Well, that was fun.

e89eb2739d317a3add03de4d2230566c_viewI’m still here! Just been very, very busy with a massive relocation project at work that started in April (although the planning began in 2013) and finally finished in early September.

We moved around 500 users, their associated desktop systems, multiple computer labs, and most of an entire-floor datacenter/server room from one facility (in multiple buildings) to a newly-remodeled/built-out area in another building about four miles down the road.

This all had to be done with a minimum of disruption to production systems, and at the same time I had to move our DNS and LDAP infrastructure from systems housed in that datacenter to VMs running at our corporate datacenters – so that it wouldn’t be affected by the move.

Lots of long hours, and then the final move phases itself – the first weekend I spent 32 hours at the office, and the weekend after that I was here for 22 hours. Then three days later my mother had surprise emergency heart bypass surgery and I had to spend a week in a hotel in Oklahoma City while she pulled through and started recovery.

However, all that’s done, and my insane stress level is slowly, slowly coming back down to normal now that the holiday season is here.

Read More

Why I read Baen Books

Inspired by Brad Torgersen’s “Why publish with Baen?” and Larry Correia’s “Why I publish with Baen, too”, here’s a side of the story from one of their readers.

I first encountered Baen Books in junior high school (late 80s), and started paying attention to the publisher “because the stuff they’re putting out is REALLY good”.

In 2001, I was bored, and encountered the Baen Free Library, and specifically, John Ringo’s novel “A Hymn Before Battle“. I gave it a shot, reading on my PC during lunch hour – and went to Book People (in Austin) that evening to buy the paperback.

I proceeded to start devouring everything I could by Ringo (one of the few authors who I would buy their works in hardcover, because I didn’t want to wait for the paperback), and by exposure through the Free Library, read other Baen authors. In most cases, I read one of their works through the BFL, then went out and bought the rest of the series in hard copy.

I started buying other Baen hardcover titles solely for the CDs inside the back cover, full of ebook versions of various Baen titles that weren’t up at the Free Library yet. You can still download most of those at The Fifth Imperium – thanks to Toni and company for allowing those files to stay online!

The majority of my book purchases are now electronic, and Baen is a publisher that I can trust with $15 for an e-ARC of the latest title from a favorite author, knowing that it’s NOT going to suck – and that it’s DRM-free so I can convert and read it on any device I want. While there’s been one or two titles over the years that have been sub-par, mostly where a new fledgling author has taken over an established series from a major author’s outline, those have openly been acknowledged by the main author and promised better results in the future. I’ve never been outright unhappy with any title I’ve bought from Baen.

My wife unfortunately passed away in 2009. The first time I laughed and smiled after that was while reading a passage in one of Ringo’s “Legacy of the Aldenata” novels. I wrote up a quick blurb, explained why, and sent my thanks to Mr. Ringo. I never expected to hear back from him, but I did! It wasn’t much, but it was one of those little things that inspire loyalty in fans. Five years later, my last name was even used for a very minor character in one of his latest books! As I said, tiny little things, make a huge difference.

Through John Ringo I discovered Larry Correia’s Monster Hunter International and sequels. Bought the ebook, ordered a signed paperback and a few MHI patches, and was overjoyed to have direct communication with Larry a few times. Got at least three friends hooked on the series as well.

What struck me most was that I’ve *never* gotten a “I’m the big author, you’re just a reader” vibe from any of the Baen authors (or Toni, the publisher, who has directly commented on a couple of my Facebook posts talking about Baen) in communications. Larry comes across as an aw-shucks guy who likes his guns and just happened to get lucky with a story he wrote. MANY books later – he still has that same attitude, as do most of the Baen authors I’ve encountered.

Through Larry I’ve now discovered Brad Torgersen, and have become a fan of his work as well and look forward to his book coming out on Baen later this year.

As a kid in junior high (I’m 39 now) I never thought that I could have near-instantaneous communication with the authors and publisher of most of my favorite books. This post explains but a tiny few of the reasons why I’ve been a Baen fan for more than twenty-five years, and why I don’t plan on that stopping anytime soon.

Read More

falling in love with my wife, v2.1

This was originally a post on the “Geeks” mailing list, archived here.
Amy passed away suddenly in June of 2009, from complications caused partially by PCOS.


Warning: long sappy story ahead. Ignore if you’re more concerned about NFS packets or OpenGL acceleration.

Over the past week, I’ve fallen in love with my wife, for the second time.

