Dallas and London

Wow. It’s been forever since I last updated my blog — not since early July. Let’s see if I can think of what all has happened since then, reliably chronologically.

In mid-July I went with my wife to Dallas — she was attending a Mary Kay convention, I went to Six Flags and had a great time. I bought my Six Flags ticket online and save a fair bit of money but ended up spending what I side to get a little device that lets you virtually stand in line — you place the device by a special sign near a ride you are interested in and it then tells you when to come back — you are now free to walk around the park. When your time to ride comes up, you just go near the ride exit and pretty much just get right on. This device is worth the money if you are by yourself or in a small group. May not be worth it if you have six kids with you as you. Everyone in a group must ride together, I think.

Later in July I went with a friend to test out his new scuba gear at Blue Hole, Santa Rosa. We had some good dives including a dusk dive when it was raining. The rain looked neat from under water.

In August we took a vacation to London which was a lot of fun. The only downside to vacationing in London is it is really expensive. Everything is about twice as expensive in London as it is in the United States. Saw most of the touristy stuff around the city, rode the tube a lot, went on a tour out to Bath, Salisbury, and Stonehenge (which was very cool) and took a day trip/tour down to Paris. Paris was neat although kind of short. The highlight was walking through the catacombes. I figured out how to use my Canon A80 in low light conditions by using a long (1 second) exposure. Since I didn’t have a tripod I had to hold the camera VERY still, but, many of the pictures did come out quite nicely.

In September I started working on a Linux system to run MythTV. I have been a long time ReplayTV lover but ReplayTV lacks a lot of scheduling flexibility which MythTV has and is free software with no monthly fee. MythTV has been a bear to get running. I “almost” have it up and stable now, I think. Now I am just having problems with channel 4 coming in, which seems really strange. I think it is probably related to IVTV (the software that controls the Hauppauge WinTV cards I am using). Maybe the problems will shake out soon.

Also in September, after 3 months of training, I received my Yellow Belt with Green Stripe in (ITF) Taekwon-Do. I go for my Green Belt in December.

In early-mid October I am planning on going to Roswell, NM with some friends to dive Bottomless Lakes. Should be fun.

JavaOne in San Francisco, Ebay Problem

Just got back from JavaOne in San Francisco. It was a good show, makes me think I am mostly on track with how I am doing things… I should probably start thinking about using J2EE, but, my use of Hibernate, Tapestry, and Eclipse seem spot on. I went to several sessions about JSF (Java Server Faces) and it seems to try to do what Tapestry does, but not nearly as well. The only advantage I can see is that there seems to be some components created by 3rd parties that Tapestry doesn’t have, but, the built in components for Tapestry are much richer.

I have also hit my first personal snag on eBay after well over a hundred transactions. I bought an item from an eBay seller whose personal email address (and the one registered with eBay) doesn’t match his Paypal email address. He didn’t bother to mention this until after I paid him. Paypal, by default, uses the email address registered with eBay to complete auction payments, so, the money did not go to him but to ??? (according to his statements). From the best I can tell, his position is that his email address (a hotmail account) must have belonged to somebody before him. Also, he doesn’t seem to be willing to do very much to help me research this. I have finally sent info about this to Paypal and eBay and maybe they will help me resolve this, or, I am out about $21.

PocketPC GPS

Been a little while since I updated… Nothing a whole lot new. Heading out to JavaOne this weekend, planning my London trip, getting caught up on The Shield (Season 3). Trying to line up a few (probably local-ish) dives during July. If you know of any great dive sites close to London, please let me know. I have emailed a few people but not gotten any responses.

Replaced my T-Mobile Sidekick phone with a T-Mobile MDA (Pocket PC Phone) which I got for about $200 on eBay. I am quite happy with the new device. It is far more capable as a PDA and has lots of 3rd party apps and games and a great screen. I picked up a discontinued Radio Shack GPS for it which was dirt cheap. Thanks to Yorch for the info about re-wiring the iPaq 3800 cable to work with this device. Between Mapopolis, the Pocket PC, and the Radio Shack GPS I have a very capable GPS system quite inexpensively. If you know of better mapping/gps software, please let me know. I am considering GPSDash as an alternate for simpler stuff.

