Type: Post Priority: 3
MP3Gain Pro alternative
Podcasts can be a pain with varying volume levels.
Mp3Gain Pro would probably fix them but at $25 is a bit pricey for such a simple program.
Instead, you can do it free using WinAmp and the http://www.winamp.com/plugin/project-normalizer/147824 normalizer combined with an MP3 output plugin such as http://www.winamp.com/plugin/mp3-output-plug-in/177
This is particularly useful for offenders such as ABC's Nightlife, the Weekend Woodies and TGIF.
Type: Post Priority: 3
Assorted News 34 - My laptop is a shovel. Made by Toshiba :)
In this edition:
Discussing recent scams, how to spot a fake virus warning, new wireless broadband plans, where to recycle old computers, and a new currency that looks interesting.
Recent Phone "Windows Virus" Scams.
Some enterprising 'so and so's have figured out another way to get money out of people. So far only one customer has fallen for it, but many others have heard from them. Basically, out of the blue someone will call you saying your computer has a virus, and that they can fix it for you. They'll probably direct you the "Event Viewer" (Start - run - eventvwr.msc) where there are almost always a few red 'error' messages that are almost always nothing to worry about, but are easily used to convince you there's something wrong. They'll then get you to allow them into your computer to rummage around remotely.
Some of them will sell you unnecessary software. Others will pinch your personal data and saved passwords for their own purposes. Some may leave your computer set up so they can acess it again at a later date, so be sure to get it checked by a real tech of you've been bitten.
I'm pleased that so many of you have heard from them and not fallen for it. I really recommend not answering the phone these days - use call screening on your answering machine instead. Resist that urge - be rewarded with less telemarketers :)
Some new Wireless Broadband plans.
Exetel has just released some new Wireless Broadband plans that will suit those of you who are heavy users of wireless already and keep running into your limit. The new plans are:
These compare reasonably well against Telstra's NextG browsing packs at http://www.telstra.com.au/mobile/browsing_packs.html and even the playing field again...
All come with a one year contract unfortunately, but you know me - I'm usually happy to let you try before you buy for a short time. Outdoor Antennae are available but pricey at $150.
The speed is likely to be 5-10% slower than the premium plans as they are routed differently. I have one on order for testing so I can confirm this next week if anyone's interested.
How to spot a fake virus warning.
About once a week I'm called out to someone whose computer is telling them it has 18 viruses and won't let them open anything.
This is almost always due to a 'fake antivirus' product that they've been tricked into installing.
You can see hundreds of examples of these at http://www.google.com.au/images?q=fake+antivirus&um=1&ie=UTF-8&source=og&sa=N&hl=en&tab=wi&biw=1113&bih=605
Of course, the best way to avoid these is to use some form of ad-blocker such as AdBlock Plus on Firefox.
However, the easiest way to spot one of these fake warnings is because it doesn't mention the name of your antivirus product. If you get a real virus, your antivirus program will pop up a warning, and the warning will bear the name of the antivirus product you're using.
Here's an example for Microsoft Security Essentials (The "Green Castle" one.) https://lh6.googleusercontent.com/_NLoFolZ2mFo/TXHbuTwXhBI/AAAAAAAAFDM/Lh46DpIPNVk/s800/Fullscreen%20capture%205032011%2054328%20PM.jpg
Here's an example for Avast (The "Orange Spinning 'a'" one) https://lh5.googleusercontent.com/_NLoFolZ2mFo/TXHcbbw2kCI/AAAAAAAAFDY/6KD231EM7vQ/s800/Fullscreen%20capture%205032011%2054639%20PM.jpg
Notice how in each case, the top left window title shows the name of your antivirus product, and not something they've made up :)
If you see one of the fake ones, just close that window without clicking on the message.
The good news is that most of these fake antivirus products are relatively easy to kill by restarting in "Safe Mode" (Pressing F8 repeatedly when turning the computer on), clicking start - (run) - msconfig; and unticking the last entry in the "Startup" tab.
Where to Recycle old computers and TVs for free, buy secondhand computers and replacement parts cheap.
Recently the garage, and part of the car port, reached critical mass with old computers that were beyond their useful lives; so I decided to research where to dispose of them. I had heard of some place in Uralla, but a quick Google search turned up the Armidale branch of "Computer Bank New England." - see http://users.tpg.com.au/cbne/ (There's also one in Inverell and Uralla.)
This place could also be referred to as the TV graveyard. Imagine an area half the size of a tennis court covered in pallets of old TVs and stereos basking in the sun before being stripped down by volunteers for recycling. (Pictured in the video below :) ) Into electronics? Go there, buy most things $5 each... There are things in the sun that shouldn't be.
If I was older and retired, I think I know where I'd be :) Lots of stuff to fiddle with there. But I have to earn a substantial crust still, to pay off the house...
Anyway, if you have old computers, printers, laptops, TVs, DVD/VCRs and small appliances with motors that you're pretty sure are past their useful life; this is probably the place to go.
They are also worth a call if you need a replacement power cord for your laptop / router, some more RAM for your old clunker at a really cheap price, etc or you want a cheap secondhand computer faster than 2GHz. (Computers priced from $30 to $100, and flat screens for $50 or less I think.)
I'm a regular visitor there now so feel free to ask me for more details and I'll found out when there dropping off more old TVs and the 20 remaining 486/pentium1s that are currently nesting near the Kingswood.
One thing they really lack is decent signage; so here's a youtube video (straight off the DashCam) that shows you how to get from the front gate around to the CBNE office. (Mon, Wed, Fri.) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tmLjHcvtnZ4
XBMC - Media Player Software.
I'm currently mucking around with XBMC on the home "TV" computer. It's a free program that turns your computer into a media centre. The two best features are the 'already watched' list that keeps track of the shows you've already seen, and the ISO playback feature that lets you play a copy of a DVD directly from an ISO file. It's available for Windows, Mac and Xbox. - http://xbmc.org/download/ . Reminder: Almost all new laptop have an HDMI port so you just need an HDMI cable to connect it to your TV for that big screen experience. HDMI Cables should cost no more than $25 - try Jaycar, opposite Dick Smith for the cheapest HDMI cables I've seen so far. (5 metres, $25 from memory.)
BitCoins - an 'Open Source' global currency based on Cryptography.
Here's an interesting concept. Transfer money direct to other people without using a bank. No fees. No regulation. No controlling body.
As you probably know, Banks can print more money if they feel a need to, potentially devaluing a currency.
People also mine Gold, and it has a value.
Well, some smart buggers have written a new distributed computerised and secure system called "BitCoins"
Practically, you can buy, sell and trade BitCoins which are stored on your computer.
These BitCoins are protected by Public Key Cryptography, which is similar to the stuff you already use to safely access Internet Banking sites, etc - technology that is known to be extremely secure.
Of course, it's early days yet and the value of these coins has not settled down. At present, they're about $1 each.
The system is also completely anonymous - something I couldn't care less about but which will likely interest money launderers and really irritate any government that wants to charge taxes based on financial transactions.
If I understand it right, a BitCoin is basically a 'calculation' that took a computer, typically many days, to create. As a result it would take an almost impossibly long time to reverse it - and mathematically it may not be possible at all. The BitCoin system currently generates about 50 new 'coins' every few hours - with each average computer (my laptop) currently taking ten years of constant running to make a bundle of 50. The system is designed to max out at 21,000,000 BitCoins around 2032, with the growth rate declining to that point. (The days of easy mining have probably passed - I'm late to the game.)
21 million doesn't sound like enough for a worldwide system, but they are divisible down to eight decimal places which should resolve that problem. It's up to about six million so far in its seeding phase.
There's a lot of interesting discussion about this online - see the FAQ page at http://www.bitcoin.org/faq and read articles and comments at http://www.reddit.com/r/Bitcoin/ and http://www.bitcoin.org/smf/
For the time being, you can think of it as being a worldwide "PayPal without Fees" as that's probably the easiest way to relate to it.
Oh, and since a modern computer with a fast video card can "Mine" for BitCoins at least an order of magnitude faster than my laptop; this is where my comment "My Laptop is a shovel." came from - see http://www.reddit.com/r/Bitcoin/comments/fxrse/generating_bitcoins_now_financially_impractical/ for more on my own thoughts to that end.
One other thing this might revolutionise is the concept of Micro Payments - paying small amounts for low value high frequency services where existing systems are too expensive due to fees, etc. (Pay 10 cents for a song, 50 cents for a tv show, etc - things that attract too many fees and headaches at the moment.)
Want to try it out? My BitCoin address is 1PB9eRmPHp8sMKRGYqYMzefYBmbFU67KMN - what's yours? :)
New Way to do your taxes?
