Computers

PowerNotebooks Laptops Ordered

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I’ve written about my laptop a number of times. Separately, I’ve written about Windows XP, Vista, Linux and what I might choose when buying a new laptop.

This morning, I ordered two identical laptops from PowerNotebooks.com, one for me and one for Lois. Here is the link to the specific model: PowerPro I 8:17. I max’ed out a bunch of the options (but not all), so these are extremely sweet machines.

First, a few words about PowerNotebooks.com. The last five laptops that I have paid for personally have all come from PowerNotebooks.com (with these two, that makes seven!). My current Sager NP8890 was the first one purchased from them, over four years ago. I still love the machine, and will definitely feel a bit like I’m cheating on it with my new one.

Since then, I’ve purchased two other Sager models, one for Lois, and one for my godson. I then bought a PowerPro for my goddaughter, and then a PowerPro for my godson. PowerNotebooks.com carries a number of brands. We’ve been extremely happy with our Sagers and PowerPros. They stand behind their machines, and have been incredible in solving problems when they’ve come up over the years. Pricing is very fair as well, for these extremely high-end machines.

I really can’t say enough about the choice and customer service offered by PowerNotebooks.com, and am proud to count myself among their happy and loyal customers.

Now for my choice of OS. I’ve railed in the past against Vista. At the time, it was inconceivable to me that I would ever install it on any machine under my control. While I was reasonably happy with XP, I was heavily leaning toward running Linux and having XP available in a virtual machine. I spent a few seconds considering a Mac, which most of the tech people I know use and love.

As much as the romance of running Linux appealed to me, I knew that I couldn’t remotely consider not having XP available in a VM (the same would be true if I bought a Mac). The more I thought about it, the more it annoyed me that I was desperately trying to work around pretending that I wasn’t somehow married to Windows. In other words, I wasn’t being pragmatic, and I like being pragmatic.

So, I spent an inordinate amount of time thinking about and reading as much as I could about Vista, specifically Vista x64. As I noted in a previous post, Vista SP1 seemed to have solved the most heinous problems that I personally noticed in the original release of Vista.

Pragmatism has ruled the day (for me), and I am at peace with my decision. I have no doubt that I will love the PowerPro (from a hardware point of view). I will report back a few days after it becomes my regular machine on how I feel about Vista (64 bit or otherwise). That should be roughly two weeks from now.

While I can’t imagine that I’ll switch away from Vista, at least with this hardware choice, I could easily revert to XP or Linux. If I bought a Mac and didn’t like it, I could run XP natively as well, but I would have grossly overpaid for the hardware for that scenario.

mp3tunes is a joke

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mp3tunes.com sounded like a good idea when I first heard of it. I found out about it a while ago, in a round-a-bout manner. I discovered a music streaming application, that could be widgetized on a blog, and they were promoting mp3tunes as a place to store your mp3’s so that you could stream them from there.

So, I signed up for the free account. It came with one GB of storage for free. If you wanted more, you paid. Fair enough. I was only interested in free. I wasn’t sure I would even use the service. A few days later, I received an email from them that my account had been automatically upgraded to an unlimited storage account, still completely free.

Cool! There were still plenty of hooks to upsell you, mostly in terms of currently restricted features that would be unlocked if you paid, but I had no interest.

They have an installable application called LockerSync. It was in beta when I first signed up. It was awful in terms of performance, but if you kept restarting it after it died, and had tons of patience, eventually, it worked. This application keeps your local music files in sync with your music on their site. This is the primary use case I was interested in. An emergency backup for my mp3 files.

The software was so horrible, that even though I was on a blisteringly fast connection (including 5Mbps upstream), it took nearly a week to sync 18GB of files. Like I said above, eventually, it synced.

A few months later, the LockerSync software came out of beta, and it got more stable. It still wasn’t really fast, but I presume that they were throttling it on their side, to avoid large bandwidth bills. Again, fair enough.

I never accessed my files on their site, and never ended up streaming anything (other than testing on rare occasion that indeed the files were uploaded correctly).

After a few more months, I started getting errors on certain files. The software alerted me that the files were too large and I needed to upgrade to a paid account to complete the sync. The amazing thing is that every one of these files were synced months earlier, correctly. So, somehow, files were disappearing on the site.

