The Dark Tower IX: The Return Of The Dark Tower

A while back, I ditched the HP tower for a beefed-up refurbished Dell I’d bought for a project. I didn’t like the HP much, despite replacing Windows 7 Home with Windows 7 Pro. The Dell had one very big attraction: Load Windows 7 onto most Dells, and you’re pretty much done once the updates install. That’s it. I also installed a 1 Terabyte drive (That’s 1 million Gigabytes for the technically uninitiated). I would never, ever run out of space.

But the HP has a dual core processor, 6 GB of RAM, and lacked only the 1 TB drive I put in the Dell. Despite the Dell taking up less space on my desk, it showed its weaknesses from the get-go. The wireless fob I plugged into it could barely pick up the router on the other side of the house. Its processor, while a dual core, was one of Intel’s early consumer versions of that processor. Fast, yes, but noticeably less so than the HP’s. I decided to switch back, taking my 1 TB drive with me.

I made the switch, loaded Windows 7 and…

Why does my video look like garbage? Why can’t I get a wireless signal? I can’t do anything with this until I get online.

I brought the laptop downstairs and downloaded several HP drivers to a thumb drive, hoping to make some headway. The machine ran faster when I loaded the chipset driver (the software that manages the motherboard.) The video looked better. The wireless…

Had a broken wire from when I put the video card back into it. Oops. Off to Walmart for the $30 cheapie. Works beautifully. Then again, I remember it hadn’t been that long ago when I bought a wireless card for another machine, and the clerk at Microcenter told me $50 was a bit pricey. Nita was with me. We almost burst out laughing, having both bought cards back when $70-90 was the norm for a low-end card that now is good for little more than picking up stray broadcasts of Radio Free Mordor on cloudless nights. If anything, this bargain bin unit does better than the original installed by HP.

If this had been a Windows XP install, I would still be tearing my hair out. XP, and Windows 7’s mutant predecessor, Vista, required hunting for drivers ahead of time. It also requires more updates. If you don’t go with Service Pack 3, an XP install can go from an evening project to three days before you can do a file transfer and start loading Office and other apps.

Windows 7 is Windows finally done right (and what should have been Windows Vista, which was an embarrassment.) Still, there are some flaws. Linux and OSX have root running the show. If you want to install anything on those systems, you have to do a little dance to tell the computer you are root. Windows has Administrator. Only anyone can be an Administrator. Microsoft’s solution is to throw popups at you to make malware ask permission to install itself. That’s not only annoying, but if you use your laptop for more than just email and balancing your checkbook, it renders the machine almost unusable. Microsoft needs to make Administrator run like root, where the user has to physically call it. Malware can’t do it. That’s why the only notable threat to a Mac comes from Java-based viruses and rootkits. (No one is safe from rootkits. Thanks a helluva lot, Sony!)

The other thing Microsoft needs to resolve is this constant need to reboot after an installation. It’s 2012, Mr. Ballmer. I don’t want Windows 8 with its Metro interface and lack of a Start button. (OK, I do, but only when the Surface tablet comes out, not on my PC.) I want Windows 7 to not reboot everytime something major reinstalls. Unix doesn’t do this, and it was written in 1968. Fix it.

That said, I’m pretty happy with the way things went. My main problem with the HP was bloatware. The original image on the HP had a clunky music player that crashed everytime you plugged in a thumb drive or unplugged the iPod (which didn’t talk to the player in the first place.) I had to uninstall all sorts of crapware from HP, AOL, and Yahoo. And HP never missed a chance to interrupt what you were doing to tell you that some application was sucking up resources, then suggest you kill Firefox to save on memory. It was the HP diags.

So I went for the clean install of Windows 7 Pro. No bloatware. No HP diags. Everything on that machine is what I installed.

Still not happy about the wireless, but whose fault was that?

Mobile Again!

A couple of months back, I blogged about losing the laptop. My uncle, who does computer repair in his medically enforced retirement, swapped out the motherboard for me after determining there was drink damage to the graphics processor (I can think of about six or seven ways this might have happened with no one thinking that much damage occurred) and a shorted-out display panel. Since the original board crashed, I’ve been exiled to my office in the basement.

