January 29, 2007

Cheesy Space game v1.0

So, I make little video games as a hobby. I played an old shoot-em-up style arcade game on linux a few days ago and decided to throw together a little top-scroller browser game like it. It's only version 1.0, meaning it's barely a game at all. Basically you control a little ship and shoot lasers at floating mines. There is no end to the game (unless you die (either in game or in real life)). Here's a sentence to impress your mom, kids: This was a programming exercise to create randomly generated parallax scrolling starfields. That means that the starfield looks 3D and the game can go on forever (since all the elements are created on-the-fly). I just added the ship and mines for fun.

Read Instructions Below...
  • Arrow keys move ship
  • You may need to click in the game window before the keyboard will work
  • You will have a few seconds to get the hang of the controls before the mines start coming.
  • Space bar fires
  • Don't run into the mines
  • Shoot them for cash (shown in upper left corner)
  • Some mines will drop health when you kill them, pick it up to charge your health bar (the green one) back up. Health packs vanish quickly!
...and now play the game here:
Click me for cheesy space game

If I keep working on it you will be able to use the cash you earn to buy new weapons and ship upgrades. Also, there will be more enemies that don't suck and that actually shoot back. I only spent about 6 hours on this so don't expect anything spectacular (that includes the time it took to do the little explosion animations, the ship and all the programming).

If you really want to play this game but I stop working on it just look around. There's about a billion games like this that go all the way back to Space Invaders. Nothing new to see here.

PS: If you complain about the lack of unboring features I will just tell your boss that you were playing it at work.

January 25, 2007

Goodbye Sin City

So....Las Vegas just made my list of top million things to experience before you die. That's right, coming in right under the Trunk Tour of Rural Iran, is Las Vegas Nevada at #999,999!

I wanted to stay in SF until Sunday but when I called Bally's Hotel, the conference location, they said that I couldn't check in on Saturday or Sunday. I would have to stay at a different hotel. However, if I wanted to check in on Friday I could stay the whole time. I don't know what greedy moron penned that into law but I hope they get some bad unagi.

So, I flew to Vegas, checked in on Friday, and spent a very bored few days waiting for the conference to start. I have no interest in gambling. Some of the shows looked interesting but at $70 a pop I wasn't willing to sign up for any. Oh, and one of the ones that sounded interesting when I heard the name actually turned out to be some sort of topless vampire fantasy erotica. I got a things-to-do book from a cab driver and saw a picture from the show that made it pretty clear it wasn't what I was looking for. So, I wandered around the strip for awhile, watched people gamble themselves into poverty, and ended up back in my room with little to do but work and read a book. The wildest thing I did was go out for some sushi.

Oh, and in case your thinking that I'm pushing my expense sheet...sushi in Vegas, and San Fran for that matter, costs about the same thing as a decent burger entree at another restaurant. Regardless of where you go, your meal will be about $15, which is what a filling meal of sushi cost. I would have rather had a steak but the cheapest steak I found was $38. The only place on the strip that offered cheap eating was a single McDonalds and it was a 30 minute walk from the hotel. I'm pretty careful with my expense budget but I'm not walking an hour every time I want to eat. Taking a cab would defeat the purpose of eating cheap in the first place so...sushi it was.

Let me mention here that Bally's is not the place to stay if you go to Vegas. My room was large but had the furnishings of a Detroit Motel 6. Everything was bolted down, including the stupid alarm clock, and was completely immobile. Trust me, I tried to turn the TV to a logical angle for viewing and gave up after heaving all my weight against the nightstand in an attempt to get it to budge. Nothing worth watching was on anyway. I was tempted to destroy the alarm clock just out of spite. After all, at $250 a night through the weekend it couldn't be hard to replace that $10 piece of junk. The bed was junk too. It's not that I mind bad lodging, I just don't like how much they charged my company for the garbage they had to offer.

