Tag Archives: technology

Been a While

I’ve been thinking about how over the years I haven’t lived up to so many promises about posting here. I should change that by deciding on the type of things I post. In the past (say, 2004-or-so) I was at least partially opinionated about politics, social issues, and technology. My posts were sometimes rants and other times contributions to a larger conversation. The problem with those kinds of posts is that no one gives a crap about what I think; I’m not that influential. In recent years I don’t very much care about politics (they’re all full of shit) or television (they’re all full of shit, too). I am simply not passionate anymore concerning the popular.
What I have done for the past ten years is talk about, study, toy with, and teach technology. Being a full-time instructor, I’ve become even more fond lately of creating tutorials with screenshots and screencasts. For the last few months I’ve had a daily reminder on my calendar to write a post here, and every day when I look at it I have nothing to contribute. This evening I came across the weblog of a fellow IT worker, Jeffrey B. Murphy, who appears to write simple yet concise how-to’s and tech notes that help him through his days as a system administrator. This, as I see it, does two things: it provides him with some sort of searchable knowledge base he can reference and it offers the World Wide Web some sensible and usable information. I’ve done a few posts for similar reasons, and they happen to be among the more popular here.
I’ve been hesitant to write a post if it’s not very long; all the SEO folks say it’s bad to publish fewer than 300 words. From now on I won’t care how long the post is – if I can share accurate and helpful information, so be it. I’ll post even the simplest things in hoping that it may start a conversation. That’s what this thing is for, right?

Wait – did I get down to my point? I had one when I started writing…

Either way, here it is in fewer words: I plan on posting helpful how-to articles and tutorial-type screencast videos here. As often as I can. I’ve been writing here for just over ten years and it’s high time I made more use of it.

On Whatever, or One Post Per Day (No Commitment)

I really miss being able to concentrate.  If the reader might notice, most of the posts in the last four years are very short.  A thought comes to mind to quit using computers during my time off so that I may gather my thoughts more efficiently and perhaps provide the reader with more entertaining fodder.

But giving up the use of computers at any time is very difficult for me.  I could easily give up my phone as it does nothing but sit on my hip.  No one calls, and I could talk to my wife through the computer with better results at times than the telephone.  My life permanently on the other side of a computer screen is nearly unimaginable.

Being an amateur software designer/developer and a professional systems administrator, it is very hard to put thoughts of “what if…” out of my mind.  I read about systems and rebuild things almost every day.  It takes that to be better at what I do with every iteration at work.  I rarely think of much else, and wouldn’t have anything to write of if I didn’t do what I do.

I find myself lately writing about not writing.  It’s a good exercise to sit down and just write, as many writing classes always begin.  No matter if you think you don’t have anything to write – just write: “I don’t have anything to write.”  Then elaborate.  It starts just like that.

Sometime I may begin to try posting at least once every day here on the blog and see what comes of it.  Every day for, say, a week, and if it’s working out I’ll keep it for a month.  We should see how that goes.  I’ll tag them with OPPD, for One Post Per Day.  If I can post at least something genuine once per day for a week I will claim to have accomplished something.

Okay, the rules.

I’m a design and planning freak.  I like to know how it could be done, and the likelihood of outcomes with each scenario.  I picture things in my head a lot before I do something.  So if I’m going to make the attempt at posting every day, I need to furnish at least the semblance1 of a plan.  Here are some thoughts: I will likely make posts from my laptop in Atlanta, and they may be about the day, news events, or (the most likely case) simply start with “There’s nothing to write about today….”  I will make reminder items on my calendar that will tell me to write.  There is no topic I can’t write about – an instructional post on system administration is perfectly acceptable, as is a post about the royal wedding (probably the least likely to come to my attention).

I could make notes about something with my phone.  Pictures from the day’s events could draw more words out of me for the posts.  I like taking pictures.  I need to ride my bike or run more, so getting out to grab pictures and thoughts is probably a good way to seed blog posts.

