Monday, July 30, 2007

Sony officially makes it to my list of crappy OEM's

Sometimes I wish people did read my blog just so I could warn them to stay away from things. Things like Sony Vaio's. Without a doubt Sony is in at least the top 5 of crappy OEM computers. The number one reason they suck is lack of driver support. Any OEM that doesn't have every single driver available from their website after a fresh install of Windows is lacking the most basic customer support. True, Sony isn't the only one that does this, but they are one of the most annoying.

Worse yet, don't ever loose your BIOS password. To get past it you have to contact Sony, have multiple forms of identification and ownership of the laptop (good luck with that). Then, after many weeks, you might get them to help you with it. Sony was smart enough to store the password on an EEPROM separate from the CMOS. Great for security, but in the long run it will cost you between $300-$450 to get your laptop sent back to get it cleared.

Congratulation Sony, you might very well be worse than HP or even eMachines. It's unfortunate people fall for all the polished crap that makes their laptops look good. If anyone ever does read this, tell your friends to buy Gateway, Dell, or Toshiba. No OEM is great, but, coming from a computer tech, those are the ones I see the least of (well I see a lot of Dell, but it's always software problems which is an unfortunate side effect of loading up computers with trialware).

Friday, July 27, 2007

I had to tell EA to stay away from my Wii!

I read the EA press release about how they regretted not supporting the Nintendo Wii. They only made a few games for the Wii and many games for the Xbox and PS3, and darn it they missed out on all that money Nintendo is raking in. That's too bad EA, I have no sympathy for you. In fact I contacted EA with the following letter.
I read an article that you guys regret missing the boat on the Nintendo Wii, and I thought I would take the time to offer you some free advice. Stay away from the Wii. You already ruined Ultima and Wing Commander for me so just do everyone a favor and stay away from Nintendo.

Congratulations on creating the same games over and over and ruining the game industry for people that enjoy innovative and entertaining games.
I look forward to their response, but will be surprised if they take the time.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Wireless Power

Been a while since I looked into wireless electricity. It's a concept that is cool, but difficult for me to grasp. In my mind, wireless electricity is lightning. As dangerous as that sounds there is a company that not only has working products, but won best emerging technology at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) 2007. I'm probably the last person to blog about this (sometimes I'm slow), and there are obviously many uses for it. Of course it's my job to come up with cool ways to incorporate it into my trailer.

Also, it's rare I find safe bets when it comes to stock. The company, Powercast, is an L.L.C and not traded on the stock exchange. However, Phillips is a company they are dealing with and even expect to start having products available for consumers before the end of this year. Even if they don't come out with anything until the end of next year, I think Phillips stock might be worth looking into.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Computer Shop Woas

I used to blog about problematic computers that came in the shop. Haven't done it in a while, but today I had two odd balls that came in about the same time.

The first one wouldn't turn on unless the side of the case was open. In fact, when you put the side back on, it would turn off. Weird, but ultimately was the power supply. When the case was put together, it would move the wires in such a way that the power supply would short. I thought about actually finding the short in the wire, or likely in the molex connector, but in the end it was easier and better for the customer just to replace the power supply.

The second one was a bit trickier. The customers power supply, motherboard, CPU, and ram would all post out side the case. But in the case it would turn on for a moment, then shut back down. I thought for sure it was a short somewhere on the motherboard while it was in the case, but I couldn't find anything. I tried a different power supply, motherboard, CPU, and ram in the customers case, and it did the same thing. It finally dawned on me the only thing different between being in the case and out of the case, besides the case, was the atx power switch. Low and behold, replace it and everything worked fine. Second time in my career as a PC technician have I found the actual power switch to be the culprit. In this one's case I did a continuity test with a multimeter to find the switch was always on. Which explains why it would come on for about ten seconds and turn off no matter what hardware was in the case.

