Friday, December 26, 2008

Free Magazine Hack!

Want to read magazines on your computer and pay nothing to do it? You can if you own an iPhone. The folks at Zinio have teamed up with Apple to give iPhone owners free access to a selection of modern publications. The catch is, of course, the whole iPhone thing. I don't have one.

But now comes the hack. Some clever hacker has figured out that you can simply change a setting in your browser so that you look like an iPhone user when visiting the magazine site. Normally, this would be a pain in the ass and you would find yourself constantly changing your "user agent settings". If you set up Firefox to think it's an iPhone, many websites load in a "portrait" style format to try and accommodate you. But we can use another little hack to make this easier - the User Agent Switcher Firefox Add-On.

Go get your add-on here: https://addons.mozilla.org/en-US/firefox/addon/59

Next, click Tools > User Agent Switcher > Options > Options. Now you are going to Add a new user agent. There's not a lot to this.

Name it something like "iPhone" and then paste this into the User Agent box:
Mozilla/5.0 (iPhone; U; CPU like Mac OS X; en) AppleWebKit/420.1 (KHTML, like Gecko) Version/3.0 Mobile/4A102 Safari/419 (United States)



Now, select your new user agent by clicking Tools > User Agent Switcher > iPhone.



Now, browse to the magazine site: http://www.zinio.com/iphone



Read some magazines.

Props to whoever figured this out. It wasn't me. I'm just passing along this awesome little hack.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

My Favorite Firefox Extentions and Add-Ons

Firefox is a pretty good web browser. But when you start putting in a few add-on's it becomes a GREAT web browser. Here is a short list of the extensions which I rush to install after putting a fresh PC image together.

1) Ad-Block Plus - Blocking out advertising is essential for surfing the web these days. Ad-Block basically filters out advertising and shows you everything else. You will no longer be subjected to those "pop-over" ad's. MySpace pages load on a dime. You need this.

2) StatusBar - I don't know why Firefox doesn't just include this feature as part of the browser. Rather than having a separate download windows - this add-on will keep your running downloads in the status bar of your browser. That way you can see how much longer you have to wait on something and keep surfing. You will no longer need that damned notification pop-up that locks up the browser momentarily.

3) Stealthier - Apple's Safari web browser has always had a "private surfing" feature which basically lets you surf the web without keeping any history, cookie, or cached files. This is great for using public shared terminals, Internet banking, surfing for bit-torrents at work, etc. If you want that same functionality in Firefox you can use this add-on. You check the box when you want to start surfing without history, and un-check it when you're done. There have been other add-ons with this same concept in the past, but this was the only one of them to keep up when Firefox 3.0 came out.

4) Classic Compact Theme - I use a little Asus eee PC for a lot of my web surfing. The screen is tiny, so real estate is very valuable. To maximize that little screen, I remove the bookmark bar and status bar. I usually also use the "small icons" feature of the navigation bar. But if you are counting every pixel, you need this classic compact theme.

5) GSpace - GSpace turn your Gmail account into file storage. That being said, it makes a huge mess of your mailbox and you should consider opening a new Gmail account to use just for this purpose. My friend and I share an account and often share music, applications, pictures, and more using our mutual account with Gspace. You can also use it as a way to back up files for safe keeping. I don't know how happy the Gmail folks are about this obvious abuse of their service - but I have been using this for a couple of years now.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Hey Recession, EAT IT! (Part 1)

My wife and I have had some "tough times" in the past. And when I say tough, I mean trying to eat for a week on $5 (Ramen noodles anyone?). These days we are a little smarter. Not really any wealthier sadly. But we have a lot less debt, and the knowledge of how to shop and eat cheap. Which is good, because we have two growing kids who can really put it away.

I am going to share with you some of my favorite cheap recipes. These may not be good tasting meals. They are certainly not good for you. But they are cheap, and easy to make. I promise that when you are done eating them, you won't be hungry any more.

First some general shopping rules:
1) Shop at Aldi's. If you don't have an Aldi's store, you should have something like it. These grocery stores make you put a 25 cent deposit to get a cart, charge you for bags, and make you do all the bagging when you're done. If you can find cheaper food - I don't suggest eating it. I have found their "private label" or generic stuff to be of pretty good quality. I like it better than Wal-Marts generic crap. Check their prices against Wal-Mart. Always lower prices, always Aldi's.

2) Make a list, and combine meal items. My wife and I are still perfecting this science. It's called "working together". Many married couples are losing sight of this tactic. It works like this. I want to make pizza, and I tell her what I need. She reminds me that we have half an onion and some olives in the fridge. We just saved about five bucks right off the top.

3) See what you have in the pantry before going out. Think of what you could add to what you have to make a meal. Sometimes, you don't need anything. Leftovers are fair game.

4) Try new things. Sometimes I handcuff my wife, and she dresses up like a nurse. No wait! I was kidding. What I meant was 'try new recipes' for meals that everyone likes (the kind of stuff you order out for).

Recipe #1 - Pizza
You can spend a lot of money making great pizza. Or you can spend a little money and make eatable pizza. It's better than the frozen stuff, and much cheaper than getting delivery. The key to making it cheaply is to make your own crust, and get cheap (but good tasting) cheese.

This will make two X-large pizza's!

For Dough:
1 bag of flour (NOT self rising).
Sugar and salt.
2 packets of FAST RISING yeast (they sell them 3 at a time, so save one!)
Olive Oil (buy it from Aldi's, or you are paying double what it's worth)
Air-bake pizza pans (you will have to get these from Wal-Mart, but they are cheap)

For Toppings:
About 9 cups of cheese (three bags of 3 cups each, you pick)
Pizza Sauce (Aldi's doesn't sell it, spaghetti sauce works though)
Your choice of: olives, green pepper, onion, ham, etc, etc.

To make your Dough:

Preheat your oven to 460 degrees.

Don't be a wuss and buy the pre-made dough. Get yourself a big mixing bowl to start this in. You can also make this on a counter top without dirtying a bowl. I have done it, but it takes some skill. So put 4 cups of flour in your bowl. Then dump in 1/3 cup of olive oil. You can use a little less if you want. That will make your dough less sticky and you can stretch the olive oil out that way (it's not cheap). Then dump in two yeast packets. Add two heaping tablespoons of sugar (you can guess if you don't have measuring spoons). Add a little bit of salt, and throw it to the side of the bowl - avoiding the yeast. Yeast does not like salt! Now add 1 1/2 cups of hot water. You don't have to heat it on the stove. Just get some hot water from the faucet. Dump the water over everything else in the bowl.

Now get a fork and start stirring the mixture together. Pretty soon the fork will not help you stir any more. So dump your dough out on the kitchen counter and start kneading it. This means you flatten it, double it over itself, and put your weight into it. Do this until it looks like ... dough.

Sprinkle some flour out on the counter and split your dough ball in half. You can push and pull your dough into shape, or if you have a rolling pin, you can roll it flat. Careful that you don't iron it to your counter-top. Make sure you sprinkle flour around so it doesn't stick. Ironing pins are expensive for some reason. I have found an empty wine bottle works just as well if not better, so save one from a party that you are invited to. You can tell the host "I'm keeping this because I liked it and I want to remember the brand". Then they won't know what a broke ass you are.

Lay your flattened dough into your air-bake pizza pans. These are usually coated with anti-stick stuff. If that is the case, do not coat them with cooking spray. If you insist on using cooking spray, use the pure vegie-oil stuff. The butter flavored stuff will leave a sticky stained blob on your pan that is impossible to scrub off.

I will spare you the details of how to decorate a pizza. You know what you like. But here are some general topping tips!

1) Avoid "low moisture" cheese. This stuff has NO taste. In Ohio, we have Krogers stores and they try to sell you this stuff in a purple bag. They remove almost all the milk from the cheese in the name of good health. The truth is, they are cutting the cost of the product by watering it down. UGH. Get your cheese at Aldi's. It tastes far better, it's more finely shredded, and it doesn't taste like ass.

2) Compensate with strong toppings. If your cheese is cheap, use strong tasting toppings. I made some pizza today and I used a combination of green and black olives. They were left-over from a Thanksgiving table garnishing plate. Onion helps here too.

Once your toppings are on, throw your pizza into the oven one at a time. It will be done pretty quick (15 minutes or so). Don't get busy with something else. Check it often. I like to start mine on the bottom oven rack. After 10 minutes or so I move it to the top rack, and I yank the pan out from under it (so it cooks directly on the rack). This little trick gives you a brown bottom to your crust so you don't have to worry about gooey stuff in the middle (yuck!).

When your cheese starts to brown up on you, pull it out of the oven and let it cool on the counter. Cut - and SERVE.

