11 March 2001

Random Ramblings: Checking Flight Status Online

At this particular moment, my wife is in Thailand, while I'm "home alone" with the kids in the U.S. On her trip back to Thailand, she managed to get "taken for a ride" by Northwest Airlines. Flying out of San Francisco, her flight was called back after flying for 3 hours due to radar problems. Granted, all airlines experience mechanical problems, but the two of us have had MANY unpleasant experiences with Northwest over the years - and NOT just mechanical problems. Some day I'll this write up in "Gripes & Peeves".

As she's due back soon, she asked me to check whether the Seattle Airport ("Sea-Tac") was open. With Northwest, one learns to expect the worst. As fate would have it, a Northwest mechanics strike was looming close to the day of her arrival. Fortunately, though, the strike was put on hold by President Bush for a spell. Anyway, Sea-Tac was open last I checked. While browsing Sea-Tac's website, I noticed something new. While some airport websites provide information on flight arrivals/departures, Sea-Tac itself doesn't, but it does provide links to two interesting sites:

  • FlightArrivals.com (https://www.flightarrivals.com): This site shows information on arrivals, departures, delays and airport status, but only for flights with at least one "leg" in the U.S. or Canada. I'm not sure how up-to-date this information is though. I was tracking my wife's return flight and Northwest's website shows her flight already leaving Narita/Tokyo, while FlightArrivals.com says it's still on the ground. This facet of Northwest at least works.
  • WebTrax (https://www. This site provides information about flights that are already "in the air", showing the plane's position over a map and other technical information such as flight number, origin, destination, time to arrival, speed, and altitude (here's a sample image). Like FlightArrivals.com, it seems to be restricted only to flights that emanate from a U.S. city. Incidentally, FlyteComm (https://www.flytecomm.com), the authors of WebTrax, also sell an interesting looking, non-web-based program called "FlyteTrax" that does the same thing and more. Interesting!

10 March 2001

Random Ramblings: Trials & Tribulations of Installing Linux

I've been "offline" for the past week or so because of a crash on my home computer. I was planning to install a web caching program called "Squid" (https://www.squid-cache.org) and decided to install Linux for this purpose. It had been almost a year since I last played with Linux, and the first time I had done so in the U.S. This was partly due to certain unpleasantries that occurred when I last installed Linux. Back then, I had some free space on my Windows hard disk and decided to install "KRUD" (an optimized Red Hat v6.1 at the time) as a second O/S. For some reason, perhaps due to a mistake on my part, KRUD ended up corrupting my Windows partition. It took several hours of nail-biting work to repair the damage and another 24 hours to reinstall/reconfigure all my apps and data. Ugh. Very ugh.

Anyway, having learned my lesson, I decided to play it safer this time. This time, Linux would go on a separate hard disk, far from the madding Windows crowd. Unfortunately, out of laziness and/or misplaced faith that Linux would ignore my Windows hard disk, I didn't disconnect the Windows drive. But as expected (sic), when I rebooted my computer, only the Linux destined drive was detected by BIOS and by Disk Druid, one of Linux's partitioning utilities. Fine, the Windows drive was essentially hidden. Wrong. Very wrong. I forgot that Linux's partitioning programs ARE able to detect a Windows partition if left online - and alarm bells should have gone off. (Indeed, Linux's FDISK is one of the most adept partitioning utilities I've ever used, with support for literally every disk filing system I've ever used). And come to think of it, why WOULDN'T BIOS detect the 2nd drive if it was left connected? Oops.

I had mistakenly left both drives configured as "Primary/Master" and after I had finished with and removed the Linux drive, the Windows drive would no longer boot, complaining loudly about VxD errors. Booting from an emergency disk, I found that all of the data was still there, so at worst it meant a 24 hour reinstall fest. I was planning to do this apnyway, since I wanted to add a Windows NT partition to my computer. Nein, Wolfgang. I soon found that many of my files, while visible, were in fact "randomly" corrupted. I would have no way of knowing which files were good or bad unless I checked every one by hand. This problem was partly alleviated by reinstalling data backups, but there are still hundreds of files I have to check manually. Ugh, ugh, ugh.

