Jul 31, 2011

What's in your browser?

For kicks, I decided to type each letter of the alphabet into my address bar, just to see what site came up at the top of the list (from my browser's history) for each letter:

a - A Cardboard Problem
b - Blogger
c - CommonWealth One FCU
d - DanWarp blog (Victorious, iCarly, etc)
e - eBay
f - Facebook
g - Google
h - HopePrescott.com
i - Indians.com
j - Justin.tv
k - KLOVE.com
l - Lulu.com
m - Mail.Yahoo.com
n - Need for Speed Hot Pursuit general discussion
o - Ouachita Baptist University
p - Plurk
q - QRStuff
r - Readerman.net
s - SWAEC.org
t - Twitter
u - USPS Tracking
v - ADE SandBox (Arkansas.gov)
w - Woot
x - MXToolbox
y - YouTube
z - ZamZar

So, what's in YOUR browser?

Jul 24, 2011

It's been 16 years...

Sitting here now, it is hard to fathom everything we've gone through over the past 16 years.  You see, 16 years ago today, Shan was giving birth to our son.  I thought it would be fun to look back at things that were happening about 16 years ago: 
  • Microsoft unleashes Windows 95 on the world. During the unveiling, it crashes.
  • Something called a "DVD" hits the news. Supposedly it would replace VHS tapes. Pishaw! 
  • eBay is founded. 
  • Toy Story is released and we go watch it with our little baby boy. 16 years later, we have tons of Toy Story toys from those early days up to Toy Story 3.  
  • A year after Toy Story (well, a little sooner, but in '96 anyway), Pokemon is thrust upon the world and our son still loves it the way his father loves Star Wars.
  • Speaking of Star Wars, Tyler grows to love all things Star Wars - just like his old man, much to his mother's dismay. :-)
I believe we started taking family vacations the first summer after Tyler was born.  We've been to San Antonio (a couple times), New Orleans, Memphis (a couple times), Nashville, Dallas, Orlando, Washington DC, St. Louis, Branson, Chicago, New York City, and other destinations that escape my aging mind (but I'm sure Shan will happily fill in).

We've seen Tyler grow from a baby we could hold in the crook of my arm to a young man that stands nearly a head taller than I do.  We've seen him dressed in everything from nothing but undies, a cowboy hat and a guitar to a business suit.  He has seen things come along that we had not imagined at the time he was born: his sister, Emily; Playstation; Wii; ipods, ipads; netbooks; 9/11; the 2nd shuttle disaster; World Cup championships; Flurp; the completion of the Star Wars saga; the Red Sox winning the World Series; the Indians not doing so...

We've seen interests change from Pokemon to Barney to Yugioh to Star Wars.  Somewhere during all of this, girls went from having cooties to being cuties.  We've seen him grow from riding a stick horse to driving our family vehicles.  He's played baseball and basketball.  He's won a writing award and is a very good artist.  He loves his high-tech gadgets but will help out with his grandfather on the farm when asked. 

He's lived through the passing of his great grandparents and his "Poppy" (my Dad). 

Most of all, he is one of the greatest sons a parent could hope for.  By the time I was his age, I had already made quite a mess of things in my life (though I hid most of those pretty well, I think, and I certainly learned from them).  Tyler, on the other hand, is well-rounded and well-grounded.  Sure, we have our moments (and I'm sure many more to come as we travel through the rest of the teenage years), but I am VERY proud to call him SON. 

Happy Birthday, Tyler!  Welcome to the pre-adulthood period called "Sixteen!"  I love you, buddy!

Jul 22, 2011

Recovering Memories

Sometimes, I do "computer work" (as they say) on the side as an independent consultant. I don't do it often enough to quit my day job, but it often gives me a chance to do things I don't usually handle on a daily basis.  Enter one such case. 

NTI Backup Now Ez 2010A friend asked if I would mind looking at her external hard drive to see if I could recover her pictures, videos, etc from it.  She used NTI Backup Now EZ (apparently, a member of the Geek Squad recommended this software).  That software has two backup options: Files/folders and whole partition.  She chose to back up the entire drive using the partition method.  Had I been in her shoes, I probably would have done the same.  Backing up the whole partition makes a perfect image of your computer's hard drive(s) so that should your computer die, you can stick in a new hard drive, run the restore, and have your machine running exactly as it was when you did the backup. At least, that's the theory. 

