Ernie with her ears up


What?  What?  Can you repeat that?I can say with absolute certainty that our ittle Ernie is the most adorable little dog on the planet. Period.

Several times a week, Erika and I try various tricks to get her ears to pop up. Ernie quickly gets accustomed to these efforts like a virus resisting penicillin, and adapts her state of relaxation to ignore our outbursts of noise. As a result, it’s pretty hard to get a picture of her with her ears shooting out sideways. I’m not sure what we did to get this particular shot.

Something like a million people are still without power from Hurricane Katrina, but life here on the beach is back to normal. I went out for my coffee this morning and sat on the beach with a couple of chicken empanadas, and the only indication of anything out of the ordinary was the row of MTV satellite trucks. Not news trucks, mind you, but MTV trucks here for the Video Music Awards. There have been tons of celebrity sightings in the papers the last couple of days. Yesterday a big, fat Maybach limo sat idling across the street from us for half the day as the driver waited for his passengers to get done partying. Half a dozen Range Rovers and their chauffeurs waited nearby, with their chauffeurs standing around talking.

Speaking of celebrities and pictures, check out Glenn Feron’s portfolio called The Art of Retouching. Click on a picture and move your mouse back and forth over the image to see the before and after. He does retouching work with Photoshop to clean up photos. Great stuff. I’ve done enough Photoshop work to know what a good eye for details this takes.

Tropical Storm Katrina update


Getting warmer
Brent Cantori here for the Panic Channel. The 11am advisory has come out, and the Panic Center is forecasting a large “H” in our immediate vicinity. Don’t be fooled by the bright sunshine outside, the cloudless sky, or the fact that when I walk Ernie in a few minutes, I’ll be wearing flipflops, shorts, a t-shirt and a hat. This is a serious storm, people. Serious! No foolin’ around here. In fact, you’d be wise to stock up on Cuban coffee, empanadas, and suntan lotion.

Okay, let’s face it, it’s hard to get panicked when it’s absolutely gorgeous outside. I can see why so many people say they can ride it out, because it’s just beautiful outside. Now they think it’ll be at our place around Friday morning, but we’d be on the south side of it so we’d be spared most of the ill effects.

I’m not looking forward to Erika getting home today. She’s been concerned about hurricanes ever since we decided on Miami. Now, whaddya know, today’s her first day of school, and there’s a storm comin’ our way. Grrrrreat timing.

We’re moving to Miami!


I’ve been waiting to blog about this for a little while, but had to hold off while we got a few things handled. Now it’s official – we’re moving to Miami! Erika’s going to quit work and go to school full time for the next couple of years. Why Miami? The school had specific advantages, but more on that down the road.

That means we’re selling the house. I put it up for sale by owner, but with a realtor’s help to get it on MLS. Last time I used a realtor for a house sale, I was very disappointed with the lack of effort put in by the realtor even though she said she was an active seller. Whatever. This time around, I still paid buyer’s agent commission (because they definitely do some hard work), but I did the selling myself through MLS. The house sold very quickly because we priced it very competitively with the other houses in the ‘hood – we didn’t want to stick around for half a year to make an extra $5-$10k, and thereby miss the fall semester.

Now that we’ve got a contract on it, people are coming out of the woodwork saying, “Man, I told this friend of mine to buy it, but he didn’t move fast enough!” Hahaha.

We’re really, really going to miss this neighborhood. We’re both completely aware that if we get the chance to come back here in 2 years after her school is finished, we probably won’t be able to buy into this neighborhood, something I find hilarious. We didn’t want to keep the house and rent it out, though, because that’s a pain in the rear from another state. It’s hard enough to own rental property in the same city, let alone a different state.

This also means I have to relinquish my position on the HOA Board of Directors. I genuinely loved doing that. I’m not cut out for politics – too many skeletons in my closet – but at this level, politics is enjoyable. It’s great fun to be able to make a positive difference in the neighborhood and help build a community. The next time we buy a house in an HOA, I’ll be active again, but for now, it’s back to apartment life while Erika goes to class.

