Monday, December 31, 2007

Using the Library

I've been trying to get back to using our local library more. I used to be a big user of the library, but getting in and out of the library with little kids is such a pain that I stopped. This article about generation Y's return to the library was interesting. Here are 5 neat fairly new things I like about using the library:
  1. One of Jeff Scott's tips was to use Library Elf. I just signed up and it's pretty cool. Sort of like for library books. It can monitor all of the library cards in your family from one account. It will email and text message you before books become overdue, when items on hold are available, etc. It even makes an RSS feed available to you.
  2. Both of the two closest branches to us (Jimmie B. Keel and Austin Davis) have free wifi access now. But the wifi was just about crippled by the restrictions they place on it, at least when I tried it. Jimmy B. Keel didn't allow https access at all, so I couldn't access any of my email or log into any services that are nice enough to not send your passwords around unencrypted. Austin Davis did allow https though so I can at least get to email and other useful services. Neither allowed VPN tunnels or SSH or anything, so there's no real way I can work from the library unless I'm just doing doc or Windows-only work.
  3. The library has a subscription to Library Edition so I can do world-wide genealogy research for free (instead of paying $30 a month). You can only access the service from a library computer though. I'm not sure how I can save copies of historical documents (birth/death records, censuses, etc.) using a library computer. If I can sort that out, it'll be really sweet. I sat there with my laptop open using my own account (expired but you can still edit trees) to edit my tree while I used the library's account to do research.
  4. Our library subscribes to Overdrive Digital Library Reserve, a service that lets you download audio books and music. (They also support video and ebooks but I guess our library didn't subscribe to that). The audio is Windows Media only and of course it's wrapped in digital rights management (DRM). As long as you're going to only listen to the books at a Windows PC, that would work. I had problems getting it working on my laptop but got past that. PocketTunes on my Treo can't seem to get the rights to play the files at all. My SanDisk Sansa Express plays the files fine but no iPod can play them at all. Some audio books have the option to burn to CD but that's not very practical for a 7 hour audio book. The DRM-ed audio books expire after one week which is pretty short for something like the 18-hour A Short History of Nearly Everything.
  5. The hold system hasn't changed in years, but it still works great. I can get online and find the books I'm interested in. I place a hold and when they're available anywhere in the system, they get sent to the branch of my choice so I can pick them up whenever I'm there. I used to use this all the time. Even if the book was available at the branch I go to, I can place a hold to reserve it and avoid the hassle of searching for it (or remembering to go get it). This works great if you stop by the branch regularly like once a week.
As I mentioned in my comment below, I was able to hit's library edition from my own laptop. That let me save historical documents to my own laptop easily. Or at least it would be easy if it wasn't being so slow. Both times I've tried the library edition, queries have been a lot slower than they usually are for me. But that might just be because it's the middle of the day and I'm used to using late at night.

The other day we had some DNS issues on our broadband so I popped over to Jimmie B. Keel to see if I could at least get my work email from there. I'm now able to access secure https sites there fine so maybe that's fixed across all the library wifi spots. I also discovered that while I couldn't use our normal VPN tunnel to work, I could get in using our newer Aventail SSL tunnel, which I guess is able to mask itself as https or just http. It worked great. I haven't seen anything in the library policy that would prevent it, so this might make library branches an alternative "work from home" location.

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Saturday, December 29, 2007

Windows Media DRM Problem

Today I was trying to get Windows Media Player 11 to work with the OverDrive Media Console so I could listen to some free (as in beer) audio books from the library's OverDrive service. It worked fine the first time on my desktop, but when I tried to listen to one on my laptop, I got an error from both OverDrive Media Console and Windows Media Player itself.

"A Windows Media Digital Rights Management (DRM) component encountered a problem ..."

Not very descriptive. Most of the suggestions were to reinstall Media Player. I've had really bad luck with the Media Player install before. It made my laptop unbootable with a persistant blue screen of death. I never could repair it and had to reinstall Windows completely. So I wasn't interested in reinstalling Media Player.

I finally found the solution here. I went to C:\Documents and Settings\All Users\DRM and removed everything there. (Actually, I copied the files off to a different directory.) Make sure you have all the "show hidden files" and "show system files" settings set or you won't see what's in there. I didn't have to reinstall anything. It just worked.

Find out what's on Clearance at ThinkGeek!

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Thursday, December 27, 2007

Single Point of Failure

I'm pretty dependent on Google tools for everything outside of my day job: mail, reader, blogger, analytics, documents, notepad, and calendar. I've seen things screech to a halt around church when they have an email outage.

This post on Google Operating System has some really good tips for using a second Google account as a backup in case something happened to your primary account. In most cases it's as easy as just adding the second account as another user on your blog or Google docs. I need to do this.

Canon SD1000

Canon SD1000My big gift this year was a small camera, the Canon SD1000. I'd wanted a decent second camera to complement my Canon S3 IS. Since the S3 takes a decent picture (for a non-SLR sensor), I only really wanted something that could fill in when I didn't have the S3 with me. I wanted something small enough to easily keep in a pocket at events but would still take a decent enough photo to share online or order 4x6 prints. I also wanted it to work well enough to take a decent enough photo (given enough light) that I could capture those spontaneous opportunities shots that pop up.

The SD1000 is tiny, half the depth of our older dying Canon S400. I've carried it in my pocket most of the time for the past two days and it's very easy to forget that it's there. It's roughly the same size and weight of my wallet.

I could write about 5 paragraphs about the features, but for the most part it's the basic Canon feature set that hasn't changed much since our old S400. So what's new or different?

Face detection. It's kind of cool to see it work live in the preview. I think Canon's is a little slower and error-prone than the little Fuji cameras I've played with at Best Buy, but it often finds a face. I turned off face detection and AiAF (Artificial Intelligent Auto-Focus) since I'm already in the habit of setting focus and exposure on the subject first then composing the shot.

Clock. If you hold down the function/set button for a couple seconds (or when you power on the camera) you get a clock display on the LCD screen, with the digits in cubes that flip as the time changes. You can change the background color with the left/right controls. If you rotate the camera you get the date in the display as well. I'm just fascinated by this feature. It probably took a firmware programmer a week of tinkering to add it but I think it's well worth it. I love cool hidden Easter eggs like that.

Time lapse video. Among the video recording options is a time-lapse setting. It will shoot a video at one frame a second (or two seconds). I think my half-full 1 gig card can hold 4 hours of video at that rate. If I'd realized that sooner I would have set the camera up on a tripod and shot the entire Christmas present bonanza with it. I'll have a lot of fun shooting kids doing stuff with this. I don't know how the battery life will work out in that mode though. I just wish it had some longer intervals available.

What don't I like about this camera?

There's no external power jack. It's not much of problem on what's a second camera for me or on such a tiny camera, but I don't think any of Canon's point-and-shoot cameras have them. The USB port could easily be used to power the camera. You can probably buy a special $50 battery shell from Canon to deliver external power -- you could with the S400. Ok. I looked it up. It's a special $70 AC adapter kit.