An additional annoyance is that the LockerSync software autostarts with my login, and it takes forever to initialize, making the boot process pound the disk and leave everything else to load sluggishly. I took the program out of the startup sequence, because I don’t update my library daily anyway. Now I was just launching the program whenever I added music. Still, I was getting these error message on the large files.

Today, I launched the program to sync some new music. I received an error message claiming that my locker was full, and that I needed to upgrade to a paid account in order to continue. My full account had 2GB in it. So, they tossed 18-20GB of music that I had previously synced. Wow, I had the opportunity to pay people that operate a service like that, and hope that I could resync everything, and that they wouldn’t change the terms yet again.

Like I would trust them not to triple the price in a month, after tossing my files, just because that’s what suited them that day.

Folks, don’t start services, tell people that certain parts are free, and then change your mind. OK, you can do that, but wouldn’t it have been nice for them to send me an email telling me that I had 30 days, or whatever, before they were going to toss my files?

I’m glad they never saw a dime of my money, and for sure, any service that they ever offer in the future won’t have me as a customer either.

Vista SP1

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If you stop by here regularly, then you know I’ve railed about Windows Vista at least once. Aside from hearing tons of complaints from friends and strangers, I had the displeasure of using my previously mentioned computer ministry to set up a new Dell computer for my cul-de-sac neighbor’s mom last year.

At that time, Dell was only offering Vista on some models of their laptops, something they then backed off of. The machine, a Dell 1501 was value priced, so I endorsed the purchase (Vista included) in advance. I only say this to make the point that I wasn’t against Vista before I experienced it directly!

Anyway, I had never seen a more unstable machine from the minute it was turned on. Since then, I haven’t been asked to work on it (thankfully), mostly because the mom really doesn’t use the machine much, and she’s not really a complainer by nature either.

Last week I wrote about working on one of their machines which ended up in a full reinstall of Windows XP. As a result, my friend asked me if I could take a look at her mom’s machine to make sure all was well. I agreed.

Yesterday afternoon her mom dropped off the laptop. When I booted it, it was every bit as unstable, and downright unpleasant to work on as I remembered. Every few minutes the desktop would restart itself (in XP, that might be explore.exe or explorer.exe, but I’m not really sure). Aside from that, everything took forever or hung awaiting some hidden dialog box requiring a click.

I struggled to apply Windows updates until the only one left was Vista SP1. That claimed to be a 66MB download, but even though I’m on a blisteringly fast Verizon FiOS connection, multiple attempts (at least five!) to install it all failed, with the package never fully downloading (on a wired connection).

I turned to my XP laptop and downloaded the full 484MB standalone Vista SP1 file directly to a flash drive. It came down so quickly I couldn’t believe it. I put the flash drive in the Vista laptop and ran the patch. It took a while (as they predicted), and rebooted a number of times (as they predicted), but when it was done, I had my first experience with a stable Vista machine!

It wasn’t half bad, and I’m man enough to admit it. I was then able to clean off some other bloatware, install some useful utilities, all without a hitch. The machine is running quite nicely, and I will be returning it to her later today.

I had heard similar things from other people. One friend of mine told me that Vista was crashing on her laptop a minimum of once a day. After she installed SP1, it hasn’t crashed even once, and that’s been over three months now.

Anyway, I’ll bash when it’s deserved, but correct when that is deserved as well, and it now seems reasonable to consider Vista if you are going with a Windows-based machine anyway.

If/when I get closer to buying a new laptop (could happen in a day, or in six months), I’ll share my thoughts on that, as I am heavily leaning towards running Vista 64 on any new machine I buy.

Reinstalling Windows XP

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I spend a fair amount of my time helping many people with their personal computers (mostly laptops, but desktops as well). A friend of ours noted that I had my own Computer Ministry a while ago. Lois liked the term and printed T-Shirts labeled Pastor Pedhazur, with the names of many in my flock. 🙂

Among the many people I help are our cul-de-sac neighbors (I support the mom, dad and teenage daughter) with whom we’ve been good friends for 18+ years.

The Dad’s current laptop is a Dell E1405. It’s a nice small-to-midsize laptop running XP. When he bought it, it came with 1GB of RAM (two 512MB sticks) and an 80GB disk (with only 55GB of usable space, we’ll get to why in a bit).

