Scat!

We took a trip down to Mountaineer to do a little gambling. Today was a bad, bad gambling experience for me. Usually I don’t blow through the money so fast, but today was not one of my best in front of the slot machines.

After a couple hours I had gone through my money but everyone else was still playing, so I checked with my wife to see how she was doing. She was doing pretty well and slipped me another 40 bucks to go play. I ended up burning through that 40 bucks as well and decided I would mess with her.

I was teasing her that I was going to hit the ATM machine up for more money and she was freaking out about it. We were standing close to a machine that changes large bills in to smaller bills and I told my nephew to watch as I set up my wife. I started for the bill changer and reached for my wallet nice and slow so that she would catch me out of the corner of her eye. I acted like I was starting to use the ATM (remember, it’s not even a real ATM) and she just reacted. It was funny because she actually came at me kind of bent over and clapping her hands like she was trying to chase a dog off a couch or a cat off a kitchen counter. Hey! (clap clap).

It was one of the funniest things I think I ever saw. Here I am a grown man and my wife is trying to scat me away from the fake ATM machine by lunging at me and clapping her hands.

Classic.

A few things you can do before you put that Windows PC on the Internet

As more and more people are adding high speed Internet to their computers, there are some pretty serious risks that you may not be aware of. I’ve read that a brand new computer running Windows can be compromised in 12 minutes when plugged in to their DSL or Cable Internet connection. I’m not here to discuss if this is true or not, but there are a few things you can do to make yourself, and the rest of us on the Internet, a little safer. I’m going to assume you are running a version of Microsoft Windows for the rest of this.

  1. Make sure you are running all the available patches from Microsoft by running Windows Update.
  2. Buy an anti virus program and keep it up to date. If you buy anti virus software but don’t update it regularly from their web site, it will become useless in a week or so against anything new that comes out. Buy something from McAfee or Symantec and set it to update itself automatically.
  3. Load and enable a firewall. If you are running WindowsXP, there is really no reason you shouldn’t be running Service Pack 2 (SP2). Enable the firewall in it immediately. If you aren’t running WindowsXP, download ZoneAlarm and use it. If nothing else, these will stop things from trying to get IN to your computer. The WindowsXP firewall doesn’t do anything about stopping what is trying to get OUT of your computer. Either way, we’re trying to stop bad things from getting in to your computer.

Once you’ve done these things go to this site, read the doc there and click on the Proceed button. Follow the instructions and see what the rest of the world can see on your computer.

So you should now be more secure than you originally were, but how does that make the rest of us any safer? Because we have disabled the ability for spammers on the Internet to use your PC to send spam out to the rest of us. It’s called being a Zombie. The firewall will stop that ability. The rest of us on the Internet will thank you.

This is just a few quick steps that I would recommend you follow to become more secure on the Internet. This isn’t meant to be the answer to every bad thing you will find there. The last thing I would recommend you do is to download the Firefox web browser, install it, and allow it to become your default web browser. It blocks popups, has tabbed browsing, and more importantly for 90%+ of the Internet, it does not run ActiveX, which is one of the things that makes Internet Explorer so popular, but it also makes it very unsecure. It’s also faster in my opinion, so you can thank me later.

Lastly, you can do like I did and just remove Windows from the equation. I took my family to Apple Macintoshes and I’ve never looked back.

The little iBook that could

I had some problems with Val’s laptop when I took it from Suse Linux to WindowsXP. She actually seemed to be happier using it when I had Suse on it instead of Windows. So I downloaded Suse 9.3 and started working towards getting her away from Windows once again.

During this process I got bored and decided to bid on older, used iBooks on eBay. I kept losing bid after bid because I think I was just being to cheap for iBooks that were really not that old. So, I thought I would try a few of the older iBooks that came in “flavors” and had a handle to give it that true “Hello Kitty purse” look.