As you probably know, I don't like paper. I don't like books. They flop around. I can read a screen better than a book :)
Luckliy, most of my work and transactions happen online, so I already have most transactions taken care of.
There are however, a number of transactions - post office, groceries, small items, etc that I pay for in cash and thus don't leave me an electronic trail.
This year I'm trialling a different system - each receipt is photographed using a digital camera, then summarily dumped in a tub. These are then relatively easily (for me) sorted on the computer by date, shop, etc making for easier retrieval and transcribing. Even then, I'm a bit behind the times doing it manually because ...
Yes - there is software out there now for the iPhone, and probably others too, that will automatically read the receipt using the camera and store it in your accounting software for you - see http://www.iphoneappindex.com/2010/05/28/receipts-2-0-released/ as an example.
Paragon "Go Virtual"
One thing I detest is over-priced software with lock-ins to keep you paying exorbitant amounts to keep using it or put it on a new computer. Common culprits are accounting programs and some farm management software. Case in point - a customer with an 8 year old laptop that's battling on running some farm mapping program. Same customer has a brand new computer, but the people who wrote the farming program want about $3,000 to sell a new version that will work on his computer.
Well, I've done it manually several times before, but now Paragon has released a program that makes the process of converting a real computer into a virtual one much easier - called Paragon Go Virtual. See http://www.paragon-software.com/home/go-virtual/ for more on that.
Basically, the process involves removing the hard drive from the old computer, connecting it to a new computer, running the process to copy the drive to the new computer and modify a few settings so that it will still boot as a separate 'virtual machine' on the new computer.
There can be complications of course, such as not being able to print if you have a really old version of windows and a really modern printer - although there are many workarounds. Typically it takes about two hours for me to convert a real machine to a virtual one - with occasional failures in the process that can take ages to sort out. (Blue screens are a possibility if the old computer uses unusual system drivers.) Some software is also smart enough to spot the change and refuse to work, but most don't notice the change.
So, if you're stuck with a legacy program that you want to use trapped on a computer that's near death; it might be worth a shot :)
My thoughts on "I won't use a computer" people.
There is a very simple analogy for people who say they won't use a computer, and don't want to learn.
The same thing happened with cars.
Even today you can choose not to learn how to drive a car; and in many cases you can get by just fine. The same is true with computers. However, the world has evolved to the point where it would be quite hard not to have a vehicle to get around - and just as we can walk 15km town if necessary, they can walk to the bank for every transaction they want to make in the modern world. It is a valid choice; and I'll readily admit that many people don't need a computer. If I lived and worked in Armidale, I wouldn't need a car either.
Bluebird Upgrades III
Now with a rebuilt carbie and a new (much quieter) starter motor, radiator, serviced transmission and a dodgy-brothers resprayed bumper, the Bluebird is approaching Grandad's Axe status :) Excluding the carbie rebuild that was necessary due to rubber diaphragms perishing over the years, the rest are preventative maintenace and reinvestment. Since then, all's good. I must say, the Old Armidale Road and Toms Gully Road are getting entertaining 'tho - the recent rains have made holes that are almost too deep to pass - but it's fun picking your way around these scenic obstacles. Shiny Carbie pic at https://picasaweb.google.com/CCCMikey/Assorted02#5580501825693521778
I'm Getting Old - Radio Station for the Over '30s.
It's funny how as you get older you tend to stop wanting new music. For those of you with a proclivity for older music, try this Adelaide radio station - http://player.arn.com.au/cruise1323.aspx - you might hear some of the songs that were on the radio as you were growing up - admittedly peppered with Adelaide news, ads for water filters, dementia and funerals.
Not sure if you can get these in Australia yet, but nonetheless they are a guaranteed way to make yourself unpopular: http://www.thinkgeek.com/gadgets/electronic/c427/
This fiendishly small device features six creepy sound choices perfect for frightening your "friends" and co-workers. Simply choose your favorite sound (or use the random mode), place it in a dark hiding spot and watch the madness begin. Sounds: # Something unsettling creaking # Unidentifiable scratching sounds # Gasping last breath # Sinister child laughing # Eerie whispering of 'hey, can you hear me?'
Isn't technology fun :)
2011 is a busy year so far as usual :) Response times are still under 48 hours for most jobs excluding set top boxes and other complex or uncertain outcome jobs. I am considering setting up a daily SMS message broadcast for people who have called an not received an answer as some days it's hard to get back to everyone in time.
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Type: Post Priority: 3
Minitar MN54GCB-RC Driver ( Windows XP ) (Possibly Others.)
Don't you have it when you go to a website to find a driver, and they have every driver except the one you need.
Well the idiots at Minitar have such a site, and there's also another site that claims to have the driver but it also doesn't work.
So, here's a copy of the Minitar MN54GCB-RC driver CD. Sorry it's in NRG format - either open it with Nero if you have it, or use WinCDEmu or MagicDisc or similar to open it. It's one of those 'have to run setup to get the driver' disks without the separate INF files.
Driver claims to work for the PCI and USB versions too. Not tested.
Type: Post Priority: 3
MacBook repeatedly "Connection Timed Out" on WiFi AirPort
I had this problem on a MacBook Pro. Resolved strangely by changing the channel on the WAP.
Type: Post Priority: 3
Default IP for OfficeServ 7030
The default LAN IP for the Samsung OfficeServ 7030 appears to be 10.0.2.10
That is the extent of my knowledge of this item.
There is software available for this device, but it requires a license; and it appears the general public can't acquire the license themselves. There is a 30 day trial license but it doesn't appear to work with OfficeServ Call
Type: Post Priority: 3
How to remove "attention! your web page request has been cancelled" spyware rootkit
Once again Google proves to be relatively useless as all sorts of anti-spyware programs are advertised to remove this virus, yet most of them don't work.
Fortunately one site did mention a possible solution which worked in my customers' case: http://support.kaspersky.com/viruses/solutions?qid=208280684
It was Exper ts Ex change that mentioned it.
The bug is often a rootkit which means it tends to be invisible to antivirus programs - even surprisingly Microsoft Security Essentials - once installed. MBAM also could not find it.
Type: Post Priority: 3
In this edition:
An assortment of news, nothing too serious.
AlternativeTo - Find alternatives to the programs you like.
This tip is particularly handy for tinkering types who like to try out new programs.
If you've ever gone looking on Google for something like "dvd copier" or "convert wav to mp3" or some other thing you think must exist, odds are you'll be given the same answers repeatedly, but the websites that you go to will instead try to give you everything else that you don't want including registry cleaners (which are all snake oil by the way) and driver updaters. In short, it's a complete disaster that Google seems to have no interest in dealing with.
Instead, there's a great site called AlternativeTo. http://alternativeto.net/
As an example, if you type in "DVD ripper" (which is any program that stores a copy of a DVD on your computer) you'll first get a number of programs that seem to be DVD rippers. Click on one of them and you'll be given a list in descending order of popularity for all the DVD ripping programs that are known to exist.
The trick to this site is knowing that the program you click on then appears at the top of the list, and you need to read the area in black to find out all about that program. It doesn't tell you which are free and which are commercial, but at least it helps keep you clear of the fake pages that Google gives you which only exist to make money for the page authors.
Bundled Crap - it affects us all...
Many companies that provide free programs on the Internet have a nasty habit of trying to trick you into installing things you don't need. The biggest culprit at the moment would have to be Adobe Flash, with Java a likely second. When installing updates from these companies, watch carefully so you can untick these unwanted extras. (Example at http://kb2.adobe.com/cps/515/cpsid_51559.html )
Things that commonly hitch a ride are
If you do accidentally end up with one of these things and you don't want it, you can remove it from your computer via the Control Panel section.
By the way, the reason you should keep Flash and Java up to date is because the majority of 'viruses' written at the moment use faults inside these two programs to take over your computer - usually but not always via poisoned advertisements.
Time to Get Rid of Java?
If I read http://www.grc.com/sn/sn-271.txt correctly, Microsoft has encountered more than six million computers infected so far this quarter by virsues that use Java to get into the computer.
So, if you're not using it, it might be time to get rid of it. It's in Start --> Control Panel --> Add/ Remove programs or Uninstall a program. You might have several copies too by the way.
If you do need it, just make sure you run the updates every time one is offered.
If you get rid of it, then find you need it again, most programs that need it will automatically go and fetch it again.
How to recognise a fake Virus warning...
Here is an example of a fake virus warning.
What it actually is, is just a picture on a web page, designed to look like a legitimate warning from Windows.
If you were to actually click on the "Remove" button, your computer would then download a 'virus' - or technically a fake antivirus program which will then incessantly nag you to buy it, and most likely prevent you from opening any programs on the computer.
