Monday, December 29, 2014

Toe Insurance

I got a call from some auto insurance quote mill and launched into my Diksmash Mikironkok character. Diksmash wanted to know why he'd need a quote for "toe insurnce" when he has all ten toes and is unconcerned over losing them. Since I was somewhat pressed for time, I stopped the gag about a minute in and told the poor auto insurance quote lady that I was just messing with her. She seemed rather annoyed.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Fence Wood Dandelion Painting

If you've got a girlfriend, you've got to learn to love Pinterest. It basically serves as a wish list for her birthday, Christmas, your anniversary, etc. When I noticed that my own girlfriend had pinned a custom painted fence wood dandelion painting from an Etsy store named InspireMeHomeDecor, I decided to see if I could buy her one. As much as I loved the artist's work, the price I was quoted just wasn't within my budget. I became determined to re-create the painting myself.

I started by scavenging some old pallets. They're pretty easy to come by where I live, otherwise, I would have just pulled a few from the back of my local grocery store. Ideally, I'd have chosen some pallets that had been kiln dried or otherwise heat treated, but that didn't seem to be an option. I merely selected some gently weathered pallets that didn't appear to have any contaminants. It was also important for me to choose pallets that were not too damaged and were free from bowing and warping. I also disregarded any pallets that smelled weird or had stains/oil marks on them. Once I got the pallets home, I yanked the boards off of them using a hammer and crowbar. In some cases, I was able to bang the nail out from the reverse side. Mostly, I just pulled and pried. I soon noticed that the weathering was different among each of the pallets I had chosen, so I would have to work with the material from one pallet if I wanted to keep a consistent look for the fence wood dandelion painting.

Pulling the boards off gave me six plank boards that were approximately 5 feet long. And while that would have roughly worked with InspireMeHomeDecor's dimensions for the original fence wood dandelion painting, I felt it was too big for what I was trying to do. I decided to cut the boards in half, resulting in 12 plank boards that were two-and-a-half feet long. This would prove to be much easier to manage. I used a power saw to cut the boards in half. Precise measurements weren't needed as I knew that I'd be assembling them boards in a somewhat scattered pattern. I just tried to get as close to 30 inches as possible on each boards. Once the boards had been cut, I considered sanding them down, which would have made them easier to work with, but I decided against it as it would take off the weathering pattern.

I assembled the boards into a scattered pattern. I had originally planned to use two more pieces of plank wood to run across the height of the canvas at both ends in order to hold the planks together. However, seeing as some wood from the packaging of a recent flooring purchase was available, I used that instead. I bound it all together with a staple gun and two-and-a-half inch staples. I picked up a pair of picture hanging hooks, screwed them to the tie-boards and ran piece of wire between them. This would make the painting easier to mount on a wall.

Actually painting the thing was the trickiest part. Even though it's a simple picture, I'm no artist. And I had absolutely no idea what materials I would need to work with in order to achieve the look I had been wanting. I had to punt and consult an actual artist at this point. Pallet wood is very porous and soaks up paint very easily, so painting it as is would present a challenge. It was suggested that I prime it. Indeed, InspireMeHomeDecor had white washed her planks when she created her fence wood dandelion painting. I decided against treating the wood in any way as I really wanted to keep the original petina. This meant that the dandelion image had to be painted very carefully and it took a fair amount of effort since the planks tended to suck up the paint like a sponge.

The end result of my efforts to create a fence wood dandelion painting is below. Overall, not bad for a guy who had no idea what he was doing to begin with. But, would you actually pay money for it or pin it to your Pinterest? That's up to you.

My Version Of A Fence Wood Dandelion Painting

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Five Ways Sony Can Save Spider-Man

In the wake of the massive hacking attack suffered by Sony Pictures, there has been a lot of talk about the direction of Sony's Spider-Man franchise. The last two movies weren't exactly the pinnacle of cinematic excellence and Sony can't seem to figure out whether they should continue on with Amazing Spider-Man 3, start over again or reach out to Marvel for help. The thing is, as much as I hated The Amazing Spider-Man and The Amazing Spider-Man 2, the situation isn't as bleak as we've been led to believe. The franchise doesn't really need saving because there's not that much that's wrong with it. The last two movies were beautifully shot, well cast and well directed. The problem is with the writing and the pacing and the overall "big picture". We were given two films over-stuffed with plot threads (many of which went nowhere) topped with one-dimensional villains with dubious motivations.

As much as I love the Marvel Cinematic Universe, tossing Spider-Man back over to them is probably a bad idea. While it will certainly result in better movies, it means that, due to all the characters in rotation, we'll be getting fewer Spider-Man movies. Sony can still pull this out of the fire. Here's how:

Five Ways Sony Can Save Spider-Man

  1. Dump Avi Arad. He's the head honcho of all things Spider-Man over at Sony and he's the main problem with this franchise. He has made a number of poor creative decisions regarding the direction of the franchise over the years, the most egregious being the way he forced Sam Raimi to use Venom in Spider-Man 3. Arad sees Spider-Man only as a money making asset and all of his creative decisions are built around that. 

  2. Keep Andrew Garfield. He did really well with what he was given in the last two movies. He looks the part of Peter Parker and acts the part as well despite Peter being written as a miserable douchebag. He has a real passion for playing Spider-Man and if he gets a decent script in his hands, he'd really make it fly off the page. 

  3. Bring in actual writers who are longtime fans and trust them to get the job done. The writers of the last two movies, Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman are hacks who write by stringing together various set pieces and sprinkling them with pop culture references. They shouldn't be allowed anywhere near Spider-Man. It's time to bring in someone who has respect for the character who can write a compelling, layered story with an exciting villain that is a character piece first, an action movie second, and a romance third (if at all). Whomever this writer turns out to be should have little studio interference as "too many cooks" is what has spoiled the last three Spider-Man movies. 

  4. Build the universe, but don't make it look like you're trying to build the universe. One of the main problems with The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is that it was trying to quickly shove a bunch of universe building references into it. Overall, it felt like a 90 minute advertisement for Sony's planned Sinister Six movie or maybe The Amazing Spider-Man 3. Either way, story elements took a back seat to introducing characters that may or may not be followed up on. They key here is to be subtle. Work slowly and methodically. Build the Sinister Six like it was built in the Spectacular Spider-Man animated series. 

  5. Play nice with Marvel. I don't mean that they should give the reins back to Marvel. Sony doesn't have to collaborate with them on main Spider-Man movies, but they should encourage Marvel to "borrow" Spidey as a supporting character in their movies and maybe "borrow" Nick Fury or Coulson for their Spider-Man movies. The franchise has lost a lot of credibility lately and sucking up some Marvel cred would do it a lot of good.  .

Monday, November 10, 2014

Birdman: A Review

Birdman (The Unexpected Virtue Of Ignorance) is a black comedy in limited release that tells the story of Riggan Thomson (Michael Keaton), a washed up actor who achieved fame by portraying an iconic superhero as he struggles to mount a Broadway play in a last ditch attempt for artistic relevance. In the days leading up to opening night, he battles his ego as well as a upstaging costar (Edward Norton) while attempting to recover his family, his career, and himself. If you've seen the previews or the Television spots, you may be tempted to see the movie so that you can check out some of the cool special effects related to the Birdman character. Birdman is not germane to the plot, however, and serves only as the voice of Riggan's ego. So, don't expect much in the way of superhero action. What's important is that Keaton's character was a huge movie star at one point in his career and has fallen into near-obscurity. This movie is a backstage drama, not a comic book comeback.