Went and saw two movies this weekend: Dodge Ball (excellent – 3.5/4) and Around the World in 80 Says (not bad, probably best for kids – 2.5/4).

Quick Update

I completed my test for Taekwon-Do yellow belt (woo hoo!). Now on to Yellow with Green Stripe.

Continuing to plan a trip to London that we will be taking in a couple months. If you know any exciting places in London to visit, please email them to me. This will be my first trip to Europe, so I am looking forward to it. I have heard the train to Paris is only about 3 hours, so, we may spend a day in Paris… Not really sure. No definite plans yet. No diving planned for this trip.

Saw two movies this last weekend: The Day After Tomorrow (TDAT) and Harry Potter: Prisoner of Azkaban (HP3). Both were lots of fun. TDAT isn’t going to win many awards (other than maybe for special effects) and it quite campy, but, lots of fun. I believe HP3 is probably my favorite of the three Potter movies — very well done overall. HP3 is darker, smarter, and less “kiddy” than the first two movies.

In anticipation of the new Riddick movie, I picked up the Riddick video game for the Xbox — very well done and lots of fun. It’s a first person shooter (which takes some getting used to on the Xbox). If you are looking for an Xbox FPS to hold you over while you wait for Halo2, this is probably a good choice. I have read it is only about 10-12 hours long, but, it seems to have good replayability. No online component, but, a very strong single player game. I am probably 50-75% finished after a pretty solid weekend of playing. I also bought Full Spectrum Warrior online, so it should be arriving by the end of the week. I will let you know what I think of it soon (probably next week). I am also still working on finishing Far Cry for the PC (great game, in case I haven’t mentioned it before).

Diving in Mexico

Spent the long memorial day weekend in Sunny Himalaya Bay, Mexico (in Sonora, Mexico). This is located almost due south of Tucson / Nogales, northwest of San Carlos. The weekend was spent beach camping and scuba diving. This trip was put together by The Dive Shop out of Tucson. If you are a diver, they seem to put together good trips to Himalaya Bay and San Carlos. Relatively inexpensive and lots of fun. If you want beach camping, Himalaya is great, if you want a hotel, San Carlos is great. I have heard that San Carlos has clean food and water, so it is more tourist friendly that most of the Mexican locations (cannot vouch for this myself).

We (two members from my dive club, Zia Divers, and myself) drove down. It is reported to be about a 12 – 14 hour drive. The trip down was probably about this amount of time, the trip back, oddly, was more like 20 hours (ouch). If you are going to drive from Albuquerque to Tucson I would personally recommend using I-25 to Las Cruces then I-10 to Tucson (I hear there is a cutoff that saves a little bit of time some miles before Las Cruces).

The diving was very nice, saw lots of cool stuff and quite a bit of the usual: star fish, sea cucumbers, various kinds of rays, moray eels, trigger fish, scorpion fish, big angel fish, and several puffer fish. Several people saw lobsters. Didn’t do as much diving as I would have personally liked, but, it was a lot of fun and I would definitely go to Himalaya or San Carlos again for diving.

I will be testing for my Taekwon-do yellow belt this weekend, I have been doing Taekwon-do for three months now and am really enjoying it.


As I pack for my long weekend of scuba diving and beach camping, I think about the hot games from this years E3… If these games actually come out this year, this promises to be a stellar fall/winter for gaming. Half Life 2, which I have be eagerly waiting since finishing Half Life for the first (second, third, more?) time, is “promised” for this summer (not really holding my breath). Recently saw the 2004 E3 HL2 footage and WOW, it looks great. It is too bad for HL2 that FarCry beat it to the shelves, but, at least FarCry can keep me interested until HL2 ships. If you liked Half Life, you owe it to yourself to go pick up FarCry — it is a very good game. Hopefully on the heels of Half Life we will have Halo2 for the Xbox (which doesn’t look too shaby) and, amazingly, Splinter Cell 3 (didn’t I JUST finish Splinter Cell 2 a couple months ago?). If you haven’t played Splinter Cell 1 and 2, close your browser and GET BUSY. Doom3 can’t be forgotten, either.

