Puppy Pics

September 29, 2006

Here are a couple of pictures of Philo that my mom took. Tomorrow we are meeting her halfway between our homes (a 5 to 6 hour drive) so we can pick him up.

This is Philo crashed on the couch (isn't he cute?):

Philo on the couch

And this is Philo and Laura's dog, Juanita. The chihuahuas are apparently afraid of Philo because he always wants to play and he's a bit too rough for them.

Philo and Juanita

I think it's so funny how excited I am about getting to meet him and take him home this weekend. I have never had my own dog before, and I've pretty much always wanted a Dachshund. I would have thought that I couldn't get this excited over a dog.

That's all for now, I'm sure there will be more pics of him on this site over the years...

White and Nerdy

September 29, 2006

This song is the best thing since white (sliced?) bread.

I'm in Knoxville, TN right now. I'll be in New Mexico tomorrow to pick up my new dog, a Dachshund named Philo. When I get a chance I'll post some pictures of him.

Microsoft Patches VML Exploit

September 26, 2006

That was fast, way to go Microsoft!

Verify that you get the update, either through the Windows' automatic download (when you get the yellow shield in your system tray) or go to http://www.windowsupdate.com using Internet Explorer. If, for some reason, that doesn't work for you, go to http://www.windizupdate.com/ using Firefox. Once you have the fix, if you followed my recommendation yesterday and un-registered the .dll, you should re-register it. Open a Run box (go to the Start button and click on Run). Paste the following into the Run window and then click OK:

regsvr32 "%CommonProgramFiles%\Microsoft Shared\VGX\vgx.dll"

You should get a pop-up telling you that you have successfully registered the .dll. If you would like to double-check that you are patched and running normally, you can go to this site using Internet Explorer: http://www.isotf.org/zert/testvml.htm


There is a newly discovered “zero-day” exploit in Microsoft Windows XP and Internet Explorer that can allow malicious code to be run on your machine just by visiting a web site. (Zero-day refers to the fact that the flaw has been in the software since it was released.) Right now, the exploit has only been seen on web pages, but if you are using Outlook or Outlook Express with the preview pane turned on you are potentially vulnerable to future attacks. Currently, the only fix is to un-register a .dll that allows the exploit to run. This particular .dll handles the rendering of vector graphics, which are not very widespread these days so un-registering it should not cause many problems. This is just a temporary fix until Microsoft patches the problem and then it will be okay to re-register the .dll.

So, here’s what you do. Open a Run box (go to the Start button and click on Run). Paste the following into the Run window:

regsvr32 -u "%CommonProgramFiles%\Microsoft Shared\VGX\vgx.dll"

I will be sure to post when it is okay to re-register this .dll.

For more information: go here, or here.

Hacking a Pair of Pants

September 21, 2006

hacked pants

In an effort to save money, I have decided to use the Blackberry 7105 that I use for work as my only mobile device. Just recently, everything fell into place and I was able to make the transition over from my cell phone to the Blackberry. As a direct result, I will be carrying the Blackberry around with me instead of my cell phone.

For some time now, I have always made sure to purchase pants that have a pocket in the leg so that I have a convenient place to keep my cell phone. Normally these pants are called "carpenter pants" or "utility pants." The Blackberry comes with a holster that has a belt clip, but I feel like a total nerd if I have gadgets clipped to my belt (especially bulky ones). So, I decided to forgo the holster and carry my Blackberry in the same side pocket I have always carried my cell phone in. The only disadvantage in doing this is that the Blackberry is designed so that it knows when it is and isn't in the holster. Due to this clever design, you can configure the device to behave differently based on its position relative to the holster. For example, if you have the device on your person (in the holster) you may want the device to only vibrate and not make any noise. If the device is on a shelf in the other room, you would probably prefer that it make noise so that you do not miss any phone calls. I had thought that by not using the holster I was giving up this cool logic control. However, that was before I decided to hack my pants.