I do get more work done down there, but by the time I’m done for the night, Nita has gone to bed, and it’s almost time for me to go. Prior to last week’s heat wave, I really wanted to take the laptop out on the patio and write from there. I missed sitting in the living room with Nita while having my laptop with me. More importantly, I missed being able to pull up Google or Wikipedia at any moment and just pull useless information out of the sky all while watching Anthony Bourdain and Chopped.

No more. After a lengthy visit with my uncle, one of those relatives whom, lately, I only see when another relative dies, I booted the machine up and let Windows 7 run all its updates in all their updatey goodness. (Uncle Tim thoughtfully downloaded them before I showed up.) Ah!

I am writing this on Saturday from my cousin Lori’s living room. I’ve surfed Facebook. I jumped on Hootsuite, where my login information was cached, and pumped some life into my mostly dormant Twitter and public Facebook accounts. I checked email. I looked up random stuff on Wikipedia! Oh, I could do that in my office. But I’d have to go downstairs and boot my computer to do that. Now!

I am a true American again. I can indulge instant gratification from my couch while watching man stuff on Spike.

Exiled

The laptop gave up the ghost over the weekend. A Dell Inspiron 1545, it only lasted a year before the screen went white. This has been coming for some time, but I’d been able to work around it by squeezing the edges of the LCD display. No longer.

So now I’m exiled to the basement to get on the Internet. If I want to stay upstairs, I’ll have to <*gasp*> watch TV, <*Gasp!*> read, or <*GASP!*> talk to my family.

I’ve had a laptop in some form or another for seven years now. I’d assumed I’d always have one. But the Dell I bought is not a typical Dell. Before you lecture me on Dells, keep in mind I’ve worked with Dells for over ten years, including the laptops, and the last laptop went six years without reimaging the hard drive. Also, while I realize Apple builds a good product, it’s not enough to get me to spend extra money to change platforms. Sorry. I’ve used them. They’re very nice and very intuitive, but it’s not enough for me to have to learn how to use a computer all over again.

That said, Dell really dropped the ball on this model. It had no lights for caps lock or num lock, no hard drive indicator, and – this took real genius – required you to use the function key to use the f keys at the top of the keyboard. Is that a big deal?

Well, yes, especially if you’re a programmer and are depending on F5, F9, and F11 to work. Also,  the touchpad (the most evil input device ever invented to begin with) interprets contact as my thumbs being in the same room as the laptop. Result? My cursor would jump to the middle of what I’d be writing at random moments.

Let’s face it. The Inspiron 1545 is the biggest piece of shit Dell has ever built. So until I can buy its replacement (Hello, Sony. My wife and stepson love your laptops.), I have to go downstairs to write, for Internet access, for music. There are some advantages Nita discovered when she had to run Flash on the old tower (soon to be retired and given to my newly single sister-in-law). I get more done down here, as did she. There’s no TV to distract you, and you can crank the music up almost as loud as you want.

But I’m going through laptop withdrawal. I keep wanting to jump on and Google something or jot down an idea or just get on Facebook. It’s hard.

On the other hand, I got out two chapters of the new draft of Holland Bay this weekend. And writing about Himself, the fantasy rocker doing his own autobiography?

Well, if I keep having weekends like I had with this, Holland Bay would be finished in a month.

So there are advantages. And at least I’m not fooling anyone taking my laptop to a coffee shop.

Tethered

Stephen King, while promoting his novel Cell, referred to mobile phones as the “slave bracelets of the twenty-first century.” His point never resonated with me more than when my Android gave up the ghost 6 weeks before I was eligible for an upgrade.

At the time of the previous phone’s demise, I had work, personal, and writing emails all sending to it, weather apps, Kindle, Nook, and, of course, Angry Birds. I was really flying on Angry Birds when the phone’s touchscreen began its rapid decline into uselessness.

I had to switch to an old phone that kinda had Internet on it, could text, and make phone calls. You know: a phone. Vs a smartphone. Calls and text.

Years ago, when cellphone makers made clumsy attempts at putting the Internet on phones, I used to walk into cellphone stores and said, “I just want to make calls.” I didn’t even want text. In fact, I’ve only been texting regularly for about four years, when I started dating Nita. Naturally, the sales drones ignored me and went into a pitch about how the phone could get email and MySpace and do the dishes, only to hear me say, “I just want something to make phone calls on.”

