Author Archives: James

A Relaxing Long Weekend

I have heard horror stories about travelers who have been mugged or otherwise assailed. It is not a pretty picture. Above all you want to survive intact and not be abducted. Remember the Kim Kardashian Paris story. She was robbed in the safety of her own hotel room. Don’t be caught unaware. My girlfriend feels like this and always carries mace spray. When we recently took a vacation, we had all our personal supplies sent to our hotel. We had ordered them on the Internet from a service we’d found on Facebook and they were in our room upon arrival. You can’t take too many precautions to ensure your safety when away from home – or in your abode as well.

We had a relaxing long weekend because we felt we were out of harm’s way and perfectly protected. It is a comforting thought. So just what is pepper spray? It is so named because cayenne pepper was used in ancient China and Japan, making it certainly the oldest self defense product existing today. I suppose not much has changed. Now it is mixed with filtered water and oleoresin capsicum. This is a substance found in chilies and hot peppers giving them their “heat.” Experts like to recommend pepper spray because it is not deadly, easy to use, and costs little. Police and security professionals attest to its value.

My girlfriend learned about it from a friend who had taken a survival course. Basically, it is sprayed into the face and causes the eyes and nose to burn. It packs a punch! It lasts a quarter of an hour or more. Believe me, from what I have read, it can save your life. The premise is that while the attacker is suffering, you can run and get help. A spray of sufficient intensity is all you need. They come with safety features so the unit will not “go off” unexpectedly. It is small enough to fit in any pocket or backpack, but should be easily accessible when out of your hotel room. It can slip on a belt clip, a keychain, or a holster perhaps.

I didn’t know at first that it comes in a steam, fog or foam format. Steam and foam impart the most of the substance if you are accurate in your aim. If you buy the fog version, it must be strong. There is such a thing as “police strength.” Mace is simply a brand name and you can buy the product you like all over the Internet. At first I thought my girlfriend was a bit skittish, but given that it makes us feel safe, it is well worth the effort to bring it along on every trip we take.

Posted in Life.

Fish Where the Fish are

I got a top rated fish finder as a gift. Now that is something different! I suppose one day I really will want to search for fish. For the moment, however, it makes me think for more conceptually and abstractly. The saying, “fish where the fish are,” may well apply to the sport, but it also has a generic meaning for me. In life, when we want to have certain encounters and experiences, we have to seek them in the right places. You don’t go to Alaska for sunbathing or Tahiti to ski. If you want lots of crab and salmon, you do go to Alaska.

Knowing the ropes for whatever you do makes success and fulfillment more plausible. We all strive for happiness and gratification. You don’t just find it under a rock. You have to seek in order to find. This applies uniquely to people. If you want good friends, and not acquaintances, you opt for shared activities like favorite sports or hobbies. Perhaps you embrace religion or a club. In another realm, if you want to learn something new, you find the right venue. Say you want to learn a new language. You will want to practice and find others in the same “boat.” Going where the fish are is about the wisest advice I can think of for most everyone. We don’t live in a vacuum.

I am told that with fishing, it is a no brainer. You go to popular places for a reason and you get what you expect. You want the tried and true, not the remote and implausible. Such is life in general. There are those who desire a challenge, but most of us want to have an easier time of reaching our goals by going with the typical flow. We might need our own “fish finder” for certain life events, but usually the path is apparent. Seeking a relationship is an area of great concern for youth for example. They go online to dating sites and they frequent bars and clubs. They go for known entities in their quest. You can get lucky, of course, and find anything and everything by chance, but why not give yourself an edge.

Asking others for help is clearly the right road when you first start out. I don’t care if it is fly-fishing or speed dating. Learning a new sport, going on a diet, joining an acting company—whatever—means camaraderie and a team spirit. People are social animals, even if it is from a smart phone. In every society, the methods are prescribed. One of the great responsibilities of living abroad is to adopt the culture. When you first arrive, you don’t know where the fish are at all. You acclimate and accommodate over time and soon you are guiding others!

