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12 April 2010 @ 02:55 am
I am just about ready to tear my hair out over the latest versions of Firefox! What was once light and nimble now seems like this sputtering, stuttering dog of a browser that makes Internet Explorer 8 actually look good.

The problem started sometime back in February. I'm not sure what update caused it (besides a default installation, I only run 'No Script' as a plugin), but all of a sudden Firefox started acting strange every so often and either lag or stop entirely for 10 or more seconds when downloading a web page. It took me a while to narrow it down to Firefox, because I initially suspected a virus, trojan, CPU problem, GPU problem...almost anything except a browser problem. But I eliminated all of those problems and noticed when I ran IE 8, I didn't have the stuttering.

To be fair, this might not be all of Firefox's problem: the plugins and other options that load different programs aren't all under Mozilla's control. But, there should be some sort of way to determine WHERE the problem is coming from and to correct it without having to disable something, run the browser to see if it runs smoothly, etc. The current state of affairs is just maddening!

I'll probably keep trying to make Firefox work for about another month. If I'm still having the same problems (with version 3.6), I'll either download Opera or Chrome and give them a try - with IE 8 as a standby. In the meantime, I feel sad working with a browser that used to be a great alternative to Microsoft, but is now a bloated mess!
28 March 2010 @ 03:00 am
Recently I've had a new and strange experience in my life...I can actually taste the "sweetness" in foods - regardless of whether it is sugar or not.

That sounds like a pretty simple thing to do and it should be. After all, most folks can tell the difference between brown sugar and bleached cane (table) sugar. Or molasses and honey. Or even artificial sweeteners and everything mentioned above.

But tasting the sweetness (for me) has always been a different matter. As a kid, I think I fell in love with the taste of table sugar. I ate it in almost everything: grits, oatmeal, rice, those bad-tasting syrupy medicines, etc. Heck, there were times I'd just go for a couple of spoons of sugar when my parents weren't looking.

As an adult, I moderated (a lot) and even went through some long periods where I didn't get much sugar at all. Basic training was one such time, some of my jaunts overseas were others. But I always returned to sugar because of the taste. It was smooth and even with no aftertaste and no drop-off in flavor.

Needless to say, the quantities I used it in were great. In coffees and teas, I was tasting more sugar flavor than actual beverage. Whenever I substituted it with brown sugar or honey I had to add an astronomical amount in order to feel like whatever it was I was eating or drinking was sweet. And artificial low calorie sweeteners couldn't even come close with their different texture (powdery more than granular) and bitter flavor after the initial sweetness.

For about 30 years it was like that. I stayed away from ALL diet products with artificial (READ: not table sugar) sweeteners. Unless I was on some sort of short term diet anything with aspartame, sucralose, stevia, etc., wasn't even considered real food or drink. Diet sodas, sugar-free candies, cakes and other desserts were simply tasteless - without real flavor or worse - without real sweetness.

Three years ago, I began forcing myself to drink the Crystal Light and Sugar-Free Kool Aid type drinks with my lunch as an experiment in moderation. I also began shifting my diet to include more foods without processed sugars and started trying new things that seemed a bit healthier. I tried to give myself a day or more a week where I ate mostly vegetables with very little in the way of salad dressings and concentrated on trying to taste what I ate rather than swallow it down. And I limited myself to one cup of coffee sweetened with sugar a day at most, with the rest being either black or with artificial sweetener.

In that time, something amazing has happened: I've realized I can actually taste the sweetness of things other than table sugar (and high-fructose corn syrup)! Splenda does have such a sweet taste in things that I find myself not using as much. Other sugars have their own sweetness when I use them in food and drink, but I don't use enough overpower the flavor of what I'm enjoying. What I used to put 10 to 12 teaspoon packets of sugar in, I can only stand 6 at a maximum!

I know I'm nowhere near where I need to be to "kick" the sugar habit...but I'm trying to do a little bit better every day. And I'm sure some of the artificial sweeteners I've substituted have problems of their own with long term use. Tasting sweetness the way "normal" people taste after years of only being able to taste sugar is a feeling that is hard to put into words. But it is almost like gaining a new sensory organ!

I've also included some exercise along with this decrease in sugar - however, once again, I'm not where I need to be with that. It hasn't caused any significant weight loss, even though I feel better and have more energy. Turning it into a habit, increasing the frequency and then increasing the intensity is the long-term goal. And just like my experience with sugar...the journey starts with baby steps!
Current Location: Home in the Springs
Current Mood: accomplished
Current Music: None
26 March 2010 @ 01:45 am
I just had a "traumatic" writing experience that has taught me a lot.

