21 January, 2006

Internet Filter for the kids - K9 Web Protection

I am glad my kids have my old PC, but as they have gotten more savvy, I needed a good porn/violence filter that was easy enough to use and configure, and not so intrusive as to make me disable it. I did not want it hard for them to be able to build an animated Neo Pet, nor difficult for me to read Yahoo! News or Google some interesting factoid.

I tried Internet Explorer's built-in Content Advisor, which either a) blocks all Internet content except for explicitly allowed sites, or b) allows a parent to lean over the kids' shoulders and type in a master password, that will then allow the kids to visit the site (with options to 'always allow' or 'just allow this time'). The problem is that the Content Advisor is turned on, across all Windows users. Since we have multiple Windows XP users, on the one PC, this became a hassle, since even my wife and I use that PC on occasion, and were thus forced to input the Admin password every time we browsed to somewhere new.

So, I disabled Content Advisor, and searched for something else. K9 Web Protection (http://www.k9webprotection.com/) seems to a good solution. It works from a database, via the WEB, of nasty sites, and blocks them. The Admin can get around it, if one likes, but for the very most part, problems do not arise. It is easily customizable, via an Admin screen accessible via one's WEB browser (though it exists locally on the PC). You can get this free product at the site mentioned above, free for home users (but charged for corporate users).

07 January, 2006

Google Pack - PC Essentials

            If you just arrived on the planet, and thus do not already have your PC virus protected, adware protected, and chock full of fun Google tools, download the Google pack, from http://pack.google.com/.  Check it out.



05 January, 2006

I added a DVD Recorder to my home entertainment system

See the bottom of this post for an update posted May 16, 2006.

I bought a CyberHome Progressive-Scan DVD+R/+RW Recorder (Model DVR1600) yesterday, at Best Buy (not online, although the link to the product is provided here, for your reference). After tax it came to $97, plus change.


I got it so I could more quickly move my home DV tapes to DVD (firewire port included), but an added bonus is being able to burn TV shows (and of course, shows from the ReplayTV). I have a few DVD+RW’s lying around that I can re-use. In this way I can share interesting stuff that I see, they can return the media to me later for re-use.

I tested it out last night, and it works great. It has about $250 worth of features for a hair under $100. It was fun to finally have a home entertainment center device that has a ‘format disc’ option. <grin>. I used it to delete the season premiere of Smallville (previously recorded to the DVD+RW by having downloaded it, from my ReplayTV DVR, to my PC, then burned via Roxio, after converting the MPEG to the proper format).

The only hiccups I have so far is that I need to pick up another S-Video cable (thought I had one lying around) and the coax that it came with (for the built-in TV tuner) is non-shielded, so it picks up interference. Aside from that everything works as good as or better than I imagined it would.

For example, it has a more dynamic editing capability than I had anticipated. During recording, one can hit the OTR button (as on a VCR), and add increments of 30 minutes, to the recording time. One can pause the recording actively, or – and this is cool – one can hit the ‘CM Skip’ (stands for ‘commercial’, but they never explicitly say it) button to have the machine pause the recording in 30 second increments, for the obvious benefit of skipping commercials. The caveat is that, for that feature to work, one has to actively watch the recording. However, after recording, one can use the A (begin selection) and B (end selection) buttons to select blocks to delete. In this way, one can edit out all the commercials, from the comfort of the couch and remote control.

The coaxial connection is a pass-through – not an output of the DVD player – and thus one can record a show, via the tuner, and still use the TV or other components without interference. I like that a lot. DVD players should not have the ability to export their product via coaxial anyway (purist in me), and this way I do not have to suffer through a coaxial video output even by mistake. So, I have my cable TV cable connected, from the wall, to this DVD recorder, then out to my ReplayTV DVR, and then into my TV. Thus, I can record one show, on DVD, while simultaneously recording another show, on my DVR. Welcome to the world of two DVR’s in one entertainment center!

When using the menu, it places the video source in a picture-in-picture, so you can modify the options while still viewing the source material.

It uses DVD+R/RW, which I have several of anyway, since that is also the format of my two PC’s’ burners. I prefer +RW, because a) I can re-use them, and b) they do not need finalization prior to playing in standard DVD players (“standard DVD players” that can play DVD+R/RW discs, that is). Were I to use DVD+R discs, I would need to finalize them, prior to lending them to someone, or likely they would not be able to be played in the person’s player. Also, all editing needs to be done, prior to finalization.

I love it.

Update: May 16, 2006

I no longer love it. In fact, it's a pretty lousy device. The DVD's often do not play in my PC's, because the menu system is non-standard or somesuch. If you buy this device, think of it as a replacement for your VHS VCR only, and even then for the express purpose of watching TV shows, then deleting them. Discs I lend to others, to play on their home DVD players, rarely function for them, even if their devices support the format of the disc (DVD+R, DVD-R, etc.). You've been warned.

03 January, 2006

Things that irk me - Part 1

I am someone who tends to get bothered by things, things that may not bother anyone else.

