Royce Eddington

Nothing to see here. Move along people.

Month: September 2009 (Page 1 of 4)

Texas Railroad Tracks

Texas Railroad Tracks

Texas Railroad Tracks

I took this outside of Mission somewhat near highway 83. Near the tracks was that big underground ant colony from a few photos ago.

Microsoft Security Essentials review

Microsoft just released their own antivirus application, and based on my use so far, I have to say it’s not bad. Microsoft Security Essentials is a antivirus, antimalware and anti-trojan application. Pretty much the only thing it doesn’t try to be is a firewall.

When you install the application, the first thing it tells you to do is remove your existing antivirus application. You can usually do this for any antivirus application by going to START and then PROGRAMS and then to the antivirus’ folder. In that folder should be a REMOVE icon that will start the process. If you’ve paid for a subscription for your previous antivirus, be sure to check the option to save any settings during the uninstall process if you are prompted.

In my case, I had to uninstall VIPRE. One reboot later, the Microsoft Security Essentials setup was ready to go.

After double clicking the setup icon, the first thing it will do is download some extra components. Once it completes getting the necessary components online, the application will ask you to click a button to validate your PC (this is to make sure you don’t have a pirated copy of Windows). After that last part, it’s all progress bars and “installing this and that” dialog boxes.

When the install is complete, the application will ask you if you want to scan your computer after it grabs the latest updates. You should check that option to see if anything was missed by your previous antivirus application.

The definitions update process was faster than most antivirus applications I have seen. But since this application is only a few days old, the real test will come in a few months when a larger update is required.

Configuring Microsoft Security Essentials is pretty straightforward. This is what the main window looks like…

MS Security Essentials 1

MS Security Essentials 1

Your status, would you like to scan now, and when the next scan will be. Simple and a very basic overview. The UPDATE tab is similar in style…

MS Security Essentials 2

MS Security Essentials 2

When your next update is, what update you have and a giant UPDATE button so you can do it manually. The next tab in the application is HISTORY.

MS Security Essentials 3

MS Security Essentials 3

Here is shows you what it detected, what’s been quarantined and what you allowed. My initial scan picked up that I had a remote-access application installed, which I’ll go over in a few paragraphs.

The next selection is the SETTINGS tab.

MS Security Essentials 4

MS Security Essentials 4

Here you can configure some fairly basic settings. Scan time, what to do when it finds a virus, and if you want it to not scan certain file types or applications on your PC.

This is also the only location where you can turn Microsoft Security Essentials off. You have to go to the “Real-time protection” option and un-check the “Turn on Real-Time protection”. There is not a way to turn off Microsoft Security Essentials for a set period of time though. And there also is no option on a right click of Microsoft Security Essentials on the system tray icon to disable it. Very inconvenient.

The big thing that got me was the Microsoft SpyNet option.

MS Security Essentials 5

MS Security Essentials 5

There is no way to turn this off.

You have the option of Basic or Advanced membership, and a link to their privacy policy, but there is no way to disable it. This application will always send any problems it finds to Microsoft’s SpyNet service. Microsoft says this is to help them make better antivirus definitions, and your information will remain anonymous. But the specific name of every infected file, every hacked program, every trojan horse, every false positive, and the locations they came from will be sent with your anonymous ID tag on it.

Speaking of false positives, when I first ran the scan, Microsoft Security Essentials found this on my PC…

MS Security Essentials 6

MS Security Essentials 6

TightVNC is a remote access application. I use it to get back to my PC when I am in another part of the building and need a quick file or server tweak. It’s not the most secure software out there, but it serves my purposes. Microsoft Security Essentials didn’t say it was a virus or a threat, but a “potential” threat. But the big honkin’ red banner and X of death would probably make someone new to PCs remove the “potential” threat instead of allowing it to remain. Admins beware!

I also didn’t see a way to roll this out on a enterprise-wide scale. I’m not a fan of dump-and-forget applications, especially when I know that most corporate employees are far too busy to do technical maintenance on their PCs in addition to their everyday jobs.

