Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Hawking Vista

And maybe Office 2007 as well? It would seem that would be an acceptable title for the conference I just finished attending this week – the NCACPA's TechFest Winter 2007 conference. Those who have followed some of my past musings know that I regularly attend the TechFest conference each December. Despite the fact that its usefulness continues to erode in my opinion each year. This year's conference was no exception to that rule. I really had not even planned to attend this year, but because of the change in my job situation, some of my planned CPE's were no longer relevent, so I had to come up with an alternative.One thing about attending the conference, no matter how poor it apparently is striving to become, is that it does tend to renew and reinvigorate me with regard to technology planning. It also tends to give me some really good paths to explore in finding alternatives to the traditional Microsoft stack that so many people and organizations seem to be stuck on.

Before going into some details about the conference sessions, a quick note about logistics. This year the conference moved from the Grandover Resort to the Embassy Suites Greensboro. As I discovered, the Embassy Suites has a wireless network setup that covers the meeting rooms – no real surprise there. Unfortunately, you have to pay to access it. $9.95 for 24 hours. What is up with that? It would have been nice to blog directly from the conference (and it would have given me an opportunity to test out the battery life of the new laptop I got – a Dell, blecch!) and to be able to check e-mail and upload some files for stuff I'm working on. Alas, I suppose I consider it a matter of principle not to pay for that service. I've been to plenty of hotels that do not charge for wireless service. Interestingly, their policy was so bad, even the speakers had to pay for the wireless access they were using for their presentations during their different sessions. So a huge BOO to Embassy Suites for trying to charge (especially so much) for Internet access.

Hawking Vista

And maybe Office 2007 as well? It would seem that would be an acceptable title for the conference I just finished attending this week – the NCACPA's TechFest Winter 2007 conference. Those who have followed some of my past musings know that I regularly attend the TechFest conference each December. Despite the fact that its usefulness continues to erode in my opinion each year. This year's conference was no exception to that rule. I really had not even planned to attend this year, but because of the change in my job situation, some of my planned CPE's were no longer relevant, so I had to come up with an alternative.One thing about attending the conference, no matter how poor it apparently is striving to become, is that it does tend to renew and reinvigorate me with regard to technology planning. It also tends to give me some really good paths to explore in finding alternatives to the traditional Microsoft stack that so many people and organizations seem to be stuck on.

Before going into some details about the conference sessions, a quick note about logistics. This year the conference moved from the Grandover Resort to the Embassy Suites Greensboro. As I discovered, the Embassy Suites has a wireless network setup that covers the meeting rooms – no real surprise there. Unfortunately, you have to pay to access it. $9.95 for 24 hours. What is up with that? It would have been nice to blog directly from the conference (and it would have given me an opportunity to test out the battery life of the new laptop I got – a Dell, blecch!) and to be able to check e-mail and upload some files for stuff I'm working on. Alas, I suppose I consider it a matter of principle not to pay for that service. I've been to plenty of hotels that do not charge for wireless service. Interestingly, their policy was so bad, even the speakers had to pay for the wireless access they were using for their presentations during their different sessions. So a huge BOO to Embassy Suites for trying to charge (especially so much) for Internet access.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

How to Transition a Windows Shop to Linux

As those who know my computer preferences well are aware, I'm a big advocate of the Linux operating system along with a host of free and open-source software solutions(F/OSS). By using these tools, I think I've been able to build a small business with minimal cost and I have a much better network and resources available to me. Plus, it is rock solid. While I've watched others dealing with a variety of problems related to their Windows servers crashing, my Linux box chugs happily along (I even did an upgrade on it with minimal fuss).

With my new job, I'm now faced with a major challenge. They are a Windows shop with a mix of servers running locally and some hosted, including their major ERP package. Although I've only been working there for about a month, it looks like the overwhelming majority of people confine their work to using e-mail(via a web interface), a web browser, and office productivity suites (e.g. MS Word or Excel, some Powerpoint sprinkled in). There are a few people using tools like MS Project and Visio (and they have a license for Project Server, but I can't tell that they are actually using it). I'm guessing the corporate communications employee is using some graphic packages and some desktop publishing, but I'm not sure what yet. And our fraud investigator, who also manages security, has some apps for creating employee id badges and access cards for doors. Beyond those, I'm not sure there is anything else in use (granted, I haven't even attempted a census of applications yet).

Based on that, it looks like the overwhelming majority of the employees have no need for the Microsoft stack that everyone is effectively issued (Windows + MS Office). No doubt there will be resistance, but getting the majority to accept a switch should be "do-able". Especially when you see the organization is paying in excess of $35,000 per year for all their Microsoft licenses (roughly 110 users plus the supporting servers). I haven't done the analysis yet, but instinct tells me a good Linux desktop with OpenOffice.org, Firefox and maybe even Thunderbird(for those that want an actual e-mail client like me), would be a lot less expensive.

How to Transition a Windows Shop to Linux

As those who know my computer preferences well are aware, I'm a big advocate of the Linux operating system along with a host of free and open-source software solutions(F/OSS). By using these tools, I think I've been able to build a small business with minimal cost and I have a much better network and resources available to me. Plus, it is rock solid. While I've watched others dealing with a variety of problems related to their Windows servers crashing, my Linux box chugs happily along (I even did an upgrade on it with minimal fuss).

With my new job, I'm now faced with a major challenge. They are a Windows shop with a mix of servers running locally and some hosted, including their major ERP package. Although I've only been working there for about a month, it looks like the overwhelming majority of people confine their work to using e-mail(via a web interface), a web browser, and office productivity suites (e.g. MS Word or Excel, some Powerpoint sprinkled in). There are a few people using tools like MS Project and Visio (and they have a license for Project Server, but I can't tell that they are actually using it). I'm guessing the corporate communications employee is using some graphic packages and some desktop publishing, but I'm not sure what yet. And our fraud investigator, who also manages security, has some apps for creating employee id badges and access cards for doors. Beyond those, I'm not sure there is anything else in use (granted, I haven't even attempted a census of applications yet).

Based on that, it looks like the overwhelming majority of the employees have no need for the Microsoft stack that everyone is effectively issued (Windows + MS Office). No doubt there will be resistance, but getting the majority to accept a switch should be "do-able". Especially when you see the organization is paying in excess of $35,000 per year for all their Microsoft licenses (roughly 110 users plus the supporting servers). I haven't done the analysis yet, but instinct tells me a good Linux desktop with OpenOffice.org, Firefox and maybe even Thunderbird(for those that want an actual e-mail client like me), would be a lot less expensive.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

A Bloody Tail: Reloaded

As you know from my last post, our dog recently had a bad incident occur in which he suffered a pretty severe injury to his tail. Unfortunately, things did not go well for him as a result of his visit to the emergency vet. Things took a decided downturn on Halloween - kind of appropriate considering the bloodbath he created in our house. Personally, I think he was mad because he had to stay in the house instead of being able to check out all of the trick-or-treaters that came by our house. In an effort to get back at us, he decided an appropriate response would be to slink off somewhere and work the staples out of his cut, exposing the wound anew.

So it was off to our regular vet for my wife with the dog in tow. Now, our vet was none too happy with the work done by the emergency vet. Worse, the cut had not really done any healing and was even getting worse with some flesh dying. So, it was time for some stitches to try to tend to it a little better. The result of that was a cone on the head for poor Zeus as seen in the pictures below.





A Bloody Tail - Zeus looking sad thumbnail
A Bloody Tail - the tail in question thumbnail

A Bloody Tail - Zeus takes a walk thumbnail


Click on thumbnail for larger image.


