at the Abu Ghraib prison is most dispicable, reprehensible, disgusting thing I have seen done in the name of the American Way. It makes me very sad, and very angry. This is not how I want to be represented, and it is not how I want my country to be represented. Sure, this group is not representative of the whole of the American forces in Iraq. Everyday there are real heros in Iraq getting hurt and killed in an effort to stabilize the country. I'll leave how we got to this point for another post.

The abuse of the prisoners is disgusting. What is even more disgusting is hearing the people involved claiming that it was due to inadequate training and that they were under orders from a superior officer. The first time I heard that on the news I really felt the need to throw up. Inadequate training? What happened to being human? No one has to tell me that it is not okay to force prisoners to perform gay sex acts on each other. No one has to tell me that it is wrong to torture people that are being held captive. In many cases, the prisoners are folks who did nothing wrong. They were just unfortunate enough to be at the wrong place at the wrong time.

I've heard some folks argue that this is war, and that in times of war, the rules change. In times of war, the use of any means necessary to get information that may save American lives will be taken. I don't buy that. I especially don't buy that when I see an American soldier pointing, smiling, laughing, and enjoying the humiliation, abuse, and torture of people. What happened at that prison was not just the interrogation of prisoners for information vital to the war effort. It was torture for the simple pleasure of seeing someone else suffer. I'm getting mad just thinking about it now.

The second hot topic has to do with the beheading of Nick Berg. A group of men, apparently acting as part of Al Qaeda, took him as a hostage, and recorded his beheading as an act of revenge for the atrocities at Abu Ghraib. I ran across a link to the video (I won't provide it here), and it was anything but quick and painless. I won't go into the details, but it was gruesome. The killing was barbaric. What's worse is that Nick had no affiliation with the army. He was just an American who made the unfortunate decision to be in Iraq. I don't know how to feel about it. I certainly feel bad for the families. It must be very difficult to lose your son in this way, and even worse to have it televised. Still, it just doesn't measure up to the magnitude of disgust that I feel towards the soldiers at the Abu Ghraib prison. Nick Berg's killing was done by a small, radical group. The impact was the death of a single man. At Abu Ghraib, the US is endorsing the torture of hundreds of Iraqis. I don't want to sound like a sympathiser, I'm not. Maybe I'm just desensitized to the types of things that the radical groups in the middle east will do (suicide bombings, using children as mine sweepers, terrorist acts, etc.) but I hold my country and my countrymen to a higher standard. We are better than that. I certainly hope that those involved in the prison abuse receive some type of severe punishment, and not just a slap on the wrist and a quick cover-up.

New Modem

The new modem arrived today! I received my Motorola SurfBoard SB4200 cable modem. This is to replace my old LinkSys modem. It's nice to be able to surf the web and not worry if the number of links on the page will cause the modem to crash. What a piece of junk. The switchover process was fairly painless. I spent 20 minutes waiting for an Insight tech support person to answer the phone, but then they had it switched over in less than 5 minutes. Other than a long wait time, not a bad situation. I could have done it all myself if I knew what the mystery account / registration number was. Evidently I didn't remember to write that one down.

In any case, the new modem is working well. I've written a couple of simple apps to fire up a bunch of request threads, and it hasn't blinked. The LinkSys would die immediately when I ran that same code. This is good news! I'm a happy geek.

Latest Addiction

I have a new addiction, and I blame Blogger. It's these new profiles. I click on one, then I go to the interests, then I browse some others, read some other blogs..... Gotta stop.

CD Bit Rot

For my Management of Business Information Systems class, we had to write a summary paper on an article in the news that pertained to information technology. I found an article in the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette describing Bit Rot. Below is my summary.

