Thursday, August 20, 2009

Motivational/Demotivational Poster

1st draft of a motivational poster thought up by the Alabamian when we were getting ice cream from an automated vending machine one day. When we use this particular machine (not pictured below unfortunately), there's always an inherent fear that sucker tube that picks up the ice cream out of the freezer will drop the ice cream. At the same time it feels like you're using the force to get the ice cream. Hence the poster.

Credit: Alan

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Free Online Backup Review - Mozy MozyHome

A while back in my Ultimate Backup Solution post I mentioned that cloud (online) backups services were notorious for being too slow for any appreciable amount of data and, due to the service fees, too expensive relative to other backup alternatives.

A friend of mine soon after referred me to a service called Mozy Backup. Strange enough name, but hold on, they're advertising 2GB backups for FREE? Sounds too good to be true. 2GB isn't that much space, but if you were to distill all of your digital files, removing pictures and movies, leaving just the bare essentials like financial documents, it will definitely be under 2GB. Sure enough, mine weighed in at about 1.3GB. More than most I'm sure, but I'm a digital pack rat.


1. Visit Mozy and create a free account.
2. Download and install MozyHome
3. Select what folders you want to back up and configure other settings like frequency, what happens if a file is deleted etc.
4. Do nothing

The MozyHome desktop program makes it completely effortless to do backups as frequent as you want. If you only take advantage of the free 2GBs, it becomes a perfect application for backing up your temporary work/project directory where critical, in-progress things are stored that have yet to be archived because they're currently being worked on. Accidentally delete a file, find it corrupt, have a drive die... Mozy to the rescue!

The initial manual backup that I conducted, where all of my files had to be transfered, took a decent amount of time, but relatively short by industry standards. I was particularly impressed with the fact that I didn't notice performance glitches in other programs while Mozy was doing its thing. After the initial backup, when few or no files changed the checkup process was extremely quick sometimes less than a minute. Just for curiosity sake I added a few PDF files to my folder and observed the slight increase in backup time. Below are some raw numbers for you to crunch.

Test Data
8/8/09 Manual Backup 1.3GB 01:33:22 935 files transferred
8/9/09 Automatic Backup 00:00:35 0 files transferred
8/10/09 Automatic Backup 00:02:30 0 files transferred
8/15/09 Automatic Backup 3.3MB 00:02:11 12 files transferred
8/16/09 Automatic Backup 00:00:40 0 files transferred
Overall I think Mozy turned out to be a great find. I was unimpressed with online backup services in past but Mozy seems promising. I think one of the most attractive things about the service beyond the 2GB is the very simple and cheap pricing of $4.95/month!!! That's not a lot of pocket change for peace of mind with your digital life. I think my 68GB of pictures is a perfect candidate to start with!

Friday, August 14, 2009

Funny Saying from an Alabamian - Take 2

Alabamian: "are you still there?"
Chad: "yes, i'm trying to comprehend what you are saying"
Alabamian: "or are you simply enjoying my ramblings"
Chad: "it's not working"
Alabamian: "it never does or will"
Alabamian: "it's like watching a dog take a poop"
Chad: "..."

"btw what the crap is section modulus!?!"

"tell the excel add-in to kiss my butt
I just wrote an m file to do it for me."

"so Adam will implode under this rule?"

6/27/08 to 3/23/09

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Funny Sayings from an Alabamian

"Jedi may come and go, but R2D2 will last forever"

Comic Strip:
Scene 1: Donkey recieves gifts/investments/loans from a China figure
Scene 2: Donkey distributes said gifts to poor, children, women etc
Scene 3: China taps Donkey on the shoulder wanting return on gifts but Donkey points to people he has given it to.

"Automation - Simply every engineer's dream to know the force"

"Periodic cycling adventures could occur. Meet in the Adirondacks, and kill each other type of things. God loves epic days."

"Just wanted to let you know that I've been aloting 8% of my paycheck into an investment that will give me a -100% return. It's called Social Security and Medicare."

"I don't enjoy the precense of other people who want me do to thier work for them."

Chad: "you realize how many of our conversations are probably overflow from your own convo with yourself?"

Through 3/23/09

DIY: Build Your Own Fire Pit

Last year my grandma (Meme) finally took the plunge and decided she wanted a fire pit. I offered to do all of the research and planning and my brother volunteered to help dig because that involved him driving the 4x4 to haul dirt. Whatever works right? There weren't many examples or resources to go off of so we used our neighbors as a example and winged it. I think it turned out pretty well so I'm documenting it in the hopes of helping someone else.

4-6 man hours
Wheel barrow (optional)
Rake (optional)
Sand ~3-5 50lb bags of sand depending on the fire pit size
Decorative rocks for the outer ring
Piping for stoking the fire (optional)

1. Location

Arguably the most important step in the fire pit creation process is choosing the perfect spot. This was pretty easy for us because we have had cookouts my entire life in the same location. Before the fire pit we used a cutoff bottom of a 55 gallon drum to contain the fire. We ended up moving the center of the pit by about 6 feet in from the shore so that we could put chairs around the full 360 degrees of the fire. This was important to get the maximum number of people around the fire.

2. Sizing
To correctly size and locate the fire pit we placed rocks out in a circle to simulate the edge of the fire pit. We then lined the circle with lawn chairs and anything else to complete the ensemble. We ended up increasing the diameter of our fire pit by 2' to allow plenty of separation from the fire to the edge of the pit and the rocks and grass. This ended up being a wise decision because we can actually pull our chairs up close and put our feet in the warm sand.

3. Dig
Take a spade and inscribe a circle in the placeholder rocks. Remove the top layer of sod from your circle and take it somewhere that needs it (I'm sure you have a spot). Then start digging a bowl shaped hole. We ended up making the center around 2.5' deep and then gradually coming up to ground level at the edge of the circle. Remember there's going to be a layer of sand on top of this so keep the edge of the circle vertical for a few inches.