Battery. I like the tiny lithium ion battery. It's tiny. Tiny. It supposedly has a long life. The charger folds up almost as small as the camera. It all sounds good but I sure prefer AA cells so I can use NiMH rechargables or alkalines in a pinch. I know there's no way they can fit inside this tiny camera's shell, but I almost bought a larger Canon just for the ability to use AA cells. I'll probably buy a couple cheap replacement batteries on eBay. $10 can buy 2 generic spare batteries instead of $40 for one Canon branded battery. We did that for our S400 and they worked fine.

Weather / dust proofing. I briefly considered an Olympus model that is weatherproof. We have had very few problems with Canon cameras getting dust into places it shouldn't be but I know others have. Water's never been an issue.

Free Shipping Over $75 at Calumet Photographic

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I saw this article on "shopdropping", the reverse of shoplifting, where people bring stuff into stores and leave it. This is sometimes done for art's sake, but what was more interesting is when it's done as marketing. I've seen marketing literature, particularly political ads, dropped in bookstores and other places.

I've had the thought of dropping invite cards for our church in the religion or even self-help sections of book stores but it just reminds me too much of a pushy street preacher shoving Chick tracts at everyone passing by.

But I haven't seen bands dropping their CDs. I think that's a cool idea, especially if they're clearly labeled as free, so a cashier doesn't have to waste 15 minutes trying to get it to ring up. If they're stuffed in the right locations, they could get to the people most likely to enjoy them and help build some buzz.

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Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas!

We tried hard this Christmas season to scale back on the commercialism. While it wasn't perfect, we did come very close to our goal of not giving just any useless expensive gifts just out of a sense of obligation. If we saw something perfect for someone, we got it, but otherwise we didn't go out and fill every else's houses with junk they would just keep around, unused, for two or twelve years before finally discarding it.

Santa doesn't bring as much to our house as he used to. He never was the major present-giver here anyways, but last year Ann said "I'm not going to let Santa get the credit for the best gifts." That really stuck with us and we got Santa to scale back a little more this year. He is the one that brought two of the favorite gifts for the kids though, so he did manage to steal the show again. The favorite gifts? Each got a wood yo-yo and a plastic collapsible camping cup. I think they played with them half of the day.

My daughter got a couple of Nintendo DS games (Lego Star Wars II, March of the Penguins, and Word Coach), which of course kept her glued to her DS much of the day, especially once she got a Star Wars accessory kit from her uncle Allen.

My big gift this year was a small camera, the Canon SD1000. I got it to replace our old Canon S400 so that we have a decent second camera that's small enough to carry everywhere. I shot more than half of my photos yesterday with it and it did a pretty good job. I wouldn't try to sell any indoor shots from it on iStockPhoto, but I might try uploading a well-lit ISO 80 shot from the SD1000 just to see.

Ann's big gift? I think if you asked her, it was being able to cook the entire Christmas dinner for everyone. From scratch. There wasn't a single preservative or additive in anything she made. At least I guess that would be her big gift. I gave her a cheap card with a promise that we would go on at least four actual date nights this year, where I did the planning including the sitter. Four doesn't sound like a lot to some couples, but it's four more than we did this year (and four more than a lot of couples I know).

Monday, December 17, 2007

Walt Disney historical documents - Boing Boing

Someone had some fun on and found a collection of Walt Disney historical documents. Anyone with an account (or access through their local library) could do the same. It worked well with Walt because he was born in 1901, so a lot of records are available. 50 years one way or the other and there'd either be to few records kept or they'd still be locked up for privacy reasons. It'd make a cool link-bait to do that for someone else.

Better Living Through Chemistry

This might be the beginning of a trend. Or at least a trend crossing to the early majority. Mountain Equipment Co-op is pulling most polycarbonate water bottles from their inventory. Those are the multicolored Lexan Nalgene bottles and all the clones. I've seen the allegations of chemicals (Bisphenol A) leaching from the plastics before but this is the first big action on it. Nalgene has a page on their website with information on the safety of their polycarbonate bottles.

This is happening at a time when Nalgene and other bottle makers should be seeing growing sales. You see, they're jumping on the growing backlash against the wastefulness of bottled water. It's even been featured in Fast Company and now Nalgene Outdoors and Brita have partnered with a website

The major contender to replace those sorts of bottles is stainless steel, like the Klean Kanteen. There's even a sippy cup version. I like them because you can heat and boil water directly in them. They're definitely heavy for backpacking, but not much heavier than the Lexan bottles. Besides, most bottles like this will never be taken camping anyways.

I'm interested in watching how both of these ideas (toxic plastic bottles and the wastefulness of bottled water) spread and if they can cross the tipping point. They aren't new ideas so I'm guessing they'll linger around, never making it to the majority, unless something absolutely sensational happens involving Brittney Spears and bottled water.

Update: Outside Magazine's Gear Guy answered this question: "Should I follow MEC’s lead and get rid of my polycarbonate water bottles?" His answer? Maybe.

Stainless Steel Nalgene Camping BottleUpdate: I found the stainless steel bottle I'd been looking for. The Guyot Designs "The Standard". It's shaped and dimensioned just like a the popular Nalgene bottles but it's stainless steel. Reusable Bags and Eastern Mountain Sports (EMS) sell them for around $20.

Update: I got to thinking. Why the uproar over polycarbonate water bottles, particularly Nalgene's, when there's no mention of all the polycarbonate bowls and other kitchenware. If the BPA leaching is worse with hot liquids, surely using a polycarbonate bowl for things like soup would be pretty bad. Sure enough. Even though I didn't notice it, the initial notice from MEC was that they are pulling bottles and bowls made of polycarbonate.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Warrick Dunn

I can't really figure out what to say about Warrick here. If you don't know his story, you should. I remember first hearing it when he was at Florida State. It makes the Vick stupidity look even more petty. Earlier this fall he finally went to prison to meet one of the men that killed his mother: Bucs: Confronting his pain. He's a bigger man than I am.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Rejecting Christmas

Here's an interesting article about Christmas. I knew that Christmas today is a heap of commercialization piled on mostly pagan roots. But what I thought I had known before this article is that a century ago, Christmas just wasn't a big deal for Christians. It was mostly a non-event. But the article makes the point that it wasn't a non-event. Most protestant denominations actively fought against observing Christmas. Interesting.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Solaris on the IBM Mainframe

Who would have ever believed it? Solaris running on IBM mainframe hardware. Here's a series of video demos booting Open Solaris on zSeries.

This is particularly funny to me because we've now migrated some of our development load to a FLEX-ES machine. So on that machine, we're already running z/OS and zLinux on an emulator that's running on a Linux host.

In related news, there are new episodes (4 through 6) of Mainframe: The Art of the Sale on YouTube. It's like watching an episode of The Office set at IBM.

Find out what's on Clearance at ThinkGeek!

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Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Blink (the game)

I finally started playing Blink. It's a card game with pretty simple rules. I thought it sounded a lot like Set from the description, but the play is different. You have 3 cards in your hand and play on two stacks, matching one of three characteristics: shape, number, or color. It's billed as "The World's Fastest Game" and it really does go quick. Even with the kids, a game doesn't last more than 2 minutes unless we play a "let's take turns" variation. When I play now my biggest limitation is getting cards from my draw pile into my hand fast enough without dropping one.