Probably the biggest giveaway to watch out for is that this fake warning does not bear the name of your antivirus program. If you have Avast for example, any message warning of a virus would bear the Avast logo. Similarly, a Microsoft Security Essentials or Norton / Trend window would bear the name of that program. It's also very unlikely you'd suddenly get ten different viruses at once :)
Anyway, how could you avoid getting this type of bogus warning in the first place.... read on...
Block Those Ads :)
When I set up a new computer for a customer, I almost always put "Mozilla Firefox" on it. Why? Well, because it can be easily customised.
Once of the customisations available is a feature called "AdBlock Plus". This blocks almost all advertisements on all webpages.
As mentioned earlier, many viruses come through malicious advertisements - either advertisements that take advantage of a fault in the computer to get in - or play a trick by popping up a fake 'you've got blah blah viruses click here to remove' message.
By blocking these ads, you also block that risk. (For added security, you can run FlashBlock as well, or for really high security run NoScript as well.)
Of course, by blocking ads you are denying a small amount of money to the website you visit; so if it's a site you trust you can disable it for that site. For those of you on expensive Satellite connections, it saves you a fair bit on downloads too :)
You can get firefox at http://getfirefox.com/ and once installed click Tools - Add-Ons, Get Add-Ons and search for AdBlock Plus. When Firefox restarts select the English ad blocking list subscription and you're done.
Tips for buying a new laptop.
This is a question I get asked every week. Generally speaking, for those of you that just do basic accounting work and use the Internet, there's not much need to buy a particularly expensive laptop. Also, as far as brands go it's hard to really pick one over the others these days for reliability.
My general advice is to duck in to Harvey Norman, RetraVision and Dick Smith to see what's there. See what appeals to you design-wise. The general tips are to look for at least dual core processors, or the i3, i5, i7 range. Hard drive at least 320G and RAM at least 2G. You might also care about things like whether it has a webcam built in, how heavy it is and what the battery life is like. Whether or not it includes Microsoft Office (Word and Excel, etc) might also matter to you.
One handy resource for comparing multiple laptops at once is http://apcmag.com/notebookhunter/index.htm
Oh, and if you want an Apple - that's OK too. Provided you don't need to run any Windows-only programs. (Accounting programs in particular are a concern here.) It is possible to run Windows on an Apple with some fiddling. Some printers may not work on Apple computers.
New Plans again at Exetel.
Once again, Exetel has played with their plans a bit, so it might be worth having a look to see what plan you're on now and what you could be getting for the same price. For example with ADSL, $38 a month will now get 50GB a month, or $53 will now get you an unlimited downloads plan - both at 1500kbps, but only if you change from your existing plan. They also have some new wireless plans at $30 for 3GB or $45 for 5GB, and a more reasonable $20 per GB over. More details: http://www.exetel.com.au/a_plan_pricing_new.php and http://www.exetel.com.au/residential-hspa-pricing.php
Telstra's wireless plans are still fairly good too - see http://go.bigpond.com/wireless/?ref=Net-Head-Int-Plans-Wireless
Bunnings for Lunch?
It's funny talking to customers about the recent appearance of Bunnings in town. Some love it, some hate it. Some never leave Guyra :)
In my opinion, it's just more competition; so it doesn't really worry me. They have some stuff I can't get elsewhere.
When lunch time comes around, I'm usually to be found grabbing a quick pie at the North Hill bakery or the Guyra bakery. However, thereafter it's usually time to, ahem, spring a leak somewhere. Guyra is well catered for in terms of toilets for travellers; but Armidale is far less so. As a result, depending on the day I sometimes sacrifice a little on the pie quality for the convenience of a generic plastic-wrapped reheated Bunnings pie followed by a Bunnings Dunny. (The public ones that is, not the ones that are waiting for a new home.)
I guess this is one of the reasons Maccas does so well - people know they're going to be able to eat and leak. Bakeries rarely do. I don't mind the occasional Maccas meal, but since the food there is so cheap, I worry about what conditions the donor animals lived in before becoming my Quarter Pounder - that information is not printed on the placements. Admittedly, a Bunnings Pie might also have come from a battery cow so perhaps that's a slight double-standard on my part...
Why I use the NECU?
.. or whatever they're called these days.
There were two things that first made me change to them years ago. Bank fees, and opening hours. I get very frustrated when I go to any retailer and they're 'closed for lunch.' Surely lunch time is often the only time people have free to go to these places in the first place?
However more recently I was saved by another default feature of their accounts.
With traditional banks, each account is a distinct entity, and if it gets overdrawn you generally get whacked some nasty fees. However, with the NECU you have one master account and many sub-accounts. If you overdraw the master, it can automatically raid the sub-accounts.
Earlier this week I was slack and didn't check the balance at the end of the month in the master account. Sure enough, Exetel's direct debits hit it and it goes overdrawn. About 10 transactions automatically came out of the tax reserve sub-account rather than whacking me for big 'failed transaction' fees. I don't know for sure, but that probably saved me about $300 or more had I been with a different bank.
I suspect this feature might be optional at banks as well, but haven't looked. I should give the CBA credit for supplying me with a Merchant Facility many years ago that I still use today, and the NAB for the first home loan before it moved over to the CBA.
Three Way VoIP calling.
For those of you using Exetel VoIP still, just thought I'd let you know that it's possible to make three way calls with this service if your modem supports it. (All Billions / Open Networks ones do I believe.) In my case this is handy if needing to speak to Telstra and an account holder simultaneously. http://auzzie.net/cccblog//index.php?title=how_to_make_conference_calls_on_open_824&more=1&c=1&tb=1&pb=1 has more details.
These calls are at the usual VoIP rate, so for 20 cents you can talk to two people in Australia for as long as you like.
Turn your Nokia Mobile into a Wireless Router.
If you have a reasonably capable Nokia mobile - for example the E51 or something more recent that has WiFi built in, there's a free program you can load onto it that will turn it into a wireless router. (Note, some modern fancy phones like the iPhone, some Android phones, etc, also have this capability built in.)
What does that mean?
It means you can stick your phone somewhere that it gets reception, press a couple of buttons, and then get online within about 20 metres of it using your Laptop. No wires needed.
This could be really handy in the following situations:
1 - You're on Satellite, and it's a cloudy day. Your Internet won't connect. Your phone only works in the window, and you need to send some emails.
2 - You're in the car and want to look up something on the 'net.
3 - You're on wireless broadband at the edge of reception and it's having a bad day. Your phone gets reception in the window or in the car.
4 - You're somewhere that has no internet at all, but your phone works.
(Note: Mobile phones generally have stronger antennas built in than those inside USB sticks.)
You might even already have some free downloads on your plan and not know it. To check, press the "Telstra" or "My Place" button on your phone, go to "My Account" and "Data Usage" to see how many MB you have.
A big warning however - these plans still have super-high excess usage fees on them, so you need to be careful not to go over the limit. They will SMS you when you get close however so it's not extremely dangerous.
The pricing for doing this (if it's not included on your plan) is at http://www.telstra.com.au/mobile/browsing_packs.html
One good bit of news is that there is no contract on doing this, so you can arrange for a browsing pack before going away and cancel it when you get back, etc.
For the Nokias, the free /program is at http://joiku.com/ - or you can install it on your phone directly by going to www.joikuspot.com/light with your mobile's web browser. (You can buy a fancy version as well, but in rural areas it's probably not necessary.
Modern cars use computers to control the motor. Mine doesn't. Instead it uses a funny arrangement of levers, sprays, wires, pumps and holes to get the juice in it to make it go. A couple of weeks ago it decided that it would try to save fuel by stalling whenever I stopped. A Guyra mechanic had a look for me but sadly only made it worse so sometimes it would die, and other times without warning it'd try to take off again. Predictable I can handle, unpredictable not so much :)
Anyway, so it went to an Armidale mechanic who tamed it again somewhat - not quite perfect but better than it was before it went to the Guyra mechanic.
Modern Mechanics are not the same as old ones. Modern mechanics have the luxury of computers that tell them why the car won't go :) It's getting harder to find mechanics who fully understand the older style - particularly when it comes to the 'fancy' ones like this; so I've had to teach myself just what all the bits are for on the ol' bugger. One handy resource has been http://www.tpub.com/content/armyordnance/Od16207/index.htm which explains what most of the weird add-on bits are.
Of course, some of you wonder why I persist with an older vehicle? The main reason is because it sat in a shed for 8 years, and had a new motor not long before that; so in my mind at least it should still have some useful life in it. (Unfortunately rubber ages irrespective of use, which is bad news for vacuum-driven thinggies.)