We’re going to sell Erika’s Jetta and keep my Jeep because we only want one new car payment for a while. I’ll miss the Jetta because it’s tons of fun to drive, but the Jeep is my dream vehicle, I think. There’s nothing under $100,000 that I’d rather drive. Up over the $100k mark, it’s the Ferrari Superamerica. Even if the top didn’t flip like a pop-top beer, it’d still be gorgeous.

How to make your web site popular


Good old fashioned turtle love.I gotta confess that I don’t really give a rip whether my site is popular or not. I rarely look at my web site statistics. Every now and then I pull it up just out of curiosity to see what people find interesting about my site. The statistics packages I use gives me a vague idea of why people are coming to my site. I haven’t looked at it in at least a few months, and this time around, I was in for a wild surprise.

The biggest draw to my web site at the moment is people searching for images via And what are they searching for? Lovin. This particular photo is referenced in my turtle pages, and I happened to name the file “lovin” because – well, because it was funny. Turns out people are looking for lovin, and this picture is one of the ones they pull up.

Goes to show you that internet search still has a little ways to go.

Unless, of course, people are really into this sort of thing. Which makes me feel a little dirty.

This week blows


YawwwwwnI was leaning back yawning when my browser opened, and I saw my own image on my webcam. Hello. Had to grab a copy of that.

Yes, it’s 3:36pm, and I’m dead tired. Not a good week. Having a rough time at work. I’ve always made a policy of not discussing work stuff here on the blog, and…now is no different, hahaha.

Better Than Ezra is playing Houston and Dallas next week, and I think I’m going to be in Dallas. Erika will kill me for missing the Houston show. They’ve got a new CD coming out in a couple of weeks, and I’d love to take her to this one here in town. Damn schedules. I have to be in Dallas because they’ve hired another programmer to help me out, though, and it’s hard to complain about that. More people is always a good thing.

Busy weekend planned

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Me & MomThe photo’s courtesy of Mom, who is playing around with picture mail on her phone. Nice picture, actually. I don’t remember this one.

Got a busy weekend planned. This morning I’m helping clean up the neighborhood by doing a trash walk down Airline in front of our subdivision, picking up trash with a few neighbors. Then I’m running over to a friend’s house to help with his wireless network, and then helping to plan a neighborhood block party this evening.

Ernie had a day at the beauty salon yesterday and came back looking trim and clean. And hopefully flea-free.

I’ve got an idea for a web business. I’m bursting at the seams to start work on it, because this is the first one I’ve had in years that didn’t violate my non-compete agreement at the office, hahaha. I’ve got a zillion ideas on how to implement it, but now comes the hard part – programming it. Well, not programming it, really, but picking which programming language. I can develop fastest in VBscript ASP, an “old” language, but that’s not really how I want to start a new online business in 2005. I should be using .NET or PHP, but I don’t want to learn those as in-depth as I’ll need in order to make this work. Tough decision.

It’s a bomb! No, wait, it’s THE bomb


Wave-X Digital TS-300 MP3 Player (and a tube of Chapstick for reference)My purchasing philosophy is to either buy the best designed product out there, something that’s going to last ten or twenty years, or else buy the all-out cheapest thing that meets my needs. Everything in between usually involves too many compromises, and I end up wishing I’d saved my money or else I pine for the higher quality one.

So when I decided to start jogging – well, I mean, when Erika decided for me to start jogging – I figured the only way I’d do it is if I could work in technology somehow. I’m a news addict, and I figured now was the time to start listening to podcasts.

Podcasts are like this blog that you’re reading, only they’re audio files instead of web pages. People record regular “shows” in MP3 format and put them up on the web for other people to download and listen to. And, yes, like this blog that you’re reading, most of them aren’t that terribly interesting, made up of personal drivel and low-rent opinions. I don’t really care what Sam Smith in San Antonio says about his family or his computer.

However, there are some podcasts with high production quality, just about to the level of radio shows. And since podcasting is dramatically cheaper than running a radio station, there’s a great variety of podcasts about even the narrowest of topic ranges. For example, I love to watch Survivor. (Yeah, I know, I know.) Every week, after someone’s been voted off, there’s a long show with the recently booted contestant being interviewed. When I’m walking the dog at 6 AM, before the coffee’s done brewing, this is exactly the kind of intelligence level stuff that I need, and about all I’m ready for. Russell Holliman does the Survivor world a favor by making a podcast out of this, with the commercials clipped out.

