Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Computer Ministry and the NET Bible

I love the NET Bible... The folks at Bible.org are behind the NET Bible translation. Someone there is much superior to me in terms of computer security, but they may have another area I can help.
this is an audio post - click to play

I wish I could link this to the internship requirement I have this semester... too bad.

Replacing My DigiCam Kodak V550

I have decided to return the Kodak v550 I got to replace the Pentax Optio S5i. I was looking for photos to print out and frame, and nothing I've taken recently is pleasing to my eyes. I like to take macro shots of my cats but my recent attempts have been miserable compared to ones I took last year.

In looking at the photos Cathy took on her trip, it seemed to me everything was fine with the camera for everyday photos, except when I zoomed in. Subjectively, I think none of the photos I've taken recently will make decent prints on anything larger than a 4x6.

At first, I blamed my less-than-steady hands for the quality of the photos I've taken recently. I looked at my favorite photo, one of Malachi with soft sunlight upon her while she lay peacfully on the bed. I comapred it to a recent attempt of a macro shot of the same subject in the same room and the images simply did not compare.

By zooming in, it was almost instantly clear that I have far less detail on the recent phot than the origianl photo. Then, viola, I though I discovered the problem... the Kodak photo was _much_ smaller than Optio photo, so I must have resized the image! I just needed to find the full-size image I took with the Kodak and my problem would be resolved.

I couldn't find the "original", uncompressed version of the Kodak photo. It finally hit me: this is the size of the Kodak photos. The Optio and the Kodak are both 5 megapixels, yet the Optio photo was 2500k while the Kodak photo was only 800k. I looked on my Kodak camera for an "image quality" setting, like the Optio, yet I could not find one.

Simply put, the Kodak V550 appplies much higher image compression than my Optio S5i did. Unfortunately, this is not a user-adjustable setting on the Kodak, so I cannot adjust the setting to lower the compression.

That explained a lot... the increadible refresh rate, the lack of details on photos, the inability to get high-quality shots despite my best efforts. I did a few Google searches on the Kodak V550... everybody gave it glowing reviews, but a few reviews noted that the "compression is a little high". Well, the compression is too high for me, expecially since I can tell the difference between my digital photos and a 35mm 4x6 print.

I need a camera that will take 4x6 digital photos that look just like the same photo taken with a 35mm camera. So... the Kodak V550 is going back. I want a compact camera to carry on my waist, and Cathy wants a mid-sized camera with high optical zoom, so I'm stuck with having two cameras. I'll be replacing the V550 with another compact digicam, but I'll need to find one for Cathy, too. *sigh* Knoica Minolta is selling their digicam division to Sony, so I'll be looking at a Kodak, Epson or Canon... we'll see.

this is an audio post - click to play

F.O.R.M. for Breaking the Ice

F.O.R.M. is the acronymn that my Field Ed professor uses to break the ice with strangers. It stands for:

Family
Occupation
Religion
Message

this is an audio post - click to play

Good points to hit when making new friends. Probably good for salesmen, too, and I suppose pastors are salesmen in a sense.

Classes Begin!

As I previously mentioned, Cathy's not confident she can continue to work at Biola for an extended period of time. She enjoys her job (so long as she's busy), but we would both like for her work at home, if possible. It was thus that I met with my academic counselor and the registrar last week. Together, we discovered that my fiasco last year probably set me back three semesters, instead of the two semesters I spent attempting a hybrid ciriculum. I may only have two semesters left for classes, I may have to cut out my classes and switch from MDiv to M.A.

There's a good chance I'll get into most of the classes available to me this semester. I have five required classes before I graduate, and I am attempting to get into three this week. There's a good chance I'll get two, if not all three, of the classes I need.

I am concerned about the 1-unit class I am registered for. There's 6~7 books required and the workload promises to be quite high.

this is an audio post - click to play

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Happy Chinese New Year!

Sunday is Chinese New Year. It happens to be the Year of the Dog, so I guess Oliver's "birthday" is Monday.

Cathy & I married on Chinese New Year, so we sort of have two anniversaries. I'm not sure what we'll do tomorrow, but probably not much. If we were in Taiwan, I would be getting together with all my family and having a very large lunch.