The casting of Keaton can easily be seen as meta since he starred in the Batman franchise before walking away and fading into near-obscurity. Whether or not that was the intention, Keaton brings his full talent to the role and delivers a rich, layered, poignant and sometimes comedic performance. Riggan, determined to prove himself on Broadway by directing and starring in a self-financed adaptation of Raymond Carter’s short story “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love.” faces mounting adversity during previews of the show. Riggan must not only cope with his just-out-of-drug rehab daughter (Emma Stone) and embittered ex-wife (Amy Ryan) but also his harried lawyer/manager (Zach Galifianakis), actress girlfriend (Andrea Riseborough), insecure leading lady (Naomi Watts), and her narcissistic actor/boyfriend (Edward Norton) who is bound and determined to steal Riggan's thunder for himself. Compounding Riggan's problems is the voice of Birdman, as his alter-ego, firmly lodged in his brain, seemingly enabling his mystical telekinetic powers. In the end, we end up asking ourselves what makes someone relevant, what the difference is between love and admiration and we are reminded that we may be too quick to dismiss art as crap if it does not suit our tastes.

The performances are excellent and there's some great back-and-forths between Keaton and Norton. Yet, a discussion about Birdman cannot truly be had until one mentions the fluid cinematography, edited in such a way as to appear like one continuous take, and the percussion-based score which adds to Riggan's angst. This type of cinematic jazz will challenge your notions about narrative and will leave you richer for having experienced it. Still, at the end of the day, Birdman is a movie that you're either going to "get" or completely dismiss as a flaming pile of turd. Personally, I think this is the best movie of 2014.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Don't Blame Me, I Voted For Kodos!

It was a pretty close race, but, in the end, Republican Bruce Rauner won the Governor's seat in Illinois. For me, the choice between Rauner and the incumbent Pat Quinn came down to a toss-up between a Giant Douche and a Turd Sandwich and the close margin of the election seems to indicate that the rest of the state felt the same way. If we look at some of the other results, though, something very interesting is happening.

On the ballot in Illinois, all voters were asked to vote on various initiatives. These were non-binding votes intended to communicate the electorate's thoughts on what policies the Illinois legislature should vote in favor of during the next session. By a two-to-one margin the people of Illinois voted in favor of raising the minimum wage and voted in favor raising taxes on higher incomes. So, the people Illinois clearly want a higher minimum wage and higher taxes on rich incomes, and yet they elect a Governor who specifically said that he intends to do the opposite of those things?

In the end, I'd say that it didn't really matter who got voted into office. The end result here is that Illinois ousted a guy who got nothing done and replaced him with a guy who won't get anything done

Monday, November 3, 2014

Google Inbox

I'm one of the lucky bastards that got an invite to Google Inbox late last week. Google Inbox is the new email app that scans your email account for important and similar information. It then presents what it considers the most important parts of the email first and groups similar emails as "Bundles" that are named by type (e.g., "Travel" or "Updates" or any custom bundle you might decide to make). It also converts physical addresses into Google Maps links and airline confirmation numbers into a flight status update. Imagine if the cards Google Now had a baby with Gmail. That would pretty well sum up Google Inbox.

Currently, Google Inbox is invite-only. If you want to try it, you’ll either need to get an invite from a current user or you'll need to send an email to from your Gmail account and they’ll send you an invite when it’s ready. Once you get invited, you’ll have to install the Google Inbox app on either Android or iOS (links are provided in the invite). You should also go all-in and try Inbox on the Web, currently only available using Chrome, for a fully integrated experience.

The Google Inbox Android app has a look that's in-line with Google’s design concepts for the upcoming Android Lollipop. E-mail groups are presented in a card-based format in the center, and you can slide out the left panel to access your labels and other particulars. All of your existing mail, labels, and organizational filters are still in place, so, if you use Google Inbox, you won’t have to start from scratch. Tapping on an email brings it up, just like in Gmail’s current e-mail app.

What makes Google Inbox so useful isn’t its updated UI, though. Google Inbox has so many innovative features that it'll make your digital life easier. For example, Google Inbox now gives you the ability to mark an email as “Done” instead of just “Read.” All messages have a check-mark symbol, and tapping that will send it to the “Done” label, completely removing it from your to-do list. It’s similar to archiving mail, but more intuitive. If there’s a set of e-mails you don’t really need to read, like Social, you can click the check-slide icon to mark them all as "Done" and you won't ever have to see those annoying Facebook social update emails again. Google Inbox also gives you the ability to snooze messages for a later time. Have you ever gotten an e-mail but were too busy doing something else to think up a reply? When that happens, tapping the clock icon at the top of an open email will let you choose a time, place, or combination of both when Inbox will remind you of the mail. Until then, it goes away to keep your inbox uncluttered.

After using Google Inbox for a few days, I personally think that it's a great tool for managing my mail and if you're even remotely interested, you should try it yourself. And there's no obligation to keep Google Inbox is you don't like it. You can just remove the app from your phone and keep using the regular Gmail app.You definitely have to put in a little effort in order to effectively manage your inbox, but, once you've set up your labels, etc, Google Inbox is well worth it.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

The PS4 Doesn't Support CD Playback

Call me primitive, but I've still got a lot of CDs in my collection and I still play them from time to time. While doing some reasearch on the PS4 vs XBoX One debate, I discovered that the PS4 does not play CDs. Why is that? Well, one might be inclined to think that Sony wants to push their music loving PS4 customers into a Music Unlimited subscription. However, I've heard it said that in order to get a Blu-Ray drive to play CDs, you'd have to use two lasers: one for Blu-Ray and one for CDs. So, it seems like a cost-saving decision to me I think it was a cost saving and space saving decision.

Okay, fine, I can get behind that, I guess. CDs are a dying medium anyway. And, yet, the PS4 won't even support MP3 playback, so it's not like I can stick a bunch of songs onto a USB drive and play them from the PS4.  And forget about DLNA as well. Sony is supposedly going to add in support for these things eventually, but, as a guy who got a lot of uses out of his PS3, this is one issue that can tip the very shaky PS4 vs Xbox One debate squarely towards Microsoft.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Does Walmart's Savings Catcher Actually Work?

I'm sure you've seen the commercials for the Walmart “Savings Catcher” program. You basically use the program to scan your Wal-Mart receipts and have Walmart determine if you  could have paid less elsewhere. If Wal-Mart finds a lower advertised price in your area for any of the items you bought, they give you the difference goes on a gift Wal-Mart gift card (that can only be used at Walmart, of course). But does the Wal-Mart Savings Catcher app actually work?

I've been using the app on my Samsung Galaxy S4 since October 1st and I've already gotten a little bit of money back. Out of six receipts, Wal-Mart has refunded back money to me on three of them for a total of $2.21 after about $250 spent. Eligible products are currently limited to only grocery and health & beauty items and receipts older than 7 days are ineligible.

So, based upon my own experience, I'd say that Walmart Savings Catcher is not a scam and might actually be worth trying. Look at this way: You’ve already spent the money; why not see if you can get any of it back? If you have any qualms about whether or not Wal-Mart is mining your data with the app, you might want to avoid using Savings Catcher, as I don't particularly know how they store your receipt data and how long they keep it.

