Springtime on Mars

From the Bad Astronomy blog, I laughed out loud, not at the parachute that Phil mentions, but at the “bounce” landing that… well you’ll know it when you see it.

Many of the foibles presented have roots in actual mishaps with Mars landers. We do not have a stellar record with landing on that tiny little planet. Trivia: did you know Mars is only about as big as the iron core in our own planet Earth?

Click here to enjoy.

Firefly server up and working fine

I have a Roku soundbridge, with which the communication with my iTunes library was broken after upgrading to iTunes version 7.

I was initially holding out to see if Roku was going to come out with an update so that their soundbridges would once again work with iTunes but apparently that faith was misplaced 🙁

So a few days ago I elected to go the Firefly server route. Until now I’ve been using a laptop that had an older version of iTunes to serve up my library, but it didn’t have all my playlists and I didn’t really want to bother with keeping it in synch with my main computer.

Following the directions for setting up Firefly on the Roku website resulted in a seamless and simple install (no configuration needed). And it worked immediately.

Now I’m playing my iTunes playlists perfectly through the Firefly server. What’s even cooler is that new songs are picked up automagically within about 5-10 minutes after adding them to iTunes. Again with no effort on my part.

I can’t speak to any DRM protected tracks as I have very few that I haven’t been able to get a non-DRM version after purchasing the track from iTunes. I want to support the artists but I’m not going to allow myself to be hamstrung in the process.

Broken Sidebar

*Update – Dec 17* – The issue was an open div tag on my Comcast posting below. Using G2 to enter the images I had tried to erase one that was not inserted correctly and it left behind the unclosed div tag. Editting the HTML code directly (need to do this in Firefox, since IE will ruin the G2 tags when updating HTML) and all was well after just deleting the errant div tag.

Yeah, I can see that my sidebar is broken (look down at the bottom and you’ll see it).

I’ve made no changes to the templates so I suppose it’s a content thing that’s done it. Right now it’s just a wee bit too late to troubleshoot…  Hopefully tomorrow I’ll get that sorted out.

Christmas is coming

Don’t forget to go to the “About Marc” link on the right to find my wishlists and buy me lots of great stuff for Christmas!

I’ve decided to embrace the retail delight that is Christmas and not let all those sour old religious traditions interfere with the true meaning of the season: Retail Sales

There is always Easter if you want a Religious holiday. Christmas is just too much fun for all these controversies and politically correct issues. 

Comcast leveraging Verizon Marketing?

I received my first issue of “The Comcast Chronicles” a few days ago. Why I don’t really know since I haven’t been a subscriber for several months now.

On the back was this little piece about high speed Internet with this guy looking at his laptop:


The same day I also received a mailing from Verizon with their nerdy mascot-guy on it:


Admittedly the Comcast guy looks cooler, but what do you think? Coincidence? Comcast leveraging off of Verizon’s marketing investment? Or is Comcast just ripping off the mascot guy’s looks?

Got rid of my Cache files

My work laptop has passed some critical threshold and now is having performance difficulties. Based on the task manager and the disk thrashing it looks like it just needs more memory. It only has 512 Mbytes at the moment, which is kind of low given the demanding applications I sometimes run on it. So more memory is on the way.

This got me to thinking about my home machine. I had 1 Gbyte on it and was noticing that applications were starting to get a little sluggish. Especially if I had them minimized for any length of time and then tried to use them. Some hard drive thrashing and a few moments later then I could be on my way. So I decided to pick up some extra memory.

I ended up buying 2 Gbytes of DDR 400 MHZ RAM. Due to the memory slot configuration on my PowerSpec 8922, this meant pulling out 512 Mbytes of existing RAM resulting in 2.5 Gbytes of RAM total.

Running the machine with this much memory yielded a notable improvement, but not as much as I’d hoped.

After little research I came to the conclusion that if I have a Gigabyte or more of RAM and I’m not doing major Video / Music editting I can probably do away with my Cache file.

So I went into “My Computer” properties and disabled the cache file. With some trepidation I restarted the machine and… it came up just fine. Better than that, wow! is it ever fast now. All apps come to the foreground immediately. The sluggishness that was starting to irk me was gone 🙂

I’ve kept the Task Manager up and have been monitoring my memory consumption for the past few days and I’ve yet to dip below 1.4 Gbytes of free memory. AMPLE buffer. The geeks among you will want to peek below to see what I typically have running on my machine and still have this much free.

So I went to my Lenovo tablet, it has 1 Gbyte of RAM. Similar results. And I typically have about 400 Mbytes free all the time. Though it should be noted that I do not run nearly as much stuff on it at any one time. It has a slower processor and it’s not intended to do so much background stuff for me.

But I am very pleased with the results and would recommend doing this to anybody who has at least 1 Gbyte of memory on their machines. You need to be cautious if you have a cheaper machine that shares its RAM out as Video RAM. Try to be sure you’ve got plenty of available RAM before you try this.

One thing to note about the Windows Task manager performance view. It will still show PF (Page File) Usage and Page File Usage History even with the Cache disabled. You can verify that you’ve actually disabled the cache by looking for “pagefile.sys” in the root of your C:\ drive (for most people – if yours is not there you probably already know where to look for it). Make sure you’ve got windows explorer configered to see system files if you’re going to try to look for this file. Apparently the page file information is to let you know what it *would* be paging out if it could. Not sure how much use this item is with a page file in place as I’m not so certain you can trust that what it *says* is swapped out is really what’s out there…

As a side note, if anybody out there is looking for some extra memory, I have a pair of matched 256 MByte (512 MByte total) DDR 400 Mhz memory sticks that I’m looking to sell really reasonably. I paid $95 when I first got the machine about 3 years ago. $20 anybody?

