Monthly Archives: December 2003

Resolve to Improve Your PC’s Health in 2004 As …

Resolve to Improve Your PC’s Health in 2004

As we approach the time to make New Year’s resolutions, I’d like to offer a suggestion or two that I think can help you keep your PC running smoothly and enable you to take more control of what’s going on with it. If you already know about these resources, then all the better. If these suggestions are news to you, then I’ll have achieved my objective.

The first idea is to take control of what gets loaded when Windows starts up. Recently, my cousin, Bowen, reported “I have been unable to run the defrag program on my computer for months and am still trying to diagnose the problem. I suspect that either a Virus Scan or Firewall is blocking it but have not figured out how to work it out.” After we exchanged a couple of messages, he resolved his problem using a program called MSCONFIG that’s available on Win98, WinME and WinXP, but that’s a program that most users don’t know about. This site does an excellent job of explaining what that program is and how to use it. The author, Paul Collins, explains the issue this way …

“Virtually all applications you install using the default installation these days decide that they should start-up when Windows starts. If you allow them to take control, you can end up with a situation where (unless you have sufficient memory installed) every other program slows down to be unusable.

The reason for this is that all of these programs use a portion of the system memory and resources which leaves a smaller percentage for other programs once they’re opened.”

My recommendation to you is to click on the link to Paul’s site and then bookmark it so that you can get back to it when the need arises, as it surely will. Most of you will be surprised to discover how many programs (or processes) are running on your system that you didn’t intentionally give permission to install and that don’t have to load at startup to be used. Fortunately, using MSCONFIG you can easily regain control of things, if you wish. Paul’s site also provides a database of 3912 (as of December 18th) programs that may get loaded at start up and what they are as well as whether it is necessary to load them at startup for your system to work properly.

A second site, with the intriguing name of PC Hell, provides excellent guidance about removing a number of programs that get installed surreptitiously in what has come to be known as “drive-by downloads,” things that are installed when you click on some innocent-looking popup message that a website presents to you. For example, such programs as Gator and Bonsai Buddy are found on many people’s computer, as a result of this type of drive-by download, and seem almost impossible to remove. Fortunately, however, this site will tell you how.

Another site that should be on everyone’s list of Favorites (or Bookmarks) is Snopes.com, because it can save you the embarrassment of forwarding a piece of email someone sent you to ALL your friends and web-acquaintances only to learn belatedly that the outrage it reports is false. Of course, to be helped by Snopes, you’ll have to form the habit of checking things out there before your outrage prompts you to dispatch that recently received email to your distribution list. It has happened to us all, so I think all of us would do well to resolve to check out Snopes BEFORE we decide that we need to inform our friends of such messages.

I’m sure there are other important websites that I’ve omitted and about which I’m uninformed. If you know of others that fall into this category, I’d be delighted to learn of them. Just click on Comments below this posting and nominate the sites you find of similar value, if you’d like to suggest them to others.

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What’s a PermaLink? Inspired by my success earlie…

What’s a PermaLink?

Inspired by my success earlier today at resolving the problem of my “Comments” link not incrementing the number when a comment was made in response to a specific post, I’ve now fixed another problem I’d been planning to fix when I could figure out how. It had to do with “PermaLinks,” and you’ll now see it below this post and the others on this page. What are they? And what can you do with them?

Well, PermaLinks are links to a specific entry in a weblog. As you’ll no doubt realize, as soon as you add another entry at the top of a weblog, the other entries are shifted down, and eventually they drift off the page and into the archive. A PermaLink provides a way to jump to a specific entry, even after it has disappeared into the archives. You can copy the permalink to your clipboard by right clicking on the word “PermaLink” and choosing “Copy Shortcut.” Then just paste that link wherever you want to refer to that particular post and shazzam!, you’ve linked to it.

Here’s a discussion of how they evolved as well as some further links to discussions about them.

“Mistakes are the portals of discovery.” – James J…

“Mistakes are the portals of discovery.” – James Joyce

Last night I discovered to my chagrin that in my post on December 13th about the blogs I read frequently, I mistakenly called Jay Rosen, the author of PressThink, Jason Rosen. I have now edited the post so that his name appears as it should, thereby sweeping my error under the rug, so to speak, but the experience helped me discover a way to fix a problem this blog has had for some time now. I discovered the faux pas when I accidentally clicked on the “comments” link at the bottom of the December 13th post rather than the one at the end of yesterday’s post. There I found a message from Mr. Rosen himself in which he told me about the error (you can see his comment and my subsequent ones by clicking on the “comments” link at the bottom of “My Blog Reading List”).

