Saturday, May 23, 2009

Using recovery partitions: curiosity + boredom can be a bad combination.

Hi everyone!

For the last couple of years, I've always tried to keep my operating system and installed components on a separate partition from my data. This way if I had to reinstall the operating system, I could just format and reinstall on the system partition, leaving the data unharmed.

Now, if you are installing from an OS disk (say, a Linux CD or a Windows disc), usually their installers allow you to select what partition to install to, leaving the others untouched. But, for a number of years now, computers do not come with OS reinstall discs (if you are using Windows). Instead, they come with "recovery partitions". This has both good and bad aspects: you don't have to worry about discs getting damaged or losing them, but you also have to make sure your hard drive doesn't get physically damaged.

The other annoying aspects of recovery partition is they don't just reinstall the operating system. They also reinstall all of the bundled software the PC manufacture installs (sometimes called 'bloatware') in order to make the cost of the computer cheaper (check out PC Decrapifier for a nice way to deal with this software). Still, it's better then not being able to reinstall the OS at all. Now, I've used my XP recovery partition a few times and always left my data partition untouched. Since getting my new computer, I had yet to separate the partitions as I haven't had time. I used Vista's built-in partition tool to do this (I had used some third party tools in the past). Vista's tool is decent, but it has problems, if you are having trouble using it I suggest this link. So after spending a few hours preparing everything I partitioned. As I was about to transfer my data over to the other partition it suddenly occurred to me: what if the new recovery partition I was using didn't discriminate against partitions? That is, what if it decided to ignore my partition and erase the entire hard drive (minus itself)? Well that wouldn't be good. After doing some googling I couldn't find a straight answer. I was really curious. And I was bored. So I booted into the recovery partition. I'd only intended to go enough through the process to see if there was an option or anything which indicated what partition it would install on. Unfortunately, one click too many, started the process and I couldn't cancel it. I hadn't moved my data yet. Oh dear.

Fortunately, the laptop is still new and there really wasn't anything on it I couldn't do without losing. Quite ironic how my attempted security precaution ended up making me lose my data! Not that I'm saying it's a bad precaution. BUT if you do decide to use it, it shouldn't be your only precaution, you should have other data backups in place. And, you should confirm that your specific recovery partition won't destroy other partitions. Hopefully with a less direct method then it took me :). If you are using Linux (with naturally keeps data on another partition), this shouldn't be a problem, and I believe (though I am not certain) OS X would also allow you to select a partition. I actually only did a recovery on OS 9.0 before and I only had one partition at the time. So I think it's a good idea, but not perfect.

A day or so later and things are back the way they should be. Hopefully I won't have to do it again, but it was a good experience, though one I hope others won't have to repeat. I probably could have come up with a better way to test, what might be another way to test your recovery partition without using it? Someone once told me if an asteroid destroyed your house and you couldn't get your data back you weren't prepared enough. Hopefully you have a few copies of things that are important :). Cloud storage in the future might help with this as well.

Take care all!

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Trouble with delivery services

Good day, everyone!

I've recently been engaged with a rather difficult time with the delivery services. I began to think about the whole concept of delivery services and the internals of how they work. But first, what have my experiences been?

This is my second use of this service. The first was in 2006 when I ordered my first laptop computer from I was very excited as this was the first (or one of the first) time I made a purchase from the Internet. I got my "tracking number" from UPS and really liked being able to watch its progress on the Internet. I watched excitedly as it was transported from its shipping location (in Ontario I think) through the country to the town where I lived.

I had been given and expected delivery date (but not time, more on that later). I waited patiently in my apartment for it to arrive, but no one ever came to my door. The next day I logged in to check where it was. The status was no longer marked as "in progress", but rather marked as delivered. I didn't have my package. The name under the "signed by" was "WANG". Suffice it to say, I began to feel a little panicked. I paid for my laptop but didn't have it and it was marked as delivered. What was I to do?

