Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Hurry! 3rd Gen iPod Nanos at the Apple Store! Cheap!

I got an early Christmas present this week.  The Apple Store is currently showing refurbished 3rd generation iPod Nanos for $79 (4 GB) and $99 (8 GB).  The unit I bought was shipped from China via Fed Ex and arrived within 2 days.  The unit is pristine, clean and, well, gorgeous.  
My previous Nano was a 2GB 1st gen. version, and I've enjoyed it for the last 2 years.  It, too, came refurbed from the Apple Store and I paid $99 for it then, about 1/2 the price of a new one.  I highly recommend those on a budget shop the Apple Store's refurbished items, they're covered with a warrantly and work every bit as well as the brand-shiny-new ones.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

A New Beginning For America

As I write this, Senator John McCain is concluding his concession speech.  Having gone to the polls at 6 AM today and standing in line for 30 minutes, I am proud to be able to say that I took part in electing Senator Barak Obama the new President of the United States.  Watching the crowds of young people celebrating on television, I was struck with their engagement and participation in this historic process.
Forty-five years ago the Reverend King had a dream - today it became a reality.  As a baby boomer myself, there was almost something surreal about standing in the line at the polls, iPod in hand, listening to the Grateful Dead as I prepared to vote for Barak Obama.  It seems that despite the cynicism of the Bush years, we have, in fact, changed the world, just as we always said we would.
There are times in history when all the right things come together, and Mr. Obama's candidacy at a time when we were, as a nation, hungry for change was a perfect alignment of circumstance, desire, and the right man for the job.  Today the world sees what we have always known in our hearts:  That we are able to live up to the grand words and ideas that this country was founded upon.  We are not just blowhards who mouth the words of democracy only when it suits our purpose; we believe, and we act on that belief.
At a time when I was beginning to feel ashamed of what America had become there comes this, a shining moment of clarity that says more loudly than any one of us could, "Be proud, stand tall.  You are an American."
The President-Elect has a tall job ahead of him.  But I know for sure he can count on our help.  We just proved it.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Flashing The Firmware On A Pioneer Optical Drive

Recently my new (within a year old) Pioneer DVD burner stopped erasing my DVD-RW disks. It would appear to erase them, but when the disk was re-inserted in the drive it still had the same content. And occasionally I would get the
message, "The device failed to calibrate the laser power level for this media."

In researching this, I found that there was a newer firmware than the original Apple firmware it came with. The problem was that the firmware was contained in an EXE file and Pioneer didn't bother to include any installers for the Mac. In searching I found that the EXE file could be opened and the firmware files found using Stuffit Expander. That got me the firmware files, now what?

OK, there's a flashing program that has existed for some time. The program is a terminal command called "DVRFlash." The usage of this program got me nowhere, since it refused to clobber the Apple OEM firmware. But by looking further, at the bottom of the DVRFlash webpage there is DVRFlashX, a GUI for OS X. This program was able to easily flash the firmware.

After a reboot, my Pioneer DVR-109 was upgraded to firmware version 1.58! Not only that, I could erase my RW disks again! Yeah!

If you have problems with your optical drive, this is one method you might try, assuming that there is a firmware update for your drive.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Motherboard Upgrade from Hell

Recently my friend Walt and I found a deal at Geeks.com on a motherboard.  They had a deal on a refurbished Intel mobo with a 1.4 ghz Celeron. It also included 4 USB ports and on-board video and audio. Ready for the kicker? $39.99.

Now Walt has an old(er) IBM Aptiva 2174 with an Athlon running at 550 mhz.  And because Walt worked for IBM for a good number of years, talking him out of that Aptiva was, well, impossible.  I know. I've tried.  But the fact that this was almost 2.5x faster than the original Aptiva finally persuaded him to jump.

Enter the new mobo. After waiting for almost 10 days it finally arrived. So I backed up his user files for both Kubuntu and Windows 98SE (see my previous post) and started tearing down the Aptiva.  Unfortunately, I didn't think to take any pictures of the installation. Needless to say, both the old and new mobo's were ATX form-factor. 

In theory it was a simple matter of just removing all the cables and cards, moving the power supply out, and screwing in the new mobo. But as I've always said, "Everything works... in theory."  In practice, not so much.