Now? We don’t have a landline.  And since my Droid died back in January, I’ve been lost using a phone that primarily just makes calls. And the thing is showing its age. It shuts off at random times.

Plus, I listen to audiobooks now on my morning drive. Why? Free radio sucks, and I really don’t feel like shelling out for satellite radio at the moment. Maybe on my next car. And I sure as hell don’t want to listen to AM radio, which has a nasty side-effect of IQ erosion.

Thus began my adventure in getting Verizon to send me a new Android. At first, I jumped online, picked out a phone, ordered it, and told my coworkers to watch out for it while I was on vacation. During vacation, Verizon informed me my free upgrade was on back order. Meanwhile, the ancient phone began shutting down at random times, like while I was calling Nita or simply sitting on the coffee table. We canceled the order. However, I couldn’t stand it any longer. I went to our local Verizon store, hoping to get in and out. Nope. The free upgrades “were out of stock” and the sales drone was determined not to let me leave the store until I upgraded to an iPad as my phone. I suppose the price with rebate would have been cheaper for the phone we finally looked at, but…

“Are you sure I’ll have my rebate back before my phone bill comes in?”

“Is that important? Because I have a quota to make.”

I came home. We tried to order a new one again. I ordered the closest thing I could get to my old Android. Since we canceled the old order, they refused to ship it to my job or Nita’s. “It would be more secure to ship it to your home.”

You know. Where no one’s around to sign for it when the FedEx guy comes.

We got it sorted out. I opened my phone and…

It’s not the phone I ordered. Oh, it was a refurbed Android device, but not the phone I ordered.

It was better. I got an older model Samsung Galaxy.

Daddy’s happy. Now I don’t have to listen to Jim Scott’s annoying cranky old man bit on WLW during my morning commute. I plugged into the Cincinnati Library’s download system and started listening to audio books immediately. Life is good.

Ebookery: Google Buying Barnes & Noble? Why Not?

Before we begin, go read this article from a few months back by GigaOM’s Mike Wolf.  Go on. I’ll wait.

Finished? Good.

Mike is absolutely right. Google should buy Barnes & Noble. And lest the European Union get a bee in its bonnet about competition, it needs to think of this: Content is what Barnes & Noble does best. Google does not do content. It just serves it up via its search engine. Oh, Android is a terrific operating system, but it’s too fragmented. In an age where Amazon is replacing the ereader with full-blown tablet on Google’s Android OS, producing a generic version of Android to be used wherever will not work the way Windows works for Microsoft.

Of course, Microsoft kept a tight grip on Windows. Want to run our operating system? Here are the rules. And in the case of Windows 7 and the forthcoming Windows 8, if you want to play, you have to supply drivers. (Yes, Vista is just as much HP and Dell’s fault is is it Steve Ballmer’s.) Google placed no such restrictions on Android, and more’s the pity.

But the Android genie is out of the bottle, and now the platform is fragmenting. Good for Google in terms of licensing. Bad in terms of relevance.

Yes, Jim, but what does this have to do with ebooks?

Glad you asked that. Unlike one bitter former midlister’s irresponsible rant to basically get out of Amazon’s way, I don’t see Amazon as invincible. Oh, sure, I’ll do business with them. I like Kindle. I own one of the old school units and have the Kindle app on all my PC’s and my phone (An Android, where Kindle nestles with Angry Birds. I’m never bored on the john.) They’ve been snubbed by Barnes & Noble and by Books-A-Million in the print market. Stupid? No, Amazon will need more than it’s own stores to thrive in real space, since print is clearly not going away any time soon. (Sorry, bitter former midlister.) But Barnes & Noble is bleeding. If it is to be saved, it will be through technology. Google can provide that technological muscle. It’s revenue model can also take some of the retail pressure off the brick-and-mortar stores and their online outlet. And it would even the playing field. Sooner or later, bookstores will have to carry Amazon titles. It would be better if they could dictate terms of their own to get a deal.

More importantly, Google bought Motorola. With a hardware arm now and an R&D approach that makes Microsoft look like Commodore Computer, Google needs only a ready-made content arm to jumpstart its attempts to sell books and music. Even with its current problems, Barnes & Noble is better positioned to deliver. Plus the combination of Motorola and Google will allow Nook to innovate, possibly even exceed the capabilities of Amazon. And as I said before, Google’s revenue model may make the Nook a less expensive alternative to Kindle. After all, Google is unobtrusive in their advertising.