Another thing worth mentioning is that American Express and Wal-Mart have entered into a partnership for the Savings Catcher app. American Express has a prepaid debit card called Bluebird which Walmart sells for $5. If you have a Bluebird card and choose to put your Savings Catcher reward onto it, American Express will match the refund Walmart gives you which, in effect, doubles your refund. You can connect your Bluebird card to the Wal-Mart app, which then creates a sub-account to your Bluebird called "Walmart Bucks." The next time you go to Walmart to make a purchase and use your Bluebird card, it'll automatically use whatever's in the sub-account first, and then use your main account for whatever's leftover. And before you run out to buy a Bluebird card, you need to know that if you already have an American Express Serve account, you won't be able to get a Bluebird card.

Personally, I'm not a fan of the Bluebird card, so I won't be using it. The American Express reward matching is good through February.

What do you think? Has the Wal-Mart Savings Catcher app worked for you? Do you think it's a scam? Do you think it's just not worth it? Would you be willing to buy a Bluebird card so that you can double your rewards? Sound off below and share your thoughts.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Some Pumpkin Flavor Ideas

It's Fall and everybody is going pumpkin crazy again. And who doesn't  love a good Pumpkin Spice Latte from the local coffee shop? If you're in the mood for something a little different, yet still want that pumpkin taste, then you might try some pumpkin cider. I happened upon a few bottles of Sparkling Spiced Pumpkin Cider from Nature's Nectar. It's bottled by the Aldi corporation and, as far as I can tell, it can only be bought in their stores. A bottle will run you about two dollars.

Sparkling Spiced Pumpkin Cider comes in a nifty flip top which makes the bottle great for re-use. It's also non-alcoholic, although I'm thinking it would taste even better with a shot of rum. Or, you might toss in a shot of Jack Daniels, heat the whole thing up a bit and call it a "Jack O'Lantern". Here's the real kicker: Nature's Nectar Sparking Spiced Pumpkin Cider isn't really pumpkin cider at all. No pumpkins were pressed into juice in order to make this delicious concoction. No, Aldi pumpkin cider is just sparkling apple cider with pumpkin spice added. Had I not read the label, I would have had no idea because you can really taste the pumpkin in it. It actually tastes a lot like sparkling pumpkin pie juice.

Pumpkin Pie Pudding

If you're still in the pumpkin mood, then you might try making a little pumpkin pie pudding. It's a really simple recipe. All you need to do is whip up a package (5 1/10 oz) of your favorite vanilla pudding, add in a can of pumpkin (15 oz) and then add a teaspoon of pumpkin pie spice (cinnamon also works). The kids and I made this last weekend and it went over really well. For some extra fun, buy some popsicle molds from your local dollar store and put the pumpkin pie pudding in them. Freeze them for a few hours and you've got pumpkin pie pudding pops.

Monday, October 6, 2014

How I Fixed My HP 110 Mini

I bought my My HP 110 Mini back in 2009 and it has been a pretty solid netbook computer for several years now. I initially upgraded it from 1gb of memory to 2gb which made it seem to run Windows 7 quite a bit faster. About a year ago, I accidentally cracked the screen which meant that I could no longer use the display at all. I resorted to using the VGA output on the HP 110 Mini to plug into my TV so that I could use the free version of Hulu on it. Recently, however, I was able to find a replacement screen fairly cheap and decided to fix it. It was an easier process than I could have hoped.

There are a few video tutorials out there that will help you replace your cracked HP Mini 110 screen and they range from overly talky to completely useless. Personally, I think that, if you intend to replace your HP 110 Mini screen yourself, then using the official maintenance and service guide is the best way to go. Using the guide from HP, I was able to replace my screen in about 10 minutes. Before you begin, though, you'll want to make sure you have a set of precision screwdrivers because you'll be working with really tiny screws.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Visiting Oak Ridge Cemetery

I traveled to Springfield recently to give a lecture on virtual desktop systems. While I was in town, I decided to visit Oak Ridge Cemetery which is famous for being the burial site of Abraham Lincoln. Oak Ridge Cemetery also boasts an impressive World War II memorial and is also home to several ornate tombs belonging to a number of former Illinois governors.

I've uploaded an album of photos to Sharalike. The album includes some pictures of Lincoln's Tomb and the World War II memorial. Have a look at them:

Friday, June 6, 2014

Double Letters In The Chrome Address Bar

A very weird thing happened in the advent of my Samsung Galaxy S4 getting Android 4.4.2. Whenever I would try to type a URL address into the Chrome address bar, the letters would be repeated. So, I would type "m" and end up getting "mm". Sometimes, I could type "msn" and then I'd get "msnmsn". The letter and phrase repeating never happened anywhere else but in the Chrome address bar. I had thought that it was an issue with autocomplete or predictive text, but that's not the case.

I had two keyboard inputs enabled. Using both the Samsung keyboard input and the Swipe keyboard and having them both using predictive text seems to be the culprit . Turning off the predictive text option on Swipe solved the problem.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

An Audience With The Mayor

I met the Mayor of my town last night. I had finally cleared away enough time to get my hair cut and moseyed on over across the street to my local barber shop. Upon walking into the one-chair shop, I saw that the Mayor himself was in the chair getting a trim. I was impressed, not only because the Mayor was hanging out just like any other regular Joe at the barber shop, but also because His Honor seemed to have lost a considerable amount of weight from how he looked in his campaign photo.

I took my seat and waited my turn. While I was waiting, I talked with the other folks there about the state of the local economy, the weather and other fairly mundane things. Another customer entered and the conversation among the group lulled. A little uncomfortable with the silence, I looked at the newcomer and said "What do you think about the Mayor?". I had thought that my tone indicated that I was asking the guy what he thought about having the Mayor in the barber shop. However, the customer thought I was asking for his opinion on the Mayor and went into an expletive-laden rant about the Mayor.

The barber silenced his clippers for a moment and asked the customer if he knew what the Mayor looked like. The customer seemed a little incredulous and indicated that he did. The barber shook his head while the Mayor just smirked. A few moments later, the barber finished the haircut and the Mayor strolled out of the shop without saying a word to the customer. The moment the door closed, the rest of us erupted in laughter.

I felt like a Kennedy.

Monday, June 2, 2014

White Sox

I'm not a huge fan of sports. To me, a sport is something one does, not something one watches. But, I do have to admit that there's something appealing about the atmosphere that encompasses a day at the ballpark. So, on Friday night, I put on my Spider-Man Jersey (#62), slipped on my vintage White Sox cap and set out to watch the White Sox get clobbered by the Padres at U.S. Cellular Field. My oldest brother and my sister were both in attendance, because, after all, watching a game isn't any fun unless you've got someone to watch it with. The general air of excitement made me forget that I was paying $8 for a beer and $7 for a bratwurst. I didn't even mind dropping $50 on some over-priced White Sox apparel.

The one thing I do regret is sharing a nacho helmet with my brother. That greasy mix of seasoned beef, chips, gooey cheese and sour cream made my stomach cry.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Taming Of The Shrew

I spent the last month working on a production of Taming of the Shrew with one of the local community theaters. Under normal circumstances, tackling Shakespeare is a difficult process, but we had less than four weeks to become familiar with the play and get our lines and direction down. This made it nearly impossible to get the show running smoothly before opening night. But, as we always do, we pulled together a troop of newbies, casuals and veterans to make it work.

