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Category ArchiveTechnology

Technology by Spencer on February 23, 2012

The Computer is Dead, Long Live the Computer

Soon, it appears I get to see how good my backup software is.  I currently use CrashPlan, and have everything backed up to their online source and then backup the Users folder to an external hard drive as a separate backup set.  One of the things that drew me to CrashPlan over Carbonite was the flexibility of multiple backup sets and destinations… but I digress a bit.

Our hard drive looks to be failing (nearing the completely failed state).  We have had this computer for a while; and both DVD drives have been spotty at best (they work when I can get them open, but that is the trick).  Recently, nearly every time the computer boots it runs CHKDSK, but still boots.  This past week, however, I got a pop up from Vista that it is detecting the hard drive is failing and that I should backup immediately and stop using the computer until I fix or replace the drive… Yikes; that’s almost worse than the old blue screen of death, because this was specific.

To try to extend life of it a bit, I ran through a full disk check last night, it appears to have taken about 6 hours or so to complete and all seemed ok when I started up this morning.  To be safe, I checked on my backups (whew, 100%) and moved a few folders over to the USB drive just in case… and this morning, I got the call… “Honey, the computer says it can’t read from the boot…” yep, that will nearly seal the fate of this computer, or at least hard drive.  So, now I have to either buy a replacement drive and rebuild Windows (which means getting Windows 7, something I’ve wanted to do for a while) or buy a new computer… which brings up lots of possibilities, build one from scratch, go with a Mac, etc.  Regardless, it’s a lot of $$$$ I wasn’t planning on spending.  Hopefully I can squeeze just a bit more life out of it, or we may be going using the iPad a bit more for a while.

NCAA Tournament &Technology by Spencer on January 14, 2012

March Madness in January?!?

As I do every year, I work to make my NCAA Tournament website a bit better and more streamlined. This year I wanted to focus on providing a bit more functionality for the users, as well as minor updates to design, changing colors as I also do each year. Basically I had three things I wanted to do this year:

  • Change color scheme
  • Make it so players see and can print their bracket upon submitting it
  • Create a new area where a user can look up their bracket(s) prior to the games starting

I get requests nearly every year for people to see their brackets and in the past, I wasn’t able to provide that and really wanted to this year. Players will still need to contact me if they want to make changes to a bracket, but now they have the tools to see what they need to.

While just doing the above was a major undertaking, as I started working, I ended up doing those things as well as a complete reworking of all of the pages and nearly all of the code. Most of these are behind the scenes but here are some new additions that really advance the site into newer techniques.

  • All PHP. In the past, I have used a Perl script generated by my pool software to insert entries into the database staging area. This year, I completely wrote that functionality into my own PHP.
  • Complete CSS. I replaced nearly all inline style declarations and created solid CSS in two files (one for the pages, and one to specifically define the bracket and location of teams and results).
  • 100% Validation. HTML has changed a lot since I was first introduced to it back in 1995. Now pages have important DOCTYPES that follow particular formatting to ensure that all browsers interpret the pages properly. I updated every page to ensure and check for XHTML validation. I can even have the seal of approval on the site to prove validation.

I am very pleased with how the site is turning out and should only have to make very minor changes when the 2012 version of my pool software comes out. I don’t plan on any more changes/enhancements for this year, but am already trying to think of possible changes for next year (perhaps looking into using AJAX instead of iframes to serve up the pages).

I hope you are all planning on joining this year as well. Details will be sent as the time draws near!

Technology by Spencer on October 9, 2011

Testing From the iPad

This probably won’t be a very long post at all, but I just found the WordPress app for the iPad and wanted to try it out. So far it looks like a simple interface that could work out fairly well to allow for more short posts from time to time.

Like I said a short one to test the new app. Take care all.

Technology by Spencer on June 27, 2009

From Money to Quicken…

UPDATE: The guide can be found here (http://spencer.stantonfamilyonline.com/MoneyTransition.html).

A couple of weeks ago, when opening Microsoft Money; I got the pop up message stating that Microsoft will stop supporting Money over the next couple of years and will no longer produce new versions.  I have been a user of Money since I graduated college so this was quite devistating.  Now I would have to switch to Quicken or eventually lose the online services of Money (stock quotes, bank transactions, etc.) that I really enjoy.

The problem is this: there is NO GOOD way to move from Money to Quicken.  A number of years back, I ran Money and Quicken side by side to see which was better.  Money barely edged out Quicken and I hadn’t looked back since.  Now that I have to, I wanted to see if there was any better method for transitioning.  They have a new data converter; hopefully that will be better.  I tried it, and there is a lot left to be desired.  Accounts all come in as either banking or investing (no differentiation between credit cards or others you can create in Quicken, but once created can’t be changed, a short sighted error on Intuit’s part).  I’m fairly picky when it comes to the details in my finances, so that option just didn’t work for me.

