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May 29, 2007

Kaspersky Beats McAfee

Back in December Staples had a deal where you could get McAfee Total Protection anti-virus suite for free after mail-in rebates. Susan and I each got a copy and Susan also wound up getting a copy for her mom. I told my mom about the deal and she bought a copy as well. Mom uninstalled hers within a couple of days because it was slowing her computer down so much. I hung on for a few months until I had trouble with iTunes being blocked. Then a few weeks ago I was at Susan's and her computer was so slow you couldn't even have a menu drop down in Internet Explorer. I uninstalled McAfee and it was off to the races again.

Since then I've been looking for a replacement. I was thinking Norton, but it gets reviews nearly as bad as McAfee on Amazon. When I was at Fry's this weekend, they had a bunch of software titles that were free after rebate. I could pick from Norton Anti-Virus (not the whole suite), Trend Micro's PC-Cillin, Kaspersky Internet Security 6.0, and ZoneAlarm Internet Security Suite. After reading some reviews, I decided on Kaspersky. Their anti-virus software is top-rated by Consumer Reports and is at the heart of a number of other protection suites, including ZoneAlarm and F-Prot.

The box actually included a manual . . . and it was in English! And not in any other languages, even though Kaspersky is a Russian company. They probably have different packages for different countries. And why not? The US market has to be huge.

The install was pretty simple. Once I was done I had to download updates which were about 4 MB (vs. about 30 MB for McAfee). It then had to run through a whole system scan which took about 4 hours, but that's kind of unavoidable. It picked up an old setup file that it said had Gator Gain, so I deleted that file. Unlike McAfee it doesn't bug me all the time asking about permissions to use the internet, etc. However it does seem to be filtering my Mozilla mail (we'll see how that goes since it has been getting some junk lately) which McAfee never picked up on.

One thing it does, which I can turn off, is it pops up and tells me anytime someone is trying to get through the firewall. It happens a few times an hour. It's kind of satisfying to know those things are being blocked, so I'm keeping that.

So far, so good. I'll do a reply if anything new happens.

May 28, 2007

Balloon Flower

I planted some balloon flowers several years ago. Though they don't always come back, in general they will in Atlanta at least. Mom has some by her mailbox that have done great and Susan planted some at her house that have come back strong this year. Unfortunately I had some mums and lamb's ear that overtook where I planted my balloon flowers, so they have gone away for the most part. But I got a couple of stalks that came up this year (the mum having obligingly died, and therefore no longer in the way) and I noticed they were a perfect example of why they are called balloon flowers. On the left is one that is puffed up and the other has already burst open. They are also called by their scientific name platycodon (or platycodon grandiflorus) and Chinese bellflower (on wikipedia).

Google in a Groove

I recently got another payment from Google (my seventh). They pay after the end of the month once you surpass $100 in earnings. This payment was my fifth quarterly payment in a row. While earnings have been down a little lately, taking 3 months to earn a payment seems pretty consistent.

Grant's New Computer

Last Thursday Grant sent me an e-mail and said he would like some help in buying a new desktop computer that he could use for e-mail, internet, and QuickBooks. I asked him if he wanted a monitor and he said it should include that. So I went to Dell and priced out a pretty decent system. I had to add a couple of small extras to get it over $600 and get free shipping.

It arrived earlier this week. It still needed a few things. One was some way of getting on Grant's wireless network. His router is tucked away and he didn't want to run a cable to the new computer (I don't blame him). Dell doesn't seem to offer internal wireless cards for desktop computers. Fortunately Mom had given me her wireless USB thumb drive when Fry's replaced her laptop with one that already had wireless installed. Also I told Grant I could give him some speakers which saved a few dollars.

I went to Athens today to deliver the goods. There were things that were really easy, and things that seemed harder than necessary. I tried to installed the software for the wireless drive and it wouldn't do this since the software was only for Windows 98, 2000, and XP. Grant has Vista. This was a problem because I couldn't get to the internet to download updated drivers. I plugged the drive in anyway and when it asked, I pointed it to the installation CD. It installed the drivers no problem.

Now I opened Internet Explorer, but nothing was happening. So then I had to go to Control Panels and look for the wireless settings, which they have put in with Networking. It seems like Windows should have done this when it installed the drivers for a wireless internet device. Once I was in the right control panel Windows did find Grant's network and we connected without a problem. So that was really pretty easy considering how hard it can be to get a wireless network going sometimes.