I hooked the hard drive up to my computer to see just what was on the drive.  Turns out there were several files and folders, many of which are related to booting from the external drive with a Linux loader and restore software.  The backup folder had several files in it: a CAT file (the backup catalog), a .NBP file and a .NBZ file.  The NBP was about 125GB and the NBZ about 4GB.  Based on the filenames, the 125GB was the C drive and the 4GB the D drive.  I knew at this point, I would need a drive to restore things to.  When I talked to our friend about it, she said she had two computers she could bring and I could do what I needed to restore the data.  The first computer turned out to be a P-III with a 40 or 80 GB hard drive. That's no good for this restore.  The other computer had a 320GB hard drive and a 500GB hard drive.  The 500GB hard drive was making some sporadic "clacking" noises, so I had my doubts about using that.  But, the backups were about 140GB and I had a 320GB drive, so we'll call that good to go.

I hooked up the external drive and booted the system from it.  The software came up and recognized the CAT file. When I tried to restore it, though, the software just reported "Failed to restore system - No space left on device." Okay, well, I figured that meant it didn't like the fact the hard drive was already formatted (it had XP on it).  I reformatted the hard drive and tried again. Nope, same error.  Okay, something weird is going on here.  I found tech support contact info for NTI and shot off an email for help.

While I waited for tech support (this was over a weekend, so I had time to play around with it), I downloaded the trial versions of the newest flavor of EZ.  That didn't accomplish anything.  I used the new software to burn a bootable CD to see if maybe the software was just outdated. Nope.  I downloaded the trial version of NTI Backup Now 5.5 to see if it had advanced features I could use to bust open this backup.  The software does have features that "should" have let me in, but when I tried restoring, I got the same error (or basically the same). Actually, thinking back, the program wouldn't find the backups, so I ran a quick backup to see what kind of file(s) it created.  Then, I changed the extension of the existing files to match. It was worth a shot. At least at that point, the program saw the files and TRIED to do something with them.

I'm not sure why, but something told me to examine the files more closely, specifically the CAT file.  Generally, the catalog file tells the backup program what to look for in the backups.  I downloaded a HEX editor, copied the content of the external drive to the 500GB hard drive (clacking and all) and began digging.  As it turns out, the restore program was looking for the backup filenames ending with a NBF extenstion instead of the ones mentioned before.  Okay, that's easy to fix. I changed the extensions, booted up to the linux program and tried the restore. BZZZT. Same problem - No space on device.

By this time (a couple days later), I received a reply from NTI tech support explaining that the error is most likely due to drive sizes.  That is, the drive I am trying to restore TO is smaller than one used to create the backup.  She also asked me to zip the catalog file so she could check it for errors.  I did, and she did, and she sent back a fixed CAT file.  I tried the restore and it still failed.  This time I sent an email to tech support, I was much more specific: I told her about the file extensions (which I had changed back to their original once I got the catalog file back) and about the environment I was using (size of the external drive, size of the the drive trying to restore to, etc).

The next day, I received a reply: I needed to restore to a 500GB drive or larger and the extensions did, in fact, need to be NBF (which I had seen in the hex editor, if you recall).  I did not mention that I took a hex editor to the files. I thought it better not to bring that up.

In any case, I grabbed a 500GB hard drive (not the clacking one) and fired up the external drive.  Sure enough, the program was happy with the fixed catalog file and the breathing room it wanted!

As it turns out, the files our friend wants are the very last photos and videos taken of her father before he passed away.  Sometimes, we get stuck working on a difficult project and we just can't seem to let go of it no matter how many roadblocks we run into.  Rather than throwing in the towel, we have some inner drive to figure it out.  In my case, I had no idea what the pictures were, just that she wanted them very badly if at all possible.  Now that I know why, I'm glad I sometimes lose myself in a project beyond the point many folks would have simply walked away.  I don't say that to say that I am better than other folks who do the same kind of thing. I say it because *I* had very little to do with it.  For me, it was as though the Lord was whispering to me the whole time, prodding me to try things I normally wouldn't do (like the hex editor).  I have to give Him the glory! Only because of Him in life was I able to recover our friend's memories.

So you say your iPod battery doesn't last?

A few days ago, my wife noticed that her iPod touch (2nd Gen) was draining battery like nobody's business!  She would fully charge it, then within an hour or so, it would be dead or nearly dead.  She is running 4.2.1 and it is well-known that the 4.x iOS has major issues with various generations of iPods, especially battery issues.

Of course, "Airplane Mode" solves the problem. It also defeats the purpose of having a wi-fi enabled handheld device.  I did some poking around and stumbled across a suggestion to reset the network settings.  At this point, I figured it couldn't hurt.  So far, so good!