I set out to try and replicate the holster's effect on the Blackberry. Very quickly, I discovered that a magnet placed near certain locations on the Blackberry would have the same effect as placing the Blackberry in its holster. So, I decided to put a magnet in my pants pocket to turn it into a pseudo-holster. Here is the process I went through:

Since I never plan on using the holster, I cut it open and removed the two magnets from inside. In this first picture you can see one of the magnets next to my Blackberry. The magnet resembles a metal washer:

Magnet and Blackberry

Here is a second picture of the magnet, this time in my hand:

Magnet in My Hand

This is the pair of pants that I am going to "hack." You can see the side pocket I mentioned earlier:


A close up of the pocket with my Blackberry beside it:

Blackberry and Pants

The next step was to find the optimal position for the magnet with relation to the Blackberry device. The magnetic switch on the back of the Blackberry appears to be much more sensitive to the magnet than the one on the front, and this picture illustrates what I found to be the best location:

Magnet and Blackberry

Once I knew where I wanted the magnet to line up with the Blackberry, I had to find the corresponding spot on my pants pocket. I used tape to hold the magnet in place on the inside of the pocket so I could test out different positions. In this picture you can sort of see the tape on the back of the magnet:

Magnet and Tape

After awhile I found the best spot. The tape actually held the magnet in place pretty well, but I wanted a solution that would survive a trip through the washing machine. So, I pulled out a needle and some thread:

Needle and Thread

I sewed the magnet in place with the tape still on. I took advantage of the donut shape of the magnet and I sewed from the outside of the magnet and through the middle. When I was done, I was pretty surprised at how well the thread blended in with the jeans:


Finished Zoom

Finally, here is a picture of the finished pants with the Blackberry in the pocket:

Finished with Blackberry

Well, that's my hack. It wasn't that difficult, and it works really well. I normally alternate between two pairs of jeans and I have another magnet, so I'll probably be hacking the other pair, too. I'll keep everyone updated as to how it handles over time and being washed multiple times.

On a related note, I also have made a few new ringtones for my Blackberry. The ones the device come with are pretty lame, so if I was going to be walking around with it I needed to improve the noise pollution I was going to be putting out. So, I ripped a bunch of sounds from Homestarrunner.com and put them in the proper format for my Blackberry. I will probably do some more ringtones, but that's about all I have for now. If you have a Blackberry and would like to listen/download my ringtones you can get to them at: http://www.transmatrix.net/bb/. (Browse to this site with your Blackberry)

If you have any questions or comments about my pants hack, feel free to add a comment to this post.

I'm Hitting the Betas This Week

September 15, 2006

Vistal Logo               Firefox Logo

I'm typing this message right now on a computer running Windows Vista RC1 and I'm using the Firefox 2.0 Beta web browser. Let me start of by warning you that these are beta versions of software and I am not in any way recommending that you install them on your machines. I have installed both on a spare computer I have, with nothing important or personal on the hard drive. I wanted to provide my first impressions on both of these betas, along with some screen shots.

Windows Vista:
I installed Windows Vista on my spare computer because I provide technical support both professionally and to my family. I want to become familiar with the ins and outs of the operating system before I start fielding questions about how to change the desktop, add and remove programs, etc. So lets get into it...
I downloaded the software off of Microsoft's web site and burned it to a DVD (the image was about 2.6GB). I then rebooted with the DVD in the drive and performed an install on a brand new 20GB hard drive. At the time I downloaded and installed the software Microsoft wasn't releasing new keys for the software, but I was able to install without entering a key and was told that I had 14 days to provide a key. I have since obtained a key and Microsoft is giving them out to everyone who requests one at this point as far as I am aware. During this particular installation it asks you what version of Windows Vista you want to install. I choose the "Ultimate" version (that's really what they call it) because I wanted to make sure I could play around with all the advanced features for future reference. The install went flawlessly and required much less hand-holding than XP does. Once my computer had rebooted I was running Vista, and the only hardware it hadn't installed was the game port and sound device on my motherboard. I put the driver disk that came with my motherboard in the drive and attempted to install the driver. I was given a warning that the driver was not digitally signed (most drivers aren't), and, like always, I clicked through this message and installed the driver. Windows told me I had to reboot so I did so and when it restarted I heard the new Vista start up sound... Followed by the infamous Blue Screen of Death. Well, this is to be expected when you are working with beta software, so I restarted the computer in safe mode and un-installed the sound card from windows. At this point I noticed that there appeared to be an issue with text and icons on the task bar in safe mode:

safe mode

Hopefully they will fix this prior to release. While I was doing this on the Vista computer I went to my other computer and downloaded a beta version of the driver for my sound adapter that was supposed to work in Vista from my motherboard manufacturer's web site. Once the computer restarted, Windows detected the sound card and proceeded to install the driver for it. I thought to myself, "cool, I guess it found the right driver this time." But, I was wrong. The second I tried to play an mp3, I was greeted with a blue screen again. Fun times! I was able to fix the problem by using the system restore feature in safe mode and then I installed the beta driver and everything has worked fine since.