One thing that took me a really long time was getting the monitor resolution right. Grant had gotten a widescreen monitor but everything looked really fat on it. I played around with some different settings, but *everything* looked fat. When I chose something that should have fit a widescreen, it matted the screen on the top and bottom and still made it look fat. Eventually I figured out that I had to select the aspect ratio setting to stretch to fit the entire screen. I finally found a setting that looked right.

The other thing that was vexing was all of the garbage that is installed. Google Toolbar installed itself on the desktop with an automatic splash screen on startup. And Dell service and updates kept popping up. Then Norton kept popping up asking if it should be installed, updated, scan, etc. Even when Norton was installing, Norton was asking whether I wanted to allow Norton to install. I don't think Apple would ever allow that to be the out of box experience. Of course all of these things come with dire warnings, like "Allowing this activity could put your computer at risk." Reminds me a lot of the Mac vs. PC ads where the Vista secret service guy asks PC whether he wants to "cancel or allow" every time.

So I got a lot of that stuff to stop coming up at startup and got Norton all happy. There were also desktop widgets (a new thing in Vista), one of which was set up to tell the weather in Round Rock, Dell's headquarters. I'm thinking not a lot of Dell's customers care about the weather in Round Rock. Why not set that to the city where the computer is being delivered? There were a couple of other widgets: one that scrolled through pictures and one that popped up news headlines. I wanted to configure that to sports scores which I thought Grant would be more interested in, but nothing doing. It listed all of these different countries I could receive headlines for, but that was it.

May 27, 2007

Fixing the Movies

I've spent a chunk of the last two weekends going through all of my movie reviews and fixing them up. A lot of times when I write a review, I might reference another movie I've reviewed and I'm too lazy at the time to put in a hyperlink reference. Also, because I usually write these on AMUG and then just copy them into a separate file for my web page, I don't italicize movie titles like I'm supposed to. So I went through all of my reviews (I'm up to 238 movies reviewed over the last 10 years) and fixed them up. It took a lot of time, but at least this weekend I was doing it while I was encoding new episodes from Seinfeld Seasons 3 and 7 DVD's (which I got a good deal on at Fry's yesterday; now I have everything through Season 7 and will wait to buy the just-released Season 8 when the price comes down).

In cross-referencing movies, some kept showing up over and over again. The Matrix and American Beauty showed up quite a bit, both from 1999. In fact, 1999 was referenced more often than any other year. Toy Story 2, Notting Hill, Fight Club, Three Kings, and Sixth Sense are all referenced. I didn't like all of those movies, but they did set a certain type of standard or were good examples to reference later. It's hard to know when you're in a year whether it is really a good or bad year for movies, but after some time, it does start becoming clearer.

While adding the italics, I had to make a decision about whether to include any punctuation like a comma or period at the end of the movie title. I decided the hyperlink should not include the punctuation, but to prevent an abrupt style change, the punctuation should also be in italics. This meant I needed to include the italics tag first and the hyperlink tag second. Then I started getting in to things where there was a question mark or a parentheses following the movie. Pretty soon I was doubting myself. I looked it up and apparently the punctuation isn't supposed to be italicized unless it is part of the movie (like Monsters, Inc.). So then I went back and fixed that.

I don't get many visitors to the movie reviews web site because the market is overcrowded with reviewers and there are a lot better reviewers than I am, but I do enjoy going back and reading what I first thought about something. My review of Pleasantville mentioned the very strong cast including the two teenagers: "the guy who was a college student in The Ice Storm and a girl who I didn't recognize." Those two were Tobey Maguire (who would become Spiderman among many other roles) and Reese Witherspoon (who I've seen in at least five movies since then).

May 10, 2007

Bathroom: Day 14

The bathrooms are essentially done now. I still need to paint the trim and ceiling, put in towel bars, a mirror in the main bathroom, a shower curtain, etc. But the big stuff is done. Stanley installed the baseboards using pre-primed wood, so in these pictures they look good, but actually still need a final coat of paint. Also I swapped out the old ivory switches and outlets with white ones, which makes them match better. I like the color and the contrast between the white trim, blue walls, and dark brown floor. The hall sink is much higher than a normal sink which is kind of nice.

