Friday, October 29, 2004

Back at Home (on the Road)

Today, after a week living in the jeep, we came back to Rapid City to pick up our RV from the truck repair place. Of course, it wasn't totally completed.

Here's the outline. While driving through the Badlands (lots of up hill and down hill), I noticed that the strange noise I had been hearing was much louder -- a grinding noise coming from the rear of the vehicle. It occurred every time the RV was being slowed by downshifting. Since we were soon going to cross the Rocky Mountains, I gave in to the caution and took it to a truck repair center.

The differential was wearing out. This wasn't surprising, since the U-joint had gone out during the return from California on the previous RV trip. I suspected the U-joint had damaged the differential.

During the test drive, they determined that the transmission wasn't going into first gear. They opened things up. At 115,000 miles or so, Mary Ann and I agreed that it was time for a new one.

So, with two major repairs and a handfill of little things; oxygen sensor, brake pads, etc. It was going to take several days. Mary Ann and I packed the Jeep and headed for Colorado. After Breckenridge and Estes Park, we called and after a shipping delay, we got the word that the parts had arrived and we headed back towards Rapid City.

Half-way back, we called again. Differential and transmission were working, but front bearings and the radiatior were giving problems. Another day's delay. After a side trip to the Badlands, we finally arrived back in Rapid City.

Oops, old corrosion, damaged the oil cooler lines. But rather than delay another few days until parts could be ordered, we decided to plug the optional oil cooler system and get that repaired in another city.

Tomorrow, hopefully, we will be on the road again.

Wednesday, October 27, 2004

Watching the Coyote

This morning, Mary Ann and I are parked beside the Fall River Road in Rocky Mountain National Park, waiting for the coyote to come out from behind the bushes a quarter mile across the Sheep Meadows. For two days running, while we had been watching the elk in rut, we had caught sight of this coyote. Mary Ann was certain she could predict where he would be at sunrise, so after an early morning start, we drove into the park and there he was, right where she expected.

The only problem was that this coyote was acting like all good wild predators and noticed us as quickly as we noticed him, and has been keeping an eye on us as we try to act like a big stupid rock.

This is so different from the coyote we saw in March 2003. He was a beggar. He saw humans and approached very close. Mary Ann got great photos, but it was so sad.

We may not get great coyote pictures today, but it's nice to know there is one heathy predator out there, doing his thing, pouncing on mice, and steering clear of the humans.

Monday, October 25, 2004

Political Cartoons

I am a cartoon addict. I download and view 43 different comics daily. Of course, I have automated the process to some extent, but if I subscribed to a daily newspaper, it would be the comics section I viewed first.

Not a single one of those comics are political satires from the editorial pages. That is a very conscious decision on my part. For the most part, political cartoons are a tool of hate mongers. They present something outrageous to create anger and hate. I do not care to be exposed to that. I'm very much a Philipians 4:8 kind of guy. Seek out the good and think on that.

So when I find a handful of my comics stumping for one politician or another, or even worse, against a politician, it's time to make a cull. The following comics are being removed from my rotation:

Get Fuzzy -- the mild-mannered, pro-Kerry, dog attacks his owner for thinking of voting for Nader
Over the Hedge -- the turtle stumps for Nader
Monty -- a pro-Bush supporter is protrayed as angry and bitter
B.C -- current political news (probably pro-Bush) shows up in the caves.
The Joy of Tech! -- probably the worst of the lot, replacing the comic with an anti-Bush, pro-Kerry politcal banner.

I have enjoyed all of these, but I have drawn boundary lines, and these 'entertainments' crossed them. Goodbye all.

Sunday, October 24, 2004

Reviving Windows

I've been deep into computers for decades, and with the Mac or any flavor of Unix, I can handle just about all the necessary tasks. However, because the Motosat software was Windows only, I reluctantly acquired a windows box about two and a half years ago. As a simple utility, it was okay. I rarily used it for anything other than a network bridge. The deepest I got into the operating system was to learn how to do the windows updates.

But when it died, I had to learn a whole lot more.

The repair people gave me very limited options. Since Windows didn't boot after the new mother board was installed, they offered to copy all my files to another place and then reformat the hard disk and put the files back. I was horrified. The satellite software requires a set-up procedure by the installers, some 1800 miles away. I wanted to just fix the operating system and bring everything back up like it was. The repair guy gave me no hope. "There's a repair option, but it doesn't work." he said.

Still, rather than give up and pay them the $120 price to erase my hard disk, I took it as-is and began exploring the options.

Understand that I was off in the wilderness. There weren't even any bookstores to hunt down reference manuals. I was still without internet, so no googling. And my experience with Windows was limited.

But I did have the installation disk. After several attempts to copy critical files to floppy (dinky little things) using Dos command line mode using the installer disk repair mode option, I finally began the install.

Surprise, surprise, there was an option to repair the damaged Windows image. Was this the repair that the tech guy mentioned, or was it the other repair mode that gave me a Dos prompt?

