Book Reviews Life Reviews

Review: World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War

World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie WarWorld War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War by Max Brooks
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Wonderful, wonderful book. Seems to almost be more about the human element involved in maintaining a society that’s on the verge of collapse than it is about zombies — the zombies are almost just the backdrop for the story, only referred to as Z’s or "Zack."

This book will make you want to go outside and meet your neighbors for the first time — to make you wonder just how much "stuff" you really need to be happy.

View all my reviews

Life Programming Science and Technology

Finally got a Windows share to share

For years, our main gaming computer (which we call the “Titan”) would just not share with any other computers.

It couldn’t host multiplayer games.

It couldn’t share a printer.

It wouldn’t share files.

You couldn’t access multimedia of any sort over it.

I had absolutely no idea what the problem was — it was a very old Windows XP installation, probably four years or more, and had gone through Windows XP SP1, SP2, and SP3, so there’s no telling.

It might’ve been some service I turned off years ago, or (more than likely) an old remnant  of Norton Antivirus (a horrible, horrible program) that refused to let go.

I noticed that my much newer gaming PC would work just fine, and that it was running the exact same services that the Titan was running, so I was stumped.  You couldn’t even ping the Titan if you wanted to.

So, on a whim, I search for “cannot ping Windows XP computer” on Google, and found this:

Try this to reset TCP/IP in XP:

Click Start -> Run -> CMD

At the prompt type:


via Help! Unable to ping machine on the network – Windows NT / 2000 / XP / 2003.

And it worked.  I don’t know what it did, but it worked.  I think it reset completely the way that TCP/IP worked on Windows, because when the Titan restarted, my IP settings were completely reset, but I could ping it. And it shared files.  And it could host games (I think).

Either way, I’m happy!

Life Linux Programming Science and Technology

An Abundance of GIMP Synergy

Installing GIMP 2.6 on Ubuntu 8.04

wilberWell, I got tired of being stuck with the version 2.4 of the GIMP (GNU Image Manipulation Program) that ships with Ubuntu 8.04.  It’s old, it uses the old window system that I can’t stand anymore, and version 2.6 (the current version) fixes tons of more issues that it has.

However, you can’t just go to your package manager and add it — Ubuntu locks program versions when it ships (for example, the latest version of GIMP available to Ubuntu 8.04 users is 2.4).  This is done for compatibility reasons — if version 2.4 of the GIMP works fine when Ubuntu 8.04 ships, then they lock those versions together. That way, it’s always guaranteed to work, no matter when Ubuntu is installed in the future.

However, there’re sites likes which lets developers upload installer files of popular programs for Ubuntu, so that users of older versions of Ubuntu can install new programs.

So, I went to the GetDeb page for GIMP 2.6 and downloaded all the files you need to install GIMP 2.6 on Ubuntu 8.04:

Usually, in 99% of situations, you just download these files and install them, even on Ubuntu. However, on Ubuntu 8.04 with GIMP 2.6, there’s a bit of a problem — you have to force these files to install.

Now, you can do fancy command-line kung-fu if you want to, but you shouldn’t have to on Ubuntu, so I’ve included a file here for you:

Just save that file, put it along with the 5 files you downloaded from into their own folder, and then run that file. (Make it executable in its properties, and then double-click on it).

And that’s it!

(I got the inspiration for that install file from this blog post here!)

The Synergy of Mac, Linux, and Windowslogo

I’ve always heard about the program called Synergy, but I’ve never used it, and that’s a damn shame.

Have a lot of computers side by side that you manage all at once? Tired of going from one keyboard and mouse, to another, even though the computers you’re working with are side by side?

Then download Synergy, configure it, and run it on all of your computers (Mac, Linux, and Windows).

And that’s it. Honestly. It’ll take you about 20 minutes and you’ll spend the next few hours wondering how you ever lived without it.

It treats all of your computers like one giant desktop — just move your mouse “off” of the side of your monitor towards your other computer, and your mouse will instantly reappear on that computer’s monitor. If you need to type something, you type it with the first computer’s monitor. Seriously.