Tub Sink

With the wall color being the same, it might be kind of confusing in the pictures as to which bathroom is which, but the pictures above are the hall bath and the ones below are the master. Dad came over the night before going to Florida to see the work for himself. He asked Mom if she wanted to go over with him and she said "No way!" She did great to get all of this finished before Florida. She has a list of minor stuff that we might do when she gets back. Stanley couldn't find vent registers the right size, so instead he sanded the old ones and repainted them. They look pretty much like new.

Shower Toilet

Previously: Day 9

May 7, 2007

Bathroom: Day 13

It's always a big day when the hardware gets installed. Today the hall bath got shower fixtures, the toilet, and pedestal sink. Stanley worked on touching up some other items and should install the baseboard trim tomorrow. Then it will be up to me to paint the trim and ceiling. The old trim won't be a picnic. Originally Stanley was going to replace the door, but modern doors have three hinges and old doors like mine only have two, so I think he decided it was more trouble than it was worth to do the door, but that I could pursue replacing all the doors at some point in the future. The problem with the old doors, old trim, and old cabinets is that I just don't see how they can ever be fixed up to look very good with all the damage and layers of paint they have on them.

Tub Fixtures Sink

Previously: Day 9

Next: Day 14

May 6, 2007

Bathroom: Day 9

These pictures show what happened on Days 9-12 actually. Thursday the electrician came and moved the outlet in my bathroom. Then the sheetrock guy came and put in the walls in the hall bath. Day 10 was Friday and not much happened (though that was the day the floor was put in the den, so really a whole lot happened).

Drywall Shower

Days 11 and 12 this weekend were for painting. Susan came over both days and painted the edges while I rolled the walls. Despite the sheetrock guy supposedly prepping the walls, then Stanley going over them again on Friday, I still had to do a lot of sanding and there were still rough spots that I missed. One gallon of blue vetch covered both bathrooms in two coats with some left over for touchup that needs to happen. I went to Porter Paints in Tucker which was nice because it wasn't crowded at all and the guy was fairly helpful. I asked for a color between blue vetch (a little light) and tropic bird (too dark), but through much work he managed only to recreate blue vetch. It was easier doing the big bathroom since there was more room for the two of us to work and not as much to paint around since the sink and toilet aren't in place yet. Jeb came by Sunday evening to see the progress and show us his new car.

Vanity Toilet

Previously: Day 8

Next: Day 13

May 4, 2007

Tile in the Den

The back room with the awful pink carpet used to be a porch and was enclosed at some point early on at my house. Since it has a concrete slab underneath, I thought tile might make a good replacement for the carpet (I wasn't the first to think this: when I pulled up the carpet there was tile like they use in schools already under there). With the dogs coming in and out of the backyard through that room, it picks up a lot of dirt and even hardwood floors would probably get scratched up from the grit.

Susan had plans to do something similar in her kitchen at her old house. She even bought some terracotta colored ceramic tile for the project. But she moved before she could start on that and moved the tile with her to the new house. After the bathrooms I felt the next most urgent project was putting the tile down and Susan agreed to let me buy her tile from her at a discount. Unfortunately there were 241 square feet of den and only 231 square feet of tile. tilefloor.jpg I might have been able to buy some more which may or may not have matched (it wouldn't have to match exactly anyway), but decided to put in a brown rectangle of contrasting tile in the middle of the room. Mom and I sat down and figured out how we could do the pattern and Mom picked out the tile (pretty close to my bathroom tile). At first we were going to get 16-inch tile, but the brown 16-inch tile was slightly different in size than the terracotta 16-inch tile. So they wouldn't line up.

We wound up using 13-inch tiles with an angled pattern that turned out better anyway. Miguel did a great job in keeping the rectangle symetrical. The brown rectangle was laid out by lining up the angled squares as diamonds. It is 7 diamonds by 6 diamonds. Each inside corner has the same notched out brown piece you see in the picture below and he cut some of the terracotta tiles to fit inside the border. tilefloor2.jpg In fact, of the 30 tiles in the middle of the rectangle, only 12 of them weren't cut (Mom says this would not have happened except that she showed Miguel how he needed to do this to keep it symetrical). Then he had to cut the terracotta tile around the rectangle to make it come out in a grid consistent with the middle red tiles. And once he got to the walls, there was more cutting. They worked all day on it and finished tonight at about 9. There were just three terracotta tiles left over. They will grout tomorrow with a nutmeg color of grout that Mom picked out (the second picture shows the finished product with the grout).