By the way, the fault wasn't due to Linux. It was entirely my sloppiness. Speaking of Linux, I had collected several new Linux distributions since my last installation, and debated whether to install Mandrake v7.2 or OpenLinux v2.4. As it had been a long time since I last tasted OpenLinux, I opted for that. Very nice. Everything went well, including the often tricky video setup (I'm using an AGP card). I also got Linux working with my cable modem, although frankly I "cheated". Since my cable modem is now connected to my internet router, all I had to do was to setup Linux with a static IP address, and then provide it with the gateway IP address (i.e. the router), and the IP addresses of my ISP's DNS servers. Smooth as silk.

Lesson: Next time I install Linux, I'll clone my Windows hard disk first and then remove and lock it in a closet UPSTAIRS.

03 March 2001

Updates: JBMail

I've just added some update notes to my article on JBMail, a portable on-server email client.

25 February 2001

Random Ramblings: Windows OEM Versions

I've spent a bit of time exploring eBay the past few days. I was looking for an English version of Windows 98 for a friend and discovered that people selling full OEM versions of Windows invariably bundle it with a hard disk or a mainboard. Said HDD or M/B may not be in working order, but this is apparently necessary due to Microsoft's requirement that the OEM version only be sold bundled with a "new computer". Hmm, an interesting way to get rid of dead junk. Unfortunately, though, it keeps the software cost at around $50 or higher. Still cheaper than Thailand prices though.

24 February 2001

Random Ramblings: Dialpad

Before I came to the U.S. last year, I prepared myself to use one of the internet telephony services that allowed free phone calls from Thailand to the U.S. Like many people, I opted to use Dialpad (https://www.dialpad.com) and tested it by calling some ski resorts that provided taped ski condition reports. While the sound quality wasn't as good as that of a regular phone call, the audio was nonetheless understandable, and of course it was free.

When I finally arrived here, I proceeded to use Dialpad with my sidekick Petch in Thailand. Petch was able to call me either of two ways: a) from his computer to my computer (we both had to be logged into Dialpad), or b) from his computer to my regular telephone (he had to be logged into Dialpad, I didn't). As with my previous tests, the sound wasn't great but we were able to carry on a conversation without TOO MUCH DIFFICULTY. Those last 3 words are in caps because we DID suffer from some echoing (on my end), despite the fact that we both had the proper equipment (i.e. headphones that covered our ears that came with attached microphones) that should have minimized if not eliminated this problem. But it didn't.

Anyway, we continued to communicate for 2-3 months until the sound quality started getting pretty bad and line disconnects became more frequent. I assumed this was due to Dialpad's increasing popularity (and therefore, line congestion), so we gradually stopped calling. Earlier this year, we had a computer emergency that I had to get personally involved with. Due to Dialpad's problems, I ended up calling Thailand instead, using low-cost phone cards. Low-cost meant about $0.50 per minute, but since I was calling for 30-60 minutes each time, the bill ran to $15-30 per call.

Although I was being reimbursed for my costs, I felt that a better (i.e. cheaper yet workable) solution had to be found. Most internet telephony services allow free calls when you're calling "PC-to-PC" (any country to any country, with either PC initiating the call) or from "PC-to-U.S. telephone" (whereby the PC may be anywhere in the world, but only the PC can initiate the call and only to a U.S. number). Unfortunately, there was no way for me to use MY PC to call a telephone in Thailand for free.

Well, there still isn't, but Dialpad recently announced something called "Dialpad World", which allows a PC (apparently located anywhere in the world) to call a regular telephone anywhere in the world at a low price. With this service, the cost for me to call Thailand is now $0.15 or about 1/3-1/4 of my previous phone card costs. And now, a 30-60 min call costs me $4.50-$9.00, a considerable savings.

Furthermore, the sound quality is better than before. Previously, sound quality was affected by the speed of the connection between Petch in Thailand and me in the U.S. While I have a fast cable connection at my end, Petch was forced to go through a PABX at his office which only allowed 26.4-33.6 Kbps connections. This had a seriously negative effect on the sound quality. Now, his low connection speed has been taken out of the equation, since I'm calling to his voice telephone (probably through some gateway machine in Bangkok).

Two other benefits: a) Dialpad World allows me to call people in Thailand who don't have (or even know how to use) computers, such as my children's grandparents. b) I no longer get "cauliflower ears", jamming a telephone receiver into my ears while talking to Petch. In fact, it's now the other way around, which hopefully will cause him to end the conversations sooner.

Bottom line: This is a wonderful solution at an affordable price.

21 February 2001

Random Ramblings: More Thailand Broadband Benchmarks

Some more broadband benchmarks courtesy of Bangkok General's Howard Winata.