I hadn’t seen Jay’s comment previously because for some time now the “comments” facility has been failing to display the number of comments (as it is supposed to do) after an entry. I didn’t know why, and up until today, I hadn’t bothered to troubleshoot the issue. This morning, I spent a little time at YACCS (Yet another Comment Control System) and resolved the issue. Now when you post a comment, the number at the end of the comment will be incremented so that it will show that someone has responded to my post. I am hopeful that this will enable me to see it when you reply to something I have posted here so that I and others will be able to respond to it. It is a well-known principle of operant conditioning that behavior that isn’t reinforced eventually dies out. So when people comment and get no feedback on their comment, they eventually quit commenting.

I am hopeful that by resolving this issue this blog can become more of a two-way conversation. So even though I am embarrassed that I made the mistake on Jay Rosen’s name, I’m pleased that it led me to fix something that has been broken for a while now.

“For unto us a child is born, and unto us a son is…

“For unto us a child is born, and unto us a son is given …”

Thirty-nine years ago today our family gathered for Christmas morning breakfast, as was its custom, at Uncle Pat’s restaurant in Stone Mountain, Georgia. While the location of the breakfast often differed through the years, the tradition of having a breakfast feast together has become an enduring part of our family’s celebration of the holiday. Being Southerners, our breakfast consisted of scrambled eggs, bacon and sausage, grits, biscuits and butter, orange juice and various desserts that were always around during the holiday season.

But Carole and I weren’t there for this celebration. Instead we were in Charleston, SC, because at the time I was stationed there in the Navy. In fact, we were at the Charleston Naval Hospital where Carole was giving birth to Jeffrey Charles Nelson, our first son. After I had had a chance to see Jeff for the first time and to visit with Carole briefly, I placed a phone call to the restaurant and “proclaimed the glad tidings” to the assembled group that the family had a new member, a son, which was news because this was before the days when parents knew in advance the sex of their impending offspring.

Because he was born on Christmas Day, we gave him the initials JC, choosing Jeffrey because I liked the name and Charles in honor of Carole’s dad, Charlie Oglesbee. The gift of a son on Christmas Day was then and remains today the best Christmas gift I was ever given by life and by my loving wife, Carole. No Christmas gift since, nor any that I may receive in the future can ever compare with the joy that gift brought into my life.

But there have been other memorable gifts that I’ve received at Christmas, both large and small, that I think of when this season rolls around. For instance, one was in 1952 when I got a new Hi-Fi system that was a boxy turntable with a spindle that enabled you to stack 8 or 10 LPs to be queued for playing in succession. And that gift was memorable not so much for the gift itself as for the circumstances surrounding it. My dad had been hunting in the days leading up to Christmas with Daddy Perry, his father, and while on that trip and crossing a creek, he had slipped and fallen into the creek, getting soaked to the skin on a very cold December day. Because he was so dedicated to hunting and to toughing it out, he had continued to hunt throughout the day and had come home nearly frozen. On Christmas eve in the middle of the night, he and my mother walked over to my grandparents’ home, that was only a few hundred feet from our house, to pick up the Hi-Fi system and bring it into house so that I’d be surprised when I awoke on Christmas morning. That year was one of the last at which we honored the myth of Santa’s delivering our gifts while we slept. But it was at a cost, because already my dad was beginning to suffer from the pneumonia that he had contracted as a result of his dunking in the creek. While he eventually recovered from the illness, I’ll always remember his making the sacrifice of getting out of his sick bed to bring that Hi-Fi set to the house and place it “under” the tree to surprise me on Christmas morning.

In 1987, another memorable Christmas gift taught me that the best gifts aren’t always what you receive but are frequently what you give instead. Mike and Jeff were living together in Atlanta area, off Panola Rd, and they were struggling financially. Jeff had already bought a home and worked at Murray’s TV and Appliance store. Mike was living with him at the time. My friend, Belva Ann, had travelled from Oregon to visit with me at Christmas that year and we had spent the week leading up to Christmas making an old family recipe for “lebkuchen,” which are cookies made from flour and molasses. Making them was a tremendous chore because there is little moisture in the mix so combining the ingredients required almost superhuman strength. At the same time, I had compiled an audio tape of Christmas songs for one side and uplifting music for the other that I was duplicating repeatedly so that I could give everyone on my Christmas list a copy of that tape. The house was filled with the smells of the lebkuchen as they baked in the oven and with the sounds of that tape played over and over as I duplicated copies of it. The effort involved in each of those two gifts was extraordinary and the time required to complete them was extensive.

