When Geeks Cry (Part 1)

I consider myself a geek.  I’m an engineer by trade, and so I’m always trying to figure how stuff works, what’s wrong with it and how to fix it.  That’s just how I roll.

So when my wife called last week saying that she was having trouble with our laptop, I wasn’t too worried.

And then when I got home and got a BSOD that indicated that there was a hard drive problem, I was wasn’t worried.  Actually, I was a little excited.

I had wanted to have an excuse to buy SpinRite because I had heard so much about it on the Security Now! podcast. It was touted as pretty much a utility to fix whatever problem your hard drive had. It’s a little pricey, so I had been waiting for a good excuse to buy it, and now with this hard drive problem on our laptop, I had my reason.

So I went to GRC.com and got a copy and burned it to a CD and booted up our laptop.  It came up and went through the screens.  I selected the hard drive to scan and went to go to the next screen.

The program said, “Scanning for drives…” and just stayed there. I waited for hours and it was still stuck on the same screen.

That didn’t seem right, so I rebooted and tried again, and again, and again.  Same thing.  My smile was gone.

I then tried putting the drive in the laptop’s 2nd drive bay.  That did the trick.  SpinRite came up and started working on the drive. I knew it would take awhile, so I left it overnight working at 0.1% done.

The next morning I came in and it was 7 hours into the drive and 0.5 % done, and predicting completion in 80 some hours. “That’s not right, ” I thought, so I stopped it, and started again at 2% into the drive.  “Maybe the first few sectors are pretty bad.”

This time it seemed to go a little faster…for a while.  And then it hung up again and started chugging on another sector.

And so I let it run some more.  A few days later, little progress was made on the drive and it was now predicting over 1000 hours until it would be done.  I wasn’t smiling anymore.

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Sayonara, Symantec

The laptop that we got a few months ago came with Norton Internet Security 2007 and a three month free subscription.  I almost uninstalled it the the day we got the PC, but hesitated long enough and thought, “Well I can at least try it out.”

It seemed heavy from the get-go, and I ended up turning off the firewall because the popups were annoying.

And it seemed to popup a lot to tell me that I had a cookie in my browser cache that I should be concerned about, but not much else.

By the end of the 3 months, I was almost relieved to get rid of it.  I installed AVG and haven’t looked back.

I’m not real keen on the big AV players in the market–it always seems like they try to take over your PC.  And after my dad had to re-install Windows because of a McAfee problem, I wouldn’t touch a McAfee product with a 10-foot pole.

iPhone Review (by a 10 year old)

iphonekittenAfter all the buzz about the iPhone that you hear out of just about every technology news outlet around, I found the following conversation quite refreshing:

“So, ~D~, are you glad that the iPhone is finally out?  They’ve finally started selling them.”

“i-what?”

“iPhone.”

“iPhone!? What’s that?”

“Never mind.”

Ignorance is bliss.

On the Fritz

Our main PC, a Dell E510, stopped working about a week ago.  It just wouldn’t boot up.  At all.

After poking around it some, I tried measuring the voltages from the power supply with my multi-meter.  They weren’t reading correctly, so I naturally assumed that the power supply had gone bad.

I ordered a replacement supply from Dell and got it on Friday.  After installing it in the computer, I hooked it up.  No dice.  No change. The computer didn’t boot up.

After looking on the Dell forums, it turns out you have to short 2 pins together on the connector to get the power supply to turn on.

The best guess now is that the mother board went bad.

Oh, and the PC is out of warranty. Bummer.

Dell, I’m very disappointed.  This PC is only 18 months old and the mother board dies?!  I’ve got another PC that’s 10 years old and nary a problem.

Skype and the Parental Units

I tried out Skype last year when they were running their special where you could call any land line phone for free.  But once they started charging again, I gave it up.  I don’t really have anyone to “skype” because my family isn’t all that tech savvy.  No offense, but they just don’t have the interest.

But then I was chatting on the phone with my folks last week and they were telling about an intercessory prayer time at their church.  They were praying for a meeting that was happening in Portugal along with a group in Pennsylvania.   And they were using Skype to keep in touch, with laptops and web cams.

And the team at my parent’s church would say, “Here’s what we think the Lord is saying. We think we need to pray this way.”