We also had a little helper name Riley!

4. Piping
We chose to incorporate a ventilation idea that my brother came up with. We have some old 2' sections of 6" diameter ceramic tile laying around that were used for septic laterals back in the day. They've been out of the ground for years and are assumed to be sterile :). After we finished digging the main pit we dug a channel for the pipe to fit in. We put one section of it basically horizontal with the end about 6" offset from the center of the fire pit and slightly protruding from the sand. We then cut angles on the end of that and the beginning of the next piece. This allowed us to place the second at an angle so it protruded out from the ground about 6" outside of the fire pit. Using this we can blow or use a billows to stoke the fire from a distance.

5. Sand
Make sure to pack the dirt by stepping on it or using a shovel so that it doesn't mix easily with the sand. We then put a 3-4" layer of sand in the fire pit. We used a rake to even it out and make it nice and smooth.

6. Rocks
For the finishing touch add some decent sized rocks to cover fire pit circle where it transitions from sand to dirt/grass. We didn't have large enough rocks so we ended up using a couple layers to get the effect we wanted. If you can, make sure to choose rocks that haven't been in the water. The rocks can absorb water that can flash boil when exposed to enough heat, causing the rock to explode.

7. Enjoy

Silly Form Questions - Pistol License

I'm trying to apply for a license for a pistol. The catch is in New York State, unlike other God fearing states, you need to have a permit to even purchase the pistol!

One of the questions on the form reads: "A license is required for the following reason:" This doesn't really make sense to me. I would think the reasons are implied for puchasing a handgun.
  1. Protection - I want to shoot some person who is attacking me
  2. Fun - I want to shoot some animal to eat or stuff

Case closed. Either, don't ask dumb questions or put check boxes for above choices.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Favored Programs by Genre

Text/Code Editor: Notepad++
This random little open source text/code editor is the best I have ever used, including paid suites. It has support for more coding languages than I knew existed. As you would expect it understands the language and uses colors to denote different types of code. The search search/replace function is to die for -- more options that I know what to do with -- and the file management (tabs included) is great for cleaning up your taskbar and increasing productivity. You can even save a link file that includes which files you have open, that way if you're working on a set of code with say, 10 separate files, you can open that one link and viola, all of your relevant files are open. The only language that I have encountered that is not supported by Notepad++ is ADPL, the Ansys programming language based on Fortran. If anyone knows of an add-in I would appreciate it.
Video Player: VLC
If you don't know about VLC you are probably new to the interwebs or computing in general. It is the benchmark by which all other video players are rated. The only file formats that it does not support are moronic proprietary ones that aren't mainstream - or good - anyway. It has a bare bones interface packed with every option and feature you could think of. Keyboard shortcuts make manipulating the video on the fly simple and actually useful. Croping and changing the aspect ratio on those videos where the author fancies
Browser: Firefox
If you have a windows logo in the top right corner of your browser (read: IE) you should be ashamed.
File Compression: Winrar
Winrar has been a favorite of mine for many many years now. I migrated from Winzip as soon as the need arrised to create multiple compressed files of a certain size (say, to fill up CD's or dare I say floppies) and haven't looked back. It has a better compression algorythm resulting in smaller file sizes than .zip. In addition, it allows you to vary the relative amount of compression based on the time you want to allocate to your computer crunching numbers as to the best way to compress something. A very important feature allowing you to distinguish between wanting to break a dvd size file up into cd sizes relatively quickly, or highly compressing documents to for email.
Bittorrent Client: Azureus Vuze
I'll be the first one to admit that Vuze is a bit bloated. Now especially with all of the new media channels that originally display, it's really trying to be more than it has to be. That being said, there are some pretty cool features that set Vuze apart. Easy RSS Feed creation - this is something that has always boggled me for Bittorrent use but Vuze makes it easy and quick to set up. Loads of Settings - I haven't been able to find another p2p client with more connection and transfer settings that Vuze

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Ansys Workbench: Tips and Tricks

Flowthrough / Continuous mesh
- This is accomplished in Ansys Classic through the use of the VGLUE command. It basically knitts the shared surfaces of two volumes forcing node-to-node continuity. In Workbench you simply select the desired bodies in the Design Modeler and use "Form new part." Now when you bring them into simulation contact will not be formed between them, instead the elements at the shared surface will be joined by sharing nodes.

"Failed to submit solve job"
- I'm not sure exactly why this error came about, as indicated by it's relative vagueness, but by simply closing other programs and remeshing I was able to get it to solve.

CAD/FEA Tips and Tricks

Being of generation Y, I have grown up using the web as my infinite help file, diy resource, and general question answerer. If I have a random thought or question my first "quick-glance" resource is to type it in a search engine in the form of a question, "how thick is a human hair?" Having recently entered the workforce I continue the same habit even when it invoves using much more advanced tools, "how do I [insert something relatively advanced/complicated] in [inster program]." When using programs like Solidworks, Unigraphics, Ansys Classic or Ansys Workbench the web is almost devoid (not entirely though) of usefull suggestions or explainations of even the most common problems. As a result, from now on when I figure out a unwebumented issue I'll try and post it.

Here is an index of the relevant tool/program posts: (if it isn't hyperlinked, that means it hasn't been created yet)

FTP Server Capacity Upgrade: Adding a Second Drive to the DNS-323

For the past couple months the server has been sitting at around 95-99% capacity, which on a 1TB drive means about 950-990GB of data. Six months ago was the first time the server filled up and as a result I was relegated to DVD burning duty for an entire weekend. As it becomes harder and harder to choose which programs/movies/shows to take of the server I decided (with the helpful funds of an anonymous contributor) to invest in increasing the capacity of the server by 1.5X. Here's the drive that I purchased:

Last night the server went down for a couple hours while I added and formatted the second drive. For those of you with a DNS-323 of your own be sure to remove the first drive or when asked to format it can wipe the original! After adding a second drive I now have a bit of a file structure issue. Because I'm not using any form of raid, both drives show up a separate volumes and as such, I need to chose which files to migrate to the new drive. The division needs to make sense and be somewhat functional. Decisions, decisions. In the meantime, the server is back up, happy downloading!

