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.