The conference signup was held Sunday morning (of course, since the Devil obviously runs the city) but Sunday afternoon was the first actual event, a mini-exhibition hall with a few booths and then a networking party. They put an interesting twist on the networking party...providing a stage with a bunch of instruments. Since there was an open bar, it wasn't long before an informal karaoke got rolling and that was fun to watch. The guy who organized it is a brilliant pianist and sort of carried the other volunteers. I was impressed by how much it came together, actually. I have tried to play on several occasions with a single, other musician and failed to make anything worth listening to.

Monday was the official conference first day. I went through the regular networking, seminars, etc. After the day's events were over I went out to an "Asian Fusion" restaurant called Tao with Chops, Chewy and some other folks from Host. I ordered the absolute cheapest entree on the menu, $25. Host ended up covering it so I was glad I had tried to eat as cheap as I could. Later Monday night they held a sponsored networking party at the Wynn. The room was a very large horseshoe shape with doors around the middle that opened out to an outdoor lagoon. The lagoon was fed by a 40 foot, 3-tier waterfall with the sponsoring companies logos projected onto the water. They also had lots of ice sculptures around the room. I caught back up with Chops and Chewy and spent the evening with them. Chops just had a baby boy so we had something in common to talk about. I got to my room at about 2:30(AM) but didn't really get tired until near 4. There is something about Las Vegas that totally turns your body clock upside down. Probably the thing I mentioned before about the whole city being run by the Devil.

Tuesday was more of the same, I was up by 9, hit seminars all through the day and then I met up with Wally, a guy I met in San Fran. He works in affiliate marketing for a well-known retail giant. We went out to dinner with a coworker of his at the House of Blues in the Mandalay Bay hotel. They were great company, lots of fun to talk to. We walked around the strip and took some pictures. Finally I headed back up to my 10th floor, anti-vandal Bally's special at almost 3:00. Oh, and Wally said that his room was a suite with a fridge and he was paying the same thing. My room didn't even have a coffee pot. Thanks a lot Bally's.

Wednesday, to my great relief, I flew home before it rained brimstone. I was worried about that. Both conferences had a lot of valuable info and I met some great people. But, by Wednesday morning, I was prepared to strangle the next person who said "Monitize," "Leverage," or "Return on Investment."

January 19, 2007

Leaving California

This morning was the sort of morning that makes business trips worthwhile, both personally and for the company. I actually got a chance to experience a little bit of SF and see a few sights. I was up by 8:00 and got my gear all crammed back in the suitcase. Canadita (another nickname), the client I was planning to brunch with, TM'd me to meet her at 2. That was too late for me because my flight leaves at 3:50. I messaged her back that it would have to be earlier if she still wanted to meet and then checked out of the hotel and left my bags with the bellhop. It was wandering time!

I called Canadita, who was also checking out, and we met up outside the hotel around 10. I wasn't sure what she wanted to discuss because our meeting the day before had been hurried and amidst a chaos of people moving between seminars. She suggested that we just wander around toward the waterfront until we found a fun place to eat. That is totally my style so we set off down random streets.

Canadita, so named for her petite stature and geolocation, was a very interesting person. She is dating an older Russian man and she managed a pretty solid impersonation of his accent, which was funny. She had a slight Canadian accent (aboot and "zed") which reminded me MrBermuda. We strolled at random, detouring to see interesting buildigs, and ended up at pier 1(?). I have included photos of some landmarks we passed on the way.