I was still going to school at the time (this was the week before spring break), so in between my classes I was trying to get on the phone with them to track the package down. After a few days and hours on the phone, I finally tracked down my package to a distribution plant in a neighbouring town. Turns out, the driver came to my apartment building but only knocked on the door of the "upper level" (I lived in a basement apartment). My neighbour upstairs had a visitor who simply informed the driver that no one by my name lived in the building. The driver simply wrote "wrong address" on the package...and somehow Wrong turned into Wang and thus it was "Delivered to: Wang" (this after I looked in the phone book for Wang's, none of whom had my laptop, haha).

Or course, even after finally tracking it down, I had to get them to deliver it to me. At least this time they knew I was in the basement, but I only had a day (the Friday before I was expected to leave for the week). My brother's family had been planning to pick me to take me back...but the package would arrive anytime between 7 am and 5 pm. What was I to do? Well my drive arrived in the afternoon and, very nicely and patiently, they stayed and helped wait for my arrival. I felt really bad about asking them to do this, but really didn't know what else to do. So we waited...and continued to wait. Finally, we had to get on the road and really just couldn't wait anymore. I understood completely, I would just have to figure something out. We were literally on our way out the drive way when the delivery truck showed up. I was so happy nothing else was really mattering at the moment, my frustration with UPS fading away. I signed for the package, and held it on my lap in the backseat the entire way home cramped along with my friend who'd come to visit and my niece. I had my laptop and was good to go. You'll actually be hearing more about the laptop I purchased in future blog posts. Back to the matter at hand.

Fast forward three years. I've since purchased a new convertible Tablet PC and am in the process of designing a customized case for it (which I also hope to make the topic of some future blog posts). Since the case would be made of fabric, and designed in such a way as to use the machine while inside the case, I was worried about blocking the ventilation on the bottom of the machine. So I decided to purchase a cooling pad (my third, having two for my previous laptop) to build into the case. I wanted to keep using my previous pad (the first of which having broken), so I began the search for a new one. After considerable deliberation I finally decided on a Vantec LapCool 3. More on that later. I ordered it and paid for it, only to realized it was being delivered by UPS. Well, this time it would be getting delivered to my Mom's house, out in the open with visible house number signs, so it couldn't be so this time around, right? Of course, my Mom also couldn't be home all day waiting for some driver to arrive. So, I decided to call UPS and have the package delivered to the UPS store where I could go pick it up. Unfortunately, due to a mis-communication, I thought the package had gotten delivered and cancelled the request. I was wrong, and stuck without my package. Heading into the store, and providing my tracking number, I was informed that my package would actually be over at the distribution center which was closed for the weekend. I had to leave town, but my family members graciously agreed to go pick it up when they reopened. They opened. They went. The package? Not there. Apparently it had been shipped back the store I'd just visited on the weekend. In fact, the package had been in the very store when I was there. I'm really not sure why this information wasn't known while I was in the store. Nevertheless, the people at the distribution plant apparently thought the package had been picked up by me on the day I went. Strange. So, after paying a small "storage fee", my package was finally release and is now in the hands of my family. Unfortunately, its in another town. I intend to send them a few dollars (adding yet another shipping cost) to send it to me (either by Canada Post or the Bus service, both of which I have shipped with before and had no problems).

Now I understand that the folks at the delivery company see many packages a day, and that mistakes are bound to happen. To be fair, the people I dealt with at the company were quite friendly, and they agree to reimburse people for last packages if they cannot be found. This isn't so much a critique on them but rather on the process. Think about delivery to people's houses. This seems great in principle, but how well does it really work in practice? There are so many things that can go wrong, I'm not sure this is really the best idea. Assuming that the drivers know the streets of the areas they deliver in (which isn't too unreasonable), many houses don't clearly have house numbers visible. In fact, at my mom's house, multiple attempts to clearly display our house numbers haven't worked because they keep disappearing. Assuming the correct house had been found: what about time? How are you supposed to ensure that you or someone is there to take delivery during that time? Most people work during this time, and many others live alone and simply cannot be there.