First, the floppy drive had been having problems reading disks and was making a horrible noise when it tried.  It was OEM, so I figured it was just dead after 8 years.  So while I had the top off, I decided to pull it too, to be replaced later.

Long story short (too late), I couldn't get the new mobo to fire up.  Occasionally I could get an LED on the board to glow, but that was it.  Finally, I went and looked up the problem in the 'net and found out that vintage mobo's sometimes need to have a floppy drive and 1 mb of memory before they'll boot up.  So I put the drive back.  Nothing.  Then I tried putting Walt's original mobo back.  Still nothing.

OK, at this point I'm freaking, thinking, "DAMN!  I not only can't get this new board to work, but now I've fucked up his original board also!  Now what do I do?"  I gave up for a while at Walt's insistence and went to get some tacos.  Ate the tacos, still brooding.  What went wrong?

Finally, Walt asked what (at the time) seemed a lame question, "Are you sure it's plugged in good?"  Now my place has terrible outlets, often times the vacuum plug will just fall out of the wall socket, but the socket near the dining room table was (I thought) OK.  So I had, at this point, put the new mobo back in the Aptiva just before I gave up.  

Sure enough, the plug was loose.  I re-seated it after bending the prongs tighter and guess what?  Yep, the new board fired up perfectly.  Case closed.

The final thought here is this:  Even geeks like me need help from normal people sometimes.  My partner Pete always used to ask those sorts of "obvious" questions and often I would be dismissive.  But after a while I learned (after some of his silly questions turned out not to be so silly) to listen and take his ideas seriously.   In this case, Walt did the same thing.  And now he's enjoying a better computer because he asked a silly question.  Word.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Seti@Home Needs You

I was one of the first folks that jumped on the Seti@home bandwagon many years ago.  Since then, I've moved, changed computers (and operating systems) several times.  I even lost my original account and had to create a new one.  But I've always found time on my computer to throw them a few cycles.

Today, I cruised over to IUseThis to check my list of used apps.  I was horrified to see that 11,639 users are listed for Adium, a Macintosh-only chat program, and only 116 for BOINC, the Berkeley Open Infrastructure for Network Computing, the core component of Seti@home.  With it, you can run more than Seti, you can contribute cycles to FightAIDS@home, Einstein@home, and other projects.  

Now, call me crazy ("OK, you're crazy!"), but it's ridiculous that we can all find the time to chat, but we can't volunteer a few processor cycles to a good cause.  And right now Seti needs all the support it can get, as Congress tries to cut the funding for the Arecibo telescope, the main source of raw data for the Seti project.

If that makes you feel a bit bad, then good.  Here's how you get rid of that feeling:  Hop on over to Berkeley's site and get started doing something that might change the world.  Like Steve Jobs once said to John Scully, "Do you want to sell sugared water for the rest of your life or do you want to change the world?"  Your choice.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

A Real Loss

Those that have read my post in my other blog, Messages from Krypton, know that last month I lost my partner of 12 years, Pete.  I've not posted here since before he passed away, but thought I should try to put something up here.  

Pete was my best friend, lover, critic, sounding board, and beyond that, the reason I got out of bed every day.  Literally.  I've never been "bright eyed and bushy tailed" in the morning.  Pete used to bring my first cup of coffee every day to help me peel my eyes open.

Now, this blog is mostly about technology and politics, not my personal feelings; that's why I have the other blog.  But Pete was such a huge part of my life that I can't NOT acknowledge his passing here.

I'm still in the "numb with shock" phase of grief.  I keep hoping I'll wake up and this will all be a bad dream.  But every day that goes by I become more sure that he isn't coming back.

I've often said, since my first partner died, that, "the last words you say to someone could really be the last words you say to someone."  Never has this been more true than my last interaction with Pete.

After making him some soup to drink/slurp (he'd just had oral surgery), he said to me, "You take good care of me.  I love you."  I hugged him and said, "I love you, too."  The next day he was gone.

Folks, be kind to one another.  We're all here for too short a time and we only get our family and friends for what amounts to the blink of an eye.  And then they're gone.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Great NASA Pictures

Here's a slide show I created from some of the best pictures of missions to the International Space Station.  I've included some great shots of the Soyuz docking and some of the installation of the robot arm.  For fun, I've set it to the "Blue Danube Waltz" like the space station scene in "2001: A Space Oddysey."   Enjoy!