She bought lunch at a gourmet little mexican restaurant on the water and we discussed some biz ops that should work well for both of us. It is much warmer here but still chilly, especially on the water, so we picked up some coffee at a pier 1 shop. It has an indoor marketplace where you can purchase things like fresh bread, dried mushrooms (the legal kind), coffee and other fresh products. I expected prices to be ridiculous but our lunch was about $6 each and the coffee was the same price as Hometown. On the way back we stopped at some little street artist stands. Canadita bought a souvenier and a gift for her boyfriend. I got a neat little artsy thing for Kristy and chatted with the vendors. I shot a picture of a guy who was making jewelry on the street with Canadita. He turned a soup spoon and piece of a soup can into a pretty impressive hair thing. I thought it was made of silver until he explained how he made it. The street goods they were selling weren't the trite, plastic tourist junk that you find everywhere else. They had hand-turned wooden bowls, jewelry, opera masks, paintings and coins carved into medallions.
Seeing the city was a blast. San Francisco is a much friendlier city than New York and many others that I have been to. People on the street will meet your eyes, nod or even say hello occasionally. There are a lot of homeless and they are fairly agressive. I feel sorry for these people but I don't support their lifestyle. I do usually give a few bucks to folks who are performing in some way. The cabs and shuttles are slightly less psychotic and the horn is left alone a lot more than other cities. Canadita was good company, easy to talk to, interesting and personal but professional. She had good business ideas and is obviously a capable marketing manager. Since she is not from SF, she was not jaded by the city and was as excited as I was to take pictures and dart around to get a closer look at random things. It was nice to be able to do business and still be able to see the city.

I caught a shuttle to the airport and am waiting for the plane. I will post this later as the wireless at the airport is ridiculous.

*posted when I arrived in Vegas

San Francisco Conference

Ahhh, San Fran is almost over. I fly out tomorrow. For those who don't know, I flew to San Fran on Wed for a conference regarding work. Actually this one was kinda strange because I'm transitioning out of the position I'm currently in but I had already signed up to attend some conferences so here I am. This is my second conference in SF, I was here at the same time last year. Below is a synopsis of my trip.

First of all, what is a conference? Well, it's a place where you go to meet people in your industry, learn about the latest trends, etc, and for many...drink heavily. So....like college. Building brain cells and killing brain cells all at once. I prefer to focus on the building and forgo the killing as much as possible in any city filled with smog and people.

I spent the evening before the conference sewing the zipper back to the corner of my suitcase since the airline trashed it last time. Fishing line and carpet thread. It ain't pretty but it's darn sturdy.

My flight to San Fran was two pieces. First a small prop plane to take me to the main connecting airport and then the direct flight to SFO. The connecting flight was an hour late so I sat in the airport lounge, drank coffee, and shot the breeze with a local police officer. I was informed by the airport that I would miss my connecting flight so they booked me on a flight later in the PM. They neglected to mention that the flight stopped in Vegas. However, I was in a great mood, was very nice to the flight attendent at the big airport once I arrived, and got a free first-class upgrade. More legroom is good when your over 6'.

The first, twin prop, flight was as usual. That means that it felt like we were going to fall out of the sky, which is exactly why I ride it. The jet flight (airbus 320A) was uneventful except during the layover in Vegas I got bored and went up to the cockpit. The second-in-command was cool and let me hang out in the cockpit, sit in the pilot's seat, and chat until the pilot arrived (I don't think there supposed to do that anymore but, hey, that's why I'm in marketing). When the pilot arrived, he said "Someone took my job! You'll give it back when you find out what it pays." He was a great guy too, expressed apologies that I was stuck on a non-nonstop flight, and chatted for 15 until it was time for the attendents to board passengers. I went back to my seat and relaxed until we landed at SFO. It was nice to see that you can have fun and talk to fellow Americans on an air plane. Maybe the terrorists haven't won. Anyway, not a bad experience considering I was scheduled to land in SF at 11 AM and touched down at 2:44 PM. Oh, and my luggage arrived in once piece!

After a short shuttle ride and a shower in my temporary digs, I left in search of sushi. Good sushi is never far away in SF and I enjoyed some spicy tuna rolls and beef curry at a local Japanese establishment. The noodles in the beef curry were very slick and I was only provided a very deep spoon and a pair of chopsticks. I had to hand-load every noodel into the spoon and then carefully slurp it out, which was frustrating considering that the only food I had eaten all day was a crappy cheese pizza from an airport fast food joint. Either way, the food was good and I was well satisfied.

I adventured around the hotel a bit, as is my tradition in any unknown place. I visited an art gallery that featured some original work by Dali and Picasso, which was interesting, and read a book of blog posts from the front lines in Iraq at a local Borders (war is an excellent way to put the rest of life into perspective). On the way back I watched a street drummer who was apparently in a recent Will Smith movie called Pursuit of Happiness. He had a picture of himself with Will Smith, from a news article, taped to the front of his little setup. He was drumming on water-cooler bottles, pans, buckets and other things and was extremely talented. I watched and chatted with a young couple from FL that had just moved to SF, tipped the street drummer and left to go do my job.