So it’s a good idea, in theory, but it just doesn't seem practical to me. There are a few ways we can make it better. For example, having packages delivered to work. Unfortunately, you can't always change your delivery address from your billing address (i.e. credit card) very easily. And you might work somewhere that doesn't want this being done. I think the best thing is that if you are going to be delivering over an area, and if direct delivery is impractical, the best solution is to allow the customer to conveniently pick up the package on their own time. Of course, the places to pick them up must be common enough that it’s not too difficult or costly to get them, and where they can be operated at non-standard hours. The other services I mentioned seem to have a little of each, but of course you can't always choose who you want something to be shipped to you buy. Nevertheless, there's always room for improvement. I don't see any reason I was told my package wasn't there when I went to look for it, despite the fact that it was. Well, I should have it soon, so hopefully no harm done, but I will likely continue to try to use alternate services in the future. How do you deal with such restrictions on package delivery?

Take care all.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Gmail notifier curiosity

Hello everyone!

I've been an avid user of Gmail for at least four years. When I switched over completely to Gmail in 2006, one of the things I didn't want to give up was the "notification" of new email I enjoyed through using Outlook (I wanted to use webmail alone, I didn't know about IMAP then).

Later, I found out about Gmail notifer which is a great solution. It sits in your system tray and once provided log in information will notifier you of new email. This worked great since my school email account was routed through gmail so I never had to check either by hand.

About 6 months ago, I created a second email account for more "official" communication. Since I hadn't been using it much, I wasn't checking it as often and got a wake up call when an important email came through that should have seen sooner (it worked out in the end anyway). Still, I wanted to be able to be notifed of email from both accounts. One obvious solution was to imply foward (or import) email from one account into the other: but I was hesitant on this for two reasons: 1) Despite Gmail's excellent searching abilities, I really wanted the accounts seperate; 2) I've had trouble in the past sending email out of a gmail account "from" a different account. My school email had a lot of trouble with spam filters because of this.

I was sure there would be a way to make Gmail notifer be able to handle two accounts: simply running two copies in my tray seemed the simplest solution (since each would have its own log in credentials). This seemed to work all right except for one cavet: Notifer would get "confused" on which account it was supposed to handle. Meaning that even if notifer would check two accounts at once, if I tried to open an account by double clicking the icon, it would go the the default account (what ever account I was logged into on the browser, regardless of what one was clicked).

My solution was then to always keep one account logged into in Firefox, and IE always logged into the other account. Again...this didn't quite work. If I had notifer "pointing" to account A and IE "pointing" to account B, then notifer would always notify me of the account that I was logged in with IE, regardless of what credentials I had actually supplied to notifer.

Strange huh? I thought so too, it seems as though somehow the IE login over rides Gmail. Oh well, seems as no matter what I would have to check at least one account by hand. I did try using another POP-tray notifer, but just couldn't find the simplicity of notifer with multiple accounts.

Don't get me wrong, I still think Gmail notifer is a great solution in many cases. Personally, I've gone back to using Outlook so that I can easily manage both accounts (and get notifications from both on time) along with my calendar. And using IMAP, they continually stay syched, so I always have access to my email history regardess of if I'm using Outlook or the web interface. This is a pretty good solution and I'm happy with it.

Take care everyone!

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Thoughts on 'Star Trek'

Hi everyone! Recently on the weekend I had the opportunity to view the new "Star Trek" film, the 11th film in the movie franchise. I would like to share some thoughts on the film itself, as well as my personal 'Star Trek' history.

