Saturday, November 29, 2008

Shopping deals

When shopping, especially for tech stuff, I typically check out edealinfo. That web site collects on-line coupons, promotions, and sales. They post these as applied to products, sometimes showing neat combinations for super deals. While I encourage you to just click over and look around, here are a few of the page I particularly like:

  • This page collects deals for Dell computers. Even if I am not getting a Dell (dude), I use this page to provide a nice baseline
  • A page collecting credit cards deals can be useful, although I have not really used this one all that much
  • My favorite page is probably the one with free stuff. Who doesn't like free stuff? There normally ends up being a shipping cost or something, but normally they are still a good deal
  • If you like edealinfo, you might consider subscribing to one or more of their RSS feeds in order to keep on top of their many deals
Feel free to share any other deal sites or specific deals. There are tons of good deals out there to be had, it is just a matter of finding them at the right time.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

BAE Systems Career Fair Events

BAE Systems is hiring with positions in both Engineering and Operations. I am not a recruiter for BAE, but wanted to spread the word anyway. Please check out the web site for an upcoming career fair in Nashua, New Hampshire. If you are interested in these opportunities but are not in the New England area then you should check out the virtual career fair. If you feel I know you well enough to refer you for work BAE Systems, then please let me know and I would be happy to submit a referral internally. Good luck!

Monday, November 24, 2008

Windows software

Over the years I have collected lists of useful, cool, and free software for Microsoft Windows. Although I may not always have all of these tools installed, I have most of the tools installed most of the time. I share them here in case you have not heard of some of them before. Please share any you might think I am missing. Remember, they have to be free and for windows

  • I heard from Dvorak about AVG Free, a free anti-virus program that should be adequate for home use.
  • Microsoft offers a collection of Power Toys for Windows XP. Although their usefulness varies, I like the more intelligent task switcher and the desktop manager.
  • Crap Cleaner lives up to its name. During regular use, stuff collects in Windows like plaque on teeth. Crap Cleaner quickly, easily, and simply gets rid of all the build-up.
  • My daughter loves using Skype to talk to her great grandparents across the country. The setup is easy, it works for both PCs and Macs, and even my old computer can handle it.
  • Handbrake rips DVDs and encodes them into other formats. It is useful for getting movies onto your iPod.
  • Speaking of an iPod, you probably want to have iTunes installed. Other services are catching up and/or passing Apple's, but they are still the biggest kid on the block for now.
  • For web browsing I use Google's Chrome. This is mostly because I am a small Google fanboy. Firefox is probably still the better browser, although Chrome has some nice features and a simplistic elegance that is fun.
  • Flickr provides an uploader tool that makes uploading photos to their site very easy.
  • Google pack has a good collection of software, although I must admit that the ones I use the most are imports not made by Google (Skype and Adobe Reader).
  • The Open Disc aims to put a good collection of high quality open source software on a CD. You can see what they put on their disc and download interesting programs individually. I would recommend a few especially.
    • The Gimp is an excellent image editing program aiming to replace Adobe Photoshop.
    • Firefox is the best web browser out there as of writing this entry.
    • Pidgin puts together a bunch of IM clients into one interface making it very convenient to IM using AOL, Yahoo, MSN, and Google all at once.
    • I really like the Thunderbird email client.
    • WinSCP is useful for securely copying files, but I must admit that non-techies probably won't get excited about it.
    • Open Office continues to steadily improve as a free and compatible (for the most part) alternative to Microsoft Office.
    • Since I have not had a working printer for a few years, I rely a lot on PDF Creator. I can "print" to the pdf creator and then move the pdf to where I want to print it.
    • Although it is not the best anti-virus software, Clamwin is free.

  • The Software for Starving Students used to make a good collection of free (not necessarily open source) software. They even had a collection of free software for Apple's OS X. Most of the Windows software shows up somewhere else on my list, which is probably why the project was discontinued and the list is only available on the internet archive.

That seems to pretty much sum it up. Anything I missed? I hope you try these tools out. Some of them may be a bit different than what you are used to, but you can't beat the price. Some of the free software is actually better than their costly counterparts.

Saturday, November 22, 2008


Or how I got my DVD burner to work. You might recall from a previous post that I was having some trouble burning DVDs. At the time I achieved the desired functionality (burning a watchable DVD) by upgrading the firmware (from Liteon SOHW-1633S to 1653). However, I still could not burn data DVDs, a necessary feature for a family history project on which my wife is working.

This morning I decided that my iomega SuperDVD drive was not going to work with my computer, so I started trying to fix my wife's Mac Mini. It had also failed to burn the discs. I thought this strange, since "it just works" is one of Apple's selling points. Turns out it is also a lie. My wife's Superdrive is a Matshita DVD-R UJ-845C. After reading various help forums, I determined that an update on the Mini had broken DVD burning for a lot of people with this drive and that Apple and Matshita were both not doing anything about it. A simple firmware update would fix it, but none of the updates released by Apple seemed to do the job (1.0, 2.0, or the risky and recalled 2.1). So, I gave up on the Superdrive as well.