I had lost all of the iBooks that I bid on and only had one auction left to lose, so I figured I would wake up to find another eBay “you have been outbid” email. Surprisingly I won. Great. Now what? Val will kill me. No way will she be OK with me spending money on another computer! But maybe this won’t be so bad. It only cost me $182.50. She’ll still be upset but I have learned that she doesn’t get as mad if I keep the pain under 200 bucks.

I had an old Airport wireless card laying around and also added a 256MB stick of memory to it to give it a whopping 320MB of ram. The hard drive is only 6GB so I needed to be careful what I actually loaded on it. I started from scratch with my copy of OS X 10.3 Panther. It took a little while, but it loaded fine. I would have liked to put Tiger on it but it doesn’t have a DVD drive and I really didn’t feel like forcing it to work by other means. All Val really uses a computer for is web browsing and checking email. Since her email is a HotMail account she really just needs something portable with a browser. Enter – the Tangerine Hello Kitty purse.

The little bugger really works well. I’m adding this post with it right now. The battery life is fantastic and the performance is much better than I ever expected. So, one more Windows machine out the door and another Apple machine in. I like not worrying about her dealing with viruses and spyware. That’s just a little less support I’ll need to do in my own home.

I call that a win-win.

More changes to the site

I decided that I didn’t like the options I had with iBlog any longer and wanted to move to something web based. I decided to move over to Blogger. I never knew you could use it and publish to your own servers. If I would have known that I would have moved a long time ago.

So, you’ll notice a different look to the site. I like it. I’m sure I’ll be messing with it a ton until I get it how I want it.

If you are using any kind of RSS reader or syndication, make sure to update your feed using the Site Feed link under the Links section. The old link is now effectively dead. During the republishing of some articles your newsreader may get a bunch of my older stuff again, Sorry about that. I’ll see if I can avoid it entirely, if not it should not be that big of a deal after this weekend.

I’ve also decided to just start fresh with posts to this blog instead of bringing any old stuff over. You will always be able to find the old stuff by following the Old Blog link under the Links section on the right.

Enjoy the new site and let me know what you think.

How my favorite Mexican restaurant tried to kill me

When we go to Erie, we always make it a point to eat at one of our favorite Mexican restaurants. We’ve done this for a long, long time. I had become great friends with a little dish they like to call Burrito Deluxe. Delicious. Simple. Safe. Or so I thought.

Last Saturday we made one of our many trips to Erie and stopped in at what I will now only refer to as el Coli. All 11 of us assumed our regular positions around the 3 tables they joined together for us and all pretty much ordered the exact same thing as every other trip. My nephew and I both had the Burrito Deluxe, an intriguing blend of 1 chicken burrito and 1 beef burrito, a little lettuce on the top, 1 slice of tomato, and some sour cream. Everything was delicious. It always is.

24 hours later I wasn’t feeling right. My stomach was a little upset. I took a few Tums and waited for them to take affect. After a couple hours we decided to just head home. It was a *long* drive as my stomach kept trying to sing along with the radio. I’ve never heard it make such noises. You know you are bad when all you can think about for 120 miles is where a good place to pull over would be in case you need to. Once we got home I immediately headed for bed. Then the bathroom. Then the bed. Then the bathroom. Then…you get the idea. The next 48 hours can only be described as how Mel Gibson’s character must have felt in the final scene of Braveheart right after he screams “freedom!” and they start pulling his innards out one by one. Not pleasant at all. I am still a little tender today from all the hurling I did Sunday and Monday.

I missed work Monday. I missed work Tuesday. Well, I didn’t really *miss* it but I wasn’t able to go. Wednesday I went in and left at 2:30pm. I missed Thursday. Made it back to work pretty much OK today. Feeling much, much better. Thursday I went to the doctor and they told me nothing has been going around. It was some kind of gastro viral thing and I should just ride it out. That’ll be 10 bucks please. I did find out that my nephew has been sick as well though. Aha! We’re on to something. We both ate the same thing. We’re both sick. Nothing is going around. The 10 dollar doctor told me so. The evidence is pretty clear – my favorite mexican restaurant tried to kill me through food poisoning. I never saw it coming. We always had such a good relationship too. Had to have been an inside job. My nephew was probably just an unfortunate innocent bystander who happened to order the wrong thing at the wrong time. Poor sap.