It ran well for a while, but started giving him a bunch of trouble when his teenage daughter used it a few times (possibly before she got her own Dell for Christmas, or possibly because it was simply more convenient one day for whatever reason). Being a teenager, she visited sites she shouldn’t have, installed stuff (wittingly or otherwise), and the machine was infected with a number of viruses and spyware programs.

I used to fix their machines in their house, and chat with them while I was working away. There were many days (mostly on weekends) where I’d be there for upwards of five hours. I didn’t mind, because (like I said above), we’re good friends. But, I tend to play poker mostly on weekends now, so when they have a problem, I tend to pick up their machines (or they drop them off) and I work on them in my house.

So, a month ago I picked up his machine and spent the day cleaning off all of the viruses. That went reasonably smoothly. I also deleted the daughter’s account (with their permission), now that she definitely has her own full-time laptop (yes, I previously had to clean hers as well, but she’s kept it pretty clean since then).

Even though the cleansing went well, I noticed the dreaded BSOD (Blue Screen of Death) a number of times. In fact, I could provoke it at will (if waiting a full hour each time counts as at will). It felt like a bad memory chip, since it failed in the same way every time, but I couldn’t be sure.

I have a dozen or so utility CDs which I can boot off that have various tools on them to help me with my ministry. I pulled out one that had a variety of memory tests, booted from it, and let it run for a few hours. No joy, I couldn’t provoke any failures. Then I pulled one of the RAM chips out, and ran the one-hour program, and indeed, it still failed.

I then swapped the memory chips, and reran the program, and it ran to completion. I also moved that chip to the secondary slot, and it continued to work, so it appeared that neither slot was bad either! Aha, had to be a bad RAM chip, right? Perhaps, we’ll find out in a minute or two… 😉

As an aside, Dell puts the second slot under the keyboard, and the machinations you have to go through to get to that slot are nerve-wracking and unwieldy. Of course, now that I’ve swapped chips for him numerous times, I’m a daredevil at doing it and can swap the chips in my sleep… 🙂

He could have run on 512MB, but that’s not a lot of headroom for Windows XP. Instead, the next day, we ordered two 1GB modules. The following weekend I took the machine again, and put in the memory modules. I reran the long program, and it failed at the one hour mark, again… 🙁

I pulled one chip, reran the program, and it worked, so it appeared that perhaps one of the slots was bad (or flaky), but at least he was back to 1GB of memory, not a total loss. I returned the machine to him.

A week later, I called to ask how it was running. Sheepishly, he admitted that it was crashing a ton, but that it came back each time (in fact, it auto-rebooted), and he was limping along, able to check his email, etc., but not really use the machine for extended periods. Clearly, he felt badly imposing, but I felt badly that he didn’t!

We were leaving for VA that day, so I told him I’d check it out when we returned, which was a few days ago.

My plan was to reinstall Windows XP from scratch to be sure that it wasn’t a deep software corruption on his system. If a fresh install still showed regular crashes, then he had to have some kind of hardware problem.

I picked up the machine on Friday morning. I have a number of ways that I back machines up (mine and others) depending on the situation. For ultra-safety and complete backups, I tend to use a commercial program called EZ Gig II (it’s a custom Linux distro with some sort of packaging of a dd-like program, though not exactly that). The program came with an external disk drive kit that I bought a while ago, and I’ve been very satisfied with it. There are many free programs that accomplish the same thing.

However, I didn’t want to use that program for this task, because it creates a blob that can’t access individual files. You can restore the entire disk to another partition, but not copy over one file that you just forgot you’d need, etc. Still, I wanted a full backup, and I didn’t want to just copy all of the files.

I pulled out another of my trusty utility disks. This one is the BartPE CD, an excellent collection of Windows utilities on a bootable CD. The advantage of this over a Linux bootable CD is that you are really running Windows, so all disk activity is virtually guaranteed to work with NTFS filesystems, including writing. Don’t flame me, Linux has gotten really good at this too (with NTFS-3g in particular), and I do use it, reliably, but BartPE comes with a specific utility which I really wanted to use for this specific task!

That utility is DriveImage XML. This is very cool software, that works exactly as advertised. There are two reasons why I use EZ Gig II more frequently than this. EZ Gig is way faster and EZ Gig will allow me to store multiple images of the same drive on the same target (backup) drive. DriveImage XML is slower, and doesn’t let me name the backups, so it’s less flexible.

