Technology, Current Events, and Over Generalizations

How I Lost 40 Pounds

I spent my thirties being 20 to 30 to 40 pounds overweight. I am married and have two small children. I work at a desk job and have a long commute. There is not much time in the day for myself, let alone exercise.

A typical day for me would be to get up and take a train into the city. Grab a buttered bagel from a street vendor and eat it as I walked about ten blocks to the office. I would have a few cups of coffee in the morning and then enjoy a nice lunch from our well apportioned cafeteria. A typical lunch might include some grilled sandwich (burger or chicken) with fries, or a deli sandwich with cheese, mayo, and often bacon. Dinner was my time to really enjoy—eating the typical “meat and potatoes” type meal, starting with a generous helping of the “meat” and “potatoes” and a token sampling of vegetables. Seconds would include more “meat and potatoes” only as my vegetable obligation was considered met. The night was concluded by a yummy dessert and some snacks for television viewing. Throw in a few beers here and there, and you have a typical weekday. The weekends were even worse. Please note the lack of fruits, vegetables, fiber, and exercise from this routine. Perhaps this routine is familiar to yours? (more…)

3 comments March 23rd, 2009



Homebrewing

Making your own beer is both relaxing and delicious. I started a few months ago when my wife gave me a beer making kit for our anniversary. I’m not really sure the significance of beer as an anniversary gift, but after 10 years of marriage, we both need to kick back a cold one now and again. I had the idea of trying to make beer for some time, and after a series of events including a visit to our local microbrewery (Captain Lawrence), and my neighbor starting to homebrew, I was determined to try it myself.

When people learn that I make my own beer, there is an immediate interest in the process as if were some mystery once know but forgotten by all save the large beer manufacturers of the world. The short answer to “how do you make beer” is so basic; it’s easy as making bread. Although it seems no one knows how to do that anymore either.

If you have ever read the side of a beer bottle, you might know that the basic ingredients for beer are: water, barley malt, hops, and yeast. Yeast is often not even listed, and for the thousands of years prior to microscopes, no one actually knew what yeast was. But like all fermented beverages (including beer and wine) it is yeast that makes the magic happen.

A good way for anyone to start is with a malt extract kit. This syrup is the result of treating whole grains with hot water to remove their natural sugars which provide the food for the yeast. The kits come with the ingredients you need and any specific instructions for that particular recipe and style of beer.
 
Here is the basic procedure:

  • In the largest pot you can get your hands on, boil between 3 – 5 gallons of water.
  • Add malt extract, and boil for one hour.
  • Add bittering hops early and aromatic hops near the end of the hour.
  • Cool the mixture, called wort (pronounced wert) to under 85 degrees.
  • Put the wort into a fermentation vessel, either a glass carboy, or a specially designed food-grade plastic bucket.
  • Fill water up to the 5 gallon mark.
  • Add the yeast included in the kit.
  • Seal the vessel.
  • Put the vessel in a dark place between 60 and 70 degrees for 2-3 weeks.
  • Transfer the now fermented beer into bottles with some added sugar to carbonate.
  • Wait 2-3 weeks.
  • Open bottle. Drink. Enjoy.

The beer comes out surprisingly good, and nothing beats the taste of fresh micro-microbrew beer. If you want to get started in homebrewing, I recommend products from both Williams Brewing and Northern Brewer and reading Homebrewing For Dummies.

Also look for future posts about my beer making adventures and related gear.

Add comment March 10th, 2009



How I Survived a Water Spill on my Laptop

It was bound to happen. Parking my laptop on the island in the kitchen with two boys under five precariously drinking out of open cups as we wean them from the sippy is an accident waiting to happen. So it was quite a surprise when I found myself spilling my very own glass of water onto my ThinkPad’s keyboard!

The system shut down immediately, which I deemed either a very good sign or a very bad one. I leapt in to action and immediately unplugged the power and then yanked the battery. Ask anyone who makes toast whilst taking a bath–water and electricity don’t mix. When something like this happens I quickly watch my computer’s life flash before my eyes. When was the last backup? How quickly could I get up on a new computer? What data would be lost forever? Why am I such an idiot?

Have a drink on me

There are worse things to spill on your computer than water. Soda and juices contain sugars that can leave a nasty residue behind. If no electronic damage was done, water mostly just needs to be dried up and things should be just fine. Or so I consoled myself.

