Recycled Electrons - Blog of Keith Horowitz

Keith Horowitz's Blog of Life and Technology.
This blog is published using only Recycled Electrons :).

2016-09-07

Keith Diabetes Challenge - The Bike Pushups

$500 raised of $1,000 - thank you! As promised, the rest of the bike pushups video...

2016-09-06

ADA Tour De Cure - Bike Push Ups

See my challenge with Diabetes this year



Please donate to my fundraising: http://main.diabetes.org/goto/witzabout

2016-08-23

My Personal History With Computers

Late 1970s - fascinated by the teletype and accounting computer at my father's office.
  The computer was a big special formed metal desk, with an electric typewriter and a printing calculator built in. Below the calculator was a magnetic card reader/writer. Where the drawers on the side would have been was a big metal box.  It ran simple accounting programs and simple mail-merge processing, and had a coil of wire for the main memory storage. My favorite thing was to do powers of 2 on the calculator - having no idea that those were natural binary values.

My Uncle worked for IBM, and one time when he was visiting NYC, we visited him at one of the offices. This was my first time seeing green-screen terminals connected to bigger systems.

1975 - my father buys an SR-52 programmable calculator - which had a tiny magnetic card reader for storing programs. I learned an early version of machine code programming using the calculator. My favorite game was the lunar lander simulator.

1976 - my father decided to get in on the hobby computer crazy which had started less than a year before when a company called ALTAIR came out with a kit using an 8-bit processor known as the 8080 (the specific chip were cheaper seconds from the manufacturing line due to defects that kept them from being used as full pin-out or full speed for the original use, but worked perfectly for hobby computers).
While deciding which kit to get, my father decided to let me check out what he was looking at. He took me along to 1 of 2 computer stores in the whole United States - in mid-town Manhattan.
My father had to leave, but I stayed and taught myself BASIC programming, by looking at the code and bugging the salesman. I was 12.
My dad decided to by a different brand, the IMSAI 8080, which was basically a clone of the ALTAIR kit. We spend a few weeks soldering the different parts of the computer before we could turn it on.
At first, the computer only knew binary, and you had to load programs from hex tables. After entering a bootstrap program, we could save and load programs from the cassette tape. I did a lot of work in 4k and 8k basic, occasionally going to 12k basic, and played occasionally with 8080 machine code and assembler.

1978 - my dad got 8" floppy drives and boot rom for the computer. It ran a system called CP/M. We could now fit over a 100k of data on a floppy!

1979 - I got my own computer: it was a Ohio Scientific Challenge 4p. It had 8k basic in ROM, and 4k of RAM. It hooked up to a TV for display and used a cassette to store programs. The keyboard was built into the case, which was unusual in those days. I wrote lots of small programs, including a version of space invaders. I learned about 6502 machine code, and created some hybrid basic-6502 programs.

I used a DEC time-share system at school for BASIC programming. I also took z80 assembler coding in high school. The school eventually replaced the time-share system with a bunch of z80-based TRS-80 computers.

1980 - My step-brother got a Commodore-64. I spent many, many hours working on it when he was not at home. I worked on a number of games, including a variation of Donkey Kong that I called Snoopy Kong. I spent a lot of time creating utilities for creating graphics using the keyboard. When we only had a tape cassette system for storing data, I created a data compression system. It used multi-factor compression depending on the kind of data it encountered. It took a 25 minute save/load to under 5 minutes.

1981 - my step-dad purchased an Apple Macintosh through his university. I learned how to use the computer mouse, paint and spreadsheets among other things. I missed having a convenient line command and scripting language. My favorite game was Lode Runner.

1982 - I got a CP/M based machine from my dad. I also inherited a fast 300 baud modem from a friend. I spent a little time learning about bulletin board systems. Luckily, I never got into the dark side of BBS systems.

I took Fortran in College. They had us enter our programs on punch cards or optical marked cards. It was slow and clunky. Considering how many years I'd already used interactive systems, it was really backwards. I still got an 'A'.

1984 - After too many years not working with computers, I decided to try my hand getting a piece of paper - to open doors working with computers. The local tech school had a class starting in only a few days, and I signed up. I was disappointed that it was an Operations-based course, and that they would not let me into the programming course. It was also with mainframes, which were where most of the jobs were at that point, though it didn't sound too exciting. Yet, it was computers, which was a step up. I learn RPG programming, and JCL coding among other things. Graduate with honors and land a part time job before I graduated.

Hired by AT&T to work on mainframes. I learn CLIST (mainframe scripting language) and SAS.
My first exposure to IBM PC. It is an XT system - basically the first generation PC. I was surprised to learn the features they had added to CPUs and Microcomputer systems - such as multiplication instructions.

1987 - moved on to work for a Wall Street Company.

They give me a luggable PC to log in from home (Laptop-like device, but you still had to plug it in to the wall to run). It had a monochrome screen and for the first time, a hard drive. I was excited to have 10Meg hard drive for storing data, instead of only using floppies! It had a faster 80286 processor, and ran about 12 Mhz. I hacked a plug to allow it to display CGA color on a PC-JR monitor. It also had a 1200 baud modem - talk about some better speed for getting online!

I learned Stratus minicomputers.

I went back to college at night and took a number of computer courses: DBase-IV, Visual Basic, Cobol Programming, C Programming and modems.

I learned Unix - they had SunOS at work, which eventually was upgraded to Solaris. To understand Unix, I installed Linux from Slackware on a 386-32Mhz computer, that I dual-booted with DOS.

I learned Windows - playing with Widnows 2, then 3.0, then 3.1 then 3.3. At 3.3 mixed with Unix, I started to learn more about the Internet. I also went online to a very early version of the web via a dial-up service through a computer-book-seller from which I had a subscription service.
At first it was only text-based with Lynx, then I was able to get a version of Netscape 1.0 working to see some pictures. Of course, if the server was slow or locked up, Netscape would hang waiting for the picture to load.

I learned about Windows NT and administration of NT systems.

I started coding web systems using the CGI-interface (not computer generated characters, but a low-level web-programming interface) and taught myself HTML.

I worked on learning Java and XML.

I started working with databases.

2000 - went to work in Colorado for a different big phone company. This time I was doing Sybase and Unix coding.

Got involved in Hobby Robotics. Learned about 68HC11 and Atmel MCU chips.
Won 2 trophies for a Lego Robot (Mindstorms - pre NXT)

2001 - Unix and NT admin. Also created web systems using IIS and Access.

2003 - IIS and MS/Access - learned T/SQL

2004 - Back to mainframes and Cobol :(

2010 - some Java programming for a short while

2011 - worked on learning programming Android Apps

2015 - working with single board computers, using Raspberry Pi systems and others, including Onion Omega and Pine A64.


2015-08-30

Sugar vs. Carbs Challenge

http://main.diabetes.org/goto/witzabout





Can you beat my time with my sugar vs. carbs challenge?

If not, I expect to see your donation to my fundraising for Southern Colorado Tour de Cure

I am riding 33 miles (50k) to raise funds to help those with Diabetes, and help others fight Diabetes, and hopefully find a cure that will keep others from getting Diabetes.

2015-07-26

The Secret of Hotel Room Key-Cards

How many of you have gone to a hotel, and then suddenly, your card-key no longer works?
I am about to share a secret about these card-keys.

You know the keys - the size and shape of a credit-card, along with that magnetic strip.

After years of having these keys go bad on me, I wondered why I seemed to have bad luck with them. Yet, I didn't have bad luck every time - just occasionally - and I wasn't sure why.