Of course, rego's nearly due now, and it failed a safety check because of a small transmission leak, and amusingly also because the drivers side door hinges are worn out. (I guess my sticker "pull door towards you to open" stuck above the handle as a courtesy to the mechanic might have given that away.) I have ordered new hinges for it (since there are none left in Guyra / Armidale wreckers) and am getting the very last original door hinge to come off the production line. A new TVV is on its way too so I can get the scavenger tank working again.
Anyway, so I'm back on the road again - hopefully for another year. If you know anyone who specialises in dual-throat carbies with Hot Idle Compensators, EGR, Positive Crank Case Ventilation, Fast Idle cams, dual ignitions and a BCDD, let me know :)
The Skype Wall?
Here's an idea that would have been Sci-Fi years ago. It would now be possible to set up a projector (or big TV) and a webcam in two premises and have a skype video conference open between them. Imagine for example that you and your family had to be split up for a few months. You could pick a wall in each house and use it to link to a wall in the other. You could meet up at brekkie time for example, or just glance over in the afternoon for a chat. In these days of relatively cheap unlimited Internet plans it is a possibility :)
The Weekend Woodies is not yet available as a traditional PodCast, but you can listen to the last week's episode at http://www.abc.net.au/sydney/programs/702_weekends/ - if you don't know what it is, it's a comedy radio show for DIY renovators who call in with assorted questions.
Well that's it for another newsletter :) Thanks for reading :)
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Don't buy Epson EB1925W if you have Vista or Windows 7
... because it can only display the primary display. Even if you connect a second screen.
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How to make conference calls on Open 824RLW and Billion 7404VGP
OK, so today I needed to make a conference call to Telstra and a customer. Thought it was time to work out how to do it.
First note that not all VoIP carriers allow multiple simultaneous calls by default. PennyTel doesn't. Exetel (my ISP) did. If yours doesn't you'll know because when you go to make the second call you'll probably get a recorded message saying the service is already in use. It's probably easy to get that changed with your Voip provider.
Next, log in to your modem. (Normally http://192.168.1.254/ username and password are admin.)
Next, click Configuration --> VoIP --> Call Features.
Click "Enable" for Conference call on the line(s) you want to use. (Might as well click both Line 1 and Line 2 while you're at it.)
Next, click Apply; and if you want this to remain as a setting after the next power outage, also click the blue "Save Settings" button.
Now, to test it
1 - Dial the first person. When they pick up, and you're ready to get the next person, press the Recall / Flash button on your phone. You'll get another dial tone, and the first party will probably hear some piano music.
2 - Dial the second person. If this step works, you can now talk to the second person.
3 - Now, press the Recall / Flash button. You'll probably just end up talking to the first person again.
4 - Now, press the Recall / Flash button once more and *hopefully* you're now in a conference call!
If you have sufficient phones at home you might want to practice this a few times first.
These instructions adapted from http://www.comcen.com.au/support/voip/voip_guides/voip_phone_feature_guide but differed in step 3 and 4 above.
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Freemake convert DVR-MS to AVI
(or freemake convert dvrms)
Unfortunately Freemake cannot convert the audio in dvr-ms files natively.
Fortunately there's a free program called DVRMS tools that lets you convert the DVRMS files into an MPG file with almost no CPU usage, and can do a whole folder at once. In other words, it will go as fast as your hard drives can go, so of course it's better if you put the conversion onto a separate platter.
Once you've done that step, you can then use Freemake (from freemake.com) to convert those files to nice tiny AVI files or whatever you're looking for.
Freemake's nice and easy to use, and out of all the programs I tried (Freemake, PocketDivxEncoder, FormatFactory, SUPER, MediaCoder and HandBrake) it was the only program that didn't crash and burn on some of my dvr-ms files from GBPVR - so it deserves a higher score on alternativeto.net :) 5 gigs - 1 hour of video - down to about 750 megs 640*320.
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An easy way to filter Blog Spam comments on b2evolution
Well, lately I'm getting about 30 spam comments a day to this site. Which is OK because they don't get published, but annoying because they turn up in my inbox.
The spammers can't resist supplying a web page address with their spam, because that's what they hope Google will pick up and run with. So, by blocking any comment that includes a URL you're 99% effective.
Normal commenters have no need to include a web page address if they're talking about a current blog post, so they get through.
So, if you're using Gmail, just make the filter that blocks the word "URL: http" (including the quotation marks). Also include the email address that your comment notifications come from. In thunderbird, body contains url: http is sufficient, along with the email address of your comment notifications.
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winamp cannot schedule podcast download
Well, at least I can't find that option.
So it's still Juice Podcast Receiver for me :)
A shame, looks like that have some decent MP3 player device options.
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FileZilla and UNC paths
It looks like FileZlla server does not work well with unc paths. (Windows file sharing.) Their suggestion is to run it on the server instead, but in some instances this might be a security risk.
Try http://www.zftpserver.com/ instead. It works fine out of the box amd is free for a basic version :)
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Assorted News 31 - Lots of stuff :)
In this edition:
I take a serious pay cut, try to get a pay rise, make a silly 'blog and try to peddle some wares...
New and Existing Services
Stuff to Buy
.. and unrelated banter at the end.
The $550 a month pay cut.
With competition in the Internet Supply market becoming ever tighter, Exetel has decided that they need to cut back on how much they give their agents. (And to be fair, it's probably true for ADSL, but I'm not so sure for the other services.)
July's income from Exetel was a near-record $950, from about 250 services.
Some of this was from temporary one-off bonuses from selling nine wireless broadband services ($225) and losing those would not have been a shock since it was always a temporary setup.
However, they decided that they will also stop paying commission on VoIP services and Mobile Broadband PAYG services, and for the remainder they're dropping it from 10% back to 7.5%
After all these adjustments, I'm down to $383 per month as a rough estimate.
Now, admittedly they were paying us too much for some things. However, their choice to cut us out on profitable VoIP and HSPA PAYG doesn't sit that well with me as these are the hardest services to maintain.
This $950 isn't all cream of course - for that money I proxy payments for about 80 customers, over $2,400 a month; and I carry the associated risk. I have also done many installations for free, and tried out non-profit ventures such as HSPA field antenna trials and the like. I also used it to subsidise the price of hardware (such as modems, etc) which I've often sold slightly below cost.
So, what will change now? Well, I won't be doing free installs on anything other than ADSL from now on, and I won't be actively advertising VoIP products. HSPA support might be more likely to incur costs if the query exceeds 5 minutes, etc, and hardware costs will now be their normal wholesale+postage prices, and for the very few VoIP only customers I'll be contacting you soon to advise of possible solutions to make providing the service still viable.
Their services are still good however, so where appropriate I will still suggest their services :)
A small price rise for CCC...
OK, so I'm about to become $550 a month worse off? Well, probably not that bad really since I will just ramp up other normally paid work instead; but I've been on about the same rate of $65 an hour since 2003. (I deregistered for GST in 2007 yielding a small pay rise as a result.) Since then, things which used to cost $141 now cost $171 - or in other words about 20% more based on CPI. So, unless there's a rebellion, I'm planning to increase my rates a small amount:
New rates starting October 2010:
Cool Country Consulting is not registered for GST, so these amounts do not include a claimable GST amount. This is good for residential customers, slightly less so for businesses. It certainly helps keep paperwork down however, so if you run a business and turn over less than $75,000 a year, it can be a nice thing to be rid of the GST burden :)
Please let me know if you're unhappy with these new prices :) They're still cheaper than most other providers.
The Bright Side to Exetel Plan Changes...
If you haven't recently checked what plan you're on with Exetel, it'd be a good idea!
Most of their plans have come down by up to $15 a month for the same or better speeds in the last few weeks. For example...
The down side of course is I'll earn less, but meh. It's more important to have happy customers than to pad my nest with guilt money :) Oh, and they will hit you up for a plan change fee too, the cheeky buggers.
Plan changes take effect at the end of the month, so you have plenty of time to research.
Cheaper Out-Bound VoIP?
A few months ago, Exetel stuffed something up with an upgrade rendering their VoIP service problematic for anyone using a Billion or Open branded ADSL modem. They eventually fixed it three weeks later; but this gave me incentive to try some other providers again - namely MyNetFone and PennyTel.
MyNetFone was as good as Exetel - pretty reliable, and a good service. PennyTel was also surprisingly pretty reliable - not as reliable as MyNetFone and Exetel, with the occasional call going nowhere, but certainly useable, and better than last time I tried their service.
There's three reasons why you might be interested in PennyTel.
1 - Cheaper calls than Exetel and MyNetFone - just 10.5 cents per minute to mobiles instead of Exetel's 15 or 22 cents a minute.