Compact Disc "Bit Rot"

Svensson, Peter; "CDs, DVDs: Handle with care to prevent disc rot" Fort Wayne Journal Gazette (May 10, 2004)

Long thought to be the indestructible media of the future, compact discs and DVDs are beginning to show signs of vulnerability. The media, which was first introduced 80's, is manufactured simply enough. The disc is composed of a plastic wafer with a thin metal film applied to the top. This metal film is then coated to protect it, and to allow the application of a label. As the disc spins, a laser beam is reflected off of the bottom of the disc. Small pits in the disc allow the beam to be either reflected or scattered, translating into the binary 1's and 0's that computers understand. The media was designed such that scratches to the bottom surface would not prevent the media from being read.
Although the bottom of the disc is clearly protected, the top of the disc is strangely vulnerable to defects. The metal film which contains the information for the disc is only protected by a thing coating from the top of the disc. This thin coating can be destroyed by the very minor scratches, such as from a ball point pen or stacking with other discs. Once damaged, the metal film is exposed to the air, and this can allow the media to oxidize, much like the body panels on a car rust. Once the damage is done, it is irreversible, and can completely consume the disc.

Bit rot, as this phenomenon is termed, can be catastrophic to IT departments attempting to archive their data. Federal regulations and corporate policies often require that data be stored and retrievable for seven years and longer. Compact discs were seen as the cheap alternative to tape backup, and were thought to be much more reliable. Now archivists must scramble to ensure that this data is not destroyed by bit rot, and find a more reliable alternative for storage.


Those maps got me to thinking.... I've been a lot of places! My parents lived in Germany for a couple of years, and I went on a visit to see them. They took me to Paris, France, and to London, England. We also toured Berlin. In order to get there, I had to fly through the international airport in Denmark. So Denmark may not really count, but I did set foot in that country. I've only been in Canada fleetingly. The first time was during a conference with a group of GM interns. We were in Detroit, and decided to cross the border to Windsor so we could go drinking. We were 18 at the time, and that was the drinking age in Canada.

As you can see, I'm well travelled throughout the US. Part of that is due to the places where my relatives live, and part of it is due to my job. I have relatives in California, Washington, Michigan, and Indiana. We also took a road trip out West as a family that took us through several of the plains states. Whenever I fly to the West Coast to see relatives, it is usually through the Minneapolis / St. Paul hub in Minnesota. The family that now lives in Washington at one point lived in Oregon. Jenn and I took our honeymoon to Alaska. For a time, we lived in Maryland, and Jenn has several friends that live along the East Coast. We did some traveling so that we could visit with all of them. As a family, we used to spend every spring break in Panama City Beach, Florida. Finally, work has sent me to Ardmore, OK, and Canton, MS. When I was job hunting out of college, Jenn and I spent a night in Austin, TX, to see if it was for us.

It looks like I've visited 37 of the 50 states. Perhaps when Corbin is older we will take our own family road trip and hit up the rest of the states that we are missing. A driving trip to Arizona would be pretty extreme though.

Oh the Places You'll Go

This is sort of interesting. World66 allows you to generate maps of all of the places you have been, either in the world or within the US. Pretty neat stuff.

create your own visited country map

create your personalized map of europe

create your own personalized map of the USA

or write about it on the open travel guide


Recently, I've started wearing a tie to work. Three weeks ago I had a presentation to do for my class, so I wore a tie that day. I decided to go ahead and wear a tie for the rest of the week. I only had four ties, so on dress-down-friday, I didn't wear one. Over the weekend, Jenn picked me up some new dress shirts and ties. They all look very nice, and I like them a lot. So yesterday I wore a tie and dress shirt again. I've honestly been surprised by the reaction I've received. From the rest of the engineers, it is largely incredulity, anger, head shaking, and mild disgust. I really don't understand that. From the administration, I've received mixed reviews. One of the staff is hoping to make tie wearing a trend, so he is all for it. The rest sort of give me funny looks. The company CEO mentioned that it looked good the other day, but also added that it looked strange that I wasn't wearing a belt (I don't have a belt that will fit the ringlets of those slacks).

Today, I'm back in a tie. We'll see what the reaction is today.


Ever since my finance class, I've been watching the stock market with a bit more interest. Specifically, I've been watching the value of Sirius stock. Our group did a presentation on Sirius for our class, and we thought that, although they were not currently profitable, this company should probably do pretty well. If the pay-for-radio industry takes off anything like the pay-for-television industry did, both Sirius and XM could have a huge stock value. XM currently trades around $20, which I thought was a bit high, but Sirius trades around $3. I figured that I could buy 100 shares of Sirius just for fun. It would be a neat way to learn more about the stock market, trading, and finance. Plus, at $3 / share, even if Sirius goes bust I'm only out $300. By our estimation, it will take Sirius until late 2005, if then, to become profitable. The content of the streams is very good, and I've been listening to Sirius radio for a little over 6 months now. I'm very happy with the service, and I would definitely re-up my subscription. Subscribers are signing on, albeit at a slow pace.