First Impressions of Vista:
It's very pretty. Microsoft has done a good job of polishing the look and feel of the user interface and I like it. Here is a screenshot of the "glass" look of the windows.

Enormous Version

You can see that the top, sides and bottom of the window is translucent and you can see the desktop behind the window. You may also notice that there is not longer an oval start button. It has been replaced by the circular windows logo button and it doesn't say start. So, you don't have to go to "Start" to stop using your computer anymore. Off to the right you can see what Microsoft is calling "gadgets." Here is a close-up view:


You have a few options of what you can put in here, but it's pretty limited right now. You can see that I have a weather gadget, a calendar, and the other one is an RSS feed that I have linked to Digg. I imagine that there will be a lot of 3rd party support for the gadget bar and we'll probably see some pretty cool stuff for it.

Another feature that Microsoft is touting as functional, but it just looks like another bell (or whistle) to me is the effect they have that cascades windows that you can scroll through and select the one you want. It's hard to describe, but here's a screenshot:

crazy select window dealy
Enormous Version

They've also finally refaced the included windows games. Here's a look at Solitaire:


Yet another flashy "feature" is when you mouse-over a window on the taskbar, a thumbnail of the window pops up. I suppose this is useful if you have a bunch of browser windows open and can't remember which one you want to open... Here's a shot of it in action:

Popup Preview
Enormous Version

In addition to all of this flash, the windows have been animated. When you open a window it pops up small and then fills the screen. When you minimize a window it fades while appearing to actually minimize to the taskbar. And, when a window is closed it doesn't just disappear, it fades away. I think it all looks great, but I don't really see it saving me time or that it's a true improvement on the user interface or the functionality of the operating system. And that leads us into my next topic...

Let me say again that this is a first impression of the system. I have not formed my final opinions on the system yet, but I have caught some interesting stuff. Lets start off by talking about how much real estate Windows Vista takes up:

Windows Directory
Enormous Version

If you can't see, the Windows directory is 7.16GB! In comparison, Windows XP Professional takes up a little over 2GB of space. Vista needs over 3 times as much hard drive space. I guess it's a good thing that DVD drives are cheap these days because it looks like you're going to need one to install Vista. Either that or it's disk-swapping time...

At one point I wanted to remove a program I had installed, and there was no uninstall option for the program in the start menu. I opened up the control panel and the "Add/Remove Programs" option was conspicuously missing. It took some searching but I finally found the "Programs and Features" icon. Why they changed this I don't know. It seems a little silly to confuse us long-time Windows users like that. Here's a screenshot of it:

Programs and Features

Here's what you get when you explore the computer, take a look and see if you can notice anything familiar missing"

Computer Menu

If you didn't notice, the menu bar is gone. All of Windows Explorer is like this now. No more "File", "Edit", "View", etc. This was very awkward when I wanted to set all my windows to default to details view (which seems buggy and inconsistent). This may prove to be better in the long run, I really don't know, but right now it's confusing.

I was impressed with how it found all the computers and servers on my network (I covered my workgroups):

Network Menu

You may also have noticed through all of this that they got rid of the "My" in front of everything. There is no longer a "My Computer", "My Documents", "My Whatever" and so on. The computer is just "Computer" and your documents are in a folder by the same name as your username (this reminds me a lot of the Linux home directory):


It appears they've attempted to improve functionality, but so far it seems like a half-assed attempt to me. Again, this is a first impression, but should I have to hunt down at least one obvious functionality improvement? It really just seems like bells and whistles, spit and polish (light on the spit). So what other new features is Microsoft touting? Oh yeah, the "most secure version of Windows ever!" [sic]

Microsoft definitely learned a lot from their last "Most secure OS ever," Windows XP. If you don't know, when XP was released it was actually the least secure version of Windows ever. However, Vista comes bundled with a firewall, anti-spyware (Windows Defender), but no anti-virus software. They also now require you to "authorize" programs installing or changing system settings. Any programs with this shield icon:

Security Alert

will require authorization to install. When you double click on the icon the screen fades and an authorization window pops up (I took this with a digital camera because I couldn't get a screenshot):

Authorization Window

This seems like a nice feature, and Linux has a similar security feature. However, I don't like that you just have to click a button. In Linux, you have to enter an administrator-level password. I'm not sure exactly what Microsoft is doing when they pop this window up, but I imagine it probably wouldn't be too difficult to script a piece of spyware to automatically "click" the button.