Thursday, July 12, 2007


I decided to do a better job of keeping track of food this month. Also, I'm trying to curb eating out and do better at planning my grocery shopping. So far it's been alright. Definitely been eating more at home. Lunch time is the hardest because peer pressure dictates I go out and grab some fast food with my co-workers. Not that I don't enjoy the lunch time socialization; it just cost money and now I'm froogle (froogle sounds so much nicer than cheap doesn't it?).

Eating out is bad for the budget. Even when I do eat out I try to save though. Yesterday I spent $3.24 on a Subway sandwich. It was only a 6" and it was ham, the cheapest they have besides a veggie. I didn't get chips or a drink. I keep soda's at the shop, I pick up a case when I'm at the grocery store and they're on sale. Last time I bought a twelve pack of soda it was $2.71 after tax. Each soda cost roughly $0.23, making my lunch a whopping $3.47. Granted I can easily go through a few soda's a day including the one I drink with my lunch. But even if I drink three, eating and drinking during my work day comes to under $4.00.

I'm pretty anal about keeping track of things like where I spend my money, or how much electricity is being used. Things like food I'm a little short sighted on. It takes a bit of effort to determine how much that sandwich I just made cost. Soda's are pretty easy to divide by twelve, but those chips and dip? How many cents is each chip worth? How the hell do you calculate that dip? More importantly, why do I run out of chips and still have halve the dip's a vicious cycle that keeps chips and dip on alternating shopping lists. Speaking of things to keep track of, how do you account for things going bad? I can't go through a half a gallon of milk before it goes bad.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Nothing to Hide

I read a paper arguing against the "nothing to hide" argument (pdf) most people use when it comes to the government prying in our business. I admit I've used this argument myself because it's true. I've got nothing to hide. My life is pretty boring and I have documentation to prove it. The arguments against this "nothing to hide" policy are compelling. The author really did his home work and brings up some valid points. For example; if you have nothing to hide then you shouldn't mind letting the author of that paper take a naked photo of you, own the rights to it, and let him distribute it as he sees fit.

In the authors defense, there are people like that. They're called porn stars. Although I use this argument when it comes to my personal electronic communication, I think there is some kind of boundary when it comes to nudity. Why the author would want naked pictures of me in the first place is what would disturb me. Any one that wants naked pictures of me, very likely, should be the ones the government is monitoring.

And to answer his question, "Do you have curtains in your home?" Of course, you don't expect me to get my game on with light reflecting off my computer monitor do you? I have thick light blocking curtains. But sometimes, when I'm not gaming and it's a nice day, I totally open up those curtains and let anyone that wants to look in and see how I live. Now, again, at night when I'm changing into my pajama's, no I would rather not let all my neighbors see that. I guess my question is, where is the line when it comes to privacy? There are privacy issues that let the government read my email and potentially catch me doing crimes, and there are issues that let my neighbor see me naked. I think they're very different and shouldn't be mixed up, which seems to be the fundamental argument of this paper.

When the government starts to request naked pictures, or video camera's in my home, I'll draw the line. But if they just want to make sure I'm law biding citizen, which ultimately exonerates me of any potential crime I could be accused of, I'm all for it. That begins my philosophy that even an innocent man that gets accused of a crime is already having problems. In most cases just being accused is just as bad as actually committing the crime. If my email's and phone calls can help out an innocent person then I'm all for that (especially if it's me) just as much as I'm all for them finding legitimate criminals. Honestly I can't see how removing my curtains will help convect, or not convect, anyone of a crime. Except of course that crime was in my home... than I would have something to hide.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Wing Commander

Wing Commander was another great game that was a victim of EA buying out Origin. I can only imagine how great the series would have become if it continued. To date, I have yet to play a space flight combat simulator that compares. Unfortunately, I never owned a copy of it when it was in it's prime. In an effort to show my undying support for Origin, I set out to find a legal copy. Wing Commander 2 is still easily obtainable; as is 3, 4, privateer, armada, and many of the other Wing Commander games I can't remember. WC1 and WC2 were probably my favorites of them all though. I did eventually find the original Wing Commander. Unfortunately, it's not the deluxe that comes with special operations 1 & 2 and the speech pack. But at least I'll be able to play the original game again in all it's glory.