Even though this is Microsoft’s first entry into the antivirus field, they have nothing but time and money to improve on it. And since there is no motivation to play nice with others who were in the field first, I would expect the next version of Security Essentials to be a vast improvement on this one. And from there to just get exponentially better.

PROS: Free. Fast. Easy updates. Fully integrated into your operating system. Already on par with “free” and “lite” antivirus applications that have been on the market for years.

CONS: No way to turn off application for a specific amount of time. No right-click disable option for taskbar icon. No way to turn off SpyNet option. No advanced settings to configure. No apparent server/management option for enterprise. Fully integrated into your operating system.

You can download a copy for XP or Vista directly from Microsoft here.

Websites to visit : Wefeelfine and Twistori

Fair warning: visiting Wefeelfine or Twistori will severely lower your productivity for the day.

Wefeelfine is my favorite of the two. Hundreds of multicolored particles fly across the screen, and you can click on any one of them to expand it. Each particle represents a single specific “feeling” that was just posted somewhere. According to the Wefeelfine’s mission page, “…the system searches the world’s newly posted blog entries for occurrences of the phrases “I feel” and “I am feeling”. When it finds such a phrase, it records the full sentence… and identifies the “feeling” expressed in that sentence (e.g. sad, happy, depressed, etc.). The result is a database of several million human feelings, increasing by 15,000 – 20,000 new feelings per day.” You can also organize and change how and what the particles present by using the small menu in the lower left corner.

Twistori is the simpler of the two websites and is much more focused, just pulling all instances of “I” and either LOVE, HATE, THINK, BELIEVE, FEEL or WISH from recent Twitter posts. The site is a very clean design, and if you leave the site alone, it will randomly pick an emotion and scroll through each sentiment. Mac users can even download a twistori screensaver that pulls live material from the site.

My only complaint is that websites like this should have a “estimated time wasted” banner before they let you enter.

Ants near railroad tracks

Ants near railroad tracks

Ants near railroad tracks

A colony of ants by some railroad tracks. They didn’t have an above ground mound like other fire ants in the area and were definitely much bigger.

Whatever happened to Comp USA?

Back in the 90’s, electronics was the new plastics, and CompUSA was deep in the game with other big-box supercenters like Incredible Universe, Circuit City, Best Buy, and Frys. Everybody wanted a piece of the dot com pie, and CompUSA was no exception. Every CompUSA I visited back in Dallas was always busy, and not too surprisingly, always overpriced. But since reliable websites specifically selling computer parts and supplies were still a few years away, the supercenters dominated all the shopping plazas along the freeways.

Then the juggernauts tripped. Dot com went dot gone. CompUSA stopped opening new stores, then cut off some underperforming stores, and eventually went bankrupt. But that wasn’t the end of CompUSA. A small number of stores were resurrected, and now CompUSA has 25 locations still open across the United States.

I live near one of them.

I stopped by the local CompUSA because I was curious. Had they changed? Were they the same overly-expensive mega store from Dallas?

As I pulled up, the store’s logo and white product badge displays on the glass looked familiar. I didn’t notice any NO PHOTOGRAPHY signs, and besides, it is a public location. But I made it a point not photograph any customers in the store with me just to be nice.

Check out the slideshow below to see the photos and click on any of them to enlarge.

Right off, things were different than I remembered from Dallas. There was an actual “greeter” at the door who handed me a sales flier and welcomed me to the store. This same person doubled as the “mark your receipt with a yellow marker as you leave” person at no extra charge.

Walking down the isles, there were more products for the build-your-own computer group than the original CompUSA ever had. Gone were the gaudy blue strobe lights and laser-cut chrome frag-u skulls. Instead, there were dozens of specialized, functional products that I am used to seeing on websites specifically catering to the PC do it yourself crowd.  There were a good range of power supplies, video cards ranging from the too-cheap “hope it works” to the “I need a second mortgage” variety, and tons of blank media stacked everywhere.

For the most part, everything was priced very reasonably.

Near the checkout, there were boxes and boxes of miscallaenous product, stacked 3 or 4 high, with the top box cut open for you to peruse. Some items were no-name brand, but most items were quality brands that I had heard of. Every stack of boxes had a sheet with price comparisons to their previous commercial sparring partners.