Is there anything worse than finally getting back to your hotel room, late in evening - figure you have enough time to get to the room to go to the bathroom. Your hands are full of the stuff you don't want to leave in the car. You manage to re-balance your stuff to get out your card key.

Slide - red light. Slide again a little faster - red light. Or maybe your card-key doesn't show any lights at all.

You have to trudge back downstairs to the front desk. Wait in line for a clerk to help. Or maybe you had to ring the bell to get the lone clerk to come out to help you.

You tell them your card doesn't work. What is the first thing they always say?

"You must have demagnetized your card" Sometimes they really play it up, "did you have it with other cards?" or some other likely story.

This last weekend, we had this happen. On our second night there, we got back to the hotel. The parking lot was very full out front, so I let out my wife to go ahead to the room. I finally found a spot way in back. I went to the back door. I slid my card - no light. I tried 3 of 4 times before I gave up. I figured maybe the door was just not allowing anyone inside.

A long walk around to the front door, then up the elevator. I find my wife waiting in the hall. She couldn't get into the room. I try my key-card. Slide - no light. I try a few more times before I realize it is fruitless.

Going down to the lobby, we have to wait for some musicians with large boxes of equipment to finish being helped before the clerk helps us. I tell him both of our room keys do not work. I figure it is some glitch in the hotel system that sends the codes to the doors.

The clerk starts in with the "You must have demagnetized your cards"

Something about it this time really didn't ring true to me. I had credit cards in my wallet that didn't demagnetize, yet, the key did? And my wife's key too, when it was with her separately all day?

I respond to the clerk, "The cards have been apart all day."

That is when he quietly responds, without making eye-contact, "they must not have coded the cards for the right number of nights."

Ok, that rings true with my inner-geek. I hadn't realized in all these years that the cards had a number of days to work coded onto them. I always assumed that it was just on a database server.

However, the part that really bothers me about this all:

Clerks obviously know that most cases of guests card-keys going bad, especially those who are staying more than one night, are because a prior clerk did not correctly code the keys. This is either accidental, or perhaps even on purpose - to have some odd power over people.

Even though they know that the mistake was probably their peer or maybe even they were the ones did it wrong the day before, they cover it up with a lie. And it is a lie with an accusation:

"You must have demagnetized your card"

Not an apology that the card went bad. Not an accurate answer. A lie that implies that you didn't take care of the card properly.

How many times did I feel like I must have placed the card-key in the wrong spot. How many times did I wonder what did I do and worry that it impacted my credit cards as well? How many times did I sheepishly approach the check-in desk to ask them to fix it, feeling like it was my mistake?

How many times did I buy their lie that it was my fault, when they didn't properly code my card-key? How many times have they slipped my the wrong number of days on my card-key, knowing I would be back, and they could accuse me again?

I am now an informed consumer. From know on, when I check into a hotel for more than one night, I will make sure to address the clerk by name, and ask, "how many days did you code on the card-key?"

I suggest that anyone who does business with hotels, remember, you are the paying customer. If they try to pass off the lie of demagnetized key-cards, make sure you call them on it. It is time they feel bad for trying to make us, they paying customer, feel bad for the issue that they caused.

Don't buy the lie of demagnetized card-keys.

2014-04-21

Colorado Springs - What Happened to the Intel Plant

When I moved to Colorado Springs, things were booming. The city was a significant technology hub.
Compaq, HP, MCI, and a number of technology manufacturers including Intel. MCI was the largest employer in the region by a giant margin. It was one of the factors that lead me out to Colorado Springs.

Even after MCI took the major financial hit and shrank to the point where it was not even in the top 10 of employees in town, Intel was still doing well. So well in fact, that they were in the process of securing land near the airport to build a second very large manufacturing facility.

Yet, those plans fizzled, and a couple of years later, Intel decided to close the doors to their large plant, right along a major avenue named for, and giving access from the highway to the famous park: Garden of the Gods.

This large space stood off the road, majestically idle, waiting for some use. Eventually, there were some takers for the space: Everest College added a call center; the County combined some offices from around town into the one location using part of the building.

The story of this rebirth made it to CNN today, along with some other factories around the country:
http://money.cnn.com/gallery/smallbusiness/2014/04/21/factories-plant-manufacturing/4.html

The city seems to be seeing the biggest growth is call centers. I am glad to hear we are seeing job growth. I would like to see these businesses understand that they can do more than call centers here. That we still have a lot of people in town who can and should be doing something with higher skills, and this will improve our economy even more.

The city of Colorado Springs was an early innovator in technology, more than 100 years ago, we had some of the earliest electric power plants, and Nikola Tesla experimented and proved examples of wireless electricity.

Innovation and technology still live in our city. Atmel still lives here. HP still has offices here. Verizon Wireless took over some of the offices and employees from MCI. However, compared to what was in the past, these are just small anchors of what this town could be again.

Space conferences were held here. There are plans for our own science museum. Our city is at a crossroad, where it could drive and thrive, or coast and become a service-only suburb of Denver.

What can you be doing to help Colorado Springs grow and thrive?

2014-02-24

Steal My Sunshine - Len

Random song come up from my playlist: "Steal My Sunshine".

Not the first time it has come up, but it does seem to come up rarely. 

When it was playing on the radio in 2001-2002 time frame,  during my drive to-and-from Denver Tech Center, it was one of the newer songs that stuck with me.

It stuck with me enough that I decided to order the whole album CD from which the song was featured. It turns out there are a number of songs of a style I do not prefer on the CD, but it is interesting to gamble on other songs on an album by a group.

This song also fits into a category for me: songs that spell a word. I was thinking a while back, I should make a list of them - for some reason some of them stick out. (Ex: B-A-N-A-N-A-S)

However, it turns out that the song isn't all new. Perhaps there was some subliminal influencing going on with this song.

In a very ADD ("SQUIRREL") moment while listening to the song today, I decided I needed to view the lyrics. It has a lot of words that go by quickly, and I wondered at some of the things they were saying.

However, I wound up viewing the Wikipedia article on it first.

"Steal My Sunshine" borrows from 2 things in the past:
1) They loop a sound capture from the Disco Song More, More More by Andrea True Connection.
2) They were specifically going after the style of Don't You Want Me By The Human League.

Both of those songs are already in my brain, so perhaps it is not so surprising that the song stuck out strongly to me.

One of the interesting lyrics in the song, that they repeat, I realized would also be a good Toastmasters saying:

"A Million Miles of Fun"

2011-11-13

Song from 2 Broke Girls

Love the new TV series: "2 Broke Girls"!

We've been wondering what the song behind the intro was for a few weeks now. I tried googling it the other day, without success.

Tonight, we were watching How I met Your Mother from a couple of weeks ago on DirecTV DVR. And the end of the recording was the beginning of a 2 broke girls we had already seen - but it was still fun to watch again. The recording went through the intro and into the first commercial, just about to end and say delete, when I had an inspiration. I decided to try seeing if the song-identification app (V-Cast) would be able to identify it. Tried it once, no luck. Second time, BINGO!!

It is a song called 'Second Chance' by 'Peter Bjorn And John'.
I was able to confirm it by doing a search and found it on Youtube

2007-01-26

New Hiking Group in Colorado Springs

There is a brand new online group for people interested in hiking in the Colorado Springs area:
Awesome Hikes and Adventures Hosted on Meetup.com

And I offered my help, and I am proud to be an Assistant Organizer!

2006-10-27

Blizzard Day

Wednesday was sunny and in the 50s. But there was talk of a blizzard.
It seems it was a rare case of a large amount of moisture coming up from the south at the same time as a cold from coming down from the North. Around 12" were expected in my area. But it was also supposed to be very windy - making that unusual amount of snow even more troublesome. Work sent out a note during the day that we should check the weather line before attempting to go into work.

