Friday, December 22, 2006

Take Great Photos this Christmas

Found this article through Lifehacker - 16 Digital Photography Tips for Christmas

Some neat ideas here!

Saturday, December 16, 2006

2006: What I've Geeked Out To

Here are some of the things I've geeked out to in 2006 (in no particular order - added as I think of things):

  • OpenDNS - After years of using suffering with Comcast's unreliable DNS service, I've switched to using OpenDNS's servers. The effects were instantaneous and the speed increase was immediately noticeable. Pages seemed to load instantaneously - as they should on an 8 meg cable internet connection!

  • MacBook Pro - Who'd have thought I'd become a Mac geek in 2006? I've been using a MacBook Pro from work for about 6 months now, and I can't say enough good things about it. The thing just works - elegantly and intuitively, at that. I've even got Microsoft Windows XP running on the Mac hardware with Apple's BootCamp - and wouldn't ya know; XP runs better on Mac hardware than on any PC-compatible hardware I've ever used!

  • Windows Vista - Last weekend, I upgraded to the Business edition of Microsoft Windows Vista. This one just barely made it into 2006, and I'll probably have more to say about it next year, since I'm still finding my way around. Contrary to my expectations of a new Microsoft operating system release, this particular experience has been... dare I say... flawless. I'm as baffled as you are. The upgrade went without a hitch. (I upgraded my existing XP Professional installation and did NOT do a clean install of Vista). Vista found all of my drivers, and everything works well so far. It has not crashed a single time on me, and (after adding another gig of RAM for a total of 2GB) is quick and responsive. The interface is slick, and I have a feeling once I get used to where everything is at, I will actually like the changes they've made to its layout (unlike XP, where I ended up switching back to "classic view" on most things because its layout made no sense). Vista is much more intuitive than any of its predecessors (but still chasing Mac OS X in usability). ;-)

  • Ultima Online 9th Anniversary Collection - Yes, I still play UO. It seems that around the fall season each year, I find myself getting back into the game. I play it through winter, and then can't find the time in the summer months. Wash, rinse, repeat. My own personal 9 year anniversary in UO will be next month, and frighteningly enough, I've been committed to this game longer than anyone or anything else in my life. I'm not sure what that says about me! 2007 will be a big year for UO, as they're getting a new graphics engine for UO: Kingdom Reborn. The screenshots look fantastic. I can't wait, and it may even be cool enough to keep me playing through the summer.

  • Dead Pixel Buddy - Since I've been using LCD monitors for a couple years now, and just bought a shiny new 22" widescreen ViewSonic 5ms HD LCD monitor, having a dead pixel tester is handy. There are web based ones that don't require a download, but those tend to make my eyes bug out. The good news: my new monitor has no dead pixels that I can find. I must warn you, though. There's a downside to testing for dead pixels. Once you find one, you will notice it constantly, and it will bug the shit out of you!

  • Hamachi - Hamachi is a zero-config VPN utility for creating secure virtual networks between computers). I've been running Windows XP Remote Desktop over Hamachi so that I can access my work computer from home and vice versa.

  • TightVNC - I wanted to set my mom up with Remote Desktop so that I could do tech support stuff on her computer from home, but she's running Windows 2000, and short of installing terminal services, I couldn't do my usual Remote Desktop setup on her machine. So, I've opted for running TightVNC (a remote control software package) over Hamachi to remotely control her computer.

  • ViewSonic 22" Widescreen LCD Monitor (VX2235WM) - Life is so sweet when you have tons of screen real estate! I'd venture to say that I'm even more productive with this monitor than my old (now-dead) 17" Sony LCD. This monitor runs at 1680x1050 (I formerly used 1280x1024) and has a 5ms video response time (compared to 12ms on my old top-of-the-line monitor from 2 years ago). My only complaint with this monitor is that the stand isn't adjustable, and on my particular desk, the monitor stand is so high that I have to look upwards at the top of this monitor, making the top of the screen appear dark when playing games (due to the weird viewing angle). This isn't a fault of the monitor, really - I just need to find a way to better configure my desk to fit this monster.

  • Logitech Cordless Desktop MX3200 Laser - Wow, this sure dropped in price after Christmas. I paid $30 more for it a week ago than Logitech now retails it for. Oh sad! At any rate, the keyboard is whisper quiet and extremely comfortable, as is the mouse (which is to be expected from a Logitech mouse). They're still my favorite mice ever, despite Microsoft's very hard push into the keyboard/mouse arena. Keyboards... well... I wish Logitech had a curved key design (not the crazy over-the-river and through-the-woods curvy hilly thing that Microsoft does - just the flat keyboard with the keys curved), but other than that, this keyboard is nice. I especially like the built-in LCD display with time and date.

  • Vonage - Still using it. Still love it. I've had zero problems with call quality or reliability, and it's full-featured and cheap. What else is there? I particularly like the ability to forward calls to my cell phone, and the ability to check my voicemail on the web.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Dead Monitor

I think Vista killed my monitor.

OK, it's unlikely that Vista killed my monitor. My monitor has been quirky since the day I got it. But, while completing the final phase of the Vista upgrade that I performed on my main computer system today, my monitor turned itself off and has yet to power back on.

"Then, how are you writing this?" you ask? Simple.

I went and grabbed one of the piece of shit CRT monitors out of the garage and lugged it upstairs.

How is it that a gorgeous 17" Sony LCD monitor that is less than 2 years old is sitting here lifeless, while this no-name 17" CRT monitor that I bought for $79 in 1997 is working just fine? Granted, the dot pitch has me about ready to claw my eyeballs out, but it's working!

My Sony LCD has always been quirky. It has this problem where when I push the power button to turn it off, it turns it DEAD - ie. it turns off and I cannot turn it back on for 20 minutes, a half hour, an hour, two hours... all depends. It has never powered itself off though. It would run for days no problem, as long as I never turned it off. Usually, I'd turn it off when I went to bed (to save the screen), and by morning it would be back on standby and ready to turn back on. Not this time.

Vista was chugging along with its upgrade, and so I ran downstairs to cook some dinner. I came back upstairs, and the monitor was black, with no power or standby light. I rebooted the computer via a traumatic power button shutdown, hoping Vista was truly done installing. (It was). Still nothing on the monitor. Upon running to the garage, grabbing my P.O.S. monitor and plugging it in, voila - there's Vista, just waiting for me to tell it about my network.

I still have my Sony monitor plugged in but it hasn't come back to life yet.

The problem here is... this CRT monitor is so awful that I'm already getting a headache, and I've only been on the thing for 15 minutes or so. Looks like I'll be burning the plastic tomorrow to buy a new monitor. Might as well get that extra gig of RAM I've been wanting, while I'm at it.

On a side note... the Windows Vista upgrade went flawlessly. I'm still waiting for the other shoe to drop. There's no way it was that easy. I'll post more about it when I actually believe that it worked.