The kids (8 and 4) are pretty good at the game. Since you can handicap the game by giving each player more or less cards to play through, you can keep it competitive and adapt the difficulty as people learn.

The game's about $5 and is in an end cap with the Uno decks and poker chips at every Target or Walmart I've been to. You can even get it in a special Bible Edition with different shapes on the cards. I tempted to get a Bible Edition and mix the cards in with a standard set for more difficulty and variety.

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Monday, December 10, 2007

How to Change the World: Ten Ways to Use LinkedIn

After seeing the news that LinkedIn is going to open up their platform a little to allow some third-party apps, I found Guy Kawasaki's old post about Ten Ways to Use LinkedIn and it covered some great points. My LinkedIn profile is the top search result for my name. It's even higher than my own domain,

Sunday, December 09, 2007


Today I finally made good on my plans to take the kids geocaching. I've had a GPS for almost a year now. I bought it for a bunch of reasons, but one was to go geocaching with the kids, particularly our oldest. We tried one cache at Lake Park a little while ago but weren't ready to stomp through the brush off-trail to find it.

So this afternoon I set out with both kids and a GPS loaded with cache coordinates. We went to Lake Rogers Park, a nice but pretty undeveloped park near us. There is a cache right near the trailhead, but we never found it after two passes. It was awfully busy so we kept having to stop searching. We'll get it eventually.

We finally found our first cache about 1/6th of the way around the loop trail. We walked past it twice before we found it. An ammo can full of bandaids. We signed the log, took a picture, and kept hunting. But we finally found one.

The second cache was another ammo can. This is the one the kids won't stop talking about because it had toys in it. I'd only remembered to bring one McDonald's toy, so I only let them trade it for one thing. Now they make me carry a half-dozen toys in case we find another one where we can trade.

The next cache was a two-part cache. The first part was just a laminated tag that gave the location of the second part, which was further around the loop trail. By the time we'd gotten close to it, we needed to hustle if we were gonna get out of the park by dark, so we only got the first part for now.

We passed two other caches that we couldn't find after a good bit of searching, but we did find one more small one. We barely made it out of the park by dark.

So we had our first geocaching success. The kids enjoyed it and barely seemed to notice the miles they put in hiking. They definitely want to do it again.

I was surprised how difficult it was, because the GPS could rarely get a precision better than 20 feet. So if I was supposed to be right on top of the cache, it could be anywhere within 20 feet of me. That doesn't sound like much until you're looking for a microcache the size of a keychain or you're in thick woods.


Seeing this post about a guy trying to spend a week in the Mall of America reminded me of the time at Georgia Tech that a friend and I tried to ride MARTA, the Atlanta "subway", to every stop in the system. It didn't sound that crazy at the time. MARTA is basically two lines with (then) about 30 stops. We figured it would take us a couple hours.

By the time we got to the end of the east line we were bored to tears. We scrapped the idea. I'm trying to imagine a week in a mall.

Need a Divorce Lawyer in Tampa?

A friend of ours, Roberta Kohn, has expanded her primarily real estate practice to include family / divorce law. She hated taking on divorce cases as much as I hate thinking about someone I know needing a divorce lawyer. But if you need one, you really need a good one, and Roberta is one of the best. I've known too many friends that got screwed in their divorces particularly when kids are involved. You need good representation.

She can also do the closing on your house. And make a mean margarita when you're done.

Law Offices of Roberta Kohn, PA, Family and Real Estate Law

Friday, December 07, 2007

Google Chart API

Pacman vs Not PacmanI saw on the Google Operating System blog that Google has opened up their chart generating service a little, so you can render quick charts just using a URL. I'm sure more charts will start showing up in mashups now.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Amazing Race Kids Activities

I've gotten a couple queries about the activities we used for our "Amazing Race" nights at Detour, our Wednesday night children's ministry. Since I recently went through the photos from that time, I thought I should try to make a more complete list. Credit for most if not all of these ideas really belongs to Sarah Morris.

Week 1:
  • From a table filled with stuff, locate one particular item (I think a printed word) and point it out to a judge
  • One team member eats a jar of baby food. We were nice and had fruit not peas. For the teams that lagged behind this got shortened to five spoonfuls.
  • One team member pushes / pulls a stack of chairs across the room. This was harder than we thought. You should test the size of the stack with one of the smallest kids.
  • One person from the team finds a specific verse in the Bible and sculpts the 3rd word of the verse from Playdoh for the team while they try to guess what it is.
  • Given a sample greeting card and supplies, make an identical card (for nursing home residents)
Week 2:
  • From a list of 30 names, circle the one that is not a book in the Bible
  • From a table filled with toys, find one specific item and write down the location for a judge
  • Balance a pencil on your nose for 30 seconds
  • One team member eats a spoon full of mustard
  • Take a popsicle stick and wrap it completely in yarn
  • Something where the one team member got dressed as a Bible character and had to recite something. I can't remember exactly what this was, but it was funny to watch.
Week 3:
  • Untie a rope with a dozen knots in it
  • Unscramble 12 church-related word scrambles
  • One team member stands on their head (against the wall or with someone holding their feet) while the others recite /sing something
  • One team member eats a pack of pudding, fed to him by the rest of the team, with spoons in their mouths, and with everyone's hands behind their back. One of the funniest activities. Amazingly not very messy.
  • A three-legged race down the hall
  • The team got 5 balloons and had to pop them by sitting on them. The lighter kids couldn't pop them and needed some help.
  • From a bowl full of eggs, the team must pick one at a time and crack it open until they find a hard-boiled one. I didn't get to watch (or photograph) this but I heard it was probably the most disgusting activity we had.
Week 4:
  • The team solves a Bible-themed word search
  • The rest of the team wraps one team member completely in toilet paper. The judging of "completely" got looser for the slower teams.
  • Each team members puts Vaseline on their face and uses cotton balls to make a beard. Really funny to watch (and photograph) but probably the messiest activity we did.
  • Given a stack of magazines, the team cuts out and glues letters on paper to spell Jesus.
  • Make a balloon animal. Judging of "animal" got looser for slower teams.
  • One team member drinks a small baby bottle full of water. This took fooorrrrevvveeerrr. You should test this with a kid and consider use a small amount of water like a quarter of the bottle. Great photos of teams standing around in frustration watching one poor kid try to suck down a whole bottle through a pinhole.
Week 5:
  • Assemble a 100 piece jigsaw puzzle. This took too long, probably nearly 10 minutes per team, even with the whole team working and adults helping. The kids were ready to explode.
  • One team member drinks a small amount of pickle juice. We even watered it down. This was the only time we ever had a kid puke from an activity.
  • String 25 buttons on a string
  • Walk down the hall holding a spoon in their mouth with a pom pom ball on it without dropping it
We had a couple challenges every week, besides just coming up with ideas. The kids, especially the older ones, could just blow through challenges much quicker than we thought. So we made sure to add activities that would have to slow them down like word searches and puzzles. Then we had teams falling way behind that wouldn't finish without help. It's very tough to work out a balance for everyone. What I'll do when we do this again is make sure to have some adjustable difficulty so we can slow down the fast teams without stopping the slower teams. Things like having a hard and easy version of a word search or word scramble or having a 100 piece and a 25 piece jigsaw puzzle would accomplish that. That takes a little more instruction for the volunteers though.

