Sunday, December 27, 2009

GPS, TomTom's and Ice Skating to Wichita Falls

I left early this morning to visit my parents near Amarillo. The trip from Dallas to Amarillo is my most frequently driven road. And it's probably one of the most boring stretches of highway ever created.

For Christmas I bought my wife a TomTom GPS navigation system. I like TomTom's because they are customizable in fun ways. Like you can record your own instructions. You just record commands like, "turn right", "turn left", "yards", "one hundred", "two hundred", etc. Then it will play your own recorded instructions at the appropriate times. It's quite cool. There are pre-recorded voices that you can download with their software. Some of the better ones (like Homer Simpson) you have to pay a small fee for. Or you can upload your custom recordings if you think they are good enough (to share with the masses). You can also change backgrounds, change car icons, and some other things.

I have my wife's TomTom setup to speak German. I bought refurbished TomTom's at a pretty good price, but I'm a little miffed because the ad said free map upgrades, but somewhere in small print it says something about "no free upgrades with refurbished products". The "FREE MAP UPGRADE" is, of course, in big letters. If someone from TomTom stumbles across my wee little blog they can allow me a way to bypass this and let me get one free map update for free. It's only fair.

Today, on our way to Amarillo, we basically had to slalom and skate from Dallas to Wichita Falls because of the blizzard two days ago. I figured for sure they'd have the roads cleared by now, but I was mistaken. The roads were somewhat clear, but there were large patches of ice that had to be slid through or avoided. I don't like driving in these conditions.

Just before entering Wichita Falls, they had the road completely shutdown before an overpass while road crews tried to clear the bridge. I thought it would be a short stop. After half an hour and no progress I turned on the TomTom and looked for detours. I took an exit and voila, the TomTom re-routed me. I was kicking myself for not doing it 30 minutes earlier.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Windows Home Server

For the last few weeks, I've been setting my home network up with Windows Home Server. For a relatively cheap software investment, it's really a pretty good product.

Once you have it installed, there is a client CD or connector CD that you install on all your Windows based PCs in the house. This software basically "connects" all of your home PCs to the Windows Home Server.

Why do you want to do this? Well, Windows Home Server creates a "Shared Folders on Server" icon on your PC's desktop. You can set your client PC up to automatically put music, pictures, videos, etc. on the Home Server. All the stuff you don't want to lose is kept in a central location that can be easily backed up. With WHS Power Pack 3, you can even setup a Media Center to automatically archive recorded TV.

Most people that own Windows Home Server bought a special PC from HP, Dell or some other PC manufacturer with WHS pre-installed.

I just decided to install it myself on one of my "extra" computers.

I decided not to read instructions and just install it "blind". This was probably a bad idea. I assumed it would work like all the other Window's based operating systems and give you a C drive, a D drive, etc. All depending on the number of hard drives and other devices you have on your computer.

It "sort of" does this. If you want to look at it as a standard OS, it does exactly this. But, when you look at it from a "server" point of view, it installs the OS on a portion of one of the hard drives and sums up the remaining space for storage.

I decided to install the OS on an 80 gig drive and I installed a 1.5 terabyte drive that I intended to use for storage. WHS doesn't quite work that way.

Now, I have a machine with about 1.55 terabytes of storage. It added all the storage devices together, deducted the amount needed for the OS, and gave me the remaining for storage.

Further more, the storage defaults to being "duplicated on two drives". So that each bit of information sent to the server is automatically stored on two different physical devices. Thus, my setup only gave me about 50 gigs of usable storage until I went in and turned off the data redundancy.

Small drives on Windows Homer Server are basically a waste of electricity. Use the largest drives you have.

My next entertainment was misplacing my "connector" or "client" CD. I installed it on one computer. I installed it on the second computer. The wife came home and distracted me and I lost the CD. She may have eaten it. I'm not sure where it went.

Well, interestingly enough, WHS takes care of that as well. You can manually go to your WHS server from any machine in your house. You don't get all the bells and whistles, but you can access it.

