For those of you who don't read Heather and Jon's blog, I can't resist posting this view of life through the eyes of a four-year-old living in a geek house in this new century:

We happened to get two pictures in the mail, and Jonathan was holding them and looking at them. Then he piped up, "How do you get pictures to look like this?" Like what? This is a 21st century boy—he meant how do they get on paper.

Posted by sursumcorda on Thursday, March 6, 2008 at 9:04 am | Edit
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It's another one of those things I lived without just fine, thank you, though now I wonder why I waited so long.  Blame an outdated sense of the cost of webcams; I never imagined I could buy one for under $100, much less under $30.  But thanks to Stephan, Janet, and Best Buy, I'm all set.

It has been great to be able to see Janet when I talk with her, as well as for her to be able to initiate phone calls.  Now I'm having double the fun (or five times as much, depending on how you calculate it) because another of my favorite families has joined the video Skype crowd.  I'm sure the excitement will wear off after a while, but for now I'm enjoying lots of smiles, hugs, I-love-yous, what's-happening-now, and best of all those dear faces and voices.  I love to get those quick little text messages that say things like "Hi! I finished my math and am now going to do writing," with plenty of music note and hugging teddy bear emoticons.

And this morning?  This morning I was the delighted one-person, long-distance audience for a cello concert!
Posted by sursumcorda on Thursday, March 6, 2008 at 7:46 am | Edit
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Having discovered FEEDJIT on Stephanie's blog, I had to try it myself. (That's the "Recent Visitors" map in the panel to the right.) It's a graphical (and geographical) peek at who my faithful readers are, and who has wandered in via a random search.  Don't worry, I don't really know who you are, just where you're coming from (which allows me to guess who you might be).  Even that isn't always accurate; I'm certain that all those Portsmouth, Rhode Island hits are actually from Hartford, Connecticut.  And my Swiss fan has only once showed up as from Basel—the rest are all over the map, and I'm certain I don't have a following at the Château de Chillon, despite the hits from Montreux. The greatest problem is that I won't see you if you hide behind a feedreader; until Heather posted a comment, one would have thought I had no readers in Pittsburgh at all.

Still, it's been both entertaining and enlightening.  I'm certain of the identity of those who show up on the map as Oswego and Schenectady, and am delighted to know you read much more than you comment.  :)  I can identify most of my known readers, but am totally mystified by someone in Tempe, Arizona, who read some 20 posts.  Most who find me via a search read the one post and then leave. (More)
Posted by sursumcorda on Friday, February 29, 2008 at 10:30 am | Edit
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A long time ago (in computer years), we were told that the best way to extend laptop battery life was

  • Always do a full, complete charge/discharge cycle; never do partial charges/discharges.
  • Always charge the battery with the computer off.
  • Take the battery out of the laptop when running on A/C power.

There must have been something valuable about this advice, because our IBM Thinkpad R31 battery is six years old, and only recently has shown signs of deteriorating—and that after we had begun being a little careless with the above procedure, though at that age it may have been coincidence.  Searching around on the Internet I find that people even today seem to be happy with a three-year battery life.

However, I'm sure technology has changed, and I'm wondering if the recommendations have.  The instructions that came with my new computer recommend the full charge/discharge cycle, but say nothing about keeping the machine off while charging.  Although they don't deal with the issue directly, they seem to assume the battery will be in at all times, even when using A/C power.  They do suggest removing the battery if the computer will be off "for an extended period of time" (whatever that is) when on the road, to prevent battery power from draining.

Looking online, I can find (as one might expect) every possible variation on (1) the original advice, above; (2) everything has changed and you don't need to do any of that anymore; and (3) some of it is still helpful, but not enough so to be worth the hassle.  One piece of information I didn't know is that there is a power meter in the battery itself, which is calibrated by full charge—full discharge—full charge, which is why it's important to do that when the battery is new, and perhaps every 30 days thereafter.

With this new machine, I'm inclined to leave the battery in most of the time and not worry about it, after the initial calibration, but anyone else's experience, knowledge, and suggestions would be appreciated.
Posted by sursumcorda on Monday, January 7, 2008 at 7:51 am | Edit
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I'll write in further detail about my wonderful Christmas present from Porter, the outcome of the debate detailed in this post.  But while reading the Safety and Warranty Guide for my Smilenew computerSmile, I came upon this admonition and could go no further without reporting it:

Do not operate your computer inside furniture, as this might increase the risk of overheating. 