In late January, I had written a few pages on the perennial novel I've been working on that I thought were really good. So good, in fact that I managed to carry them with me for a while and then secret them away someplace...where I subsequently lost them.

First let me explain. Although I have tried the old adage of trying to write a thousand words a day, I can't always do that. Unfortunately, my best ideas always seem to hit at some crazy time when pen and paper isn't always handy and I can't capture the whole thought at once because I'm at work. Not in the shower, not on the commute in or the way back...but at work doing something else entirely work related.

And since my work usually has me in one of those places that is the stuff spy novels are made of, I can't usually sit at the keyboard of some computer (my place of preference) typing sentences out, composing paragraphs, etc. Most systems - even ones for somewhat semi-personal use such as emails, etc., are monitored and locked down tight as a drum (and rightly so). Hence my other method of writing...actually writing things down surreptitiously using ... pen and paper.

The big advantage of this method is mostly psychological, I think...better composition. The big drawback to this method is that it isn't immediate; I have to cart the paper back home, retype it into the computer, etc. And that is such a pain-in-the-ass that I generally avoid doing it until "the spirit hits me"...which can be weeks if not months later. As a result, I have pages, post-its and all other manner of paper scraps with notes scattered in notebooks, on counters and stuffed in drawers in almost every place I inhabit.

The last bit of 'decent' writing I thought I had done was in late January/early February. It was dealing with a group of people in a bar confronting racism in a somewhat violent manner - and the majority of it had been written on a pad at work. With everything going on in the office, I ripped the pages off the pad and put them into a folder to transpose later. However, when I was at home and went to look in the folder I couldn't find a single page!

I looked everywhere - at work, at my office (two geographically separated places), at home, etc. On furniture, in furniture, under furniture. On the various computers I have at the house (in the off case that I had transposed it and forgotten about it), on the PDAs I own, and even on the netbook which I bought specifically to organize all of these random scribblings into a cohesive story. I couldn't seem to find the missing pages anywhere.

This was fairly traumatic for me, because I didn't want to write them over again. Why should I - when I had already written it once? The thought of starting over, especially when I had written those pages so well was depressing. So for about a month and a half, I moped around...occasionally looking for my lost writings, but generally consigning myself to the fact that I *had* to give up the search and start writing something again.

After a business trip, I fired up NoteTab (my favorite writing application) on my work laptop and started writing...only to find that my missing pages! Apparently, I had managed to transcribe them and then had completely forgotten about them. It never crossed my mind to look on that particular laptop in my searches since I so rarely use it. The lost writings had been found!


When I looked at what I had transcribed...I was unhappy; it was nowhere near as good as I had previously thought. Time and distance showed me how just rudimentary my writing was: I merely managed to capture basic thoughts and structure on a page (and then in a text file). Not (as I could have sworn earlier) the passion of the moment, the timelessness of racism...a finished product. I would have been much better had I not mourned my loss for so long and brought myself start over sooner.

I'm sure there are all kinds of lessons that I could have learned from this incident about organization, setting aside an appropriate place and time for writing, etc. But I think the most important one is - don't fret so long about what you have written and misplaced that you fail to keep writing. Starting over isn't always the bad thing that is appears to be at times.
Current Location: Home in the Springs
Current Mood: contemplativecontemplative
Current Music: Absolutely None
23 January 2010 @ 01:08 am
I am the owner of an old 30GB iPod which has been almost useless since I built my new (PC/Windows) machine. In my ignorance and haste I neglected to properly back up my iTunes music library - which meant that it didn't recognize my iPod when I connected it to the new machine. (C'mon, aren't Apple products supposed to be easy to use? What's up with that?!) Apple's solution was simply to sync (more like "nuke") my iPod to the "new" iTunes music library and start over.

I didn't like this solution for a couple of reasons: (1) my iTunes library is over 100GB and (2) I didn't want to inadvertently lose what I had on my iPod. Unfortunately, there didn't seem to be a good workaround; iTunes and iPod work seamlessly together and don't like syncing after being separated (and then modified). However, I unchecked all my iTunes music and began checking the ones that were on the iPod so that my sync to the "new" iTunes music library would be uneventful.

That's when another iTunes "gotcha" affect me; after a certain point in checking songs iTunes 9 would always lock up for a few minutes and upon recovery "check" or "uncheck" ALL of the music in the library. (I suspect the program was defaulting to the option to access the internet to see if a new version of iTunes was available.) At that point, I decided to get smart about iTunes and third-party solutions out there.