A Bloody Tail: Reloaded

As you know from my last post, our dog recently had a bad incident occur in which he suffered a pretty severe injury to his tail. Unfortunately, things did not go well for him as a result of his visit to the emergency vet. Things took a decided downturn on Halloween - kind of appropriate considering the bloodbath he created in our house. Personally, I think he was mad because he had to stay in the house instead of being able to check out all of the trick-or-treaters that came by our house. In an effort to get back at us, he decided an appropriate response would be to slink off somewhere and work the staples out of his cut, exposing the wound anew.

So it was off to our regular vet for my wife with the dog in tow. Now, our vet was none too happy with the work done by the emergency vet. Worse, the cut had not really done any healing and was even getting worse with some flesh dying. So, it was time for some stitches to try to tend to it a little better. The result of that was a cone on the head for poor Zeus as seen in the pictures below.





A Bloody Tail - Zeus looking sad thumbnail
A Bloody Tail - the tail in question thumbnail

A Bloody Tail - Zeus takes a walk thumbnail

Click on thumbnail for larger image.




Saturday, October 27, 2007

CSI: Graham

Cut on Zeus’ tail
This is the cut, after being cared for, that made our house look like a Halloween bloodbath had occurred.

One of my favorite shows to watch on TV is CSI. The original one, set in Las Vegas. To this day I still find it interesting that William Peterson is one of the stars as I remember him from a movie that I really liked - To Live and Die In LA. That was one of the first movies that I ever saw where a main character (perhaps THE main character) died before the end of the movie.

Anyway, thanks to Spike TV aka the CSI 24/7 Channel, I not only have seen every episode, I've seen most episodes multiple times. Sometimes I feel like I'm getting to be like John Boy from the The Big Show who knows everything there is to know about The Andy Griffith Show - except my trivia covers CSI. My wife and I joke at times about all the hints CSI has provided on how to kill someone and then conceal that (or not).

CSI: Graham

Cut on Zeus’ tail
One of my favorite shows to watch on TV is CSI. The original one, set in Las Vegas. To this day I still find it interesting that William Peterson is one of the stars as I remember him from a movie that I really liked - To Live and Die In LA. That was one of the first movies that I ever saw where a main character (perhaps THE main character) died before the end of the movie.

Anyway, thanks to Spike TV aka the CSI 24/7 Channel, I not only have seen every episode, I've seen most episodes multiple times. Sometimes I feel like I'm getting to be like John Boy from the The Big Show who knows everything there is to know about The Andy Griffith Show - except my trivia covers CSI. My wife and I joke at times about all the hints CSI has provided on how to kill someone and then conceal that (or not).

Cut on Zeus' tail thumbnail

Cut on Zeus' tail

Sunday, October 21, 2007

New Paths

In a recent post, I mentioned as a post script to my thoughts about tithing that I had received a job offer. Now that everything has been finalized and I have officially started, I can reveal that I have accepted the position offered - Chief Financial Officer for the Durham Housing Authority. This means that I will have to make some adjustments to the management of my consulting business. Fortunately for me, my wife is very skilled and capable in some of the services I provide and will be able to take over those parts of the business. This will leave me able to concentrate on more discrete projects and product/service development.

As far as the position with the DHA, it is an opportunity for me to work with a public agency and in an area that I'm qualified. I've never worked with public housing in the past, so I will be able to learn some new things. And based on the conversations I've had and research I've done, I will have to opportunity to address some problems and issues. Seems to be a niche I constantly find myself in - the role of "fixer".

Toys and Games

First pic

As some may know from past posts, I have been hoping and working towards obtaining a digital SLR camera for a long time. Photography has always been something I've been interested in and enjoyed. With kids, it has become even more of a longing for me to have a really good camera to capture images of their lives as they grow up.

So a few weeks ago while talking with some other parents prior to one of my girls' soccer games, we were discussing my desire for a new camera. My wife made the comment that if I got a new job, she'd get me the camera I wanted. Lo and behold, the next day was when I was contacted with a job offer from the DHA. Fast forward a week or two and my wife was asking what I wanted for my birthday. I took the opportunity to remind her she had made a deal with the devil and owed me a digital SLR. :-)

Toys and Games

First picFirst Nikon D40 pic - Claire hamming it up in my Undertaker hat.


As some may know from past posts, I have been hoping and working towards obtaining a digital SLR camera for a long time. Photography has always been something I've been interested in and enjoyed. With kids, it has become even more of a longing for me to have a really good camera to capture images of their lives as they grow up.

So a few weeks ago while talking with some other parents prior to one of my girls' soccer games, we were discussing my desire for a new camera. My wife made the comment that if I got a new job, she'd get me the camera I wanted. Lo and behold, the next day was when I was contacted with a job offer from the DHA. Fast forward a week or two and my wife was asking what I wanted for my birthday. I took the opportunity to remind her she had made a deal with the devil and owed me a digital SLR. :-)

William in football gear

William in football gear

William in football gear

William in football gear

William in football gear

First pic

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

New Paths

In a recent post, I mentioned as a post script to my thoughts about tithing that I had received a job offer. Now that everything has been finalized and I have officially started, I can reveal that I have accepted the position offered - Chief Financial Officer for the Durham Housing Authority. This means that I will have to make some adjustments to the management of my consulting business. Fortunately for me, my wife is very skilled and capable in some of the services I provide and will be able to take over those parts of the business. This will leave me able to concentrate on more discrete projects and product/service development.

As far as the position with the DHA, it is an opportunity for me to work with a public agency and in an area that I'm qualified. I've never worked with public housing in the past, so I will be able to learn some new things. And based on the conversations I've had and research I've done, I will have to opportunity to address some problems and issues. Seems to be a niche I constantly find myself in - the role of "fixer".

Friday, October 12, 2007

Marketshare Memes

In a recent discussion on the OpenOffice.org marketing list, we were looking at some data about MS Office marketshare. As we discovered, market share for office suites is apparently measured based on revenue share. Thus, for a free product like OpenOffice.org, there is no market share. So, we are trying to enlighten users and others trying to get a grasp on this metric. Something like "seats" (same way they measure operating systems) would be more appropriate.

Why is this important to you? Unfortunately, statistics and psychology (perhaps sociology) suggest that many people who hear that MS Office holds 95% of the market for office suites will feel pressure to go out and buy a copy as well so they can "be like everyone else". But if that 95% number is not accurate, then perhaps you are not being like everyone else if you continue to use or buy MS Office.

Benjamin Horst has posted an entry, Marketshare Memes, over at his SolidOffice blog in which he explores some of the information regarding market share. Interestingly enough, this rose out of an analysis of price on office suite selection. I encourage you to read Horst's article. And of course, I continue to encourage folks to try and adopt OpenOffice.org.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

A Bit on Tithing

For a few Sundays in September, Pastor Mark from Graham Friends Church included some words about tithing in his sermons (I'm not real sure "sermon" is the correct word for a Quaker based church, but I"m guessing most people will be familiar with the concept). Sometimes the subject was the primary focus and sometimes it was secondary. I know one of the points he made is that tithing does not have to be viewed strictly within the confines of monetary commitments - it may involve other aspects of what you can give back to God (or let him keep?) like your time and efforts.

A few years ago my wife and I made the commitment to tithe at the church we were members of at the time. We had been giving, but felt it was time to step up. Unfortunately, a combination of events brought that to an end. First, I left my job and that caused some severe strain on our finances as we were essentially living off of savings and credit for a while. I suppose technically there was nothing to tithe in that situation, but it was still unfortunate. The second issue were some changes at that church that caused us to abandon it. For a while we didn't attend anywhere, then my wife found a church she liked, and I finally got in gear and started looking around, eventually finding Graham Friends Church.

A Bit on Tithing

For a few Sundays in September, Pastor Mark from Graham Friends Church included some words about tithing in his sermons (I'm not real sure "sermon" is the correct word for a Quaker based church, but I"m guessing most people will be familiar with the concept). Sometimes the subject was the primary focus and sometimes it was secondary. I know one of the points he made is that tithing does not have to be viewed strictly within the confines of monetary commitments - it may involve other aspects of what you can give back to God (or let him keep?) like your time and efforts.

