blog action day

What? Blogs are taking action? That’s ridiculous.

Really. It’s ridiculous to expect that people writing blogs will “change the world” by writing about a topic. The only hope is that it puts that topic in the minds of people who are reading those blogs and maybe somebody, somewhere decides to change something. So it’s ridiculous, but still an appealing idea.

So I thought it was a good excuse to write a quick note about some of the things we’re doing at our home to try and help the environment as part of Blog Action Day.

First, we are slowly changing over to compact fluorescent bulbs throughout the house. The latest room was the main bath where we got some fancy ones to replace the decorative globe bulbs that had been in there. We also have several dedicated fluorescent fixtures, such as in the garage, the shop and our laundry/utility room.

Second, we have been getting more diligent about recycling. Especially the aluminum cans that we generate. By bringing them to a redemption center, we can get a little cash that is going to add to the college savings for the kids. Not a lot, but more than nothing.

And third, we have been slowly decreasing our overall energy use by using the air conditioner less and turning things off that we aren’t using. My wife is great about turning things off. Usually just when I’m planning on using them…

So we aren’t doing much yet. If we could afford it, I’d love to get some solar PV panels on the roof to generate part of the electricity we use, or maybe even one of those small wind turbines. Of course, with the money we are saving (did I mention that all of this stuff saves us money? Nice side benefit, huh?) we could set some aside to invest in that type of technology. Maybe in a few years…

when linux evangelism falls flat

I managed to put my Linux foot in my mouth. Bad nerd!

A few days ago I was having coffee with a few friends when the topic of computers came up. Now, this particular group of friends does not get together to talk about technology (I have other interests, you know) but various topics come up when someone is having problems they think one of the group can solve. One guy gets asked about cars, another about snowmobiles and I often get asked about computers.

The problem was a new Windows Vista machine that a friend recently purchased. He was having a lot of trouble: not able to get user accounts set up, having problems with specific peripherals, unable to get a reliable internet connection (dialup). Since I have absolutely zero experience with Vista, I could only speak in general terms about Windows issues and what I knew about the new security methods used. Naturally, the topic of Linux came up.

Someone asked me if I thought Linux was a good alternative to Windows and, of course, I enthusiastically shouted “Yes!” and began dancing on the table in celebration of another instant convert!

Okay, so maybe that was an embellishment. I proudly mentioned that I use Linux on my laptop and have the option set up to use it on my desktop. The follow-up question is where I really slipped in the cow pie of my own self-confidence: “So it’s pretty good as far as using different kinds of applications?”

“Sure is!” I said with a big nerd grin. “Well, except I use Quicken so I need Windows for that to run without major surgery. Oh, and I also have the TiVo Desktop to download shows from the two TiVo machines. And I guess I also use at least one video editor that isn’t available for Linux.”

I’m an idiot.

After such an utter display of failure I kept my mouth shut other than to make arrangements to go over and help my friend fix his computer.

But this really got me thinking about how I use Linux and how much I really want to get away from using Windows as the primary desktop in my house. (And I decided I needed to write about it after my wife asked me when we were going to switch.)

So I’m starting this week to make a more concerted effort to take care of those last few things that keep me tethered to Windows. Those things are:

  • Quicken
  • iTunes
  • TiVo Desktop
  • Video Redo

I’ve got a few ideas, but haven’t been able to get them going. I’ll try them out and post something on the success or failure here. Here we go with the next project!

back in the computer saddle

So I’ve been off this forum for quite a long time. I’ve moved, gotten a new job (which I love!) and actually finished that degree I was talking about.
But one thing I have really had a chance to dig into lately is my tinkering with computers hobby.
I’ve gone through two more iterations of the “green machine” and it’s currently running Debian with no gui (so’s I can get my learn on in the command line) and I had the chance to refurbish a computer for my daughter, painting it her favorite colors and putting Edubuntu on it.
Not much else for now, just wanted to get something posted so I can start making this a habit again.

