Podcast – IT Conversations

is a wonderful collection of interviews, conference keynote speeches and various series all under one roof. When you go to subscribe you have the choice of limiting yourself to particular series, conferences or topics of interest.

I have elected to receive "Everything!" in AAC format. My plan was to simply discard anything that was of poor quality or wasn’t of interest to me. I have to say that in the past couple of months of listening, there have only been a tiny handful that just didn’t happen to interest me (usually gaming specific or Mac specific).

The production quality of these podcasts is excellent and members can (and do) vote to indicate which they found most interesting and/or worthwhile. Everything is tied together by Doug Kaye who presents a weekly synopsis of all the most recent additions along with member ratings to help you decide which may be the most worth your valuable investment in podcast-listening time!

As someone who genuinely enjoys attending cons and listening to the keynote and topic presentations I *really* appreciate the offerings at IT Conversations. So much so that I have actually donated to the tip jar that they make available on the web site to hopefully help them continue to provide their offerings with a minimum amount of advertising going forward.

Well worth checking out.

agp440.sys and dead XP system

I recently had my system apparently die on me and wanted to share the symptoms and the apparent cause in case anybody else comes across this issue.

Symptoms:

  • Tried to reboot my computer (first a warm reboot – restart, then a cold reboot – shutdown, wait, power up again) saw the POST (power on self Test) then saw the initial Windows logo with the little animated “runner marquee” at the bottom. Then this cleared and… nothing. What should have happened next was that my blue XP “Click your username to login” screen should have appeared. I needed to kill power to my PC in order to do anything in both cases.
  • Then resorted to starting up in Safe mode – in XP you don’t even need to fiddle with the F8 key, you are presented with this option if the system detects a failed startup attempt – simplifies things. When starting in safe mode you get to see all of the drivers being listed as they are loaded. And each time I attempted this (I tried a couple of times) the last driver loaded was agp440.sys.

System:
So you know the environment that I am using to know if the solution below is relevant to you:

  • Powerspec 8922 – from Microcenter
  • 2.6 GHz Pentium 4 processor (with HT technology)
  • 1 Gbyte of RAM (upgraded from default 512 Mbytes)
  • 120 Gbyte 7200 rpm ATA/133 Hard Drive
  • ATI (VisionTek) XTASY 9600 graphics card (to drive dual monitor configuration)
  • Belkin USB 2.0 hub
  • Windows XP Home edition – with SP2 applied
  • SanDisk Cruzer Mini USB 1 Gbyte Thumb drive

That’s everything that’s relevant to this issue – of course there is the usually panoply of routers, monitors and other USB devices.

Solution:
I grabbed my wife’s laptop and did some Google searches on agp440.sys and found that this appears to be a red herring. I believe it just happens to be the last of the drivers loaded before services start being initiated.
Several folks did some experiments where they renamed or otherwise disabled the agp440.sys driver and found that the failure then occurred on the next previous driver.

Someone then mentioned that they disconnected their USB mouse and things seemed to work after that for them. Others mentioned that they had to perform chkdsks which found and corrected bad sector info on their hard drives.

Anyway, I had plugged my thumb drive into the computer to check some stuff a while ago and hadn’t bothered to remove it.
I had just shut down the computer and then turned off the power to my USB hub, routers and modem as I wanted to reset them. I did this by powering off my UPS. I suspect this was a harsh shutdown for the thumb drive, even though it was not talking to the computer anymore.
With my computer in safe mode just sitting at the agp440.sys I reached over and just yanked out the thumb drive. *Presto* the computer then continued to boot up in safe mode.

Apparently there was some issue initializing the thumb drive and as long as it was plugged into my usb hub I wasn’t going to be using my computer any time soon.

In safe mode I instructed the system to do a chkdsk /R on my only drive (C:) and then restarted. Cannot get a lock on the primary partition’s NTFS formatted disk after the OS has been set up.

WOW! It takes a long time to chkdsk a 120 MByte drive when about 70 Gbytes are in use… expect this to take a couple of hours at least.

Anyway I let that run overnight and in the morning everything was right as rain.

Later I inspected my thumb drive – hmmm… no problems here. Even did a chkdsk on it (not sure how relevant that is…). But I can only surmise that there was some inconsistency caused by the harsh shut down of the thumb drive.

Hopefully this information can be useful to other people who encounter this issue.