Around the 23rd, I spoke with either Mike or Jeff on the phone and they both sounded down in the dumps because their financial situation had dictated that they weren’t going to have much of a Christmas at all. After that call, I said to Belva Ann, “let’s go to Atlanta and celebrate Christmas with Jeff and Mike.” She had spent much of the week decorating my house here in Knoxville, but never one to shrink from a challenge, she agreed to my plan. We took all the decorations down and packed them into the car. We then went to Sam’s and bought all kinds of household supplies, coffee, paper towels, pillows, peanut butter, food stuffs, toiletries, and every imaginable item that Jeff’s house, in its financially strapped condition, might be missing. We wrapped each of the items individually and then boxed them into separate large shipping boxes and wrapped those. The car was packed to the roof leaving little room for anything else. And we drove to Atlanta.

On Christmas eve, Jeff was at work, but we pulled into his driveway, unloaded all the gifts we had brought, and with Mike in tow, headed out to find a Christmas tree. We came to a Christmas tree sales stand on the side of the road on Covington Highway where we spotted the perfect tree. The sales person said that since it was Christmas eve, he would just give us the tree. So we carted it home and began decorating it. As we did so, I noticed Mike whistling “Jingle Bells,” which signified to me a remarkable shift in his mood. Earlier when I had spoken to him and Jeff on the phone, you could hear in their voices the depression that the anticipated austere Christmas was causing. Now in his whistling, I could hear that somehow his mood had been rescued from the doldrums and restored to the appropriate mood for Christmas.

When Jeff came home from work on Christmas eve night, he was overwhelmed to see the decorated tree and all the gifts under it. While all of the gifts were mundane households items, they were things their household needed, and they brightened that Christmas morning and the lives of my two young sons in a way that I’ve seldom seen done since by more expensive gifts of things that they wanted. We celebrated that Christmas morning with a breakfast feast together, as we have so many times through the years.

But the best gift of all that Christmas was the memory Belva Ann and I had of “taking Christmas to Georgia.” Seldom have I experienced more joy in giving than I did that year. I received more from giving them that experience and the delight I could see in their changed mood than I thought possible.

All of us, I guess, have specific memories of Christmas times when we were really happy and joyful as a family. It is the memories that we treasure the most as we gain the perspective of age with many Christmases under our belts. These memories of mine help to remind me that there is a tremendous difference between “exchanging gifts” and giving. Always, the act of giving is more memorable than the gifts themselves. Such experiences reinforce the truth that it is more blessed (i.e., happy) to give than to receive.

May your Christmas be filled with joy. May you be surrounded by loved ones this Christmas day, and may you know that just as I treasure these very personal memories, I also treasure the joy of your friendship and our association.

Merry Christmas to all.

My Blog Reading List Recently in a newsletter tha…

My Blog Reading List

Recently in a newsletter that I distribute periodically to a small circle of family and friends, I recommended a browser add-on called Smart Explorer because it provides you the ability to define “smart groups” of websites and allows you to open them simultaneously with one click. One of the smart groups I defined in my copy of Smart Explorer is called “blogs,” and it consists of seven blogs that I check regularly to see what they are advocating or what they have found out since I last read them. These seven blogs illustrate some of the ways blogs differ from one another and a variety of ways that they can be maintained. Today I thought I’d introduce you to those blogs and point out some of the things that are unique about each of them.

In MIT Blog in Technology Review: MIT’s Magazine of Innovation, several writers (Simon Garfinkel, David Kushner, and Henry Jenkins among others) contribute postings with the theme “Insights, commentary, and analysis about technology and its impact.” Since I am interested in “technology and its impact,” I find this site worth regular visits and because it is maintained by people associated with Massachusetts Institute of Technology I tend to believe that they know what they are talking about and that they may have some link to the latest developments in that field.