20 February 2001

Updates: NetGear Print Server

I just added some update notes to my print server article. I forgot to mention print servicing handled locally by network operating systems. Plus, some update notes to my Internet Sharing Solutions, Part 6 piece as well.

19 February 2001

Wobble: A Year and 1,000 Hits Later

For what it's worth, Wobble is now a year old (a few weeks past a year actually, but ah, who cares?), and it has also reached (and ditto, past) the 1,000 hit mark! Of course, HALF of those hits are mine, but what the heck (no, I do not purposefully add hits!). What's more, it has tripled its readership in the past year - from 1 to a hefty 3! Oh well. Will it live to see its next anniversary? Hell, will *I* live to see MY next anniversary? Needless to say, I didn't have anything worth writing today :-)

18 February 2001

Article: NetGear Print Server

I've just posted a fairly long article titled "An External Print Server: NetGear's PS110", which is the newest addition to my home network.

16 February 2001

Updates: Cable Modem, Internet Sharing Solutions Part 6

Some minor update notes to my Cable Modem Adventures and Internet Sharing Solutions, Part 6 pieces.

15 February 2001

Random Ramblings: Elcomsoft Password Recovery Software

More than a year ago, I wrote an article about password recovery utilities for Microsoft Office applications. Since then, one of the companies that I highlighted, Elcom (https://www.elcomsoft.com), has come out with recovery tools for a host of other applications, including: PKZIP, WinZip, RAR, Arj; Microsoft's Project, Money, Windows NT, and VBA; Mirabilis'/AOL's ICQ; Adobe Acrobat/PDF files; Intuit's Quicken/Quickbooks; Borland's Paradox; Symantec's Act!; Lotus' SmartSuite, etc. Check them out at the URL above if you're interested or find yourself needing this sort of thing.

13 February 2001

Random Ramblings: Gnutella Clients

In light of what's happening to Napster, I figured I'd best spend some time getting to know Gnutella better. With Gnutella out of the dark ages, there's now a wealth of Gnutella clients available for practically any platform you could desire. The one I'm trying out now is something called "LimeWire" (https://www.limewire.com), which is of course free and available for Windows, Mac, Linux, Solaris, etc. For a starter course on Gnutella, check out the resources on LimeWire's site.

12 February 2001

Random Ramblings: Anti-Virus Program Updates

An unscientific observation: on the day that the Anna Kournikova virus hit the headlines, I managed to download McAfee's VirusScan update at a speed of 66Kbps. Meanwhile, Norton's Anti-Virus update dribbled in at less than 1/10th that speed (5 Kbps). Interestingly, Network Associates (McAfee's mother company) uses Akamai's (https://www.akamai.com) network enhancing services.

Of course, this has no bearing on which program is BETTER. But for what it's worth, I use NAV. And for what it's further worth, my previously up-to-date NAV didn't catch the virus. Of course, yours truly being a die-hard Steffi Graf fan, deleted the five virus-laden email attachments I received from the head office today with nary an iota of hesitation.

09 February 2001

Random Ramblings: More Sheet Music Sites

More on sheet music. The Free Sheet Music Guide at https://www.freesheetmusicguide.com has numerous links to free music sites. Most of these sites are pretty small, but two more interesting and sizeable sites are:

08 February 2001

Random Ramblings: Sheet Music Sites

Like most folks of her generation, my wife studied the piano when she was young (me, I managed to squirm my way out of it). And like most parents, she's had the fervent hope that one day, at least one of her progeny would follow in her footsteps and take up the instrument as well. Waew, our oldest daughter tried it for a while and then gave up. Boo hoo. One down, one to go. Most recently, our second daughter, Wow, was finally old enough and eager enough to give it a try. So far, it's working ...

As we're not currently in Thailand and thus far away from a useable piano, my wife bought a cheapie electronic keyboard, both for Wow to practice on and for herself to relive her past virtuosities (or something to that effect). Unfortunately, we're also lacking all the sheet music she's accumulated over the years. Which is where I come in. Given that most of the great classical music is in the public domain, it only stands to reason that printable sheet music for such pieces could be obtained on the internet.

Well, yes and no. The first couple of sites I tried all wanted to charge money for their wares. Eventually, though, I came across two sites (there surely must be more) that provided classical sheet music in PDF format for free, being:

While The Sheet Music Archive has a much larger selection, Nissimo has some interesting links which makes it a worthwhile look-see. Try them if you're interested in this sort of thing.

