Thursday, January 21, 2010

Those who don't Read History ...

Wind your mind back to 1995. Yuh - lots of weird things, like the internet, being introduced. The Web Bubble still five years into the future. Netscape being written; Internet Explorer doesn't yet exist! There's a guy called Steve Perlman with this idea that he can get TV to be interactive. Put a keyboard on your TV and you can do things like get the recipe for what you just saw made without having to go to a book. He calls it WebTV. It was kind of a good idea, but far too slow to succeed, as we can see now. Microsoft bought it when it still seemed like a good idea, and it's still alive, for some reason.

So what's the latest gimmick? Putting Twitter and Facebook on TV! Here's the advert - notice the use of the handset to control the video image of a phone keyboard. You think that it's a cool idea? Wait until you've tried using a Wiimote to work the on-screen keyboard on the TV - same idea; a disaster. At least WebTV gives you a keyboard!

Happy tweeting (do you pay Verizon FiOS to type in your tweet and Verizon Wireless some more to carry it?).

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Food, Glorious Food

Someone I met complained to me that, while their husband was perfectly capable of cooking, he only ever made very simple things, not having the confidence for "proper meals". Well, I have to tell you that I do all the major cooking in my household, for exactly the same reason - but in reverse. My wife, the AG, has been so demoralised by people telling her that her cooking is awful that she just won't try any more. This is a great shame, because what she does cook is always beautifully cooked. Oh well!

So, for those of us who believe ourselves to be culinarily impaired, here's a recipe for Grilled Pork Steaks. As with every dish, there are a few principles to remember. The main one is to get all your ingredients out and ready in advance. Then do the preliminary work, like trimming, chopping, etc., so that all the cooking effort can be done without distraction. Finally, enlist some others in the household to do things like setting the table, putting out drinks, etc.

The ingredients are
4 pork cutlets or steaks, each of about 6 ounces (160g)

(for the marinade)
1 small onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, chopped
2 tablespoons of cooking oil
2 oz sesame seeds or ground-up peanuts
0.5 teaspoon of Cayenne pepper
1.75 pints of beer (e.g. Heineken)
2 teaspoons of honey
2 teaspoons of mustard (e.g. French's)
4 teaspoons of lemon juice

The method is:

1. Fry the onion and garlic in the oil until the onion is becoming translucent
2. Add the sesame (or peanut) and continue to fry until the seeds are lightly browning.
3. Add the Cayenne pepper
4. After a minute or two, add the beer, honey, mustard, and lemon. Mix in well.
5. Remove all this from the heat, allow to cool somewhat in a bowl large enough to add the meat.
6. Roll the steaks in the pepper and add to the bowl of marinade.
7. Cover the bowl with foil, and leave in the fridge for 3 hours or so (the longer the better!).

When ready to serve, scrape off most of the marinade from the steaks, sprinkle with salt, and grill them for about 5-7 minutes on each side at a medium heat. Do not use a high heat for this, as the pork will become dry and leathery! During the grilling process, baste the steaks frequently with marinade in order to keep them moist.

So you see that actual cooking time is about 10-15 minutes, with little maintenance during this time. This means that you can be finishing up cooking whatever else you want to serve as the steaks cook. A good accompaniment is cubed and fried potatoes, where you first boil poattoes for about 20 minutes (instead of the normal 30 or so), cut them into little cubes, fry another chopped onion and then add the spuds and fry them too. Wonderful taste!

Have fun cooking.


Friday, January 15, 2010

And you Hate the Phone Company ?

I just want you to watch this.

It could easily be one of my best mates, who also works for Verizon. Go here for the Verizon page about this.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Just Something to Smile About

This cartoon is the work of Peter Brookes, and appeared in The Times of London on Jan 15, 2010. no mechanism for requesting reproduction permission appears to exist for bloggers. Still, I felt that I would like to share my appreciation for such a talented wit.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Re-installing Windows Continues

Obviously I'm getting spoilt by Linux. You know, how the Update Manager pops up every now and then and tells you that there are updates waiting, so you do them and, ten minutes later, you're done? I'd totally forgotten howlong Windows updates take! Of course, I've just added Win XP SP3, so now I'm automagically getting every security update under the sun!Right now I'm on number 27 of 59, Win Genuine Advantage Notifications is finishing, and Logitech's installer is waiting on a system re-boot. Needless to say, I declined to be shown some of the many advantages to using genuine Windows software - too slow!