I met Amy in February of 1998. We met on an IRC channel, and were also both members of a mailing list I ran at the time (SWGoths; a group that I am no longer associated with). Anyway, we ran into each other on IRC. I was a server operator at the time, and almost /killed (disconnected) her because I thought her nickname (TurtleX) was a bot (automation).

Luckily for me, I hesitated. She handed me a cookie. Things went downhill from there. 8-) (just kidding)

We’ve been together since 1998. For all of that time, we’ve basically been married in each other’s eyes, but we only officially did all the paperwork and exchanged rings, etc, just a bit over a year ago (March 31st, 2001, in Chattanooga, TN). Only difference really is that we have rings now and if we ever get divorced, she gets half my shit. 8-)

Anyway.. For the past couple of years, behind the scenes, things ain’t been going so well in Bradfordland. We went from starcrossed lovers fucking like wild monkeys, to basically being roommates that happened to sleep in the same bed. People talk about the spark going out – well, this one was hit by a full load of halon. We fought. (about everything.. money, cars, stuf she wanted, stuff I wanted… everything). Nothing ever seemed to help. We were both cranky. As I said, basically we just shared a house.

In February 2001, things started to get better. I was diagnosed in late November 2000 with obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), which explained my LOUD (not just loud, but LOUD – the sleep study tech called it “Extreme”, and they see people snoring for a living) snoring, so bad that Amy had started to sleep in a separate room. It also explained my constant being exhausted – I would sleep 12 hours, but then get up and fall asleep in the shower, or while typing. Nothing more embarrasing than the head of your department at work waking you up because your head is on your keyboard and its beeping and everyone around you is looking into your cube…

Anyway.. I was diagnosed with sleep apnea. They called it “severe”. Normal diagnosis.. Sleep apnea is when you have 4 to 7 “events” (obstruction of breath, stopping of breath, etc) an hour. Insurance kicks in and pays for treatment at 47 events/hour. They “clocked” me at 112/hour. I was getting NO (none at all) REM sleep, and got down to 87% oxygen blood saturation (where normal is 98% or so). This had been going on as long as I could remember, but started getting extreme (the exhaustion) around 1998.

In February 2001, they finally got the insurance bit sorted out, and put me on a CPAP (constant positive air pressure) mask. This is basically a mask that I wear over my nose (or with two “nozzles” inserted directly into my nostrils, making a seal) that blows pressurized air (12cm) into my airway while I sleep at night, keeping it open and letting me breathe normally. Not only does this stop my snoring, but it lets me get full deep REM sleep, and get rest “like a normal person”. The first night i was on it, Amy came in to check on me three or four times, fearing that I was dead because she didnt hear ANYTHING – no snoring, etc, at all. Thats how different it was. I slept four hours that first night, and got up feeling like I was on crack and had drank a pot of espresso. Everything was bright and shiny again. I had energy. I could live life again.

I’ve been on CPAP since then. Minor annoyance at times, but we’ve gotten used to it, and its worth it. I dont care if I look like darth vader at night – I can sleep, and that makes it worth it. The reason I mention it is an example of how something very relatively simple can make a HUGE change in someone’s life.. Modern medical technology is a great thing. We’ll both tell you that – read on for the other side of the story.

On to Amy. Things were fine after we met.. for a while.. Then, she started to get cranky. Irritiable. Downright bitchy and mean occasionally. we’d have bad fights – but nothing that would make either one of us leave; we’re both too stubborn for that. We’d be screaming at each other, then ten minutes later, “hey, lets go for ice cream… ” “okay!” However, despite the good times, we had just as many bad times.. caused by a lot of things, from my bad habit of spending too much time on the computer, to being cranky in the mornings, to her being self-centered and bossy and demanding. We got married a year ago, after I got on the CPAP, but that didnt solve things – we still fought, but not as often.. discontent was still present. We got married because we both love each other – we both knew SOMETHING was wrong, but didnt know what it was or how to go about fixing it. We both believed that whatever it was, we could find it and fix it.

The discontent wasnt restricted to here at home – it flowed out onto the mailing lists (or whatever/whoever was the nearest target) as well. You’ve seen it – one minute Amy would be fine, and the next minute she’d be mean, viciously ripping someone to shreds over a tiny insignificant detail. I chalked it up to “amy just being amy”, she would be like “hey, I’m honest, fucking deal with it, I’m not going to change.”

