February 28, 2007

Zen and the Art of Computer Maintenance

I hear loads and loads and loads of people complain about how slow their home computer is. I have a theory about this that I like to call JDawg's 1st Law (cause it makes me sound smart). The premise is this: you bought your home computer in 1999. Since then you have installed and uninstalled hundreds of programs. You have another computer at work that has not had any new programs installed on it because you're not allowed to. It's probably newer than your home computer and is serviced by professional technicians. You work on that computer for 8 hours (actually, lets be honest, you probably work for about 3 hours) and then go home and fire up your home computer. The longer you work on your streamlined work computer the "slower" your home computer gets.

So, JDawg's 1st Law is as follows:
Computer speed is inversely proportionate to the length of time a body spends on a better computer.
Is your computer actually getting slower or is it just in your mind?

Okay all you people with real computer problems. Let me help you. Here is a list of my top-hated programs:
  1. Webshots. It has got to be one of the worst things you can do to a computer. Constant use of your internet and system resources just so your background picture can change? There is a 98% chance that you will not be able to uninstall this program ever. How is that not a virus?
  2. Weatherbug. A close second. If the weather is that important to you, go to weather.com or buy an atomic clock. Or look outside. There is no need for a processor that does 5 billion calculations per second to spend 50% of its time letting you know that the temperature is 1 degree different than it was 5 minutes ago.
  3. Norton anything. Norton has what's called a "monster resource footprint." That means it stomps your system into submission any time that it's running. Which is all the time. Let me put this into perspective: you are afraid your computer is going to get a virus(es) that will slow it down. So, you install a program that does a mediocre job of catching viruses in the first place and does a great job of slowing your computer down all the time! I hate Norton and almost every other virus program out there. Use a good firewall, be smart ("being smart" will probably call for another post) and you probably don't need a virus program.
Oh no! I have all these programs installed (of course you do), what do I do? Let me guess, you have also been running the same computer for several years without reinstalling windows. That is why your computer is slow. M$ (Microsoft) Windoze does not run forever, heck it doesn't run for 3 consecutive days. I recommend reinstalling your entire Operating System once per year. Everytime you install or uninstall a program excess bits of junk are left in your registry. Add spyware, adware, malware, weatherbug, webshots and all the cute, spyware-filled, attachments that you opened in Outlook and your Ferrari now runs like a Pinto.

But reinstalling sounds like a very hard process! It is and it isn't. You have to change the oil in your car every three months. You have to change tires, brakes and put gas in your vehicle. You accept that as life. If you know where your Windows disc is, you have backed up your data and you know what programs you use, it's about a 3 hour process once a year. That's not bad compared to your car and I bet you spend more time using your computer.

Back up my data? Yeah, it's tough to actually do that. I don't even do it as often as I should. But consider this: your hard drive is a collection of thin metal discs that spin somewhere between 5400 and 7600 revolutions per minute. The reading heads of a hard drive are nanometers (fractions of the width of a human hair) away from those silver, speedy, spinning platters. If one tiny grain of dust or flaw in a microscopic bearing makes that reading arm brush your hard drive you are, quite politely, up a creek. All those pictures you took of your grand daughter last Christmas, your carefully balanced checkbook file, your passwords (securely stored on your desktop in a file called passwords.txt) are all GONE. FOREVER. Buy a bulk pack of CDs at WalMart for $5 and back up your stupid files. Whether or not you ever intend to reinstall.

Windows disc? Yes. Your computer should have come with one. It's probably on some dusty shelf or in the back of your disorganized file cabinet. You will also need the Windows serial number which might be on the CD package or on a sticker on your machine itself. If you simply do not have it you can usually order a replacement from the computer manufacturer or something.

What else should I back up? Well, do this: use your computer for a month. Every time you click a favorite, open a program, access a file, listen to an mp3 or read an email, think "Oh, maybe I should back this up," and write it down. You will need the discs for all of your programs, the serial numbers if they have them and you will need to burn all of the files you have created with those programs to disc. Other things that people frequently forget to backup are your Internet Explorer or Firefox favorites (bookmarks), Fonts you may have added, anything in the My Documents folder or in other folders that you put there, serial numbers and installation files for programs you might have downloaded.

Once you have this installing is not that hard. You format (that means ERASE so make sure you have backed up what you need to) your hard drive, reinstall Windows, immediately update it with all the latest security junk, and begin reinstalling all the programs that you use. Don't reinstall programs that you don't use. I generally install the programs I need as I need to use them. That way you don't put a bunch of junk back on your machine that you weren't using before the reinstall anyway.

If you use Outlook for email I guess you should probably keep Norton because Outlook is one of the biggest security holes in cyberspace. It's not that Outlook itself is that bad if you keep it updated. It's just that it pulls all email and files to your hard drive. This is bad for two reasons: first of all if your drive dies you lose all your email, second of all if someone accidentally sends you a virus it's automatically downloaded right to your computer! I always suggest that people use a free webmail service like Yahoo or Gmail. You can access your email from anywhere, they have embedded virus protection and many other features that add convenience and security.

So to wrap this up: no matter how good your favorite computer wizard is they just can't fix some things. Windows sucks, it's a law of the universe. People say that a computer's lifespan is about 2 years but for most people who just use it for 'net, email, photo storage and documents you can get many years out of your little compy. But you do have to invest some time in upkeep. Windows is guaranteed to grind to a halt over time. Be ready and willing to reinstall your system when it gets close to unmanageable. No hacked-together repair jobs can compete with a nice fresh install. Just don't be surprised when it's still not as fast as your work computer. Maybe you should just buy a new one.