So, after 3 hours, Windows updates are complete and I can reboot. Whoopee! 11:53:40. Press the magic button. ... 11:54:27 ... it's back. Wow! Who says Windows takes a long time to boot? Mind you, just wait until I install SQL Server again!

Now it's time to install Avast! again. That'll take about five mins or so and then I'll be able to restart again! I've lost count of how many times now, but this one won't be quick, because Avast! will be doing a boot-time complete scan. At least most of the disk is empty - I'd hate to do it on a full disk! ...... yup! That took about 30 minutes to get to the music. Still, everything is clear and Windows should stop whimpering that I'm not protected by anything now.

Ok. Now it's tomorrow, we didn't have power, and I'm done with Windows. I've installed Sun's VirtualBox, and I'm (I hope) all ready for Oracle's OTN day in NYC tomorrow. I have to get up way before the lark to get there for the start at 8 a.m., but one has to be dedicated !


Sunday, January 10, 2010

Two Brains, One Body

[N.P. Opus - Live is Life]
So, it's a nice, peaceful, Sunday afternoon. Cold as all get-out outside (-9C - 27F with a 10 mph breeze), and I have to go to the ex and fix a database (my own fault - I forgot to change something!). Brrrr!

A Day In The Life of a Developer
Meanwhile I've just changed the hard drive in my 17" Acer laptop and it's busy formatting a 160 GB drive. You might wonder about the small size, but ordinary ATA drives (not SATA ones) are getting scarce! TigerDirect, for instance, only has four 2.5" drives, and, when I was buying, the 160GB was the largest in stock. Of course, now they have 250GB and 320GB ones, but 160GB is really all I need. It's a WD Scorpio and all of these spin at 5400 rpm, which is a shame - raising it to 7200 would have been nice. However, it'll do for now, and I'll hope to get another development machine sometime in 2010, as this one was bought in 2006! The more recent machines that I have, like the Asus netbook and all the newer desktops, have SATA drives.

The main raison d'ĂȘtre for the change is the fact that I'm starting studying for an MCTS cert in SQL Server 2008, so I'll need to put on Visual Studio and SQL Server. I'm looking at SQL Server 2008 Developer Edition, and all the Express Edition languages - C#, VB, and C++ - and also the Web Development system. The current system had this already (for the 2005 versions) but something happened to it in early 2009, and using SSMS and VS 2005 together started to fail. After that I started to get problems with many other programs under Windows XP, where one program after another would take 99% of the cpu, despite actually doing nothing. Hopefully a complete restart will improve things, as I see no need to jump to Windows 7 at this point.

Once WinXP is back up I'll have to prevent it installing new versions of IE - I have no wish to suffer IE8! - and then get it up to the latest SP level, with all security updates. The trick to stopping installation of IE is to add these entries into the registry:
HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Internet Explorer\Setup\7.0
with a key value name of DoNotAllowIE70 and a dword of 1

HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Internet Explorer\Setup\8.0
with a key value name of DoNotAllowIE80 and a dword of 1

Then you get a CD with all the hardware drivers for your laptop and load all the special drivers - for me that included a LAN driver! Next, install Win XP SP2 and then SP3 (SP2 won't load unless you have SP2 or SP1a already installed!).
At this point one has a copy of Windows XP that reboots in about 45 seconds, much better than the 10 minutes previously. Of course, it doesn'tdo anything, but hey! you have to make trade-offs, don't you!

Then it'll be time for adding the development stuff. Firstly, MS SQL Server 2008 Developer Edition, and then all the Visual Studio stuff. I'll also be adding Oracle 10, because I also have an Apex day on Wednesday, which should be fun - maybe! New York in January just isn't going be sun-bathing weather! Finally there'll be the ordinary stuff that everyone has on a PC - 3.1 for office stuff, Pidgin for IM, Thunderbird (maybe) for email - I'm not too sure about this yet, as I've already accumulated 2 GB of saved email in just one year of using T'bird. I may be going back to TheBat,but I'm seriously looking for something that I can make proper backups and recoveries with!

The Progress of the EeeBox
As you'll recall, I got a little EeeBox B202 a few weeks ago, and promptly bolted it to the back of a monitor. It runs a version of Linux and personally I think that it fills the requirements of being "cute". However, the AGis somewhat dissatisfied with Linpus, and I think that sone of the apps are old, too. Firfox and OpenOffice are both v2 versions, which is way too old, and there's no easy way to upgrade them. So, I'm looking at the possibility of putting Ubuntu 9.10 onto a 500GB, 7200rpm Seagate drive for the little box. Hopefully this will help acceptance, as the AG has two main uses for the PC - browsing the web and iTunes for her iPods. If not, then it'll be reverted to a copy of Windows XP, I suppose.