That said, it has a feature that makes it way better than EZ Gig for the task I needed, which is that it stores a map of the data it backed up in a separate XML file, and every file (or directory, etc.) can be restored (or rather extracted) separately.

So, I booted the Bart PE CD and ran DriveImage XML and backed up the drive to an external hard drive. I was now ready to reinstall Windows XP. For years, no one has been better than these folks at keeping every bit of stuff that came with any PC they purchased. It took them 30 seconds to find the original CDs and manual.

But, I mentioned above that the disk had 55 usable GB on it. That’s because it had a hidden restore partition on it as well. I found the key combination to boot off of it from the manual (actually, the online manual at Dell’s site, since it was easier to search that). When I booted the machine, I pressed Ctrl-F11 and was presented with the Recovery Menu.

I chose a full reinstall. The machine chugged along, and a litte bit later, it was like new from the factory (bloatware too), including Microsoft Office which they had paid for separately. Cool.

I immediately deleted all of the bloatware and proceeded to bring the system back up-to-date with Windows Update. Here, I made a very critical error! Early on, I allowed Windows XP SP3 to be installed by Windows Update. While it completed correctly, after it was installed, other critical updates could not proceed (including updates to IE 7). I’m guessing that the system was simply in an inconsistent state.

I was tempted to start all over, and reinstall XP from the recovery partition again. Then I decided to try something I’ve been aware of, but have never attempted. I picked a Restore Point from the Help and Support menu in Windows, and picked the restore point that was automatically set before SP3 was installed. In effect, I was rolling back the SP3 install.

That worked, and I was left with only one program that I had previously deleted to delete again. I then forced a new save, so that I could roll back again (without needing to delete this extra program), just in case.

I then performed all of the updates in XP, each time skipping SP3. Only when SP3 was the only update left did I allow it to install. Perfect. I then ran the program that always provoked the memory error (this time with 2GB of RAM back in the sytem!). It ran flawlessly. I did a bunch of other things, and never got the BSOD! Joy!

So, it turns out that it was indeed a deep software problem, and reinstalling Windows fixed it. He’s now got a very nice sytem, with a nice memory upgrade, clean of anyone elses stuff (family and malware included).

After getting it running, I put in the Bart PE CD again (this time not booting from it, just inserting it while logged in), and ran DriveImage XML again. I was able to pull over all of his files (Documents, Settings, etc.) and check what programs were installed as well.

He’s up and running now and I returned the machine to him yesterday afternoon. I had the machine in my possession for roughly 26 hours, but it was side-by-side with mine, and I worked on Friday, played poker on Saturday, etc., without losing a beat on my own stuff. Pretty good result all around! 🙂

August 2008 Poker

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Well, another month with a fair amount of poker frustration. That said, it was also a very good month on some other levels, including eeking out a small profit.

Without further ado, let’s get the economics out of the way: +$140.46.

Hardly earthshaking. In fact, as reported numerous times now, since I don’t play as much, and I tend to pay full freight in the bigger tourneys, my volatility is high. It takes big wins to cover the losing entry fees. This past month saw two nice wins on consecutive Saturdays, in the weekly big Omaha Hi/Lo tourney.

Last Saturday (the 23rd) I placed 6th, and received $1,050.00 for my $162 entry fee. Then yesterday, I played in the same tourney (the only one I played in yesterday) and finished 4th, receiving $1,500.00 for my $162. So, you’d think that I would be up a ton this month with those two scores, but, you already know that this wasn’t the case…

Tonight, in my last tourney of the month, I paid full freight for the weekly big Hold’Em tourney ($215). Because of the holiday weekend, there were only 758 entrants, so the top 80 got paid. Normally, the top 100 get paid. I was low on chips, but possibly had enough to slip into the money (not all that likely). So, I shoved UTG with 77. Only the big blind called. He had AKo. An A came on the flop, and I was out in 92nd, missing the money by 12 spots…

Oh well, clearly, the two big finishes in Omaha were extremely satisfying. Finishing close in the bigger weekly Hold’Em tourneys (I came reasonably close another time this month aside from tonight) is both frustrating and enjoyable, at the same time.

At least the account can handle another month of playing. 🙂

Recovering From a Server Disk Crash

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The machine that is delivering this blog to you is a standalone Dell server, running CentOS 5.2. It resides in a data center managed by Zope Corporation (ZC) Systems Administrators (SAs). I perform the majority of the software administration and maintenance myself, and they maintain all of the hardware along with some of the software.