Russell has a podcast of his own, covering computer happenings and things around Texas. His would probably fall into the vast numbers of podcasts I’d never hear except that he lives near me, has similar political leanings, and has a couple of computer toys I want – a Mac Mini and a Treo phone.

Back to my purchasing philosophy. We already have an Apple iPod in the house, a gift to Erika for her last birthday. Well, I mean her most recent birthday – I certainly hope it’s not her last. The iPod was the quality piece of gear, the best thing out there, and a purchase I’m certainly glad we made. But she uses it most of the time, and I wanted an MP3 player of my own so I could listen to podcasts in the morning. I went down to Fry’s to pick up the cheapest MP3 player available.

I settled on a WaveXDigital TS-300, amusingly shaped like a little bomb. Time for a quick review. For $40, it came with 128mb of memory, an FM radio, and voice recording. 128mb is enough to store a few hours of podcasts, because they’re recorded at low quality – they’re just people talking, generally speaking, so you don’t need CD-quality audio. I wanted the FM radio so I could listen to KUHF, my local public radio station. I gotta be honest: that is literally the only radio station I listen to. I don’t even bother with presets on my car radio – I just never change the station. The voice recorder does what it’s supposed to, which is handy for morning walks when I remember things I should have done earlier. Oops.

The TS-300 has some drawbacks, though. It’s powered by a single AAA battery, but it won’t recharge that battery through the USB cable. I figured I’d just plug it into my computer’s USB port, sync some music, and leave it plugged in to charge. No – I have to swap out rechargable AAA batteries myself. Not a big problem, but just a bit of a nuisance.

Even worse, though, is that leaving the TS-300 plugged into your computer doesn’t charge the battery – it discharges the battery! The TS-300 uses power while it’s connected via USB. I left it plugged in to set up some automatic file copying from my computer to the MP3 player, and came back to find the battery dead. I would have thought it’d use power from the USB cable, since it’s plugged into my computer which is providing power, but no – even when it’s plugged in, it’s burning up the battery. Not too smart.

The most serious problem is that when you turn it off and then turn it back on later, it doesn’t keep track of where it left off. Podcasts are long – anywhere from 10 to 60 minutes – and I don’t want to start back up again at the beginning of a podcast every time I go out for a walk with the dog. So if I go for a fifteen minute walk in the morning, I have to remember where I left off in the audio track, and then when I walk her for lunch, I have to spend a minute fast-forwarding to that same part of the track. LAME.

But for $40, I can live with it. And it makes the time fly by when I’m walking the dog. I used to get antsy after 15-20 minutes, but now I find myself letting her run all over the park, and 30 minutes has gone by without me even noticing.

Ernie has her first bath at home


Ernie after her bathBeen a long couple of weeks. Ernie’s doing well, but battling a touch of diarrhea. Okay, more than a touch – more like she got pounded with a diarrhea stick, but you get the idea. For three days I’ve been following her around the house with a spray can of Woolite Heavy Traffic carpet cleaner. I’m thankful we got the berber, but even berber carpet can’t disguise the mess we’ve got here. Time to call in the heavy guns – an actual carpet cleaner.

I just finished a home network setup for a great guy who found me via my HAL-PC articles (and no, I’m not flattering him, because he doesn’t read my blog anyway, hahaha.) He wanted to grow his home network to run a couple of machines dedicated to SETI@HOME, a project designed to search for extraterrestrials. I used to run that software several years ago, but I abandoned it when I started using laptops as my main machines instead of desktops. The software’s come a long way: now there’s programs like BoincView that let you manage a lot of SETI processing machines from your desktop. You can track how many work units they’ve completed, see which ones are faster than others, and make sure all of them are doing what you want them to do.

His network is now made up of two older machines (Win98), two identical new Dells (Windows XP), and two identical Shuttle small-form-factor PC’s we got from Directron, my favorite online vendor. The experience of integrating them together into the network, getting them all using SETI, and supporting them makes me even more convinced that Dell is the only way to go for home computers. Out of the two identical Shuttles, one of them had bad memory when we first installed it. Thank goodness we’d bought two of them, so it was relatively easy to swap parts back and forth until we came to the conclusion that the memory was the culprit. Directron exchanged the memory, but now we’re having problems with one of the Shuttles randomly shutting itself down. Ouch.