So where does that leave Apple and Microsoft? Apple is going nowhere. It has the iPhone/iPad platform. It has Mac and the iCloud. It’s an ecosystem designed and built by Steve Jobs and maintained by people he personally trained. Microsoft? Windows, especially Windows 8, could easily eclipse Android and the iPad, but they’ll need new management.

Kind of like Barnes & Noble needs. Google has it.

What’s Wrong With America? Well…

No one doubts America is not having its finest hour. In fact, you can pretty much write off the past decade. Still, America has a lot going for it. For starters, Greece is not a state. (Sorry, Europe.) So why no bragging?

Well, we tend to brag when times are good, and why not? All nations are like that. I’m pretty sure that, after Caesar stomped all over Carthage, he stood on Hannibal’s grave doing a pelvic thrust going, “Yeah! How to you like them Alps, elephant boy! Who’s your daddy?” These days, we limit the bragging to moon shots, the Internet, and the return of Beavis & Butthead.

But let’s be honest. The call it The Great Recession because it just barely skirts being another Great Depression. The world hates our last president, and while they love the current one, he’s a JFK-aspirant who turned out to be Rutherford B. Hayes and running against the Republican version of the 1976 Democratic slate of candidates. In fact, if you listen to people talk about our future, it sounds an awful lot like…

The 1970’s.

And let’s be honest. The 1970’s sucked. Welcome back, my friends, to the show that never ends.

But if this is such a great place to be, why’s everybody so down on America?

Oh, got a few minutes? There’s a list.

Why make a list? Simple. I’m not one of those moral cowards like Sean Hannity who thinks criticizing America is unpatriotic. If anything, “My country, right or wrong” should be grounds for deportation. Why would you want to be wrong? Such thinking makes the nation suck. And this applies to all nations around the world. If you can’t take a long, hard look at what needs fixing around here, you’re in the way.

So what’s on the list?

  • Left vs. Right: Seriously? Some people take this paradigm to such extremes that they check the bumper stickers on the car next to them in the mall parking lot in case the other guy might get his politcal cooties on them. I used to work with one guy who could not resist explaining to me why Ron Paul was his personal lord and savior when all I said to him was, “Could you pass the salt?” Sadly, this guy was symptomatic of most people’s political thinking, both liberal and conservative.
  • Political discourse: Building on that last point, why is it most people get their political opinions from burned out ex-rock DJ’s, whiny former sportscasters, and morbidly obese outsourcers who rail on capitalism for outsourcing jobs? Seriously?
  • Big business: I like capitalism. I love the idea of making money. I fail to see where that justifies being a dick. Maybe a bank CEO can chime in and explain that to me.
  • Labor: Unions in America are a laboratory experiment to determine the effects of screwing oneself while getting screwed by someone else.
  • Energy: People, please, stop fellating Exxon already.
  • Technology: Want to be prosperous? Go out and invent some shit.
  • Healthcare: There is nothing moral, ethical, or honorable about allowing people to go bankrupt for simply getting cancer. That, not some idiotic politcal stance, needs to be the top consideration. Period. End of discussion.
  • The metric system: Twelve inches for a foot. Three feet to a yard. How many yards in a mile? What crackhead came up with that system? And what booger-eating moron decided base-ten measurements were communist? Kill that guy. He sucks to much to remain part of the human race.
  • Transportation: Whoever thought up the airlines as they exist today should have kept his mouth shut.
  • The two-party system: Yes, they’re big tents. They both smell like ass, and anyway, I want my own tent.
  • The media: Someone must pay for making the Kardashians famous.
  • Education: Too many stock brokers, not enough engineers. Stock brokers invent nothing, just suck all the life out of what others do invent.
  • Jones: Keep up with Jones? Fuck Jones!
  • Us: This is actually the best news. Because we have never shied away from laying the fear of God into people who try to bring us down, and people, it’s time we collectively kick the man in the mirror’s ass. I’m sick of listening to him whine. Aren’t you?