The only dark cloud for Sirius is that they won't be able to operate at a loss for very much longer. If they haven't reached profitability by the end of 2005, I don't know if they will be able to survive. XM, on the other hand, has the backing of several major players, including GM and Clear Channel. Those folks have a vested interest in the continued survival of XM, as it presents a subscription market that both companies feel is vital to their future profitability. So I can XM surviviing even if they are not profitable in that same time frame.

I said last week that if Sirius dropped below $3 per share that I would buy it. As of right now it is trading at $2.89. Hmm.... decisions, decisions

New Blog Features

Blogger added some new features today, such as comments being hosted by Blogger rather than through Enetation, my previous provider. I'm going to try some of this stuff out, so my blog may be a little weird for the next day or so.

Karting Pictures

As promised, I've added the karting pictures to our Yahoo Photo Albums. Go check it out! We were in Kart #5. Below is a picture of me making a pass on a couple of the other racers, and a picture of the nice hickey I got from my belt.

Go Karting

Yesterday we had a Company outing to Fast Times go kart track. Fast Times is an indoor, two-level track here in Indy. It was a blast! We've done this before as a corporate outing, and the last time I didn't do very well. This year, I've dropped some weight, and I had a better idea of how to handle the car. I think we also had a superior car to the one we drove last year. In any case, I drove really well, and had a fastest lap time of 26.001 seconds. That was the second fastest time out of our group, and the 15th best time for the entire week. Some pretty serious drivers go there throughout the week, so I was pretty proud of my time.

I paid a hefty price for our good time though. I had a couple of spin outs, and one spectacular wreck into the wall. At the top of the ramp leading to the lower level, I lost my grip on the wheel and slammed head on into the wall. I was travelling at a pretty good clip, and my rear wheels lifted off the ground due to the impact. I've got a really nice belt rash on my neck now, and a couple of big bruises on the inside of my leg from where I braced myself. Everyone who went was a little sore today, but it was so much fun. I have a couple of blisters on my palms from gripping the wheel, and it is making it a little difficult to type.

We ran a LeMans style race. We were broken up into teams of two, and each team determined their own driver swapping strategy. I was paired with our intern Scott E. We both did really well out there. I drove for the first 20 minutes, then Scott took over for the next 30. I drove for another 20 minutes, and Scott finished up the race. They cut the race a bit short at an hour and 20 minutes. Everyone was exhausted, and some people needed to leave. Rather than strand drivers on the track without relief, they called the race. Scott and I finished third, 5 laps back from the leader and only a few seconds back from second place. Jason and Dave were on the winning team. Dave is an amateur race car driver, and really knows how to race. We all knew that he was going to blow us all away.

I felt really proud of my improvement this year. Last year my team finished 9th, due in large part to my inability to get the kart around the track in a timely fashion. Finishing third was a huge ego booster for me. I'm really looking forward to our next trip out. One of the staff brought a camera, and when they send out the pictures from the event, I'll be sure to post them here.

Cable Modem

I'm really frustrated with our cable modem. For the longest time I trusted LinkSys as a provider of networking equipment, like network cards, hubs, routers, and other equipment. They had low prices and the equipment worked well. This cable modem has changed all that. I have the BEFCMU10 (version 2) cable modem. It works fine, as long as I don't stress it out. If I try to do too many things at once, it crashes. If I go to Fark and checkout a photoshop contest, it crashes. If I write a program to scan for web servers, it crashes. And when the modem crashes, I have to go down to the basement and physically unplug it from the wall in order to get it to reset. Sometimes, when the modem boots back up, it gets a new IP address. When this happens, I have to reboot the router and all of the computers in the house as well to give them access to the web again. It is a real pain, and I'm tired of it happening.