Ah, a caveat — on Mac and Linux, the setup isn’t as streamlined and easy as it is on Linux, so there’s a program called QuickSynergy that can do it for you. If you’re using Ubuntu, it’s already in the repositories — just go to your “Add/Remove Applications” menu item, and install QuickSynergy from there.

Life Linux Science and Technology

My Great New Phone with Several Horrendous Shortcomings

Would you buy a cell phone if it was really, really, really cool, and could help organize your life, and had web connectivity and GPS and all sorts of other neat stuff, but couldn’t make calls inside your house because of service problems?

Oh — you wouldn’t? Well, screw you, no one cares what you think anyway!

Well, I did it — I went and bought a G1. If you don’t know what a G1 is, it’s Google’s first foray in to the world of cellular telephones — a cell phone, made by a company called HTC, running Google’s Android mobile phone operating system.

It really is a great phone — more like a tiny computer. It links up and syncs completely with your Google account (a great boon for disorganized people like myself — now my cell phone, which is with me always, can remind me of things I set on my computer, which is not with me always).

It has built-in WIFI access, built-in GPS, and to top it all off, the entire thing is running on top of a Linux installation (that you can hack the shit out of if you want to).

That being said, there are certain… issues with the G1.

Number one:  the battery life, or lack thereof. And this isn’t just the usual “Oh, my battery doesn’t last for 15 days, therefore it stinks.” No, no, no. I can fully charge my G1, let it sit there, maybe browse the net a few times, poke around here and there, and 22 hours later it’s dead. And this isn’t even with me even really doing anything on the phone. I’m just practically letting it sit there.

In converse, Nina can sit there with her Blackberry Curve browsing the net, sending SMS, Twittering, and her battery lasts for about three days.

Of course — I can live with that. It’s a powerful device — it needs a lot of power. It’s like a small computer, like I said — if I had a laptop with a battery that lasted for 22 hours, I’d be really happy!

However, here’s the practical dealbreaker — the G1 has no UMA. What’s that, you may ask? It’s a technology that allows (modern) cell phones to make calls over your home’s WIFI internet, using your regular cell phone minutes — it’s kinda of like having a super-strong cell phone tower in your house, with unlimited reception.

Never a dropped call, crystal clear connection — it’s amazing.

More importantly, if you live in an area with poor cell phone reception (say, you can receive calls outside your house but not inside, or you’re roaming inside your house, or whatever), UMA pretty much fixes that.  And it’s seamless, too — you can make a call inside your house, go outside, and it doesn’t get dropped, and vice-versa.

The G1 not having this, in the area where we live, makes it almost useless inside our home (where I’m spending most of our time if I’m not at work, and thus too busy to use my phone).


(Still deciding what to do about this.)

Life Science and Technology

MP3 and ID3, Together at Last

I’ve just spend something like seven hours over the past two days adding ID3 tags to all of my old MP3’s.

In case you didn’t know, ID3 tags are little bits of information that are encoded along with your MP3’s that tell your MP3 player of choice (be it Apple, Sandisk, Zune — yeah, right, a “Zune”, HURR) what the current song’s title, artist, album, etc. are.

Neat, ain’t it? Yeah, it just doesn’t know it by magic.

Now, unfortunately, depending upon how you get your MP3’s, this information is not always included along with the files. (Say, for instance, you ripped your own MP3’s from your private CD collection.) Some CD rippers are thoughtful, and ask you to include artist and album information (though this is still a pain in the ass to fill out, since you have to do every song separately). Some programs (oddly enough, ones you usually don’t pay for) are smart enough to go online to several big open-source CD information sites, check the track lengths on the CD you’re trying to rip, and then figure out what CD it is, filling in the ID3 information for you!

Yeah, that’s if you’re lucky. However, if you’re like a lot of people, you have a massive collection of old MP3’s — most of which you have no idea where they’re from — and none of them have appropriate artist/album/track information. Most of them will have correct file names, but that doesn’t mean crap when you put them on your iPod or whatever. They’ll just show up as a bunch of “Unknown — Unknown Artist — Unknown Album” tracks.