But at work today I find out that someone else I work with has the same symptoms now. He’s out sick. Someone else I work with has a wife and kid that have both been home all week with “flu like” symptoms and their doctor (that must cost more than 10 bucks) told them that they were the 4th and 5th patients that they have seen with this new stomach virus. There’s a chance that we could just be in on the fun so early that the doctors, even the 10 dollar ones, are just starting to see people with the symptoms.

Hmmm. Stomach virus. Other people that have never eaten at el Coli have the same symptoms. Can’t be. This would put a kink in my food poisoning scenario. Could it be that my nephew and I just happened to be some of the first to experience this new strain of stomach virus? Naaa. Had to be the food poisoning.

el Coli – banned!

A couple more quick tech updates…

The cable modem is really working out. Downloads are so much faster than they were with my sDSL. However, I have heard that Verizon will be offering their FIOS service in my area some time in September. Fiber to the home! Phenomenal speeds at very good prices. I may have to leave cable behind in a few months. It would figure since Verizon said hosting
servers is fine with their FIOS service. Now that I don’t need it.
Out of boredom I switched my wife’s SuSe linux laptop back to WindowsXP with every possible patch and update. I thought she would be thrilled. Guess what. I should have left her on linux. She’s not real happy with it and was happier with the linux solution. I may end up taking it back to linux again.

Lastly, Apple released 10.4.2 yesterday and I installed it. No issues to report and after 24 hours I can honestly say that it is the fastest, smoothest thing I have ever run from Apple. Remember, I wasn’t interested in Apple until they moved to Unix. Great job Apple. My PowerBook and Mac Mini are running smooth like butter. I’ll add it to the iMac later.

Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes…

A few days of changes as far as technology goes.

I was a DirecTV customer for 9 years. My moving to satellite was more of a statement against cable at the time. The satellite picture was amazing compared to cable. The pricing was better. Customer service was excellent. But times change. Once I upgraded to an HDTV TV, the game changed. Suddenly the issue was content. I wanted more HD content. DirecTV does offer some HD channels, but not many. The biggest issue is not offering my local channels in HD until “some time in 2006.” Add to this that we will never be without a DVR again. DirecTV offers the HD Tivo. When I started calling them about adding HD the thing cost $999. I called in twice to talk about it and that was the price. They wouldn’t budge. No help with the costs. No credits offered. They told me today the price had dropped to $749. You can go buy it at best Buy for $699.

So I started doing my homework and found that Comcast offered all of my locals in HD, has the same HD channels that DirecTV does, and offers the HD DVR for $9.95/month. Since I was coming over from satellite, they gave me their Digital Plus package plus HBO, Showtime and some other movie channels for $29/month for a year. Add to that the $9.95/month for the HD DVR and I will be paying WAY less that I would pay with DirecTV for the next year. But what about picture quality? The channels that are digital compare pretty well with the channels on satellite. The analog channels are not very good in my opinion. I’ll be happy once everyone has to be digital. Satellite is 100% digital, but DirecTV’s picture has gotten a little “soft” over the years as they added more and more channels and added more and more compression. They will be making a huge technical change by going to MPEG4. Who knows, I may be back to DirecTV in a year if I think they are better at the time. Funny how things work when you go to cancel though. This time when I called I got transferred to Customer Retention and spoke with a very nice lady that offered me a lot of stuff to stay a customer. I told her I would still be a customer if either of the 2 guys that took my calls from the HD Install team had offered me what she had. She told me they should have transferred me to her department when I called. I would probably still be there. I am keeping the dish up in case I ever want to go back.