.. and of course there's a few reasons you might not be interested.
1 - They're prepaid only.
Since I have no financial relationship with PennyTel - they don't offer reseller / agent options - I'm unable to earn any residual income from supporting them. As a result, if you want to sign up with them, and need a hand changing settings in your modem, etc; this time will be chargeable. (Usually it takes about 20 minutes to get signed up, but since they need to verify your identity it can't be completed on the spot.)
Important Notice for BigPond customers.
Bigpond has, in the last few months, drastically increased the value of their ADSL plans. If you're on BigPond and don't want to change to another provider, it's a good idea to log in to the BigPond website and check what plan you're on. (Click the My BigPond link.) If you've forgotten your password I have a program that can sometimes reveal it, or ring 133933 for a new one.) Every week I still come across people paying $30 a month for 400MB and getting whacked for big excess fees when all they need to do is log in, click change plan, and for the same $30 a month they can get 2,000MB, six times the speed and no more excess fees.
A New Blog for your amusement...
Introducing Inside The Ice Box!
I know some of you read these newsletters for the stories :) However, there are usually more stories out there than those which make it into the newsletter. So; to add to your amusement I've created the "Inside the Ice Box" blog.
Every few days I log in to it and post some stories about those day's events. Some recent stories you might enjoy from there are:
A Job On The Side: http://auzzie.net/icebox/?p=175 (Turning a laptop onto it's side fixes a problem.)
The Ice Box is still an experimental site finding a purpose. You can find it http://auzzie.net/icebox/
Do you like the sound of rain? Well, you might enjoy http://www.rainymood.com/
I can't resist http://thereifixedit.failblog.org/ and many of the other sites at the end of that page. Great for a laugh.
iView and the like.
ABC's iView (TV on demand over the internet service) is starting to make its way into new TVs and DVD players. Soon the new DVD player or TV you buy may be able to get TV over your Broadband internet connection. In the mean time you can check it out at http://abc.net.au/iview - at least half my TV viewing is now done via iView. (As usual, be careful of your download limts.)
Example new player at http://apcmag.com/on-test-sonys-200-abc-iview-player.htm
Looking to get a website, or want to move a website to a new home? Maybe I can help. Hosting costs start from $4 a month, and domain names (the name for your website) start from about $15 for two years. Pricing at http://auzzie.net/hosting/
Basic website building in Joomla (which you can easily update yourself later) starting from around $120.
Existing customers still waiting for a hosting bill? I've written a new accounting system for web hosting invoices, and it will be live soon.
Too busy to remember to back up your computer? Taking the 8% chance a year that your hard drive might die? Well starting at $10 a month (plus initial setup) I can provide an automated off-site backup for you. Backups happen over the Internet via a secure VPN connection and are stored on an encrypted drive on a firewalled server. Information at http://auzzie.net/files/Remote%20Backup%20Information%20Sheet.pdf
VHS / Cassette / LP to CD / DVD / MP3 / DivX
Need to shift to a new medium? Contact me for a quote :)
Stuff to Buy:
One of my wholesalers has a few great products that can be quite handy. These are:
A Programmable Universal Remote Control - ideal for seniors!
Priced at a reasonable $40 each, these are a simple, old-fashioned, solid remote control. Do you have trouble with the buttons on your set top box being too small, or pressing the wrong button now and then and having to get someone to come and fix it? With one of these, you can program just the buttons you want to use so there's no risk of pressing the wrong button. You can also program one button to turn on the TV, one for the video, one for the set top box for example so you don't have to have so many remote controls on the table.
You can get really smart remotes for not much more, but those ones need a computer to set them up. This does not. And it's probably strong enough to use as a weapon too! Picture at http://lh4.ggpht.com/_NLoFolZ2mFo/TIDusX_CNgI/AAAAAAAAEuA/j_C6sYhXNyk/s800/Fullscreen%20capture%203092010%20104753%20PM.jpg
Note: Price does not include installation / configuration. It's quite simple to set up however. I try to keep one unit in stock.
Cordless Rechargeable Headphones
Hard of hearing? I've sold three of these in the last month. (Two to the same customer - his son nicked his first pair!) They sound great, use wireless so you can move around the house with them on, and are rechargeable. A little pricey at $65 each, but worth it for the stereo sound quality. Picture at http://lh5.ggpht.com/_NLoFolZ2mFo/TIDv1uMGagI/AAAAAAAAEuI/CUvKKiTxmG4/s800/Fullscreen%20capture%203092010%20105307%20PM.jpg
Note: Price does not include installation / configuration. In most cases it's straight forward - just connect these to the "Audio Out" on the back of your TV set. I try to keep one unit in stock.
Mini Wireless Keyboard.
Perhaps you're a modern person who has figured out how to connect your computer to your TV, and now you like to watch your movies, iView, etc on it. Well, here's a great little cordless keyboard / mouse about the size of your hand that will let you operate your computer (or PS3, and possibly XBOX too) from the comfort of the lounge chair. I don't sell this item since it's low demand - it's at http://www.dealextreme.com/details.dx/sku.35354 for about $45-$50. Will take a week or so to arrive however.
Well that's it for another newsletter. Sorry it's taken so long to get this one out. Kitchen building took up the remaining spare time on weekends, along with two sizeable programming tasks. Hope you're all enjoying the new Spring weather!
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7404VGPX Please check that your FXO port is connected to the Line socket....
While this error might indicate a fault in the modem, just check to make sure SIP is actually enabled. This error will also appear if SIP is disabled, even if the modem is connected to the FXO port.
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New Blog coming soon.
You may be the first person ever to visit the Ice Box.
A new blog, a bit more personal and entertaining in nature than this one which is more business-oriented.
It's at http://auzzie.net/icebox/
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Rant: Nokia has become crap. (IMO)
OK here's a bit of a rant for you.
EDIT: Amusing - I'm not the only disenchanted person: See http://www.symbian-guru.com/welcome/2010/07/symbian-guru-com-is-over.html
A customer recently gave me a Nokia N95 because the screen had broken and he had replaced it.
So, a week later the new screen arrives and is fitted. I figure I'll test this phone out to see if it's a worthy replacement for my now ancient LG U8380.
Most things about it are OK, but as the reviews on the 'net say, this phone has some shortcomings.
Battery life is the biggest shortcoming. In a few hours of playing with it, it was flat. 30 mins on GPS, the rest on more mundane stuff. Running Nokia's power management viewer software I could see it idles at about double the power usage of the E51 for much of the time.
The next thing I was interested in was whether the LED flash could be used as a torch as it can on most other phones on the market. No was the resounding answer. Due to their design choice, the LED can only operate for 4 seconds at a time roughly speaking, and Nokia has gone to great lengths to ensure this can't be fiddled with. How hard would it have been to add a 1c resistor and enable use as a torch at 3/4 power??
OK, while doing this I'm considering 'is this phone worthy of being my primary incoming phone' - a role currently assigned to the ever-reliable but reboot once every few days E51. Some time during this fiddling, I get a hard freeze - just like the review sites warned about. Only way to fix that is to take the back off and pull the battery out. So, the answer is no. I can't trust this phone to always receive calls.
OK so on to the GPS. Nokia released free maps and navigation for most of their recent phones. The N95 is too old to qualify, despite it having a built in GPS and version 3 of the maps *actually working* on early versions of their new Maps software. So, I can only assume they decided to say "F*ck you" to anyone who paid over $1,000 a few years ago for their fancy phone and demand more money for a lesser program. So, it's identical to the E51 then, bar the bigger screen and built in GPS.
Next stop: Ergonomics. Is this phone worthy to be a daily texter? Nope. It is a slider phone, you slide the screen up to access the keypad. But, the ridges against the side are about 3mm high, so you can't come at it from an angle comfortably if you have average sized fingers.
On to the software. I already had PC Suite loaded so figured I'd just sync up and see what happens. Worked OK, so I figured I'd make sure it was up to date. I finally let it do the upgrade it's been whinging every other day for the last six months or more. Annddd.... there goes the music management icon. Replaced with Ovi Music. Nokia's attempt to get into the DRM crap music market, and to remind you wherever possible that they think they're as worthy as iTunes. (Not that iTunes is worthy.) But, it wouldn't work with my E51. "Sorry, your phone's in the wrong mode." Well, hell, it never mattered before - I could on the old program just say random transfer and a few minutes later have a phone 90% full of music. .. and I can't easily change modes on the phone because 'another application is using the card.' Which application? So, a huge step backward there - back to using Windows Media Player and a card reader it looks like... (I'll research this later.)
