Saturday, March 28, 2009

Random Ramblings

Well, it's been an interesting week. And I'm using the word 'interesting' sarcastically. Filled with doctor visits, a smattering of telephone conferences, and trying to write in the medicated fog of Vicodin and Flexeril, this week has been a challenge. The good news is, the meds have trimmed the pain down to a tolerable level, but they make me so, well, drugged up that I can't think straight most of the time and have to do mindless things just to stay occupied and awake. Enough about me, let's look at some of the things I DID accomplish this week.


I'll start with Windows Home Server. Power Pack 2 came out last week, and it was an automatic download if you have your server configured for that. Power Pack 2 fixes some problems that server had, and also added the ability to use Remote Desktop from Vista to the home server. Remote desktop is awesome. I was using TightVNC, which is fantastic for free software, but I was having some issues with screen refresh on some of my applications, so I was looking for a better solution. Remote Desktop IS that better solution. No screen refresh issues, and it's VERY fast. Several years ago, Remote Desktop was always slow for me and the refresh times were not tolerable. Either I have a better network now or they fixed the refresh problems. Great product. If you have WHS and don't have automatic updates turned on, get Power Pack 2 and install it. Word of warning though, your clients on your network will need to update their local software, and some will need to reboot. The only thing I saw was that Vista 64 bit didn't need to reboot, but Vista 32 bit did. I don't understand why, but that's what happened.


I'm using Galleon on my WHS box for TiVo connectivity. Galleon pulls my favorite shows down from either of my TiVos on my network and saves them on the server. Galleon 2.5.5 was released this week. I didn't see any noticeable changes in it, but it was an easy install. I didn't have to save any of my configuration files, just downloaded the executable file to the server, then ran the application for the install. The install stopped and restarted the service cleanly with no issues. If you're going to do this, make sure you're not doing any downloads from a TiVo when you do your install. That will break that file and you'll need to delete and re-download the file. Not a real problem, but an inconvenience. If you have a Linux server or a Mac, you can run Galleon, too. Galleon is written in Java, so it's platform independent. Galleon is a MUST for anyone who wants to save files from their TiVo.


Two weeks ago, I wrote about Twitter. Twitter is an awesome tool and great for communicating with large amounts of people at once. But it can be addictive (I have one of those personalities where I get addicted to things very easily, which is why I don't really drink much alcohol, but that's another story). You've been warned. Twitter is really cool, though. I've met some great people on Twitter, and they've exposed me to many new ideas that I hadn't thought about. It's very mind-expanding and educational. I've been using twitter since a little before Thanksgiving of 2008 I guess, and I now have almost 1000 followers, which is a milestone I never thought I'd reach. At times with the 1100 or so people I follow some people's comments that aren't directed at me are lost in the noise of all the other "tweets" going on, but that's how life works. I was asked this week how I would describe Twitter. I compared Twitter to a cocktail party (or whatever kind of party you want to use). There are always multiple conversations going on, I just pick one and jump in. Or if I see someone I know, I go over to them and start talking. Some people are going around handing out business cards (not that there's anything wrong with that) and some people are off in one corner talking about personal stuff. Twitter is one big world-wide conversation that can include anyone and anything you want. I've found it to be a great educational tool, a great teaching tool, and also great for sharing with people who are of a like mind.


I picked up an older WRT-54G wireless router from Linksys a few weeks ago, but I haven't had time to play with it. I'm planning on flashing the OS with one of the free versions, but I can't decide which one. If you have a recommendation, let me know. I'd love to have a new toy to put on my network!


