up at the smack of dawn

July 30, 2005 under Golf, Sports

Dena, her boss (Ron) and I hit our drives off of the first tee at Beaverdale at 6:45AM this morning. The proshop added a solo golfer to our group to make us a foursome. He was an older gent who I guessed would be in his late sixties or early seventies, named Don, who hit a mean ball. By the time we were on the back-nine, he was known as Donny to us. All four of us played quite well. Don kept shaking his head in amazement when Dena hit a solid shot. She doesn’t really have a “girlie” swing so I guess that impressed him. I shot an 87, Ron hit an 88 and Dena shot a 100. We’re not sure what Don shot, as he kept his own score, but he sure plays near-scratch golf so likely pretty well. A little bit of information we learned was that one of Don’s sons was employed as a stunt double for Tom Arnold back in the day. Even if you aren’t a Tom Arnold fan, it’s still a pretty cool factoid.

I think Dena and I prefer golfing early in the morning; it’s not hot or busy and you have the entire day ahead of you when you’re done.

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powwow

July 28, 2005 under Computers, Internet

I’m not sure why, but I recently reminded myself of an IM app called PowWow. Looking back, I’ve come to realize that it was way ahead of its time. I was first introduced to PowWow back in 1994. Vianet was the first popular ISP in Timmins. I clearly remember in the summer of ’94, Sean Claire and myself drove in his beat-up Nissan pick-up truck to Vianet‘s office on Algonquin Boulevard before our work shift at the Hollinger Golf Course and signed up for dial-up Internet accounts. At that time, when you signed up for Internet access with Vianet, they gave you a floppy diskette that contained some automated connection setup as well as Windows 3.1 versions of Trumpet Winsock, Netscape Navigator, Eudora Email Lite, WinPopUp and a beta version of some app called PowWow.

PowWow was awesome. You could have buddy lists, send offline messages, chat with multiple people at the same time, transmit preloaded sounds (laughing, hand-clapping, etc), VoIP with a mic (similar to Skype and Gizmo nowadays), transfer files and more. It even had a text-to-speech component. It had all of the standard functionality of today’s IM clients and then some. With PowWow, you first had to log onto a PowWow server. Vianet had a such a server. Actually, they had nodes for each of their major hubs at the time (Timmins, Sudbury, North Bay and the Soo). On Vianet‘s website, they had listings of all people logged into PowWow so you could find someone random to chat with. Of course, with your buddy list, you could also just talk to PowWow buddies that you wanted to or other users around the world. By the time I was off to university, I discovered ICQ and I manually launched PowWow only when I needed to, which wasn’t all that often anymore. I can’t remember everyone from my PowWow buddy list but I do remember having Chico, Sean Claire and a girl from Timmins named Tamara (I can’t remember her last name but Chico might) on it. I recall showing my mom how I could talk to Chico using its VoIP features on a 28.8 KBps dial-up connection. She was quick to point out that I could do the same by simply calling him on the phone, since I was already tying up the line anyway. Good point but I still thought it was slick, from a geek’s point of view. I also remember using PowWow to coordinate Doom/Doom 2 and RoTT fragfests with Sean when I’d get home from the golf course after 10PM. Good times.

The only decent info I could find about PowWow now is in a Wikipedia article. You can view it here:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/PowWow_%28chat_program%29

Reading this article taught me a few things that I didn’t know about PowWow back then. For starters, I wasn’t aware that the founder of McAfee also founded PowWow. Also, I actually believed the whole “Tribal Voice” mystique in that it was developed by Native Americans. I was such a n00b back then 😮

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it takes a lot to impress my wife

July 27, 2005 under Computers, Internet

Dena isn’t easily wowed by technology. In university, she put up quite the fight against trivial computer use concepts like copy ‘n’ paste. She’d rather re-type something and it infuriated me to no end (she has sinced grown to love the benefits that the clipboard can provide). Nowadays, if I show her something that I coded, she usually replies with “cool” in a half-interested sort of way. Showing her the source code that it took to create that something is usually met with even less excitement. Then along comes Google with their mapping toys. The other day, I demonstrated Google Earth to her. She was intrigued when I showed her a 3D rendered demonstration of our daily morning commute. I narrated the entire thing as our virtual car turned off of Homer Watson Boulevard and onto the ramp to east-bound 401, which I believe added value to the experience 😛

As a quick aside, OpenGL rendering mode on Google Earth is mint. DirectX…not so good. On my GeForce FX 5700LE at home with v7.1.8.9 of the nVIDIA‘s reference drivers, all is well in either mode. On the GeForce FX Go5200 on my work notebook with v6.7.4.2 of Dell‘s OEM drivers, DirectX rendering was awful and barely usable but OpenGL rendering was fine. Hmmm. This may confirm my theory that 3D acceleration on notebooks still sucks and the only mobile chipset that has impressed me thus far is the Quadro FX Go. Ok, aside over.

