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Tuesday, December 30, 2003
One advantage of moving every three years or so as an Air Force brat is having distinct memories for those time periods. It is easy to remember the year that a particular event occurred while growing up because of the geographic landmarks. Since moving to Virginia in 1979, I don't have those mental bookends of leaving for one place and arriving at another. The years are a blur and it's almost impossible for me to remember what year an event occurred.

An advantage of keeping a journal is that it's possible to reconstruct a timeframe of events. I'm building a web page of milestones to refresh my memory. I'd like to create an accompaning map to chart my various travels over the years.

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Monday, December 29, 2003
While visiting family for the holidays, we tried to install a wireless Internet card on a laptop. As is common these days, there were no detailed instructions. The booklet said to start the setup program and follow the wizard instructions. Since the second screen wouldn't appear, we didn't have much choice other than to call customer service.

After explaining the problem to the person who filters the calls, I waited for a good half hour to talk to the technical person, located in Bombay, India. Within about 10 minutes he had talked me through the problem. Later that night I mentioned to my nephew that we were using a wireless card on the laptop. I laughed when he said that he had heard it was so difficult to install that he was leery of buying one.

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Sunday, December 28, 2003
Now that I've discovered that one can search for telephone numbers using Google, the Google toolbar finds another use. The format is: tom daschle washington dc

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Enjoying Dark Star Safari by Paul Theroux. Africa is such an incredible place with so much potential. And yet most countries seem to be struggling to find a way to overcome their colonial past, with many corrupt leaders taking what little resources there are left. And the charitable community seems to be doing more harm than good. There are no easy solutions.

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Saturday, December 27, 2003
Came across a good article on MSDN about the lessons learned by a software entrepeneur, Make More Mistakes. It includes this quote by Thomas Watson of IBM:
Would you like me to give you a formula for success? It's quite simple, really. Double your rate of failure. You are thinking of failure as the enemy of success. But it isn't at all. You can be discouraged by failure or you can learn from it. So go ahead and make mistakes. Make all you can. Because, remember that's where you will find success.

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Back from a few days in Nashville visiting with family. Saw Emmylou Harris at the Grand Ole Opry. The Opry is back at the Ryman Auditorium, it's home from 1943-74. The auditorium holds about 2,000 people. The seats are oak benches that date to the late 1800's when the auditorium served as a church.

Our seats were located in the balcony, to the right of the stage. Although we couldn't see the entire stage, we could check out the backstage action during the performances. Since the show is a radio show, it's much more informal than a concert. Stagehands appear frequently to change mics and to rearrange equipment. Performers are limited to a maximum of two songs, including Emmylou. It was a treat to hear her sing Lennon's Imagine.

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Friday, December 19, 2003
While searching for info on using emacs, on a Windows XP box, I happened across this entry on dot-emacs on Tim Bray's weblog, ongoing. I had just discovered his site “ongoing” early this week when slashdot mentioned his series of articles on text searching. He's a good writer and I look forward to exploring the site.

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Thursday, December 18, 2003
Uphill All the Way - Somehow I don't think this film about 5 teenage girls riding the Great Divide trail will be available in Blockbuster. Adventure Cycling has more info on the trail.

Blockbuster Alternatives - Speaking of which, I'm surprised that there aren't more outlets for videos and dvds of alternative films. Netflix, at $20/month, is just out of my price range, since I'm lucky to view more than one film a month. Although given the offerings lately at the local Blockbuster, perhaps it's worth it to be able to obtain films like I Am Trying to Break Your Heart: A Film About Wilco.

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Sad Day in China - Like many developing countries, China often emulates the worst of the U.S. culture. Now the city of Shanghai plans to ban bikes from certain roads “to ease congestion”. How sad.

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Wednesday, December 17, 2003
Dell nightmare nearly over - Finally received the proper Dell packages from UPS. The others are on their way back to Dell, or will be in a few days. I can see now why the sales rep wanted them shipped back via overnight mail, since it will be about a week delay before the boxes will be returned and available for sale to the next customer. Since the service rep didn't suggest using overnight for the return, I didn't volunteer to do it.

The system was pretty straightforward to set up. The Dell 4600c is a small, compact system that weighs almost nothing. It's a far cry from most huge beige boxes. The 8 USB slots should come in handy.

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Tuesday, December 16, 2003
UPS - Why is it that it's possible to track a package from UPS as it makes it's way across the country, but there is no way to stop delivery and save UPS the trouble of delivering a package that will be refused? Maybe UPS would rather charge the customer the costs of having the driver attempt to deliver the package, take it back to the distribution center, and send it back.