I've read several posts on the web indicating that this is a well known and common problem for folks using the modem. Unfortunately, LinkSys hasn't posted a fix for it, and it doesn't look like they are going to. So now I'm checking out eBay for a new modem. My dad has the Motorola modem, and my friend Jason uses the Toshiba. Neither have had any trouble at all with their equipment. I found listings for modems for under $20 bucks at eBay, and I think I'm going to get one. It just isn't worth the hassle of rebooting the modem all the time.

On top of the problems I've had with the LinkSys modem, here at work we were using a LinkSys wireless access point for a while. It was a piece of junk. The signal strength was terrible, and it constantly dropped connections, or actively refused new ones. It was a real pain. We eventually switched over to Netgear equipment, and haven't had any trouble since. Sorry LinkSys, your quality issues have lost you another customer.


I passed another Microsoft Certification exam today! Woohoo! I completed exam 70-315 : Developing Web Applications with Visual C# .NET. I had been studying for the exam for a while, but I had not taken the time to really concentrate on it. So yesterday I spent all day studying the practice tests and reviewing the book. By mid-afternoon, I felt like I was as ready as I was ever going to be. I scheduled my exam for 9:45 this morning, and passed with flying colors. I scored a 886 out of a possible 1000 points. A score of 700 was needed to pass. I'm glad I finally forced myself to get that exam out of the way. I have one more exam to go before I achieve my Microsoft Certified Application Developer (MCAD) status, and two more after that to be a Microsoft Certified Solution Developer (MCSD).

Computer Problems

I'm often asked to fix a PC that is experiencing problems. The majority of the time, the person says that they have too many pop-ups, have programs they don't want, or are infected with a virus of some kind. I've found put together a list of items below that can help you prevent your PC from becoming a nuissance, and possibly "fix" as well. SInce the majority of the folks I help out are using some flavor of Windows, this is geared towards Windows users.

1. Use Windows Update

Keeping your operating system up to date is critical. Microsoft provides a website for downloading the latest patches and upgrades for all of their supported versions of Windows. It is absolutely critical that you visit this site often and install the updates as they become available. Microsoft even provides a tool that will alert you when new updates are available and automatically download them while you are online. These patches will protect your system from infections and keep you up to date with the latest features. The biggest drawback is that these patches can take a long time to download, especially for dial up users. When my brother-in-law received a laptop for Christmas, I updated it with all the patches, and even on our fast cable modem it took a little over an hour to get the system fully updated. For dial-up users this can take days, and can be frustrated by dropped connections. Still, you need to do this to prevent your PC from acting up.
2. Use a Firewall

Starting with Windows Me, Microsoft has built in an Internet Connection Firewall into the operating system. Unfortunately, it is disabled by default. To protect yourself from viruses and worms, I highly recommend that you turn this on. If you already have a hardware firewall, use that, but if not, the Internet Connection Firewall (ICF) will save you a lot of headaches. With the ICF turned on, even if other folks on your network get infected, you have an extra level of protection that could save you. Maybe I'll post another topic on how to enable and configure the ICF.
3. Don't Indulge in Guilty Pleasures

And I'm not just talking about internet porn. If you are downloading songs from a file sharing app like Kazaa, Bear Share, LimeWire, or any of the other P2P network apps, stop. If you are downloading cracked versions of video games and software like Photoshop, stop. If you think that you are getting something for free, you aren't. The files found on the warez, crackz, passwordz, and file sharing networks are riddled with viruses. They can be embedded in the videos, music, and applications that you download. In short, if you aren't getting your files from a trusted source, don't use them. If you want music, use iTunes or Rhapsody and spend the 99 cents on a song. It's cheap, and it's guaranteed to be free of crap you don't want.
4. Use the Google Toolbar

Google provides and excellent tool for blocking pop-ups. The Google Toolbar works only for Internet Explorer, but it blocks 99% of the pop-ups on websites. It is an excellent tool, and it provides a convenient way to do a google search. I highly recommend using this tool. I've been using it for several months, and it has blocked over 1,000 pop-ups and counting.
5. Use Ad Aware

If you are getting pop-ups everywhere, even on the google and yahoo homepages, then you have some spyware installed. You shouldn't be getting any pop-ups on the Google website, and this is a tip-off that some spyware has managed to infest your browser. Ad Aware is an excellent tool for getting rid of these things. It isn't perfect, but it does manage to clear out a lot of the more heinous apps. Make sure to update the app and run it often. Especially if you ignore number 3 above.
6. Update your Virus Definitions