You go to http://[whs name]:55000/. You'll get a screen that looks something like this:

The first entry says, "Windows Home Server Connector Setup" with a "Download Now" button. You click on "Download Now" and voila, the client software is downloaded and installed on the computer you are currently using.

WHS also has the option to automatically backup each client computer every night. It just happens automatically and gives you a backup of every computer in your house. The initial backup takes a while, but after the first one, it seems to go rather quickly. I haven't had to try a recovery yet, and I really hope I never have to. If I do, I'll make sure and post my experiences.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

The Least Common Denominator: Part 2

Since the 2 people that read my blog were horrified at my "elitist" attitude concerning LCD, I feel that I owe a part 2. Although sequels are almost never as popular as the original.

I've never been good at writing stuff down. When I write about something controversial, I'm always surprised at how offended people are. It's because I don't express myself well. I think one thing and when I write it or say it, it comes out all wrong.

All my life I thought people were mean to me because I was smart (a nerd). I was small and skinny in school and always made straight A's. I didn't fit in.

But, in hindsight and after yesterday's debacle, I realize that maybe it was 90% to do with my attitude. I was shy. Perhaps my shyness and my failure to clearly communicate made me come off as an elitist and no one likes an elitist. I know I can't stand them.

Having said all of that, if I were forced to go back to Junior High/High School today, I wouldn't want to be in classes with kids who don't want to learn. The kids that don't want to learn and go out of their way to disrupt the learning process are the least common denominators. They should be removed until they can fix their attitude. I'm afraid the "no child left behind" policy doesn't account for the ones that are purposefully dragging their feet.

I had a real good friend in school who was disabled. I wouldn't want to go to a different school than him. He made me smile. He didn't fit in any better than I did, but he didn't care. He also didn't make fun of me or try to intimidate me for making A's in algebra.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The Least Common Denominator

We seem to live in an LCD society. As a group of people, we strive so hard to make sure everyone is happy that we end up catering to the complainers who are often the "Least Common Denominators" or LCD's.

What happened to cause this? I don't know.

Are you having trouble following my logic? I know I am.

I'll give you examples.

Take the teacher who was nearing retirement that took her bus load of choir kids to Hooters. She has been suspended. Why? Are Hooter's girls dressed any more provocatively than high school cheer leaders? Not in my experience. This teacher has been suspended because of the LCD rule. Out of the 40 kids there were maybe 1, maybe 2 who thought it was offensive and went and told their offensive parental units who got the teacher in hot water. We have to strive to take care of the most easily offended.

A bigger example? Take Bush's "no child left behind" policy which seems to still be plaguing Texas schools. That just screams LCD. We'll slow all learning down to the most unwilling to learn student so that he or she is not left behind. I mean even children that can't keep up or don't want to keep up should be catered to. It's classic LCD.

We lower our expectations so that our expectations don't exceed the talents of the least talented.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Carnival Cruising on the Conquest: Day 6

I've been really falling down on my blogging duties. Sorry about that.

Day 6 found us in Cozumel. I've been to Cozumel before and I'm not a big fan of it. It's a little too touristy for my blood.

We went to all the shops that are right there on the docks. It's like a feeding frenzy of souvenir shopping. After we were done spending money, we stopped at Fat Tuesday which is a bar right on the coast. It's s fun bar. They play good music, have good margaritas and pretty shot girls in short shorts and cleavage baring sheriff costumes.

Without further ado. Here are some pictures.

Here is a picture showing the tourist trap that is the Cozumel beach/landing pad. You can see all the people walking down the pier heading blindly into the souvenir mecca.

There were two Carnival ships parked side by side this day. Here's a lovely picture of your host standing between the two monoliths.

There were actually four cruise ships parked at Cozumel. Here's a picture of 3. I tried to get all 4 in the picture, but one of them was a ways off.