You will have a lot left over from this recipe. You should still have a rather full bottle of olive oil. You will have 2/3rds of a bag of flour. You will have a single yeast packet. Next time you make pizza, it will cost you even less. Oh, and you will have a lot of spaghetti sauce left. My wife uses it for "johnny marzetti". Which is basically elbow macaroni with sauce on it.

See how this little system works? See you next time, with another cheap recipe.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

RSS Doesn't Appeal To Me

A couple of years ago one of my faithful blog readers (I used to have a dozen or so) asked that I enable a feed option in the control panel of my blog so that he could use his RSS reader to read my blog amongst others. I had no idea what it was, so I went out and got an RSS reader and added a few blogs. Then I got bored with the concept, and went back to reading blogs and news sites "the old fashioned way". These days, RSS is built right into your browser and allows you to create "Live Bookmarks" of your favorite sites.

Recently I decided to give RSS another chance. I went out to several of the blogs which I frequent - all of which have an RSS feed. I added the feed to a live bookmark. For a week or so I tried using those live bookmarks in place of the regular bookmarks.

But here are my problems with RSS.

  • Using a live bookmark takes you to one story at a time - I'm sure if I used an RSS reader of some sort this would function better. As it is, I have to load one story or posting at a time. And I am going to read all of them anyway.
  • Feeds don't reflect the blogs design - I actually like to see how people decorate their blogs. Some are pretty simple and stick to the templates, barring any photographs, videos, etc. Others go all out on spicing up the site design. But that is all stripped away with an RSS reader.
  • Going straight to the story is like going straight to what you need at the auto parts store - I like to go to the counter, inspect the part(s) I have ordered in, and then wander around for a bit. Then I remember to pick up all the little items like brake cleaner and a fuel filter. When skimming over a blog you might pick up a story that interests you which you may not have otherwise seen.


So there you have it. Why RSS is a lousy idea in my opinion.

I woke up this morning with a splitting headache which is no doubt a result of the drastic weather change we are having here in Ohio. It's been switching from heavy rain to light snow and then back again for several days. Last night I sat in the rain for a couple of hours working on the brakes on my Bug. It probably didn't do any favors for the sinus buildup. And although the "brake-line surgery" was a screaming success - bleeding the brakes was a complete failure. It seems that I lost all liquids overnight to a slow drip, which allowed air to fill up in the drivers side of the Bug. I can't bleed the wheel cylinder on that side, because the small bleeder screw has been beaten to a pulp by old age and rust.

I woke up first thing this morning to order a new cylinder. Now I wait. It should be there in a couple of hours.

And I will probably sit in the rain all night again installing it, then have to go to work miserable.

The things I do for that car. :-)

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Crazy Television

I was watching some stupid cable show with my wife today and there was a clip that I had to look up about garbage floating around in the ocean and forming small islands (plastic mostly). It lead me to a web site which has fascinated me into the early hours of the morning.

http://www.vbs.tv

This web site has a lot of small clips that connect together to form a show. It's a nice style of documentary film making that appeals to people with short attention spans - and advertisers. The ad's are pretty unobtrusive since you can skip them at will and they only play at the beginning of a show.

Check out the videos about North Korea, and Eel Sex while you are there.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Detroit's Built the 6000 SUX

Remember the newest "luxury car" to come out of Detroit in the movie Robocop? It was intended to parody what would happen in the future when the "big three" would turn away from the short-lived compact cars of the 1980's. Unfortunately, this ad is too true to be funny.



Boasting under 9 miles to the gallon, the 6000 SUX was "An American Tradition". It came to us in the form of SUV's.

This is why you're broke Detroit. You can't always give the people "what they want". Sometimes people are stupid - and you have to give them better options.

We are not going to change American automotive with money alone. You need a regime turnover. As a smart co-worker once told me "people don't change, which is why you change the people involved". It's a fact of business. When business fails, you throw out the CEO and try something new. Why haven't the shareholders at GM done this?

Give the gift of *GIVING*
This Thanksgiving, why not give thanks to your country by volunteering? The Obama-Biden Transition Team is asking for volunteers for a new program in which you can serve your country and your people - right here at home. New programs are being created to improve our schools, health care, clean energy, and veteran programs.

By helping out you may be rewarded with $4k in college tuition.

Sign up now - and be the first to know about upcoming programs and events. I did.

Oh, and HAPPY THANKSGIVING.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

FIX MY HEALTHCARE! (or at least let me complain about it)

I stopped by Change.gov earlier and stumbled upon a great discussion on health care by regular people. You have elderly folks, nurses, health care providers, etc. all jumping in and laying down their concerns and suggestions.

While there is probably more complaining than anything else ... there have also been some good recommendations and suggestions. For that matter, mere observations have really impressed me. As someone who works in health care, I wonder how many people realize just how badly health care providers are being TOTALLY MILKED by corporate piggies (the drug companies, insurance "providers", and even technology vendors). By reading some of these comments I can see that there are a lot of people out there who know full well that we are being taken advantage of.

This is a really good start. Keep talking folks.

Sadly, they grow up. :-(

The night before last I had crawled into bed and fallen asleep for about 5 minutes before getting a call from the hospital. The operator declared that the sky was falling because "all the computers were going black". By "all" she meant two. And the solution was to reboot one, and shake the mouse on the other. Grrr. Then I couldn't go back to sleep. I was up until midnight.

Then last night I put on football - and about 30 minutes later I entered a deep coma. This slumber would not be interrupted because I was finally off of my on-call duty. I slept so hard. I had one of those deep, colorful dreams that can only exist in a state of total REM.

I dreamed that my daughter was a toddler again. A short, stubby, fat little baby. She was sitting on my lap, and I was lifting her up and letting her flail her arms around. She giggled and flopped around. And I rubbed her soft bald little head.

When I woke up I just wanted to cry. It was a nice sentiment. A throwback buried away in the back of my brain. It was so sweet and yet so sad. I think I must have gone to sleep thinking "my kids are all grown up".

I guess you never forget the way your kids were at that age.

My mother recently told me a story about my grandfather. As he went senile, he would have very vivid dreams which he could no longer separate from reality. On one visit he told her "there were two babys here ... right on the floor ... they were playing and rolling around on a blanket". In his senility he was having a flashback to his young twin sons who were long grown up and have children and grandchildren of their own.

I can only hope that when I finally go senile, that I will still have those memories buried away.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Leggo' My Software!

I was exploring old Firefox bookmarks today and I came across one for PostPath. PostPath was a play-a-like Exchange server. That is, it was a Linux based mail server which emulated an Exchange server environment. This struck interest with me because it overcame many of the limitations with Exchange server and yet would allow you to sneak it into an environment and still make mail accessible by use of Outlook.

But - Cisco fucking ATE IT.

By their own words, "PostPath will work with Cisco to enhance the existing email and calendaring capabilities of Cisco's WebEx® Connect collaboration platform". Huh? What this means to you as a customer is "we will merge this with other stuff, rebox it, and raise the price to something ridiculous".

In the process, I see that they have also acquired Jabber. This breaks my heart. Jabber was the worlds first standardized instant messaging protocol and platform. While AOL, Yahoo, and ICQ all fought to obscure instant messaging protocols to protect their advertising revenue, Jabber fought to unify instant messaging. But alas, Cisco has fucking bought the company and will likely just choke the life out of it.

I know that this is a two-fold problem.

1) CEO's and startups selling out. Not that I wouldn't. If I had this great idea and I was struggling to run some business, I would surely sell it for a few million.
2) These days, good ideas are not "dreamed up" - they are auctioned to the highest bidder and then marketed to inflate stock values (regardless of how they might even HELP a company do business).

I probably shouldn't even bring it up, but does anyone remember when Palm bought the Be corporation back in 2001? That was money well spent, eh Palm? What have you done with that code exactly? I loved that operating system and Palm ate it. Palm, I hope your company dies the horrible death that it has coming to it.

How the fuck is Palm still in business any way? Their stock has been under two bucks for like a decade.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Confession(s)

My friends,

I have a confession to make. Many allegations were made about me during election season. There were a lot of things said behind my back. I want to be clear that I did vote for Obama and I stand with him. That being said, I also share many of the same values and beliefs as the President-elect. Namely, we share some common beliefs in socialistic economy tactics.

The rumors are true.

I am a MARX'IST. I have been since 1987. It don't mean nuthin.



Saturday, November 15, 2008

I wanted a Volcano Taco

I went into Taco Bell tonight to pick up dinner. I wanted one of those spicy Volcano Tacos that they have been advertising excessively. But when I tried to order two of them, the girl at the counter said "oh, we don't have those any more". What ... the ... hell? I just saw them advertised on TV. Today! How can they be off the menu all ready? This is the third time now n the past few years that I have gone to order that new item from Taco Bell only to find out it's gone. Why would you advertise a new item right up to the minute that it's taken off the shelves.

This is like promoting a television show that has all ready been canceled (which the major networks are all guilty of).