Well, about 11pm, the wind started picking up, but no snow.
In the morning, I got up before 7. There was a lot of snow on the ground. The wind was blowing. It was still snowing. I called work's weather line. It said, work at 10, call again to be sure. Called later, the message said work at 12, call again to be sure. I called again - work was closed for the day.

I had slept a lot of the morning. Boy did I need it. I went out for a short walk during lunchtime, to take some pictures (see below). I was well chilled in just a few short minutes. It was at the edge of freezing. The streets, where they were plowed, looked passable - but treacherous. I heard of a number of people getting stuck just from snow being too deep under the car. So I was glad I stayed home.

I watched a bunch of TV. I even fell back asleep for more than an afternoon.

I watch 'In the Cut' Robin Williams. Then I watched a CSI. Then I watched the 'Butterfly Effect' - an interesting twist on time travel. I have the sequel to watch yet. I watched another CSI before going to sleep. I was a little depressed. Of the 3 TV stations I get from antenna, there was one that was off the air, probably due to the weather: CBS. Unluckily, that was the only station I really watch. My VCR was set to record 2 shows: survivor & the original CSI (the best of the franchise, IMHO). So I left my VCR on so it would not record dead air. I am bummed that I missed both shows. I hope the station is back in time to tape Numb3rs.

Tonight I go see Blue Man Group with some friends.

Tomorrow I have 2 Halloween parties. The first is geocaching-related, and I am getting the boys for a few hours even though it is not my weekend, to take them. Then after I drop them back at their house, I have another party I'll go to for a little while.

Hopefully I'll get some geocaching this weekend. 'Geocaching?' you ask. 'With more than a foot of snow?' Well, you see today is sunny and in the 50s, and that is the forecast for the next few days as well. So it should be well melted in most places soon. I'd expect the roads to be mostly melted - and dry! - by this afternoon.

2006-10-23

Trip to Vail

So about 3 or 4 weeks ago, I got a call on my cell phone. It was about a timeshare place up near Vail. It turns out some geocache friends had given them my name and number. As first I was going to be upset at the friends for giving out my cell phone number and just tell the timeshare people not to bother me.

But I decided to listen to the pitch. They were willing to let me bring the boys. So I thought, what the heck? It would be a change of pace for a weekend. So I let them come tell me about the setup and the deal. I talked about going through a divorce. It did not seem to phase the person giving me the details.

So the plan was for this past weekend. An overnight Oct 21-22. I figured we might get to see some bright fall colors up in the mounts and maybe even get a bunch of geocaches.

Friday - the highway to Vail got a lot of snow. That didn't bode too well - but I didn't fret it too much. Saturday morning, I checked the web-cams. Snow along the road - but the roads looked mostly or completely clear. So after a quick errand, we hit the road. I stopped for fuel in Castle Rock. On the road up from Castle Rock, my car started handling oddly. I pulled over. The right-read tire was most of the way flat. A quick change of tires. Then up to Castle Pines - to get air in the spare. It had enough air to get me to the next exit. Once it had air, it was fine. There was no place the whole weekend that I could get the tire fixed in a reasonable time - so I still have to get it fixed.

We had lunch in Castle Pines. At first it was going to be pizza - but I realized with the rate of service - it would be forever to do that. So I went next door to Subway.

Then we drove towards Vail. It looked like there was some snow going on North of us, as we threaded our way into the mountains at the outskirts of Denver. But overall we did very well. The weather varied from clear to snow-showers to cloudy and back.

I tried pulling over a few times to get a geocache - but none of the spots seemed very accessible. They all seemed like they were up a mountain.

The only place there was some accumulation was going over Vail pass - before Vail. We stopped at the rest area to stretch. The kids enjoyed finding some very large icicles hanging from the building. There was a small amount of snow-ball fight before we got back into the car.

Well, the place we were staying was in the next town after Vail, called Avon. We were being put up in a small hotel across the street from the tall timeshare. We were told that there was a pool, so I made sure the kids had bathing suits.

We checked in. The younger boys wanted to go swimming - even though it was an outdoor pool. But it was heated. But it turned out I forgot my bathing suit! My eldest loan me his suit for the afternoon dunk. He enjoyed a little quiet time while I took the younger boys swimming.

Dinner - we looked for a decent place - but wound up settling for McDonald in Vail.

The next morning, I get a call in the hotel room. It is the sales guy from the timeshare. First he admits they are overbooked. I am worried they would ask me to stay longer - as I'm already figuring it is as late as I am comfortable with. Then he asks if he heard correctly that I am going through a divorce. I said yes. He then said his lawyer told him that he could not buy anything when he had his divorce. I said, yes, I could not agree to buy anything this weekend, but would be glad to look and consider it in the future. He told me that I could look at the papers I was given. They would send me the stuff they promised. But that I didn't have to take the tour. I could tell the guy was disappointed that I'd been signed up when he would not have a shot at selling me something there and then.

This was fine news to me. A free night stay - and no pressure to make the tour and no pressure to resist for buying.
I drove over to the new Wal-Mart and bought a bathing suit. We went back and spent an hour or so in the pool. It was strange - as the air was right about freezing - but the water in the pool - was pool temperature. My nose and ears got a little cold a few times, but otherwise it was a lot of fun. Getting out was a little hard with that level of cold, but we managed.

We checked out and started back. I really wanted to do at least one Geocache before we left the area. It turns out the only relatively convenient one was one a short hike from the new Wal-Mart. A micro. And the log was soaking wet. But I manage to do a minimal log entry using an erasermate.

We kept looking for a good place to eat. We made very good time coming back from Vail. We would up driving all the way back to town before we stopped for a late, big lunch. The we had some afternoon left. Watch a video. Then we went out and played some sports until it got dark and late. We play frisbee, waffle ball, hula-hoop toss - and variations of games with all the toys we brought out with us.

The kids seemed to have enjoyed the change of pace going up to Vail. I got home, and had a piece of mail from a different timeshare place. Hmm - can I afford another flat tire? :)

2006-09-14

Balloon Festival 2006

I went to the balloon festival again this year.
I got up early Saturday - it was too wet to even set up the balloons - much less launch them.
I got up early Sunday - it wasn't as wet - but the cloud cover was too low to launch. I did get a bunch of pictures of the balloons set up on the ground. Then I had to run off to meet up with another geocacher to do an group hunt. It was nice, as he had a 4x4, so we got to do some mountain ones that I wouldn't normally try.
Monday I wasn't sure if I would get up early. I was tired. Yet, I managed to get up pretty early anyhow - but not quite as early as the 2 previous days. I headed down to the balloon festival. I was still a couple of miles away when I could see about a dozen balloons already in the sky! They were launching!
I got down there and managed to take a whole lot of pictures. A whole lot!
I'm going to post one now. I'll see about posting more later.

2006-08-11

Apartment Life

Well, I'm all moved in.
a little more than 2 weeks ago, I got the keys.
The first weekend I started moving in. It was also my first official weekend with the boys. And it was my birthday weekend. And it was hot - Sunday broke a record.

Well I decided to not work the whole weekend. I did work most of the weekend. But I took the boys out to eat most of the meals - as a birthday/moving treat. We also went to the movies. And there were a couple of shopping trips - I got a futon (bed/couch) at WalMart. And we went in the pool at my new apartment complex. The good news is that the pool is really close to my apartment. The bad news is that the people on the first floor like to smoke outside :(
The boys slept over Saturday night, and pretty much seemed to enjoy it.

I have a 2 bedroom, 2 bath apartment. I got the 3rd floor so I have a vaulted ceiling from the dining room, going up in the living room. It even had a wood-burning fireplace!