American Idol

As a frequent watcher of American Idol since the start of season 1, I was relieved last night that Jasmine Trias (from Hawaii) was voted off. Please don’t think I believe she is a talentless hack, I do believe she has some real ability, but, I believe that she isn’t as good as Fantasia or Diane (not to mention I thought Latoya was better). At the end of season two, I thought Clay should have won and album sales have shows I was right. This season, I think, is closer. While I really like both Fantasia and Diane, personally, I would give the win to Diane.

I hope in future seasons of American Idol (I hope they skip future Junior Idol’s) they change to one call per contestant per phone number -or- a toll system. Also, I think changing to a system to where you vote for the person you want off the show would be beneficial.

Legislation of Morality

Sorry, I am in a mood to rant about the 3 evil P’s: politics, politicians, and policies.

A Rant about Legislation of Morality

I was listening to the news yesterday and our fearless leader, President Bush, believes one of the most important things he can do RIGHT NOW is to add a constitutional amendment that specifies that marriage is solely between a man and a woman — this in the wake of Massachusetts (and other states) deciding that same sex marriage is A-OK. WHAT? This is absolutely crazy. While I am not personally gay, I believe morality judgments like this should be left to the individual and the individual’s immediate community. If a community wants to accept same-sex marriage or civil union of same-sex partnerships, that should be up to the community — it should not be a federal decision made by a small handful of people. Whatever happened to the concept of acceptance of others, even when their beliefs are different? Agree to disagree. Just because I don’t personally like purple clothes doesn’t mean I should be able to stop you from wearing them — I just won’t wear them myself.

The same thing goes for decriminalization and/or legalization of drugs such as marijuana. Again, I am not personally a pot smoker, but, has the federal government even read any of the studies about marijuana use for medical use, much less recreational use? The fact that it is far less toxic than tobacco or alcohol? That it is, unlike tobacco and alcohol, non-addictive and has very strong medicinal properties? Instead, they prefer to treat it as if it were evil personified. They ignore the facts and when cities and states to realize the potential benefits, the feds come in and slap the states, believing that they, the feds, must always know better. What good are decisions and laws made on the city and state level if they can immediately be trumped for no good reason by the feds.

Using a hammer to stop an ant colony

The War on Terror and the War on Drugs. Again, our fearless leaders just don’t get this either. It is like having a 10 foot wide stream of water and trying to stop the flow with a 1 foot wide dam — it just cannot be done. Even if you had a 10 foot wide dam, the water would creep around the sides. An appropriate dam can not be bought with money, guns, or fear — they are wars that must be fought with education — real education not lies and scare tactics. While there continues to be a demand, drugs will be available. While there is hatred and oppression, there will be terrorism. If you kill a terrorist, one will step up in his place and call the previous one a martyr. We, the USA, believe we are the worlds peace keepers but we are often little more than bullies: If you won’t do things my way, I don’t want you to do them at all. Back to the purple clothes.

On the lighter side

My computer is back up and running. Also, I am taking a trip down to Himalaya Bay, Mexico to do some nice beach camping and scuba diving. Life is generally good.

XM Time Shifting

For the sake of stability I decided to replace my motherboard and memory on my desktop system. I have done this MANY times and it usually goes smoothly. What I got was an ABIT NF7-S 2.0 motherboard and two 256mb sticks of 400Mhz DDR memory. I learned that Windows XP doesn’t like you to just swich out the motherboard — woudn’t boot, so I tried doing a fresh install. I also learned that this motherboard won’t install Windows XP unless you update the BIOS to the latest (version 24 at the time of this writing). It took a long time to get this done because I couldn’t find my laptop’s floppy drive (ug!). Finally, BIOS updated, Windows XP installed, most of my software re-installed, I am back up and running.