Open drawers bother me. They ruin the order of a room.

People who order food for a dozen people, through the drive-up: Hey, you’re in a drive-up. Go inside. You can use the exercise, and I want my meal.

Coffee Shops that charge for wireless hotspot access: I’ll go somewhere else. For $3.50 for a cup of milked-down joe, I want my browsing included. I’m not a table hog, and I have multiple beverages, per trip. You listening, Starbucks? Sure, I still visit you, but only during lunches. At night, if I have work or writing to do, I go to a local shop. (Where? Local Coffee Shops: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/coffeejoints/)

People who honk as they approach you, thinking you just might pull out in front of them: Um…if you’re that paranoid, you should stop driving before you have a stroke and cause an accident yourself.

Product wrapping that could survive re-entry into the Earth’s atmosphere: I once bought an all-purpose tool, with a knife, can opener, and little bitty scissors. I bought it so that I could keep it in my car, in case I needed to open wrapping, in the car. I had to take it home to open it.

DVD’s that make me watch the previews: I bought or rented the DVD; I don’t want to be forced to watch the ads. Might as well go to a theater. Let me go to the menu!

Software updates that result in system lock-ups: I’ve worked in IT since 1994, and I’m pretty savvy with this stuff. But, I still get suckered by the world of automatic updates, and end up with crap that seizes up on me. Chalk it up to a personality flaw. Firefox 1.5…Windows XP…good products (I’m not an anti-Microsoft religious freak, even though I started out on an Apple ][+ in 1982), but c’mon, Folks, QA QA QA your updates….

People who consistently won’t meet anyone’s eyes in the hallway: I don’t trust you. Anyone can have an off-day, but an off-decade? Go program something.

Motion/Heat sensing garage door opener lights: The motion sensor on my Craftsman ¾ HP unit (similar if not identical to http://www.sears.com/sr/javasr/product.do?BV_UseBVCookie=Yes&vertical=TOOL&pid=00953990000) sees us enter the garage, from the house, and turns on the lights. Sometimes. Other times, I peek my head out there, to grab a soda, and the light is already on. Here’s the deal. I move, you turn on. Five minutes later, you turn off. I don’t want to find you on, in the middle of the night, when no one has been out there for four hours. Dig? Motion-sensing is old school technology. Yes, I think it’s great that you can sense heat, as your motion guide. I too enjoyed Predator. Just be more accurate. You’re giving me a bad name, in my neighborhood (garage window = why does he have his garage light on at 3:00 AM?).

Trash cans with foot-controlled lids: You always break. Always. It’s just a matter of time. Yet, I keep buying you. Stupid. I don’t stomp you. I’m nice. Poor construction…poor execution of a nice idea.

Outdoor trash cans with non-attached lids: Why do I keep grabbing the lids that come with you? They blow away anyway. Next time, I’m buying the kind with the hinged lids (although I’m sure they will end up failing at some point).

People who feel that your work place owes you something: Last time I checked, you signed up to do a job. You doing it? I’m not talking about the one-horse town with the one employer, and the folks who have little other choice. Yeah, I think that can be legit, and those folks may need protection from employers who take advantage. I’m really talking about those folks who view their employer as a welfare provider.

Drivers who do not know how to use the median: The opening in the median was placed there so folks could turn there. I was not a geometry wiz, but even I figured out that, if you present your vehichle, to on-coming traffic, at an angle, it will appear shorter than it actually is. In English, this means angle your auto, while using the median, and your SUV’s big fat ass will not hang out into the lane. Added bonus: you’ll be pointed in the right direction, to continue left. Or, if you are going straight across (rude), you can probably still angle it a bit.

Blinkers: All cars have them. Why do so few folks use them, or know how to use them? How many times are you about to pull out, into traffic, because you see a car approaching, with its turn signal on, and you assume they are going to turn into the same lot you’re leaving, only to have them pass you by, on their way to the next (or even the next!) entrance? Answer: Almost daily. ‘Tis like Driver’s Ed was quickly forgotten after they bought or sexed their way to their license.

IM’ers who send “You you have time for a question?”, and you reply, “Apparently so, because I just answered that question, although it slowed down an answer to your forthcoming real question,” and they reply “I didn’t want to waste my time typing the real question, if you were not there,” and you reply “I’m glad I could take some extra time to save you time, then,” and they don’t get that you’re joking.

Being fixated on the 1980’s. I lived it. It was fun, but not that fun. Move on. The worst songs of the 80’s actually suck more than the worst songs of the 70’s, and that’s saying a lot. Whereas the best songs, of the 70’s, were better than the best songs of the 80’s. True story.

People who do not spell-check emails: What’s the hold-up? Does it “take too long” and “slow you down”? Hint: If you could spell correctly, at least now and then, Spellcheck would not slow you down, because it would rarely kick in. If it is slowing you down…good! Take the time, and spare the rest of us trying to figure out what you’re point is.

“I always find lost items in the last place I look.” And you would keep looking, after you find your items, because…?