Monday, January 28, 2008

Ways to Improve the Presidential Primary system

I don't really like to blog about politics. And this isn't going to get political -- I mean, I'm not gong to endorse a candidate or even a party. Instead, I'm going to suggest ways to improve the system.

What I don't like about what's currently going on is that the news media is constantly speculating about who will win, and each new event brings on more speculation. I think this is unfairly influencing those who haven't voted yet. So here are some ideas I have:

  • Have each state's primary be scheduled on a separate date, at least 3 days apart from any other state's primary. Both parties must have their primary on the same day in each state (unlike South Carolina which had them on separate days). This would ensure each state got the same advantage of time for the candidates to visit them.

  • The results of each primary would be held completely secret until after all of them were over. This big change, if it could be done, would eliminate the speculation on early primary results which constitute such a small percentage of the entire population but which attract so much attention and are given untoward importance.

  • The news media would not be allowed to speculate on how any candidate was doing or which one was likely to win, nor would they be allowed to publish poll data. If they could outlaw polls completely, that would be great. Then we would really vote based on who the candidates were and where they stand on various issues, and not on who we think is likely to win.

Only after all of the primaries have been run would we know the outcome. And during the whole process, the media would have to report on what the candidates said, how they stand on the issues, not on who is first or second or third on a given day, or on how much a few tears changed the poll results.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Missing my Laptop

My laptop is gone. Again.

This is the third time it's been sent to the Geek Squad for the same problem. Third, not counting the time I took it there and they ordered me a new power cord, to see if that would fix it. This is the third at-least-two-week-long-period that it will be away.

It's been annoying since before Christmas, and getting worse each day. That's why I haven't been blogging as much.

The problem is the connection between the computer and the power cord, I guess. The power jack, I think the Geek Squad guy called it yesterday. So, sometimes when it's plugged in, it's charging normally. Other times, it's not. When you've got the power cord plugged in and it doesn't work right, it keeps thinking it's connected, then it thinks it's not connected, then it thinks it is, back and forth and back and forth. When it thinks it's connected, the screen is brighter. Then it thinks it's not connected and the screen gets a big dimmer. This connecting/not connecting process must take up a good bit of memory because the computer won't do much else while it's "blinking" as I've come to call it.

So you must unplug it and work frantically till the battery dies. Then you plug it in and prop it in some position that causes it to charge (if you're lucky enough to find such a position). Lately the only such position is the spot between my son's bed and the wall. So we put it there to charge, then use it till the battery dies. Or we use another computer. Trouble is, the laptop is everyone's first choice of computers.

I have to confess something. If they all were in working order, we'd have more computers than people in this house. Four people, six computers. Two of them currently don't work at all. One of those is out being fixed by the high school tech class of a friend of ours. No telling when it will be back -- when you get your computer fixed by someone for free, you can't nag them about when it will be back. Or they may not be able to fix it at all. Another is an old IBM ThinkPad that I need to tinker with. I tried to install Linux on it and got it all messed up.

Then there are the two old Dells, one of which I'm typing on now. They used to belong to the company my husband's brother works for, and we got them when they were throwing them out. They are old and don't have much memory to run most of the current stuff, but I can get Opera to work and older versions of the Microsoft Office suite of products, as long as I don't keep too many apps open at once.

Then there's my husband's computer (see the previous post about the Malware). He got it for his business and no one's allowed to use it, though I do occasionally. I hate it, though, it has Vista on it. I hate Vista.

So the laptop is the best and it will be missed. Though I was almost hoping they'd say they couldn't fix it and give us a new one. That's what happened to our last one. Service contracts at Best Buy for computers are a good deal, I definitely recommend getting one.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Beware Malware!

I was up till 2 a.m. last night fixing a major malware problem on my husband's computer.

It started while I was out last night. I got home and he wanted help fixing this error message that kept coming up telling him he had a virus or something. Clicking on the message made Internet Explorer go to a couple of different websites, one for something called Antivirus Golden and the other for something called Malware Burn. By the time I'd gotten home, he'd installed at least one of these pernicious beasts, had a toolbar in Internet Explorer he couldn't get rid of, and couldn't do much before another warning message would come up telling him he still had a problem.

I had not heard of any of these miasmatic monsters, but after a few minutes of research, I could tell we didn't want them. It took me three tries running Spybot Search and Destroy (plus 2 reboots) to scan and get rid of all instances of this virulent varmint. It had altered the registry and also, apparently, opened the door to all it foul friends, including something called Zlob. I was afraid, after reading some of the web pages I'd found, that I'd have to actually edit the registry to get rid of it, but Spybot did it. What a great piece of Software!

So what's the lesson here? Don't always believe your computer when it tells you it has a problem and then give you the website of a product you've never heard of as a solution. My husband actually got mad at me when he saw I was uninstalling the new "spyware remover" he'd downloaded. But it was definitely part of the problem, if not the cause of it all.

How come I wasn't fooled, when my husband fell for the trap? Well, first of all, I've always just naturally had good instincts when it comes to computer matters. Second, I googled the name of each of the products. When most of the results came back as websites telling you how to remove these adverse applications from your computer, you'll know you don't want to install it.

My final piece of advice to my husband was to start using Firefox.