Today, Dena wanted to recall the address of a place that she lived in when she attended Bay de Noc in Escanaba, Michigan before she transfered to Lake State. She couldn’t remember the street name but she did remember that there was a Kentuky Fried Chicken nearby. Using Google Maps and doing a search for KFCs in Escanaba, I pointed her towards a street map and she found what she was looking for. This time she said “cool” quite enthusiastically. Actually, there were probably more o’s in “cool” this time around. If I had to venture a guess as to how many o’s there really were, I’d say probably 10^100 or so. Conveniently enough, 10^100 is also known as a googol 😉

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when i click on the thingie, it says "bad something. unable to do yada yada"

July 26, 2005 under Computers, Programming, Software

Somewhat continuing from my last post, another question I get quite often “i’ve got a computer question for ya, can ya help?”. I get this a lot. Their question is usually followed by something like “aw, you’re one of them programmer types so you’ll like this one” or “you’re a ‘computer guy’ so it’ll be a piece of cake for somebody like you”. I only learned how to use a computer a little over ten years ago and the fact that I even develop software and provide solutions for these infernal machines sometimes forces me to give my head a shake, but it always makes me feel very lucky that I’m not a pharmacist. For almost all of those ten years, I’ve taken care of personal computer problems for other people, usually for free. “Others” are friends, family, friends of family, families of friends; some I know personally very well and others I know only by proxy. For those “others”, I’ve reinstalled operating systems, removed malware (without reinstalling operating systems…yay!), fixed Windows Registry problems, cleared up config.sys/autoexec.bat problems, configured Internet settings, figured out Adobe PageMaker without ever having seen it before (and done the same for many other applications) and much more. And then I discovered remote control software…

I’ve seen pcAnywhere, GoToMyPC, their enterprise equivalents and others. Great idea and most work well, but they cost money. It’s been my experience with people that they tend not to like to spend their money. When I’m asked to look at someone’s computer and they don’t happen to be nearby, controlling their computer remotely would be great. I then discovered TightVNC; an open-source (so it’s free) app for remotely controlling computers. The snag is that it requires knowing the IP address of the computer that will be the server (the computer I’m being asked to take a look at). And since most people have dynamic IPs, it’s never the same for too long. Most people looking for computer help don’t know what an IP address is, so explaining to them how they can relay their’s to me will be tedious. I ended up writing a script to automate that as well as launch the TightVNC server on their computer, as part as a solution that I conveniently install on said computers when I’m in front of them. If you’re interested in the source code for my script, it’s here.

I’m a fan of Joel Spolsky’s blog. He definitely knows the software development industry better than most and has the credentials to back it up. His company, called Fog Creek Software, will be offering a new service called Copilot that “…allows people to help their friends, relatives, and customers fix their computer problems by connecting to their computers via the Internet.”. But you have to pay for it. I wonder how it will fare since I’m uncertain how excited people would be paying for such a service. Most people who ask for my help seem to expect it to be free. That’s usually the reason why they’re asking me and not taking their computer in for service. The good thing about Copilot is that it’s firewall-friendly in that there’s no need to open/forward any ports. But there’s other software out there offering that for free. I’m even thinking of trying out UltraVNC‘s SC add-in and toast my TightVNC/script solution all-together…and it’s all free. People love free. Although my student loan’s balance won’t decrease by doing favours 😉 I wonder what other developers and computing professionals do in these situations.

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i might be like ellen feiss, but without the marijuana

July 25, 2005 under Computers, Software

When people ask me for recomendations on purchasing a new computer, and this occurs almost daily, I’ve been replying with “get a Mac and Bob’s your uncle” for the last year or so. I do so mainly because I usually have to help those same people remove the malware from their Windows computers and it’s become a repetative and thankless chore. I have a spiel to quell any potential questions I receive. It centres around explaining why they should use Firefox instead of Internet Explorer, which P2P file sharing apps don’t contain spyware (no matter the user’s computer knowledge, they all want to download music), how to set antivirus software to check for updates on a daily basis as well as automatic Microsoft Updates (formerly Windows Update) and other basic Windows maintenance tasks. The Internet is so hostile nowadays and Windows hasn’t kept pace with this trend. I used to recommend Windows to average computer users for its simplicity and ease of use. Nowadays, I firmly believe that you have to be a power user with a fair amount of technical ability just to keep Windows running and not bogged down by malware. Other operating systems like FreeBSD are solid and don’t have non-stop malware threats, but they’re still suited for powers users and servers; definitely too difficult to be used by average and new computer users. But OS X blends reliability and ease of use and it’s based on FreeBSD.

Now I personally don’t own a Mac; not yet anyway. I’ve had no problems running Windows for all of these years. It’s done everything I needed and I know my way around it extremely well. I’ve toyed with Linux in the past and continue to do so today, but I always find myself coming back to Windows, much like this guy, and for the same reasons. Now should I be able to afford a new computer for day-to-day use (web browsing, email, IM, etc) for Dena and I, it would probably be a Mac. All of the apps that I’d use on a daily basis are available for OS X. I’d only keep a Windows computer for any Windows-specific programming that I do and gaming. Mind you, I’d be very keen on coding OS X apps as a new experience, and there’s also Mono since I’m enjoying C# and .NET thus far. Will Vista be able to reel my interests back?