07 February 2001

Wobble: Updated "Computer" Link

Finally besting procrastination, I got the "Computer" link at left, which contains short blurbs of all the writings here, "in sync" (with apologies to 'N Sync). It's been totally out-of-date for the past several months. Sorry.

30 January 2001

Article: Thoughts on Backup

I've just uploaded a piece titled "Thoughts on Backup", a fairly lengthy piece on data backup strategies.

28 January 2001

Updates: Internet Sharing Solutions, Part 6

Just added some update notes to my "Internet Sharing Solutions, Part 6" piece. The current issue of PC Magazine shows how to connect a mixed Phoneline/Ethernet network using Windows ME alone.

25 January 2001

Random Ramblings: Host File Speed Ups

If you'd like to speed up your web browsing a bit, here's a suggestion. The technique involves editing your HOSTS file to prevent content from certain sites from showing up on your screen. This is by NO means an original idea of mine, but I've written it up anyway for what it's worth.

24 January 2001

Article: Internet Sharing Solutions Part 6

It's been a while since I've written a full-blown article (lots of half written pieces lying around though). Anyway, I've just posted an article, Part 6 of my "Internet Sharing Solutions" series which sort of explains why. This piece deals with connecting a U.S.-style home network to a consumer-grade internet router.

23 January 2001

Post Database: Doing Thai Under Windows ME

There was a letter to Post Database today from Steven Moolenburgh about getting Thai to work under English Windows. As it turns out, my article on Win ME addresses this issue. I've also added some update tidbits on the subject here.

18 January 2001

Random Ramblings: Goodies from AnalogX

About a month ago, I referred to an atomic clock sync program from a company called Isbister. Well, here's another from a company (sic) called AnalogX (https://www.analogx.com). The program is called "Atomic Time Sync" and I like it better than Isbister's (both run under Windows). It's a bit more straightfoward and it also allows you to change the time server (something you may need to do since the default server at Microsoft doesn't always work).

I put a "sic" after AnalogX since I'm not sure if it's really a bonafide company. AnalogX's website provides a host of nice little utilities, all of which are free (the proprietor is a musician and many of the freebies there are music-related). Incidentally, I wrote about their "Proxy" internet sharing utility in "Internet Sharing Solutions (Part 2)" about a year ago.

12 January 2001

Random Ramblings: Why Word Files Get So Big

There was question on the "Bangkok General" mailing list about why Word files with embedded graphics blow up in size so much. Here are some thoughts.

10 January 2001

Random Ramblings: Crypto Article in Newsweek

I was browsing the local Barnes & Noble bookstore today when the latest issue of Newsweek Magazine caught my eye. The front cover read "Beating Big Brother" and featured a number of articles relating to cryptography that were excerpted from a new book by Stephen Levy titled "Crypto: When the Code Rebels Beat the Government - Saving Privacy in the Digital Age". Check it out at Amazon.com or your favourite online bookstore.

While the subject matter is definitely interesting to me, I wasn't too enthused about paying US$3.50 for what seemed like an awfully thin issue. Thus, I sat myself down in a comfortable chair and proceeded to skim through it, all the while reminding myself to re-read it on the web. Unfortunately, the web version (at https://www.newsweek.com) doesn't contain everything the printed copy does. Most notably it's missing the section(s) on the RSA guys (Rivest/Shamir/Adelman).

I don't know if this story is available in the Asia/Pacific edition of Newsweek yet, but if you're interested in this sort of thing (it's not all technical - there's a lot of interesting stories of behind-the-scenes government shenanigans for all you conspiratorial types), do read it soon before it gets replaced by next week's news.

31 December 2000

Random Ramblings: Happy New Year!

Happy New Year folks!

27 December 2000

Updates: NetZero Less Free

For those of you who like their ISP's "free", NetZero is a bit "less free" these days. Vide my update notes for the bad news.

26 December 2000

Random Ramblings: Seasons Greetings With A Disclaimer

A belated Merry Christmas! I just got back from the Cascade Mountains and am nursing a cough and cold, so I've been spending my time sending and receiving Christmas/New Year greetings. An odd year, this year - I sent out 50% paper Christmas cards, 25% email greetings (with an attached family photo), and 25% e-cards.

Here's a particularly interesting email reply I received from a former co-worker:

    Hi Khun Woody,
    Thank-you very much and wishing you and your family a New Year of wealth of happiness.
    (Sender's name)

What especially tickled me was the signature line at the bottom of the email which read:

    Any opinions, express or implied, presented are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of Standard Chartered Group.