It seems that this method of marketing only succeeds in pissing off your clients.

I know it's trivial. But it's a blog. This is the kind of mindless crap you are supposed to blog about.

I Can Almost Smell ...

Long ago, a guy by the name of Van Morrison made a nice song called "T.B. Sheets". The song was a little obscure and bluesy, and did not become a hit by any means. It could be that it was completely forgotten thanks to another song by the same artist called "Brown Eyed Girl". You probably know that one.

T.B. Sheets is a depressing tale about coming to visit Julie in the hospital, who is no doubt dying of tuberculosis. While he wants to feel something for Julie and relate to her pain - all he can really think about is getting the f*ck out of that hospital. He repeats throughout the song "I can almost smell ... your T.B. sheets". Gross.

This horrible, depressing song makes a good metaphor for our failing economy. The banks are failing. American auto companies are failing. We want to feel bad. We want to do something about it. But all we are really doing is looking for an exit. Turn the channel. Read the headlines of todays paper through the glass in the machine. Drive by the signs at the side of the road where retail shops assure you "we're still here", but grasp your wallet while saying "I'd better not".

Thursday, November 13, 2008

WTF Is So Interesting About Sarah Palin?

Now that the election is over, everyone wants to hear from Sarah Palin. But I am not exactly sure that I understand why. There are some great stories for her to respond to, and we all have a couple of questions to ask her. But the answers are going to be rehearsed, and we all ready know the truth thanks to angry campaign workers who spilled the beans. Case in point: the clothing issue.

Sarah denied that she ever owned the expensive wardrobes that everyone was in a fit about. True.

Sarah criticized the "main stream media" (I hate this fucking term) for not asking what Obama and Biden spent on wardrobes and make-up. Fair.

Sarah stated that the GOP kept the clothing, and she never had any intent of leaving with it. False.

In early post election interviews Sarah claimed that the clothes never came home, and there were no GOP folks coming to look through her closets. Yet her father made a comment to the press about the reality of things coming to an end and how they had to dump out all the clothes in the living room and sort them out. The clothes therefore did actually leave "the belly of the plane".

Now, I digress. Is this really an interesting story that we need to know more about? Who really gives a shit about Sarah Palin? She lost, and now she has to slide into vice-presidential loser obscurity along with every other guy (and that one girl) who ever held the short-lived title. In a year she will still be a punchline to jokes and the news outlets will be onto better stories.

What kills me is that the "main stream media" (ugh, we need a new term) want to imply that she has a chance in the 2012 election. This will never happen. Ever. You must be crazy if you think that the GOP would throw everything they've got to put Sarah Palin in the big house. First, let's examine the obvious. SHE LOST. Losers don't get a second run. If you don't get the vote the first time, your party is going to start looking at better candidates. Secondly - she tanked her campaign. McCain needed swing voters to win this election and he lost them in high numbers thanks largely to Palin. The only fools who thought that Palin was a good pick (or even a decent person) were all ready voting for McCain. I'm not speaking from opinion here, these are consistent and undeniable poll results.

I should note that my wife was depressed by the Palin run. She feels that Palin just set women back 20 years for presidential considerations. I would like to think she is wrong, but I have to agree with her. She cited that Jesse Jackson jumped into a presidential race and made some serious mistakes to set blacks back. We didn't see any serious black potentials for a while, did we?

You know the GOP would NEVER run Palin on their primary ticket. So why are people all ready printing the T-Shirts? Why is her face splattered all over the damned news? Keith Olbermann, you disappoint me. Larry King ... well you're Larry King. Fox News ... I'm not going there. Sean Hannity is probably still scouring the net looking for the definitive Palin look-a-alike porn star.

Can we talk about the new guy a little bit? We're all excited about what he is putting together. Let's give a rest to all the stories about rednecks making racist comments. We can stop giving the spotlight to southern folks and their empty assassination threats (I'm including school children here). I for one would like some uplifting news!

The only good stuff I can find is what's on change.gov. But hey, this stuff ain't bad. Make sure you're staying informed. Maybe when the new guy takes over we can get a technology upgrade for that awful WhiteHouse.gov site. That design makes my eyes sad.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Your Retirement Account = Empty!

I got a statement in the mail the other day for my "retirement savings". It was a sad and measly $803. These days there is so little left there that the bank is charging me to gamble it away. As I was stuffing the statement into my desk drawer, I pulled out statements from better times. Ah, the good old days. I once had $26,000 in that account. But then came the "dot com boom" followed by ... well ... the Bush administration. This got it down to about $18,500. The rest is - blog history.

Here is a quote from myself from just about 2 years ago.

In an attempt to satisfy the mortgage company I cashed in on my retirement account. There’s very little left. A thousand bucks, or so. With the money we paid off our tax debts with mounting interest, our car which was nearing repossession status, and all of our utility bills which were starting to come to the mailbox in festive orange colors. That ought to do it, I thought. I put it all in front of the mortgage company. In my naivety I guess I thought that they would be willing to help me lower my payments. But the response instead was “that’s great, but you still don’t make enough money”.


I used to wonder how many others there were out there in the same situation. Now I don't have to wonder - because we all know. When the banks started to lose records amount of money, and a couple were writing off record losses I had an interesting conversation with my dad (an accountant and banker since about ... birth). I asked "what the hell causes something like that dad?" and he said "people like you, son". And there you had it. The start of the collapse of the big banks. Or as we look back on these events, the "inevitable".

I used to feel pretty lousy and put a lot of blame on myself. I thought I was smart about things. Despite a lousy credit history I was able to negotiate a decent fixed mortgage rate. I held off "Dominion Homes" on every stupid luxury they tried to sell us (carpet upgrades, designer paints, etc). We built a budget based the mortgage payment that we were promised. But them some interesting things happened. That first mortgage payment was almost twice what they told me it would be. I never got the raise I thought I had coming. I eventually got laid off. I would never make it back to the level of income that I was at eight years ago. These days, I still make less and everything seems to cost twice as much. Well, it doesn't seem that way. It IS that way.

But this year, I am getting the best birthday and Christmas gift of all time. Hope. As Obama prepares to take office, he is out gathering the best talents that he can lay hands on. He is preparing for war on this big, broken, horrible mess.

As we all look ahead I wonder what will become of this broken economy. I wonder about all those people who gave up everything they had saved to start over. At 32. At 50. At 65. I think about all the families who have lost it all, and yet still manage to hold some sort of hope for themselves, and this country.

I know that the economy is not going to "bounce back". We aren't going to wake up tomorrow and find great big stimulus checks in our mailbox. We aren't going to get letters in the mail telling us that we can all come back and live in the homes we gave up. Our lost retirement savings are not going to replenish themselves.

No. We are in for a long and bitter battle. But we have hope. My hope is that I can look back on my Blog many years from now (as I often do) and high five my "past self" for thinking the way I do now.

Why so optimistic?
- We put the RIGHT GUY in the White House. Never mind that he is black (I know what a big deal this is). But, he is the right guy for the job. And WE elected him! Thanks America!
- Obama says thanks but no thanks to lobbyists YOU GO BHO!
- Hard hitter Rahm Emanuel chosen to join White House Chief of Staff White House staff, prepare to GET TO WORK.
- Arnold Schwarzenegger (a Republican!) continues to fight for the rights of gays. Arnie, we're with you.

Why so sad?
I know there are some folks out there who actually think that McCain was the right guy for the job. All I can tell you is: shut up, and watch how this is done.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

YES YOU CAN ...

... HAVE A HAPPY BIRTHDAY!

I made this cake for my wife today. It took a lot of blue food coloring and careful tedious lettering. Underneath all that cream cheese frosting is - a carrot cake!

Tina's birthday is November 12th. Be sure to give her a shout in the comments. ;-)

Post Election Guilt

I got stuck working on a project Friday which I could have probably delegated. For that matter, one of my co-workers asked earlier in the week "why are we having a network engineer work on this"? He was right. There are certain things that I find myself doing which I should be delegating to the PC technician we recently hired. But the truth is - I can get it done right, and I can get it done faster. Alas, I digress.

So I am knee deep in on of the dumbest networking setups that I have ever had the displeasure of bearing witness to. A couple of "vendor representatives" (I equate them to lobbyists) had just stopped by to install two new workstations. They couldn't wait to leave, and just about the time I was getting started running some cables they asked that I stop while they took photos of what they had installed. He explained to one of the nurses "we have been asked to document what we install, because there have been problems with sites that - when we return to them - have been entirely rearranged". Well, I could understand why they would need to re-arrange things. After they darted out the door I spent a good half an hour trying to figure out what the hell they had done.

1) Two workstations were plugged into an 8-port switch with POE features. This makes little sense. POE is typically used for wireless access points which might be stuck on a wall or a ceiling. It was completely wasted on two PC's.