My mind boggled trying to imagine what piece of furniture I might wish to be inside, even if I could imagine how to get there.  I finally decided this must be a very generic booklet that doesn't realize this is a laptop computer—after all, it did also tell me to keep the cover closed whenever the computer is plugged in. (More)
Posted by sursumcorda on Wednesday, January 2, 2008 at 12:27 pm | Edit
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They say trying new things keeps your mind young.  I should be in good shape, having recently ventured into two areas I was sure I'd never touch, finding them useless at best.  One is Facebook, which I had classed—along with MySpace and LifeJournal—as boring, yet time-wasting websites for teenaged girls to gossip and bully each other, and for sexual predators to troll for victims.  But Janet was invited to join by her oboe professor, so how could she say no?  Then she had so much fun finding people with whom she'd lost contact that I decided to see what it was all about.

No doubt it is a good place for teenaged bullying and dangerous liasons, but it doesn't have to be, and I've been surprised at how many friends I've found or been found by already.  I love sending Christmas letters, because it keeps us in contact with friends whose lives for the most part no longer intersect with ours.  I sense that this logic has no appeal to the Facebook generation, which may never lose that contact.  Perhaps the greatest danger (predators and bullies aside) is in being overwhelmed by trivial, shallow contact.  The signal-to-noise ratio is rather poor.  At least in a Christmas letter one is forced by space limitations to keep to the more important issues. (More)
Posted by sursumcorda on Tuesday, December 18, 2007 at 7:02 am | Edit
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I found this great site while procrastinating doing research for our Christmas letter and want to share it.  Did you ever want to know how far it really is from Orlando to Basel?  Or the path your airplane would probably take from New York to Paris?  Check out Great Circle Mapper!

Great Circle route MCO-BSL


Posted by sursumcorda on Wednesday, December 5, 2007 at 2:17 pm | Edit
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Today our computer network stopped working.

I needed to access a file on our laptop from our Windows 98 machine.  Nothing.  Nada.  The helpful message from Windows told me the nework was unavailable and I should contact my network administrator.  Hello, that's me, and neither I nor me had any clue.  Even more helpfully it told me to start the network troubleshooter, which then presented me with a totally blank screen.  Apparently it had no more clue than me or I.  For the record, Porter was equally stumped, though he manfully plowed through our home networking book for a while. (More)
Posted by sursumcorda on Saturday, December 1, 2007 at 7:44 pm | Edit
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How many times do I have to be taught that technology, while useful, even delightful at times, is not to be depended on?  I wonder if electronic equipment works better in Switzerland, where trains and trams are so dependable that a three-minute deviation from schedule is a notable occurrence?

Once again, I picked up my PDA to find it had lost everything.  This is the third time that has happened in about a year an a half, and I think it's related to alarms going off repeatedly when I'm not aware of them.  I'd love to shut off the alarms on the handheld device, but I can't do that without removing them from the desktop, which is where I really need them.  But this time surprised me, because last I knew there was still plenty of life in the batteries.

Oh, well—I had a backup and only lost a couple of pieces of data.  It would be helpful if I knew which data I'd lost, but I'll manage.  At least this time I was home and could restore the data quickly—the first time I was on vacation and could do nothing till my return.  That's when I learned to keep key information on paper when I travel!

Our nifty electronic devices are still too useful for me to give them up altogether, but it's good to be reminded now and then of the importance of backups and of Plans B.  Of more concern is our similar dependence on fallible sources of heat, light, water, food, transportation, and other basic necessities, but that's another issue and much harder to resolve.
Posted by sursumcorda on Tuesday, October 9, 2007 at 3:05 pm | Edit
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This morning I did as I usually do several times a day—I went to Google to perform an Internet search.  This time the front page informed me that Google is now celebrating its ninth birthday.

I'm not sure what to think about that.

Google's mission is to organize the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful. 

If you think about that too much, you can find yourself ranking it among the world's most terrifying statements.  Not that it in any way diminishes the value Google and other search engines have added to our lives.  But whether for good or for ill, the Internet and Google have wrought radical changes.  I'm old enough for nine years to seem but an instant, and find it hard to believe the pre-Google world was less than a decade ago.

Posted by sursumcorda on Thursday, September 27, 2007 at 10:05 am | Edit
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For those of you who have been following our computer woes (here and here), this is where we are now.  In limbo.

The very good news  A friend lent us his device that turns an internal hard drive into an external, usb device, and we were able to copy the data to a new one-terabyte backup drive.  (Time out for a sigh of amazement.  One terabyte?  We used to do our backups on 5 1/4 inch floppies with a capacity of 110 kilobytes.)  Losing the hard drive would not have been a total disaster, as I have several layers of backup, but they are a bit spotty and it was really, really nice to have access to the files as I had left them the night before all this started.