A few years ago my wife and I made the commitment to tithe at the church we were members of at the time. We had been giving, but felt it was time to step up. Unfortunately, a combination of events brought that to an end. First, I left my job and that caused some severe strain on our finances as we were essentially living off of savings and credit for a while. I suppose technically there was nothing to tithe in that situation, but it was still unfortunate. The second issue were some changes at that church that caused us to abandon it. For a while we didn't attend anywhere, then my wife found a church she liked, and I finally got in gear and started looking around, eventually finding Graham Friends Church.

An XP Reprieve

A short post, but I thought some folks might be interested in this. Microsoft has announced that it is extending the availability of Windows XP through June 2008. Sales of XP were originally scheduled to end in January 2008 - only 3 months from now. Given the continued demand for XP and I believe the lack of sales and implementation of Vista, Microsoft has decided to keep selling XP a little longer.

I don't know anyone myself that has made the switch to Vista. I know of a few people who bought new computers this past summer and all insisted on staying with XP. Of course, this does present a challenge for those who want to purchase a computer in a retail store as I never see any XP computers on the shelves any more. I think you have to order a computer direct from a manufacturer to have XP installed on it. Or, you could buy a separate copy of XP and install it yourself replacing Vista (I assume that would work). Again, you'd probably have to get a copy of XP on-line or off of eBay.

Or, if you don't necessarily need Microsoft's operating system, you can buy a Linux computer. More computer makers are offering Linux based options, including Dell, HP, and Lenovo. Another alternative is the Apple route. Of course you know I'm very happy with Linux as all the computers I have running it are rock solid. I'm intrigued by the Mac OS and want to give it a try. I'm not sure about the fact that it runs on proprietary hardware and although the user interface is supposed to be excellent, I'm not sure it would be worth the additional cost.

Anyway, if you think you'll be in the market for a new computer and wanted to have Windows XP installed, you have a few additional months now.

An XP Reprieve

A short post, but I thought some folks might be interested in this. Microsoft has announced that it is extending the availability of Windows XP through June 2008. Sales of XP were originally scheduled to end in January 2008 - only 3 months from now. Given the continued demand for XP and I believe the lack of sales and implementation of Vista, Microsoft has decided to keep selling XP a little longer.

I don't know anyone myself that has made the switch to Vista. I know of a few people who bought new computers this past summer and all insisted on staying with XP. Of course, this does present a challenge for those who want to purchase a computer in a retail store as I never see any XP computers on the shelves any more. I think you have to order a computer direct from a manufacturer to have XP installed on it. Or, you could buy a separate copy of XP and install it yourself replacing Vista (I assume that would work). Again, you'd probably have to get a copy of XP on-line or off of eBay.

Or, if you don't necessarily need Microsoft's operating system, you can buy a Linux computer. More computer makers are offering Linux based options, including Dell, HP, and Lenovo. Another alternative is the Apple route. Of course you know I'm very happy with Linux as all the computers I have running it are rock solid. I'm intrigued by the Mac OS and want to give it a try. I'm not sure about the fact that it runs on proprietary hardware and although the user interface is supposed to be excellent, I'm not sure it would be worth the additional cost.

Anyway, if you think you'll be in the market for a new computer and wanted to have Windows XP installed, you have a few additional months now.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Open Source in Education - Opening Doors

Those who know me well enough to know about the software that I use are aware that I am not only an advocate of free and open source software, I'm also a big user. So I'm always on the lookout for news and stories about open source successes. In a similar vein, I try to keep up with education issues, especially early childhood education and K12 education. Combining those two interests led me to get a subscription to T.H.E. Journal which is a niche publication focusing on the use of technology in education, especially K12. A couple issues ago (yes, that tells you how far behind on some stuff I am) they ran an article titled Opening A New Door about the possibility of schools switching to open source software.

The opening of the story is quite telling as it starts with the question, "To Vista or not to Vista". The question was one faced by a school district in Illinois - going forward, would they stick to the Microsoft platform or look at a Linux platform. I raised the same issue with one of my clients a few months - although no action is needed at the present time, eventually they will be forced to upgrade to Vista or try an alternative. Many other people I work with continue to struggle to get PC's with XP loaded instead of Vista - seems you pretty much have to order them on-line as retail stores don't have anything with XP loaded (I'm guessing they are prevented for contractual reasons even if they did want to sell something customers want).

Open Source in Education - Opening Doors

Those who know me well enough to know about the software that I use are aware that I am not only an advocate of free and open source software, I'm also a big user. So I'm always on the lookout for news and stories about open source successes. In a similar vein, I try to keep up with education issues, especially early childhood education and K12 education. Combining those two interests led me to get a subscription to T.H.E. Journal which is a niche publication focusing on the use of technology in education, especially K12. A couple issues ago (yes, that tells you how far behind on some stuff I am) they ran an article titled Opening A New Door about the possibility of schools switching to open source software.

The opening of the story is quite telling as it starts with the question, "To Vista or not to Vista". The question was one faced by a school district in Illinois - going forward, would they stick to the Microsoft platform or look at a Linux platform. I raised the same issue with one of my clients a few months - although no action is needed at the present time, eventually they will be forced to upgrade to Vista or try an alternative. Many other people I work with continue to struggle to get PC's with XP loaded instead of Vista - seems you pretty much have to order them on-line as retail stores don't have anything with XP loaded (I'm guessing they are prevented for contractual reasons even if they did want to sell something customers want).

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

One Laptop Per Child - Give 1 Get 1

One Laptop Per Child logoThought I would write about the One Laptop Per Child project which has been in the news lately. The One Laptop Per Child project is the brain child of Nicholas Negroponte, the founding director of the M.I.T. Media Lab. Negroponte wanted to get laptops into the hands of children in developing countries where they would not otherwise be able to get their hands on them. The project faced many challenges such as getting the cost down to something manageable and dealing with the lack of infrastructure in many places (to the point that not even electricity is available).

The laptop that the OLPC project developed is pretty stunning in my opinion. I first started following the project because the operating system used is Linux. However, the project developed a whole new user interface, called SUGAR that would be easy for children to use. To get around the problem of no electricity, the laptop is probably one of the "greenest" laptops that exists. And to top it off, it can be recharged using a hand crank. They have also developed a wireless mesh technology that will let the laptops form their own network on the fly without a server or wireless access points being present. Another innovation is in the screen technology - it works so well, the screen can be viewed (albeit in black and white mode) in full sunlight. Finally, the laptop has been built to be very rugged to withstand a child (those with children know what I am talking about). I will not be surprised when some of the innovations that went into the OLPC laptop find their way into the general computer marketplace.

The other challenge for the project was cost. When first announced, the goal was to build a laptop that could be purchased for only $100. The idea was that at such a low price point, governments in developing countries could afford to buy them and distribute them to children. The project came very close with the final cost ending up at $188 per laptop. Almost twice the goal, but still stunningly cheap in my opinion.

Unfortunately, they still are not getting the kind of uptake they were hoping for. So, the project has decided to initiate a Give 1 Get 1 campaign. You can read some of the coverage from the EETimes and the NY Times. As an aside, I found some of the comments that were submitted to the NY Times article to be quite saddening.

As you may note in the NY Times article (if you read it), the OLPC project is not the only idea on how to get technology into the hands of children in developing countries, especially technology intended to help with education. I think it is a good idea and one that should be supported.

One Laptop Per Child - Give 1 Get 1

One Laptop Per Child logoThought I would write about the One Laptop Per Child project which has been in the news lately. The One Laptop Per Child project is the brain child of Nicholas Negroponte, the founding director of the M.I.T. Media Lab. Negroponte wanted to get laptops into the hands of children in developing countries where they would not otherwise be able to get their hands on them. The project faced many challenges such as getting the cost down to something manageable and dealing with the lack of infrastructure in many places (to the point that not even electricity is available).