I also helped my mother-in-law and her sister buy new laptops recently. Both their laptops were over 4 years old, and were having problems with both speed and bugs. The best solution was to get new laptops. I looked at and picked something that was good for Internet and e-mail, and something that would play their non-graphics intensive games. I settled on a pair of Acer-Aspire Laptops with Intel® Pentium® Dual-Core Processor T3400 (the Acer model number is AS4730-4516). They are decent laptops, and probably overpowered for what they need, but including the shipping and 2 year support plan they came to $500 each, which would have been unheard of two or three years ago. They don't have all the bells and whistles, but they'll do exactly what my in-laws need. And I can hear you asking the question "Why did you buy from Best Buy? Wasn't there someplace cheaper?" My answer is both yes, and no. I've had a Best Buy Reward Zone card for some time now, and the perks associated with having that card were never huge, until I became a Silver Premier member (which means I spent LOTS of money at Best Buy). One advantage is that shipping is discounted significantly. Another advantage is the fact that I get the equivalent of cash back on my purchases in the form of Reward Zone points, which I can spend at Best Buy. It's a great marketing ploy. At least it worked on me! Back to the laptops. I plan on trying to load Linux (most likely Ubuntu) on one or both of the laptops and see how that works. Maybe I can use one for war-driving. Stay tuned.


There have been a few things in the past few weeks that have kept me sane (well, as sane as I can be); E-mail, Twitter, and Skype. Since my back problems have come back, I'm basically home-bound for now. I've been able to work some from here at my REAL job, and I've also been able to use Twitter for social interaction. But the real saving grace lately has been Skype. If you don't use Skype, get it and play with it. Skype is free. There are multiple things you can do with Skype; you can use it as just another IM tool; you can use it for "Skype calls" which is just free VoIP to other Skype users, and you can do video calls. With my oldest daughter moving to Japan with her husband, Skype has been a life saver. We have used the video chat almost every day since they got their Internet connection up and working. I get to talk with my grandmonster and he still feels a connection to us. It's really cute when he gives me a hug good-by at the end of the call (which is usually around 10PM here, because I'm starting to prop my eye-lids open with toothpicks). It's kind of odd, though, when my daughter carries me around the house by taking the laptop with her. Now I know how Raj's parents feel on The Big Bang Theory! Funny and strange all at once! If you're not using Skype, give it a try! They just released a new version and it's VERY stable, even across ½ the world!


Well, I guess that's enough ramblings for today. If you have any comments or suggestions, please let me know and I'll either comment back or try them out.


Saturday, March 21, 2009

Why Are You Here

Hope you had a good week. I wanted to start by apologizing for this week's blog (I know, don't apologize, just move forward! Sorry (there I go again!)). It's been an odd week and I didn't get much tech stuff done this week. But I would like to share with you something I wrote back in January that I didn't publish. Not tech related, but more about service and thinking. Hope you like it.


3:00 AM, January 1st

"Why are you here."

It wasn't a question. It was a statement. It made no sense as a statement, but there it was.

"Why are you here."

Where were those words coming from?

"Well, I've thought about that a lot from a metaphysical point of view. Why are any of us here?" I thought.

"Why are you here."

That's when I realized, it wasn't a 'voice' per se. It was a thought. It was in my head. It wasn't my thought, but it was in my head.

I could see pictures in my head. People I know, enjoying each other's company; sharing communion; it was at church. They were sharing what they had to help others. I was sharing what I had to help others, too.

"Um . . . to help others?" I thought. My high school teachers would have asked 'Is that an answer, or a question?' It was a question. Someone had to ask a question, and the 'voice' in my head wasn't doing it.

I could see people I had never met before, but I knew them. Is this something that will happen in the future?

"Where am I?" I thought.

"I'm in bed. It's still early. Go back to sleep." I answered myself.

That's what got me thinking. Not just the big question of why are we here, but the question I asked my kids about 10 years ago when we were "church shopping".

Every time the Air Force moved us to a new base, we looked for a new church. "Church Shopping" is what we called it. Sometimes we found a church we fit in with. Sometimes we didn't. With a family that is 4/5 introverts, it's hard to find a place where we all fit in. Sometimes, we settled. Sometimes, we just avoided the problem, and slid back into our 'overly relaxed' ways. No contact.