This is the back/bar portion of Fat Tuesday. I like the swinging bar chairs. Swings make me sick so I can't imagine sitting in a swing at a bar, but apparently it's popular. I especially like the "Free Samples" thing. I'm not sure what it was pointing at. But, it entertained me on several levels. Alas, I am, it would seem, easily amused.

Balloon hats were strangely popular at certain sections of Cozumel. I remember the wind was blowing really hard and I was wondering why people purchased these things. I saw several of them blowing away.

My favorite part of Cozumel was the local law enforcement.

Here is the Fat Tuesday bar. I like this picture because it shows you the wide variety of beach wear you get to see on your cruise of choice. Although some of it is probably better not seen.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

NVIDIA SLI & the Flickers

I just wanted to keep all of you curious folks up to date on my latest computer update. Because I know you are all furiously curious.

The computer I built 2 years ago is still keeping up with the latest software so I've seen no reason to build a new computer.

However, as the graphics in games get more demanding I decided to do an experiment. I decided to install a second video card to take advantage of NVIDIA's SLI technology. Basically leveraging the GPU's of two graphics cards to give a performance boost.

My first mistake was assuming the graphics card would come with the little SLI link cable.

I opened the case, installed the new video card in the second slot and turned the computer back on. Voila, the NVIDIA driver detected that there was another video card and set it up as SLI. I was shocked at how easy it was. But then I got an error message about "video link not detected".

My first reaction was to re-check my video card box for a missing cable, but it was empty. My second thought was simply a sinking feeling. Then, I did some research.

It seems the link cable in question is normally shipped with the motherboard. I have an ASUS P5N motherboard and I still had my box so I looked in it and sure enough, there was a cable just like the one pictured above. It's obvious where to connect it on the NVIDIA graphics cards. If you need a diagram, you probably should put the cover back on your computer and carefully back away from the machine.

Then, I ran my first game and I got these bluish artifacts and flickering while running. And I got another sinking feeling. My power supply only had one power plug for supplying power for video. Obviously with a second card I needed another plug. The new video card came with a power plug adapter. You basically had to plug two standard plugs into this one adapter to create one video card plug. All the web sites I visited said that the flickering was more than likely a power problem.

My mistake: I used a standard plug that was daisy chained to a case fan. I took another look in the case, did some power rearranging and produced two dedicated standard plugs to feed the video plug adapter. You might have to read that twice.

I turned everything back on and it's been running flawlessly ever since. It seems smoother, but unfortunately I didn't do any performance tests for a before/after comparison. I don't know that it would have made a difference. When you have two of something it's not always faster, but often times smoother. I don't know that I've seen a performance test that measures smooth.

You see performance tests all the time that say, "I get 60 frames per second", but you don't often see a run over time with various activities where you maintain an average of 40 frames per second with a low of 10 and a high of 60. I suspect that having two GPU's would mostly produce a more stable frame rate with a better average and a higher low, but I don't feel like proving it.

Another thing to do if you intend to try SLI is to go in the NVIDIA control panel and make sure it says SLI is enabled. After experimenting with mine, it somehow got switched to disabled and I had to re-enable it. There was no warning except just to check it and see that it was disabled.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Conquest Carnival Cruise: Day 5 -- The Cayman Islands

The Cayman Islands was not (to me) as much fun as Jamaica. It was just a bunch of English folks living on an island and making money off boats.

The most interesting thing about the Cayman Islands is that the cruise ships are too big to dock there (because of the coral reefs or something like that) so they have to drop anchor and you take tender boats to the shore. When they drop anchor, it's quite loud and will wake you up from a sound sleep. I know this from experience.

Day 5, incidentally, was also Thursday. To you Americans, that was also Thanksgiving.

Regardless, here are some pictures from Day 5 of my cruise:

This is our tender. You can see in front of us they were loading a second tender. It was all done very efficiently. You didn't even have to get your feet wet.