It is at the bottom of a hill, along a stream. Which means a bit buggy, by Colorado standards. Which would mean not very buggy by East-Coast standards :)

I had taken Monday off, to have my birthday off from work. But I wound up moving most of that day too. I only made 2.5 trips that day, but I had a lot of organizing to do. I also did some cleaning to be nice. I vacuumed up the 'study' after I moved out all I considered mine. I left behind the DVD 'Red October'. That was a grey area. I knew she liked it, and we picked it up on a shopping trip together.

It took me another car load Tuesday evening to pretty much finish it up. There was a theorectical possibility of taking the boys one evening during the week. But I declined, because the apartment was just way too cluttered. It would have been hard for the boys to get to their beds, and there was not a lot of room to move around.

Last weekend on Saturday, I went up to Denver for a geocaching event. I did some geocaching with a couple of other geocachers I knew. Then I did a few more on my own afterwards. I broke my 1-day record. In the past, I'd done 6-in-a-day twice. Saturday I did 7 caches - 8 including the event. That isn't much compared to a lot of serious cachers - but it was pretty good for me. Especially since I didn't get started until late morning to head up.

Sunday was my day to get the apartment more organized. I started setting up shelves and stacking boxes in a more organized fashion. I set up a shelf right where I come in the door. I wasn't really happy with the location, but it was where I had space. I told myself I could always move it after I got more organized. I finally got the bed frame set up, so I wasn't sleeping on the mattress on the floor. This also gave me some storage space under the bed.

Last night I decided to move the second plastic shelf from the living room to my bedroom. It is a good thing I have a single bed, as the whole other wall is storage right now. I am also storing stuff where a washer and dryer could go. But for the moment, I do not need a store room. I plan to try to organize the stuff in the boxes better - but mostly that isn't a rush.

I'm getting a chance to catch up on movies on DVD a bit, which is nice. I actually have not made it back in the pool but once since the boys were over. There were a couple of days that were really hot during the day - but by the time I got home from work, there were thunderstorms rolling through the area.

Another nice thing about the apartment is air-conditioning. Yes, you don't usually need a lot of air-conditioning in Colorado, but there are times it comes in handy. And even more so in an apartment complex. So I've been enjoying the airconditioning. But I've been trying to remember to set back my thermostat during the day. Usually I remember. But I think it will pay off for me to by an automatic set-back thermostat.

Tonight I get the boys for my first real weekend with them. My eldest has an event that will keep him busy for most of the day Saturday. But I have to drive him around as well. Other than perhaps a little geocaching, I haven't decided what to do with the boys. I am pretty sure there is a new kids movie or 2 we could hit.

My eldest asked to have a blanket to keep at my apartment. I was glad to do that for him. I asked him what kind he wanted. He described something similar to the blanket he has now. He is very attached to his blanket. It turns out his blanket and mine are a matched set - from New Jersey. He inherited my wife's old one a long time ago, when she upgraded. His blanket was not in great shape, and I'd offered him mine a few times, but he declined. Well, when I offered him mine this time, for use in my apartment, he seemed happy with the idea. While my blanket was not in as bad shape as his, it was definitely showing it's age too. It was looking torn at a couple of the edges. So I got out my cheap sewing kit - it actually had been a dollar store item I'd planned on adding to a new geocache. But instead I kept it aside when I moved. I put in a DVD movie, and started sewing. Okay, so my 43-yo eyes were showing their age. I used to be able to see-and-thread a needle pretty easily. Well, in spite of my sight not being as good, I still managed to have the instinct for threading the needle. Which worked out well - as I had to thread it about 8 or 12 times. It seems the seams were torn at all 4 corners, and had started to tear even further on 2 of the corners. I am no expert sewer, but I think I did a pretty good job. It took the whole movie and all the extra features (but not watching the movie again with commentary) to sew up the blanket. But it is ready for him. I also bought him a new pillow too. I figure he deserves that and perhaps a bit more - because overall he was a big help when I moved. He carried a number of loads with little complaint - and helped out with his brothers a lot.

Enough rambling for now :)

2006-07-24

Announcement

I have not done much blogging lately - and I've really let this one go for a long time.
Part of that is that I've been spending a lot of free time and energy on geocaching. And to that end, I've done some blogging on a sub-blog about geocaching.

But the other issue that was most worth talking about, I did not feel it was appropriate to air on this forum. That issue was that my marriage was going through some difficult times. The conclusion was finally reached a number of weeks back, but the official things are starting to happen now.

I have filed for divorce. I am going to be moving into my own apartment about 2 miles away, probably this week. It is in the same zip-code and school district.

Being a child of divorce, the decision was extremely difficult for me to make. But my wife and I have grown apart, and just can't seem to find enough common ground on some important issues.

Yes, there are a lot of issues. I am sure we both could point out how everything is the other spouse's fault. And it would be very easy for me to list a whole lot of things that upset me. But that path leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to the dark side. :) The whole thing is hard enough without a dark side. So I will not talk about blame or any of the details here. Besides, I don't think it is all her fault. I know I am in part responsible.

I am responsible for giving up on my marriage when I know it will really be hard for my children in the short run. But I have hope that it is better for them in the long run. I am doing what I can to try to make it easier for them in the short run as well.

Wish me luck! :)

2006-04-24

Geocaching - My Clean-up Event

I ran my second geocaching event yesterday. The last one was just a general get-together. This one was a special clean-up event.
The main geocache site, geocaching.com, promotes both regular clean-up whenever caching and a special day once a year for a major international clean-up on Earth day. They call the clean-up a CITO, for Cache-In, Trash-Out.
During my first event, a number of people in the area indicated they would prefer a clean-up event that did not occur on the Earth-day on Saturday. Many people can't make Saturday events. Also by having it on a different day, it would allow Geocachers to do the Earth-day/Saturday event up in Denver on Saturday and then do another one on Sunday.

It took me a few tries - but I got in touch with the parks department. They asked where I would like to clean up. I figured with all the different places that I knew people would be coming from, that somewhere around downtown Colorado Springs heading West towards Manatou Springs would be pretty centralized. They had just the spot - a new trail called Midland Trail, which literally starts at the edge of downtown and heads 2 miles West paralleling the highway that leads to Manatou Springs.
It seems the parks department doesn't like geocaching very much. There is an uneasy truce with the parks department now - for most parks, they pretend that there aren't geocaches placed against the rules. I hope this puts us on better standing with them.

One end of the trail starts at a new park and playground, near downtown. When I checked out the trail it wasn't that dirty, but it seemed like there was some to clean up. It seemed to make sense to start at the other end of the trail and work towards the playground - that way the kids would have something to look forward to. It turned out well, as there was a pavilion that we were able to get out of the sun while we visited and had an prize ceremony.

I planned the event to start at noon - I chose a restaurant - I was in the mood for a burrito, so I chose a Chipotle restaurant downtown a few blocks from the park.
Then I had people meet at 1:30 at the park, to carpool over to the other end of the trail starting about 1:45 - with the clean up starting at 2:00.
I posted that the clean up would end at 3:30 and that would be the prize time. Afterwards people could get a ride back to the vehicles left at the other end.

As usual, I didn't give myself quite enough prep time - and overslept the morning of the event. But my wife helped cover some of the coordination, so I was able to set up the contest at the last minute - by riding my bike up the trail and meeting everyone at the western end right at 2:00.
As I looked up the street, I saw a group that looked at least twice as big as I expected heading for the trail. This was so cool!

