Geek Stuff

I’ve been having some weird computer problems over the last couple of weeks.  On Thanksgiving morning I went into my office/ham shack and found my main computer was off and would not boot.  It was so dead that I didn’t even get the POST (Power On Self Test) beeps.

I spent quite a bit of time checking all possible causes and even had the power supply tested at a local computer store.  I was left with the conclusion that the motherboard was dead.  You may remember a while back we had a serious lightning hit which did a lot of damage to electronics around here.  After that event I had to replace (among other things)  the motherboards in two different computers.

At that time, just in case, I purchased an extra board for possible future use.  I was able to replace the board in the dead computer with the spare and all was well again.  I didn’t even need to reload or reconfigure any software.  That was a definite blessing.

This in itself is nothing surprising but it gets more interesting.  After retuning home Monday from a doctor visit I found the PC connected to my radio gear was also dead.  It would try to boot and get part way into the process and then shut down.  Again I suspected the power supply and opened the case to take it out.  I was surprised to see that the CPU heat-sink was just dangling by its wires and no longer attached to the processor chip.  Clearly, without the heat-sink the CPU would overheat in a few seconds and its self protection circuitry would shit it down.

Closer inspection showed a plastic tab that held the heat-sink on had broken off.  How this happened I can not guess as the PC was just sitting under my radio desk as it had for several years. Its mother board was identical to the one that had failed in the other machine and I had not yet disposed of the bad board.  I was able to remove the plastic clip from the dead board and replace the broken one.  New heat-sink compound and re-seating everything was all it took.  Then all was fine again.

This story has several morals:

  • Spare parts are good to have around.
  • PCs can fail mechanically as well as electrically.
  • Even a ‘dead’ component can be useful.


This is a more-or-less straightforward list of software I use on Windows and, briefly, why.  From this list you can see I generally find something that I like and keep using it.  I’m also a big fan of free software.

  1. Firefox web browser.  I like it because it’s not IE, because it is free, and because it is customizable with a large number of plugins to do nearly anything you want.  For example, I use a plug-in called Style Sheet Chooser Plus.  That allows me to revert to simple formatting when some web designer does something ‘artistic’ and unreadable on their page.
  2. Forte Agent for e-mail and newsgroups.  It’s simple and above all, supports plain text email which is frugal of bandwidth and much safer than HTML email.  I must say that I use an older version as this program has suffered from creeping elegance in later versions.
  3. Media Player Classic for playing video and some types of streaming audio.  Again it is simple and it is free.  Not bloated like Windows Media Player is now.
  4. Open Office For word processing, spreadsheets, presentations and everything else that MicroSoft Office does, only it is free and open source. It can read most Office file formats and can produce files that are compatible with Office.  No need to pay the Micro$oft tax to do normal office work. Continue Reading

In a weak moment several years ago I let a friend talk me into signing up for Facebook.  After a few days I realized that Facebook was like the high-school social whirl; petty, childish and shallow.  As a consequence I did very little with my account.

Recently, there have been much news of Facebooks poor control of members information.  Just Google “Facebook Privacy” and you’ll get over 2,000,000 hits regarding the problem.  It is scary and I feel sad for so many people who are deeply involved in Facebook.  Maybe they don’t care about privacy…

For a good summary, go to this link.  May 31st has been designated Quit Facebook Day and you can learn how to delete your account here.

As a follow-on, Facebook is now deleting people’s posts (on FB) concerning privacy and links to the page (above) concerning how to delete your account.

It’s up to you, but you won’t be finding me on Facebook.

Anyone who knows me has to realize that I love my toys.  Well, yesterday I got another one.

It’s an Icom IC-T90A, tri-band band handheld radio.  It puts out up to 5 watts on the 6m, 2m, and 70cm ham bands.  It has a general coverage receiver from 495 KHz to 999.99 MHz (minus cell phone frequencies.)  Full specs can be found here.

I am just starting to learn how to operate it but already I know I really like it.  It has (IMHO) only one drawback.  The antenna is way huge!  The antenna performs well but is a little awkward to carry on a belt clip or in a pocket.  Fortunately there are after-market antennas which are more reasonably sized available for a low cost.