So remember the wise words above and set your sight on a goal, whether it is a new friend, lover, fishing experience, or college degree. Enter the proven world and find great joy in your accomplishments.

Posted in Life.

From Bucket to Blasting

Whether you are a boy or a girl, no doubt you got roped into washing the family car as a kid on weekends. When it came to my turn, I embraced the assigned toil. I knew that I had no choice and it was a chore that was handed down from generation to generation. You could not balk lest you reap the punishment of rejection. We did not waste money at the car wash, even though they did a superior job and threw in a waxing on top for mere dollars. On Saturday morning, after cartoons, we got out the bucket and a giant sponge. You were lucky if you had siblings to help. It’s hard for a five-year-old to cope alone. The best part was the detergent. Suds were the saving grace of the nasty task.

Mind you, this job could take hours. If there had been rain or snow, the tires were caked with mud and some major brushing was called for. Chrome work was dreaded, especially if an application of buffing cream was required. Tiny hands were taxed and tired. Mom knew that rewards were to be expected: hot cocoa, home-made goodies, a quarter, etc. You do have to bribe the young ones. You can’t fool them into thinking it’s fun, can you? It became rote, however, and moaning and groaning ceased rapidly when you got harsh looks. The repercussions of disdain were to be avoided at all costs.

Years later, I am grown up and now sincerely regret not having an electric pressure washer for the recurring job. Even quite small, I could have handled a portable model. It would have been better than the alternative and I went to bed many a Saturday night with seriously weary muscles. Did they exist then? Of course. Dad preferred the real thing, however. Not me. Given the hearty nature of the chore, I say go for the power. I think he had some kind of moral issue in mind.

Even the basic, low-priced power washer models have brush attachments and multiple nozzles. You can choose what you need and you are ready in an instant. There are types that use gas if you don’t have an outlet. This is a car-washing must and a device of first resort.

I was taught to use a power washer by my uncle who took pity on me, but I was already a teenager by then and fairly strong. I didn’t care anymore having been worn down into compliance. I was used to the bucket method and squeezing a dripping sponge was par for the course. The power unit was a marvel, however, and I never looked back. I could use it on the greasy garage door, the oily driveway, the leaf-covered sidewalk, the filthy windows, and more. If you clean regularly, you can attack it once and then just touch up. Some families let things go until spring cleaning time. Whatever the practice you have established, you will find this item of the essence.

Posted in Life.

A Lame Duck

When your feet hurt, you are lame. You can’t walk far and are stuck at home. It sounds like a problem for my grandfather, but it happened to me. Once is enough!

I got this god-awful toe fungus after a quick self-diagnosis based on some pictures I saw here. That wasn’t hard—a few photos on the Internet, a good hard look at the reality of what was under my big toe, and it was done. OK. I have toe fungus. Gross but not life-threatening. I just didn’t want it to spread and mar the pristine pink under the rest of the nails.

A bit of a research whiz, I found all kinds of solutions online that should have saved me from a long stint in a doctor’s office waiting room. I just don’t have that kind of time or interest. Here we go, I thought. I purchased some over-night delivery liquid, a surefire cure. It was probably acid in a bottle that would burn away the fungus along with the living flesh around it!

When it arrived, I daubed it on that very minute with great anticipation. Two days later—nothing. I then tried mixing it with bleach, vinegar, and lemon juice. My version of a home-made remedy, a kind of natural healing cocktail. (Maybe I should market this.)

It got a little better, turning a pasty white and removable in thick chunks. Impatient, I started to dig in and help the process along. Since I was able to remove it with a manicure scissors, I continued until I had reached the nail bed. Dutifully I also “cleaned” the corners of the toe with gusto.