I met with two of our top clients and then caught up with my account rep ("LilPun") from the company hosting the conference ("Host"). Let me interject here that I am leaving this position and am VERY SAD to not be working with my account rep. She is awesome, very capable, and a lot of fun to work with. They visited the hometown recently for an account review and she stopped by our pad and met wifey. This conference has been bittersweet because it's my last hurrah with many of my friends at our partner company.

We went to a local Irish joint to chat for a bit with some clients and finished the evening at Lori's Diner, the local version of something like the waffle house. After a giant burger, at approximately 1AM, I was very ready for the giant bed and abundance of pillows that Hotel Nikko had waiting. My room is nice, the bed is huge and there was a 30-40" plasma screen TV on the wall (which I haven't even turned on). I actually liked my room at the Fairmont, last year, a little better. Mostly because the bathroom had, like, three rooms of it's own and two king size beds. It was huge. I think they screwed up but I wasn't about to complain.

I was up, ironing the suit, at about 8:00, got registered and hit up the welcome presentation. I had to break the news that I'm leaving affiliate marketing to many of my close partners, which was tough. Working with people that speak your language, day in and day out, builds a certain rapport that is hard to abandon. I will miss many people in the affiliate world.

Lunch was a great salad with artichoke hearts and feta cheese, followed by chicken breast with asparagus and rice and a delicious chocolate cheescake thing. "Host" really knows how to do a conference right. More seminars, etc and the education part of the conference was over. I lost the suit in a hurry, in favor of some more comfy duds.

The evening of the event always means a nice networking party. This was no exception. A beautiful view of SF from giant windows on the 25 floor and wonderful food. I must've eaten about 10 california rolls and some cheesy tortillini (spelling?). The food is good but always too rich to eat much. I chatted with LilPun and one of the guys from Wal-Mart who turned out to be super cool. We decided that when we're in Vegas (another conference) we definitely need to go shoot some automatic weapons together(there's a place in Vegas that lets you do that...watch for that in a future post if it works out). Then we decided to head to a little Irish joint (different one) for conversation, since the networking party ended at 8-ish.

Probably 20 people ended up at Lefty O'tools for chatting and bad piano music. they had a sort of all-you-can-eat prime rib bar but I was too full of rich food and slightly ill (remember that I just recovered from the flu and have been stuffing myself with raw fish). I talked with LilPun, Wal-mart and some other folks from Host and agreed to meet some clients tomorrow for brunch or lunch(because I probably won't be outta bed until at least 10). I finally retired at near 2AM and here I am, writing this blog. (PS: The timestamps on these posts are not accurate).

Anyway, for those who've never been, that's a one-day conference in a nutshell. I suggest you enjoy it vicariously. In real life it's a lot of work, names to remember, knowledge and other info to absorb, and very little sleep. There is usually a constant stream of drinking and it's funny to be the guy ordering water at an open bar. Actually, its not that odd to be drinking water or soda since not everyone in the world likes getting plowed.

In many ways, the time you spend talking with people after the conference is more important than anything else that happens. The relationship that forms from casual chat can be more powerful than any official business negotiation. I have close partnerships and friendships that were formed by such chats. Obviously, I also really enjoy learning about people through conversation. So far I chatted with a police officer (intentionally I promise), some pilots and flight attendants, a couple on the SF street, a few bums, lots of conference attendees and most important of all, my lovely wifey by phone.

Well, it's very late. I hope you found my somewhat-long account of my experience interesting. If you didn't, hey, I didn't make you read it. You're the one slacking off at work to read this. I already worked 20 hours today. A giant, pillow laden bed awaits. I might post a picture of my room if I get around to it.