The Dells, on the other hand, went in perfectly and performed flawlessly. They cost more than the Shuttle setups, but they came with a lot more hardware, and they’re worth it just for the testing alone. I think next time, even for SETI processing, I’d be more likely to recomment a pair of identical Dell small-form-factor boxes than a homebuilt pair of boxes. Even if you sacrifice some of the performance, it’s worth it for the reliability.

Work’s going well, although I’m about to get one of those promotions that means more responsibility without any more pay. I’m probably going on call, which means I’ll be online for instant messaging a lot more, and probably updating this blog more, heh.

I rediscovered one of my old favorite games, Grand Theft Auto: Vice City. I’m not much on playing the latest and greatest games because they usually require so much more graphics horsepower than my work machine has. Playing games two or three years old, though, is a great sweet spot. My P4 2.6ghz with 1gb ram and an ATI Radeon 7000 plays GTA:VC quite well, and my newly installed speakers in the home office make the game more enjoyable.

I’ve started making DVDs using my Tivo, with the new Tivo-To-Go feature. I gotta say that unless you’re a geek, the process is more of a pain in the rear than it needs to be. You have to:

1. Copy the shows from your Tivo to your computer (takes roughly the same amount of time as the show length)
2. Decrypt the Tivo encryption (takes 2-3 minutes per show)
3. Edit the commercials out (takes 2-3 minutes per show)
4. Burn several shows to a DVD (takes multiple hours per DVD)

Last night, I burned a DVD with five episodes of Dwell, a great TV show made by the same folks as Dwell Magazine, covering affordable modern architecture and design. I’ve got a couple of friends in the neighborhood who I’ve introduced to the magazine, and since they don’t have DirecTV, I wanted to show them what the show was like. Burning just that one DVD, all in all, took the entire day. Granted, I wasn’t involved with the process for that entire day, maybe an hour of it total, but that’s still way more work than I’d like. For that reason, I’d guess the networks don’t have to worry too much about people pirating TV shows over the internet or passing around DVDs to their friends. It’s just not worth the hassle.

Ernie’s getting used to the house


Ernie at my office windowErnie’s settling into her new home and getting used to the place. Her comfort level is indicated by her newfound confidence in chewing on magazines, which we’ve always kept in a basket in the living room on the floor. That will probably need to change. I’d rather remove the temptation than try to explain to her why magazines are not chew toys.

We’d only bought her a couple of chew toys initially because we weren’t sure what she’d like. She’s grown to like a little alien-looking rubber ball with two feet, about the size of a golf ball, and that’s about the biggest thing she can put in her mouth. We got her a rope toy but the thing’s bigger than her legs, and she certainly isn’t about to go dragging it around the house.

The most interesting thing about her is her apparent obsessive-compulsiveness. I’ll have to get a video of it happening. Sometimes when she gets a treat, she will refuse to touch it. She’ll push it around with her nose, but it’s not even just a straight push: she will rub her nose on the floor, going towards the target object for a few inches, then when her nose gets to it, she will raise her head and tap the object. It’s like she’s sweeping it along, and then touching it once on the top for good luck. She repeats this over and over and over. She’s not gentle about it either – she’s got the motion down pretty good, and I half-expect her to have a nose full of carpet fibers when she’s done.

I gave her a heartworm chewable yesterday and she was in the OCD mode. This morning, I found it in her bed in my home office. I’m not sure how she got it up two flights of stairs – she obviously used her mouth, but if she did that, why not just eat the silly thing? It’s gone again now, and I’m not sure where she put it.

She does the same thing with Beggin’ Strips, those bacon-like treats. She won’t eat them in front of anyone, but instead she carries them around. Either she’s eating them in privacy, or I’m going to find a stockpile of bacon strips one afternoon piled away in a corner somewhere.

Ernie on my lap


Me and ErnieI still need to get better photos of our new little family member, but as I was going through my checklist this morning, one of the items was getting the webcam working again. Ernie always wants to climb up in my lap while I’m working, make herself as comfortable as possible, and then fall asleep. Of course, due to the laws of physics, it’s pretty much impossible for a ten pound dog to sleep on me while I work, but that doesn’t stop her from trying every day. And I guess it doesn’t stop me from letting her try for a while, either. She fell asleep a few minutes after this pic was taken, so I couldn’t upload it until just now because I can only type with one hand when the dog’s lying there.