2) There were two cables running from the 8-port switch - to a 24 port switch on the other side of the room. Why two? I have no idea what the fuck they were thinking. On a low level switch such as this one, you end up creating a routing loop. Aside from the two cables nonsense, they had hooked into a switch which was placed there for a separate medical system which "chats too much" (hence it had it's own switch).

3) Each workstation has two network cards. One is a "private network" which is shared amongst the medical devices. The other is to connect it to our own network so that these overpriced Dell workstations can also be used to check e-males and surf the Intarwebs. Both network cards were configured with 10.x.x.x addresses and a 255.0.0.0 subnet mask, but with different network ID's. For the technically included, you should be aware that this does not and cannot ever work.

When I was done fixing all that shit I wanted to leave up a web site as proof that my work was successful. I figured I would load the software that the techs had installed, and show that it actually works correctly now. But I also wanted to show that these workstations all had Internet access. But what web page would I load and leave up? Still ringing with pride I wanted to put up an Obama page. But should I really do that? I don't want to seem inappropriate.

Wait -- why would I be embarrassed to show support for Barack Obama? I live in a largely Catholic, and Republican town which all showed up to vote against me (screw you guys). But, Obama won Ohio anyway. And he won the country by a landslide margin. He is our President-Elect! He is the next President!

No longer do I have to hide my support for the guy that I have long thrown my support to. He won. Now, even those Right-winged nut-jobs have to support him. Or will they retracts those remarks they have always made about Bush? To bash the President is "un-American". I still see fools driving around with bumper stickers that say "I stand with President Bush". I am always curious to see who is driving one of these cars, because I want to see the face of the 20 some percent that still approve of this awful and damaging administration. Well, get some new stickers gang. Now you have to support the new guy.

In the end I decided I would leave up an Obama page to show my patriotism. I typed in the URL and struck enter. Blocked. The damned page was blocked by the web filter which I have to manage. Reason being? Politics/Opinion. Well, I suppose that is accurate. I settled for whitehouse.gov, which for now is still focused on the Bush "administration". You see how I had to throw up "dick fingers" around "administration"? Who could still take them seriously at this point.

For some more on Obama's plans, check out his new site Change.gov Kudos to Michael for comments to an earlier post where he dropped the URL. I was not aware of the site.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

The Landslide

Tuesday was a tough day for me. I spent my work day surrounded by people who were one by one going out and voting for McCain. I know only one other co-worker who voted for Obama. I know I shouldn't take it personally. But I do. McCain's "plan" was to continue on the same thing that he thinks actually works. Let the free market regulate itself. Feed everything else to that free market including health care and social security. He's a gambler, like the administration he serves as a lap dog. He stared a broken economy in the face and said "so what ... this plan works". He stood for dirty politics, greed, and broken promises. His tactics for winning were to sling mud at the other guy to win. We can thank Karl Rove for that bullsh*t. Yet, those around me run out and vote McCain. What are those "values" that he holds that are so damned important?

I tried to keep busy Tuesday, and that was easy because there was just too much on my plate. I have been trying to cover for my wife who has been down with a recent knee surgery. Our Orthopedist got a scope into her knee cap last week and declared "she has the knees of an 80 year old". Surgery was not "well" to her. She has a fear of pain pills (both the adverse side effects on her disease, and dependency problems). But she was taking those pills ... and I know it was bad. So I have done well to keep my mind off of the election by getting dirty up to my elbows. Cooking, cleaning, laundry, all that stuff that my loving wife typically does for the family. My hat off to her. It's a lot of work. And on her ailing body, it's even *more* work.

Tuesday night I stopped by the grocery after work to pick up dinner items. I decided that it might be fun to make pizza, which I haven't done in ages. It's serious business for me. I make my own dough, and the whole bit. As I headed up and down the aisles, I stopped off for ... wine! I don't drink alcohol any more. I stopped that years ago. Partly because I adopted Buddhism - and partly because it's expensive and I don't need it. But this night might be celebrated. Might be. I bought a bottle of the best "cold duck" I could find. Alcohol removed, three years aged, dark Merlot. Mmmmmm!

After pizza had been cooked and consumed, it was time to start watching and waiting. My network of choice, Fox News. Hah! Kidding of course. I flipped on MSNBC which I have watched pretty consistently in the past few weeks. A couple of times I would flip to the other networks - but their anchors and special guests were all crap. I just wanted election results on a big wall board. After a couple of hours things were looking ... as expected. McCain and Obama were pretty well tied. My heart was beginning to sink, and I was starting to doubt my fellow Americans.

Do these people really think Obama is a terrorist? Seriously? Fucking idiot sheep.

A socialist? A Marxist? You fucking idiots don't even know who Karl Marx is! And tell me something about socialism. ANYTHING. No? IDIOTS!

Joe the plumber? He makes $40,000 a year and owes back taxes. And he's supporting McCain? Joe - you're a fucking idiot. A vote for Obama is a vote for the death of Israel? Normally I would laugh at off color remarks like that. BUT YOU IDIOTS ARE SERIOUS. God help us.

Do you think that you can actually buy your own health care plan for $5,000 a year? Have you even LOOKED at what you AND your employer pay for these plans? I HAVE. DO YOUR HOMEWORK.

Then something awesome happened. Votes started coming in for Florida and Virginia and it looked like they might be leaning to Obama. I didn't get my hopes up. I've been disappointed before (see 2000, 2004). But then Obama took OHIO. My home state - made the right choice. That was huge. It was big for me because my home state was in serious trouble in 2004 - and it went for Bush anyway. I will never understand what people were thinking. Ohio redeemed itself.

Then came some of the northern states. They were blue. Keith Obormann started doing the math out loud. He noted that if things kept going as the polls had suggested that there was going to be a landslide. I was on the edge of my seat for hours. At about 10:45 it was clear that Obama had won the 270+ needed electoral votes and this election was in the bag.

I was still a little in shock. Camera's placed around the world reflected cheers which rang for nearly ten minutes of open air. There wasn't a dry eye amongst them. Obama had won. WE had won. I slipped downstairs, and poured the wine. My wife didn't drink much. I had to wake her up as she was passed out cold with a couple bags of frozen vegetables on her knee and a good shot of pain killers. We tipped our glasses and watched. Not much was said. There was nothing to say.

About 40 minutes later McCain took the stage to concede. As the camera panned around the audience, I saw a lot of wealthy older white people who were all pretty upset that they couldn't steal another election. At the mere mention of Obama's name, they jeered, shouted, and booed in disgust. He made a few attempts to silence the crowd and noted that his adversary had fought a long hard and honorable fight to the end. But the crowd wouldn't have it.

Then the word came that at midnight, president-elect Obama would speak to the nation. It was a moment I will always remember. In a speech which will mark the ages, Obama told us that we had a lot of work to do. There is a lot that needs to be fixed, and he will need our help. But that this was our day and OUR victory. And it was.

In the aftermath we have a president who I believe will bring this country back together. A president who is all ready assembling a bi-partisan cabinet containing LEADERS with a history of success and progress. WE elected a black man for president. That's a pretty big deal for all generations. The "blacks" didn't elect Obama. WE the country did. Of course there are still those who didn't want him elected. I wonder what they are left to think.

McCain probably thinks he can walk away from this whole mess and let the people figure out that Obama wasn't actually that bad a guy. He just ran with the wrong party. But what are those disenfranchised souls left to think? That the country failed them and voted a terrorist into the white house?

These are dark, dark, times for our little Nation. If anybody is going to lift us out of this mess - it's going to take a leader we can believe in like Obama. It's going to take a lot of money (we're looking at YOU corporate pigs). It's going to take a staff of intelligence and humbled public servants (he's making those calls).

For the first time, in a long time, I look forward to what tomorrow brings. I believe in my country. I'm truly proud to be an American.

The future begins - now.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Why I Voted Obama

In the past I used by Blog as a vent for things that were happening in my life. Mostly bad things. Depending on the era you browse through in my archive, you might think I was a horrible depressive mess. But I have learned by reading my old blog entries that I tend to post more when things aren't going well and that may not reflect well on my life. Who knows how long this stuff will remain online. In a time like this, I owe it to myself to take some time and write a bit about this election.

I have all ready voted for Obama. I live in Ohio which thankfully offered early voting through absentee ballots this year. During the last presidential election I stood in line nearly four hours to cast my vote for Kerry, who ultimately lost after a close race. The night that it was announced that Bush won his second term I was devastated. I didn't understand how it could even be a close race. Bush had done a terrible job. His administration had started a war "against terrorism" with the wrong country. Our nation was sinking in debt. And I was wondering how I was going to pay my mortgage because I was making less and paying more for everything ... than I had in five years.