Perhaps a normal person would have simply used some paper towels, a hair dryer and some time, but I needed to disassemble the entire laptop. No stranger to a Phillips-head, soldering iron, and piles of scrapped electronics, I flipped the thirsty ThinkPad on its back and removed as many screws that I could find. Removing the keyboard, I saw that the main circuitry was mostly dry with only a bit of water near the edges. The keyboard took the brunt of the damage. After blotting up any water found, I did what any desperate person would do and proceeded to remove every key cap from the keyboard in an attempt to rid it from all water. Putting these keys back on proved to be the most challenging part of the repair.

Heat and moving air are the enemy of water, so I employed the wife’s hair dryer placed on “split ends” mode for a time that seemed ample. Not confident that I had done all I could, I attempted something I had only heard about and baked the keyboard at 100 degrees in the convection oven for about fifteen minutes. Like a freshly baked pie, I left the keyboard on the counter to cool and perhaps dehydrate as long as I could bear to wait.

Now feeling confident and calm, I waited until after dinner to attempt reassembly and testing. Everything went back together fairly simply except for the key caps which I left off until I could prove it a worthy project to continue. With everything secure, I place the battery back in, crossed my fingers, and powered on. Success! Everything started fine and my only real problem was trying to type a password on a keyboard without the keys. Through trial, error, and another computer as reference, I took my time leisurely replacing and confirming each key. Of course the first thing I did was a complete system backup, and then had a nice cold drink from the safe distance of the next room.

Moral and advice:

  • Back up your computer regularly. Use an external drive or online service. Why not do it daily.
  • Keep large quantities of fluids away from your computer.
  • If exposed to liquid, immediately remove all power and batteries from the computer.
  • Dry out the computer as best as you can–or dare. If you are not the adventurous type, bring the computer to a reputable repair shop and let them know what happened.
  • It is most likely that even if your computer was permanently damaged, the data on your drive may be unharmed or certainly recoverable.

6 comments March 16th, 2008

Recovering Digital Photos

Everyone knows you should backup your precious digital pictures after you transfer them to your computer, but what happens if there is a problem in the camera itself?

I still had pictures from the holidays I hadn’t downloaded, so I wasn’t surprised when I got a “memory card full” message. I wasn’t near my computer, so I began reviewing the pictures in the camera to see if there was anything I could delete. I have a 256MB compact flash card that can hold about 200 pictures on my Canon Elph S400,  so I was surprised to only find about a dozen pictures from the current day. I didn’t panic, but waited to get back to my computer to investigate further.

First I reviewed my picture folders on my computer and network to make sure I hadn’t already downloaded the pictures and forgot, but alas they were not there. Connecting the camera to the computer didn’t reveal anything else. I was fearing that this year’s holiday pictures would be lost and was about to perform an “erase all data” command on the camera. I then began to search for “recovering pictures from digital camera” and found that this is not an uncommon problem. Memory cards can become corrupt and pictures irretrievable in traditional ways. The information is most likely still on the card, but some special utilities are needed.

I found many utilities that claim to assist with the problem, and I have found one that worked for me and I can now recommend. PhotoRescue installs on your PC or Mac and can scan your camera or memory card reader for files that can be recovered. If found, small thumbnail images are even created so you can see what is being recovered and selectively restore them. This is a nice feature of the free evaluation. Before purchasing, you can actually see if the program will be able to restore your missing photos, but you need to pay $29 for a life-time license with one year of free updates. It’s certainly worth the price if you only use it one time for those “priceless” pictures.

PhotoRescue

One thing to consider with almost all of these utilities, is that they rely on being able to scan your camera as a drive letter. Using my Canon camera with Windows XP, it appears as a device that I can open and browse using Windows Explorer, but does not mount as a named drive letter (i.e. G:). In order for me to accomplish the scan and recovery, I had to use a card reader that I already had. If you have many devices with different format memory cards, I highly recommend a mutli-format card reader. For around $20, you can easily use all of your memory cards by plugging this device into a USB slot. I use a Sandisk ImageMate like this one.

Hopefully you will never need to use PhotoRescue, but it’s good to know about if you ever find yourself in trouble.

Add comment February 26th, 2008

10 Things I Do everyday with my Treo 680 Smartphone

Palm 680I have had many Palm handheld devices. Models m100, i705, Treo 270, Treo 600, and now the Treo 680 smartphone. There are so many things that I use it for, but here is a list of the 10 things I use my Treo 680 for everyday.

1. Alarm Clock
Programed for each weekday, I am awakened by my Treo 680 using mobileClock (previously named Bob’s Alarm). A quick tap of the screen offers a snooze, or pressing an application button shuts it off. Multiple alarm programs, a timer and a stopwatch are other cool features of mobileClock.

2. Weather
I have programed a Quick Key, so that holding the W button fires up the browser and takes me to my town’s weather report at Weather Underground Mobile. A good time to check if I need to wear a sweater or bring an umbrella.