The addition of this drive brings my entire hard drive data space (if we include CDs and DVDs the number roughly doubles) to... 1TB+1.5TB+500GB+500GB+160GB+320GB = ~4TB!!!

Saturday, June 20, 2009

What Grinds My Gears - Take 4

Today's grind my gears is going to have a work related theme. I wonder why...

  • The use of stock clipart in business presentations. Seriously, are we in 5th grade still where this is acceptable?
  • The use of ridiculously large picture files in presentations when they are only going to be made the size of a thumbnail. Resize people! (20mb 5 slide presentation is unacceptable)

  • Out of control acronyms (Universities are just as bad sometimes)

  • Phrases like, "think outside the box," "exciting time to be in this business"

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

The Ultimate Backup Solution

I'm not a stranger to data loss. I have had a total of 4 hard drive failures, 2 of which resulted in important (personal) data loss, of which one was successfully recovered by a data specialist company, one of which all hope was lost. Read: gone forever.

I definitely took these experiences in stride, and learned to adjust my data habits to be more resilient to hard drive failures, or freak accidents. Here is opinion of an ultimate backup solution:

1. Digital Backups - these are a must for catching small data losses in between the complete hardware backups
  • SyncBack - I can't say enough good things about this program. It is by far the most user friendly and quickest to set up, but at the same time remains completely customizable for power users like myself. And to top it off, it's FREE. Make sure to do test runs and periodically make sure it has completed runs. Haven't had a problem yet, but you can't be too sure.
  • Weekly - at a bare minimum they should be weekly backups, and if you're constantly taking pictures/movies or working on projects it should really be daily.
  • Completely Different Hard Drive - this is a must. If you just back up the data to a different location on the same drive you might save yourself from the most benign data corruption issue, but anything more and you're data is toast, along with your backup. If need be purchase a small external hard drive or at the rate thumb/flash drive capacities are increasing one of those might work.
2. Hardcopy Backups - If anyone tells you that having just a digital backup is adequate, they clearly haven't met Murphy. That and something called an electrical spike.
  • CD/DVD Media (Tape is even better if you have enough of it) - Make sure to get a decent quality brand. You'll know you don't have one if your recording fails more than once in 10 or so discs. (either that or you're trying to multitask too much or your computer sucks)
  • Twice A year / 6 Months - I have found this to be a sufficiently frequent yet not too consuming time period between backups. If it helps, use occasions such as the new year and then mid summer to remind that it's time to backup.
  • Bare Minimum - for this backup I recommend doing just the bare minium of My Documents/Videos/Pictures etc because you don't want to go through too many DVDs and make the task too arduous.
  • Protection - Be sure not to put these backup discs back on a spool (the 25-50 set holders) because they're too prone to scratching and other damage. Instead pick up a cheap $5 disc case and use that.
  • Firesafe or Emergency Box - This one isn't required but if you're like me and your entire life is stored in a digital library I recommend putting your hardcopy backups in a small firesafe or one of those emergency boxes with your important documents. It doesn't take up much space and you can grab it quickly in an emergency.
3. Cloud Backup - I have yet to find a cost effective and speedy enough service to place my digital files online for extended periods of time in the form of backups. But this is definitely an option and one that will be increasingly viable as we move towards cloud computing (all data online).

As any conscious netizen should do, please do your own research and make up your own mind. Don't blame me for anything that happens to your data, my suggestions are exactly that. That being said, I hope that I may have said something that will help your data be more secure.

What Grinds My Gears - Take 3

Another edition of what grinds my gears. Feel free to contribute your own and I'll post them in the next edition.

  • Guys who put on underwear/pants last (even after socks!) when changing
  • People who stand ridiculously close behind you when you're using an ATM
  • People who take up both gas pumps with their car
  • People who stop at a light really close to the car in front of them so they can't start moving until the car in front gets far enough away. (I may come up with a mathmatical model to prove how dumb they are)
  • People who assume a $200 camera will take as good a picture as a $2000 one... SERIOUSLY!?

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Cross-fire FTW: Benchmarks of Improvement

Yesterday I received a first-of-a-kind package, my first second GPU! This is quite the milestone in my book. I've always wanted to have two GPU's in one of my desktops and I finally decided it was worth it to put off an upgrade for 6-12 months. Here's what I ordered:

I decided to throw the fan in for good measure because one of my fans has been periodically turning off and with two GPU's I don't want to risk an overheat. Plus... it's BLUE!

My original card is:

For the love of me I can't figure out why I originally paid twice as much for the Diamon card when I could have gotten two Sapphire's for the same amount. Other than the fact that it had a full 5 eggs, takes up two expansion slots and is pretty (also possibly factory overclocked) they're basically the same card. So now I have the Diamond Viper Radeon HD 3870 512MB cross-fired with a Sapphire Radeon HD 3870 512MB. Just like Dyno-ing a stock car before you mod it (LINK TO POST ABOUT MODDERS), of course I had to benchmark my computer to get the before and after performance. I am more than happy with the percentage performance improvement for the given cost - compared to upgrading the system. Here are the numbers:

I'm not sure why the CPU scaled up at all but it's not that significant when compared to the overall score improvement which is ~35%. That's pretty huge if you ask me. I know it's not double, but I wasn't expecting perfectly scaled results. Who knows... maybe overclocking is what I need to get that CPU score somewhere respectable. [Insert diabolical laugh]

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

1st Wakeboarding Weekend - Summer 2009

Last weekend, June 6-7, was the first official wakeboarding weekend of summer '09. The original date that Andrew and I had planned for was almost a month prior... which given how cold the water was last weekend, would have probably resulted in minor cases of hypothermia. Henceforth, June shall be the earliest we go wakeboarding.

