My Adventure with Linux

I've always been a fan of open source software. Not so much because I like to tinker with the code, but because I can get some really great software for free. When I was in college I ran RedHat Linux as my operating system. We used Sun Solaris machines for all of our engineering homework, so it made sense to use a UNIX compatible machine at home. When Jenn and I moved to Maryland, I tried using Linux for a while, but Windows was much easier for Jenn to work with, so we switched over to that. Our new PC came with Windows XP Home already installed, and we've been using that ever since.

Lately, I've been wanting to do a little bit more with our home machine as a server. I'd like to be able to host images, video, and other stuff for the blog sites. I've also been interested in trying out some of the open source technologies for work. So over the past week I attempted to get Linux installed on a Virtual Machine instance. I am using Microsoft Virtual PC 2004 as the VM. I had so many problems trying to get this stuff installed. I first started with the Suse 9.2 professional mini-installer. This installer contacts an FTP server and attempts to download all of the components during the installation process. After several tries I was having no luck. I was following the instructions that said to go to the manual install option. The installer asked me to select my network card type, and I had no idea what the virtual PC was emulating the network connection as. After much frustration with guessing the card type, and failing to find anything on Google, I decided to switch distros.

So that night I downloaded Mandrake Linux and started that install. I gave up waiting for it to complete at 1am. When I woke up, it had a couple of errors but had finished installing from discs. I brought it into work and found that the X windows server failed to install properly, and I had a bear of a time getting it repaired. The one bright spot was that Mandrake successfully recognized the type of network card the Virtual PC was emulating: a DEC 21140 (Tulip) card. Armed with that information, I went back to the Suse installer.

Success.... oh, wait. Suse began installing, and loaded up the RAM disk from the FTP site I had selected ( However, after going through the hardware detection phase, it was unable to pull down the package list from the ftp site. I searched Google some more and only found a couple of items about whether the preceding '/' in the ftp path was necessary, but it didn't help. I tried several other servers, but it still didn't work. While I was playing around, I did notice that if I modified the install type from the main bootup screen of the installer to FTP, the installer successfully identified my network card. Why this doesn't happen when you do a manual install I'm not sure.

In any case, I was done wasting time on that at work. I figured I would play around with it more when I got home that night. After Jenn and Corbin went to bed, I fired up the VM instance again to try installing SuSE. There must be some undocumented network port needed to download packages, because from home the same FTP servers downloaded the package contents and the install worked flawlessly. I'm back at work now, and when I try to review the package list, it still fails, so there must be some additional outgoing port necessary for the download to occur. Does it use SSH? I don't know, but in any case, SuSE 9.2 is now installed on a virtual machine for me to play with.

All of that effort cost me about 12 hours. I have a short list of things I'd like to try now: developing in Mono, using Bugzilla, and playing with other open source development tools. I have to give it to Microsoft that they have done a great job of creating an installer for their OS. Still, now that it is installed, SuSE has been fairly easy to use. The YaST install tool is intuitive, and I've been able to find RPM packages for the software that I would normally use most often on Windows (Thunderbird and Firefox). Jenn can't quite understand why I think this is fun, but maybe I can find an example of something that only works in Linux that will wow her. Or, alternatively, I'll just prove to her what a big geek I am.

New Feature: WebCam

Hey folks, I'm working on a new feature for my blog site. Last year I bought a couple of webcams so that I could peek in on Jenn and Corbin throughout the day. We've used them to do video conferencing through MSN messenger, but that's about it so far. Lately, I've been trying to figure out how I could setup my work webcam to show what I'm currently doing. I'm pretty close... I've updated the template to show the current shot over there on the right. Click on it to get a bigger version that shows the date and time when the pic was taken. What I need to do is make it so that the webcam software automatically updates the image on the blog. Right now, I have to update it by hand, which isn't very convenient. Once I get the upload thing taken care of, this should show what I'm doing while I'm at work. When I leave, it will shut off. There are a couple of other cool tricks you can do with it, but I'll just have to play with the camera before I get those up here too.