The single most important software maintenance that they are responsible for is backing up the system. We’ll get to that in a minute.

This past Sunday, we were in our usual hotel room. I was logged on for roughly eight straight hours, and all was well on this server. I shut my laptop off at around 10:15pm. When we woke up in the morning, Lois checked her email on her Treo. It kept hanging. We thought it was a Treo/Sprint problem, but even rebooting the Treo didn’t correct the hang.

When we got into the office (at around 7am), our laptops couldn’t retrieve mail from the server either. Pinging the server worked, but I couldn’t SSH on to it. In fact, most services delivered by this server were gone (including this blog, which was unreachable). The only service (aside from ping/ICMP) that was obviously up was Zope! If you just wanted to visit our corporate site, and learn about our VC business (all of which is handled by Zope), that was running fine!

The head of the SA group at ZC was also in that early (thankfully!). After poking around a bit, I encouraged him to power off the machine remotely, and them power it back up remotely. He did. Unfortunately, the machine didn’t come back up (or at least it wasn’t responding to pings any longer, so something was wrong).

Another SA was called and directed to go to the data center rather than the office. When he got there, and hooked up a console to the server, he saw that the disk was failing. Attempts to get it started (running fsck, etc.) proved fruitless. It decided to die completely that morning.

Yet another SA was dispatched (from the office) to the data center with a fresh disk (he had other work to perform at the data center, or I would have delivered the disk myself, happily!). We knew in advance that this disk might be slightly problematic, as it had CentOS 4.6 installed on it.

When the disk was inserted into the machine, it booted up immediately. I was able to successfully SSH to the machine, but of course, nothing of mine was on there. That’s when the original SA (who also happens to be our expert in backups) started restoring the machine from our backups.

For a long time, we used to run the Amanda backup program at ZC. I don’t know why, but our experience with Amanda was never good. I am not suggesting that others don’t find it to be a perfectly acceptable solution, but for us, for whatever reasons, it wasn’t good enough.

After searching and evaluating a number of alternatives, the ZC SAs selected Bacula. We’ve been using that for a reasonable period of time now. The Bacula restore of my machine didn’t take all that long, and every file that I wanted/needed was successfully and correctly restored. In fact, the nightly incremental backup had run successfully before the disk decided to die (how polite), so even some non-critical files that I touched on Sunday were successfully restored! Whew!

That said, it was hardly a trip to the candy store. All of the applications that I compiled myself (more than you’d think, I’m a geek at heart!), didn’t work because of the OS (operating system) mismatch. My programs required newer versions of various libraries (possibly even the kernel itself in some cases), so starting from a 4.6 machine and restoring files that required 5.2 wasn’t as clever as we’d hoped.

Still, with some pain, theoretically, one can ugrade a 4.6 machine to 5.2 over the network. That was my plan… Well, the best laid plans, as they say…

I released the SA from the task of baby-sitting my machine, because I knew that a network upgrade would take a while, at best. After doing some network magic, the machine was in a little bit of a funky state, but there was a chance that a reboot would bring the machine up in a 5.x state, making the rest of the upgrade fairly straightforward.

Unfortunately, when I rebooted, the machine hung (wouldn’t actually go away, still pingable, but otherwise non-responsive). Again I asked the head of the SA group to remotely power down/up. Again, it powered down properly, but didn’t come back up.

In fact, it likely did come up, but because of the funky state that I left the machine in, it couldn’t be seen publicly due to network configuration issues. This time, we decided to take a more conservative approach, because opticality.com was down for at least 8 hours already (not a happy situation for either Lois or me).

The original SA went back down to the data center. This time, he burned a CD with a network install ISO of CentOS 5.2. After installing the correct OS onto the machine, he again restored the disk with Bacula. This time, everything matched. Still, there were problems…

The biggest issue (by far!) was foolishness on my part in mapping out what I wanted backed up on the machine to begin with. Sparing you the gory details, I ended up restoring the Yum database from my backup over the actual Yum database from the installation, so the system didn’t really know what was installed and what wasn’t. Not a good thing.

I only really cared about email to begin with. I built a few things (pretty quickly) by hand, and got email running. Then I got the web stuff up pretty quickly too. Finally, IM. Those are my big three hot buttons, everything else could be dealt with later on.