I stayed behind to help get the western trailhead clean at first. Then I headed up the trail, with a cooler of water bottles, hand cleaner and extra trash bags - on a luggage cart. I caught up with a rear group of 4. They were spending a lot of time really getting the trail clean. They were surprised at how much the main group had left. I guess my contest backfired a little, as a large part of the group was just going for points. Oh, well - it added to the fun. And it made me appreciate those who worked harder. I had a few points that I hadn't used up, so I was able to place it so the rear guard got some too :)

My middle boy came back to get me and get some water about halfway. I was surprised, as I thought he was with my eldest. But I was glad to have his company. We did some more cleaning and some more points, then we moved on to get to the end of the trail. There was one spot that I wished I could have spent a little more time cleaning small trash - but I was getting hot and wanted to make it back to the park in time. I got to the pavilion in the park 1 minute early - I'd said 3:30, and I was there at 3:29. I was amazed at how well the timing worked out. I'd just given rough guesses for timing - but it all worked fantastically!

I would say that the second event I have run was as big a success if not more. Reading the log entries that people wrote, I was proud and satisfied with how it went.

My geocaching blog entry about the log entries that others made
My geocaching blog entry about the event, and my log entry, with pictures

2006-04-06

Laptop Sound

I've been living without sound on my Toshiba laptop since last summer.
When I opened it up, I found the sound card was this tiny board, maybe 2 inches by a half inch. And it has this plug-in to the motherboard. The connector on the motherboard had come loose. Considering that plugging in earphones would cause mechanical stress on this top board, it almost seems inevitable that this connector would break on the motherboard or sound card. This should have been right on the motherboard or connected with a ribbon connector. There are a number of other ribbon connectors in the laptop, so it is already a workable solution.

At first it just worked oddly - sometimes the sound would work, sometimes it would make odd noises - sometimes it didn't work. And of course this happened after the unit was out of warranty. I can only imagine that if I took it in to be fixed, the answer would be to replace the motherboard. A motherboard and labor - I can only imagine this would cost nearly as much as a new laptop.

So I opened it up. I was able to get it to work again twice before. But both times, it stopped working. The last time I tried, I couldn't get it to work again. And the track-pointer has been acting oddly since then. Good thing I use an external mouse with it most of the time.

There was another solution. Not too long ago, they started selling a PC/MCIA (laptop card port) sounds card. But all the sites listed the cost at around $100 dollars. At best I've seen low $90s before shipping. Most weekends I browse the tech-store circulars. I never got to it this past weekend.

Last night I was running some errands. I'd offered to pick up raffle tickets for the next geocache meeting. I figured an office store would be a good bet. I stopped in at the local OfficeMax. With a little help, I found the raffle tickets. Boy that is a big roll! It should keep us busy through 2020. On my way down the isles, I peaked at the cabinet where they keep computer add-in cards. I looked for the laptop sound card. I'd been hoping that at some point before next month that the card would drop down $10. We want to set up a lan party on the side at my son's big birthday party. My computer needs working sound for that.
Looking in the case, I spot the card. It has a yellow sale tag. Down from $99.99, Down to $54.99. Wow! That is a fantastic deal! So I grabbed the next sales person and asked him to get it out for me.

I got it home and installed it. It took a long time to install all the software it wanted to add. Then I had to reboot. There was a break to read some bed-time stories. Then I got back and logged back on. I plugged in the earphone. Nothing. Tried the other port. Ahh - SOUND!!! Yay!!!

The laptop built-in sound had a nice feature, a little thumb-wheel to control the volume. With the new card, it is only soft settings. Also, of course, the card is not able to play through the built-in speakers. I'd figured on that - and that I'll have to open it up and hack into the speakers, putting a little plug wire in for the card. The only other choice is external speakers. Maybe for the lan-party I'll do that - but not for a long term solution.

There is one more drawback. While the card itself is standard type-1 height (a type-1 card is usually small enough that 2 type-1 cards can fit in a standard laptop) - then end of the card is bigger. It has to sit in the lower half of the slot, and doesn't leave enough room for a second card. I already have a card that I used to download my memory card for my digital pictures. This means that now I will have to swap out the sound card to load the picture card into my laptop.

But it is worth it to get sound again from my laptop! I tried a DVD. I know in theory that it should play a DVD, but I didn't know if there were any issues. It played the DVD - the sound was much louder. This is good news if I want to watch a movie on a plane. And now I can use it as a T-Pod again if I want to.

T-Pod - my version of an iPod. Putting my laptop in it's backpack as a training weight for hiking, and being able to use it as a hard drive-MP3 player.

2006-04-03

The Tax Man Comith

For a change we got our taxes done early. Early being 2 weeks before the deadline. The last 2 years, things were crazy enough that we wound up filing extensions.

But this year we did our taxes on the most appropriate day of the year: April Fools Day - April 1st. Somehow it seems appropriate to me. I'm just not sure who is being made a bigger fool. Trying to read tax code, I think it is me!

I'm not big on April Fools. It seems way too easy for people to be unnecessarily mean - and it seems like meanness can only escalate until someone gets upset.

The one little joke I played was I told my son he didn't have to clear the table. When he asked 'really', I replied 'April Fools'. That is about as far as I like to go. No long suspense. No elaborate lies. No major emotional plays. Just a tiny bit of quick teasing once.

2006-04-02

New Fab Four?

I was musing about 'The Who' Music used on CSI and on the reference to the guy on the show who was collection famous dead people's picture, saying that he was going to put it next to his Entwistle. I laughed at the connection between the musician from the group that does their theme music.

And it reminded me of the morbid joke about getting the Beatles back together, when there were still 3 of them. The joke went it would take 3 more bullets. Ouch :)

Then I realize both The Beatles and The Who are down 2 members. So between the 2 groups they have just the right number to make a new fab-four group. :)

Then the topic became what would the new group be called?
I think the best that came up was The Weavels.

A little hard - a little soft - introducing those new old guys from the UK: The Weavels! :)

2006-03-31

Gecaching Adventure This Week

I started a new blog for my geocaching adventures. My first real entry on this blog was describing geocacing in some detail for those who want to understand it a bit better.

Today I wrote up about a geocaching adventure that started with trying to figure out a puzzle a few weeks ago - comparing notes with other geocachers last week - then trying to find it Sunday - and going back again Thursday afternoon to try again: GCC276 Away Team Mission

2006-03-19

Sunday - Almost Spring

Had to take my big guy to a Jewish-youth group activity this afternoon. Went down to the skating place. They said - we don't know about that activity. Could it be at our other location [5 minutes back they way we came]? They called - it was. I didn't even know they had a second location. It is laid out almost identically.
They play the music very loud at both places. Too loud for my little guys. My big guy asked what they called it - I said slow-ear-drum-damaging level.

I took the little guys out for some geocaching. I didn't have all my notes with me - but I did have a lot loaded into my GPS. The first one I couldn't find - but as it was just a fake coordinate for a puzzle cache, it is not suprising we couldn't find it. I had my laptop along with a number of the geocache sites pre-loaded on my drive. So I was able to find another couple to try right nearby. We parked near a dog-run, and headed for a micro first. I don't like this smallest size geocache very much, as they can be really, really hard to find. But this one was rated the easist - and it was easy! I went up to the tree my GPS pointed at, and circled it once - there was nothing promising. Then I looked at the tree right next to the first one. I noticed a noce size stone that just looked placed. I bent down, and flipped up the rock, and there it was! :) Signed the log and put it back.
Then the three of us headed up the hill to a small cache. I was hoping to be able to let the kids do a little trading, and hand off a travelbug I got in Denver. We got to the top, and the GPS pointed donw some rocks. I looked in some cracks and crevaces. The GPS was now pointing back up. So we sent up. Then down a crack. The back around. Then back up. I even scaled some rocks, about 10 feet up on one side. No luck. After abotu 15 minutes, I gave up. I promised the boys some time on the nearby playground before we had to pick up the big boy.