Two months ago, however, things started to explain themselves. Amy went to a doctor for strep throat. The nurse who saw her took a look at her and asked if Amy had ever heard of or been diagnosed with PCOS (Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome). She said no, she’d never heard of it, and never been looked at for it. An appointment was made with a local endocrinologist to have some exams and tests done.

(in short, they sucked, so she went to a different doctor..)

On May 5th, the second set of test results came back from the labs. More or less, they ruled out everything severe, and confirmed what the adult nurse had suspected from ten seconds of looking at her and one line on a medical chart – Amy had PCOS.

PCOS is more or less an endocrine disorder. She doesent get enough estrogen (female hormones) in her system. Therefore, the testosterone that *is* in her system (yes, women have it too, just not as much as men) dominated her personality. Instead of being nice and sweet and feminine, she was a raging pissed-off bitch. Without the estrogen to “balance” things out, she was basically having permanent eternal PMS. This went on for *decades* before a kind nurse saw something and made a suggestion. That kind suggestion ended up changing her life – and mine too – for the better.

The endocrinologist put her on a standard normal cycle of birth control pills, which has balanced out and returned her hormone levels to “normal”.

Within 48 hours of her getting on these pills, it was amazing. She was COMPLETELY different. I even asked her once, “Okay, who are you, and what have you done with my wife?” She was SO nice, SO different from before, that I got *paranoid*. I was convinced that she was just being nice to me for some other reaosn, that she wanted something or was hiding something. Good to say,I was totally wrong. 8-) The Amy that I remembered, that I had originally fallen in love with four years ago, was back. She’s nice. She’s kind. She greets me at the door after work with a hug and a Coke with ice. Heck, she doesent even yell at the pets anymore! She says that now its *hard* to get mad – when before, something even minorly out of whack would cause her to completely fly off the handle without reason and be a raging bitch. From talking about things, apparently when we first fell in love, the endorphins served the same function as estrogen – and “masked off” the anger and temper she had.. so when we “settled down”, that went away, and she was no longer “balanced”…. Mentally, figuratively, physically, everything.

Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve fallen in love with my wife all over again. Its like a different world – she’s less grouchy; in return I’m less grouchy. We get along better. We TALK A HELL OF A LOT MORE. LOTS more. We laugh. We cuddle (yeah, like you wanted to know that). We go driving around just to explore. I teach her about cars (soon to be stick-shift driving lessons) and old 1970s computers. She teaches me about her favorite music.

Its an entirely new world. Its amazing. THE SUN IS SHINING AGAIN. I’ve fallen back in love with my wife. She’s fallen back in love with me. Things couldnt be much better at this point, I think.

I know in the past that Amy’s temper has caused some “dissention in the ranks” here on the geeks list (and rescue too, for that matter). People have unsubscribed, or been forcibly unsubscribed, because of her pure anger on what should be minor debates or fun discussions. I dont blame them – keep in mind that I had to LIVE with it from day to day, and not just in email. I had stuff thrown at me (fortunately, her aim sucks!) 8-) (had to replace a couple of remote controls, though..)

I know these are “my” lists. I know that I can do whatever I want with them. However, you guys (and gals) are a community. I value this community, because I dont have many friends – you people are my friends and family. I value your opinions and thoughts.

I’ve come to ask. Would anyone mind if Amy comes back on the geeks and/or rescue mailing lists? I miss her commentary, and female point of view on a lot of the things we talk about. I talk to her every day – but enjoyed her being on the lists as well. I promise you that her blinding furious anger is GONE now – she’s a completely different person (and will freely admit this to anyone who asks).

I’m asking as another list member, not as the guy who runs everything. I dont consider myself a dictator, or anything like that – I just happen to be the person whose machine everything is hosted from.

So, what do you say? Thoughts, comments, anything, appreciated. Please feel free to let me know, either here, or private email.

Thanks for listening to my huge long 160-line rant. Other than Amy, you people are some of my only friends.

Bill

(footnotes: apneanet.org and pcos.net, for more information on our conditions..)

Read More

Best spam I’ve gotten all week

This made me laugh for a good five minutes. Very obviously scraped from Facebook page titles.


Date: Fri, 7 Jun 2013 20:49:34 +0530
From shirley.jones@sos-backup.com  Fri Jun  7 10:31:16 2013
From: Shirley Jones 
Subject: Launching Bill's Online Backup - Potential Partnership

Hi

My name is Shirley Jones- and I'm trying to get in touch with the person at Bill's Massage Parlor and PC Repair who supervises the selection of new products Bill's Massage Parlor and PC Repair offers its customers. SOS specializes in helping businesses like yours launch a fully managed and rebranded offsite backup service for your customers.  E.g. Bill's Online Backup.