Note: For those who don’t understand the “ellen feiss” reference, watch this commerical from a couple of years ago and read this Wired article to get the scoop.

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mess with the bull and you get the horns

July 24, 2005 under Computers, Programming, Software

The next version of Windows, codenamed “Longhorn”, will hence-forth be known as Windows Vista. Some folks on the Internet have speculated that “Vista” is an acronym for Virii-Infections-Spyware-Trojans-Adware. We’ll have to see about that. Remember when software used decimal numbers to denote versions? Apple uses jungle cats and now Microsoft favours descriptive nouns.

I am intersted in what will be available via WinFX; specifically the “Avalon” API. Vista will feature some fancy UI accoutrements. Computers with weak video cards incapable of hardware acceleration won’t be able to run Vista. I see this as a good thing as it will move Windows into the same league as OS X. Apple has done this for a while and it definitely alleviated many headaches that far-reaching backwards compatibility can create. Ubiquity is the price you pay, I guess, and Microsoft has definitely benefitted. Maybe the PITA factor finally got to them. Either way, I’m wondering if the GDI is dead a new hardware-accelerated model will be used to draw everything; windows (everything is a window, really), taskbars, buttons…everything. It’ll probably use DirectX components like DirectDraw and maybe even Direct3D. So does that mean that “Avalon” is some kind of wrapper for UI programming that will mandatorily be using DirectX? This may be wild 🙂

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syd the kyd

July 22, 2005 under Hockey, Sports

Now that the NHL and the Players’ Association have FINALLY come to an agreement on a new CBA, it’ll be interesting to see what happens next. The draft is today at 4PM EST and the main event will be finding out which lucky team will get Sidney Crosby in the special lottery just for him. If the Flames get him, I would have no problems with that 🙂 But I’m also interested in finding out which new rule changes will be implemented. Apparently a big crack down on the clutch ‘n’ grab obstruction is on the way, but we’ve heard this one many times before; the refs call it like crazy in the first two months of the season and then they put their whistles away. Hopefully this coming season we’ll get a new NHL with some better-late-than-never changes like no-touch icing, smaller goalie equipment (but still allow them to play the puck out of their crease) and ditching the red line.

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i've been watching too much "charmed" lately

July 20, 2005 under Computers, Internet, Programming

Barry‘s a good guy with a great sense of humour. But when he taunted the world into stealing his identity, the lil’ hellion in me had to do something.

Since Barry never changed his password since installing WordPress on his web server, I had an ‘in’. I modified his post.php, the WordPress file responsible for posting new and edited blog entires into MySQL tables for WordPress . I wrote a new function for his post.php file:

// don't be blind to this Barry, for it's love,
// and you have to let love rule
function LoveMuffin()
{
    $arrLoveThings = array("love",
                           "want to be",
                           "need to have",
                           "must become like",
                           "aspire to be",
                           "have to become one with",
                           "plan to steal the identity of",
                           "idolize",
                           "can never be angry with");
    $iRandIdx = rand(0, count($arrLoveThings) - 1);
    return "I, Barry Lachapelle, " .
           $arrLoveThings[$iRandIdx] .
           " Chris Bellini.";
}

Even if you don’t know much about PHP or programming in general, it should be fairly obvious what this will do. The WordPress dev team did a great job keeping their code very readable and it made it easy for me to find the best places where I could implement my new function. So added my function to the section that posts new blog entires and added some other goodness to the section reposnsible for editing existing ones.

You can see what his enchanted blog looked like in these pictures.

He was a good sport and wasn’t all that upset with me 😛 Don’t ask where the love and magic references came from in my original comments on Barry’s site and my code. Dena’s been watching a lot of Charmed marathons on Diva so maybe that explains it 😉

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'no' on bill c-60

July 19, 2005 under Computers, Internet, Politics

Hopefully the House of Commons doesn’t vote Bill C-60 in its current form into existence. If that happens, cached pages on search engines like Google and Yahoo! would become illegal. Even the Internet Archive‘s thoroughly entertaining Wayback Machine would be illegal. What’s next? Storing cached pages and images from web browser sessions on your computer will get you tossed in the clink? Canada used to be seen as a leader in technology adoptation, but this would be a huge step backward. I hope somebody in Parliament fixes this bill before any out-of-touch politicians vote this through.

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wik-ini

July 17, 2005 under Life

I couldn’t have made this up.

I like Wikipedia and find it to be a very handy research tool. When I’m bored, I enjoy using the random article feature to bounce around Wikipedia, landing on random articles and learning something new with each click. Yesterday, I randomly landed on an article for my cousin Paul. Bizzare!

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