I’ve already got all the local repeater frequencies programmed into it and I’ll be taking it with me often to see what sort of coverage I get in the area.

Such fun!

Net Neutrality

I suppose that anyone who finds there way here has at least a basic understanding of the concept of Net Neutrality. If you don’t, the short definition is “All data on the Internet should be treated impartially, regardless of what its purpose is.”

Recently the FCC has proposed rules that would codify this principle.  This has set off a storm among the big ISP’s, telecom providers and various other organizations that want to control the internet to maximize their profits.

Senator John McCain has introduced a Senate bill, S 1836 (Cynically named The Internet Freedom Act of 2009) , which would block the FCC from implementing its proposed rules.  A similar bill, HR 3924 (Real Stimulus Act of 2009), was introduced in the House.

Both of these bills would result in large ISPs being able to block or slow down various kinds of Internet traffic for what ever reasons they choose.  If you value the Internet, you don’t want either of these bills to pass!

I urge everyone to write or call their Senators and Representative and ask them to oppose these bills.

In addition, you should request that your Representative support the House bill HR 3458 who’s purpose is: “To amend the Communications Act of 1934 to establish a national broadband policy, safeguard consumer rights, spur investment and innovation….”

The more letters, phone calls or emails they get, the more likely it will be that we can preserve a free and open Internet.  Do it today.

Now distributed raman amplifierSun is getting into the game of secretly futzing around with FireFox!  A recent Java Runtime update added something called Java Quick Starter to FireFox and just like with the Microsoft one, they did it without telling you or giving you a way to say “No Thanks”.  Again, the uninstall option is not available.

I’m not sure if there is any security risk with this add-on but I’m getting a little tired of having updates to one piece of software go and screw up some other, unrelated, program.  How do we tell these pushy companies to keep their cotton picking hands off FireFox?  Maybe the folks at Mozilla need to block add-ons that aren’t explicitly requested by the user.

Anyway, if you find it in your list of add-ons, here is a link to information on what it does and how to get rid of it if you want to.  They seem to work but require a reboot.

If you are like me you use the FireFox web browser for security reasons.  If so, here is something you really should be aware of.  In a recent Windows update, Microsoft quietly slipped in an add-on for FireFox that makes that browser much less secure.

This add-on allows a web site to quietly install software on your computer without your knowledge or permission!  Avoiding things like this is one of the main reasons people switched from IE to FireFox to begin with.  Worse, this add-on has its uninstall button DISABLED so it cannot be removed once discovered.

Here is a link to another article with more of the gory details.

This situation has caused a huge brouhaha on the net – enough that MS finally put out a patch to allow people to uninstall the add-on (knowledge base article: KB963707). Go to this URL to download the appropriate file (32 or 64 bit).   You may have to use IE 🙁 to download the file.

Once you run this update, the uninstall button for the .NET add-on will be enabled and you can get rid of this  nasty little bit of Microsoft junk in the usual way of uninstalling a FireFox add-on.

What I can’t understand is why Microsoft thinks it is justified in tampering with non-MS software.  Just one more reason not to trust them.

Most people who do anything serious with a home computer use a battery backup system or UPS (Uninteruptable Power Supply) to keep it running through power glitches, dropouts or brown-outs.

Simply, a UPS is a battery, battery charger, inverter and a switching system to transfer to batter power when needed.  Without a UPS, the briefest loss of power will crash your computer and you will loose whatever unsaved data you were working on.  In the worst case the computer can be permanently damaged this way.

Not many people know that, just like the battery in a car, a UPS battery has a finite lifetime.  After a few years they no longer hold their charge and therefore the UPS can no longer perform its function.

Here is a typical UPS that I use on one of my machines. ups-front

During a recent thunderstorm I saw the AC power flicker and the machine connected to that UPS died.  A quick check showed that the UPS was not working.

Continue Reading

Since the first of the month (December) this blog has been oit of commission due to a problem with the cache configuration. I believe it is fixed now but if anyone notices other problems or weird behavior please reply to this post or contact me at

We now return you to your irregularly unscheduled blog.

-The Management-