User Names and passwords

This from King:

Are you aware of a program that will handle the following:
I would like a program that will maintain the ‘frequently entered things’
on my PC. Examples, email addresses (since for different reasons, I use
MR/2 for some mail, Evite, Hotmail, Yahoo mail), Idents and passwords to various web sites, and perhaps even favorite web addresses. I would like to be able to invoke this program easily, select the info I want to have entered and have the program past it into where my cursor is sitting.

I would also like to have this program small, and not require ‘installing’, so that it could be put on a floppy disk, or memory card and used at any PC, and when I’m finished with it, be able to shut it down, and remove the media it is stored on, and thus, not have the passwords on the machine at all.

Encryption for the data would be ‘nice’ but for my use, not a requirement.

In response:

For frequently used items I use a little software product called Clipomatic. It does require installation so it may not be what you are looking for. But it provides two facets I find useful – one is a definable buffer for the last x number of entries that you’ve had in your clipboard. The other is a permanent buffer of frequently used items. I keep my email address and my physical address as well as a couple of other things that I’m typing all the time in there.
It’s a little buggy in that once the clipboard buffer fills I find I need to purge it in order to have it continue to store new clipboard items, but if I’m planning to do some complex cutting and pasting, I just purge the cache (easy to do) and I’m off.

There are a couple of products I have seen that will securely store and enter frequently needed stuff for you. If you use IE, Symantec has a PC vault program (included as part of systemworks) that did a passable job. Of course the now famous Gator program used to do that (and steal your info as well!).

Mozilla’s FireFox browser, which I use primarily, has a very good userid/password system that remembers the vast majority of them for me. But I do lock my PC account so that’s what keeps it secure for me.

Finally, I use ewallet software (by Ilium) which encrypts my financial account #’s and web userids and passwords and allows me to access them from my iPaq. It has a desktop companion with which it synchs that is pretty intelligent. You still have to do a copy and paste but you hover over the thing you want to copy and it’s context sensitive (i.e. “copy credit card number”, “copy password”).

Career Opportunities Podcast

Career Opportunities by Douglas E Welch is a 5 minute podcast that offers career advice targeted at folks in the high-tech contracting field. But the topics he covers are easily transportable to anybody in any field. Topics such as procrastination, making mistakes and even firing your client can help you to step back from your own career and maybe regard it with a fresh perspective.

I’ve been listening to Douglas’ podcasts for over 4 months now and always look forward to the bits of advice offered in his verbal column format.

This podcast comes out a couple of times a week, usually one new column and one gleaned from his extensive archive which is available for searching on his website. Or, better yet, if you enjoy his columns, pick up his book "The High-Tech Career Handbook".

G’day World Podcast

G'day worldHot on the heels of the SlashdotReview podcast, I started listening to the "G’day World podcast" featuring Cameron Reilly and Mick Stanic. These two Aussies live far enough apart that they maybe get to see each other about once a month, but through the wonders of technology (read "Skype") they pull together this podcast on a pretty regular basis.

Both have extensive backgrounds working in tech-related fields and they come to the "podcast table" with a wealth of insight and connections that they employ to great effect in both retaining interesting guests and offering commentary on current trends both within the blogosphere and in the tech world at large.

Beware, this is one of the longer podcasts. Typically each one is about an hour, but I enjoy them from beginning to end.

The presentation is very much as you’d expect (hope!) an Australian production to be. I’ve enjoyed the Aussie perspective and flavor ever since I visited Australia back in 1999 and G’day World doesn’t disappoint on this front.

They originally began the podcast with this site but, entrepreneurs that they are, they have since formed "The Podcast Network" and have plugged their podcast into a growing infrastructure of podcasts. As of this writing there are about 15 podcasts offered at the podcast network. I am listening to one other one so far – “The Tablet PC Show" – which I will discuss at a later time.

 

SlashdotReview

This is the first podcast that I started listening to back at the end of 2004 (maybe October or November). At the time I had just heard of SlashDot and was intrigued. The problem was that I already read a lot of stuff on the ‘net and, interesting as SlashDot looked, I was going to have to pass on it.

But I had heard about this cool thing called podcasting and, having started a new job with a 40+ minute commute, I was looking for some variety over the audio books that I was listening to.

Slashdot Review

Enter Slashdot Review, the host is Andy McCaskey. He promises and delivers:

SlashdotReview is a ten minute audio podcast summary of recent technology news items from Slashdot.org

I enjoy being able to listen to the "cream" of Slashdot’s content each day.