3. News
While waiting for the train, I use the ubiquitous Internet connection to browse Yahoo! Mobile News to keep on top of any latest news.

4. E-mail
When not at a computer, I use SnapperMail to check my many personal email accounts with the double-pressing of the email button.

5. Calendar
The built-in calendar keeps me on time for appointments and provides ample warning for family and friend’s birthdays.

6. Instant Messaging
Texting is a popular phone-to-phone function, but many people are still using AIM, MSN messenger, Yahoo Messenger, and ICQ. I can connect and use all of these with one application. I had used VeriChat for years but now I use Mundu IM.

7. Checkbook
Keeping track of personal finances is very important to me, so I always have my virtual checkbook available in my phone using SplashMoney. Each ATM withdrawal or online check written is recorded in the register so I always know exactly how much money I have (or don’t have).

8. Phone
Of course it’s a telephone. Integrated with the address book, speakerphone, bluetooth, etc.

9. Passwords
Instead of using sticky notes, I use Yaps to securely manage all of my personal and business user accounts and passwords.

10. Games
Sudoku puzzles for numbers and Crosswords for words, I play during down time, or to unwind before bed.

Add comment January 16th, 2008

Don’t Drink the Water!

..at least not from glasses in your hotel room. A secret camera operation revealed that none of the hotel chains investigated properly washed the room’s glasses. Yuck! The fancier hotels always have actual glasses, not plastic cups, in the bathroom and near the mini-bar. They simply rinsed the glasses out, perhaps used a dirty bath towel to clean and dry, and placed them on the little paper cup doily for the next guest. The glasses always look clean, and you just assume that they would be, but with all of the things that the house keepers have on their rolling carts, do you ever see the heavy and bulky racks used to carry glasses? In some of the less fancy hotels, you are left with plastic cups individually wrapped in a plastic bag. I used to look at those a bit suspiciously but now certainly appreciate them much more.

Dirty Glass

If you stop to think about how gross a hotel room can be - stained bedspreads, bedbugs, dirty carpeting, smoke-stenched rooms - you can now add another item of to be skeeved out by.

Make a mental note, and tell all of your friends who travel.

1 comment November 8th, 2007

Weather Report

I am continually amazed that people still watch the evening news to get the weather report. And the games the news team play with the audience — “Tomorrow, it may snow or hail fireballs. Find out after the break!” It’s as though you are held hostage just to find out if you should wear a jacket or not. I recognize that for some, it may simply be a ritual or habit. Some may even find the “weather guy” entertaining.

My weather needs are very basic. I adopted them from a comedian, although I forget which one: I stick my head out of the window. If it comes back wet –it’s raining. If it doesn’t come back –it’s very, very windy. On the occasion when I do want to know the weather, I hold down ‘W’ on my cell phone and I access my region’s mobile page from the Weather Underground complete with 5-day forecast.

With all of the near real-time information available to us, it seems strange to rely on the evening news. I don’t ever watch television news. The “all news” stations have too much pressure to make news so everything becomes an “alert”, or the same stories are continually repeated ad nausem. Even in the car, I can no longer listen to 1010Wins, where if you “give us twenty-two minutes, we’ll give you the world.” To me it seems more like “give us twenty-two minues, we’ll give you four minutes of the same stories we gave you twenty-two minutes ago, a minute of traffic for everywhere except where you are, and 17 minutes of commercials.”

I think the Internet is the perfect medium for news and weather. You can get it when you want it, there is lots of it, and it can easily be updated. Don’t even get me started with newspapers. The information is out-of-date the minute it hits the reformation of shredded tree carcasses. Perhaps recognizing this trend, the New York Times recently raised the price of its printed newspaper, but changed its online edition to allow more free access.

Much of this boils down to format preference and the technology gap. For those who are connected with computers, laptops, and handhelds, the Internet is never out of reach and tends to be the first reach for information. Traditionally, television ruled the living room, radio ruled the car, and printed material ruled everywhere else–including the bathroom. But even that is changing. (see picture below)

There is still something very tactile about a book, magazine, or even a work document. I must admit I don’t like reading eBooks and still like to print out long documents rather than read them on the screen. I’m sure that the youngsters might also consider this practice archaic as they read their “books” on their cell phones–if they still read books that is.

1 comment September 20th, 2007

5 USB Flash Drive Safety Tips

Flash drives have replaced the floppy and the CD for portable storage. Their physical size continues to get smaller and the capacity increases offering the ability to store so much information in a convenient to carry package. Here are a few tips to help keep you and your information safe.