Maybe we'll hit a Chinese restaurant after church. It is too bad I don't have any Chinese-speaking friends around to say traditional blessings to, like "congratulations and may you get rich", "may you always have leftovers" as well as "Happy New Year." :-)

Update: Yup, we had Chinese for lunch... it was great, and Cathy impressed the server with her recitation of "Happy New Year."

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

New Theory of Gravity May Dispense of Dark Matter

A modified theory of gravity that incorporates quantum effects can explain a trio of puzzling astronomical observations: large scale structures, the horzon problem and the Pioneer anomaly.

The theory, called scalar-tensor-vector gravity (STVG), adds quantum effects to Einstein's theory of general relativity such that quantum fluctuations can affect the force felt between interacting objects. It does depend on a hypothetical particle called a graviton – which mediates gravity – appears in large numbers out of the vacuum of space in regions crowded with massive objects such as stars.

Any theory of gravity must explain the development of large-scale structures in the universe, and most importantly, the afterglow of the big bang called the cosmic microwave background (CMB) radiation (see "#2 Horizon Problem" of "13 things that do not make sense").

I am going to keep my eye on STVG, as it may offer a viable alternative to Big Bang Inflation theories of the variations in the speed of light and other universal "constants".

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Priase and Prayer Items

A couple of praise items: much to my surprise, my car passed smog last Thursday. I honestly expected it to fail. However, even more suprising is that my MIL (Rhonda) had her smog test, and her car passed, too! It really smells bad when it is running, and the batter dies after sitting more than two days.

this is an audio post - click to play

A couple of prayer requests: the fine California State Disability Insurance program cut Cathy off on 01/01/2006 without warning pending another written note from her doctor. Cathy noticed that the check for the 15th never arrived... so she found out they cut her off. Her doctor will be writing on the required forms, but for now we are very strapped on cash.

Also, I'm going back to school. Given Cathy's health and our mutual desire for her to discontinue working outside the home, I'm attempting to speed up my degree completion. I could drop out of the MDiv program and get an M.A. instead. I met with my guidance counselor yesterday and have an appointment on Friday to discuss the possibilities with the Registrar.

Finally, I still feel a little bitter towards the head of the Registrar, so I could use some prayer, there, too.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Back Up Your Data Already!

A client's main server crashed today. That is unremarkable, as their server is very old and poorly maintained. However, their most recent backup is 30 days old... they're in for some serious hurt. Remember to back up your data, friends.

I remember once, in college, when I helped a grad student recover her thesis paper. I think it was 1992 or maybe 1993. It was Winter, just before Christmas, and I was living on campus in a dorm. I'm not sure how it came about that I ended up helping this fellow student. I do not remember her name, and I have only a vague recollection that she was Asian and shorter than I am.

The cry for help was genernal, not specifically to me. Perhaps I heard her lamenting to another student, or read it on the campus BBS. The thesis she had worked on for so long and so hard was stored on a floppy disk. It spanned hundreds of pages, and now she could no longer read the floppy. I offered to help.

It didn't read in my drive, either, so it was the floppy. I explained to her that this floppy was old and worn, and she should probably go back to her most recent backup. Except, of course, that she had none. She was in tears, I remember that. I told her I would try to do something, recover whatever I could.

Payment was never discussed, and looking back, I suppose it did not cross my mind at the time. I used an old but trusty utility to read data at the bit level, did a hex dump and showed her what I found. Amazingly (very amazingly) I actually hit upon her thesis. Though her needle was in the haystack, somehow I had been guided to the correct sectors of the floppy. It was unlikely because the entire Bible fits on a floppy... so if you could flip open a Bible and just happen to land in the same book and chapter I am thinking of right now... well, you get the idea.

I dumped the entire contents as text to a file on my hard drive and showed her what we had. What we had was several copies of her thesis in run-on paragraphs. She'd have to do a lot of formatting, but all of her work was there. I gave her a new floppy (and perhaps an extra) and admonished her to make backups. She left in a hurry to get her thesis ready to turn in.