Another blog that is maintained by multiple authors is SATN.ORG. The three primary authors of this blog are Bob Frankston, David Reed and Dan Bricklin. Frankston and Bricklin are noteworthy because they are the authors of the very first spreadsheet program, VisiCalc, that gave rise to a genre of software I find essential in my daily work and one that is widely used in the business world. Each of these authors also maintain their own websites separately from their combined efforts at SATN.ORG. Frankston’s is here, Reed’s is here and Bricklin’s will be discussed in the next paragraph because it is the next blog in my list. The advantage of blogs that are maintained by several authors is that the postings provide multiple perspectives and are likely to be more frequently updated. The demands of daily posting are a chore for a blog such as mine that is maintained by a single individual. Ironically, SATN.ORG deviates from this general rule that multiple authors increases the likelihood of daily postings, and often there are long stretches between postings on it. For instance, as of this morning the most recent posting at SATN.ORG was December 1, 2003. Nevertheless, I find the comments that appear there are thought-provoking and worth the wait.

Dan Bricklin’s blog is one that I have followed for a long time. Bricklin uses a tool that he created to maintain his site. In its current incarnation, this tool is called CuteSITE Builder, and it was previously known as Trellix web. This link explains all that. He describes the purpose of his blog thusly, “This log covers my thoughts on making web sites, the computer industry, digital photography, PC history, conferences I attend, and people I know or run into.” He maintains links to some interesting articles he has written through the years, many of which are well worth the time spent reading them.

Doc Searls Weblog is one of the most active weblogs that I’ve found on the web. He is a professional writer, a Linux advocate, and one of the most widely known and quoted weblog writers around. Along with several others (Christopher Locke, Rick Levine, and David Weinberger), he wrote The Cluetrain Manifesto in April, 1999, that has become a classic commentary about how businesses relate to their customers and how the Internet has had an effect on long-standing myths about that process.

I’m still reading Dan Gillmor’s eJournal since he was one of the first weblog authors I discovered. Gillmor is a technology journalist for the San Jose Mercury News, and though I don’t find his eJournal (blog) as interesting as I used to, I still occasionally find a link there that I think is worth investigating.

Metafilter is a very unique weblog. It consists of entries posted by the community at large. The topics are as diverse as the 17173 members of that community’s individual interests or concerns. More than any other weblog I have visited, this one illustrates the conversational possibilities of a weblog. Members post an article and then other members engage in a conversation about it by clicking on the “comments” link where they post their comment about the posting. When a controversial or particularly interesting entry is posted, it isn’t unusual for there to be over a hundred responses to the topic under discussion. This weblog is a constant source of the bizarre or unique things one can find on the web.

Jay Rosen’s weblog, PressThink, is focused on journalism. Jay “is a press critic and writer whose primary focus is the media’s role in a democracy. A member of the faculty since 1986, he is the current chair, and teaches courses in media criticism, cultural journalism, press ethics and the journalistic tradition, among other subjects.” The articles he posts are well-written (what else?) and thoughtful. His site also frequently provokes a lot of discussion about each of his postings. One needs to don his thinking cap before reading this weblog though because it isn’t casual reading. I find it quite stimulating to follow his commentary.

So there you have the “magnificent seven” blogs that I read with some regularity (three to five times a week). Try some of them out. I think you’ll find that there are weblogs out there that aren’t of the what-I-had-for-breakfast variety and that offer some information about what is going on in the world.

“It’s been too long” I wrote what follows on 11/0…

“It’s been too long”

I wrote what follows on 11/06/97 and I just reread it this morning. Since I don’t think I ever published it anywhere, I thought I’d recycle it here for any who might enjoy reading it.

Yesterday, Vickie and I went to the Smokies to climb the Chimneys. It was our first hike together, even though we’ve worked together in the same company for the last 17 years. We had a magnificent day for it, cool enough to make our climb possible and sunny enough to keep us from being cold. We sweated nonetheless. This two mile hike is a challenge because it ascends 1700 feet in that distance, not an impossible feat for almost anyone, but one that does tax one’s physical resources. This old body of mine proved it could do what it used to, but with considerably more effort. I am, of course, sore this morning.

We did our hike in 4 hours and 15 minutes from the parking lot to the parking lot again, with an hour at the top of the promontory. We were on the upper end of what is considered normal for this hike, which at its trailhead estimates it to be a 2-3 hour hike. Vickie and I discovered we had a comparable hiking pace that each of us tolerated. As always it was rejuvenating and exhausting, parallel in effect to a very deep exhilaration and the filling the lungs once again with the sweet smelling moist air of the Smokies. I had forgotten how good clean air smells. It’s been too long.