The first one I tried was Yamipod, but couldn't get it past the program recognizing my iPod. I also tried the free version of CopyTrans, but I didn't like the installation interface or the inability to export my iPod contents to a file. So I went to floola (www.floola.com)...versions available for Windows, Linux and Mac. Initially it had the same problem as Yamipod, but proved easier to resolve. After that hurdle, it was smooth sailing; floola allowed me to export a listing of my iPod contents to an HTML file. That listing will make it easier for me to duplicate (select) songs that exist both on my iPod and in my newly relocated iTunes library. I may have more problems, but at least I'm confident I can use floola or some other (third party) application as a workaround.

If others can do it, I guess my questions to Apple is: Why does it have to be so hard to move my music around?

UPDATE: I finished replicating my iPod selections in iTunes using the HTML file from floola without any problems.
Current Location: Home in the Springs
Current Mood: aggravatedaggravated
Current Music: None...yet...but I'm hopeful!
31 October 2009 @ 09:51 pm
Well, I guess winter came early here!

Unlike Denver, we didn't get tons of snow; what we mainly got were cold temperatures, a lot of wind, and ice on the roads. I had to work every day this week even though the schools were out and some of the bases were closed...because unlike some places..."we're too important to close". For two days straight, I saw cars and trucks flipped off the road because of the ice. Needless to say, I wasn't in a hurry.

(NOTE: This is a normal behavior with new base commanders; it isn't until someone dies on the the way to or from work that the policy changes for the better.)

In the mean time...I need new tires. I've been pretty negligent with the beater, I should have rotated the WalMart tires I got miles ago. Now, with the weather here, I'm thinking that instead of my original plan (rotating the back tires to the front to temporarily give the car a bit more bite and replace the worn tires) I'm just going to get a whole set of all-seasons that are good in snow and ice. It's quite a chunk of change, but with my commute, it is probably worth it. Besides, I would hate to get into an accident because my car didn't have good enough traction.

I'm also warming my math skills up to learn Calculus again...because I can. Actually, I think I *need* to relearn it. I'm at a point where I think I can understand it a lot better (without just going through the motions) and I think it would help me to solve a lot of problems. It's just taking a lot longer getting my confidence level back up pursuing it on my own. Slow and careful...and we'll see how it goes!
Current Music: magnetophone - Frank Holmes drive
22 October 2009 @ 09:23 pm
Alright...where I work can be strange, but always, always very professional.

A colleague (that is the best way I can put it) was fired today...for performance problems.

I knew him from the days when he was in the military and was a bit younger. Unfortunately, he hung around a group that I never liked (and one that I still deal with today). His friends were less than knowledgeable, cut-throat political, and generally self-absorbed. He personally didn't necessarily seem to be that kind - but then I didn't know him all that well.

We traded 'war stories' from time-to-time and general career advice, however, I never actually had to work with him. I just gave him the benefit of the doubt because he was polite to me and generally well-mannered. Some of the things he occasionally said did cause me to wonder...but then there are moments like that in every office. Especially since we work in such a sensitive environment that everything you do and say is monitored, interpreted, and can be used against you at any given moment.

Today his boss confided in me that he was let go...to spare me the agony of hearing it from someone else. And it seems that sometimes you ARE like the company you keep. The stories I heard brought much of my ugly, military past back: arrogance, back-stabbing politics, etc. In short, he *was* like his friends...the ones that I can't stand even now.

Despite that, I wish him all the best. Honestly. Our work environment is a hard one to survive in - especially for ex-Army guys. It takes competence, cunning, self-deprecation, and a willingness to do things totally against what you've been trained to do. Very few make it. I've always considered those that do to have something special...the "right" wrong stuff (at least from the Army's viewpoint).

I have sympathy for those that don't make it; they tend to remain stuck in the small, parochial backwaters we started in. And the world is so much more than that!

I know this post hasn't made much sense to anyone reading it, but I still felt compelled to type it. If nothing else than to remind me that, usually, my instincts are still good. And, to keep me on my toes!

Godspeed, Justin! And good luck in your next endeavor!
Current Location: Home in the Springs
Current Music: The Fan (none)
17 October 2009 @ 11:17 am
I'm a PC and my friends are macs...

I actually *like* tinkering under the hood of PCs...trying out something or another...getting it to work or cursing the limitations of the machine when it fails. Just me, I guess.