Anyway, I attempted to repair the damage windows installation. And it booted up. I was even able to run the satellite software and get internet. But there were still many problems. Internet sharing, which was how we used the system, would not work. Every attempt to turn it on failed. It looked like I would have to erase the disk and start over, but at least I had a nearly live system to run my backups.

The original satellite installers, who had put together this probably overpriced box, had included a lot of software that I had never used. One was a CD burner called Nero. I bought a bundle of blank disks and started making copies.

I have been spoiled. Burning a CD on windows was nothing like on a Mac. When a piece of software has to give you coaching hints ("The burn icon is the seventh one from the left") then you know it's got problems. After the first few times to make a back up, I got totally frustrated and was looking forward to the idea of erasing that hard disk.

By that time we had left Michigan and had stopped at Mall of America in Minneapolis. I knew there was an Apple Store there, so we went in and I bought an external hard disk that would work via USB. Now I had a real back up plan.

Unfortunately, I plugged it in, and the drive didn't appear. Always ready to think the worst of Windows, I assumed that USB had not installed correctly ( there were warnings with the motherboard). So I took a look at the windows installer again.

The menu allows you to install the system other than in C:\WINDOWS so I put it in WINDOWS2. It installed, and as I applied the motherboard drivers I was especially careful about the USB. Still no external hard drive.

Then, on a hunch, I plugged the drive into my Mac and reformatted it as MSDOS, which is actually FAT32. The drive sold in the Apple Store obviously had been formatted in HFS+, and Windows has limited abilities to recognize drive formats other than their own. Now it came up under Windows2, and Windows as well.

So now I burned gigabytes of backups. I wasn't about to lose anything if I could help it.

But there was still one bad problem. WINDOWS2 ran the satellite steering software just fine, but the DIRECWAY internet connection didn't work at all. WINDOWS could get the internet, but it was getting increasingly fragile. I took a dive into regedit and after a long hunt, I located the Hughes Satelite entries. I exported them from WINDOWS and when I imported them into WINDOWS2, the network worked!

So the time had come. With lots of backups and an install disk, I erased the hard disk, installed a clean copy of the operaing system, restored just those parts of the backups that ran the satellite and soon had a working system again.

Now, I had often thought that my dislike of Windows probably had a component of prejudice in it. If I just got my feet wet, I would find that it wasn't that bad after all.

No. I wouldn't say so. I have to use Windows for certain tasks, but it certainly takes much more effort than I want to spend. I'll stick to my Mac, thank you.

Saturday, October 23, 2004

Travelling off the Net

On the fifth of October, while travelling in Upper Penninsula Michigan, the windows box we use to steer the satellite dish and handle our internet access died. It died hard. And we dropped off the edge of the world.

Normally while travelling in our RV, we have two internet systems. One is the Motosat system. It's a steerable Direcway dish on the top of the RV. It's great and works everywhere except in the deep forest where we can't find a gap in the canopy to see the sattelite. Generally in that situation, we pull off the side of the road during the day and catch up our email downloads, web maintenance, etc. during lunch.

Our backup system is my Sprint Cell phone. I can connect a USB cable to it and Mary Ann and I share the connection.

But this time, we were in the UP. Now maybe there is a Sprint cell somewhere in the UP, but I wouldn't bet on it. Even the fallback, the dreaded Analog Roam, was barely usable. For two weeks we had to drive up and down the highways to find the strongest signal just to call family and friends to explain why we weren't answering our email.

When the Windows box failed, we were in Germfask. It's a lovely little place next to the Seney National Wildlife Refuge. Mary Ann was taking lots of great pictures. But I opened up the wooden box where the Windows machine and all its numerous fans were installed and drove the 90 miles to Escanaba in hopes of finding a repair place.

A week later, after the new motherboard had been shipped in and the system would actually run, we had moved to Ontonagon and made the day long trip to pick up the repaired machine.

The only problem was that the critical software to handle the software was on the hard disk, and would no longer boot into Windows due to the significant change in hardware.

So I was stuck again -- a Mac and Unix guy with a Windows box I had to bring back to life.

More later.

Friday, October 01, 2004

The Excellent Phantom Panel Discussion

Today at 2PM at Archon, I was scheduled to sit on the "Can't Stop the Music" panel. As is usually the case with these events, all the preparation I was given was the title. You sit in front of the audience and wing it.

Well, on this panel, the three of us, Vic Milan, Doug Ferguson, and myself were competing for audience with an autographing by Alan Dean Foster, a panel with Ben Bova on it, and another titled, "Knickers and Knockers - An Overview of Underwear". Needless to say our audience was very small. The smallest. No one came.

However, that didn't stop us. The three of us carried on a wide ranging discussion of the historically significant bad movie whose name was used for our panel, on-line commerce, e-publishing, and a variety of other like issues. I enjoyed it immensely. Aren't you sorry you missed it?