Speaking of volunteers, this activity can be very volunteer intensive. The setup (and teardown) took a lot of work of course. We (Sarah) had to walk through and make sure that the clues the team receive sent them to the right rooms in the right order. There also had to be adequate instructions so that any volunteer could walk in and run the activity. During the activity we often needed volunteers in 3 or more rooms at a time. If you do this, you'll definitely want to have one or more designated photographers. Some of our funniest photos came from these nights.

One challenge we had was with the competitive aspect of the activity. We had a couple kids get frustrated with "losing" but the majority of them were having too much fun to worry about that. The bigger problem was with the fast teams of older kids. They were so competitive that every week we had accusations of cheating. That wasn't fun to deal with. Especially since everyone got the same prizes at the end.

When we did this activity last year it was only one of several activities kids could sign up for at the time. We had about 5 to 6 teams of 3 kids each week and that was a good number. We tried to limit it to kids that were 2nd to 5th grade so they were decent readers and could understand and follow the directions.

Update: Peppers and Pollywogs has a list of activity ideas meant for birthday parties.

Update: I created a quick hopefully non-infringing logo for this blog post, using this photo as a base. You're free to use it for your own personal use as long as it is clear that this is not affiliated with The Amazing Race television show.

[The Amazing Race is a trademark of CBS or the production company for the show. I was told that we were cleared to use the term "Amazing Race" as long as it wasn't The Amazing Race and we did not use a logo from the show.]

Detour Talent Show and Christmas Party

Tonight we had a Christmas Party at Detour (our Wednesday night children's ministry). This year we tried something a little different: A talent show. No prizes or awards or judgement. Just kids showing off their talents. We had the usual piano playing, singing, dancing and boys telling jokes. A couple gymnastics. A karate comedy routine. A yo-yo routine. A singing dog. Kids with last-second stage fright. It was a kid's talent show all right.

But what amazed me was how many people turned out. Not just kids, but parents. We had almost 50% more than our usual number of kids and this is the time of year that our attendance usually drops. We'll definitely have to try the talent show idea again. It was no where near the amount of prep time of our other special event nights. The only thing I didn't like about it was that it didn't really give kids or parents a feel for what we normally do at Detour. Something like Adventure Night or the two twists on "PJ night" we've done (have to blog about those) are a lot closer to our typical activities.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Wild Life College

I came across this NY Times article about a couple colleges that are offering essentially a "semester in the woods" where students live in a remote location. Well, as remote as the Adirondacks can be, I suppose. Imagine learning differential equations in a small class setting studying in a yurt. That might be the perfect thing for the male college student struggling with an ADD label.

Use Google Earth to Learn the Stars

Following up on my earlier post about learning the stars, Google Earth now has a sky view that lets you interactively explore a virtual sky.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Luke McCown

It was great to see Luke McCown do great today. 29 of 37 for 313 yards, 2 TDs and 1 interception. Luke spoke at our church's Sports Camp two summers ago and hung out afterwards, signed shirts, and talked with the kids (and dads). The next day at practice he tore his ACL and could have easily never played another down in the NFL. The kids at camp made him a big get well card.

At the time it didn't make for a very inspirational story for the kids. See kids, if you work hard, stay out of trouble, go to church, and accept Christ, you too can have a career-threatening knee injury. So I was glad to see Luke have a great day today. I sure would love to see him back at our Sports Camp again this summer.

Friday, November 30, 2007


WosemiSome friends of mine have beta launched Wosemi. The plan sounds a bit like Myspace but the users get a slice of the revenue (Adsense and affiliate links I suppose). I think the site is built on a DotNetNuke framework. It's definitely in beta, but hey, that's further than most of my ideas get. I particularly like the graphic design of the little Mii-like Wosemians, especially the Santa version. Heck, I just like the word Wosemian.

Papercraft Spacecraft

These are awesome! Some incredibly detailed papercraft models of the space shuttles, the international space station, and other spacecraft. They're probably too detailed for me to build. I could start building one, but by now I know I wouldn't finish it.

The Evel Knievel You Didn't Know

Evel Knievel passed away today. I met him once, briefly, over 15 years ago. Sitting there a, um, adult club, wearing sunglasses in the dark, spending his remaining money and fame chasing the wrong things. Just like I was. I assumed that was how his life continued, up until he passed away or at least until his liver transplant. I don't know why I figured he wouldn't have changed in the past 15 years. I sure did.

What I didn't know until 10 minutes ago was that earlier this year, Robert "Evel" Knievel gave his life to Christ. You can see part of his Palm Sunday testimony at The Crystal Cathedral here.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Knoppix Rescues Windows Again

Knoppix saved another Windows box for me. This weekend I trashed my laptop a little. I tried installing Ubuntu 7.10 to an old USB hard drive and wasn't paying attention to how the install skipped over the boot loader options. The next thing I know, Ubuntu's wrecked the master boot record (MBR) on my laptop's internal drive. Booting up gives me a painful-looking:
GRUB Loading stage1.5.

GRUB loading, please wait...
Error 2
My first attempt was to boot up an XP install CD and try to run FIXMBR. But since it's my company's work laptop, I don't know the local Administrator account's password so I can't even get into the recovery console at all. I was thinking of pulling together all the pieces to download a DOS or Windows 98 floppy image and boot from that to run FDISK /MBR, which supposedly will still work to boot Windows XP.

Then I had my first useful idea in all of this. Knoppix. I popped in an old Knoppix DVD and booted it up. I struggled for a bit with trying to find an XP MBR to dd onto my laptop hard drive, thinking "surely there's an archive of MBRs out there on the net". Then I stumbled across my final answer, ms-sys. Ms-sys can write any of the Microsoft MBR's to a hard drive. I ran "ms-sys -m /dev/sda" and rebooted. Windows XP came up fine.

I've since gone back and tried to make Ubuntu boot from that portable USB drive, but I can't get a machine to even get to the boot loader no matter how I fiddle with the partition table. Maybe I need to try a different drive. I'd love to have a full-blown Ubuntu install on a bootable USB drive, especially since Wifi support finally works so well.

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Wednesday, November 28, 2007


Rob Witte pointed out to me. It's an interesting little product apparently inspired by the 4 Hour Work Week book. A 30 minute video of a crackling fireplace, with or without background music, for $10 or under. Good for portable video players include iPods or fire it up on your computer at home or in the office for a little Christmas feel.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Counting the Ways to Lose NaNoWriMo

The towel, it is thrown. I've all but officially given up on NaNoWriMo, the National Novel Writing Month, this year. Stalled at 6112 words. Haven't written in 2 weeks. I had fun writing about 2000 of those, but it's not a novel. I started badly, with grand ideas that would take way more than 50,000 words. Chopping back the scope down to what would fit in 50,000 words left me with something that just wasn't that much fun to write after a couple thousand words. I rehashed some ideas and even some short stories I wrote 15+ years ago, which was just a bad idea.