The short Asian graduate student and I never crossed paths again; or, if we did meet again, we did not recognize each other. Today, however, no such miracle is availble for this one client.

The moral of the story is simple: back up your files. If they are important to you, make a copy. For the truly important stuff, consider electronic storage off site, away from your primariy residence. If you have Windows XP, check out www.mozy.com (if you use this link, I get an extra 250mb, thanks no, I don't get anything for this). At least make backups to a USB drive or burn copies to CD or something.

"What do you do, Lee?" you may ask. I'm a little nuts on this... I keep large hard disk attached to my home network. Cathy backs up all files from her laptop to a ZIP disk and to a USB keychain. Occassionally, I back that up to the external hard disk. Periodically, I burn the contents of the hard disk to CD. For really important stuff, I'm planning on encrypting them and sending them to my Mozy account. If you sign up for one, try creating a separate Gmail account first. If you need a Gmail invite, I have plenty.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Well? Vasectomy or No Vasectomy?

So I'm getting a vasectomy tomorrow morning. I've put it off a bit due to work and remodeling and school and other inconveniences. The time, however, is finally here.

this is an audio post - click to play
It is true that Cathy questions if this is the best course of action, she is primarily concerned with the possibility of her premature death. Her primary reasoning for rethinking the procedure goes thus: What if 1) she dies and 2) I remarry and 3) want kids later on? I figure the if...if...if... argument is not worth spending too much time on.

The fact is, we would probably make good parents, but I have no intention on having biological offspring (sorry, mom). I realize I am an only child, but I have plenty of half-brothers, so I am not concerned with my father not having grandchildren. If Cathy and I decide to become parents, I think we'll adopt.

"But it's different when they're your kids," some have said. Perhaps, but I'm not sure I need the difference in degree of immediate emotional attachment. Maybe I would love a biological boy or girl more than an adopted one, or at least love them differently without a difference in intensity. I don't konw... but I'm not convinced it matters to me. An adopted child has all the rights of biological offspring, which is exactly the relationship I picture between myself and God. Yeah, I know God loves Jesus differently than He loves me, but that doesn't make me feel differently about God, and I think that's the point.

I suppose I may chicken out tomorrow, but it is highly unlikely. The only things putting me off are the anticipated discomfort, my fear of sharp objects and the outside chance that my cats will stop loving me. When the kittens we raise for the shelter are "fixed" the other cats tend to regard them as completely different cats. I have settled all spiritual, emotional and intellectual matters, so all that concerns me know is the discomfort and the attention of my cats.

I'll likely not post for a day or so. :-)

Update: 08:30 A.M. 01/19/2006 - The scheduled vasectomy kept Cathy up all night. She told me this morning that we needed more time to talk about it. So... we'll wait.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Urban Barn Raising

I've been involved in a form of urban barn raising over the past 10 days. Our friends Chris & Laura are remodeling their kitchen and Cathy & I offered to lend a hand. Granted, the urban family's nearest equivalent of a barn is probaby the garage, so the analogy breaks down quickly, but the spirit is the same.

A barn raising is usually done in one day, but this is taking much longer. Our friends Steve and Yvonne VanZwienen were first to introduced me to the notion of an Amish Barn Raising, where a community comes togther to help construct a barn for a member of that community (photos). This is similar, and it builds stronger relationships.

Chris & Laura are close to our age and we enjoy our excursions as couples. Helping them build their kitchen is a great way to deepen our relationship in a practical and helpful way. I found that I worked very well with Gordon, Chris' father, and the time passed quickly.

The first Saturday (the 7th) we tore out all the existing cabinates and got rid of them. Over the course of the week they assembled the new cabinates for installation, and we got back together this past weekend to do the installation. On Saturday we hung all the top cabinates and started the bottom, and on Sunday we did more base cabinates, assembled the bar and stopped for some tile work. Last night we attached the bar to the base cabinates. Laura did an impressive job with the tile, too. Cathy & I are looking forward to the tile work on the kitchen backsplash and seeing the finished product!