Made the local news

SQL Server
Me, a Sleepy Houstonian
Sleepy Houstonian

Well, whaddya know. The coffee shop interview I did with the TV reporter ended up making it to the local news that night. I got a laugh out of the subtitle they showed during the interview.

I’ve got an agent, and I’m planning a new TV show called “The Sleepy Houstonian.” I figure it’ll be like Insomniac, only the reverse: rather than Dave Attell prowling clubs, it’ll be me alternating between naps and looking for Red Bull.

And no, they didn’t show any of the obscene stickers on my laptop. Dang. Maybe next time.

Losing servers at work


ernie.jpgWhen a mission-critical server dies at a business, the timeline can best be described using the first thing that a person says when they call your cell phone. It went something like this:

Day 1: “I wouldn’t be calling you at 5 AM unless it was really important….”

Day 2: “You won’t believe this, but all three of the hot spare drives in the old database server are bad – when’s the new server coming again?”

Day 3: “Dell says the new server that was supposed to arrive last week still hasn’t been built yet.”

Day 4: “The good news is that the server is covered under a four-hour service agreement, the bad news is that the hard drives are covered under a next-business-day support agreement, and the worse news is that since Good Friday is a holiday, the next business day is Monday.”

In more pleasant news, here’s a picture of little Ernie taken by Erika.

Total Commander and Tortoise CVS – finally!


TCwithCVS.gifTotal Commander 6.5 came out yesterday from Ghisler. It’s my favorite Windows shell program – it replaces Windows Explorer, and it’s a lot like the old Norton Commander from the DOS days. I wrote a review of Total Commander a while back when I was writing for HAL-PC Magazine, and I’m an even bigger fan today.

The new 6.5 version has custom views, with the ability to integrate plugins. One of the plugins available is ShellDetails, which can show your CVS tags like revision, status, sticky tag, and more. It shows that data in columns just like Windows Explorer. This screen shot shows what the columns look like, and the great thing is that you can sort by these columns too.

I think (but I’m not sure) that you don’t have to be using Tortoise – you can use any CVS program. In case you use CVS but not Tortoise, TortoiseCVS is an intuitive Windows CVS client that integrates with the Explorer context menus, so when you right-click on a file you get CVS options like update, history and commit.

Total Commander is fairly inexpensive, dirt cheap if you ask me, and the Shell Details plugin is free. Get more info in the plugin documentation that includes instructions.

Score! Drafting table


DraftingTable.jpgPicked up a drafting table last night for $25 off CraigsList, an online classified system. I’ve always wanted one of these: I like to work standing up, and this will let me set my laptop and some papers out in a comfortable way.

It’s got tons of character, too – the last guy who had it was an artist, and there’s paint all over it. Love it. Makes me look like I have talent. As if.

Bought a new Jeep



When I was in high school in Michigan, we had a black Jeep CJ7. I loved it – I thought it was fun, rambunctious, and laid-back. I remember driving Melinda Scott around in the snow, thinking I was king of the world.

A few years ago, when I moved to Texas, I briefly owned a dark green Jeep Wrangler Sahara – much cushier than the old CJ7, but just as much fun. Equipped with cruise control, a nice carpeted interior, and a stick, it made for even more fun.

Yesterday, I gave in to temptation and bought a new one, a black 2005 Wrangler Unlimited. This one’s longer than the others, a new model that adds a couple of inches of rear legroom and a whole lot more cargo space. The long rear side windows look way too big, and I wish they’d have added some style back there, but I’ll rarely have the top up anyway.

Except today, of course, because it’s raining. That’s the way life works. Into every life a little rain must fall.