As an added bonus, Andy is quite the fan of Garageband.com and posts a track by a featured artist in each podcast after the news. I must admit that I did not think that I would find much to like in the usually non-commercial music being featured here. My musical tastes are pretty banal, but there have been a couple of tracks that I must confess took me by surprise and I’m now keeping an eye on this feature to see if any more gems come up for me.

Doppler Podcast Client

Doppler button   I am using Doppler as my podcast client. This mini-review is for version 2.0.0.3.

I like my podcast clients to be relatively lean but still have enough features to simplify the process of keeping up with my feeds.

I use the scheduling feature of Doppler to seek out new content from each of my feeds once a day at about ten to seven in the morning. It downloads them into iTunes for me and I usually attach my iPod to the computer to synch up just before I leave in the morning. (I allow the iPod to recharge in my exercise room where I can listen to it if I wish while working out).

Pros

  • Just need to type in the URL for my podcast and Doppler gets the rest of the info for me
  • Ability to preview the podcast before I commit to downloading the whole thing on my iPod
  • Ability to retrieve only a single feed if I want
  • Intelligently designed "Catch Up" ability that allows me to set up new feeds without needing to download every podcast that has been posted to the current feed
  • Intelligently designed "History" that allows me to quickly see what has been downloaded and, if I want, I can blow away history entries to have them download again. Again very useful for picking and choosing podcasts in a newly set up feed.
  • When I delete a feed, it also offers to clean up all the associated files from that feed to.
  • I like the fact that when I sort a column it stays sorted. I sort by "Last Updated" so I can always see which feeds were most recently downloaded.

Cons

     

  • The Bittorrent implementation is a bit of a nuisance. I realize it was set up that way so that I could plug in any bittorrent client I want, but for some reason I just can’t seem to configure bittorrent to work well on my machine. Probably a combination of blocked ports and the dreaded MPAA and RIAA closing down all the bittorrent resources in sight that is complicating this for me…

I recognize that there are scores of client features that I haven’t mentioned, but frankly I just don’t use or need them.

The podcast client is free, the podcasts are free, much of the content is kind of amateurish, but there is a lot of really good stuff out there too.

I’ll be posting separate entries for my favorite podcasts over the next couple of days.

Spell Checking plugin for WordPress

A quick shout out to Coldforged for his plugin to provide spell checking functionality within WordPress. A very handy feature.

It’s great that WordPress is designed in this manner. Very minimalist but with plenty of plugins (and more showing up every week) to customize and tailor the product as you see fit. This keeps your site as lean and mean as you want it to be.

Just started using Vonage – The Broadband Phone Company

Decided to try Voice over IP (VOIP) and have selected Vonage as my carrier.

So far, I must say that I’m pretty impressed. Everything I’ve wanted to configure so far is configurable and the line quality is much better than I expected.
I was on the phone yesterday while downloading some really large books from Audible.com for my iPod and could see the book downloads slow down but there was no perceptible degradation in the voice conversation.

The router they sent me was a Linksys RT31P2. I tried and tried to set it up so that it was outside of my current network (between my DSL modem and my Wireless router) as described in Vonage’s site. But eventually I had to concede that I really was making this more complicated than I needed to.

I checked out Broadband reports to see if they could shed some light on the configuration changes needed to make my current router not the gateway to the internet. But eventually needed to contact Vonage Tech support to get their advice on it. After all, they must face this issue dozens of times per day. Even though their website is loaded with useful information, it didn’t cover this little issue.

The Vonage guy was obviously in India – definitely the trend for CSRs these days but I was still surprised at how thick his accent was. It took a couple of tries to understand what he was saying. He assured me that I could put my new router inside my network and not have any ill effects due to bandwidth contention. He said if there were any bandwidth issues I could call back and we’d work them out.

It was definitely an easier solution than I was trying to implement and so far so good.

Pentium vs. Athlon (2004)

I’ve always had difficulty trying to compare AMD vs Intel chips. Recently the folks on Screensavers on "TechTV" have been raving that AMD is now the way to go bang-for-your-buck-wise.

I think the best you can hope for is to check out some of the known review sites (CNET, ZDNET, etc.) and see if they have anything that can help.

I did a quick search on Google and got the hits below.

I’ll tell you that *I’m* expecting to make the move to a tablet PC when the time comes to replace my laptop.

http://reviews.cnet.com/5208-7586-0.html?forumID=68&threadID=88745&messageID=1015733
http://www.gen-x-pc.com/compxpp4asd.htm
http://www.techspot.com/vb/archive/index/t-10275.html