Firefox Web Browser

width="178" height="60" border="0" alt="Get Firefox">

I'd like to encourage all of you web browsers out there to stop using Internet Explorer (also known as IE, Explorer, Intercrap Exploder, Trojan Horse, POS, etc.). Instead, switch to using the Firefox web browser. It is very easy to switch, and you should have no problem adjusting to it. On install, it will import all of your bookmarks from IE so you can start browsing right away. In addition, it includes a very well done pop-up blocker so you don't get those aggravating pop-up ads all the time. It also does not support a lot of the ActiveX plug-ins that IE is weak to that allow spyware and other bad stuff to get on your PC.

I can't promise that Firefox will solve all of your ills, but I have been using it for several months now and I feel that I can whole-heartedly endorse it over Internet Explorer. Why? I had been using IE at work all of the time for searching the web, developing my applications for work, and doing general web browsing. It worked okay, but every month there were new security patches out to block some hole found by a hacker, or to stop the virus of the month. I was tired of the pop-ups, the spam, and all of the other crap that spammers out there were doing. Firefox isn't immune to these attacks, but because so few people use it, spammers don't target it as much. This means that it is relatively less likely to get attacked by some spyware app. Plus, the Mozilla team (the folks who write the code) are constantly doing things to try to improve the browser. You can have live bookmarks that show you the latest stories on your favorite sites, an integrated Google search bar, customizable themes (skins), and just about anything else you might want to hook into your browser.

Of all of the questions that I get about computer problems, the most common one is a slow computer with too many pop-ups. This is the first and easiest step you can take to help alleviate that problem.

A Couple of Movies

Aside from the great fun of surprising Jenn with a visit from her college buddies, we also took in a couple of videos.

Harold and Kumar go to White Castle is a stoner movie. It is by the same folks who did "Dude, Where's My Car", and it really shows. Jenn and I like Dude Where's My Car a lot, and we were hoping that this one would be good too. It certainly had it's funny moments, but it was just too over the top. That, and it came off a little too thick with the "paid advertisement for White Castle" feel. I mean, nobody talks about White Castle burgers as the perfect burger. Sure, they hit the spot when you crave em, but I've never referred to them as the ultimate burger. I currently hold the record for most slyders in a single sitting at work (17), so I think this makes me somewhat of an authority on the matter.

We did laugh at some of the antics in this movie, but it just doesn't have any staying power. Some comedies are funny even when you've seen them several times. This movie doesn't have that kind of appeal. We groaned at some of the gags, too, as they were just so over the top that they went from funny to just plain stupid. I suppose if we were blazed we might have thought it was funny too.

That was on Friday night. Sunday night we watched The Village. This is another suspense film by M. Night Shyamalan. As a writer, producer, director, Shyamalan hit it big with The Sixth Sense. Everyone was wowed by this suspensful movie with a surprise twist at the end. He then took the same formula and cranked out Unbreakable, Signs, and now, The Village. The Village is set in a creepy pioneer america town where everything appears nearly utopic. Families enjoy a simple life together, operate without any currency, and give thankful priase for their time. The only dark part of life in the town is the fear of "those we do not speak of" who live in the woods. Watchman keep guard over the border between the woods and valley to be sure no one passes into the woods, and to give warning if a creature comes into the valley. The plot line follows Ivy, a young woman who was struck blind at a young age, and her courting of Luscious, a quiet boy who has always shown affection for her.

Unfortunately, this movie is all too predictable, a sad trend in Shyamalan's latest movies. Within the first few minutes of the film I told Jenn what I predicted for the end, and sure enough, it all played out. Predictability didn't ruin the film, but it certainly detracted from the suspense. In all, The Village is not a bad film, but don't expect the same "I've gotta see that again" sensation you had from The Sixth Sense.