I didn’t want the SA to leave until we could prove that the machine could be booted correctly remotely. That took some time as well, as a number of the services that are started automatically weren’t installed on the machine (though RPM/YUM thought they were!). We (or rather he, at the console) disabled them one by one, until the machine came up.

After I restored the more critical ones, we tested a reboot again, and it came up fine. Whew. I released him again, this time for the last time.

I cleaned up a few more things and went to bed reasonably happy (it was now close to 10pm on Monday night). Over the next two days, I spent a few hours cleaning up more things. Yesterday, I completed the cleanup.

A series of shell scripts and filters, doing things like the following:

yum list | grep installed | cut -d ‘ ‘ -f 1 > /tmp/installed

Then running the resulting packages (the ones the system thought were installed!) through:

rpm -V package-name

Filtering that output for lines starting with the word “missing”. Then removing those packages (they weren’t there anyway, so it was a database cleanup activity) and then installing them via Yum again. It wasn’t actually as painful as it sounds, but it wasn’t pain free either.

The biggest headache occurred when removing a non-existent package also moved a config file (that was being used by a package I built separately, so Yum was unaware of it). At one point yesterday, without realizing it, I killed our SMTP (email) server. Oops. We were down for about 10 minutes, before I realized it, and got it back up and running.

At this point, all is back to normal, and Yum correctly knows what’s on the system.

Here are the lessons:

  1. Back Up Regularly
  2. Have a great group of dedicated SAs behind you
  3. Have some spare parts close by
  4. Think hard before taking some stupid actions (all my fault!)

I’m truly amazed, pleased, impressed, etc. that we lost nothing. Of course, we were down for 12 hours, but Internet email is a truly resilient thing. All mail that wanted to be sent to us was deferred when our SMTP server didn’t answer the call. When we came back up, mail started to be delivered nearly instantaneously, and by morning, all mail had been correctly delivered.

Here’s hoping I don’t go through this experience again, and here’s hoping that if you do, this post might help a bit… 🙂

July 2008 Poker

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I won’t be playing tonight, so I can safely report this month’s results now.

Given the past few months, this one was financially successful. That said, it was extremely unsatisfying financially, while simultaneously being extremely satisfying from a having a good time perspective. I guess you can’t have it all. 😉

So, the bottom line first, then a few details that I want to report just to get them off my chest (and make the above paragraph a little less opaque).

I finished the month with a profit of $359.02. Not too shabby.

Still, it was a financially frustrating month. If you read this space regularly, you know that I play a lot less than I used to (as in a ton less). That means I have much less time to play in cheaper qualifiers, so I pay a lot more to enter the bigger tournaments. That means one or two bad breaks a month and it becomes very hard to show a profit.

This month, I lost in all four attempts at the big Sunday tourney. That was an $860 hole that I dug for myself! In addition, they now have a nice Omaha Hi/Lo on Saturday afternoon (perfect time for me!) that costs $162 to enter. I entered that one twice as well, so that’s nearly $1,200 just to enter these six tournaments.

In the big Sunday one, I just missed this week. I came 109th out of 944. They paid the top 100. I likely could have drifted into the money, and gotten back $300 for my $215. Psychologically, I needed to do that (or rather, could have benefited from a cash), but I knew that playing my JJ was the right thing to do. Amazingly, after a very big stack called my all-in, another guy went all-in (bigger stack than me, but less than the stack that called me!) and he only had AK. He risked his entire tournament on a draw with one person all-in, and a bigger stack calling it.

The guy who called me had 66, so I was ahead of him, and the AK got lucky and hit, so I was out. A week ago, I came 164th out of 901, so I’m getting close, but just not getting there all the way…

That said, in the new Saturday Omaha Hi/Lo, I had very good success this past Saturday. I came in 4th out of 72 players. That was good enough for a $1,500 payday (bring the month back into the black). That was my single largest cash in online poker. That’s why I say it was a frustrating month, as I needed that large of a cash just to put me somewhat ahead for the month.