The weekend was not without mechanical glitches. Despite spending a small fortune to get the dog clutch gears, the shifter cable, points and condensor replaced (FUTURE LINK TO POST), and getting the boat to start out of the water on Friday, we still had troubles when we put it in the water Saturday morning. I should have known that something was amiss when Alan and I had to use the Xterra to jumpstart the boat to get it running on Friday. We left it running for a good 10-15 minutes to make sure that the battery would charge back up for the next day.

Come Saturday morning when everyone is anxious to get on the water, we put the boat in and already the battery was completely dead; the lower unit wouldn't even move. Fortunately a friendly boater lent us his jump starter so we could get it running (using the Xterra battery itself didn't work, and only served to drain it, later requiring a jumpstart from Andrew's WRX). After motoring around for a good 20 minutes we returned to the dock, just in case, to stop and start the engine. Guess what, she didn't start. We pulled the boat out of the water and tested the battery at a marina no more than 50 yards away. Just what you'd expect, completely dead. The fact that the alternator wouldn't charge the battery combined with it only producing 12V of power (compared the standard 13-14V) I decided to replace the alternator as well as the battery. A good $260 later we had a boat that started without even needing to give it gas. That is unheard of. The VIP hasn't started that well in around 5 years.

By the time we got back to lock 7, had a barbq and got out on the water, it was around 5pm. It was completely worth the time and price of the repair because the boat runs beautifully, now reaching 38.1mph versus 32.3mph before (using GPS). Plus, in the words of Alex, people seriously underestimate the value of peace of mind.

Check out the wakeboarding pictures and video here (FUTURE LINK TO GALLERY)

Stock Alerts and Dividend Reinvestment - Enough to transfer from Scottrade to Zecco

My original motivation behind opening an account with Zecco was the 10 free trades they offered every month. But after the stock market plummetted at the end of '08 they couldn't afford to continue to offer free trades. Instead they now offer trades at $4.50, still half that of Scottrade's $7 fee.

An online broker is about much more than just the trade fee. Since opening my Zecco account I have steadily been more impressed with thier offering. Two features that came to my attention recently that pushed them over-the-top in my book. Stock Alerts and Dividend Reinvestment. Depending on how busy things are at work or at home, I can sometimes go a couple days without checking on my stocks. In the past I have set up alerts using but they are not always on time. (Being notified 2 hours after a ralley isn't all that helpful) Zecco offers alerts based on, $ change, % change, volume increase/decrese from 15-day average, 52-week high/low and a couple other more advanced ones. In addition to a primary email they allow you to send alerts to a secondary location, be it another email... or a phone! (in my case an iPhone) This means that if I set my alerts correctly I don't have to constantly watch my stocks - or even be at my computer - to buy at a great deal or get out at a great profit.

Zecco also offers dividend reinvestment to those stocks that offer it a DRIP (Dividend Reinvestment Program). The caveat to this is that they only deal with whole stocks so if you get a dividend of $15 for a $10 stock, and you have it set to reinvest, you end up with 1 stock and $5 in cash to your account. That is worlds better than no offering at all like Scottrade.

I submitted my account transfer form (ACAT) via email yesterday to transfer all of my assets from Scottrade to my Zecco account. Because Zecco deals in only complete shares any partial shares will be liquidated, which isn't a big deal to me. Zecco also doesn't charge for transfer-in and Scottrade doesn't charge for transfers period so it all works out. Here's hoping it doesn't actually take the expected 20-days to go through!

Monday, June 8, 2009

Sections of Future Site

The future site will not take the form of a blog. Instead it will be a sort of life portfolio with diy projects and trip documentation.

Sections of future site:

DIY Projects:

  • Boat
  • Car
  • Architecture
  • Circuitry


  • Architecture Models
  • CAD Models/Drawings
  • 3D Scenes/Renders


  • Family Vacations
  • Hiking
  • Snowboarding
  • Wakeboarding


  • Investing

More to come...

Friday, May 29, 2009

How to Remove a Stuck Lens Filter

I committed the ultimate camera enthusiast travesty... I dropped my Canon 40D. Thankfully (if there is such a thing) it landed lens first with a lens cap on and a UV lens filter, which took the brunt of the fall. The body didn't even get scuffed and the lens, so far, seems mechanically fine. The glass in the filter cracked so I had to carefully remove the shards while the camera was upside down so that the lens didn't get scratched. After that I wasn't able to unscrew the filter because it was bent and putting too much of an asymmetrical force on the threads. After some research here are a few suggestions in order from low to high risk (try at your own risk) for removing the lens filter:
  • Using the palm of your hand
  • Using carpet or a rubber mat
  • Using filter wrench
  • Using the rubber sole of your shoe
And finally, when all of those didn't work I used a pair of pliers. To protect the main lens from metal trimmings I cut a circular piece of paper and put it on top of the lens. I then gripped the outer edge of the lens filter with the pliers oriented along the long axis of the lens and then applied pressure moving the handle of the pliers away from the center of the lens. This effectively rotated and peeled off the outer ring (the long twisting piece shown below). After that the flat interior ring came out freely leaving just the threaded portion. This is where you have to be careful. Hopefully there is enough room for you to grip with needle nose, otherwise you need to carefully use a tool (such as a standard screwdriver) to pry the threaded filter portion inwards. Once you are able to fold the filter in on itself it should pop out with very, if any, damage to the lens threads.