(I’m actually posting this using links. If it looks funny, I haven’t yet mastered the console browser environment. More stuff to learn. Sweet!!)


I think posts here are going to be fewer even than they have over the last few months. I’m now going to school full time, trying to finish my bachelor’s degree. Since I am no longer in my 20’s, I have two kids and I still work a fulltime+ job, time is of the essence.

Nothing personal. Just gotta get it done.

windows broken again…

If you are reading this on a Windows machine, I strongly suggest you check out this page on Steve Gibson’s website,

There is a new vulnerability that was publicized recently, attacking the Windows Metafile format, which is used to display images. This can break your machine or cause malicious software to be installed just by visiting a website. Nasty.

This is a very important problem to fix immediately, as there are a large number of exploits out there already.

And then think about buying a Mac or using Linux.

Update: Microsoft has fixed the flaw for XP, but not for some of the older versions of Windows.  Hopefully they will figure out that not everyone upgrades…

flying is transportation

I found it amusing that Mayor Daley of Chicago has been delayed in pushing for his plan to improve O’Hare International Airport. For those of you who are not familiar with the world of general aviation, Mayor Daley orchestrated a middle of the night bulldozing of one of the more beautiful airports around under the guize of a security risk. Meigs Field sat on North Island in Lake Michigan on property owned by the Chicago Parks District. Unfortunately now we’ll only be able to fly into Meigs on a flight simulator from now on.

I am an ardent supporter of efforts to make our transportation system more secure. However, this needs to be done within reason. General aviation has never been involved in a terrorist attack, and there is a limited amount of damage that small aircraft could inflict. The average four seat small aircraft only weighs as much a small car and can carry significantly less payload. Despite these facts, the FUD about general aviation is spread quickly and loudly. Most of the legislation that I have been hearing about lately specifically addresses small aircraft. Doesn’t make much sense to me.

A great example of the silly regulations that seem to have little effect on security is the Washington DC Air Defense Identification Zone. This is an area around the DC and Baltimore airspace that restricts the movement of aircraft and makes it difficult for non-commercial pilots and planes to even get into the area. The air traffic control system is unable to keep up with the requirements along with the pilots. Several businesses have gone under because they simply could not get customers into their airport. There are also several examples of screwups that point to the weaknesses in the system. In summary, like Chewbacca on Endor, it does not make sense.

If you would like to learn more about the issues of aviation security and how it affects general aviation, check out the Aircraft Owners and Pilot’s Association. And if you are wondering what general aviation is, it is every kind of air traffic that is not scheduled commercial airlines or the military. That’s a lot of aircraft.

And if you have a chance, go flying with someone at your local airfield. There’s also a site where you can get a certificate that will get you a discounted flying lesson.

the telephone number is 911

The Pearl Street 911 Center has come under fire ever since it started. A recent letter to the editor in the Northfield News reminded me of one of the reasons.

There was a letter to the editor in the 9-28-05 edition of the Northfield News that caught my attention. The writer was registering a public complaint about the Pearl Street 911 Center. I won’t go into the details of the letter, other than to say the writer was advocating for a return to having emergency dispatching services handled locally as opposed to the current system of a consolidated center.

The consolidation of government services is often a good deal. Smaller units of government can boost their purchasing power, reduce personnel costs and duplication of services. Sounds pretty good, right?

But there is a tradeoff. In this particular case, your dispatcher is now in the Law Enforcement Center in Owatonna. No one ever talks to one of them face to face, only over the phone or the radio. This reduces the level of personal service that many in Northfield grew accustomed to. Now if you stop into the police station and want to talk to a police officer, you have to pick up a phone in the lobby to talk to the dispatcher in Owatonna. You used to be able to talk to the dispatcher through a window, and often that person could help you.

This disadvantage also applies to emergency workers. Effective communication between coworkers (and that’s what dispatchers and emergency personnel are, right?) is dependant to some extent on a personal connection and level of trust. Hard to develop that over the phone or airwaves. So if a firefighter thinks a dispatcher made a mistake, he either calls over the phone or tells his supervisor. If a dispatcher thinks a firefighter made a mistake, they have the same obstacle. Bad for everyone.