So if I had to make a list of ways to lose NaNoWriMo:
  1. Reuse characters and plots from previously unfinished or failed writing efforts.
  2. Try to pack something the size of Lord of the Rings (just under 500,000 words) into 50,000 words. In a month.
  3. Write something you don't know. It's hard to add the little details when you're writing about a completely foreign environment, whether it's a city that you've never been to, a place that doesn't even exist, a job that you've never done, or a culture that you made up. Use what you know and twist it to fit.
  4. Get hung up on details. I constantly had issues like coming up with names for places and secondary characters and keeping them consistent. Once I hit on just using "blah blah" or blatantly stealing existing names (just for the draft), it stopped slowing me down.
  5. Stay in your usual environment. I think I wrote maybe 1000 words sitting at my home desktop. I wrote most of my words sitting somewhere busy with headphones in.
  6. Write while you're online. Just not possible for me. I wrote 90% of my words on an old beat up laptop with no Wifi.
I dunno now. Just making that list and running out of items makes me think maybe I need to suck it up and get back to it. I only need what, 44,000 words in the next 8 days? I think at my peak I figured I was able to knock out 1000 words in a really good hour, but 600 was a more normal pace.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

God Speed

I just saw a the Godspeed Flight Demonstration Team drop in on the American Chopper show. They coincidentally happened to be there as they were building a helicopter bike, or else they probably wouldn't have even made it on the air. The Orange County Choppers crew played around with their mini RC helicopters for a while while the Godspeed guys talked a bit about what they do.

These guys put on a R/C plane and helicopter flight show for schools and special events. Cool and educational. But they also use it as an opportunity to inspire and evangelize. Too bad they're only in Oklahoma. Maybe they need to build up a franchise business.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Goodbye Disney!

Today's the day. Our Disney passes expired. I'm not even sure how many days we went in the past year, but it must be somewhere near 25. I'm sure I'll miss it, but I'm also looking forward to vacations, weekends, and just day trips to other places. Disney does a great job at almost everything they do and I know I'll miss their white-washed family-friendly perfectionism.

I have a billion photos from Disney. Hopefully by this time next year we'll have just as many photos from the beach, the smokies, fairs, the keys, etc.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

The New Outsourcing: Webkinz Dollar Farming Retirees

The other night my daughter came home from my in-laws with a weird piece of news. She gave her Webkinz ID and password to my mother-in-law. She's going to get on and play Webkinz games for my daughter and her cousin when they're at school or asleep because she likes playing the games but doesn't care about the Webkinz, stuffed or virtual.

Of course, I see a business opportunity here. Imagine an out-sourcing company that just grinds Webkinz games for Webkinz dollars. You wouldn't even have to go to China like the World of Warcraft gold farmers. You could just enlist retirees, stay-at-home moms, bored office workers, etc. The hard part (like I detailed earlier) is getting any parent to spend money on Webkinz unless it's rewarded with an actual physical stuffed animal.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Adventure Night

This year, Halloween fell on a Wednesday. For the first time since I've been involved in children's ministry here (6 years now) we hosted a Halloween alternative, Adventure Night. We sort of borrowed from the Epcot World Showcase and created five rooms, one per continent. Each room had crafts, games, activities, snacks, gifts, and candy. Snowball fights (tissue paper), snow cones, Chinese hats, crowns, rain sticks, boomerangs, fortune cookies, and much more. The only bad news about the event is that we only had 27 or so kids. It was a start though and maybe something to build on for next year. Even if we don't offer a Halloween alternative again, the "around the world" theme came together well and I'm sure we'll pull it out again for a special event.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Nano Wrimo

I don't know why, but I'm going to give NaNoWriMo, the National Novel Writing Month, a try this year. I haven't tried it before and really have written very little in the past several years. Time will certainly be a factor, but I've got vacation days I need to use, some clear weekends, expiring Disney annual passes, and most of the Thanksgiving weekend free. I doubt I'll make it to 50,000 words, but just cranking out several thousand would be a good start.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

The Wrath of the Three Year Old

A few months ago my 3 year old boy destroyed my wife's laptop. I walked into the room and he was there on the couch with it on his lap. We'd recently replaced the keyboard he'd slowly been picking apart. Wanting my wife to continue enjoying typing with the whole alphabet, I told him to get away from her laptop. Big mistake. He clawed desperately at the keyboard, like some bizarre Tasmanian devil starving for little white-on-brown letters. Stop that! Even worse. He stood up, screwed up his face, and lifted the laptop up high. As I tried to close the gap across the room, he threw it down hard. Right on the plugged in power cord. At least he didn't use a Phillips screwdriver on it.

I inspected the damage. The screen was intact. We'd lost some plastic around the power jack though and it wouldn't run off of the power supply, just the battery. An hour and 200 tiny screws later, I'd disassembled the entire laptop to get to the power jack. It looked fine. A little bent, some broken plastic shroud, but the solder joints were fine and everything seemed connected. I connected the mish-mash of components together and got it to power on fine. Problem fixed? 30 minutes and 200 tiny screws later it was back together. It powered on and ran from the adapter. It even booted up into Windows fine. I gave it back to my wife.

3 seconds later it locked up. Every time the cord moved it locked up. 30 minutes and 200 tiny screws later, I figured out that the slightly bent jack must be shorting out against an adjacent board. I noticed that eBay was full of power jacks for the Dell Inspiron 8600 so they're pretty fragile. Two layers of electrical tape solved the shorting problem. 30 minutes and 200 tiny screws and back to my wife.

It worked. If she was at all careful with the power cord, it ran fine and stayed charged. Problem solved.

Then she got a blue screen. Then the WinXP chkdsk on bootup screen. Disk errors. I spent a couple hours re-running chkdsk and eventually some other disk tools trying to get the drive working enough to keep going, but Windows was quite offended by this and would have no part. It didn't even like me copying her data off and kept thwarting me partway through by constantly taking those 3 minute "not going to do anything but make hard drive sounds" breaks that XP likes to do even when it's running fine.

I gave the laptop the finger and popped in a Knoppix DVD. With very few complaints, I was able to run two different backups of the laptop: a complete drive image using partimage and more useful file-by-file copy. With those safely on an external hard drive, I tried to make the laptop's drive work. I ran some destructive disk testing tools that seemed to think it was fine. I reinstalled Windows XP and got blue screens. I ran some more disk scan passes and it said it was fine. I ran memory scans for days. Nothing wrong.

So is it the hard drive or something really wrong in the laptop? I cleared off another laptop drive, put it in and installed Windows. It won't boot. I booted up Knoppix and checked that the partition was marked bootable. I installed Ubuntu on the drive and it booted and ran fine. I reinstalled XP but it still wouldn't boot. Maybe the drive controller is bad somehow. I cleared off a USB drive and pulled the laptop-size drive from it and put it in the laptop. I reinstalled Windows and this time it booted fine. It ran for a few days of light use with no problem.