At any rate, the desktop machine I've spent the last 3 years went through its last major hardware upgrade. I may swap out hard drives when Windows 7 comes, but I've reached the end of the line in what I can do to keep it going strong.

4GB RAM (although Win XP only sees 3.25GB of it), new DirectX 10 graphics card (Nvidia 8600GT), and finally an update to Windows XP Service Pack 3. The latter was probably the biggest move for me psychologically - I was a big believer in SP2, even though I was a late adopter. There's a slight difference in performance, but nothing to write home about. (Alas, I suspect the same would be true for a new machine, even. The days of HUGE performance differences are pretty much gone.)

As always there have been little nagging things here and there (performance in Sauerbraten seems to be a little slow - graphics card...mixer (Windows Audio) magically turned itself off for some reason) - but overall things are better.

There's nothing quite like tinkering under the hood!
Current Music: "Waiting for the World to Change" - John Mayer
14 October 2009 @ 12:58 am
As a gadget person, it's rare that I find a device that has so much potential and is so simple to use that I wonder why it hasn't surfaced until it did. Or why it isn't more popular. Most GPS devices are multi-functional, complex affairs combining several mediocre things with a graphic interface and iPhone-like styling. The GPS Travel Honey won't win any design awards, but does its main job so well that you'll wonder how you ever got along without it. Plus, at $50, this device is cheap enough that you'll feel comfortable using it outside of a vehicle as without fear of attracting unwanted attention from potential thieves. Looking like an over-sized key fob, the GPS Travel Honey is a basic location finder; simply press a button for a few seconds and the device saves your location to memory. Once that is accomplished, you can either enable data logging turn the device off completely while you roam pretty much anywhere. If you become lost or simply wish to return to your original location, the GPS Travel Honey uses 8 directional LED arrows laid out like compass points to show you the basic direction of travel to your saved coordinates. If the arrow is lit by a constant red LED, keep going in the direction the arrow is pointing. If you're within 50 meters, the red LED will blink or flash. And when the LED turns blue, you're within 15 meters of your starting point. That's pretty much all there is to it! The uses for the location finder are different than a full-blown GPS unit and consists primarily of finding your way back to your car in a crowded parking lot (think Disneyworld amusement park or concert venue), to your hotel in a foreign city while driving or walking, or back to your campsite while hiking. Since it only displays the general direction (not coordinates) of a saved location, you will have to navigate around any obstacles or road blocks along the way. But many times - especially when you're on foot or not too far away from your destination, that's all you really need! I ordered the travel honey from a website (http://www.chinavasion.com/product_info.php/pName/gps-receiver-location-finder-data-logger-photo-tagger/) a couple of months ago and tried it out along various walking paths near my house where I have a fairly unobstructed view of the sky. The device worked well, but seemed a bit sluggish at indicating when I was within 50 and 15 meters of my saved location. Also, the battery cover had the annoying tendency of sliding open; exposing the small, rechargeable lithium battery to the elements. I used it to navigate on foot several times, but was never really comfortable with the device. On a recent visit with friends, however, the GPS Travel Honey proved to be invaluable. While driving in San Luis Obispo at night, I became disoriented (which is the male word for LOST) trying to find my way back to the place I was staying at. It got late, and as a last ditch effort before calling and getting vectored in, I took out the Travel Honey. Sure enough, following the glowing LED arrows brought me back to my original starting location in only a few minutes. And the lag I had noticed using it while walking was non-existent. The GPS Travel Honey comes with the device, a rechargeable volt lithium battery, a strap, a USB cable, home and car charger adapters, an anti-slide "mat". It also includes a Windows CD of drivers and applications that enable the travel honey to be used as a data logger and photo tagger. The GPS chipset is a Skytraq Venus 6, despite the lag I had walking, seems to work well. The software doesn't have any bells and whistles, like integration to Google Maps or the ability to download (as well as upload) locations, but considering the price point the lack of these things is understandable
28 September 2009 @ 01:30 am
Another rough week at work - perhaps the roughest one I've had ever professionally.

On Thursday of the week before last, I was congratulated by my boss as a government proposal detailing my job duties was released with our name as the incumbent. Everything looked great for us to win the contract for the next year.

By the following Monday, I went to work on a proposal to keep my job...or what's left of it.