This was taken from the Cayman Island docks. You can see there were 3 cruise ships visiting the island for Thanksgiving. Ours was the one on the left.

Here is a lovely picture of my Jamaican bride. Yep, she followed me. She said she couldn't stand for me to leave her alone so she left behind the island and the people she'd lived with all her life to follow me to the Cayman Islands. It was very sweet really.

Apparently the Cayman Islands have a history of piracy. Here's a picture of me with a local Cayman Island pirate. He was very scary. I tried to get him to say "Gar har har", but he wouldn't talk. My shirt says, "Sometimes I amaze myself". It's quite immature of me to wear such garments, but I can't help myself.

When we were drinking at a beach front restaurant I looked up to see a pirate ship attacking the Conquest. I worried briefly that we had accidentally arrived in Somalia.

I mentioned earlier that it was Thanksgiving. This was my pumpkin cake. I like how they did the glaze and the blueberry to make it resemble an American flag. You have to look at it for 5 minutes trying to focus directly on the blueberry and then close your eyes. Ah, and tilt your head to the right at a 90 degree angle. Maybe you should tilt your head before you do the 5 minute thing. And read all the instructions before you start.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Climate Hysteria

I read a really good article today. Unfortunately, this article reinforces the fact that as long as there is money or power involved you can't believe anything you read or hear. It's almost like we all need to be scientists capable of doing our own research so that we can choose to believe or dismiss all the "facts" that are being thrown our way. I don't even know if this "really good article" has an ounce of fact in it. You can read it here. I don't know how long that link will last. I liked the last paragraph. It made me think that maybe this author is "on my side".

Here's the last paragraph:
Climate change is a genuine phenomenon, and there is a nontrivial risk of major consequences in the future. Yet the hysteria of the global warming campaigners and their monomaniacal advocacy of absurdly expensive curbs on fossil fuel use have led to a political dead end that will become more apparent with the imminent collapse of the Kyoto-Copenhagen process. I have long expected that 20 or so years from now we will look back on the turn-of-the-millennium climate hysteria in the same way we look back now on the population bomb hysteria of the late 1960s and early 1970s--as a phenomenon whose magnitude and effects were vastly overestimated, and whose proposed solutions were wrongheaded and often genuinely evil (such as the forced sterilizations of thousands of Indian men in the 1970s, much of it funded by the Ford Foundation). Today the climate campaigners want to forcibly sterilize the world's energy supply, and until recently they looked to be within an ace of doing so. But even before Climategate, the campaign was beginning to resemble a Broadway musical that had run too long, with sagging box office and declining enthusiasm from a dwindling audience. Someone needs to break the bad news to the players that it's closing time for the climate horror show.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Carnival Conquest Cruise: Day 4 -- Jamaica Man

Day 4 found us in Jamaica. Some concerned friends of mine have been questioning my frequent mentioning of alcohol and my lack of photo documentation of my wife on this cruise. It has led them to believe that I took this cruise alone. Well, alone with my alcohol. My photos from Jamaica will hopefully reinforce these crazy rumors:

The people in Jamaica are really nice. I've been told it's a nice place to visit but you wouldn't want to live there. I was offered weed at almost every corner. One guy took me up to his little bungalow bar where I could smoke in private. Once I got up there, I backed out. I didn't really have any intention anyway, but wanted to see how the locals hung out.

You may see my new colorful hat in one or two of the pictures below. In Jamaica you get to haggle for everything. I never thought I'd enjoy that being brought up in America, but it was a lot of fun. The lady told me she wanted $25 for the hat. I said, "No. That hat's not worth more than $5". She said, "Ok, ok, how about $15". I told her I had to consult with my wife. I came back and said, "My wife won't let me spend more than $10 for the hat. Sorry." She said, "Ahh, c'mon, how about $12". I said, "My wife only gave me $10. Take it or leave it." She took it. Obviously.