Things I like about SF:
  • Very cool architecture and streets. Everything is at a ridiculous angle!
  • Cities in general are always beautiful at night
  • The smell of the city when you step out of the hotel.
  • People on the west coast are generally more relaxed and friendly
  • The climate is great. 14 degrees where I left, 50 degrees when I landed. People think I'm crazy for not wearing a coat!
  • The trolleys are neat
Things I don't like:
  • I wouldn't want to live here, it's just too big. Other than that my two experiences here in SF have been pleasant.
Disclaimer: It's very late, it's been a long day. Don't criticize my grammer, spelling owr whatever. Blame blogspot for not building these tools into their software.

January 16, 2007

Our New Ride

Well, I'm at home today. I got the flu yesterday and spent the day on the couch at home. Today I feel better (i.e. I can hold food down) but I'm still not up to speed. I didn't sleep very well at all last night and it's going to be a busy week.

I spent a lot of time last week reading about different vehicles. I checked out reviews, pricing and other info about a variety of SUV type cars. The wealth of information on the Net is invaluable if you are making a big purchase. The vehicle that kinda stuck with me was the Nissan XTerra. So, on Saturday we decided to go to the local Nissan dealer and test-drive an XTerra.

After a lot of bargaining, test-driving, considering and other -ings, we drove a 2006 XTerra off the lot. This is the first time that either of us has ever purchased a vehicle that is brand new so we are pretty excited.

The XTerra supposedly gets 17mpg city and 21 highway. I will be testing that the first full tank of gas I run through it. It has a 4.0L V6 engine that puts out 265 horsepower. It has 4x4 on the fly (meaning you can go into 4x4 at 60mph), is rear-wheel drive and also has 4 low. At 80mph it can still accelerate like a champ. The Painter and I took it out and did zero to ninety in pretty short order, for purely scientific testing reasons of course. The speedometer goes to 140 but I'm going to let that one go without testing. I've also had some fun testing the traction control and some other features in a snowy parking lot.

This thing should go anywhere my Ranger went but is a far more comfy ride and carries more people. The seats in the back fold down to make a big, flat, plastic-coated "bed" that will carry lots of gear and has tie-downs everywhere. There's a roof rack with a lot of available attachments for bikes, skis, etc. It is not as roomy as a larger SUV but it is comfortable and we were willing to make the space sacrifice for fuel economy and overall price.

Since it was an '06, not an '07, we got a lot of rebates and ended up with a pretty good deal. They gave me an excellent trade-in ($500 less than I paid for it new) on my Ranger. I also found out that the Ranger was a relatively expensive vehicle to insure, despite being about 4 years old. The brand-new Xterra only changed my insurance by $5 every six months!

Anyway, we are excited to have a new vehicle, but even more excited to get a car seat in the back. Now I'm going to go lay down before I start throwing up again.

PS: The pic is not our Nissan XTerra but it is identical...color and everything.

January 12, 2007

Vehicle suggestions

So, we're having a baby. We have a 2-door car that is cheap to drive. It's paid off, the insurance is cheap and it gets 30mpg. We also have an extended cab, 4WD truck that is not paid-off, only gets about 17-19 mpg and is a bit more expensive to insure.

Obviously, neither vehicle is particularly well-suited for carrying children. Since the car is very cheap to drive I don't want to replace it with an expensive vehicle. I would rather replace the already-expensive truck with a more family-oriented ride.