Long Overdue Update

I have been busy at work, and in the evenings I'm spending time with Jenn and Corbin or playing video games, so I've been a slow to update this site. Here is a quick catch up on:

Movies we've seen

  • I, Robot - we both liked it. Good sci-fi/action flick. Get a bowl of popcorn and enjoy.
  • Spider-Man 2 - Didn't really thrill us. Just seemed to plod along and really go nowhere.
  • Chronicles of Riddick - I liked this one pretty well. The special effects are pretty cool. Riddick gets endowed with some superhuman powers, which was kind of weak, but otherwise a good action / sci-fi film.
  • Anchorman - We both thought this would be a lot funnier than it was, based on reviews. It had it's moments, but it was just more of Will Ferrell doing his schtick.
  • Bad Santa (Badder Santa: Unrated actually) - Jenn and I laughed way too hard throughout this film. It was soooo funny.... but soooooo raunchy. Definitely not a family film, but very funny.
  • Napoleon Dynamite - I already reviewed this one, see below
  • Shaun of the Dead - This one is a riot. Given, it is british humor, so a bit dry at times, and the language is very, shall we say, coarse. But moments in this film stick in my head and make me giggle everytime I think about them. Very funny film.
  • Once Upon a Time in Mexico - This is the follow-up to Desperado where Antonio Banderas plays a gun-toting mariachi with an attitude. It was on one of our premium channels and we watched it almost by accident. It had some clever moments, but otherwise completely forgettable.
  • Starship Troopers 2 - I loved the first Starship Troopers movie. It was just the right amount of tongue-in-cheek, over the top action / sci-fi film that makes me laugh and watch over again and again. I thought I might like ST2 for the same reasons. I was oooooh, so wrong. This movie really stunk up the place. No wonder it went straight to DVD.

Now that I have a fridge in the basement, I have stocked it with a variety of beers to try.

  • Sam Adams Light - This is my go-to beer now. I used to be a Coors Lite man, but I just can't take the stuff anymore. Sam Light is the way to go.
  • Indiana Amber - A fairly nice beer with a little more umph to it. This one has a nice flavor.
  • Pete's Wicked Ale : Wanderlust - I picked this up on the recommendation of a work buddy. It's a creme ale. I can't really tell that it has a unique flavor, but the texture of it is definitely smooth.
  • Barley Island : Brass Knuckles Oatmeal Stout - There is a variety of oatmeal stout that I love. Unfortunately, it is really expensive, so I rarely have it. Barley Island is a local brewery here in Noblesville, and Jenn spied their version of oatmeal stout in the store on her last trip for groceries. She has wanted to have dinner there for a while, and was hoping that if I liked the beer, it might hasten the trip. Unfortunately, the Brass Knuckles is, well, like getting punched with brass knuckles. I haven't had my head snap back from a quaff of beer in a long time, but I was feeling some whiplash after my first taste of this stuff. I downed the bottle, and I'll finish the six pack (eventually), but this will not go on my "buy again" list. The after taste has the nice oatmeal stout flavor that I like, but the drink itself has something to it that just doesn't go over with me. Thanks for the thought, Jenn, but I'll be skipping this one. We can still go to Barley Island though.

Video Games
There are several video games that I have on my to-do list to finish. Some I've had for quite a while, and some I received recently.

  • Paper Mario 2 : The Thousand Year Door - this was a fun role playing game that had the cast and crew of the super mario series. It wasn't all that difficult, at least not until the last chapter. Still, the Mario series of games always seem to have some intangible fun quality to them that make them really enjoyable.
  • Metroid Prime 2 : Echoes - Now that I'm through with Paper Mario, this is my late night addiction. The first Metroid Prime was awesome, and this one stuck to the same formula.
  • Final Fantasy Tactics Advance - I've been playing this one for a couple of months, and I've put plenty of hours into it, but I have yet to finish it. The game itself is pretty simple: play through a set of chess matches where each piece has special moves and defensive powers. It is kind of relaxing to play as it doesn't require any expert timing or anything, just some though into the strategy you will use to win each match.
  • Fire Emblem - Almost identical to Final Fantasy, this one is on the list to finish as well.
  • Neverwinter Nights - I got this for my birthday in 2003, and I still haven't finished it. The time investment necessary just to get back up to speed and play through the next quest in this role playing game is pretty intense, and I just haven't put the time into it yet. Still, this game is a lot of fun, and the graphics are pretty amazing. I'm sure I'll get around to finishing it eventually.