The related bad news  What's the point of having backed up the whole C drive instead of just my own data, if one can't transfer all that information over to a new machine?  Apparently the way the Windows Registry works, all the programs will have to be reinstalled anyway—which of course means not only a lot of work but that I lose whatever came preinstalled with the original machine.  Oh for the days when they gave you the original disks—even for the operating system—when you bought a computer!  I guess that will save me backup space from now on, unless someone can tell me there's reason for backing up anything other than my personal files.

The lovely news  We've been studying The Five Love Languages in a class at church.  Porter has been exhibiting "Acts of Service" at a great rate with regard to this computer problem:  making phone calls, doing Internet searches, driving across down....

The very frustrating news  The Internet search for the appropriate motherboard was fruitless.  According to the people Porter talked to, that board is very popular right now; many people are trying to find it.  I wonder if it had an expiration date and everyone's is going bad?  Like sour milk or stale bread?  Getting anything other than the correct motherboard would require getting a new case for the machine and kludging things together, as the Gateway motherboard is not a standard configuration.

The absolutely ridiculous customer "support" news So Porter broke down and called Gateway to see how much an out-of-warranty repair would cost.  Guess what?  Not only will Gateway not sell the necessary parts, they won't do out-of-warranty repairs themselves!  I guess one is supposed to buy a new computer, but I don't see how that helps Gateway, since there's no way I'm buying another computer from them...unless all the major companies are in collusion.  But I'm not a conspiracy theorist—yet.

The temporarily hopeful news  The Gateway tech recommended a website for finding the correct motherboard.  It was one Porter had found, and indeed they had the right board, but it was "out of stock."  Buoyed by the Gateway recommendation, Porter called the company, which appeared to be helpful.  Yes, that board was out of stock and they didn't know when if ever they would get it again.  It was a very hot item, and they had another Gateway motherboard that was similar which several people had bought instead of the correct one.  We could buy that and try it out, returning it if it didn't work—they'd even waive the normal 15% restocking fee.  So Porter ordered one ($200) and we had a "party" at the home of the above-mentioned friend who lent us his hard drive enclosure.  Now this is a guy whose life is in large part computers, both his vocation and his avocation.  He had built every one of the uncountable computers in his house, except for the castoffs he as adopted, and I suspect he's done a lot to modify them, as well.  So it was encouraging to see him and Porter settle down to installing the new motherboard.

The discouraging news  At first it went well, thanks to our friend having some spare parts, such as ribbon cable, that had somehow been lost while the machine was at the repair shop :( , and despite the fact that the motherboard came with absolutely no documentation at all, and looked as if it is used, not new.  :(  :(  But it was a case of "almosts."  The board doesn't quite fit so some of the ports wouldn't work.  One capacitor is too tall, so the heat sink doesn't quite line up, so they ahd to monitor the CPU temperature while working.  If it ever works, we'll have to rout out the heat sink some.  But we didn't get that far.  After much twiddling, Windows boots!  Sort of.  But only in safe mode; otherwise it hangs.  After much effort and frustration, they gave up and we went to dinner.  So that's where it stands now:  in our living room, in pieces.

The dilemma  So what do we do now?

  • Pour a lot of time and energy into trying to get Windows working, followed by making all sorts of kludges to get other things to fit/work, and (probably) reinstalling all my programs?
  • Pay to send the motherboard back and hope we get some of our $200 returned?
  • Buy an inexpensive new computer with space for good working parts (e.g. DVD drives, hard drive) from the old machine?  Easier said than done—the "basic" computers I've looked at tend not to have a lot of expansion space.
  • Invest (again!) in a fancy desktop computer and hope this one lasts longer?
  • Take advantage of the opportunity to get a new laptop and hope it lasts?
  • Give it to Jon as a Christmas present?  After all, it has a (probably) working motherboard, a DVD read drive, a DVD write drive (both very nice), a 250MB hard drive, a high-speed, dual-core Athelon processor, a GB of memory, and a few other bells and whistles. (My suggestion)
  • Don't give it to Jon, as a Christmas present for Heather.  (Janet's suggestion)
  • Use it as a boat anchor.  (Porter's suggestion)

The interim solution I'm using our (old) laptop, having devised a scheme for keeping large quantities of data on the Maxtor 60G portable hard drive I take with me when travelling.  The immediate reason for this is that the laptop's hard drive capacity is only 20GB (actually less) which is woefully insufficient to hold my data alone—and Porter and I share this machine.  I think I like the idea, and plan to continue using it even when/if we get another machine, because then I won't have to worry about synchronizing data when we travel.  The interim solution is actually working fairly well, my primary frustrations being (1) I can't burn CD's or DVD's; (2) I can't read DVD's; (3) there are only two USB ports, and (4) the USB ports are old and slow—not only does data transfer take forever, but I'm heartily sick of having Windows tell me, every time I plug in a device, that it would peform faster if only I had a USB 2 port, when it knows quite well that I don't.