The conclusion, that it’s been too long, is one I have every time I return to the Smokies. Although they are no more than 40 miles from my home, I find it too easy to be too busy to take the time to make hikes such as this. But when I do make them, I know it had been too long since I did it last. What a pleasure to exhaust oneself in such a joyful toil.

This was the first time I’ve climbed this hike when there was snow on the ground, though I realized in my most recent visit that I’ve made this particular hike quite a number of times. As a matter of fact since I came to Knoxville in 1979, I must have accompanied as many as 30 to 40 people on this trip. I haven’t maintained a count of the total number of times I’ve done it but I suspect is maybe 20 or so times. But always when I do it again, I conclude it’s been too long. It seems it has been about 5 years since I did it last.

The hike is a lovely experience distinguished by three different levels of terrain and difficulty . . . and reward. Upon entering the park on the Newfound Gap road, you come upon the Sugarlands Welcome Center where are found things like restrooms, maps, and other useful paraphernalia for exploring the park and guidelines about behaving in the area. Beyond that welcome center about 5 miles, you arrive at a widened portion of the road that serves as a parking area for about 20 or so cars. Once parked, suited up with backpack filled with munchies, water, and other necessities, you proceed downhill to reach the first bridge over the mountain stream that crisscrosses the path in three other locations on the way up, and come to think of it, on the way down.

The first level of the terrain is on a path along a gently undulating walkway surrounded by mountain laurel and rhododendron, ferns and moss covered logs and trees. Standing on one of the bridges as you cross the stream and looking either up or down river, there are massive boulders, frequent stepping stones for side trips off the trail. You can easily crawl far enough up the stream and around the bend to get a photograph of a completely wild looking river, with no evidences of the presence of man’s influence. You can be there, listening to the symphony played by the water on the instruments of rocks and puddles below them, different distances, different circumferences, different size streams falling, and hearing nothing else.

The second level, beginning just after the sign indicating you’ve passed 0.9 miles and have 1.1 mile to go, really gets the heart rate up. The ascent is still walking on a path, but the path is much steeper than in the first section. For about a 200 foot stretch, Vickie and I decided on a 50 step limit before we would stop to catch our breath and allow our hearts to slow to a somewhat more normal level. It was in this area that the snow was heavier, still not a problem, and the air was obviously colder, but the exertion guaranteed a sufficient level of body heat.

The third level, the pinnacle, is a steep climb up a relatively sheer rock face, using hand and foot holds to actually climb a rock. This is a short and most challenging portion of the climb. The view from the pinnacle is the reward for all the exertion of the whole trip, as you can see the entire Sugarlands Valley and look down the 1700 feet to the road you travelled to arrive at the trailhead. There are two points, hence the name the Chimneys versus Chimney. In the past I’ve made the trek to the second point, but today Vickie and I decided to be satisfied with having made it to the first, the higher of the two.

In honor of a practice of our firm through the years, we declared our lunch at the top of the Chimneys our company’s Quarterly meeting. Fortunately, there were other hikers there so we got them to take our picture for posterity. One must document these quarterly meetings for the company history books.

While we were there, several squirrels came up seeking a handout, having been conditioned by previous hikers to the degree that they seemed almost tame. We concluded that they were approaching us because they thought we were nuts for having scaled the most difficult face of the rock on the way up when there was an easier alternative around to our right that we didn’t explore before going up the hard way. While that ascent was quite taxing, as with all such giving of everything in an effort, it was also quite satisfying to have achieved it.

Although coming down the mountain is considerably easier than going up it, the previous exertion and the necessity to restrain yourself as you travel the trail in reverse causes the legs to become quite wobbly. Carrying the back pack also begins to take it’s toll on the muscles between the shoulders. So the trip down takes a bit of time too. In the past, both Vickie and I have had the experience of making this hike and staying at the top a bit too long, so that by the time we are on the trail back it has gotten dark. That’s a difficult trip on a dark night.

When we returned at last to the car, I was very tired, my feet hurt a bit where my hiking boots had rubbed on my ankles, and my shoulders were tired, but I felt good. And once again I realized it’s been too long since I felt like that.