Now, just to be silly, I pulled the iomega SuperDVD off of my desk and plugged it into my wife's Mac Mini. Nothing appeared to happen. I inserted a blank DVD. It opened the DVD, I dragged files to burn from the computer, clicked burn, and waited for it to finish. Everything went fine. We are now on burn number five of our media of which we need ten copies. The Superdrive may not have "just worked," but the iomega external drive sure did.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Google Reader

Whether you know it or not, you probably read RSS (real simple syndication) feeds. You also probably share the items on these feeds with your friends. My favorite tool for both reading and sharing is Google Reader.

Here is a video overview of the service, including how to get started (the voice is kind of loud, so watch your volume):

Here are some other sites for getting started:
  • Google's tour of Reader
  • Another video intro to Reader
  • cnet's newbie guide to Reader

    None of those guides is perfect, but they should all give you an idea. Here is my one paragraph guide for the super lazy and/or busy: Go to Google Reader and sign in using your Google account. If you are the last person in the world to have a Google account, now would be a good time to sign up. Now that you are in Reader, you want to add subscriptions. In separate tabs (if you are still using IE6, just give up and go home. Seriously) open up some of your favorite news sites and look for the RSS icon () or something that says RSS. Click on it to open a nasty looking text page (the feed). Highlight the URL and then go back to the Reader tab. Click on add a subscription and then paste the copied URL. Click "add" and then hope for the best.

    Eventually you will get the hang of things and realize that there are different ways to do things, but that should get you going. One cool part of Reader is sharing. You can check your sharing settings under "Sharing settings." When you are reading an article or summary in Reader, at the bottom is a link that says "Share" and has a gray version of the RSS logo to the left of it. When you click on it, the logo turns orange and you have shared that article. The article then shows up in your public feed ("Shared items") and it gets shared with your friends. Here's a link to my shared items. That's it!

    Alright, maybe the other guides are better. Oh well. Here are a couple of links for even more information:
  • Wikipedia entry on Google Reader
  • The official Google Reader blog
  • Sunday, November 16, 2008

    Internet Archive

    I have been collecting a list of useful programs for another post. One of my favorite sites for finding the newest and coolest free useful programs was Software for Starving Students (I believe some students from BYU, my alma mater, started the project). However, those of you who click on that site will notice that the project is no longer maintained. Although OpenDisc is also a great project, I find it does not have the breadth that the SSS discs did. I found the most useful part of the web site to be the list of applications in their FAQ, and I really wanted to see what used to be on that list now that it was no longer there.

    Enter the Internet Archive. I first heard about the Internet Archive on TWiT 144. Little did I know how useful I would find it to be. The Internet Archive is a pretty straightforward idea: archiving the internet. So they just make copies of all the tubes and put them in filing cabinets somewhere. . . . Obviously the process is a little different, but the idea is to archive the internet so when a page goes away, the information does not get lost.

    The Archive has a search engine called the "Wayback Machine." I simply typed in the URL for the Software for Starving Students site and then clicked on "Take Me Back." Up came a listing of all the times the site had been archived. I clicked on the most recent archive, Jan 27, 2008, and discovered (to my delight) that the website was still up at that time. I clicked on the FAQ link and went to that page in the archive. It was a bit slow, but it was there!

    What does this mean? If some web page has changed and you need info on the old page, you may still be able to find it. This also means that the pictures of you and your ex-boyfriend you thought you took down may still live on. . . and on. . . and on!

    Saturday, November 15, 2008

    Popular posts

    It turns out I have had two semi-successful blog posts. No, they did not make the front page of Digg. No, they did not make me semi-wealthy. One of them did get copied by another blog, and another comes up fairly high on Google.

    My post on my Google phone interview drew a little attention. Most of this attention came from my lab mate at school, but apparently somebody else caught on.
    This blog of Google interview experiences lifted my post right out of my blog, along with some information from my old personal web page. I'm somewhat annoyed that I was not asked and that my original blog post is not cited, but the post has back links inside of it and the coolness of being noticed outshines the annoying-ness of being ripped off. Please just ask and (especially) cite before stealing, I will more likely than not okay it. Back to the subject at hand: that post got noticed.

    My post on my troubles with iTunes 7.5 pulled in a lot of comments, most of which expressing gratitude for fixing a common problem. It was very cool to help people all over the world avoid the same pitfalls I was having.

    The logical question is: how do I write more posts like this? The answer is: I do not know. Two out of almost a hundred is not enough to see a trend. Obviously, I want to write about things appealing to large amounts of people. That is hard to think up, though!