Taming of the Shrew tells the tale of the courtship between Petruchio, who comes to town hoping to marry a wealthy woman, and Katherine, a scolding, headstrong shrew. Petruchio uses psychological torments to tame Katherine while a sub-plot develops between Katherine's sister, Bianca and the numerous suitors using devious means to woo Bianca. The whole thing is introduced via a framing device where a mischievous nobleman tricks a drunkard into believing that he is a lord and that his life as a drunkard was nothing more than a long fever dream. The nobleman then has the play put on for the drunkard's diversion. Basically, it's the inspiration behind that Julia Stiles film "Ten Things I Hate About You". So, imagine "Ten Things" set in the 16 century.

I played Grumio, servant to Petruchio. Grumio is a sarcastic man with a quick wit who interprets his master's orders in the most literal sense possible. There's a lot of comedic moments with Grumio, and it's important to play him as foolish yet wise.

Throughout the play, there were a number of issues that cropped up, most often due to cast members who had to pull out of the production for one reason or another. I was often looked to in order to help iron out issues with replacing absent actors or helping present ones with their methods. After 8 shows at this theater alone, I'm seen as a "veteran". I find that immensely gratifying, as I never thought I would ever be considered a veteran of anything. It's yet another sign that I've been putting down deep roots in the community.

We've got one more weekend of shows to do, and, after a rocky start, it seems that the cast is finally ready to meet this show head on and deliver an amazing performance.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Kit Kat Finally Comes To Verizon And The Samsung Galaxy S4

The KitKat 4.4.2 Android update has been making its way around various versions of the Samsung Galaxy S4 for weeks now. As a Verizon customer, I'm used to having to wait at the back of the line for an important OS update, but the wait for KitKat has been particularly long. My phone finally received it this afternoon.

New Features In KitKat

  • Better Memory Management - Google has made some improvements under the hood that results in better memory management and smoother mulit-tasking.
  • Improved Google Now - You can now activate Google Now by simply saying "OK Google". The contextual cards feature have also been upgraded. Google Now cards will try to predict information you need based on your location, favorite sites or TV programs.
  • Hangouts Upgrade - Google Hangouts now supports SMS and MMS and promises better video and voice calling along with location based sharing and animated gif support. 
  • Better Caller ID - The phone app itself appears to have been redesigned as it now has a Google Now integrated search bar. Google Maps will also be used to search for names behind numbers that have not been identified in your contacts. 

As usual, this update from Verizon comes with a significant amount of bloatware including:

  • Verizon Cloud - With Verizon's "More Everything" plan, you get 25GB of cloud storage. Use this app to access it. Or, do what I do, and disable it.
  • Isis Wallet - It's an app where you put in your credit card numbers and loyalty card numbers so that you can pay via the app at any physical location that takes contactless payments. 

Monday, April 28, 2014

Overflowing My Data Cap

I got my replacement phone in the mail last week and quickly went about re-installing all of my old apps. I also made sure to pluck my old SD card out of the old phone and put it into the new one. I had still been using the damaged phone to take pictures and videos, especially of cast rehearsals, even though my Google Photos backup could not connect to the network. It was when I re-installed Google Photos that I made a huge mistake.

Google Photos Auto Backup will automatically backup all photos and videos you take by uploading them to your allocated cloud space. It gives you the option of always using your cell network or waiting for a Wi-Fi connection instead. In my haste to get everything done, I selected the option to always use the cell network. Several hours later, while I was sleeping and while my phone was uploading the pictures and video I had taken during my offline time, Verizon notified me via txt message that I had exceeded my data cap. Not only that, but I was informed that I was going to be automatically billed $15 for another gig of data. Four hours later, just before I woke up, I got another txt informing me that I had exceeded the 1gig extra cap and that I'd be charged $15 for yet another gig of data.

My exceeding the cap is totally my fault for not completely reading the notifications on Google Photos, but, wouldn't you think that any additional data expense should be authorized by me before Verizon adds it? I'm sure there's language in the contract that allows Verizon to add a data charge to my bill without my authorization, but, still, it's a pretty shitty thing to do.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Samsung Galaxy S4 Stuck In Airplane Mode

During rehearsals last night, I put my Samsung Galaxy S4 into airplane mode. Upon leaving, I tried to resume service only to find that my phone was stuck in airplane mode. The option to turn airplane mode off was greyed out, and when I pressed it, the phone didn't do anything. I rebooted the phone to no avail. I then tried turning on various networks manually and that seemed to push the Galaxy S4 out of airplane mode, yet I still could not connect to any Verizon services. Instead of the happy-friendly 4G LTE indicator icon, I had the dreaded circle swoosh in the upper right hand corner of the phone. Going to Settings->More Networks->Mobile Networks would hang the phone. Even pulling up the dial pad would hang the phone.

There are a number of posts on the Internet referencing a similar problem with the T-Mobile network and the Wi-Fi calling feature. T-Mobile users are able to force their phones out of airplane mode by re-pointing the phone network preferences via the Wi-Fi calling menu.. Unfortunately, Verizon doesn't offer Wi-Fi calling, so that fix wasn't even an option for me. I bit the bullet and did a hard reset of the phone, but when I got to the activation screen, the phone wouldn't connect to the Verizon network and the activation failed.

The folks at Verizon tech support are unaware of any issues related to what happened to me, but, I think my experience coupled with the T-Mobile issues are indicative of a greater problem. It seems to me that there's a bug with the antenna software in Android 4.3.  Thankfully, my Samsung Galaxy S4 is still under warranty, so I'll have a replacement in a few days and I won't have to bother with the issue any further. However, if that weren't the case, I still have a few things that I would try in order to get the phone working properly:

  1. Replace the SIM card (I'm almost positive that the issue resides here)
  2. Root the phone
  3. Upgrade to Android 4.4

So, if your phone is stuck in airplane mode and you're not a T-Mobile customer and you can't get a warranty replacement, try one of the above three options. And let me know if it works. 

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

My Oven Has Arrived

After weeks of waiting, my oven finally arrived on Monday. It took a while to install due to an issue that popped up during the install of my cabinets. The gas line comes up from the floor, banks to the side with an elbow joint and runs through two sets of cabinets via an 18 inch galvanized steel pipe. The installers messed up the 18inch pipe somehow, which meant that I had to replace it with a 6 foot flexible gas hose. All it took was a little wrangling with a manual wrench and the application of some teflon tape.

I haven't had a fully functioning oven in about 3 years. Back in 2011, the stove went out, leaving only the burners functional. I got used to preparing foods via the microwave and being creative with the Pizazz Plus Pizza Oven. After I took out the old oven last month to make way for the new one, I had to start adapting to life without burners. Just boiling water became a challenge. Getting a hot plate helped immensely.

Now, though, it's not anything I need to worry about. I've already tried my hand at making oversized muffins and Cheddar Bay Biscuits. And now I've got my eye on making some Cafe Du Monde beignets.   

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Windows 8.1 Update 1 Is Here

If you've gotten your hopes up that the new Windows 8.1 Update 1 will include the re-introduction of the traditional Start button, you're going to be disappointed. That feature was only just recently announced at the last Microsoft BUILD conference. It's on the Windows road map, but you probably won't see it until Windows 8.1 Update 2. That being said, there are a few notable new features in Windows 8.1 Update 1.