For what I’m running on my main machine:

  • iTunes
  • FireFox
  • Doppler (podcatcher)
  • NewsRover (Usenet aggregator)
  • Outlook
  • Firefly Server
  • Roboform
  • Norton AV
  • Windows Defender
  • Clipboard recorder
  • ActiveWords
  • APC Power Chute Personal Edition
  • Taskbar Shuffle
  • Google Desktop

Frequently (always have a couple of these running):

  • Synergy (control my laptop with main keyboard and mouse)
  • IE (for those sites that just can’t get it right..)
  • Quicken
  • Crimson Editor
  • Picassa


Yes, it’s been a while

Time goes by fast when you’re overwhelmed!

There are so many things I want to blog about but I’ve been a wee bit too busy. Imagine that, a blogger who actually has a life too! I think that somehow makes me somewhat of an outcast in the blogger realm 🙂

 Mich and I had a great trip to Toronto over Thanksgiving and I’ll soon be posting an article about that. Right now we’re both in the throws of Dave Allen’s “Getting Things Done” and collecting all of our “stuff” togteher and decided what stays, what goes and what to do with and about the rest.

Then we’ll have a bit of time for other things like leisure reading and blogging again!

Landscaping our property – Ongoing 1

Here are some shots after the work began.


Here is the front of the house with the trailer and bobcat parked in the garden.




And the entryway with all the bushes and plants taken out leaving behind the big stones that Mich likes so much and some new plantings. Mich tells me that there is more to come. It looks really empty right now. But then it *was* pretty overcrowded before.


Here the front plants have been pruned WAY back and some cleanup has been done on that garden area.




Not much has happened here by the shed except that a hole has been prepared and a new red bud is waiting to be planted.




Finally a picture of the back of the house. The Azaleas have been removed and the bed has been prepped. Some of the plants waiting to be installed are in the foreground sitting beside our not-so-new chiminea at front right.



Landscaping our property – The Beginning

A little while ago we had a landscape architect (Sherry Lizotte) come over and create a “master plan” with us for how our property might actually look someday.

We took those plans and worked with a landscaper (Glen Warren) to figure out what we wanted to address now and what would wait for (probably much) later.

Having the overall plan was actually suggested by Glen when we first talked with him. Our original intention had been to just “spruce up” the place. Essentially taming some of the more unruly plants and replacing others. But as our aspirations grew, we all soon realized that there would likely be a lot of wasted effort if we didn’t work according to a larger plan.

I took before pictures of everything except the windows at the back of the house (where the gym and Mich’s office are situated). Going back through my old pictures I find I’ve NEVER taken pictures of that area – weird.

Anyway I thought I’d chronicle some of the changes. Let me know what you think.


To start off, here is a picture of the front of the house just before the work began.




As a contrast, the bushes looked like this when we first arrived here 10 years ago.



Continuing on with the front yard, you can see pretty clearly how we’ve allowed things to outgrow the area. I trimmed the bushes most years but was not “garden savvy” enough to know how much I could cut back all these plants without harming them.






And Here is the backyard showing the shed area.


Gift Cards – What a bad idea!

There is only one type of gift certificate/card/coupon that I must confess to really liking. That’s an Amazon.com gift certificate. You can apply it against your account, see the balance and then use it for any purchase from Amazon or any of their affiliates. For me, this is a good thing because I’m always buying stuff from Amazon.

Otherwise, I cannot think of a more terrible idea than taking good, honest money and exchanging it for something that is more limited. Gift certificates are typically good in only one brand of store, can expire, are often forgotten about and frequently obligate the user to spend their own money in an effort to use the complete value of the certificate. Store brand gift cards are in the same boat.

The newer “Visa” gift cards (I presume MasterCard, AMEX and the rest have similar deals) are supposedly as versatile as a regular Visa card but they aren’t. I have a $60 Visa gift card that I received as part of a promotion for switching my natural gas provider.

My first attempt to use it was in a gas pump. That failed miserably since it’s not a real Visa card and there isn’t any PIN associated with it to allow you to use it like a debit card.

I then was able to successfully use it to purchase lunch one day. So I stuck with restaurants as they seem to know how to cajole the cash out of them.

Keeping my receipts so that I’d know how much was left on the card I went for lunch one day and tried to use the remaining balance on the card and found it was declined (not a great hardship as I was already going to have to pay for about 1/2 the meal cash anyway). The waiter was pretty good about it, he tried several different amounts on my behalf knowing that I was just trying to drain the card but to no avail.

Just now I checked the card balance and last 5 transactions and find there’s a charge on the card that brings the balance down to about 87 cents. I can tell you that I’m not about to bother trying to use the card to claim 87 cents! I’m also a little dismayed that I can’t pinpoint that extra charge. It was only for $8.40 and I have some other receipts that I want to go through, but the novelty of the card is such that I’m pretty sure I remember every time I used it (3 times)…

Anyway, that’s where I’m back to my Amazon gift certificate or just cash (giving or receiving).  As I think about it, I suppose for other folks who shop at a particular store a lot maybe it’s like Amazon is for me. They’ll use the value of the card in a couple of weeks and be the happier for it.

But I suggest that, for the vast majority of cards and certificates, they will be lost, forgotten, expired or otherwise unusable benefiting only the retailer and not your intended gift recipient.

Clark Howard was also warning that some of the gift card suppliers actually charge you to let you know your remaining card balance.