Then I took it a step further and added high speed Internet service with Comcast as well. Impressive. Very fast. My sDSL is 512k/512k. My cable modem is getting approximately 3.7Mb download, which makes me very, very happy. I worked for a long time with my DSL provider and they could never get me any more speed. I told them I would start looking for another solution. I guess they’ll believe me when I call to cancel this week. OK, so the download speed is fantastic, but what about the upload speed? Well, when I signed up they told me it was 4Mb down and 1Mb up. They lied. Plain and simple. I called. I complained. The upload is really around 384k, which is no longer a problem for me because…

I am out of the hosting game. I moved my own site to an external host and am very happy with it so far. All of the other sites on my systems are gone except for one, and it is supposed to be gone this weekend. Once that happens I will take a final backup, move all of the files to my Mac Mini, and shut the servers down. July 4th may have been last Monday, but for me today is Independence Day. I’m excited to just be a User. So, for me to cancel my DSL, it leaves me with a really inadequate phone plan with my local telephone company. So I started looking around at what my options were and became really intrigued by the VoIP solutions out there. I was really leaning towards Vonage. Good price. Great features. As I started finding forums on the Internet to see what others thought of the service, the majority of people really seemed to like it. They really loved the service. But, the one common thread was issues with porting your existing phone number to them. Many people had been trying for months to get their numbers over to Vonage and had still not had success. I couldn’t convince my wife to start fresh with a new phone number, so I decided to do more research. And that’s
when I ended up right back with…

Comcast! August 1st I will be switching all of our phone service to Comcast as well. Unlimited local, regional, and long distance calling for a year for $34/month. It’s $10/month more than Vonage but they guarantee that it will not take more than 9 days to port my number over to them. Plus they add a box right next to the phone company’s box outside my house and it uses my existing phone wiring. When the power goes out I will still have phone service, unlike VoIP solutions. If I have congestion on my Internet circuit I will still have phone service, unlike VoIP solutions. If my Internet service goes out for any reason I will still have phone service, unlike VoIP solutions. So, I’m weaning myself off the standard telcos slowly. I’ll check out the VoIP providers again before my 1st year of Comcast phone service is complete.

So, for the next 12 months I’ll at least get to enjoy greater than $70/month savings. That’s $840 for the year. More phone features, faster Internet, and more HD channels, all while saving $840 for the year. Competition is a great thing and I couldn’t be happier to be a User again.

Hang tight while I move everything to an external host

Things are going to be broken for a little while. I never expected to deal with case sensitivity when I moved to an external host so this will take me some time to repair.

UPDATE: Everything appears to be fine. So what’s going on, right? Well, I decided to make a huge technical change at home that I will talk more about this weekend. For now, the first phase of my change is getting out of the hosting side of things. I had a handful of sites running on servers in my house for around 3 years. The servers are old. Sometimes power goes out longer than the UPS can hold on and the servers go down. When the power comes up the servers sometimes need help completing their boot. Something had to give. I wasn’t going to go out and buy new servers and UPS systems. At one point I toyed with the idea of just moving everything over to one of my Macs. I did pull this off very easily, but that still left me in the hosting business.

So, last night I signed up with a hosting service and started copying all of my files up to their servers. I then redirected my domain to their servers and waited. The redirection happened much quicker than I expected. Thankfully everything made it up to the new host and all I had to worry about was getting email working. That finally got addressed this afternoon and I was able to start using their new email service with my old domain info. Should be transparent to anyone that visits this site.

The key word there was “should” be. I learned today something I already knew but completely forgot about; Windows doesn’t care about files and their case. Unix does. So, since I moved everything from a Windows host to a Unix (FreeBSD) host I had to repair a couple of broken links. I took care of that a little while ago and everything is back in business. All in all I think it went really smooth.

Tomorrow is the next phase of my technology transformation and I can’t wait for it to happen.