The weather was wild today. When we left to go to the skating rink, it was snowing, just a bit slushy. There was also a very loud thunderclap just before we left. A snow-thunderstorm. Unusual, but certainly not uncommon I'd heard. Considering it was slushy, I wondered aloud if it was rain downtown. As we got closer to downtown, I was proven wrong. It was sunny. When I was geocaching with the 2 younger boys, we left our jackets in the car. It was still a bit cool, but the sun was warm. As we went over to the playground, it got windy, cloudy and really cool. Then we stopped by my wife's job on the way back home. We were talking about summer camps with another family we do a lot of stuff with. We left ot head home about 5pm. As we got home, it started hailing, with some thunder and lightning. Small, slushy hail. It kept going until there was more than a 1/4" coating the ground. It stiched to snow, then stopped. I wonder if it will be sunny and clear tomorrow morning - or a snow day. Either way, I bet it is sunny, warm and clear by the afternoon.

2006-02-20

Numb3rs, GPS, Apollogy and More

So this past week's episode of Numb3rs seemed to be designed specifically to refute my previous log entry where I said GPS is not part of cell phones.

It seems I was wrong. I am sorry Numb3rs for my misunderstanding.

According to the show, it seems that when the decided that for emergency purposes, that cell phones should be trackable, the didn't use triangulation from cell towers. The actually put a tiny GPS chip inside all modern cell phones.

Wow.

So I guess they were right when they said they used GPS with the phone. Of course, in the episode, the person was in a library. Inside buildings is a very poor place for GPS reception, so I still have some doubts.

Then a very short while later it hit me. There is a GPS inside most everyone cell phone. And they don't let you use it! It would be so simple to show locations and do some simple coordinates on a cell phone. The data is already there. It would only take a simple program! Man - think of all the people who could be geocaching!!

2006-02-08

Dish Rant

I opened my Dish (satellite TV) bill last night. In the last year it has jumped $10.00.

First it went from $21.99 for the low-end channel package to $23.99. Suddenly the package has a new name, and costs $31.99.

This is the same crap the cable companies pulled, and why we wound up going with Dish. One of Dish's major selling strategies was to point out how the cable companies were treating people badly. Now they are doing the exact same thing.

We will have to talk to them and let them know that we are not pleased. If they cannot drop the cost way back down, I think it is time to get rid of dish.

I don't watch much broadcast TV. I am pretty sure I can get most of what I watch with an antenna. I'll miss MythBusters. But I could buy the season DVD for MythBusters and have a whole lot of money left over after canceling Dish.

And MythBusters is neat to watch. But they have so many repeats. And spend a bunch of new episodes filled with old material. It is like they only show new episodes during sweep months.

Of course that means the PVR would no longer work, as it is dish-only. Frustrating.

NUMB3RS, GPS and Cell-Phones

I've been watching the last few episodes of the TV show Numb3rs. It is pretty good. It is nice to see a positive view of techy stuff on TV. We need to promote the sciences. And they do a very good job of not getting way too techy. If anything, they are pretty good at explaining some advanced math concepts so that an average person can get a feel for the concepts. I think I get to thank my sister for recommending the show :)

Watching the last episode, from this past Friday, I was taken a bit back. Here is a show that is trying to tech about the science of math, and they made a really careless error. They were talking about tracking a cell-phone. The cell-phone in question was used right near the investigators - and they say the GPS showed it was on campus.

The GPS? Cell phones don't have GPS! GPS isn't how they track where cell phones are!

They both use a similar methodology - triangulation. But a GPS receiver listens to 3 or more satellites in orbit to calculate it's position, and does not transmit anything.

A cell phone is tracked by what cell it is in - and if 3 cells can pick up a cell phone, that information can be used to triangulate the position of the cell phone. The ability was added mostly due to wanting to be able to pinpoint emergency calls.

The fact is that a cell phone does not have to make a call to be tracked. A cell phone will register itself when on to local cell towers. That is how the cell companies can immediately route a call to a specific cell-phone.

And more, this triangulation is being used for more than emergency use. Some cities are subscribing to cell-phone data to help track traffic. It seems many cars on the roads have cell-phones on board. Not making calls, just turned on. And they can use the data from the cell phones to calculate the speed of a significant fraction of the cars from this data. And they can tell when traffic is slowing or stopped - just because so many people have cell phones.

This is not the kind of mistake I would expect from a techy show. Of course, they would probably blame it on the fact that the character that said it is not one of the geeks.

It is interesting that people are worried that a GPS will rat on where they are, and never realize that their cell phone already does it. Yet a normal GPS cannot report on where you have been, unless you link it and download the data afterwards.

But there is a GPS device that does report back where you are. And it uses a cell-phone to report on you. The on-star system in 'select' GM cars. The core part of the on-star system is a GPS that uses an old analog cell-phone built in to report on your position.

And some rental cars are starting to have GPS units that can report in, either live, or as a report when you check-in.

Technology is wild. Big brother *is* watching! But what is he watching, and what is he doing with that data.

I noticed online that there is a horror movie coming out soon. It is based on GPS and geocaching - and is supposed to be based on a true story. I get the feeling that this will put a dark blotch on geocaching and GPS. Shame.

2006-01-31

Google Maps - Something Different

I found something different today moon.google.com

Like Google maps, but showing the moon landings. I was curious if I could see any signs of human activity at the closest zoom - don't miss it!

2006-01-18

Geocaching Meet in Colorado Springs

I am in the process of making a group for geocaching in the Colorado Springs area:
Pikes Peak Geocaching

I know, not very original, but it describes things decently. I like it better than Southern Colorado Geocaching.

Right now, I'm just trying to get a group get-together going for next month. So far, the response has been very positive from other local geocachers I've emailed with in the last few days.

The first challenge is finding a place to meet. If nothing else, we can always descend on the food court of the Northern Mall. I was hoping for something a little more conducive to pleasant conversation. So that may mean finding a restaurant. But that then puts an obligation to pay for food to the attendees. I would prefer not to do that for the first meeting.

If all goes well, I may try to turn it into a more formal group - like they have up in Denver. We will have to see. If nothing else, it is something more to do with my Geocaching obsession.

To the end of the meet and possible group, I've set up subdomains on my domain:
ppgc.kah731.com or pikespeakgc.kah731.com or pikespeakgeocaching.kah731.com or geocaching.kah731.com - they all point to the same page.

2005-12-27

Hiking Blodgett Peak 12/25/2005

So Christmas day Sunday, but we don't do Christmas. And a day off Monday. No real plans until Sunday evening for Channukah. My toe finally feels well enough for a hike. Blodgett Peak has been calling to me for months - especially since I learned there was a geocache on top. So I get up a bit early - early for a day off from work - and head out for a hike. I don't know how far I'll get - but I want to at least get to the top of Blodgett Peak. I've got about 8 geocaches I can try for, depending on how I do. A couple are up in Pike National Forrest, past Blodgett Peak.

It is slower going than I expected. I spend more time than I wanted looking for the first 4 geocaches - I only found 2 of them. The trail is Icy and muddy. It is not a great trail - it is not well prepared like the trail going up Pikes Peak. It is very easy to lose the trail - subtle paths seem to go off in many directions. In many places, the trail seems to go up very steep, loose gravel. Step up, slide back 1/2 way. And then I get to a rock scramble. It reminds me a little of Mohonk. I notice a cairn. At first I think it is an oddity, but then I notice another. I suddenly realize that they mark the trail. The trail the curves around the side of the peak, and climbs very steeply up a boulder field. It is hard work, and takes me much longer than I expect. But I keep going. The peak is calling to me. I've got to make it.