It was going well. I was pleased, if not elated, to have solved the problem. Not the technical kind at which I think I excel, but a practical one in any case. I like the feeling of accomplishment, like completing a puzzle or deciphering conundrum. There is a point of pride in figuring things out yourself, a sense of self-reliance and independence. This may be a bit much when it comes to toenail fungus, and I am digressing…

I was a bit premature in my self-congratulations. A couple of hours later, my toe started to throb. Then hurt. It was pretty swollen. Downing a couple of aspirin, I waited. It got a little better but the next day it was red as a beet and probably starting to get infected. (Did I use alcohol on the scissors?) So much for taking matters into your own hands. It really hurt and I was relegated to sitting in front of my laptop to avoid any pressure on the foot – in effect, I was a lame duck of the worst kind.

I had to go to the doctor after all to get antibiotics. They worked, but not after a couple of days homebound. I think I learned a valuable lesson to share with you that speaks for itself. When it comes to medical issues – even minor – get off the Internet and into experienced hands.

Posted in Life.

Termites In My Man Cave

I have what I dubbed my man cave, my state of the art garden shed. However I have never really been one for gardening so it has never been a shed full of things that you would expect to find in there, such as a spade, digging fork, or a shovel. About the only traditional thing about my shed turned man cave is that it is made of wood. Being made of wood is something that has become a problem I was not expecting. I like having all my computer equipment in the shed, as it is my cave away from everything else.

The man cave is everything that a computer techie in their mid-thirties like myself could ever want from a refuge from the things I want to stay away from. As I have got my computers in there it is the place where I keep myself connected to the world wide web, and also a place I can write on my blogs in peace and quiet. Well it does not have to be in quiet as I can play my favorite music, or watch my all-time favorite movies in there should I want to.

My shed has everything in it to make it my ideal man cave. It has got full air conditioning in it, so it can be cooler than my house actually is during a summer heatwave. I even got myself a small fridge to fit into my man cave, so there are my favorite ice cold drinks to hand when I want them. All in all I have come to regard my man cave as a shed sized piece of heaven upon Earth. Yet heaven recently came under threat.

My piece heaven in the back garden has been threatened by termites. They have got into my man cave, and they are threatening to destroy it. Unfortunately that is always the possible downside of using buildings, and sheds made of wood. Termites get into wood, and unless you can spot the signs of termite infestation early, they can totally destroy a building. Even if you do detect the presence of termites early, only a qualified pest controller is able to get rid of them. The problem is that hiring the required expertise is expensive, but sometimes I have found it is worth paying more for a high quality service. The issue here is whether or not it is worth doing just that.

Now I have different options as to what happens with my man cave after the termite problem is dealt with by the pest controllers. I could even decide not to use pest controllers at all. I have to balance what I can afford to do to fix the man cave, against how much money I could save by not having it fixed.

I have already searched online to find companies that are capable of treating termites to get free estimates on how much it would cost to do so. All the quotes were remarkably similar in total amounts, ie scary. Now at a pinch I could afford to pay the cost of termite treatment have the shed saved and keep my man cave.

On the other hand I do have enough room in my home to put things from the man cave into it. Now I just have to decide if I should act like the big kid I am by saving the shed, or I can take the financially astute decision of knocking it down and moving all my stuff inside.

I will sleep on it for a couple of days, before letting you know my decision.

Posted in Home.

Chris Sawyer Games

Transport Tycoon Deluxe for Windows_7

Last time we talked about Sid Meier who along with Chris Roberts and Chris Sawyer forms a trio of game designers that create the best gaming on Earth.
Chris doesn’t have the quantity of Games out that Sid or the other Chris has out. But, his personal background is just as extensive as theirs. Starting in the early 80’s writing code in the Z80 Assembly Language. Wow that goes back a loooong time ago.

But he is a grad of MicroProse and “Transport Tycoon” of the first of his famous Tycoon series of games which until now has culminated in 2013 being ported to Android and Apple’s iOS. In Transport Tycoon as in Sid Meier’s series of games is a simulation for running a transport Company. It has a timeline that runs from 1930 to 2030. In this game you are restricted to using the equipment and tech that was in use at the actual time. Cabooses can be used again to my delight. You start out with steam powered Engines and progress from Steam to Diesel to electrically powered engines and in the 1990’s you can build Monorail systems. Again you must build your system and fight off the competition and last out the 120-year run of the game. This can take up and often over 40 hours of playtime.
You actually have to transport commodities to the towns and cities to be used to build the things you need expand your empire. No steel means no rails and engines. You need Coal to smelt iron and turn it to steel. This game follow the rise of civilization though the eyes of the transportation industry. If you’re into this game and want to play it on your PC, then you should check out the OpenTTD game, which is an open source adaptation of the original game.