I bought a new-ish hard drive from and got XP reinstalled and it's running fine. I was able to recover almost every file but still haven't tried to fight the battle of getting iTunes to recognize it's DRM protected content my wife purchased. I wish I could make the 3 year old do that for me.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007


The latest trading card. This is our first non-kid source drawing. Scot Nusekabel did the original and it's pretty much intact on the card. I did re-tint the skin (and legs) and make the face a little friendlier. I'm pretty happy with the image, but the overall card didn't flow as well as I'd like. The drawing is great but once it was on the finished card, it's not what I'd envision as a "super hero trading card". The printing had some mottled colors in the shaded red areas, so I suppose I needed to go ahead and airbrush down the texture in the drawing or completely re-shade it.

The background is again pretty simple, but a medieval or fantasy feeling background was just too distracting and this guy would be out of place on a modern one. The calming blue doesn't help, but it looked the best against the drawing.

The name is kind of a last minute pick from a hundred ideas that were even worse (Hector Respector? Mr. Respect?). To top it off, the back of the card had a typo.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Super Initiative Man

Meh. Here's the second trading card I did. It's ok, but I really wanted something bold and dynamic. This guy is very classic 1950's comic book retro and I don't think he pops off the card as much as the first card did. In retrospect, the blue background is just to calm and peaceful. But with that much red in his suit, not many other colors worked as a background. I'd started a non-abstract background with buildings but wasn't going to be able to finish it in time for this card. Plus it added too much gray given the gray cape, which also covers so much of the background that it would have been a waste. To top it off, somehow this card was printed slightly larger than the last one, making it look like the card was a full bleed that had a trimming mistake, instead of having the regular white border of the last card.

Again I just didn't put the time into it that I wanted to. Hopefully with most of a month ahead of me I can get the third one going in time to mostly achieve what I want. I've got three decent sketches of female superheros but we're trying hard to keep it exciting for boys. I think I'm going to divert more substantially from kid's sketches and just use them as rough ideas.

Friday, September 14, 2007

I sold my first photo on iStockPhoto. I've only had 3 photos online so I shouldn't be surprised that it took more than a year to sell my first one. I'm 88 cents richer. Or I would be if I could get them to send it to me. Maybe I need to get cracking and upload the other couple of dozen photos that I've had sitting around for them.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Need a Divorce Lawyer in Tampa?

A friend of ours, Roberta Kohn, has expanded her primarily real estate practice to include family / divorce law. She hated taking on divorce cases as much as I hate thinking about someone I know needing a divorce lawyer. But if you need one, you really need a good one, and Roberta is one of the best. And she can do the closing on your house. And make a mean margarita when you're done.

Law Offices of Roberta Kohn, PA, Family and Real Estate Law

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

What makes this old?

I'm trying to figure out what makes this look old. Ok, the face isn't a style you see today. The stamp-like logo in the top left corner helps. The type and the imperfections on "A DELL BOOK" probably do too.

But the major thing, I think, is the noise or stippling everywhere. If all of the drawn part was solid or shaded without any noise, it would look pretty modern and similar to a lot of Flash work we see today.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Super-Responsibility Strength Man

I just finished this for church. It's our first of a series of super hero trading cards, loosely based on the 252 Basics virtues. It didn't come out too bad, considering that I only got to spend about 5 hours on it. The basic character shape is modified from an online superhero creator. I wasn't too happy about doing that without copyright clearance, but the site encourages people to share their creations, take screenshots, etc. so I think they implied permission to use it in a non-profit way.

Here's the original concept drawing from one of the kids. I think I captured his intent. I've got a half dozen more concept drawings for other cards. If I spend the time on them I might be able to develop an actual comic style, which I've never done. I didn't even doodle comic character sketches as a kid.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Learn to navigate by the night sky

When we went on our Disney Cruise, I found myself standing on our veranda staring up at the stars. It's amazing to think of a time when that was all the navigation there was. I'd forgotten almost everything except Orion's belt and the Big Dipper. I could remember that the North Star (Polaris) was near the Big Dipper and that it somehow pointed to it, but that was it. Still it was enough that I was a little bewildered on the first night of the cruise. Early in the evening I could guess that we were headed South, away from the Big Dipper. But late in the evening, it was gone (on the other side of the ship). It wasn't too long afterwards that they finally made the announcement that we had turned around and were headed back to port for a medical emergency.

Ever since the cruise, I've been trying to learn to recognize stars and constellations a little better.

A cool free printable star chart with more than you'll ever be able to recognize:

Excellent interactive training to recognize a few key constellations and figure out North:

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Phillips Screwdrivers

I don't remember this, obviously, but I've heard the story many times. When I was 3 years old, I came and asked my dad for a Phillips head screwdriver. He gave me one and I walked away. He was busy working on something and obviously didn't think it through. After a few minutes though, the question dawned on him, "What would a 3 year old need a Phillips screwdriver for?" He found me at the stereo, poking nice Phillips head shaped holes in the speaker cones.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007


Amazing. Not my horrible drawing, but the Flash work behind this.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007


Tonight I dropped in on local CERT / CERF meeting. Several people from our church are now CERT-trained volunteers.

I'm not.

I've seen and worked with CERT members some over the last couple of years but I guess I didn't realize the training and expectations of them. I had the vision of them maybe doing some damage assessment, spreading information, passing out bottled water and ice. Maybe just a step beyond the Red Cross volunteer. But, at least from what I saw, they're really geared towards urban search and rescue. It was weird watching a team of volunteers from church practice "cribbing" (shoring up, then lifting, debris off of someone using scrap wood) and searching inside a hazardous building.

I shrugged my shoulders and joined in for a search and rescue exercise. I crawled around on the floor in a dark room, unsuccessfully trying to avoid potential electrical shock, and dragged out another volunteer. It's funny to me to hear that voice in my head saying "this would be too dangerous", given all the places I've been as a Red Cross volunteer. At least there we didn't go anywhere that the fire department hadn't cleared. CERT's a whole different niche in disaster relief.

Maybe I'll keep showing up for CERT / CERF training and play the spontaneous untrained volunteer. Or finally find the time to take the training. After I finish my ARRL AREC classes and FEMA stuff. Taking a 6-8 hour class every Saturday seemed a lot easier before kids.

When I got home I was thinking out loud, "I can't see myself going off an volunteering to do that." Ten seconds later, "but I sure could see myself doing that for a neighbor if we had a tornado." That's CERT in a nutshell, I think.

Thursday, July 05, 2007


Fire! Heh heh. Fire! Fire! Fire!
Heh heh. Fire! Fire!

Shut up, Beavis!

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Google's Work Environment

Interesting post comparing the work environment at Google to the environment at Microsoft. I thought I'd take a stab at comparing it to my work environment. This really only applies for our little piece of the company, not the whole company.