I’m told that Quicken 2010 will have a better transition option from Money since they know now that Money won’t be updated; well I’m a bit bitter so I wanted to switch to Quicken quickly and get it over with instead of waiting for a transition plan that they’ve never gotten right in the 20+ years that they have competed in this market for personal finance software.

So, the bottom line is, I figured out my own method using as much automatic information from Money as possible and doing the rest by hand and I have now officially finished the switch to Quicken… would have been better to have made that decision 6 years ago.  I am sure that there are others that are interested so I will be writing an extensive guide and will post a link here to help out others who don’t want to wait and see if 2010 will have a good transition.  My guess is no matter what, there will be some manual work that needs to be done.

Overall, I still like Money and am sad that it is going away.  I’m sure Quicken will do all that I want and more and as I get used to it will forget all about Microsoft’s product.  Money, R.I.P.

Life &Technology by Spencer on April 15, 2009

Extended Wear Contacts – The Experiment

Greetings friends,

I have worn contacts on and off (mostly off lately) since I was in 6th grade.  When I wear them, I’ve never had any real problem with them and my eyes tend to take to them fairly well.  The only issue as I’ve gotten older is the lack in desire to put them in and take them out each day.  It’s hard to put my finger in my eye around 5:00 am.

I had heard about extended wear contacts but had never inquired about them with my eye doctor.  My yearly exam was yesterday so I thought I’d ask.  He told me my current lenses were approved for extended wear and told me to wear them for a week, take a break overnight, and then wear them for another week before throwing them away.  I can sleep in them and everything.

Excited, I put in a new pair yesterday and am seeing how this works out.  For the first time, I slept overnight in my contacts.  It was a bit strange.  When I woke up in the middle of the night, I could see; and this morning could see the alarm clock time without squinting.  So far, other than my eyes feeling a little dry periodically (I’ll pick up some drops the next time I’m at the store as it isn’t a major issue at this point) I’m liking it. Of course, it will take a few weeks to really determine if this will work for me.

Technology by Spencer on January 31, 2008

Ahh… PHP

PHP Logo

As I gear up for my annual NCAA Tournament Pool (details to come closer to tourney time) I have been working on a completely new site design with new features and a more flawless method of keeping the site up to date.  In previous years, the pool program I use would run a scheduler periodically and build all of the web pages for my site and upload them via FTP.  Not an entirely bad solution, except the FTP wasn’t the most reliable and would just die in the middle.  I’m sure this was more of an issue with my free cox.net account than the pool software, but nevertheless I wanted something more.

Low and behold, in comes PHP and MySQL to the rescue.  Now, I can use a database on the web server that will still have to get updated by the scheduler in my pool program (connected via ODBC).  Instead of having to FTP all of the report files, I’ve written PHP functions to connect to my database and update things automatically.  So far everything has tested well and looks good.  I think there are still some reports that will have to get uploaded unless this year’s software adds more information to the database or I work more on parsing through the data currently there to generate all reports myself.

PHP was fairly easy to learn and work with once I figured out how scoping of variables work (quite differently than all other programming languages I’ve worked with in the past) and the speed seems to be reasonable as well.  It reminds me a bit of Java Servlets  in that you use the scripting language to generate HTML code.  I look forward to hopefully enjoying a much more automated pool running experience this year.

Technology by Spencer on August 2, 2006

Total Geek Item for Cars

Greetings all,

Ok, I finally paid off my Saturn, and while I love the car and feel I have the last manual transmission in the United States, I’m jonesing for a new car.  I don’t need a new car, and I certainly don’t mind what I’m driving, except I love the little information gauges you can get in luxury cars.  I’m talking about really cool things like MPG, Average MPG, Miles left in tank, Gallons left, Extra trip odometers, etc.  I had all of this in my rental car (Mercury Grand Marquis, baby blue, perfect for retirement area Florida) and loved it even for just the two days I had the car.

So, this made me start looking for cars with this kind of information.  I’ve given up the idea of a navigation system… I hardly drive anywhere new so I really don’t need one.  I don’t need a new radio/CD player as mine is just fine and I don’t care for the XM or Sirius which tends to come with the navigation features anyway.  However, the Driver Information Center (GM’s term for these nifty features) is available on a Chevrolet Impala.  Hmm… a nice, new, fairly affordable Impala sounds really nice and the new design is pretty sleek as well.  Sounding better.