The laptop that the OLPC project developed is pretty stunning in my opinion. I first started following the project because the operating system used is Linux. However, the project developed a whole new user interface, called SUGAR that would be easy for children to use. To get around the problem of no electricity, the laptop is probably one of the "greenest" laptops that exists. And to top it off, it can be recharged using a hand crank. They have also developed a wireless mesh technology that will let the laptops form their own network on the fly without a server or wireless access points being present. Another innovation is in the screen technology - it works so well, the screen can be viewed (albeit in black and white mode) in full sunlight. Finally, the laptop has been built to be very rugged to withstand a child (those with children know what I am talking about). I will not be surprised when some of the innovations that went into the OLPC laptop find their way into the general computer marketplace.

The other challenge for the project was cost. When first announced, the goal was to build a laptop that could be purchased for only $100. The idea was that at such a low price point, governments in developing countries could afford to buy them and distribute them to children. The project came very close with the final cost ending up at $188 per laptop. Almost twice the goal, but still stunningly cheap in my opinion.

Unfortunately, they still are not getting the kind of uptake they were hoping for. So, the project has decided to initiate a Give 1 Get 1 campaign. You can read some of the coverage from the EETimes and the NY Times. As an aside, I found some of the comments that were submitted to the NY Times article to be quite saddening.

As you may note in the NY Times article (if you read it), the OLPC project is not the only idea on how to get technology into the hands of children in developing countries, especially technology intended to help with education. I think it is a good idea and one that should be supported.

One Laptop Per Child logo

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

IBM Releases Free Office Suite

Today IBM announced that they were making a beta version of an office productivity suite available for download for free.  I actually found out about it through an e-mail I received, but if you would like to read "news" about this you can try InformationWeek's article IBM To Offer Free Office Software In Challenge To Microsoft.  The suite is being called Symphony and is based on the OpenOffice.org office suite.  As regular readers know, I am a regular user of OpenOffice.org - even to the extent that I don't own a copy of MS Office and I was profiled in a CFO magazine article about OpenOffice.org.

If you are interested in the program, you can find out more at the IBM Symphony web page, including the link to download the application.  I have pulled down both the Linux and Windows version and will give them a whirl.

IBM Releases Free Office Suite

Today IBM announced that they were making a beta version of an office productivity suite available for download for free.  I actually found out about it through an e-mail I received, but if you would like to read "news" about this you can try InformationWeek's article IBM To Offer Free Office Software In Challenge To Microsoft.  The suite is being called Symphony and is based on the OpenOffice.org office suite.  As regular readers know, I am a regular user of OpenOffice.org - even to the extent that I don't own a copy of MS Office and I was profiled in a CFO magazine article about OpenOffice.org.

If you are interested in the program, you can find out more at the IBM Symphony web page, including the link to download the application.  I have pulled down both the Linux and Windows version and will give them a whirl.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Strengths and Boxes

Recently I have been working on applying for some jobs - both full-time and contract work, as my business is struggling to keep afloat. The other day I received a request from a staffing company working one of the jobs I had applied for. They wanted me to complete something called the Predictive Index. It is one of the tools they use to assess job candidates to try to figure out whether they would be a good fit. You can find out more about the Predictive Index at the PI Worldwide web site. I found only some sparse criticism of the "test" alleging it was not developed by the "proper" people, had not been independently tested for reliability, and some other minor nits (imo).

A little more interesting to me were a couple posts (Don't put me in a box and More info on the Predictive Index)I found on The Head Fake blog. The writer described his experience with the Predictive Index and its use in the job search process. Overall, I would tend to agree with some of his points. Using it early in the process as a screening tool doesn't seem quite right.

Unfortunately, it sounds like I may never know the results of the PI. On the other hand, I recently ran across something call the StrengthsFinder 2.0 assessment. The book is actually a bestseller right now and is a follow-up to another bestseller, Now, Discover Your Strengths. The books are from the Gallup organization and are predicated on the idea that we should find our strengths and focus on developing them rather than trying to fix our weaknesses.

Strengths and Boxes

Recently I have been working on applying for some jobs - both full-time and contract work, as my business is struggling to keep afloat. The other day I received a request from a staffing company working one of the jobs I had applied for. They wanted me to complete something called the Predictive Index. It is one of the tools they use to assess job candidates to try to figure out whether they would be a good fit. You can find out more about the Predictive Index at the PI Worldwide web site. I found only some sparse criticism of the "test" alleging it was not developed by the "proper" people, had not been independently tested for reliability, and some other minor nits (imo).

A little more interesting to me were a couple posts (Don't put me in a box and More info on the Predictive Index)I found on The Head Fake blog. The writer described his experience with the Predictive Index and its use in the job search process. Overall, I would tend to agree with some of his points. Using it early in the process as a screening tool doesn't seem quite right.

Unfortunately, it sounds like I may never know the results of the PI. On the other hand, I recently ran across something call the StrengthsFinder 2.0 assessment. The book is actually a bestseller right now and is a follow-up to another bestseller, Now, Discover Your Strengths. The books are from the Gallup organization and are predicated on the idea that we should find our strengths and focus on developing them rather than trying to fix our weaknesses.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

BSC Logo Test

BSC Flames Logo
Click image for larger size and transparent background.


Thought I'd post this version of a logo for the Burlington Soccer Club that I put together. A couple weeks ago I agreed to serve as the team manager for the U10 Girls Gold team. In some of the materials I've received, I noticed that the graphic for the club was just a large version of the one used on their website. Thus, there was some seriously bad pixelization going on.

I've always enjoyed doing graphics work on the computer. Probably leftover from one of my former hobbies which involved a lot of graphics work. So, I wanted to do a couple things - a)clean up the logo so it could be used in documents and other files at a larger size than what is on the web site and look decent and b)think about making it a little snazzier. With regard to the second, I reviewed a bunch of soccer logos that I found at the LogoServer web site. That is a really cool site in compiling into a single place all the unique logos out there (and not just from soccer).

With that, I had to think about what might be meaningful to the BSC. Since they work so closely with the Elon University Phoenix, I thought about the story of the Phoenix burning itself up in flames and then rising from the ashes. So flames seemed to make sense and they would fit well with the existing maroon and gold colors of the club. I also felt a soccer ball should be part of a logo for a soccer club, so that was added.

BSC Logo Test

BSC Flames Logo
Thought I'd post this version of a logo for the Burlington Soccer Club that I put together. A couple weeks ago I agreed to serve as the team manager for the U10 Girls Gold team. In some of the materials I've received, I noticed that the graphic for the club was just a large version of the one used on their website. Thus, there was some seriously bad pixelization going on.

I've always enjoyed doing graphics work on the computer. Probably leftover from one of my former hobbies which involved a lot of graphics work. So, I wanted to do a couple things - a)clean up the logo so it could be used in documents and other files at a larger size than what is on the web site and look decent and b)think about making it a little snazzier. With regard to the second, I reviewed a bunch of soccer logos that I found at the LogoServer web site. That is a really cool site in compiling into a single place all the unique logos out there (and not just from soccer).

With that, I had to think about what might be meaningful to the BSC. Since they work so closely with the Elon University Phoenix, I thought about the story of the Phoenix burning itself up in flames and then rising from the ashes. So flames seemed to make sense and they would fit well with the existing maroon and gold colors of the club. I also felt a soccer ball should be part of a logo for a soccer club, so that was added.

More Tales from the Windows Pit

PCLinuxOS screenshotPCLinuxOS was key to saving a Windows PC. Read how below!


Or perhaps I should say "Windows-less" pit? Yes, it is time once again for me to document some of the more recent issues I have been having with Windows. For those wondering, yes - I am referring to the Microsoft operating system that so many people seem stuck on.