Funny how these old games work. When they first came out everyone was excited because it was new and fresh. Now they're hard to find but they're still exciting when you do get to play them. If only I had known that games like Wing Commander and Ultima were going to be some of the best games in all of history, I would have bought them new, kept all the manual, taken great care to keep the original packaging and documentation in great condition. A lot of these games came with things, unlike todays games. For example, the original Wing Commander came with blue prints of the ships. Ultima came with cloth maps of the world. If a video game company today, could do what Origin did before video games were mainstream, they would do very well for themselves I think.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Observations in Nintendo Demographics

My boss bought a Nintendo DS for the sole purpose of playing Brain Age's Sudoku. This is just a perfect example of how Nintendo is broadening their demographics. It also happens to be one of the rare examples of how a company's strategy is actually noticeable. My boss is just the newest of these examples I'm finding in my life.

The first example was last Christmas when I played Nintendo Wii with my 80 year old grandmother. I have to admit she schooled me at bowling. In the past few years Nintendo has made huge advances breaking out of the 13-24 male bracket. I can't even explain why this is interesting to me other than I can point it out when I see it happening.

By the way, have a lucky 7-7-07.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Saving Money on Entertainment

"Entertain me," this is what America seems to be all about these days. I fall into this category just like most everyone else. Typically, we can go out to eat, see a movie, go to a club, or do whatever it is that entertains you. Of course all these things cost money. These are some things I do to save money on entertainment.

Game on. It's easy for me to get my game on. Personally I find video games to be one of the most enjoyable pass times out there, and it doesn't have to be expensive. Most people already have a computer, and there are a plethora of free online games. I personally like to play Space Penguin (requires flash) and Sudoku. There are a number of Sudoku site, that is one of my favorites. Other games work out to be amazingly cost efficient as well, like World of Warcraft (WoW). I hear so may people say, "Oh I can't afford the monthly payment." Which is sure sign someone didn't do their homework. I pay for two WoW accounts at $15 a month. I pay for them in six month intervals because you get a discount. After tax, in Texas, six months of WoW comes to $84.37. For $168.74 I can entertain myself and my girlfriend every night for 180 days (94 cents a day). No, we don't play every night.

There are arguments gaming cost more. For example you may have a computer, but not a computer than can run WoW. A few smart upgrades can make just about any computer, even one a few years old, worthy of most games. Other games, namely single player games, work out pretty well. Half Life 2 cost me $50 and kept me tied up for the better part of a month. Much more cost effective than a two hour move.

Outside of gaming, but still using computers, blogging is an effective way to keep busy. If you have a blog people read you might even make money off that with Google's Adsense. Personally I started a blog to work on my writing skills, but I find it a fun way to spend a few hours. Granted my interest in it wanes and ebbs, but like with most things you have to have an interest in something to be entertained by it. Sometimes that interest can be manually sparked; sometimes it can't.

I also don't go to every new movie release out there either. Sometimes thats a hard one to follow. Right now all my co-workers are telling me how great Die Hard 4 was, and how spectacular Transformers was (even though the reviews say it isn't so hot). I'm sure they're all worth watching, but I can easily wait for them to come out on DVD. Since I wait for things to come out on DVD, I watch the new rental release list. They may not be new, but they're new to me and I get to watch them in the comfort of my own home without the chance of a crying kid behind me. Sometimes I do make exceptions. Like when I can tell my girlfriend is frustrated we haven't gone out in a while. Mathematically, this comes down to seeing a movie in the theater once a month. This month will be Transformers. We plan to see it tomorrow. I also do my best to stay away from going on opening day, and eat something before you go because their hot dogs are way over priced.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

My 12 Volt Mystery

Yesterday I got a chance to learn more about my 12 volt system here in the trailer. One day I would really like to have a superb 12 volt system. Complete with multiple batteries, solar panels, heavy duty converters and inverters, and hopefully the ability to actually run for a decent amount of time without the need for 110 volt power. Until that day, I have 12 volt lights and a couple of read outs with a single converter and no batteries.