Windows 8.1 Update 1 Changes:

  • Apps purchased from the Windows App store can be pinned to the taskbar
  • Cursor gestures now have a small delay before triggering
  • Power and Search buttons have been added to the Start screen
  • Right-clicking a Live tile spawns an actual right-click menu rather than showing charms
  • Windows Apps can be closed and minimized with the mouse
  • You can now boot directly to the desktop

 I'm not a huge fan of the Metro/Desktop hybrid that Microsoft seems to be pushing with Windows 8, but I will say that Windows 8.1 Update 1 includes enough small changes that I no longer hate the interface. I'm only slightly annoyed now.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Comic Con Saint Louis

The gang and I were in the lovely city of Saint Louis this weekend to spend a Saturday at Wizard World Saint Louis Comic Con. I had never been to a comic book convention before, so I was pretty excited at the prospect of mingling with some celebrities, browsing the wares available at various vendor tables and generally having a good time. I walked away with some art-work and some t-shirts, and, although I was pretty pleased with what I had gotten, I ultimately felt like the entire show was a bit of a let down.

The overall buzz lacked a certain aura of excitement, which is something that I am used to sensing whenever I attend Gen Con. I think the lack of awe and wonder was most evident in the general lack of cosplayers. Certainly, there were a fair amount of people who dressed up, but I noticed a real dearth of hardcore cosplayers. The high price of celebrity autographs and photo-ops was also a huge turn off for me. Clearly, celebrities should be able to make some money off of their image and their signature, but when William Shatner charges upwards of 90 bucks for you to have your picture taken with him, something is taken away from that aura of celebrity. For me, anyway, that celebrity becomes more like a one-person corporation than a celebrity. I felt particularly bad for Ralph Macchio who was charging about $30 for a photo op and had few takers whenever I passed by.  I guess it's a lesson in supply and demand and charging what the market will bear, but there has to be a better way for everyone involved.

I got a lot of enjoyment out of visiting with a number of artists and purchasing a few prints. Jim Ferguson became a particular favorite for his interesting and evocative "Making A Scene" art work. I bought a few 80's prints from him and regret not having purchased more.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

David Hasslehoff Photobombs In Auto Awesome

As part of their April Fool's celebration yesterday, the Google Photos app began adding David Hasselhoff photobombs to certain Auto-Awesome photos. Basically, take a portrait and leave a little space, and The Hoff might just show up in your picture. I was unaware of the joke, so, when I got a notification that I had a  new Auto Awesome photo, I looked and was met with this:


I don't know if the David Hasslehoff photobombs are a permanent Auto Awesome feature or not. I hope they are. This is pretty cool. 

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

My Oven Has Been Delayed

I had finally settled on a new oven. It had all of the features I wanted, including 5 burners, a griddle attachment and a stainless steel finish. I ordered it from Home Depot and scheduled delivery for a week later. The brick and mortar Home Depot stores don't keep appliances in stock, so, scheduling a delivery was my only option. Just a few days before my anticipated delivery date, the service called and said that there would be a two week delay due to back-order. Furious at having to deal with microwave cooking and Pizazz pizza cooking for far longer than I had anticipated, I called Home Depot.

It's inconceivable to me that I can purchase an appliance on-line and then be told a week later that the appliance is out of stock. If  I am able to put that appliance in my virtual cart, wouldn't that indicate that the appliance is in stock? According to Home Depot: No. For many appliances, Home Depot  often pools orders and sends them off to the manufacturer. Then, it's up to the manufacturer to fulfill them. Home Depot's reported inventory is only an approximate number.

On the plus side, Home Depot customer service is always friendly and helpful and they gave me a gift card worth more than 10% of my purchase price. I used it to buy an induction burner so that I can cook some semblance of normal food while I wait for the oven to arrive. The nice customer service lady even expedited the shipping so that I'd have it in two days.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

How I Wired My Switch

I'm not an electrician, and, with my house being considered "old construction", it's hard to get an actual electrician to come in and look at the wiring. After successfully installing my garbage disposal, I still had to figure out how to wire the outlet and the corresponding switch. The garbage disposal would run when the switch was OFF, but, when I turned the switch ON, the breaker would trip.

There were two pairs of wires in the outlet box. Using a digital multimeter, I found that one pair was hot, while the other was not. I took the black wire with power and wire-nutted it to the white wire that had corresponded to it. I then took the remaining black wire, put it on the brass screw of the outlet and put the white wire on the gold one. When I re-activated the circuit and flipped the switch, I heard the sweet hum of whirring blades chopping up left over beanie-weanies.

It was nice to have a little success with wiring the garbage disposal. And, now, it's time to move on to getting my dishwasher installed. We'll see how it goes. 

Monday, March 3, 2014


After months of anticipation, I finally downloaded Banished off of Steam last night. Banished is a city building game that has been the brainchild of one sole developer. It seemed to rise up out of the ashes of the SimCity debacle last year and I've been following its development intently for several months. I was finally able to play it over the weekend.

Banished feels a lot like Age Of Empires, but there's no combat. The goal in Banished is just to survive. You've got to manage your resources really well , otherwise, your citizens will succumb to either starvation or the elements and your city will fail. With so many moving parts to micro-manage, Banished is not an easy game to play.

The best advice I can give for now is that you shouldn't expand too fast. I tried to get far too many professions going at once and ended up crashing my population 20 years into my first game when the food reserves ran out. The village never recovered from the initial drop in population, mainly since I foolishly shuffled folks from wood chopping to food gathering. People started freezing to death the next year.

This eventually left poor Damiah, the 57 year old builder, as the last resident of the village.  I let him live out his final days picking pears from the orchard and eating to his heart's content. He finally died at 63.

Although I have yet to master it yet, I'm still having a ton of fun with Banished. If you like SimCity, the game might just be for you, but if you're looking for something that involves less direct management and has more of a reliance on urban planning, then Banished might disappoint you. Still, at about $20, what have you got to lose?

Monday, February 24, 2014

The Sink Is Sunk

I spent most of last weekend getting my new kitchen sink and faucet hooked up. Aside from one incident where I had to remove and re-seat my toilet, I've never been much of a plumber. Still, I didn't think it would be too difficult set up the plumbing for the kitchen sink on my own. And since I discovered a previously-hidden outlet behind the old sink cabinet, I figured I might even be able to hook up a new garbage disposal. I bought all of the supplies from my local Home Depot.

For the faucet, I went with the Glacier Bay Lyndhurst 2-Handle Bridge Kitchen Faucet with Side Sprayer in Stainless Steel. I wanted something that looked different from the typical standard, and I liked the look of the Lyndhurst. It's artsy, yet feels very sturdy and, of course, I love the little sprayer. Here's hoping that the whole thing is sturdy enough to last a number of years. The sink itself is a standard, Kohler two bowl, four hole stainless steel sink.