The problems started just a few weeks ago (well, shortly after I got iTunes working - again). Perhaps the best sign of impending doom was my wife's ability to access her e-mail using Outlook, the Microsoft e-mail client (well, one of them). Every time she tried to pull down her e-mail, Outlook would choke on it about halfway through and throw an error. She had to resort to checking her mail via a web interface. We had used that in the past with this problem when there was a "bad" e-mail in the queue. In the past, deleting that e-mail usually restored Outlook to proper functioning. That was not occurring in this case, indicative of some deeper problem. I had started to do some research on it, but had not found a good solution yet.

My son was playing some game and as usual, Windows locked up. Upon trying to restart the computer, we discovered that it was stuck in a repeating loop of booting, but as soon as it reached the "Windows is starting up..." screen, it would reboot. I tried several solutions at that point, like booting into safe mode. Unfortunately, no luck.

BSC Flames background 1280x730

BSC Flames background 1024x768

BSC Flames Logo

Monday, August 20, 2007

Some Lightning Strikes

A couple weeks ago I managed to catch a few days of vacation down at Sunset Beach. On Friday evening, a storm rolled through just after 11 p.m., giving me the opportunity to try to capture a few shots of lightning bolts. Don't ask me why, but I do enjoy trying to capture a picture of a bolt of lightning. Perhaps it is the challenge involved given the camera I have to use (a Nikon 4600). It is rather slow, but I have learned that if I use the "fireworks" setting I can usually catch at least something. Perhaps one day I'll get that good digital SLR and it will be much easier. Anyway, of all the photography I do (or try to do), I find catching lightning to be the best.










Bolt 1
Bolt 1 - the first one I caught.
Bolt 2
Bolt 2 - looking across the canal.

Bolt 3


Bolt 3 - very close to lightning striking the same place twice imo.
Bolt 4
Bolt 4 - caught this one on the move as the camera started out pointed in another direction.

Some Lightning Strikes

A couple weeks ago I managed to catch a few days of vacation down at Sunset Beach. On Friday evening, a storm rolled through just after 11 p.m., giving me the opportunity to try to capture a few shots of lightning bolts. Don't ask me why, but I do enjoy trying to capture a picture of a bolt of lightning. Perhaps it is the challenge involved given the camera I have to use (a Nikon 4600). It is rather slow, but I have learned that if I use the "fireworks" setting I can usually catch at least something. Perhaps one day I'll get that good digital SLR and it will be much easier. Anyway, of all the photography I do (or try to do), I find catching lightning to be the best.









Bolt 1
Bolt 1 - the first one I caught.
Bolt 2
Bolt 2 - looking across the canal.
Bolt 3
Bolt 3 - very close to lightning striking the same place twice imo.
Bolt 4
Bolt 4 - caught this one on the move as the camera started out pointed in another direction.

Kids with Mr. Wuf

Kids with Coach O'Brien

Son on the sidelines

Bolt 4

A shot caught on the move!

Bolt 3

The best shot of lightning at Sunset Beach?

Bolt 2

Another lightning bolt at Sunset Beach

Bolt 1

Lightning bolt at Sunset Beach

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Kids, Kids, Church and Planes

Wow, it is amazing how backed up my list of things to write about can get. Now I'm challenged with trying to decide whether I should just throw a whole bunch of stuff in a single post or split them up. That's the recommended way to handle e-mail - a single subject per message - that I try to stick to even if I have to send someone 2-3 e-mails in succession. And if I split this up, it would be more entries making the blog look more active. But, I think I'll just stick with one entry. Err, never mind. I did a couple sections and decided I better split it up a little bit.

Generations


A little over a week ago, we took our kids to the NC Museum of Natural Sciences and the NC Museum of History in Raleigh. I had been in the lobby of the Museum of History once before. Otherwise, it had been since my childhood and the old facilities when I was last i n either one. The Museum of Natural Sciences was pretty good with lots to see. My kids got to pet an alligator and were amazed by that.

OpenOffice.org News

Just a couple quick tidbits about OpenOffice.org. Those who have been to the main page for the site know that I support OpenOffice.org. In a case of being in the right place at the right time, I was recently interviewed for CFO Magazine regarding the spreadsheet component - Calc - of OpenOffice.org. The article that I was interviewed for (Spreadsheets Are Free) is now available on the CFO Magazine web site. I'll need to write up a quick PR piece for my business web site noting this as well.

Meanwhile, in today's newspaper, Alamance Community College had their information about their fall course schedule. I was amazed to see that they are offering a course on how to use OpenOffice.org 2.0. The fact that ACC is offering a course in OOo tells me that it must be getting some traction.

OpenOffice.org News

Just a couple quick tidbits about OpenOffice.org. Those who have been to the main page for the site know that I support OpenOffice.org. In a case of being in the right place at the right time, I was recently interviewed for CFO Magazine regarding the spreadsheet component - Calc - of OpenOffice.org. The article that I was interviewed for (Spreadsheets Are Free) is now available on the CFO Magazine web site. I'll need to write up a quick PR piece for my business web site noting this as well.

Meanwhile, in today's newspaper, Alamance Community College had their information about their fall course schedule. I was amazed to see that they are offering a course on how to use OpenOffice.org 2.0. The fact that ACC is offering a course in OOo tells me that it must be getting some traction.

Kids, Kids, Church and Planes

Wow, it is amazing how backed up my list of things to write about can get. Now I'm challenged with trying to decide whether I should just throw a whole bunch of stuff in a single post or split them up. That's the recommended way to handle e-mail - a single subject per message - that I try to stick to even if I have to send someone 2-3 e-mails in succession. And if I split this up, it would be more entries making the blog look more active. But, I think I'll just stick with one entry. Err, never mind. I did a couple sections and decided I better split it up a little bit.

Generations


A little over a week ago, we took our kids to the NC Museum of Natural Sciences and the NC Museum of History in Raleigh. I had been in the lobby of the Museum of History once before. Otherwise, it had been since my childhood and the old facilities when I was last i n either one. The Museum of Natural Sciences was pretty good with lots to see. My kids got to pet an alligator and were amazed by that.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

More Tales from the Windows Pit

PCLinuxOS screenshotPCLinuxOS was key to saving a Windows PC. Read how below!



Or perhaps I should say "Windows-less" pit? Yes, it is time once again for me to document some of the more recent issues I have been having with Windows. For those wondering, yes - I am referring to the Microsoft operating system that so many people seem stuck on.

The problems started just a few weeks ago (well, shortly after I got iTunes working - again). Perhaps the best sign of impending doom was my wife's ability to access her e-mail using Outlook, the Microsoft e-mail client (well, one of them). Every time she tried to pull down her e-mail, Outlook would choke on it about halfway through and throw an error. She had to resort to checking her mail via a web interface. We had used that in the past with this problem when there was a "bad" e-mail in the queue. In the past, deleting that e-mail usually restored Outlook to proper functioning. That was not occurring in this case, indicative of some deeper problem. I had started to do some research on it, but had not found a good solution yet.

My son was playing some game and as usual, Windows locked up. Upon trying to restart the computer, we discovered that it was stuck in a repeating loop of booting, but as soon as it reached the "Windows is starting up..." screen, it would reboot. I tried several solutions at that point, like booting into safe mode. Unfortunately, no luck.

PCLinuxOS screenshot

Screenshot of the desktop for PCLinuxOS

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Our Dog Hard at Work

Zeus Working HardI just got a kick out of our dog today. He is a mix of black Lab and Great Dane that we rescued from the pound. Needless to say, he is quite large and can be very intimidating to those not used to dogs. Having a dog is also a great deterrent to robbers. Our dog - Zeus - also tends to be a bit hyper when anyone comes over. Especially if they come into the yard. I think it has something to do with the electronic fence - makes dogs territorial in my opinion.