Roller Coaster Tycoon was a follow-up to the above and quickly caught on as well. With its latest incarnation Roller Coaster Tycoon 3D released in 2012, and the mobile versions recently released. This game uses input from the actual people who build the great Coasters and the Theme Park management methods used. Various add-on packs expand the game with New attractions and Landscapes.

2004 saw the release of the 3rd in the series where Chris acted as a consultant rather than an actual developer. It uses the core elements of the original again add-ons were released Bring us to 2014 where the 4th incarnation was released. However both version 4 and the iOS Chris was not a participant and in the case of the mobile version he wasn’t even consulted on its creation and since then has be heavily condemned by the Gaming community by making the game too real with line delays and taking the fun out of the game. A PC version is expected out soon. In my opinion it will be a waste without Chris.

You basically are given scenarios where you must either build or take over a dilapidated theme part and make a go of it. Like all simulation capital is limited and you must be creative in order to win. Which of course is a mirror of real life.
These games are great to play with the exception of version 4 which I dislike for far too many reasons to go into. But, you judge for yourself and drop me a line and tell me what you think.

Posted in Computer Games.

Tips for travelling and getting Wi-Fi

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I have to travel for my company a lot and I love it, as long as I can get a WiFi connection wherever I am going.

You wonder why I say that well, let me show you.

Once I find out, I am going abroad I bone up on the city and country. Take Guangzhou for example. (Yep my company is one of those multinationals).
I get my cell phone changed over to work in the country. Luckily, China is running 3G networks which means it’s easy for me to take my cell phone and get a new SIM card for a local network. Next, I make sure my computer’s WiFi is playing nicely. I plug in to my network at home for faster speeds, so a quick trip to my local McDonald’s is a great place to test it a few weeks out from the trip.

I test it again the airport when I arrive for my flight, and to get a bit more work done while I wait to board. Most airports have a number of areas with power to charge your laptops and cells and they also have WiFi throughout the Airport. I contact my hosts in my destination via the Internet, to remind them that I am on my way. I don’t use my cell until I hit China and that is for local calls. Roaming Charges will kill you.

I have installed QQ International. It is one of the largest person-to-person communication software packages on the planet. I also have WeChat and Line – two new apps that are rapidly taking over from all other forms of personal communication. Even Facebook is in danger of being superseded. I also have Facebook loaded on my Laptop. Like I said before my cell is only for local use once I get there.

Another couple of things I have on my laptop are a VPN (Virtual Private Network). Because many countries now limit access to the Internet. China is one of them, the same holds true for many countries in The Middle-East too. I hear even Australia is looking to put up a countrywide firewall similar to China’s Great Firewall. I am also carrying a token fob from my bank, which lets me do online banking safely. I also have a Paypal account set up to transfer money, as it is universal all over the world.

When I arrive in Guangzhou I retrieve my luggage and change some my currency over to RMB. (Hint only change a little at the airport, the exchange rates are much higher). I could do it at LAX, but last time I did they gave me counterfeit RMB notes which left me out of pocket. In China everywhere are currency scanners so you can check your cash and see if it is legit. I next fire up my laptop, and hunt for the WIFI in the Airport. It too is free. But, in China you have to have a cell phone number. I switch my cell over to my second SIM chip. Either which I have bought in Chinatown in the states or I buy at the Airport. I use its number to get me into the WIFI network.

I can connect to my Facebook and bank via VPN. I let my boss Know I have arrived and my hosts that I am there as well. Their cell phones have QQ installed though now most are switching to WeChat and Line. I am now just waiting to get picked up. So I wander over to the McDonald’s and have breakfast. The world is so small now!