Here's are my criteria for selecting a vehicle that can do what we want to do:
  • Some offroad capability. AWD, 4WD, I don't intend to go hardcore offroading but I want a safe winter vehicle and something that can handle semi-rough roads to the decent camping and fishing spots.
  • Efficiency. I want a vehicle that can consistently get above 17mpg. A giant SUV, built on a truck frame is probably not what we're after. I want to put money in the bank, not the tank. Oh, I should totally patent that. You heard it hear first. Money in the bank, not in the tank. Alright...
  • Price. I don't want to spend more than $20k. Vehicles are a liability, not an asset as some people incorrectly believe. It will never gain value. It will always cost you money. I expect to have to pay close to $20k for a larger, family-friendly vehicle but I think more would be silly. Another mark against the hulking, fuel vampires that grace the interstates these days.
I don't keep a close eye on the vehicle market so please leave comments with your recommendations. Here are vehicles I have heard glanced at:
  • Honda Element. People love 'em or hate 'em. I think they are very clever in design (don't disagree without reading about one first), they have an interesting body style, they get 17mpg and come with an AWD option. They also fit the price range.
  • Nissan Xterra. I don't know anything about this vehicle other than the used models are pretty affordable. 2007s start at $20k so a new one is probably out.
  • Subaru, Toyota and other AWD wagons. Again, don't know much about these. Your thoughts?
  • Dodge Durango. Paws rented one of these to go on a camping trip after an antelope decimated their car. It seemed like a very solid vehicle. However, this may fall into the money-burning, fuel vampire class. The windows roll up fast in the event that you are proselytized by zealous strangers, which is always a nice feature (this actually was a concern during our excursion).
There's lots of other stuff out there. Let me know what you drive, have driven, or wished you could drive. Normally I do all the research online myself. This time I thought it might be fun to read some feedback.*

*We reserve the right to ignore, ridicule, consider, reject or otherwise respond to your opinions as we please.

January 9, 2007

Dual boot, and I don't mean work shoes.

Hi all, you know that responding to my geeky posts will only encourage me, right? Anyway, I will be sure that we post plenty of baby news for the ladies when we have baby news. Currently there is not much to report. Wifey went to the doc again and they changed her due date by a few days and that's about it.

You may have noticed that I refer to everyone by nicknames. Please don't be offended if you find what you suspect is a reference to yourself with a funny nickname. Everybody gets one. Now that I've gotten the disclaimer out of the way...

We had lots of company this weekend! On Friday night the Basin Babe called and asked if she could come hang out for the night. An hour later we were feasting on pizza and swapping tales. She left Saturday morning to meet a friend and then we had two friends from a harvest crew come to stay for Sat and Sun.

Now, if you think that RAM refers to a hydraulic device or if CPU sounds like part of a hospital, you will probably be thoroughly bored by what follows. Stop here. However, if you happen to know what 11111010111 in binary translates to in base 10, you will probably read the bit below with a sort of geeky glee.

The Mission
Sparky, one of the harvest crew, called a few weeks ago asking about installing Linux on his laptop. I was rather surprised because Linux on a desktop is a step into the abyss of computer geekery. Linux on a laptop is an even more perilous venture. To make it more interesting, Sparky wanted to maintain his Windows install just in case he needed it. So, my mission was to repartition (resize) the Windows drive to make room for a Linux install without destroying Window's "functionality" (I use that term loosly).

Linux Explained
What is Linux? I'm glad you asked. Linux is, for practical purposes, completely FREE (legally too) operating system (OS from here on out). It is a path to freedom from the clutches of Microsoft and the rest of Mr B. Gate's evil empire. It is open source, meaning the programming code is available to the masses, and is the product of thousands of folks, more intelligent than I. The name comes from one of its founders: Linus Torvald, who combined his first name with UNIX, a very similar OS architecture. It was originally designed for web servers so it is very stable, almost immune to viruses and is an extremely powerful OS. Linux comes in different "distributions" or distros. These are specific builds, or versions, of Linux that are optimized to do different tasks. For instance, some distributions are designed for school systems, government offices and some for web servers. Each distribution comes with software (again, FREE) that is handy for whatever task it's designed for. Linux is used in many poorer countries and is used everywhere for web servers. Traditionally it has not been very user friendly (many commands are executed from a terminal, like DOS) and in the past was not easily compatible with many types of hardware. Modern Linux has literally thousands of free applications, programs and games that can do almost any task you can imagine. It can run on almost any chunk of silicon that resembles a computer. Oh, and Linux' mascot, that cute little penguin named "Tux" you may have seen around (like at the top of this post), is far cooler than the lame Apple or Windows logo.