Best Free iPhone Apps

Here is my top 10 list of FREE iPhone Apps:
  1. Pandora
  3. Chess with Friends
  4. To Do List
  5. Google App
  6. Facebook
  7. FML
  8. Shazam
  9. Urban Spoon
  10. iFlashlight

Not so Easy EZ Parking

I had one of those, "is this really happening right now?" moments last weekend. After returning to Newark Airport from a Memorial Day weekend trip in Michigan (link to Lodge Interior Construction Trip) I was supposed to call for a shuttle pickup from the E-Z Parking service that I had partaken in prior to my trip. The theory was that I would give them my certificate number and they would promptly send a shuttle to take me back to the Royal Plaza parking lot for a timely and relatively cheap escape ($8/day vs. $35/day Airport "Economy" parking). The first sign that the evening would not go as planned was that I couldn't reach either of the provided phone numbers. The fact that it was a little after 11pm at the end of a holiday weekend (read: I had work the next day and a 3 hour drive still ahead of me) also didn't bode well. Luckily Jess hadn't arrived yet to pick up Andrew so I still had that as a backup.

After 5-10 minutes, which I found out later was an extremely short amount of time in comparison to other customers - some of whom waited for more than an hour, a Royal Plaza shuttle came by and I flagged it down. Showing my non-street savvy I flashed the EZ Parking paper at the driver to confirm if that was the correct shuttle to be on. Of course they probably had some regulation or agreement where the Royal Plaza shuttles can't/shouldn't pick up EZ Parking passengers even though EZ Parking uses the empty Royal Plaza parking spaces. So the driver shakes his head and says that I can't take his shuttle. Thankfully there was a more determined Dad (along with a wife and baby daughter to care about) who insisted on riding that shuttle. Seeing this, coupled with still not being able to reach EZ Parking over the phone, I decided it was time to bid Andrew farewell and rush on the shuttle, completely ignoring the driver.

The shuttle made the airport rounds and deposited us at the hotel door. A short 60 second walk and I was at the shack of a building that represented the EZ Parking establishment. There was only one person in front of me but I was soon followed by around 10 other people. This is where it gets pretty comical from my standpoint. What had obviously happened was that the phone service was out (since 9pm) and no one could reach the service. As each person walked in, whether from Taxi or shuttle, they were furious and wanted to know why they were abandoned at the airport. Many of the fathers in the group were so caught up in yelling at the staff that they ended up yelling at each other because they couldn't take turns. I just sat back and watched because it was clear (based on the discussion from the person before me) that no refunds or compensation would be granted - even for those taking a taxi.

One particular Dad - the subject of the second half of my story (not the same Dad who rode in the shuttle with me) was carrying his 9 year old when he entered the shack and kind of shrugged his shoulders (lifting his son at the same time, which made it seem funny) and yelled, "what gives?!" When the shift manager was explaining that "Verizon doesn't fix the service and ruins my business," the Dad replied that they we're even because they ruined his vacation as well. I'm sorry, but if being delayed for an hour or two ruined your week long vacation (the week I deduced from his bill amount) then it must have been pretty poor to begin with. Meanwhile I give the person my claim number, and credit card information (their machine was also out because of the phone) and step outside to get away from the tension. A few minutes later that Dad had gone through the ropes and apparently they would not deduct the Taxi fare from his parking fee. Instead they wanted to bill him the full amount and then he would have to "call back later for the refund." Determined not to have his vacation ruined and be shafted at the same time his solution was simple, "I'll pay my fee, less the taxi, or you can call the cops." The latter part of this discussion was occurring as the Dad was loading up his Suburban equivalent Cadillac with the manager buzzing around him trying to talk him into paying. After getting his family loaded he slammed his car door shut in the managers face - which resulted in a quick yelp on a radio to the guard/toll shack to lower the arms and not let him through. As you can imagine this escalates rather quickly. The Cadillac (I didn't know this was possible) peels out headed for the gate which is a good couple hundred yards away. The manager starts running over and continues to yell into the radio telling security and anyone who can hear to try and stop the car. The manager gets about half way there (the Cadillac had to make a 90 degree turn and then accelerate again so they are about even now) when he meets one of his EZ Parking vans coming to investigate. The manager screams, "back up as fast as you can!" The van backs up by far the fastest that I've ever seen in real life, like stunt driver fast, and effectively does a J turn to swing around just in time to block off the Cadillac. The Cadillac speeds around to the other side of the toll booth to exit the entrance side but the manager actually jumps in the way. For $15 this guy effectively risks bodily injury and possibly death. Just goes to show you how much people get caught up in the moment with adrenaline pumping. After a bit of cat and mouse they end up boxing the Cadillac in with two EZ Parking vans (which weren't anywhere to be found when people needed rides by the way) and a security truck.

Despite the entertainment value this whole ordeal provided it still wasn't very considerate of the guy to go and do this because it delayed about 15 other people a good half hour. To the guy's credit however, back at the EZ Parking shack I you could hear the hotel security or manager telling the guy to take the loss instead of calling and getting the cops involved. So, after a couple tries by the staff to subtract $20 off of a $74 bill, the Caddy left on its marry way. From a curiosity standpoint I can't help but wonder what the (then) sleeping kid and the mom were doing the whole time the car chase was happening. In a way the experience was helpful because it really woke me up for my 3hr drive back to Schenectady.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

The Concert Madness Weekend

Traditionally 1-2 weeks prior is a stretch for planning events when my friends and I meet up. However, this particular weekend began construction almost 2 months in advance. I happened to get an email with details about a Fallout Boy concert held at the Field House on the RPI campus on Sunday Apr 26th. Using my handy-dandy student I.D. (Don't judge, when your college tuition is $40k/year then you can judge) I purchased tickets for myself, Andrew and Alex at the uber cheap price of $17 a pop (compared to $35 will-call). A month or so later Alex emails the gang - that's right, gang - with a list of Eve 6 concerts happening in the area over the next month. As it works out, we end up deciding on the free concert at Oneonta, about an hour away from me, that is on the Saturday before FOB plays. Thus, the concert madness weekend unfolded.