Anyway, today we had to get some work done on our air conditioning unit. As you can see from the picture, they pulled their van into our driveway. Zeus, after checking them out, decided they werek "ok" and it was time for a rest I suppose. As you can see, he is just laying around, wagging his tail (he really only started wagging his tail when he saw me standing in the doorway to take the picture).

Our Dog Hard at Work

Zeus Working HardI just got a kick out of our dog today. He is a mix of black Lab and Great Dane that we rescued from the pound. Needless to say, he is quite large and can be very intimidating to those not used to dogs. Having a dog is also a great deterrent to robbers. Our dog - Zeus - also tends to be a bit hyper when anyone comes over. Especially if they come into the yard. I think it has something to do with the electronic fence - makes dogs territorial in my opinion.

Anyway, today we had to get some work done on our air conditioning unit. As you can see from the picture, they pulled their van into our driveway. Zeus, after checking them out, decided they werek "ok" and it was time for a rest I suppose. As you can see, he is just laying around, wagging his tail (he really only started wagging his tail when he saw me standing in the doorway to take the picture).

Zeus Working Hard

Our dog Zeus works hard keeping an eye on things, especially when anyone comes over.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Why is it I want a Mac?

I'm not really sure. Actually, the Mac would be for my wife's use, although it would help me in my effort to rid my local network of the scourge that is Windows. Ideally I would switch her over to Linux, but I'm not sure it could handle the games she always seems to want to play. In any case, I'm not sure why I'm leaning toward a Mac given the problems we have with iTunes and her iPod. Of course, the whole iPod stack is a poor choice in my opinion as you end up locked into Apple's file formats and proprietary DRM scheme. Yes, there are ways around it, but why bother (especially when you could do like I do, rip everything to .ogg format and use a normal mp3 player - a Samsung in my case - and not worry about losing your music to Apple's restrictions).

Anyway, I have always found iTunes to be an especially problematic application. Probably my biggest issue is that it seems like every time you want to do something with it, you have to install a new update. In the past I've had problems with iTunes not wanting to install and in one case, it caused the Windows PC to lock up and refuse to reboot. That was a lot of fun getting that fixed.

Monday, July 02, 2007

The More Things Change...

the more they stay the same? That seems like an appropriate bit of wisdom to keep in mind as I reflect on part of the message I received at church yesterday. But I should backtrack a bit.

As some may recall, I have recently been doing some searching for a new church home. This has included some research into what most would probably consider to be some pretty radical belief systems. For example, I dug pretty deeply into the Thomasine Church, although at this time I don't think it is right for me. Trying to keep somewhat in alignment with Judeo-Christian faiths, I also recently looked at some of the non-mainstream denominations like the Mennonites. Out of this, one that I found that was particularly interesting to me is the Quaker faith. I even went so far as to read A Living Faith by Wilmer A. Cooper which covered a lot of the history and belief system of the Quakers. As an aside, jmo, but it seems the Quaker faith is as diverse as any of the other mainstream Christian denominations (think of all the different forms of Baptist there are).

Monday, June 25, 2007

The More Things Change...

the more they stay the same? That seems like an appropriate bit of wisdom to keep in mind as I reflect on part of the message I received at church yesterday. But I should backtrack a bit.

As some may recall, I have recently been doing some searching for a new church home. This has included some research into what most would probably consider to be some pretty radical belief systems. For example, I dug pretty deeply into the Thomasine Church, although at this time I don't think it is right for me. Trying to keep somewhat in alignment with Judeo-Christian faiths, I also recently looked at some of the non-mainstream denominations like the Mennonites. Out of this, one that I found that was particularly interesting to me is the Quaker faith. I even went so far as to read A Living Faith by Wilmer A. Cooper which covered a lot of the history and belief system of the Quakers. As an aside, jmo, but it seems the Quaker faith is as diverse as any of the other mainstream Christian denominations (think of all the different forms of Baptist there are).

Thursday, June 07, 2007

The Microtrix

While surfing around this evening, I ran across a link to the blog post below (click on the graphic or the text link). And seeing as it combines a couple of my favorite things - poking fun at Microsoft and The Matrix - I thought I would pass it along. Unless you are really geeky like me, I suspect you may not see the humor in it. If you do see the humor, I'm glad you are out there!

The Microtrix

The Microtrix

The Microtrix

Opening screen for The Microtrix

The Microtrix

While surfing around this evening, I ran across a link to the blog post below (click on the graphic or the text link). And seeing as it combines a couple of my favorite things - poking fun at Microsoft and The Matrix - I thought I would pass it along. Unless you are really geeky like me, I suspect you may not see the humor in it. If you do see the humor, I'm glad you are out there!

The Microtrix

The Microtrix

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Talk About Vision

Have you ever heard the story about the people busting up rocks? Ask the first person and they respond, "I'm breaking up rocks." Ask the second person and they respond, "I'm making a living." Ask the third person and they respond, "I'm building a castle." I most recently heard this story at the Smart Start Conference that I attended a couple weeks ago. It was during a session on task management which I attended just to see how the session might compare with the GTD methodology that I am currently implementing. Back to the story, it demonstrates several things and as a manager, it is supposed to help you recognize the kind of person you want to hire.

Ferrari 599Another thing I see in it is whether there is alignment with vision. We frequently hear about how important it is to get all of your systems, plans, and people in alignment with the vision of an organization. Now to yesterday afternoon when I was watching a show on the National Geographic Channel called Ultimate Factories. In this particular episode, they were visiting the Ferrari factory in Italy to see how they build their new model, the 599. Near the beginning of the episode, they were showing how they make the molds for the engine blocks and then melt the special metal (an aluminum alloy) to prepare it for pouring into the mold. They interviewed one of the foundry workers who is responsible for this and he stated (to paraphrase) - it is very important to get it exactly right. The slightest flaw might mean it cannot support a car that goes over 200 mph.

Talk about great alignment and understanding with the vision of Ferrari. This foundry work is a real life example of the hypothetical rock buster. Even though he has what might seem like a somewhat menial job, he understands that he is not just melting metal or making a living - he is helping to bring to life a spectacular vehicle that relies on him doing his job right.

After watching the rest of the show, I can perhaps understand why. According to the show, the Ferrari factory is considered one of the best places to work at in Europe. One of the facilities has trees growing inside and a glass roof to let in natural light for the works. Another scene showed the seamstresses who had been working on the interior parts delivering them in a scene reminiscent of a mini-parade. Think of the teams arriving at a check in The Amazing Race. It is obvious that Ferrari understands that they need to provide the right tools, resources and environment for their employees to succeed. And with the success of their employees, their product and company succeeds as well.

Talk About Vision

Have you ever heard the story about the people busting up rocks? Ask the first person and they respond, "I'm breaking up rocks." Ask the second person and they respond, "I'm making a living." Ask the third person and they respond, "I'm building a castle." I most recently heard this story at the Smart Start Conference that I attended a couple weeks ago. It was during a session on task management which I attended just to see how the session might compare with the GTD methodology that I am currently implementing. Back to the story, it demonstrates several things and as a manager, it is supposed to help you recognize the kind of person you want to hire.

Ferrari 599Another thing I see in it is whether there is alignment with vision. We frequently hear about how important it is to get all of your systems, plans, and people in alignment with the vision of an organization. Now to yesterday afternoon when I was watching a show on the National Geographic Channel called Ultimate Factories. In this particular episode, they were visiting the Ferrari factory in Italy to see how they build their new model, the 599. Near the beginning of the episode, they were showing how they make the molds for the engine blocks and then melt the special metal (an aluminum alloy) to prepare it for pouring into the mold. They interviewed one of the foundry workers who is responsible for this and he stated (to paraphrase) - it is very important to get it exactly right. The slightest flaw might mean it cannot support a car that goes over 200 mph.