To reset your network settings, go to SETTINGS > GENERAL > RESET > RESET NETWORK SETTINGS

This will, of course, make your device forget everything it saved for your networking, so you will have to re-join your wireless network(s).  But, already we've seen a MAJOR difference in her battery life.  Evidently, the update process hoses the network connection such that the wi-fi never sleeps or runs at max or whatever. 

People jumping from full factory reset directly to 4.2.1 say they have no issues.  That leads one to believe that the issue is in the updating process.  Well, whatever the problem, the fix at this point seems to be to reset the network settings on the device.

Hope this helps someone else!

Jul 13, 2011

You can call it faith, you can call it angels, you can call it whatever you want.

Some call it, "The Lord's Mysterious Ways."

Today was an absolute crazy house at work. I was supposed to travel to a school district to help with various netbook and server issues.  Instead, earlier in the week, I had TWO iMacs come up with missing operating system errors while trying to run XP Mode in Parallels.  I planned on fixing those and then head down to the school afterward.  Unfortunately, the video conference program scheduled with several sites around the state and the Manhattan School of Music went incredibly awry. The state video network had major glitches which lasted the full three hours of the program. Rather than a cool, interactive presentation, the participants eventually received a couple of worksheet documents to work through online.  I spent the entire morning helping the Distance Learning Coordinator out with troubleshooting, phone-calling, and putting out fires.

Lunchtime comes and goes and I figure this will be another one of those "no lunch" workdays.  I have those a lot, though not enough to make a noticeable physical difference, if you get my drift.  In any case, the DL Coordinator offers a deal - I go get lunch and then when I get back, she can run out to a school real quick while I watch over the afternoon program.  Works for me.

I run through the drive-through and decide that I will eat my lunch while getting my car washed!  Brilliant. Or not.  I pull around to the car wash and the first automatic bay is out of order.  The second one has a line of folks waiting their turn.  I don't have that kind of time. I head to another automatic wash nearby.  When I pull up, a car is at the money machine.  The man driving was struggling to get the machine to accept his money. I watched, munching down fries, trying to decide if I should help him out.  He opened his door and began slamming the machine with his hands. I decide to wait for another minute.  If this were to go on much longer, I'd have to back out and head for the office.  A moment later, and the man pulled his car through the wash bay and out on to the main road.

I pulled up to the machine and selected a wash. "Please insert $2" the mechanically female voice said.  This was not right, and it meant that the man had been able to get a five dollar bill into the machine before he drove off in frustration.  I pulled in to the bay, and hoped the man was headed to the same wash that I had just left.  I ate my lunch, hoping I could find the man in his Chevy Celebrity.

After the wash, I drove toward the other car wash and did not see his car.  When I pulled along side the wash, though, I saw him sitting at the machine.  I pulled a U-Turn and hurried back to where he was.  As I pulled in, I stopped and jumped out of my car.  By this time, he had his door opened again and was clearly frustrated - beating the machine, running his hand over his face and forehead, mouthing words. 

"Hi! It doesn't like your money, huh?" I asked with a smile on my face, trying to ease his tension.  "I was in the car behind you at the other wash. I didn't realize it had taken a five dollar bill from you," I said.

"Yeah, stupid machine," he returned.

"Well, you paid for most of my car wash, so let me return the favor," I said as I stuck my card into the machine before he could react.  I pointed at the selection panel. "What's your poison?"

"Oh, thank you. It doesn't matter. Just pick one," he said, shutting his door.

"Well, then, I'll give you the big dog!" I hit the button for the "Ultimate" wash choice.

I hopped in my car and drove back to the office.

There were a lot of things that had to fall into place in order for our paths to cross *TWICE.* I prefer to think that the Lord above allowed (made?) this to happen to teach us both that even in the middle of two very different frustrating experiences, we can still find a way to help each other.

On the radio, KLOVE played Matt Maher's "Hold Us Together" as I headed down the road.  Specifically, these lyrics played as I got back in my car: "And I'll, be, my brothers keeper / So the whole world will know / That we're not alone" 

*The quote used for the title of this post comes from the movie, "Angels in the Outfield," in case you didn't know.

Jul 4, 2011

Happy 4th of July, America!

(BTW, this is what 2 minutes and Paintbrush for Mac gets you when *I* am at the helm...)