I can't recall exactly when I begin watching Star Trek, though a few clues I do remember help me to narrow it down. The first Trek I remember watching clearly is Star Trek: The Next Generation, and the first episode I can remember clearly is the one where Data begins to dream (Birthright, which also happened to be a DS9 crossover). This episode aired in 1993, the same year that a new broadcast station called MITV (later, Global) came to my hometown which aired The Next Generation (we did not have cable television and watched three over-the-air broadcast signals), which helps me pin this year down as my first 'real' exposure to it, at the age of 7 years old. I was immediately attracted to it, and continued to watch the newest episodes until its conclusion in 1994. I have clear memories of watching the TNG finale episode with my brother, something which was very exciting. The following year (1995), I watched the series premiere of Star Trek: Voyager and I think around that time (or earlier) I started watching DS9. I remember that both DS9 and Voyager aired consecutively on Saturday nights at 7 and 8 pm. I watched both of them until their finales, and reruns of TNG were aired Saturday afternoon at 4 and 5 pm, which helped me get caught up on earlier episodes. The Original Series also aired on CBC on Saturday's at 3:00pm which I watched too. Yep, that pretty much means at one point every Saturday I would watch 5 hours of Star Trek. I was quite happy. Anyway, coincidentally in 1995 another of my favorite programs began to air called Sliders. But more on that later, suffice it to say it would around this time my love of the science fiction/fantasy genre (as I also started watching Hercules and Xena around that time) which today continues to be a 'staple' so to speak of my life.

Back to the matter at hand, I consider myself a fairly involved fan of the franchise, buying (and building out of wood) my own Federation starships, toys and action figures, posting on forums and rewatching episodes many times. I even once had a homemade visor so I could be Geordi for Halloween. I'm certain there are bigger fans then I, but I have a broad range of knowledge across all five series and ten movies whereas other people may be more limited to subset. Admittedly, I was not a huge fan of Star Trek: Nemesis. I liked it for sure, but judging that I have only seen it a small handful of times (compared to the many times for the other TNG films at least) it just didn't seem to have as much draw as the other films. I was excited for the eleventh film as soon I heard it was in production, though like many fans I think, most of my hopes were for a DS9/Voyager film.

I think it was in the first year of university I heard the dreaded news: Trek 11 was a prequel. A prequel? You mean like Enterprise? I stopped watching Enterprise towards the end of season two, I certainly didn't hate it, it just wasn't holding my interest (I've since watched the remaining season 3 and 4 and was vastly enjoyed them). But I digress: I wasn't thrilled about the idea of seeing characters from the original series played by new actors in an story line that I suspected wasn't going to feel very 'Star Trek'. But, unlike some other fans, I committed myself to reserving judgment until I'd actually seen the film. Time past and I'd gleam a piece of information here or there, but knowledge was few and far between. Then I saw the first teaser trailer depicting the Enterprise construction and heard Leonard Nimoy's monologue and hope began to stir a new. That scene just looked so cool...maybe they could do this after all? If Leonard Nimoy was onboard (as other news sources had suggested) we might just be going somewhere. The subsequent trailers also raised hope that the movie wouldn't just plain suck, but I still had my reservations. There was one question I just couldn't seem to answer: was it going to be a complete reboot of the franchise (that is changing continuity) or not? I couldn't think of how it could be anything but. I then started to think that 'Star Trek' would be a good movie, just not a good Star Trek movie.