Posted in Computer.

Choosing a computer

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A friend asked me to go to the computer store and help him pick out a new computer. I said why go to the store when you can do it online.
Yep you can get some pretty good deals these days if you shop around online, even if you’re not someone who is confident enough to buy components and assemble it themselves. I built my last computer from the recommended list of components at Lifehacker at the time, and it was a very decent computer and at a low price compared to buying prebuilt – but that’s because I’m comfortable with building my own computer. For most people, I would recommend buying a prebuilt system from a big brand to make any warranty issues a lot easier – no need to diagnose every single hardware fault, just call up support and take it back to the store you bought it from.
But the very first and main question you have to ask yourself is… What are you going to do with the computer you are going to buy?

  • Games
  • Online/Web Surfing
  • Downloading
  • Education
  • Business
  • Hobby
  • Writing
  • Computer graphics

This is the first step. Let’s look at some of the consideration you need for each.

1. Games –

Tower( ie… a regular PC)
You will need a fast CPU – The faster the better.
A large amount of RAM (Random Access Memory)
1 Gig or better Disk Drive
A high speed graphics card
Graphics Accelerator chip or card
A large Graphics Memory as well.
Internet Connection.
DVD/CD ROM drive.
Multiple (4) USB ports
Quality stereo speakers
Comfortable headset with microphone
USB Game Controller
External Flat Screen Monitor

2. Online/ Web surfing –

Laptop
Moderately fast CPU
4 Gig Ram
½ gig Hard Drive
Internet Connection

3. Downloading –

Laptop/ Tower
Moderately fast CPU
4 Gig Ram.
1 Gig internal Hard Drive
USB 3 Port.
External USB hard drive 1 Terabyte or bigger.
DVD/CD Rom RW drive

4. Education –
If you are a college student, Mac Powerbook or iPad is the standard.

5. Business –

Laptop
Docking station
Fast CPU
Large Memory
1 gig internal hard drive
High resolution Graphics Chip Optional
Internet connection
Multiple (4) USB ports.
Wireless Keyboard
Wireless mouse
Headset w Microphone
Flat Screen Monitor

6. Hobby –

Tower
Fast CPU
Large Memory
1 gig hard drive
Multiple USB ports
DVD/CD ROM Drive
Internet Connection

7. Writing –

Laptop
Fast CPU
Large Memory
½ – 1 gig hard drive
DVD/CD Rom drive
Multiple (4) USB ports
Wireless Keyboard
Wireless Mouse
High quality USB headset w microphone
Internet Connection
20 inch Flat screen Monitor

8. Computer Graphics –

Laptop/Tower
Multicore High speed CPU
Graphics chip
Large memory for graphics
Large RAM The Biggest you can get 4 gig and up
1 Gig Hard Drive
DVD/CD Rom Drive
Internet Connection
Large Flat Screen Monitor

I am assuming you will use the latest versions of everything, which is Windows 8.1. The Macs of course will run Mavericks, the current version of OS X. In a future post we will go into the details of the whys for each of my choices. These configurations have worked well for my customers over the last couple of years and should for you too.

Posted in Computer.

Sid Meier’s Games

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Sid Meier is unknown to any outside the Gaming community and there he is considered a genius.

Who else could create a company like MicroProse and all the great games that have come out over the years. I have played most of them and still play some of them. Here I discuss a few of my favorite Sid Meier games.

Silent Service was my introduction to Sid and his company. I used to be a submariner myself and I often wondered what it would be like to be on one of the old Pig Boats, instead of the Sleek Silent nuclear Fast Attack Submarine that I spent my naval career on. Since I was a trained submariner and once was an instructor at the sub school in Groton Connecticut. I know how they used to do submarines in the old days. Once I gave a tour of the old U505 a German submarine on display to my son and the rest of the tour group listened along because I recognized and was able to explain all the machinery to my son. Even the tour guide was impressed. So when I say Sid hit the mark perfectly. I am speaking from actually spending thousands of hours actually doing what his game simulates doing.