Jul 3, 2011

Back from Dead, Let's Celebrate

I figured I would update my blog readers on the status of the home desktop computer.  As I mentioned before, the main hard drive (there were three in the system, not RAIDed) just cliked away after I tried the freezer trick.  In case you are not aware of that trick, one can place a dead hard drive in the freezer for an hour or more, then hook the drive up and sometimes it will be readable for 20-30 minutes or more before dying again.  In my case, freezing the drive just loosened the head that wasn't moving but didn't help things.

The computer has a 250GB hard drive, which is small by today's standards buy also comes with the right price tag right now (FREE!!).  I had been debating to switch over to Windows 7 for some time, and this was the catalyst I needed.  I figured since I was already going to have install (or reinstall) an operating system, I might as well take the plunge.

Windows 7 allows you to install it on an existing drive, leaving all the data in tact. Very helpful. Of course, this is not news to those who have already have installed it.  After the install finished, there were updates to install, peripherals to set up, and programs/games to reinstall.  The upside of a crashing computer is that I generally do not reinstall EVERYTHING that was on the old system. This means that I end up with a much "cleaner, leaner" operating environment.

I have played a little with Windows 7, but nothing extensive.  Now that it has been out a couple years, I have to say, I like it a lot. Sure, finding system settings can be a little trying, but I've been enjoying the speed and features in Win7.

On Friday, (not really in celebration, but close enough for me) we headed up to Arkadelphia to the Aquatic Park there.  I had never been there before.  It was packed, but there were enough people OUT of the water that it only felt overwhelming a couple times.  Otherwise, everyone seemed to give everyone else some personal space.  The entrance fee is only 5 bucks a person, too. That's cheaper than a movie these days, and you get to slide down a fun twisting water slide, hang out under a rainfall mushroom, and get soaked by suspended water buckets.  Oh yeah, and you can swim, grab a snack, and lay out, too.

Emily was afraid to head down the slide at first, but the more kids she saw doing it (and with more than a little prodding), she became an old pro in no time!  In fact, we all took many, many turns riding down the slide, doing the "HOLY COW THIS CEMENT IS HOT" dance back into the line and then down again. 

There were no fights, no kids (or adults) getting out of line, no mass hysteria.  All races were represented. This is specifically targeted at those who have strong feelings about the city pool here in Prescott.  They key to success - setting rules, posting the rules, enforcing the rules.  The water park has a minimum of seven lifeguards that we saw.  They rotated stations every 30 minutes.  The most trouble anyone got into was for running.  Well, of course people were running - the cement was HOT! They need soakers or something to keep the walkways cool on hot days... Ouch!  Take note, Prescott City officials - everyone can play nice together. Let's get out of the dark ages already - let's open our own city-sponsored water park.  Nothing fancy, just something fun - for all.

We stayed a few hours, headed to Sonic for Happy Hour then headed back to the house.  And to think, we still have two days off to go!

Quick note: My niece was bowling on Saturday with her family and managed to break her thumb in the process. Please pray she heals quickly. It looks pretty bad from the photos we've seen. :-(

Jul 1, 2011

She's Dead, Jim...

It's official... The main hard drive in our desktop at the house died last night (or rather early this morning). I was playing Duke Nukem and the computer froze, rebooted itself, and blue-screened with an "unbootable media" error. Tried the "drive in the freezer" trick - no go. After the thaw, the drive just clicks-clicks-clicks. Fortunately, for the past year or so we have been saving pictures on the various machines we have here in the house (including the HP MediaVault).  Not every picture is backed up to any one place, so that will be taken care of this weekend.

For me, the loss of the drive means the loss of recent baseball card scans, but at least my card database is already stored on the MediaVault!  As for other data, it means the loss of my saved games.  I know, for those who are not gamers, you may see that as no big deal.  I spent many recreational hours into the wee hours of the morning building up my various levels, characters, etc.  Ironically, I had set about half a dozen personal best records in Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit 2010 just last night.  I had also managed to work my way pretty far in Duke Nukem Forever.  Oh well, we pick up the pieces and punt.

I am almost certain there were documents that hadn't been backed up in a while, though.  We won't know which until we want to find them again.  And, of course there are the things we won't even realize until we try to find them.  Then again, there are things that have been taking up space and needed to be deleted anyway... right?

So, it looks like I'll be hard drive shopping this weekend.  I do not look forward to reinstalling Windows. UGH.  In the meantime, I have downloaded Reflect to image our drives once everything is up and running again.  That way, should this happen again, I just fire up the boot cd, connect the image and restore.

The hardware demons have won this round... As they said in the old Tom & Jerry cartoon: Touche', pussy cat!  But, as they said in Cars, "No, no, no, no... (I) will have (my) chance... (I) will have (my) chance!"