After many, many hours, I make it to the top. I decide I need to rest and eat a bit before I try to find the cache on top. I've noticed that the exposed rocks in Colorado seem to make the GPS jump around a lot. But I try a few times, and finally find the cache. Interesting stuff in the cache, but nothing I want to trade for. I sign the 3rd and final log of the day, and head down. I figure there has to be a better way down than the boulder field. I head West, in the opposite direction I need to head, and find a nice trail leading down the back side of Blodgett Peak. The trail quickly curves around, and is much easier than the boulders. Even with the GPS, I managed to lose the trail when I was most of the way down, adding another half hour or so to my day.

But it was worth it - even the being really sore 2 days later - I did it! I made it up Blodgett Peak! It showed that I've lost a bunch of conditioning I had when I did Pikes Peak. But not too much. I'm amazed and glad at how far I can keep going. I hope to get some more hikes in this winter. Thanks heavens for the mild days we get during the winter here most of the time. I don't think I'll go out as long again, at least not until I try Pikes Peak again - but I'd like to keep up the level of the hike.

Heading out early in the day for Blodgett Peak:


A view up the foothill I was to climb:


Part of the way up, looking aback down:


I still had on my sweatshirt here:


Frozen Stream:


Getting up there - view down:


Imposing rock face:


The Earth certainly does not look flat from up here:


Climbing up a steep, narrow boulder field:

The cairns and pink ribbons guided me up this trail

Here I am at 9,000' and still a ways to go:


First peak of Pikes Peak - must be near the top:

It is about 4,000' higher - but it doesn't look more than a few hundred feet higher from this angle.

Where Black Forrest meets Briargate in Northern Colorado Springs:


A very different view on the quarry:


View of Pikes Peak (14,110') from Blodgett Peak (9,460')


I had a 360-degree view from Blodgett Peak:

Those rocks on the hill to the bottom right are the rocks I was looking up at in the earlier pictures.

Looking West into the Rockies - Snow capped mountains in the distance:


Heading down - view of Downtown Colorado Springs:

2005-12-22

Electirc Zoo


This weekend we went to the Light Zoo in town. It was snowing, as it had for over a day, lightly, and one of the sets of friends who was supposed to go with us wimped out.
It was cold - but we were smart enough to bring along hot chocolate, so that helped.
It was fun to go to again. It seemed like there were a few more lights, but a few less electric animals.

Harry Potter

I just finished reading Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.

I've been reading it to my eldest son for the last month or so. A half-chapter or a whole chapter a night, a couple of times a week. We got near the end last night. So tonight I started reading a little early. Luckily, they are off school, so he was able to stay up a little later so we could finish the book.

I won't say much about it, to avoid spoiling it for anyone.

I enjoyed reading/listening to the earlier books. This is the first one I've read. I must say, I do not like the writing style for reading out loud. Almost all the cues for character and intonation come halfway through a quote, or at the end. Very hard to know how to read a line. I must imagine that the people who make the professional recordings must have to pre-read and re-read a lot to get it right.

Microwave Popcorn - Light/Mini

I like popcorn.

Microwave popcorn is fine by me, but I prefer the light popcorn. The regular is too greasy.

But when I'm at work, I like a mini-packs - I don't need a full regular-sized bag.

But they don't sell light-minis. I wish they did.

So I have to eitehr get the minis or the light. Greasy, but the right amount, or the right flavor/texture, but too much for an afternoon snack.

I supposed I could just eat some of the regular-sized, light bag. But when the popcorn is there, it is hard to resist finishing it. Dangerous food!

Popcorn manufacturers: I want light, mini microwave packs!

2005-12-21

RIP Palm

Yesterday I dropped my Palm PDA into water.

It flickered on and off. The screen got this glitch that spread out from the middle. Eventually it turned off and would not turn back on.

I dried it as quickly as I could. I spent a bunch of time opening it up so I could dry out the insides. It was really hard to open, as the screws were this special hex screws. I managed to work them out with my Swiss army knife. But it seems it was too late. I could not get it to work. I am not sure it is worth having it repaired.

I looked online for a new cheap palm. But the one that was on sale a year ago, with MP3 playback ability, was sold out everywhere. It looks like I'd have to pay at least twice as much for a Palm with MP3. The one I killed didn't have MP3, but I'm determined to have MP3 in my next one. And I use my palm a lot - for tracking my hours at work at a minimum. So I'm feeling kind of lost without it. But E-Bay to the rescue! Same model as the one from last year, new in the box, and it even costs a little less (before shipping at least) than the prices last year!

So while I'm feeling really stupid for killing my palm, it looks like I'll be getting an upgrade out of it. I don't want to spend the money - but I admit I really use it, so it is a valuable tool. And with the MP3, I have a more convenient MP3 player for things like hikes. Although, I may have to invest in a bigger SD card. And I wonder about battery life. How long can I get playing MP3s on a charge - and it there any way to extend the charge? I mean will it last if I use it hiking up Pike's Peak - like I did my CD/MP3 player this past summer?

Well, even if I don't get it right away, I still hope to get out for a real hike soon - I could use the exercise!

And this is my second Palm PDA. The first was the IIIC - the first color Palm. That one died when the rechargable battery stopped recharging. I'm wondering if I can use the battery from this newly deceased Palm to bring the old one back to life. Well, the old one doesn't have an SD slot - and I really like the idea of the MP3 ability of the new one - so even if I can Frankenstein the old one back to life, I still want the new one. Hm - maybe the old one, with it's serial port instead of USB might work directly with the GPS?! That might be fun!

Geocaching - My RAID-5

Well, I've spent quite a few weeks with this idea about doing a puzzle cache. Where seekers have to solve a puzzle to find the final cache. But it was more than just a puzzle - it also teaches how some computers can store data in a safer, faster way, called RAID-5.

So I made a RAID-5 cache. I spent a bunch of time trying to figure out the best way to do it - and making charts and tables to go with it.

And today, I was rewarded by the first person to find it. He said he even learned from it! Yay!
The only problem is that the coordinates were a little off - and now I either have to put a note to that on the website, or recalculate all the clues and replaces the 4 clues! Yikes!

Outlook + Outlook Express Archiving

I just wrote up a bit about archiving emails:
Techchatter Entry

I also talk about Outlook seeming to have a memory leak when doing a bunch of Drag-and-drops.

2005-12-12

An Open Letter to Circuit City and Best Buy

Dear Circuit City,

I wanted you to understand why you lost my business the other day.

We came in for a new set of cell phones. It was our second time in. The first time we had met a woman who answered all of our questions politely. When we came back in, the man at the cell phone area seemed to dismiss whatever we had talked about before with the woman who worked there.

We still had a number of questions. Most of them had to do with cost. We wanted to make sure that the phone and services of the plan covered our needs without costing a bunch more. We were interested in the phones that cost a little more that to lowest-end, free [after rebate] model.

I looked closely at the features and costs, and tried to understand the deals. It seemed that the listed prices of the phones were not the cost, but how much the end price of the phones, if you took a 2-year plan, and after you got the rebate. The actual cost of the phone, if you did not take the 2-year plan was in much smaller print, it was nearly hidden. And of course, that did not include tax.

So we finally selected the phones and the plans. The salesman took my credit card, and started placing the order. After a minute, he then asked for my drivers license. He wanted to copy all sorts of contact information. After spending about 5 minutes putting in the information into the computer, right near the completion of the transaction, he mentions an activation fee.