Read More

Thoughts on Kickstarter

I’ve found that the more over-funded a Kickstarter project is, the higher the probability that delivery of perks and products will be delayed or have problems.

In my experience over the past two years, I’ve seen a number of Kickstarter projects I funded where the project creators got bogged down after deciding to add features not originally specified at the time of funding, or continually “tweak” features that then result in delay after delay.

Looking through my backing history, some examples (out of 56 total projects backed):

  • Honey Badger BBQ sauce: first run had bacterial problems. Had to send out new batch months later.
  • Electricity | The Life Story of NIKOLA TESLA: “Oh, that perk you chose, is out of production, if you want something equivalent to it you’ll have to send even more money”. Nope.
  • L8 SmartLight The SoundLess Speaker: “Ooops, we forgot about CE/FCC certification…”
  • NeuroDreamer sleep mask: “Oops, battery problem.” Funded July ’12, finally shipping June ’13?
  • Ouya: ETA was March ’13, now it’s 3 months later and I finally have a tracking number.. we’ll see.
  • HexBright – funded July ’11, upgraded model delivered Feb. ’13.
  • IronBuds earbuds: Funded Aug. ’11, sent “freebie” 3-piece earbuds Sep. ’12, still haven’t sent the 6-piece IronBuds originally advertised as rewards.

The projects that I’ve seen with the quickest “fulfillment” and so forth? Custom sets of playing cards.

Read More

Go buy yourself a HexBright. Right now.

Are you a geek, a nerd, a gadget hound? Do you like hackable things? Do you like useful things? If so, then go to HexBright right now and click on “FLEX” to buy one of the coolest flashlights I’ve ever held in my hand.

I backed the HexBright project on Kickstarter in July of 2011 – in fact, it was the very first Kickstarter project I ever contributed to. In short, to make up for the delay in getting product out, the project leader upgraded buyers of the PRIME basic light to the FLEX at no charge. My FLEX arrived today, and not only is it more than worth the wait, I’m kicking myself for not buying a couple more (even if they were just the PRIME model).

IMG_20130225_190850

In short, the HexBright is a CREE-based flashlight – with an Arduino for brains. To charge, I plug it into a MicroUSB cable – and that same cable can be used to reprogram the light. By default, it has “low, medium, high” and “blinky” modes. I can reprogram it so that one of those is a strobe, a low-to-high “heartbeat” pulse, something in Morse Code, etc. There are already code samples up on GitHub.

859394_10151310060855143_1461696810_o

Friends ask me for tech advice a lot of the time, and I don’t often give glowing, giddy reviews to a lot of products – but this is one of them.

Read More

Disappointed with Altec Lansing customer service

Over the past couple of years, I’ve bought a number of Altec Lansing computer audio products. First, a couple of IML237 “Orbit” speakers for my Mac systems. I was and am very satisfied with that product – a single speaker that gets both its power and data connection via USB (it’s a standalone audio device). Based on that experience, less than a year ago I purchased a couple of IML227 Orbit speakers through sellers on Amazon. The 227 is similar to the 237, except that it’s cheaper and has a plastic case instead of metal.

As far as sound quality, both models are functionally equivalent. However, the IML227s that I received have a flaw – when they’re connected to a power source (such as a powered USB hub or a system’s USB port when the system is in sleep or standby mode) but not initialized on the USB bus, they emit a loud random squealing noise. It didn’t take long for me to get annoyed with this problem, disconnect the IML227s, and switch to other speakers.

Eventually I came across this page on Altec Lansing’s support site, which states:

“Some of the initial production units exhibited this symptom. It has since been corrected. Please contact the Altec Lansing Customer Service Team by email at csupport@alteclansing.com or by phone at 1-800-ALTEC88 (1-800-258-3288) in order to resolve this situation.”

About a week ago, I sent Altec Lansing’s customer support department a quick and short email:

“I have two iML227 Orbit USB speakers that “squeal” when they’ve got power but are not receiving signal/output. I got fed up with the problem and put something else in their place, but recently found this: (URL). Am I still eligible for any sort of fix or replacement for these early production units?”

A week later, today, I received this response.