I purchased an InSinkErator Badger 500 garbage disposal. It's a great little unit, but, if you're going to buy it and hook it up to an outlet, you're going to have to buy an extra cord to go along with it. Thankfully, the unit hooked up easily and I only had to do some minor maze work with the pipes in order to incorporate it into my setup. Here's the result:

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

The New Cabinets Are In

After about 8 hours of work, the new cabinets and counter tops are in. It was a lot of work, but it was worth it because the setup looks great so far. Now, I've got to re-wire some outlets, get the plumbing set up for the sink and dishwasher, get the backs plash and floor done and do some painting. This is only phase 1. There's much more to do.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Kitchen Demolition

My new kitchen cabinets are going in this week, so I spent all of the day today destroying the last remnants of my old kitchen. There were quite a few surprises involved, the most interesting of which involved a bunch of old match books. I guess the previous owner put them between two cabinets in order to shim level them. After wondering aloud why I would find old matchbooks rather than some sort of hidden treasure, I began to sift through the matchbooks. Most of them were from old stores that I had never heard of. One of them was from a local guy's state senate campaign. It was dated 1978. And that would mean that my kitchen is about 35 years old or so. Definitely time for a change.

The previous kitchen layout had been badly designed in that it left the fridge against a bare wall opposite the cabinets and counter top. It wasn't until I took the cabinets out that I discovered that, originally, the fridge went against the same wall as the cabinets. I even found an old water line leading to it. At some point, the previous owner decided to extend the counter tops and sacrificed the fridge's place in order to do it. I'm told that he did this in order to facilitate making pizza at home to bring to the pizza place he owned back in the 80s. The discovery came too late to change the layout, though. So, I will just have to live with what I set out.

Of course, the best part of home demolition is the ability to use power tools. I was able to knock out most of the cabinets via hand and hammer. There were, however, some issues with the cabinets around the sink. I had to cut away various sections of it with an electric saw. I was gleefully happy at having the opportunity to indulge my destructive streak in this manner. I even took a video of part of it. Have a look:

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Blue Man Group

I first saw Blue Man Group at the Briar Street Theater about 15 years ago. I was on a date with some woman whose name I can't remember. She had somehow been given the tickets for free, so, we made a date of it. I knew nothing about Blue Man Group going into the show but, I remember really liking what I saw despite being somewhat distracted by the fact that the date was turning out to be a miserable failure.

Some weeks later, I went again to see Blue Man Group, this time with one of my college buddies and his wife. We got there way too early, though, and ended up drinking at some margarita bar nearby where I ended up getting massively drunk. I was so obliterated that the only thing I remember is my buddy's wife trying to score me a date with the hot bartender chica before we got drummed out. I remember having rather mediocre seats at the theater that I tried not to throw up on. And I remember my buddy's wife flashing her boobs at me on the drive home. I barely managed to bark out a witty retort before passing out.

Those days seem like a lifetime ago. So, it was not without a tinge of excitement that I went back to see Blue Man Group on Saturday afternoon. We had spent the day in Chinatown and managed to get back to the hotel in time to change and depart for the theater. The essence of the show is still the same. It's still a visually stunning, musically stimulating experience. And they've added a lot of new material since I last saw it so many years ago, yet still managed to retain all the cool things that made me like Blue Man Group in the first place. We had pretty good seats, just about seven rows back from the stage. It was nice to attend Blue Man Group with a clear head for once.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Share On Sharalike

After getting my Google Photos year end video and my Facebook Lookback video, I've started thinking about photo videos again. I've been wanting to make similar videos for my own use yet with more specific content. For example, I took tons of pictures in New Orleans and wanted to make a photo video that could showcase them properly. And I ended up with over a hundred pictures from my time in The Foreigner. There's no way anyone would go through an entire album of these things on Facebook. But, putting the photos in a video with a some neat transitions and appropriate music accompaniment might just be the trick I need to get these photos viewed.

Sure, there are plenty of Windows and Mac based programs that I could use to make a photo video. But, you know what? That takes way too much effort. I may use those for a perfectly choreographed family photo video to send out to my folks at Christmas time, but, for something that I just want to use to showcase a set of photos, it's too much work. This is where comes in.

Sharalike is a website that lets you upload your photos and quickly turn them into videos that you can then share with all of your friends. You just create an album, upload photos to it, pick a video theme, pick some music and then you can share the result via a number of different ways (Facebook, Twitter, e-mail link, etc). What I like about Sharalike is the speed at which you can go from concept to video. Sharalike does most of the heavy lifting for you, so you don't have to spend hours dropping photos into templates and enabling transitions. Just a few clicks and you've got your video.

It bears mentioning that Sharalike is still in Beta, so the features are going to be evolving. The trick for Sharalike is going to be keeping the concept simple while still offering a number of attractive features. Personally, I'd mainly just like to see more templates and more music choices. The one big thing on my wish list is a Share via Embedded video feature so that I can share my creations to this very blog for all of my readers to enjoy. 

If you're interested in checking out Sharalike for yourself, I hope you'll sign up under my reference link.

Monday, February 10, 2014

A Review Of The Lego Movie

I've been a Lego fanatic since I was about 8 years old. One of my fondest Christmas memories is of the time I unexpectedly got the Knight's Castle. I spent all day putting it together in the basement of my grandmother's house. I then carefully carried it to the car so that I could get it home safely. I had so many crazy adventures in my mind with that set. There was an alien invasion, a group of regular folks went back in time to visit the castle, etc etc. Lego just had a way of sparking my imagination.

The love for Lego is something that my daughter has inherited from me. She already has more sets than I ever had at her age and most days I find her joyfully playing and/or building. And I am always happy to be included, because, after all these years, Lego still brings me a lot of joy and it still sparks my imagination. Needless to say, when I first heard about The Lego Movie several months back, I was beyond excited.

I took my daughter to see it this past weekend and we both really liked it. It follows a fairly typical "chosen one" plot where our hero, a fairly ordinary looking Lego construction worker, Emmet Brickleback stumbles upon a mystic artifact that is the key to fulfilling the prophecy and saving the Lego world. While the movie goes through the motions of "he is the chosen one! Wait! He's not! Hold on! He is! Ooops! Guess not! Is the prophecy even real?" it's the character interaction, the cameos and the clever, irreverent humor mixed with copious amount of Lego nostalgia that makes this movie work. And the ending is absolutely, mind-blowingly emotional. Thoughout the movie, though, there's a subtext about the nature of how we play and how we interact with the Lego world. That's what really sells the movie for me.

The only bad thing I can say about the movie is that there's so much already out there in the form of trailers and Internet spots and TV ads that much of the really funny stuff from The Lego Movie is readily available. I spoiled myself by voraciously watching everything related to it, so, much of the jokes in The Lego Movie was lost on me because I had already seen them. And I found it a little jarring that much of the dialogue from the trailers ended up in different scenes in the actual movie.

Overall, The Lego Movie is not a 90 minute toy commercial. It a fun movie with something for everyone, and, it's so dense, that there's no way you'll be able to catch everything in just one viewing. You might even say that it's a love letter to Lego fans everywhere.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

How To Save Your Facebook Look Back Video To Your Hard Drive

Taking a page from the Google Photos, Facebook began rolling out a special videos for its users in order to celebrate its 10 year anniversary. Each user's "Look Back" video highlights 15 or so of their most-liked photos, statuses, and life events set to a jaunty tune. It's a neat little reminder of how we've all used Facebook over the past 10 years to document our daily lives. Unfortunately, while Facebook allows you to share your Facebook LookBack video with your friends, it doesn't make it very easy to download it to your hard drive. But, if you're a little savvy, you can download it without much of a problem.