Talk about great alignment and understanding with the vision of Ferrari. This foundry work is a real life example of the hypothetical rock buster. Even though he has what might seem like a somewhat menial job, he understands that he is not just melting metal or making a living - he is helping to bring to life a spectacular vehicle that relies on him doing his job right.

After watching the rest of the show, I can perhaps understand why. According to the show, the Ferrari factory is considered one of the best places to work at in Europe. One of the facilities has trees growing inside and a glass roof to let in natural light for the works. Another scene showed the seamstresses who had been working on the interior parts delivering them in a scene reminiscent of a mini-parade. Think of the teams arriving at a check in The Amazing Race. It is obvious that Ferrari understands that they need to provide the right tools, resources and environment for their employees to succeed. And with the success of their employees, their product and company succeeds as well.

Ferrari 599

A Ferrari 599

Friday, May 18, 2007

A Pinnacle PCTV Update

As you know from my last post, I have been working on getting a Pinnacle PCTV HD Pro USB stick working. Preferably with my Windows laptop, though it would not be bad to get it working with my Linux desktop as well.

Since I last posted, there has been some progress and success made. The first thing I was able to definitely nail down was that I did not have a "hot" cable outlet in the office. So, I had to purchase a splitter and a short piece of cable to split the line I had coming in to service the cable modem. It is now serving TV as well. That immediately solved the problem with the Linux desktop as I was able to get a good, clean signal and KDETV became operational. The only challenge that remains is getting the sound working. I think the problem is Linux does not know how to take the sound from the USB device and make it available to the system. However, I have not figured out how to get around that.

Pinnacle PCTV HD Pro Stick

Time for new hardware and you know what that means? Yep, that's right - time to rant. The hardware in this case is a Pinnacle PCTV HD Pro Stick. My hope was to be able to get it working with my Windows laptop so that I could have some background noise while I'm working in my office. I would especially like to be able to tune in CNBC during the day and maybe some sports at night when I'm working.

Anyway, I picked up the unit yesterday and today (Saturday) I decided to try to install it starting at about 11:00 a.m. As you have surely detected by now, things did not go so well. First up was to plug it into the USB port on the laptop. Windows immediately detected the stick and started up the hardware wizard. However, the manual that came in the package clearly says in step 2:
If the Windows hardware wizard appears, cancel out of this screen and continue to the next step.

Did that and hooked up the provided antenna. Next up was the software install from the provided CD. This seemed to go ok, albeit it was quite slow and required a reboot to complete. The install process then launches a wizard to configure the MediaCenter software. The first step of that is for the software to check for updates. Interestingly enough, it gives you the option of specifying how often to check for updates. This seems to be a rather useless option though as it tries to check every time. Anyway, the first time it recognized that it needed an update from 4.5.* to 4.5.53 (or something like that). Took a good 10 minutes to download and then the install process for the upgrade seemed longer than the original install. I think maybe it uninstalled the original program and reinstalled.

A Pinnacle PCTV Update

As you know from my last post, I have been working on getting a Pinnacle PCTV HD Pro USB stick working. Preferably with my Windows laptop, though it would not be bad to get it working with my Linux desktop as well.

Since I last posted, there has been some progress and success made. The first thing I was able to definitely nail down was that I did not have a "hot" cable outlet in the office. So, I had to purchase a splitter and a short piece of cable to split the line I had coming in to service the cable modem. It is now serving TV as well. That immediately solved the problem with the Linux desktop as I was able to get a good, clean signal and KDETV became operational. The only challenge that remains is getting the sound working. I think the problem is Linux does not know how to take the sound from the USB device and make it available to the system. However, I have not figured out how to get around that.

Pinnacle TVCenter snapshot

A snapshot from the Pinnacle TVCenter software - finally working on my laptop with Windows.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Pinnacle PCTV HD Pro Stick

Time for new hardware and you know what that means? Yep, that's right - time to rant. The hardware in this case is a Pinnacle PCTV HD Pro Stick. My hope was to be able to get it working with my Windows laptop so that I could have some background noise while I'm working in my office. I would especially like to be able to tune in CNBC during the day and maybe some sports at night when I'm working.

Anyway, I picked up the unit yesterday and today (Saturday) I decided to try to install it starting at about 11:00 a.m. As you have surely detected by now, things did not go so well. First up was to plug it into the USB port on the laptop. Windows immediately detected the stick and started up the hardware wizard. However, the manual that came in the package clearly says in step 2:
If the Windows hardware wizard appears, cancel out of this screen and continue to the next step.

Did that and hooked up the provided antenna. Next up was the software install from the provided CD. This seemed to go ok, albeit it was quite slow and required a reboot to complete. The install process then launches a wizard to configure the MediaCenter software. The first step of that is for the software to check for updates. Interestingly enough, it gives you the option of specifying how often to check for updates. This seems to be a rather useless option though as it tries to check every time. Anyway, the first time it recognized that it needed an update from 4.5.* to 4.5.53 (or something like that). Took a good 10 minutes to download and then the install process for the upgrade seemed longer than the original install. I think maybe it uninstalled the original program and reinstalled.

No TV Tuner

Friday, May 04, 2007

A GTD Update (Check This Done!)

As I mentioned a few posts back, I have been looking for some ways to improve how I keep track of all my tasks to do. One of the “tools” I ran across is GTD, short for “Getting Things Done”. That is the title of a book by David Allen on his methodology for, well, getting things done. The sub-title of the book is The Art of Stress-Free Productivity and I can certainly understand that as Allen spends some time explaining his theory on how the brain functions and how the typical methods folks have for keeping track of their tasks introduce even more stress into our lives. So one of the goals of his method is to reduce stress. I've only been using the system for a couple weeks now, but I would definitely say it achieves that goal. At this point I would highly recommend the GTD system. Since I'm doing that, I figured I would share a few thoughts and provide an update from a newbies perspective on how it is going with the implementation.

My first impression is that it is a somewhat complicated system. But that complication comes with a benefit – it actually seems to work. That is the same impression someone else I am helping tackle the same issue has gotten from my brief descriptions. As I work through it though, it is getting quite easy. I think part of the reason is because it all makes sense and there is a nice logic to everything. Being a process type of person, I find it very attractive to observe how it all works.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Some Favorite Quotes

Wow, I was going to post this on my internal cms on my local network. Unfortunately, I cannot reach it from where I am. Not sure if it is something about the connection I have down here or if something has happened on the far end. It if is the far end, it either means something bad has happened while I've been out of town or RR finally got around to assigning a new IP address to me. Kind of hard to believe that would have happened, but I guess you never know.

Anyway, I suppose I'll just post these here and everyone can benefit. These quotes were some I put together at some hazy point in my past. I ran across the sheet of them as I was cleaning out some stuff in the office (part of my implementation of GTD - more on that in a subsequent post). So to try to preserve them (and let me get rid of a piece of paper), here they are.

A GTD Update (Check This Done!)

As I mentioned a few posts back, I have been looking for some ways to improve how I keep track of all my tasks to do. One of the “tools” I ran across is GTD, short for “Getting Things Done”. That is the title of a book by David Allen on his methodology for, well, getting things done. The sub-title of the book is The Art of Stress-Free Productivity and I can certainly understand that as Allen spends some time explaining his theory on how the brain functions and how the typical methods folks have for keeping track of their tasks introduce even more stress into our lives. So one of the goals of his method is to reduce stress. I've only been using the system for a couple weeks now, but I would definitely say it achieves that goal. At this point I would highly recommend the GTD system. Since I'm doing that, I figured I would share a few thoughts and provide an update from a newbies perspective on how it is going with the implementation.

My first impression is that it is a somewhat complicated system. But that complication comes with a benefit – it actually seems to work. That is the same impression someone else I am helping tackle the same issue has gotten from my brief descriptions. As I work through it though, it is getting quite easy. I think part of the reason is because it all makes sense and there is a nice logic to everything. Being a process type of person, I find it very attractive to observe how it all works.