Well, half of all my MP3’s were like this, and it was pretty pathetic.  I’ve always had the intention to fix them all, but it’s a big, big job to take on, and every time I started I put it off.

So, yesterday, I sat down, and I was all like, “I’m going to do this.”  About seven hours later I was done.

What helped me do it?  A little program called EasyTag, available free from your favorite Linux repository. Not the most beautiful program in the world (especially on my small laptop screen, as Easy Tag is obviously to be used with three columns of information), but it works!

A little word to the wise, if you’re planning on doing this yourself, to your own MP3 collection — EasyTag doesn’t edit files directly and right away. You have your big list of files there in the middle column, and you edit their ID3 tag information on the right. You can do a bunch of files like this, and then when you’re finally ready for your changes to be applied, then you click on the little “Save” icon (which will forever be a bloody floppy disk, now and until the end of time, even if no one uses them anymore). Only then are your changes applied to your MP3 files.

Life Linux Science and Technology

Upgrading my Dell Inspiron 1100 from a Celeron 2.8 to a Pentium IV 2.6

Well, I did just that, however then my installation of Ubuntu 8.10 wouldn’t correctly step the processor up/down (because it had been configured with a Celeron, which doesn’t support those things).

Well, as I found out (somewhere on the Ubuntu forums), all you have to do is add “p4_clockmod” to your running modules (edit the file “/etc/modules” and place it at the end) and then restart.

Simple as pie. I’m quite surprised at the amount of speed switching this processor does — I’ve seen it step from 2.6 GHz to 2.2 GHz all the way down to 600 and 300 MHz. Amazing, and great for energy use and cooling, too.

Life Science and Technology

Well, I broke my cell phone. :(

Yep. A completely incongruous series of events which led to its poor little LCD screen being smashed upon my knee.

First, I was wearing a pair of pants that I had that couldn’t use the side pockets on — the pockets were too small (what the hell were they good for then, eh?), and couldn’t be used for anything more than my pair of keys.

Thankfully (or not), there was little “mid” pocket on them, about halfway down the leg that had a zipper and everything — perfect for those items that are too big to put in your side pockets, right? So, I stick my cell phone in there and forget about it. It’s sitting around banging against my knee when I walk, but at least it’s not falling out of my pocket and getting lost.

Well, later on Nina and I go to my sister’s house for supper (she was cooking Italian sausage soup that night, so at least that part of the night was good), and she’s showing us the new bed that her and my brother-in-law had recently got, and she’s all like, “Jump up and see what it feels like,” and I jump up on it, knees first like an idiot, and then Crack! it’s broke.

I knew just from the way the “crack” felt that it was broke. I pull it out of the pocket and the LDC screen looks like someone’s spilled chemicals inside it — those things look weird when they break, I’ll tell you what.

Luckily enough for me, my phone still worked — I just couldn’t see anything on the screen. Text messaging is impossible, of course, but at least it still functions as a phone.

And that’s that. What do I do? I bought it outright so that I didn’t have to get a 2-year contract with my cellphone company (almost unheard of where I live), and I don’t have the money to pay full price for a new one right now. So, I thought about repairing it myself.

I actually wanted to give Alltel a chance to make some money (why the hell not — they’re one of the better cell phone companies in America), so I took it up to them to ask if they could fix it. I was willing to pay a little bit more for “quality” service from them, if they could fix it immediately.

Well, I found out that not only do they not repair cell phones at the local Alltel shop where I live, but that they couldn’t even send off for the phone to be fixed — they said that it wouldn’t be “cost effective.”

Read that as: “We’re selling these phones to you at a 1000% markup — you’re paying $300 for something that cost us like $30. Why the hell do we want to repair it? Just buy a new one.”

Sorry, Alltel — no can do.

So, I go on Ebay and find a new LCD screen for $20. Hell, it’s worth it — even if it doesn’t work and I have to get a new cell phone in the end, I’m only out $20.