So, I figure OK we'll try system restore back to the day before I entered this mess. No such luck. Restore completes "sorry can't find the language file." So OK I'll go find an old version. Huh? TOUGH LUCK. There are none. Google shows how worthless it can be - full of hundreds of CRAP FAKE responses about "download nokia pc suite" here but when you go the sites they're just link farms. Piratebay has some ancient versions, and the current version, but nothing in between. Nokia has no mirrors accessible. So, I'm stuck with this OVI crap until I find the E51 CD somewhere in the office.
And to top if off, it goes and adds an add-in to my Firefox, f*cking up every extension on the system. Once I tracked down this new sync addon and disabled it - well whaddayaknow, I get my extensions back and working. So F*ck you Nokia for adding that piece of crap.
So, in short, it's not a worthy replacement for the old LG despite being all-singing all-dancing. The old E51 still does that perfectly well, in a smaller form factor. (Well, except for the camera which is one thing that is exceptional on the N95) I'll eventually replace one of them with a decent Andriod-based phone. (I carry two phones since Telstra has the best coverage but the worst rates known to man, but TPG has the best rates known to man but coverage one step down from Telstra.)
On the other hand, my old man swears by his Maemo phone, but I just don't trust Nokia any more. I'm probably relatively unique in my expectations, but I don't apologise for that.
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The Dude Network Monitor loses it's database
Just a quick note that "The Dude" network monitoring cannot be trusted to keep it's database intact. After a planned reboot, it wiped out its entire database and there is no backup maintained by the application.
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Assorted News 30 - Back again, Free Video Surveillance... :)
In this edition:
a quick dehydrated newsletter! The story's on the blog.
I'm Back :)
There's always a stack of catching up to do when you go on holiday and then come back. Fortunately I'm almost caught up with the work load.
For those of you who want to know how the American experience went, you can find it at http://auzzie.net/cccblog//index.php?title=the_american_experience&more=1&c=1&tb=1&pb=1
In short, it was an interesting holiday, but a bit rushed; and with a few relatively spectacular dramas along the way...
Free Video Surveillance with Skype or iSpy...
As most of you know, Skype is program that lets you call other people from the computer, and if the person at the other end has a camera you get to see them as well.
If you're going traveling and you just want to be able to check on the house or dog; or in my case the goldfish with the giant lump on it's side; you can leave a computer running with Skype set to auto-answer.
Here's some other ideas...
Perhaps you'd like to know if your dog misbehaves during the day when you're out. Perhaps you'd like to know who came to visit while you were out. Perhaps your into ornithology and want to know what birds have been to visit. Or perhaps you want to know who's nicked your firewood. Maybe you're planning a new career as a Bond Villain.
In any of those cases, you might be interested in the free program called iSpy. It lets you hook up multiple cameras to multiple computers, and monitor them all from one computer. In addition, it can be configured to record only when there's movement detected. You can specify areas to watch too so that the wind blowing the trees doesn't trigger a recording.
It's amazing what you can do for free these days with computers. Recording studios, home publishing, home theatre, photo development studio - we've come a long way since DOS 2.0!
Growth and Limits...
For those of you into sustainability you might like to have a look at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F-QA2rkpBSY&feature=PlayList&p=6A1FD147A45EF50D&playnext_from=PL&index=1 - some interesting points in this mathematical lecture.
Sorry it's such a short newsletter - a few customers have had some big mishaps this week and time is short! The blog post, however, makes up for it!
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The American Experience...
Having just returned from a two week holiday in the USA, it's likely many people will want to know what it's like over there. So, here's the story in all it's comedic glory :)
Assorted photos of the trip can be found at http://picasaweb.google.com.au/CCCMikey/USATrip2010
The four flights...
Armidale to Sydney.
We traveled from Armidale to Louisville, with an overnight stay in Sydney. The first flight was with QantasLink, and was as good as they always are.
Sydney airport was it's usual friendly self, and it wasn't long before we were lost trying to find the Formule 1 Hotel. The GPS knew where it was, but it was raining making the short walk an annoying prospect, so instead we jumped into a cab. He was surprised at this very short journey, but appreciated the significant overpayment of his bill in compensation for our apparent silliness.
Sydney to Los Angeles
L.A. International Airport. Where those big Jet engines roar. L.A. International Airport. I won't see you anymore...
This was a 13-14ish hour non-stop flight. That's a long time to sit still. You'll see a day and a night come and go through the windows. You'll be fed copious food every few hours. You'll probably have free movies and free headphones. (In my case, Simpsons Movie, Top Gear, Cars.)
When you board, you'll be given a form to complete stating where you plan to be staying in the US, who you are, what you are, when you fell out of (or were cut and pasted out of) your creator and what town you were in when that happened.
The Airport from Hell?
LA International Airport seems to be a somewhat chaotic mess designed to confuse any would-be terrorist. Unfortunately this design applies also to the unsuspecting weary traveling public.
When you reach the end of this trek, you encounter a large room with queues of people. The wall closest to you is populated with people struggling to complete the last of the fore-mentioned paperwork. A serious looking lady directs people to join any queue. Older signs above the queues suggest what type of passenger should in theory be in that queue. New flat screen TVs hang in front of some of these signs, obscuring some of them. Passengers anxious to make connecting flights shuffle nervously. A small kid can be seen sleeping on his jacket on the floor as the queue progresses slowly.
When you reach the admin dude, you give him your paperwork and your passport. You place your hand on a glass screen that takes images of four of your fingerprints. You also stare at a camera that snaps your weary image - or your eyeballs, not sure which. 0wn3d.
The dude asks you where you're going, who is this you're traveling with? How do you know them, etc. All the while they do it in a specially trained 'look into my eyes' fashion.
You now proceed to collect your luggage - even though you're getting on another plane shortly - and carry it with you a short distance until you reach a crowded atrium where there are rows of luggage stacked three columns deep to your right and a new column haphazardly growing to your left. A man asks where you're going next and takes your bag dumping it with all the others. and then you walk forward out the glass doors ...
After reaching the third floor, you step out; and before you you can see a crowd of people in a queue, proceeding to a multi-bay security screening / xray setup.
At this point, we have 5 or 6 hours to kill, so we look around this area for clues as to what there is to do / see; but shortly into this quest a severe bossy woman repeately says "join a queue. Join a queue. Join a queue." She won't take any questions, just "Join a Queue." [Gesticulating madly.]
Resigned to our fate, we join said queue and it's just the usual laptop-out-of-bag, shoes off, metals in tray, jacket off happy dance that soon becomes routine. Not a big deal for me at all, although I am surprised to find I get through unscathed as my aluminium belt buckle fails to trigger the alarm. (I forgot it was even on.)
Then it's the mad rush to collect all the bits at the other and and restore them to their original locations. Wallet? Check. Laptop? Check. Jacket? Check. Shoes? Step in them, we can tie them later...
Then it's off to watch as Val does the Knee Replacement dance for the guy or gal with the stick. They even seemed fascinated with bras having a metal lining! She then collects her gear and it's off to find a snack and the next gate. I settle for a mango smoothie but find myself unable to drink much of it. She finds a coffee or some such, and some sweet snack.
I'm tired now. We both are. It's too early to see what gate the flight's going from. It's not on the board yet. So, I suggest we find a dark corner and attempt to sleep.
In preparation, I fiddle with the Nokias to set alarms on both, after first figuring out what time zone we're in. I then plug my ears with the earplugs normally reserved for those occasions when the Belgrave Cinema plays the movies too loud.
(Side note: In a pinch, AAA batteries make OK earplugs but if you fell over with them in, I'd hate to think of the consequences! They look weird too, but if you're front row at an IXL@Sound event, you need them.)
I recall my childhood days of sleeping on the bus and train on my two hour each way daily commute. My laptop bag, although not as high as my old vertical school bag, suffices as a head rest as I lean forward with it vertical on my lap, arms folded above it; and I sort of drift off into a strange sleep where you can hear in perfect but now muffled surround sound the sounds of the world around you. Distant construction work as they rebuild some of the tiled roof. The occasional thunderous roar of the coffee machine to your left. Further left, the guy near a powerpoint playing with his laptop's multimedia capabilities. To your right, the sounds of people discussing where their flight is going from. Kids running around. Dot matrix printers in multiple gates springing to life almost simultaneously.
3 hours pass, and I am surprised to find that I have actually slept. The crowd has gathered in this area, and their flight begins boarding. I check to find what gate we're actually meant to be in, and arrange to move to it. Nearby, there are some large ornamental marble piers that hold up the roof, and two asian girls have sprawled out asleep thereunder like a modern sacrifice. Ironically their sacrificial position on the stone floor is probably the most comfortable sleeping position to be had in this area.