My wife and I sat down and had a very serious discussion about leaving this country. In the end I think we came to the same decision. That we couldn't leave the place that we had been born and raised. Where our family lives. Where our kids had friends. Where everyone spoke the same language. But it was clear on election day that the country wasn't with us. I imagined a very dark future for the country, and for my family. Unfortunately I was right about what the Bush administration would do with another four years.

In 2004 I worked for a small training center which had been acquired by another small training center. I was about to be laid off and I can't say I didn't see it coming. My area of work had taken a dive in previous years and just never came back. When I was laid off it was almost a blessing because I was about at the end of my rope with my employer (see old blog posts). My wife and I decided to start our own business and try to find that "American Dream".

In the years that followed I watched my wife struggle with a disease that we couldn't afford to treat. I watched my family learn to get along without a father, because I was always on the road trying to keep my business alive. I continuously made deals with my mortgage company in an attempt to save my home. With each "deal" I extended my mortgage, and ultimately raised my payments beyond any affordable means. I went from drinking irish liquor to drinking 40oz's alone in various Motel 6's around the country. In the end I gave up: drinking, my business, my home of six years, and $27,000 in retirement savings. Things got really, really bad.

This is real life folks. I'm not some punchline on Fox News. I'm not some "fool who didn't calculate mortgage rates". I had one of those fixed rates. But it didn't matter. I worked my ass off balanced a couple of jobs, and I lost it all anyway. Using the last bit of my retirement money I was able to keep my car. A Honda with 150,000 some miles on it. Well technically, I used the last little bit to pay what I was taxed for having withdrawn all that money to try and save my ass. The cost of withdrawing retirement savings early: 40%.

In the end I escaped with my family, and a car. And we started over in a new town.

So there is some history. Here is why I have voted Obama.

On Health Care
This is the most important issue to me. Because Health Care needs fixed. As regular readers know, my wife suffers from a chronic and progressive disease which has no cure. Treating the symptoms of this disease can get expensive. I took a job in a hospital first and foremost - so that I could take care of my wife. In years past, she has suffered through some nasty Lupus flares because we simply could not afford to treat her. At one point we were paying $400 a month for her medication, and we had a hard time finding a way to pay for her to see a rheumatologist (which was a requirement for the medication). These days, the symptoms have not gotten any better. But I'm thankful that we can get her some help. McCain's plan for health care is to give you $5 a year to go buy your own healthcare. While some of you may think this is a good idea, just hope you don't ever get sick. Under McCain's plan - I could not afford the insurance I currently have. His plan is reminiscent of when a past employer of mine cancelled our health care package and gave us a "health savings account" instead. The company contribution to this health savings account was $20 per paycheck. It absolutely killed me that the owner of the company had the money to afford better insurance, but decided to put that money into his own pocket instead.

Taxes on the Middle Class
Obama wants to cut taxes for everyone making less than $250k a year. Folks, I know some "small business owners" who have exceeded that. And let me tell you - they will NOT be hurt when they have to pay extra taxes. Do you know what small business owners do with that extra money? $150 haircuts. $2,000 campaign contributions. $80,000 luxury cars. Multi-million dollar homes. This is just what I have seen first hand. Now, how could they better spend some of that money? How about by giving their worker bees a little wage increase once in a while? How about buying into some better health care options? These so called "small business owners" need to be called for what they are. Upper class, wealthy, and greedy white guys. Tax them more. Tax us less. Do you know what I did with my last "stimulus check"? I fed it to back taxes from my "small business" - which only grossed $40k my last year of operation. Note that I paid 38 percent in taxes on my business. You do the math.

The Economy
Do you know what corporations do when they find themselves with an excess of money? They build more buildings. Hell, they make more buildings even when they aren't doing well. They gamble stock. They try new things. If it works, they make more money for their executives. When it doesn't work, they can shut the whole thing down, pay themselves severance and nail all those little drone workers with the damage. That's not right. The first fix for this is for this country to admit it'd greed and gluttony. People should be held accountable. And while that is being fixed, how about we improve the financial situation for the working middle class. Let us have some money and we will waste it on things like FULL tanks of gas. And FULL gallons of milk. I can't afford those things right now. And I'm not alone.

And now I am out of battery juice in the old laptop. I'm also getting a little cold here working above the covers. Electric blankets beat gas bills in an old house like this. I'm going under for the count. I will blog more later.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

The iMac Torrent Machine - Part I

I had this great idea. I wanted to build a torrent machine. The idea is that this machine would sit in my basement and download all my favorite TV shows for me. Then when I want to watch them I could connect up to them over a network share and stream them to my XBox (running XBox Media Center or XBMC). As far as hardware goes, there is not a lot to choose from in my basement of horror. When my wife and I moved to a new town I decided to part with 95% of my "basement junk". I don't regret it. But when I decide to go build myself a computer out of spare parts, I find that I am running short on spare parts. It only seemed logical to make use of an iMac. I actually have two of them, and enough PC-100 RAM to stuff in them to get almost a full gig!

My efforts on this project were thwarted in a serious way when Xubuntu Linux failed to install easily to my iMac (see previous blog rant). This morning I changed gears. Screw putting Linux on an iMac. It's too much trouble. I will stick to what works. And that is - OS X! More specifically, I went with OS X Pather. Why Panther? I had a copy. It was what used to be on the iMac before I began hacking it. Starting the installation was easy, but I ran into some trouble. Halfway through blanking out the drive and undoing my Linux disaster, the Disk Utility hung up. After a reboot, the drive stopped responding. When I think back to the history of this drive, it's a shady one. It turns out that this drive is dead. Woops. Maybe this is why Linux was running so pathetically slow. Into the trash with you. To quote Fry on Futurama "I should have left you in the toilet where I found you!".

After installing a different 40GB drive - I proceeded to install Panther. Not a lot to say here. The installation was pretty simple as you would expect. Since I chose to "Customize" my installation I was able to uncheck all the stuff that I don't want or need (iCal, iTunes, Asian Fonts, Printer Drivers, etc). Next was the selection and installation of all the software I would need.

The Software
Firefox - I like Safari as a web browser. It works. But Firefox really kicks it's ass when it comes to speed and functionality. The problem is, Firefox 3 does not support older versions of OS X like the one I am using. It's also worth mentioning that newer versions of OS X like Tiger and forward - do not support old iMacs like mine (there are work-arounds, but screw all that). That being said I was happy just installing the last supported version of Firefox 2 (version 2.0.17) to my iMac. I will not use it very often. Mostly I will only use it to download the other stuff on my list. If you are "following along" with this you can get Firefox 2.0.17 in English for the Mac here: http://releases.mozilla.org/pub/mozilla.org/firefox/releases/latest-2.0/mac/en-US/Firefox%202.0.0.17.dmg

Java - Java comes with the OS (and gets it's updates that way). So to get Java you must first get your OS up to date. At the time of writing that was about 130MB of space, and about 40 minutes of my time. And that only updates your OS core. You will then have to reboot, and re-run the software updater to pick up Java, and it's three or four updates. Then, you need to restart again, and re-run Software Update again to pick up yet another update. In fact, repeat the update/reboot process until you are no longer able to find a Java update in the list. During these updates I unchecked all the stuff I didn't want or need (iCal updates, ipod updates, etc) and it still took an hour+ of my time to chew through. Yuck.

Azureus - In the past I would only run Azureus (mostly on Windows). It's a pretty nice client, despite being based on Java (fuck you IBM). It was the first client that supported rich features like a speed-scheduler through the use of Java plugins. These days I try to use thinner clients that don't take all my resources away! But this computer will sit in the basement and do nothing but download and seed my torrents. So it can have the resources and run a muck with them. I don't care. Theoretically you should be able to grab Azureus here http://azureus.sourceforge.net/download.php. - but I had some trouble. There were only three mirrors for the OS X version and none of them worked. I ended up doing a Google search and revealed this working link. Note that you cannot install any version of Azureus (now called Vuze) past version 3!! That is because version 4 and later all require Java 1.5 (or later) which is not available (and never will be) for OS X 10.3 or earlier. Aren't limitations fun? There are more upcoming. I downloaded Azureus/Vuze 3.1.1.0 and that is what I will focus on here.

Configuration
When you start up Vuze/Azureus for the first time, it's like waiting in line at the BMV. A long 3 minutes or so later, you will get this ugly iTunes-ish interface which will populate with all sorts of pictures and crap. Your first step should be to click the Advanced button in the top right corner. This will give you a much cleaner look. . If there is some stupid "friends bar" that the bottom, you can kill it. You don't need that.

Now click on Vuze (from the menu bar) > Preferences. Drop down the Interface category and select Start. Now uncheck everything. Most of these options are for getting new versions or reminding you of new versions. You can't use any of them, so screw em'. You might want to keep "Show splash screen" checked (so you know what it's doing while you are waiting for it to start). Also, make sure you check "Start in Advanced View". Then you won't load into that stupid iTunes look any more.