But, do I really want to chain myself down with another car payment just to get these nifty features and lose the manual transmission?  Hmm… there has to be a better way; someone somewhere has to make an after-market gauge that can keep track of these things.  During my lunch break, I decided to search for such an item expecting to find a whole bunch of them.  Alas, I only found one, and it’s not cheap at $170, but for a computer geek who likes to know weird things about driving statistics, this fits the bill.

It’s called the ScanGauge II and it has everything I mentioned above and even more than that.  This thing totally looks like the way to go.  ($170 is a lot cheaper than $27,000)  I’ll have to think about it and then find a place where I would actually put the thing that would work in my car.  Another nifty feature, supposedly coming out soon is the ability to upload the data to a computer.  That would probably just about send the wife packing, huh honey?

I’ll let you know if I get it and if I do, how it works out.  Have a great day!

Technology by Spencer on April 13, 2006

Computer Rebuild Project

Ahhhh!!  So after my new printer woes (documented thoroughly in a previous post), I decided that it was time to rebuild our laptop… from scratch.  I’m going to get that printer installed properly, dammit!

I pondered this decision for quite a while weighing all the pros and cons (no need to detail those here and bore you even more) and finally made the leap this week.  On Tuesday I backed up all data files and programs to my MP3 player, which conveniently has the ability to store data files as well, which took a while, of course.  And yesterday, took the plunge and used HP’s nifty little quick restore to format and rebuild the computer to factory settings.

VICTORY!!! Everything came up nicely, got back connected to my wireless and after a few updates to Windows, tried to install the printer.  Bingo, bango, bongo, worked the first time.  Ahhhh… I feel better already.  Uninstalled some of the silly programs that came with the HP, got my and my wife’s profiles started back up and we’re off to the races.

Tonight, I just have to transfer back our data files, install Office and then we’ll be back in business fully as I can add programs I truly used at my own pace.

My thoughts now are that I should have done this long ago.  In college, I would generally rebuild once a year to extend the life of the computer (and often times, switch operating systems to my latest choice in Linux, remember I am a total geek!).  This laptop had been going on 3 years without a rebuild.  Now it can go another two or so before we really have to dump it for something new, hopefully; we’ll see how I feel after Windows Vista comes out.

Well, most of you have probably stopped reading by now.  I would have too if I were in your shoes.  Have a great day and keep on keeping on!

Technology by Spencer on March 14, 2006

New Printer Woes

So, my wife and I just bought a new HP All-in-One printer since our other two printers pretty much became unuseable around the same time and I’ve spent all freaking night trying to install the software for it.  I know you probably don’t care, but while I’m trying to download the contents of the CD to my computer (500 MB eek!) I’m going to vent.

5:15 pm – First install – I’m really excited that it has a network interface so that we can print even if our laptop isn’t at it’s dock, that’s just way cool.  The install takes about 35 minutes in all, but isn’t too bad.  I have to reboot and then finish the setup… no problem.  Then I try to use the software to scan and it gives me some BS about having to reboot or re-install.  I reboot just to make it happy and the same thing occurs.  So I try to re-install just that piece but I can’t find an install for just the scanning piece so I uninstall the entire package and try again.

6:00 pm – Second install – Here’s where things really start to go wrong.  I install again and somewhere in the middle the installer crashes, just disappears POOF!  So, I do what any reasonable person would do, I reboot hoping it finished but just didn’t look like it.  Now I can’t do anything but print (no faxing, no scanning) so I’m two steps back.  The software doesn’t even show all the icons I need… so I uninstall again.

7:00 pm – Third install – I reset the printer and everything to their “factory” defaults (funny, the time didn’t clear and the network settings stayed the same, the only thing that changed is Auto Answer was turned back on for the fax).  Re-install a couple of times without uninstalling hoping it would get past it’s crashing point… you guessed it, not a chance.

… (tried this a few more times until…)

8:30 pm – HP Support – I first look up on their website under installation issues to see if I can find my problem(s).  I do, but the solution is uninstall/re-install.  Sound familiar?  Yeah, to me too.  I then try to call HP support.  After being on hold for about 10 minutes someone (who was most certainly not from this country, but that’s another blog altogether) answers and for some reason can’t hear me talk and he hangs up on me!  So as a last resort, I use their chat service and that proved to be utterly useless… he only suggested that I copy the install files to my local hard drive and try the install again.  If it works, kudos to him, but in my experience, I’m not all that convinced.  I did also find some files that may have been trouble and deleted them but again, I’m shooting at straws.

Now – The file is almost finished downloading and is copying from the temp location to my desktop and I will give it ONE MORE TRY tonight.  I’ll let you all know if it works, as if you truly care (and I’ll pretend that you do).

Wish me and my printer luck.  Once it gets working, I think it’ll totally rock!