I see that this hasn’t actually been a bulleted set of rules, and that’s good.  My life must be flexible, and I want it known that I haven’t committed to this yet.  There is no start date specified.  I remember committing to reading every non-reference book in my library in 2005.  That got nowhere.  I read one book, and I can’t remember much at all about The Time Machine because I read it so fast.  It really didn’t count as reading.

But I do want to write more and write better.  I want to try the one-post-per-day event.  I suppose the first post tagged with “OPPD” will signify my commitment. We’ll see how long my interest lasts.

Notes:
1. I just realized that I have never before typed the word ‘semblance’ but have only used it in speech.  I happened to get the spelling and the use of the word correct.

Consolidation

I’m sitting here this evening with a MacBook that has slowed to a crawl. It further delays my inevitable completion of a school project (fine with me), but I really just want to finish what I’m doing (not the school project) and go to bed.

It’s not the MacBook. It’s the parasite I installed on it.

For the past month, I’ve been juggling the Vista desktop I use at home for development, the Vista notebook I use for school, the Windows XP tablet that I have for my day job, and this wonderful MacBook that doesn’t have many applications I actually use to produce things. It’s cool to blog with it, chat, and play with the camera, but it’s really just eye-candy. I can’t do schoolwork with it (they require Office 2K7 documents), I can’t find an FTP program for it, and I really can’t figure out how to edit raw text – a very important feature I need to edit HTML and do programming.

To combat my two-computer dining room table, I installed Windows (the aforementioned parasite) on the MacBook using VMWare’s VMFusion. It’s a wonderful piece of software and it is very similar to Parallels, only cheaper ($40 vs. $80). I installed the trial of VMFusion, and an old copy of Windows XP. It has effectively slowed my MacBook to where it takes a full eight seconds to open a new tab in Firefox. It’s working really hard right now on installing SP3, and I’m sure a slew of updates are in store after that is finished. It has Office 2007 and I shouldn’t need much more to do everything that I need to do on this beautiful 13-inch MacBook.

The cool thing is that if I ever get really sick of the reduced speed, I can close the Virtual Machine and Windows goes away like a little troll in the closet. I feel powerful.

Okay, I know it’s slow because I am only running 1GB RAM on this computer with two operating systems running. A fix (4GB) is on the way. After the updates and the memory upgrade I should have no problem. I might even install Ubuntu on another VM.

Must go now; I have to write a post to tell everyone that the Web Spider project is not dead – I’m just busy.

Friends with Vista

After nearly a year, I finally decided to figure out what I could do to make my Vista laptop a bit faster. The memory is maxed out at 2 Gigabytes and it has a dual-core AMD CPU. It had always been very very slow in completing trivial tasks, like opening a browser or the control panel. Copying and moving files took way too long, and I just never approached my problem with logic.

A few weeks ago I was talking with a friend about my experience with Vista so far, and mentioned to him that I didn’t think it was a problem with Vista, but a hardware issue with my Gateway laptop. “It runs very hot,” I told him. “The hard drive activity never stops. I just don’t think the machine was designed well enough to support such a heavy OS.” I’d never seen Vista so slow on any other computer, so why the hell is it pokey on mine? And what in the dickens is going on with my hard drive?

Then it hit me. Constant hard drive activity is an indicator of (1) a virus or crapware, or (2) an indexing service. Google Desktop search was deployed with the computer when I bought it; part of Gateway’s image, along with all the other garbage like BigFix, AOL , and the Office 2007 90-day trial.

Having been a student of Vista before and during its release, I remembered something about Google and Microsoft having fits about desktop search. It seems that Vista includes its own indexing service to speed up searching, and Google was having a hissy over users not being able to choose a desktop search engine. The Windows Indexing Service is on by default, and I don’t think any manufacturers have changed that in their production images. And it just so happens that Gateway included Google Desktop in every computer they released with Vista, and therein lies my problem: two indexing services, constantly running on my poor little 5400 RPM notebook hard drive.

After some thought, I decided I’m a fairly organized fellow and don’t have the need very often to search for a document. Most of what I access anyway is on the network, and those locations aren’t indexed by default anyway. So away went Google Desktop. Though I love Google, I have no need for that program on my mobile station.