An activation fee? What activation fee? There was nothing posted on the cost of the phone, or the 2 year plan about an activation fee. This was getting to be a bit much. When we said this was the first we were hearing about the activation fee, we were informed by the salesman and his manager that the fee was listed in the brochure by the phones.

This sounds like bait and switch to me. First you get my credit card, then you tell me about extra costs? We made if very clear that we were very concerned about the total costs when we were asking lots of questions. But then to tell me about extra costs after you are ringing me up is not a good idea.

And the truth is, you might still have made the sale. Except for one small factor. You seemed to have forgotten who was the customer. You treated us badly when we were upset by hidden costs. Instead of being apologetic or supportive about our being upset, you were discourteous and dismissive.

The way we were told that the cost was listed - as if we were stupid for not seeing a number hidden inside a closed brochure - is what finally lost you the sale.

I do not like hidden costs. I want to know the full up-front cost in bold print at least as large as any other number on the [shelf] price-tag. I want any minimum monthly cost, and length of term also printed in at least the same size font.
The only cost I will accept as implied, and I accept it only grudgingly, is sales-tax.
If you want to list the price-after-rebate, make sure you list the price-out-of-pocket in at least the same size print - and make sure the values are clearly labeled.

If you are going to have all sort of hidden costs - it is going to look like bait-and-switch to me, and you will create an unhappy customer.

If you give me an attitude about my being upset at hidden costs, the you have changed me from an unhappy-customer, to a missed-sale.

And when I turn from being an unhappy-customer to a missed-sale, you can count on my being a lot less likely to come back. And not only will I be less likely to come back, but I will be willing to tell people about my bad experience. Such as right now on my blog - for anyone and everyone to see.

And in case you think my recommendations will have little impact on you, let me tell you about Best Buy.

Best Buy sold me a digital video camera. The salesman promised me that this video editing package rebate was part of my sale. But the rebate was not obvious when I checked out. So I went to customer service. They took a huge amount of time to say, 'I don't know', and eventually they said the rebate counted.

When I got the rebate back, rejected from the manufacturer, I realize just how much Best Buy took advantage of me.

I have not bought anything from them since.

But that is not all. I had a friend ask me about buying a new computer. They wanted my advice, because I am known for being very good with computers, and helping my friends. She told me she was interested in getting the computer from Best Buy because they had a good financing deal - no interest for a nice period of time. She seemed pretty set on getting it from Best Buy. But I remembered being lied to by the salesman at Best Buy. And I remembered the poor customer service. So I seriously suggested she look at CompUSA. She did. And she changed where she bought the computer. CompUSA had a better financing deal. I believe she wound up paying more for a much better computer, that she will get much better support, from CompUSA.

So, Best Buy, for treating me wrong, you made one sale, and have lost me as a customer and have lost other customers I influence.

So, Circuit City, for treating me wrong, you lost that sale of Cell phones, and possible future sales from me and other customers I influence.

May you can have me back as a customer some day. If I see you change your shoddy methods. But it won't be any time soon. And it won't be by my recommendation.

2005-12-07

Thanksgiving Road Trip

We went to Salt Lake City for thanksgiving. My step-mom moved there this year.

We drove up I25 and over on I80. We had 2 laptops, a DVD player and a game console. The DVD has the ability to be a TV for the game console - but the wires did not connect. So when we stopped at the halfway in Rawlins, WY - we hit a Radio Shack for an adapter. The trip over went pretty smoothly. The kids took turns watching movies - sometimes 2 movies at the same time. You would think that would be a problem - but we kept the volume down.

We stayed at my step-mother's. The only problem was my allergies to fur. You see, she has 2 dogs. But I've learned I can kept it under control with anti-histamine. The problem is that anti-histamines make me sleepy. But I've learn by taking smaller doses of liquid, I can try to balance sleepiness and beating getting sick. I managed not to get sick from allergies this visit - but I did take a few naps.

Thanksgiving was nice, but not too busy. We were the only guests. It made it a smaller than average thanksgiving, but it was nice.

Friday we drove out to the Great Salt Lake. We went out to Antelope Island. We went to the visitor's center. We had a picnic outside. It was a bit cold. But we enjoyed it anyhow. Then we went to find a geocache nearby on the island. First my youngest found a letterbox (similar to a geocache) right nearby the spot. Then I found the geocache in a cave around a rocky corner. It was my step-mother's first time. She seemed to enjoy it. I thought that was great! We grabbed the travelbug to bring back with us.

Saturday we had plans to ride a steam train outside of the city, up in the mountains a big. The report said some snow, but now snow at the train. The train was still planning to leave on schedule. So we headed up route 80 into the mountains. The snow was building up on the road - and on the signs. Then the electric sign said chains required. Not just chains required for trucks, but just chain required. As in chains for all. And quickly we found ourselves in very slow moving traffic on very snow-packed roads. After about 20 minutes we go off at the first exit. It turns out we had chains - new by my suggestion for this trip. We learned how to put on the chains. By the time the chains were on, there was no chance of making the train. So we headed back and took it easy.

We hoped the road was clearer for our trip home Sunday. We head back up the hill early in the morning. This time it was pretty clear - no chains needed. We stopped for breakfast after we got up the valley. Then we moved on. As we approached the halfway mark a little after noon - Rawlins, WY - the snow started falling and blowing. When we got to Rawlins, the signs were flashing: road closed ahead. We tuned into the advisory radio. Roads East and South were closed. We stopped in the truckstop an exit back to have lunch and try to figure out what we were going to do.

The rumors flying were not good. Roads closed. Massive accidents. Giant snow drifts. Roads closed for a day or more. We were told that if we were around after 4, we should find a room.

We finished lunch about 2:30, and we out to the car. We got online to try to find out the chance of moving on. No chance. So we start calling around for a room. Things are looking bad. After calling all the hotels in town, there was only 1 room - a single too small for the 5 of us. We are looking at spending the night in the car. Not the worst news, but not good.

I turn back on the advisory radio, hoping to hear they announce they were opening the road. No such luck. I just listen to the radio talk about the things in the area. Including bed-and-breakfasts.

Bed-and-breakfasts.

!

So I say - what about a bed-and-breakfast?

We call the only one listed.

2 rooms left. We ask for the first. We help out another 2 people from Colorado passing our car at the right time.

We head over to the bed-and-breakfast. Wow, it was a nice place! We wound up going from the bottom of the barrel to the best place in town.

The next day we got back on the road. They said the road was open overnight. But not all the way East - just an hour or town down the road. But by the time we got on the road, it was open all the way. It was very icy, snowy and the wind was really blowing. For 3 hours of driving like that. The it started clearing - but was still very windy. As we drove down we hear that I70 was closed coming into Denver. And the next day I70 was closed going East from Denver. Bad weather.

I managed to get into work for 3 hours on Monday. Overall it was a nice trip for thanksgiving. And a bit of an adventure.

Pictures from Salt Lake Trip

2005-11-22

FBI warns of e-mail scam

Users are told they have visited illegal Web sites and are instructed to open an attachment to answer questions.

Don't do it!

The FBI is investigating the scam. Recipients of these e-mails are asked to report them by visiting the Internet Crime Complaint Center at http://www.ic3.gov.

2005-11-11

Cell Phone Bank Robber

"Police in the Washington, D.C., suburbs are looking for a woman who chats on her phone while robbing banks."

Four robberies.

The first thing I thought of was the movie Phone Booth (2002)

Perhpas this woman is being made to rob these banks.
Maybe not - but it was the first thing I thought of when I heard that she is on her cell phone the whole time.

Sounds like an idea for 'Phone Booth 2 - going mobile' ;)