Between those two dates, a lot of politics, dirty dealing, and downright nastiness took place...and last week was my best shot to quell it and give our company a fighting chance. The only problem? We fight "fair". I know it sounds cliched, but of all the places I've ever worked...THIS place is the most ethical. They don't headhunt other employees, don't use/take advantage of unfair situations or anything else that would give the appearance of a conflict of interest. They work hard and play by the rules - and there have been times where I loved it and times where I've hated it. But those have always been the rules.

This time, however, EVERYTHING was stacked against us: the old contract was changed, a new contract was issued with the wording changed...instead of one qualified person we needed four (in a world where there is a monopoly on the skill sets needed), etc., etc. I had from Monday to Thursday to rework the technical section of a proposal that gave our company a fighting chance in an unfair fight and save my job in the process. And, unfortunately, I was the only one in the company that could write it.

I came up with a logical strategy, my PM came up with attractive costing and we went to work finding four "qualified and almost acceptable" people to form a team that would meet the task and give the government client pause. It was probably the best business writing I've ever done on short notice and met every specification of the task order. I finished writing late Thursday night, reviewed the submitted proposal Friday morning, then went to work on the base...only to find that the government client was having a surprise "going away" celebration for me...and I *had* to attend. (I hate formal, semi-formal, and other public occasions/ceremonies...)

Needless to say, I felt emotionally drained. It may not be the case (the government has until 1 Oct to name the winner), but I felt like I had taken a losing hand and turned it into a (possibly) winning one...only to be (tacitly) told I didn't have a snowball's chance in hell of winning because the contest ISN'T going to be fair. We'll see what happens.

However, if there is a scene towards the end of Blade Runner that describes how I am feeling... When Deckard watches Roy Batty die...exhausted, relieved, surprised...then finds out that Gaff witnessed the whole thing from a distance and did nothing. Gaff sees Deckard, tosses his gun back to him and says, "You've done a man's job, sir". Then he asks him if he's finished, Deckard replies and Gaff cryptically adds, "...too bad she won't live, but then again who does?"

I've done a man's job...and although it doesn't look good, we'll see about the rest!

(If this doesn't make sense to anyone...that's cool; it makes sense to me.)
Current Location: Home in the Springs
Current Mood: contemplativecontemplative
Current Music: None
04 September 2009 @ 04:59 pm
Random thoughts from my California trip in no particular order!
(Over rum & cokes, of course!)

- A lot of office buildings (I mean ENTIRE ones) in Atascadero seem to be empty! I hope things are going well there.

- There are few things in this world that cannot be at least temporarily forgotten with an ample display of cleavage!

- Paso Robles never changes much. Even after the earthquake.

- The stars at night in the Central Coast area are really cool...you can see light the Milky Way! (Something I can't see from my place!)

- The worst thing about the modern world is that you're never out of touch - even on vacation.

- Digital SLR cameras suck!

- Rachel is precious!

- Jackie is indescribably HOT! (Thank GOD for California women!)

- Thinking about it, Kristin is hot too!

- I tried to get a travel razor at three stores in the Central Coast area without success. One guy at a WalMart was sure they didn't carry it (although it is common in Colorado Springs and Denver)...and the guy at the Big 5 in Paso Robles laughed and doubted there was even such a device. Which brings me to the conclusion that there must be a lot of shaggy bastards on the Central Coast.

- The only real thing missing from my trip was a visit with Peggy Q! (And seeing the Hellmouth!)

- As much as I think I'm not a creation of my upbringing...when I'm with friends I can't escape the fact that I'm deluding only myself on that one!

- I love intelligent and thought-provoking discussion! It's one of the things I miss the most these days; it's rare that someone "starts with the facts" and then goes on. (Usually "the facts" are anything but...)

- Desert California is way different than either Arizona (which is all desert) and Coastal California. Not better or worse...just different.

- Card games. The world needs less war and more card games (of all kinds).

- I traveled Highway 62...there should be a t-shirt that says that. (Although I don't think there are any stores on Highway 62 to sell them!)

- California coastlines are way cool! Dramatic! Awe-inspiring!

- Waiting to watch Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog with the "right" audience was almost worth the trip to California! And Bad Horse ROCKS!

- I only got a few things on my Californa "to-do" list this time around; guess that means I'll have to plan another visit in the near future!

- Putting a Fry's in Vegas was genius! Fry's Electronics ROCKS!

- Trying to get a decent hotel in Vegas on a Saturday night without reservations is an exercise in futility. And the hotels in Vegas are indecent!

- And finally, jinglechelle is a saint. But not one of those Roman-Catholic "goody goody" ones.
Current Music: "In Style & Rhythm" - Tom Jones