Is the tradeoff worth it? That question needs to be asked of our elected officials. The Joint Dispatch Center has oversight and budgetary control from a joint powers board consisting of elected officials from Rice and Steele Counties and the cities of Faribault, Northfield and Owatonna. They meet the first Wednesday of the month at 4:00 p.m. at one of the County Government Centers.

The Joint Powers Board is getting ready to spend a significant amount of money (probably in the millions) to revamp the computer aided dispatch system and records management system. Seems like a good time to follow along.

In my opinion, the joint center is a good idea. Some of the complaints in the letter to the editor have more to do with the differences between the two types of incidents the writer described than the difference in dispatching services. There are always ways to improve, but as the center looks to make significant changes in technology, I am more concerned about them making choices that allow for expansion and addition of services and updated technology. We’ll find out in the next few months if they can meet that challenge.

in need of a shoehorn

I wrote a while ago about putting Debian Linux on my little green machine. I was looking for something a little easier to deal with on such a low power machine, since Debian kept crashing. I ended up trying out Slackware.

Well, I really should say that after several hours of downloading iso images of a bunch of different distributions and trying several of them until they crashed horribly – I ended up managing to finally get Slackware working.

I think I have learned more about Linux because of this single installation than I have over the last several years by tinkering. After installing, I also spent some time trying to do a kernel build. Of course, the little Via board couldn’t handle it by its lonesome, so I ended up compiling it on my Kubuntu laptop. Six times. Maybe one day I’ll get it to actually work…

This Slackware experiment is going pretty well over all, (I’m writing this post from the green machine in Firefox 1.0.6 inside of KDE) but I do need to look at thinning it down a little bit. I’d like to get a different window manager working (maybe IceWM – my wife might want to try it, then) and get rid of the things I don’t need.

The experiment continues.

effective help

There are good ways and not so good ways to help victims of disaster from a distance. Stick with the methods that work unless you have a very specific talent or resource to help in another way.

The devastation of Hurricane Katrina is overwhelming. Many are calling this the worst disaster in the history of the United States, and they may very well be right.

So what can I do?

The fastest and most efficient way of helping (if you are not actually in the disaster area) is to donate money to relief organizations. My personal choice is the American Red Cross. These folks know what they are doing and are on the ground running to help those in need. What they don’t need from us is a load of uncoordinated supplies of whatever you have lying around that you may think is useful. Some folks have asked for clothing, diapers and other things to be sent to the area but I won’t even know where to send it. If someone can educate me as to why that’s a better idea than what I’m suggesting, please let me know.

Donating money may seem an impersonal choice in light of the emotions that surround such a disaster and our innate need to personally help others. There are several reasons this is probably the best choice. I’ll explain a couple of my own reasons.

First of all, I have no idea what is needed. I’m pretty sure that water and food are in short supply, but how can I get it there? Second, I have faith in the ability of these relief organizations to get the job done. They are very good at it. They have the infrastructure and expertise to deal with the myriad problems that are being confronted in the region. The biggest obstacle I think they face in getting the job done is making sure that they have the financial resources to buy the supplies, transport them into the area, facilitate evacuation and get their workers to where they are needed. I can best help them do that by sending some of my hard-earned dollars.

The Minnesota Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management has a handy guide to how you can help linked on their front page (it’s a .pdf file). Check it out and then do what you can to help.

the personal confuser is back

Call for Help, now filmed in Canada, is back by popular demand on the G4 network.

I am feeling a little better about that seemingly silly gaming television channel, G4. They have now brought back the show Call for Help with Leo Laporte. The show was originally on the old TechTV network (which used to be the ZDTV network). Although it has a slightly new feel, which I will attribute to the new production being in Toronto, it still is the same basic format with a little content along the lines of the Screensavers show.

Check it out if you’re interested in technology and how to make it work for you. – Link –