As I was saying, I was up to my elbows in the mess of what remains of my limited 12 volt system all because my 50 amp converter finally kicked the bucket. No surprise though, it was the original converter that came with the Airstream and was on my list of things I know will fail sometime in the near future. The new one wasn't too bad. I was expecting it to be a lot more expensive. As you can see from my picture, it really looks like a power supply out of a computer. Which makes since seeing how they do the same thing. It even has an 80mm case fan on it. The new one also only weighed about a tenth of what the old one weighed; no exaggeration.

I had some problems installing it. I even called my dad who helped me out quite a bit. I was getting continuity between the positive and the negative wire in my fuse box, so naturally, when I plugged in the new converter, it didn't stay on long. I looked around the trailer for a short, sure that something had to happen that caused my old converter to die and created this continuity, but nothing. In the end I just started unhooking wires until the multimeter told me there was no more continuity between the positive and the negative wires that come from the converter. Once that was figured out, the converter powered up fine and all my lights worked again, but here is the complicated part. The positive lead gives me continuity to the ground (which my dad explained might be a positive ground system and seems plausible), but the negative also gives me continuity to the ground... yet they still don't give me continuity with each other. Which makes absolutely no since to me. How do two wires make a complete circuit with the ground, but not each other? I'll even be the first to admit, my understanding of electricity lacks considerably considering I'm kind of a geek and all.... but I know a little. I guess I don't know this though.

None the less, the new converter works and is in place, distributing power to my lights, a really well placed clock at the front of the trailer, and my tank level read outs.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Savings vs Credit Cards

Like I mentioned in my June Spending Analysis; I have a new savings and credit card philosophy. To keep things simple, I have a single credit card. Usually it's used to cover things I cannot afford out of my checking account. For example; back in January my cat had a veterinary bill that was most untimely. That went on the credit card. Nothing small goes on the credit card. It's pretty much for emergencies. My savings account is nothing spectacular, but I know it's important to me to save money every pay check.

Pay yourself first is a great rule, but an inflexible one that is hard to live by. I have created a "flexible pay myself first" plan. I have a minimum and a maximum amount to put in savings every pay day. The minimum is a number I know I can live without. Something ridiculously low like $10. No mater what, every pay day my savings account will get $10. I have a medium number, like say $25 (keep in mind these aren't my numbers I'm just making them up), that is what I really try to put in savings every pay day. If all is normal and nothing unexpected comes up, $25 is put away. Then I have a best case scenario number, something like $100. That's what I put away if I'm living frugal and I'm ahead on my bills. If I'm trying to make a serious dent in my credit card debt, I'll cut the savings down to my minimum number and make larger payments towards my credit card (like I did in June).

I have a savings account and a credit card, basically they're opposites. One interest rate works against me and one works for me, albeit the one that works for me doesn't work nearly has hard as the one that works against me. It makes since to sacrifice the savings account to pay off the credit card, but here is the conundrum. If I wipe out my savings to pay off my credit card, when something comes up, like unexpected auto repair, the only way to pay for it is from the credit card again. It's a good idea to keep some much in savings while working to pay off the credit card. Granted the credit card may take a little longer to pay off, but at least you're not leaving your self without a way to pay for emergencies. This way, when the credit card is payed off there is still money in savings to fall back on.

The next conundrum is, once that card is payed off, do I destroy it and never look back? Personally I don't think it hurts to have at least a single credit card, preferably with a zero balance. In my own case I cannot access money in my savings account unless I manually transfer it to my checking. So in an instance I need to pay a large bill I can put it on my credit card that has a zero balance, transfer the same amount from my savings to my checking, then make an immediate payment on the credit card. Although the steeps involved seem redundant there are a number of advantages to this. First of all, all this can be done on line within a few minutes after getting home from paying that big bill. Secondly, because of the process I'm less likely to use my credit card on smaller purchases that could be payed for with my check card. Another advantage of this is I have a better bead on where my money comes and goes. My girlfriend hates it when I whip out my spreadsheet of accounts and study the numbers, but the time I spend doing that helps me see how my spending effects my financial situation. Lastly, I have a credit card with decent rewards. If I have to put some unexpected auto repair on my credit card I at least get a little something in return. If I have the ability to pay it off from savings immediately, it's basically getting something for nothing. I don't pay any interest, and I still get credit card reward points.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Back to Basics