Microsoft Help

Our office upgraded to Microsoft Office 2007 this week. Mom upgraded several weeks ago. So today Mom said that the place she takes her newletter to for printing couldn't read the file she had made in Publisher 2007. I said can't you just save it as an earlier version. She eventually found a place where she could save it as a Publisher 2000 file (why not 2003, the next most recent version?). I went to Microsoft for help. I tried Help that was installed with Office first. Whoops. I don't guess Help was installed with Office (I have no idea why this would even be an option). So I switched to online help and the internet.

Microsoft said that older versions of software could download a patch that would allow those programs to use the new file format the Microsoft was using in 2007 and they included a link to Microsoft Online. But rather than link to the page with the download, they linked to the homepage of MS Online. Then you had to find it. I clicked on Downloads and all I found was a patch made in 2004, but nothing about reading files. Eventually I did find it by looking under popular downloads. Why not just link to the page with the download from help?

They also said that if you wanted, you could have Publisher 2007 work in "Compatibility Mode" with an older version. While that would disable the newer features of 2007, it would produce a file that could be read in 2003. That was probably what Mom needed to do even though she had started in 2007, so that she could see what changes came about (that's part of the problem: when you save to an older version Microsoft throws up an ominous warning box saying you will be getting rid of features not supported in the older software and your document will look different). So I looked for help on how to actually work in Compatibility Mode. All I found in a search was the FAQ I was already in. So I still don't know how to do that.

One of the people in my group doesn't like Office's "ribbon" where all the commands are stored (as opposed to the old menus). She wanted to turn her macro protection down a notch so that one of her old spreadsheets would work. It used to be under Tools:Macros:Macro Security. But there is no Tools menu anymore. We did find a way to it in a piece of screen that popped up a warning about the dangers of macros and eventually got the setting right. But that made me think that there was probably a setting Microsoft included to revert to "Classic Menus" like they did with a lot of the changes introduced in Windows XP. But there isn't. An internet search led me to a company that will sell you a plug-in for $30 that will bring back the old menus with the new commands included. Given the way our upgrade was rolled out (one night Office 2007 was just automatically installed), that would have been a really nice option even if you could only do it temporarily so that you could find the command (Lotus 1-2-3 had a feature like that in its Windows version that would let you use the old DOS version keystrokes that some people were amazingly proficient with).

Microsoft is the world leader in software and spent millions if not billions on rewriting Office, but they still seem to live in a world where they only feel a need to explain things to people who have never used the product before and won't be using anything else.

No worries for me just yet. My computer is about five years old at work and is still running on Windows 2000. Office 2007 requires WIndows XP.

May 2, 2007

Bathroom: Day 8

This morning I took a shower in the master bathroom for the first time in several years. It seemed to work just fine. The trap in the vanity leaks a little bit. Other than that, the only new thing in there was they put the light fixture up over the mirror. I didn't think it warranted a picture though.

In the hall bath they tiled above the tub and tiled the floor. I think it turned out great with the line at eye level and the bull nose along the edges, though it seems like the bull nose is a slightly different color. I'm not sure if it matters or not.

Anyway, it looks good. They should be able to grout tomorrow and maybe install the sink and toilet. Stanley says the electrician and drywall guys will come tomorrow and finish up their work.

In another room completely, Mom says Miguel may be able to start putting tile down in the back room this week. I've decided to use Susan's terra cotta tile with a brown rectangle accent. So they might start tearing out the pink carpet tomorrow if I can get all of the furniture moved out of that room tonight. That will be the last project for a while.

Tub Floor

Previously: Day 7

Next: Day 9

May 1, 2007

Bathroom: Day 7

In the master bathroom the sink was hooked up and is running. Also the medicine cabinet was installed.


In the main bath, Stanley finished working on the floor and the tub was put in. That means tiling should be able to start tomorrow. Mom picked up the pedestal sink at Home Depot today, so things are coming together. Stanley had picked out the tub. I was thinking maybe I should have opted for a cast iron tub instead of Americast by American Standard (sheet metal and fiberglass with a porcelain finish). At Home Depot I saw an Americast tub and it seemed kind of flimsy, but with it installed it seems very solid and I can't tell any difference between it and cast iron.

Tub Sink

Previously: Day 6

Next: Day 8