If I ever have a "kitchen raising" or anything similar, I think I will name components as a memorial to people, like the "Chris & Laura drawer" or something. That would be cute, and remind me of the good times and the love people invest in our lives. Well, I'll think of something, perhaps less tacky.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Plumbing and Tenant Neighbors

So... about noon I get a call from my tenant in the third unit. The problem with having neighbors that are also tenants is that nobody ever makes a social call. The relationships are cordial, but bound by the strictures of our landlord-tenant relationship. I think we all tend to intentionally forget until rent is due.

That said, my neighbors do not call unless something is wrong. So I was not glad to get a voicemail indicating that unit three had flooded (argh). Thoughts of the "slab leak" (which turned out to be a overflowing toilet) came immediately to mind.

Anyway, unknown to me, the toilet in unit three will occassionally run continuously, wasting money but probably easy to repair. However, the toilet also flushes funny: it will flush, then the water will rise almost 3/4 of the way up, then essentially flush again.

What happened today was that the toilet stuck so it was running continually. The extra water caused the bowl to overflow, and once it does that it apparently doesn't receed. There's less resistence to overflowing, so the water keeps coming out the top. Thankfully, it was clean water.

The bathroom in three is connected to a hallway and is between two bedrooms and the livingroom. The overflow was not noticed for 15 minutes or so, and by the time my tenant noticed, the water had spread partially into all the rooms.

*sigh* Click to hear me whine
this is an audio post - click to hear me whine

Anyway, I called in for an insurance assessor. Ironically, the flooding from unit one was due to a toilet as well (it was newly unoccupied, so nobody noticed). The toilet in three is the only toilet I had not replaced. I'll be replacing it soon, and hoping that solves the problem.

Computer Consultant Competency

My job involves working with information technology people from various clients, and often with consultants helping our clients with new hardware or software or whatever.

I come across some impressive titles (ike IT Director) and completely silly ones (computer guru). As strange as this may be, I am finding that the more impressive or assuming the title or the more likely I'll have to do most of the work. Or worse, fix the "work" that someone else has done.

Allow me to state Lee's Law of Computer Consultant Competency: the competence of a computer consultant is inversely proportional to the perceived importance of their designation.

Correlary 1: the harder a computer consultant tries to impress you with their knowledge the less likely it is they know what they are talking about.

Correlary 2: the harder a computer consultant tries to assure you everything will work the less likely it is they will get it right the first time.

I've mentioned before how it annoys me that people pretend to know what they don't. Psychologically, it is probably due to my own incomplete attempts to be completely transparent and genuine in my interactions with others. While social norms may define the extent to which we can be open in a given environment, there is still a difference between misleading people and not showing your hand.

It is those people who, professionally, mislead people regarding who they are and what they are capable of that annoy me the most. Field engineers and tech who mislead their clients are far more likely to blame a third party (say me, for example) for their own incompetencies. At least one client things poorly of my employer because some IT Director screwed up and blamed us; the client did not let the facts influence their opinion in the matter, either.

Thankfully, incompetency is in the minority. It is not a tiny minority, but it is less than half the cases. Still, the average joe has a 50-50 chance of choosing a competent consultant, and it would benefit a potential employer to do a little checking into referrals before hiring.

Comic: Cat Heaven

Sunday, January 15, 2006

The Tyranny of Tabbies

Cathy and I have three cats: a tuxedo, a tabby and a tortie. It just happened that way with no planning on our part, but the alliteration is interesting. Their respective names are not so harmonious (Zechariah, Malachi, and Fanny).

If you are a cat-lover, like me, then you understand the "Tyranny of Tabbies." It is the harmless yet disruptive interference which felines create in our daily lives because they are just too cute to be disturbed. In our house, it can be either the tabby or the tortie, depending on what you are engaged in at the time.

Right now, it is the tyranny of the tabby. Cathy wants to go to sleep, as do I. I climb under the sheets but Cathy is pinned down by our tabby. The tabby is just too comfortable to be disturbed, so Cathy lays still, pettying the tabby until she decides to relocate of her own accord.