Stay tuned.  I believe it's time to write my friend Bill McCollum a letter.  It's a little early for Christmas cards, but I think he's due one in his capacity as Florida's Attorney General.  I need to vent about Gateway to someone besides my faithful, but small, blog audience. 

Posted by sursumcorda on Wednesday, September 19, 2007 at 8:05 am | Edit
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What would you think if you bought a top-of-the-line piece of equipment, and 19 months later—seven months out of warranty—it completely stopped working?  I wouldn't be happy even if it were a $25 item.

What if it cost over $1000—would you be a bit annoyed?  What if it was a piece of equipment necessary for much of the work you do?

But hey, sometimes things happen.  That's what repair shops are for.

But what if the manufacturer refuses to sell you the part you need to make the repair? (More)
Posted by sursumcorda on Sunday, September 2, 2007 at 2:58 pm | Edit
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After much internal debate, Porter decided to invest in an air card, a device that plugs into his computer and allows him to connect to the Internet from anywhere.  Well, make that anywhere with Cingular—oops, I mean the New AT&T—cellular service.  Unfortunately, that excludes some important locations, like Granby, Connecticut.  But it does include a great many places.  I tried it out on the way home from the airport a few days ago, and only lost service once on the 45-minute ride, and that for no more than a second.  The speed is not as fast as our normal broadband connection, but it's really not bad, especially if you use the accelerator option, which reduces the quality (and thus the downloading time) of images.

I foresee several uses of this new device in addition to the obvious business benefits that were the excuse for its purchase.  The one that is emblazoned in large letters at the present time, however, is that the major lightning strike of about an hour ago, which took out our cable connection, has not left us without Internet and phone service.  Ironically, I only two days ago I filled out a survey stating that Bright House's cable service has been very reliable and its customer service fine.  I still don't fault the cable service—a lightning strike is bound to wreak havoc.  But Bright House customer service can offer us help no sooner than next Tuesday!  That really is unaccepable.  If they were only offering cable TV service, that would be one thing, but when people are depending on you for Internet and phone service—especially phone service!—you need to be more attentive to repairs.

So I'm very grateful for our backup.  Thanks to the air card, we not only have Internet access, but were able to connect to CallVantage and have our phone calls forwarded to Porter's cell phone.

With this coming on top of my own computer being in the shop—status currently unknown—I'm once again feeling a little nervous about our dependence on technology.  There should always be a Plan B—and probably C, D, and E as well.

Posted by sursumcorda on Saturday, September 1, 2007 at 3:22 pm | Edit
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Now listen, you who say, "Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money." Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, "If it is the Lord's will, we will live and do this or that." (James 4:13-15)

But, Mousie, thou art no thy lane,
In proving foresight may be vain;
The best-laid schemes o' mice an' men
Gang aft agley,
An' lea'e us nought but grief an' pain,
For promis'd joy!
(Robert Burns, To A Mouse, On Turning Her Up In Her Nest With The Plough)

I had plans for this week.

They did not include dealing with a computer that refuses to awaken from sleep. My alarm clock went of at 5:15 this morning, and I was up and about within seconds. Not so my computer. (More)
Posted by sursumcorda on Monday, August 27, 2007 at 7:51 am | Edit
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I really have little right to complain about Windows Media Player as I'm only in the beginning stages of trying to understand it.  Jon and Heather gave me a great gift recently:  a 40G mp3 player which I plan to integrate into our stereo system as an N-disk CD changer, where N is a very large number.  How lazy can you get?  But I know I will take much better advantage of our large CD collection when I don't have to go to all the bother of actually replacing the CD in the player.  This gift was a delightful surprise, not only because it's something I've been thinking about for a long time but hadn't done anything about, but especially because I didn't have to do the shopping.  :)

To my even greater delight, Jon altered the firmware so that I can see the device on my computer directly through Windows Explorer (which, to show my age, I occasionally call "File Manager") instead of through the mediation of Windows Media Player.  But I like WMP for playing CD's, so I decided to try to figure out how to use its Library feature. (More)

Posted by sursumcorda on Friday, August 17, 2007 at 9:31 am | Edit
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