And for that matter, I canceled the Windows Indexing service. No need to pick sides, you know?

Then for a final pick-me-up, I had Vista optimize the graphics for performance, which took away all the eye-candy and effectively made my desktop look like Windows 2000. I’m fine with that.

Oh, and one more thing: I shut off the UAC. Those pain-in-the-ass messages one gets when he tries to install a program, “Windows needs your permission to continue,” are gone. I can now run a command window without specifying to run it as Administrator. I can change IP settings with fewer mouse clicks. A little bubble message when I log on warning me that User Account Control is turned off is the only annoyance I have now, and I’m sure that with a simple registry edit I can get rid of that too. Maybe I’ll post it later.

I must say this little bottom-end laptop is pretty damn speedy these days. NetBeans opens in under 60 seconds. Outlook opens in under 5, and boot times are at their lowest since I got it. This doesn’t change anything about the inevitable change to a Mac when I can afford one, but it certainly makes me more comfortable in delaying it.

Microsoft Takes a Swing

Microsoft Bids $44.6 Billion for Yahoo – Washington Post

This actually came as a surprise today. Microsoft buying Yahoo!? Preposterous!

That could change a lot about the web, but something smells. Microsoft is a huge company, and little-old Google seems to have them grabbing at straws to figure out how to catch up. I can look at any place on the web that Google produced and tell you exactly why their advertising makes so much sense. Why their e-mail works so well, and no user has to pay for it. Why they have so much available for free.

It’s simply because they have but one reason: “Google’s mission is to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.” That’s it. There are no software revenue projections, nothing to give the shareholders a hard-on, nothing about providing a service at a premium. Just to organize the world’s information. This has been their goal since Sergey tried to download the Internet (or was it Larry? …not important). Sure, they sell stuff. Useful stuff (except the lava lamp) even, like the Google search appliance and SketchUp Pro. But that is not their main business driver by any means. They’re spending millions every year to scan books from libraries and make them searchable. They have a vast collection of scholarly journals and papers from around the world, and one may also search inside any of these.

This is just a taste of what Google is doing. They are successful because of something I don’t have a name for, but it is something along the lines of know what you’re doing and do no evil.

Most of you know that this blog is driven by the Blogger engine. I pay nothing for it, and it works much better than some of the other tools I’ve tried. Google probably bought it, but it has improved much over the years and it has never cost me anything. The funny thing is that there aren’t ads all over it. Sure, there are ads on this site, but I put them there; they aren’t some mandated advertisement justified for making my blogging free, it’s just free.

No one has mentioned so far that Gmail doesn’t inject ads into every message sent. It’s just regular e-mail. The advertisements shown on the side of the Gmail window are only text-based, and they’re usually relevant to what my e-mail is about. That way the advertising works. And if it works, people pay for it. So Google is king.

Microsoft and Yahoo! (and AOL, for that matter) are not because their interfaces are so heavy and the ads are very annoying. Their infrastructures are likely not as efficient as Google’s (who else uses a hundred thousand servers?) and their business models are not in tune with what people want.

Okay, I changed my mind. Yahoo! and AOL are in the entertainment business. Microsoft is in the software business (I put that together all by myself!). Google, however, is in the search business. Does anyone remember when a Yahoo! search looked eerily familiar, as if the results of that search were the same as a Google search for the same string? It’s because they were. Yahoo! used to use the Google engine for its search until just a few years ago.

The business of the web is changing, but there’s no way I can predict anything. I only get feelings, and I’m usually wrong because business is definitely not one of my strong interests. If the major search engines are reduced to two, though, it could get pretty damn nasty by 2010. I’ll likely not keep up with this subject, but it may be interesting nonetheless.