We ended up just meeting on Saturday in Oneonta, NY for the Eve 6 concert. It was really the first or second weekend of actual summer weather so it was very sunny and very warm. Did I mention that Oneonta has a couple of colleges? After our initial weave and bob to the right middle of the crowd we were around 50 feet from the stage. It really wasn't that crowded - nor looking back should it have been since Eve 6 was more than 4 hours away from playing - so working our way towards the stage was relatively easy.

The first two opening bands were pretty mundane, one an oldies cover band and the other a newer alternative cover band. The following setup/changeover took much longer than usual and if it weren't for an oversized beach ball and lively scenery things would have gotten very boring. Finally a DJ walked out on the stage and started playing some music. After a while he started mixing it up and using the turn tables. Our group made the comment that his transitions between songs was really rough and obnoxious. Little did we know that he is a relatively well known DJ who works with RAHZEL! That's right after a little more DJ torture, Rahzel made a surprise appearance!!!:

Not only was this a free concert, we got to see someone I never thought I'd see in person. In case you have never heard of Rahzel (in which case I recommend you do a quick search on YouTube), he is an amazing, if not the best in the world, beat-boxer. Andrew and I freshman year heard his claim to fame song, "If you're mother only knew." In the song he sings those words while performing all of the percussion instruments. It's one thing to hear it via speakers, it's a complete different experience to see it live. Your ears are constantly telling your eyes that they aren't getting the whole picture and that they need to look for a drum set.

The downside of a free concert is that no one paid to be there and is, on average, less enthused about every band/artist. To a point that they will have conversations and talk on the phone as if no one is performing. Case and point, Rahzel had to ask the sound guys to turn up the volume multiple times because, "I got people I can hear chatting up here in da front." For me this completely ruins the experience because everyone else isn't into it as much as you are. It seemed like Alex, Andrew and I were among maybe 30 other people who had even heard of Rahzel. Fortunately a group of guys - who I would normally consider just plain obnoxious with their over sized clothes and flat-brimmed hats - were overly expressive of their admiration of Rahzel. One of the guys would yell at the top of his lungs things like, "Rahzel, you're the man!" "Yo Rahzel!" until Rahzel actually acknowledged them with a "sup fellas." That got a "Rahzel said sup to me man!" Fortunately another couple bands came out and Rahzel made another appearance and by then the crowd was much more attentive.

Finally, the main attraction, Eve 6:

In all of the concerts I have been to there have never been as many crowd surfers as there were at this place. The crowd surfers in general are quite amusing but this was to the point where we would get bashed in the head every couple of minutes because we were just a couple rows from the front and apparently weren't paying enough attention. We ended up having our group and a couple other guys around us warn each other if someone was coming. Crowd surfing mayhem aside the Eve 6 was awesome. As always the most enjoyable songs were those that I knew the lyrics to, which in a way is ironic that you come to hear an artist play and end up enjoying it the most when you're singing and getting into it just as much. They did play a couple of new songs which 2 of the 3 ended up being really enjoyable (don't remember the names) so I look forward to downloading them (completely legally of course).


Yet another day of concert fun featuring FOB (Fallout Boy). As I mentioned earlier they played at the RPI Fieldhouse which normally a hockey rink which as you can imagine is at the opposite end from being designed for acoustic performance. To make things worse it was 10x louder than the concert the previous day. Lets not tally the total weekend damage to my hearing shall we. But this was the kind of loud where your clothes vibrate and your chest gets pounded with the base. Our college friend Gavin who Andrew happened to run into at the concert was wearing earplugs, which I was almost at the point of sucker punching him and taking them. To make things worse (yes I know I said that already so think 2x worse) this was an unusually warm weekend and they filled the arena with the performance/light showcasing fog to about 99% humidity.

Probably one of the most comical thought experiments during this concert was the result of heat/humidity and packed crowd combination. It was very obvious that between sets people were both overheating and getting claustrophobic. Ever couple minutes a girl would get crowd surfed (remember, between sets) or just put her arms up close to the front rails and the security/bouncers would pick them up and remove them. Part of me wonders if these (generally) girls would just take a deep breath and lower their heart rate if they wouldn't have overheated and panicked. But I suppose that's like trying to tell a crazed bull that red also is the color of pretty roses. (don't know where that came from) Anyway, what was more comical than that was the fact that in addition to throwing water bottles randomly in the crowd the security guys were almost bottle feeding those close to them. At one point I couldn't help but picture a bunch of livestock trying to get at a food or water source.


Monday you say? That's not the weekend anymore! Oh... but it sooo was. Andrew and Alex took the day off and hung around Schenectady/Albany. Andrew and I had read about an awesome board game Settlers of Canan so it was their mission to find and buy the game. They called me sometime before lunch and told me that they were out of stock which put a real damper on things. We had planned to meet at Quiznos for lunch and then for Andrew and Alex to head home because of the long drive. What happened instead was I showed up to Quiznos only to find that they had found the game and completely set it up on a Quiznos table! We ended up playing all through lunch and it was a blast. The goal was to get me to take off the rest of work that day but I had an important class that was mandatory so they agreed to leave later that evening so we could play after I finished work. Settlers of Catan FTW!

So endeth our concert madness weekend of 2009.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Quest for the Perfect Photo Gallery/Site/Store

I have been looking for the ideal solution for my pictorial sharing ambitions, the problem is, there is no one service or product that will satisfy them all. The main reason is that I want to share my photos with others in many different capacities. I'll list the main categories below with their desired primary attributes for ease of future discussion.
  1. Family/Close Friends: Event Sorted, Login Protected, Album Browsing, Easy download-all feature
  2. Friends: Donate via paypal feature, Event Sorted, Album Browsing, Reduced size, Pay for download-all and full quality
  3. Prints/Merchandise: T-shirts, Prints, etc - no/minimal profit
  4. Professional: Profit making, Tiered pricing, Finished/professional appearance

A few of the original services that I looked at were:

  • Picasa
  • Flikr
  • SmugMug
  • Cafepress
  • KodakAlbums

The problem is, they're all expensive and not nearly as customizable as I would like. Picasa is probably the easiest to use of the above services, as far as image-to-gallery effort, because of the Picasa desktop program that you can use as a portal. All of the others are far too cumbersome.