How To Download Your Facebook Look Back Video:

  1. Open the link to your video:
  2. Press Ctrl+Shift+J to open your web browser's console (if you are on a MAC, go to the Tools menu and pick Javascript Console). A little split screen thingy will come up towards the bottom of your screen
  3. Now, you're going to have to paste in some code. Copy it down from:
  4. Paste that code into the console. You might have to press CTRL V to do it. 
  5. Hit Enter. 
  6. A link will appear directly under where you've pasted the code. Click that link. Your video will open in a new tab. Let it play to the end. 
  7. Hit CTRL S and save your Facebook LookBack video to your hard drive.
If anyone needs clarification on how to do this or what the pasted code is doing, feel free to leave me a comment and I'll be happy to help.

For those of you who are interested, I saved my Facebook LookBack video and uploaded it to Youtube. It can be found below:

Monday, February 3, 2014

Hotwire Sucks

While looking for hotels to book for a Valentine's Day outing with the girlfriend, I happened upon a deal at that offered $25 off for booking through their mobile app. I should have just stayed away. To begin with, the Hotwire mobile app has been released in such a poor state, that a $25 incentive is not nearly enough to offset the frustration that comes with using the app. Here are the main problems:

Current Problems With The mobile app (Android):

  • You can't log in to your account with it, so if you do manage to book a hotel, it probably won't get associated with your account. 
  • You can only book hotels, not flights or rental cars
  • Maps are unavailable, so you can't see the general area where you're booking your hotel. You have no idea what sort of attractions and restaurants are near your booking area.
  • No ability to sort by neighborhood
  • Prices listed via the app are actually $5-$15 higher than prices listed on the website. Customer Service Is A Joke

The above problems with the app weren't a huge concern because I knew which neighborhood I wanted to book in and I didn't have an overwhelming need to have the booking associated with my Hotwire account. It's not like I was earning rewards or anything. And, at the time, I didn't notice that the prices on the Hotwire app were slightly more expensive than the prices listed on the website, thus negating the $25 discount I was offered for using the app. So, I went ahead and booked the hotel. And then the app crashed. Before it crashed, though, it did manage to charge my credit card.

I called Hotwire customer service to see if the booking had gone through. They asked for my itinerary number. I didn't have once since the app crashed before I could get one. They asked for my account details, which would be irrelevant since the app doesn't allow you to log in to your account. Once we narrowed down the finer details of the booking, the rep was able to see that, while the charge went through, the booking didn't, so it was only a matter of calling my credit card company to release the funds.

At the end of the call, the customer service rep encouraged me to try booking again. I was leery of using the app, but the rep offered some suggestions like re-booting my phone or clearing my cookies (which she followed up with "And I can't tell you how to do that, so don't ask"). I suggested that I would be willing to re-book through the website, but that I would want the  $25 I had been promised. After all, I had fulfilled my end of the bargain by testing out the app. The rep indicated that she couldn't do that. I asked to be kicked up to a supervisor. The rep told me not to bother because the supervisor would say the same thing. I insisted.

After a five minute wait, I was connected with a supervisor. My first order of business was to complain about the attitude of the customer service rep that I had been speaking to previously. I realize how difficult it can be to maintain a sunny disposition when you've got to deal with frustrated customers all day, but, this particular rep's tone made me feel as if she didn't give a crap about my business from the get-go. The supervisor told me that the front line reps were not employees. They were employees of a call center that Hotwire uses. No wonder why they don't care.  

With that, I'm done with A discount on a hotel isn't worth the sort of frustration that accompanies dealing with Hotwire.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

LogMeIn Ditches Free Accounts

As a technology guru, I've often been asked to fix computer problems by friends and relatives who live quite a distance from me. In order to help them, I've often used a remote desktop connection software called LogMeIn. It was a great option, as it was free for non-business users. It was perfect for remoting in to my parents' computer so I could do a quick fix for them or show them how to do something for themselves without my actually being there.

Yesterday, LogMeIn announced that it will no longer offer its service for free and that those who have been using the free model would have to move to one of their subscription models. This came as an extra pain for users like myself who paid good money for their mobile app, LogMeIn Ignition under the promise that it could be used in conjunction with the free connection service. To be fair, LogMeIn is offering "significant" discounts to folks who bought the Ignition app, but users only have 7 days from their next logon to decide what to do.

Personally, I realize that LogMeIn is a business, needs to make money and has probably come to realize that the free model is not sustainable. The problem is, their subscription services don't exactly reflect reality. As someone who supports a few friends and relatives on an irregular basis, paying $99 a year for connectivity to 2PCs is not worth it. I might be willing to pay a small amount for a "lite" version of the service, had one been offered and had LogMeIn handled the announcement better.

The handling of the issue has been unprofessional to begin with. First, the amount of time given, 7 days, is not nearly enough. It would seem to me that 30 days notice would be about right. Second, purchasers of the mobile app were left in the dark about how they would be compensated and were merely given the promise that they'd be notified about their plans within a week. Obviously, LogMein should have had their plans completely cemented before they ran the announcement. Third, they made that announcement on their blog and, as if they knew a shit storm would ensure, they disabled comments on the post. Fourth, if reports are to be believed, calls to their customer service line are being met with long waits and abrupt hang-ups from frustrated customer service reps. Taken as a whole, it's a good indicator that LogMeIn doesn't really care about converting the free users to paid ones and intends to focus its resources on business users instead. And I can't say that I blame them. It makes sense financially.

If you're like me, you don't want to throw money at LogMeIn after this situation, so, you're probably going to want to switch to something else. There are a number of free alternatives to LogMeIn and, seeing that they've left a lot of users in a lurch, you can bet that there will be several more arriving soon. In the meantime, check out the list below if you're a disaffected LogMeIn user:

Free Alternatives To LogMeIn:

  • Teamviewer: It's a great product for personal use and it doesn't require someone to input a numerical code in order to gain access. Which is great, because my Great Uncle Max was never able to find the code that LogMeIn generated for him. Teamviewer does seem to do some checking randomly to see if you might be using it commercially, and you will get banned if they suspect you are. 

  • Remobo: It's a little more difficult to get working than Teamviewer and doesn't look as polished. It's still a decent product, though. 

  • Chrome Remote Desktop: This is the one I personally use. Obviously, this is done through the Chrome browser, so, if you're solidly anti-Google or anti-Chrome, this isn't going to work for you. 
If you know of any more free or even "freemium" alternatives to LogMeIn, please feel free to comment and let me know. 

Monday, January 20, 2014

Mining Some Dogecoin

Several years ago, a bunch of colleagues and I were forced to sit through a very long customer service seminar. At the end of the seminar, we were all given a pair of "Customer Service" tokens to give away to anyone whom we believed have provided us will excellent customer service. Instead of taking the task seriously, my colleagues and I began giving away the tokens for social things like picking up the tab at lunch or sneezing in the middle of a boring presentation. The challenge was to overwhelm someone with an allotment of coins. At some point, people outside of our department started getting tipped with our coins and got in on the joke themselves. Soon, people actually started to WANT the coins and began doing actual customer service actions to get them. What started was a joke somehow became somewhat serious.

That's sort of how I feel about Dogecoin which is currently the fastest growing crypto-currency. A cryptocurrency is a digital exchange medium whose implementation relies on the principles of cryptography to validate the transactions and generation of the currency itself. You've probably heard of the crypto currency called Bitcoin? Well, you can think of Dogecoin as Bitcoin for goofballs. It's a more social, more approachable crypto currency than Bitcoin. The strength in Dogecoin is in its marketing. Based upon some funny dog-inspired meme, Dogecoin has grown a community around it that isn't afraid to ask questions or be silly. By extention, Dogecoin pokes fun at the entire crypto currency and monetary system by showing that this joke currency actually has a lot of power behind it.