Whew! That was a lot about Vista. I'll keep you guys up to date on my experiences. I really like the look, but I don't see paying $100+ ($259 for an upgrade to Ultimate) for a new coat of paint with potentially rusted metal underneath. I would also recommend that if you are considering on upgrading to Vista, either install it on a non-important machine or wait 6 months to a year while the work out any bugs and security issues.

On to FIREFOX 2...

Firefox 2 Beta:
I'll keep this short. I installed the beta of Firefox 2 and it's working great. For the most part, it looks the same as the current version of Firefox so I won't post any screenshots. It has two new features that I am finding most useful. The first is built-in spell check. So when I'm typing on message boards, or here on my blog, all my typos are underlined in red. I used to paste my text into Word after I typed it up to catch any mistakes, but this is much easier and quicker. The other awesome feature is the ability to "recover" from a crash. If Firefox crashes for any reason, when you start it back up it gives you the option of restoring your session. If you click yes, all your windows open back up on the pages you were on. It's very handy.

That's all I have for now (I expect it's more than enough). If you are reading this, thanks for sticking with me during this very lengthy post. And if you have any questions, feel free to comment on this message.

Oh, and there's a poll at the bottom of the page if you haven't answered it yet: click here for a shortcut.

Nintendo Wii

Since I've talked about it in the past, I figured I'd mention the breaking news about the new Nintendo Wii. They will be in stores starting on November 19th. For $249.99 you will get the Wii unit with one wand controller, the nunchuck controller attachement, and the game Wii Sports. The virtual console games (old NES, SNES, and N64 games) will cost between $5 and $10.

Official press release: click here.

More information: http://wii.nintendo.com

iPods Don't Like Water

September 9, 2006
iPod plus rain equals sad

A few weeks ago, on my way into work (on my motorcycle) I was rained on. Now, I wasn't expecting it to rain, it was pretty heavy, and I was listening to my iPod Nano that was in my pocket. I didn't think it got that wet, but when I got into work I noticed that I couldn't turn down the volume or pause what I was listening to. I figured it would dry out and start working again so I put it aside and went on with my wet-pant-filled day. When I went to leave, the click wheel was working again, but only for a few seconds and then it stopped responding. I thought that maybe it needed more time to dry out so I put it in my backpack and went home. The next morning it had stopped responding completely, so I started freaking out. My iPod has become a staple in my life ever since I got it a little less than a year ago, and I cannot do without it. I went to Apple's web page where they had some suggestions on fixing a non-responsive iPod and I tried them to no avail. Finally, I decided that I was going to have to send it into Apple and pray they could fix it. According to their web page, the iPod has a 1 year limited warranty. After 6 months, though, they charge you $30 shipping and handling to send in the iPod. If they determine that your iPod is under warranty they will replace it with a new one. If it isn't covered, I could get a new one for $150. Seeing as how a brand new iPod Nano costs $250 retail, I figured that my worst case scenario would be a new iPod for $150...

Sending my iPod in to Apple was a satisfactory experience. I received an empty box at my house the day after I had filled out the request online. I put my broken iPod in the box, and dropped it off at a DHL pick-up location. Apple received it the day after that. Then I got some surprisingly great news: within two days the status of my repair had gone from "diagnosing" to "shipping replacement." I was so excited: Apple had decided to replace my iPod free of charge. So, after getting my iPod wet, I got a new one for $30. This whole experience has really boosted my faith in Apple, and I am now more likely than ever to purchase additional products from them. Who knows, I may even own a Mac one of these days. (Maybe once they finally put a Core 2 Duo in a Mac Mini)

In related news, I have put together another web page. This one has to do with podcasting. If you don't listen to podcasts you probably won't have much to do at the site, but go ahead and take a look at the hard work I have done: Podcast Research

I have a new poll at the bottom of the page, so be sure to add your vote. You may also notice a link to "Archived Polls." If you click on the link you can see the results of all the polls I have done on my site over the past few years.