The last move put us here in the Washington DC area. We actually lived for a year within the boarders of the city. During our church shopping trips, we decided there would be an outer fringe we would not break. No more than 30 minutes travel on Sundays to get to church. That narrowed it down to 3 places. They were about the same distance from where we lived. One was a big congregation with a deaf ministry and a large teen group (and we had teens at the time). One was a medium congregation of mostly older families with few teens, but a large pre-teen group (we had a pre-teen). The third had some teens (not many), lots of little kids (8 and below) and a small overall population. They were struggling to stay together. I guess there were less than 10 men in the congregation. They had a new minister who had just returned from being a missionary. He had lots of interesting ideas about the New Testament. Some people considered him to be controversial. He had a heart for Muslims. He, with lots of help, translated the New Testament from Greek, Latin, and Aramaic into simple English, and then into Arabic.

Where did we decide to "go to church"? Of the three choices, two had something we needed. The third needed something we had. We decided to go with the third.

It's been 10 years now. The church has grown to about 80 or so members, and more men then we can schedule in a month's time. One question keeps ringing in my ears: "do they still need what we have?"

"Why are you here."

Saturday, March 14, 2009

It’s not just what a bird does

OK, let me start with an apology. It's not the next week. It's been much longer than I expected, but the world has gotten away from me.


So I've obviously been playing with this "new" bit of technology called Twitter. It's not really new. I first heard about twitter last year, I think, and it had been going for a while before that. I was told that Twitter was "a micro-blog" and that "you just type in what you're doing right now in 140 characters or less", and I thought "who would use that, and why would I want to know what you're doing?" Well, my mind has been expanded.


I got an email from a friend of mine from way back. His email was very short. "Tell me about Twitter, please. Thanks." Wow, what a lead in. Here's my response:


Twitter is an odd duck. It's a community of people who share their thoughts and what they're doing 140 characters at a time.

I guess one of the most famous Twitter users right now is John McCain, tweeting (that's what sending a 140 character message is called) about what's going on in the Senate. It's interesting to see the sarcastic side of John McCain. Earlier last week when he started tweeting the top 10 pork items in the bills being passed, he said this:
#5. $650,000 for beaver management in North Carolina and Mississippi - how does one manage a beaver?
#2 $2 million "for promotion of astronomy" in Hawaii - because nothing says new jobs for average Americans like investing in astronomy

You start out on Twitter by "Following" people. For me it felt a little like stalking. I searched for people I had emails for and followed them. Then I searched for famous and semi famous people and followed them. Then I looked at their followers, and followed a few of them. Some people follow you back so you can have 2-way conversations, some, like John McCain, only follow a few people, but basically broadcast their message to all their followers (Senator McCain currently has almost 159k followers and is following only 32 people).

Current estimates are about 2 to 7 million people around the world are using twitter. Early reports from the emergency landing in the Hudson River were from Twitter. Early insights into the president's address to congress were from twitter.

There are groups within Twitter that mark their comments with what are "hashtags" or #. One I use is Top Conservatives On Twitter or #TCOT. I just learned yesterday that there is a dictionary of hashtags, but I haven't found it yet. I'm still looking.

Twitter is a great tool for communicating, especially for people like me who don't do well in a face to face situation. It gives me just enough anonymity to feel comfortable.

Twitter's great. Join up. HTTP://


Well, since that time, I've done a little digging. The dictionary of hashtags is at (what a surprise). I've also become very much a twitterholic. It's amazing to me that this application, this piece of technology that I was so unsure of, has become a part of my daily life so quickly. I have friends all over the world: Poland, England, Canada, Brazil, Taiwan, Indonesia, Australia, India, and many more places I'm sure (including the US!). What's funny to me is that I actually communicate with these people. People I've never met (for an introvert like me, that's odd).


Twitter can become an amazing tool, or it could devolve into a useless toy and a waste of time. For now, I choose to believe it will be an amazing tool to move the world forward into becoming a smaller, more closely knit community of people. Like I said in my email to my friend, Twitter is great. Join up. When you do, follow me. I'd love to chat with you.