But, his other games are equally well researched like Railroad Tycoon. This game is a take off from the days of the Robber barons at the beginning of the 20th century when building the nation created the Great family Dynasties like JP Morgan, Dupont, Ford and Carnegie. In this game, you are an Entrepreneur and your goal is to build the biggest Railroad you can. You have also run it as well by getting the financing, building stations and laying track. You have to use the stock market, schedule the trains and give service to your customers. In short, it is a crash course in economics, and how to run a business. This game is still popular and a whole series of games in this vein have been released.

Pirates have always been one of my favorite genres. I even have a copy of Captain Blood 1935 with Errol Flynn and The Sea Hawk and of course all of the Johnny Depp pirate movies. So Playing “Pirates” has been one of my ways of imagining myself in the role of a buccaneer. I found an old copy for the Commodore 64 at a used software store and I ported it to my PC here. I also have the PC version from 1987. Porting the old games insures that the great ones, even though they are simple graphics by today’s 3D standards are not lost.

Finally I am a big fan of Civilization, which I think is the Penultimate in simulators games. Here you get to build the world and create entire economies, fight wars, build cites. This series of games since has left MicroProse and is now being marketed by Sid’s New company Fiaxis Games and now has one of the largest legacies of games in the world.

Posted in Computer Games.

Determining what is running on your computer

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Ever notice after you buy your computer it runs so fast but in a few months it take forever to do anything?

You are a victim of Creep Crud, or CC for short. You computer has so much stuff loaded that it bogs down the performance.

If you go on the Internet websites add all kind of stuff to you machine to. Even without you noticing it.

There is a couple of ways you see what’s Happening and get you computer back to its former speed.

Open up Task Manager. Right Click on the bar at the lower part of your screen and fire it up.

You should see a screen that list Applications and other tabs that give you other information.
Click on the Tab marked processes. Check the little box that says, “show all processes.”

Now you get a bewildering number of often-cryptic programs running. I select one of the other tabs like memory to reorganize the mess to see who is hogging memory.

If your read E-Books you will probably see ACRORd32.exe which is your Adobe reader.
Next you might see something like “chrome.exe”, or “firefox.exe” or “iexplore.exe”. These are your web browsers.

Now it starts getting weird, many of the processes will list your login name as owner. You need to really lo look at these ones. Read the descriptions at the right to decode what the things are doing.
If you don’t recognize the package loaded write down its name to look up later on the Internet.
If it doesn’t have any description Flag it as well. Don’t end any of the processes.

If you do you can make bad juju for yourself and your computer will crash if you end the wrong one.

Best if you’re are not sure what’s What drop me a line and I will let you know what it does and is used for or Google it.

You can also spend some bucks and buy a Tune-up kit.

AVG has a nice one called oddly enough PC TuneUp but you can choose what you like. AVG combines this with their already famous Virus protection package and you can run both at the same time which will eliminate viruses before they eliminate you. I believe in using these kinds of packages as I have seen and demonstrated to clients what happens without them.

So far after 15 years no one has disagreed yet. after seeing what a virus can do to unprotected machines. AVG lets you use their Virus product for 30 days and their PC “TuneUp” for free for 15 days. You can learn a lot about you computers habits by running it before you decide to buy.

After you install it and Fire it up you give you a screen with 4 selection panes. Maintenance, PC Performance, PC Health and Rescue Center. Run Maintenance FIRST. You may be surprised at what you see.

You will probably see your Registry has problems. You will see lots of wasted disk space. Your web browser Temp folder probably hasn’t be cleaned since you got the machine. Your disk is probably Fragmented too.

Don’t panic!

What all means is that Windows doesn’t cleanup after itself too well. Let Maintenance do its thing. This alone will almost always make your PC run like it’s almost brand new.

In one of my next posts I will go into how to get your PC to purr like a kitten and run like a race car.

Posted in Computer.