Archive for June, 2009

On the move…

It’s been a while since I last posted, for a good reason. Over the weekend, Julia and I moved into our new place in Northeast Minneapolis, and at times it was a comedy of errors. Friday consisted of me banging my head on low ceiling in the basement, taking a flying bungee cord to the temple, and nearly losing the very heavy brass base of a table onto I-94. Saturday was actually fairly uneventful as we moved the big furniture with the help of my brother; about the worst that happened was that it rained on us in the morning while we loaded the truck. Sunday morning, Julia and I got locked out of the apartment as we tried to enjoy the nice morning on our deck. I also managed to accidentally smack Misha in the face and step on the downstairs neighbors’ dog.

But possibly worst of all is that during our cable-TV-and-internet install on Friday afternoon, the cable tech discovered that there is something wrong with our cable lines and we will need a new one. That means no internet at home (and no cable TV) until this weekend at the earliest! This unplanned internet outage at home makes me feel disconnected with the outside world. Not fun at all.

Thus, my lack of posting. Hopefully we will get the interwebs working this weekend so I can again use my computer at home. Internet is such a necessity now.

Computer Utility: CutePDF Writer

I hate PDF files for many reasons, but there are times when creating a PDF is useful, such as when you want to have an electronic copy of a document instead of printing out a paper copy. Many programs these days now come with integrated PDF converters, such as Open Office and even Microsoft Office, but there are plenty of programs out there that don’t. When you want a PDF version of a document and the program you are using can’t give you one, CutePDF Writer is the answer. It installs as a printer on your computer, so all you have to do is print that document to the CutePDF printer, and voilà! CutePDF has helped me eschew paper for electronic archiving many times.

Health care: Beware of compromise

In recent days, there seems to be a crescendo in the commentary from people warning the Obama administration and Congress about being too quick to compromise to get some kind of grand “bipartisan” health care reform that will attract Republican votes. This view is dead-on. While there are some things that must be compromised on, there are also some very basic tenets (like the public option) that must survive, no matter who is unhappy with it.

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Health care: What Nate Silver says

Too tired to write a full post about health care, so just read what Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight says.

The comments are a good, if ridiculous, read too. People still don’t seem to get that health care is not a free market. Nate hits all the salient points, but people still don’t get that unlike buying a car for example, when it is possible for people to decide that something is too expensive, few people are going to pass on a heart bypass procedure because it “costs too much”.

Health care: reform requires a public option

In my last post, I talked about how health care is not a free market. In this post, I get into the “public option” in the health care reform debate: the government health insurance plan that will exist alongside current private insurance products, giving people another option when getting insurance. It is no exaggeration to say that the success of any health care reform depends on the existence of a public option; without one, there will be no reform.

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Computer utility: Notepad++

There’s always a need for a good, simple text editor when you need to edit text files or make up a simple document (a blog post, perhaps?). Windows comes with Notepad, but that’s about as bare-bones as you can get. A much more powerful, yet still free, alternative is Notepad++. It’s especially useful for programmers, with its syntax highlighting and auto-complete, among other features, but it has things that everybody can use, such as a tabbed multi-document interface. It has quickly replaced Notepad for me, and will no doubt do it for anybody else looking for a good editor.

Health care: it’s not a free market

Health care reform is one of the hottest topics around Washington these days, because it is such a critical issue. That the health care system in the U.S. is broken few people doubt. There are around 50 million uninsured people in this country, we pay far, far more per capita than any other industrialized country on health care, and our outcomes are generally worse. We aren’t living the longest, we don’t have the lowest infant mortality rates, we aren’t curing everything. How we got to this point is not really important now; what’s important is how we fix it.

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Choosing a good password

Few things are as important in personal computer security than choosing a good password. A weak password can have ramifications from the merely annoying (it seems that every week one of my Facebook friends gets their account hacked) to very bad (such as when your bank accounts get hacked). Using the same password for all of your website logins is a very bad idea; I’ve blogged about a good solution before in the form of the software Password Safe, which can generate random unique passwords for all of your logins. But you still need to choose a good strong password to use as the master password to Password Safe!

Short passwords and passwords with words in the dictionary are two things to avoid when selecting passwords. Mixing in numbers and uppercase is always a good idea to make a stronger password, but you can go further. To really randomize things, and ensure that the password you choose doesn’t have any easily-guessable words, a very good trick is to take a line from your favorite song and string together the first letter of each word to form your password. It’s much easier to remember than random jumble of letters, and odds are that it will form a nonsense word that won’t be in any dictionary.

If you still can’t remember a strong-enough password without help, write the password down on a piece of paper and put it in your wallet. You are probably doing a pretty good job of keeping track of your wallet and making sure it doesn’t get stolen, so why not put your password in there? The risks are very low, especially if you use something like Password Safe: if they steal your wallet and get that master password, it’s completely useless to them unless they steal your password file from your computer as well.

These tricks will help you avoid getting your online accounts broken into, and who doesn’t want that?

Cat update

It’s been a couple weeks since we brought Sasha home and things are quieting down. Misha was not happy at first, but it only took a couple days for him to accept Sasha. They still fight and wrestle some, but most of the time it’s harmless play.

Sasha still has ringworm, so we have to dip her in lime sulfur to take care of that. It’s getting better, and it’s more of a cosmetic problem than anything else.

I’ll be posting more pictures as I take them.

Computer Utility: CCleaner

It’s generally acknowledged that Windows slows down with time: as you install and uninstall programs, crap gets left behind on the hard drive and in the registry that can make your computer act like molasses on a cold day. In the old days, pros recommended that every few months you simply reinstall Windows to solve this issue, but that’s using a pretty blunt axe. You can use a scalpel instead: CCleaner.

CCleaner will clean up files you don’t need, invalid registry entries, and the like. Since it does mess around with the registry and important system files, you need to be careful when using it, but overall it’s safe and does a good job of deleting unnecessary things without hosing your computer. If you’ve had your computer for a while and it’s bogging down, give CCleaner a try.

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