One Year On The Job

As of yesterday, I’ve spent a year at a small company I discreetly refer to as Medishack on the Internet. With BigHugeCo, I could be a little more open with what I said. They’re a Fortune 500 company, so anything snarky on my part that anyone might notice could be blown off as long as I wasn’t too obvious about BigHugeCo’s true identity. Not so Medishack, which has about 100 employees. But that’s okay. It’s good to keep your writing and your day job separate.

Still, it’s been a year since I started at this company, and not a moment too soon.

I got laid off from BigHugeCo in the summer of 2010. I’m still not too upset over it. I worked there 11 years and got a paid summer vacation out of it. If I’d have known Large Hospital Chain (TM) had no clue how to run their IT department, I’d have taken a full month off. But unlike too many people I met in my wanderings after becoming an unemployment statistic, I dove right back into the job market, looking for permanent work and taking contract positions. Still, after another hospital IT job, a system upgrade at another Fortune 500 company, and moving a dying airline, the contracts ran out. I was, for the first time in years, on unemployment. Bag boys were suddenly making more than me.

Part of the problem was that the end of my last contract came the week of New Year’s Eve. Hiring managers generally are scarce a few days before Christmas until a week after the new year. After that, they’re slogging through whatever’s piled up on their desk while they were out. So the contracts and the full time positions are nonexistent until about mid-January. So I did what you do on unemployment: I checked CareerBuilder and Monster and Dice. I cleaned house. I sat around in my boxers and watched James Bond movies. For two weeks, I wondered if I’d ever find another IT job or if I was going to have to suck it up and take a factory job working nights while I hunted for work days.

A couple of weeks in, I started to get calls about jobs, and not just desktop support, either. A contracting firm called me about a law firm needing someone to do SQL Server work. A second one wanted to see if I’d really learned anything in my .Net programming classes. An accounting firm across the street from one of BigHugeCo’s downtown buildings called to see if I had any interest in learning Sharepoint while I fixed their computers. All of these held promise, but it was a phone call from a manager I used to work with at BigHugeCo that piqued my interest.

I got the call in late January. I wasn’t sure if it was a job interview or if Bill just wanted to pick my brain. So I agreed to lunch at Camp Washington Chili (a good halfway point). We met, and Bill showed me some database stuff I did not know was possible. He asked if I’d like to talk to his company about a dual role. I needed seasoning as a programmer. They needed a desktop guy but couldn’t afford a full-time one. Would I want to do both? Would I? Well, other than chasing down rare showings of Licence to Kill and On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, I didn’t have a lot on my agenda for the next couple of weeks.

I went in, relaxed (partly because the accounting firm seemed pretty interested), and just talked shop. I felt good, went home, watched Goldfinger. (Cracked up everytime Sean Connery purred “Pussy.”) I felt good.

Then things really got strange. I interviewed at one of BigHugeCo’s competitors. Cincinnati State got me an interview with a startup, only I didn’t trust my skills with that particular platform. I dreaded that interview. I didn’t want to drive way the hell up by King’s Island to get shot down. Two hours before the interview, Bill called. “Can you start Monday?” Could I? I asked the salary. It was my old salary at BigHugeCo, a bit high for a desktop support guy, reasonable for a neophyte programmer. I jumped on it and canceled the other interview.

That night, Nita said it felt like the real me had returned.

I couldn’t agree more. And I have never been happier at a day job.

The Big Switch

If you clicked on jamesrwinter.net and ended up here instead, that’s not a mistake. As you can see from the recent redesign of the blog, Edged in Blue now contains all the same information as the old web site. It’s just easier to update everything in one place.

Plus, if jamesrwinter.com/.net all point here, and jamesrwinter.net becomes the most common address I give out, I can eventually move the blog to a private host or even WordPress Pro without confusing the hell out of everyone if and when that happens.

Of course, that might mean a few changes to how I generate content, but those changes are probably long overdue anyway.

So if you clicked one site and got this one, you’re in the right place. Welcome to my new cyberpad.

Caught In My Own Web

Well, I finished the new jamesrwinter.net. Don’t go looking for it. I never pointed the domain to it. Why?

Two reasons. One, it looks like crap. Oh, that’s fixable. Since I’m not trained in graphic arts, I would need to put a lot more time into the site’s design. Unfortunately, I was too busy trying to get the backend to work properly.  The second problem is more technical. I wanted to use ASP.Net to run the page. The trouble is running ASP.Net on GoDaddy is slooooow. How slow?