Once Bitcoin started taking off, I was way too far off of the bandwagon to get on for the ride. I watched from the sidelines as Bitcoin had its ups and downs in the market and I was so put-off by the elitist Bitcoin community, I just couldn't get started . When I stumbled upon Dogecoin (which I referred to it as Dodgecoin for about 48 hours) I found a community of helpful, generous, funny people who helped me get started, helped me set up mining (even though my equipment sucks) and even tipped me a bunch of Dogecoins to help me on my way.

From a strictly technical standpoint, Dogecoin doesn't offer anything that you can't already get from Bitcoin or any other alt-coins out there. The novelty of Dogecoin is in its community. It's currently very easy for anyone to mine and/or buy and there are so many Dogecoins out there that people are tipping each other hundreds, sometimes thousands of Dogecoins merely for making someone laugh or for providing useful information. It's a social currency and everyone is invited to the party.

I'd like to think that Dogecoin has the potential to reach the moon. But, if it doesn't, then the experience has taught me a lot about digital currencies and I've had some fun along the way. Those factors alone have made Dogecoin a worthy investment for me.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Cannot Connect To Windows Store

Back in October, my frustrations with Windows 8 had gotten the better of me, and I installed the Windows 8.1 Pro preview. When the official Windows 8.1 release came out in late November, I noticed that I was having trouble accessing the Windows Store in order to get to it. I thought nothing of it and merely went on with my life, content with the Windows 8.1 Pro evaluation copy. Well, my disregard came back to haunt me last night when Windows informed me that my evaluation had expired and that I had to download the official Windows 8.1 release from the Windows store. In the meantime, Microsoft Windows promised to reboot my computer every 2 hours as punishment.

The only way to install the Windows 8.1 update is through the Windows Store. Microsoft doesn't offer a support web page where you can download the update as an ISO or an MSI. The Windows Store is your only option. Problem is, my computer could not connect to the Windows Store. I kept getting a message that said:

Unable to connect to the Store. A problem has encountered with the server or a timeout of the network connection. Wait a few minutes and try again.

And that was weird because my computer had no trouble connecting to the Internet in every other case. Every so often, when I tried again to access the store, the Windows 8.1 download page would come up, but the heading text would be placed over the Download button in such a way that I couldn't click it.

Microsoft offers a number of potential fixes for those of you who can't connect to the Windows Store. None of them worked for me, including running WSReset.exe (Windows Store Reset which resets the Store cache). I also tried a number of third-party cleaner tools like RegCure and Windows Store Troubleshooter to no avail.

Windows Store Can't Connect? Here's The Solution:

What solved the problem for me was simply putting ms-windows-store:WindowsUpgrade into the address bar of my browser. It immediately opened up to the Windows 8.1 download page within the Store app with a perfectly clear layout so I could hit the download button without any trouble. Once I got through to that page, I no longer got the Unable to connect to the Store error.

Some Notes About Upgrading To Windows 8.1

  • There's no way to uninstall Windows 8.1 Preview Edition

  • If you've got Windows 8.1 Preview installed, you can upgrade to the official Window 8.1 release without any trouble

  • You're going to have to re-install all of your apps.

  • If you're logging in to your computer via a local account, Windows 8.1 will force you to switch to a Microsoft account. 

Monday, January 13, 2014

Sister Steals Brother's Tablet

Over the Christmas break, I spent a fair amount of time staying with my folks. There was a lot going on, including the christening of my newest niece. During that time, I spent a lot of time playing favorite Uncle to my nephew and his sister (yet another niece). My nephew had just gotten a Kindle Fire for Christmas and was pretty proud of it. His sister, of course, wanted one as well and used every opportunity she could to take his from him and taunt him with it.

Watch how she deftly steals the Kindle Fire in the video and then how she antagonizes him with it. The way she kisses the Kindle Fire in a mocking way reminds me of an old Tom and Jerry cartoon. I think, though, that my niece got the idea from the opening scene in Toy Story where Mr. Potato Head (as One-eyed Bart) kisses the money from the piggy bank. 

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

A Power Steering Problem

Bitter cold and piles of snow can have weird effects on a car. Not long after I freed my Mustang from its snowy tomb, the power steering went out. It's obvious when a car's power steering goes out, because taking turns feels like you're trying to steer a boat. In extreme cases, it can result in a complete lock-up of the steering. If you find that you've got a power steering problem, pull over as soon as you can, as continuing to drive is hazardous and may result in further damage to your car. Once you've safely pulled over, pop your hood and check your power steering fluid levels.

Power steering fluid doesn't typically need to be replaced all that often. Low levels of power steering fluid could be indicative of a leak or a problem with the power steering pump. Older cars may naturally lose some power steering fluid over time, in which case fixing the issue is simply a matter of buying some more fluid and topping off the reservoir levels. If you've had a sudden decrease in power steering, you've probably got a more complex problem than a slow leak. This is something that Stop Leak will not fix, so don't bother. If you can have a friend turn the steering wheel with the engine on while you observe the power steering fluid levels, you may be able to narrow down the problem.

There are generally 4 points of failure for a power steering leak.

  1. The pump
  2. The high pressure hose
  3. The return hose
  4. The steering rack
Of the four options, the steering rack is the most expensive to fix. And that's what was wrong with my Mustang. The power steering reservoir was empty after just one turn which indicated a fast leak. There's no quick fix for this, so I had to have the steering rack replaced, which is both expensive in parts and labor.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Surviving The Polar Vortex

I knew it was going to be bad when I woke up at about 4am Sunday morning to see snow crashing down from the sky. Some 24 hours later, my driveway was one huge snow drift and my street was covered in packed snow. There was little hope of my Mustang getting out of its icy tomb in time for me to get to work.

The car was covered in snow and ice, so I shoveled it out as best as I could. De-icer helped quite a bit in clearing up the glass and I don't think I would have been able to unfreeze the doors without it. At about noon, I tried cranking the engine on my Mustang and heard it slowly turn over like an elderly lady rolling over in bed. It soon roared to life, though and I was ready to start trying to get out of my driveway. Problem was, under all that snow I had shoveled was a few inches of ice. And Mustangs don't do very well on ice. So, the question is, how do you get a Mustang out of the ice?

How To Get A Mustang Out Of The Snow

  1. Pack the trunk. Mustangs are rear wheel drive, so you'll want to put as much weight as you can in the back. Pack your trunk with heavy items like sandbags or boxes of kitty litter.
  2. Break up the ice around your rear tires. I have, on occasion, used a trowel or a hammer to break up the ice. However you do it is up to you. 

  3. Use Your Floor Mats. Ideally, you'd use road salt or kitty litter, but, if those are not available, you can put your floor mats under your rear tires in order to get some traction, if you  need to.

  4. Turn off the traction control. Normally, traction control is used to retard timing, cut fuel, and apply the brakes on the wheel that is slipping. If you're stuck, you need to spin the wheels in order to gain momentum, and traction control will hinder that process. Make sure you turn it back on once you get out, though. 

  5. Rock back and forth. Alternating between drive and reverse will get you some momentum, which will help get you free.