Monday, January 21, 2008

The Pirates Who Don't Do Anything

We went to see the Veggie Tales movie on Sunday. If you aren't familiar with them, Veggie Tales started out as a series of video tapes (remember those? VHS format) with a Christian theme. Computer animated, funny, off-beat, even musical. Half-hour episodes re-telling Bible stories in a humorous way using animated vegetables as characters.

So, here comes a full-length Veggie Tales movie (there are also Saturday morning cartoons now). Featuring characters from one of the Silly Songs with Larry ("the part of the show when Larry comes out and sings a Silly Song") about the Pirates who don't do anything (they just stay at home and lay around, and if you ask them to do anything, they'll just tell you, "We don't do anything.") I told you if was off-beat.

So this was their story. They are characters at a dinner theater, and they get fired. Still dressed in their pirate costumes, they get sucked back in time to save a princess and her brother who've been kidnapped by real pirates. There was music and humor and vegetables doing amazing things, all without arms.

Only one thing was missing: the Bible story. Too bad they had to sell out to the big money film company to be able to get their film published.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

ultra-portable PCs

Apple has a new notebook computer, the MacBook Air. It's billed as the world's thinnest computer. I can see how thin is good, but what I really want is small. I have this little old thing called a NEC MobilPro. It syncs with a PC like a PDA, but it's got essentially a full-sized keyboard and a screen that is as wide as the keyboard, but half as tall, so you can see documents in the same width you'd see on a PC screen. The problem with it, it's so old it has no wireless capability and it syncs with a serial cable, so it won't sync to newer computers.

I have a new item on my wish list, now, though. I know it's not as sweet as this new MacBook, but it's also substantially lower in price and it does many of the things I need it to do. It's called the Asus Eee PC. And it even comes in pink!

It is essentially a small PC. It has a small hard drive, but from what I understand it boots very fast. It runs a version of Linux, but it's really easy to use. I would use it to do email and surf the web, mostly. I could lay in bed and read on it, without being uncomfortable like I would be trying to lay in bed with my laptop.

I'm saving up for the 2Gb version, it's only $304!

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Time for the Strike to end

I'm finally back. We got busy with Christmas, we went out of town and when we came back, we were all sick (one at a time). Though I think I was sick the longest. My youngest had it for 1 day and then gave it to me and I had it for a week. Yuck!

I've decided that the TV writer's strike has gone on long enough. I want more new episodes of NCIS and Chuck and Bones and I think The Bionic Woman has been dismantled and put back in the box she's been in since the 70's. I guess they've still got a few new episodes of ER and CSI Miami.

Here's a couple of suggestions of things you can do while you're waiting for new episodes to come back:

  • Join Netflix. Netflix is a great and convenient way to get DVDs. But they're not just a replacement for your local video rental store, because they're likely to have a much bigger selection of DVDs than your local store. In addition to any movie you are likely to have ever heard of, they have the series DVDs for most TV shows that have ever been produced on DVD. Some of my personal suggestions: NCIS (they have the first 4 seasons), Monk, NYPD Blue, and MacGuyver. They have all of the seasons of MacGuyver, what a great idea! And here's a Netflix tip: if you see a commercial for a movie that's in the theaters now, and it's a movie that looks interesting but you don't want to go see it in the theaters, you can almost always save it to your Netflix queue right now. It will have a yellow "save" box instead of a read "add to queue" box and when you click that, it puts it on a special list at the bottom of your queue, and it will move up to the real queue when it comes out on DVD.

  • Watch TV on the internet. has full episodes of many shows up. On Saturday, I found out that I'd missed the first episode of Celebrity Apprentice (it started last Thursday), so I watched it Sunday night while my husband was watching a football game. a neat hint for those of you who have the TV and the computer in the same room: headphones. That way one can watch something on the TV and the other can listen to the computer without disturbing the TV viewer. Another site that has TV shows is Some networks also sell their shows on iTunes, which is especially good if you have a video iPod. And TVSquad has a list of lots of other places you can look. Time to catch up on all those shows you never watched before or can't wait to see again.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

More on the Rowling interview on Pottercast

I promised I'd talk more about Pottercast's interview of J.K. Rowling, part 1 of which was available last Tuesday.

It was fun. They pretended to be embroiled in yet another heated discussion of whether or not Helga Hufflepuff caused the house-elf enslavement by inviting a bunch of the creatures to Hogwarts for their own safety. John and Sue were going at it and Melissa decided to finally put the matter to rest by dialing a secret phone number. A female British voice answered and reciting the supposed Hogwarts phone system's outgoing message. After going through a couple of other departments, Melissa finally got Jo on the line. It was very well-done and rather cute.

The discussion with Jo was entirely too short. A normal Pottercast is at least 1 hour, this one was about 45 min. and the above intro took at least 8 of that. I'm looking forward to the rest of the interview.

The best part of the show so far was just getting to hear Jo talking and laughing with the Pottercast trio. She's got a very good sense of humor in person, just as she does in her books. She was calling the Harry Potter Encyclopedia she planns to write "The Scottish Book." While I didn't really understand the joke, I still found it funny. It was nice to hear her talk (the last fan interview was shared with fans in written form only) and it made me hope and wish she will update her website more regularly now that the series is over, and made me more interested to read whatever else she may write in the future.