The biggest sign of improvement I saw was their game selection. It was very sparse and only had a few popular games to choose from. I think that’s brilliant. You can’t compete with a mega-superstore that buys product by the warehouse. They can outprice, outperform and outstock you without even knowing you are trying to compete with them. Plus the multitude of videogame trade-and-sell and even rent-and-sell stores have the gaming market pretty much sealed off to newcomers. So why fight the goliaths if you can go around them?

The laptop selection was decent and the perhiperal accessories had two retail-rows more to offer than WalMart, BestBuy or Target. In the back of the store was a wall of TVs that were setup much like you see at every BestBuy, Target, WalMart and Sears stores. There must be a high markup on TVs for everyone and their Aunt Petunia to have the same setup going.

I have to admit, I was impressed at the overall change. I still think Fry’s is the king of brick and mortar tech stores, but this CompUSA was lean, sharp and focused. It was miles better than the Dallas supercenters that tried to be everything to everybody. And I do think they finally got the right idea. Carry a few things, a few specialized things, and focus on what gets people into your store. Focus on a specific consumer type and let the multipurpose juggernauts go on their way.

I did hear that in the process of rebirth, CompUSA is really affiliated with Tiger Direct now, and even their sales fliers are identical in how they look. Apparently that was not just a superficial change.

Will I be back to CompUSA? Maybe. Having purchased most computer gear online for the last few years, the feeling of walking into a computer-specific store seems pretty old fashioned. But in a pinch, when I cant wait for FedEx or UPS, this reborn CompUSA isn’t bad.

American Gods by Neil Gaiman : Mini Book Review

American Gods

American Gods

10 words or less : Overrated. Unbelievable situations. Good sections, but twists visible miles away.

Long version : I need to preface this by saying I am not a fan of deep-end fantasy books. Magic, enchanted objects, and out-of-the-butt mystic speak?

No.

Characters who are supposed to be gods relating to humans with the equivalent of “Oi m boyo! C’mere and have a beer!”?

Hell no.

Having said that, I picked up American Gods by Neil Gaman based on the multiple four and five star reviews on Amazon as well as critical praise on the jacket cover. General fiction is fine with me, so I thought I would give this book a try.

The book is about the “American Gods”… gods that were brought over to America by the immigrants who believed in them. As the people who believed in these gods blended into America’s culture (or flat out died), the transplanted gods withered and turned mortal-ish.

Que Joan Osborne.

Anyhow, some “new” gods eventually appear on the scene, and they were (off the top of my head) the god of computers, credit cards, TV, media and “Mr. World”.

Wait! It gets better!

The “new” gods are tired of the old gods hanging around taking their mojo. So a “storm is coming”… as every single character says over and over and over and over.

The main hero, Shadow, is the chosen one. He has a hobag of a woman who keeps showing up for him a lot like Jack Goodman did for David in the movie American Werewolf in London. Except this character is played seriously.

On a side note – Shadow. Who the hell names their kid Shadow?

Anyhow, fantasy ensues. A few plot twists and pages and pages later, “the storm is here”.

Not to ruin anything, but the book didn’t have Mohamed or Jesus in it. Every other god with a popular identity shows up throughout the book, and most get to fight in the big finale, so where were the top two representatives of the current religions? If the god of computers can be a card carrying member of the almighty god club, where the hell were the big players in this book? Where was THE big capital-G God in all this? If gods exist just because people believe in them, shouldn’t the capital-G God, Jesus and Mohamed have been in this book putting the smack down?

See, stuff like this is why I can’t read these kind of books.

The book has the main character travel through America as part of him finding himself and his allies, but you’ll get more “real” America from Alton Brown’s road trip series.

It was entertaining in sections, and the writing style flowed fairly well. A few chapters were really imaginative, but most of the chapters were tedious and overly detailed. I see the author was going for a slow buildup over the 600 plus pages of the book, but I could see the “twist(s)” coming five chapters away. Even in the dénouement.

I recommend reading the first few paragraphs of the Wikipedia page on “American Gods” that summarize the book to see if it’s for you. American Gods won the Hugo and Nebula awards (among many other sci-fi specific writing awards), but it was nothing more than moderately entertaining summer-like reading for me.