They would communicate this to PA and to Portugal and the people in Portugal would say, “Here’s what’s going on in the meeting. Here’s how you can pray.”

It was the most unique use of Skype I had heard of–to use it for cross country and cross continent prayer ministry.

After describing this, my mom said,  “That Skype thing is pretty cool.  It would be neat if we could do that when we call you–we could see the grand kids more often.”

I said politely, “Oh, that sounds interesting, maybe we could try that.” But in my mind, I was cheering.

I had thought of this kind of thing before, but if I had proposed to try doing something like this, my parents would have looked at me weird and said, “Thanks but not interested.”  So I thought that it was really cool that they said, “Hey we saw this neat thing and would like to try it out with you.”

So before we headed down to Tennessee, I went out and bought my dad a web cam for a retirement gift. Once we got home from Tennessee, we tried it out this evening. It worked really good, and I was able to get the boys on Skype to say “Hi” to their grand parents.

I never thought I’d hear my parents say, “Hey you want to try out Skype?”  Now they’re talking to my sister in Colorado to get her to try it out. Maybe my family is finally coming around.

Preoccupied

Posting has been light around here, but it really is only because I’ve been preoccupied with working on our churches web site.  Not that I know much about HTML and CSS and such, but being the sound ministry coordinator, I’ve been posting the sermons online, and have been noticing the “old-schoolness” of the web site.

(I say “old-school” in reference to a series of podcasts that the Geeks and God guys have been doing on Drupal. Any static HTML sites built a page at a time are considered “old-school” in their book.  After running on WordPress for a while and seeing how powerful it is, I’d have to agree with them.)

I’ve been trying to figure out a way to improve our “old-school” site with a little CSS and patch it until we can get a real web site going, but the site was built with something called “Pagebuilder”, which basically gives you templates and you add the content, but it isn’t really conducive for heavy hacking.

And to be honest with you, I’m not much on the design side either.  I know how to spell CSS, but that is about it.

So I’ve been reading up on CSS and playing around with using it to make some menus, but I think I’ve finally given up on that for now and have started looking at Drupal as a CMS for the site.

I had looked at WordPress, because there are a lot of small churches that use it for their web site.  It would be easier to use too.  But after having a web site taskforce meeting about a month ago at the church, it was obvious that it wasn’t going to be powerful enough.

So I’ve set up a web server on my home PC with PHP and MySQL and have got a test site running with Drupal.  I guess I’ll end up having to learn CSS somewhat unless I want the church site to look like hundreds of other sites.

Or maybe we should hire someone who knows what they’re doing….any suggestions?

Solution for Sorry Sound Card

I’ve been really happy with my Dell Dimension E510, which I’ve had for almost a year. It is a solid machine and much faster than our 1998 350MHz Compaq Presario. The Presario has now been relegated to the kid PC and serves as a typing tutor, Spanish teacher, and all around home school computer.

The E510 is for all the processor-intensive tasks like editing video or sound and pretty much running any program that 350 MHz would gag on.

The one thing that I’ve been disappointed in has been the sound card. It is the motherboard-embedded cheap sound card which uses Sigmatel 92XX C-Major drivers.

It’s not that I’m looking for good sound, I really don’t care that much. I’m not a gamer, and I don’t use the PC to watch movies or anything, so just a basic sound card is fine. However, it doesn’t have a system mixer.

What’s that? you say. Who cares? you say. The system mixer is the thing that allows you to record just about any sound that comes into the PC. Streaming audio or any sound from a program that would play through the PC speakers, you can record with a program like Audacity and a system mixer. This is a must have feature because like to record streaming audio programs that I could listen on my MP3 player later.

But my sound card doesn’t have drivers with a system mixer. I had resigned myself to thinking that I was going to have to spend money on a sound card, but that seems drastic, when all I’m looking for is a software solution.

But this week, I’ve found a program, Total Recorder, that fixes all that. It installs a virtual sound driver that intercepts the signal going to and from your sound card. So basically, anything that your computer can play through the speakers, you can record and save to an audio file of various formats (WAV, WMA, MP3, Ogg Vorbis).

It can also record on a schedule, so you can record for a specified period of time or start and stop at a scheduled time. I downloaded and tried it out this week and it works great.

It does cost $18, but is cheaper than a sound card, and I don’t have to install any hardware!