Friday, January 08, 2010

How Come These don't come to the USA?

I was looking at the possibility of living in England again (for the first time in almost 30 yers, mind you) or, at least, in Europe (which might be better!). One thing I was looking at was, of course, a car. Now I'll freely admit to being a fan of Top Gear, but I can't see me ever getting a car loan for something like a Tesla. Here I drive a Subaru Impreza right now (although the AG would maintain that I rally it whenever she's in it!).
So, I started by scanning the hire car adverts to see what kind of cars were being hired out, on the assumption that fleets like Hertz go for cars that are relatively
inexpensive (lower insurance) and also pretty reliable (more up-time equals more potential revenue). I cme across a little 1000cc beast called the Ford Ka (named by a Bostonian?).

It looked very small, with just a 1000cc engine, but what the heck - I'd certainly try it out from a car hire company for a week or so, so I googled it ("Ford Ka") to find out more about it. There were the normal car magazine reviews, and also some youTube videos, which I ran in the hope of seeing some video of it in motion. Most of them were adverts from Ford - a series where a family of man-eating fluffy monsters are getting an impossible number of people from a Ka. Very funny and good for brand name reminders. There's also this clip that someone made, about the feeding habits of the Ka. Watch the intrepid pussycat and remember the warning "curiosity killed the cat"!

When your Dreams come Alive
For many years I've been a fan of the articles of Celia Walden, of the Daily Telegraph newspaper. Not content with being one of the best newspapers in print in the UK, the Telegraph has made a habit of being awarded Digital Publisher of the Year, etc. over the years that it has been on line. So it was somewhat of a surprise to see Piers Morgan on the Today show this morning (apparently he's been on all week, but I've been too busy to see it).

Surprise turned to outright shock when "Celia" stepped on-stage and I realised that it was Celia Walden. Afterwards I checked up, found a video on the Today show where he admits to having got engaged to Celia. Lucky guy!!

Strange Development of the Day
Here's a riddle: what can you read from that's transparent? Well, you'd probably say something like a tube monitor, 'cs the glass is transparent, and you'd be kinda right, but for all the wrong reasons!
ZDNet found this at the CES 2010 show. It's rather neat, but who really needs to see their keyboard when they're not using it? Maybe it's designed for those of us for whom "seeing really is believing" and "out of sight, out of mind" isn't just a proverb, and who have severe attacks of fear, uncertainty, and doubt whenever we can't actually see something. You know - those people who put cameras in the fridge to check whether the light really does go out when you close the door!


Thursday, January 07, 2010

Learning What You're Doing

Always good, that - knowing what you're trying to do. Understanding it. Knowing what pitfalls might happen underfoot. So I got hold of Insider Training and ordered up a course in order to learn all there is to know for passing the MCTS exam for DBA for SQL Server 2008. This should be a shock to the system!
Actually, it should do me good - I've been playing DBA on-and-off for years now, so actually learning the stuff properly under some pressure should do me good. Anyhow, I'm just talking to the guy at Insider about the scheduling and the postman rings the doorbell with the courseware for the course! It wasn't due to arrive to me for about another 4 days, so top marks to the USPS for managing to let my packages weave around all the junk mail.
I mentioned a few blogs ago that Blogger had altered its editor, and didn't have paste any more. Well, I'm using Firefox 3.5 on Ubuntu 9.04 right now and I've lost the insert bar (the little vertical line that shows you where the next letter you type will appear). I've alst lost the highlighting when I want to select some text! Now I'm adapting, as it's eerily reminiscent of working on a DEC 10 machine with about 40 other people - the machine couldn't keep up with your typing, so you never watched the screen much, but just took a quick glance now and then and then remembered where you were and navigated "in your head", so to speak. Of course, there wasn't such a thing as a mouse then, but the effect is quite similar. I hate to say this, but then was 1984!
I should note here that this is only happening to me with Firefox under Ubuntu, and may go away if I re-start the browser, of course. One thing I definitely will say, comparing the same program on the two systems (Ubuntu and Windows XP) is that the visual impression provided by GNOME 2.8 is much nicer than WinXP SP3.
Well, so the SQL Server 2008 Implementation and Maintenance Training Kit book and CD arrived. Hot on the heels of a copy of SQL Server Database Design and Optimisation. Now I'm looking at the main laptop - a 2 GHz, 2 GB Acer 9300 Aspire and wondering if I should pull the hard drive, drop in a new one, and set it up as a dedicated learning machine. It seems like I should, so my next task is to work out what software absolutely has to come with me, along with its data. Thunderbird and the email is a definite yes there.