Next expand Plugins and then click on Plugins on the left. Note that there are a couple of clickable links for the Plugins directorys. Click the top one, and a folder will open. Now, there are two plugins you will want to download and put in this directory. You should create two folders. Call them something like "azspeedscheduler" and "azrssfeed". Then grab the plugins which will come in the form of zipped Jar files. You will copy the Jar files into these folders you just made.

Get the plugins from here:
Speed Scheduler (you need this specific outdated version): http://azureus.sourceforge.net/plugins/SpeedScheduler_1.4.jar
RSS Feed Scanner: http://azureus.sourceforge.net/plugin_details.php?plugin=rssfeed

Plugins copied into their respective folders? Good. Restart Azureus! You can do this by clicking Vuze > Restart Vuze. Now wait.

Next we will set up your speed schedule. Click File > Plugins > Speed Scheduler. How you set up your schedule is your preference. For me, I simply say "Limit upload speed to 20kbps" from 6:00AM to 24:00PM, all week long. While I am sleeping, I will do a little more seeding. In the daytime, I want that upload bandwidth because my Cable Modem provider limits me to only 60k or so.

Next, set up your seeding preferences. Ideally we would like to Automatically Remove a torrent once it's been seeded a couple of times. However - the AutoStop plugin for Azureus was dropped a long time ago! While I was able to find a mirror of it on SourceForge, it required newer Java than I could handle. With that, let's just tell Azureus that you want to seed everything to 200%. Click Vuze > Preferences. Expand Queue > Seeding and then select First Priority. These settings are rather confusing which only makes me miss the auto-stop plugin even more. Change the "A share ratio under" to 2:1. This makes you a "legal" seeder. Ideally you should set this much higher (eg 8:1) if you have the bandwidth (I don't). Make sure you click the Save button. The effect of this is that you will seed to 200 percent, and then the Torrent will just sink in the list and get "Ignored".

Remote Access
I want to drop this junker onto a shelf in my basement and forget about it. But I still need to log on once in a while and add new shows. For easy remote connectivity I suggest using Vine VNC. You have to get the older version (v1.2) if you are running older versions of OS X (like 10.3): http://www.redstonesoftware.com/downloads. Yes, I tried the newest version and NO - it did not work.

Adding Shows
Your best bet for adding shows to your RSS feed is to read the documentation provided here: http://docs.google.com/View?docid=dgsf923m_2d6k97n. Pay close attention to that "Pass/Fail" value that they cover. Their first example is for setting up Torrents that you do NOT want. In my case, I skipped out on Exclusions all together, and I have been operating just fine. This process took a little bit of trial and error. After about half an hour or so I was all ready downloading shows I wanted. If one of the shows you want to download are in the latest RSS feed - it will get added to your list right away. That's great for testing. In fact, you may consider looking at the RSS feed (the plugin will let you peek at it) and then just pick a show randomly from that list to test with.

Use your Imagination
From here the possibilities are pretty endless. I enabled Windows File Sharing in OS X System Preferences and I am storing all my torrents in the Documents folder (each show has it's own subfolder). So when I browse to \\TV\rayhaque\Documents\torrents I get a folder for each of my shows. Next I am going to map this on my XBox so I can fire it up, and just start watching. I have tried streaming the shows from the iMac right to VLC on Windows and Linux and it works really well (no stuttering, buffering problems, etc). As always - your mileage may vary.

As the days/weeks go on, I will probably post a second half to this experiment. In the mean time, I have some shows to watch. Bye now.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Go To Hell IBM

It's been a while since I dropped a nice rant post. I actually started writing a long rant a few weeks ago, but it never left draft status. When I go back and read it now, it's a long and hateful liberal job which doesn't do much but insult the religious right. Basically, it was completely unnecessary so I shelved it. But IBM will not be so lucky.

I spent a long couple of hours last night getting Xubuntu Linux installed on an old iMac. I have this idea that I will put a PC in my basement which I can remote into and select my favorite TV shows, and then it will download those shows for me as they come out. This is pretty easily accomplished thanks to the efforts of the pirating community, RSS feeds, and Java based bit-torrent plugins. I had countless problems with getting the OS installed which seemed to stem from a long history of mistakes with the PowerPC branch. Going through bug tracker reports and Ubuntu forums I detected a history of video card and IDE module problems which spanned three consecutive releases. I find it odd that it was never corrected. For that matter, it never will be corrected. The Ubuntu community has discontinued support for the PowerPC models (7.10 was the last).

Alas, I was able to get Xubuntu installed and it was even booting without my interaction. Woo-hoo! So today I focused on getting a bit-torrent client installed. I wasn't really out to install a Java based program ... but the more popular TV torrent RSS programs are written in Java. How hard could it be to install Java, right? Very difficult. Here is why. Ubuntu for the PowerPC has no Java package. Why not? Because Sun made Java, and they didn't care to provide it. This is a lot like there being no Flash plugin for a PowerPC running Linux. Why not? Adobe doesn't give a shit.

But wait ... IBM also created the iSeries which used the same processor architecture. Would a Java run-time package for that platform work on my iMac? Yes! So I headed over to IBM's website to download it. I was in for a treat.

IBM was pleased to tell me that this site was now under the direction of "Lenovo". Oh boy! That is the Chinese manufacturer who churns out cheap trash and attempts to market it as a hot name brand. But ... all I want is the download. I was asked to register. No problem. I fill out the form. It's rejected. I check all the fields and hit submit again. It's rejected. Why was it rejected? Who knows. There is no indicator of what field you have filled out incorrectly. After some careful reading I noticed there was a link titled something like "why should my ID be an email address?". Oh, so when you say "Choose your ID" what you meant was "Put your fucking email address here". Thanks for the clarity. I can see the same idiots in China that make your laptops have been fast at work building your electronic forms.

Then comes page two of the form. They want my street addresses. Both work, and personal. They also want multiple phone numbers. Are they kidding? And my password had to be 8 characters. Exactly 8 characters. I hope that's not because they are using DES encryption. Because that was cracked so many years ago. At this point I am so annoyed that I am forming my address out of expletives. And finally I come to the bitter end where ... I am asked to login, and then taken to some bizarro page, leaving me scrambling to relocate the page that I started on with the download link on it.

I select my download. This madness is almost over. I agree to their multi-page license agreement. I click the download button. What do I get? A pop-up box which is trying to run .... a FUCKING JAVA APPLET. Now here is where it gets funny. I am on their page trying to download the Java run-time and Java plugins and they are telling me that I will need Java installed to do that? What the fuck is wrong with these people? I click the "help" link because clearly I am mistaken. Their MUST be another way to get these files. But, there isn't. When you go to the help page, you get a very long explanation of why you should want to install their super duper downloader thing. It's fast! It's secure! It requires Java. Of course there is nothing to find in the way of actual help, and good luck contacting anyone about a problem like this. They really don't care. And why should I? This is where I give up.

IBM: You are fucking stupid. STUPID. Do you know why people build applications in Java? Because the majority of developers are incompetent retards who either flunked out of community college, or just caught a flight from India. Java is a crutch for talentless programmers. How often do you download a piece of software and say "Oh good! It's Java based!".

Okay. That's the end of my rant. I quit on you Java, and I quit on you Ubuntu for the PowerPC. You can both rot in hell.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

The Patriot Car - Solving the Energy Crisis

My wife and I were watching the presidential debates last night and I was struck with an idea. We have several different intertwined problems in the US right now which could be solved simultaneously. This would not require any particular party to succeed in the election and could in theory be funded by private money. But let's run down some truths:

  • American-made car companies are in trouble - With factory jobs on the line, we have seen many American jobs created in foreign car companies. While this has created jobs, and allowed us to create great machines - it doesn't help our pride in American made goods. Ford, and GMC are dying a slow, painful and agonizing death. They need something to pick themselves up before the Hondas and Toyotas of the world completely drive them under.
  • We are neck deep in an "energy crisis" - It seems silly to say that we are just now getting into a crisis when we long ago predicted that oil would run dry within 80 years (I heard those figures when I was in grade school). Everyone agrees about what needs done when it comes to gas consumption. We need to use less. So let's get serious about designing lightweight electric vehicles and stop with the enormous SUV hybrids.
  • Nobody can afford a new car - This is a really bad time to get folks to start spending money on cars. With the current financial crisis under way, we are all watching what little retirement money we had - roll out into thin air. The joke now is, "most of us will retire at 81, if we are unlucky enough to live that long". If anyone is going to spend money on a car, it would have to be cheap ... or free.


Here is how we win. The Patriot Car. The government goes to the American car companies and makes them a deal. Build a small, electric powered, and safe vehicle which can transport four average sized Americans (or at least 3 fat ones). If your car is a success, we will buy them by the millions.