February 27, 2007

106 Days Up

When is the last time you had to restart Windows because of a crash, an update, or some other unknown reason? It seems like at work that I'm always having to restart Windows because my outlook crashed beyond repair or M$ released yet another "security update."

By now everyone probably knows that I run a Linux server(s) at home. It stores all my files, runs a web and ftp server so I can test ideas, works as a proxy and does lots of other things. I can access any file I want to work on from any other machine with an internet connection in the world.

There is a command in linux called "uptime." If you type "uptime" it tells you how long your machine has been running without a shutdown. My server uptime: 106 days.

106 days without a system shutdown for any reason and the only reason it was shutdown before that is because the power went out and I don't have an uninterrupted power supply (yet). I have updated it, checked email, grabbed and manipulated files, run a dedicated server and use it almost every day from work. Sure, programs have crashed before but the system stays stable. For 106 days straight and counting. You think that's pretty good? My friend Vlad has a machine that's been up for 457 days. He had to shutdown 457 days ago to move into his apartment. Otherwise it would be longer.

Can you imagine Windows being up for that long? I think the longest I've had a Windoze machine running is about 2 wks. And people wonder why I'm such a big promoter of Linux.

February 22, 2007


Well, we finally hired two people for my old position. One of them started this week (later nicknamed Dizzney) so I've been doing lots of training. The guy we hired doesn't have the technical (read: nerd) base that I do but he seems to have really good people skills and is catching on to stuff pretty quickly. I am very optimistic about turning the program over to him.

We have another guy starting in March that I will be training to take over another chunk of my old job. Turning the rest of this stuff over will be a huge relief since I have lots to do with my new position. I have been approached about speaking at a conference in Chicago in September. I get the feeling that my boss thinks it would be a very good idea for me to do that, which means that I have a lot to learn if I want to be able to speak confidently to a crowd of experienced marketeers. Public speaking scares me.

Wifey is doing well. We are hoping to get an ultrasound pretty soon so we can see if the baby comes with accessories.

I think this is the most boring blog post that I have ever written. The fact that you made it this far is astounding. Or maybe sad. I wanted to write something cool but I didn't have any interesting news so I tried to fudge it by talking about stuff that's going on at my job. That was probably more boring than just admitting that I didn't have anything cool to say. Maybe next post I'll try talking about the weather.

Why doesn't someone suggest something cool for me to post about so this blog doesn't continue to go downhill?

February 13, 2007

Maternity Clothes Shopping

Mom took Wifey to the mall last night to try on some maternity clothes. They have rudely (SHOUTING AT ME) demanded that I interrupt my busy day to post a pic or two from the trip. So, I posted the one above. While they were shopping, Natedawg, Fastlane and I went out for some mexifood and then Fastlane and I did some browsin' at the local B&N.

This AM I had a dentist appt. They usually preach their flossaphies (get it?) at me but today the dentist really gave me what for. He said if I didn't start flossing better I would have to get 6-7 teeth filled within 6 months. That was not happy news. I bought an electric toothbrush (because I don't have enough electronic stuff in my house) and am determined to change my evil ways. Anyway, I suppose I should put down this sugar-loaded energy drink and get back to work. Maybe chew some sugar-free gum or something. Teeth are good.

February 12, 2007

Just a picture

Some have asked us to post some recent pics. We don't have anything real recent...apparently we didn't even take any pictures on our anniversary. The photo above is the recent-est thing that I could find, taken last November out by BMOC and family's place.

We met a buddy from work and his GF at a mexifood place on Friday and then played ping pong at my house.

Saturday we went on a quick bike ride around Lions. Both bikes can fit in back of the new Xterra but it's not an idea situation. I will be watching ebay for a good deal on a bike rack. Or I might try to manufacture my own. I saw a parts-list pic and they aren't anything that sophisticated. The weather was nice this wkend but a bit on the windy side.

Sunday we met the Painter and his wifey for lunch at the Egg and I. We had them over for spaghetti on Sunday night.

PS: Sister has some pics of the Brookster up that are pretty darn cute. Yeah, shut up I read your blog.

February 6, 2007

General News

Well, we don't have much new going on. I've been playing serious catch-up at work after the conference and still doing two jobs. I have a few more good candidates so hopefully we can get someone to take some of my work load pretty soon.

Wifey went to the doc last week. We were hoping to find out if it's a boy or girl but it was still to early to bother with an ultrasound. So, I left the office and right after I left they let her listen to the heartbeat. I was disappointed to miss that.

Friday night we went over to BMOC's house for an excellent dinner and some ping pong and foosball. CJ and Dwilla, from the harvest crew, stayed with us from Sat to Mon night. We had a nice dinner with NateDawg and his wifey on Sun. On Monday I taught guitar lessons and then we went over to FastLane's for dinner. DeBrew, who was staying with them, shared some miraculous stories about babies that some of our friends have adopted from Egypt. It was a busy but fun weekend.

Oh, and I have been steadily adding stuff to the cheesy space game (see last post). Last year I created a similar game and it took a few months. I learned a lot about programming and this time around it took me one week to accomplish a similar result that actually functions a lot smoother. I like programming but it's hard to come up with projects that will push my knowledge and make me learn new things. I make video games because they are actually a lot more complex than most web programming tasks and it's easier to learn when I'm making something fun. I plan to add a lot more stuff to the game if I keep working on it. I may have a freelance job coming up though, that will sideline the game project in short order!

To all a good week.