    Wednesday, November 12, 2008

    DVD burner

    A while back I inherited a DVD burner. My media collection has finally gotten to the point where CDs do not work well for backups. This is mostly thanks to the nice camera my grandparents got me two years ago. The pictures take up more space, and backing them up no longer fits on single CDs. I figured a DVD burner would be useful to deal with this. Being the lazy/cheap person that I am, I never bought DVDs for it.

    Here are the specs:
    iomega SuperDVD
    P/N 31367200
    Liteon SOHW-1633S burner

    My wife did a family history project over the summer which needed the DVD burner so we purchased a spindle of DVDs. I had never burned DVDs before and knew little to nothing about how to do it. So I gave my wife no guidance on what type of media to purchase. It turns out that this was probably a mistake, as using high-quality media when burning DVDs is important. See The Golden Rules of Burning.

    We tried to burn the DVDs and could not burn data discs. We tried both my "new" DVD burner and her Mac mini. This was right during my dissertation defense and our move to Massachusetts, so only a quick attempt was made and then the project was shelved. The DVDs never even seemed to start writing before an error occurred (sorry, I do not still have the error written down).

    Then, a week and a half ago, a friend of mine asked if I could burn some movies of him teaching a class to a DVD. I said I would look into it and get back to him. This motivated him to get my DVD recorder working. It took a lot of searching, but eventually I found this forum thread which seemed to address my problem. The solution I tried was to upgrade my firmware to a 1653. This allowed me to burn the DVD media using the software which came with the burner.

    A few warnings: First, the DVD creation software has two options for closing. The first is a quick version and that seems to work fine (played in my DVD player). The second option claims to be more compatible, but all it really seemed to do was kill the burn at the very end. Second, I always have burned (so far) at the slowest possible setting (again, see The Golden Rules of Burning). Third, I still have not successfully burned a data DVD. The player treats the media as CDs in the bundled software, and the windows driver says it's a CD player.

    If anybody has any insight about burning data discs using a Liteon DVDRW SOHW-1633S USB burner that has been flashed with a Liteon DVDRW SOHW-1653S USB burner firmware, please feel free to share. I imagine I will figure it out on my own, though. I just need to put in the time. I will blog about my inevitable success!

    Saturday, November 08, 2008

    My blog changes

    I have had this blog for a while, but this has been my first semi-serious attempt to make it interesting/cool/useful/attractive for anybody other than myself. I am happy to talk about any of the things I did or ideas I tried, and will share code if you are interested. Hopefully I can be a useful resource for setting up your own blog.

    What I am a little hazy on is how to set up the actual blog on Blogger and the process for signing up for AdSense. I did both of those steps a long time ago. However, I remember them being very straightforward. Since Google makes money on their ads, they want you to be able to put them on your blog!

    To see how I did the three-column layout, checkout my previous post.

    There were several widgets I wanted to add into my site. Adding widgets is easy in blogger. You just go to the "Layout" tab and then click on "Add a Gadget." The easiest ones to add are the ones Google provides, but you can add almost anything through the "HTML/JavaScript" option. You just have to not be scared of a little code. I added these four widgets using "HTML/JavaScript": FriendFeed, Flickr, Goodreads, and Google Calendar. Each site has instructions for getting the code, and then you just add it to through the Blogger add gadget interface.

    I wanted to add a favicon and found these instructions. They do not seem to work. I looked around a bit for some other instructions, but they did not work either. If you know how to do this, please share. If I take some time to figure it out, I'll blog it.

    There were a few tricky things I wanted that Blogger did not provide and that weren't straightforward cuts and pastes into a single gadget. This site has 15 useful widgets and scripts for Blogger. The two I use are recent comments and label cloud. Both have good instructions and are not difficult. They are more involved than the gadget interface.

    One problem with the way I initially set up my Blogger template is that on really short postings (such as this one) the two half-sidebars on the right would slide underneath the post instead of staying underneath the full sidebar. The correct way to fix this is CSS or div tags or something like that. My quick and dirty way to deal with it was to put everything into a two column table. However, this slowed everything down as the whole table would load at once. A little research told me how to fix it using a colgroup tag.

    If you have any questions about how I set things up, please let me know and I will see if I can answer them. If you have any comments or suggestions, please send those along as well! Thanks!

    Wednesday, November 05, 2008

    New layout

    It may not look like much yet, but I am in the middle of a major facelift for my blog. As of right now, all I have done is switched back to black text on a white background and changed the layout. You can download my layout and use it if you want. I started with a three-column template from this site and tweaked it a bit (moved the left column to the right and added a square above).

    The reason I am doing this is that my blog looked pretty shabby and I am now trying to improve it (with the goal of attracting more traffic). I decided the best way to do this was to look at how "real bloggers" did their sites, so I looked at some of my favorite "net celebrity" blogs for ideas.

    Of course, I am open for ideas from my adoring fans. Next step is adjusting the advertisements, then on to the widgets. . . .

    Tuesday, November 04, 2008


    Please go out and vote today! Even if you think your vote does not matter in the state you live in, go out and vote anyway because it does!