The car will be funded by the government in the form of taxpayer money. That is, at the end of the first year of the program each family will receive a voucher for their new vehicle. The price and payment is government controlled, so there is nothing additional that the new owner will need to pay other than local registration fees. You go to the local car depot, pick out your favorite color, show some proof of insurance where applicable, and drive away. That' one less gas guzzler on the road.

Why would people drive this car?

  • It's the Patriot car, and it's AMERICAN MADE.
  • You are reducing gas emitions and foreign oil dependence.
  • It's a FREE car. Everyone has one. Go get YOURS.
  • You were spending $100 a week on gas. Now you spend only a few bucks a week for electricity.


So that's it. The Patriot Car. It could do for us, what the Volkswagen did for the Germans.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

EEEPC: Going back to Xandros

So I have been living on the bleeding edge for a while, running the latest and greatest code that Ubuntu has to offer. That being said there are some nasty problems trying to run Ubuntu Intrepid on the eee PC 701 series. Here are the problems I had.
  • No hotkeys - None of my hotkeys worked. That means that I couldn't use the Fn+Key combos to enable/disable wireless, control volume, or suspend. Brightness hotkeys worked fine.
  • No suspend feature - What I thought was a hotkey problem was actually a suspend to disk issue. It seems that owners of the 900/901/1000 series of eee PC are not complaining. The new eeepc_laptop driver works just fine for them. But for a 701 owner, you are out of luck. From what I see, only one or two coders are looking at this under the Red Hat Linux team. Will the change make it into the Ubuntu branch any time soon? Probably not.
  • New wireless driver - The good news is that Intrepid provides the new Ath5k driver for wireless. This will replace the madwifi driver which Ubuntu use. But upon loading the OS my wireless didn't work because it was using ... an old madwifi driver. What the hell? After disabling the "vendor specific" driver and rebooting the ath5k came to life. It worked FAR better than the madwifi drivers I had been using. Now I was able to pick up distant networks, but the strength or quality was still not accurate.

Rather than continue to bitch about how this new stuff doesn't work I thought I could try the OS that this laptop shipped with. I only gave it about 10 minutes of my time when I unboxed it, and it worked just fine if I remember right. So I drug out the restore DVD and created a restore USB drive installer. Then just minutes later I was running the default OS ... an outdated copy of Xandros Linux.

There's a lot to like with this OS. It's very small providing you with lots of free space when the installation is complete. It comes with everything you need (or almost everything). The wireless driver works VERY well. Of course, all of the hotkeys work so you can suspend it and bring it out of sleep easily. It boots on a dime!

Now the complaints: it took FOREVER to update. And after I bricked it for the third time in a single day trying to install Firefox I decided to find a work-around. The eee PC (like any other Debian Linux install) stores it's downloaded .deb packages in /var/cache/apt/archives/. So I ran through the process of installing all the updates and then copied everything in /var/cache/apt/archives/ to a directory on my SD card. Then, the next time I reinstalled I just linked all those deb packages to the directory where the OS looks for them. It looked like this: ln -s /media/D:/updates/*.deb /var/cache/apt/archives/. The result is when you install an update, it's instantaneous.

Then I went to install the overclock module that I love so dearly which gives you a full 100Mhz of power on your FSB. But there was a problem ... nobody has compiled it for the Xandros installation. Long story short I found that a French fellow had provided a patch to make the code compile cleanly. I was able to compile it, and I have made it available. So if you are running Xandros, and you want the eeepc-linux module you can grab it here ...

http://www.oddree.com/rayhaque/eeepc/eeepc-linux-2.6.21.4-eeepc.tgz

I should note that I have not needed that module too much, as the Xandros install runs pretty well without it!

My only other chief complaint is that the version of Firefox which comes with Xandros is really old 2.0.1). I have found several different threads on installing Firefox on your Xandros install, the most notable being one written back when version 3 was in BETA. Typically you can just download Firefox and extract it to a directory. But that doesn't work for the eee PC because Xandros is using GTK 2.8 and Firefox 3 requres version 2.10. One solution was to install the newer GTK 2.10 library and a slew of other packages that went with it. I was a little uneasy about mixing and matching new and old libraries together. But I tried it anyway. The result was an inoperable browser and an unstable operating system. Reload!

Then I found that another user had been successful in downloading the newer libraries but not installing them. Instead he had extracted them to a directory and then modified the Firefox startup script to point to that directory. This makes far more sense to me, and I gave it a shot. In no time I was running Firefox 3.0.1 without any problems. But I was all ready out of date. The newest is 3.0.3. Good news, that worked too. I decided I would write a script to quicken the process of installation which I will share with you now:

#!/bin/bash
mkdir /home/user/firefox303
cd /home/user/firefox303
wget http://apt.linex.org/linex/gtk-2.10/libgtk2.0-0_2.10.13-2~bpo.1_i386.deb
dpkg-deb -x libgtk2.0-0_2.10.13-2~bpo.1_i386.deb gtk2-10
wget "http://download.mozilla.org/?product=firefox-3.0.3&os=linux&lang=en-US"
tar -xjf firefox-3.0.3.tar.bz2
cd /home/user/firefox303/firefox/
sed "2i\\
export LD_LIBRARY_PATH="/home/user/firefox303/gtk2-10/usr/lib"" /home/user/firefox303/firefox/firefox > /home/user/firefox303/firefox/eeefirefox
cp /home/user/firefox303/firefox/firefox-bin /home/user/firefox303/firefox/eeefirefox-bin
ln -s /home/user/firefox303/firefox/eeefirefox /home/user/runfirefox303
chmod 755 /home/user/firefox303/firefox/firefox-bin /home/user/firefox303/firefox/eeefirefox-bin /home/user/runfirefox303
wget "http://fpdownload.macromedia.com/get/flashplayer/current/install_flash_player_9_linux.tar.gz"
tar -xzf install_flash_player_9_linux.tar.gz -C /home/user/firefox303/
ln -s /home/user/firefox303/install_flash_player_9_linux/libflashplayer.so /home/user/firefox303/firefox/plugins/libflashplayer.so


Here is the play-by-play. A directory is created in your home directory called firefox303. Then we download GTK version 2.10 and extract it there (NOT install it). Then we download Firefox 3.0.3 and extract it to /home/user/firefox303/firefox. Next we use 'sed' to insert a line into the script which starts Firefox. This line tells Firefox where to find the GTK library files and will prevent the error you would otherwise get. Notice that we call the new file eeefirefox. Because that file name becomes a working variable, we also need to habe "eeefirefox-bin" file which I created through a copy process (a symbolic link would have probably worked too). Next I created a symbolic link so that the user ends up with an executable script in the root of their home directory called "runfirefox303". Lastly the script grabs the latest version of Adobe Flash Player and installs it for you (because everybody needs it).

I also shared this script with the eee PC community here: http://forum.eeeuser.com/viewtopic.php?id=45742

Now you would think I would get some kudo's for my work on this project, but I've got nothing but crap from the user base. I'm not going to troll my own threads, but I will use my Blog to vent a little bit here.

Well, the other method worked fine for me! - Oh good. Because I spent several hours trying to make it and ended up reloading four times. Which is why I took the time to put this new method together. By the way, to "make it work" you totally tainted your system when you *INSTALLED* the newer GTK libraries to Xandros.
I didn't taint my system - Yes you did. When you start downloading packages that were built for a different version of Debian Linux you have tainted your install. You are driving full speed into dependency hell. Especially when you want to compile something new and you need those dev libraries.
I didn't taint anything, it still works - You tainted it. See the above.
No I didn't - Yes you did! Get out of my head!
I get a message telling me that GTK has to be 2.10 - You have to run the link that was left conveniently in your home directory. It's called runfirefox303. Vote Palin/McCain in 2008!
I have to start this from a terminal every time? - You could link a button to the startup script. It's not that difficult. Like foreign policy. Simple stuff.
Why didn't you make a package? - Because these all ready are packages, which I am hacking together to make work. I'm not going to re-package other peoples packages. I'm pretty sure that violates the terms of use from Mozilla any way.
Firefox 3.0.3 locks up! - What do I look like, the application developer? Report that shit to Mozilla. I have found some bugs too and I'm not talking about this hacked-together crap I'm pulling. It crashes in Windows too. That just gives us something to look forward to in Firefox 3.0.4! :-)

Okay, okay. That's enough user abuse for one day.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

EEE PC: Speed boost with modern kernels

If you are at all like me, you are probably not satisfied with the 70mhz "front side bus" speed of your eee PC 701 (2G/4G Surf). These has long been a module available which you can install to control the fsb speed and crank it from the default 70mhz to the full 100mhz. The difference is noticeable *immediately*. Especially of you are running Firefox with a streaming video (like YouTube clips).