I was correct on the first thought. I was wrong on the second. From here I'll say this: some spoilers *are* ahead but I'll try to keep them to a minimum. I encourage you to see the film first. In a nutshell (I am fond of nutshells, btw), I was blown away by just how damn good of a movie, and of a Star Trek film, this just really was. Now granted these are initial opinions, I can't guarantee my thoughts won't change, at least a little, on subsequent re-watchings. First of all, those worried about changing continuity (as I was) need fear not. 'Star Trek' simply takes place in an alternate timeline/reality (read: parallel universe). In fact, some of my favorite Star Trek episodes involve parallel universes (TNG: Parallels, Voy: Timeless, Ent: In a Mirror, Darkly) so its not surprising that such a story line would immediately attract me (could also have something to do with the aforementioned love of Sliders). I largely judged most works of fiction on two principles: story and line and realistic characters. I enjoy other things as well like special effects (if a movie or TV series) and a decent interpretation of science being used, but these are secondary to telling a good story. Star Trek delivers that in abundance. I found myself relating to these characters almost immediately, and was engrossed in what happened to them. Since it's an alternate reality, you don't know how everything is going to turn out after the film, so really anything can happen. It also shows a very interesting side of Kirk, and answers a "What If?" question (that parallel universe stores are famous for), how might he have grown up without the influence of his father? Now, admittedly, my experience with TOS is not nearly as abundant as my experience with the latter series, so some of the conclusions/analogies I draw might have flaws. Now, the Kirk from the movie shares many of the same characteristics as the original Kirk, but he's not quite the same: he's less controlled then the original Kirk, which I would attribute to not having the experience of his father. I was impressed with just how well that idea worked out. I think Spock's history, on the other hand, is largely unaffected by the alternate reality so much of it is probably still applicable to the original Spock. There was one issue I had here: the other Vulcan's "teasing" Spock for being half human didn't seem very Vulcan-like. I can see them acting superior to him, even excluding him, but outright trying to provoke him? I thought it was odd...but it did set up a very important part of the film later. I loved seeing the Kirk/Spock first meeting at Kirk's hearing for the Kobayashi Maru "solution" (something we heard about in Trek 2 and probably happened more-or-less the same way as the original universe).

The remainder of the story line was well done: Nero was believable as a villain, and though the whole red matter/sucked into a black hole/time travel thing wasn't exactly believable, I learned looong ago that suspension of disbelief is important to enjoy fantasy as much I as I do (though its a plus when it's unnecessary). I think my favorite actor-character portrayal was the new McCoy: I loved how his character was interpreted (I think his 'Astrophobia' was downright hilarious), I also liked Scotty, but he wasn't in it as much as I would have liked to see. The rest of the characters were enjoyable to watch as well.

Now onto an important question for probably no one else but me: why was the alternate reality's Enterprise/technology seemingly more advanced then the original? Consider how the NX-01 seemed more advanced then the NCC-1701. One idea is this was at least indirectly due to some change in the original timeline (Borg incursion in 2063, 29th century tech, etc, etc). Of course, in Trek, sometimes time travel changes a reality, and sometimes, it creates a new reality. Now, assuming the NX-01 resulted from a reality change (not new) there are a number of ways we could transition from the NX-01 to the NCC-1701, but I think the best explanation is summed up by "In a Mirror, Darkly": just because the NX-01 looked more advance, doesn't mean it actually was. Now, assuming that the the NX-01 occurred in both realities (Scotty's Archer/Beagle comment seems to support this), then the new Enterprise is a logical transition from the NX-01. Anything that happened between the NX-01 and the building of the 1701 could have changed the design of the ship (Nero's incursion for one). But more importantly, both the NX-01 and the new Enterprise are 'futurized' versions of our technology, where as the original ship were of course futurized versions of 1960's technology. Now anything changing the future technological course between 1960 and 1990's (ahem, Starling anyone?) would impact the rate of technological advancement. In some realities, it would result in our 1701, and in others, a different one.

A few other small plot hole issues: Spock, in a rush to regroup with the fleet, just decides to thrown him off the ship onto a frozen planet? Yea, I don't think so: it was a waste of time and illegal. Should have just sent him to the brig/sedated him. But of course it was an important way to advance the story, so forgivable. A curiosity really. Oh, and exactly how long was Spock stuck on that planet before Vulcan was destroyed? I could be wrong, but it seemed to me he was stuck there a while, long enough to at least try and get some help.

The movie has something for everyone: for sci-fi (but non-trek fans) its a great stand alone sci-fi story: you really don't need to have any pre knowledge of Trek. For action-film people you've got plenty of that too. For others, there's lot of comedy, drama, relationships and a good story. And for the Trek lover: you've still got the ideology that Trek brings to our hearts: hope for the future, survival in the face of danger. Plus, there a number of clever (and not so subtle) nods to 'Trek' in the film: at one point someone will die, and you'll pretty much know who he is and why he'll die the moment you see him :). And there's plenty more.