Because I was buying it new (ouch), I didn’t get it loaded all the way. I just wanted an automatic so Erika could drive it, and I wanted cruise control for the trips up to Dallas. What a contrast from my Volvo: no power windows, no power locks, no power mirrors, no power seats, horrendous stereo,

The thing I miss the most from the Volvo, though, is the stereo. Volvo C70’s have killer 10-speaker setups from Dynaudio, a high-end European company. Man, I forgot how bad stock stereo speakers sound. On the way home from the dealer, I kept cranking up the new live Better Than Ezra CD, only to turn it back down because the distortion was so bad. Argh. Well, you don’t want to sink a lot of money into a Jeep’s stereo because somebody can just unzip the top and make off with your goodies. Still, there’s gotta be a better medium than this.

Listen to me complain! Jeez. Time to go take the Jeep out and play in the puddles!

I’ve been TP’ed!


I came into the office last night to check up on my fantasy football scores (thank you, Priest Holmes, you record-setting devil you) and found that my office had been TP’ed for my upcoming birthday. They did a masterful job, down to hanging TP from the ceiling as streamers. I couldn’t stop laughing for several minutes.

Plus, they knew about my turtle fetish, so they decorated the place with all kinds of plastic turtles, stuffed turtles, turtle pictures taped over my pictures, all kinds of stuff. It’s hilarious. I didn’t bring my digital camera this trip, but I’ve got the webcam in here somewhere and I’ll set it up.

Trashing Julian’s cube, racing Toyotas



Last week, a few of the programmers got together (it was Lan’s idea) and, uh, “decorated” Julian’s cubicle with aluminum foil, post-it-notes, and balloons. We originally wanted to fill the cubicle with balloons, but we didn’t have quite enough time and got bored after inflating a few hundred balloons.

Gallery of Julian’s Birthday Cube

That Saturday, a few of us drove out to the Toyota Put It In Play event and spent the morning racing around in Toyotas. It was much more fun than it might sound.

Gallery of Toyota Put It In Play

After both of those, I gotta get a lot bigger Memory Sticks for my Sony digital camera. The movie feature is pretty slick, but it eats up space. I only had a 128mb stick because it was the largest I could find locally on short notice, but for our New York City vacation next month, I’ll be picking up something a heck of a lot bigger, that’s for sure.

Another good week


Overexcited.jpgJust got back from a week up in Dallas where I had all kinds of fun. We trashed Julian’s cubicle for his birthday, complete with balloons, aluminum foil, and post-it notes. I’ll put together a separate photo gallery of that this weekend.

Erika drove up to Dallas and surprised me on Thursday for dinner. She finally got to see the office (pictured here, with me a little too excited) and see the dump of a hotel where I’ve been staying. I’ve been a little too concerned about the company’s finances and not concerned enough about my own well-being: I’m never staying in that hole again. The lumpy pillows were the last straw. I swear, it was like sleeping on a giant popcorn kernel. I couldn’t get these things to flatten out no matter what.

I stayed overnight Friday to attend the Toyota Put It In Play event on Saturday, and what a great time. Dino, Phatmany, and a friend of hers helped me give some Toyotas a flogging. Got plenty of photos from that too. The bottom line: attend Put It In Play if it comes to a city near you. It’s a hoot.

But before I toss a multimedia gallery up, I need to unpack and unwind. And while I do, I’ll be listening to the new Better Than Ezra CD, Live At House of Blues New Orleans. The recording quality is superb, the set list reads like a Greatest Hits, and there’s even a DVD with the full event. I’m saving that one for when Erika and I can watch it together, though.

5 keyboards in the closet


keyboards.jpgYou know you’re a geek when find five separate keyboards in a closet, none of which have been hooked up to a computer for any discernable length of time.

The big black Toshiba has to be at least six years old. I got it when I was working as a network admin and we got some really cool black Toshiba desktop computers. I remember they were among the first to have software power-on and power-off with Windows 95. If you splurged (and we did) on the matching black Toshiba monitors, they had a really cool volume knob on the monitor. It had a great feel to it, like a high-end stereo component, very smooth action.

The black Dells were on sale at Directron for something like $2. I got them because Erika liked the Dell QuietKey “feel”, and they were cheap. I figured someday I’d set up her own computer, and I’d use these. She has one of my old laptops now, so no need for these.

The white Dells I’m not so sure about.

All of ’em are going into the trash. I’m really not a packrat at all. I have no idea how these made it through moving from the apartment to the house.

And yeah, those are my feet in the edge of the picture.