Los Angeles to Atlanta
Five Hours Sandwiched Between the Rapper and the Army Guy Something I will not forget From now until the day I die.*
* dementia permitting!
Val and I were a bit late to realise that long before your flight, you can log on to the airline's website and select your seat positions. However, we were relatively lucky; and this was the only flight in which we were not together.
Instead, to my right is an army guy. He seems friendly enough, but years of military training seemed to have left him a bit jumpy. His left leg initially bouncing repeatedly up and down like some nervous disorder; but eventually it seemed to subside.
Shortly after he becomes very excited, as to my left approaches someone who is apparently a famous Rap artist. He's dressed appropriately for his profession, has the signs of wealth including a MacBook Pro, Blackberry, copious Bling, black outfit, etc.
I would have been much happier had I been next to either of these two, but being between them meant I had to be privy to the entire conversations about how the army guy loves to blast his beats, how he's his biggest fan, etc. They'd yack about different guns, different wars they'd been in, what the girls were like, all that sort of stuff. The rapper briefly quizzed me on what I knew of Australia and what opportunities existed there for obtaining the kinds of products I'm not knowledgeable about. He soon worked out I was benign and useless for his cause.
Despite this unusual (for me) company I reverted to sleeping on the tray table as they fiddled with the entertainment systems and the rapper penned more lyrics on his blackberry.
As landing time approached, a boarding pass was autographed; and while we stood waiting to get out of the plane, I'm sure I heard one of the crowd behind say he'd just done four years in prison. Fortunately it seemed the only item I'd lost in this flight was my packet of chewing gum.
Atlanta to Louisville
This final short flight on a smaller, more comfortable plane was pleasant and uneventful. We arrived at some time in the late afternoon and met our hosts.
After a brief look at some paintings in the airport, we continued on to what was to be the first of many chain eateries - a place called Frischs. Then it was off to a nearby Motel for a well-earned rest.
Rather than continue in a chronological diary fashion, I'll now switch to a different style of documentation...
America and Australia have some similarities, and some differences.
Wrong side of the car.
This is probably the most immediate difference. In America, they drive on the right side of the road, as opposed to the left side in Australia. As a result, the steering wheel / driving position is opposite to what we're used to.
The reason for this is apparently because we are more fond of stabbing passing people than they are!
America generally has better roads than Australia. They have many "interstates" that are a bit like our freeways - three or four lanes each way. I had prepared for the trip and loaded most of the US maps into the Nokia E51. The average speed on these seemed to be around 115kph, with a peak of 135kph.
We spend much of our journey in the country areas of Kentucky and Ohio. So we could see the countryside, our hosts took us mostly on older routes rather than on the interstates.
The smaller country roads are much like what you'd see here in Australia, with the slightly alarming difference in that the mailboxes were almost flush with the side of the road.
Most of these were of fairly basic plastic construction, bearing the telltale 'flag' that the owner can raise if they want the postie to collect mail from them. It would be so easy to stray slightly out of your lane and take out an entire gathering in rapid succession.
Many American cars do not have the amber flashing indicators that are mandatory here in Australia. Instead, the brake light on that side of the car flashes. This makes for a more simplified rear light design on cars, but lessens the visibility of turning. Since many don't bother to use them anyway, it's a moot point.
"Gas" over there is about half the price we pay here in Australia. Hence the lack of desire to conserve it. It seems at least one in three vehicles is a SUV or Large Ute.
The toilets. (Commodes)
There is a thriving ecosystem of different breeds of toilets in this country, each with their own unique personality.
Many of the older models are based on a design of 'get it all spinning real good so it whirls magically and quietly away'.
Smaller, more recent models took a slightly different tack. In addition to the merry spinning method above, they had a 'I mean business' outlet at the bottom front of the bowl that would force water backwards at the same time.
The most modern ones were somewhat more dramatic, relying more on a brute force noisy sudden rush of water that would cause even the air around you to be drawn to it's doom.
Many of these newest models are automatic flush ones, so as soon as you move away from them a bit, *WHOOSH* and it's gone. Never mind that "it" could also happen to be your mobile phone, your wallet, or anything else you accidentally might have dropped in. (I didn't.)
The aim for the most modern American bathroom appears to be to touch as little as possible.
One big downside for us males that like to stand before the throne is that almost the entire surface area of bowl is covered with water, so those of us who don't wish to sound like a draught horse have very little space to aim for. In the end, sitting was easier.
Why am I mentioning MacDonalds so soon after the toilets? Well, because they played a critical role during this holiday. We did a lot of traveling, and when you're traveling with older people, the need to "tinkle" as it's called over there becomes a two-hourly or even more frequent event. 50 cent seniors coffee was almost as popular, but I suspect it might be a symbiotic relationship. I preferred the Hot Fudge Sundae instead, for it's apparently magical powers to be a cheap snack yet not cause kidney failure or dairy-related travel sickness.
Food at Home
For the first half of our stay, we were in Kentucky. In addition to our two forementioned hosts; also resident was her mother, a spritely 93 year old lady who was alternately armed with knitting needles, a newspaper, or an elongated orange and white cat.
When you are around someone that old, it's natural to look for possible indications as to what has kept them alive for so long...
This lady's breakfast of choice was somewhat surprising. It consists of something similar to two rissoles, and two strange bread rolls, all covered in a white sauce of sorts.
The 'sausage' taste a bit more like sausage meat than rissoles. The 'biscuit' is a strange bread roll, in that it peels apart in multiple layers.
It's a rather filling breakfast.
Her other meal of choice was a 'bean salad' consisting of multiple types of beans, pretty much by themselves.
They all grew up on farms, so they probably had a healthy upbringing food-wise as a result.
Of course, this is relativly atypical of what we perceive as the common American diet. We ate out almost every day I was there so I didn't really get to form an opinion on what home meals were like. The couple I did have, and remember, were mostly terrible pre-processed over-spicy products such as 'buffalo wings'.
I didn't really pay attention to the supermarkets, but Val assures me that there was very little fresh food available. Salad stuffs (lettuces, etc) were pre-packaged in plastic bags, with raw vegies hard to find. I did become a chain-eater of baby carrots however :) Apples however were plentiful.
I was surprised to find just how prevalent High Fructose Corn Syrup had become. After seeing this movie - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dBnniua6-oM - Sugar - The Bitter Truth - it seems to be a valid explanation for why so many Americans are overweight. (In short, corn is subsidised over there, so it's cheaper than sugar. So they make a sugar alternative from it. It functions the same as alcohol in the body except that it doesn't affect the brain and muscles so the effects are less obvious.) It was hard to find products without it.
Food in America is generally quite cheap. Cheaper than we're used to in Australia. Eating out is also surprisingly cheap. If a meal gets over $15 you must be eating something posh.
Food On The Run
In Australia we have MacDonalds, Red Rooster, Subway, Hungry Jacks and KFC. That pretty much rounds out the remaining viable food chains.
In the US they have somewhat more stores. These include names such as Cracker Barrel, Frischs, TGI Fridays, Burger King of course, MacDonalds, KFC, Subway, Olive Garden, Pizza Hut, and more...
One of the strange things about America is how spread out it is. One of the first places we ate was at a Pizza Hut. Where it was positioned, it was almost like a store on a hill in the middle of nowhere. Cars are a necessity here.
The 'all you can eat' self serve salad bar is still alive and well in the US. (It's demise in Australia is something I grieve - even the Servies dumped theirs a year ago.) This is good as it allows you to create your own meal in many cases.
The best of these eateries, IMO, were The Olive Garden and Cracker Barrel. The Olive Garden is a relatively posh restaurant with a Greek bent to it. Cracker Barrel on the other hand, is a combination restaurant and nick nack shop, with country-style meals.
Lemonade (aka Sprite / Schweppes / 7up) doesn't exist as 'lemonade' there. I asked once for it, and ended up with something akin to lemon cordial. I never found a correct moniker for this product, and don't know if it exists at all.
This is something that takes some getting used to. To me it sees a bit immature as it's like playing the Easter Bunny every time you eat somewhere. The idea being that you leave about 15% of the value of your meal, in excess of the meal price, available for the waiter/ess to collect. (This doesn't apply to MacDonalds however.)
It tends to mean that the waiter/ess will show a greater desire to make sure you're happy with your meal, but in many cases you can tell that this is feigned interest.
Shoppers are well catered for in most cases.
Wal*Mart is a funny store. The far left is a typical supermarket, with aisles of products just like you'd expect anywhere; but the remaining 3/4s of the store consists of something more like what we'd find at K Mart. Clothes, Electronics, Car supplies, etc. The front of the store also has an optometrist / frames supplier, and a chemist.