Linux Distributions
Now that you know everything about Linux I can tell you that I chose to use the Ubuntu linux distro. Ubuntu is an African word that translates roughly as "I am what I am because of who others are." It was designed to be the most user-friendly version of Linux since the dawn of man. It was also designed to be an OS solution for poverty-stricken schools and governments. It comes with virtually all the tools that the average computer user should need, including the open office suite which includes tools that are very similar to Word, Excel, Access and Powerpoint. I believe that Ubuntu is not only a noble cause, it's a highly functional and golden piece of work. Other famous distros are Red Hat, Mandrake, Debian, Gentoo and there are many others.

Click here for more about the Ubuntu Linux Distribution

OS on the fly
The coolest thing about Ubuntu is the Live CD. You pop the CD in and restart your computer. It boots into a fully functional install of Linux FROM THE CD. Nothing is installed on your hard drive permanently. You can install from the Live CD whenever you want, or you can just see what Linux is all about. Though it doesn't install anything on your drive, it does have the ability to manipulate your hard drive. Herein lies the answer to my partition dilemma.

Time for step one of the process...repartitioning. I had a spare laptop hard drive with windows already installed. I put it in my lappy and tested a force-repartition of Windows. I'm not even going to explain what that means because if you care you probably already know. Point is, it worked and so I did it to Sparky's lappy too.

Does my drive look FAT in this enclosure?
So now I had the Windows install limited to half the hard drive and the other half unallocated space, Ubuntu's new home. Here's the kicker: Sparky needed to be able to fetch his Windows files for use in Linux (yes, Linux programs can read almost all types of files from windows). He could use a flash drive to save data from Windows and then pull it back off of Linux but that solution just didn't satisfy my inner geek. The problem is: For all practical purposes Windows can't read EXT3, the Linux format type. And Linux can't read NTFS, the Windows format type. But both Windows and Linux can read FAT32. Yay! So, I partitioned a 2GB drive as FAT32 so that he could save files from Windows or Linux to a hard drive that the other OS could read.

Mission Accomplished
Long story, slightly less long: I was able to repartition windows on the fly, install Linux, create a swap drive where he could move files back and forth, initiate a dual boot system so he can select which OS he wants to work on when he boots up, import his bookmarks, email, documents and address books into Linux and leave him with a ultra-powerful laptop that can do darn near anything.

The Summary
To illustrate what Sparky's request meant to me I will use an analogy: Imagine that you are a gourmet chef. Every day, the requests you get are for ramen noodles. Week in and week out you make ramen. Then, one day someone comes along and asks you to make a ceaser-salad, tomato-basil gnocchi, a toasted baguette and a complimentary wine. Finally, someone who speaks your language and can challenge you to create something great.

Refreshed, I now resign myself to another six months of spyware cleaning requests.

Final Disclaimer
Don't think that you are just going to install Linux and love it. If it were that easy, Bill Gates would not be a household name. If you do want to try Linux I recommend installing it on a totally separate drive or spare computer (you don't have one?). Never try to install Linux first and then Windows for a dual boot system. Never try to install both on the same partition. And, contrary to this post, I recommend NOT resizing your Windows partition if you like your data. Always save your game before trying the Linux quest in geekland.

January 5, 2007

Blogging, tracking, hacking and online security

I'm NOT an authority on online security. However, I have a pretty strong knowledge of how the internet works and how you are tracked because I work in online marketing. In fact, I'm tracking you right now. If you view the source of this page (view>source) you will notice a snippit of code at the bottom enclosed in script tags and containing the term "google-analytics". That code tells me where you're surfing from, what your IP address is (the digital equivalent of your home address), every page you viewed on my site and many other things. I will know how you got to my page, where you left and when you come back. You could block this script but my server logs it anyway and I can find you in the log files.

The media has cultivated a certain terror among online shoppers, centered around words like Javascript, cookies and IP address. That's a bunch of crap. While merchants and other online entities do track what you're doing, it's not on an individual level. They are building marketing statistics to find out how to please their customers. If you want to see what hacking, tracking and identity theft are really about read on.