Friday, March 14, 2008

A Hell of a Mess: Observations by Lee Iacocca

(I got this in my email today.  After a quick check at Snopes.com to see if it was a legitimate article, truly written by Iacocca, I am reprinting it here.  Mr. Iacocca has, IMHO, hit the nail squarely on the head.)

So here's where we stand:
We're immersed in a bloody war with no plan for winning and no plan for leaving.
We're running the biggest deficit in the history of the country. We're losing the manufacturing edge to Asia , while our once-great companies are getting slaughtered by health care costs.

Nafta and Gat have destroyed the manufacturing base and we are dependent on foreigners for our most basic needs. Our $30.00 per hour jobs have been replaced with $8.00 per hour jobs.
Gas prices are skyrocketing, and nobody in power has a coherent energy policy. Our schools are in trouble. Some public schools have a 90% failed rate. Over all America is number 27 in worlds education.

Our borders are like sieves. We have over twenty million illegal aliens draining the public treasury. We are running out of fresh water and our government services are overwhelmed. The middle class is being squeezed every which way.
These are times that cry out for leadership. But when you look around, you've got to ask: "Where have all the leaders gone?" Where are the curious, creative communicators? Where are the people of character, courage, conviction, competence, and common sense?

I may be a sucker for alliteration, but I think you get the point.
Name me a leader who has a better idea for homeland security than making us take off our shoes in airports and throw away our shampoo? We've spent billions of dollars building a huge new bureaucracy, and all we know how to do is react to things that have already happened. We have millions of Muslims that want to kill us and the government wants to search old ladies because they are afraid of profiling.

Name me an industry leader who is thinking creatively about how we can restore our competitive edge in manufacturing. Who would have believed that there could ever be a time when "the Big Three" referred to Japanese car companies?

How did this happen? And more important, what are we going to do about it?

Name me a government leader who can articulate a plan for paying down the debt, or solving the energy crisis, or managing the health care problem. The silence is deafening. But these are the crises that are eating away at our country and milking the middle class dry. I have news for the gang in Congress. We didn't elect you to sit on your butts and do nothing and remain silent while our democracy is being hijacked and our greatness is being replaced with mediocrity.
What is everybody so afraid of? That some bobble head on CNN will call them a name? If CNN was around in world war two we would all be speaking German.

Give me a break. Why don't you guys show some spine for a change? Had enough? Hey, I'm not trying to be the voice of gloom and doom here. I'm trying to light a fire. I'm speaking out because I have hope. I believe in America . In my lifetime I've had the privilege of living through some of America 's greatest moments. I've also experienced some of our worst crises:
The Great Depression, World War II, the Korean War, the Lyndon Johnson years, the Vietnam War, the 1970s oil crisis, and the struggles of recent years culminating with 9/11. If I've learned one thing, it's this: You don't get anywhere by standing on the sidelines waiting for somebody else to take action. Whether it's building a better car or building a better future for our children, we all have a role to play.

That's the challenge I'm raising in this book. It's a call to action for people who, like me, believe in America . It's not too late, but it's getting pretty close. So let's shake off the bull crap and go to work. Let's tell 'em all we've had enough.

Excerpted from "Where Have All the Leaders Gone?".(Copyright) 2007

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Olevia V237 HDTV Works with Sony RM-V210 Remote!

After purchasing an Olevia HDTV at K-Mart recently, I learned from searching the internet that my Comcast remote (and a lot of others for Dish Network, Time-Warner Cable, etc.) don't work with this TV.  Apparently it's much newer than the cable boxes/remotes that the satellite and cable companies use.

The other day, though, I found a remote by Sony in Walmart that claimed to work with Olevia TV's, so I bought it (about $12.00, fairly reasonable).  Sure enough, it had codes for the Olevia TV and Comcast/Motorola cable box, so I was able to get this remote working as a replacement for my Comcast multi-function remote.

The remote's model number is RM-V210 and it's a 4-device remote.  After looking around, I find that Sony's site has this remote listed for $9.99 and Amazon.com has it listed for $7.99.