Horizontal Thoughts

I’m writing tonight to see how much I can think to tell my audience as I lay in bed with a wireless keyboard and gyroscopic mouse, staring at my beautiful TV/monitor. Looks like I got it all worked out, but I can barely read the screen from across the room and there’s a significant delay between the keystroke and the appearance of the letter on-screen.
I’m really just up late because I can’t figure out Java multithreading (or multithreading in general) enough to complete a project for school due Monday at midnight CST. So if anyone knows how to write a multithreaded chat server in Java, please contact me soon. I have several questions for you, including these:

1. How can more than one client connect on the same port number?
Never mind. I just figured that one out. The server can listen on a port and has exclusive rights to that port. The number of connections on that port matters only to the program listening.

2. How do I create a thread pool with an ArrayList and then pass a Runnable object to it? I don’t see a method to pass the object after instantiation.
Update: I got that one figured out, too. You don’t pass a Runnable object – just extend the Thread class and fill your ArrayList with those. Worked for me. To stop the thread, set it to null. To start it again, pass it what it needs and then call .start().

If you want to see that code, here is the Client, the Server, and the ServerThread. It’s not pretty and there are some errors when you close a Client, but the multithreading works.

I realize these are not questions for my typical audience, but hey – what else should I do in bed at this hour?

Insert Title Here

These new LCD televisions are pretty neat. I finally broke down and bought one a couple of months ago and the idea just hit me this weekend to put a computer behind it. I have just the machine.
I’ve had a Dell PowerEdge SC440 on my desk with no monitor for several months. It’s an overpowered, underused machine, so I gave it a DVD+R drive and set it behind the new television in the bedroom. The audio already goes out through a PC speaker set, so why shouldn’t I complete the package?
So now I have a blazing-fast Fedora Core 7 box with a 32″ widescreen monitor, right in my bedroom. I’m still working on the wireless keyboard and mouse part, but so far it’s fun. I’ve been ripping DVDs with HandBrake and looking for ways to have this machine become a media center of sorts.
The one thing I enjoyed about this project was the wireless Ethernet bridge I installed in under 10 minutes. I used the Linksys WRT54GL employing dd-wrt to create a network link without running a single wire. As a bonus, I can now connect the Xbox to the Internet (but I still have no need to).
In the near future, we’ll upgrade to Fedora Core 8 (released last month) and see what there is to see. Until then, try to find something you like to do in your own bedroom.

The Time is Now…

Studying for an IT industry certification is not as fun as it may seem.  Many of my friends have certifications (and some don’t but should) and they always talk about it like it was cake.

I picked up my first certification manual for CompTIA A+ in 2000.  I will take the tests for this certification next Monday, about 7 years after I began studying.  Since the beginning of this journey, CompTIA has changed the objectives twice.  Once in 2003, and last year.  It’s time I bit the bullet and got certified, don’t you think?

That’s the reason I haven’t been blogging lately.  I scheduled these exams last Friday and put my brain to work in a 600-page book that covers the following exam objectives:

A+ Essentials (Exam 640-201):

  1. Personal Computer Components
  2. Laptops and Portable Devices
  3. Operating Systems
  4. Printers and Scanners
  5. Networks
  6. Security
  7. Safety and Environmental Issues
  8. Professionalism and Communication

A+ IT Technician (Exam 640-202):

  1. Personal Computer Components
  2. Laptops and Portable Devices
  3. Operating Systems
  4. Printers and Scanners
  5. Networks
  6. Security
  7. Safety and Environmental Issues
  8. Professionalism and Communication

The overall objectives of both exams are the same, but I’m sure the IT Technician exam is a bit more technically in-depth and focused on actual field support than the Essentials exam.  For instance, the IT Technician exam objectives include performing preventive maintenance on printers and scanners while the Essentials exam stops short of that.

After one certification with CompTIA (they have many, including Network+, Security+, Linux+ and more) I can use the CompTIA logo on my business card and resume.  In college I learned that it sometimes helps to just put a logo on there.  Same for Microsoft, Cisco, and Novell certifications.  Catches their eye.  Although now most large corporations run your resume through a computer to find matches.  Logos don’t help when you’re being selected by an Intel Processor and a Perl script.

I’ll be busy until Monday afternoon.