  1. Hours. We're kind of similar, but the hours are a little earlier. Most people are in the building from 9-5, but some are in the office from 7-4, 10-6, 10-4, etc. Most of us are on email before and after time in the office. Personally, I usually work at home until I get frustrated with a problem, then get ready and go into the office around 9:30. I leave at 4:45, beat the traffic home, and usually answer a few support-related emails at night. The hours fluctuate, but most weeks I'd guess that the average development staff person is doing 50 hours on average. It's usually either 40 while we recover from a release and plan the next one, then back up to 50-60 or more while we build up to a release.
  2. Personal projects. Almost nobody works on personal projects at my company. There used to be more R-and-D done there, but today there's only one guy that seems to have time to do that sort of work.
  3. Office arrangements. Every developer is in a cube. We were mostly in 2 person offices before we moved to the new building, but now it's a cube farm again. The noise is a little bad, but headphones stop that. It's the constant walk-up interruptions that make it tough to work on a problem for a solid hour or two in a row. The solution is to go work from home, which works pretty well for me.
  4. Management structure. We have two team leads, one with my product team and another for another product and the tech writers. They report to the development manager, whatever his title is. He reports I think to the CTO. The day-to-day management is mostly split between the team leads and the development manager, but much of the team is pretty self-directed.
  5. Career development. We rarely have any planned job changes. Almost everyone is critical in their position and has no replacement available, so they can't move to another internal job. There is no real career development path. It's a little different in other parts of the company, but not in our group.
  6. Would I recommend it? Only for the right person. We're a pretty tight-knit team. Almost everyone has been there at least 5 years. Half the team has left (quit or laid off) and returned to the company. Before we were acquired, the company tanked so bad and we had so many rounds of bad sales and layoffs, that we're very cynical. We're still learning to trust the new management, who so far have accomplished almost everything they said they would. It's also a pressure cooker. Our product quality has suffered over the years and it's taking a lot of effort to recover. Our customers are large and really expect zero failures so that exerts a lot more pressure than the average developer is ready for.
  7. Perks. There are free sodas, bottled water, and coffee. That's it. The development manager will often buy a couple rounds and snacks at a local bar. Sometimes we get a big team lunch together after a release. But nothing like a staff chef or on-site laundromat. Back in the day we've had things like a pool table, foosball, ping pong, televisions, video games, etc. but now we don't even have a table and chairs in the kitchenette / break room. Taking a break pretty much means hanging out in someone else's cube and distracting everyone around them. Or walking to Starbucks and back.
  8. Equipment. For the most part, everyone has just a laptop and a nice LCD monitor (plus mouse and keyboard). Most developers have an old desktop or two sitting around for testing, but we're trying to migrate that all to VMWare. Since we support so many platforms (and OS versions), we have a huge number of servers for the number of people. We have multiple mainframes, a room full of Unix machines, and multiple VMWare servers.
Update (Jan 29 2008): This information is provided of my own volition, expresses only my viewpoint, and does not represent my company’s official position on the subject matter. So there.

Some other updates, if anyone cares. We've restructured slightly, which resulted in essentially eliminating the team lead position for most of our group. Time will tell if that's manageable or not. Now there is more promise of R&D and some nearly "green field" development projects. We're working on improving the perks slightly and doing a little more fun team-building stuff. It's definitely progress, but we're still not Google or someplace drowning in cash and resources.

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Saturday, June 16, 2007

Canon Powershot TX-1

Canon Powershot TX-1 I see the Canon Powershot TX-1 is available now. It looks like an amazing piece of equipment. Tiny. 7.1 megapixel still camera with a good 10x zoom lens and great electronic bits behind it. But the real winner is that is shoots HD video (1280x720 at 30 fps). All to an SD or SDHC card. It sounds a little fumbly for the average dad that just wants to shoot his kids being cute, but for someone that can deal with a few quirks and the tiny, shake-prone size, it practically puts an SLR and a pro-level HD camcorder in your pocket.

Trying to talk myself into selling my Canon Powershot S3 IS to trade up to the TX-1. Maybe when the price drops down one more bump.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Stop That Windows Automatic Reboot After Updates

I just came back to my rebuilt XP laptop after a meeting and found that it had rebooted itself, losing some code changes I was working on. One of the most annoying things about Windows XP is the way it will automatically reboot after installing a Windows update. Every time I set up a new Windows machine I forget about it until I suddenly find my machine rebooted and all my work-in-progess lost or in a questionable state. Thanks guys.

But there's a way to fix it besides running Linux or Mac OS X.

There are two settings we can change. One is to disable the automatic reboot. The other is to slow down the popup prompt that keeps reminding you to reboot.
  1. Start->run "gpedit.msc".
  2. Go to Computer Configuration -> Administrative Templates -> Windows Components -> Windows Update.
  3. Change the "No auto-restart..." setting to "Enabled".
  4. Change the "Re-prompt for restart..." setting to "Enabled" and change the wait period to 1440 minutes (the max).

Now when an update requires a reboot, you'll get a popup reminder window only once a day and more importantly, no automatic reboots.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Five things I learned from my reunion.

Five things I learned at my 20-year high school reunion (Pinellas Park High School class of 1987):
  1. Multiple lives. Someone, I think Bob Hicks, said to me, "I don't know about you, but I've lived 3 lifetimes since high school." Amen. I think I've lived 4 or 5. It sure seemed like some people have only lived one.
  2. Worth going. I really didn't quite want to go. I skipped the ten year reunion for no good reason. It was definately worth going.
  3. People are interesting. There were a couple of people that I spent more time talking to at the reunion than I probably spent talking to in high school.
  4. Sports matter. Over the years I only really think about the guys I hung around with outside of school. But I forgot how much time I spent with my football team. If I really added it up, I probably spent as much time with other football players during high school as I did with my "real" friends. I was amazed how many stories I'd forgotten.
  5. Boys will be boys. Someone got too drunk, peed on the carpet in the hotel, and got chased off by the Clearwater Police Department. "Is this your usual weekend duty," I asked one officer. "Yep. Could be a lot worse."

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

VMWare Beep

Somehow my latest work laptop (Dell Latitude D620) has a PC speaker circuit that bypasses mute settings and the headphone jack. I was finally able to silence the base Windows XP I have installed, but I still had issues with different systems running under VMWare Workstation. I'd get a nice loud beep on a reboot, Solaris X86 somehow locked up into an ear-splitting squeal, FreeNAS beeps on every boot, etc.

After a lot of tinkering, I finally came across the answer here, which now seems to be a dead link:

Go to the global VMWare settings:
"\Documents and Settings\All Users\Application Data\VMware\VMware Workstation\config.ini"

And add:
mks.noBeep = "TRUE"

That finally did it, at least in v5.5.

UPDATE: Ethan says it works fine for v6.0 on Vista except his config.ini was in:
"C:\Users\All Users\VMware\VMware Workstation\config.ini"

Find out what's on Clearance at ThinkGeek!

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Tuesday, April 24, 2007


Somehow my latest work laptop (Dell Latitude D620) has a PC speaker circuit that bypasses mute settings and the headphone jack. Windows loves to BEEP on certain events, whether it's just control-G ASCII characters in the console, or a bell in a PuTTY window.

The quick solution is to run the secret: "net stop beep". That stops the secret beep service from running.