The last few minutes of the film I kept expecting to see two things that didn't happen, but I thought would have been nice. Originally I expected Old Spock to try and return to the future (that is, his future, not the future of the alternate reality), but the I realized he is better off staying where he is, given what happens to Vulcan. Still, although its implied, I would have liked to see a more direct reference that the original reality Old Spock came from is, indeed, still intact and functioning (minus Romulus of course). And, something I thought would have been a funny line somewhere at the end of the movie:

Kirk: "So they gave us five years huh? We'll do it in three."

All in all, great movie. You might not like it (I know a few people who simply don't like science fiction regardless), but I think many people, old fans and new alike, will enjoy it. If this is the future of the franchise, as long as it continues to be handled well, I for one won't be unhappy. As Picard once said to Data: well done. Don't get me wrong, I'll always hold out a little hope for a new TV series, either in the old reality or the new one, and/or a continuation of the DS9/Voy story line, but we do also have other mediums for those.

Take care everyone.

The Beginning

Hi there all! Not expecting to have a lot (read: any) readers at this point but I would like to make a preliminary post to start my blog off least for posterity purposes if nothing else!

So who am I? Why am I creating this blog?

Well the answers to those questions are one in the same. You see, I'm a thinker. Something I've noticed about myself is that there doesn't seem to be a moment in my day when I'm not thinking about something. From the time I wake up to when I fall asleep some thought it going through my mind. And they're not just "background" thoughts...I'm very consciously aware of them. I don't know if its like this for everyone or not, but nonetheless, sometimes in order to sort through thoughts you have to get them out of your head. Since I don't have a penseive like a certain white bearded wizard, I'm hoping this blog will help get some ideas out there, and maybe expose a few people to some ideas they haven't thought of before, and if that helps them with their lives, so much the better. And it'll help me too....I often find myself in need of feedback on my thoughts, since I'm often trying to find solutions to problems. I debate things with myself often, but like debugging a program, sometimes you need a second set of eyes to see where a flaw might be. I'm not planning on having a single 'topic' that this blog will be about, the thoughts I have tend to be on a large body of topics, but over time a common theme might develop. I think I'll probalby be starting off a lot of topics with "I think". My first 'real' post should hopefully be up in a few days, I've started thinking about the topic and am just working on how I want to say it...suffice it to say it shall be on a popular movie I recently watched.

In the meantime, please note the following things:

1) This blog will never intend to harm anyone in anyway. I guarentee there's going to be at least a thought or two of mine you disagree on. Disagreement of an opinion should not be considered a personal 'attack' on oneself. In fact, I've given that a great deal of thought and at some point will probably write an entire post on it.
2) I'm a scientist. Although I'm a specific kind of scientist, above all else that means I follow the scientific method: observe, hypothesize, test, reformulate. I don't just do this in my work, I tend to apply it to all aspects of my life. In a nutshell it means I follow two principles: logical argumentation and evidence. A logical argument is not proof in and of itself of the reality of what is being argued. Although academically this is often considered the difference between a 'valid' and 'sound' argument, I've found that many people have difficulty seperating the two concepts. Something else that I hope to expand on.
3) I'm a fun guy. I like humor, I like to laugh and make other people happy. I like to help people whenever I can, if it's within my capacity. Is it selfish? Well sure, it makes me happy to make other's happy. But that doesn't mean it should be a 'degredation' of the action. People often tend not to get things I find 'humerous', I don't know if its me or them. Probably both. Sarcasm is something I have trouble with. At times I seem to be able to use it flawlessly, and at others it completely alludes me. I think sarcasm is a decent example of indirectness, another topic I've thought about quite a bit and have some issues with.

Although I hope you will decide to comment, please keep the above in mind, and possibly more things as I think about it. That's it for now, but maybe it'll give an idea of a few things you'll see coming up. I hope you enjoy reading. Take care, everyone.