1. Create a text file named “IF FOUND”

If FoundPut an If found.txt file in the root folder of the drive. In it simply type your name, email address, and phone number. If the information you store on it is important enough, you may wish to offer a reward. I have a couple of drives that I found but had no way to identify the owner.

2. Start with at least two folders: Business and Personal

I only want to keep track of one of these drives, so I mix business with personal. By organizing your files in this basic manner, you can avoid some embarrassment. Loading a presentation from your drive being projected to an auditorium full of people, no one wants to see picture previews of your drunk friends at the beach or your musical favorite: “I like big butts.mp3.”

3. Password Protect Personal Files

USB KeyI would be very cautious about what type of files you store on your flash drive since it can be so easily lost or stolen, but there are times when it is not avoidable. There might be a good reason you need to transport a PDF of your tax return on your drive and you will be sure to delete it right after you are done, but most likely you will forget it was ever there. Most applications have the ability to password protect files in a fairly secure way, and it will at least deter the casual finder from accessing your personal information.

You could also set the folder or files to “Hidden” which will also keep them out of view from the average person, but “security by obscurity” is not a good model.

Some USB drives have some built-in security measures, password protection, and encryption which can also have some impact on flexibility, but would certainly be worth it based upon the sensitivity of your data. Be careful.

4. Supervised Visits

If someone needs to use your drive to copy a file to or fro, make sure you are looking over their shoulder. Just as people will look through your medicine cabinet when using your bathroom, expect people to nose through your files and help themselves to a copy of anything interesting. (”Got any naked pictures of your wife? You want some?”)

5. Backup Your Files

Make sure you have a current copy of the files on your USB drive somewhere else. If you tend to work directly on the files on the drive, you are flirting with disaster. There is no file recovery from a device you no longer have.

3 comments June 8th, 2007

Gender Prediction

It seems that a favorite past-time of women is to predict the gender of unborn babies. There are all kinds of methods including the dangling of rings over the belly to Chinese birth charts using  age of mother and conception dates. Men don’t seem to partake in this game since it’s about as fun as flipping a coin and with similar odds. Many assume that men would rather have a boy, perhaps thinking they would better relate to one of their own gender. The truth is, that most importantly the father wants his baby to resemble himself more than say, the mailman.

Pregnant BellyMy favorite wives’ tale of gender prediction is “the carry.” The thought is that if a woman is “all stomach”, appearing rather normal except for what seems to be a basketball shoved into her shirt, that she is likely having a boy. However, if the mother fills out all over, she is likely having a girl. I have decided that these widely accepted theories are nothing more than a polite way for women to describe a glowing new mother in a more diplomatic manner. So whenever you hear “you must be having a girl,” what they are really saying is, “wow, your ass got big!”

Regardless of how a pregnant woman is carrying, here are a few questions they never want to hear:

  • Are you having twins? 
  •  Are you sure you have two months to go?
  •  Is that embryonic fluid dripping down your leg?

Add comment May 24th, 2007

Rent Movies on your TiVo

With two little kids, we don’t go out to the movies much. It seems we don’t even get to watch TV that much either. Our TiVo has helped manage our TV watching, but even with the “Silver” cable package, there are very few good movies available to watch–unless you like “Mindhunters” as it has been on at least eight times a day for the last few months.

Like many people, we grew tired of the back and forth transporting of movies to the video store, and although I always thought NetFlix was a good idea, I never brought myself around to joining.

Amazon has partnered with TiVo to offer a pretty good service called “Amazon Unbox.” Quite simply, you buy, or rent, videos at Amazon.com, and instead of waiting for a DVD, you can download the movie to your computer or directly to your TiVo DVR, and you can start watching almost as soon as you start the download.

I rented “Borat,” (I like) placing the order at work, and the movie was fully downloaded when I got home. It’s kind of like on-demand NetFlix.

When you buy a movie (around $14.99), you own it and can watch it as much as you like. Even if you remove it from your TiVo (presumably for space issues), you can re-download it from your Amazon library. If you rent a movie (around $3.99) as I did, you have thirty days to start watching it before it is removed. After you start watching, you can watch it as much as you like within 24 hours. After that, it is deleted.

The video quality was very good, probably equivalent to the “best” resolution on TiVo, and overall, the viewing was a good experience. I can’t be sure, but it didn’t seem that there were any DVD extras available, which is one of my favorite things about DVDs.

The ease of use and integrating digital media into the living room makes this service a potential hit. The Apple TV is attempting to do this, but it seems a little like trying to shoehorn iTunes from your computer to your television.

If you have a TiVo, I would recommend giving Amazon Unbox a try.

1 comment April 30th, 2007

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