When I am engaged in sutdying Scripture, my tortie will often jump into my lap and demand to be stroked and cuddled. I stratch and pet and stroke and cuddle, but our tortie knows that my full attention is not upon her, so sh'e'll keep pokng her head between me and the written word. I'll maneuver the book or adjust my position, and our tortie just keeps trying. This one doesn't give up: I have to put her down before I can read in peace.

Our tuxedo is demanding, but dignified. She doesn't meow or mew like or tabby and she won't compete so directly with a book like our tortie. Our tuxedo wlill simply place herself in plain sight, near at hand, and stare quietly but intently until she gets the loving affection she so rightfully deserves.

Hm... I love cats. I'm very glad God made cats to nuzzle us, knead us and to need us. :-)

Friday, January 13, 2006

Union Station and Beethoven's Fifth

My mom-in-law, Rhonda, took her real estate exam in San Diego on Thursday morning. Her choice of location was due to bad information (she thought it was the closest location available) and serendipity, as it turns out the exam center is 10 minutes from my brother-in-law's residence.

So Rhonda took a train down to San Diego on Wednesday, picking up some identification papers from the DMV along the way. Having stayed the night and enjoyed some bonding time with my two neices, she took the test the next day and (very likely) passed easily.

It fell to me to pick Rhonda up at the Amtrak station in Fullerton. I have no objection, as it is a mere 20 minute drive from our apartment. I listened to the first movement of Beethoven's Fifth and arrived in good time. "Wish I had time to finish this," I thought to myself, and got out of the car.

Wandering around the station, I noted that the inbound train should appear at 10:27 PM, the last train of the night. Right now time, a train pulled up and I took in the cold waiting for her to appear through the softly glowing portals of the silver and blue behemoth of a train.

I watched as passengers disembarked, some hurrying off alone, others greeted warmly by loved ones. One passing sould was kind enough to confirm by query; this is indeed the train from San Diego. I continued to wait.

A minute passed, and I did not find my mother-in-law. The conductor cleared the doors, warning lights came on, and to my dismay the doors began to close. Several trains of thought (ha) ran through my mind: did I miss her? is this right train? did she get off at the wrong station? did she fall asleep? can I stop the train?

Alas, the train began to pull away for Los Angeles, its final destination, and I peered deparately into the Windows, hoping both to find and to not find Rhonda staring out a window. And there she was, coming to a stop near the door with an inquisitive look on her face, just about to turn into a look of dismay when I lost sight of her.

Quickly I caught the attention of an apprently off-duty Amtrak employee. "My mom missed getting off the train!" I said, "Where does it go next?" Union Station in L.A., off of the Alameda exit; she'll be there in 35 minutes. I updated Cathy, got directions from her and rushed off at the highest rate that the speed limit allowed.

Rhonda was astute enough to borrow a fellow passenger's cell phone and updated Cathy. We arranged to meet out front of Union Station, and I got to finish Beethoven's Fifth on the way there. I began listening to the 9th while waiting for my mother-in-law, and was happy to report to base that "the eagle has landed" by 11:05 PM.

Unfortunately for me, Union Station is now linked mentally with Beethoven's Fifth.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Reminder of God's Goodness

God is good. Here's a reminder.

Cathy & I were eating breakfast. I do not know how the conversation turned to such a morbid subject, but I wondered what would have happened if the shots did not work on Cathy.

Shortly after Thanksgiving we received test results indicating that the Hepatitis C treatment was working. This was great news! It means that the existing treatment and the acompanying side-effects were worthwhile.

It was not until recently until I considered the "what-if" scenarios. What if the treatment was not working? Actually, I just brought that up with Cathy at breakfast. With Cathy's Hep-C and the addition of her fatty liver (yes, your liver can be fat even if you are not), the doctor suggested that her liver would fail within six years if the conditions were left untreated.

Six years! If these shots did not work, Cathy would have needed a new liver by 2010. With a transplant, she would live for five, maybe six years, and that would be it. Ctahy would die by 2016, and I would be a windower at 43.

Instead, the shots are working. I hadn't really considered what the alternative would have been. God is good, very good. I look forward to the day that Cathy is completely cured!