Then there'll have to be a copy of SQL Server and of Visual Studio. Looking at what I have on for next week there'll have to be a copy of Oracle too! Suddenly I'm thinking of an array of laptops, not just one!

Saturday, January 02, 2010

It's a Cold Day in NJ

It really seems to be frigid - and cooling. However, we're supposed to be gay and upbeat at this time of year. After all, the Ubuntu machine hasn't crashed yet, I haven't broken any New Year's Resolutions (I only kept one of 2009's - the one about not making any for 2010!), and I haven't starved to death yet.

Last time I commented on the insanities of changing a keyboard layout, noting that Asus had shipped a non-standard one with my new Eee-Box, despite having a normal one with the Eee-PC I got in 2008. Well, I did ferret out a way of swapping the two keys (Control and Function) within Linux, and will be playing around with it to experiment. Meanwhile, it's here. It looks uncannily easy, so I'm worried!


Friday, January 01, 2010

Seeing in a New Decade

[N.P. Andrew Zimmern - Australia]
Just stuck my nose out onto the balcony to shout "Happy New Year" to the neighbours ... its raining on snow right now, and really not warm! Brrr! Andrew says "you know what there's nothing like? The smell of roasting turtle-guts over an open fire. Yum. Then wallaby-tail hot off the barbie!"

Tech Update
Last time said goodbye to an old friend and raved over a neat new machine. Now a few more words on the EeeBox. My son did his homework on it yesterday and the system produces .odt and .doc files just fine - they were emailed out to his home afterwards with no problems at all. However, I've noticed that the version provided with the box is OOo version 2, while the current version is 3.1. Also the version of Firefox provided is a version 2.something, and we're heading into 3.6 right now.

Now please don't think that I'm complaining - the software all works really well together, and that's what you really want with a system like this; something that a user who really isn't interested in learning a lot about computers can use. What is really missing is an intro-video to show people who really are totally computer-illiterate how to use a computer. Still, the fix most people use is to accost a 10-year-old off the street and get them to do it all for them - how do you think I get the VCR programmed ? !

On the other hand, I do have one major complaint about this machine and that's the keyboard. The keyboard as a whole is very good indeed, but for one thing - the Function Key is outside the Control Key at the lower-left of the board.
A few years ago Microsoft used its sway to get a "Windows" key stuck in in between the Control and Alt keys, as you can see from the photo on the right, but it really isn't used very much - most users have no idea that it can actually be useful.

In most laptops you will find a Function Key inserted just to the right of the Control Key, and this includes the Sony VAIO, the Acer Aspire, and the Asus Eee-PC - I just checked! This gives your fingers the "habit" of automatically feeling for the bottom-left and knowing that that is a particular key. However, as you see in the photo, the Ausu keyboard supplied with the EeeBox has reversed these two keys. This is an incredibly annoying "feature", as you'll soon discover as soon as you want to cut, copy, or paste and haven't ever learned the original non-Mac keyboard short-cuts. Control-C suddenly becomes Function-C, which doesn't do anything at all, except replace the selected text with a "c", which doesn't help you in the slightest!

If you are running Windows on your Eee-Box, go for KeyTweak, which is a little program to grab the key signals and swap them around before any other program gets its electronic mitts on them. I've been looking for something like this for Linux - specifically Ubuntu because that's what I normally use - and found some info here that would work for the Asus too. However, that is waay technical and much too difficult for most people, and it's "most people" that'll be tearing their hair out over this.

[N.P. Pre-game before ice-hockey at Fenway Park]
Semi-Tech Update
A few years ago my ex succumbed to the lure of advertising and bought a Magic Bullet blender. They're still selling 2 for $99 on their site today. Anyhow, it never ever got used, after that first month, so I begged it the other day. I also bought a melon and some other fruit for New Year. Ice-cold smoothies when you're toasty-warm and watching other people freeze their rear-ends off out in the cold parades, or playing ice hockey at Fenway Park, is a really nice and decadent luxury. Go whoever-you-are-out-in-the-cold!