The actions list of Thinking Rock

The actions list page of Thinking Rock (currently showing everything - at least, everything that would fit on the screen)

Thinking Rock v2.0 main page

The main page of the Thinking Rock 2.0 gamma on Linux

Monday, April 16, 2007

Real Customer Support Surveys Me

Just a follow up to my tale of woe in trying to cancel a Real.com account. Got an e-mail from Real Customer Support asking me to complete an on-line survey regarding my "experience". Can you guess how that went?

I didn't completely blast 'em. I gave them middle of the road scores on how well the rep handled my call (once I finally got through to someone). He wasn't great, but not bad either. I did let them know that I was "extremely dissatisfied" with the ability to (I guess I should say lack of ability) cancel on-line, along with the trouble I had getting through (long waits, limited hours). I thought it was pretty hilarious that one of the questions was asking why I decided to phone customer support after having visited the customer support web site. They apparently don't understand that having a customer support web site is not much use if customers can't support themselves - is it any wonder they have to call?

In the end, I told them that I thought the whole experience would make me never want to do business with them again and that I would recommend against anyone I know from doing business with them. And I thought the way Real.com does business is a bad reflection on their partner, the NFL.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Some Favorite Quotes

Wow, I was going to post this on my internal cms on my local network. Unfortunately, I cannot reach it from where I am. Not sure if it is something about the connection I have down here or if something has happened on the far end. It if is the far end, it either means something bad has happened while I've been out of town or RR finally got around to assigning a new IP address to me. Kind of hard to believe that would have happened, but I guess you never know.

Anyway, I suppose I'll just post these here and everyone can benefit. These quotes were some I put together at some hazy point in my past. I ran across the sheet of them as I was cleaning out some stuff in the office (part of my implementation of GTD - more on that in a subsequent post). So to try to preserve them (and let me get rid of a piece of paper), here they are.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

The Return of Slick

This morning I did it. Once again, I shaved my head. Woohoo!!! Been about three or four years since I was last bald. I'm sure bald is probably not the best look for me, but the feeling is great. One of the best parts of maintaining a bald head are those few minutes in the shower in the morning when I'm shaving my head. A nice, relaxing few minutes to concentrate on getting everything nice and smooth again. The other nice part is when I'm sitting around working on something and rub my head in thought. Somehow focusing. Anyway, the head is really a sickly white right now (with pockmark looking discolorations). It will take a few weeks for it to get nice and tanned.

HeadBlade logoThe last time I went bald, I tried a combination of razors. But all that I tried were normal razors like the Gillette Sensor that I use for my face. I eventually settled on the realization that the main key was keeping good blades on the razor. This time however, I spent a few dollars to invest in a HeadBlade. I have to say it was well worth it. Ergonomically it is shaped to really "fit" into your head in the posture you have to be in to shave your head. They claim all you have to do is keep it in the right position and you barely need any pressure. I pretty much found that to be true and it was very easy to move along to the different parts of my head. And for any other head shavers out there, I prefer to go against the grain. You know what I mean.

The Return of Slick

This morning I did it. Once again, I shaved my head. Woohoo!!! Been about three or four years since I was last bald. I'm sure bald is probably not the best look for me, but the feeling is great. One of the best parts of maintaining a bald head are those few minutes in the shower in the morning when I'm shaving my head. A nice, relaxing few minutes to concentrate on getting everything nice and smooth again. The other nice part is when I'm sitting around working on something and rub my head in thought. Somehow focusing. Anyway, the head is really a sickly white right now (with pockmark looking discolorations). It will take a few weeks for it to get nice and tanned.

HeadBlade logoThe last time I went bald, I tried a combination of razors. But all that I tried were normal razors like the Gillette Sensor that I use for my face. I eventually settled on the realization that the main key was keeping good blades on the razor. This time however, I spent a few dollars to invest in a HeadBlade. I have to say it was well worth it. Ergonomically it is shaped to really "fit" into your head in the posture you have to be in to shave your head. They claim all you have to do is keep it in the right position and you barely need any pressure. I pretty much found that to be true and it was very easy to move along to the different parts of my head. And for any other head shavers out there, I prefer to go against the grain. You know what I mean.

Mr. Bunny Rabbit at Sunset Beach

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

New Printer = Comparison of OS'es

Today I finally managed to have enough money scraped together to go out and purchase a new printer for my home office. For a couple years now, I have relied on an HP6110 all-in-one to handle my businesses printing chores (some light copying and moderate scanning as well). The biggest problem is that there is something about this model that HP screwed up that makes it run really slow. I thought it was just me, especially since I run Linux on the main PC that is connected to it. However, last fall I was attending some CPA training on paperless office and document management technologies and the instructor mentioned that he has the same problem.

Anyway, it has been a reasonably good printer, but when I needed to really get an important print job done, it was always a real bear to manage it. E.g., last week I was trying to print a 94 page document. I would have preferred to have had it duplexed, but that wasn't going to happen. The other problem is that I am apparently increasing my production of documents as it seems I am constantly having to put new print cartridges in the thing.

So for a while I've had my eye on an HP Color LaserJet 2605dn. Office Depot has had them at a price of $399. Regularly it is $499, but they have been consistently offering a $100 rebate. It looks like a good buy from all the research I've done. Reasonably fast 10 ppm in color (faster would be nicer!), duplex, and network ready. Having it network ready would be especially nice as I was constantly switching the 6110 between a USB connection with the Linux PC and a D-Link wireless print server that I used to access it with the laptop I use in my business. That has been giving me a headache lately as it apparently does not like WPA encryption on the wireless network.

New Printer = Comparison of OS'es

Today I finally managed to have enough money scraped together to go out and purchase a new printer for my home office. For a couple years now, I have relied on an HP6110 all-in-one to handle my businesses printing chores (some light copying and moderate scanning as well). The biggest problem is that there is something about this model that HP screwed up that makes it run really slow. I thought it was just me, especially since I run Linux on the main PC that is connected to it. However, last fall I was attending some CPA training on paperless office and document management technologies and the instructor mentioned that he has the same problem.

Anyway, it has been a reasonably good printer, but when I needed to really get an important print job done, it was always a real bear to manage it. E.g., last week I was trying to print a 94 page document. I would have preferred to have had it duplexed, but that wasn't going to happen. The other problem is that I am apparently increasing my production of documents as it seems I am constantly having to put new print cartridges in the thing.

So for a while I've had my eye on an HP Color LaserJet 2605dn. Office Depot has had them at a price of $399. Regularly it is $499, but they have been consistently offering a $100 rebate. It looks like a good buy from all the research I've done. Reasonably fast 10 ppm in color (faster would be nicer!), duplex, and network ready. Having it network ready would be especially nice as I was constantly switching the 6110 between a USB connection with the Linux PC and a D-Link wireless print server that I used to access it with the laptop I use in my business. That has been giving me a headache lately as it apparently does not like WPA encryption on the wireless network.

Real Customer Support Surveys Me

Just a follow up to my tale of woe in trying to cancel a Real.com account. Got an e-mail from Real Customer Support asking me to complete an on-line survey regarding my "experience". Can you guess how that went?

I didn't completely blast 'em. I gave them middle of the road scores on how well the rep handled my call (once I finally got through to someone). He wasn't great, but not bad either. I did let them know that I was "extremely dissatisfied" with the ability to (I guess I should say lack of ability) cancel on-line, along with the trouble I had getting through (long waits, limited hours). I thought it was pretty hilarious that one of the questions was asking why I decided to phone customer support after having visited the customer support web site. They apparently don't understand that having a customer support web site is not much use if customers can't support themselves - is it any wonder they have to call?

In the end, I told them that I thought the whole experience would make me never want to do business with them again and that I would recommend against anyone I know from doing business with them. And I thought the way Real.com does business is a bad reflection on their partner, the NFL.