Enter the D-link DNS-323 NAS (Network attached storage). I'm currently working on getting a customizable web-based HTML front end created by a program called JAlbum to work on on the server. This is a program that runs in the background on the server which creates template based albums from photos that I simply place (upload) onto the server from anywhere in the world. I have also read about additional features such as direct download and paypal abilities which would satisfy a couple of my desired functions. There is a downside to such a great utility, there's a huge learning curve and it involves using linux (link to future post on linux).

Xterra 2" Body Lift

So the next step in my quest to make my Xterra an offroading beast is to add a 2" Body Lift. A body lift raises the chasis relative to the frame through the use of what's commonly referred to as pucks. I don't get any extra ground clearance or articulation, it simply raises the cabin 2" higher to provide more wheel clearance and to get the decorative parts off of the ground a little more. At the same time I will effectively be increasing my center of gravity by around 0.5" to 1" so cornering should improve immensely (sarcasm). Here is a picture of the pucks and bolts used for the mod:

Here's a "How-to" post on the ClubXterra forum I frequent. The mod should take about 8-12hrs to install and definately be easier with another pair of hands. I'll probably be buying a 12-pack for whoever wants to join in for the automotive fun one Saturday or Sunday this summer. I just recieved the kit from someone else on the forum who put it together (and decided against doing the mod).

After I get the BL installed I can continue with my list of mods that were dependant on this one:
  • Bigger tires! I'm thinking 32-33" at the moment. I have to look into whether or not different gearing is required.

Hopefully I'll be posting in a month or so with before and after pictures of the X.

What Grinds My Gears - Take 2

This is a continuation of my first Grinds My Gears post.

  • Anyone going under the speed limit
  • Using the words in an acronym along with the acronym, for example, RPI R.I.N. Number - in which RIN stands for RPI Identification Number... also a more common example ATM Machine...
  • Holding the door open for someone when they're more than 2 seconds (normal walking speed) away from the door
  • The fact that the AWG system uses numbers that get bigger for things that get smaller
  • Gun fight scenes where a single clip of pistol ammunition (typically 9-15 rounds) can shoot easily 100 rounds. Apart from a few (out of way too many) scenes where the character checks to confirm that there's only one round in the clip, shootout scenes are missing an entire tactical element
  • Most people don't understand that there's a difference (let alone why) between byte and bit - as in 1 MB/s != 1Mbit/sec
  • All things Imperial/English units (omg it freezes at 0 and boils at 100... brilliant!)

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

What Grinds My Gears

I'm going to have to take this one straight out of Family Guy. Peter Griffin hosts a show where he complains about anything and everything that he finds annoying in the world around him. Hopefully nothing here will offend anyone, but if it does, feel free to stop reading because if you get offended, and continue reading... you're going on the list.

  • Hot dogs and buns unequal package quantities
  • Rubber kneckers
  • People who think more megapixels in a camera always means "better"
  • Cops that give a speeding ticket instead of a warning when you're in a brand new car. (dealer plates still!)
  • HeigTH, Frigerator, AcrossT
  • People who interchange/confuse download and upload, you cannot "download to the internet!"
  • Motorcycles with overly loud exhaust "bap bap bap bap bap," annoying != cool
  • The fact that 2x4's twist and bend before you can use them
  • The fact that 2x4's are not actually 2" x 4"... why... (along with every other piece of lumber)

That's all for now - stay tuned for more.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Best Co-op PC Games - Comradery and Competition at its Best

Co-op gaming on the PC brings the best of the console world (multiplayer) and the PC world (the PC gaming platform with it's graphics and it's accurate mouse/keyboard input). My friend recently entered the world of gaming through an awesome custom built computer. Ever since we've been gunning for the best and brightest co-op games. Here is a list of ones we have found to be particularly enjoyable.

1. Left 4 Dead - This was a great game aimed almost completely at co-op players. The campaign which winds is way through buildings, rooftops, greenhouses, rail stations and corn fields, provides rich opportunities for different seige and defense tactics. To spice things up the two main "bosses" of the levels, a witch and a hulk-like character, are placed at random. The difficulty settings are a bit too granular for our liking. On "normal" you can pick zombies off one-by-one at a distance without agro-ing the rest, but one step up in difficulty and you'll find yourself overwhelmed if your team so much as squeeks a fart out in the wrong location. It is refreshing however to have a level of difficulty that only hours of dedication and finely tuned team can beat. Where this game really shines is in the versus mode where you can play on either the survivor or infected teams. This mode is much more chaotic than the campaign, as you would expect, but it also requires a different playing style, becuase the sit-and-wait approach to killing zombies only allows the infect more spawning opportunities. So... RUN!

2. Call of Duty: World at War - I am enamored by the Call of Duty series but this one takes the cake. COD levels past tended to be linear and most situtations required a single combat tactic approach leaving only skill and speed of excecution to provide entertainment. The added team dynamic to COD World at War does wonders for increasing the variation in tactics. However, this alone wouldn't have made this game what it is. What did you ask? Level design. A game can be made or broken based on the way the levels are layed out. I'll go a step further, simply the amount of cover, enemy entrentchments and paths can make or break a game. The designers behind Wold at War realized that when playing co-op some commrades like to work together, others like to separate and strut thier stuff. As a result they built in forks and splits in the path where you can choose to go down one or ther other (or both if you're crazy awesome like us). This adds another level of variety as each path has its own triggers, tactics and weapon preference. For those who just can't get enough there are achievements that range from comical to just plain challenging. They force you to replay missions but always with a twist or alternate goal in mind. A particular favorite achievement of mine allows you to revive your commrade by shooting them. Pure genious.