Three out of five stars.

News stories the mainstream media missed 09/26/09

Here are some news stories from this week that I think the mainstream media completely missed out on. All links are from legitimate news sources and not the fringe / wacko sites.

* Dannon to reimburse customers for misleading advertising. Turns out statements in its marketing and advertising materials for Activia, Activia Light, DanActive and DanActive Light were deceptive. As in completely made up. Ain’t the truth a pain in the ass? [FOOD BUSINESS NEWS]

* Mandatory H1N1 (swine flu) vaccine for the military are imminent. Oh, good. Because on the off chance something is wrong with the untested and very-rushed to production flu vaccine, we want to infect those with the automatic weapons and heavy artillery first. [US DEPARTMENT OF DEFENSE / MILITARY HEALTH SYSTEM]

* FDA issues strong warning about those “fallen and I can’t get up” lifeline pendant buttons. Turns out they may be a choking hazard if they get caught on something. If only there was… some way to call… for help… when that… happens! [FDA]

* Google approved sub-group now shows you how to completely delete and remove all of your personal data from…. everything Google. Looks like they are really standing behind their “don’t be evil” mantra! But couldn’t they still have a backup copy somewhere? The details are all in the FAQ. [GOOGLE / DATALIBERATION.ORG]

* The french want bold printed notices on all photoshopped images in print advertising stating they have been digitally enhanced. Finally! I seriously think this is long overdue! The only problem I see is that advertising agencies are about to get a big kick in the nards on this one. [TELEGRAPH.CO.UK]

* Al Gore has just gotten a $529 million U.S. government loan to help build a hybrid sports car in Finland that will sell for about $89,000. Clever, manbearpig. Very clever. [WALL STREET JOURNAL]

* USA Network has announced the departure of star Vincent D’Onofrio (Robert Goren), Kathryn Erbe (Alex Eames) and Eric Bogosian (Danny Ross) from Law and Order : Criminal Intent. You know. The main stars. Julianne Nicholson is also out for good measure. Everybody got killed at once? I’m not buying it. Someone get CSI on this.  [THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER]

G.I. Joe figure in disguise

I was at the local WalMart a few days ago to get some toys for my nephew when I saw this.

G.I. Joe figure in disguise

G.I. Joe figure in disguise

You just gotta love WalMart. A little re-tape and it’s good to go!

Unless, of course, Hasbro did this on purpose. It does say “intelligence officer” on the box.

The Life of Pi by Yann Martel : mini book review

10 words or less : Incredible. Fun and entertaining. A very moving and symbolic story.

Life Of Pi Book

Life Of Pi Book

Long version :  The Life of Pi by Yann Martel is a wonderful read. It’s the kind of book that will raise the bar on the kind of material you will want to read afterward. It’s a relatively short book, around 300 pages, but it works on so many levels… both as a superficial “look-no-deeper” story and as a very, very symbolic multi-layer opus.

The top-layer story is basically about a shipwrecked boy who is stuck on a lifeboat for 227 days in the Pacific Ocean with a tiger, hyena, zebra, and an orangutan. The pacing is so well structured you will be halfway through the book before you know it.

The Life of Pi won the Man Booker Prize for Fiction, the South African Boeke Prize, the Le combat des livres reading competition, CBC Radio’s Canada Reads, and the Hugh MacLennan Prize for Fiction. It won all these awards even though it was only the second book from the author at the time.

There’s almost 2,000 reviews for it on Amazon.com at this time, and even a new deluxe illustrated version that I’m going to have to get for the bookshelf. Be careful on Amazon, though. Many people posted the entire story in their review, which ruins the thrill of reading the book for the first time.

Supposedly Ang Lee is going to make a movie about the book for release in 2011. I’m not sure he can pull it off, but I’ll be in line to see it on the big screen.

Five out of five stars.

Dark Blue Rain Clouds

Dark ocean-blue clouds rolled in this week. It’s wonderful to finally have the temperature drop below 90.

Dark Blue Rain Clouds

Dark Blue Rain Clouds

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