It’s a common complaint that ASP.Net pages with frequent round trips to the database can be slow to render. A robust server able to handle the traffic can prevent this.  However, a simple table or rss feed should not be much of a problem. The database I used was not that big, and the feeds – Twitter and WordPress – are generally rapid loads. But I’m hosting on GoDaddy, and all the hot commercials with Danica Patrick can’t cover up the fact GoDaddy’s performance is somewhat lacking at times, especially with ASP.Net sites.

So I’ve got an ugly site on a slow host. What does one do?

I backed up and looked at my whole web presence. Why redo the site at all? Virtually everything that’s on the web site is on this blog. All the books. All the short stories. Just rewrite the bio, add a contact page, and a new FAQ. Oh, and here’s a hint if you’re going to put a FAQ page: Turn the comments on so visitors can frequently ask questions.

Since we’re trying to play up the brand, I picked a new WordPress theme (and now you know why Edged in Blue is no longer edged in blue) that better plays to Northcoast Shakedown‘s cover. When I go to release Second Hand Goods or The Compleat Winter (which I keep threatening), I’ll change the theme accordingly.

Eventually, I’d like to build my own, even if it’s a WordPress-based site, designing the graphics myself. But rather than waste money on a poorly performing host and devoting more time than I have at present to the graphics, it just makes sense to consolidate everything here. When the time comes, I’ll go host shopping and take a lot more time into doing the graphics.

So welcome to the new jamesrwinter.net.  The address will point here by the end of this week. Until then, jamesrwinter.net will continue to point at the venerable old web site.

The Year In Review

Was 2011 better than 2010? Yes, it was. Quit whining.

January – Protestors in Egypt move Hosni Mubarak’s desk to the basement, ask him to kill the roaches.

February – Perennial whackjob and Gene Simmons look-alike Momar Ghaddafi becomes the latest target in what’s now known as Arab Spring, the Berlin Wall-like wave of politcal upheaval that began with the Egyptian uprisings and eventually spreads to Syria.

Speaking of Egypt, Hosni Mubarak has a very bad meeting with The Bobs and begins applying for jobs at various Cairo fast-food chains and Walmart.

The iPad 2 ships.

March – A tsunami flattens Japan, sets off the worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl. Ironically, all the safeties worked until they ran out of power.

Sony decides to stop selling floppy disks. Millions of teenagers born at the height of the 3.5″ floppy drive’s dominance asked, “What are those? Is that like reel-to-reel tape?”

April – William and Kate marry.

The Donald, in his bid to become the Republican nominee, proves that you, too, can be an idiot and succeed in America when he announces that he is a Birther.

May – President Obama says to the nation, “Here’s my birth certificate. And here’s bin-Laden’s head.” George W. Bush finally gets that trophy he always wanted to mount over the mantle since 2001. The Donald stomps off in a huff.

Arnold terminates his marriage to Maria Shriver when it’s learned he fathered an illegitimate child with a woman who was not Sarah Conner.

June – Anthony Weiner shows his weiner.

July – The last Harry Potter movie hits theaters. Truth be known, Lord Voldermort would have gotten away with it if it weren’t for those meddling kids.

The Tea Party manufactures a crisis. Congress solves it, largely by kicking the can down the road. Democracy works. Just like it did in Revenge of the Sith, only without an Emperor to provide a nightmarish alternative.

August – Momar Ghadafi files for unemployment, skips town without paying his rent.

Steve Jobs dies. iSad.

September – 10 years after 9/11, the 9/11 Memorial opens at the World Trade Center on 9/11/11. It’s an amazing sign of life at the site of so much tragedy.

October – Momar Ghadafi dies in a street brawl. Bin-Laden and Ghadafi in the same year? Can Kim Jong-il be far behind?

November – Apple debuts the iPhone 4S, some of whose functions were eerily predicted in a 1989 Apple Computer ad that featured a device that looked a lot like an iPad.

December – After denying more sex than most hookers have had, Herman Cain drops out of the race for the GOP nomination.

Remember when someone wondered online if Kim Jong-il would follow Osama bin-Laden and Momar Ghadafi into that long, dark night? Wonder no more.