People need to understand that there is no more anonymity on the web then in real life. Stores have video cameras, your credit card purchases are tracked. You have a social security number, a license plate number and many other things that make it easy to find out where you've been and what you're doing. Right down to the fingerprints you leave on anything you touch. Only foil-hat-wearing, conspiracy theorists believe they are being watched all the time. There are some 6 billion people in the world and chances are, nobody cares about you individually.

That being said, a healthy level of paranoia is a good idea when using the internet. Credit card fraud and identity theft mean that someone just might care about you individually. At least enough to "be" you for awhile at your expense. How can you be safe? It helps to understand how hackers work and what the dangers really are.

The reason a blog is dangerous is that people tend to publish quite a few details about their personal life. Let's say that Jaime Smith operates a blog for her friends. She posts about the car they just bought and talks about how they are going on vacation. She mentions her husband's name, Bob, maybe her maiden name and details about their house. She posts pictures of their family that could be used to create spoof IDs. A potential net predator now knows that Jaime will be gone from December 1st through January 15th, will be traveling to Jamaica with her husband and her maiden name was Jones. If he knows her birthdate (birthday post or a post about how hard it was to turn 30 back in 2002) he now knows enough information to guess some passwords.

The hacker runs a password script begining with terms that include her spouse and childrens' names and her birthdate (right now you are blushing because you thought you came up with a very clever password). Now he has full access to her poorly secured hotmail account and maybe even her bank accounts. At this point his access to Jaime's life is only limited by his imagination. He could lock Jaime out of her own email account and send mail to her friends and coworkers stating that they have hired a house sitter (so don't worry about the cars parked at the house). If Jaime has made this collection of mistakes she probably has vast amounts of personal info, maybe including bank statements and account numbers in her email. She also probably uses the same passwords for her online banking as her email and maybe even her blog. If Jaime's lucky all she gets is some porn posted on her blog and locked out of her email as a lesson from a benevolent (and I'm not being sarcastic there) hacker. If she's unlucky she will be stuck in Jamaica for an extra month while she figures out why their bank account is empty, as the hacker methodically cleans out their house.

Hopefully that illustration will show you what the "hacker" is capable of. How much hacking did you read about in that? IP Addresses? Cookies? None. The so-called hacker took advantage of the tools that Jaime handed him. He wouldn't even have to hack her email account. He could just start surfing blogs and guessing email passwords manually until he hits the jackpot.

The point of all this is that if you want a bunch of rules you can find the safety advice for blogging, emailing, surfing etc all over online. Problem is, the rules keep changing and the media is cut from the same block as our digitally-retarded government. There's some old saying (with about a dozen variations) about outrunning a tiger...you don't have to outrun the tiger, you just have to outrun the guy beside you. Welcome to the online world. Now, just be smart, make yourself a hard target and let some other sucker be the victim.

PS: Thousands of people potentially know who I am online. My name is all over the online marketing materials I work on. High profile folks like Matt Cutts from Google and Jeremy Zawodny from Yahoo run blogs where everyone knows who they are. Their blogs are hacked occasionally but they fix it and keep going...

January 2, 2007

Do you want my job?

Happy New Year everyone. To my surprise, I got three comments on my last post. This is interesting to me because I only told one person that I had even started this blog. Unfortunately for you, now that we've outed our most exciting piece of news, the majority of future posts will be exhaustive and dull.

One thing that I didn't mention in the last post was that I got promoted at work. This seems insignificant when I'm at home and thinking about the changes coming to our homelife. But the significance comes crashing back home when I arrive at work.

Beginning February 1st I will be managing the email marketing for Sierra Trading Post. I currently manage something called Affiliate Marketing for Sierra. Between now and February 1st I will be hiring and training someone for my position, training another person we hired, learning the ropes on the new position, and going to conferences in San Fran and Las Vegas. Needless to say, I'm pretty anxious to find some eligible candidates for my current position.

If anyone knows someone who's web-savvy (this means you at least know some HTML), driven and wants to learn a whole bunch of stuff in not a whole bunch of time, let me know. Marketing experience is a plus. Wait, isn't my sister in marketing?