Wal*Marts are generally identical in almost every way; which can seem strange when you drive for six hours, then enter another Wal*Mart and feel like you're back where you started.
Other stores were JC Penny, Meijr, Radio Shack, etc.
JC Penny is a weird 'girly' store where the staff are out to chat to you as much as possible and help you get the stuff you want. That is, where stuff = clothing, perfumes, etc. I was wholly out of place here.
Meijr is the same as out Myer - if you can still find one that is.
Radio Shack is a crappy version of our Dick Smith.
Prices again are generally fairly cheap. However, they are deceiving. The price on the product is not the price at the till. Only when you get to the till do they add whatever tax they are meant to add on that day.
Most of our trip was aimed to be drives along country roads, so there were few traditional sights to document. It was interesting to see the difference in house and farm designs there, as well as the different types of terrain.
Well, it took two days driving to get there from where we were; and it was not what I expected. I had imagined something a bit like our Ebor Falls - you know, drive a few ks into the scrub and arrive at a waterfall. Instead it's more like someone had cut a wide channel through the middle of Sydney and planted a waterfall there. Both sides were flanked with high-rise buildings and snaking motorways!
Niagara Falls forms part of the border between USA and Canada; so getting from one side to the other involves passport checks. Our hosts didn't realise this was the case and received a mild roasing at the Canada border and a somewhat more severe roasing at the USA border. This shocked them somewhat, but they commented that being 70 years old, they weren't expecting to ever come back. (There's something strange about holidaying with old people - that thought is probably always there in their mind...)
The Canadian side was the better side view-wise. The US Side was a confusing place to get to. I also learned that people waving to usher you in a certain direction on the road were often not doing so for your benefit but for theirs. (Trying to encourage you to take certain paid parking places, etc.) On both sides you end up paying $10 to $15 to park the car.
I was a bit slack at taking photos this trip. There are a few photos at http://picasaweb.google.com.au/CCCMikey/NiagaraFalls
Ohio was an interesting place to stay. Where we were was fairly rural. The house we stayed in had four levels - two on each side overlapping, and with a basement. The basement seemed to be a wise choice given that occasionally bad weather can make it a handy place to go. It was funny to be able to sit out on the verandah and watch the clouds circle casually overhead rather than simply going in a straight line.
The Trip Home
(And it was worse for her! but I'm writing ;-) )
There's somthing magical about the last two hours of an eight hour sleep. During that time, your immune system kicks in to high gear and your brain finishes defragmenting. The rushed nature of our holiday meant I often had 6 hours or less, and was unable to avoid succumbing to a cold or flu that had been hanging around since the flight to LA. One week in and I had to take two days of rest before resuming holiday travels; and at the peak of this I woke up one night suddenly with perhaps the strongest fit of the shivers I've ever had - full body suddenly shaking madly in an attept to raise it's temperature.
Unfortunately for Val, she entered this stage during transit home.
The flight from Dayton to Atlanta was relatively uneventful. No complications at all really. I was avoiding food however, having had a bad reaction to the two hour drive preceeding immdiately after eating cereal.
The flight from Atlanta to Los Angeles was also relatively pleasant. We had exit row seats so there was more space than normal to stretch out. However, Val was starting to get more unsettled. Coming up was another 4 hour wait at LA Airport, and by the time we landed she had a huge headache, sore ears, and was running a temperature. She looked terrible.
On landing, we went off on a quest to see if there were any kind of medical facilities. The answer was no. However one store stocked headache tablets, etc, so since Val was now no longer able to talk, I purchased what looked promising, and then we proceeded to find our air port.
By now I had noticed that her skin was turning yellow in some places.
The Tunnel Of Love?
Now we're back in the 'confuse the terrorist' airport. We were in terminal four, and needed to get to terminal five. By now we were somewhat behind the travelling crowd having spent time sussing out the [absense of] drug stores. (What we call Chemists, they call Drug Stores.)
We followed the signs that said "Tunnel to Terminal 5"
Soon we were in a remarkably long tunnel, probably 400 to 500 metres in length, straight through.
The voice seems adament this time. The door stays shut. By now four more people are just starting at the beginning of the tunnel, frozen to the spot while they too try to work out what's going on.
We're not standing in the painted yellow security zone, but we turn around anyway and start walking back. The other people have already chickened out. The voice stops, the door opens. We turn again and start towards it. This time it doesn't attempt to close on us; so I summise that they had either managed to get someone to check on the cameras in the tunnel, or the camera above the security zone had belateldly recognised our faces; decided we were relatively benign, and allowed us through.
It is strange to be in a tunnel when the doors seem intent on closing you in...
So, here we are back in the same terminal that we were in two weeks earlier. The same one with the sacrificial asians - this time removed. I leave Val to sit and smoulder away under the departure monitors in order to wander off to the nearby Maccas and the free WiFi that this usually proffers. This one didn't and I had to shell out $8 to get online and confirm our final Sydney to Armidale leg online.
Getting online wasn't entirely easy either as they needed a post code in addition to the credit card details - and this had to be a US ZIP code. I copied the one from my GPS for the town we were first in, and it accepted it.
Booking confirmed, boarding passes saved as a PDF, I returned to Val. By now we knew what gate the next flight was at, so we proceeded to that area and again attempted to sleep. Didn't work this time.
13 hours is a long time.
After two and a bit more hours, we were finally on board the final flight home. Here we were given customs forms to complete. Since we had jelly beans in a bag somewhere we declared food.
On this flight, Val had the window, I had the middle, and a fancy-looking Italian woman had the aisle seat. (Val assures me she was German, I don't know for sure.)
I Am The Walrus!
By now we're both tired, and surprisingly for the first four hours we get some sleep. I adopt a new position - laptop bag on top of the tray table, jacket rolled up on top of the laptop bag, my arms over the jacket, head on my arms, and the airline-supplied travel blanket over the top of me, like a sleeping Middle Eastern with a head covering.
Fortunately my travel blanket tent saved the rest of the aircraft occupants from this unfortunate sight. The thousands of years of stalactite growth was hastily destroyed.
By now Val was back into the hot/cold cycles that such illnesses throw at you, along with a sick feeling and a repeated need to use the toilet.
This was a bit of a problem for our Italian friend who was fortunately very obliging. On one such occasion she proved to be hard to rouse from sleep. I found that I was acrobatic enough to be able to clamber and stand on the arm rests to get over her without waking her up. (Dunno how she would have reacted if she had woken up to find me hovering above her!) I left the rousing to Val this time after having alarmed her somewhat the first time by stroking her arm in order to wake her up. (This stroking I later realised was rather 'affectionate' in nature since I was absent-mindedly sick and sleepy.)
In the end, Val ended up spending an hour or so standing up / resting against the galley near the dunny bays, repeatedly making use of their refuge. The flight seemed to go on for ever. I did manage to watch GhostBusters 1 and the second half of some other movie about a homeless guy who became a rugby player. Val casually plugged away intermittently at assorted 'life' documentaries.
Almost the entire flight is in darkness as we are flying into the night.
Sydney at last...
At last in Sydney, it was an easy trip through customs, then to find the bags, and finally to follow the signs to "QantasLink Domestic Transfer" which was a great feature. There they check in your bags, perform yet another security scan of your luggage, your boobs and your knees if you're Val; and your laptop and other electronics if you're me. Then they take you on a bus to the terminal next to the one you need to go to. (A short walk gets you to the correct terminal.) From there, they then repeat again the knee replacement happy dance scan, and at last it's a matter of waiting for the final flight home.
Armidale at last...
While in LA I used my SoftPhone with Exetel VoIP to call some friends in Armidale, to see if they could check Val in with her doctor. They were surprisingly able to do so, so after collecting the car; it was off to the doctors. Then, a quick spot of shopping. Then collecting the Molly the Collie, then home at last!
So overall, the journey was interesting, and it was good to see another way of life. Also, they say that the adventure's in the journey, not the destination!
It was interesting to see how the other side of the world lives. As I was only with one family and didn't socialise with other people there I never really got to form an opinion of how the people lived.
I was in regional / rural areas for almost all of this trip, so I never really experienced a full-on city experience. Niagara was probably the closest I got to a city experience.
Most of the areas were open-planned, and houses were surrounded by generous amounts of greenery. It seemed like a huge rural urban sprawl really - everything is a long way apart. However continuing growth seems to be rapidly threatening this way of life, as I am reminded by this video. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F-QA2rkpBSY&feature=youtube_gdata
But there's nothing quite like going away to make you appreciate what you have at home! Simple food, stable climate, stable and familiar home, currency that doesn't look like it was printed on an inkjet, your own job, and your own time :)
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