3. Supreme Commander: Forged Alliance - Although not strictly a co-op style game, with the creative use of team based skirmish and custom maps it might as well be. If you're not afraid of resource management, unit micromanagement, time management, science/upgrade management... there's management everywhere in this game... then you can overlook the nitty gritty and realize that this game is probably one of the most epic, scalable, tactic centric games since originals such as Starcraft. The major downside that I have at this point is the lack of AI (or simply unit) intelligence, particularly on custom maps. Many times not more than a few pixels away from eachother, two units will sit and fire at a boulder or hill until the cows come home. (why did the cows leave in the first place?) Constantly mixing up the type and amount of AI (tech, turtle, adaptive) as well as the map, allows for endless hours of technological warfare goodness.

4. H.A.W.X. - the acronym escapes me but the well-suited co-op gameplay do not. HAWX is a combat flight simulator that succeeds in getting the many realworld controls and dials out of your way to enjoy the pure fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants experience with the precense of a co-op buddy. I use the word precense on purpose because that's really all the interaction you'll have with your teammate in this game. While the number and relative distant proximities of enemies requires that there be two "good guys" to deal with them it's that type of game mechanic that simply puts you and a buddy in the same sky with little else to do with eachother. Occasionally one person may have finished off thier share of bandits and been able to help out thier commrade who has a bogey (reminds me of booger) on thier six but then is immediately called away to fend off another wave in the complete opposite direction. I'm not saying that there has to be so little interaction, it's just what happens as a result of the level situations. This game is definately enjoyable as a co-op experience but it is not required to get the full potential out of the game.

Stay tuned for more co-op games.

To Be

This is a running talley of topics/events I would like to write about. Here they are in no particular order:
  • Canon 40D vs. 50D - Adam and I use a 46" 1080p HDTV Flatscreen to compare
  • Fish and Craigslist - The cheapest (best?) way to start a fish hobby
  • Fish Update - Breeding Profitability Not Feasible
  • Best Co-op Games - Comradery and Competition at its best
  • Michigan Lodge Construction - Episode 1 - Design Selection
  • Michigan Lodge Construction - Episode 2 - Detailed Planning
  • Michigan Lodge Construction - Episode 3 - Rough Construction Phase
  • Michigan Lodge Construction - Episode 4 - Interior Design
  • Michigan Lodge Construction - Episode 5 - Interior Construction
  • Building a Computer - 21st Century Grease Monkey
  • Platte Wakeboarding - Hobby Turned Tradition
  • Mohawk Wakeboarding - Intern Chaos
  • VIP Speaker Stereo Install
  • VIP OMC Cobra Sterndrive Troubles - Recall Nightmare
  • Xterra - Blackin'
  • Xterra - PML
  • Xterra - BL

Feel free to suggest additional ideas!

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Where did that watt go?

Having entered the working world around a year or so ago, it has become apparent to me that electricity is a small but measurable portion of my living expenses. If you consider my average electricity bill for the last year was $60, that's roughly 5% of my monthly expenses (yes expensive rent). That's about 4% too much in my opinion. So I purchased this little gadget from Amazon.

I was like a kid in a candy store with all the data I was collecting. I discovered quite a few things that were relatively shocking. Here's the list:
  • Verizon Wireless Router: 15W (On)
  • Logitech 5.1 Speaker System: 3W (Off)
  • D-Link-323 NAS w/ 1TB WD Caviar Drive: 24W (Normal Load), 1W (Off)
  • Desktop Computer Tower: 232W (Game), 166W (Idle), 5W (Off)
  • Samsung 21" LCD Monitor: 39W (On), ~0W(Off)
  • ViewSonic 19" LCD Monitor: 44W (On), ~1W (Off)
  • HP All-in-one Printer: 16W (Idle), 6W (Off)
  • Laptop: 15W (Idle, Screen open), 11W (Idle, Screen Closed), ~0W (Off)
  • GE Microwave: 2W (Idle)
What's the big picture you ask? Even if I'm 100% diligent and turn everything off but leave them plugged in while I'm not using them, I could potentially be using 16 extra Watts. That's 16W*24hr*30days/1000W/kw = 11.52kWh. When it's all said and done I pay about 15c/kwh. That means I pay an extra $1.72/month just because those items are off but still plugged in while not in use. This may not sound like much, and definitely pales in comparison to converting an incandescent bulb to CFL, but it's completely wasted. So, while we're buying new and expensive appliances that are energy efficient, there are plenty of other things that are wasting energy.

Solution? Well, until manufacturers are going to put complete disconnect switches in the transformers on products (or when we convert to a complete 12v house-grid to remove transformers altogether) we need a temporary solution. Mine was simply to buy a $3 power strip at walmart and plug that into my existing power strip behind my computer. The always on items such as my NAS server and router are plugged into the one closest to the wall and on the extension I plug all of the "power down" components such as the tower, speakers and monitors. Whenever I power down my computer now I click the button on the power strip to completely remove those them from the grid. As of now, the power strip and watt-meter have almost paid for themsleves. How much energy are you unknowingly wasting?

Blog Created

Step 1: Create Blog/Website. DONE!

Half of the fun is actually crossing things off of a list of things to do. Now that I have a portal to share my thoughts and/or experiences I need to add to my list: Populate it.

As with most people I would assume, I have a wealth of ideas, comparisons, photos, experiences etc. all in various stages of existance, but very few have been completed and documented. This site is an attempt to force that transcription and therefore completion process.

The key to making something effective and worthwhile is having a good mission or goal. The mission of this website is very simple, to share - for the enjoyment or education - my thoughts and experiences with others. A mentor of mine says that "if you don't document it, it didn't happen." On a micro level that isn't the case, my actions change things around me and those who observe or are impacted directly. On a macro scale, in terms of sharing on a global level, my existence is hardly felt. So, I created this website with the potential to impact others. Whether it will or not, time will tell.