My other minor frustrations were in some qualifiers. I missed winning seats to the Omaha Hi/Lo and the Sunday tourney by one spot at least three times this month. In one, I was the overwhelming chip leader and when it came down to two people, the other person hit every flop five hands in a row, and there was nothing I could do but come second. The free seat only came to first place… On the flip side, after paying the full freight, that’s the one I made my big cash in, so I can’t complain too loudly…

Anyway, on to another month. 🙂

WordPress 2.6 Goodness

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So, I tweeted the other day that I updated to WordPress 2.6 successfully, but didn’t blog about it. I am very pleased with the changes, though I had two minor frustrations, one was WP’s fault, the other not.

First, the goodness. When 2.5 came out, they completely changed the media/image management, changing the upload and selection process to be AJAX based. I really liked the look, but hated the feel. It took so many clicks and so much scrolling to edit the various image fields, and to select and insert an image in a post.

2.6 fixes this completely (for me). This is done by making two (theoretically) trivial changes:

  • Make the pop-up window larger, so that all of the fields for an image fit without scrolling
  • auto-scroll to the selected image when the user clicks on show

That’s it! Now I don’t have to scroll after I click show.

Another goodness is that the number of plugins that have newer versions available is now highlighted on every admin screen, with a cute little bubble above the plugins link. Very nice. I was very good about checking regularly anyway, but this will save me a few clicks every day.

There are other new features, most of which I haven’t played with yet, but they certainly sound useful. The video that shows off the new features is crisp and gets to the point quickly.

I’m happy with 2.6.

Now for my two frustrations. The first is a WP problem. I noted in a recent post that WordPress Ate My Posting Date. I patched it successfully (a one-liner). The patch documentation led me to believe that it was already in the trunk, and therefore would be part of WP 2.6. It wasn’t. 🙁

When I posted about Chuck Mangione the other day, the RSS feed delivered that post with a date of 1999 again. I reapplied the patch, and I believe all is well again. It was disappointing that this simple one-liner missed the 2.6 release…

The second frustration had nothing to do with 2.6. After I saw the new plugin update notification, I updated the two plugins that had newer versions available. When I went back to the admin screen and reloaded, it still claimed that both plugins needed updating, and the new bubble still showed a two in it.

After some playing around, I decided to clear the XCache cache completely. That solved the problem. So, somehow, there was PHP code cached that didn’t update when I installed the new WP 2.6. I will try to remember not to make that mistake again, and just clear the cache whenever I update WP. Now the question is whether I need to clear the cache when a plugin gets updated, etc. Frustrating that somehow date stamps on the files don’t over-ride the cacheing…

In any event, all is well again (at least for the moment). 😉

June 2008 Poker

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This month is simple to report on. Economically painful, but otherwise, enjoyable and almost non-existent.

I barely played this month. I’m reasonably sure it’s the lightest month since I started playing online poker in September 2004. That said, I played and lost two of the big weekly ones, paying full freight in both. I played in a few qualifiers (not the really cheap ones either) and didn’t win any seats, so that cost me too.

Bottom line was an ugly -$617.00 for the month. Over 2/3 of that came from just the two big tourney losses ($215 each) and with qualifiers, closer to 80%. I had two reasonable cashes (percentage-wise), but they didn’t come close to making up for it. In one, I put in $11 and finished 8th, and collected $39.60. In another, I put up $55 and came 9th (out of 199) and collected $170.

The one very bright spot for the month is that since I played very infrequently, I didn’t even get remotely upset (I swear!) even when my luck was horrible. I simply enjoyed playing, and took the beats in stride better than in the past, even though I have been improving in this area for a while now.

Anyway, I’m reporting now because I know for sure I won’t be playing tonight, so this is officially the end of the month for me.

Great Ideas for Next Gen Kindle

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I rarely write a post simply to point to someone else’s post, brilliant or otherwise.

I used to be a voracious reader. That was so long ago, I’m embarrassed to even make that claim. There are many reasons why I don’t read as much (not the least of which is that I’m the world’s slowest reader). Mostly, it’s because I spend so (too?) much time on the Internet, that I don’t just disconnect and read.

Anyway, I admit that the concept of the Kindle intrigued me to the point of considering one. If I got one, I was hoping that a side-effect would be to read more, just because I couldn’t buy one and not use it, right? Well, I still haven’t bought one, and I’m not that close to doing it, but I still read everything I can about the Kindle, to be ready when the tipping point comes my way.

So, today I finally read a post about the Kindle that is inspirational (IMHO).

It’s written by a guy, Seth Godin, who often writes intelligent, thought provoking pieces. Here it is, enjoy!