From the time my incorrect Dell order left the factory, I knew, and Dell knew, that it was eventually going back to Dell. How often does this happen, and how much money, resources could be saved if the situation could be avoided through the ability to communicate with UPS about the status of the package. Package status communication should work both ways.

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Monday, December 15, 2003
The Ideal Pen - For many years I've kept a journal. I'll write a little about events of the day, and occasionally sketch an object or person. I use a Koh-I-Noor Rapidagraph technical pen for most writing and drawing. I've found the Strathmore 5.5” x 8.5” sketch books to work the best. They're compact, have no lines and hold ink washes well. I use a permanent ink, the Koh-I-Noor Ultradraw Waterproof Ink. If the paper gets wet, it holds up well. There's something almost theraputic about writing with a good pen on decent paper.

One of the advantages of the Koh-I-Noor is that it can be disassembled easily and cleaned. When you see someone rapidly shaking a technical pen, it's probably because it's not clean. A clean pen writes very freely. Another advantage is that ink is poured into a refillable tube, that could last for years. There are no discarded ink cartridges.

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Friday, December 12, 2003
Dell ordering nightmare - What prompted me to call a Dell salesman is still a little fuzzy. I think I wanted to see if he could give me a better price than I could get by ordering on the web. I should have known better. It should be a given that the web deal is better since the cost of a web service to Dell should be much less than having to pay a salesperson.

I tried to get a match of the order that I put together on the web, but I was concentrating on the price, and not the specifics of the order, and the salesman didn't review it with me, since he was trying real hard to beat the price I quoted from the web. When I reviewed the order online the next day, there were several errors. With a projected shipping date of Dec. 16, at least a week away, I figured I had plenty of time to modify the order. Not!

Although Dell has stated that they are moving their customer call center back to the U.S., it's obviously still located in India. The nice man and woman with Indian accents informed me that the order had left the factory, words I've learned to hate. The three boxes were now in transit and would be delivered, regardless of the fact that I didn't want the incorrect order.

It's interesting that we can track our packages as they make their way across the country, but we can't stop them. It shouldn't be that difficult to contact the carrier and have them return a package, which would be much cheaper than attempting to deliver it and then having to return it.

I learned another sad fact; that contacting someone in the returns or refusals department is impossible. Customer service people refuse to give out the phone number, and they will only wait on hold for a set amount of time, 5 minutes in one case, 2 in another. The shipment can't be sent back without a refusal or return number.

I think Dell just tries to wear you down enough that you give up, which I did a couple of times. I'd almost talked myself into accepting the incorrect order. One rep even said that I could replace the wrong CD drive myself, assuming they would send a replacement. It's probaly not a big deal to do, but that's not why I bought a new system. She also said I could upgrade the OS from XP Home to Pro. Just what I need, a new system that has gone through an upgrade, probably missing service packs, etc.

And the sales person and his supervisor are both out of the office until Saturday. How convenient.

The PIII mentioned below is also screwed up. The shop replaced the OS, but didn't install the right network components. Now I can't even create a dial-up connection, and I can't install the components because I've got an earlier version on CD. Time to take a deep breath and go for a long walk.

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Wednesday, December 10, 2003
The slow death of a PIII PC - The old 533MHz PC is in it's death throes. The computer repair shop was able to resurrect it with the warning that it could be very unstable. We're desparately saving files that were not backed up.

One problem is that the processor keeps coming unseated. "Just wiggle the processor or reseat the memory cards and it should come back to life". That was after the second return trip to the shop. Apparantly the ride home was too much for the processor, which freed itself by the time I got home. At least it is breathing again. Time for a replacment.

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Friday, December 05, 2003
Started reading Dark Star Safari by Paul Theroux. Even though Theroux is often quite negative about the places he visits, it's usually interesting to read about the people he encounters along the way. He also does a good job of covering relevant historical events as he makes his way, usually by train, around the world.

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Winter has arrived early again this year, with about 4 inches of snow this morning, and another 4-6 expected overnight. Not very good cycling weather. It's time to set up the indoor trainer.

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Wednesday, December 03, 2003
Eliot Spitzer for President! I may not agree with his stance on the war and the death penalty, but he's doing a great job kicking corrupt businessmen's butts.

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Tuesday, December 02, 2003
Finally, a sub $1,000 tablet PC. It uses LX Tablet Edition, a Linux variant.

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Monday, December 01, 2003
Feeling the need to check out some other web logs. Philip Greenspun, a CS professor at MIT, usually offers some interesting comments.

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