So what else is new? Well, I just finished up my Advanced Managerial Econ mid-term. Work is slowing down a bit as projects get finished up, but I'm sure that I'll be on to other things soon. Jenn's birthday is on Friday, and we are looking forward to a nice night on the town. Karla volunteered to babysit for us so we could have a little date. Corbin is toddling around, and we are having a blast helping him to learn to walk.

Who's Line is it Anyway?

I don't watch the show often, but this bit is hilarious.

Movie Review : Napoleon Dynamite

What can I say about this movie? I had seen some of the previews for it a while back when it was in theaters, but I never really knew what to expect out of it. I had no idea what the plot was, other than it centered around a kid named Napoleon Dynamite. Jenn and I watched it over the break, and the more I think about it, the more I really liked it.

Now, before you run out and rent it, let me temper that comment. This movie is not for everyone. It is not your typical hollywood fare with big action, special effects, laugh out loud comedy, or any of the usual stuff. This movie is slow and dry. It kind of struck a chord with me though. Napoleon is a total outcast at his school. He is a bit of a rube, but he has a mild level of self-confidence that allows him to persevere. That, and a wildly overactive imagination that leads him to believe in things like Ligers (a cross between a lion and a tiger) and his own expertise with a bow staff. All of the dialogue in the film is delivered in a very monotonic fashion. The language is clean (no swear words). When you sit and think about what some of the characters said, the comedy just gets better and better though.

The story of the film, if there is one, is one of geeky triumph. Napoleon and his friend Pedro team up to get Pedro elected as class president. Pedro is running against one of the popular girls at school: Summer. Pedro had made an unsuccessful attempt at wooing Summer early in the film, but it doesn't really factor into his reason for running.

I think I like this film because I can identify with parts of it, and because it reminds me of some of the kids I went to school with. I wasn't a total freak, but I wasn't running with the most popular clique either. Some of the kids who rode my bus were deep into their Dungeons and Dragons fantasy. Scenes from the movie reminded me of those people and those times. I think that's why I liked it. That, and I like goofy stuff from time to time.

Book Review : Gung Ho!

Gung Ho!

"Turn on the People in Any Organization"

by Ken Blanchard and Sheldon Bowles

When this book was first recommended to me, I thought of the 80's movie with Michael Keaton. It turns out, several books and movies have used the title Gung Ho! In this case, this book is not the story of the movie, but instead the story of a woman who is placed in a doomed management position. The book is told in story form, relating the tale of how the supervisor befriends an outcast at the plant, and learns how this man who is an outsider to the rest of the plant has turned his particular production center into the most profitable, most efficient area not only within the plant, but within the entire company.

There are three central tenets to the book. Unfortunately, to simply tell you what those are would probably turn you off from the book. To be honest, when I read the back cover and read through these tenets, I thought the book was going to be a joke. Just another pile of crap that some authors churned out for the deep pockets of the management and leadership market. I was pleasantly surprised to find that the central ideas of the book aren't just a bunch of marketing hokum, but when placed in the context of the book have surprising effect.

I can't give this book enough praise. Whether you are interested in becoming a leader or not, this book is an excellent read and provides a great perspective on how the right team attitude can lead to great things. It is an exceptionally easy book to read as well due to the storytelling form that the message is presented in. Paul and I have both read it, and we easily finished it in a single sitting of less than three hours. I hope that you will enjoy it as much as I did.

Back to the Grind

Man, what a great vacation. I took the last two weeks of the year off from work, and it was awesome. I didn't have to worry about deadlines, meetings, tasks, or anything else. I got to spend a lot of great quality time with Jenn and Corbin. I got to play video games all day. I was able to veg out on the couch and watch a bunch of movies. It was sooooo relaxing.

And now, it is back to the grind. I really wish that I could be at home right now, chasing Corbin around the house or plunked down in front of a video game. I got pretty spoiled on my break. So what else did I do? I read a bunch of books, I watched a bunch of movies, and I played a couple of video games. Hmm... maybe I should do a bunch of reviews....

Jade Mason