I originally started this blog to document trailer life as a geek. Most folks that are full time RVers are retired, I thought I might have a unique perspective on it. The major difference between me and those retired folks is that they usually have something a lot newer than my Airstream. Most recently, my air conditioner began to smell really bad. Worse yet, I replaced it in February 2006. I am no A/C repair man, but I did open it up and take a look around. There was a little mold and some dust. Cleaning it out offered little improvement; it only smelt like bleach for a little while, then right back to the old smell. A smell that was both nasty and familiar. A smell that was just like the old air conditioner.

I had the guy that installed it come back out and poke around just in case I had messed something up in cleaning it. Fortunately, everything was fine. He surmised the smell was coming from between the outer skin and inner skin of the trailer, where all the twenty some-odd year old insulation has been. Now that went right up my flag pole. He temporarily helped out my smelly a/c problem with some aluminum tape to mask off the area's where the a/c was sucking air from between the skins of the trailer, but that didn't last too long.

In the end I relied on some old fashion foam in a can and duct tape. I used to duct tape to mask off the same area's as the repair man did with the aluminum tape. Only I left some holes so I could foam up the inside. I left the duct tape up there and put the inside part of the a/c back together. Although I know the duct tape will come off one day, and thats okay, living in south Texas gets old really quick with the a/c off. Since then, there has been no smell.... from the a/c anyway.

Every now and again we get the really nasty sewage smell. At first I thought it was a sign my holding tank was full, but I've finally come to the conclusion it's just the park. The smell is the same everywhere, especially strong in the public bathroom. It doesn't happen much nor does it last long, but we keep some air freshener around.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Speaking of Better Pie Charts

This one represents average spending for the year so far. I thought today, because the year is half over, would be a good day to do this one. I even figured out how to add percentages with calc.

As one can see, the beginning of the year's auto maintenance (8.28%) really hurt. Most of the Other Necessity (3.04%) was a vet bill for my poor cat (he's fine now by the way). This chart gave me some thing to do on a Sunday morning anyway.

June Spending Analysis

June was far more frugal than most months, and the pie chart shows it. I paid about 30% more this month in bills than usual because I'm trying to make a serious dent in my credit card debt. The current plan is to do that for the next three months to get rid of the credit card debt I accumulated just this year. Unexpected veterinary and auto repair ran rampant in January and February, and I'm just now starting to play catch up on it. On the plus side is only things I consider an "emergency" has stayed on my credit card. I did use it for some minor things, but paid those off immediately.

Because I've been putting more towards the credit card I took some away from savings. This month marks a new philosophy on credit cards vs savings accounts. I'll go more into that on a later post, but for now I think it's safe to reduce the amount I save as long as I don't stop saving all together.

Gas, groceries, and other necessities, were all good this month. The only reason I even had other necessities this month was because of a hair cut and a couple of small checks for college transcripts. Next month I'm going to take a hard look at groceries. I think if I take a little time to plan meals I can start to save in that area.

On the Luxury break down I actually did fairly well. I spend a whopping $2.17 on entertainment. That was a movie rental with a coupon and a dollar credit on my account for returning a new release within 24 hours. This month happens to be an extreme example of how little I spend on entertainment. It's usually in the tens of dollars for an entire month. Other than that half of it was gifts. Father's day, graduations, a birthday or two, all added up. The other half was eating out. Again, I hope to reduce this cost along with the grocery cost.

June was a good month for me. In the end I paid all my bills, lowered my credit card debt, and watched a movie at home with my sweetie.

Hopefully my pie charts will get better too.