Friends for Dinner
Assorted sausage and cheeses for hors d'oeuvre (amuse-bouche, to be strictly correct). Two chickens (thank you, Shoprite!), "Potatoes O'Brien" (chopped, cooked, fried with onion, and then baked in sour cream and cheese, and Cauliflower Cheese (barely-cooked cauliflower baked in a roux sauce of flour, cheese, and Meaux mustard). Ice cream to follow. Let them walk after that!


Happy New Year !

[N.P. Andrew Zimmern - Chile]
Happy New Year, everyone. This is now officially "twenty-ten" - not "two thousand and ten", according to the BBC! Over the last month I've loaded up a permanent Linux machine and acquired another to replace a (very) old laptop. I've also enrolled in a SQL Server DBA course, which should be fun (I hope!).

The End of an Era!
Yes - the end of a PC! Back in September 2000 I found that I needed a new laptop to take on a weekend trip to a client to do some programming. My old Sager machine (Pentium 1, your-thighs-are-the-heatsink) was dying fast, so I rang Sony (in CA) on a Thursday morning and begged, pleaded, and even suggested bribery. Friday lunchtime (in work) a guy arrived at my desk with a very big box with Sony written on it. This (right) was the content, a PCG FX540K with 512 MB of RAM, a 15 GB hard drive, and a 14" diagonal screen. It wasn't light - the shell is made of metal! - but it was a beautiful blue machine.

At the end of 2006 I finally bought a new laptop - a 17" Acer - which actually weighs a little less! However, the VAIO wouldn't die - its been used as a sofa-side machine for the last two years, and has had an almost permanent connection to the TV. Yes! a 950 MHz Intel machine running Windows 2000 is perfectly capable of capturing live TV through a USB 1.1 port! I never thought that it would be possible, but it has always worked fine, so I have lots of DVDs of things captured off TV. The hardware I use is an Adaptec "VideOh!" box, but Grabbee do the same thing for Windows XP.

Well, one of the video sync components has finally died, so its getting replaced. Sometime in 2010 I hope I'll be able to get it fixed, as the rest of the machine is perfect, and the hard drive has been replaced with larger versions several times. When that's all done it'll be resurrected, but, for now, it's going into retirement.

The Start of an Era!
Well, the better half can't live without a sofa-side machine, so this is what we're replaced the VAIO with. This is how an Asus EeeBox B202 arrives out of the box. We got a Linux version, instead of a Windows XP version, which costs a little less than $300. It has a DVI video socket (with a VGA converter supplied), an ethernet socket, alittle antenna for WiFi, a card socket for your camera cards, an audio-out socket for your headphones, and four USB sockets. How sweet is that?! And the stand is so simple and effective that it might have come from Apple! Watch out Jonathan Ive!

I plugged it into one of my Hanns-G 19" monitors and it lit up immediately, asked me a few questions, and we were online and googling. Wicked cool!

Asus' EZ-Linux really is very easy - it has all the stuff you need, although not the latest versions, which is a shame. The one thing that nobody will mention to you, which is crazy, because it's a big selling point with a lot of people, is that using an iPod with Linux - even this basic version - is dead easy and safe! I plugged the AG's 1G Shuffle into a USB port and it lit and then started blinking. I started the music program, told it to look for all devices, and it found the iPod. I dragged some MP3 files from the File Manager to the music program and then told it to save them there. Finally I un-mounted the iPod and, after a little while, it stopped blinking. Its light stayed orange until it had finished charging and then we just pulled it, plugged in earbuds, and enjoyed. Problems? none!

The next neat thing to find out is that the Hanns-G has a VESA mount on the back. Normally this is provided in order for you to mount the monitor on a wall, or on an arm that allows you to swing it out of your way ... or whatever. However, Asus twigged that this was about the same size as its whole EeeBox, so it provides a little shelf. You screw the shelf onto the back of the monitor and then the EeeBox onto the shelf. I did all this with the EeeBox still running (I live dangerously, but WTH!) and it all works fine - suddenly all we have is a nice 19" monitor with a mouse and keyboard and a couple of USB socket extenders sitting in front. One power cable provides a pair of sockets for the EeeBox and the Hanns-G, and that's all the cabling. A simple as a laptop.

I can only say that this has to be the simplest, easiest, and downright-coolest computer I have ever met - it really is a personal computer. I give it four thumbs up!

That's all for this New Year's Eve: more soon - probably tomorrow.