XM Time Shifting

Ever wonder about time shifting your favorite XM Radio show (like one does with television using a Tivo or ReplayTV)? About a 15 months ago I bought an XM Radio (the Delphi SkyFi) so I could listen to my favorite comedy-based talk show the Monsters in the Morning (previously the Monsters of the Midday). In case you ever want to try to duplicate what I did, here you go…

* Delphi SkyFi Radio with Home install kit + XM subscription
* TIRA-1 infrared transmitter/receiver from Home-Electro.com
* Computer with sound card
* iRiver iMP-550 CD-based MP3 player

* Girder
* Windows scheduler
* TotalRecorder Pro from Highcriteria.com
* BeSweet 1.4
* Windows scripting host + custom script
* Nero
* Batch file for burning to a CD

The TIRA-1 plugs into USB and has the ability to both receive and transmit IR signals. I use the Girder software to “learn” how to change the stations on my XM Radio (using the IR remote control that comes with the XM Radio). Girder also has the ability to run an “event” from the command line, so, from the command line (via a .BAT file) I can change the station on my XM Radio.

I use the Windows Scheduler to automatically change the station on my XM Radio to the shows that I like to listen to throughout the day and night.

I use TotalRecorder to record the shows I want to keep for listening to later (time shift). Total recorder has the ability to schedule recordings, you can specify what to record, how to name the files, and in what format to write the recording (I just write a 44khz, 16bit stereo PCM WAV file because it is the fastest). You can also have it automatically split up the recordings (I split them at 60 minute intervals).

Then, once a day, I use Windows Scheduler to run a Windows Scripting Host script (written in JScript) to convert all of the WAV files in a specific directory to MP3 (normalizing the volume of the audio as it converts), renaming them as apporpriate, and setting the ID3 tag of the MP3 file. This conversion is done using BeSweet 1.4 and the MP3 tagging is done using a program called MP3Info.

Then, I have another BAT file that I can run that will take all of the MP3 files in the directory, move them to a directory with today’s date, and burn them to CD-R (either starting a new session or adding a session of one already exists). This is accomplised using the NEROCMD.EXE program found on the Nero.com website — this software requires that Nero be installed. One click and the cd is burned and ejected.

Finally, I pop that disc into my iRiver iMP-550 and I have my time shifted XM content (so I can listen to the Monsters while I am at work).

Drive Crash

Joy of joys, maybe because I haven’t updated my blog… Woke up yesterday morning and my PC had crashed (rebooted?) and was sitting there telling me there was a read error on the disc, refusing to boot. ARGH! The boot hard drive is about a year old. I guess in retrospect I should have shutdown for a bit and tried again, but, I assumed the hard drive was crashed.

I tried rebooting a couple times, no difference, I booted from the WinXP install disc and went to the command line recovery. My D: drive appeared to be intact (160GB ) but my C: drive was having problems, could’t do a “dir” or anything. So, I ran CHKDSK on it, it said it fixed a few things, now when I did a “dir” my 60GB of data appeard to be TWO files, a file with “boot” in the name and a file which was something like “found.000”. OH SHEESH!

I pulled out another (older) hard drive and installed the OS on it then uses a data recovery tool. I was able to see all my old files and was able to recover a fair bit of the old data, at least I got back most of my digital pictures, BUT, a lot of the files (for which I have no backup) were toast, restored as 0 bytes or just corrupt. NTFS is not a very resilliant file system (but you probably knew that).

I did a completely scan of the failed disc and it has no errors, is healthy, all that. Very frustrating. After I recovered all the recoverable data, I ghosted the newly build disc over to the disc that previously failed (I don’t THINK I am asking for trouble; SMART says the disc is quite healthy, and the small disc I used in the interim is much older).

Today, I am pretty much all back up and running. One driver left to find and install, a couple pieces of software left to install, and a couple schedules to setup. Took probably 6 hours to get back to an almost steady state.

So, in the end, I feel like Kerry Bradshaw — crashed disc with only some recoverable data (I think she had no recoverable data). I have been using computers for 20 years, you would think I would back up better. The result is that I am going TODAY and getting a backup system, I guess one of those external hard drives that I can setup regular backups to. Just the data, no need to backup transient info or installed software.

All I can guess is that maybe my motherboard is getting flaky, I have had some video issues, etc., recently. I guess it is time to get a new motherboard and see if that helps. The funny thing is less than a week ago a collegue asked me what I do about backups and I just replied: Nothing. At work this isn’t true because I keep all of my source code and critical files in Source Safe or at least on the server. At home, I really do nothing (some stuff is burned onto CD but really very little), and I got burned for it. At least most of my digital pictures are intact.