Not only did they not answer my (relatively simple) question, they told me that I have no warranty or service through them and that basically, I’m stuck with the defective speakers. Even a response that indicated they had actually read my inquiry would have been better than this generic blow-off form letter.

I’m very disappointed with Altec Lansing’s customer service at this point, and am not likely to purchase products from them again.

Read More

My Anti-Virus/Spyware/Malware Software Recommendations for Windows PCs


The latest version of this list will always be available here:
My Anti-Virus/Spyware/Malware Software Recommendations for Windows PCs


I get asked for recommendations a lot, especially when people get new computers for the holidays, so here’s a writeup.

First, if you’re running anything older than Windows XP, upgrade. This doesn’t mean throwing away your computer – it might just mean a RAM (memory) upgrade and an OS reinstall. I’ve seen too many perfectly working computers tossed out when all that was needed was $50-100 worth of RAM, a fresh reinstall, and a “tune-up” by someone who knew what they were doing.

If you don’t want to have to bother with any of this – ask a friendly neighborhood geek if a version (“distribution”) of Linux would fit your computing needs!

Second, you can never have too much RAM (not hard drive space; that’s different). Running Windows XP, you want a gigabyte of RAM at the very minimum, and if your motherboard / system model will take it, you want 3-4G of memory. Windows Vista and Windows 7 really want at least 2G to be “usable”. Think of RAM as “working space”, or the size of your desk, and your hard drive as your filing cabinet – your filing cabinet can store a lot more than will fit on your desk, and you swap stuff in and out of it as needed.

If you’ve got a 32-bit processor or are running a 32-bit operating system on a 64-bit processor, don’t bother putting more than 4G of RAM in the system. Due to address space overhead and limitations, you will only be able to “see” and use around 3-3.5G of that 4G total. If you’ve got a 64-bit processor and a 64-bit installation of Windows Vista or Windows 7, you will most likely be able to use as much RAM as you can afford and that will fit into your motherboard. Memory is insanely cheap over the past six months; I recently bought 16G (in four 4G sticks) of DDR3-spec memory for less than $80.

Now, on to the software.

A lot of people use anti-virus / anti-spyware / anti-malware products from companies such as Symantec, Norton, or McAfee. These companies may have had great products ten or fifteen years ago, but nowdays they’re bloated size-wise, slow your system down, adversely affect performance, and in a lot of cases don’t stay as up to date regarding system threats as they should. If you’re running one of these products, no matter if you got it free or have already paid for an update subscription, it is my professional recommendation that you dump it.

My personal choices for the best system protection packages:

FREE: (in order of preference)

Microsoft Security Essentials
http://windows.microsoft.com/en-US/windows/products/security-essentials

AVG Free
http://free.avg.com/us-en/homepage

Avast!
http://www.avast.com/en-us/index

Avira Free
http://www.avira.com/en/avira-free-antivirus

COMMERCIAL / PAY: (in order of preference)

eSET NOD32
http://www.eset.com/us/home/products/antivirus/

Webroot Spysweeper + AV
http://www.webroot.com/En_US/consumer-products-spysweeper.html

In addition to the primary AV/spyware/malware package on your system, there are a few other free utilities that I highly recommend be used to run scans and cleans once a week if the system is used heavily, once a month otherwise.

MalwareBytes Anti-Malware
http://www.malwarebytes.org/

SuperAntiSpyware
http://www.superantispyware.com/

CCLeaner (aka “Crap Cleaner”)
http://www.piriform.com/ccleaner

I don’t use it anymore, but there’s also Spybot Search & Destroy:
http://www.safer-networking.org/

The built-in Windows defrag program is a piece of junk and should not be depended on. For free defrag utilities I like these:

Auslogics Disk Defrag
http://www.auslogics.com/en/software/disk-defrag/

Defraggler
http://www.piriform.com/defraggler

IOBit Smart Defrag
http://www.iobit.com/iobitsmartdefrag.html

UltraDefrag
http://ultradefrag.sourceforge.net/en/index.html

One more important note:

STOP USING INTERNET EXPLORER.

Instead, use one of these:

Google Chrome
https://www.google.com/intl/en/chrome/browser/

Mozilla Firefox
http://www.mozilla.org/en-US/firefox/new/

These are just my personal preferences and what I tell people to use; I welcome alternative suggestions and comments from other tech types as to what they use and why.

My personal systems are all Macs running OS X or are various Linux desktop distributions. The only Windows machines I own are either virtual machines for development or a couple of systems dedicated to playing video games.

Read More