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Donate Money to a Good Cause?

Messiah College is getting acredited in the Philippines and needs $500 for books.

Believe me, it is a good cause that will advance the Gospel. God has blessed them with materials, software, hardware, talent... but they need just $500 for books before next week. After you tithe this week, pray about contacting them to donate!

Friday, January 06, 2006

VXA Drives Indicates Tape Not Available When Requiring Cleaning

This is a techy post... my company almost lost a client over this issue, and it is confusing other clients of mine.

Summary: if your VXA drive suddenly quits working after a few weeks and no longer sees any tapes in the drive, try cleaning it before panicing.

On both UNIX and Windows systems, VXA backup will fail if you do not clean the drive every 72 operating hours. For a 4-hour backup, this is about every three weeks. If you do not clean the VXA tape drive with cleaning cartridge every 72 operating hours, the drive quits recognizing tapes inserted into it.

That's right: VXA tape drives will tell you media is not available if you do not clean the drive in a timely fashion. And the clearning light only comes on IF THERE IS NO TAPE IN THE DRIVE.

If you are accustomed to trouble-shooting, you probably would do what I did. First, I tried a different tape. Then I tried another backup program. Then I examined the backup log files, then the Event Viewer logs. There were no clues except that the drive saw no tapes.

On UNIX, I found nothing in the syslogs and tape status messages. I finally found the problem by digging into the Job Queue log in the Windows Removable Storage Manager. It indicated simply that "a cleaning is required before further tape operations can be performed."

Keep in mind that this is NEVER displayed to the user. It is NOT logged in Event Viewer, and it is not returned as a "tape needs cleaning" hardware error that UNIX recognizes. And since the cleaning light shuts off if there is already a tape in the drive, there's no good way for a user to tell that the drive REQUIRES cleaning.

Granted, their documentation says to clean the drive every 72 operating hours, but what user reads that? I would estimate that 25% of the users I instruct do 50% of what I tell them to do.

We use tape drives to back up data on client computers. As disk drive capacity has increased, tape drive capacity has needed to keep up. The Exabyte VXA-2 drive can back up 160 GB, but it has it's peculiarities. The only clue is a tech article from Exabyte or the Microsoft RSM log.

This is a post mostly for the sake of allowing other techs to find this in a Google Search.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Google Pack Updates Your Software

Several of the programs I've mentioned in the past are bundled as Google Pack. So far I am thinking of Google Pack like a non-Microsoft Update: a bunch of your essential utilities are kept current by the Google Updater. Almost all the software listed in the Google Pack are free (the AV program is only 6-months), and everyone of them is good (I've used them all at one or another).

You may want to give Google Pack a try; you may even discover some new software!

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Portable Software On My USB Drive

I keep a certain set of bookmarks and shortcuts, not to mention browser extensions and other customizations, on my primary computer. I found it very inconvenient to attempt to do things at home without bringing my work laptop home, which I don't really want to do. I also found that I had to install and maintain several instant messaging programs at home as well as work... that got to be a pain.

A while back I noticed someone was making FireFox portable. I got interested, but I didn't think the package was ready. But with FireFox release 1.5, I finally got truly comfortable with my customizations. I decided to undertake transporting my settings.

There's quite a few portable apps out there now. Most are open source, and almost all of them are free. Basically, the idea is to be able to carry your own applications and settings with you on a USB or other removable storage, and leave no junk behind when you disconnect. The OpenOffice suite is now portable, so I may upgrade to a 256 MB drive and use AbiWord for routine word processing and OpenOffice for all the other things.

So far I'm only carrying my own web browser and instant message software on my USB keychain. So far, I've got FireFox (with all my settings and bookmarks) and GAIM (my instant messenger), as well as FileZilla (my FTP client of choice) and AbiWord (word processor). I'm planning on adding Skype, compression utilities, spyware removal and probably an antivirus program. This would bring me close to 100 MB on my 128 MB keychain. If I get good enough at it, I may post a how-to entry.

If you are interested in portable apps, check out these web sites:
Portable Apps
No Installs
Portable Freeware
Standalone Apps