19 December 2000

Random Ramblings: Keeping Tab of World Time

I'd like to offer a suggestion (unsolicited, but hardly without an ulterior motive) for a nice world time site: https://www.worldtimeserver.com. I've been receiving a number of Dialpad calls at 4, 5, 6 in the morning recently and think it would be a terrific idea if people figured out the destination times before they called. Wake me up and believe it or not, I'm not going to be very coherent, nor am I going to be terribly in the mood to talk.

The proprietors of this world time site, Isbister (https://www.isbister.com), also make a few other interesting products:

  • Time & Chaos, a Windows personal information manager (PIM). I've test driven dozens of PIM's and this is the one I like best. Admittedly, though, I still continue to use my Excel worksheet for organizing my daily/weekly tasks (the fact that old farts don't like to change and the program costing US$45 has something to do with this).
  • Also useful (and free) is an Atomic clock sync utility (also for Windows). This sets your computer to the correct time by synchronizing its real time clock with one of the time servers operated by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). Note: It determines your time zone by asking Windows, so do make sure you have this set correctly!

17 December 2000

Random Ramblings: Season's E-Cards

Thinking of sending e-cards this year? Sick of animated, muzak-imbued, sickly sweet cards from Blue Mountain? Try https://www.ze-card.com. Ze-Card uses art masterpieces as the main graphic for their e-cards. Select the painting you want, the background color, the border, the text greeting, and if you wish, any accompanying music (classical). Although the text formatting is a bit primitive, I find it an interesting change. Alas, they don't have Marc Chagall's "La Mariée au Village" (the poster/painting in Notting Hill).

I've mentioned this before, but if you want to send e-cards with Thai motifs, go to the Communication Authority of Thailand's website (https://www.cat.or.th). Now that they've gone Java, I get the feeling they have less stuff than they did last year. Or I'm looking in the wrong place.

16 December 2000

Random Ramblings: More Poster Sites

I can't get enough of this. Another site with a rich offering of posters: https://www.respree.com. The prices here are a bit on the high side, but their collection is quite impressive. Or forget about buying - just browsing is enough of a pleasure (or an education). Thumbs up!

15 December 2000

Random Ramblings: Online Museums

More on museums. Hardcore New Yorkers will no doubt notice that I've left out two of the biggies: the Guggenheim Museum (go to https://www.guggenheim.org and click on "New York") and the Whitney Museum of American Art (https://www.whitney.org). Both have online stores and yes, both have posters.

Among the non-U.S. museums, the Museé d'Orsay in Paris, France tops my list. If you can't make it to the former Quai d'Orsay, skip over to https://www.musee-orsay.fr instead. This is where all the Impressionist stuff at the Louvre's "Jeu de Paume" ended up. Posters? Mais naturellment! And as a Van Gogh fan, I'd best not forget the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, Holland (vide https://www.vangoghmuseum.nl). But posters? Er, didn't see any.

One more for the road. Perhaps my favourite painter is Joseph Mallard William (JMW) Turner, an English precursor of the French Impressionists. Much of his work is exhibited at the Tate Gallery in London (https://www.tate.org.uk). As with parts of MOMA though, the Tate's website doesn't seem to be cooperating today).

Aside from the pursuit of wall hangings, the above links are incredibly useful because of the educational opportunities they offer. While most museum websites don't have their entire permanent collectons online, they probably do have a good sampling. In addition, they often have historical and background notes, something many in-person museum go'ers might lack (unless they're art majors, historians or aficionados). Granted, there's no comparison to seeing a painting in all its glory, but short of that, art appreciation via the web is a lot cheaper than buying art books.

By the way, two interesting cum related sites are https://www.painting.about.com and https://www.arthistory.about.com. While searching for JMW Turner in the latter, I was provided with links to Turner's paintings all over the web. Terrific!

14 December 2000

Random Ramblings: Online Poster Sites

I found https://www.allposters.com quite by accident. As someone who has always liked posters (they're cheaper than paintings), this site is a lot of fun to browse through. The site doesn't seem to have posters that art museums create when special collections are on show though. Go to the online museum stores for this; for example in New York, at the Metropolitan Museum of Art ("The Met") at https://www.metmuseum.org and the Museum of Modern Art ("MOMA") at https://www.moma.org. (Note: The MOMA store is REALLY slow for some reason.)