They drive on the wrong side of the street in Jamaica. I got in a discussion with our driver. I told him he was driving on the wrong side of the street. He said, "No, this is the right side". I said, "No, it's the left side" and he said, "The left side is the right side". I guess you had to be there.

Here is a picture of my lovely wife getting her hair braided in Jamaica.

This was at Margaritaville. I don't know what this guy was drinking.

Me at the bar at Margaritaville.

This is my wife with our first Jamaican friend. CC was our official "driver" in Jamaica. He was the one that drove on the left side of the road because the left side was the right side. "Respect Man".

This guy kept telling me I was his "brother from another mother" so I let him be pictured with me. It was a kindness really.

Here is a lovely picture of my wife and I together on the catamaran. We were on our way for some snorkeling fun.

That's me. Snorkeling. Really. Off the coast of Montego Bay.

Here is me getting my hair braided. This was after snorkeling, but back at Margaritaville. We didn't realize that our Snorkeling tour took us back to Margaritaville so we went there twice. Once as taxi cab passengers and again as snorkelers on a catamaran. Strange but true.

This is me back on the catamaran after having my hair braided. I was so desperate for alcohol I had to use both hands!

A good picture of Margaritaville from the water. I didn't get to do the big water slide. Ah well. Perhaps this gives me motivation to go back.

A pretty picture of our boat from the Jamaican docks.

And last, but not least: the towel animals. Every night the stewards made towel animals. This one was my favorite. He was hanging from the light fixtures at the end of our Jamaican day.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Carnival Conquest Cruise: Day 3

Day 3 of the cruise found us somewhere in the Gulf of Mexico, a day's ride from Jamaica. This was a Tuesday. On Tuesday, I discovered Cosmopolitans. They were called Carnival Cosmo's. I didn't really make the connection that the little fruity drink was actually a highly motivated Martini. Ignorant drinking. Something I'll try and avoid in the future. I was in an alcohol induced coma by 9:15 PM (that little exaggeration brought to you courtesy of Durango).

I also spent some time talking to Ron of Ron Joseph's Motown Review. He was a cool guy. Plays the drums and sings the blues. He was from New Orleans. Unfortunately I didn't take pictures.

Let me see if I can find a picture from Day 3. I found one. I went up to Deck 6 or maybe 9 to try and show how far down it was to the lobby. Cool huh?

I've been asked about details. My cruise postings have been short and sweet. My wife and I went alone. It was a 7 day cruise. Day 4 will be more exciting. We arrived in Jamaica on Day 4.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Carnival Conquest: Day 2

Day 2 found us in the Gulf of Mexico heading towards Jamaica. I don't remember anything spectacular about day 2. I'll see if I can find a picture. It was a Monday. Hmmm...

I was right. No excitement on day 2. Just relaxation.

Here's a picture of the slide on the ship on day 2. Enjoy.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Conquest Carnival Cruise: Day 1

I know you've all been anxiously awaiting news of my 7 day cruise on the Carnival Conquest. We went to Montego Bay Jamaica, George Town Cayman Islands and Cozumel Mexico.

I don't feel like going into details yet. Here's a picture of me with the drink of the day on day one in front of the big screen TV on deck... Just to wet your whistle... Since I was wetting my... whistle.

Behind the umbrella, it says "wishes". I know someone will ask.

Healthcare and Climate Solved!

My doctor always tells me I need to exercise more. Apparently it will make me healthy. 30 minutes of exercise per day is said to keep the doctor away.

There are two things that Obama is pushing now that will cost us trillions of dollars: health care and climate.

All that has to be done is to perfect generators. Make them as efficient as possible and then put them in automobiles.

Make a total electric car with all the efficiencies of generating electricity while slowing, a couple of solar panels, the latest battery technology and whatever else you can think of. Then, put pedals in the floorboard anywhere anyone can sit (including the driver).

As you drive and as you ride, you pedal to generate electricity to keep the batteries happy. If you run out of power, you have to pull over and generate some more before you can drive again. We'll all be green and healthy. Trust me.