Lately there has been a lot of talk about Ubuntu Intrepid. This is the next generation of Ubuntu, still currently in development. A week or so go I installed Intrepid and took it for a spin. While it seems to "work" on the eee PC there were still a few glitchy items. Such as, the Atheros WiFi nick is supported "out of the box". But for it to work, you have to disable the vendor specific driver that it chooses as a default. The new WiFi driver of choice is "ath5k". This is replacing what will soon be the deprecated madwifi driver. I must say, this new WiFi drive alone was worth the upgrade. But what about that eee.ko module for my higher bus speeds?

First, know that the code for the FSB speed boost is completely experimental. The author of the code warns that overclocking can cause undesired performance (such as freezing) and could also overheat your system. For that matter, the same code can be used to control the speed of the one and only system fan. Bottom line: do not slow it down!

You can get the code here: http://code.google.com/p/eeepc-linux/

If you are running the 2.6.27-2 kernel aka the 2.6.27-2-generic you will have issues. I did some digging and found this discussion taking place in a bug report. It seems that you can compile the module by changing all occurences of "&proc_root" with "NULL". I went through these steps and was able to compile the driver cleanly. If you would like to just download my module for the 2.6.27-2 kernel, you can grab it here. Or, to read the conversation I had with other folks in the eee User forums, you can check this out.

But then yesterday I ran an update check and saw that there was a new kernel released. I just had to have it since I am living on the bleeding edge of technology. Of course, I had some concerns about being able to compile my front side bus hack again. And as it turns out, I was justified in my paranoia. With the new kernel installed (and my 4G of flash practically gone) I was not able to compile the eee.ko module. Piss!

Now this kept me up a bit late last night, but I was able to get it to work. When compiling, I was being told that I was missing an include file called "bounds.h". It seems that this is only generated when you actually build a kernel. Now, this is usually included with your kernel-headers package because they know you need it to build a few things. Why was it left out? It must have been an oversight. After all, this is all experimental.

In an effort to generate that bounds.h file I downloaded the kernel source, ran a "make mrproper", a "make oldconfig" and then a "make". Then I made my way off to bed. When I woke up ... my build had failed because my drive was out of space. Piss! But then I found that the one file I needed had been generated. Woo-hoo!

Now, if you came here for the eee.ko module built against the 2.6.27-3 kernel, aka the 2.6.27-3-generic kernel, you can grab it here. That archive includes the bounds.h file which is only about 10 lines long. I don't think anyone else has been crazy enough to mess around in this realm, butI shared my findings with the masses here.

Links of interest on this topic:
eeepc-linux-2.6.27-2-generic.tgz
eeepc-linux-2.6.27-3-generic.tgz
An old but still very useful Blog post about this driver

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Sunday War-Sitting

You can't really call it War-Driving when you are sitting in a Lay-Z-Boy with your favorite drink (generic grape Gatorade, aka "DRANK"). So this Sunday, I bring you the first War-Driving story in many moons. Here's the setup ...

This past week I started reading about the new Ubuntu Intrepid alpha releases which among other cool improvements contains the "ath5k" driver which is built right into the latest kernel, 2.6.27 (still in development). The new breed of ath5k driver supports the Atheros card used for the Asus eee PC (horay). So I have installed the latest Xubuntu to my eee PC 2G surf and I have al ready noticed some grand improvements in my WiFi strength. While the "quality" is still not at all accurate, I am now able to connect to distant access points which wouldn't even show up in my list before. Thank you ath5k developers, for saving me from lacking madwifi support. Now on with the show.

This morning I sat down and connected to a nearby school which I had previously only explored from my bedside using "Audrey II" (my old iBook). Installing Wireshark (from their network, thank you) I revealed some interesting packets. Namely ... these right here ...

There were half a dozen packets every thirty seconds or so in broadcast form (hence the destination address ending in .255). In the data portion of the packet was "SynchronEyes". Not having any idea what this was, I did some Googling about it. It ends up that this is some software which teachers can use to set up live exams for their kids. How hard could it possibly be to find a copy of this to download and use? I Googled: intitle:"index of" synchroneyes. The to search result was someones accidental mirror of what I was after.

For this, I went back to my home network and downloaded the software. I also took a copy of that activation key text file. That will come in handy. And while I am at it, I should figure out how I am going to run Windows software on my eee PC running Xubuntu. So I went into terminal and did a "sudo apt-get install wine". Next, I ran wine against the installer.

I opted not to install the Internet Explorer toolbar, thankyouverymuch.

Hooray, ready to launch.

Uh oh, why do you need an e-mail address? I'm not giving you that.

It says that it can't connect to the Internet and my registration is no good. That's fine, because it still opens and runs. With the teacher console I made some ill attempts to start connecting to things. My first attempt was to connect to that address that I first came across sending out the broadcast packets. Still watching with Wireshark I could see that it told me to get lost in the form of a "RST" packet.

Oh wait. I think I understand it now. This is a student looking for a teacher. Let's see what my packets look like when I go searching for "a class to join".

Oops. We're all students waiting for a class I guess.

So I did the obvious thing. I made myself a class and waited for the student to join me. No dice. In Wireshark I could see that the student workstation recognized me as a teacher, but would not automatically join the class I had just created.

This little software package could be a lot of fun if I were to join it during school hours. Then I could create duplicate classes and derail students. Or perhaps I could join as a student, and begin asking insulting questions of the teacher. But then I will be at work while school is in session ruining the possibility of any fun like that.

There is still a lot of network to explore here, but I don't expect I will spend much more time on it. For one, when this particular private network ID looked familiar I did some research on what I was connecting to. It ends up that this school is managed by my old employer who performs network monitoring and security services. When I worked there, I had many conversations with the admin of this network. He is over-stretched, over-worked, and most definitely under-paid. It would be well of me to inform him that he has an unsecured wireless network here which I am sure he is not aware of.

But I will send that e-mail later. I still want to explore a bit.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Kismet Newcore

I was downloading and building Kismet once again today. I have done this a lot lately, because I keep blowing up my OS and having to reinstall.

I decided to go all out and install the "newcore" distribution. This version is available through svn and basically represents what the developers want. It's been built from the ground up to offer easier development, add-ons, and better configuration for the user.

I only really used it for 10 minutes or so. It works. It looks little odd. I'm not sure the graphical representation of packets is really necessary, but of course you can customize all that.



My buddy DM thought it looked a little like Atari 2600 graphics. That got me to thinking about my favorite childhood game "Adventure". That lead to a Google search where I learned that someone made a homebrew Adventure II for the Atari 5200 emulator. Just about the time I got the game to play I had to get back to work.

Also - I joined twitter as "rayhaque", so if you are a fellow twitter feel free to stalk me. I read about the service ages ago and I didn't really understand what it's for. I still don't really get it, but I expect I will figure it out soon. :-)

EEE PC - Migrating to 8.04

Being haunted with some rather odd driver issues I have been thinking about moving to Ubuntu or Xubuntu 8.04 for a good week now. Yesterday I bit the bullet knowing full well that this installation would cripple most of my drivers and leave me fumbling to restore all my broken functionality. But you know ... it wasn't *that* bad.

Creating a Live USB stick of Xubuntu 8.04
This was a bit more challenging than I had imagined. eeeXubuntu (release 3) came with this nice little shell script that does all the work of making a thumbdrive/jumpdrive into an installation source for you, so you can skip out of some lengthy tutorial steps. That script is not part of a standard Xubuntu release, so this is what I did.

1) I needed a copy of mkusbinstall.sh from the eeeXubuntu 7.10 disc. Ths involved booting it up, and copying the file onto a thumbdrive. You can also get it from here. I mirrored it for anyone else attempting this.

2) Next I downloaded and booted up Xubuntu 8.04, and inserted my thumbdrive. Then, I copied the script my thumbdrive out to my home directory.

3) Next I prepared my thumb drive again with fdisk and mkfs. This process is documented very well in this blog entry.

4) You need "syslinux" installed for this script to run. One of the magical factors of Live distributions is installing software. Open up a terminal. Go ahead and do a 'sudo apt-get install syslinux'. This will take a moment or two, and you will be done.

5) Now in your terminal, run the script you copied over earlier like this 'sudo ./mkusbinstall.sh --autodetect'. The rest should be smooth sailing as you just wait for copying to complete. You *will* get a few error messages about symbolic links. But don't mind those.

6) Boot your eee PC up to your thumbdrive and get to installing.

Keep in mind, you will need to install madwifi drivers from source to restore your wireless settings. And there are far more tweaks and hacks to fix the remaining stuff. Since I combined about three different methods myself ... I will not try to offer advice on that topic.

Check the eeeUser.com forums for more info.

Additionally, since installing the latest svn source for the madwifi driver - I am getting about 15 percent better signal quality with the built in Atheros WiFi card. It was enough boost to allow me to connect to a network up the street from my house without using any external cards or antennas. Awesome?