But a more permanent fix is to go into the Device Manager (Control Panel -> System, Hardware tab, then the Device Manager button). In the View menu, pick "Show hidden devices". Now down in the treeview, under Non-Plug and Play Drivers, there is a "Beep" driver. You can change the properties on it to disable it and stop/disable the service. Ignore the prompts to reboot now.

That's it. No more beeps. Well, unless you run VMWare. See my other post about that.

Find out what's on Clearance at ThinkGeek!

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Friday, April 20, 2007

Abortion Survivors

This is an amazing article, no matter where you stand on the different abortion issues.

Thirty years ago, Gianna Jessen's mother had an abortion when seven-and-a-half months pregnant. The abortion failed and, 18 hours later, Gianna (pictured) was born alive. She suffered cerebral palsy as a result of the botched abortion, yet has defied doctors' predictions that she would never walk. In fact she has run a marathon, is an accomplished singer and writer and travels the world to campaign against abortion.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Windows driver for Linux disks

This is only for ext2 (and 3?) filesystems, but that's still pretty
cool if you dual-boot or otherwise share physical disks between Linux
and Windows.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Good Idea at the Time

Something I've really learned this year doing Detour (our Wednesday night children's ministry) is what a difference there is between doing something with 2 or 3 kids and doing something with 15 or 25 kids. A couple of weeks ago we thought paper mache pinatas sounded like a good idea. Sure it's a little messy, but water and flour sounded much easier to clean up than some of the other messes we've had, like corn starch/water/food coloring goop or some of the different food activities the kids have done. I could think back to memories of making a few paper mache objects with my parents and brother and it didn't seem that messy at the time.

Fast-forward to tonight. Holy moly. 25 kids from pre-k to 5th grade all slapping newspaper and paste everywhere. An entire bowl of paste spilled. How do kids get everything in their hair? In the past 10 years I don't think I've ever managed to accidentally wipe some ick from my hands into my hair. I think I have to go back to c. 1991 when I had a problem removing a stubborn oil filter.

Monday, April 09, 2007

LinkedIn loads webmail contacts

An old roommate of mine added me on LinkedIn and I noticed that LinkedIn can now retrieve contact lists from webmail like Hotmail, Yahoo, or GMail. Cool. In just a couple minutes I pulled two contact lists in and it even showed me which of my contacts were already registered as LinkedIn users. Some people I hadn't even thought of were out there, waiting to be added. Quick and easy. Cool feature.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Cool blogs 50's era marketing historical photos. This is also an interesting business model. The content is just free for the taking from public domain sources. A look at lots of designers' workspaces. Mine is amazingly bland, mostly because I don't do a lot of design work anymore, but also because I have kids around that steal every cool toy or inspirational clipping. In exchange I get to look at their odd liger-ish animal drawings and a parade of stuffed animals in all the latest paper and tape fashions.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Webkinz, the Business

Seeing this article in Business 2.0 prompted me to think through what's neat about the Webkinz business model. My daughter's getting right into the "tween" target market now so I get to see how she interacts with lots of different websites. She'll download every free trial or sign up for anything if it looks like fun. But the moment it wants money, she drops it and moves on to the next game or web site, because she knows it's almost impossible for her to pry a credit card out of our fingers. She'll also spend 4 hours straight on a game then never come back to it.

Webkinz beats both of those problems and has really trapped her. First of all, they got their money up-front when I bought a Webkinz in an airport gift store almost two years ago. I'd never let her spend even $5 on some online game, but I didn't even think twice about dropping $15 on a stuffed animal. So they got their money up-front. No begging and pleading to get mom and dad to whip out the credit card.

Then they keep it "sticky" by limiting how often they can play each game. I can often look over at her computer and see "Sorry, but you need to wait another 8 hours before playing that game again." So she can't just burn herself out. She has to keep playing the games though, so she can earn Webkinz dollars to buy virtual stuff for her virtual dog.

Then I saw the "exclusive" items that kids can get. I guess there are special virtual items that you can get only if you register 10, 15, 20, etc. Webkinz on your account. That's 10, 15, 20, etc. stuffed animals at $12+ apiece.

It's an interesting business model. The stickiness and rewarding raving fans isn't that new, but the way they get the money out of an up-front purchase is.

I just wonder how long it will be until someone works out their key algorithm and builds a key generator for Webkinz codes, flooding their system with fake virtual pets.

Find out what's on Clearance at ThinkGeek!

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Saturday, March 24, 2007

Fear Factor

So this month at Detour we've been doing a version of Fear Factor where the kids have mostly had to endure some disgusting challenges. For week one we had kids finding gummy worms in green Jello with their hands behind their back. I have great pictures of green slime all over their faces. The next task had one member of each team holding a sardine in their mouth (since none of them would eat them) while the rest of the team solved a puzzle. I couldn't stay in the room because the smell alone made me queasy.

This this week we had live crickets. The task was just to reach into a cage full of them and retrieve fake bugs. Before they started, I said "I bet at least one of the boys will eat a cricket." Sure enough, two of them did. I'm sure we'll get some love letters from parents after that one. But the kids ate it up, so to speak.

What makes me so happy we're doing this is when I get to see a reaction like the one I got from one girl. I'll call her "April" for the moment. It's a long story, but April has some special needs. One challenge with April is that every week she switches to a different activity and "hates" each one. The only activity she's stuck with was our version of The Amazing Race two months ago. Well here she was, getting ready to go into our Fear Factor activity with live bugs. I just wasn't sure she was going to be able to handle it. I checked on her often. The first time she said she was so grossed out that I was ready to take her out and see if we needed to get her mom. Then I realized that she wasn't at all interested in leaving. She had a blast, being grossed out. Success.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Tampa Bay Festival

I think you'd have to been living under a rock to not hear about this weekend's Tampa Bay Festival at the RayJay stadium grounds. I bet I saw 5-10 signs, bumper stickers, billboards, banners, etc. every day.

I went on Sunday with my daughter, mostly to catch the kid's zone. It was kind of interesting to see kids lining up and almost battling over getting to do games and other activities that aren't that different than what we do pretty regularly at our church. In fact, it was mostly our church volunteers in the kid's zone. There were others there but in the kid's zone I'd guess that 4 out of 5 volunteers were from Van Dyke. Pretty cool to see.

We did get to catch the last Livin It show of the festival. It was pretty cool because I'd gotten to see Steven Baldwin talk about this ministry almost two years ago, and here I was seeing it in action. It's been a long time since I've seen BMX jumps live. I probably haven't seen them since I was on a BMX bike. The motorcross jumps were pretty amazing to see, that close, especially with the wind. Still, the most amazing thing to me was listening to Christian Hosoi talk. Not only is he a (former?) pro skater, but he was able to talk about his descent into drugs and eventual arrest and 5 year prison sentence. The crowd was pretty quiet by the time he was done.

It was getting pretty cold, so I didn't battle the crowd at the main stage but I guess I just missed Tony Dungy. So he really did speak both days, which I guess was sort of up in the air for a while. Everyone was asking if (and when) he was going to speak. He was definately a crowd favorite, so it's great that he came out both days. I'm sure he did a great job.