This only applies if you use some form of virus protection like Norton or Symantec. It is important that you keep the virus definition files current. New forms of viruses are released every day, and these companies do their best to stay on top of it. The only way to make sure that your virus protection software will continue to protect you is to keep those virus definition files up to date.
7. Ignore Spam

If you don't recognize the sender of an e-mail, don't even bother to open it. Spammers have found some pretty ingenious ways to fool you into loading software, or even just to tell them that you read your e-mail. For instance, some spammers put a very tiny picture in their e-mails. When you read your e-mail, you open the picture which tells the spammer that you just read your mail. So then they sell your address to other spammers and say , "Hey, this guy checks his mail!" That just leads to more spam, and pretty soon you have to ditch the whole account. So if something doesn't look right about an e-mail, don't open it. And if you do open something and it turns out to be bunk, don't bother "unsubscribing". Just delete it and move. And above all, never open an attachment if you weren't expecting it.

I think if you abide by this advice, you will find that you experience a lot less frustration with your PC. Some other miscellaneous stuff:

  • AOL sucks. If you use their service, I feel bad for you. Their dialups are incredibly slow, their interface is bloated, and they put you on their network "naked". Using the ICF (suggestion 2) is critical if you are using AOL. I think the going rate for an AOL dialup is $28 / month for the 56K service, which is ridiculous when you can get a 100 times faster cable modem for just $35 ($45 if you don't already have cable service). I understand the trap though. You get used to doing everything the AOL way, and it is hard to learn something else. If you haven't drunk the AOL Kool-Aid, stay away.
  • Kazaa is Spyware I'm always surprised by the number of folks that use Kazaa. Sure, you can download stolen songs, but they sure aren't free. Kazaa claims that they are not spyware, but they are. In fact, all of the P2P apps that I have seen install at least some form of spyware. You just can't get around it.

I've rambled on for a while now. I won't promise that, by following this advice, you won't ever get a virus. However I can say that I've been following this advice, and we haven't had a virus on our computers in the last three years. You can't always help it either, especially if you share a PC with the entire family. If you do, I recommend setting up one admin account and making everyone else limited users. This way you can prevent them from installing the apps that lead to all of this trouble. In any case, I hope that some of this information helps.

Game of the Moment: SSX 3

For this past Christmas, Jenn gave me the game SSX 3. This is the third in a series of extreme snow boarding games. I had played the second, SSX Tricky, and loved it. When I first put SSX 3 in my console, I was really excited. I had spent hours and hours mastering SSX Tricky, and I was frothing at the mouth to play this new and improved version. To be honest, my first impressions were a bit of a let down. The graphics were slightly improved, and the characters were a bit different. There were a couple of new tricks, and the controls had been tweaked a little. But it was still very similar to SSX Tricky. I think I was expecting more, and maybe something different.

It's now May, and I'm still playing SSX 3, and I appreciate it more every day. The game has such incredible replay value, which is very important. All of the little things that I didn't appreciate at first are now incredibly important. I'm glad that it is similar to Tricky, because it has all of the elements that I loved about that game. And the areas that have changed have changed for the better. Racing down the mountain is fun and exhilarating, pulling major tricks is challenging and exciting, and the game seems to provide and endless series of goals to reach for. I'm currently attempting to get all of the riders up to 100% in their attributes. Once I get that completed, I'll look to either earn Gold medals in all events, or complete some more of the Big Challenges. There are hundreds of Big Challenges scattered throughout the mountain, and the difficulty ranges from simple to throw the controller across the room frustrating. There is also an extra challenge in that each event has a Platinum medal that is more difficult to earn than the Gold. The times and scores required for a platinum seem insane, but the more I play, the more they seem to be just out of reach.

The only bad thing is that my time for playing games has greatly diminished since Corbin arrived. This means that I'm sacrificing sleep for gametime. For instance, last night I was up until nearly 2am playing when I should have been in bed. The game is just so addicting and engrossing. I sit down thinking that I'll play for 30 minutes, and don't get up for three hours. If you have never played any of the SSX series, and even if you have, this game is a must play!

Jade Mason